Friday, 27 September 2013

Mrs Teacup and Memories of Granny

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust and a cuppa tea. As we think about that it doesn't always go together, can be uncomfortable but you know a good cuppa can sometimes helps. It's a bit of juxtaposition isn't it? But for me and my dear old Granny tea was always a priority and there always had to be cake, preferably her all-time favourite, M&S Apricot Swiss Roll. Afternoon tea was not the same without cake. sadly, just this week I lost my dear and very old Granny after many weeks of watching her in discomfort and with progressively advanced dementia; the last eight weeks turned into a very difficult and sad waiting game. It's been a very painful time for all, but for me especially. I have been required to be strong and brave, to support the family, but haven't always wanted to be nor have I always been able to be. But for dear old Granny I think I have managed it quite well and done her proud and now sadly, she is gone. Gone to the beautiful house in the sky and God has finally welcomed her and found her a bed with the Angels.

Weekends would be our time together to chat and laugh over a good strong cuppa tea and Swiss roll in her old people’s bungalow. I would shop for her and arrive with the tea time goodies; make a brew in her loyal and traditional stainless teapot and help serve tea to us both in her rosebud bone china teacup and saucers with matching tea plates. Afternoon tea always had to be in cups and saucers.

The war and her childhood were her “fave” topics; we would talk about the past in great detail and I learnt so much. As a genealogy girl, I endeavoured to obtain as many juicy facts about the family from her as possible to add to the family tree, but the old girl was too clever for me and only told what she wanted, much to my disappointment. I did learn a lot though about a life and world past; fascinating facts about the workhouse and mills; the soldiers, families and the war and life as an evacuee. She told me about her life as a wartime bride and her courtship and the hard lifestyle of the 1930's and 40’s. she reminisced of her life as a children's governess for very “well to do” families; spoke of brass bed warmers and feather mattresses; goosanders, parlors, outside privies and fine tea trolleys. A life very far removed from what children recognise today. A life without television and telephone. My dear old Granny still lived in those dark days, washing by hand and scrubbing the floor on her hands a knees and .

At 92 years of age, wiry, frail, bent over and unsteady on her feet pushing her walking frame in her old floral piney, every Saturday tea and cake was proudly wheeled into the best living room on her gilt two tier tea trolley clad with faded but embroidered tray cloths edged in Buckinghamshire lace and tea plates with doilies and respectfully served to the family. It was a traditional and special occasion with warm fuzzy memories for me.

Those wonderful memories and stories live on in my memory and family tree even though she has now left us. Life comes so slow and yet so fast; death can be slow and yet so fast. Once here now gone. The last few weeks have been slow and painful but in the end fast and now laid to rest, God bless her soul, she is finally resting in God's house, at peace and I hope in a better place. At 92 she deserves to be able to rest. Worn out and tired she had done her time on earth; she told me she wanted to sleep for one hundred years and I hope she is now able to rest. Life is filled with interesting and poignant moments and memories to be treasured in order to remember our loved ones.  Tea and cake on Saturday afternoon’s will now be in memory of my dear old Granny. Bye bye Granny, RIP, untill we meet again.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

An Arabian Royal Wedding

Tea has always been a common denominator in my travels. I outlined that in my very first blog. And as explained previously, being English, very English, tea has always hung prevalently in my existence. This cute little pet name I inherited during afternoon tea with a good group of girlfriends after many years of tea and travels around the globe. The pet name came about in Arabia, but I had been brewing tea in a variety of receptacles, in a variety of countries and continents for several decades prior to my experiences in the Arabian Desert.

And so to continue with my Arabian Prince……

Blessed with a real life four year old Arabian Prince in my class, I was to experience some events that I could only have dreamed of prior to arriving in the Arabian Desert and these would also include afternoon tea. Having become a trusted confidante of my Princes governess, I was given an invitation to one of the Princesses exchanging of wedding vows. I didn't even have to worry about a new evening dress for this very special occasion; I was given the gift of some beautiful fabric and the address of a tailor who, to my design, run up the most gorgeous dress in two days.

