Friday, 23 December 2011

Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year

Here's wishing everyone out there in the blogoshpere a fantastic festive season and a superb 2012.
Best Wishes from Me and my wonderful wife.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Xmas Spirit?

Recently I have found myself torn about what to write about. Every time I felt ready to put finger to keypad, another issue caught my attention. Then I realised that they were all connected.

The first big issue to drive me to my blog page was the recent changes in the Motability scheme. Motability is the charity that was set up to allow disabled people to afford to be able drive themselves around. It replaced the old blue three wheeled Noddy car, that not only meant that disabled people had to go everywhere alone as it was a one seater but also that they took their lives in their hands as it was a total death trap. Anyone who saw Jeremy Clarkson drive round Sheffield in a three wheeler will have seen why. Originally it only offered a few cars, but it grew to allow disabled people to use their Mobility component of their Disability Living Allowance to fund a huge number of vehicles, along with a deposit for the more expensive models. Another reason why so many disabled people had to use the Hire Car Scheme from Motability is because getting insurance when you are disabled is very difficult and expensive, but insurance is included with the scheme. This because when you get a car under this scheme you don't own it, you lease it. So the insurance is a fleet insurance, which is nice. Not so nice is that the car is never yours and after three years you return it to Motability, who then sell it on as a second hand car.

Just before I started my search for a new car I recieved a letter from Motability outlining changes to the scheme. From now on fewer cars would be available, with a total deposit limit of £2000 and any other named drivers had to live within five miles of the primary vehicle user. It was explained that this was due to the recent stories in newspapers such as the Daily Mail, where apparent cases of fraud had been discovered. They also complained that Motability allowed disabled people to drive expensive cars. Check out the story to see some of the examples. The one thing they totally ignored was that all cars under Motability scheme owned by Motability, and after the three year lease period are returned for resale. If you add this to the fact that for most cars that they used to offer had a deposit of around £500 right up to £4000, which is non-refundable, and a hire fee £50 per week to Motability. On top of this Motability has negotiated serious discounts on new cars, and in many instances Motability must break even or maybe make a small profit.

Let me demonstrate with a a personal story. Many years ago, when my Mobility Allowance was around £38 per week, I hired a Ford Escort through Motability. I paid £500 deposit and signed over the full £38 per week for a three year period. During the process I recieved some paper work, but it should have been sent to Motability. It was the invoice for the car and it was for under £3000, even though the list price was around £9000. So let's do the maths. £38 times 52 weeks times 3 years equals £5928. Add my deposit of £500 and we end up with £6428. So for a car that cost Motability £3000 I paid £6428 and gave it back for them to sell on... and they kept any monies received from that sale. Now I don't mind this situation as I know that I would never been able to get car insurance, seeing as I was a musician and TV presenter with a disability. But it does demonstrate that all this fuss about disabled people getting favourable treatment are just lies. I just wish that Motability had tried to fight the smear campaign from the press instead of just giving in. I do know that I am having real trouble finding a car that is suitable for me now. So thanks The Daily Mail.

Another story that caught my eye is that of David Askew, the disabled man who was bullied to death by local youths up in Manchester. My wife and I were targetted by a group of "youths" when we lived in Hammersmith, West London. In the end it got so bad I had to leave my home, even though I lived under the Housing Association Habinteg who were set up to ensure disabled people could live independently in society and was totally adapted to suit my needs, as no one came to our aid. The police said they could do nothing until we were attacked, but when my wife was seriously beaten up by three masked yobs while I helplessly watched, they could do nothing as we could not positively identify our attackers. My HA were useless and so I gave up my flat and moved into a totally unsuitable place to get away from the threats and violence. It took me three years to find a new flat suitable for me, and this really damaged my health. It is a fact that disabled hate crime has increased in the last few years, and it is partly due to stories like the one in the Daily Mail mentioned above. These lies and half truths have caused many people in society to see disabled people with jealous eyes. We are no longer pitiful, which is great, but are now objects of hate and envy. But this attitude is not just for disabled people. At a time of massive unemployment and poverty, anyone who may need to ask for assistance from the state is now seen as an easy undeserving target.

Strangely I am currently reading Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol, and have watched both the modern version with Patrick Stewart (Star Trek's Captain Pickard) and the classic Alistair Simms version on the old google box. This tale of a man with a hardened heart discovering the truth behind the point of life should have resonance with all of society today. We should listen to the three spirits and see the truth about the world we live. Sure there are people out there that break the rules, but most are really in need and we should be happy to help them. And the rich should be even more happy to contribute more to making sure our society is a fair and happy place to live in, not only at Xmas but all year round. Sadly more and more people seem to be touched by the spirit of Humbug at the minute, aided by our press.

So come on every one. We live in a rich society, where some people are so rich that they an afford flats in London that cost over £9 million pounds - yes I saw a recent advert for a flat near me for that much.... a flat? £9 million? they must be mad, you could buy a small county for that much in some parts of the UK! - so we should not listen to our inner Scrooge. Instead we should have an open heart and wish good will to all. In the words of Tiny Tim, one the most famous disabled people in literary history and someone I know I resembled when I was a kid, "God bless us, everyone". Just think if he was around today the Daily Mail might describe him as a scrounger and accuse his family of being benefits cheats if he got any of the help he was entitled to. And never forget it was stories like The Christmas Carol that slowly led to the Welfare State. The last thing we want to go back to the time the tale was set in, with workhouses and poverty on an unimaginable scale.

Anyway, rant over. Happy Xmas to you all and superb New Year!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Love, Life and Cripples

On Wednesday I took part in a phone in on the Channel 5 morning show The Wright Stuff. The topic for discussion was " is a relationship between a disabled person and some who is able bodied different that one between two able bodied people?", and so I felt I had to contact the show. Now I doubt anyone reading will be amazed to know that I wanted to make it clear that of course there is no difference, but I was also kind of amazed that anyone would think something so strange.

As I waited on my mobile for my turn speaking to Matthew Wright and his panel, I could hear the discussion in the studio. It transpired that the topic had been picked after an article in a magazine about a relationship between an able bodied woman and a disabled man who cannot speak. The reason why it had led the production team to pick the subject was the question of how love could blossom if you had never spoken to your partner or even heard their voice. One of the panel, the flamboyant Craig Revel Horwood, who is a favourite of my Mum (She seems to have been born with no gaydar at all - she fancied Freddie Mercury and still can't believe he was gay!), told the story of a choreographer friend who feel in love with someone who was deaf and so obviously they were in relationship were at least one person had not heard the other speak. In fact the able bodied partner loved the signing so much they now include it in their dance shows.

As my turn came, I told the story if my relationship with my wife Diane, and how I see the prejudices that I have witnessed in the past as a kind of filter that allowed me to discover what kind of person I was with quickly. I must admit I was playing up to the panel and my stories caused much mirth and laughter in the studio. The people that also phoned in all had stories of love between disabled and non-disabled people that proved just how good it can be.

But I was left with a weird feeling about the fact that people are still put off by the idea of dating someone who is disabled. What is so strange to me is that surely everyone realises that able bodied people are just disabled people waiting to happen? So if you wake up one day in a hospital bed and discover you've joined the disabled gang why would the person you are and your wants and needs have changed? Us disabled types are just like anyone else. We can be great life partners and we can be total gits. We can be caring and generous lovers and we can be selfish "wham bam"ers. I just think it is sad that many non-disabled people still hold so many stereotypes around disability and especially around sex, relationships and disability. Even the panel trotted out the old clichés about only really caring people dating disabled people and how our sex lives were all about touching and stroking.

The truth is a disabled partner can be just like anyone else. They can be the love of your life, they can be a great one nighter or they could be a bloody nightmare. My only piece of advice to anyone who isn't disabled is don't be put off by disability. You won't have to end up being a nurse or wiping our arses (unless you're both into that kind of thing), but you may find the person of your dreams. Sure you might end up with yet another story of a crappy relationship, but if you don't try... you won't know. Oh, and even if you do find yourself with a dud, it's not a sign that all disabled people are like that. You just picked badly. I mean Diane thinks I great but there are quite a few of my past lovers who would not describe me as anything other than a total pig. I leave it up to you all to decide which I am.

To Watch the episode go to -

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

What The F**k? or Has The World Of TV Gone Mad?

I have just seen an advert for a new Channel 5 show featuring Tamara Ecclestone Billion Dollar Girl and find myself mystified as to who the hell watches this crap. At a time of recession, where the government is slashing the services and benefits of those at the bottom of the heap, who really wants to see a "reality" show about a spoilt little rich girl? Why would any TV company think that this is the right time to make such a show?

