Thursday, 30 January 2014

Rugby Union Is Shit

The Six Nations starts this weekend. I tell you this not out of some rabid excitment and anticipation at the prospect, but simply because it seemed like a good time to describe to you just how much contempt I have for rugby union. And all who sail in it. In addition, I read recently that I should write what pleases me rather than trying to accommodate others. So this is today's offering, like it or lump it.

I have many problems with rugby union, but fundamentally the main reason I hate it is because it's shit. Since that is overly simplistic let me elaborate a little more. I hate it because it's elitist and boring, and I hate it because it has an unwarranted air of superiority over rugby league, which in case you hadn't noticed I love. I hate union because there's a southern-media led misconception that it is a national game while league confines itself to grimy northern outposts. In reality, only 3 out of the 12 teams in Yawnions Aviva Premiership can truly consider themselves northern. As much as league is a northern game, union is a southern game.

But isn't arguing about league versus union just splitting hairs? A colleague of mine genuinely did not know that there were two codes of rugby, and just thought that rugby league and rugby union were different competitions within the same sport. There are similarities, and it is apparently possible to enjoy both equally. I know avid fans of league who are very keen on union too. To them it's just rugby, but to me watching a game of union because it is 'rugby' is like eating a turd because it used to be food. Union has passed through real rugby's digestive system and been deposited with all the best bits sent to do more important things elsewhere. The differences between it and league are manyfold and completely massive.

Where shall we begin? Let's start with the basics. a rugby union team has two more players in it than a rugby league team. Fifteen versus league's entirely more sensible thirteen. With 15 players on each side it is little wonder that there is no space for any creativity. Conseqently terrified coaches urge their players to leather the ball down the field to within an inch of it's life, lest they risk losing posession within 30 miles of their own try-line. Not that the line itself is under any threat, because fear dictates that nobody runs or passes in union. But get them within 30 or 40 metres or so of their opponents goal-line and the kicking contest can begin. Essentially, rugby union is just that. A kicking contest. It's golden moment in the national consciousness came when Johnny Wilkinson dropped a goal to win the World Cup for England in 2003. Drop-goals are booed in rugby league. Whenever you see a drop-goal landed you will see a shot of a rugby league coach thrashing around in his seat, incandescent with rage at the player who settled for a poxy, useless meaningless point. And ruined the spectacle into the bargain. The only exception to this is if the clock is imminently due to expire and said drop-goal has decided the outcome of a game by a single point. In rugby league drop-goals are taboo and place-kicks (penalties and conversions) are the boring bits in between the real action. If I was in charge at Sky Sports I'd go to a commercial while the conversions are taking place.

More commercials could be thrown in if we had line-outs in league too. Whenever the ball is aimlessly booted into the stands in union (which is often) there then follows a procedure whereby three or four players line up opposite each other, facing the touchline at around about the point where the ball previously crossed it. Then a small, squat balding man with a number 2 on his back is charged with the task of throwing the ball back into play in a straight line directly between the two queues. They look like a bunch of women waiting for a bouquet to be thrown at them at a wedding so they can be next. It's an embarrassing, irksome non spectacle and, more often than not, precedes more kicking in any case. Scrums are hardly essential to the entertainment either. In league they are an almost ceremonial method of restarting play and of getting five or six bigger, slower blokes out of the way. In union they are a cherished art form as one group of fat-arsed toffs tries to bully the other group of fat-arsed toffs into back-tracking far enough so that someone can eventually fall on the ball and claim a rare try.

I mention toffs because that is yet another failing of the dismal, anti-sport that is rugby union. Though all rugby is professional now union is traditionally the perserve of the middle to upper classes, who didn't need money for playing and so rained down great turds of patronising ire on those who did when the sport split in the late 19th century. This sense of Corinthian spirit gave them some measure of kudos right up until the mid 80's when union stars like Jonathan Davies, Scott Gibbs, Scott Quinnell and others queued up to turn to the professional code. We're all slumming it now then, except we're not because union players still manage to somehow date princesses. What kind of a sport allows it's protagonists to mix with royalty? What kind of a sport would have protagonists that would attract royalty? Socially, union is one-stop short of fox-hunting, croquet and fucking polo. I'd rather be the hunted fox than watch a single minute of the dreary kick-athon that will be the Six Fucking Nations.

If union offers a better class of socialite, it also offers a better class of cheating. It's crowning glory in the field of skullduggery came when then Leicester coach Dean Richards persuaded one of his players to use a blood capsule to flagrantly flout the blood-bin rule in a big match some years ago. Leicester wanted to get another kicker (who else?) on to the field to give themselves the opportunity to land the winning points but had used all of their permitted substitutions. Fortunately for them blood injuries (or so called bloodbin substsitutions, more on which in a moment) allow a team to make changes in addition to the agreed limit as long as they patch up the injured player and bring him back on to the field within an agreed amount of time. There were mass bannings and general outrage on the level of match-fixing in cricket and snooker, yet still the southern tabloids love this pile of shite. In addition to bloodbin-gate union also offers a good line in eye-gouging, biting and its own time-honoured personal favourite, stamping.

Mention of the blood-bin brings me around to another gripe, that of union stealing all of league's ideas. Good or bad, they'll have them and present them as their own. So now union has not only bloodbinning, but video replays to decide on contentious decisions, and a play-off system culminating in a championship final. First past the post is old news in union, but has been so in the far more forward-thinking and admittedly innovative-for-the-sake-of-it rugby league since 1998. Incidentally, one of the more ill-advised of those innovations has been the cross-code challenge. This pits a leading side in union against a leading side in league, with one game played under union rules and one game under league rules. The pointlessness of this is staggering, like pitting a vaccuum cleaner against a dalek, with the first game won by the team that cleans the lounge the quickest, and the second game going to the team which exterminates Doctor Who and Amy Pond before tea-time.

So how can we fix rugby union, short of turning into rugby league? That's the only sure-fire solution but in the absence of that I propose that me and my soon to be assembled band of rugby league fundamentalists tear up the union rule book and make some drastic changes. Kicking the ball out on the full should be punishable by death, or at least a penalty try, while dating a princess should forfeit your side an entire match, or maybe see your side relegated to a division small enough that even the Daily Mail won't bother to report on it. Any points scored for your team by an ex-rugby league player should be disallowed on the basis that you have cheated. Bringing in obviously superior athletes from a much better sport is just not cricket. It's like letting Romelu Lukaku play in an under 10's football league.

So anyway you go ahead and pretend you like Guinness for the next month or two, cheering on the dentists and lawyers as they give the French a damn good thrashing or whatever. I'm going to wait another week for the Super League to get under way, then we might live in hope of seeing a game of rugby featuring more than one try.

Don't even get me started on bonus points for tries.......

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Too Much Telly

Forgive my rampant and shameless populism but today I am going to talk to you about telly.

Basically, I'm watching far too much of it. Far more than is conducive to the sanity of any one individual. Conservatively, I have counted no fewer than 19 television series of which I have watched at least one episode in the couple of years since I succumbed further to Rupert's evil plan and bought Sky+. Nineteen. Paul Hardcastle would have a field day with that figure.

I can't be the only one trawling through either the On Demand listings or endlessly looking for new shows to download to while away the hours between the end of work and the start of sleep. Everyone's at it aren't they? Other people have it really bad because they are also addicted to spirit-choking reality shows and soaps which endlessly loop for 50-odd years, disguising their cynical sensationalism as 'addressing taboos'.

Where shall we start? Revolution? Have you ever seen Revolution? If not you really must. It would bill itself as a futuristic science fiction thriller. I would bill it as seriously glorious silliness but quality entertainment for all of that. It is set in a United States of America which has basically become war-torn by the loss of all electricity. Except in one scene they managed to play a bit of Lionel Richie, but explaining how that came to pass would take up the whole of this piece. Let's stick to the plot in which post-loss-of-power, the Matheson family suffer the abduction of teenage son Danny by one of the tearaway, looting militia groups which now hold sway. Charged with getting him back are Danny's sister Charlie and her friends Aaron and Maggie. Aaron is a former Google executive, and so you can imagine how far out of his comfort zone he has become. Meanwhile Charlie has that Fergie from Black Eyed Peas quality of being rather funny looking but undeniably sexy. Her father Ben is shot at some point in all of this, leaving the group to seek out the help of his brother Miles.

Miles, along with his former friend and now adversary Sebastian Monroe (self appointed leader of the Monroe Republic and all around evil genius) is virtually indestructable in any form of combat. Which is handy when you are trying to complete a daring rescue in the company of two brave but limited women and a bearded nerd. Incidentally, Sebastian is more commonly known as Bass. Only Sebastians in a lecky-less future call themselves Bass. You can only get away with that sort of shit in a world gone mad. Miles' thing is that he can't really be arsed to get involved in Danny's rescue, but he feels a responsibility to do so for a couple of reasons. Firstly, he is the abducted boy's uncle, and secondly he is a reformed baddie starting to feel guilty about all of the terrible atrocities he committed at Bass' side owing to their thirst for power. Via a series of flashbacks the Miles-Bass back-story begins to unfold, as does the rest of your life as you become consumed by this limited but unmissable drama.

