Pradip Rai Oral History Transcript
Transcription of an oral history recording of interviewee Pradip Rai
Pradip Rai Oral History Recording
Kent's Sporting Memories
4 November, 2020; interview recorded on 21 September, 2020 and 14 October, 2020
Pradip Rai; Michael Romyn
Kent's Sporting Memories
Pradip Rai Oral History Recording; Pradip Rai Oral History Summary
Microsoft Word Document
Kent’s Sporting Memories Oral History Transcription
Interviewee: Pradip Rai
Interviewer: Michael Romyn
Date: 21 September, 2020/14 October, 2020
Location: Folkestone Sports Centre/Remote Interview
(21 September, 2020)
Pradip Rai: My name is Pradip Rai, and my date of birth is 20th of August 1972, and I was born in Bhojpur District in Nepal. It’s the eastern part of Nepal, it’s the hill region. Because in Nepal there are plain, hill and mountains, so I came from the middle part of the country that’s very fantastic and naturally beautiful. All the very beautiful natural rivers, coming down from the mountains, and flow through the hills and to the plains, and it mix into the Indian Ocean, yeah. Very beautiful.
Michael Romyn: Was it a village or a town you lived in?
PR: It’s a village, yeah. That’s where it, it’s kind of a very fantastic, all the natural environment, like fresh wind, and very sunny, yeah, so. You can grow a lot of crops, and you can grow anything. Fruits, vegetables, and the paddy fields. Apples, and beautiful sun-blushed oranges in the riversides, it’s beautiful.
MR: Sounds amazing.
PR: Yeah, yeah, if you get a chance you have to visit one day.
MR: I’d love to go.
PR: I highly recommend, yeah.
MR: How big was it? How many people in the village?
PR: Err, many. Because the villages are situated, scattered around where the perfect place is, and the plain, so we have tight-knit communities, groupings, you know? Like one village is here, another village is over there, yeah. Where the comfortable is, and our ancients, where they have established the beautiful living place, and amazing paddy terraces and fields, good for farming and cultivating any cattles, and mainly farming, yeah. So our economy is mainly vegetable farming. We grow organic, and self-sufficient. But nowadays it’s quite a bad situation. All the chemical fertilizers came in, and many young people didn’t want to work, they just wanted to go to the city, so nowadays it’s quite sad, err, because our villages are being deserted, so only the elderly and children are there, so no good effective workforce for the farming.
MR: Why do the young people not want to farm? Why do they want to go to the city?
PR: Oh because the time has changed, so they want to be quite, a high-flying life, you know? That effects around here as well in some way, yeah, that’s the thing.
MR: Do they move back to the village when they’re older or do they stay in the city?
PR: They’re gonna stay in the city and, because they’re, because there’s no good opportunity in Nepal, so they, most of them, they go out to the foreign countries, to working, and then yeah, it’s quite bad things I think. Because we’re losing our charm in the villages, yeah.
MR: Did your parents work in farming?
PR: Yeah, mainly they worked in farming, yeah. So, I still have home at village, but we have employed some other close friends, so it’s still, I feel good, they work hard, they are still maintaining. So, yeah, because my mother and brothers, they live in the capital city, Kathmandu, they sometimes go back to the village, just to organise things and maintain close village relationships with whoever is working there, yeah.
MR: How many brothers and sisters do you have?
PR: I’ve got two sisters, my elder sister she’s settled in, err, Bhojpur, it’s a little town, it’s the district of our village, and my youngest sister is also works at Gurkhas, so she lives in Grays, near the Dartford. And I’ve got two brothers. I’m the eldest son, and my middle one is in, is working in Malaysia, and my younger brother lives with my mum, she, he’s helping my mum. Yeah.
MR: What do you remember about growing up in the village? What are your strongest memories of that time?
PR: Oh yeah, definitely commuting to school, quite far, so it’s one a half hours walking! One way, two way makes it three hours, just the journey, yeah. So, this quite hard life, just you know up and downs, and rivers, crossing the rivers. And yeah, playing, lots of friends, going to the river, swimming, fishing, yeah, and looking after cattles, everything, yeah, so it was a very active life, you know, yeah. This is hard but that’s what we used to do, so that was very good.
MR: Sounds very active.
PR: Yeah, yeah!
MR: What’s the Nepalese national sport?
PR: It’s called Dandi biyo, it’s called. We play with one stick, one bigger stick, that kind of long, that kind of thick, yeah, so thin, and there’s a little piece of wood. It’s quite strange.
MR: I’ve never heard of that? Did you play?
PR: Yeah, we used to play a lot, yeah. Apart from that, the volleyballs, footballs, are favourite as well.
MR: Would you play these at school?
PR: Yeah, yeah. So, sport is part of the schooling life as well.
MR: Did you play against other schools? Were there competitions?
PR: Yeah, sometimes yeah, interschool competitions were held, yeah. It was very good, sensational going to the other places, compete against and making new friends, yeah, that kind of things.
MR: That three hour round trip – were you tired when you got there?
PR: Yeah obviously, yeah, tired. However, my mum used to cook something to eat, ready, and then just leave and okay, that was part of life, yeah.
MR: What were your favourite subjects at school?
PR: English. I was always, yeah, fascinated with the English language because it’s being an international language, so if I have good English I could have survived anywhere, so that’s why I was very interested in English. And very luckily I had a very good headteacher, err, who was educated abroad, somewhere in Hong Kong, and he was very, very good at English, like English accent, so his pronunciation was very good, yeah. I was lucky.
MR: So he helped you?
PR: Yeah he helped me a lot to use my – one of the great inspirations, learning English language.
MR: What age do people leave school in Nepal?
PR: Err, around 16, yeah.
MR: Did you so the same?
PR: Yeah, I passed my – we call it SLT, in my days, that is School Leaving Certificate, yeah, so I did it, but I didn’t go to college! Yeah.
MR: Was that your decision?
