Monday, 29 August 2011

Bladerunner Blues

Today I did something that I almost never do. So rare an event that it dragged my wife away from her Physics studies to find out what was going on, and as she has a paper due in three days she hasn't got time to waste. You see today I watched... SPORT! I sat on my sofa and watched the athletics. The Men's 400m semi final. I felt I had to, not as I am in anyway interested in it, or even because it was the such a historic event, with Oscar Pistorius being able to compete with non-disabled athletes on an equal level. No the driving force behind my going against my deep dislike of organised sport was the fact that the IAAF, sports commentator and some athletes were against Mr. Pistorius competing as they felt he had an unfair advantage.

Let's just dwell on that a minute shall we? A man with no legs, in a top level running race has an unfair advantage. A man that to train harder, and who has had to learn an entirely new way of running and balancing has an unfair advantage as he uses specially designed artificial legs. Forget the fact all the other runners were using a fully working body created by millions of years of evolution and honed by training to be at the peak of physical perfection and Mr. Pistorius is a member of a section of the world's community who no one could describe as having an unfair advantages. He has worked hard to be able to compete to this level, and as well as the training that all the runners had to go through I am sure that Mr. Pistorius has had to spend time learning elements of running that come naturally to the rest. Not being a big runner, I can't be sure but I imagine that the blades that he runs on must take some getting used to. As well as balance and reading how each step will effect his gate and direction, he has had to learn how to feel that track through his add-on legs. I know how long it took me to be able to use my chair as I see fit, so I can only guess at the skill it takes to thunder round an athletics track, racing at such high speeds in competition. Unfair advantage my arse.

But why would anyone make this kind of claim? Well I think it is simple. No one wants to be bested by a member of society that they see as less than them. It wasn't that long ago that people all of the world were very upset when they saw whites being bested by black people. Up until more recently boys and girls could not play school football together. Disabled people are the last group to be so excluded in the world of sport that we have our own events and ruling bodies. Why is it the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics? Why not one fantastic event where all competitors are equal and if they can compete against each other, like Oscar Pistorius, then all the better? There might even be a move towards designing new sports that allow disabled and non-disabled people to play together in one team. Mixed basketball, or whatever. (Don't ask me, haven't a clue)

Now I could go off on one now, and rave on about how sport is filed with people obsessed with perfection and competition, but that obvious. That's what sport is about, especially at this level. The mentality behind world class sport means that these people, whether they are taking part or running the events, are precisely the wrong kind of people to make decisions on whether disabled people can take part in a mainstream sporting event. They do not see it as a step forward in equality, or even as opening up their sport to a wider audience (though they even got me today!). They are all about winning (oh and the money from the TV viewing rights). Everyone who is involved with sport at this level has got there by focusing on themselves, and being selfish. So who cares about creating a better world, a fairer world, if it might mean they don't win. So keep the fast cripple out. He might beat me.

This why I think it is so sad that sport is being put forward to disabled young people as a way of gaining self confidence and even to getting on in the word. A whole generation of young disabled people will be entering the world after the 2012 games with the idea that sport will allow them to make something of themselves, but not see that it is the very past time they enjoy that is playing a part in keeping them down. All sports should be opened up, whether it is mainstream or disability based. Everyone should be able to take part, and we should all be playing together. Then maybe I might even take something up.

Before I go, I've just read that the IAAF have ordered Oscar Pistorius that he can only run in the first leg (excuse the pun) of the 4x400m relay race, as his might injure the other runners with his blades. He answered the ruling “I’ve run in many relays in different legs and I’ve never had a problem or an incident." Personally I start the race and then run off track, find a member of the IAAF and shove the baton somewhere the sun don't shine.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Thoughts on a birthday 2

Three days before my 46th birthday I found myself over come with a strange sensation. A kind of down feeling, combined with a yearning to know where I was going with my life. As the big day approached, the feeling got stronger and as I awoke on August 18th I really thought "Oh wow, here comes my mid-life crisis!". I must admit I do hope it is that, as if nothing else it means, thanks to the elegance of maths, that I will live to be 92. As I got used to being another year older, and entering the tale end of my 40's, the feeling lessened but it is still there. Insecurity about how to proceed with my life. Not anything massive of course. I am very lucky that I have wonderful wife, who I love dearly, and am returning to full health after a really crappy 10 years where I seemed to fall to bits. More a need to examine what path to take from here.

I think it may be the fact that I am feeling healthy again is at the core of all this. After spending so long fighting to recover from my car accident in 1999, and then a further injury at work shortly after as well as the massive surgery I had to have to fix the damage that the car crash caused, I have forgotten what "healthy" feels like. There is a strange unwillingness to believe that I won't suddenly fall apart again, even though I know this is really unlikely. I know that I had a similar period when I went into my chair back in 1981. Once you've had something so major happen to you, you stop trusting your body and it's ability to take what is thrown at it. Now I have two broken spines, all the surgery and the change in the way the old body works, it is even harder to trust it to stay together. I keep hearing the words of Scotty from Star Trek, "She can't take much more Captain". But I must remember that I am the Captain of my body.