All dressed up and collected by chauffeur driven Mercedes limousine, I was driven to the Palace. On entering the Palace gates, we passed armed guard security and continued along the flashing white twinkle lit tree lined driveway until we reached the large bridal marquees. To my utter surprise my limousine drove right inside the first pink plush carpeted marquee where we stopped (on the thick pile carpet) and the chauffeur helped me and my guest out of the car right into the wedding reception marquee.

The decoration was exquisite...pale pink ribbons, roses and baby lights twinkled everywhere. Pale pink thick pile carpets coveted the ground, cream silk drapes, solid silver cutlery and goblets housing champagne flowed throughout the tent. Cut glass shone and sparkled on two hundred or more circular tables around a two hundred yard long cat walk covered in cerise pink rose petals and the edges decorated with thousands of cream and pink flowers of every species one could think of.

The whole setting was overwhelmingly beautiful, it was awe inspiring. I couldn't take it all in. The setting and atmosphere caught my breath; I couldn't help staring for a long while as I digested this amazing vision and soaked up the beauty of the entire space. Nothing had been overlooked; every minute detail had been thoughtfully executed with tender loving care. Not a single item was missed; from the chandeliers to the place settings, from the carpets to the floristry…and all in a very grand tent.

The tent, of course, was full of women and girls. The men were in another very plush tent next door. The women wore amazing finery but most were ensconced in a black opaque overcoat called an abaya. Nevertheless, their finery often came with a long train which followed the women outside of the overcoat. For us two English teachers the three yards of visible finery flowing behind them, was fascinating and we wished with all our hearts the women would cast-off the overcoat and show all. These three yards were encrusted with any amount of crystals, beading, lace, ruffles and truly exquisite fine fabrics; it felt like they were teasing us and of course they were all teasing each other. The competition in the tent between the women was overpoweringly recognizable and at a “do” such as this, one wanted to “out do” anyone and everyone if one could.

Chatter, gossip, laughter and music filled the air as we glided in-between these ornate female creatures discretely espying and memorizing as much of the finery and atmosphere as possible. All of a sudden, over a loud speaker, an anonymous and clandestine male voice, announced that dinner was ready to be served. The tent became a scurry of hushed voices blended with the rustle of fine linen, as the women frantically found their tables and began to discard their abayas. We watched in wonder and awe as the tent took on a different life and colour; crystals, gold and beads dazzled from every corner of the room as the women finally paraded their attire like peacocks. The scene was amazing and spellbinding and we two English teachers loved every single minute. We turned to each other and smiled and completely mesmerized, the two of us were the last to take our seats, as we watched this spectacle unfold. We were now being watched by thousands of Arabian female eyes, of all generations, as in slow motion and with smiles on our faces we graciously found our seats for dinner. The whole room rose, smiled and clapped at us.

And still no bride and groom had been seen.

To be continued……

Friday, 13 September 2013

The Feral Child in my Classroom

During my teaching life I have worked with, and helped, some very sad cases in many wild and remote parts of the world. It's always challenging and heart wrenching to be a prominent integral piece of the jigsaw of a very young child's sad story; but when you work hard and with passion, as part of a team, and actually make a difference and change something so very negative into a positive it makes the difficult periods in life worth the fight. I have often quietly told myself “I have seen most things” but then some other horrendous situation pops out the woodwork and I am faced with a new and daunting challenge that takes me on another difficult journey with a small innocent child.

This little boy, who I will refer to as Jon, arrived in my nursery school aged two years, still in nappies. Jon spoke well for his age and appeared a clever capable little boy. At nursery he seemed happy enough although I noticed he was a slight loner. He still parallel played alongside his friends and he liked spending time with his adult carers engaging in pleasing conversation and chit chat. He attempted to participate in all activities with great enthusiasm and often struggled to end an activity and move onto the next task. He often became so fully engrossed in an activity he was “lost” in his own little world. I remember thinking on many occasions that it was obvious he had never experienced most of the play and craft activities offered to him.