Last weekend I compared at the Hardest Hit Rally in Brighton, where a large number of disabled people came out to make their voices heard about how the government's policy of cutting benefits is really effecting them and making their lives incredibly difficult. I heard many people talk about their worries and panic regarding how the cuts and changes will make it impossible continue to live independent and happy lives. Speaking to many of the people there I discovered facts about the proposed changes to those benefits awarded to disabled people and some of them made no sense. One shocking change is that the Mobility part of DLA, or the new PIP, will stop at the age of 64. Now what actually happens to people with mobility issues at the age of 64 that means they no longer need help with getting around is beyond me. I would have thought that many people, even non-disabled people, will end up becoming worse at getting around as they get older and so be entitled to more financial help not less... or none.

But then that is what is really behind these changes and cuts. It's not making the benefits system fairer or target those who really need it, it's just a way of saving money. As we now live in a society where the number of older people is growing massively, any payment that goes towards helping people who develop problems with mobility will end up being paid to more and more people who really are entitled to it. Oh dear, that will cost us more... what shall we do? Just get rid of the benefit, not caring if this means more and more people are left in real financial difficulty and loose their independence. (I feel at this point I should mention that many people who receive the mobility payment put it towards getting a Motability hire car. Motability is one of the biggest fleet car companies in the UK and plays a massive role in keeping the UK car industry afloat. With out it countless jobs will go, damaging our economy hugely) And that's just one of the changes that will have a real effect on people who do not have much money to start with.

Now maybe that would be OK if we lived in a society where everyone was poor or at least feeling the effects of recession, but it is criminal that while some are living in fear about how they will be able to afford to live others are so rich they can throw money away. How can it be OK that billionaires are out buying massive yachts, ridiculous sports cars and house after house costing huge sums that they only live in for a few days a year when others are terrified about being able to heat their home this winter? Ms Ecclestone is currently redecorating a mansion in Kensington that is worth 45 million pounds, so she will never have to worry about making ends meet will she? Yes I know I'm a rabid lefty, and so obviously this huge disparity in wealth offends me but even if you don't think there is something wrong with the rich being so rich while others freeze, surely you do see that making a TV show about the rich spoilt daughter of one the those billionaires is in bad taste?

As well as the timing and subject, the thing that really grinds my gears is that the star of this show is already super wealthy, yet she will be getting paid for the show and will earn even more money because of the publicity she will receive from it. We already have the awful Made In Chelsea on Channel 4, filled with vacuous rich kids hamming it up for our "entertainment" but Billion Dollar Girl is a step too far. I for one will not be watching this waste of time and have no idea who will.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Blonde Ambitions

A few months ago I had a meeting with a BBC exec who works with talent, to see if the BBC might be interested in getting me back on our TV screens. We had a productive chat, and fingers crossed things might happen. One thing that threw me was the comment that my peroxide hair dye job might be stopping me get work. The exec thought it didn't look right for current tastes and advised me to try for a more natural look. Through out my life people have reacted badly to my alternative image, from before I entered he media and worked in a dole office to my short period as news reporter for BBC News. I never really took much notice, and saw my bleached hair as part of the Mik Scarlet brand. I mean my sign name is the signs for Mouthy with Blonde Spiky Hair, so it is part of who I am.

Or was. You see I really want to get back to work, and decided to give it a go. I mean with the Paralympics coming up and there's window within the media for disabled broadcasters like me to either get on board or miss out forever. So I went natural, and changed my hair style to something more current and put away my leather trousers.

Now I won't deny that I don't miss the hassle of bleaching my hair. Leaning over the sink, with peroxide running in my eyes as I try to wash off the chemicals is not fun. I started dying my hair at the age of 16, and after a period of going from blonde to red to black and red and then black before going back to blonde, I began sticking with peroxide around the age of 23. So that's exactly half of my life with a blonde spiked hair do. But the spiky thing goes back further. The treatment I had as a baby caused my hair to grow very thick and spiky. Nothing my Mum did would get it to lay down, and so everyone nicknamed me Tufty. This left my hair with a natural need to spike up, and getting it to do anything else is real battle, even today.

But it's not only that my hair has been punk since the mid 60's, but being blonde is now so much part of me that I don't recognise the person I see in the mirror every morning since going natural. If you spend half your life looking one way, and then suddenly dramatically change it's weird. It's harder as I didn't really do it because I felt it was time for a change, but more because someone else did. I broke a rule I set down for myself was a teenager. I changed the way I look for a job. Not even a real job, but the possible promise of one. As I write this I feel such a traitor to myself. Not only to me today, but to the young me. I mean I had real commitment to my beliefs back then that I would never have changed the way I look for anyone or anything. But that's OK when you're young and filled with confidence and belief that your generation will change the world.

Now I am an old duffer, and no longer feel that my alternative image is of such importance. I also want to avoid looking like an old git, dressed the way I used to over 20 years ago. But should I have to go so heavily the other way? Is there a middle ground? On top of that question, I am finding that the new natural Mik is not as confident and confidence is key to getting work in the media. I'll never get the few jobs I get to audition for if I'm not on my A game, and changing my image has made me less "me".

The most annoying part of all this is that I still have my hair. I always thought I'd be bald by now, with so many years of abusing my hair behind me. Sure it's receding a little, but it's pretty good for 46. So what should I do? Do I stick with the natural look and learn to love it, or reach for the peroxide, feel more Mik and maybe loose out on work as I don't fit with the current ideas of a what a TV presenter looks like? Of course, I never fitted with the stereotype of a TV presenter, or a wheelchair user for that matter. All I can say is watch this space. I promised myself that if I don't get any work within six months I would say "Sod it" and go back to the old Mik. But I am finding the wait too much to bare.

I ask you dear reader, if you have any thought's on what I should do, please comment below.

Friday, 7 October 2011

The Law Should Be The Law

This won't be up to my normal essay length blogs (hooray I hear you all cry) but I just wanted to comment on something my wife showed me after she received an e-mail today from the League Against Cruel Sports regarding a Fox Hunt that went through a village in Kent. I won't give you all the gory details, but please visit the story on their website for the full story.

Whatever your beliefs on Fox Hunting (yes as a life long veggie I am against it), the big problem with this story for me is that what occured is currently against the law. Allowing the fox hounds to kill the fox is illegal, and to do it in front of a village full of people means that the hunt cannot claim it did not happen. Yet it is normally the kind of people who go fox hunting are amongst those cry out against light sentencing and criminal behaviour. I am sure many of the people on that hunt would have been baying for blood after the recent riots, crying for harsh sentences for all rioters. Surely law breakers are law breakers, and if you break the law you should face the consequences?

To me if you want a society that works, but believe that some laws are unfair or wrong, then you don't just do as you want. You campaign and work to change how society feels about the laws and thus bring pressure on the government to change them. Those who feel they are being unfairly targeted by out of touch city based governments should be running campaigns to explain the reason behind their desire to hunt and to try to change the law. Instead it appears that many are choosing to break the law, just like a teenage rioter.

So surely all involved with this hunt should be hunted down themselves and prosecuted with an equal vigour as any other criminal? I know I do not want to be part of a society that allows this level of cruelty in the name of sport, and I am sure many of you agree with me. This lack of support from the majority of the country is the real excuse behind the flouting of the current laws. If we all feel that rioting is wrong and we also feel that fox hunting is wrong then there should be no difference between them in the action undertaken by the police and courts. I just hope that the proof gathered by the LACS leads to legal action and prosecutions.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Ranting Round-Up No.1

Now where to start? As I've been crazy busy recently the list of things "Grinding My Gears" is quite long.

The first was C4's Sainsbury's Super Saturday. This music and sports show was to celebrate the launch of ticket sales for the Paralympics and was aired over a whole weekend on Channel 4. My issues with the show were many. Why was it only presented by non-disabled talent and why did so many of the pop stars who were interviewed allowed to use such out of date and non PC language to describe Paralymians? Those were the biggies. Surely C4 could have found some disabled presenting talent to work with Rick Edwards and Lisa Snowdon? Yeah they chatted with Paralympic stars but it would have made much more impact if the show had a disabled presenter too. The thing that really drove me mad was the way disabled people were talked about by various pop stars. The Sugarbabes condescendingly describing sport as a method to recover from the trauma of not being able to use your legs, for wheelchair users who were either born disabled or made that way through accident, got me so cross that I felt the steam coming out of my ears. Dappy making incoherent comments about the Paralympics was equally ridiculous. And they were just two of many to use language that seemed out of the 70's. If C4 is going to be the Paralympic channel for 2012 they must have someone on their staff that ensures all of their output uses language that is currently acceptable and that does not set back the battle for equality for disabled people? I just pray that they clean up their act before the games begin.