PR: Err, I was very, had mixed feelings, and experience. I, I admitted to the college, and that was quite far from my district, another district, neighbouring district, but it was quite far, walking it takes one day to walk, yeah, because it didn’t have many road that time, but now, now there is road. And we had to walk. And I’d been to the college but, I looked around, I’ve seen no one I know, so yeah, I felt not quite comfortable, and yeah, so. I didn’t admit to the college, so I was quite, not in control what I was going to do. And then I had my cousin, was living in Dharan, that was very near from that college, so I just went down to Dharan, and then yeah, we went down to Darjeeling. Darjeeling is in India, it’s however, [inaudible] , so yeah. We wonder around that area until we have some money, and then when the money was running out, because I brought the money to study in the college, yeah, so I really pissed off my parents! Darjeeling then, yeah, so I was wondering around, so. We just spent about a month, just doing nothing, but Darjeeling is very beautiful hillside, so we were very fascinated with their style culture, and the place was, the place id very educated as well. And then when the money is running out I returned home, yeah.
MR: Your parents thought you were at college the whole time?
PR: Yeah but eventually they knew because I had relatives in Dharan so they probably have passed message, so. Yeah, when I got home they knew already! Yeah, I was quite frightened! And then, that’s it, so I didn’t want to go back to college and, I started to prepare to train with the Gurkhas because I always had in my mind to join the Gurkhas because that is one of the cultures in our village, and one of the best opportunities.
MR: How did you get into the Gurkhas?
PR: So I was quite skinny, so I was quite worried about my weight because we had to be 50 kilograms, and five foot two inches tall. The height wasn’t a problem for me, and you have to be 17, between 17 and 22, so my time was quite running out, so. I tried first and yeah, I didn’t weigh enough, so that was quite disappointing, and I learned a lesson because in my days, there used to be a selection process from village, called galah selection. That means former Gurkha who is looking for the potential recruits in the villages. Centrally, he was looking after, he was responsible to select Gurkhas for around five villages, big villages, and we have to go to his house, and do the certain physical things. He measures height, not weight yet, and he looks general physical things, and asks some things. And if we pass here, we go to another regional selection, it’s called ARO selection, that is quite fierce, so many boys from so many villages, and they’re all through from the first stages, and there’s quite competitive, you know. And we have to do [inaudible], I think [inaudible] times, yeah, and sit-ups, very vertical set, that’s 25, and then [inaudible]. Because the vacancies only around 10, amongst I think half of the district, so it’s quite, very competitive, and then yeah, the following year I came second, so I couldn’t believe myself, and then finally we have to go to Pokhara, Pokhara is called Pokhara city, it’s a very beautiful city. It’s a hot spot for tourists, that’s where it’s the central selection, and it takes a month because all the selected boys come there, it’s very fierce, yeah, so we have to do [inaudible] there. One of the hardest things, called Doko carry, this is called carrying basket, bamboo basket, and it’s rocks of 25 kilograms or something, so we have to carry uphill, run uphill. Run uphill and come down, so I forgot about the distance, but it’s very [inaudible]. It start, it starts from the river, you go up and around the hill and come down, that is the hardest part. And other running obstacles and so many tasks, and then interviews, yeah, so you have to go through all this.
MR: That sounds like a lot.
PR: Yeah, yeah, because 25,000 in central area, the vacancy only 230, yeah, so it’s a very fierce competition.
PR: Yeah 25,000. Probably more than that nowadays. But I’ve heard they have increased the vacancies as well, so nowadays, from last year four or 500, that’s very generous compared to my days.
MR: Do you remember when they told you that you’d made it?
PR: Yeah. That was the most memorable things, and that was quite a life-changing moment. I was very happy, yeah, when he call my number my number in, yeah. My number was 381. I can still remember that, yeah, That was hilarious, yeah.
MR: How did they tell you?
PR: Yeah, when you pass the selection, you get selected, they call the number to come in and whoever doesn’t get the numbers sit behind, go home. They just say, ‘Sorry, try next year’, yeah.
MR: What age were you?
PR: I was 21, I was on the edge.
MR: What did your family say?
PR: They were very happy, yeah, because, to train the Gurkhas is very proudest moment, it’s our culture because our forefathers have left the print to become Gurkhas. My uncle served in the Indian Gurkhas as well, so it’s kind of family history and culture, and there is no good job opportunity in Nepal, so being Gurkhas is very, very good thing because you can travel anywhere, so, and on good money, and pension, yeah. Nowadays family, everything, citizenship, that’s high on the list to become Gurkhas, yeah.
MR: An incredible achievement.
PR: Yes, yes. Definitely.
MR: Did you have friends who tried but didn’t make it?
PR: Yeah, I have my own cousin, my aunt’s son, is a couple of months elder than me, yeah. We, we competed in the same ARO regional selections, he didn’t make it so, but he is doing very good in Nepal. He’s doing good business so, yeah.
MR: Between the age of 17 and 21, what were you doing in that period?
PR: Yeah, so, continuing studying in college, yeah.
MR: You did eventually go to college?
PR: No, I didn’t, I didn’t, but most of them continue studying, and some of them not, but I didn’t go back to college again.
MR: Were you living in the village?
PR: Yeah village and sometimes I used to go to Katmandu and Dharan, the towns, yeah, I was also thinking of another step in case if I failed to join the Gurkhas. I made passport to go somewhere ever to work, yeah, that was my ‘what next’, yeah, yeah, because I quit my college, so there was nothing to do.
MR: How far is it from the village to Katmandu?
PR: This is quite far. In my days, there’s an airport as well, so little airplanes, it takes about one hour by plane. And in my days there was not road until we came down to Dharan, and Dharan is the famous city. Dharan was made by Gurkhas, and Dharan has a history of British Army Selection Camp, yeah so, it’s very famous city. We walked down to Dharan. It takes two days. And then I get the bus to Katmandu. For all night. Yeah.
MR: So it’s far…
PR: Yeah far! Yeah. So Dharan, Dharan is historically the British Gurkhas, and later the centre moved to Pokhara, where it’s still now. Yeah, yeah.
