Stop Press

Lots of news from Scarlet Towers.

I have just been asked to join the editorial team at the lifestyle website the Fabulous Times to cover events. So lots of trips to fabulous places and parties… I hope. My first story for them is about a visit to the V&A‘s Pearls expo. For the photos I took pop off to Flickr.

I also have another article up on the Huffington Post, called What Did You Just Call Me? about disability and language. As some one who works in disability awareness training I know how important language can be when describing disabled people, yet I also want to reclaim many of the words that are thought of as “bad”. I wonder what you think on the subject? Take a look and maybe leave a comment.

This Friday I am appearing at an event in Sheffield to celebrate the 10th aniversary of Disability Sheffield. To book a place visit here. It being held at St Mary’s Church and Conference Centre, Bramall Ln, S2 Sheffield from 10:30 to 15:30. So maybe see you there?

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Time for a spot of dinner.

In the last few years I have developed a diet that has helped me loose quite a lot of weight. It revolves around eating soup for two days and then a normal meal on the third. As I really enjoy cooking I tend to make both the soups and then go to town on the main meal. But every now and then I think it is important to treat yourself, especially when you are on a diet that revolves making such drastic changes to the way you eat for ever. On those treat days Diane and myself have a few local restaurants that we love to visit. One that is at the top of that list is our local Italian eatery Good Fare, 26 Parkway in our home town of Camden. But it’s not just because it is nice and close. We both feel that it serves some of the best Italian food in the capital. Not the posh highfaluting stuff but good quality home cooked Italian fare… Good Fare!Mik and Menu

We are both creatures of habit when we visit Good Fare. Diane has two dishes that she loves, Penne Italiano and Tortellini Spinachi, and I always have Penne Al Arrabiata. As vegetarians we normally have a very small choice when eating out, but at Good Fare this isn’t the case… so we could go nuts. But if something isn’t broken why fix it? As Diane always points out, there is nothing worse than trying something new and then all the way through the meal wishing you had gone for your favourite choice. As the Penne Al Arrabiata is the best I have ever tasted I’m sticking to it like glue. Just the right combination of heat and yumminess that keeps me coming back for more. In fact that’s the same reason why I love Diane… tee hee. So my choice was easy, and Diane went for the Penne Italiano as she was the mood for cheese. As this meal comes covered in a wheel goat’s cheese the size of a small plate, it was a wise decision.

Di waits her foodAs we waited for our food to come we sat and watched the world go by.  Sitting outside in the busy heart of exciting Camden Town soaking up the sun is one of the joys of this restaurant, and the attentive and friendly staff is another. The meals arrived with the usual speed, and we tucked in like greed piggies… who had been fed only on soup for two days. As per usual the meal was gorgeous. Di was rewarded by joking with our waiter that she would like “loads of Parmesan” cheese with a deluge of the her favourite food… cheese! So she was in food heaven, as was I. By the end of the meal my lips were just the right amount of numb to indicate a good Arrabiata, and I was shortly followed by Diane clearing her plate. Di normally eats much slower then me, so it showed how much she enjoyed her meal that I wasn’t left waiting for ages. In fact we both fell on our meals so quickly that I forgot to take any photos of the food, so you’ll just have to take my word for how good it was.

All goneWe then ordered another Good Fare favourite, Caramel Latte. Trust me, if you’re in Camden and want a coffee, forget the chains; it has to be Good Fare. Truly great coffee. Another treat to try is their breakfast cakes. A personal fave is the chocolate twist, served hot with chocolate sauce. Just thinking about it is making my mouth water. If I’m honest, the only draw back for me is they don’t have an accessible toilet, but that’s it. (Well they do in their sister restaurant Al Parco but the door is fitted wrong so I can’t get in with my chair unless I don’t mind the entire restaurant watching me do my business) Our meal, comprising of two beers, two lovely meals and two yummy caramel lattes came in under £30. So not only great food but great value. Of course now I’ve told you all about Good Fare I’m worried it will become even more popular and we won’t be able to get a table next time we want to treat ourselves. All I can say is “cheers Good Fare!”.

