Saturday, 15 February 2014

Easyjet's French Farce

The increase in airport security since 9/11 is rightly considered to be A Good Thing. Most people would consider an extra few minutes spent going through extra security checks to be a small price to pay for ensuring that the aircraft they are about to travel on is not hijacked and flown into the most famous and highly populated building that the terrorists can find. But at what point does security go too far? Is there a point where security is just used an excuse to treat people like shit?

Well yes there is, and the evidence was provided by minge-bag budget airline Easyjet this week. A court ruled that they must pay a £42,000 fine for ordering a disabled woman off a plane for what they claimed were security reasons. Initially they were only ordered to pay £4,500 but the fine was increased by almost ten times after the crappy airline appealed the decision. Back in March 2010 a French woman named Maria Patricia Hoarau boarded a flight back to Nice from Paris but was told that she would not be able to travel. Hoarau had committed the heinous crime of being a disabled person and being alone, the two things which the able bodied community appear to fear the most. Especially those in big business, for whom the merest whiff of a risk is reason enough to take discrimination to absurd levels.

Despite having taken the flight from Nice to Paris just a few days earlier Hoarau was told that since she did not have a 'helper' she would not be able to take the flight. Ever more brilliantly they informed her of this decision AFTER she had boarded the plane! Even when another passenger offered their assistance in the event of any emergency the airline refused to change their stance, claiming that they could not allow it as the pair had not checked in together.

Now let's talk about the word 'helper' for a moment. By and large, disabled people don't have 'helpers'. They have friends, family, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands and wives. Just like you lot. In the event that none of these people are present at the time they wish to travel, they do so alone. Just like you lot. I get this shit when I ring up to order tickets for an event. I used to go to watch Saints on my own at Knowsley Road, but now they have a proper stadium I have to buy a season ticket. Not that I mind that, particularly. I'd much rather pay for a better view and a spec that you don't have to wheel through shit to get to. It also means I get to rock up five minutes before kick-off whereas previously if you weren't in your space at least half an hour before the game you could forget about seeing anything. Now I get one ticket free for my 'helper', the implication being that I could not possibly go anywhere on my own. Particularly not a fully accessible rugby stadium. Obviously. Or work. Bugger that. I'm an Undateable living on Benefits Street, remember. Back in the real world Emma comes to Saints with me most of the time, and on the rare occasions she does not I take my nephew Joe with me. My partner or my nephew. Never my fucking 'helper'. She's never available because she has gone on holiday with Easyjet.

Back to Hoarau, and the language used gets worse. Even from people who were speaking in support of Hoarau but who should know better, frankly. The French disabled rights association the APF commented that;

"We are pleased at this exemplary sentence against Easyjet for discriminating against this woman because of her handicap."

Handicap? Fuck off. If you are handicapped you are somehow worse off than everyone else and that is not really the image we are trying to project. A handicap is a disadvantage, an archaic term associated with the days when we were all educated in special schools away from the 'normal' children, lest our horrid diseases be spread around. Please can we not go back to that?

For her part, Hoarau was suitably miffed by the whole experience. After being marched back into the terminal and having to wait until a 'helper' could be found she remarked that;

"Being ordered off like that in front of my fellow passengers was a slap in the face. I felt humiliated and like a pariah who has no place in society."

You're spot on Ms Hoarau, that's exactly what you are in the eyes of far too many people considering it is 2014. A pariah who has no place in society. Tell you what though, you want to try being dragged backwards down an aircraft aisle while Rio Ferdinand stares at you impatiently on his way to his golfing trip in Portugal. Then you'll really feel like an outcast and a burden.

