Climb Every Mountain

So the London 2012 great Summer of Sport came to a close this evening as the Paralympics came to an end at the Olympic Village.

It has been a fantastic display of achievement on many fronts. Not only did we witness man going faster, further, higher, we learnt that the British are not as bad as we imagined, that a warm, friendly environment is as much a part of London as it is in Sydney, Beijing or Athens.

We saw 70,000 people emerge from the shadows and step up to the mark to become Games Makers, a fitting tribute in name to a voluntary army of individuals who made the face of the London Games. Some of us were blessed with continuous coverage of every sport on individual channels. We got interviews, felt inspired and challenged and impressed by the talent, determination and ability of men and women, young and old, of every colour, creed and walk of life.

We celebrated Iranian success in London, we rejoiced at Libyan sporting representatives. There were smiles and tears, pride and heartache and all the finest things attributed with the human endeavour of sporting achievement.

So, what did it all mean for me? What did I get out of the amazing display of talent and British pride.

To be honest, I was lucky enough to be caught up in a world of excitement and intrigue first hand, and was thrilled by the opportunity, and have memories that will last me a life time. Did that move me, or have a lasting impact on my perception of the world? Sadly I can only say that as a person that loves sporting endeavour, and as an avid sports watching fan, it was to me just another Olympic games. Yes admittedly, it was in my back garden, I got to participate in the event, and greatly enjoyed that. However there was nothing fundamentally outstanding about it for me.

That was until three weeks later, when for the first time ever, I was almost forced to become wrapped up in the Paralympic games. For anyone living in the UK, they will know that it was almost impossible not to get caught up in the fever of it all, as British Channel 4 television mounted a relentless coverage of 11 days of ferocious sport.

One of the first things I noticed that gave me pause for thought was the song choice that Channel 4 used for its theme tune to its coverage. I was somewhat mystified as to its choice, as the full song is nothing about sporting endeavour, or celebrating the good of mankind. The track, Harder Than You Think by Public Enemy is a rap tune that talks about the hardships of Afro American people and I suppose that it was drawing parallels with the prejudices that disabled people experience that prompted Channel 4 to choose the track. However, after hearing the tune several hundred times during the many advertising breaks that peppered the coverage of the sport, I began to hone in on the opening line that the edited version of the song used on the tele.

“Thank you for letting us be ourself.”

It was this that really pricked my consciousness and in some ways, actually got me a little wound up. I mean, for starters, people with disabilities are not second class citizens. They are not a special breed to be allowed to be themselves once in a while, for which they can celebrate being allowed to be “out” and free. Why on earth should they have thank us for allowing them to be themselves. I mean they are who they are, people with soul, spirits, passions, desires. They bleed red, and cry tears just like you or me. Maybe that was me being over sensitive, but after hearing the line over and over again, I did begin to wonder if anyone else had noticed it. Maybe the Paralympians do feel a need to thank the world for recognising them on the same platform that we do able bodied Olympians, but we don’t expect Olympic competitors to thank us for being allowed to be Olympians. Where is the equality in that?

I was fortunate at a young age to be confronted by disability first hand, by having a friend who was an amputee, and maybe that has given me a more open out look on disability. I learnt not to be shy to look at a disabled person, or speak to them as an equal, without the feeling of curiosity, or the guilt of that same curiosity. I learnt to deal with the awkward stares and the lack of words. I got over the feeling of  pity and the feeling of wanting to protect or prevent further hurt from coming to my friend.

In reality I discovered that Ian was just like me. Yeah he only had one leg, but in every other way he was a horny teenage boy with dreams, insecurities, determinations and abilities. He was resourceful and boy could be accomplish something once he’d set his mind to it. While in our later years, we have lost touch, he is just as successful today, in fact being the proud owner of a restaurant and a fully trained master chef somewhere in Austria last I heard. I take my hat off to him, and knew from way back then that he’d be a successful man one day.

