Do I have to watch the Paralympics just because I’m disabled?
Personally speaking, I’ve never really been very much into sport or athletics; unlike my namesake Lawrence Clarke, the 110m Hurdler who came 4th in the Olympics the other week. Ever since then people have confused me with him a number of times – God only knows how! I was particularly alarmed to get a tweet from a complete stranger the other day saying “Laurence Clark – get into my bed” until I realised they’d just misspelt his name…
On the whole, I’ve found not being into sport to be a huge disadvantage when talking to other blokes, as football is the shorthand we men tend to use to initiate conversations and avoid talking about troublesome things like feelings and emotions. When I’m home in Liverpool and I get a taxi, I’m always asked which football team I support – red or blue. I then end up having to bullshit my way through a conversation I know sod all about. After all, my chosen interest is also shared by millions of men each Saturday, but cabbies aren’t generally interested in Doctor Who.
I’ve had a go at a couple of Paralympic sports over the years to little success. I’ve tried Boccia, the stereotypical sport for people with cerebral palsy like me, where you must get your balls closer to the jack than your opponent’s balls. To me, it just seemed like crown bowling but with less tension and excitement. I’ve also had a go at wheelchair basketball, but found I lack the co-ordination to tie my shoelaces… let alone aim a ball into a hoop suspended 10 feet above me.
But in many ways it feels a bit disloyal to my own kind not to be excited about the impending Paralympic Games. Never before can I recall disabled people getting so much attention from the media. As a dyed-in-the-wool inclusion nut I still wince a little at having a separate set of games just for a subset of disabled people, although I totally get the argument that these events would get overshadowed and lost if the two sets of games were to merge. Many of us have also been shocked by the bizarre seating system which is so far preventing some wheelchair users from attending due to confusion around who can accompany them. Certainly as things currently stand, I wouldn’t be able to go with my wife and kids.
But above all else, my major gripe with the whole thing is that the media seem incapable of talking about Paralympic athletes without referring to them as ‘inspiring’. I can’t help but find myself thinking: what about the ones that come last, or don’t qualify at all, or are just a little bit crap? Surely they can’t all be ‘inspiring’, can they? If a Paralympic football team was knocked out in the first round, I reckon they would still be thought of as inspirational for having a go. But if the regular England football team did the same, they’d very quickly get labelled a bunch of bastards. It’s almost as if it’s hardwired into us all that disability must be inspiring like a bizarre form of political correctness.
My number one pet hate in life is people calling me inspirational. You may well be wondering what my problem is -after all, there are far, far worse words that I could get called. But I don’t get called inspiring for achievements like swimming the channel, climbing mountains or getting away with saying the F-word on Newsnight – even though I have actually done at least one of these things.
Instead people seem to think I’m inspiring for doing ordinary, run-of-the-mill stuff like getting dressed, going to work or wiping my backside. I even got called inspirational and brave the day my son was born. I was called brave… but compared to my wife; my contribution seemed the easy bit!
It seems the less fortunate in life we’re perceived to be; the less we need to achieve before we get saddled with the label of ‘inspirational’. So to me it’s just a polite, slightly patronising way of people saying I’d never amount to much but somehow I’ve surpassed their low expectations of me. Hardly a compliment, is it?
Therefore to show you why this gets on my nerves so much, I spent a day going round London telling everyone I saw that I found them inspiring for doing mundane, everyday activities. Here’s a video showing the edited highlights…
This year I actually have a lot to thank the Paralympics for, as the Cultural Olympiad has funded my new show Inspired which attempts to sort out once and for all what is and isn’t truly inspirational. The show recently came runner-up at the Amused Moose Laughter Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe and will be playing at Bloomsbury Theatre on 7 September as part of the London 2012 festival.
So this time around I will be giving the world of sport another go and watching the Paralympics. I may choose not to find the athletes particularly inspiring, but at least I may finally be able to talk bollocks about sport to other blokes!Tagged in: Boccia, cerebral palsy, Cultural Olympiad, disability, inspirational, olympics, paralympics, Sport, Wheelchair Basketball
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