Chapter 1                            Who’s that boy in ICU?It has been reported that earlier today, Sunday, 23 February 19...
The family prayed to whatever was out there that their boy would one day makeit by himself. They had already lost a daught...
I woke up not knowing where I was or what was going on around me, unable tospeak, unable to move, yet never alone.My mum w...
contact, hoping to switch my little brain into action. My nan sat me in a chair inthe small classroom and got out some Leg...
Soon I was introduced to my physiotherapist, Christine, the first of manyphysical therapists I would meet over time. My fa...
orange fabric pouch to sleep in. It had to be put by a light source to charge itsglow, so the nurse on duty was forever ru...
I kept going to Visual Ad, and as I improved slowly, Rachael introduced me tonew things. I had to push the button to make ...
All of my family had come up on Easter Sunday, and they all ate hot crossedbuns around my mum’s bed. I had my yellow beake...
puppets James’s mum brought up with her, and it was a magical few hours. Itwas hard for my family to see and to come to te...
It was still impossible for me to sit up unaided and hold my head still withoutwobbling. I had the shakes, and I really wa...
seemed so far off, if not impossible. My doctor’s contact at Exeter was lookinginto whether I could continue my rehabilita...
Chapter 2                       UFO attacks leg of crash victim.Dad decided to sell our house in Talaton where we had been...
could not get myself to the loo. Once, Mindie, the dog, tried to eat it. Everynight Dad would always blow on my head three...
Someone recommended Vranch House School in Whipton in Exeter. VranchHouse was a school and rehabilitation centre for child...
Orthosis (AFO for short), made. I thought Mark said UFO and I was going tohave a UFO strapped to my leg. In about ten days...
Physio was an ongoing event with daily exercises, which still included stretchesover a big Swiss ball and balancing holdin...
lunchtimes, you could book the pony and drive around the building during thebreak. I always wanted to ride the pony and bo...
a black Siamese cat with diamante eyes in a plastic dome cover. I gave it to mygrandma, as she liked cats and animals.The ...
with my dad because of how hard I was being pushed outside of school. I do notthink Dad and Dr Trip saw eye to eye, but my...
and Aunt Sally, who were my favourites. I enjoyed watching WorzelGummidge, the talking and living scarecrow who lived in a...
on the peddles so that I could ride it round the block. In certain packets ofbreakfast cereals, they were giving away refl...
On Blue Peter, Yvette Fielding showed you how to make your own snow globe,using a jam jar and some Plasticine, plus some g...
On 17 February 1987, my mum was taken into hospital to give birth. We wereall hoping she would have a girl, and we waited ...
Chapter 3                       Crippled and living with a witch.My rehabilitation had gone as far as it could at Vranch H...
that, one day, I would walk normally again. My bedroom was upstairs, and toget up the stairs, I could only manage one step...
Starting to get back into society was hard and still is. Although the school wasperfect for me, it was still hard work and...
I struggled with mathematics, having to relearn all of my times tables again.With the type of brain injury I sustained, I ...
School also had a lot of trees and good hiding places. Around at the front of thehouse was another lawn. The ‘little class...
Fimo. I made a pot – all rainbow colours – by rolling out different colours ofFimo into worms, curling them around a circu...
We had a very good music teacher called Mrs. Reynolds; I really enjoyed musiclessons and music in general. Mrs. Reynolds w...
For packed lunches, we wanted Pot Noodles, which had recently started toappear in supermarkets. Yes, they are pretend food...
rocket went off like a firework. It hit Cathryn in the face. It was awful. She gotbadly burned. I felt so bad for her. I g...
The house was designed as a bungalow. It had so much roof space that myparents turned the space into a massive playroom. A...
Every night she said that I would have a nightmare. When she’d come in to kissme good night, I would be thinking, Please, ...
garden. Dad had a swimming pool put in on the lower half of the garden, and onthe upper elevation was a grassed area with ...
sport as well as my brothers; my weak left side and poor balance meant it washard for me to turn or change directions.The ...
I had all the latest and greatest things I wanted, and I took my Game Gear toschool. It soon overruled the Game Boy. My Le...
James Gardner - On The Edge
James Gardner - On The Edge
James Gardner - On The Edge
James Gardner - On The Edge
James Gardner - On The Edge
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James Gardner - On The Edge

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As James grew up he began to feel misunderstood and not able to reach the level of normality he so yearned for. He felt that there was no longer any point to his life and seemingly endless rehab. When James asked his doctor for help, the reality of his situation suddenly struck. Suicide would be the ultimate failure. This is the story of James’ life and how he fought tooth and nail to stay alive. It is both his autobiography and a guide to personal development. Since making the conscious decision not to give up hope, James has gone on to travel the world and teach English abroad. James is open and honest about the things in which he has found great solace during his darkest hours, and he credits the teachings of Kabbalah, an increasingly popular form of Jewish mysticism, for helping him refocus his life. The singer Madonna, a long term exponent of the spiritual teaching, has been an inspirational figure for James. James is now a picture of good health; despite continued weakness in his left side and a limp, he walks confidently and with a purpose.

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Transcript of "James Gardner - On The Edge"

  1. 1. Chapter 1 Who’s that boy in ICU?It has been reported that earlier today, Sunday, 23 February 1986, atapproximately 1.00 pm, a car hit a bridge and veered out of control. No othervehicles were involved in the incident. However, inside the vehicle two parentsand their two children, who were travelling back from Scotland after a half termbreak skiing, were seriously injured in the incident. The crash took place theother side of Bristol, resulting in major traumas. It is alleged that the fatherswapped driving roles with the mother when they stopped off in London to visitthe Carnaby Street market. The mother broke her neck; the father broke hiscollar bone whilst the young daughter, aged just two and a half, did not survivethe crash. The son was rushed, along with both of his parents, to FrenchayHospital in northern Bristol where doctors had a three day fight to get him into astable coma and onto a life support machine. The boy, aged only five and a half,sustained massive head injuries, as well as breaking his pelvis and developingan infection in one of his lungs.The mother was rushed to a specialist unit where she was put in traction;weights were put on her head so she could not move her neck, which may haveresulted in spinal traumas as well. The young boy was taken immediately tointensive care in a very critical condition that did not look hopeful at all.Doctors and nurses fought to help the poor child and struggled to get him into asteady coma. His limp pale body, overcrowded with wires and tubes, looked asif it was floating on the waterbed they had him on whilst fighting to save hislife. The life support machine had been working overtime to keep the boy alivein his coma, but doctors and nurses had spoken to the boy’s family, warningthem that one day the machine would have to be switched off, as no signs ofchange could be seen in the little boy’s condition, and asking if he had beenchristened. Medical staff also warned that, even if the helpless child did comeout of the coma and managed to breathe unaided, because he had sustained suchmassive head injuries and bodily damage, he would most likely be a cabbage ina wheelchair for the remainder of his life.The machine was one day turned off, as still the boy’s condition showed nosigns of change. The boy did not respond or breathe on his own. His traumatisedfamily pleaded with the medical team to turn the machine back on and give theboy a little more time. Their protestations were so adamant that the medicalstaff agreed to give the kid a few more days to try and breathe without the helpof the life support machine that had been keeping him alive or almost threeweeks now.
  2. 2. The family prayed to whatever was out there that their boy would one day makeit by himself. They had already lost a daughter. And to lose the boy too – thatwould destroy them all. They so longed desperately for their little boy to openhis chocolate brown eyes once again.Both sets of grandparents rented a flat near Frenchay Hospital so that they couldvisit and be with mother and child as often as was possible.That day came though when the artificial breathing device would be turned offfor good. There would be no more second, third, or fifth chances for him; it wascrunch time. The breathing machine was switched off.The helpless child, who had sustained horrific injuries in the road trafficaccident, lay there peacefully, unable to do anything. But in his vegetative state,he started to take air by himself, unaided by bits of equipment with flashinglights and a deathly beepy blip sound.The boy’s family could not believe it; it was a miracle, and their prayers hadbeen answered. Yet the child still had the diagnosis of a Cabbage Patch Kid dollexistence to overcome – a life of not being able to fend for himself ever again.The kid at best, doctors said, would be a turnip, a root vegetable in a wheelchairfor the rest of his life. The diagnosis was not great, but the family were just sohappy to see the child’s stomach rise and fall as he inhaled oxygen on his ownfor the first time in three weeks. He opened his deep dark chocolate brown eyesfor the first time on Saturday, 1 March.During his coma-induced state, the boy had been able to hear voices. Yet, he’dbeen unable to respond, for example, to the words, ‘three spoonfuls of ice-cream,’ which his grandma kept repeating in his ear whilst she stroked hisforehead trying desperately to get her grandson to wake up. His strict headmistress from the school he had gone to had recorded a tape of the studentregister being called out: ‘Phillip Brown, Sarah Taylor, Lloyd Conaway, JamesGardner?’ Anything, to try and get him to come out of the deep coma he was in.Obviously he was not attending school that day.In his mind, in his head he was taking a nap on the floor of his grandparent’sliving room, the roughness of the carpet against his young face and soft skin,too tired to care. The boy was lost, in a dark and cave like place at a junction,with the options of taking the left or right tunnel. Which one would take himhome?
