New Article Round-Up

Here’s a round up of some of my recent articles.

First is a  piece on Wheelchair Dance in Disability Now, as it doesn’t matter whether you live on wheels, legs or both you can cut a rug on the dancefloor.

Then I have an article on sex and disability published on Miss Alice Gray‘s website. It’s the first of a two parter, with the second art being more of a “how-to” guide to sexiness and disability.

I have also joined the writing team at Disability Horizons as an occasional contributor. My first story for them was about dressing up for the party season if you are disabled, called Festive Fashion, but it works for all times of year. You know me, I never need a reason to dress to impress… or shock! The next article for DH is on the recent casting at the BBC for the cream of disabled acting talent which asks Is It Time For Our Close Up? Ages back I wrote my views on Assisted Suicide, so if you missed it maybe check it out.

You can also check out my column in PosAbility magazine at their online portal. It’s not the most recent, but keep checking back as they update it regularly.

So that about it for now. Got loads of new articles coming up, so I’ll keep you all posted.

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Folk In Motion Feb 15th

FIM01v1Sepia+LogoIf you are in the Camden area on Saturday February 15th, why not pop down to Cecil Sharp House. I’ll be performing as part of Folk In Motion, The wheelchair Folk dance troupe as we celebrate the fact that Cecil Sharp House, the home of English Folk Dance and Song Society, has just been made fully accessible for disabled people. It’s a great show whether you are a fan of folk or not, and shows what us wheelies can do when it comes to dance. It features guest performances from Liz Porter and Penny Pepper and I shall be singing “The White Buck of Epping”, that was written by a Camden based musician in the 1960s,  so something not to miss. Oh, and it’s free too!

For full details click here.

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Holiday Travel Blues

I am writing this during a break in packing for the first holiday my wife and I have booked in over three years, as I need to take my mind of the increasing panic I am feeling. Writing it down makes it more real and not seem so crazy. You see one of the driving reasons why it has been so long since we last traveled to foreign climes is my dislike of traveling abroad. But this is not a phobia, not but is instead based in the litany of cock ups, disasters, mistakes and down right discrimination I have faced during the 25 years I have been trying to see the world. In fact one of the things that always amazes me when I read any foreign travel story written by a disabled traveler is that they hardly ever experience any major problems. Every time I have gone abroad something has happen worthy of an entire book, or a comic farce at the least.

It began with my first trip away to Ibiza in 1988, at the tender age of 23, with my great mate Trevor Beasley. I should have known the omens were bad when I was dropped by the ground staff who carried me onto the plane. Not only dropped, but dropped onto my spine – the root of my impairment. So to say it hurt was a considerable understatement! That was soon forgotten as we did the decent thing for two young guys on a lads holiday and got very drunk on the flight. We arrived at the hotel only to find that the room that we had been promised would be OK for my wheelchair had a minor issue… I couldn’t get through the bathroom door. The solution? We removed the door. So this meant that Trev and me got better acquainted the we would have preferred, but the holiday could proceed. After three days of sun, sea and failing to find sex, on the way back to the hotel after another boozy night, there was a terrible crunching sound and my chair broke in half. IN HALF! We fought our way back to and I then spent four days stuck in our room, having food brought up to me by the mate of which ever girl Trev was trying to chat up. Finally Trev found a garage run by a guy from Scotland, which allowed Trev to describe what was wrong with the chair in English, and he bravely carried the broken scrap metal to a nearby town in the boiling mid day sun to be repaired. (yes he never tires of telling me how tough it was, even to this day) It returned welded solid, and so was possibly the first rigid frame chair ever. All of this had taken the shine off the break, so we decided to stick to attending a nearby punk bar for the rest of the holiday in case of any more “incidents”. When it came time to leave, I sat on the place filled with feeling of happiness. I was going home and so nothing else could happen. Until I saw the baggage handlers jumping on my welded open chair in a futile attempt to close it. On arrival home I found both wheels were buckled and had to spend ages stuck on house arrest waiting for a replacement chair to come.

