Our desks had been arranged so that we faced each other. On the one side, me, a trainee on placement; on the other side, Julian, my practice supervisor. I wanted to impress him and it was not without trepidation that I made my first call, not least because the brand new phone was stuck in speaker-mode. Made In Britain! bragged its sticky little label. Unexpectedly, a young girl of about four or five years of age answered. 'Hello,' I said couthily. 'Is your mum in?'
'She's on the bog!' came the emphatic reply.
Julian's eyes met mine across the desks and from that moment we were doomed. Now, even the most fleeting of eye-contact during calls could reduce us to uncontrollable laughter. Many were the abruptly terminated calls, great was the bafflement of callers, and abundant were the subsequent fibs about our unreliable telephone lines.
Julian, who was the service's specialist in physical disability, was on a mission. That was to get as many physically disabled children as possible out of special education and into mainstream education. Although integration was then a growing movement, it was still not an easy thing to achieve. Nevertheless, Julian had had considerable success.
But there were cases where even he had failed. Margaret was such a case. She was 11 years old and in a wheelchair. She had some associated medical and care needs but these could be managed with arrangements similar to those already in place in her special school. And, crucially, she and her parents wanted her to go to an ordinary school.
Julian had tried everything he could to get a mainstream school to take Margaret. He had started with her local school and then fanned out to schools within reasonable taxi distance. But they were fearful of such relatively extensive needs and there were no takers. And so, he had eventually given up. As he put it, he had run it up the flagpole but nobody had saluted.
Then, one day, on one of his routine visits to Margaret's special school, the head teacher told him that at the parents' night the previous evening Margaret's parents had again expressed their sadness that she could not go to an ordinary school. The head told them he would speak to Julian about it again but that given past events it was unlikely there would be any change. That was Julian's view too but he thought the courteous thing to do would be to visit the family at home and talk it through with them.
That frosty evening, Julian and I met outside their small semi in a sprawling post-war housing estate. We hurried inside to get out of the cold and damp. I had only ever seen Margaret in the warmth and comfort of her special school and this other part of life came as a shock. These were people who had nothing. The furniture and fittings were threadbare. The only apparent source of heat was a two-bar electric fire and the walls were stained with the effects of condensation. Warmed only by an anorak and the electric fire, Margaret lay out on the settee while she watched TV until it was time to go to bed. That was her life. She had no neighbourhood pals, for those who might have been pals lived in a different world, the world of her local school.
Margaret knew Julian from school and her face brightened at the sight of him. They exchanged hellos and then he went off to the kitchen with her parents where I supposed he was giving them the bad news.
Meanwhile, I sat on the settee at Margaret's feet. Struggling to find something to say, I asked her what sort of things she liked. 'I like him,' she said coyly, pointing towards the closed kitchen door. Then she hid her face behind her hands and giggled bashfully. That took me aback, even though I should have known that her disability would not immunise her against the impossible crushes of her age.
Afterwards, as we walked towards our cars, I asked Julian how Margaret's parents had taken his bad news. 'I told them I'm going to give it another go,' he said, so much to my surprise that I thought I had misheard. That was why, Julian continued, he had taken them into the kitchen: he hadn't wanted Margaret to hear because he didn't want to get her hopes up.
It turned out, he revealed, that just that day another possibility had been brought to his attention. About a month earlier, the head teacher of Margaret's local school had left. The school's deputy head, a Mrs Copeland, had taken over as acting head. And Mrs Copeland was known to be open to integration.
It might be a long shot, Julian said, but it was at least worth a try. Consequently, he told me, we would call on Mrs Copeland the very next day, there being some urgency for if Margaret were to move it would be better to give her as long a run-up as possible in the relative security of a primary school before she went to secondary school.
Mrs Copeland stared impassively at Julian as he made his case. He could be very wordy, especially when trying to persuade someone to do something. But on this occasion, he appeared to be turbo-charged such that I wondered if it might be a new technique for boring people into submission. After about 10 minutes of silently enduring this onslaught, Mrs Copeland could take it no more. 'Julian, Julian!' she said holding up her palms to silence him. 'Please! Please stop talking! Just get her in!'
'Well I'll go to the foot of our stairs!' Julian hissed out of corner of his mouth as we walked along the corridor on our way out. 'Someone saluted!'
It was bitterly cold and snowing heavily when we arrived at the family home that evening. Margaret lay out on the settee as usual. Her father sat in a battered armchair with her mother perched on the arm beside him as Julian broke the news. There was a moment's stunned silence before they burst into tears. Then Julian too burst into tears.
Never quite at ease with such events, I shifted my gaze to Margaret hoping for some kind of diversionary exchange. But her own gaze was fixed adoringly on Julian such that she might not even have clocked what had just been said, never mind be able to chat about what Deirdre had been up to in Coronation Street
'Sorry about that,' Julian said awkwardly as we trudged away through the snow. 'Maybe it's like laughing,' he mused. 'Once it threatens, you've just got to go with it.'
Julian and I parted company shortly afterwards when the placement came to an end. Ten years later, we bumped into each other at a conference. He told me that Margaret had been spotted only the week before, still in her wheelchair, out on a hen night with a load of friends, and seemingly the worse for drink. I still can't think of a more fitting testament to his efforts.