How To Train Your Wheelchair: Part 2.

We entered the restaurant by wandering down a narrow alleyway, the ceiling of which was completely covered in fairy-lights. We settled in with some cocktails as we waited for our evening meal, soaking up the warmth & atmosphere of the place. Eventually we were able to face the cold again, & on our way back to the hotel we stopped at a stack of shipping containers that had been gentrified into a bar with street food.

We were surprised to find that this stack of shipping containers was accessible, including the top floor, albeit via a somewhat rickety lift. We enjoyed some red wine with an old floor tom-tom (drum) for a table, & listened to the live music. As the live session ended, so did our wine, & we decided to make our way back to the hotel. We would have been there much sooner had the lift not got stuck. The poor staff were almost as mortified as I was as they got out the manual crank, reset the system, & were able to get it working again.

Eventually we were safely back in the hotel in time to catch Live at The Apollo.

After a comfortable night’s sleep I woke up at around the same time, & the morning routine was repeated. We made our way back to the Shambles, which marks the start of the York Cat Trail. Since the 19th century cat sculptures have appeared on buildings all around the city centre, which have been turned into a spot-them-all trail. We wove our way between buildings, past shops, over cobbles, & onto bridges, managing to find the majority of the sculptures. Having been outside for quite some time we were very cold, so stopped at a nearby coffee shop before heading to the Christmas Market.

The Christmas Market was fairly busy even mid-week, but that didn’t stop us exploring the many stalls that lined the street. Once again we were outside for quite some time, & by lunchtime we were ready for some warmth again, so headed to a traditional Tudor pub that I could actually get into. What followed was one of the nicest meals I have ever had.

Full to the brim with delicious food, we decided to spend the afternoon exploring local museums. The Dig, an archaeological museum, was lacking in content but not school-children, so we didn’t stay there long before heading to the York Army Museum.

The lift required a member of staff to operate, but to my relief they were prompt, friendly, & capable. We were down into the museum within seconds, & wandered slowly around the exhibits. I’m currently playing a Role-Playing Game set in World War 1, & Jarred being something of a history nerd was able to identify which of the rifles on display had been assigned to my character. I was a little unsettled to see real Nazi artefacts from the second world war on display, but then a letter in another cabinet caught my eye. This letter was written by none other then Florence Nightingale, who almost single-handedly revolutionised modern medicine, & in her later years is suspected to have suffered from the same illness that ails me. Safe to say she’s something of a hero to me. She also had the handwriting of a medic – completely illegible, although fortunately there was a typed version next to it.

The final display case focused on modern warfare (not the video games), including stealth gear which you could try on. Obviously, I had to try it on, albeit with Jarred’s assistance. I present to you a gliding hedge;

Sat in the York Army Museum in my wheelchair, covered in various military stealth clothes. I look ridiculous.

When we had made our way around the museum, Jarred had to go upstairs & let the receptionist know that we were ready to leave, but again I was fortunate in that he was prompt in his response. Once we were outside in the cold again, we decided to make our way back to the hotel room. We played another round of The Viking Game, then headed back out to the stack of shipping containers.

It took me a while to choose what I wanted from all the street food on offer, but eventually I settled on some properly-done fried chicken with barbecue sauce. We didn’t venture upstairs this time as I was still wary of the lift.

After our meal we headed towards the nearest accessible pub, which unsurprisingly turned out to be a Wetherspoon’s. A couple of pints of Strongbow Dark Fruits (what? I like it!) & a Christmas dessert later, we were ready to head back to the hotel again where we watched another episode of Live at The Apollo before turning in for the night.

The next morning was the day to go home, & we begrudgingly packed our bags (including Kontroller Kitty), & checked out. We were allowed to store our bags in a safe-room however, as we wanted to get brunch before heading home. We returned to the restaurant from the first night of our little holiday, having enjoyed it very much at the time. All too soon it was time to collect our bags & head to the bus stop. By late afternoon we were back home, Kontroller Kitty had returned to her usual position on the shelf by the PlayStation, & everything was unpacked. We were tired but relaxed, knowing that we both still had a few days before returning to work. We had conserved a little energy though, as the following day we planned to put up the Christmas decorations!

How to Train Your Wheelchair: Part 1.

After a small but much-needed lie-in on a cold Monday morning, it was time to make a move. By which I mean, of course, that my husband provided breakfast in bed. Then it was time to pack. For a short-while the flat looked like it had been ransacked by a troop of toddlers, but soon enough the bags were packed & it was time to go. I went to sit in the warmth of the reception while Jarred locked up.  He seemed to take a while to do so, but I guessed he was just being thorough, checking everything was packed & that all the heaters & lamps were switched off.

We made our way through town towards the bus station, stopping for lunch along the way. The bus turned up perfectly on time & soon we were underway. Having only stopped at two stops along the entire journey, we were in York city centre within the hour. We made our way to the hotel, entering as the clock struck 3 pm, our earliest checking-in time. Without a fuss the staff checked us in, & we made our way up in the lift to our room.

