Thursday, 22 December 2016

Christmas Shopping With A Disability - Looking Longingly At A Ben Sherman Jumper And Shoving People Out Of Your Way

Done your Christmas shopping? I went on Tuesday night after work. I boxed the whole thing off in an hour, mostly because 60% of the people I buy for just want money. All of which just left me with two presents to buy. This greatly reduced the stress level for me but it seems not everyone has been having it so easy this festive season.

The BBC are reporting that shops across the UK are missing out on as much as £249bn because their stores are inaccessible to disabled customers. This figure is apparently the combined spending power, or thereabouts, of the disabled community in the UK. My colleagues would have you believe that £248bn of this comes from my Disability Living Allowance but I would like to take this opportunity to refute that allegation. I don’t spend all day with those clowns for the fun of it. Anyway, naturally enough Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard is compelled to comment regardless of the fact that I found the Christmas shopping experience fairly painless this year. I’m not just here for myself, you know?

Take Michaela. The Beeb’s story doesn’t deem that Michaela requires a surname but what we do know about her is that when she was eight months old she was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy. This is a progressive condition which causes muscle weakness and loss of movement. Michaela uses an electric wheelchair which, she says, is woefully catered for by most high street stores;

“There are many shops where I have a one way system that I can go and if I go any other way I will get stuck.” She says. They are her words by the way, clumsy as they are. I feel that pain though. What wheelchair user hasn’t at one point or another, gone down a tiny aisle to get a closer look at something that has caught their eye in a particular store only to find that turning back from whence they came is not an option? I know I have. Before you know it there are 13 people behind you, wanting to get to where you are. And they’re shopping so they’re stressed and irate. They’ve got precisely 20 minutes to find something nice for someone they barely know but somehow feel compelled to buy for and you, you biff, are in their way.

“It's horrendous.” Adds Michaela;

“I don't have the loudest of voices so if I'm stuck where there's lots of noise, and there's music on, I can't call whoever is with me for help.”

I’ve got to be honest at this point and admit that I don’t have this problem. I have a voice that could cause an earthquake in Edinburgh when I choose to use it. But weirdly I often don’t when I am in shops. I find that just hanging around looking at something for long enough will compel a member of staff to take pity on me and come over to offer their assistance. It’s a good job they do because, while we are on the subject of poor access in stores, 80% of things that I might want to buy are displayed high enough so that I can’t reach them without that assistance. And no, I’m not talking about Razzle. That Tuesday I mentioned I was in Debenhams in Liverpool looking longingly at a Ben Sherman jumper. For once my strategy failed me and nobody came over to help, and I was on my own as Emma had been off work that day and wasn’t compelled to travel all the way to Liverpool to help me buy two presents. Normally I would have bellowed at someone, but this being Debenhams there were a million and one other menswear departments to browse through so I took the easy option and bought something I could reach. Don’t get me wrong, I liked what I eventually bought. We haven’t reached the stage yet, I don’t think, where disabled people buy tat that they hate because they can’t reach the good stuff unassisted. Or have we, you tell me? But the point is that in 2016 I should not have to settle for something else or even bother looking for something else because the first item I like is out of reach. Many people feel self-conscious about asking for help in shops and would rather just not bother. Perhaps this is where the BBC’s figure of £249bn in lost sales from the disabled community comes in.

It isn’t only myself and Michaela who are enduring this struggle. The Beeb say Fiona-Jane Kelly from Hounslow described Clintons Cards and Ryman Stationers as ‘abysmal’ on account of their narrow aisles. I can attest to this too, having been in Clintons on the same day as I visited Debenhams. If you use a wheelchair in Clintons you won’t get five metres without having to apologise to someone for being in their way, or without having to tap someone on the back to get them to move because they have ignored your continued requests to be excused so you can get past. This happens in pubs a lot, and I have physically shoved people out of my way before now. Those bloody crips with their chips on their shoulders. Well, fucking move when I ask you for the 14th time then. They don’t. They just look around at the level of their own eye-line and deduce that there can’t be anyone there because nobody could possibly have the temerity to have turned up in a wheelchair.