Equally unmissable is the The Following. I have just finished watching episode 2 of series 2 as I write. It's real edge-of-the-wheelchair stuff. The first series centres around a cult led by a creepy teacher and wannabe novelist turned serial killer. He's English of course, as any baddie worth his salt is. In series one he went on a lot about Edgar Allen Poe, kidnapped his son, then his wife, and somehow managed to persuade around 50 lost and lonely souls to do his murderous bidding. Some of this was achieved during a stint in prison. It's impressive stuff. Trying to stop the bad guy is EE advertising former Footloose star Kevin Bacon as Ryan Hardy. Hardy's a one-time FBI man who has been lashed out of the bureau for doing things his own way once too often. It gets personal between Hardy and the killer, Joe Carroll, for no less predictable a reason as they are both in love with Carroll's wife Claire. That's what Bacon might refer to as a no-brainer.

From then on the phrase cat and mouse doesn't really do it justice until now, after the latest instalment previously referred to, Carroll's cover as trailer park trash hiding out in the sticks is blown when he fails miserably to resist the temptation to murder a priest. A priest to whom he is pimping out his new girlfriend. So skilfully done is The Following that it can even make you feel a level of empathy with Carroll. I can't sit here with my hand on my heart and tell you that I have never wanted, on some level, to kill the local priest.

There's religious goings on in my newest distraction, a mysterious drama starring former ER geek Anthony Edwards called Zero Hour. Attempts to describe to you what is going on here are entirely superfluous but let me have a stab at the outline. Edwards' wife has been kidnapped by a man with strangely colour-less eyes and if he wants to get her back he has to figure out a clock-related puzzle that is so complex it makes your average 3-2-1 clue look like child's play. There's welve clocks involved, twelve apostles but disappointingly no dead priests. Complicating things further is the fact that the colour-less eye kidnapper is also responsible for the death of an FBI agent's husband. And she just wants to put a bullet in his head and bugger what happens to Edwards' wife. Now that's what I call conflict. To top it all off, a clock purchased by Edwards' wife on the day of her abduction leads Edwards and his employees to a snow-bound location where he runs into a frozen version of himself and some abandoned Nazi machinery. Somehow he was around in 1938 when all of this clock business is said to have begun. No, I don't understand it either but that won't stop me watching the next episode.

Want something that you don't have to concentrate on to understand? How about Friday Night Lights, a high school drama about the fortunes of the Dillon Panthers High School football team? It's like Grange Hill with helmets and pom-poms. Brilliantly, it takes a stab at addressing disability early in the first series when the Panthers starting quarterback Jason Street is practically sawn in half by a rampaging, burger-fuelled opposing linebacker. He never walks again. Naturally, Street's ludicrously beautiful cheerleader girlfriend has second thoughts about this going-out-with-a-crip lark, and promptly hops into the sack with his best friend, talented but lazy drunkard and ne'er-do-well Tim Riggins. In her defence, Riggins is played by Taylor Kitsch who can now be found causing hearts to throb in such cinematic gobshitery as Battleship and John Carter. Happily, Street soon forgets about his ludicrously beautiful girlfriend and gets to the brink of the USA's Paralympic wheelchair rugby team before miraculously getting laid, impregnating the girl in question and sodding off out of it before it gets really unwatchable. By the end of the fifth series the only thing holding your attention is Kitsch and the spellbinding Aimee Teegarden. That and trying to figure out how and why they found such an ugly baby to play her little sister.

So far, so silly, but the television show that everyone is talking about at the moment is the wonderful if slightly belief-sapping Breaking Bad. This is the story of a 50-year-old chemistry teacher who, upon learning that he has potentially terminal cancer, decides to raise money for his treatment and for the long-term betterment of his family by cooking and dealing crystal meth. The fact that his brother-in-law is high up in the New Mexico drug squad is no deterrent to our hero, Walter White. There's another disability angle in the form of Walter's son, Walter Junior, who has cerebral palsy. For reasons best known to himself Walter Junior decides at some point during series two or three that he would rather be known as Flynn. Then he drops that name, and picks it up again by the end. But what Flynn mostly excels at is wandering around aimlessly not having even half a clue what is going on with his own family. Even his baby sister seems to have a more enlightened grasp on proceedings than Flynn, but at least his baby sister is not as gruesome as Amy Teegarden's. I can't say too much else about Breaking Bad for fear of a hate mail response to spoilers. All I can say is that you must watch it, if only for the acting brilliance of Bryan Cranston as Walter White, a stupefying leap from Malcolm In The Middle's Dad, and Aaron Paul as Walter's former pupil and meth-using accomplice Jesse Pinkman. Watch out too for spectacular turns by Bob Odenkirk as bent comedy lawyer Saul, and Revolution's very own Giancarlo Esposito as a man who sells chicken for a living. And more besides.

So you can imagine that watching all of these added to the sacks full of football, rugby league, cricket and NFL that I gorge on every week would leave me with barely enough time to hold down my job. Quite how I find the time to write this column is a conundrum that even Anthony Edwards and his clock couldn't find the answer to. And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Slow burning non-event Boardwalk Empire is somehow compelling, as is Game Of Thrones in which every man and his proverbial mutt vies for the chance to be king of somewhere but nobody ever seems to actually achieve it. But any series in which Alfie Allen gets his knob chopped off has to be worth a look. Gratuitous sex and violence is also the chief motivator for watching Banshee, a bizarre crime drama in which a random ex-con unbelievably steals the identity of the local sheriff and nobody notices. Not even his police colleague, last seen by this writer being even less observant as a bumbling FBI man in The Sopranos. Marrone.....

Honourable mentions here should also go to The Blacklist (with James Spader as an annoyingly smart-arsed super-criminal who may or may not be helping the good guys), Elementary in which Johnny Lee Miller portrays a Sherlock Holmes devoid of social skills and featuring female incarnations of both Watson and Moriarty, Homeland which boasts the most annoying on-off romantic story-line in the history of television but yet remains frustratingly watchable, Hannibal which relies on blood, gore and shock tactics to re-tell stories told much more palatably by the Anthony Hopkins films and Wentworth which takes on the unenviable task of recreating a series famed and loved for it's awfulness and turning it into a drama to be taken seriously. It doesn't always succeed.

But somehow I'll always find time to watch.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Godfrey's Bloomers

There wasn't much going on this Sunday morning. Ordinarily there is barely time to fart in between a glut of sport-related shows, starting with the Orford-esque pontificating of tabloid journalists on Sunday Supplement, to Sky's incessant beating us over the head with unmissable Super Sunday clashes between the likes of Hull and West Brom. It all culminates in a seven-hour marathon of NFL action as we hit the hours small enough to have you worrying about how goggle-eyed you're going to be at work the next day.

There was none of this today. NFL is taking a break for the Pro Bowl (basically a meaningless all-star game which is not on until midnight but which I will nevertheless record and watch at hyper-speed some time tomorrow), while the FA Cup fourth round has rudely interrupted Sky's march to world domination. I deliberately go out and miss the one game on ITV, while the other game is on BT Sport. I have not yet reached the point where BT sport is a necessity in my house. Come to think of it, I can't imagine what circumstances could possibly arise to make Jake Humphrey a necessity in my house.

So anyway I tell you all of this because, with nothing to watch this Sunday morning but a Saturday Kitchen compilation, I was reading up on the latest media mishap from celebrity UKIP gaffemeister Godfrey Bloom. As Lailla Rouass and Trevor Nelson struggled to prevent themselves from physically balking at the sloppy muck being served by some 80's-barneted non-entity, I was learning of Bloom's latest public spat. Incidentally after the sloppy muck serving there was a feature with the Two Fat Ladies, which surprised me because I thought one of them died years ago. Back to Bloom. He's got form as I say. This is the man who called UKIP party activists 'sluts' and then defended it by saying that a) it was a joke and b) people don't even know what the word 'sluts' means these days because there aren't enough grammar schools. It could be that, Godfrey, or it could be that words change meaning over time if they are used often enough in a particular context. Bloom is fully aware of what the word means now, despite the fact that it might have meant something else the last time he was allowed out on his own in the 17th century. Bloom is also the man who told Radio 4's Today programme that British aid should not be sent to 'Bongobongoland', and who accused Channel 4 journalist Michael Crick of being a 'racist' when he asked Bloom why there were no black faces on the cover of UKIP's conference brochure. Bloom then proceeded to slap Crick on the head with said brochure, branding him 'a disgrace'. Oh sweet irony.

And so, of you're still with me at this point, to Bloom's latest faux pas. At a debate about immigration at the Oxford Union he interrupted a disabled student to ask...... 'are you Richard III?'. First of all it goes without saying that Bloom was arguing that there has been too much immigration in the UK since the second world war. Secondly the student in question, David Browne, was disagreeing with this point of view and, for his troubles, was wildly likened to a 15th century king with scoliosis and a reputation (according to Shakespeare and the BBC's The White Queen in any event) as a bit of a shit. The crassness here lies in the fact that Browne does not have scoliosis or anything like it but that rather, according to the seemingly equally irksome Spectator columnist Douglas Murray, is 'lame in one leg'. So where is the similarity between Browne and Richard III then? Is a disability just a disability and it actually doesn't matter therefore about the specifics? Would it have been fair game then if Browne had responded to the immigration-fearing, sexist bigot Bloom with an enquiry as to whether he might be Adolf Hitler? Well, he doesn't like foreigners so he may as well be a Nazi then, right?