Cheers

 

 

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More or Less Cyborg? @ The Dana Centre – A Great Night Out

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Ever since I was a child I dreamed of emulating my hero, the bionic man Steve Austin (aka Lee Majors). My friends and I would run round the play ground in slow motion making “dududududu” sound effects, dreaming of what it would be like to be part machine. I was never allowed to be the “Six Million Dollar Man”, as I was disabled, but was instead named “Peg Austin” or the “Six Million Dollar Cripple”. Did I mind? Of course not, because however much my non-disabled play mates wanted to be made of metal I was the one who had a real bit of bionics strapped to my right leg, in the name of my caliper that allowed me to stand up. Oh yes, I was already a bionic boy.

As I grew up (in years but not necessarily in maturity) I still imagined what it would be like to have a body augmented with machinery. My wheelchair could be described as a bionic device, as it is an external mechanical element of my body that allows me to function in a way that I could not without it (or it stops me from having to crawl everywhere) but I do fantasize about more. What would it be like to really be Steve Austin? So when my wife told me about an event at the Science Museum‘s Dana Centre called “More or Less Cyborg” I knew we had to go. So on the evening of June 13th 2013. we headed off to the exhibition district of sunny Kensington ready for a night of feeding my childhood fantasies.

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The Dana Centre is a great building and has the most amazing staff, who are always helpful and friendly. They have a bar for these night time events and serve bar snacks. But more importantly they strive to make science accessible. We have been to several similar nights before and they have always been great fun, but tonight I was going to discover if I would one day be able to become a cyborg. However actually this was not a night of could we, but more a night of should we and if we do how will we cope as a society?

The night kicked off with the audience being split into three groups and each group had to arrange a series of Science Fiction characters into order depending on how human or how cyborg they were. This was going to be OUR kind of night. Diane and myself threw ourselves into the passionate debate over which of these made up people were more or less machine with gusto. Was Darth Vader more of less human that Trinity from the Matrix? (when she was in the Matrix – details matter in such important matters) While this was entertaining it also opened up wider questions over what it was to be human that the guest speakers explored next.

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The first to speak was Rick Walker, managing director of Shadow Robot, a company that builds ground breaking robotic prosthetic hands and who worked to create an artificial person using surgical replacement parts and prosthetics for Channel 4 on their How To Build a Bionic Man TV show. Rick explored the possibilities of what the future holds for the mechanics of bionics and explained the technical challenges around building the C4 Android. His passion for his chosen field was obvious and his talk brought the future in to sharp relief. It’s not only a case of what will be possible that is amazing, but what is actually possible now.

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Next to speak was Steve Fuller, who holds the “Auguste Comte Chair in Social Epistemology in the Department of Sociology” (whatever that is?) and he blew the lid of my expectations by exploring what the social and philosophical implications might be on a society that is fast approaching the ability to really build cyborgs. More than that, Steve made us ask ourselves are we not already cyborgs, both due to our use of technology, such as mobiles and laptops, and our ability to record knowledge, via books and writing. It did take a bit to get my head round that concept, but as Steve explained how a cyborg is actually an entity that has been altered from it’s so called natural state by any means, including learning, it started to make sense. His talk threw open some big questions that he had no chance of answering in his allotted 12 minutes.

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Last to speak was Sarah Chan, Deputy Director, Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation and Research Fellow in Bioethics and Law, University of Manchester, who challenged us to ask the ethical questions the surround cybernetics. We’d done the what and the could not Sarah was the should. But she covered more than this. She took Steve’s concept that we are already using forms of cyborg technology in our daily lives and delved much deeper. Very few people could imagine not having access to the internet, or mobile phones, or cars and bicycles to get around with and a world without medical intervention terrifies most of us. So once we develop the technology to augment the human body it won’t be long before we view that in the same way as the gadgets we love so much now. Will it not be those who are not cybernetically enhanced that are at a disadvantage? And were will it lead. We already have GPS in our phones and our governments may (or may not – yeah right) be recording everything we say over those phones or send over the internet, but we can at least stop using these devices and escape to solitude. Once they are implanted into our bodies would we be able to do the same and how would we ensure that outside influences could not effect our being in some way? Also who would get these upgrades? Would it be everyone, or the rich and powerful?

