Sunday, 11 June 2017

Singing On A Sofa With Your Dad While Morphing Into Daniel O'Donnell

I will get around to finishing the story of my latest health mishap but I just wanted to drop this in here to let you know that it hasn't all been bad recently. I have had some enjoyment amid the vile medicines, nebulisers and assaults on my limbs.

Having been released from the hospital on the Friday I was free to go to Manchester on the Saturday for the Robbie Williams gig at the Etihad Stadium. We stayed at The Brittannia which for those of you visiting these pages for access titbits is accessible only via the Wave Bar next door. The hotel concierge has to come outside and lead you through into the bar, which was as packed as you might expect a bar in Manchester city centre to be on a Saturday afternoon when Robbie Williams is in town, and use the lift to circumnavigate the steps which sit at the entrance to the hotel.

It's a spectacularly bad lift, too. Once you're inside the door doesn't open, almost as if they don't want you to use it without the concierge standing at the top waiting to open the door for you and let you out. Before you hit reception you are led through a very nice bar area. It was strangely quiet when we arrived there and the queue for checking in was beginning to stretch back towards Wave Bar. In this bar by reception four Budweisers sets you back £10. Anybody who drinks regularly in city centres knows you take that and tell checking in to your room that it can wait.

So a very pleasant couple of hours was passed storing up trouble for the days ahead via the medium of lager. Truth be told I knew there was a bit of risk involved in having a few beers after the shenanigans I'd been through earlier that week but how often are you going to a Robbie gig? How frequently do you expect to find yourself drinking reasonably priced Budweiser in a very nice if not totally accessible hotel? You have to live for today.

The plan was to get something to eat before getting on the tram over to the Etihad. Trams in Manchester are so much more accessible than trains. Despite the manic crowds at an event like this you are very unlikely to find yourself left on the platform swearing at a staff member who is not even trying to create the illusion that he gives a shit. For one thing the staff are helpful and therefore useful and for another the platforms are flat anyway. No ramps required, no phoning ahead to your destination to try to make sure you're not stranded. It's a system which, while not perfect, is very much aware that it is 2017 and not 1917.

We tried Wave Bar, Emma having had to take the stairs and play concierge to make sure I didn't spend the night in the lift, but like many other places it was too busy. One of the things about knocking about with biffs is that you have to find a seat for the able bodied person in a bar otherwise there's no point staying. You can't really have a conversation in a noisy bar if one of you has to stand up. You end up sitting in silence which is not particularly troubling if you're with someone you live with and have known for nearly 20 years but must look a bit odd to others. This is just one of the myriad things you able bodied types don't have to worry about. In that situation you can just stand together and have a drink and a chat. We had to go.

We found one American grill place but nothing on the menu that inspired, and Ask was offering a table only after a 45-minute wait. So we had a tuna sandwich in Pret-A-Manger, basically Ian Beale's cafe with an inflated sense of its own social standing. It served a purpose. An important gap was filled.

We did get chance to visit a couple of pubs before we got on the tram. There was a Wetherspoons in which I repeatedly tried to ask a woman if we could take the spare chair at her table only to discover when she eventually turned to face me that she was deaf. I was at the side of her but a level below at the bottom of a small set of steps. Until she turned her head she didn't even know I was there let alone that I was talking to her. I get that a lot with women so it came as some surprise when I realised that she was deaf. She gave us the chair. In the Piccadilly Tavern next door I spend a very pleasant 10 or 15 minutes watching Wigan get annhialated by Hull FC. No matter where I am in the world or what I'm doing there is always pleasure to be had in watching Wigan get battered.

I'll skip the tram journey and move swiftly on to moaning about the lack of WiFi or indeed any internet coverage at the Etihad Stadium. We had decent seats, closer than last time we saw Robbie there in 2013 but I had to go back out to the concourse to get on to the internet. It wasn't unlike A & E at Whiston in that regard although I still had high hopes of enjoying this experience rather more than I savoured a Shit Smoothie and a cannula or three.

Charged with helping me do that were Erasure. An almost forgotten relic of the late 80s and early 90s Erasure are as camp now as they were then. Singer Andy Bell has mercifully put away the shorts but still manages to somehow get away with strutting around in sparkly trousers. Now, as then, he is accompanied by several enthusiastic female dancers while bandmate Vince Clarke stands some distance away at the back of the stage strumming his guitar almost reluctantly, as if he isn't with any of these embarrassing exhibitionists at the front. He may not be all that visible but the whole shooting match would collapse without Vince.

There's no big screens in operation at this point. So it's just as well that I would much rather listen to Erasure than look at them. Bell's a very good live performer and his voice doesn't seem to lose anything live. It's surprising how many Erasure songs you know when you hear them again after 25 years or so. We all remember 'Sometimes' and 'Respect' but what about 'Victim Of Love', 'I Love To Hate You', 'Oh L'amour', 'Blue Savannah' and 'Chorus'? Bewilderingly, Erasure were able to play a 45-minute set of songs that I mostly knew without once having to resort to an Abba medley. When they left the stage I remember thinking that, far from dragging on, their set was a bit short.

But it was almost time. On each side of the stage were two massive screens, the shape of Robbie's head, chest and arms. With boxing gloves on. No, I don't know why either. His entrance, like a lot of his show, was somewhat self parodic. An alternative version of Land Of Hope & Glory, the words splashed across the Robbie-shaped screens. He's always had a bit of humour about him but he's full on playing this for laughs now. And then he appears, mercifully before it goes over into Russ Abbott territory, back to the crowd and dressed in a red boxers robe. It's all gloriously tacky. It's The Heavy Entertainment Show.

The first half an hour is rip-roaring. He follows the 'Heavy Entertainment Show' with a rousing and satisfyingly predictable rendition of 'Let Me Entertain You' and straight into one of my particular favourites 'Monsoon'. 'Party Like A Russian' is energetic enough to keep the place rocking even if it's not one I'd have chosen, and then it's the first of a couple of Take That numbers. There's not too much wrong with 'The Flood' and 'Never Forget' is almost universally loved whatever the state of Gary Barlow's tax bill. But if you're being churlish you might grumble about listening to Take That songs when you've paid to see Robbie Williams. I like both but not everybody does.

Robbie's first solo hit, before 'Angels' forced cynics like me to listen to Life Thru A Lens and take a different view, was a cover of George Michael's 'Freedom 90'. With Michael's relatively recent passing I suppose it's no surprise to see Williams belting out his own version at every live opportunity. It's quite a fitting tribute even if I just want him to play 'Karma Killer' and 'Me And My Monkey' instead. Before the soundtrack to my life that is 'Come Undone' he offers the anti-soundtrack to it, the altogether too cheery and positive 'I Love My Life'. It's a pleasant tune but I'm not feeling the sentiment, not even at a Robbie gig with a beer in my hand. I'm going back to the hospital in the morning.

Presumably to give himself a rest Robbie then opts for a bit of a chat to the audience, in between a medley of seemingly random songs performed a capella. Like The Flying Pickets. No? Ask your dad. These include 'Living On A Prayer' by Bon Jovi, 'Take On Me' by A-Ha, 'Rehab' by Amy Winehouse and others finished off with a bit of Take That's 'Everything Changes'. Well....he did sing the lead on that one at the time. Buried within are a couple of bona fide Robbie tunes such as 'She's The One' and 'Old Before I Die' but again it's a little off topic for the more hardline Robbie enthusiast.

Then things get really strange. There's a guest appearance from Rick Astley. Yes, it's really him bellowing out 'Never Gonna Give You Up' and he's doing so in a way that Robbie can't match. Astley owns that song so yeah, you can join in, but don't be offended if you get out-performed even if you are Robbie Williams. How much you enjoy it depends very much on your attitude towards nostalgia and to Stock, Aitken And Waterman classics. I enjoyed it but can we have 'No Regrets' now? 'Something Beautiful'?

No. After Rick we get the dreadful 'Rudebox', a perfect opportunity for more drinks from the bar. 'Kids' is more like it but it seems that Astley's old stable-mate Kylie couldn't be persuaded to appear. The stand in is an outstanding singer but well....she'll never be Kylie any more than I'll ever be Robbie or Rick Astley. As guest singers go though the next one sees the show reach an uncomfortable nadir. Things can only get better from here as Robbie introduces his dad Pete, a club singer more at home on Phoenix Nights than in a packed football stadium. As father and son sit together on a couch singing ' Sweet Caroline' I remember noting darkly how far removed this is from Knebworth. Robbie had a bit of attitude then, a bit of rock'n'roll. If he keeps this schmalzy sentiment up he'll be about as relevant as sir Cliff before he turns 45. Maybe he doesn't care any more but he's morphing into Daniel O'Donnell.

He does lift his game with a sensational performance of 'Feel', but that's a song written when Robbie Williams was Robbie Williams. Troubled, hedonistic and prone to bouts of drug and alcohol-fuelled depression. He's found happiness now. Marriage, kids...which is great but it's all a bit happy-clappy for me. Before the encore there's just time for 'Rock DJ' which is a song I hate but is at least performed with the vigour and actual oomph that is classically Robbie.

The encore is spectacular. Eagle eyes will have noted that he hasn't done 'Angels' yet so there's that. Say what you like about Robbie but 'Angels' is one of the greatest songs ever written. People gnash their teeth and mutter about pop music, painting their walls black and burning their Kings Of Leon albums as soon as they get a hit record, but you will struggle to find a more brilliantly structured pop ballad than 'Angels'. It will be played 100 years from now much like the very best offered by Elvis or The Beatles. Hopefully 'Rudebox' will not.

Accompanying the mighty 'Angels' is a version of 'Strong' adapted in tribute to the victims of the recent Manchester Arena terror attack. You may have seen him perform it at Ariana Grande's benefit gig at Old Trafford the following night. I can confirm that he hit the high notes here much more easily than he did at Ariana's gig. He was demonstrably struggling by then. By the way Ariana... Again, pop music might not be your thing and I'd never heard any of her music before the bombing, but the way she has carried herself throughout the whole ordeal has been nothing short of heroic. She's an inspiration and they ought to give her the freedom of Manchester.

Back to Robbie, and the crowd pleasing 'My Way' to finish. This is in my own ropey karaoke repertoire which gives you an idea of how easy it is to sing. But it is no less enjoyable for all that, much like Robbie's performance as a whole. It's Heavy Entertainment, and the only thing I'd change about it is....well.....the set list....

