Jeremy quizzes a group of mentally handicapped men and women about Glenn Hoddle's downfallby Jeremy Clarke / March 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
I sleep and work in the same narrow, windowless room. Before the house was renovated, it used to be a coal bunker. Now it is a sort of annexe between the main house and the garage. In this confined space I have a single bed, two white cupboards and a desk. With less than a yard between the bed where I sleep and the desk where I work, it is not unusual for me to wake up, get out of bed and, like a new-born termite, start work immediately. It’s cramped-but I’m not complaining. If I feel claustrophobic I can always stand at the door and look at the sheep grazing in the field opposite; and beyond them, at the English Channel, which is a different colour every day.
‘Twixt bed and desk there is just enough room for my kitchen chair; and there I sit for most of the day, earnestly tapping out my short, egocentric pieces. Because this room is on the main thoroughfare between house and garage, however, I am constantly being interrupted by people wanting to get past. Then I have to stop in mid-sentence, draw in my chair as far as it will go, and rest my cheek against the computer screen while they edge past behind me.
The main house is a residential home for the elderly, so by and large the people passing through my room are fairly miserable. For everyone concerned, living with dementia and death gets beyond a joke after a while. So far this morning I’ve had the cook squeezing past twice on her way to and from the freezer, moaning about the inadequacy of the kitchen tongs in both directions. Then the young lady who drives and administers the mobile library came in. She was hunting for a lavatory. I directed her to the one next door, then sat back in my chair and listened to her go.
Then, around mid-morning, a troupe of residents, driven by a care assistant, came clattering through. They had their hats and coats on, and their aluminium walking frames knocked against the legs of my chair as they negotiated the bottleneck. I greeted them. “Morning Miss Grahame, morning Miss Joint, morning Commander, hallo Betty,” I said. Miss Grahame boasted that they were going for a ride in the car. She told me that she was also going to post a letter and brandished it at me to prove it. I told them that I hoped the excitement wouldn’t be too much for them. As she went by I noticed that Miss Grahame’s envelope was addressed to herself.
After they had been loaded, one by one, into the car and driven away, I heard a van pull up outside, and six mentally handicapped men and women came through my room, driven along by my sister. “Can we come through?” she piped gaily. She works at a day centre about ten miles inland for “people with learning difficulties,” and had brought them out to the coast “to get some fresh air into their lungs.” They had to line up and squeeze between the back of my chair and my bed on their way to the main part of the house. Like the recently departed residents, none of them found walking easy, although their difficulty appeared to stem from a superfluity of vitality rather than a lack of it.
My sister told me that they had called in for a “pit-stop.” She drove them on through the house as far as the conservatory, where they sat on the green plastic garden furniture and waited for a tray of tea and cakes to be brought out for them. I followed them, and joined them for a cup. Some of the elderly residents who hadn’t gone out in the car were also in the conservatory, warming their faces in the weak sunshine. So the company, sipping tea and nibbling Rich Tea biscuits among the geraniums and the winter flowering jasmine, was an easygoing mix of senile dementia and cerebral palsy, leavened by my sister and myself, whose input you could characterise as cheerful south Essex philistinism.
I introduced the topic of Glenn Hoddle’s recent political suicide. “What about Glenn Hoddle?” I said. “Do you think you are disabled because you behaved badly in a previous life?” Brian, 38, started to sing Vindaloo, the song that was a hit around the time of the last World Cup. “Vindaloo!” he sang. “Vindaloo! Vindaloo! Vindaloo!”
Steven, 24, said he thought Hoddle’s comments were “very terrible.” Geoff, 32, said that Glenn Hoddle was a poseur and a crap coach. Charmaine, 20, wondered who this Glenn Hoddle was that everybody was going on about all of a sudden. John, 55, said that the whole point about reincarnation was that people can choose what they want to be in the next life, rather than have it foisted on them by a judgmental deity. Disabled people weren’t being punished: they had just chosen a more demanding karmic path, that was all. You could argue that disabled people were higher up the spiritual Premiership than the able-bodied.
I looked at John, who is a potter by trade, with astonishment. “So before you were born, you called in at a sort of spiritual job centre?” I asked. “If you like,” said John, amiably. “And how long have you believed in all this?” I said, slightly concerned that such bizarre beliefs were more widespread than I had imagined. “Since 1972,” he said, “when I was knocked down by a van.” We were silent for a while after that. I sipped my tea and stared through the glass at the green field opposite and the sea beyond. “Vindaloo!” sang Brian, quietly. “Vindaloo! Vindaloo! Vindaloo!”