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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

Thursday, May 31, 2007

The sun ain't gonna shine any more

The first thing Pop did when he got home after working away a couple of weeks ago, apparently, was fire up his PC and run his eyes over the contents of this blog in a feverish search for written evidence of how much I had missed him. Given that answer came there none, he settled down for a good sulk and determined that I would never hear the end of it. Pop is stewarding at a music festival this weekend. He left yesterday, and won't be home until Monday. Unwilling to be at the receiving end of another such sulk, I present the following sincere and heartfelt missive.

Darling Pop,

It is with some difficulty that I have managed to drag myself out of bed to compose this letter to you. I am so downcast by your absence that I am really fit for nothing more strenuous than weeping quietly into a handkerchief whilst gazing mournfully at the photograph of you wearing my MBE hat which I have printed out specially so that I can stroke your beloved face.

It seems only fitting that I should clothe myself in black garments for the duration of this period of misery. Bright colours seem completely out of place when my sun has been obscured by the dark clouds of a life without access to your cheering and inspirational words. I am considering making little black armbands for Caspar and Bertie as they, too, feel your loss deeply. Neither has been heard to purr since they learned of your departure.

We are, indeed, a quiet and miserable household at present. The days of your absence stretch out before me to an intolerable length, and I am at a loss to know how I will fill the waking hours until your most welcome and longed-for return. Everything is on hold until that glorious moment when I am once again treated to the delights of hearing your deep, cultured and masculine voice speaking my name.

If it were only your absence that I had to bear, I think I might win through. But there is the additional worry about your well-being, given that you will be sleeping in a tent at this time when the weather is far from wholly clement. I can only pray that you have had the foresight to pack warm clothing and to invest in a sleeping bag of the highest quality. I am not at all convinced that it is sensible for a man of your age and predisposition to catching plague to spend his nights under canvas. If I manage to catch so much as an hour's sleep myself until I know that you are safely back within your own bricks and mortar, it will be a miracle.

No-one can make me laugh while I am missing you so desperately, as Boogaloo Dude and Melbamae will confirm after the unwontedly sober conversations they had with me earlier today. Both were shocked by my lassitude and my frequent tears, and did everything in their power to cheer me. But their best efforts were to no avail. I remain inconsolable.

I have even tried to appear pale and wan, but have discovered that I am constitutionally incapable of such a feat despite my best efforts. I console myself with the knowledge that I am pale and wan underneath.

Oh lucky festival-goers who have the good fortune to receive a word or a smile from you in your undoubtedly-sexy fluorescent yellow steward's tabard! What wouldn't I give to be in their shoes? Curse this frail, crippled body in which I am imprisoned!!

On the other hand...

If the phone rings and I hear my father's voice, I will know that it actually is my father and not you freaking me out with your uncannily-accurate impersonation of my father. (The accuracy of which impersonation is all the more uncanny for the fact that you have never actually heard him speak.)

I can eat garlic, chillies, broccoli and avocado with impunity and without having to endure your theatrical shudderings at the thought of what I have just consumed. I have already promised faithfully that I will lay off the garlic when I see you. You don't live close enough to me to smell it.

I can settle down for an afternoon nap secure in the knowledge that I will not be woken up by text messages from you asking whether I am awake.

Neither will I have to put up with you asking me at 6.05 pm whether I have taken my meds yet when you have been speaking to me since 5.45 and have thus caused me to miss my 6pm meds appointment.

I will be able to settle down to watch this evening's episode of House secure in the knowledge that you will, just this once, not be phoning me moments before the true nature of the hideous medical complaint is revealed for no other reason than that you can't stand the fact that I worship the ground Hugh Laurie limps on.

Your adoring and affectionate friend,

F xxx


Ok, so we all accept that there are some locations where it simply isn't possible to provide ramped access and retain that useful pavementy thing which keeps pedestrians from being mown down by passing articulated lorries. Really. We do.

But what we don't accept is that installing a call-button - with a stick figure of a wheelchair user on it - which is well out of the reach of any wheelchair user who doesn't happen to moonlight as Inspector Gadget is a reasonable alternative to ramped access.

I'm five foot six. If I stand on the pavement outside this bank, I can't reach that call-button. You know, what with the grab bars (which appear to exist solely to serve the purpose of assisting us frail types to drag ourselves past the bank) being in the way.

All of which reminds me of one of the lift call-buttons in the office where I work (on those rare occasions when I'm not devoting my entire being to the challenge of overcoming the side-effects of Tramadol).

Boogaloo Dude and I have had conversations with building management staff (lovely people to whom we never refer as "The Forces of Darkness") which have gone something like this:-

"Erm, we're not sure a wheelchair user could reach that button."

"Ah, well, you see, now that's where you're wrong. Before the building opened, we invited a bloke in a wheelchair in to see whether he could reach it. And he could. So ner."

"Mmmm. How tall was he?"


"How tall was he?"

"I don't understand..."

"How tall was he?"

"Well, I don't know, do I? He was in a wheelchair. He was sitting down. How am I supposed to know how tall he was?"

"Ok. Was he a tall bloke?"


"Did he look the way you'd expect a tall bloke to look when he's sitting down?"

"Er, well..."

"Had his impairment restricted the length of his arms - and therefore the length of his reach - in any way?"

"Well, no, but..."

"Did it not occur to you when you chose a wheelchair user to test whether that button was within reach that it might - just might - have been a good idea to choose someone with limited reach?????"

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Oh, the horror!!

I've spent some of the most miserable hours of my life sitting in doctors' waiting rooms. But even I can't top this.


Shamelessly half-inched from the redoubtable Funky Mango, I bring you this rather entertaining Wiki-meme:-

1. Go to Wikipedia.
2. In the Search box, type the month and day (but not the year) of your birth.
3. Choose three events that happened on your birthday.
4. Choose two important birthdays and one interesting death.
5. Post it.

My birthday is 30th March


1858 - Hymen Lipman patents a pencil with an attached eraser.

1979 - Airey Neave is killed by a car bomb as he exits the Palace of Westminster.

1997 - Television Channel Five is launched by the Spice Girls as the fifth British terrestrial television channel.


1853 - Vincent van Gogh

1950 - Robbie Coltrane


2002 - Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, Queen Mother*

*It just so happens that I have photographic evidence of the news of the Queen Mother's death being received by mobile phone during my 40th birthday party. No, I'm afraid to say that we didn't stop the party...

Monday, May 28, 2007


We've all met them. Or rather, if you haven't met at least one of them, then you're living a charmed life. Either that or you're spending your days in splendid isolation from the common herd in the manner of Simeon Stylites. Or possibly David Blaine. But I digress. It's the meds. Honest. Would I lie to you?

