Nobody ever looked down on me in a rock club

Big thanks to Scott for his story. An honest account of (dis)ability, physical health challenges and low mood, and of course a large smattering of metal 🤘🏻

I am the youngest of 3 siblings. My sister was 18 when I was born and my brother was 15. My brother joined the Army shortly before I was born and my sister got married when I was about 3. So I grew up as sort of an only child.

I was also born disabled. I had a dislocated hip and ‘double spine’ at birth. I had a bit of a limp, fell over if I turned too quickly and a fleshy lump on my spine. Many, many years later I found out this counted as Spina Bifida. In 1978, aged 9, I was assaulted. Kicked on the fleshy lump to be exact. Now I was upgraded from Spina Bifida to paraplegic.

Genuinely, my main concern at the time was “can I still swim?” I was a pretty good amatuer swimmer at that point, a few Scottish Championships under my belt. So a few weeks after the assault, I slipped into the pool with my dad/coach on standby. And an audience of about 50 people. The only time I could get into the pool was during a local youth clubs annual gala. Good news, I could swim. I promptly moved into disabled swimming and was pretty good. Well, if 5 golds, 3 national records and the first paraplegic to do the butterfly all in your final event counts as ‘good’. I retired at 18 when alcohol and girls became more interesting than spending 10hrs a week training. I have a mermaid tattoo to remind me of my aquatic adventures

An intellectual….

We don’t refer to it as “when I was assaulted”. It’s “when I was put in the chair”. Almost instantly, my mum, in conjunction with my primary school Head Teacher, agreed that I was NOT going to a Special School. It wasn’t the done thing back then for handicapped childred to attend normal schools. But in the end, I did. Not my local school, which was 2 doors away but a school 10miles up the motorway that had lifts. Except to the PE Department and the canteen. And the outbuildings. I was driven there every day in a council funded taxi

It was all a huge change. In the space of 6 months I became a para & moved to a different school. I had 2 sets of friends – my old primary school friends and my new high school ‘friends’. There was never any crossover.  I was bullied quite a bit in high school. The only guy in wheelchair in a school full of normals. The bullying stopped after I broke one guys nose and split anothers lip.

I read vorasciously to pass the journeys to school. I started playing D&D. And listening to music. As I was technically an only child, I had no one to influence my tastes, no big brother or sisters records to borrow. I kinda found my own path – Radio Luxembourg, Old Grey Whistle Test. I found Van Halen, Gershwin, Twisted Sister, Neil Diamond, Eric Bogle, Everley Brothers. They all had 2 things in common – great music and they wrote their own stuff

The lockdown look

My dad, sister & brother never really got to grips with me being handicapped. “Shall we go for a walk?” “Don’t be silly, you can’t walk”  As far as my dad and brother were concerned, I didn’t behave the way a disabled person should. To his dying day, my old dad disapproved of my long hair, comic collection, drinking habits and social circle. I was 44 when he died.  My brother still hasn’t got to grips with it.

Mum, however, was great. Supportive, happy, positive, everything a mum should be. Unfortunately she pegged it just after my 20th birthday so never got to see the results of her awesome parenting. Strangely, I get on better with my nephews, who’re in their 40s, than I do with their parents. I shared a flat with one, he was my Best Man, we’d go to Download. I was Best Man to another.

After mum died things at home became quite…. difficult. Without a buffer between us, dad and I had a few arguments that ended in blows. If he was happy enough to hit his son in a wheelchair, I was happy enough to thump him back. Eventually I moved into a flat with a couple of mates. It was 1990. Adapted flats were few and far between. I’d jump out of the chair, climb up the 3 steps to the door and drag the chair up after me. Six months later, I packed a bag and moved to London. I was 22.

I arrived in London by National Express coach with one holdall full of clothes, cassettes, pants etc and a backpack. I slept on a mates bedsit floor. One of the first things I did was to search out ‘my people’. I found a gaming shop and a record store. Inside the record story was a big hairy biker and his big hairy dog “Alright mate, nice dog” or words to that effect.

In the weeks that followed I met a bunch of folk who didn’t give a shit about the wheelchair. They cared about music, tattoos, having fun…

I was diagnosed with depression when I was 41. I was made redundant just before our wedding. I was unemployed for 2yrs. I’d spent years working in Local Government, solving peoples problems in the Education Department and then Housing Benefit. I’d been a Union Rep and Branch Chair. I missed the interaction and challenges. I started working for a travel agents in Customer Care. Problem solving. It wasn’t a great fit. I was used to people who had genuine problems not “that person got their cruise cheaper than me” or “there was no snow on my ski holiday”. The job was Customer Care but I didn’t tbh

My health took a downward spin. Massive, recurrent urine infections. Multi Resistant E-Coli. Or Manky Pee as we called it. It was the only time my disability has had a significant impact on my life. Crushing kidney pain, fevers, sepsis, sore bollocks (yup, your pee can become so manky it infects your plums) and antibiotic resistance. I spent ridiculous amount of time in hospital. I lost my job. They were looking at whipping out my plumbing. It took about 8yrs to balance out. It’s not fixed but it’s managed. And my plumbing is still where it’s supposed to be.

I started seeing a Counsellor. The first one was crap. A couple of years later, I started seeing another one. He was fantastic. Then he went off sick, 4 weeks into the sessions. (The Wife reckons I broke him). The third guy was good but he wasn’t #2.
But there was one thing with each of them that caused me problems. They couldn’t see that disability wasn’t an issue. The wheelchair wasn’t a problem. It didn’t keep me awake at night. I didn’t cry in the darkness. The wheelchair has never stopped me from doing anything. E-Coli stopped me doing things. It stopped me, being me. I spent one whole Download running a fever, curled up in my sleeping bag. Depression stopped me. I wasted a session with each of them explaining that I really didn’t care about being disabled. That it really wasn’t the biggest or most important thing that ever happened to me (in my wedding speech I described the four most momentous events in my life as “seeing Star Wars in 1978, Scotland winning the Grand Slam in 1990, my brother in law buying a round and getting married”)

I don’t worry about health, disability or hospitals. I’m fortunate enough and smart enough to be actively involved in my treatment, so know what’s going on. I take precautions and plan ahead (I have a hospital bag in the boot of the car) just in case.  But I am scared shitless of the dentist.

At Download with our very own Nurse Ratched

Now you know where I come from. A rough idea of what I am. A long-haired, tattooed fuckwit. But where does the music come in?
Music is a leveller. An equaliser. As a child, I sang in the church choir. I even did solo’s. I listened to my parents bloody awful Scottish folk music (real Scottish folk music is so much better). No one has ever looked down on me in a rock club. Nobody has ever called me names in a rock club. Although, to be honest, it’s a long time since anyone called me a anything as an insult.

Bowling for Soup is my happy place.
Slipknot is my angry place, when I need to rant
Chris de Burgh (don’t fucking judge me!) is where I go when I need to sing
Stone Sour & Black Stone Cherry are bands that sing TO me.
Linkin Park and Shinedown help me
Prince makes me feel… naughty
Oh and The Greatest Showman soundtrack is great for car-aoke singalongs

During Lockdown, I wasn’t listening to much music. The Wife has been working from home so I’ve been kinda quiet. In September, we bought another Alexa-thingy. It’s in the bedroom. It means I can listen to music when I soak in the bath. I had a Eureka Moment (which was cool cos I was already in the bath). I didn’t realise until about a month ago how much I missed music. My mood improved dramatically.  The last few weeks have been filled with CMFT, Smith & Myers and Black Stone Cherry