With age comes wizdom… or what was I like?

At the minute I am transferring some of my previous TV work into the digital domain so I can up load it on to You Tube, in the hope that it might get me back into the media. While most of what I did was really very good, even if I say so myself, there are some items that made me squirm as I watched them. Back in the early 2000’s I was regularly asked to come in to the BBC’s News 24 studio to review the newspapers. I thought I was there to be a bit out spoken and unlike the usual paper reviewers, who were normally editors and columnists from those very papers and I remember my appearances as being quiet rational fun comment on the news of the time.

Oh boy, was I wrong. As I watched 5 minute clip after 5 minute clip, I found myself wanting to go back in time and slap myself. OK, there was the standard Mik Scarlet left wing rantiness which any of my regular readers know and love (?), but I also had a few subjects that seemed to throw me into a crazy irrational state. One of my favourite targets was the farming industry. At this time Foot and Mouth gripped the UK farming industry, and the hunting ban was being discussed. Yes, I have strong beliefs on methods used in modern farming and equally strong feelings on hunting (and the current cull of badgers being considered at the minute) but I seemed unable to even see the opposing view.

As I realized just how many reviews I had done, and how often I seemed to go off on a crazy rant on various personal hot topics, I felt feelings of shame and embarrassment creep over me. Just as I was about to rush towards the off switch of my coping machine to prevent me anyone from ever seeing me make a fool of myself, it hit me. This was a really bad time for me. I had found it necessary to stop working as a presenter, due to ill health, and this was pretty much the only work I was doing at that point. I know myself well enough to see that this angry 30 something in front of me had been made that way as he was in the grip of a serious and life threatening problem with his spine. Yeah most other people would have tried to be measured and thinking of the future, but I was really unsure I’d have one and so felt this was my chance to comment on things I felt were as unfair as my illness. I have always found that getting angry when I’m ill gets me through. It might not make me fun to work with, or the nicest guy, but the energy it creates gives me the strength to get through.

The weird thing is this is the first time I have been able to see myself during one of these phases, and it has really freaked me out. I look back on that time and know how bad it was and I now feel I owe a debt of gratitude to anyone who stuck with me. Especially my wife. I also would like to say sorry to anyone who found me difficult going during this time. I know I alienated some of my friends and people I worked with, and I also know that my attitude during this period did effect my career. To anyone who worked with me between 1999 and 2005, I am sorry if I was an arse. I hope you understand… and might even forgive me?

As well as the realization of why I was so confrontational, I found myself confronted with the truth that your state of mind can really effect your politics and beliefs. The stress and worry of being so ill had robbed me of my ability to show any empathy, and I wonder if the entire country is not going through something similar at the minute? The dire financial situation, and personal worries regarding money and jobs is causing society to become like I was during my newspaper reviews. Fixed in an extreme position and unable to see how that position might effect other people.

So I ask everyone who reads this to remember this phase will pass. I am now back to full health, and feel much more positive. The world will come out of this period of financial chaos. When it does, and it looks back on all the things it did and said during the fear and worry of it’s past, I hope it hasn’t done anything that can’t be undone. I’m lucky. Most of the stuff I have appeared in on TV exists almost no where except in my box of VHS tapes, and now on my PC. I doubt I’ll put the more extreme ranting online for others to see, and I will definitely learn from my mistakes. As a society we might not be so fortunate. Major changes to our society made while we are frantically scrambling around for a solution for our current hassles might really damage the steps forward we have made, and may never be able to be undone. I won’t say what changes, but I do hope we really examine what legacy each new decision and direction we take will leave behind. If we do, we will not have the awful feeling of looking back to wish we could undo something that caused great suffering during a difficult period.

On a lighter note, the one great thing about looking back at footage of a younger me is that I haven’t aged anywhere near as much as I thought I had. In fact I even look better now than I did in some clips. So while I hope I may be wiser, I don’t look that much older. Now that has made me smile… a huge wide cheesy smile. Tee hee.

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We come a short way baby!

After a crazy few weeks rehearsing for and performing in the Graeae Theatre Company’s production of Rhinestone Rollers – Wheels On Broadway I thought I deserved a day off. As I sat flicking through the channels on my Sky+ I stumbled upon an episode of a favourite show from my youth, The Fall Guy. Starring my all time childhood hero, Lee Majors, who played the Six Million Dollar Man (the fantasy of any kid who had a knackered leg in the 70’s – bionics, something I really thought we’d have by the 21st century) before becoming the stunt man come bounty hunter Colt Seavers, this episode was called “Wheels”. The story revolved around an old friend of Colt’s who was now in a wheelchair… and it was played by real wheelchair user… IN 1983!!!!

