There’s a *lot* of inbreeding in my family. Trying to chart my family tree beyond my great-grandparents on my mother’s side gets impossible very quickly because of the number of cousins marrying cousins. Just trying to trace my great-grandfather Albert got me hopelessly lost because there were three Alberts with the same surname living in the same Ebbw Vale street in 1911 – all related to me by one route or another.
Needless to say, my mum’s generation have made sure my cousins have all married out, while nature made sure that my genes die with me (bless homosexuality’s many, many upsides).
However, the result of this unwise almost-incest has been to ensure that the cousins and their offspring all have a bunch of fun genetic disorders. Between us, we have thyroid problems (hypo and hyper), eczema, asthma, arthritis, haemolytic anaemia, spherocytosis, fibroneuralgia, deafness, migraines, heart disease, odd cancers and a propensity to thrush. Aren’t you glad I’m not in the gene pool? Alas, we’re all also hyperfertile, with the women particularly likely to get pregnant because he took his trousers off in their company.
I have a number of these things, but the main one I notice in adult life is the arthritis. Of all of the things I have or could have, it’s the one I think I could most live without. It’s not constant, but when it flares up, blimey does it hurt. You wake up on a damp morning and think… bugger. I’m going to be spending the day hobbling from room to room. It might be a knee, or a hip, or the fingers, or an ankle, or deep in a foot or arm. Sometimes it happens spontaneously later in the day, so you get to the supermarket fine, but walk home at an inch an hour, unable to put any weight on a foot that hates you and wants you dead (I’m told that’s the arthritis bursting blood vessels, just to make sure you’re not forgetting about its existence).
So sometimes I limp. I push on, because FUCK YOU ARTHRITIS. Sometimes I can’t push on, so I use a walking stick and push on, because FUCK YOU ARTHRITIS. This was fine and dandy for many years. Then this present government came to power with an agenda: people who get benefits are “scroungers”. The loyal press joined in, with the Tory comic The Sun even running a “shop a scrounger” hotline and putting sick people having a good day on their front cover.
The effect of this was to start ruining my life.
I work full time from home for a major multinational. I start early in the day and finish early, then, to make sure I see daylight, pop out to the gym or the supermarket or just for a walk. Even I need vitamin D now and again. This means that, at half past three in the afternoon, you may see me in the town limping and/or limping on a stick as I propel myself to Morrisons. I don’t own a car because I don’t need nor want one.
From late 2010 onwards, I’ve been getting abuse in the street when seen limping/sticking my way to the supermarket. Drivers wind their window down and shout “SCROUNGER!!” at me. Fellow supermarket customers tut-tut. Children say “what’s wrong with that man, mam?” and their parents reply “he’s malingering, darling”. Loping along behind the ball-and-chain one wet day while on holiday in London, a man walking in the opposite direction twisted his face and spat on me. “Fucking scrounger” he barked.
On the plus side, during the Paralympics I got waved at by several drivers; once, while using my stick, I got stopped and a young man asked to shake my hand because I was “a hero”. The week after the Paralympics, whilst limping but not on my stick, I walked past the local pub. Two drunk old gentlemen (it was 2pm) were just leaving. One tried to trip me while the other shouted about how I was a disgrace and – you guessed it – a scrounger.
So now I don’t use my stick any more. I just walk in agony instead. And when I see angry-looking people nearby, I don’t limp either. It hurts to the point that I’m left crying. But it makes you all happy, so, well, that’s better then, isn’t it?
This is all not good. Exhorting the population to hate a “lower” section of that same population will always work because humans are innately superior-feeling beings. Dictators the world over throughout history have used this to bolster themselves.
It is happening again.
And, if you’ve ever been ill, or you ever suspect you might get ill, be afraid. Be very afraid.