Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Frank speaking

A la recherche du temps perdu

The climatically settled Pliocene epoch is ending, thunders The Times. Yesterday it was certainly feeling that way in Birmingham as minute by minute the weather fluctuated between Arctic winter and unprecedentedly premature spring, making small beans indeed of Conductive Education’s stage change at the end of its own relatively settled international period.

To suit the weather I was muffled up in greatcoat and scarf, my hat pulled down over my eyes against the icy wind, and wearing dark glasses against the brilliant sunlight, even more than usually anonymous, but I was spotted nonetheless. A voice called my name from across the street, and persisted when I ignored it.

It was Frank Clark. I doubt that we’ve seen each other in fifteen years – but he’d spot me if anyone would..

Frank Clark? One of the iconic figures in British parents’ first struggle to access Conductive Education, following the 1986 screening of Standing up for Joe and that first exodus to Budapest that prized open the then Pető Institute for the world.

What a different world flooded back when talking to him. Distant drums indeed. Forgotten battles, defeats and triumphs; and half-remembered names and faces, British and Hungarian, Some dead now, most long gone their separate ways and lost from contact.

This was a heroic time – or so I like to remember it – and Frank was one of its many heroes. Money-changing, flat-finding and general wheeler-dealing in Budapest in the last days of Socialism – and at the rickety start of the Pető Institute’s unprepared and often unedifying love affair with capitalism,

More important, perhaps, were his activities at home, battling against those who sought to stifle Conductive Education in the United Kingdom before it could be established there, not least the then Spastics Society and its associates. Those were hard times and Frank was an implacable shock-trooper against the enemies who stood in Conductive Education‘s way, turning the weapons of direct action and the stubborn self-confidence of the nineteen-eighties shop-steward on to the suits who stood against us. No one made much of a case once battling Frank was chained to the railings outside, in front of national television.

Things progress so much slowly now… perhaps shock tactics were too easily dropped from the armoury of the conductive movement!

Frank and many other pioneers were adept at using the mass media, particularly television. I remember, for example an early morning on the couch for national BBC Breakfast TV. I was just the back-up act, the star turns were Frank and his family.. But those were pre-Internet days and a quick scan through Google finds no trace of him or his peers.

'I could write a book'

‘I could write a book about those days,’ he said to me. People often say that to me about their struggles for Conductive Education – not just in the United Kingdom and not just that long ago – and I always respond in the same way: ‘Why don’t you? Somebody’s got to’. Nobody has, time is marching on, and slowly but surely not everyone involved is still with us.

People have done some extraordinary things to access Conductive Education – and still do –  in doing so revealing some extraordinary things about a dirty underbelly of society. What they experienced at the hands of professionals and public bodies have important implications for society that go well beyond the small world of Conductive Education and the slightly wider one of motor disorder.

Frank and I are meeting round the pub next week to swap stories and twenty-year-old pletyka*. And I shall try to fill him in on some of what has happened in Conductive Education since he moved on – this will be no easy task but it will be a very interesting one!

* A common Hungarian word, meaning something like ‘gossip’, rumour’, ‘ dirt’

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