I parked my new wheelchair in the perfectly-sized spot between the desk & a set of drawers, & began to unpack. Suddenly, behind me, I heard a high-pitched voice.

“Are we nearly there yet?”

I turned around & immediately doubled-over with laughter, which continued so long my husband began to think he might have actually killed me. There on the bed sat a cat-shaped Halloween basket we had picked up the year before, which we couldn’t bear to put away for a whole year so assigned it the role of storing our PlayStation controllers, nick-named Kontroller Kitty. Due to our rather ridiculous sense of humour, Kontroller Kitty has a voice & personality, & now it appears she sneaks into our luggage to come on holiday with us. At least I now understood why Jarred had taken so long locking up.

Kontroller Kitty in ger usual place atop a pine shelf at home, with controllers poking out. She's plain black, with tiny ears & paws.

I assigned Kontroller Kitty the temporary role of medicine dispensing kitty, & placed her on top of the chest of drawers by my wheelchair. It didn’t take particularly long to unpack to rest of our luggage, neither of us being the type to pack the kitchen sink (just Halloween decorations in November).

It was late afternoon, & as the sun began to set we decided to go for a wander along the banks of the River Ouse, which was almost full-to-bursting at this time of year. It was cold enough for a thin layer of ice to have formed in places, & the few geese that remained looked thoroughly fed up.

We ambled along until it had gone dark & then turned around & wandered back into the city, where we found a cosy little restaurant not far from our hotel. After a delightful meal we made our way back to the hotel, played a round of Set A Watch (a cooperative board game that I highly recommend if you enjoy role-playing games), before desperately searching for something entertaining on terrestrial TV. Not having a TV license & only really using Netflix & the WWE Network means we are used to watching what we want, when we want it, without adverts. We settled on an old episode of Live at The Apollo which I had seen before, but was entertaining none-the-less.

When that finished we went to bed, & were pleasantly surprised to discover that our bed was actually a double, & not two singles pushed together, as is the case in most accessible hotel rooms. God forbid disabled people have relationships and all that.

It was 8 am when I woke up, & as usual Jarred was awake before me. After coffee & some breakfast biscuits, we both showered (not together, you dirty-minded swine), got dressed, & went out into the city. On our way into town we found a Medieval Guild Hall, which looked as if it belonged in a Dungeons & Dragons game. Even more surprisingly, despite being built in 1357, both floors of the hall were fully accessible (take that, listed excuses). I don’t think I learned much from the exhibits as I was so taken aback to even get through the door, but it was an enjoyable experience none-the-less.

We made our way through the city centre towards York Minster, which it being graduation day was excessively busy. We browsed a few shops & found the street food market to one side of the Shambles. I sunk my teeth into a savoury Danish crepe & non-alcoholic mulled wine, while Jarred went for some African lamb sausages on top of a pile of brightly coloured vegetables & hummus.

Looking up at one of the towers of York Minster from street level, in the morning sun. The detail of the windows & architecture is clearly visible.

After lunch we browsed a few more shops before heading to our pre-booked slot at the Jorvic centre. The smell hit as soon as we entered the building, but wasn’t entirely as unpleasant as some would have you believe, & we made our way downstairs into the waiting hall. This had a glass floor, underneath which was a scaled-down replica of the dig-site which uncovered Viking settlements in the area several decades ago.

We were told to wait for the technical team by the very friendly greeter, but predictably by the time they showed up the one wheelchair-accessible cart had already gone past. We were told to wait another 10 – 15 minutes, & this time when someone showed up on time, they told us we needed to go to another entrance for wheelchair loading which the cart had already gone past. We made our way to the other entrance, where the technical team consoled us by telling us that the wait was so long because only 1 in 20 carts was accessible. Quite how I stopped myself from saying that the wait had far more to do with people not turning up & not keeping us informed, I don’t know.

Once we were on the ride the experience was much more enjoyable. The animatronics were perhaps a little shaky, but the set-piece itself was extremely detailed. One of the people was even disabled, an inclusion that took me by surprise. They had a variety of animals too including rats, cats, dogs, chickens, & birds of prey among the exhibits. For someone who knows next to nothing about history, it was actually really informative.

After the ride we explored the gallery, where I’m only marginally ashamed to report that I was drawn to the real human skeletons. One of the skeletons had a misaligned hip & other malformations, & had been the inspiration for the disabled animatronic on the ride. Nothing will ever quite top accurately diagnosing a skeleton with rickets long before getting close enough to read the sign, as I did a few years back, though.

In the gift shop we picked up a copy of The Viking Game, a game that is something like a combination of chess & draughts, being played by some of the animatronics on the ride. We went home, played a few rounds of our newly bought game, & then headed back out into the cold for our evening meal.