Friday, 9 June 2017

Swigging On A Shit Smoothie As Your Arms Fall Off

It's been an eventful week.

This time last week I had got home from work and started to feel my heart beating a little too fast. It had actually started on the Tuesday but when it settled down throughout the day on Wednesday I thought it had passed. But by the time I'd got home and eaten it was quickening, my breath was shortening and I could feel a feint tingle in my arms. I woke up very early on Thursday morning, unable to sleep. The quickening was rapidly becoming a palpitation if not a pounding. I was going back to the hospital.

I'd been here before of course. In 2013 I spent two July nights in Whiston Hospital during which I had to endure a permanent catheter and spent several nervous hours awaiting the results of a kidney scan. At that point I hadn't had my kidney function measured since 2007. I didn't want to know, frankly. Buried my head in the sand. If my kidneys were going to fail they were going to do so as I fell from my chair in some dingy karaoke bar, not after years of life-altering dialysis. I still feel that way about it. The only difference is that now, having had that experience, I've learned that there are ways and means of keeping the worst at bay. But those ways and means involve engaging with a nephrologist three or four times a year and taking a boat load of drugs like a good boy. You do what you must.

So I had some idea what to expect with these symptoms when I arrived at A & E early on Thursday morning. The first thing they do is a blood test and an ECG. The first of many, countless blood tests as it turned out. The nurse couldn't find a vein. She jabbed me twice in my right arm and twice in my left, all after several minutes of tapping and general manipulation of my apparently bloodless limbs. No joy. She suggested that it might be because, this being early morning, I could be dehydrated. I hadn't thought to have a drink before I came out. I just wanted to get to the hospital, get on with the business in hand and get home.

The ECG had shown my heart rate at 108 bpm. This is above what is considered the normal range for anybody but for me it's outrageously high. Anyone who knows me well will testify that I am not exactly excitable. My heart rate would be unlikely to raise to that level unless I was being chased by a lion or I'd opened my wardrobe to find Jennifer Lawrence hiding in it. I haven't even got a wardrobe. Not one you can hide in and certainly not if you're an instantly recognisable Hollywood superstar.

With the nurse unable to locate my blood I was moved to a small treatment room within A & E. The doctor would have to try. Dr Bob. Bob wasn't his full name but that's what they called him. His full name was unpronouncable and for it to appear here would rely on my having seen it written somewhere online and the use of copy and paste. It seemed odd at the time to think that Dr Bob would have any greater blood testing skills than the nurse. Surely she does it more often while he's away looking at charts, making life-changing decisions and whispering? Doctors do an awful lot of whispering in my experience. It makes me nervous and adds to my dislike of them. Predictably, Dr Bob couldn't find a vein either. It must have taken him another half a dozen attempts during which he was not shy about moving the angle of the needle in my arm to try to persuade more blood to flow. The medical equivalent of twisting the knife. They do some heroic work medical professionals but it takes a certain type of someone to be able to wiggle a needle around in someone's vein so matter-of-factly.

Finally successful, he left me in that tratment room alone for fully 45 minutes except for the time it took to hobble back to the waiting area to phone my boss at work to let her know what was going on There was no mobile signal in the treatment room and while it's probably fair enough to assume that patients in need of urgent attention aren't going to prioritise updating their Facebook status it would have been nice to have been able to make a phone call from where I was. They offered me the use of their phone but that still would have involved a pathetic shuffle to another room. I was already feeling the effects of the multiple injections I'd been having in the search for my blood. It's hard to push a chair when your wrists and arms are bruising up.

I needed a cannula. The waiting - 45 minutes for Dr Bob to come back and check on me and easily another hour waiting for the result of the test - ended with the news that my potassium was at 7.4, over two points above what is considered safe. The short explanation for this is that mashed kidneys like mine can't get rid of potassium as a healthy kidney can. Something to do with a lowering of sodium bicarbonate, to give you what Jennifer Anniston used to call the science bit. So the cannula - in layman's terms a tube inserted into the body as a means of getting unpalatable but useful substances into the body - was specifically so that I could immediately be drip fed sodium bicarbonate, glucose and insulin.

I was familiar with those things from my 2013 visit. They're standard for dragging your potassium levels down from the stratosphere. Yet there were a couple of surprises in store. Firstly came the nebuliser, a breathing mask held to the nose and mouth which enables you to basically inhale mist with destructive properties. They use it to treat cystic fibrosis. I had a friend who had to use one every day at school. Probably still does. Not at school, obviously but you know what I mean. Yet here I am dramatising 15 minutes of it for your reading pleasure. I don't know I'm born. In truth it isn't particularly unpleasant. Just annoying and a bit disconcerting the first time you are asked to use it. It helped to relieve the shortness of breath almost immediately to be fair. Tsk...medical experts....Still, I wouldn't want to have to use it regularly. It's I would find as I was repeatedly presented with it by the nurses in the days that followed.

The second surprise was a notch up on the unpleasantness scale. The nurse distracted me with chit-chat about how she knew me from my job, before placing a small paper cup down on the trolley in front of me. She told me she'd need me to drink the contents, that it was something else that would help bring my potassium level down. I wasn't keen to begin with. I'm a tablets person more than a medicines person. Who isn't? I've never encountered any medicine that tasted like anything other than liquid animal waste, and this wasn't going to buck the trend by the looks of it. It was an orangey-brown shade, the colour of a cup of tea you made two weeks ago and forgot to either drink or pour down the sink. It tasted every bit as foul as it looked. That sour, putrid taste so common in medicines was accompanied by a vile chalkiness of the kind you might expect to encounter if you chewed on a handful of painkillers. It's called Calcium Resonium and I recommend that you avoid it at all costs. It's basically a Shit Smoothie.

It was going to take six whole hours to fully administer the amount of sodium bicarbonate I had been prescribed. I wasn't going home tonight. I was still in the A & E treatment room as a very distressed young girl in the room opposite was carted off to Aintree Hospital where, she was assured, they had what she needed in the ear, nose and throat department. That's another troubling facet of hospital stays. You come across people in all kinds of states of hysteria and most often you don't get to find out what happens to them when they or you are moved elsewhere. In 2013 there were a couple of similar cases and the even more disturbing memory of an almost completely yellow man being shouted at by nurses for complaining about the prospect of being sent back to the nursing home. He looked gravely ill, the colour of a Simpsons character. I never saw the girl opposite again.

Two and a half further hours passed sleepily on the sodium drip, the glucose and insulin having already run their course. I asked to be unhooked so that I could go to the toilet (which one young nurse mortifyingly took as a request to be physically taken to the toilet...who trains these fucking people?...oh..) and that's when things got complicated. When I came back I was informed that I was being moved to Ward 1B. It was 6.00pm, around 10 hours after I had reported to A & E. They would hook me back up to the sodium when I'd been transferred.

My new nurse on 1B asked me a series of boring, scarcely relevant questions before suffering from her own dose of the local nursing disease of being unable to treat me. I had two cannulas in by now and she couldn't get my sodium drip to resume via any of them. She just complained that the machine was beeping and giving her an error message as if I would have some wise advice on what to do about it. Then she left and returned several times, fiddling and twiddling around with it until she was satisfied that it was up and running. She left me alone for a couple of hours during which I answered a few messages I had received, called my mum and messed around on social media until hopefully I felt sleepy. Except in hospital I don't really get sleepy at night. It's too light, too much conversation going on outside the room in the corridor and in other rooms on the ward. All of which you can hear every word of. So what I was really doing was waiting for my exhausted, emotional state to knock me out. It never really did.

That is due in no small part to the fact that I had to spend most of the night still hooked up to the sodium drip. At around 9.00 the nurse came back in and told me that the sodium had not been feeding into me properly. At all. Not for the two and a half hours that I thought I'd been on it in A & E and not for the three hours since I'd arrived on 1B! I'd been prescribed six hours of this stuff remember. That meant that, toilet breaks aside (and I don't go in the night no matter how many young nurses offer to assist me, what kind of people do that?), I'd have to be hooked up till 3.00 the next morning! It was going to be a long, long night....And it was. If I managed two hours sleep I did well. It didn't help that a nurse came into my room at 11.40pm with another Shit Smoothie and some sodium tablets. They had other priorities. I can understand that. It's the NHS. But if I'm low priority then you can understand why they find it such a hard sell when they tell me that high potassium can stop my heart. Which is it? Is my condition dangerous or not? If it is then why isn't my treatment high priority?

Now the real floater in the pint here was that I had an important appointment on Saturday night. We'd bought tickets to see Robbie Williams at Manchester's Etihad Stadium. So I had to get out of there before then. I have previous for discharging myself from hospital without permission and would have done it again had it come to it. This is Robbie Williams we're talking about and anyway have you seen the price of a Manchester city centre hotel? It's not something you want to be cancelling, much less contemplating that cancellation over a Shit Smoothie and soggy toast on a Saturday night in June. But I didn't really want to have to discharge myself any more than I wanted to cancel the hotel and miss the gig. It would have only resulted in a worsening of my condition and a return visit. That was on the cards anyway as it turned out, but at least if I didn't force the issue I could say that it wasn't totally my doing.

At around 10.40am on Friday, following another round of all the treatments, a doctor came to see me. As they took yet more blood (I was starting to bruise in places you don't bruise by now) the doctor told me that if the latest test showed a big enough reduction in my potassium levels I'd be sent on my way home. If that sounded encouraging I was remembering that I'd had three blood tests in the previous 12 hours and not been advised of a single result. As positive as the doctor had sounded I couldn't help feeling that they were keeping something back from me which couldn't be good. Why withold good news? The more I thought about it the more I started to believe my potassium had sky-rocketed and that I'd be here for as long as Alan Partridge was in that hotel. Surrounded by blonde bastards.

Then the waiting resumed. The bed was at least more comfortable than an A & E treatment room but no less stressful for that. One of the few good things about being in hospital is that you get a bed that you can incline and recline remotely at the touch of a button. Hours of fun. makes it easier than lifting yourself up and back down again as required when your arms are falling off. I had my blood pressure checked around lunchtime and then again around 3.00pm. On that latter occasion the nurse told me that rather than start packing up to go home I should get ready to be taken for another ECG. The lunchtime test had shown my heart rate was up just above 100 bpm again. I was tacchycardic, she said. You hear this a lot on Holby, usually reserved for the most horrifically injured single appearance characters whose survival is far from assured. The kind that fall off buildings or get mown down by Masdas. Just as I was explaining this latest setback to Emma as she got back from the coffee shop the nurse came back in and said that my 3.00 reading was much lower. I was no longer tacchycardic and so there'd be no second ECG. No one-off appearance on Holby.

