Tuesday, 15 October 2019

The Transplant Situation

Strap yourselves in this might get personal. I went to see the surgeon today. I don’t write about this a lot because of its personal nature and its lack of scope for comedy. So - spoiler alert - I’m having a kidney transplant.

This is the third time I have seen the surgeon in the calendar year of 2019. The first time was in January when I was at 10% kidney function and had spent large parts of Christmas Day asleep in my old room at my mum’s house. I’d also spent a day in early January at A & E at Whiston with heart palpitations which I had thought were linked to my previous in the field of high potassium but were not. They sent me home reassured that my kidney function had not altered significantly but without a satisfactory explanation as to the cause. I was signed off work for a month.

It was around that time that I first met Mr Ridgeway, the transplant surgeon. Dan. I can’t get used to calling him Dan. Because I don’t know him well enough it makes me think about Stephen Mangan’s character in that episode of ‘I’m Alan Partridge’ where Alan thinks that he and Dan have become friends only for Dan to blank him in that cringeworthy scene in which Alan just keeps shouting Dan’s name.

Once I had met Mr Ridgeway the race was on to have the transplant before I had to start dialysis. If you think a transplant is a big deal I can assure you it is preferable to dialysis for me. That shit changes lives. I work full time. I travel, sometimes on a whim and I have other commitments like the radio show and - in a not unrelated twist - attending Saints games to consider. I don’t have time to spend four hours a day, three days a week hooked up to a machine. Even if there are days when I wonder whether that might be better than working.

The good news is I’m winning that race. For reasons that even the many brilliant medical people I have met cannot explain my kidney function started to spike back northwards in the first quarter of 2019. Like Gerry Cinnamon’s popularity it was going up but nobody knew why. From 10% in November 2018 it had recovered to 13% in April 2019, to 14% in May and then again in July which is the last time I had it tested. I am seeing the nephrologist in 10 days time (I am currently under more medical consultants than David Beckham was when he broke the world’s most talked about metatarsal before the 2002 World Cup) and it will be tested again then.

That is normally like running the gauntlet. Not that I have ever run a gauntlet. Or anything or anywhere else. But you understand the metaphor. It’s scary because any test result that they don’t like could lead to a serious discussion about dialysis. I was having those kinds of conversations when my function hit 10% which was especially hard because the weird thing is that by and large I don’t feel ill. I don’t feel great which I’ll come to but there’s no nausea. I don’t throw up regularly. I haven’t turned the colour of Homer Simpson. It’s one thing to be told that you have a disease that will kill you slowly without transplantation, it is quite another to get your head around this fact when you still feel fit enough to go about the rest of your business. I don’t want to feel symptomatic of course but I do sometimes think it would help me make more sense of the whole thing.

So anyway this time I am a little more relaxed about the result because of the discussions I have had with Mr Ridgeway. Today he told me that they are happy that all the tests are complete and that we can expect to have the surgery early in the new year. I say we because my mum is involved in this also. She’s my donor, which may raise a few eyebrows when you have worked out that given my age she must be getting on a bit too. But that is one of the things that you learn when a kidney transplant is something which is happening to you. It doesn’t really matter about the age of the donor.

They are only interested in the health of the kidney that is being donated. They do other general health checks on things like the heart and lungs of both the donor and the recipient but they are just to make sure that you are both fit to undergo surgery. They are thorough with these tests because kidneys are precious resources and they want to make sure that every transplant has the highest possible chance of success, but I have passed them and so has my mum. I suppose what I’m intimating there is that you just need a decent level of health. It is not about fitness as such. You don’t have to be Mo Farah. Sorry Sir Mo. I wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity to remind the racists and extremists that a black Muslim has been knighted for becoming one of Britain’s greatest ever athletes.

We have one more assessment to get through in November. This is basically just a routine check that we are both entering into this for the right reasons and that nobody is coercing, bribing, blackmail or profiting from anybody in any kind of transaction. And that we are sound enough in the mind to make the decision to go ahead. I’m not quite sure how they determine this. If I were designing a test for this it would include rigorous psychological conundrums like ‘Wigan or Man Utd?’, ‘Have you ever agreed with Katie Hopkins?’ and ‘Do you watch I’m A Celebrity?’.

Oh hang on no, not that last one. My mum would probably fall at that hurdle and we’d have to find another donor and restart the whole process of tests and consultations which, by the time of transplantation, will have been going on for 12 months. That’s another of the hidden foibles of the process. It’s one donor at a time. If you have more than one person willing to donate they don’t test them all at the same time. If anyone is found incompatible for any reason you go back to the start. Like the Chinese team in the Women’s 4 x 100m final at the recent World Athletics Championships in Doha. All of which sounds like a particularly vicious game of snakes and ladders but I haven’t had to go through it so I haven’t spent too much time thinking about the consequences of it. I have other potential donors. My dad is as likely to be a match as my mum because I have 50% of each of their DNA. The only reason that my mum was tested first is that my dad needed an operation of his own at the time that testing began. He’s ok now. Just bad timing.

Incidentally for anyone wondering about the prospects of getting a suitable kidney from a live donor a parent is your best bet. They are highly likely to be a reasonable match. There are now ways of making slight differences work which is another bloody medical miracle. Siblings are also a good bet, or any blood relative. This doesn’t rule out anybody who is not a relative. Plenty of people receive kidneys from sadly deceased people whom they have never met. It just increases your chances of a more positive outcome for longer if you are a blood relative of your donor. Even more so if they are still alive.

The procedure itself is slightly more complicated for me than it might be for others. Due to my spina bifida my pelvis is a little crooked so plumbing in a new kidney is not straightforward. They don’t take a bad one out to put a good one in, like they do with parts on a car. They plumb a third one - the good new one - in and just leave the two malfunctioning kidneys where they are. They are useless but they are not doing any harm. They’re like Taylor Swift in that sense. Though a nephrologist will often look at you, shake his head and breath through his teeth when he sees your kidney function. Like a mechanic checking over your battered car engine except because our NHS is free until the Brexiteers get their way and sell it off to Donald Trump he is not doing it to work out what he can charge you for it.

What is required in my circumstances is two operating theatres. One to open me up and have a quick look around to work out the best way of shoehorning a third kidney in there, and another to then go and get my mum’s kidney and bring it over to me to finish the job off. Mr Ridgeway says it will be ‘a long day’ but I’m guessing he means for him performing complex surgery. We’ll be unconscious and so will know nothing about it after we are asked to breath into the mask and count.

It is afterwards that I face my challenges. I was relieved to find out today also that I’ll only be in hospital for 10 days or so. When I saw Mr Ridgeway he told me he had seen cases similar to mine (crooked spines or to use a technical term biffyness) in which patients had been hospitalised for up to five weeks. I am not a great patient so five weeks on a ward is something close to my personal Hell. But in those cases there were underlying conditions that I don’t have so Mr Ridgeway is not expecting my stay to be any longer than two weeks tops.

