Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Quickie, The Thief And A Fellow Hazard

I’m getting a new wheelchair which, for those of you who aren’t sure, does not involve a surgical procedure to have my current chair removed from out of my arse. I am not ‘in a wheelchair’. Not right now anyway, because I’m tapping this out from the comfort of what we used to call the settee.

You may not need an operation to get a new wheelchair but you do need to involve the NHS. Wheelchair Services had spent months trying to contact me and then not being available when I returned their calls until finally they decided to write to me to offer me an appointment. Which I managed to be half an hour late for. I could have had all of this sorted two years ago on my last visit there but back then the only option was a hideous box-shaped item that would have made Ironside blush. And I don’t mean that new version who is supposed to be cool and trendy. Do people still say trendy? The bloke from Wheelchair Services said it a lot during my appointment which I found encouraging and annoying in equal measures. Encouraging because he was assuring me that my new chair will not be an Ironsidian eyesore, but annoying because I’m almost sure nobody has used the word trendy since we stopped wearing hooded tops made by Walker Sports.

I don’t know how I managed to get my appointment time so badly wrong but the fact that I did led to a chance encounter with an old friend I hadn’t seen for 15 years. I’d expected Peter Ball to look a little older. Probably because he was the oldest of my group of friends at school and so we all looked upon him as some sort of senior figure. Two years might aswell be 20 when you are 14. At first I couldn’t be sure it was him. Not only did he not look as old as I had imagined he should but I’m still naïve enough to believe that the chances of me bumping into a disabled person that I know at Wheelchair Services in my home town are quite low. Everyone else thinks that we all know each other but there are an infinite number of wheelchair users and people with all sorts of disabilities whom I do not know and have never even laid eyes on. It wasn’t until Peter spoke that I was 99% certain that it was him.

Strangely there were no displays of wild surprise by either party when we realised that we knew each other. We just carried on talking like strangers in a waiting room might do until the subject of school somehow came up and even then, the tone did not change. We discussed old times with nothing more than a shrug, and hardly stirred even when we noted that we had not seen each other since the funeral of our mutual friend in 1999. We shook hands on the way out and told each other how nice it had been to see one another. It was so matter of fact but in a very odd, almost inexplicable way.

Equally inexplicable is the way in which I was able to order a new wheelchair within 20 minutes given that it had taken two years to get around to it. Replacing Jeff (I think it was Jeff but there is a blog if you can be arsed to check it from around January 2013) was Jay. Jay works for Quickie, which would no doubt inspire a barrel full of arf-arfs from my colleagues at work but is actually a long established wheelchair manufacturer. Jay showed me two options but was almost adamant about which one he thought the better. Quite the salesman he was, which is all very well except for the fact that this being the NHS I’m not paying him a penny for it. No doubt Mr Cameron will do something about that should we see fit to somehow let him stay in his famous old house for another five years.

Little bit of politics, my name’s Ben Elton goodnight.

The new chair is what you might call minimalist. A lot of the unnecessary metal you see on my current model is absent. And it will be great to have a cushion which I haven’t squashed flat with my fat arse so that I might be able to look at people from above groin level. I’m not so sure about the tyres though which Jay described as only half solid whatever that means. But he assured me that punctures won’t be a problem. Punctures were a problem before I got solid tyres and now that I am working for a living they would be a huge inconvenience. Nothing says professionalism like hobbling around on a flat tyre because Ross Autos can’t come out and fix it because they haven’t got anywhere to park near to where I work. You’re probably marvelling at how I have managed to live as a wheelchair user for 39 years and not know how to fix a puncture. I do know how but there are two basic problems. The first is that I can’t be arsed and the second is that since I can’t be arsed I have become one of the least practical human beings on Earth. My brain deals only in words, sarcasm and ire. It can’t fix things.

The chair arrives in eight weeks.

When it does it will no doubt catch the attention of the security staff of St.Helens and elsewhere. This week the London Evening Standard reported that a woman posed as a wheelchair user to steal meat from a branch of Marks & Spencer in Coventry. She and her male accomplice made off with £60 worth of meat from the store (about two boxes of chicken drummers) after she stood up from her chair to swipe the meat from the shelves in the manner of Andy Pipkin from Little Britain. I want that one. Yeah I know yeah. That bloke.

This reminded me of a story my mum used to tell me when she worked in the St.Helens branch of TJ Hughes. She said the person responsible for security there was particularly wary of wheelchair users and this story seems to serve as evidence that she might have been wise. I’d like to point out that I have never stolen anything in my life except for a traffic cone and a photograph of a crap singer called Tony Lemesma from outside a cheap Majorcan bar. Although an acquaintance of mine at school (not the one I met in Wheelchair Services) once told me how easy it was to nick stuff from Burtons by putting it under his wheelchair seat cushion. The stuff of Fagin.