  3. 3. I woke up not knowing where I was or what was going on around me, unable tospeak, unable to move, yet never alone.My mum was going to be ok too, and the news that her son, her little boy, wasgoing to survive to fight another day gave her an extra glimmer of hope. And on20 March she got to see me herself for the first time since we had been admittedinto hospital and put on separate wards. She stared at me, her little boy, in shock– an obvious mixture of happiness and fright. During the next few days, mycondition improved and stabilised, and my mum gradually regained hercomposure.Once I had fully returned from my coma-induced adventures and was breathingok and my condition stabilised, the medical staff moved me from the intensivecare unit on to a ward with other children; it was a Wednesday, 25 March, I wasstill unable to speak. My family had mixed feelings about the transfer. Theywere concerned about me being moved onto a more generalised ward becausethe attention and care I had been getting in the intensive care unit was perfect,and they did not want my condition, which had improved little by little, to startdeteriorating. It took the family a few days to get used to the more general typeof care I received on the new ward. The doctors said things would be ok andthought the stimulation of the other children around me would be a good thing.My family had cassette tapes played to me, as well as the school register, storiesof Wind in the Willows. If only they knew that I did not like the stories theyplayed. My situation improved gradually. Yet I was this living boy frustrated atthe fact that I could not do anything. Just make your damn cassette stories stop!I wanted to shout.As my condition got a little better, I was treated to rides in a wheelchair up tomy mum’s ward so that she could see me and be reassured I was alive, ratherthan simply relying on stories from others of how my condition was slowly butsteadily improving.Speech therapists and physiotherapists came to talk with my family and try toexplain the sorts of slow progress they could expect in the coming days andmonths ahead. My family was continuously staring into my eyes trying to make
  4. 4. contact, hoping to switch my little brain into action. My nan sat me in a chair inthe small classroom and got out some Lego in the hope it would help; not muchresponse from that though. It seemed like every time I had a good day, thefollowing day was not so good, as I was too tired and not interested. This madeeveryone sad and impatient.My family tried anything and everything to spur my recovery on, even puttingmarmite on my tongue to try and stimulate my taste buds – well marmite, of allthe things in this world!By day twelve, my grandma thought my eyes were a lot brighter and the familynow thought they had the attention of my eyes. My eyes were the only windowsinside to see how I was; doctors and nurses would often shine bright penlightsin them whilst they took my temperature. Why did they shine bright light in myeyes? I was given a penlight of my own to play with and shine back at themwhen I was strong enough to do so.On the children’s ward, my bed was opposite the nurses’ station midway up theward. Wanting to be the centre of attention was a trait I picked up from an earlyage, and it still continues up until this day. Was this a trait I was born with? Orwas it because I was critically ill and needed constant observation? The boy upat the end of the ward was always banging and listened to bizarre music. Mygrandad gave him the nickname ‘Thumper’.The left side of my body was completely paralysed as a result of the braindamage I had sustained from the crash. My left hand clenched like a fist, unableto open. It kept me amused for ages; I imagined that inside were one-penny colabottle sweets like I used to get from the post office down the road from wherewe lived. I tried to force my unresponsive left hand open with my barelymoveable and shaky right hand, sometimes jamming my index finger into myleft fist, imagining the sticky and sweet cola bottles inside. The unappealingbowls of mashed up Wheatabix with warm milk the hospital staff fed me meantthe urgency to free the sweets inside my fist was ever mounting.A long period of time passed where nothing seemed to happen; I made noprogress and saw nothing new. My family would just sit at my bedside and lookat me and tell me stories and ask questions trying to get me to respond. Theywould hold me and would be filled with a mixture of emotions. The bruisesunder my eyes were becoming less prominent, and all the deep cuts and gasheson my hands started to heal. If I was healing on the outside, was I also startingto get better on the inside? Everything was so out of control that nothing wasnormal anymore.
  5. 5. Soon I was introduced to my physiotherapist, Christine, the first of manyphysical therapists I would meet over time. My family would come and watchChristine do exercises with me. She would place my limp ragdoll-like body facedown over a giant bright orange gym ball and roll the ball along the floor, whichwould encourage me to lift my head up and was intended to stretch out myback. She then reversed the process and flipped me over so I looked up at theceiling. Again my head raised as the ball slowly rolled. This exercise was formy tummy muscles. When she tried to make me stand up, my nan said I lookedlike Pinocchio, all loose and happy.Lots of friends would come and visit, bringing with them all kind of lovelypresents for me and my mum, which at a time like this, helped so much. All thewonderful gifts were particularly a help to mum, who was grieving terrifically. Icould never replicate feelings that could approximate how she must have felt.Mum would need a great deal of support from the family and especially herfriends. Auntie Debbie tried really hard to wash all of the blood out of the newleather jacket mum had bought in London at the market, but it was impossibleto get that amount of blood out of the interior lining. My sister and I had eachgotten a sticky spider that crawled down the window in the car; that was the lastthing I remembered from my previous life time.Auntie Sal and Uncle Nick returned from a skiing holiday and said they couldsee an improvement in me since the last time they had seen me before going onholiday. To the rest of the family though, those who were constantly there,nothing very much seemed to change or happen. ‘Will he ever get better?Sometimes we do despair, but deep down in our hearts, we do feel he isimproving, and we try to look to a positive future,’ my nan says. My family wasnot going to give up; I was going to get better.It was next to impossible to get to sleep on the ward with all the other childrencoughing and spluttering throughout the night. The pillows were always so hotand hard. I wanted to go home, and I did not like it here. Looking up in terrorand anger, I could not get to sleep and I was frustrated that my hand did notopen. I saw my dad. He had come to try and help me get to sleep. He would turnthe pillow over and it would be cool. I thought it was magic. I could get somesleep, a chance to get away from this ward, this strange place where people inwhite coats shine lights in my eyes and put a glass stick under my tongue. Iwanted to go home and play with my toys.I had a new Glow Worm, which the nurses soon grew to strongly dislikebecause I always wanted it to glow during the night when I was frustrated andunable to get to sleep. How could anyone dislike my Glow Worm, with itssmiley face and white wings affixed to its green body? It even had a little
  6. 6. orange fabric pouch to sleep in. It had to be put by a light source to charge itsglow, so the nurse on duty was forever running to and from her office every tenminutes to put it by her desk lamp.In the morning, a toy trolley glided through the ward in front of a hospitalvolunteer. I always wanted the horse racing game; every time the trolley wouldcome down the ward, I wanted that one. Everybody liked that game. You had toguess which horse would finish first, and the miniature plastic horses would bobalong the track, moving up the track by the power of the battery operated motorinside when it was turned on.Lots of people came to visit me. Every time I had visitors, my chocolatedigestive biscuits in the locker beside my bed would always get offered around.I could not swallow properly, so my food was always puréed – mashed upWheatabix with warm milk, almost as repulsive as the semolina we had atschool! However, I was very fond of and forever drinking Ribena with milk outof a baby’s yellow coloured beaker. I do not know exactly why I never couldjust have a normal strawberry milkshake. The notion of being normal –whatever that was – seemed a million miles away.Rachael, my speech therapist, came by the ward whilst my nan and grandmawere talking to me. She could see the concentration in my face as I tried toanswer their questions. She thought it would be worthwhile trying me at VisualAd. It did sound exciting. Rachael took me to Visual Ad, and my familywatched as she programmed a playschool-like picture of a house graduallybuilding up on a computer screen. I clearly liked the bright colours andconcentrated for at least two to three minutes. It seemed to the family as if itwas only last week that I was learning my tables at school; it just went to showwhat a long way we had to go to get back on course. How life could change sofast. The little boy who could not wait to run out of school and tell his mummyhe passed his times tables test now was back doing playschool tasks.Another exciting day lay ahead. An outing from my ward to my mum’s wasabout the only exciting thing I could manage – apart from watching the plastichorses bob up and down along the racecourse. When I was at my mum’sbedside, someone brought me a Sooty puppet. I liked the bright orangefluffiness of the hand puppet, and he even came complete with a magic wand. Ifonly I could wave a magic wand and make it all go away, I would love mySooty puppet even more. I started getting stroppy. Give me Ribena and milk!Everybody wanted me to do things, and I got angry at not being able to. Takeme home!
  7. 7. I kept going to Visual Ad, and as I improved slowly, Rachael introduced me tonew things. I had to push the button to make the picture come on the screen. Ifound it all very tiring and hard work, but I kept on trying. Rachael got out thisbig shiny red apple, and if I blew on it, a big green illuminated worm came outthe top. She told me to blow, and I tried with all my might to blow and make theworm come out. Little things like this seemed so big – so huge. I ate a lot, andthe people around me encouraged me to drink lots as I was still on a drip andtaking in extra fluid and nutrients through a tube in my nose. If I could get offthe drip, I would be able to breathe easier and I could try to talk without thehindrance of the tubes. It was a major highlight when my dad managed to feedme a whole chocolate mousse.Being carted to see my mum again to show her how well I was doing and nowresponding to instructions, ‘James, blow on the apple for Mummy – one, two,three!’; Even before three, I would be blowing with all my might on the apple,as if I was the big bad wolf trying to blow the three little pigs’ house down,trying to make the big green worm pop up. What a magical moment it was formy mum to see; her eyes filled with tears. This convinced my family that mymind was still ok.My mum was counting the days until she could come out of traction. Thedoctors told her it would be another two weeks before she could, and after that,she may need a small operation. It was vitally important that she could see myimprovements because she had lost the will to live; her state of mind was allover the place. It seemed all doom and gloom.James Thomas, my best friend from school, came to see me. We played with thebig plastic red apple, and he got me to blow on it and told me what was goingon back at school. My Auntie Sal and Uncle Nick came in again, and Jameslaughed with them before I got too tired and it was time to go to bed.Every day was now the same as the last. I got taken to physio with Christine,and afterwards, Dad wheeled me up to see my mum.One day one of the patients on mum’s ward shouted, ‘Hello,’ to me, and toeverybody’s astonishment, I said, ‘Hello,’ back. ‘He can speak; he can speak!’This was absolutely the best piece of progress I had made to date, and all myfamily cried. Their little boy was returning to the world.On Easter Sunday, I had lots of Easter eggs. I had lots of things and even somecute little fluffy chicks with cardboard legs. I had a large Easter egg at thebottom of my bed on a table, and I thought it was a person’s head; it reallyfrightened me. In the early days, I sometimes suffered from hallucinations.
