Have you booked assistance?

Have you booked assistance? These have to be 4 of my least favourite words in the English language (or any other language for that matter). Admittedly, train travel isn’t always easy for anyone at the best of times. I know that sitting in a crowded carriage with a load of strangers isn’t most people’s idea of fun. However, having a disability tends to add a little more of a challenge.

I’ve long been used to the requirement that you have to book a ramp and wheelchair space on a train at least 24 hours before you’d like to travel. This situation is not helped by the fact that someone, somewhere has decreed that having two wheelchair spaces per train is sufficient (one in standard class, one in 1st class). Although I’m normally pretty good at booking (I’m practically on first name terms with the Cross Country operators), yesterday I forgot. Even so, I made sure I turned up the obligatory 20 minutes before departure, feeling more than a little apprehensive.

As I came onto the platform, I spotted two other wheelchair users waiting for the same train. With something a sinking feeling, I approached the nearest assistant. After explaining the situation and admitting that I had committed the cardinal sin of not booking a wheelchair space in advance, I was promptly informed that it was likely the train guard would ‘throw me off the train’ even if they succeeded in putting a ramp down for me to get on. He then went on to say that the guard would not move the train until I got off, before adding rather unnecessarily, ‘it’s health and safety, he’s not going to risk his job for you, is he?’ In response to my suggestion that maybe throwing someone off a train simply because they happen to use a wheelchair perhaps wasn’t the best approach, he bluntly stated ‘those are the rules’.

What if there was a ‘rule’ that only 2 people of a certain race could travel on a train at any one time? Or a by law which asserted that only two foreigners were able to travel on a train at once? On second thoughts, maybe I shouldn’t give UKIP any new policy ideas… Seriously, though, it was one of the most unpleasant and degrading conversations I’ve been forced to have. There was somehow a free wheelchair space but it had been helpfully blocked up by luggage. I know that wheelchair spaces on trains to make great luggage racks but they actually make even better spaces for wheelchairs.

As it happened, the actual crew on the train couldn’t have been more helpful and helped to move all of the luggage, but the attitude of the man at the station had added unnecessary stress to what was supposed to be a fun day watching Aston Villa (before you say anything, I’m aware that ‘Aston Villa’ and ‘fun’ don’t often appear in the same sentence). Even then, the drama wasn’t over yet. Just as I’d begun to think the worst had passed as I settled down to reading Harry Potter on my Kindle and enjoyed the biscuits which had come about from my surprise upgrade to 1st class, a lady approached me. Without a word, she dumped her inexplicably large suitcase right at my feet, ingeniously placed to completely block my exit. I quickly explained the situation to the very helpful guard  who moved the monster suitcase, although I did get extremely evil looks from the lady involved for the remainder of the journey.

All of the anxiety caused yesterday was totally unnecessary. Wheelchair users should be able to be as spontaneous as anyone else. The worry over whether or not you will be able to board a train could be easily avoided if more train companies had seats which flipped up and could be used as wheelchair spaces when necessary and regular seats when not. Casually explaining to someone that they face being removed from a train because of their disability is offensive and wrong. Secondly, people need to realise that luggage does not belong in wheelchair spaces (the clue’s kind of in the name). I’m still going to travel by train and I do really appreciate the staff who were especially kind yesterday. It’s just that I’d rather wheelchair users were always treated as welcome passengers rather than a nuisance or just a ‘health and safety risk’.

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How do you solve a problem like Sunday evenings?

I’ve got to admit it. I’m not a massive fan of Sunday evenings. You don’t really know what to do with them. They just sit there pretending to be part of the weekend whereas in reality they’re just that annoying little bridge between the weekend and the start of a new week. Just a matter of minutes ago the whole 2 days of the weekend seemed to be stretching out gloriously in front of you. But now evil Sunday evening has returned, replacing memories of promising but ultimately disappointing nonleague football matches with rather more mundane thoughts of a presentation on Monday morning.

I feel like Sunday evenings don’t really do themselves any favours. They’re too near the end of the weekend for you to do anything too adventurous but because it is the weekend, you feel like you should make the most of the last bit of free time before the madness of the week begins. I feel like I become more anxious on Sunday, partly because I start thinking about all the things that are going on in the week ahead. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really pleased to lead a busy life. It’s just that sometimes I wish I didn’t think about things quite so much. Having said that, there’s a few things that I found quite helpful to make me feel a little bit more calm and positive.