Recovery takes on average something between eight weeks and three months if you’re talking about getting back to work. During that time I’ll have regular hospital visits to check that everything is working ok and I’ll forever be on anti-rejection drugs which do what you might expect, stop the body rejecting a kidney which is after all a foreign body entering your system even if it comes from a close blood relative. Taking a lot of drugs is not something I am a stranger to. I don’t mean that in a Pete Doherty sort of way. I just mean that I am already on five or six different types of medication to slow down the deterioration of my current kidneys and help with associated conditions like high blood pressure and that old favourite, high potassium. What’s a few more?

The immediate aim is to try and get through to the date of the surgery without going off sick from work. That should be doable, although I confess it is getting a little more difficult now. The itchiness I suffered in the early part of the year (oh, didn’t mention that, kept me awake night after night to the point where I now use medication and cream to combat it) is enjoying a slight resurgence in recent weeks and any sleep lost through that is a major problem. Even when I do sleep well I find that I get tired far more easily than was the case maybe a year ago. It’s starting to frustrate me that I can be sat relaxed watching a game on TV one minute and wake up the next to find that an hour has passed. Unless I’m busy I find it really hard to fight off sleep during the day. Work helps with that because it gives me something that requires more concentration than NFL Sunday or a Test Match, but I don’t know how much longer that will be the case.

The other major symptom, if you can call it a symptom considering what happens to some sufferers of kidney disease is panic attacks. I hadn’t had one since my last stay in hospital for bowel surgery in April until last night. It could have been due to the fact that it was the night before what I anticipated would be my last appointment with Mr Ridgeway before shit gets real. I don’t know. What I do know is that when it happens I get this odd sense of deja vu, as if everything I am seeing and hearing has happened before. At the same time my heart rate speeds up and it feels like my entire body is palpitating as this weird and unpleasant tingle (that’s the best way I can think of to describe it, like a scary tingling feeling) courses through me. I had a particularly unpleasant occurrence this morning while my mum was in with Mr Ridgeway and I was waiting to be brought in. Protocol, apparently. To prevent any of that coercion and bribery stuff I mentioned earlier. However the fact that I got the news I expected and to be honest that I wanted might be the reason why I have not had one since. I don’t feel like I have been over thinking or worrying about today in the day’s leading up to it. I’ve been too busy at Dave Gorman gigs and Grand Finals. This weekend I’m going to see Ben Elton. I just think maybe sometimes these anxieties are subconscious.

I try and play it down and I hope that anyone in a similar situation reading this column may have had some of their worst fears allayed. That anyone wondering whether or not to donate organs before or even after their own death might be encouraged to do so. But it is still kind of a big deal.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Dave Gorman And Salisbury

Yesterday I turned 44 years old. To celebrate getting through another year in which I have miraculously avoided dialysis in the way that Soccer AM has avoided cancellation I decided to take a trip to Salisbury. This choice was made for the single and only reason that it happened to be where Dave Gorman was taking his tour on the date of my birthday.

I have to tell you something straight away. This was going to be the first comedy gig that I had actively paid to attend. As far as I can remember it is only the third comedy show I have ever attended, following on from a dreadful Mick-Miller like buffoon at Prestatyn about 15 years ago and - most startlingly of all - a performance by Jimmy Cricket at Blackpool during the 80s. In the first instance I just happened to be at a Pontin’s holiday resort and so faced with a choice of the crap comedian, bingo or pool and in the second I was probably about eight years old and so not in control of the decision making when it came to evening entertainment. My first voluntary visit to a comedy gig has whetted the appetite with Ben Elton’s return to stand-up next on the to do list.

By the way if any of you don’t remember Jimmy Cricket let me fill you in. He was an Irish comedian who wore wellies with ‘L’ and ‘R’ written on them. He wore them on the wrong feet which I’m sure you’ll agree is just side-splitting. He had his own TV show in the 80s on which Rory Bremner made his first small-screen appearance. Cricket’s act was based mostly around mockery of the Irish and starting one terrible anecdote after another with the phrase ‘c’mere’. My own memories of his performance are dominated not by how bad I thought he was but of the actual physical pain that my dad appeared to be in as he sat through it. What made his experience worse was that he was sat behind a man who cried with laughter at every crap quip. This chap has never seen anything funnier in his entire life. I hope he hasn’t laughed more than that since because there’s a reasonable chance it would kill him. This was anathema to my dad who has pretty much despaired of humanity ever since.

I’d toyed with the idea of seeing Dave Gorman before. It just never seemed feasible when his tour dates were initially released due to all the uncertainty with my health. Just by chance I saw an advert for the tour, entitled With Great PowerPoint Comes Great ResponsibilityPoint, when it was extended for a third time due to the demand. The Salisbury show was on my birthday and with an appointment with the transplant surgeon coming up next week I decided it might be the last chance for a while so why the Hell not? Even if it is a four-hour drive away.

The show is based on Dave Gorman’s TV show Modern Life Is Goodish. It’s basically observational comedy using PowerPoint as a demonstrative tool. At the end of the show he actually asks the audience not to give anything away on social media and since this blog sort of falls into that category (that is how you will probably have found it) I feel obliged to keep Dave’s secrets. I wouldn’t want to be that one knob-head spoiling it for others. I have to say given the knob-head ratio on both Facebook and Twitter I’m stunned that nobody has plastered it all over one or both of these platforms. Dave Gorman fans must be trustworthy, reliable types. Either way it is difficult to tell you too much about it but if you have ever seen the TV show you’ll have some idea of the sort of thing he does. If you haven’t, Google it. I’m sure YouTube has some clips. It’s better than Jimmy Cricket.

Before the gig we had a chance to see some of the local hostelries. That is after I had negotiated the obstacles in our not very accessible hotel. The Red Lion is a Best Western on Milford Street in the city centre, only about five minutes walk from the gig venue at City Hall. I’d booked over the phone and been assured that the hotel had an accessible room but that definition appears to be something that hotel chains think they can play fast and loose with without consequence.

The accessible room - such as it is - has a small step up to a security door for which you are given a passcode. I wasn’t on my own but if you are a wheelchair user who ever does find themselves staying alone at this place then you might have fun trying to negotiate the step while also trying to punch the passcode on to the keypad. It’s like fucking Takeshi’s Castle. If you can overcome that hurdle you might just be able to squeeze your wheelchair through the narrow security door then make the tight left turn to the front door of your room. If you get through all that your next challenge is the bathroom which has a carpeted ramp leading up to another narrow doorway. If your wheelchair is any wider than mine it will fall off the ramp. Except it won’t because you won’t have been able to get it through the doors to get inside the room. If you can’t stand up then you can forget about taking a shower also. This despite the fact that they asked me when I phoned to make the booking whether I’d need a shower seat. I’m sure I said yes but maybe they get confused between yes or no like Alan Partridge when he gets that message about whether he would like to continue viewing the adult channels. I thought about going back to reception to ask for one - a shower seat not an adult movie channel - but the controls were not at an accessible height either.

