We Stupid Apes

Entry by: kerrymeister

26th August 2016
A Different Class

An Irish Catholic despised for having a British accent
A pacifist lambasted for working at the Ministry of Defence
A working class girl, ostracised by kith and kin, for being an Oxford graduate
A five year old Catholic schoolgirl completely friendless because her parents are divorced
A woman who can answer every question on a Mensa test correctly derided for having a problem with her brain

Labels…boxes…brands…Call them what you like; they amount to the same thing: a form of shorthand, if you like, or lazy thinking, to ascertain whether a person is worthy of one’s time and energy. And make no mistake about it, we all do it, whether we realise it or not. It’s easier, isn’t it? Easier to size another human being up, to put them in a small, tidy package so we don’t have to spend more time than is absolutely necessary getting to know them.

But what happens when there is no box? What of those people who, for one reason or another, do not meet the criteria we have for separating the wheat from the chaff? Are they rendered any less human because they don’t conform; because they don’t meet society's standards?

I have never been to Derry before! This is exciting and a little nerve-racking. I am about to meet my cousin – my father’s niece and the only other family member besides my siblings – for the first time. We decided, a few months before, to find out about our grandparents. Like me, her parents moved away from Belfast just as the ‘Troubles’ were kicking off in a big way. Her mother, it seems, had the same idea as my father: don’t talk about the family. So we never knew what happened to them. But, finally, we are here in Derry and I don’t care what I find because I am just glad to be there. I can go and see the church where our great-grandparents were buried and where our grandparents were married. I should have noticed beforehand the look on my cousin’s face as we park outside one of the churches. She tells me not to speak. It doesn’t take me long to understand why. There are ‘guards’ outside the church and, as we are driving back toward Belfast and get lost in the Bogside, the infamous murals portraying men in balaclavas, holding machine guns come in to view. I feel sick and angry. I am never coming back here again…

“Every day is a compromise! I would resign if I thought I could get a different job which pays the same amount of money. Believe me, I’ve tried! But there’s nothing out there.”

He doesn’t look convinced and embarks on another anecdote:
“I was on a course and I met this man from the Ministry of Justice. During the break he asks me how I justify working for the Ministry of Defence when we are bombing Syria. I asked him how he justified locking people up in appalling, overcrowded conditions.”

“What was his answer?”

“He shrugged his shoulders and didn’t answer…”

“How do you justify it though?”

“We are defending the realm.”

“Against what…?”

“Against terrorists”

“But if we already know where they are, and those bombs are as precise as everyone says they are, why are we bombing civilians?”

“Because the terrorists might be disguised as civilians”

“So, how do you distinguish between the two? I mean, not all Muslims are terrorists and not all terrorists are Muslims?”

He shrugs his shoulders and doesn’t answer.

Helen has a plaster cast on her arm. She let me write my name on it. I asked her how she got it and she told me she broke her wrist. I asked her if her wrist could be mended. She laughed and said that was what the cast was for. She was on her own so I thought she could play with me because I am always on my own. I didn’t tell her about my game though. All the characters have been taken and the story has moved on a lot since I first started playing it. It would have taken up our entire break if I told her! So we just run over to the football field and stop short of the grass slope leading down to it. I like the grass slope. I can roll down it and when I get to the bottom and try to stand up I feel dizzy and have to turn around three times to make the dizziness go away. I ask Helen if she wants to try it too but she can’t because of the cast. So we stand at the top and I ask her more questions about her broken wrist. I’ve never broken anything before so I don’t see how putting plaster round an arm can mend it. I was just about to ask her but Richard comes over and they run off together. I don’t like Richard. He keeps saying nasty things to me. But I never said ‘goodbye’ to Helen! Later on, when it’s home time, Dad is there to walk me home. He waits for me outside the priest’s house, not by the gate where all the mums are, because he’s a man and they are all women; at least that’s what he tells me. I ask him how plaster can mend a broken wrist but he doesn’t know either even though I can tell he’s thinking about it. Dad is always quiet when he’s thinking about something.

