Stick or spit

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.


What Not To Wear

Recently, the chief of police in Toronto bemoaned in the media that women were getting raped due to what they were wearing when they went out. People rightly responded with horror to such total drivel and a new movement has appeared in response: SlutWalks, where women will wear "revealing" clothes and walk down streets en masse in protest.

This is to be applauded as a good response and it helps show up the nonsense the policeman was saying, because rape has nothing at all to do with sex. No, really. It involves something of a parody of sex, but it is actually a crime of violence and power.

Look at it this way: since when did any sort of sex involve beating a screaming, helpless person so severely that you break bones in their face? What sort of sex involves shoving jagged objects into a woman's vagina? Or biting the nipples off a man whose arms you've previously snapped? What sort of sex involves killing a woman in her 80s or a schoolboy? What sort of sex involves hypnotic or sedative drugs? Answer: none. That's not sex, that's violence. And it is perpetrated by inadequate people – inadequate men, most of the time – who feel the need to take their power by taking power away from someone else.

What a victim of rape wears is nothing to do with getting raped. It's to do with being in the wrong place in the wrong time, with being, horribly, a random victim or a chosen victim: being a victim of rape is the same of being a victim of anything else – bad luck, at the hands of an inadequate fellow member of the human race.

This doesn't suit the media. For them, rape is something women make up, or something they actually, secretly want. It's actually very sexual, downright sexy. Therefore, if you wear something "sexy", as they define it, you're bringing rape on yourself. You are, and the phrase burns my eyes, "asking for it". Yeah, because people are often "asking" to have a knife jammed up their anus.

Most people will never be raped, just like most people will never be a victim of any other crime. That also has nothing to do with what they are or are not wearing. So "dressing as a slut" has no statistical effect on rape whatsoever. Why would it? The problem here is actually in attitudes, and the media and lawmakers' belief that someone, somewhere should be regulating what women wear.

This is one of those famous slippery slopes. In Europe recently the media and lawmakers have been debating restricting women's right to wear the burkha. This garment bothers me: it is so easily a tool of a male desire to dominate women. But the next step from there is the debate the Canadians are now having: should women be prevented from wearing clothes at the other end of the spectrum? From there, the next slide down this terrible path is moving from restricting what women can't wear to restricting what women can wear. This all won't do – women should wear what they fucking well want to wear. As should men. It's nothing if not downright obvious that what you wear makes many statements, but "rape me" is not one of them. Ever.