At around 3.40pm, five hours after they had taken the latest blood test the doctor confirmed my potassium had shrunk to 5.7. This is what they call the upper end of normal but the important thing, the only bit I really listened to actually, was that I was being released. I was going to Manchester. To The Etihad. To Robbie. On one condition. Since my potassium was still fairly high albeit in the safe range I was told I would have to come back on Sunday for yet another blood test. I'd have to come in, have the test and then wait around for an hour and a half to two hours in case the result meant more treatment. It seemed like there were better ways to spend a Sunday. What's more I had no veins left. Barely any limbs left. But I agreed immediately just to get out of there, with just the nagging feeling at the back of my mind that a few beers at the gig could land me a quick return to the ward.

But what are you going to do? It's Robbie.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

A Recently Deposited Stool From A Horse That Has Recently Consumed Several Especially Potent Curries

They say you shouldn't write while you're angry. Or at least I think that's something 'they' might say. They're wrong if they do. I find that writing while angry has a cathartic quality. There's things you can't say but you can write. Harrison Ford said something similar the first time he saw the script for Star Wars.

So I'm angry. Here's why. Two main reasons today. We're going to ignore the things that drive me slowly insane every day otherwise this entry will take too long and it's not that often that Emma's Sheffield Wednesday are live on television in a decisive play-off game. The first occured early this morning. I can't go into too much detail lest my employer force me into some Cersei Lannister-like naked walk of shame. Good luck getting me to walk you capitalist piss hat, but you get my drift. Their wrath will come down upon me in some other way. Something worse than having to work for the bloated behemoth's hovel for possibly the next 25 years. More if I live that long and Zelda from Terrahawks keeps raising the age of retirement at the current rate. The point of all this is that my employer revealed to me today that it places my value and that of my colleagues at something around the level of a recently deposited stool from a horse that has wolfed down several hundred especially potent curries. We are nothing to our employer we just exist. Take your meagre pay and fuck off home and 'oh would you like to come and help us with....'

No. Fuck off.

So, already feeling devalued and disrespected (what else is new? every time a woman opens a door for me I feel demasculated to the point where I want to cut off my own head) I was not in the mood for the chicanery which took place at Lime Street Station this evening. Emma had texted me at lunchtime to say she was going home. Something had gone wrong at her branch of the clown factory and she'd had enough and just wanted out. The problem was that I had the front door key and she had got quite close to the train station before she realised this. So since she had to walk all the way back up towards the bloated behemoth's hovel I thought I'd take the car keys with me and give her the option of taking the car home. I'd get the train. No problem. I'm all about showing willing.

With about 20 minutes to go before the departure of the 5.17 to Thatto Heath I bought a ticket. Apparently £2.60 for a single is a discount because 'you're in a wheelchair'. It's not and I'm not. It's still fairly scandalous and I'm a wheelchair user. But at this point I just want to go home so I avoid debating the appropriate language and progress to the gate. They have gates now. All professional and shit. The type where you put your ticket in and it clicks or whirrs and the gate opens. Not long ago you just went through unchecked and if the guard never asked you for your ticket on the train well then £2.60 extra went in the beer fund. Not now.

But you know, I am happy to pay if the service is good quality. Or at least if the service I receive is only as shitty as the service everyone else receives. I ask the man on the gate if I can have a ramp brought to platform 1;

"Have you told someone?" he asks me.


"I'm telling you."

This seemed a reasonable response to me. There were still around 15 minutes before departure and he looked suspiciously like railway station staff. Who else was I meant to tell? I couldn't think of anyone better equipped to provide a ramp at a station platform than him but to cover the bases I told 300 people on Facebook. Perhaps I should have fucking cc'd the Minister For Transport. Or gone out onto the concourse with a megaphone and announced it;


Clearly I didn't do enough. I waited and waited. With about two minutes left before departure the man I had asked earlier came whistling by. He asked me where I was travelling to and there seemed to be hope. But he never gave me any further information. He just kept on walking by down the platform. I didn't know whether to follow him or not but with time running out I decided to. He stood chatting to the guard on the train.....and when he turned around to see me he looked surprised. Surprised and inconvenienced. He made an attempt to unlock a ramp by the platform that was frankly an insult to the term half-arsed. He spent no more than six seconds twirling an oddly shaped tool in the vicinity of the lock and then gave up.

"I can't do it." he mumbled. Then after another brief consultation with the guard he blew his whistle and said;

"It's too late mate, we've had a signal."

With that the train pulled away. Too late. But I'd been there 20 minutes. I stormed back down the platform towards the gate. You could even say I flounced. Use whatever word you like. I was positively frothing with rage.

"Who's in charge of this fucking shit show!" I asked of a man stood uselessly by the gate. He denied it was him, as did two other men who I was incorrectly passed to. By this time I had completely lost it and one of the useless bastards asked me to stop swearing at him. With more than a trace of irony I told him to fuck off and advised him that I'd be using whatever language I liked until I was afforded some respect.

Now, swearing at railway station staff isn't big or clever, but in this situation it served a purpose. If, as a wheelchair user, you sit there and politely take this sort of shit you are going to achieve nothing. You might as well apologise for being a cripple and promise to let them bend you over and screw you any time they like. Besides, I challenge anyone to live with a disability as stigmatised as mine for 41 years and not feel the need to tell someone to fuck right off every now and then. It just continually takes basic rights away from us, a situation exacerbated by a society and a workforce that does not give a flying fuck. Legislation helps in some ways but largely it just causes us to be viewed as a problem to be got around. It doesn't matter if I miss a train because they can apologise and promise to 'look at' their 'procedures'. Not good enough.

So only swearing would do. It was all I had to register the depth of hatred I had for the rail service at that particular time. People who are offended by that need to have a word with themselves. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence knows that they are just words. I could say some really offensive things without using a single swear word just as I could pay you a sincere compliment using the most foul vernacular. I needed emphasis and shock value to wake the cretins up. I did that.

They offered me a place on the next train but you can imagine where I told them to shove that. It cost me £37 to get home in a taxi but I'd rather pay that than meekly accept the piss poor rail service I was offered. It's not about the money. It's about the fight to be treated like a human being, especially by people whose superiority complex is unfathomable and unjust.

I'm driving home tomorrow......

Friday, 12 May 2017

This Just In - The Poor Don't Exist

Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard has never been so productive. Following on from my last two depressing entries on the subject of the whole country going to shit and nobody caring any more I’m compelled to spew out more political musings which are likely to be just as bleak.

The biscuit has been well and truly taken this time, as one Facebook poster informed me (presumably with a straight face, I don’t know because I couldn’t see him) that my view is all wrong because actually….and get this……..there is no such group as ‘the poor’ in the UK. So that’s it then, we’re fine. Everyone pack up and go home. Crack on Theresa you are doing one Hell of a job. We've obviously never had it so good…

Except. Except that there is evidence to suggest that there are some people in the UK who might reasonably be classed as distinctly wealth defficient. The number of visits to foodbanks has gone up from the tens of thousands into the millions in the last seven years since the Tories came back to power under pig-ploughing former Premier David Cameron. Now, some people may need to visit a foodbank more than once so the fact that something like 1.2 million food parcels were handed out in 2016/17 doesn’t necessarily mean that 1.2 million people are poor enough to have to resort to this desperate measure. But if people are going more than once doesn’t this show just exactly how poor they are? The poor, it seems, are very real outside of the entitled, spoiled world of your average Tory. Consider what the Facebooker believes exists instead of poor people;

“What we do have are a massive range of citizens... the majority of whom make life choices the consequences of which dictate an income level.”

Which is another way of saying that if you haven’t got any money it is your fault, so don’t expect the billionaires of this country to bail you out. They already pay enough tax remember, since the top 1% pay 30% of all tax. Aye, but firstly that is not enough and secondly that is 30% of all tax collected. What about tax that is not collected, dodged, swerved? How many people would have to use foodbanks if the rich paid their tax? I’d venture to suggest the figure would be significantly lower. This country can afford to rid itself of poverty, there just isn’t any appetite for it to do so amid the clamour to acquire more, more and more for yourself. Worse than that, this is money that these people don’t even need. They already have more money than they know what to do with. It’s a status symbol and nothing more.

Oh but it’s not ‘fair’ to make them pay more. Bollocks it isn’t.

Our Facebooker went on;

“Cruel Tory austerity" has been an effort to balance the books... to make sure as a country we are living within our means.”

No it has not. It has been an effort to make those with less foot the enormous bill because if you are a Tory that seems like the fairest thing to do. We’re all in this together, after all. For an encore he hit me with;

“We want to sustain the level of state assistance for as long as possible for people "genuinely" in need. That's only possible with financial prudence and Jeremy does not seem to understand that.”

I could tell you that I have had to correct his grammar but that would be just cheap points scoring. We don’t need that as you can see because he’s outed himself as someone who really believes it is fair and right to turn a blind eye to the greed of the rich and instead bash the poor (less wealthy? Under funded? I don’t know but we obviously can’t call them the poor any more) over the head with more austerity measures. In this context living within our means equates to the people with less living within their means while the mega-rich crack on snorting cocaine off the backsides of expensive whores. It is cruel and heartless to ask them to give that up.

His final point was that all that my previous post offered was “nothing more than ‘it's our fault because we don't believe it's possible.’”. But as I said in my post it isn’t so much that they don’t believe it is possible but that they don’t believe it is desirable to have the things that Corbyn aspires to provide. You can question his maths all you like but what kind of human are you if you question the desire to have fully funded schools, a free NHS and an end to tuition fees? And four extra bank holidays for feck’s sake. Who doesn’t want that? As someone else pointed out, there is a whole section of the Labour manifesto which talks about ending elderly loneliness that is simply sneered at by the me-first sub-species that has been created by Thatcherism. It’s a desperate state of affairs, but it now seems that people want markedly different things than they did in years gone by. Somehow, some time during the Thatcher years, everyone became a self-centred arsehole in reaction to the late 70s winter of discontent. And if you are still left wing after that experience you are branded ‘naive’. Naive as in compassionate and capable of empathy. Incidentally, if the right wing are that worried about a return to the 1970s why do they want blue passports, imperial measurements and no immigration?

