So, how about Episode 8 of ‘Educating Yorkshire’! Best TV of the year? Apart from that ‘Breaking Bad’, oh and ‘The Great British Bake Off’ not to mention ‘Paxman vs. Brand’… Still though, this episode focused largely on Musharaf, a year 11 student whom suffers with a problem I related to very closely.
Let me begin with an encounter from my childhood...
A group of children, myself included, surround a male tennis coach; we’re standing in an arc around our senior, him with his back to the net. Pointing at us with his finger he takes his register by asking us to shout our names, simple enough you might think. Then, he reaches...
Me: silent, closed mouth and lips contorted.
Him: "Haha, no really what's you name mate?"
Me: stuck-tongued and kick-starting.
Him: "have you?" to group "HE'S FORGOTTEN HIS OWN NAME!?"
I don't clearly remember what happened after that, it undoubtedly involved feelings of isolation and acute embarrassment as he carried on oblivious. I hadn't forgotten my name, I was ten and coming to terms with what was turning out to be a rather severe little stammer. At the time I probably wished for the world to open and swallow me up, anything to divert those beady little eyes whilst I slipped away and disappeared. This, for me, was a turning point; the moment I became aware of my impairment and of the impending problems it might cause for the rest of my life.
Until recently I spent a long time forgiving the ridicule, I understood that syllable repetition might sound funny, the usually inoffensive Ronnie Barker helped with that in ‘Open All Hours’. I could understand speech blockages caused feelings of awkwardness so I would apologise for orders to 'get a move on' and 'spit it out'. Now though I am less tolerant of such reactions.
There is, however, a benefit to such behavior. Depending on a person’s reaction to my stammer I can very quickly decipher whether or not I want to spend time getting to know them. It’s a very efficient time saving device. It also allows me to see the humanity in kinder individuals.
Watching the program I noticed very quickly that Musharaf had a stammer very similar to how mine was at school, a virtual mute under pressure, and he was approaching one of the most stressful times I think I have ever experienced. As a teenager without a voice it didn’t even cross my mind to protest the issue of having to take the same speaking exam as everyone else despite my disability. The impending date just grew and evolved into an ever-larger bomb of anxiety. I had headaches from the tension caused by worrying. Some teachers were great and encouraging, and I don’t blame the ones who were less understanding, I blame the education system for failing children with severe speech impediments.
During this final episode of the series we see Musharaf spending time with a very compassionate group of teachers, each determined to develop some kind of method of allowing him to speak more fluently. English teacher Mr. Burton encourages him to listen to music whilst giving his speech. The moment where we first hear a fluent stream of words coming from Musharaf’s mouth made for such powerful viewing that we can forgive the impracticalities of the technique.
I have tried to decipher the benefits for every single child to be made to read a passage of prose from the AQA Anthology but I simply cannot work it out. I disagree that it is confidence building for all. A physician had only to read my heart rate or feel the clammy palms of my hands as my turn came around and they might have presumed I was about to suffer a serious medical misfortune. Things seemed to have reached their lowest when I was asked to leave my Welsh oral exam after five minutes of awkward struggling, leading to my getting a U grade, despite being a fluent Welsh writer and listener, and indeed speaker stammer aside.
To some this might seem like a trivial subject, it often is deemed to be a minor disability but I wanted to write this piece because I think that Musharaf and children like him deserve more attention than the time he was given in the 45 minutes of Channel 4 programming. He should be heralded as a true hero, a maverick, fearless as he offered input during classes when he could have sat silent, eternally optimistic and unfathomably patient.
This might sound a bit excessive and ‘Gladiator-ish’ but during the end of year ceremony for Musharaf’s classmates we see him volunteering to stand up at the front of the assembly hall and give a speech thanking his peers and the staff for their support. No one made him do this, but despite his affliction he was determined to show his appreciation. As he put on his headphones, pressed play and began reading his speech with no more than a quick stumble we were shown how this display of bravery moved even the most unlikely of lads to tears.
For me, Channel 4’s depiction of Musharaf’s story represented a great will to persevere and succeed. I wasn’t as brave as Musharaf at school but I used my legs and lungs this year to raise awareness of the treatment and consideration of children like Musharaf by running the London Marathon for Action for Stammering Children. Also, I can now say my name without too much trouble, which is handy.