Free from fear or favour
No tracking. No cookies

‘Pity Porn on Santa’s Knees’

Penny Pepper reflects on what the festive season means for her, as politicians and the media continue to marginalise the creation of new cultural narratives around disability

Photo: RubberBall/Alamy

Pity Porn on Santa’s Knees

Penny Pepper reflects on what the festive season means for her, as politicians and the media continue to marginalise the creation of new cultural narratives around disability

Newsletter offer

Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.

Apologies if I’m a bore but, as a working-class disabled woman of a certain age, I fall pretty low down in any hierarchy even within the definition of a marginalised group. But I bang on this drum hard for those that can’t.

This year’s Disability History Month – which has been taking place between mid-November and mid-December – has focused on disability, health and wellbeing. An arbitrary Google search brings up lots of varied mentions of it on the web by universities, the NHS, and the Trades Union Congress – but hardly anything from the mainstream media. No surprise there though as fear and loathing largely continue for any genuine disability cultural narrative written and controlled by us.

We’re all still confused as to whether Rishi Sunak gave disabled people any festive cheer in the recent Autumn statement. I know we’re still stuck in Scrooge-Conservative land with no chance of any reprimanding ghosts to cause an epiphany of moral change. I am, after all, wearing half of my infamous 27 cardigans to keep warm, so any goodwill to all beings will fall short with this hopeless bunch in charge. 

I don’t have glowing memories of that Santa bloke whose knee I certainly never wanted to bounce on. And that was the thing as a disabled kid – you were practically pulled from your wheelchair for the creation of pity porn and back-patting by the local charity clubs, usually run by identikit businessmen. 

A great photo op, the man with a fake beard surrounded by his cronies and a startled disabled girl wrestling away from his repulsive jouncing knees. I’ve always known Santa was creepy…

Used as the begging bowl, it’s ironic that the money was allegedly for us crippled kids, and I can finally report that I never got that fountain pen I craved or the complete set of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five. Typical. There was also a hierarchy of gifts, whether given by the red-and-white ho-ho-horror or by families to those of us stuck in various institutions and ‘special’ (segregated) schools. My Cindy is better than your Barbie. Your Ken is smaller than my Action Man. 

Being An Employerof Your Own Care

Penny Pepper

In reality, I never received a doll of any kind, for which I am very grateful. It was always books, though I’ve never worked out why my aunty bought me an overweight children’s illustrated Bible when I was 11. We were a completely irreligious family and I lost any school-induced Jesus vestige when I saw a strange film about the Book of Ruth and child sacrifice. Perhaps that’s why I still venture into the dark side myself and love to write folk horror. Mind you, I now realise there was a truly scary event when my brother presented me with a handmade 12” cardboard cut-out of Gary Glitter as a Crimbo pressie. I say no more. 

All this said, I’m not averse to celebrating around the Solstice. To me, it’s the legacy of distant times, of hoping that light returns, and a scientific fact – from that day the light actually does return, minute by minute. 

The Meteorological Office tells us that the Solstice “marks the point at which the sun is exactly overhead in the Tropic of Capricorn”, which this year will happen on Wednesday 22 December at 04:19 GMT. It also tells us that it will be nine hours darker than the longest day of the year in June. But return the sun will, as we hold our breath for the earliest signs of Spring on our poor, damaged lands, and the struggling flora and fauna.

Keeping traditional, I’ll light some candles the day before and think of friends no longer here. Honour nature, friendship and community. Sing some Solstice songs with those I love still around me. There will be a few solemn moments but I believe we all need to commemorate as we share, have a moment’s gratitude for each other and equip ourselves with good heart for the inevitable fight ahead.

And what did I do with my Bible? I cut it up and used the pretty pictures to glue to my notebooks of early pre-pubescent poetry.


Written by

This article was filed under
, , ,

Subscribe to Byline Times

This website is free. We don’t have a paywall, there are no ads, we don’t profile you with intrusive analytics or track you with cookies. Unlike most UK papers, Byline Times is subscriber-funded. Our team is small, we keep overheads low, we pay journalists fairly… and we pay our taxes in the UK.

An easy way to support us is to receive our newsletter emails (and install our app, for iOS or Android); we gain insight into our readership, and you make sure you don’t miss vital news.

Subscribing to our print newspaper (from £3.75/month) is the best possible support for our journalism. We also sell gift vouchers and books.