Sidewalk Skateboarding The Unexplained Doug McLaughlan - Sidewalk Skateboarding

The Unexplained Doug McLaughlan The Unexplained Doug McLaughlan

When we first met Doug McLaughlan he was a 15-year-old working as an apprentice gravedigger and obsessing over Steve Alba sections on 80’s Santa Cruz videos. As he grew up he went through various stages, from the early 2000’s Andy Roy inspired park ripper and general gob shite, through to the late 00’s version which saw Dougy still ripping anything in front of him whilst also playing bass and touring the globe with the band Gentleman’s Pistols.

Doug has been a stalwart face in the UK skate media throughout the time he’s been skating (with covers of both Document and Sidewalk under his belt) and thus many of you will be aware of his distinctively style-based approach to skateboarding already. This interview however doesn’t touch on any of the topics mentioned above because, put simply, Dougy’s story took a wholly unexpected and horrific turn a few years ago when purely by being in the wrong place at the wrong time he very nearly died.

Every photo in the following piece was shot after the incident described below which, in itself, is a testament to the strength of this guy’s spirit and will. So, without further ado – read on and just remember what you’re about to hear the next time you’re whining about something inconsequential. All hail the Slug!

Question number one then, Doug McLaughlan – what’s it like to get hit in the skull with a machete? – (Laughing) Yeah man, that shit’s nice mate, real tasty.

Right then, I guess we’d better take this one back to the start. How did this whole situation come about? What were you doing in the time leading up to the attack? – My brother and I had got fucking harassed cycling down the road in Bradford. We were just riding home with the bikes, next thing some car comes past and started shouting some shit so we told them to get fucked…you know, ”fuck off”, like that. The car’s burned off then comes back with two more cars, three more cars, something like that, and they were trying to crash us into the railings and shit, coming up right close. I had my bike with my shopping on the front of it, you know what I mean – I wasn’t trying to start a fight.
We thought we’d get off the road and take a little backstreet. It was dark by that time. We took this little alleyway and it was well gnarly, it was pitch black. So we fly down this snicket and burn round this corner. We thought we’d call for this geezer that we know who lived close. We come up this driveway and we’re about to get off our bikes…

Were you still fleeing from the cars at this point? – Yeah we were fleeing; we could hear the cars still burning around so we thought we’d fly up this alley. My bro had the bike lock on his bike as well so we figured we’d chain the bikes up and go and see He-Man up the top, but it didn’t work out like that.
We flew up this alley and all of a sudden people came jumping out on us, then out of nowhere, ‘whack!’ straight over the head, and I’m thinking, “Fuck! What was that? Have I banged my head on something?” then there’s this guy right in front of me, straight up trying to hack me up with a machete.

No remorse, no holding back, fully trying to hack you up? – He didn’t say anything. No asking, “Who are you?” or anything like that – just straight chopping at me. We came burning up this alley just to leave our bikes and this guy comes jumping out the bushes with a machete. Then there was loads of them jumping out…it was fucking mental, man.
I managed to block a couple of hits but I was falling backwards off my bike, and I had my bag of shopping on the front with some milk, eggs, bacon, bread and shit like that. They had machetes; one of the guys had an axe. He dropped it and the police found that shit on the floor so I thought I’d been hit in the head with an axe; that sent me a bit wobbly.
Honestly, it came on top so quick. I got whacked two times then I got whacked from behind on the opposite side of my head but that must have been with a fucking bat or something because it knocked me flying.
I took my bike and I threw it at the guy with a machete as well and it hit him and knocked him over, but then someone came in again from the next side…it was relentless, man.

How many of them were there? – It was three brothers and all their mates because people were coming out from round the back of the house, and as soon as we came around the corner people just swarmed on us.

We were like “what the fuck?” We’d only just got out of one sticky situation where we nearly got run over, so I was thinking “what the fuck is this? Is this the same dudes?”

Was it the same people who’d been chasing you down in the cars? – Nah it wasn’t, it was a completely different fuss. I recognised the people in the cars, they were just weed dealers; young kids, basically.

Was all of this in a particularly sketchy part of Bradford? – Yeah. It’s an area full of wife beaters, battered wives and drug abusers, people who are addicted to drugs. They call it ‘Death Row’ because people are actually dying there.

