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The collected opinions of an august and aristocratic personage who, despite her body having succumbed to the ravages of time, yet retains the keen intellect, mordant wit and utter want of tact for which she was so universally lauded in her younger days. Being of a generation unequal to the mysterious demands of the computing device, Lady Bracknell relies on the good offices of her Editor for assistance with the technological aspects of her journal.

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Location: Bracknell Towers

Friday, August 14, 2009

Job satisfaction

Rejoice with me, for I have just learned that the specialist DDA advice I gave some months ago on a personal case has resulted in the abominably-treated member concerned accepting a substantial out of court settlement :-)

I won't regale the details because I wouldn't want to run even the slightest risk of anyone being able to identify the person involved. But I was asked to find a compelling argument that the way in which she was treated constituted discrimination. And it wasn't easy. But I did. Armed with my advice, the local union rep escalated the case to the Employment Tribunal. At which point, evidently, the employer recognised that it had little prospect of success and offered a financial settlement. Crucially, the member has now had confirmation that she wasn't just making a fuss about nothing, and should be able to put the whole ghastly business behind her. Result.

In other good news, my scarabs were delivered today.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Farewell, cruel world!

Having but lately returned from an appointment with my diabetes nurse at which I discovered that the miserable half hour I spent three weeks ago waiting for blood tests had been largely wasted in that the only test they didn't do was the crucial one which indicates how my diabetes is doing, I hobbled down to the front door to open it for that nice Mr Sainsbury who was bringing me a delivery of heavy groceries.

Prior to actually opening the door, I grabbed the post out of the wire basket behind the letterbox in order to bring it back upstairs with me.

Before I continue with this anecdote, I should perhaps explain that I attended the colposcopy clinic at the Women's Hospital a couple of months ago for one of those regular girly tests which is intended to prevent one from turning into Jade Goody. (Tests which most women endure at their GP's surgery but for which I, being of an unbending frame, need the support of specialist furniture in order to achieve the necessary position. Even with that support, the necessary position is very far from comfortable. And that's before the test starts. Deep joy.) Anyroad up, I'm always informed of the appointment by the hospital direct rather than my GP's surgery acting as a go-between in these matters. Once the whole ghastly experience is over and done with for the next however many years, one tends to push it to the furthest recesses of one's increasingly-unreliable memory.

Back to my post. (Or 'mail', if you are American.) Today's post consisted of a white, A4 envelope, evidently containing quite a lot of paperwork. Assuming it was probably a communication from my trade union, I scanned the envelope for identifying marks whilst expressing my amazement to that nice man from Sainsburys that there were no changes to my order. As he high-tailed it back to his van to start transporting the crates up the path, I saw that the envelope was boldly marked Private & Confidential and that the return address was the Women's Hospital.

I think I probably aged about ten years in the time it took me to get back up the stairs and open the envelope to discover the questionnaire within.

So, assuming this questionnaire contains the standard 'Is there anything else you'd like us to know?' box, I might just mention the fact that, whilst the difference between an envelope containing a questionnaire and one containing a 'Sorry, you have inoperable cancer' letter might be really obvious to anyone who works in the hospital, we are not all blessed with this insider expertise in the finer points of hospital stationery, and they might just like to think about buying a nice rubber stamp with the words, 'Don't panic. This is just a questionnaire', on it.

The Editor

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A futile gesture

Recently, every time I have trudged into Tesco after work, I have been presented with, in addition to my till receipt, a further flimsy piece of paper offering me £3 off the next time I spend £30.

Whilst this is kind of Tesco, and I appreciate the offer, they do appear to be confusing me with someone who can actually lift £30-worth of groceries.

Given that I have all the heavy and/or non-perishable stuff delivered by that nice Mr Sainsbury every so often, my trips to the local Tesco generally involve buying bread, milk and fresh veg. Bread is, I suppose, not inordinately heavy. But add two pints of milk - or whatever the equivalent is in new money - and several days' worth of vegetables, and goods to the value of less than £10 can easily be about as much as my weedy back is happy to carry.

