Thursday, 20 December 2012

Seasonal Wishes!

A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone out there in Internetland. Have a great time, get loads of great prezzies and party hearty on NYE.

Big things are in the pipeline for 2013, so fingers crossed it will be a great year.

All our love and wishes,

Mik and Diane

Monday, 26 November 2012

La Patagonia - A Taste of the Argentine

As my wife Diane and I left our Camden flat on a wet Wednesday night for our visit La Patagonia I did feel a little trepidations. Argentinian cuisine is best known for being carnivorous in nature, and as we are both vegetarians I wasn't sure if our meal would be to our taste. I was also worried as nothing spoils a veggie's meal than eating through the fog of the smell of cooking meat. I didn't know yet but all of my worries would soon be proved very unfounded.
We had booked our table for seven pm, but even this early on the aforementioned wet Wednesday the place was packed. The staff met us with a friendly smile and were totally fine with my placing my wheelchair next to my seat at our table. Even in the 21st century I still find that some restaurants are unhappy when I turn up on wheels, so this set the tone for the rest of the evening in a good way. We placed our order, after being impressed at the choice for us non-meat eaters. As we waited for our order to arrive, we were brought a plate of bread and some pickled Aubergine that was lovely. We were joined by one of the owners Noah, and we chatted about how well things were going with his plans to bring a rustic Argentinian menu to the streets of Camden. The restaurant is a warm and friendly place furnished in a designer rustic style. It's filled with all manner of memorabilia from the country, collected by the owners over the years, and the whole experience is most enjoyable. But let's get down to the food shall we?
As soon as a flash our meal arrived, and Noah left us to watch the football on TV (another Argentinian passion). We had both ordered the same thing, Calabaza con Humita which is a Butternut Squash filled with a corn and béchamel sauce filling served with a nice side salad. Even though I have been a veggie for over 20 years, I have never tried butternut squash and neither had my wife. On our first mouthful we stopped and stared at each other.... yummy! It was gorgeous. The squash itself was done to perfection, soft, sweet and tender and in combination with the corn filling it was a treat. I may have wolfed mine down a little too quickly, but that is usual when I am enjoying my food.
Next up was desert. Normally I would have stopped at my main meal, but I had heard that the desert menu at La Patagonia had to be tried to be believed. Boy had I heard right! Yet again my wife and I had matching orders, the La Patagonia Tiramisu. I freely admit to having a rather developed sweet tooth, and as the huge half pint (0.35L actually - I'm showing my age using Imperial) Kilner style glass jars filled with chocolately yumminess were presented my heart skipped a beat. 
Even though there was easily enough in each serving for us to have shared, I was so glad we had ordered one each... I would hated sharing this desert lovers paradise. The latte we ordered to accompany this gooey, chocolately, caramelly heaven was equally as tasty and as I put down my spoon and slurped my last mouthful of coffee I felt wonderful. Full, happy and a little drunk on sugar. The bill arrived and we were both very impressed that such a great meal could be so reasonably priced.
Both of my wife and I laughed as we wondered home through the streets of Camden at what a great night we'd had. It had also occurred to me that if you do eat meat I would imagine that your meal would be as amazing as ours, if not more so. I can't recommend La Patagonia highly enough, and I do know that it has been added to our list of favourite restaurants. I know we're going to become regulars and I think you should too. Whether it's for a romantic night out, a night out with friends or for a party La Patagonia won't let you down. Una gran noche fuera!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Too busy to blog!!!! or why I hate Children In Need so much I found time to blog!

It seems that at the minute I am too busy to blog. In fact I'm too busy to think some days. It's one of the joys of being a freelancer, that when a work offer comes in you have to say Yes. With no way of knowing when the next job might appear, you have this terror that this offer might be the last for a while. Even if the work is rolling in, you can't be sure that it will stay that way. So that's why my blog has been sitting dormant recently.

Annoyingly there have been a load of things I wanted to blog about. Almost every day something came up that got the blood boiling and the fingers hovering over the keyboard. But work got in the way, so the time past. The thing that I really wanted to blog about this week was Children in Need. As someone who appeared on something very similar at the start of my career, with a two day non-stop live appearance as presenter on the Thames Telethon back in 1992, and who had that career severely damaged by the bad reaction of people who felt that charity was wrong, you would have thought I would be in favour of this yearly charity fest. But you would be wrong. You see, on many levels the whole thing is equally wrong.

Let's think about the portrayal of disability first. Anyone who reads my blogs and articles will know that portrayal is very important to me. I feel that the media should try so much harder to ensure that it changes the way it covers disability, yet with this kind of charity event negative portrayal is essential to keep the money coming in.

Poor little crippled kids... they need your help. Their lives are so awful that without your money they will only be sad and their future is bleak. Give generously. Your money will make their tragic lives a little better. Poor little things, it so sad that they are the way they are. Aren't you lucky?

Of course charity always has to pull on your heart strings, but the reason why I did the Telethon way back when is that I thought it would subconsciously say that disabled people can give charity as well as receive it. But after I did it, I was accosted in a lft by the wonderful Vicky Waddington who explained why the charity model of disability - which paints us as victims in need of help - has no positive effects for us disabled types. After talking to her I understood that charity is just plain wrong, especially this kind of jumbo media event. Sure it could be vehicle for real change, with money being raised to pay for the changes we really need in society. Better access, better understanding and more equality. But those are not the kind of things that pull of those heart strings and purse strings. The point of a telethon event is raising money, so that is the sole point of the program. The aim is to raise more money than the last event. That's how you measure the success of it.

Now I could write on this subject for pages, but as I said I'm too damn busy. So I hope that all of you that did watch Children in Need/Stand Up To Cancer/Red Nose Day felt a little uncomfortable during the hours of "fun". Just imagine if it was people like you who were targeted as being deserving of charity and pity. Not a great feeling.

Let's take the item on the One Show that Ade Adepitan presented on dancing for disabled kids. It claimed that giving money to a special dance class for disabled children is a good thing. But if you think about it, wouldn't it be better if the kids that went to this special class could just go to a mainstream dance class with other non-disabled kids and learn to dance? A totally mixed class where everyone was equal. I have just interviewed the fantastic disabled dancer Laura Jones for a Disability Now article, who was the first disabled person to study dance at college. She helped choreograph the Paralympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies, and is a superb dancer. Surely that is the way to go? Not only is it inclusive but it will mean that more disabled people will become professional dancers. But even if they don't, and they just do dance for the love of dance, they will have an experience of being equal to the other members of the class. Not special, different... and in some way less.

To me it's the same for all of the various good causes. To raise money they need to focus on the difference, yet the only way to make the world better is to make everyone see that we are all the same. Whether we're disabled, poor, old, young, or whatever, we are all human. So we all deserve the same chances and until charity aims to do that, it will divide us all. I mean even the title of Children In Need spells out difference.