I watched the episode, and was amazed at just how well the subject of disability was covered. Loads of jokes about public sympathy, a real action cripple in the guise of Colt’s old pal, a super fast electric wheelchair with a side-car and an entire cast of real disabled people. Not one single non-disabled actor playing disabled anywhere. Again, I must point out this is 1983! The disabled main character even gets married at the end, and is planning kids. IN 1983!!!!!

Even today, here in the UK us disabled acting types still have to argue as to why only we should be playing disabled parts, and as for a story line that is as positive as this one… well we can still dream. How many young disabled people would ever believe that so long ago prime time shows like The Fall Guy were being made that did disability so well? Today’s TV producers and writers should take a hard look at their output and at how old shows like this covered disability and hang their heads in shame. How far have we come in nearly 30 years?

Another subject that has been playing on my mind recently is education. On Wednesday I took part in a march to Downing Street over the education bill. With the government stating that they want to “overturn the bias towards inclusive education” and promote special schools, I really felt it was time to sit down and be counted. I was very lucky to attend mainstream schools through out my school career, and I cannot believe that exactly 30 years since I left school we live in a country that is trying to move away from inclusivity. Not only did attending a “normal” school help me, it helped my non-disabled friends. I got a pile of exams and learnt that my AB mates were just like me, and all my physically perfect mates learnt to see disabled people as just like them. I am proud to know that after taking me all of my schools became fully inclusive and still are today. I plan to start working with my old high school, Putteridge High in Luton, in the future around issues of inclusion and awareness and to mentor some of their current students.

But it really is shocking to me that most people still think that allowing disabled kids to be schooled in the same way as non-disabled kids is not an obvious thing to work towards. Even many disabled people in the public eye are unconvinced. I won’t name names, but surely it is a right of all children to be schooled to the best of their ability? How can we disabled people ever expect to be accepted as part of society if we are kept apart from the rest of society from such an early age?

Of course there can be issues to confront for schools, but nothing is insurmountable. Instead of using these issues to bar entrance to a mainstream schooling, they should be seen as mechanisms for expanding the experiences of all the other pupils. What about a school project to explore access solutions for a pupil that is entering the school next term, or a buddy system for pupils that might need extra help? This kind of thing opens up the educational and social experiences of all the pupils of a school and makes the disabled pupil feel an accepted member of school population.

So yet again I find myself asking, just how far have we come? I would never have thought that at the age of nearly 46 I would still be fighting for correct portrayal of disabled people in the media and for inclusive education. I absolutely would never have thought I’d be fighting against plans to take our education system back to a time before I went to school. All I know is that I am glad I am not a disabled child today. To find yourself thinking like that makes me very angry, and ashamed. To think that if we are not careful all the gains disabled people have made in my adult life will be thrown away, all in the name of cutting deficits.

Right I’m going to stop myself there. I could go on to blame the Tories and go all Red Wedge on you all, but I thought I’d give you all a break from my socialist tirades. Whatever your politics, I am sure you will agree that we all must work hard to ensure that no more ground is lost.

Right I’m gong back to the TV. Sounds like Batman is on. Kerpow!

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Out of Touch?

I regularly run a session of disability awareness training for various companies, and am about to venture into training for media companies. I got the gig after I passed on some comments about language and disability to a TV production company. But before I begin advising them, I must admit I find myself filled with self doubt. You see I wonder if am out of touch with how disabled people feel about the way the world sees them now.

When I began my career in broadcasting, I lived a life where I was always the only disabled person in my social group. There was one other guy with a disability at my high school, but he was year or two younger than me so we didn’t really know each other. Other than that I was always not only the only but the first disabled pupil at all of my schools and colleges. I knew no other disabled people, and knew nothing of disability politics. This did get me in some trouble during the early part of my career. I got in deep doo-doo when I fronted the London area’s coverage of the ITV Telethon in 1992. I had no idea that disabled people were so against charity events like this, and truly thought that I was striking a blow for disabled people by showing that we could give to charity instead of always being the ones who received. This mistake really effected my career, and even today I get people calling me a “traitor” for being involved with Telethon.

