Ross had a fantastic sense of humour.
It always helps when someone has a sense of humour.
It really, really, really helps when you have a fantastic sense of humour, and you also suffer from cerebral palsy, you’re stuck in a wheelchair, you’ve never taken a footstep in your life, your front teeth stick out at 50 degrees, you can barely control a muscle in your body, only nine people in the whole world can understand a single word you say, and your life expectancy is probably about twenty-five or so – like Ross.
Not only did Ross have a great sense of humour, but I never once heard him complain about anything whatsoever. Next time you have a moan, like we all do from time-to-time, think about that.
Ross was 14. Only a few people could understand anything he said. Obviously his Mum and Dad could, and his teacher at his special school. At first, I couldn’t at all. Then, gradually, I could.
Ross liked drinking tea, or “Chaarrruugglgg gup” as he called it. Once you start with chaarrruugglgg gup, you can start to build up a small vocabulary. It’s certainly easier than learning Chinese.
I’d put the luke-warm tea in one of those non-spill baby cups, place it in Ross’ hand, and after four or five wafts of his hand towards and around his face he’d eventually get it into his mouth and be able to drink in a gurgly sort of way, until it fell onto his lap and the process would start again.
He couldn’t really do diddly-squeak for himself, apart from sit in a wheel-chair and crash into things if and when he managed to get on a roll. But one thing he could do was work the dial on the radio. He loved his radio. His radio was the only thing he hardly ever pissed into. When he pissed into his radio and it stopped working, his Mum would buy him another one.
Boy! He could work the little dial! That was what he could actually do, for some inexplicable reason. He’d find Cuddly Ken on Radio Whatever. He’d be able to flick the dial and find the remnants of the Pirate radio stations. He could do this in a couple of seconds. Most of the rest of us able-bodied people can’t even do that as quickly. That was Ross’ big thing – working the dial, and finding the music radio stations he loved listening to.
“Caroline, Car-o-line, Ayaai-i-yaai-yai. Caroline, Car-o-line, Ayaai-i-yaai-yai. This is Radio Caroline on 199”
I used to sing that to him, and he loved it, except that he’d laugh so much that he’d fall out of his wheelchair. And he was quite heavy and awkward and floppy to get him back into it.
Had he not been dealt one of the worst of all hands in the deck of life, Ross would have liked to have become a radio disk jockey. But instead, we would pretend.
“This is Ross the Boss talking to you from Caroline 199-er on your Long Wave” I’d say, trying to sound as much like Everett or one of the other DJs as possible, talking to the top of my empty half gallon of cider that they gave me for babysitting him, in lieu of a microphone.
He loved that. “Ahhggwrryddy” he’d call me, drooling over the dial and flopping in half.
The lad had a wonderful sense of humour. I could tell that much. There were so many laughs we had together. I’d do the radio commentary as fluently as I could, pretending to be him, and he’d gurgle with laughter. Sometimes I’d run dry, and he’d take over, and it would come out a bit like “Garreooogggly Carrolluggian…a babbbrrrgrrr gluug” until he’d be laughing so much he couldn’t continue.
“Find Radio Luxemburg, Ross” I’d ask. And he could, in half a second. “How’d you do that, Boss?”
“Ahhggwrryddy geaaalllabyy!” (Roddy – it’s easy) he’d tell me.
The story he liked the most was the one about how Radio Caroline’s batteries once ran down, and I’d do the soundtrack.
“This is Caroline on 199-er, aaaannnd weee’re having problems with our batteries juuuuust now, so thiiiiiiings maaay beggggggin to souuuuuud a biiit straaaaaaange, I’m afraaaaaaaaid.”
He also liked the story about how one of the pirate radio ships once sank. I’d do that one as well.
“You’re tuned to the number one pirate radio station, and this is Ross the Boss bringing you the latest news from the middle of the North Sea. I have to report that water has started to leak into the studio due to a problem with the plug. Splash. Slash. And unfortunately we seem to be sinking. But we will continue to broadcast as long as is possible. Here’s a song you may like, called “Children of the Sea” by Black Sabbath. Splash. Gurgle.”
I couldn’t do that one too often, because without fail he’d fall out of his chair laughing.
He could barely talk, due to the spasticity. Apart from his radio, the other thing he liked was caaaaxxtttaaaxxxsssseee, which he’d demonstrate by pushing his right hand out in front of his chair.
No – I didn’t get what caaaaxxtttaaaxxxsssseee was at first either.
“What’s that, Boss?” I asked.
“Eh? Ross the Boss, I don’t know what you mean, man.”
“Caaaaxxtttaaaxxxsssseee!” he repeated a few times, and then with an enormous effort, he tried to clear some of the flem from his mouth, took a deep breath, and said “Caattaxiii”
“Ah! I’ve got you. Taxi. You like the taxi?”
He really loved going on the taxi outing for handicapped kids, down the coast, which they did once a year – with balloons on the roofs of the taxis, and their horns sounding constantly. That’s what Ross’ hand out front had been demonstrating – pushing the taxi’s horn.
One time, when I was babysitting, he told me, “Ahhggwrryddy, grrabbiddlie wahmimmly gruuruellie [roll of head as he tried to compose himself a bit more] wahwah jahimmly [right hand comes up] gruuie twalettillilly, he, he, heh, maju-umbillillie.”
I thought – “Strewth! He needs the cludge? Not just a wee? Let’s hope not. I don’t know how to do that. Surely his Mum did that before she left.”
I ignored it. I got more into the “Yes, we’re here on RNI, Radio North Sea International, 208 on your night-time Long Wave, and Ross the Boss is about to take over the airwaves for his late-night meet-the bozo interview session. And the bozo this week, same as last week and the week before, is…Rodz the Bodz”
The distraction only worked for a few minutes.
“Ahhggwrryddy, grrabbiddlie wahmimmly gruuruellie” Ross repeated, once more, to me, this time with some urgency.
What to do? “Boss man Ross. Do you really, really, need a dump cludge? Surely not?”
“Ahhggwrryddy, grrabbiddlie wahmimmly gruuruellie” he said, reaching over with his right hand and scratching towards his derriere and producing a finger’s worth of poo that he could no longer keep in, as an example of how imminent it all was.
“OK, then. Will you help me as much as possible? I don’t know how to do this.”
Ross half fell out of his chair, laughing. To him, this was a daily thing. To me, it wasn’t. I was a twenty-year-old babysitter, with limited life experience.
So, we worked his wheelchair into the cludge. Not easy. The toilet was small. What the freak do you do next. He was heavy. No wonder his Mum had taken up weight lifting to build up her strength. You have to lift him out of his chair, kick the chair away with your right foot and somehow plonk him down on the bowl at the same time. Prop him up and take the pants down. Re-position him more centrally.
OK, Ross the Boss, you get on with it, and I’m off now to watch the news on telly. You’re cool here? Your Mum will probably be back soon.
“Ahhggwrryddy!” “Ahhggwrryddy!” Eventually came the call from the toilet.
Oh shit! So…Boss the Ross, Ross the Boss, on 199-er, So you seem to be finished, so… I have to wipe yer snerse?
“Gerrshssh, heh hah-grup” he replied, but I caught him before he laughed so much that he fell off the bowl.
We had a lot of laughs, Ross the Boss and I did, so we did.
Ross’ Mum was very apologetic when she got home that time, explaining that she’d simply forgotten to make sure he’d dumped before she went out.
“Jean – its a priviledge to know someone with a sense of humour like Ross the Boss, you must be very proud of that,” I told her, “And I hope I never forget how much he laughs, despite everything”
And I haven’t.
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[Here are details of some other short stories]