Anyway, yes. Them. The people who have done everything you've ever done, been everywhere you've ever been, and who have had every medical condition you've ever had. Only they've had it worse. They know what you're talking about. They understand.

I used to work with one of them. The rest of us used to take it in turns to come up with increasingly unlikely pastimes to see whether he would admit failure. But no. If he hadn't done it/been there/experienced that himself, he had a mate who had. And who had told him all about it. As it happens, he was an absolutely delightful chap and, try as you might, you really couldn't hold it against him. If only they were all like that...

But they're not. And when you've got serious health problems, these are the people you want to avoid like the plague. If only because the impulse to grab them by the scruff of the neck and pound their head into a brick wall can be very difficult to resist.

Let me give you an example.

I have a friend whose husband had a sub-arachnoid haematoma nearly twenty years ago when they were on holiday in Greece. Large portions of his brain were destroyed with the result that he has severe short-term memory problems. He is unbelievably difficult to live with and care for, and she is the closest I have ever met to a saint.

He can't read books because he can't hold the plot in his head. The only television programmes he can watch are the ones where they helpfully remind you what just happened every five minutes or so. In other words, the ones which anyone with even a modicum of intelligence strenuously avoids. He can't cook even a simple meal on his own because he can't remember where he's up to and what he did last. Despite being on a very low income, they have to eat convenience foods: if he sees my friend cooking, he becomes very frustrated if he can't join in. When he's driving her to distraction, she sometimes sends him out to do something straightforward like sweeping the path. Once started, he has no idea how long he's been out there. So he'll sweep for two hours, left to his own devices. In fact, he'll repeat any task for long enough to injure himself if he's left to his own devices.

But that's not the worst of it. Because he can't remember people's responses to the way in which he behaves, he has never re-learned to take other people's feelings into account. So, emotionally, he's like a toddler. One which is six foot tall and very strong. He throws tantrums and has towering rages. Which he forgets as soon as they're over. Imagine the frustration: you've had an enormous row with your other half; you're still seething with resentment; and he genuinely doesn't know why you're being so grouchy with him because he's already forgotten that you fell out. She doesn't even have the luxury of stewing in her own juices, because she can't leave him unattended. Over the years, they have lost all but one of the friends they had made as a couple before this happened: his amnesia makes him, in all honesty, intolerable company.

But, because it's his memory which has been affected rather than his intelligence, if you only met him for five minutes, you would have no idea that he has any kind of impairment, let alone one with such a devastating impact. So my friend often finds herself having to explain his difficulties to people. Which is ok, unless the person you're explaining them to is one of them.

"Oh, I know what you mean!", they say. "My memory's not what it was. I'm getting quite forgetful. Why, only the other day I [insert anecdote of choice referring to non-critical senior moment] ."

In other words, "Have you stopped speaking now? Oh good. I couldn't really concentrate on what you were saying because, to be honest, it wasn't actually about me, was it? I'm really much more interesting than your husband could possibly be, and I have really quite dreadful health problems of my own. Which I'd be more than happy to tell you about in minute detail, if you'd like. Oh. Where has she gone? Was it something I said? Funny woman..."

The problem for us crips is that almost all impairments are an extreme form of something which everyone experiences at some time. Which means that they think they know what our lives are like. Either because, as in the example above, they are so much the centre of their own universe that the concept of there being anything they haven't experienced is inconceivable to them, or because they can't understand experiences which are outside their own frame of reference. (Which is where the, "Well, she can't be in very much pain if she's laughing that much" reaction comes from, I think.)

Once a year, as a result of my diabetic retinopathy screening test, I spend several hours with my pupils artificially enlarged, which means that I only have peripheral vision, and that the light hurts my eyes. This does not entitle me to contact my visually-impaired friends and colleagues and tell them I know what their impairment is like. I don't. I know my vision will be back to normal in a couple of hours. I lie down in a darkened room until that happens. I take time out from my daily life until I can see again. I don't have to develop strategies for every minor task so that I can complete it safely with restricted vision. The only thing I have learned is what the view is like when you have no central vision.

I lived in Greece for a year or two after I graduated. I have experienced culture shock. I know what it's like to be an English woman living in Greece. A country where the vast majority of people speak my language to at least some extent, and one in which people of my nationality are warmly welcomed. That doesn't mean I have any idea what it's like to be a Muslim asylum-seeker in the UK. I may have fractionally more insight into how it feels than someone has who has never lived abroad, but it would be preposterous to claim that I really understand.

We've all had bad days. We've all had days on which we would describe ourselves as 'being depressed'. But that's as different from the experience of full-blown clinical depression as being absent-minded is different from having amnesia. I know. I've had clinical depression. And I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. But my point is that no-one should need to have experienced the real thing to recognise that saying, "Oh, I know what you mean..." when they really, really don't is Not Helpful.

I doubt whether there's anyone reading this blog who hasn't experienced some degree of back pain at some point. There certainly won't be anyone who has never considered themselves to be exhausted. But, please: unless you have lived with severe, chronic pain and the concomitant exhaustion of pushing yourself past the impact of it on your entire system for years, don't even think about assuming you know what my life is like. Or what the Dude's life is like. Or what Marmite Boy's life is like. I know I've said this before, but we don't expect you to know what it's like. We're really not offended that you don't. Or insulted that you don't seem to be even trying to understand. We don't need you to understand. All we ask is that you listen to what we tell you about our limitations and a) believe us, and b) remember what we've said. Really. That's it. Do that, and you'll have a crippy friend for life.

I won't regale you with detailed descriptions of the impact of my impairments on my daily life in casual conversation unless I really need to: it's not remotely interesting (to me, at any rate), and I have better things to talk about on those rare occasions when I actually get to leave the house. I'm not a whinging crip. Honest. I do have other interests. But, if I have spoken to you about it, for whatever reason, please don't tell me you understand exactly what it must be like to be in pain all the time because you once got a splinter under your thumbnail/had toothache for a week/get twinges in your back when you've been gardening for eight hours straight.

Because, trust me, you wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

The Editor

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Last orders, please...

The 30th of May is the deadline for submitting nominations for this year's WOW! National Customer Service Award. You, as a customer, may nominate any business, or business individual, from whom you have received outstanding customer service (in the UK) at any time in the last 12 months. And you can do it on this form.

Given that disabled customers have more complicated service needs than the average non-disabled man on the Clapham omnibus, I reckon we're particularly well-placed to comment on customer service. After all, if we're getting good service, I think it's fairly safe to assume that everyone else is too.

And wouldn't it be nice to see praise for efforts made towards full accessibility of service in the write-up of the awards ceremony? It might even make some businesses who haven't taken it very seriously so far realise that it is worth doing. Because, frankly, I don't give a stuff whether shops and banks and restaurants and whatever are accessible because they're run by a philanthropist, or because whoever runs them has realised that making them accessible will increase profits. The bottom line is that I, and many of my regular readers, need them to be accessible.