Finally today I have just read the tale of a 20-year-old man from Birmingham who was escorted DOWN a flight of stairs by security staff at a pub because the lift had broken. Apparently he had been lifted upstairs by his friends but was told that his presence there breached the pub’s safety regulations. Despite the fact that this meant that they, untrained as they are in the art of lugging wheelchair users down flights of stairs, would have to do exactly that. The management said that the man got upstairs without them knowing and that they would never have let his friends take him up there had they known. Fine, but since you are not allowed to use a lift in the event of a fire anyway where is the sense in then humiliating the lad by carrying him back down the stairs? It’s dangerous and nonsensical but it seems that as long as it covers the company in accordance with the madcap laws on these sorts of things then it's ok. Why wasn’t the lift working anyway? It probably was. They probably just use it as a store room. Don’t think I’m joking.

Of course, allowing your drunken friends to carry you up a flight of stairs in a busy pub is very much the preserve of 20-year-olds. I remember similar episodes with my friends in such luxurious establishments as The Palace and Peppermint Place from my own youth and to be honest it is quite a relief to be able to fall back on the excuse that I really am too old for that shit now. However, if a man above the legal age to frequent such places wishes to do so on the upper level of a mult-level establishment then I think we can agree that more should be done to allow him to do so. And if these places continue to deny people these basic human rights then perhaps it’ll all end in the kind of farcical scenario which once prompted me to ascend staircases at Crystals in St.Helens and Lineker’s bar in Blackpool among others.

They said that the young man in Birmingham was a security hazard, by the way. As a fire hazard myself (it’s not called that for nothing) I empathise completely.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

International Day Of Acceptance, Another Odeon Own Goal And Staring At The S*n

Today’s entry was going to be a slower-paced, more sedate and calm stroll through some of the noteworthy but not pulse-quickeningly infuriating events of the week in both my own troubled existence and in the wider world. We may still get to that, but I am afraid I can no longer make any promises about the pace or calmness of this piece.

That’s mainly because just three days on from Disabled Access Day on January 17 came International Day Of Acceptance on January 20. Now I know we have been through this in a previous column and in what turned out to be one of the more heated discussions in Facebook history (and continued to be long after I left it apparently) but I really do remain flummoxed by this sort of thing. Just as the notion of Disabled Access Day seems to imply that it is ok to have no disabled access every other day, so International Day Of Acceptance appears to suggest that you only have to be accepting of other people’s race, disability, culture, gender, religion or whatever for that one day. Since International Day Of Acceptance was yesterday we can presumably now revert to our intolerance and prejudices?

The argument for these sorts of events is that they raise awareness. Maybe, but it’s sobering to contemplate that when asked by a journalist around the time of Black History Month how we could ever stop racism Morgan Freeman replied simply by saying ‘by not talking about it’. He was objecting to Black History Month on similar grounds, arguing that there is no White History Month or Jewish History Month so why is that we need a Black History Month? We probably don’t. But like Disabled Access Day and International Day Of Acceptance they make us feel better about the lack of effort we make for the rest of the year. So this trend for setting aside days to raise awareness of the bleeding obvious is set to continue. Look out over the coming months for ‘World Wash Your Hands When You’ve Been For A Shit Week’ and ‘International Day Of Not Stealing From Your Mother To Fund Your Crack Habit’.

Disabled Access Day might have been a roaring success for all I know, but it certainly wasn’t for one unfortunate wheelchair using soul who ventured out to see a film at his local cinema that day. Joe France, a 12-year-old from Harrogate in North Yorkshire was keen to see The Theory Of Everything, a biopic about the life of genius astrophysician and WHEELCHAIR USER Stephen Hawking which has been pelted with award nominations in recent times. Young Joe was left disappointed however when it turned out that the Odeon Cinema was not showing the film on any of its accessible screens. Any of its accessible screens. First of all, why does it have inaccessible screens? Well, because it is a listed building, that’s why. For clarification, listed buildings are those which have been ‘judged to be of national importance in terms of architectural or historic interest’ according to Ok. Now I can see why you can’t install lifts and ramps into a 12th century castle. I visited Nottingham last summer and marvelled with everyone else at the beauty of the castle there. I’d agree that it would lose something if you were to add in everything you would need to make all of it wheelchair accessible. But if a building is protected against an overhaul for access reasons why is it allowed to undergo any sort of conversion to become an Odeon Cinema? Are Odeon Cinemas of ‘national importance in terms of architectural or historic interest’?

