All aboard the Halloween Bullshit-Go-Round

Last year it was Jokers’ Masquerade, this year it’s Grace Dent. Fuck’s sake.

I also seem to be the only person who’s angry about this, so I feel like even more of a headcase than usual.

So, this is the salient chunk of what she wrote;

gracedent

I’m going to have to bite, and be that annoying cry-baby that you’re railing against.

First of all, I’m sorry that you’re terrified of patients escaping from a secure hospital. It might cheer you (or not) to know that you’re still more likely to be murdered, kidnapped or raped by someone that you know than by someone who was involuntarily sectioned. Even if you live next door to a secure unit that regularly loses track of its patients.

Then I’m going to share a “darkest fears” story of my own, which isn’t a hypothetical one. Many years ago I lived alone in a ground-floor flat. I’d been there for about a year, and I was having a period of serious mental ill-health at the time – Psychosis, that led to fairly severe self-harm, and to the brink of a suicide attempt. When I realised that I was about to try to kill myself, I instead phoned 111, who told me to get myself to a safe place and wait for the emergency ambulance. Living in a tiny ground-floor flat, the only safe place where I thought I wouldn’t be able to reach something to harm myself with further was sitting outside.

So I dropped my tools into the sink, opened the front door, and sat on the kerb to wait for an ambulance, in my pyjamas, unlaced boots, no socks, and with a towel over the worst of the bleeding.

The first responder to arrive was a police car, with one officer in it, who first checked that I wasn’t holding a knife, then sat down next to me, applied pressure to the wounds, gave me his gloves to stop my hands from freezing off, and let me cry my eyes out into his hi-vis stab vest.

A few minutes later, the ambulance arrived, and carted me off to the local mental health ward. The treatment I got was quick, appropriate, and frankly I couldn’t fault it.

Days passed, and I was back at home and starting to recover – Nothing ambitious, just about able to make toast and watch TV, and going to bed not long after sunset; this being midwinter, at about five or six in the afternoon, and sleeping for about twelve hours a day.

The first bit of graffiti just said “Skitzo”, and it was in permanent marker on the front door. A couple of days later is was joined by “A psycho lives here” in spray-paint. After that, there were just buckets of paint thrown up the windows. When I ventured out to buy more bread, I was told by the man behind the counter in the corner shop that “Of course they’ll want you to move out, if you’ve cut yourself, it’s not that far in anyone’s eye to imagine you’d attack them.”

Near the end of the week, the problem of the paint-splattery windows was solved by someone putting bricks through all of them. The brick through the bedroom window actually hit me, in bed, and I sat up in time to see that it wasn’t just teenagers, it was someone who lived further up the street. He shouted abuse when he realised I was looking at him, and threatened to come in and “get me”.

As you can probably imagine, sitting in my living room and listening to a neighbour frantically kicking at the front door and rattling the handle, trying to get in, is more terrifying than any halloween costume could possibly convey.

I moved out the next morning, after a sleepless night.

But, honestly, that’s not my darkest fear. My fear is that it’ll happen again, in my new house, which I love and never want to leave. I know it’s been close a few times – I’ve been lucky in that the people that’ve found me wandering around dissassociated, or cut to ribbons, have been very understanding and have always just taken me home safely. That’s luck, not judgment.

But, I hear you ask, what does this have to do with halloween costumes? Well, everything. In the events I relayed, I would always have cut myself, would always have been sectioned, and would always have had a long, boring recovery ahead of me. But my neighbours attacking me, in what they thought was a preemptive strike and defending their community? The only reason that happened was because of the tremendous stigma against the mentally ill, which is fuelled by (amongst other things) horror cliches about asylums and psychopaths and people in hospital gowns with fake blood down the front and manic grins.

