Friday, 25 August 2017


Well damn, I only just realised that I've not blogged since 2016. Sorry, I've lost all sense of time. This year has simultaneously dragged and flown, and now it's somehow September next week.

And whilst I am not in the blogging mood, it seemed odd to just have a post about a 1990s Paul Lamond game as my final utterance, so here's a blog about the cursed year that has been 20bloody17 that will explain where I disappeared off to

It started well. There was an art trail on in London around the time of my birthday. Nothing usually happens in January so I took some time off work and yomped around London. It wasn't a tour of your usual galleries. These ones were all tucked away in nooks, crannies, behind locked gates and hidden doors. All of them needed to buzz you in. And because the art trail was so poorly advertised and the galleries so niche, I had everything to myself. I love nothing more than heading off on my own into the big city and getting lost, so this was an ace - and freebie - birthday treat to myself. Good start I thought...

Then the arse fell out of the year a bit.

February through April I had three consecutive bouts of the same flu. Alarming fun fact for you. You are not immune from your own germs and illnesses. You can just keep on reinfecting yourself. Ad infinitum. Which is, according to the doctor, exactly what I was doing. I have never been laid up for so long. And there was a moment in April when I genuinely wondered if I would ever get well again.

In March, a close family friend got diagnosed with terminal cancer. We were lucky in that she had enough time to say her goodbyes and sort out all of her wishes. Including being buried with a fully charged mobile phone, a torch, and the book she hadn't finished reading. She wrote her own eulogy and created a four tab post mortem spreadsheet of tasks for the family to make sure everything got done. She was given weeks. She managed six months. She sorted everything. Champ.

Backing up a bit. In the middle of my perma flu, my simpleton neighbour (Mrs Sorry, Not Sorry) brought in some cowboy builders to fit new gutters. As we are a terraced block with continuous guttering I was concerned. As I drove away for the weekend I looked at them, walking across my flat roof with no planks down, and said to James "I will be very surprised if they don't cause some damage" My hunch was right. I got home to find all of their detritus left scattered over my front and back garden, and the next time it rained, sure enough, there was water pouring down the front and back of our house. They had fitted different sized and shaped piping and not connected it fully. I asked her to call them back to fix it (not that they would be any great shakes but I was strapped for cash and this was not my mess) however, even though she is allegedly a fully grown woman, she didn't even know what the company were called, and seemed to think saying her brother in law had booked them would suffice to get us off her case. As she never got around to phoning him, as promised, and left us hanging for ages during a very rainy few weeks we had to give in. All of the damage was being done to our property, it didn't affect madam at all, so we had no choice but to get someone out ourselves and pay for replacements. So that was a couple of hundred quid I didn't need to spend out and some stress I didn't have any physical or mental tolerance for.

Then the garage roof started sagging, after years of the neighbourhood kids running along it - even after they and their parents were asked not to, by residents and by the local police, yep, people round here suck so hard* - so that was another couple of hundred.

*They have stopped now though, after one of them slipped whilst climbing the tree to get to the garage and got their leg stuck in some branches. This was after the police warning. I was washing up and saw it happen. I made the call not to go out and help the stuck kid. One of their friends had already run off to fetch the parents. And the stuck one wasn't going anywhere. I figured it would feel like a lifetime for the stuck kid and a lifetime for the parent rushing over to see what had happened as a result of their refusal to listen to anyone. It worked. They both learned the hard way. I did me some indirect parenting/parent classes that day.

Then my car got badly scratched. £500.

My garage door flew off its tracks landing on top of my newly fixed car, turning inside out in the process and trapping my car in the garage for the whole bank holiday weekend. Mo money, mo money

My glass back door got hit by a stone and shattered. And yet mo money

And Brexit was making my job ten times harder all the while.

I also have ongoing health problems which make everyday life quite the mini ordeal.

So yeah, under the weight of all this, I started to think I had touched a cursed object, disturbed a tomb, displeased a deity.

Then when I finally got rid of the forever flu, had said my goodbyes to our family friend, and all of those pesky housey things were fixed, I was finally somewhat content, and felt like I could pick up where I left off way back in January (despite being now fully skint and on egg and chips for the duration)

But it was not to be.

Yes, the end of April was meant to be the return to the good start I had made in January. But it was about to be the worst part of the year yet.

On 3 May I came home to this:

That hole in the ground used to be my flowerbed. That gap used to be my fence.

I was a bit taken aback, particularly because neighbour lady (oh yes, the very same one who broke my gutters only months earlier) had knocked at the end of April and gabbled something along the lines of "we're starting building next week, we'll be taking up your fence but we will put it back, or you can just have the wall we are building if you prefer, it'll be really quick" and then she scuttled off

Not quite what was billed. Lied about the fence (it was binned) lied by omission about the garden (I think the excavation of it and removal of my plants warranted a mention), and as for it being quick...

...Well its still dragging on. Here's what I sent to the council last night:

"[redacted twats] have been extending their home since May.

During the course of this build we have put up with a lot. But I am finally complaining.