  8. 8. All of my family had come up on Easter Sunday, and they all ate hot crossedbuns around my mum’s bed. I had my yellow beaker with milk and Ribena in it.The best Easter present for the family was hearing me say, ‘Hello.’My Uncle Phil was escorting me with Dad back down the long sparsely kepthospital corridor in a wheelchair. The corridor leading up to my ward was long;it was painted white, but some of the paint was peeling off in places, whichmaybe added some character to the place. The only thing of any interest goingdown the long corridor was a metal machine on the wall. It was shaped like abig shoebox with two see-through columns that allowed me to see themachine’s contents. Annoyed because I wanted what was inside, I asked in aslow robotic sound for the four-fingered chocolate treat inside the machine: ‘KitKat!’Continuing back down to the ward my mind was wondering about my sister,‘Where is Katie? Where is my sister?’ I wanted to see my sister. Where wasshe?It was very hard, but my dad had to tell me that she had gone up to heaven withJesus. I want to go home now. Please let me go home, Daddy. Take me home!Now that I could talk, I told my dad I did not want to do exercises on the balltoday and I wanted to go home. I was told that, if I worked hard to sit up on myown, we might be able to.‘He tries so hard to hold himself up – dear of him too!’ my grandma would saywhen she saw the determination in my face as I tried to sit up without any help.I sounded like a robot on empty batteries, but the family was so happy that theirlittle boy was making progress. To encourage my progress, my grandma andgrandad had contacted Robinson’s Jam to get the complete set of Golliwogbrooch pins I had recently started to collect from labels off the back of jars ofjam. I’d even had my teachers at school saving their labels for me.Progress was continuing, and things seemed to be going well. My body neededso much attention; even my right side, which was not paralyzed, was terriblyshaky. I wanted to do some drawing and writing, but my hand shook so much Istruggled to form any shapes or letters and hold a pen. It was so frustrating.Getting visitors was now a bit better, as I could talk and blow on the apple andshow off my progress. My sense of humor started to come back, and Idemanded to be the centre of attention. All my visitors were pleased with myprogress, which was easier to spot if you had not seen me in a few weeks or so.My good school friend James came up again to visit, and I could actually talk tohim this time. Things were starting to become a bit more normal once again,and it was only day forty-two at this stage. James and I played with finger
  9. 9. puppets James’s mum brought up with her, and it was a magical few hours. Itwas hard for my family to see and to come to terms with the fact that I wasdisabled now and to wonder if I was ever going to get better.I lost a tooth, and my grandma played Tooth Fairy and put fifty pence under mypillow. The family started to relax and started doing things outside of thehospital, which I’m sure helped take their minds off of things.On day forty-five, my mum came out of traction, but it was still not good newsas she had to start wearing a collar around her neck and over her head. My dadhad his plaster taken off, and he was the first survivor of this calamity to bewhole again. I worked hard at trying to sit up by myself; it was frustratingbecause I did not understand why I could not do it. My speech still needed a lotof work, but I was able to communicate without people just staring into my eyeslooking for some sort of acknowledgment. By the end of each day, I was verydrained and my speech had deteriorated.April 8. Another day, another trip to physio. But today I had a go on the movingbed to test my balance, and I also managed to stand with my left leg to theground. I tried so hard, my speech was a little bit better when I was stood upright.I was really enjoying being on the children’s ward. I got spoilt, and everything Iwanted was given to me. I started to get noisy and excitable and extremelydemanding. My family did not know how best to quiet me down withoutdestroying my enthusiasm and the progress I was making.Mum was starting to walk again, and she came down to physio with me butfound it quite distressing seeing the full extent of things and what hard work itwas going to take to make me better.It was my left foot that was the biggest problem. It just would not go flat to theground, and it was all twisted over. My movements were gradually getting moreand more controlled with each passing day.Mum was now out of the hospital but still in her head brace and collar and wasliving back at the flat with my grandparents and dad. I was allowed out ofhospital for the day to go to the flat. Uncle Nick took me all around and showedme the place before I had to do some exercises and stretches on the floor. Istayed for dinner and it was like a reunion of the family, but it was still notcomplete without my lovely little sister, Katie, whose spirit was always aroundus. The frustration of not being able to perform the exercises well wasannoying, and I got angry.
  10. 10. It was still impossible for me to sit up unaided and hold my head still withoutwobbling. I had the shakes, and I really wanted to go home.Things moved quickly, and I was being checked to see if I would be suitable togo to an assessment centre in Exeter. My doctor had mentioned my case tosomeone back in Exeter, and he was trying to arrange my return to school forhalf a day of lessons and half a day of physio. The family was encouraged tohear that things were moving along nicely and were pleasantly surprised that mydoctor was talking of my returning home. I wanted to walk, and I tried with theaid of a frame, but I could not. Out of sheer frustration, I managed to sit myselfup right once I was back in my bed.I was allowed out again on the weekend, and it was good to see my mum andfamily out and smiling again. I wanted to go out and go shopping. I wasadamant that we were going shopping, and the family took me to a shoppingmall. On the way, I fell asleep and slept for two hours whilst my dad drovearound saying it was like old times out with the family. I chose some felt tipcoloring pens, and when we returned to the flat, we all did some colouring in.After dinner, my dad and uncle took me back to the hospital. The following day,I got picked up at about eleven and went over to the flat where mum waspeeling vegetables. Auntie Sal was there too. I brought my colouring book andpens to do some drawing. After lunch, I had a sleep as it was important for meto get lots of rest. Later, some friends came and took me to feed the ducks,which was a nice change. But all too soon, I had to go back to hospital and tobed on my ward. I did not mind too much, which made it easier for the family totake me back.That Monday morning feeling started, and it was day fifty-nine. Mum came tosee me but had to wait for my return from the hospital school I was now goingto. Mum fed me lunch and then had to leave again so I could get some sleep. Inthe evening, I tried to stand and managed to get my foot to the floor again. Itwas getting flatter every day. The news that I could possibly go home at theweekend lifted my spirits, but Christine, my physio, was not so sure I was readyfor that yet. I sat myself up and managed to hold it to the count of one hundredand could have even gone on for longer.Christine was pleased with my continuing progress, and Dr. Cummins thought Imight be walking within four to six weeks.Trips to physio, speech therapy, and hospital school had become a daily ritual;my voice was getting softer, less harsh, and less like a robot’s. Everybody waspleased with the progress I was making, but the idea of ever walking again
  11. 11. seemed so far off, if not impossible. My doctor’s contact at Exeter was lookinginto whether I could continue my rehabilitation closer to home.I continued to stay at the family flat at the weekends, and I was getting strongerbut still looked a bit grey and lifeless. We went to the zoo and saw the animalson a Saturday, and I really responded well. I was talking better. The followingday, we went to Slimbridge to see the birds, and I held my right hand out so thebirds could eat the grain from my palm, giggling as they pecked at my hand.The hospital staff moved me into a cubicle room with another little boy, as Iwas requiring less and less daily medical attention. They put me in a cot, but Idid not like it one bit.Do you know who I am!I told my dad I wanted to go back to the flat and go home. This was a sure signthat I was now ready to face the real world again and start the long journey backto normality. As a six-year-old, I really had no idea how rough and tough thatwould be.There was a noticeable improvement in my physio and in my balance. Theexercises on the ball were easier and more controlled now. In general, thingswere starting to become normal, and by day sixty-eight, which became our lastfull day at Frenchay Hospital, everyone was thankful and amazed by myprogress. On day sixty-nine, the long ride home began. The journey to the lightat the end of the tunnel was now full steam ahead.I do not think my family knew quite how tough it was going to be, but theywere great. And I am sure I would not have got to this point without them allsupporting me.
  12. 12. Chapter 2 UFO attacks leg of crash victim.Dad decided to sell our house in Talaton where we had been living because itheld memories of my sister and of my former self, and it would be best forMum and me if we did not return there. We went and lived with my Grandmaand Grandad in Exeter. They had a small bungalow, but adaptations were made,and under the circumstances, we coped well. Dad was building a house in WestHill near where my nan and grandfather lived, when I say dad was building ahouse, what I really mean is that the scaffolding business his dad and he hadstarted and built up together were going to do start and then contractors weregoing to put it all together. I think that’s how it worked; my mind was on otherthings at the time. I did not even realise that we had not gone home to our oldhouse but was just thankful to be out of hospital.Up the long driveway, which had a strip of grass running up the middle of it andflowers and hedges on either side, sat a garage. Next to the garage was an areafor parking. It wasn’t very big, but it had a big pampas grass growing in thecorner, and Grandma had a bird table out there too. She liked feeding the birds.Inside the house, the kitchen was up a big step around the back of the garage.For cooking, there was an aga; it was a lemony yellow colour and always hot.Every day, Grandad would put coal in it from a coal store he kept outside. Fromthe kitchen, there was the front door to the left, and to the right, you went intothe lounge; this was where I imagined I was asleep when in my coma. Just afteryou walked past the front door was a little toilet, and then next to that thebathroom. Opposite the bathroom was the dining room, which was convertedinto a bedroom for me and next to that a spare twin bedroom that Mum and Dadslept in. Next to that room was Grandma and Grandad’s room. Out the back ofthe house was a conservatory, which was always cold, leaked when it rained,and housed junk.In the garage, Grandma kept the little blue Fiat that she used to pick me up fromschool in. I will always remember I will always remember those rides in thatcar. A little troll man stood on top of the boot shelf; he had a fishing rod andwore a black hat, and he was really ugly.The first few weeks of being out of hospital were as to be expected, really hard.I had tablets to take and nasty tasting medicine. Grandma would give me someof her special chocolate, which made the nasty taste go away and had bubbles init. I always wanted more. Mum would stretch my ankle each evening on thesofa, and my left arm was always bending and would never go straight, so Mumwould pull that straight and stretch it all ways too. The hospital sent us homewith a cardboard bottle for me to use to go to the toilet in at night because I
  13. 13. could not get myself to the loo. Once, Mindie, the dog, tried to eat it. Everynight Dad would always blow on my head three times and say, ‘Go away,naughty brain; come back, good brain,” before he tucked me in. It was stillimportant that I got my sleep, so I got put to bed early. I never wanted to go tobed when it was still daylight outside.We went to a place in the hospital at Exeter to look at physio for me. It was notvery good there and did not ideally suit my immediate needs, but a man cameand looked at my foot; my left foot was still all twisted over and bad, which iswhy Mum had to stretch it quite often. The man suggested a splint for my footto make it go straight and flat. The hospital was not the place for me to be long-term for physio, and my family looked for somewhere I could go for myrehabilitation.Dad got one of his men at work to make a bar for me to practice stepping over;it was like a limbo bar and could be put up higher as I improved. I would holdon to the rail of the aga and try and lift my leg up and over the bar. Dad wasreally hard on me, as he wanted me to get better and better; sometimes myfamily thought he pushed me on too much, but it obviously paid off. I do notknow how the next craze after Golliwog pin brooches passed began, but the newthing to encourage me on was Care Bear stickers. I had the album, which hadnumbers marking where to put the stickers on each page. We went to anewsagent in Whipton, and we must have bought their entire stock of stickers. Iremember Mum coming out of the newsagent with about twenty packets ofstickers, I could only have one pack at a time, for doing well and managing tobalance with the aid of the aga rail. We would count to see how long I couldstand without holding on. I soon filled my album with stickers and then startedanother one.My love of Lego was still there also and I had the new Lego police station. Inmy small makeshift bedroom, there was not really enough room for lots ofLego, so I only had a few Lego items. But my love of Care Bears went beyondstickers, and I started collecting all the little plastic bear figurines. I wasdetermined to get all of the Care Bears, and I worked hard to balance andpersisted on trying to step over the bar with my dad shouting me on withencouragement.Grandma and Grandad used to take me in a wheelchair down to DawlishWarren to feed the swans. Just before the railway tunnel before you drove intothe car park a van sold banana fritters on sticks. I had one every time we wentthere. I can still taste them now.