This violent response, which included being spat at and physically attacked on occasion, led me on a quest to understand the politics of disability. I tried to get an insight into what was meant by disability politics, and asked my most ardent attackers all about it. I still remember a lift journey with Vicki Waddington that opened my eyes to why everyone was so upset with me. The time I spent working with the BBC’s Disability Programmes Unit was what really educated me about the subject, and allowed me to reassess how actions and words all have political implications when dealing with disability. Well that is actually true of most things, but when you are part of minority it is doubly true.

This was around the same time as the move away from the use of the medical model of disability towards the social one. Gaining an understanding of the differences between the two models made disability politics become clear to me, and I promised myself that from then on I would only be involved with projects that I felt were valid. I feel that I have always kept true to that promise. More than that, I began trying to help the able bodied people I met within the industry to see why there is more to ” doing disability” than just having us on screen.

Anyone who is disabled knows the feelings that comes from watching a program that includes disability, only to find that it also contains one of the stereotypes or clichés of disability too. There’s the “brave” cripple, the “super” cripple, the “tragic” cripple, the “angry” cripple or the “evil” cripple. We’ve seen them all, whether in factual output or dramas and soaps. For the able bodied people involved in making or watching the programs they just see good stories, with loads of all the ingredients that they feel make watch-able TV. But for anyone disabled, we see a continuation of all the attitudes and stereotypes that create the barriers to us being seen as equal. There have been moves to create guidelines for program makers. I was part of the team that created the BBC’s Producer’s Guidelines on Disability way back in the 90’s, but when I spent a period working there in 2008 I was shocked to find they were no longer used. So how can the people in the media be expected to know when they are getting it wrong?

Well this is where I thought I should do something. I found myself having to contact the teams behind any project that I thought had got it wrong. I soon learnt that no one wanted to make TV that portrayed disability negatively or even incorrectly, and it was always done through ignorance. But not always through the ignorance of able bodied people. Many shows had asked the advice and input of disabled people, some well known disabled celebs. But it seemed that they had been fine with the things I had found troublesome. I even found that on the Open University psychology degree that I enrolled in a few years back, that when the course covered the identity of disability it was taught from the medical model, which by the was well out of date. More shocking to me was the audio that came with the course had four well known disabled people discussing their disability and how it effected them medically, with almost no mention of what I thought was the globally accepted social model.

So before I begin advising media companies that they should start being aware that what they shoot, how they shot it and what they say about disability must all fit within a set of rules that strictly adheres to the social model of disability, I must ask you all dear reader, am I right to do so? Do you care if the media has stories of brave disabled soldiers climbing mountains, or TV shows about tragic disabled kids battling their condition, or dramas with angry, or depressed or evil disabled characters? On a purely selfish level, I know that by criticising the industry and what it does I may burn a few bridges, and I will freely admit I don’t want to put the final killing shot into my on screen career by trying to change the way the media portrays disability if most of you feel it isn’t that important. If you would rather just see disabled people on screen, no matter why they were there or what they were saying then I will stop my crusade. I am sure we would all like to see more disabled people in the media, but I think we know that this is coming soon, with the commitment to the 2012 Paralympics. I just wonder if we need to be fighting to make sure they get the chance to be doing and saying the right things too. If any of you have feelings about this topic please add our comments below. It might stop me committing career suicide, or spur me on to fight to make our screens represent the real experiences and desires of disabled viewers and educate the able bodied ones at the same time.

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Disability & TV – The Mik Scarlet Lecture – Part 3

Before I explore the subject of content, disability and television I feel I must just quickly give my solution of the issue of the title of the C4 show “Freaks of Nature”, that I posed in my last blog. The answer is a question mark. “Freaks of Nature?” not only makes the program’s content make more sense, but also stops the casual viewer or listings reader seeing the show as saying that disabled people, or disabled Paralympians, are freaks of nature. Just a small question mark makes the show a more valid political statement on top of being a fantastic sports program. This really demonstrates how language is so important and must be paid very close attention. Not only when covering disability but at all times.

I’ve covered how to use language on TV but not what to talk about. But why not cover that first? Well, program content can be a case of personal taste and what appeals to one person may make another rush for the remote control, but the language used is vital whatever the show is about. In that case, why even try to explore program content? Because the way that content and individual stories are covered can change the way a program works dramatically.