I Think, Therefore I Am Intelligent.

I’m blonde. I’m from Yorkshire. I’m disabled. By any stereotype I should be so lacking in intelligence as to effectually be brain-dead. However, considering that I have a degree I would hope that the opposite is the case; if not, I have wasted far too much money to bear thinking about. Despite the evidence that I am, in fact, an intelligent life form, many people see that I am sat down on some wheels and assume that this somehow drains the knowledge from my brain. I don’t know how or why this assumption has come to be, but it has, and it’s as annoying as a mosquito with a vuvuzela up its backside.

Recently, I ended up in hospital with severe pains around my rib cage and abdomen, which turned out to be gall stones rattling around inside of me like some kind of fleshy maraca. I needed emergency surgery as the case was acute, but when I met with the surgeons before my operation, my mind was not on the procedure. I wasn’t even sat in my wheelchair and they were talking to me like I was two, and as someone studying nutrition, I am perfectly aware of the implications and treatment for gall stones. I took great delight in halting their explanation of what the surgery entailed for my entrails, and described it to them using the full medical term. They looked moderately surprised but to their credit took it within their stride and laughed; it was only then that I realised I probably shouldn’t mock someone about to perform surgery on me.

The surgery was performed successfully, or so they thought, until the pains returned a few days after having the operation. Several scans later they found one last little blighter wedged in the bile duct, and an endoscopy was performed to remove it. My stay in hospital was longer this time, allowing me to develop a system for getting doctors to treat me as an equal; I read “intelligent” books including “On the Origin of the Species” by Charles Darwin and “The Double Helix” by Dr J. Watson, and also kept a puzzle book by the side of the uncomfortable bed. The change in the doctor’s attitudes towards me was remarkable, but as soon as I got back into my wheelchair the original treatment resumed. Had I had the energy at the time I would have taken great delight in sitting in my wheelchair all day while reading one of those books just to confuse them.

I should mention that it isn’t just doctors who treat me like this, but this is something I face most days from total strangers. For example when I was wearing my baggy university hoodie one day, the woman behind me in a queue at the coffee shop asked me if it were my boyfriends’. I remarked that for all she knew I could have been a lesbian and not to make such shallow assumptions about people. The man behind her in the queue found my comment particularly amusing, which embarrassed the woman even further.

Whenever I encounter such treatment, after I have dealt with the situation I often wonder if Professor Stephen Hawking ever has to deal with this. If anyone could disprove the association between disability and stupidity then it’s him, yet I still face this issue regularly and I know that the situation is similar for other disabled people. It’s utter madness.

A Pub Roll

One of the most common aspects of student life is the pub crawl; going from one pub to the next and getting shamelessly drunk along the way. The most popular of these in Leeds is the Otley Run, which goes through 15 pubs and is usually themed.

My personal favourite of all the themes I’ve seen was a Donald Trump theme, where a group of approximately 20 men staggered through the door of a bar in the student union, dressed in suits with cheap red ties and false blonde wigs. The news was being broadcast on a television behind the bar, and when the president appeared on the screen, the entire group started roaring and jumping up and down in their drunken state. However, much as I would like to join in with such an event, there is one small but significant problem; over half of the pubs have steps into them, and wheelchairs cannot levitate like Daleks.

In contrast to my predicament, I am not prepared to sit aside and be excluded from this. I decided to take action and designed my own pub crawl, the pub roll. Jarred and myself started in the students union, in the modern bar called the Terrace, before heading down to the basement to sit in the cosy and traditional Old Bar.

Image description: A selfie of myself & my husband as students. I'm wearing a navy blue & white striped jumper & blue dungarees, & Jarred is wearing a black University of Leeds hoodie.

After a couple of drinks we headed out into the brisk Winter night, and wandered down to Dry Dock, a bar stylised to look like a boat beached on a mound of grass. Much to my surprise the bouncer held the door open for me, and did the same on the way out, wishing me well as he did so.

I would like to think that although I was a tad tipsy no one could tell, as I did not have to face the troubling task of balancing on two feet, and could rely on six wheels instead.

We crossed the main road and entered City Bar, which was in the union of the rival (and inferior) university, and then headed up to a branch of Wetherspoon’s called the Stick or Twist.

Image description: a similar selfie taken later in the evening at another pub.

When we were done there, we meandered slowly down to another Wetherspoon’s. By the time we were done there, I was seeing three of everything, so instead of progressing onto the Botanist as planned, we dragged ourselves home. Trying to drive my wheelchair in a straight line was something of a challenge, but the quiet streets posed no threat to unsuspecting pedestrians.

I was proud to have done something about the Otley Run situation, that being getting drunk in the name of social justice. It’s always good to know that with a little extra thought such issues can be overcome and it is worthy of note that the shops, pubs, and other venues that make themselves accessible are the ones to receive my money.

 

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.