Political ranting aside, exceptional customer service is now so rare that it deserves praise and recognition. If you've got a particularly fab hairdresser, mortgage adviser, taxi driver, newsagent or whatever, you've got just a few days left in which to nominate them for this year's award.

The Editor

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

In which the Editor plays with her food

The currant* Skoda Fabia advert (my thanks to Becca for the link to "the baking of" video clip) has had me rummaging through my drawers (in a manner of speaking) for photographic evidence of One Of Those Creative Things I Used To Do Before I Was Such A Crip.

Yes, for several years, I liked nothing better than creating novelty cakes for either my nearest and dearest, or for people who were willing to both pay for the ingredients and make suitably flattering comments.

Unfortunately, times were hard in those days, and I couldn't afford a camera. (And, no, that was not because I spent all my money on marzipan.) So, sadly, there is no documentary evidence of the majority of my edible sculptures. I trust you won't doubt my word when I aver that the ones which weren't photographed demonstrated considerably greater artistic talent than the ones which were. Even though that is clearly a Monstrous Untruth.

Noddy and Big Ears in Noddy's car; the Sports Bag; the plump, red heart with the hand-painted banner; the bevy of lovely ladies in a state of undress; Cinderella in her pumpkin coach; the Egyptian mummy emerging from its coffin; the pair of Tommy Cooper's fez hats - these and others now exist only in memory. (Although I seem to recall that one of the lovely, scantily-clad ladies spent quite some time sitting on a telephone in the office: for some reason, my male colleagues found her response to the vibrations of the ringing phone to be highly entertaining. Indeed, sometimes she was so excited, she actually fell off onto the desk. Cue much dirty sniggering. Men, eh? She was made from icing, for heaven's sake.)

I gave up about six years ago. Partly because I was already becoming too creaky to do it, but mainly because I'd become diabetic. I never partook of the finished product, you understand, but there can be quite a lot of carving to achieve the desired shape and, well, it would just be such a waste of ingredients to throw the off-cuts into the bin...

I still have a whole shelf of books devoted to the art. I can't bear to let them go although, really, there is precious little point in hanging on to them. My absolute favourite was Jill Tipping's "Iced Follies", published in 1988. Abebooks has a number of second-hand copies for sale. It's worth buying just for the ingenuity of her designs, even if you never get round to creaming the initial butter and sugar together and lining your cake tin with greaseproof paper.

Anyway, I've been playing with my scanner. As I said, not many of the cakes were ever photographed. Of those that were, some of the photographs were of such poor quality that they weren't worth scanning. Others were photographed next to their "delighted" recipients, none of whom, I suspect, would want an unauthorised image of themselves to be published on the interwebnet. But here are just a few:

* That's a pun, not a spelling error. Currants. They go into fruit cakes. Do you see what I did there? Is that hilarious or what? I missed my vocation. You know, I should have been on the stage... [Exit Editor, protesting vehemently, dragged away from the computer by hideously embarrassed Selkirk Rex kitten.]

Monday, May 21, 2007

My kingdom for a horse...

For some time now, I've purchased a new travel card once a year. (I used to do it once a month, but it's astonishing how quickly the month-end comes round. And, anyway, the bloke behind the counter at the then bus station used to give me the creeps: there is such a thing as being too pleased to see a particular customer.)

When I first started doing this, I was travelling to the office and back five days a week by bus. So it was worthwhile financially. These days I travel in to the office by bus three mornings a week, and back home by bus one evening. (I don't bed down under my desk on the other two days, you understand: I'm not that sad. A very lovely friend of mine gives me a lift home.) So now it's not remotely worthwhile financially. In fact, I'd really rather not sit down and calculate the actual cost of my journeys per month and compare that to one twelfth of the cost of my travel card. But what it does allow me to do - and this is enormously important to a woman in my condition - is to sit down before the bus suddenly pulls out and hares round a steep bend on two wheels.

So, anyway, my last travel pass being valid until May 19th, I decided on Friday afternoon that I would go and renew it at the local railway station.

Apart from anything else, I needed to know how long it would take me to walk to the station. This is because the bus I have been using to travel to work for the last twelve years, or thereabouts, has been withdrawn. As part of a programme to "improve services", of course. So, once I have conquered the side-effects of Tramadol sufficiently to be capable of rather more than just sitting at my desk and staring vaguely into the middle distance, I will need to catch a train for one stop in order to pick up the bus which no longer comes out this far. Thereby extending what used to be a thirty minute journey door to door into something considerably more time-consuming.

So I set off at what, for me, is a fairly brisk pace.

Unlike the walk to the bus stop, which was a straightforward downhill meander along the side of a dual carriageway, this one is more complicated. I've got to cross said busy dual carriageway, for a start. Something which throws an imponderable into the time-calculation. Plus, instead of smooth stretches of easily-navigable pavement, we have numerous very short stretches of pavement interrupted at almost unbelievably-frequent intervals by steep kerb cuts. Some of the houses on this route have two drives, would you believe? I'm busy keeping an eye on the time on the way there, but I'm determined that I'm going to count those blasted kerb cuts on the way back. Just for my own satisfaction. So that, in the absence of any more gripping conversational gambits, I will be able to splutter, "Do you know how many kerb cuts there are between home and the railway station? Do you? Go on: guess!" in an enraged manner. (Really, is it any wonder people queue up to avoid me?)

When I finally reach the station, I'm disappointed to note that the walk has taken somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes. (The walk to the bus stop used to take getting on for 15 minutes.) I'm still not persuaded it's actually any further to the station: just that the walk is more difficult.

Anyway, having established how long the walk takes, I move on to stage two of the plan. Slapping my travel pass on the counter, I cheerily request, "another year on that, please.".

"Sorry, luv", the chap says. "We don't do those here. They do them at Central, though."

"Oh. How long 'til the next train into town?"

"Three minutes."

"Ok, I'll do that then. Thank you." (Note: middle-class conditioning is so deeply-embedded that the impulse to be polite over-rides infuriated disbelief that you can't buy a travel card for a public transport network at all of that network's outposts.)

So I catch the train into town. Central station is, as always, a busy place. Too busy, really, for an ouchy crip in a Tramadol haze. But, hey: needs must, and all that. I queue up at the ticket counter for Quite Some Time. Eventually, I am able to slap my travel pass on the counter and repeat my earlier cheery request.

"Sorry, luv. We haven't got any annual ones. Merseytravel are supposed to send them to us, but they haven't. We sell them on their behalf, you see. You'll be able to get one at the Travel Centre. Do you know where that is?"

I do indeed know where that is. It's quite a long walk from Central station through some of the busiest pedestrianised parts of town. This is turning out to be such fun! I mean, you'd think people would be only too keen to relieve me of the better part of £500, wouldn't you?

