Friday, 24 June 2016

Idiot Britain Leaves The EU

Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard isn't usually political. Sometimes, however, something happens in politics which is so seismically stupid, annoying and bloody terrifying that it would be remiss not to pass comment. Largely I have been respectful of the opposite view to my own during the EU referendum campaigns. Yesterday was the first time I posted anything about the subject on social media. Many said, quite rightly, that we shouldn't be launching personal attacks on each other over a political issue, but when this morning we awoke to the news that the UK, in their limitless wisdom, had decided to leave the European Union following yesterday's vote I started to wish I'd made more effort to put people off voting Leave. What we will have now is a so-called 'Brexit' which I described yesterday as like setting your rented house on fire because you want more control over what happens to it. When you ask the average Leave voter why they want to leave the EU they don't actually know, or they come up with something about taking back control of our own borders. All of which is complete nonsense, as we will see.

The referendum result was a close run thing. Fifty-one point nine per cent of those who voted chose to leave while 49.1% had the nous to think it better to stay. As a result of this narrow defeat for the Remain campaign, pig-fancying gobshite Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that he will leave office by this October. I can honestly say I never thought I would be genuinely disturbed by his departure, but I am. There will be those who think that the Leave campaign is a triumph because it has brought about the end of his time in Downing Street, but this is a short term view which fails to acknowledge any of the multitude of other dangers that may lie around the corner following his exit. In short, be careful what you wish for.

Although Cameron campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU he is largely to blame for the mess that has this morning left the pound weaker than it has been since 1985. The mess that threatens to see lovable television buffoon and English Donald Trump Boris Johnson take over the premiership, and a situation which will in truth make absolutely rock all difference to immigration except for the anticipated flood of people who might be desperate to get here for fear that we will be shutting our doors to them two years from now. That's right Leave voters, even if we start the process of leaving today (which we won't for reasons I will explain later) it will take two years to complete. Let's just say it is complex. If you imagined that you would wake up this morning to news footage of someone blocking the Channel Tunnel with a great big red brick wall then you are going to be sorely disappointed. Ironically, Leave voters may even have brought about an increase in immigration, in the short term at least. Regardless, if we did shut our doors to everyone and not just those from Europe, it would make a difference of around one in 35 people over a 10-year period. That is to say that in 10 years time there would be 34 children in your child's school classroom instead of 35, or 34 cars ahead of you in the morning traffic jams instead of 35. Was this really worth fucking the economy for? Or potentially turning our fate as a nation over to the extreme right loonies Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage? Respectfully I suggest not.

The awful truth is that Cameron should never have offered the people a referendum to decide something so important. It was spineless and politically irresponsible, as is his departure now. He'll probably be reflecting on that now as he prepares to go through the door marked Do One. The people were never close to being interested enough or educated enough to make a sensible decision. Right up until yesterday social media was flooded with half-wits suggesting that they didn't know which way to vote because there was 'not enough information' available. These people, who it seems have not yet grasped the concept of Google, were also adamant that since people fought and died for their right to vote that they should exercise that right. All of which sounds lovely in principle but should you really exercise your right to vote if you know fuck all about what you are voting on? And what's more if you do not care to know to the extent that you couldn't spend five minutes conducting a little research, instead preferring to use your technological know-how to shout into the social media void that you don't know what the fuck you are doing? But it's all so difficult, isn't it?

Now even though Cameron's departure as PM could be considered a good thing, it has left the country in an almighty mess. Basically, Mr Cameron has walked into a room, shit in the corner and then ran off to leave someone else to clean up the mess. It's monumentally cowardly of him and I confess to being a little bit surprised by it. I was hanging on to the hope that he would use his legendary devious nature to either rig the referendum for the greater good or else stay in office and work to find a way to avoid enforcing the EU withdrawal. Or at least manage it to try to limit the damage. After all, the vote was particularly close and if you include the people who did not turn out to vote then you could argue that the majority of people did not vote to leave the EU. Still, so long as the people who didn't know what to do until yesterday turned out then we're in safe hands. Democracy works.

Chillingly, the people who will most likely be left to pick up the pieces from this and that ran the Leave campaign are as surprised by the result as I am. It's highly likely that they didn't expect to win and that the likes of Johnson, Farage and Gove just wanted to give Cameron a bloody nose for their own political ends. Their agenda always seemed more likely to be to shove Cameron aside to progress their own, even more right wing plans for control than it was to actually cut the UK adrift from an organisation which has provided us with all manner of positives from human rights, employment rights, regeneration for our cities and towns and blah blah blah. I know, Leave don't want to read that because the main thing is that we stop foreigners piling through our borders at a rate of 200million a day.

