It’s raining, but it’s warm. I’m walking from the train at London, Kings Cross, all the way down the platform towards the ticket barriers and the concourse, at the end. For a man with false legs, it’s a distance.
My son Freddy and I have travelled from Peterborough – and before that, he drove me from our home in Oakham, Rutland. The whole journey takes us about two hours, and now we have to get down underground to reach our destination.
I’d normally be travelling with my wife, Nic, but she’s driven to Manchester to give a talk on sepsis and resilience. I’m missing her.
Freddy’s taking me to an award ceremony for something called the 2018 Disability Power List – I’ve been included in the top 100 most influential campaigners for disability, they’re having a launch party on the top floor of the Royal Festival Hall.
Well. That’s quite something. Maybe, I’ve done something useful, after all.
October night coming down quick, dark, assertive. I notice the slow and subtle way the autumn light glows on the London stone and feel lucky to be alive. Hundreds of people moving this way and that, all in my way. Steps, staircases and gradients I have to inch my down, sometimes sideways. My prosthetic arms feel heavy, painful on the right-hand side where the bone is exposed.
Eventually, we’re down on the rush hour tube, I’m stood in the middle of the carriage holding tight to the floorbar, but we’re not moving. Packed to bursting, it’s airless. Then the driver comes on the speaker to tell us we all have to get off, the previous train has got stuck in the tunnel, and they’re locking the whole system down.
Climb all the way back to the surface, follow the feet in front of you, decide what you’re going to do. Taxi?
We arrive at the venue 40 minutes late, the presentation’s well under way. No room in the lift at the Royal Festival Hall so I have to use five flights of stairs. When Freddy and I go in, on the screen, they’re counting down the top 10 influential disabled people – personalities in the public eye and on the TV.
Afterwards, I force myself to circulate and to meet as many people as I can. There are always really interesting people at these kind of events, and I’m not disappointed. People from all parts of the UK, overcoming all kinds of difficulties, finding amazing ways to tell their story and to spread understanding, confidence, resilience.
I’m among amazing people. There’s Angus Drummond who has muscular dystrophy, but he set up Limitless Travel to empower disabled people to explore the world. I met Ellie Simpson, founder of Cerebral Palsy Teens UK, and 3rd fastest female RaceRunner in the world. And Kamran Mallick, CEO of Disability Rights UK, who helps young people with learning disabilities into supported internships, giving them real opportunities for work.
There are people off the telly. And many more incredible people.
How I love London. Its vastness. Its skyline. Its immovable indifference. In spite of the chaos, even though it’s dark and rainy, I feel at home here.
The room empties. I remember, I’m over a hundred miles from home. Freddy and I haven’t eaten anything. He’s been alone in the corner for a while, but I hope he’s got something from the experience.
I think about Nic up in Manchester, speaking at a big event about how we survived sepsis. How she single-handedly put me back together from the broken pieces, over two decades.
Our lives are fractured, and we’re in different places tonight. We’re poles apart.
Somehow, I don’t know how, we’re still together. I love her so much. She’s the top 1 most influential people in a million million million billion trillion, in my life. My wife and my children are the reason I’ll battle my way across a city in lockdown and find a way through.
My fantastic son. It’s time Freddy and I headed for the exit. For another taxi, back into the endless black locked down London night.