MR: You’ve just made it into the Gurkhas -what happens then?
PR: Yeah, and then, once we’re selected in Pokhara, we had initial parade, yeah, a kind of passing parade, taking an oath under the Queen’s flag. And then after a couple of weeks we’re brought to Katmandu, because there is a British camp in Katmandu, it’s called British Gurkhas Nepal, so they mainly look after the welfare of ex-Gurkhas, and manages the recruiting. However, central selection is in Pokhara, but Nepal’s headquarters are in Katmandu. And then we were brought to Katmandu, and in my days, the Gurkhas were training in Hong Kong, and then I was brought to Hong Kong, in 1994, yeah. We were selected in 1994, January, and then I think we went to Hong Kong somewhere in February, and then we had fill nine months period of training. Gurkhas training. There’s a training Depot, for training in Hong Kong, in Shek Kong village, yeah, so within that whole nine months you have to learn many things. English, and Gurkha culture. All the fitness, and all the requirements by infantry soldiers, so that is a very busy period of nine months, among other things within that period.
MR: What was a typical day?
PR: Yeah, so it starts gradually, yeah. The basic things simultaneously, you know, sometimes training, weapon training, the basic drills, and going to the jungle, jungle training. By the end of the training, you became fit, and natural soldier, yeah. Err, to make you more understanding, I think I should tell you brief history of Gurkhas. Yeah. The Gurkhas initially started with East India Company, when Britain was in India. India was colonized by British, and after that British chose to side Gurkhas, and we started working with British Indian army, yeah. And mainly we had 10 big regiments, and after the independence of India in 1947, four regiments came with British Armey, that was second, sixth, seventh and tenth. And the rest, other six, remained in India, and they’re still work as Indian Gurkhas. So we have that history, and after the world war, second world war, first and second world war, 1940s, there were Malayan conflict, and that time Gurkhas were training in Malaya, somewhere in Malaysia, it’s called Sungei Patani, and then after that finished, we moved to Hong Kong. I think it was from, since early 1950s, and since then Gurkhas were in Hong Kong, so we were training there and all the different units that made up the Gurkhas were stationed in Hong Kong at that time. They were mainly doing border security. I think there was some trouble on Chinese borders, yeah, many Chinese were coming to Hong Kong, and we were controlling them. So yeah, that’s why I told you I trained in Hong Kong. I was the last intake to be trained in Hong Kong. Yeah, after that we moved in UK, initially in Church Crookham in Aldershot, and after a couple of intakes we moved to Catterick, where the infantry training centre is, centrally, everybody. Yeah so, there were many units like I told you earlier – second, sixth, seventh and tenth, but over the time we have got merging amalgamations, and stripped down, you know, there were many, there are not many units [inaudible] now, so same year I trained in Hong Kong, in 1994 July, we merged down, so we only became First Battalion, the Royal Gurkha Rifles, also called 1 RGR, and Second Battalion, Royal Gurkha Rifles, 2 RGR, and Third Battalion. So once I finished my training in Hong Kong, that was sometime in December, after that we are allocated to different units. We mainly have, at that time, 1 RGR, 2 RGR, and 3 RGR, and I was allocated to 2 RGR, yeah. They were sent, they came from UK to Brunei, so I was posted directly to Brunei after my training in Hong Kong. And I spent many years in Brunei, and back and forth. We used to swap over between three infantry battalions, every three, four years, at that time 1 RGR was in the UK, in Aldershot, and 3 RGR went to Hong Kong. But after ’97, the Hong Kong was seized, that means British left Hong Kong, so [inaudible] the 3 RGR split between one and two, they became mixed. So 1 RGR nowadays only, became two, but very recently, again the 3 RGR formed. So briefly we call this Brigade of Gurkhas, its headquarters is in Sandhurst, RMAS Sandhurst called Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, that’s where all the British Officers becomes officers, so that’s the headquarter, and we mainly have three operational infantry battalions, one and two and three. Two is my [inaudible] unit, and that is in Brunei at the moment, and 1 RGR is based in Shorncliffe here, it’s part of 16 Air Assault Brigade, so they wear red cap as paras, and light infantry, 2 RGR is light infantry, they are, they are called Brunei Garrison. We have army, one unit in Brunei because British still wants to, so the commitments of presence in South East Asia, that also has a history during Brunei revolt, somewhere between, during I think 1960, yeah. Gurkhas save Brunei, under the British, that’s why one unit is always there, yeah. So we swap, we rotate over, every two, three – three to four years, between one and two. I’m not sure what it's going to be with 3 RGR. 3 RGR is also placed in Shorncliffe.
MR: Do you know how many Gurkhas there are at the moment?
PR: Yeah, I was about to tell them. So, at present, I believe it’s a round 2,500 active serving Gurkhas.
MR: What were you doing when you were based in Brunei?
PR: Well mainly there, [inaudible], yeah, and protect the Sultan.
MR: How many years were you in Brunei for?
PR: Many years, in between, up and down. I was first in 1994, since then every three or four years, yeah. So many years, yeah. My last time was – I came from Brunei in 2013, yeah. And in 2013 I left the army.
MR: Did you see military conflict while a member of the Gurkhas?
PR: Err yes, during my 21 years of time in the army, I had been to many hostile parts of the world, and I think, I don’t think it’s quite appropriate to explain them all here.
MR: When did you first come to Folkestone – to Shorncliffe barracks?
PR: It was 2000. Because in 2000 we moved from Church Crookham, Aldershot, to hear, and since then our two infantry battalions are based here, yeah. As I said, Brunei, here, yeah.
MR: Up until 2013?
PR: Still now, it’s still going on.
MR: Did you live at Shorncliffe barracks?
PR: Yeah, that’s where I lived for many years, until, yeah, until I had the permission to live in married quarter. So I, I got the family permission in 2002, then I was in Brunei at that time, so yeah after that we came to Shorncliffe, we lived in the married quarter around here. Otherwise before then I had to be in barracks, yeah.
