It comes with the territory. If you have multiple sclerosis, it’s highly likely that at some point you’ll be mistaken for a drunk. Look at that guy stumbling about in the middle of the day – he must be rat-arsed.
If you’re relying on a walking aid, bystanders are likely to work out that a disability is at play, but you don’t always want to be seen with that stick or walker, do you? Or you might have thought you could get away without any help for what you had to do today, but now reality has come back to bite you.
It can be a source of entertainment. Obviously, there’s nothing funny about drunk driving, but if you’ve swayed and stumbled your way back to your car, it can be amusing to clock the faces of those nearby as it dawns on them that this bloke who seems to be three sheets to the wind has got behind the wheel of his car and is now driving away. I sometimes swerve a little from side to side just to add to the fun.
But it’s more likely to be an incident of the variety I am about to describe.
We had finished our meal but it was too early to go home. We decided to visit a nearby bar. Nearby for your average person is not my nearby, however. I wasn’t intending to do any walking, so I’d left the stick at home. Only halfway there and I was struggling.
Whenever my legs pack up on me and I’m walking hand in hand with my wife, Kate, I think of the chimps that you used to see on TV variety shows in my childhood. Dressed in a tutu or similar, it would be walking upright, holding the hand of someone, or on occasion another chimp, who would be dressed in dungarees and also walking upright.
Their bowlegs and awkward swaying gait would have the audience howling with mirth as if we had not evolved one iota from the crass behaviours of the Coliseum crowds. But I fear that’s what I look like in these moments. I will often make a couple of chimp noises to try and deflate some of my frustration with humour, generally with limited success.
At last, the chimp and his handler had arrived. We approached the bouncer on the door, ready to nod, “Evening,” but events took an unexpected turn. As Kate let go of my hand and brushed past him with a smile, the guy placed his arm across my path. ‘Sorry, pal. Not tonight.’
‘Eh?” I squeaked.
‘Sorry, pal. I think you’ve had enough for one night.’
I laughed and rolled my eyes as I realised what was going through his mind. ‘I can explain…’ I said, about to explain, but he cut me off.
‘No need, not a problem. I just can’t let you in. I’m glad you’ve had a good time tonight but it’s not carrying on in here.’
Part of me felt like I no longer wanted to enter anyway. His manner was overly aggressive and was not putting me in the mood for relaxing with a beer.
Kate turned round, wondering what the cause of the delay was. ‘What’s going on?’ she asked, as she saw the bouncer and his broad arm barring my way.
‘He thinks I’m drunk. I was just about to tell him…’
‘He’s got MS!’ she blurted out, laughing, preventing me from explaining for a second time. At least she didn’t say M&S. She used to work for them and I’d been diagnosed five years before she broke the habit of calling it M&S. ‘He has problems with his legs.’
I expected the bouncer to feel pretty foolish now and I waited to hear him apologise profusely. I planned, of course, on being magnanimous and telling him it was no problem at all, no really, don’t worry about it, it’s fine. I was therefore somewhat surprised when his face emitted further hostility.
‘Well how was I supposed to know that?’ he spat.
I was so taken aback that I found myself still spouting the words I had prepared. ‘Don’t worry about it, not a problem,’ but my sentiment was not imbued with the same level of magnanimity.
Inside, finally, Kate was seeing the funny side. ‘Can you believe that guy? Trying to bar chimps, in the twenty-first century.’
I too was seeing the funny side. Kind of. The reality of my walking choices going forward, however, was stark. I could either look like a drunk, a chimp or a drunk chimp. The alternative was always to use my walking stick and look like an old man.
At least when you have a walking stick with you, there’s a better chance of someone giving up their seat for you in a crowded bar. No one is giving up their seat for a drunk chimp.
This incident was the basis for the chapter The Bouncer that appears in the book Balls to MS: 20 Years of Discovering Your Body Hates You by Andy Reynard.
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Hi, I’m Andy and I’ve had RRMS for most of this century, though it’s probably Secondary by now. It
certainly feels like it. It took a while till my diagnosis in 2006, then in the following three years I had
to face up to two other serious health issues, the last of which was life threatening.
But I’m still here. How is all covered in my entertaining and funny memoir, Balls to MS: 20 Years of
Discovering Your Body Hates You, which is available in both paperback and as an e-book on Amazon.
You can also follow my story on my blog, on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
I live in Yorkshire, England and love writing, history, comedy, music and football. I’m also fond of
saying, ‘Balls to MS.’
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