Busy little Beaver!

Been rushed off my wheels recently. Been writing and appearing at events all over the country. Here’s a round up of events so far!

Proof we can still cut it and look cool!

Proof we can still cut it and look cool!

Things started off rather glamorously as Diane and me were invited to the launch of Firetrap’s Deadly Denim ad campaign in East London. It was a great night, and we even danced.

Sea Changers 02

The Sea Changers panel.

Next I was asked to appear at a literary event in Brighton, called Sea Changers. It was an amazing night, and a real honour to be involved with such talented writers, all of whom campaign to make the world a better place. However, it was a little marred by how inaccessible Brighton is as a town. I wrote an article for the Huffington Post exploring how inaccessibility leads to disabled people being seen as a problem and now part of the community which was then taken up by the local Brighton and Hove Independent.

A stormy faced Mik in keeping with the sky!

A stormy faced Mik in keeping with the sky!

Then I went to an event at Channel 4, which I covered for Disability Now. They announced the launch of the channel’s commitment to ensure inclusive casting of disabled actors in their future dramatic output. However, I won’t deny I have been to a few of these things, so I will believe it when I see it. I also met some talented actors, and smoozed as usual.

Posing with New Tricks Actor Storme Toolis

Posing with New Tricks Actor Storme Toolis

I also began running Disability Equality Training for Leonard Cheshire Disability in November. The plan is to roll it out next year, and if a business wants to hire us they will get a bespoke training course created for their business and sector. It means I have to dress rather smartly too.

Suited and Booted!

Suited and Booted!

Lastly it was off to the BBC, for the Xmas edition of the BBC Ouch podcast. It was a great show and as soon as it goes live I will post the link. I do like getting paid to have a laugh and eat mince pies. I just pity Damon Rose, BBC Ouch’s editor, as it will be a nightmare to cut.

Xmas Ouch fun

Xmas Ouch fun

This weekend I am off for a break in Cardiff. Two days of respite, with nothing to do but shop, rest and eat. Then it’s off to Roma Sports to collect my new Vida wheelchair. Can’t say too much until I collect it, but it is a totally bespoke wheelchair at the cost of the standard wheelchair. And it looks amazing too. I will be reviewing the chair for Disability Now very soon.

This is all you can see until next week!

This is all you can see until next week!

So that’s it for now. There was more but I have forgotten it right now. Well, it is nearly Christmas! Can’t wait!

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Latest Huffington Post Article

My latest article for the Huffington Post has just gone live. It’s a review of the Graeae Theatre’s production of The Limbless Knight, which premiered at the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival this Friday.

It’s a great show, that entertains and challenges in equal measure. I described it on Twitter as “Like being hit by a brick wrapped in a beautiful velvet cushion”. For a longer exploration of what I saw in the show see the Huffington Post Entertainment section.

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Oh no not again! – Jonathon Creek loses it’s magic

Both Diane and myself are big Jonathon Creek fans and so we were most happy to see that he was about to make a come back tonight. We both sat back ready to spend an evening looking out for clues with the BBC’s floppy haired magical detective. But it soon became clear that alongside the mystery that we were meant to unravel there was another one that might have been missed by most viewers, but one with a more obvious answer.

You see as soon as Rik Mayall wheeled into view, my heart dropped and the game was afoot. “But what is the mystery you speak of Mik?” I hear you ask. Well it why has the BBC’s casting department seen nothing wrong with getting a non-disabled actor to “crip up” and play disabled, yet again. I began to watch closely, trying to seek out those hard to spot clues that might give me the answer. As the show rolled along I started to wonder if the reason was that at any minute Rik was going to jump up and walk. Oh yes, that must be it! HE was the one who was to blame for the shenanigans that Jonathon was trying to make sense of. That must be why the BBC and the JC production team had made such a faux pas. It was going to be the hidden twist and the wheelchair was all a ruse to throw the viewers off the fact that Rik was playing the villain. The minutes ticked by and I became absolutely sure. It just must be the answer… but no, I was wrong. As the credits began to be squashed to one side by information of what was coming next across the Beeb, I sadly knew that I had just sat through another example of just how out of touch the media still is when it comes to disability.

If we ignore that ridiculous idea that there exists a I-Pad clamp that can be used as a weapon by a man who is meant to be paralysed in such a way that he can only move one finger (I won’t say too much in case you missed it and want to enjoy poor writing at it’s best), at no point during Rik Mayall’s performance did anything happen that made it essential that a non-disabled actor was cast to play the role, either through the portrayal or script. In fact it was only that he was a returning character that apparently had been shot and paralysed while JC was off our screens that could be said to be why it had to be Rik.

But the big mystery that this show needs us to solve is why not introduce a new character who was really disabled, both in the drama and in real life? I know of so many truly talented disabled actors who could have nailed this role, including little old me. Not only would have brought a reality to the role, but it would have shown that the BBC is really committed to the idea of Integrated Casting, which all the industry says it is signed up to.

Integrated casting is where disabled actors may be cast to play characters that are not written as disabled and so their disability will not be mentioned in the piece. Now in a way casting a non-disabled actor to play disabled could be described as integrated casting, but in truth it is not. This form of casting is designed to try to mirror the real world, and to get more disabled talent onto our screens. But it was also meant to be the next step that the media took after ensuring that only disabled actors played disabled roles.

