Terrorism isn’t the scariest part

The terrorists are losing their edge. Although the recent London attack was as horrific and mindless as any other terror mission, it failed to provoke fear in me.

Instead it made me grateful. Grateful to live in a democracy, grateful to be a healthy skeptic, grateful I wasn’t robbed of a childhood of discovery and open-mindedness. I am extremely lucky, and so are you if you are reading this. Whenever such idiots strive to divide, we should try to reflect upon and celebrate how great our society is.

We don’t kill, we argue.

We don’t censor, we listen and consider.

If we want to make an impact, we talk, campaign, vote. There is no need for violence.

Over the last year I admit to becoming very cynical and disheartened at the state of Western ideas, policies, media, people. I have never felt so lonely in my quest for objective truth. Society seems so partisan, and people seem to think the truth is whatever suits them, whatever paints them in the most virtuous light. I fully expect the “not all Muslims” posts (we know!), and then will come the inevitable denial that terrorism has anything to do with religion. I’ll post stuff on Facebook about how Islam must always be open to criticism and then come off feeling like a racist because people can no longer distinguish the scrutiny of ideas from the misrepresentation of Muslims.

My anger and disappointment doesn’t have anything to do with westernised Muslims, it comes from the obsession people have with constantly being in the right. The most close-minded individuals I know are those who claim to be liberals, yet they don’t want to hear any opinions which conflict with their own, and I feel like I can’t say shit to them without taking care to police my every word. It’s come to the point where I feel hesitant to state basic fact without being labelled hateful, and with every new terror attack it seems to get worse.

So here are the facts. 1. Most Muslims of the West are good people. 2. The London attack was committed by a fundamentalist Muslim because of the way he was brought up. You will find liberals admitting 1 and completely denying 2. You will find people on the far right embrace 2 and completely deny 1. I accept both because that’s the reality, but it feels like a very lonely place to be.

The thing that scares me isn’t the actions of a brainwashed idiot, it’s that nobody wants the truth anymore. Every topic I hear discussed seems so black and white, with one side angelic and the other evil. Pick a side, get emotionally invested and defend your view with your life. Why must it be this way? Why can’t the brain be open to nuance, to switching opinions when its position is proven wrong?

People are so obsessed with their own righteousness that it’s causing them blindness. Canada seems to be getting closer and closer to introducing a law against so-called Islamophobia. Know what this means? It’ll be illegal to criticise a religion, to criticise a set of ideas. Imagine if Theresa May suddenly announced that it’s suddenly bigotry and illegal to criticise the ideas within Christianity or Buddhism. There’d be uproar. What if she said the same about Islam? I’m quite sure that the majority of the nation would embrace it. Imagine how virtuous we’d all look! Unless we start aligning our emotions with reality, our freedoms are on the edge – and it’s not the terrorists that will take them away.

So why not mark every terror attack by celebrating tolerance, diversity, openness, debate, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, FREEDOM. Every one of these is wonderful, not to mention the pure hero that is PC Keith Palmer. Embrace them, protect them because without them life would be truly terrifying.

The dancing stranger

 

I glanced behind me. Oh God, he was closing in.

From out of nowhere came this tall guy with unkempt hair, holding his mobile to his ear like it was a boombox. The music came out tinny and hollow but he didn’t care. He didn’t walk. He skipped, danced his way down the street. Singing in a foreign language, his voice missing every note. It was midday.

He’d pick on me. They always do, the strange ones. The people everyone sees but nobody knows.

He catches up with me, of course. He comes to side of my chair and starts clicking his fingers and singing into my ear. I try not to look at him and hope he goes away. He goes away.

When he’s gone I realise I’m smiling in the realisation that I’ve never had anything like that happen to me before. Sometimes I worry I’m going around in circles, that it’s getting harder and harder to break away from my comfort zone. Well today I didn’t have to do anything – this hippy guy did all the hard work for me. And I liked it. He made me smile.

I watch him as he literally twirls past a group of strangers and shouts something incoherent at himself. Where did he come from? Where is he going? He wears a trippy hippy shirt bright with rainbow colours so maybe he’s halfway through a fun psychedelic trip. Or maybe he overdid it once and now he suffers with Endless Disco Fever.