Having given the matter some thought, I accede that Tesco does sell some things which are relatively light in weight. Unfortunately, they tend not to be things for which I would have much, if any, use. £30-worth of cotton wool balls, for example, would last me until the end of time. Ditto boxes of matches. And, whilst £30-worth of loo roll probably isn't impossibly heavy, it takes up so much space that I would have to wrap myself up in it like a mummy in order to carry it home.

So it looks as though I'm going to be unable to redeem my generous £3 discount (£3 - imagine!!). Unless, of course, anyone has any inspired suggestions.

('Learn to drive', by the way, does not constitute an inspired suggestion for the purposes of this blog post. Just so's you know.)

The Editor

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Head, desk

I know, I know, my neglect of Lady Bracknell's once-proud blog is nothing short of shameful....

Mea maxima culpa.

In an attempt to kick start it again, I must share an anecdote from today with my last remaining half a reader.

For my sins, I have been co-opted onto the committee which oversees the provision of parking bays on DDA and H&S grounds at my office. This, of course, is my own fault for having so often and so publicly stated that, were the bays to be allocated entirely fairly, then those who have a genuine right to one would no longer need to run the gauntlet of abuse from colleagues who 'know' that so and so who has bay such and such can run five miles. With one hand tied behind his back.

Leaving aside the issue that many people who are entitled to a bay as a reasonable adjustment do appear quite sprightly to those who expect that they should have at least one leg dropping off, there is no doubt that a proportion of the people who have been allocated bays in the past have had no entitlement to one at all.

My commitment to ensuring that everyone who is entitled to a bay gets one without question, and that nobody who isn't entitled to a bay manages to slip under the radar is, as you would expect, creating a lot of work.

While I was wading through the scant information scribbled on the application forms by those who would quite like free parking five days a week, thank you, I was visited by the very nice young woman who provides clerical support to the committee.

She, it appears, had been tasked by the committee chair with emailing everyone who currently has one of the bays and reminding them that it is crucial that they let her know when they're not going to be attending so that their bay can be used by one of their non-disabled colleagues who would otherwise have to park either the best part of a mile away, or pay a significant parking cost. (Rather unsurprisingly, said non-disabled colleagues have a tendency to get just the teensiest bit hot under the collar when they could have parked close to the building for nothing if only the bloody crips had stuck to their side of the bargain.)

Anyway, amongst the replies to this missive was one from the email account of one of the miscreants. It read something like this.

"I am Miss Creant's line manager. She can't reply to your email at present because she's on leave."

Always good to see people taking their managerial duties seriously....

The Editor

Monday, May 04, 2009

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

BADD is good and BADD is necessary, but it don't half expose some hoary old chestnuts. I'm pinning this one on Jack, because his was one of the first posts published this year, but I'm quite prepared to believe that others have fallen into exactly the same trap - I just haven't worked my way through to the offending posts yet.

Here's what Jack says:-

“Of course, the social model of disability tells us that they are disabled by society: that while they might have very poor hearing, for example, this would not represent a problem, were it not for the fact society does not generally adapt enough to their needs. The medical model of disability would say that the people are disabled by the fact that they have very poor hearing. My personal belief is that both models are appropriate, depending upon the circumstances: for example, the social model deals most effectively with disability discrimination (and preventing it); the medical model is better used by the medical profession when looking at the condition in question…”

I've tried not to react to this. I really have. But it's been eating away at me since Friday morning, and I can't leave it alone any longer. So, Jack, much as I love you, here goes nuffin'...

Let’s start with the basics. Models of disability are sociological models. In other words, they are models of the position those of us who have impairments hold within society. That is both what they are and all they are. They’re not designed to do anything. With the exception of the social model, they are reflections of existing attitudes. Also, with the exception of the social model, sociologists didn’t sit down and devise them. The medical, tragedy and charity models weren’t called the medical, tragedy or charity models until after the social model was drawn up, at which point terms were needed to define pre-existing responses to disability.

To say that the social model view of very poor hearing is that it wouldn’t represent a problem were it not for the fact that society doesn’t adapt to the needs of people with very poor hearing is, I’m afraid, a misunderstanding of the social model. The social model distinguishes between impairment (the very poor hearing) and disability (society’s failure to adapt to the needs of those with very poor hearing), certainly. What it doesn’t do is to say that having very poor hearing isn’t inherently a problem.

