Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Day 52 - Elizabeth Barrett Browing, Einaudi and Eileen

Today really and truly marks the return of regular blogging - because I'm freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! I've finished uni for the year, as I handed in my last essay today, and all those extra letters at the end of 'free' serve two purposes. Firstly, I hope they convey my excitement, and, secondly, there are three aspects to this post - all of which begin with 'e'.

The first is Elizabeth Barrett Browning, whose poetry was the subject of the essay I submitted today. I wrote on the narrative of disability implicit in her 1856 epic Aurora Leigh because, whilst most people think of her condition/illness only in relation to her elopement with Robert Browning, I discovered so many allusions to physical difference and disability (especially blindness - Romney's - and difficulty walking) that it had to have had more of an impact on her than is usually supposed. Also, it has been suggested by medical advances that she had a spinal curvature, so I feel a little as if she's lived my life...alas, Browning is yet to appear.

The second is Einaudi. Lizzie and I hammered out 2400 words on Sunday, so we had Ludovico Einaudi's pieces as background music to keep us going. I've always had a soft spot for his work, but there's another connection to my mission, too, because his Le Ondes is the music on the Starlight advert:



Thirdly, Eileen is home from Norway! Let the best summer ever begin!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Day 48 - Chariots of Fire

Okay - I lied. I didn't resume normal blogging. In fact I've singularly failed to do so for nearly a week. During those six days, however, I've written an exam, finished off an essay and begun another (my last piece for the year!) - all of which amount to about 6000 words, with another 3000 to go before the end of term. So, in spite of its paucity on the blogging front, it's actually been a rather productive (albeit scary) time and even I can't apologise for that. (This is incredibly difficult for me to grasp, as 'sorry' is my favourite word, and I should possess a jar dedicated to that instead of the more popular 'swear jar' - which I don't have.) I suppose, though, that I'm offering you compensation by virtue of the fact that this is a (comparatively) mammoth post - so I shouldn't feel too bad.

During my last visit home, to ensure my head didn't explode as a result of all the essays and revision I was doing, Mama booked tickets to see Mike Bartlett's new stage adaptation of the classic Chariots of Fire at Hampstead Theatre. I was reticent about the hyper-patriotism and the institutionalised racism, as well as the imperialist attitude that both of these aspects portrayed, especially because it confirmed for me that we've actually not come as far as a society as we would like to believe. It was also horrifyingly ironic to see, in the programme, Ed Hall wishing us 'a good race' and emphasising the importance of inspiring young people...when he, as Artistic Director at Hampstead, is responsible for the decision to close the youth company, Heat&Light. It's true that higher bodies are behind the cuts in funding, but it was up to him to determine which departments they would affect. The very definition of hypocrisy, no?

All of these reservations notwithstanding, however, I must admit that I was deeply inspired. The combination of the famous Vangelis music and the clever staging of the production made for a moving opening, as the runners were racing right around the audience. My wheelchair space was in the front row, so I could see each and every stretch of their muscles, and (just like when I watched As You Like It) all I could think was 'I'm going to do that too.' I may or may not have teared up.

The play also stresses the value of hard work, determination and - most importantly - knowing why you're striving towards your goal. I have three reasons - for the children whose wishes you are (with your overwhelming support) helping to grant; for all of the people who have walked beside me for all of these years; and because, like Aubrey Montague says in the play, 'there's only the race'. If we don't do the best we can to achieve our goals now, when are we going to do it?

So I'm going to walk to get my degree not, like Abrahams, to prove myself; nor, like Liddell, for God. (Although there will be an element of the former, proof, in there.) I'm going to walk for Starlight, for my family and friends, and because I want to make the most of my life while I can.

And, just maybe, my friends in the Chamber Choir might sing along with the theme tune that will be in my head, as I leave my 'chariot', and I head for 'fire'.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Day 42 - happy Youth Day, SA!

With total acknowledgement that I've committed the sin of all internet sins, and gone three whole days without blogging, I can only plead exams, revision, and two more essays. One of these is a Creative Project, and it's essentially involving an adaptation of a fifteen-minute-long play I wrote, aptly, at the age of fifteen. I won't go into too much detail here, as I don't want to have any potential effect on my mark/the credibility of the piece (even if, as far as I'm aware, anything I divulge on this blog wouldn't constitute plagiarism because it's written under my name and copyrighted) but it's about the Soweto student uprisings.

