Sunday, 16 March 2014

Leicester - Day Two

On day one of our visit to Leicester I defied my natural aversion to science lessons to visit the National Space Centre. It was a great decision as it turned out. The National Space Centre is entertaining, informative and, to all but most stubborn of bible thumping fantasists, persuasive. Day two is the encore. For my next trick I am going to meet my disdain for the monarchy head on and visit the Richard III exhibition.

I hate the monarchy. Not the individuals within it, obviously. I don't know any of them, although I did meet Princess Anne when I was about seven. I remember complaining about having to go to school that day. A photograph still exists somewhere of me and a group of my friends waiting around for the dubious honour of a handshake or the exchange of a few words with the Queen's horse-faced daughter. To describe the look on my face in that photograph as unimpressed or apathetic would be playing it down a little too much. I was seconds from either throwing rotten fruit or slipping silently into a boredom-induced coma. I can't even remember why the school were taking us to meet her. Possibly because, this being the 80's and the education of disabled people being fairly low on the agenda, they thought it would be something nice for us to do while the 'normal' children carried on learning their times-tables. They were wrong. The very idea that someone can be given all those riches and privileges just because they have been born into a certain family is repugnant. I believe in equality, not deference.

The history of the monarchy is of far greater interest. In years gone by the kings and queens of the day had real power. They had to fight, quite literally, to hold on to that power. All of which was a bit too much for some of them and they ended up either succumbing to madness or traipsing around Britain psychotically beheading anyone who didn't agree with them. Power corrupted well before Mr Blair came along. You can't condone this sort of behaviour but it is more interesting than the waving and er...more waving favoured by this current crop of unchallenged, buck-toothed parasites. Avoiding the pointless debates with royalists about whether or not they generate or cost money in modern Britain, the most compelling reason for getting rid of the whole lot of them is that basically, they don't do anything. They're like the reality tv stars we're all so obsessed with nowadays. Sitting there doing absolutely rock all while the idiot nation hangs on every bit of that nothingness, discussing it with their friends in lieu of any real life of their own to talk about.

But as I say that has not always been the case, and it certainly was not for Richard III. Old Richard was the last English king to be killed in battle on British soil. And it just so happens that the scene of his slaying was the Battle of Bosworth in Leicestershire. In 2012 archaeologists were arsing around at a car park in the city hoping to find bits of an old church choir and cloister. They wanted to piece together the artefacts they would find to give them an idea of what the friary in the city would look like. In turn this would tell them more about how the friars would have lived. While doing so they stumbled across what they thought was the remains of the last Plantagenet king. Our man Richard. The Richard III exhibition recounts the story of their find, and their subsequent quest to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it was Richard buried there under that car park.

It also tries to shed more light on Richard's character. There are some who would brand him a ruthless, child-killing tyrant. A total bastard made of piss. He came to the throne in 1483 after the death of his brother, Edward IV. Within a suspiciously short period of time thereafter Edward's two sons (and therefore the only two humans ahead of Richard in the queue to be Edward's successor) were whisked away and locked into the tower. Richard claimed that both were illegitimate in any case, making him the true heir. Some say he had them both killed to avoid any doubt as to who should take the crown. Others deny this tale, painting Richard as no more villainous as the next psychotic bully with designs on the throne. No angel, but never capable of slaughtering his two young nephews to further his career. An audio feature at the exhibition presents the two sides of this argument in greater detail and probably does so more efficiently than I just have.

This being Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard we are always looking for a disabled angle. Brilliantly, we have one in the fact that Richard suffered from scoliosis, which is a curvature of the spine. It was this curvature which first led the archaeologists to believe that the skeleton they found underneath that Leicester car park could be that of the former king. It was already well known that he was a scoliosis sufferer. That's right, Richard III was a biff. Of sorts. The most powerful man in England between 1483 and 1485 was a disabled person. What do you think about that, you able bodied shitclown? And not only him, but also the ill-fated early 90's grungemeister Kurt Cobain had scoliosis too. And most startlingly of all, world-record-breaking fastest man in history Usain Bolt too. Finally, after all my years of drum-banging for the disabled we have inherited the Earth. Not before time. If we must continue with the monarchy we should probably sack the Queen right now and move Hannah Cockcroft into her place. Fuck that. I don't even like Hannah Cockcroft, but you get my point.

