It’s possibly a sad reflection on me that a lot of what follows in today’s column is rather Facebook-centric. More and more now we seem to use Zuckerberg’s world-dominating cyber meeting place to learn, state and question everything. I’m probably not the only blogger who trawls through his timeline day after day looking for interesting links upon which I can unleash my fearful, venting wrath. Neither am I, in all probability, the only one who thinks about this from time to time and can’t help but wish we could all go down to the pub and argue about The Undateables and Disabled Access Day instead of tapping away at our laptops and ipads like a race of demented keyboard warriors incapable of actual discourse.
But we can’t, apparently. So in my search for suitable subject matter I stumbled upon an article about a disabled man who had been thrown off a flight from Dallas, Texas to Fort Collins, Colorado because the strapping he was using to secure himself to his seat was deemed unsafe by the pilot. Rather than call airline management the Frontier Airlines pilot decided instead to flatly refuse to transport the man, insisting that airport police board the plane and remove him. Airport police. This man was so freaked out by disability that he called the police. Imagine if I did that every time I was freaked out by an able bodied person. I’d be locked up for harassing the police. Anyway it all seemed like excellent material for a good old fashioned Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard rant (and this blog has been called a rant before, and not just by me) about disability access. I had a thousand intricate and clever ways (well two) to link this man’s experience to my own with American Airlines and the ‘wonderful’ staff at Manchester Airport and it was all going to be a rip-roaring success in the world of disability-related literary comment. Which after all is what Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard was created for. And if it doesn’t relate my own experiences to the disability issues of the day then it is no sort of memoir at all and should be sued under the Trade Descriptions Act.
But then I realised that this incident took place in June 2011. Three and a half years ago. I’m too busy with my day job to offer up-to-the-minute comment on everything that happens but even I have to draw the line at waiting three and a half years to have my say. Luckily, sadly actually given what follows, an article I came across in today’s Independent served up a more than adequate replacement.
It tells of a man named Richard Bridger. Richard suffers from Duschenne Muscular Dystrophy, a highly debilitating condition which means among other things that he has to use a ventilator for 18 hours a day to help him breathe. Richard, according to the report, was forced to leave the Odeon Cinema in Epsom because some of the able bodied bastards…..I mean customers…..complained that his ventilation machine was making too much noise. It was, they said, spoiling their enjoyment of Liam Neeson’s surely Olivier-esque performance in Taken 3. Now the fact that you could watch a film like Taken 3 with the sound down and still get the same level of enjoyment from it (i.e very little) strengthens my argument but is not the point. It’s not like Richard rocked up to his local pictures on the back of a tractor and proceeded to plough through the aisles deafening all and sundry. He had a ventilator which yes...makes a little noise but not enough to warrant his public humiliation and that of his companion who was also invited to look elsewhere for his fix of Liam. They referred to him as him Richard’s carer in the article by the way but that term presumes too much for my tastes.
Worse than lobbing Richard out of the theatre literally for breathing was the fact that Odeon management then backed the actions of their staff, citing six complaints from the 200 strong audience. I’ve been in cinemas where people with certain types of disability have involuntarily made a little noise and nobody has seemed too affected by it. One man laughed out loud during a particularly tense scene near the end of 'Gone Girl'. I understood and let it slide. Far more of a menace to my mind are the people who can be relied upon to start texting and taking selfies on their iphone 86 as soon as the trailers start. They’re on silent, but twenty or so phones all lighting up at the same time around you is at least as distracting as the sound of a ventilator. And, despite the way some people act these days, nobody needs a text message or a selfie to help them breathe. Oh and by the way that is something else I have noticed on Facebook this week. Despite being only 10 years old it has decided to delve it’s pinky into the waters of nostalgia by asking users to post their first ever profile pictures. You can only imagine the array of disturbingly smug selfies this has inspired and I have to say it’s not for me. Whoever invented the selfie and its satanic spawn the selfie stick should be held to account. It’s not that some of you aren’t pretty to look at. You really are. I just don’t really care what your first profile picture looked like or how much you have changed in the twelve minutes since you last posted it.
Finally today I have a suspicion that Facebook has cost me not only someone I would go so far as to call an acquaintance, but also a regular blog reader. My piece on Disabled Access Day appears to have inspired someone to delete me from his Facebook. My crime was to disagree with the content of his post, if not the act of actually posting it. But let’s be real. Let’s have the debate. If you post something on your timeline and I register an opposite opinion then you have to accept that if you are going to have me as a Facebook friend. Otherwise you are just adding or accepting me to pad out your quota of Facebook friends which is an act of vanity that even the selfie-stickers would baulk at. So let me tell you now that I consider all of you on my list to be fair game. Anything you write in what I remind you is a public forum is there to be shot at so long as things don’t get personal or abusive. Which they did not in this case. The same is true of anything that I write including and especially Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard. And all of this applies whether I see you every day of my life or whether I haven’t seen you since my student days.
Some would refer to this as free speech which if you don’t like, you know where the delete button is. This piece will still get 436 reads because they are generated by the same man from Copenhagen hitting refresh, we all know that…….