For the past four years, I’ve travelled up to Birmingham twice a year to tell the Get Steven Home story at Birmingham university on the penultimate day of the Best Interests Assessors training course. It’s always a good gig. The audience are always appreciative, I get to stay at the Quaker’s baroque B&B and Wendy, the trainer, always has a treat up her sleeve. (Remember last year’s trip to the Selly Oak ladies’ circle dancing group?)
On Thursday, I got an email checking I’m still okay for the latest cohort on the 25th. And then Wendy drops the bombshell that at the next session next March, the other speaker will be….. Justice Peter Jackson. I’m welling up and my knees are shaking just typing that sentence! What do you say to the man who changed your life? In the emails, he’s asked to be the second speaker late morning, so that will mean embarrassingly, he’s likely to arrive at the tail end of my talk, when I’m talking about him! Of course I want to speak to him, but….
I’ve got form on this. The first time I was ever asked to speak publically about our case was at a legal conference in December 2011. The keynote speaker was Sir James Munby. After his talk, Sir James sat in the audience. I did my speach and the MC asked if anyone had any questions. Sir James put up his hand and said, “Mr Neary. The deprivation of liberty Safeguards. A good thing or a bad thing?” I think my reply was along the lines of: ” Er. Erm. Wibblywobbly. Er. Erm. Yes. Erm. Binkybonks. Er. Erm. Good thing Sir”.
I blame 1974 for this complete mental and social collapse when encountering my heroes. I was standing at a bus stop in Hayes, having just spent my pocket money on Teenage Rampage. Across the road, a limousine pulled up, a chauffeur with an umbrella got out and escorted Steve Priest from The Sweet into the cafe. With unexpected bravado, I ran across the road and followed Mr Priest into the cafe. Me and him were the only two customers. I sat down at the table opposite him and with little pocket money left, ordered a Fanta. I stared at Steve for 20 minutes as he ate his breakfast, averting my stare when he glanced at me. When he came to pay the waitress, he said to her, “get that lad a bacon sandwich love” and as he left, he looked at me and said, “go well son”. I left a few minutes later, holding my unsigned copy of the great man’s latest single.
My mother had no such problems. I found her autograph book once. It was packed with signatures. Rather touchingly, as her name was Beryl, the first page was reserved for famous Beryl’s. There was Beryl Gray (the dancer) and Beryl Burton (the cyclist). No Ms Bainbridge and disappointingly to 10 year old me, no Beryl the Peril. Once a year, my mum and a couple of friends would go up to London to take in a show. Usually a musical, sometimes the Talk of the Town. My mum was a very funny woman but I never saw her as a giddy fangirl, hanging around stage doors but she must have been. Her collection of autographs included Judy Garland, Burl Ives and Frank Ifield.
Sometimes the meeting your hero thing works in reverse. In the early eighties I worked at the DHSS in Southall. One of my best mates there was Gag. We went on double dates together, lunchtime drinks together. A good pal. Then in 1982, he started playing for Southall FC. I had supported Southall since my cousin took me there in the mid 60s. I was avid. But it was a strange experience, cheering on my mate, who on Monday morning I’d be sitting next to at work. Incidentally, Gag did something brilliant just before I left the DHSS. He hired the ground for a day and arranged a match against Ealing DHSS. As we were preparing to leave the changing rooms, he threw me the ball and said, “you’re the captain for the day”. Even though I was substituted at half time, it was still one of the favourite days of my life.
I’ve always been painfully shy in social situations. I can address a roomful of 1000 people no problem. But at the finger buffet afterwards… Actually, you won’t find me at the finger buffet afterwards. I’ll be out by the bins, having an escaping fag. I tend to freeze and all sorts of gibberish comes out. The first time I met Sara Ryan, I asked her if she was Val Doonican’s daughter, for christsakes. I’m getting better but I can quickly revert to that teenager in the café in Hayes.
Since getting the email on Thursday, I’ve been getting choked up thinking about meeting Justice Jackson. If it was a film of Get Steven Home, it would be the perfect final scene. Also, I’ve been observing Steven going about his business and the ” what ifs?” kick in big time. Taking some spare milk over to Uncle Wayne’s, popping out to buy some Frazzles, sorting his bag out ready for swimming, engaging me in an hour long conversation about the hits of Wham, cooking his own sausage and spaghetti hoops. None of these things he’s be able to do if he had been sent to the hospital in Wales.
I think I’ve only got one thing I want to say to Justice Jackson – “Thank you Sir. You saved Steven’s life”.