45th Generation Roman

It’s 1969, I am 7 years old.

I am standing outside a pub in Galway. I’ve been there for two hours already. There’s nowhere to sit, so my brother Adam and I are just kicking a pebble to each other, improvising a game of football, to pass the time. Our Dad’s been inside this pub for ages, getting drunker and drunker, chatting up a woman he met on a film set, laughing so loud we can hear him from outside on the road. Adam shows me the Irish coins he has in the pockets of his shorts and we try and work out if what he has is enough for a packet of Smith’s crisps.    

18 years later, I’m in Bristol, on the set of the TV drama Casualty.

I have a pretend bandage around my head, I’m waiting in a pretend A&E for a pretend doctor. I’m an actor, or an extra – I’d trained at drama school, but this was the only kind of work I could get. I have to hang around for 15 hours before they’re ready to film my one scene, but when it does, I act my little socks off. I make all the right ‘Man With Cut On Head’ noises – but the Assistant Director tells me to keep quiet. Authenticity is obviously not required.

In May 2000, I’m sitting outside the Rehab Unit at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge.   

I’m in a wheelchair. There are real bandages covering my face, and only my eyes are visible. They’re frightened eyes. I no longer have hands, I no longer have feet. There’s a massive breathing tube hanging down from my throat, there’s a catheter coming out of my groin. Oh. It’s sunny. The birds are singing. I’m sitting under a tree that’s in blossom. I look scared. Surprised to be outside, I’m intimidated by the sunlight, by the fresh air. There is the sound of distant traffic. I am stranded.

Just 4 years later, I start work in a call centre, taking orders over the phone.

As a quadruple amputee, with severe facial deformity, I’d thought that no-one would ever give another job, so it’s a shock to find myself re-employed. I have to organise myself and fit into a new routine. It isn’t easy and my short-term memory is very poor. My self-confidence is shot to pieces. But I am dogged. I simply will not let myself fail, and slowly, I get good at the job. I make friends and connections. I become part of something again. And I keep on writing.

We’re strong, we’re grown-ups, we can come back from our setbacks.

Now, I am inspired by the love I have for my wife and children. I so desperately want to be a good husband and a good father. It’s as simple as that. Physically and emotionally, there are still huge challenges every day. There is pain. But whenever I come up against my obstacles, the thought of the people I love gives me the inspiration I need to find creative solutions. I am a modern man after all, but I like to think of my resilience in terms of a simple primeval response to adversity. I’m Freddy and Grace’s Dad, I’m Nic’s husband. I’m 45thgeneration Roman, and I simply will not be beaten.

5 Ways To Be More Like A Roman

  • Choose your battles wisely – but when you have to fight, throw everything you’ve got into winning
  • Love what you do – even in the call centre, I used my voice skills, to stand out from the crowd
  • Look after your body, be kind to your mind
  • Build your own army, you can’t do it alone 
  • Never give up or be distracted from your goals – ever