Disappointingly, although he acknowledged that he did not like the comment Browne did not take half as much offence to Bloom's jibe as I would have liked him to. In fact, he later went on to describe how he and Bloom had a drink together afterwards and how he is an 'interesting man'. He certainly is that, but then again, so was Enoch Powell. If such a lazy, catch-all remark about disability had been made in my direction I'm not sure I could have been so forgiving. Particularly if it had been made in such a public environment in front of my peers and by a senior if slightly berserk politician. He would have had to have heard about how I felt about it, or at least read about it in Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard. As we all know, verbally I make about 5% as much sense as I do on the written page. This is probably another disability in itself but it doesn't matter because they're all the same anyway according to Godfrey. One more isn't going to trouble me. Compounding my disappointment in Browne, he quoted miserable fuck-witch Margaret Thatcher's line about people responding with insults only when they have lost the political argument. This may well be an apt and appropriate response in this case, certainly more mature than my recommended approach which would have been to start flinging crockery, but you never, ever quote Thatcher if you want to retain any credibility in this writer's eyes.

I realise that I just have but it was an essential part of the narrative and besides, I never had much credibility in my own eyes in any case.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Purple Pound

You know how things are labelled? Always categorised and put in a box and any inconvenient differences ignored? Well now even the money we disabled people spend has a label or, more specifically, a colour. Following on from the equally puke-inspring stereotype of the 'pink pound' apparenty spent by gay people and the wholly unflattering 'grey pound' spent by the elderly comes the 'purple pound' spent by disabled people in the UK. Essentially, this refers to the economic spending power of disabled people in the UK and moves are afoot to help businesses maximise their potential to get their grubby mits on our hard-earned crust. Well, they would be if we weren't all a bunch of loafing scrounging work-dodgers on benefits. If they are serious they could start by moving the steps away from the front of 50% of bars and restaurants in some cities. And 100% of booby bars. Regardless, it would seem that we are willing to take on this extra stereotype and even had some hand in deciding which colour to go with, as we will see later, but I would still like to know whether there is a colour for the pound spent by people called 'Dave' or those who have dandruff.

So why purple? The BBC tried not very hard to get to the bottom of this thorny issue in an article published earlier this week. They stated that purple was the favourite colour of two people in particular, the founder of a public spending cuts protest blog whose name is Kaliya Franklin, and multiple Paralympic champion and celebrity disability poster girl Dame Tanni Grey Thompson. If only those elderly buggers hadn't got in on the act first we could have taken Tanni's surname and had the grey pound all to ourselves. Still, the Dame herself likes purple, so purple it is. Purple has also apparently been associated with power, with kings and queens (and now Dames) although tellingly, Franklin gave away far more than she probably intended when she was quoted in the BBC's article as saying 'Purple seemed to be the only colour left so it was a good job we all liked it'.

Incidentally I met Tanni once. Well, I say I met her, I was in the vicinity of her for an hour or so on one occasion. I hate it when people assume that you know everyone with a disbility just because you have a disability yourself. You don't know every able bodied person on the planet, or even in your town, so why should I know Tanni Grey Thompson, Frank Williams or that lass with one arm off Blue Peter of whom it was once ludicrously suggested that she frightened children? I don't. But the fact is that mine and Tanni's paths have crossed once or twice. Once specifically I remember outside the dorms at Stoke Mandeville around a million years ago when she was just Tanni and I was still pretending to be an athlete. And another time when she was at a basketball game I was playing in, because her husband was on the other team. But that's it. On neither occasion do I recall her wearing anything purple or expressing a preference for purple and we're not an item so stop asking.

So what does all this mean in any case. What is the purple pound, I mean really? Basically it is the collective income of disabled people, standing (pun intended) at £80billion according to the Beeb's meanderings. They also claim that 19% of the UK population has a disability. I want a recount on this one. That is almost one in five people and it cannot possibly be that high, although it is alleged that one in five Americans believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim so anything is possible. But really, if one in five people were genuinely disabled then discrimination would fly out of the window faster than a Phil Jones spot-kick. There are clearly a lot of porkies being told by people filling in job applications, or more likely benefit applications and censuses. If I may be so bold as to clumsily pluralise it thus. Unless you have trouble walking, talking, hearing, seeing or maybe even thinking then frankly my friend I am not having you as a disabled person. If you have a disability which stops you from being able to spell or to accurately judge distances or some shit, then can you please vacate the disabled toilet now because I need to go. You're making me feel a bit sick with your bogus claims. I'm not at home to disability when it suits and not when it doesn't, when there's nothing to gain and everything to lose like the respect of society. You fucking Undateable cretin.

Anyway about this £80billion. Since it covers people with pretend disabilities it follows that it must also cover those people who were unfortunate enough to suffer a life changing accident at some point in their lives. Here's another of my favourite bug-bears that I can now bore you with. If you are born with a completely fucked spine and the natural problems that will develop thereafter (CKD is not an aftershave or a pair of pants, it stands for Chronic Kidney Disease) then you just have to lump it. However, if you have a terrible fall or are in a road accident or some other such tragedy then you are likely to come into a large sum of money. It can be argued to be someone's fault, and if so then you are rightly compensated. However, birth cannot reasonably considered to be anyone's fault, so people who are born with a disability get what Jim Bowen used to call BFH. In some ways this is a positive as it means that you have the drive to go out and earn yourself a living and be a slightly less accepted, dissaproved of part of society, but I wouldn't be human if I didn't look out of the office window some days and think 'how come nobody has given me a couple of hundred grand for my predicament?'.

Just a final word on the figure of £80billion. At the end of the BBC's article they revealed that the figure was 10 years old, and that there were no plans for it to be updated. So the purple pound could be an even greater wad of cash than we thought, but we may never know. There's no point updating it anyway. It's only the fucking disabled.

Only a fifth of the population. Or something.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Inspiration Porn

A few days ago a couple of friends of mine brought my attention to an interesting article about disability. Being a glass half empty kind of man my initial reaction was one of irritation at the realisation that someone else is writing about disability in a wry, dry, hopefully insightful and witty manner. Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard is not unique. Were it to exist in any form outside of cyberspace I would take it outside to the back garden and set it on fire. At which point both it and its author would be of serious concern to the emergency services. It's let me down. Badly.

My new rival is someone calling herself That Crazy Crippled Chick. She'll have to change that name if she wants to get anything published in the mainstream. For now though she is concerning herself with explaining the rather grubby term 'inspiration porn'. This is not something you find on the top shelf at your newsagents, but rather the objectification of disabled people for doing very little other than getting up in the morning and living. For me the link between this and real porn is tenuous at best. Ok, so you could argue that real porn objectifies women, but the similarity stops there. Disabled people are sometimes objectified, but it has nothing to do with titillation, relieving stress or the fact that you haven't got a partner and haven't had since the first series of Fawlty Towers.

Whatever you want to call it, objectification of the disabled is very real. We've all seen it. You're sat there minding your own business when some helplessly inspired dickhead comes over and blurts out something like 'I think it's brilliant what you do'. In my experience what I am usually doing at times like this is drinking beer in public with other members of the human race doing likewise around me. This is where the Crazy Crippled Chick has it spot on. There is nothing heroic about this. It's easy, you just have a shit and a shave and you go, same as anyone else. Actually the Crazy Crippled Chick probably doesn't need to shave. But she probably has to apply a shit-load of make-up. Either way it's not that difficult.

Where she and I start to differ is on her next point, about how most disabled people consider their disability to be a fundamental part of their identity and cannot imagine their lives without it. I fucking can. I can imagine being six foot six, able to run like Usain Bolt and never ever having a taxi driver drive past me because he can't do wheelchairs. I can imagine having never been told 'it's not you, it's the wheelchair'. I can imagine being able to urinate without reference to a clock or the insertion of a narrow tube which exposes me to the risk of infection and the subsequent erosion of my kidney function. Oh yes, I can imagine my life without disability alright, and I often do. I'm doing it right now. I might spend large parts of my time arguing for equality and better attitudes, but I'd stop short of considering my disability to be some kind of badge of honour that I desperately want to hang on to. If I could sell it to you for 50p and a bag of grapes I would. In fact you may even be able to barter with me and get it for even less. It is most definitely not A Good Thing.

Still, as long as I am disabled I would agree with the Crazy Crippled Chick in as far as you should not be using me as some kind of inspirational self-help guide. There are many things (other than boozing) that I can do just as easily as anyone else and for which I do not need your gasps of awe and admiration. Getting up in the morning, dressing, driving, singing in the right tune but the wrong key, working and not killing myself are all things that some disability objectifiers suppose that I might find terribly difficult but which are actually routine. Even our Paralympic athletes seem to be regarded as people who have beaten the odds to achieve great things, when in fact they are just people who have worked very hard to achieve great things. The notion that it is more difficult to win a gold medal if you have a disability than if you don't is somewhat pooped upon when you consider that everyone they are competing against has a disability. Somebody has to win and beating adversity or 'the odds' doesn't come in to it.

On that note, there is a perception that the London 2012 Paralympics has had a monumental effect on the way people see disability and disabled people. I have to say I haven't noticed any difference in the last 18 months. I think it works if your name is David Weir, Richard Whitehead or Ellie Simmonds, but for the rest of us there may even have been a slightly negative effect at times. During the Paralympics I was convinced that society wanted to know why I hadn't won the London Marathon six times and that, since I hadn't, I wasn't doing enough to overcome my circumstances. We haven't really made any significant progress until we get to the point where people sit down to watch a Paralympic sporting event and view it as just that, sport, and not as an episode of Channel 4's 'Superhumans'.