They’ve given me a 20% refund after I pointed out these flaws to them but as you can see that hasn’t stopped me from savaging them on these pages and telling anyone who might be reading who also uses a wheelchair not to book a night at the Red Lion Best Western in Salisbury. Suitably unimpressed we set about exploring those hostelries. We were hungry having skipped breakfast but of course the first decent place we found was a non-starter. There were two lads outside smoking, presumably members of staff, and they told us that the hot food kitchen was not open and to try the cafe just a few metres further on. The closed cafe just a few metres further on. Memories came flooding back of that trip to Prestatyn when we turned up at a pub in a place called Criccied on the one day of the year that they were not serving food. Running out of both ideas and drinking time we inevitably ended up in one of Brexit Wanker Tim Martin’s cheap booze dens known colloquially as Wetherspoons. The King’s Head is your bog standard spoons and we ate your bog standard burgers just to fill a gap.

The next pub was far more interesting. The Golden Mill is opposite the King’s Head, set back from the road across an aesthetically pleasing bridge which crosses the stream outside the pub. Inside it appears to lack character, looking like a fairly common garden variety sports bar with TV screens on every wall. It has high tables on the bottom level which I always find infuriating. This phenomenon is the absolute scourge of disabled people. Trying to transfer in to a chair three feet above my head height is the fastest way to end up in the local hospital so Emma and I end up trying to have a conversation at different heights like Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch. Hearing each other becomes impossible.

The good news is that The Golden Mill has lower tables on the second level AND a fully functioning lift to that second level. This was a game changer for us so we could finally settle down with a drink. Despite its apparent lack of character The Golden Mill is noteworthy as one of the places visited by Sergei and Yulia Skripal before they fell ill as a result of the now infamous Novichok spy-poisoning affair in March 2018. There is still an argument raging about whether the Russian government was responsible for the attack. Well, I say argument. What I mean is that the UK government of dubious reliability claim to have proved that it almost certainly was the Russian government of equal if not greater dubious reliability, who for their part maintain that they had nothing to do with it. Their state-controlled media hardly referenced it before or since to the extent that a Russian newspaper claimed that 20% of respondents to an independent poll had heard nothing about it. The alleged perpetrators are officers in the old GRU, which is the English translation of the acronym for the Russian Intelligence Directorate. I learned this while watching an episode of brilliant-but-tacky ITV espionage drama The Americans a while back. It was a piece of knowledge that gave me a greater appreciation of the genius behind the makers of Despicable Me and it’s comedy villain.

Our next stop was just next door. The Bridge Tap is another pub which looks nice on the outside but is a plain old sports bar on the interior. If you are looking for somewhere to watch a sports event in Salisbury you are very much in luck. The Rugby Union World Cup is on at the moment so the Bridge Tap is hammering that in terms of advertising. They have a great big Guinness-sponsored rugby ball at the end of the bar to constantly remind you that you are only ever a day away from another kick-infested snooze-fest played out in front of bafflingly huge crowds. England rugby shirts are prevalent here to the extent that they probably call the barman ‘barkeep’ and hold their £50 notes folded between their fingers to attract his attention when they are thirsty in the several hours of down time during a rugby union game. The Bridge Tap also has a prize-winning pointless line in punnage, a red neon sign that says ‘Bridge It Bardot’. Geddit? I get it but I am still working on the reason someone thought it was funny or cool.

Last stop was City Hall for the gig. Just like the Best Western they had assured me over the phone that it was fully accessible. So you can imagine my cocktail of scepticism and anxiety as we trundled down there fuelled by a few pints of lubrication. Thankfully they were true to their word. All one level, no steps, accessible toilets. The only minus point was that they didn’t serve Guinness in the bar so I had to make an emergency switch to vodka and lemonade. I bought a book which I was reliably informed Dave would be signing copies of after the show. Actually there were several books available one of which was a collection of found poems (watch the show, these are a highlight), one was an account of his quest to meet as many other people called Dave Gorman as possible and then the one I bought which was an account of his trip round America in which he set out to buy products solely from independent retailers and avoid all the big chains.

I didn’t stay behind to queue for the photograph and the book signing. I’m not really one for photographs or queueing unless it’s Tommy Martyn or Justin Holbrook. Regardless, the book themes give you a further insight into the type of comedy Dave Gorman does, supported by Nick Doody who also worked on Modern Life Is Goodish. Doody himself was Goodish, peaking with the assertion that Donald Trump is ‘a sex offender who has been rolled in Wotsits’ but rather losing me when he took to his keyboard to sing a song about Batman. I’m not a superhero fan. Neither is Dave, who I will tell you denies that the title of the show - With Great PowerPoint Comes Great ResponsibilityPoint - has anything to do with Spider-Man. Where that phrase originates is one of the many things you will learn if you see the show because as we know I’m not allowed to reveal it here.

I’m not going to be that one knob-head.....

Friday, 27 September 2019

The Accidental Thief

I accidentally stole a Twix today.

There’s a Tesco just up the road from where I work. I have mentioned it many times before. Usually in the context that accessing it using a wheelchair is on a par with trying to get into Mordor to destroy The Precious. The shop floor is below street level so if you are not a stairs person - and I most definitely am not a stairs person in the same way that Boris Johnson is most definitely not an integrity person - you have to use the small lift by the door. The problem is it frequently fails to work. I think the current record for its uselessness stands at around six months. Six months in which ‘it’s been reported’ was there go to mantra. For a long time I gave up and resorted to Bargain Booze a little further on. Dark times.

Currently, however, the lift at Tesco works. We are in the midst of a golden age in which it has been possible for a wheelchair user to access Tesco on Tithebarn Street every day for ooh….at least the last three months. What a time to be alive. I go there to buy my lunch, principally because I am too lazy to either make a sandwich the night before or to get up a little bit earlier to do it in the morning. And also because we don’t always have packets of Mini Cheddars in the house whereas Tesco seems to have an endless supply. I must be the only person buying them.

Today I needed to buy some drinks. We haven’t got any in the house until we get the shopping delivery. We are well past the point where either myself or Emma actually goes into a supermarket to do a proper shop. Smaller supermarkets are fine if you are just going in to buy your Mini Cheddars and accidentally steal the odd Twix, but the larger stores are infested with Other People and those awful self-service machines. And that after you have spent half your life looking for a disabled parking bay that is not occupied by a boy-racer who has stopped off before he goes dogging in Sherdley Park or a rich person who considers themselves too important to adhere to parking regulations. There are a disproportionate number of Jaguars, Mercedes and other types of what are known locally as ‘posh cars’ in disabled bays in my experience. Oh, by the way, those of you who read my last entry will be relieved to know that I have stopped haemorrhaging cash at parking meters with the long-awaited arrival of my blue badge! Hurrah, and all that. Except that officially and according to the blue badge admin bods I am only disabled until the end of January 2020 which is as long as they have proof of my receipt of Personal Independence Payment. PIP PIP. Presumably at the end of January the miracle will be on and I will have no business claiming disability benefit. Looking forward to that.

