Monday, 22 December 2014

The Widnes Wild

It’s not often I get anything free from my publicity-shy, anonymous employer but at the weekend I had a new sporting experience at their expense when I took in a Widnes Wild ice hockey game.

I can’t really describe myself as an avid ice hockey fan. It’s a wonder I find time to eat and sleep (much less work for a living) considering all of the sport that I do watch, but ice hockey has never really been included alongside all of the football, rugby league, cricket and NFL that I regularly submerge myself in. At this time of year I even find myself watching darts. Who can resist the temptation to watch fat men throwing small arrows at a circular board while thousands of drunk onlookers shout ‘boring, boring table’ at each other? It’s a masterclass in witlessness but it’s also sport apparently. Not only that, but St.Helens is prominent in the darting world with at least three of the PDC’s top men either hailing from, living in or having once visited the old Woolworths in the town.

But I haven’t seen much ice hockey. It’s on Premier Sports to which I don’t yet subscribe despite their holding of the rights to NRL rugby league in Australia. One of the wonderful benefits of the end to Sky's monopoly on sports is that you have to have 17 different sports packages to be able to see all of the sport you want, meanwhile Sky steadfastly refuses to lower its monthly subscriptions despite the loss of content they have endured. Also, ice hockey is broadcast at times which are hardly suitable for the working man. Unlike the NFL which has games at either 6.00 or 9.25 on Sunday evenings, you’re looking at something around 1.00-1.30am before you get anything resembling live NHL ice hockey action on British television even if you have paid for that 17th subscription. The closest I have got to any kind of ice hockey-related activity is playing out my own version of the 2010 NHL season on the Nintendo Wii. That’s unless you count being in New York when it was hosting the Stanley Cup Finals earlier this year. In Madison Square Garden, which is not a garden and is not in Madison Square. And I never actually attended any of the games so it probably does not count in any case. We walked past the Garden one night and could hear music blaring from within which we assumed to be the pre-match entertainment and rituals, but getting in was never an option.

So anyway when the opportunity arose to see some real, live ice hockey I was uncharacteristically keen to respond to my employer. I say uncharacteristically because on the rare occasions that my employer emails me offering something for nothing I don’t get to the end of the second paragraph before the email gets deleted. I have no need in my life at this particular time for Indian head massage though I am sure it is every bit as relaxing and revitalising as is claimed. It’s just not for me, in the same way that Jeremy Clarkson isn’t. I’ve heard he is quite popular but I won’t have him on my telly. But ice hockey, well that sounded much more like my kind of thing. And Emma’s. She used to go to watch a team in Sheffield and since one of the games on offer through my employer was the Widnes Wild versus the Sheffield Senators it seemed like it was worth a go.

Whether it was or not is a matter for some debate. We arrived around half an hour before the start of the game to be looked at blankly by the two girls at the box office. I explained that I had come to pick up two tickets and that it had been arranged by my employer. Fortunately I had an email advising me that all I needed to do was explain this at the box office and present my staff card. Had I not kept the email I might very well have spent the rest of the evening trying to persuade the girls at the box office to let us in. Instead they just looked at each other before one of them muttered something to me about how nobody ever tells them anything. Then she issued what passes for a ticket and sent us through into the rink. The first thing that immediately strikes you is how cold it is, a fact which should have been and was obvious but even with my heavy coat on I could still feel the chill. To our left were a set of steps leading to the seating area which were clearly going to be inaccessible. We were advised by the man on the door that someone would be along in a moment with the key for the lift to take us up to the upper deck. At the time that seemed like a relief. None of the arena was visible from where we were by the door and the barrier stretched all around the playing area. It was not transparent plexiglass so you couldn’t see anything of the arena through it. After a few minutes wait the man on the door told us that someone was now at the lift waiting for us and we made our way around the arena to the lift. We were taken up one floor and led to our viewing area.