MR: What was it like living in barracks?
PR: It’s good, because all the friends are there, yeah.
MR: What do you do for recreation?
PR: Recreation, we had a NAAFI bar, there, and television and some pool, and sometimes football, basketball in the gym. And gather with friends, cook, cook mess, in mess hall, Gurkha style cooking, and gather around, yeah.
MR: You all cooked together?
PR: Yeah together, yeah. Yeah together, some guys are experts in cooking, mainly they’re boss, the rest are enjoying, laughing, making jokes, yeah. It’s always enjoyable, yeah.
MR: How did you meet your wife?
PR: I met her through one of my friends, yeah. She introduced me to her – recommended that she’s nice! Yeah, I’m glad she did, so yeah, I knew her. That was in 2000 in Katmandu, yeah. She’s from Dhuran, she was studying at Katmandu at that time, so we liked each other and I married her the same year, yeah.
MR: What year did she move to Folkestone?
PR: In 2000. No not 2000, sorry. We moved in 2006. She came to Brunei in 2004, and when my unit moved here and came with me. And I had my one son born in Brunei, and daughter born here in Shorncliffe, so I have got two children, two children, yeah. Continuously until I retired, I was in married quarter with my family, yeah, that kind of things.
MR: When you first came to Folkestone, what did you think of the area?
PR: It was very windy! Up there. Yeah, in the Shorncliffe, uphill. It was very, very windy and chilly, compared to Brunei. Brunei is always hot and humid, so that was the only thing that bothered but otherwise it’s beautiful. It’s like Nepal, it’s hill, yeah, and fortunately we have nice beach down there, and many trail, nice to be run and walk, yeah it’s very, very nice place. It’s sunny as well, compared to the other part of the England. It’s quite warm as well, but the wind! Yeah, it’s nice to be here.
MR: So in Brunei you looked forward to coming home to Folkestone?
PR: Yeah, always. It’s becoming like home. Whenever we come here we feel home, because we know the locality, we know the area, and this is very good, yeah.
MR: And there’s a big Nepalese community here?
PR: Yeah it’s, yeah it’s eventually built up very good size, this community. Many in Folkestone, and in Ashford, Canterbury and Dover Before that in Aldershot. Aldershot also have a very big Gurkhas community.
MR: So tell me about the blood clot…
PR: Yeah, I had my senior post in June/July, in Warminster, back in 2003, that was my senior [inaudible], so I had quite, very hard fitness kind of things that, that caused me dehydration. I was very fit, I didn’t realise that, and after that I immediately had to fly to Nepal. And that’s when the clot happened, in the long-haul flight, after the dehydration in the course. Yeah, and that was misdiagnosed in Nepal, they didn’t initially name the problem so that developed, quite nastily blocked my whole groin. The left leg, and I was suffering from that. But eventually it was found out in Nepal but it was quite, too late [inaudible], and then the clot settled, but it became part of my vein, you know, that blocked the whole system. But luckily my system, all the little channel opened up, and that was circulating my system. But not, that was not enough. And I was suffering but I recovered very well, and I was still keeping fit, still working. At quite low level but I was still active and fit. And that led to my retirement, so I medically retired in 2014, and I was referred to the hospital to fix this thing, and the stent procedure, and after the stent procedure, yeah, it went all wrong. Yeah, so the stent procedure should have not been happen, because my system wasn’t suitable, and then yeah, after the stent it just blocked again, and after that [inaudible] they prescribed me very high dose of anticoagulant, and that led internal bleeding and went into my spinal canal. And then made me paralysed after two days from that operation. Yeah. Yeah, it is quite hard to swallow, but it is – it was very life-changing event in 2014, yeah, September. It’s been six years now.
MR: Was the stent a medical error?
PR: They said I was highly, reasonable, to put the stent, and after the stent I’d become very fit. I was fit apart from some pain and discomfort — they said it would be very good and fit, and I would walk home in two days but instead in two days I became paralysed from the chest down, yeah. So it is hard to accept but I, I found very hard initially yeah, yeah. So no doctors [inaudible] wants it to happen like this, but it happened to me. I was very confident with the doctors, they were very experienced and knowledgeable in their field, but unfortunately it happened. They say I was fall-in one per cent, because they never had experience like this, such a catastrophic event but it happened to me so, life rolls on. I accept it, otherwise I was getting very hard, until I didn’t accept because I was in hospital to be good and fit – if it was in war, or in accident, it would have been much easier to accept, but it in hospital, anyone find I think that feeling, yeah. So, that’s life.
MR: How did you feel? Angry? What was your initial emotion?
PR: Yeah I was very angry, very, very angry, initially, and I didn’t want to live. I wanted to quit. Because there was [inaudible], and I couldn’t move anything from chest down. So I never expected that, so I really got very, very down, downhill. So that was the hardest couple of days, so until I realised it was very hard.
MR: You mentioned the pain you were experiencing before the operation. Could you have gone on like that, without the need for an operation?
PR: It was more, pain was tolerable with some painkillers. It was very, very much tolerable, I was very fit, I was, yeah, I never had any health issues. Apart from that I had no problem with my blood so that was the dehydration in long-haul flight that caused the clot. Otherwise I still don’t have any other problem apart from that. But I’m very happy, and lucky, and coping and managing with it, but the pain now is very, very hard, and constant compared to before the stent procedure. It’s drastically bad now, and I’ve got spasms as well, and that is part of this spinal cord injury, that is nature, you know, because spinal cord injury causes many other secondary ailments. Some are more often nuisance, like spasm and pain, some are deadly as well, some are life threatening, like Autonomic Dysreflexia, because my level is T4 Complete, T6 and over are very prone to the AD, that means Autonomic Dysreflexia. That can be caused by distended bladder, bowel, once you can’t feel, and if there is a lot up there it causes AD. AD is suddenly goes your blood pressure very high, very heart rate, heart rate is very low, and yeah, severe fever, sweating, that kind of things, and that is life-threatening, but touch wood, I’ve never had it, I’ve never had urinary tract infection as well, so in that regards I, I think I’m managing okay.
