Welfare or investment?

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My latest piece for the Guardian discusses the political opportunism of linking the National Disability Insurance Scheme funding to cuts in welfare funding. It's funny how funding for projects like NDIS is never given as a justification for not implementing tax cuts for top earners and big business. Perhaps funny is the wrong word. Infuriating, maybe?

NDIS has the potential to offer a net saving to the Australian Government but they refuse to discuss it in these terms, despite the reams of evidence offered by numerous independent studies, instead preferring to use it as an emotional gaming chip in an ideological battle.

You know what they say?

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An interesting encounter in the car park of our local shopping mall last week...

As all of the disabled spaces were filled, I had to park in a bay and a half in order to allow sufficient space for me to get my wheelchair out of the car. This is not uncommon, and particularly frustrating, as there are no wide bays other than those near the door. I don't need to be close, I just need to have enough space. It would be great if car parks either provided a couple of wide spaces much further away from the doors, or even have one or two bays for wheelchair users only.

So, I had opened the doors and I was getting ready to pull my wheelchair off the back seat, when I see a man strolling towards me through the parked cars.
"You're parked a bit wide there, champ."

Champ? CHAMP? If I was in a 1950's Science fiction movie, and I was an 8 year old boy called Johnny or Biff? By all means call me champ. But I am not. So please do not.

"I can't get my wheelchair out otherwise." My mission to explain kicks in again.
Ah, yes." He nods sagely. "Must be hard for you."
"It can be." I reply. Oh, how I wish he'd make it a bit easier by sodding off.
Then comes that most irritating of questions: "You know what they say?"
How can I possibly know what they say? To start with, to which 'they' are we referring? I mean, that's important. It might even reveal what language I should expect, let alone whatever cultural bias or world view is playing a role. I consider just saying, "Yep. I know exactly what they say." But unfortunately this reply only pops into my head a few days later. Next time...next time...

My silence is interpreted as, "No, I don't know what hey say, but this is me hanging on your every word. Please bestow upon me some words of profound wisdom."

"God only lets these things happen to those who are strong enough to cope."
Boom. Not for the first time, I am presented with what is supposed to be a comfort in my time of need.

At the risk of repeating myself, one of the more distressing aspects of this statement is that I know from personal experience that some people can't cope. They are crushed by the experience of spinal cord injury and all that it entails, and they check out early. I have lost friends like this.

I'm sure that some people derive strength from their faith. I can imagine how it could offer sense where there is none, to feel that there is some grander plan which they can't understand, but which ensures that everything will turn out alright in the end.

But for me, the idea that there is some omnipotent deity who could have intervened but chose not to because I was strong enough to cope, is no comfort whatsoever. Even more upsetting is the idea that such a supreme being chooses to allow young children and their parents to go through the terrifying experience of having cancer, or a rare medical condition that suddenly cuts a life so very short.

So what's my point?
Well, if you want to talk to me about life with a spinal chord injury or disability in general, then by all means ask. But pick your moment, and perhaps introduce yourself first before you launch into a discussion about some complex and potentially emotionally charged issues.

If you want to drop some half-arsed platitude on me? It doesn't help. Really, it doesn't. Especially if it's some folksy, crumb-of-comfort, superstitious bollocks. Things don't always happen for a reason. Nor do they only happen to those who can cope. And while I'm on the subject of simplistic-philosophies-which-have-no -practical-bearing-on-everyday-life, while it is true to say that there is always someone worse off than me (or you, or anyone else. As long as they are still alive, that is), this is not a helpful observation. I am not they.

Enough. I think you get the idea.

Taking the woof with the smooth.

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Another long hiatus from this blog, for which I can only apologise. I now realise that I haven't even made reference on here to my most recent Guardian piece: On the language of politics.

Anyone who has had a conversation with me will know that I am not overly sensitive about the language that I use. Indeed, I often revel in the more 'colourful' means of expression that English can offer.

