For the first time ever How To Be An Inspiration has a guest blogger. Paul 'Rock God' Loader, wrote to me, and showing uncharacteristic sensitivity, asked me if I would approve a post he had penned for his own (highly enjoyable) blog How To Be A Bonafide Rock God. Paul has been mentioned in this blog on many occasions because he, along with Darren 'Bassbin' Williams, is one of my oldest friends. His post, as you will read, is about his childhood perceptions of me. It seemed silly not to steal the post and put it here.
The opinions and memories are Paul's but they generally accord with my own. Perhaps after reading it you will understand a little of why he remains, after some 40 years, one of my most cherished friends. I've inserted a few comments along the way for clarifications sake, but otherwise, in his own occasionally eccentric syntax (God, I'm a patronizing git), here is the stuff memories are made of...
The Adventures of 'Wheelchair Man' and his trusty sidekicks 'The Preachers Kid' & 'Bassbin'
I wonder if you might allow me a small indulgence, and let me write about something that has absolutely nothing to do with music.
I was inspired to begin writing this blog by a very good friend of mine, Stephen, who goes under the blog name of ‘Quicksketch’.
Now I know that there are a fair few of you that read my simple scribblings because they stumbled across Stephen’s blog “How to be an inspiration” first.
For those that don’t know Steve’s blog is about the day to day frustrations, joys and restrictions of suffering with a degenerative condition called Muscular Dystrophy.
However, Steve is by no means a ‘moaner’ (his wife Polly of course reserves the right to disagree with this entirely) and his blog is often down right hilarious and I would heartily recommend it to you.
However, my point for writing about Steve is this, the blog is essentially about his condition and the day to day struggle he has to endure. However for myself and my good buddy Bassbin (Darren) we still don’t see the wheelchair, and the hassle that Steve has to endure to even eat and sleep these days.
We still see the child, teenager and young man that grew up with us. Dignified, funny, good natured, thoughtful and a good friend.
When I was 9 years old, my father upped the family, dragging us kicking and screaming away from friends, school and familiar surroundings and moved us to a house closer to the church where he was pastor.
In this myself and my siblings had to go to a new school and I was introduced to my new class mates. Two lads in particular were given the task of integrating the newbie. Darren and Steve.
Now I’m not quite sure why those two were particularly chosen for this task, maybe it was thought that they would be the least likely to make this new kid cry. Perhaps it was felt that they would be the least likely to lead me into ‘Disaster’.
Either way, but for a twist of fate, my new best friends could have been Ricky Hartree and Andrew Scully. I don’t know what my future would have held, but I certainly would have been in the company of more girls that was for sure.
However, at the same point in history, when Man first set foot on the moon, I made two new friends that would help to sculpt my life, and I believe they did it in a very positive way indeed.
As with all of us in those days, both boys, like me, were skinny and scruffy and full of life.
I can’t remember at what point it was mentioned that Steve has Muscular Dystrophy, but I believe it was almost immediately. No big deal was made, I didn’t have a clue what it was for Pete sake, and to be honest it didn’t really matter. I was now being initiated into the ‘Whitchurch Wanders’ and a total acceptance of the MD and Steve as a founding member of that tribe was a prerequisite to belonging and his condition was virtually never mentioned again until relatively recently.
It wasn’t that it was ignored, as if a shameful thing was being suppressed and buried, it just never factored.
Steve’s dad, Roger, held a place of power and place in our young lives. He was the leader of the local ‘Cub scout’ group, of which all three of us became members. He went under the moniker of ‘Arkala’ and he scared the crap out of myself and Darren. However, he held an immense amount of respect from both of us, and I believe, from what has been revealed to us later, he was rather fond of us.
This is true. Dad genuinely like both of them and was amused by their antics. I think he was glad I had fallen in with 'good lads'. Even when they were well into their 30`s, with families of their own, if they arrived at the house he would greet them with “Ah, the “young people” are here.” They would snap back in unison with “Arkala, we will do our best.”
The Cubs were and I suppose are, a great institution. Although it was a hell of a lot more fun back in the days before the oppression of health & safety had got a hold of us. We got taught to light fires, use knives, sleep in DIY shelters and got told stories in gory detail of what can happen if you do stupid things with your sheaf knife.
Roger, like two of his sons, also had the condition Muscular Dystrophy, so he probably knew more about was in store for his lads than perhaps they did. As far as I can remember though he didn’t do his oldest boy any special favours, Steve was treated like the rest of us, although I do remember more badges appearing on Steve’s uniform than Darren and I could both muster together. If I remember rightly there were a few grumblings of ‘fix’ being banded about.
This is laughable. If anything Dad made it harder for me to earn badges. I got more simply because I was a little boy who wanted to please his father.
However, as with all of our dealings with Steve, the suggestion that he might have been given a break because of his MD didn’t even occur to us (the fact that he has always applied himself a bit more enthusiastically also didn’t occur to us either and that he had simply ‘earned’ more badges than us).
It was during these heady days of cubs that Steve’s condition did start to become more apparent and also evidence of its debilitating effects on him became more noticeable. It was during the ‘swimming badge’ that Steve was unable to perform all the tasks set for him (neither could I, so it didn’t really seem to matter). However for Steve, it wasn’t matter of ability, he physically couldn’t do.
But again, Darren’s and my attitude was ‘Hey ho…no worries’.
It was at this point Darren and I began to show early signs that we could make complete idiots of ourselves when the occasion required, usually with Steve standing behind us shaking his head in despair. We both nearly got sent home from a cub camp when we got ourselves into a full blown fist fight over…..a woggle!! (that’s the thing that you tied your neckerchief up with incidentally). Don’t ask me what it was about, but I remember that it was pretty heated.
These heady days continued until I was asked to leave on account that I was now the oldest cub in Bristol, and a full year older than I was supposed to be. I didn’t last very long in scouts (I don’t think that Darren and Steve even got that far… the cubs were our moment of glory).
When we reached the age of 11 or 12 (I was a full 10 months older than the other two so I have always been considered ‘the old man’ of the out fit. Great when you are 12….pants when you are in your 40’s.) we were introduced to our new secondary school, Hartcliffe Comprehensive School, the most frightening institution on God’s green Earth.
Hartcliffe at that time was one of the biggest schools in the country and it certainly had one of the worst reputations for brutality…both from students and staff.
Steve’s ability to move had begun to slow somewhat, but it didn’t matter, we all walked slower in way of unmentioned, unsolicited compensation (some habits die hard I have discovered). His facial expressions also began to suggest that the muscles weren’t as strong as they used to be. However, we all looked liked train wrecks from Pizza Hut in those days so it didn’t matter.
Steve’s recollection may be better than mine, but I don’t recollect him getting a particularly hard time from the other kids, which is remarkable given the age of the kids that were repulsed by even the slightest of differences.
He may have been getting some stick but to be honest I was too busy wrapped up in my own misery. As I said, my father was pastor of the local church and he used to come into our school to take our assemblies. This was like manna from heaven for my class mates in terms of Mickey taking. I would be followed around by groups of kids, monk like in mock prayer as they trailed ‘The preacher’s kid’ around the play ground.
I cannot illustrate how painful and humiliating that was for me, which is daft considering as I look back on it now most of the kids were very fond of my dad, and I have since become extremely proud of the nickname ‘The preachers kid’. Strange how we grow.
As with all our journey together, Steve was not offered any special dispensation by his growing army of mates, although instinctive allowances were made for Steve’s reducing physical prowess, however, to draw attention to it would have been tantamount to an insult.
However, some of the staff weren’t quite so open minded when it came to being over protective of the ‘disabled boy’.
Mr Owen was a maths teacher, and I believe he was a ruddy psychopath. Even the staff were terrified of him.
I remember making the stupid mistake of treating Steve like any other kid in one of Owen’s lessons. I leant over a desk and cuffed Steve around the back of the head (that’s the sort of things mates do to each ….it’s a male thing apparently).
I had not realised that my ‘torturous act upon this helpless young cripple’ had been observed by the Ogre of class 4B and with a roar of fury he launched himself across the classroom towards me. I was wrenched from seat by my jacket lapels, and had to suffer a torrent of venomous abuse on the subject of being unkind to those less fortunate than ourselves, and then unceremoniously I was flung across three or four desks to crash into a crumbled heap in the corner of the room.
Steve simply wet himself laughing.
I did not! Urinary incontinence wasn't a problem until much later.
Steve and I did suffer at the hands of a couple of Neanderthal thugs who managed to sit with us in our science class. However, our pleas for assistance to our form tutor (something they encourage children to do nowadays), was met with “You are bigger than then…..beat them up”. I was “The Preachers Kid” I didn’t do ‘beating up’, and even back then Steve was becoming a man of learning and not a boxer.
Still, I suppose the only satisfaction I can muster is the pair of them are probably due for parole at some point in the near future (not a very Christian day dream I grant you….but stuff it!).
Actually we did deal with them eventually. Their particular form of bullying was mostly to subject us to a stream of obscene verbal abuse. One day we simply asked them to explain exactly what each word meant. They got a bit fed up of having to describe various deviant practises in minute detail, especially when they realised they didn't understand them themselves.
For those of you who have been reading this blog regularly, you will already be aware of what happened when Steve, myself and Darren first began to dabble in music with my blog “My tone deaf mate”.
By the time we reached the sixth form (before, both Darren and I were asked to leave), Steve had begun to circulate in a more learned circle than that offered by Darren and myself (we only had ourselves to blame really, the draw of listening to the Sex Pistols at Darren’s house had a greater draw than attending English Literature lessons I can tell you).
So by 1979 we began to go our separate ways as Darren and I got our first jobs and I had the opportunity to travel a bit with a band, and Steve eventually went off to London to University, became a successful and talented playwright. Co-wrote a best selling no 1 record, got married and had kids.
We never really lost contact, however it has really been more in the last few years that we ‘picked up where we left off’.
The reason for my walk down memory lane is this. I have worked with disabled people from time to time during my working life, and I found this to be hard work, and often rewarding, I have even occasionally found it to be an honour.
However, I have never seen Steve in that light.
I can honestly say that as hard as it has become for him in recent years I still do not see the wheel chair.
To me he is a mate, pure and simple. A good mate who has helped put several huge dollops of paint onto the canvas of my life. A mate that has succeeded in life and has contributed to the arena that he travelled in.
He married a beautiful (and patient) women and they have two very lively, intelligent boys that do their parents proud.
Steve was and is far more than that ‘disabled boy’ that refused to get drawn into the ‘ah, bless him’ space (no matter how hard our mothers tried)
I suppose what I am trying to say is, the next time you run into somebody who is being pushed along in the wheelchair……don’t just see the chair…there is a history sat there. A history of a vibrant human being…that has mates…like me and Bassbin... just try to resist the temptation to cuff him around the back of the head… Mr Owen could be near by.