Which was a cafĂ© bar. And all sense of relief turned to mild bewilderment. It had those plush comfy seats you find in hotel bars but mostly there were high stools and even higher tables. The kind that I spent 10 days moaning about in New York. There was no viewing area, as such, you just had to find a place to sit where you could see the action. Except there wasn’t anywhere fitting that description for someone of my height using a wheelchair. For reasons that would be exhaustively explained to me later on and which my brain has already dumped into the trash-can marked ‘not necessary to retain’ there is a barrier which has to be a certain minimum height. Like kids trying to get on the rides at Alton Towers. Speaking of whom, there was also a kids play area directly behind one of the two areas where it was possible to sit, in this case directly behind one of the goals. The other such area is along one side of the ice but that is interrupted by a wall, leaving you craning your neck around said wall whenever the puck goes up the other end of the ice. Predictably and despite the fact that there was a national league ice hockey game going on which some people had paid £6.00 to watch, the play area remained open for the kids throughout the night. When Emma went off to find someone to complain to, a man arrived to discuss our concerns and promptly and angrily chased all of the kids out of the building. They were running around in the open play area. Playing, you might say. The nerve.....

The man we found happened to be the same man with whom my employer liaises to get our staff free tickets for the games. He turned out to be a great bloke to be fair, who went a long way out of his way to try to help us. However at first he was confrontational and at one point I thought we were going to have to leave because he could not agree with us that this area was not suitable for disabled people to view ice hockey games or anything else held at the rink for that matter. He was a disabled person himself so perhaps should have known better, but nevertheless he claimed that I was the first disabled person to raise any concerns and that every single member of his sledge hockey team had tested it and declared the area fit for purpose. He must have some very tall sledge hockey team mates. Either that or their expectations are markedly lower than mine. As he sat in one of the comfy chairs next to me I knew very well that he could not see what was going on in the game while all the while he was arguing that there was nothing wrong with the view. By the end he was downsizing his claims by insisting that nobody said that the area was fully accessible and that actually it has no intention of being such. Rather, it aspires to be inclusive. All of which sounds like a vomit inducing, catch-all phrase for people who live under the noble but absurd misapprehension that disabled and able-bodied people can all live together in a fluffy world completely devoid of any bitterness and acrimony. Not if I have anything to do with it.

The outcome of what was becoming an increasingly circular discussion was that I felt that I should have been advised that the area was not fit for purpose before I travelled, but that there are plans to improve the facilities for disabled people in the future. They are going to introduce plexiglass to the upper deck viewing areas where there is currently only a thick, high barrier which should go some way to appeasing your average, angry disabled observer with an overwhelming desire to blog to all of his mates about the outrage of it all. I might be back to test that theory in the new year as our friend (his name is Matt, a former Paralympian sledge hockey player) showered us with freebies including season tickets for the rest of this season and a pledge that we could also go to any Sheffield Steeldogs (yes, really, Steeldogs) game if we just get in touch to let him know we are going. He gave us free tea, offered us free food which we declined, and regailed us with tales of his Paralympic career and titbits of information about the players in the Wild team. One works at the local Tesco and has played at the Elite League level but doesn’t want to travel any further than across the car park from his place of employment. Apparently he turned up one night at their training session with some extensive ice hockey kit and ran rings around his potential team-mates. When asked why he wasn't playing at a higher level he just pointed out that he worked at the Tesco over the road and said 'I play for you'. He's Czech or Polish or something. No doubt the Daily Mail will be furious to learn that he is taking the place in the team of a local Widnes lad. Another player is a plumber and others are electricians and builders. Only the referees get any financial reward which sounds a lot like the wheelchair basketball arrangements I remember from my former life.

I managed to repel several attempts by Matt to get me to go along to a sledge hockey session, by the way. Thursday nights are sledge hockey nights down at Widnes but I pointed out to him that you would have to be madder even than I am to get on the ice and have a go at that. He responded to this slur on his good name with another story, the one about how half his teeth came out when keeping goal in one fondly remembered game or other. If that doesn't put you off basketball stars then consider the fact that there is no classification system like in our namby-pamby game. Be prepared to be smashed into the ice by an array of seven foot ex-soldiers. Matt tried to argue that a classification system is not necessary and that moving the sledge around the ice quickly is down to core muscle strength and nothing to do with balance or anything like that. Which is, frankly, horse shit. Curling was of more interest to Emma, and I would be willing to have a go but due to a complex process which can also be found in that ‘not necessary to retain’ trash can (something about having to prepare the ice overnight) they can only offer the sessions on Friday mornings. Now we are left wondering whether a game of Curling is worth a day’s leave or flexi which, if it is anything like a night at the ice hockey, it won’t be. Besides, I have accepted my Paralympic failure. I’m not one of these biffs who is going to try every sport he can possibly get involved in before making his Paralympic debut in sausage eating at the age of 51. I’m over it, really.