Empathy towards others is something that is now in very short supply. Another contributor to the debate on Twitter informed me that psychologists estimate that there is a global empathy deficit of about 50% compared with just a few years ago. What this basically means is that nobody cares about anyone else any more, or maybe more specifically only half as many people care half as much. And that is from a few years ago when if you had asked me I would have guessed that there was a heck of a lot of self-centredness about even then. Years before that we used to have a sense of community and caring for others until Thatcher taught us not to, that all for one and one for all was the very definition of evil and that you were on your own in a dog-eat-dog world. Since then capitalism and greed have got worse through successive governments (including Blair and Brown’s Labour, sadly) to the point where now there are actually real, living and breathing people who believe that there isn’t any such thing as the poor and if there is then it is their own daft fault for failing to ‘make something of themselves’.

It is hard not to despair from this point. All the signs are that the greed is good mob are the majority and that we can therefore expect another five years of obnoxious Tory-ness in our lives following the forthcoming General Election. The number of people using foodbanks will grow, the most vulnerable will be denied the funding they need to continue living independently, and a load of posh twats on horseback will once again be allowed to chase a terrified fox through the countryside before ripping it literally to shreds with total immunity in the name of ‘sport’. All that I will have for comfort is the knowledge that I can vent my spleen on these pages which, to my knowledge, have not yet been shut-down for being a Communist vehicle.

It’s a fairly depressing scene and enough to make you want to move to another country. Somewhere sunny in Europe perhaps. What? Oh…

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Another Bit Of Politics

I can’t help but feel negative today. Over the last 12 hours it has become quite clear to me what kind of a society we are now living in. That we are just four weeks away from a General Election makes this realisation all the more terrifying and well….frankly….depressing.

Social media is as good an indicator as any of the way the land lies politically. Certainly better than YouGov polls, which as Dave Gorman once memorably demonstrated show that one or both of Ant and Dec are more right wing than Hitler. If they are, they would fit right in on my Twitter timeline. I never knew I associated with so many me-first Disciples of Rupert who really couldn’t give even half a shit about the effects of austerity or the future of the NHS.

It all started last night when one of my followers began ripping into Jeremy Corbyn’s maths skills, claiming that the Labour leader could not afford to make good on the promises he looks set to make in the party’s manifesto. He claimed that Corbyn’s plan to fully fund schools, the NHS and to scrap tuition fees is ‘a lie’. But it isn’t really that people don’t believe that Labour can pull these things off that really gets under my skin, it is the fact that people don’t want seem to want it to happen. They actually don’t support fully funded schools, the NHS, or the abolition of unfair tuition fees which, by the way, did not exist when most of these fuckwits who are in power now started their slimy climb up the political ladder.

Another pulled me up on my assertion that Tories want the disabled to die (which they do if their plans to cut funding for the most vulnerable are anything to go by) by claiming that we don’t have a problem with tax evasion in this country. Justifying this he informed me that the top 1% of earners already pay 30% of all tax, as if this somehow justified the evasion of tax by others. I pointed this out, along with the fact that far more money is lost to this country through tax evasion than it is through benefit fraud and yet we still continue to blame the poor through austerity and the privatisation of services and he kind of seemed to agree with me. But then he reverted to the default right wing position of blaming it all on ‘yerp’ and that nasty EU that’s busy ganging up on us right now.

Nostalgic isolationism at its finest. Let’s get our country back and while we’re at it, let’s watch as the north of the country is left to gently sail away from the power base in the south until it becomes part of fucking Iceland. Nothing good that has happened in this country in recent years from greater disability access to improved human rights and regeneration of northern cities would have happened outside the EU under a Tory government and you can expect it to stop if and when Evil Theresa manages to negotiate a deal for us to leave. But never mind all that, at least Tarquin won’t have to give up a larger share of his £387billion fortune which he has worked so hard to earn ever since his fucking daddy left it to him.

More and more now there is an acceptance of all of this and that consequently, we should no longer expect a free health service. One Tweeter made a comparison between the NHS and dentistry, for which we all now pay apparently without complaint. Excuse me? I don’t know what placid, stiff upper lip types this guy lives among but personally I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think that the amount charged for dentistry these days is anything but an absolute disgrace. We accept it because we have to, it’s done now and once that happens it is very difficult to go back. But the idea that we never question it is beyond berserk. Also, you cannot really compare it to the NHS in any case. Dentistry is important but it is very rarely a matter of life and death. If the NHS is privatised you are faced with the very real prospect of people dying because they can’t afford the treatments or medication they need. It will be a society in which the wealthy will survive and prosper and the poor will wither and die. Tory ideology is that this is fine because I’m alright Jack. I don’t need to worry about being unable to fund my own health insurance so screw those that do. There isn’t a more depressing thought than that as far as I can see. It makes my head hurt.

Of course there is a possibility that this is scaremongering, and that the NHS will still continue to operate as it does now, free at the point of access. Yet with parts of the service having already been auctioned off to the highest bidder and with the Tory manifesto making very clear indications that it will not continue to fund the health service can we really afford to bet on the chance that they are bluffing? That’s a gamble even Joey Barton would shy away from. The awful truth is that Tory ideology involves governing as little as possible, and instead selling everything off to be run by the highest bidder. When that happens, the customer is the one who pays the highest price and some are inevitably unable to keep up and literally die off. I can’t have that on my conscience even if I have more than enough money to get by in that kind of system. I don't vote out of self-interest like an increasing, alarming number of people seem to these days.

Thatcherism has eroded any sense of community, of caring about the fate of others that we had. It’s every one for him or herself now and if you can’t keep up you get branded a lazy good for nothing while the rich cream ever increasing amounts off the top. Society has changed, capitalism is here to stay which is why there is such a seething media outcry against Corbyn’s left wing ideas. The BBC, Sky News and several of the best-selling newspapers are all in the government’s pocket because under their rule they will be allowed to keep doing what they do, fleecing the public for peddling their pungent, often preposterous shit. Anyone left wing is now laughed out of town as a dreamer and a bleeding heart. Caring for others has become taboo in the race to get more, more, more for your fucking fat self.

I am disgusted. You can probably tell.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Absolutely Not Imposing My Political Views On Anyone

We've all been warned. Despite the fact that there is a General Election exactly one month from now we have all been told in no uncertain terms that we must not, under any circumstances, use our social media pages to try and impose our political views on anyone. Instead, we'll carry on posting amateur philosophy imparted by Minions from Despicable Me That and pictures of our meals only, please. After all it's only a ballot to decide who gets to form the UK government for the next five years. It's not that important and's boring isn't it?

So in a dutiful bid to comply with this rule and so avoid boring everyone silly I've decided to post my thoughts on the General Election here. That way you'll only see it if you're interested enough in politics to click on the link. If not, scroll past to the pictures of tortured animals that people post because...actually....why do people post pictures of tortured animals? Nobody on my friends list would be on it if I thought them capable of torturing animals and I'm sure your list is similarly free of animal torturers. So who are these posts aimed at? Chances are that by posting this sort of thing you're just upsetting people who are as horrified by the mistreatment of animals as you are. And if I can't post anything political there must be a similar rule which prevents these types of posts.

So, the General Election. Reading social media recently it has become increasingly apparent that not only are people ignoring the golden rule of not posting anything political but also that they are using their various platforms to make sure that nobody, not even Labour voters, especially not Labour voters, votes Labour in the forthcoming election. The reason? One Jeremy Corbyn, twice elected leader of the Labour Party and by margins for which the term landslide is barely adequate. We must not vote for Jeremy because he is in no particular order, a terrorist, an IRA sympathiser, financially irresponsible, indifferent to the idea of defence of the UK in terms of its nuclear arsenal, anti-EU, too old, unelectable and generally a boring, beardy git who invents problems on Virgin trains where there aren't any.

I must confess to having one or two reservations about Corbyn myself. His unelectability, although mostly a media-led and self-fulfilling prophecy, could ensure an easy victory for Evil Theresa May and her couldn't-give-a-fuck-about-you rich boy cronies also known as the most right-wing Tory party since the crazed reign of Thatcher. And though he must be aware of this Corbyn refuses to step down from his role to allow a more popular, middle of the road candidate to run for number 10. Someone like Tony Blair. Someone who would never start an unnecessary, illegal war and then lie about it afterwards. In refusing to step down Corbyn is displaying a worryingly deluded narcissism and almost certainly leading Labour to a huge defeat.

But he's doing it with a masive helping hand from traditional Labour voters who ought to know better. If this lot aren't voting for UKIP in a bid to get rid of Johnny Foreigner and get our country back from those who have no right coming over here performing life-saving surgeries and educating our children, they are busy declaring themselves 'disgruntled' with Jeremy and his Stalinist ideals and with the Labour Party as a whole. Corbyn would be a dreadful Prime Minister they say, and they are ever so keen to let you in on the fact via their Twitter feeds.

The problem, of course, is that if not Corbyn's version of the Labour Party then the UK government will instead be a May-led Tory one. Aside from their policy of wanting disabled people to die (13,000 disabled people in the UK face a cut to funding which will mean they can no longer afford to live independently in their own homes) my principal objection to Conservatism is its commitment to unfairness. It deals with a financial crisis caused by the rich by making the very poorest foot the enormous bill. It calls it 'austerity' and tells us that we're all in it together. Then it further embellishes this lie by demonising benefit claimants while turning a blind eye to tax fraud among its wealthy pals. Turning the working classes on each other becomes an effective strategy in drumming up support in areas where you would think that voting Labour makes the most sense. Most towns possess enough monumentally thick people who genuinely believe that the Tories were born to rule and that therefore they must know best.

The mistake being made here is not in being disgruntled with Labour. They're an unholy mess who need to do a lot of things differently if they ever want to return to their late 1990s high in terms of popularity. The mistake being made is in believing that there is a genuine alternative to either Corbyn's Labour or the evil, shithouse Tories. It's one or the other in a General Election. A Labour government or a Tory government. It's been that way for a long, long time. The other parties, whatever their pros and cons, are largely there to make up the numbers and to get in the way of the big two. Most of them couldn't form a government if they were asked to, while others don't even have enough candidates to make an election victory even a mathematical possibility.