Then I attended a meeting of a new charity run by disabled people called Enhance the UK , about a campaign they are planning. ETUK wants to design a campaign that questions the way disabled people are perceived when it comes to attractiveness. I don't want to give away too much as I think it will be a really important campaign, so watch their website, but while we were all discussing how we could make an impact and what we should we cover, I realised that those of us who have issues of sexual function to deal with on top of the usual ignorance around disability have the journey we have to go on before we feel able to be sexy massively underestimated. Even by other disabled people. I know that I spent years coming to terms with the new me, and how bits of me worked. In a society that equates sex with penetration, to loose the ability to get a stiffy really messes with your head. I was just shocked that as we all sat round a table, discussing confidence, relationships and sexuality, everyone believed that most men who used a wheelchair were lucky as they all seemed to be confident. No one had any understanding that the huge bravado that most male wheelies exude is just a cover for exactly how messed up they are over the loss of what the world tells them makes them a man. I plan to write an article for ETUK's website on the subject soon, and will point you all there as soon as it's online.

Then this morning I was watching The Wright Stuff, as I do every morning, and found myself amazed at the discussion on whether Page 3 girls could be feminist role models. The women on the panel seemed to think that Page 3 girls were less damaging to the feminist cause than Size 0 fashion models, and this totally shocked me to the core. Now I can't say that I haven't used pornography, or looked at a Page 3 girl, but I can't imagine that anyone could claim they were role models for young women. Especially compared to fashion models. I shall explain why using my own analogy. I got into the media after I was spotted by a TV producer while performing a gig with a band I fronted. Everyone who booked me to present, act or appear on a TV show always said that one of the reasons they hired me was because I was nothing like the stereotype of a disabled person. With my bleached spiky hair, leather gear and massive motor bike boots I was in fact the antithesis of that stereotype, and so using me made people question their attitudes of what a disabled person was. A lot of disabled people thought I was a bad role model because by being so different from what most disabled people were like I gave a false impression. I understood this view, but as I was just being myself and I spent a large amount of my time using my high profile to raise issues around equality and access, I did not feel I had to change. I also know that if had, the work would have dried up quick time.

So how does this have anything to do with Page 3? Well Page 3 creates a unreachable ideal of a sexualized female that impacts on all women and how men perceive them. They use their sexuality and the way society expects attractive women to be sexually available as a way of making money. Fashion models however, are not playing on sexual availability to further their career. They are playing on how clothes hang on them, and how the fashion industry wants their output to be seen. Sex rarely comes into it. Sexiness maybe, but not sexuality. In the past I have been friends with several fashion models and they are actually very normal women. They aren't even that thin, just really, really tall. When you meet fashion models the first thing that hits you is how tall, and big they are. They are mostly around six foot tall, and their bodies match their height. They just look thin in photographs.

But I digress. No matter if they are very thin, or just really tall, they have a very different role from Page 3, and they have a very different effect on society. Some people claim that fashion models create an unobtainable ideal for young women and girls, and there is some truth to that. Just as some disabled people claimed that I created an ideal of being disabled that many disabled people could not achieve and that was not representative. But those ideals did not create an atmosphere and perception in society that makes the world less safe. Any ideal that revolves around a false impression of sexual availability damages society, and Page 3 must make the world less safe for women. Fashion models do not. In the same way that I may have had an image that was very far away from what most disabled people were like, but they could have achieved my "look" if they had have wanted to. Just most didn't! I really feel I never had a damaging effect of the way society thinks of what a disabled person is like. To have the same effect as a Page 3 girl I would have to start claiming that all disabled people were just lazy and were all benefit fraudsters. We all know how damaging that has been to the way society thinks about disabled people as it now seems to be the way the press paints us at every turn. Either that or we're super humans that are bravely over coming adversity. I can proudly say that I was neither. Just a punky, loud mouthed weirdo that told everyone to be whatever they wanted. I also never got my chest out for money... and I was offered!

So that's my ranting round up for now. Not sure it all flows the way I'd like, and maybe I should have edited this blog before posting it, but I always feel that blogs are more fun if you use them as a stream of thought affair. I'd love to know what you think on any of the subjects in this blog, dear reader, so comment below.

I will close by saying if anyone at The Wright Stuff is looking for a panellist I am available. It's been a ritual for me to watch it since the show started and I was even up to appear to the show many years back, but was too ill (with my second broken back!) to do it. It's always been something I want to do... get paid to get the chance to air my opinions on National TV. Pure bliss.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Proud to be a Freak!

One of my favourite shows on TV at the minute is C4's Seven Dwarves. When I saw it advertised I thought I was going to hate it, but it is probably the best example of this kind of TV I have ever seen. Normally "Freak" TV focuses on what is so different about it's stars, but Seven Dwarves flips that on it's head. Most of the time you are watching the lives of seven performers, their friends and family and only occasionally are you reminded that they are "different". I really think that all TV production companies that are commissioned to make a show like this should be forced to watch Seven Dwarves to see how it should be done.

Another reason why I think it is so good, is that it really proves the Social Model of Disability. To anyone who does know what that is, it's a way of examining disability that states that we are not disabled by our conditions or differences but by the way the society disables us. I'll explain using little old me as an example. I cannot walk due to a spinal collapse caused by a childhood cancer. So in medical terms I am a paraplegic due to a partial spinal injury, through complications caused by an Post Natal Adrenal Neuroblastoma, that confines me to a wheelchair permanently. But the Social Model states that by using a wheelchair I am able to live life exactly the same I would have if I could walk, barred only by environmental barriers such as steps, uneven pavements, lack of lifts and accessible toilets. If the world I lived in was designed to be fully accessible then I would not really be disabled. The Seven Dwarves live in a normal house, and use aids to be able to access it's facilities. Thus they are not disabled by their difference within an environment that they have adapted to suit their needs. It's only when they enter the outside world that barriers can cause difficulties. If the wider society understood this, then maybe we could actually start working together to build a world that was totally inclusive. This would mean that disability would not be such a big thing and we'd all be able to live equally. Sure there are elements of being disabled that are medical. I have chronic pain as I have some nerves trapped in my back, and the Seven Dwarves speak about some medical hassles that arise form time to time, but everyone has illnesses and health issues. It's just ours are made into a bigger deal by being labelled as disabled.

The thing that shocks me the most as I watch Seven Dwarves is how much the public seems to laugh at them and ridicule them to their faces. Us "freaks" are expected to put up with this kind of thing, even by people who would be furious if they were at the sharp end. My wife has a big scar on her right arm and when we first met she would regularly get shouted at in the street by people offended that she dared to go out in public without it being covered. Many of these people were from ethnic minorities, yet they never seemed to see the irony that they were shouting at a person in the street about a difference that only went skin deep. I mean my wife's scar impairs her abilities in no way at all. The only time it impacts on her life is when people make comments about it. I also regularly get comments and negative reactions, yet really I look like a bloke sitting down. The way that everyone on the planet does when they sit down to eat. But the wheelchair seems to make it open season. I must admit I tend to react in a more openly upset way than my wife, and it did make me happy that the stars of SD also react in a proactive manner. Tee hee.

What amazes me is that people think that acting like this is acceptable behaviour. More amazing is that the next generation are continuing to be arses. My nephew was diagnosed with Luekeamia when he was 5. He is now 13 and has totally cured. Yet he has been bullied at school by kids telling him he is weak and inferior as he had cancer. When he told me, and fellow cancer survivor, I nearly drove up to his school had showed the little shits just how inferior someone who beat cancer can be... with my fist. But apparently he had already done this, and ended up getting suspended for a week. For standing up for himself! When I was his age, kids bullied me but I used the patented Mik technique for stopping this kind of behaviour. I kicked them in the bollocks. Hard and with my metal sided caliper. They never did it again. In fact a few became good mates, if only to avoid the "leg of doom". Yet now over 30 years later, instead of the kids bullying someone because he was different from them getting in trouble for doing something that should be unacceptable, the kid being bullied and standing up for himself was punished. If that's the way schools deal with this sort of thing, then God knows what kind of world we will be living in when they grow up.

Before I go, I shall explain the title of this blog. I told my nephew that he was not weak and inferior. In fact he was strong and superior. He had beaten an illness that kills many of the people it touches. That goes for all of us who have been touched by illness, disability and difference. We have the strength to fight our conditions, whether we win or not, but we also have to exist in a world that causes our disabilities and differences to impact on our lives, and we're expected to put with it. At the minute we are being told we should all be going out and getting jobs and contributing to a society that still thinks we are less than them, and gets away with telling us so... to our faces. All I know is that I have always been proud of who I am. My disability has shaped the person I am, and I like me. I am disabled and bloody proud of it. So up yours, all you perfect people. All the same, all healthy and "perfect". I rather be me any day!

