My landlady was going away for the first week I would be back at her house, and she trusted me with care of the house, which, back then was a bit of a risk as I was not as responsible with property then as I have become, and my first week back at college was incredibly stressful, so my landlady came back to an untidy and chaotic house, but still took me out for a meal, which shows what a decent person she is.
College in this first year of the NDA (National Diploma in Agriculture), was very hard, on the first diploma I had been surrounded by students with problems and disabilities, so I fitted in better, the National Diploma was all high-flyers with experience, ability, and without exception they were settled, had family, and didn’t have learning difficulties, I was the idiot, but because I was undiagnosed with anything whatsoever and had the ability with coursework I was put on the NDA instead of being put on the easier NCA (National Certificate in Agriculture) and having the option of ‘Bridging’ to the final year of the NDA if I was able to cope, which is what other students with problems would have done. If I had done that then I would have completed the NCA easily I think, and history would have changed because I would never have gone to Dorset in the end and thus would have been unlikely to have gone to Jersey either.
But no one knew what was wrong, they thought I was unsocialised or traumatised at most, and that I would gain confidence and be ok, I did not and I queried the tutors about my machinery skills and was told that I had an MO1 and some students on the course did not, so I was ahead of them, but MO1 did not mean that at all, it meant I had proved safe operation, not experience, and all the others had the experience, I was right, I should not have been on the NDA, if I had done NCA then I would have been alongside entry level students and may have been ok, but as it was I was simply not ready for NDA practically or emotionally, and the other students knew it, they tormented me, they wrote things about me on the bus shelter and walls, they wrote unkind notes about me that I saw, and as, despite my problems, I was course representative, when I was giving out student notices in class, I told them off for writing these things, which made the tutor cross.
I was struggling, college gave me a headache, I was sick with anxiety and had no idea that that was why I was sick, I was seeing the mad headed counsellor again and dealing with his frustration at my inability to articulate anything whatsoever to him, and I was facing the frustration of my fellow students and my tutors, I was a square peg in a round hole, a nice metaphor for me on the wrong course, the stress was terrible, but at least outside of college I was happy, in my ‘home’ and walking the dogs, going to Southampton and sanctuary at weekends, doing my news rounds again in the morning, for which I was laughed at by my fellow students, and then to my surprise the newsagents offered me a Sunday job minding the shop, I was delighted, I was in sole charge of the shop, and luckily it was a quiet little local shop where the people knew the owners, and so somehow I coped with the short Sunday shift, I know I wasn’t the usual chatty shop girl, but I survived, but just as I was on edge throughout the college day, I was on edge working in the shop, I was a bundle of tension, but I believe it did help my ability to speak a bit, people who came in the shop were friendly and expecting friendliness, and that helped, I also got free tea and bacon sandwiches while on duty.
Christmas came, and I didn’t go back to my parents house for Christmas, I went to my Brother’s house, he was married and his marriage was an unsettled one with three stepchildren, he and his wife lived on a grotty housing estate in *********, not far from where we had survived some of the worst years of our young lives, my Brother and his wife fought a lot, my brother worked as a delivery driver and came in late at night and they would fight when he got in, I had got used to being in a quiet place and was unsettled by this, the stepchildren were quite disturbed, their dad had been violent, he had threatened them and their mum with a knife as well as hitting them, my brother looked after the children but wasn’t attached to them, I went back to look at where I had spent the 12th year of my life, to see that it was a real place and not just a nightmare, it was real, boarded up, derelict, surrounded by rubbish.
I was relieved to return to Hampshire. My Brother and his wife split up and divorced soon after that, and he met and married another woman with the same name and who also had three children, they now have four more children and have stuck together despite it being a troubled marriage. They moved to ************, the wife’s home, and it became difficult to see my brother or stay in contact with him there.
Spring came, and I had to do work experience, I managed to get a placement nearby, it wasn’t the easiest placement though, one of the two other females on my course was on the same placement, her family farmed next door to the placement farm, she had been lambing on her own farm and this neighbouring farm since she was a child, she was very self confident and bossy and had no respect for me, she even told me that it didn’t matter that she was 16 and I was 19, because she knew more than me and therefore could tell me what to do, she was not in charge though, the farm manager’s daughter was, and she had a wicked temper and did not understand my slowness to comprehend things or my lack of speech, she really was very unkind, and while she was friends with the 16 year old, I was isolated and upset, the 16 year old lived in a million pounds farmhouse and had everything she ever wanted, even her own car, she called her parents by their first names and really was puffed up, I felt so small and scruffy and ashamed, I didn’t have nice equipment or clothes or brand name overalls as she did, at least this year I had had a grant for overalls, the previous year I had none, she was also a leader of the young farmers club, and so I felt unable to join the young farmers club.
Another student came on the placement, a first diploma, he was very sexually frustrated and wanted to ‘roll in the hay’ with me, and he looked at porn a lot and got into trouble at college for looking at it on the college computers.My boundaries were confused, but after a few days I stood up to him and said NO, which he accepted, he was ok really, he left college and became a mechanic in Winchester, and in later years repaired my cars several times.
I was very relieved when the placement ended, I passed all the requirements, but barely, the tutors were worried, and I couldn’t explain to them why I was as I was, they said that they couldn’t see me passing the course, and told me I had to start talking and communicating properly.
People thought I was perfectly intelligent and thus that I was only playing up.
I went to one of the First Diploma Tutors, who was a gruff but honest man, who occasionally lost his temper and shouted at me for my oddness, but he his heart was really kind and I knew it, so I asked him how to communicate with people, I told him I really did not know how, I said to him ‘how do you answer when someone says ‘alright?’ to you?’ But I still didn’t really understand even after that conversation, I tried really hard, but when people spoke to me I froze and could not take in their words or know what to say, and this has remained the case with people I don’t know well until recently, since being homeless I know to answer ‘Alright?’ with ‘Awright pal’. But back then I tried so hard but could not communicate.
I was terrified of losing my course, especially because I was worried about being forced to return to my parents, and never being able to get a job. The tutors said that with my communication skills and ‘awkwardness’, they couldn’t see me getting a middle year work placement in order to complete the course, I felt helpless, they were not going to help me or recommend me for a placement, but I tried very hard indeed to find a placement, I had to do it all by email or letter, because my phone skills were so bad, I sound like a little child on the phone and am very embarrassed when people point that out, or put the phone down thinking I am a hoaxer, and I find the static and the (then undiagnosed) dysphasia really bad on the phone.
So I emailed and wrote for placements, then to my surprise a placement came up, in Wales, it was a placement for a year as a trainee shepherdess on a lower hill farm in Wales, they only accepted females, it would be a trainee placement, so suitable for a less experienced agricultural student, it sounded good, they trained people up to NPTC exams and got them their own sheepdog and everything, I thought that if I could go on this placement then I would come back to college for the final year, the farm management year. Competent and up to standard, but though I got the placement, it was not all it promised to be and it could not work out for me in the end, but the placement was offered some months before college ended, so I mustn’t jump ahead.