When Sarah finished, the Q&A section started and I had to ask what the panel thought about my take on the subject as a disabled person. Let’s face it, us disabled types are always seen as being the first beneficiaries of this kind of technology but yet if what the night had shown was true, and those who used assistive technology of any kind was already a cyborg, then weren’t disabled people the best people to talk to about the social and ethical implications? I also wondered if we understood how society might view those who were physically different from the non-cyborg norm better than most. Sarah found agreed with this concept and all of the speakers thought that it was an interesting take on the subject. After a loads more thought provoking questions, volunteers were called for to put on masks and re-order the fictional sci-fi characters from the start of the night. Di jumped at the chance and was given the mask of 6 from Battlestar Galactica (see a sci-fi nerds dream night out or what?).

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The room now began a heated discussion around the question of humanity and each speaker argued for one of the characters considered less human. Diane explained to the entire room about the details of the humanoid/symbiont relationship from the mythology of the TV series Stargate Sg-1… you know, that Jaffa only incubate them but have free will, that with the Goa’uld the human host is totally controlled by the alien symbiont and in the Tok’ra the human and symbiont live in harmony with mutual control. So obviously Teal’C was human as he was in control of his own actions, only making any bad decisions due to indoctrination rather than external control. When she finished I was overcome with nerdish pride that I shouted “that’s my wife” at the top of my lungs.

So a highly entertaining and informative evening drew to an end. Before we left, I grabbed a quick chat with Rick and Sarah, as it was such a thought provoking evening that I am planning to do a series of interviews with these guys on the topic of cybernetics and disability very soon; to which they both agreed. And so off into the night Diane and I went. I did do a little “dudududu” as we wondered back to the car, but in truth we were both still reeling with the questions that the evening had thrown up for too much childish exuberance. Just enough. I cannot under estimate how much fun these events at Dana are. If you like science, from an academic interest like Diane’s (she’s studying Physics at the OU) or a nerdish love like mine, you can’t go wrong. Especially if you like to spice up your facts with some seriously well designed mucking about.

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Previous Columns in PosAbility Magazine.

Here are a all of my columns published in PosAbility Magazine up until the most recent issues.

Love’s Great Adventure Published December 2011

Tomorrow Is Getting Closer Published February 2012

Adventures In The Sun Published April 2012

What Doesn’t Kill you Makes You Stronger Published June 2012

Body Beautiful Published August 2012

What Are Words Worth? Published October 2012

Scarlet’s Christmas Carol Published December 2012

To See Yourself As Others See You Published February 2013

Equality; You Can’t Pick and Choose Published April 2013

Keep checking back as I will be adding new pieces on a regular basis.

 

As well as my column I am now writing articles for PosAbility. Here is the first one.

Home Or Away? Published April 2013

They are all PDF files, so just click on them and they will open in a separate window.

 

Click here to Subscribe to PosAbility Magazine

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80’s Music show Online

Are you ready to be taken back in time? To a golden age of synth pop, men in make up, big hair, women in suits, lots and lots of hair spray, aftershave that was so strong it knocked your socks off, and parents who just didn’t get it? Well then you’ve come to the right place?

If any of you missed my 80’s music show on BBC 3 CR earlier this year, I have put it online at Tin Decks. So you can listen away or grab it to play on your MP3 player at your leisure. Or you can listen below. I’m so good to you lot.


Upload MP3 and download MP3 using free MP3 hosting from Tindeck.

I just want to say a big thank you to everyone at BBC 3 CR, Howard Jones, Derek and Adrian from Click Click, everyone who sent in messages and requests and of course my amazing wife who danced her way through the show next to me. Also a shout out to Tasos and his film crew who caught the whole thing on video for a documentary. more on that later.

