Monday, 17 November 2014

The battle of Oxford Street…

Bonfire night was, as it is every year, on the 5th of November but there were nearly fireworks when I visited Oxford Street the following night. I heard about the Christmas lights being switched on a few days earlier on Capital FM so thought I’d go to the seasonal event (eventhough I’m not the biggest fan of Cheryl Fernandez-Versini) and get in the festive spirit. I went to see Kelly Clarkson turn them on back in 2011 and enjoyed the evening. Last time, there was a designated disabled viewing area just at the side of the stage because it is impossible to see over a crowd in a wheelchair. That wasn’t the case this year.

Since the ‘Access All Areas’ event in October, I have been keen to see if it as easy for wheelchair users to use Public Transport in London as the people at TfL. As I have said before, access to taxis is basically non-existent but I am pleased to confirm that over ground trains and buses are disabled friendly (well I haven’t tried them all obviously). At least the train to St. Pancras and bus to Oxford Street is. The new route master is quite plush and impressive actually. I haven’t tried the Tube recently but that should be another interesting adventure.

After a successful train then bus journey, my carer and I arrived on Oxford Street at about 16:00. We made our way to John Lewis where the stage was set and a large crowd was waiting to get in. There were event stewards on hand to help but none of them knew of any disabled viewing area with one security guard telling us to "get in the queue like everybody else". It’s probably not hard to imagine but I was incensed as you can imagine. We then spoke to a third steward who told us to "maybe go and try at the other end”. Bad advice.

Luckily I don’t suffer from panic attacks but a narrow pathway packed with 100’s of people is probably a claustrophobic’s idea of hell on earth. It was awful though. Everyone was pushing, which as you can imagine is very dangerous in such a confined area. I was actually scared of getting hit or someone falling on me. I even was concerned that some people in the crowd would get angry and start being violent. London is a busy place but it’s pretty out of order for kittling to be used as a form of crowd control in any circumstance, but especially when there are disabled people and children in there.

When we finally did get out of the crowd (the show was well under way by that point), two helpful young men were sympathetic to our story and wanted to assist us. However, we were outside Debenhams now so were too far away from the stage. One of them did guide us to a screen where we could watch it. This was better than nothing but I might as well have stayed at home. At least the speakers wouldn’t have blown. It would have also saved a massive headache and it wouldn't have cost me a single penny. Plus, Cheryl was only on stage for a minute and didn’t sing. Nothing new there…

By the way, I've wrote a letter of complaint to Oxford Street, John Lewis and Capttal (the latter two sponsored/promoted the event) explaining the issues I had. I doubt it will do anything but worth a try surely.

Bye for now!

Thursday, 13 November 2014


As many of you will know, I went to Brussels a few weeks back to watch Arsenal take on Anderlecht in the Champions League. We somehow managed to win in the end so happy days but I have to say I did not enjoy the trip as much my first European away day in Dortmund last year. Everything about Belgium disappointed me. The stadium was old-fashioned to say the least and lacked basic toilet facilities (the option was either a hole in the floor or one of the grim looking portable loos). The city centre is not much better with every toilet, including in a department store, costing 40C or more to use.

Another issue that is impossible to miss is the extreme poverty and the clear problem of homelessness. I’m not saying that beggars should not be allowed. I’m just making the point that everywhere you look there is a vagrant and an almost inconceivable amount of the homeless are disabled. Yes-poor people exist in London but the difference is that British beggars tend to be found in shop doorways holding signs where as in the Belgian capital; they pester people sitting in McDonald’s asking for money. I was just surprised because Brussels is the theoretical capital of Europe so I naively believed that the line between rich and poor would not be so visible.

Like I said, most of the beggars are ‘disabled’ and the reason that is literally unbelievable is because some are putting it on for effect. For example when we arrived in Brussels, a man helpfully guided our car back into a parking space using the old wave on then put your hand up to stop method (universal language). He was stood next to a woman begging in a wheelchair. By the time we got out of the car, the two had swapped positions and the man now had a cup that he was holding out in front of passers by. I should have been annoyed at this blatant act of fraud but I actually found the noises he was making funny and quite accurate.

Obviously, I don’t know if all vagrants in Belgium are faking being disabled but it certainly meant my family were quite sceptical when we saw other beggars (eventhough some were probably genuine). I even considered getting an empty coffee cup and seeing how much I could make before the match. At least I’m the real deal. I wish I could take it in turns to be in a wheelchair but unfortunately it’s 24/7 for me. No rest for the wicked.

Bye for now!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Forever grateful…

On Sunday 26th October, I attended the Pearson Teaching Awards ceremony (basically the education BAFTA’s) at the impressive Guildhall in London. One of my Teaching Assistants from Secondary School, Sandra Stellon, was deservedly up for the national Teaching Assistant Of The Year award.  Unfortunately, she did not come away with the Gold Plato (was robbed) but was already a winner because Sandra had already been recognised for her exceptional contribution to the teaching profession when she was given one of just 59 Silver Teaching Award winners in the UK back in May.

This is an even greater achievement when you discover that there were over 2,000 nominations and an intense judging process. My parents and I were actually interviewed by one of the judges and all our positive words about Sandra must have worked. It wasn’t just us to tell the truth, All of her colleagues and other teachers from Sandringham bombarded the judge with praise and left those giving out the awards with no choice but to recognise Sandra’s hard work officially. I was delighted when I heard the news because so many schools do not realise that Teaching Assistant’s are so important and are the backbone of a classroom.

I cannot just focus on why Sandra is brilliant and has shaped me into the person I am today, I must mention my other Teaching Assistant Sue MacInnes (now retired) who I am also thankful to. Both did not just help me with physical tasks such as writing/typing for me but were also there emotionally in what was the most difficult and challenging part of my life. Going from walking in Year 7 to being a full blown ‘Wheelchair Boy’ by the time I left is devastating for a teenager but the pair kept me on track, making sure I didn’t get depressed and remained focused at doing the best I could when it came to schoolwork.

To be fair, it’s not as if Sandra missed out on much by not winning on the night. The BBC, like most people, obviously don’t think Teaching Assistants are that important so only gave the winner 17 seconds of air-time at the end of the show and cut-out her entire acceptance speech. If you want to watch the ceremony (eventhough the camera doesn’t zoom in on ‘Wheelchair Boy’), click the link: She did get a paragraph and picture in the programme though.

Sandra was nominated for her Award by a grateful colleague who said, “Sandra is a one of a kind teaching assistant who is irreplaceable in our school! She is a highly committed professional with the drive and passion to ensure that all her students are supported and inspired to reach new heights. She supports those with special educational needs and students who need additional help and in this role, she brings real and lasting impact to the lives of the students in our school. Her work truly makes a fantastic difference every day!

Bye for now!