I noticed that Jon came to nursery, each day, in grubby clothes and often wore the same clothes all week. Sadly, it was reported to me that he was rather smelly and unclean and consequently I asked the staff to change him into clean clothes as often as necessary and give him a wipe down to freshen him up. Sensitively and tactfully (and on many occasions) I mentioned this to his mummy, but nothing really changed. Still he came to play in a rather unkempt, grubby and smelly condition.

It was also very quickly noticed that Jon was always hungry and very thirsty. He would “woof” down his snacks, lunch and tea and was always the first to ask for seconds and he never seemed to be full; he wanted to eat and eat, as if he just couldn't get enough. The same was noticed with drinks; he was thirsty all day, every day, and would gulp down his drink and immediately ask for more. I began to realise that maybe he was scared that if he didn’t fill up at nursery he would go hungry at home until he returned the next time to nursery. Again, very sensitively and tactfully, I had a difficult conversation with his mummy and I decided to begin to keep a confidential diary of events.

Jon's mummy showed no concerns, she said he was same at home and was "just a greedy child". His mummy commented that “she tried to restrict his food and drink intake at home” and that we should do the same at nursery. She said he was always hungry and had an antisocial relationship with food. I very quickly advised her that I could not withhold food and drink; it was against the law and if Jon was hungry and thirsty we would be sating him adequately while in our care. Disturbingly, we had even seen him scrabbling to eat food off the floor. When we asked him not to do this, he would take the food and run off and hide. I learnt from other professionals that once a teacher got close to mum she did not stay in the setting for long. As soon as you got close (or wise) she made her excuses and moved Jon to a new nursery setting, hoping to blend into the background and remain off the radar. I knew I needed to move quickly and wisely. I knew I had a difficult task ahead of me. I also knew I had a duty of care.

Within twenty four hours, Jon made my next move easier; he made the decision for me. Unbelievably I found him lapping water from the children’s miniature stalls. Down on his knees, bending over the “little” toilets in the miniature stalls, Jon was lapping like a dog. Distressed and shocked, I gathered him in my arms, took him to one side and asked him to try to tell me what he was doing and why. He told me, in his own words, clearly and succinctly, that "this is what I do at home". I asked him to try to explain why, he replied "mummy doesn't allow me to eat or drink". I was horrified and I immediately referred.

Jon was taken into foster care and later adopted, joined a Preschool and, I am pleased to tell you, thrived.

Sadly, Jon's birth mother showed no remorse or conscience and went on to have another child with another partner. There was much more depth to this story but I am sure you get the picture. My duty of care was to Jon. For him to be deprived of food and water, strapped in a high chair all day in order for a mother to continue her substance abuse and not have to bother to take care of her precious baby was completely unacceptable and abusive. To see him acting like a feral child was heartbreaking and I had to act and act quickly before she moved her family on again, got lost in the system and Jon possibly became a statistic.

As you can imagine, sweet tea served in my Royal Doulton rose encrusted fine bone china mug was a welcome interlude while dealing with this distressing scenario.

Thank God this child was saved.

The characters in this story have been anonymised and names changed to protect identification and respect confidentiality.

Friday, 6 September 2013

At Mrs Teacup's Arabian Classroom Door

We filed into the large tired drab auditorium in relative silence. Having only arrived twenty four hours before, no significant relationships had yet been formed. As good English citizens do, we formed an orderly line along the edge of the stage at the front of the auditorium to claim our refreshments, other's didn't queue. Brews of Arabic and English tea was boiling away.....sadly, to be served in white plastic cups. “Take two cups, one inside the other”, we were advised, “and be careful it could be very hot”. Most of us plumped for the English brew, although weak and very milky, at this early stage we were not brave enough to try the Arabic. To my surprise, and sadness, no fine English “rose patterned” bone china teacups (or PG Tips) were anywhere insight; weak, milky and white plastics cups it was then.