  14. 14. Someone recommended Vranch House School in Whipton in Exeter. VranchHouse was a school and rehabilitation centre for children with severe mentaland physical disabilities. My family and doctors all agreed it was the best placefor me to go at the time. We went and had a look around, and it seemed a niceplace. I would get daily physio, as well as having lessons in a classroomenvironment and many other things, including speech therapy and swimmingclasses. Vranch House had a waiting list. My nan worked on the board ofgovernors at a school in Ottery St Mary and was able to speed up the process ofgetting me accepted.Home life was ok; we seemed to be coping with living at my grandma andgrandad’s bungalow. On Friday nights, we ate dinner from the fish and chip vanthat would stop in the village. I liked steak and kidney pie with chips. I liked myfood and had a really bad sweet tooth. Another of my favourites was steamedpuddings, and I loved cakes. I liked most things though.At my new school, I was put in a classroom with four other children – Lisa,Barry, Steven, and Grace. The head teacher was called Mrs George, and herassistant teacher was called Berrol. Barry was in a wheelchair andcommunicated with a thing known as a blissboard. He pointed to certainsymbols or something on the board to get his point known. I never understoodit. Lisa was also in a wheelchair. Steven was in a big motorized electric chair; itwas blue and had a seat cover that was like gorilla fur and looked like some sortof robot from Transformers. I wanted a big electric chair too. Steven’s chairwas massive. I didn’t know how he managed to control and steer it, but he did.Berrol helped Mrs. George put Grace in a standing frame thing and strapped herin. When she wasn’t in that contraption, she was in a wheelchair, as was I. Atlunch times, we all went into a big dining room and got served and fed. Lots ofthe other children could not feed themselves and relied on the kind help of allthe wonderful staff and helpers. I could feed myself, but they always mashed upyour food, as most of the children could not chew properly. I did not want themto mash mine – it just made it look disgusting – but they did it to everybody’sfood. The school had lots of special devices, like a fork with a cutting edge allin one. I could not use my left arm, so I relied on these specially adapted tools. Igot on well with all the other children, quite a few of whom were unable to talkor actually do anything. Their ailments ranged from cerebral palsy to spinabifida to head injuries like mine and a variety of others I couldn’t name. Oddly,I was never frightened by any of the conditions of the children around me.A man called Mark from Honeylands hospital, which I had visited beforecoming to Vranch House, made casts of my foot. He wrapped a plaster of Paris-infused bandage around my left leg and made a cast, which he carefullyremoved once it had set by cutting it open all the way down the front of my leg.Then he sent it off and had a splint, known by its medical term, Ankle-Foot
  15. 15. Orthosis (AFO for short), made. I thought Mark said UFO and I was going tohave a UFO strapped to my leg. In about ten days, my splint came. It wasstrapped to my left leg stretching out my ankle stopping it from twisting – andthe splint put my leg in a normal position. It was not uncomfortable to wear, butthe Velcro straps sometimes rubbed if they were too tight. What did lookuncomfortable were the leg callipers and braces some of the other children hadto wear. The callipers went all the way up the leg, whereas my splint went fromunder the knee down to the bottom of my foot, and they had metal rods. I wasglad I did not need one of those.In addition to my daytime splint, I wore a night splint in bed, which was a bitmore uncomfortable and was made from molded plastic. You held it on bywrapping a big bandage around it and fastening it with a safety pin. I also woresmart clumpy red boots for added foot and ankle support.In the classroom, Mrs George had one of those apples you blow on to make theworm pop out. Another cool gadget helped familiarise us with how to formletters and number. It was like a marble track; you put the marble in and itrolled around in the direction in which you should move your pen or pencil toform the shape of the character. It helped me start to learn how to write again. Ifound writing really difficult. We also ran a little bank in the classroom once aweek so we could do some simple maths. After lunch, we returned from eatingmashed up and puréed food to clean our teeth and wash our hands in ourclassroom.Afternoons would normally be filled with physio or English. I had intensivesuper physio, and the ladies who ran the physio department were amazing. I cannever thank them enough. Jessica, who I can recall stretching my arm outside ofthe cinema when we went out on a trip, was wonderful. I got on particularlywell with one physio – Penny Hale. Penny helped me no end. Over time, webecame great pals. In addition to Jessica and Penny, many great loving andcaring people worked with me. I had speech therapy with a lady called LindseyParrot who put chocolate spread on the end of my nose and told me to try andlick it off with my tongue. I would laugh because she was called Parrot; she didnot find me laughing about her name very amusing, but I had a sense of humourthat everybody enjoyed.We said prayers in class, and one day, I took a turn saying the daily prayer. Ithad been really bad weather with heavy downpours of rain, and in my prayer, Iasked God to make it stop raining all the time. After my prayer, Berrol told mewe need the rain to water the flowers. I thought my prayer was good, even if shedid not.
  16. 16. Physio was an ongoing event with daily exercises, which still included stretchesover a big Swiss ball and balancing holding on to a ladder-back chair, whoseseat was secured under one of the rungs so the physio could move the seat upand down, ensuring that whoever sat on it would have his or her feet flat on theground. When I sat, I was encouraged to twist myself to the right as my bodywas twisted around to the left; it was always hard to remember to twist aroundwhen it is natural to twist in the opposite direction.At home, I watched Neighbours during dinner most evenings or Top of the Popswhen it was on. People said that the singers on Top Of the Pops weren’t reallysinging, that they just put the tape on and played the music. I was really curiousas to how they managed to play the instruments and hit the drums withoutmaking any noise and ruining the music. If only someone had explained to meat the time that they only played a recording of the vocals.Dad was pushing me to balance and step over his bar, which I did and gotslowly better at. One weekend, we went on a picnic out on Dartmoor, and Imanaged to stand up on my own without holding on. My dad was thrilled, aswas the rest of the family. Dad pushed me to take a step, and I fearfully did,taking my first ever proper step since the accident that led to me walking again.It was a monumental moment, one that everybody had only dreamt about. If ithad not been for my dad pushing me on, I know that I would never have startedto walk again as soon as I did.On Sunday evenings, Grandma usually made a nice supper of cakes andcrumpets with marmite, butterscotch or strawberry angel delight, all sorts ofsweet treats. Some weeks, Grandma made a pink blancmange in the shape of arabbit; we had a plastic orange rabbit mould, and she would make green jellyand break it up with a fork and spread it all around the bottom of the rabbit as ifit were grass. I liked these suppers and the chocolate cupcakes that came inshiny wrappers and also the marshmallow teacakes covered in chocolate. Yes, Iliked my food. Because I was not able to do much exercise and ate all the cakeand pies, I put on weight easily and got fat.Back at Vranch House, the news that I’d walked spurred on all the physiopeople, and all of my exercises were now focussed even more on my walking. Igot a blue helmet to prevent further head injury if I fell or walked intosomething. I still wanted an electric motorised wheelchair though, and here Iwas with a blue helmet and clumpy red boots instead. In the physio department,there was a motorised chair called a pony. It was orange and quite basic, withfour wheels and a handlebar, and reminded me of a granny scooter yousometimes saw out and about in town. It was nothing as grand as Steven’s. At
  17. 17. lunchtimes, you could book the pony and drive around the building during thebreak. I always wanted to ride the pony and booked it out quite a lot.Towards the end of term and on the run up to Christmas, we put on a schoolplay. I played Father Christmas’s spaceman, delivering the children theirpresents, and the pony got all decked out to look like a flying saucer. It was socool with flashing lights that I could control with a switch inside. As part of mycostume my helmet got covered in silver foil. I was the coolest thing ever in mymind. I made my entrance onto the stage to the theme from Doctor Who. Due tothe amount of people watching, the stage was quite narrow, and I had to haveassistance turning my spacecraft around. It was quite funny, and I enjoyed thereaction of all the people clapping me on.I was enjoying making steady progress and being the central attraction inmy world. We put on another school play the following year: The PiedPiper of Hamelin. I played the mayor and drove on stage riding the ponyagain, stealing the spotlight once more by spontaneously taking my three-pointed black hat off and waving it about in the air in a sort of queen-likewave. I think that bit stole the show!I worried everybody when we had swimming because I liked going under thewater all the time, and I could hold my breath for a long time, which alwaysunnerved everyone in the pool. I could stay underwater anywhere up to twominutes. I enjoyed swimming classes and swam under the water more than ontop of it. There was a rubber-covered brick that sank to the bottom, and I wouldswim down to try and get it. The pool was always kept nice and warm, as werethe outside covered pool area and changing rooms.One of our more special school outings was to the opening of a new swimmingbath complex in Exeter, which was at the time called The Plaza; it had a big redwaterslide inside. The Duchess of York came to cut the tape. There was a hugecrowd, and some people from the local radio station came too. I spoke into themicrophone and got on the radio.It was not that great an outing, and I was glad to get back to school in time forthe school shop that was run every Tuesday afternoon. I had a Care Bears pursethat secured through a loop onto my belt. It was red and had a blue zipper acrossthe top. Care Bear characters were embroidered onto the front. Mum had givenme money for the school shop, but when we got back from the swimmingopening trip, my purse was empty. Surely I had not been pick-pocketed; maybemy mind was playing tricks on me and I had forgotten to get money in themorning from Mum. One of the care helpers lent me some money, and I bought
  18. 18. a black Siamese cat with diamante eyes in a plastic dome cover. I gave it to mygrandma, as she liked cats and animals.The secretary ran a game where, if you filled an empty Smarties tube withpenny coins, you would get a star. I pestered everybody at home for pennies so Icould fill up empty Smarties tubes. Grandma ran a hairdressing shop and did thebanking every week on the kitchen table at home. I used to get involved and putall the bank notes the right way around with the Queen’s head facing up. Inreturn, I would get more copper one-pence pieces to fill my tubes so I could getmore gold stars. One day I thought it would be funny to put hundreds of tinysilver stars, the kind you might put in with birthday cards, in the tube with thepenny pieces. I put a load of these stars in the top of my Smarties tube so whenthe secretary took the lid off all the stars went all over her desk.My walking and physical condition continued to improve; Penny would walkbehind me a lot of the time and make sure I did not fall. One day, she did amagic trick for me. Ever since getting a magic wand with Sooty I wasmesmerised by magic, I even used to watch Paul Daniels on Saturday nights andget impressed by what he did, how tragic.Penny did a trick as I was walking. She said if I walked up tall, a fairy’s shoewould appear inside of my helmet. As she took off my blue protectiveheadwear, she produced a tiny little red rubber shoe, and I was so amazed.I was probably one of the best customers at the little school shop, which a ladyran on a Tuesday afternoon. Once I bought one of those big squeezy tomatoesyou put ketchup in; we used it on a Friday night with our fish and chips fromthe van down the road.I also bought some stickers in a box; the stickers were on a strip, so that as youpulled the strip, a sticker got dispensed. They had the Rice Krispies charactersand funny remarks in speech bubbles. We went out on a boat for another schooltrip, and I decorated the boat in Rice Krispies stickers. There were horsesoutside pulling the boat along; it was like something out of a movie.At home, Dad raised the bar higher on his ingenious limbo-style step bar. Hegot aggressive to make me want to push myself to work harder and harder andkeep getting better. The people around me thought Dad was being a bit too hardon me, especially after what Dr Cummins had said when I had left Frenchay –that pushing me too hard might deter my progress.Vranch ran a clinic once a month so all the children could be seen by apaediatrician called Dr Trip. I did not like him very much at all. He had words
  19. 19. with my dad because of how hard I was being pushed outside of school. I do notthink Dad and Dr Trip saw eye to eye, but my dad new best as always.Every week, Auntie Sal used to visit Grandma and Grandad’s house to do artsand crafts with me. I used to greet her and say in my robotic manner, ‘Right,now today I thought we would do this.’ I remember making something thatMark Curry made on Blue Peter the night before. It consisted of two makeupmirrors held upright at adjacent angles to each other with a circular pictureunderneath; as you spun the picture, the reflection in the mirror made a pattern.It was simple but effective. We used an empty Liquorice Allsorts box as thebase and attached a piece of a wine cork with slits in it to hold the mirrors upright. Underneath we held the picture disc in place with a butterfly paperfastener. Arts and crafts was so much fun. I liked to make things and buildconstructions with my Lego.Once for my birthday, I had a party at a restaurant in Exeter called the TurksHead. It was a Beefeater restaurant, and the attraction of going there was TheMr. Men kids menu they had. I must have been seven on that birthday. I had afew friends join me, but it was mostly family. At the Beefeater, one of myfavourite desserts was a big ice cream that came in a tall sundae glass, and youcould choose a sticky syrup sauce to go on top of it and you could also havecrushed nuts sprinkled on top!Doctors at the hospital told my mum that she was unlikely to be able to everhave any more children. Both of my parents were, as you can imagine, verydistraught by the death of my sister, Katie, and would have loved to haveanother little girl to fill the void. It did not sound as if it was meant to be though.At the moment, my rehabilitation was the main concern. Dad still continued toblow three times on my head at bedtime and say, ‘Go away, naughty brain;come back, good brain.’ Grandma used to read me a bedtime story too; she readlots of Famous Five stories and also The Wishing-Chair. I liked that one.One day, Dad even drew out a brain map for me using different coloured pensto differentiate between good brain and naughty brain. He was so headstrong,pushing me to work as hard as I possibly could to get better, encouraging me tolift my leg up as high as I could to get it over the bar and to balance by the aga.The whole family was so overwhelmed by and impressed with my progress thatthe local newspaper got in on the remarkable story of my success – a feel-goodstory to go in amongst all the doom and gloom of normal everyday life. Thereporter came to visit us at Grandma and Granddad’s house and to take picturesof me posing with some of my soft toys whilst giving a cheeky grin. I sat on mybig stuffed dog that we had called Frenchay because some friends had givenhim to me in the hospital. I also had some knitted teddies of Worzel Gummidge
  20. 20. and Aunt Sally, who were my favourites. I enjoyed watching WorzelGummidge, the talking and living scarecrow who lived in a field, before BlackBeauty the horse came on on a Sunday morning.Returning to Vranch House on a Monday morning was always nice; a largemajority of the children who went there came in by private minibus. There wasa residential care home for those children who did not live locally and wereunable to travel from home each day. Grandma and Grandad’s house was notvery far away, so I did not go on the minibus, which had a lift platform on theback for wheelchairs and big electric scooters, the type I never had. When wedid go in the minibus for trips and outings, I never got to use the lift thoughbecause I could walk by myself now.Mum and Dad had organised a carer for me, and she came and helped me day today. She was called Lisa, and we got on really well. My nan used to call herLeeza though; it really bugged me, as it was, Lisa, not Leeza. Lisa helped mewith the simple things in life, which were the things I found most difficult,things like putting my socks on after swimming and getting dressed in themorning and putting my splint on.Lisa taught me a clever trick to help when putting my socks on after swimming.She turned them inside out and put them over her hand; then she grabbing mytoes and rolled the sock back up my foot, turning it the right way out again. Lisacame into the classroom with me sometimes too and helped me with whatever itwas I was stuck with.Mum fell pregnant. It was a miracle that was to be kept hush-hush to beginwith, but I found it hard to keep a secret. I was out shopping with my nan oneday, and we had stopped for coffee in a small little café called Coffee Plus. I hada strawberry milkshake – the café did not offer Ribena, obviously – and inbetween gulps, I was desperate to tell my nan the great news that Mum waspregnant. When I did, she was elated.Over the next nine months, Mum became extremely big. I did not know it waspossible to get that big. Everyone was shocked. All of her scans showed ahealthy baby. It was fantastic news. Mum and Dad so wanted it to be a littlegirl. And since their prayers to bring me off the life support machine had beenanswered and they had been granted the miracle of getting pregnant again afterdoctors said it was unlikely to happen, surely this was going to be a little girl.At Vranch House, I was continuing to make steady progress, but the biggestthing I was struggling with was balance. To try and improve this, the physio putme on a tricycle. I liked riding the bike so much that, at home, I got a BMX ofmy own that had special stabilisers and foot plates with straps to keep my feet
  21. 21. on the peddles so that I could ride it round the block. In certain packets ofbreakfast cereals, they were giving away reflectors that clipped on to yourspokes. Least to say, I had quite a few of those on my wheels. I used to ride upto the park across the road from Grandma’s house and have a go on theroundabout and seesaw. There were horses in the fields around the park areaback in those days; now the fields have given way to housing. We used to takethe horses some sugar lumps. Grandma would also bring Mindie for a walk. Onother trips out, I would get taken to see the donkey’s at the Donkey Sanctuary.On other weekends, we’d go to Dawlish Warren, and I’d do some brassrubbings at the bird viewing station hut. Back then, we did a lot more outdooractivities than we do today. As I sit here thinking about it, I realize we do not goout half as much as we used to. We’d go on picnics, and I’d try to fly a kite, butI could never get it to stay up in the sky for very long.I went on quite a lot of trips with Vranch House. One I very much liked was upto London to the Horse of The Year Show at Olympia. It was nearing Christmastime, and back at school before we all left on the trip, we were each givenautograph books to collect signatures at a celebrity preshow party held by SirJimmy Savil’s brother. I liked Jim’ll Fix It, and I knew who Jimmy Savill was. Igot quite a lot of autographs, even though I did not know who a lot of the peopleat the party were. The show was great, and seeing all the beautiful horses in thearena was wonderful. We all enjoyed it very much; towards the end of the show,they played Christmas music and Santa came out in an old-fashioned car like inChitty Chitty Bang Bang and pretend snow came down from the roof.The following day in London, we got taken to see some of the royal carriagesthe queen and other members of royalty used. We were very honoured to beshown these so up close, as it was in private grounds to which most people arenot permitted entry.On the last day of term as it was Christmas, Santa came to school and gave usall a present. I got a modelling kit; he obviously knew I liked to be creative. Inthe evening, we had a carol concert, and all of my family came in support ofme. Most of the children who were more seriously ill than myself were unableto control themselves enough to be able to sing, so they would rattletambourines and shake sticks with bells on.When we left and walked out to the car, it snowed. It was just like a properChristmas scene, like from a snow globe.Grandma had bought me a snow globe with Santa on his sleigh and a reindeerinside; when you shook, it the white stuff inside made it look like it wassnowing.
  22. 22. On Blue Peter, Yvette Fielding showed you how to make your own snow globe,using a jam jar and some Plasticine, plus some glitter for the snow. You made asnowman out of the Plasticine and stuck it on the inside of the lid. Then youfilled the jar up with water and put some glycerine in it to help the glitter swishabout. When you turned it over and shook it, you had a perfect snow storm in ajar.For Christmas, we had gone away to stay at a nice hotel. On Christmas Eve inthe hotel, I could not sleep very much because I was worried that Santa was notgoing to know I was not at home and here in this hotel. I woke up very early togo to the toilet, and I wanted to see if he had been here and left me any presentsin my sack that I had left at the bottom of the bed. He had been, and I had asuper big present. I was so excited, and I could hardly wait until the morning. Iopened my biggest present first. It was a Scalextric set. We set it up in thehotel’s lobby and raced cars around the figure of eight track all day long. I donot think we got in the way too much.One of my many smaller presents was a miniature stained-glass window kit. Itcame in a little box about the size of a matchbox, and inside was a metal outlineof a picture. There were lots of little, different-coloured crystal granules thatyou carefully put in the frame using little plastic tweezers; then you baked it inthe oven, and all the granules melted down, and you were left with a littlestained-glass picture.After the Christmas break it was back to school, but I did not realise that peoplewere starting to feel that I could not remain at Vranch House for much longerand were of the impression that I was ready to go out in to the real world. Dadand Mum were looking for a suitable school for me to go to.It was not until we were sitting outside of Nurse Penny’s room at Vranch Housewaiting to go in for clinic to see Dr Trip again that I could see just how bigMum was. I thought her tummy was going to pop. I really did not like going tosee Dr Trip because I did not understand why he would have me lie on thecouch and tap on certain points of my body with a stick that had a thing on theend that looked like a conker. He tapped one point and said that he should havehit a reflex, which should have reacted, but it did not. I was not too botheredand just wanted to get out of the clinic.The Devon County Show had come to Exeter, and we had a trip there to see theanimals. We also got a chance to look inside a proper fire engine. It was all veryexciting. Some of us were going to go up in a hot air balloon, but the wind wasbad so we could not. Maybe one day I will because I still have never gone up inone.
  23. 23. On 17 February 1987, my mum was taken into hospital to give birth. We wereall hoping she would have a girl, and we waited patiently for my dad to callfrom the hospital with any news. Was it a girl or was it a boy?My mum gave birth to a little baby boy. He was rushed away from her, as hehad been starved of oxygen. Five minutes later, all the doctors and nurses ranback into see my mum with a sense of urgency. Mum was panic stricken andwanted to know what was wrong.‘We think you are having another baby!’Seven minutes after having given birth to a baby boy, Mum gave birth toanother baby boy. It was such an unexpected shock. The news wasoverwhelming. Not a girl, but two boys.The babies were so small that they were dressed in dolls clothing until theyfitted into regular baby clothes. It was big news, and when I went to see mybaby brothers in incubators, we had a family picture taken for the localnewspaper. It was all a lot to take in at the time as you can imagine.
  24. 24. Chapter 3 Crippled and living with a witch.My rehabilitation had gone as far as it could at Vranch House, and it was timefor someone else to come to this amazing rehabilitation school. So my familyhad looked for a ‘normal’ school for me attend. Life was going to take anotherstep back towards some kind normality.They’d found a suitable school not too far from Exeter, near my nan andgrandfather’s house and also extremely close to where our new home was beingbuilt. So for a short period in between when I finished at Vranch House andstarted school in West Hill and until our new house was ready, we moved inwith my dad’s parents. Penny, my physiotherapist from Vranch, came out withher dogs in tow to have a look at the small, family-run school, and it was perfect– small, not over crowded, wouldn’t require a lot of walking around, friendly,and warm. It was ideal.Nan and Grandfather’s house was much bigger than Grandma and Grandad’sbungalow. They had a big garden. Grandfather was growing tomatoes in hisgreenhouse, and he also had a little fish pond with goldfish in. Nan andgrandfather were very interested in their gardening and tried to get me involvedin it too, but I was not going to get my fingers dirty or do anyone’s weeding; Ido not like to get dirt under my nails or feel unclean.Nan had a cleaning lady called Vera who used to come two mornings a week.One week, she forgot to take the bins out, so the next time she came, I told hernot to forget the bins. I got told off for being cheeky, but I never understoodhow I was being cheeky because I was just telling her how to do her job andbeing helpful as she’d messed up last time. There was also another time that,whilst cleaning the stove, she must have accidentally turned on one of the rings;the plastic electric kettle on top of the ring melted and really smelt bad. I onlynoticed it whilst I was doing some colouring trying to stay within the lines andcreate a masterpiece. I coloured in the rumpus room, which was next to thekitchen. I thought the whole place was going to burn down and we would alldie. Yes, I can be quite a dramatic person at times!Vera bought me Superman, the first movie in the series, on video for mybirthday, so she obviously had not taken any offence from me telling her how todo her job and take the bins out.In the rumpus room were two sofas opposite one another, and I would practicewalking back and forth between them. I wanted to succeed, and Nan told me
  25. 25. that, one day, I would walk normally again. My bedroom was upstairs, and toget up the stairs, I could only manage one step up at a time. Walking back downthough was trickier, and if I’d lost my balance, I would have fallen down thestairs, so I sat on my bottom and bumped down the steps. I said to my nan once,‘Nanny, am I disabled?’ She looked at me with a smile and said, ‘At themoment, my darling, yes, you are.’Nan helped me learn to spell. She taught me about words ending in ‘ight,’ likelight and right. She asked my grandfather to ask me to spell something with‘ight’ in, and he asked me how to spell kite. I said, “K-i-g-h-t.” Obviously ‘ight’and ‘ite’ sound the same when spoken, and Grandfather did not know which oneNan had meant. I still had a long way to go with my spelling.My nan always seemed to be right about things all the time. I asked her if shewas a witch. Even till this day, I sometimes call her a witch. Not a witch likeGrotbags or anything but a nice witch. Out in her utility room where thewashing machine was, there was a bin and shelves stacked to the rafters withtins and packets of food, most of which was out of date because she never threwany of it out. I think it got on Grandfather’s nerves a bit.Grandfather kept the garden beautiful, with flowers always trimmed back and aperfectly manicured lawn to match. Gregory used to come over, and we wouldplay hide-and-seek. Once, we were playing hide-and-seek, and I hid behind thefront door that went into the garden. He walked in and out of the house forhours unable to find me. I was giggling so hard, as he kept walking past thedoor and I was only behind it. He looked in the sheds, of which there were two.He checked in and around the carport and all over the garden. He looked, and Iwas behind the front door, which he kept walking past in and out of the house. Iwet myself with laughter.One Sunday afternoon, as a family, we put up badminton net on the bottomlawn by the greenhouse. All the family played but I got so frustrated that I couldnot hit the damn shuttlecock over the net I locked myself in the bathroom andcried with frustration and did not come out for ages. Mum got upset because shedid not like seeing me like this.My new twin baby brothers slept and cried most of the time in their Mosesbaskets. Lisa now helped looked after them too. Their bottle sterilising tank wasconstantly in use and left out on the work top in the kitchen. They requiredfeeding every few hours, and the demand for powdered baby milk was highduring those years; sales of nappies must have been up as well.Bendarroch School was a small family home that had been turned into a school;it had only two classrooms and took children from the ages of six to thirteen.
  26. 26. Starting to get back into society was hard and still is. Although the school wasperfect for me, it was still hard work and took a lot of getting used to.The ‘little class,’ as it was known, was a large room that would have been adining room if it had still been a family home. It had patio doors at the end ofthe long, wide room that led out onto the garden, which was equipped with aclimbing frame and a set of swings. Over in one corner was a sand pit madefrom a big tractor tyre. It sure was a nice place to be, and at playtime, I loved togo on the seesaw swing. I could work that one on my own without needing to bepushed, unlike on the rope swings, which I could not gather momentum on bymyself.My teacher was a lady called Mrs Twigg. She was nice and friendly. The classhad several little wooden desks, enough for twelve or so children, and down atthe far end of the room was a square rugged area to sit and read or play games.To the side of that, shelves with games and toys lined the wall. On the top shelfwas a television. Opposite that wall, the teacher had her desk. At the oppositeend to the patio doors that led out into the garden was a big blackboard, and inbehind that was a cupboard where we all hung our coats up and put our packedlunchboxes.Being a very disabled child such as I was back then and trying to interact andgrow up alongside fully able bodied children sounds tough, and it was. It alldoes seem like a lifetime ago to me now, but I still went through it. Otherchildren struggled I think to understand me, and it came across as bullying orname calling. It was petty to start with, but as I have grown up, so has ‘schoolbullying.’ I found it hard to keep up with others, and I got left out sometimes,opting to sit inside and read or play a card game or make paper aeroplanes. Iwas learning to do everything again. The books we started learning to read withwere from a series about the people who lived in, ‘The Village with ThreeCorners.’ They were always so colourful with great illustrations and thecharacters. There was Jennifer Yellow Hat – she was my favourite – JohnnyYellow Hat, Billy Blue Hat, Percy Green Hat, and Rip the dog, just to name afew.I struggled with my reading, and writing was hard too. Well everything washard and still is. In religious education lessons, we had workbooks to go throughwith the local vicar. His two daughters, Marigold and Harriet, were also at theschool. I became quite good friends with his eldest daughter, Harriet. In one ofthe lessons, I drew a picture in my RE book of myself holding a sceptre over mysister’s grave and a yellow bolt of lightning coming from it into the grave andmaking my sister come alive again. Oh, to be a child again.
  27. 27. I struggled with mathematics, having to relearn all of my times tables again.With the type of brain injury I sustained, I suffer with short-term memory loss.It made everything to do with learning that extra little bit harder. I was heldback a year in my schooling in order to allow me to try and catch up.Something I struggled with immensely was copying off of the blackboard. Iwould look up to see what the teacher had written, and by the time I got pen topaper, I had forgotten, so it took me three times as long to copy somethingdown. My writing was slow and messy. My teacher deserved a gold star just forbeing able to read my work.Mum used to stand behind me for homework and hold the pen in my hand anddo the writing so I could form the letters more steadily and get the flow of letterformation.Nan and Grandfather had gone on a big trip around the Far East, and Nan usedto send a postcard from all of the different places they went to so, at school, wecould follow their progress on the map. We put little marker pins on a map onthe wall. I liked doing that, and I also liked geography. I was never very good atit, but I found it interesting and still do.Some days, we would watch television, and there were lots of programmes backin the late 80’s aimed at school children. I liked the one that had the magic torchthat formed letters in the air so you could follow it. It was the same principle asthe marble track contraption at Vranch House. Writing was really hard. Puttingpen to paper and forming the letters was a slow process. I pushed too hard onthe pen and dragged the ink, and because I pushed so hard, all of the shakes andwobbles from my hand were visible in the print.Whenever you got stuck or needed help in a lesson, you had to go up to MrsTwigg at her desk and stand in a line and wait your turn to see her. This was OKuntil, one day, somebody said I kept peeing all over the seat in the toilet, and Isaid it was not me. To get to the bottom of this, Mrs. Twigg came to check thecondition of the toilet before I used it. I thought that was strange; surely sheshould come in after I had finished. When this period of toilet checking wasnecessary, I’d have to jump the line to say, ‘Mrs Twigg, I want the toilet.’ It wasa bit embarrassing.Getting momentum on the swings at break time was difficult, and I could notget very high, which frustrated me. But some kids helped me, and I did start tomake a few friends. We would sit on the swings and twist the ropes round andround so it would spin really, really fast. More often, I opted to go on theseesaw swing or to play in the sand pit instead. The grounds of Bendarroch
  28. 28. School also had a lot of trees and good hiding places. Around at the front of thehouse was another lawn. The ‘little class’ was at the back of the house, butaround at the front of the house where the ‘big class’ was, was another big lawn.A big tree with lots of ferns and bushes growing around it stood at the bottom ofthe lawn. Beside the tree at the foot of the front lawn were lots of fur trees, andin behind them, it was like a fortress of branches and logs that became one ofthe top play areas. It was known as ‘the big tree.’ Further down the longdriveway from the house was another play area under a canopy of trees. A tireswing on a rope suspended from one of the many high branches.The school day started at nine in the morning, but I used to wake up very early.By the time nine o’clock came, it felt like half the day had passed already. Eachmorning, Lisa helped me get into my school uniform – a red collared shirt undera navy blue sweatshirt embroidered with Bendarroch School in red over the leftbreast area. I wore charcoal grey trousers, but Mum put a Velcro fastening onthem to make it easier for me to get them on and off.I remember being in a shop with Mum. We were getting me a pair of newschool trousers, but the shop did not have a pair large enough for me. Just howbig was my waist measurement back then? I think if I can remember correctly,those trousers were forty-two inches.Tying shoe laces was impossible, so I had slip on shoes that I could manage. Ihad my splint too, which I did not like, but it helped with my walking.Every morning we had show and tell. I liked taking in my latest toy or thing totalk about and play with. I got what I wanted most of the time, when I wasyounger. I was really into ThunderCats and had Lion-O, the main character’s,action figure. He came complete with a little plastic sword of Omens, and abattery-operated button in his back that you could push to make his eyes lightup red. It was so cool. For my birthday, Lisa bought me the WilyKit andWilyKat figures – WilyKit and WilyKat were Thundercat’s children – andwhen I went shopping with Grandma, she bought me the figure of Mumm-Rawho was the evil villain in the show. He also came with a button that made hiseyes light up. I took all my things into show and tell. I brought something toschool every day.We had a morning break time at 11.15 for fifteen minutes, and lunch break wasat 13.00 for an hour. I couldn’t wait until it was time to go home at 15.30. Thebig class didn’t finish until 16.00, Ha ha! I thought.We did arts and crafts with Gail, the headmaster’s wife, mostly modelling withclay. We made a real mess, and we had plastic aprons to protect our uniforms.One particular afternoon we were modelling with a new type of polymer called
  29. 29. Fimo. I made a pot – all rainbow colours – by rolling out different colours ofFimo into worms, curling them around a circular base, and building it up. Fimocould be hardened and baked in the oven; Gail baked all our creations in theoven. My pot creation was the start of my new Fimo craze. I liked modellingwith it so much that I got lots of Fimo at home and made lots of things sitting atthe table in the rumpus room. I’d ask Mum to bake them in Nan’s grease stainedoven. You could get varnish to glaze your pieces with and all sorts of kits andtools and instruction books giving you ideas of what to make.I was asked to be a page boy at one of my nan’s friend’s daughter’s weddings. Ihad to wear a straw boater hat and a smart suit. Harriet from school was abridesmaid. It was nice having her in the wedding procession. I wanted to makemy own wedding party out of Fimo. My nan and I sat at the table for daysmaking little people and baking them in the oven. I made a little hat to sit on mycharacter’s head as well. We varnished and glossed the collection and wrappedit all up in tissue paper and put it in a shoebox to take to the wedding.Some afternoons at school, instead of having lessons, we would watch a videoin the family’s kitchen, living, and dining room. A little guy called Edwardbrought in The Little Mermaid to watch; it was just such a good film I thought atthe time. Another more serious video we watched was the televised play versionof the Charles Dickens classic Nicholas Nickleby. What an excellent piece ofdrama. I did not really understand it but the acting was marvellous. Thecharacter Smike had a funny face. The wind changed directions whilst he waspulling funny faces, and now he was stuck like that; that’s what my grandmaused to say to me, that if the wind changes when you are making a funny face, itwill get stuck like that forever. How did the actor manage to hold his face likethat for the whole play?I was interested in acting and drama. I was not very academic because of mystruggles with copying and writing and short-term memory loss. At the end ofterm in the summer, we put on a play, and I got a part in the chorus as a manselling pots and pans. I did not have many lines, but I had to do a solo. That wasthe first of a few plays I was in at that school. At Christmas time, we put on anativity play and sang carols in the local church. We all walked up the aisle in aline holding candles singing “In the Bleak Midwinter” as we made our entrance.We watched The Snowman one afternoon. A girl called Emma performed thefilm’s theme song as a solo one year at our school Christmas carol service. Iused to think I was really good at singing and wanted to do it. In my head, Ithought I sounded normal, but hearing myself on tape, I could hear just howslow and irregular my speech was. Internally my speech and movements feltand seemed normal, but externally they were clearly not.
  30. 30. We had a very good music teacher called Mrs. Reynolds; I really enjoyed musiclessons and music in general. Mrs. Reynolds wrote songs for us to sing, and oneyear for the local television stations charity, Telefon, the whole school, alongwith students from another school, gathered in a field and sang a song. We wentto a proper recording studio to record it and everything. Some fortunate peoplegot to go on the telly and sing the song in the Telefon studios. I was really upsetthat I was not chosen to go on the telly. When I saw it sat at home and my mumpointed it out, saying, ‘Oh look it’s your school on telly,’ I was most upset andcried.I did get to meet Ulrika Johnson though when we were singing in the field atEscot House. By this stage, I had moved up from the little class to the big class.The headmaster was the teacher in this class; we all called him Sir. Everymorning before lessons, he would read us a story. He did different voices foreach character in the book. I used to enjoy being told a story. The book Iremember him reading most was Goodnight Mister Tom. It was such a brilliantstory, and Sir read it really well. He also read Watership Down, which wasanother good story, and in music class, we sang the film version’s theme song.It was nice being in the big class, but our school day was a bit longer than in theother class. They finished before we did, and out of the window, you could seeall the parents coming to get their children from the little class. I was jealous.Once during a geography quiz, in which Sir pointed to different places on theworld map and we put our hands up to answer, I did not really remember whereplaces were. Someone told me the place being pointed to and I put my hand up.When Sir came to me to get the answer, I said what I had been told, and thewhole class laughed. Over the course of my school life, I was often humiliatedand bullied this way. I have learnt it is something I just had to live with.Sir split the class up into two teams – the ‘Bens’ and the ‘Darrochs.’ I was onthe Bens side. A points tally was kept between each side and we could winpoints in PE or in class tasks; there was not really any prize at the end of it all,but it was just a game. We used to play rounders for our games and PE classessometimes. I thought fielding was so boring. I just stood around the field. Whenit got to my turn to bat, because I could not run very well, I was allowed to justwalk around the bases instead of running around the field. When I eventually –by some divine miracle – hit the damned ball and got around the base a numberof times, I helped my team win.At break times, the new hot commodity was a Game Boy; they had just comeout and were the coolest thing to own. I had one with the Super Mario Bros.Game. It kept me amused for ages. Lots of people in school had them, and wewould see who could get to the furthest stage in the game. Tetris was anotherpopular game. Back then, I found it the most boring game ever, but nowadays, Isimply love it. I used to and still do get bored very easily.
  31. 31. For packed lunches, we wanted Pot Noodles, which had recently started toappear in supermarkets. Yes, they are pretend food, but to kids, they were great,they came in so many flavours. Beef and tomato was one of the first flavours,and it came with a small sachet of tomato ketchup. They soon progressed to PotRice. I loved the chicken supreme, which came with basil sprinkles in thesachet. We all brought Pot Noodles to school, and at lunchtime, we wouldhassle Sir and Gail to make them for us in the kitchen. Gail would stir them andthen leave them to stand for a minute on the sideboard. Hot packed luncheswere the way forward in the early 90’s, and Mum bought me a He-Manlunchbox. The box came with a thermos flask, and I used to have hot things in itlike my classic tinned macaroni cheese or baked beans with little sausages ormeatballs in gravy. Just typing that makes my stomach turn.Some afternoons, we played games like charades or that game where you lookup an unfamiliar word in the dictionary and then invent multiple choicedefinitions between which the rest of the class has to guess. Most of the peopleknew that my dad worked in scaffolding, so one of my multiple choices wasalways, ‘Is it a type of scaffold fitting or a type of scaffolding?’ It normallythrew the class off, and I’d win another point for the Bens, yay!In addition to playing in ‘the big tree’ or staying inside and tapping on GameBoys, a new trend started – skate boarding. We didn’t stand up on theskateboards; well, some did because they could. I couldn’t, so I was one ofthose who sat on the boards and raced down the long drive, which had twospeed bumps. It was fun, and I really wanted a skateboard of my own. For mybirthday, Auntie Debbie got me one; it was bright yellow and had a tattoopicture of a python on the bottom. It was only a one-bearing board though, so itdid not go that fast, which was probably a good thing. We used to race down thedrive and go over the bumps; my knuckles sometimes got a grazing fromholding on to the sides of the board and hitting against the tarmac.Sir set us little fun tasks on occasions. One I loved was dropping an egg from agreat height without cracking it using only a piece of cardboard and somenewspaper. Lisa and I thought about this, and we just made a box and cushionedthe egg with the newspaper. I thought about a parachute thing, but Lisa did notknow how we could do that. The day of the event came, and I was gutted whenmy egg broke and even more gutted when a boy called Sam had made aparachute and his egg did not break. Sam only knew how because his brotherwho had done it the year before told him. One of our other tasks was to make avehicle that would self propel and carry an egg over a distance of one meter. Imade a wooden lorry propelled by the stretch of an elastic band; it did cross thefinish line, and I was pleased with myself. One boy, also called James, made abattery-operated car with a rocket on top. When he turned the motor on, the
  32. 32. rocket went off like a firework. It hit Cathryn in the face. It was awful. She gotbadly burned. I felt so bad for her. I got badly burned once at home. There wasno hot water, and I wanted a bath. Dad poured in water from the kettle, and it hitmy foot. It was an accident, but the water burnt my foot quite badly and I had togo to Accident and Emergency.Each week on a Monday, we would have cross country running. The run circledaround the wood up at the top of the hill from school. I wanted to have a go, andI did get round the course in the end, but I walked. On Fridays, we wentswimming at the swimming baths in Exmouth. We’d go on a bus, and we’d allfight to sit on the back seat that went across the whole width of the bus. I didnot really enjoy going swimming because I found getting changed too much ofan effort. I always tried to get a sick note from Mum, but she always said it wasgood exercise for me.The swimming instructor was quite bossy; she was also on the large side. Sirdid not come in the water but stood around poolside and watched, the peoplewho did not come in swimming and just sat around the pool were given blueplastic covers to go over their shoes. There was a big clock at the end of thepool that went round in sixty seconds making up a minute. I never understoodthe point of that.The people who were lucky enough to get excused from swimming still had tocome to the swimming baths but got to sit out in the café area and play withtheir Game Boys and eat sweets from the vending machine, which always tooka hammering on a Friday when we all descended on the place. I liked getting theSherbet dip and also the popping candy that fizzed in your mouth.Sir joined a book club, and each month, we got a little catalogue of books wecould buy. We’d order them and they’d come to the school. Mum used to readme the books at bedtime, and she’d bring me up a cup of hot chocolate whenshe came to put my night splint on.Our new house in West Hill was finally ready to move into. Arriving at our newhome and seeing the packing boxes arrive with all of our possessions that hadbeen in storage for so long was unbelievable. The things I wanted most were mytoys – the penguin rollers coaster toy I used to love so much and I had nottouched since I was five years old, where was it in all of these boxes of stuff?Vranch House had one of the toys. It had little penguins that went up the stepsof the rollercoaster and then rolled down the track to start again; to encouragethe children to do things, you had to push a button to make the spring thatcarried the penguins up to the top move. I never found my toy, but I had somany other things, I did not miss it.
