The First Public Playing of Lyn’s Song

I’m not quite sure how I came across it now, but a couple of weeks ago I found myself attending a small music group for people with special/additional needs at Greenwich Carers Centre in charlton. It was a social event really, where everyone sat round a lady using a laptop, taking it in turns to suggest music for her to find on Youtube. The whole group would then sing to the requested song. I was quite taken with it: I can’t sing for toffee of course, but here was a chance to make friends, chat, listen to music and participate in the community. Who knows, one day I could even make a film about it.

The group meets every Friday afternoon, so today I rolled along there curious to see what would happen or who I would meet. To be honest I didn’t really expect to stay very long before continuing my daily trundle. I got there a bit early, so I bought myself a cappuccino while I waited for the participants to arrive. As they were slowly filtering in, though, I had an idea: I asked to talk to the lady who used the computer, only to be told I was already talking to her (silly me). Through my Ipad communication aid, I told her about Lyn, about how I’d been her partner and how she had passed away; I then told her about Lyn’s Song, and asked her to play it. She looked it up on her mobile phone, and agreed to play it.

I’m not really sure why I thought of the song Charlotte and I wrote about Lyn in that moment. There, in Charlton, among other disabled people, it somehow felt appropriate: I wanted to see what everyone would think. It was the first piece that she played, and I’m very pleased to say it went down a treat; everyone in the room seemed quite taken by it. To be honest it was quite a profound moment for me which brought a tear to my eye.

The rest of the afternoon was spent listening to music, suggesting the occasional rock anthem (as well as a bit of Cat Empire), before trundling home. To my knowledge, that was the first public playing of Lyn’s Song. It feels appropriate that it happened in Charlton, not far from Lyn’s home, at an event focussing on the social benefits of music for disabled people.

Early Viking Settlement in Canada dated to 1021

Time for a bit of archaeology/history. This is far too interesting for me not to flag up. A viking settlement in Canada has been dated to 1021AD, exactly 1000 years ago. “Long before Columbus crossed the Atlantic, eight timber-framed buildings covered in sod stood on a terrace above a peat bog and stream at the northern tip of Canada’s island of Newfoundland, evidence that the Vikings had reached the New World first.” That means it predates Columbus’ voyage by 471 years, and is evidence of European interaction with Native Americans far earlier than previously thought. The article goes on to say the settlement could be dated due to a rare solar storm affecting the tree rings from the wood used in the settlement, but the buildings themselves match the design and construction of Viking buildings from that period. I find that utterly fascinating, I must say: the settlement was probably only inhabited for ten years by about a hundred people; but imagine what life was like there, out on the edge of what was, for them, the known world.

Beth Moulam on AAC and Identity

I think I need to flag this fascinating blog entry by Beth Moulam up. In it, Beth discusses disability, AAC and identity, going into quite a bit of depth about the relationship between the three. I don’t really want to say much about it here: identity – what constitutes us as individuals – is an extraordinarily complex subject which, once you begin to analyse in any detail, you find requires entire thesises to explore properly. It’s a subject which touches upon the ideas of thinkers ranging from Marx (class) to Benjamin (subjectivity) to Lacan (mirrors). Instead of getting into all that though, I would rather let Beth’s work speak for itself than try to offer any commentary upon it, especially given how vibrantly her own personality and ideas come through in this piece of writing.

A Perversely Ironic Vlog

There is something sickeningly, perversely ironic in supposedly being lectured on disability rights and inclusion by a woman who treats her disabled sister so patronisingly. I just came across this video from Hannah and Becky Cheetham. On the face of it, it’s a follow-up vlog relating to a previous video the sisters made about their mistreatment at Alton Towers: they had visited the theme park, and had been treated so appallingly – denied access to rides, facilities – that they felt they had to complain. This visit, it would seem, things are much better.

Yet I still have the same reservations about their dynamic that I had back in January. Watching the video, it’s still apparent that the older, able bodied sister, Becky, is speaking for her sister, no matter how much she tries to claim otherwise: she talks down to Becky, cuing her to speak, asking her patronising questions. The infuriating thing is, this is in a video claiming to be about disability rights, trying to highlight the discriminatory treatment Hannah got at Alton Towers. Yet from the very beginning of the film Becky Cheetham talks to her sister like she’s addressing a five year old, who is just shown squealing a bit and speaking only when cued. It is clear that the able-bodied sister is in charge: in fact, I’d go even further and say that she clearly wants the video to be about her and how she looks after her disabled sister. Hannah’s mistreatment by the theme park is a good way to attract viewers, striking back against discrimination of minorities being all the rage on Youtube. Yet for all that, the video is clearly being made by and about Becky. Note, for example, the couple of half-second cut-away close-ups of Becky making ironic/sarcastic comments. It is clear she is the one in the editorial driving seat, and is merely using her disabled sister to play off.

Perhaps I should just keep out of it; perhaps I should just let these sisters make their videos in peace. Hannah seems quite content participating with them, although, having not been able to communicate with her directly, I can’t be sure. Yet, were someone to try to treat me like this, expecting me to sit there and squeal, pushing buttons on my communication aid when cued while someone else does all the talking for me, I think I would like to be told that there are other options, and ways in which I could describe my experiences for myself.

Colin Powell dies, aged 84

This evening we mourn another great man. I’d just like to flag this sad news up: “Tributes are being paid to former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has died of Covid-19 complications aged 84.” I have a lot of respect for Powell. He was a good, decent man who did his best to hold the Bush administration in check, and had the decency to admit his mistakes. I’m sure he will be missed.

