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Happy New Year?

by Laurence Clark

25th December 2006

Although this column is published in time for New Year's Day, I expect most people will be reading it later in the week after recovering from the festivities. I've chosen to focus on the first of January, however, as it is a very significant day in my life for two reasons: it is my birthday and the reason why I am a disabled person.
Let me assure you, having New Year's Day as your birthday is a pretty crap deal. As a child I'd give my parents hell about wrapping my birthday presents in Christmas wrapping paper which I suppose in hindsight was kind of pedantic. Worse still were all the joint Christmas and birthday presents - what a swindle!

Since becoming an adult I've had to resign myself to the fact that I will never have a decent birthday party. All of the pubs and clubs are closed. Nobody comes when I try to organise a bash in the first week of January as everyone is still too exhausted and skint after Christmas.

I even used to go clubbing with mates on New Year's Eve, having spent the early evening prepping them to remember that my birthday begins at midnight. However amongst the obligatory countdown and the traditional chorus of Auld Lang Syne, my own celebration would get lost save for the odd person remembering on the way home.

One year I conspired to hold a New Year party at my home, thinking that my friends couldn't possibly forget my birthday come midnight if they were in my house. I even opened a few birthday cards early and stuck them up as a gentle reminder to jog their memories. Unfortunately I got so carried away that I drank a little too much and, about an hour before midnight, I split my head open after losing my balance and falling over in my own bathroom. I ended up seeing in the New Year at A & E, and nobody said 'happy birthday' to me there either!

My 30th birthday celebration was my most disastrous, though. I was on my honeymoon in Hong Kong. I'd persuaded my wife that we should see in my thirties on a night cruise around Hong Kong Island. I thought this sounded classy... I was badly mistaken.

It turned out that we had to struggle up two massive flights of stairs for the privilege of eating some very dodgy-smelling seafood and listening to a Korean Vengaboys tribute band - and yes their music was as bad as it sounds. Ouch podcast listeners may disagree but I honestly think I could have sung better than they could.

So, ever since then, we've spent New Year at home, partly because we now have baby-sitting issues and partly due to my belief that I'm cursed never to have a decent birthday party.

But New Year has had a much more profound affect on my life than merely denying me a birthday booze. As I mentioned at the start, it is also responsible for the fact that I'm disabled.

You see, when my mother went into labour with me on New Year's Eve, there were no hospital staff around as they too were celebrating. After repeatedly pressing her buzzer, my mum was visited by a nurse who was rather worse for wear after a few drinks, who didn't believe she was in labour. By the time my mum had got hold of someone competent, I had turned in the uterus and was subsequently born breach. This meant I was starved of oxygen for a few minutes during birth and was thus born with cerebral palsy.

You could say that I'm the product of a new year's piss up!

I cannot help wondering how many other disabled people are created every New Year by our glorious National Health Service. Whenever I've told this story to friends who have worked in hospitals they nod at me in recognition, implying that such situations are commonplace during the festivities.

Despite New Year having denied me a half-decent birthday party year upon year, I cannot help but love it since it is responsible for me being the person I am today. Some people really struggle with this concept, but I love being a disabled person because of the unique insight it has given me into our world. After all, it would be a pretty boring place if we were all perfect wouldn't it?

So Happy New Year to imperfect people everywhere.

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