Celtic Illumination, part 363, Let the fun and games begin.
Well; I was back playing the old waiting game, settling back in to the routine of writing and researching every morning and building dolls houses and bi planes in the afternoon. I really enjoyed working with wood, there’s something about the smell of wood that is very relaxing. I even remember that I wanted to get a tee shirt with the slogan, ‘Happiness is a sharp chisel,’ printed on the front. I still really wasn’t that aware of what Natural Breaks actually did, so was pleased when they called me and asked me to come in for the day. I still had this feeling of solidarity as I entered the building, the Merseyside Trade Union Resource Centre, as for me there was such a strong connection between the unions and the famous Liverpool Dockers strike, the longest dispute in British industrial relations history, which was so fresh in the minds of people you could still smell the spilled blood from the docks wafting up across the city with the evening tide.
I learned that there were two basic types of client for Natural Breaks. There were the people who lived in their own home and who would have twenty four hour support and there were people who would only have two or three hours support per week. People were talking at me and I was in the normal position of being unable to take everything in, however I was to be given my first assignment. I was told that I should go to a certain address on the coming Friday evening, collect a fellow, go to the cinema, watch a movie, return to the area where he lived with his parents, go to a specific pub, have two pints of beer, then take him home. In the forces we were always praying for a rich blond nymphomaniac with her own pub to run up and take us away for a month or two, this job seemed to be getting pretty close to that ideal.
I couldn’t believe that I was to be paid an hourly rate for this duty and that the cinema ticket, the beer and even the petrol I would use throughout the evening was all to be paid for. This was work? There had to be a catch. “What’s wrong with him?” I asked. This is where I got my first bollocking in the field of learning disabilities. The guy who was briefing me about my upcoming job was shocked. “You never say things like that!” he gasped. This is where I began to learn that language was quite important in how you referred to other people, involving respect and understanding. I hadn’t really thought about it before and most probably would have dismissed people as being politically correct loonies. I was told that the fellow, who was thirty years of age, had the mind of a ten year old and also had a Father Christmas fixation.
It didn’t worry me in the least, I was still expecting people with cameras to leap out when I arrived at the fellow’s house and shout “Smile you’re on candid camera!” but nothing of the sort happened. I went in to the house, which was a tiny little red bricked terraced house in one of Liverpool’s many back streets. I was quite comfortable with my surroundings as many areas in Liverpool feel as if you are standing in Belfast. The guy came downstairs and we set off. We were off to see a movie called American Beauty. The car had only started moving when he asked me if I liked Santa Claus. I explained that like most people I liked Santa Claus, to which he then gave me a ten minute lecture on why Santa Claus was the best thing ever. After the lecture the questions began and the situation moved very quickly from an innocent bit of fun to ‘Holy Shit!’ how long is he going to keep this up for?
He didn’t really watch the movie as I was trying to do; instead he kept launching a barrage of questions and statements at me. I really enjoyed the movie by the way, well; what I saw of it. As we drove back from the cinema I realised that as I was probably the cleverest fellow in the universe it shouldn’t be too difficult to divert his attention away from Santa Claus and have him speak about something else. I asked him about his family, did he have any brothers and sisters. He told me that he had one sister who lived in Australia and that he hoped to be going to visit her in Australia in the near future. I was so pleased with myself that I had managed to move him away from Santa Claus. I gave him a few facts about Australia and felt really pleased with myself as I pulled up in the pub car park. He was looking gloomy. “What’s up?” I asked.
“Do they have Christmas in Australia?” he asked. “Of course they do,” I said. “So will Santa Claus be able to find me in Australia?” Being the cleverest person in the universe allowed me to understand that I had not diverted his attention but instead opened up a whole new line of questioning for him, which I endured as we dank our two pints of beer which seemed to take forever. Throughout my life, like many people I suppose, I had involved myself in charity fundraising, some of which would have been for disabled people. I think this engagement began to show me that I hadn’t the first idea about disabled people. I was beginning to discover a new world that I knew absolutely nothing about. To begin to understand that if I had felt worn out after a few hours of Santa Claus questions how this fellows parents must have felt after thirty years of it.
I was beginning to see that what many people would see as a menial job for the uneducated was in fact an honourable thing to be involved with. To help a fellow human being was once again proving to be one of the most satisfying forms of employment I had ever encountered. Employment may have been the wrong word to use as Natural Breaks didn’t contact me for another fortnight. I didn’t mind as I kept myself busy, but I did worry that I had done something wrong and perhaps might not have been asked to work for them anymore. They telephoned me on a Friday afternoon and asked me if I would accompany a fellow to a football match the following day. Thankfully it wasn’t a professional football match with thousands of screaming idiots but an amateur sort of kick about in the local park.
I was told to meet up with the other three support staff at the fellow’s house on Saturday morning. I didn’t ask, but if there was going to be four of us taking this one fellow out, the one question that was asking itself over and over again inside my head is, what is wrong with this one? I did as I was asked and turned up at the fellow’s house the following morning. I met the other three support staff and noticed that they were all a little bit on edge. One of them asked if I had worked with this fellow before and I said that I had not. Now I am told that this fellow is quite dangerous, that when he was with social services he had a ratio of eight staff to one. I was hoping that there were four other fellows inside the house but there wasn’t. There was one. Everyone seemed to take a step backwards as they came out of the house.
This is where they all realised that they had forgotten to brief me properly. This guy didn’t like strangers so when he saw me he erupted and ran straight at me swinging a punch so wide and slow that I easily stepped out of its way. We were in a very small area at the front of the house with a low railing all the way around. I composed myself and prepared for another attack which came almost immediately. This time he gave up on swinging punches and went straight for my throat. I stood my ground and began to grapple with him but the others who now thought it might be a god idea to intervene added to the momentum and we all fell over the small garden fence, into the next door neighbours. Despite all the grunting and groaning the only casualty was me, well; my trousers really that had caught on the low railing and now sported a nifty rip from hip to knee on the outside of my right leg.
I was in a very tricky position as the sight of one of the loveliest legs in Ireland could send many people over the edge of decency. Should I go home or should I carry on with the duty? It was a football match on a windy Saturday morning on a pitch beside the River Mersey; my military training told me that I should continue as it would be unfair to leave the team with one man down. When we arrived at the football pitch I discovered that I now had a new best friend and spent the remainder of the morning wandering around as he shouted at things like trees, or birds, or buildings, or even sometimes the footballers which he didn’t seem to be interested in. I found him fascinating and the whole experience invigorating, which I can assure you, had nothing to do with the wind whistling through my trousers. We got him back to his house and I was surprised to find out that Natural Breaks, unlike the local authority and their eight to one ratio, actually used a one to one ratio unless he was going into public areas and his mood had deteriorated. My mood was on the up as this learning disability world was proving to be very interesting indeed.