The Leibster Award.

The Leibster award was created in 2011 in Germany, and is given to bloggers by other bloggers online. This award focuses on small blogs, recognising their potential to grow and acknowledging those with the kindest, welcoming, most-valued musings.

Liebster

To accept the award after being nominated the blogger is requested to accept the award on their blog, thank the blogger who nominated them with a link to their blog included, write ten random facts about themselves, answer ten questions from the blogger who gave the nomination, nominate a few other blogs, and give these nominations ten questions to answer.

Accepting the Award.

It would be an understatement to say that I was pleasantly surprised to receive a nomination for the Leibster award less than a year after establishing this blog. In all honesty I wasn’t familiar with the award prior to my nomination, but I was still over-joyed that my small corner of the internet was deemed noteworthy. Having just surpassed this blogs’ first birthday, I decided that this would be the perfect time to accept the award.

I was nominated by the author of Wheelescapades, another wheelchair user living in England. Her own blog has already been nominated for the Leibster award, which is well-deserved, and her blog can be accessed here: https://wheelescapades.com/

10 Random Facts About Me.

  1. I was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire, where I lived until I was 18. I moved to university in Leeds after studying Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics at A-level.
  2. I have no siblings.
  3. Throughout my life I have had five pets. Bramble, our black and white cat, had been adopted by my parents before my birth and was a constant companion until her death in 2008. Athens and Berry were my two goldfish. Syrup was my first Syrian hamster, who I owned as a teenager. Lastly we have my current pet, Tribble, also a Syrian hamster.           Hesitant.jpg
  4. I was a member of a street dance crew from age 8 to 10 years.
  5. When I was 11 years old I learnt to play the drums and over the next few years I played in two bands. Unfortunately my illness has prevented me from drumming on a regular basis, although I can still technically play.
  6. I also had singing lessons and was a member of the school choir for many years.
  7. Unsurprisingly I have always loved music. My preferred genre is rock and metal, with particular favourites including Green Day, The Killers, and Foo Fighters, but I also have a secret soft spot for Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.
  8. I have a passion for both the Star Wars and Marvel franchises. I go and see almost every new release in the cinema across the road and own all of the good ones on DVD. I have at least 5 Star Wars t-shirts, some BB-8 earrings, and some Deadpool earrings as proof of my devotion!
  9. I also love video games. I still have my old PlayStation 2 with a plethora of Burnout games to play, and also play on the PlayStation 4. Currently I’m playing through the campaigns of Doom and Need for Speed: Payback, and plan to try Horizon Zero Dawn when I’ve finished these. You might also spot me on Fortnite Battle Royale, although I’m usually hiding in a hedge!
  10. I now live with my fiancé (and Tribble) in Leeds, West Yorkshire.Mike and me.jpg                                       10 Questions From Wheelescapades.
    1. Q: What made you decide to start a blog? A: The disabled don’t need someone to tell them how bad being disabled can be; they know. What is needed is someone to communicate this to the able-bodied, but without being so pessimistic as to simply be passed off as whiny wimps. I came to realise that blogs doing just this were few and far between, and I decided to fill the gap. I wanted to communicate for those who were unable to, and educate those who didn’t have experiences to learn from. Diary of a Disabled Person was born.
    2. Q: What are your hobbies other than blogging? A: I adore animals and will do just about anything that allows me to get up close and personal with them. I also love music, films, and video games, and cannot deny the joys of a good book. I do a little arts and crafts too, with what I shall call mixed results.
    3. Q: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life what would it be? A: As a nutritionist this is killing me inside, but if I really had to choose it would be cake, particularly chocolate cake.
    4. Q: When making tea would you pour the milk or water in first? A: Water, absolutely no question about it.
    5. Q: Mention 3 things for your bucket list? A: See Green Day live in concert, see a WWE show live, turn this blog into a book.
    6. Q: What would be your dream job? A: Being a professional writer full-time.
    7. Q: Where in the world would you most like to visit and why? A: I’d love to visit Holland. I know several people who have spent time in Holland, and they all rave about how beautiful Amsterdam is, how good the food is, and how polite the Dutch are.
    8. Q: Describe yourself in 3 words? A: Ambitious, funny, and stubborn.
    9. Q: What personal trait has gotten you in the most trouble? A: I have a tendency to be extremely blunt. While people know they will get an honest answer from me should they ask me anything, if I have to give a negative answer I often forget to phrase it so that it doesn’t sound like I’m trying to destroy their entire self-esteem. I have hurt people’s feelings by accident on many occasions.
    10. Q: If you could give someone one piece of advice, what would it be? This relates to my school-age self, but could apply to anyone in a similar situation; stop trying to fit in with the cool kids and the bullies, and just do your own thing. When I started to show my true colours, was honest about the music and films I liked, and admitted that I was a nerd to the core, I got a lot more respect than when I was doing everything to be just like them.My Nominations.

      It’s recommended that you nominate between 5 and 10 other blogs for the Leibster award, but I have only 3 blogs that I know of with less than 200 followers who I feel deserve the award. One of them would actually be the blogger who nominated me, Wheelescapades!