  1. Often, I put on some relaxing music. I’ve yet to come across a problem which everyone’s favourite X Factor winner, (James Arthur, obviously) can’t make seem a little better. After a few lines of his timeless classic ‘Impossible’ (much better than the original), I often feel ready to take on the world-not that that’s always a great idea last thing on a Sunday evening.
  2. Amusing YouTube videos are always one of my other go-to strategies. Videos of incredibly cute basset hounds are a favourite at the moment. Let’s face it, is pretty hard not to smile when watching a basset hound reluctantly being given a much-needed bath (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4u4ZvrHqe8) or observing a group of basset hound puppies happily cantering through a meadow (admittedly, ‘cantering’ is very relative when used to describe the movements of lolloping bassets). Hilariously bad X Factor auditions are also a pretty surefire way to lift your spirits. Keeping a straight face when watching Ant and Seb’s ‘unique’ rendition of ‘Mysterious Girl‘ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLVKPL9FwNQ) is a pretty tough challenge.
  3. One thing I also do regularly, usually just before I get to bed, is reading a familiar book. At the moment, I’m working my way again through the Harry Potter series. There are so many things that my 11 year old self missed when I read the books for the 1st time and it’s a welcome break from the reading I have to do for my PhD. I feel like everyone could do with a bit of Hogwarts magic from time to time. Also, I think all Christmas Carol services could be improved with the simple addition of ‘God rest Ye Merry Hippogriffs’ to the order of service.
  4. I’ve found Headspace to be a really useful app. It’s made up of lots of different 10 minute sessions which are a bit like a cross between meditation and mindfulness. I think there’s a student discount on some of the things too! (https://www.headspace.com/)
  5. I’ve heard people say that drawing is also quite a good way of replacing any negative thoughts with more positive ones. However, given my distinct lack of any artistic talent whatsoever, I’m not convinced that this would be a productive strategy. I feel like I only got vaguely decent marks in my year 7 art class because my teacher insisted that my name was Peter for the whole year (whoever Peter was, he was definitely better at art than I was). Nevertheless, I have found doing something creative can prove a useful distraction from any anxiety. I usually end up writing some ridiculous limerick which at least serves a purpose by making my mind focused on light-hearted things.

I should probably leave it there, got to get through James Arthur’s greatest hits before the end of the evening whilst watching basset hounds try to type on a computer.

Happy Sunday evening!

J

Happy (belated) World Cerebral Palsy Day!

I just realised yesterday was, in fact, world cerebral palsy day so I figured I’d belatedly write a little bit about how cerebral palsy affects me as well as answering some common queries.

  • My legs aren’t broken, they just don’t work very well: As some of you who have come across my blog before may have gathered, I have not broken my leg. My legs are not broken, they are not in plaster and, rather surprisingly, I haven’t ever actually broken any bones (unless you count when the doctors decided it would be a great idea to deliberately break my hips when I was 8 in order to reset them in a better position. Ahh, fond memories…

 

  • I don’t mind answering questions, as long as they’re at least vaguely thought through: I’m always happy to be open about my cerebral palsy and try to answer all questions when I can, especially if I know the person asking them pretty well or if the question still clearly has good intentions. Interestingly, the least sensitive questions tend to come from those people who have only just met me. These range from invasive, personal questions that people wouldn’t dream of asking a non-disabled person who they barely knew, to the downright stupid. My favourite one so far has been ‘Would you rather you broke your arm or your leg?’ Just in case the 1st point failed to clarify things properly, I HAVE NOT BROKEN ANY BONES IN MY BODY. Also, it’s not like someone comes up to you and says: “Here’s a fun game, how about you choose your own disability?” It’s not something you can wake up one day and decide. Yet another example of how ‘taking back control’ doesn’t always work in practice.

 

  • My sense of direction/general spatial awareness is impressively appalling: I always smile inwardly (sometimes outwardly) when people start explaining in detail about the name of a particular street or a part of Oxford which is more than a few hundred metres away from my college. Despite living here for a year now, I still find it impressively easy to get lost. One of the benefits of living in a town popular with tourists, however, is that I am easily able to masquerade as a tourist myself when asking for directions. The truly horrible moments occur when well-meaning tourists decree that I am a reliable, local person so they choose me for the noble task of providing directions. I either panic and point vaguely left or right or quickly explain to them that I’m new here as well (12 months is still pretty new, right?)

