Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Best of Fangworld

The following links will take you to posts within this blog that I enjoyed writing.

Biscuit Sinner

Possessed by Bob Ross

Silly Songs - The NHS of Whatever

Being Blessed

Me and My Big Mouth


Fly my pretties, fly!

You Better Shape Up

Is that a shotgun in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?

An Institutional Hotel

If there's anyone out there, enjoy!


Agent Fang comes out

Originally when I started this blog, it was for the purpose of cathartic ranting. Rubbish hotels, dealing with my impairment, crappy employment experiences, you name it, I bitched about it. It was great. Another great thing was that a lot of other people were doing it too. For a while I felt a real sense of online community with other disabled people. Blogging was a new craze and we owned a little corner of it. Then, one by one, people started disappearing, although many good things remain to this day if you look for them.

My favourite blogs from back in the day were The Perorations of Lady Bracknell and Diary of a Goldfish. In 2006 Diary of a Goldfish started 'Blogging Against Disablism Day' which has been an annual event each May ever since. It's the most wonderful, spontaneous and powerful thing I've ever seen anybody create. If you don't know about it, do check it out here - Blogging Against Disablism Day 2010

My posts became less frequent as I developed my career as a visual artist. Sadly for Fangworld, I started staying in Travelodges which were bland and boring but which had at least clean and basic disabled access. This meant my rantings about little B & B's stopped. I honestly couldn't stand many more bad experiences, although recently this theory has been sorely challenged by an unexpectedly dreadful stay at a Travelodge in Manchester whilst I was working with artist Tanya Raabe on her latest project.

The difference now is I want to write about this project, and my work, just as much as I want to slate inaccessible hotels. I expect there will still be the occasional hotel rant, but I'm lucky to be able to do that on a bigger stage at Disability Arts Online. This blog goes live in July 2010 and will be under my own name, so I might have to contain my ire a bit. Or not... I guess it's ok to have strong opinions, and life experience has taught me it's good to own them under your own name.

Here's the link to my new blog Disability Arts Online / Caroline Cardus' blog

If you're reading this because you used to like Fangworld, come over to DAO and read my new stuff. Or visit my website, www.carolinecardus.com to see how my experiences over the years have influenced the art that I make.

If you've just stumbled upon this, then check out the archives, or see the next post for a 'Best of Fangworld' list. I hope Fangworld will continue to exist even if I'm not a frequent contributor to it nowadays. It was fun to write, even though I didn't know much about writing, and a lot of my heart and soul is here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Waste triumphs and traumas

It's finally happened! I booked into a hotel that doesn't have a pedal bin in the accessible bathroom! (as in wheelchair user = mobility impairment + a pedal bin requires operating with the feet = a big mess round the bin, d'oh...)

This bin was wall mounted at a sympathetic height for a wheelchair user, right next to the sink, with a handle attached to the lid. I grant if you can't use your hands either this would have been as much use as a chocolate teapot, but then again, maybe you'd have a PA with you in that case. Anyhow. I gleefully chucked in my dental floss feeling the warm glow of satisfaction that someone somewhere in the hospitality industry had put two and two together. How thoughtful.

Unfortunately, the design of the toilet bowl was rather too thoughtful. Maybe you've seen a design like it if you've been to Germany - I first encountered one there when I was on the school German exchange. The toilet bowl is mainly a flat shelf, with just a small hole toward the front of the bowl into which everything gets flushed. The idea is that you 'do your business' and then get up to inspect whatever lands on the shelf. It's the kind of thing the repressed English don't do enough of, but more conscientious nations may do as a matter of course.

You might say it's logical to be concerned about bowel health, but the thing is, I don't need a special toilet pan to show me I've eaten rubbish. I know that already, because if rubbish goes in then even by the most rudimentary logic, that is what will come out.

But perhaps we in UK have had a rude enough introduction to this practice from a certain small-but-fierce Scottish lady, who makes silly money humiliating people by judging the content of their bottoms. Maybe it is for the greater good, but as much as I like the concept of being healthy inside and out I could not help but be flushed with shame when it came to my moment of truth.

I may be making too much of a fuss, but dear reader, I was not prepared. The fact is it's hard to eat healthily on the road. Poo charts be damned. I am traumatised. Thank goodness for the thoughtfully placed accessible height window, toward which I now wheel in haste to take in a few breaths of sweet, clean air...

