On the 2nd of November 1973, I pushed my way into the world, kicking and screaming. I caused the woman who had endured my weight in her womb for nine months a great deal of pain and a young man, who had been a baby himself a little over twenty years earlier, had his life changed irrevocably.
This is his story.
My Dad was born on the 5th July 1953 into a country that had (more or less) just finished reeling from WWII. He grew in Daisy Hill, an area of Wallsend, not far from Newcastle. He kept the details of his youth to himself for the most part but I do know life wasn't easy for him. A left-handed person in a strict Catholic school was in for many punishments. By the time I came into the world he had developed a pronounced stutter.
My mother already had two children by different fathers, both of whom were black. Please don’t think badly of her, the true life story that led to this highly unusual (for the 70s) situation is far bleaker than any horror I've written. He fell in love with her and raised those kids as his own, accepting and fighting the rampant racism of the time. His selfless and unquestioning love for all of us coloured my view of humanity from an early age.
When I was 10, my mother and father split. In a rare decision, by the standards of the early 80s, he was awarded custody of me and became a single parent. Again, a rarity. I still have a vivid memory of the argument he had at the post office when they tried to refuse payment of Child Benefit to him on the grounds that only mothers collected it. He fought the system, and won. He had no option – without that money we wouldn't have eaten.
Over the next couple of years he sustained our unconventional family by working hard at any job he could find. He worked on a farm, he carried bricks, he laid paving stones and host of back-breaking jobs, all to keep a roof over my head and food in my belly. He never complained, not once.
When I was almost twelve he and a friend made a decision that changed my life and, more importantly, his. He got his hands on some disco gear. All of a sudden my Dad was a DJ and the boy with the stutter had to master a microphone.
Master it, he did. For decades to come he was the DJ to book. Weddings, birthdays, funerals (yes, really!), divorces, Christenings, presentations, the list goes on and on… He made more people dance than any other on the circuit. He was, and remains, a legend.
I know people who were Christened and he did the disco. They had numerous birthday parties and he did all the discos. They got engaged and he did the disco. They got married and he did the disco. And because of his talents, many people love him.
But for me it was different. No matter how much people loved him, I loved him more – he was my Dad. He fed me, he clothed me, he kept a roof over my head and he cared enough to punch me and set me straight when my teenage years threatened to derail me.
Never have I loved anyone as totally and fully as that man.
He married twice more. Each time, he loved the lady but also knew she would enrich my life too. Even when he was falling in love, he looked out for me.
When I fell ill with MS, he stepped in and picked up the pieces. He brought a whole new way of running a bar to the pub I had barely been managing to control. At an age where he would be allowed to wind down he displayed more energy than a far younger man.
At the beginning of 2013, he began to feel ill. Never one to want to worry others, he kept it to himself. Eventually it was noticed and a myriad of possible causes were suggested. He blamed a bad knock to the head while working in the bar’s cellar. We all suspected complications arising from Diabetes.
Before long, a mini stroke became prime suspect. When he was finally scanned in a hospital they found a pair of tumours in his brain. Not wanting to be a disappointment to us (his words, not mine) he vowed to take any treatment they offered.
Within days the man who previously wouldn't even take a headache tablet was having brain surgery. Next was radiotherapy that left him burned, fatigued and balding. His hair, his pride and joy all his life was going.
Still he soldiered on, supported massively by his wife and my younger brother. Through no-one's fault, it wasn't enough. This was one fight he couldn't win.
At 15.59 on Wednesday 22nd May, just a little short of his 60th birthday, my Dad passed away.
Whether you call him Dad, husband, brother, friend, Kev the DJ or the arsehole who put you on Pubwatch, you’ll never forget him. I dare you to try.
Kev the DJ, my Dad. 5/7/1953 - 22/5/2013
Today is the return of the Name It! challenge. How it works is very simple...
1) Send me a title. Either as a comment on this page, on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/MLeonSmith) or @GeordieWriter on Twitter.
2) I will select one and write a story of between 250 - 100 words and post it the following week.
