I LIKE to think that I’m a good person – who among us doesn’t? I give money to charity every month, I don’t kick dogs or even cats, and I’m more than capable of enjoying the company of people with opposing political views to mine.
But I’m not a particularly good friend. I don’t call, I don’t send flowers – though if someone else does I will contribute. If there’s a social event happening, someone else has arranged it and I just pitch up. Things, stuff, work, kids, rubbish television . . . there’s always something to get in the way of making that call. Fleeting thoughts of “I must phone” don’t often become actions.
It is pathetic. Even more so when it’s a failing of which I’m all too aware.
Same goes for being a poor aunt. I have two nieces and two nephews between my two half-sisters and I’d like to say I’ve been immersed in their lives since the day they were born. But that would be a lie.
They’re all grown up now – the youngest will be 19 this year – and I have many, many excuses for being absent. They’re great ones, too. I was too young when they were tots and didn’t “get” babies; they lived on the other side of Edinburgh from my “busy” life and career, so it was easy to put them into the “must go visit” bracket along with aunts in Dumfriesshire, Fife, even Musselburgh (not a good niece or cousin either it transpires); my half-sisters and I were never hugely close; they are all Hibbies; two of the kids were autistic.
As much as I want to deny it, that last reason is the truth. And it shames me. As babies I could manage. They were to be picked up and cuddled. But as toddlers who were having obvious difficulties in development? Honestly, that scared me. As their conditions – their lack of speech and social skills became more obvious – I stayed away. Yes, I did the “good person” thing and went to fundraisers organised by my sister, Susan, to help send them to the US for specialist treatment, but I saw them less and less.
While my sister’s life became one long battle to get them the support, the schooling, the help they needed, relying on real friends and volunteers to help her, I turned my mind from it and heard second-hand reports on how the kids were doing from other family members. Cowardly? Yes.
Their autism – severe in my nephew, more moderate in my niece – was the result of a genetic blip and it was too difficult to witness. It made me uncomfortable, and in my selfishness I couldn’t get over that. I didn’t have to deal with it, so I didn’t.
Last December, I paid an infrequent visit. My niece was celebrating her 21st and I couldn’t make her party, so for once I took her a birthday present. The difference in her – I’d last seen her at her 18th – was astounding.
She had been to the hairdresser and was delighted with her new curls. She showed me her freshly painted nails and dashed off to bring out the sparkly dress she was going to wear. This from a girl who normally retreated to her room, who could barely say hello, and never, ever held eye contact.
She had a conversation with me and even with my five-year-old daughter. It was astounding. Apparently at the party she even gave a short speech thanking people for coming. That’s almost the equivalent of a formerly wheelchair-bound person being able to take a few steps unaided.
One of the biggest reasons for this change in her is The Engine Shed, the social enterprise which trains young people with learning difficulties and helps them get their first idea of work and dealing with society at large. The same place which is now under threat of closure by changes in the way the council wants to fund disabled employment services.
Since she took up a placement there she has become able to travel independently on buses, to learn how to deal with problems should they arise, to speak to strangers. It’s given her a sense of responsibility, of purpose, a sense of self. There might well be no job at the end of her three years there, but what she will have gained is priceless.
The Engine Shed does amazing things. I’ve seen it in her and so have hundreds of other families who have benefitted. This is one project where the value and not the cost is what’s important.
I might well be a loser as an aunt, but I know a story. When my sister called with the news of the closure threat, The Engine Shed made the front page of this paper and its campaign to stay open will be followed assiduously.
It doesn’t ease my conscience or make me a better person. But at least it’s something I can do for her, and all the others who need The Engine Shed.
Stick to the day job, Chief Supt
THERE’S a reason why the police shouldn’t be involved in politics – because they come out with ridiculous statements such as that by Chief Superintendent David O’Connor.
The boy in blue has said that since policing has been reduced to just one force for Scotland, local councils should be similarly culled.
While I’ve never agreed with the merging of the police, the idea that councils should get bigger and therefore less accountable goes against the public demand for increasingly transparent democracy.
Top cops should stick to announcing crime stats.
Bus boss salary on wrong route
LOTHIAN Buses is a company that we should be proud of given its service, its investment in vehicles and the cheapness of its tickets.
But that doesn’t mean its boss, Ian Craig, should receive more cash than the Prime Minister – not even when he eventually also has to manage the trams.
The only thing which seems to rise faster than his salary is the price of fuel.