I am in London, at a conference in Holborn today. J’s father texts me and reminds me J is playing at a concert at St Martin in the Fields church. I look at a map while listening to a speaker on changes to terms and conditions and realise if I leave for lunch early, I can get to see him. I march briskly through the West End and Covent Garden until I get to the Church. Once there, no one has any idea what I am talking about – there is no concert, am I sure it is today? Am I in the right place? I assure people that I am and my son has texted me from this very building. Eventually security find me roaming through the dressing rooms and are about to throw me out when one of them realised who I am talking about and takes me to J.
There is no concert, but he is playing two solo pieces for an architect conference about designing arts buildings for schools. The room is filled with the great and good of the architecture world, journalists and educationalists. And there is J, standing tall and proud with not a trace of nerves. The Director of Music introduces him as probably one of the best bassoonists in the country but also a creative musician, with a tremendous passion for contemporary music. J introduces the pieces and I am stunned by how articulate and confident he sounds . Then he plays and I can really see through the eyes of others how good he is. I stand at the back and blink back tears as usual. I shouldn’t be here, this isn’t my conference or even my world. I keep expecting someone to ask me who I am and prepare my “I’m with the band” look.
At the end there is loud applause and J bows. This is the boy who was told he would never pass an exam. This is a boy who was told his insistence on finishing work was disruptive in reception class, whose autism led to obsessive scrutiny of his every quirk and idiosyncrasy as “symptoms”. This is the boy who found a bassoon in an attic and taught himself to play it, who by accident ended up at a music school where suddenly he was seen as talented, special, no longer a weirdo.
Every school in the country preaches the value of teaching that each child is unique and deserves to be nurtured to find a place in the world. But in reality, it is so, so rare. Too often education is about order and conformity and I never forget how lucky we have been. J is surrounded by people at the end of the performance and I consider sneaking away. But instead I go up to him and tap his arm to say goodbye. I wonder if he will be embarrassed, what 18 year old wants his mother hanging around ? But he beams back at me and says “Bye Mum” as curious faces look at me. I walk quickly back to my conference, trying very hard not to skip with joy along the street.