Letters: The perils of being disabled

The ups and downs (and the perils) of being disabled
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The Independent Online

Having recently become disabled, it has been a interesting new experience. You learn a lot about the human race.

In a wheelchair, people won't look at you; if they talk to your carer, they don't look down, and they even talk about you as though you are not there. They assume that because you are in a wheelchair you must be mentally retarded. You feel invisible, except to the children who are at the same height and usually stare at you.

Walking with my roller (Zimmer frame on wheels), everybody smiles, mothers say to their children, "Watch that gentleman, darling", everyone I know stops to talk to me (I had seven conversations just walking 200m to the postbox in my village. No wonder it took more than an hour to get there and back). People are, generally, very kind and want to help you. I think it confuses their preconceptions of how old you should be to have to operate one of these things. Being in my early fifties, I am waiting for someone to say, "You look far too young to have one of those".

When I am walking slowly with my walking-stick, it is like driving a car with L-plates; people are impatient when stuck behind you, and sometimes they brush past to get in front of you as quickly as possible. People are as unfriendly as ever and make no allowance that you might be disabled in some way. They don't realise that you are just about balancing with the walking-stick and could easily fall if you take a step wrong, or if unthinking people walk into you, from front or rear.

When I see someone coming straight at me and not looking where they are going, I just have to stop and wait and hope they see me in time. People don't open doors for you, and few offer other help.

Simon Icke

Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire

Speaking up for Ann Widdecombe

The list of MPs preparing to stand for election as the next Commons Speaker looks to be 10 to 12 strong. Actually, strong is entirely the wrong adjective to use in this case, as the rather depressing roll-call of candidates makes apparent.

Let's first eliminate the dead wood: John Bercow. Who? Precisely, so add him to the rejects, together with Parmit Dhanda, Richard Shepherd and Sir Michael Lord, self-seekers all. The grandee quotient, (Beith, Cormack, Young) represent the old school, and the past weeks have shown that to be discredited, so, no.

Sir Alan Haslehurst is clearly the most able candidate but his expenses claims effectively exclude him. Margaret Beckett, impartial: clearly, an oxymoron.

Step forward, then, the caretaker, Ann Widdecombe. A dominant Speaker is required for the dying days of this discredited Parliament; after the general election, the House will be a very different place and reform will, properly, be in the air. Ms Widdecombe for next Speaker.

John Axon

Petts Wood, Kent

The rape of our Irish Sea prawns

I must congratulate The Independent and Johann Hari for your enlightened article (Opinion, 5 June), on the true state of fish stocks worldwide. As the leader of a sea fisheries advisory group, whose aims are a sustainable fishery for both fish and fishermen, I fully agree with his views and opinions.

The situation here in Ireland is farcical. It is common practise for industrial deep-sea boats to "trawl" for fish inshore and in estuaries, at the expense of the local small-boat coastal communities. These coastal communities, when they adhere to traditional fishing methods, are rational exploiters of the resource.

An example of the present predation of fish stocks in Ireland is of the prawn stocks in the Irish Sea by industrial boats The traditional method of trawling this species was by small, medium-powered boats, which pulled light trawl nets across the sea floor, generally at the turning (slack phases) of the tide cycle, when prawns venture out from their burrows to forage.

The rapacious method of "harvesting" employed by the super-powered industrial trawlers, is to adapt heavy trawl nets, and (unconstrained by time due to tide phase) pull them, not over, but through the sea bed, digging out the prawns from their burrows. The damage done by this so-called fishing method cannot be mended because the benthos is destroyed.

Our group sees the hope for the conservation and the handing on to future generations of the fish species entrusted to our care, in terms of the house being on fire and waiting for the fire engine.

Patsy Peril


UK's future lies in green technology

Lord Drayson is right to say that we need to accelerate new green technologies that deliver performance with sustainability and put them in reach of people ("Put green technologies within people's reach, and they'll grab them", Podium, 4 June). Sadly, the past few days have demonstrated why policy action is required to help address a major dilemma facing such technologies.

The UK recently enjoyed a burst of high pressure with three hot and sunny days and temperatures averaging about 80F. This has led to the first surge of high summer energy demand, because people have deployed fans and air conditioners in the workplace as well as other cooling systems. During this period of high energy demand the country's 2,500 wind turbines have been almost motionless. During the three days, wind's share of UK electricity supply was 0.2%, 0.1% and 0.0% respectively.

We must begin to recoup our vast investment in intermittent renewables such as wind. A recent written answer in the House of Lords highlighted the cost of subsidies for renewable energies at over £30bn between now and 2020, at today's prices.

The answer lies in fitting electrolysers to wind turbines and solar panels to allow them to generate hydrogen which can be used later. Intermittent renewables should now be treated and viewed as a secondary energy source, with huge energy storage potential. The hydrogen they produce can then be used in hydrogen-adapted vehicles, gas-fired power plants, zero-carbon homes and the chemicals industry.

British companies are leaders in the development of the hydrogen economy and should be supported. When hydrogen is used in a combustion engine the only by-product is water vapour.