See, even Channel 4 objectify us.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Not Going Out

I had a night out last weekend. In St.Helens. I can't see you right now, but I know you're sneering at that. Who goes out drinking any more? At the age of 38? And in St.Helens? Perceived wisdom has it that the only types of people who go out in St.Helens are drunkards, sex pests and their inappropriately dressed victims. No, you're well over that, you desperately mature, upstanding member of the community, you.....

As it happens it was an unquantifiable disaster from start to finish. This was not aided by the regular appearance of my hiatus hernia. I haven't a clue what this actually is, I was just informed of its existence by a specialist in bowel activity some years ago. I can't define it, but when it makes an appearance I know about it instantly. I had started with a few pleasant beers in The Wheatsheaf with Mark, a friend of mine from university days in Barnsley. He is now the sports editor of a barely credible THREE local newspapers in the Derbyshire area and was covering Ilkeston FC's trip to Skelmersdale. No doubt after a few hours in Skem he would have arrived in St.Helens under the impression that he was on some idyllic paradise island. It's all relative.

Before we left we had a bit of food. I knew I was meeting a couple of mates later and if you are going to insist on being so immature and desperately uncool as to socialise at night then you should never do it on an empty stomach. Unfortunately that is where my problems began. I was ok drinking as long as we were inside the pub, but as soon as we decided to move on and the fresh air hit me I began wretching and rolfing like a demented Monty Python character. Having had this for years it is not unusual for it to happen once, usually the first time we leave a pub to find another. The fresh air again. But by the third or fourth time I had to endure this barfing paralysis I was starting to think that maybe something was more seriously amiss. I remember rather tipsily speculating that I might not be long for this world. You can only go on so long puking up odourless bile in the street before you finally meet your end. Probably.

But I managed to soldier on, and we ended up in the Running Horses. For those that don't know the Running Horses is a glorified Whetherspoons which, on a Saturday night, turns into a less than glorious dance venue. We bought a round and trundled off to find a clear space to sit. We came to a halt just outside the disabled toilets. There's possibly something about disabled people, or at least some of those that I know, that makes them feel more comfortable in a public place if they are within sight of the disabled toilet. For some it is not quite enough to know that there are adequate facilities, they have to have it proved to them for every minute of their visit. If they can't see the preposterous man-with-a-stick-up-his-arse disability logo on a door somewhere nearby, they start to get tetchy. Anyway, there was an added feature outside the door, with two young ladies apparently offering free testing for sexually transmitted diseases. What a delicious irony. Offering sexual health care outside the territory of the sexless, the fucking Undateables. Incidentally, as we approached the Running Horses earlier we brushed past the girl who I deleted from my Facebook for her Undateables-related nonsense only that week. She wanted to get across to her friends how wonderful Channel 4's voyeuristic pleb-fest is which is bad enough in itself, but when you start your gushing praise of such a programme with the word 'awww' your time is up. You have to go. She went.

Back to the inside of the Running Horses then, where by now we are somewhat stuck for entertainment. It is so loud in there that conversation is not an option. It's not that I'm not normally a good conversationalist, honest. The lack of chatter here is in stark contrast to my Christmas night out with work. Although we were in a dark, depressing gothic bar playing ranting, noisy non-songs by the likes of Slipknot about killing your dog, we still managed to have a good time of it. Apart from the 20 minute hiatus (I never thought I would get that word into a column twice) in which I had to go scouring the city of Liverpool for a disabled toilet. See how important they are? It's no wonder some folk get obsessed.

So anyway when nobody is talking you just find yourself idly looking around at everyone else being ridiculous. Nobody in St.Helens can dance, that is a fact. Not that this stops them trying. To be fair they are not helped by some very questionable musical accompaniment. If anyone can find anything moving about fucking Robin Thicke or John Newman then they are a better man than me. Actually it is mostly women doing the dancing, with their absurdly short dresses which wouldn't qualify as belts in some countries. Most of them are probably not out of their teens which only serves to make you feel older and more out of place, as if a wheelchair doesn't do that for you in any case. It's not long before we move on, having not had a test for a sexually transmitted disease. The girls probably would have laughed at us if we had asked. Nobody has sex with the disabled. And anyway how were we going to pee into a bottle if we didn't have a penis between us?

As we moved on to another dark, sparsely populated bar one of my two accomplices had to go home before he died of boredom. I lasted for half of another beer before making my apologies and leaving. My other cohort had found female company by then so I wasn't leaving him in the lurch. I was feeling decidedly peaky and questioning the wisdom of this having a social life lark. I was seriously considering Not Going Out. Ever.

But then when you think about it what is the alternative? You people who consider yourself above binge drinking in piss-pot outposts like St.Helens do not have the intellectual high ground. What have you replaced it with? Staying in glued to your big fat diet of Celebrity Shit. I'd sit around slurping silently in the dark on a Budweiser that is going to make me ill for a thousand years before I would subject myself to Celebrity Big Fucking Brother. Lionel Blair has been an embarrassment for many years. I don't need Channel 5 to point it out to me any more than Andy Murray needs to be told that it's a bit warm in Melbourne at the moment. Celebrity Shit is on the rise too, unfortunately. Only this morning I read a distressing article about plans for a Winter Olympic themed snore-fest featuring such z-listers as Richie Neville and Celebrity Celebrity Amy Childs. They're all going to go Ski-jumping with Eddie Edwards. It's vomit-worthy, and makes Splash look like a sophisticated expression of sporting aesthetics, when what it actually is is a chance to see some beautiful people in a swimsuit. That's fucking dishonest too. If you want to look at naked people buy yourself a jazz-mag or watch Babestation. Don't pretend you're interested in what Tom Daley has to say.

So in the end my cure for Not Going Out is probably going to be more angry material like this. It may not be the happiest thing you have ever read, but at least it isn't trying to dance to every single dance tune known to man with the same manouvre, over and over until it dies.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Taxi For Orford

Just when you thought I'd exhausted every avenue of moaning about discrimination along comes Boro Taxis of Teesside to prove you wrong.

The Middlesbrough based company has taken the morally repugnant treatment of disabled people into a new stratosphere by refusing to transport any of us anywhere whatsoever. Apparently, we're not economically viable. If they have to send us a mini-bus to accommodate our wheelchairs then they have to charge us the full price for the hire of a mini-bus, even if it is only for one person. They feel guilty about this, bless them, and so they have decided not to bother at all. Now you may be thinking that what they could do is send the mini-bus if they have to, and just treat us like human beings and charge us a normal taxi fare. They say they cannot afford to do this, and so that's our lot. If you happen to find yourself half-cut at some unholy hour of a Middlesbrough morning and you are dependent on a wheelchair to get around (and I have, astonishingly, found myself in exactly that position despite living some three hours away by car but that's a long story) you are royally fucked.

The notion that we are not economically viable is nothing new to most disabled people. You'll recall the time we were told by some craggy old Tory that those of us who have achieved the miracle that is finding a job should be paid less than able bodied workers. The rationale behind this is that we can't possibly be contributing as much as our able bodied colleagues. That would be fair comment if I were a window cleaner, but the idea that I can't satisfactorily complete administrative tasks because my legs don't work and my kidneys are declining faster than Lee Ryan's popularity is just about as offensive as it gets. More offensive than Lee Ryan, perhaps. It's also highly ironic coming as it does from a craggy old Tory, whose contribution to society is yet to be determined. As far as I can see craggy old Tories serve only to waste oxygen and blurt out prejudices straight out of the 14th century.

So although being economically burdensome is not exactly a new phenomenon, Boro Taxis' stance is still quite shocking. Just because we know that some people hate us and consider us a drain on the country's resources doesn't make this latest twist any more palatable. Using a taxi to get from A to B doesn't seem like too much to ask. It's something that the rest of you can take for granted. If you want to go out somewhere with a group of friends to a place where the drinks may be flowing and driving not recommended, you can chip in with your mates and get a relatively cheap service. You can't do that if you have the brass balls to firstly use a wheelchair and secondly try to travel with other people who use wheelchairs. The largest number of disabled people I have been in a taxi with is three including myself, and that was a standard car rather than a black cab. Certainly not a mini-bus. The people involved were able to transfer from their wheelchairs to a car seat, which is clearly not the case for all disabled people.

Why would anybody send you a mini-bus to help you with disability access anyway? It's not bloody helpful. This has happened to me on several occasions. Perhaps they thought they were being accommodating in sending a larger vehicle, but they hadn't factored in the prospect of me having to climb up on to the awkwardly placed seat like a deranged monkey. We've seen before how easy it is to make me look like Mini-Me climbing up Beyonce's leg. It's not a good look. Perhaps Boro Taxis' mini-buses have lifts and if they do it is to their credit, but it's not a lot of use if the company aren't willing to do the job. Three is your limit in a taxi if you are disabled, and that depends on the driver being one of the rarer kind, in other words someone who is prepared to help you put the chairs in the car, and not shake his head and mutter moodily about scuffing his seats. More likely you will be restricted to two at a push, and it is not uncommon for a driver to refuse to take more than one, causing you to have to pay for a separate taxi each to go to the same fecking place at the same fecking time. Predictably, this is also an experience with which I am incredibly familiar.

