Oh dear, it's the Paralympics soon. Sorry, that's probably not the reaction you're expecting from me. But I'm afraid the Paralympics is not an event I look forward to with breathless anticipation. As the most glittering festival of disability sport approaches, I'm faced with my usual dilemma: to watch or not to watch?
There's a part of me which feels I really ought to support this sporting spectacle. Disabled people have been campaigning for decades for their sport to be given the same recognition as 'able-bodied' sport and in the Olympic/Paralympic movement that aim has now almost been achieved. Disability sport has certainly come a long way since Sir Ludwig Gutmann organised the first sports competition for disabled people back in 1948. (Most of the competitors on that occasion were injured World War II veterans).
Next month, over 12 days in Beijing, the world's leading disabled athletes will be displaying their physical strength and skills, gained through years of hard training and perseverance. An estimated 4000 men and women from 150 countries will be competing for personal pride, national glory and a place in sporting history. It's an event which represents everything I believe in - it focuses on what disabled people can do and not what they can't, it promotes positive images of disability and it celebrates disabled people's achievements. What's more, the Great Britain team is likely to be highly successful. In Athens, we came second in the medal table, winning 35 golds. So what's the problem?
Well, the problem is, I don't like sport. Yes, I realise such an admission is tantamount to blasphemy in some circles. Maybe I'm missing the point, but I just don't see the appeal of watching adults running around in circles, jumping into sandpits or throwing objects long distances. Try as I might, I can't get excited about people hitting a ball into a basket, into a hole or backwards and forwards over a net. The Now Show once dismissed the Winter Olympics as consisting of 15 different forms of sliding - ah, many a true word is spoken in jest.
I do pay attention to some news stories surrounding sport including the controversies over athletes who break the rules. Like many people, I have followed each stage of the Dwain Chambers saga. Incidentally, athletes with spinal injuries have their own special form of cheating called "boosting". Such athletes have been known to try to enhance their performance by artificially raising their blood pressure. They can do this by clamping off their catheter (assuming they have one) which increases the pressure within their bladder. Alternatively, male athletes can achieve the same effect by sitting on their testicles which causes physical trauma and thus also raises blood pressure. (It never fails to amaze me what lengths sportsmen and women will go to in order to win medals.)
But while a few sporting news stories might interest me, it's rare for me to actually watch sport taking place. If people want to devote their life to diving off a platform 10 metres high, hurtling down a mountain slope at 80 mph or doing somersaults on a bar four inches wide, then I'm not going to stop them - but why should I be expected to watch them doing it? During the last football World Cup I managed to get through the entire tournament without watching any of the matches, including the ones in which England were playing. Afterwards I felt rather proud of this achievement.
It's strange that I should have become such a devout sport atheist because I come from a relatively sport-mad family. My mum will watch any sport except boxing and synchronised swimming. My brother is a qualified cricket umpire. My uncle played football until beyond his 50th birthday. And my cousin is a talented young hockey player.
My hostility towards sport is perhaps even harder to understand when you bear in mind that I've worked with arguably our greatest ever Paralympian, Tanni Grey-Thompson. During my first job as a trainee producer on BBC2's disability magazine programme From the Edge Tanni was one of the presenters. I doubt she's forgotten our filming trips. She probably still has nightmares about them.
One item I produced with Tanni looked at garden design for wheelchair users. We went to visit a garden in Oxfordshire and I had to make her do some pieces to camera in the pouring rain. By the end of the afternoon we both looked like drowned rats.
Another week I took her filming at a secondary school in a rough area of North London. A sizeable number of the children used wheelchairs so I was surprised to see that the canteen had fixed seating. When I pointed out to the headteacher that fixed seating wasn't very convenient for wheelchair users, he replied that if the chairs weren't screwed to the floor, the pupils would throw them at each other. (This came as quite an eye-opener to me, educated as I was at a conservative grammar school where simply wearing your skirt two inches above the knee was regarded as the End Of Civilisation As We Know It.)
Unfortunately Tanni and I were on a tight schedule and there were no decent cafes nearby. As a result we ended up having to eat in the school canteen the kind of food which would make Jamie Oliver have a fit. Luckily for me, Tanni is incredibly charming, obliging and down-to-earth, and didn't murmur a word of complaint.
Perhaps my lack of interest in sport is due to the fact that it's impossible for me to participate myself. Being paralysed from the neck down does somewhat limit one's sporting opportunities. Unless speed blinking becomes a Paralympic event, I personally won't be getting anywhere near a medal rostrum.
In the past I would at least watch the Paralympic races Tanni was competing in. Now she's retired even that motivation no longer exists. Still, I'm not the only disabled person who won't be glued to the TV during the Paralympics. A friend of mine, who happens to be a fairly prominent member of the disability rights movement, regards the Paralympics as "irritating".
For a start, she believes the classification system doesn't work. Athletes are placed in categories according to their type and level of impairment. Obviously, the number of categories has to be kept to a minimum, otherwise the Paralympics would be impossible to organise. But she believes that the categories are so broad, you can't guarantee that like is competing against like. She claims that athletes try hard to secure a placing in the 'lowest' category possible to increase their chances of winning a medal. She also argues that the Paralympics marginalises those crips, like me, who are too severely disabled to join in.
Her main concern, though, is the effect the Paralympics has on perceptions of disabled people. "I know in my bones that the Paralympics feeds the public's considerable appetite for admiring our pluckiness and courage, reinforcing the tedious stereotype of the brave crip," she says. "I just don't buy it that people watch the Paralympics first and foremost for its value as a sporting spectacle". I wonder how common her views are among disabled people?
But back to my dilemma. Should I, a self-confessed sporting atheist, force myself to watch the Paralympics? After much deliberation, I've come to a decision. Until recently I had been thinking I ought to switch on to show solidarity with my disabled comrades taking part. But there's a fundamental flaw in this approach. Although disabled people need appropriate adaptations and support in order to participate equally in society, at heart we want to be treated in the same way as anyone else. We certainly don't want special favours or privileges. If I were to watch the Paralympics simply because the athletes are disabled, couldn't I be accused of patronising them? Wouldn't I be undermining the principle of disability equality? So the answer to my question is clear. When the Paralympics start, I will adopt the same attitude towards it as I do any other sporting event - in other words, I will ignore the whole thing.