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

Sign up for our weekly Behind the Headlines email and get a free copy of Byline Times posted to you

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.

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

New to Byline Times? Find out more about us

SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION

A new type of newspaper – independent, fearless, outside the system. Fund a better media.

Don’t miss a story! Sign up to our newsletter (and get a free edition posted to you)

Our leading investigations include: empire & the culture warBrexit, crony contractsRussian interferencethe Coronavirus pandemicdemocracy in danger, and the crisis in British journalism. We also introduce new voices of colour in Our Lives Matter.

More stories filed under Who are the Disabled?

A Letter to Nowhere: ‘Like Many Disabled People, I’m Fearful’

, 12 January 2023
Penny Pepper pens an open letter to her Conservative MP, explaining why the NHS crisis is personal and political for those 'living in the real world'

Being An Employer of Your Own Care

, 11 November 2022
Penny Pepper has spent more than 20 years balancing the books, hiring and firing, and eyeing up spreadsheets – like many disabled people, all in the name of 'Direct Payment'

Bogged Down with the Eternal Fight for the Perfect Convenience

, 7 October 2022
Why is it still not widely understood that disabled people have the right to decent toilet facilities just like anyone else? asks Penny Pepper

More stories filed under Culture

Let’s Continue to Talk About Crimea

, 29 January 2023
At the heart of any resolution of the war in Ukraine is the issue of the Crimean Tatars. Maria Romanenko explains how a play, part of the UK/Ukraine season of culture, explores their subjugation and resistance

The Upside Down: Why Folk Songs Still Mean Something

, 13 January 2023
The longer we look at this traditional music, the more we see that its very malleability is its strength and its challenge, writes John Mitchinson

A Letter to Nowhere: ‘Like Many Disabled People, I’m Fearful’

, 12 January 2023
Penny Pepper pens an open letter to her Conservative MP, explaining why the NHS crisis is personal and political for those 'living in the real world'

More from the Byline Family