All of this is bad enough, but the real villains are the late night drivers who see you waiting at some ice cold taxi rank and just drive by. In my earlier, more naive days I sometimes thought that maybe they didn't know I was trying to get a taxi home. You would think sitting at the front of a queue at a rank would be a good enough indicator, but I still gave them the benefit of what little doubt there was at one time. So I took to sticking an arm out as you might do at a bus stop. Just to make sure, to send out a clear message of 'oi mate, I'm smashed off my head and very possibly incapable of getting myself home so how about it?'. I still have to do this sometimes. Some of them just look at me without slowing down as they drive by, one or two I can remember actually shrugging as if to say 'what can I do mate, you're the one who turned up in a fecking wheelchair'.

Of course now that St.Helens town is pretty ghostly on a weekend evening and everyone goes home at different times, there are always cabs waiting on the rank. Gone are the days when people would actually punch each other over a ride home and good riddance to them. But this extra availability of taxis hasn't always helped me. There are still a large number of drivers who, if you approach a stationary cab at a rank late at night, will shake their head at you and say;

'Sorry mate, I can't do wheelchairs'.

I don't even know where to begin with the phrase 'I can't do wheelchairs'. It's offensive in the extreme. First of all you are not doing me, my taxi-driving friend, and secondly I am not a wheelchair. Like that bloke out of that crap sci-fi show all those years ago was not a number. Like John Fecking Merrick was a human being! And do you know why they can't 'do wheelchairs'? Because of their backs. Of course, they have got bad backs. Or at least they have got someone with vague medical qualifications to certify that they have bad backs. But such an excuse is highly unlikely to wash with a drunk man whose spine resembles an M25 pile-up. Fucking man up! All you have to do is open the boot of the car and get the fucking ramps out! Fair enough if you are driving one of those archaic black cabs with a mile high step, a narrow door way and no ramps. But I get this shit from drivers of the newer style cabs, which even have a fecking disabled access symbol in the window.

You're probably as breathless as me by now so we will finish by pointing out that most nights I find a way to get home. Thankfully there are enough taxi drivers around who are doing their jobs without discriminating against the disabled, and who prove to be very helpful and good at their jobs. It's certainly a case of the few tarnishing the reputation of the many.

Just don't be depending on Boro Taxis to take you and your fecking wheelchair anywhere any time soon.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

2013 Of A Fire Hazard - Part Two

Welcome back to those of you who survived part one of my review of 2013. In a moment, part two, but first let me make it clear that if you were offended by anything in part one then I invite you to bugger off back to Twilight and 50 Shades Of Shite;

On we go.........


The month of July starts positively enough. What could be better than a week's holiday? We have to suffer a quite dismal Saints performance the night before we fly to Portugal, and then get up at what Monty Python might have described as half an hour before we go to bed, but it's well worth it. Villamoura is one of the most pleasantly surprisingly nice places I have ever been to. Not that this stops me from finding new and innovative ways to moan about it in MOAFH. First things first though, and a couple of hours wait in an airport bar wouldn't be the same without someone updating their Facebook and me making mention of it on MOAFH;

"When Emma writes on her Facebook she is in a bar with a Desperado and a bacon sandwich I somehow feel compelled to point out to her friends that a Desperado is a beer, and that she is not referring to me." I write.

This column doesn't normally do name-dropping but it would be remiss of me not to have pointed out that we travelled to Portugal on the same plane as one Rio Ferdinand. The same Rio Ferdinand who only weeks earlier had more or less retired from international football because flying around the world was bad for his health. But it's different if there is golf involved, obviously. DVT only happens to people who are flying around the world for reasons other than golf jollies. Everyone knows that;

"The flight itself is uneventful. I sleep through most of it." I start;

"The only thing of note to report is the surreal experience of being dragged backwards on an aisle chair to my seat, and looking up to see Rio Ferdinand trying to look patient as he waits for me to get my shit together and get to my seat. It's not every day you inconvenience a former England captain."

Well that's true enough, if we gloss over the time that Sir Ian Botham was queing behind me in Lidl and I made him wait while I paid for all my shopping in copper. No, not really.

As I've already said, what this column does do well is moaning, so I move into my element when we get to the hotel reception. Queuing there becomes a bit of a theme for the holiday, but I'm startled by the 35 minutes it takes to get to the reception desk on our arrival. I'd soon get used to it.;

"Waiting is something you need to be good at if you are going to stay at the Ampalius." I offer, before turning my attention to what looks to be an immediate access problem;

"While queuing I notice the lifts are at the top of a small flight of stairs. What I can't work out is how I'm going to ascend them. But Emma's checked all this out with the usual military precision, hasn't she?"

Yes she has;

"The wait gives us enough time to figure out that there is actually an opening in the corner of the lobby which leads to a ramp behind a wall which is not visible from the queue. First panic over, we won't have to be moved to another hotel like we did when we went to Tenerife in 2008. We got an upgrade to a lovely hotel on that occasion, but we had a very bad first day."

Our troubles were not over at that point however, as it takes another two attempts to queue and some two and a half hours more before we manage to actually be granted access to our room. I'm predictably unimpressed;

"Probably because I have been up so long at such a relatively early hour of the day I am a little peeved at this, and tell them so. The girl looks at me blankly as if she has forgotten all of the English that she knew 30 seconds ago."

Having had a good moan about waiting times and having gone through a tedious ordeal involving a faulty safe deposit box, I turn my attention to the few access problems that exist around the resort. It's all a little unfair really. Generally the access around Villamoura is pretty good but if anyone is going to find fault with it, then it will be me and my pompous bloody column;

"Though Vilamoura Marina has fantastic access in the main there is an area which is only accessible via a set of stairs." I complain;

"But these are not just ordinary stairs. As a nod to the need to comply with the ever more complex access laws in Europe someone has had the bright idea of placing a small ramp at the end of each step. My even brighter notion that this would therefore make access possible was somewhat optimistic. We make it, but it's a deathly struggle and there is absolutely no way to go back down the way we came without utilising our health insurance."

Even the hotel restaurant is not entirely devoid of the kind of stupid problems I encounter;

"On Sunday morning a man stole our seat at the breakfast table." I report in the third part of the Portugal tale;

"There were no recriminations, no whailing or gnashing of teeth as they say, it just happened and nothing was said."

It turns out that moving a chair to make a space for my wheelchair is not a good enough indicator to the holidaying public that you have 'baggsied' a table. We return from the briefest of visits to the breakfast buffet to find a man sitting at our table, having blatantly repositioned and sat on the chair that I had moved;

"He just looks at me like a frightened deer looks up from his grazing when he hears a suspicious noise, and then goes back to his bacon and eggs."

So anyway, when is a cruise not a cruise? When it is the Sunset Cruise from Villamoura Marina;

"The Sunset Cruise won't be sailing. Furthermore it never sails because there is never enough interest in it." I have to tell you after a long and pointless discussion with 'a greying, quiet man' at an excursions kiosk;

"He needs at least six people to make a booking to make it worth his while, he explains, but since he won't take any names or accept any money for it it is going to be incredibly difficult to reach that particular target." I suggest.

"So in effect what he is saying is that it is a non-cruise. A mythical cruise like something out of a Sinbad movie. It's Jason And The Fecking Argonauts. Do we get a Golden Fleece as a free gift just for enquiring? No. Not even a free Parker pen."

No sooner am I back from Portugal than I end up in hospital. Two greater extremes haven't been experienced this close together since Cecil Colby died on the job in The Colbys all those years ago. It starts with a lot of nausea and wretching, a generous helping of kidney and bladder pain, a call from the doctor and then a staggeringly fool-hardy refusal to stay overnight in the hospital when I should have. It ends with my heart pounding, hooked up to a 24-hour ECG by a man called Jack Daniels. I shit you not. Jack Daniels is helping me and killing me all at the same time;

"The phone rings. It's my GP. He tells me that the blood test I have had earlier in the day shows that I have very high levels of potassium. He also says that high potassium is extremely dangerous for the heart and that I need to go into A & E as soon as possible to have treatment to lower my potassium levels."

Apart from my morbid fear of hospitals and my complete conviction that all medical people believe the disabled to be expendable, what is stopping me from staying in the hospital is the fact that Saints have just beaten Wigan at Langtree Park. Already dismayed at having been unable to get to the game because they were busy pumping me with fluids and feck knows what, I'm adamant that I'm going home to watch the repeat. We don't beat Wigan very often in the post-Daniel Anderson era, and I've got to go. The consultant advises me not to, banging on about acidosis or some other shit I have never heard of, but I'm off. I sign myself out and go home. I explain my decision like this;

"She wanted me to stay in to explore it further, and to take a closer look at my kidneys. That meant another scan. At this point I had not had a kidney scan for six years. I was absolutely certain that they must have declined considerably in that time but I really didn't want to know."

Two nights later I was going to find out whether I liked it or not. Both of those nights were decidedly sleepless due to increasing heart palpitations until finally I succumbed. I'd gone to the hospital with the full intention of staying in overnight and maybe longer. I'd reached the point where choice didn't come into it. There were more tests and we waited in various rooms all night until;

"As morning arrived we were visited by at least three, maybe four doctors who each wanted to carry out an examination and ask the same questions. Have you got any pain? Are you on any medication? Are you allergic to anything?"

Yet it wasn't until I met my friend the female doctor that things really started to get scary, embarrassing and generally uncomfortable all around. She had a partner in crime, and between them they turned my world upside down for a day;

"What they said plunged me into a world of terror and, with a mind like mine, no small amount of depression and anxiety. They began talking to me about my kidney scan from six years earlier. They went on to describe how I might benefit from a permanent catheter, or another surgical procedure which basically entails bypassing the normal method of urinating and having your water escape from an altogether different, artificially created, orifice."

