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!
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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.

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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.
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Thank Heavens for Hair Dye!

This weekend I finally cracked and reached for the hair dye. Late last year I had a meeting with a BBC exec who advised me that I should update my look, and cut out the peroxide hair. The bleached Billy Idol thing dated me and might put producers off asking me to work on their show. I took the advice and have spent the last 6 months au natural in the barnet department.

At first it was a relief to no longer have to battle to home dye, which can a real pain when you’re a wheelchair user with a metal rod supporting your back. Rinsing the dye off can make you swear never again every time you d it, only to be forgotten when your roots get too much to bare. (I stopped getting my hair dyed at a salon after a disaster so terrible I shall not scar you by recounting it) I must admit I found the colour of my natural hair a bit of a shock. Instead of the colour I remember from when I was a teenager, which was the last age I had natural hair, it transpired I had a much lighter shade of sandy brown. There was a little grey, but not much. In fact I was let down by the amount of grey, as I had always wanted to go white grey like my Granddad. Imagine how much effort I would have saved if under the bleached blonde was a shock of pure white hair! But alas no. My head was topped off with a light brown mop with a smattering of ginger. Where that had come from I had no idea.

I gave the natural thing a go, and hoped that this new look might lead to some work on TV. As I waited by the phone and scanned my Inbox, I found that who I was started to change. I felt my confidence draining away, and the very thing that made me so good as a TV and radio presenter drained away with it. Slowly the desire to get dyeing grew inside me. I began looking at the hair dye section when visiting Superdrug or Boots, and gazed enviously at my wife’s dark purple razor cut. After six months I had heard nothing from the wonderful world of the media, and no longer felt like I was still Mik Scarlet either. Then while my wife was getting some photos ready for my next article in Disability Now, she altered my hair colour using Photoshop. She showed me what I might look like with a selection of different colours and the red won out. The very next day I purchased a box of Live Colour XXL Red Passion.

After some hilarious activity washing the colour off, which did end up with me having an accidental shower over the kitchen sink, I found myself feeling like myself again. Sure I no longer have the peroxide do that I sported through out my earlier career, but having tried the natural experiment coming back to unnatural hair is just so great. So my advice to any of you out there is sod conforming. Be yourself. I know now I have a huge selection of vibrant colours to try out, this period of being boring is over for good.

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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.

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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!

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Happy Blog no. 1

After my last few blogs I felt I wanted to write one that has full of happiness. To do that I want to write about something that has made my life the happiest it has ever been. Love.

I’ve bee lucky enough to never have much trouble finding partners. Maybe it was the attitude I adopted just after I went in my wheelchair? Whenever I tried to chat someone up I approached the whole situation with this mantra.

“If they are interested – it’s because they fancy me, because I fanciable, but if I get turned down – that’s because they are shallow, don’t want to be with someone who is disabled and they aren’t someone I would want be with anyway. Either way I win!”

OK, I did spend a little too long in relationships that were doomed to fail, thinking that I was really in love. In a way I was, just that it wasn’t true deep love. I also am sure that different relationships are built on different ways of working. While I now look back on my past relationships as not being built on love, at the time I was sure they were.

What changed my perspective was falling for my wife, Diane. We had known each other for 6 years as friends before we got together. I had always fancied her, and at various times had even stalked her a bit. I found out where she worked, and would rive from my home in Luton to London to see if she was at work. Then I would wheel by and nonchalantly say “Hi”. It did go a bit further, but I won;t go in to it too far, as not make myself seem like a scary nut case. One of the good things about pursuing her the way I did is that stalking is only stalking if it is unwanted. Luckily for me, she liked me too.

Our first year was very rocky, mainly as we both liked each other so much yet were so sure that life, or should I say our self destructive streak, would mess things up that we did argue like cats and dogs. After this period or huge rows, talked, and told the truth, and suddenly it clicked. From then on our relationship got better and better and stronger and stronger. For the first time in my life I discovered what real love was.

In our 15 years together, we have worked together as a team through the good and bad times, supporting each other and giving each other our all. It has never felt like a duty or a task but was in fact a joy. When I was recovering from my last op, Diane looked after me like an angel. She still nurses me am ill and I nurse her when she is sick. It’s kind of difficult to describe, what it feels like. Neither of us now make any decision without considering the other, and we think about our future as a whole and not as individuals. We are now at a point where we finish each other’s sentences, and have a language of jokes and sayings that we share only with each other.