MR: What support did you get in the aftermath? Did you get support from the Gurkhas? What was your support mechanism?
PR: In terms of support mechanism, I had to go the medical way, medical route. So I was immediately taken to King’s College, and immediately after this my wife came, my brother-in-law and sister came, and I was taken to King’s College because it was a lot of messy clot in my spinal canal. From here all the way down. And it had to be removed, so they operated at King’s College, face down, and I think three to four hours of operation. And luckily it was very, it went well, because it was one of the challenges for doctors, and they removed my wounds as well. It had to be removed otherwise difficult to remove all the clots inside, yeah, so they did very fantastic job. And they also had to put IVC filter, that means the clot should not go up, the reason for that is to block the clot going up to my other important organs, and then that is still in, the unusable stents are still in. Yeah, so this leg gets bigger and swell, yeah, left leg yeah. And then, there, I had very good care in King’s. So my wound healed. The big wound, two operations, two big ones in the back, they healed within a week. My wife cam to support me. She used to cook food for me, yeah, and then yeah, I had great support from her, and including the staff in King’s College. And then I was sent to the spinal rehab in Canterbury Hospital, because I wanted to be very nearby my family and friends, and I was referred to the National Spinal Injury Centre, near Stoke Mandeville – the best place for the rehabilitation. And I was waiting for the bed, that’s why, the bed is not immediately available, and that’s why I was transferred to neuro rehab at Canterbury. And I think, after two to three weeks I go the bed in Stoke Mandeville, so I did my initial rehab at Stoke Mandeville, in Aylesbury. It was nearly seven months. So I have learned all the basics, everything in there, yeah, and they are the best in the world, yeah. It was established by a very genius guy called Guttmann, yeah. He was a refugee, fled from Germany, and came here and read and study in Oxford, and he established that rehab. He’s Jewish, fled from Hitler’s regime, regime yeah. He was a great guy. So he made a lot of difference to spinal cord injury persons. During the second world war, people used to live six months, six to one year, after a spinal cord injury. But after his invention and knowledge, now we are sustaining much longer now, yeah.
MR: That’s incredible...
PR: Yeah, that’s incredible, yeah.
MR: You were at Stoke Mandeville for seven months?
PR: Yeah, seven months.
MR: Was the rehab very hard?
PR: Initially very hard because I had to adapt. I had to learn to adapt, and mainly learn to manage my bladder and bowel. That is the difficult and important part of our body. The irrigation system. If it fails you become ill, and yeah, life ends very soon, yeah, so those are things. So I became fit as well there, as well, yeah. I learned swimming again, with free swimming, without floating. Yeah, that was my big achievement. The swimming is the best for the spinal cord injured person, because your lung also affects – that’s why I cannot shout loud like you, because of high level of paraplegic. But the swimming, swimming is all about breathing control. After, after your paralysis, you have to find a way – dive nose, dive head. When you dive head, you become parallel with your body, and when you, your head is outside, it just hangs, you know, that’s why I only prefer to swim around the deep end. I don’t want to drag my legs around the shallow side and make injured. Yeah, so I only go to the standard swimming pool up to the middle, and then back to the deep. Swimming is very, very good, so it regulates good breathing control. So, yeah.
MR: After Stoke Mandeville did you come back to Folkestone?
PR: Yeah, yeah.
MR: You are and were an active person – how did you stay fit?
PR: After, after the, after you’re out from rehab, it’s on your own. That is quite daunting as well because many people find difficult to get out of the rehab centre. You are coming to the new world. You have to cope with your own. And, the accessibility, and all the facilities are not similar to there. They’re built for purpose. I know it can be adapted but it’s not there. And, yeah I was on my own. There was no physiotherapist allocated, and I only had one OT, occupational therapist allocated, she was here, and some shower chairs and [inaudible] equipment, by the locally. And I was just pushing myself around my wheelchair to keep fit, and I bought some dumbbell, and I found one accessible gym in Pent Valley. That was very good place, and it had very good accessible equipment. But after a couple of years it shut. And I had nowhere to go, and I came here but not much accessible gym around here, in this leisure centre, but I found the swimming very good here. It had a manual hoist, but it broke last year, and I keep asking them, and they said it’s not going to be fixed. So that’s quite…
MR: Not fixed ever?
PR: Yeah, they said so, but I don’t know what the situation is at the moment.
MR: You need the hoist to get into the pool?
PR: Yeah, yeah. The hoist, I need, I need to get in and get out by the hoist. So, it’s quite disappointing.
MR: So it broke in 2019 and hasn’t been fixed?
PR: No, no. Yeah so, I don’t know.
MR: Pent Valley – did they have a swimming pool?
PR: No, just a gym. Gym facility, yeah. There was a very good gym facility. And I’m looking around here, and [inaudible] exactly what I wanted, so we are quite deprived from accessibility in terms of fitness and rehabilitation, because that is part of getting you well and fit and get motivated. Yeah so, I’ve got constant pain so, I have to be able to fight with something, to be engaged in something, that’s why I do photography, and fitness things. That keeps me going. Yeah so, I wish there could be a very good accessible facility around here. It’s for the whole disability community, so disability is not one size fits all, okay so disabilities are very different kinds, some have mental problems, some have visual, some have physical, and we need the equipment and the staff according to the level and requirements, yeah so. The hydro, hydro makes very good, the warm water, we are lacking that in this area, yeah.
MR: What is the hydro?
PR: Hydro is a kind of swimming pool. You have warmer water than normal, yeah, so the warm water comes through skin and muscles, and it helps with spasticity and pain as well, in my experience, because I had that experience in Stoke. It’s generally the warm water, yeah, so if you hang around and your muscle becomes flexible, very good, a good feeling, yeah.
MR: There isn’t one in the area?
