Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Blue Badge - Blue Mood

Let me just give you some backdrop to my mood as I write this. I’m £100 lighter having just settled up a parking charge with some company whose name escapes me and which seems to exist only to collect parking charges. It’s my fault. Who else is to blame for neglecting to display his blue badge in the window of his Ford Focus while parked in a disabled bay at Boots on Ravenhead Retail Park? I was in there for less time than it takes for Steven Gerrard to get his marching orders but there’s no getting away from the fact that I did park in a disabled bay without displaying my blue badge. For this reason my heart wasn’t in it when it came to an appeal. If people don’t pay parking charges for parking in disabled bays without displaying their blue badges then how am I ever going to find a disabled parking space again?

The problem is they probably don’t and the fact that I, a genuine wheelchair user, got caught being absent minded rather than lazy or inconsiderate is still rather irritating me. How many able bodied bastards get away with pulling up at their local Tesco, heading straight for the disabled bays and winging it completely while they nip in to get their night’s supply of Red Stripe? What’s grinding my gears (sorry, but we are on a motoring theme here) further is the fact that the money goes to some faceless debt collecting entity. If it went to Cancer Research or some other well intentioned charity I’d have paid it without hesitation and probably felt better about my day in the process.

I’m further culpable for the amount I have had to pay. When the ticket was issued a month ago it was only worth £30. But I did what I have always done with any problem I have ever had in my life, including stage four kidney disease until the heart palpitations started, and ignored for as long as was humanly possible. I received a letter yesterday telling me that it was too late to appeal against the judgement, and too late to settle it by paying just the initial charge of £30. This was followed by several vague threats of court action. Apparently the ticket stipulates that you have 14 days to pay the £30 before it then becomes £100 and you have no right of appeal regardless of the condition of your spine/legs/torso/head. There was a brief moment when I thought about waiting for the inevitable summons and then making my appearance in court, if only to prove to the faceless debt collectors that I am in fact a disabled person and not a boy racer stopping off for Red Stripe. But again it came back to the question of what happens if everyone starts finding a reason not to pay their parking charges. The boy racers would have an even freer reign of the disabled bays at Tesco and then where will we be? In a bay that is too narrow to allow you to get out of your car and into your wheelchair, that’s where.

So I’m to blame. But remembering a situation I found myself in when I lived in Barnsley many years ago I can’t help thinking that a degree of common sense should come into the law here. I was parked in a disabled bay outside a branch of Halifax Bank in the town centre. I was sat in the car eating my lunch. I practically lived in my car when I was a student, mostly because it was a good deal more accessible than my house at the time. So I was munching away on my sandwich and reading my magazine when someone knocked on my window. I looked up and saw a 60-something woman gesturing for me to wind the window down. When I did she asked me where my blue badge was. The bald truth of that matter was that I didn’t have a blue badge at that time. Blue badges cost £2 even then, and as any student knows £2 is £2. Or four shots of whiskey to put it another way. I did have a wheelchair though, which I pointed to for her benefit. It probably didn’t help that I made a face which indicated that only the most brainless moron who ever lived on Planet Earth would ask a person as to the whearabouts of their blue badge when they clearly had a wheelchair sitting in the passenger seat beside them. To my mind my wheelchair trumped her blue badge, which was probably acquired following a particularly nasty grazing episode outside of Gala Bingo. Anyway, she was not convinced and angrily reminded me about the law on blue badges and how wheelchairs don’t count. But in the absence of faceless debt collectors I won this battle, refusing to move my car until I was good and bloody ready, by which time she had harrumphed off to tell all her grazed friends about the injustice of it all.

But the point is this. Surely there are other ways than the presence of a blue badge to demonstrate whether an individual is genuinely in need of the disabled parking bay they have just occupied? The person who issued my ticket at Boots would not have seen my wheelchair because I was in it elsewhere, but surely it is not beyond the realms of human endeavour for a record of blue badge holders to be kept somewhere so that forgetting to display said blue badge is not such a problem. You don’t have to display a tax disc any more. The DVLA know exactly which cars are taxed and all you have to do is go online to make sure that yours is one of them. This wouldn’t stop time-wasters hogging disabled bays because as I alluded to earlier blue badges are no doubt absurdly easy to acquire, but it would at least stop forgetful people in genuine need from being punished. If the authorities can see their way clear to catching the odd Boy Racer along the way then that's a bonus. I'm just asking not to be punished for being careless.

I suppose that as long as absent minded piss-hats like me continue to forget to display their blue badges then there is always going to be a perceived sense of injustice. I’ll take the hit, but just do me one favour. Do not make a patronising comment on this link about how I have been ‘naughty’ or include the phrase ‘tut, tut’ in your response. If you do I will remember it to my dying day and one day, when you least expect it, even if everything is fine between us for the next 20 years, I will come around to your house and punch you full in the face.