The game itself, or the bits of it that I could see, was very entertaining. The Wild lost out 8-6 to the Senators in the end, with the last goal scored just a couple of minutes from the end as the frost-bite inducing possibility of an overtime period lingered. Emma pointed out that although it was entertaining, it was a pretty average standard even by comparison to the Elite League games that she has seen in the past. Nevertheless I’ll probably give it another go at the end of January by when Matt assures me that the plexiglass will be in place and I’ll be able to see a lot more of the skills of the shelf-stackers, electricians and plumbers of the Widnes Wild.

Until then I’ll stay in and watch the darts.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

A Different Kind Of Access Problem

Time to break that rule about not writing about work again. Of course we will avoid the specifics. Under absolutely no circumstances will I reveal the name of my employer, which is a shame because it single-handedly cured Ebola just the other day.

But this is not about that. This is about what MOAFH specialises in. My foolishness and subsequent humiliation. A bit of background for you. My employer is very security conscious, as it needs to be. They wouldn’t want the wrong sort of people getting into the building, let alone areas of said building where the wrong sort of people could wreak various kinds of havoc. I am not sure what type of people they have in mind. Perhaps the locals, which gives rise to all sorts of brilliant gags about what you call a scouser in an institute of higher education (careful……). But I’m not doing any of those gags about scousers. Some of my best friends are scousers. Salt of the earth, God-fearing insurance fraudsters that they are….. I, on the other hand, do not fear God as we know because I am a Godless atheist. So anyway on account of the security consciousness of my employer we have staff only access to many areas of the building including the office in which I conduct most of what passes for my daily business. I know, I was as surprised as you to learn that I’m not actually a proper writer. And that a disabled person has a job. Back to the plot. Access works like this. You have a staff card and you swipe said staff card along a reader outside the office door. The reader clicks and you are granted access. I have been gaining access to this place of business in this precise way for six years.

Six years.

Two days ago my six-year-old battered, tatty old card gave up. As an amusing aside the photograph on my staff ID card was taken with something odd in the background hanging above my head and because my head is shaved it looks like I have a Mohican circa David Beckham 2001. Without the good looks, clearly. The card had been very erratic in recent months, only allowing me access when it was of a mind to do so. All of which was much to the chagrin of my long suffering colleagues, particularly those who sit nearest to the office door and to whom it therefore most commonly falls upon to get up from their seat and press the button inside the office which unlocks the door. By now the card had decided that it didn’t care what mood it was in, I was not getting into that office unaided and so I went downstairs to the security desk to get an upgrade. I came back to the office and swiped in. Nothing. Nada. Computer says no. I went to the printing room down the corridor and swiped the reader outside that door. A beep later access was granted. Something was beginning to whiff a little. How could it be that I could use the card to get into the print room (and as I subsequently discovered through the barriers just inside the main entrance, the barrier to the disabled car park and the main door at the rear of the building) but not to get into the office? There are those who would point out how typical and predictable this is. Of course I would be able to get everywhere else but into the room that I move in and out of most often. The Law Of Sod was written with people like me in mind.

I went back down to the security desk twice to obtain new cards, believing that on each occasion they had just issued me with duds. I spoke on the phone to the security manager who assured me that everything was fine with the technology and that he also was baffled by the whole affair. Today he visited me at the office and we went out to the reader so that I could demonstrate the problem. You’re ahead of me, aren’t you? Well not quite perhaps. I swiped it twice more, in the way I had been doing for six years. Nothing. He took the card from me and swiped it twice more in the way I had just demonstrated. Nothing. At this point I should point out that the reader has a little screen at the top where it says something like ‘please swipe card’. Below this screen is a keypad. For six years I have been swiping the card across the screen and gaining access. Never have I swiped it across the keypad. Presumably for shits and giggles he thought he would give the latter a try. He swiped the card against the keypad, just below the top row of numbers.