Since I needed drinks I thought I would buy a handy six-pack of Coke. Knowing that they are quite bulky I knew I would have problems carrying them along with my sandwich (standard smoked ham and cheddar), the mandatory Mini Cheddars and the soon-to-be-accidentally stolen Twix. I put the latter in my coat pocket. It has been raining pretty much all day in Liverpool so the big coat is a must, especially with tonight’s almost important playoff between Saints and Wigan to consider also.

The problem is that when I picked up all of the other items on my modest list I completely forgot to take the Twix out of my pocket. It was an extra large one too. The Twix, that is, not the pocket. None of your standard fare. It wasn’t until I got back to work and reached into my coat pocket for my staff badge which operates the security doors that lead towards the office, that I felt the Twix and remembered that I hadn’t paid for it. I was mortified. I felt like some latter day Oliver Twist. Had I noticed earlier I would have gone back into the store and apologised and paid for it. But I had made it all the way back to the office by then. The journey to Tesco from the office is not long but it involves the ascent of a ramp that is about as much fun as my job. Taking into account my level of knackered-ness (I will be having that kidney transplant within the next few months) and the woeful state of the weather I decided against going back. They have made it even more difficult anyway because during the process of demolishing the flyovers in the city centre that has caused all manner of disruption around the building they have installed what they think are accessible drop-downs to the pavements. What they are in reality is ramps leading up to the lip of the kerb, so you have to push up the little ramp and then have enough momentum to get over the lip. I would rather just bump up a kerb from a flat surface. Someone with lesser chair skills than I, and I believe such people exist, will end up on their arse on Primrose Hill. Which sounds like a Coming Of Age movie starring Tom Hanks. On Their Arse On Primrose Hill. Emma Thompson would definitely take a role.

So I didn’t go back. I ate the Twix with my lunch and it tasted all the sweeter for the fact that I had stuck it to the corporate Man. My guilt is real but is tempered by all the times I have been unable to access the store because of the broken lift. In addition I've heard it said that disabled people need to be watched carefully in shops because they steal things. Apparently we are buggers for putting items for which we have not paid under the cushions of our seats and casually floating out of the door. I have never, ever done this, but I feel like I am tarred with this brush anyway. And now, accidentally, I have contributed to the stereotype. Confirmed the lazy prejudice.

It was only a Twix, but I am slightly surprised that a corporate bully like Tesco can allow this to happen. I would have expected some sort of alarm to go off, possibly one that speaks in the style of other modern technology in lifts and so forth. It might say something like ‘staff member to main entrance, a biff has stolen a Twix’ which it could just repeat until the filthy cushion-hider has been apprehended. They are surely missing a trick but then again, given that they have only just figured out a way of getting wheelchair users into their store on a consistent basis it is expecting a bit much for them to have developed a security system which prevents us stealing extra large Twixes.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Blue Badge Blues

Every so often I get a reminder from Facebook that I haven’t written anything in Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard for a while. It’s probably intended to be polite and helpful but, it being Zuckerberg it feels high-handed and dictatorial. Especially when added to the pressure I put on myself to keep this updated. Occasionally the pressure tells and I start mashing my keyboard. Tonight is one such occasion.

I want to talk to you about blue badges. Readers of my last entry will remember that I went to Rhodes in June. We parked the car at one of Manchester Airport’s many long stay car parks and happily forgot about it for a week. What I had also forgotten, and failed to remember until several days after my return when one of Liverpool City Council’s traffic wardens plonked a £25 penalty charge notice on my windscreen, was that my blue badge had expired. It had in fact expired on June 30, four days before I returned to England and it is blind, dumb luck that none of Manchester City Council’s traffic wardens seemed to notice.

In many ways I wish they had as it would have prompted me to renew it online there and then so I would have it by now. I am now into gruelling Week 11 of the wait for my application to be processed. Who would have thought that it would take longer than a Cricket World Cup? The blurb on the website says it can take between six to 12 weeks which I can only attribute to the suspicion that every chancer waking up with a headache is submitting an application. Most of these might get knocked back. How else can one explain the sheer volume of motorists parking in blue badge spaces outside their local Tesco without blue badges? Perhaps the government should solve this problem by just handing them out to everyone who passes a driving test.

The fact that so many drivers use blue badge spaces illegally and without any consequences makes my fines (I’ve had another one since, I never learn) all the more galling. My fines have come from parking at work. There is currently a ludicrous amount of work going on in the area as those city centre flyovers made almost famous by Sky One’s Sean Bean car-race fiasco ‘Curfew’ are being demolished. All of which leaves almost no adequate parking, and less than none if you are a wheelchair user whose blue badge has expired. I was chancing it in my employer’s own blue badge spaces but they have since become a victim of the ongoing work. You can park free with a blue badge in the street parking outside the entrance to the building but if you forgot to renew the bloody thing then parking there costs £5.20 for four hours.

I’m one of those shocking bastard disabled people who insist on working full time, so when you do the sums I am currently spending £10.40 per day on parking at work. Economy hasn’t been this false since Manchester United paid Alexis Sanchez £300,000 a week. I have twice spoken to St Helens Council about my blue badge application and after an embarrassing attempt to fudge the situation by claiming they hadn’t received my email containing the information they requested I managed to get them to reveal that my badge would be with me within five to 10 working days. That was last Tuesday, September 10. St Helens is behind the times in many ways. It must have the smallest number of actual shops per square mile of any town bar fucking Westeros but I hadn’t realised they’d converted to a two-day working week.

About that information they requested anyway. I was born with Spina Bifida (despite autocorrect’s attempts to make that Sonia Bifida) 44 years ago. Spina Bifida is like that sly, smug look on Laura Kuenssberg’s face. It’s permanent. Yet every three years I am required to submit documentary evidence that I am in receipt of whatever shambolically conceived disability benefit is in vogue at the time. At the moment it’s PIP (Personal Independence Payment) but who knows what it will be next time around. Whatever it is called even this sociopath-led Tory fuckwit government will be hard pushed to doubt my credentials for it. There is no cure on the way and even if there was why should I bother? My biggest disability is the inability of government and society to make life physically and socially accessible. It’s easier and no doubt cheaper to build trains with level access and put lifts in all buildings than it is to develop and build ludicrous exo-skeletons to haul riff-raff like me to my feet. Stop trying to fucking fix me and get your own house in order. In the meantime can we not just write down the names of all the permanently disabled blue badge applicants on....oh I don’t know a census or wherever the data from that 20-page PIP application form they send out every year is stored so that those of us with conditions which are about as likely to change as the plot of a Rambo movie won’t have to go through this charade!

So there we are. Eight hundred words on how my carelessness means my employment is currently not cost effective topped off nicely with another epic rail against society and, most deservedly of all, those demonic fucking Tories. If that isn’t Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard, Mr Zuckerberg, what is?

Monday, 9 September 2019

Saints 48 Huddersfield Giants 6 - The Verdict

It was a good night’s work for Saints as they showed something like their best form at times during this 48-6 pounding of Huddersfield Giants.

