Skin of my teeth..

During a phone call the other day, whilst talking about the Paralympics, I was told, by one family member, something I never knew about another family member, one who’s no longer with us. And whilst it wasn’t the most startling revelation you could imagine, it definitely affected me; stirred up a few emotions and got me reflecting on how my life could have been quite different..

 It also prompted me to search my bookshelf for something I’d not read for many a moon; a graphic adult comic novel, to be precise. I don’t have as many books as I used to. With each change of address, I’ve seemed to shed a few in transit. And though I couldn’t be a hundred per cent certain, I was fairly sure it would have survied.. I doubt I’d have binned or Oxfam’d it. Not this one. And I was right. Yes, there it was. I wiped the dust off the cover..

SKIN, by Peter Milligan, Brendan McCarthy & Carol Swain

 I’ve never been particularly big into adult comics  I sure loved em as a kid. Dandy, Beano, Topper, moving on to Marvel, DC, etc, But save for the odd stoner’s comic, Fat Freddy’s Cat, lying around at a mate’s house, I hadn’t read many comics after my teens. But in 1992 I read about, then purchased an extraordinary and  disquieting comic novel. All about a Thalidomide Skinhead. Authors Milligan and McCarthy both claim to have seen thalidomide skinheads in their areas, whilst growing up in the 70’s. which had given them the idea.

 If you didn’t know this already, Thalidomide was a ‘wonder drug’ manufactured in Germany and prescribed, in the late 50’s/early 60’s for, amongst other things, morning sickness in pregnancy. But no clinical trials were done and the drug was withdrawn after many ‘Thalidomide Babies’ were born with terrible physical defects. The ones that survived usually had the characteristic to thalidomide, foreshortened arms, as did Martin, the boy in this story.

 With artwork that is at once both lurid and a little subdued, almost pastel in it’s colouring, and blunt 70’s slang dialogue, SKIN  tells the sorry tale of Martin ‘Atchit Atchitson, his skinhead mates, and their misadventures involving birds, booze n bovver. Set in a time before the skinhead image was appropriated by far right groups, there’s no racist angle to this story. It’s all about the disability.

 ‘Atchit is an understandably angry 15 year old who, whilst calling everyone a wanker, muses bitterly that he himself can’t wank, because that drug made him into a ‘seal boy’ and his arms can’t reven each. It chronicles his growing anger about his deformity and tells how a skinhead girl, Cross Eyed Ruby, tries to get him to channel his anger, by showing him books about the (fictional) multi national company who manufactured the disastrous drug. To cut a short story shorter, Atchit sets out to exact a terrible and ironic revenge on the company’s boss.

 I won’t spoil the ending because, although the book is ( I think) out of print, you can still find it on Amazon and eBay, should you so desire. Suffice to say, it makes for a grimly fascinating read. Not for everyone, it was seen as pretty controversial when it came out and was even banned by the original publishers who’d commissioned it, on grounds of tastelessness.

 Coincidentally, just a few days ago, the real life German company that actually did market Thalidomide, issued it’s first official public apology in 50 years, to the people and families affected by it. The apology has not surprisingly, been met with anger and cynicism by those concerned. As ‘Atchit would have said, ‘Apologise my arse! Fukkin wankers!”.

But it wasn’t this news story that had reminded me of SKIN and made me want read it again. No, as I mentioned earlier, it was something I was told by one family member, about another. Or rather, what my sister told me about my mother.
I was talking to one of my older sisters on the phone about the Paralympics. It’s fair to say that I was on my soapbox, talking about how, at the beginning of the Games, disabled rights groups had hoped that the focus on disability might help to highlight the plight of many disabled people, suffering due to vicious government welfare cuts and a general demonizing of the sick and disabled on benefits, with attempts by the powers that be to portray them as whinging scroungers.
I went on, barely pausing for breath, that what instead seems to have happened is, like the article in one of the Tory rags the other day illustrated, the Games have been used to push the line that, ‘no matter what your disability and problems are, you can achieve whatever you want to if only you just try hard enough’ thereby setting a good disabled/bad disabled agena. It’s bollocks, I opined most eloquently.
My rant over, we then discussed the sheer brilliance of it all. The amazing athletes and their even more amazing back stories; how it surely must have changed a lot of people’s attitudes to disability in a good way. I’d seen one of the Paralympic’ organizers on TV saying he’d witnessed ‘abled bodied’ kids at the stadium asking their parents for running blades and wheelchairs for Christmas..
I then observed that this was all in stark contrast to a situaution three years ago, when the BBC had received complaints from parents about the one armed, CBBC  kids TV presenter, Cerrie Burrell, whose appearnace they said, was scaring their kids. Only three years ago! Unthinkable now, after all this. We agreed that the parents of those children were twats for complaining in the first place, instead of talking it through with the youngsters. (Complain my fukkin arse, wankers!)  And then my sister suddenly chipped in:
”You could have been born deformed, you know’’
‘’Sorry?” Surprised,’ What do you mean?”
‘’Well, when mum was pregnant with you, she had terrible morning sickness and the Dr offered her Thalidomide. Didn’t she ever tell you?”
‘’Really?, I never knew that’’ Wow.
”Yes, she thought about it, but you know what she was like, she didn’t like taking pills did she? So anyway, she said no thanks, I’ll manage..’’
Later on, I was watching the Paralympics again, with my son. The Sitting Down Volleyball came on, and in a flash of the kind of logic unique to lazy teenagers, he said  ’’But if you can play sitting down, why doesn’t everyone play like that all the time? It’s just easier..’’
I looked my boy. Only a year younger than Martin ‘Atchit Atchitson
I looked at the photo of my mother, on top of the bookshelf, thinking, well done with the pills mum; then, at the books below and thought, Skin. ...of my teeth.



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