Thursday, 23 May 2013


Where to begin with this one? Unfathomable. Mind-blowing. But most of all more than a touch depressing. It's an emotive subject, so I'll try the best I can to dispense with the usual cheap glib-ness and try and address the issues that have arisen following the incident.

Two men took the decision to hack a serving soldier to death on the streets of Woolwich yesterday afternoon. With a machete. It's difficult to comprehend. Like something out of a heavily sensationalised television drama. While some people are especially horrified by the fact that the victim was a serving member of our forces, I'm not sure that's particularly relevant. The killers probably think it is. They probably think they have struck a blow against our nation by savagely butchering one of it's defenders. But an attack like this on anyone, whoever they are, would have been equally sickening and repulsive.

I'm not in favour of the death penalty, personally. Never have been. There are far too many things that can go wrong. After his heinous crime, one of the men spoke about how this was 'an eye for an eye' or a 'tooth for a tooth'. He was referring to his belief that British soldiers are killing Muslims in other parts of the world on a daily basis. Certainly I have my issues with British foreign policy as many do, but I think the downright tragedy of yesterday goes some way to proving that the eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth philosophy of the death penalty is in grave danger of causing more problems than it solves. Holding this view, I can't therefore change it when it is severely tested as it has been in Woolwich. Others will disagree and I can fully understand those who shout that the killers should hang, even be tortured, whatever you want to do with them. It's just not something that sits right with me. Killing people is wrong no matter what the circumstances.

What I can't understand is the way in which many people have used the events in Woolwich as an excuse to peddle some quite outrageous, racist nonsense. To blame an entire race or religion for the actions of two psychopaths is an indefensible position. If I commit a violent crime it in no way suggests that the disabled community in general is evil and dangerous. Likewise if a gay person does something despicable, we should not then start fearing for our lives whenever confronted with a homosexual. So why then are there people attacking mosques, writing graffiti on the cars of innocent people who happen to be Muslim, planning demonstrations, stirring up dim-witted organisations into so-called 'protests' against people of a certain faith or colour? It's sickening, wouldn't you say?

The truth is anyone can be a psycopath and commit a shocking crime. It is not dependent on your religion, race, disability, gender, sexual orientation, nor even the colour of your underwear. Apologies, the glibness creeps in now and again even on the most serious of subjects. But the point is that everyone is responsible for their own actions. We cannot live in a world where if one person of a certain minority group acts a certain way, we then presume that all of those with that one particular aspect in common are going to act the same way. That kind of thinking takes narrow mindedness to a level I didn't think possible. Some of these people who want Muslims burned or Asians gassed or whatever it is are probably reading this now and disagreeing with every word. Which is a concept that terrifies me.

Remarkably, the killers spoke quite calmly to people around the crime scene yesterday. One said something along the lines of wanting to start a war in London, or indeed in England. We can't let them. And the only way to stop that happening is to judge these two on their own lack of merit. Treat them for what they are. Cold blooded killers with no regard for human life or for what is right and what is wrong. Not, as they claim, as some kind of representatives of the Muslim faith.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Language Barrier

Something happened at work today which led me to today's topic. It was a small, fairly trivial incident but it got me to thinking about the way people view disability, and the absurdities thrown up by their limited knowledge and morbid fear of it.

I was in the canteen at lunch time when one of the students came in with a small child. Don't worry, this is not now going to turn into a lengthy lament on teen pregnancy. There'll be no cynical suggestions here that some people might enrol on a course with no intention of completing it but every intention of picking up bursaries and maternity pay. None of that. Anyway this child could not have been more than a few months old. She was being carried around by her young mother as she tried to make the non-choice from the limited treats on offer in the Tithebarn Street canteen. When she had chosen she made her way to the till and was greeted by the expected and probably understandable coo-eys and look-at-you-aren't-you-beautifuls from the serving staff. One of whom then turned to the baby and said;

"What's your name?"

Instantly I found it quite odd that anyone would ask such a young child a question and expect to get an answer from anyone but the accompanying adult. But more than that, it reminded me of my own childhood when people would ask my mother, rather than me, what my name was right up until I was about 10 years old. I have vivid memories of pushing around the shops with my mum who would regularly be stopped by strangers (why did they do that anyway?) and ask her my name, my age, and comment that I was a 'belter' or offer some other equally disturbing and completely unfounded and half-baked compliment. I am sure these people meant well. Somewhere in the pit of what passed for their minds they must have thought that both my mum and I would be thrilled to have such interest taken in us by strangers, most of whom if I recall rightly were old ladies picking up their pensions or drunken old men who, it turns out, had just stumbled out of The Vine and were headed inexorably for the wallet-emptying non-sanctuary of Ladbrokes next door.

Maybe you can forgive the aged for behaving like this 25 years ago. It's at least a debate we can have. But I would lay good money on the notion that this kind of thing still happens to young disabled people today, and not just from the elderly or the slightly tipsy gamblers. For some reason, some people seem to think that because certain parts of your anatomy don't work, then it therefore follows that English won't be your first language. If indeed you have a first language. Better be safe and ask his mum if you want to know anything about him. You wouldn't want to be left in the embarrassing situation of having him dribble out some incomprehensible attempt to say the word 'Stephen'. Or Ste. Never Steve by the way. I'm not Steve. Steve's the bloke that the fictional teenagers in crap kiddie soaps obsess over. He's the middle-aged, middle-class family man who watches rugby union and whose idea of individuality is a cheeky cigar when his wife's out having cocktails with the girls. I'm Ste. A beer and sex and chips and gravy fat lad from Thatto Heath who can spell. Or I'm Stephen, a pseudo-intellectual with a half-steady job and a sideline in online journalism. Either way I can spell.