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Lion Whisperer

It was hot today so Mr F and I went on safari as you do (oh, alright, we went here).

It's a great day out, partly because it's all in-car and so a great leveller for mobility impaired crips, but mostly because no matter how many times you go you always see the animals doing something different.

Today we got mugged by parrots in the parrot-house, I told a lion he was lovely, whereupon he rolled over on his back and put all four paws in the air, watched the bears fight the wolves for some fish (Bears - 3, Wolves - 3), watched two monkeys fight a bitter and strategic battle for some cabbage leaves, and finally, after the cabbage war was won and all was peaceful, decided to set off for home - whereupon a monkey came from out of nowhere and parked itself on the bonnet of our car, staring in directly through the windscreen.

Fresh from charming the lion, I tried out my newly found powers of persuasion. "Wave to me, Monkey", I said in a Very Commanding Voice. It seemed to pay some attention and stared straight at us, (that's a good start, thinks I), but then the cheeky devil slowly lifts one leg very high and begins a long, leisurely (rather hypermobile) scratch of the backside.

There was no doubt about it, the beast was having a good ol' laugh at the newly claimed Fangian 'way with animals'. But all was not lost. The overconfident simian was so keen on giving a good show that it leaned over a little too far onto one skinny butt cheek, and, in a most ungainly manner, toppled straight off the bonnet... !

Note to self: next Rhematologist appointment - must try commanding her to wave at me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A cutting remark

So it was half term or something recently, and I forgot, and went into town. I usually plan in advance to avoid school holidays because the shopping centre gets full of sulky teenagers and crazy parents training toddlers to shop straight out of the pushchair. It's indoors too, which is a bonus when the teenies decide to have a temper tantrum, because then they don't get their little pink velour tracksuits muddy.

The thing that really gets my goat is there's a certain type of parent who, when they see somebody in a wheelchair 500 meters away, grasp their kid by the scruff of the neck and hauls them bodily away in the opposite direction. I don't mind this kind of thing if a kid is about to run out in front of me, but when they're miles away and the parents do it for no reason, they both end up looking at me like I'm a plague carrier. Which, I'll have you know, I am not.

I feel it's this kind of behaviour that teaches kids to grow up being afraid of disability, on account of a parent's over-reaction to a disabled person's presence by clawing them out of the way - when they were never in the way in the first place. With such behaviour from a parent, how can a kid can ever accept you're just another human being going about their daily business, with not the slightest intention of mowing anyone down out of sheer gleefulness that you have a cool wheelchair and they do not.

So. Where was I? Shopping centre. Half term holidays. Big mistake. I steeled myself for the inevitable signs of fear and loathing from parents, step-parents and assorted guardians.

Soon enough, a little kid about 10 feet away from me starts being dragged to one side, and notices I'm the reason why - whereupon she twists round to the man dragging her, points straight at me and shouts;

"Hey Dad! Look at that woman's lawnmower!"


And then the Dad, still hauling, says;

"Yes, darling!"

So somebody somewhere is letting their kid grow up thinking we're all going round on ride-on lawnmowers. He just let her think my wheelchair was a ride on bloody lawnmower. Honestly, you couldn't make it up.

Monday, January 21, 2008

An Institutional Hotel

Once again I'm going to regale you with a bad beat story about a rubbish hotel. But this one was a little different. This one, well, you had to see it too. Yes, I'm now so paranoid about hotel accommodation I take a camera on my travels. People often don't believe it when I tell them my bizarre accommodation stories. But it's worth remembering a lot of disabled people who travel experience this kind of thing on a regular basis.

It's a pity blogger isn't doing smell-o-vision yet, or maybe for your sake it's a blessing. Because when I arrived, the place gave off the unmistakable aroma of a badly run old people's home. This impression was further compounded by the way the receptionist shouted every word rather than spoke to me. I resisted the temptation to tell her my ears were not resident in my knees and shouted back as good as I got, taking the opportunity to let go of the mounting tension I felt - fearing I'd picked another dump to stay in.

My room had the same smell in it. I opened the small window and it began to clear, but when I opened the wardrobe, it hit again with full force. It was like the smell penetrating the entire building resided in the wardrobe in this room. Lo and behold, there was a bag of men's clothes in there!

