Paralympic opening ceremony

Last night I could not help thinking ‘this is us’. It was as if my people, the vibrant community to which I belong, had suddenly taken centre stage, and I have rarely felt more proud. I felt as if the eyes of the world have turned towards the disabled community, and the British disabled community in particular, and finally saw us for who we truly are. In short I found the Paralympic opening ceremony a triumph.

I had feared I would find it condescending; I had feared it would be full of patronising imagery and slogans like ‘triumph over adversity’ and ‘don’t they do well’, as if this was something which had to be done after the Olympics to keep us cripples happy. Instead, I felt last night’s ceremony was just as impressive, grandiose and enthusiastic as the first. This was no afterthought, no tagged on sequel, but a pre-planned second volume of an epic novel, the denouement of a tale started by norms but continued by us crips. To see the second event being taken no less seriously than the first felt very gratifying indeed.

Unfortunately, there was no grand entrance by the queen. I must admit to being mildly disappointed by that. After she parachuted in with double-oh-seven last time, I was half expecting something similar. I thought there was an outside chance that they might just replay that film, although I daresay that would have just looked lazy. It would have been cooler, in my opinion, to have done something similar but with a disability slant. What if Francesca Martinez and Matt Frazer had gone to collect her majesty in a dial-a-ride bus, or Steven Hawking had ‘beamed’ her in with his star-trek style transporter? In the event she simply appeared: not as cool as being escorted to the stadium by James Bond, but fair enough, the joke had been done.

I was glad to see that Professor Hawking did indeed have a major role to play in the ceremony. Proffessor Hawking has been one of my rolemodels for as long as I can remember, being the first VOCA user I ever knew about. I was thrilled to see him being featured so prominently. Mind you, it must be said that hawking is a bit of a living, breathing disability stereotype – that of the crippled genius – so his inclusion might have been rather obvious. Think cripple, think Hawking. On the whole, though, I think including him as narrator was a good move, and I must admit it brought a tear to my eye when he exulted everyone to look up at the stars and not down at our feet. When he said ” We are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being but we share the same human spirit. What is important is that we have the ability to create. This creativity can take many forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics” I realised this ceremony was being used as a tool to ram home messages that disability rights campaigners have been trying to convey for many years.

I also liked the inclusion of Sir Ian Mackellen, not for any disability link but simply because he is one of my current favourite actors. Whenever he appeared, I couldn’t help but think ‘Mithrandir’. I had to raise an eyebrow, though, at the fact he was reading prospero’s lines from The Tempest. After all, in part The Tempest sings the praises of colonialism and imperialism: prospero is very much portrayed as superior to Caliban, the subjugated native of the island who in some ways can be seen as disabled. Miranda irritates me too, being a wimpish, naive girl always accepting her father’s word.

That aside, the latter half of the ceremony struck me as a great success, for after Shakespeare came something far more up to date. The moment Ian Dury’s Spasticus Autisticus struck up, I realised the ceremony directors had actually been listening to us crips, and if there is one thing we like it’s ironically playing with others’ perceptions of us. It was great to see that kind of self-knowing crip humour on such a major stage. The moment that song started, I thought ”this is for us!” as it displayed the same type of self-awareness I read in many disability activists. After that, I was kind of hoping that someone would say something about the cuts – after all, there is something to be said about the spectacle of so many disabled people performing in front of a prime minister who is depriving them of the means to live but that would have gone too far. It was just good to see a bit of true disability culture, rather than seeing the usual patronising images of poor crippled kids or disabled people who think they’re being provocative by playing pranks on the public when in fact they are reinforcing stereotypes.

All in all, then, I thought the opening ceremony of the Paralympics was a great success. For me, the greatest and most telling aspect was the fact that it was very much the equal to it’s predecessor: it was no less spectacular than the Olympic opening ceremony; no doubt it took no less effort to create and perform. It occurs to me that this is a sign that disability culture and politics may be about to enter the mainstream a bit more, and that the disability community might be about to raise it’s profile. After all, that’s exactly what happened in china after Beijing hosted the Olympics. I certainly hope so: who knows, these games could herald something of a renaissance for the disability community. If it does, however, we must work hard not to squander the political capital that would come with it: we must show that, while we have triumphed, it is despite and not because of the government’s current actions. The disability community now has a golden opportunity to take centre stage: we can ill afford to let it pass us by right now.

Mark steel on Atos

Rarely have I seen a more agressive piece of writing in a newspaper, but I really must link to this article about Atos by Mark Steel. It is openly one sided, sarcastic, combative and very very angry – I absolutely love it!

my wanderlust has returned

For some reason earlier today I was struck by the urge to find out about India. It might have been inspired by my friend Jonathon’s pictures, who, it would appear, recently came back from a holiday in the subcontinent. After seeing his pictures, I suddenly wanted to read up about India and it’s history. I have a habit of letting my mind go off on tangents like that; I wonder whether that is related to my cerebral palsy, but I digress.