By now none of you will be surprised when I tell you that the words 'this has happened to me' are hurtling inexorably towards this article. This has happened to me. Or something like it. During my former life as a basketball player we had to take flights to Belfast and Dublin among other places with money-mad budget airlines masquerading as champions of our safety. They insisted that for every person we had in our party who could not walk we had to have one who could. Luckily disability is a wide and varied conidtion, so many of our party could actually walk (albeit some of them with a little less grace than others). So we got away with it and were able to travel. Oh how grateful we were. We were a party of probably 10 or 15 people. Try that on your own and you are very likely to end up in a similar position to Ms Hoarau. In the 21st century.

In defence of his rag-tag organisation Easyjet's French director Francois Bacchetta believes speed is the most important factor here. He hasn't got time to wait for social pariahs to get off his airplanes without the aid of a 'helper';

"In the event of an emergency, we need to be able to evacuate all passengers in 90 seconds." he explains.

Since Ms Hoarau boarded the plane without assistance I hardly think it likely that she would need more than that in the event of an emergency. I cannot board a plane without assistance, but only because to do so would be arduous and embarrassing. Were I to find myself on board one that had recently crash-landed in the Atlantic Ocean then 90 seconds to crawl from my seat to the nearest exit would be forever. Anyone who saw me ascend those stairs in Crystals in angry pursuit of my ex-girlfriend all those years ago can testify to that. I daresay that Ms Hoarau would have been able to disembark even more quickly. That they refused to allow another passenger to assist in the incredibly unlikely event of an emergency just craps down more shame on Easyjet and it's shitty, anti-disability, risk-fearing ways.

Oh, but they would like me to finish by pointing out that they did not charge Ms Hoarau for another flight ticket once they had found her a 'helper'. Hearts of gold.

Friday, 14 February 2014

The St.Valentine's Day Massacre

Today is Valentine's Day. I hate Valentine's Day. Fucking loathe it. I'm getting angry about it now just thinking about it, hence the expletive. My fury may just be reflected in the remainder of this piece but that's ok cos it is just a blog. Not a newspaper column. Nobody said I was Henry Winter.

I hate Valentine's Day for all the obvious reasons really. It's a crass, overly commercialised vom-fest. An opportunity for card manufacturers to cash in on your guilt and the duress you're placed under by your signifcant other. To break your balls, in other words. I'm fortunate in that I have a partner who genuinely does not give two shits about Valentine's Day. She possibly hates it almost as much as I do. So I don't have to bother. Obviously that means I don't receive anything either but really, so what? We spend our money more wisely, let's put it that way. Not that anyone believes this when I tell them. They shake their heads in disbelief and come to the conclusion that I am an anti-romantic, lazy, rubbish boyfriend. Which I am, but that doesn't change the fact that my Mrs doesn't care.

Some people think I am lucky to have a partner given my general level of misery and grouchiness. Again they are right, but again it is what it is. The Sun shines on a dog's arse some days. Someone told me the other day that if she was my girlfriend and I didn't buy her a Valentine's card then she would dump me. This seems a little knee-jerk on her behalf so I'm suspicious of it's authenticity. Would any sensible person really throw away a long-term relationship for the sake of a bit of card with a tacky message inside? Or a bunch of flowers that will die by Thursday week if you are lucky? A box of chocolates that they will stuff down their necks in one night and then start moaning about putting on weight? Besides, if this person and I were the only two people left on Planet Earth I still don't think I could bother my arse to try and make it work out. The human race just isn't that important to me. I fucking hate people anyway. Why make more of them? I Can't work it out.

Valentine's Day also offends my anti-religious sensibilities. It's a Saints day, like any other. The only thing worse than people going to restaurants and eating heart-shaped desserts because it happens to be February 14 is people going out in large green hats and pretending to be Irish on March 17. It's fucking moronic. Stop it now, before it's too late. I am no more likely to celebrate St.Valentine's Day or St.Patrick's Day than I am St.David's Day (how many of you even know when that is?), or St.Swithens or whatever the fuck that is. I take my atheism very seriously. I have no patience with the view that God exists. It's just a completely illogical pile of horse shit. Like Valentine's Day. I celebrate Christmas but that's basically because I have stolen it from the God Botherers. Like The Grinch, which aptly suits my personality I think.

