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Graham's Confession

I have always, since schooldays, been an aficionado of callipers and have always enjoyed seeing people wearing them. My first real contact with a calliper-wearer was at Art College in Edinburgh. On arriving to start my course in the first year I was delighted to discover that in my year group was a guy of the same sort of age as I, who wore a calliper on his right leg. Needless to say I lost no time in becoming his friend. Thankfully, this was not a difficult task as there were many of us who had come into Edinburgh from all over Scotland for our college course and we all wanted to find friendship. He was not resident in the same Halls as I but that created no great problem as I had a car (my A-level passing gift!) Duncan, for that was his name, did not have transport for he had epilepsy as well as his leg problem and could not drive. So, Duncan was keen on me because I had mobility and I was keen on him because he wore a calliper.

It appeared that he had lost the use of his leg following a car accident when he was a child; the head injuries that he sustained also bringing on the epilepsy. He walked with considerable difficulty and used the calliper all the time. I tried to be with him as much as possible and greatly enjoyed seeing the metal protruding from his trousers to connect to his shoe.

I acquired my first calliper from Duncan for he was throwig out some rubbish which I offered to take to the dump in my car. One of the items of which he was disposing was an old calliper which had broken at the knee-joint. Needless to say it did not reach the dump! As I had been practising metalwork in connection with a sculpture project I was undertaking, it was not too difficult to make a rough-and-ready repair and fit the calliper to my leg. Luckily the metal parts were adjustable because Duncan was taller than me. His leg was quite thin and I had to juggle with the straps but at last, I found myself wearing a calliper!

I would go out in the car by myself, put on the calliper in a lay-by, and then go for a walk around a town far away from Edinburgh. I greatly enjoyed the experience and still have many photographs of the Scotland landscape taken whilst on my callipered jaunts.

I lost contact with Duncan after I left college and moved to Merseyside to work on a newspaper as a graphic artist. However, my trusty old calliper came with me and would still come out for excursions. After a few years, I moved to a better job in the Midlands and it occurred to me that I could get away with wearing a calliper in my new home towm as no-one knew me. The calliper was by now in pretty poor condition but no-one else saw anything of it other than the bottom few inches so this was not a problem. However, I had already started work and rented an upstairs flat so there was no way of suddenly acquiring a disability.

I, of course, continued with my observations, enjoying seeing calliper-wearers from time to time but I did not meet up with anyone like Duncan. However I did get into touch with some other people who were interested in callipers and began to build a photograph collection.

My great day came when my grandfather died. Sad though it was, as he was the last family member living in this country (my parents both died quite young and my brothers lived abroad), it did leave me with a wonderful opportunity. Good old Granddad had left me quite a decent amount of money and this meant the road to 'freedom'.

The first purchase was, of course, a new car and then, through another interested person, a pair of callipers (amongst other toys). Before I ran off and spent all my inheritance I began to think of the future and realised that I could afford to go into business for myself, which I had wanted to do for a long time. My initial thought was to set up as a freelance graphic designer but that meant breaking into a crowded market. Rather, I decided to purchase a franchise on an instant printing business. I decided that I would view any likely locations whilst wearing my callipers; partly because I always enjoy wearing them, and partly because I had the inkling of an idea.

So it was that I found myself interested in buying a well-established franchise in the West Midlands about a hundred miles from my then home. Now came the moment of decision - Did I keep the callipers on? I decided to give it a try: it was a big step because people would get to know me in callipers and I would not simply be able to take them off and walk around normally. I took the plunge.

That was five years ago. I bought the business and it has done quite well despite the recession. I have four staff working for me and I go to the shop each day in my callipers and walking with crutches. I use a wheelchair in the shop as it helps with mobility. I have a bungalow just outside town which has a wheelchair adapted bathroom and drive an automatic car with hand controls. Everyone simply accepts me as disabled. Of course, as I got to know people I had to find a story to explain my disability and so I used Duncan's tale of a road accident during childhood.

I enjoy my lifestyle most of the time. Sometimes I get fed up with my callipers and wish I was not wearing them, but that generally passes. There are times when I cheat, most notably in the mornings for I do not put on my callipers until I am ready to go out (unless I have a houseguest or the cleaner is at work). Usually I do not take them off until I go to bed and greatly enjoy waking up in the morning and seeing them leaning by the wall waiting for me. I have had a number of pairs made and have a selection of different shoes and boots.

In the Summer I love to wear shorts with my callipers and to show them off. The stares and glances of passers-by amuse me intensely. Young children are best, for they often haven't seen anything like this before and will sometimes ask awkward questions of their parents who give incredible answers such as 'The man has poorly legs'!

I went to the United States last year and was intrigued to see a guy wearing his callipers outside his trousers: he was not just showing them off, these were for real as could easily be seen from the thinness and shape of his legs. When I got back I ordered myself a pair of all black callipers and now quite often wear these over some tight black jeans. People I know well seem to have become accustomed to his arrangement and I rarely get comments, but I still get plenty of stares!

After five years of this unusual life, I have no regrets. I feel very satisfied and almost look upon myself as disabled. Of course my legs still work but my body-image is now of a calliper-wearing man. I find it ironic when I go to visit friends from times past and I have to drive up the road and take my callipers off rather than putting them on in a lay-by as once I did. Needless to say, I do not have visitors from the past at home. I always seem to find an excuse to be busy!

I am very grateful to my grandfather for his generosity and the opportunity he has given me. I am not sure how long this life-style will last for I cannot imagine becoming an old man and still putting on callipers every morning (although there are many who have no choice). I shall continue until I get fed up and then find a way of getting out of it. [How about a trip to Lourdes? Ed.] I would hate to have to move for I have made many good friends here, people who have been very accepting of their disabled pal. Sometimes I have some guilt about the deception but I can deal with that. I wonder, is it any worse than wearing contact lenses and pretending that one's eyesight is 20--20? At least I am not using my quasi-disability to obtain any benefits and am not living on others. I have been fortunate enough to be independent and am living life my way.

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