 

  • I’m quite bad at recognising faces from a distance due to my perceptual difficulties. Very often people say to me ‘I saw you in town and you ignored me’. The chances are I didn’t actually take it in as I was walking (well, wheeling past). I didn’t really think about this much until recently but it’s definitely linked to my CP.

 

  • I jump incredibly easily: Many people with cerebral palsy never lose the startle reflex that most people leave behind as a baby. This has inevitably led to a variety of weird and wonderful moments. I like to think that my keenness for equality extends to the things that make me jump. I’m an equal opportunities jumper: It doesn’t matter whether it’s sudden cough in a silent Quaker meeting or a hideously loud fire alarm at 3 in the morning (who doesn’t love those?!). I’ll jump at anything, ‘cos that’s just the way I roll…

 

I guess what I’d really like to get out of writing this, and actually out of most of the blogs that I write, is to say that having cerebral palsy might mean there’s a few things about me that are a little bit different, but I still want the same things out of life as anyone else, disability or no disability. Having said that, I’m convinced that cerebral palsy has given me a more sensitive view of the difficulties that other people might be going through. It’s part of me and it always will be. In fact, I’m sure that I wouldn’t be where I am today without my disability. Ultimately, I’ve come to the conclusion that those people who can’t see past my disability just aren’t worth bothering with.  It’s not always easy but if my cerebral palsy puts me in a better position to help other people, then I’m pretty happy with that. Happy belated cerebral palsy day!

The importance of being open…

British people have a reputation for apologising. We apologise when we run into someone even though it blatantly is not our fault. We apologise for the torrential rain outside even though it is clear that we haven’t quite yet developed a way of controlling the weather ourselves. We even sometimes utilise the insurance apology, reassuring ourselves that, just in case we should do anything in the near future that requires an apology, we are already one step ahead. Let’s face it, apologising for something after you’ve done it just too late nowadays.

I admit that I’ve often keenly felt this need to apologise in the past. However, there is one thing that I’m fed up apologising for, namely my disability. When I was younger, I spent a lot of time feeling awkward about having cerebral palsy and using a wheelchair. I was always keen to minimise the visible impact of having a disability on my everyday life. But whichever way you look at it, my disability is part of me. It’s certainly not the most interesting thing about me (to be fair life would be pretty boring if I talked about splints, wheelchairs and booking train assistance for twenty four hours a day). Nevertheless, my disability is part of me and If I’m minimising the apparent impact of my disability, I’m also not allowing people to really get to know me.  In lots of ways, trying to play down a disability is a bit like trying to pretend that you can speak fluent French whilst on holiday in Paris. It might work while you are ordering food at a restaurant, but as soon as someone starts asking for your opinion on raising the retirement age, the linguistic illusion is quickly shattered. Equally, I might be able to manage a few steps on flat surfaces indoors, but I will soon come unstuck when faced with a charming spiral staircase in a mediaeval castle (memories of a sixth form history trip to Ludlow Castle spring to mind….

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Here’s a picture of me with a suitably relaxed basset hound 🙂

I’ve realised it’s just too bad if I have to see if someone can push my wheelchair up a particularly tricky hill. I shouldn’t feel guilty if I have to ask a friend in advance to come back with me from a social event so that I don’t spend the whole time worrying about how I will manage it myself. I’ve gradually developed the confidence to realise that those people who feel uncomfortable with my disability or view it as a ‘problem ‘are not worth bothering with. At least by being open, I can be confident that friends like me for who I am rather than the version of myself that I present to them. I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone has their own difficulties, it’s just that mine are more visible than most.

Having said all that, the same principle of openness applies to my anxiety. I may be able to keep up the façade of relaxed serenity, but in lots of ways my own anxieties helped to make me more sensitive to how others may be feeling. I’ve often found that being open with other people invites more openness on their part and allows me to make more meaningful connections with others. I think that people also sense if you are comfortable with being you. By not viewing either my disability or my anxieties as being a problem in my own mind, I can help others to accept that part of me as well. If I need somebody to walk a bit more slowly so that I can keep up with them, that’s fine. If I have a habit of overanalysing things, owning up to it has the effect of making me less anxious, not more so.  I’ve noticed that since I’ve tried to become less apologetic and more open about everything, I’ve felt much more positive about myself and I think that’s a pretty good place to start.