At least Fiona-Jane got an apology from Clintons, who said;

“We are sorry on this occasion that [full accessibility] has not been possible.”

Did anyone else pick up on that? They are sorry on this occasion? Have there been other occasions on which they were not sorry? Anyway, sorry really isn’t good enough. Don’t be sorry, just fix the problem.

The report cites similar problems experienced by disabled people in Marks & Spencer, Poundland and Next. And what have we heard in response from the government? Minister For Disabled People (yes, there really is such a thing and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that fact) Penny Mordaunt said;

“We need to let businesses know how dumb they're being and we need inspirational people to help us do that.”

Ignoring the vom-inducing Americanism ‘dumb’ what troubles me most about that is the phrase ‘inspirational people’. Inspirational People? No no no no no no no. It is not ‘inspirational’ to go fucking Christmas shopping. This column hardly needs to explain to you again its feelings on inspiration porn but to hear it from an actual government minister is deeply disturbing. What we ‘need’ is for ordinary people with mobility problems to raise these issues as and when they occur and then for our elected government to do something about those issues instead of always coming down on the side of the businesses. Mordaunt goes on;

“We want to give consumers, and their friends and families, more information about the stores that are doing things well. People will ultimately vote with their wallets.”

The figure quoted by the BBC suggests they will, but many won’t. That figure of £249bn would probably be even bigger without online shopping. Unfortunately not all disabled people will tackle this head on like Michaela and Fiona-Jane. Some will accept their fate and go home and do their shopping on the internet. Which you may not view as necessarily a bad thing. I certainly appreciate the fact that Emma likes to do our weekly shopping online rather than having to wander around Tesco once a week looking for the right brand of soup. But you can’t force that on to people through inaction. To do so is just another example of the many and varied ways that society, including businesses like those referred to by the BBC’s report, are trying to keep segregation alive and well in a supposedly developed country like the United Kingdom. Put simply, if we stay at home and do our shopping via Amazon or Tesco online then retailers won’t have to worry about making their stores more accessible. So my advice to you, my fellow crips, is to get out there as much as you can and force the bastards into making the necessary adjustments. And if they don’t then we shall carry on shaming them in pieces like that seen on the BBC website and here on Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard.

Which may have a slightly lower audience.

The 'Lurking' Dangers Of Social Media

Apologies for writing with such a dark tone again but when you feel like I do it is almost impossible to write any other way. I’ve tried to think of something positive to write about but the truth of the matter is that I don’t feel positive about anything. And when you don’t feel positive about anything then the things that would ordinarily interest you and inspire you have no effect. If I wanted to be a pretentious gobshite about it I would say that feeling low stifles the creative process. But of course as we all know I don’t have a creative process. Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard is a masterclass in absolutely winging it.

One article I did stumble across today suggested that too much of what they call ‘lurking’ on social media can contribute to depression. The theory is that if you are just browsing through what other people have posted it can make you feel envious, as if everyone has a much better and more successful life than you do, which in turn makes you feel inadequate and miserable. It is far more healthy, the study claims, to actually interact with people on social media rather than just idly read through what they have been wittering on about.

There’s a couple of things about this. Firstly, I find it hard to believe that anyone could be envious of the scores of people who pollute social media with their deep thoughts about what they are having for their tea. Who really gives a flying turd? There are upwards of 300 people on my Facebook friends list and it doesn’t appear to me that any of them are having much more fun than I am. They’re just not so pre-disposed to be miserable about that fact as I am. So if I am envious of them it is only of their ability to do absolutely rock all of any interest and still appear blissfully happy about it. I can’t help but feel at times that some of them just haven’t thought it through. But then as we know from previous memoirs on these pages about feeling low I am a world class exponent of over-thinking everything. Perhaps they have the right idea and I could learn from them. Ignorance really could be bliss.

