Nothing will stop Kathryn

Over my many years of travels and radio interviews I have met many, many inspirational people.  I often talk about the Rev Samuel Billy Kyles.  He was the man who returned to the Deep South to become a minister at a Baptist Chapel in Memphis at the height of the civil rights movement. 

He was arrested for sitting at the front of a Memphis bus when those seats were reserved for whites only. He was spat at by police as he took his young daughter to a de-segregated school.  It was Billy who invited Dr Martin Luther King Jr to Memphis for the garbage workers strike.  He was the man who grabbed a blanket to cover his dying friend. As you can see Billy was an inspirational character no doubt.

I’ve chatted to Olympic Champions, politicians and world famous actors and all have left a lasting impression on me but this week it was courage, and probably ‘obstinacy’, that truly inspired me and my friends to another level.

Steve Balsamo, Ian Parsons Mal Pope on the steps of All Souls.

Last Tuesday I had a concert in a church called All Souls Langham Place to celebrate Wales Week London.  All Souls is a great location, just up the road from Oxford Circus right next to the BBC, but it had some issues.  When I visited the venue before Christmas I realised that its in house facilities probably wouldn’t be quite enough for what I had in mind.  That meant I had to source a PA, a set of lights and a projector.

Packing the van for London.

Most of that was quite straight forward but it did mean lots of phone calls and calling in favours from Neath to Llanelli.  Having been given the loan of a van by Rod Lloyd at LCV it still fell to me to co-ordinate the meet up, load in, the logistics of travelling to London.  I wanted to leave enough time for a pit stop on the way but make sure we got to the venue in good time.  The night before the concert I didn’t sleep as all of these questions were going around my brain. Given the chance I might well have thrown in the towel and called the whole thing off. Thank goodness Tuesday morning was dry and fairly sunny.

Graham Dene from BOOM Radio introducing the show.

What it made me realise is that for most things in life I’ve always been a bit of a ‘fair weather’ person. As a kid I loved playing football but come January and February with the cold wet Saturday mornings I must admit I was never very disappointed when I heard the match had been postponed.

Years later, the kids were growing up and playing football on a Sunday, my life had turned into gigs and late Saturday nights.  As I climbed into bed at 2 or 3am I would silently pray for rain to allow me to sleep in rather than make that dreaded journey to Mynydd Newydd and a morning of horizontal rain and potential frostbite.  Even now as I try to maintain some form of physical regime I always draw back the curtains before finally deciding if I should stay in bed or actually go for that walk.

That’s probably the reason I stand in awe when I consider my friend Kathryn from the Isle of Man. I’m not sure how we first made a connection.  I rather think it would probably have been through Radio Wales. I think Kathryn’s family came from North Wales but even though she was born and brought up on The Isle of Man she still clings to her Welsh roots.

Mal and Kathryn Williams at Swansea Grand.

For some reason Kathryn likes my music and has been to a number of my concerts.  She’s easy to spot.  Kathryn is a wheel chair user, has a massive smile and has cerebral palsy.

The first time we met was after a concert at the Gwyn Hall in Neath. At the end of a show I try my best to get out as quickly as possible to say thank you to everyone who has taken the time and trouble to buy a ticket and come to the show.  There was Kathryn.  No one had taken more time or trouble to be there.  She had caught a plane to Manchester and got herself to Neath by train.  A taxi had completed her journey.  After a few minutes chat we said goodbye. I was concerned that she had got to her hotel after the concert and Kathryn sent me this message over Facebook.

‘The taxi driver was a bit bemused however, ‘you came all the way from the Isle of Man just to see Mal Pope…on your own’.

Kathryn also came to my Golden Jubilee concert at the Swansea Grand in October and she said she would keep an eye out for my upcoming shows.

It was a week or so ago we got the message from All Souls that their lift had broken.  They were waiting on a special part to be delivered but it was unlikely to arrive in time for my concert. Now this didn’t really alarm me because I thought we’ll we have lots of bodies coming with us and some meeting us there on the day.  It shouldn’t be a problem to get the gear down into the crypt where we were holding our event.

It was on Sunday that I got a message from Kathryn.  She had bought a ticket but had been onto the church website to check details and seen a message that the lift was out of action.  She had gone to London a few days early and decided to go to the church herself to do a recce.  Yes the lift was broken but she wasn’t too concerned.  Something like a broken lift wasn’t going to stop Kathryn.

Our trip to London went much more smoothly than I could have hoped.  We arrived at the venue a couple of hours early and managed to get set up before 5pm.  With a 7.30pm kick off we were in a good place. It was then I was told Kathryn had arrived.  Kathryn had an electric wheel chair waiting for her on arrival in London but she had arranged with the church to use their more portable wheel chair to help us get downstairs.  We transferred Kathryn from one to the other and with some laughter and a lot of hard work we managed to ‘man handle’ Kathryn into place.

Meet and greet at the show.

At the end of the show I was in full ‘meet and greet’, ‘thank you for coming’ mode when I remembered Kathryn.  She had been chatting to lots of people but was ready to leave.  With the help of my sons and a few others we managed to retrace our steps and get Kathryn back into her special chair.

‘Where are you going now’ I asked her.  ‘Bromley’ she replied, ‘No. 390 bus to Victoria and then the train.’ With that she was gone into the London night, not before leaving some chocolates for me and the guys for our journey home to Wales.

End of the night and the band are still smiling – Driver Dave Harris Far Right.

I checked in with Kathryn last night and found out that she had arrived home to the Isle of Man. This is what she told me.

 ‘Growing up, my Mum always said there is no such thing as ‘can’t’. That really used to annoy me, particularly when I was down about something I couldn’t do or was stopped from doing because of my situation.

What I came to realise is that while I may not be able to have the same experiences as people who are not wheelchair-users, I can have different ones and still have a great time. I cannot miss what I’ve never had so I try and hold on to what I have and use it as best I can. My greatest gift is my sense of humour, lose that, lose the plot, even though not everyone gets it!’

Kathryn is one of my heroes.  Nothing and I mean nothing will stand in her way.  It has made me realise that so much that holds me back isn’t physical, its mental.  The next time I’m worried about a trip or a venture I will think of Kathryn and make sure I let nothing stand in my way.

Show pictures courtesy of Sophie Jordan.

Thanks to Dan Langford and Wales Week London

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