But there is a clear distinction between face-to-face conversation and political speech. The parameters of conversation are defined by the individuals engaged in it, and misunderstandings can usually be noted and addressed. We all do this all of the time, whether we are fully aware of it or not, as facial expression and body language will often draw attention to any misunderstanding or confusion. We have all applied some kind of adjustment to the way we speak according to our audience, be they elderly relatives, plumbers, financial advisers or neighbours at a football match.

But when people in elected office (or indeed campaigning for election) deliberately choose confrontational language intended to shock some and belittle others, the impact is more profound and dangerous. We have seen how the rise of Trump and the Brexit vote have led to a newly emboldened far-right (there's really nothing 'alt' about it. It's fascism, whether it be with a big or a small f), and an increase in attacks on minorities.

From a disability perspective, there is much at stake. In recent years there has been a greater acceptance of the principal that people with disabilities should be able to participate fully in all aspects of society, but the same time, there has been something of a hardening of attitudes toward those in receipt of state support. This has been fed by columnists in print and broadcast who have made their reputations by 'telling it like it is'. This usually involves telling it like it isn't and throwing in a few choice phrases intended to fire up the 'left wing liberal elite' (a phrase that suggests some kind of sinister cabal who gather to plot new ways to crush the dreams of their helpless victims, such as billionaire racist-misogynist hoteliers, financial traders-turned-political-rabble-rousers and Jeremy Clarkson. I am yet to find out how to join).

The reality is that said columnists and broadcasters are living in just as much of a bubble as those they claim to be fighting. The more they claim to be the voice of 'the man on the street', the more likely they are to have come from a position of privilege far-removed from said man, and the real cost of all this socially divisive vitriol will be borne by those on the margins of society who rarely have a voice.

We should of course celebrate language in all it's most colourful, sharp and even insulting forms. But there is a time and a place. Conversation is fine, and the arts offer opportunities to push the envelope, but those elected to public office really should behave like adults and leave the language of the playground behind.

All of which is NOT what I wanted to write about, as you may have gathered by the title of this post. We now have a dog. I am a dog owner. I'm sure I will come to terms with this over time, but it's a huge adjustment. The unthinkable occasionally happens and we have to find ways to adapt to our new situation.

In my case, I have spent the last twelve years railing against selfish dog owners who let their animal shit anywhere (believe me when I say this is right up there as one of the most frustrating aspects of getting around in a wheelchair), or those with staffy/mastiff/pitbull/hyena/cerberus cross-breeds. ("He won't 'urt cha!" Yeah, as long as I don't move a muscle or 'show my fear'. If the dog decides to bite, there's nothing anyone can do about it, short of sticking your finger up the dog's anus, apparently. If the reset button on a computer was located in a similarly enticing location, we'd all still be using typewriters).

Of course, our dog is different. He's called Mack, he's a rescue dog, and the way he shies away from sticks makes it quite obvious that he's had some rough times in his first 18 months of life. His poo smells of roses and floats just off the ground as it makes its own way to the bin. Okay, it doesn't. It's poo, it's horrible and it has to be picked up. And if you are in a wheelchair, then this also involves wheeling around with a bag of poo on your lap. He also farts. Quite a lot. The first day we had him, he managed to let one go just as I was bending down to pick something up off the floor so I ducked right into it. It was so bad that couldn't see for about ten minutes afterwards.

I had hopes of training him to help get me up the hills of this small town, but we would have had to get a team of huskies for that, and they're really not suited to the Australian climate, and our requirements for a dog were already complicated enough. We needed to find an animal that was okay with children and chickens, and not afraid of the wheelchair. This is one of the best things about getting a rescue dog. You can approach the charities with a details list of requirements, whereas a puppy is a lottery.  Although the top of the list of reasons for getting a rescue dog is that they need loving homes, and if more people opted to do so, then the puppy industry would be less supported. There are many unscrupulous breeders who keep puppy farms that operate in appalling conditions, and with sought after cross-breeds (labradoodles, etc. bred because poodles don't molt) fetching huge sums of money, the rewards are high.