What Labour voters need to do, instead of expressing their disgruntlement and muttering darkly about communism, is get out and vote Labour on June 8. If Corbyn is an unfit Prime Minister he will prove himself to be so and be challenged for the leadership of the party at some point during the parliament. Deny him that chance and there will be no opportunity to elect the centrist candidate that seems to be so desired until at least 2022. By then the NHS could well have been sold to the highest bidder, more jobs will have been lost and we will be well on our way to establishing the kind of overly-nostalgic, isolationist policies so beloved of Trump'n'Theresa.....

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Six Days Of Stress And Anxiety Amid The Already Existing Stress And Anxiety

I'm fuming. Here's why.

I went to the hospital yesterday. For the THIRD Tuesday in a row. This time it was to have a blood test following my nephrology consultancy last week. I should have had the test done last week but I was late for a meal with the family for my Dad's birthday so I sacked it off, not knowing that this type of test can only be conducted on Tuesdays. Like fucking bin collections or something. So back I went yesterday for the blood test.

The blood test itself is no big deal. Apart, that is, from the 45 minutes to an hour it takes for your turn to come around once you have taken your ticket from the machine and found a seat among some very sick looking people indeed. The problem comes afterwards because what they are testing for apart from kidney function is potassium levels. I have a tendency to get high potassium. I can't eat bananas. They're like Kryptonite. It's all kidney related but anyway if you get high potassium they ring you straight away and demand that you call into your local A & E to do a lot more waiting, a lot more blood tests and finally, if it comes to it, to have seven kinds of shite pumped into your veins in a manner that is time consuming as well as weirdly uncomfortable and sometimes painful.

It's an unpleasant business, so heading home after any blood test for me means spending the rest of the evening looking at the telly but not really watching it because I'm expecting a phone call from some crazed, panicked doctor to tell me that I need my potassium levels reducing right now lest my heart explode. And that's when you get the treatment. So I waited, and I waited, like a really long and boring Guinness advert and the call never came. I went to bed at about 11.00 last night and still there had been no call.

Now ordinarily this means that there won't be a call. High potassium is a grave enough concern for them to insist on ringing me as a matter of urgency, so when I awoke this morning I assumed I had dodged the bullet this time. The morning passed uneventfully (and oh, equally as boringly as any A & E department) until the end of my lunch break when my doctor, the otherwise personable Dr Chow, rang to tell me that unfortunately my blood samples had been mis-handled and would I mind awfully going back next Tuesday to take another test? You're ahead of me if what you are thinking is 'oh, but doesn't that mean another evening of anxiety and possibly time consuming and weirdly uncomfortable treatment?' Well, yes it does. She confirmed that they did not get a read on my potassium levels but stuck to the story that this type of test can only be conducted on a Tuesday afternoon, which maths fans will have worked out is fully six days away. I could go to A & E, but if I do that they probably won't get the actual kidney function results that they also need. Not that my kidney function has changed much in the last 10 years since they started pumping me with 50 shades of shite to stabilise it.

So there now follows six days of stress and anxiety, waiting to have the test which will then determine whether I again need to have the treatment. In the meantime, if my heart explodes (highly unlikely but I have been feeling a bit palpy recently which is why I didn't just dismiss the idea out of hand) then at least it will mean I won't have to go back to A & E for any time consuming and weirdly uncomfortable treatment. I don't mean to moan, you know. I really don't. I recognise that there are people far worse off than me but I just think that the way they have been handling my situation recently is an absolute piss-take. A couple of weeks ago they informed me in the waiting room that they had cancelled my nephrology appointment without informing prior notice. Must have been because of the bank holiday, the nurse told me. This shows me how much of a shit they do not give about the state of my health, but show them an even mildly threatening test result and they are rushing about like Charlie Fucking Fairhead on speed.

In addition to this ranty, desperately unfunny blog I have written a long, boring and futile complaint to the people who deal with this sort of thing at nephrology at the Royal Liverpool. I remember making a similar complaint about the way I was treated during a hospital stay in 2013 and having precisely nothing done about it. Yet we should rest assured that they are striving to improve their services. Now you could argue that I am the common denominator in all of this complaining and it is fair to say that I don't get all that excited about hospital visits. But it does not help when the incompetent plebs who pick and choose when to worry about your imminent heart attack can't do something as simple as correctly handling a blood sample.

It is customary to end pieces like this with the phrase 'rant over' but I like to think myself a proper writer so I am not going to do that. Instead I shall simply say 'sod off' and hope for all our sakes that I am not writing any more angry rubbish like this for some time to come.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Saints Set To Appoint Justin Holbrook?

And so it looks like the coaching situation at Saints has finally been resolved with Justin Holbrook seemingly set to be named as the new man this week.

Saints have been coach-less since the departure of Keiron Cunningham on April 10, since when the triumvirate of Jamahl Lolesi, Sean Long and Derek Traynor have been in interim charge of first team affairs. They have led Saints to two wins and two losses from their first four games at the helm and, while Saints have been inconsistent during that span, the trio have introduced some fresh ideas and a little more excitement in the way Saints go about their business.

So who is Justin Holbrook? Not many Saints fans (including this one if I’m honest) will have heard of the 41-year-old who is currently an assistant coach at Sydney Roosters. He has a good grounding in coaching young players having been in charge of the Paramatta Under-20s side and has also had spells on the coaching staff of both St.George-Illawarra and Canterbury. In all he has almost 10 years coaching experience which is considerable given his age.

Before moving into coaching Holbrook was a halfback for Newcastle Knights, Penrith Panthers and the Roosters in the NRL and it is hoped that a once creative player can transfer that to the coaching arena at Super League level. It’s a first senior head coaching role for Holbrook so it will be interesting to see how he makes the step up from an assistant’s role to being the main man. He has done it at youth level with the Australian Junior Kangaroos side and also with Parramatta. Whilst with the Eels he turned a side running 14th in the competition into a contender in the space of just a year. That kind of improvement is quite an achievement and something he will no doubt be hoping to replicate with a currently under-achieving Saints outfit.

Yet for all of this his appointment, should it happen, represents something of a gamble for Saints. After all Holbrook has no senior head coaching experience to speak of and you could make the argument that Super League is a vastly different beast to junior rugby league. Wondering out loud whether Saints might have looked for a home-grown coach, even one from the lower leagues, is not unfair. That approach has worked wonderfully well for Castleford Tigers after they took Daryl Powell from Featherstone Rovers, while our own Ian Millward was snapped up from Leigh when they were a second tier outfit at the end of 1999. A greater level of senior head coaching experience might have been desirable even if that experience was not at Super League level.

Not to say that Holbrook won’t be a success. There have already been comparisons made among the fans with former Wigan head coach Michael Maguire. Now the head coach of South Sydney Rabbitohs Maguire spent two seasons with Wigan, winning the Grand Final and the Challenge Cup in that spell and introducing a winning style and culture which has largely been left unsullied by current Warriors coach Shaun Wane. If it ain’t broke…

Where we would hope that Holbrook differs from Maguire is tactically. Maguire made Wigan very tough defensively and so difficult to beat, but they haven’t been the most entertaining team in the world to watch since Maguire introduced their now well-worn attacking structure. Also, though it is natural for a writer of my persuasion to notice the faults of our friends from over the lump, it cannot have escaped the notice of the average neutral that some of Wigan’s defensive tactics are less than desirable. The wrestling, holding down, third-man tackling are all dark arts perfected by Wigan since Maguire’s tenure. The problem for Holbrook is that, unlike at Wigan where winning is enough and who cares if you do it ugly, there is a certain style expected from Saints fans which has to also be married to a desire to win.

Stacked against Holbrook is the sheer amount of work that needs to be done to this squad to make it both entertaining and effective. There are half a dozen or more players currently on the books that simply aren’t capable of contributing to that kind of game at Super League level and who would therefore need to be replaced. The recruitment problems at Saints over the last few years are a well documented and ongoing problem, so Holbrook will have to be exceedingly shrewd in how he goes about building a team that he can call his own.

Additionally, the more observant among you will have noted that Maguire, for all his qualities, is no longer at Wigan. Yes, he left something of a legacy (even if we don’t much care for it) but the fact remains that after just two years in the job he jumped at the first high-profile NRL job that came his way. A coach imported from the NRL, especially an assistant, is much more likely to see a Super League club as a stepping stone to something better and more financially rewarding back home than one who has made the step up from the lower echelons of the British game as Powell did. That might not be a problem if we can then promote from within to continue implementing what will hopefully be a winning, attractive style but there is just as much chance of the whole thing having to be ripped up and started again in two years time. Perhaps on this occasion we just have to accept that in the current climate Saints are a stepping stone to an NRL career, but it doesn’t quite sit right for a club with such an illustrious history.

Still, now is not the time for negative, defeatist talk. Since so little is known about Holbrook and if he is the man in possession of the role by the end of this week then we must get behind him and offer our full support. He’ll struggle to achieve anything without the fans on his side. If he holds up his end of the bargain by re-introducing some of the stylistic traditions that Saints fans hold so dear, and if he can drag the side back into contention for honours once more, then the argument could be made that he has been a good appointment irrespective of what he goes on to do with the rest of his coaching career post-Saints.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Pointlessly Pressing The Down Arrow At Tescos

Over the road from where I work, an institution which dare not speak its name on these pages, is a new branch of Tesco. The shop floor is below street level but, this being 2017 and all, they have installed a lift to allow access for those of us who still somehow baulk at the prospect of a flight of stairs.

It’s one of those self-operated lifts with room for only one wheelchair user. It has a simple set of controls which even a UKIP voter could understand. An arrow pointing down to take you down to store level, and an arrow pointing up to take you back up to street level. Simple. The only thing left to negotiate is the narrow aisles between goods but it is only a small store, and to make it totally and easily accessible for wheelchair users you would probably have to evacuate everyone else. It’s a bit of a scrap to get around but that’s ok because at least there is a lift. That’s all I ask. I don’t want it to be evacuated. I’m not the Queen.