Which brings me back to where I should be and where I was when I got distracted about people Steve-ing me. While people have just about stopped asking my mum what my name is, the fact remains that I get patronised intellectually on a daily basis, and it happens in the most mundane of conversation. If you have a wheelchair, and someone starts a conversation with you with the phrase 'I don't mean to be funny but...' then start pushing away. One of the most difficult things about being a disabled person is that you frequently get talked down to by people who are no more intellectually or socially spectacular than you are. Some of the people who try it on with me (though probably not intentionally in many cases) would, were they to look through the Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard archives, find words that they could not define, spell or probably even recognise. People who live the most basic and uninteresting of lives yet still see fit to take pity on me or approach me with out and out trepidation. As if being seen outside alone with me in the community will detonate a ticking time bomb in their trousers. Sometimes it is amusing to watch them squirm as they try to interact with you, but mostly it is just a pitiful and depressing experience. The saddest thing about all of this is that not all of these people are strangers, and some of them might tell you they were good friends of mine.

The baby never did answer the question.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Sex On Wheels

I was in a vile mood last night. For whatever reason I had the rage. In the midst of this rage I made a mistake. With the anger and vitriol building up I suggested that The Apprentice was 'the very fucking bottom of the tv industry's enormous barrell of shite'. It's not. Not quite. Loathesome as it is to consider how many people are glued to the search for the next capitalist fat-cat, there is a greater evil about to hit our screens.

Tonight Channel Four will cover themselves in disgrace with the airing of a film about the sex lives of disabled people. Now you might think it slightly arse-about-face of me to write a scathing attack on such a programme without actually having seen it, but I'm afraid I don't have the mental strength to sit through it. After 30 seconds of their previous effort on the subject, 'The Undateables', I look back and remember how this made me feel and consider myself a danger to society should I put myself through this kind of abject horror again. I don't need to see tonight's airing of 'Sex On Wheels' to hate it. It offends me as a concept. It's pandering to the sick voyeurism of people who want so desperately to feel superior to someone else.

Let's start with the title anyway. Sex On Wheels. Who came up with that? It sounds like something that Brian Potter might sing in tribute to Kings Of Leon on Talent Night at The Phoenix. Apart from anything else, it's misleading. Normally one does not have sex on wheels. No more than one sleeps on wheels or one takes a fucking bath on wheels. Read the bio, I was not born in a wheelchair because my mother would never have survived. Nor therefore, am I tied to it, despite my inability to walk. My wheelchair doesn't have brakes, and so to have sex on wheels would be frankly impractical and probably quite dangerous. Too much of that and my partner might very well end up in need of a wheelchair herself. The need for brakes on wheelchairs is a myth, by the way. I can't tell you how many bus or train drivers I have wanted to disembowel for asking me if I've 'got my brake on' when I get on board. They only stop a tiny hair short of rubbing you on the head when they ask. The implication that able bodied people know more about how to ensure the safety of disabled passengers is beyond absurd.

Back at the ranch, the plot that is, what really offends me about Sex On Wheels and it's cheaply-made, turgid brethren are the people who take part. Why the fuck would you want to put yourself through this level of humiliation? To be on television? That's the kind of mentality that sub-humans like Jeremy Kyle make a living on. Nobody knows any better than me that it is more difficult to 'get some' when you have a disability than if you do not. It wasn't until my friends started camping out with girls in tents at about 14 years of age that I actually considered myself to be any different to any of them. I'd missed out on other stuff, like football, but I replaced that with basketball. Basketball was my football, and it took me further and allowed me to travel far more than I would have been able to in the St.Helens Junior Combination. But camping out with girls in tents is not something that can be so easily substituted. It's little exaggeration to say that the nearest I got to intimacy with any of my female friends at that point was a walk to the corner shop. You haven't lived, haven't really suffered, until you have heard someone say to you that it is not you, it is the wheelchair. We're no different from animals, really. When the male lions get old and weak the females bugger off and find a younger, stronger partner. So it is with us. It's not pretty and if you think about it too much there is only darkness, but that is our society.

Yet this does not make it completely impossible to find a partner. I am living proof that it is possible to have a disability and look like the back of a 10A and still have a meaningful relationship. And before that some less meaningful ones. You just need a shred of charisma and a modicum of intelligence. These things didn't get me anywhere when I was 14 but you will find that they are more effective as you get older. Do I think I would have been more popular had I been able bodied? Almost certainly, but then if my auntie had bollocks she would by my uncle. If you really, really can't get any then here is what you should do. Save your money and buy yourself a whore. Able bodied people can pontificate all they wish about the seediness of prostitution but the fact is that I know people who have reached a ripe old age with their virginity in tact. What kind of a society would decree, under those circumstances, that prostitution does not have a place?

Just do me a favour, will you? If you are going to take my advice and fill the physical void in your life using the contents of your wallet, don't be going on television shouting about it. Don't feed the voyeurism. Your sex life is nobody else's business but your own in any case. Channel Four's decision to screen a documentary about the sex lives of disabled people seems to me to be as arbitrary as airing a similar documentary about the sex lives of people who shop at Tesco. It's perverse that they think that the sex lives of disabled people are either any more interesting or any more of their concern than anyone else's. And what is more disturbing is that they are right in their assertion that the cretins who live among us will sit and watch it. As if it will tell them anything about how the other half live. You have learned more about the subject from reading this page than any overly intrusive, saddo-fest documentary could ever provide.

God I'm so fucking angry again now. And I thought this would help..........