Back in the real world and with all that in mind there will now be a probably interminable period to allow for the meeting of these great minds to decide exactly how to go about facilitating our exit from the EU. Scotland and Northern Ireland are already making noises about leaving the UK, clearly because they overwhelmingly want to remain part of the EU. The referendum results in those countries proved that. Brexit is a distinctly English thing. Not that any of this matters to Leave voters who are just delighted that the Leave campaign have promised to stop those bloody foreigners coming over here taking our benefits and our jobs at the same time, contributing to our economy and all kinds of other evil that Little Englanders hate. It's a promise they may not even keep but it has at least sated the English appetite for hatred for now. Indeed, the result is a victory for hate. The people who start their sentences with the phrase 'I'm not racist but....' may not be racist in the same way that people who come up to me in the street and say 'I'm not being funny but...' are not necessarily prejudiced against the disabled. Yet the fact that they need to establish that before they speak sometimes is fairly telling. The bottom line is that they have thrown their lot in with some very powerful people who are clearly racist. People like Farage who sold voters the lie that the UK pours £350million into the EU every week, and who has immediately back-tracked on his laughable claim that following our EU exit that money would instead be spent on the NHS. At best a vote for that is na├»ve and irresponsible, at worst it is disgusting and unpalatable.

One crumb of comfort could come from the possibility that a General Election takes place. Cameron's lot were elected to hold the referendum, but not necessarily to follow through with our EU exit. If the people decide whether we should stay or go from the EU then perhaps they should also have a say in who manages our departure from it. OK so we are trusting idiots again that way, and the far right psychos like Farage will no doubt take some of the working class vote, thus helping the Tories to divide and conquer us. But it might be our best bet, given that the alternative is to let Bellend Nigel and his cronies guide us through what is now sure to be a difficult period.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Boss



Yesterday, Saturday, we passed The Shard. So named because it looks a bit like a shard of glass, it's main purpose seems to be visibility from outer space. I actually didn't know what it was used for except showing off, but a cursory Google search has thrown up the nugget that it replaced an office block built in 1975 and is owned by a property company as well as the state of Qatar. It has a viewing gallery, which is the point that I am agonisingly arriving at. I pointed this out but Emma said that it would cost far more than it was worth to go up there (I think she said about £20) and that we could get an aerial view of London from the top of a shopping centre by St Paul's Cathedral.

We have to find the shopping centre first and it doesn't prove to be all that easy. We'd got off the train at Bank and immediately it got complicated. Brilliantly, they shut the lifts off at the weekend. I mean, why wouldn't they? What the fuck are disabled people doing wanting to go anywhere at the weekend? The audacity of these fucking freaks. We spend a ridiculous amount of time sat waiting with a lady and her mum until Emma manages to contact someone on the intercom. He then has to haul his poor arse down a flight of stairs to unlock the lifts for us. One of five bloody lifts in a row, all of which have been shut off because it is the weekend. This happened more than a fortnight before I write this and I'm still reeling. It's all a bloody outrage. If only the pair of us had stayed indoors dribbling like we are supposed to then we might have spared this poor guy his legs. In the event he denies any responsibility for the whole charade, calling himself a 'mere puppet'. To be quite honest it seems as if the whole of Bank Underground Station is run by puppets so he may have more power than he supposes. Either way there is no point wasting any more time berating him for it. That's what this column is for.

We waste yet more time wandering around the area by St Paul's Cathedral looking for a shopping centre. Emma's dad offers some directions over the phone and it turns out that we have gone past it. I think we had expected something taller, given that it's meant to offer a view of the city from the rooftop terrace. Nevertheless we go in and ride the glass lift up to the sixth and top floor. Glass lifts are a bit weird I think. You lose your stomach a little bit. We come out on to the terrace and it's surprisingly stunning. There's a magnificent view of St Paul's Cathedral along a path that leads down also to views of the London Eye. The Shard is probably visible from here too as it is visible from pretty much anywhere in the universe. Best of all there is a small terrace bar just set back from the wall around the terrace. We go there and drink Sol at some totally unjustifiable price but it is hot, it's sunny and it is 11.30 on a Sunday morning. Sometimes you just have to spend a bit more to get a unique experience. Whatever it cost, and I don't rightly remember, it is definitely better value than the £5.30 a pint in The George yesterday. That was just an ordinary pub. A nice pub, don't get me wrong, but just a pub. No views of significant London landmarks and actually no sunshine because all of the outdoor space was taken and we drank inside.