You may remember that Odeon is the same company responsible for removing a customer from one of their theatres for using a ventilator too loudly. Now comes this second PR own goal in as many weeks for what in any just world would be fast becoming a beleaguered company. I remember Jamie Carragher scoring two own goals in the same game against Manchester United once. I can’t remember any other examples of two own goals in quicker succession, but even Odeon can’t compete with the man who was once identified by a Sky Sports statistician as the man with the second highest number of goals against Liverpool in the Premier League era. I doubt whether Odeon Cinema profit margins will go down even a fraction of a percentage point in reality. Nobody cares enough, and Joe’s wound is heavily salted by the irony that this happened on Disabled Access Day and that it was the biopic of a wheelchair user who has achieved more than probably any other in the last half century. Certainly more than anyone reading this or anyone currently working at Harrogate Odeon whether they use a wheelchair or not.

Now I promised we would get to some other news and we will. Social media has been buzzing over the last few days over the sudden disappearance of topless women on page 3 of The Sun newspaper. In the first instance and whatever you think about the rights and wrongs of page 3, it is unpalatable to see apparently responsible people like members of parliament congratulating The Sun newspaper for anything. I have never been a Sun or News Of The World reader, not even in the days before their now notorious crimes against decency and humanity regarding Hillsborough and The Millie Dowler murder. They have always been Tory rags, save for the couple of months in 1997 which they spent recognising that a Labour election victory was inevitable and so jumped on board to claim the assist.

But showing a few boobs on page 3 was, in my humble opinion, among the lesser crimes that they have committed. The legions of men I have seen posting their congratulations on Twitter on the ending of the objectivity of women are either lying in an attempt to be seen by women as some sort of modern feminist, or they should go along to their local quack and ask to have their pulse checked as they might very well be dead. Either way, the women they are targeting should avoid them at all costs. Remember ladies, all acts of romance and chivalry are sexually motivated. Meanwhile, the Sun and News Of The World will remain Tory rags (changing your brand from the News Of The World to the Sunday Sun fools nobody but the most gullible) regardless of what happens to page 3, which they have yet to officially announce the abolition of in any case. The word is that they are leaving the situation in the event that sales take a turn for the worse.

I’m leaving the last word to Dierdrie. I haven’t been a fan of Coronation Street since I was a much younger man but growing up Anne Kirkbride’s character was a regular presence in our house and we all followed her fortunes avidly. Except my dad who used to develop pains in his neck whenever he heard the Coronation Street theme tune. Now I have said in other columns that we should not go overboard in mourning the famous because we don’t actually know them and to turn out in the streets in floods of tears is hysterical and disrespects the grief of those who genuinely knew and loved the deceased. So I’m not going overboard or hysterical, just pointing out that Kirkbride’s passing has taken with it an iconic symbol of my youth.

And that has to be worth the last word.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

This Week On Facebook And Odeon O.G.

It’s possibly a sad reflection on me that a lot of what follows in today’s column is rather Facebook-centric. More and more now we seem to use Zuckerberg’s world-dominating cyber meeting place to learn, state and question everything. I’m probably not the only blogger who trawls through his timeline day after day looking for interesting links upon which I can unleash my fearful, venting wrath. Neither am I, in all probability, the only one who thinks about this from time to time and can’t help but wish we could all go down to the pub and argue about The Undateables and Disabled Access Day instead of tapping away at our laptops and ipads like a race of demented keyboard warriors incapable of actual discourse.

But we can’t, apparently. So in my search for suitable subject matter I stumbled upon an article about a disabled man who had been thrown off a flight from Dallas, Texas to Fort Collins, Colorado because the strapping he was using to secure himself to his seat was deemed unsafe by the pilot. Rather than call airline management the Frontier Airlines pilot decided instead to flatly refuse to transport the man, insisting that airport police board the plane and remove him. Airport police. This man was so freaked out by disability that he called the police. Imagine if I did that every time I was freaked out by an able bodied person. I’d be locked up for harassing the police. Anyway it all seemed like excellent material for a good old fashioned Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard rant (and this blog has been called a rant before, and not just by me) about disability access. I had a thousand intricate and clever ways (well two) to link this man’s experience to my own with American Airlines and the ‘wonderful’ staff at Manchester Airport and it was all going to be a rip-roaring success in the world of disability-related literary comment. Which after all is what Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard was created for. And if it doesn’t relate my own experiences to the disability issues of the day then it is no sort of memoir at all and should be sued under the Trade Descriptions Act.

But then I realised that this incident took place in June 2011. Three and a half years ago. I’m too busy with my day job to offer up-to-the-minute comment on everything that happens but even I have to draw the line at waiting three and a half years to have my say. Luckily, sadly actually given what follows, an article I came across in today’s Independent served up a more than adequate replacement.