Two years it took her to finish it and, all the while, working various minimum wage jobs because they all seemed to need workers to do the late shifts. That meant she could study in the morning and still work full time hours. By God, did she hate the job in Lidl though! Her first shift, which had to start at 6am because that was when the manager was in to show her the ropes, was the worst. Six hours of packing and unpacking vegetables, non-stop because the other workers had already set the pace; working without gloves and picking out all the rotten ones everyone else had ‘forgotten.’ It was the thought of this day, and only this day, which kept her going. Well, that and her feckless boyfriend, who insisted on spending what little spare cash they had on buying some 'green' off the man living in one of the other bedsits. And there was never enough of that left over after another day of stacking shelves either. Still, she is now only a few steps away from the stage where the certificates are presented, dressed up in her graduation gown (silk of course; they don’t do things by halves here in Oxford) and the customary black skirt and white blouse (who even wears a blouse these days?). One more step and she is on the stage, shaking hands with the vice-chancellor and for a few seconds at least, she is the equal of every other student in the audience. She looks out across the Grand Hall one more time before the next person’s turn but there is no one there she recognizes.

It’s been three months since I was given my diagnosis and I still feel horrible. Being jabbed with Botox isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Why do women do it to themselves?! I’d rather have a few wrinkles and be able to swallow my beer. Speaking of which, here comes another pint, courtesy of John. I am trying to pretend I am having a good time so he feels a little less awkward around his friends. Not an easy task when I have to hold my head with one hand all the time if I want to drink or eat (I have to use both hands if I'm walking). Of all the things I thought would fail me my brain was bottom of the list. I’m a chain smoker and have yet to decline an offer of a drink or a trip to the nearest pub. I thought it would be a lung or a kidney. Just my luck it has to be the one aspect of me I genuinely like. No one is talking to me so I decide to strike up a conversation with one of John’s student buddies. I’ve met him before but I can’t remember his name; just that he’s training to be a nurse. Apparently, he is longer a student nurse though; he didn’t pass his exams. I’m not a very good liar but tell him I’m sorry to hear his career has been put on hold until he can retake them. He asks after me; how am I doing with the PhD? I have to swallow my pride and tell him I didn’t pass my exams either! At that point, maybe because I’m on my fifth pint, the idea of telling him the real reason for being kicked out seems like a good one. So I tell him: my brain is busted; I can barely walk without stopping every five or ten minutes to catch my breath; and I’ve never been in so much pain in my life. All my supervisor cared about when I told her was whether the university was going to get its money’s worth. There was me thinking professors were meant to be smart! He seems suitably shocked. That’s a good sign. At least it’s registered in his mind. When I told John, he spent weeks in denial! For one brief moment, the first in three months, I believe I’ve found someone who has an inkling of what the doctor’s words mean – really mean – for someone who has only turned 30 and has been placed in the unenviable position of having to learn basic tasks (such as using a knife and fork) all over again. Only that’s not what I hear. Instead of sympathy or the litany of questions I usually get, this would-be nurse tells me that, were it not for the fact I had been studying for a PhD, he would have thought me retarded…

Would you believe me if I told you that everything recounted here happened to one person…? Would you even care…?

We human beings have a wonderful knack of treating anything different with fear and disdain. You only have to read a history book or pick up a newspaper. Yet, what we fail to understand is that, at the most basic level, we are all different; the sum and total of various gene pools coming together to form something unique. Even identical twins have minor differences in their DNA. But, in being different, we are also all the same. The plethora of distinctions we make between groups of people are completely unnecessary and often wholly inaccurate. The only distinction which truly matters is this: good people and bad people; the only way to find out? Getting to know them…

Millions of years of evolution and we still cannot learn that one salient fact. We are the most successful species this planet has ever known thus far; we have bent the natural world to our will; we have made monumental advances in technology, medicine, our knowledge of space and the universe. Yet, as a species, we are still animals, subconsciously (or otherwise) ostracizing anyone who might compromise the continued success of our race.

And at the end of it, once the mores of society have been removed – when we no longer feel obligated to be polite, sympathetic or tolerant because the majority in our immediate sphere no longer feels the need to be polite, sympathetic or tolerant – that really is all we are: stupid, stupid apes.