Now fuck off away from my page.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Neighbours - Nostalgia Overload

I don't watch Neighbours. It's not really aimed at grumpy men approaching middle age. It's aimed at what I used to be, grumpy teens approaching whatever age comes before middle age. It hasn't always been this way though. For a surprisingly long time I was completely hooked on it. This was not only because teenage boys who didn't want to look at Natalie Imbruglia in a bikini are a figment of your imagination, but because I was genuinely absorbed in its crappy, cliched storylines.

Imagine my delight then when I stumbled across a special programme on Channel 5 last night celebrating 30 years of it. Is it really that long since I was consumed with the pointless non-existence of Mike, Scott, Jane and Charlene? If you think that my obsession with all things Ramsay Street in the late 80's is a little bit peculiar then I would ask you what else was there to do at that time anyway? When I wasn't watching Neighbours I was pushing (or being pushed by over-bearing friends whose only actual discourse with me was to ask me the time every twenty minutes) to the local shop for a packet of pickled onion Monster Munch and a Supercan of Coke. Or hanging around on street corners to absolutely no effect. People complain about the fact that children nowadays don't have any sense of adventure since the invention of the X-Box, but before the X-Box those same people were terrorised by young people with absolutely nothing to do except bully and grope each other while kicking footballs at the nearest window.

Anyway, back to the 30th Anniversary special. I wasn't expecting much in terms of production values so I wasn't disappointed when I was confronted by a rather tired format of interviews with stars of the show past and present, interspersed with classic clips and all linked together terribly by Stefan Dennis and some lad who now plays the son of Scott and Charlene. He's about 47 or something. I'm not sure what the casting director was up to with this lad. When you look at him you don't automatically think Kylie and Jason. You think Brad Willis or some other two-dimensional Aussie beach bum. Is that racist? Feck off.

Despite the lack of any real innovation in the format there was nostalgia quite literally dripping from every pore of this production. Impressively, they had managed to snare interviews with the really huge ex-Neighbours stars which gave it all that extra bit of gravitas. Where I was expecting the woman who played Mrs Mangel we actualy got Mike, subsequently known as film icon Guy Pearce. And Charlene, who still manages to get away with hot-pants and some increasingly dodgy pop music well into her 40's under the ludicrous pseudonym Kylie Minogue. Then there is Margot Robbie, last seen alongside Will Smith in Focus but perhaps even more famous for regularly showing her bits in God-Awful and offensive idiot-fest The Wolf Of Wall Street. They even got Delta Bloody Goodrem to say a few words. And of course Jason Donovan, although his star has fallen slightly to the point where a few short years ago he played some of his 80's hits at Chicago Rock in St.Helens and Emma complained because he only did a few songs. I would have thought that a short Jason Donovan gig was a merciful thing, but what do I know?

What pleased me most about the interviews is that Pearce,Donovan, Minogue and all are as enthusiastic about the show now as I was then. I had expected Pearce in particular to flatly refuse to appear, or if he had to then I had thought he would tut mournfully about what he'd had to do to make a name for himself in the manner that George Michael talks about Wham! But he only had good things to say about Neighbours, as did Kylie, Jason and Margot. Craig MacLachlan didn't appear to be taking it as seriously but when did Henry ever take anything seriously? No Neighbours anniversary show would be complete without several gut-twanging shots of Henry wearing nothing but those old dungarees or, in one or two clips, running around in nothing at all. And all set against the backdrop of a montage of clips in which Ian Smith (Harold Bishop) shouted 'Oh Henry, how could you?'

Disappointingly, there was no sign of Natalie Imbruglia. Not only that, but while the superstar careers of Pearce, Minogue and Donovan were celebrated there was no mention of the torrid pop ventures of Dennis and MacLachlan. Don't It Make You Feel Good? Mona? Eighties pop classics both, right? Maybe this where I should bow down to the producer's better judgement and admit that these abominations are better off left to old episodes of TOTP2 with a music Hell theme. Imagine the fun that bloke off the radio could have delivering whithering quips about them over the top of their videos...

The phrase 'rocking the mullet' inevitably cropped up as Pearce and Donovan reminisced about their characters Mike and Scott, while Anne Charleston (Madge Bishop) rightly pointed out that Henry's was the worst because it was curly. You can have a mullet, and you can have curly hair, but even in the 80's I'm not sure that both at the same time was a good idea. Oh Henry, how could you? The girls didn't fare much better in the hair stakes though, with Daphne Clarke's short spikey number and Charlene's blonde frizzy effort. Did my sister and her friends genuinely try to copy this or was it just the case that any female with blonde hair in the 80's was inexorably doomed to have it frizz up like that? Either way it was no barnet for a self-respecting car mechanic.