It tells of a man named Richard Bridger. Richard suffers from Duschenne Muscular Dystrophy, a highly debilitating condition which means among other things that he has to use a ventilator for 18 hours a day to help him breathe. Richard, according to the report, was forced to leave the Odeon Cinema in Epsom because some of the able bodied bastards…..I mean customers…..complained that his ventilation machine was making too much noise. It was, they said, spoiling their enjoyment of Liam Neeson’s surely Olivier-esque performance in Taken 3. Now the fact that you could watch a film like Taken 3 with the sound down and still get the same level of enjoyment from it (i.e very little) strengthens my argument but is not the point. It’s not like Richard rocked up to his local pictures on the back of a tractor and proceeded to plough through the aisles deafening all and sundry. He had a ventilator which yes...makes a little noise but not enough to warrant his public humiliation and that of his companion who was also invited to look elsewhere for his fix of Liam. They referred to him as him Richard’s carer in the article by the way but that term presumes too much for my tastes.

Worse than lobbing Richard out of the theatre literally for breathing was the fact that Odeon management then backed the actions of their staff, citing six complaints from the 200 strong audience. I’ve been in cinemas where people with certain types of disability have involuntarily made a little noise and nobody has seemed too affected by it. One man laughed out loud during a particularly tense scene near the end of 'Gone Girl'. I understood and let it slide. Far more of a menace to my mind are the people who can be relied upon to start texting and taking selfies on their iphone 86 as soon as the trailers start. They’re on silent, but twenty or so phones all lighting up at the same time around you is at least as distracting as the sound of a ventilator. And, despite the way some people act these days, nobody needs a text message or a selfie to help them breathe. Oh and by the way that is something else I have noticed on Facebook this week. Despite being only 10 years old it has decided to delve it’s pinky into the waters of nostalgia by asking users to post their first ever profile pictures. You can only imagine the array of disturbingly smug selfies this has inspired and I have to say it’s not for me. Whoever invented the selfie and its satanic spawn the selfie stick should be held to account. It’s not that some of you aren’t pretty to look at. You really are. I just don’t really care what your first profile picture looked like or how much you have changed in the twelve minutes since you last posted it.

Finally today I have a suspicion that Facebook has cost me not only someone I would go so far as to call an acquaintance, but also a regular blog reader. My piece on Disabled Access Day appears to have inspired someone to delete me from his Facebook. My crime was to disagree with the content of his post, if not the act of actually posting it. But let’s be real. Let’s have the debate. If you post something on your timeline and I register an opposite opinion then you have to accept that if you are going to have me as a Facebook friend. Otherwise you are just adding or accepting me to pad out your quota of Facebook friends which is an act of vanity that even the selfie-stickers would baulk at. So let me tell you now that I consider all of you on my list to be fair game. Anything you write in what I remind you is a public forum is there to be shot at so long as things don’t get personal or abusive. Which they did not in this case. The same is true of anything that I write including and especially Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard. And all of this applies whether I see you every day of my life or whether I haven’t seen you since my student days.

Some would refer to this as free speech which if you don’t like, you know where the delete button is. This piece will still get 436 reads because they are generated by the same man from Copenhagen hitting refresh, we all know that…….

Monday, 12 January 2015

Aww-ing And Ahh-in in 2015

I got into more than one argument on social media this week. Three, if I recall correctly, only one of which was with someone who I have actually met and would claim to know. And when I say an argument I mean an argument, not a calm if dull debate about the merits of the Super League salary cap or something equally unimportant in the grand scheme. I’m talking about a full blown argument, provoked by people who clearly have absolutely no regard for what is decent and acceptable. Yes, people who watch The Undateables. And not only watch it but enjoy it and go ‘aww’ and ‘ahh’ at regular intervals.

I deliberately left that word ‘Undateables’ out of the title of this piece for fear that you would simply move on to the next hastily and barely crafted rant in the blogosphere. Even I’m getting quite bored of myself on this subject, which is little wonder given how many times I have been provoked by you, the idiot public, into telling everybody exactly what I think about the putrid thing. So tonight, in an audacious bid to stay off social media (except to post this piece on Facebook and Twitter) and thus avoid getting into any more slanging matches with a distinct absence of dignity, I’m trying to put down some coherent thoughts on the subject in my own space. That way you can take them or leave them and if we get into an argument we will all remember that it’s because you read it and had to, just had to bang the drum for your right to watch distasteful, downright offensive television.

As it happens I also defend your right to do just that. I just wish you would be a little more honest about it. Some of the shite
I have read from people defending The Undateables as a concept this past week is utterly risible. When you are ‘awwing’ and ‘aahing’ at the latest collection of down-on-their-lucks please have the decency to admit that you are not being entertained. Rather, you are being made to feel better and that is why you are watching. Better because you are comforted by the fact that there are people in the world you can look down on. Better because when these people find ‘love’ it means that you don’t have to feel so bad about the fact that you would never consider partnering up with someone with autism, cerebral palsy or achondroplasia. That’s a form of dwarfism in layman’s terms. Or terms that viewers of The Undateables will understand.