The art of choosing a wheelchair

The writing had been on the wall for a while. I’d tried to put it off but i couldn’t delay it any longer. Struggling around the streets of Oxford with my footplate scraping on the floor, I finally bowed to the inevitable- I was going to have to get a new wheelchair.

With a vague sense of foreboding, I turned up at my local wheelchair centre. The previous wheelchair centre had once been an old people’s home complete with textured wallpaper and floral carpets, so I was still slightly hopeful that this new, exciting wheelchair centre may prove to be more welcoming. How wrong I was…

Here is how to transform the fun process of choosing a new wheelchair into a never-ending nightmare in 5 easy steps…

1. Feign ignorance: On arrival at the wheelchair centre, I was promptly asked by the physio, ‘so what would you like from us today?’ I felt like replying ‘Well actually, despite coming to a wheelchair centre, I thought that wheelchairs were getting a bit mainstream, I actually quite fancied a ride on lawnmower instead. And besides, I had nothing better to with my Tuesday afternoon so I thought I’d just drop by my favourite wheelchair centre for a little chat’

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Random picture of me sitting in my current wheelchair (there are no plans to remove this wheelchair yet!!)

2. Abdicate responsibility- Clearly frightened by the fact that they might need to actually provide me with a wheelchair, the physio’s next tactic was to ask where I went to university. When I said Oxford, I could almost hear the sigh of relief- they were off the hook! Gleefully they suggested that perhaps I should ask Oxford wheelchair services instead. I explained that I still spent some time in Yorkshire but undeterred, she asked if Oxford Uni provided funding for a wheelchair as ‘I needed a wheelchair to get to lectures’. Sadly, Oxford hasn’t yet introduced a ‘free wheelchair with every offer’ initiative. It’s hard enough getting a note taker out of the disability service, never mind a whole wheelchair…

3. Ban customer from sitting in wheelchair– The physio may have just about accepted that they might have to give me a wheelchair but the thought of me actually sitting in one was a step too far. After all, why would I possibly want to sit in the wheelchair? It’s not as if I would be using it every day. No, no no. I just fancied having a vintage wheelchair with armrests as an elaborate piece of modern art. I could admire it every day as a beautiful object, wondering at its aesthetic qualities yet never wanting to actually sit in it.

4. Threaten to remove existing wheelchair. Clearly still shaken by my brazen cheek in wanting to sit in a wheelchair, the physio tried to bring me back in line with a vengeance. They quickly established that I was outrageous enough to own not one, but two wheelchairs- a powered wheelchair provided by the NHS and a lightweight manual one funded by the charity Whizz Kidz. Both chairs are essential in enabling me to live an independent life. Armed with this game changing information, they smiled menacingly, paused, and casually dropped the bombshell whilst stroking a black cat like a true supervillian. ‘Well, if we fund your new manual wheelchair, we may have to withdraw your powered chair. Any wheelchair left unattended may be removed or destroyed, without notice, by the security services!.

5. Destroy any lingering enthusiasm: Clearly upset that I was still showing an interest in one of the lightweight, shiny manual wheelchairs, the physio delivered the coup de grace. As I was admiring the orange trim on the wheelchair, she quickly informed me that ‘we only do that wheelchair in black’.

We left with the physio promising to ‘see what she could do’, about funding a new wheelchair, which was about as reassuring as a vicious neighbourhood cat insisting it had only dragged in a mouse to give it a guided tour of the house… Put it this way, I’m not holding my breath…

Five ridiculous misconceptions about disability…

5 ridiculous myths about disability…

When I was younger, I always joined in with various frantic school games of football and cricket using a three sided walking frame.  Ever since it became clear to me that Villa defender Gareth Southgate didn’t use a frame to block vicious shots in the same way that I did, or that ‘frame before wicket’ wasn’t a recognised cricket dismissal, I’ve been aware that the world is not designed for people with disabilities. As I’ve been travelling more by myself over the last couple of years or so, I’ve realised that such problems aren’t limited to childhood games of football or cricket. I’ve realised there’s so many implicit assumptions made about disabled people that I thought I should write some of the especially silly ones down.