Let me demonstrate by referring to a program I was involved in again. Sometime ago I went to the BBC with a documentary idea around the decision I had to make about whether to undergo surgery and to try to walk again. It was put into production with brilliant new up and coming deaf producer, Ally Scott. We wanted to make a show that really explored the issue and showed that it wasn’t such a cut and dried problem, as most people thought. The program would revolve entirely around my life, how I lived and we would explore what being able to walk might add to my life, if anything, and what it might cost me in time and commitment. There were plans afoot to film all manner of footage that showed the subject in a glamorous, positive and televisual way. We hit a problem when a misunderstanding between the production team and my surgeon led to the artificial hip being manufactured, at a cost of over £150,000. My surgeon was annoyed, to say the least, when we talked and I explained I felt I would not being going ahead, and he insisted that a new production team was put in charge of the program. This new team changed the direction of the show, and in the end it included three other people, all of whom desperately wanted to walk again. This was done for “balance”. While the show did examine the issue, it did so from a view point that made not wanting to be disabled normal and so reinforced the very attitude I wanted to dispel when I first approached the BBC. The show was well received but I know how massively important the program would have been if it had followed the original direction.

Many times disability makes it onto our TVs with balance as one of the driving forces behind how it is shown, yet that balance is there to reflect many of the attitudes that disabled people wish would change. We want to see our real lives represented, and that should be all of our lives and not just the areas where being disabled might have an impact. Also how one person’s disability impacts their life will differ from anyone else, so it is the elements that might be considered “normality” that ties us all together. For example, I get asked to get involved in many shows about how hard it is to find partners if you have a disability but I always ask are you going to include those people who didn’t find it hard and examine whether it is really that different for able bodied people who are lonely? I explain that I feel to make a show about disability, sex and relationships there needs to be balance (that word again – play them at their own game!) and if a program is going to cover the problems that disabled people might have when looking for sex and love, it must also explore solutions, compare what it is like if you looking for love and able bodied and show the good things, and even the benefits, that being disabled can bring to your love life. (For more details visit my website Mik Scarlet – Wheelie Sexy). Of course by doing this I scare off the production companies, who have a fixed idea of what such a program will contain, and hence no Mik. But at least I have my integrity. Good for the soul, crap for the bank balance.

Many shows portray disabled people as “tragic” or “brave”, even if they don’t use the language itself. Time and time again when we see disability on TV the program is focusing on someone who is sick (tragic) being cared for their by their wonderful children (brave), or a disabled child (tragic) who is fund raising for charity (brave), or a disabled soldier (tragic) who is battling to get up on his false legs so he can walk down the isle (brave) or something similar. But while TV has to have these personal stories running through it, especially in today’s reality obsessed culture, the bigger issues are never even mentioned. Why is the child being expected to care for their sick parent and where is the state provision in that care? Why does this charity exist at all? Why does the soldier see disability as such a negative thing that all of his time is spent trying to be fight it? How can society be shaped to make all of these people’s lives easier and fairer? These types of questions are key to changing how disability is thought of in society and I do not think it would detract from the show’s direction to bring up the deeper issues.

So as the Paralympics and Channel 4’s push to get more disability on TV gets closer, I hope that those involved in creating this output wants to explore those deeper issues. I have always wanted to see a show that goes into why so many newly disabled people turn to sport as an outlet. Mainly as I dived into the world of music and art after I started using a wheelchair, and truly thought “Yippee, no more sport” when I was told I’d never walk again, but also as I want to understand the psychological reasoning behind the choice. It’s the world behind the what we see that TV can help us understand and by doing so it can make a real difference to all of lives. And do it while creating entertaining and enjoyable programs everyone wants to watch. I also really expect some serious documentary programming that delves into how disabled people really live in modern Britain, and not just a load of positive puff pieces about super sports personalities and how great everything is.

Well that’s the end of my exploration of disability and it’s portrayal on our TV screens for now. It’s subject I know I will come back to in the future, especially when I see something that I feel misses the mark. I know that it is a subject that is high on the agenda of many disabled people out there, and I would love to know what you feel about this important subject, so please comment below. I also plan to examine how disability is covered in the print press, magazines and other forms of media in the near future, as well as why we seem to be so poorly represented in industries like music and fashion. Please watch this space.