Anyway, that's enough for now. All I ask is that you think about it.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Like Piglets in Piglet Clover

It's my wedding anniversary on November 5th. Seven of the best years of my life. I had fancied Diane from the first time I met her, six years before we finally got together, but the time wasn't right. We became friends and I got to know her, and knew I was falling in love with her as the time passed. So when the big day came, I was so sure... super sure.

Not only is she an amazing, beautiful and talented person (and damn sexy) but she is my perfect fit. We are very, very similar with all the same tastes, likes and loves. The same music, art, films, books, pass times and taste in fashion, as well as similar dreams for our lives. We share the same sense of humour and she makes me laugh every day. To say I am one lucky man is the biggest understatement every made.

On top of all the wonderful things about her, with a list too long to put here, she nursed me through one of the worst times of my life. When I broke my back for the second time after a car crash it took three years for my doctors to notice that it was broken. Let's face it, the best way of knowing some one has broken their back is that they loose the ability to walk but as I was a wheelie already it was harder to spot. It was only when the pain had got so bad it was effecting my health that they scanned my back and discovered how knackered it was. All through the hell of the pain, through the fear of the surgery and the recovery period, where I was put on bed rest for six months, Diane was there for me totally. Not only did she nurse me, but she made it fun. I like (some might say have) to be independent, so she let do just enough to keep me happy while making sure I had everything I needed. She was a star, and I can never thank her enough.

 All through out our wedding day I was fighting to hold back tears. Tears of joy. She looked stunning. A highlight for me is as she was about to enter the room she let out one of her loud laughs, and my heart skipped a beat. Her laugh always does that to me, but this time it felt like it lasted for ages. But the whole day was fantastic. A wonderful ceremony, great reception and unforgettable wedding night (I will say no more). Our families all got on, and everyone still talks about our wedding day.

So, as our anniversary draws near, I am writing this to say thank you Diane. You are my everything, and I am so very happy. I am so looking forward to spending my life with you, working together to create the future you deserve. You amaze me every day. Your personality, your sense of fun, your huge brain (She's currently studying for a Physics degree! PHYSICS!!!!)... oh you're just great.

I was raised to believe that there is some one out there for everyone, and I now know that this is true. Luckily I found mine, and we are just like Piglet's in Piglet Clover! Yippee!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Thoughts of Chairman Mik

This weekend I paid another visit to the wonderful city of Derby. I had been invited to come up and speak at the launch of the new Speaker's Corner in the city square. It's a great idea. If you live in the area, get yourself down there and get your voice heard.

I took the opportunity to give the following speech about Embracing My Imperfections, a new social enterprise that plans to campaign to champion the idea that we are all beautiful. Here's the script of what I said, although I did wonder off a bit. The joys of speaking live huh?

"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls my name is Mik Scarlet. I'm a broadcaster and journalist as well as a disability rights campaigner. I would like to thank the organisers of today for allowing me to talk to you at this the launch of Derby's Speaker's Corner. When I started thinking of what to talk to you all about many things came to mind. I firstly I felt that congratulating Derby on being amazingly accessible for disabled people might be a great topic. It really is a great place for those of us who have mobility issues, and demonstrates that if a place is made accessible then the lives of disabled people can be improved beyond imagination. Then I wondered if I could talk about the representation of disabled people in the media, or should I say that lack of it. Sure we've seen disabled people everywhere in the media during the Paralympics, but we were pretty invisible before and we seem to have disappeared again since.

But all of this may only be of interest to those of you who are listening that may have a disability or know someone who does. So instead I felt that this was a great opportunity to bring to your attention a fantastic social enterprise that is starting up here in your fair city.

I first met the very talented local photographer Rei Bennett last year, when I was writing an article for a magazine on her project Beauty Through Damage. The driving force behind this project is to show that beauty exists in everyone, and that illness, disability or difference can actually make someone more beautiful. The strength and drive that allows a person to get through an illness or have a happy and successful life with a disability or physical difference leads those people to actually be more beautiful on the inside, and this can shine out. Rei uses her photography to capture this beauty, and she does so very successfully.

Now not only is Rei a great artist, but she's a great person and I now count her as one of my closest friends. During another visit to your wonderful city, which I have fallen in love with I must tell you, Rei myself and group of other local talented people decided to take Rei's project further. We want everyone to appreciate that they are truly beautiful.

Everywhere we look there are images of perfection. On TV, in magazines, advertising, even in shop windows we see images of perfect people. But now we even find Photoshop computer software is being used to make already perfect people impossibly perfect, unachievably perfect.

Of course there is much discussion about how this effects us all and about what should be done about the growing issue of unachievable images of perfection. But surely perfection is a construct decided by the wider society, so shouldn't it be something that mirrors that society? Why are we so ready to accept the images we see around us? Well I would say it is a lack of confidence in ourselves. We don't feel that we are perfect so we put up with these images.

This is what Rei, myself and the rest of our group are trying to correct with our social enterprise. We want to everyone to feel that they are beautiful, that they are perfect. We believe that those elements that make us different, that make us stand out are exactly what makes us beautiful, makes us perfect. Whether it's the signs of age, our size or our imperfections, which can be small... or big - like my wheelchair, they show our journey through life and our experiences. This why we have called our group Embracing My Imperfections. That's what we want everyone to do, feel happy with the things about them different, special. In the true meaning of the word. To see their imperfections as the very things that make them special and beautiful, and to be at one with the way they look. Which will lead to everyone being much happier, and so be even more beautiful as that happiness will shine out of them. 
Now all of this may sound great, but how are we planning do anything? Well we plan to campaign for better representation in the media, so that all areas of the media but especially the advertising and fashion industries mirror the wider world, to work with school and colleges to give our young people the tools to know that they are all special, important and beautiful, and to take our message of learning to love ourselves our to the country and then the world. We hope to get all of you here today to join us by adding your voices to our campaign. Together we can create a world that sees the validity in all of us, that allows us all to feel happy in our own skin and ensures that our children grow up to feel that they are all beautiful.

It's time for all of us to stop putting up with the Tyranny of Perfection, to know that there is Beauty Through Damage and to allow everyone to begin Embracing My Imperfections."

So there you go. I'll keep you all posted on the progress of EMI (which means beauty in Japanese apparently). We are still getting everything together, but are hoping to get the ball rolling early 2013.

I love this photo by the way. Very "power to the people". Appeals to the rebel in me. Watch out politicians... next step Mik for MP... and then PM!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Old "Makes You Stronger" Line?