      Without further ado, the other two are:

      The Disability Diaries (https://disabilitydiaries.com/) – This blogger provides insight into student life from a wheelchair user living in South Africa, and frequently tackles big issues surrounding disability head-on in a diplomatic but firm manner.

      Seeing M.E in Reality (https://seeingmeinreality.com/) – This blogger tackles the subject of life with the same condition that I suffer from, proving that we are not defined solely by our illness, but have many other aspects to our lives.

      10 Questions for my Nominees.

      1. Cats or dogs?
      2. What is your favourite time of year?
      3. What is your favourite genre of music?
      4. What is your favourite film that was adapted from a book?
      5. What was your favourite childhood toy?
      6. Tea or coffee?
      7. What is your worst habit?
      8. What is the kindest thing a stranger has ever done for you?
      9. Who are your role models?
      10. What is your biggest ambition?

      It fills me with great pride that I can finally say that Diary of a Disabled Person is an award-winning blog!

Diary of a Disabled Person: One Year On.

Tomorrow is Diary of a Disabled Person’s first birthday, and even in just one year, so much has changed.

When I first started the blog the majority of the readers came from family and members of an online Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) support group. It was wonderful to have the support of those around me, but I really wanted to reach out and educate people about CFS and disability who might not know much about these issues through lack of experience. For the first few months I struggled with this, until I had the idea to set up a Facebook page to support the blog, sharing whenever a new blog post was released, plus other bits and pieces picked up from around the internet in-between. Slowly this began to attract a few more followers, and my readership started to grow.

The biggest boost to my readership came in July, when my first article for Cracked.com was published. At the very end of the article a link to my blog and Facebook page were attached, and my readership went from approximately 30 views on the day each blog entry was released, to 5,000, with readers listed in almost 100 countries. I was flooded with messages from people all over the world, and surprisingly few of them were trolls. I was told stories of how I was helping people to come to terms with developing a disability, or inspiring others with disability to live a bit. I was also the recipient of many messages telling me that my attitude to disability was both refreshing and eye-opening; I had caught the attention of many able-bodied people who were suddenly made aware of some of the issues faced by the disabled, and actively wanted to help avoid those issues in the future. I even had correspondence from people with entirely different political views to mine saying that they liked my attitude to life and respected me, even if they didn’t always agree with me.

After a month or so the buzz had settled down but my regular fan base had more than doubled, and steadily increased thereafter. The release of another Cracked.com article seemed to have a similar effect. Now I have over 80 followers of my blog, almost 68,000 views in total, and more than 400 followers on my Facebook page, and have regular conversation with a few fans. It’s amazing how quickly things have developed. A little less than a month ago I was also nominated for the Leibster award, a German award given to bloggers by other bloggers celebrating wholesome, fulfilling blogs with the potential to expand even further. I will be accepting it next week!

I now have far more confidence in my abilities as a writer, and I consider it to be one of the most important things in my life, perhaps even having the potential to work as a career. I am happy that I can express myself so coherently and with such freedom.

With that, I want to thank all of you for taking the time out of each week to read my ramblings, to give me good feedback, and to show your support. I can only hope that Diary of a Disabled Person continues to flourish.

Wheels by Night: A Short Story.

The setting sun cast a blood red glow around the room, awakening Rusev. Slowly he pushed away his coffin lid and sat upright, watching the last of the light fade into darkness. He reached out to where he had parked his wheelchair the night before, only to find that having left the brakes off it rolled away from his grasp. Rusev sighed, he was never at his best in an evening, and crawled inelegantly out of his coffin towards his wheelchair. Once he was seated in his chair he wheeled across to the fridge and helped himself to leftovers from the night before. He wiped his mouth a habit he had developed since he could no longer rely on mirrors to determine if he had smears of blood around his lips, and then pulled his cloak off the sofa. As he draped the thick fabric around his shoulders it got caught on one of his wheels, and he had to struggle for several minutes to free it. He sighed when he saw yet another tear in the cloak that would need stitching up but that would have to wait. He needed to restock his fridge.

Rusev exited his apartment, locking the door behind him before heading towards the lift. The gothic castles of Transylvania, appealing as they were to any vampire, were not renowned for their accessibility. The closest Rusev had been able to emulate was to live in an apartment block in the shadow of a ruined castle on a hilltop in the centre of England. As he waited for the lift arrive he watched a bat flit past the window, intent on catching the myriad of insects that appeared just after sunset.

When the lift finally arrived the doors scraped open to reveal that it was packed with the large family from the floor above, presumably heading home after a day at the castle. Those that acknowledged Rusev smiled apologetically making no attempt to accommodate him, and Rusev resigned himself to another wait.

Eventually Rusev made it out on to the street and rolled along the uneven pavements, trying to avoid both potholes and people. To make matters more difficult he was travelling up a rather steep slope, and soon his arms burned with lactic acid. He was heading towards the castle which had a dense cluster of trees outside of the walls surrounding the gardens, the perfect place to wait for unsuspecting passers-by, able to see anyone approaching from a great distance due to his keen night-vision. Admittedly the soft soil and partially exposed tree roots made navigating this region particularly difficult, but Rusev had practised such manoeuvres for almost seventy years.