Hearing is probably the worst of all possible choices of example, as it happens, because many Deaf people are firmly of the belief that an inability to hear simply isn’t an inherent impediment to quality of life. So let’s use diabetes instead.

Does my diabetes present a problem? Hell, yes. And lots of them. Would it continue to present problems if society treated those of us with diabetes as true equals, and encouraged us to eat whenever we need to, even if doing so interrupted a meeting/appointment/social event? Absolutely, it would. Diabetes is a constant, tyrannical presence in my life which robs me of what little spontaneity my chronic pain might have left me with. Ignore the demands of my diabetes, and I die. No amount of societal commitment to full disability equality will alter that hard fact.

The social model of disability recognizes both the existence of impairments and the depth and breadth and extent of their impact on the individual. But it doesn’t dwell on that aspect of being a disabled person because that’s not what it was designed to illustrate. Instead, it differentiates between impairment (a lack of, or difference in, function – the stuff that can’t be changed) and the oppressive and exclusive nature of disability (society’s failure to treat people who have impairments as equals – the stuff that can be changed.)

By implication, because it demands equality of participation in society, the social model treats each and every impairment as morally-neutral. (This is comparable to the fight for genuine race equality, in which it is the reaction to differences in skin colour which causes exclusion, not the differences in skin colour themselves.) Morally-neutral or not – and that moral neutrality is a huge step forward in comparison with the belief that having an impairment is punishment for ill behaviour in a previous life – the impairment isn’t going anywhere. And neither are the problems it brings with it. But what we can eliminate – in theory, at least – are all the additional problems created by a society which treats people with impairments as abnormal and lesser beings. In other words, we can’t get rid of impairment, but we can and should eradicate disability. Just as we should eradicate racism, homophobia and sexism.

The phrase “abnormal and lesser beings” brings me neatly back to the medical model. I know I’ve said this before, but the medical model has been perilously-badly named. As it stands, it sounds as though it’s about providing medical care to people with impairments. Nuh-uh. It is nothing of the kind. If we could rename it the “Dear God, you can’t expect me to live next door to that!” model, then people like Jack would be far less likely to conclude that the two models can happily exist together in tandem.

Under the medical model of disability, you “have a disability” if there is something fairly seriously medically “wrong with” you. Having something “wrong with” you diminishes your position in society. It reduces your rights. Under the medical model, there is no obligation on society to adapt the general environment so that it’s accessible to you. Such obligation as there is lies with the medical profession – hence, “medical model”. Their job is to normalise you; to change and improve you until you fit in. Can’t be done in your particular situation? Oh, shame. Well, in that case, you get to be hidden away, either in your own home or in an institution, so that normal people – the ones with rights – aren’t exposed to your hideous deformities and distressing tics.

So, no, actually, I don’t think “the medical model is better used by the medical profession”. In fact, if I believed for even a fraction of a moment that my osteopath, acupuncturist, GP or diabetes nurse regarded me as an aberration who needs to be changed to fit in with normal society, I would be out of that treatment room as fast as my stick could carry me. There is an incalculably-huge difference between providing necessary medical treatment to someone with impairments and believing that, unless and until that treatment can make them look and behave like a normal person, they are inherently inferior.

The irritatingly-pedantic Editor

Friday, May 01, 2009

BADD 2009: The Unbearable Slowness of Being

BADD has rather sneaked up on me this year. This may be on account of BADD 2008 having only taken place a couple of weeks ago. (If that doesn't make any sense to you, just wait until you're middle-aged.)

I had been intending to be the sort of sensible person who drafted her BADD entry last weekend. But it was sunny and there were flowers to photograph. Well, that and I couldn't think of anything to write about. Which is not to say that there aren't all manner of things which I could write about, you understand.

I could tell you about the poor man who phoned me in tears one morning last week because his managers don't seem to be able to grasp that they have an obligation to make what is actually a very straightforward reasonable adjustment and because his colleagues are making fun of him because he's different.