Sorry for not finding the time to put my thoughts out there into the internet recently. I have been so stupidly busy that time was something I didn't have. Of course I will not complain as busy means financially viable, and in today's world that is amazing. But yesterday I took an afternoon out of my hectic schedule to attend a meditation class for people who suffer from chronic pain.

I have made no secret of the fact that pain is part of my world, whether it's the back ground pain of my spinal injury and the nerves trapped in the surrounding scar tissue, the various bone issues I have thanks to the decrease in density that goes with not using your legs, the ageing process that is hitting home in my shoulders or the neuralgia that strikes every now and again. It is the neuralgia that made me want to find a different coping mechanism, other than the usual pain medication. When it hits, the pain makes me a little crazy and can get too much to cope with. Pain killers won't touch it so I thought I would search for another method of coping, and found a system called Mindfullness. I won't explain it to you, mainly as I have only one session and am still trying to learn the method.

Instead, I wanted to explore my feelings on pain. I can't mention any of the other people on my course but hearing their stories made me realise that pain is all relative. Some had obviously serious health issues that caused pain, other had conditions that led to pain that was unbearable for them but less than others. But everyone there was trying the class as they had reached a point where their pain had got too much. So whatever that cause or level of pain each member was going through, we were all in a similar place. Pain is like that. All relative. There is no level at which you can't cope, as everyone has a different ability to handle pain. And there is no right way of coping either.

While we were discussing our stories one person stated that they hated the Nietzschean idea that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, as chronic pain is something that doesn't kill you and doesn't make you stronger. That funny thing is that I have always felt my pain does exactly that, makes you stronger. But maybe that is just the effect of my method of learning to cope with it. Treating it as an external force that needs to be beaten. I am the boss of my body, so it cannot be allowed to dictate to me how I live. It might be a typical masculine way of coping, but it does mean I have learned to beat a high level of day to day pain.

During our session we did a "mental body scan", which involved meditating on our bodies and exploring them with our minds. This was a very unpleasant experience for me, as I had forgotten how many places on my body hurt. A great deal of my pain had become part of my background day to day life and I had stopped noticing it. So this exploration of body opened me up to a pain I had learned to cope with, and led me to spend the rest of the day in great discomfort... and I still am today. But it proved that you can learn to cope with pain and that ability does make you stronger. It also showed me that the reason why some of my pain still gets to me is that this that it is the straw that breaks the camel's back, so to speak.

The thing that stuck me is that pain is something that is invisible but that can eat away at your day to day life. With the current obsession with getting people off sickness and incapacity benefits, those people who suffer chronic pain are among those most effected. Yet they really are entitled to support and assistance. While I may be able to cope with most of my pain, I have had it since birth. Even I have days where it effects me so much I can't work, especially the "going off to work in an office or factory" type of work, so those who develop pain during their life cannot be expected to be able to carry on with a "normal" life. They need help to cope with the pain and support while they do.

So if you have pain in your life, don't worry. You can learn to cope, and you can rebuild your life. For the rest of you, when you next hear all the rubbish the government is spouting about getting people off benefit remember that some people need and deserve those benefits. But more than that, remember that illness or disability could strike you tomorrow, or even later today, and that's why the system exists. Make sure that if you ever need it, it still exists for you to call on.

Right, I'm off to relax and rebuild my coping strategies ready for another full day tomorrow. No rest for the self employed eh?

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Time Out Pieces 01

I thought that just in case anyone missed the articles I wrote for Time Out last week I would up load them. So here you go...

It's a quick guide to places I like in Camden, so if you are planning a day out round these parts take a look.

I am also writing a series of three pieces around the Paralympics and this is the first of them. I will up load the rest a week after they are out.

It's been a fantastic opportunity to discuss some of the issues that the games bring up, and well done to Time Out for allowing me to do so.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

How do you like dese tragedy?

Right, it seems that the entire media wants to focus on the tragedy of the disabled, whether we have managed to triumph over it or not. I have always been against this kind of coverage but it seems that people who agree with me are being ignored. So if everyone out there wants to hear the tragedies of disabled people I intend to be on that band wagon. (I do hope you getting the irony here... it doesn't always work in the written medium)

So where shall I begin? Well at the beginning I suppose. I was born in 1965 to Michael and Joyce McGrath (pictured above). They had been trying to have kids for three years and were overjoyed when they found they had fallen pregnant. When I was born my Dad ran round my home town of Luton shouting with joy, hugging strangers and handing out cigars. But as soon as I came home they began to worry. I just would not stop crying. Nurses and doctors visited and told my Mum she was a panicky parent. This went on for five weeks. Just screaming and screaming. Then I went quiet. My parents rushed me to an aunt who was an ex-nurse and she said something was wrong... very wrong. They took me to hospital and it was soon discovered I had cancer. It was in fact an Adrenal Neuroblastoma, which even today is very difficult to beat. I was extremely lucky, as my surgeon had just read about an experimental drug that was being trialled and he applied to have me put on the trial. So with a major surgery, radical radiotherapy and this new chemotherapy, which lasted for five years, I now faced an uncertain future. In fact my [parents were told not to expect me to live long. "Go home and enjoy the time you have left with him" my Mum was told.

So home I went. That's me with my Mum, all ill but very loved. I didn't die though. Obviously. In fact I went from strength to strength. There were hick ups. I got two huge sores on my feet, which nearly killed me with infection, and I broke my right leg almost in half, while trying to pick up a train that I was playing with - kind of forgot I couldn't walk that well - but when I got to the age of five my parents were told he is in remission. Cancer free. I had a future at last. At which point my Father died, from a heart attack. My Mum had a nervous breakdown and life sort of fell apart. My Dad's parents were awful, and our lives were thrown into turmoil yet again. My brother came out worst. My Mum had to spend so much time looking after me that Steve had kind of become Dad's kid. So when Dad suddenly disappeared he couldn't understand what had happened. Mum tried to explain, but he was so little the "Dad is with Jesus" didn't help much. So the great news of my beating the big C didn't matter much once Dad was gone.

I started school and was immediately bullied for being the limpy kid. I fought back, but as anyone who has been the target of the bully knows it's not fun. When I was eight, my Mum remarried. Now I will admit that by now both Steve and me were horribly spoilt kids, but our new Step Dad was... let's say very strict. As he is still around I won't go into it all too deeply, but it wasn't much fun. But time passed as it does and I was soon nearing an age where I could protect myself. But at the age of fifteen my spine collapsed. It actually happened at Wembley Arena at the farewell gig of my hero Gary Numan. I had great seats, in the fifth row, but had to remove myself to the back as the pain was unbearable. I somehow managed to get myself home and fell into bed. The next day I arose early as it was the day of my German O Level (no I did not spend the night studying - I was a Numanoid!) but when I tried to get out of bed I collapsed into a heap on the floor.

