Thursday, 5 February 2009

Monday 2 February

Last week’s edition of In Touch on BBC Radio 4 asked its audience at the end of the programme whether they wanted to hear more about scientific research and development of cures to blindness or not. I was intrigued by this, as it seemed utterly impossible to me to comprehend that anyone should want to retain his or her disability. It turns out that there are those who been blind from birth and have never known what it is like to be sighted who are not interested in such developments. This struck me as very strange – rather like members of the deaf community who would rather have a deaf child than a hearing one. So, I fired off an irritable letter to the BBC, which resulted in it being read out with suitable acknowledgement of my points about the existence of a two-tier blind community: those who are relatively young like me and who have recently lost sight, and those who had been blind from birth, or were very old, and did not want to undergo the hassles of operations and all the clinical procedures.


It does seem incredible to me that people should not wish to have a sense restored - that most people just take for granted - and raises some of the spookier aspects of disability politics. Apart from the allusion to deafness, I have also come across instances of parents with profound physical disabilities who would rather not test their unborn children and would prefer them to undergo lives of potential pain, misery and discomfort. It does beg the question of quality of life and how much, given medical progress, should be done to keep people alive who in earlier generations who not have survived childhood or infancy.


Like millions of others, I woke up on Monday morning to a world of whiteness and cold. Like others, I initially greeted the collapse of our public transport system in London and the South East with disbelief and incredulity as the capital city of one of the world’s most developed nations ground to a halt!! As Boris [Johnson] admitted on the news on Monday evening, it had not been TFL’s finest hour, and although it had been the right sort of snow there had just been too much of it!


A Russian friend of mine phoned me up in great glee as the chaos that had bestruck London has been a major item on the Russian TV news. He and various friends had been falling about with laughter at the effects of 10cm of snow in London and temperatures of -2/-3 degrees taking such a massive toll, whilst they were carrying on life as usual with temperatures of -20 and snow a metre high! A Midlands-based friend told me how he had driven home from Sweden last Sunday as the snow began to fall in Britain, and how on the other side of the Channel graters and snow-ploughs were out in force, however, and as soon as he hit the English motorway network his journey got slower and slower.


It’s a difficult one to call. Should a major country have the fleets of snowploughs standing by and vast reserves of grit and salt ready for the rare occasions when snow does fall in England, and fall badly? Or should we shrug our shoulders and realise that such events only take place every few years and that the economics of such planning may be more than we can afford? Either way, it is embarrassing when other European countries seem to carry on life as usual after a bit of snow and the UK grinds, shuddering, to a chaotic halt!


On a happier note, I am pleased to report that snowballing and making snowmen is an ideal pursuit for the sight-impaired male!! Soft, white and clean, with a very good contrast against darker materials. I joined neighbours and friends for a happy half hour of fun, before that much needed standby in times of snow and ice summoned me to the warmth of some Heinz Tomato Soup! And I pondered on memories of how, when I was at Swansea, my students made a giant snowball and rolled it in front of my front door on campus, to which I had to summon the University grounds staff to come and dig me out!!


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