My wife always laughs at my relationship with my body. I am not so much a part of it, but more a separate entity that is forced to live within it. More than that, it is not a friendly place. In fact it is more at constant battle with me. I have to order it to do what I want, and it does not always follow those orders. And it fights back, the little bugger. I imagine that anyone able bodied (or non-disabled as I am told is the correct terminolgoy) could never understand what I mean. The best description I can come up with is it's a bit like driving a crappy car. Years ago I had a Mini Metro that was such a boat. The automatic gear box had a mind of it's own, the brakes were useless and one time the steering wheel fell off, another the front wheel. Yes the front wheel. Yet I managed to get that car to deliver me to my destination for three years before it was sent to the scrap heap. That's what it feels like sometimes to be me. The funny thing is I can't begin to imagine what it must feel like not to live this way.

So maybe it isn't this that is causing my mid-life moment. The real driving force behind it is the fact that as I am now healthy I want to get back into my field of work. Before I got ill my media career was in full swing. I was returning from a very successful meeting about a new show when I had my accident. Sadly breaking my back for a second time made me too ill to work, and so nothing happened. The problem is that now I am ready to go back the media is not ready for me. I have been told I might be a bit old (followed by don't quote me on that) and that my old punky image is working against me, hence the new natural look (see new picture left). Another big reason is that there are so many more new young disabled people wanting to work in the media. New talent is the life blood of the media world, and I am no longer that. That's cool, and I really want there to be more new disabled faces on our TVs and voice coming out of our radios, I just wish I could still be one of those faces... new or not. If my time has come where should I go now? I don't really want to give up on a career I enjoyed and was good at, but if I continue will I just end up a bitter old has been? More of a bitter old has been?!

I have tried to find real employment, but being an ex-TV presenter works against me there too. Over 20 years as a freelance broadcaster and journalist gives you many skills, but little proof of them. Also the modern view of a presenter is it is an easy job. When I started you had to write scripts or ad lib as you went, and third takes where pretty much out so you had to get it right. You also had to be fantastic with people. Interviews went so much easier if you could put the interviewee at ease and help them through the process while remembering what your producer wanted to get in the can. As well as the obvious skills, I learned to write scripts and reports, research people and stories, manage finances... the list goes on. Yet time and time again, I find that I am told I am not experienced or qualified enough for the position I am applying for.

The funny thing is that when I started writing this blog it seemed really important that I did, but now I have got this far I see that is rubbish. It doesn't matter where I go from here. By just asking the question I am starting out a new. I don't know what the future holds for me, but the again who does? I know more than most that the Pet Shop Boys lyric, "Just when you least expect it, just what you least expect" is one the truest things ever written. I am happy, healthy and the captain of my own, if crappy body, and I will decide what tomorrow holds. So watch out world, Mik Scarlet is back.

Who needs therapy when you have the internet eh? That saved me some money... think I'll go shopping. That always cheers me up!

(Having read this back, I am shocked at what a like of self indulgent navel gazing this blog is. But hey this is the internet. One of it's major roles is to allow the world to waffle on about stuff as if it really maters.)

PS - for fun try to count the number of film, TV and music quotes in this blog.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Thoughts on a birthday 1

I intended to continue my thoughts on the recent riots by examining the claims that they were due to a moral decline among some areas of society. I wanted to ask why it is that only the people from the poorer segments of the public were being targeted as being morally bankrupt, when we have seen almost all of the great and the good within our society proving that they lost their moral compass way before the riots. Let's face it, we have seen those who govern us defrauding us through expenses claims, those who give us our news and police us using illegal methods to pry into our private lives and those who runs our economy nearly destroying the fabric of our society through poor management (I'm being charitable there) while demanding huge bonus payouts. None of these actions could be described as moral, and as they pretty much all seemed to get away with it surely it creates an atmosphere that leads to some people seeing nothing wrong in taking what they want? Luckily many other people have said this already, so instead I can dwell on something else.

I have just celebrated by 46th birthday, and this year is also my 30th year as a wheelchair user. It reminded me of that I was part of the last huge rise in youth unemployment. I left school in 1981, and spent a year on the dole. I then went onto study "A" levels, but went straight back onto benefits as soon as I left. I could not go to university as there I could not find an accessible one that had the subject I wanted to study. So instead I joined all my friends on the dole queue.

Most people think of the 80's of a time of greed and loads of money, but it was also a time of unemployment and poverty. Almost everyone I knew didn't have a job, especially the men. For almost a decade we hung round together, knowing we had no chance of finding work. Not only because we had dyed hair (which back then was like being a leper, even thought it was very fashionable), but also because once you've been unemployed for a while you become also unemployable. Everyone views you as "not the right sort" and you slowly become so used to not getting an interview that giving up seems the only answer.

