Thursday, 24 May 2012

Men Fake Orgasms Too.

An interesting statistic was revealed by the BBC recently: just as women do from time to time, apparently men sometimes fake orgasms (Britain Unzipped). In a demonstration of the dumbing down at the UK’s national public broadcaster, this information was broadcast on the youth channel, BBC3, with no explanation (failing to fulfil Auntie Beeb’s educational remit). Indeed, the presenters seemed completely unable to comprehend how a man could fake an orgasm.
I suspect that the two male hosts did not understand what an orgasm actually is and were confusing orgasm with ejaculation. An orgasm is not necessarily an experience solely centred around the genitals, but can affect muscles around the body and thus can be experienced throughout one’s physicality. These are the physiological orgasmic responses. However, additionally, orgasms are part psychological: a reaction and interaction of mind and emotions.
One can ejaculate without experiencing orgasm. For me this has happened on occasion when I have imbibed too much alcohol; when I’ve been clinically depressed; or, when taking certain medications. Obviously in such or similar circumstances, it is quite possible to fake orgasmic responses. I am reliably informed by straight women friends, that men do not generally whip off the condom and flash their ejaculate in front of their partner. And as a queer guy, I can concur with this observation in respect to my male partners.
Contrariwise, a man can orgasm without ejaculating or even having an erection. For many menfolk, whatever their sexuality, stimulation of their prostate can lead to la petite mort. Yet others can orgasm through nipple-stimulation. Obviously, in these circumstances it will be much more difficult to fake ejaculation, unless one is prone to pre-cumming.
As a disabled guy, often under the influence of medicaments, I cannot rely on erection and/or orgasm. This means I have had to explore my sexuality: kissing, frottage, licking, caressing... A sensuous exploration of pleasure. And it’s relatively safe-sex to that end. Orgasms are not the be-all-and-end-all.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Pain: a Taxonomy

Here is an attempt at classification of the different types of pain from which I suffer. Obviously the degree of pain is variable, from dull to sharp to acute, and differs depending on the type of pain. For example: achy pain is never sharp or acute; piercing pain is never dull. I have listed the terms alphabetically, not in order of frequency or intensity.
This is not an attempt to elicit sympathy nor an extension of putative hypochondria, but a genuine attempt to come up with some pertinent descriptors.
You may be aware of other types of pain than the eighteen hereby listed. You may experience pain differently. So, please feel free to add comments below.
Achy - dull; relating to my fibromyalgia (FMS); or my osteoarthritis (OA), usually heralding damp weather.
Blinding - experienced as searing flashes of light; migraine &/or photophobia.
Cutting - Raynaud’s syndrome skin splits; feels like multiple paper-cuts.
Drilling - into temples; migraine; at its worst makes me bang my head on the wall.
Earachy - probably one of the most difficult pains to cope with as makes sleep impossible for me over a prolonged period.
Fiery - arthritis in joints: hips, lumber, shoulders, wrists, elbows, feet...
Headachy - front of skull (not migraine); this is the only pain for which my prescribed painkillers (codeine) actually work.
Itching - eczema; is insanely worse than a typical itch mixed with a high degree of soreness.
Nasal - a burning sensation accompanied by an über-taut muscular contraction (a sort of heightened awareness or prolonged about-to-sneeze feeling) in my nose in reaction to chemical- &/or odour-sensitivity.
Piercing - sharper than stabbing and moves through my body faster than travelling pain; front ribs thro’ to back ribs or v.v. (sometimes linked to costochondritis); similarly with feet; back of head thro’ to back of eyes.
Pressure - ranging from being touch-sensitive to bed-sores.
Prickly - eye-balls; sometimes a precursor to migraine or a reaction to photophobia.
Shooting - up and down limbs, faster than travelling pain and doesn’t move elsewhere.
Stabbing - in my back (sometimes linked to costochondritis); soles of feet; base of skull; irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); constipation; diarrhœa.
Throbbing - more intense than achy, but less acute than fiery; typically in my limbs &/or at the back of my skull-base and in my neck.
Toothachy - my dentist advises there is nothing wrong with my gnashers, it’s simply yet another effect of the myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME); it can be a random single tooth or a whole jaw of teeth.
Travelling - moving, seemingly at random, from one part of the body to another with no discernible pattern.
Vibrating - a whole of body reaction to my intolerance of vibration &/or sound; it’s a sort of edginess that echoes around my body in diminishing waves; I feel it particularly acutely in my ears.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Penis Problems 1: Erections - Non-Sexual

I don’t know whether due to my disability, my health conditions or my medications, but for a few years now I have not experienced ‘morning-glory’; until, that is, this past couple of weeks on an almost daily basis.

Nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) is experienced by most men, although as the phenomenon can occur at any time, not simply during the night, the official name is a bit of a misnomer. I prefer the less common term ‘tonic erection’ (tonic in this sense relates to physiological muscular contraction). Such erections usually occur during sleep, particularly the REM phase. Typically a man will experience five such occurrences during his slumber. They are not thought to be essentially about sexual arousal. Indeed, any man who has awoken with his ‘morning-wood’ will know that it is frequently ‘piss-hard’, that is erect until he has urinated. Micturition allows the muscles around the penis to relax. It is believed this is one of the reasons tonic erections occur: to prevent enuresis or bed-wetting. So those partners complaining of being poked in the lower back first thing of a morning, may have to be a tad more understanding!

Non-sexual erections can occur in other situations too. For example, I recall my sex-education teacher explaining, with a bright red face, that he himself used to get erections whenever he travelled on a ‘bus, because of the vibrations coming up through the seats. Been there myself and found avoiding sitting near the wheels helped. Until my teacher explained, I thought I was some kind of weird pervert!

Electro-stimulus can also induce an erection. Whilst this is not necessarily sexual, some men use such processes to get their kicks. So if one should come across some unusual equipment in the back of a drawer, or wherever, this may be what it is used for!

One further issue relating to non-sexual male physical arousal is priapism. This is where a man remains tumescent for a minimum of four hours without intending to do so (so we are not talking tantric sex here). Being priapic is painful and is not concupiscent. One should seek medical assistance where the condition persists.

Erections are on the whole perfectly natural. Just accept them and don’t worry!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Paralympians & Disabled War Veterans to Lose Benefits

This rant from Johnny Void says everything I want to say. Please read it as it aptly sums up what is happening and is going to happen to disabled folk in the UK.

"Paralympian medal winners and war veterans may find themselves stripped of benefits and abandoned to lives of poverty and homelessness under the Government’s brutal disability benefit reforms."


"The UK Paralympic Team may be surprised that the Government seems to think they have been ‘festering’ in the run up to the Olympics.  Far more concerning however will be the changes to DLA [disability living allowance] which may see many of them stripped of benefits after the tournament is over.  People claiming out of work benefits due to sickness or disability have been told that being able to watch an episode of Eastenders indicates that they might be fit for work and ineligible for benefits.  It is quite likely that Paralympians may find their sporting achievements used as evidence against them to cut benefit payments."

Number of disabled people losing benefits may top one million

Black & Grey & White

Most of us in the West tend to think in terms of black & white; in opposites; if not this, then that. This in part is due to our media, our politicians and, indeed, our education systems generally being based on dualism (Dualism). But I would argue that to gain a greater understanding and awareness, we need to take a look at all the shades of grey in between the extremes. If one likes: we should take a much more holistic (Holism) approach to thinking. To this end, I offer the following. Please feel free to comment on the whole or just a single line, if you prefer. %)

There are fathers. There are mothers. What are parents?
There is fecundity. There is barrenness. What are progeny?
There are sisters. There are brothers. What are siblings?
There are men. There are women. What is sex?
There is male. There is female. What is gender?
There are friends. There are foes. What is an affinity?
There is satiety. There is hunger. What is food?
There is wealth. There is poverty. What is money?
There is hedonism. There is asceticism. What is restraint?
There is healing. There is injury. What are wounds?
There is well-being. There is pain. What is health?
There is ease. There is suffering. What is comfort?
There is sadness. There is laughter. What is humour?
There is breathing. There is silence. What is death?
One must strive onwards. Do not strive! What is strife?
There is happiness. There is hurt. What is emotion?
There is joy. There is grief. What is life?
I love me. I loathe me. What am I like?
I perceive all. I perceive nothing. What is perception? 
There is inner me. There is outer me. What is self?
I exist. Nought exists. What is existence?
There are sages. There are fools. What is wisdom?
There are speeches. There are books. What are words?
I know lots. I know nothing. What do I know?
Life is meaningful. Life is meaningless. What is life?
There are questions. There are answers. What is a contrariety?
There is good. There is evil. What is morality?
God is alive. God is dead. What is God?
There is life. There is death. What is the point?
Everything matters. Nothing matters. What is the matter?
There is you. There is me. What is love?

