Notes on Nothing – An Autobiographical Snapshot

I’ve just turned my laptop on after ages. In fact I think the last time I used it was when I was in hospital earlier this year, and while roaming the hard drive I found this. Written to wile away the hours of enforced bad rest, it’s just a snapshot of a train of thought writing about my life. Nothing about anything much, but I have just read it and thought it might be fun to put online. So, if you want to know a little more about my life here you go…

Me and my brother. I'm 14, Steve is 11

Me and my brother. I’m 14, Steve is 11

When you are faced with empty hours stretching in front of you for long periods of time you have to find something to fill them. As a teenager I got up to mischief and did all manner of naughty things that adults called anti-social behaviour, including our group’s favourite game “Milk Bottle Wars”. This entailed riding our bikes towards each other throwing milk bottles stolen off door steps like missiles at the oncoming rider in a bizarre twist on jousting. But mostly we all filled our time with hanging about. Over the park, in the cul de sac that one of the gang lived in, up in the woods at the end of our road, or anywhere really that we could hang out without too much adult intervention. Not doing anything much. We didn’t even drink or smoke. We just did nothing in a large group. I am sure that all adults nearby found us a mixture of disgusting and scary, as people my age now do about groups of youngsters doing the very same today. Of course they are now all high on skunk and drunk of cheap booze, but that’s the modern era for you eh? Although I will admit we did make loads of noise and acted like we were drunk or high or stupid or desperately trying to impress any girls who were with us (you decide which was true….)

Only a few years later I had discovered music, so no more shenanigans for me. Every spare minute was taken up with learning to play keyboards and the basics of operating the very simple music computers of the time. It was the early 1980s and electronic music was all the rage. I was a addict from the moment I first heard The Human League’s Being Boiled on John Peel’s Radio 1 show. I, like so many others, listened on a pocket radio through a single ear piece huddled in my bed as the show went out late at night so past my bed time. The sound of the synthesizer did something to my teenage brain and it was love at first saw tooth warble. Shortly after this I was taken on holiday to my uncle’s farm in Somerset. I say holiday but it was more like enforced labour, as my bother and I seemed to get given “jobs” rather than allowed to have fun. Not that there is much fun to be had for two townies stuck in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by cows and fields. The local kids would have nothing to do with us, so it was “jobs” or die of boredom. On this holiday I was about to hit my fourteenth birthday and so was entering that surly stage. As the level of teenage grumpiness grew day by day, my parents decided it might be wise to take me into a town to let me find something to do that didn’t involve cows. So after a drive through the winding narrow roads that scare the hell out of anyone child from anywhere with real roads and not cart tracks that have been covered in tarmac, we arrived in Taunton. This is the county town of Somerset, with all the trappings of normality. Shops. I didn’t have much money, neither did my parents really, but I still jumped from the car and went roaming with only a perfunctory “bye” to my family to go shopping.

At this time music and fashion was the centre of my universe, yet a had not really landed on My music and My style. Hence I roamed the streets of this unknown town dressed like a strange cross between a punk, and a mod with rather short cropped hair. I had green army trousers with black monkey boots, a printed t-shirt with Eddie Kidd blazoned across it and a brown corduroy suit jacket that had been covered in safety pins and badges. While you might not be able to picture it you must know that stage all teenagers go through, were they think they look great but the rest of the world know the truth, well that was me big time. I knew I had an hour of alone time before I had to meet with my family for family time, so wondered the strange streets with a purpose, although I had no idea what that was. Then suddenly I heard the most amazing sound, coming from a back street record store, that had it’s door open. The had a bow fronted bay window with leaded windows and looked like it should be selling traditional Somerset fair, not pop music. Yet from this shop taken out of a Dickens novel came a sound straight out of the future. I later learned it was Tubeway Army and their hit single Are Friends Electric, but at that moment all I knew was it was the sound of all the science fiction books I loved so much. That moment is one of my fondest memories, as it was the beginning of a life of music and what playing it led me to do. It also signposted the death knell of my search for a teenage fashion that fitted with me, and the start of a relationship with hair dye, eyeliner and dressing up like some kind of sci-fi film extra. To say this was a turning point would be an understatement. Not that I knew it at the time. I didn’t even go in to the shop. Didn’t have enough money to buy anything to be honest, even though singles were only a very cheap. That’ll teach me to buy sweets before hand eh? Teenagers; think they are grown up but still act like kids! All I knew was I had to go and meet my parents and that as soon as I got back to my home town of Luton I had to seek out that amazing sound. The rest of the holiday dragged like they always did. I was so bored I managed to read the entirety of Frank Herbert’s Dune trilogy, which is a hell of tone. Days of drudgery surrounded by far too much nature for a townie teenager, and nights of darkness that was more like a thick sheet over your face than it was the lack of light. Thankfully soon we were driving back, a journey that took forever as my Step Father insisted we use back streets to drive all the way from Langport in the Somerset levels to the streets of Luton, just outside London. (As an adult I find myself questioning whether this was driven by my step father not having a driving license rather than a joy of seeing lovely scenery, but I can’t be sure. Not the kind of question you ask really. “Dad, do you have a license?” Slap would be the reply)

