London Calling: Part 2.

That evening I had a bath. The hotel was built over a set of tunnels, one for the trains in and out of London, and one for the various tube lines running from St Pancras, the tube station attached to King’s Cross. As I submerged myself in the warm water, a train ran underneath us, and the water made a strange bubbling noise around me. Having not eaten Mexican food recently, I was perplexed, and it took me a minute to figure out what the noise was.

Perhaps it was the fatigue from the long day, perhaps it was the alcohol, or perhaps it was the insanely comfortable bed, but that night I slept better than I had for months. Even the trains failed to wake me, and the rattling of their passing beneath us was strangely soothing. I didn’t wake until the alarm sounded at 8 am the next morning, and while eating breakfast, I discussed various futile plans with Jarred for stealing the mattresses.

The morning was bright and sunny, and after getting dressed, I leant against the window frame watching the trains rattle past until Jarred was also ready. We made our way to the nearest entrance to St Pancras, but the lift here had been closed without warning. Fortunately, at another entrance a different lift was available, and we went underground. We bought our tickets in the unbelievably stuffy ticket hall, and then hopped on the Piccadilly line to Green Park, which was the nearest accessible tube station to the Science Museum, our destination.

Tube

We went straight from the tube station to Green Park, and the fresh air was a welcome relief from the heated stuffiness of the underground tunnels. We had coffee at one of a small chain of coffee shops found in central London’s parks, and then made our way towards Buckingham palace.

Once Jarred had snapped the obligatory photo of me in front of the titular palace, we made our way through Hyde Park, along the edge of the Serpentine. The day was warm, and soon we shed our coats to hang them off the back of the wheelchair. About half way along the Serpentine, we spotted a heron wading through the water, slow and graceful as if it were royalty.

Eventually, we arrived at the Science Museum on exhibition road, adjacent to the Natural History Museum. Here, I met Jarred’s mother and little brother for the first time, and we went to the café in the museum to eat lunch together. Jarred’s sister, who worked at the Imperial College next door joined us for her lunch hour, and we sat together, laughing and joking as if we had known each other for years.

After this, Jarred’s sister returned to work, and the rest of us explored the Science Museum together. The space exhibition had life-size models of rocket engines, the moon-landing station, and even one of the surprisingly small Hubble telescope. Tim Peake even had an exhibition dedicated to him as the first Brit to enter the International Space Station, and the first Brit to undertake a spacewalk. The floor above housed an entire room dedicated to genetics and DNA, where I was able to answer far more questions from Jarred’s little brother, who is an aspiring scientist himself. I was in awe of the model built by Crick and Watson to discover the structure of DNA, one of the biggest and most important discoveries of the 20th century. Above this was the environment floor, and after this a floor dedicated to flight. This including model Spitfires, and even a model of the first machine ever to fly.

All too soon, the afternoon came to an end, and we were saying good bye to our family. The sun was still shining as we travelled back through Hyde Park and Green Park, returning to the tube station just as rush hour began to kick in.

Having bought an unlimited travel ticket for the whole day, we were able to pass the ticket hall in Green Park tube station, instead going straight to the Jubilee line headed for Stratford. While the platform was crowded, we didn’t have to travel far to the raised platform for wheelchair access, and within a minute the strong breeze that announces the presence of a train far before you see or hear it rushed past us. The tube squealed to a halt, and we were able to squeeze into the wheelchair space inside the carriage. Jarred clicked the wheelchairs’ brakes on to prevent any inertia-related wheelchair incidents, and then we were off, howling down the dark tunnels and stopping every few minutes. I felt a little like Katniss Everdeen headed to the Capitol of Panem, except I didn’t have to worry about a murdering contest at the end of the line.

At each stop, more and more people climbed aboard the carriage. Soon, every seat was taken, and most of the standing room too. It was easy to identify the regular users of the tube; they were standing unaided in the carriage, looking at their phones or reading a book with their bags between their ankles, swaying gently with the motion. The heat of so many crammed into such a small place was overwhelming, and I had to avoid several bags held on a level with my head, but I still had to wonder what all the fuss of the London Underground during rush hour was about, as I had faced far worse before.

Eventually, the train sped into daylight, and I was momentarily blinded after the darkness. Minutes later it came to a halt at the end of the line, Stratford. We left the tube, and wandered over to Westfield, the humongous shopping centre over-looking the 2012 Olympic park, where we ate our evening meal.

London Calling: Part 1.