One of the common threads running through the argument of those who apologise for The Undateables is that the show gives the people featured the chance to find love and ‘be normal’. I can’t think of any single thing in the world more offensive than the notion that people with a difference need specially arranged television shows to give them a fair crack of the whip when it comes to the dating game. Not even Ken fucking Morley. This assertion is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more you say that these people need this kind of vom-inducing helping hand, the more likely it becomes that they will. How are they going to get a date if you, sitting there in your perfect world of perfection you fat fuck, consider listening to their lifelong attempts to cop off to be a reasonably diverting form of entertainment rather than a fucking national disgrace? If you put away your lazy prejudices for a second and rose up against this kind of vile exploitation and voyeurism, perhaps the people featured would stand more of a sporting chance. The Undateables is nothing but another form of segregation, another way for you to shout ‘stick with your own kind and don’t come here trying to mix your faulty, biffy, imperfect genes with my exalted form of loveliness and absolute and unspeakable cool I’m fucking better than you’.

Yes, better. Because that is the message you send when you ‘aaw ‘ and ‘aah’ over The Undateables’ success stories as much as it is if you laugh out loud at their misfortunes. That you are better than they are and what is more, you are going to sit in front of your television for an hour with a big fat fucking cake and a cup of tea and prove it. To yourself if nobody else.

Now you will be glad to know that this is very possibly my last word on the Undateables. I simply don’t have the stomach to go into it any further. As I said before I absolutely respect your right to watch whatever sordid piece of shit television rocks your world. I’m addicted to Banshee, after all. The purpose of this piece is just to let you know that we know. We know why you are watching it and we want you to know that we know. And I say ‘we’ because I know the horror of ‘it’s not you, it’s the wheelchair/autism/dwarfism/delete as appropriate’. I was there when someone told my friend that he was ‘too fit to be in that wheelchair’. That’s a haunting place to be and to try to describe it to you would be the definition of futility.

Along with watching The Undateables and trying to pass it off as harmless entertainment that is in some way heart-warming when it is actually an assault on the dignity of everyone who doesn’t match your idea of what is normal.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Disability Access Day

Following on from my stunning achievement in upsetting all wrong-thinking people on the subject of The Undateables last night I am about to court yet more controversy.

That’s because I learned earlier today that next Saturday, January 17, is Disability Access Day. That’s actually quite a poignant date for me. It would have been my old mate Martin’s 39th birthday had he not passed away in mid-August of last year. He was never in my league as a nay-sayer and all around nihilist so I have no doubt that he wouldn’t have had a problem with Disability Access Day as a concept. But I’m afraid that predictably and rather yawnsomely, I do. Now, before I hit my seething, sardonic straps on the subject let me first explain to you what this means and then try and offer something resembling a balanced view on it. Disability Access Day, according to its website, is ‘all about getting out and visiting a venue that you have never been to before – whether a cinema, coffee shop, sports centre or anywhere else’. Over 200 companies have pledged their support to the event and several places of interest such as Buckingham Palace, the Houses Of Parliament, Cutty Sark and the National Theatre are offering free tours or tours that have been specially adapted so that they can be enjoyed by people with a whole range of disabilities and access issues. All well and good. What is not to like about that? What could even I, the man with the most poisonous pen in the North of England when it comes to disability issues, find to object to?

Strengthening the event’s appeal is the fact that it is being run by a group of disabled people and their family and friends who are based in Scotland. Now clearly that is well intentioned and these people have obviously identified a glaring, gaping hole in the world where disability access should be. Recognising that not all disabled people have my abilities I am sure that there are some people out there who will find this initiative beneficial. In fact this has been made perfectly clear to me in no uncertain terms. But equally some disabled people might find the invitation to get ‘out and about and visit a venue that you have not been to before – whether a cinema, coffee shop, sports centre or anywhere else’ faintly offensive. As if we hadn’t thought of it before or had never had the brains to explore ways of doing so until someone thought of Disability Access Day. There is merit in what this group are trying to achieve here, but I would argue that they are not the first to discover that there are problems with access on pretty much every corner. It’s just that some of us choose to address them by drunkenly climbing up the stairs to a nightclub on our backside or shouting abuse at taxi drivers who ‘don’t do wheelchairs’, while others choose to organise initiatives like this which in a just world would be entirely superfluous. You pays your money and takes your choice as to which you think is the approach with the most impact. Oh and by the way, free tours? I’ve paid to visit several of the places listed on the website for Disability Access Day and am hoping that on that basis I qualify for a refund. I’ve been financially punished because I know how to use Google and didn’t rely on some very well intentioned people to make the arrangements for me. The injustice.

