I went back to the old home town at the weekend. I went to a local beauty spot, called to a cafe there and had a nice snack, then went for a walk on the pretty pier to look at the fishing boats and enjoy the peace. I was accompanied by a mentally disabled man. He looks quite normal except he says odd things out loud and has an exaggerated fear of nearly everything. He is autistic. I've known him all his life, as has that town because he is a native through and through.
There was a group of adolescent boys playing football across the path to the pier. We walked to one side to get by. They stopped to watch us. When we were much farther along I looked back and saw some of them watching us and talking. We looked at the boats and I read out their strange names. We spied the life-boat and that was a treat. We saw some kittiwakes and my companion opined they sounded like babies crying, which was true. We walked back to the exit, again passing as far as we could from the game. A ball came directly at us, flying with some force. I batted it away with a cry, and, instantly knowing the game afoot, laughed as if it were a huge joke. My companion shrieked. He was very frightened. Some of the boys, a fair haired one in particular, started mimicking his cries, the blond boy distorting his handsome face to make the joke visual as well as aural.
Forty years ago this man used be jeered at in the street. Back then street footballers were skinny looking, practically ragged boys, nearing the end rather than the beginning of their education. But these boys were well fed, beautifully clothed, with parents already talking to them about college options and course choices. Forty years ago the received wisdom was that it was deprivation that made people mean - deprivation and lack of public awareness. Now there's a sign as you enter the old home town saying it supports the Special Olympics, and it also calls itself a 'centre of excellence'.
One boy looked at me from the group, one boy, as I was pretending there was no malice involved and it was all a silly accident, so my companion wouldn't know immediately that the world was still not to be trusted, one boy gave me a 'sorry' look, as if to say 'what can I do about these morons'. One boy was secretly disgusted and afraid to show it. That didn't make it any better. Kid, do you think you get points for just 'knowing' the right thing to do? No, you must actually do it. I hope you change, even more than the others, I hope you change.