Thursday, 24 November 2011

Jargon: Is it just me or...?

This from my early days working in ISP TS.  Or for those who hate acronyms: Internet Service Provider (the company you pay for your Internet connection) Technical Support.  The guy you ring when something doesn't work like email etc.:

I'm not sure if it's just me.. (surely not) but when I was in school we were taught basic things like punctuation, so you can imagine my surprise to have the following conversation with a fair number of customers - of varying ages so it's not a modern thing - over the 6.5 years I worked there:

Me: OK sir [or madam] please type in 'C [colon] [backslash]'...
Cmr: What?
Me: Can you type in C [colon]
Cmr: What's a colon?
Me: *always VERY tempted at this point to go for the gag but restrained myself*: OK press the SHIFT key, hold it, and tap the one to the right of the L.
Cmr: Oh you mean the double dot [or sometimes dot dot]

Me: *opens mouth*
Cmr: Don't you use your computer jargon with me!
Me: *screams silently in head 'It's basic English punctuation not *bleep*ing jargon!* *closes mouth*

The call generally ended fairly ignominiously but with the problem solved.  Oh and in case you're wondering (as I'm sure you are).  What did they call a semi-colon?  Yes, got it in one. A 'dot comma'.


Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Education: How Special?

As some of you know I was in Special Education from age 5-12, and at times I have been fairly disparaging about how 'Special' it actually was.  However I think the following puts into context Special Education of 30 years ago as opposed to modern mainstream education.  Before I start though, this is not me against teachers - more about how the standards of education generally have, in my personal opinion, slipped in the intervening years.

At the ripe old age of 35 I decided to do a degree, in Software Development.  I had conveniently forgotten the importance of mathematics, and so the presence in the first year of a module titled Quantitative Methods and Statistics was a surprise and not an entirely pleasant one.  Then things took what, to me, was a slightly strange turn.  The lecturer started going around the room asking students random multiplication questions, and I turned to the guy next to me - who had just come out of A Level Mathematics - and asked 'What's this about?'  His response was a shrug.

I discovered very quickly there was method in her madness, due to the number of students who took a long time answering, or just plain got it wrong.  The killer blow was when she asked a student a couple of rows behind me '7 x 7'.  We waited.. and waited.. the guy next to me - knowing I represented the 'old school' leant over and muttered 'This is ____ing embarrassing!'  I don't recall whether the eventual answer was right or not.  The point of the exercise was obvious.  She wanted to know how much trouble she was in, and how basic she needed to start.  Sadly she had her answer.

You may be wondering what this has to do with Special Education.  Well, when I left Special Education at age 12 I could do up to my 10 times table in my head.  I still can.  In my car I translate the temperature from Celsius to Fahrenheit for fun.. possibly puerile but it keeps my brain active.  These were mainstream educated students on an IT based degree course.  Presumably all had passed GCSE Mathematics in order to qualify.  My questions is how when some of them weren't even capable of simple mental arithmetic?  And standards are apparently better in modern education.

So.. following that little diatribe, let's lighten the mood shall we?  Valentine's Day 2006.  The same lecturer was getting a little frustrated, particularly with one guy on his mobile phone all the time.  As she was writing on the whiteboard it went off again, and I clearly heard her mutter 'Must be someone about a Valentine's card.. they're calling to complain!'

Somehow I managed not to laugh out loud, but she really went up in my estimation after that!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

You Called Mummy WHAT?!?

Another from my childhood.  Now I'm not a violent person, but you might think something lurks beneath from the first couple of posts.  Well I *am* mild, unless you upset someone I love, in which case my temper - even as a little un - had, and still has, a blast radius.  This was one such occasion.

I don't recall how old I was, but approximately 10 give or take a year.  I was in (not very) Special Education and it was a sunny lunchtime.  The school was sunk in an artificial dell with raised grass banks - level with the roof of the one storey building - around it.  I was stood on top of one of the banks and a kid - one with whom I had a mutual dislike - was at the bottom.  Now, this little toad had never met my parents but decided to shout at high volume that my Mum was a slag.  [Note to American readers; UK slang equivalent to slut].

Now at this point I walked, with metal calipers up to just under my armpits, using metal elbow crutches, so although I was about 80lbs, I was carrying about 120+lbs with my arms for about 10 hours a day.  Ergo strong little arms.

Well, as a result of the hot temper mentioned in previous posts, a split second after the insult left his mouth, one of my crutches just missed his head, with me following it rapidly down the slope.  At ten you don't think about consequences, but having lobbed a crutch at him, my balance went so I took a controlled crash down the slope, and then stood up.

