Back to my usual combination

Out on my trundle again today, I thought I would head for Charlton. I must admit, the direction of my daily wandering is chosen more or less at random and on the spur of the moment, unless there’s somewhere specific I need to go. I go to Charlton fairly regularly , but today, for the first time in months, I found the cafe in the park open for table service again. Until now, of course, it has been take away only, meaning I could not stop for a coffee. Today, however, the situation was different, and rolling up to one of the well distanced tables I asked for my time honoured combination of a double espresso and a cappuccino.

As I sipped my coffee, I thought about the innumerate times I had sat in that very spot over the last decade or so: of the memories I had built up there, and the friendships I had made. I used to spend hours there, talking to people. Lyn would often join us once she was ready, coming rattling around the corner in her powerchair. I half expected that to happen today, although I knew it couldn’t. I suppose it’s just an inevitable part of the human condition that, however much you want things to stay the same, however much you return to the places which once meant so much to you, nothing ever stays the same. Apart from the staff there was nobody I recognised there, and I didn’t stay long. The Old Cottage Cafe in Charlton Park may still serve the best coffee in South London, but for me, it can never quite be the place it once was.

The Ravensbourne

When I was fifteen or sixteen, one of the poems I remember studying for my GCSE English literature was Rising Damp by UA Fanthorpe. It’s quite a nice piece about the lost rivers of London: the ancient rivers of the area, now trapped underground, diverted through tunnels. One of the rivers I remember it mentioning (although, strangely, having just Googled it, I can’t find a copy which does) is the Ravensbourne. I hadn’t thought about it in ages. This morning, though, heading out on my daily trundle, I decided to go and explore the other side of Greenwich, around Deptford. I don’t often go that way, and felt like a change. It’s a nice, pleasant area close to the Thames. After a while, I came across a river flowing through a new-looking park, a well maintained path running beside it. A sign nearby named the river, and my memories of GCSE English twenty-five years ago came flooding back: it was the Ravensbourne, now restored, cleaned, and looking rather pretty in the Spring sun. I think Mrs. Fanthorpe would be pleased.

Another Amazing Frontier Crossed

Surely the only thing I can blog about today is this absolutely incredible news that NASA has successfully flown a helicopter on mars. “The drone, called Ingenuity, was airborne for less than a minute, but Nasa is celebrating what represents the first powered, controlled flight by an aircraft on another world.” Of course, there’s not much I can say about it, other than how awesome I find it. As a guy who has trouble controlling his powerchair sometimes, I can’t even begin to imagine the technical ingenuity which must have gone into this feat. In terms of human achievement, surely this is another huge milestone.

The First Sign of Summer

Shortly after posting my entry earlier I trundled out on my daily stroll. It was a lovely day and I was eager to enjoy thee weather. Today I thought I would head down to Woolwich, just to check out what, if anything, was happening down there. As I was passing the old military academy though, I caught sight of something I didn’t expect to see this early in the year: on the same pitch where I watched my friends the Blackheath Mighty Eights last summer, there was a cricket match being played. It instantly struck me as a glorious sight, and I decided to go in and watch; I wasn’t expecting to see it’s like for at least a couple of months. I didn’t recognise either team, and I only stayed for a couple of overs or so before resuming my walk; but nonetheless it is surely a great sign that summer is just around the corner.

David Attenborough’s funeral should be just as big as Phillip’s

I didn’t watch Prince Phillip’s funeral yesterday, preferring to get out and about and enjoy a lovely spring day. There’s not much I can say about it. Having caught a glimpse of all the pomp and ceremony on this morning’s news though, I think I’ll just say this: Given Phill’s send-off was so lavish, I think Sir David Attenborough should get the same treatment. Hopefully Sir David will be with us for a few years yet, but as the greatest broadcaster ever, who over seventy years on tv has had an enormous effect on our collective knowledge of the natural world, surely he deserves nothing less than a state funeral. He is just as much a part of the country’s cultural make up as any prince; I still think he should have played a role in the London Olympic ceremonies. A state funeral – albeit a carbon neutral one – would be a good way for the UK to thank this great, great man for the effect he has had on our collective knowledge and appreciation of the natural world.

Am I still a Trekkie?

As a life long Star Trek fan, it is with a heavy heart that I say that I’m beginning to think it’s losing it’s way. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, Star Trek was something special to me: a vision of a future in which humanity, at peace with itself, had united and set off to explore space. Every week, characters I loved were shown having wonderful adventures on awesome star ships. The TV program captivated me, and the films even more. It was sometimes all I could think about: there was something about this franchise which fascinated me unlike any other.

Yet now, that fascination, that excitement, is waning. Don’t get me wrong: I still love series like The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Captain Picard is one of my favourite characters in all of fiction; and I still love the Dominion War story arc from DS9. It’s just that Star Trek doesn’t seem to be what it once was. Read this, for instance. Five new Star Trek series are now in the works: three live action, two animated. Since the 2009 film, Star Trek has become a tangled mess of interwoven storylines and alternate universes; it has lost the artistic coherence it once had as well as the intellectual weight which was the foundation of so much of it’s appeal. It is just being churned out, series after series, merely to attract viewers hungry to see a return of the program they remember, with very little respect for what Star Trek once was. It is now serialised nonsense which doesn’t understand the boundaries between television and film, much less the combination of intellectually-grounded science fiction, compelling storylines and relatable, captivating characters that made Star Trek great in the first place.

I regret to say that a program I once loved has now lost my interest, and as long as it’s producers continue to churn out this lightweight, commercial dross, I can’t see it coming back.