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Genetic Discrimination

As a queer man, I have been subject to bullying, abuse and discrimination on the basis of my sexual orientation or perhaps my honesty and openness about same.

As a disabled person, I have been, and still am, subject to abuse and discrimination on the basis of my disabilities and ill-health.

But have I been discriminated against on the basis of my genetic heritage?

(Image description: model of DNA by Zephyris)

Arguably, the answer is yes, insofar as genes are at least partially responsible for some of my disability and probably mainly responsible for my sexual proclivities. For example: all four of my grandparents suffer/ed from arthritis, as do both parents, all my aunts and my uncle, and one of my two siblings. It was therefore highly likely I too would develop arthritis at some point. However, in my case, it was a viral form of the condition that set off my genetic propensity. So environment had some influence. Nonetheless, my genes are responsible for that predisposition and ultimate development of arthritis. The condition is sufficiently serious to mean I am disabled by it. I am discriminated against because of my disability. And thus I have been discriminated against due to my genes. One could use a similar train of thought to argue genetic discrimination via sexual orientation prejudice.

Accepting that 'genetic discrimination' has effectively occurred, what does the term actually mean from a legal perspective? Well, ah, this is where matters become thorny. There is no legal definition in the UK; although the USA has the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). This latter addresses bias in the areas of health insurance and employment, but not life assurance (insurance). Over here in Blighty many disabled folk have difficulties obtaining health or travel insurance. However, it is possible to obtain, with some forensic hunting and the willingness to pay a hefty premium, or, alternatively, excluding all conditions from which one suffered heretofore. In fact, there is no legal definition in the UK. An interesting article on the UK Human Rights Blog (Should we outlaw genetic discrimination?) concludes that:

"A separate prohibition on genetic discrimination
 [their bold type and ellipsis] is probably never going to be viable. The potential for genetic discrimination is impossibly wide. It is relevant to every  commercial transaction where one party has an economic interest in the future health of the other party, such as the granting of mortgages or commercial loans. But it also extends to non-economic relationships wherever there is an interest in explaining or predicting an individual’s current or future health, such as adoption, child custody, personal injury law, or where future behaviour is important, such as in the fields of education or criminal law."

The 1997 film Gattaca (Gattaca) showcased a world where one's DNA decided one's place in society and what future, if any, one might have. Parents had embryos screened for genetic abnormalities. One's proclivities or interests were irrelevant in this world. If Beethoven, Einstein or Hawkings (all of whom had/have a disability of one kind or another) had been born into such a world, they would not have been permitted to pursue the careers they did, but condemned to a life of drudgery in dead-end jobs - and that is only if their parents were not to have had their embryos destroyed due to the potential for disability.

Embryonic screening is a whole other incipient nightmare obviously very closely interrelated to genetic discrimination. At the moment the UK's Human Fertilisation & Embryo Authority (HFEA) (HFEA) bans most screening; but gradually, its regulation of exceptions has been extending. In the future, will screening and thus embryonic destruction be permitted for: skin colour; eye-colour; gender; any potential disability; sexual orientation; criminal potential;...?

The present situation in Britain is an admixture of ad hoc rules and regulations and limited laws. As the technology develops and genetic knowledge expands, a thorough investigation and public debate of the ethical issues and legal implications needs to be undertaken.

Sooner rather than later, before the Gattacan dystopian future is upon us.

Spot the Hypocrisy!


The reference is in respect to President Obama coming out in favour of gay marriage equality (BBC news) yesterday, i.e. Wednesday.