It’s odd. This guy, so strange and out-there, makes me feel normal for a change. I look around at the many people he initiated a dance with and they’re all laughing and smiling. One man gives me a baffled glance as if to say “What was that?” For once I feel part of the norm. Kids stare at him, not me.

But I wasn’t embarrassed for the guy. If that’s what madness looks like, I need to try some one day. He seemed in complete ecstasy, ignorant of any type of judgement. I’m sure most around me are thinking “What a weirdo.” I was thinking “I wish I had the balls to dance with random strangers in the middle of the day.” Your norm is someone else’s weird.

Gaming with a disability

I’ve had an interesting history with gaming, and my cerebral palsy has always played a part.

My first console ever was the Sega Megadrive. I still get huge amounts of nostalgia whenever I hear the little “Sega” song that used to accompany the logo. I found an arcade joypad for it, a form of controller that I’d stick to for the next decade.

I perfected my approach to the joypad with the PS1. I have one good arm and fairly controllable legs, so I’d kneel next to the joypad and use my left knee to move the directional stick while I worked the buttons with my right hand. The system was good enough, the only drawbacks being it was harder to pull the directional stick to the left with my knee and I wasn’t very good at fast action games that involved a lot of jumping to the left (holding the stick back while getting the timing right).

Jumping to the PS2 I hit a problem. I’d bought a game only to find I couldn’t make my character move. You needed a controller with analog sticks. For months I avoided games that relied heavily upon the analog sticks, so I was delighted when I eventually stumbled upon a joypad with a little switch that turned the joystick from functioning as a direction pad to an analog stick.

The trouble with using arcade joypads when you have cerebral palsy is that you go through a hell of a lot of them. It was always the stick that broke. When I became invested in certain games or I was advancing through an intense level, my knee could sometimes be a little too aggressive on the stick and soon enough my character would stop moving, along with all the menus.

My analog joypad had become essential with most games utilising the analog sticks, but after my backup one broke I couldn’t find any more available. All the game shops seemed to have dropped the company. I was overjoyed when I found the controller had a website. I emailed the seller and ordered no less than five joypads, which were delivered to the local Game store. That joypad was a true lifesaver.

Then the PS3 came out and finally, after growing up on consoles and years of twisting and adapting to their numerous innovations, I felt defeated. Reading the console previews I found out about the new six-axis controller and knew it was game over for me. From now on you’d have to physically lift up your controller and swing it around like a Wii remote. As much as I love technology, sometimes I think “fuck advancement”. If it works don’t change it.

I could’ve bought an Xbox 360 but there was something dodgy about their controls too – something about triggers and the fact that the only adaptable joypad I could find for it was a special edition one which cost way too much for a wooden box with nice artwork. I couldn’t be bothered anymore anyway. I said bye bye to next-gen graphics and massive new worlds and took to internet flash games instead.

After a few months of mourning over my lost console days I began to feel a little better. I suddenly had a vast amount of free time to actually be productive for a change. My life wasn’t over.

It took me a long time to get an iPad and when I did receive one for Christmas I just thought it was a bit of a waste of time. Well it did waste time, lots of time – gaming. I started with Angry Birds just at the time it was blowing up.

For the first time I could play a popular game just as well if not better than the average player. The simplicity of touch control is great, I just tap the screen with my toe and thumb. Certain games require you to lift up the device, but it’s not an overly popular control option amongst developers.

I moved from the simple and slightly repetitive to full blown games with actual story. I cannot be grateful enough for the rise of serious long-term games being created and adapted for the iPad. I recently completed Bastion, one of the many games I’d avoid reading about a couple of years ago because I felt I’d never be able to play it. Apart from a downgrade in graphics, it’s the full game.

XCOM, This War of Mine, Ace Attorney. Once again I have so many interesting and varied games to play, and it no longer feels like such a physical workout playing them (most require just one finger/toe).

There’s also hope for me yet, it would seem, with modern consoles. I’ve noticed a few charities and clever individuals offer a control system which is specifically built around a disabled user’s needs.

To be honest, though, I kind of dread getting back into Playstation nowadays. Things just seem so much more expensive and complicated to an outsider like me. Like what’s all this stuff about needing premium Wifi accounts to play a game, and having to wait ten hours for a new game to load? And then you have games where you have to pay for extra content, which sounds a bit like the crap topping the AppStore chart that use psychological tricks to make you keep paying to pay. I am adamantly against such tactics and will pay higher prices for games which offer the full package.