Luton is a strange town. Until I hit my teenage years I loved it. Where we lived, in Stopsley on the outskirts of the town, there was countryside nearby, a huge park and good schools. We also had two sweet shops and a news agents that sold all the comics you could read, and all of my friends were in walking distance. What’s not to love. Hours of fun playing in the local fields, or the nearby woods or the adventure play ground just down the road from my home. It saw safe, with loads to do and a huge shopping centre only a bus ride away. Nirvana for kids. However, as your tastes change as you blossom from childhood into that in between stage of awkward teenager, the shone slowly falls away. It’s still great fun, riding bikes (throwing milk bottle on occasion), and mucking about with weekly trips to the youth club to flirt badly with girls who are only interested in the older boys fill your nights and weekends. You just know that there is something missing from what you imagine you will want as an adult. Or at least I did. I look back and realise that most of my friends did not feel this way. Their world would always revolve around Luton and the surrounding area. This was mainly due to Vauxhall Motors having a major car factory in the town, which meant a never ending requirement for labour and thus secure employment. It was especially important as I hit my mid teens as this was the era of Margaret Thatcher, and the huge growth in unemployment that went with her government’s reign. Being based somewhere that was not so heavily hit as many other industrial towns did create a reason to stay for many people. Of all of the students of my year at high school I only know of a handful who left Luton to live in adulthood.

Move over Tik & Tok - here's Mik

Move over Tik & Tok – here’s Mik

I was one of those. I finally left at the age of 27, but since the age of 18 I had been travelling to London regularly. It started with shopping trips to buy clothes and new records and all those other things a fashion conscious youth can’t find in a small town. Soon shopping was joined by clubbing. London’s nightlife and gig scene called to me, originally on a weekly basis but growing to a point where I calculated I would spend less on rent than I was on petrol for all the trips to and from the big smoke. Why spend more to live in Luton? Well I couldn’t find an answer either so I started putting out feelers to find an place in London, and thanks to a contact I soon ended up in a one bed flat in Hackney. Life both began and ended then. The end was the death of almost all things Luton. I tried to stay in touch with my old friends but whenever I contacted them to ask them to come down and enjoy the thrills of London they acted as if I was showing off. Rather than come down and stay over, visiting the night life and shops we used to all trip to via the train or M1, they decided that I had got too big for my boots and dropped me. Which left me alone in this huge city, so I went out and made new mates. I was lucky at this time as I was a well known TV presenter at the time, and this always helps find mates… of both types (oo-er). Most of them were shallow and after something, but I knew that and placed them in categories. C List mates were those who I called on if I had no one to go out with, required company and was OK with being used in some way. B List were those who I liked but knew I was there more for what I could bring than who I am and then A List where those I hoped would become my new mates. Looking back on this area it was a rather sad period but it didn’t feel so at the time. I had some serious fun, and partied hearty as I had dreamed being famous would bring. Oh yes, I took advantage of all the trappings of minor fame, although I might not have had as much sex as I could have. Far too much of a nice boy. Foolish maybe, but I am a little proud of not being a typical male and just shagging around because I could. Not sure my new mates saw it this way, but for them it meant more available women for them. For me it meant a growing group of female friends that found my personality and attitude towards them refreshing and new. So we all won. I guess. Luckily it led me to finally form the relationship that was to be the most important in my life, that with my wife Diane.

I first met Diane at the Electric Ballroom many years earlier. We think it was in 1988 or 89. We both are crap with dates so it could be later or earlier but hey, as long as both aren’t sure its OK. That week I found myself single after a row with a long time girlfriend. So I went out a free man for the first time in a long time. ON that night, just after I entered the club, I looked towards the bar and there stood a girl who stopped time. Honestly it was like in a film. Time slowed and people parted to create a clear path to this vision who was lit from above by the lights of the bar. I whizzed over, grabbed the bar and jumped onto my feet to say Hi. I spent the night chatting with this stunning, exciting creature and felt something I had never felt before. Sadly she was there with her ex-boyfriend and felt she had to go home with him out of duty. I asked if she would be there next week. Yes she said, but the next week she was not. So I thought that was a chance missed. But her memory burned brightly. But for now, I got on with life.