Richard was a man who never let his scoliosis get in the way of a good dust-up. As we know he died in battle, and at the exhibition you can read about some of the gruesome details of his violent ending. He was doinked on the head with a sharp blade numerous times, causing severe brain trauma. For the nutjobs among you who it is also said that a blind beggar woman had predicted that Richard, having bumped his spur on crossing the bridge on his way out to battle, would bump his head in exactly the same place on the way back in. And that he did exactly that, though it would have been hard for him to take care not to on the way back since he was very definitely an ex-person at that point. If it is true then the blind beggar was a wise woman. There are two things you need to know about the wise woman. First, she is wise. And second, she is a woman....

Yet it is the wounds that Richard suffered after his death which are the most wince-inducing. When the skeleton was found it was without any feet but worse than that, there was evidence that he had sustained a 'humiliation wound'. In short, someone stabbed him in the anus. When the body went on display after his death to convince the doubters that the king was dead it was also important to someone to graphically demonstrate just how dead he was. Tsk, those 15th century japesters....For those of that kind of persuasion there is a digitally interactive impression of the skeleton in the exhibition where you can push buttons, touch panels and fiddle with knobs to reveal more about the king's ruined, rotted form.

After a leisurely amble around the Jewry Museum in the afternoon it was time to explore more of Leicester's social delights. We settled for Bella Italia in the end but before we got there I was collared by a lagered-up half-wit just desperate for his fix of inspiration porn. Scott just can't resist coming over to tell me that he thinks that those people in the Winter Paralympics are fantastic for just 'having a go'. I have no patience with this sort of thing but I tried my best to explain to him that they weren't doing it to 'have a go' and that it was the bloody Paralympics. You don't just sign up for it or get a go because you have won a viewers' competition on the Alan Titchmarsh Show. But try as I might I couldn't get him to understand the idea that these athletes train and compete constantly to a professional standard, and are not just coming together for a few days for another misleading Channel 4 documentary on disability.

To his credit Scott could sense my irritation at this point, even through his alcoholic fug. But rather than just leave us alone and get on his way he decided instead to re-direct his focus from inspiration porn to piss poor comedy banter. When I told him that I come from St.Helens he came out with a line that is so old that even the archaeologists who dug up Richard III wouldn't be able to find its remains;

"I went there once, and it was shut" he chortled.

"Yeah. We knew you were coming." I answered with as much pompous disdain as I could muster.

Several glasses of red wine later I was all but burned out. Lenny Henry had blatantly lied to me again about the quality of sleep you can expect to get at the Premier Inn. Lenny Henry is a liar and Tiswas was shit anyway.

We retreated to Room 101 to prove him wrong again.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Leicester - Day One

I got an 'E' in GCSE Science. Probably not the 'E' for effort that is often joked about, but more for Enormous apathy. I didn't care. I didn't like my science teacher, nor the school they made me go to in order to have science lessons. To me a bunson burner is a cricket pitch conducive to spin bowling, and there is nothing I care less about in this world than how to tell the difference between Earth and Live and whatever else it is.

And yet my decision to visit Leicester this past weekend contradicts all of that. It came about though idly googling cities that Emma and I haven't been to and the attractions they might offer. That's how I stumbled upon the National Space Centre. Who even knew we had a National Space Centre? I have been to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, details of which can be found somewhere in the bowels of these pages. Do pages have bowels? Especially pages that aren't pages at all but are electronic screens? Anyway, I remember what a fascinating and awe inspiring experience this was, even for a science-dodging luddite like myself. With the Richard III exhibition also located in Leicester that was that, we were going. More on Richard in the next part, or at least his 500 year-old skeleton recently dug up from a Leicester car park. Let's get back to the National Space Centre for now.