One of the things about nostalgia like this is that it plays havoc with your memory. The clips were littered with characters who I recognised in some dark recess of my mind but couldn't bring fully to mind. Who was that best man at Joe Mangel's wedding? The female doctor who gave Des Clarke the awful news about Daphne's death (at which you cried, you baby). And who was that young lad who was the first person to bump into Harold in Ramsay Street when he returned from the dead? 'It was a little bit stretched' understated Smith by way of explanation of that particular storyline. On further inspection I discovered that it was Brett Stark who first met Harold. Stark is notable only for being a Stark long before Game Of Thrones' creator George RR Martin got the idea, and for having a sister called Danni who, for a time during the mid 90's, was in my opinion the only reason to watch television at all. If all you wanted from your youth was a pointless crush on someone unobtainable, Neighbours was your first stop. The actress who played her (Eliza Szonert) has faded into obscurity now, which might be a good thing. She couldn't possibly have retained such paralysing beauty and I'm not sure I could have coped with the shock of her deterioration. Annie Jones (Plain Jane Superbrain) hasn't aged all that well as evidenced here and in a recent episode of raucously stupid but brilliant Aussie drama Wentworth Prison based on the even more raucously stupid but brilliant Aussie drama Prisoner Cell Block H.

If you had asked me before last night's show how long I had been an avid Neighbours fan I would have probably estimated something around the five year mark. That just about covers my teenage years, taking me to the point where I'm too old for it and it is all a bit silly. Yet a segment on the unlikely affair between Doctor Karl Fletcher and a character called Sarah revealed that I had been a fan well into my 20's. Sarah, another classic and unrealistic megababe in the greatest of Neighbours traditions, appeared in the show between 1996 and 1999. Or to put it another way, her affair with the Doc took place somewhere between my 21st and 24th years on Earth. All of which means that I was a fan of Neighbours for something north of a decade. I took GCSE's, A-Levels, passed my driving test and represented my country at wheelchair basketball at junior level while all the while fretting about whether Susan would find out and what would happen if she did. Terrifyingly, Neighbours was the background noise to an alarmingly large chunk of my life! At least I stopped before Margot Robbie got involved in 2008. I had to be told by a bloke on the radio a few days before this show that she used to be in Neighbours. Does that mean I'm cured?

So what, other than babes in bikinis, held my interest for such a preposterously long time? It was alluded to on the show that Neighbours is a good deal less depressing than the English soaps. A few weeks ago I sat down to watch an episode of Eastenders to see if I could catch up with the storyline after several years of completely ignoring its existence. I thought it might make an interesting blog. But frankly 1,000 words on the inactivity of Danny Dyer's hugely punchable face and an absurd death scene by the previously excellent Timothy West was beyond me. I just couldn't do it, not if I wanted to avoid jumping in the bath and cutting up every major artery immediately afterwards. Neighbours was never like that. Nobody ever moped around wondering why their brother had slept with their mother's dog at The Arches. They talked of barbies, yewts (check spelling) and Bouncer (pronounced bee-ann-sah).

A staggering 20 million people in the UK alone watched Scott and Charlene get hitched in 1987 or 1988. Now the show attracts only 250,000 to 350,000 viewers which is either because my generation were freaks and the show was doomed when we became old freaks, or because of the invention of the X-Box again. Several million rubbish television channels showing a variety of boiled reality shite don't help either. Then there is the fact that nobody watches anything that isn't live at the time it is broadcast any more. It's all in the planner. Even suicide-fest Eastenders has suffered a dramatic drop in ratings in the Sky+ age.

If young people aren't watching in the same numbers now then it is probably their loss, but on the flip side of that they will never reach 39 and develop a headache trying to remember the name of Joe Mangel's best man at his wedding.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Blackpool Part Two - Saturday

I didn’t tell you about our room with a view in the first part of this piece. From Room 102 on the first floor of the Ibis Styles Hotel you get an almost perfect view of the sea. Almost. For your own safety there is a clunking great panel covering a large chunk of the left hand side of the window, but there is still enough glass there to enable you to see a long way out to sea. It would be possible to see even more of it if this were not the beginning of March. Still, there is scope enough for gazing out at the sea, drinking tea and eating shortbread and, if you want to be really pretentious about it, putting on a very thoughtful, scheming facial expression in the manor of Nucky Thompson looking out over the Atlantic City boardwalk. Across the corridor the Ibis Styles also has a Room 101 but we skipped that. I’m not a particularly superstitious man but to go there would be just asking for trouble given our propensity for balls ups.

As I looked out on to the sea I saw two suspiciously person-shaped figures in the distance. They looked to be walking along and then sporadically bending down to pick something up. The distance between them never changed for a time and for those moments I thought I was seeing things, that they were just objects bobbing around in the sea to no effect. But then they walked back towards the prom, huddling together to no doubt discuss whatever they had been out there doing. They could have been cockle picking. Do they have cockle pickers in Blackpool? They certainly weren’t just out for a pleasant stroll along the sand and a wade into the sea at this time of year. It might have a prom and a hotel with a big glass window you can look out on to the sea from, but Blackpool is not Atlantic City.