So what was the back-story here? Because as far as your involvement goes, this attack was completely unprovoked wasn’t it? – Yep. It’s mad you know, because I had to go into court and represent myself. This family – and it was a big family as well – it transpired that someone had robbed their house two nights before or something, and they’d come heavy handed and attacked them, so what happened was they must have been overly protective and me and my bro were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were ready for something, they had a team, and we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So how did the attack stop? I’m guessing that the police showed up at some point… – There’s a youth hostel across the way; I think these lasses sat outside the hostel saw us riding in on the bikes and instantly people started jumping out and attacking us, so they called the police quick style.

The police van turned up pretty rapid, but even when the police were there, someone else got a hit on me from behind. As the police were there grabbing people up, someone else came in and got a shot on me. I couldn’t believe it.

Surely when the police turned up, they could’ve seen you weren’t in a good way, seen through to your skull or at least noticed all the blood coming out of your head? – I was mashed up; but yeah…I got arrested. Instead of being taken to the hospital I got arrested for affray because there was this big ruckus going on. Me and my brother were the only unarmed people there, all these other dudes had weapons on them, you could see them running about, trying to run up and get a hit on me when the police van was there. I was like, “get me in that fucking van” you know what I mean (laughing)?

When the guy ran up and hit me from behind I climbed up into the fucking police van myself. I thought, “Fuck this.”

The copper was like, “right, I’m arresting you for affray.” I said, “What are you on about? I’ve just been attacked by all these fucking people, man”.

Wallie lien to axle transfer? "All about the bounce baby..." Sequence: CJ

Wallie lien to axle transfer? "All about the bounce baby..." Sequence: CJ

You didn’t even get taken to hospital right away though did you? Didn’t you get taken to the cells first? – I think they did take me to hospital but they took me under police guard, and what they did was stick a pot over my head because my head was swelling up, but they obviously didn’t see that it was split open down the side. They clamped a pot on it! I’d never seen this before. A pot…like a pot you’d have on your arm or your leg.

The thing was too tight and the nurse was being well aggro with me, as if I was some criminal just because the police were there. I was like, “fuck me, I need sorting out, I think my skull’s broken”, but it was as if they thought they’d pieced it all together and that I was a criminal, so they sent me off back to the cells, gave me back to the police.

I said, “what are you doing taking me out of the hospital? What the fuck?” They were dragging me out and I really couldn’t believe it; I started freaking out then.

They put me back in the van and I freaked out the whole way, booting the back of the van in, shouting, “Take me back to the fucking hospital”. I could not believe it. They took me back into the cells and I wasn’t going peacefully. These two guys threw me into this motherfucking cell because I was putting up such a fuss.

I was literally in this cell for about twenty minutes and apparently – I’ve never seen the CCTV footage – but apparently I sit down, head in hands, fuming, I try to lay down and instantly start to have a seizure. I’d never had a seizure before. I shook the pot off my head because I was whacking my head so hard, and then the people started coming in emergency style to get me back to the hospital.

I bet they were absolutely shitting themselves. – You know what? I tried to get a case with any old lawyers or any of that legal shit you see on TV all day long man, and no one would take it up. Not for medical negligence or anything: no one would take it up.

By anyone’s definition, if you’ve got someone who’s been hit in the head four times with a machete and they get taken to the cells instead of straight to hospital, that’s negligence on some level, surely? – That’s what I’m saying as well. I told this to all these lawyers and they wouldn’t have it. Some would say they’d take it, they’d take all my details, then I’d ring them back up and ask what was going on with it and they’d say, “Oh, we can’t take it on”.

It seemed to me like it could’ve been quite a big case because I could’ve been fucking dead man; you know what I mean?

So what happened when you were taken to the hospital for the second time? I’m guessing they took you a little more seriously… – They took me back to the BRI (Bradford Royal Infirmary) though and Leeds is where I needed to be, for the neurology department. They took me to the BRI and bandaged me up again; fannied about with all the police around me, and then they took me to the LGI (Leeds General Infirmary). When we got to the LGI it finally started to feel like we were getting somewhere. The doctors were like, “lets get him in quick style, this guy looks like he’s had a whack over the head with something like a knife.”

They got me in there and they got to work on me quickly. They hit me up with the morphine, and you know when you’re still awake and you can see them working away? There was a guy pulling at my head, pulling at my hair, and I could see them pulling my hair far in front of my face, and I’m thinking “that’s flapped open has that”, but when you’re morphined out of your head, you’re laughing at it any road, (laughs).