For context, here is what we have put up with before contacting you:

On day one they removed the fence and dug up half of our garden without permission, they said the fence would go back, they lied and disposed of it This left us with a missing fence and flowerbed. It also left us without privacy, security or a boundary for two months

We were getting concrete muck splashed up on our remaining plants and windows as they used our patio as an adjunct of their building site

When they eventually rebuilt the flowerbed I learned they had thrown away some of my plants after lying about having them in safekeeping

There has been loud music from the builders and decorators

Rubbish blowing out of the overfull skip onto my garden

Vans all over the street, in front of garages and up on pavements

A portaloo outside our house which we have had to ask them to move away from us several times because the smell of poo was wafting into our kitchen

A skip dumped on our front lawn which I had to call the company to move

Two solid weeks of jack hammering into the party wall making the house un-liveable and causing things to fall off shelves and smash

But lately, and here comes my complaint, well, you know that guideline where you are meant to end building at 6pm?

They have taken to *starting* at that time

Tonight I am having my dinner and attempting to watch TV to the sound of a drill and a hammer. This is not on

I have been working all day, I deserve some peace and down time

The people who own this property are not currently living in it, hence the lack of regard

Most people have to stay in their home whilst it is extended as they don't have a spare, and they therefore make the build liveable (smaller scale, shorter hours) This lot have another, so they have gone off to live the quiet life

Because the only people who will be disrupted are us, they don't care and send their people round into the night. The other night someone was drilling until 9pm

I have had a horrible stressful year because of them. This has been the backdrop to a close family friend dying of a brain tumour. The noise has me on edge as I can't be sure at any time day or night that I will ever get peace

They have no regard for us, so if there is anything you can do, please

The person in charge is the person who put in the planning permission application, [redacted twat] of [redacted twat company]. A property developer. Surprise surprise. Hence so mercenary.

If we say anything when they do turn up, we get a load of smoke blown and platitudes but nothing changes. Thanks"

I got instant replies from my councilors who say warning letters are being sent. They won't have any impact but you can't put a price on catharsis.

So I hope all of this explains my absence.

Although having said that, I am not great at blogging anymore even without a string of calamities to keep me away. I am so used to tweeting that sitting down to write a full blog feels like composing a masterpiece novel. I might call this my last one, and round off nicely with me riding off into the sunset.

Because there will be a happy ending to this balls up of a year

We have sold up and are moving to the seaside. Turns out a poky mid terrace in the London environs can buy you a detached house in the back of beyond.

No more shared walls, no more worrying about your house not being the same as when you left it, a hundred miles between me and Mrs Inconsiderate Disingenuous Apologies and a much needed job change

I will still be tweeting and instagramming away if you want to know what I'm up to

Au revoir!

Monday, 5 December 2016

His & Hers

During one of my many charity shop treasure trawls recently, I found a most coveted item. A game by Paul Lamond. Purveyor of such awfulness as Jason Donovan, Straight from the Heart, which I have played so you don't have to, and Lenny Henry's Stand-Up Comic Game, which I possess but have yet to play. (Stay tuned, I will get the strength up eventually)

The game is His & Hers: The Battle of the Sexes

I could probably leave it at a picture of the box tbh

The aim is to find out which sex is bestest. This is achieved by asking a series of questions to players according to their gender. Pink side of the question card for the ladies, blue side for the men. Obvs. Your response is awarded a certain amount of points. Once totted up these points can scientifically tell us which gender wins life.

Let's see how we do:

Ladies first. And we have a dinner party quandary for you. Think hard, it's a tough one

Now a sexuality question for the men (the right answer is signposted quite heavily lads)

And now a poser for the gals that, if asked in court, would elicit the cry "leading the witness your honour!"

Who do you think is winning so far? Feels like nobody

Next up. A question on the arts

Now that we have put ballet dancers to rights, let's tackle ethics. Careful how you go now

It's all fun and games until someone admits to historic sexual offences!

Some final questions on the workplace and we can tot up the scores:

What decade was this? I hear you cry. Well, the questions sound like they're from the 70s, the box looks like it's from the 80s, but alas, this was 1991. Yes, it's easy to forget in these 'every other letter to The Metro bemoans the cruel hegemony of the PC Brigade' times that we haven't been PC for long, and being PC (or respectful - technical term) is actually not that bad.

And now for a bonus historical yet newly topical question, for these Brexit days. A question about our entry into the EU, or Brentry if you will:

UK = Mostly C

So now that our brief foray into the broader horizons of Europe is over, we can go back to being the narrow minded dicks we were in 1991. And indeed already have in some quarters.

I can't leave the game on that note, it would be no fun. So one final bonus question for you. And it's one you can now answer retrospectively. Unfortunately no points can be awarded, cos you cheated by travelling forward in time 25 years:

And that's GAME OVER. Next time, Lenny Henry. Unless you pay the ransom.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Mencap Family Blog

Back in 2009, disability charity Mencap asked me to write a blog for the family section of their website.

It was published in several parts and covered my brother being born, right up to his leaving home. It detailed our difficulty accessing basic things like schooling, post 16 educational placements, getting a social worker, accessing benefits and ultimately securing him a future.