I’ll tell you what Nucky Thompson wouldn’t put up with. The lack of hot food available at breakfast. Continental only. I shudder to think what Jeremy Clarkson would have done in these circumstances. Not being an arrogant Tory bore myself, I managed to resist the temptation to punch the receptionist and threaten him with a trip to the job centre. It was a bit much though. It wasn’t as if the room was cheap. The least they could offer you is a couple of fried eggs. Emma assured me that there was no option to book a room without breakfast online, which makes sense because she would not ordinarily book breakfast in a hotel. We’re Wetherspoons top early-morning customers when we are on our travels in the UK. Us and the old men who take their first sip of bitter at 8.30 in the morning. How do they do that? Hoovering up our underwhelming breakfast cereals, pieces of toast and croissants we resolve to go out and buy breakfast the next morning, even though we have already paid for it here.

We headed out towards Blackpool Tower. It was only five minutes from the hotel so we reckoned we could go up there, and then be out in plenty of time to have a stroll towards the football ground. Stopping at one or more pubs along the way. More on which later. You’re ahead of me if you have guessed by now that getting to the top of the tower was not exactly routine. Having bought tickets yesterday we ignored the queue of people buying them and immediately got lost. I spotted a small corridor with a reception sign pointing towards it. It led us to a girl who informed us that nobody would be going up to the top of the tower at the moment because it was too windy. It was very windy, but it hadn’t occurred to us that they would close the Tower Eye, as they call it. By the way did you know that the Rockefeller Center in New York sways in the wind? This was a thought that made Emma feel a bit queasy as I recall, in fact it still does. I remained sceptical. Surely you would feel a building swaying? Evidently not. It has to sway anyway for reasons that I don’t understand and which you have to be a science nerd to grasp. Or at least faintly interested.

There was an alternative to the Tower Eye. We’d also bought tickets yesterday to Illuminasia, an indoor lights exhibition located in the Winter Gardens. We were going to visit on the Sunday but events had conspired against us and so we’d have to change tack. If breakfast was underwhelming then Illuminasia was either closely related to underwhelming or it was its doppleganger. Illuminasia contains around eight rooms within which are various representations of landmarks, land and sea creatures and Chinese lanterns. Lots of Chinese lanterns. It was mostly assembled by Chinese workers using a gazillion bazillions tons of steel and oh….I don’t know….some old rope. The lanterns are accompanied by the story of a Chinese city which was about to come under threat from the evil Emperor (not Sir Alex Ferguson) but which staved off said threat by lighting up lanterns and setting off fireworks to give the impression that they had already been, to use the technical term, bombed to shit. Apparently it worked and now there are lots of lanterns in a moderately sized room in Blackpool to commemorate the fact.

Of slightly more interest were the landmarks. Models of Tower Bridge, the leaning tower of Pisa (amusingly referred to by one small boy doing the rounds as just ‘pizza’), the Sphynx and the Statue Of Liberty are diverting enough, but we could have well done without the laser show which some poor girl has to rock up on to the stage and perform every 15 minutes or so. Her bizarre green wig is clearly designed to glow in the dark but frankly made her look like a transvestite with very poor taste in head-dress. Her dance moves were meant to give the impression that she was moulding and shaping the lasered lights in spectacular style but actually indicated that she was filling time until the summer begins again and she can go and sod off to be a redcoat in Minehead. If none of this nauseates you quite enough there is an accompanying quiz to complete as you go around the rooms to view the exhibition. I say quiz, it looks like a £2 Lotto scratchcard with multiple choice answers to taxing questions, the gist of which is basically ‘can you count?’. I suspect this might be aimed at a younger audience rather than a grumpy biff approaching 40.

Within a merciful amount of time we were on our way down to the football ground. This was the reason we were here, after all. Well, it is the reason we picked this particular weekend. Blackpool FC, currently languishing at the very bottom of the Championship, were hosting Emma’s Sheffield Wednesday. Sheffield Wednesday could very well be a term meaning mediocrity in a foreign language, but I always enjoy going to see their games. Just for the experience. I’m priced out of going to Liverpool who, in any case, probably operate a similarly scandalous policy to Manchester United and Everton when it comes to disabled fans. Basically they tell you which games you can go to because they haven’t got enough space to accommodate you. Only two or three Premier League grounds have stadia which meet the minimum requirement for the amount of wheelchair accessible seating which is a bloody scandal. Liverpool are not one of those who comply. Why would they? It’s expensive and they have got Kolo Toure’s wages to pay. Blackpool, on the other hand, is a club which is relatively easy to visit as an away fan. Probably because they are not very good.

