Prince Harry and crumbling concrete in schools are equally sorry tales - Christa Ackroyd

Whoever coined the phrase ‘schooldays are the best days of your life’ was either a pessimist or a teacher. They are not. But what they certainly do is shape your future.

I would go further and say everything that happens to you growing up determines how you think, how you act and gives you a head start in life. It can also ruin your life. Unless you are made of sterner stuff. And you can never get those formative years back again.

So this week I am writing about two seemingly unrelated topics which have been dominating the headlines, Prince Harry and crumbling concrete. Only both are equally sorry tales which prove if you tell a child they are not worthy of your best care and attention or worse still show them by your actions the consequences live long in the memory.

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Let me be clear my school days and the classrooms I was taught in were far from perfect. But then it was a long time ago. Clinking clanking thick metal radiators that froze in winter and delivered a nasty burn if you got too close were for many of us the order of the day in my overcrowded outdated primary school. We had overspill mobile prefab classrooms that were freezing cold and uninspiring and many a time in the main school we sat in our coats and even our hats and gloves when the ancient heating system juddered to a halt. But we were never sent home. And as far as I can recall no one died from hypothermia.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in Nottingham. Picture: PA.Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in Nottingham. Picture: PA.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in Nottingham. Picture: PA.

We just shivered, got dressed in everything we had brought with us and got on with it. But then in those days I suppose we were used to the cold.

Our bedrooms and even our homes were freezing with no central heating, so much so you could write your name in the frost which gathered on the inside of the windows. We would dive under our bedclothes which weighed a ton and comprised top sheet, bottom sheet, woollen blankets and the ubiquitous candlewick bedspread. And when we came down to get dressed on a winter’s morning we would race for the open fire where mum had laid out our school uniform on the huge golden fireguard to warm up. What’s more if during the day at home we complained of the cold we would be told to go upstairs and put another jumper on. As a result no matter how cold it gets outside I still can’t sleep without the window open. And the heating off.

But a cold school or a cold house was not as a result of neglect or lack of spending. It was just a fact of life. And we were all in the same boat. The crumbling concrete scandal is a very difference story. And for Rishi Sunak to say it’s not my fault and to describe the blame put on his spending cuts while Chancellor as “completely and utterly wrong” is both churlish and weak. You Prime Minister have the top job. And it is therefore your job to fix it and fix it now.

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We are not talking about classrooms being a bit chilly. We are talking about the possibility of them being downright dangerous. What’s more if I read the situation correctly we are talking about thousands more of them still to be inspected. So we don’t know if they are dangerous or not.

A photo issued by the Local Government Association showing damage to a school built with RAAC. Credit: LGAA photo issued by the Local Government Association showing damage to a school built with RAAC. Credit: LGA
A photo issued by the Local Government Association showing damage to a school built with RAAC. Credit: LGA

I do not believe for one moment that those in power were unaware of the urgency of the situation until a week ago. Instead I believe they chose to ignore it until someone somewhere forced their hand to do something about it. Too little too late and just a few days before the new term. And that is despicable. The message is sends out to our young people is that their schools, their schooling and therefore them as pupils don’t matter. That this generation already messed about with both their lessons and their heads because of Covid will just have to suck it up and learn at home again. Give me a chilly classroom any day. This is far more serious.

Let us be honest the sixties and seventies during which I grew up in produced some amazing life-changing events. We fought for and found our freedoms. Music and creativity abounded. Opportunities opened up for all no matter their class. But they produced some pretty rotten building materials. Asbestos and bubbly concrete being two of them. The proof is the fact that many of them have not survived, bulldozed to the ground because they were neither pretty nor fit for purpose. And then some were ‘refurbished’ to give them a longer shelf life. Among them Grenfell Tower with disastrous consequences.

But councils, politicians and architects were all well aware that time was running out for some of them and urgent action was needed. Or they should have been. Instead they continue to play the blame game while our young people suffer.

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Which brings me around to Prince Harry. This week came news of yet another documentary about his mother who died almost 30 years ago. In it the producers will use unheard audio taken from the tapes she dictated unbeknown to the world to author Andrew Morton. At the time no one believed him when he wrote his book. After her death we discovered it had been ‘in her own words’ as the tome was quickly retitled. But we have to put those words into perspective. They were written by a woman who was deeply hurt and deeply paranoid that the powers that be were against her and with some justification. And so she hit out. But the new re-evaluation and her claims that Prince Charles told his mother in law at Harry’s christening that they were “so disappointed” he wasn’t a girl will only add to his younger son’s obvious insecurities. Of course Diana’s mother was right to snap back that he, Charles, was “lucky to have a child “. But down the years too much has been discussed about who said what to whom not to mention a woman in the spotlight the boys, no longer here to out them into context. Diana would undoubtedly have moved on. The fact that her words still make headlines across the world means to some extent her son, particularly her youngest son cannot. Even though he should.

Next week Harry flies ‘home’ and if what we are told is correct his father’s busy schedule means they won’t meet up that is a shame. For us it is just gossip. For them another missed opportunity to put things right. Yes Harry has deeply hurt his father. Yes his father’s words many moons ago if they are true that he should have been a girl will hurt his son. Only a one on one conversation can put them to bed while they provide the columnists with more column inches than they know what to do with. And they are about to be regurgitated again years after the death of a woman who wouldn’t go quietly but would never have wanted to hurt her precious boys then or now in adulthood.

If we are the products of our childhood then both William and Harry suffered because of their parent’s breakup which was played out bitterly and in full view of the rest of us. And it is no good saying lots of us have lived through similar experiences or William seems to have coped. We are all different. And even the new Prince of Wales has said the paranoia suffered by his mother particularly after the ill-gotten Bashir Panorama interview impacted them both deeply at a time when they were most vulnerable.

All our children deserve the best start in life and it is up to us as adults to see that they get it. Not only that but when things go awry, as they always will, it is also up to us to out them right no matter how long ago no matter who is to blame. So to the Prime Minister sort out our schools. You owe it to the next generation. To the King remember two wrongs don’t make a right. And finally to the documentary makers who keep regurgitating the same old stuff, words have consequences. And we don’t need to hear any more of them. Time to allow a deeply troubled, desperate, betrayed woman to lie in peace.