  33. 33. The house was designed as a bungalow. It had so much roof space that myparents turned the space into a massive playroom. At the far end, there were lotsof cupboards and on top of them a nice big surface where I quickly constructeda bustling city out of Lego. I was very pleased with the city, which wascomplete with a monorail that went to the airport, hotels on the beach, petrolstations, and everything. Nan bought me the Octagon branded petrol stationwhen we went to Toys “R” Us in Plymouth on the way back from seeing thestage version of Roald Dahl’s The BFG. (I loved that story. I read lots of Dahl’sbooks when I was younger.) Nanny and Grandfather bought me the monorailfor my birthday, and Grandma and Grandad got me the new airport. I had agreat set-up, but as my brothers grew older, I was constantly in a state of dreadthat they would destroy it all.The house had a sunken lounge, and above that, a huge hallway that lookeddown into it. Off of the hall was my parents bedroom, and next to that a littlebedroom that I had a computer in. The computer had been a Christmas presentone year. It was an Amiga, and I was so thrilled with it that I cried because I didnot think that I was going to get it.Down a narrowing stretch of the hallway were two more bedrooms. I had thebedroom on the right. It had bright red carpet, as that was my favourite colour atthe time. The room opposite was where the twins slept. In between the tworooms was a bathroom, which had bright green carpet and gray fixtures.Mum got pregnant yet again, still wanting a girl. We had gone on a familyweekend to Blackpool to see the lights, and during our visit, Mum went to see afortune-telling gypsy woman who told her that her next child would be a girl.On hearing this, Mum soon became pregnant.Lisa finished working for us, and Mum found a replacement called Elaine. Inever understood why Lisa left. I really missed her. We went on holiday once tothe villa of a friend of Nan’s in France. Lisa and I would swim under the watertogether, and I sat on her back as she swam a length under the water. Elaine wasnot warm like Lisa was, and I did not like her.Dad and Grandfather had bought a caravan home in the South of France throughthe scaffolding company they had successfully built up together. The companywas going well.We would go down to the caravan for school holidays. Sometimes, we wouldall go as a family. I would sleep in this little tiny room with a bunk bed; therewas no room for anything else, just a bunk bed. Auntie Sal and Uncle Nickwould stay with us too, and Auntie Sal used to come in and give me a goodnight kiss. She would say, ‘Night night, darling. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.’
  34. 34. Every night she said that I would have a nightmare. When she’d come in to kissme good night, I would be thinking, Please, no don’t say the part about thebedbugs. But it was usually too late.We would suffer with the high winds in that part of France called the Mistral; itwas a very high wind that normally came with a storm – thunder and lightning. Ilearnt some basic French through those years of going to France on holiday. Igot a taste for soupe de poissons with crunchy croutons, which I always hadwhen we went down to the local port, and platted sugared doughnuts from thepâtisserie. I saw my first frog out whilst Grandfather was cooking steaks on thebarbeque.One year we went to the caravan, and Elaine and her boyfriend came too. Wewere going to play a card game and she made me sit on the floor whilst she andher boyfriend sat at the table. She was not very nice and always argued with meabout things; this would always occur, though, when nobody else was around.She was really awful at times.Back at home, I pestered my parents to let me have a hamster. When I got one, Icalled her Harriet. My hamster would go in one of those plastic balls and runaround and roll all over the house. A few times, Harriet escaped and wentbehind the sofa in our version of the rumpus room, the family room. Mum haddone sponge print painting on the walls, and we had grey-flecked sofas and achimney breast that separated the family room from the kitchen. Harriet gotsick. We took her in a box to the vet, and he said she had Wet Tail and gave ussome medicine in a syringe type thing, instructing us to put one drop a day inwith her water. I asked Elaine if she could put one drop in the water for mewhilst I was at school. When I came home and asked her if she had done this,she said she’d struggled getting a drop out and had put a bit too much in. Thefollowing day when I came home from school, Harriet had died. I suspected anoverdose was the cause of death.The garden at the back of our new house was not very big, but Dad had his eyeon the piece of land over the hedge that belonged to a lady who lived in thehouse behind ours. Dad and I went round and knocked on her door to ask aboutbuying the land, which was all overgrown anyway. The old woman said shewould have to speak to her son, who lived up the country, about it and get backto us. A week later, we were told we could buy the land to extend our backgarden.It was not just a small bit of land, and it wasn’t just going to give us a little bitmore garden either. Dad had some impressive plans for the plot. He completelytransformed the land; diggers moved in and revamped the whole new back
  35. 35. garden. Dad had a swimming pool put in on the lower half of the garden, and onthe upper elevation was a grassed area with swings, a slide, and a climbingframe. The pool was shaped like a kidney, and down at the shallow end was aJacuzzi. Around the pool was a vast area paved out with slabs and ornate lightsdotted about. A pool house was constructed to house the pump and machineryto run the pool. The pool house was a changing room and also had an open airkitchen area with a bar and a chip fryer; it truly was like something out of abrochure, but only when the sun shone, which was not very often. We had a lotof good and happy times there. My brothers learnt to swim there, and we hadsome great parties and barbeques around the pool.The big patio table by the pool had a massive umbrella that stretched the entirelength of the table. Mum got lights to clip underneath it, so when it got a bitdark, the lights would come on, which meant we could still stay out. Oneevening, the family came over for a Barbie, and everything was set up nice –music playing, wine flowing, food cooking. The weather looked dodgy, but wewere holding out hope. As fast as we sat up and the cork popped, so too did thesky; the rain came, and the thunder brought with it lightening. Abandoning ship,everybody picked up his or her dinner and scurried inside. The British summer,with its liquid sunshine, was perhaps not best suited to host an outdoorswimming pool.The pool was great. I enjoyed it. It was hard work for my parents, though, whenthe liner got a hole in and it needed draining.One of the other types of holidays my parents enjoyed was skiing. I went withthem on a few skiing holidays and learnt the art of snowploughing and how tofall down eloquently. My dad was a good skier and helped me loads by skiingbackward and telling me what to do. I had private lessons and my own all in oneski outfit. Mum and Dad encouraged me to do normal things and to join in, evenwhen I did not want to.I enjoyed skiing to a certain degree; it was a lot of unnecessary hassle thoughputting layers of clothes on and big cumbersome Moon Boots then changinginto uncomfortable ski boots. Our first few skiing holidays to France wereenjoyable, and as most of the family are skiing fanatics, it was good fun. Mybrothers soon got in on the skiing lark. They were growing up so fast, and onthe slopes, they ran riots and became quite proficient skiers.At home, we would all go out for the day to a dry ski slope to practice. AuntieSal and Uncle Nick came too on one occasion and brought my new little cousin,Oliver, who used to sit on my lap as a baby so I could give him his bottle whilstwatching Fireman Sam or Postman Pat. He grew up quickly as well. Everybodyloved skiing. I started to feel I was not doing very well or progressing with the
  36. 36. sport as well as my brothers; my weak left side and poor balance meant it washard for me to turn or change directions.The more I went on skiing holidays with the family (and more specifically, withall the boys), the more frustrated I would get. It was just becoming too much. Ifelt as if I was trying to compete to keep up with my fully able brothers andcousin. I was not at their level; nor was I able to be. And they were youngerthan me. During one ski trip in Austria – Nan and Grandfather had come too – itsnowed so much, and skiing was a real effort. I decided skiing was not for me,and I have not been since.As with everything, I had given it a good go, but it was just not right for me. Myparents still go and my brothers do too, but I would rather go on a summerholiday than on a winter holiday that involves wearing uncomfortable boots andbeing cold and damp.Another one of the family hobbies was golf; what a slow game that is. My nanis an avid golfing enthusiast, along with my grandfather. They were alwaysremarking that I should take up golf. If it was not golf this, it was golf that.They tried to get me on the golf bandwagon by practicing chipping in thegarden; oh how dull that was. I was often told what to do, how to do it, andwhat would be good for me, and I still am today. I, in turn, always tried topacify everybody and go along with the suggestions. I do not know how the traitbegan. Although I am starting to change, it still continues a bit today, and I amnow twenty-eight years old. I was never interested in golf, yet I still had myown set of clubs and a bag. I would walk around the golf course my nan playedat and mark her card. We would go to the driving range and hit a bucket ofballs; it was just such a slow and monotonous activity. We were always going tothe golf club for dinners and things. I could not stand those gatherings becausethe club house had rules about dress – no jeans or trainers. I always thought theclub was a bit stuffy about things like that. I was a little boy who lived in jeansand trainers. ‘You cannot wear jeans or trainers in our golfing establishment!’they would say. I will wear what the heck I want to, I wanted to replay. Nope,golf was not for me.I would sit at home upstairs in my bedroom playing Aladdin the video game onmy Mega Drive for hours. Now that was more my thing. I got a Game Gear fora present at Christmas. I’d thought my brothers had gotten all the best presents,and I’d been left with a bunch of cheap selection boxes from Poundland; then Igot the Game Gear, and I was so thrilled. The Game Gear was like a handheldversion of the Mega Drive. I played Sonic the Hedgehog for the remainder ofChristmas Day.
  37. 37. I had all the latest and greatest things I wanted, and I took my Game Gear toschool. It soon overruled the Game Boy. My Lego was coming along nicely,and I got the castle and space outpost ice base. I had started calling up andordering bits of Lego people accessories, hats, and hair directly from the Legomanufacturers.I was making friends in ‘the big class’ at school and mum and dad hadorganised a maths tutor to come and give me some extra tuition. Life was at areasonably good place at this time. I went to some friends’ birthday parties andtried my hardest not to lick my lips when biting into a sugary jam doughnut in aparty game at one of the parties. I always wanted to win at pass the parcel andmusical statues was one of my favourite games to play. I always liked gettingthe little party bag at the end, with a piece of squashed birthday cake wrappedup in a funky napkin along with a few little cheap, useless plastic toys.During a mid-morning class one day at school, Sir said he had a surprise for us,and he wheeled in a big new computer on a desk. Sir told us that it had beendonated to the school, but he never told us who donated it. The computer founda home in the little library room across the corridor from the classroom. Therewere a few games on it, and at break time, we all crowded around it to try andhave a go. I obviously got left out, as I could never fight my way to the front ofthe crowd. I did get a go sometimes but not that often. Several years after andhaving left Bendarroch, I found out that my family had donated the computer toshow their appreciation for how well I had been looked after and was doing.Every morning, we had 10-a-Day. This was a book that had ten questions thatwe’d been sent home with the previous night for homework. In the little class,we’d had 9-a-Day.Back at home, my bedroom had moved from downstairs to upstairs next to theplayroom, where my Lego city was now becoming a metropolis. I was amember of the Lego club, and on my birthday, Dad took me and a group offriends to the Lego exhibition in Bournemouth. If you were a member of theLego club and presented your membership card when you went, you would getinto the exhibition for free. My friend, Henry, was a member of the club like Iwas, and I told him to bring his membership card. I liked the exhibition, and Iwent to it a few years running.After my friends and I had finished at the exhibition, we went to Pizzaland forpizza. They used to do a drink there called a coke float, which consisted of cokewith a scoop of vanilla ice cream floating in it. I liked it back then but wouldnever touch such a concoction nowadays. Caffeine and dairy, no, no, no.One of my other friends, Christopher, had a birthday party, and we went to aQuasar game in Torquay. It was a laser tag game, and you ran around shootingeach other with laser guns – the clean version of paintballing. We split into

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