Monday, August 01, 2011

Top Gear & Disabled Parking Spaces

I can't believe I'm blogging about Top Gear. Stephen has done a much better job than me so go there and read that instead.

Stephen loves cars. From childhood, he has been obsessed with cars, their design, their innovations, their specifications. When he is in great pain, as he often is, talking about cars, looking at pictures of cars and watching programmes about car helps to keep him calm and thus as comfortable as possible. This may sound sad, but I'm the same with craft projects and materials, leafing through a Panduro catalogue or talking through how I'm going to make my nephew's birthday present is highly therapeutic. And naturally, these interests are contagious. Stephen has learnt the difference between découpage and appliqué, I have learnt that the Smart ForTwo and the Caterham are the only production cars to have a De Dion suspension system.

Then there's Top Gear. Top Gear is many strange things, but among them, it is the only regular programme dedicated to cars on a television channel you don't pay for. I could say some pretty scathing things about it's production and presentation, but that's a matter of taste. It is a taste that neither Stephen nor I share, and as such we both find it fairly annoying and sometimes offensive. However, it features lots and lots of pretty footage of cars and occasionally some interesting data. Not as much as it could – and in fact, to maintain my blood pressure on Sunday night, and because I am a square and I don't care, I was using a stopwatch to calculate out how many minutes of the hour actually featured a car, its interior or its engine in frame. I was guessing it would be less than half, but I never got far enough to see.

Our expectations were especially low because they were talking about electric cars. Quite apart from it's cultural position, Top Gear does not feature its presenters reviewing cars from their own impartial or even personal perspective. Top Gear is funded in part by the petroleum industry and depends on good relationships with the big car companies, the majority of whom still make most of their profits from the sales of gas-guzzlers. Top Gear is currently being sued by Tesla, having featured their high-performance electric car and pretending that it had run out of electricity and broken down on set. Similar tricks were played with the electric cars on Sunday, things went wrong that wouldn't normally go wrong, they went to one of the few counties in the UK where there are no public charge points and so on. And this was irritating, but I was happily distracted with my stopwatch experiment. But then....

The cars were parked in clearly marked disabled parking bays.

Parking in a disabled bay is illegal if it is on public property. On a private carpark, landowners have the right to clamp vehicles and issue big fines to offenders. It is possible – probable even – that the Top Gear crew got special permission from a private landowner to park in the disabled bays, but the viewer isn't to know this. If this had been the case, it would have been small effort to cover up the markings on the tarmac – even edit them out of what was effectively a still shot - but they didn't.

I'm not someone who goes crazy every time I see someone illegally parked in a disabled parking bay. I've been blogging for all these years and I can't remember ranting about it before*. But of course it disappoints me, it's a small chip in my faith in humanity. Disabled parking is not about convenience, nor is it a compassionate move to make life a little bit easier for disabled people. Usually, whether that parking space is available makes the difference between whether we get to do something – attend an appointment, meet up with a friend, shop, post a letter etc. - or not. But people don't know this and I make excuses for them (I'm concerned how much of this post seems to be about strategies I use to prevent my blood from boiling). I imagine that they have a blue badge that has fallen out of sight. Or they are waiting for an up-to-date badge to come through the post (they can be slow sometimes). I imagine that whilst the kid in the convertible managed to exit his car without opening the door, within a few yards down the road, the pain he lives with will have rendered his gait to a stagger.

But when it happens on prime time television, watched by more people than read The Daily Mail?

Honestly? It shook us up. We'd been talking about the reception we get from people when out and about together lately and the fact that our immunity to negative comment didn't last. It felt personal. This article Wheelie Catholic linked to described the abuse of a disabled parking space as a micro-aggression, a small act of contempt, though not quite malice, that people with mobility impairments face in our everyday lives. But it loses the micro when it is broadcast and normalised without comment. Added to this, a nice visual metaphor when the camera sweeps between the electric cars driving along the road and a woman with a mobility scooter riding the pavement beside them, along with comments about things with batteries being rubbish.

We turned the television off and e-mailed a complaint to the BBC. Stephen grimly speculated that they might have done this just so that they could laugh at people who complained next episode (which does seem a publicity strategy) before we realised that it had been the last in the series. Good, we can't be laughed at again.

This morning, we used our currently limited internet connection to see if anyone had noticed. Rob had, inviting the comment that Top Gear is a "man's programme" so that's okay (?!). Apart from that, much of the talk seemed to be about a very special piece that they did at the end of the show – which we missed – when they featured heroic amputee veterans involved in the Dakar Rally. I can't comment on how they handled this, except that the tired old triumph over adversity narrative seems to be what others have picked up on.

Unfortunately, I am not a hero. I just want to go about my business like everyone else. And for that, I need the single ounce of respect it requires a person not to park where they're not supposed to.

* I had a quick look through and actually found a post in which I argued that the Blue Badge (disabled parking permit) should be made less profittable. To be honest, I can no longer stand by that one entirely, but hey.


irasocol said...

One thing we need is a wall-of-shame website where we can all post our pictures with license plates clearly visible. Then someone - perhaps from NewsCorp - to track down all the offenders phone numbers and addresses. In the states enforcement of this ranges from casual to non-existent. Of course many cities here completely ignore the need for these spaces as well.

Ira Socol

keth said...

I'm reluctant to point you towards the Daily Mail but.. there is an article on there about this... which is something i suppose.

Gary Miller said...

Hi Goldfish.

It's been a while since I've been moved to comment on something.

"...not a hero." ???

Oh yes you are. And so are the many voices prepared to make public their feelings and emotions on a topic such as this.

It's absolutely vital that you, and countless other people, continue to make public such affronts to the sensibilities of a large proportion of our society.

So, keep on writing!


ps Haven't had a chance to give you, and Stephen, all my very best wishes for the future.

pps Sorry if this a ramble, or if my language isn't appropriate. But it has been a while.

The Goldfish said...

Thank you three.

Ira, they have attempted a few shaming websites (although I looked just now and they seem to have vanished). However, when I have seen them, the trouble with seemed to be that people were photographing vehicles that had displayed the badges, and assumed that fraud was taking place because the people who came out weren't wheelchair users, or were "too young to be disabled", or even because they were overweight...

I think there has been growing awareness in the UK, especially with a few high profile prosecutions of council officials and the like for abusing the spaces.

Keth - thank you. It's a bit late now, as I'm still only able to come on-line in dribs and drabs, but if anyone wants to look at that story without giving a hit to the Daily Mail, it can also be read here.

Gary - thank you very much. :-)

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