  1. Disabled people have lots of time on their hands

Whenever I realise I’m travelling by train, the excitement at going somewhere is quickly punctured by the crushing realisation that I have to book ‘assistance’.  The word ‘assistance’ makes this process sound like a happy, joyful experience. It is not. Booking assistance does not take a few merry clicks of a mouse; it requires clearing a slot in your day and allowing at least 20 minutes on the phone to explain that yes, I have booked assistance before and no, my wheelchair is not infact the size of a monster truck. I was so keen to make this deeply painful process as short as possible  that I ignored one man calling me ‘Jay’ for a good ten minutes. I couldn’t decide whether he’d misheard my name or whether our conversation had been so long that he thought we’d reached a new level of familiarity.

  1. Disabled people only have carers

If you somehow manage to book assistance to get on the train, the next task is booking the elusive wheelchair space (everyone knows only two wheelchair users will ever want to get on the same train, right?) It’s hard enough booking a seat for yourself and one other person but adding anyone else into the mix is met with such a reaction that you’d think I’d just been caught speeding in my wheelchair through fields of wheat.  You mean you want to sit with other people? Like, friends, who have actively chosen to spend the day with you because they, you know, like you and enjoy spending time with you? No, no, no. I thought wheelchair users didn’t have friends, just carers who came with them for a cheap day out.

  1. Disabled people know exactly what they’re going to do 24 hours before it happens

Obviously organising a ramp so a wheelchair user can board a train is a complex process. So complex, in fact, that it takes a whole 24 hours to sort out. Ring 23 hours before and it’s too late, 24 is the magic number.  I’ve always wondered exactly what it is that requires all the preparation. Does the ramp have to be custom build using organic wood from South American forests to fit the precise dimensions of the wheelchairs? Must the ramp be taught to sing the passenger’s name to the tune of ‘God Save the Queen’ as they gloriously board the train? Have all the previous ramps been destroyed as a nasty reminder of our former membership of that evil underground organisation they call the EU? After all of that, you’re still asked to announce your arrival 20 minutes beforehand (that’s if they even have a record of your booking). Evidently a red carpet must be rolled out from the customer service desk all the way to the platform…

 

  1. Disabled people carry letters with them which prove their disability at all times

Whenever I’m booking tickets on the phone for a football match or a concert I’m asked to send in proof of disability, which is understandable if a little frustrating. What’s even more annoying, though, is being asked for proof of my disability when I’m actually sat in front of people in my wheelchair. It’s as if people expect you to go to the trouble of hiring a wheelchair all day just to get a free ride on the bus or half price entry to a museum. I’m sure some people half think I’m going to turn around and say ‘Yep, you’ve got me there. I’ve got away with pretending I need a wheelchair for 23 years so I can jump the odd queue but now the game’s up’, before I reveal my secret career as an Olympic pole vaulter.

  1. Disabled people cannot speak for themselves

I’ve lost count of the number of times that people automatically ignore me when asking questions and automatically address the person I’m with, as if my inability to balance for long periods of time without falling over in an undignified heap has also affected my capacity to remember what train I’m catching or whether I’d like a tea or a coffee. I might not be able to walk very far and the Customer Service desk might be set too high for you to make eye contact, but it doesn’t mean I have to be constantly talked about in the third person.

I better leave it there, I’m not travelling by train again until next week but I should probably give them time to source the raw materials for the ‘assistance’ process. Those ramps won’t build themselves you know…

 

 

Overthinking about overthinking

I’d say I overthink things. In fact, I definitely overthink things. I’m even overthinking this blog. But I reckon the best way of tackling anxiety is writing about it, so that’s what I’m doing. I’m pretty good at worrying about stuff. You would think that after handing in my master’s dissertation I wouldn’t have much to worry about, but I’d like to think I’m pretty talented at finding stuff to worry about. I think having a disability has meant I’m pretty used to solving problems, whether it’s having to ask a stranger if I could go through their garden after getting locked in a cricket ground, or persuading the University’s Estates and Buildings team that Oxford probably does have enough money for an automatic door so I can get into my PhD office.