I don’t think it’s going to be easy, but in our lifetimes it used to be perfectly acceptable to wear blackface costumes and to suggest that all Black people were either gangsters or warlords, and nowadays that’s the preserve of only a hardcore, openly-racist few. And I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think that within the same amount of time again, we might be able to make it unacceptable to cause this much harm to mentally ill people as well.

Crows in the air

Last one, I swear, because this must be boring the shit out of you all (Or boiling your piss, or both).

Current draft of a letter to Local Pool saying “Oi! Equality Act!”, already reviewed once by the lovely CSL, but posted up here so that the rest of you can have a crack at improving it too. I’m worried it’s so long that the Policymakers’ eyes will glaze over;

Dear People That Make Policy,

I am a long-time customer of Local Public Baths, and on Friday 16th Oct (2015) noticed a new sign in the female changing rooms instructing patrons to “Change and shower as discreetly as possible when school-age children were present”. Due to the timings of swimming club sessions and the lack of dedicated adult swims, there are nearly always school-age children in the changing rooms, and there is no way to guarantee their absence for the full duration of changing, as even if they are not present initially they may suddenly arrive.

After asking a member of staff to clarify, I was told that “discreet” in this context meant that patrons were no longer allowed to take off their swimming kit in the shower in order to wash properly, or to change their clothes next to their lockers (Instead, to use the cubicles provided). I currently change on the bench by the lockers, as I am unable to carry my bag, shoes, towel, poolside medication and water from the cubicles to the lockers whilst walking with a crutch, and because my disability gives me very poor balance and coordination along with regular injuries and fast-onsetting fatigue, making changing in a small, locked cubicle with no handrails extremely difficult and possibly dangerous.

After telling him that this worried me, for the above reasons, I was told that I could either arrive fifteen minutes late to sessions (to make it more likely that I was the only person in the changing room whilst I changed) or to use the disabled changing rooms across the corridor.

To a lesser, but not inconsiderable extent, I am worried about the effect that not properly washing after a swim would have, as due to the fatigue which is an inherent part of joint hypermobility syndrome I am usually unable to shower again after getting home. The same, presumably, applies to the many elderly customers who also use the changing room showers as showers.

On the 25th of October, I phoned the centre to ask about the provision of disabled changing, and was informed that the disabled changing room has no lockers, meaning that disabled customers must change and shower in the disabled changing room, walk through the (usually cold) external corridor into the main, non-accessible changing room to use a locker, then either attempt the step-up and step-down through the main shower onto the poolside, or go back out into the cold external corridor and through another door to reach the pool. Each of these routes involves opening two to three heavy, non-power-assisted doors, even more times than an abled person would be required to open them in order to reach the poolside. I also do not believe it would be possible for a customer in a wheelchair to negotiate through the tight right-angled corner into the non-accessible changing room.

Upon visiting the centre on the 25th of October, I attended the evening swim and used the disabled changing room, and found it to be completely unsuitable for anyone with mobility issues – There is a provision of only two grab rails, the shower does not produce hot water, there are no coat or bag hooks or fixed benches, and walking down the outer corridor (much further than the distance needed to use the non-accessible changing rooms) in wet swimming kit, with my possessions in one hand, leaning on a crutch and with bare feet was incredibly taxing due to the cold, not to mention the problem of dragging mud into the pool on the way in. It was only with the help of a member of staff that I managed to get through the changing room doors on the way in to the pool, as I had to carry my coat, bag, boots, poolside equipment, towel and locker token in one hand, whilst using the crutch in my other hand, and thus could not open the door.

I am concerned that this new policy of “discreet” changing will disproportionately affect elderly and disabled swimmers, as the people most likely to both wash at the pool and to change by their lockers.

Please could you review this new policy – Either clarifying “discretion” to acknowledge the necessity of washing and changing safely for many disabled or elderly customers, providing accessible changing which meets BS8300 standards as set out by Sport England (preferably with access directly to the poolside), or by timetabling regular adult-only swims with suitable buffers to ensure that all children have left the changing rooms with adequate time for patrons to change before the start of their session. Any other reasonable accommodations would be appreciated, and I would be happy to consult with you on the issue of disabled access.