I went to the site today to get the link. I wanted to post it online as today is my brother's birthday. Sadly, it wasn't there.

When the new site was launched, not all content was migrated across.

It's a shame as I think my blog would be a useful and relatable read for any family with a learning disabled child. And also more broadly, for people with no experience of disability, to understand the stigmas faced and the challenges put in your way.

So I am re-posting it here:



I was two years old when my parents introduced me to my new baby brother, Nick. I can't exactly recall my feelings and reaction - I was too young - but from looking at pictures taken around that time and from speaking to my parents, I think I generally liked and accepted the idea of having a younger sibling. Although I did experience the usual jealously that older children feel towards what they consider as direct competition for their parent's attention. And was, I'm ashamed to say, caught poking, pinching and teasing him a few times in his first year!

I'm told Nick was a very docile child - no crying, no temper tantrums. Every parent's dream really. But after a while this lack of activity became indicative of a problem with his development and started to become a worry for my mum and dad. Nick wasn't attempting to talk, crawl or walk. He was floppy, and had no reflexes, and my parents had no idea why.

I don't remember being worried. Not only was I too young to appreciate what was going on, but, jealousy aside, I was generally reveling in having a new and very compliant play mate. I would put Nick in my doll's buggy and push him around the garden, I'd prop him up with cushions and play games with him; overall I liked having a little brother to play with and boss around.

Around this time my parents took Nick to see a doctor and he was diagnosed as being brain damaged, most probably due to oxygen deprivation at birth. This made sense to them. The birth had been difficult, ending up with my mother being sedated and my father being forced out of the room as chaos erupted. But despite all of the obvious panic, Nick had been handed over to my father afterwards without comment. Nobody mentioned the fact that he had almost definitely been brain damaged by what had just occurred, and my parents took him home blissfully unaware of any problems.

We'll never know exactly what happened, by the time we found out about Nick's condition, the hospital had closed down and any medical notes relating to Nick had been destroyed. But regardless of how and why it happened there was nothing anyone could do about it. All my parents could do now was to work out what to do next - no mean feat given the complete lack of support and guidance on offer.

The first time they came up against this was when the doctors who had diagnosed Nick as brain damaged informed them that he would never walk or talk - case closed. My parents suspected that this was not true, and that he was being written off as not worth the effort of physiotherapy and treatment - they were right, but more of that later. It was clear that it would be down to us, as a family, to develop Nick to his full potential.

I often wonder what would have happened to my brother if he'd have had different parents. I doubt he would be anywhere near as able as he is nowadays. Many parents would have listened to the doctors who were describing him as a lost cause, and treated him accordingly. Thankfully mine were determined that, even if the best of his ability was minimal, he would attain it. And in the end Nick did more than this - he excelled.

Case in point; when we were trying to place him in his current living arrangement, he was considered at first glance to be too able to qualify. It was only when he was fully assessed that it became clear that he was in fact profoundly disabled.

The reason for this confusion was down to Nick's demeanour. He had been brought up in a household where he was encouraged to behave appropriately, to speak properly, and to use a full vocabulary. All of which served to conceal many of his limitations. It took many years to get him to this point though.

When we were told he wouldn't walk my mum started working his limbs and tapping his reflexes until he slowly began to crawl. When we were told he wouldn't talk, my mum used a method found in speech therapy where something sweet like yoghurt or sugar is placed around the mouth to get the person to exercise their tongue. This worked tremendously well, and Nick's tongue went from lolling about at the side of his mouth to being much more controlled. Then by constantly speaking to him, reading to him, and playing with him, we got him to talk.

Eventually he could walk, run, play sports and chatter endlessly - something that my family are collectively very proud of.

It was around this point in his development that my jealousy of Nick dissipated somewhat. I think this was because my parents cleverly turned a situation where I could have felt left out, into a situation where I was fully involved as they enlisted me to help them look after and develop him. I remember fetching nappies and baby wipes for Nick, and being given the unusual job of throwing soft toys at him to get him to blink and react. It sounds bad when you say it, but it really helped to make him more aware of his surroundings and fine tune his reactions.

All of this caused me to feel very responsible for Nick, and I have remained fiercely protective of him to this day.


My parents didn't have any more children after Nick, so growing up with a disabled sibling is all I've known. I used to wonder what it would be like to have a ‘regular' brother or sister, but after a few visits to friend's houses, seeing how fraught their sibling relationships were, I soon dismissed any fears that I was somehow missing out!

More than that, I actually started to feel lucky to have Nick as my brother.He's so far removed from the stresses, strains and pettiness of everyday life that spending time with him is actually something of an escape from it all. He has no issues, no malice.

The only time anything approaching sibling rivalry occurred between us was when my parents were making a fuss about me getting my degree. Nick went to his room, got out all of his school certificates - he used to get certificates for everything from putting his coat on to being good - and laid them out on the side. He then pointed out that I only had one certificate whereas he had loads.

