Friday 31 May 2013

The Political Parruchiere

The Political Parucchiere

Eagle eyed followers may have noticed I am throwing myself into project-Suey-makeover with zeal. After all, if you don't *look* sick, you can't *be* sick, right? 

I have positioned myself in the path of every sun ray that has sparkled through the Italian clouds, baking myself like a pasta al forno. I have had odd but quite pretty gel nails plopped and moulded onto my broken, split stumps. I have forced myself back into heels to get my flobbity legs a little less flobbity. 

But yesterday, I went to a Genius hairdresser for what I called an Uma-Thurman-Surf-Girl-Bob. Getting this across in a foreign language requires a large degree of fluency I was rather proud of. 

Amusingly, we did the "Are you here on your holidays?" "Have you got kids?" convo which is the pre-requisite of hair appointments the world over, and then, to complete the standard patter "What do you do?"

I said I was a writer. He asked what I wrote and I said "politics and stuff" breezily, like you do when blogger/activist/scourge of government is a little too much info. 

Suddenly, we went from speak-slowly-to-the-poor-afflicted-foreigner to setting the world to rights and I re-adjusted my Italian to "proper-chat" mode.

As all Italians do, he asked with a cringe what I thought of Berlusconi. I laughed and kept things light, saying only the Italians could re-elect a mafia associate with a penchant for multiple young porn stars for the best part of three decades. I added however, that at least they knew where they stood with him - in the UK we get mafia posing as nice, upstanding Christian Lords of the Manor - then feign to be shocked when they shaft us. 

This is usually the required response in any Italian chat about politics. A curious mix of searing shame and niggling pride in a system that is staggeringly corrupt, but with enough style to be admirable. 

But he didn't smile, didn't tap the side of his nose and grin that Berlusconi was indeed "furbo" ( a wonderful Italian word that sort of means "I'll shaft you over breakfast but you'll almost enjoy it") 

Nope, he launched into a 40 minute treatise on how the world could be, how it should be, that was so thoughtful, so bang on the Euro, that I felt it worth reproducing here :

"Ah the Euro - what a joke that turned out to be eh? The minute times got tough, suddenly the French were the French again, the Italians the Italians, the Germans the Germans. No central bank, no unity, just "pull up the gangplank and look out for yourselves". It was a joke, an absolute joke. United Europe? Yeah right, a bit of a crisis and unity was just a memory. 

Not like the US. However bad things got there, they were the United States. Stronger together, wealthier states in exactly the same boat as poorer ones. But we weren't united were we? We dropped the poor Greeks like hot coals, hid our money under the mattresses and looked the other way. 

I'm not just an Italian!! I'm a citizen of Europe - no I'm a citizen of the world!!! If we'd all just remembered that, there would be no more crises would there? But people don't like change. Didn't the politicians realise it would take another 100 yrs to truly unite? Maybe 200?"

I mused on how the Germans must have felt, pumping Euros into a failing system in what must have seemed and endless stream, trying to fill a black hole that could never be filled. I laughed that their love of rules and saving and growth must have seemed a bit pointless - galling even.

But, even more serious, he pulled me up. 

"Hmmm, it's not so long they've followed the rules though is it?? What happens when one group of people believe they are better? Stronger? Cleverer? Have we really forgotten so soon? Do we really believe it can't happen again? That a group with all the power won't try to hold it over the weaker - or those they believe to be weaker, simply because they value different things?"

"People are dying today as they died then - is there really very much difference?"

I started to like this guy very much. He was right. I've been saying similar things in a microcosm of our own free-for-all political massacre for a while now. 

"It's just so EASY" he spluttered, through a mouthful of hair combs ( challenging my linguistic fluency still further.) "All we had to do was pull together, not pull apart, we had to care for each other, not blame the weak or the poor. Did we feed our older neighbours? Did we support our fellow man to keep his business or his home? Did we pool our money and our resources and our talents to make things better?? No, we hid in our cellars, stashing our wine and our mushrooms, (it's an Italian thing, bear with me) hoping the storm would hit others and pass."