So then, to what is Limbaugh referring? Would that be the chauvinistic Biblical marriage choices of one husband, one wife (monogamy) or one husband several wives (polygamy) or one husband plus one or more wives with the addition of concubines? Not sure the Bible sets a good example in respect to fundamentalist perspectives on wedlock, assuming this plonker is making reference to the Bible when he says "traditional".

Alternatively, he may just mean traditional, as in the kinds of marriage in which the Church has been involved. Well, matrimony was not regulated by canon until C11th. And, for a brief overview of same-sex rituals from C8th - C18th, see my blog article Gay Marriage.

Can any responsible person fronting a television programme really be that stupid, naïf, illogical; or is he simply being mendacious to some Machiavellian end?

Monday, 7 May 2012

"my queer straight mate"

my queer straight mate

he's straight
I am not
I fancy
he does not
fancy me
or does he

we hardly
know one another
only acquainted
and yet he
wants to spend
New Year's Eve
with me

he knows I'm queer
he knows I lust after

why doesn't he
want to be
with his old friends
his golfing pals
his cricket chums
even his work mates
why spend it with me
a practical stranger

I'm straight
he does insist
so why continue
to let me persist
in fondling
in caressing
in kissing
in embracing

it's true
I must confess
he has the queerest

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Criminals More Worthy of Jobs Than Disabled?

(Image description: front cover page of British newspaper Sunday Express with headline, "TORY SNEERS AT DISABLED" - their capitalisation.)

For readers from other lands, the Sunday Express is a right-of-centre newspaper that generally supports the Conservative Party, known in the UK as Tories.

Here is some of the article and a link to the full story:

"In a heartless outburst, the Work and Pensions Secretary said he wanted to save money by closing factories and getting more people into “proper jobs”.
[W]e urged him to rethink plans that will leave 1,518 disabled workers out of work with little prospect of new jobs at a time when unemployment is at a 17-year high of 2.7million.

An irate Mr Duncan Smith was unapologetic, however.

In a tirade campaigners later branded “unbelievable arrogance”, he stormed: “Is it a kindness to stick people in some factory where they are not doing any work at all? Just making cups of coffee?
Stunned, Julie, 55, said: “We work in our factories!”
The minister barked back: “You don’t produce very much at all.”
Asked why the disabled were being robbed of a choice between a segregated or mainstream workplace, Mr Duncan Smith snapped: “How far do you want to go with the idea that you can choose to do exactly what you want?”
“Remploy provides dignity, support, security and self-esteem to its staff. This is not only a fight to save jobs but to reward hard work and endeavour, something a Conservative-led Government should be only too willing to support.”
Mr Duncan Smith was the widely derided Tory leader from 2001-2003. (Sunday Express)

Chris Grayling, Employment Minister, stated only last month in the Commons: "The worst thing for their health and well-being is for them [unemployed disabled] to be on benefits for the rest of their lives…" (Hansard 23rd April 2012)

And yet Ian Duncan Smith wants to condemn the severely disabled to a life-time of unemployment and benefit dependency with a corollary that they will presumably suffer ill-health and poor well-being as a result.

Only two days ago, according to the Independent newspaper, Ken Clarke, the Justice Secretary, pleaded for employers to take on ex-prisoners. "At a Downing Street summit this month, he will call on executives from up to 40 companies to play their part by helping ex-offenders to "go straight" after their release by offering them jobs. (Independent)

So if we assume that the so-called joined-up thinking, the Government so often talks about, is in operation here, we can see that the disabled are considered less worthy of employment than criminals.

And that is actually what it feels like in the UK at this current time. We do not appear to be worthy of jobs nor benefits. There are now increasing numbers of reports of disabled folk not disabled enough to receive disability benefits under the guise of Welfare Reform; but likewise are too ill to receive job-seekers allowance because they are not fit enough to work. In this catch-22 they receive absolutely nothing.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

NAZI Treatment of the Disabled

(Image description: 1930's NAZI poster of an invalid and a carer towering over him. The text reads in German, "60,000 [Marks] kostet dieser Erbkranke die Volksgemeinschaft auf Lebenszeit [.] Volksgenosse das ist auch dein Geld"; this translates as, "60,000 [Marks] is the cost to the national community of this genetically defective person over a lifetime [.] Member of the people that is your money".)