The win was Saints’ 25th from 28 regular season Super League game’s assuring that they hit the 50-point mark on the league table and remained unbeaten at home throughout the campaign. It is the first time that Saints have gone unbeaten at home in the regular season since 2002. It bodes well for an appearance at Old Trafford for this year’s Grand Final as Justin Holbrook’s side only need to win one of a possible two playoff games at home to get there.

This was a useful and much-needed tune-up. Doubts had crept in around Saints’ form with the catastrophic defeat to Warrington at Wembley followed by what the coach would no doubt call a ‘scratchy’ 4-0 success over Castleford Tigers last week. This was much more like the Saints we have seen throughout the bulk of 2019 with eight tries run in by seven different scorers and only one allowed in reply. Saints have now conceded only two tries in two and a half games - that’s 200 minutes - since that fraught first half at Wembley. Defence will be key to determining which team lifts the Super League trophy on October 12 and there doesn’t look to be too much wrong with how the back-to-back League Leaders have defended their line recently.

Offensively the fun started early as Alex Walmsley put Luke Thompson over inside the first few minutes. For all the flair and razzle-dazzle on show from Saints’ backs in 2019 it was heartening to see the two props combine for a neat score. Thompson was monstrous all night for Saints, racking up 165 metres on 17 carries, scoring two tries and making only one error. The tries were a highlight but a first half clean break in which he twisted several Giants defenders inside out before having the ball knocked from his grasp got the fans out of their seats. He and Walmsley are going to be huge for Saints in the latter part of the season, even more so because of the sad news that Matty Lees will miss the rest of the season with a perforated bowel. The club statement on Lees was vague about a possible return date so we wish him all the best for a speedy recovery. Getting back out there is one thing but the priority for Lees right now is his general health after a fairly invasive surgical procedure. He can take inspiration from Walmsley who has returned to his best form after missing the majority of 2018 with a freak neck injury suffered at Warrington.

Regan Grace was next on the scoresheet, benefiting from Theo Fages’ long ball to stroll in. The Frenchman was involved again as he, James Roby and Jonny Lomax combined to put Dominique Peyroux over for Saints’ third try. The fourth was both brilliant and slightly fortuitous as Morgan Knowles executed a perfect show and go to Lomax before racing 50 metres untouched to go over under the posts. The fortunate aspect was that the Welshman - one of eight Saints called into Wayne Bennett’s Great Britain squad this week - very probably dropped the ball in the act of scoring at the west end of the ground. No TV coverage meant no video referee and so none of the debate which erupted when Robert Hicks failed to use the technology for a Knowles effort at Wembley. Marcus Griffiths had to make a decision there and then, but to be fair to him his in-goal judges were about as much use as an English top order batsman.

The one bleak spot for Saints during that first half was the early loss of Mark Percival. The centre is another who has been selected for Great Britain this week but he didn’t last long in this one, running into the immovable object that is Jermaine McGillvary. Percival went for an HIA from which he did not return and now must be doubtful for the trip to Hull FC which rounds off Saints’ regular season campaign next weekend. Percival had looked threatening in the few minutes he spent on the field but had to be replaced by James Bentley, a man whose versatility is currently earning him game time even if I have a slight fear that it will work against him from time to time. He has played in the centre for Leigh Centurions in the Championship while on dual registration but lacks the pace and the hands to mix it with Super League’s best in that position. Nevertheless he again let nobody down, carrying the ball 11 times for 72 metres and getting through 24 tackles in defence.

Saints started the second half sloppily and should be concerned about an error count of 18 which matched the total which did so much damage to their hopes of winning at Wembley. On this occasion it was Coote who spilled possession and from the next set the Giants got their only score of the night when Michael Lawrence barged his way over from close range. It was a rare lapse for Saints’ goal-line defence on a night when they cut their missed tackle count from a whopping 51 in the win over Castleford last week to just 21 this week. It is a curious anomaly that they managed to shut the Tigers out in that game while conceding a try this week. Still, Holbrook will be pleased with how his team is defending as we get to the business end of the season.

It took 15 minutes after the break for Saints to kick their attack back into gear. Errors on three consecutive sets by Walmsley, Taia and Kyle Amor held them back before the Cumbrian forward took Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook’s pass to plunge over to give Saints a 30-6 lead. It was McCarthy-Scarsbrook’s second assist having put Knowles away for his try earlier and capped a quality performance from the Londoner. He doesn’t get many plaudits in this column but you have to tip your hat to a performance which included 108 metres on 10 carries, a couple of offloads to go with those two assists as well as 22 tackles on defence. Only some desperate gang-tackling from the Giants stopped McCarthy-Scarsbrook from adding a try of his own just two minutes after Amor’s effort. The former Bronco embarked on a seemingly never-ending, winding run to the line only to be hauled down inches short of the line.

Seven minutes later Thompson completed his double thanks to Fages pass, one of two assists on the night for the former Salford and Catalans man who was his usual industrious self on defence with 15 tackles and only one miss. That seems to be the difference between he and Danny Richardson right now in the battle to hold down that starting role at seven alongside the incomparable Lomax. The latter has just been crowned the winner of the Rugby Leaguer and League Express Albert Goldthorpe medal, a kind of Man Of Steel of the rugby league press. After the Express’ decision to snub Saints' League Leaders Shield celebrations in the aftermath of Eamonn McManus’ ill-timed complaints about refereeing standards perhaps this is not something to get too excited about, but there can be no doubt that Lomax is a deserving winner of any individual accolade that comes his way in 2019. It was Lomax who added Saints next try, their seventh, when he scooped up Roby’s unusually wayward pass from dummy half which had been mishandles by Fages. In the moment of confusion Lomax cruised through the Giants defence to notch his 16th try of a season that has also yielded 21 assists, more than any other Super League player bar Jackson Hastings.

Saints’ final try was a refereeing disaster to rival that which allowed Knowles’ effort in the first half. McManus is no doubt furiously scribbling his angry disapproval as I write. Fages was involved again sending Kevin Naiqama tearing away down the south stand touchline only for the cover to reel him in. As he fell to the ground he threw a speculator inside to Tommy Makinson that was so far forward it is unlucky not to have made the cut for the highlights on the various NFL shows that get under way this week with the start of the new season. Makinson was not standing around waiting for the outcome of a committee meeting, plonking it down superbly for his 20th try of the season. It is a measure of how balanced Saints attack has now become with the additions of Coote and Naiqama that Makinson is Saints' top try scorer in 2019. Over on the opposite wing Grace is only one behind on 19.

Amid all the talk from a certain other club about their lot sneaking up on the rails and nicking the title as they did a year ago this was a much needed performance from Saints. A well-timed reminder to those of a cherry and white or primrose and blue persuasion that we are not going away. The only reasons to believe that a repeat of last year could happen are psychological. The defence is as solid as it has been at any time during their imperious march to the League Leaders Shield and on this evidence the attack is not too far away either. The error count will still be a worry for Holbrook but he will also know that if his side play anything like between now and the middle of October then he will finally break the cycle of coming up short in the big knockout games.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

I Don't Do Wheelchairs Part Two - Doing Wheelchairs Very Slowly....

