Sunday 19 September 2021

Read Samples of 'Balls to MS'

Below is one of the later chapters of the book. It's one of the few that requires no real contextualisation. It stands on its own two feet, rather more steadily than me, I think.


After the meal, we decide to grab a drink at a new bar around the corner. I say new, but refurbished and renamed would be a better description. I remember it as the Buzz Bar nightclub and before that, in the eighties, it had the very eighties name of Sloanes. Some of my formative experiences with the opposite sex took place in those establishments. Teenage parties in Sloanes, praying a girl might be interested in a pale, moody goth, and in my grungy twenties, hunting the three floors of Buzz Bar for talent, like a horny Kurt Cobain. I’d slip away from my mates for ten minutes while I raced up and down the stairs in a shallow examination of the female clientele, scanning the room for a potential love match. In a pre-Internet age, my rapid circumnavigations of Buzz were, I suppose, like an early version of Tinder, just one that involved a lot more leg work.

Thirty odd years later, here I am heading for the same place, only now I’m hoping there won’t be any stairs and that I can make the short distance from the restaurant to the bar. I clutch my wife’s hand tightly, as I’ve left my walking stick at home. I still don’t like being seen with it on a night out and we had no intention of walking anywhere tonight anyway. But the meal took less time than we expected and we thought we would check out what they had done with the old Buzz Bar/Sloanes, as it was nearby.

Nearby for your average person is not my nearby, however. We’re only halfway there and I’m struggling. Whenever my legs pack up on me and I’m walking hand in hand with Kate, I’m put in mind of the chimps that you used to see on TV variety shows in my childhood. Dressed in a tutu or similar, it would be walking upright, holding the hand of someone, or on occasion another chimp, who would be dressed in dungarees and also walking upright. Their bowlegs and awkward swaying gait would have the audience howling with mirth, as if we had not evolved one iota from the crass behaviours of the Coliseum crowds. But I fear that’s what I look like in these moments. I will often make a couple of chimp noises to try and deflate some of my frustration with humour, generally with limited success.

At least the chimp and his handler have now arrived. We approach the bouncer on the door, ready to nod, ‘Evening,’ but events take an unexpected turn. As Kate lets go of my hand and brushes past him with a smile, the guy places his arm across my path. “Sorry, pal. Not tonight.”

“Eh?” I squeak.

“Sorry, pal. I think you’ve had enough for one night.”

I laugh and roll my eyes, as it dawns on me what is going through his mind. I hope my expression is disarming, but the way his eyebrows are knotting on the bridge of his nose suggests otherwise.

“I can explain...” I say, about to explain, but he cuts me off.

“No need, not a problem. I just can’t let you in. I’m glad you’ve had a good time tonight but it’s not carrying on in here.”

Part of me is feeling like I no longer want to enter anyway. His manner is overly aggressive and is not putting me in the mood for relaxing with a beer. Kate then turns round, wondering what the cause of the delay is.

“What’s going on?” she asks, as she sees the bouncer and his broad arm barring my way.

“He thinks I’m drunk. I was just about to tell him...”

“He’s got MS!” she blurts out, laughing, preventing me from explaining for a second time. At least she didn’t say M & S. She used to work for them and I’d been diagnosed five years before she broke the habit of calling it M & S. “He has problems with his legs,” she adds, flashing a smile that is no doubt considerably more disarming than anything I could ever manage.

I expect he’ll feel pretty foolish now and I wait to hear him apologise profusely. I will of course be magnanimous, as I tell him it’s no problem at all, no really, don’t worry about it, it’s fine. I am therefore somewhat surprised when his face emits further hostility.

“Well how am I supposed to know that?” he spits.

I’m so taken aback that I find myself still spouting the words I had prepared. “Don’t worry about it, it’s fine, not a problem,” but my sentiment is not imbued with the same level of magnanimity. He finally stands down and I step past him. Kate is certainly seeing the funny side and, in a way, I am too. But mostly I am just puzzled. It was an honest mistake that anyone could have made, but his reaction to the truth of the matter was bizarre. Maybe he’s full to the eyeballs on steroids and is incapable of reacting to any situation with anything other than belligerence. Existing on the cusp of a verbal explosion due to chemicals in the system is something to which I can relate.

“Can you believe that guy?” says Kate. “Trying to bar chimps, in the twenty-first century!”

I bow my legs and curl my arm over my head like I’ve seen chimpanzees do on TV. “Oo, oo, oo.”

She shakes her head. “Don’t do that in here please.”

I stand up straight and scour the bar for a free stool, chair or sofa. The place is packed and sitting down appears unlikely. If I had come out with my walking stick, I would have waltzed, OK limped past the bouncer without any issue and now someone may well be offering me their seat. As it is, I’ll just have to lean all my weight on the edge of a table.

Yes, maybe I’ll come out with the stick from now on. Maybe it’s time for me to accept that I’m disabled.

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