So, off I go. I navigate past the small crowd of people who have stopped to look at a pigeon. (No, I don't know why.) I narrowly avoid being bitten in both ankles by a variety of sharpened baby buggies. And falling over the idiot who stops dead in front of me. And being mown down by the other idiot who is composing a text message while walking at full speed.

Eventually, bloody but unbowed, I reach the Travel Centre. I stand in another queue. Behind people with the most complicated and lengthy travel queries known to man. Who haven't the intelligence to fully understand either what they're asking, or the answers they are given. One woman has lost her travel pass. She's told that she can get a replacement for £5 if she brings in a new photograph and some proof of her address, e.g. a gas or electricity bill. For reasons which I can't follow, she doesn't have a gas or electricity bill. On the plus side, however, she does have an exceedingly vociferous friend who appears to be labouring under the delusion that it is her bounden duty to harangue the Travel Centre staff viciously over their entirely-unreasonable desire to ensure that they're issuing the travel pass to the right person.

At last, I get my travel pass renewed. By this stage, I am too tired to ask probing questions about why I have to come right to the centre of the transport network to have this simple task performed.

I wend my weary way back through the milling crowds to the bus stop. The one at which the number 82 bus has stopped since the Dawn Of Time. After watching two 82 buses sail past without stopping, it occurs to me that Something Is Wrong. Moving up the pavement a tad, I accost a gentleman in a luminous jacket.

"It's moved, luv", he says, helpfully. "It's round on Lime Street now. In front of the old picture house. Will be for the next twelve months, at least. It's all uphill from here."

Oh, well, that's just bloody marvellous, isn't it? (I don't say this to the gentleman in the luminous jacket. I know he isn't personally responsible for the fact that the city centre has been in utter chaos for the last three years.)

With faltering steps, I limp onwards towards the "temporary" bus stop. And look back with surprising affection on all those weeks when I wasn't fit enough to leave the house.

The Editor

Friday, May 18, 2007

Bertie's guide to getting one's human up in the morning

When a young cat has been tremendously well-behaved; has slept quietly in his squidgy doughnut bed all night; and has generously refrained from forcing Caspar out of her squidgy doughnut bed despite his suspicions that it might be even more comfortable than his own*, then it seems only reasonable to expect his human to be up and about by 7 in the morning.

However, despite the obvious attractions of being up by 7 at the latest, humans are sometimes still asleep as late as 8. Clearly, this is a dreadful error on their part. They will therefore almost certainly be touchingly grateful for any assistance which a personable young chap might offer.

They will be more deeply asleep at some times than others. This is why one should follow the guide in the order in which it is set down. The later stages will only be required if your human is behaving in a particularly recalcitrant manner.

#1. Fish items of rubbish out of the bedroom wastepaper bin with your dear little paws, and proceed to bat them around the floor. This is so unbearably cute that your human will almost certainly want to wake up and watch. Should the quieter items of rubbish not produce the desired effect, try to find one of those little foil trays in which your human's medication is provided. This allows you to be both cute and noisy.

#2. Put the wind up Caspar so that she runs over the top of the bed and, therefore, over the chest of your sleeping human. (NB it would appear that female cats are both lighter and fleeter of paw than us chaps. We only want to wake the human, not crush her ribs with our superior weight and musculature. Breakfast will undoubtedly be seriously delayed if the human has to call for an ambulance.)

#3. Sharpen your claws on the exposed part of the base of the bed while uttering piteous cries such as might emanate from the mouth of a cat, weak with hunger, who has not eaten for several days. (Humans have notoriously bad memories, and can easily be persuaded that they absent-mindedly forgot to feed you at all yesterday.)

#4. If all else fails, lick your human's toes. This will make her laugh. At which point she will be forced to admit that she is, in fact, awake.

Having used the last sixty minutes to work up a healthy appetite, you can now streak into the kitchen ahead of your more ponderous human and adopt your most winning posture in the vicinity of your food bowls.

(In a multi-human household, it may be possible to repeat this entire process several times before one is caught out.)

You may wish to add variations of your own to this guide, depending on the layout of your own house and the behaviour of your own particular human. For example, Bertie's pen-pal, Oscar, favours head-butting his human on those days when he inexplicably forgets to set his alarm clock.

Whatever your chosen method, however, it is important to remember that your human would genuinely prefer to be up early, and that you are therefore doing him or her a favour.

*They don't have a specific bed each. She sleeps in whichever one he isn't currently in. Until he wakes up and catches sight of her. At which point the bed she's in usually becomes the most desirable residence in the world, and he bounces up and down on her head until she capitulates. (Editor's note)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

We interrupt this blog...

... to bring you this tasteful advertisement.

Thanks are due to Lady Knits the Blues for the sentiment, and the supremely-talented Mr Mental as a Fork for the artwork.

Monday, May 14, 2007

In which we name and shame

You know, I like Sitemeter. Always have. It tells me I'm averaging 142 visits a day at the moment (which is nice of it); it tells me where my visitors live; it tells me how long they stay and how many pages they visit.

But, more importantly than all of that, it tells me how they found this blog. Which gives me really far more insight than I would wish to have into the detailed desires of various sad, lonely men around the world. All of whom must weep with disappointment when Google sends them in my direction.

But I've got a corker for you now. Nothing to do with bizarre fetishes involving young women and, er, cherries. Nothing so dull. Something much better, in fact. Oh, you are going to love this...

At 12.09 pm today, someone was directed to my blog as a result of having run the following search term through Google:

"When is it ok to not employ a disabled person?"

See? I told you you'd love it. Ah, but wait. I haven't finished yet. It gets better.

I delved slightly deeper into sitemeter than I have previously been wont to do. And, bless it, it furnished me with an IP address. The person who ran that search did so from a computer belonging to Southampton City Council.

Now, Southampton City Council: they're a public sector service provider, right? So they'll be subject to the Disability Equality Duty. Which means, if I'm not mistaken, that they must have published a Disability Equality Scheme. Last year. Mustn't they?

Let's see if we can persuade Google to point us towards it, shall we? Oh yes, here it is. (Well, actually, it's not. Under the DED, the scheme should have been published no later than the 1st of December last year. What we have here are "Draft Actions for the Equality Scheme". Which seems to be something rather less ... finished. Something a tad incomplete. But, unless my interwebnet searching skills have deserted me, it's the closest we're going to get to what we're actually looking for.)

Ok, so: scrolling....

Ah, yes. Here we are. Employment. Jolly good.

"The council wants to be the ‘employer of choice’ for all our diverse communities and have a workforce that is more representative of the communities we serve.

Disabled people are under-represented as employees of the council. We propose to take a range of steps that seek to increase employment of, and opportunities for, disabled people.
For example:
• reviewing our recruitment process
• continuing to develop ‘traineeships’
• improving disability equality awareness of managers through training."