It did not help that the scan was delayed, almost postponed until the next day due to a quite bewildering mix-up with the porters. Twice I was offered more time to settle in to the ward before going for my scan, but nobody came back to take me for it at the agreed time;

"What I perhaps should have known but did not was that porters have absolutely no authority to decide what time a patient can be taken for a scan." I explained;

"That's not that surprising. They are porters, not medical people and so to have them scheduling scans seems a stretch. What is surprising is that they don't seem to know this."

Finally, mercifully and with the nurses fighting my corner with repeated phone calls to the lab, my scan got back on track. It would be a little late, but not a full day late as I had first feared;

"The chances of pissing through a hole carved into my person had not reduced any, but it was some comfort to know that I would not have to wait so long to get the news." I reflected.

Back comes my friend the lady doctor at this point;

"She had not come to discuss my future toilet arrangements but instead to interfere with my genitals. And not in a good way. Quite matter-of-factly, almost cheerfully, she informed me that she needed to place a permanent catheter into my you-know-what. It wasn't just the knob-grabbing I objected to, but also the insertion of a catheter which seemed roughly the size of a garden hosepipe. That had to hurt. It did. "

To give them enough time to monitor my kidney function with the catheter inserted, it also meant that I was resigned to spending the next 24, probably at least 48 hours in the hospital. Where would it end? If I lived alone I'd be considering selling my house and just moving into Whiston full-time. I was also wishing that I had gone for my scan when the first porter arrived, even though it was only seconds after I had arrived on the ward. Now I would have to go with the catheter along for the ride;

"Eventually I managed to clamber on to the chair and, carrying the most unsightly and humongous bag of what can only be described as my own piss on my knee, was wheeled off to have my long-awaited ultra sound."

Dignity had long since left the building, but I didn't care about that too much at that point. I just wanted to hear some good news. Finally it came;

"A man I seemed to recognise approached my bed and began to pull the curtain around it. Not a man I had seen since I was admitted, but someone from a hospital visit in the past. My old urologist. He walked nearer to address me and explained that he had seen the results of my scan. I winced inwardly and awaited all manner of possible calamities about to unfold. Except they never did. He told me that there had been very little damage to my kidneys since my last scan."

This is about as close to positivity as I could muster in reporting this happy event;

"A wave of relief shot through me." I began;

"But I just felt drained, physically and emotionally after everything that had unfolded in the last 24 hours."

Well, you knew I just had to mention the downside. I was drained. But I wasn't dead, and I could still understand the purpose of my penis in relation to emptying my bladder.

In Other News

Andy Murray becomes the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years, making him a shoe-in for the BBC Sports Personality Of The Year. Yet he also provokes the anger of a public who don't think he's an interesting enough person to have any significance. A large portion of our population consider Joey Essex to have made a greater contribution to British culture, which is one of the saddest things I can think of.

Of equal tragedy is the fuss people make about the birth of Wills and Kate's royal sprog George. Brilliantly, BBC reporter Simon McCoy stands outside the hospital where the Duchess is about to give birth and announces that there is no news, and that furthermore this is not news. He then proceeds to read out a selection of tweets from the more sensible section of the public who are outraged that their licence fee is being spent on having to watch pictures of the hospital while waiting for someone else's child to be born. McCoy then excells himself in another report not related to the royal birth by holding a box of printer paper in his hand throughout. It turns out he had somehow managed to pick up the paper instead of his ipad and just ploughed on with it. This man is a hero on so many levels.....

Last to get a mention in this exhaustively long July is Russell Brand. He managed to find himself being interviewed about politics by Jeremy Paxman and, after saying a lot of sensible things about how rich people like himself could do a little more to help those worse off and the country in general, he goes and spoils it all by revealing that he does not and has never voted. All of which serves only to justify the political apathy of the nation. Which of course assumes that those at the younger end of the electorate have listened to a damn word he has said since Get Him To The Greek.


New blogs are in short supply in August as I spend much of my writing time catching up on the hospital story. I am only released from hospital at the end of July and spend the first few days of August on my couch wondering if and when the heart palpitations will stop. They don't for a while, and get worse to the point where I am back in A & E one miserable Thursday night at a very unsociable hour. There are more tests, more pricks and more pounding (of my heart) until the nurse just tells me to go home. That's it. There's nothing wrong with me. Potassium is ok, kidney function is ok. There's no reason to keep me in. But I should go for a 24-hour ECG, which is when I meet Jack Daniels and have to endure a whole day with a heart monitor attached to me. It's not quite as restrictive, personal or bloody painful as a permanent catheter but it is highly restrictive. And in any case by the time I have been sent my appointment to meet Jack the palpitations have stopped anyway. The doctor's in the hospital said that they would, even though nobody seemed to know what exactly was causing them.

When it's over we spend a few days in Shrewsbury going on walks and boats and generally doing tourist stuff that does not involve scans, tubes, heart monitors or being butchered by nurses. Shrewsbury is a fantastic place which I can highly recommend, but then it was always going to be a marked improvement on where I had spent the time leading up to it.

In Other News

Peter Capaldi is introduced as the new Dr Who. But not just in some press release. Oh no, apparently his unveiling is important enough for the BBC to dedicate an entire programme to it, with Zoe Ball jumping around excitedly before finally announcing the worst kept secret in television. I can remember a time when the BBC forgot all about Dr Who, considering it to be outdated and well.....a bit crappy. Now it's the hottest property they have once more. Although it's probably only up against Atlantis. Funny how things come full circle. Give it a few more years and they'll be bringing back Noel Edmonds' Swap Shop.

Mo Farah follows up his Olympic success in London last year with gold in both the 5,000 metres and the 10,000 metres at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow. A remarkable feat, though perhaps not quite as remarkable as the fact that he is a good two stones lighter than his nine-year-old stepdaughter Rihanna. Usain Bolt also gets back his world title in the 100m, duly thrashing all comers after the abberation of his disqualification in the Daegu final of 2011.

The month ends with the death of Sir David Frost, who suffers a heart attack at the age of 74. So the BBC show Frost-Nixon again, featuring Michael Sheen wonderously managing to portray Tony Blair no matter what the name of the person he is actually supposed to be playing.


We visit the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in Watford for Emma's birthday. Actually, when they say Warner Brothers Studio Tour they actually mean the Harry Potter Studio Tour. But that's no bad thing if you like your fictional wizards, or if you just have an interest in how megabucks blockbuster films are made. Which happily I do. And Harry Potter films are ok too. It's all here. Everything you ever wanted and probably didn't need to know about Harry, Hermione, Ron and company. Every prop and set right down to the night bus and the Dursley's house to Dumbledore's office and the ministry of magic or something or other. I note that one of the films was directed by a man from St.Helens who's name now escapes me. There's a video playing in which he explains some of the decisions he made during films. It's fair to say that he doesn't sound like he's from Sutton Manor but you have to take the words written on his profile at face value. He's one of us alright. He's just had some elocution lessons. Either that or he got out of here at the first opportunity.

My favourite part is probably the animatronics department. My long lost twin Warwick Davis is on screen, constantly looping with some puppet-making crew member as they tell us a few tricks of their trade. There's the head of a werewolf type creature mounted on one of the walls and at the same point of every play of Warwick's video it comes alive, moving it's head and eyes and growling like something out of a John Landis film. The only downside to the whole experience is the catering, which is all outdoors by the night bus and the Dursley home, and wasps are invited. Then there's the butterbeer, apparently the preferred beverage of many a Potter character, but which tastes a lot like frothy ice cream. More than a couple of mouthfuls is likely to make you spew, but you have a go anyway just to say you have.

In Other News

Presumably there is an altogether higher standard of culinary skills on display in the Great British Bake Off, which seems to have everyone glued to their televisions this month. I manage to avoid all of it. I really do struggle to get my head around cookery as a television spectacle. Food is functional. If you don't eat, you die. But give it to me on my knee while I'm watching Pointless rather than in a posh restaurant where it will be laced with herbs and sauces. Joe Public laps it up though, so who am I to suggest that it is total and utter bollocks? Well I just did.

Miley Cyrus throws off her teen idol image to go twerking with my friend Robin Thicke at the ever-declining MTV Awards. Apparently twerking is shoving your arse in someone's face or something, and Billy's Ray's lovely sweet and innocent daughter pulls off the remarkable achievement of getting the word into the public lexicon. Not everyone is trying to twerk, but you are nobody if you don't know what it means by the end of September. Hannah Montana is unavailable for comment but is believed to be appalled and disgusted.


We'll gloss over my turning 38 at the start of the month and move on to the altogether sadder death of my friend Jo. At just 40 years of age she passes away in circumstances I am still not certain about. All I do know is that yet another of my peers with a similar disability has gone and it is a crying shame;

"Thirty-five years is a long time to know someone." I reflect.

"You end up with a lot of history, not all of it that sensible. Every year we would be made to play Joseph and Mary in the school nativity play. We probably didn't mind at the time but it became a source of great embarrassment to both of us."

Jo and I weren't close at the end, but the biggest thing about losing anyone you have known for that length of time is that you can't take them for granted any more. While they live you think there's a chance you'll be good friends again at some point in the future. Their death gives takes that possibility away;

"It doesn't matter how long you have gone without seeing someone, the finality of knowing that you won't have the opportunity to see them again is difficult to come to terms with."