So you actually had a big bit of your head flapping loose? – Yeah. It was split like I’d been scalped, right down through the bone and into my head. I had internal bleeding on my brain; that shit is gnarly. I remember them twiddling about with that as I went under, then I remember waking up and going to scratch my head, and there were tubes coming out of my fucking head; like something from a horror film, you know what I’m saying (laughs)?

I grabbed a tube and followed where it was going and it went to a little sack that was sucking blood out of the top of my head; black blood. I felt my head and it was all gnarled out; they’d shaved it all down, pipes going in, all intravenous’d up and that.

Honestly, I was still morphined up and just happy to be alive with all these tubes coming out of my fucking head.

Didn’t they have to operate in order to remove parts of your skull out of your brain? Wasn’t there a chance that you could’ve been left paralysed by it all as well? – Yeah. They said they could operate on it or leave it but there might be little shards of skull because it had been cracked, like little splinters in my brain. They said, “there’s a chance that it might affect you and leave you paralysed, but there’s a chance that it’s already affected you anyway”, so I told them “just do what you’ve got to do, man. I don’t want any little spikes stabbing me in the brain and leaving me paralysed. Can you do it?”

I asked the guy, “have you done this before?” and he was like, “yeah, yeah” so I was like, “is it easy?” and he said, “well…relatively, yeah” (laughs).

I was like, “safe man. Go ahead man, go ahead” (laughs).

So after the initial attack on the night, the brain surgery and the three weeks in hospital, this whole incident went to court. You said earlier you represented yourself, right? How was that? – Yeah, I represented myself. I was there, clean-shaven and that, shirt on, tie on; I tried to look respectable. All these geezers who were proper criminals had full suits on, properly suited and booted with slick hair. I was shook.

How was the trial? Didn’t they spring some CCTV footage of the attack on you? – Yeah. When we were in court I had to watch the CCTV footage for the first ever time, and the guy was trying to interrogate me. He was saying to me, “what’s this in your hand?” and freeze-framed the footage and my hand is in the air. I said, “there’s nothing in my hand, I’m on my bike, yeah? My handlebar grip is in one hand and that hand’s up trying to stop that guy swinging a machete at me.”

You could see the shine on the blade, and he’s trying to say that I’ve got something in my hand. I said, “skip on a couple of frames and you’ll see…it’s a puddle is that.” Anyone could see that. They were really clutching at straws, like really trying it on.

Man…it was just me on my own, and I’m watching this footage of me getting mashed up…I felt well fucking shady. And then the copper, he had like a walky-talky with a camera, and he had me on it and my god it was freaky to watch. There was blood all over my fucking face.

Damn, that must have been weird to see… – Watching that back in the courtroom, that freaked me out. My guts dropped. It looked more brutal than I remember it being.

But literally I had three different barristers cross-referencing me, trying to catch me out as if I’d made this story up. In the end I had to tell them, “have you actually watched this video all the way through? Because it seems to me like you’re questioning me on bits where you’ve paused it when all you need to do is watch the thing until the end.”

These guys were fully trying to fucking snide me off; they were really trying to pin something on me, it was hard work actually, it was properly upsetting. They even said they had some witness that said it all went down differently to what I was saying, so I told them, “Go on then, bring a witness” – I think they were watching my body language as if I was going to be intimidated or something – I said, “alright then bring a witness. Who’s that then? Is he related to you or something?”

I’d got these guys hitting me as if I’m some criminal. I said “check my criminal record, there’s nothing on there”.

How long did the court case last on for? – Man, it was about two or three days, but the first day was just fannying about, then the second day the big man comes running over starting a fight, and I was like “what? Has your family got enough hits on me already?” Honestly, I was just thinking, “this is ridiculous.”

I was in court having to defend myself and there’s video footage of that shit right there, the guy getting the quick whack on me from behind, the lawyer’s trying to interrogate me and there’s guys on the screen in the background running around with machetes and stuff?

Did you ever get inkling as to why you got treated so badly? Like you said, you’d never been in trouble, you didn’t have a criminal record, you’d never done anything where you’d become ‘a face’ to the police. You were a blameless victim in all of this. – I think what it was, it might have been my brother; they might have gone off his criminal record, run him through the system quickly because he’s got so many convictions for loads of petty, pointless things. But that’s not me; maybe I was just guilty by association.