So, we are now a family unit of five, and probably only a second car shy of 'living the dream'. Woof.

mack.jpg



Under the knife to stop the stabbing.

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Recent developments in a Denver hospital have, despite my best efforts, set my mind a whir with possibilities...

As anyone who has read my ramblings previously would no doubt testify, I am often to be found pouring large buckets of cold water over any 'early breakthrough' stories that offer solutions for spinal cord injury.

This was probably brought most clearly into focus when I wrote a piece for The Guardian a few years back, and inadvertently courted a storm from self-described 'cure-advocates' who even went so far as to suggest that I wasn't interested in a cure for spinal cord injury because it would affect my position as an occasional contributor to the newspaper.

I still tend toward cautiousness whenever I read a story about a medical breakthrough relevant to my injury. This is partly driven by a jaded cynicism when it comes to the media reporting of medical stories, but mostly it's an act of emotional self-preservation. To draw an analogy: Sometimes my daughter will ask me if I ever try to move my legs (just in case my paraplegia has gone, but I've just forgotten to check). I understand the question, and it feels important that I do try and move my legs sometimes, if only to remind my brain what he thought process is, should a cure ever come my way.

However...  When I was first injured, I devoted a great deal of effort and energy into trying, willing my legs to move. I felt that if I could only solve this neurological puzzle, I'd be able to get back to my old life. Admittedly the morphine that went so far in defining my emotional state during the first couple of weeks rather scrambled my thinking, but after reality finally bit I learned that trying to move my legs caused a rising wave of utter panic, and the effort required to overcome that feeling was immense.

So I learned not to try. And so it is with the guarded welcome that I give to any medical breakthrough, first looking at the timeline between concept and viable treatment, then looking at how my individual situation affects the likelihood of me benefiting from said treatment.

But every once in a while, something comes along that gives me hope, despite my best efforts at keeping my unfeeling feet on the ground. And the latest surgical treatment of SCI pain is one of those somethings.

Because for me the one thing above all else that makes having a spinal cord injury really, really shitty is living with near constant pain. all the other stuff- the inability to walk, the effort required to negotiate even small hills, the challenges of bladder management and recurrent uti's, the impossibility of accessing the beach and the surf, the inability to kick a ball with my kids, etc.- is coloured by chronic pain.

Everything takes effort.
Sitting still and reading the paper, for instance: I can't sit still for twenty minutes without some kind of episode of sharp pain. And it's not just because of the appalling standard of current political discourse.

Going to sleep: I have to find the mental energy to face the twenty minutes of increased pain. I have to allow it to flow over me, to build to a peak and then subside before I have any chance of getting to sleep. The irony of this is that the more tired I feel, the less I feel able to face going to bed.

Playing sport: It hurts. I know, it hurts most men nearing 50 who don't devote some time in every day to an exercise regime (and probably hurts those who do, too), especially if they then attempt to chase a ball like an over-excited puppy in traffic.  But the pain the day after basketball training sucks. On the plus side, the base levels of pain for a few days after that definitely improve.

Playing with the kids: At some point in any game, I have to break off and focus on my pain to get past a wave that is impossible to ignore, regardless of how many water pistols/Nerf guns/cushions are aimed at my head.

Right, self-indulgent gripes done with. The point is that the video below does seem to signal a significant clinically viable breakthrough in the treatment of SCI induced chronic pain. I shall be watching the story very closely indeed.

Here's the video:


Celebrating mediocrity.

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My latest piece for the Guardian is about celebrating us losers who keep coming back because we love the sport we play.

Inevitably, it has courted a few 'typical bloody Guardian' comments below the line that have clearly been written after reading only half of the article. he question I'm dying to ask is,
"If you consider the Guardian to be lefty p.c. rubbish, why are you reading it?"
Perhaps one day I'll join the fray, but for now I'm happy to stay above the line.


Ouch. Ouch. Ouch...