Mik Scarlet & Trevor Beesley Ibiza

80’s Sunshine Boys

What is most amazing is that this is not a one off. Everything that happened on that holiday has been repeated in some form or other on almost every other time I traveled abroad. Not only for a holiday, but for work too. I once went to New York to film a travel program for the BBC. Not only was I a wheelchair user, but so was the director. When we landed at JFK all hell broke loose. The ground staff refused to help either of us off the plane. While I eventually decided to crawl the length of the plane and down the steps to the ground, my director could not as she used a powerchair and just could not crawl. So now we have a plane that needs to be turned around with a cripple stuck on it. After an age, getting near to an hour, the panic became fever pitch and the poor director was manhandled off the plane by cabin staff, mixed film crew and anyone else nearby. Even after we got off, this major world city was not all wheelchair heaven. The freakiest thing was the wheelchair accessible cab we hired to drive us around for the period we were filming there. The driver smoked super strength weed all day and night, freaked out at regular occasions and drove off without us twice. And of course my chair broke and I pulled a muscle when I got thrown out of my chair by a massive pothole in a road I was crossing (note New York has great pavements but the roads are appalling!). I won’t bore you with my long list of other reasons why it was a disaster because I disliked the city so much I fear it might have coloured my view.

Mik Scarlet on the Hudson river NYC

Mik Does The Big Apple

But my most recent trip away really put my off flying, almost for good. After a fairly successful trip to Cyprus, with only a minor wheelchair repair incident, my wife and I arrived at the airport with a feeling that maybe our travel jinx had been broken. As well as ourselves there was a other nice couple waiting to be loaded onto the flight, with the wife being the wheelchair user in this love match. We queued to get on the plane, but instead of being let on first as usual, we were made to wait until the very end. I got onto the plane only to see that the seats at the very front, usually reserved for disabled people, were filled with people who had paid for early boarding. When I asked if anyone would move, they all firmly said no. Luckily someone on row three said they would, and I fought my way to this seat. I should say that I now no longer allow anyone to carry or assist me when getting on or off planes, after way too many disasters, so I manhandled myself to this seat. The other wheelchair user was not so lucky. She needed a much greater level of assistance, and it was obvious to anyone who cared to look that she really needed to be sat at the front of the plane. But still none of the people who had paid six whole pounds for early boarding would move, especially the only person in the six seats who was traveling alone. He was quite insistent that he had paid for the seat so he was staying in the seat. Instead this poor woman had to be carried down the aisle of the plane way back to seats sixteen or seventeen rows back. By the time she arrived at her seat, her blouse was over her head, her skirt was round her ankles and she was screaming in discomfort. On arrival home we were met by the UK ground crew who were stunned to find the seats we had been put it, if for no other reason that it made their jobs harder. We swopped numbers with the couple as we wanted them to claim against the airline but heard no more.

As I said earlier if I tried to list everything that has ever happen when traveling abroad this would be one of the longest articles in history, there have been so many. A humdinger was when we arrived at a hotel and got our keys to our room on the forth floor, but when we asked “where’s the lift” were met with the answer “What lift?”, or the time we tried a package holiday from a supposedly accessible holiday company only to arrive at the hotel to be told they don’t have any accessible rooms. We ended up being moved to another hotel to a room that meant I couldn’t wash for week as there was no accessible bath or shower. The list is endless.

But don’t let this put you off traveling if you are disabled. What you need to do is plan. Plan for every eventuality. This time away I am taking a full puncture repair kit, plus we know the Spanish for bike pump, a mini tool kit, every type of pills and potion I might ever need and a full knowledge of both local and international equality and airline law. To me foreign travel is not super fun, but more a test of endurance. But us disabled people do like to prove we can do something, and the harder it appears to be the more some of us like to it. All I will say is next time you read one of those “Here’s a list of amazing fun things I did when I visited…” articles they may have left out some the less fun events out of the story as not to terrify you. I mean who wants to read a travel article that just goes “ARGH, it was awful!”?

Anyway, back to the packing. Do they allow welding gear on flights nowadays?

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Busy, Busy, Busy!!!!

Hi Everyone.

Sorry for going quiet recently. I’m crazy busy at the minute, getting ready for the Paralympic Opening Ceremonies. I can’t say any more, as we all want to keep the secret, but it’s going to be huge. I’m also writing a series of pieces for Time Out about the games, so watch out for those.

On top of that I have an article on the rehearsals in the next issue of Disability Now.

Anyway, the picture above is some of the great people I have met and am working with. So make sure you are glued to Channel 4 on August 29th.

I’m swatting up on Wheelchair Rugby, as I will be presenting the in-game coverage at the arena. So if you’ve got tickets to see this high octane sport, see you there. Can’t wait.

Normal service will be resumed once the games end.

Mik

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A great new recsource for us wheelies!

Just thought anyone who reads my blog who is disabled might be interested in a great new website that is an interactive way of finding out about the access in London. But better than that the site allows you to fill in information about the access provision of all the places you visit too. So not only can you be part of the building a city wide access map, but you can use the site as stick to beat those places that are really bad and save other disabled people the experience that comes from being excluded by crap access.