I flew to Rhodes recently. The holiday was great, thanks for asking. We went back to the same hotel in the same resort we had been to in 2015, the Atrium Platinum in Ixia. It is a stunning place with a luxurious pool area, resplendent with its bridges which lead to the pool bar. If you don’t fancy that, and to be fair if you are a wheelchair user by yourself you might not because those bridges are pretty steep affairs, you can download the free app on your phone which allows you to order food and drink to be brought to your lounger. I didn’t move very far during the week.

Alas this is not a story about beautiful hotels in sun-baked locations off the coast of Greece. It is about the tragic and yet somehow predictable incompetence of Manchester Airport. There were no problems on the way out. We were met quickly after we landed, with the wheelchair at the door. To be fair to all airports in including the woeful and aforementioned Manchester, largely gone are the days when my wheelchair would be sent down to the carousel as if it were a piece of baggage no more important than Emma’s hair straighteners.

Despite the obvious advantage of having no language barrier to break down the staff at Manchester could not replicate the efficiency of their Greek counterparts and so things did not go quite so smoothly on the way back home. A four-hour flight that had already been delayed by around 75 minutes because of some vague explanation about air traffic control became an ordeal something closer to six hours. First there was the wait for the plane to take off because of the delay, but that had nothing on the wait to get off the plane as the bumbling staff at Manchester Airport fell over each other to blame everyone else but themselves for their failure to assist me. We landed at about 4.10 in the afternoon UK time, the plane having been originally scheduled for around 10.30am UK time but not leaving until around 11.45.

You can’t take a wheelchair with you on board an aeroplane. It has to go into the hold and so effectively is treated as luggage. Still, in 2019. Planes aren’t big enough particularly this flying 10A that we were on. We are probably decades away from ever having planes that are big enough to accommodate passengers remaining in their wheelchairs. There is no appetite for spending the money it would require to make the aeroplane door oh…..eight inches wider at either side or to widen the aisles by a similar distance. And then where do you store it while the flight is in progress? You wouldn’t want to remain in the wheelchair if your mobility is such that it prevents you from climbing steps but not from transferring on to a regular plane seat. It cannot be beyond the wit of man on the 50th anniversary of landing a man on the moon but currently this is the situation. So you have to wait for assistance to board and to disembark.

This is where our problems started. At first there was nothing, just some good natured banter between ourselves and the cabin crew about what a bind it is to have to wait until everyone else has got off the plane before we can think about leaving it. Some time passed and then the apologies started. Various members of the crew came to say how sorry they were that it was taking so long for my wheelchair to be brought to the door of the plane. They were definitely on their way and wouldn’t be long.

It wasn’t until the crew starting cleaning the plane that I started to really worry that this mythical assistance might not be arriving. Several of them were scurrying around us picking up empty food packets, cups, sweet wrappers and anything else left behind by a couple of hundred tired holidaymakers trying to while away a few hours in as pleasurable a manner as possible before reaching home. One crew member told us that they have around 90 minutes between landing and the time when the next set of passengers start to board for the next flight. It was more than possible that we could have been on our way to Palma in Majorca, which I know from past experience is lovely this time of year but not quite what we’d paid for.

More apologies followed and the blame game continued. Apparently it is not the responsibility of Jet2 or any other airline you might fly with to assist wheelchair users on and off aeroplanes. That is the job of a company called OCS, a criminally under-staffed company which played a major role in my last plane-related blog about Matt Byrne being refused assistance to board a flight to Nottingham from Dublin recently. Jet2 claim that they have asked whether they can take responsibility themselves, that they are willing to pay their own staff to make sure wheelchair users receive more timely assistance, but that their request has been turned down. Of course if airlines start doing crazy things like actually making sure that their wheelchair-using passengers can get off the plane before it takes off again then what little staff they do have at OCS will find themselves out of a job.

Over one hour passed before a beleaguered pair of OCS staff arrived to do their aisle chair thing. Basically their ‘assistance’ consists of strapping me to an aisle chair and physically lugging me backwards (or forwards depending on which direction takes us to the nearest exit) down the aisle and towards the door where my wheelchair waits in the ambulift. It’s not very sophisticated and if you are concerned for your dignity as a wheelchair user then flying is probably not for you. The shame of it all is that it takes over an hour to arrange this. They know the flight schedules so it is not as if wheelchair-using passengers are turning up unexpectedly, willy-nilly in a scandalous bid to live their lives with the spontaneity that every bugger else enjoys. Aeroplanes are the one form of transport for which I will conform to the tiresome rules about booking in advance if you are a wheelchair user. I won’t do it on trains. If I want to take a train journey on a whim then I bloody well will. All ‘assistance’ involves there is for one person to provide a tiny, portable ramp to negotiate the one or two steps up to the train from the platform. Quite why they cannot make over-ground trains level access like tube trains and trams is beyond my comprehension.

The tedium of the situation did not end once I was back in my wheelchair on the ambulift. They assigned me another, quite unnecessary assistant at this point, a girl who was probably about 18 but looked no older than Little Jimmy Osmond was when he belted out Long Haired Lover From Liverpool or whatever it was. What was she for? I still don’t know. I was in my chair, there are lifts to the baggage reclaim and anywhere else I needed to go to show documents, empty my bladder or wait for a bus to the car park. She kept following us, making that classic able-bodied person’s mistake of trying to push my chair without bothering to enquire whether I needed help with that or not. Mercifully she didn’t do it again once I had explained that I could do it myself. There are few things about being a wheelchair user that are worse than the fetish that the able bodied population have for putting their hands on you despite the fact that you have thrice politely declined their offer of help. Some people find it very difficult to accept our ability to perform a task that they would find difficult like pushing a wheelchair over the Steve Prescott Bridge.

Manchester Airport has previous for this sort of thing. A report in summer 2018 found that they had been ranked ‘poor’ for their service to disabled passengers. It was the second year running that they had received such a rating and by the looks of things they are very much going for what will probably be an unprecedented hat-trick. Some take the view that it is not important what you are remembered for, only that you are remembered. I have considered the continued failure of Manchester Airport and wondered whether I might just be better off flying from elsewhere in future. If I could guarantee that assistance would arrive quickly after the return flight it might actually be worth driving to a different part of the country to catch a flight. But although Manchester was the only airport in the UK ranked ‘poor’ in 2018 I have no confidence that a similar situation would not arise at Leeds-Bradford, East Midlands, Heathrow, Gatwick, Stanstead, Luton, Newcastle or anywhere else. The obvious alternative is Liverpool but I am not sure they have as much choice in terms of destination and there are some worrying if rather stereotypical horror stories doing the rounds about the wisdom of leaving your car there while you enjoy sunning yourself in wherever it might be.

My health problems might or might not prevent me from taking a foreign holiday next year, which if nothing else will offer some respite from the kind of shenanigans that almost led to my arrival in Palma for a bonus holiday that didn’t have the annual leave for and probably couldn’t afford.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Our Next Prime Minister - Making Britain Shite Again

There’s a scene which opens Aaron Sorkin’s far too short-lived TV drama ‘The Newsroom’ in which Jeff Daniels’ TV news anchor Will McAvoy is speaking in a debate. One of the questions asked by an audience member, a female student, is about why America is the greatest country in the world.