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Disability & TV – The Mik Scarlet Lecture – Part 2

In my last blog I hope I helped to explain why most disabled people find the use of the words brave and courageous in television output offensive, and why these words can have an effect the the mental health of anyone during the process of readjustment that occurs after coming to a disability or illness. In this blog I want to explore words like tragic and sad.

These two little words pop up all too often when the media cover anything to do with ill health. The main reason is that finding yourself disabled or being diagnosed with an serious illness is pretty tragic, both to anyone not involved, who are watching from the outside and to those going through the process. But how these words are use is massively important. I shall demonstrate this by telling you the story of why I am disabled.

My parents tried to get pregnant for over three years, and where over joyed when they got the news that my Mum was expecting. They spent the next nine months decorating my nursery and buying lovely baby clothes. On the day of my birth, my Dad ran up and down the streets of Luton going up to strangers, giving them cigars and exclaiming “I’m a Father!” and “It’s a boy!”. He even purchased a tiny Luton Town football strip, as he had planned my future career already. Mum always calls it “One of the happiest days of my life”. However in only eight weeks time I was rushed to hospital, as I was having serious trouble breathing, and a huge cancerous tumour was discovered. My parents were told it was pretty definite I was going to die, but there was a new treatment that might give them a few more years with me. So after a massive operation, the next five years were spent ferrying their much wanted little baby around the country to be pumped full of toxic chemicals or shot with massive doses of radiation, with the dream of a little more time together. Then after those five years, when they were told that the treatment had worked and the cancer was totally in remission, my Father suddenly died of a heart attack.

Now I know that is a tragic story. Not only because I lived it and I have a heart, but because I have been giving autobiography to publishers and agents recently and they all say “What a tragic story”. Yet it is my story, and I kind of feel it is much more a story of what people are capable of. Not brave or courageous, but more aren’t we just amazing. I know that if this was being made into a TV documentary, the desire of the production team would be to focus on the tragedy of the situation. Poor sad parents, poor brave little cripple boy, and the tragedy of loosing the Father. Move over Eastenders, this is TV gold. But how ever much it is tragic, it is the events that are sad. Not the fact that I ended up disabled. That was amazing and joyous, as everyone thought I’d be dead by the age of five. Surely everyone who finds themselves disabled, especially after injury or illness, is wonderful… as the alternative is death!

It is a difficult line to tread for the media when covering such a story, but it a very important one. When they make the fact that someone is disabled, or has become disabled the tragedy then they do everyone watching a massive disservice. However much the huge car crash is tragic, the fact that the driver or passenger ends up disabled is much more desirable than a funeral service. Why? Because if the viewing public is continuously told that becoming disabled is a tragedy, then they see it as something sad and worthy of pity. They also find themselves fearing being ill or disabled, and we all know what humans do when confronted by things they fear. So whenever the media tries to cover stories about disability they must ensure that however sad the story is, they word the piece so that it is the events that are sad and not the out come.

I did plan to go on to explore the kind of content that TV goes for when exploring disability and illness, but I really want to cover another word first. That word is Freak. Last night Channel 4 transmitted the sports programme “Freaks of Nature”, which was a re-edited version of the superb “Inside Incredible Athletes”. I thought that C4 had kind of lost the plot a bit when they used the term “Freaks of Nature” to advertise their Paralympic coverage and the Inside documentary, but then to use it to name a shortened version of an already shown program really sets alarm bells ringing. I really hope that someone at C4 starts trying to make sure that everyone involved with making their Paralympic output has an understanding of the correct use of language when covering disability. You see, the word Freak is the same as Cripple and any medical term used as an insult, such as Spastic. We can use them to talk about ourselves, but no one else can. It’s the same as Black people and the “N” word. I have played in bands called Freak Show, and Freak U.K. (although that was more because the initials spelled FUK and we sold a shit load of T-Shirts) and my good friend Mat Fraser has performed a series of theatrical shows using the word Freak. But we can, it’s our word. Unless everyone involved with the C4 program was disabled, they needed to choose a different name. Especially as they had already called the show Inside Incredible Athletes, which was fine. Another reason why FON was such a shite name for the doc, was it just showed that Paralympians aren’t Freak of Nature but are so good because of their commitment. I used to work with Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson in the 90’s and could not believe the amount of dedication it took for her to be such an amazing athlete. It was nothing to do with nature, I can tell you. It was all her. So why not just Incredible Athletes?

I think when it comes to the word Freak, I can explain it best in the following way…

I can call myself a Freak, you can call me Mr. Scarlet!