These were demonstrations by South African schoolchildren took place on this day in 1976. The students marched because they wanted to be taught lessons in their own language(s) - mostly Zulu, but Xhosa as well - instead of the Afrikaans of their oppressors. Fair enough, right? Apparently not - the police began firing on them, despite the fact that the students themselves were being completely peaceful, and a good few demonstrators died.

Now, on this day every year, South Africa remembers those young people who lost their lives for what they believed in. So, whatever misgivings I may have about the slightly romanticised and idealistic title, the memorial event that has become known as 'Youth Day' is, at its basis, a very important one - and it feels highly symbolic that I'm writing up this particular project at the moment!

Happy Youth Day, SA, and I'll return to normal blogging tomorrow - so prepare yourself for a mammoth post!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Day 38 - turning over a new...side?

Today I had osteopathy with the wonderful Ernest Keeling, who I've been seeing for some time now. I haven't many words to describe the magic of what happened, so here it is - I lay on my left side, comfortably, for the first time in years. Whilst that, to most, will seem entirely innocuous and not in the slightest newsworthy, it was a thing of such proportion that it appears to have swallowed up my vocabulary. So that's all, folks, and you may now return to your otherwise blessedly quiet evenings!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Day 37 - swimming, swimming, in the swimming pool...

Hello from London! I'm home until Thursday for some breathing space prior to exams. It's so lovely to have time (literally) to stretch my legs in between essay-writing stints. I walked in the hoist again last night and I appear to have learnt to shift my weight independently over a fortnight, somehow, despite not having practised much since I was last home. It felt (feels) amazing! 'Pics or it didn't happen' doesn't really fit in this case, because I know you want proof in motion, so a video shall be forthcoming as soon as I can teach Mama how to take video on her digital camera. (I know I'm dextrous but, odd as it may seem, I've got to put all my focus into the walking when I'm actually doing it...haha!)

Today's post, therefore, concerns another form of exercise - swimming. I go to a hydrotherapy pool in Hackney. The water needs to be warm, you see, because I go stiff in the cold; and that would rather defeat the point, which is to get as relaxed as possible. So in this pool the temperature is about that of a hot bath. It is blissful - so blissful, in fact, that today I was able to do all sorts of stretchy-related things with my legs without feeling the slightest bit uncomfortable. Win! More than that, though, I was able to move my hips (especially my left) with an ease that I haven't felt in years.

Which brings me to the conclusion of my post, and indeed the conclusion of the day - my left hip is back in place, or at least all signs point to it being so, because I couldn't do the things I did if it were. And hips don't lie. Ask Shakira.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Day 36 - congratulations on four years, Jane and Bingley!

From the anniversary of one friend's birth to that of the birth of another's relationship! Today my dear friends Jade and Tom celebrate four years together. Congratulations, you two - live long and prosper! (NB Jade calls me 'Lizzy' and I, her, 'Jane' - hence the Bingley!)

Anyway, geeky meld of Austen and Star Trek aside, it has got me thinking about my own feelings on relationships. Those of you who know me will be aware that I'm a staunch feminist - which means nothing more and nothing less than that I believe in equality and empowerment for both women and men. As such I take a lot of my inspiration from independently- and intellectually-minded women and it heartens me to see so many among my contemporaries at Warwick. We're all striving for something extraneous to the proverbial 2.4 kids and a white picket fence, and that excites me.

That's not to say I don't do relationships - I do. My ex-boyfriend and I met at twelve and were together for three years - no mean feat in an environment where everyone appeared to occilate between 'friend' and 'enemy' faster than you could say 'playground'. We had an awesome time, until he cheated on me. Yeah. It was awesome, though, beforehand.


Since I left my 'special' secondary school I've been quite circumspect and determined to make my own way in the world. In part this is a result of being confronted with the various stereotypes regarding people with disabilities and relationships. We're just not seen as sexual beings - even my PSHE teacher was adamant that we didn't have sex - and I'm writing my dissertation on the sexual and gender politics of disability in Irish and South African theatre.  

Yet I wonder if these stereotypes are being unwittingly perpetuated by the very people they affect. I know that I, especially, have a tendency to hide behind my desire to be self-sufficient. Having spent so many years (indeed all my life) almost totally dependent, in a physical sense, on others, I'm acutely conscious of my fierce need to protect whatever solitude I possess. Equally, my insecurites regarding the help that I need have given rise to a fear of intimacy. I haven't wanted to burden other people with my 'stuff' (which, of course, is a technical term).