The website also promises that you can ‘try an accessible bus’. I’m not sure exactly what this means. Hopefully it is geared towards helping the people with access issues who have hitherto been too affected by their mobility problems to give it a go for themselves. I didn’t know those people existed until today so I think we can say that we have all learned something from Disability Access Day already. Perhaps that itself is justification for it and suggests that I should shut my metaphorical cake-hole. Presumably anyone ‘trying an accessible bus’ at a specially arranged event like this will not find that the only accessible space available is already occupied by the lady from across the road who is eight months pregnant and who is already pushing a twin buggy.

So it’s the need for such a day in the first place and the back-slapping that is going on as a result of it, that’s what I object to. Although with a heavy heart I am prepared to accept that actually there might well be a need for it, and on that basis congratulate the people involved for trying to do something which they say will raise awareness and have some sort of lasting effect. I just feel very sceptical about that particular outcome. Clearly the 200 companies involved should provide access as a matter of routine and not be shouting out ‘look at us, we’re helping out on this particular day’ in what seems to be in grave danger of becoming some kind of self-indulgent disability access dick measuring exhibition. I very much hope that some of the 200 companies who are involved are potential places of employment for disabled people, because that is where arguably the biggest access issue resides. We’ve all turned up for job interviews only to find that there’s a flight of 27 stairs to be negotiated. It’s all very well making it easier for disabled people to pop into their local Costa and spend £3 on cup of boiling hot water and a tea bag but wouldn’t we all be better off if we could eliminate the very notion of inaccessible places of employment? Wouldn’t that truly enhance our options and subsequently our lives? And not just for one day, but forever? Perceptive types among you will have noted that January 17 is a Saturday so my feeling is that many places of employment will dodge this particular bullet and access to their premises will not improve even for one day. I can’t include my employer in that as it has always provided excellent access and is as good an employer for people with disabilities and access issues as there is in all of the UK. It’s such a shame that I’m not allowed to name them here and so they won’t actually get any credit in the eyes of the few hundred people who might stumble across this piece.

I really do regret that despite my best efforts, I appear to have failed to be overly positive about Disability Access Day. I just can’t get past the idea that it is yet more lip service in the tricky sphere of disability awareness. As with the gruesome Undateables, other minority groups would not countenance it. When is black access day or gay access day?

And why, why oh fucking why, isn’t every day Disabled, Black And Gay Access Day in any case?

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Watching Wednesday. At Wigan. On A Tuesday.

I hate Wigan. Always have. That might seem a little harsh, a little xenophobic even but it is important to understand what I mean when I say I hate them. I don’t mean the people or even the town itself. I mean the sports teams, basically. I’ve spent too many of my formative years watching the charade of Ellery Hanley and Dennis Betts perform fitness tests before major cup finals before inevitably declaring themselves fit and stomping all over a massively inferior, semi-professional Saints side. I’ve seen a couple too many Saints players of old get to the top level and then decide that actually they would rather be in Wigan sitting on their cash mountain. Then I’ve had to listen to Wigan fans trot out stomach churning, curdled rhino-shit about how Wigan turned those players into world class athletes.

Now this is just rugby league but the emotional pummelling I have received in that sphere has tainted my views on all of Wigan’s sporting endeavours. I wouldn’t support a Wigan team if they were taking on Ian Brady at backgammon and they had to win to save mankind. The recent revelations regarding Wigan Tory and absolutely not racist Dave Whelan have only served to intensify my feelings. I have always hated Dave Whelan anyway. Not just because he is a Wiganer, a Tory and now absolutely not a racist, but because of the way he celebrated Wigan’s League Cup semi-final victory over Arsenal in 2006. I’m all for chairmen connecting with the fans but his exhibition of head-rubbing in the disabled areas was too much to bear. If I had been a Wigan fan sat in that end that night I would have punched him full in his greedy, Tory face. Or in the Chingaling. So it was little surprise that I found myself supporting the opposition when I visited the pie dome for a bit of festive football on the Tuesday between Christmas and New Year. That the opposition was Sheffield Wednesday, Emma’s team, pretty much sealed the deal. More Wednesday support came from her mum and dad who had arrived to spend New Year with us.

This being the day before New Year’s Eve I volunteered to do the driving. There would be plenty of alcohol related chicanery 24 hours hence and as it turned out it was all very convenient. Disabled parking at the Dave the Wanker Stadium is remarkably easy to come by. Emma had requested it some days earlier and had received email confirmation, but when we arrived nobody questioned us or asked to see a blue badge. Perhaps they have more disabled parking than they could possibly need at the home of a struggling Championship outfit. They are remarkably blasé about it.