I think the other reason I hate St.Valentine's Day is that I never got any female attention until I was about 17. And that worked out really well... Meanwhile, the rest of my friends were groping girls in tents. I really think I should get over this blatant climate of discrimination that I used to live in (and but for Emma, still would but without the tents) but I don't seem able to. It's stayed with me forever. I'm holding a massive grudge against all things romantic, including the rather less romantic endgame of what elderly people call courting.

Actually, now I think about it I don't believe any men like Valentine's Day. I don't think I am unique. I'm just in the fortunate position of being able to admit it without spending the rest of my life in Coventry. I reckon about 90% of men who are doing something to celebrate Valentine's Day tonight are doing so to please their women. Valentine's Day is for girls. Like netball and mood swings. So anyway I think perhaps I should thank Emma for not forcing me to go through the shambolic facade that is Valentine's Day. I think there was a time, in the dim and distant past, when we bought each other Valentine's Day cards but it is long ago. Valentine cards are the preserve of people trying to impress someone or trying keep their dinner out of the dog. Perhaps it should be allowed for newly attached couples, but then anyone caught celebrating it after more than say, five years in a relationship should be taken outside and beaten to death with a hear-shaped spade.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Jump

You may not have noticed amid all the publicity being undeservedly hogged by former bigoted racist turned national hero Jim Davidson, but the Winter Olympics starts next week. Two weeks of people doing crazy things on bobsleighs, sleds, skis and skates begins in Sochi, Russia on February 7.

But Channel 4 can't wait that long. So to fill the void until then they have done what all television companies like to do these days, and based a celebrity reality television show on it. 'The Jump' pits a series of slebs and no-marks against each other in some highly dangerous sporting pursuits, presumably in the hope that one of them will suffer a serious injury. Because that would be great television.

And one of them almost did during the episode that I watched on Thursday night. The Olympic connection may just be a coincidental bonus, but the sight of five-time rowing gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave stumbling into the snow at break-neck speed was probably exactly the sort of thing the producers were after. I just felt a little embarrassed by it all. This well respected Olympic hero reduced to a crumpled heap on the snow, letting out moans which reminded me of when Alan Partridge got stuck under a cow;

'Are you alright, Alan?'

'No, I'm not alright. I'm stuck under a cow...'

But the show must go on with or without Sir Steve. At the point I join proceedings there are only seven celebrities left in the competition. The idea is that they all compete against each other in a series of winter events, with the bottom two celebrities suffering the indignity of 'The Jump', an actual, real-life if slightly smaller-scale ski-jump. Whoever jumps furthest out of the two gets to further their careers for another night. The loser goes home, metaphorically speaking. In reality they stick around to comment on what happens to the others in subsequent events. Tonight's expert analysis comes from Amy Childs, much to the delight of her interviewer and Last Leg pillock Alex Brooker. Spellbinded by Childs' boobs on legs form, Brooker is reduced to a blathering imbecile. I'm certain he's trying to flirt with her. He then turns his attention to reading out viewer tweets, of which remarkably there are several. What kind of people sit at home watching this shite and think 'I know, I'll tweet Alex Brooker to see if they read out my keyboard warrior false name on television'? And anyway why does Brooker have to have a role in everything broadcast by Channel 4? Anybody would think that he actually has some talent. As for Childs, she is no longer in the competition after she actually refused to perform her ski-jump when she found herself in the bottom two. There's footage of her sitting terrified at the top of the slope, like a mortified deer refusing to drink from the river in case they are eaten by a crocodile. Also hanging around after being knocked out is Sinitta. The thought crossed my mind that this show cannot have been the first time that Sinitta has tried to further her career with a jump.