Having identified parents and carers at my classroom room door in England by their faces, style and personalities, it was astounding at induction to be informed in Arabia, and more importantly in this fee paying British Curriculum school, this was not so. Forty three teachers sat, aghast, when advised of the recommended tactics we were expected to use.
With thirty children in my class who were delivered and collected by different carers each day this ranked highly as the most stressful part of my day. It was not necessarily the children’s parents that collected; it could be a driver, nanny, maid, governess, grandparent or parent. And if these were female, it was a pretty much given that they would be encapsulated in black from head to toe with only their eyes showing.

As you all know Arabian men do not cover their faces, so for me it was gratifying when a male turned up to do the after school pick up. Unfortunately the fathers did not pick up regularly; generally a female member of the family appeared outside my door. Pick up was easier if not Muslim by faith or the lady came from a bordering country, as generally one saw the face and the female was only ensconced in the scarf. Any female Muslim was, more often than not, covered from head to toe in the abaya, scarf and veil and the more fundamental the more layers of black voile covered their faces. The most fundamental ladies even wore thick black gloves, tights and socks and some of the older generations wore a metal plate across the centre of their face. No flesh to be visible to the world at all, especially to men other than their immediate male family members.
Traditionally, the Burqa, was worn by the Bedouin women to protect them from the sun, sand and extreme elements on their nomadic travels through the desert. Wearing the Burqa is not an Islamic requirement and is traditionally steeped in local customs, culture and traditions. What is mandatory in Islam is to wear cloth or clothing that cover the whole body, including the hair, except the face and hands. The cloth or clothing (abaya) must not be tight so as to show off or enhance the female form and should not be transparent to make the under garments visible. It is stated that women "cover up" to preserve their modesty and out of respect for their husbands. Arabic women explained to me that the hair, lips and body are all classed as sexual symbols and these must not be on view to any man other than immediate male members of the family and behind the families front door.

So, in the humid dank auditorium, and in the management’s wisdom, we were tutored to ensure we learnt, and had the ability to, recognise each mother or female by, what was classed as normal practices, in this rural small Arabian town. Given a list to digest, a gasp and sharp intake of breath moved through the auditorium like a Mexican wave. Frowns, raised eyebrows and rolling of eyes were visible all around me but to my amazement management just glossed over our astonishment. Queries and comments were ignored and basically we were told to “get in with it”.
Dismissively, we were given our comprehensive list of recommended ways of recognising the covered women at our classroom doors. It was seriously recommended that we learn the sound of each mothers voice and then we were given a list of other helpful additions to observe, take note of and recognise.....rings, brooches, jewellery, shoes, handbags and even the decoration on their veils or abaya. It was even suggested that we recognise the way they walk. Scared, flabbergasted and in a state of shock, I really didn't digest much more of that induction, as, I am sure did no one else. These practices were to haunt me every day of my teaching life in Arabia. I never did feel comfortable and was always terrified I would let a child go home with the wrong person.

The end of the school day was a very stressful time. I would shake and my heart would race and I could hear it beating in my chest. I was unable to bring myself to leave my classroom door or trust anyone else to see my class home safely. I saw my children home safely myself every single day. The only person I felt I could trust (if I was otherwise engaged in other teaching responsibilities) was my Lebanese teaching assistant, although I was constantly worried about the repercussions of child being lost or taken.
On several occasions, we heard of men disguising themselves in the Burqa and Hijab (veil), clad in black from head to toe and wearing ladies shoes, attempting to kidnap young children from schools for organ donation which would be sold to friends, acquaintances and family in other parts of the world. This was shocking and outrageous and caused much condemnation among me and my colleagues. The criminals carrying out these disgusting deeds were part of a sophisticated underworld that somehow secured much personal information about a particular child in a particular school and often managed to get by school security and arrive at the classroom door. As teachers and carers, no matter how worried and stressed we were, we could be nothing but vigilant, responsible and wise. This was normal practice in this part of the world and this was the way it was. Terrifying and completely beyond my understanding, I found myself ever over cautious at my classroom door. I am pleased to tell you my children went home safely with the right adult at all times.

At the end of each day, as you can well imagine, a strong brew (with a mars bar) was always a welcome and relaxing interlude in the staffroom after all the children were safely reunited with their families.