27 September 2007

I've just finished reading Stephen Fry's essay on fame. I certainly found it a thought provoking read.

I often think there are a lot of similarities between being famous and being disabled.

Firstly, people will always remember meeting you. I can remember the exact date I first met Sharleen Spiteri. I remember sitting next to Matt Lucas on the tube and him pointing out that my jacket pocket was undone. I remember crossing a road in Regents Park in the opposite direction to Derren Brown. I remember that New Year's Eve spent at the same event as Hannah Martin from Neighbours. And I bet there are millions of people in this world that I had a brief chance encounter with who will also remember me for years, if not their whole lifetime. People whom I've met once often approach me and talk about the last time we met. "I'm sorry, my face recognition is appalling," is really all I can say back.

Secondly, people always either talk to you or avoid you because of who you are. I've been in bars where there has also been someone off the telly and hearing my friends go "I'm going to talk to X." Or alternatively "I can't talk to X... they're famous!" People react the same way to me. I either get people wanting to know "What happened to you then?" Or of course, people avoid me like I've got the plague because "I can't talk to her! She's in a wheelchair!" That last response is particularly pesky when they're serving at the bar and all you want to do is order a pint.

Thirdly, people think they have a licence to just come up and talk to me in the street/supermarket/other public place.

Stephen says:

There are days when try as I might I cannot go unnoticed. It’s as if I’m walking around with a neon sign over my head. Every cab driver, everyone I pass in the street, every shop assistant stops me and asks for an autograph or photo (of which more later). I can lower my head, concentrate on looking anonymous, but it’s no good.

OK. I don't get asked for autographs. Instead I get asked "Were you in an accident?"

Stephen summarises that paragraph by saying:

‘Weird, I’m really famous today,’ is how one might put it.

And I know exactly how he feels. Some days I seem (in the eyes of other people) to be more disabled than on other days.

Famous people are not allowed to be in a bad mood in the way that everyone else is.

Neither are disabled people. You may remember in this post I worried about giving "The Disabled" a bad name. Very often I just want to tell people to "fuck off," but know that I mustn't.

If I were to ask one thing of people in their interaction with the famous it is this: consider the companions. Imagine what it is like to be in the company of a well-known person, a person who could be your brother, sister, mother, life-partner, school-friend, client, patient. You’re chatting away and someone barges in on your conversation. They completely ignore you, indeed often literally elbow you out of the way, planting their back in your face.

Something else I can empathise with. It's amazing how many of my non-disabled friends get more bothered by the way "Ordinaries" talk to me and treat me than I do.


Robbie Williams can walk around Los Angeles without being recognised

Interestingly, I too can wander round LA without being harassed in the same way I am in the UK. Quite simply because LA is so brilliantly accessible, wheelchair users can get everywhere - so we are everywhere. In contrast, London with it's steps everywhere, it's almost totally inaccessible public transport system, etc disabled people are rarely seen or heard. Who'd of thunk me and Robbie would have something in common?

I'd like to be famous actually. As Stephen says, in many professions, fame is a measure of success. It would be nice to have people recognise me in the street because of something I'd accomplished, rather than just approaching me because I look different.

Trouble is, if I was "famous" - would I notice the difference?

25 September 2007

Today I was on my way home from a meeting, and I was starving. So, even though my bank balance hates me for it, I stopped off in a restaurant to grab some dinner.

"You look like you could be this person who used to come in here 2 to 3 years ago, 2 to 3 years.... older," said the waiter who cleared away my empty plate.

When he paused before "older" I was expecting him to say something like "fatter" as you could tell he was clearly searching for the most polite word.

Earlier on in this conversation he'd mentioned that this person was a HE.

I know I've got broad shoulders, but do I really look like I used to be a man?

I think he was just doing that thing that so many people do, assuming that there's only one wheelchair user in the world, and we're all the same person. Laurence Clark wrote an article about the phenomenon here. As you can see from that article, I'm not the first disabled person to be mistaken for someone of the opposite gender, because someone has paid attention to the wheelchair, but no other identifying facets of the person in question.

I know my boobs aren't very big, but they are there. This is why I like to wear T-shirts with writing across the chest to draw peoples attention to them.

Today was the second time in 5 days I've been mistaken for any old wheelchair user. On Thursday I was on my way to the Fresher's Fayre at uni, when a member of staff from one of the halls of residence came marching up to me.

"Did you get your stuff moved across alright?"

"I don't live on campus..."


I wonder if there's someone out there still struggling to move all their belongings from one hall to another, just waiting for someone to offer them some help...

22 September 2007

Earlier this evening I was pushing from Holloway to Finsbury Park. You see, I was on my way to my nearest Lidl, which is in Finsbury Park, following a tip off from my Mum that in her local store they currently had cat food that my cat can actually eat.

Me and my pussy are very well matched when it comes to food sensitivities.

What I was unaware of before I set off on my journey was that Arsenal were playing at home. And I was trying to get to Lidl at the same time as the crowds were trying to get out of the stadium. Bad timing.

The number 29 bus was going nowhere, so I decided it'd be quicker to get off and push the rest of the way.

This guy walking in the opposite direction to me stopped and pressed himself up against the railing fencing the pedestrians in. I'm used to this reaction from crip-phobes who can't bear the thought of having to share a pavement with a wheelchair user. Like most people who do this, he watched me as I approached.

Usually though, people resume walking once I (the dangerous, terrifying wheelchair user) have passed. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that he didn't. So I looked over my shoulder and he was still staring at me. Obviously at this point I shot him an evil glare. Most gawpers usually take that as their cue to stare at the floor. Not him.