So what lasting health issues has the attack caused? It’s left you with some shit, hasn’t it? – Oh yeah, for sure. Because I had the seizure…maybe if they’d have dealt with me straight away I wouldn’t have had any problems.

Putting a saucepan on your head and chucking you into a cell isn’t really going to do you much good is it? – (Laughing) That’s some old school remedy isn’t it?

Was the attack or the court case on the news or in the papers or anything? – I don’t even think it made the news or the papers or anything, no.

That’s pretty telling about Bradford then, isn’t it? – It didn’t even make it. Someone was banging on at me like, “you should sell your story, man. You should sell your story”, I was saying to him I wouldn’t know who the fuck to sell it to. This guy was like, “ten grand, mate. Ten grand”, just brandishing this ten grand figure about, straight out. Ten grand off who? (Laughing) The Telegraph and Argus? The Evening Standard? How’s that gunna work (laughs)?

Whilst Compo races tin baths, Dougy front rocks deep in Last of the Summer Wine territory. Photo: CJ

And now you’ve got to take anti-seizure medication for the rest of your life? – That’s it, yeah. They hooked me up with a big dosage; I’m supposed to take a shitload of these things, like five of these 500mgs tablets a day, man, but I’ve got it down to two 500mgs a day now – one in the morning and one at night – with a load of juice and that.

I couldn’t hack taking all those tablets. When I was taking five of them in one go I was literally slow, struggling to hold conversations, drifting off…I felt like a fucking junkie. I can’t live like that.

The medication slows you down because your brain waves shoot up and down. Your pulses, they shoot across and tell each part of your brain what to do. If your brain is pretty mashed up it can sever the paths, the electrodes in your brain can get detoured to different spots, and if that happens it can really mess you up. A seizure is like an electrical storm in your head and it’ll fuck you up.

You’ll bite your tongue up. I had cuts on my hands from my own nails digging into my palms…I’ve never done that before. Every part of your body is ruined afterwards, like every muscle. You feel like you’ve been battered or put through a washing machine. Honestly…

So you’re not allowed to work then, presumably? And you’re not allowed to drive…? – I can’t drive; with work I’m not allowed to operate any heavy machinery. Well a saw is a machine, a handsaw is a machine really and you don’t want to flip out when you’re using that.

How about with skating? Did the attack have any affect on your coordination there? – My balance was miles off when I started skating again. My balance was fucking all over the place, and I think that’s why I started drinking pretty heavily, because I was kind of depressed, you know what I mean? The only thing I love doing and now I’m literally slamming pushing and stuff, all the time. I felt ropey.

It’s come back now though, right? You can still do everything you could do before? – That was the thing. When I tried to skate sober it felt alien as fuck. I knew how to get up into a pivot or whatever, but it was like, “holy shit!” just trying a frontside grind, shitting it. I thought, “Fuck that”. But if you have a few drinks, a bit of a smoke and that, get into a chill, it all flows much easier.

Didn’t you tell us a story about the police keeping hold of your bike after the trial? Tell us about that… – (Laughing) Yeah they kept the bike afterwards like it was a lethal weapon.

It must have been more than six months that they held them. It was a pisstake. We kept going in like “can we get our bikes back?” – “no, they’re in the evidence room and they’ll still be in there for a while”. What the fuck? The trial’s done, man (laughs).

So they’d kept them for over six months, and bear in mind that we had shopping bags on the front of these bad boys when we got attacked. Anyway, the guy who eventually got us them back, he took us through and was like, “your bikes are there”, and the bikes still had the bags of shopping on the front of them. The packet of bacon was swollen up, ready to pop, the milk was dripping, the eggs had popped…all the shopping had stayed in there with a big ‘evidence’ sticker over it, (laughs).

The guys said to us “you can bring your bikes this way”, and it was right past all the staff, down into the foyer and out, so as we’re going out I was squeezing the milk and it was spraying all over the wall and over the carpet, flicking all the eggs…we got outside and we were like, “fucking hell”, just ragged all the shopping and threw it on the steps right in the doorway, (laughs).