Yours faithfully,

Percy T. Dugong

Memento Morrigan

I went for my swim, and changed in my cupboard like a good little cripple.

My diagrams were wrong, by the way – It’s fifteen metres further down the external corridor, meaning that it’s a thirty metre detour.

I got stuck in the doors on the way in, since I had my boots, jacket, bag, towel, morphine, waterbottle and locker token in one hand, and my crutch in the other, and the door was pull-only and weighed a tonne. After ripping my arm out of the socket trying to open it and dropping everything I was carrying, Lifeguard L (The really nice one who always chats) came over, rang someone else to mind the poolside, and helped me carry my stuff to a locker and get down to the poolside.

She confided that she also thought it was a bloody ridiculous sign, and that it made no sense. She asked what my ideal outcome would be, and I said “To get people to tell their bairns that it’s rude to stare”, and she ruefully agreed that the world was a difficult place. I said I’d think for a bit longer about what I’d accept as a reasonable adaption, and that’s what I’m working on now.

In the pool I was knackered – My arm was off at an angle and trailing in the water, though at least I got 600m down, and was swimming with a bloke who was faster than me – Probably faster than I’ve ever been – Who was both an incredibly polite and considerate lanemate and frankly a pleasure to watch.

I got out, limped to my locker, picked up all of my stuff with great difficulty, shoved out of the changing room using my hip as a battering ram, dragged myself down the corridor, where I started notably shaking, not only from the cold but also the fatigue, and got back into the changing cupboard.

This is when I noticed that the floor was completely flat and there were no coat hooks or benches, at either wheelchair or standing height. So I dropped my gear on the floor, and went to try to wash in the shower anyway, sacrificing my stuff to being wet for the sake of getting the dirty poolwater off my skin and the mud from the corridor off my feet. The water was cold. I suddenly remembered that, a year ago, when going to the disabled swim, I’d used the disabled changing room and found that the water was cold. I realised that, even though I’d told the centre staff at the time, nobody had repaired it.

Given the choice between washing in water so cold that it set off muscle spasms, or staying covered in chlorine, with my hair matting into a bleachy lump and my skin crackling and flaking off, I chose the latter.

I got dressed, with no stable bench to sit on, nowhere to put my clothes to stop them getting soaked on the floor, and no chance of calling for help if I fell. The red emergency cord was cut off at about hip-height, useless for anyone that’d fallen.

I found myself running BS8300 through my head, and finding it lacking.

I came out, knackered from having changed more so than from the swim. And despaired.

Water torture

So, today I rang the pool to ask them to confirm the state of the disabled changing rooms (Since, thanks to the new sign, I can’t change in the general population changing room anymore).

Here’s a quick diagram of the pool to help anyone having difficulty envisaging the layout;

pool layout

So, this evening, being more than a week since my last swim and thus getting very, very sore and out-of-shape, I rang the pool to ask about the disabled facilites. I’d used them before, and vaguely remembered there being no lockers in them, but thought I should ring up to check whether I’d just missed them.

And the phone call went roughly as follows.
Me: “Hi, I was wondering what the disabled changing facilities were like, for the pool?”
Reception: “They’ve got everything, a shower and all that”
Me: “How about a locker?”
Reception:”No, you’d have to use the locker in the ladies’ changing”
Me: “Aren’t they through those heavy doors?”
Reception: “They’re all on the same corridor”
Me: there’s two really heavy doors in the way, and a right-angle turn that I’d have to do carrying a bag. Which will be really difficult, on crutches”
Reception: “I don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s just there on the same floor, the ladies’ changing.”
Me: “But they’re not accessible, that’s why there’s a disabled changing area.”
Reception: “You’d have to go through the ladies’ anyway to use the shower before getting in the pool”
Me: “But there’s step on either side of that”
Reception: “Oh, you could get someone to help you”
Me: “No thanks, I’ll leave it”
Reception: “Oh well, suit yourself.”

