Monday, 20 September 2010

Context Is Everything

A man is hanging out of the windows of the block across the road, he’s quietly telling a couple of children which door to go to and what to say. One the children, polite, neat and apparently confused, goes up to a door, looks back over his shoulder towards the man and says: “Is this the one?” I don’t hear any answer but the child raises his voice and says: ‘Excuse me. Excuse me. Do you live here?’ to the person going into the block. She doesn’t answer and the children wander off, back towards the other block where the man says: ‘See that car? Yes, that blue one, that’s it. Spit on it. Spit on it.’ The children, confused enough now to feel fear, walk away.

The man continues in his low, not unfriendly tone. ‘I want to fuck you. I want to fuck you. Oh, is that how it is now? Don’t you love me any more? I want to fuck you.’ My neighbours’ adult daughter comes into our block and we say hello. “Do you know that man?” I ask. She doesn’t, but he somehow knows her name and she’s more bemused than aggrieved. She goes inside, I carry on gardening, the man continues his monotone commentary. The children have long gone.

My daughter and I are walking home and we hear a cacophony of bird noises then see a blackbird fly out of a bush. There’s a nest in there with a second brood of fledglings and I take my daughter over to see it, high up above our heads in the municipal bushes. We listen to the young birds then hear an outraged: “Do you mind?” We can’t work out where it’s coming from, and again “Do you mind? I’m trying to go to the toilet.” And there, 4 feet from us squatting behind the large communal bins is a woman with her skirt pulled up around her hips. I am so shocked that I can’t find the urge or the words to reply and just leave, with no sense of threat but with the feeling that I’ve moved into a Kafkaesque world where squatting, shitting women are outraged that I’ve interrupted their public ablutions.

Across the road there’s a camper van, one of the cheaper ones and very old. The locks aren’t any good and a group of 10 year olds has broken into it. They throw everything out of it onto the street, bedding, pots and pans, a television, reams of paper, tea towels, everything. Then they cross the street and begin ripping a young pear tree apart, bending it under their combined weight, screaming loudly and intensely until the tree suddenly snaps and they land heavily. One boy is hurt and they begin to kick him. He has to get up or be beaten, staggers to his feet, laughs, throws a punch which misses and the lot of them move off down the street, leaving the road covered in the strangely unsettling contents of someone’s holiday life and the young tree. A number of us called the police who never arrive.

A family just up the road allowed their two elder children to smoke dope when they were 12 and 14 years old. The parents often went away leaving the three children alone, the youngest being 10, and they would have parties in which alcohol and illegal drugs contributed to the house being trashed, time after time. The 15 year old daughter started a relationship with a 30 year old whom her parents welcomed into the home and he tattooed her at 16 with her parents consent. On a school exchange the elder son made constant Nazi references at the two young German people staying with them which the rest of the family found amusing, and at 15 the youngest daughter put up pictures of herself on Facebook snorting coke.

Dee had what used to be called ‘emotional incontinence'. She felt she must share the most intimate aspects of her life with anyone who’d listen. Her partner who was over a decade older than her and demonstrably didn’t love her; her multiple, dramatic affairs; her children both of whom were taken from family home at the age of 8 to spend the rest of their childhood in special schools; the fact that her younger child has a close resemblance to one of her lovers; her eating disorders and self-harm. She had one job working as a nursery assistant and the rest of her life was spent supported by the State. Dee was killed in a high-speed, late-night, alcohol-fueled crash.

Context is everything. Dee is, of course, Princess Diana who is still treated with the veneration afforded to a saint. The family with dope smoking children live in a detatched home in huge grounds which means that neighbours don’t need to call the police to their rowdy parties and the underage sex and drug abuse is ignored. All of these people and families are worthy of our care and concern, but the woman who, with great dignity, squatted down in the hedge, the man in the council flat, the ‘feral children’ are much more likely to be dealt opprobrium, low-quality interventions and incarceration.
Why is that?

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