Which brings me to the second point which is that actually, you are surely far more likely to feel depressed reading this sort of stuff simply because it bores you out of your mind. It is not difficult to imagine spending an hour on Facebook or Twitter and coming away with the impression that there is nothing going on in the world. A feeling of ‘is this all there is?’. The news offers no respite, with a shooting, terrorist attack or political crisis every other day, which is perhaps why I have an irrationally insatiable appetite for crap television drama. It’s escapism. Anything but the daily grind of getting up, going to work, coming home and reading on social media about how dull everyone else’s day has been or worse still who has been horribly and senselessly killed and where, before occasionally knocking up some hopefully witty nonsense that 12 people will read, and then going to bed. It’s not an exact science but if you have a better theory of why anyone would sit through an entire series of Quantico then I’d be very interested to hear it.

Of course, the real scourge of a depressed mind is overly positive people. My work is full of these people. Those who actually give a shit about the stuff we do which for me pays the mortgage and nothing else. This is clearly because I’m not where I thought I would be when I hit upon the idea of taking a journalism degree eighteen years ago. For my line of work I might just as well have left school at 16 and sat with my finger up my arse until I started working at Liverpool Community College around a year before I got my present job. It’s a pretty soul destroying thought which stops you from celebrating too much at the successful completion of a mundane administrative task. Others seem to love it and I suppose I envy them for that. But there’s no doubt in my mind that these people are batshit crazy.

Still with work, what about people who enjoy Friday? What’s fucking that about? My piss boils over when someone tells me to cheer up because it is Friday. But I have to smile and nod and agree that yes, isn’t it fucking fantastic that is Friday. No, it’s not. Friday is the same as every other day which may seem negative but by the same token if Friday is no better than any other day then Monday is no worse. So now who’s being negative when they come into the office on a Monday morning? You could die on a Friday just as you could get kidnapped by Jennifer Lawrence on a Monday. That’s all I’m saying.

Yet even the Friday fetishists have nothing on those who insist on making my innards spontaneously combust with their everyday messages of positivity. Talk on social media of getting up and ‘attacking’ the day just makes me want to stick pieces of hot coal in every orifice. I know these things are well intended but to put it bluntly you can’t fucking ‘beat’ Tuesday if Tuesday is a down day and you have a depressed mind so don’t fucking tell me to ‘be all I can be’. Especially not by going to some vainglorious fucking gym where everyone is beautiful and absolutely nobody has ever had hair like Willie Thorne. I’ve never understood the attraction of gyms and I have given them a fair go. I trained regularly in my previous life as an athlete but I’ve never been one of those people lucky enough to actually enjoy it. They say it is addictive but like smoking and drinking it’s something I’ve never been unable to go without. Addicts say you get a buzz and good luck to them if that is the case but I’ve never had it. As far as I can see you get out of breath and sweaty and you stay the same weight. So if you are an overweight biff when you go in you will be an overweight biff when you come out. You’ll just be sweatier and struggling for air. As well as struggling for hair.

Remember that study about browsing social media and its potential to make you feel lousy? The previous 1,000 words show that there may be something to it.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Falling Out With Sale Sharks To Fill The Literary Void

Nothing has happened in my dour little life recently. So much so, that Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard's Facebook page is now continually reminding me how long it has been since my last post. Thirteen days, I am reliably informed, so despite the absence of anything funny, annoying or even interesting in my life at the moment I am going to attempt to fill the void anyway.

I have been having fun on Twitter. This started when the world's favourite outrage generator got clogged up with 'discussion' about the Denny Solomona case. For those who don't know and who did not read my blog Denny Pain this is the one about the New Zealand born Samoan who got fed up of scoring bags full of tries for Castleford Tigers and so decided he would go and play rugby union for Sale Sharks instead. Only Castleford did not release him from the last two years of his contract. Despite this, Sale Sharks not only named him in their European Cup squad but also had the temerity to allow him to take the field in an actual competitive game last week.

So anyway I am now blocked by Sale Sharks on Twitter, as from what I can gather are almost all rugby league fans who have a problem with Solomona's disregard for our game. My own offence was to tweet the following in response to Josh Charnley's tweet welcoming Solomona to the turgid borefest that it rugby union;

"As long as he never comes back to RL".

