The Poppy Man.

While there are many negative aspects to using a wheelchair, and it is undeniable that I am treated differently to an able-bodied individual, sometimes the response of able-bodied people towards me can be uplifting. Take, for example, the smaller front wheels of my wheelchair getting trapped in the gap between the carriage and platform on the London Underground. A stranger saw my difficulty and completely unprompted helped to lift my front wheels onto the platform, disappearing into the crowd before I had a chance to say thank you.

One such occasion occurred when I was 16 that I will never forget, on a cold, wet, inconspicuous November day about a week before Remembrance Sunday. I had been helping my dad with the shopping as he is colour-blind and finds selecting ripe fruit difficult, and we were heading towards the adapted till designed for those with disabilities. A woman had spotted the shorter queue at this particular till, and despite the fact that I was clearly heading towards it and have little choice about what till I use, pushed in front of me. I bit my lip as I could tell she was the type of arrogant and self-righteous person who will accept no reprimand, and patiently waited behind her in the queue while she unloaded her over-flowing trolley onto the conveyor belt.

What I had failed to notice was the man selling poppies in honour of Remembrance Day directly opposite the till, who had seen what had happened. When the woman in front of us eventually left, I went to the end of the till, and started to help my dad pack the bags. Upon seeing a movement out of the corner of my eye I turned my head to see the man standing next to me, holding a poppy; it wasn’t even one of the flimsy paper ones, but one from Pinterest knitted with black and red wool and a safety pin attached to the back.

“I’ve just seen how that woman treated you”, he told me by way of introduction, “and I’m giving you this because by holding your tongue, you kept the peace.” He then handed me the poppy without taking payment and wandered back to his stall, where people continued to ignore him.

My dad of course saw this and when we had finished packing the bags he walked over to the stall, thanked the man for his kindness and bought a poppy. We never knew his name and he forever became the poppy man.

I kept the woolen poppy pinned to my lanyard, which keeps all my keys conveniently in one place, as a reminder to myself when someone treated me as that woman had, that kindness and empathy still existed. I was devastated when one day I returned from a shopping trip to find that the poppy had fallen off my lanyard, and was nowhere to be found, but even without the memento the memory of the poppy man will never fade, and deserves no less than to be immortalised in words.

Introducing…

I was born and raised in Bradford, England, which contrary to popular opinion, is not a bad place to grow up. The city is full of history and culture, and looking down from the top of the valley towards the city centre is a surprisingly charming view. The intricate architecture at the  base of the valley complements the bleak rows of terraced houses sprawling up the hills, and the parks provide small patches of green at regular intervals.

As an only child, I often missed the company of other children my age, instead spending most of my time in the company of my parents, and the cat. I spent many hours winding up toy cars and releasing them from the back door, watching them rush along the hallway and into the lounge with Bramble, our cat, not far behind. When I wasn’t doing that, I was sat in my room immersed in a book with Bramble sat on my feet, or I was playing outside with Bramble sunbathing on the metre-squared patch of land we called a patio.

My primary school had previously been a middle school, and so had it’s own library, sports field, and science laboratory. It had a happy-go-lucky vibe, and despite being quite the misfit, I enjoyed my time there. My time at secondary school wasn’t quite so cheerful, and the bullying although not much worse than the name-calling and occasional beatings I received at primary school, somehow felt more damaging. I kept my head down and worked hard so that I could leave for university as soon as possible.

As I write this post, I’m in my final year of my degree, BSc Nutrition, and these past 2 and a half years have been some of the best of my life. The bullying stopped, and as I developed my skills as a scientist, I grew happier and more confident. I made friends with an I.T student who lived in the same halls of residence as me, and we spent countless hours playing pool and listening to rock music together during my first year. In my second year, I bumped into Jarred, a social misfit who enjoyed rock music, Marvel comic movies, and wrestling. Over the following 18 months a relationship would flourish that is mostly based on laughter, Star Wars, and My Chemical Romance albums, and strangely seems to work.

By this point I had become a self-confident 20 year old, whose wardrobe resembled a black hole, and who just so happened to use a wheelchair. This blog is the marker of the next stage of my life; actual adulthood, where I have to start acting responsibly and behaving like a civilised human being. I want to provide an insight into life with a disability, and the small and sometimes hilarious consequences of such a disability, because disability has been a taboo subject for too long. So, get ready to step into my shoes…actually that should be wheels…and prepare to witness both how normal and abnormal my life actually is.