Well, goodness me: isn't that interesting? Presumably conducting feverish web searches for when it's ok to not employ a disabled person falls under the "reviewing our recruitment process" bullet point, then? Although I'm pretty sure I can't be the only one who can't quite see how that fits in with the stated aim of increasing the employment of, and opportunities for, disabled people.

Because it seems to me - and, you know, call me cynical if you like - that what Southampton City Council are actually trying to do here is to weasel their way out of the equality-conscious aim the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 browbeat them into publishing, albeit only in draft form.

If there's an innocent interpretation of this which the red mist of my incandescent rage is preventing me from seeing, then by all means bring it to my attention. But you've got to admit that, on the face of it, it doesn't look good.

In the meantime, Southampton City Council, let me tell you precisely when it would be ok not to employ a disabled person. (You think I'm going to say, "Never!" now, don't you? You think I'm an uppity crip with the bit between her teeth, and I'm going to suggest you sack all your current non-disabled staff and replace them with disabled people. You think I'm completely unreasonable. You're wrong.)

You can employ whoever the hell you like. It would seem sensible to employ the best person for the job whenever a vacancy arises, but no-one can make you do that. What you can't do - and this is the important bit, so you may want to pay attention - what you can't do is fail to offer a disabled person the job if, by that action, you are treating that person less favourably than you would a non-disabled person for reasons relating directly to his or her impairment. (Strange as it might seem, refusing someone employment just because he or she is disabled does count as less favourable treatment. The law's funny like that.)

In other words, you can search Google until the cows come home, but you're not going to find a list of handy hints about circumstances under which you would have blanket justification for not offering a job to a disabled person. Because that would be disability discrimination. And that's illegal.

The Editor

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Why are there no aspirins in the jungle?

Because the paracetamol. Everyone knows that.

Ah, yes: paracetamol. 500 mg of paracetamol, to be precise. Eight of those a day.

A 500 mg capsule of paracetamol is quite large.

So. Paracetamol capsule grasped between teeth. Not too firmly: we don't want to risk splitting the casing. We know what paracetamol tastes like, thank you, and we don't want a mouthful of it. Capsule arranged with short end facing towards throat for ease of swallowing. Swig of liquid taken to wash capsule down.

Now, I'm a bit of an old hand at taking meds. I consider myself to be something of an adept, really. Glucophage tablets are considerably larger than 500 mg of paracetamol, and I can get those down without a problem.

But there's something in those paracetamol capsules. Some sort of self-righting mechanism. Possibly actually a nanobot navigator. I can almost hear him yelling, "Hard right!! Hard right, damn you!! We're not going down without a fight!", every time I swig the liquid and relax my jaw to release the capsule. Because every single bloody one (yes, all eight of them) turns itself sideways before it hits my throat.

Things can now go one of two ways.
  1. Capsule goes down sideways. Progress of capsule from throat to stomach can be tracked quite easily. I haven't actually looked in a mirror, admittedly, but I'm pretty sure it would be visible.
  2. Huge gulp of extra liquid taken in in panicked attempt to turn capsule the right way round again. Resulting in swallowing of stupendously-large air-bubble. Which is a very unpleasant experience indeed.

The added "bonus" with the second option, of course, is the subsequent monumental expulsion of all that superfluous air. Something which I don't think can be accomplished in either a dignified or a discreet manner.

So, er, that's going to go down well when I go back to work...

The Editor

Friday, May 11, 2007

An ethical conundrum

When Bertie has been out in the rain, the fur on his head and neck gets really curly. He looks like a little woolly lamb.

Would it be very, very wrong to use some kind of styling product (note total lack of familiarity with hair gunk) to retain that just-in-out-of-the-rain curliness?

The Editor

Praise where praise is due

Lady Bracknell has gone away for a while. I think it may be on account of the Tramadol. I can't find her anywhere. So you'll have to make do with me until she comes back. Which I'm hoping will be quite soon. But you never know. I'm only a lowly Editor: it would never even occur to her to keep me advised of her movements.


If your memory goes back that far, you may recall that I discovered Not On The High Street dot com back in January.

I like their site. Not just because it allows me to buy things which wouldn't be available on my local high street, even assuming I could stagger that far (although I'm not denying that's a big plus), but also because they provide a considered, sensible and effective method by which owners of small businesses can have their products brought to the attention of large numbers of people without having to bankrupt themselves on marketing costs. And, if you give me the choice between a chain store and a small independent, I'll go for the independent every time. Both as a matter of principle, and also because sole props of small companies make it abundantly clear that they actually appreciate and value your business. And, hey, I like to be appreciated...

This may all sound fairly familiar, and suspicions may be beginning to make themselves felt that I have run out of things to write about. But no. At least, not yet. No, I've brought NOTHS.com up again because their customer service has just impressed me mightily.

Over a month ago, I placed an order through their site with a particular supplier. (I'm not going to identify the supplier in question because I don't think that would be fair.) I waited and waited, and the parcel didn't arrive.

So I looked back at my invoice, and it told me that NOTHS weren't responsible for delivery, and that I should raise any problems with the supplier. Fair enough, I thought. So I sent an email. Which was immediately bounced back to me with an error message telling me the intended recipient's inbox was full.

On a nothing ventured, nothing gained basis, I contacted NOTHS direct.

They phoned the supplier.

They established that the supplier was having computer problems.

They apologised for the inconvenience.

They said, the parcel will be with you tomorrow: is that ok? (That was yesterday. It was ok. My parcel arrived this morning.)

They were charming throughout. They did not make me feel like a nuisance.

I will be buying from them again. Probably quite soon.

Call me a cynical old bat if you like, but I no longer expect this standard of customer service. (I firmly believe customers should get this level of customer service, and I will take my money elsewhere if I don't get it, but that's a separate issue.) Service of this standard should be shouted about: it's no good being the first to complain about poor service if you're not also prepared to praise good service and to tell other people where they can get it.

So. This is me telling you that you should have no qualms at all about shopping with NOTHS.com. If things go wrong (and I bet they don't go wrong very often), they will sort it out for you. And you can't say fairer than that.

The Editor

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The results of a sleepless night

Normies don’t get it. I’m not saying they don’t try, and I'm not saying they're at fault, but they don’t get it. Most of them only see me when I’m up and about. They can’t even conceive of the hours and hours of resting flat I have to do in order to spend one day up and about. I’m not weeping and wailing and rending my garments when they see me, and I “don’t look disabled”: I look like a fat woman with a stick. Hell, some of the time I don’t even have the decency to limp so as to conveniently remind them how weedy I am.