We shelve plans to visit the Tower Of London. By the time we have stopped laying about in the sun drinking expensive beer it's way after 12.00 and Emma wants to be at Wembley Stadium for around 4.00. It's the day of the Bruce Springsteen concert, which after all is the reason we have come all this way. We take a walk (push?) towards and over the Millennium Bridge but then while looking for a pub we visited a couple of years ago called The Old Thameside Inn we take a wrong turn somewhere at Bankside, Southwalk. Eventually we realise this and turn back, looking instead for either Southwalk or London Bridge tube stations. Inevitably, we find another pub. This time it is the brilliantly monikered Doggett's Coat And Badge. There we watch the first set of the French Open tennis final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. Murray wins the first but by the time we leave midway through the second he's on his way to what was probably always an inevitable defeat by the Serb who now holds all four Grand Slam titles, the first man to do so since Rod Laver in 1969. Architecture and tennis. Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard is your one-stop shop for useless information.

We get back on the tube and it starts. The gathering of the hard-core Bruce fans. I'm actually expecting them to be much older and with an array of stupid tattoos and piercings, but most of those that board the train between London Bridge and Wembley Park seem fairly average in appearance. The only thing that gives their musical preferences away is the t-shirts they wear which carry the face of 'The Boss' on the front and a list of exotic places he has played at on the reverse. Well some of them at any rate. Springsteen is 66 years old and has probably played everywhere except Thatto Heath Labour Club by now. Going off on a tangent for a second a friend of mine has just told me that her son is working in Thatto Heath at the moment. He took a photograph of the sign at the railway station and asked the question what kind of name this was 'for a gaff'. Then he said something about it being a shithole. While I can't make an impassioned argument against that I did at least tell her to let him know that I live in the posh end. Which means I own my own home. Said friend then went on to suggest that Thatto Heath must be a shithole because of the way we speak, before having a wild stab at mocking my accent. All of which is ironic given her own staggering scouse-ness.

We've gone off course. The next challenge for us was to get inside the stadium. It is not a long walk from Wembley Park but it is all uphill. At the top I feel like I have done 90 minutes in bloody Gym Bug or some other poser's paradise. We consider buying some food from the many outlets on the way in, but remembering my mum's advice never to buy food from 'places' (by which she means anything with wheels) we skip it and make our way inside. Like last week we are meant to enter at Gate J but we are about 30 blocks over from where we were for the play-off final. It takes an absolute age to walk that distance around the concourse, to the point where actually it would have been much quicker to let us in at Gate K. Which is probably not accessible. That's the only reason I can see for the logic. I mean, come on, it is only 2016 and only four years on from London hosting a Paralympics. Give them a chance.



Just to make life more difficult there is a separate kiosk for every different item of food you might want to spend silly amounts of money on. Which is all very well if you are on your own. Just decide what you want and find the relevant kiosk. But if you are with someone else, and you want a burger and someone else wants a hot dog or some nachos then you have to go your separate ways. So we both got a burger because anyway, in the end, there's little difference between one type of overpriced shit and another. Fortunately, all of the different kiosks serve beer. So with that sorted we eventually find our seats which aren't bad. Perhaps we are a little too far away from the stage if I'm honest. Bruce is going to look fairly ant-like from this distance (though I do hope he is a good deal more entertaining than Ant Man). Yet there are several big screens around the stage which will help.

For now the entertainment is on the field, well before Bruce has even appeared. One fella has had far too many scoops for his own good and is lying prostrate on the temporary surface, emptying the contents of his gut with some vigour. It's highly unedifying and gets worse when the security people get wind of it because their intervention involved that most dreaded of allegedly helpful apparatus, the evac-chair. I have spent large parts of my life to this point doing anything to avoid ever being placed on an evac-chair. Quite frankly I would rather burn like Stannis' daughter than suffer the ignominy of descending a flight of stairs in that manner. The chair they use to hoist me on to aeroplanes is as close as I'm ever going to get to it and that is only because that is a necessary evil if I'm ever going to get anywhere outside of the UK. In this lad's position I would have crawled off the surface and down the nearest tunnel. He doesn't though. He voluntarily sits on the wretched thing, assuming he can do anything voluntarily such is the depth of his inebriation. Notably his mates don't leave with him. Just as you sometimes have to pay that bit extra for a special experience, so you sometimes have to let your mates fuck off on their own to sober up if they can't handle their ale.

I'm in the toilet when Bruce starts playing, which would be slightly annoying if I was a massive fan. I'm not really, is the awful truth. Emma's the one with a keenness for him but I enjoy the show all the same. I don't know all of the songs so I spend part of the three and a half hour gig (he doesn't do support acts) trying to work out what song he is playing and part of it people watching. I haven't seen as many drunken and quite rubbish dance moves as this since we went to see Simple Minds at Wembley arena when punching the air seemed to be the thing. Looking around I'm quite envious that they know every word and are bellowing along. Concerts are always better when you know the music well, so I'd be the same if I'd done my homework. There's no doubt Bruce is good. He's very good and he has an exhaustive repertoire of rock anthems at his disposal. Born To Run is particularly uplifting and a fair portion of folk go quite dizzy during The River. I don't recall him playing Glory Days which is one that I do like, although I may just have missed it having been distracted by the swathes of middle aged, would-be rockers getting their Bruce on in ever more embarrassing ways.