In fact casting mistakes like tonight’s just demonstrates that when it comes to disability the BBC is still in the place it was back in the 60’s and 70’s with the portrayal of Black and other ethnic minorities. I shall just say “The Black and White Minstrel Show“. It is just as offensive to most disabled people to see yet another job that should gone to one of us going to someone not disabled, no matter if they are a “name” of not. How will there ever be a big name disabled actor if we never get the roles? How can we ever get to prove ourselves as actors if we never get the roles? How can we even think of going into the industry if after so long campaigning to make the people who cast TV drama to cast disabled people to play disabled people we still never get the roles?

There is no excuse for tonight’s casting. Whatever those involved say it was just plain wrong. It belittled the show, it belittled the viewers and sadly it made me think considerably less of Rik Mayall. As someone who I have worked with in the past, on the show Wham Bam Strawberry Jam; also for the BBC, I would have hoped that he might see that taking the part was wrong. Even if he wasn’t fully versed in disability politics surely it must feel wrong, or at least weird, to play disabled?

In my heart I would hope that all professional actors would see it was wrong to play disabled but no. It’s still seen as fine and might even win them an award or two. So this is a plea to all my fellow members of Equity, the actors union. Please stop taking these roles. If you stop, then the casting directors will have to cast the talented professional disabled actors out there and you will have played a part in making a real change in our society. You will have helped to create a new type of image of disabled people. One that shows we can work, and work in a professional manner, as well as ensuring that when we do play a role we can work with the writers and directors to create a character that is realistic and true to the experience of all the disabled people viewing.

Come on BBC, and every other production company out there, no more. Make tonight’s Jonathon Creek go down in history as it’s the last time you do this. From now on, if the role written is for a disabled character then only cast a disabled actor.

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The Moment I Became Me

Well hello Bloggersphere, sorry for going so quiet recently. It’s been a bit of a crazy time. February was marred by a period of chronic pain, which was nice. And as soon as that passed my work load went through the roof. Mustn’t grumble about that though. Another reason why I haven’t been to prolific on the blog front is that fact that I now get paid to write articles that are so similar to my blogs by various publications that I am finding I have to keep my best ideas for those paid jobs. So that really is nice. But it does mean that I am trying to think of what to actually blog about. So while I struggle with what I can waffle on about in the ether (for free) I thought I’d tell you all about a project that I working on at the minute, and more importantly the actual real events that are behind it.

Me and my brother when I was 14, just before my spine went wrong.

As you may or may not know, when I was 15 I was very ill. I was rushed to the Royal Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London, and was put in, what it transpired, was a terminal ward. Very early on in my stay I asked what I thought was a doctor what was wrong with me. Without batting an eyelid he informed me that I had cancer and that I was dying. Suddenly I was a boy of 15 who was about to check out. I was still a virgin, who had never been to a nightclub or dyed his hair. Or at least these were the things that I would never do that I listed in my mind. I had to ring my Mum to tell her, in floods of tears, and then laid in bed for the nearly 24 hours despairing about all the things I would never do. Then the next day my parents arrived and together we asked my surgical team what was going on. It then transpired that I did NOT have cancer, and while it was serious I was not dying. The worst thing was that the guy who had told me this turned out to be an orderly wearing a white coat. Funniest moment during this was seeing my doctor grab this orderly and pin him against a wall, while shouting at the top of his voice. He was not a happy man. So while I was not dying (yippee), I did spend the next couple of months being treated in a terminal ward, watching almost every other patient passing away (boo). Sometimes in very gruesome ways. Real horror film stuff.

But all of this did really change who I was. By the time I was let home from hospital, nearly nine months later, I had truly learned how precious life was and it made sense to live each day as if it might be your last. I had experienced what it was like to lay in bed, dying with a huge list of things you wished you’d done. I vowed that the next time this happened my list would be of all the things I had done. So that is how I started living. I won’t say that it always paid off, and I have made some crazy mistakes in the name of having fun and living fast but I have made some amazing memories and done some amazing things.

Teenage Goth Mik, just out of hospital – notice very dyed hair!

So what has this got to do with my project? Well recently I have been writing a play with the help of the fantastic Graeae Theatre Company, based on this very experience, called The List. I am very nearly finished, with a just a few lines left to go. Then it’s just a bit of time doing rewrites and my first play is in the bag. What will happen to it once it’s done, I don’t know but I do hope it does get performed. I do know that the “dying/not dying” moment in my early years helped me find what was important in life and I feel that this play might be a much less traumatic way of helping others to do the same. (At least I hope it won’t be as traumatic – depends on how good my writing is eh?) If nothing else it would be a night out.

The funniest thing is that when I was at school my English teacher read out something I had written to the whole class as an example of terrible work. She said I was terrible at writing and would never pass an English O Level (Of course I did pass one with a B) Now every time I have another article published, perform a song or poem, and now do some creative writing I think of her and go “Up Yours” in my head. I won’t even mention my music teacher who told me I was tone deaf… I then went on to be one of the only pupils from my year to become a professional musician. School eh?

Right, that’s enough from me. Always remember, life’s too short to regrets. Or it’s always better to regret doing something than regretting not doing it. Might get messier or course, but much more fun!

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Past & Present Tense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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