Check it out and join the wheelmap revolution!

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Travelogue 1 – Derby

At the start of 2012 I promised myself that I would try to see more of the great country I live in. It seems that February really kicked started this goal, with a series of trips all over the UK in my diary.

The first was a visit to Derby to write an article for Disability Now magazine on the photographer Rei Bennett’s Beauty from Damage project, which will be in the next issue of DN. I have been to Derby a few times in the past but as a singer with various bands, as it is a great place for live music. The only problem with seeing anywhere when you’re touring is that you don’t get to see it. You arrive, sound check, have something to eat, do the show and retire to a hotel for drinks and passing out. The next morning you’re back on the road with a place name ticked off your tour itinerary, but with no actual knowledge of what that place is like. So I wanted to experience what Derby had to offer, and with this in mind I booked a hotel room for my wife and I the night before the interview.

We stayed at the Cathedral Quarter Hotel in St. Mary’s Gate, which was a great choice. It’s a really nice high quality hotel, that came at a very reasonable price. From the minute we arrived outside it was obvious that the Cathedral Quarter was going to be accessible too. While it is an old building, the Old County Offices, it’s wheelchair accessible through out. Our room was nice too. Not massive, but superb for the price paid and very swish. The bathroom was very accessible too, with a walk in shower and handrails galore. The whole hotel was a superb combination of designer chic and historic features, including stained glass windows on the sweeping stair case in the lobby. The staff were really helpful and very friendly.

In fact everyone we met in the city were friendly and chatty. So much so that it made the whole visit even more enjoyable. It’s funny how your experience of a place can be so heavily influenced by it’s people, but it only becomes clear when you visit somewhere where everyone is so nice. But not only has Derby got great people, it’s also a really great place.

At this point I must mention the thing about Derby that really impressed both me and my wife… just how accessible for disabled people it is. In fact it is so accessible that I would say that Derby should be a shinning example to other towns and cities. In the past I have always given the example of Barcelona as proof that a anywhere can be made accessible, but Derby equally proves it and is here in the UK. Derby really is that good. It starts with the pavements, with large areas being pedestrianised. I know that many people find the idea of shared spaces frightening, but Derby demonstrates that these fears are unfounded. The changes from pavement to road area are marked with noticeably different coloured paving, and have a small dip to make sure people with visual impairments are safe, while ensuring a smooth surface for us wheelie types. Pretty much all the shops had ramped access, and everywhere had lifts and toilets. They had even made most of the cobbled areas accessible by smoothing off the surfaces of each cobblestone. Anyone who uses a wheelchair knows how truly evil cobbles are, but Derby has cracked the whole issue. Keeping the historic nature of the cobbled areas while making them usable for all people. If you are disabled, a trip to Derby is a must if only to witness how accessible it is.

When you are a wheelchair user like me, how accessible a place is can really effect how you experience what is on offer when you visit. I have lost count of the number of holidays and trips out have been ruined by crap access. With Derby being so accessible it became clear that our one night was not going to be enough. We arrived early, as I am a sticker for time keeping, and after we unpacked in our room, we went out for a walk around. I love shopping, and in Derby I could feed my addiction very nicely. We did pop into the Westfield shopping centre briefly, but much preferred the myriad of shops outside. Something that is noticeable about Derby is how many of the shops inside the centre are repeated outside. Thus saving shopping centre phobics, like my poor wife, from the horror of being stuck in the unnatural environment of Westfield and the like. On top of the usual high street fair, Derby has loads of little boutiques selling high quality items. From local designers to designer labels there’s something for everyone. I found some great jewellery shops too. Hmm, that’s good shopping.

While I love to shop, Diane loves to stop for a coffee and watch the world go by. Derby has many lovely coffee shops and restaurants, catering for all tastes. Top quality gourmet food, local produce and high street chains are all there. We tried out a couple of little coffee places, a cheese and bread place just next to the hotel and Pizza Express. All yummy with great food and really great staff.

Even if you don’t fancy shopping and eating (are you still alive?), you can easily enjoy just wandering around the city. Being an architecture buff, I found the many architectural styles of Derby fascinating. It has spans the most of industrial history, from Georgian and Victorian grandeur through 30’s and 60’s modernism to recent new developments. Definitely visit Waterstones. It’s a glorious old building with loads of original features, with an amazing 30’s building opposite, currently housing spa. In most of the centre of the city I got to combine my love of shopping with sight seeing lovely buildings, especially in the side streets off St Peter’s Street. Check out Pictures of Derby to see what a treasure chest of buildings the city is. I’d also advise a walk down by the river. Romantic and beautiful.

If you haven’t been, I would advise you give Derby a try. I fell in love with the city after one day and know I want to go back, soon. I know it has a thriving arts scene for one thing, and I want to taste some of the creative offerings Derby has to offer, as well as it’s other delights.

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Thoughts on a birthday 1

I intended to continue my thoughts on the recent riots by examining the claims that they were due to a moral decline among some areas of society. I wanted to ask why it is that only the people from the poorer segments of the public were being targeted as being morally bankrupt, when we have seen almost all of the great and the good within our society proving that they lost their moral compass way before the riots. Let’s face it, we have seen those who govern us defrauding us through expenses claims, those who give us our news and police us using illegal methods to pry into our private lives and those who runs our economy nearly destroying the fabric of our society through poor management (I’m being charitable there) while demanding huge bonus payouts. None of these actions could be described as moral, and as they pretty much all seemed to get away with it surely it creates an atmosphere that leads to some people seeing nothing wrong in taking what they want? Luckily many other people have said this already, so instead I can dwell on something else.

I have just celebrated by 46th birthday, and this year is also my 30th year as a wheelchair user. It reminded me of that I was part of the last huge rise in youth unemployment. I left school in 1981, and spent a year on the dole. I then went onto study “A” levels, but went straight back onto benefits as soon as I left. I could not go to university as there I could not find an accessible one that had the subject I wanted to study. So instead I joined all my friends on the dole queue.

Most people think of the 80’s of a time of greed and loads of money, but it was also a time of unemployment and poverty. Almost everyone I knew didn’t have a job, especially the men. For almost a decade we hung round together, knowing we had no chance of finding work. Not only because we had dyed hair (which back then was like being a leper, even thought it was very fashionable), but also because once you’ve been unemployed for a while you become also unemployable. Everyone views you as “not the right sort” and you slowly become so used to not getting an interview that giving up seems the only answer.

But it didn’t get us down. Almost every member of the unemployed gang I knew used the enforced period out of work as an opportunity to learn a skill and follow our dreams. They slowly became artists, musicians, actors, fashion designers and jewellers. Those of us who didn’t go into arty stuff ended up as computer whizzes and now make a bundle. The only difference that I can see between us back then and the growing number of unemployed youth of today is that we saw succeeding as an act of rebellion. We weren’t going to be kept down. We saw our fortnightly trips to the dole office and our exclusion from mainstream society as part of the deal to allow us to build a future of our own design. OK, we all lived in a small town and had grown up terrified of being forced into dead end jobs, following in our parents footsteps, so the chance to follow our bliss was too good to waste. In a way we were lucky. The economy and government policy at the time saw our unemployment as part of the way the world should be, and we just took advantage of the time we had to fill, and we filled in constructively.

There’s the rub. Filling it constructively. If I could say one thing to the unemployed young people of today it would be that. Fill your time constructively. Don’t give in to the boredom. All that time can let you become whatever you want to be. And remember, when you become really skilled at what you want to do, thanks to all the time you have on your hands, success will follow. That success is a bigger two fingers to the powers that be than any riot. Getting to rub shoulders with the people that run the country allows you to have a voice in what goes on and gives you a chance to shape the future. I know that I would never have thought as a teenager that I would be meeting with MPs and councillors and being treated as an equal. The fact I now have a chance to make a better future is due to the years I had being told I had no future at all. So come on, don’t let the bastards grind you down. Become the best you can be, and have fun trying. Worked for me.

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Another Busy Bank Holiday

After planning how to avoid that wedding, it seems that I got myself into a rut of doing things when I should have been enjoying the bank holiday. Instead of waving flags and going to a street party, I decided to rebuild my studio. The doors my wife and I decorated, in a very successful arty Jackson Pollack style, were ready to be hung and so we spent Thursday doing the ultimate nightmare… building an Ikea wardrobe. Now I’ve been through some awful things in my life, and met people who have been through much worse, but I am sure everyone will agree that the thought of putting together Ikea furniture fills them with terror. With only a little arguing we managed to get it finished and ready to fill with my collection of classic synths, bits of computer, set of electric drums, keyboard and mic stands, a classic video game called a Vectrex and loads of other bits of junk. So as the morning of Friday dawned, and TV became a no-go zone, I faced the task of moving my studio gear around, building some desks (from Argos by Hygena, very nice and much easier to build), setting up a collection of computers and their peripherals (so many blooming wall warts!) that I seem to collect like some crazy hoarder and preparing to dive into another horrific task… wiring up my recording studio. I have just finished today, Monday May 2nd at around 3.30pm. Only took all weekend.

