Penny Pepper’s First in the World Somewhere

Jun 10, 2020 | Culture, Penny Pepper, The Arts, Values | 0 comments

A unique memoir from the mid 1980s to 1999. In 1985 Thatcher’s UK is a battle zone. The miners are on strike and Broadwater Farm is ablaze. I’m obsessed with: writing and The Smiths. I dream of moving to London. I’m a shy punk mutineer with a passion for words and music, craving freedom from a poor Chiltern Hills council estate. I don’t have what others take for granted. I am disabled. Yet I do have raw, burgeoning talent to fight the demons of indifference, discrimination and out-right bigotry. I write as if my life depends on it – and sometimes it does. I send a letter to Morrissey and he replies: ‘ You write beautifully, a priceless gift’. Later there is more from him. I write to Ken Livingstone at the GLC and he tells me how to get a wheelchair accessible flat. After a four-year battle, I am moving to a small flat in Leytonstone with my best friend Kate, our wheelchairs in the boot.

Dressed to shock, in micro-mini leather bondage skirts, fishnets and with hair extensions, I’m naïve but knowing, and willful to a fault. There’s parties, there’s sex, there’s music. I write and sing obsessively. I fall in love with my band manager Freddie, friend of Alan McGee, of Creation Records. Freddie pitches my demos to record companies Rough Trade, Glass, Coldharbour. Record executives like my work, my look – but ‘the wheelchair’ is anathema. I relish my connections with the North London music scene; with Gary Ramon of Colour Tapes and Acme Records; Tim Gane of cult band StereoLab records my first demo tape. The single, Live your Life, is reviewed in the NME, played on the radio and heard by iconic musician Robert Wyatt who gets in touch and supports my work.

My 90s album, Spiral Sky, (now a collectable rarity) is No 1 in Greece for a week. I join the radical beginnings of the disability rights movement, and am a key activist to the present day – still fighting Thatcher’s legacy. I find a job in publishing, write a sex guide, get married, get divorced, and as the new millennium approaches, I get on TV, sometimes naked. I write; a novel, some memoir, some poetry, a few plays, endless short stories. Often faced with prejudice, I fail. I suffer, I survive and I sometimes succeed. My disability is never denied – it is part of me – and it is inequality that I fight in all that I do, with blood, heart and a sharpening wit. Through the years, there’s an overload of adventure, despair and joy. Dancing through a bawdy single life in 1998, I’m working on a short story collection, Cripples Fucking, to be published by Creation. I meet the eccentric archaeologist Gabriel Pepper; we marry in 1999 in matching purple robes – and it is here that the first volume of my memoirs ends.

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