After around 20 minutes ambling up the prom towards Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road ground pointing out potential chippy stops for the way back to the hotel, we happened upon a pub which we thought might be a nice spot for a pre-game beverage. The Lifeboat Inn is situated just off the promenade, a fact which had already attracted several Sheffield Wednesday fans. You can spot Wednesday fans a mile off. Well, you can if you are aware that Wednesday play in blue and white vertical stripes. What I was not aware of was a sign on the door which read;


Ignoring this completely and focusing only on whether the pub would have wheelchair access and a spare seat for Emma, I crashed through the door. If you hadn’t seen the sign you could be forgiven for thinking it was all on one level. The step was very small. I thought about this as my front wheels went over it, dug into the carpet and lifted the back end of my chair inexorably up into the air. It was one of those moments which I am sure all wheelchair users have experienced when they know they are going to fall out of their chair but they don’t really have an awful lot of input into the question of how to stop themselves. It being such a small drop I knew I wasn’t going to hurt myself as I put my hands out to break my fall. But I also knew that the embarrassment was going to be considerable. That’s quite something to have to contemplate for the one or two seconds it takes to hit the deck. In a flash I was on my hands and knees, my ankles in their traditional fall-out-of-wheelchair position, trapped inside my footplate. After much wriggling and trying to avoid eye contact with the girl sat directly opposite the front door who must have been quite startled by the man literally falling through the door, I managed to free my ankles from my chair. Half of Blackpool rushed to pick me up which, as fellow wheelchair users will also know, is the absolute slowest way for anyone who has recently fallen out of their chair to get back into it. Politely declining all offers of help and continuing to avoid eye contact with anyone, I clambered back into my chair.

We left.

Further up the promenade there is a pub called The Manchester. It sounded very much like the Wednesday fans had taken residence already as we passed it. You don’t hear ‘Hi-ho Sheffield Wednesday’ in The Manchester on a normal day, I wouldn’t have thought. Yet the front of the pub was not accessible and so we were directed to the side door and advised to go up in the lift to the family room. This meant missing out on the loutish sing-song behaviour of the Wednesday fans first hand (although we could still hear them from upstairs) but after falling into The Lifeboat I was prepared to settle for less. We sat at a table and drank soft drinks, partly because of last night’s exploits and partly because by this time there was only going to be time for one, and I don’t really do one. At least it was reasonably quiet and there was no problem getting served. Getting to the toilet was a little more problematic, principally because a young boy was getting an absolute scolding from his mother for failing to notify her of the fact that he needed a wee. Across the room was a young man wearing a Saints jumper. We get everywhere. I doubt very much whether he was here to see Sheffield Wednesday.

We found the ground just by following the crowd. We’d been before on our last visit but we couldn’t remember the way. On that occasion I had my photo taken with the statue of Stan Mortenson. We’d wanted to buy tickets for the football then, for a game against Hull City, but it had been moved from the Saturday to the Monday by the game’s governing body, Sky Sports. Outside the ground this time there was a loud protest against the Blackpool chairman Karl Oyston. Oyston has presided over a string of disasters over the last few years since the club spent the 2010/11 season in the Premier League. Two weeks before this campaign began they only had eight registered first team players. Then manager Jose Riga performed relative miracles to get a full team out on to the pitch for their season opener with Nottingham Forest in August but couldn’t mould them into a winning side. He was predictably sacked, since when Lee Clark has struggled similarly which, as far as this group of fans chanting for Oyston’s removal are concerned, is primarily down to a lack of investment and broken promises from the chairman. Blackpool are rock bottom of the Championship and are almost certain to be relegated to the third tier at the end of the season. It is all a far cry from Charlie Adam's set-pieces and the Premier League.

Hindering Blackpool further is the state of their pitch. It’s like a farmer’s field. It cuts up horrifically and from our position just behind the advertising boardings at ground level we spend a lot of time avoiding chunks of turf that have been dislodged by sliding players. It’s a sideline view for away fans at Bloomfield Road. My Blackpool supporting friend had warned me that it was grim and, though it wasn’t exactly palatial, I was pleasantly surprised at how bearable it was. My friend has obviously never been to Knowsley Road in January. Chief turf-flinging culprit is Wednesday’s Jeremy Helan. He’s normally a winger but today he is doing a passable impersonation of the worst left-back in league football. It’s not so much that he is easy to get past. It’s more that when he wins or receives the ball he treats it like a hand grenade and smacks it as far and as aimlessly down the field as possible. To be honest the entire 90 minutes is a masterclass in head tennis and over-hit crosses. Wednesday striker Atdhei Nuhiu is in familiarly hilarious form, falling over with prolific regularity, smashing one chance straight into the legs of Blackpool goalkeeper Eliot Parish and missing the target with another from a free header. In the end the game is won by Lewis McGuguan’s inswinging free-kick from the Wednesday left, which Parish cannot decide what to do with as he waits for someone to get a touch. He ends up doing nothing as nobody gets a touch and it nestles in the far corner.

As we leave the ground the Oyston protestors have decided not to renew hostilities with the chairman and all is quiet. Apart from the murmurings of the fans as they amble away discussing one of the least eventful games of football in living memory. Like many other Wednesday fans we call in at a chippy on the way back to the hotel. I don’t normally eat fish from chippies but decide to give it a go. Fish and chips seems like exactly the sort of thing you should eat after you have been to the football. It’s quite nice as chippies go, with table service included. You don’t get table service in my local chippy. You get to shout your order at them from the bottom of the six foot step they have actually inserted since a refurbishment. DDA. Here in Blackpool the bloke serving us ruins it slightly by getting tetchy when I remind him that I ordered bread and butter. I genuinely thought he had forgotten because he brought our food over and then asked us to remind him what drinks we had ordered. So I mentioned the bread and butter and he told me, helpfully because I couldn’t see this for myself, that he only has one pair of hands.