PR: No. Up here there is one in Margate but I don’t know, yeah. I’m trying to find it, yeah. There is one in William Harvey Hospital. According to my friends it’s very small, and I was referred by my GP for the hydro on my request – I’ve been to the William Harvey, and they said, because of my DVT history, they don’t take it. I asked all the expert, is that the thing, does that matter? They said no point. It’s quite ridiculous. So.
MR: Sorry, what was the reason?
PR: Because of history of my DVT, they don’t allow me in the hydro. I asked why, they said they have that kind of T and C, terms and conditions.
MR: That seems crazy…
PR: Yeah, it’s crazy. I asked other spinal experts – that should not be. And I’ve never been back to that thing, yeah.
MR: So you haven’t been able to swim since the mechanism here broke?
PR: I went to Dover, it’s quite far. It’s time consuming, up and down, because we are busy with children as well. So yeah, I’ve been a few times in Dover. And after that I recently did my, some, yeah, very intense rehab in the Royal Box in Aylesbury. I did there, very good swimming, yeah with the jet force and hot water, and I was very fit, I became very fit swimming against the jet force, yeah, it was very, very good, yeah.
MR: Ideally you’d like something closer?
PR: Yeah nearby, yeah nearby, because swimming makes me very flexible because we’re always confined in a wheelchair – I get the upmost freedom in the swimming pool. There’s only water touching me, so I’m very free, everything is free. I ca move my legs with my hands and then swim, freedom. And after that my body becomes very flexible, pain eases, spasm eases, I feel kind of very good feeling, you know.
MR: Is it possible to swim without the hoist or is that necessary?
PR: Yeah, if I have assistant, but the assistant has to be experienced in that, because I can do a split-level transfer with minimal assistance. Yeah but, yeah, we don’t get that experienced people in every swimming pool, kind of things, yeah, so the most important thing I need to get in and get out of the swimming pool is the hoist. If I had worst level injury, maybe I could have done without hoist. I’ve got quite, I’ve got no trunk control so it’s quite daunting without the hoist or the experienced assistance. I did without the hoist in Stoke Mandeville, with [inaudible], he’s a very genuine guy, he’s very experienced, yeah. He’s a good guy.
MR: Are you in touch with other disabled people in the area and have they expressed similar frustrations with the lack of provision?
PR: Not closely. I haven’t been with the disabled people around here, not closely, but I don’t know what their view is. But my point is, if we have good accessible facility around here, that would be good for wider disability community, yeah. This not only for me. This is for all of them, so at least they get the facility they need. It’s kind of, going good health, you know, getting active and getting out, and other stuff, yeah, we need.
MR: And that would improve things…
PR: Yes. Actually, Kent is very huge. Kent should have one good spinal cord injury centre. Not any around here, yeah.
MR: The closest is Stoke Mandeville?
PR: I think Stanmore. Essex somewhere. And Stoke Mandeville, yeah. We have to commute from here. Because we have to go every year for our general check-ups, if anything goes wrong we have to go there – it’s very far, yeah. In case of emergencies very far, yeah.
MR: At the very least a Kent-based unit…
PR: Yeah, that could have been much better for the whole of Kent, yeah. Hydro, there’s no hydro in the whole of Kent, I think. And accessible gym, yeah. So those are the things. We need to look into it, yeah, for the sake of all disabled community, yeah.
MR: You mentioned when you returned to Folkestone the only help you had was OT – have you had any help since then?
PR: No, no. No, I’m doing on my own, own thing to keep fit.
MR: You don’t get any support?
PR: No, not at all here. And I’m looking to private things as well, yeah, so. I’ve found one in Canterbury, so I’m in contact with them, so let’s see what happens.
MR: Private you say?
MR: The NHS hasn’t provided any physical therapy?
MR: What about the last few months with the coronavirus – has it been a difficult period?
PR: Yes, it has impacted quite massively. Mentally I’m coping well, but it may not be the case for others. Yeah, it’s a very challenging time, so I utilize my time at Buckinghamshire, with the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital. I spent six weeks, that was very intensive rehab, and I used exoskeleton as well. I, it was very good, any kind of walking is very good, yeah.
MR: I saw the video of that, it looked amazing…
PR: Yeah. You get to upright and walking is very good after a spinal cord injury. You get to talk to people in eye-level, and this is very good, back to natural, yeah.
MR: How did it feel to be walking?
PR: Very emotional, yeah, yeah. My assistants, spotters, they’re also being very emotional because I knew them for only short period but it happens when a paralysed man or woman walks again with assisted device, yeah.
MR: Is there a future where you have that equipment for yourself?
PR: Yeah, I’m trying, I’m trying for my private things, yeah, personal things, yeah. It’s expensive, and yeah, maintenance kind of, it’s very expensive things. It’s mechanical things, powered, battery powered, and with all the software assisted device, so, with the level of my injury I need to have assistance from behind, a spotter, yeah. So maintenance, replacement, it’s very serious investment, yeah.
MR: Was that through the NHS?
PR: No, from my [inaudible] team, yeah.
MR: You said you felt very angry after the operation. What’s your outlook on life now?
PR: Yeah, I’m a very optimistic guy. So I still see positive and good things of it. So that is the only thing that keeps us moving, otherwise if you get overwhelmed, things get very difficult, so in that respect I’m coping well, yeah.
MR: You mentioned your pursuits like photography – tell me about that…
PR: Yeah, I and my, some of my friends started as a hobby when we were in the army, and yeah we were just shooting anything we like, yeah, and I’m glad I had a hobby that is being practical at the moment, and it keeps my occupied, yeah so, I like it, and I still want to keep doing. In the future I may have, I want own studio, just to get engaged and do, take beautiful pictures, nature, print and hang in my wall, that kind of things, yeah. It makes me very happy, and good, yeah. I’m also training for my Virtual Virgin Money London Marathon, upcoming fourth October. Yeah, it’s obviously I’ve never done that challenge, it’s a big challenge for me but it’s all about mental, you know. It’s about, it’s quite disappointment I’m not able to do around iconic London, London, Central London location this year because of the pandemic, so. I offered for the virtual, so I have to be, it has to be done around here, in my choice of course, I’m finalizing it around here, maybe around Leas front somewhere, I’ll do that. I think marathon is, is not about winning, it’s about completing, so I’m focusing on that. This is my little wheelchair, it’s light, so it’s much easier to push, yeah.
