Friday, 25 April 2014

Talking to the Stroke Man about Poetry - Science, Stroke, Art 2014

I was 15 when my dad had his first stroke. I was 33 when his second stroke took his life in 2000. When he died I was really grateful for those 'extra' years, in many ways they were a bonus. I wasn't fully aware of it at the time but when he was initially taken to hospital in Luton they weren't sure he was going to make it  - he pulled through thankfully, and spent around six months in hospital, first in Luton then was transferred to Barts in London before eventually arriving home.  The man who returned to the house was a different man to the one that had left for work one morning and not returned all those months before. His stroke was on the right side of the brain, so affected the left hand side of his body - this seemed weird at the time  - a bizarre sort of reflective trick, but the upshot was he had little use in his left hand and struggled to walk. When he had his stroke, the physiotherapist in the hospital had been brilliant  - they were very keen to get him doing things as soon as possible, trying to get him to stand up and doing basic physiotherapy. During the first months at home he tried really hard to carry on these exercises, I remember him sitting watching TV endlessly squeezing a ball of Silly Putty to try and build some muscles and retain his fine motor skills in what he called his useless left hand.  Of course this lack of movement in his hand, exacerbated by his leaden left leg meant he couldn't do one of his real loves - driving his car.

Whilst born in Canada, my dad was a product of Britain's motor city - Birmingham, and had grown up loving motors, cars - he did his apprenticeship there and had worked at various companies such as Chrysler, Talbot and Peugeot, before the shifting job market meant he had to endure a 150 mile round coach trip daily to work at a plant in Dunstable when there were no jobs for him in his hometown. It was there that he had his stroke, just before Christmas, and my mum always maintained that this daily grind contributed to his stroke. So having his stroke deprived him of the car driving he loved, and the tinkering on engines in the garage that we had taken for granted, and he was never able to go back to work, cut off in his prime, and was left feeling frankly useless and dejected. I'm not sure how much help I was to him initially, at the time not really empathising with the enormity of the situation and what a life changing event it was, even though its as clear as crystal looking back on it now. I know he had black moments, and felt sorry for himself. It took him years to acknowledge that he was disabled,  but he was a real fighter and eventually persuaded his GP that he was fit enough to drive an automatic car and was eventually able to start driving again. It still took him years to apply for his disabled badge though as he didn't want to deprive people who he thought more in need. During these dark times a shining beacon pulled him through - the local Stroke Club and the Stroke Association. Its fair to say that most people don't understand what a stroke is unless they have been touched by it. When I was rung by the doctor to be told that he had had his stroke I thought it was something like a heart attack and asked whether he could speak to me on the phone - I had no idea of its impact and effect, and most people float by in blissful ignorance of it. The Stroke Association  are a brilliant group that try and address this in a number of ways, and in particular provide support on a number of levels to victims of stroke and their families. It was through this that my dad found the lifeline of Solihull Stroke Club, who were fantastic for my dad on so many levels.

Recently I met Mike Garry, a lovely man who I will be blogging about soon in a different context through my Tickets of Distinction blog (as a teaser, Anthony H Wilson, Manchester, the Hacienda and the Manic street Preachers will be involved).  Mike is a poet, and does a lot of work with stroke survivors, watch this brilliant video about how poetry has helped in this context  - its a really uplifting film, and whats more, full of hope. Through Mike I also heard about this brilliant initiative, Science Stroke Art, thats taking place in Manchester in May.  There are lots of events designed to raise awareness of stroke and 'the programme includes talks, theatre, story-telling science and art demonstrations in order to capture people's imagination and challenge misconceptions about stroke'. It looks and sounds brilliant, and another reminder of the brilliant work that so many people do. These sort of things are in need of as much support as we can give. It starts on Thursday May 1st with a launch event and if anyone is around the North West please try and go along to something, or if not at least have a look at some of the brilliant things these groups do. My dad would have approved, and so do I.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Tickets of Distinction

I have really enjoyed Letters of Note and its occasional tweets on often very poignant letters, in fact I liked it so much that I bought the book for my partner for Christmas. It got me thinking about my own personal treasure trove of oddities, the gig tickets I have collected over the years since my first foray into consuming live music at the age of 14, with the magnificent XTC, something that I have blogged about previously. The Letters of Note series got me thinking that maybe I should use these tickets in a similar sort of vein, and use them as a point of departure to discuss other issues related to the event, the date, the band, the venue, or something else completely unrelated. I would call this Tickets of Distinction, a name with its own indie reference points but partly a homage to the Letters of Note idea. So, this is the first in an occasional and irregular series of posts that will celebrate, or commemorate a gig from the past. Who knows, maybe one day it will be a book too.

On 10 April 1992, 22 years ago today, Allison and I went along to see the Boo Radleys co-headlining with the Pale Saints at the Astoria on Charing Cross Road, now sadly razed to the ground to make way for the Crossrail project. To be honest the Astoria was never my favourite venue, although I have seen some notable gigs there over the years including Richey's last ever gig with the Manic Street Preachers (I'll save that for a post in December maybe!) and even some classics in the downstairs Astoria 2 which was a bit of a fire trap, but the Astoria was certainly an important venue, and central London now lacks a similar sized venue of its type. That day, both of these bands were broadly part of that indie/shoe-gazing scene that was later decimated by the onward roar of Britpop, currently celebrating its own 20th anniversary on BBC Radio 6, and of the two bands only the Boo Radleys achieved much success, later clinging as they did to the hem of Blur, Oasis, Pulp and the rest with their one hit Wake up Boo. The gig itself was enjoyable enough. I had liked Pale Saints, who came on first that night I think, since I first heard their 'Barging into the Presence of God EP', with stand out track The Sight of You. The band had formed at Leeds whilst I was at college there and the song was, allegedly, about a friend of a friend. I liked the The Boo Radleys album Everything's Alright Forever too, it had been critically lauded, although my thoughts that maybe it was an overlooked gem was not borne out by a listen via spotify as part of the research for this piece.

The gig was actually only memorable in that whilst we were in the venue, at 9.20, the Provisional IRA exploded a bomb at the Baltic Exchange, killing three people,  injuring 91 others. Elsewhere in London the effects of 45kg of Semtex were also felt, a friend in Clapton reported being knocked off her feet, but we left the venue, some two miles from the Baltic Exchange, in the days before instant media saturation and given the high noise levels inside the Astoria, blissfully unaware of the bombing until the next morning. The site of the Baltic Exchange is now host to the Swiss Re building, better known as the Gherkin and here depicted by Stanley Donwood in his Fleet Street Apocalypse series. Since that evening The Boo Radleys and Pale Saints have long gone their separate ways, the Astoria has been destroyed and the Good Friday Agreement has been signed. London's skyline has changed, and indeed London itself has changed. I'm still going to the gigs though so at least something has remained constant, and this occasional series of posts will catalogue, and celebrate, some of these outings. I have put this post here and also on a new dedicated blog, entitled Tickets of Distinction where these will appear from now on.