I think I have written on here before about how I once saw London as a big, scary, intimidating place. I grew up in a relatively small town in the north west of England; a ten minute powerchair ride from our old family home would find me trundling down a lane between fields. Every few weeks, though, we would drive to London to visit my Greek Cypriot grandparents up in Harlesden; their house was where I was yesterday. Dad would drive me, mum and my brothers down for a weekend, but I remember always finding the metropolis huge and intimidating, far preferring the quiet green fields of Cheshire to the concrete sprawling labyrinth.
I got back to my place here in Eltham an hour or so ago. It was a nice, straightforward trip: a bus up to Wembley Park, the Jubilee Line to North Greenwich and then another bus to Eltham. All accessible and unproblematic. Having lived in London for eleven years now, I find I can move around the city with increasing confidence. That isn’t to say it’s perfect: nowhere near enough tube stations are wheelchair accessible, so TFL still have a lot of work to do. But when such problems crop up, I am now confident that I can find a work-around so I can get to where I want to go.
If I had been told, aged fifteen or so, that I would one day be living on my own in London, I would not have believed it. Back then the thought of always living with my parents brought me great comfort; the idea of riding the tube or even the bus on my own would have struck me as absurd – surely I needed help to do such things. That attitude began to change when I went to university, but it was completely thrown out of the window when I met Lyn and moved in with her. Living in Charlton with Lyn changed my perspective completely, both towards London and in terms of what I am capable of. I found I could organise my life, live how I wanted, and do what anyone else could, without needing the support of mum and dad. All of a sudden I had a huge great metropolis to explore, full of life and culture. I will always thank my lucky stars that I met Lyn; zark knows what I would be doing right now if I hadn’t. Thanks to Lyn, thanks to London, I know I’m capable of living my own life on my own terms, just like anyone else.
And so here I am, a happy, independent Londoner, just returned from a nice weekend with his parents (my brother Luke visited yesterday too), competent enough to live alone and navigate his way through one of the world’s greatest cities. A place which was once so frightening is now enthralling: if only that timid fifteen year old knew what I know now.
The smell of fresh, homemade mousaka is currently massaging my nostrils, as it must have proliferated this house a thousand times before. I’m currently with my parents at my grandparents house in Harlesden for Father’s Day, having come over on the tube yesterday. It’s good to see them. I know this house very well indeed: it’s a place I have been visiting since I was an infant. Indeed, just a metre from where I’m typing this is the armchair where my Greek grandfather, my Bappou, used to sit me on his lap and sing a Cypriot nursery rhyme to me, swaying me gently before lowering me to the floor in a ball of laughs. My grandparents, of course, are not here any more, yet what remain are my memories of this old family house, still being used as it always has been: as a meeting point for my family, where we can get together, relish one another’s company, and eat delicious Greek food.
The obvious thing for me to post on here today are my congratulations to the Liberal Democrats for winning the true blue seat of Chesham and Amersham. As is being widely reported elsewhere, “The Liberal Democrats have pulled off a stunning by-election victory, overturning a 16,000 majority in a seat that has always voted Conservative.” I think this is really encouraging news. Perhaps the tide is, at last, turning against the Tories; perhaps the country is finally waking up to what an absolute mess the Tories are making of it. After all, despite being a previously solid Tory seat, Chesham and Amersham is a degree-rich, Remain-voting constituency. Of course there’s only so much you can read into a local election result like this, but I really hope it suggests the very worrying slide to the right which has been happening in the UK over the last five or six years may be coming to an end. Of course, that may just apply to relatively well educated, affluent, urbane areas of the country; there are probably many others still taken in by the shallow, vapid falsehoods of the nationalist right.
I’m not sure how it crept under my radar, but I just came across this absolutely awesome BBC article. A man from Yorkshire who has CP launched a campaign to get his communication aid adapted to have a Yorkshire accent. Fed up of having an American accent, Richie Cottingham, from Howden, East Yorkshire, asked local people to come forward and record their voices, so that he could have an accent which suited his personality more. It’s an issue I’ve always had: if you think about it, a guy born and brought up in Cheshire having a generic American accent is rather out of place, but I have always just put up with it. Cottingham obviously feels a stronger link with where he is from. Now I know it is possible though, maybe this is something I could look into too. How awesome would it be if I could at last greet people with the words ”Ayup duck!” with the correct accent?
I think I need to lighten the tone after yesterday’s entry by directing everyone here. The trailer for Season 2 of Picard hit the web a few hours ago, and I must say it looks pretty good. It doesn’t give much away of course, but to just see the magnificent John de Lancie return as Q has me buzzing with excitement. (His faux-French accent could almost bee taken from the French Taunter scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Also, seeing the return of Seven Of Nine may be a hint that the Borg play a prominent role in this season. After all, it was Q who introduced the federation to the Borg in the first place. If so, I will be interested to see whether they make reference to the Ahab Scene in First Contact. I suppose we’ll have to wait until next year to find out.