It might not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but this is the kind of love I have always dreamed of. I know we will be together for ever, and whatever life throws at us will will defeat it, together.

Maybe it’s why some things do make me so cross. When you are happy emotionally as I am, the injustices of the world seem a little more unfair. Sop if you read a blog that seems to go off the handle over something that doesn’t seem that big a deal to you, try to remember it might be love that has caused me to get to cross. OK that’s a crazy reason, but when stuff gets in the way of happiness it needs confronting. You all know you can always trust me to do that, even if you think I sounds nuts.

Anyway, I’m off to make a cup of tea for darling wife, who is slumped over her computer studying for her degree. Yes, she got the whole package. Looks, charm and super brains. What the hell she is doing with me I have no idea. But hey when life give’s you roses, don’t complain.

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Not another Talent Search!

On November 14th Channel 4 closes it’s search for new presenters to work on the Paralympics. Now while I wish everyone who takes part good luck, it does amaze me that yet again a British TV company has undertaken a search for “New Talent” while ignoring the sea of existing talent out there.

It’s not only C4 that seem to be obsessed with the New. The BBC have just carried out a country wide search for new disabled actors. Yet I know of many hyper talented disabled actors that have been working for years that never get onto TV. I only need to think of the superb Graeae production of Reason To Be Cheerful that is running at the minute, which is a show so crammed full of talent it bursts off the stage. Some of those appearing in this show have been on TV, but let’s admit it disabled people do not exactly fill our screens.

As for presenters… that really is a joke. As an award winning TV presenter, with many very talented friends who also have spent years working in the industry only to be forgotten, it makes me quite cross to hear of yet another talent search. I’ve worked in TV for over 20 years and the industry seems to undertake a New Talent search in some form or other about once every five years. If you were part of the last search you can kiss your career goodbye. It normally ties in with you deciding that this is going to be your career and that you should start asking for the same money as the able bodied presenters you work with. Funny that. But it does mean that time and time again all of our major TV companies spend time and tons of money training this new talent while leaving the old talent and all their skill to go to waste. Don’t forget that all of us old talent types also have fans and leave a gap in the TV world’s output.

So why all these searches? Well let’s ignore my cynicism and not go with the New Talent is cheaper argument, and try to find other answers. I suppose there are loads of people out there that would be great presenters and actors and these article to find them, which is a good thing. It also shows that these channels are trying to get more disabled people on screen, and let’s face it the Paralympics should have disabled presenters fronting the output. These are great reasons to look for disabled talent. But not to ignore the huge number of disabled people who have already shown how talented they are.

The main problem with these searches is where is the work. The C4 search that happened at the start of the 2000’s found some superb on screen talent, yet all of these did pretty much nothing. Even those of us with huge showreels, and awards to boot, still spend most of our days writing embittered blogs about not working instead of being used to front TV. Disabled actors get to play bitter twisted cripples or tragic souls who can’t take being disabled any more. Not exactly pushing their talent. I have lost count of the number of auditions for roles that were so stereotypically crap.

Perhaps the TV industry should look at their production talent while they carry out their disabled talent searches? Then whoever is discovered this time won’t be ignored, forgotten or saddled with jobs that crush their drive to carry on in the industry. And pay them the going rate please!

I just hope that this a turning point how disability is shown on TV. Fingers crossed that we will start being seen as part of society, and be included as such. Presenters will do articles on stuff that isn’t about disability, and may even end up as key celebrity talent. Actors will start playing realistic characters, and may even play roles where their disability isn’t even mentioned. Then I won’t need to write my embittered rants, and will either be up there with these new guys or watching them wishing them well.

PS. Having said all that I shall be entering the C4 search myself. Let’s just hope that whoever is judging allows me to considered as New!

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Cold Comfort

I’ve spent the last couple of days laid low by a cold. Whenever I am stopped in my tracks by something so small as the cold virus, it makes me realize how obvious that we evolved rather than were created. Why would anyone, let alone God, create a world with so many mistakes and flaws? What role does the common cold play? What role does any disease or illness play? Why do we have mistakes in our genetic code that makes sick or disabled?