Anxiety is a more difficult one. It’s not a problem that easily lends itself to being ‘solved’. One thing I’ve learnt is that my anxiety doesn’t attach itself to one particular thing like a lazy sloth. Instead, it enthusiastically grabs on to the first thing it can find like an unusually lively basset hound. It’s not always at the front of my mind but it’s usually there a bit like the nagging feeling that Aston Villa are somehow going to lose a game even when they’re 3-0 up with 5 minutes to go (obviously this is a hypothetical scenario, Villa would never actually score three goals in the same game). Even when things are going well, I still find something that could be better.

I’ve actually found it quite helpful to write down some of the positive things that have happened recently so I’ve got something to refer back to if I’m feeling a bit down. So in the spirit of positivity I’ll name a few of them here. I’ve settled in really well to a new place, met lots of lovely people, finished my dissertation in good time and I have funding to stay in Oxford for a PhD. I’ve even managed to watch more Aston Villa play semi-regularly (although some of you may well not feel that this is a positive development).

Another talent I have is over analysing. I blame all of the essays I’ve been writing this year. On reflection, I feel like a casual passing comment or a brief message probably doesn’t merit quite the same forensic attention as an essay about identity in South Tyrol. The problem is, what seems like a faintly ridiculous, trivial issue as I write this in the middle of the day can seem like a problem of life-changing importance at 3 o clock in the morning. I’ve only just realised that I’ve gone a good couple of paragraphs without attempting a tenuous simile involving one of my favourite animals, so to address this distressing oversight, I’ll finish on a couple more. In many ways, you could describe anxiety as a koala bear which clings resolutely to the eucalyptus tree of worry. It’s not very easy to let go. But essentially, anxiety’s a bit like the tapir in the room. It might be awkward if no-one mentions it and it’s unlikely to leave in a hurry, but talking about it makes life a whole lot easier.

Writing about worrying

Writing about worrying

I reckon I worry too much. And I also think that the best way to combat something is to make fun of it. With this in mind, I’ve decided to try to compare worry to eight seemingly random objects. Happily, this also coincides with the primary purpose of any blog, which is talking about basset hounds, tapirs and Aston Villa. Here goes…

Worry is an overly keen tapir: It might seem quite sweet at first. I’ve often heard people say ‘a little bit of worrying can be a good thing’. But then, just like tapirs, worry starts to stick its snout into every aspect of everyday life. And just as tapirs become less attractive as they get older, so does worry. It stops being helpful and just becomes annoying.

Worry is a persistent basset hound: It moves pretty slowly and steadily but is determined to keep going and reach its goal; namely to make you steadily more anxious. Just like a basset hound’s short legs, worry seems to serve no obvious purpose. What’s more, just like its long ears, it seems to drag on for an unnecessary amount of time.

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I wanted to find an excuse to use this cute picture again

Worry is like watching Aston Villa: There might be moments where you think you’ve turned a corner and worry is behind you, but just like Villa letting in last minute goals, it always come back to bite you at the least helpful moments. Much like watching Villa, the best way to stop yourself from worrying seems to be to distance yourself from it, which is sometimes easier said than done.

Worry is like the temperamental light switch in my bathroom: You can’t easily control when you switch it on and off and sometimes it just stays on for an inordinate amount of time for no obvious reason. It took me a good while to work out that shutting the bathroom door was actually a pretty good way of solving the problem. Sometimes the most straightforward solutions are the best ones, even if they’re difficult to see at first.

Worry is like playing chess against an all-knowing computer (Note: I haven’t ever played chess against an actual person, never mind a computer): It always seems to be one step ahead. Once you stop worrying about one thing, you can’t help yourself from moving on to the next ‘problem’. And just like playing chess against a computer that always wants to stop you from making progress, you often seem to be going round in circles. That’s at least until you ask yourself what you’re achieving from worrying and decide to switch the ‘computer’ off.

Worrying is like an annoying SatNav that keeps telling you what to do: You find yourself going off in the wrong direction and making a U-Turn in the middle of the road just because someone else told you to do so, even if you know deep down that it’s a bad idea. So, if someone says ‘you must be feeling stressed about your exams’, you immediately feel that you should be feeling stressed, otherwise you must be doing something fundamentally wrong. Much like doing a U-Turn in the middle of a busy road, this approach rarely ends well.