Helpfully, Bruce introduces every song with signs and even chastises one or two audience member for the sub-standard quality of the signs that they have brought with them. I've not seen this kind of signage before at a gig and I can't work out whether it is a Bruce thing or a stadium thing. The majority of gigs that I have been to have been at indoor arenas, except for Robbie Williams at the Eithad in Manchester a couple of years ago. There's a fair chance that his fans don't bring signs because they can't spell. Except for me, of course. I'm a Robbie Williams fan and I can spell.

It takes an eternity to get out of the stadium and Emma's impatience is obvious. The police are holding people up so that there aren't too many people entering Wembley Park at one time. This happened last week but it somehow seems to take longer this time around. Not for waiting, Emma's weaving between the crowds through gaps that I can't fit my fat arse into let alone my wheelchair and I'm worried that I will lose her. Fortunately she knows to wait by the lift outside Wembley Park. Unfortunately, when I eventually get there I'm at the back of a ridiculous queue, made worse by the inability of the general public to operate a lift. They overload it three times, once to the point where an out of service message flashes above the door and it looks for a moment as if we'll all been spending the night here. Unhelpfully people who could walk up the stairs choose not to, contributing even more to the overloading of the lift and wasting yet more of my life force. When it comes to my turn Emma takes the steps, although someone bizarrely claims that they had been told they were not allowed to do so if they were accompanying a wheelchair user. This seems unlikely, although Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard would not be surprised to learn that the right to walk up a flight of stairs and wait at the top has been stripped from anyone who has the audacity to rock up with a cripple.

One such, a middle-aged woman with a seriously bad attitude, spend the tube journey chastising her teenage son for never doing anything to help her. The same teenage son who has just taken her to a Bruce Springsteen concert and pushed her all the way back from the stadium to Wembley Park. She never once touched her own wheels in anything resembling an attempt to self propel. Maybe she wasn't able to, but if that is the case shut the fuck up and stop having a go at your son for not doing anything for you. Do you really think he would rather be at a Bruce Springsteen gig than out drinking cider with girls his own age or whatever it is the cool kids do nowadays. I loathe ungratefulness.

Monday comes and we swerve the Tower Of London again, settling instead for a Spoons brekkie and a bit more time at home ahead of a Wednesday return to work.



Yesterday, Saturday, we passed The Shard. So named because it looks a bit like a shard of glass, it's main purpose seems to be visibility from outer space. I actually didn't know what it was used for except showing off, but a cursory Google search has thrown up the nugget that it replaced an office block built in 1975 and is owned by a property company as well as the state of Qatar. It has a viewing gallery, which is the point that I am agonisingly arriving at. I pointed this out but Emma said that it would cost far more than it was worth to go up there (I think she said about £20) and that we could get an aerial view of London from the top of a shopping centre by St Paul's Cathedral.

We have to find the shopping centre first and it doesn't prove to be all that easy. We'd got off the train at Bank and immediately it got complicated. Brilliantly, they shut the lifts off at the weekend. I mean, why wouldn't they? What the fuck are disabled people doing wanting to go anywhere at the weekend? The audacity of these fucking freaks. We spend a ridiculous amount of time sat waiting with a lady and her mum until Emma manages to contact someone on the intercom. He then has to haul his poor arse down a flight of stairs to unlock the lifts for us. One of five bloody lifts in a row, all of which have been shut off because it is the weekend. This happened more than a fortnight before I write this and I'm still reeling. It's all a bloody outrage. If only the pair of us had stayed indoors dribbling like we are supposed to then we might have spared this poor guy his legs. In the event he denies any responsibility for the whole charade, calling himself a 'mere puppet'. To be quite honest it seems as if the whole of Bank Underground Station is run by puppets so he may have more power than he supposes. Either way there is no point wasting any more time berating him for it. That's what this column is for.

