Who in their right mind at the age of 57
would even think of prancing along a catwalk as a male model?
I think it would take a special reason and a certain amount
of confidence and a lot of support from my wife, friends and
family. A few years ago I probably had little of either, but
times change and funny things, even pleasant things can happen.
Let's start at the beginning quite a few years ago.
I used to smile when my father-in-law gave me instructions
on getting to Devon from Oakham in Rutland by car. Every
change of road was coupled with phrases like. "At
the King's Head. turn left"' or "Straight
on at the Black Swan roundabout". Looking back
it was an easy way of remembering the route.
A few years later I had a different reason for remembering
the locations of pubs, inns or hotels when I was diagnosed
with a funny sounding illness called ulcerative colitis.
It didn't mean much at the time just an inconvenience.
I remember as a youngster in the early 50's getting
out of the after dinner washing up by dashing to the
toilet, it became a family joke.
After putting up with colitis for where although
I had no major flare ups it was always there at a steady level
as I called it. A kindly doctor thought I should have a better
quality of life and I spent the next twelve months on varying
doses of steroids and other medication. When only on the higher
doses was any slight improvement shown and at Christmas 1997
things did change for the worse.
One check-up was quickly followed by another
and laying on a hospital bed my kindly doctor showed my wife
Ann, and myself a photo of my colon that looked like something
from outer space. I think we had both been expecting the worst
with the change in symptoms and were rather relieved in a
way that an operation could improve my waste system.
We knew very little of the various alternatives
in surgery, but were guided towards a permanent ileostomy
due to my age and the multiple polyps. Looking back I am relieved
I didn't really have any choice because for those who do,
even with help support of doctors and stoma nurses, it must,
at times, be a very difficult decision to make.
Before my operation, my stoma nurse gave
advice and help and also a friend put me in touch with her
friend, whose stoma was seventeen years old! This conversation
with someone I didn't know lasted around two hours and answered
many questions without really asking them.
My operation, shortly afterwards was complicated
by the finding of a tumour and so followed thirty weeks chemotherapy,
but that's another story.
Over the next year, I managed to reach little
targets I set myself (under a wife's watchful eye) the highlight,
driving 40 miles to see, for the first time, my telephone
When I read in the ia Journal of a training
course for visitors, it seemed a natural thing to see if I
would be acceptable and my application was forwarded by my
stoma nurse. I saw it as a way of giving something hack for
the help I had received. I considered myself rather fortunate
to be selected for the course, as I thought having only a
baby stoma might mean I was not experienced enough. In a way
the course was what eventually led me on to the catwalk. I
realised I had actually taken part on the course with role
play which, whilst employed, any mention of I would miss by
using my colitis as an excuse to disappear to the toilet until
it was over. I am sure this covered my lack of self-confidence.
So after dropping some books off (for a charity
stall) at the home of Mary Bell, the chairperson of the Leicestershire
ia. she asked if I would consider being a model at a fashion
show. In the past I would have run a mile. However as I mentioned,
funny things can happen and without hesitation I found myself
saying yes. Luckily, I found out later that although it was
being held on a Saturday afternoon. Leicester City were playing
away so I wouldn't miss a match.
The fashion show was held at the Leicester
Royal Infirmary and run by Helen Ghandi and her stoma
department staff and I was quite confident and at ease
on my two visits to pick items from 'Chums' catalogue
and then to try them on later that week. The night before,
I actually slept like a baby and, despite the heavy
rain on the Saturday, arrived in a fairly decent state
(with Ann for support and as a photographer).
Helen had organised quite a couple
of hours. Besides the fashion show there were displays
by around seven stoma care suppliers and the 'ia' and
British Colostomy Association. Also, I am told, a very
informative chat from the Red Cross on make up. There
wasn't a lot of time for me to see those, as duty called.
I resisted being made-up and about ten of us sorted
out our clothes.
For my first walk, I had chosen a pair of
grey high-waisted trousers with a casual four-pocket shirt
- unfortunately I never noticed it was a size too large -
which I wore outside the trousers. By this time, I think we
were all hoping not to be first, but not too terrified.
The music struck up and a member of the Hospital
Radio Leicester Fox set the scene and off we went. Well, Eric
did and the rest of us watched and tried to pick up a few
useful tricks of the trade. The reception from around seventy
people was fantastic. The cameras were flashing and even the
Leicester Mercury newspaper cameraman was there. However he
did seem to get side-tracked and wanted to photograph a rather
stunning young lady who followed Eric (not that I can blame
My shirt was a little large, but the compere
passed it off with the comment that I was a growing lad. Down
the catwalk I strutted at a rather leisurely pace, turned
at the end and did my best impression of a Chris Eubank pose
before retreating to the start line only to be told to do
another trip. All seemed to go well and I actually managed
a hint of a smile and a few nods to the audience.
Then it was back into our little den (a rather
large lecture theatre) to change into a pair of blue denim
casual trouser with an elasticated waist and also a fleecy
blue jacket. This time I really enjoyed it and walked along
with the coat draped over my shoulder and struggled a bit
getting it on for the second walk but the compere managed
to pull it over my arm and that was that.
I felt the ten of us had helped Helen
to put on quite a reasonable display and when we all
did a grand finale all together the applause was something
special. Then it was time for mince pies, biscuits,
wine, raffle tickets and a look at the various displays.
Several people passed comments about the clothes all
of which were complimentary and after saying a 'Thank
you' to all the organisers I was stunned to be given
a flower arrangement, which Ann described as the largest
she had seen, for my time and trouble.
So that's how it all happened. I had
quite a tingle when leaving and felt as if I had given
something back which, without the visitors course might
not have been possible for me.
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