I am a Freak and Proud!Link

Monday, 29 August 2011

Bladerunner Blues

Today I did something that I almost never do. So rare an event that it dragged my wife away from her Physics studies to find out what was going on, and as she has a paper due in three days she hasn't got time to waste. You see today I watched... SPORT! I sat on my sofa and watched the athletics. The Men's 400m semi final. I felt I had to, not as I am in anyway interested in it, or even because it was the such a historic event, with Oscar Pistorius being able to compete with non-disabled athletes on an equal level. No the driving force behind my going against my deep dislike of organised sport was the fact that the IAAF, sports commentator and some athletes were against Mr. Pistorius competing as they felt he had an unfair advantage.

Let's just dwell on that a minute shall we? A man with no legs, in a top level running race has an unfair advantage. A man that to train harder, and who has had to learn an entirely new way of running and balancing has an unfair advantage as he uses specially designed artificial legs. Forget the fact all the other runners were using a fully working body created by millions of years of evolution and honed by training to be at the peak of physical perfection and Mr. Pistorius is a member of a section of the world's community who no one could describe as having an unfair advantages. He has worked hard to be able to compete to this level, and as well as the training that all the runners had to go through I am sure that Mr. Pistorius has had to spend time learning elements of running that come naturally to the rest. Not being a big runner, I can't be sure but I imagine that the blades that he runs on must take some getting used to. As well as balance and reading how each step will effect his gate and direction, he has had to learn how to feel that track through his add-on legs. I know how long it took me to be able to use my chair as I see fit, so I can only guess at the skill it takes to thunder round an athletics track, racing at such high speeds in competition. Unfair advantage my arse.

But why would anyone make this kind of claim? Well I think it is simple. No one wants to be bested by a member of society that they see as less than them. It wasn't that long ago that people all of the world were very upset when they saw whites being bested by black people. Up until more recently boys and girls could not play school football together. Disabled people are the last group to be so excluded in the world of sport that we have our own events and ruling bodies. Why is it the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics? Why not one fantastic event where all competitors are equal and if they can compete against each other, like Oscar Pistorius, then all the better? There might even be a move towards designing new sports that allow disabled and non-disabled people to play together in one team. Mixed basketball, or whatever. (Don't ask me, haven't a clue)

Now I could go off on one now, and rave on about how sport is filed with people obsessed with perfection and competition, but that obvious. That's what sport is about, especially at this level. The mentality behind world class sport means that these people, whether they are taking part or running the events, are precisely the wrong kind of people to make decisions on whether disabled people can take part in a mainstream sporting event. They do not see it as a step forward in equality, or even as opening up their sport to a wider audience (though they even got me today!). They are all about winning (oh and the money from the TV viewing rights). Everyone who is involved with sport at this level has got there by focusing on themselves, and being selfish. So who cares about creating a better world, a fairer world, if it might mean they don't win. So keep the fast cripple out. He might beat me.

This why I think it is so sad that sport is being put forward to disabled young people as a way of gaining self confidence and even to getting on in the word. A whole generation of young disabled people will be entering the world after the 2012 games with the idea that sport will allow them to make something of themselves, but not see that it is the very past time they enjoy that is playing a part in keeping them down. All sports should be opened up, whether it is mainstream or disability based. Everyone should be able to take part, and we should all be playing together. Then maybe I might even take something up.

Before I go, I've just read that the IAAF have ordered Oscar Pistorius that he can only run in the first leg (excuse the pun) of the 4x400m relay race, as his might injure the other runners with his blades. He answered the ruling “I’ve run in many relays in different legs and I’ve never had a problem or an incident." Personally I start the race and then run off track, find a member of the IAAF and shove the baton somewhere the sun don't shine.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Thoughts on a birthday 2

Three days before my 46th birthday I found myself over come with a strange sensation. A kind of down feeling, combined with a yearning to know where I was going with my life. As the big day approached, the feeling got stronger and as I awoke on August 18th I really thought "Oh wow, here comes my mid-life crisis!". I must admit I do hope it is that, as if nothing else it means, thanks to the elegance of maths, that I will live to be 92. As I got used to being another year older, and entering the tale end of my 40's, the feeling lessened but it is still there. Insecurity about how to proceed with my life. Not anything massive of course. I am very lucky that I have wonderful wife, who I love dearly, and am returning to full health after a really crappy 10 years where I seemed to fall to bits. More a need to examine what path to take from here.

I think it may be the fact that I am feeling healthy again is at the core of all this. After spending so long fighting to recover from my car accident in 1999, and then a further injury at work shortly after as well as the massive surgery I had to have to fix the damage that the car crash caused, I have forgotten what "healthy" feels like. There is a strange unwillingness to believe that I won't suddenly fall apart again, even though I know this is really unlikely. I know that I had a similar period when I went into my chair back in 1981. Once you've had something so major happen to you, you stop trusting your body and it's ability to take what is thrown at it. Now I have two broken spines, all the surgery and the change in the way the old body works, it is even harder to trust it to stay together. I keep hearing the words of Scotty from Star Trek, "She can't take much more Captain". But I must remember that I am the Captain of my body.

My wife always laughs at my relationship with my body. I am not so much a part of it, but more a separate entity that is forced to live within it. More than that, it is not a friendly place. In fact it is more at constant battle with me. I have to order it to do what I want, and it does not always follow those orders. And it fights back, the little bugger. I imagine that anyone able bodied (or non-disabled as I am told is the correct terminolgoy) could never understand what I mean. The best description I can come up with is it's a bit like driving a crappy car. Years ago I had a Mini Metro that was such a boat. The automatic gear box had a mind of it's own, the brakes were useless and one time the steering wheel fell off, another the front wheel. Yes the front wheel. Yet I managed to get that car to deliver me to my destination for three years before it was sent to the scrap heap. That's what it feels like sometimes to be me. The funny thing is I can't begin to imagine what it must feel like not to live this way.

So maybe it isn't this that is causing my mid-life moment. The real driving force behind it is the fact that as I am now healthy I want to get back into my field of work. Before I got ill my media career was in full swing. I was returning from a very successful meeting about a new show when I had my accident. Sadly breaking my back for a second time made me too ill to work, and so nothing happened. The problem is that now I am ready to go back the media is not ready for me. I have been told I might be a bit old (followed by don't quote me on that) and that my old punky image is working against me, hence the new natural look (see new picture left). Another big reason is that there are so many more new young disabled people wanting to work in the media. New talent is the life blood of the media world, and I am no longer that. That's cool, and I really want there to be more new disabled faces on our TVs and voice coming out of our radios, I just wish I could still be one of those faces... new or not. If my time has come where should I go now? I don't really want to give up on a career I enjoyed and was good at, but if I continue will I just end up a bitter old has been? More of a bitter old has been?!

I have tried to find real employment, but being an ex-TV presenter works against me there too. Over 20 years as a freelance broadcaster and journalist gives you many skills, but little proof of them. Also the modern view of a presenter is it is an easy job. When I started you had to write scripts or ad lib as you went, and third takes where pretty much out so you had to get it right. You also had to be fantastic with people. Interviews went so much easier if you could put the interviewee at ease and help them through the process while remembering what your producer wanted to get in the can. As well as the obvious skills, I learned to write scripts and reports, research people and stories, manage finances... the list goes on. Yet time and time again, I find that I am told I am not experienced or qualified enough for the position I am applying for.

The funny thing is that when I started writing this blog it seemed really important that I did, but now I have got this far I see that is rubbish. It doesn't matter where I go from here. By just asking the question I am starting out a new. I don't know what the future holds for me, but the again who does? I know more than most that the Pet Shop Boys lyric, "Just when you least expect it, just what you least expect" is one the truest things ever written. I am happy, healthy and the captain of my own, if crappy body, and I will decide what tomorrow holds. So watch out world, Mik Scarlet is back.

Who needs therapy when you have the internet eh? That saved me some money... think I'll go shopping. That always cheers me up!

(Having read this back, I am shocked at what a like of self indulgent navel gazing this blog is. But hey this is the internet. One of it's major roles is to allow the world to waffle on about stuff as if it really maters.)

PS - for fun try to count the number of film, TV and music quotes in this blog.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Thoughts on a birthday 1

I intended to continue my thoughts on the recent riots by examining the claims that they were due to a moral decline among some areas of society. I wanted to ask why it is that only the people from the poorer segments of the public were being targeted as being morally bankrupt, when we have seen almost all of the great and the good within our society proving that they lost their moral compass way before the riots. Let's face it, we have seen those who govern us defrauding us through expenses claims, those who give us our news and police us using illegal methods to pry into our private lives and those who runs our economy nearly destroying the fabric of our society through poor management (I'm being charitable there) while demanding huge bonus payouts. None of these actions could be described as moral, and as they pretty much all seemed to get away with it surely it creates an atmosphere that leads to some people seeing nothing wrong in taking what they want? Luckily many other people have said this already, so instead I can dwell on something else.

I have just celebrated by 46th birthday, and this year is also my 30th year as a wheelchair user. It reminded me of that I was part of the last huge rise in youth unemployment. I left school in 1981, and spent a year on the dole. I then went onto study "A" levels, but went straight back onto benefits as soon as I left. I could not go to university as there I could not find an accessible one that had the subject I wanted to study. So instead I joined all my friends on the dole queue.

