School Peers By John Walker

The friends they had

Chris, sweet shop

Chris, food

Lulu, a birthday with a Deaf family

Transcript for 'Chris, sweet shop':

CW - On Monday, after school, we regularly have a sweet shop. We would all line up to buy our sweets, we had to pay for them but they were extremely cheap. The sweets we bought were placed into a box and given back to the House Mother, who locked the boxes away.

The next day, if we wanted some sweets, the House Mother would allow us to take some from our boxes and decide when we have taken too much, and the remaining sweets were locked away again. The sweets were severely rationed but then again, I left the school with good teeth.

Transcript for 'Chris, food':

CW - When my Mum and Dad moved to Brighton, I became a day boarder. At home, I had access to all the luxuries that home could afford. But when I arrived at school in the mornings, I saw my friends leave the dining room after breakfast - the smell that wafted from the dining room was of grease and fat - it was from the fried breakfast. The smell from the kitchen was shocking.

I use to eat that food before, when I was a day boarder, but that is the way it goes.

JW - You didn't like the food there?

CW - It was awful, really awful. At one time, a group of us decided we wanted to protest and complain about the quality of food; we had a ringleader who wanted to approach the chef. In our request to the teachers, the chef refused to negotiate with even them. So, we were prepared to be forthright and tell the chef what we think of his food. Funnily enough, we pulled out at the last minute.

If you met the chef, you would have thought twice about standing up to him, he had a gruff appearance and a handlebar moustache. He had an annoyed look but in reality he was a very nice man on a personal level; but you wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of him. So, we chickened out in the end.

So, we carried on eating bad food.

It is the same on Sunday, when Mum and Dad would drop us off at the school for the week. We travelled from London to Brighton, it was a long journey. But at dinner time, I would have tea and not supper. I only had an orange juice with a slice of cake. We were absolutely starving through the evening, until the morning, when we eat that breakfast to make up for it.

In general, the food was just plain awful!

Transcript for 'Lulu, a birthday with a Deaf family':

LF - There was one occasion which made a huge impact for me. I was invited by a school friend to a birthday party. I was really excited to go. The friend's family were all deaf, including two sisters and the parents were deaf too. My parents took me to the friend's house with the aim to drop me off. When we arrived, my parents had difficulty to understand the friend's parents - I of course had no problem to understand them because they were using sign language. The two sets of parents tried to communicate with each other but they weren't getting anywhere. I remember sitting down wondering what's wrong with them; why can't they understand each other? By the look of it, something wasn't right between them and I could feel it.

Then a next door neighbour arrived and she helped to translate the conversation between the parents. My first thought was 'why did this person arrive and why was she needed?' It never occurred to me then but retrospectively I now know she was interpreting between English and BSL. 

My friend's parents were trying to explain that their son was ill and it wasn't possible for me to stay overnight. The actual plan originally was for me to stay over and then travel to school with the friend, but he was simply too ill to go to school. 

After their discussion, it was agreed that my parents would go out for a while and I could play with my friend's sisters. My friend was simply too ill to do anything and was chucking up. So, the younger sister was looking after me and we had a good time. I enjoyed it so much because there were no communication problems in this home.

Compared to life at home, I had hearing friends but the relationships were of a different substance and the level of communication was different.

When my Mother came to pick me up, I really didn't want to go - I was particularly upset about leaving. They gave me a slice of cake to take home, to send me on my way. But I remember sitting in the car, on the way back - I remember feeling something has changed for me; it felt like a turning point that there was something else for me out there. I became aware of the difference between people who can sign and people who can't, from the age of eight years old.

This page was added on 21/09/2012.

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