Venom

Last night I watched Venom on Channel Four. It was after dinner, and I was settling down to watch a serious film. I had never heard of it before, but from the adverts I had seen the previous evening it looked like a fairly good action/sci-fi/horror film – something along the lines of Alien. I still need something new to get my analytical teeth into, so I thought I’d give it a watch.

My hopes were raised even further when, just before the film, the Channel Four announcer told us that Venom was connected to the Marvel film franchise, although it needed no prior knowledge of it. Perhaps this would be an opportunity to break my Marvel duck and start to explore comic book films. However, about half an hour into the film, I realised it was not what I had been expecting: Blobs of CGI goo, supposedly from space, were entering people’s bodies, communicating with them (in American accents) and going around killing people. To call it infantile is to put it mildly. Yet, the weird thing is, the film seemed to take itself seriously; it seemed to still think it was a high budget, action/sci-fi film deserving of attention and respect. It sought to be frightening and comic, serious and playful, at the same time, as if the film couldn’t decide what it was.Combined with the fact that the ‘science’ component of the film was utter hogwash even by Hollywood’s standards, that left me aghast that such poor drivel could have been made. If this is the way the American film industry is going, then I fear for it’s future. Frankly it felt like I was watching a children’s film, yet it was being aired at nine on a Saturday evening. Thus as I headed to bed once the closing credits rolled, I could only wonder what on Earth I had just watched.

Political Fury

Last night we learned of the murder of Tory MP Sir David Amess. No murder is acceptable, of course, and I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but my gut reaction was to note that I struggle to feel pity for people who champion greed and selfishness; who campaign to ensure the rich dominate the poor, and that the weak remain subservient to the strong; who find it just that historic inequalities remain unchallenged, in order that they and their wealthy friends can live as they always have, while so many others are left to suffer. The fact remains, however, that a man was murdered just for doing his job. Whatever your political beliefs, surely that cannot be tolerated. A man who had a family, who are now left to mourn.

Of course I feel pity for them – what human wouldn’t? Yet I struggle to divorce this man from his party, and the political from the human. The problem is, I’m not alone: since 2016 and since the advent of social media, people are becoming more and more furious politically, more and more partisan. People are increasingly forgetting that politicians are people, and reducing them down to what they and their party advocate – beliefs they may vehemently disagree with. When that happens, we see horrors like the one last night.

Upon hearing of this crime, my reaction was to see Amess as a tory more than a man. I could not forget, even for a moment, what he and his political party are doing and stand for and the suffering they have caused. I am ashamed to admit that, but it’s true. The problem is, when we are bombarded day after day with news that gets us ever more furious, how can one not feel that way?

Royal Opinions

As much as I have a soft spot for the queen, and as much as I’ve obsessed about her meeting with 007, I really don’t think she should be getting involved in politics. Apparently, she has “appeared to suggest she is irritated by people who “talk” but “don’t do”, ahead of next month’s climate change summit.” Of course she is as entitled to her opinions as anyone else; yet as astute as they may be, I don’t see why those opinions should be payed any more attention than anyone else’s. The queen is, after all, an unelected figurehead: nobody voted for her, so she represents nobody but herself. I thus have trouble with the fact that her overheard opinions are being given so much weight in the media. In a democracy, aren’t we all supposed to be equal, or are some people more important than others simply because they were born into certain families?

Why is this still happening?

It horrifies me to read that things like this are still going on these days. “An investigation has been launched into “organised abuse” at a special school in London after CCTV was discovered of pupils being physically assaulted and neglected…. The videos, found by staff, show pupils being mistreated in padded seclusion rooms between 2014 and 2017.”

Now, as I’ve said on here before, I grew up going to a special school, and I have to say I never saw any hint of such abuse. Educationally, of course, things there weren’t really up to speed, and we weren’t pushed as hard as our able-bodied peers might have been. We were entered in for five basic C to F GCSEs, but nothing higher.* Yet that was due to a variety of factors, not least the fact that most of my class of about eight pupils knew they weren’t going to live past their twenties – if that – and didn’t see learning as a priority. It’s pretty pointless trying to write essays when you can barely lift a pen. Nonetheless, the fact that staff at school were more concerned with making sure pupils there were happy and comfortable than pushing us to achieve academically does not constitute the kind of abuse being reported in this article.

I never witnessed any hint of what is being reported: kids being actively mistreated, shut away in ‘seclusion rooms’. Of course, the crucial difference is, whereas I and my classmates had physical disabilities such as CP, Muscular Dystrophy and Spina Bifida, the conditions these abused students have are more likely to be neurological or behavioural. If we screwed up, we probably just needed a good telling off, but that doesn’t always work with kids with things like severe autism. I know from my voluntary work at Charlton Park Academy that these kids often need time and space to calm down, so seclusion is sometimes necessary: when some of these young people get over-stressed and over-stimulated, they sometimes become violent and dangerous.

It would seem, however, that at some schools, such calming methods are being over used and lapsing into abuse, and that’s the problem. Not being an expert by any means, of course, I can’t offer a solution. Some so-called activists might use this story and those like it as another reason to argue for the closure of all special schools, but I fear that would make things worse: there is no way a child with severe autism could cope in a comprehensive. Some kids need the support they can only get at a special school. The problem is, at such secluded, quiet, out of the way places, catering for young people who often can’t speak out for themselves, abuse can go unreported all too easily.

*I did higher level GCSE english, going to lessons in a comprehensive school next door.