Something happened earlier which has me in fits of giggles. I was in Tesco, just picking up a couple of bits. As usually happens, one of the members of staff came up to me to see if I needed help. Today, though, the difference in her attitude from a few days ago couldn’t have been more pronounced: it was like I was suddenly one of her best friends. She was so friendly, kind and polite, she was almost treating me like royalty. I daresay someone has been having words. I know I shouldn’t laugh, but it really did tickle me.
Forgive my temporary regression to adolescence, but I can’t help laughing my head off at this story about a village in Austria which has had to change it’s name. “Residents of an Austrian village will ring in the new year under a new name – Fugging – after ridicule of their signposts, especially on social media, became too much to bear. They finally grew weary of Fucking, its current name, which some experts say dates back to the 11th century.” While you have to feel sorry for the residents of the village having the piss taken out of the place where they live because of it’s name, and also note that this is an obvious case of linguistic imperialism on the part of English speakers given that the name is not a swear word in German, you must say that is pretty hilarious. They grew so tired of tourists stopping to take pictures of the sign posts bearing the village’s name that they decided to change it. I wonder whether this has ever happened anywhere else.
(I hope nobody tells them about the Private Eye or Mohammed Al Fayed)
If Donald Trump is as fabulously wealthy as he claims, why is he apparently sending desperate emails to his supporters, begging them for donations? Surely any billionaire could pay for the ridiculous trials Trump is demanding out of their own extensive funds….Unless, of course, little Donnie isn’t the ultra successful tycoon he claims to be, but is in fact a pathetic little con man who relies on others to bail him out when he fucks up, and who is now sending weaselly emails to anyone he can in a perverse attempt to cling on to power. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so warped.
He really doesn’t like having the piss taken out of him, does he?
I had never heard of anyone called Sia before. Serkan tells me she’s some kind of singer. A few days ago, on the Disability Arts Facebook Group, I came across a post complaining quite vociferously that she has a new film coming out in the spring called Music: the problem was, while it was about an autistic person, Sia hadn’t cast an autistic actor to play her. That, of course, echoes or perhaps usurps an argument people with physical disabilities have been making for decades. Perhaps the most notable example is My Left Foot (Jim Sheridan, 1989), which famously involved Daniel Day-Lewis playing a man with severe cerebral palsy. Only people with disabilities should be used to play characters who have that disability; only they can convey the lived experience. Otherwise it’s the cultural equivalent of blacking up.
That is an argument I completely agree with, and which I have made many times myself. In this case, however, what I read did not sit comfortably with me. For starters, the articles linked to from Facebook made absolutely no reference to the campaigns preceding it. It read as though they were saying something new, and that only those in the autistic community had been treated that way. Frankly it felt like a form of cultural intrusion. These days, it feels like more and more people are defining theirselves as autistic or neurodiverse, based upon wider and wider criteria. They then define theirselves as disabled, although they have no real knowledge of what it’s like to live a life like mine. They then style theirselves as disability rights campaigners or activists, taking the very language others have used for decades and applying it to theirselves, while seemingly ignoring what went before.
I realise this is controversial, but I find it infuriating. Of course it isn’t my place to cast aspersions on anyone else’s disability. Yet I know from my experiences, both growing up in a special school and now volunteering at one, what autism, particularly severe autism, looks like. It is profoundly disabling: people with autism need constant support; many are unable to communicate, even with a communication aid. From the look of the character in the trailer for Music, she has quite profound autism. There is no way you could get a person with such severe autism to act in a feature film; they simply wouldn’t understand what they were doing and, as Sia herself has said, it would even be cruel.
Yet now there seems to be an abundance of (usually) self-defining autistics on the web up in arms because they didn’t cast a person with autism in the role. Without wanting to generalise, it seems these people often have fairly little first hand knowledge of autism, but have diagnosed theirselves based upon a rapidly expanding set of criteria and what they have seen on programs like the Big Bang Theory. They like to imagine they are different from others (and, let’s face it, who doesn’t like thinking they’re special?) Once they decide they are autistic, they, perhaps unconsciously, seem to adopt the sorts of behaviours they think suit their new identity. Yet, put bluntly, they don’t know what they’re talking about: most fall well within what constitutes normal, healthy and able-bodied; thinking of theirselves as different only causes further upset. Expanding the criteria of what constitutes conditions like autism only encourages people to play such games. To be clear I’m not disputing anyone’s right to claim to be autistic, rather suggesting that the spectrum is becoming so broad that most people have traits which could be termed autistic, and that more and more people are focussing on those traits to differentiate theirselves from those they call neurotypical; an act which is becoming increasingly political. They do not need the constant support those with severe autism do, and not so long ago would have probably just got on with their lives. At the very least, they are capable and aware enough to make things like vlogs. Yet they argue that they are being underrepresented and disenfranchised because an actor like them wasn’t cast.
In other words, this argument is not theirs to make. The irony is, a person with autism as severe as this film seeks to depict wouldn’t have the political awareness to make such arguments. Thus those criticising Sia are not only usurping an argument from the wider disability community, they also presume to speak for others within their own.
