June 2009 Archives

The slice of life.

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Today's Times piece is a timely reference to tennis. For while the echoes of the centre court excitement have barely faded, I am preparing for my appearance on court 1 this evening.

Ok, it's court one of the National Tennis Centre at Roehampton. But I had you wondering, didn't I? And I do have a mean backhand slice, by the way.

There will be wheelchair tennis on the last three days at Wimbledon, but it will be doubles, as grass rather slows the wheelchair down, so the doubles game will offer a better viewing experience. It will feature the top seeds in both the men's and women's game and there is going to be coverage on BBC interactive, so if you can, I would recommend having a look.

I know I probably keep banging on about it, but I do think that wheelchair tennis  has tremendous potential to be more integrated into mainstream sport. There is no reason why the wheelchair draw could not be integrated into the top tournaments. Thanks to the hard work put in by Mark Bullock at the ITF, there is now a wheelchair competition at all the Grand Slam tournamnets, but it would be even better if the matches were played on the same courts during the main competition, the same as doubles, juniors, etc.

Obviously, Wimbledon presents a unique problem, as the grass prevents decent singles competition, and no doubt players would complain if there were tyre prints all over the baseilne, but certainly the hard-court tournaments could be more integrated.

I know, blah, blah, blah, so I'll stop now.

By way of a contrast in the integration game, here's a conversation I had on the forecourt of a supermarket petrol station with the operative who had just filled the tank for me.

He: Did you have an accident, then?
Me: Erm, yeah.
He: Were you rock climbing? Diving? Mountain bike?
Me: No, I fell from a tree.
He: Are you like that for good?
Me: (thinks: no, for evil) Yep, for good.
He: That's really bad, isn't it?
Me: (Thinks: well, d'uh) Yes, but I still wake up every morning.

I'm not sure what that means, or even whether I should be having these coversations on the forecourt of a petrol station with a complete stranger, but I've developed this habit of breaking the awkwardness by saying something nonsensical but with a serious expression and a profound tone of voice.  Things like:

I'm still at the races.
You've got to be in it to win it.
It's not the volts that kill you, it's the amps.
If you keep looking backwards you just bump into stuff all the time.
The game of life has a very large dice.
Life's all about how you land.
If God wanted us to speculate, he'd have to be real.
Just shut up and fill the tank.

A film of two halves

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Firstly, a link for those who would like to see this week's Times column.

On Monday I went the fantastic cinema at The Barbican, a venue which has probably the best access and staff a wheelchair user could wish for.

The film in question was Ken Loach's 'Looking for Eric'. A thoroughly entertaining film, or rather, two films. There is a strange drop off in pace in the middle, as if there is confusion as to where to take the story, and then a cracking second half which is virtually a separate film.

Of course, the main attraction is Monsieur Cantona, and here I feel a confession coming on...

As a die-hard Arsenal fan (cut me and I bleed red), I can honestly say that in our rivalry with Manchester United there is only one thing I am jealous of.
No, it's not the silverware, the success in Europe, the obsessive mythologising so popular with football commentators, Wayne Rooney's good looks, and certainly not Alex Ferguson (who comes across as sinister, grumpy and a bit of a bully).

No, they can have all of that. The thing I envy, in case you haven't guessed, is Eric Cantona. And, yes, I said thing, because it isn't the man, it's the icon. Not just the notorious 'audience participation' (come on, we all knew it was wrong, but we all secretly loved it). But also a great player, an ability to score sublime, yet crucial goals, a talent for outwitting the tabloid press, a sense of humour, and now the demonstration that he doesn't take himself too seriously.

For all that, he's pretty useless on the trumpet...

...and Bergkamp was a better player.

Choices video

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I stumbled upon this film that I contributed to about a year ago.
It reminded me of the value of talking to other people with spinal cord injury. There is a certain emotional battery recharge that comes from knowing that the other person has an understanding of what you've been through.

Euphemism of the day 7

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As in: "Investment - £92 per one-hour treatment session."
This bargain price is for a treatment in which the 'practitioner' wafts their hands around in a very scientific manner and thus resolve problems in my electro-magnetic field.

This service is also available remotely over the internet. I kid you not. This is despite claims on the same website that modern technologies are responsible for emitting frequencies which are screwing up my waves in the first place.
Oh, and by the way, "it should be noted that your perception or belief system is adjunct to the genetic and cellular make up, and can affect and influence the outcome." So you've gotta have faith (Sorry George).

The whole thing sadly smacks of snake-oil. What is most irritating, is that someone has seen fit to contact me to offer this 'investment' opportunity. The website is littered with quasi-scientific language in a way that appears deliberately evasive. Of the many articles referenced, not one is from The Lancet, or The British Medical Journal. If this is such an effective panacea, then surely it should be scientifically evaluated so that it can be made available to everyone?

Ah, but it is scientific. As well as the healing power of random punctuation, the treatment  works by "overcoming long-term chronic and difficult symptoms; move you beyond your blockages; and enhance recovery."

Difficult symptoms? BLOCKAGES?

Yes. I've got difficult symptoms. Mainly paralysis, but also chronic pain. But I'm not sure that I'd call my 95% transected spinal cord a blockage. Would you?

On further consideration, I'd call it a misaligned Chakra for £92 an hour.

Cry freedom

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Latest Times column.