There was a click and the screen lit up. The door was open.

I have been back out there several times since and even now if I swipe my card anywhere above the top row of numbers nothing happens. An inch or so below and I’m in. Upon our discovery the security manager gave me a look which I cannot reasonably describe without having the company arrest me and lop off my head. Suffice to say he was suitably and understandably unimpressed at having been dragged probably half way across the city from a different site to explain to the disabled person that he has been swiping his card incorrectly for the last six years. Actually, I’m not sure that he believed that I have been swiping it that way for six years but I can assure him and all of you that I have. Nevertheless I have at best assured my place in one of his ‘people at work are stupid’ anecdotes when he is out with his family and friends over the Christmas period. At worst I have earned a place in a rather darker ‘disabled people are stupid’ lament.

Maybe it’s me with the attitude problem but this always seems worse because of the prickly problem that is disability. When you have what might otherwise be referred to as a blonde or senior moment it’s magnified enormously by a wheelchair. You can multiply what you think you would feel in that situation by about 10,000. As a disabled person in that predicament you can’t shake the feeling that everyone thinks that in the first place you are thick, and in the second place you are thick because you have a wheelchair and it is all you can do to avoid slavering in the corner while rocking back and forth and shouting ‘sausages!’. My path will likely never cross that of the security manager again so what kind of first and last impression is that to leave him with?

But that’s me isn’t it? Always doing my bit to promote disability and obliterate tired old stereotpyes…..

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Whose Accessible Bus Seat Is It Anyway?

This column is among the louder trumpeters of disability rights that you might awkwardly stumble across as you trawl the internet looking for pictures of Miley Cyrus. Barely an entry goes by without it venting at some wretched wrong-doing by the able bodied community who are, as regular readers will know, a villainous rabble. But it draws the line at this bloody bus row.

Now a proper journalist would review the facts of the case in great detail. However, I stopped being a proper journalist around 2001 so let me summarise for you. Some time in the recent past it was declared lawful that disabled people should be given priority over people pushing prams when it comes to blagging the pitiful amount of accessible space on offer. Then it was decided that actually, no, that is a lot of old nonsense and the pram-pushers were favoured. Notwithstanding the fact that you could never create a bus big enough for the pram pushing population of Thatto Heath, it is my duty to report that this latest decision is being challenged again by the disability rights campaigners. In particular, one disability rights campaigner who scored the Paralympic level own-goal of allowing himself to be photographed boarding a bus with his piss-bag sticking out of the bottom of his trouser leg for all to see. Now tell me how he gets priority?

So anyway the point I am making is that despite being a disabled person myself, and one who spends his life crusading for the rights of such people, I am against the idea that all disabled people should be given priority for the aforementioned pitiful amount of accessible space on offer. Some of us just should not. I have experienced all too often that awful moment when the bus driver, who is already confused about who should get priority it seems, makes some poor girl with 13 children move from her seat so that I can reverse into the space, being careful to place my head against the headboard and apply the brakes on my chair which exist only in the minds of the able bodied. It’s embarrassing and it will serve only to demonise the disabled population with young mothers in particular. What red-blooded male wants to be demonised by young women anyway? I say we are demonised enough. You have the space, love, I will use the fucking allowance that the government pay me to have a motability car (for which I am exempt from paying insurance), and we will all get to where we are going anyway. If I want a drink I will use yet more of my benefit or, Heaven for-fucking-fend my WAGES to get a taxi.

As I suggested this does not apply to all disabled people, just the likes of me actually. Yes there are people who for whatever reason can’t just jump in their mobility car and drive themselves to wherever, or who have trouble persuading that most common sufferer of back injury, the taxi driver, to help them into the back of their hire vehicle. Perhaps those people have a case to be given priority, but for it to be spread across the board and to be applied to all disabled people is loony leftism of the worst kind. The kind of strange, woolly thinking which leads to Mario Balotelli being punished for an anti-racist tweet in his second language while the institutional racism he has to endure in his daily life goes virtually unnoticed by the shitclowns at the FA.

Now wouldn't the answer be to provide more access for buses, and spare everyone the legal wrangling over who gets the last crumb on the island before we have to start eating each other?

This blog was written in 10 minutes at the end of a working day and you can’t half tell.