Luck and a fairy godmother
Disability isn't always a drag; sometimes it leads you to the very best of people
Hello, happy Tuesday,
I’ve decided to write something positive today. Very unlike me, I know, but I feel like we all need it. I certainly do. And I’m also wary of giving you the impression that disability is unrelentingly bad, when in fact it is just like everything else in having highs and lows and lots of mundanity. Yet because this newsletter aims to make you think about ableism and access and whatever, the lows get a lot of air time.
But that’s not even half the story. There’s so much good stuff about being disabled, so much stuff that I would not give up for never having to worry about a step again. So, in the interests of balance (you can take the girl out of the BBC etc), and because I got to see her this week, let me tell you about my very favourite person in the world: Lou.
I have never known how to describe who Lou is to me in a single word, so here’s a collection: nanny, carer, friend, older sister, fairy godmother. Lou has been in my life since I was a toddler, first as my nursery teacher and then as my nanny. Many people had nannies and don’t see them two decades later, so it’s important to understand that Lou and I spent a lot of time together. She made me dinner and took me to the park, sure, but she also came to school with me, where she was both my scribe and my access to the playground, friends and trips to the seaside. She was the person I stayed with if my parents were away, the person who took me on playdates, but also the person who lifted me on to the slide or helped me stir the cake mix. If she was my sidekick, I was her shadow. And shadows have a habit of following you around for the rest of your life (sorry, Lou).
We might perform different roles in each other’s lives now, but the dynamic hasn’t really changed. When I have news or something to moan about, she’s always my second call after mum and dad. She’s the person I go to for advice and reassurance when I have to do something that scares me, and her favourite refrain - “there’s no such thing as can’t” - echoes in my head whenever I’m tempted to wimp out, annoying me just as much now as it did when I was seven. Lou has a frankly uncanny ability to make me feel better as soon as I see her face or hear her voice, and I’m not exaggerating much when I say that I would live in her shed if I could.
When I was a teenager, Lou’s house was a refuge. Whatever was happening at school or with carers, I could snuggle up with her and the kids and forget all about it. Like their mum before them, the kids never saw or cared about what I couldn’t do, because I could play Guess Who, I could read bedtime stories, and I could smuggle them chocolate buttons long after they should have been asleep. In Lou’s house, nothing else ever mattered.
When things got better, I took great pride in showing off to Lou. I was so proud to show her round campus at Warwick, so excited for her to meet my new friends. I loved it when she came to see me at the BBC and B got to see the Tardis. I loved that she was one of the first to visit my flat. And I love that all these years later, I’m helping S with his CV and talking to Lou about my book and that life remains infinitely better because Lou and the kids are in it. She’s still on speed dial.
And here’s the thing: I wouldn’t know Lou if I hadn’t been a disabled kid in need of a way to go to school. Maybe she’d have been my nursery teacher, but that’s where our lives would have diverged. She wouldn’t have helped me learn to read, and I wouldn’t have used that knowledge to read countless stories to her kids. There would be no one to call after mum and dad. Life would just be… worse.
I like to joke that I had all my bad luck in one go and then have been almost absurdly lucky ever since, and it’s funny because it’s true. I have been incredibly lucky, but to this day the luckiest I’ve ever been was when dad picked me up from nursery and happened to tell Lou they were struggling to find someone to help me at school. She, in classic Lou fashion, reckoned she could give it a go. That was in 1999. On Friday, she sat in my kitchen and ate pizza as we talked about her teenaged kids. Isn’t that something?
Louby-Lou, I love ya. Thanks for all of it.
See you next week,
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Links of the week
My first piece for Glamour was about how the system at Westminster enables sexism and sexual misconduct - and how to fix it. I really enjoyed writing this piece and talking about Westminster again, finally putting all that nerdy knowledge to good use
This is an incredible piece about the Ukrainian family who shared a basement with a group of Russian soldiers, and what lessons they provide for ending the war (The Atlantic)