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Thursday 13th December 2007

I had one of those slightly magical days that make the world seem like it might actually be quite a good place after all.
This morning I was up very early to head down to West Sussex to go to Ingfield Manor School. I had been invited down by the people at SCOPE so I could see the kind of place where the money that you lot have kindly been donating over the last few years has been going. And I have to tell you that it's going somewhere really amazing. Up until now I hadn't really thought in any great detail about where the money went or what it might do, but meeting the staff and pupils of this school really turned the coin counting and envelope stuffing and marathon running into some kind of perspective. It was no longer an abstract, but a reality. I wish you could have all seen it too, because you would feel happy that your contributions over the years, however small, had helped places like this to keep running.
The kids were doing their Christmas plays today and they were quite something to behold. Although they all have cerebral palsy, this means different things for different people, affecting movement and speech and coordination in varying degrees. But with the assistance of the staff at the school and Stephen Hawkings style voice synthesisers everyone took part. And they clearly all got something out of the experience.
To begin with, inevitably I suppose, it's hard not to feel sad and shocked that a child is disabled and unable to do all the things other kids take for granted, but seeing them all involved in something like this it doesn't take long before you forget about your prejudices and their disabilities. They are just children. Children for whom life will never be easy, but who also all demonstrated through their dedication and commitment to these shows that in some ways they will get more from life than others who take basic attributes such as speech and movement for granted. So the tinge of tragedy that I felt within me at the start of the day had transformed into a overwhelming state of triumph by the end of the day. Whilst it would be a wonderful world if no child was born with disabilities, the fact is that they are and whilst some might feel they should be hidden away (or worse) the fact is that with help they can live lives with more meaning than some people who just take their limbs for granted.
There were many moving and inspiring moments, but the one that will stay with me forever was the scene where three kids of around 8 years old, dressed as Christmas trees, with vastly varying degrees of mobility, all danced to the Toploader song "Dancing in the Moonlight". It isn't a song that I particularly like and nor, I imagine, did the writer of the piece envisage that the people doing the dancing would be eight years old, have cerebral palsy or be dressed as Christmas trees, but the effort and joy that these kids put into the dance was an inspiration to me both as a performer and a human being. It turned a catchy, though slightly vacuous pop song into something very deep and meaningful and made me look at Toploader in a totally different way. I wished that I had written "Dancing in the Moonlight" because it had created this wondrous moment. Before, when I heard this song, I would have thought of young women, dancing around in revealing party clothes, drinking, taking drugs, about to commit lewd acts with the Toploader band members and I would have felt slightly soiled. But from now on I will think of these three tiny Christmas trees and remember what it actually means to be human.
Like the members of Toploader (I imagine) I have quite an empty and meaningless life and these little scamps reminded me that I should try and live it to the full. Certainly something like this puts one's own problems into some kind of perspective. We all have things we are unable to do and aren't very good at and most of us choose to not do those things at all. But having the balls to do something difficult to the best of your abilities is as good as being the best at it in my opinion and when I see a child who has to struggle to form a word, delivering sentences of dialogue, it is a lesson for both my chosen profession and my life.
In the end I was just enchanted to be at a school's Christmas show. It was terrific fun and again something I have missed out on due to choices I have made in my life. I think the fact that I left this place wishing I had kids of my own is as much of a testament as I can give. The world seemed a better place than it had before. I felt inspired to try and be a better person and make more of my own abilities which I sometimes squander. If that isn't great art then I don't know what is. Your money is being very well spent and I thank you all again. You can feel slightly proud of yourself.
Later I was going to a gig in a little trendy bar near Hoxton, where I was going to be telling some stories in between a couple of bands in a night organised and headlined by my friends 6 Day Riot.
The magic of the day and celebration of life continued even on my way there. When I got off the tube a little bit late, I walked quickly towards the steps out of the station. A young woman beside me, who I didn't know, also moving quickly turned to me and said, "I'll race you up the stairs". I like to run up the stairs at the tube station anyway, so it was weird that she should ask this, but I took her up on her challenge and we hurried up the dozen or so steps reaching the top in a dead heat. She couldn't quite believe that I had equalled her. But it had been fun to race a stranger. Then we came to the escalators. There were two and they were quite long, one was moving upwards and the other was static. We looked at each other and I said, "Let's do it! I'll give you a chance" and I took the non-moving stairs. Although she had to negotiate other commuters she quickly took the lead and beat me by about eight steps, though without the advantage who knows? We shook hands at the top and went on with our lives. It was a charming, enchanting and exhausting interaction with someone I didn't know and would never see again. We were embracing life and victory was not important. Taking part was once again the key.
The gig was also amazing. There was mulled wine, it was taking part in a little club that was more like someone's lounge and there was a smallish but appreciative audience. The opening band, Oli and Clive were terrific and included a woman playing a saw. What more could you want from life? I then read some stories that I haven't done on stage before out of a little book I've been writing in occasionally. It just felt like such a special day: I'd seen three children with CP dancing to "Dancing in the Moonlight", I'd had a race up an escalator with a stranger and I'd seen a woman playing a saw. How could it get any better?
Well 6 Day Riot came on and played some new songs and were incredible. That's how. Check them out, they are going to be huge.
Life is about taking part. That's all I have to tell you.

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