So, here’s that same diagram annotated with the paths that a disabled person is meant to do, as compared to a hypothetical perfect abled person, and the path I’d been taking. Lest we forget as well, the corridor between the disabled changing room and the pool is single-glazed and when the door is open, is open to the elements, so it always cold enough that on wet, bare skin it’s dangerous. Abled people are never asked to try to walk through it in their wet swimming kits.

The paths the disabled are asked to take;

pool layout paths

The path the abled are asked to take;

abledpath

And the path I’d been taking;

mypath

And I seem to be the only person who is looking at this and thinking that it’s completely ridiculous. They’re asking people who can’t safely use a small changing cubicle to risk their health even further by adding 2-6 extra door pushes/pulls to their routine, doubling their walking distance, and crossing a freezing-cold external corridor whilst first in only their swimming kit, and then in their swimming kit and soaked to the skin.

All because someone tutted at the thought of seeing people getting changed.

Hollywoo stars

So, according to the milometer, I’ve racked up 250 miles on the bike over three days, which isn’t all that bad. Took off on Wednesday afternoon to go to the Homelands, a hundred and odd miles each way with a couple of small detours.

The way up was my first “serious” ride as I thought of it – Not just nootling around Harrogate, but going from A to B, with a great sense of purpose, taking the roads as they were presented, rather than picking my route based on which roads I wanted to go on. I did, however, carefully pick my weather – Clear, grey day, hovering at around five degrees, trees turning bright yellow and orange, with the occasional fiery red of a copper beech or a sloe tree. Perfect for a nice trip out.

The ring-road is flanked by the omnipresent sycamores, silver birches and  a surprising number of apple and plum trees (which I will bet good money are the result of sticky stones and cores thrown out of car windows), and whilst the larger leaves drifted in impressively coloured piles in the gutters, the birches scattered theirs like confetti, whirling back up the hills and gusting about between the cars. It was just as I was leaving the ring-road, through a small commuter village and up a winding road onto the side of a fell, when I realised how windy it was. Not just suddenly colder – The cold wasn’t bothering me yet, I’d piled on the layers* – but suddenly the bike was being whipped side to side in the gusts. I settled down, kept a healthy distance from the few other vehicles on the road, and pressed on up the now-familiar road to Harrogate.

Coming out of the other side of Harrogate, the road subtly changed. Not only was the tarmac now a bit rougher, but the lanes were narrower, the bends were tighter and more sudden, and it seemed to be one long downhill into the Vale. I passed a handful of other bikes going in the opposite direction, and was overtaken by one. I hovered between 40 and the speed limit, being cautious in the unfamiliar corners (Was it really a smooth curve, or a sudden 90-degree bend? Oh christ, why did that sign indicate a hard left turn when it was really a hard right turn?) and starting to get use to countersteering. There was nobody behind me, so I could go as slowly or quickly as I felt that I needed to, and work out what kind of surfaces the tyres were happy with, at which speeds. All a good, healthy learning experience.

The main road deposited me in Thirsk, where I stopped for a few minutes in a disabled bay (“No bikes allowed”) to reset the dislocated jaw taht I’d not noticed before and adjust my gloves, before setting off again and slipping out onto the A19.

