Celtic Illumination, part 379, It’s only the depth that varies.
There is a wonderful public park in Liverpool called Sefton Park. It is huge and has lots of attractions such as a boating lake, tennis courts, fountains, miles of pathways and of course, the café. When I was with Natural Breaks I was invited in to the inner circle of support staff and given the most important tool that you could have in learning disabilities, like a Mason being given his silver trowel. I was given the RADAR key to the disabled toilet. RADAR stood for the Royal Association of Disability and Rehabilitation. The key will open over nine thousand disabled toilets in the United Kingdom. They are about four times the size of a normal toilet cubicle, always clean, and warm, and a safe environment if you need to get someone out of the public gaze for ten minutes or so. Any support staff, out and about with someone who could turn violent, will know exactly where the closest disabled toilet is. It is like second nature to you.
There’s a disabled toilet in the café in the centre of Sefton Park. Normally you would ask a staff member in the café for the key but we all had our own, still do. Of course they were a good, clean, safe environment that we used on many other occasions I think the one I favoured most was one of the disabled toilets in the Albert Dock complex. Inexperienced staff liked to use the café at Sefton Park as an informal meeting place as usually there would be more experienced people about who would lend you a hand should you need it. So during the week you would find the café full of support staff and the people they supported. The people supported tended to know each other, as they would all have come from the same mental asylum, so for them it was quite a social occasion. Outside lolling about, especially in the fine weather, would be a dozen or so drug addicts all stretched out, dealing or tripping. Now and again the local constabulary would provide some entertainment as two or three van loads of them would race toward the café.
We found it quite funny as there would be no attempt to make a subtle or concealed approach to the café. The white vehicles with their Day-Glo orange stripes, which I have to admit did stand out a bit against the prevailing green of the grass, bushes and trees, would hammer their way along. The druggies would raise themselves up on their elbows and watch the approaching coppers who would screech to a halt and erupt from their vehicles chasing whichever druggie that had taken to his, or her, heels. While the main body of police would begin to round up the druggies all sorts of shenanigans would unfold usually resulting in a free for all punch up, involving Tasers, CS gas and batons. It would be a grand form of entertainment and it was free.
You would never know what would happen in Sefton Park. While still with Natural Breaks myself and another fellow, a qualified social worker, would pick up one fellow and take him to Sefton Park where he would walk around for two hours. We stayed about ten feet behind him as he liked to feel that he was on his own, while he shouted at the trees and expressed himself with all sorts of involuntary arm movements. After the two hours walking about we would then drive across Liverpool to the area where he lived and buy him two cans of beer and a serving of curry and rice from a chip shop. He would drink one can of beer in a single swig and then eat the curry and rice, as if he were in an eating race, then, almost without taking a breath, he would swallow the contents of the second can of beer, emit a huge burp and consider himself satisfied. We would then take him home and leave him with his parents.
There were two of us with him as he could be quite unpredictable and if we came close to any other people we would close the gap between ourselves and he, just in case we had to leap in to action. So here we are one day, we arrive at the park and we are strolling along. Our man is shouting and waving away to his heart’s content while in the distance we see two young boys come on to the path and begin to approach us. Trying not to make the situation obvious we remain at a safe distance but gradually begin to close the gap. We watch our charge very carefully for any change in his behaviour which might indicate that he had noticed the pair of fellows approaching. Both of the young chaps approaching have bicycles and are pushing them. As the gap closes sufficiently, so that we can begin to identify features, we see that the two boys are about twelve or thirteen years old.
We close the gap and, if I dare say, almost with military precision, now find ourselves flanking our charge as the two youngsters pass us. I promise you my heart was in my mouth as I expected that at any moment I was going to have to leap in to action. Having passed each other we begin to fall back, to allow our charge his personal space again. The two young fellows had stopped and were getting on their bicycles, but were watching our small party of three. The danger had almost gone. Our fellow was happy, shouting and punching the air, when one of the youngsters called out an insult. I suppose if you were walking along with a fellow who was shouting random obscenities at the trees and punching the air erratically, you might expect some little guttersnipe to call him names, like the school children who would taunt Gordon, but no, they left him alone. It was me they were insulting. My colleague was a slight five foot six tall fellow, nothing out of the ordinary. I was an impressive Irishman, even though I say so myself, but I did not expect a twelve year old boy in Sefton Park in Liverpool to start shouting, “What are you looking at you fat bastard?”
Had they attacked or insulted my charge I would have dealt with them swiftly and sharply but I was stunned. I may have carried a little more poundage than the ordinary fellow in the street but I couldn’t believe that they were insulting me. I do remember that I was embarrassed beyond belief and when we reached the café my ears were still ringing. As a team leader I was beyond giving one to one support now, I am not saying that I was above it and I have to admit that I loved going around all the historic buildings in Liverpool, admiring the architecture and detail of the buildings. In fact I felt that I needed to get much higher so that my level of employment would match my skills. But despite how good I thought I may have been I was only far too aware that I was still learning every single day.
I was now directly responsible for supervising the direct support given to eight people living in the community. Each one of those individuals brought their own specific requirements that could involve violence, but one brought much more trouble than that, he brought his brother. It was rare that we would meet relatives, we would be aware that they existed, and would facilitate meetings or get-togethers as and when they were wanted. The only relative I had come across who had a regular meeting was Jimmy and his brother. In my new house one of the guys had a brother who insisted on attending every team meeting and demanding that his brother was first in the queue for everything. At my first house team meeting most of the staff warned me about his attitude with lots of raised eyes and most of them stating that he was a real pain.
The brother arrived and sat himself down. It was quite obvious that he thought himself to be in charge of the meeting. He was an officious little oaf, a four feet six tall Englishman who would have made a proper little modern major general ordering the char wallah to polish his boots. I honestly didn’t think that this fellow had much interest in his brother; it was as if he was interested in telling us all just how important he was and that we should be pleased he was there as he knew how to run a meeting, properly. It was strange that the four points I had highlighted in my ten minute presentation during my interview were not just correct but were coming back to haunt me. It may have been nice to secure myself away in one of my offices and immerse myself in the accounts but every now and again life seemed to be so much more simple and pleasant just wandering aimlessly around Sefton Park, watching some fellow call the trees and bushes every name under the sun. Come to think of it the worst thing that had ever happened to me in Sefton Park was being called a fat bastard, which in a way I missed for all I had to do now was walk out of my office with my hair combed the wrong way and I could have started world war three.