But this is the thing. He didn’t want pity or special treatment. He never had to thank me for treating him as someone different, or being allowed to be himself. Now looking back, and thinking about things a little more, I realise that as children we don’t have prejudices. We are less inclined to make judgements or draw conclusions based on our own shortcomings and inability to deal with disability or disfigurement. I have seen people unable to look at a disabled person while talking to them. I’ve heard people say less than pleasant things about them. I’ve even been guilty of being patronising towards a disabled person myself. Maybe in as much as our kids are able to look beyond the limitations and be accepting and open and friendly, we can become, or more importantly I can become more understanding of a disabled person to be seen first as a human being, and second as a person with a disability.

While I like to think I am not too bad, I found myself thinking “shame” as I looked on at some of the participants on track, and I woke up to a realisation that even though I may think I am not that bad, there is so much more that I could do to be more aware of disability and learn to consider them as equal. Seeing beyond the disability to the true person inside, and give everyone the same chance I would give an able bodied person, or desire to be given myself.

The UK are pretty damn good at looking out for the interests of disabled people. I have seen more provision for people with all manner of challenging conditions in this country than anywhere else I have visited, and that is something to be proud of. But while our institutions and government maybe get it a little more than the average Joe Bloggs on the street, I honestly do think that this time around, the Paralympic Games in London have challenged a nations perception of disability and disabled people. I know it challenged me.

One of the commentators said of the games that, “back in Sydney the Paralympic Games gave disabled people a platform to become equal with their able bodied brothers and sisters in sport. The London 2012 Games gave them a platform to become heroes”, and it was this statement that made me realise that disability in my mind has come of age. It is not something to fear or pity or look down on. Disability is a challenge in life, just as much as able bodied living is a challenge. Yes they are on different scales and make life difficult in a variety of ways, but give a man an opportunity and watch in amazement as he learns to perfect, excel and master his art. London 2012 showed me and the world that regardless of adversity, application and dedication to the task at hand, hard work, guts and a desire to win is a part of every walk of life, able bodied or otherwise.

Thought for today – “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” – Napoleon Hill

Song for today – Every Tear is a Waterfall by Coldplay


The Axe of Austerity Falls

So Wednesday the 20th day of October in the year 2010, or 20-10-2010 in simple numbers was the day that the axe of Austerity swung on the British Economy and literally chopped every limb from our able bodied national existence.

Yes, it don’t really matter who you are, or who you work for, if you live, work or learn in the UK then you can pretty much guarantee that the next four years will suck big time. Hell its something we’ve all known has been coming since the election that saw Labour’s landslide victory of 1997 when the man I personally hold responsible for this calamity came marching into power with a quirky smile, a silver spoon in his gob and a wet handshake for every willing wimp to shake, be trashed on the side walk as a nation went to the polls not quite sure who the hell to choose.

Well here we have it folks, and it’s of our own making that we are in the boat we find ourselves in, so its no use complaining. When the British public had a chance to democratically put its foot down and demand more from its politicians, they simple sat back and got confused. Yes admittedly even I found myself in a quandary over who to choose, but in such times, a choice must be made and the consequences of those choices accepted.

For many selfish reasons, people close to me supported Labour and Gordon Brown in his fool hardy attempt to run for office once more. Truth be told for many of those, the support of Gordon Brown was folly as they believed that Labour would go easy on Zimbabwean Immigrants, and put a stop on deportations. How misguided that assumption must now look as we see the truth of how deeply Labour and its two chief goons lead us up the garden path.

Let’s be completely frank with each other. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did not have the average man in the forefront of their minds as they spent for the sake of spending. Even towards the end of the game, when the truth was coming out from the leaking holes in the government infrastructure, Gordon Brown still remained steadfastly stuck on his spending mantra. As a result of this irresponsibility and complete lack of leadership, we now face one of the toughest periods in living memory in the UK.