The other thing we should ask you about is – well, you got fucked up so people automatically assumed you were going to get loads of money, but you didn’t. What was the crack there? – Nah, we got no compo and there’s no big settlement to be had out of it either. There’s no medical negligence. I reckon that could have been a big thing and there would have been a heap of money to be had there, but no one would take it up and it was well snide.

There’s a window of opportunity to take that up, so basically all I got was damages…I say ‘got’, all I’ve got a little bit of paper that says that…but they were saying to me it would be about three grand. Three grand? For getting mashed up? They say you get ten grand a staple; all this stuff gets bandied around, that’s what they say but it must be bullshit. I’m waiting around to hear if I’m going to get three grand but I don’t really think it’s worth it.

Didn’t people think you’d got like a hundred grand in compensation so they were asking you to start investing in all kinds of schemes? – Enough people were coming up to me all of a sudden, people who I didn’t know that well, coming up to me giving it, “alright Doug? Alright Dougy, mate?” instantly…”you alright, man?”

You know when you don’t even know their name so they’re just ‘man’? (Laughs) “So what it is, Dougy mate, is that I’m thinking about this thing, about getting this burger van going and doing those big milkshakes, big ice creams and that. You know? Tasty, tasty…” and I’m like, “yeah go on man, nice one. It’s good to have a dream…” – “so yeah…I need like, five grand to get it going, you know what I mean? I need someone to invest” (laughs). Fucking hell.

It happened more than once, and it was people who you’d met like twice before. Word must’ve got around. I had people coming up to me like it was Dragon’s fucking Den. “I’m out (laughs), that’s completely preposterous”, (laughing).

Someone was talking to me about starting a skate company and I was thinking, “yeah man, go start your own thing, that’s cool…” and then they dropped in for the fucking investment – “yeah, so we just need two people to put in ten grand each and we’re away”. I was like, “what? So? What are you talking to me for?”

People are always like “Dougy will get the beers in, he’s fucking minted, mate.” I’ve got a metal plate in my head and fuck all else. I’ve not got contactless fucking payment on my head; you know what I mean (laughs)?

Do you have to go see any doctors or anything now? – Yeah man, I’ve got to hit these psychiatrists up and that. They’re called neuropsychologists, they just need to see if you’re a wrong one or whatever, to see if your head is twisted out, because sometimes head injuries can send people off in a bad way. But not only that, sometimes it doesn’t happen straight away, sometimes it can be a little piece of skull getting ground into your brain.

The guy I see seems alright, but it’s funny because he was hitting me up with some things, and like I said earlier, I’d already read up on some psychology 101, beginners books and that, and I was calling him out on stuff. It’s always good fun when he tries to drop something on me and I come back to him with something, he’s like “fucking hell”.

I said to him once, “oh next thing you’ll be trying to drop the Oedipus Syndrome on me, or some Freud shit, man” (laughs), and was like “oh right…I see.” I did have a good laugh with him eventually, but it took a while.

Does it qualify you for benefits seeing as you can’t really work or anything? – It does, but to get a disabled living allowance…you can’t get it, man. I get some personal independence pay out every couple of months; they hit me with about 500 quid, but by that point all the bills need paying for my mum’s house because we’ve been scrimping. We’re obviously broke. So the gas, electric, fucking Internet, TV, water…all that shit needs paying then my money is down to about 150 quid again. Then that just goes as well.

So physically and mentally, do you feel like you’re back to the same as you were before? – Totally. Dehydration is the one that gets you. You feel it sometimes; I had it when I was down in Bristol and I was sessioning with Manhead and that. I was sessioning this spot and I kept slamming; I was trying a line or whatever – a nollie flip on flat and then a trick afterwards. That’s a line isn’t it? Two tricks? (Laughs).

I kept slamming on my arm and my arm started cramping up. I thought, “Fuck, I really want to land this” so I banged a couple of tablets but I was thinking “I don’t want to be fitting out, man” because that shit is rough. I felt a twitch in my arm, and that’s an early warning sign of a seizure. You feel it in your hand and once it’s got a little further up your arm, that’s your danger zone. If you catch it when it’s around your hand, bang a couple of tablets in, down a load of water and just get a good breath in and hold it down.

But I got the line – a nollie flip then a noseslide on this thing at Showcase in Bristol. It was more a nosebluntslide over but I was so hyped because it was quite fast. It’s only a curb into a bank but…it’s the best, isn’t it?