“It’s not the greatest country in the world. That’s my answer…” Will says. Turning to a fellow panellist he adds;

“With a straight face, you’re gonna tell students that America is so star-spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom. Japan has freedom. The UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia, Belgium has freedom! There’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.”

“Now, none of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are, without a doubt, a member of the worst period generation period ever period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about! It sure used to be. We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior.”

Will is talking about the United States of America here but he could easily have been responding to similarly bogus claims about Britain. The feeling that we have some kind of divine right to be world leaders prevails. Fifty-two percent of people voted to ‘take back control’ with Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum since when far right meatheads like Tommy Robinson have gained an alarming level of traction even if the other half of the population have held them up to the ridicule they deserve. The Tory leadership contest otherwise known as the race to become the next Prime Minister takes place against the backdrop of three years of this country tearing itself apart over the question of whether or not to leave the European Union. We are almost at the point of civil war and last night’s BBC TV debate between the leadership candidates, helpfully entitled ‘Our Next Prime Minister’ did the sum total of fuck all to allay my fears.

Will MacAvoy’s words are of course an entirely fictional dose of self-analysis. I cannot bring to mind any instance of any politician speaking with such disarming honesty about the state of his or her nation. Of the gruesome cast of this TV unspectacular only newcomer Rory Stewart appeared capable of anything but delusionary waffle. Emily Maitliss could not have been more out of her depth hosting if she had been presenting it under water, while hot-favourite Boris Johnson had clearly entered the whole thing determined to stick to his ill-conceived strategy of ignoring anything asked of him even or especially if it was a little bit awkward like….oh….I don’t know….do you accept that words have consequences after you compared Muslim women with letter-boxes? It needed a stronger personality than Maitliss to press this group of absolute frauds who have somehow managed to convince some that they are political heavyweights. Even when she pointed out that Johnson had compared the very sensitive Irish border situation to congestion charges in Islington he just chunnered on regardless, half-smirking the whole time as if appearing on the debate was just another public school jape. What time were we breaking for champers and a spot of rugger? Johnson could not have been playing the whole thing more for laughs if he had been filming another of his appearances on Have I Got News For You. If ever anyone should have stuck to comedy and left politics well alone it is this blathering buffoon. Prime Minister? Get directly to fuck and do not pass Go.

Coming into the debate Stewart was the only hope for anyone whose political leanings do not sit somewhere to the right of Steve Bannon. Yet having almost doubled his support in the latest ballot earlier in the day and so knocking Brexit-botching Dominic Raab out of the race the general consensus is that Stewart rather blew his opportunity. Displaying the kind of honesty not seen in a politician since Anne Widdecombe admitted she couldn’t dance Stewart spoke to BBC Newsnight’s Political Editor Nicholas Watt immediately after the debate and agreed that he had been ‘lacklustre’ and that he did not think the format worked for him. There was no live audience with questions posed by vetted very carefully selected individuals via video links from around the country. One such, James from Oxford, accused Stewart of being ‘out of touch’ when the only candidate that I would not willingly smash in the face with Eoin Morgan’s bat explained that tax cuts were not the best way to raise the money needed to increase the public spending which has been all but obliterated in Theresa, Dave and George’s austerity politics.

The candidates apparently drew lots to determine the order of seating from left to right of the screen. For once finding himself on the far right (as we looked) of Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid Stewart looked uncomfortable throughout. He had the look of….well…..someone who had been forced to spend an hour trying to convince four self-important preeners that you can’t just ‘get on with Brexit’ and that there is something called Parliament. He was exasperated enough to remove his tie midway through the hour, while at one point the bizarre open-legged sitting position he had chosen was dispensed with so that he could put a hand to his face to express his dismay at wasting an otherwise perfectly good Tuesday evening. Five point seven million people watching on TV felt they had done exactly the same, no doubt.

If TV debates are any indication of which way the vote will go then the next Prime Minister is not going to be Stewart. So where does that leave us? Like Johnson, Hunt Gove and Javid all boasted that if they absolutely had to they would take Britain out of the EU without a deal. Even a question from a lady in Southampton about how a no deal Brexit could destroy her family’s livelihood did not deter them from their course. The trouble is they talk in terms of a little pain for long term gain when it comes to a no deal Brexit but they do so fully in the knowledge that they personally will not be affected one iota by any damage to the UK economy. These are the poster boys for the ‘I’m Alright Jack’ brand of politics that has prevailed since Thatcherism turned us all into total and utter twats.

That’s not just me, some lefty keyboard masher offering that opinion. Let’s take a look at their voting records shall we? Starting with Hunt, a man who as Health Secretary inspired the first strike by junior doctors in over 40 years. Terrifyingly, Hunt was Shadow Minister for the Disabled in 2005 when thankfully we did not have to suffer a Tory government. He once co-authored a book calling for the NHS to be replaced by a scheme which would involve paying into a personal health account with the proviso that those who could not afford it would have it funded by the state. All of which has the unpleasant whiff of a two-tier health system but anyway, what other villainy has this bug-eyed blert been up to?

In 2012 he said he was in favour of reducing the abortion limit from 24 weeks to 12 weeks, another bloke who will never have to give birth who nevertheless feels he has an opinion worth listening to on what women should do with their bodies. Worse than that was his 2013 plan to charge foreign nationals to use the NHS. The mind boggles at what his definition of a foreign national might be, but having claimed that they cost the NHS £200million it was later discovered that the figure was closer to £33million, £21million of which has been recouped. Maths experts will have worked out that this leaves £12million, which is less than Hunt’s planned revamp would have cost.

Hunt has consistently voted against increasing welfare benefits at least in line with the increase in prices, against increases in benefits for those unable to work through illness or disability (that’s not me I hasten to add so no personal agenda there), and has generally voted against tax increases for the rich and in particular the bankers (with a ‘b’) that caused the financial crisis of the late 2000s. Victoria Derbyshire’s recent Freudian slip was about more than just the sound of this man’s name.

Then there is Gove, Education Secretary from 2010 to 2014 and currently the man responsible for ‘Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’. Like Stewart, Gove is a former Labour man who has had that moment of clarity that successful people enjoy when they realise that they can only become incredibly rich by supporting Labour politics. To become absurdly, pointlessly rich you have to rely on the Conservatives and their disaster capitalism.

Gove described himself in 2012 as ‘consitutionally incapable’ of leading the Conservative Party and yet here we are just seven short years later glued to our sets as he outlines exactly how totally different he is not from his supposed rival Johnson and the mirky, snake-like Hunt. Both think they can get Brexit ‘done’ as they would have it by the sheer force of their will. As Stewart put it earlier in the debate they are sitting in a room which contains one door to Brexit. The door runs through Parliament but instead of going through that door Gove and his ilk are sitting in the room shouting ‘Believe in Britain’. Exactly the kind of arrogant and baseless imperialism that Will MacAvoy was talking about in the opening scene of ‘The Newsroom’.