Here’s the full playlist for the show:

First Hour –

New Life – Depeche Mode (3.47)

I Die:You Die – Gary Numan (4.40)

Love Action – The Human League (5.01)

Howard Jones Interview Part 1

What is Love? – Howard Jones (3.40)

Sweet Dreams – Eurythmics (3.57)

Don’t Go – Yazoo (3.08)

Howard Jones Interview Part 2

Things Can Only Get Better – Howard Jones (3.56)

Quiet Life – Japan (4.52)

Planet Earth – Duran Duran (4.01)

Second Hour –

Click Click interview live in the studio

Perfect Stranger – Click Click (4.01)

Follow The Leaders – Kiling Joke (5.38)

Alice – The Sisters Of Mercy (3.35)

Underpass – John Foxx (3.53)

Bedsitter – Soft Cell (3.36)

The Walk – The Cure (3.33)

Ccan’t You See? – Vicious Pink (3.17)

All Stood Still – Ultravox (3.40)

Dynamo Beat – Shock (4.31)

Nowhere Girl – B Movie (4.41)

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Technofeary – Why Tomorrow’s World lied to me

In the last year or so my career has taken off again like a rocket. This is in no small part in thanks to my wonder wife Diane. It was her advice that led me to focus on creating an online presence, one which I am still working on. In fact this week, after a very long time avoiding what I saw as a potential time eater, I joined Twitter . So I am now as near to fully 21st Century as I can possibly be, or am prepared to be, and must admit I am having very mixed feelings about the whole process.

 

As I said my career has taken off again, after many years in the doldrums. I truly had no idea how much researchers now relied on the Internet to do their job in today’s media. When I did my BBC training in research for the media we all had to trawl through papers and publications, visit libraries and read books and contact experts in our or the channels contact lists, as well as use the fledging world wide web. But those days have long gone. With so much being available with the click of a mouse why would anyone waste time with any other method of research? Especially in a high pressure industry like the media. Diane kept saying to me “If you don’t exist online, you don’t exist”. I didn’t believe this, even though I should have learned by now that my wife is always right, until the BBC transmitted Are You Having A Laugh , a programme that explored the history of disability on TV in 2010. As someone played a pivotal role in the industry during the late 80’s and early 90’s, and who has a long list of “firsts” under his belt – including first disabled actor in a UK soap, first disabled presenter on mainstream kids TV, first disabled presenter on Channel 4, first disabled live continuity presenter… the list goes on but I don’t want to brag too much (yeah right) – I was most upset to see I had been left out of the show. As I always believe in not getting mad but getting even, this was what lit a fire under me and got me wanting to get back into the industry. Until this show I had decided that my time had passed and that I should wheel aside to allow newer talent to pass, knowing that my past work would always stand to show I was there. But as I had now been written out of history I had to come back, if only to prove I existed back then. (Yes this does give an insight into my psychology in a big way, but hey I know myself and have faced up to what it says about me) My wife explained that if I didn’t exist online how would anyone know about me? So together we plotted to change this, and planned for my come back….

 

Move forward three years and I am back. Maybe not to the level I was during the early to mid 90’s but it is harder to come back than to get there the first time I can tell you. For one thing I’m definitely no longer new talent, which is an industry obsession. But I digress. This blog is about the ever spreading new technology and the applications that it uses… and my problems with using it all! Now they mainly revolve around the fact that they are making me feel old. I remember when we got our first video recorder, which was VHS and not a Betamax… unlike us to get the right one first time. While my parents had made the correct choice more by luck than judgement, that was as far as their techno-knowledge went. They never got the timer to work, and regularly videoed the wrong program, either on the wrong side or at the wrong time. So many of my TV appearances were recorded over with Coronation Street or bad late night films too, and as a fan of all thing techie I laughed at their apparent fear of these new gadgets. As I grew into adulthood my love of technology continued. A had a studio full of electronic gizmos and keyboards covered in knobs, and ever advance in music and video players I just had to have. CDs, DVDs, Mini-Discs, DATs, and of course MP3s. I replaced my music and videos with each new advance. But then in the last few years I slowly found myself saying things I heard my parents say when fighting with the video recorder all those years ago. “Why isn’t it working?”, “What do I do again?”, and of course “Damn stupid thing” (or much, much stronger) all fell from my lips, while I fought to grasp what I was doing with some new bit of kit.

