The following is Chapter C from Mickey' upcoming book, Mickeypedia – the A to Z of an autistic savant. You can read more at his website, http://www.mickeymayhew.com/
‘C’ is for…
something I felt much more keenly when I went to senior school; oh, how that visiting teacher to my fourth year junior school must have wished I’d wanted to go someplace else - to the Bowie school perhaps! But I didn’t and the place that I got sent to was a woeful prison full of beastly boys who did their best to make my life a misery because I was disabled. In response I made it my mission to get out of there the moment I realised that I didn’t like it; that I had no interest in the subjects on offer; and most pointedly of all that I wasn’t prepared to do ‘games’ after seeing one of the boys on ‘Grange Hill’ drown during a routine swimming trip. Initially I wound up walking out the gates a number of times, or else riding out of them on my yellow BMX, but at some point I must have been rumbled because I ended up having to come up with increasingly ingenious ways of escaping; tossing notes out the window to anyone who would pick them up – we were on a busy road – seemed my best bet. However, when I actually caught sight of one of my would-be rescuers: sinister, shabby, and beckoning me down a leafy alley with a solitary wave of his hand - the sort of man you might today see on ‘stranger danger’ adverts - well then I turned tail and decided that school was best after all. I think I must have run away twenty or thirty times in total. The house was locked when I got home and I didn’t have a key so I either sat in the garden until my mum got home from work or else I climbed in through the kitchen window; on a couple of rather risqué occasions I took the train to London after ‘doctoring’ my school uniform, as a result of which I was never stopped by the police even though I considered myself cute enough to be dished up as a paedo’s delight. This comely appearance led on one occasion to a rather dour young man approaching me one day and asking if I’d like to receive a blowjob; I had no idea what he meant – it sounded like he wanted me to take receipt of some drugs for him – so I went and asked one of the punky people who worked in Forbidden Planet on Denmark Street what he must have wanted. The girl behind the counter politely told me that he was a dirty old man and to steer well clear of him; ‘But he was young!’ I replied, in protest. ‘And he looked well washed!!’
Back at school, and being autistic it was starting to become blatantly clear that I didn’t have a logical mind. This meant that math – anything beyond basic adding and subtraction – was almost beyond me; when I failed to make progress the maths teacher whacked me around the back of the head with his bare hand. On top of this a boy in my class stabbed me through the hand with a pencil and I had to go to hospital to have a stich in order to get the little bit of lead out; the same boy jumped me from behind – what a hero – whilst I was walking to my yellow BMX and then ran off while I was still clambering to my feet, torn uniform and all. He was one of the ringleaders who eventually decided to bring his campaign of terror to my friend doorstep by throwing stones at the window of our house and – along with nine or ten of our classmates – setting fireworks off on our front path; also they’d sent me Christmas cards telling me that they all wished that I would die.
Eventually the math teacher hit me about the back of the head one too many times and I got up and walked out of the class; this happened several times, I think, until eventually I ended up in the deputy head’s office and awaiting a sound chastising. I just happened to glance at the clock on the wall as he was scolding me and he misconstrued this as being boredom – perhaps it was, I’d heard it all before, about how very ‘bad’ I was and how very ‘good’ the other boys were – but as a result he expelled me on the spot; ‘Get out!!’ he yelled, pointing his finger at the door, ‘get out!!’. And so I did. I hadn’t realised until then how easy it was to get oneself freed from this sort of captivity; you simply made yourself such an unwholesome prisoner that none of these institutions would be willing to take you on. After that episode I spent several months under virtual house arrest; my parents were so fearful of the social slur swilling around the fact of their son being expelled from school that I was kept under the most rigorous conditions; I wasn’t allowed to go near the windows from 9am until around 4pm, nor to take phone calls, nor was I to engage in any activity remotely unscholarly. Many were the days I simply sat by myself at the back door – the parents were out at work, of course – and fed the birds who congregated in the back garden, myself occasionally breaking out into pre-pubescent refrains of ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ before heading back inside.
During this rather tumultuous time we were sent as a family to attend sessions at the famous Maudsley psychiatric hospital; each Wednesday evening we would sit in a bland, fairly featureless room with a big two-way glass mirror with a bunch of people positioned behind it, observing us and basically finding me rather fascinating; or tedious, it was hard to tell. Nothing ever came of these sessions; there was no great diagnosis that I was ever made aware of – this was the early 80s, before autism became ‘fashionable’ - but the school made great pains in coming to the conclusion that I was a ‘quietly disruptive’ influence and that they were therefore justified in their expulsion of me. To me their diagnosis sounded a bit like calling someone ‘violently gentle’, or ‘salaciously chaste’, but I’d fast formed the opinion that these people had no spines whatsoever, and so I kind of carried it around with me like a badge of honour. Perhaps if these doctors had done a little digging – or perhaps if my parents had been more forthcoming with their family histories – they would have found that bizarre individuals were not an unknown phenomenon, especially on my mother’s Irish side; I share the same name as two unfortunate cousins, both of whom committed suicide. There must be a joke in there somewhere; as it is I can’t quite suss it out, so instead I’ll simply role my eyes and wonder why there isn’t more research done into the possibly questionable breeding habits of these insular fishing communities.