The only answer is that it is to do with evolution. The cold virus evolved along side humans and so it effects us. Not enough to kill us, like many other diseases, but just enough to allow itself to reproduce and infect others. During this process it mutates so our immunity that will build up when we are laying in bed feeling crappy has less of an effect on the virus allowing it to infect us again next year. Obvious.

Our genetic code creates mistakes that lead to illness and disability as this is the same process that allows evolution itself. Imagine that once upon a time a horse was born with a deformed longer neck. All the other horses would have seen a disability, but this long necked horse could reach higher leaves on the local trees and so was healthier than the other short necked horses. So when it bred those horses that were born whit the long necked trait could also eat those leaves, were stronger and so bred more, passing on a the mutated neck gene. And suddenly the Giraffe was passed into existence. Obvious.

But what always makes me wonder, is why religion doesn’t embrace science? My wife is studying Physics at Uni right now, and the amazing things that led to the creation of everything are dazzling. While I see it as random luck, even an devout atheist like me can see that it would be easy to see a guiding hand in the forces at work over the billions of years it took to get where we are today. Yet more and more religions all over the world fight against scientific discoveries. At the same time they worry about falling attendances. Surely these discoveries make the universe more amazing, and that might lead more people to seek answers to why it is so amazing? So why deny evolution or any other new theory to how everything came to be here? Why not admit that God must want us to understand everything and embrace the fact that we above all other animals have the ability to theorize and understand?

Anyway, that’s what is going through my head while I cough and sniffle on my sofa watching Star Trek. I’m so ill I didn’t even mute the theme tune to Star Trek Enterprise. That theme tune alone is more proof there is no God.

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A Happy Cripple – Shock Horror!

This weekend the Mail On Sunday ran an article on my choice to not undergo a series of operations and years of physiotherapy after my last spine operation returned the feeling and function to my legs. Since it was published I have done a couple of interviews on radio about the subject and thought you all might like to read the MOS article and listen to the interviews. Here are the links –

Mail On Sunday Article

Talk Radio Interview – Parry & Graham with Wickes

3 Counties Radio Interview – Breakfast Show

I would just like to correct a few mistakes in the article, that have been carried through to the interviews. Firstly I was born in 1965 (never lie about my age, just never see the point), secondly I went into my chair at the age of 15, and thirdly I have already undergone the surgery that gave me my legs back. The operations that I was offered to see if I could walk again are to repair damage that years of being a wheelchair user has caused. I would need a right hip replacement, then a new knee and ankle. The hip surgery would mean two months with a stretching device fitted to an open wound on my hip, as I would need to move the muscles, ligaments and nerves in my hip to allow the new hip to fit correctly. So after three huge surgical procedures, and all the recovery time they would bring (not to mention that each one might go wrong and cause me to loose my leg) I would have to go through between 5 and 10 years of physiotherapy. OK, some people might still think it was worth it, but even then no one could swear I would be able to walk. Oh, and I would need the replacement joints replacing every five to ten years too. I think most people will agree, not that much of a difficult choice.

The reason why I wanted to publicize it was the fact that so many able bodied people just could not understand why I wasn’t going to go for it. I also wanted to voice the fact that disabled people can have fantastic lives, and that we do not all dream of being cured. I have been amazed by some of the responses I have received since all this went out, including the number of people insisting that I better not be getting any benefits if I am choosing to stay disabled. Of course by not going through all this surgery I am actually saving the NHS millions. The hip was going to cost £150,000 – £200,000 alone, and that’s without the cost of the medical staff, hospital stays and other costs. Scary to think that some people see the point of this story to be the cost to the “tax payer”. I think it has wider implications than that myself, but hey who am I to argue?

I don’t think the press has finished with yet. I have been contacted by a few other publications and media shows for interviews, so hopefully this will lead to me getting across the truth behind disability. The main reason why it effects our lives is not because we have something “wrong with us” but because that world isn’t set up to allow us to have the same chances as the “able bodied”. Even with those barriers, we live lives that are the envy of most AB’s and many like myself see their disability as something that set them free.

So watch this space.

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