Do I sound like I’m from Yorkshire, by the way? I know I lived there for a few years but I really didn’t think I had picked up too much of the accent. I ask because as we approach the lift the attendant asks us if we have brought any snow with us from Sheffield. Despite her origins and allegiances, Emma doesn’t have a Yorkshire accent either. Nor is she wearing any Wednesday merchandise so I’m a little bewildered. Perhaps he just noticed the fact that I don’t have a Wigan accent and decided that I couldn’t be from anywhere else but Sheffield. There’s a certain logic in that. Who else would turn up at Wigan to see two poor Championship sides do battle in the perishing cold but people from either Wigan or Sheffield? I explain that I am from St.Helens and more of a rugby league man and to my extreme satisfaction he reveals that although he works their games he does not support the despised Worriers. Instead he watches his rugby league in Swinton, Chorley and Blackpool. A proper fan. Not like us spoiled, Super League types. Amusingly, the floor 2 button inside the lift is upside down so I ask Emma to take a photograph and stick it on Facebook. A Wigan 2. But while she is doing so the doors close and the lift automatically starts moving back downstairs. The door opens again and all we can do is smile and apologise to the people still waiting to get upstairs. I don't want to speculate on what they probably thought we were doing.

We have half an hour to kill before kick-off so we go for a brew. The concourse is already filling up and most people there seem to be extremely boisterous Wednesday fans. Makes sense since we are in the North Stand where the away support is housed. In the time it takes to get served we are treated to the full repertoire of Wednesday fan songs. Most strikingly, to the tune of ‘She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain’ (alright, it is probably not called that but you know the one I mean) they sing ‘if you don’t fucking bounce then you’re a Blade’. A Blade being a Sheffield United fan. That is the lowest insult they could pay you. There’s an interesting contrast between their aggression and their politeness. In between publicly decrying Sheffield United fans they bend over backwards to help me pass through the crowds. Almost every person I encounter moves away quickly, apologising a thousand times for being in that particular space at that particular time. You get the feeling they would have done the same for me even if I had been a Blade.

Roland, Emma’s dad, has a beer. This being a football ground for the night we are not allowed to our seats inside the stadium until he has finished it. In a few days it will be 2015 and still we are led to believe that football fans cannot be trusted to have a beer or two without embarking on an 80’s style riot. It seems a little draconian to me, especially when a bout of fisticuffs breaks out later in the evening in any case. I’m starting to think the ban might be nothing to do with the potential for hooliganism and more to do with the fact that nobody wants to be picking up plastic beer containers from in between 25,000 seats. Instead of entering the stadium then we find a little space away from the main throng of fans and drink up, watching previews of tonight’s other Championship games on an incredibly small screen perched high above our heads. Derby are taking on Leeds while Ipswich Town face Charlton Athletic. Roland hates Ipswich for reasons that I don’t think I have fully understood. He’s a Sheffield Wednesday fan living in Buckinghamshire but somehow he is irritated by a middling outfit from Suffolk whose last meaningful success was in the late 1970’s. Football, sport in general, can do that to you.

When we do enter the stadium we find that Emma doesn’t have a seat. The platform has space for around five or six wheelchair users and not much else. Anyone accompanying a wheelchair user either has to stand, or else go and sit in the row of seating just in front and off to the right of the platform. It’s another classic piece of segregation. Up there with the Liverpool Empire Theatre’s brilliant idea of having you sit behind your companion if you happen to be using a wheelchair. We’ve never experienced it for ourselves. The knowledge of those arrangements was enough to put us off even trying it out. That and Ray Fucking Quinn.

I feel like I should have remembered about the lack of seating up here and warned Emma but I completely forgot. I have been here a couple of times before, in this exact same stand, watching Saints have varying levels of success against the other lot. One night, Sean Long ripped them a new one in a play-off game here as we ran out 54-16 winners. He was dazzling. One of the more enjoyable Saints-Wigan derbies in living memory. Sean Long is my favourite Wiganer by some distance. He might come from the wrong side of the lump and talk funny but he is nevertheless the second highest points scorer in Saints history. I can see why the Wigan fans hate him. One of their own turning to the other side, picking up pots and medals as a matter of routine and repeatedly humiliating them. That must have hurt. As I said earlier though, we really do know how that feels so suck it up, Wigan. Besides, it is the same situation with Matty Smith now with the obvious difference being that Matty Smith is shit. Ok, so he is not shit, but he is no Sean Long and never will be.