 

It started with my first smart phone. I had been super fine with computers. I even built them, for FUN. I now have a flat full of out of date PC’s (and piles of circuit boards and components) all of which are less powerful than my current mobile. I also have loads of software but all really old versions that are basically expensive coasters now. I suppose as I spent a while out of the game while I was ill back in the early 2000’s, meant I fell behind with technology, but in truth I feel it is something to do with the fact that more than ever before every single one of my bits of technology does so much stuff. Back in the olden days, when everything was olden times like, gadgets all tended to do one thing, and if you paid a bit more they did that thing very well. Now all of our gadgets play music, surf the web, get e-mails, are phones and texting devices, plus are cameras and video cameras and hold all of our information and all to high level of functionality. My new PC is a mammoth great beast with 16Gb of ram (my first had a measly 256mg!) and it can do everything super quick, but then so can my Dell Windows phone. But they have to be this amazing as there is so much more for them to do. My new PC is capable of editing video to the same level of a machine that would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds back in my TV days, and as for music I now have a studio that I could only have dreamed off in the 80’s all for really cheap. But all of this is also running on the same PC I do e-mails, run my diary and write this very blog on which can lead to moments where I resemble my Mum and Dad hunched over the VHS. But also let’s not forget that as well as all the things technology can do, we are all connected thanks to the social network.

 

I am totally new to the concept of social networking. I avoided the whole thing for two reasons. The first was that I already felt that I spent too much time hunched over my keypad typing or peering at the phone with my aging eyes straining to see what was on the 4 inch touch sensitive screen. Now I am on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and have my own blog based website which you are currently now on dear reader, and they all eat into your day in a way that no other invention of the last 100 hundred years could. The second is a mixture of not wanting to put too much personal information out there about and a fear of my inability to filter what I say sometimes. With my conspiracy theorist brain, now feeling I was right after the new broke that GCHQ has been spying on all of our electronic communication, filled with paranoia about who is watching what I might write, and my skill of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time I am still unsure if I made the right decision to go for it and network myself up. So far I haven’t put anything online that would interest the powers that be, other than my comments on their policies concerning disabled people, or have I ranted about someone or something in a way I can’t take back. We’ll just have to wait and see eh?

 

I will say I am finding myself becoming addicted to checking my Twitter and FB on my phone, and am enjoying a little too much watching the number of followers I have creep up. Yet again I know that this feeds the part of me that made me want to famous in the first place. I am also loving interacting with like minded people out there and sharing thoughts and concerns with them. I am sure it will lead to a whole new form of disability movement that will be unstoppable this time. But I still worry about all the things I am not doing while I am tied to some form of technology. I have lost count of the number of sunny days I have watched through a window while I type away on my PC. Sure that what working is, but I am a freelancer with at least three laptops so why aren’t I in the park sunbathing while I write? Because I might need fast Internet or access to my networked NAS hard drive storage devices or wirelessly print something or some other vitally important techno function. Because the one thing all this technology has done has made every single thing we do super urgent. No time for it to be done tomorrow, we are contactable 24/7 so we are working 24/7. Even if we work for ourselves!