Now that's becoming less of an issue although, whether it's due to a change in my attitude or a change in circumstances (or both), I don't know. I see that it would be possible for me to have my own space and independence within a loving and equal relationship.

So, you know, if Darcy comes knocking any time soon, send him this way - with the caveat that he'd better be more than ready to dance, preferably waltz. O, and Wickhams need not apply.

Happy anniversary, Janey-Jadey! 

 



   

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Day 35 - Run

I'll sing it one last time for you, and then we really have to go...

Today is my friend Lauren Scott's birthday. It's also my god-sister Alice's and Johnny Depp's, with whom I'm sure dear Lozzie would have been delighted to share her day. She would be twenty. I say 'would' because, like Tina and Erica, she's no longer here.

We were in the same class at my first secondary school and became close because we both liked reading, horses, music and playing The Sims. In many ways we were very similar but, in others, we were very different - especially in terms of physical ability. No-one's really sure what kind of disability Lauren, had but it was vaguely comparable to Muscular Dystrophy, if only in that it was degenerative. During reading time we'd sit next to each other so I could turn her pages and, if we had packed lunch I'd mash up some of my crisps, and sneak the tiniest bites into her mouth so she could at least have a taste. Being fed by a gastrostomy tube straight into your stomach doesn't leave you with much opportunity to savour your meals. She would return the favour by distracting me from my homesickness, having already boarded for quite some time.

She was fairly healthy for most of Year 7, and quite a proportion of Year 8, but life is full of changes and soon Mama and I would make a detour on our return-journey to school and stop off, first at Guy's and then the Royal Brompton (both hospitals in London) to see her there. She was always the same and would shoo her mum and mine away so that we could catch up on the school gossip in peace. Often she struggled to talk, as she had a tracheostomy and a ventilator attached; I'd keep up a steady flow of conversation.

Today, though, I want to share with you one of the times she could talk, and did, with all the fierceness of spirit that she possessed. I didn't know this at the time, but she was soon to make the decision not to have another operation on her heart, so maybe it was her way of letting me know she'd always be with me.

We both liked Snow Patrol - at least, she didn't so much, but she knew I did; and during one of our visits, in a very quiet voice, she sang me their song Run. Eventually, of course, she stopped - she was exhausted and I was in tears. (Surreptitious ones - it wouldn't have done for our mothers to see - but she got her message across.)

Lauren died on 7th April 2006. Whilst I miss her terribly, even after six years, I'll always remember something her dad, Andy, said quite soon afterwards - 'now she's breathing deep and running free'. So today, whenever I've been sad, I've had the reminder that she's more comfortable wherever she is and that I'm on this mission as much for her as for myself.

Happy birthday, pal, and thanks for being 'right beside me, dear'. I'll never forget you.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Day 34 - pathetic fallacy reversed*

*Just 'cause, you know, I'm a literature student of a subversive nature and I like to shake things up a little.

In all seriousness, though, this weather (which some might, quite rightfully, term 'shoddy' - especially for June) is completely failing in its quest to get me down. It seems, rather, to serve only to buoy up my mood. I suppose this might be odd. Actually, I don't suppose - it is odd. I mean, it's June, for goodness' sake - even in the UK it doesn't get this bad at this time of year.

So what do I have as an explanation for an incongruously sunny disposition? To put it simply - my body. It's not just that my physical state is making the rain and wind pale into insignificance, however, or even that the cold doesn't send me into spasm. Both of these, of course, are absolutely amazing and I am engulfed in gratitude (no, 'enveloped' is better, because it emulates the warm hug-like feeling I'm carrying around these days); but it's more that I see just as many possibilities in grey skies now as I always have in blue.

Before I get shot for using a terribly clich├ęd metaphor (Warwick New Writing, I'm looking at you, and that court martial you have a pen poised and ready to sign!) I must stress that I mean this literally. My wheelchair contains around £10,000 worth of electronics. (Thank you, NHS, and I shall do everything in my - comparatively small - power to ensure that you aren't prevented from providing a similar service to others in the future; I am forever in your debt.) When a machine such as this provides you with your sole method of transport, you kind of baulk at the idea of getting it too wet. Recently, though, I've allowed myself to contemplate the day upon which this might not be such an issue.