By supporting renewables as back-up suppliers with the ability to store energy, wind and solar can become regarded as more important and reliable renewables.

Tony Lodge

Research Fellow, Centre for Policy Studies, London SW1

Forms stop people from complaining

I agree wholeheartedly with Mary Dejevsky's comments about overly formalised complaints procedures (Opinion, 10 June). I have long suspected that the purpose of constructing such hoops through which people must jump to make themselves heard is actually to dissuade them from ever putting pen to paper.

As a nurse, sadly, I find myself faced with angry patients and relatives who are frustrated by failings which hinder their treatment, and impede their access to information, but when I offer them the complaints leaflet, frequently shrug and scoff. They are, understandably, not willing to set themselves such a task when they have far more important things to worry about.

It is perhaps pertinent to mention that one such relative who yelled at me for approximately 10 minutes about her entirely justifiable grievances, began to cry when I spoke. Apparently, I had found the only word she wanted to hear: "Sorry".

Claire Perkins


Glyn Edwards (letters, 12 June) is right when he advises sending complaints to the leader of a council. It also applies to any other organisation.

This is the "Snowball Principle". The higher up a slope that a snowball starts, the bigger it gets and the harder it hits.

Ron Shuttleworth


Blears' behaviour was despicable

Any regrets Blair Babe Hazel Blears has regarding the manner and timing of her resignation (Hazel Blears: "I have resignation regrets", 12 June) can only be for her diminishing chances of continuing her Parliamentary career. Unless this money-grubbing MP is incredibly stupid, she couldn't fail to have realised the harm she would be doing to Brown, and Labour's prospects in local and European elections. Particularly despicable was how her actions chopped off the legs of defending Labour councillors in her area.

In my opinion, it was a calculated and spiteful act, and I trust that her constituency party will not be swayed by this pathetic attempt to remain as their candidate at the next election. An essential first step for constituency parties throughout the country is to deselect those Labour MPs exposed as being on the make, which will allow traditional Labour values to regenerate within the party.

Eddie Dougall

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Hazel Blears got into trouble over her expenses because she couldn't decide which of her homes was her main residence. Then she decided to quit a cabinet post she was about to be fired from, proudly "Rocking the boat" on the brink of the European elections.

Now that she faces deselection by her constituency party, she is apparently seized by regrets over her actions. Make your flipping mind up, Hazel.

Chris Webster


If we could get back-pedalling as an Olympic sport in 2012, there's a chance that Hazel Blears could emulate Sir Chris Hoy's achievements in Beijing.

Charles Hopkins


Some take shallow view of opera

Thank goodness you have Edward Seckerson as opera reviewer; he is the primus inter pares of critics. Two recent articles show elsewhere a shallow view of opera. That Richard Ingrams (Opinion, 6 June) says, "My very occasional visits suggest most of the people who go to opera have no special love of music" reveals more about his acquaintances than his knowledge of opera fans; as usual, he is completely wide of the mark.

Then Christina Patterson (Opinion, 11 June), previously unimpressed by opera, raves about a trip to Glyndebourne to see an opera that first appeared in 2005. I think I'll stick with Ed to get news of opera.

David Hasell

Thames Ditton, Surrey

Unfair to football

Hot on the heels of Kaka's transfer for £56m comes Ronaldo's transfer for £80m (report, 12 June); and there are more of the same in the offing. Is football self-destructing? In the view of right-thinking people who care for football and its future, it may be. Michel Platini, president of European football's governing body, characterised these transfers as a challenge to fair play and a threat to the financial balance of competitions.

Professor Ian Blackshaw

Fellow, The International Sports Law Centre, The Hague, Netherlands

Top tap tip

Glenn Cox and others (letters, 8, 10 and 12 June) have over-simplified the problem of fat people in the bath. A fat man in the bath may leave less room for the water but a skinny man will require only a few centimetres of water to be comfortable. Someone of a more rounded nature, as I observed this morning, may need to fill the bath to nearly the overflow to achieve a similar effect.

Dr J E Finch

MATLOCK, Derbyshire

Wave of fear

I am told that Boris Johnson's desire to keep the Routemaster buses was caused by a nightmare, in which he saw that within 24 hours of the last Routemaster being towed to the scrapyard, that a 100ft wave overwhelmed the Thames Barrier and flooded 90 per cent of London. The Routemaster must be preserved to save the people of London from a terrible disaster, even worse than the re-election of the Routemaster's arch-enemy, Ken Livingstone.

George D Lewis

Brackley, Northampton

Good enough

Since it is going to be harder for schools to be judged "Good" or "Outstanding" by Ofsted (Education, 12 June), perhaps now would be a good time for the Chief Inspector to look in a good dictionary and accept that "Satisfactory" is, in fact, good enough.

Nicky Potts

Bearsted, Kent

In your article on school inspections, the writer tells us that 15 per cent of schools are judged to be outstanding, 49 per cent good, 32 per cent satisfactory and 5 per cent inadequate. I don't know what school he went to, but I'm sure he must have given it 101 per cent.

Roy Askew

Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire