Notes on Nothing – An Autobiographical Snapshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Move over Tik & Tok - here's Mik

Move over Tik & Tok – here’s Mik

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

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

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

Mik and Diane (stage name Angel) giving it large

Mik and Diane (stage name Angel) giving it large

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

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BBC3CR Xmas show now Online!

BBC3CR Xmas 01

Just about to go on air

For everyone who missed my BBC3CR Xmas show, Mik Scarlet’s Festive Fun, here it is.

I would like to thank Ben and Sarah who worked with me in the studio to make everything go so smoothly. A big thank you goes out to my guest in the studio, future Paralympic star George Barnard, who was great to chat with and made it even more fun in the studio.

BBC3CR Xmas Mik&George 02

George, Ben and Mik in the studio

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Home Town Pride

Recently I went down to Parliment as part of the delgation that handed in my home town of Luton’s application to be made a city as part of the Queen’s jubliee. I felt it was time to give something back to a place that I have come to understand played a massive part in making me the person I am today.

Luton Town Centre – 1965 – the year I was born.

Like most people who grew up in a provincial town, I always felt that I was missing out on something while I lived in Luton. The draw of the big city always tugged at me, and as soon as I could I moved down to London. Even before I lived here I would spend a huge sum of money on petrol to cover driving down to the big smoke to go gigging, clubbing and shopping. And I will admit I had a really great time in London, but as I get older I also see what a great place Luton is and was.

The first thing that Luton gave to me was an expectation of being treated equally. Even though I have been disabled since birth, I never really found that I was actively discriminated against all the time I lived there. I attended a mainstream school throuhgout my education. It is only recently, after joining ALLFIE in their battle for inclusive education that I realise how rare it is for disabled children to be given the chance to go to a “normal” school. Especially back in the early 70’s! Yet in Luton I was given the chance to do so, not only in my early school career, but throught from the age of 5 to 18. It was only when I started looking to go to university that I found my way closed. Some schools needed no adapatations, some made the changes I needed easily. My high school, Putteridge High, undertook a program of building that left it with a fully accessible school building. So not only did I go there, but so did a few other disabled kids. Not many schools, can claim that they were fully inclusive in the late 70’s. Very few can claim that even today.

But not only were the buildings accessible, but so was the attitude towards disabled pupils. I was expected to do everything my able bodied class mates did. I was also given the same expectations. I saw my future as being just like everyone elses. My disability would not be a barrier to my dreams in any way. Yes I couldn’t go to uni, but that wasn’t anyone at my schools fault. It was just that they were ahead of the rest of the educational establishment in how they facilitated disabled students. I didn’t mind though. Another thing that Luton gave me was an expectation that talent would be enough to get you on.

It was a very working class place, with the majority of Lutonians working in the major industries of Luton, like Vauxhall and the airport, and the place had an attitude that talent would be enough. Most of the people I knew and grew up with had parent’s that had ben promoted through the ranks of where they worked until they had very good jobs and good standards of living. All on talent and skill. So I went out into the world with the belief that if I was good at something I would get on in that field. Hence why I pushed to get into the media and music industries. I was good so why shouldn’t I? It is also this belief that has enabled me to change direction and career without any real fear.

Once I left school, in my wheelchair, I did find some barriers. But no where near as many as I might have found in other places. Most of Luton is accessible. The shopping centre was superb, many of the pubs and clubs too. And anywhere that was a bit difficult saw no problem in be as helpful as possible. They also made changes and became accessible. I remember the local cimema going to great lengths to become wheelchair accessible after I tried to see a film but was turned away. I contacted the managment and they were fantastic. We worked together and made all the ground floor screens accessible. It was this experience that got me active on issues of access. I really thought that if everyone was this cool, then it wouldn’t be long before accessibility was the norm.

Now I am getting older, and am working in the field of inclusion and inclusive design it still shocks me when I have to attend a meeting with designers and architects who seem to think that accessibility is something of an after thought. I even meet a few who see my desire to have the chance to experience their building just like evryone else as some kind of insult to their design. I would never have thought that 30 years after I left school I would be having arguements over why wheelchair users should have the right to access a building throught the front door. No Luton didn’t prepare me for that.

So I feel I must say Thank You to Luton. Sure you have your problems, but then where doesn’t? All I know is that you gave me the skills, confidence and self belief to be the person I am, and to go out into the world with the desire to make it a better place and give young people all over the UK the chance to experience what it is like to grow up with the chance to be considered an equal, whatever your difference or disability might be. Good luck with your city bid and a “big up” to everyone I know and knew in Luton.

To play a part in Luton’s city bid visit Love Luton

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Mother’s Day Thanks

I just wanted to go on record as saying thank you to my fantastic Mother, Joyce. She has always been a wonderful mum, loving, caring and supportive. She has always been there for my brother Steve and me, and I am sure that growing up with the knowledge that we are loved unconditionally helped us become the people we are today. This is a photo of all three of us on holiday in Somerset, back in 1980. This is actually the last photograph of me (I’m the one in the middle) walking. The following year, my spine collapsed and I ended up using a wheelchair.