"You're beautiful!" He cried after me.

Which makes the second nutter this week.

First there was the odd, drunk, smelly bloke I met on a number 29 bus coming home from dinner at a couple of friend's house on Wednesday night.

He was asking the usual, boring old "how long have you been in a wheelchair?" crap that all random strangers want to know. Then he said:

"Well, at least you've got a pretty face. If you were single, I'd go out with you."

Obviously, I didn't mention that I am single. I just nodded.

What is it with people thinking that having a pretty face will melt away all access barriers? (He's not the first). Come to think of it - why do only odd ones who think pretty faces remove access barriers think I have a pretty face anyway? Why can't any hot women ever think that?

I'm starting to think the being single is like being unemployed.

You know how the longer you've been unemployed, the lower your chances of finding a job?

I think people look at prospective partners in the same way as employers look at prospective employees.

"Well, they've been on the shelf for a while. Are they up to date with modern techniques and practices?"

Being 28 and having never had a "proper, grown up" relationship I'm starting to feel how I imagine I'd feel if I was still looking for my first job.

"Well, she's never been in this situation before. How can we guarantee she's got the skills to cope? She's never had to use them. Does she even know how to respond to certain situations? Does she know the rules and etiquette?!"

I've had a couple of conversations about this. One person pointed out that "It's also easier to find a new job when you've got one already." A sentiment echoed by another friend when we were having a conversation about polyamory.

"I think polyamory is just unfair... why should some people get hundreds of partners when I can't even find one?"

My friend went on to point out that I'm the only non-poly wheelchair user that she knows. I was pushing over cobblestones at the time, which is about as close as I come these days to intimacy.

20 September 2007

Just now I was flicking back through old blog entries looking for something when I stumbled across the first paragraph of this entry.

I have some shocking news dear readers: Today was my second day back at uni proper. On a Masters course.

Yeah. I know what I said 2 years ago. But I've been bored! And unemployed! At least this gives me something to do, and will (hopefully) make me more employable at the end of it.

I say hopefully, because, well, my MA is in Cult Film & TV. That's right - I'm getting a Masters in watching scary movies and Buffy.

Wish me luck!

09 September 2007

It runs in the family...

Did you know that my cat Betty is a supremely talented blogger as well?

Betty's Blog was yesterday's Catster.com Diary of the Day!

I suppose she deserves some kind of treat for that really.

04 September 2007

I'm finding it hard to adjust to being back in the real world.

I know I was only on a FOCUS project for 6 days... And that was nearly a month ago. But I still haven't quite gotten into the swing of being back in reality.

One of the things I love most about FOCUS is that the staff and other volunteers simply see me as me. They respect me for my knowledge, skills and experience and don't judge me on the basis of my impairment. If you're disabled and reading this I'm sure you can appreciate straight away how far removed such a simple thing is from day-to-day life.

I've been fortunate enough to be able to spend some quality time with other volunteers that were there since the project. LilWatcherGirl and I went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at the IMAX together, for example.

"Right, you hide, I'll hail the bus. When the driver gets the ramp out, appear and get on behind me before the driver has the chance to close the doors!"

Because London buses only have one wheelchair space. As we wandered towards the bus stop we had a little discussion about how we were both going to fit in the one space. Oh, if you can catch a bus without having to have a strategic planning meeting you really don't know what you're missing.

It was coming home from the cinema that night that I really missed being in a FOCUS bubble for the first time. Sure, the project didn't exactly run smoothly (*cough* understatement *cough*) but there were some amazing people there. As LWG and I boarded at the rear ramped door, LWG's OtherArf, being a walkie, boarded at the front door. I heard the driver ask her "Where are they getting off?"

If I wasn't so throughly exhausted (this was a Tuesday, on the Sunday night I'd been up all night with sinus pain, and on the Monday I'd been up all night from taking Sudafed which is kinda like speed) I'd have burst into a screamy rage at him. How dare the driver ask someone else questions about me?

For the record, I don't take sugar.

But, I was too exhausted to fly off the handle. Instead I sat and pondered how much the real world sucks.

The bank holiday weekend was awesome. 4 of us volunteers spent the weekend together in Manchester. I don't really drink much alcohol these days; in fact, so little that I'd kept track of all the alcohol I'd drunk so far this year.

Until the bank holiday. Good times.

Being with a group of FOCUSy types out in the real world is kinda strange, but also very cool.

Being out in the real world I was subjected to the usual rubbish: people patting me sympathetically on the shoulder, people grabbing me and trying to push me, etc, etc. But, I had my bodyguards! Oh yes.

On the Sunday night we were indulging in some dirty street drinking (seeing as none of us could afford bar prices). Being FOCUS folk we all know the FOCUS dance routine to "Shake a Tail Feather" (from The Blues Brothers). And, having had a few drinks we decided that dancing to it on Canal Street would be a wonderful idea.

So, there we were quite happily getting our twist on, minding our own business, dancing away. When some guy decides that he wants to grab the-lady-in-the-wheelchair and start pushing her around. Before I could even start screaming I heard:

"Oi! Fuck off! Do one!"

My bodyguards came to my rescue. Good times. Unfortunately it ruined our dance and destroyed any chance of applause from our audience.

I wish I could take those 3 dirty street drinking scum chums with me wherever I went. Unfortunately 2 live in Manchester and the other in Cambridge. I could've done with them on Friday night when at a Treasure Tones gig some creepy drunk guy decided that I was wonderful. *shudder*