I also just watched the latest episode of Himalaya with Michael Palin on bbc iplayer, currently being repeated on bbc four on Sundays. That only made matters worse, for it now appears my wanderlust has returned. Lyn has recently started to talk about going on holiday again: I may not have seemed that keen on the idea at the time, but, believe me, nothing makes me more excited than the prospect of having another adventure. I think it’s a brilliant idea, and it certainly is high time that we had a nice break in somewhere exotic. It feels like ages since we went away, and I miss the buzz of anticipation and excitement you get when you are sitting in an aeroplane ready to take off, bound for a place you have never been before. Lyn is working her arse off right now especially, and deserves a break: our eyes need new sights to see, our lungs fresh air to breathe, our noses new smells to sample, and our tongues new tastes to try.

I suppose that will have to wait though. We have things to do here before we can think about heading off to parts unknown; we’ll also have to save up cash. Thus I’ll have to content myself with continuing to explore the concrete jungles of south London until I get to see the more leafy jungles of Bengal. Besides, the events of Saturday were pretty cool, and it’s not as if we don’t also have some pretty exciting things coming up, although I can’t tell you about that yet. Travel, then, must wait, at least until adventures at home have ran their course, and then, who knows? Mr. Palin’s footprints might well be followed by our tyre tracks.

London is it’s own world

Today I would just like to revisit this entry. Over the weekend I was thinking about geography, and how living in London does weird things to one’s sense of place. I still can’t get my head around just how vast this city is: on Saturday, on the coach to Snape Maltings, we seemed to be driving for ages before we left the city. It is almost as if London is it’s own world: back in Cheshire I could easily leave the town limits of Congleton and go to another village or town which had it’s own character and was divided from it by fields. In the metropolis I rarely feel that sense of entering another place: London just goes on and on, so that in a way it feels like it’s own world. Indeed, inasmuch as London doesn’t resemble anywhere else in Britain, it feels like I live in another country or even dimension, with it’s own rules. People behave differently here; you even have to think differently about things like space, place and travel, and you seem to forget there is a world outside London so that London becomes the world. It’s as if the very texture of the word is different. Although I do still sometimes miss driving down country lanes through the fields, London fascinates me in terms of being it’s own mini world, where there will always be new places to explore, as well as the strange things it does to one’s psyche.

second official performance of the British Paraorchestra

Yesterday saw the second official performance of the British Paraorchestra, in which Lyn plays. What can I say? Never have I felt more proud than I did yesterday evening, sat amongst a large audience, looking down at the stage at Snape Maltings, watching my fiancee play. I know that some will try to say that the idea of an orchestra made up of disabled musicians doesn’t sound very inclusive, but on the contrary inclusivity at it’s heart. This is an orchestra where each members ability is carefully nurtured; pieces are intricately tailored to showoff each players’ ability and talent. The aim is not to exclude musicians who don’t have a disability, but to showcase what musicians with a disability can do. The result is a first class orchestra making first class music which I have no doubt is bound for great heights.

Niel armstrong dies

I just want to post a short entry today expressing my regret at the passing of Niel Armstrong. I remember learning about the apollo missions in school, and in my opinion Armstrong was not just an american hero, but a hero for all of mankind. It is a shame that we have lost a person who made such an important piece of human history, but it is an even greater shame that his legacy – the continued exploration of space – now seems to be waning. Click here for details.

Back to bipedalism…for now

My electric wheelchair is broken, and has been all week. Normally It would just mean a week on the sofa, but, as luck would have it, this week has been the busiest lyn and I have had in ages (see the latter half of tonight’s Paralympics show to see why). I’m rather tired, but oddly happy. I’ve walked everywhere: to begin with I dreaded it, but somehow I feel fitter. Today, for instance, has been a long active day, but I don’t think I’m as knackered as I expected to be. It reached a point where I actually began to enjoy being on my legs, especially getting to face forward on busses. That doesn’t mean, of course, that I don’t want my chair back: you should have heard the string of obscenities that came out of my mouth this evening when, getting onto a bus, nobody gave up their seat until after the damn thing started to move.

protest songs

It has often been noted that adversity and struggle inspires the greatest art. Many of the best novels ever written, for instance, are those that argue aginst injustice or expose wrongs. This is also the case with the disabled people’s movement, especially now that we are being placed under so much pressure due to the current financial environment. I’d like to send you here, then, to a recording of a song by Dennis Queen. It was originally by Alan Holdsworth, and tells a story which is becoming alarmingly familiar. Such protest songs are now vital if we are going to expose what the cuts are doing to people with disabilities; the same goes for any other art form. The danger lies in our stories going unsaid, and thus unheard.

Tony Nicklinson dies

I do not have much to say today, but given that I commented briefly on this case a week ago, I’d like to extend my sympathies to the Nicklinson family. Tony

Nicklinson died this morning of natural causes, having lost his case to be legally allowed to be assisted to commit suicide. I must say, though, that it does strike me as a bit odd, and I can’t help but smell a rat given that he died so soon after the case. That implies that he was quite close to death anyway: if so, why go through the stress of the case? However, given that the police aren’t treating his death as suspicious, the issue probably best be left alone, and I’ll just say my thoughts are with his family.