Visitor #55 has left the building


was once Visitor Number 55. I put on a badge and entered a building with little or no idea of what to expect. I felt, as usual, shy.

Thirty, more, sixty, ninety, a hundred and twenty, half-a-generation’s worth of faces looked at me, some in passing, some curious, some to become friends. I sat and played. I read stories, held hands (many), washed hands (many), wiped tables, read books (more than many), pointed at maps, led comprehension exercises (few), glued things (including my fingers and clothes), stood in roads like a human bollard (one bollard, many roads), stopped children from eating bits of hedge (just the one), got CRB-checked, got DBS-checked, jumped in pools, stood beside pools (a hundred times), folded little soggy tracksuits, picked up little pairs of glasses, and socks (so many socks), led small people to beaches and museums, sat in buses, herded people through castles and gardens, herded them back, filed to the Charity Commission, wrote minutes, stood outside toilets, brushed up glitter, helped with costumes, walked in parades, chased rubber ducks, acted as custodian of lost teeth 😬, dug gardens, weeded brambles, bought fruit trees, filled in fundraising forms, wrote leaflets, posted online, visited shops and begged, visited parents and begged, pick-axed a mound, built a fence, campaigned for parking, funded a driveway, filmed foxes and badgers (few but many times), cleaned out sheds (two), read more books, collected for a library, asked Twitter, liked things on Twitter, followed people on Twitter, contacted publishers, ran for charity, ran a Parkrun, ran after a school bus in my pyjamas (just one, and once was enough)… 

cut out cardboard, got scissor-blisters, yanked drawing pins and staples out of doors (surprisingly few – this is harder than it looks), painted exterior walls, voted for governors, shaped clay, met a chicken called Football, threw beanbags, helped tiny people to throw beanbags, and dribble footballs around cones, and jump through hoops, picked up cones, stacked chairs, carried tables, folded tables, got stuck folding tables, dangled, brushed up halls, sang out of tune at carol services, danced badly at discos, poured squash at discos, washed spitty cups at discos (thousands of washings), learned about kennings, helped others learn about kennings, planted a Christmas tree, baked cakes, sold cakes, put up gazebos, folded raffle tickets, sold jam jars full of toys, got stampeded, sat in circles, got sat on in circles, wrote on whiteboards, bought pens, donated pens, made cups of tea, grimaced through Beowulf, sniffed through War Horse, soared with Skellig, dressed someone up as Saucepan Man, made up stories, wrote bedtime stories for the children to read on school trips, tried to show children how to write stories in their own voices, watched out for commas, asked who wanted to read, cried a little bit when they all put their hands up, listened to assemblies, listened to guitar recitals, locked cupboards, gave back keys, muttered about fronted adverbials, helped a frightened non-reader grow to win a reading prize, washed spare uniforms, explained how I wasn’t someone’s mother, explained how I was someone’s mother, stuck Dewey decimal stickers, stamped inside covers, planted things, wanted to belong, grew to love education–classrooms–field–trees–people, in particular all children everywhere, wished I could have been more than just a visitor, and left.

It took fifteen years.

This week, I gave back the badge that told people, ‘I was once Visitor Number 55.’

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