3) That's it.
There's no need to explain what the story is about. who the characters are, where it take place etc etc - just a title.
A little example:
I was told by a friend that 'Monday' would be a rubbish title - so I wrote a haiku:
Monday was never asked
If it minded the hatred
It just gently wept.
© 2013 M. Leon Smith
Please donate to Macmillan Cancer Support
Last night I had a great night with a friend of mine. We had a great time polishing off the bottles of White Grenache (by far, my favourite wine!), eating take-away food, reminiscing over "the good old days" and generally putting the world to rights. She then asked a question. It was a simple off-the-cuff kind of thing you say when you're having a drunken chat.
"Have you given up on walking again?"
For those who don't know - a quick recap - I'm a wheelchair user (though I bang on about it so much, it seems like the whole world must know!). Since the day I first got a wheelchair (24th July 2009 - if you're interested), I have sworn I would learn to walk again - even with the aid of crutches.
Time and again, I see inspirational videos on Youtube of people who have overcome their physical disability and got out of their chairs. You cannot fail to be impressed and inspired by these people - what they have done is truly remarkable but, me being me, managed to turn this around and use it as a stick to beat myself with. If they can do it, why not me?
The thing is, they all have one thing in common. They have recovered from a devastating injury whereas I am still being injured. My M.S. is still there and will never get better (unless they work out how to regrow Myelin). The most obvious signs, for me, that things are still not right is how many numb fingers I have on a daily basis. Some days are a lot worse than others.
So have I given up? Or have I just stopped beating myself up?
What I do know is that I'm ready to give it another go. So another round of exercises to strengthen leg muscles, painful stretching of my atrophied hamstrings, and many many falls await. Let's see how far I get this time...
On another note I am flying through the next chapter I am writing of the latest Blue Jackets book. I had been stuck for a long while but I worked out how to proceed and things are going well.
Please donate to Macmillan Cancer Support
At school I was a 'swot', nowadays I guess I would be a 'geek' or a 'nerd'. The thing is, I enjoyed school. I loved learning. It wasn't until I reached college that the spark left me and education became a grind instead of something I loved. As a result I messed up my A Levels and didn't proceed into further education, despite being more than able.
Life (and the jobs I held) offered opportunities to learn and I took them gladly but I always felt that I had somehow missed something. The education I got when I started to write (and particularly when I started the work with editors!) was invaluable but very specific to the task in hand. In the last few weeks I have decided to change things and I am currently on my second course.
The first was informative and useful, the one I am currently on is an object lesson in what I should earlier in life. I am completing an IT course at Level 1 (equivalent to a GCSE at grade D - G) and it isn't challenging me. Even the tutor has said I should consider a Level 3 or an HND.
I have been searching through the courses available - and it really is like being in a sweet shop! Here I am, in a wheelchair and chasing down my 40th birthday and I'm planning on being a student again. I didn't see that one coming! Now if I could only decide which course to do...
Please donate to Macmillan Cancer Support
Today I feel older.
Age doesn't land on you with both feet, kicking you into adulthood. No, it prefers to sneak up on you. And don't get me wrong - it's not all bad. The memory of the day I first looked at a girl and had to look again, well it still makes me smile. Or the pride I felt as a young teenager when I realised that yes, I did need to shave. Or my first kiss, my first house, my first job - the list is almost endless. All magical moments brought on by age.
But there is a down side as well. The loss of friends, which I've had happen through illness, suicide and even murder - it all teaches you what pain is about and makes you older, regardless of how young you are. I'm lucky enough to have both parents but the loss of grandparents was traumatic enough, thank you very much.
Then there are other things, such as the first overdue bill, the first time you have to choose between going out and buying items for your house and a thousand other things - they're are all signs of the creeping shadows of mortality.
So why, you may ask, do I feel so old today?
Ray Harryhausen died.
The man who brought the flying saucers to attack the Earth, who brought the skeletons back to life and armed them with swords. The genius who made Pegasus fly and without who the Kraken could never have been released.