Most people think of the 80's of a time of greed and loads of money, but it was also a time of unemployment and poverty. Almost everyone I knew didn't have a job, especially the men. For almost a decade we hung round together, knowing we had no chance of finding work. Not only because we had dyed hair (which back then was like being a leper, even thought it was very fashionable), but also because once you've been unemployed for a while you become also unemployable. Everyone views you as "not the right sort" and you slowly become so used to not getting an interview that giving up seems the only answer.

But it didn't get us down. Almost every member of the unemployed gang I knew used the enforced period out of work as an opportunity to learn a skill and follow our dreams. They slowly became artists, musicians, actors, fashion designers and jewellers. Those of us who didn't go into arty stuff ended up as computer whizzes and now make a bundle. The only difference that I can see between us back then and the growing number of unemployed youth of today is that we saw succeeding as an act of rebellion. We weren't going to be kept down. We saw our fortnightly trips to the dole office and our exclusion from mainstream society as part of the deal to allow us to build a future of our own design. OK, we all lived in a small town and had grown up terrified of being forced into dead end jobs, following in our parents footsteps, so the chance to follow our bliss was too good to waste. In a way we were lucky. The economy and government policy at the time saw our unemployment as part of the way the world should be, and we just took advantage of the time we had to fill, and we filled in constructively.

There's the rub. Filling it constructively. If I could say one thing to the unemployed young people of today it would be that. Fill your time constructively. Don't give in to the boredom. All that time can let you become whatever you want to be. And remember, when you become really skilled at what you want to do, thanks to all the time you have on your hands, success will follow. That success is a bigger two fingers to the powers that be than any riot. Getting to rub shoulders with the people that run the country allows you to have a voice in what goes on and gives you a chance to shape the future. I know that I would never have thought as a teenager that I would be meeting with MPs and councillors and being treated as an equal. The fact I now have a chance to make a better future is due to the years I had being told I had no future at all. So come on, don't let the bastards grind you down. Become the best you can be, and have fun trying. Worked for me.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Riots - Can Anyone Claim That They Are The Answer?

Today I wheeled into Camden Town Centre and witnessed the aftermath of the thankfully minor troubles that took place last night. While some shops had been looted and many windows smashed, I know that the place I call home got off lightly. The footage on TV and photos and videos on line show the true level of damage and destruction left in the wake of the rioting that gripped London and the country beyond. As many people who read my blog must know, I am a bit of a lefty and so they may expect me to be one of those who explains away this orgy of crime and violence as a reaction to unfair treatment and lack of opportunity, but I must disappoint you.

I spent the day thinking about some of the claims from community leaders and some of the youths who were involved, but they just don't stand up. Let's face it, as a person who was born disabled I have experienced discrimination through out my life. As a young New Romantic in a small town I experienced some extreme treatment from the police and feel the sting of being excluded almost every day. Even this weekend I was not allowed into a restaurant in Brighton (called Picasso's in Market Street) because I was in a wheelchair, so I know how angry being excluded can make you feel. I really wanted to throw one of the chairs outside the eatery through one of their windows for sure, but I didn't. In the past I must admit I have reacted to blatant discrimination with vigour, and with some force. The difference is I did not target anyone else. The person who was the victim of my wrath was the person who had discriminated against me, not anyone who happened to be nearby. Or any local business that had some stuff I fancied.

And that is the true reason for all of this. However much people may claim otherwise, this whole chaos is driven by greed and jealousy. These gangs of youths are not fighting to get fairer treatment, they are going out to get stuff. In Camden, the 3 store was totally cleaned out of stock. Even the displays have been taken. I can see no way that this level of theft can be a political act. Other shops, like JD Sports and O2 where also ransacked, yet did the youths gather and march to Whitehall? Of course not. That would be an act of political rebellion. Looting and smashing things up has no real chance of changing the way any minority groups of treated, but it will mean the perpetrators will have new mobile phones, trainers and wide-screen TV's.

The saddest thing is that these youths will effect the very places they live. Places that are already deprived. Sure Camden isn't a seat of poverty, but it does have some very poor areas and is struggling in the current economic situation. How can looting and mindless vandalism lead to anything constructive? Some of the places worst effected will take years to get near to normality. Not only will it bring down the places were these young people live further, but it will give those who do discriminate against them the excuse to do so. By acting this way they have just conformed to the stereotype that society at large has of them.

So come on, stop this craziness now. Put this anger to good use, and stop making yourselves into the very thing that leads to the responses you claim to be reacting against. That way you will prove that all of this isn't really just a way of stealing things you feel you should have. Don't believe the crap that Rap stars tell you about the gangster life and if you really feel the need to do something, make sure it's constructive. Use your anger to change things, not smash them up. But if, as I suspect, you're only driven by selfish desire then I am afraid you will have no friend in this lefty liberal. And if I'm not on your side, then imagine what the Daily Mail reading man in the street thinks. He'll be shouting "Hang 'em", and remember that this squeezed middle and their reactionary politics decide what happens in our country. So if you thought you had it bad before all this, just wait.

As a foot note I would just like to praise the local police here in Camden. I found this piece of footage shot as the local troubles started, and was amazed at the bravery of the police involved. Going into the situation in nothing but their usual uniforms in such low numbers... they all deserve medals! Check it out -

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Too Close For Comfort

So the Olympics opening ceremonies are now a year away, with the Paralympics following 44 days after. Whatever my feelings on the event now, when the bid for the games was announced I was overjoyed. In fact I volunteered to help the bid team by demonstrating how the games would help make London more accessible for disabled people. You see I regularly holiday in Barcelona and have seen how much the Olympics improved that city. It was especially amazing as Barcelona is a city filled with historic buildings. Not only did it have an effect during the work around the games but it has influenced how the city has developed ever since. Every time I go back it has got better, and it is a credit to the city and it's government.

Which is why I feel so let down by London's bid. I really believed what I was told. That by bringing the games to London it would be the catalyst to a massive move forward in the city's accessibility. Yet with only 365 days to go before the games and 409 days before the Paralympic opening ceremonies where do we stand... or sit? Sure things have got a little better but how much of that is due to the games? Has our public transport system been up graded to ensure that disabled people can attend the games? Have the tourist attractions of our capital been made inclusive? Do we have the capacity in our hotels for the predicted numbers of disabled visitors during the games? Can we all say that London is now a world class city when it comes to access and inclusion?

Sadly the answer to those questions is not a resounding YES. The tube has no chance of being accessible in time and the buses still only have one space for a wheelchair (unless a Mum has decided that her push chair needs that space). The DLR was already pretty accessible, but unless you live in East London getting to the line is a nightmare. Black cabs are accessible, but they are not allowed into the Olympic site so there'll be no door to door journeys there either. As for driving to the games, forget it. While many more visitor attractions are accessible now, that is not really due to the games. Regarding the hotels situation, it is well documented that we will fall massively short. So with such a short time to go it looks like London will not have seen the major improvements that were promised.

Yes, East London and the Olympic site especially will be state of the art, but if the games are to be the London games I think we all expected the whole city to feel an effect. Not only for those of us who live, work or visit London from inside the UK, but for all of those people coming here from abroad. I know that I got involved as I really thought everyone involved in the games would want to make London a shining example of how a city can be made inclusive to the rest of the world. Instead, unless we see a huge rush of works in the next year, London will be a major let down to many of the people who travel here.

I know that in my area, Camden, there has been almost no change at all. In fact in some places things have got worse. Bars and shops have become harder to use, and there has been almost no drive from the games organisers to help the businesses and councils in London to improve their access. Instead the organisers are advising disabled athletes that places like Camden, with it's poor access, should be avoided in case they injure themselves before their event. How sad is that?

To me the saddest thing is that there has been no outcry from the UK's Paralympic athletes about the lack of improvement. Sure sport is selfish at it's heart, and athletes at such a high level must focus mainly on their training, but I have heard no mention from any of them around how little is being done on the issue of access. I do hear that merely seeing so many disabled people excelling in sport will change opinions towards disability, and I am sure it will, but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make real physical change to our capital and it is slipping through our fingers. Mouthy gits like me do not have the profile to raise the issue, but these athletes do.

So come on Team GB. Stop working so hard going for gold, just for a minute, and give a thought to what real legacy for all disabled people the games could leave. Look at how little has been done, how little time we have left and make some noise. Trust me, if you do every disabled person in the land will be cheering you on in a way you could only dream of. If you do raise the issue you'll be doing more for disabled people than winning a gold medal ever could, and long after the games have gone you will be able to look at the London left behind and feel a sense of pride second to none. You'll be a real winner. As will we all.