Just prior to midday on the 30th August, Jarred and myself made our way down to the train station, a mere 10 minutes down a gentle slope surrounded by shops. I had borrowed my mother’s manual wheelchair which Jarred was pushing, as I wasn’t confident that the trains could accommodate my powered wheelchair. We grabbed sandwiches from a café hidden just behind the doorway of the train station, and sat in the waiting area looking at the departure board, waiting for the 1.15 pm to London King’s Cross (yes, that is the one featured in Harry Potter) to appear.

Half an hour before we were due to leave, we went to the disabled support desk. When booking the train tickets, we had also booked a porter and ramp in advance, and I had printed off the documentation to prove this. Once the documents were shown to the porters, they happily escorted us to the train, and by 1 pm we were safely aboard. The only fly in the ointment was the woman who had a pram in the space reserved for wheelchairs, who not only refused to move (despite the notices and even the law giving wheelchair users priority to these spaces), but once I had claimed a nearby seat and the wheelchair had been folded up, fretted to Jarred that it would fall on her precious offspring. Her precious offspring then continued to cry all the way to Wakefield, where I was grateful to see them exit the train.

A little over half way through the journey, having drunk a 500 ml bottle of Coke Zero, certain needs made their presence felt. I waited until the next stop before getting up and hobbling the few metres to the bathroom. Unfortunately, the train set off just as I was getting up again, and I very nearly ended up flat on the rather sticky floor. I managed to steady myself against the walls of the cabin, and then made the short journey back to my window seat.

As I sat down, Jarred began to laugh. Naturally assuming he was laughing at me for something stupid like having toilet paper stuck to my jeans (we’ve all been there), I glared at him. Then I realised that he was using his phone to track the progress of our train, and as it turned out, we were passing through the charmingly named “Bitchfield”.

Less than an hour later we pulled into King’s Cross, and a porter greeted us with a ramp almost as soon as the train had come to a halt. We made our way through the impressive train station, which in all seriousness has a dedicated Harry Potter shop, alongside a platform 9¾ complete with luggage rack entering the wall which fans spend hours queuing just to get a photo of.

We wandered out of the train station, from which our hotel could be seen. We crossed the insanely busy roads in the pouring rain, and were soaked by the time we reached the reception desk. The lovely receptionist offered us two key cards for our room, not just one, in case I wanted to venture out on my own. Given that I was relying on Jarred to push me everywhere, this would have been pointless, but the unprejudiced gesture was very much appreciated anyway.

The room we had been given was perfect, with plenty of room to park the wheelchair, and a bathroom full of grab rails to help me move around. The beds were twin beds, because in most cases a disabled person would be with a carer, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to share a bed. Fortunately, the beds were pushed together, although on occasion one or the other of us disappeared down the gap between them.

Tired as we were, it seemed a shame to waste the remaining afternoon in our hotel room, and so we made our way to a nearby attraction you may have heard of; the British Museum. It was both free to enter and accessible, although the tent where bags were checked by security guards had wheelchair ramps that were, rather ironically, almost impossible to surpass in the wheelchair. Just inside the accessible entrance to the side of the museum there was an old lift. The first time the lift arrived for us, however, we couldn’t enter because a family of physically able-bodied people refused to budge one inch. The lift being old and slow, it was another 5 minutes before we finally got to enter the lift.

With only an hour or so before the museum closed, we didn’t have time to explore more than part of the Ancient Egyptian display. However, we still had plenty of time to find some impressive artefacts, including the Rosetta stone, and this sheep-sphynx that reminded me of my favourite teddy, a sheep named Lamb-da.

Rambda

By 6 pm we had returned to the hotel, where we made hot drinks to warm ourselves through. After this, we made our way to the only accessible pub in the vicinity – Wetherspoon’s. Having travelled all the way to London, we ended up in a pub we have less than 10 minutes from our flat. One hotdog, millionaire sundae, and Strongbow Dark Fruits later, I was feeling very happy.

Roll Models.

I’m usually one to stay well clear of clichéd ideas such as the role model, as I believe that people should be themselves and not have to live up to anyone else’s standards. However, I cannot deny that there have been inspirations in my life, particularly where living with a disability is concerned.