Just as an update to this entry written in February, after watching this Democracy Now video, it’s now clear that the Tokyo olympics should be cancelled. With COVID cases peaking in Japan, and so few of the population there having been vaccinated, I think it’s fair to say that holding the mega-event there would be nothing less than stupid.
Yesterday I watched Rising Phoenix, a great 2020 film on Netflix, charting the history of the Paralympic movement. I found it quite rousing I must say, as it really brought into focus the strength of the games in bringing everyone together and showing the world what we as disabled people are capable of. Did you know, for instance, that the ‘para-‘ in ‘paralympics’ is meant to denote that the games are parallel to the olympics. The film also speaks highly of London 2012 as the first time where the paralympics were taken just as seriously and greeted with as much enthusiasm as the olympics. I will always feel very privileged indeed to have been here in London that year, and watching Lyn and the Paraorchestra perform at the Paralympic closing ceremony will always be one of the greatest, proudest moments of my life.
Since then I have seen the Olympic Movement as a force for good: a giant celebration, bringing the world’s focus onto one city in the spirit of tolerance and friendship. It is just as much about cooperation as competition; as much about culture as sport. I like too how it can be a force for reform and improvement, as well as how it celebrates each city’s uniqueness in turn. Now, however, things seem to have taken a far darker turn: the IOC is apparently insisting the games in Tokyo go ahead no matter what, even though scientists are warning that this could lead to the formation of a new ‘Olympic Variant’ of the virus. The influx of people to Japan this year would have deadly consequences. Framed like that, any sensible person would say the Games have to be cancelled. For the International Olympic Committee to still be insisting that the games go ahead anyway frames them in a very bad light indeed, as it tells us they want their event to go ahead no matter how many people it puts in danger and regardless of how much local opposition there is. According to the Democracy Now video, the IOC have the power to override a local government, so even if the Japanese government asks for the games to be suspended or canceled, as seems increasingly likely given the growing opposition, they could be overruled.
If the IOC does so, it would be an act of unforgivable callousness and arrogance. London 2012 lead me to think that the Olympics were a great big glorious party where everyone came together, and where disabled people were cheered and celebrated alongside everyone else. With the IOC acting as it is, as if it has a right to impose a dangerous event onto a city which does not want it, merely to avoid risking it’s billion-dollar profits, that romantic view now seems very misplaced indeed.
Today is my Mum’s birthday, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish her a very happy one. You might have noticed, though, that I didn’t wish my dad a good birthday on here a month or so ago, as I usually do. That is because, for the last decade or so, I blogged my birthday wishes to Dad and Lyn in a single entry as their birthdays were so close, and the prospect of having to post my salutations to one and not the other this year gave me a heavy heart. But it didn’t feel right for me to write a birthday blog for mum today after having left out dad, so today is a good occasion to rectify that: I would just like to say how much I love both my parents, how much they mean to me, and how I can’t wait to see them very, very soon. Happy birthday!
I just watched the third episode of Time. I had intended to binge watch it a week or so ago, but between one thing and another I postponed watching the finale. Not everyone will have seen it, so I won’t say too much about it, other than that I found it quite brutal. It does not hold any punches about the realities of prison life, and you really feel sorry for the main character Mark, played by Sean Bean. There are times, such as when he’s getting bullied or beaten up, when I found myself wishing Bean would show a glimmer of Sharpe or Boromir and hit back. Having said that, the show is ultimately about redemption, and fighting back wouldn’t have been in Mark’s nature: this is a drama about a man atoning for something which he knows he did wrong, trying to make up for his foolishness. Mark does not deny his flaws, and he also knows he can never fully make up for what he did. Thus, for all it’s brutality, Time is ultimately rather uplifting, in that it shows a man learning to live with his mistakes and coming to peace with himself.
I think I’ll flag this interesting little video from Granada news up, not only because it is about a nonverbal young man with severe autism finding employment, but also because he’s from my old home town, Congleton. I found it on my old school’s facebook page, so I suspect he might be a former pupil. I’m not entirely sure what to make of the kind of supported employment it details, though: the young man is clearly happy in his job, and he’s apparently very good at it, but I’m worried schemes like this could lead to people with severe disabilities being forced off benefits and into work more and more, when they aren’t really up to it. It makes me ask myself whether I could do a proper, regular, payed job? While I want to contribute to society, as opposed to mucking around on the internet or trundling around London in my powerchair all day, I think the type of support I’d need to do a nine to five job every day just would not be worth it. I only got my degree with the support of people like Esther. I volunteer when I can at Charlton Park Academy, but my physical limitations and the support I’d require would make trying to hold a regular job simply too complex. I worry that schemes like the one detailed in this film send out the message that disabled people can get jobs if we want to, but are just lazy cripples happy to leech off the state, when the truth is not so simple.