I could tell you about a diversity awards ceremony I recently attended at which some bumptious idiot introduced his own self-important slot in the proceedings with the words, "Right! I want everyone in the room to stand up!"

I could tell you about the "revised" national parking policy which actively discriminates against a high proportion of an organisation's disabled staff.

But I don't want to tell you about any of those things. Partly because it would be tricky to do so in detail without identifying the victim/culprit/organisation/myself, and partly because, in all honesty, I'm fed up to the back teeth with those particular issues.

How kind, then, of one of the people who works in (or, at least, is paid for attending) my building to have made the effort of dropping ideal BADD-fodder into my lap this week. You're going to love this...

But first, some background:-

I have worked on the fourth floor of a four-floor office building for about ten years. For even longer than that (see how I assume only young people read blogs?), the building's "fire lifts" have been used to evacuate those disabled people whose impairments prevent them from hurtling down the stairs with their non-disabled colleagues during fire drills and genuine emergencies.

But not any more.

The landlords, in their infinite wisdom, have decreed that the "fire lifts" don't meet the necessary specs to be used for this purpose. And, in fact, they never did. So, to spare you the long, tedious rounds of negotiation and counter-argument, let's cut straight to the result: no more being evacuated in the lift.

A colleague and I can make it down all the stairs we need to get down in order to get out of the building if we really have to. But we would both have to go straight home thereafter, and it would take us both a day or two to recuperate. So our Personal Evacuation Plans (PEPs) stipulate that we will only attempt that descent in a genuine emergency.

(I'm relieved to report that there hasn't been one of those since the lift-use was barred: I'm hoping there won't be until after my team has moved down to the first floor. But back to the main story.)

There was a fire drill a few weeks ago. My colleague and I had been informed of the drill in advance, and had confirmed that we wouldn't be taking part, thank you. As had quite a few other slowly crips in various corners of the building.

(And, if you think not going out during a fire drill is a soft option, then you've never sat through nine minutes of deafening, head-exploding, all-encompassing fire alarm.)

A report on how the fire drill went was circulated last week, and made it as far as yrs truly by last Friday. One read of the offending object was sufficient to raise my blood pressure to dangerous levels. I shut the email down carefully until such time as I might have calmed down enough to put together a coherent response.

Wherein did it offend me? Right at the very end. After all the observations about the number of people who were spotted going back to their desks for their coats/handbags/cups of coffee, and those who were discovered, on re-entry, not to have had their building passes with them that day, was this little gem:-

"As the drill did not test the evacuation of people with serious mobility problems, a concern was raised that had these people been included, the evacuation time would have been much longer."

Well, that's me told, then, isn't it? Somebody is labouring under the common delusion that there's a time limit on evacuating the building completely, and what am I doing? Interfering with some jobsworth's ambition to meet this mythical deadline, apparently.

Blimey. How selfish am I?

As punishment for this insupportable determination to scupper the best laid plans of mice and men, I should clearly, at this point, volunteer to stay in the building and burn to death. It would be the least I could do, after causing "a concern". That or get myself all better - because my impairments are probably all in the mind anyway - so that I can scamper downstairs efficiently and help this numpty win his building-emptying Guinness World Record bid.

Seriously, though, in what bizarre, alternate universe is the fact that the safe evacuation of disabled people is going to increase the overall length of time it take to fully evacuate a particular office building something to be concerned about? By whose scheme of logic is this a problem? Who can't sleep at night for worrying that, although there are plans to get "these people" out safely, "these people" still can't move as quickly as "normal people"? Who - and let's stop messing around, here - hasn't actually understood what his employer's H&S responsibilities are as regards emergency evacuations?

I was lucky enough to have a good teacher about this subject way back when I first needed a PEP. He has long since retired, naturally, so can't be wheeled in to beat some sense into The Man With A Concern. But here is what I learned.

The purpose of an emergency evacuation is to get everybody away from danger as quickly as possible. You expedite this by getting everybody who can get out quickly under their own steam out first. In the meantime, those who can't move as quickly are making their way, with their "buddies", towards fire refuges. Fire refuges have a considerably greater level of fire resistance than the more open plan areas of the building.