I assume that most of you will be familiar with the A19, and specifically the Tees Viaduct, which Wikipedia describes coolly as “A beam bridge, carrying a six-lane dual carriageway, 2.9 kilometers long, carrying 70,000 vehicles a day.” On a motorcycle, I’d describe the Tees Viaduct rather differently;

“The Tees Viaduct is a two-mile-long chance to brush up on your rosary. By the time you’re halfway through the Apostles’ Creed you’ll have been treated to an up-close view of the underside of one of Teesport’s many container lorries as they jostle to cross all three lanes at the last posible second to reach the sliproad. Once you’re free of the HGV traffic, you’ll find yourself atop the 117-metre long, 20-metre tall span crossing the Tees, where the prevailing wind will eagerly guide you towards a closer view of the river, an offer that’s taken up by canvas-sided lorries and poorly-streamlined bikes with equal alacrity. As you descend from the largest of the 68 spans, you’ll be joined by gravel tippers racing up the incoming sliproad and being caught in the sudden gale-force winds, causing them to either stop suddenly in the left-hand lane, veer into the centre, or accelerate wildly in an attempt to overtake traffic already on the bridge. Often in convoys of three, all doing different things, just to increase the zany fun. All executed at around seventy miles an hour, with a two-inch gap between vehicles.”

But, the A19 does eventually lead all souls to Hebburn, and most of it is a lovely series of smooth curves through gorgeous scenery dotted with old farmhouses and windmills ancient and modern, with (at least Northbond on a Wenesday afternoon) very little traffic.

Time in the homelands was good. As usual, I planned to do a lot more than I actually did (Stayed with my Mam and Quantum Dad, saw my Grandparents, which was lovely, but didn’t get a chance to see Algernon or Sambuca, or my cousins and their new babies) but generally it was just nice. I feel that at this point I must say that the only reason I’m not including more about family time is because it’s not my story to tell, and I’m not all that comfortable sharing even the most innocuous stuff when it’s not my story.

On the way back I made record time to Thirsk (Finally getting around to overtaking, even if it was mostly just slow-moving juggernauts), and ran into one huge and notable problem on the sliproad – I couldn’t feel or move my left arm. Steering to get around into the town centre with only one arm was a challenge, so I skewed into the first pub I saw, heated my hands up on the exhaust pipe until I could get my helmet and gloves off, then fell through the door and was carefully guided to the fire by a barmaid. It took about half an hour for my hands to go from black to grey to purple, then to flushed red, then finally back to a sensible tan-grey.

Upon leaving the pub to find somewhere to get a coffee, there was a tiny small child who ran excitedly over to the bike. After I’d carefully directed him away from any part of the bike that was oily, sharp, fragile or still hot (which, when you’re two foot tall, is basically all of the bike that you can reach) I let his Mum pick him up and put him on the saddle, which basically made his day.

A few minutes later, when I was sitting in the coffee shop with a pair of trikers whom I’d met in the town square, the same small child appeared again, and his Mum seemed embarrassed out of her mind that he was bothering the exact same biker as before. All three of us just laughed, and said the thing that every parent dreads when looking at a heavily-modified biker that’s obviously travelling perpendicular to society; “Ha, I was just the same at his age”.

It took about an hour for me to be sure that my shoulder had reattached itself and that I could safely move my hand, then I continued back onwards to Harrogate. At Harrogate I took a short stop next to the Stray (Revelling in the leaves and the beginnings of the sunset), then made it back home, wherein I immediately flopped into a hot bath, with a generous slug of morphine, a glass of sercial, and Vision Thing.

Overall, a couple of good days that I think I really needed.

*One quilted hi-vis jacket, orange. One set of Sportex winter leathers, jacket and trousers. One Norwegian navy “Norgy” shirt. One pair of thermal longjohns, British army surplus. One polo-neck longsleeved T-shirt. One fishnet top/string vest. Comfy Leeds Rhinos boxers. Wool socks. Goretex-merino undersocks. Drop boots. Silk glove liners. Kevlar gloves.

Changing times

I’ve been going to the same public baths for about seven years, and I’m very much a creature of habit. I put my bag down on the end of the bench, whichever end has the least people near it or least used lockers, open the door, put my shoes in the bottom of it, then get changed into my skin. I put my clothes in the bag, then put the towel on top of everything, lock the locker, and tie the key to my ankle. Then I get a quick splash under the shower (The only person who actually takes notice of that bit of protocol…) and get into the pool.