His death hit me. Hard. Not just because he was a lovely, talented man who has left a huge hole in the movie industry but because he was the man who made the pre-teen me's jaw drop. The man who made this monsters real - even if for a few minutes. Age, hiding but there, stepped from the shadows long enough to remind me that the child that was me is long gone.
R.I.P. Ray and thank you.
Exciting news from mleonsmith.com!
Starting on Tuesday 7th, there will be blog posts from some of the best authors around. Writing stories in a variety of genres, they will be popping by to say a little about themselves, their books and anything else they choose to talk about. It'll be a blast!
Enjoy your Cinco De Mayo!
Last week, I opened up the newest feature on this site. I asked for you to supply a title via Facebook, Twitter or right here on the blog.
There was a little confusion over what was going on. I apologise for not being clearer. Let me explain...
I wasn't asking you to name a story I had written. I wanted you to supply a title which I would then write a story for.
To further explain, here is an example. A friend of mine gave me a few titles a while ago. One of those titles was 'The Lonely Mole'. Here is what I wrote...
The Lonely Mole
© M. Leon Smith
Jeremy sighed. He was comfortable in his tunnels but it was still not nice being on his own all of the time. He just wanted somebody to share all the tasty worms and crunchy bugs with.
He had looked for friends but had not found anyone who could help.
"You should run-"
"And hop!" said the rabbits. "That will make you so much happier."
Jeremy couldn't run and jump and skip and hop. He wasn't a rabbit, he was a mole. He could dig fantastic tunnels and catch all the squiggly, wriggly worms you could ever eat but he didn't have long legs like the bunnies did, so he sighed and kept looking.
"You should," said the wise old owl, "read. You are never alone when you have a good book with brave heroes and beautiful maidens in it."
Jeremy couldn't read books. He wasn't an owl, he was a mole. He made the prettiest hills from soil but his eyes were small and everything he saw was blurry, so he sighed and kept looking.
"Climb trees!" squeaked a squirrel, happily.
Jeremy couldn't climb trees. He wasn't a squirrel, he was a mole. He could find his way anywhere in the pitch black but his legs were too short and stumpy to climb trees, so he sighed and kept looking.
All the animals in the woodland gave lonely Jeremy advice but he could not follow any of it. The Robin red-breast suggested he go the another country on holiday. Jeremy couldn't fly, he was a mole. The fish suggested he had a nice, long swim. Jeremy couldn't swim, he was a mole. Each time he realised there another thing he couldn't do, Jeremy got sadder and lonelier.
Then one day, as he was digging some new tunnels to make his already fine house even better, Jeremy banged his head. He had small, blurry eyes so he was used to banging his head but this was different. Normally when he banged his head it hurt but this was warm and soft.
"Ow!" said the something he bumped. "Watch where you're going!"
That was another surprise. When Jeremy banged his head, whatever he bumped into never normally spoke to him and certainly not in a girl's voice. "I'm sorry," he mumbled. "I'm a mole and I can't see very well."
"I'm a mole, too. And I can see just fine. I have spectacles. Do you not have any?"
Jeremy had never even heard the word 'spectacles' before. He sighed. It was one more thing he didn't have. "No, sorry."
He felt a paw wrap around his and the fuzzy shape in front of him said, "Let's get you some. I'm Rhonda, what's your name?"
"I'm Jeremy. Nice to meet you, Rhonda."
Without any further delay they went back to his house. When they got there his new friend put the kettle on for tea and asked, "Do you have any jam?"
Jeremy nodded and pointed across to the cupboard. They drank hot, strong tea and ate sweet worm jam sandwiches and some bug crackers while having a nice chat. When they had finished, Rhonda asked, "Where do you keep your twigs?"
Being a mole, she knew Jeremy's house would be full of useful things like strong twigs and stout twine. Again, he pointed to a cupboard. He tried to watch what was happening but he eyes were so blurry he couldn't, he was a mole after all.
After a few minutes, Rhonda said, "All done! Hold still..."