Except the lift doesn’t work and they don’t care. I haven’t been counting but I would estimate that on each of the last 10 occasions that I have tried to shop there for my lunch (and who doesn’t want to eat Tescos strawberries and grapes instead of a bacon butty at the cafe down the road?) the lift has been broken. I’ve managed to get in every time. The staff eventually notice me fruitlessly pressing the down arrow but going nowhere like Brian Potter on his stairlift. Never mind that smell, I’ve been stuck up here all night… When they finally notice me they rally round trying to fix the useless fecking thing and eventually, after some knob-twiddling, they manage it, all apologies and we’ll-get-someone-out-to-its.

So because I always eventually get into the store for my strawberries and grapes, and the Magnums that I often buy for my colleagues in the summer (ah, you think it is a problem now, don’t you?) I have managed to say nothing to the management beyond a polite suggestion that they should really get someone out to it to fix the problem once and for all. But yesterday they couldn’t get it to work. There were four of them milling around it fiddling with knobs and switches, opening and closing the gate like Ace Ventura in that scene where he is trying to prove that the balcony door is soundproof. Eventually I gave up on it and, I’m afraid to say, slightly lost my shit with the manager.

I’ll summarise it for you without the haughtiness. Basically I told him that if everyone who uses the store needed the lift to gain access to it then they would fix the problem overnight. The reason that they haven’t is that the people like me who need to use it are in the overwhelming minority. Who cares if I don’t go in there and spend my three or four quid twice a week? Extrapolated, capitalist scum like Tesco don’t give a flying shit about the purple pound, that is the money poured into the economy by disabled people. It’s not significant enough for their all-conquering business to take even half a hit, so why should they bother their arse spending money on piffling things like maintaining a working accessible lift? It’s another example of first rate lip service to disability access. They are bound by law to provide a lift but not, it seems, to maintain it. So what is the fucking point? It’s like giving me a Magnum and then cutting my fucking tongue out.

Their apathy is further encouraged by the fact that the nearest accessible supermarket is……a bloody Tesco!! This is what comes of allowing one company to open up 746 stores within a two mile radius of each other. Even if you protest by refusing to enter the guilty store you end up spending your money with the same company anyway just for your own convenience. Tesco have us all by the balls, especially those of us with mobility issues. Also, there is a whacking great hill between the office and that other Tesco and frankly I am not at home to it. And it slopes upwards on the way back, not on the way there. You can't imagine the level of demotivation I have for pushing up a steep hill for the privilege of going back to the office for the afternoon.

Emma has already written a far more reasoned and less huffy complaint letter than you are currently ‘enjoying’. She’s pointed out that it has happened on several occasions, that not only does the lift not work but that it is also regularly blocked off by empty shopping trolleys (an interesting variation on the pub classic of shoving everything you have no room for into the disabled toilet), and that all of this shows a total and complete lack of respect to customers with access needs. And do you know what they did in response? They sent it to the wrong fucking branch, didn’t they? There hasn’t been this level of absolute apathy to disabled people since I turned over live coverage of the Paralympic sitting volleyball because I didn’t want to miss Eggheads.

We await further response from Tesco who have at least assured us that the complaint has now gone to the correct store, but it is a fair bet that whatever they do I won’t be able to go in there for a good while yet. And they won't give a flying shite.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Stop Crying Ironside

If you're not a rugby league fan you may not know that I have a couple of weekly columns on an inedpendent Saints supporters website called One previews the week's game while the other is a much more in-depth and hopefully entertaining analysis of the game once it's finished. It's reasonably popular, but as we'll see not everyone who reads Redvee has me on their Christmas card list.

Along with my work and that of one or two others the main feature of the site is its fans forum. A message board, in old new money. Here fans can gather to offer their opinions on everything from Jack Owens' spacial awareness to the standard of the pies in the kiosk and all points in between. It can get a bit tasty when the debates heat up and like all forums it is home to its fair share of wind-up merchants but largely it features sensible, intellectual debate on the absolute state of St Helens Rugby League Football Club and the sport in general.

It's surprising then to note that one night last week I became the victim of what I would describe as the Diet Coke of hate crimes. Somehow discussion had turned to the rights and wrongs of former Saints back rower Andre Savelio parking his car in a disabled bay at Tesco late at night. Irrespective of the fact that this has nothing to do with rugby league the argument rumbled on. One bright spark told someone to 'get a life' for condemning Savelio's alleged parking habits, claiming that the use of disabled bays by clearly non-disabled professional rugby league players is fine after dark because there is 'nobody around'.

I shouldn't have, but I couldn't resist chiming in;

"Aye," I said;

"Cos disabled people don't go out at night."

My irony had been noted but not appreciated by one user. Notably, it was not the same user who had tried to argue the case for illegal, inconsiderate parking earlier, proving that ignorance is widespread from the safety of the keyboard. The response was withering and surprising despite also managing to be puerile and laughable. It read;

"Stop crying Ironside. We all know you're disabled."

If awkward silences existed on website forums there would have been one right there. Then slowly the condemnation from the sensible majority started to appear as several other users pointed out in no uncertain terms that this sort of abuse has no place on a rugby league forum. I received private messages from several other users condemning the comparison between me and a ropey 70s television detective. And that's an important point to make. Though it gets a bad press from certain unbalanced, disenfranchised snowflakes, the Redvee forum is a welcoming place where anyone who has an opinion on Saints or rugby league is encouraged to offer it. If people disagree they'll say so, but the slanging matches and insults are still rare and remarkable enough to inspire blogs like this one when they occur. You don't really need a thick skin to post on Redvee. You just need to be able to tolerate having someone disagree with you.

And so to the abuse itself. What's the word for it? The phobia? We have homophobia, transpbobia, xenophobia, but what phobia describes hatred of the disabled. We're so marginalised we haven't even got a phobia dedicated to us. And Ironside? Really? Has this person not changed the channel on their television since 1978? I can barely remember Ironside but regardless I stopped getting upset about this sort of thing in around 1984. At that time the youth of the day were driving past me on Elephant Lane shouting 'spastic' out of car windows. I'm still not sure who those boys were referring to but what I can say is that of all the things about disability that do bother me name-calling straight out of Grange Fucking Hill is way down the list.

I have often thought about whether it is appropriate for me as the main contributor to Redvee to continue to post so often on the forum. As if keeping my opinions for my columns would afford me more gravitas and elevate me above the din. But bugger that. I'm not special. I enjoy being part of that online community just as much as I enjoy writing and the slightly loftier perch that comes with it. Contributing to the forum reminds me and the others that I'm really just another fan who just happens to have the ability to articulate my opinions in a more structured and professional manner and with the aid of the Big Book Of Glib Remarks. If the aim of the Ironside remark was to put me off posting and writing my columns it has had the opposite effect.

Which won't please everyone.....

Thursday, 2 March 2017

A Short Memoir Of Feeling Better

Two days ago I had one of my now legendary down days. I couldn't see the positive in anything and I had to sit, basically chained to my desk, and contemplate all of this negativity and a level of pointlessness that would have Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman spontaneously combusting. It was the purest, most wretched agony. But if I'm quick to always tell you about that either on my social media accounts or on these pages, then I think it is only fair that I throw you a quick few words on how things don't always have to be that way. You know, in the interests of balance and all that.

It is rather strange that today I feel better than I can remember feeling in a long time. On your average working day I mean. I am usually a whole lot chirpier at weekends, or if Emma and I are away somewhere during the week or if I'm out boozing with friends from home or work. Today though, today is just an ordinary day when all of the same things that whirred around and around in my head and made me miserable on Tuesday are exactly as they were then. And yet I feel fine, better than fine maybe. Although maybe we shouldn't push it.

This started last night. I said something passably funny on Facebook. All of which may not seem significant, but I could not have come up with it on Tuesday. You can't crack weak but undeniably funny gags about disability when it's a down day. You can't be all you can be or any of that positivity fascist bullshit. It's all you can do to get through the day, which I did and by the end I even found myself in a fair enough mental state to enjoy the utterly glorious pancakes that Emma made. There's another religious festival I've stolen from the God Botherers while I continue to chortle at them for their faith in their all-powerful imaginary friend.

By the way if you are interested the joke was about International Wheelchair Day which, believe it or not is A Thing. Every year on March 1, like St David's day. It's when wheelchair users 'celebrate the positive impact that their wheelchair has on their daily lives'. So I made a joke about celebrating the positive impact that a kick in the bollocks has on your daily life on International Kick In The Bollocks Day. Trust me, it was funny. There were people laughing in baths and everything. I get what are trying to do with this but if you asked the average wheelchair user whether said wheelchair has a positive impact on their lives or whether they feel like they just get on with life in spite of it then I think you would get a pretty mixed response. Tellingly, not many wheelchair users found it funny so maybe I touched a nerve with some. I can only speak for myself and I can't see how my wheelchair has positively impacted my life in any way since I was about 14. Everything I have done, which isn't much since I'm a depressed frustrated writer working in a low-level admin job, has been done despite my disability not because of it. You could argue that I wouldn't have had wheelchair basketball without my disability (although that is not strictly true now that able bodied people are perfectly free to get involved providing they can get their hands on a wheelchair) but the flip side of that of course is that I would have had football and rugby league and....oh I don't know, climbing trees and stealing birds eggs like a pre-pubescent shitbag does. Or used to before X-Box Live.

Anyway, just because I feel better I don't want you to think that I'm crowing about having conquered depression. I'm fairly certain that it will come back and bite me on the arse again soon but for now I'm just going to try and enjoy the break that it is giving me. Besides, everyone's depression is different. What works for me may not work for others and so forth and there are very varying degrees of it all of which have various effects on the individual sufferer. I think my own depression is merely the absence of delusion. I know that there are certain things about life that are utterly, irretrievably shite but if I can convince myself that it doesn't really matter and that I can be happy anyway then I'll feel like I do today. Considerably better. But if I can't, if I remember all of that negative stuff and dwell on it and let it consume me then I get days like Tuesday and the others I have written about here, some of which was powerful enough to upset some people. Funny that, you don't realise when you are mashing away at your keyboard that what you are writing might make someone else feel sad or anything. That's another thing about depression though. When it's got you it's all about you and there are very few boundaries in terms of what you think you can or cannot say out loud or write on these pages. Depression effects the filter.

