I’ve written before about how I don’t really notice whether or not people stare at us when we are out and about, and I came to the conclusion that this is because I don’t really care.
An incident that took place last week has caused me to consider whether it is my own stubborn and recalcitrant personality that makes me this way, or does it have more to do with the place I come from?
My home town generally appears close to the top of any UK league table of poverty, deprivation and ill-health.
This only indices in which it obtains a low score are those measuring aspiration, educational attainment and life expectancy. The rest of the country ignores us, or, perhaps, simply forgets that we are here.
The outside world passes us by; we seem to exist in our own little bubble of insularity and ignorance.
It must sound like an awful place to live, but surprisingly, we have recently been ranked eleventh happiest place in the UK.
Perhaps certain kinds of ignorance really are bliss.
Last week’s incident is a very good example of this. I was shopping in the town centre, browsing the shelves in Superdrug, looking for a quick-fix for my grey roots. An elderly lady saw Freddie and said hello to him. She was small and spar; deep furrows in her cheeks and a shapeless frizz of sparse wire-wool hair made her look older than I suspect she really was. Like most of her generation here in Stoke, everything about her appearance suggested a lifetime of hard work, and scraping to make ends meet, a lack of education, of life chances, and of knowledge of the world beyond the area of the town where she had probably lived all her life.
Like most local people of my parents’ age she likely left school at fourteen to help put food on the family table. Such learning as she had did not come from any book, school or college, but from the University of Life. As she approached her eyes twinkled in their nest of creases.
‘Oh, I love children like him,’ she said. ‘They’re so clever.’
Now, ‘clever’ and ‘Down’s Syndrome’ are two things that most people would not normally associate with each other, so I was a little taken aback. It soon became clear from her conversation that Freddie was not the first person with the condition that she had met. Some people would balk at her use of the phrase ‘children like him’, but I chose to focus on the sentiment behind the words, the meaning of which was deepened by their blunt delivery.
You see, she was not speaking out of politeness, using words dictated by the accepted notions of etiquette. She was not trotting out the usual trite platitudes and deeply-ingrained misconceptions. She was speaking straight from the heart, and her own experience.
This kind of ignorance – the kind bred by living in a cultural backwater that falls beneath the notice of the rest of the country – really is blissful.
With eyes unclouded by the dogma of received wisdom, she had been free to develop her own, empirical wisdom; a knowledge born of her own unprejudiced observation of the facts.
She had a clarity of vision that many much more worldly and educated people lack.
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