Charnley and Solomona himself were included in this tweet but only Sale Sharks decided it was controversial enough to warrant a blocking. Later that day Twitter was chock full of tweets from those I follow who had suffered a similar fate from the club that can do no wrong. Now their Director Of Rugby Steve Diamond is claiming that Solomona was sacked by Castleford, whereas previously he along with Solomona and his Mr 15% Andy Clarke tried to work it up us by announcing that Solomona had 'retired' from rugby league. Amusingly, having blocked half of the rugby league world for daring to question their morality, Sale Sharks then cosied up to Wigan Warriors for a desperately important training session which neither side could apparently do without whatever the PR implications. Yes, the same Wigan Warriors who are undeniably a rugby league club. So Sale Sharks get on famously with rugby league, so long as you don't mean people who pay to support rugby league, or clubs who refuse to roll over and have their belly tickled whenever some cash-rich union wankers come along to steal their best players with insulting ruses about retirement. The betrayal by Wigan is sickening, but no less than you would expect from that classless organisation.

On a lighter note I also used Twitter to ask Victoria Coren-Mitchell to come to a rugby league game. She hasn't responded yet but the same goes for around 2386 previous occasions when I have tweeted her either in relation to her fiendishly difficult TV quiz Only Connect or to her column in the Independent. The reason for my latest communication with old VCM was her continued insistence on mocking rugby league during Only Connect.

Now, you don't have to be Hercule Poirot to know that I have a lot of time for Victoria. Not that I would need that much time. But anyway I do, but I still wasn't having any of this typically BBC 'isn't rugby league obscure and odd' mentality that we have to put up with every time that utter thunderprick Mark Chapman disgraces our screens. His loathesome feigned interest in our game makes me yearn for the return of Steve Ryder. Which is a bit like harking back to the days of medieval torture instead of modern day techniques like waterboarding but really anything is better than the Wigan and Man United-loving Chapman who knows about as much about rugby league as Victoria Coren-Mitchell. John Lennon was killed by a man called Mark Chapman, you know? I'm just saying. There are parallels between faux-enthusiastic sports presenters and murderous Beatle stalkers.

On which subject (again) it wasn't that she came out and openly said anything negative about rugby league. She wasn't overtly rude about it in the way that John Inverdale likes to be. In fairness Inverdale likes to be overtly rude about everything from female tennis players to five-time Olympic gold medallists, but there is nothing in this world he hates more than rugby league. It was only that for two weeks in a row VCM brazenly used sarcasm to imply that there isn't any reason on Earth why anyone should be able to answer a question on Only Connect about rugby league. As if it was beneath the high brow intellect of the fucking nerds among the Policy Wonks and the Bastard Beekeepers.

So I invited her to a Saints game. Ok so Saints may not be the best place to take someone if you want to prove to them how entertaining and exciting rugby league is but if I had a religion it would be against that religion to pay to watch any team that isn't Saints or playing against Saints. Unless it's an international side but that won't be happening in this country again for a while and besides, international rugby league is treated with the kind of disdain normally reserved for a 2am tweet by Katie Hopkins. Even people who like rugby league get irate about international rugby league, such is the sorry state it finds itself in. So it was Saints or nothing and as it turned out, and rather predictably, it was nothing. Clearly, VCM was too frightened to take up my offer not because of the obvious peril she would be in were she anywhere near me but because she didn't want to be proved wrong about rugby league. Before you know it she would have been addicted to watching LMS take three steps to his right before meekly taking the tackle and/or giving a penalty away, or to the compelling sight of Jon Wilkin talking himself into another 10 yard retreat to compound the decapitating clothes-line he has dished out five seconds earlier.

Don't think Emma would have been that keen on giving her seat up anyway......

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep

It seems ridiculous to follow a piece about my depressed mind with one with the word 'chirpy' in the title but the contrast was unavoidable as you will see as this progresses.

This story starts with me locking myself out of my house. I dropped Emma off at college on Wednesday night and returned home before I'd realised that she had the only key between us. As we normally travel all the way home from work together we'd forgotten that we'd both need a key and left the other one on one of Moewinckel's scratching posts. Our house has more cat-related furniture than it does wheelchair access features. No doubt Moewinckel would find it easier to get up into our loft than I would. Anyway, Emma had emailed me at work earlier in the day to tell me she had also left her phone at home so having forgotten to take the door key from her when I dropped her at the college I was out of options in terms of getting into my house.