I didn't like to think where the owner of the clothes was, but I was willing to bet he was no longer on the earthly plane. Feeling like I would be grateful to leave the earthly plane myself rather than spend a night in this place, I wracked my brain trying to think of somewhere else to go. But I was in a small seaside town, the weather was freezing, and I knew I was too tired to do anything other than have a bite to eat and go to sleep. I lay back on the bed, only to be greeted with the sight of a lamp hanging directly above the pillow that looked like it hadn't been dusted since, ooo, the early '50's.

Regretting my paranoia hadn't stretched to me packing a full cleaning kit in my luggage as well as a camera, I went down to the restaurant to have some dinner. My worst fears were confirmed when I wheeled into a near-deserted dinning room, apart from two elderly people, a man and a woman, bemoaning the choice on the menu. I can hardly bear to go into details about my food other than to say I was shocked that a hotel within 300 meters of the sea served me a sad-looking salad with some boil-in-the-bag fish that tasted as if it had been boiled in a sock. A sock belonging to the person whose clothes were currently hanging in the wardrobe upstairs. I fled, not caring that I'd told the waitress I was starving. I simply couldn't bear to order anything else for fear of wheeling screaming into the night. I decided I'd ring Mr Fang for some comforting words. My mobile was nearly dead, so I looked around for a socket to plug the charger into, whereupon I found an extension cord that probably pre-dated the dust on the lampshade...

"Eat the biscuits on the tray and calm down" said Mr Fang, between snorts of laughter. "Serves you right for trying to book a B&B. You should know by now that unless you use a big hotel chain you risk ending up somewhere like this!"
"I know!" I wailed, "but I wanted to be near the sea front! And the price was the same as a Travel Inn! B&B's who charge that might be a bit weird sometimes, but generally ok!"
"Remember Brighton" was all he would reply.

I sat on the bed and spent the rest of the evening eating the biscuits provided very, very slowly, pretending the first biscuit was the main course, and the second biscuit was dessert. Luckily the tray had some hot chocolate sachets, so I pretended these were additional courses - and very fine they tasted too compared to the fish served downstairs. I watched telly and tried to forget I was in an old people's home trying to pretend it was a hotel. It worked to some extent, and I got into bed ready to sleep with the knowledge that when I awoke it would be time to leave. It was bad, but what else could go wrong?

I was just drifting off when I became aware of an uncomfortable lump in the mattress. It felt like a mattress cover was rucked up underneath the bottom sheet. I tried shifting position, feeling warm and sleepy and not at all inclined to rise and start messing around with the sheets, but irritation began to overtake stupor, so in some despair I got up to sort it out. It wouldn't take a moment to pull any cover straight, then I could get on with being unconscious... ... but this hope was dashed in fine style by the presence of a large piece of wood that had been placed under the mattress! I was aghast! It wasn't even the length of the bed, which was why I'd felt a lump in the mattress! That was that - I was in a rage - which luckily provided the brute strength required to shift the thing further up the bed. I got back into bed and took several deep breaths and a large amount of sleeping pills. Mercifully, they worked.

In the morning I got up early (this not being part of my usual nature), dressed, ordered things from the menu unlikely to need much attention from the kitchen (i.e. toast, butter, jam, water), nodded sympathetically to the two individuals in the dining room who had been present the night before, and went to settle my bill. I was not in a good mood. Then to my utter dismay, the receptionist had decided to upgrade my room booking to dinner, bed and breakfast - the difference being an extra £15! This price covered a 3 course meal (which I had refused after tasting the fish).

"You must be joking!" I spluttered! "£15?! I barely had half of one course! Of boil in the bag fish! Which was badly cooked!" At this point, out of the corner of my eye I could see the two elderly people shuffle out of the dining room and settle themselves in the foyer.

"Alright" said the receptionist, who had suddenly understood wheelchair users didn't need to be shouted out, "I'll take 8% off the £15..."

"8%! I'm not paying more than a fiver for that disgraceful fish!" I yelled, aware that I was now completely losing it. "I could buy a whole box of it for that price! That's before we mention the state of the room! There were someone else's clothes in the wardrobe! Exposed wiring! A lump of wood in the bed! I took pictures, look!" I waved the camera at the receptionist, who was now looking pink and flustered.