Each of the slowly crips has a carefully-agreed, detailed plan of where and when they will go next, and under what specific circumstances. That plan incorporates the way in which their status will be communicated to the Incident Control Officer (ICO). My own plan isn't nearly as complicated as some. It doesn't involve teams of Evac Chair handlers, or me moving through various compartments of the building as successive refuges start to become unsafe. It involves me setting off down the (fire-protected) stairs once it's safe for me to do so, and making my way down them at a speed which is manageable for me. Various members of my team are responsible either for staying with me to make sure nothing unforeseen happens, or letting the ICO know I've begun my descent.

This means that, when the first fire engine arrives, and the senior fire officer asks the ICO whether everyone is safe, the ICO can honestly reply that all those who don't need a PEP are already out, and that the location and progress of all the slowly crips is known, and that none of them is in danger. At which point, said senior fire officer will direct his staff to saving the building.

If, on the other hand, the first fire engine arrives, the senior officer asks the ICO whether everyone is safe, and the ICO replies that most people are, but he or she has a vague suspicion that about a dozen slowly crips probably couldn't keep up with the mandatory deadline for getting out, so no-one knows where they are, the fire officer will direct his staff to put on breathing apparatus and sweep the building in search of the people. And, if that means the building burns to the ground, then so be it. Because the Fire Service - unlike, apparently, at least one of my colleagues - values human life more highly than inanimate buildings. Yes, even the life of someone, like me, who can't walk very quickly.

The Enraged Editor


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Oh, crap #3

Another in the occasional series featuring photographs I have taken without realising there were disturbing, additional "extras" until I started to upload them.

This rather odd image of Macca is part of a larger Beatles graffito on, appropriately enough, Penny Lane.

Who knew Heather Mills got a thick-tipped, black marker pen as part of the divorce settlement?

The Editor

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Words fail me

I was in the office yesterday morning, frantically printing off the papers I thought I might need for an imminent meeting, when an email - entitled 'Dyslexia Meeting' - pinged merrily into my inbox.

Now, the problem with bizarre email titles is that they make me curious and distract me from whatever urgent things I am currently doing. (If you're sending an email to my work address, and you want to be sure I read it the moment it arrives, call it something which doesn't make sense. Works every time. Call it something like 'Directorate Team Meeting Minutes', on the other hand, and it could be days before I bother to open it. Possibly weeks.)

So I open the email referring to some apparent 'Dyslexia Meeting' which I know nothing about, only to find that it's an invitation to a meeting with the Official Side (OS) to discuss the new-and-improved (allegedly) draft of their guidance for managers and staff about dyslexia.

The background to this is that, earlier this year, the OS released the first draft of this guidance to the Trade Union Side (TUS) for consultation. Now, I'm used to OS drafts being awash with medical model language, and richly-laced with implications that it must be terribly tragic to be disabled. Most of the time, I can amend the wording to render the document relatively inoffensive.

Not this time, though. Clearly cobbled together from various, dubious Internet sources by someone who has never knowingly met anyone with dyslexia, it was one of the most shocking pieces of medical model tripe I have seen in a very long time. Started off with an explanation of what's wrong with - and I quote - "dyslexics". (It's their brains, apparently. Their brains are wrong. Not different. No mention of difference. Just wrong.) Followed almost immediately by pages of things that "dyslexics" are all "bad at". Then some staggeringly patronising suggestions of things which might "help"; a refusal to fund a dyslexia assessment under anything other than "exceptional circumstances"; a recomendation that anyone who thinks they might be "a dyslexic" visits his or her GP to find out; and a truly scary quiz to complete, the results of which will tell you whether you might be A Dyslexic. "More than 10 boxes ticked, and you could well be tragically disabled!" No scope there for amateur diagnoses of colleagues, then.

So, as chair of the disability advisory committee, I advised my GEC that, quite apart from the fact that it's national union policy to challenge any attempt by employers to produce impairment-specific guidance, this particular draft was so irredeemably appalling that they ought not to accept it unless it was completely recast from a social model perspective.

After a brief hiatus, when the GEC didn't trust my view on this and checked with the union's national disability equality officer, who said exactly the same thing as I had done, the message went back to the OS that the current draft couldn't be agreed and that it would need to be completely rewritten. From a social model perspective.