So that’s my gaming history up to the present day. I was starting to get a bit excited about the emergence of virtual reality but from the footage I’ve seen and articles I’ve read you need two independent hands to use it. Hopefully they can change or add accessibility options in the future because some of the experiences on offer seem very impressive.

My badass 4×4 wheelchair

I went to a local festival last year and it rained heavily on the day we got there. Grass and rain make mud, the mortal enemy of your average wheelchair. Me and my carer got stuck as soon as we hit the field, and 3-4 people Had to come to help drag me backwards for about ten minutes until we were clear of the slop. This was going to be a nightmare.

Luckily we had my new electric 4×4 wheelchair on backup. Why didn’t I use it to begin with? I think I was doubting my skills as a drink driver.

I’d had the chair for a few months and I knew it could handle hard sand and steep, rocky hills, but this would be its defining test. Would it survive what would become a rain-drenched festival with muddy, slippery fields?

I bought the chair off an independent seller, a man who builds everything himself from scratch. He told me stories of people taking their chairs up mountains but I barely believed him. Then he let me test drive it and the stories suddenly seemed plausible.

The chair has four chunky tires which swivel to lend some flexibility to the steering. It also has suspension and an adjustable seat – if you’re tackling a very steep hill, tilting the seat forward will make the chair feel a lot more stable comfort-wise.

But you should’ve seen the mud at this festival. Two days in it lay in heaps, especially at the entrance/exit of the main field. People who fear flying get nervous because the event is so unnatural: humans aren’t supposed to be in the air! Well every time I drove through that patch of mud, I was thinking “I’m not supposed to be doing this.”

I’d lived 25 years of my life in constant dread of getting stuck in mud and now here I was, tearing through a wreckage. My tires were caked, nay smothered in the remains of the field, and still it drove on. I couldn’t grasp it, it felt so unreal.

On the last night abled partiers were getting their asses handed to them as they fell face-first into what could now be defined as a chunky mass of wet Play-Doh. Not me. People were leaning on my chair for support as I sat and observed the shortcomings of the wellington boot.

I don’t want to become too overconfident with the chair’s abilities. I’ve gotten stuck in it twice: once on a beach where the sand was too soft and again when driving over a bunch of big rocks (but only because a pointy one got stuck beneath the underside of the chair.) There was also a nervy moment partway through the festival where I suddenly realised the battery was extremely low. Fortunately we were at the main stage which was a five minute walk from our caravan, and our caravan was on an accessibility site which – thank your Lord and Saviours – had a wheelchair charging point.

After that weekend the chair had earned the nickname “The Beast”, and what a beautiful beast it is. I don’t think I can adequately describe how amazing it feels to know I survived and kind of dominated an absolute mudbath of a festival. The weather was so intense that late into the final night the nearby river burst its banks.

I feel bad for anyone who dared the weekend with an average manual or electric chair. If I’d just taken my manual it would’ve been a disaster. At best I would’ve stayed by the main stage all day, missing out on all the alternative stuff. This festival has good ratings on Attitude is Everything but I don’t think it coped well with torrential rain. It should be default for festivals to place long wooden boardwalks through their fields. The accessibility site was great though.

Town Preacher

I saw a preacher in the middle of town, spreading the good word. It’s a fairly rare sight in Britain. It confuses me when I see preachers in places where the majority is already religious, so I guess it makes a little more sense to see this guy take on a nation where even the religious generally keep their faith lowkey.

This preacher, then. He seems polite and is just riddling off some of the nicer Bible lines. Like everyone else, I pass him as quickly as possible. When he’s out of sight I start wondering what his goals are. What, if anything, does he expect to happen from his shouting some lines out for a few hours? If he seriously desires new converts, he can’t get much day-to-day satisfaction.

At least he seems civil and doesn’t scream at kids about Hell, at least not in public. I assume this man gets his kicks from showing the world how great he is for loving Jesus. In the same way that I watch dodgy exploitative Christian TV just to say “I’m glad I didn’t have to attend this creepy church service”, Preacher Man is probably looking at us and thinking “They are oh so blind.”

Perspective is everything. I’d bet this preacher feels like a bit of a hero in his head. To be fair to him, I’d probably be a bit selfish if I knew the secret to a great life and would keep it hidden from all but a few very close friends. Here’s this guy tossing the word around left, right and centre AND NOBODY IS EVEN LISTENING?! The world must seem insane.