Oh, this is the last picture I had of me standing up. I'm in the middle, with my Mum and brother Steve. Anyway, I was still sent to school in a cab, but when I arrived I collapsed again and was rushed to hospital. While I was there I was told I was dying as I had cancer again. But no it was actually a huge spinal collapse, caused by a side effect of my experimental chemo as a baby. After two major operations (14 and 15 hours), two bouts of MRSA and one heart attack on the operating table I spent nine months in hospital only to leave in a wheelchair. No one told me at this time I wouldn't walk again, and so I spent three years fighting to get back on my legs. After this time I went to my surgeon to say I was giving up, only to be told I never had any chance but they didn't tell me that as they didn't want to depress me. Nice.

Now at this point I feel I should stop. I could go on about being in an abusive relationship for years, or my second broken back just as my career was taking off, just over ten years ago, that nearly killed me and has left me in chronic pain, but I actually want to examine that fact that while this might be read as a list of tragedy it all led me to be the person I am today. And I like who I am, so everything that has happened is must be a good thing. To always go on about how becoming disabled is a tragedy means that nothing good can come of it, and to make anyone disabled who succeeds triumphant means that those who are having a hard time coming to terms with it must be lacking something that those super humans (dig, dig C4) have in spades.

All I know is that my disability has shaped my life hugely, and has allowed me to have experiences that most non-disabled people can only dream of. I have been a TV star, toured with Gary Numan, and lived a rock and roll lifestyle second to none. I then met and later married the girl of my dreams, someone so amazing that she cared for me while I recovered from my second broken back and even made it fun. Yes she made six months on bed rest fun. It may sound weird but I know part of what she loves in me is the person I am because of my disability and so for that, if nothing else, I refuse to see any tragedy in anything illness or disability that has entered my life.

But I could easily make my life a list of one awful event after another. I could have then made a big deal of how brave I'd been to triumph over the crap cards life had dealt me. And the media would have lapped it up, but I just cannot. Instead I will say what I have always said... Disability was the making of me. It set me free and allowed me to live a life that I wouldn't give up for a second. Not for legs that work, not for being in tip top health, not even if I could fly. My disability is super positive element in my life, and I just wish that the media would focus on how positive being disabled can be. Just once would be nice.

So as you watch the stream of stories over this Paralympic period, try not to be sucked into the feeling that everyone has in some way beaten the worst thing that could ever happen to them. I mean if they weren't disabled they wouldn't be at the games, they'd be at home watching them on the TV and missing out on the chance to represent their country in a global sporting event. Disability can be a positive thing and if more people believed this then if it ever came into their lives they might be able to cope better, recover quicker and rebuild their life to become better than it was pre-disability.

Right got that off my chest. I'm currently dying my hair ready for the Paralympic Opening Ceremonies tomorrow. Got to look good, even if I am one of 4000. If you see a red head in a chair who is out of time... it's probably me!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Busy, Busy, Busy!!!!

Hi Everyone.

Sorry for going quiet recently. I'm crazy busy at the minute, getting ready for the Paralympic Opening Ceremonies. I can't say any more, as we all want to keep the secret, but it's going to be huge. I'm also writing a series of pieces for Time Out about the games, so watch out for those.

On top of that I have an article on the rehearsals in the next issue of Disability Now.

Anyway, the picture above is some of the great people I have met and am working with. So make sure you are glued to Channel 4 on August 29th.

I'm swatting up on Wheelchair Rugby, as I will be presenting the in-game coverage at the arena. So if you've got tickets to see this high octane sport, see you there. Can't wait.

Normal service will be resumed once the games end.


Saturday, 4 August 2012

Yummy, Yummy No.1

When I'm not working, moaning about stuff, watching TV, cooking and baking (two of my most favourite hobbies, or making music I love to eat out (oo-er). Seriously, I am a big foody and I really want to tell anyone who is visiting Camden about one of my favourite places to eat. The Edinboro Castle in Mornington Terrace serves some of the best food and drink in the area.

Diane and me recently popped over for a fantastic night, and I just had to blog about it. We ordered the Pea, Green Bean and Mint Risotto, which was perfect. Diane is a big risotto fan, and so I have perfected my own killer version. This was lovely, being a perfect mix of moist and gloopy with the crunch of the peas and beans. The mint was a wonderful addition, as was the dressing of Olive Oil and home made pesto. To follow, Di had the most gorgeous Stick Toffee Pudding (which I will definitely have next time) and I had Chocolate Brownie and Vanilla Ice Cream. The wine was just up my street, being a little sweet. Not sure what type it was (being a wine Philistine), but it was on the advice of the waitress.

What makes the Edinboro Castle so great, on top of the food, is the atmosphere and the super friendly staff. The place is great too. It's decorated in a mixture of hip cool and easy comfort. Great sofas and comfy chairs sit next to tables of various sizes, meaning you can visit for parties, business lunches or romantic dinners as well as for a drinkie or two. Another big selling point is the huge selection of drinks. Everything at the Edinboro Castle captures what is great about Camden, and the drinks list demonstrate this perfectly. They have everything from designer beers and lagers, not your normal "let's get drunk" fodder, and very nice wines (hmm nice) to some cool takes on cocktails. On top of the atmosphere, service and stuff to fill your tum, the Edinboro also has something that makes it very popular. A massive garden.

In Summer the place heaves and there is a regular barbecue menu too. A plus point for me is they have a disabled toilet, so I can enjoy a night out and not have to rush home in an emergency. Trust me, nothing ruins your night like one drink too many needing to escape. Luckily I only live over the road, so I can fall home at the end of what is always a great night out.

We attended the opening night of their new menu and this was equally lovely. It is now our intention to try out their Sunday Dinner menu very soon, which looks great. Oh, and the bar nibbles menu looks tasty. Just do yourself a favour. Give the Edinboro Castle a try. I might even see you there.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Whatever next?

I just had to put finger to keypad to express my feelings over a phenomenon that has recently appeared on the nation's TV screens... adverts featuring disabled people!

During my career in the media, which will enter it's 25th year in 2013, I have discussed the lack of disabled people in advertising with several ad execs, normally at boozy media parties. They all told me that the industry was all about image and impression. The big worry was that if they used disabled actor or models it might create a subconscious association in the public's mind between the product being advertised and disability, thus making people feel the product might be sub standard or in some way less. Invalid you might say. Whether it's true or not, in the advertising world the product's the thing so anything that might damage the product's image is a no no. So hence no disabled people.

