I was born on Friday, 6th March 1992 in Ashington, Northumberland. My mum, Janet, and my dad, Geoff, who had met while studying at a teacher training college in Scarborough in the 1980s, tell me that it was clear that something was wrong when I was born, as I was immediately scooped up and taken away for further examination. It had turned out that I was born with talipes – commonly known as ‘clubfoot’ – I was born with my feet pointing inwards towards each other instead of pointing out front, and it would require treatment within the first year of my life to save the ability to walk. So, my ankles were cut into and bits and pieces were rearranged so that my feet could settle in the right place.
Shortly after this, my family – my mum, dad and my brother Simon, 18 months my elder – moved from our cottage in Cresswell to a house in Widdrington Station, another village in Northumberland. I went to first school in Ellington, which was a short drive from Widdrington.
Things changed in 1998. As I remember it, I had started to limp a bit and the doctors determined that the clubfoot was threatening to return in my left foot. They operated again – this time using a more aggressive method which involved the insertion of seven metal rods into my lower leg, ankle and foot. The rods were held together in a metal frame and the whole thing resembled a mini construction site. While the frame was in place I wasn’t allowed to walk and used a wheelchair. For a young boy who had been quite active and enjoyed playing outside, this was a difficult transition to make. Overall, it took several months to deal with this clubfoot ‘relapse’ – although the operation succeeded in correcting the clubfoot once more, I was left with feet which weren’t officially ‘signed off’ by the NHS until I was 17, and even so with the caveat that they were simply as good as they were going to get, rather than as good as normal feet. I was also left with a long-lasting lack of confidence in my physical abilities, and my enjoyment of playing outside and doing PE at school dwindled.
The other thing that changed in 1998 was that my parents split up. My dad moved to Forest Hall, a village in suburban Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and my mum moved to Blyth – the largest town in Northumberland. Since then, I have always considered myself to have not one but two family homes. My dad married Gill in 2000, and I gained an older stepbrother, Ben, and a younger stepsister, Sarah, as a result. My mum married Michael in 2005. And so my adolescence was spent moving back and forth between Blyth and Forest Hall. I went to Plessey Road First School which, conveniently, was almost directly opposite our house in Blyth. This was followed by four years at Wensleydale Middle School, also in Blyth. I then moved up to Astley Community High School in Seaton Delaval, where I took my GCSEs and A levels.
By the time I started high school, I was a relatively accomplished piano player – I had been taking lessons since the age of eight and made it up to Grade 5 before stress over exams at school caused me to quit taking lessons. By high school, I also had a fairly good inkling that I might be gay. By the time I was 16, I had come out to all of my friends and most of my family.
At A-level I studied English Literature, English Language, Maths and Chemistry. A 50/50 split between the arts and the sciences, as I saw it at the time. I knew I wanted to study at university afterwards. What I wasn’t clear about was what to study. I especially liked Maths and English. The decision was made easier when Simon went off to the University of Bath to study Maths. I couldn’t possibly do the same as him! So I went with English – specifically English Language – and went off to study at Lancaster University.
I graduated with a first in Linguistics in 2013, and took the decision to stay at Lancaster for another four years to take an MA and then a PhD at the newly-established corpus linguistics research centre there. During my time in Lancaster, I also developed a passion for acting in plays and musicals. Growing up, I had done a few shows with my family in local amateur theatre groups in Blyth, but at university, things really stepped up a notch with the help of the student theatre society and local theatre groups that allowed me to perform and produce shows very regularly.
During the last year of my PhD, I got a job on a research team at Cambridge Assessment, and finished off my PhD while working full-time in Cambridge. Straddling both work and study, while getting used to being a totally new place, was very challenging, and it was a relief to pass my PhD viva at the end of 2017. By this point, I had already decided to pursue a career in academia, and took up a post-doctoral Research Fellow post at the University of Leeds. I really enjoyed my two years living and working in Leeds – it was my first time living in a ‘big city’, so to speak, and an intense period of professional development. Of course, just as I experienced the stress of trying to find a job as I approached the end of my PhD, I faced the same stress as the end of my fixed-term contract appeared on the horizon. Luckily for me, I got a lectureship at Aston University, and moved to Birmingham at the beginning of 2020, just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK.
2020 was a challenging year for many people, of course. For me, the first lockdown coincided with having just moved to yet another new city, alone, and having taken up a new job. I didn’t cope very well with the lockdowns and turned to food as a way to cope with the situation. This is something I had already found challenging for most of my life, but the Covid pandemic made things much harder than normal. Throughout 2020, my health declined as I became very unwell with severe obesity. Things got so serious that in the spring of the following year I had bariatric surgery (specifically, a gastric sleeve – the removal of about 80% of the stomach). This was not a decision I took lightly, but following the surgery my health improved rapidly and allowed me to get things back on track.
Currently, I am enjoying my work at Aston and enjoying living in Birmingham with my cat, Preston.