Next time – Content and Cripples (another word only we can use!)

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Television & Disability – The Mik Scarlet Lecture – Part 1

Last night watched the Huw Wheldon Lecture with Dr Brian Cox OBE. As my wife Diane is currently studying for a degree in Physics, and so I am becoming interested in science by osmosis, we tend to catch whatever programs he is involved with. Not only is the Coxster one of the sexiest men is science (as I am told repeatedly by Di and her friends), but he is one of the key movers in making science more popular and understood by society. When I saw he was giving a lecture on how science should be portrayed on TV I knew I had to catch it. Finally a program about science where I would be as knowledgeable as my wife.

Of course Brian, and as someone who regularly visits my front room I feel I can call him that, didn’t let us down. The lecture was fantastic explanation of how good science programming should be made. Let’s face it, Brian Cox is one of the leading Physicists in the world today, The Wonders of the Solar System is one of the best science shows ever made, and with the help of his wife Gia who works in the media, Dr Cox (more formal now) is one of the best people to explain the direction that science TV should be moving.

Royal Television Society Lecture – You Tube – Part 1
Royal Television Society Lecture – You Tube – Part 2
Royal Television Society Lecture – You Tube – Part 3

After watching the show, I found myself wishing that someone could do the same for the direction of disability in factual and documentary TV. As I can’t get a TV company to give me 40 minutes of air time, I shall try to address how TV should deal with disability in blog form.

The first question that’s needs answering is that of language. Whatever the story being covered, what language is used changes the way that story is perceived. Let’s take an example. Say a local news station ran a story about a disabled child raising money for charity. Now having seen this story many times we all know that words like brave and courageous will pop up somewhere. The problem with words like that is context. If the child had done something that anyone might call brave or courageous, such as climbing a mountain or a parachute jump, then maybe such words might be OK. But if the child has just put on a jumble sale or done a sponsored swim then these words imply that the fact someone disabled has done these things is some way different that if it had been an able bodied child. This is not the case. The story should be about what a thoughtful child this was, and almost ignore the disability. Why? Well, the focusing on the disability makes the good deed a side story to the fact a disabled child can actually do things. It continues a belief that anyone disabled is less capable, and that this disabled child is uncommon. There is also a more subtle issue. It creates an impression that any disabled person who does not push themselves to do such uncommon tasks are in some way less. As disability is already thought of as making someone less of a person, this kind of language entrenches this attitude. As I have already said, the focus of the story should be on the fund raising and not on the disability.

This focus also carries over to the stories about people fighting illness or coming to disability. Those who are in this position are not brave or courageous. Actually most people will fight and try their hardest to cope. This is demonstrated by the fact that so few people do kill themselves or pop off to Dignitas. Of course it is hard, and I do understand that it can help your state of mind to think of yourself as brave during a dark time. But I know from personal experience that it can have equally dark effects.

When I went into my wheelchair, I was always being told I was brave. It appealed to me to think of myself that way and helped me cope. But whether you are ill or newly disabled or your disability has changed in some way, you will come to a point when it does get to be too much. When it does, you find yourself not only depressed by the situation you are in but also by the feeling that you have let everyone down by not being brave any more. In fact the lack of bravery can make you feel like you would be better off not being around, for all concerned. It happened to me when I 17. I had been in my chair for 2 years, and had coped very well (and bravely) with the illness, the surgery and readjusting to life. Then one day I found myself wondering would I ever have a girlfriend. I was sure no one would want to be with a cripple like me, and I crashed into a depression. Then I felt a total failure. Not only was I going to be alone for the rest of my life, but I was also a coward. I considered killing myself, and even prepared everything. I cut the cord of an electrical appliance, plugged it into a socket, ran it to the bathroom and ran a bath. I was going to get in, and drop the cord into the bath. It was only the fact that my parents would be the ones who would discover me that stopped me. Typically, within a few weeks I had a girlfriend and I realized that the whole “brave” thing was foolish.

At that time disability never seemed to be on TV, so this was the result of just the language used by my family and friends. We now see soldiers coping with horrific injuries and disabled sportsmen and women as strive to be the best at their chosen sport, continuously being called brave and courageous. I know that it will be having a much greater effect. Especially as these types of people have mind sets that revolve around performance and excellence. Imagine how it will effect them when they feel that they hit a low point, and have become less by no longer being brave.