But it didn't get us down. Almost every member of the unemployed gang I knew used the enforced period out of work as an opportunity to learn a skill and follow our dreams. They slowly became artists, musicians, actors, fashion designers and jewellers. Those of us who didn't go into arty stuff ended up as computer whizzes and now make a bundle. The only difference that I can see between us back then and the growing number of unemployed youth of today is that we saw succeeding as an act of rebellion. We weren't going to be kept down. We saw our fortnightly trips to the dole office and our exclusion from mainstream society as part of the deal to allow us to build a future of our own design. OK, we all lived in a small town and had grown up terrified of being forced into dead end jobs, following in our parents footsteps, so the chance to follow our bliss was too good to waste. In a way we were lucky. The economy and government policy at the time saw our unemployment as part of the way the world should be, and we just took advantage of the time we had to fill, and we filled in constructively.

There's the rub. Filling it constructively. If I could say one thing to the unemployed young people of today it would be that. Fill your time constructively. Don't give in to the boredom. All that time can let you become whatever you want to be. And remember, when you become really skilled at what you want to do, thanks to all the time you have on your hands, success will follow. That success is a bigger two fingers to the powers that be than any riot. Getting to rub shoulders with the people that run the country allows you to have a voice in what goes on and gives you a chance to shape the future. I know that I would never have thought as a teenager that I would be meeting with MPs and councillors and being treated as an equal. The fact I now have a chance to make a better future is due to the years I had being told I had no future at all. So come on, don't let the bastards grind you down. Become the best you can be, and have fun trying. Worked for me.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Riots - Can Anyone Claim That They Are The Answer?

Today I wheeled into Camden Town Centre and witnessed the aftermath of the thankfully minor troubles that took place last night. While some shops had been looted and many windows smashed, I know that the place I call home got off lightly. The footage on TV and photos and videos on line show the true level of damage and destruction left in the wake of the rioting that gripped London and the country beyond. As many people who read my blog must know, I am a bit of a lefty and so they may expect me to be one of those who explains away this orgy of crime and violence as a reaction to unfair treatment and lack of opportunity, but I must disappoint you.

I spent the day thinking about some of the claims from community leaders and some of the youths who were involved, but they just don't stand up. Let's face it, as a person who was born disabled I have experienced discrimination through out my life. As a young New Romantic in a small town I experienced some extreme treatment from the police and feel the sting of being excluded almost every day. Even this weekend I was not allowed into a restaurant in Brighton (called Picasso's in Market Street) because I was in a wheelchair, so I know how angry being excluded can make you feel. I really wanted to throw one of the chairs outside the eatery through one of their windows for sure, but I didn't. In the past I must admit I have reacted to blatant discrimination with vigour, and with some force. The difference is I did not target anyone else. The person who was the victim of my wrath was the person who had discriminated against me, not anyone who happened to be nearby. Or any local business that had some stuff I fancied.

And that is the true reason for all of this. However much people may claim otherwise, this whole chaos is driven by greed and jealousy. These gangs of youths are not fighting to get fairer treatment, they are going out to get stuff. In Camden, the 3 store was totally cleaned out of stock. Even the displays have been taken. I can see no way that this level of theft can be a political act. Other shops, like JD Sports and O2 where also ransacked, yet did the youths gather and march to Whitehall? Of course not. That would be an act of political rebellion. Looting and smashing things up has no real chance of changing the way any minority groups of treated, but it will mean the perpetrators will have new mobile phones, trainers and wide-screen TV's.

The saddest thing is that these youths will effect the very places they live. Places that are already deprived. Sure Camden isn't a seat of poverty, but it does have some very poor areas and is struggling in the current economic situation. How can looting and mindless vandalism lead to anything constructive? Some of the places worst effected will take years to get near to normality. Not only will it bring down the places were these young people live further, but it will give those who do discriminate against them the excuse to do so. By acting this way they have just conformed to the stereotype that society at large has of them.

So come on, stop this craziness now. Put this anger to good use, and stop making yourselves into the very thing that leads to the responses you claim to be reacting against. That way you will prove that all of this isn't really just a way of stealing things you feel you should have. Don't believe the crap that Rap stars tell you about the gangster life and if you really feel the need to do something, make sure it's constructive. Use your anger to change things, not smash them up. But if, as I suspect, you're only driven by selfish desire then I am afraid you will have no friend in this lefty liberal. And if I'm not on your side, then imagine what the Daily Mail reading man in the street thinks. He'll be shouting "Hang 'em", and remember that this squeezed middle and their reactionary politics decide what happens in our country. So if you thought you had it bad before all this, just wait.

As a foot note I would just like to praise the local police here in Camden. I found this piece of footage shot as the local troubles started, and was amazed at the bravery of the police involved. Going into the situation in nothing but their usual uniforms in such low numbers... they all deserve medals! Check it out -