We go out late Saturday night. Unlike last night there is no rugby league to get to the pub for and we are unlikely to get chucked out early on a Saturday night in Blackpool so there is plenty of time. We start at Yates, where the same girl comes over three times and offers us Jagerbombs. We decline every time, but are reminded of Bob Willis’ withering assessment of Gary Balance’s drunken antics in a Nottingham nightspot. His emphasis was very much on the word ‘Jagerbomb’ as if he had never heard of it before and was at a loss to understand why anybody would want such a thing. Similar to how I regard anything from the Fast And Furious franchise. Or Jeremy Clarkson.

From there it was on to The Layton Rakes, another Wetherspoons pub naturally enough. It’s much quieter than Yates’ with not a Jagerbomb or an England cricketer in sight. Although there is the odd roudy hen party to contend with. There is apparently a roof top bar but it is a little chilly to try it out tonight. For those of you who read this column for access information the toilets are upstairs but there is a lift. When I used it I was surprised also to see that there is another bar area on the upper floor, one which was even quieter and more Jagerbomb-free than the one on the ground level. If you want to get served quickly this is for you. Had I known I probably would have suggested we sit there to save me getting in and out of the lift whenever the need arose, but you live and learn.

As we made our way back to the hotel the weather had improved, with very little wind. Perhaps we would get to go to the top of Blackpool Tower on Sunday.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Blackpool Part One - Friday

It’s been a really long time since I last went to Blackpool. More than five years. Possibly 10. This blog recounts tales of all sorts of far more exotic trips. Las Vegas, Florida, New York, Barcelona….er……Bath. Blackpool all seems a bit retro. A place you’d go years ago before you could hop on a plane to some sunny European hotspot for the price of a night out in town. It took Sheffield Wednesday’s recent trip to Bloomfield Road to play Blackpool in a crunch mid-to-lower table Championship clash to bring an end to this barren spell of Blackpool-lessness. I don’t think it will be so long before we go back again.

It was a bloody nice place to be. Even for the time of year. This might have something to do with the fact that had I not been in Blackpool I would have been stuck in the office laboriously bashing a keyboard or sifting through the debris on my desk. But a very good time was had by all (well, me and Emma) even if not everything went absolutely 100% according to plan. If everything went 100% according to plan it just wouldn’t be us and it almost certainly would not be a story that had any chance of finding its way on to these pages.

We stayed at the Ibis Styles hotel on the seafront which as it turns out is right opposite the north pier. After setting off on Friday lunchtime and finding ourselves in Blackpool in not much more than an hour, we then proceeded to waste another 45 minutes driving around in state of bafflement as we tried to find the place. The satnav continually led us to a dead end that had been pedestrianized, which it would do considering it was programmed somewhere in between the Falklands War and Italia 90. Eventually we pulled up outside of a large multi-storey car park and Emma phoned the hotel to ask for directions. They told us to park in the car park that we were at that very moment sat outside. Which we thought was great at the time but didn't turn out to be great advice. Yes it involved a discount in partnership with the hotel but it was a good 10 minute walk down the hill to the hotel from there. Which meant it would be uphill on the way back.

Check-in was supposed to be from 12.00. By 2.15 we were at reception being politely informed that the room was not quite ready and that we were invited to sit in the bar/restaurant area and have a drink while we waited. At that point it registered how unrealistic a 12.00 check-in had been. Not only because we were never going to make it to the hotel by then, but also because check-out is also 12.00. There has to be some time in between for the maids to go in and pee in your wardrobe or whatever it is they do. One small orange juice (with bits in) later we were ushered back towards reception and given our room key.

Only the bathroom was too small. Emma hadn’t asked for a disabled room which, while you might think a slight oversight, is not ordinarily a problem. Most hotels have bathrooms big enough for me to get my chair into. As wheelchair users go I’m not in the big league when it comes to wheelchair width. Even those who are usually don’t have this problem in my experience. Whenever we spent the night at a hotel on an away trip with the basketball team I cannot recall too many people complaining that they couldn’t fit their wheelchair into the bathroom. You book a disabled room if you have to have a shower seat or a toilet handrail or if you are really lucky and are living the luxury hotel dream, a set of windows which open from a height of less than eight feet. I can get by for a weekend without any of these things, and a bathroom door the width of one you might find on an aeroplane was not something we had considered. We headed back to reception and, after another wait in the bar/restaurant area, were moved to an accessible room. Naturally, it had twin beds because we all know by now the rule about how The Undateables don’t sleep with other human beings. Not in the same bed. Don’t be revolting, darling. When I flagged up this potential problem I was assured by the receptionist that some kind of jiggery pokery could be performed on the bed while we were out that afternoon to make it become one. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the trickery and cunning behind that. I’m just a little troubled at the assumption that you make an accessible room a twin room first and then a double on request.

