Park Life

It’s early Friday evening and London’s bathed in gentle sunshine and I’ve just had some spontaneous interactions with girls which were simultaneously blissfully mundane and soul-enrichingly exceptional.

Claire and I went to meet Bean and Fat Sister in the park after nursery. Before the COVID pandemic we used to pick Bean up every Friday, so the route there is really familiar.

This was the first time in over a year that we’d made this journey, but as we sped along it was clear that every bump and swerve of the chair was still hardwired into our minds. Claire said how good it felt to be doing the nursery trip in daylight because last year we had had the hard job of doing pick-ups all winter, only to have to stop just as Spring was on the horizon.

Shortly before the park we came across a group of teenage girls, clad in school uniforms, ambling home in a relaxed fashion.

One of them saw me and exclaimed loudly, “Isn’t he cute?”, quickly changing the pronoun to ‘she’ as I got closer. This first comment had been directed at Claire, but when I answered, the girl immediately redirected her attention to me. Her friend complemented me on my windbreaker which I’d grabbed in case of another shower. I thanked her and explained that I’d just rediscovered it after a long winter indoors. At which point I loudly and abruptly ticced! Before the girls had time to get distracted by my unusual noises, I explained that I had Tourettes, and they responded with excitement, joy, and reassurance!

In many ways this brief interaction felt easy and familiar – I’ve worked with young people all my working life and I’ve had had countless exchanges like this. But after a year of shielding, I felt relieved that these conversations still feel so natural. We wished the girls a happy weekend and continued on our way.

We spotted Bean in the park sitting on a mound eating an apple. She ran to greet us, and I pulled her happily onto my lap. After such a long time of carefully keeping our distance, she’s now very keen to ride on my chair. Bean introduced me to some of her friends and showed us proudly round the little playground which we’d not been to together before.

Bean and I have a game we play whenever she’s on the swings. It’s basically cloud maintenance – she pretends to grab clouds out of the sky, letting me know if they’re wet or dry, full of snow or rain, fluffy or crispy. My job is to carefully fold and sort the clouds.

 A digital drawing by Touretteshero of a birds eye view of a bright Friday evening scene in South London. In the foreground, spotlit in front of a colourful mural on the side of a house that reads “Nothing About Us Without Us” are Touretteshero & Claire who are stopped, chatting to a group of teenagers in their school uniforms.

The playground has a large nest swing so I got in, joined by Bean and her friend. Both girls held me tightly with one hand and grabbed clouds with the other. We chatted about dreams and rainbows, weather systems and reality, imagination and the water cycle – all the time organising clouds and deciding on good names for unicorns. When it was time to go, we all stuffed our pockets with wet clouds to put in our baths.

We all walked home together, Bean carefully protecting a dandelion clock she’d picked to give her neighbour – he’s currently getting a fresh one every night!

We said goodnight on the doorstep and headed back to the castle.

I’ve had two amazing conversations with young people at very different stages in their lives – those just getting ready to start school, and those getting ready to leave. What both had in common was an abundance of joy, acceptance, respect and kindness, and this makes me feel very hopeful.

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