In Other News

We need to lighten the load at this point so where better to turn to than the idiot lantern in the corner of the room? Channel Four is on blisteringly crass form with the introduction of Sex Box in which, if I've got this right, guests of the show go into a box in the middle of the studio, have sex, and then come out and talk to Mariella Frostrup about it. I'm telling you, if this were my only option then celibacy would be the more attractive option. I'm floundering around in the dark again in criticising this too much as I would never actually sit and watch it, but there is something wrong with a nation that finds this entertaining surely? It's dishonest. If you want to watch people have sex then bloody well man up and buy yourself some porn. Stop tittering about what might be happening inside a box that you have no view of. Grow up Britain, you fuckwit!

Did I say lighten the load? Sorry.


I'm afraid my first work of November does not lift the mood any. In reaction to Jonathan Trott leaving the Ashes tour due that English cricketer's disease known as stress related illness, I turn my attention to my own mental health issues;

"I've been called 'mentally weak' (among other things) for my troubles. I am not, clearly. I go through things every day that many people cannot imagine and there is little doubt that my problems are inextricably linked to my disability. How are able bodied people meant to understand that?" I ask, failing palpably to keep disability out of the argument. But then this is Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard. If you want to read about physically perfect people buy a copy of Hello or GQ.

"Mental health problems are not the result of weakness, but of illness." I conclude.

There's still time in the penultimate month of the year for me to complain about being recognised by a taxi driver when it may or may not have been me, and to fall out of my chair spectacularly in the middle of Liverpool city centre;

"The awful truth is that he might know me, he might not." I state impatiently;

"He's taken a blind punt that it was me because he can remember, through the fog in his small mind, picking up a very drunken disabled person."

While I accept that the words 'drunken' and 'disabled' narrow down the field, I'm still not convinced;

"It could have been any number of people who happened to frequent the premises and have the temerity to do so in a wheelchair." I argue, before straining the concept of analogy to death with fond comparisons with the old 'Guess Who?' children's game. It's a fair cop, I'm Herman. And I do wear glasses and a wig and I did do it in the library with the candle. Oh no, that's another game isn't it?

And so to the comedy fall on Stanley Street;

"Suddenly, quite inexplicably and unexpectedly, I hit a crack in the pavement. Before I even know this I am on all fours on the pavement, crawling around groping for my wheelchair." I admit, the guffaws of the readership almost audible in the background;

"At least three people stop to try and help me. Everyone means well, but there are times when you wish that they didn't. It may sound harsh, but wouldn't it be better if, in this kind of embarrassing scenario, everyone just turned the other way and pretended that nothing had happened?" I add ungratefully, but justifiably.

In Other News

Former Saints star Steve Prescott tragically loses his battle with stomach cancer, seven remarkable years after being given only months to live. A huge crowd turn out for the funeral at Lowe House church to remember Prekky, who was an inspirational figure. During his battle with illness Prekky established his own foundation to help fight cancer, taking on superhuman challenges alongside many members of the rugby league community. But more than that, he was a bloody good bloke who gave us Saints fanatics some great moments. I will never forget his two tries at Wembley in the 1996 Challenge Cup final which sent us into something close to delirium. We hadn't won a meaningful trophy in our lifetimes until that point, making it a very special day. The Steve Prescott Foundation continues its good work after his death.


The festive season begins in outrage as I am ordered to censor my work by my employer. Or at least refrain from mentioning their name in connection with anything negative whatsoever;

"Apparently there is such a thing as bad publicity." I blast;

"But there are a couple of things about this. Firstly, I am a depressive. It is perfectly possible that I could fall into a vault of tits and chocolate and still have a shitty day. Secondly, how many people do they think will get a negative idea of the organisation from my columns? I noted darkly earlier today that over the last few days I have seen at least five photographs of food on Facebook which have received twice as many 'likes' as anything I have ever written. I'm so small time that you can barely see me?"

Where else could we end but on the subject of my health? I have a hospital appointment in the middle of the month, and am greeted with the startling and irresponsibly false news that I will need kidney dialysis within two to three years!

"With all the reassurance of a Tory politician letting us know that we are all in this austerity thing together, Mr Khalid informed me that I wouldn't need to leave work, that they could train me to administer the treatment to myself at home, and that following the treatment a kidney transplant was definitely a viable option." I explain.

But as we know, I was told by a urologist not three months ago that my kidneys had not deteriorated very much at all in the last six months. So how can this be? It isn't. I point out to my new specialist, Mr Khalil, that my kidney function, although at only 28% now, was only at 30% six years ago;

"Was it?" asks Mr Khalil;

"I'm so sorry. I did not know that. You can forget that two or three years, then. It probably won't happen that fast. I'm sorry to have upset you." he tells me, chuckling like Dr Hibbert from The Simpsons all the while;

"After Whiston in the summer, I am beginning to think that this is how all specialists operate. Scare the bejesus out of the patient and then everyone will feel so much better when it turns out not to be as bad as first feared. It's dizzyingly clever when you think about it. I came out of there feeling euphoric, a whole new approach to life developing at a searing pace." I write, giving the medical profession far more credit than it deserves, albeit tongue planted firmly in cheek.

So I survive that, only to endure a decidedly peaky Christmas. I go out once, consume three beers and then spend the rest of my holidays with my old friends the pounding heart and the smelly urine. The drugs make me worse, and give me oral thrush into the bargain, yet as I write I feel better than I have in months. Apart from finding out earlier today that I have anaemia and will know need something called iron infusions. The letter contains all manner of other scientific jargon which confuses and upsets me in equal measures, but then I am distracted by a futile attempt to get Netflix to work on my television and suddenly all fears for my health turn to frustration at my continued inability to see the final series of Breaking Bad. It's good to have priorities.....

In Other News

The news stops at Christmas. We all know that. Wars and famines just have a little break while we instead turn to worrying about how much more money will be generated by the major stores during the Christmas period and its effect on the ailing economy. But then Nelson Mandela dies and the news is back on. Mandela almost single handedly got rid of South Africa's putrid and racist apartheid system after spending longer than can be reasonably expected in prison without going completely tonto. And yet there are still those who, even after his death, would label him a terrorist, as if every other world leader in history hasn't been responsible for a degree of mindless violence in their time. Mandela's funeral is televised live and there a minutes silences all around in remembrance of a highly influential and great political figure.

And quite right too.

Friday, 3 January 2014

2013 Of A Fire Hazard - Part One

So that's it. The decorations are not even down and I'm back in to the daily grind. Christmas is over, as is 2013 despite the fact that I have mistakenly typed or written that date on my work for the 47th time today. It's all over. And what have you done? As someone famous once asked.

Not much. In fact I am dismayed to find that I penned only 34 articles in 2013, an average of only just more than one a fortnight. I tidy my desk at work more often than that. No I don't. That's just silly. Who does that? Nevertheless, what there has been has been by turns gloriously silly, unnecessarily dramatic and spirit-thrashingly depressing. So sit back with me and, in the absence of genuine new material, relive part one of the year that was 2013. With possibly a few bits thrown in that might not have made these pages first time around.....


2013 starts on a sad note as I learn of the death of my old friend, coach and team-mate Neil Ross.

Such was the high regard I held Neil in travelling down to Milton Keynes for the funeral was a must. Even the blow out I suffered on the way back up north did not make me regret that decision. I had to call my dad out to help me because I supposed I was near enough to home for him to get to me before the RAC would have. But I wouldn't have missed Neil's funeral for anything. Even if I had known beforehand that a former Bolton team-mate of ours would fail to recognise me, and that I would lose the people I was following to the wake and end up giving up. I trundled back north in the snow towards my unforeseen tyre problems. The following day I lost my shoe in the car park at work, buried in the thick snow that had fallen for two straight days.

The month ended with a comically inept attempt to acquire a new wheelchair. As I write this 12 months on I still have the same wheelchair I had five years ago. It turns out that, on the advice of Jeff from wheelchair services, all that is available is an ugly, box-like contraption reminiscent of Ironside in his pomp. I have seen other people in these things since and reasoned that actually it doesn't look as bad as I first thought. I am reconsidering it again, but at the time you would have had more luck trying to get me to don a ball gown;

"There's no polite way of saying this. It's ugly. Seriously, it's cumbersome and square and awkward looking. It looks like something out of the 1960's." was my fence-straddling, non-committal verdict at the time;

"Let's not forget that the wheelchair is pretty much the only thing that some people see in any case." I moaned, lest anyone be left wondering where this sudden regard for how I look might come from.

In Other News.....

Food chain illiterate vegans get the last laugh when it transpires that the rest of us poor saps have been mistakenly eating horse meat. Traces of the line-up from the 2.45 at Chepstow are found in burgers sold at supermarkets including Tesco and Iceland. All of which sparks much debate about how it happened and whether or not it is safe to actually fulfil the classic pledge of the hungry and 'eat a horse'. Either way, most people nod knowingly at the notion that if they are going to make burgers from horse meat instead of the traditional cow, we should probably be told about it first.


Sporting outings dominate my blogging exploits in February. I visit the National Football Museum in Manchester for the first time, running into PFA Chief Executive Gordon Taylor on about four separate occasions. Every time a door opened Gordon would be walking through it in the opposite direction in his not-so-stylish winter coat. Also in attendance was World Freesytle Football (keepy-uppy) Champion John Farnworth. You're the voice try and understand it...No, hang on, that's John Farnham. Anyway, all those of you who thought that the keepy-uppy champion was Spike Vaughton from down the road think again. It's John Farnworth, and he must be good because he can balance a ball on the back of his neck at will. Exactly what the spineless England midfield needs in this summer's World Cup. Amusingly, I only mean to watch John for a minute or two, but I get trapped in by the museum staff who rope off the entire area for the duration of his performance. It's around 15 minutes but feels closer to 50.