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...or 'Bringing Spike back into the room.' For anyone who has not come across this character before, Spike is the name of the pain that I have had to live with ever since my spinal cord injury in 2005.

It's been a while since I've talked about pain on here. I'm not sure why, as I'm happy to discuss it. It does help sometimes, although there can be occasions when it makes people feel awkward because they want to offer help or comfort, and I'd rather not make people feel awkward. About my pain, obviously. When it comes to any other topic relating to spinal cord injury, then I view making people feel awkward as my sworn duty.

As part of my 'Mission To Explain', I have decided to offer this 'Mission to ExPain'. Get it? Get it? Here are a few thoughts about living with chronic pain that may help to shed some light on what this entails.

1) Not all pain is the same.

1a) Some is useful.
If you hit your thumb with a hammer, your body reacts in a series of ways: Your thumb will immediately swell to the size of an apple and pulse alarmingly, while you leap two meters into the air and hover long enough to let out an ear-piercing screech. No, wait... that's only in Tom and Jerry.  Instead, your nervous system will send a flurry of signals towards your brain. As these signals pass along your spinal cord, they will compete with all of the other sensory information traveling along similar pathways (the feeling of your shirt sleeve on your arm, the warmth of the sun on your hand, the recently dropped hammer hitting your toe, etc) and will be vetted for importance. Your body may even take remedial action before your brain receives the signal, by initiating a 'reflex' response in the form of sudden withdrawal of the injured area from the source of the injury.

In this scenario, the pain serves a vital function, in warning us of a threat to our well-being and demanding action. This is a 'good thing' especially if the stimulus has not gone away, e.g. your trousers are on fire, there is a shark hanging off your foot, etc. as it gives us the opportunity to try 'not to die'.

1b) Some isn't useful.
With chronic pain, the signal traveling to the brain may be caused by 'static' due to nerve damage, or might just be the result of the pain 'gates' being unable to differentiate between the warmth of the sun and the trousers on fire scenarios and attaching the same significance to both. It might even be the nervous system trying to find a method of communication where the usual channels are no longer open. For example, one of the hardest aspects of my ongoing battles with urinary tract infections is that the first signs of a flare up always coincide with my hammering foot long, red hot knitting needles into my thighs (this is of course a figure of speech). I know something's wrong without necessarily knowing the exact problem. I also live with pain that is caused by the nerve damage at the site of my spinal cord injury (neuropathic) and pain resulting from problems associated with sitting all day, such as the stiffening of muscles and shortening of tendons and ligaments (musculoskeletal).

Chronic pain is often defined as any pain lasting more than 12 weeks. This doesn't mean every second of every day, but certainly at some point in every waking hour in my case, and it's been more than 11 years.

2) I can feel it in my bones.
Yes, it's the weather, and I know how ludicrous this may sound. I also know that there is scant scientific evidence to explain the phenomenon, but the weather seems to have a bearing. Cold is known to trigger greater instances of spasticity (or involuntary flexing of the muscles) and certainly can increase my base levels of neuropathic pain, but wet weather (or perhaps the low pressure systems more commonly seen on rainy days) also has an impact. I know this, because it's pissing down right now, and I'm on my second Tramadol. Which brings me to point number 3:

3) The drugs don't work.
As The Verve pointed out, 'The drugs don't work'. Well, that's not strictly true, but to describe them as working needs qualification. For a medication to be licensed for management of chronic pain, the threshold for success is lower than for the treatment of other conditions, and even if it is judged effective, it won't work for everyone and even those who have had success are most likely to be describing a reduction in pain rather than its elimination altogether. In mt case I take Tramadol for the worst of the musculoskeletal pain, and a tricyclic anti-depressant and an anti epilepsy drug for the neuropathic pain (both at a relaitvely low dose, but it took me about 3-5 years to get them down to such as there are withdrawal issues).

As a pain management consultant once explained to me, it is possible to make anyone's pain go away. It's just a question of how conscious they will remain. I certainly felt some benefits in terms of pain levels from medications that rendered me close to incapable of cognitive function. Fun for a short while, but not a long-term solution.