Monday, 11 July 2011


I spent the weekend encoding and uploading a pile of old video clips from my TV presenting career, as well as editing a new showreel. I've now got that online too, and here it is....

What was really weird was having to sit and watch myself presenting, especially as the clips span a period of nearly ten years. I normally never watch myself, but I'm kind of glad I did. Not only because there is no way I will ever get any work with out a showreel but because it gave me a chance to actually realize I wasn't half bad. Now I won't blow my own trumpet too much. Just not me, but I do think that perhaps I was a bit too British in my past reticence at actually watching to work I did. Yes, of course I was a bit embarrassed at seeing yourself the way others see you and as I am always sure I am in need of a diet, I thought it was easier to do the whole "I never watch what do darling" thing that so many media types do. Now I have had to watch myself back as I coping hour of VHS tapes onto my computer, not only did I like what I saw but I also could see what I was doing wrong. If only I had made myself watch in the past I would have got even better at my job.

But this isn't what I wanted to blog about. Something that struck me while I watched the most recent of my box of VHS tapes was how almost all of it revolved around disability based stories. Yes of the stuff I did with From The Edge had to be, as it was a disability magazine program, but also the news stuff, and some stuff I didn't upload. But it was really good stuff. Fun items that would have been enjoyable to watch whether or not the viewer was disabled. Some pieces were thought provoking, some just light, some campaigning and some very political. All really good. Well written, filmed, edited and presented... watch it, don't get too big headed there. But most of all what struck me was the language. It was so great to watch a good few hours of TV about disability and not hear "brave", "courageous", "tragic" or any other of the standard disability words... other than in the two items on the use of language of course.

It crazy to think that the oldest of these items was filmed in 1999, yet the media industry has gone backwards in it's portrayal of disability. With the Paralymics coming up, and all the media gearing up for a frenzy of coverage I just hope they remember how well it used to be done. Whatever each Paralympic sports person achieves, they aren't brave or courageous. Just bloody good at sport, after years of training and effort. Let's hope we manage to get to enjoy coverage that avoids the standard clichés in 2012. And if anyone involved in making that coverage needs any help or guidance, take a look at my showreel. And if you need a presenter, give my agent a ring... please!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

With age comes wizdom... or what was I like?

At the minute I am transferring some of my previous TV work into the digital domain so I can up load it on to You Tube, in the hope that it might get me back into the media. While most of what I did was really very good, even if I say so myself, there are some items that made me squirm as I watched them. Back in the early 2000's I was regularly asked to come in to the BBC's News 24 studio to review the newspapers. I thought I was there to be a bit out spoken and unlike the usual paper reviewers, who were normally editors and columnists from those very papers and I remember my appearances as being quiet rational fun comment on the news of the time.

Oh boy, was I wrong. As I watched 5 minute clip after 5 minute clip, I found myself wanting to go back in time and slap myself. OK, there was the standard Mik Scarlet left wing rantiness which any of my regular readers know and love (?), but I also had a few subjects that seemed to throw me into a crazy irrational state. One of my favourite targets was the farming industry. At this time Foot and Mouth gripped the UK farming industry, and the hunting ban was being discussed. Yes, I have strong beliefs on methods used in modern farming and equally strong feelings on hunting (and the current cull of badgers being considered at the minute) but I seemed unable to even see the opposing view.

As I realized just how many reviews I had done, and how often I seemed to go off on a crazy rant on various personal hot topics, I felt feelings of shame and embarrassment creep over me. Just as I was about to rush towards the off switch of my coping machine to prevent me anyone from ever seeing me make a fool of myself, it hit me. This was a really bad time for me. I had found it necessary to stop working as a presenter, due to ill health, and this was pretty much the only work I was doing at that point. I know myself well enough to see that this angry 30 something in front of me had been made that way as he was in the grip of a serious and life threatening problem with his spine. Yeah most other people would have tried to be measured and thinking of the future, but I was really unsure I'd have one and so felt this was my chance to comment on things I felt were as unfair as my illness. I have always found that getting angry when I'm ill gets me through. It might not make me fun to work with, or the nicest guy, but the energy it creates gives me the strength to get through.

The weird thing is this is the first time I have been able to see myself during one of these phases, and it has really freaked me out. I look back on that time and know how bad it was and I now feel I owe a debt of gratitude to anyone who stuck with me. Especially my wife. I also would like to say sorry to anyone who found me difficult going during this time. I know I alienated some of my friends and people I worked with, and I also know that my attitude during this period did effect my career. To anyone who worked with me between 1999 and 2005, I am sorry if I was an arse. I hope you understand... and might even forgive me?

As well as the realization of why I was so confrontational, I found myself confronted with the truth that your state of mind can really effect your politics and beliefs. The stress and worry of being so ill had robbed me of my ability to show any empathy, and I wonder if the entire country is not going through something similar at the minute? The dire financial situation, and personal worries regarding money and jobs is causing society to become like I was during my newspaper reviews. Fixed in an extreme position and unable to see how that position might effect other people.

So I ask everyone who reads this to remember this phase will pass. I am now back to full health, and feel much more positive. The world will come out of this period of financial chaos. When it does, and it looks back on all the things it did and said during the fear and worry of it's past, I hope it hasn't done anything that can't be undone. I'm lucky. Most of the stuff I have appeared in on TV exists almost no where except in my box of VHS tapes, and now on my PC. I doubt I'll put the more extreme ranting online for others to see, and I will definitely learn from my mistakes. As a society we might not be so fortunate. Major changes to our society made while we are frantically scrambling around for a solution for our current hassles might really damage the steps forward we have made, and may never be able to be undone. I won't say what changes, but I do hope we really examine what legacy each new decision and direction we take will leave behind. If we do, we will not have the awful feeling of looking back to wish we could undo something that caused great suffering during a difficult period.

On a lighter note, the one great thing about looking back at footage of a younger me is that I haven't aged anywhere near as much as I thought I had. In fact I even look better now than I did in some clips. So while I hope I may be wiser, I don't look that much older. Now that has made me smile... a huge wide cheesy smile. Tee hee.

Friday, 1 July 2011

We come a short way baby!

After a crazy few weeks rehearsing for and performing in the Graeae Theatre Company's production of Rhinestone Rollers - Wheels On Broadway I thought I deserved a day off. As I sat flicking through the channels on my Sky+ I stumbled upon an episode of a favourite show from my youth, The Fall Guy. Starring my all time childhood hero, Lee Majors, who played the Six Million Dollar Man (the fantasy of any kid who had a knackered leg in the 70's - bionics, something I really thought we'd have by the 21st century) before becoming the stunt man come bounty hunter Colt Seavers, this episode was called "Wheels". The story revolved around an old friend of Colt's who was now in a wheelchair... and it was played by real wheelchair user... IN 1983!!!!

I watched the episode, and was amazed at just how well the subject of disability was covered. Loads of jokes about public sympathy, a real action cripple in the guise of Colt's old pal, a super fast electric wheelchair with a side-car and an entire cast of real disabled people. Not one single non-disabled actor playing disabled anywhere. Again, I must point out this is 1983! The disabled main character even gets married at the end, and is planning kids. IN 1983!!!!!

Even today, here in the UK us disabled acting types still have to argue as to why only we should be playing disabled parts, and as for a story line that is as positive as this one... well we can still dream. How many young disabled people would ever believe that so long ago prime time shows like The Fall Guy were being made that did disability so well? Today's TV producers and writers should take a hard look at their output and at how old shows like this covered disability and hang their heads in shame. How far have we come in nearly 30 years?

Another subject that has been playing on my mind recently is education. On Wednesday I took part in a march to Downing Street over the education bill. With the government stating that they want to "overturn the bias towards inclusive education" and promote special schools, I really felt it was time to sit down and be counted. I was very lucky to attend mainstream schools through out my school career, and I cannot believe that exactly 30 years since I left school we live in a country that is trying to move away from inclusivity. Not only did attending a "normal" school help me, it helped my non-disabled friends. I got a pile of exams and learnt that my AB mates were just like me, and all my physically perfect mates learnt to see disabled people as just like them. I am proud to know that after taking me all of my schools became fully inclusive and still are today. I plan to start working with my old high school, Putteridge High in Luton, in the future around issues of inclusion and awareness and to mentor some of their current students.

But it really is shocking to me that most people still think that allowing disabled kids to be schooled in the same way as non-disabled kids is not an obvious thing to work towards. Even many disabled people in the public eye are unconvinced. I won't name names, but surely it is a right of all children to be schooled to the best of their ability? How can we disabled people ever expect to be accepted as part of society if we are kept apart from the rest of society from such an early age?

Of course there can be issues to confront for schools, but nothing is insurmountable. Instead of using these issues to bar entrance to a mainstream schooling, they should be seen as mechanisms for expanding the experiences of all the other pupils. What about a school project to explore access solutions for a pupil that is entering the school next term, or a buddy system for pupils that might need extra help? This kind of thing opens up the educational and social experiences of all the pupils of a school and makes the disabled pupil feel an accepted member of school population.

