The 57-year-old from Limebourne Court, a Wales & West Housing retirement complex in Whitchurch, was told that he had the disease which affects one in 500 people in the UK, at just 44-years-old.
“I started to notice that I had become quite heavy footed,” said the grandfather-of-two. “I’d stagger when walking and my speech was becoming distorted to the extent that people thought I was drunk.
“But it wasn’t alcohol it was Cyril, a name for Parkinson’s coined by June Escott a retired district Nurse who like me refuses to dignify the my disease with a name . I couldn’t believe them when they diagnosed me with a disease which I associated with the elderly.”
Dealing with a degenerative illness can take the person on an emotional and physical rollercoaster, but the stand-up comic has credited good humour and creativity as the key to stopping Cyril from taking control!
He said: “I love stand-up comedy but with my speech deteriorating I turned to poetry, writing my first poem as a laugh. But once I’d shown it to someone I was asked to write another one.
“Now people challenge me by giving me random words to incorporate them into a poem.”
Care Support Worker Chris Canning said reading Neil’s poetry provides a positive insight into his condition, thoughts and feelings.
He said: “Without being intrusive and asking too many questions, Neil’s poetry has helped me understand Neil and his condition much better.
“They might be humorous but by reading them I know what’s troubling him, what he’s struggling with at that time and how he is feeling generally.”
Neil has used his poems or limericks to help his grandchildren understand his condition better and has had these published, Defeating Cyril, to help educate society about Parkinson’s.
He said: “Parkinson’s affects people in different ways. I am a member of a support group who meet monthly to talk and believe me it’s not a dull affair. You couldn’t imagine that there was much to laugh at about Parkinson’s but you can find a smile anywhere if you look!”
Herman Valentin, Wales & West Housing Community Development Officer, first met Neil when he borrowed a karaoke machine from Limebourne Court for fun days.
He said: “Since then Neil and I have connected not only through our love of entertaining people, but we also found out that we both had a love for poetry and stand-up comedy. I was really touched when I started reading his book of poems about Parkinson ‘Defeating Cyril.’ I take inspiration from the way he is so upbeat and positive about coping.”
Parkinson’s UK Director for Wales, Barbara Locke said: “ Everyone’s experience of living with Parkinson’s is different and it can be challenging. Neil’s creative use of humour through his stand up and poetry is inspirational in the face of such challenges. Last year Neil spoken at an all Wales conference on Parkinson’s and had the room in stitches with his unique take on living with Parkinson’s! His rich use of humour is admirable and never fails to make people smile.”