However I kept bumping into her. I found that she had gone back to her ex, but did not seem happy. She was amazing and although I also returned to my unhappy relationship, she was always on my mind. When I moved to London I bumped into her even more, and started seeking her out. I found that I had a mate that worked in the same place as her boyfriend, so I could find out where they’d be. I even booked her boyfriend to DJ at a club I ran, because it meant I knew where he would be for a couple of hours… leaving her free to chat to. Now I say all this and it sounds rather stalky, but I did not hit on her. I wanted her to be a mate, if I couldn’t be with her I could know her. So I gave her advice on her love life, and just put up with the fact she would not be mine. I formed another relationship with a rather awful woman, but I won’t bore you with all the gory details, but as this nightmare unfolded it became clear that Diane was equally unhappy with her love life. I now formed a rock band and asked Diane to join as a dancer. As soon as I heard her sing, she was then promoted to lead singer and this led us to spend lots of time together working on songs. Tee hee.

Mik and Diane (stage name Angel) giving it large

Mik and Diane (stage name Angel) giving it large

We tried to fight the chemistry the grew between us but it was bound to happen. We kissed a few times on stage during gigs, under the guise of the show. Then one night we planned a night together with dinner. I cooked a Chinese and waited for DI to arrive. She was late but when she walked through the door she was a vision. In the shortest dress I had ever seen. We ate, and I fought the urge to take her in my arms. Then suddenly she jumped on me and we kissed. From there it was a short skip to the bedroom… and I shall say no more. Just it was amazing and I knew she was the one. I was hooked. Not only was she my mental fit, but we clicked in the sack too. But we both had partners. Well I did for a few more days, and then she was dumped. Diane took a while longer but she lived with him. Within a month we were finally together. Yeah! The rest is history… a very happy history.

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Busy, Busy, Busy!

At the launch of Disability Sheffield

At the launch of Disability Sheffield

It’s been a crazy couple of months. It started with a trip up to Sheffield to speak and compere at the launch of Disability Sheffield. It’s really great to see so many of these disability led organizations springing up all over the country, giving disabled people a real voice and ensuring we support each other as we fight to achieve equality. Met some great people and hope to go back in 2014.  The Midlands is a hot bed of disability activism for sure.

Telling it like it is at Imperial College

Telling it like it is at Imperial College

Next I gave a speech at Imperial College London as part of their Disability History event. We tend to forget that alongside disabled students, colleges and universities have many disabled staff and this event was to launch the Imperial’s disabled staff forum. Another superb event, run by some really committed people for the benefit of everyone at Imperial. It made Diane’s day as she always wanted to go to Imperial to study Physics. I hope that in the near future I will get the chance to work the Diversity team there, both with the staff and students. One of their big aims for next year is to get more people to identify themselves as disabled and you all know what a fan of disability pride I am… so watch out.

Waiting to see Mr Jones

Waiting to see Mr Jones

Then Diane  and me took some time out for some fun, and went to the 02 Shepherds Bush Empire to see Howard Jones. I was invited by the man himself after we got on so well when I interviewed him for my BBC3CR radio show. I was really looking forward to it, both as we deserved a bit of fun and as it was Howard’s 30th anniversary in the music biz. Synthpop heaven! Sadly the Empire access is pretty poor and before the show got the hits section we had to leave. I won’t bore you with the exact why, but I do wish venues wouldn’t just sit on their laurels and think that temporary access provision that made them legal when the DDA came into effect nearly 20 years ago will suffice forever. I have heard from loads of other disabled gig goers that they also have had problems with the venue. Come on 02, you could make this venue amazing. I am available if you need any advice!

Outside the SIA offices in Milton Keynes

Outside the SIA offices in Milton Keynes

The crazy thing is that only a few days earlier I popped up to Milton Keynes to attend a training session on taking out Equality Act cases. Run by the Spinal Injuries Association and given by disabled lawyer Jonathon Fogerty, it gave everyone who took part the knowledge of how to use the Equality Act to our advantage. I plan to write a fuller blog about what I took away from this day later on, but for now all I can say is The Equality Act – Waste of Space! I am also unsure if you can sue a venue like the 02 Empire as they do have access, it’s just crap.

All smiles at NCCA Xmas drinkies

All smiles at NCCA Xmas drinkies

We were then invited to a Christmas Drinks party at the Langham Hotel on Regents Street for the NCCA as they celebrated the cycle ride across the country by their special Santas, delivering presents to children currently fighting or who recently fighting Neuroblastoma. As this is the type of very rare cancer I had as a baby, and as the charity is also based in Camden, it seemed we were destined to work  together. It was an amazing night, made even more magical when the Santas delivered presents to one survivor and her sister.  It was blissful to see two wonderful little girls (pictured) tearing open the wrapping paper to get at the gifts within, and even more joyful to see their happiness at what they got. And it was only December 2nd! It also made me remember how lucky I am to have beat this cancer, especially as I did it back in the late 1960’s!

