Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Amy Versus The Cinema-Going Public

Britain, I'd like a word with you. I say Britain, I mean anywhere where there might be people bored enough to be reading this on a Tuesday night. This involves you wherever you live. You're all equally bloody culpable.

I've just been to the cinema with my sister to see Amy, a film documentary about the late, great Amy Winehouse. Emma didn't want to go because she's not a fan but that's alright. I'm not here to foist my musical tastes upon everyone. We can't all drive around singing Joss Stone songs at 250 decibels. That would be stupid. I can understand that not everybody likes their drug-addled, deceased jazz singers as much as I do either. That's not my problem, my problem is this.

We never got to see Amy and it is your fault, Britain (and other parts this blog may reach and in which rabid commercialism takes precedence over genuine art). We arrived at Cineworld about 20 minutes before the scheduled start of the film only to be told, upon ordering the tickets, that Amy has been cancelled. A screen has broken. Oh how unlucky, right? On the very night I want to go to see Amy the screen upon which it is being shown is broken. What bad luck. Except it wasn't bad luck, it was bad taste. And you're responsible.

You see, the screen which broke was not the one scheduled to be showing Amy at 7.45 this evening. It was another one, but as a result of this they had to have a 'reshuffle' we were told. Amy was brutally and tastelessly sacrificed so that they could carry on showing moronic guff like Minions, fucking Ant-Man and the latest in a long line of absurd Arnie vehicles. It doesn't take a genius to work out that this is because these turgid titles make more money at the box office than Amy will. And that is because you, Britain and other parts this blog may reach and in which rabid commercialism takes precedence over genuine art, are more likely to spend your money on the latter than you are on Amy. Why would you want to watch a film about one of the greatest musical talents this country has ever produced when you can watch another twat in spandex showing off his bogus, trumped up super power? Or a band of annoying little yellow creatures who tried but failed to ruin the humour in Despicable Me. Or a wrinkly old grope-meister and Republican shooting up shit with Khaleesi by his side.

Not wishing to fly in the face of public opinion in too controversial a fashion I have kept quiet about this for a long time now but the truth is I am bored shitless with superhero films. What is it about our daily lives which forces us to lap up this dense wtfery so regularly? Put a group of caped bellends together in the same film and the country wets itself in anticipation. Even the idea of Ben Affleck in a batsuit has managed to get past the studio bosses who know all too well that they'll make millions out of it. There's no place for realism, even among an audience whom I assume stopped believing in men that could fly a long, long time ago. Often they will have retarded titles like Batman Versus Superman, Alien Versus Predator or A Big Sack Of Cash Versus Worthwhile Musical Endeavour. Are we so desperate for escapism that we want all semblance of reality removed from our cinema entertainment? I weep for a society that places special effects, explosions and dodgy masks above story telling and character. One in which acting is an afterthought and it is entirely possible, advisable even, to start your Hollywood career in the wrestling ring.

I suppose I should be glad that Amy is showing in my local cinema at all. It was scheduled for cinema release on July 3 but only hit Satan's Little Acre this past week. There was no room for it, no demand for it. No money in it. It is still not showing in either Widnes or Warrington, both of which we checked in a doomed attempt to avoid the evening becoming a complete write-off. Which to my mind, apart from being infuriating and a waste of my time and petrol and the ruination of what would have been a perfectly good evening, is one of the saddest things about the world we live in. If there was any justice people would be queuing around the corner to see documentary film making of this kind. Instead the man selling the tickets barely remembered that it was due on, much less that it had been cancelled. He actually had to refer to a sign on the kiosk desk.

Just like you reading this perhaps, nobody working in Cineworld seemed to care. When we asked a member of staff if they could guarantee that it would be shown tomorrow night at the scheduled time she could not confirm. All she could do was give us a direct line to the cinema so that we could ring ahead to check on their latest reshuffle. If the screen cannot be fixed by then it is reasonable to assume that it will be Amy that gets the boot again. And as much as I loathe the capitalist, commercialism behind this sort of decision I can't really blame them. They only exist to make money and I know this and don't expect any better of them.