Not that our relationship has been without its challenges. When I was a child I did sometimes find it hard. Nick's disability meant that he had a childlike tendency to do whatever came to mind. He was not fully able to weigh the consequences of his actions, or judge the rights and wrongs of situations, and so ended up doing things like scratching all of my dad's rare vinyl records, getting up in the night and eating all of my Easter eggs, opening my Christmas presents, or ransacking my room. I reacted to these incidents as a normal child would; chasing him around angrily then running to mum to complain about my annoying little brother. But I eventually learned to be patient with him.

I recently remarked to my mother that I wish I had always been as patient with him as I am now, and feel guilty for ever telling him off or arguing with him. But she said that she was glad I treated him like a ‘normal' sibling, because it had ultimately developed us both for the better. I became more tolerant and compassionate, and he learned about behaviour and boundaries - boundaries that he would have to observe when he was exposed to the everyday world, where exceptions might not always be made for him. And this soon started becoming an issue.

Nick's childlike behaviour was accepted when he was an actual child. But as his mental age leveled out, and his outward appearance changed to that of a teenager and then an adult, pretty soon, we were getting disgusted stares rather than adoring looks. Previously if he had spoken to someone at random they thought nothing of it - that's what children do. But when he did it in later years people looked downright scared.

As a teenager I remember being torn between feeling mortified at my brother embarrassing me in public, and feeling protective of him in the face of all the comments and stares. The latter instinct always won out of course, but I recall that it was very trying in my teenage years, desperately wanting to look cool, whilst running after my brother in the supermarket to try and retrieve other people's trolleys he had wandered off with, or stop him talking loudly to random strangers.

The only thing that I sometimes feel sad about is that I can't have a ‘proper' relationship with my brother. Don't get me wrong, I have a very special relationship with my brother, but it has its limits. Nick, although fairly expressive given his limitations, sticks mainly to repeated phrases and mantras. You can't have a conventional conversation with him, or truly get to know him, so it's hard to connect.

If you watch the film ‘Rain Man' you'll get the idea. The first time I saw that film it was a revelation. It was like watching a microcosm of my relationship with my brother. It charts the story of a man who, upon his father's death, discovers he has a disabled brother; and then finds that all of the inheritance has been left to him. He takes his brother out of his home and refuses to return him until he gets half of the money. As they drive across the country together he goes through the various stages of forming a relationship that I did; not understanding his brother's quirks and needs, getting frustrated, coming to realisations about how to deal with him and talk to him, and ultimately forming some kind of bond. This bond is largely one-sided as it cannot be fully reciprocated.

Having said that, you do get the occasional glimpse of the person behind the disability and feel you have connected. There are one of these moments at the end of the film and my mum and I always cry at that point. I have them occasionally too - Nick will turn to me and say something outside of his routine, something cogent and relevant. I feel very lucky when that happens.


I've already touched on negative reactions to my brother, but wanted to go into this further.

Having grown up with Nick it's obviously very hard for me to understand why he would elicit a bad reaction from anyone. He's loveable and sweet; harmless at worst!

Yet in the past we've had neighbours who have hated him. Who have openly said they didn't want a disabled person living next door to them. These same neighbours also objected to his school bus stopping in our street (on the grounds that it contained a group of disabled children) and called the police on him when he accidentally kicked a football too high and it went over their fence.

I was sometimes teased at school about my brother, although I was unaffected by this. I never got upset in the way the bullies intended, just angry at their complete ignorance.

Even in my adult life I come across people who think it's funny to make fun of disabled people and use the words ‘mong' and ‘spastic'. Something I am completely incredulous about and have worked hard to stamp out wherever I find it. The reason I mention all of this is because I wanted to illustrate a point.

Above is a picture of my brother on his first day of nursery school. I may be biased but I think he looks adorable! On the same day as this photo was taken, my mum was standing in the queue at the nursery school as the other parents stood around were discussing how they didn't want disabled children joining the nursery school and didn't want their kids being forced to mix with them.

Now look again at that photo.

I think it shows a great contrast between people's attitudes to the idea of disability and the reality of disabled people.

It also gives you an idea about what it's like to have a disabled family member. You can see that they're adorable, but other people seem to shun or actively dislike them. It's hurtful and confusing.

Incidentally, the kids at the nursery that were permitted to mix with my brother absolutely loved him and would constantly knock on our front door asking to play football with Nick. They also grew up having no issues with disabled people. Perhaps if all kids mixed with disabled people from an early age attitudes would improve.


Nick started off his education in a ‘normal' school. This school had a special opportunities unit, but at break time and in some classes he would mix with all the non-disabled children.

However it was at this point in the 1980's that schools started to become targets driven, and we were told Nick had to leave as he was dragging these targets down. The other issue that influenced this decision was money - something that would come to dictate Nick's life and the opportunities available to him at every turn. It was costing too much to give him the attention he required; he needed to be moved to a special school.

The school that he was offered (on the grounds that it was local and therefore within budget - money again) was wholly unsuitable for him. My parents went to view it and found it to be more like an institution than a school. It was silent, except for the occasional sound of locks and bolts as secure doors were opened and shut. There were no pictures on the walls, no evidence of school life.