Fortunately, like a character from Carla Lane's 'Bread' I live on the same housing estate as most of my family. My mum and dad, Helen and her boys and three of our aunties all have houses on the block. Sadly auntie Pat passed away in July but her husband, my uncle Phil, still lives there. So I'm surrounded by family which makes being locked out a bit less stressful than it might be for others. Which is handy when you have just bashed out 1,000 words on the subject of your depression.

So over tea me and my mum and dad were talking about someone who they knew when they were young who had recently died. They're at that age now when people they knew when they were young might start to die with more regularity. I've been watching people my own age die since I was about 13 and I don't expect the rate at which that happens to slow now. But however old you are it always seems to shock when someone of a similar age leaves this world. It forces you to confront your own mortality.

The conversation turned to others who had grown up in the Whiston and Prescot area at that time which threw up the name of Lally Stott. He also is no longer with us having been killed in a road accident in 1977, but not before he had written one of the top forty best selling singles worldwide. Stott was the man behind annoying 1971 number one hit 'Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep' which soared to the top of the UK charts when it was recorded by Middle Of The Road that year. Stott's own version had topped the pops in Australia and Italy previously, but it was the Middle Of The Road version which sent his mind-sapping ditty into the stratosphere in terms of physical record sales. Now you might be right in thinking that Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep would clear the floor if it were played nowadays, but the fact remains that it is one of less than 40 records to sell more than 10 million physical copies worldwide. That's an astonishing musical achievement whether you like it or not. To put it in some sort of perspective it outsells The Beatles best effort 'Hey Jude' by some two million physical copies worldwide. If Stott were alive today he'd probably own half of Thailand, such would be his level of wealth just from that one hit.

He'd also be able to confirm or deny my uncle Derek's claim about who the song was written about. You'll remember uncle Derek from my pieces about my granddad's recent death? He's my dad's youngest brother who I haven't seen since Helen's wedding in 2008. He says that Stott's lyrics for Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep are directly linked to my dad. There's no conclusive evidence for this but if we take a look at the lyrics we can see that Derek's theory is entirely plausible;

Where's your mama gone? (where's your mama gone?)
Little Baby Don (Little Baby Don)
Where's your mama gone? (where's your mama gone?)
Far, far away.

My dad's name is Don, and he would have been a young child at around the time that Stott was growing up in the area. Stott was born in 1945 which makes him six years older than my dad but my dad reckons it's quite conceivable either that Stott wrote the song much earlier than it's 1971 release (by which time my dad was 20 and so hardly a baby) or that Stott was drawing on memories of my dad and his family from earlier when he wrote the song.

When you consider that Stott substitutes 'mama' for 'papa' later in the song it offers up yet more suggestion that the song could actually be about my dad and his family. Papa could refer to his father, my granddad, who was hardly ever in one place throughout my dad's childhood. He and my nan were a little on-off, you might say, all of which might warrant the enquiry about where Little Baby Don's papa has gone. No?

Incidentally, if you're scrambling around for the melody you can either YouTube it or you can bring to mind that tune you used to sing to your mates when one of the players from his favourite football team buggers off to Barcelona. 'Where's your Gary gone (where's your Gary gone?). You know the one.....?

Not everyone believes that the lyrics relate to my dad as a baby. Further delving into facts about Stott took me to a website featuring an American named Michael in which he analyses song lyrics. Michael is a teacher from Ohio and rather brilliantly has a partner named Don. Here's a taste of his analysis of the song...

"It's a cute...well....chirpy...little song about a baby bird. Or so I thought. Is this a horifically sad song about a little boy named Don whose parents are no longer around? Are they dead? Did they get drunk and stay the night somewhere else? Have they broken up and forgotten about Don?"

