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Paul H's story

28th May 2019

Paul Hodgson from Darlington in County Durham contracted meningitis as a baby, more than fifty years ago. The disease affected his brain and spinal cord leaving him with cerebral palsy-like symptoms

Paul H's story

For most of his life he has been a wheelchair user. But Paul’s positivity shines through his story – and we’re delighted that now a film is being made about his life. Read all about it here:

“When I was only seven months old an incident occurred that was to change my life and indeed that of everybody I came into contact with. This event continues to have an effect to this day."

“It all began rather innocuously, or so it seemed. I was taken ill with flu-like symptoms. Our family doctor reassured my mother, telling her not to worry. But when I suffered an epileptic fit a few days later followed by a second and the doctor was called out I was immediately admitted to hospital. Incredibly, a further two days went by until the hospital confirmed that I had contracted pneumococcal meningitis."

“By then the disease had affected my brain and spinal cord – the modern terminology for this unfortunate state of affairs is cerebral palsy. Because of the delay in diagnosing my condition, the consultant told my mother to prepare for the worst. Fortunately, I survived and spent nearly a year in hospital before I was well enough to be discharged."

“Meningitis left me physically disabled and with an acute speech impediment. During my early years, not only did I have great difficulty in making myself understood, I was so uncoordinated that I had to be propped up against a wall with cushions, like Christy Brown in My Left Foot. Although I do have some movement in my legs, since the age of four I’ve been a wheelchair user."

“For someone with special educational needs like myself, it was therefore vital that I was given every opportunity to make the most of my limited physical abilities and shine academically. Luckily, my first taste of education was at the fairly enlightened Salters Lane Special School in Darlington."

“The school was built in 1929 and catered solely for physically disabled youngsters between the ages of four and sixteen. It was also commonly known as the ‘open air school’ because in the past it had exposed its so-called ‘delicate’ pupils, who were suffering from breathing disorders such as asthma or chronic bronchitis, to a regime of outdoor exercise, fresh air and sunlight, which it was thought would be beneficial to their health."

“I entered the newly-opened nursery unit of the school in 1969 when I was only four years old and I can vividly remember one of my very first lessons. I was sitting in a circle of children around a teacher. She had a dummy clock in her lap and was moving the hands to show us how to tell the time. But I had already been taught how to do this by my father when I was only two and a half years old. I even managed to beat my sister in achieving this feat and couldn’t resist in reminding her of this fact as we got older!"

“So despite my speech impediment, when it was my turn I confidently proclaimed, ‘Two o’clock’, to which the teacher replied, ‘Good guess, Paul.’ Clearly, she didn’t believe that a boy of four could know the answer without having received prior instruction from her. Seeking further proof of my precocious ability, the teacher altered the hands of the clock and asked me again. I said, ‘Five o’clock.’ This time she said I was lucky. But when she pointed at the clock on the classroom wall and I gave the correct answer yet again. Astounded, she rushed to fetch the headmaster. In his presence I gave the correct answer for the fourth time."

“So you see, I was quite bright for my age. I could even read a thermometer as well as being able to read the time. The school introduced me to using an electronic typewriter. I remember it was huge and a bulky IBM machine and by the age of five I knew all the letters on its keyboard off by heart. Unfortunately, my budding mental faculties were under-mined by a lack of bodily control. I can recall, for example, with some embarrassment, being dropped off at home by the school minibus. When the lady pushed my wheelchair to the door she would hand my mother a small bundle and whisper, under her breath, ‘There’s your parcel, Mrs Hodgson.’ Inside was a pair of my soiled underpants, because I was frequently incontinent at that age and would have a supply of clean underclothes at the school so that I could be changed."

“Home at that time was a two-bedroomed terraced house in Dundee Street, Darlington, which we extended so that I had a downstairs bathroom. When I was a little boy I had to be carried upstairs for a bath, which was a bit awkward to say the least, especially as I got older. Until I was seven I had to share a room with my twin sister Alison, but after that time the front room became my bedroom."

“In September 1972 my parents decided that it would be beneficial if I went away as a boarder to what was then called the Percy Hedley Centre for Spastics in the Forest Hall area of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Opened in 1953, the school was the largest of its kind in Europe, with over a hundred pupils. Thankfully, it has now been renamed the Percy Hedley Foundation."

“It was then that I realised I was different from the other children in my street who went instead to the local schools and when it was time for me to leave I didn’t want to go. Even though I was lucky in that I had a good house mother at Percy Hedley called Elsie Ferguson, the transition from my home in Darlington to the alien environment of the special school in Newcastle was hard to come to terms with, especially at such a young age. Until I moved to Percy Hedley my mother had done virtually everything for me, and in hindsight that was the wrong thing to do. She realised that later."

“I left school in 1981. For eight years I worked as a volunteer for Darlington FC. I then decided to go to college, which resulted in me getting a full-time job. In 2000, I had my first book published (co written with Mike Jarvie). It was an autobiography based on my life called Flippers Side. Another book followed in 2003, which again sold well. I've always had a flair for writing and in 2011 I started writing screenplays. In 2015 a script that I co-wrote (An Unfortunate Woman) with two other people was selected to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival. It also won two awards at other film festivals, which is something that I'm really proud of."

“At the same time, we were writing a script based on Flippers Side. This is now completed, and we have engaged well known actor Sean Cronin to direct it. We have raised over 60% of the funds needed to shoot the film; as well as this, well know singer Toyah Willcox has agreed to play my mother, which is fantastic. On a personal level, in 2016, I married Jennifer, whom I can honestly say, is the love of my life. We are extremely happy together. Looking back over my life, I've had many battles, but I've always tried to have a smile on my face. I think that as long as people with disabilities, and indeed people in general, remember this, they won't go far wrong in life.”