It’s not like the bullying that made him change schools in the first place, he assures me.
This is the dripping tap variety. It doesn’t frighten you; it simply wears you down. As being the butt of countless schoolyard ‘paedophile’ jokes will do.
So much for coaching courses broadening your horizons. He’d taught rugby to under-12s about 18 months ago. Enjoyed it, because he’s always related better to those younger or older than him, than he does to his own age group.
The kids enjoyed it too and when one of them fell and hurt himself and his coach took him to the school nurse for some treatment, it was the most natural thing in the world for the younger child to take the older one’s hand as they walked.
Alas, the older one’s peers saw it. And so it began.
This much I already knew and I could just about imagine the dulling, wearying effect on the soul, of so baseless an insult somehow managing to run for 18 months and counting.
It’s what I didn’t know, however, that pains me the most.
“One of the teachers came up to me afterwards and said that perhaps I shouldn’t have held the kid’s hand,” he now tells me.
He was 15 at the time. Fifteen years old and your lesson for the day is How Not to Look Like a Paedophile.
A young child is upset, dazed and in need of comfort but you keep your distance. For appearances’ sake. The smart play.
I surely can’t be alone in seeing the irony of this. All the rules and protocols we’ve come up with – from health and safety to sexual propriety – supposedly designed to produce a kinder, fairer Society and what have they made us?
A people more detached, more reserved and more suspicious. An already selfish species now positively encouraged to cover its own back before covering for its neighbour.
I feel just about as desolate as he does.