Reality TV Stars

I’ve never been a massive fan of Pudsey and the whole Children in Need hoop-la. Once a year disabled children and young people get paraded on television to tug at the nations heartstrings. This is the pity parade that squeezes money out of people who otherwise never spare a thought for them from one month to the next.

I do realise that plenty of people only watch to see what song and dance number the EastEnders cast will do that year and little children get excited about baking spotty biscuits and going to school in their pyjamas without really have too much understanding of what it’s all about.

The causes supported by Children in Need are very good. They really are. But sadly the annual pity parade does so much to undermine what really is important about current disability issues, that Pudsey remains unpalatable for me and for many other disabled people, their families and their supporters.

But surprisingly soon after Children in Need our televisions have been taken over by disability again. But this time it is most definitely a parade of indignation and it’s not the viewer’s pity they’re after – but for them to be aware of the hot and righteous anger which we feel and which we want them to be aware of too. None of the people interviewed today want your pity. They don’t want your money either and they frankly don’t give a stuff if you want to wear spotty pyjamas to the office.

Today, 26 November the Bubb Report was published. I’m old enough to be able to remember a time when this would not even have been reported on our televisions, let alone several times over the day at peak viewing times. This was reality TV at it’s best, so making allowances for my non-skills at critique, here is my summary.

Cast of “The Only Way is Bubb” or “Made in an Assessment Unit near you” were:

 Sir Stephen Bubb looking exhausted and frankly very much in need of undoing the top button of his trousers. I’m willing to bet he’ll be getting outside of a nice big glass of red tonight! It’s hard work being disliked and even the interviewers gave the impression that they thought the report was a sounding gong and utter waste of money which could have been well spent elsewhere.

Gary Bourlet from People First England looked well in control of his interviews, but came across as sceptical of the whole business and while hoping for good, seemed fully prepared for a continuing fight.

Mr Norman Lamb gave the impression that he really cares. This is a good thing. It makes a change and therefore usually means that a) He’ll give up politics or b) He’ll turn out to be toothless, but we’ll respect him anyway.

Phil Wills (Joshua’s father) does good interview! No wonder he gets so many – he’s a television interviewers dream with a clear, calm manner plus there’s a sniff of good news to keep the whole thing bouncy as it seems Joshua is really, actually coming home. That interview calmness belied the titanic struggle uphill that have got his family this far.

Far less calm was Leo Andrade, interviewed in her cosy and spotless house, speaking about her son Steven begging her to take him home. He voice broke as she told her story and it was impossible to watch without feeling her anguish. Even the hospital where Steven is being held agrees he shouldn’t be there, but they don’t know where else to send him. Ah yes…..that old problem.

The reality of ATUs (Assessment and Treatment Units) was discussed from most points and at length. But all we really know from watching this day of Disability reality TV (“The Only Way is Bubb” or “Made in an Assessment Unit near you”) is that ATUs don’t work. We didn’t need an expensive and long winded (which may explain Sir Stephen’s discomfort and need to undo that top button) report to tell us that – we knew already.

But no-one mentioned the stars unable to appear in the show. Owing to their stay in an ATU near you, Connor Sparrowhawk and Stephanie Bincliffe were not available for comment.


Time’s loaded gun

In the last few months of my mother’s life she told me that memories of her childhood and her life as a young woman had become so clear and detailed to her that it was almost like travelling back in time. In contrast, her recent past was vague and foggy and when we talked she would often confuse me with her cousin – as if her brain instinctively felt a strong connection between us, but needed to place me in the newly vivid land of her past. At the time I struggled to fully understand this, but felt myself lucky to become an honorary member of her happy past.

However, increasingly over the last few months I have been returning in my mind to my past of many years ago. For the first time I find myself seeing the past as a continuous, living narrative. It has become more vivid to me than ever before.

I used to see my past life in snapshot form, as I jumped from decade to decade, each memory illustrated a different thought, feeling and recollection. But recently the past has become as real to me as the present and I’ve began to remember long forgotten names and faces. I’ve begun to see that each decision made, for good or bad, took me another step along the road that has been my life and that there is a linear quality to all of this which I had not been aware of before.