I've always wanted to spend some time in a torrential downpour. Call me sentimental, but it's the simple things in life, and I'm sincerely looking forward, not just to singing, but dancing in the rain. I hope you'll all come with me, even just the once...

...we need to celebrate the spirit of life and generosity - all the money we're raising! £411.13 in just four days! So much love and thanks and silliness for you all!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Day 33 - with a little help from my friends!

I wasn't really sure what to write about today. When one has a daily blog, especially one with a specific focus, it's a worry that either things won't be relevant to the topic, or people will get bored, or both. Some days, such as yesterday, I'm very clear in my mind about the subject matter. Others, that isn't so much the case, and then I fear that I commit the worst sin conceivable when it comes to anything wordy - I waffle. Particularly as this is my first major, sustained and (crucially) public venture into the blogsphere, and with it into the domain of the interweb, I am incredibly conscious of my awkwardness.

I similarly don't want to repeat myself. Today's post, nevertheless, shall necessarily touch on something that I'm mentioned before. I'm going to talk about being thankful, though not in an abstract way. You see, despite having said it many times before, I need to say again how inordinately grateful I am for all of the support I've always had and still continue to do. This week has completely blown me away. I never expected people to rally around me to quite the extent that they have. It's really impossible to quantify my utter amazement and joy.

So, today, I want to thank my friends, old and new, close and far away. In England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, Italy, Norway, Poland, South Africa, Tanzania, Canada, the USA and everywhere else I am lucky to have extended family, both blood-related and non-. You really are appreciated, even if I'll never quite be able to express just how much.

I'm so happy you're plodding with me.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Day 32 - Race for Life 2013

Don't worry, I'm not running it this year - I haven't jumped the gun that much! I shall, however, be attempting the next one and today I thought I'd tell you why.

There was a girl in my class at primary school. She and her family had come over to England after escaping the war in Liberia, so she only joined our school in Year 4. We nevertheless got very close very quickly, because we both had differences which made us self-conscious and shy. Tina, you see, had leukaemia and she'd lost all her hair as a result of several hefty bouts of chemotherapy; so she wore a hat. Some of the not so nice kids (I won't say 'nasty' because, in hindsight, we were all just as troubled as each other, but dealt with things in very different ways) took great delight in knocking it off her head, just as they loved putting my chair on manual and rolling me down the hill that one time. So we'd pick each other up (metaphorically, thankfully) and dust ourselves off. We even wrote a Year 6 SATS exam together as I was in hospital, recovering from an operation, around the same time as she was there for more treatment. For a girl who's used to solitary confinement in exam periods, because I dictate, it was the most fun I've ever had during a test.

Tina died on Hallowe'en in October 2004. It's her birthday today. She would be turning twenty. Happy birthday, dear, and welcome to the third decade club. Love you always.

In Year 6 I was a playground friend. I spent most of my time in the 'little playground', with Reception and the Year 1s. I seemed to get asked for a lot - mainly, I think, because they wanted either to sit on my lap or stand on the back of my chair! Two of the girls lived on my estate - one in the same little crescent of twelve houses and the other in the flats around the front. We used to 'play out' together an awful lot. It was great fun, if a bit of a stretch for a tomboy like me - they wanted me to be their mum and I'd pretend to drive them to all sorts of different places.

The girls could've only been about five then, though they both had older siblings. Erica, the one who lived slightly further away, had the cheekiest of grins and I called her 'my little monkey'. She was devastated when I left for secondary, as was I to leave her.

At some point in my first year, a friend called and said he had some news. He asked me whether I remembered Erica and, clearly unaware of how close we'd been, proceeded to tell me that she had a brain tumour and that they were switching the life support off very soon.

She was seven, and it's eight years today since they did exactly that.

I'll run in memory of them both.

On a happier note, though, I feel you should know about my Gramma, who had uterine cancer when I was about seven. Thanks to brilliant doctors and a hysterectomy, she survived, and has constantly been a wonderful support and friend. So I'll run for her, too - it is, after all, the Race for Life - and I'll end with a focus on the living!

Thanks, as always, for reading - and we've raised £300 in three days! I'm overwhelmed with gratitude!

All love to you.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Day 31 - June is busting out all over...


Huge respect to anyone who knows the musical that's referencing.

I bet you all thought this post, from its title, would be about the weather. Well, it's not. It's more concerned with the fact it's now 5th June, which means I've been at this a whole month. As I said yesterday, what an amazing month. Everything is happening so fast that my mind and my body are racing to keep up.