And so to tonight's event which is the bobsleigh. The bobsleigh is not all that compelling when there are Olympic medals at stake, so what chance does it have of creating excitement when the most interesting possible outcome is watching a celebrity's head roll slowly down the track like Vyvyans on the railway during that classic University Challenge episode of The Young Ones? With Sir Steve in hospital it has therefore been established that this is not even live, thus reducing the chances of any celebrity deaths being broadcast to an almost miniscule level. Sir Steve's bobsleigh run had already been filmed before his accident so he is there and yet not there, if you see what I mean. His run is particularly harrowing for me as the camera inside the bobsleigh dwells unnecessarily on his bollocks as he endeavours to get into the bobsleigh. By the way, the celebrities aren't driving the bobsleigh. That would be madness. Instead their task is to run as fast as they can pushing the bobsleigh down the track before hopping in, bollocks-cam and all. After that their only concerns are holding on for dear life, screaming intermittently, and pulling the brakes on when they hit the finish line.

It's all presided over by shouty former Big Brother presenter Davina McCall. Big Brother is a steaming pile of sewage, but being shoved on to this guff probably qualifies as a demotion for McCall. There's a wonderful sketch on Dead Ringers in which McCall is depicted along with Claudia Winklman as a grunting lunatic, incapable of actual speech. The two meet in the park pushing prams and just thrash their heads about while they grunt. It's one of those rare sketches which you know is not accurate, but you have to love it because it gives you the feeling that this is how the two of them should communicate were they to meet in the park. When she is not shouting McCall is there to provide sympathy for the celebrities as one by one they look back disappointedly on their bobsleighing efforts. To be fair she has done well to recognise some of these celebrities. Who is Kimberley Wyatt anyway? And Laura Hamilton? Then there is Joe McElderry possibly making his first television appearance since X-Factor, and Richie Neville from Five (who in preparation for his bobsleigh run is trying to recall his rugby days, which is like me trying to remember my rock-climbing days), Donal McIntyre, and Marcus Brigstocke. Well who were you expecting? It takes a certain level of desperation to volunteer to career down an icy track at a million miles an hour just to be on telly.

McIntyre is particularly inept. The investigative reporter can get into the inner sanctums of the most cloak and dagger organisations for his television shows, yet here he can't even get into a bobsleigh. He is duly disqualified and, unless more than one of the remaining contestants shows equal ineptitude, is resigned to taking part in the climactic 'jump' at the end of the show. They don't, and so joining him in the crunch showdown will be Hamilton, who it turns out is a television presenter according to commentator Barry Davies. The work must be drying up, is all I can think. She's taking pointless daredevilry to new heights as she explains to McCall that she recently gave birth. The pressure increases on McIntyre then. How humiliating will it be if he can't ski-jump further than a woman half his size who has only recently been discharged from the maternity ward?

And anyway what happened to Barry Davies to see him reduced to this? My childhood is peppered with memories of Davies commentating on some of the biggest sporting occasions on television. He retired from all of that after a moody flounce. He wanted to know why he wasn't getting as many big football games as John Motson. And well he might. I think we all have a case for being selected to commentate on Match Of The Day ahead of Motson, whose descent into senility is gathering pace. Davies' unfaithful dalliances with the likes of tennis, gymnastics and ice skating probably cost him dear on that score, but I'm sure he never saw it ending like this. Trying to describe a ski-jump performed by two inept celebrities just hoping for another night on the telly.

In the event it is McIntyre who edges the jump, with a winning distance of 13.5m. So unimpressive is this that I am reminded of Bob Mills' old joke about sliding down his driveway one snowy morning and finding out later that day that he was ranked second in Great Britain in downhill skiing. A lack of a reliable snow supply has rendered the British somewhat useless at winter sports, a fact that will no doubt be further proven when the real action starts in Russia. And so seven become six here in Celebrityville, and we are promised some speed skating tomorrow. Sir Steve's participation is in some doubt but that would not be as big a blow for him as it might be for some of the others involved. No matter how many crap reality shows you do you can expect to retain some modicum of respect after having achieved all that he has.

The stakes are palpably higher for the likes of McElderry.