MR: What’s your training regime?
PR: Yeah, I’m doing every other day around the difficult – I’m mainly training on the uphills because the plane and the slope is just walk in the park for me, but you don’t get always all this, and it’s most difficult training than the central London, so let’s see how it goes here.
MR: Why is it more difficult? More hilly?
PR: It’s quite undulating. Hilly, yeah, yeah, so the roads are not shiny, yeah, that makes difference in pushing. Even, even a slight uphill you need to have strength with the wheelchair. Because of the gravity, yeah you are always pulling back, so you need to lean forwards and push fast in the up, you know.
MR: Have you completed a marathon length yet?
PR: Not quite but I, I still, mentally I can do it yeah.
MR: Are you doing it for sponsorship?
PR: Yeah, I’m doing it for Blesma. Blesma is, it’s also called Limbless Veterans Charity. Blesma is a British Limbless Ex-serviceman’s Association. This is a very amazing charity, all the veterans the charity looks after very good. I was supported hugely during my initial days, and if I want, anytime, they will support me. If I want to go photograph in Iceland, they will take me. If I want to go to USA adventure, they will take me. They are one of the best charities ever I’ve seen in the army charities. There are many army charities around. But you have to get through all the hurdles, yeah, they ask for your incomes, kind of things – Blesma doesn’t. Blesma is for their members, yeah. You don’t get asked any questions, yeah. They are the very, very best, and yeah I’m fundraising for them I’m almost there in my fundraising things as well, so, I think I’m about 95 per cent of my £2000 range, so yeah I should be crossing that.
MR: Do you think you’ll do the London Marathon next year?
PR: Yeah, I could do, but I’m also developing my postural issues, it’s common thing after a spinal cord injury. Yeah, if, all things sort out then why not? Yeah, yeah, because I actually want to do in the London, the enraptured crowd, iconic buildings, yeah you got very [inaudible] there, yeah, yeah. And finally if the local area, thinks about and develops about facilities in disability community, this is for disability, would be great. Great support, yeah. Because we need support. Because after the disability you get through all sorts of lows, ups and downs, mainly mentally, yeah. So, in that regards the best accessibility, exercise, and facility mainly, accessible gym, would make a huge difference, yeah. Yeah. So I played rugby before here, in Pent Valley. There is a team’s family, he also has disabled son, and they were doing the rugby and luckily I was connected with them and I played for, yeah, I think couple of months, but because of my DVT things, because I’ve got thin blood because of the anticoagulant, my doctor advised me not to involve with the contact game, so I quit and they also stopped. But up here is basketball team so I’ll be joining with them once I sort out my proper wheelchair, and that should be great. And basketball is very fun, it’s not contact like rugby, so it would be fun. Because I used to enjoy the basketball, wheelchair basketball in Stoke Mandeville, it was very good, so I’m looking forward to it, yeah.
MR: That’s at Folkestone Sports Centre?
PR: Yeah, yeah, they play every Saturday, yeah.
MR: You’d need a new chair for that?
PR: New chair and yeah, I’m sorting out my own personal things first and then yeah, I’ll join in the future, yeah.
MR: At Stoke Mandeville did you het a chance to play other sports?
PR: Yeah, yeah, there are lots because this – Stoke Mandeville, they started the Paralympics, so they are very, very, very good stadium out there so we used to play table tennis, basketball, lawn tennis as well. Yeah, lots of things, yeah. Very good, yeah.
MR: Have you got any ambitions to one day take part in the Paralympics?
PR: It could be not quite sure, not quite sure yet, yeah. Yeah. It can be achieved, yeah. Whether I want to or not, it depends on me, yeah.
(14 October, 2020)
MR: This was your first London Marathon race?
PR: Yeah this was my very first try.
MR: I’d like to here about how it went on the day – can you describe it for me?
PR: The actual day, yeah? I actually planned to start around 10:30 in the morning because I look at the weather forecast and it was quite okay in the afternoon, but it was a couple of days ago. But just day before the actual day I check the weather again and it turned out to be horrible so I planned to start early in the morning, around seven. Yeah so, I started the day, lucky the rain was very minimal at that time, yeah, and I went from home, I started from home. I ignored the start point down in the Leas, so I head off from home.
MR: Can you describe roughly the course you took through Folkestone?
PR: Yeah, I headed from my home, which is quite up in the Shorncliffe, so I head down, it was slightly down, downhill at the start, and then I head through the Cheriton High Street, and I went through via the Morrisons, and then the Folkestone central area, and then yeah, I went, again, I headed towards the Shorncliffe Road, back home, and then from where the Bathhurst Road is I turn left and then I headed, to my original planned route, around that Bathhurst Road, Bouverie West, and heading towards the Leas front, you know the Upper Leas? And then I lap around there, yeah. So, it started to rain sometimes again and I think that was obviously enough to wet my gloves, and yeah obviously that makes it difficult you know? Particularly the headwind was quite difficult for me rather than the intermittent rain. The headwind was massive. Because of the rain my gloves all soaked, and then it torn, and then made some blisters. I had to change in between, so yeah that was quite, not pleasant. I say again the headwind was particularly the worst for me because even when you run as able body, the wind had an effect on you, but on a wheelchair it has a quite, you know, the size, so that has a quite huge impact on the move forward, so yeah it was quite challenging, so I sometimes, at points, I was going nowhere. That was quite a struggle, yeah. Anyway, I only had in my mind to focus, the finish, and my injured wrist during the last day of the training, that got worse from mile seven, so I had to ignore that, yeah.
MR: You were in pain for two thirds of the marathon?