 

Maybe that is what I like the least. The lack of time to stop and smell the roses. When I was a kid I thought of a future filled with time saving gadgets and dreamed of a world filled with robots, space ships and lazer beams. Now I’m in the future and all we have is piles of stuff that eat into our time and have come up with new ways of spending time, with none of the cool stuff from my childhood imagination. So not only have I been robbed of the “world of tomorrow” I dreamed of, but what stuff we do have isn’t exactly freeing us up to have more fun. But I wonder if it is really that we are at a cross roads. I have a collection of classic analogue synthesizers, some older than I am, and they became considered old fashioned during the late 1980s, early 1990s with the roll out of tech like the DX7. So away went all things with knobs on and in came slick boxes. But now knobs and old school looking tech is all back in. I wonder if that is what will happen with the other stuff around us. We will reclaim what they were originally meant to do, and not be suckered into how new they are right now. The key point of any piece of technology is to save us time, and the sooner we remember that the better. Hopefully they will have more knobs on too, and be a little easier to get to grips with at the same time, but that is just my aging brain asking for some assistance with the ever increasing number of programs I am having to learn. A few well marked knobs or at least GUI buttons and I would be away. And less time spent fighting with technology or being tied to it for very little reward would allow us to do more living. That’s what the future should be. Living with technology that works for us while we live, interacting with it as a tool to make life better and not feeling chained to it, unable to escape work and deadlines while we scream out loud at inanimate objects as we try to make them work.

 

Anyway, enough rambling ranting about technology. I’ve been away from Twitter too long writing this and might have something important. The I’ll have to announce this blog on Facebook and Tweet about it too. There is no escape…

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My Latest Blog for the Huffington Post

I have just had my second piece for the Huffington Post put up online. It’s a real privilege to be writing for such an important publication, especially in their politics section.

It explores the reality around “disability benefits”, the publicity concerning them and effect that publicity has had on disabled people, with the focus being that now even Labour have decided to take the easy road and target the sick and disabled when talking about welfare reform. We have to start getting the truth out there and trust me when you read the real figures you can instantly see that we are being scapegoated in a major way. It shocked the hell out of me, I can tell you!

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Trip to Cardiff

Millennium Centre

Basking in the sun outside the Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay

Just got back from a weekend break in Cardiff. Had a wonderful time and have fallen in love with the city. I am going to write a travel piece for Disability Now Online, that will go out soon, so watch out for that. If you get a chance, do yourself a favour and get yourself to Cardiff asap! For sci-fi fans it’s especially great as it has the Dr Who experience. Oh such fun. Just want so say thanks to all the staff at the Radisson Blu hotel for making our stay so great and to everyone we met in Cardiff. Amazing city and amazing people. Looking forward to coming back soon.

Mik with his Family at the Dr Who Experience

Meeting my family… that’s Dad or Davros and my brothers the Daleks.

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Bye, Bye Beardy

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After sporting a goatee for many years, of varying lengths, shapes and colours (thanks to beard dye), this morning I took the step of saying goodbye to the beard. Now this may not be the biggest news you’ve heard this week, but it’s going to make getting ready in the morning easier for me. No more fighting to shape my bit of stubble so it matches on both sides (symmetry is vitally important). And of course I can stop worrying about the fact that my beard is going nicely grey.

I have just returned from spending a week representing disabled performers on behalf of Equity’s Member’s with Disabilities committee at two conferences. I am the co-chair of the committee and so I gave speeches at the Equity ARC and the TUC Disabled Workers Conference on the issues facing disabled performers. It was a real honour to be there and to carry on my work on behalf of the people who elected me.

This weekend Diane and myself are off to Cardiff. I am writing a travel article on visiting the city, which is somewhere we have wanted to go for ages. Then, to kill to two birds with one stone, we are visiting a wheelchair company called Roma to do an article on a new wheelchair they are about to launch.  I saw the Vida Active at this years Naidex and thought it looked amazing. It has some really new ideas in it’s construction and you get measured in the totally new way. I won’t say more until I’ve tried out the process, but the guys at Roma promise me the same kind of experience that those lucky enough to be buying a sports car have. So I am looking forward to some first class treatment. I do like that.

The biggest news here at Scarlet Towers is the fact that this evening Di and me are having our first Spanish lesson. For years we have been visiting Barcelona, and while Diane has learned enough of the local lingo to get by, I have always been struck dumb and kept my fingers crossed that whoever I was (not) speaking to spoke English. Well no more! So we have decided that before we go back later this year I WILL be able to speak a bit of Spanish. I shall keep you all posted. Hola.

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