Jeremy held still as something was slid onto his face. All of a sudden he could see clearly and the first thing he saw was Rhonda. She was pleasantly plump with short, glossy brown fur so dark it was almost black. Her nose was long and twitched in a such a lively way that Jeremy knew she would be great at finding worms. Balanced on her nose were a pair of jam jar bottoms, held together with twine and twigs.
Jeremy realised that those must be the spectacles she had told him about. Now he had a pair of his own!
"Thank you! Oh, thank you! It's amazing. I can see everything. I could hug you!"
Rhonda looked down and blushed. "You're quite welcome."
Jeremy shuffled around his house, seeing his things properly for the very first time. He had never been happier.
"Oh," said Rhonda, checking her watch, "I have to go home. I'm late and my Father will be so worried."
Jeremy was sad, he had hoped Rhonda would stay. It had been so wonderful to have someone to talk to, drink tea and share his sweet worm jam with, and now he was going to be lonely again. When Rhonda saw the sad look on his face she said, "Don't be sad. You make great jam and I'm sure we'll be friends for a long time."
With that, she left and Jeremy was on his own again. He went outside and marvelled at all the great new things he could see. All the blur and fuzz was gone and in its place there was a world of colour and shapes he had never imagined before. Who would have thought spectacles made from twigs and jam jars could make the world so different and special? Jeremy spent hours just wandering around and finding out what things he only knew by touch and smell actually looked like. Then he had an idea...
He couldn't find what he was looking for so he asked the hedgehogs but they wouldn't speak to him because they liked eating worms too but hated to share. He asked the cheeky mice but they only stuck their tongues out, squeaked, and ran away. Suddenly there was a hoot from high up in the trees.
"Excuse me," called Jeremy, to the wise old owl above. "May I please borrow a book?"
The owl was more than happy to lend him books and he was never lonely again.
Next call for titles go out on Wednesday...
Please donate to Macmillan Cancer Support
A while ago, there was a blog post entitled 'The Muse', in which I talked about how I had been given titles by a friend and written short, flash fiction pieces with those titles. One of those stories, a children's piece called 'The Lazy Worm' is included in that post. It's something I really enjoyed doing, so I'll do it again!
Each Wednesday, I put out a call for titles. Simply leave a comment with your title and I'll choose one at random, write a piece and put it on the site the following Monday. I'll also post a video of me reading it on Youtube (once the technical aspects are fully sorted.)
You will get a credit on both the blog and Youtube video. Some ground rules... I don't do erotica so any comments with filthy names will be deleted as will direct rip-offs of other titles - be original!I would love for this to work so join in, it'll be fun!
Help raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support
Yesterday, I placed a very hurried blog on this site, which really didn't give many clues as to what was going on. Today, I have more time so here we - let's do it properly!
I am this weeks guest author on Leanne Tyler's site. In this post I speak about inspiration and where ideas comes from. I also talk about the very real stories that inspire Blue Jackets.
It is something of a first for me. I have never been invited to be a guest blogger and I hope that I said something that Leanne's readership will enjoy.
I will be starting a similar feature on this site soon - probably next month. I will also start a weekly challenge on this site shortly. It will go live as soon as I have worked out all the technicalities. I will also be re-starting my Youtube channel to tie in with this weekly challenge. Could be interesting...
I hope you all come along for the ride with me...
Also, I feel the need to discuss yesterday's events in Boston. Yet again, humanity lets itself down. The loss of life and the injuries caused are disgusting and my heart goes out to those caught in the blasts, their families and friends.
A bomb is an act of gross cowardice and does nothing to promote whatever cause the perpetrators think is best expressed with pain, terror and death. In fact, all that is achieved is loathing for those responsible. I do not know, or care, who planted the bomb, or why.I will continue to not care about the individuals or group responsible, once the details are made public. They are worthless and below contempt.
Today I am lucky enough to be blogging on Leanne Tyler's page. Swing by, check what I have to say and say hi to Leanne!