Eventually I got sent to another senior school, this one several miles away; two buses and a walk made the daily journey a grueling undertaking, but I threw myself into it with a certain amount of zest and even agreed to do ‘games’, though I found the whole exercise utterly pointless since I’d already decided that I was going to be a writer, whereas 'NT Me' was more settled on a City job and therefore insisted I buckle down academically. I still fell foul of ableism however, ending up in a fight on a bus after being taunted about my ‘unusual’ dyspraxic walk, a fight I lost after having made a mental vow never to strike another human being on account of the awful suspension experience back in junior school. My second senior school expulsion followed shortly thereafter, this one conducted mainly over the phone and through a series of hastily scribbled letters; cue a second period of house arrest, with conditions even stricter than before. I was maybe 12 or 13 at the time. I was utterly friendless, and the futile attempt I made at reconnecting with my best friend from senior school no.1 fell flat on its face when I found out that he’d gone and allied himself with some of my most demonstrative detractors. I still hung around with my cousin and a few of her friends but they were all girls; the occasional boy became part of the gang, but never really stuck around for very long. We used to make great sport of turning various local oddities into outright villains, like the clearly disabled man who would lurch up and down the road at various points during the day, or even the poor old lady who lived next door, who I was quite convinced was a witch.
One final effort was made to send me to a ‘normal’ senior school; as a family we were given an appointment and I was taken to see the school in question and escorted around the premises, but when the teachers there were made aware of my rather dismal track record I was refused a place pretty much on the spot. That was the end of my ‘normal’ education and the beginning of my descent into the sordid pit of ‘special needs’ schools, or, as my mother called them back then, ‘…dumping grounds’.
Being sent to a ‘special needs’ school was back in the 80s the ultimate shame, with much curtain-twitching when the rather sordidly nicknamed ‘spag wagon’ turned up outside the house to ferry me away. Once inside you were strapped into your seat and I remember sitting there that first day and looking from left to right at the nodding, lolling heads and the silvery lines of spittle dribbling down the chins of my compatriots, and thinking something roughly along the lines of, Well you’re at the bottom of the pot now, old boy. Not that I had anything against these poor kids, but I was clearly cut from a different cloth; they were perhaps on the cruel, merciless end of the spectrum, whereas I was an as-yet undiagnosed savant. On the basis of how bad it was at this special needs school I ran away the next morning, simply by absconding from the house before the ‘spag wagon’ turned up. Unfortunately I was spotted by the loathsome vehicle as it turned into the top of my road. I was hastily bustled on board, strapped down and off we went, with the attendant woman/nurse sitting directly opposite me with folded arms and occasionally cracking her chewing gum as she looked me up and down, with a certain sort of semi-professional disdain. I wasn’t at this particular place for long and most of it I’ve blacked out of my mind on account of how bad it was; there was no teaching and we were simply left to loll around, occasionally baking cakes and just watching TV. One time one of the kids had a fit – and by this I mean a temper tantrum/semi-autistic meltdown – and proceeded to wreck an entire classroom, hurling chairs about and the like. The teacher on duty at the time locked me in the room with him and then mouthed the words ‘…life lesson’ through the square glass porthole of the door. I don’t recall any specific incident which led to my final expulsion – how could you get expelled from a place like that?!? – and most likely my parents probably just pulled the plug on the thing. Cue yet another stint in solitary/home confinement, only this time with a terrible added twist; to make up for the yawning great gaps in my education my parents had seen fit to hire a home tutor to help me out with my work.
Now, there are no words to describe how dire this man was; he hit me around the back of the head when I couldn’t make head nor tail of the math, a sort of private re-run of my first senior school scenario, but worse still he then went and made fun of the way that I walked as well. Like a lot of autistics I also have a liberal dash of dyspraxia, which means that my physical coordination is poor and my gait looks somewhat…interesting, to say the least. He would sit with his arms folded down one end of the living room and make me walk towards him from the opposite end so that he could then inform me that I ‘…walked like a spastic’. When the big hurricane of 1987 hit I pretended a stray gust of wind had knocked our doorbell out and therefore I left him stewing in the porch ahead of that day’s particular lesson, basically as a punishment for being such a bastard. My dad wasn’t too pleased – in fact his moral outrage was something to behold - but I was too kind and gracious to tell them what a horror they’d hired. On his return the following day the tutor let rip a terrible revenge by telling me that I would never have any friends on account of what a weird walk/voice/retarded learning ability I had. Besides this beast I was also sent on a weekly basis to a woman who smelt of vinegar and lived in a room piled high with books, to do math, for an hour and a half every Friday evening. I would stare at my watch for every single painful second of that hour and a half and she would catch me and correct me by very lightly pinching the top of my hand until she left a little mark there. There were also a couple of other home tutors but they were relatively mundane, especially when stood side-by-side with the original ginger moustached monster.
Finally I went to a private school for about six months or so, a good distance away but I cycled to it each and every day and built up the rather tremendous pair of thighs as a result. It wasn’t a proper private school, of course; well, you had to pay but it was just filled with more misfits, although these were rather more the benign sort. It was here that I got my one solitary O-Level. I thought that was quite an achievement for someone who’d been called ‘backward’ by both pupils and teachers on more than one occasion. This was a rather hazy time for me, the late 80s, this particular school stint dated only by the fact of the Lockerbie air crash; one of the teachers was American and was supposed to have been on this flight but missed it for some unspecified reason; her good fortune buoyed us up for an entire morning after the fact. She got fired several months later for some undisclosed misdemeanour. She walked up the stairs to the classroom and sobbed her heart out on the small round table where we all sat, whilst we misfits looked on helplessly, trying as best we could to comfort her, in our own socially awkward little ways.