4) Chronic pain is more common than you might think.
Around two-thirds of people with spinal cord injury experience chronic pain. This may be associated with the original injury or the result of the extra burden borne by the shoulders.
In the wider population,. the WHO estimates that around 20% of adults live with some kind of chronic pain condition.

5) Sleep is a valuable commodity.
Sleep can also be illusive. For me, when I get to the end of the day and lie down, I experience about twenty minutes of severe pain in my legs. This is partly the change of position and the relaxation, but also the common experience of the switching off of distraction causing whatever was masked to come to the fore. The extra challenge is that the only way to get past this for me is to allow the pain to build to a peak and then subside. That means not wincing, clenching muscles or generally squirming. The problem is that if I'm not tired enough, this can go on for much longer, but if I am too tired, it can be hard to find the mental energy to be able to let go and ease into the pain.

6) Some pain is worth it.
If I train hard at basketball, then I will be in a lot of pain immediately afterwards and probably the next day too. But for the two or three days after that, base levels of pain certainly improve, not to mention the other health benefits of staying active, etc.

6) Pain is not always visible.

For many people living with debilitating pain, this can add to the problems they face. People will often find it hard to get past the 'well they look OK to me' voice in their head when it comes to understanding or offering support to someone with a chronic pain condition. In my case it's fairly obvious because there are occasions when the pain just demands my attention. I know that this can make people feel awkward, and they might say, "Is the pain really bad?" Yes. "Is there anything I can do?" Not really, except maybe don't mention it, and ignore the fact that I am squirming in my chair, frowning darkly, huffing and puffing or punching myself repeatedly in the thighs, trying to understand how my unfeeling legs can also also somehow create the sensation that they are being used as a knife-block.

It's hard for those close to the person with chronic pain.
I know that I am sometimes irritable and short-tempered with those close to me (therefore, if I am rude to you, consider it an honour. Unless I have just met you and you are an arsehole), and this actually makes me feel worse. As well as my having to learn to live with my chronic pain, I resent the fact that Spike also demands that my loved ones have to learn to live with me.

Finally:

7) Swearing helps.
I mean, fuck it, that's just a universal life lesson, isn't it?

Back to court.

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+++Trigger warning: This entry contains cynicism at a level that some readers may find disturbing+++

One of the more unusual aspects of my life since suffering a spinal cord injury is the role I now play as 'eye candy' for publicity pics about good causes. I don't mind playing the part. I understand how the game works. If you want to publicise an event, facility or service, or if you want to write a news story covering the opening/launch of such, then the easy shorthand is to get the guy in a wheelchair to pose for the pic with whoever the story is really about.

In the run up to the Paralympics in 2012, I found myself playing basketball in Trafalgar Square one day, and tennis there on another. On both occasions the focus was on promoting the sport, but still we had a long queue of dignitaries who wanted to make the most of the photo op, climaxing with David Cameron and Boris Johnson playing mixed doubles with two wheelchair players in what was clearly score settling for some childhood dust-up on the playing fields of Eton (sadly, much of British politics seems to be driven by much the same motivation).

Still, I enjoyed watching the chaos from a ringside seat, and the news cycle and click-centric coverage makes this kind of fly-in-fly-out-photo-moment all too common.

Now I find myself in small-town Australia, and I was greatly heartened by the local tennis club's efforts to ensure that improvements to their facilities would also make the courts and clubhouse wheelchair accessible.  I was happy to help out in my modest way, by writing to the local MP in support of the club's funding application, explaining why I felt that tennis provided a great opportunity for integrated sport, etc.

I was delighted to hear that the funding had been secured, and was a little surprised to learn that the NSW Premier, Mike Baird, would be dropping in to the club to recognise the award. Having been invited to attend too, I was happy to do so.
 