So far so day-in-the-life-of-a-trade-union-disability-equality-activist.

And then yesterday's email arrived. And, when I realised what it was about, I was immediately irritated by the inappropriateness of its title. And the fact that I had been tricked into opening it by the lack of relevance of that title.

I might have been moderately happy at the prospect of attending such a meeting, had the author of the guidance not made the fatal error of attaching her revised draft of said guidance.

Remember what we asked for? Recasting the whole thing from a social model perspective? Did we get that?

No. What we got is the same document as before but with a couple of additional paragraphs. "As an employer, we are fully committed to the social model of disability", they lie through their collective teeth. "We recognise the barriers people with dyslexia face in the workplace. Barriers such as other people's attitudes towards them. And we're going to eradicate them. No, really, we are."

So now, if I do go to this negotiation meeting, I will have to be physically restrained from grabbing the author by the front of her (probably) frilly blouse and asking her whether she knows what the definition of irony is, before pointing out to her in no uncertain terms that claiming to be committed to addressing the barrier created by people's view of "dyslexics" whilst simultaneously writing screeds about what's "wrong with" them and how many things they are crap at doing might just meet not only the definition of irony, but also the one of rank bloody hypocrisy.

Right. While I stomp off to smash a few priceless antiques in a paroxysm of fury, anyone reading this who has not yet done so is encouraged - and, be honest, would you really want to cross me when I'm in this sort of mood? - to read this post about Blogging Against Disablism Day 2009 and to sign up to participate.

The Editor

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

A step-by-step guide to living with diabetes

Wednesday 8am

Take last Rosiglitazone tablet. Make mental note that will need to open new packet tomorrow.

Thursday 8am

New packet of Rosiglitazone tablets not where expected to be. Look in all obvious places. Draw blank.

Thursday 10am

Try to decide whether feeling odd because am anticipating feeling odd, or because am under-medded.

Thursday noon

Am due to collect next cart-load of meds Saturday morning. Ponder whether can manage without Rosiglitazone until then. Reason that it is much smaller than Metformin tablets and probably therefore less important. Fail to recognise either terrifying faultiness of reasoning or fact that is clearly indicative of raised blood sugar levels.

Thursday 2.30 pm

Can no longer pretend am feeling exactly well. Phone pharmacy. Arrange to pick up emergency supply of five tablets first thing in morning.

Friday 9 am

Arrive at pharmacy. To surprise, am able to pick up entire prescription. Am asked whether small, proffered bag contains everything. Point out that take nine separate scripts and that meds therefore usually arrive in large carrier bag. Pharmacist phones GP's surgery. GP's receptionist admits that only first page of script handed to pharmacist's driver earlier in week. Pharmacist confirms with receptionist that am nevertheless permitted to take everything on both pages. Pharmacist fills script. Try to explain that getting meds two days early will still mean dearth of Rosiglitazone at end of four week period but am by now too peculiar to make sense of response.

Stump off to bus stop. Once on bus, search feverishly through carrier bag for Rosiglitazone. Fail to find it. Panic. Envisage own imminent death.

Search carrier bag more slowly. Find Rosiglitazone at very bottom. Take tablet. Think might live after all.

Friday 9.50 am

Amaze friends and colleagues with immense size of four-week drug stash. Wittily declare, "I told you I was ill".

Sunday 8am

Find missing tablets in kitchen sink under washing-up bowl. Berate self mightily. Tell Pop. Am berated mightily by Pop. Hang head in shame.

The Editor

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ill-advised T-shirt slogans #1

"I'm not a gynaecologist, but I'm happy to take a look"

Quite apart from the fact that wearing that is absolutely guaranteed to reduce your evidently already-unimpressive pulling powers, you also run the risk that a woman with an evil sense of humour will accost you, and say:

"Look, I know you're not a real gynaecologist, but I simply haven't had time to go the doctor, and I'm really quite dreadfully worried about this unpleasant, green discharge. Would you mind terribly just having a look at it for me?"

(I didn't, as it happens. But possibly only because it didn't occur to me until several days later.)