So they forget. They say things like, “Good weekend?”. They’re expecting the kind of answers another normy would give: “Oh, yes, thanks. Got all my shopping done before 10 on Saturday; re-landscaped the back garden; threw an informal supper party for 25 close friends; and decorated the back bedroom on Sunday.” In comparison with which, my “Actually, yes: I managed to get three pairs of pyjamas ironed” just sounds as though I’m taking the piss.

They say things like, “Wouldn’t it be good if we held this year’s planning day in a hotel, and all stay overnight?”. When I say, “Yes, that’s fine. Have a nice time. I’ll know if you’ve given me the jobs no-one wanted just because I wasn’t there”, they think I’m being a drama queen. They’re not familiar with the minutiae of my life. They either have never known, or they’ve forgotten, that it’s excruciatingly painful for me to eat sitting up at a table. They think it’ll be nice us all sitting round in the bar in a relaxed atmosphere in the evening: they don’t understand that, if I’ve been in a meeting in unfamiliar surroundings, the only thing I’ll be fit for come the evening is lying on my bed groaning and stuffing my face with pain-killers. They don’t get that I would give my eye teeth for the capacity to sit in a bar for an evening: I just come across as a kill-joy. Nul points for team spirit.

So, the more I’ve deteriorated physically, the fewer overtures of friendship I’ve made to those rufty-tufty non-disabled types. Because I can’t do the things they do. Even if I’m going through quite a good patch, and have agreed to go somewhere, I may have to cancel without warning at the last moment. Leaving them high and dry and, frankly, both offended and suspicious. (“She looked ok yesterday”, I imagine them muttering to themselves, in my hardly-at-all-neurotic way.)

So, crips it is. Mostly ouchy crips. Or wobbly ones. Anyone with serious stamina issues. People with a strictly finite supply of spoons. People who, when they’re deciding whether to do something, are thinking about what they’ll have to not do now, just so that they can manage to do that something. People whose every action has serious physical consequences. For whom a good weekend is any weekend which wasn’t spent entirely in bed. (And by “in bed”, I do mean “resting”. I’m certainly not talking about any activity involving two people. You think I’d have enough spoons for that? Sheesh. Boy, have you not being paying attention.)

And then I met Pop. Well, actually, I first met Pop eight years ago. So it would be more accurate to say, “And then I got to know Pop as a friend rather than just a colleague”. And – wonder of wonders! – Pop gets it. And I don’t mean he gets it in that, “Oh, poor you: gosh, it must be awful for you not being able to do things” sort of way: I mean Pop really gets it.

He understands that I’m constantly exhausted. Sometimes so exhausted that I can’t get my words out in the right order. He is the only person I have ever met who can help me out of a chair without hurting me more than I would hurt myself doing it on my own. He understands that there are a lot of things I can’t do, and he doesn’t try to cajole me into doing them. (Note to other normies: that whole cajoling thing is really annoying. You think we want to do nothing? You think this is fun?) He makes sure I take my meds on time, and he bullies me into applying ice packs ten times more often than I would ever do left to my own craven devices. He knows I tend to fall asleep in the afternoons at weekends, and he doesn’t wake me up unless it’s time I was taking some fairly critical meds. He knows when I’m having a hypo before I know myself, and he knows that I’m not myself when I’m having a hypo. He knows I spend almost all of my time in bed; he knows I’ll never go on holiday again; and he knows that I don’t lie about the levels of pain I’m experiencing. He also knows that I live in the Liverpool equivalent of the Oklahoma dust bowl. With added cobwebs.

He is completely unfazed by any of my impairment-related gubbins, and he genuinely sees me as me rather than as an amusing combination of symptoms. He is not living out any childhood doctors and nurses fantasies at my expense: he’s just completely ok with the fact that, if you want me as a friend, you’ve got to take all the impairment crap on board as well, but that’s not a big deal.

It’s a long time since I’ve got this close to a normy, and I worry that I’ll cramp his style. That my own physical limitations will end up being imposed on him. That he’ll feel obliged to give up doing the things he enjoys out of a misplaced sense of solidarity with me.

Just because I’ve had to get used to this way of living doesn’t mean I’d willingly impose it on anyone else, or that I don’t recognise how tedious it is. Hell, it’s tedious even for me, and I can’t run around and do loads of other things. Imposing it on someone with no physical impairments beyond a tendency to puff a bit if forced into a gentle run would be to imprison him for a crime he hasn’t committed. I’d no sooner do that than cage a thrush so that it would sing for me. Making someone else miserable just so that they’ll be company for me strikes me as being quite extraordinarily self-defeating behaviour even if I didn’t feel any guilt about making that person miserable. I have cats for company, and they’re more than happy to curl up with me for another few hours of resting. I mean, I may have my faults, but being uncomfortable to lie on isn’t one of them.

No, normies should definitely be out and about doing normy things. Except, therein lies the rub. I thought I’d foreseen all the problems of buddying-up with a normy. I’ve fretted and worried about being a burden, and about being perceived as a burden. But you know what? There’s something I hadn’t foreseen.

I thought the reason most of my friends are ouchy crips is because they get it. I really thought that was it. But that’s not it. Or, at least, that’s not all of it. I know that now. I know because Pop gets it.

I’ve realised that the other reason most of my friends are ouchy crips is because their lives are like mine. Some have it slightly better, some have it quite a lot worse. But none of them live like normies. And I’d forgotten. I really had forgotten just how much normies can cram into one day. Ok, so I’ve seen people on the television doing stuff, and people in books being ever so energetic, but hell: everyone knows they’re not real people. They’re just pretend.

In an unconscious self-defence measure, I just stopped thinking about how non-disabled people live their lives years ago. I blocked it out. Completely. People go away on holiday? Really? Oh, great: well, that must be nice for them. But I don’t need to go away to be happy. People go out for meals, you say? How very odd. Still, whatever floats your boat…

And then Pop came along. And, trust me, if you talk to a normy for a couple of hours every day, details of normy-life are going to filter through eventually.

And you know what? It sucks that I can’t do the same things that he can. It really sucks. I’m not sorry I was injured. I genuinely do think I am a better, happier person for having impairments thrust upon me. But it’s come at a cost. And having Pop around means that I’m much more aware of that cost than I’ve been for a very long time.

Does this mean I don’t want to be his friend any more? No. Does this mean I resent his norminess? No. Not for a moment. Am I coping well with being reminded of what other people can do that I can’t? Er, no. Not so’s you’d notice. Not unless bursting into tears at the unfairness of life constitutes coping well. Which I rather suspect it doesn’t.

So, there you go. Pal up with a normy, and the risks may be greater than you’d anticipated. It’s not just about them understanding what life is like for you: it’s also about you being reminded of what life is like for them. Normies aren’t the enemy: I’ve never thought that, and I don’t think that now. But a normy’s got to be a bit bloody special to make those stark reminders of what you can’t do any more worth putting up with.