Some of this has doubtless been caused by our losing Nico. When you have a child, when that child is born and placed in your arms, without deliberately planning it you find yourself imagining the road ahead and you think you know all the milestones you will pass along the way. For some of us the birth of our children is the first time ever that we look to the future with expectant joy. Of course, the path of life with Nico deviated from the one we expected to walk, but it certainly had many joyous moments and whatever we may have expected, it was a path of fulfilment and in the end, it was our “normal”. The death of your child, disabled or not, fractures your family in countless ways which are still on-going and it is far too soon to know when those fractures may heal and who we will find we have become by the time they do.

I suspect the re-emergence of old memories is also due in part to the death of my father 3 months ago. I would have thought that losing the last of my parents should have closed a door firmly on the past – but instead it seems to have opened it fully for the first time. Memories that I couldn’t deal with before, recollections that were too painful now seem to have taken on a clear, almost matter of fact quality as if some part of my brain was saying “well, there’s nothing you can do about that now, so just accept it and get on”.

Thinking about these times for the first time in many years, I became curious to know what became of people I left behind. Not all were flotsam that I shook off as I moved on down the river of life. Some threw me off, some died and some simply disappeared. By the time you reach my age the list of people who were once an important part of my life and now you’ve completely lost touch with is long. You struggle to remember the names of romances, friends and even enemies. I decided to see if I could find them out what happened to some of these people from my past, or some trace of their continuing lives without me – or even another glimpse of the time we spent together.

It was not as easy as I thought it would be. Many of them had married and changed their name, meaning that in many cases I had to track them down by other means – remembering their professions, their hobbies or where they had lived. Once I got stuck in it was really quite amazing what I managed to turn up. I had the strange experience of looking into the faces of people 30 years older than when I last seen them. Most had become, shall we say, a little more inflated, some had white hair, some had no hair and all of them somehow still looked to much the same, while still managing to look so different. Many seemed to be doing exactly the same thing with their lives. Solicitors were still solicitors, people who worked in housing still worked in housing, carpenters were still carpenters and in some fascinating cases – some now had adult children who had followed them into exactly the same careers.

But as my search continued darker discoveries were also waiting for me. Now I know exactly how many stab wounds it took to murder my ex; I know how many of my old friends have killed themselves. I know how many slid into alcoholism and homelessness and how many joined religious cults and were never heard from again. I know now that a man I was once terrifically in love with was killed in a terrible boating accident, widely reported in the press at the time, but completely unknown to me until now. Worst of all, I found out that someone who was once very dear to me and who I supported through the loss of her gorgeous little boy, had now also lost her precious daughter, my own daughter’s childhood friend, at the age of only 27.   This lovely woman, exceptional and loving mother had lost her husband and now both her children.

So am I glad that I made this little excursion into my past? Well, on the whole no. It has opened doors that I had firmly closed and now opened, they cannot be closed again. What we think we remember about the past is not necessarily the truth and truth is a very slippery concept. I think now that this was a way of coping with my current circumstances. Perhaps it is easier to deal with the problems of the past than to deal with the trauma of the present.

Or perhaps the part of my life that I’m in now is just another bead on the string, another bullet in time’s gun. Another chapter in my book. But I won’t know for sure for a while. I won’t know for sure until this present becomes my past.

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Clearing the Air

My grandparents were married for more than 60 years. Only my grandfather’s death stopped them having 65 happy years together and many years ago I asked my grandmother the secret of her long and happy marriage. She told me “Never go to bed on a row”

Sorry, Grandma but I’ve blown that many, many times.

But my parents never argued or quarrelled – in fact I never, ever saw them have a row. My mother said it was a sign of poor breeding to disagree publicly with each other in front of people and my father didn’t allow anyone to disagree with him anyway. As a result of this I witnessed no arguments growing up and even vague discord grated and made everyone feel uncomfortable as it was so unfamiliar.

