LOOKS OK. ARE THEY OK? Living with a Brain Injury THE HIDDEN DISABILITY: a 25 min documentary film.
Every 90 seconds in the UK a person suffers a brain injury.
Seventeen years ago Geezer Barrie Stradling was the victim of a hit and run accident at a road crossing on the Mile End Road. It put him into a coma for six weeks, when he was twice read the last rites, and into hospital for four months. Now, with old school friend Paul Jackson and honorary Geezer and filmmaker Andy Porter, he has made a film about living with a brain injury.
LOOKS OK. ARE THEY OK? tells Barrie’s story of adjusting to life with a brain injury, an invisible injury that radically changed his life and personality.
Before the accident Barrie had been a production manager in an advertising agency for eleven years, and ran a successful print farming business, had written two books about his beloved Millwall FC, as well as singing with bands and working as a session singer.
After the accident Barrie was unable to work and has had to adjust to a life of ongoing sleeplessness, anxiety and memory loss. With the help of his mate Paul, the film explores this life and how friends both new and old, including his fellow Geezers, have had to adjust to the ‘new’ Barrie. A Barrie who lacks the social filters that most of the rest of us have, who can unpredictably flare-up at a moment’s notice, and can become abusive and offensive. This from a person who before the accident was known as quiet and self-effacing.
The one place that Barrie feels free from all of this is on stage, singing. He now sings regularly at jam sessions around London, where his still-powerful soul voice can be counted on to bring the house down. The film catches him at a Groove Kitchen event in the Boxpark, Croydon, singing with his friend and ex-Drifter Fil Straughan, with whom he was about to go out as a duo when the accident happened. Whilst hailing him as an inspiration, Fil also acknowledges what Barrie lost musically, the loss of musical memory and some of his vocal range, and in life through the accident. It is not a story of triumph over tragedy but rather of a hard slog for Barrie who says in the film, without a trace of self-pity – ‘I could have done so much more without the brain injury’.
The idea for the film originated in a conversation between Paul Jackson and Barrie Stradling. They had met on their first day at Raines Foundation Grammar School and have been friends ever since. The closeness of their friendship was cemented after Barrie’s accident. Paul and his wife have adopted five children with brain injuries resulting from FASD (Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder), so both he and Barrie have an understanding of what it is like to live with an injured brain. They asked Andy Porter, who has made films with the Geezers and fundraises for them, to come on board as the filmmaking member of the team. Together they wanted to make a film to raise awareness of the often unrecognised problems associated with living with an invisible disability.
The film was shown at the Not Just a Conference conference at Headway East London, (the brain injury charity) to 80 people involved professionally in the field, or themselves brain injury survivors It was later shown to a group of 50 plus friends and colleagues at the Cruising Association in Limehouse Basin. Its reception has been universally positive, with comments ranging from ‘the most honest film I have seen on the subject, and not the usually sugar coated version’, to ‘really moving’, ‘eye-opening’, ‘inspiring’ and ‘ I absolutely loved it’.
Barrie and Paul are currently exploring the the best way of getting the film seen both by the general public and in people-facing organisations such as the NHS, the DWP, social workers, the police, football club community trusts, where the film can be used as a training tool to aid them in the recognition and understanding of the issues facing the hidden disability of the brain injury survivor.