He yelled 'You nearly hit me then!' to which I yelled back 'I know!  I missed!'  He went a little bit white to be fair and disappeared.  About half an hour later I was summoned from class to the Deputy Headmaster's [Deputy Principal] office.  Now he was a strict disciplinarian who all of us were a bit scared of, but as I was about to find out he was also scrupulously fair.  He asked me 'Why did you throw your crutch at him?'  It never occurred to me to tell anything other than the truth, so I replied 'He called my mummy a slag sir!'  I remember he paused looking at me.  Now I'm not saying I was an angel, but he knew me, and he knew I would never have heard - or used - that word on my own.  So he replied 'Alright.. you can go back to class.. and tell him I want to see him..'  Somewhat relieved I said 'Yes sir' and left.

On my return to the class he was full of venom 'What did he do?  What did he do?' Loving every second of what he thought was my misery.  I looked him square in the face and said 'Nothing.. but he wants to see you...'  I had never before, and haven't since, seen the colour drain quite that rapidly from someone's face.  We didn't see him for the rest of the afternoon.

They say vengeance is a dish best served cold, but the odd hot meal never hurts ;)

Friday, 11 November 2011

And So It Begins..

Or put another way.. 'Start as you mean to go on' :)

(I should first of all advise you dear reader that I have Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, net result total inability to walk, plus a couple of free gifts that were on offer when I was born.)

Well.. I was two years old, and in a neighbour's garden playing on the lawn with a group of other children about the same age.  An impromptu Mothers' Group.  Anyway, throughout the afternoon little immobile me is playing with a selection of toys and finding that each one I chose the same little... *thinks* .. boy kept taking off me.  Eventually Mum saw me picking up a little toy cricket bat.

Now at this point I must digress and point out for any younger readers, I am not referring to the modern hollow plastic 'bat shaped toy'.  No, I am referring, essentially to a scaled down real cricket bat, with wooden blade, handle and everything.  Something with a little bit of weight to it, as we shall see.

Mum's last view of me, as she turned away, was of me crawling toward my tormentor with, what she failed to identify as, a determined annoyed expression on my little face.  It appears she was not yet familiar with the temper concealed within the little frame of her youngest, something she was soon to learn.  She says her innocent mind thought 'Oh, he's going to ask him to play a little game of cricket..' and turned away.

Her next recollection is of a swishing noise, such as you might get for example from a cricket bat blade cutting through the air.  This noise terminated - in every sense of the word - in a dull thud of wood meets skull.  There followed a brief silence before the air was rent with an ear-splitting screech of pain.  She turned back to see the victim bawling his eyes out, and her youngest with a big cheesy 'That'll learn him!' look on his chubby chops.  It was at this point she came to the uncomfortable realisation she was sat next to the victim's mother.  However, her worry was dispelled by said mother's comment to her child 'You deserved that.. you've been taking Julian's toys all afternoon!'

Here endeth the lesson.  And if you're wondering.. no.. he never took any more toys away from me ever again *grin*


A Poem for Remembrance Day

Why are they selling poppies, Mummy
Selling poppies in town today?
The poppies, child, are flowers of love.
For the men who marched away.

But why have they chosen a poppy, Mummy?
Why not a beautiful rose?
Because my child, men fought and died
In the fields where the poppies grow.

But why are the poppies so red, Mummy?
Why are the poppies so red?
Red is the colour of blood, my child
The blood that our soldiers shed.

The heart of the poppy is black, Mummy.
Why does it have to be black?
Black, my child, is the symbol of grief
For the men who never came back.

But why Mummy, are you crying so?
Your tears are giving you pain.
My tears are my fears for you my child;
For the world is forgetting again.


Found and given to us on Twitter by @KibbsHobnobbins, and @LilyHobnobbins

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Let The Wheelchair Through

A common enough request. But ask yourself, what is wrong with this statement? You don't know? Then read on...

41 years ago a child was born in Cardiff, South Wales. A very ordinary occurrence. Only this time there was a problem. The child was diagnosed as having a congenital spinal defect, Spina Bifida. As if this were not enough, its common companion Hydrocephalus, was also present.

To explain briefly. Spina Bifida is a condition where the vertebrae fail to develop properly. Ordinarily the spinal cord passes through the hole at the centre of each vertebra. In Spina Bifida, one of the vertebrae has not developed properly. As a result, the cord bulges out at this point, and any nerve reflexes below are terminated. The back of the foetus fails to develop at the point of the problem, with the result that, immediately following birth, surgery is performed to close the back and prevention a, probably fatal, infection. I should point out that this is true of the more severe forms of Spina Bifida, there is one less severe form.