So there we go. Short but sweet this one and I'm sure you will agree a pleasant diversion from the kind of incessant moaning about disability issues that normally goes on in Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard. I hope you enjoyed it in any case because who knows? Tomorrow I could be face down on my desk refusing to speak to anyone who tries to convince me that I should be happy that it's Friday. And even if I'm not depressed tomorrow I still have the bittersweet chore of watching Saints at home to Wakefield to look forward to in the evening. Have you seen Saints play recently? If you are prone to depression you perhaps shouldn't bother.....

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Being Treated Like Cattle Without So Much As A Discount

Where are you going on your holidays? Yes, I know it's February and all but there's no harm in having something to look forward to. Especially for me right now since for the last couple of weeks I have been setting world standards for absolute prickery, such is the level of my anxiety, frustration and overwhelming sense of worthlessness. I really must do better.

I'm going to Florida in July. The 17th to be precise, which is fully 149 days away. Not that anyone is counting. But I didn't come here to gloat and anyway due to the aforementioned anxiety, frustration, overwhelming sense of worthlessness and its resulting absolute prickery 149 days might just as well be 149 years. I'm really only focused on getting through single days at a time. No, the reason I mention my holidays is because it ties in with the actual theme of this piece which is the standard of assistance given to wheelchair users in airports. Or lack thereof. Those among you with mobility issues will already know what I'm talking about but the rest of you might not have considered what some of us have to endure just to get on board an aeroplane.

Disability campaigners have. When asked as part of a BBC investigation into the matter Disability Wales said that the service, provided at most of the UK airports by a company called Omniserv, was 'shocking'. A Mrs Mel Davies, a wheelchair user from Pontadawe near Port Talbot complained that she was left in pain on two occasions after being incorrectly lifted by Onniserv assistance staff. Mel crossed her arms over her chest in anticipation of being lifted by her arms only to find that the staff had their own ideas as to the best technique for the job. One grabbed her under the armpits while the other attempted to lift her by the chest. By the fucking chest! Now, I know that it's the era of alternate facts and that the current President of the United States actively encourages the grabbing of women by whichever part of their anatomy takes your fancy, but surely in UK law this constitutes some sort of sexual assault? Have we really reached the point in our society's decline that we now think it impossible to touch disabled women inappropriately because they're just not bothered about that sort of thing anyway? This sort of de-feminising, de-humanising palaver cannot stand. It is little wonder I spend large parts of my day silently fuming at Other People.

To put the top hat on it, it turns out that Mel has had surgery for breast cancer. So as well as the indignity she suffered, the teen-like fumbling of Omniserv's staff also caused her a great deal of physical pain. For an encore, they then left Mel waiting at the aircraft door when it was time to disembark, leaving the airline staff to help her off the plane. I can especially relate to this. Every flight I take ends with at least a 20-minute wait after all of the abled passengers have left the scene as the highly complex task of finding two blokes who can push an aisle chair is undertaken. Thankfully I don't need lifting on or off said aisle chair which is just as well as it would waste even more time than is already written off during the traditional argument about whether or not they bring my own wheelchair to the aircraft door. For reasons best known to people who can wiggle their toes (and why the fuck do you want to do that anyway?) they seem to think that any old wheelchair is acceptable until you get to baggage reclaim. As if wheelchairs are a one size fits all thing and are in no way personal. Like fucking condoms. I steadfastly refuse to leave my seat until they bring MY chair which wastes my own time but is far better than the alternative.

Mel is not alone in having problems with Omniserv. Jen Crispin from Hampshire suffered similarly. Her assistants were so technically inept in the lifting stakes that the person she was travelling with had to do the honours, while on another occasion she was left waiting to exit the plane for over 90 minutes, by which time someone had taken the bizarre decision to shut baggage reclaim! Ah....what does it matter? If cripples don't qualify as sexual assault victims then perhaps they don't need luggage either. They're not real people, after all..

Heather McQueen from Perth missed her connecting flight because of similarly piss poor Omniservice and has vowed never to fly alone again as a result. While understandable, this is not the answer to the problem. In the first place you miss out on travelling which closes all sorts of doors for you personally and professionally at a time when there are enough right wing bellends trying to do that for you. In the second place it means one less disabled traveller, and the fewer of us there are the more likely it is that those of us who do persist will be treated with complete disregard. You have to keep going, keep persisting and keep reminding them that disabled people aren't just going to go away, unsightly though we are.

It's not just when boarding and leaving planes that we experience the ineptitude of airport services. Emma has been asked before now whether the wheelchair has a name, while I love to reminisce about one joyous episode in Salou when a member of staff came up behind me and put his hands on my back in an attempt to push me towards the gate. In what world is it acceptable to just grunt, nod and put your hands on someone? A paying customer? We don't get a fucking discount for being treated like cattle.

I often think that the worst part of all this is that in 2017 they haven't thought of a way to make aeroplanes wheelchair accessible. I mean, try having a piss on one when you can't stand up. On our flight to and from New York three years ago they had to physically remove the door from the toilet cubicle to stop me from pissing on their seats. Meanwhile, anyone who can't walk can expect to be routinely dragged backwards down the aisle to the seat furthest away from the door as possible in full view of the other passengers. Which on one occasion included a rather impatient looking Rio Ferdinand. What Rio? You think YOU'RE the one being inconvenienced?

Still, I'm looking forward to Florida should my neurosis allow me to make it that far. It's more likely to stop me than the cringe-inducing incompetence of airport staff.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Using A Bus To Drive A Big Fat Wedge Between Us

Today I'm going to talk about buses again. Which you might think mundane because you able bodied folk can afford to take them for granted. There's absolutely no prospect of you being denied the opportunity to get on board a bus. Not unless you've just thrown up the evening's alcohol intake and it's all over your shirt. Yet for wheelchair users doubt about whether they'll be allowed to travel with the other Loser Cruiser passengers is the stark reality of the situation. I drive so I really only use buses when my intention is to drink enough alcohol that it ends up all over my shirt, but I have enough painful experience to know that when I see that 10A heading towards the bus stop it does not necessarily mean that my wait is over.

A bit of background. In January of this year a man called Doug Paulley took successful action against First Bus at the Supreme Court. He had been denied access to a bus in 2012 when a woman with a pushchair refused to move to accommodate him. The Supreme Court ruled that bus drivers need to do more to accommodate wheelchair users even if there are already people on board with pushchairs. None of which helped wheelchair user Kirsty Shepherd when she tried to get on a bus in Wakefield just five days after the Supreme Court ruling. In fact, this particular bus driver went that extra mile in his bid to avoid helping Kirsty on to the bus, and if he could humiliate and demonise her into the bargain then so much the better. Not only did the driver not ask anyone to move to accommodate Kirsty, he still refused to let her on to the bus even when the person with the pushchair voluntarily offered to move.

An argument ensued and this is where the lines get blurred. When I'm in this situation I tend to let the bus go. The 10A stops outside my local every 10 minutes so it's really not worth getting into a shouting match with a jobsworth driver who hasn't lived a day in my life and would cry himself to sleep at night if he had to. What-fucking-ever. Be the bigger man. Yet why should Kirsty take my view? She may have needed to be somewhere more important than The Running Horses and the bus she was trying to catch may have been less regular. None of which matters anyway. It's 2017. She ought to be able to ride a fucking bus when she wants or needs to for whatever purpose. Yet because she chose to argue her case instead of taking the hit and catching the next one which, remember, offered no guarantee of accommodating her either, the other passengers became restless. They started shouting at her to get the next bus because they had homes to go to. Note that they did not shout at the driver to just let her on. Why not? The woman in the accessible space had moved so there was room for Kirsty, yet she was vilified by the public. The same public we are repeatedly told are no longer prejudiced against anyone regardless of race, gender, DISABILITY, religion, sexual orientation, rugby league persuasion....all that. It's such horse shit. Prejudice is alive and well in 2017.

For a delicious encore, and after Kirsty had met with the same resistance from the driver's manager over the telephone, the driver refused to continue the journey and made everyone get off the bus!!! Now, you can imagine what happened to Kirsty's approval rating in a quick poll among those passengers. Yet they were directing their fury in the wrong place. I would have every sympathy with them in having to stand around in the cold on a freezing January night had they not chosen to make Kirsty the bad guy. Who knows...? Perhaps a little more support for Kirsty among the other passengers could have resulted in a quicker resolution for everyone.

What it tells us that you able bodied lot, instinctively and by your nature, still want to blame us for the fact that the law says you have to adapt. Relations between wheelchair users and single mums are at an all-time low and not just because of the behaviour of me and my mates on a Saturday night. There's only so much space on a bus for wheelchairs and pushchairs and instead of spending money to create more the government would rather drive a big fat wedge between bus passengers who use wheelchairs and pushchairs and those who don't, all the while boasting about what strides we have made in equality and diversity.

Arriva, the company which runs the bus, said that it had had 'extensive conversations with Ms Shepherd about the incident' and that it was 'investigating this as a matter of urgency'. In addition, it said that it was 'in the process of downloading the CCTV footage and speaking to those involved'. So, I can expect to never again be told by any Arriva driver that I can't board his bus, can I? And presumably this disability-hating Disciple Of The Alt Right bus driver will lose his job?

You'll forgive me if I remain sceptical.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

York - Golden Eggs Laid By The Golden Goose

I like spending money. I just do. If something is overpriced but I want it I will still buy it if I can afford it. I’m the sort of person who would rather get slightly ripped off than go without. Yet even I had to draw the line when faced with the prospect of buying breakfast for the two of us at the Yorkshire Bar And Grill, you remember the place adjoined with the hotel, on Saturday morning.

We never got as far as finding out what breakfast fully entailed. There might have been golden eggs laid by the golden goose herself, served by topless dancers while a video of Saints greatest ever games played on an endless loop on a big screen on the wall. We’ll never know because as soon as the restaurateur informed us that it would be £14 per person we decided fairly hastily to look elsewhere. Fourteen quid? Who pays fourteen quid for a breakfast? I would want it to fly me to Tenerife for that. Dick Turpin is said to have lived and been hanged in York. At least he wore a mask. It all reminded me of our now infamous visit to Palm Desert when we entered a restaurant called Ruth Chris. On that occasion we sat down, ordered cokes and perused the menu to find that a piece of chicken by itself would set us back $23. That was before you tried to buy anything to go with it. We left. It was all very embarrassing.