My parents were taken into what would have been Nick's class; a dark room containing half a dozen children all in wheelchairs. In most cases they were strapped in with helmets on to stop them banging their heads. They were completely unaware of their surroundings and didn't look up once. At this point my mum started to cry and my dad said there was no way his son was going to this school. And so began a lengthy struggle.

The local authority was insistent - this was the school Nick would attend. But my parents had researched a much more suitable alternative and put it to them that he should go there. There followed a number of meetings with the local authority, social workers and teachers. Each time my parents went to one of these meetings there were more people on the panel. In the end there were a dozen people sitting in a horseshoe formation surrounding my parents. They were clearly trying to wear them down.

They were told it would be too expensive for him to go to a school any further away - money, yet again! Plus transport would have to be arranged, and that would cost more money. (We later found out that the school bus Nick would catch to the school my parents wanted already went past our road to collect children who lived right near us)

At one point they were accused of being "in denial about having a disabled son", a statement which demonstrated the total lack of understanding at work. My parents, like any parent, simply wanted the best possible education and school experience for their son, whose disability they were fully aware of. The school my parents had suggested for him was a special school, not a mainstream one. And it was a special school with a lively atmosphere and children who would be suitable peers for Nick.

During the final meeting they were told that their case would be taken to the Secretary of State if they did not comply. At which point many parents would have become intimidated and stopped pursuing matters. Thankfully my dad is a very resourceful and clever man, and he had done his research - "You don't take me to the Secretary of State - I take you to the Secretary of State" he said.

The meeting was halted and my parents were sent outside whilst the panel regrouped. They probably hadn't banked on anyone actually reading the complicated legal small print.

The headteacher of the mainstream school Nick was currently attending stepped outside and said "Leave this with me".

Later that day they got the call. Nick could go to the school my parents had chosen for him. Could he start on Monday?


Nick really enjoyed his school life. He had lots of friends, very good teachers and was given an excellent education. The lessons, although designed for special needs children, had to take a nod from the National Curriculum and as a result he did music, history, cookery and even ended up having French classes.

Whenever I take him out for a drive - his favourite thing to do - he'll still give me directions in French: "Tournez a droit, tournez a gauche, allez tout droit" He finds it hilarious for some reason!

Anyway, by the time he reached 16 my parents were starting to think about bridging the gap between school and his permanent future, with a further education placement. They asked his school what was available and were given information on special needs colleges. However when they contacted these colleges they were informed that the entry process should have been started 2 years ahead of time, and not 1. There were now 3 places left in the whole country - which could go at any time - and they could only be taken up after a lengthy assessment process.

My parents felt let down - again.

As I said in my first blog, the families of disabled children receive little or no formal guidance. They have to find everything out for themselves. And in this case, find out the hard way.

My parents didn't learn about attendance allowance until my brother was 7. They were at the birthday party of a friend of my brother when they heard someone mention it. My dad assumed our family weren't eligible because nobody had told him about it - my parents weren't contacted by social workers at all until Nick was well into secondary school.

It turned out Nick was eligible, and my parents had missed out on seven years of payments which couldn't be back dated. But I digress.

With only 3 places left mum and dad had to move fast. The first step was to formally reject the local college that was being suggested on the grounds of, you guessed it, cost.

This college was wholly unsuitable. It was not a special needs college. It was a ‘normal' sixth form college where special needs children took a few classes. Thankfully the case was easy to argue this time. Nick's teacher came to collect him from this college one day and found him using a saw, totally unsupervised. Case closed.

With the unsuitable placement rejected my parents sent him to a special needs college for an assessment - which he failed.

At the meeting where my parents were informed of this, my brother was heard to say "I'm stupid". This was quite telling - Nick has very high self esteem thanks to our constant positive reinforcement, someone had knocked it - and it all unraveled when my parents were shown the hectic timetable that had been drawn up for him - which totally went against the instructions they had left on how to get the best out of Nick. The experience had obviously overloaded him, and if Nick experiences sensory overload he can't function.

When the man assessing Nick informed my parents that he "wouldn't stay on task" they realised to their dismay that he had not been assessed properly and was being wrongfully rejected for it.

Half way through this meeting a man knocked on the door and asked if he could sit in. This man was another teacher/carer at the college and turned out to be our family's guardian angel. He had seen Nick during his assessment and must have realised that his potential was not being properly tapped. He pushed for another review, taking into account Nick' complex needs; Nick passed. Thanks to that man Nick had a wonderful three years, living away from home in preparation for his adult life.


Even when Nick was a very small child, my parents were thinking about his long term future. From what would happen when school ended, right up to what would happen when they died?

When it came to me they didn't have to worry (too much!) I would leave home, get a job and make my own way. But this wasn't an option for Nick, and they had visions of him having to stay at home for the rest of his life.

It's not that they didn't want him to stay with them. Every time they dropped him off at college my mum would cry all the way home! But they thought, quite correctly, that it wouldn't be fair on him to remain at home forever. They also thought that it wouldn't be fair on me to become his full time carer later in life. I had mentally prepared myself for this possibility and would have happily done it, but again, this wouldn't be best for Nick.