It's you I blame.

Monday, 6 July 2015

The Ticket Saga Rumbles On

First the good news, because what follows does not contain very much of that. So here goes. I have tickets for the Challenge Cup semi-final between Saints and Leeds on July 31. In the North East corner, which is sort of near the Saints fans maybe. Or something.

So anyway you will remember how I was blatantly misled by the Saints website into believing that I, as a season ticket holder of our exalted and glorious club, would be able to purchase tickets for the game ahead of the general sale just like everyone else who has a season ticket? And then how I turned up to the stadium only to be told that my money was no good there (or words to that effect) and that I would have to contact the RFL. And you remember the ensuing, 1,000 word whinge about this incident?

Well I received a tweet from Saints telling me that they would look into it for me. All very generous, except that all they did was confirm what we already knew, which was that they were not able to sell them to me. They haven’t quite explained why the information on their website was incorrect although I suspect they are not arguing the point. Something has made them feel guilty enough to contact me following my earlier blog.

The best (or worst) part of all of this preamble to actually getting the tickets was the gentleman on Facebook who was arguing with me hammer and tongs about whether I should have the right to buy tickets through the club first because of my season ticket holder status. He had a disabled daughter, he told me, and he has won awards for championing the rights of disabled people and it was his view that it is entirely fair and sensible that wheelchair users should contact the RFL. The argument seems to be that there are only a limited number of spaces and so…..and so what? There are only a limited number of spaces for everyone and that has been the case at sports events probably since the Taylor report made stadia more safe. If clubs can’t sell tickets to wheelchair users then how can they reasonably suggest that they can sell them to anyone? However many you have available, why would you not split that figure between the clubs and allow the respective season ticket holders first dibs, as you do with non-disabled tickets? The reasons why this cannot happen are unknown and my head hurts just thinking about it frankly. Incidentally I’m sure the gentleman on Facebook has done an awful lot for disability in this country but you know, Ron Atkinson did an awful lot for black footballers in Britain and still got the sack for being a racist. Like Lee Harvey Oswald, sometimes we are judged on our one-offs.

And so to today’s absurd correspondence with the RFL over the actual tickets. The semi-final is 25 days away as I write and so there was no other way I was going to get them than to comply with their discriminatory policy and call the ticket line. When I did, and made the booking, I asked the customer service operator why it was the RFL’s policy not to allow wheelchair users to buy tickets for these events through their clubs in the same way that non wheelchair users do. Of course this is an unfair question. Part of my work involves dealing with telephone enquiries and I am all too aware that it is not his decision, and that actually it is just his misfortune to be employed to deal with angry people who are questioning shit decisions made higher up. I know how that feels and I explained to him that I was not blaming him, I just wanted to see if he knew what the reason was for the bizarre policy.

He actually went away to double check it. Double check it? Fuck. Brilliantly, the answer to this now well-worn riddle is that only the RFL know the stadia that are being used to host the events and so the clubs would not have a very good grasp on where the best places would be to sit wheelchair users. Yes, it is impossible in the view of the RFL to train staff employed by a rugby league club to be able to tell wheelchair using customers where the accessible seating might be in another team’s stadium, and to let them make an informed choice on buying tickets based on that information. Forgive me….how do they know where the best place is to sit for non-disabled people? A stadium plan you say? On a bit of paper? Using things like colours, numbers and letters to identify sections of the ground. Fuck off. Can’t be done.

There’s more, as a famous and utterly crap Irish comedian of the 80’s used to say. The RFL’s man had not asked me if I was a season ticket holder before he sold me the tickets. When I pointed this out he adopted what can only be described as the stance of a rabbit caught in a very bright set of headlights, fumbling his words like Mumbles from Dick Tracey and then admitting that actually, it’s a fair cop, having a season ticket has no bearing on whether you get a ticket or not for an RFL event if you are a wheelchair user. Non-disabled season ticket holders at Saints have this week to secure their tickets before they go on general sale to the rest of you next week. I don’t. Wheelchair accessible tickets have been available from the RFL to any Thomas, Richard or Harold presumably since the dates and venues of the semi-finals were announced. It’s an open and shut case. As clear a case of discrimination as having separate shops for selling bread to black people and white people. Everyone gets their bread, but it doesn’t make it right, does it? And isn’t there a high risk that it might not be the bread they wanted?