It’s funny, but as you get older you gain an understanding of your parents that was beyond you when you were young. Recently I suddenly grasped how much strain it must have been for my Mother, having me as a son. Not only did she have to cope with her first child being born with cancer, but she was also told that she should not expect him to live beyond the gage of five. I obviously blew that prognosis out of the water, but it did mean that she brought up a child that might die at any point. Not only that but I did seem to keep being quite ill at key stages. Being clear of cancer for 15 years means you are totally cured, so when I was rushed off to hospital a few months after my 15th birthday it must have seemed like a cruel cosmic joke. Luckily it wasn’t cancer, but it did mark a huge change in who I was and how I lived. Time and time again, life does seem to have thrown a spanner into the works whenever it seemed that my Mum could stop worrying about me.

So, even though my Mum won’t see this (She is totally technophobic and has no computer) I felt I should tell the world that I am eternally thankful to my Mum. Through out my life I have had many people tell me that “It’s all right for you” when talking about that apparent way I cope with my disability. I am always mystified by this, and even get quite cross as I do not see that I have some secret trick that makes a disabled person who actually loves what disability brings to my life. However maybe I do. Maybe being raised by someone who made me feel special for being me gave me the ability to feel good about myself all the time? That’s my secret, the strength and confidence that my Mum gave me.

Thank you Mum.

Here’s a poem I wrote for her. It’s called “For Mum”, and the photo is of her holding me while I was in hospital as a baby.

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Thoughts on Home

I have just come back from visiting my parents, in my home town of Luton. As usual, I drove around seeing the sights before dropping in the folks. I even dragged my poor wife into the Mall Shopping Centre, that was called The Arndale back when I lived there. It’s a weird thing to come from Luton. It’s town that you hear about a lot on the news, but never in a good way. It’s the home of the English Defence League, radical Islamists and has bred a couple of terrorists. On news coverage alone you’d think it was a hell hole place to live. And it really does have it’s problems, but it still holds a place in my heart.

Sadly Luton seems to have been developed with division in mind. For as long as I can remember there was an area of Luton where the Asian community lived, Bury Park. This was just the way it was. When the by-pass around Central Luton was built it cut this area of Luton away from the main town, and really emphasised the division. This led to further separation of the disparate groups that made up the population of Luton, and that made people view each other as even more different. They fell back on the security of their culture and that fed a stronger feeling of division and difference. I remember what it was like to grow up in this kind of atmosphere. At my school there was two Black kids, Corey and his brother, and three Asians, my best mate Alex and his two beautiful sisters. Oh and one crippled kid… me. Not exactly representative of the Luton population but maybe of the area I grew up. At school we could see no difference, but whenever we were around adults we were reminded of the “them and us” attitude. Luckily back then rebellion was hard wired into us, so the more grown ups disliked us all mixing together, the more we did it. You have no idea the hullabaloo when two of my mates came out as being gay! The tragedy was that as we grew up this mixing of colours and cultures seemed to fall away somewhat. I can’t really complain, as I moved away from the town that bred me.

But however much Luton wasn’t a shining example of community cohesion, everyone kept on going. This was thanks to the fact that jobs were easy to find. All thanks to the massive Vauxhall car factory, and all the subsidiary work that brought. That was until it totally shut down. This led to unemployment on a scale that had never been seen before. Within a few months Luton started to fall apart. The massive unemployment led to a major problem with drugs and crime, and of course the divisions between communities grew. A radical Islamic movement grew and started campaigning on the streets of the town centre, which did not please many Lutonians. Hence the rise of the EDL. Now anyone who reads my blogs will know my politics, so I hope I don’t need to say how I feel about the right wing EDL, but it is the obvious outcome of building a town with division built into it’s fabric. All of the communities of Luton feel under threat, and have fallen foul of the old divide and conquer routine.

Sadly the simmering feelings of people in Luton were ignored while things were good, and so it all went wrong when bad times hit. Allowing the car plant to close ruined Luton, and all the people of my home town should have got together and fought for a better deal. They should also have received better from local Let’s face it, the parent company of Vauxhall Motors didn’t shut the German plants down, mainly due to their government acting, German union having some power and labour laws being strongly in favour of the worker. This is what happens when we all allow UK manufacturing to be moved abroad, all in the name of profit.

Whatever problems Luton may have, I still feel at home there, and have fond memories of growing up there. I only left to further my career, although I’m not sure that worked out. I know that most people there want to live together in peace and dream of a time when this town, filled with history, tradition and pride will rise again. Of course before that happens it will have to ride the storm of council job losses and budget cuts. I know that if the people of Luton work together they will get there, and if anyone can think of a way this Luton boy can help please just shout!

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