In some shock from this latest attempted extortion we journeyed on towards The Cross Keys where we had been late the previous evening. They do a more civilised two for a tenner deal on breakfasts although this doesn’t include your cup of tea. No golden eggs, no golden goose, no topless dancers and no Saints videos but a good brekkie for a fairly reasonable price. Even if they did serve the beans in a separate pot which for some reason I find slightly off-putting, and even if the milk that came with the tea was served in jugs from which it was impossible to pour without covering the table with the stuff. Yet still I was glad we hadn’t paid a combined £28.

It was raining heavily. The plan was to visit the new Richard III Experience (also at Monk Bar, but isn't everything?) in the morning and maybe carry on the history and monarchy theme in the afternoon with a mooch around the Henry VII Something Or Other. Though I'm about as anti-royal as you can be without actually bursting into Buckingham Palace and opening fire, I do have an interest in history and in particular Richard III after firstly watching tacky but somehow unmissable BBC drama The White Queen a few years ago, and after visiting Leicester where the hunchbacked king's remains were found under a car park by some nosey buggers. A monarch with a disability is something I can get on board with. Yet inevitably another access problem is hurtling its way inexorably into this story. We should have done our research, then we would have saved ourselves the bother of trudging through the rain only to find that the 'Experience', such as it was, was located within the city walls. You can guess what is coming if you were with me for the Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate debacle of my last entry. Accessing the Richard III Experience required passage through an arch barely big enough to accommodate Mose Masoe (and he would have to duck) and certainly required the ability to walk. A non-starter.

So instead we made our way back towards York Minster. Access fans will be interested to know that this again requires a lot of negotiation of cobbles and uneven paving, but had it not been for the rain it would have been a pleasant enough stroll. I had stopped to take a picture of the Minster, something to which Emma was totally oblivious which resulted in us getting split up. It took me quite a while to get to the door of the Minster which is so vast that it is one of those places you can see from everywhere giving the appearance that you are near to it when in fact there is still more distance to travel. I had to make my way through a large grassy area (although there is a path) before I got to the entrance. Once there I avoided the majority of the queuing by taking the ramp which is situated over to one side. Nobody seemed to mind, even when Emma eventually found me and dodged the now massive queue that was forming at the centre.

Nor did they seem to mind paying £10 each to gain entry to the Minster. Had we had any better ideas and had it not been bouncing down with rain I might have lodged some sort of objection. But we're back to how I just spend money if I can afford to. Entering the Minster didn't really qualify as something I couldn't do without, but there were few credible alternatives beyond sampling more of York's 365 pubs. That would have led to an early bath, so we sucked it up and paid the entrance fee. It's not all bad. I know I hate churches every bit as much as I hate the monarchy but as with the castles and palaces of the UK the cathedrals and basilicas have great history and blinding architecture which you can't help but appreciate. Also, there is now a museum down in the basement of the Minster which celebrates the history of the place and of the city of York itself. And yes, it is accessible. I spent a good 45 minutes to an hour wandering around the museum and messing about with its interactive gizmos which certainly softened the blow of the entrance fee. Actually, I probably spent a good 10 minutes of that time contemplating whether I should push on to the glass floor above the digs exhibition. No matter how many times I push on these things there is always that moment beforehand where I hesitate. It's irrational, illogical and well...utterly typical of my behaviour. Despite my enjoyment of the museum I stopped short of putting any of my change in the containers dotted around which are adorned with signs asking you to help pay for the upkeep of the place. If you are inside the building then you already fucking have!

Time for a photo. York Minster in all its glory, obviously enhanced by my dazzling photography skills;

Ye Old Starre Inn

An hour or two in York Minster was both an interesting diversion and a handy way to dry off, but that wasn't going to stop us from getting thirsty. We decided to take some liquid refreshment at Ye Old Starre Inn back on Stonegate. It's another of York's very old watering holes and is reached by passing through a small covered passage, the kind of thing you might have seen fat blokes from dramatic adaptations of Dickens novels ducking under at some point. It's filthy and depressing to be honest but what lies beyond it is much more attractive. It was busier than any pub in St.Helens I've ever been in on a Saturday lunchtime which is perhaps even more surprising given that they are not showing the football. Since I can't see it, I'm annoyed by how often I find myself checking my BBC Sport app on my phone to find out how Liverpool are getting on in their FA Cup tie with Wolves. They are losing 2-0 as it turns out. I tell Emma that they will score and lose 2-1, because it is the hope that kills you. They score and lose 2-1, because it is the hope that kills you. This shot of Ye Old Starre Inn shows its rather grandiose, booming banner which lets everyone who passes know exactly where it is. Otherwise you might not see the passage to the entrance which is just underneath the Walker & Preston's banner to the right of the picture. You'll see it if you click on the photo;

Strangely I need some jeans. This is what happens when I don't do my own packing. Normally a couple of pairs of jeans would do me for a weekend but the weather has intervened. They don't do denim in the shade of mud that my jeans tend to turn to in wet conditions. Happily, I've got vouchers for Debenhams so we go there and fix that small problem and also to Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe, one of my favourite haunts in historical towns and cities. I buy jar of mixed sweets for my work colleagues and a jar of cola bottles each for me and Emma. I'm forced down this route as they have somehow managed to not stock cola cubes which we bought on our last visit to one of Mr Simms' stores in Shrewsbury last year. After that it is back to the hotel for a refresh and a rest. I've had one beer by this point but if I keep going there'll be trouble. Pacing myself.

Snickleway Inn

We revisit the Royal Oak but it has lost much of its magic from the previous evening. There's no live music on and the only seat available is the one closest to the door which seems to be constantly opening and shutting as punters come in off the street. I don't stay long enough to necessitate the removal of the sandwich boards from the disabled toilet. It's one and go, as we move on to the brilliantly named Snickleway Inn. As Emma is at the bar I pull my usual stunt (without trying I hasten to add, this is never my fault) of attracting the not so great and good of the establishment who are keen for a chinwag. This time it is Max, whose mother is a scouser (from Aigburth) but has not passed on her local knowledge to her son who has no idea where St.Helens is when I tell him where I am from. As Emma returns we make small talk for a while before trying to find a seat. I even do the joke about how I don't need a seat because I've brought my own. Brings the house down that one. Eye roll. Max is not discouraged either way, as when we find a table in the corner of the pub he asks if he can join us. What do you say? No, go away strange local person? No. So against my better judgement I tell him it is fine and he takes up a seat opposite us and begins regaling us with his knowledge of physics. He has an assignment to do by Thursday, and the biggest problem he has is that the question the assignment is based on is three pages long and he doesn't understand it. It's for a PHD. I haven't got a PHD but I know that at degree level you can pretty much come up with any crap you want as long as you can find some resource somewhere which backs it up. There are no right or wrong answers so Max will be fine. Although I can almost guarantee you that he failed geography.

The conversation turns to the troubled world, to talk of Donald Trump and the implications of his racist regime on Max's four-year old daughter who is back in London with her mother. We'd love to stay and discover what Max's great plan is but we still have over 350 pubs to fit in to our itinerary. It's another case of one and go I'm afraid. The access report is mixed also. I didn't try to find a toilet as the need did not arise, but what I can say it is that it is another of those 'snug' pubs you tend to find in York which make moving around a challenge if you have the extra baggage that is a wheelchair. But it's nothing that you will find insurmountable if you are thirsty enough.

The Old White Swan

It's a pity it is not summer. We had walked past The Old White Swan a number of times already and it has a really nice outdoor area before the main building which is set back from the street. You could have a nice meal and a few refreshing beverages here if the weather was warmer. Since it is January we go inside for our feed. Eating is cheating but we have to have something if we are going to last the pace. Again there is only one table free and again it is the one nearest to the constantly opening door. How does this keep happening to us? Fortunately, a couple on the table behind me are getting up to move into a table in the corner that has just been vacated, so we move on to their table which, although it is a little too close to the aisle next to the toilets for my liking, is at least a little bit warmer. The food's decent, but we only go as far as garlic bread, chips and onion rings or something. Eating is cheating, remember. And that is just about as much as one can say about The Old White Swan. Except to say that it does have a disabled toilet, the only drawback to which is that it is right next door to the ladies and so if you have to wait for someone else to vacate it then it is quite likely that the ladies exiting their toilet will think that you are just sitting there waiting to look at them. Which of course you are absolutely not. This kind of thing is maddening. Why do we even have disabled toilets anyway, as if we are some sort of third gender? Why do we not have accessible toilets inside the gents and the ladies? I have made this point before and it continues to fall on deaf ears. My local MP has just been made Shadow Minister for the Disabled. Whatever that is. Maybe I will have a word.

Aside from that there is no Max-like character to chew the fat with and so we just talk normally in the way that a couple out celebrating their 18th anniversary of being together might do. Nothing to see here Except perhaps a shot of the pub;

The Golden Fleece

Our last stop is one that, according to Emma, we had visited before on our last visit. We are all just going to have to take her word for that because none of the pieces I wrote on these pages about our last visit to York contain anything about any pubs we visited. Which at least means that you are not having to read the same piece that you might have read seven years ago. We are sat at a table near the entrance (again) and Emma reckons that just next to the bar there is a passage which leads to the area we were in on our last visit. I don't test this theory out as there is no real need to. We're happy enough here, whiling away the rest of our evening in a slightly drunken stupor.

The background noise to Sunday morning breakfast back at The Cross Keys is a group of locals out for an early boozing session. I don't know how they do it so early. It makes me vom. I have my back to them but listening to them talk about Leeds United's prospects at Sutton United (they end up losing which costs me £30 on a five-team acca but that is by-the-by) conjures up images of Keith Lemon again. One of them is unfortunate enough to have to use a voice-box like Peter Baynham's character in that episode of 'I'm Alan Partridge'. Now your're talking my language, he says to Alan when he is offered a pint. I hope not, comes Alan's typically unsubtle reply.

After breakfast I want to go back to the Minster to get a few more photographs, specifically one of the statue of Emperor Constantine. He was hanging around the city in the early part of the fourth century and is, among other things, responsible for the naming of Constantinople which is now known as Istanbul. So if you are a bitter Manc you can take up any complaints you have about the events of May 2005 with him. Constantine is said to have united the Roman Empire, though in this picture he is only lolling about doing not much uniting of anything. He actually looks a bit bothered by the sun but again that is just down to my poor photography skills;

And that is York, in all it's pub-riddled, cobbled, crazily paved expensive breakfasted glory.