Emma’s not as upset about the lack of seating as I had feared. In fact I think I am more offended but I decide to refrain from too much of a rant about segregation and I will spare you it now aswell. Soon all of our concentration is on the game itself as the teams come out and begin aimlessly woofing the ball at each other as if it were a weapon of mass destuction. Wigan won the FA Cup last year but have fallen on hard times since being relegated under that football genius Roberto Martinez, while Wednesday remain mired in the same shit-swamp of mediocrity which has seized them for more than a decade. It’s not pretty to watch. Chief culprit is Wednesday striker Atdhe Nuhiu. He’s ploughing the proverbial lone furrow tonight due to manager Stuart Gray’s decision to keep Stevie May on the bench from the start and he is ploughing it in the most hapless way imaginable. His presence serves only to persuade his team mates to whack the ball up to him as hard and as high as they possibly can but his touch is preposterously bad and most of his lay-offs find a blue and white striped shirt. Which would ordinarily be ideal except that Wigan are at home and are therefore the team donning those colours. Wednesday are in yellow, which might be confusing the big Austrian. He has one moment in the first half where he could affect the game, latching on to a cross from the right but finding only the feet of Wigan goalkeeper Scott Carson, a man so ordinary that he wasn’t even good enough for Liverpool. Anyone who has seen Simon Mignolet play recently will be able to put that into some kind of context. Despite Wednesday’s good opening through Nuhiu it is Wigan who are the slightly better side in a first half lit up by little else other than a couple more from the Wednesday fan songbook;

(To the tune of KC And The Sunshine Band’s ‘Give It Up’)

“Na na na na na na na na na na……we’ve got Stevie May, Stevie May, we’ve got Stevie May!”

(To the tune of ‘Oh When The Saints Go Marching In’)

“I’ve got a shed. As big as this. I’ve got a shed as big as this…..”

Strangely there is also a chorus of a song which has as its main thrust an order to ‘fuck the IRA’. That might not be the worst sentiment in the world given their history of terrorism against the UK but I’m not sure what place it has at a football match. It is not universally enjoyed but there are enough people joining in for it to dominate the atmosphere at our end for a short while. Perhaps if you let them have a beer they would refrain from this kind of negativity and anger?

When we rejoin Roland and Susan on the concourse at half-time Roland’s main bugbear aside from the plainly incompetent Nuhiu is the behaviour of winger Jeremy Helan. The Frenchman has pace to burn but Roland complains that he doesn’t engage his brain and that all of his athleticism is wasted because he basically doesn’t know what he is doing. He’s equally unimpressed by the other winger, Jacques Maghoma. I’d describe his first half performance as disappointing had I expected anything of him in the first place. Clearly Roland did expect a little bit more from the man from Zaire.

Wednesday are markedly improved in the second half as they kick towards the goal behind which we are positioned. Around the hour mark controversial absolutely not racist Wigan manager Malky Mackay introduces Callum McManaman from the bench and I wonder if this might be a decisive move. It is, but not in the way I had imagined. McManaman earned rave reviews for his performances under Martinez in the Premier League a couple of years ago and so clearly has the class to impose himself on a game of this level. He does that alright, but only in lunging recklessly at Wednesday man Claude Dielna and earning himself a deserved red card within 10 minutes of his introduction. It was the kind of tackle in which the perpetrator seems to view the ball as nothing more than an obstacle between him and his real goal located somewhere around the opponent’s knees. The referee has no hesitation, but not all inside the North Stand are impressed. There is one lone voice, that of a Dave the Wanker Stadium steward who is angrily claiming that Dielna is play-acting as he writhes around on the turf waiting for assistance from the physio. Incadescent, the steward points out that this would never happen in rugby league. He would just get straight back up and get on with it if he were a rugby league player. Having seen rugby league players carry on playing with broken bones it is sort of easy to see where he is coming from, but Dielna is by no means play-acting and in any case, the extent or otherwise of his injury has no bearing on the fact that McManaman’s tackle is both late and dangerous. He has to go.

And when he does it really puts Wednesday in charge of the game. They enjoy the expected increase in possession and use it well, culminating in the winning goal just nine minutes after McManaman’s sorry exit. What is more surprising is that the goalscorer is that man Nuhiu. He had continued to make a Nuhiu-sance of himself throughout the second half with little in the way of finesse, before finally latching on to an Helan cross to power a header into the roof of Carson’s net. Wigan hit the post before the end but their forays into the Wednesday half are rare due to their numerical disadvantage. With five minutes left Gray gives the Wednesday fans what they had been waiting for all night when he throws May into the fray. May is a frizzy-haired, diminutive Scottish striker who has pace but is hardly clinical in front of goal. Yet try telling that to the Wednesday fans who laud him at every opportunity with their Stevie May song, sung with the kind of ghusto that makes you believe he is Luis Suarez.

Wednesday cling on for the win that takes them into the top 10 of the Championship and leaves Wigan floundering at the wrong end of the table. Celebration comes in the form of a chippy dinner on the way home after a more than satisfactory way to sign off in 2014. Just don’t mention the fact that their first game of 2015 is away to Premier League champions Manchester City in the third round of the FA Cup on Sunday.

But since we weren’t there, we will gloss over that particular result.