Rusev had to wait an unusually long time before a pair of drunken teenagers stumbled into the woodlands, hoping for a little privacy. He had to prevent himself from tutting and contented himself with thinking “kids these days”. The pair stumbled to the ground, using their coats as a mattress on this chilly evening. Rusev tried to make his move but to his horror realised that he had been waiting so long for someone to arrive that his wheels had sunk into the ground, and he was completely stuck. The commotion as he tried to free himself was enough to alert the teenagers of his presence, who quickly pulled on their half-removed clothes and headed in his direction carrying fallen branches to defend themselves.

“Oh deary me,” Rusev said in the most stereotypically English voice he could, “I’m afraid I’m stuck. I could do with a little assistance if you please.”

The teenagers were momentarily stunned, then dropped their branches, horrified at the thought of beating up a disabled man.

“Oh my god I’m so sorry,” one slurred, “I thought you were like, a pervert, or something.”

“No, no, deary me, no,” Rusev continued, “an ecologist. Not the best choice of career for a wheelchair user, admittedly.”

“So you’re doing some kind of study?” the other teen asked.

“Yes, I’m studying wildlife in managed woodlands close to urban areas at night. You’re not the first people I’ve scared doing this,” Rusev replied.

“Do you need help?”

“Ah, yes, if that isn’t too much bother.”

It took perhaps ten minutes of pushing and pulling, which was difficult to coordinate given the state of the teenagers, before Rusev was finally free.

“Thank you, ladies,” he said, spinning around and heading in the opposite direction, stopping to inspect a particularly interesting tree root along the way.

Rusev found another convenient hiding spot where the ground was firmer so he could avoid any further embarrassments. He was becoming increasingly hungry but he had no choice other than to wait before a late-night dog-walker appeared. This was perfect. The man was clearly tired so would make for an easy catch, and the dog could be used to lure the man into the woods. In fact, the dog had already picked up his sent and was tugging at the leash, eager to explore the woodland. As they approached Rusev snapped a twig and the dog went into a frenzy, dragging its’ owner into the woods. At the right moment Rusev made his move, tripping the man up using his wheels and then hauling him onto his lap in order to reach the jugular.

He took a deep drink and then filled an empty bottle to put in his fridge for later, but was careful not to kill the man. Instead he made a small incision on his little finger, which was scarred from repeatedly doing just that, and wiped his own blood over the wound in the mans’ neck. He watched the bite mark heal, disappearing completely, and let the man fall to the floor unconscious. After reaching down to give the dog a quick pet, he placed a garlic clove in the mans’ hand and rolled away. The man would wake up within ten minutes unable to remember a thing, merely feeling a little light-headed. He would have an inexplicable and intense craving for garlic, and just one small bite of the clove would rid him of vampirism.

Rusev still had another empty bottle to fill, and desired a second, fresh drink, which was when the blood was at it’s best. Now that it was late at night his best bet would be to wait in the shadows of an old oak tree outside the local pub, which he had never seen the inside of due to the step in the doorway.

It took Rusev longer than he had anticipated to reach the shelter of the oak tree, as he had to take long detours on three separate occasions due to the lowered kerbs being blocked by badly parked cars and a set of roadworks. Once he had made it he waited again, his dark cloak camouflaging him in the shadows, and he was grateful when his patience paid off. Three middle-aged men, all talking loudly about a recent football match, wandered out of the pub straight towards Rusev. Half way across the car park two of the men peeled off towards the bus stop while the third one continued in the same direction. Rusev rolled back, careful to remain hidden, and pulled a cigarette from a pocket within his cloak despite the fact that he couldn’t stand the smoke.

“You got a light, mate?” Rusev said as the man walked past.

“Christ, man, you can’t go round scarin’ people like that,” the man tried to recover from the shock.

“Sorry pal, I didn’t mean to scare you that bad,” Rusev replied, “Serious though, ‘ave you got a light?”

“Yeah, yeah, lemme gerrit out me pocket.”

As the man tugged his cigarette lighter out of the inside pocket of his well-worn jacket, Rusev noticed his two compatriots boarding a bus. He held out his hand for the lighter, intentionally fumbling and dropping it as it was passed to him.

“Ah sh-,” Rusev said.

“I got it,” the man bent down, his neck now level with Rusev’s mouth. Rusev made his move and soon he was feeling content, with two full bottles of blood ready to go in his fridge. He healed the mans’ wound and left him a garlic clove, tucked the bottled blood inside his cloak, and set off for home.

Going back down the sloped streets was, if anything, harder than climbing up them. The wheels constantly strained beneath his hands wanting to go faster, and it took most of his strength not to lose control. He was concentrating so hard on not speeding down the hill like an uncontrollable rollercoaster that he didn’t see the gaping pothole in the pavement. Before he had even realised what was going on, his wheels entered the pothole and he was flung forwards. His seatbelt kept him in the chair, but couldn’t stop Rusev’s head clashing hard with his left wheel.