Occasionally someone in the industry decides to buck this trend and we have popped up in an ad. A big one was the advert for a brand of trainer (I can't remember which one so that didn't work eh?) which featured a group of wheelchair racers. Sure it was great to see disabled people in an ad and it was everywhere, but I always felt that the exec who had the idea kind of missed the point. As a wheelchair user I still own shoes and boots I purchased over a decade ago and they look like new. As training shoes are designed to make running easier, safer and more comfortable the idea of using wheelchair users to advertise them just can't make the viewer focus on these selling points. It was obviously done to gain publicity, which it did very well. Doubt it old more shoes though.

I have even auditioned for parts in adverts myself, but I only ever landed a part in an ad for transmission in France. I have no idea what the ad was for as I don't speak French. The most recent rejection was for a major department store and instead of a real wheelchair user the part of "father in wheelchair" went to a non-disabled actor who had his leg put in plaster. This clearly demonstrated that the condition the character was in was temporary, was something most people could identify with and so would have no subconscious impact on the advert's target audience.

So I was stunned to see not one but TWO television adverts that feature disabled people hit our screens in short succession. Just like buses, you wait for ages and then two come along at once. The first is a Barclay's Bank ad which features a wheelchair using amputee. It makes no mention of his disability and he is just a typical bank customer, which is really refreshing.

Without being too criticial, I am unsure why an amputee who has such a high tech and expensive prosthetic leg would use a wheelchair to visit his bank. I do wonder if someone in a brainstorming session said "we need a wheelchair", and so any one with a wheelchair would do. The guys chair is obviously a sports chair, so if he was playing basketball in the ad it might makes sense. I do wonder if having the guy walk in on his new robot leg would have made an equal impact. But hey, this might just be soar grapes as I didn't even hear about the audition. What is my agent doing? Whatever the nuances of the ad, it's a big step, or wheel, forward.

But the advert that makes me smile every time I see it, and that fills my heart with a feeling of hope, is the superb Dove shampoo ad "Feeling is believing". This is everything that adverts should be and more. The most amazing thing about the ad is that it uses the featured lady's disability as a vehicle to demonstrate the USP of the product. She's blind and so she can't see her hair but she knows how fantastic her hair looks by the way it feels. This ad uses disability as part of the selling process which is a massive leap forward.

I am sure that some visually impaired people out there might worry that it does play into the stereotype that of you loose your sight your other senses become better, but I don't know if I would agree. To me this ad marks a change that I hope carries on forever. Maybe we'll see a wheelchair user advertising hand soap next. Let's face we always end up with dirty hands with all the filth that is on our streets so if a soap gets my hands clean it really works. It's that kind of thinking that makes the Dove ad stand out to me and long may it continue.

But why have things changed suddenly, in such a short space of time? Well firstly let's keep our fingers crossed that it isn't a flash in the pan. Hopefully we now start seeing disabled people in advertising, both as part of the real world and as models and featured characters. I know that many in the Paralympic movement claim that this year's games will change the way society thinks about disability and perhaps this is the first sign that they are right. Maybe the advertising industry has just decided the time is right to be more inclusive. Whatever the reason, if we want this to mark a change in the way advertising works then all disabled people can do is go out a buy the products. Actually I should take this opportunity to congratulate the people involved in both of these adverts. Keep up the good work and don't let anyone in your industry tell you you've made a mistake. No one will associate your product with negativity. In fact I am sure that the Dove ad will actually make the product fly off the shelves.

Remember this moment folks. It might be the beginning of a real change and be one we talk about to our grand kids. I'm off to buy some shampoo and I know which product I'll be purchasing!

Before I go I just had to show you an American ad from Nike that just shows how far ahead they are in the US. Disability, product placement and HUMOUR! And it makes me want to go out and Just Do It!

Monday, 16 July 2012

DadaFest 2012

Last Thursday I had the honour of being the compare and master of ceremonies at the launch event of the UK's biggest festival of Disability and Deaf arts, DadaFest. Held at the Bluecoat in Liverpool, this event marked the start of two months of the very best that the Disability and Deaf arts scene has to offer, with contributions from artists and performers from all over the world. I had been pestering DadaFest's CEO Ruth Gould and her team for some time to try to get involved with the festival and so when the call came to come up and compare the opening day I jumped for joy. 

The event kicked off with drinkies and nibbles upstairs at the Bluecoat bar, with speeches from the key players in putting on DadaFest 2012. Patron and major player in disability politics Sir Bert Massie gave the audience his take on how the disability and deaf arts scene plays a massive role in advancing the understanding of disability in the wider community and made a plea for big business to see the potential in funding the fantastic creative talent on show at the festival. Next Sue Harrison who is the chair of the Bluecoat outlined what we should expect from the next two months, followed by speeches from the key funders of DadaFest, Councillor Wendy Simon from Liverpool City Council and Julia Keenen, the lead Arts Council officer for DadaFest. They both outlined why they felt that DadaFest is so essential to the arts scene and to Liverpool itself. As this year's DadaFest is an official part of the Cultural Olympiad, LOCOG's Nigel Hinds then explored the history of culture and the games and how DadaFest fitted in to the whole 2012 Olympic/Paralympic experience. Lastly Ruth Gould thanked everyone for coming, gave us an outline of what to expect during the run of the festival and then declared DadaFest 2012 open. She then awarded a cheque to local dancer and sports star Shauna Hogan, who is about to go and compete in the Special Olympics.

The proceedings then moved on to the private view of the UK premier of the exhibition Niet Normaal. Originally from the Netherlands, where the phrase is used to mean 'cool' as no one wants to be thought of as normal, this version was curated by Ine Gevers, who originally developed the show, and Garry Robson. I can't truly explain how fantastic this exhibitions is. It not only explores the question of normality and conformity from a myriad of different angles and mediums, but each work is strong, beautiful and thought provoking in their own right. 

My personal highlights were Pharmacopeia by Suzie Freeman, Dr. Liz Lee and David Critchley, which explores the modern relationship between medicine and day to day life by creating an installation that charts the pills taken during two peoples life times, Cast from Nature by Christine Borland, that raises questions of beauty within artistic representations of the dead body by contrasting the positioning of two casts of a dead body, Bad Mummy by Birgit Deiker, that uses fetish imagery to examine motherhood and body image, and Ambush - Non Traceptives with Intelligent Sperm Selector by Andreas Vinther Mølgaard, who questions the consequences of new technologies with this mock up of a new condom that allows the user to screen for genetic mistakes.

A piece that had a personal impact, as someone who had over £250,000 worth of titanium in my body holding my spine together was the video work by Floris Kaayck, Metalosis Maligna. Filmed as a mock-umentary, Kaayck uses the conventions of television documentary to examine our relationships with mechanical implants by creating the fictional disease of the title. I could go on but if you can, you must visit Niet Normaal. An amazing exhibition which you miss at your peril.

