Hands that can help

13th June 2003 at 01:00
LAST month we went to Mona's funeral. She was over 90 and had been a resident in the hospital where my son performed community service as part of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme. He hit it off with her immediately and returned each week with tales of competitive card games and stories swapped between the generations separated by more than 70 years.

So much did Mona look forward to his visits that, after the award had been completed, he continued. It was a friendship that could never have been predicted but was a bright spot in the week for both of them. He worried over the weeks when Mona was too ill to receive visitors but brightened when she regained her strength and he was able to resume the routine.

In the end, a phone message from the hospital told us that Mona had died peacefully. It was sad, if not unexpected, and we all mourned for the old lady who had become part of our lives even though only our son had actually met her.

Her funeral was, as you would expect, a celebration of a long and fulfilled life as well as a sad goodbye for family and friends. It was also an opportunity for us to find out more about her.

Mona's life story reflected her times. She was born in Omagh, Co Tyrone, and moved to Merseyside, the west coast of Scotland and finally to Edinburgh. Her praises were sung by members of the Edinburgh Croquet Club, who recalled that, in her efforts to initiate a memorial trophy for her husband, she had been so egalitarian in the handicapping that the first winner had been an 80-year-old about to enter hospital for a cataract operation.

The minister told us that all that was known about her education in the 1920s was that she attended a boarding school for girls in Sussex, which had been run by a one-armed headmistress. To astonished laughter, he added that the educational legacy of such an establishment was that Mona, like all her schoolmates, had been taught how to write with both hands.

So there, in the unlikely setting of the crematorium, was a message with some resonance for us in 21st century education, left by a long gone headmistress in Sussex. Rather than following the lead of the contemporary popular press and equating inclusion with disruption, we should maybe extend our understanding of the term and, with renewed vigour, set about educating the whole child, including as wide an experience as possible for our pupils, to equip them for whatever vagaries the world may throw at them.

An even-handed approach, you might say!

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