He needs constant stimulation, a timetable of activities, lots of people around and friends to mix with; something that you just can't provide as an individual within the home.

My parents recently recalled going to collect Nick on his last day of school. He was all set to go off to college and then hopefully to a permanent placement, whilst on the other hand one of his friends was just going home. End of story. And this is so often the case.

It seems that profoundly disabled people have three options. They can either stay at home, or be assessed for a supported living initiative. Be it a care home, living alone with access to day services and social workers, or a more unique arrangement.

Mum and dad had, as ever, done their research and found a middle ground. A type of residential placement, that wasn't a care home, where Nick could live independently with carers at hand. There were only a few such places, but the one they liked best, and that Nick reacted most positively to, was called the Canterbury Oast Trust.

It was founded by the families of disabled people to provide the kind of life they wanted for their children; living and working independently but within a framework of care. It's idyllic.

The Trust consists of a working farm, a shop, a tea room and acres of woodlands, along with a number of lovely residential houses. The residents live and work on and off site and also attend a variety of activities and classes. They go on holidays and day trips too. In short, they have a life.

My dad told me about the moment he realised it was the right place for Nick. We were down there having a look round when a tractor went past. Sitting on the back were a group of residents who worked on the farm - they were heading out to the fields together and were chatting and laughing.

The fact that Nick took to it straight away was a deal breaker too. Nick may not be able to tell you what he's thinking, but his body language is a good indicator, and he looked right at home.

But getting him in - as with everything thus far - was not easy.

COT is the only place of its kind which does an assessment to see if the person is suitable for a place. However in order to carry out the assessment they needed a promise of funding from our Local Authority. But in a situation worthy of Catch 22, our Local Authority could not offer funding until Nick had passed the assessment. The Local Authority were later criticised by the Care Commission for this. And thanks to my dad's efforts funding in principle came into force in our borough.

What's more the process couldn't begin until we had a social worker on board. And no matter how often my parents phoned, emailed and wrote letters asking for a social worker, all of their messages were ignored. In the end my mum, in her inimitable style, quite literally cornered the head of social services during a chance open day at the town hall, and demanded a social worker.

The process from that point was very long winded. In order to choose COT for Nick my parents had to make perfunctory visits to several other placements and put in writing why they were not suitable. They had to do this quickly as there was only one place left and no way of knowing when another would come up again.

Once this was done, the social worker had to put together a full report to send to a funding panel, who only sat once a month.

The social worker worked really hard and got the report in on Christmas Eve just in time for the panel. However they ran out of time at their meeting and carried Nick's case over to the next month's business. Losing a month meant Nick could lose his place.

I didn't know any of this and my parents did a good job of shielding me from the enormous stress they were feeling.

Ultimately Nick got in. As ever my parent's persistence and hard work had paid off. He'll never know how lucky he is and what amazing parents he has. At this point nineteen years of stress caught up with both of them and their health failed. They have now both retired on ill health grounds and are having the quiet life they deserve in a lovely little house by the coast, not too far from Nick.

We did have a scare recently when the Local Authority considered the ‘repatriation' of residents from out of borough care arrangements. They wanted to save money (it always comes back to that) by taking them out of their current care arrangements, bringing them back to their home borough and putting them in supported living; something that Nick was completely unsuitable for. He can't prepare food, bathe himself or dress himself. There was no way he could live alone with a social worker popping by a couple of times a week!

As usual nobody told my parents about this - they found out from an article in a Mencap newsletter. My dad called up to check, assuming that because he hadn't heard anything, and because Nick was too profoundly disabled to live alone, that Nick was not subject to this. My dad was told that, conversely, Nick was first on the list.

We had a few stressful months and further assessments were done. But ultimately the right decision was made and Nick was left alone. Hopefully his place won't be threatened again, but his future will always be an underlying worry for us all.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Jeremy Kyle Out of Context

Back in 2011 I noticed that Jeremy Kyle often spoke about his guest's problems and foibles very passionately in the first person, so that it sounded like he was speaking as himself.

Being the childish and childless person that I am, I had the requisite immaturity and acres of time required to watch the show as often as I could and record these clips.

After a while I had a handsome collection, so I started a Tumblr.

(My natural response to finding an amusing pattern or opportunity for a repetitious joke - see also Bullseye Contestants, Who Is Henry Kelly, Tweet of the Week, The Things We Leave Behind - Richard Herring once called my assortment of Tumblrs "life-wasting, but brilliant" which is basically what I want for my epitaph)

The Jeremy Kyle Out of Context Tumblr was a good format for this silliness but whilst the clips were amusing when listed, I kept thinking that they would work much better as one big back to back compilation.

And so, in 2016, 4 years after starting this nonsense, I sat down in front of YouTube Editor and spliced them. The result was everything I ever dreamed it would be. I give you, the Jeremy Kyle Out of Context Mega Mix:

Monday, 31 August 2015

The Jason Donovan Board Game

It's Bank Holiday Monday and it's raining. So that's tomorrow's small talk at the work tea point taken care of. Whew.

