Category: Events

We Scuffled in Skiffle and Survived.

On thursday night my friends and I went to a concert at the local theatre. This was a brave decision on their part considering one of them hates anything to do with theatre and the other is a big fan of ‘EDM’ (Electronic Dance Music). To me on the other hand, a theatre visit is the ultimate definition of a good night out and ‘EDM’ is what you get when someone leaves the ‘A’ out of Edam. This is why I was very surprised when they came with a group of friends and I to a skiffle music concert…

The tickets had been booked before christmas by our enthusiastic key worker at college. A small group of us had shown interest in going to see something at the local theatre, and she spent a happy hour with us in the common room putting stars next to potentially good acts. ‘The London Philharmonic Skiffle Orchestra’ won the vote on which event we were going to buy tickets for and everyone was looking forward to it. The programme promised vibrant mandolin music and (as a mandolinist in training myself) I was very excited for the opportunity to hear the instrument being played properly for once!

By the time it came to going to the concert the group had completely evolved from our original gathering of programme circlers. People had dropped in and out and to my surprise the group now included my EDM listening friend J, who admitted that he had been heavily persuaded by our key worker to come along. On the day of the gig, when faced with a psychology night class, my friend P quickly joined the group also; casting aside all previous hatred of theatre based activities. Both J and P were fairly nervous about the gig and as they tentatively shuffled into skiffle they gave me looks of “Oh what have you brought us to…”.

As we entered the auditorium I was informed that Lai would probably bark during the performance because of the high pitch of some of the music. I was slightly apprehensive because even though the venue would be expecting this it is still embarrassing to have a barking dog next to you. As soon as we stepped into the theatre we were jumped on by the stewards and the theatre manager who had reserved spaces for our group at the front of the tiered seating stand. I came around the corner and was immediately told that they were going to put a seat below the rest of our group (on the same level as the stage) for me and my dog.

“But I’d really rather not sit by myself.” I calmly protested.

“But the seating is raised. We can move a chair so you can sit with a friend.” the lady replied.

“It’s no problem, she has been on raised seating before.” I added whilst gesturing to my guide dog- who at the time was putting on an exemplary pair of puppy-dog eyes.

“But it’s carpeted… And there’s also fire safety to think of”. My face was now a perfect model of someone who was not impressed. She evidently knew she had made a mistake with the carpet comment, especially when I called for my key worker to come and back me up. Safe to say I managed to get a seat with my friends, although I was consistently reminded that Lai must not be anywhere near the aisle. Being my guide dog, and a very sassy one too at times, Lai took great pleasure in daringly throwing her tail into the aisle from time to time during the performance.

The music started with a lively number in which we learnt the names of each member of the group. Mike, Martyn, Captain Cabbage and Ron were lively mature men wearing brightly coloured clothes and large wigs. Their first piece, a chant, had P turning round and giving me raised eyebrows and a look which clearly said ‘What on earth?!”.

The music quickly moved on to a catchy song which involved the chorus ‘Buy, buy, buy viagra!’. This had all of our group uncontrollably snorting with laughter. There were so many brilliant pieces in the set with vocals that had the audience grinning from ear to ear. Collectively they can play an overwhelming amount of instruments: violin, banjo, harmonica, ukelele, mandolin, guitar, bouzouki, knee trumpets, washboards, suitcases, trumpet, saw, accordion, double bass, sousaphone, bagpipes and spoons! We saw a lot of these instruments during the set and seeing someone play an industrial saw with a violin bow was certainly an experience I won’t forget! I was very proud because Lai stayed silent throughout it all.

The music was fun and bouncy, making us all want to dance and sing. Wrapped in it were such good feelings of happiness, whit and good humour- it was infectious. As we arrived back at college and were signing ourselves in for the night we were still rowdily running through the catchiest of the night’s choruses together. It was a fantastic experience and I have certainly now earned the musical respect of my friends. Lai is now considering learning to play the spoons professionally and I am aiming to be able to play the mandolin to at least half the ability of Martyn Oram.

Overall it was an amazing night.

NATSPEC Student Conference

On tuesday I had the pleasure of being part of the group representing my college at the NATSPEC student conference. NATSPEC is the Association of National Specialist Colleges and it works to connect and support all the specialist colleges in the country. The conference was set up to give the students of the colleges a chance to give their opinions on the specialist education system and to meet each other.

Unfortunately getting into a specialist college isn’t as easy as enrolling in a mainstream school. Funding needs to be granted from the local authority for a student to be educated elsewhere, and a case needs to be made for why the funding is necessary. The funding application process is long and stressful, and a lot of hard work needs to go into it. This is something that every student at the conference had to face to get to their specialist college, and why NATSPEC are working to change the system for the better to give more young people the opportunity to benefit from specialist education. The new Children and Families Act is due to change the specialist education system again, and it is important that the views of the people it will effect are shown now.

The conference was held at the very impressive  National Star College near Cheltenham. The day started with introductions and we were put into groups with a few representatives of each college per table. On our table we were sharing with some lovely staff and students from Derwen College who we quickly got chatting with. The activities involved writing down our answers to some set questions on large pieces of paper. They covered a range of topics- from what we would recommend about specialist colleges, to what NATSPEC should do to improve the current system. With each question came very valuable discussions and ideas began to fly. Everyone on the tables, both staff and students, were passionate about the fact that specialist education is vital and needs to be protected and made available for more young people. As funding gets more and more difficult to obtain for prospective students the more these colleges struggle to stay open. I had never really thought about the effects of the funding system on the colleges themselves, and it was a real eye opener to hear about it. All over the room I could hear words like ‘Life changing’ and ‘Independence’ being used and so many more positive words being scribbled in big letters on each group’s sugar paper. It breaks my heart that every year so many young people get denied these opportunities because of the harsh funding process.

When asked what I would say to someone thinking about going to a specialist college I replied: “You can stop worrying about your disability and start learning and living.” and I mean it with all my heart.

It was an amazing day and NATSPEC is now in the process of planning it’s new campaign using the ideas students gave. You can read more about NATSPEC here, and see my thoughts on my personal move to specialist education here. I’ve seen the way specialist education can change lives, and I think it is something that we should definitely be fighting for.