Disability and its place in society

OK lets start by making the rather obvious observation that kids can be cruel, honest, but often cruelly so.

And teenage boys can be crueller than most in their observing of the world and its…

…less fortunate.

Harry the caretaker was one of what could be described as life’s less fortunate, I’m sure he was happy in himself and he seemed to be very happy in his job, seemed to be very happy that he ever had a job given his…


For starters he had one leg shorter than the other, Ian Lee had one leg shorter than the other but his short leg was only a matter of a few millimetres shorter than the other and after having a “special” shoe made, no-one noticed. If Harry the Caretaker had been prescribed a “special” shoe then he would have had to go to the company who make stilts for circus clowns and just order the one, for Harry’s shorter leg was considerable shorter than the good one, or maybe the long leg was the freak leg, maybe he actually had one leg that was too long rather than one leg that was too short, whatever the medical condition, short leg or long leg, it resulted in Harry the Caretaker walking with a noticeable limp, lets be honest, a blind man looking the other way would have noticed Harry the Caretaker and his rolling gait.

I seem to recall that the rolling gait of Harry the Caretaker was exacerbated by his bandy legs too, I did mention that life had not treated him too kindly didn’t I ?

“Shane” is what we called him, after the Alan Ladd cowboy hero of film fame, it suited Harry the Caretaker and his rolling gait as he bandy-legged swayed down the South Drive every morning, “Ey up Shane” some pesky little first former would yell “where’s yer ‘orse tied up ?” and Harry the Caretaker would take a swipe at him and sometimes succeed in clipping the unfortunate’s ear’ole, it didn’t matter, it was allowed in the 1960s.

But hang on, we haven’t finished with life’s cruel jape at Harry the Caretaker’s expense yet.

His head was the wrong size, and the wrong shape, his head was like the head of an alien, long and pointed at the bottom but huge and dome shaped at the top and overall just too big for the shoulders that it sat on, yet inside such a large head you’d expect a larger than normal and henceforth more intelligent, brain, surely ?

No, Harry the Caretaker was, as we might kindly suggest in those less enlightened 1960s, “a bit simple”, not totally simple, not so simple that he couldn’t tie his own shoelaces, not so simple that he had to have his gloves stitched to his coat sleeves on elastic and wear a balaclava and thick bottle bottomed NHS specs, no not that simple, but simple enough so that an independent observer may observe him walking by with his rolling gait and say “That bloke looks a bit simple”, that sort of simple.

And he had a squeaky voice too, a high pitched slightly rasping squeaky voice that had no right to be coming from an adult, I can hear it now shouting “Come ‘ere yer cheeky little bugger” to yet another first former who had called him Shane and asked where he’d tied his horse, its ok, it was the 1960s, school caretakers could call the pupils little buggers, especially if the little buggers had just taken the piss out of the school caretaker.

You know, when I’m writing this stuff I can’t help but think that there may be a teenager reading this thinking “I wish I’d been a kid in the 1960s”, well you can’t be, so there, you’ve got to live your miserable life in more modern, more enlightened times, you’ve got to be careful what you say and how you say it to people least you get accused of being a bully, there isn’t a hope in hell that you could go to your high school in the morning and take the piss out of your caretakers disabilities or you’ll end up on the wrong end of an exclusion order from the Head, my god, even our Headmaster took the piss out of Harry the Caretaker.


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