We waste yet more time wandering around the area by St Paul's Cathedral looking for a shopping centre. Emma's dad offers some directions over the phone and it turns out that we have gone past it. I think we had expected something taller, given that it's meant to offer a view of the city from the rooftop terrace. Nevertheless we go in and ride the glass lift up to the sixth and top floor. Glass lifts are a bit weird I think. You lose your stomach a little bit. We come out on to the terrace and it's surprisingly stunning. There's a magnificent view of St Paul's Cathedral along a path that leads down also to views of the London Eye. The Shard is probably visible from here too as it is visible from pretty much anywhere in the universe. Best of all there is a small terrace bar just set back from the wall around the terrace. We go there and drink Sol at some totally unjustifiable price but it is hot, it's sunny and it is 11.30 on a Sunday morning. Sometimes you just have to spend a bit more to get a unique experience. Whatever it cost, and I don't rightly remember, it is definitely better value than the £5.30 a pint in The George yesterday. That was just an ordinary pub. A nice pub, don't get me wrong, but just a pub. No views of significant London landmarks and actually no sunshine because all of the outdoor space was taken and we drank inside.

We shelve plans to visit the Tower Of London. By the time we have stopped laying about in the sun drinking expensive beer it's way after 12.00 and Emma wants to be at Wembley Stadium for around 4.00. It's the day of the Bruce Springsteen concert, which after all is the reason we have come all this way. We take a walk (push?) towards and over the Millennium Bridge but then while looking for a pub we visited a couple of years ago called The Old Thameside Inn we take a wrong turn somewhere at Bankside, Southwalk. Eventually we realise this and turn back, looking instead for either Southwalk or London Bridge tube stations. Inevitably, we find another pub. This time it is the brilliantly monikered Doggett's Coat And Badge. There we watch the first set of the French Open tennis final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. Murray wins the first but by the time we leave midway through the second he's on his way to what was probably always an inevitable defeat by the Serb who now holds all four Grand Slam titles, the first man to do so since Rod Laver in 1969. Architecture and tennis. Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard is your one-stop shop for useless information.

We get back on the tube and it starts. The gathering of the hard-core Bruce fans. I'm actually expecting them to be much older and with an array of stupid tattoos and piercings, but most of those that board the train between London Bridge and Wembley Park seem fairly average in appearance. The only thing that gives their musical preferences away is the t-shirts they wear which carry the face of 'The Boss' on the front and a list of exotic places he has played at on the reverse. Well some of them at any rate. Springsteen is 66 years old and has probably played everywhere except Thatto Heath Labour Club by now. Going off on a tangent for a second a friend of mine has just told me that her son is working in Thatto Heath at the moment. He took a photograph of the sign at the railway station and asked the question what kind of name this was 'for a gaff'. Then he said something about it being a shithole. While I can't make an impassioned argument against that I did at least tell her to let him know that I live in the posh end. Which means I own my own home. Said friend then went on to suggest that Thatto Heath must be a shithole because of the way we speak, before having a wild stab at mocking my accent. All of which is ironic given her own staggering scouse-ness.

We've gone off course. The next challenge for us was to get inside the stadium. It is not a long walk from Wembley Park but it is all uphill. At the top I feel like I have done 90 minutes in bloody Gym Bug or some other poser's paradise. We consider buying some food from the many outlets on the way in, but remembering my mum's advice never to buy food from 'places' (by which she means anything with wheels) we skip it and make our way inside. Like last week we are meant to enter at Gate J but we are about 30 blocks over from where we were for the play-off final. It takes an absolute age to walk that distance around the concourse, to the point where actually it would have been much quicker to let us in at Gate K. Which is probably not accessible. That's the only reason I can see for the logic. I mean, come on, it is only 2016 and only four years on from London hosting a Paralympics. Give them a chance.



Just to make life more difficult there is a separate kiosk for every different item of food you might want to spend silly amounts of money on. Which is all very well if you are on your own. Just decide what you want and find the relevant kiosk. But if you are with someone else, and you want a burger and someone else wants a hot dog or some nachos then you have to go your separate ways. So we both got a burger because anyway, in the end, there's little difference between one type of overpriced shit and another. Fortunately, all of the different kiosks serve beer. So with that sorted we eventually find our seats which aren't bad. Perhaps we are a little too far away from the stage if I'm honest. Bruce is going to look fairly ant-like from this distance (though I do hope he is a good deal more entertaining than Ant Man). Yet there are several big screens around the stage which will help.

For now the entertainment is on the field, well before Bruce has even appeared. One fella has had far too many scoops for his own good and is lying prostrate on the temporary surface, emptying the contents of his gut with some vigour. It's highly unedifying and gets worse when the security people get wind of it because their intervention involved that most dreaded of allegedly helpful apparatus, the evac-chair. I have spent large parts of my life to this point doing anything to avoid ever being placed on an evac-chair. Quite frankly I would rather burn like Stannis' daughter than suffer the ignominy of descending a flight of stairs in that manner. The chair they use to hoist me on to aeroplanes is as close as I'm ever going to get to it and that is only because that is a necessary evil if I'm ever going to get anywhere outside of the UK. In this lad's position I would have crawled off the surface and down the nearest tunnel. He doesn't though. He voluntarily sits on the wretched thing, assuming he can do anything voluntarily such is the depth of his inebriation. Notably his mates don't leave with him. Just as you sometimes have to pay that bit extra for a special experience, so you sometimes have to let your mates fuck off on their own to sober up if they can't handle their ale.