Perhaps the most obvious choice for the role model of a disabled scientist is, of course, Professor Stephen Hawking. The man is legendary, and has not only pushed physics into ground-breaking territory with the discovery of Hawking radiation, but has helped to advance the medical understanding of Motor Neurone’s Disease, a relatively rare and peculiar condition. He has also been involved in encouraging children to pursue the sciences as viable subjects in schools, has co-authored a series of science fiction stories that are entirely feasible according to laws of physics, and has attempted to make complex physics accessible to most adults in his book “A Brief History of Time”. In all of this, he has not been afraid to expose just how debilitating his condition is, nor has been afraid to poke fun at it. In fact, he has featured on charity specials and TV shows like The Simpsons, and on most of these occasions his disability forms a comedic element of the performance. It would be ludicrous of me to deny that he has influenced the way I cope with my own disability, and has made me grateful for the things that I can do that he cannot, such as talking with my own vocal cords, as well as earning my respect from a scientific perspective.

Stephen Hawking

Other inspiring role models include two of the hosts of The Last Leg, Adam Hills and Alex Brooker, both of whom are missing part of at least one limb. Although neither is wheelchair bound, they have helped to make people more confident around disabled people, and have showed the viewers that disability isn’t the burden some make it out to be. They have highlighted the serious issues surrounding disability on a widely viewed television program so popular it got its own series of special episodes at the Rio 2016 Paralympics. Similarly, they have proved that disabled people are capable of caring about other social issues such as racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and homophobia, and in this they have earned my complete respect, and have helped me come to terms with my life circumstances.

The Last Leg

Although I am a lover of rock music, one other significant role model for me is pop superstar Lady Gaga. She is completely unafraid to stand up for what she believes in when facing an intense media following, and is open and confident about her sexuality and any other trait that sets her apart from the norm. She might not be disabled herself, but I am more than certain that if someone disabled approached her, she would not prejudge them, or talk to them in a condescending manner. I would dearly love to have the sort of self-confidence she exhumes, although I perhaps wouldn’t follow her fashion choices.

Lady Gaga

There are lots of people, some famous, some who are friends and family, who have inspired me, encouraged me, and helped me to become who I am today. While I do not wish to become carbon copies of any one of them, I would hope that my actions emanate their intentions, and that I could also have an impact on issues in the modern society.

Words Without Meaning.

Even as a young child, I found great freedom in writing. It was a way for me to escape the bullying I experienced at school, and to become immersed in a world different to my own. To be able to sink into someone else’s problems helped me not to think about mine, but the countless pages I filled with half-developed characters and meagre plots are long gone. They were words without meaning; I knew in my mind where the characters would go, and what they would say and do, and I never let anyone else see much of my work. The stories were already told. Besides the escapism, there was no purpose to the writing, and as such the joy I found in it soon dispersed.

I find that the pleasure of writing comes not from the putting of pen to paper, but in the knowledge that others will read the words you wrote, and will perhaps think about them and learn from them, and maybe even be emotionally moved by them. It is this that prompted me to create “Diary of a Disabled Person”, and it is this that keeps me filling the pages of notebooks while sat in coffee shops; a perfectly typical writer with a message to send.

This blog is not aimed at those with disabilities themselves, although I am extremely pleased that many disabled people have given me positive feedback and support, which means that I am representing the community well, and have avoided offending anyone. However, this blog is in fact targeted at those without disabilities.

Disabled people know what living with a disability is like; they do not need to be told once again by someone in a similar situation that there are issues in the way disability is incorporated into society. While I accept that disability support groups help some people, I find the culture of a large group of disabled people meeting up to sit off to one side moaning about being disabled irritating; nothing will ever change if the rest of the world doesn’t know that there are issues. Nothing will ever change if we don’t try to integrate with the rest of society. Martin Luther King had the support of the African-American community when he gave his infamous “I have a dream speech”, but the people he wanted to target were the white supremacists. It would be like preaching to the converted; it wouldn’t have an effect.

Those not living with a disability, or not living or working with someone who is disabled, is probably oblivious to some of the issues faced on a daily basis; how could someone be expected to know about something they have had no experience of? It is not a criticism, it is a fact, and I started this blog to address that fact. In my attempts to integrate with society, and to preach my message to those who have not heard it, I have made some headway in the battle to fully incorporate disability into modern society. The more people become aware of the issues, the more they will fight back against them, and support those with disabilities. Many people discriminate by accident; by not switching on an automatic door or lift, or parking over a ramp. Educating people as to why those things are significant will make an impact on society.

Perhaps, if anything, I’m trying to stir up a little trouble. The good kind of trouble, I might add. I want people to talk about disability. I want people to ask me questions. I want people to think a little more carefully about their actions towards anyone with a disability. If enough people raise their voices, then the authorities cannot deny hearing us.

I didn’t write this blog to generate sympathy, but empathy, and it is this that gives my words meaning.