Somewhere along the way I went very, very wrong. By the time I reached 15 I could argue with a paper bag. I thought what was going on around me so very wrong and could not stop my mouth from telling everyone this. At school, at home – I just wanted to tell everyone where and when they were wrong and it was inevitable that shortly after this my father would ask me to leave home. Arguing wasn’t allowed and by then this had become my only method of communication with him.

A few years later the MN and I were firmly a couple, even though we were still in our early years together and in our early twenties. We thought that on the whole we were pretty average sort of couple, though looking back, I’m not sure who we were judging ourselves against to reach this conclusion.

We had a large circle of friends of a similar age who mostly had one young child, or no children and a lot of our social life revolved around having people round to our flat and us going to theirs. When we had a babysitter we’d go out to pubs, clubs, the cinema and mainly because of what the MN did for a living, an awful lot of gigs.

It was many years later, when we were in our early 40s, that a close friend from those days told us that the only reason we’d been constantly invited to everything was because the hosts knew that if the party started to get boring or conversation flagged in any way, we’d be sure to be the night’s entertainment.

We were known, apparently, as “The Rowing Reeds”.

We were totally unaware of this and the news came as something of a shock. I rang a mutual friend to ask her if this was true and she confirmed, quite happily, that we were seen as something of a free cabaret turn – in fact those were the very words she used and she added “of course some people didn’t like you because you could get very noisy, but most people looked forward to that part of the evening and it was one of the reasons they came!”

Back in those days we could row with a conviction that would be envied by many politicians. Neither of us would back down, I had the gift of the gab and a love of using colourful and amusing metaphors to get my point across. He knew exactly when and where to hurt me and with one sentence would wound me with scalpel like efficiency. When the going got tough I would throw whatever came to hand – food, clothes, ornaments – even the TV on one occasion. He would always announce that he was leaving and that I would never see him again and would someone please explain what had happened to our daughter (and later our son), whose lives I had just blighted.

This went on for many, many years. There were some especially memorable moments; most close family remember the “Colonel Gaddafi row” where my MN supported the allied bombing of his bases and I did not. Most of our good china went the same way of Gaddafi’s bases with that one………..

But gradually we found less and less to argue about and when we did argue we found that we had grown up enough to be able to say “I’m sorry” or “That’s was a stupid thing to say” and most importantly “I really didn’t mean that”.   We both began to be comfortable enough in our own skins and assured enough of our own self- worth to admit when we were wrong, apologise and go forward from there.

These days, and for quite a few years now, I can honestly say that we hardly ever argue and any full-on “rows” are so rare that we can barely count them. We agree about most things and when we don’t agree, we don’t always feel the need to say so. However, I have noticed that some people are slightly disconcerted by the frank and forthright way we talk to each other and on more than one occasion I’ve heard by daughter explain to others “That’s just the way they talk to each other – they’re very close”, which I often find perplexing. I know of few couples closer than we are, or ones who are more in love after more than 30 years. My passionate nature will always mean occasional shouting, but that doesn’t detract from the love I feel and even when the MN is in full flow (usually involves some pacing and gesticulating) I never doubt his love for me.

But perhaps what has really changed – the reason we don’t tear chunks off each other in public for other’s amusement any more, is because we have a steady and deep respect for each other. Sometimes he thinks I’m wrong. Sometimes I know he’s wrong, but we can live with that because we both know that ultimately we both want the same thing for the same reasons.

In the last few months especially, in the build up to Nico’s inquest, if we had not discovered strengths in ourselves and found a way to weather the storm without bailing each other out with the water, we quite literally would not have made it. When you are filled with such burning anger, sorrow and bewilderment it’s very, very easy to turn that on each other and I can completely see now why so many relationships founder under this pressure.   But we will be alright I know, no matter what happens because the close bonds of love that made us such a happy family when Nico was with us are still there and still strong.

Which doesn’t mean to say of course that the TV is still necessarily safe from my wrath. I’m fairly certain that before our time together is done we’ll have a few more good rows. We may even go to bed on one. But we are determined that whatever the next few weeks brings, one row we will never have to have is the one where we say we did not do everything that we could to achieve justice for our precious boy.

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