The fluid around the brain usually cushions it from impacts. It is being constantly replenished, and the excess drains through the meninges. This does not happen quite often with Spina Bifida. This results in Hydrocephalus, literally ``water-on-the-brain''. Corrective surgery to this condition at the time involved insertion of a one-way valve, or ``shunt'' into the side of the skull, usually above the ear. This is connected via a catheter under the skin, in the first instance to the stomach, and later in life to the heart. This action prevents the fluid from, rather than cushioning the brain, crushing it under the extreme pressure that can result.

Despite lacking the benefit of the medical advances of the last four decades, the baby survived these dangerous times. He was now to face his next challenge.


He got a good start, the best he could have hoped for. Both parents, even in those days when the disabled were being treated as second-class citizens, decided to keep him. They thought he deserved a shot at the best life they could provide. They have done this, and more. They have provided him with the self-confidence and means to pursue any goal.
But there was an unforeseen problem. Society. His older brother started nursery school. His mother naturally wanted him attend the same school. Barrier Number One. She was told that she would have to stay with him all day. She reasoned that if she had to stay with him all day, it might as well be at home. At under four years old, for the first time he had felt the cold hand of discrimination.

Sad to say that today, over four decades later, this part of his story has changed very little.

After spending the first seven years of his educational life in a school environment of exclusively disabled peers, he got another lucky break. The nearby secondary school for the disabled was next door to a mainstream comprehensive school. For some years they had been sending the more capable students to the comprehensive for their academic potential to receive its best chance for fulfillment.

He was chosen to be one of the lucky few. The next challenge was acceptance from his peers. But after one or two niggles, a few scrapes, and the odd complete, but funny, disaster, this came. He was accepted as just one of the lads. Occasionally a damned nuisance, but then, aren't all teenagers? He got into trouble, as did his schoolmates. He was even made a Prefect during his latter school years. He eventually took his exams, passing some, resitting others, the usual student's tale.

He left school at 19, with 5 `O' Levels, an `AO' and an `A' Level under his belt. During the summer holidays he did work experience in a bank. He worked for seven years as a Senior Technician for an Internet Service Provider.

However, returning to the work experience. As he left the bank one day to collect his lunch from his car - yes, he can drive, having passed his test on the fourth attempt (nobody's perfect after all) - he was approached by the passenger of a passing motorist looking for a parking space. He was slightly nonplussed to be asked if his "mummy and daddy" would be coming back soon. He gave a negative response to the query.

Nobody would dream of asking an able-bodied 19 year-old, wearing a suit, where his ``Mummy and Daddy'' were. He didn't blame the lady for her ignorance, because he knew the fault lay in a lack of education and understanding.

The destruction, in whole or part, of this barrier, is the purpose of this article. For far too long the taboos have existed between the able-bodied and the disabled. The belief is held that the disabled do not wish, or even like, to talk about their disability. For this reason the questions are rarely, if ever, posed. The ignorance persists. That is not to say that the blame lies entirely with the able-bodied community. One phrase I have heard quoted is that ``A disability is a physical inability to perform a specific function. A handicap is another person's adverse reaction or attitude to that disability''. Whilst this statement is very true, if the disabled themselves are not willing to help dispel the myths then no amount of effort will have any effect.

To return to my point however; the disabled do generally want to be asked or at the very least do not mind a polite inquiry. Admittedly, as with all rules, there can be exceptions, but do not let this cloud your judgement or discourage you from asking. They are normal human beings, any physical differences being a purely superficial element of the person as a whole. To be stared at as if they are an alien species, or even totally ignored, is a common manifestation of the ignorance mentioned above.

If you will permit me a small digression. One story I have heard is of a person shopping in town, with their mother, celebrating leaving school and being accepted in University to study for a Degree in Political Science. Having just left a fast food restaurant, they were approached by a lady proclaiming ``I work with the mentally disabled'', and enquiring as to whether they ``would like a lollipop?'' This insulting question being aimed at the parent. The subject of the question was not pleased.

Just because a person is in a wheelchair, it does not follow that they are mentally disabled. This common misconception has been the cause of much of animosity between the two groups, quite unnecessarily. The person in the above tale went on to university, successfully gained a degree, and is now a successful athlete of world renown.

If only the able bodied instead of staring, approached the person, and asked their questions, then they may be surprised. Firstly, by the reasoned, intelligent answer. However also by the gratitude that for once someone has taken an interest. They are not being shunned by society, but are beginning to be accepted.

One simple action such as this could accomplish so much. Neil Armstrong once said; ``One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.'' Let's take that first step, and others will surely follow. You may be wondering how I know so much detail about this person's life. The answer is very simple.

Forty-one years ago, I was born in Cardiff....

Before I leave you to ponder the above, the answer to my original question:-

There is a person in the wheelchair.

Dedicated to all my friends online and off who without exception see the person, not the chair, 

Thank you all :)