This is not something that we face alone. The whole developed world has had to look long and hard at itself, and come to the realisation that greed and wilful neglect of duty do not make up for reality. You cannot borrow yourself out of debt. Japan tried that one and nearly failed on numerous occasions. Gordon Brown lead the nation to believe that our economy could recover enough to pay off the debt that he’d amassed in his quantative easing measures designed to stabilise the economy from sinking further into recession. Of all the billions of tax payers pounds that were sunk into the banking sector to stimulate lending and ease the intra bank lending rates, what benefit did the economy or any small business see?

It is common knowledge that industry in the UK is a dying art. The bulk of our economy revolves around service industries, call centres, banking and white collar trade models. We don’t have any world renowned steel mills anymore. Our automotive industry belongs to any other country but Britain. Our ability to build ships, undertake construction or even provide the very service structure our economy thrives on is slowly ebbed from our shores. Just about all forms of heavy industry is undertaken abroad. Call centre and service support industries have farmed out to developing nations where work forces do the job at half the cost. As more and more centres of excellence like Dubai in the UAE and Energy City in Qatar become more appealing as they gear up to become the banking Mecca’s as we move into the second decade of the twenty first century. Don’t tell me for a moment that companies the size of Barclays Bank or HSBC won’t think twice about relocation if suddenly faced with the prospect of massive levies applied by the British Government.

In every way we possibly can we have made it near impossible for our economy to rise up from the ashes of this devastating blow and recover itself. How then could we have possibly paid our way out of recession as Gordon Brown assured us we would? No people, the reality of it was simple. Gordon had realised that he’d never be re-elected to office in the UK. The reality was that Gordon had seen the light at the end of the tunnel was being extinguished by debt, and yet failing to have a spin and lead our proud nation as a man, he failed to call time on Labour’s folly, and instead pulled the plug, spending everything he could just to make sure that who ever took over would look even worse than he.

My anger is not aimed at the Coalition who has had to face a disaster and try to remain positive. No, I do not despise David Cameron for his government’s wide stretching raft of austerity measures. That feeling I harbour only towards the evil men that went before him. I can only hope that for every old person that dies a lonely, hungry, miserable death as a result of these cuts will play on the mind of our esteemed Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and they ponder the folly of their time in office. I can only pray that the blood of all the victims of the crime wave to come will drip loudly in their ears at night as they fight for sleep. I can only hope that the starving child, beaten and abused at the hands of parents driven to depression beyond their abilities will remain vivid in their minds eye each time they pause for thought.

Yes it is at your feet that responsibility lies. No, not completely, as it takes many men to create such mayhem and chaos in modern society. But it was on your watch that the wolf played havoc in the chicken run, and it is time for men to be men and stand up for their lack of leadership, it is time for men to be men and accept the burden of guilt, aye it is time for men to be men and prove that there are still fine gentlemen among us.

My heart cries out for every single genuine person, man, woman and child who’s life is going to be made hell over the next ten years as a result of these measures. I do honestly believe that our government have been bold and brave. Would any one of you liked to have won an election knowing you were going to become the most unpopular government in the last 70 years of British history at no fault of your own? Would any one of you have wanted to walk into government and take over knowing that Gordon Brown was your predecessor and having an inkling of what exactly was to come as you began to get to grips with the shambles you’d been left? Do any of us truly believe that anyone else could have or would have done the job any differently? Let’s be real people. Before today we were living every day in the UK to pay £120 million in interest to service our debt. What else could our government do?

In all honesty as I listen to economists from around the world, every major power is going to have to face a day like today. The US is servicing a debt of several Trillion dollars. Austerity will fall on the shoulders of every American in just the way today it did for British folk. Four years of pain and six years of recovery are far better than ten years of uncertainty and potential bankruptcy.

If you’ve read this and you’re a rich person, or somewhat well off in society, my only message or calling to you is to each day as you survive the effects of the cuts announced today, remember those below you struggling to make ends meet. We are all affected by these measures, others more so than others, and if we are to survive then many of us will never to lend a helping hand to those in desperate need. This is the measure of a true community. This is the mark of a real society, and these are the actions of real people.