Shaken but not hurt, Rusev slowly sat upright. Nothing appeared to be broken and he could see no obvious injuries. He was, however, perplexed to hear a soft hissing side on his left. Puzzled he looked around, but could see nothing that could be the source of the noise. Shrugging it off as a strange aftereffect of the pothole Rusev tried to move off, but found that where before his wheelchair was like an eager cheetah, now it was more akin to a sluggish elephant. He looked down to inspect the cause of the problem and found to his dismay that his left tire had punctured when his fangs collided with it, complete with a small blood stain surrounding the hole in the rubber.

The wheelchair wasn’t impossible to move, but it took great strength to maintain even the slowest of paces. It now leaned to the left and was inclined to head in that direction; steering it was nigh on impossible. Rusev was just grateful that he had eaten before the tire had punctured, frustrating as it was.

It took him over an hour of slow grunting and sweating along dark and empty streets before he reached his apartment building, by which time the earliest signs of the summer sun were already apparent. As he pushed through the shiny glass doors of the ugly, modern building, the sun began to appear. Hurriedly Rusev pressed the lift button, and cursed it for being so slow. Again and again he pressed it, finding what shelter he could under his cloak. When the lift did arrive it contained a toned man in running gear, with a large sports bag by his side. Rusev couldn’t help but think that if someone was willing to get up at a ridiculous hour to go for a run surely they could manage the stairs, but said nothing.

The man bent to pick up his bag, looking a little curiously at the pale wheelchair user who appeared to be cowering from the sun. As he lifted his bag one of the seams split, and a mess of clothes and sport equipment tumbled out. He smiled apologetically to Rusev, who he had concluded was simply suffering from a particularly terrible hangover, and slowly gathered his things together. Each second felt like a year to Rusev as his skin tingled and then burned under the fierce light of the sun. Even wrapped in his cloak he could feel his skin roasting, and knew he would have some lovely blisters for the next week or so.

Once the man had gathered all his things and exited the lift the doors began to close, and Rusev had to stick his arm between the doors to stop them closing completely. As quickly as he could, which wasn’t at any great speed at all, he pulled into the lift, relieved to have a brief respite from the sun. There were no interruptions as he ascended to his floor, but the progress along the corridor to his flat was hampered by both the flat tire and his burning skin. His trembling hands could barely fit the key in the lock and he struggled to pick up the newspaper from the day before left outside his door by the one neighbour he ever spoke to. He swung the door open and entered his apartment, cursing the fact that he hadn’t put up the new set of blackout curtains yet leaving him once again exposed to sunlight.

He didn’t bother putting the brakes on the wheelchair or taking off his cloak but instead practically fell into his coffin, hauling on the lid after him and relishing in the welcoming darkness. He was perusing the pages of his paper when he remembered that the bottles of blood were still in his pocket, and not in the fridge. Cursing vehemently with every cell in his body Rusev threw the lid off of his coffin, crawled to the fridge and put the bottles inside, before returning to his coffin. His hands and wrists had black scorch-marks etched across them and he had no doubt that his face would too. In one last monumental effort, he clambered inside and replaced the lid of the coffin, and was asleep before he had even picked up his newspaper.

The Disadvantage of Benefits.

Just about every day there is a story in the news about benefits, the money provided by governments to disadvantaged individuals to help make ends meet. The story is usually one of three; a huge fraudster has been caught, someone who clearly needs and deserves the help can’t access it, or benefits to one group of people are being cut yet again. Perhaps my view of these matters is biased but more often than not, the benefits in question are related to illness or disability.

If disability fraud is irritating to the average tax-payer then it is soul-destroying to those with genuine disabilities, because every time one of these stories hits the news you might as well draw a huge target on our backs. The pointing fingers and groundless accusations pile up all too quickly; I can feel total strangers staring at me, and hear them making snide comments when they think I’m out of ear-shot. On a national level, the pressure to make the thousands of disabled people accountable for the crime of just one leads the government to introduce yet more cuts. As with any budget cuts those subjected to them are put through intense stress and anxiety.

During the recent period of cuts in the UK I spent most of my days with a tiny, niggling thought lingering at the back of my mind that I couldn’t get rid of, like an itch somewhere I couldn’t reach. What if my money got cut? Cutting my payments would mean I could no longer afford monthly payments for my wheelchair, and being able to access one through the NHS is pure myth. Even if I did manage to sit through the months of waiting for a referral to the specialist, they would give me a cheap manual chair that I couldn’t push myself, and since I don’t receive any money towards carers I would be housebound. Let’s just say my mental health took a turn for the worse and I know that in other cases, suicide becomes a seemingly viable option.

There is a misconception that Personal Independence Payment, the disability payment scheme in the UK, is money given to disabled people to buy essentials and pay the rent. Personal Independence Payment is there to help people afford carers or equipment to give them enough independence to be able to get a job to pay the bills. I cannot afford to sit idly at home all day living off my benefits; I work, but I need my wheelchair to be able to work. Removing my benefits would simply put me out of work, costing the state even more in the long run. It hardly fills me with pride that I need what essentially boils down to sympathy money from a government I disagree with on just about everything, simply so I can have a life.