The surprise at Baird's attendance was primarily because we are in the early stages of a Federal general election campaign, but also because there was some controversy locally, surrounding the Premier's plans to merge various local councils. In the end, the local merger didn't go ahead, and so the tennis club speeches were peppered with references to 'local visas being reinstated', delivered with the inevitable 'I-could-have-been-a-comedian (No, really, you couldn't) chuckling so loved by politicians the world over. Incidentally, should you be considering a career in politics, please study Barack Obama's delivery carefully. Obviously he doesn't write all his own gags, but his timing and emphasis are faultless.

For the record, the local MP had come out against the merger, although he wasn't exactly manning the barricades, so while some local people view him as a hero, I rather view him as a good strategist. It wasn't a resigning issue, and as it was immediately obvious that the majority were against the planned change, any local MP who didn't back the NO campaign would have risked significant local political capital in not doing so.

Still, perhaps there was some fallout after all....
The Premier invited the local MP onto the tennis court for a photo op that was eerily reminiscent of Trafalgar Square four years ago, and we lined up; a wheelchair player and a politician on each side of the net (I got Baird).
I mostly watched, fascinated as the Premier thundered tennis ball after tennis ball at the local MP, who is legally blind (in the UK, I think he would be referred to as partially sighted). To give him his dues, the MP tried valiantly, and even managed to connect a part of his racket with a couple of balls, but it clearly wasn't his sport. It certainly counts as one of the more unusual 'have-a-hit moments' I have experienced on the tennis courts of the world...



Press release of the day.

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I'm thinking this might be a bit of a regular new feature.

Every day, I wake to find my inbox liberally scattered with press releases. This is because my address is still on all the press listings in the UK, despite my best efforts to have it removed. PR companies send out thousands of press releases to lists are based on the kind of subjects a journalist tends to cover. I get a lot of family ones, as well other 'lifestyle' topics as well disability stories.

The press releases are often built around an extremely tenuous connection to a news story (every time a royal baby fills their nappy I get inundated with PR waffle about new baby clothes 'fit for a little prince' etc.), but sometimes they signal the launch of a new book/range of sportswear/toy. Others just appear for no apparent reason. When I read them I often picture a young intern who is putting in a shift in a bid to get a job in 'branding'.

The following excerpt is from a release I received today. It came from a self-styled life coach, fitness instructor and nutritionist, who wants to teach mums how to be 'healthy happy and confident.'

In keeping with the traditional 'inspirational' narrative, she has looked for a story of her overcoming adversity, and opens with a statement that includes the line,
"I'm a health and fitness entrepreneur, mum-of-three and international co-author - and was warned I'd be in a wheel chair by the time I was 45!"

Intrigued, I read on. Did she suffer some kind of spinal cord injury? A life threatening illness, perhaps? The full drama of her story was revealed a few paragraphs later.
"I have been told by a knee surgeon that if I carry on with my running and high impact exercise then I'll be in a wheel chair by the time I'm 45!"

Oh, the anguish. The suffering.

Two top tips:
1. If a surgeon tells you to stop running and other high impact exercises, then you should probably just stop. Maybe find some other form of exercise. Swimming, perhaps?

2. It's probably best not to send 'overcoming adversity' stories of this nature to someone who is paraplegic.  From where I'm sitting, it seems more of an inconvenience than anything.


It never rains...

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Apologies if anyone out there has been disappointed by my silence. It's unlikely, but if it is the case, I'm sorry. It's nothing personal.

In truth I have had a bit of a roller coaster ride of late, with ups and downs aligned to form the perfect cliché.

On the plus side, I have managed to land myself a regular spot with an excellent physio who has decided that my ambition of getting up in calipers more often and maybe even shuffling a few steps is not unrealistic, nor is it pointless. Cue lots of intensive manipulation to try and free up my sacroilliac joint, aiming for pelvic rotation and stretching my hip flexors (the group of muscles that run down the front of the thigh). These muscles get very tight if you sit all day. It's hard to be in a wheelchair and not sit all day, unfortunately (and while I'm on the subject: journalists, when you write articles about how sitting all day is really bad for your health and can lead to an early grave, can you please bear in mind that some of us don't have a choice in this matter. Ditto standing desk sellers. I could get a standing desk, but unless I wish to stare at the top third of the screen with the keyboard and mouse out of reach it would be pointless).