It's also a great pretext to stay in and finally play the Jason Donovan board game, 'Straight From The Heart', a mere year after finding it in a charity shop for £1.

Here are the Jason Donovan rules; live by them, die by them:

There are four question categories: Love; Favourite Things; Dates; and Music

Some of the questions are about Jason and some of the questions are 'truth or dare' style posers for 7+ girls.

Here are some of the choicest questions that came up:

DATES: Name the date you think you'll get married - Not fair. Impossible to be proven incorrect. I got a puzzle piece for saying "Twelfth of never" though

LOVE: What do you love most about Jason? - Bit awkward this one. But again, easy to win a puzzle piece. Nobody can disprove a thing.

LOVE: Describe exactly what you would say if Jason phoned you now - Easy "How did you get this number?"

FAVOURITE THINGS: What are Jason's favourite foods? - Healthy foods. Nice and vague that. And smug.

FAVOURITE THINGS: What is Jason's favourite painting? - One he did. One he did? Fair enough, I did actually sarcastically guess that based on other self aggrandising answers to questions about himself but still, that's not something anyone could 'know'

DATES: What year will you be 18? - 1998. Does a retrospective answer count?

LOVE: Describe where you would take Jason on your first date - Pass. Keep your puzzle piece, some games are not worth winning.

LOVE: Name one of your friends' boyfriends you like - Looking to stir up a bit of trouble between the players there Jason?

FAVOURITE THINGS: Does Jason believe in nuclear disarmament? - Yes. A man of peace. A great man.

FAVOURITE THINGS: What is Jason's favourite house? - His house. It's the painting question all over again.

DATES: Give a date when you think your best friend's boyfriend will leave her - What larks!

MUSIC: Sing the first line of 'Especially For You' - Especially for you. Toughie.

LOVE: Pretend you're putting on make up - (a) Love? (b) Not even a question

MUSIC: Does Jason like Michael Jackson's music? - Yes. No would have been a little bitchy so an easy correct guess.

LOVE: Does Jason like dinner by candlelight? - Yes. Arrived at by using the classic 'what is the obvious correct sounding answer?' system of guessing.

LOVE: What does Jason think is most important? - Love. Bit easy, given the category.

FAVOURITE THINGS: What is Jason's favourite restaurant? - Any good Italian restaurant. Could you be any vaguer Jason?

LOVE: Describe what you would say if your friend dated Jason - Well, most of my friends are now married so I would ask if their husbands knew, what had precipitated all of this, and in some cases remind them that they have kids to consider.

FAVOURITE THINGS: What is Jason's favourite best friend at tea? - James Maguire. Obviously. Anyone who got that should not just win the game, but be made King of the World.

You have to keep playing until you collect enough puzzle pieces to make a picture of Jason. Which, given the overly specific nature of the questions, can never happen.

Play until you die. Or until you can pass the curse on to someone else a la The Ring, through the charity shop rather than the TV.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Ghost Hunt!

Hey look, it’s another sporadic blog entry!

Sorry, no discipline. It’s just so much easier to post a 140 character Tweet. Maybe that thing about the internet destroying attention spans wasn't a myth...oh look, a poodle...sorry what was I doing here?

Oh yes, one of my infrequent blogs. I suppose it keeps it special though, eh? Like spotting a yeti or a ghost.

And speaking of...

A couple of weeks ago, I went to 30 East Drive. A property billed as being home to Europe's most violent poltergeist.

As you can tell, I'm still alive. That's one spoiler alert that I can't help, sorry.

I answered an invitation from a friend who I met when I was doing comedy. He goes on lots of ghost hunts and has all of the equipment; emf meters, temperature gauges, night vision cameras.

I figured at the very least it would make for a more interesting than usual response to the dreaded “What did you do at the weekend?” question you get at the work tea point every Monday morning. A refreshing change to: “Not much, you?” - “No, not much”

Providing I survived. Which we have already established I did. More spoilers!

As we turned off the motorway on to the a-road leading to Pontefract we were greeted by a huge sign in a field which said ‘Prepare to Meet Your God’. A fantastic omen.

I should probably stop here for a moment and just state my position.

I was going along as an open minded sceptic. I like to think I am logical, rational and all those synoyms – see my previous blog entry on ghosts and how we frame everything backwards according to experience and preconception – however when I was little a few things happened which are hard to explain.

My dad was pushing me on a swing in our back garden. My mum was in hospital having just had my brother. I started waving and saying goodbye to, apparently nobody. Dad asked who I was waving to. I named the person and said they were saying goodbye and going away. When we got to the hospital we bumped into my nan who said that her neighbour, of that name, had just died.

I don't remember this as I was too young, so I can't conclude anything. The only explanation I have is that I may have overheard the grown-ups talking about her. Maybe they were mentioning she was ill or something and my imagination went with it. I didn't know her and hadn't interacted with her. My nan lived on the Old Kent Road and I lived in West Wickham. At that age, I only went there for a couple of hours at Christmas.