She glanced at the camera, then up at the two elderly people who were now giving us their full attention, and muttering about food.
"I told you," said one. "Overpriced," said the other.

"I'll just get the manageress, if I can find her" the receptionist said, in a voice that suggested a long wait would be arranged for my inconvenience.
"Fine" I replied, a kind of psychotic calm setting over me "I'm very happy to wait."
She disappeared.

"Last night my food was awful too," said the elderly woman, and smiled weakly. "It always is, dear." said the man, nodding. "We live here, you know," said the woman mournfully "but they don't listen to us."

Before we could speak further, the manageress appeared, holding the menus from the night before. It was obvious from the frown on her face that not listening was a large part of her repertoire.

"I hear you're unhappy about the bill?" she asked, in a manner designed to show that in her opinion charging £15 for a bit of salad and a boil-in-the-bag fish was absolutely reasonable.

"I certainly am" I replied, in a voice designed to show I was absolutely not accepting it. "I'll offer £5 for the meal and no more. I didn't have 3 courses and I won't pay an extra £15 for it."

She took a deep breath in and looked at a snack menu. "We charge £5.50 for fish and salad on the snack menu, so I'll charge £5.50 to your bill instead. Happy now?"

"Not really" I retorted "The fact you were trying to charge me £15 in the first place is shocking. And I've just had a dreadful night in a bed with a lump of wood stuffed under the mattress, in a room with exposed wires, disgusting dusty lamps and a bag of smelly old clothes in my wardrobe! All for more that the price of a place where you can get fresh food for the price you're charging for boil-in-the-bag fish!"

This obviously being an invitation to start war, she started shouting at me about their large overheads...
"Don't pass them on to your customers then!"
Them being in business 60 years...
"Because you're running an old people's home! They can't leave!"
Nobody having any complaints...
(this is when the elderly couple decided to make themselves scarce)...
And last but not least - how hard it was to house disabled and elderly guests in an old building...
"Then don't!"

After we'd shouted all we could with neither willing to back down, she passed me the bill and the card debit machine in frosty silence, which I used, and passed back to her in equal frosty silence. I left, feeling glad that I had a choice to do so.

And the access? That's a whole other post, I'm afraid.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Assertive Method

Someone posted this to me recently in response to a post I wrote on a support group messageboard. I'm not going to blog in detail about the issue at the moment, but the title of my post 'At the end of my tether and avoiding the physiotherapist - help' pretty much says it all. Many disabled people can feel helpless and angry at some point when using services that are designed to support them - but may feel things are going wrong.

Although I do regard myself as reasonably articulate, there are times when anyone, no matter how confident, can suddenly feel a situation they're in is 'out of control'. Then sometimes it can be hard not be respond emotionally. Pouring it out might feel like the best way to demonstrate your distress at events, but it might not be the best way of getting your point of view across. In cases of emergency, try;

The Assertive Method

The assertive method was developed to its present state as part of the women’s movement, but is more generally effective for anyone. It provides a way to get what is wanted or needed without resorting to methods that generate strong negative reactions. It doesn't always work, but it tends to be very effective. The assertive message means more than simply standing up for yourself; it consists of four parts, preferably delivered in one short sentence each. The content should be:

1. This is the situation.
2. This is how I feel about it.
3. This is what I want you to do.
4. What do you think?

Then say ABSOLUTELY NOTHING until the other has completely run down. The lingering moment of silence at the end can be very compelling; use it.

If you get what you want, great. If you get an acceptable alternative, give it a try, saying something like "That seems like a reasonable way to start, I'm willing to try it." If the response is very unclear, ask for further explanation. If you get neither what you want nor an acceptable alternative, DO NOT ARGUE WITH ANYTHING THAT HAS BEEN SAID, simply say, "I understand, but [this is what I want you to do]." Continue to repeat steps 3 and 4 indefinitely. If it seems that the person with whom you are talking has lost track of parts 1 or 2, it is ok to restate those.

Sometimes it may help to check understanding. In that case, saying "Am I explaining myself?” is less confrontational than “Do you understand?” and less likely to put the other on the defensive.

The variant for refusal would involve repeating, "No, I won't do that, it will (e.g. hurt me)" followed by "I understand, but I won't do that, it will (e.g. hurt me.)"