Later on we moved to the Bluecoat performance space, for a night of entertainment. First on the bill was The BeatHovens, who combine rock and rap to great effect. Next up we had poetry from the superb Roger Cliffe-Thompson, who continued the Liverpool tradition of poetry that is both funny and insightful with a strong political heart. To follow things got a bit sexy with the first of two burlesque acts of the night, Diva Hollywood and her performance Black Swan. She told me later that she created this fun sexy dance to allow her to explore how MS effects the way her body functions. This act demonstrates what DadaFest is all about, using art and performance to find new ways of examining disability. Once the feathers had been swept off the stage, the hilarious comic Vincent Biljio put us in stitches. (Please forgive my useless attempt at pronouncing your name Vincent - I will try harder next time). With the tears of laughter still in my eyes I announced the next act, Burlesque act Millie Dollar. All I can say is do try to catch her act as she is one to watch... oo-er. All over come and hot and bothered, it was now time for the Beathovens to return to the stage and play the evening out. They managed two encores, topping the night off with the most amazing version of Led Zep's Whole Lot of Love.

As the day ended I did hope that we might all retire to a local hostelry to celebrate, but the whole team were dead on their feet. The work that must have gone into putting on this year's DadaFest must have been phenomenal, and it had obviously caught up with them. So instead Diane and I wondered the streets of Liverpool, which is another city that seems to be confronting accessible environmental design head on. While the Albert Dock is a little difficult, mainly due to blooming cobbles everywhere, the rest of Liverpool was great. The Bluecoat Arts Centre itself is also superbly accessible, and as it an old building it just goes to show that it can be done.

All in all it was an amazing day. The are some fantastic events, shows and performances on over the next two months as well as Niet Normaal. The whole experience really demonstrates that the Disability and Deaf arts scene is a thriving and vibrant one, and I believe it is going to be the place to look for the next big talent. Or two, or three....

DadaFest runs from July 13th to September 2nd, with live performances beginning on August 18th.

For more details check out

Monday, 2 July 2012

Good news: Big Smiles and No More Mr Grumpy!?

Baby Mik, during my treatment for cancer - the spiky hair was caused by the chemo!

Today has been a good day. This morning I had an appointment with a surgeon, who gave me the great news that I don't have cancer! "What's this?" I hear you say. Yes, for the past few years have been suffering the joys of undergoing a series of tests to find out if I had the big C. I don't want to go into what the symptoms were that gave rise to this need to check whether the disease that I beat as child had reared it's ugly head again, but anyone out there who has had Mr Cancer come to stay in the hotel that is their body will know that from the moment you are given the all clear and Mr C has been evicted, you live with the fear that this unwanted guest may return at some point in the future.

The bastard thing about cancer is that you are never told "You're cured". Instead you are in remission, and even though I was given that news so long ago (41 years ago when I was only 5) that I don't remember it happening the fact that the disease that is so feared by everyone might come back haunts my every waking hour... and some times my dreams too. I am sure this is the same for other members of the cancer survivors club. Every time you feel ill or have a strange pain you become terrified that the cancer is back. I know I have spent my adult life thinking that any cough, twinge or cramp is the first sign of another battle with my bodies inability to reproduce it's cells. I must admit that it has made me a bit of a hypochondriac, if a quiet one. No, instead of vocalizing my worries I quietly pop off to the GP's and get myself checked out. Of course the fact that I have beaten cancer already tends to make them panic a little too and the tests start over again. 

The annoying thing for me is that every time I have a major issue with my health, such as my spinal collapse when I was 15 or my recent spinal hassles after my car accident in 1999, my surgical team get really panicky and send me off for a series of "routine" tests, as if I don't know what is going on. Nothing sets off alarm bells like surgeons being secretive. When I was 15 I was actually told that my cancer had returned and I was going to die. After spending 24 hours laying in bed thinking of all the things I'd never get to do, my chief surgeon popped by to tell me there'd been a mistake and I didn't have a tumour. I know that this experience really effected the person I became and made me enjoy my life, but it also forced me to face what it might feel like if the cancer ever did return. So every time I get the feeling that something is wrong, I relive that day. Of course I do it alone, as admitting what is going on would be admitting weakness would it?

I am so obsessed with keeping my fears quiet that even my lovely wife didn't appreciate my feelings and so as I sat waiting to get the results this morning I ended up snapping at her about why I was so grumpy recently. This is why I am writing this. I feel so crappy about being Mr Grumpy that I felt I should put out there the feelings that I am sure many other cancer survivors carry with them, and tell the world that those of us who have beat the C can, on occasion, be right moody. I know that over the last few years, and many other times in the past, I have been a right unbearable git on and off. Short tempered with a short fuse. At the minute I am rehearsing for a role in the Paralympic opening ceremonies and I have not been the joy to work with I would have hoped to have been. Of course everyone would totally understand if only I told them what was going on, but that is just not part of the process. Not only does anyone hate the idea of being thought of as ill or weak, but it's especially difficult if you still don't know what tomorrow might bring. It's just you have that "feeling" that something is wrong and everything else seems to get on your nerves. You really are forced to appreciate your mortality way too regularly and this makes everything that impacts on your life unacceptable. Thus your ability to cope and patience disappears. All that happens is you annoy everyone around you and come across as a totally f**k head.

So with today's news I feel I should apologise to my wife and anyone else who has been at the sharp end of my moodiness through out my life. It might sound like an excuse, but I know that I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders today and I hope to be a happier, smilier person from now on. Well as happy and smiley as a git like me can be. I hope you can forgive me if I did have my grumpy hat on in the past? I promise to try harder next time I get the fear, but don't hate me if I don't manage it. My past track record doesn't give much hope I feel.

To anyone else out there who is going through this at the minute, whether you are waiting for results or know someone who is, I wish you well.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

A great new recsource for us wheelies!

Just thought anyone who reads my blog who is disabled might be interested in a great new website that is an interactive way of finding out about the access in London. But better than that the site allows you to fill in information about the access provision of all the places you visit too. So not only can you be part of the building a city wide access map, but you can use the site as stick to beat those places that are really bad and save other disabled people the experience that comes from being excluded by crap access.