So, the inevitable effect of all this stretching and straining has been an increase my base levels of pain, a subject I have covered on this blog in some detail previously. It's a rock/hard place scenario, as it is with playing sport. If I do it, it hurts, but then it hurts less later. If I don't do it, it hurts less now but more later. Basically it all hurts, so it's just a case of getting on with it and rationalising whatever choices I make as part of my internal dialogue. A dialogue liberally punctuated with the term 'ow', and more expletive laden outbursts.


On to the rain:
Arriving at basketball training a couple of weeks ago, the rain lashing down on the car as I sat in the dark car park, contemplating whether to wrestle with an umbrella or just accept the soaking, I decided to go for the quick exit. A schoolboy error.

I opened the car door and slid my wheelchair off the back seat, but instead of putting the brakes on, I went for an express launch. This manoeuvre is fine when undertaken on level ground, but the car park at the sports centre boasts an impressive camber. Just as I was about to hurl myself at the chair, it decided to wander off, not just leaving the car's side, but making an impressive bid for freedom that involved a 180 degree spin before heading enthusiastically down the hill. Luckily, I was able to shout for assistance to a man who was crossing the car park and he kindly intercepted my errant steed about 50 meters from the car and returned it to me.

Suitably chastened, I applied the brakes and got into the soggy chair. I made my way around the side of the car to the back and opened the boot, which on our car consists of one single door that opens vertically and offers a significant area of cover. Except that the rain was coming in at the perfect angle to render this cover useless.

I dragged the basketball wheelchair frame down from the car and placed my bag on it, hoping to prevent the cushion from getting completely sodden. However, the weight of the it caused the unstable wheelchair frame to tip over and deposit my bag in the torrent that ran down the gutter, filling it with an impressive amount of water. The game was up. I thought to myself that the whole process couldn't have gone much worse, and I put the wheels on the basketball chair with an air of resignation. It turned out that I was wrong.

Remember that big boot door? It has a recess for the number plate, and this recess was now full to brimming with rainwater. Upon closing the boot, the equivalent of a large bucket full of water crashed down on my head. I wouldn't have been wetter had I decided to swim to training.

As made my way to the building I found myself musing on a well worn concept. In the American Marines they have a saying: "Slow is smooth, smooth is fast."
I like to think the English expression, while expressing the same idea, does so with a little more polish: "Less haste, more speed."

And now, before your very eyes, I shall attempt to draw these two seemingly disparate topics together.

To apply the less haste approach one has to tame the instinct to rush when under pressure. This might be weather influenced or may come from numerous other sources. The effort required to overcome the urge to rush pays dividends in the long run. Things get done right first time, and to a standard that one can be happy with.

When it comes to managing pain, the urge is to avoid the exercise or activity that triggers the pain. However, if one can overcome this instinct, the release of endorphins and the improved circulation that comes with movement, to say nothing of the satisfaction of being active, the rewards outstrip the penalties by some distance. We are made to move. The degree to which we do so may be dictated by various physical and mental factors, but the sense of well-being that accompanies any physical activity should always be valued.

To quote Jazzie B of Soul II Soul, "Keep on movin'..."

Tbb.jpg

Dressed to depress.

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There are a few 'activities of daily living' that can present additional challenges to us spinal folk; tasks that require a little ingenuity, a different technique or just a lot of swearing and physical effort.

One area that continues to catch me out on occasion is what should be a straightforward daily ritual - Getting dressed. Some of the techniques we use may come as a surprise to those who have not considered the additional complications that come with paralysis. For example, did you know that we have to wear our socks inside out to prevent the seam that runs across the toes of most socks from marking our skin and causing a potential pressure sore? Or that we have to remove any buttons, studs or flaps from the back of trousers and jeans for the same reason?