While I am over joyed that I now only have to set up the software before I can start creating retro synthpop electroclash, and annoying my neighbours, the craziest thing about what I spent this weekend doing is that I had big plans for April 30th. That date is special to me, as it was the last day I walked back in 1981. I attended Gary Numan’s farewell concert at Wembley Arena but during what was going to be a key moment in my teenage life, an even more important moment occurred. Unknown to me, my spine started to collapse and just as my teenage hero stepped onto the stage I was wrecked with agonising pain. I fought through the first half of the superb show, but eventually I had to find somewhere to lay down. So I battled to the back to this massive venue and watched the rest of the show laying a wall. I was so far away from the stage, after being in the third row (I was even in front of Trevor Horn!), that my hero was a tiny little stick figure. Getting home to Luton was another battle, but I was helped by my date that night. (Thanks Karen) I awoke the next day and was still in pain and found it hard to stand. However it was also the morning of my first O level exam, German. So I called a cab and went to school. When I arrived I found I could not walk at all and collapsed in a heap in the door of the cab. I was rushed to hospital and my life as a wheelchair user began, after 15 years walking with the help of a leg brace on my right leg.(Believe it or not, my school sent a teacher to my hospital and I took my exam in a side ward – and passed!) It transpired that the treatment I had been given as a baby for cancer had an unknown side effect, and caused my spine to be deformed and was too weak to carry the weight of my growing teenage body.

aged 17 – A goth before it was called goth or what!

Strangely I did not find becoming a wheelchair user a bad thing. Instead I saw it as a wake up call. I had spent my childhood being a very good boy. Hard working, very studious and well behaved. I was taking a pile of exams, and had over 10 job offers. Yet I hadn’t done anything fun. I had always wanted to dye my hair, dress weird and go to clubs and pubs like most of school mates. Hey it was the post punk blank, and New Romantics were just starting out. As I recovered from major surgery and came to terms with a new life in a chair, the life that been planned for me no longer appealed to me. A good job with prospects, meeting a local girl, getting married and buying a house in the same street as my parents was were I had been going but now I wanted more. I wanted to grasp life by the horns and ride it for all it was worth. So I sat my parents down and told them that from now on I was going to enjoy myself. They supported me of course, as they are cool, and so I found myself living the kind of life I had only dreamed of as a walker. I purchased a couple of really basic synths and a drum machine, formed a band with my best mate at school and started playing gigs. I dyed my hair, had hair extensions put in and wore more make up than a nightclub full of girls. I began the life I now have. So I see that day, when I lost the ability to walk as a good day.

on stage at the Electric Ballroom, on tour with Gary Numan 1991

But in a way it is fitting that I spent the 30th anniversary of that day building my music studio. It was learning to play music that gave me a direction when I was getting used to my life as wheelchair user, and gave me the chance to end up touring Europe with my hero, Mr Numan, in the 90’s and gave me the foot into the media, as well as allowed me to meet my wonderful wife. Music was essential to making me who I am, and I really hope that young disabled people understand that there are more ways to find a direction than sport. I hated sport as a walker, and truly found myself going “Hooray, no more sport!” when I was told I would never walk again. Music, art and creativity is an equal method to happiness and success, if not a better one. While with sport it is either win or nothing, artistic creativity is an end in itself. I never got the chance to release an album or get on Top of the Pops, which were all dreams as I began playing music, but I had a great time trying. Yeah, I didn’t get the chance mainly due to discrimination on the part of the music industry (I’ll tell you more in another blog), but I really lived the rock and roll lifestyle throughout the last 30 years. Maybe a bit too much sometimes!

As I look back on the last 30 years I do so with happiness. I had a great time, and created a Mik Scarlet that I would have loved to be as the spotty teenager who went to that Gary Numan concert. In fact if I had known then what was ahead of me, I wouldn’t have told a soul that I was about to loose the ability to walk. No, walking is just a means of getting around, but the life I have had since that day has been a fantastic roller-coaster that I wouldn’t have missed for the world. So now you know why I wanted to celebrate. The fact I didn’t isn’t a bad thing, as I am getting a bit old for all that partying. Instead I am now ready for the next 30 years. Studio set up, hair dyed, make up ready and a wardrobe to die for. All I can say is watch this space… anything could happen!

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