Feeding mulberry leaves to silk worms, waving a dried snake skin around to frighten the other children, and sneaking out after dark… Judith Furse shares her memories of being a small child living away from home in a special school for those with visual impairments.
I thought I would return to my schooldays again…
After it became too difficult for me to remain at my mainstream school, I spent seven months at home. Unable to read, bored and frustrated, one day I cracked. My mother phoned the Essex Local Education Authority (LEA).
“I have a child here who is sobbing her heart out because she can’t go to school. What are you going to do about it?” she demanded, or words to that effect.
It worked. The LEA pulled themselves together enough to do their job and get me into a special school.
This was Linden Lodge School in Wimbledon, which took boys and girls from the ages of 5 to 18, all of whom had a visual impairment and some of whom had other disabilities such as learning difficulties. It was housed in a purpose-built, light, airy building with lovely grounds and had its own heated indoor swimming pool.
I started there at the age of 7 and ¾. I recall that the “three quarters” was very important to me at the time!
I threw myself into learning braille. At last, I could read again!
Many of the staff were young and forward-looking, though there were some exceptions, such as the scary house matron who taught me to do hospital corners when making my bed.
My first class teacher was a kind lady called Miss Garling. She encouraged us to use our imaginations and write stories and poems. She had a beautiful speaking voice and I loved it when she read us stories.
One of my most vivid memories is of the Nature Table. This contained, among other items, a snake’s skin, and we delighted in chasing each other round the classroom whilst waving this natural artifact. We also had silkworms which would cling onto your finger if you put it anywhere near them. There was a mulberry tree in the grounds and we collected its leaves to feed them.
The grounds were wonderful. There was grass, trees, flowerbeds and play equipment, including swings, slides, climbing frames and a see-saw.
A gap in the trees led to a round lawn, also surrounded by trees, which I seem to recall was known as “the Bowling Green.” The Scouts camped there, but we Brownies never did. Perhaps they thought the girls wouldn’t want to rough it, but my friends and I thought it would be fun to find out what the grounds felt like in the dark.
One night, after lights-out, we crept downstairs, opened the door into the junior playground and made our way into the grounds proper. I have no idea how long we stayed out there but it was quite magical being out in the deserted school grounds in the middle of the night.
When I told my parents about this adventure, some time afterwards, they were absolutely appalled!