August 2010 Archives

War Horse

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Last night's outing was to see the National Theatre's production of War Horse.

I had read good things about this piece so my expectations were high, but I was still awe-struck.

The performances were all first rate, but what most impressed was the visionary staging and puppetry, which created something quite magical. In no time, I found I no longer saw the cast members in and around the horses, as the animals' movements reactions, even little twitches or tail-swishes made them seem so very real.

Had the puppets been more lifelike in appearance it would had less impact as they would have seemed 'fake'. Instead the production draws in and involves the audience's imagination to great effect. With clever use of props and haunting, traditional folk music, the whole show is  powerful stuff indeed. If you have not seen it, and if you have the opportunity, then I strongly urge you to do so. And do it soon, especially as Spielburg has optioned the film rights, and his approach is sure to be totally different and widely promoted.

As for access to the theatre, well, that was a skirmish of a different nature. To be fair, I had been well informed by the box office on booking and I knew what to expect. The main challenge involved a lift from the stage door into which my wheelchair would not have fitted, had a stray leaf or piece of paper got stuck to my wheels. 

Sadly, there was another party which included a wheelchair user form whom the evening was much less satisfactory. It seems they had not been warned about the width of the lift, and so the mother and sons were in the auditorium watching the play while dad was forced to sit it out in the foyer. It is a shame that there was not more consistency of information. It is a shame that anyone is prevented from being able to see this beautiful production.

It is great that theatres make an effort to enable people with disabilities to access productions, and I fully appreciate that all but the most new venues tend to have access issues as a legacy from a more narrow approach to architecture and the built environment.  I must confess to feeling a little nervous in venues like the one we were in last night. Should there be some kind of emergency, my wheelchair is no right at my side (I have taken to transferring into theatre seats as they offer me more back support), and I am dependent on a member of staff accompanying me through a labyrinth of corridors and locked doors in order to get out via a goods lift. Presumably, I could always be thrown across the back of a life-size horse-puppet and be last seen galloping up Drury Lane with a ridiculous grin on my face.

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Playing with a loaded deck

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This image arrived for me today, nestled in a brochure promoting my membership of some kind of exclusive club by subscribing to an online newspaper (for purely professional reasons, I assure you).
deckch.jpgWhile I am not totally confident, I think I could probably just about manage to get myself into a deckchair. I am certainly much less convinced that I would be able to get myself out again.

To paint a mental picture, think nature documentary scene of a giraffe is being born.

Except the baby giraffe is paraplegic.

And the mother is a deckchair.

Peaks and troughs

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Feeling a little better today than yesterday, but still pretty jaded. For I have, yet again, found myself a bladder infection. My third of the year after five years infection-free made me assume that this was one of the 'perks' of spinal cord injury restricted to others. I may have chronic pain, but at least I am not subjected to frequent infections with the risk of kidney damage, not to mention feeling rubbish for days on end.

Alas, such optimism has now drained away. Instead I am determined to find out what has changed and why. Back to my tried and tested method: find out everything I can in the hope that there is some information which will help to improve the situation. I also find that this approach helps me to come to terms with things. If I understand them, if I'm sure that there is no alternative, well then I have to get on with it.

Anyway, a little about our camping trip to Snowdonia...

When I was in my teens, I used to go climbing in this part of the world, and my memories led me to suggest that we make the long car journey to camp in North Wales. But I had forgotten just how spectacular the scenery is. Breathtaking views of dramatic slate rock faces and lush green valleys come together to make every corner turned a temptation to just pull over and stare at the scene.

I have grown up with mountains in my life. My mother is Austrian, and our summers were spent in alpine villages. I can still conjure up the excitement of dramatic thunderstorms rolling over the peaks, the smell of pine forests, the glare of the sun reflected from limestone paths, fields of alpine nuns with their guitars and lederhosen making purple chocolate bars, etc.

But there are also a few places in the UK where there is a definite mountain feel to be enjoyed, and Snowdonia is definitely one of them. However, my enjoyment of being in such landscapes is rather impeded by my physical circumstances. In fact, short of sand dunes, mountains are about as unwheelchair-friendly as you can get (of sand, more later).

What we did find, on recommendation was the Mawddach Trail, one of many UK trails that follow the route of a disused railway line. This history provides a path that is almost completely level, a real bonus for wheelchair users. The Mawddach trail leads out along the estuary to Barmouth, a rather grand Victorian Seaside town that clings to the side of slate cliffs.

The views along the track are beautiful, but there was another discovery of note on our walk. I have an extra front wheel that attaches to my wheelchair, making it into, if not an all-terrain vehicle, at least a more-terrain vehicle. In order to offer a little variation I grabbed a couple of telescopic walking poles, and wheelchair-cross-country-dry-skiing was born. On a flat track I have discovered that I can get up quite a turn of speed efficiently by pushing myself along in this way. In doing so, I am also using very different muscles in my arms and shoulders which helps to reduce fatigue. It is more of a novelty than a mobility revolution, but a fun discovery nontheless.

The most exciting times where those when I let R steer. Unfortunately, she has a habit of steering towards whatever she's looking at, be it off the track or even behind us... In this pick she has opted for the (often safer) option of "Look Mum! No Hands!"
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Of the camping, I can only report the crazed scrawlings in my notebook that attempted to capture my initial mood. I am referring to the people who pitched their tent next to ours. So close that they couldn't even put their guy ropes out because the pegs would have had to be driven through the side of our tent and into our sleeping bags...
"They MUST be city folk on holiday. A touch of agoraphobia, maybe? Why else would they put their tent right on top of ours? Unless they just love their greyhound and cigar smoking so much that they feel compelled to share them with the world."

Yes, for me camping is often a time divided between sighing at the beauty of the great outdoors and scowling at other campers. It is also a time divided between lighting fires, cooking, foraging and feeling like a hunter gatherer. And quietly mocking other people for attaching too much importance (and equipment) to the same pursuits.

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes. And I am a hypocrite.

Toilet Duck.

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As a disabled person, I receive various magazines from different organisations. As a journalist, I write for some of these various magazines from different organisations, and for this I am very grateful. I am also aware that it is the advertising that enables said publications to pay me for my work and for this I am very very grateful.

However, said magazines tend to arrive stuffed to the gills (do magazines have gills?) with brochures and flyers for products which, it is assumed, I am in desperate need of.

Electric beds (raising and lowering, not some kind of Dignitas DIY product), will writing, wheelchairs, home gym equipment and, up to now my favourite, a fantastic catalog of products which included a bottle of special tomb-stone cleaner.

But this week, we came back from our camping adventures in North Wales (a tale for another blog entry to follow in due course) to find a mountain of post. Included was a magazine which contained about ten flyers.

My new favourite fell to the floor. It is an advert for a urology continence product and pharmacy home delivery service. According to the flyer, a simple enquiry about the service would afford me the chance to win a day for myself and my family with... Keith Harris and Orville the Duck.

Oh, joy unrestrained! WHAT A DELIGHT! Suffice to say, it had what I can only imagine was the desired effect: One read of the flyer and I nearly wet myself.



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