The Editor

Monday, May 07, 2007


I'm grateful to Funky Mango for alerting me to the existence of the opportunity to find my own daemon.

(If you don't know what a daemon is, then you've been spending far too little time reading Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.)

The Editor

Friday, May 04, 2007

A stitch too far?

Once upon a time, Lady Bracknell was an enthusiastic knitter. (This was back in the days before DVDs and the Interwebnet, when one had to make one's own entertainment.)

When Lady Bracknell became enfeebled, knitting became too painful a pursuit for her, and she was forced to give it up. Gradually, over the intervening years, she has reluctantly relinquished almost all her books of knitting patterns to the local charity shop. (Although she still retains - somewhere - a copy of Melinda Coss's book of knitting patterns based on Clarice Cliff designs: should said book strike any of her regular readers as being something after which they would always have yearned had they but been aware of its existence, Lady Bracknell might be persuaded to endeavour a trip to the Post Office.)

Younger readers may not be aware that there was a great revival of the art of hand-knitting in the 1980's. Where previously the choice of yarns had been less than inspired, there was a sudden explosion on to the market of yarns in bright, rich colours and a variety of novel textures. If Lady Bracknell is not mistaken, she used to order wool by post from a supplier in the Shetland Islands, choosing the colours carefully from the charming shade card with which they had provided her.

Given that knitting was suddenly a youthful pursuit, and no longer the sole preserve of mousy women of a certain age, patterns appeared for "zany" knitted novelties such as vegetables, potted plants and jewellery knitted out of wire. Lady Bracknell herself recalls knitting a pair of duck's feet for a friend. (She hastens to add that this was done at the friend's request: it was not the aristocratic equivalent of leaving a horse's head on someone's pillow.)

Lady Bracknell was reminded of her old pastime by one of the search terms which was used yesterday to bring a reader to her humble blog. It is a search term by which she is bemused, and she hopes that one of her readers may be able to shed some light on the matter.

The search term in question is: "wheelchair knitting patterns".

As already alluded to, Lady Bracknell has created a variety of knitted novelty items in her time. But, while knitting can produce more versatile results than is often popularly imagined to be the case, it is not without its limitations. One thing knitted fabric is not is rigid. Lady Bracknell cannot but suspect that a knitted wheelchair would hardly be fit for purpose.

Lady Bracknell's second idea was that the search term might have been intended to produce patterns which can be knitted by a wheelchair user. However, while Lady Bracknell would not be at all surprised to learn that knitting while seated in a wheelchair requires an adaptation to the standard method, this surely would be an issue of technique, rather than one of specific patterns? Or are wheelchair users forbidden from knitting anything interesting, and doomed to constructing blankets to cover their knees, and capes to protect themselves from the elements?

Lady Bracknell trusts that enlightenment on this puzzling issue will shortly be forthcoming by way of Blogger's useful comments facility.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

To bee or not to bee

Yesterday afternoon, Lady Bracknell was sitting quietly, minding her own business, when she heard a scratching, rustling noise from the corner of the room. There was no immediately apparent cause of the noise, so Lady Bracknell contented herself with the assumption that one of her feline companions must be playing with something under the sideboard. As Lady Bracknell can not bend sufficiently to see what is under the sideboard, she could not be sure whether she was correct in her assumption.

After a while, it occurred to Lady Bracknell that any cats found elsewhere in Bracknell Towers could be reasonably excluded from her list of suspects. Which is why she was somewhat disconcerted to find both cats slumbering peacefully in their respective beds.

The scratching, rustling noise continued.

At Lady Bracknell's best guess, the noise was emanating from a sturdy Paperchase carrier bag containing part of her vast collection of half-packets of Christmas cards (packets which she never dares to use up for fear of mightily offending a loved one by sending him or her the same card two years running.)

Peering into the carrier bag from a safe distance did not reveal the perpetrator.

The scratching, rustling noise continued.

Although it did not sound like the sort of noise a spider would make, the thought occurred to Lady Bracknell that, if the noise were made by a spider, it would have to be a very large spider indeed to be making that much noise.

Time passed.

Caspar and Bertie, once they had woken up, took turns in sitting to attention near the bag and giving it Hard Stares. (This came as something of a relief to Lady Bracknell, who was beginning to be concerned that she might be experiencing an auditory hallucination.)

The scratching, rustling noise continued through the night and on into the morning.

Suddenly, with no warning, the noise ceased and a small, bedraggled bee was espied flying in an exhausted manner around the room.

Lady Bracknell's readers will no doubt be gladdened to learn that she saved the bee from Bertie's playful paws by opening the window and gently encouraging it to fly out. It is to be hoped that said bee has now recovered from its unpleasant ordeal, and is busily going about its bee business.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The BADD entry 2007

I touched briefly last year on the issue of “benevolent discrimination” and how much more difficult it is to prevent than its overtly hostile counterpart. This year, I’ve chosen to expand on that point with detailed reference to a couple of ostensibly-positive representations of disabled people in the media. This is going to take a while, so you may want to get a cup of tea before you start.

A few weeks ago (well, whenever Mothering Sunday was), I discovered - as a result of frantically changing channels to avoid an ad break - that GMTV were running a “Mum Of The Year” competition. The four finalists were featured from Monday to Thursday and then (I imagine) put to the public phone vote.

Now, it just so happens that, in the one I saw accidentally, the mother was disabled. She’d had some sort of blood disorder either when she was pregnant with her second child, or just after he was born (can you tell I wasn’t really paying all that much attention at this point?) which resulted in her having two below-knee amputations. So there was film footage of her doing things like putting her boots on, and walking the older child to school. (I’m relieved to report that they stopped short of the Beyond Boundaries-esque zooming in on her stumps – perhaps they thought that wasn’t the sort of thing people really want to see when they’re eating their cornflakes.)

Once the film footage had been shown, the family came into the studio to be interviewed. Now, ok: I know that the GMTV style of interviewing members of the public verges on the patronising and gushy at the best of times, but I’m damn sure they turned it up a notch for the plucky crip.

As soon as she came in, the mother was told she has the sort of smile which lights up a room. Now, she didn’t appear to have an unusually luminous and radiant smile to me, but I’ll freely admit that I wasn’t in the same room as her. Whatever the truth of the matter is, this comment strikes me as being exactly the kind of thing non-disabled people say to disabled people in the hopes that being complimented on something they still have/can do will make them feel much better about the things they no longer have/can do. Plus, of course, concentrating the conversation on some other aspect of the person’s physicality keeps the non-disabled interviewer free from the risk of (gulp) mentioning the missing legs. Because as long as we don’t mention the hideous deformity/unfortunate medical condition/tendency to dribble while talking, we can pretend it isn’t there. Not that this helps the disabled person at all but then, that's not what talking (down) to a disabled person is about, is it?