PR: Yes, exactly. By the time I’d finished my wrist was unmoveable, my wife had to push me to the car, yeah.
MR: Was it a particularly hilly route?
PR: Yeah, Folkestone is quite not plain, it’s quite undulating. Somewhere it’s downhill, so it’s quite hard to control during that slippery day, and then you need to, traffic as well, you need to be careful of the traffic, and the potholes, and because of the hilly town, and because of the route I planned – so whenever you go downhill, or when doing the laps, you need to come up as well, so that was quite energy consuming and slower speed, I suppose to say, yeah.
MR: The downhills could be quite treacherous as well with the conditions?
PR: Yeah, downhill is good for arms – you only need to guide and be careful, yeah, as well as when it’s slippery your pushing becomes slippery as well, so yeah that was quite, I had to be quite focused on the control, gliding the wheelchair, yeah. And coming uphill is obviously, because of the gravity, it’s always pulls you back, you know, so you need to lean forward and was fast, particularly in the headwind.
MR: Going uphill in the headwind must have been really difficult…
PR: Yeah, sometimes it was very like a walking pace, yeah. Yeah.
MR: Was the route marked off for marathon participants?
PR: No, because I see many others were running as well, doing like me, bit obviously they were able body, so they had their own choice of route as well, so it was particularly planned or any control, traffic control kind of things, so it’s in low profile, on your own, yeah. But I must mention very luckily from mile nine, my few friends joined me, so they were very helpful for controlling the traffic, yeah. Actually that, the route I planned was very low in traffic during my training days, but apparently, I don’t know why that Sunday, it became quite busy. So yeah, my friends came in handy in those situations. Yeah, I’m very grateful to them, yeah.
MR: That’s brilliant. They were with you from mile nine onwards?
PR: Yeah. One of them was, he’s a still serving Captain. He’s also received [inaudible] Afghanistan. Yeah, he’s a multi marathon veteran, he has done twice in London, twice in America, and once in Germany. So he was going for Brazil this year but it’s cancelled due to the pandemic, so hopefully fingers crossed for the following year going. Yeah he’s a very genuine, he does the marathon around three hours, yeah he’s very good. Yeah, and he’s already over 50.
MR: I imagine your friends provided encouragement as well?
PR: Yeah, very good encouragement, and giving some water at that point, when I need it, although I had that all planning first because my wife our friends were in the points I wanted to be, yeah, for the water, and for energy gel supplements, some bananas at some points, because energy drain pretty quickly when lap around, uphill, yeah, they were very good support.
MR: Did you get support from fellow racers?
PR: Yeah, we just encouraged each other, you know? Yeah, going well kind of things, just humble gesture, you know, encouragements, yeah.
MR: Were there many people watching despite the horrible weather?
PR: Yeah, although it was a horrible day, but the rain was quite kind apart from the intermittent. Yeah, there were many people along the Leas path, seafront, they were all cheering, and some say, ‘Oh I saw you in the Facebook and somewhere giving some [inaudible] as well’, so that was good. And my friends were holding that [inaudible]. It was brilliant, yeah.
MR: Where was the finish line? Back at your house?
PR: No, no, no. That was the arch in the, in Folkestone town, the newly built arch. That was where I planned to finish, but it finished quite earlier than that, around somewhere, you know the bandstand where the toilet is, the Channel Suite, yeah Channel Suite that’s where my mileage ended, app told me that you have done the 26 mile, however I, my some of the friends, although I didn’t ask, they planned to cheer me on in the finishing line under the arch, and that was lovely as well, so yeah. So there were many people from my community, Folkestone Nepalese Community, and those were the ones carefully, socially distant, and they arranged at the finishing line, so it was lovely to see, it was very lovely to see even the elderly people in that condition, yeah. They all cheered me up yeah.
MR: That must have been such a good feeling…
PR: Yeah, very good, yeah. Unfortunately I didn’t have a proper camera shot for that finishing line because my friend was busy doing other things, so he was not there to capture. Only some captures from my wife and my daughter, yeah, so that was very, very good, yeah.
MR: You must have been exhausted?
PR: Yeah, I was still okay apart from that wrist, so I feel great for that. Yeah, I can, I’m proud, and I feel really great because yeah I could do that 26 miles still in good form. Yeah, and it would have been much better going in the central London, in the smooth, smoother and well traffic-controlled route, so I could have even done better I think, I think so yeah.
MR: It was five hours and 55 minutes?
PR: Yeah, yeah, my original plan was to complete five, between five 30 minutes. I probably could have done very well within that time frame if we had good weather and my wrist was okay. However I completed it in, and I think I’ve done it okay, in a wheelchair, yeah. The whole point was to complete. And raising the fund for very amazing charity called Blesma, the Limbless Veterans. Yeah, I feel great.
MR: What did you do afterwards? Did you celebrate?
PR: Yeah, I came home and my wrist was very much hurting, and my wife, yeah she made some hot packs, and I also start with the ice, and yeah, so, first four or five days it was very, very painful. It was very hard for me to do normal, my regimes, you know managing toilets kind of things. That was very, quite challenging, yeah. Yeah, it was a celebration with family, yeah, very good.
MR: Is your plan to do it in London next year.
PR: Not next year because I’m developing my sitting pelvic obliquity – I’m slightly tilted to the right because one side is thinner, and my left side is thicker, on the bottom, so my sitting assessor, the posture sitting assessor, we are working on it, so maybe I need some, you know some kind of especial cushion or backrest. And then I may do the following years. That could be done, yeah.
MR: I know you said you wanted to do it London…
PR: Yeah, in London the atmosphere would have been much different than here, because of the many cheerful rapturous crowd, and iconic buildings and landmarks of the London, yeah, that would be very, very happy days.
MR: Did you see any other disabled participants in Folkestone on the day?
PR: No, no. I’ve seen one quite elderly woman, and that was very encouraging, yeah, yeah.
MR: Well congratulations Prad, it’s amazing.
PR: Thank you very much for speaking and sharing my experience with you.