Outside the Beeb

Outside the Beeb

Lastly I learned my lines and got myself all ready to attend a special casting even for disabled actors at the BBC. Organised by the Equity Deaf and Disabled Members Committee, the Creative Diversity Network and the broadcasters, it brought together disabled actors and casting directors in an attempt to show how much great disabled acting talent there is out there. It’s a common claim from the broadcasting industry that there isn’t enough disabled talent, and so the DDMC decided to show that was not the case. With the help of Equity staff and the CDN we put this event together so hopefully in the future we will start to see more disabled people in TV dramas. Maybe even me eh? I should also say I am very proud to be the chair of the DDMC at the minute. Another passionate group of disabled people trying to make the world a more equal place.

With Christmas coming up, I doubt things will be letting up either. I do have something else to announce to the world, but that will happen on Monday.

And with that I am off to put my feet up, before it all goes crazy again…..

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Haunted by Heritage

In the last week I have found that my life is being massively impacted by the desire to maintain history in my area. Camden does have many areas of historic interest, and a large number of buildings that are listed, whether that is as a whole or features of special historic value. I really believe that it is important to save and preserve this our history, but do feel that at the minute heritage is trumping other important factors unfairly.

On Thursday I visited a disability event at a local venue, but found that it had various problems with access. When I passed on my comments to the manager he claimed that due to the building’s listed status they couldn’t do any more than they already had. The next day I went on a site visit to a venue that was going to host an event I had been asked to present the coverage of. I must admit my heart dropped when the company that asked me to present for them told me where they were filming. I instantly knew it was an old building with loads of stairs to a warren of different levels. So I made some enquiries to as to what access provision might be available. I was told that trained staff would make sure I could get around the site.

This was not really the case. The guys who lifted me up and down flight and after flight of stairs obviously had no training and I really felt I was taking my life in my hands, or putting it in theirs, to even consider trying to take to job presenting from the venue. While I was shown around by the lovely manager and her assistant, we discussed how inaccessible the building was and how it’s listed status made it difficult to remedy. I could see her point, but didn’t see any evidence that anything had been done at all. Of course, even though I give access advice to businesses like this, I must admit I found solutions difficult to come up with.

But that’s not the point of this blog. Surely if English Heritage is going to give buildings listed status, then don’t they also have some kind of duty to ensure that they give each building guidelines on how accessibility can be built into the site? I don’t mean dedicated access consulting, with a full plan of works to be carried out, but somewhere for the owners of the building to start from. Just an understanding of what can and can’t be done would do. But even if EH feels that they are not the right people to give this advise, they should make sure that the legal requirements of access, health and safety and fire regulations are fully clear to all concerned.

Now maybe they actually do this, and history, heritage and listed status is just used as an excuse by owners of these buildings to not have to spend what can be considerable sums of money on access. I know that many venues see this expense as hard to justify, as they claim they see very few disabled customers. Of course the reply to the that is, if your venue isn’t accessible then how could disabled customers use it? It’s the chicken and the egg problem that is easy to answer. And trying to retro fit accessibility features into old listed buildings is always really expensive, especially with the rules that EH stipulate.

That is the real root of the issue. Money. The costs of owning or running a business in a building listed by English Heritage are already made higher by that listing. Once the building or it’s features are listed finding access solutions become harder, and purchasing and installing them shoots up in cost dramatically. I truly believe it is unfair to place that cost entirely on the buildings owner, as listing a building is saving the heritage of the country for the country as a whole. So surely there should be some financial help from the country? This would also mean that so many more historic buildings would be open to visit and use to disabled people. At the minute, a listed status is such a great block to access works that I am finding local groups in Camden are trying to gain it to prevent access provision being carried out by some of my clients. I do love the fact that there are people who feel that their right to live in historic surroundings is more important that my right to do the same, with the same ability to experience all that the area has to offer. But then they probably want to keep the historic theme going, and put us all in institutions or on hill sides to die. Nice.

I don’t know what the answer is. At a time of belt tightening everywhere I doubt that EH will suddenly find a pot of cash that will help fund accessibility for listed buildings, or their owners will be able to find a stash of money to make their buildings inclusive. But we do need to start a conversation with English Heritage, fans of historic buildings, their owners and anyone who feels access is as important as history with the hope of finding a solution that keeps everyone happy. There are solutions out there, but we all have to work together to find them. Because otherwise it will end up with a series of legal actions and the only people who win then are lawyers.

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