I know that many strangers see the wheelchair and immediately think “unemployed scrounger”. I could stop and tell these people the truth. I could let them know that they are wrong and that they are prejudiced and discriminatory too. I could ask them why they didn’t have better things to do than judge someone for having some time on their hands. However this would require them to speak to me first to tell me what they thought my wheelchair represented, and these people would never speak to someone they assumed to be a fraudster. They would also, ironically, take offense to the fact that I read their expressions and assumed that they were thinking these things. It would serve no purpose.

Writing it down, on the other hand, doesn’t require someone to initiate the conversation first…

Another Successful Orbit Around the Sun.

2017 has been one of the most significant years of my entire life, and has also been one of the strangest. From exhilarating highs to devastating lows, I will find much of it difficult to forget.

The year opened on a low. My maternal grandfather had died just days before Christmas and less than two weeks later I started suffering from the symptoms of what turned out to be gall stones, meaning I couldn’t even attend the funeral. I spent pretty much the entirety of January struggling to eat properly, and felt permanently sick. Then, in early February, I had to have my gall bladder removed in an emergency operation as there was a risk of it bursting and making the gall stones everywhere stones. This was my first experience of surgery which was followed up quickly by a second when the symptoms continued, and one rogue gall stone was found wedged in my pancreatic duct. I was not amused.

I started to feel a little better as Easter approached, although with my dissertation deadline and final year exams steadily creeping closer, I couldn’t really rest as much as I would have liked. I also had another issue on my mind that was adding to my stress. I knew I was bisexual, but the fear of coming out to friends and family was over-whelming. Eventually, with Jarred’s support, I slowly told those around me about my sexuality and was pleasantly surprised to find that most people didn’t bat an eyelid. It appeared I had been making a mountain out of a molehill.

There was also the matter of finding an affordable and accessible flat to rent from the middle of June onward, which given the inaccessibility of all the letting agents proved more difficult than even I could have imagined. However, once we started viewing flats it didn’t take long to find the perfect one. I put the deposit down less than an hour after viewing the flat, and then started on the complicated business of obtaining tenancy references to prove that Jarred and I were suitable tenants.

My final exams came and went and a few days later, I turned 21. The day was particularly warm and sunny, with a refreshing summer breeze. We had a picnic in one of the local parks, and then went to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2 at the cinema across the road. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, which was no surprise as I could happily have watched 2 hours of baby Groot dancing anyway, and then went to a gastro-pub for a good meal. Tired, Jarred and myself returned home, and crashed in front of the TV for a few hours. A couple of days later we went on a shopping spree with my parents to continue the celebration, and had a thoroughly good time.

21st Old Bar.jpg

The week before Jarred and I were due to move into our new flat we attended a local wrestling show, where in the interval he proposed to me. After recovering from the great surprise that someone would actually want to spend time in my company having already spent many hours in my company, I said yes. My engagement ring was a ring given to me on my 18th birthday by my godmother, which had been picked out by my godfather before his death when I was 12. The ring is beautiful, and it’s sentimental value far out-weighs anything that could be purchased.

Moving into our new flat was, unsurprisingly, very stressful. My parents helped us move some of our luggage across town in their car, but the rest was carried over box by box to save the cost of a removal van. After some difficulty with the keys, or more precisely the fact that we were presented with keys that didn’t work so we couldn’t enter the apartment block, we took our luggage inside and unpacked. As we unpacked we found a few unwelcome surprises, such as one blind unable to be opened or closed properly, and another that simply suicide-dived off the wall at random intervals. The freezer door also fell off whenever it was opened, and half of the lights didn’t work. Over the next couple of months the problems were gradually fixed, and slowly the flat became home.

The day we moved house was also stressful because that afternoon, I had a job interview. So, once everything was in our new flat and the keys to our respective old flats had been handed in, I smartened up and went to the interview. Considering it was my first ever job interview I felt that I had performed rather well, which was confirmed a few days later when I received a phone call in the middle of the supermarket, letting me know that I had the job. This was a relief, as job hunting had been made particularly problematic by the fact that most of the jobs I applied for turned out not to have wheelchair access, making the already difficult task of finding a job seem impossible.

A month after this I got my first ever paid writing assignment, published by the American magazine Cracked.com. This did wonders for the viewership of this blog and my Facebook page, and very quickly a small but loyal fan base was developed. The day after this article was published I graduated from university with a first class honours degree. I was riding on one of the biggest highs of my life; I had a good degree, one proper job, one side-lines job, and a fiancé. All the stress and misery of the first few months of the year evaporated.

Mike and me

As the summer months passed I met Jarred’s grandmother, sister, mother, and little brother for the first time ever, and also had the opportunity to re-unite with Jarred’s other brother and his father and step-mother. I was welcomed into the family with open arms, and was relieved to find that most of them seemed to like me despite my callous Northern mannerisms. Jarred met my godmother and my maternal grandmother, both of whom enjoyed his company. At the end of August came my parent’s silver wedding anniversary, which they chose to spend with us much to our delight, sharing with them a favourite restaurant of ours. Then, as our own little addition to the family, we adopted a gorgeous black-and-white hamster who we called Tribble after the creatures from Star Trek.