Check it out and join the wheelmap revolution!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Return to Derby - An Accessible City

Earlier this year I wrote an blog about my trip to Derby, and how fantastic the access was for disabled people. After reading my blog, the local council invited me back to Derby to show me around this historic city. Of course I jumped at the chance, and so in April I set out up the M1. I booked into the Cathedral Quarter Hotel and paid a visit to the very talented Derby resident and friend, local photographer Rei Bennett for a night out. She took us for a great meal at a Japanese restaurant called Moonsha. Truly superb food, great service and a totally accessible venue (as well as the yummiest house white I have ever tasted!). Already the joys of Derby if you are disabled were hitting home, as I had spent a great night where the issue of access hadn't raised it head once.
The next morning I went down to the lobby of the hotel accompanied by the darling wife Diane and met up with Andy Smart, a projects manager with Derby council, and Stella Birks, a visitor services development manager with Derby tourist board. As soon as we set out, the heavens opened. So rather than get soaked we retired to Jack Rabbits coffee shops for a latte and yummy cakes. This was already my kind of visit. While the rain fell, we chatted and it soon became clear that everyone at Derby council has a real commitment to making the city not only accessible but fully inclusive. On cue, as we finished our coffee the sun began to shine, so we set off out once again.
We walked down to the river side, and saw the works that have been carried out to create a community space that is used for public events and entertainment while also providing a great public space. Even the grass areas had been ramped and the whole site was a real triumph of inclusive design. impressed we then wondered towards the shopping centre. There are loads of live events on through out the year. As soon as you enter Derby City centre you discover how well shared spaces, once called pedestrian zones, really work. I know that there is a great deal of controversy around creating shared spaces, but Derby has been using them since the early 90's and they have ironed out many of the issues that some groups raise. Andy informed me that this has been done with the full cooperation of local disability groups.
Sure as a wheelchair user I do think that shared spaces are a great idea, but as someone who works in accessible design I also appreciate that there are major concerns about taking this route when trying to create accessible environments, especially within the visually impaired community. However, I must admit that it seemed to me that Derby had found solutions to many of these objections. There is a clear demarcation between the pavement and road areas, created by a dramatic colour changes in the paving around these transitions, for those with some sight, and using the drainage gully to mark where the pavement ends for those who use canes. The dreaded tactile paving, well dreaded  by us wheelies, has not been used through out, which may worry some people I know. The best solution is that huge areas of the centre are closed to traffic during the day. As of 10am all the cars vanish from the city centre and the roads belong to the pedestrians alone. Having said that, later on that night we were walking across one of these streets, now open to traffic, and a car slowed down a let us cross as if it was totally natural. If I'm honest I think that everyone who is interested in the issues around shared spaces should visit Derby and get in touch with Andy Smart.
Next we went to new arts centre, The Quad to meet up with Derby's very active disability group and the council's Equality and Diversity Manager Ann Webster to discuss the cities entry in to the European Award for Accessible Cities. Developments like The Quad are examples of great inclusive design, with all the facilities on offer being open to all, and as we chatted over sandwiches and coffee it became obvious how vocal local disabled people were in the evolution of their city. Just shows what can be done if you get involved. From this fantastic public facility we visited the local Shopmobility Scheme, which was staffed by a great bunch and really well equipped. Then off to see the new fully accessible bus station, which serves a fleet of accessible buses. I think you can see there is theme developing here.
Although this all sounds wonderful, the funny thing was that both Andy and Stella felt that there was still a lot to do. The picture above is of a proposed new access down to the river Derwent, that runs through the city centre. The plans for the new Council House, which is currently being developed, really demonstrates the commitment to inclusion, as do the proposals for the train station. A key element to Derby is the amount of historic and heritage buildings there are. Normally the preservation of historic buildings can be a bar to access and I know I have worked a couple of projects where all of my work has been stopped by the heritage lobby. But in Derby the council is so pro-access that they provide a fund available to local businesses to pay for any access works on historic buildings to ensure access is created that is in keeping with the preservation of the feel of several areas of the city.
This means that for anyone who is disabled and especially those of us with mobility issues, the entire shopping district is a dream. From the Westfield and High Street, through to the boutique shops in the side streets and even the local markets everywhere you go is just easy. In fact it is so good that when you do stop a shop with a step or two it actually shocks you. On top of the access, every one I have ever met in derby was really friendly and helpful. Before we parted I made sure that Andy and Stella understood that if Derby didn't win that award there was no justice. 

Back at the hotel we prepared for another night out with Rei and a gang of local creative types, including local disabled film maker Jen White. This time were we taken to a student pub The Friary and we weren't let down. Fully accessible, and very reasonably priced (hic), we had a great time, even if I was easily the oldest person in there. As we got ready to leave the next morning I felt a little sad. After two days of being able to do what I wanted, when I wanted as easily as imaginable, I was going back to the real world.

Now all this might sound like I am in the pay of the tourist board, but honestly I'm not. It's just that I discovered Derby by chance, and was totally blown away at how easy it was there for me. Every time I visit, I can forget my disability completely. Maybe it seems so good because I live in Camden in London, a place that is world famous for it's appalling access. All I know is that Derby has won a place in my heart. The council is totally committed to inclusion, as I keep saying, and that shows everywhere you turn. I now hold Derby up as an example of what can be done if you put your mind to it when I am talking to my access clients.

If you are disabled and haven't been... get yourself there ASAP! Check out the Visit Derby website for information of what going on and places to stay. I know I'm planning to go back very soon.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Upload begins....

I am currently at the start of a marathon encoding session, with a pile of old VHS tapes filled with some of the programs I recorded for TV. I thought I'd lost them, but my Mum found them all in the loft of our family home. It's weird experience watching yourself from over twenty years ago. I never really watched myself when these went out, as it made me cringe with embarrassment, so having to sit and watch hours and hours of TV where a younger version of me smiles out of my TV screen fills me with a myriad of emotions.

The craziest thing, other than how young I look, is the fact the I have so many hours of TV footage with disabled people in it. Think of today's schedules and we are invisible, unless it's some kind of stare at the freaks type program (mentioning no names). This series of clips from Beat That really shows how far backwards we have gone. Beat That was a prime time kids series on C4 that got millions of viewers per week, yet it was fronted by a wheelchair user and had a mixture of kids, some disabled, some not. The disabled thing wasn't really mentioned in the publicity or made a big deal of, and C4 was proud of the fact that their first kids series was fully inclusive without banging on about it. This was the future for TV. Disabled people would just be part of what you saw on your goggle box. They were really ahead of the game... so far ahead that no one has caught up, even today. Not even C4 themselves.

Actually that's not really true, CBBC regularly has disabled kids on some of their shows and doesn't make a feature of it. But they are the only ones. The second series of Beat That was transmitted in 1992, so it's exactly 20 years ago yet there are still very few disabled people disabled people on our TV screens at all. Even if there is a change in the representation of disabled people on our screens in the next few months, with the Paralympic coverage, it will only be catching up to the place we were at two decades ago. Why did the TV industry drop the ball in such a big way? I wish I knew. I do know that for someone who was one of the best known disabled people in the media, I suddenly found it impossible to find work around the year 2000. Now everyone seems obsessed with New Talent, but most of the people that are discovered during the many talent searches that have taken place since Beat That went out ended up being ignored by the industry.

