When I was about 8-years-old, once a week two children from the local ‘special’ school would come to our school to sit in on our classes. It was, I suppose, part of some integration programme (for both them and us). Typically, these children would have Downs Syndrome, be a fair few years older than us, and for the initial few visits their scant regard for our classroom regulations would offer a source of much fascination to us. Eventually though, we all just got used to them and their visits, although any significant disruption they caused would still lead to much excitement. The ‘special’ school in question was called Greenacres, and so naturally it was convention at our school to respond to any idiotic behaviour on the part of our friends with the quip "are you visiting from Greenacres for the day?". Oh for the not-so-innocent repartee and malice of the playground.
A tragically unfair start to life at the hands of an extremely abusive father had rendered my regular classmate Martin a psychopath by the age of seven. We could all tell that Martin was funny in the head, and, with the often overlooked ability of acceptance many children possess, we gave him a fair bit of leeway. That said, it’s hard to be forgiving day in and day out. Especially when you are 8-years-old. And especially when you have to put up with falling victim time and time again to the random and unprovoked acts of theft, violence and arson that are the hallmark of the psychologically disturbed. Throughout much of my childhood, my mother was doubtless torn between encouraging my attempts of friendship with this boy, and warning me away from him.
On one such day that the children from Greenacres were visiting, Martin had been ostracised by our peer group for some now forgotten act of treachery, and so at playtime he befriended the visiting pupil Terry. They played under the watching eye of Terry’s supervisor, who, like Terry, was only there for the day, so had no notion about Martin’s suitability or otherwise as a playmate. As we played football, we noticed Martin and Terry skulking on the sidelines, but thought little of it: we didn’t begrudge Martin a playmate, and were happy to be left alone by him.
Presently, the whistle blew, and we all trudged back to the school buildings. En route, Martin approached us and began to sling a volley of verbal abuse in our direction. Although used to Martin’s errant ways, we didn’t always necessarily suffer in silence, especially with repeated trying of our patience. I entered into a heated argument with him. Slowly and deliberately, Martin turned to the lingering Terry, and gave what looked an awful lot like a pre-arranged signal.
If you spend much time with children, you will appreciate that there is a significant physical disparity between an 8-year-old and a 13-year-old. It is certainly often enough to overcome any physical disadvantage a disability may burden you with. As were Terry’s inch long yellowed fingernails. He used both advantages to full effect as he launched himself at me with a terrifying warbling roar, sinking his talons into the flesh of my face. A petrifying struggle ensued.
As the mist of my own breath on that October morning clouded the short distance between us, my sight further hindered by my own blood and tears, I aimed a rain of kicks at Terry’s shins, his bollocks, anything that might make him loosen his grip, whilst Martin circled, waving his arms like a demented crab and aiming kicks at my kidneys, blowing snot bubbles in his frenzied excitement.
I was spared further savaging by the arrival of Terry’s supervisor who hauled him off of me, swiftly followed by two teachers. Before the freely flowing blood from my face had been stemmed, the admonishments began.
"You must have done something to deserve that," the teachers raged at me.
"Er, I saw the whole thing, and it seemed quite unprovoked…" Terry’s supervisor tried to offer, but my teachers were having none of that.
"What did you do to him?" they continued, ignoring her. "Well, it looks like you got what you deserved."
I found this accusation hurtful, and whilst I can shrug it off now and brand them both a pair of stupid cows, to a point it still grates with me today. I was far from an ideal pupil – my penchant for laziness and mischief enamouring me to few of my teachers – but persecuting fellow pupils did not fall into my repertoire. But my teachers would much rather have assigned blame to me than find themselves in the awkward situation of criticising this visiting child. Still, it made a change from telling Martin off I suppose. It was at this moment it dawned on me that sometimes adults lack both common sense and balls (something which is hard to realise when they seemingly make the world go round), and any remaining respect I had for the people who my care was entrusted in from that point ceased to exist, taking a good long while to ever return.
Terry never came back to our school, despite my teachers’ failure to condemn his actions. No doubt Greenacres learnt of his indiscretion via his supervisor, and the next week he had been replaced by a very quiet boy in a wheelchair, who admittedly appeared to pose us less of a threat, but also offered less in the way of class-disrupting entertainment. The last I heard of Martin, he had been sectioned after attempting to commit suicide in police custody.
4 weeks ago