Won’t you please please not help me

Won’t you please please not help me

Marking the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles second feature film and its associated album and single, Paul Carter ponders on the thorny subject of ‘help’ for disabled people.

‘Help, I need somebody. Help, not just anybody’ – is of course the memorable, immortal refrain from the ubiquitous Bananarama/French and Saunders 1987 classic, (which, incidentally was actually a cover of a little-known song originally by some obscure Liverpudlian beat combo from the 60s).

This particular song has been rattling around my head box, like most of my thoughts to be honest, quite a bit recently as I’ve been struggling a little bit with the whole concept of help. I think help is a difficult notion for disabled people to square off in particular. The fact is, everyone needs help at some point in their life, whether they’re disabled people or not. Except maybe Chuck Norris. Or that guy from the Old Spice adverts. But they’re exceptions.

Let me tell you something about myself you might be shocked to learn – I am an obstinate sod. I have been thus since the day I was squirted into the world kicking and screaming (alright, just screaming) back in the year that the South Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu gained independence. Solidarity my Vanuatu brothers.

Ever since I was a child I always had this seemingly innate belief/feeling, call it what you will, that help from others was to be resisted or rejected. As I grew up this manifested itself in another way – I began to almost be offended by help. That someone offering to do something for me was insulting or belittling (not that I needed much belittling). I’d react badly. As you can tell, I was a truly lovely child and a picture of delight. Thankfully, in the intervening years my gruff, spiteful exterior mellowed into mere aloofness and sociopathy.

Today my relationship with help is much more at peace, and that’s largely thanks to learning about things like the social model and the like. I understand that impairments are a broad spectrum, and that different people have different needs.

However this conflict was brought sharply back into focus recently when I was shopping of all things. A guy, who didn’t work there, asked me if I needed help taking one of my senseless, soon-to-be-filled-with-regret purchases off the shelf. Said item wasn’t high, wasn’t heavy, wasn’t priceless, explosive or laced with polonium. I politely said I was fine, which I was, until said person said, “Oh let me” and proceeded to take it anyway. He was essentially saying “stop silly no arms man! You can’t possibly do that you poor deluded fool! Let me make decisions about your capabilities for you!”

I muttered under my breath, said thank you and walked off because, despite all my bluster and bravado, I am both a massive coward and troublingly British. But it threw up some awkward feelings once again.

I’m not saying that I don’t want people to ever offer help – quite the opposite. A good and just society should be one built on kindness and supporting your fellow man, but I’ve always felt that it has to be help on the proper terms. If I say no, and there’s every chance I might, don’t be offended, or worse, try and assist anyway. Otherwise it’s not help at all, it’s something very very different.

A wise man said to me recently that they always try and couch people’s offer of help as ‘assistance’ instead, as this makes it sound less like charity. And I think that’s something I’m going to roll with in future. In the meantime, back to Bananarama.

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