Michael's all questions and no answers and well....frankly....he doesn't have the insight offered by growing up in the same small part of what used to be Lancashire with the song's writer, Lally Stott. The accident in which he died occured on Windy Arbor Road in Whiston in June 1977 when Stott was just 32. Reports differ as to whether he was riding a small commuter bike or a Harley Davidson when he met his end but what is not in doubt is that he left one of the most popular if grotesque songs in history as a legacy.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Another Short Memoir Of Feeling Low

I’m not in a good place today. I haven’t been for a long time, if the truth be told. To combat this, what can only be described as depression, I write. A month or so ago I wrote a piece entitled ‘A Short Memoir Of Feeling Low’. You won’t have seen it, in all probability. I didn’t even publish it on Twitter or Facebook because it was just that grim. The darkness had truly descended. It wasn’t a suicide watch job. I haven't got the bollocks for that no matter how shite I feel. But it was fairly negative stuff. Not the sort of thing that regular readers come here for. Regular readers come here in the hope that I have fallen out of my chair earlier that day, or been given money to buy a hamburger by a stranger. Anyway, though I spend most of my time believing that nobody actually reads this shit the fact is that there was a high possibility that people close to me would read it and I didn't want to worry anyone.

Somehow, and I don’t know how since it was only published on Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard (average readership on days when nothing appears on social media – 3) someone found this piece and actually took the time to post a comment. They were very kind about the rest of my work and encouraged me to continue, and said that they hoped I would be feeling better soon. It restored my faith in humanity. They posted anonymously so I suppose I will never know who they are but I thank them for it anyway. I replied to the comment to let them know that but the conversation did not continue. Hopefully they did see it and they do know that I was grateful for their intervention.

There are a number of things which are triggers for making me feel low, none of which are publishable here for all sorts of reasons. Even Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard has limits on what it can and cannot reasonably discuss. The point is that although these things are important to me it is actually my own mind that is torturing me on a now daily basis. Surely everyone has things about their life that they would like to change, things they wish they could do but can’t. How many of those people spend seemingly every waking moment obsessing about those things? That’s how bad it has got recently. Maybe I’m just bored.

Earlier today I was in the lift at work heading back up towards the office, contemplating my misery, when the thought occurred to me that I need to find some way to stop thinking like this because I’m running out of time. I’m 41 years old. How long am I going to live with my condition, added to the fact that I have a couple of kidneys which have been operating at around 30% for the best part of the last decade? Logically I realise that I am wasting whatever time I have left by thinking and feeling like I do but I can’t seem to turn the tide. But logic is a concept that I understand but am increasingly unable to apply. As a result I am equating happiness with changing situations which I cannot possibly change when what I need to do is forget about those things and start to enjoy the good things.

There are plenty of those too. This isn’t A Short Memoir Of Everything Is Shite. I have a holiday in Florida to look forward to in July. Appreciating that a lot of people live their entire lives without doing anything that exciting, this will be my second visit in six years. I’ve also been to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Nice, Marseille, Barcelona and New York since then. Then there’s the small matter of the Robbie Williams gig in June. And the rugby league season starts soon. It’s somewhat masochistic perhaps, but there is still pleasure in my fortnightly fix of The Grind at the soon to be laughed at Totally Wicked Stadium. So the fact that I know all this and yet still cannot lift my mood on this turgid Wednesday perhaps suggests that I am depressed. I mean actually suffering from depression, in a Marcus Trescothick sort of way. He’s a cricketer, for the uninitiated, and to cut his very long book short he had to stop touring with the England team because being away from his home and family caused him to develop a stress related illness. Depression, or something like it.

If I have depression then it really doesn’t matter what is good or bad about my life. It is irrelevant where I am going on holiday, or what I perceive my disability to be robbing me of. Depression has triggers, but it can happen to anybody at any time for no good reason. Perhaps that is what is happening to me. It doesn’t help that it is Christmas which means several occasions on which I drink until I can’t feel anything but negativity and despair and then I go home. Usually without telling anyone but since everyone knows this it’s fine and nobody has to bother looking for me or contacting me to see if I’m ok. I’m just being me. A pain in the proverbial.