I’d like to thank God for all of my accomplishments


A few weeks back I went to watch Hacksaw Ridge, a film about a Christian soldier who chose to go to war purely as a medic and refused to carry a gun. This is one of those occasions where I hold my hands up and say bravo, religion. This guy was so devoted to Christianity that it made him fearless in a way that enabled him to single-handedly save so many lives.

If only every religious person was willing to act so selflessly. If only ISIS used their fearlessness for good instead of evil.

Anyway, there’s this bit at the end of the film where (SPOILERS) you see a short interview with the real Desmond T. Doss in which he credits all his bravery to God. God made him keep going, keep searching – something like that. I wonder if he truly felt that way? He obviously wasn’t lacking in belief, but did he honestly think every step he took, everything he endured, every last drop of willpower was all down to God? I wouldn’t doubt it.

I can’t be the only one who is slightly saddened by such mindsets. The guy was a complete hero and yet he wasn’t really able to acknowledge it. Every positive action he ever made could be sourced back to his God, and every negative action and doubt – that was all Desmond’s fault, probably. I try to take comfort in the thought that Desmond would have felt enormous amounts of appreciation that God had supposedly considered Desmond special enough to pick him for the task.

Sometimes this thanking God business gets pretty weird though. I didn’t watch the aftermath of this year’s Superbowl because you know that whoever is interviewed will either thank God for helping them win, or thank God for helping them reach the final. The big man just can’t lose, can he? It’s like the footballers think they’re just pawns in God’s chess tournament, and were just lucky that God decided this time they would win.

Same happens with about 80% of Oscar speeches. “I’d like to thank God for getting me here.” Then everyone applauds because it’s a completely normal thing to say. If there is a nice God around I’d hope, once the actor entered Heaven, God would say, “Hey man, believe or not but that Oscar was all down to your hard work. I was off at the time trying to fix some of the bad stuff I created. Eventually I gave up and left it to the scientists.”

And I get it. A big part of Christianity at least is to stay modest. You can never match God’s level. But come on, surely you’re allowed to bask in some harmless pride once in a while. I suppose it depends on whether or not you believe in fate. Some people think God knows our every move before we’ve made it, others that God let’s us do what we wish and rewards or smites us for it at the end, many believe both simultaneously.

I guess what I’m saying is pride isn’t that bad. It shouldn’t be a sin to feel good about your accomplishments. Unjustified cockiness is the one that should lead to eternal damnation. I kid.

The news

The news is very odd when you think about it

Human are creatures of habit. Every day I wake up to music. Every day I eat. And whenever I eat I watch a TV program which is 95% pure misery.

The news is so strange and we’re constantly surrounded by it. Radio, internet, TV. Bong: the world is a merciless ball of hatred and death. Bong: Humans remain a ruthless bunch of bastards hungry for death and destruction. Bong: Why even bother?

Yes, most of the news consists of horror stories and sometimes there are so many that it can be easy to slip into “fuck this planet” mode.

It’s interesting to remember that the order and selection of stories has always been a human process. It has been decided that nasty stories are of greater relevance than the nicer ones because people are way more likely to take interest in potential threats.

Maybe this is a little dark, but whenever a nearby terrorist attack occurs I imagine news studios around the world start bouncing with glee. Terrorism is a guaranteed draw. Time to completely terrify viewers and make them think it could be them tomorrow.

When the Nice truck attack happened I switched straight to BBC News. They were talking to a witness about his experience of the event and the news presenter kept directing the witness to talk in detail about how scared he was. Did you see the truck hitting bodies? Did you go into a blind panic? How loud were the gunshots? The news presenter kept pushing the guy to state how he was caught completely off guard and vulnerable. Then that dream phrase: “It could happen to anyone at any time.”

I’m not going to take the moral high ground here and pretend I switched channels. I was completely swept up in the emotion of it all. What would I do in such a nightmare situation? How might I react? The witness’ account was enthralling.

But the more I watch the news the more I realise that it contains little of use, especially when it comes to the local news. X stabs girlfriend after quarrel. Y punches police officer in the face. So? So it’s an interesting story, and that’s what most news is. The news helps maintain a sense of change in people’s lives.