After yesterday’s melodrama, it’s time for something a bit more fun. Amusingly, Bill Shatner has apparently stoked the debate over whether Star Wars is science fiction or science fantasy. No doubt he triggered quite a few Star Wars fans, but I see his point: the whole concept of the Force puts the franchise firmly in the fantasy category. Mind you, I must say that the same criticism could be made about contemporary Star Trek. While Warp drives might just be possible if we found some way to bend spacetime by manipulating gravity, the idea of a Spore drive which runs on mushrooms is utter bollocks. This might thus be a case of people in glass houses throwing stones.
Some of the wisest people I have ever known were also the most patient and forgiving. They knew when to fight and when to forgive, and that the latter was by far the wiser course than the former.
I regret to say that yesterday I had the same sort of trouble at Tesco that I experienced last week. Basically the same member of staff had been shirty towards me, and this time yesterday afternoon I was incandescent with rage. I again reported it to my parents, who then phoned the store manager.
This morning was quite busy for me: I had a couple of things I wanted to sort out up in Eltham. On my way back I was getting hungry, so I decided to grab a sandwich from tesco. It was then that I had an idea: enough, I decided, feeling Lyn’s wise old eyes upon me, was enough. After I had payed for my lunch, I asked if I could speak with the girl who had given me so much friction. I was asked to wait as she was busy, but ten minutes or so later she came to talk to me.
I told her that if I had done anything to upset or insult her, then she had my apology. I wasn’t at all sure I had, but surely this course of action was far better than letting resentment and misunderstanding simmer. She said she was sorry too, and hoped we could be friends.
I accepted her apology gratefully. I could tell she wasn’t a bad person: this whole debacle had probably just arisen from misunderstanding and ignorance, and I find the best remedy for both of those is communication. People sometimes act awkwardly around me because they don’t understand me or are afraid, and I find the best cure for that is just to talk to them. It has been a long, dark, shitty year, and people are feeling the strain. Tempers are flaring more and more, but if we just keep talking to each other, if we keep forgiving each other, we’ll get through this all the quicker.
With that, I bade her Live long And Prosper, and made my way home to eat lunch.
No one even vaguely interested in either history or science could fail to be heartbroken by this news that Charles Darwin’s notebooks have been missing, presumed stolen, for twenty years. ‘One of them contains the 19th Century scientist’s famous Tree of Life sketch, exploring the evolutionary relationship between species. Following an “extensive search”, curators have now concluded they have probably been stolen. They are launching a public appeal for help in trying to find them.’ The theory of evolution is one of the most important scientific ideas ever. That the notebooks containing it’s very beginnings could have disappeared is surely tragic.
I’m not sure if this is really blog-worthy, given it’s something anyone else might do fairly regularly, but I’m just pleased how it turned out. Yesterday I had a nice little ride to Greenwich. It isn’t far, and I can easily make it in my powerchair. Coming back, it was getting dark and I knew I needed to buy something to eat. I thought I would have to go all the way up to Tesco, but, passing a friendly looking takeaway, I popped in.
Using my Ipad of course, I asked for two portions of fish and chips. This, I was told, they didn’t sell – would chicken be okay instead? That sounded fine, so I agreed. But then I asked for them to deliver it to my place at seven, about two hours later, when I knew Serkan would be here. The guy said that would be fine, so with that I set off home.
By seven, Serkan was here and I was watching television. I was starting to eye the clock apprehensively, wondering if my idea to take the initiative and sort out my own dinner was such a great one after all: had I told the guy the right address? A few minutes later though, halfway through Countryfile, to my great relief the doorbell rang – dinner had arrived.
I know it’s not much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s another of those small achievements which let me know what I’m capable of. Now I know it works, I can do it again; and it only cost four quid. The only problem was, I forgot fried chicken has bones in, making it a pain to eat. Next time I’ll get fish.
While I might have got slightly excited about the queen’s platinum jubilee in two years time, I’m not so keen about the fact it coincides with the much-derided Festival UK 2022. Artists and comedians are apparently distancing theirselves from it left, right and centre, on the grounds that it’ll essentially be an orgy of jingoistic nationalism. It’s blatantly obvious that the Tories just want to set the clock back to the golden summer of 2012, to a time when everyone felt good about the country and weren’t irreparably divided into two bitterly opposed camps. They’re using the platinum jubilee, combined with the ten year anniversary of the London Olympics, to try to paper over the horrendous damage they’ve done to the country over the last decade.
The tories have got Martin Green, former Head of Ceremonies for London 2012, to organise this charade, giving him a budget of £120m. He said it will be about ‘bringing people together’ and celebrating our nation’s diversity and talent, and that details of the ten planned events will be announced in a few months time. But you have to ask: what sort of perverse mentality thinks about organising a festival like that in the midst of a global pandemic, massive recession, and when the country is about to commit economic and geopolitical suicide? The UK is suffering, and rather than healing wounds this ‘Festival of Brexit’ will add insult to injury.