In truth, the whole process has been made somewhat easier by moving to Australia, where it rarely gets cold enough to wear half of the clothing that it rarely gets warm enough not to wear in the UK. But certain items are essential for legal reasons, and the challenges offered by dressing often carry the additional complication of having to be faced in the morning, when I am barely conscious. By the way, this means any time between 7am (rarely) and about 11 (sadly more common).

In order to better enable the reader to appreciate just what is involved, I thought I would highlight a few of the more common struggles.

1. The half superhero.
This was a new one for me. Heartening that even after ten years with a spinal cord injury, I still struggle to dress myself. It happened this morning, and was certainly due to a lack of decent sleep. I began by slipping one of my legs into my undercrackers and then straight into my jeans. This can feel like a time saving sequence, and usually passes off peacefully. So far so good. However, my dressing routine was then interrupted by a howl of anguish, and the bedroom door was thrown open by a small child clutching a Lego minifigure covered in porridge. Once the crisis had been resolved, I then put my other leg into my jeans and then attempted to get the foot into my undies. It took me far too many seconds to identify what the issue was, and the ensuing tangle was far from dignified.

2. The arsey bustle.
This one will be familiar to any SCI swimmers out there. After a dip, the most practical approach is to drape a towel over the seat of the swimmer's wheelchair in order to keep the cushion a bit drier. When clothes are then applied, the dresser discovers that swimming seems to have added several inches to the waistline, and doing up the waist button and flies has become an impossibility. As you may have gathered from the name, the usual cause is that the towel has used the clamminess of post-swimming buttocks in order to invade the victim's clothing.

3. Toe jam
When applying a shoe, the dresser finds it impossible to get their heel into the piece of footwear. After much straining and swearing, the withdrawal of the foot reveals a mangled mess of twisted toes. Upon further investigation the shoe is found to contain a sock/pair of socks/champagne cork/Lego minifigure covered in porridge.

4. Sleeve it be
This is not intended as a boast, but my shoulders and arms are on the larger side these days. It's an occupational hazard that comes with being a wheelchair user, and it can make buying shirts and t-shirts challenging at times. I prefer not to be impeded by my clothing, but nor do I want to go straight to the kaftan option.

5. Off the cuff
In preparing to make a presentation/accept an award/deliver a eulogy/sit a job interview, the dresser puts on a crisply laundered and freshly ironed shirt, only to discover that in the journey from the ironing board to their body, the shirt has picked up some unspeakable and definitely stainy substance from their wheelchair's tyre.

6. Tie died
Having sponged into a smudgy mess whatever goo has populated the shirt cuff, the dresser must now turn his attention to the tie. This baffling accessory can be fraught with potential complications, even for a biped. It can end up in the soup, or over the shoulder in the slightest of breezes. Just tying the damn thing to the right length when the wearer is permanently sat usually takes about eight goes, and even then it inevitably peeks too far out of the bottom of the suit jacket (see below) like the tongue lolling from the mouth of an overheated labrador.


7. The Quasimodo
The perennial problem of formal attire. The wearer dons a suit jacket and spends several minutes pulling at the side flaps and tucking the bottom of the jacket in all the way around, only for their first push to make the whole thing to ride up and completely conceal their neck and ears, while the lapels open like the mouth of half-starved baby bird.
I have been assured that a decent tailor can make a suit that prevents this from happening, but I have yet to have a post-injury suit tailor made. Apparently, the difficulty faced by the tailor is the same as the one presented by conductors waving their arms around in time to the music.

Faced with the difficulties associated with suit jackets, some wheelchair users choose instead to opt for a waistcoat without a jacket. I can see the advantages, and I'd love to be able to adopt it, but the Mod in me just can't face the idea. It's just too... well, Status Quo, isn't it?

I'm sure there are more, but you get the general idea.

As for getting into and out of a wetsuit? That's definitely a tale for another day.

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