Too Busy To Post! Again!

Argh! August was a crazy busy month. It’s started with three days of training at the BBC weather department, as part of their weather presenting training scheme. It was an amazing three days and I learned loads. Being a weather presenter is one of the hardest jobs in TV, and I doff my cap to anyone who does it. You never know, one day it might be me!

BBCWT01aNext I spent a great afternoon scooting around Richmond Park in an amazing powered all terrain wheelchair, called a Boma 7. I had a blast as I think you can see by this video –

 

Another video clip that came out in August was my contribution to the Scope campaign. End The Awkward. I originally did one about always being asked if I could have sex, but they went with a less rude experience instead. See what you think…

Then I spent a week celebrating hitting my 50th birthday, ending in a humdinger of a birthday party. A huge thanks to everyone who came. Here’s to the next 50 eh?

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But I had no time to recover as I was then off to Brighton to act in a short film, directed by 90’s heart throb Toby Amies. I can’t say too much but I got to fire a gun… for the first time ever in my life. While it was a really long night shoot, I can’t wait to see the finished result as the film looks like a gore fest with a superb twist!Gun Mik

 

I’ve also just finished my regular column for PosAbility magazine, and an article exploring sex with a spinal injury. I also shot a film with Enhance the UK about the problem page I write for, The Love Lounge, alongside my partner Non-expert Sexpert Emily Rose Yates. I’ll keep you posted when that is ready to look at.

So as September begins it still looks just as busy. I have been asked to create an access guide to Camden by the owners of the market, have loads of Disability Equality Training coming up as well as a visit to Derby to review the up coming Derby Feste. If you are up that way for the festival maybe see you there?

Anyway, I will try to up date this website on a more regular basis. I did say try of course……

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Mik’s Tips Hits The Air

Recently I read an article about young disabled people using vlogging to highlight their experiences. I have been thinking about doing the same, despite not being anywhere near young anymore, but could never really nail down what to talk about. However as I now give advice on Enhance The UK‘s Love Lounge it occurred to me that this would be the perfect medium to dole out my pearls of wisdom around love, life and confidence. So Mik’s Tips was born.

After fighting with Adobe Premiere for a day, I finally got a product that fitted my hopes. Not a slick super professional job, but more a homage to late night TV from the 90’s like Get Stuffed. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen… I give you the inaugural episode of Mik’s Tips. In this episode I explore my methods of turning rejection into a good thing… yes it can be done.

And remember, if you think I can help with a problem or issue you are having please drop me a line through the Love Lounge. You never know, your question might even end up on a future Mik’s Tips!

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Ranting Round-Up No.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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