A Year

I just want to note that today marks a year since Lyn passed away. I still miss her greatly. She was the most incredible person I’ll ever meet, with whom I had built up so many amazing memories. I still think about Lyn every day, trying to imagine what she would have said about certain things. After all, she had a huge effect on my life; I have Lyn to thank for my life here in London. I wish I could still go over to that old bungalow in Charlton for a coffee and a chat.

Star Trek and Disability

At fifty minutes, it might be a bit longer than most pieces of Youtube fan analysis, but I think Steve Shives needs to be congratulated for this video looking at the portrayal of disability – both physical and mental – in Star Trek. As Shives points out, when you look into it, there have been numerous representations of disability over the franchise’s fifty year history, and broadly speaking it has got it right. He goes through several episodes, ranging across the various incarnations of Star Trek, where disability plays a role: perhaps the most obvious is Geordi and his visor, foregrounded in several episodes of TNG and shown to be both an advantage and disadvantage. As Shives astutely (for a nondisabled person) points out, Geordi’s blindness was part of his character; it helped make him who he was. It is to Star Trek’s enormous credit that it presented a visually impaired man in this way. On the other hand, Trek hasn’t always got it right, sometimes depicting disability as negative, life-limiting, and something to be avoided at all costs.

Broadly speaking, this is a great video, well worth a watch: I’d have been a fool not to flag it up here. I must say, though, that in a way Shives only scratches the surface: he’s an able-bodied, white man, so while he seems to have a reasonable knowledge of things like the Social Model, it occurs to me he has no personal connection with what he’s discussing. To him, this is more or less an academic exercise. To guys like me it was great to see Star Trek presenting us with a vision of the future where everyone worked together to advance humanity, with disabled people playing an active role in that future. The only problem was it didn’t go far enough: as Shives points out, portrayals of disability in Star Trek are usually peripheral or fleeting; none of it’s incarnations has a central, major character whose impairment effects them significantly. There are no characters with cerebral palsy, for example, or characters with alternative ways of communicating. As hard as it tried, it couldn’t shake itself loose of the mindset that disability is always something to be minimised or escaped. Either that or it was something to be mocked or laughed at, as was the case with Reg Berkley, whose odd character traits could be read as a form of autism.

While Shives points this out, the fact remains he has no firsthand experience of what he is discussing, and as such ultimately belongs in the same group of people as the ones who created the programs he is trying to analyse: Trying to make sure a socially marginalised group is represented fairly, but not always getting it right. Inevitably in videos like this, there is an element of people trying to speak for us, ultimately reinforcing the normative ideas Shives is attempting to discuss. With that said, it is great to see people like Shives showing a willingness to engage with issues I had assumed were confined to the disabled community. Programs like Star Trek are ultimately all about the human condition, and the potential we have as a species if we work together while embracing our differences.

Was an apology really necessary here?

I suppose the notion of authenticity becomes a little complicated when it comes to animation. On the disability arts scene, there has long been the idea that only actors with disabilities should play characters with disabilities, otherwise it becomes the equivalent of blacking up. The only way you can get an authentic portrayal of a character with a disability is to cast an actor with that disability in the role. The same logic applies to members of any other minority. Yet I just came across this news that “Hank Azaria has apologised for voicing the Indian character Apu on The Simpsons.” Azaria has voiced Apu since 1990, but came under increasing criticism for reinforcing ethnic stereotypes. While I agree that it is only logical that an Indian actor should play an Indian character, was that apology really necessary? Nobody saw the colour of Azaria’s skin; he was just putting on a voice, as he did for all his other Simpsons roles. Isn’t making him apologise going a tad over the top? After all, The Simpsons is a cornerstone of popular culture, Apu included, and surely nothing to feel guilty about. Further, if the character reinforced ethnic stereotypes, then surely it is the writers and directors who created the character who should apologise, rather than the actor voicing him. I’m not saying Apu shouldn’t have been recast, but given the transgression wasn’t that overt, did the guy who played him for so long really need to apologise? It’s not like he was painting his skin black, or pretending to need to use a wheelchair.

Pub? Not Just Yet

So far today, the hardest thing for me to do has been to go past so many freshly opened pubs and resist going in. I now try to keep my drinking to a minimum, and Monday drinking is strictly off limits; but the sight of pubs finally being open, with people sat outside at last having something resembling a social life, proved very enticing indeed. It isn’t the beer per se (I can, after all, have a drink at home if I really wanted) as much as the way in which pubs function as community hubs. People gather in them, often after long days at work, and let their proverbial hair down. They are places where you can find people from all walks of life, with all kinds of background; they are places where you can make new friends. People are sometimes surprised to find a person like me in a pub, so they come up to me and introduce their selves. Occasionally we have remained in contact over Facebook. Alternatively I sometimes just sit and observe people, gathering ideas for stories and blog entries.

Best of all, they are places to meet up with your mates, which is what I’ve missed the most. Two years or so ago, I remember meeting my old uni mates Chris and Steve at the Royal Standard in Blackheath, and chatting like the three of us were still up in Alsager. I suggested the Standard because it was an easily findable pub we could all get to. Pubs are landmarks as well as gathering points. They are places where you can meet up and have a bit of fun. After the last year, I’m really, really looking forward to being able to do that again: as soon as I can, I plan to invite Steve, Chris, Charlotte and whoever else I can to my new place in Eltham to show them around and have a drink. It now feels far too long since I last saw any of those guys.

That is the point of pubs. Going in to one today as I passed them, just because I could, would have been pointless. I would have had a beer or two, and the rest of the day would have been useless. It was best to wait for an occasion which could be relished, shared and possibly blogged about the next day.