Monday, 3 November 2014

Before you judge me, please listen to why I don't wear a poppy.

At this time of year I am surrounded by poppies and it's not uncommon for someone to comment disapprovingly about the fact that I'm not wearing one - you'd think I'd be used to it by now as I've not worn a poppy for 25 years.

But before you assume that my decision comes from a lack of respect, let me assure you that I have the deepest regard for past and present members of the armed services.  Many of my extended family have or are still serving and my mum and her three brothers all played their part in WW2, in fact my Uncle Geoff was a Japanese prison of war who worked on The Bridge over the Rover Kwai, so I have every reason to show my support.

When I was in school I was one of those who volunteered each year to sell poppies at break times and prior to 1989 I would not have dreamt of being without a poppy in the weeks running up to Remembrance Sunday, but events that year changed the significance of the poppy for me and I've not been able to wear one since.

On Sunday November 12th 1989, the last thing we watched on TV before going to bed was the service from the Royal Albert Hall and that always poignant moment when the poppies fall from the roof.  Shortly after midnight the telephone rang - it was the hospital telling us that we needed to come in as there was a problem with Daniel.  We knew that it was serious for them to have called us, but we had no idea of what we were to find when we arrived, Daniel was gone, his short life had stopped after just 100 days.

For me not wearing a poppy has nothing remotely to do with lack of respect for Rememberance Sunday and the sentiment behind it, but everything to do with what that event in 1989 has caused me to associate with the poppy and it is just too emotional a symbol for me to cope with, even after all these years.

So perhaps before you assume that someone without a poppy has no respect, you'll wonder if there is possibly another reason.

Monday, 8 July 2013

My Olympic Torch Relay - one year on

I can't believe it's so long since I posted on here, I had so many good intentions of posting regularly but life just seems to have got away from me and on the odd occasions when I've had time I've not been in a good place to write - especially since I lost my mum earlier this year.  But it's one year to the day that I had the honour of carrying the Olympic Torch in honour of friends with Down's Syndrome worldwide and at 7am I am due to meet with two reporters from the local BBC Radio station, so this is a good opportunity to get my thoughts in order for that.

The two guys are cycling the route the Torch Relay took through our three counties and chatting to some of those who were involved along the way.  They want to know what my year has been like. what I've done and what have been my highlights.  So where do I begin and what do I include?

I loved visiting the schools and various other events where people got the chance to hold the Torch and take photos.  Especially gratifying was the day I went to the Disability Resource Centre in Dunstable when they had the Paralympic Torch flame visiting before the Paralympic Torch Relay.  It was very humbling to witness the reaction of some of those people with disabilities who could not verbalise their feelings but who had pleasure written across their faces.  A few days later I also had the wonderful opportunity of witnessing a local stage of the Paralympic Torch Relay when friends from Stepping Stones DS took part, including young Nicole Williams, one of our Down's Heart Group members - she looked so proud!

In October I returned to Nigeria for my third visit to the Down Syndrome Foundation Nigeria and took the Torch with me.  The youngsters loved having their photos taken holding it (in fact everyone did) even my gorgeous goddaughter Honour whom I hadn't seen for two years.  It was wonderful to see her doing so well as last time we met she was a tiny little soul in desperate need of open heart surgery - now she is lively little girl who is walking and talking and defying all the expectations for a child with Down's Syndrome in Nigeria.

The flights passed uneventfully despite taking the Torch on as hand luggage, in fact the only really awkward moment was taking it through security at Heathrow. Off it went down the conveyor belt towards the x-ray machine, then the security guy watching the screen looked up questioningly and said "Is that what I think it is? An Olympic Torch?", I replied yes at which point he announced at the top of his voice to all the surrounding security (and passengers), "I've got an Olympic Torch here!"  So much for me trying to be discreet about what I was carrying.

In December I was one of 16 Torchbearers and 16 Gamesmakers invited to attend the BBC East Regional Sports Awards.  That was amazing, we got to meet several of our Olympic and Paralympic Medal winners and they were very gracious and not only posed for photographs but even let us hold their medals.  I was honoured to hold the Gold Medal of Etienne Stott.


Then to top it all, in March I went along to help at a fundraiser for Watford Mencap where they had Lord Coe as the speaker.  Not only did we get a wonderful photo of a group of us together including my friend Caroline England of Herts Inclusive Theatre who carried the Paralympic Torch, but Lord Coe very kindly signed the souvenir folder that I was presented by Coca Cola who were my sponsors for the Torch Relay.

It has been an amazing year and I can't believe it has passed so fast.  I had fantastic support from friends far and wide with people watching me live on Torchcam all across the world, many wonderful opportunities to talk about the organisations I am passionate about and raise awareness.  I am honoured to have had such an opportunity and I cannot possibly single out one occasion that means most to me as they have all been uniquely special indifferent ways.

There is however, one memory that I will treasure above all of them for very personal reasons.  About 18 months beforehand my mum was diagnosed with dementia and for much of the time she had no idea of who I was, but by some miracle there was a short time last year when she was back with us and it coincided with the Torch Relay.  Not only was she able to sit with two of the care home staff and watch me live on Torchcam, but later that afternoon I visited her in my uniform with the Torch and she knew what it was all about - it meant the world to me.  Exactly nine months later she passed away peacefully in her sleep.

So to everyone that made this possible, that supported me and encouraged me and to all my friends in the global Down's Syndrome community - THANK YOU!