The building is shaped like an enormous beehive. It's set back from the surrounding roads which have exciting sounding names like Exploration Drive and Discovery Road. We arrive about lunchtime on Saturday. We couldn't go on Friday night because Saints were playing and's Saints and we've paid for it anyway and we can always take Monday off and.... So we did exactly that. It being lunchtime the first thing we do is eat. This decision is also influenced by the fact that the cafe is the first place you hit when you go through the entrance. The entrance to the exhibits is a little further along. All of which means once you are in among the exhibits you cannot then use the lift to gain access to the canteen from another floor if you get a touch thirsty at any point. You have to go all the way back through to the lift on the opposite side of the building and then back through the gate on the ground floor. Which frankly is a little silly but I am supposing they are worried about people grabbing a sandwich before taking the lift to the upstairs exhibits and cutting out the inconvenience of having to pay for their visit. On which subject, you can expect to pay £13 per adult to visit the centre, and £11 for concessions of which I am one. Everything is accessible except the space travel simulator but that's probably a pretty big deal. Big enough to knock off a few quid from the admission price.

The most interesting thing about the cafe is the model rockets which hang from the ceiling. They probably don't hang. They're much too heavy for that but from my position at a table on the other side of the room I can't actually see what is holding them up. Something big and strong like Simon Cowell's ego perhaps. Below one of these rockets is a table at the centre of which is a red button. Most adults can barely reist the temptation to press buttons despite not knowing what they do, so you can imagine how often the children at the centre poke their tiny, tampering fingers in its direction. When they do they get a set of scienc-ey instructions which are indecipherable to me and a countdown, all delivered in a Transatlantic drawl. But that isn't the fun of it. The fun of it is the fake smoke which then descends from the rear of the rocket. Kids line up to stand underneath the rocket in order to get overwhelmed by the fume fakery. It's all a bit like a 70's episode of Top Of The Pops. Except nobody will get arrested as a consequence. Hopefully. As gimmicks go at least you can say it is fairly original, though the sight of young children violently swatting the smoke away from in front of their faces does make me wonder how much they have enjoyed the experience. Apparently enough to do it again. And again. And again.

Once you are inside you had better be prepared for a lot of reading. I read everything but, being a luddite with the attention span of a recently concussed goldfish, I find it hard to hold that information inside my brain for more than a couple of hours or so. The video and audio exhibits leave a longer-lasting impression on me. One section speculates, through a variety of talking heads and written quotes, about how the universe will end. An eight-year-old boy is quoted as saying that the universe will end when someone eats all the Galaxies. It's as good a theory as any. Certainly better than any piffle about horseman of the fecking apocalypse. And what kind of a universe would it be without Galaxies anyway? Would you want to live in it? In another clip clever-arsed film director Woody Allen can't come up with a thesis for the possible end of the universe, and instead questions people who would want to 'know' the universe in any case.

'I can't even find my way around Chinatown' he muses.

But if you want a real visual and audio experience at the National Space Centre then head for the Sir Patrick Mower Planetarium. You have go when they tell you but it is worth a look. By which I mean that when we pay our entrance fees we are informed that we have been booked in for the 1.50pm screening of 'We Are Aliens'. Well, you might be aliens. I'm definitely from Thatto Heath. If I were a superior being I'd probably find a better way to get around than an NHS wheelchair. Now, normally when I go to a theatre or a cinema or something of that nature I like to bail out of said NHS wheelchair and transfer on to a seat. The Sir Patrick Mower Planetarium is not the place to do this, for me anyway. I'm not the tallest, and when my backside hits the cinema-style seating I sink into it and can't see anything except for the back of the seat immediately in front of me. The screen surrounds you so this might not have been such a problem, but I do like to be able to see what is directly in front of me. Besides I look like Kermit The Frog's nephew Robin sitting on the Iron Throne. I get back into my chair.

I remember wondering why they had chosen Rupert Grint to narrate the film. For those of you who have been living alone on a remote island for the last decade or so Grint is most famous for his role at blathering idiot Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films. I can't see the connection. Harry Potter films are about wizards and magic, not space travel. Space travel is not magic, it's science. Although as we know I got an 'E' in science so what do I know? For 25 minutes or so Grint speculates about the possibility of life on other planets or even in other solar systems with the help of some distinctly cartoon-like graphics. He concludes that Mars is the place that scientists are 'most excited about' because there used to be a lot of water there. I'm not so sure. There's water in Wigan but I'm not sure you'll find any signs of civilised societies.

