I was born dyslexic into a working-class family in the slums of Notting Hill, West London in 1962. No one knew what dyslexia was, so people just thought I was dopey.
When I was seven years old, I managed to crush my right leg under a cast iron rocking horse in the park and spent most of my childhood and teenage years in hospital, and on walking aids. The doctors told my parents I would always have problems with my leg and would never have much mobility, or be able to play sports or lead a ‘normal life’.
Which was true; the leg never became straight. It bent to the side and was an inch shorter than the left one, so I had to wear a raised shoe. I couldn’t join in the games the other kids use to play and they would bully me with name-calling like spastic and hop-a-long. Teachers had no time for me, and my family were busy with their lives.
I became a bit of a loner, until one day, at 21, I bought a backpack and took off into the world. For more than 20 years I lived life to the full, taking up all the adventure and debauchery my knee would allow.
I am the only member of my family who has backpacked. It’s a life I would not change for anything. I have never been married, though I’ve refused a few proposals, and never had children. If something didn’t fit in my backpack, I didn’t want or need it.
In 1999, the doctors told me I needed a knee replacement. The thought of another operation, and the time it would take to recover, without even being certain it would work, terrified me. An arthroscopic knee washout bought me time but it was yoga that eventually saved me, at the same time as turning my whole life around for the better.
Eventually, I came to realise that my disability, my lack of education, and having been bullied were among my greatest blessings and, in fact, among my greatest gurus. But I had a long journey to travel, both literally and metaphorically, before I reached that point.
The doctors were right all-along; ‘I could never lead a normal life’