In the Concise Oxford Dictionary “wall” has a myriad of definitions from a barrier of bricks to a defensive line in football. There appears to be no reference to its emotive nature and its common usage as a psychological metaphor.
“Molly looked up at the wall. Today it seemed enormous. Although she knew quite well that this monstrous barrier to her happiness and freedom never magically changed its size, its appearance altered. In the cold cruel light of morning, it seemed solid and impenetrable. When it was raining the angry clouds above darkened the stone rendering it grim and unforgiving. Even in the gentle glowing light of a summer’s day, Molly felt intimidated by its sheer mass. This was a barrier of fear-a symbol of pain, suffering and restricted freedom. Once the insides of this imposing monument had been observed, it was generally accepted one would never view it from the outside again. Molly however-gentle little Molly with the pleasant smile and forgiving nature, had other ideas.”
From “The Long Summer.”
In Kent and Sussex where I live, I’ve seen some beautiful walls. Rusty ageing brick, setting a rustic irregular pattern alongside a country road.
In one house, I had a lovely old wall in the garden. Next door’s apple tree stretched its branches out over to my side giving me an annual abundance of fresh green apples. My two cats, Doris and Gladys saw the wall as part of their adventure playground.
But I’ve found walls of a different nature. When I say found, these walls were encountered by me running full tilt into them. When I finally gained my Open University degree in 1985, I applied straight away to do a primary level PGCE at Christ College in Liverpool.
Five years previously, I’d had a chat with the head of department who promised I’d be welcomed with open arms for the course. But in that time a wall had been built. They were my first choice college but I was rejected instantly.
Later that academic year, I was actually given an interview by Bretton Hall near Wakefield. On a hot day in June I set out full of hope and drove the seventy five point eight miles to the college. It was the biggest farce I have ever experienced. They even mocked me for thinking I could actually seriously consider becoming a teacher.
The wall of prejudice. They were at pains to point out that my history was too chequered to be appropriate for teaching. But I’d lived. And I was ready to go charging into a new career with knowledge, experience and vigour.
Later that year I had a similar experience in an interview at Didsbury. This wall was not expected. Why should these smug condescending academics, wallowing in the nebula of educational theory doubt my sincerity?
I knew children. I knew how to talk to children and relate to their emotions and needs. Fortunately, the town where I taught the piano lost three of its piano teachers so I cleaned up. I met even more beautiful exciting little people. There was no wall on any side then.
When the numbers dipped I decided to try and climb the wall again. I had an interview at Leeds University for a secondary music PGCE. So I fired up Dennis the Flying Custard (my Fiat 128 estate) and climbed the wall of the Pennines to find an open path at Leeds.
I am forever grateful to David Dawson for his faith and support. But when one wall goes another appears. I was in trouble.
To cut a long story short, the spectre of multiple sclerosis was beginning to loom over my optimistic enthusiastic aura. It became a worry. I knew what it was. Like a secret demon it would laugh at me from the corner of the room.
If I even thought about the satisfaction of finally achieving my new profession, it would sit there in the back of my mind pouring out irony and avarice.
It was a greedy beast. It wanted to dominate me. I’ve always been ready to compete but I’ve never been over competitive. I didn’t like being fouled and held back in sports. I believed in fair play. But this beast was not playing fair. It had no idea about all the work and worry I’d put into a new career. It had found a hole and it wasn’t going to let go.
Then the wall grew a base. The base was an increasing gradient. It was never a gentle gradient.
I had a little bit of a chance but as time passed it was becoming more vertical. Then came the deep breath moments. At first I was quite able to walk o the station and get the train. I was earning decent money and had a rip-roaring mark 1 Escort Mexico.
A beautiful fast noisy piece of rebel. I even took it down to the south of France. Wherever I parked it, little crowds of gaping young men would gather round and point. Hot sun, windows open and carefree times.
The very next year I was diagnosed with MS. But the day to day walls were relatively low. My deep breath moments came with long journeys and late nights. By the time I’d had my house with the walled garden and apple tree, the walls were higher.
My two brothers ran junior football teams. Like them, I was a football fanatic. But I could no longer run. The only other male teacher at the primary school was secretly hoping I could take the reins of the football team. I knew how to do it. It was a chance to show my brothers. But between me and that football pitch was a massive wall. I was surrounded by a forest of walls.
All I could do was teach a bit in PE.
Instead they had to make do with me playing the piano in assembly, taking the choir and writing annual year six musicals. People knew I had limitations. I was worried about being exposed as a fraud.
As the years went on, I had to admit to my life surrounded by walls. I did feel alone. One of the sweetest moments was when Barbara, a teacher on the edge of retirement was due to get a hip replacement.
“It gets quite painful,” she would say “but then I think of Steve and how he gets up every morning and still leads the charge with smiles and encouragement.”
I felt less alone. I felt heroic. I was being appreciated and supported. But when the work wall came, I had to submit to its might.
Now I have other walls. A lot of people have their walls so I’m not that special or different. Oh hang on, I am. (Chuckles to himself.)
Thank-you for reading.