I was born in 1950, the second child of Aline and Lawrence Mason. My parents were both from poor backgrounds. My mother was born and grew up in Mauritius a small island in the Indian Ocean. At that time it was a British Colony although its' ethnicity and culture was a rich mix of Dutch, French, English, Indian, African and Chinese. She was a catholic, french was her first language and rice and curry her favourite food. My Father was English with Irish heritage, consequently he was also a catholic. Another thing they had in common was believing that joining the British Army was a good way for them to see the world and meet new people. They met as young recruits in Palestine, came back to England, married and started a family. My father had left school at thirteen, virtually unable to read and write. His education had suffered due to ill health as had that of many working class children of the time. He had consumption – now known as tuberculosis – and had been sent to an open air school where little
learning happened. After trying many different apprenticeships ranging from sheet-metal bending to furniture making, his army experience led him to join the Fire Service. When I was a child he was a handsome, uniformed hero to me, driving his big red fire engine and saving people's lives.
When I was born I was thought to be perfect, (which of course I was). After four days my parents became very concerned at my incessant crying every time they picked me up or tried to change my nappy. They took me back to hospital where X-rays helped doctors to diagnose Osteogenesis Imperfecta, or
Brittle Bones. As I already had fractures in my legs they thought I had a very
severe form of the condition, and told my parents that I would probably not live very long. I have a deep and defining memory of this moment when it felt that the whole world stepped back from me.
Being a disabled child is very different from being a non- disabled child. The world you inhabit is shaped by prejudice, assumptions, false predictions, and fear. Your ability to withstand this is dependent on the people with whom you are connected – how much they can love you and protect you from the value judgements of others. This is itself a matter of luck – how much support and information they themselves have, and how confident they are to challenge authority and the insidious attempts of society to de-value their children.
My family were a mixed bag. They did love me, of this I had no doubt, but they did not have the confidence to fight for me. Consequently my early years were dominated by professionals and by the power of the State to separate me from
ordinary society. I spent many months in hospitals, and many years isolated at home. My education consisted of five hours a week Home Tuition while my sister went to school. The boredom and loneliness was crushing.
At the age of fourteen I went to a residential Special School in Hampshire, at my own request. It was the first and only place in the UK in which disabled girls could study up to A' level standard. There I was able to study a greater range of subjects and consequently get the qualifications to get into Art College, my sole ambition of the time. More importantly, it gave me access to other young women like me, all of us angry at how the world was treating us. Much healing laughter and tears were shared in our night time dormitories.
At seventeen I went to Art College. It was my first venture into the able-bodied world and neither side were prepared for it. I was too shy to speak, they were too awkward to help. I spent three fairly unhappy years learning about the world in which I had been told I was too
faulty to enter. I was generally shocked and disillusioned. The non-disabled world was really not that great, and the people in it seemed to know very little. I realised that I was not motivated by competition, greed or artistic ego, and that commercial art was not for me. This of course led to a big problem in that I was not trained to do anything else. Added to the fact that most employers were too shocked by my diminutive size to imagine me managing in their factories or offices, I was forced down a very difficult path to follow, but one which has, in the end, been infinitely richer and more satisfying than a life designing cereal boxes or advertisements. I had to learn to take charge of my own life.
The remainder of my story up to now demands a whole book to be written. The significant events are:
- all my close relationships;
- becoming politicised via the women's movement;
- discovering and joining the Alternative Society, (a meeting place for radical thinkers in all areas of social development from world peace to education, including Dr. E.F. Schumacher, Leopld Kohr and many others);
- meeting Harvey Jackins and (partially) recovering from past hurts through learning to use the tools of Re-Evaluation Co-Counselling;
- helping to develop the Disability Movement;
- daring to have a baby;
- meeting politicised parents of disabled children;
- meeting Richard Rieser and starting the Alliance for Inclusive Education;
- the ongoing struggle to use my counselling, speaking, artistic and literary skills in the service of humanity rather than profit.
I live in Tooting, South-West London and I'm now a state pensioner although I myself find this hard to believe. I am still waiting to feel that I have become a
grown-up. My life gets better with age, so don't fear it, all you young ones. You are free to do what you want especially if you know how to live well on a very modest income, and how to stay connected to people.
I still believe that people are essentially good, and can and will eventually build a classless, inclusive society. I love being part of making it happen.
Apart from all the above issues, I am interested in listening to folk music, painting and photography, and I am still dreaming of setting up a co-housing community with friends where we can grow old disgracefully together. We just seem to be short of about £200.000, so if anyone out there wants to make a useful investment, please let us know!