But I digress. Having gushed at the woman herself for a few nauseating seconds, they turned to the other members of her family. “What makes your mum the mum of the year?”, they asked the older child. “Well, um”, he said, clearly trying to remember what his father had coached him to say, “she’s been through a lot”.

And that was it. Nothing about her tucking him into bed at night, or throwing him the best birthday parties in the world ever, or always knowing how to make things better. Nothing, in fact, about her mothering skills at all. Just, “she’s been through a lot”. Now, I don’t doubt for a moment that she’s been through a lot. In fact, I have nothing but admiration for her positive attitude to devastating and completely-unexpected surgery. But having been through a lot doesn’t in itself qualify her to be mum of the year. Any more than having had a relatively-measly one leg removed automatically makes our very own Unreliable Witness son of the year. There is simply no connection between the two things.

Oh. Unless, of course, you’re so convinced that someone with a fairly major physical impairment couldn’t possibly be an effective parent that the very fact that the children have clean faces and aren’t dressed in rags just blows you away…. But, er, that would be a very disablist attitude, wouldn’t it?

To make matters worse, when it was the husband’s turn to be interviewed, he expressed astonishment and admiration that his beloved wife manages to be “disabled, but still normal”.

Which really sums up in a nutshell everything you ever needed to know about the average perfectly-pleasant non-disabled person’s attitude towards disabled people. They don’t hate us. They’re not out to get us. They could even get used to having one of us around, given time. But we’re not normal. We’re not like them. There’s something wrong with us, and that makes them feel very, very uncomfortable. And, as the bastions of normality, their comfort takes precedence over ours. Which is why we should stay in the background and not make a fuss and be grateful for all the concessions they’ve already made for us. Ok?

Don’t get me wrong. This was a lovely family; they were doing very well under what must have been trying circumstances, and I have no personal criticism to make of any of them. I’m merely highlighting the insidious disablism which has coloured not only their own thinking, but also that of the journalists involved in making the programme.

Oh, and I nearly forgot: broadcasting tripe of this nature - which suggests that we should win awards for our tremendously brave and inspiring response to our impairments -perpetuates disablist thinking in almost everyone who watches it. It’s not the harmless fluff it appears to be.

Ready for another one?

I was watching the news on Five the other week when they ran an amazing and inspiring story about a young woman who has had a book published. What’s amazing and inspiring about having a book published? Well, nothing if you’re “normal”. But if you’ve got a rare genetic disorder (one which only 80 people in the world have got!!) resulting in your arms and legs being of restricted growth then it’s not only amazing and inspiring, but a clear and unequivocal message to other disabled people that their dreams can come true too, if only they pursue them vigorously enough.

Now, call me a cynical kill-joy if you like, but here are my thoughts on this story:

  • I don’t get it. This young woman has hands: she can type. She isn’t learning-disabled: she can think in coherent sentences. So what exactly is it about her having short arms and legs which makes the fact that she wrote a book so “amazing”?
  • Ok, she’s had a book published. Good for her. She’s chuffed to bits. Hell, I know I would be. But in what way is this fact a message to other disabled people that their dreams can come true? See, what she’s done is that she’s chosen as her own particular dream something which she isn’t prevented from doing by the limitations her impairment imposes on her. Which makes the fact that she’s disabled moderately irrelevant to the fact of that dream having been realised. Things would be a bit different if someone whose dream had always been to be a world class hurdler suddenly found herself in a wheelchair as the result of setting off across the road at precisely the wrong time. Because, frankly, that hypothetical woman’s dreams aren’t going to come true no matter how hard she pursues them.
  • There just isn’t a story here. A young woman has had a book published. Unless everyone who has had a book published gets national news coverage (which, as we know, they don’t), then the only point of this news item is so that we can look at the amazing disabled woman with the incredibly rare condition and be inspired by her tenacity in overcoming her heart-rending and tragic circumstances sufficiently to do something which we assumed only non-disabled people could do.

To make matters even worse, when this news item came to a close, the newsreader invited viewers with "similar amazing stories" to get in touch so that their stories could be broadcast too. For almost as long as I've known him, one of Pop's favourite ways of winding me up is to threaten to submit my own inspiring and amazing story to a television channel. (He's far too sensible to go bungee-jumping, or white water rafting, so goading me is the Pop equivalent of taking part in extreme sports. He reckons the adrenaline rush is just as effective.)

As disabled people, we make good copy. We can be news-worthy because we’re objects of pity, or of horror, or we can be news-worthy because we’ve “overcome our disabilities” (sic) to do something which, in a non-disabled person, really wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary. Like passing an exam. Or learning to drive. Or having a job. And Every Bloody Time a disabled person is represented in this way in a newspaper, or in a magazine, or on a television documentary, it helps to drive home the message that

  • pity is an appropriate response to disability
  • if you’re not disabled, you’re very lucky
  • disabled people can’t do the things the rest of us can do
  • all disabled people are chirpy and brave, and they do their very best, bless them
  • disabled people AREN’T normal.

Now, you try telling a journalist (one who probably admires you for having managed to marshal a coherent argument despite your tragic impairment) that he or she is actively contributing to prejudice against disabled people by writing this tosh, and your words simply won’t compute. After all, these are nice stories; they show “the disabled” (pardon me while I wince inwardly) in a good light; they celebrate our amazing achievements. How could anyone possibly be offended by them?

Most people aren’t. I know very few non-disabled people who can see the problem, even once it’s been explained to them. More worryingly, I know that a lot of disabled people regard this sort of coverage as entirely positive.

But I, for one, won’t consent to being presented as being brave, or amazing, or inspiring. My employer’s staff newspaper wanted to publish an article about me getting my MBE. Did I leap at the chance? I did not. Every article that paper has ever published about a disabled member of staff has started with the dreaded “despite” word. I said I’d only agree to being interviewed if I had the final say on how disability was portrayed in the article. After all, I said, I’d got the MBE for years of working towards equality for disabled staff: this was my area of professional expertise, and I wasn’t prepared to have the impact of that work trivialised in an “Honour For Tragically Crippled Woman” piece of lazy journalism. I didn’t get the MBE for being disabled: I got it in recognition of what I had done. But the journo wasn’t having that sort of nonsense. Oh no. “I consider myself to be a professional writer,” he said. “I must have the final say.” So I had the final say: I refused to be interviewed.

We are entirely within our rights to be offended and insulted by the way we’re generally represented in the media. To do so isn’t a snippy and aggressive overreaction to something which is essentially harmless. It’s a recognition that these sorts of easy stories - which are designed to tug at the heart strings of readers or viewers - actively perpetuate disablism. The bottom line is this:

We will never be equal while journalists persist in portraying us as special.

The Editor