Disclaimer: This was inspired by this post by Lady Bracknell, but is not related to the programme she mentions, which I never saw, not even a moment of it. I wouldn't want to offend anybody, especially those who conscientiously took part in that programme; this is pure silliness.
Butch's Diary, to accompany the ground-breaking reality TV show Above and Beyond.
Our mission: To go to the local supermarket and shop for groceries by bus.
The team: A bunch of handicapped people, out to prove themselves truly handicapable.*
I am Butch and I am the exhibitionist leader. I spent fifteen long weeks in the Royal Marines and there's nothing I like better than stripping down to the waist and wrestling in the mud with the boys. That's right; totally able-bodied me, there isn’t so much as a crippled hair on my taut, sinewy body. No way - I wax.
But I do like to do my bit for those less fortunate than myself and last year when one of my very many girlfriends twisted her ankle in a tragic stiletto accident, I began to think about the disabled and what I could do for them. So, together with the producers of such hard-hitting documentaries as Who ate all the pies? and When Librarians Crack we sought to crush the old stereotypes about people with disabilities by taking a group of them on a trek to the supermarket. This is our incredible story.
The exhibitionism suffers an early set-back when two of the team cannot get out of bed in the morning. The producers are enthusiatic about the spectacle of these invalids being carried through the streets in their beds, but it is felt that we will not be able to fit the beds through the checkouts at our final destination. Damn shame. Would have made for great television.
The team comes across a car parked on the pavement and some of us simply can't get past. We have to backtrack two hundred yards down the road in order to find a lowered kerb where we can all cross safely. This results in missing the bus we were hoping to catch and some team-members are now in a great deal of pain. I am so damn proud of them all. Ground-breaking stuff.
There is a great sense of victory when we arrive at the bus-stop. There is a normal woman already waiting there, so I explain to her that there is no need to feel nervous; these people are with me and I am an experienced exhibitionist leader. There are no benches at the bus stop so we are having to work as a team to support one another in a standing position. This must be the pluckiest damn bunch of challenged individuals I have the privilege of working with.
When the bus arrives we realise that there is no way we can get the wheelchairs onto it. This means we’re going to have to lose the two most visibly disabled members of the team at this point, which is a real blow. I’m not so bothered about The One That Dribbles, but both the producers and myself are really sad to have to leave The Pretty One behind. She is so damn brave and, lets face it, so damn pretty. I could almost fancy her. When I say as much, the chick bursts into tears, resulting in a full five minutes footage of running mascara. This is great television.
The bus ride to the supermarket gives the team an opportunity to have an intimate chat. I am surprised to learn that some of our team members are quite experienced, making similar treks to the shops as often as once every week. A couple of the guys even joke that they usually drive there. Ha! I am humbled by their ability to laugh, despite the indignities of their daily existence.
The team begin to talk about something called the Social Model of Disability, but the producers and I are far more interested in talking about their various afflictions. I am rather disappointed by the number of Ones Who Look Perfectly Normal in our team – did nobody tell them this was television, as in vision as in, the public want to see your disabilities? They are letting both themselves and the team down if they are not even prepared to limp.
I turn to one of The Ones Who Look Perfectly Normal and ask what is wrong with him. He says he has clinical depression, so I tell him to pull his socks up; this exhibitionism is not for sissies who can’t take the strain without running home to Mummy. Another of The Ones Who Look Perfectly Normal tells me to “F**k Off”, which I identify as a symptom of Tourettes Syndrome – like that character in Ally MacBeal. Not that I watch Ally MacBeal; it being for chicks and I being a real man. I only hope this nutter doesn’t embarrass me in the supermarket.
I try to encourage the team to talk about sex, but they seem strangely reluctant to discuss the graphic details of their sex lives on public transport or national television. Perhaps there are just some subjects too damn painful to be spoken about? Still, this is ground-breaking stuff as it is.
We arrive at the supermarket. One of The Ones Who Look Perfectly Normal collapses on the pavement just outside the shop. We get some fantastic edgy footage of him lying on the ground as fellow shoppers hurry nervously past him. I think they must think he’s drunk. It really saddens me that he had to lie there for a full ten minutes with the cameras rolling before anyone came to his assistance. Damn tragic.
Inside the supermarket, the pressure is on. Many of our team members find this a hostile environment; the bright lights, the noise, having to make decisions amidst a total information overload. One of the Ones With A Stick is knocked over by some maniac rushing round with a trolley (not our own, literal maniacs, you understand, it's just a turn of phrase). Despite the vastness of the building, there is nowhere to sit down, let alone any quiet places where a person might take a moment to recover him or herself. Some of our team are really suffering now. It is truly humbling.
We're getting a lot of funny looks now. I do hope that members of the public can tell the difference between myself and the disabled team members.
The producers and I have decided this is all too easy for The Deaf One. Not being able to hear ought to be a serious handicap and yet she is getting along as if there is nothing at all wrong with her. To increase the challenge, we confiscate her hearing aid.
Ooh, now look who’s got a bee in their bonnet? Several of our team members object to our removing The Deaf One’s hearing aid and now they’re getting stroppy. I am appalled at the team’s ingratitude – don’t they know that I could be elsewhere, leading an elite squad of SAS paratroopers through the Food Hall in Marks & Spencer? Still, the argument that ensures makes for great television. Any minute now somebody is bound to pass out, have a fit or perhaps run amock with a stale baguette.
When we suggest that they will be be breach of contract if they take any medication, the whole bunch of the chippy bastards declare that they'll abandon the programme and make their own way home. Yeah right - I'd like to see them try! I tell them to hold it together; pain, nausea, breathlessness and so on is all a question of mind over matter. People want to see a little sweat and a few tears; if they wanted to see pill-popping and injections they could have watched Top Hundred Most Wretched Celebrities on the other channel. I know about suffering, I know about disability. And I know that the team is damn helpless without the production crew and myself. We’re not at the Daycentre now; this is the Urban Jungle.
The production crew and I head for the Coffee Shop to debrief after the team have abandoned us. We briefly hope that at least the One A Bit Like Forest Gump would have got lost and wandered in our direction, but it seems that he is perfectly capable of finding his way.
So what did we learn from today’s exhibitionism?
Well, we certainly crushed the old stereotypes about disabled people, learning that disabled people are extremely brave and not altogether useless. They are also a damn plucky bunch who overcome the odds to smile through the tragedy of their injuries and disorders.
At the same time, disabled people are, remarkably, still human. In some respects, they are little better than ordinary members of the public who have no idea about the art of truly great television.
* handicapable comes to you courtesy of Melbamae - who didn't invent it, but told us of it.