Around the time of National Holocaust Memorial Day I posted the following on my facebook page:

"The ConDems began a huge propaganda campaign against mentally and physically disabled Brits. They did not fit into the Neo-Liberal stereotype of the pure hard-working family, that is physically fit with an obedient mind to serve the economy." This is a quotation I have taken about the NAZI era and replaced the words in bold type with those relevant to the situation that is current in the United Kingdom, especially England.

"A DOCTOR yesterday likened the UK Government’s welfare reform crackdown on disabled people to the “barbarism” of the NAZIS." The Scottish Sun  Having some understanding of what occurred under the NAZIs and seeing parallels with today, I posted this quotation with link on my facebook page yesterday, only to receive the following (edited) response:

"Doctors come in all shapes and forms Colin. This one sounds a bit like [a] nutter... Whatever your feelings about the government's welfare reforms, it's hard to compare them with Nazi policies of the 1930's. Nobody is sending anyone to gas chambers - they're simply making sure only the genuinely disabled stay on benefits. It's like they keep telling us, we're all in it together - and that includes the sick, lame and lazy!"

I am quite shocked that in this day and age an intelligent person (from a minority to boot) has so little knowledge about history or what is going on here in Britain, despite my very regular facebook updates.

"Most of us are familiar with the words of Pastor Neimoller, but we are much less familiar with the true origins of the holocaust. The first victims of the Nazi holocaust were the 'anti-socials', mostly disabled people... Marked with a black triangle, labelled as 'useless eaters' and an economic drain, the Nazi's learnt how to exterminate other human beings by experimenting on these vulnerable people with Zyklon B gas, techniques that would later be refined in order to commit the mass murder of millions of people." Benefit Scrounging Scum

"The Nazis began a huge propaganda campaign against mentally and physically disabled Germans. They did not fit into the Nazi stereotype of the pure Aryan, that is physically fit with an obedient mind to serve the Reich. [Recognise this? If not, see above!] In addition, they were viewed as a burden on society, as they were unable to work and drained resources from the state.

As early as July 1933, the Nazis passed a law that allowed forced sterilisation of 350,000 men and women, who were deemed likely to produce 'inferior' children.
Between 1939 and 1941 a programme of euthanasia (so called ‘mercy killing’), ordered by the state, led to the murder, by doctors and medical staff, of at least 70,000 people." The Holocaust Explained
"The Nazi campaign started by targeting not the Jews but disabled people. They where quietly gassed in the first experiments with Zyklon B, these people were comparatively low in numbers, were less likely to be missed, could not speak up for themselves, and had no-one to speak up for them.

Then after a large propaganda campaign that tapped into the populations anger about the country['s] economic state, the murder of millions began, long standing prejudice's like.......
"they think the world owes them something"
"They are a drain on the country's limited resources"
"they do not work so they are worthless"
"It would be kinder not to mention cheaper to kill them, preferably at birth"
......Are stomach turning yet they are statements I hear from people and politicians every day. Maybe not put quite as frankly or bluntly as that but the underlining argument and sentiment is the same." Rabbi Debbie Young-Sommers

Here's a news item from April this year:

"Two medical ethicists connected to Oxford University are arguing in Oxford’s Journal of Medical Ethics that babies have no moral status, and can be killed because they are only “potential persons” rather than “actual persons.” They also argue that if a newborn is disabled, it can be killed.

The journal’s editor, Prof Julian Savulescu, director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, said in their defence, “The goal of the Journal of Medical Ethics is not to present the Truth or promote some one moral view. It is to present well reasoned argument based on widely accepted premises.” When asked about the threats made against the article’s authors, he casually categorised them as “fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society.”
The article, “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?”, was written by two of Prof Savulescu’s former associates, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva. They wrote:
“The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a foetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual … Both a foetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’. We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her … it is not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense …
what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”
And in the time-honoured philosophy of those who see life as purely a utilitarian matter, they conclude: “To bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care.”"British Ethicists & Infanticide
The parallels are there plainly to see, if one is willing to open one's eyes and look and use one's ears to hear. Recently, a politician suggested that folk on benefits should not be permitted to vote. Meanwhile the Govt. has reclassified what is disability and has withdrawn benefits from some of the terminally ill, cancer patients and so on.
So you think these kinds of hate crimes couldn't happen today? Well, this very morrow I read this:

"A while ago, someone threatened Kaliya Franklin [a disabled activist] with the gas chamber. She's Jewish and disabled. They said they would gas her to death, it was what she deserved. Now that's a genuine threat." Sue Marsh

So, before anyone else tells me that what is going on today is nothing like what the NAZIs got up to, please go away and do some research, some reading and some pondering. It could be you next...

In/accessible Europe (1): Stockholm

During my healthier periods, or sometimes to recuperate from bad patches, I travel to the Continent. As one might imagine, my experiences as a disabled traveller have been mixed. Over the coming months I shall endeavour to recount trips to some of these European destinations.

A couple of Autumns back, my best friend decided to take me to Stockholm for some light-treatment. Why, one may ask, am I writing about somewhere I visited some time ago? Well, the honest answer is that some of my experiences there still rankle. It is the place where I have had my worst travel experiences, though not only so. Read on...

[Image description: map of Sockholm. An interactive version is available here]

Scandinavian Airlines

Flying with perfectly professional SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) was an efficient and comfortable journey. The only minor oversight was that my pre-requested meal was not aboard. Compared to British Airways or Austrian Airlines, in my opinion, SAS were superior; but oddly not as good as Monarch Airlines, a middle-cost flier.

Arlanda Airport & Express

At Arlanda Airport (Stockholm-Arlanda Airport) I was met, as pre-arranged, by disability assistance. They were fantastic: personable, humorous and efficient. They whizzed me through all checks and baggage-reclaim and down to the Arlanda Express (Arlanda Express) platform to Stockholm Central Station (Stockholm Central Station). They even offered to put me aboard the train. Unusually, from my experience in Europe, my two helpers refused any gratuity. Wonderful service!

The express train-service to the city-centre was fast, comfortable, spacious, clean and plenty of room for baggage and wheelchairs. (I found trains in Amsterdam to be similar.) No significant gaps between carriages and platforms at either end of the route meant no embarrassing or painful wheel-sticking. The express was bang on time almost to the second - no exaggeration and top marks!

Nordic Light Hotel

From the train-station (the Arlanda Express has its own mini-station connected to the main Central Station) to our hotel, the Nordic Light (Nordic Light), was less than thirty metres and over a very smooth paved area - no trip-hazards. Nordic Light is an office-block converted into an über-chic boutique hotel. The corridors, common-rooms and lifts are all spacious and accessible and moreover so was the room. The sound-proofing was to be marvelled at: no extraneous noise could disturb. Bliss: the best hotel room I have ever had!

I bet you are beginning to wonder where the bad bits are. Well, they're coming...

Tourist Information Office

According to our guidebook the tourist information office was situated in the main part of the train-station a little further up the road. We attempted to pay a visit only to determine that it had been relocated to the central shopping district. Using maps (yes, I'm old-fashioned!) we navigated to the relevant building. My jaw dropped! The office was in the basement, down two flights of stairs. No lift (elevator) nor stair-lift access. No button, buzzer, bell or 'phone to call for assistance. Thus no-one with mobility impairment(s) could make use of its services. Downright disability discrimination!


Stockholm retails some of the most beautiful products in the world - clothing, furniture, fabrics, objets d'art, etc. Alas, it is not as much fun shopping there as in other European capitals. Service - well I hesitate to use the word - is almost non-existent no matter how much money you have to spend nor how disabled you are. Shop assistants will always give priority to their conversations or tasks with which they are already involved. Customers come well down the list of things-to-do. Even in my favourite Svenskt Tenn (Svenskt Tenn) the service is cursory and that was the best shop-assistance I received my whole time there.


Paradoxically, the service in cafés and restaurants was excellent. And boy did we drink a lot of cups of coffee! The Swedes prepare delicious coffee: every cup was savoured; as were the cakes & pastries. Chirpy chaps served us every time.