The house in West Wickham was weird too. My mum didn't like to be there on her own. When she put the TV on heavy footsteps started going up and down the stairs. Then when she muted it, they abruptly stopped. I used to claim there was an old man in the house, coming up the stairs. I used to run to bed and clean my teeth under the duvet. Again, I can’t conclude anything. I was too young to remember seeing him. I have no memory of any of it. But I have been told all of the stories. Here’s one which is really rather creepy.

Mum says I had a toy bunny, like the ones in the Duracell adverts, which I used to play with to excess. It was taken off me one day to give my parents some peace. The batteries were taken out and the bunny was placed on the top of a wardrobe out of my reach. In the middle of the night what do my parents hear? The bunny. Batteries back in, marching around my bedroom floor whilst I watched on from my crib. If I'd have been on the ball I would have said “They're heeeeere” in a squeaky voice. Ah, l'esprit d'escalier.

I can't think of an explanation for that one. But the absence of an explanation still doesn't mean ghosts. So yeah, open minded sceptic. More things in heaven and earth, only know I know nothing etc etc.

Whatever, back to the ghost hunt!

30 East Drive is an ordinary looking, fairly modern council property. A strange place for a black monk to haunt you might think. He should be in an abbey or a castle. But apparently there was a gallows on the site of the house and he was hanged for a crime he didn't commit, hence the restless spirit roaming the earth story. There is also supposed to be a little girl in there, and according to the neighbour, an evil elemental in the bathroom. Quite off-putting when you're on the loo I expect.

First impressions on entering were: it's freezing, it smells funny, the atmosphere is tangibly 'orrible. The former two were down to the property being uninhabited, the latter because of the story behind the house. It was odd though, being that struck by the unpleasantness of a place, despite the rational explanation.

(The d├ęcor didn't help. The guy who bought the house – the producer of the movie about it, which we watched in the house that night, woooooo! – has done his best to recreate the look of the place at the time of the poltergeist activity. Old furniture, old carpet, bare beds, creepy china dolls. He has bloody well succeeded)

The cold was weird though it has to be said. I've been in a house that hasn't had the heating on for a long while. This was a different cold. Extra cold. It clung to you. Literally. There was a point in the night where I thought someone was squeezing my legs (actually there was a point where someone really did this – hid under a bed and grabbed my ankles in the dark – I didn't flinch and am therefore, in the words of Alan Partridge, braver than ten firemen and a dozen policemen) The time I am talking about though, I was standing alone in the main bedroom. It felt like something tightening around my legs. I stood there for ages, trying to be objective about this weird feeling. Then I looked down and it turned out the cold and damp had caused my jeans to cling to my legs really tightly. I see now why people on Most Haunted keep insisting that someone is touching their leg (apart from the need to fabricate activity for their TV show that is) There were also sudden drops in temperature in certain isolated spots now and then.

“But were there any weird occurrences?” I don’t hear you say because how could I? Well, one or two.

When we were setting up for the baseline tests my friend found that all of his fully charged batteries had drained to zero power. Apparently this is something commonly reported at 30 East Drive. He put them in the wall charger and we went off to do some of the tests as a group. When we all came back, the wall charger had been switched off. Nobody admitted to doing it. We were all upstairs and the front door was locked. That was interesting. Not beyond explanation but interesting.

During the early hours light orbs were seen on film and on still camera – some say this is supposed to be ghosts trying to manifest, some say it's reflection and dust. So debatable and explainable. There was however an unexplained light which flashed brightly when we were asking for activity. We were in the sitting room and it flashed past the glass door connecting to the kitchen. It was like a car headlight but much more focused and very bright. Our resident die hard sceptic was in the kitchen at the time and my mate said that it had pained the guy to report that there were no cars going past when it happened. That too was interesting and we can't find an explanation for the source of the light. All of the lights and torches were off and the biggest sceptic among us was in the room where the light came from.

The best bit of the night was when we all went off to sit in different parts of the house in the dark. My friend went into the coal shed, where the dad who lived there at the time of the poltergeist activity got locked in by unseen hands, apparently. A friend of his who was standing outside in the kitchen asked “Where are you in the house? Are you in the coal shed?” At which point the motion sensor outside the coal shed went off. My friend leaped out of there and ran at his mate, who kicked the kitchen door shut behind them. My friend decided to put that down to setting up the motion sensor carelessly and it falling over by itself. Amazing timing though eh? Only time in the night it went off.

In the absence of actually seeing a ghost, shaking its hand and having a chat, I remain an open minded sceptic. It was a fun night though and I would recommend a ghost hunt whatever your perspective on the matter.

Here are some photos

The group at the start of the night

Sign on the kitchen door

Creepy decor

Using the emf meter in the coal shed

Stairs where the black monk is supposed to walk

Watching the film about the house, in the house

Waiting for something to happen in the dark

Lights out selfie

Monday, 26 January 2015

Now *that's* magic

Hi. Sorry for never blogging. It's a combination of being way too busy and not interesting enough.

Anyway, before I disappear back into silence, I wanted to show you something.

My friend Jane got me the birthday present to end all birthday presents: A personalised message from Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee.

Drink it in: