Mocking The Afflicted

First things first, obviously you have to sing the title to yourself to the tune of Elvis Costello’s Watching The Detectives. This has nothing whatsoever to do with what follows, it’s just that I’ve not been able to shake it since the title came to me and I’m saving you the trouble of thinking that you vaguely remember a song called Mocking The Afflicted but can’t recall the artist. It wasn’t, you can’t.

Back to the matter in hand. I’m a fairly ‘right on’ PC type but recently found myself questioning what is considered acceptable and whether I’d just crossed a line into bigoted, UKIP territory. Anyone who has had the good/misfortune of meeting me or happening upon my very occasional blog posts will know that I have MS and am registered blind. I am bona fide disabled, a proper spazmo. However, during a conversation with a friend I began to wonder where the boundaries lay following his apparent horror at the description I gave my current state.

December was shit, fucking shit – that’s a medical term. First couple of days were brilliant, I was smashing it at the gym and then within forty eight hours I couldn’t do a thing for myself. The details are tedious to all but those closest to me and me especially. Anyway, back to the conversation with said mate, I’ll call him Gaz, because his name is Gaz. Gaz knew I wasn’t doing too well and asked how I was. I told him that I was walking like someone with cerebral palsy. Whilst making light of it, I was being honest and we both laughed about it – he is a bastard. This started me thinking whether it was ok for disabled people to mock other disabled people. Having arrived at a title and recovered from the obvious comedic and literary brilliance of it I thought maybe I should delve a little deeper.

Now, contrary to wild speculation, I am in fact caucasian and as such wouldn’t consider using the N word. Snoop can do it; I’d be a horrible racist if I gave it a try. Can Snoop use to N word amongst those with every different hue of brown though? This rather led me to wonder whether as a disabled person I can only legitimately mock someone with the exact same disability as me or is every one of them fair game. I should add that even prior to disablement, gentle, general mocking (not of the disabled or any other minority groups) has always been my stock in trade, the target of which was more often than not, myself.

Being a relatively new spazmo I don’t know the rules, is there some sort of sliding scale that determines mockability. Can I go for anyone who looks to be doing better than me rather than preying on the weak? Looks tend to mean little though, I look ace and have come to realise that others who look ace may similarly be hiding flaws. Where does this leave me? I’m at a post office trying to choose the quickest queue and we all know there’s no changing once you realise you’re in the wrong one. Right kids?

I’m hoping that I can mock the disabled with complete profligacy and impunity in much the same way as, I hope, Snoop uses the N word with his kith and kin. The reaches of my blog tends not to be that great (I’m not multi platinum), this is good in that I’ll not be trolled by those less able or aresholes look for offence but I’ll be no closer to determining where the lines are and which I’m safely able to cross. I’ll just have to muddle through and feign offence and indignation should anyone chastise me.

Shit

For hire –  professional dog shit locator, no turd too big or too small.

Thankfully not my actual job although it might as well be. Since multiple sclerosis reduced my eyesight to something Magooesque last year I can hardly set foot outside without plunging the highest quality footwear into a steaming stool. The flip flop days of summer do not auger well.

I’ll happily concede that people face much greater difficulties than a soiled trainer but I find the regularity somewhat tedious.

Losing your sight is not a joyous thing, one eye and you can get by with little more than minor adjustments and inconveniences. Two and you’re fucked. Having said that, in spite of my often acerbic persona I am in fact an eternal optimist, I would ordinarily have used the phrase ‘blindly optimistic’ but I thought it might be in poor taste.

As there must be some benefit I could derive from this, I tried to imagine positive situations not requiring sight. Bingo! Blindfolded sex. Not necessarily my bag but if E L James can amass such a fortune with the literary ability of a bonobo, there’s obviously a place for it. Sadly I soon realised that walking into things, spilling drinks, falling over etc. did not benefit from a fifty shades type frisson just because I couldn’t see. In retrospect I’d been rather naive; it’s all about context and situation. You may find driving your car wildly exciting but should your lights fail in a tunnel, you’d be petrified. In a similar vein, an avid proponent of S&M may delight in having his nuts nailed to a dungeon wall by a consenting partner. Less so his boss stapling them to his work station during a weekly ‘catch up’. One might say that I’d led myself down a blind alley.

Focus Timothy, focus, other positives will surface. And surface they did. I’m pumped full of steroids, or roided up to use the popular gym parlance. Not for me the steroids which sculpt the body into taught, rippling muscle and sinew. No no, I’m on the ones which create a ballon/moon face as favoured by ginger haired soul sensation Mick Hucknall. These have also resulted in the growth of two brand new tits – so far. I’ve mixed feelings about them as they’re undoubtedly nice to have, it’s just that they’re located in my arm pits. Had they have been more centrally located on my torso I could have pulled off the feeding sow look quite well. Swings and roundabouts I suppose. On a separate note, the armpit tit is a huge evolutionary oversight. Should one be lactating, a swift birdie song style swing of the arm could dispense nutrition to hungry infants with ease.

In much the same way as we remember James Dean, River Phoenix and Jeff Buckley as the handsome young talents they were, I too can find comfort in the fact that, to me at least, I will always be the forty two year old adonis of 2015 as that was the last time I saw myself clearly in the mirror.

Oh and as an aside (not an Assad), my body has come to represent the Syrian crisis as my leg hair has migrated to the ‘Western Europe’ of my back. Not sure if this is related or just more ‘luck’.

Shame

I’m eight years old, my life is a simple cycle of eating, sleeping, playing and state enforced learning. These activities all take place within the protective cocoon of a small village on the Welsh border. Little concerns me; I’m a poor loser but given that there are only four boys in my year at school and I am the don, this doesn’t happen with any great regularity. My mind is free of troubles, to use the early eighties vernacular, my life is skill!

On any given day my unfettered joy can consist of football, cycling and tree climbing but without fail there must always be a large dose of torment dished out to my sisters. One older, one younger. The older one’s feeling towards me oscillate regularly between antipathy and abhorrence. The younger one blindly adores me. To me this matters not one whit; I will inflict irritation on whichever one is nearest. They are both ticklish so a swift grab of an unguarded foot can be hugely satisfying for me and distressing for whichever sister is on the receiving end. At this stage in my life I am unfamiliar with karma.

It’s Sunday morning and having eaten all that I can reach in the kitchen, I wait impatiently for the remainder of the family to wake up. Finally mum appears and makes a pot of tea to take upstairs. This indicates the start of the ten minute notice period before we can all go and pile into their bed. At last having watched the minutes slowly pass we’re in the bed. The older sister has long eschewed this family fun and as I’m not yet bold enough to torment my parents, annoying my younger sister is the only option. Like a cat sizing up prey I wait for the perfect moment. I strike for the foot, the foot feels strange and my dad has just leapt like a salmon, spilling his and everyone else’s tea.

After the commotion subsides my parents don’t make a big deal of it and all my younger sister knows is that I missed her foot. I will carry this burden of shame with me for the rest of my life, I touched a man’s penis and not just any man’s, my dad’s! I am now familiar with karma.

Tourists versus Travellers

Or rather, me versus travellers. You’re on holiday, I’m on holiday. You might not like your sojourn being reduced to the same level as mine but it’s an inescapable truth.

Let us begin with some simple definitions:

holiday  n  time spent away from home for rest or recreation; day or other period of rest from work or studies

tourist  n  person travelling for pleasure

travel  v  to go from one place to another, as by car, train, plane, or ship

traveller  n  person who travels

As you can see, the above definitions apply to both groups yet they, or we, consider one another with contempt.

There was a time when travel was the preserve of the wealthy and adventurous, the children of industrialists with ready made careers and fortunes ahead of them. It is now available to us all and we have become rather tribal about the whole thing.

We no longer set off with great fanfare at The Royal Geographical Society, you can of course but it is much easier embarking from one of a number of provincial airports which are allied to larger towns and cities with little or no discernible link. At least Leeds and Bradford are relatively close but London Luton?

You sneer at my holiday just because I’m choosing comfort, comfort is hugely underrated. It would take a lot of persuading for me to consider swapping a fortnight of comfort for six months in something lifted from the set of Tenko. If you want an authentic experience living like the natives try it in some of the shit holes the UK has to offer, I’m sure there are many people in Merthyr Tydfil, Hull and Salford for example who would happily take your money and let you share their squalor – Britain could well be your oyster.

If you’re so enamoured of travel for the sake of it I can heartily recommend the Circle line and to give it a Bangkok flavour just try it on any weekday at 8.30am with a couple of wheeled cases and a rucksack. No one will speak to you, you’ll feel distinctly alien and sweat will actually spray rather than seep from you.

At the airport you take up too much space in check-in, creating a sort of mini walled city out of luggage whilst sleeping on the floor. This might be acceptable during an eight hour stopover in Accra but it seems a little unnecessary having just been dropped off by parents at Stansted. Once aboard the plane you get on with your traveller’s checklist; talk loudly about travel experiences, go to great lengths to ignore flight attendants and safety instructions and swaddle yourself in blankets to illustrate warm climes being your natural environment.

Travelling seems to bring about the desire to sport badges of honour. Much better to get yourself tattooed with a crusty stick in a festering sewer in Vientiane, and if it isn’t Lao for twat it might as well be because that is how I’ll read it when you get back to sign on. Maybe it’s just more exciting getting it done on your travels in much the same way that the fun never ends when contracting HIV or hepatitis C abroad as opposed to back in Blighty. Très exotique!

I’m not suggesting that you are the worst of our exports, a trip to the Spanish Costas will soon find you amongst many Brits of whom we should be all be ashamed – the ignorati. Quite often these are the same folks who bemoan immigrants, the ghettos they create and their failure/refusal to learn the language and integrate. No obvious parallels.

You are infinitely preferable to the ignorati but puzzling nonetheless. Why are you always adorned with string? Wrists, ankles, neck, string everywhere. Is it to signify your individuality or to help me identify you and thus give you a wide berth. Maybe my resentment stems from the acknowledgement of a long faded youth but lets not stop sneering and sniping at each other, I enjoy it and you’re positively dripping with superiority.

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Malcolm Bonnington-Fiennes: Mountain Man

Early 1980s poor family, too many children, carless, no passports, seeks fun, fulfilling, family holiday for the price of a pack of firelighters. Replies on a postcard to Malcolm Bonnington-Fiennes, base camp SY22.

Our airmiles were rather paltry, our landmiles would have made Alan Wells look like a distance runner. Options were limited but my ever resourceful parents hit upon the holiday to end all holidays, it came in under budget and would only take a few days.

We were getting back to nature, we hadn’t actually left it as it was all we could afford. A few days enjoying simple pleasures, reconnecting with the environment, honing our survival skills is what the family required. We’d cook on a fire, sleep under canvas, whittle even.

I was sold on the idea immediately, Sarah, my older sister less so and younger sister Laura was still grappling with speech so her opinions could be a little difficult to read. Sarah was swiftly dispatched to a friend’s house as her tendency to cry before falling highlighted the fact that she hadn’t the mettle for this expedition and we didn’t need passengers in the badlands. It would just be the four of us, a good even number, watching each others’ back, all pulling in the same direction.

Day One. Base camp was about eighteen miles from home, an inhospitable mountain with a huge waterfall. Imagine the Eiger with Niagara falling off the side. We enlisted the help of a native Sherpa called Gill to take us there and, having overloaded her aging Renault five with us and our gear, embarked. Always quick to grasp the concept, Laura initiated her perfunctory self-cleansing mechanism; a quick spew over us and our belongings would soon have us blending in with the smells of our surroundings. Genius. On reaching base camp we waved goodbye to the friendly native knowing that this was it, us against nature. Tents were erected with minimal fuss, after all we’d left Sarah behind.

Mountain man and I did a quick recce, gathered wood and located the toilets on the campsite.. sorry, dug a rudimentary latrine. After devouring our rations we came under attack, the natives had it in for us and were showing their displeasure with each bite. Luckily mountain woman had packed some insect repellant. This siege mentality brought us closer, a common enemy to fight against.

Day Two. Having weighed up the terrain, wind speed, precipitation and mars bar supply mountain man and I decided this was the time to push for the summit, any later and we would be staring disaster in the face. We couldn’t risk mountain woman and child eating before we got back so we looked at our compasses, because we had compasses, and off we went. After a gruelling six or seven minutes I was cruelly struck down, I pleaded with mountain man to go on without me. My toe was agonisingly painful, it had to be frostbite. Mountain man approached me with his Swiss Army Knife, the toe was clearly going to be removed, maybe I could find some wood to bite down on. After gently removing my plimsole.. sorry Brasher walking boot, he shook the offending pebble out of the end and we thanked the gods for smiling upon us.

After climbing for maybe an hour we happened upon a crystal clear mountain stream, this is as pure as water gets and mountain man was straight in, gulping down all he could and filling his canteen. Aware of the dangers a mountain can hold I decided to forgo quenching my biting thirst and make sure we were safe. Mountain man ridiculed me for my safety first approach, he had a cruel streak but that single mindedness has made him one of the top mountaineers in our household. I could only dream that one day the ways of the mountain would be passed on to me, I imagined that on his deathbed something would seep from him and then I would know that I was now mountain man. We passed a sheep circling in a pool further upstream, the serenity of the animal was beguiling as if something spiritual was taking place. Mountain man wasn’t keen to look at it, a clash of energies maybe.

We made it to the summit under his guidance and with astonishing haste we headed back to base camp. Barely a word was spoken during the descent, the mark of a true mountaineer, overcome by the conquest he was struggling to keep his emotions in check. How I admired him.

Back at base camp I began to truly appreciate what this meant to mountain man; so overwhelmed he could take no part in our petty banter and silently refused food. This must have put him on a higher plain somehow and at one with the mountain.

Day Three. The agony of having conquered the mountain was now evident in every move of mountain man, he clutched his sides and roared at the latrine whilst dancing shamanically. We had to get back home, take him away from his nemesis to find peace. Mountain woman and child set off for the comms centre, a red rectangular box some miles away, from where she hoped Sherpa Gill could be summoned. I was left with strict instructions to ‘keep an eye on your dad’, mountain speak for ‘don’t let him out of your sight, he’s battling demons!’

As mountain man elect I stuck to the task, I could see what the future held for me. The pain etched on mountain man’s face was clear, i followed him, no easy task given his animal side seemed to have taken over. I could feel that something huge was happening, I was covering ground easily, keeping up with him, and then as I was perched high up on a rock I spotted him padding around in some bracken and clinging to an indistinct, white idol. Was he on his deathbed? Something was certainly seeping from him, roaring out of him to be precise.

We don’t talk of this. The power of the mountains is greater than us.