Some things make you mad out of proportion. Some things don't make you as mad as you should be.
I don't know what's the way to feel about this one:
We looked after a twelve year-old child for the weekend. A good lad, well behaved, polite, smart, a decent individual. No-one would guess the horrible stuff he's had to push through. But to look at him, people would assume he's Asian. In fact his mother is from Bangkok, his father, who bought the mother, as some men do, is white British. They are separated, he wants nothing to do with his child. She is a loner, has a drugs problem but works, allegedly in the sex industry and though she loves her son, social services were rightly worried about the risk to him from her 'boyfriend' who may or may not have also been her pimp...
Saturday morning after breakfast we drove to a nice posh Cathedral City to do some Christmas shopping. We parked and walked up the high street. Bill and the child walked side by side on the narrow pavement in front of me, I was holding hands with another of our brood.
After about 100 yards I noticed a young man pushing a pushchair towards us. He had a young woman at his side, they both had a fag on. He had his sleeves rolled up in spite of the chill, and his tattoos looked older than him. He was trying to put on what he thought was a manly swagger to take the curse off what he saw as a demeaning role. As they closed on Bill and the boy I noticed him fix the boy with a glare and curl his thin lips into a sneer. The boy and Bill were chatting and neither spotted it. As they drew level the young man's eyes widened and he practically bared his teeth in a snarl, it was scary.
It happened again, twice for sure as we walked along, maybe more times than that, I didn't want to be caught trying to catch people out.
Part of me began to look forward to one aspect of the weekend that was going to be an eye-opener for me. I'm white and live in a country where the majority still think it's a white country. I suppose a part of me feels that too, but I'm making the effort, and it keeps you young, to have up-to-date views.
I was in for a weekend where a member of my family was going to let me know a bit about how racism feels.
In short two types of people were worst. Youths and old people.
All weekend I watched the general folk I'd watched for the last thirty years, who'd all behaved like decent people around me. I saw stuff I'd never seen, wouldn't have anticipated.
Young people, especially 18-24 year old men tried hard to make sure the child registered their general disapproval. Two teenage girls staring at hair products in Boots turned and almost bumped into us. They began to make the 'sorry' noise but one noticed the boy and made a tiny "Ew!" noise instead, the one you make if you get something on your shoe.
But, tragically, older people were the pits. Not all, of course, I'm talking a tiny minority, but a damn lot, a lot more than I'd have guessed. A fifty-ish man in a stripy apron behind the glass counter in a cheese shop made us wait for an age while he pretended to casually adjust the price tags on his cheddars before he mumbled, without looking up "Can I help you?" His snide little pantomime seemed aimed at me for bringing the child into his shop. He put our Scotch eggs into a bag and plonked them with an exaggerated slap on the glass lid. I asked "Do we pay you?" and he sighed and he made a gesture towards the door where there was a till. Then he looked over my shoulder towards the next customer, who had no foreign associates with her, smiled his warmest smile, and said in his smarmiest voice "Can I help you madam?"
That's the trouble, really. There are millions of low-level cowardly racists in Britain, mostly from what I saw, older people. Men and women.
Women kept giving us this glance, they look at the child, then look at me, then the child, then pull a thinking face as if they were wondering 'What's she doing with him? Mixed marriages never work'.
They don't think they're racist. They think they're being loyal to their own family, nation and race. It's their crusade, see, to discourage the flood of foreigners who are coming over here and threatening the livelihood of the grandchildren they never see much of, but have high hopes for. It's their little homage to their dead parents and grandparents who passed down simple home truths about foreigners and why Britain is best.
The City was a bit backward in many ways to be honest. Low on ethnic people, so we sort of stood out. Maybe it was low on culture and kindness too, yet the worst example came when we were back in our own patch and drove to the garden centre to buy a Christmas tree. We chose one and a chummy fifty-ish man in a green coat said he'd net it up and wheel it round the front for us to collect. When he arrived he noticed our children for the first time, and was caught completely off guard. He looked at the boy and blurted the first thing that came into his head; "What's the matter with you?"
Yep. He asked the boy "What's the matter with you?"
The boy's gone back to his lovely carer.
I'm left wondering what to do or think about the whole business. I know what I want to do, I want to go back to the garden centre and say to the man "What's the matter with you?'
Luckily I've my weekly report to write, by which time my anger will soften.
You couldn't buy an experience like I had over the weekend, all thanks to fostering.
I'm a bit bigger and better for it, all in all.
I just hope the boy can cope, we didn't discuss it with him, he seemed either oblivious or well-used to it. My hope is he grows up tolerant, even if he has a slight thing about cheese shops, garden centres and fifty-ish men.