The restaurants treated us regally. We did determine that, despite what the guides state to the contrary, gratuities are gratefully accepted by all waiters. Meals with drinks cost comparably the same as a night out in Manchester city-centre and a heck of a lot less than in London. The cuisine was varied and delicious (- not a rollmop in sight!). We even tried an alfresco luncheon with a glass of bubbly one fine, sunny day. Fabulous! Not all restaurants are accessible. One we used had an almost stile entrance into a bar area and then I had to crawl up a few steps to reach the dining-room. It was worth it though: the reindeer and vodka were delicious.

Tourist sites

The historic district of Gamla Stan (Old Town) is a maze of cobbled streets. It was murder to walk on even with assistance and two walking-sticks. It would have been hell in a wheelchair without decent suspension! Probably best for wheelies to stick to the outer rim with the fabulous views over the Riddarfjardan.

In other areas I found there were plenty of benches, great for pausing and catching one's breath as well as taking in sights and panoramas.

We did take a cruise on Mälaren (Mälaren) a brackish lake. The boat we caught was definitely not wheelchair-accessible; but it is possible others may be. There was, however, a big burly sailor on hand to assist (unsolicited) entry and egress for the mobility-impaired. Bless him! This was much appreciated.

We went to the dance-theatre to see a piece by an English troupe that included disabled performers. At the end of the performance showers of sweets were thrown on stage and there was a loud and prolonged standing ovation. No access issues here.

Going to a music concert was not quite so straight-forward. We wanted to see a performance at the Konserthuset (Stockholm Concert Hall). It started well: there was a ramp leading to the booking-office. Unfortunately the door at the top was too heavy to open single-handedly. There was no means of calling for assistance and no electronically operated system. Another wheelchair-user arrived, a Swedish lady and her friend. Between us all we managed to open the door and enter. Tickets were purchased and then the four of us queued for the lift to take us into the theatre. And we waited...

Suddenly, a ticket-seller leaned over the counter and shouted at us that the lift was out of order. We had to go over to sort out what to do. But why did he not tell us when we were buying the tickets that we could not enter the concert-hall? Could he not have walked across the ticket-hall and quietly explained the situation? I really felt like a second-class citizen. Eventually we had to exit the hall and go round the back of the building and go up in the service lift along with a couple of old dears. It did not end there though. Next we discovered that the concert-hall itself was not accessible due to steps. Another obstacle. Someone did go off and returned some minutes later with a very wobbly mobile ramp to place over the steps. Finally we accessed the hall in time to enjoy the concert. British theatres and concert-halls are far, far better.

Arlanda Airport

Now the part that I doubt very much I shall ever forget. I arrived at check-in at Arlanda Airport with my two sticks and just about ready to collapse, having pushed myself too far. A helpful assistant came over and directed me to a customer-service (misnomer!) desk and there I was to request my wheelchair. The 'customer-service' assistant advised me that I could not have my chair until I had checked-in. Eventually, after some argy-bargy and help from the original assistant, I was given the wheelchair. This time with no disability assistance. So I wheeled myself. We did not have to queue for very long as a check-in clerk beckoned me over to him with a hand gesture and lovely, friendly smile.

Worse was to come. We headed for passport control. I was wheeling myself at my speed (slow as I was tired; but we had plenty of time, so no rush) as it is relatively easy for me to do so on smooth surfaces. I could not reach the passport-controller as there was nowhere for me to tuck the wheelchair under her counter. I had to make a multiple-point manœuvre so as to get the chair sideways on. In order to do so, I placed my passport in my mouth - I have to take similar actions a lot and so am used to not salivating over whatever object is in there. The controller went ballistic. Odd that given I was wheeling the chair, my hands were likely covered in all the crud covering the floor.

Overall Impressions

Stockholm is beautiful and surely romantic. It is full of history, art and culture; but much is inaccessible. The shopping is excellent product-wise, poor service-wise. Service in our hotel and all the eateries we used was excellent and amiable. Service in theatres was mixed. Service at the airport was mixed. Disablism is rife and overt. I felt very uncomfortable, never knowing how I might be treated next. If one is able-bodied, Stockholm is a must-see; not so for the mobility-impaired and wheelies.