Celtic Illumination, part 284, Let your fingers do the talking.
The company I was working for, the training company, was known as TPT, Tomorrows People Today. It had been started by a local priest who borrowed a lorry, picked up some of his unemployed parishioners, then drove around the local factories and tried to find them work. It was the sort of simple and direct approach that I liked. TPT had now expanded into a training company providing training courses in bricklaying, carpentry, motor mechanics and the like. Unfortunately the plain and simple approach had long gone and the company was now run by a committee. Basically it was a bunch of amateurs playing at being top flight professional business people.
After the ten minutes I spent cobbling together my six week, in depth, course timetable I began to twiddle my thumbs. Not being senior executive material like myself you probably do not know what ‘twiddling my thumbs’ means. It’s sort of reviewing my core competency while taking an idea shower but still blue sky thinking. Once again I was finding that certain people were far too important to talk to me and that annoyed me. Not that I felt myself important, not at all. In my naiveté I actually thought that we were all there to help and encourage people. Not so. While still in the two week planning period I was asked to cover for the fellow who interviewed and selected potential candidates for the bricklaying, motor mechanic and carpentry courses. He was having a day or two off so I went to see him.
He showed me the test that he gave to all applicants and explained that they had to achieve at least seventy five percent to be considered for a course. If they passed the test then it was up to me, if I liked the look of them, to offer them a course. I was a little bit shocked to find that the application process for government sponsored training courses was so haphazard. But I suppose all I had to do was look at myself to see how in-depth the training I had received for my position was. At least I had an assistant, who couldn’t join me until the course actually started as she was still running the company telephone switchboard.
People began turning up to see if they could join my course. I didn’t really know what to expect so welcomed all with open arms. I stuck to the basic rule that as long as they were registered disabled and unemployed then I would take them on. Action For Blind People, who were sponsoring my course, had put the word out along its own network so the first fellow to turn up was indeed blind. We sat down and began to have a chat, he was a little reserved so we talked about this and that before I could focus in and begin to find out what he wanted. “Okay,” I said, at the appropriate moment. “What can I do for you? What do you want to do?” The guy took a deep breath. “I want to be a disc jockey on the radio,” he said. My mind was already going at four million miles per hour, I mean where do you start, how does anybody become a disc jockey on the radio?
Bits of information began to cobble themselves together in my head, from Stevie Wonder to hospital radio stations, and I could see that this was going to be one interesting problem to solve. “Sure,” I said. “I don’t see why not.” What I didn’t expect was for the fellow to begin to cry. Now I really didn’t know what to do. “What’s the problem?” I asked, showing the normal amount of sympathy, emotion and understanding most rugby players would show. “No one has ever said yes to me before,” he said. It was at that point I realised just how important my position was and that I was the perfect fellow for the job because you would need to be a little bit crazy to tackle fifteen problems like this all at once.
After that they came in dribs and drabs, but I did end up with fifteen individuals signed up for my course. Unfortunately none of them were deaf. I say unfortunately because I was now sent off to Preston to take a short course in British Sign Language. I found it really interesting and was smiling like the proverbial village idiot at the end of the course as I had my first real conversation with a deaf person using sign language. I had of course used my fingers before to communicate and before any of you jump to conclusions you should know that I am referring to the battlefield signals I learned on my course at Hereford. Apart from learning a new skill I found out that people who were qualified in the use of British Sign Language were in great demand from the deaf community.
I was told that when a deaf person needed a translator, say if they had a meeting with a solicitor, they wanted someone independent to translate for them. They would normally have to have a social worker interpret for them and they hated the fact that the social workers were getting to know about their personal lives. It was also very well paid. It had been good to get away for a couple of days and do something different; I’m a great one in believing in the power of the subconscious. I had fifteen little problems bubbling away in the back of my mind and I had hoped that the old grey matter had done its stuff, because fifteen people were depending on me.
The people who signed up for the course were quite a range of individuals. One I remember very well was John. John was a thick set fellow who stood at about six foot tall. He had the most wonderful mop of ginger hair and an upper set of prominent teeth that gave him a permanent smile. You couldn’t help look at him and grin. He was a gentle giant who had learning disabilities and suffered grand mal epileptic seizures. John loved working outside and with his hands, so quite naturally he was well suited for horticulture. But on speaking to John I discovered that he would love to be able to do a little bit more, like build small retaining walls. So as far as I was concerned John could do a horticulture course and a small portion of brick laying.
This suggestion was far too difficult for TPT management to understand. John, as far as they were concerned, would do a horticulture course and then a bricklaying course. I explained that John couldn’t pass their written test to get on the bricklaying course. I was sick of their attitudes so went and saw the bricklaying tutor myself. I explained that John only needed to know how to produce basic cement, prepare the foundation and then erect a small retaining wall. The bricklaying tutor agreed that not only could he do this but that he would like to do it. Thankfully I was able to get the management to agree to my plan and so not only did I have a personalised training course set up for John but there was a job for him at the end of it all.
Unfortunately I had to go away for a few days and on my return was greeted with a lot of people looking at the floor in front of them and John sitting back in my classroom. I was summoned to the general manager’s office who informed me that the management’s initial decision had been correct, that John should not have been allowed to participate in the bricklaying training. John had started the training and was getting along fine when he suffered a grand mal epileptic seizure. His writhing and wriggling scared all those present witless and they didn’t want to experience it again. I mean, they claimed, what if he was on scaffolding and he had a seizure?
It was clear to see that they had made up their narrow, closed, minds, although scaffolding for a small retaining wall is something I would love to see. It was of course my entire fault so I decided to hit back. I contacted the local hospital and spoke to an expert in epilepsy. I managed to convince them to come to TPT and give a short talk about epilepsy to the staff. They agreed and came to TPT. I was still being given the evil eye by many of the staff who were determined to use the incident to stop, not just any of my students going into their classrooms, but anyone with epilepsy. We were all in one classroom and the epilepsy expert began to run through the causes, definition and different levels of epilepsy.
She was very good and explained the subject in fantastic, simple, detail. Certain members of staff kept asking barbed questions, quite obviously looking for excuses not to have to deal with someone with epilepsy. I had managed to have a brief word with the expert beforehand and explained my position. I was glad to see that the expert was on my side, but even more so when I could see that she was getting fed up with the objectors. “Look,” she said. “Have you ever been lying in bed and you start to imagine that you are standing at the top of a flight of stairs?” Most of the staff present were nodding. “And then you think that you are beginning to fall and you suddenly wake up with a start.” “Yes,” they were all saying, not realising that they were indeed falling, but into her trap. “Right,” she says. “That’s epilepsy. Everyone is epileptic; it’s just that some people suffer more than others.”