The National Football Museum is pretty vast and it proved quite easy to for my mum and I to lose both my nephew and my cousin's son for a while. To lose a male child in the National Football Museum simply take them up to the interactive zone where they can take penalties and kick balls aplenty, and then tell them you will text or phone them later. They are guaranteed to nod in agreement and then neglect to tell you that they have planted their mobile phone in your bag because it is low on battery, and that the number they had three days ago isn't right anyway now because things move on and oh my god you're so embarrassing. Thankfully we are all re-united in the end, long enough for my nephew to mistake Kevin Keegan for Bryan Robson anyway.

Next port of call was the boxing ring. Though fairly inseparable in our youth my cousin Alex and I don't get to see a lot of each other these days. In fact I see Halley's Comet more often. I haven't even got a telescope. So it was good to get along to the David Price Fight at the Echo Arena at the end of February. I actually wrote the piece in March but that has rather more to do with writer apathy than it does with when the fight actually took place. We are there then the night Price turns from heavyweight contender into just another also-ran, so promoting the painfully loud Tyson Fury's prospects in the process. Price is knocked out in the second round by a 41-year-old American called Tony Thompson, who beats him again just for good measure in July. We do not attend that one. I'm in Portugal by then and we had seen enough that first night back in February. Especially of the fight's parasite promoter, Frank Maloney;

"Down below us we can see Frank Maloney strolling around full of his own self importance." I write;

"There's a secluded area behind a curtain where we can see tables and chairs laid out. Someone is entertaining. A succession of fancily dressed (as opposed to fancy dress) people are turned away by security staff as they try to pass through. Not Frank. One security man tries to stop him but he brushes him aside with a 'do you know who I am' hand gesture."

Brilliantly, someone leaves the following comment beneath my post;

'I simply couldn't leave your site before suggesting that I actually loved the usual information a person supply in your visitors? Is gonna be again steadily in order to investigate cross-check new posts.'

I couldn't agree more.

In Other News.......

Bad news for creationists as Pope Benedict the something or other sensationally quits his post. Or was he sacked? Or did he leave by 'mutual consent' so as not to tarnish his reputation too much? Either way, Catholics are left reeling at his sudden exit, and from the revelation that fairies do not live at the bottom of their garden and Santa Claus is just a fictional character we tell children about to get them to behave themselves in December.


The centrepiece of Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard in March is unquestionably the tale of how I leave my wheels at home when travelling to work one morning. I have to drive all the way home having not realised the mistake until I had parked the car in the car park outside the office. In my rather miffed haste and in the spirit of compounding my error, I reverse into a set of wheelie bins left lazily hanging around in the car park, thankfully retrrieving the offending items which have somehow found their way up the ramp outside my house and are leaning against my front door. I have some very helpful neighbours. I describe the mood between Emma and I on the journey home like this;

"There's just a stunned silence and probably a mutual acceptance that any futher discussion of the situation is superfluous."

In Other News........

As Francis becomes the new Pope everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief and gets back to what they are good at, watching telly. Dominating our viewing is Broadchurch, a whodunnit starring former Dr Who David Tennant and that woman from Hot Fuzz and the chubby one from Birds Of A Feather. For weeks and weeks we agonise over who killed young Danny Latimer before finding out in a sensational climax that there will be another series in 2014.


An innocent thing like a visit to the cinema provokes my uber-sarcastic wrath as we go into April. I'm not even a fan of super-hero films. They're just bloody stupid. So what am I doing at Iron Man 3 anyway? Passing the time no doubt. In the end it's not all bad except for a belief-sapping scenario involving an actor willingly pretending to be a terrorist, but the way I am treated by the staff at Reel Cinemas in Widnes beforehand is a good deal worse. The girl selling the tickets asks me to leave my wheelchair outside the theatre. Disbelief consumes me;

"She wants me to leave my chair outside." I fume.

"The one thing without which I shall be spending the (entire) night in the theatre, she wants me to leave outside by the side of the popcorn kiosk. As if it couldn't possibly go missing from there. People don't steal wheelchairs in the way that dogs don't bite."

I take to the road in disgust. In my continued self-imposed exile from wheelchair basketball I reason that I have to do something about my lard-arse. I actually call it a 'Homer-shaped ball of biffiness' in my piece entitled 'The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Biff'. So I download the runkeeper app and go wheeling around the streets of St.Helens for a spell. I regret it pretty swiftly;

"This quickly turned into the worst decision since Bowie's latest comeback." I comment, adding;

"It was a poor decision because between my house and Prescot is Scholes Lane, and Scholes Lane is long, uphill and incredibly steep. It seems to go on forever, and you cannot imagine how soul destroying it is to reach the top, haul yourself over the road to The Grapes and find that you have managed a quite apologetic 1.7 miles."

In Other News......

Britain unashamedly swings into party mood following the death of former Prime Minister and Fuckwitch From Hell Margaret Thatcher. There's a brief debate about the rights and wrongs of celebrating the death of a human being before those against realise that they did it with Hitler and Saddam Hussein and those in favour realise that actually it's all a bit sad that she didn't go in about 1978. So what's to celebrate? Nevertheless there is enough anti-Thatch fervour to send Wizard Of Oz classic 'Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead' soaring to the top of the charts. Even if the bumlickers at the BBC decide not to play it.


It's all our yesterdays on MOAFH in May as an incident in a canteen takes me back to my youth. Someone asks a clearly language-less baby what her name is, inspiring me to reminisce about the way in which people used to ask me questions like this through my mother until I was about 10 years old. As if somehow a wheelchair made me either mute, or just too brain-addled to form a cohorent verbal response;

"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." I argue in my hopefully mock-outraged tone which nobody gets;

"If you use a wheelchair and someone starts a conversation with you with the phrase 'I don't mean to be funny but...' then start pushing away." I advise finally.

Next to feel the full force of my ire is the despicable Channel Four production 'Sex On Wheels'. Unsurprisingly my mock-outrage moves aside for the real deal in response to a programme I can't bring myself to actually watch but have no hesitation in roundly slaughtering for its sickening, patronising voyeurism aimed exclusively at maintaining the status quo that is denying human rights to the disabled. Unless they promise to stick to their own kind;

"Normally one does not have sex on wheels. No more than one sleeps on wheels or one takes a fucking bath on wheels." I observe angrily. But in the end I blame the people involved for allowing it to happen;

"Why the fuck would you want to put yourself through this level of humiliation?" I demand;

"To be on television? That's the kind of mentality that sub-humans like Jeremy Kyle make a living on."

But in the end it's the damning truth of the whole thing that gets to me, and makes me wish that it didn't have to be played out in public view in television's uniquely vile manner;

"When the male lions get old and weak the females bugger off and find a younger, stronger partner. So it is with us." I admit.

"It's not pretty and if you think about it too much there is only darkness, but that is our society."

In Other News;

Religious maniacs are dealt yet another devastating blow when same sex marriages turn out not to be the work of the devil and are duly legalised. And quite right too. If homosexuals want to tie themselves to an outdated and oppressive institution in the name of conformity then why shouldn't they be allowed to the same as anyone else?


Summer begins with a visit to Manchester to see Robbie Williams.....'10 years after it was 'cool' to do so.' So when was it 'cool' to see Olly Murs who is there in support of the master show-off? It's unclear. Nevertheless I have a far more exciting time than any jealous 30-something male would approve of. I'm unashamed in my decision to follow the crowd on this one, and withering in my contempt for those whose attempts to be different make them all the same;

"I worry about people who give up on their favourite things because they have become 'commercial'." I rant;

"You're taking something enjoyable out of your life because other people have cottoned on to its value. Like a child who doesn't want any sweets at all if he has to share them with the other children."

If that seems like ruining my own perfectly good mood it is nothing compared to the dark abyss that is 'A Mind Like Mine' shortly after. I take bleakness to new levels in the midst of one of my lows, observing that;

"I have spent the day being obnoxious towards other people on account of the fact that I don't like myself too much."

After that I get I get sick again, describing the symptoms thus;

"Basically you get a lot of bladder and groin pain, feel quite sick, and your water smells like you died four years ago."

So it's not something you want to try, nor is the oral thrush that results from the treating anti-biotics I am given. I end up driving home in agony all the way from Plymouth, before a completely pointless visit to the walk-in-centre results in an inexplicable failure to get the thrush medicine;

"It's not life threatening though, is it?" the nurse tells me. Sighs of relief all around, then.

In Other News........

Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines' begins its inexorable journey to the very top of the single sales chart for 2013, and it doesn't get there quietly. Basically, Thicke is a sleazy little douchebag and his song is very clearly about how women mean yes when they say no and whatever they say they are going to get it anyway. Which is ok if you happen to be a good looking sleazy little douchebag, but you try saying it to your average ten to 2 bird in Revolution on a Friday night if you're not so handsome. If you listen very carefully you can hear the beginnings of musicality in Thicke's voice, but his flagrant waste of talent is dwarfed by that of his accomplice on this tiresome track, Pharrell Williams. He could be a super-smooth soul star in the Marvin Gaye mould, instead he's a whimpering midget who wants to put his hand up your jumper.