As a young man I always wanted to work with children. Ideally, I wanted to be a primary school teacher. After leaving school, and before being accepted on the YTS I mentioned in a previous blog entry, I did a couple of weeks of work experience at an inner city Salford school. I loved every minute of it.
At that time I was still living with parents in a quaint old coaching inn (sic) in Weaste. I would work the occasional hour or two behind the bar of my fathers pub. My wages were the roof over my head and as many halves of lager as I wanted. Funnily enough I think this liberal attitude to alcohol was very beneficial. I do enjoy a drink, and I sometimes enjoy one hell of a session, but I've never felt like I have to drink. There are great swathes of my life in which not a drop of alcohol has passed my lips. If forced to put a figure on it I would say that in the last twelve months I have imbibed the equivalent of maybe ten or fifteen pints of beer. Next year may be different, maybe I'll drink more and maybe I'll drink less, but I digress.
During my sessions behind the bar I was lucky enough to talk to people from all walks of life. Doctors, bankers, navvies, policemen, thieves and gangsters. A wondrous variety of sinners and saints. Everyone knew my name and most had watched me grow up.
One evening, after hours, a number of my father's customers had stayed behind for a drink. It was a regular occurence, curtains drawn and main lights turned off while my parents and both my Grandmothers (Both my Grandfathers had died very young.) flaunted the law and held court. There would be singing, joking, swearing and smiles. These evening form some of the happiest memories of my entire life. I quite possibly learnt more from the collection of miscreants I was surrounded by than I ever learnt at school.
One of those nights my father mentioned my work experience at the primary school. The conversation that followed put me off following my chosen path. I was weird, maybe a "poof" or a pervert and it wasn't a man's job. What kind of man wanted to play with children all day? I'm ashamed to say that, still being very impressionable, I trusted these men's opinions and craved their approval. I dropped my ambition to work with children for no reason other than to fit in and not be labelled a "poof" or "nonce".
I still loved, and still love, children. Children are the very best thing this life has to offer. The sound of children playing, the marvel in their eyes when you show them a magic trick and the belly laughs that take away their breath when you tell them a silly joke or pull a silly face are, for me, some of the most valuable things in life.
A couple of years ago, now older and confident enough to defend myself against accusations of poofery or noncenicity, I took a part time job to supplement my income driving a mini-bus for a nursery and after-school club. I would take the kids to school and be there to bring them back to the club, exhausted and giddy, at the end of their academic day. I had a fridge covered in paintings and drawings done by the children. I would do monkey impressions to make them laugh, make paper aeroplanes for them to decorate and fly, tell silly jokes and lead sing-alongs or games of eye-spy to entertain them whilst the were in my care. Every morning began with children's laughter and every afternoon finished the same way. It's hard not to smile when your life involves so many happy children.
I didn't care a jot if the occasional scruffy, hood wearing sub-human accused me of being a "perv". I'm 6'3" tall, heavily tattooed with a deep voice and a Salford accent, a clean criminal record and a long and varied love life which was restricted to females well above the age of consent. If people intimated there was "something of the Jimmy Saville" about me I would look them in the eye and tell them I hoped they weren't inferring what I thought they were inferring before pointing out that their minds seemed to be drawn toward and focus on paedophilia a little too quickly for my liking.
Unfortunately these days people that like children aren't allowed to demonstrate they like children. Kids are to be kept at arms length, unless you're a parent. Indeed, even if you're a father you're eyed with suspicion if you're sat in a children's playground, tapping away on your phone whilst you let your own offspring play on the swings. I have several friends who have daughters and they won't take their children to such places unless they're accompanied by the child's mother for fear of being pilloried or accused of some nefarious intention. People assume the worst, where in actual fact they should assume the best. Statistically, if someone is nice to children it's because they are a nice person, not because they're a sick and twisted sexual deviant. If a man is sat in a playground reading a newspaper whilst children play on the climbing frames isn't it better to assume one or more of those children belongs to him? You'd almost certainly be right.
I read a news story yesterday. A man in Bristol, Bijan Ebrahimi, an immigrant from Iran in 2001 who had learning difficulties, had been racially abused and had his property damaged. He asked the police for help. The police told him to take photographs to help them to help him. He did so. Someone in the community phoned the police and accused him of being a paedophile. (Apparently a very stupid paedophile too, since he was making no effort to hide his actions.) The police turned up and took him in for questioning. The police, who had told him to take photographs, who knew why he was taking the photographs, took him in. They never thought to say to the complainant "Don't worry, we've asked him to do that." They took him in. In front of a baying mob of morons chanting "paedo, paedo".
He was arrested, taken into custody and questioned. Being plainly completely innocent he was soon released. He went home.
The baying mob saw him released and return to his home. Now not only was he a "dirty nonce", he was also a "dirty nonce that had got away with it". His continued liberty wasn't a sign that he had done nothing wrong, it was a sign that he had pulled the wool over the police service's eyes. The police had, in the baying mobs eyes, let down the children of their community. Something had to be done, didn't it?
As a result, he was beaten to death and set alight by two subhuman vigilantes.
There is a massive shortage of male teachers at primary school level. One in five boys go until they are eleven years old without ever having a male teacher. Some of these will never have a male teacher in their secondary schools either. Even more disappointing is the fact that some of those boys don't even have a male role model in their home lives.
How does a boy learn to be a man without a man to teach him?
I'm not advocating you, I or anyone else let random men into our children's lives. I'm not saying paedophilia isn't a concern in modern day Britain. The only thing I'm advocating is a sense of perspective.
Play with your children in public, smile when an old man magically pulls a coin from behind their ear on a bus and if you want to be a primary school teacher, nursery nurse or children's entertainer then be it. Don't let a gang of ill educated buffoons put you off.
They may be well meaning. They may believe their prejudices are totally justified. They may even be right on occasion. They're probably not though. A con man doesn't look like a con man or he'd not be very good at conning people and we've all read at least one really good book that had a shit cover.
Anyway, to paraphrase the Bard, maybe they doth protest too much?
Just one more thing.... I always come up with the title to my blog entries after having written them. I sit and stare and think, and sometimes I Google something in search of the perfect pun. The irony of this particular entry is that I daren't use Google to do so this time for fear that my search will be flagged up, my IP recorded on some law enforcement agencies database and my laptop seized when the police officers come to arrest me in front of a baying mob of morons.
Thanks a bunch, modern day Britain, well played.