Not only does it effect those who are disabled or sick, it also creates an attitude towards disability and sickness that has an effect on all society. Anyone who is not disabled or sick is sure that they could not be that brave, and so they begin to think about the subject with fear. They are sure that if it ever happened to them they would rather die, mainly as they doubt they could cope. If the media showed that the majority of people face such a life changing event in the same way as these soldiers and Paralympians do, it would make disability much more accepted and understood.

The reason why I know people would cope is because it’s why humans have evolved to be the most advanced life form on the planet. We adapt to pretty much everything that’s thrown at us. Also it would mean that when these soldiers and sporty types hit a moment when it gets too much they won’t find themselves feeling like a failure for not continuing to be stoic.

Now that’s a lot to read through, so I will stop there. Next time I will look at words like tragic and examine the subjects of news stories and documentaries. So stay tuned.

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Wedding Blues

So, Prince William and Kate Middleton are getting married eh? The country goes Hooray. As Philip Scofield said today on This Morning, “Everybody loves good news”. But then isn’t that part of what the Royal family is there for in the modern UK? To take our eyes off times of trouble. Timed brilliantly to coincide with the start of the cuts coming into effect, we all now have something to become obsessed about. Already the media has gone into a frenzy, so by the the time the big day comes round they’ll be rabid. They’ll be much less time and focus on how our society is changing as this government slashes and burns everything we have spent so long building up. Who cares about student fees, look at her dress. Who cares about the widening gap between rich and poor, aren’t they a lovely couple?

Time and time again during the last Labour government there were stories in the press about the lengths gone to to hide bad news on days where really big events filled our media. The Tories made a big deal about this, as did the media… after the event. It is a mechanism that has been used through out the history of this country by those who rule. I want to make sure that I voice the fact that I see this as just as cynical. I am not a Royalist, not by a long shot. I even turned down the chance to go a to private dinner with the Queen and members of her family back in my TV star days, as I was not prepared to conform to Royal protocols. Whatever my personal views on having a monarchy, that is not what this blog is about. It is how much the people who are in control of our society work together to shape how we see that society.

I will use the example of disability as it something I know about personally. When I hit adulthood, I had just started using a wheelchair. Before that had a limp, and the world was my oyster. I had ten offers of great jobs, and could see my life going in the same direction as all of my school friends. Once in the chair, all those jobs offers disappeared and my future became quite different. I was told I would now be “unemployable” by social workers and others trained to assist me through this difficult time. And so I was farmed of onto benefits. But no one called my a scrounger and a drain on society. The general consensus was that at that time, was with such high unemployment (it was in the UK of the 80’s) how could anyone with a disability find full time employment? How could a boss be expected to employ someone with health issues over an able bodied person? However much these attitudes might offend, they are kind of true. Especially at times of high unemployment.

I went forth and made a life for myself with out any help from anyone, except my family. Everything went quite well until my recent accident. While I was too ill to work, and while I recovered from all that fun surgery, I realised that society had started to change. It began with the DDA. Anyone who knows about the DDA, and the Equality Act that replaced it, agrees it is pretty toothless law. Not only is discrimination an act against the person and not the state, which means anyone who feels they have been discriminated against has to take out a private prosecution at their own cost, but with the word “reasonable” in there it also makes it much harder to prove unfair treatment. But this change in disabled people’s rights did have one real effect. It started the ball rolling on a move to making society see disabled people as a group who take and don’t give. I personally believe that any rights we were given were due to a feeling that disabled people were equal, but more with the long view to start cutting how much we “cost”. OK I am a bit of a conspiracy nut, but how things have shaped up since makes me think I was right.

From there it was a small step to “Once we had rights, surely we should have responsibilities? So why should society pay us anything or give us any help?” Just look at the way the Blue Badge is seen. When I first got a car no one had ever heard of someone using one fraudulently or stealing one. Now I have to padlock mine to my car, after having four stolen in just a few months. Why did this happen? Because society was slowly guided, by the media and government, to ask why should those cripples get something I can’t? No more understanding of why disabled parking exists, and just a kind of envy of us and what we get crept in it’s place. Once this attitude had taken hold, we then start to hear of all the fraud within the “disability benefits” system. Now anyone who has undergone the process of applying for any of these benefits know how hard they are to get. So getting them via fraud is bloody hard, and very rare. Let’s not even mention the millions that go unclaimed each year by people either too afraid to claim , too proud or who just don’t know they are entitled. So how do we fight this “terrible fraud”? Cut the benefits for all, and make it almost impossible to claim anything. Very much a very large sledge hammer to crack a very small nut. But the majority of the public believe it is the right thing to do.