The Editor

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Blindingly obvious

When I'm hobbling around town with my camera slung round my neck, I notice things I've never picked up on before. Like the sculptural reliefs on the building on the corner of Hardman Street and Hope Street.

You can still see the holes where the name of this building used to be, but the letters themselves are long gone.

The lack of any obvious identifiying marks doesn't pose an insuperable problem to someone who has recently purchased a copy of Terry Cavanagh's "Public Sculpture of Liverpool", though. Oh, no. This Grade II listed building was designed to house the Liverpool School for the Blind.

Mr Cavanagh reports that, according to Architect and Building News dated 7th of October 1932, the subjects of the sculptural reliefs "relate to the life and work of the school". One of the reliefs depicts hands reading Braille. If that had been the one I saw first, I might at that point have been feeling fairly sanguine about what the school had to offer.

Unfortunately, one glance at the rest of the reliefs leads one to suspect that the main purpose of the school was to provide the tragic blindies of the time with skills they could employ in their praiseworthy quest to avoid being an economic drain on the rest of society.

Blind people could, apparently, knit. (I know: isn't that clever of them? I bet some kindly, sighted person helped them with the colours, though, don't you?)

Evidently - given that two of the reliefs are devoted to this - blindies were also absolutely top-tastic at making brushes. Which, y'know, to me sounds like a fulfilling and intellectually-stimulating full-time job. I mean, who wouldn't want to make brushes for a living, if they had the choice?

And then there's the predictable relief of hands playing a piano, because everyone knows that blind people are all perfectly suited to a life of tuning pianos, what with the absence of sight having blessed them with almost superhuman hearing and everything.

So, if you're a tragic blindy in 1930s Liverpool, you have a choice of careers. You can knit for a living (although presumably only if you are a girl); you can make fabulous brushes; or you can utilise your enhanced sense of hearing to help you tune pianos.

But that's not all! No, they saved the best (and most stereotypical) of all possible crip occupations for pride of place above the front door.

Yes, that relief really does depict basket-weaving.

I came pretty close to backing off the pavement into the path of oncoming traffic in shock when I saw that. The threat of basket-weaving is such a crip in-joke standard these days that it's a bit bloody chilling to realise that, less than 80 years ago, it was so very far from being a joke that it was actually celebrated in architecture. I wonder how many brilliant minds were thrown away on a lifetime of bending willow for no better reason than that their owners couldn't see...?

The Editor

Thursday, March 19, 2009

So, where we we?

Last weekend, Pop ran one of the annual conferences in which attempts are made to enliven the average crip lumpenproletariat sufficiently for them to stand for union office. Or, possibly, represent another disabled member with something approaching a modicum of expertise in the issues.

(Does this sound exciting yet?)

Unless these events have undergone a massive sea-change since I attended one myself ten years ago - which, coincidentally, is where I first met the illustrious Pop - I should imagine a moderately grim time was had by all. Except, I suppose, by those who think staying in a hotel, and having access to a bar, is inherently desperately exciting. Personally, I'd rather stick needles in my eyes.

So there Pop is, on Friday evening, occupying the bar in a stalwart manner, on the lookout for any delegates who may need to tell him the story of their lives before bursting into tears and fleeing into the night. Instead of which predictable occurrence, he is handed a beer mat by the barmaid.

Said beer mat bears the hand-scrawled legend,

"I think you're very cute"

followed by a room number and signature.

Now, the conference didn't start until Friday lunchtime, so Friday evening is too soon for Pop - who is not as young as he used to be, bless him - to have put faces to the names of all the delegates. He does, however, recognise the adoring signature as belonging to one of the aformentioned delegates. Retreating in horror, he manages to lock himself securely behind the stout door of his own hotel room without further incident.

He subsequently proceeds to spend the rest of the conference surrounded by a human shield of trustworthy persons and sedulously avoiding corners.

We imagine that the beer mat-writer, having had her advances so cruelly spurned, has spent the remainder of the weekend completely mortified, unable to believe that she did something so humiliating.

But it would appear not.

Today, Pop received the feedback forms from the event.