Which brings me to my main point: what has been the most amazing thing about this month is the amount of love and encouragement from you all. I know I said this the other day but, well, I just have to say it again because it really means so very, very much. To know that you're all beside me, that I have your good vibes and positive thoughts, is incredible. I can't thank you enough.

I'm talking about moral support here, because that's the most important thing. Your comments, your texts, your personal good wishes - and of course the awesomeness of Ania, Lizzie and Asia on the front line at uni, and that of Mama and Jo-Jo when I'm at home. I feel truly blessed.

There's another element too, though, and one by which I'm equally overwhelmed. You've already helped raise £245 for Starlight - and the page only went live yesterday. That is amazing. You've made me cry tears of gratitude. We've already raised enough to grant a child's wish!

Thank you so very much.  Every penny truly does count for a charity like Starlight because, although they are small (with tiny, unassuming offices at Paddington Station), what they do makes such an impact on children's lives.

Even if you can only spare a pound, please do so - it will be gratefully received - and I've set up JustTextGiving to make it that little bit easier. Using this method, you can donate smaller amounts of money (£1, £2, £5, £10) via text - at absolutely no extra cost to you!

So if you'd rather do it this way, simply text JPWB53 and your amount to 70070. Otherwise, there's a widget on this blog if you want to go directly to my online page.

Thank you, and thanks a thousand times over for all your support, in all its forms. I didn't know it before but I now realise just how true it is - you'll never walk alone!*

*NB - I'm a Chelsea fan and always will be. Liverpool stole that song from Carousel and ruined it by association. So watch Carousel - the originals are always the best!

Monday, 4 June 2012

Day 30 - month one draws to its close

So we are coming to the end of this, the first month of my mission - and what a month it has been! Today's post shall be dedicated to two topics, encompassed by a single word - gratitude.

I firstly wish to thank all of you for reading this blog and supporting me in all the wonderful ways that you do. Your encouragement means the world to me. To know that I have such awesome people behind me is truly the most fabulous feeling and I honestly can't thank you enough.

Secondly I want to thank Starlight for all they have done. I wouldn't be where I am today without their support - and this mission certainly wouldn't have been possible. So, in order that I can give something back and help other children to have a chance of some magic, I've been trying to set up a widget - and today I've done it. You'll find the box to the right of this post, and it's very easy and secure to make an online donation, by clicking the 'donate' button for a direct link to my page.

Whatever you can give will be greatly appreciated - my target, aptly, is £2013!

So much thanks and love, as always.

Let's keep plodding, and grant some other children a slice of happiness along the way!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Day 29 - she stands to conquer...


I didn't think I'd post today because I'm in the middle of writing yet another essay. I really don't mind - this is why I love my degree! It's for my module on the eighteenth century (complete joy =D!) and is on what has fast become my favourite play of the era - Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer. Sorry Sheridan and Lady Teazle! My subject is the presentation class dynamics and whether it constitues a subversion or a perpetuation of the norm. Anyway. That's enough of a boring academic diversion. The reason I mentioned it is that it turned out to be rather apt for this blog...

I have to take regular breaks for the sake of my body. I do this every day, so it's pretty much a matter of course - especially at uni. After yesterday, though, I've learnt I can do things here that I thought were only possible in the safety of my own home.

I told you all about stepping in the morning, but I kept deliberately quiet about doing it again last night as I was getting into bed. This was even more amazing because I was barefoot. Before I began this mission I'd almost lost hope of walking with shoes on, let alone with out them. It was...just. Just wow.

I'm so grateful to all of you for being here with me. I truly, truly am. I can't quite put it into words so instead, as the hugest thank you, I have a surprise.

Today Ania and I walked again. It was just as magical, but there was one difference - Asia filmed it. So here it is for you all to see:

 

Hope you like!

Now where are those parallel bars?

Love you all, and THANK YOU! Happy Day 29!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Day 28 - early morning jubilation...

...And I don't mean about the Jubilee. Sorry Liz.

Getting out of my chair this morning, I pushed myself up on my own. Then, with Ania (one of my PAs) holding me, purely so I didn't fall, I shifted my weight properly for the first time in years, and took a few fully-formed steps.

They were still supported, but without the hoist - so it felt pretty damn amazing.