I think it is really important that everyone remembers that not that long ago disabled people were on our screens. I mean between Beat That and the BBC disability show From The Edge I alone was on almost every week. And there were quite few other well known faces too. Whatever does come along in the next few years, we mustn't forget that we are only playing catch up.

Over the next few days I plan to put up some of my music stuff too, and if you think the TV industry doesn't like disabled people you wait until I tell you about the horrors I witnessed from music types! Stay Tuned Folks!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Sex: Are We Really So Different?

I read the article "Sex: some facts of life" by Kirsty Liddiard in the April issue of Disability Now with great interest. I once trained to go into social work, with the aim of working with newly disabled people. I also recently decided to change my studies from a Psychology degree (to one in English and Creative Writing) after finding that the medical model is still being taught as the only way of describing disabled people's identity. It was really encouraging to see someone examining the issue of disability and sexuality from an academic approach. With Kirsty being a trained sociologist and disabled herself, I hoped that the article would finally confront the issues disabled people face around sexuality and relationships in a rounded manner. However the piece actually seemed to blame any problems disabled people might have on disability itself and how society sees the disabled, without any broader conversation.

Now don't get me wrong, I have an experience all of the issues covered in the article, from abusive relationships through poor body image to a lack of confidence over a change in the way my body functions sexually, and fully appreciate how each one can deeply effect someone's identity and ability to form successful relationships. My own journey to the place I am at now, in a very successful and happy relationship with someone who loves me the way I love them, was a long and painful one. I also appreciate that the way I feel about my disability has had a serious impact on that journey, and is still key to my psyche and effects how I really feel about my own attractiveness. But I do not agree that these issues are something that disabled people face alone.

A key factor to being able to begin the task of looking for love is self confidence, and this is an area that effects everyone in our society. We only need to consider the huge growth in the number of people undergoing cosmetic surgery to understand that issues of confidence have an impact on members of society that we disabled people might see as examples of "physical perfection", and that this is not what they see when they look in the mirror. Most sociologists and psychologists agree that low confidence around body image is a growing problem throughout our society, effecting both sexes. However much we might see our issues with body image as being more valid or obvious, the truth is the emotional and psychological impact of low self confidence is the same for anyone who suffers from it.

This lack of confidence can lead on to forming unhealthy relationships, which the article also covered. But yet again the stories of every one of the people interviewed could just as easily be those of non disabled people. I spent many years of my 20's in a relationship with someone who abused me, both verbally and physically, and they went on to repeat this behaviour with their next partner, who has not disabled. I used to feel that it was my disability that caused this person to act the way they did, and this led me to stay in an unhappy relationship so long, but I now understand that is incorrect. While my lack of confidence was tied to my disability, it was the confidence issue itself that made me stay. The same goes for anyone stuck in an abusive relationship.

A deeper factor in disabled people's lack of confidence can be due to a difference in the way our sexuality functions or our inability to have sex in a "normal" manner. While I was disabled from birth, my sexual function changed when my spine collapsed at the age of 15. This led me to spend most of my adult life wrecked with self doubt about my ability to satisfy my partners sexually and to what would happen if anyone found out about what did and didn't work in the trouser department. So I spent years lying to everyone I knew and praying any ex's would keep my secret. When I met my wife, being with her gave me the confidence to "come out" about the way my body worked. When I did so in the most public manner possible (i.e. on TV) I found that nearly everyone of my male friends sidled up to me at some point and admitted that they to suffered from serious sexual dysfunction issues. The fact that Viagra is now taken as a recreational drug demonstrates how big this problem is for all of male society. I do not feel informed enough to discuss the issues faced by those people who might need assistance when having sex, but can see how that might effect not only how you feel about yourself but how you approach sex entirely. I do know that it is normally these people who are expected to use prostitutes if they ever want to have sex.

Thankfully the article did finally dispel the idea that sex with a prostitute is a solution for disabled people, especially men, who are seeking sexual experience. There are many people who campaign for legalising prostitution who use disabled people as an excuse for their argument, yet it should be obvious that it will be an empty experience whether you are disabled or not. For anyone lacking self confidence, visiting a prostitute can only reinforce these issues. No one will feel better about themselves if they feel the only way they can experience love or sex is to pay for it. But there is more than one way of paying for it. I once was in a relationship with someone who expected me to pay their rent, buy their clothes and cover all costs when we went out and seemed to think that was fine as they gave me sex. It made me feel cheap and made me mistrust prospective partners too. If I hadn't met my wife I don't know what kind of barsteward I might have become. I also know from those non disabled friends who have visited a lady of the night that they have exactly the same experience of emptiness afterwards.

We now come to the issue of fetishism. I spent most of the 90's partying on the fetish scene and will admit I found the acceptance and tolerance I was met with really liberating. I even spent a short time going out with someone who admitted they "dug the wheelchair", if you get what I mean. I left the whole world because as it became more accepted by the wider society, the ignorance of the wider society bled into the attitude this underground scene. Once people understood that a disabled person wouldn't be in a fetish club if they couldn't have sex, what ever type of sex that might be, but I eventually found myself explaining on a nightly basis that my wife and I could have sexual relationship (on a nightly basis if we wanted).

Just because I spent time in the world of fetishists, that doesn't mean I have no understanding of why so many disabled people find the whole thing offensive. No one likes the stereotype that the only people who might want to have sex with them could be called perverts. Back when I was part of the London fetish scene I filmed an item for Channel 4's "Freak Show" series that I hoped would explore the subject of disability and fetishism in a serious yet light hearted way. Instead it was edited to imply that my wife was only with me because I was disabled, so I know how hurtful this idea can be. It especially upset my wife, as she had actually said that she loved all of me and my disability was part of what made me, me. Never trust a TV producer and their editor. The crazy thing is I admit that I chatted up my now wife partly as I saw she had a scar all down her right arm. I think scars are really beautiful and the way she paraded it so openly said something great about what kind of person she was. But does that make me a devotee of her and her scar, or is it just another facet of how perfect she really is?

All of this is OK and it is only my own opinion, but does it help us find a solution to love, sex and relationships? Well I hope it does. If we as disabled people realise that all of the issues we face around the subject are the same as those faced by everyone, whatever the cause, then we should hopefully feel able to enter the world of love on a more level playing field. Yes we do have our own issues to face, but the way they effect us emotionally is not so different to the way the rest of society's issues effect them. All I know for sure is many of my non disabled friends are desperately looking for the same thing we are all chasing, a happy and loving relationship and they wouldn't care if that was with someone who disabled or not. At the root of this whole subject is the fact that self doubt is part of the human condition and how we cope with it makes us who we are. So let's stop seeing disability as a barrier to love, and instead embrace it as part of what will make us a real catch.