I'm in the toilet when Bruce starts playing, which would be slightly annoying if I was a massive fan. I'm not really, is the awful truth. Emma's the one with a keenness for him but I enjoy the show all the same. I don't know all of the songs so I spend part of the three and a half hour gig (he doesn't do support acts) trying to work out what song he is playing and part of it people watching. I haven't seen as many drunken and quite rubbish dance moves as this since we went to see Simple Minds at Wembley arena when punching the air seemed to be the thing. Looking around I'm quite envious that they know every word and are bellowing along. Concerts are always better when you know the music well, so I'd be the same if I'd done my homework. There's no doubt Bruce is good. He's very good and he has an exhaustive repertoire of rock anthems at his disposal. Born To Run is particularly uplifting and a fair portion of folk go quite dizzy during The River. I don't recall him playing Glory Days which is one that I do like, although I may just have missed it having been distracted by the swathes of middle aged, would-be rockers getting their Bruce on in ever more embarrassing ways.

Helpfully, Bruce introduces every song with signs and even chastises one or two audience member for the sub-standard quality of the signs that they have brought with them. I've not seen this kind of signage before at a gig and I can't work out whether it is a Bruce thing or a stadium thing. The majority of gigs that I have been to have been at indoor arenas, except for Robbie Williams at the Eithad in Manchester a couple of years ago. There's a fair chance that his fans don't bring signs because they can't spell. Except for me, of course. I'm a Robbie Williams fan and I can spell.

It takes an eternity to get out of the stadium and Emma's impatience is obvious. The police are holding people up so that there aren't too many people entering Wembley Park at one time. This happened last week but it somehow seems to take longer this time around. Not for waiting, Emma's weaving between the crowds through gaps that I can't fit my fat arse into let alone my wheelchair and I'm worried that I will lose her. Fortunately she knows to wait by the lift outside Wembley Park. Unfortunately, when I eventually get there I'm at the back of a ridiculous queue, made worse by the inability of the general public to operate a lift. They overload it three times, once to the point where an out of service message flashes above the door and it looks for a moment as if we'll all been spending the night here. Unhelpfully people who could walk up the stairs choose not to, contributing even more to the overloading of the lift and wasting yet more of my life force. When it comes to my turn Emma takes the steps, although someone bizarrely claims that they had been told they were not allowed to do so if they were accompanying a wheelchair user. This seems unlikely, although Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard would not be surprised to learn that the right to walk up a flight of stairs and wait at the top has been stripped from anyone who has the audacity to rock up with a cripple.

One such, a middle-aged woman with a seriously bad attitude, spend the tube journey chastising her teenage son for never doing anything to help her. The same teenage son who has just taken her to a Bruce Springsteen concert and pushed her all the way back from the stadium to Wembley Park. She never once touched her own wheels in anything resembling an attempt to self propel. Maybe she wasn't able to, but if that is the case shut the fuck up and stop having a go at your son for not doing anything for you. Do you really think he would rather be at a Bruce Springsteen gig than out drinking cider with girls his own age or whatever it is the cool kids do nowadays. I loathe ungratefulness.

Monday comes and we swerve the Tower Of London again, settling instead for a Spoons brekkie and a bit more time at home ahead of a Wednesday return to work.

Monday, 20 June 2016

London - The Day Before Bruce

I’m in London the day Muhammad Ali dies. Before that, I watch the breaking news of his death at home over breakfast. Tributes pour in. Tony ‘I am Everton’ (what? mediocre?) Bellew even goes as far as to claim that Ali invented sarcasm. This seems a stretch, but there is no doubt about the influence of a man who is widely regarded as the greatest sportsman of the 20th century and who also was one of the leading figures in promoting civil rights during the troubled 1960’s and 70s. The word ‘legend’ is over-used, as is the phrase ‘the word legend is over-used’, both by this writer and the roll-call of slebs who are cold-called by the BBC to offer their thoughts in praise of ‘The Greatest’.

Four hours later we’re in London. After the excesses of the Britannia International last week, Emma has chosen the rather cheaper and more cheerful Tunes Hotel for this weekend’s visit. Like the Britannia International it is in Canary Wharf but is much smaller, has no bar, and we’re not allowed in our room until 3.00pm. We arrived at 12.30pm. I’m not complaining though. It’s a nice enough place and frankly, if Emma didn’t make the decisions about where we stay when we go on our little forays then it just wouldn’t get done. I’m just one of those people who puts things off. I’m currently late completing my application for my blue badge, which runs out in a fortnight and I regularly receive red letters from United Utilities having forgotten to pay the water bill. This particular problem comes from a stubborn refusal to open most of my mail since I developed kidney disease. I don’t want to read any more bad news.