Peep.jpg

Once families had been met, it was time to organise the wedding. After one potential wedding venue ignored our requests for more information on their facilities, we turned to the Royal Armouries. This museum is set on the banks of the canal, in a modern building with great sweeping halls and glass walls. We both fell in love with the wedding hall and the reception venue, the latter of which had windows overlooking the houseboats on the canal, and booked our wedding for the end of 2018. We had a bridesmaid, best man, ring bearer, and ushers in place soon afterwards.

As the end of the year approached I became increasingly stressed as I hadn’t yet started my job. After what seemed like an endless stream of paperwork, I was finally given my contract. I would be working as a host and administrator in the NHS, a humble job, but one that would give me the experience to move onto better things if I so desired. I signed and returned the contract, and in November attended the compulsory training session. I started working in January of 2018.

Finally, as the year drew to a close and the festivities of bright Christmas lights and a special market were slowly dismantled, I could reflect on the year and all that it had brought. I had faced pain and illness like I had never known before, but also many great successes in a very short time period. Indeed, while the end of 2018 will be highly exciting, I did hope that for a few months at least, my life wouldn’t be quite so chaotic.

Happy New Year!

Spaced Out: A Short Story.

“Well, you are more than qualified to take the job Mr Benson, but as I’m sure you are aware your case is a little…,” the interviewer paused to find the right word, “…unusual. We have a few questions about how this might affect your ability to undertake the role that under other circumstances would be deemed insensitive perhaps, but we mean no harm in asking these questions, I assure you.” The middle-aged, balding man in the overly tight grey suit was sat bolt upright, his interlinked hands resting on the desk before him.

“I had expected as much,” Tom said in reply. He had been wondering for the entirety of the interview when the elephant in the room would become a topic of discussion.

“Then you will forgive me for asking why exactly you use a wheelchair?”

“I was involved in a land mine accident while serving as an electrical engineer in the army, and the damage to the spine has resulted in paralysis from the waist downwards,” Tom did not to like to brood on the accident, which still gave him horrific and very realistic nightmares almost five years on.

“Your upper body is in no way affected?”

“Bar some rather nasty scarring, no. I believe myself to be rather lucky is this regard.”

“And your intellect?”

“Pardon?” Tom was shocked and a little incredulous. He had anticipated questions about his physical abilities, but to query his mental capacities was simply insulting.

“Your intellect. Your ability to think rapidly in stressful situations and to solve complex problems. Were they in any way impaired by the accident?”

“Of course not, my brain is in my head, not my legs,” as soon as the words had slipped out of his mouth Tom regretted them, fearing they made him sound arrogant and insolent.

“I apologise profusely if I have caused any offense,” the interviewer did not look in the least bit sorry.

“My impairment is physical only,” Tom replied more calmly.

“Indeed. So, how would you move around the space station?”

“Propelling myself with my arms, just like I do every day on Earth. That will not be a problem.”

“OK. And can you give me a reason why we should risk sending someone disabled into space instead of someone able-bodied please?”

Tom smirked, “You won’t have to worry about the effects of microgravity on my leg muscles, which have atrophied anyway.” He was pleased to observe the flicker of a smile flit across the interviewers’ face.

“Well, thank you for coming My Benson. We’ll be in touch,” the interviewer stood up and leant over the desk to shake Toms’ hand, before crossing the room to hold open the door for him.

“Thank you,” Tom said as he wheeled out of the room.

***

Nine months later Tom followed his crewmates, Helena and Ulrik, as they crossed the gangway to the relatively small rocket, with the crowd staring up at them from a distance. Only detectable by the flashes of light emitting from their cameras Tom knew that the focus of the photographers would be on him, the first disabled astronaut ever. Helena and Ulrik clambered into the shuttle before him, and then helped Tom shuffle inelegantly from his wheelchair onto his seat, which currently faced the sky. This feeling was not entirely alien to Tom, who had on several occasions over-turned his wheelchair in an encounter with a small step, usually while inebriated.

The doors were closed and as he strapped himself in, Tom watched as a technician rolled his wheelchair back along the gangway; it was strange to think that he would not see it for three months. He almost missed it.

The intercom crackled into life and ground control confirmed that all was ready for take-off. As the countdown began the engines rumbled into life, the vibrations causing Toms’ legs to bounce gently against the seat in a comical manner. Finally the Earth moved away, and as the smoke cleared they got one last look at the ground control centre beneath them before the Earth started to shrink at an alarming rate.

“Strange to think that outer space will be more accessible than my local pub,” Tom said.

It was several hours before the rocket got into orbit, and the sudden loss of gravity as this happened caused Tom’s legs to start flailing uncontrollably while his upper body was still strapped in. Tom unfastened his seat belt faster than Helena and Ulrik, perhaps because they were merely fancier versions of his wheelchair belt. He drifted away from his seat, and almost immediately managed to kick a button on one of the many control panels around him by accident. Thankfully it was just the stereo, and the sounds of David Bowie filled the room.

“Alright, very funny, who put Space Oddity in the CD player?” Tom asked, turning round to face Helena and Ulrik, who were now floating in the tin can, far above the world. Ulrik had a grin spreading from ear to ear plastered across his face, while Helena was managing to propel herself around the cabin by laughter alone.