Does anyone care except those of us affected? You’d be surprised at how many people do not. One person on Facebook accused me of thinking that the world owed me a living which is quite laughable. He went strangely quiet when I politely explained to him that actually I work Monday to Friday the same as everyone else and pay for a season ticket the same as everyone else. Despite some strides having been made in the field of equality, it is clear that some people still assume that to be disabled is to sit around on your ‘arris all day claiming benefit and trawling through social media so you can scream when something goes against you. There may be disabled people like that, in fact I can assure you that there are, but I’m not one of them and I resent the implication that I am. I don’t sit behind a boring desk in a boring office all day to be disrespected by clowns with pre-conceived ideas from 1964.

It’s very likely that I won’t be able to change this policy and the attitudes which perpetuate it with any number of angry phone calls, social media rants or even eloquent blogs. But I’m buggered if I am going to put up with it quietly.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Piss Off Saints....Just Piss Off

I'm characteristically fuming. At Saints. And not about last night's shambolic performance at Leeds. That was bad enough. Suffering through the ineptitude of Matty Dawson and Kyle Amor was enough to drive anyone over the edge, and when you add that to the embarrassing lack of effort on show from the likes of Luke Walsh you could easily start tearing up your season ticket before you have had a chance to think about it properly.

But no, the reason for my unfettered rage at our champion and completely tin-pot organisation is their policy on selling wheelchair accessible tickets for the Challenge Cup semi-final against Leeds at Warrington at the end of the month. I am a season ticket holder and have been since the club moved to Langtree Park in 2012. I'm pretty keen on all things Saints and rugby league. I also work very hard to promote both the club and the game by writing for an independent Saints website at least twice a week. So it was with some anticipation that I was checking the club's website daily this week for ticket information for the semi final against the Rhinos. Now keeping in mind that the club could not be contacted by phone this week as tickets were only available in person at the ticket office, this is what is written on the website in regards to ticket information for disabled supporters;

"Disabled (Wheelchair and Ambulant) are entitled to receive a complimentary carer's ticket upon production of valid ID. Disabled tickets are charged depending on age."

Now let's ignore the offensive and boring implication that all disabled fans need a carer, and focus on what that statement tells us about how to go about acquiring wheelchair accessible tickets. Does it say that they are not available from the club and that you should contact the RFL? Does it bollocks. And if it did say that, would it then explain why this should be? Why are disabled season ticket holders not afforded the same pre-sale rights as their able bodied counterparts? Do the powers that be at the clubs and at the RFL really consider it that much of a stretch to believe that a disabled season ticket holder would bother themselves to travel 20 minutes down the road for one of the biggest games of the season? If I didn't know better I would suggest that some suit full of shite at the RFL and Saints have looked at the DDA over a brew, decided what they need to do to comply with it to the bare minimum and gone out for a round of golf! It won't matter, they probably thought, nobody is actually going to try to turn up at the ticket office and attempt to buy a ticket. Fuck, why would they do that?

Anyone who has stuck by this column long enough may remember that something similar happened to me in my quest to get tickets for the Grand Final in October. The club threw it's hands up in the air and denied any responsibility for the sale of wheelchair accessible tickets and just directed me to the RFL. But at least they did so over the phone on that occasion. When I phoned the RFL they informed me that the only tickets available were in a 'neutral' area of the Old Trafford stadium. Quite when the definition of 'neutral' became 'right in the middle of the Wiganers' I'm not sure. We made the best of it and had an amusing exchange with a Wigan Walker near the end of the game, but if I'm being brutally honest I would rather have been in among the Saints fans on such a great day. I was denied this right despite being a season ticket holder and between them, the RFL and Saints seem to be trying to ensure that I am denied that right again for the Challenge Cup semi-final this year.

It's a shameful, shambolic encore to the tripe served up on the field by the team at Headingley last night.