Alexander, our three-year-old grandson, is riding in a trolley in a supermarket when he becomes very excited. “Look, look,” he shouts in his loud voice. My wife looks but can’t see what is exciting him. “Look, look,” he shouts again. My wife still doesn’t know what is exciting him, but then she realises it’s a woman in a burqa, which is embarrassing. She tries to divert Alexander, who is fascinated, and luckily the woman disappears from sight.
Alexander has never seen a woman in a burqa before. He’s recently come to London from Mexico, and Muslims are vanishingly rare in Mexico. We are very used to women in burqas, which is my wife couldn’t see what Alexander was seeing. But on reflection you can see why he was fascinated. He has seen cartoon pictures of ghosts in books and on television, and you can see the resemblance, although the ghosts are in white not black. Indeed, he did see a stage ghost on television at Halloween and said: “No ears, no nose, no mouth, no eyes.” He perhaps thought he’d seen a black ghost. Imagine how surprised, excited, or even scared you would be to see a ghost in the supermarket.
The next thing to excite him greatly was, as he called him, “Johnny broken-foot,” a Paraolympian with only one foot in a dance competition on television. What he did have for a foot was a spring that was hook shaped. Alexander wanted to watch his dance again and again. He wasn’t much interested in the others, and his fascination with Johnny broken-foot continues. He’s disappointed when Johnny dances with what looks like a normal foot.
Perhaps he has never noticed disabled people, but more likely it’s the fascination of seeing a man with just a hook for a foot who can dance so well. He hopes that Johnny broken-foot will win the competition.