The day may never come, but wouldn’t it be great some time in the near future to hear someone tell a friend, “You’re such a spaz”, and for the reply to be: “Cheers, China. That means a lot to me.”
Spastic. Go on, say it. Spas. Tic. It’s not an insult, it’s a condition, a description of how some people’s muscles don’t work in the direction they are supposed to. Well, it is an insult, but that’s because it has been stolen and warped into one. It’s not supposed to be an insult. A British cerebral palsy charity was once called the Spastic Society when it was formed in 1951. It changed its name to Scope in 1994 because the term had become derogatory.
Perhaps it is time to bring it back. Perhaps we should be proud to say “spastic”. “Gay” has become an insult of sorts, but homosexuals have no problem in calling themselves gay. Dr Phillip Craven, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, said recently that he would prefer if people would not use the word “disabled”. I’m not sure how he feels about “spastic”, but perhaps he might want that to be expunged. If he does, then he might have had a little wobble when Orbital and members of the Graeae Theatre Company played Ian Dury’s “Spasticus Autisticus” at the opening ceremony of the Paralympics on Wednesday night.
Written by Dury as a two-fingered salute to the Year of the Disabled Person in 1981 as he thought it was a waste of time, calling it patronising, the song was personal for Dury who contracted polio when he was seven years old and was crippled, and sent to a school for the disabled where life was not easy. He used the word “Spasticus” in the same way that the Roman gladiators in Spartacus had stood by their leader and refused to identify him – “I am Spartacus”.
It’s a pretty simple chorus, but then the lyrics, which caused the BBC to ban playing the tune before 6pm lest it spaz out the land, are quite hard-hitting and rather clever:
“I wibble when I piddle, ’cos my middle is a riddle.
I dribble when I nibble, and I quibble when I scribble.
Hello to you out there in Normal Land.
You may not comprehend my tale or understand
As I crawl past your window give me lucky looks.
You can be my body but you’ll never read my books.
I’m knobbled on the cobbles, ’Cos I hobble when I wobble.
So place your hard-earned peanuts in my tin
And thank the Creator you’re not in the state I’m in.
So long have I been languished on the shelf
I must give all proceedings to myself.
Widdling, griddling, skittling, diddling, fiddling, diddling, widdling, diddling spasticus.”
It’s not the greatest tune, but it has a chant-ability that makes it a decent theme song to drown out the political correctness that sometimes threatens to stop us from breaking down the barriers between the disabled and the non-disabled.
Here’s the thing. Spastic rhymes with fantastic. That’s reason enough to claim it back from the Spaz brigade. So, when you see a person in a wheelchair, or a woman with polio walking along like she’s dancing to her own internal jukebox, and when that person turns to you and uses the word “Spastic”, stand up and tell them: “No, I am Spasticus.”