Talking of newsrooms another thing that Gove has in common with Johnson is that he has a background in journalism. He has transformed, Anakin Skywalker-like from the sort of person who goes out on strike with the trade unions in the 1990s to the sort who later describes evil overlord Rupert Murdoch as “one of the most impressive and significant figures of the last 50 years.” Gove is quite evidently someone whose opinion on any given subject depends entirely on what will be of most benefit to Michael Gove at the time. After this unedifying TV spectacle he laughably told Watt that he had won the debate, to which Watt retorted ‘how scientific is that? I have to admit at this point that I laughed out loud. Almost snorted. The kind of laugh I haven’t let out since 63 Up’s Paul fell flat on his face as a 7-year-old in 1964. Gove’s outlandish claim is about as scientific as Believe In Britain, I’d say.

There are some things that Gove is certain of and on which he will not be easily moved. Like Hunt, Gove has consistently voted against allowing European nationals to remain in the UK even if they had already been living here before the referendum. He has Hunt-esque views on what to do with welfare benefits and how much of them to distribute to the sick and disabled, and like Hunt he is rather fond of the idea of reducing social benefit to housing tenants deemed to have more bedrooms than they need. The bedroom tax is what Labour calls this policy. Gove wants that, but he doesn’t want an annual tax on expensive homes otherwise known as the mansion tax. The most worrying thing about Gove considering that he is the current man in charge of the government’s environmental policy is that he has often voted against the introduction of measures to prevent further climate change. He’s also not the man to vote for if you are a badger, as he has voted to have your lot culled on a couple of occasions.

Luckily for him, like the vast majority of us badgers have no say on who will become the next Tory leader. There have been many people who, quite understandably, have ignored the two television debates that have so far taken place because in the end the result will be decided not by the general public at large but by around 100,000-150,000 Conservative Party members. Aged, upstanding-member-of-the-community types who wear sensible sweaters and tank tops, go crown green bowling but never if their wives aren’t with them and think post-war rationing was the ‘good old days’. I can understand the view that none of this matters and so why don’t the television companies just leave them to sort out their own squabble and come back to us when they have come up with a new Prime Minister. I must admit that was my initial thought when I saw that the major television broadcasters would each be hosting their own debates between the ever-shrinking list of candidates (five will become four at the most later on today and, depending on how it goes, possibly even fewer). But on the other hand I don’t think it will do the rest of us, the people who wouldn’t vote Tory if our lives depended on it, any harm to keep an eye out and learn more about the men who aspire to take over from the absolute shit show that has been Theresa May.

I don’t know why but somehow the phrase shit show has just reminded me of our final contender, the boy Javid. Sajid Javid is currently the Home Secretary but he is an outsider for the top job. He received the lowest number of votes possible to survive (33) in Tuesday’s ballot and many think that as a result of that and his performance in the TV debate that he will quietly fall away and throw his weight behind Johnson’s campaign. Similar noises are being made about Stewart who has admitted to holding talks with Gove about some sort of alliance, although such a move looks unlikely given that Stewart still insists that he would only enter into an agreement on condition that it was he and not Gove leading the challenge to Johnson. For now all of that is speculation and conjecture so we have to assume that Javid will continue in the race. So what do we know about him?

Some would describe him as a class traitor. He was born in Rochdale in 1969, the son of a bus driver. His family moved to Bristol and lived in a flat above a shop, even though he was one of five brothers. He’s certainly a man who knows what it is like to go without, if he can remember that far back. And in any case, can there be such a thing as a class traitor when the whole idea of social mobility is to make it possible for someone to move between the different classes? Nobody is advocating that people should refrain from self-improvement. It is the gluttony and the who-gives-a-shit attitude to those left behind which sticks in what used to be termed the craw.

Javid’s election as Tory leader would be quite a social breakthrough. He would be the first Muslim to hold the position and of course the first to be Prime Minister. This might very well make the Tommy Robinson fans on Twitter illuminate with rage and could well lead to all kinds of milkshake-related rioting on the streets of Thanet South and Warrington. It might be worth grinning and bearing a couple of years of Tory rule until another General Election just for that. Tellingly all five candidates were adamant that there would be no General Election in the immediate aftermath of the Conservative leadership vote. Even Johnson, who Maitliss pointed out had demanded that Gordon Brown face the public vote when he took over the Premiership from Tony Blair in 2007, managed to cobble together some lame explanation about how circumstances are different this time because Brown was not taking over in the midst of a crisis like Brexit. Yes Boris, a crisis which you and your crony Gove went most of the way towards creating. Is anyone seeing an evil plot forming? It all seems to be transpiring exactly how Emperor Johnson has foreseen it.

He might be a Muslim but Javid is scandalously not above the perverse practice of racialising the issue of grooming. He has been in very steamy waters for tweeting about Asian paedophiles, the argument being that focusing on the ethnicity of the perpetrators does nothing to ascertain how and why the victims ended up vulnerable to these types of predators. It is also a type of prejudice which ignores the equally and maybe even more vast numbers of white British people who commit heinous sex crimes and other violent crimes in our society. The systematic abuse of children is not a race or religion issue and in any case, Islam is no more repulsive as a belief system than any other type of religion, all of which should be reserved purely for the hard of thinking. If there was a God, do you really fucking think he would have made this world? And put fucking me and you in it? Fuck off.

The irony appears completely lost on Javid that if the kind of immigration policies that his party wishes to introduce were in place when his family came over then he would not have been born in Rochdale and would not be in the privileged position in which he finds himself now. Like the politicians who benefitted from free higher education before voting en masse to introduce tuition fees Javid is a drawbridge-puller. Taking the passage offered to him and then doing his best to ensure that the opportunity is denied to countless others. Some might call him a Hunt.

The truth is actually that there isn’t a decent one among this group, described by several newspapers and wags on social media as the worst boy band ever assembled. No Direction. Even Stewart’s voting record is completely at odds with his on-screen nice-guy persona. He’s against the same welfare reforms and increases that Johnson, Hunt, Gove and Javid find so disagreeable and he is very much in their camp also on the issue of who gets to stay in the country post-apocalypse-Brexit. The single and only reason to hope that he comes out on top is that he isn’t one of the other four and, beyond that, appears to hold each of them in the same amount of contempt as most of the rest of us do. Throughout the hour he tried to distance himself from the others especially over Brexit and lowering taxes. Yet all that seemed to achieve was to make it easier for the others, self-appointed high-flyers of British politics, to gang up on him and make him look as out of touch as James from Oxford suspects he is. As a side note James from Oxford didn’t get much screen time but in the few minutes he had he came across as instantly unlikeable.

By the time you read this the list of candidates may have reduced by one or more. Even then we will be nowhere nearer to establishing ourselves as the ‘greatest country in the world’. Which is bad news for the growing number of imperialists who still lament the fact that we no longer rule countries several times bigger than our own.