Next Monday (December 3) sees the première of the very first comedy sketch that I have written when it is shown in York.
How did it come about? Well, earlier this year, I was approached to see whether I would like to put my comedy writing skills to good use and write a comedy sketch that would be part of a free interactive roadshow, which is part of a research and public engagement project by the Creative Speech Technology (CreST) Network.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of speaking at the Communication Matters conference in Leicester. For those of you who don't know, Communication Matters is an organisation committed to supporting people who find communication difficult because they have little or no clear speech. You can find out more at the Communication Matters website.
Not only did I have lots of fun at the conference and met some very nice and interesting people, I also performed a short set and took part in a question and answer session.
Firstly, I haven't written a blog post in ages, so I'm sorry about that. I'd like to say that my showbiz lifestyle of drink, drugs and girls has kept me busy.......but I can't. The reality is that I'm just a lazy bastard.
Funnily enough, I now have a few blog posts to write to update you on what's been happening in my life.
The past few days since my stand up comedy debut on Saturday have been pretty mental. I haven't had this much praise since the doctors told my Mam that I was going to be a special child. For starters, the feedback I got straight after the gig was great. From the initial reaction, everyone seemed to enjoy my set which was both a relief and a huge boost.
Those of you that know me know that I enjoy a challenge. Which is a good job, because supporting Newcastle United is always a challenge! But it has also helped me cope with my disability. There's always going to be things that I can never do. Simple things like tying a knot (which means I'll never get the chance to hang David Cameron) or making a cup of tea (therefore poisoning David Cameron) are always going to be impossible.
Some people say that communication is the key. I don’t know who these ‘some people’ are and where they’ve come from but maybe they have a point. I mean we wouldn’t get very far if we couldn’t communicate. Just look at Wayne Rooney!
I’m guess I’ve got experience of realising how important communication is because it’s harder for me to communicate than for other people. This is because, when I was very young, I was very ill and developed cerebral palsy. This is a disability that can affect people in many different ways but for me it meant that I lost use of my speech, my right side of my body is weaker than my left and I walk with a limp. So, as you can imagine, it has caused a lot of challenges over the years!
When I first started school, I was taught sign language along with my Mam and other members of my family. This is what I had to rely on for years. It was OK, all my teachers knew it and some of my family did too. However, it was obviously very restrictive and no good for anyone who didn’t know it. This meant having to use my Mam to relay what I wanted to say or just use gestures in the hope that they’d understand.
Thankfully, I had very good speech therapists at school and they soon had me using communication aids instead. The first one that I ever used was known as a Touch Talker. Not that it was very portable! It was like carrying a huge briefcase around with me. I’m sure it stretched my arms over the years. Again, it wasn’t perfect. As far as I can remember, it was based on pictures with every picture representing a phrase. It was better than having to rely on sign language but there was still a lot missing.
I think I was about 12 when I first got given a Lightwriter. It was similar to a Touch Talker but much smaller and much more flexible in what you could do with it. You could store phrases under each key but you could also use it to type freestyle so it was easy enough to say pretty much whatever I wanted. I seem to remember the voice being much better than it was on the Touch Talker too, it was much clearer.
As I was to find out after a while, it was pretty robust too (not that I ever dropped it……much)! It also had two screens, one for you and one for the other person to look at. If I’m honest, it is this feature more than any other that has made me stick with the Lightwriter for about 20 years or so. I’ve tried other devices because ideally I’d like something smaller but I’ve always found that not having the two screens was a deal breaker. It is very useful when you’re out and about or in a loud place.
I’ve never actually realised how much my Lightwriter has changed my life and helped me communicate more effectively. I’ve always just taken it for granted. But when Toby Churchill (the company behind the Lightwriter) asked me to blog about my experiences of using it throughout various aspects of my life, it made me think about all the things that I wouldn’t be able to do as well without it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect but I doubt anything will be (unless I designed it myself!).
That is why I’m happy to blog about my experiences, both for those of you who are interested in finding out more about me and for those of you who maybe don’t know much about communication aids and want to find out more. If I can help other people who are in a similar situation as me with making the right decision when it comes to choosing how to comunicate, then it’d have been worthwhile.
I look forward to sharing my experiences (both good and bad) from all aspects of my life on this blog over the coming weeks and months.