After all that we went for a walk on the prom and happened upon the tourist information centre. Normally these are the kind of tat emporiums that would make Mike Ashley blush and you would expect that to be especially the case in one of England’s most famous seaside resorts. Yet Blackpool’s selection of souvenirs and trip reminders is fairly minimalist. Emma couldn’t even find a Christmas tree bauble. It has somehow become customary for us to buy a Christmas tree bauble whenever we find ourselves in a tourist information centre or gift shop. Our Christmas tree had an array of interesting baubles with representations of everything from New York to the Houses Of Parliament. We’d have been able to show these off over the festive season had we had any visitors, or had we been remotely inclined to answer the front door if we’d had any visitors. I was involved in a discussion about this recently and was pleasantly surprised to find that there are many other people who do not answer their front doors. When I was a kid ignoring the front door was the last word in rudeness, but now it appears that nobody wants to open their homes even for a few minutes just in case those looking in are religious freaks or bloody cold caller salesmen. As the culture of authorised harassment has developed, so we have responded by locking our doors and refusing to hear anything but whatever is playing on our Sky+ boxes. We’re all the better for it, I think.

What the tourist information lacked in Christmas tat it made up for in tickets for local attractions. They have probably reasoned that there are endless other places on the Golden Mile where you might be able to buy a Christmas tree bauble or a key-ring or a hat with a cringeworthy slogan on it. One with fake limbs sticking out of the top of it perhaps, or some sort of representation of a bloody weapon to give the impression that the wearer has had their head sliced open. Ho, ho, ho, put it with that fake turd you put on your grandma’s seat during last year’s Christmas lunch. All that is freely available elsewhere so the tourist information centre has decided to instead offer tickets to the local attractions at slightly reduced prices. We bought tickets to go up to the top of Blackpool Tower, and for an indoor illuminations experience called Illuminasia. I was surprised for some reason to learn that the outdoor illuminations for which Blackpool is so famous only run for nine or 10 weeks in the autumn. Apparently the purpose of that is to make people feel better about the end of summer, or at least it was originally. Now it is to clog up the M6. In its stead they have built an indoor illuminations ‘experience’ at the Winter Gardens. We were reminded of this every time we looked outside of our hotel room window as it was plastered all over a large screen next to the north pier.

By this time we had been in Blackpool for a good couple of hours without visiting a pub. It was time to put that right. There’s a Whetherspoons on the prom called The Albert And The Lion which seemed like a good spot for a Friday afternoon beverage. As you enter from the front you are immediately greeted by a large step or three to the main bar area, so if stairs are not your thing (and they are really not mine) you have to whizz around to the left hand side and use the small lift. It carries just one person (maybe two if someone stands on it with you) and is one of those with a button that you have to keep your finger on to keep the thing moving. At the top is a small gate which wouldn’t shut on the way out. If the gate doesn’t shut, the lift doesn’t move. At least five people saw my comical efforts to shut the gate and seemed to take it in turns to make the situation worse and more embarrassing. Finally a member of staff came over and, after what seemed like a fair degree of reckless walloping, finally managed to get the gate shut and therefore get me out of the place.

The plan for the evening was to find a pub where we could watch Saints’ Super League match at Wakefield on Sky. The Albert And The Lion was out because Wetherspoons don’t really do live sport, and a quick glance around Walkabout yielded no success. They had some small screens which might have been useful but there was no accessible seating. Everyone seemed to be stood up, in fact. And there was loud dance music playing. The kind that I thought had been banished to oblivion in about 1991 but which, apparently, is still allowed in public. We moved on to The Litten Tree just around the corner. Kick-off was only half an hour away so before buying anything I asked the barman if he would be able to put the game on. It wasn’t a given. This was not rugby league country. He was quite agreeable about it and told me that all of the televisions currently showing the snooker would have the rugby league on by kick off. As we took our drinks and found a corner by a snooker-showing screen a besuited man of staggering self importance asked me if I could see the screen. I explained to him that I had asked the barman to put the rugby on in a minute, and he looked at me like I had asked if we could watch a litter of puppies being executed live.

“Really?” his friend asked me dismissively. A friend who it has to be said looked suspiciously like the absolutely not in any way real paedophile and murderer Joe Miller from Broadchurch.