My mother's in Turkey. Sorry, Mama!

Life is good. That is all.

Day 27 - All the world's indeed a stage...

I've been contemplating dispensing with the Shakespearean references out of fear they make me appear pretentious...seems I couldn't quite do it! Alas - though, as a theatre student, I guess I can use my degree as my defence. Nevertheless, however much I love him, today's post shall take issue with the second line of this well-known speech; for we are not merely players. On the contrary - the human ability to act is one of the greatest tools we possess. Not in a poncy Stanislavski/Strasberg/Meisner-related way (though, again, as a theatre student I acknowledge the debt we owe to the first two and, if it were possible to marry a theory, I'd marry Meisner's!) but a more quotidian one.

My Mama once said that I've been acting all my life. I didn't understand what she meant, at first, but I've gradually begun to realise that she was right. The only time I feel truly safe is when I'm performing. I know a lot of people say that and that, aside from anything else, it seems paradoxical, but it's true. Each of the roles I take on is like a mask, a cover, behind which the shyest of the Jessis may disappear for a while. Acting, particularly in the theatre, necessarily requires a suspension of disbelief on the behalf of the audience; a soothing balm to the (well-hidden) wounds of someone in whose life this emotion is paramount - for others, that is, not for myself.

It's a coping mechanism. In the early years, it meant that I had a place away from the kids (and adults!) who appeared to be terribly fond of either asking what was wrong, pitying, consoling, or all three. Then I found a way to talk to social workers without the mortification of crying in front of them - I just don't do public tears. That child reduced to figures on a form - well, she just wasn't me. As a young teenager, the spine on the xray belonged to someone else entirely. Don't get me wrong - I was well aware of the 'reality' (if such an ephemeral jumble of perceptions can be so called) but for those few appointments I needed to be coherent and detached and the only way that was an option in those highly-charged days was if I retreated a little.

A perfect example is my lycra suit. It's basically a modern-corset-type-affair, but the idea is that it straightens things out as opposed to squashing my organs. The one I have now is really easy to slip on (though admittedly it's still quite difficult to breathe sometimes!) but the first few were complete torture. So, when Mama was (unsuccessfully) trying to contort me enough to squeeze me into it one day, she told me: 'Imagine you're in a period drama - what would Keira Knightley do?' This became a thing (we have lots of idiosyncratic family 'things') and over the years I shortened it to 'WWKKD?'. I actually read in a very recent interview that, growing up, Keira had a similar strategy involving Emma Thompson...coincidence, much?

Anyway, it was thanks to this acronym that I began to get better. Whenever I had an overwhelmingly spasmy day, I would simply sit and say to myself, over and over, that if Keira needed to work on something physical in order to give her best to a part, she'd bloody well go and do it. I think part of the reason that my identification with her was (and is) so strong is due to her dyslexia. My Mama (whose background is pre-primary and primary teaching) has always maintained that learning to walk is like learning to read - you do both one step and one letter at a time. If you have even the slightest difficulty with either, it takes longer to trace that one letter, longer to take that one step; and some time for the letter to become a word, the step to become a stride.

I learnt to read fairly early, to find an imaginary substitute for the world I could not physically traverse. I imagine she was as desperate to read as I was (am) to walk, though of course I would not presume to know. It's just you grow up feeling that you'll always have something to prove, if you don't do it; that no matter how much (in my case) you throw yourself into academics, because that's what you can do, you'll always have to work harder.

Thanks to Keira, who learnt to read and can now handle a script brilliantly, I'm slowly discovering that that's not the case. That I only have to prove things to my harshest critic - myself. It's odd, and almost as paradoxical as the safety I find in the complete exposure of acting, but now that I know (and almost believe) I can be happy as I am, I am able to prepare for the first steps that I've dreamt of for so very long. The whining schoolboy is growing into the sturdy soldier.

Finally, she played herself in a sketch for last year's Comic Relief, where all sorts of notable people were trying to decide who should go to Africa to film the advert. Of course it's satirical, let alone scripted, but she says: 'To know I've helped just one child, somewhere in the world, makes it worthwhile.' I hope she'll realise somehow not only that she did help one child, but that that child is now a young woman who has taken her life back into her own hands, to stand literally on her own two feet, forever grateful for the push out of the hole.

Thank you, yet again, for all that you've done for me - not just you, but your whole family, Sharman and Will and Caleb, too. It's truly more than I could ever repay.