"But it's always the same. We don't think about the African children dying for want of the food we waste do we? Not as long as our own children can eat. When will we do this? When will we ever learn that we cannot live this life alone, like islands?"

He has a point or two, don't ya think??

Tuesday 28 May 2013

A Strange Tale of Corporate Generosity

A Strange Tale of Corporate Generosity

MacDonalds. Coca-Cola. Disney. 

At times, it seems they own the world. Perhaps they do. Perhaps there was a shadowy deal back in a smokey 50s backroom and they built an Elvis robot to soothe us all into accepting the inevitable. For evermore, our children would grow up speaking with saccharine US accents, swilling fizzy sugar water and furring their arteries with quasi-meat and cardboard 'chicken'.

I resent it. I try very hard to avoid it. But the tide is too strong. My children know every line of Toy Story. Winnie the Pooh got highjacked by Walt and stuffed himself to a familiar, soothing, honey obesity MacDonalds could only sit in awe of. Peter Pan somehow transferred to London, Illinois. Grimm tales lost all the Grim. My children believe Happy Meals to be the Holy Grail of haute cuisine. I believe that they have a secret Coke fountain under their bunk-beds, preparing them for the slightly less addictive crack habit that must surely follow in their teenage years?

So, it was with a mixed sense of triumph and misery that I was able to present them with 4 day passes to Disneyland (Paris - surely no greater cultural oxymoron has ever been created?) with which to sprinkle our current holiday with Tinkerbell-style fairy dust.

I saved like a demon. I REFUSED to allow the surely inevitable corporate-rape of four days captive in a theme park make me miserable. If I must pay £17 for a burger and watch the boys plead me to poverty over every "dream" and "magical experience" I would be ready. Corporate HQ would NOT take me by surprise and strip away my last Euro, leaving us feeling faintly ashamed, beaten and unworthy.

"Take picnics" came the advice at every mention of my impending fiscal  hell. So we did. 

As a very poorly renegade patient, I would have to succumb to a wheelchair. My Drs were extremely dubious that I should leave the drizzly confines of a UK peppered with A&Es that understand "My bowels are screwed" at all, but I assured them I was fluent in Italian and passably able to woo the French into accepting I can do Gallic. My GP wrote letters, my pharmacist handed me bags of hardcore just-about-everything. I crossed borders with enough syringes and man made heroin to make Colombia blush. 

Booking the Disney part of the holiday in the UK, I'd been pleasantly surprised to hear I didn't have to pay for Dave's tickets. As my "carer" he would allegedly go free. I assumed this meant "corporate free" and some kind of catch or proviso would negate this perk, so saved for his tickets anyway. 

I didn't think for a second that I would get to participate in the 'Disney Magic'. I imagined happy days, watching the boys squeal and giggle and oooh in wonder from the comfortable prison of my newly-wheeled transport mode. 

But I couldn't have been more wrong. About all of it. Oh, the burgers *were*  the price of a small country and Mr Cola was indeed charging several months wages for a penny or two's worth of sugar syrup carbonated to ensure true hyperactivity. BUT. Disney itself was quite astonishingly crip-centric. Not "a-nod-to-the-crips-in-order-that-we-may-fleece-them-like-all-the-ablies" but proper crip-friendly, we love you long-time, we will make your holiday super special, crip centric. 

I know, I know, suspend your disbelief, I'd never have believed it either. 

Dave DID indeed go free. But in a moment of this-can't-be-happening incredibleness, we were ushered on our first rainy morning to the Annual Passport Office. My £143 4 day pass (already £30 or so reduced due to my bowel-inertia) was converted to a free year's pass!!! Yeah, i know, i thought there must have been some mistake too. Not only that, but Dave's tickets really were free and would remain so for an entire year for as many days as I chose to take advantage of it! I checked and double-checked, but it seems I really can go back almost any day I like, for a whole year, with Dave for free! 

But there was more - parking would be free ( saving 15 Euros a day) and as close to the entrance as it was possible to be. I would get 10% off in all the shops and restaurants and 20% off if I chose to stay in any of their hotels. 

But here's the best bit. This truly-magic ticket entitled me and my whole family to the most VIP-ness of VIP treatment from start to finish. No really, it did. 