A few hours later the rocket docked with the International Space Station, a complicated process requiring extensive communication between those already on the station, ground control, and Tom, Helena, and Ulrik themselves. Eventually, after dealing with an uncooperative airlock that had to be switched off and on again, they entered the ISS. As they moved through the doorway Tom got his ankle caught on the hatch and Ulrik had to rescue him, but Tom could be independent in everything else he did. For the first time since the accident he was no different from anyone else.

***

Two months into his time at the ISS, Tom was woken with a start by loud alarms and flashing red lights. Helena and Ulrik were already at the central control panel trying to assess what had gone wrong, and he joined them as soon as he had disentangled himself from the sleeping bag strapped to the wall. Dave, another member of the crew, was already trying to hold a discussion with ground control, who’s panicked voices could only just be heard over the alarm.

“We hit some unexpected debris out of nowhere and it’s damaged the cooling system, the station needs immediate attention!” Dave yelled, “Ulrik, Tom, get into your spacesuits, you’re going to have to do a space-walk!”

“Really, a space-walk?” Tom raised one eyebrow.

“This isn’t the time for jokes,” Dave said sharply, as Helena managed to silence the alarm, “Helena will help operate the air locks. I will stay on communications. Tom, you’re in charge of the electronics. Move!”

Tom didn’t need to be told twice. Getting into his suit was rather difficult given that not only were the trousers floating around aimlessly, but so were his legs. With a little help from Ulrik he managed to get dressed, and then made his way over to the airlock where Helena was waiting. Safety lines and hooks were put into place and the tools needed for the repair job were fastened to them by another safety line. Then they were in the airlock as it depressurised, and finally moved out onto the side of the station.

“The site of impact is behind the nearest solar panel on your left,” Dave’s voice sounded tinny over the earpieces in the space-suits.

Hand-over-hand, always having a least one line tethered to the station for safety, Ulrik and Tom made their painfully slow progress towards the damaged area. The sensation of his legs weightlessly drifting outwards made Tom a little uncomfortable, but it wasn’t until his leg got caught on the solar panel that he had any real issues. Unable to move his leg to wriggle free, he had to call Ulrik over to help, but this time it was not as simple as when he got his leg stuck when entering the space station. This time they had less than half an hour before the sun re-appeared, when they would want to be back inside the station unable to do any more repairs until the sun disappeared again. In the rush Toms’ safety line became entangled with Ulriks’, which took a further minute to sort out.

Eventually they made it to the impact site, which essentially looked like a bowl containing a salad of shards of metal and plastic. Wires poked through broken casing, some even releasing the odd spark. Both men began to tinker, trying to make sense of the mess before them while listening to Dave’s instructions. It hardly seemed like a couple of minutes since they had begun this task than Helena was calling them back into the airlock as the sunrise approached.

Once they were back inside the station Tom took his helmet off to have a better discussion with Dave.

“How the hell are we going to fix that?” he asked.

“The stations’ sensors are providing ground control with some data, so we’ll get better intel from them shortly. It looks stable for the time being, but it’s going to get really hot in here after a while in the sun. If I were you, I’d get ready to leave the airlock the second the sun disappears again.”

“Yes, sir,” Tom said without thinking, feeling almost as if he was back in the army.

At sunset Tom and Ulrik once again headed for the damaged area, a little quicker this time now that they knew exactly where it was. Dave fed them information piece by piece as he talked with ground control, while Tom worked on the wiring and Ulrik tried to repair the exterior of the ship. The gloves they wore were incredibly cumbersome, and Tom found himself growing increasingly frustrated that his hands felt as disabled as the rest of him.

As he fumbled with the delicate electronics he managed to reconnect the damaged circuits, and he heard Dave’s voice in his ear; “The cooling system is functioning again. I’m sending out some spare casing via the airlock; I don’t think you’ll be able to repair the damaged casing. Collect it for Ulrik.”

Awkwardly Tom made his way back towards the airlock, continually trapping his legs between himself and the space station until he looked like a human pretzel. He cursed under his breath, unable to fathom why exactly Dave thought he would be happy to fetch and carry items on command when his legs would quite literally have been more useful had they not been present. Helena had already placed the casing in the airlock ready for him to reach as soon as the door opened, which was a relief, and then he had to crawl over the ship back to where Ulrik was still at work.

“It’s flat-pack but there’s no Allen key,” Tom said as he handed it over, a futile attempt at lightening the atmosphere despite the fact that there wasn’t one.

Eventually the replacement panel had been screwed into place and the only sign of an impact with space debris was a collection of scratches surrounding the repaired section. Ground control confirmed that the sensors were now producing perfectly normal readings, and Tom and Ulrik made their way back to the airlock. In less of a rush, Tom was able to keep his legs from becoming as cumbersome as they had been before, and even managed to avoid getting caught on any protruding elements of the station. A few minutes after re-entering the ISS, the sun re-appeared from behind the Earth, and a soft orange light flooded the room.