Now I wish anyone who is getting married well. It was the best thing I ever did and I wake up everyday glad that I found the right one. I just can’t shake this feeling that this announcement is very well timed. I won’t even ask who the bloody hell is going to be paying for it all? I mean let’s face it, at a time of growing means testing I feel that this family is one of the few who can afford to pay for the lot.

Right, that’s my topical gripe out of the way. Sorry if it has upset all of you who are overjoyed at the happy news. But then this blog is called “Mik Scarlet Sees Red”.

Addendum:
When I read this through I found myself unsure whether to post it or not. I felt I was being a little unfair to the future King and his future wife. So I sat down and watched some TV. When even the continuity announcers on the BBC mention the engagement in their links, I wonder. I suppose the one thing I can be sure of is that I shall have to take a foreign holiday next year when the wedding is on.

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Fame… makes a man think things over

As I hurtle towards my 45th birthday, I’ve had a weird week. I wonder if I might be about to hit my mid-life crisis. Let me explain.It began with a visit to my chemist. While queuing to collect a prescription, another member of the queue turned to me and said

“You live in the same street as me. I see you wheeling up and down the road… oh and of course I saw you on TV” That’s nice, I thought, still being recognised.

“Yeah” I said.

“You used to be more handsome back then” was then next comment.

“Nah” I replied “Just younger”. We went back to queuing and smiling at each other. My smile hiding just how much a throw away comment can hurt.

Now fame is weird. Once people feel like they know you, which is one of the side effects of being let in their home via their TV screen, they feel they can say whatever they like to you. Can you imagine going up to someone in the street and informing them that they are looking uglier than they used to be years ago? No, neither can I. Yet it happens all the time. A few months ago while in Boots (I seem to spend too much time in chemists – although this time it was for hair care products, which I obviously spend a fortune on) a woman said hello and then informed me of how fat I had got. OK I know I’ve spread with age, but she was… huge! So surely she must know ow it feels to be called fat by strangers. Yet fame meant this was fine.

When I was at the peak of my celebrity, way back in the 90’s, I had all manner of problems. People would just come up and insult and even attack me or even worse, attack my loved ones. I even had a stalker, who threatened to kidnap and rape me. Nice. The most annoying thing was that all the time I was presenting the TV shows that meant the public felt they owned me, I was being paid well under the going rate. (Too many TV companies had the attitude that disabled talent deserved less pay. In a business where people can get paid £100,000s per show I was lucky if I got £100s per series. I would have earned more if I stacked shelves in any famous Supermarket) So I couldn’t afford the security that I really needed. Hence way I started going to private members clubs and the like. To be safe.

But why, if fame was so bad, did I continue? Why am I still fighting to get back into the media world? Well fame has it’s up side too. No it’s not all models and parties, although there were a few. The best thing about fame is being taken notice of.

For ages now I have been trying to get Camden council to wake up to it’s responsibilities around access for disabled people in the borough. This week the local paper, the Camden New Journal, ran a story about experiences and my blogs on the issue. Since the article, I have been contacted a councillor who wants to start up a committee to examine what an be done to improve Camden and it’s access. Now if I wasn’t “Mik Scarlet – Broadcaster and Journalist” would the local paper written the story and would the council have taken notice?

And that’s my mid-life crisis. I feel I am at a cross roads in my life. The media always focus on new talent, as the current search for presenters to work on the Paralympics demonstrate, and I could never be considered “new”. I have had to take years off from working to recover from my spine surgery back in 2003, and even though I feel I am ready to go back to work, will I be able to get back into an industry that everyone knows is almost impossible to break into? Especially if you already used to be in it! The other factor is do I want to anyway? As I have already said, fame is no picnic, and the rewards are not always that great.

I know I have gained many skills through my time as a musician and broadcaster that would apply to many other professions. I keep asking myself is it time to grow up and stop seeking a way back into the media. Are the rewards of fame worth all the hassles?

So what would you do, dear reader? Do you think there’s a Mik shaped hole in your TV viewing? Do you think I should fight to fill it, or go out and get a real job? I really need your advice.

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