Some five hours after arriving at the National Space Centre we head back to the Premier Inn, where we have booked to stay for two nights. We are assigned Room 101 which, for people as ignorant as I am pompous, is not only a mediocre panel show hosted by Frank Skinner but also the room containing all of the Hellish nightmares in Winston's mind in George Orwell's 1984. Only we could be burdened with such an omen. Thankfully there seems relatively few fears within the walls and no sign of the four R's I would select should Frank ever be kind enough to ask me on to his show. Religion. Royalty. Rugby Union. Rihanna. That just about completes my list. Neat and tidy. No need to use words starting with any other letter.

Having been told on arrival that the town centre was 20 minutes walk away we are pleased to find that it is more like 10, and within just a few minutes we have found a trusty old Wetherspoons. While we eat and enjoy the first alcoholic beverages of the evening I still can't refrain from getting annoyed. First by two Scottish men arguing in very strong accents so that you couldn't understand the problem, and then by a bunch of girls taking 'selfies'. I hate selfies. I hate the word 'selfies'. Curse me for polluting my column with such a vile word. Selfies are the ultimate expression of narcissim. Can you really not wait that long for someone to take your photograph? I hate having my photo taken anyway. Taking a selfie for me would seem like poking both of my eyes out and then skinning myself alive. With a potato peeler. I don't like selfies.

Later on in another bar when things get really tipsy there is a girl dancing to a Katy B song. She's doing that generic arm-dancing that girls with no rhythm do. She hasn't moved her feet at all. Again, why would you want to dance when you are shit at it? She's no Katy B. She's Katy Z, at best. We peruse a few more watering holes before calling it quits in preparation for our Richard III themed exploration tomorrow.

But I fucking hate royalty, don't I?

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Thatcher Day, Electronic Skeletons And The Lockout

I signed a petition the other day. I don't normally sign petitions. Ordinarily my Olympic sized apathy concerning everything and everyone prevents me from bothering. That and my award-winning laziness. Admittedly signing an online petition does not involve getting off the couch and missing the end of Pointless, but it invariably involves having to read a long winded message about what it is they want you to sign and why. I just can't be arsed.

I usually treat the petitions I come across as just another of the many annoyances plastered all over social media. On which subject, don't you just get fucking mad with rage and hell fire about people posting pictures of various forms of physical abuse on Facebook and Twitter? Don't be posting disturbing images on my timeline unless you are going to actively do something about stopping the abuse. Don't just leave it there like a dirty bomb while you fuck off back to watching Towie and eating bacon butties. What are you trying to prove? That you disapprove of cruelty to children and animals? Don't we all. Your position is not revolutionary. All right thinking people disapprove of cruelty to children and animals. The only people who don't are either psychotic and should be removed from your friends list and arrested immediately, or have beans for brains. You are not going to be considered some kind of modern, independent free-thinker by contaminating cyberspace with pictures of malnourished dogs or tortured children. But you might get 583 'likes' which if you are honest, is what it is really all about. Cut it out, as my mum used to tell me.

Back to petitions. This one was different. This was a petition to try to stop the August Bank Holiday being named after Margaret Thatcher. No, really. Some delusional Tory, specifically Peter Bone MP, is sufficiently unaware of the depth of hatred of Thatcher in many quarters to have seriously suggested dedicating an otherwise pleasurable late summer holiday to her. This displays a staggering level of ignorance at best and arrogance at worst. Even if, like old Bonehead, you are one of those Greed-Is-Good turdwits who liked Thatcher because you did very well out of her premiership thank you very much, how is it possible to not understand that at the very least she polarises opinion across the country to extreme levels? There hasn't been a more divisive figure in British history. Where I live, Joanna Dennehy would get more votes in an election than Thatcher. If you're going to name a Bank Holiday after her you might aswell go the whole hog and rename Christmas after Mussolini.