So yet again I find myself asking, just how far have we come? I would never have thought that at the age of nearly 46 I would still be fighting for correct portrayal of disabled people in the media and for inclusive education. I absolutely would never have thought I'd be fighting against plans to take our education system back to a time before I went to school. All I know is that I am glad I am not a disabled child today. To find yourself thinking like that makes me very angry, and ashamed. To think that if we are not careful all the gains disabled people have made in my adult life will be thrown away, all in the name of cutting deficits.

Right I'm going to stop myself there. I could go on to blame the Tories and go all Red Wedge on you all, but I thought I'd give you all a break from my socialist tirades. Whatever your politics, I am sure you will agree that we all must work hard to ensure that no more ground is lost.

Right I'm gong back to the TV. Sounds like Batman is on. Kerpow!

Monday, 13 June 2011

Hate Crime - Cripples Fight Back

So on the same day that it was announced that hate crimes against disabled people has risen from 40 in 2005 to 130 this year, Sir Terry Pratchett fronts his program "Choosing to Die". Now I think you all know what I think about the assisted suicide debate, but I do wonder why Sir Terry is so obsessed with promoting his belief on the subject. Surely this whole problem is easily solved? Just before he gets to a point where his standard of life is less than he would wish it to be, he could just kill himself? Isn't that the answer to everyone in this situation? If you let yourself live just a little too long, and you can no longer take your own life... then tough.

You see whether you like it or not, promoting this death as a solution to illness and disability at a time when the government is painting all disabled people as scrounging drains on our ailing economy causes the attitudes that has led to this increase in disabled people facing hate crimes. I know how awful it is when you find yourself being targeted because you are disabled. Back in the early 2000's I lived in Shepherds Bush, just a stones thrown from the BBC. A group of "Youths" stated using the car park of the block of flats I lived in as a place to hang out. Gradually they began abusing my wife and I but when we stood up to them the whole situation escalated. It started with a physical attack on my wife, and when I came to her aid I was also beaten to the ground. The police didn't even bother to come. Then we were threatened with a knife, and my wife fended them off with a broom stick. The police arrived but we told that we would be arrested as the broom is an offensive weapon... the knife had disappeared magically. Finally a gang of three of the youths attacked my wife and beat her very badly. They turned up wearing masks and it was obviously a planned attack. We could not describe them to the police, so they could not help us. In the end we had to move, as after this we were told that we were "dead" and that we would wake up one night with petrol being poured through our front door. Nice.

Now this was before the hype around benefit cheating incapacity claimants and death before disability. I know from my day to day life that people's attitudes have changed for the worse. I mean how many of you have had your blue badge stolen? I've had three nicked so far. There is even a website to tell people how to get hold of a dodgy blue badge. Why? Because people no longer see things like incapacity benefit and the blue badge as something that is awarded to people who need and deserve them, and that allocation is fair a just. Now most of the public see awards like these as unfair. Why should these cripples get something I don't?

So what is the answer? I have no idea. I didn't vote for this bunch of idiots, and I never will. I also never under estimate the general public, so if they are told to believe something I know they will. Maybe the answer is to strick back and for some hate crime carried out by cripples. Could the answer be for a gang of wheelchair users to go out and beat up some ramblers, or a gang of deafies go postal on an orchestra, or a crack squad of visually impaired hooligans could jump some photographers? Hell's Cripples... or even disabled terrorist? Disabled Liberation Army anyone? (Get it... DLA... God I'm so witty)

Comedy aside, maybe the answer is for us disabled people to be more proactive. The one thing that makes the fact that my wife and I had our lives ruined by hate crime was how badly I beat up one of the little shits. OK, it didn't solve anything and meant they only ever harassed us in large groups but the memory of the little git's face coming apart as I rammed it into a brick wall still makes me smile. One thing for sure, he never tried his luck again. So let's all take martial arts lessons and next time we find ourselves being targeted by these kind of scum, we kick their bigoted arses and we kick them hard.

OK, this is a serious problem, and my flippant blog doesn't really help but you either laugh or you cry. If we let them see weakness this kind of bully we always feel the need to pick on us. So come on cripples haters, you just try picking on me, and you'll find yourself joining us pretty damn quickly!!!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Home Town Pride

Recently I went down to Parliment as part of the delgation that handed in my home town of Luton's application to be made a city as part of the Queen's jubliee. I felt it was time to give something back to a place that I have come to understand played a massive part in making me the person I am today.

Luton Town Centre - 1965 - the year I was born.

Like most people who grew up in a provincial town, I always felt that I was missing out on something while I lived in Luton. The draw of the big city always tugged at me, and as soon as I could I moved down to London. Even before I lived here I would spend a huge sum of money on petrol to cover driving down to the big smoke to go gigging, clubbing and shopping. And I will admit I had a really great time in London, but as I get older I also see what a great place Luton is and was.

The first thing that Luton gave to me was an expectation of being treated equally. Even though I have been disabled since birth, I never really found that I was actively discriminated against all the time I lived there. I attended a mainstream school throuhgout my education. It is only recently, after joining ALLFIE in their battle for inclusive education that I realise how rare it is for disabled children to be given the chance to go to a "normal" school. Especially back in the early 70's! Yet in Luton I was given the chance to do so, not only in my early school career, but throught from the age of 5 to 18. It was only when I started looking to go to university that I found my way closed. Some schools needed no adapatations, some made the changes I needed easily. My high school, Putteridge High, undertook a program of building that left it with a fully accessible school building. So not only did I go there, but so did a few other disabled kids. Not many schools, can claim that they were fully inclusive in the late 70's. Very few can claim that even today.

But not only were the buildings accessible, but so was the attitude towards disabled pupils. I was expected to do everything my able bodied class mates did. I was also given the same expectations. I saw my future as being just like everyone elses. My disability would not be a barrier to my dreams in any way. Yes I couldn't go to uni, but that wasn't anyone at my schools fault. It was just that they were ahead of the rest of the educational establishment in how they facilitated disabled students. I didn't mind though. Another thing that Luton gave me was an expectation that talent would be enough to get you on.

It was a very working class place, with the majority of Lutonians working in the major industries of Luton, like Vauxhall and the airport, and the place had an attitude that talent would be enough. Most of the people I knew and grew up with had parent's that had ben promoted through the ranks of where they worked until they had very good jobs and good standards of living. All on talent and skill. So I went out into the world with the belief that if I was good at something I would get on in that field. Hence why I pushed to get into the media and music industries. I was good so why shouldn't I? It is also this belief that has enabled me to change direction and career without any real fear.

Once I left school, in my wheelchair, I did find some barriers. But no where near as many as I might have found in other places. Most of Luton is accessible. The shopping centre was superb, many of the pubs and clubs too. And anywhere that was a bit difficult saw no problem in be as helpful as possible. They also made changes and became accessible. I remember the local cimema going to great lengths to become wheelchair accessible after I tried to see a film but was turned away. I contacted the managment and they were fantastic. We worked together and made all the ground floor screens accessible. It was this experience that got me active on issues of access. I really thought that if everyone was this cool, then it wouldn't be long before accessibility was the norm.

Now I am getting older, and am working in the field of inclusion and inclusive design it still shocks me when I have to attend a meeting with designers and architects who seem to think that accessibility is something of an after thought. I even meet a few who see my desire to have the chance to experience their building just like evryone else as some kind of insult to their design. I would never have thought that 30 years after I left school I would be having arguements over why wheelchair users should have the right to access a building throught the front door. No Luton didn't prepare me for that.

So I feel I must say Thank You to Luton. Sure you have your problems, but then where doesn't? All I know is that you gave me the skills, confidence and self belief to be the person I am, and to go out into the world with the desire to make it a better place and give young people all over the UK the chance to experience what it is like to grow up with the chance to be considered an equal, whatever your difference or disability might be. Good luck with your city bid and a "big up" to everyone I know and knew in Luton.

To play a part in Luton's city bid visit Love Luton

Monday, 23 May 2011

Past & Present Tense

I've had a crazy busy couple of weeks, so please forgive my lack of blogging. The craziness started when I took past in a creative workshop and performance of the fantastic new play by Mike Dibb called "Present Tense". It is based on a short story by Celi Duran, and examines the lives of three people who have recently become spinally injured. The play is set in the late 1960's in New York and is a really powerful piece. I won't tell you all too much about the plot, as everyone involved is hoping it makes it to the stage. That way you can all come and see it without having me spoil it for you.