Sometimes I think, wouldn’t it be cool if, instead of spreading fear all the time, the news offered useful information applicable to everyone’s lives? At the moment I often find myself watching stories and thinking, “So what? I can’t do anything about this.” The NHS is a good example at the moment. Apparently this brilliant system is just falling apart, but all I can do is shrug my shoulders. It’s like someone chaining you down and having you watch as they take your favourite toy/DVD/piece of clothing and have it slowly burned before your eyes.

Wouldn’t it be cool if the news balanced some of the misery with some useful tips and tricks? They could have a segment featuring newly verified science on healthy living for example. I know they do those stories about how bacon/cheese/breathing MAY now cause cancer, but these are often scaremongering stories from inconclusive experiments. How about spreading proven tips on improving and expanding your life instead? I think people might tune in for that.

As I said, I’m not taking the high ground on this and just because a story is disturbing doesn’t mean it’s always irrelevant to my life. Terrorism often leads to new dodgy laws affecting people’s privacy (didn’t hear much about that Snoopers’ Charter on mainstream news though), that dumbass truck driver who killed an entire family because he was texting while driving might lead to harsher penalties, and hopefully one day we’ll hear that all cancers are now officially dead thanks to science (and it had better be the head story, even if there’s a terrorist attack on the same day.)

Ah, the news is the news, isn’t it? Stories, gossip, hyperbole turned to the max. When I was in university I’d go weeks without watching it and I can’t say I missed it. But it’s something to watch, something to bitch about. It can be useful to remember that it’s an exaggeration of reality. The world isn’t really this bad. If it all gets too much, you can always YouTube puppy videos. Go on, you know you want to.

More disabled characters please

TV and film offer a major way to reflect upon the world and society. Unfortunately it’s still quite a surprise to see a disabled character in the background of a scene.

When I was a kid I remember freaking out when I first saw someone disabled in a film. I was watching Me, Myself and Irene and the kid in the wheelchair was on screen for around two seconds in total (once in the middle of the film and then in a photo at the end.) It felt pretty crazy to me though. Hollywood knew people like me existed!

Whenever a disabled character is depicted on screen the whole film is usually dedicated to them, and it’s usually a shortcut to an Oscar win for some reason (not that I have a problem with this.) The entire film is dedicated to the struggles that accompany disabilities, which is fine as long as it’s done accurately and has deepish characterisations. The big sin in film is when you just present the audience with a stereotype of disability. The character is either this miserable, self-loathing guy to be killed off for being evil, or this sensitive angel who just wants to inspire people 24/7.

I prefer it when disabled people are portrayed as somewhere in between. Inside I’m Dancing has always struck me as a nice balance. There’s a disabled character in there who’s an asshole but for a good reason. Then you have other characters dealing with the stigma related to disability, more than the disability itself. There’s a moment or two in there that punch me in the gut but in a good way – I’m reminded that I’m not alone in dealing with certain obstacles.

And that’s all you want, really: something to relate to. Of course I can relate to infinite amounts of non-disabled characters available, but it’s nice every once in a while to see specific situations that you yourself have experienced because of your disability.

In my opinion there aren’t enough instances of disabled characters whose disability is secondary to the plot. This is one of the zillions of reasons why Breaking Bad blew my mind when I first started watching it. Aside from his cerebral palsy Walt Junior is this normal kid whose main issues source from his father. His disability is never signposted in the show. He’s just presented as a teenager who happens to be disabled. Character is established first, the disability second (if at all.)

I hope a lot of writers/directors take inspiration from this approach. There’s no rule in place stating that all disabled characters must be tied down and plagued by their disability. They could have bigger problems at hand surrounding relationships, money, jobs.

I don’t know. Let’s just have as many disabled characters on TV/film as possible. Don’t just do it to fill one of those dumb diversity quotas where you discriminate against men for being too white and male, do it to make the point that disabilities exist all over the place in so many different forms. Just by having an extra in a wheelchair do something small like purchasing an item from a shop, you’re showing that we’re just normal people doing normal stuff.

Of course things are just getting better and better, with more directors willing to push the envelope. The Sessions is a film about a man with polio who decides to hire a sex surrogate to fulfil his needs. Finally a film showing that disabled people can and do have sex (or so I’ve heard.)

There’s actually way too many films to touch upon here – My Left Foot, The Untouchables (v. good), The Theory of Everything… Just keep them coming. And make them good.