We all emote at some time in our lives, and I must confess that I shed numerous tears after my accident. Looking back, one thing is clear: The 'near death experience' is not necessarily the life changing epiphany that is often portrayed in the movies.

Rather than inspiring me to shun the mundane, everyday life in pursuit of a more spiritual existence, it made me crave those simple, workaday experiences.

I'm not sure how this relates to the whole crying game, except that maybe there exists in me a pool of sadness left over from my accident and fed by my yearning to walk barefoot in wet grass, etc.

It's just a little embarrassing that this should reveal itself in my reaction to something like Lost And Found (which is a damn fine adaptation of one of our favourite books at bedtime).

Play the pipes of pee

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Back up to the hospital this week for a spot of Urodynamics. No, it's not a new exercise regime, but an investigation of the bladder. It involves various pipes, bottles of liquid, injections and all kinds of eye-watering stuff. Thankfully I don't get to feel any of this, but I did get to see my bladder on a real-time x-ray as it was filled with a special liquid that showed up on the screen.

I must confess that I find all this stuff quite fascinating, although I can understand if you don't. It's just that the human body is filled with all kinds of strangeness. We tend to think of our bodies as machines, probably because it's more reassuring that way.

The reality is that we are just a big pile of quite fragile gloop hanging off a stack of bones. But within that gloop are all kinds of very sophisticated systems to keep us alive. The bladder may not seem like the most fascinating area to investigate, but it does all kinds of stuff that we tend to take for granted.

As with many bodily functions, much of the decision making takes place in areas other than the brain, often in the spinal cord.

In the case of the bladder, it fills up until it reaches a certain capacity, and then the muscles in the bladder wall tighten and the sphincter (or valve, for the mechanically minded) opens to release the...wee-wee, to use the technical terminology.

Before this happens, the brain intervenes to make sure that we only drain our bladders at the most socially acceptable time. But this isn't a natural process, but something that we learn to do. You know, potty training.

However, if the connection between the brain and the spinal cord is broken, then there is no way to intervene to prevent the bladder from acting autonomously and emptying when full. This can be inconvenient or even embarrassing for some people with spinal cord injury. The idea of the urodynamics is to check out the health of the bladder, as well as to ascertain when the wall of the bladder goes into spasm, and thus to aid the owner of the bladder to intervene before it's too late. There are also a number of different medications that can help to prevent this from happening. another option is to have a Botox injection into the bladder to prevent it from going into spasm.

So there. Maybe one day I'll be going to get a Botox jab on the NHS. 

Euphemism of the day 6

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This is a new one to me. Apparently a 'disability devotee' is someone who is attracted to people with particular disabilities. There are niche interests in amputees, wheelchair users, brace wearers, and no-doubt people with in-growing toenails.

There are also people who pretend to be all of the above for some kind of sexual kick. In the it takes all sorts' stakes this is right up there. I'm sure there are people who would argue that it's no different to being attracted to large/hairy breasts/chests (delete where applicable. Or not, if all applicable). But surely there are more complex social issues around being attracted to people in wheelchairs, let alone being attracted to pretending to be a wheelchair user. Surely the person in that category is going to get found out at some point during any sexual relationship. Or is that the point when they declare a miracle.  Maybe sitting down for long enough can cause disability. Or obesity (do I need explain what a 'plumper' is in to?).

I'm sure this must be an area for the good old Venn Diagram, so popular with maths teachers when I was at school. I wonder what the term is to describe someone who is attracted to Venn Diagrams. I mean, you couldn't exactly put on personal adds, "Into V.D."...

A terrible pox on our socks

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Our daughter is lesser spotted, as chicken pox has visited our house. It's not quite 'paint a cross on the door' stuff, abut it is a wee bit awkward. We were supposed to be away at a friend's 40th birthday this weekend (happy birthday Kevin!), but instead P is going to hold up our end, and I am staying home with a bottle of calamine lotion and a slightly smug sense of self-sacrifice. At times like this, I am still buoyed by my ability to actually cope with parenting challenges such as this on my own.

Of course we shall watch a little too much telly today, but this time there is an excuse, as I can't in all conscience take R to the park to mix with a bunch of innocents, and all of our friends seem to be pregnant at the moment.


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Tuesday's Times column was all about choosing a school.
We want the best for our daughter,  but sometimes I think that people have to high an expectation of what a school should provide. I take the view that as parents it is our job to supplement the education that she gets at school. If there are things that are important to us, then we need to make sure that those things are a big part of her life.

Things like art, dance, music, etc. come into this category, and in the past. people have taken their children to classes at the weekend to cover such things, but now there seems to be an expectation that such areas are covered by school. Personally, I think religion should come in this category too. It should be 'extra-curricular.'

The other side of R's education comes in the form of weekends like the last one, when we went to the Isle of Man to celebrate my brother's wedding. It was a fantastic event in an enormous tent in a field, and for three days R went feral. Although her city feet didn't cope with thistles very well, she adored running with the pack of kids, including two of her cousins. It all went a bit 'Lord of the Flies' at one stage, with several of the older kids sporting tribal stripes of mud on their faces. At least, I hope it was mud.

The real downside was that every trip across the rutted hard ground of the field resulted in a pain-based payback for me  afterward. Were it not for the extra weight, I am beginning to think that suspension on the wheelchair might be worth considering. All I need is a sponsorship deal to fund it...


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