The weird thing is that working on a play about experiences that I had already been through reminded me of the journey of emotions that anyone coming to a disability has to embark on when they are given the big news. Although I have always been disabled, I did go through a spinal injury in my teens, and so found acting the part of someone newly disabled took me back to a time that I would rather forget. I hope that everyone who reads my blog knows that I am very proud of my disability and how it has shaped the person I am, a person I like (modest as usual). I know that without my disability, and all of the changes in ability that I have gone through I would not be who I am today. But I do tend to forget that it wasn't an easy journey. Early on, just after my spinal injury, I couldn't see a future for me at all. I was sure I would never find a lover or get married, had seen any chance of the career I wanted to pursue disappear and really felt that my life was over. I will admit I even considered suicide at a couple of points. I only stuck around as I still lived at home and thought it was unfair to leave the job of discovering me to my family.

Luckily, this reason for sticking around made me start to re-evaluate my life and future. I gave up on the steady job and family plans, and decided to just enjoy life. So began my crazy journey through the world of rock and roll, the media and some of the extreme things I have done. I look back on my life, and I'm only half way through, and know that I have lived the kind of life most able bodied people would be jealous of. One thing for sure, no one can say that my life has been the stereotypical idea of the life a disabled person would live.

The character that I played in Present Tense had a similar attitude towards coping with his disability as I had back then. If life threw something at me, instead of it getting me down or putting up with it I fought back. It started when I found I couldn't go to my local cinema in a wheelchair. I contacted the manager and within a few weeks a wheelchair space had been installed and a new level entrance was created. This spurred me on an soon I was fighting the good fight everywhere. I even started building my own wheelchairs because the ones I was given on the NHS were crap. The Present Tense me also did this. By the end of the week, I really felt like I had got back in touch with the younger me and I felt somehow reinvigorated.

Which was lucky, as after the play finished I met up with Jennie Williams, who is about to start up a new charity called Enhance The UK (website going online soon). It is run by disabled people, and they plan to offer help, advice and friendship to other disabled people. Jennie sees it as a tool to allow disabled people to help other disabled people do... well anything really. Whether it is finding someone to go down the pub with, a buddy to scuba diving with, someone to chat with about any problems or a source of advice on the myriad of stuff that comes with a disability. I signed up to help, with issues around sex and relationships (way back in the early 90's I did a load of stuff around this kind of thing on C4, and have wrote a few guide books and articles on sex and disability), confidence (say no more) and other stuff like access and rights. Hearing some of the stories of people that Jennie has met reminded me that even though Present Tense was set in 1960's America, the experiences of the characters are still really relevant. Frighteningly so.

However much disabled people have gained rights and equality over the past 50 odd years, the actual experience of coming to a disability seems to have stayed the same. Mostly because the stereotypes of what being disabled is have stayed the same. No matter how many people like myself, Ade Adipetan, Shannon Murray, Julie Fernandez, Mat Fraser, Gary O'Donahue, Liz Carr etc seem to break the mold, the world still think that disability equals the end of your life. I have no real idea of how we change that, as it seems that however many positive role models of disabled people exist being disabled is seen as a totally negative thing.

One day we might enlighten the general public about disability, but the most important thing right now is making sure that disabled people feel OK about themselves. Becoming disabled is NOT the end of your life. It may be a change in the future you had planned, but it is the start of a new life that can actually end up being more fulfilling and enjoyable than the one you left behind. I know that the life I would have had without the my wheelchair would have been no where near as fantastic as the one I had with wheels. So watch out for the Enhance The UK website when it comes on line. It's going to make a real difference. And keep your fingers crossed that Present Tense goes into production. Not only will you get to see me playing a hippy, but witness a piece that makes the audience question what they think about disability.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Another Busy Bank Holiday

After planning how to avoid that wedding, it seems that I got myself into a rut of doing things when I should have been enjoying the bank holiday. Instead of waving flags and going to a street party, I decided to rebuild my studio. The doors my wife and I decorated, in a very successful arty Jackson Pollack style, were ready to be hung and so we spent Thursday doing the ultimate nightmare... building an Ikea wardrobe. Now I've been through some awful things in my life, and met people who have been through much worse, but I am sure everyone will agree that the thought of putting together Ikea furniture fills them with terror. With only a little arguing we managed to get it finished and ready to fill with my collection of classic synths, bits of computer, set of electric drums, keyboard and mic stands, a classic video game called a Vectrex and loads of other bits of junk. So as the morning of Friday dawned, and TV became a no-go zone, I faced the task of moving my studio gear around, building some desks (from Argos by Hygena, very nice and much easier to build), setting up a collection of computers and their peripherals (so many blooming wall warts!) that I seem to collect like some crazy hoarder and preparing to dive into another horrific task... wiring up my recording studio. I have just finished today, Monday May 2nd at around 3.30pm. Only took all weekend.

While I am over joyed that I now only have to set up the software before I can start creating retro synthpop electroclash, and annoying my neighbours, the craziest thing about what I spent this weekend doing is that I had big plans for April 30th. That date is special to me, as it was the last day I walked back in 1981. I attended Gary Numan's farewell concert at Wembley Arena but during what was going to be a key moment in my teenage life, an even more important moment occurred. Unknown to me, my spine started to collapse and just as my teenage hero stepped onto the stage I was wrecked with agonising pain. I fought through the first half of the superb show, but eventually I had to find somewhere to lay down. So I battled to the back to this massive venue and watched the rest of the show laying a wall. I was so far away from the stage, after being in the third row (I was even in front of Trevor Horn!), that my hero was a tiny little stick figure. Getting home to Luton was another battle, but I was helped by my date that night. (Thanks Karen) I awoke the next day and was still in pain and found it hard to stand. However it was also the morning of my first O level exam, German. So I called a cab and went to school. When I arrived I found I could not walk at all and collapsed in a heap in the door of the cab. I was rushed to hospital and my life as a wheelchair user began, after 15 years walking with the help of a leg brace on my right leg.(Believe it or not, my school sent a teacher to my hospital and I took my exam in a side ward - and passed!) It transpired that the treatment I had been given as a baby for cancer had an unknown side effect, and caused my spine to be deformed and was too weak to carry the weight of my growing teenage body.

(aged 17 - A goth before it was called goth or what!)

Strangely I did not find becoming a wheelchair user a bad thing. Instead I saw it as a wake up call. I had spent my childhood being a very good boy. Hard working, very studious and well behaved. I was taking a pile of exams, and had over 10 job offers. Yet I hadn't done anything fun. I had always wanted to dye my hair, dress weird and go to clubs and pubs like most of school mates. Hey it was the post punk blank, and New Romantics were just starting out. As I recovered from major surgery and came to terms with a new life in a chair, the life that been planned for me no longer appealed to me. A good job with prospects, meeting a local girl, getting married and buying a house in the same street as my parents was were I had been going but now I wanted more. I wanted to grasp life by the horns and ride it for all it was worth. So I sat my parents down and told them that from now on I was going to enjoy myself. They supported me of course, as they are cool, and so I found myself living the kind of life I had only dreamed of as a walker. I purchased a couple of really basic synths and a drum machine, formed a band with my best mate at school and started playing gigs. I dyed my hair, had hair extensions put in and wore more make up than a nightclub full of girls. I began the life I now have. So I see that day, when I lost the ability to walk as a good day.

(on stage at the Electric Ballroom, on tour with Gary Numan 1991)

But in a way it is fitting that I spent the 30th anniversary of that day building my music studio. It was learning to play music that gave me a direction when I was getting used to my life as wheelchair user, and gave me the chance to end up touring Europe with my hero, Mr Numan, in the 90's and gave me the foot into the media, as well as allowed me to meet my wonderful wife. Music was essential to making me who I am, and I really hope that young disabled people understand that there are more ways to find a direction than sport. I hated sport as a walker, and truly found myself going "Hooray, no more sport!" when I was told I would never walk again. Music, art and creativity is an equal method to happiness and success, if not a better one. While with sport it is either win or nothing, artistic creativity is an end in itself. I never got the chance to release an album or get on Top of the Pops, which were all dreams as I began playing music, but I had a great time trying. Yeah, I didn't get the chance mainly due to discrimination on the part of the music industry (I'll tell you more in another blog), but I really lived the rock and roll lifestyle throughout the last 30 years. Maybe a bit too much sometimes!

As I look back on the last 30 years I do so with happiness. I had a great time, and created a Mik Scarlet that I would have loved to be as the spotty teenager who went to that Gary Numan concert. In fact if I had known then what was ahead of me, I wouldn't have told a soul that I was about to loose the ability to walk. No, walking is just a means of getting around, but the life I have had since that day has been a fantastic roller-coaster that I wouldn't have missed for the world. So now you know why I wanted to celebrate. The fact I didn't isn't a bad thing, as I am getting a bit old for all that partying. Instead I am now ready for the next 30 years. Studio set up, hair dyed, make up ready and a wardrobe to die for. All I can say is watch this space... anything could happen!