***

The return trip to Earth was mostly uneventful. Tom was now used to the lack of gravity and was less prone to knocking things over accidentally; in fact, he made the most of his last few hours of not needing a wheelchair. Just before they were due to feel the full force of gravity once more, he made his way to his seat and strapped himself in as ordered. Ground control had warned all the astronauts on the dangers of not being seated when gravity kicked in, including blacking out due the sudden draining of blood from the brain, or injuries from colliding with the floor. The story of how one unfortunate astronaut had broken his leg had been repeated often enough, but Tom remained adamant that stepping on a land-mine was still far more risky.

The fall to Earth was broken by the deployment of parachutes, but the capsule containing Tom and his colleagues still landed in the sea with enough force to plunge it underwater before bobbing back up to the surface. All of them, Tom included, were feeling the effects of gravity now. Tom could feel his heart beating harder to push blood up to the brain against gravity, something it hadn’t had to deal with for three months, and he felt dazed and tired as his brain tried to deal with the slower provision of oxygen.

It did not take long for the rescue team to arrive, hauling them onto a boat and taking them to shore. As they approached the harbour they could see a crowd gathering on the harbour wall, and when they were closer still, they could hear them cheering and clapping. Once the boat had docked, Helena Ulrik, and Tom were all placed in wheelchairs since standing upright with gravity sickness could result in fainting, and made their way to the jetty where members of ground control awaited them. Tom had no issue controlling his chair, reuniting with it as if it were an old friend, but both Helena and Ulrik required some help manoeuvring their wheelchairs along the gangway, with Ulrik getting stuck on the railings at least twice.

“Is this what it’s like for you all the time?” Helena called after Tom.

“Pretty much,” he responded, “you wait until we get among the crowd and have a child’s point of view.”

As they moved forward, pushing through the crowd that engulfed them, Ulrik and Helena ran over several people and eventually resorted to following Tom in single file through the crowd, akin to a mother duck and her offspring. It amused Tom that in this scenario his disability was actually to his benefit, something that before had only ever been true of discounted concert tickets when people felt sorry for him.

They headed towards a coach that awaited them and in doing so passed a newspaper stand in the midst of the crowd with a teenage boy trying to sell papers to the passers-by, probably earning less than a single paper cost. Tom picked one up and as he made his awkward way onto the coach via a very slow and noisy lift, he began to read. He had a lot to catch up on.

51. IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT’S CHRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISTMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASSS!!!!!!!!!!!

Being the over-grown child in an over-sized pram that I am, it should come as no surprise that I particularly enjoy Christmas. I always have done so and I’m not going to let disability stop me now.

When I was a small child one of my favourite things to do in December was to go and see the Christmas lights displayed around Bradford city centre. The colours and patterns caught my attention, especially the series depicting the “12 days of Christmas” down the steep hill between all the shops. This is no different in Leeds, where the city centre is on my door step (figuratively speaking). I rather enjoy bundling up against the cold and drifting slowly around the streets looking at the lights, and then returning home to a warm drink and a hot water bottle.

Once I had begun to use my wheelchair on a regular basis I decked it in tinsel of varying colours each year, and still do. Wherever I go it seems to make people smile, especially children, so the small hassle of sticking the tinsel on the chair is worth it. Combined with my Santa hat, Christmas-themed earrings, and Rudolph-scrunchie in my hair, I look faintly ridiculous, but no one is going to start bullying some disabled in public so I get away with it.

The majority of my Christmas shopping is done on the German Christmas Market which takes over Millenium Square in the city centre for the entirety of advent every single year. Most of the stalls are accessible, with only one or two having small steps up to them, and the wide open spaces between stalls is relatively easy to navigate. The aura of festivity in the lights, sounds, and smells is infectious, particularly in a light snow shower. One of my favourite photographs was taken at the German market in 2016, complete with my beloved polar bear hat perched on my head. I had to borrow my mum’s scooter because my wheelchair had a flat tire.

Christmas Market

Some of the stalls sell traditional German food, including some of the best Frankfurters I have ever tasted, washed down with a warm cup of mulled wine or mead. I have been told that the beer tent is rather nice, but as I’m not a fan of beer I tend to ignore that one. Several stalls are purely dedicated to various forms of confectionary, my favourite being the one with fruit skewers dipped in chocolate. The strawberries coated in dark chocolate are something akin to heaven on a stick. There is even one stall entirely dedicated to fudge in a range of flavours so wide it would bankrupt me to try them all.

Aside from the food there is still plenty to see. Some stalls sell trinkets, candles, and ornaments. Some sell jewellery, bags, hats, and scarves. Others sell hand-made traditional Christmas decorations. There are also two stalls of toys, one with teddy bears in every animal imaginable including a bat, and the other selling wooden toys like jigsaws and building blocks. It’s exceptionally easy to find a Christmas present for everyone on a market so diverse.

As for Christmas day itself, I would usually spend the day in my parents’ house on holiday from school and university. Church is often too much hassle due to accessibility issues so we tend to stay indoors opening presents, listening to music, watching TV, and sharing good food and drink. This year will be different; I will be hosting Christmas in the flat I share with my fiancé. This also means I will be cooking Christmas dinner for the first time, so let’s just say it will be experimental. All the same, it will be great for my parents not to have to cook, and they can still be home in time to watch the Christmas edition of Call the Midwife.

I truly hope you all have a wonderful Christmas.