I'm happy to report that I am one of 124,000 people who felt moved to put my name to the petition to stop this and that we have been successful. Bone's bill was due to be heard on February 28 but it was one of over 30 due to be discussed that day. They never got round to it. Well, it was Friday afternoon and most MP's are asleep by then. You would like to think that those who remained awake would, had it got that far, been aware enough of what is going on around them in the country they claim to represent to laugh the idea out of the house. Knowing what we know about our politicians that is far from certain, but at least they had the wherewithal to prioritise the afternoon's agenda in such a way that this turgid idea will now never get off the ground. Had it done so I might well have felt compelled to boycott that Bank Holiday, preferring instead to sit outside my place of employment banging on the door until they let me in. I'm not celebrating anything in her name except maybe the fact that she is no longer running this country. It would have been a moral dilemma of the worst kind though. Celebrate Margaret Thatcher Day or lose your August Bank Holiday because of the evil old witch? Thankfully I'll probably never have to decide.

I was having a conversation with a friend and colleague yesterday about some kind of research into therapy for people who have become paralysed. You know the kind of stuff Christopher Reeve was into before he sadly shuffled off the proverbial coil? It transpires that some crazy boffins somewhere are trying to develop some kind of electronically powered skeleton suit or whatever the hell it might be to try and trick the brains of the paralysed into making their affected bits move. Can you tell I wasn't listening all that well and that I haven't really done much research into this since? Why should I when you can get significantly more 'likes' on Facebook by posting a photograph of a dying puppy than you can from trying to write something accurate and informative? Anyway, at first I scoffed at this in a way that only I can. I'm a champion scoffer, as we know. I saw it as an attempt by the able bodied to rid themselves of the shame of having disabled people living among them. I'm not that bothered about walking and I see the task of making things accessible for me as the duty of a civilised society. It is not incumbent upon me to find ways to start walking, surely?

Having given a bit more thought to the question of whether I would like to eliminate my disability I now accept that yes I probably would. But not by simply moving my legs. Getting my disobedient limbs to comply is not going to eliminate the worst things about disability. If research of this kind can find a way to give me control of my bladder and my bowels so that I may not have to use implements which make me more susceptible to infection and the subsequent organ damage I have suffered then that's worthwhile. Of course, you can't go back in time so no amount of research could reverse my kidney damage. But in theory I would support that idea for future generations. Provided the shamed, socially inept teen mothers of the modern generation haven't aborted us all out of existence by then. Genuine results from this research are so far away that they won't affect me in any case, so I'll hold out and request only that people start showing a little more respect for disabled people and treat them as equals. That would cost an awful lot less than an electronic skeleton, I would imagine.

Before I leave you for another prolonged period of introspection (which mostly involves reading through old columns and squirming at their pomposity) I can't neglect to mention that the lock on my front door is broken. Emma went out to the shops this morning and when she got back she couldn't get in to the house. Her key turned but the door wouldn't budge. I tried to unlock it from the inside but had the same problem. The lock turned, but the door jammed. I had to go through to the back door to let her in, which sounds simple but such is the amount of junk now stored in our house it actually meant that I had to bail out of my chair and crawl on the conservatory floor in order to get to the back door. I looked like Leonardo Di Caprio in that awful, offensive cerebral palsy scene from the vastly over-rated Wolf Of Wall Street. Although I concede I was not nearly as good looking as Leo. Anyway, If only I had an electronic skeleton type suit thingy I could have walked there. By about 7.30 on Tuesday. On route, I had to move an enormous blue basket-shaped contraption which I'm told helps dry clothes. I don't go into the back room of our house that often but every time I do it seems like another new attraction has been added. Like they do in Disney Land from time to time. The upshot of all this is that we now have to get a locksmith out to attend to it, and since they are cheaper in the week than they are at the weekend it's going to have to wait till Monday. To compound things, this happens only a year away form a complete overhaul of the way the house is laid out and when we will therefore need an entirely new front door. With classic Emma-and-Stephen luck on our side, what is the betting that we will have to buy a new front door now aswell?

Fortunately, Emma has been good enough to plot an escape route for me past the blue, basket-shaped clothes-drying contraption.