Since we have to fill some time before the room is ready we set off to find Camden Town. We’re in London for Sunday’s Bruce Springsteen concert at Wembley but if you are going to go that kind of distance you are as well to make a weekend of it. There’s a million gazillion things to do in London, which has transformed in my mind’s eye from England’s toilet to one of my favourite cities in the world. Well, at least of those I have been to but they include Adelaide, New York, Toronto, San Diego, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Barcelona, Minneapolis, Orlando, Amsterdam, Brussels and er…..Leeds. London is right up there with any or all of them and if it had a guarantee of good weather it might just top the lot.

We take the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) from just a short walk outside the hotel at West India Quay. This takes us to Stratford, sight of the London 2012 Olympics and now home to Taxpayers FC Bloody West Ham United. We were last here in November for the England v New Zealand rugby league test match, since when the outside of the stadium has been emblazoned with the happy hammers logo. We can see it from the train as we pass. No doubt next time we are here it will have been completely daubed in claret and blue and there’ll be huge scary billboards of Slaven Bilic all over the place. Did you see him jump on to the table in the ITV studio just because one of his happy hammers scored a goal for France? Bilic isn't even French, yet the way he climbed up beside Manu Petit's coffee mug, arms aloft, would suggest that he grew up just down the road from Petit rather than in Croatia. Perhaps he knows there won't be too much to celebrate from Croatia during the Euros so he's living it vicariously through France.

From Stratford we have to get on an overground train and this is where it gets a bit complex. There doesn’t appear to be anywhere to buy tickets. Finding the right platform is a bit of a minefield too, but we get there and talk to the man at the information desk about where we might be able to get tickets. He tells us that they are sold at machines downstairs, which means that Emma has to go back downstairs to get them. There are currently two trains to Camden Road on the platforms, one of which leaves in three minutes and which the man at the desk informs me we are going to miss, and one which leaves in 10 minutes. We’ll have to take that one, he says, because it will take more than three minutes for Emma to get back downstairs and get the tickets. It does. And while she is away a train pulls in and 20 million people get off it and start funnelling down the stairs leading towards her. I got that figure from the same people calculating immigration statistics for the Brexit campaign. It might be a bit high. Still, I don’t know how she finds me in that crowd but she does and we board the train, but not before the officious man at the desk insists on bringing out the ramp. Access on overground trains is as abysmal in London as it is anywhere else, it seems. The step from the platform is doable for me with Emma to help, but had I been on my own I would definitely have needed the ramp. The man insists on making me use it anyway, which delays things a little and I start to worry that the 10 minutes is probably up by now, but we make it.

Miraculously, there is someone there to meet us at Camden Road with a ramp to again insist on helping me get off the train. This wouldn’t happen anywhere on the line between Thatto Heath and Liverpool Lime Street. Not all of the time, at any rate. On one occasion I was visiting a friend in Seaforth and ended up in Waterloo. The step between the train and the platform was much steeper there and I could have ended up on the front of the local paper if I had tried to get off by myself. Had there been nobody to meet us at Camden Road we would have been ok but it is good to know that they make sure, even if they are a little over fussy about it for my tastes.

Camden Town is the busiest place I have been to bar Manhattan. The narrow, often cobbly pavements are more tightly packed than Tom Daley's trunks. There’s some kind of rock music festival on somewhere in the vicinity, so quite a significant percentage of the people blocking my way are leather-clad, Mohawk-sporting, walking tattoo easels. This being Saturday lunchtime and with the weather co-operating for once, the famous Camden Market is bursting with shoppers just desperate to part with their money in exchange for all manner of assorted tat. But we’re starving having by now. It’s after 2.00 and we haven’t eaten since about 7.30 so instead of scouring the stalls and shops for said tat we are only interested in finding somewhere for a feed. Which is difficult. There’s lots of pubs and restaurants in the area but they are all very, very busy. And loud. If not because of the general hum of chatter then due to various kinds of music blaring out of the open windows and doors. We find a place with a few spare seats outside and pay close to £30 for what is essentially two chicken burgers, one portion of fries and a couple of soft drinks. London is great, but London is not cheap.

