April 2010 Archives


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I know I've done some crazy stuff to my spine, but this?...

Home comforts.

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Our flat is wheelchair accessible, or at least I think it is. To be more accurate our flat is me-in-a-wheelchair accessible which, I am coming to realise, is not necessarily the same thing.

It's not that I have had many other visitors come to test it. Which is strange in a way. Yes, some of my best friends are wheelchair users, but my encounters with them are all elsewhere. This is not a deliberate policy, but I had to think about how many other people in wheelchairs had visited our flat. I think perhaps two. That's two visits in five years.

What got me thinking about this was an increasing sense of pride in my ability to overcome obstacles or unsuitable facilities. If we stay in a hotel, all I request (apart from no stairs) is that the doors are sufficiently wide (and my chair is a slim 64cms. Narrow enough to pass easily through a standard width doorway), and a bath, rather than a shower cubicle.

Yes, I start by requesting a fully accessible room with a shower seat in the bathroom, but the reality is that these are few and far between. And such rooms often feel institutional, with twin single beds and lino floors.

If I stay with friends, then I strap on (oo-err) my 'all-rounder' and take to the stairs, bum-first. Yes, it's hard work, but it does mean a more 'normal' life. I can stay, I can use the bathroom, I don't have to sleep on the couch/in the dog basket/in the shed.

But I'm also conscious that I'm at the more active end of the paraplegic spectrum (and that one day I won't be). And as I get on with life at home I am starting to notice the things that are just a bit of hassle for me but would be impossible for many wheelchair users.

One day...one day...
 A house with wide hallways that I can turn around in, more shelf space at a lower height, an easily accessible garden (ours has a flight of eight steps down from a balcony), and most holy of holies, a garage for me to put all my wheelchairs, bikes, trikes, spare cushions, wheels and tyres in. Oh, and a studio. 

Maybe I'll even get a wheelchair and a computer all to myself...


The F-word

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R had a friend round for a sleep-over earlier this week. The friend is nearly six to R's nearly five. After a bit of whispering in the other room, R rushes into the kitchen and asks me,
"Dad. DO you know what the F-word is?

Her friend looks sheepish and explains, "I was telling her it's a really bad word and I whispered it to her so that she would know that it's a really bad word and not to use it, and..."

R interrupts and announces, "It's fudge."

Friend looks confused and says, "No it isn't, it's..."

Dad interrupts in a loud voice, "Anyone want a biscuit?"


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I have a theory. Well, if I'm totally honest, I have numerous theories. I like a good theory and can often be heard late into the night inventing new ones hither and yon. I digress...

The theory I wish to share with you is on the subject of the Dutch. My grandmother was Dutch, so I speak with some authority. Specifically, it is the unusually tall nature of the Dutch that makes the subject for this theory.

I suspect that their height is an evolutionary development triggered by environmental influences. Because they are born below sea-level, they have evolved extra height as a defence against drowning, should any of the dykes spring a leak when there are no small children to insert.

What brings me to this theory is our recent trip to the low countries for Easter weekend. To put the water defences under a little more pressure, it rained for most of the weekend. Again. Add another inch of height to the Dutch national average.  As well as tall people, the Netherlands are full of tall buildings, often leaning and most commonly beginning with a few stairs for good measure.

Internal staircases are also set at a precipitous angle, making a bum-shuffle ascent feel like a life-threatening adventure, and that's after any intrepid wheelchair user has had their senses rattled by the Dutch penchant for tiny paving bricks in all of their hard landscaping.

I don't want to give the impression that we didn't enjoy ourselves. Indeed, we had a lovely time, enjoying warm company and eating and drinking far too much.

All of the challenges of stairs and paving offered few surprises for me, having made a visit to Holland since my accident. What I hadn't noticed last time, however, was the lack of accessible toilets in Holland.

Even new buildings rarely have disabled toilets, and many shops and eateries seem to make little effort to make themselves accessible to wheelchair users.

Mind you, this was not the real challenge of our long-weekend away. No, that began when we left the house, all packed and raring to go, only to get a puncture in our own street. Handy, that.

Having tackled the wheelchange-challenge in the past, I was confident that we would be on the road in no time. Unfortunately, I had reckoned without our new car (ooh, get me!). In order to squeeze in extra fold down seats and a petrol tank that takes the entire annual GDP of most former Soviet economies to fill, those clever designers at Mazda (zoom zoom) took the easy option and fitted our new car with a 'space saver' emergency spare wheel.

Who came up with this particular piece of genius? Why did it take so long? How come the first cars were fitted with such cumbersome things as a normal sized spare that allows the driver to resume their journey at anything more than walking pace? What were they thinking?

Having been inspired by the contents of our boot, I have decided to get rid of the emergency spare wheel, and I have replaced it with a hula hoop.


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