Quite accustomed to being the crip-also-ran, the one who sits on the sidelines, the one who can't get into the ice-cream parlour or the cinema or the event, I hadn't even imagined I would go on any rides. Just the thought is making me chuckle now as I write it. "Here you in-valid person, you handicapped thing you, come on our Ferris wheel/Rollercoaster/Simulator" I mean, it just doesn't happen does it?? 

Well, it does at Disney AND they let you on everything first and immediately, sailing with ease up perfect ramps, through short-cut disabled gates, past hour-long queues of damp, bedraggled ablies. 

One flash of my magic crip card and they opened barriers, revealed secret entrances, whistled to Joe on the main gate that there was a disabled lass wanting a go and we just wheeled straight on!! Every time!! My ghast was truly flabbered. 

Not only were we treated like minor rock-stars, it was DEPENDANT on me, usually the minor irritant, going on whatever thrill laden clump of seats and metal the boys chose next. Far from sitting on the sidelines watching their fun, as I usually do, I did everything. I can't remember the last time I went on a ride, but Disney flung me about with A1 star treatment. I was absolutely shattered, but I can't remember when I had more fun!!

Can't see the parade from your chair? Fear not, a nice man with a torch will open a cordon just for you with all the space in the world and the best view in the place. Can't see the hologram/firework show? Ditto. Can't go on a ride because one of the kids is too small? Fear not, you can do a "parent swap" and go on TWICE like VIPs, again without waiting or queuing. 

I'm proper, non-cynically, non-taking the mickey (no pun intended), no provisos or caveats impressed. 

They hadn't just thought about access, it seemed they'd genuinely left no stone unturned to flip the normal disability rules on their head. "Thou shalt be treated as better than all others" appeared to be the Disney maxim. 

I know, I know, they make billions. A misery might say they jolly well should give a little back to those "less fortunate" (shudder at yucky phrase) But they don't have to. they could apply the same profit-as-God rules to us wheelies as they do to everything else. But they don't. What a pleasant surprise :)) 

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Blogging Against Disablism - Tube-ageddon

Blogging Against Disablism

Today, I'm having a feeding tube fitted. A small tube will be inserted through my nose, down into my stomach, and calorific gloop will be plopped hourly into my recalcitrant bowels overnight. Every night. 

The tube will be taped in place and within days, believe it or not, I'll forget it's there. 

However, the rest of the world will not. 

There's something about tubes inserted in orifices that freak people right out. Ive spent time in wheelchairs, used walking sticks, held court in bed, but nothing says "pity the poor broken crip" like a tube.

This is what will happen : I will walk into a shop/restaurant/school yard and EVERYONE will stare. Some will pretend not to, others will quite literally gawp, slack jawed, making no effort at all to hide their horror. 

Somehow the tube translates to non-tubies as "This person is dying." I don't know what it is, but almost everyone assumes you are beyond the reach of modern medicine. Somewhere, somehow, epic failure must have resulted in this incomprehensible, disgusting apparition. 

The first time I went out in public with a feeding tube, I remember sitting on a bench with my hubby and a friend in a shopping mall. Bored with the gawping and pitying looks, I started to slowly suck my cheeks in and slide off the seat. If they wanted dramatic, I could do dramatic. 

Another time, a guy rode his bike into a lamppost looking back over his shoulder at tube-a-geddon. That's direct Karma, that is.

Yet another time a woman in MacDonalds muttered to her kid that it was enough to put them off their lunch.

God forbid I should drink alcohol or smoke a fag? Tube crips must have no vices. If they do, that's clearly the reason for their tubey downfall. If I smoke, the tube must be lung related, if I drink, liver related. If I eat, people look nervous. 

So dear world, It's a tube. Get over it. My guts don't work. It's not all that complicated, or even all that serious. I'm not dying, I can breathe just fine and if I fancy a mojito and a Marlboro, I shall jolly well have them. 

However, there may be a silver lining. I'm taking my boys to Disneyland in a few weeks and may stoop to pulling the tubey-crip card shamelessly wherever pity might work to their advantage. As my recently departed darling Daddy used to say "no point getting old if you don't get sneaky".