One of them is decorated with a big heart, his name, and the chilling statement, "You don't know what you missed".

Pop was last seen digging a bunker in his back garden whilst simultaneously changing his name by deed poll and having facial reconstructive surgery.

The Editor
PS Mr Pickard, please send me your address so that I may embark on the lengthy process of getting round to posting your book to you.

Saturday, February 07, 2009


Several years ago, it took me many hours of Googling to track down what I considered at the time to be the least aesthetically-offensive med alert bracelet then on offer.

What with me being diabtic*, it's important that any paramedics who should happen to be scraping me up off the street are aware that I may be in a hypo rather than dead drunk. And, whilst I fully accept the sound rationale behind med alert jewellery, I really don't see any justification for the vast majority of it being so ugly. I mean, it's not as though - as with crutches and wheelchairs - you can get it free. I've long assumed that part of the reason for NHS mobility aids being so unremittingly grim is the sound financial principle that, faced with a grey monstrosity, anyone with any financial cushion at all will rush to use it to buy something sleek and gorgeous, thus returning the grey horror to the NHS to be unleashed on the next victim...

But you can't get med alert jewellery on the NHS, so there's no good reason to deliberately design it to be as ghastly as possible. (Trust me: I was in a meeting a couple of weeks ago with someone wearing a bracelet produced by the most well-known UK manufacturer of these aids. A thing of beauty it was most assuredly not.) I know stainless steel enjoyed brief (and inexplicable) favour as a jewellery component in the 1970s, but surely no-one wears it from choice now?

Why this constant assumption that nobody with a life-threatening medical condition and/or serious impairment will give two hoots about their appearance? Med alert jewellery is something which, by its very nature, one has to wear all the time.

If it's round your neck, you can't wear any other necklaces or pendants. (Well, I suppose you could. But I suspect the hideous med alert pendant would very quickly suck all the aesthetic merit out of anything else worn in its immediate vicinity.)

If it's round your wrist, you have to see it. Which, in the case of my own really-not-that-bad silver bracelet results in me thinking many times a day that my right wrist would look a deal better with something much more to my taste fastened round it. (No: not Pop's jaws: the very idea!)

Anyway, I am pleased to report that a solution appears to have presented itself since my last foray into the stainless steel world of med alert jewellery: behold, I give you the med alert watch**! Whilst not the most gorgeously-designed watch you ever did see, it's pretty inoffensive. And, importantly, it would free up my right wrist for lovely things. Also, it would carry a deal more information than just "diabetes" and "penicillin allergy", which are what's engraved on my current bracelet. Result all round, really....

The Editor

*Aunty Jan and self once had the great misfortune to meet a vulgar individual in a pub who insisted on showing off his ever-so-clever med alert solution to us. (Regularly useful in Spain, apparently, where he often fell down drunk and had to be scraped off the floor by paramedics.) He undid his shirt to reveal the legend "I'M A DIABTIC" tattooed across his chest. True story.

** Yes, thank you, I know it's a man's watch. But so is the watch I'm currently wearing. Dainty watches for laydeez look ridiculous on wrists the size of mine. And you have to squint to see the time on them.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

For the love of lambananas

For reasons no more complicated than the fact that I bought one myself and was then given one for Christmas, I find myself with a supernumerary copy of the GoSuperlambananas book.

Had m'learned friend Dame Honoria not also managed to get herself presented with a copy for Christmas, I would have passed my spare one on to her.

That particular avenue being now closed to me, it has occurred to me instead that I should send my spare copy to whichever of my readers composes the most superlambanana-book-deserving comment on this blog entry.

If, therefore, you love the lambs and either couldn't find, or couldn't afford, a copy of this book of your very own, tell me why I should send my spare copy to you.

Bertie and I will judge all the entries next weekend.

I'm quite willing to, as they say on all the best websites, "ship internationally". My only caveat is that whoever wins will need to bear in mind that, when it comes to wrapping things up ready to take them to the Post Office, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Or, to put it another way, wrapping things up hurts like a bar steward.) So there may be a considerable delay between the winner knowing that they have won, and actually receiving the book.

Assuming you can live with that, let battle commence...

The Editor