On the way back out I get into the showers again, strip down, wash the chlorine off myself and wring out my fastskin, then return to my locker, get dressed, and leave.

The changing room has cubicles, about five metres away from the lockers, which I don’t use.

I don’t change at my locker out of some kind of principle, I change at my locker because it’s unsafe for me to use the cubicles – They’re small locked boxes with no grab-rails, no room to balance properly on a crutch, and if I fall I’ve not got the space to catch myself before I hit the ground. Plus, if I faint or injure myself in the main room, I’m able to easily get help – This isn’t a complete hypothetical, this has happened more than a dozen times since I started coming to the pool in 2009. Not to mention that carrying a towel, a rucksack, my coat, my boots, a water bottle and a bottle of morphine back and forth from a cubicle to the locker over a series of trips would probably knacker me out before getting in the pool, and likewise would make getting changed back at the end of the session impossible. Try doing all of that one-handed whilst balancing on an elbow crutch.

In the showers, I take off my fastskin and rinse, because washing whilst wearing it doesn’t adequately rinse the chlorine off my skin. I’ve got incredibly sensitive skin, so letting dirty pool water dry on it under the water-resistant fastskin makes it dry, itch, then sometimes flake off entirely. It’s not a matter of principle, again, it’s a matter of staying healthy.

The baths don’t really have disabled changing rooms, or rather the ones they do have are on the other side of a freezing corridor, behind two heavy doors, and don’t have lockers in them. The shower also, on the one occasion I tried to use it, had no water pressure and ran cold.

Today, after my swim, I saw a new sign up in the changing rooms;

“Would all customers please change and shower discreetly when schoolchildren are present”

I gave it an eyebrow raise, and finished getting dressed, then caught the duty manager on the desk on the way out.

“So, I just saw the sign in the changing rooms” I said, more than a bit nervously because frankly this conversation could never go well. “I think this means I can’t use the changing rooms anymore, since I can’t use the cubicles and I can’t not shower in the showers”.

“Yes,” he said “But it’s because of the changing rooms…” he trailed off, and looked embarrassed, and as if there should be some shared cultural understanding that changing rooms were not places where humans should get changed in.

“So, can you look up when there’s going to be a swim where you can guarantee there being no schoolchildren in the changing room, then?” I asked, trying to see if he could see the problem here.

“Oh” he replied “Well, you can just go to the adult swims, then.”

I thought for a second, then got the timetable from the desk between us, and read it slowly.

“But,” I said eventually “They’re always bookended by club sessions and things, which are full of bairns, so I’d still be sharing the changing room with them.”

He looked again, and highlighted the sessions, then started writing on them;

“Well,” he said, explaining what he was doing “You can just come up fifteen minutes later to the sessions, they’re usually gone by then.”

I looked at the paper as he handed it back to me. I could go to five sessions, all of them now cut short by fifteen minutes at least, turning a sensible hour-long session into a forty-five minute one, and presumably into a half-hour one if there were any children in the pool (As there often are after club sessions, when they want to stay on and keep training beyond the end of their allotted time).

I thanked him, turned away, and went home.

Upon getting home, I started explaining the issue to Dearest, and he confirmed to me that there was nothing unusual about changing at ones locker, indeed that everyone in the men’s side did that.

There are two problems here;

  1. If I do go back and change as normal, now that I’ve “been warned” so to speak, I feel like there’s a chance I’d end up on the sex offenders’ register.
  2. If I start this fight, I will always be the one that had a mardy about not being able to get changed in public.

There are a couple of advantages here;

  1. I could use this to get the boot in the door about the baths getting better disabled changing, since ideally there’d be accessible changing for disabled people, which I would much rather use than having to make-do in the general population room.
  2. I’ve got an In with the local council.
  3. The Equalities Act is probably on my side.

Right now though, a lot of crying and bemoaning the loss of the last vestige of my physio plan is in order.

Toktogi is on