Which probably random, unrelated and incoherent thoughts bring me to the end of my Short Memoir Of Feeling Low. I’m not really sure it has achieved anything. I don’t feel any better. Well, maybe a little. It’s allowed me to vent. It takes courage to write a piece like this. A number of you will read it, maybe even not get past the headline, before thinking about what a total and utter crank I am. And you'd be right. I am a crank of the highest order. But I guess it is my blog and if I want to be a crank then surely that's my prerogative. In any case, maybe it has helped someone else out there (people DO read this shit, apparently). If you are one of my readers and you have had or think you have had some form of depression then know that you are not on your own. I’m just as batshit crazy as you are, and for reasons that are too absurd to even admit to in a blog.

I wish I could live a little more
Look up to the sky not just the floor
I feel like my life is flashing by
And all I can do is watch and cry

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Totally Wicked At The Saints

"It's such a pleasant name. I think it's got grace, style and it doesn't sound as though you're giving the club away to the corporate world."

That was Saints chairman Eamonn McManus back in November 2011 when the club's new stadium opened with the name Langtree Park. But you can disregard his words now with the news this week that the once sensibly named venue will be known as the cringe-inducing Totally Wicked Stadium from the end of 2016. Totally Wicked, in case you weren't aware, are a company which produces E-cigs. Some say that these products are a much safer alternative to real cigarettes and that they are useful to those wishing to quit smoking. The argument rages on about whether they really are safer, but since many sports clubs have sponsorship deals with alcohol manufacturers, gambling companies and the like the moral issue isn't particularly troubling. That is until you come back around to that name. Totally Wicked. Not only is it completely, mortifyingly bad but it's hard to shake the feeling that it is designed to attract young people to e-cigs or 'vaping'. It screams children's television presenter with his cap on backwards at you. All of which rather suggests a different intention than helping seasoned smokers to kick the habit.

The deal runs for the next five years meaning that any time that games held there are televised, broadcast on the radio or reported on in the press it will sound like the action is coming from some wretched skateboard park. This does not only apply to Saints home fixtures but also to any international fixtures which may take place there. There's a World Cup in England in 2021.

Defending the decision to sell the club's soul the good folk in charge have pointed out that it's a record deal. What they haven't told us is exactly how much that translates to. Cynics might suggest that this is because whatever amount the deal has raised can never justify leaving the club and the fans open to the kind of ridicule that will inevitably ensue. How long before some wag from Wigan or Warrington comes up with an acronym for Totally Wicked At The Saints....?

And wouldn't any deal with any sponsor have been a record deal? It's likely given that this is only the third time that Saints have sold the naming rights to the stadium. That includes the largely ignored renaming of the old Knowsley Road ground which became the GPW Recruitment Stadium late in its life. But this is different. GPW Recruitment is utterly non-descript name for a company which produces nothing controversial. Totally Wicked, meanwhile, is an embarrassing moniker with a dubious motive in terms of its target audience.

The embarrassments have already started, with right-wing league haters Sky Sports and the Daily Mail among those to present the story in the way that News At Ten used to present stories about cats getting stuck up trees. Sky Sports News presenter Kirsty Gallagher even felt compelled to assure viewers that the story of the name change was genuine as she introduced the report on it. At that I would start to question what the bumbling RFL's thoughts are on the deal. The Totally Wicked Stadium doesn't just embarrass Saints but the whole of rugby league. With a national media already dying to put the boot in to the sport the last thing the game needs is for one of its top clubs to form this kind of association. We are likely to feel the effects of that in that 2021 World Cup. In 2013 Langtree Park hosted Australia as they took on Fiji. Will organisers want the world and four nations champions playing at the Totally Wicked Stadium? Not if they have any media savvy.

Among the bitching from the people who can't accept that their club do anything wrong the only red herring in all of this is that it will increase vaping in the stadium. It was morally dubious of the club to be so quick to endorse the possible benefits of vaping in the announcement of the deal, but vaping has been allowed in the stadium for the last four years. It is hardly likely to increase now, even if the promotion of a practice we still know too little about scientifically is troubling. In addition Totally Wicked had had its logo on the club shirt and has sponsored the North Stand at Langtree Park since 2013. But those things were barely mentioned irrelevances. The renaming of the stadium is a step too far.

It has no grace or style and sounds exactly like you're giving the club away to the corporate world.