“Really.” I said. Thankfully there was a couple on the table next to us who seemed more interested. One of them asked me if I had happened to see Leeds Rhinos’ game the previous night. I had an ally in my quest to get the game on, none of which helped the barman to put the thing on the screen that he said he would. Instead he put it on the screen which had been showing Sky Sports News, meaning I had to turn around completely from where I had been sitting and was now directly next to Emma, with no access to our table if I wanted to see the screen. At a certain point during the first half we were turfed out of our position completely as the staff wanted to move the tables to create dancing space. Dancing should be outlawed, especially among men. But to interrupt a Saints game for it is well….it’s just heinous. In the 30 seconds or so it too for us to locate another table in front of another rugby league-showing screen Wakefield had scored a try to cancel out the one that Saints had crossed for earlier. The next hour was spent in various states of distress as an injury-plagued Saints crawled over the line by a score of 20-16. All the while, a balding man with a southern accent was barfing on to me about how he had ‘seen the one that England play…but never rugby league’. The one that England play? Bugger me sideways. The RFL’s marketing department take an awful lot of stick but sometimes you have to take a look at what they are up against. By the end the balding man with the southern accent was expressing his surprise about how entertaining rugby league is, which is not a secret at all to sensible people and is in fact the default reaction of any union-loving ignoramus who watches league for the first time without any biased input from John Fucking Inverdale or Jeremy Fucking Guscott.

Thankful for the win we moved on to Soul Suite. If you like a bar to have character and a little something different then this is the place for you. So many bars you go in now are dull and featureless affairs playing a mixture of X-Factor filth and dance durges. Soul Suite plays nothing but soul as the name suggests, and usually has live singers. The live acts are of varying degrees of quality, admittedly. But even the crap ones are entertaining when you compare them to some dullard DJ flirting with the only two girls on the dance floor in Chicago Fecking Rock. It’s certainly preferable to standing around in a Walkabout which is too loud to even entertain the notion of conversation and which is playing the sort of music you can only enjoy if you have taken a sizeable amount of crystal meth.

We weren’t the only people to prefer a bit of soul in our lives. The balding man who watches The One England Play had made his way over from the Litten Tree also and was continuing our discussion at the bar. It turns out he was a Charlton Athletic football fan, and he was bewildered and seemingly slightly annoyed when I told him that I had been to The Valley watching Saints against London Broncos. So not The One England Play, then. Despite my clear memory of sitting on the sideline at The Valley with former Saints coach Ian Millward sat on the other side of Emma, the balding man who watches The One England Play wasn’t having it. Rugby league does not exist within earshot of a tally-ho of Twickers.

Having left him we just about managed to find a seat in the bar and spent the next couple of hours watching people clown it up on the dance floor. One man stood tall above everyone, a greying figure who must have been close to six feet ten in height. No matter what track was playing he applied the same shoulder thrusting, demented duck dance moves to it. He was completely indefatigable too. He never had a breather. Quite boundless energy for a man who must have been pushing 60. Ian from Burnley was well over that age by the looks of him, and a good two feet shorter than the dancing duck. He wore a smart jacket and hat combo and spent large parts of his evening dancing away and trying to ignore the legions of knobheads attempting to patronise him to death as he did so. I’ve been in that boat, by the way. Anyone reading this who is both a wheelchair user and who has had the misfortune to find themselves in my vicinity on a dance floor in our younger days will know the feeling all too well. Some attractive lady comes up and starts talking to you and then she wants to dance. You hate dancing but you know this is how the game is played and so you tolerate it for a while and you dance and then…..

She wants to dance with your mate aswell….

Which would be ok. People are free to choose who they dance with after all. But if you do want to dance with someone other than my teenage self then please make sure you do so at a different time than the one at which you intend to dance with me. Otherwise you are likely to be on the receiving end of a fearful volley of abuse which serves no purpose other than to get me all worked up and to present the disabled in yet another bad light. The old chip on your shoulder light. I’ve got a chip on my shoulder because I am not prepared to tolerate the notion of sitting around with my best friend, each of us holding on to one hand of some dim tart we wouldn’t ordinarily waste our time on if we hadn’t just inhaled 20 pints of Stella. Now fuck off.

One of Ian from Burnley’s tormentors was a young man clad ludicrously in the sort of Ellesse tracksuit top that would have been de rigeur when Pat Cash won Wimbledon but is now useful only as a subject of parody and ridicule. Like the tall greying man he refused to consider that any differences in the music might influence his choice of dance moves, only his choreography was even further out of place, laced as it was with Ian Brown/Stone Roses type shuffles and arm waving, with perhaps half a soupcon of an attempt at some mad for it head movements. He repeatedly tried to grab hold of Ian from Burnley’s hand and raise it above both of their heads as if he were a boxing referee declaring the old man middleweight champion of the world. Straw-weight perhaps. Ian from Burnley was about six stone even if he had waded into the sea.

The live singer was Lance and to be honest, he was pretty average. He could carry a tune and he wore a sharp suit, but he’d never have made it into any of the 436 versions of The Drifters currently doing the rounds. None of which stopped any of our favourite dancing doofuses from lapping up every note and every word he sang with great delight. We left at around midnight I would guess with the tall dancing duck, Ian from Burnley and Not Ian from The Stone Roses still going strong like relentless Duracell Soul Bunnies.

But our day was done. The plan for tomorrow was to hit the top of the tower before a pre-game beverage and a post-game chippy dinner. It sort of worked out…….