Just over the road from where we sit is The Stables Market, inside which you will find what we came here for. The Amy Winehouse statue. It's my fault we are here. Despite the Heroin, the tattoo overkill and her willingness to put up with domestic abuse from half-wit no marks, I've always been a big fan of Amy Winehouse. The word legend is over.....Oh. Well, she was pretty bloody good anyway, especially in an era when most prominent singers are manufactured from somewhere beneath Simon Cowell's high waistline, or have made it through after having to compete with a dancing fucking dog. Amy was a proper singer, soul, blues, jazz, that kind of thing. She didn't dress up in leopard print or whatever it is and scream about how we are all going to hear her roar We can already bloody hear you love.. Nor did she want you to love her like she was a hot pie or any other such lyrical idiocy. As such she hasn't had a major impact on everyone, it seems. Our servers in the restaurant did not know where the statue was situated despite running a business less than three minutes walk away. I find that remarkable and annoying at the same time, but we Google it and crack on. No pun intended. Did Amy do any crack? I don't know, possibly. If she did Mitch probably won't admit it so Mitch, I'm not saying she did, right? In case you were thinking of suing someone who has less than 10 regular readers. Can we have a whip round?

Added to the huge crowds I am now faced with that old nemesis of wheelchair users everywhere, cobbled streets. Many is the time I have been separated from my wheelchair thanks to cobbled streets. My arse does come off the seat occasionally, in fact most of the most pleasurable things in life are practised without a wheelchair anywhere near my arse. So anyway I am moving along especially carefully, on my back wheels only which I'm sure most observers either find odd or think I'm showing off like some under 14's contestant on Kick-Start. Do you remember Kick-Start? It's main attraction was the chance to watch young people fall off logs into streams. It was very popular among young people who like watching other young people fall off logs into streams. There are no logs or streams here but there is method in the puerile manner of my movements. It's the small wheels at the front of a wheelchair which put the user in the most danger on cobbled streets, so if you can stay balanced on your back wheels then you are advised to do so here.

The statue is both smaller than I expected and life-size. Amy must have been smaller than I thought. Everyone looks tall though when you are five foot nothing and spend large parts of your existence sitting down. It's only when a group of girls come by and start having their photographs taken with the statue that I realise that it's probably about the right height. So if that's the case then we can safely assume that it is a realistic width also, meaning that Amy probably never had a square meal in her life. I haven't seen a waist as thin as the one on this statue in my entire life. Do you remember when Sir Bobby Charlton's daughter used to present the weather and Baddiel And Skinner did a sketch about the things people shout at the telly? One of the jokes in the sketch featured the Three Lions-warbling comics shouting at Charlton to eat something because she was so painfully thin. This is the kind of scale we are talking about.


Despite the fact that the Amy statue makes me look fat (I am fat) I have my photograph taken with it also. This is becoming something of a tradition now for me. I've had similar photographs taken with statues of Brian Clough in Nottingham, and with Rocky in Philadelphia. Having updated my phone recently (I had one of those that you have to hold in one hand while the other presses the ear-piece to your ear, popular in episodes of Poirot) I am now able to post my photographs to Facebook. But before I do I have to have the photograph taken again. I had forgotten to put my sunglasses on so my eyes are screwed up in the sun. If you have one of those faces that always looks miserable, like I do, arguably because I am bloody miserable perhaps, but if you do then the only way to make yourself look more ridiculous is to squint. I'm squinting, so I have the photograph taken again, which takes a while because by now a crowd has gathered around the statue, almost as if nobody else had thought about taking a look at it, much less having a photograph taken with it, until I rocked up. On my fucking back wheels like Eddie Fucking Kidd. His wife left him, you know, but that's another blog which I would get too angry about to finish.

From Stables Market it was back on to the train to Stratford and then the tube out to Southwark, where we took in a couple of the local watering holes. One such, The George, had featured on a recently aired programme in which The Hairy Bikers staggered around Britain visiting pubs of note or character. Not bloody Yates, basically. The George was lovely and very popular, with lots of people gathering outside to take advantage of the summer sun before it disappears again until next May. The only problem with The George is that a pint of lager will set you back £5.30, and a half £2.65. If nothing else, that is mathematically logical. But I told you London wasn't cheap. In the next Southwalk pub, the Old King's Head, someone tells me that they hope I have a license for that. Presumably they mean my wheelchair but I'm too dizzy from the witlessness of the remark to be absolutely sure.

I can't really tell you too much about the access in these places because nature doesn't call until we get back to Canary Wharf, specifically at a Wetherspoons just across the road from Tunes Hotel, which is handy. You can always rely on a Wetherspoons to have accessible facilities. Except for the one in Trafalgar Square which we once tried to enter and were presented with the kind of excuse for a ramp which you wouldn't attempt to ascend if you were a contestant on Kick-Start on your big brother's BMX. Less handy is the fact that there is a mouse scurrying around one of the rooms in Wetherspoons. The same Wetherspoons we will be eating breakfast at in the morning. We'll use another room....