Worry is like the random daily alarm on my watch that I still can’t quite work out how to switch off: For at least 3 years, my watch has had an alarm that goes off at precisely six minutes past ten (or eleven) each morning. I’ve no idea why it started or why it’s still going but I’ve found the best way to stop it annoying me is to put it another room. It’s still there but at least I don’t need to listen to it every day.

Worry is like that time I when I was 8 and ended up breaking my Aston Villa alarm clock by mistake after they let in a last-minute equaliser against Birmingham: It was utterly pointless and achieved precisely nothing. And now I can laugh about it and how ridiculous it was, even if it seemed like the worst thing in the world at the time.

In the spirit of making fun of worry, I’ve decided to give mine a name- Jürgen. I think that’s probably enough worrying for one day. At least Villa have stopped letting in last minute goals now. Oh, hang on a minute…

The 12 days of Oxmas

During my first term at Oxford, I kind of forgot about blogging so I thought I should try to correct this shocking oversight with a vaguely Christmassy blog. In reality this just means writing what I would have done anyway and pretending it has a tenuous link to Christmas.

12- a conservative estimate of the number of times I’ve got lost around town. I would go so far as to say that if there was a degree for losing your way I would definitely be graduating with a first class honours. I even managed to get lost when ‘showing’ some friends from Durham around Oxford. Fortunately I had a map with me (not that I can read maps, I delegated that task to someone else).

11- number of weeks spent in Oxford- even though I’ve only been there two and a half months- I’m definitely feeling at home and have been lucky to meet lots of lovely people. I’m certainly more comfortable with the city, even if I still consistently use the wrong exit in the library.

10- number of times i’ve been asked whether I need taxis by the Disability Service. Given my college has been really helpful and arranged my tutorials in the room next to mine, I’m not sure whether taxis are a great plan. I should have seen the warning signs when they asked me about my timetable in May. Obviously being disabled gives me special powers to know my precise schedule months ahead of everyone else

9- occasions I’ve considered the feasibility of adopting a basset hound that can double up as a helper dog. Turns out this is against college regulations so I’ve had to settle for having a 2017 basset calendar instead.

 

 

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8- number of times I’ve had to use the temperamental lift in the Languages department. This lift is so welcoming it doesn’t want you to leave. Helpfully, it also opens out onto the front of the lecture theatre, which always results in a slightly awkward entrance and an equally bemused lecturer. I was particularly delighted to see it was made by the same Italian manufacturer as its useless cousin in Durham.

7- the time in the morning that i heard some workman cheerfully drilling one fine Saturday. I thought the drilling was painful before one of the tone deaf work men starting belting out ‘Tainted Love’. A few seconds of blissful silence followed before he launched into a harrowing rendition of ‘That’s Entertainment’. It was definitely not entertainment.

6- number of formals I’ve been to without anyone picking me up on the fact that I’m clearly wearing the wrong gown. I thought there wouldn’t be much difference between a Durham and an Oxford gown. It turns out there is. I was however reminded that perhaps wearing bright red socks to matriculation wasn’t the best idea I’d ever had.

 

img_03195-number of days it took college to miraculously build a replacement ramp after I reminded them that blocking off disabled access to the main social space was probably not their best decision. As soon as the words ‘illegal’ and ‘press’ were mentioned, things seemed to suddenly move much more quickly…

4- number of Aston Villa games (and wins!) that I’ve seen. Being closer to Villa Park has been one of the unexpected benefits (some would say drawbacks) of studying at Oxford. Evidently my valued presence was all it needed to reverse Villa’s fortunes. Special mention goes to the random woman who ran over from the row in front to maniacally celebrate a goal with me and my brother. Good job Villa don’t score many…

3- number of times I’ve locked myself out of my room: Anyone who’s read this blog a little bit will realise that this represents a significant improvement on last year. Nevertheless, my ability to lose my keys is reassuringly constant. Finding them in my wardrobe was a particular highlight.

 

2- number of days it takes to negotiate the endless scaffolding that Oxford has to offer. Everyone talks about the university and Oxford’s cultural scene but the scaffolding Is the real star of the show. Cleverly constructed to make a wheelchair user’s life as difficult as possible, it’s guaranteed to present a charming challenge to anyone who tries to evade its icy grasp.

1 unforgettable term- I wasn’t sure how moving to Oxford was going to work but one term in I can confidently say it’s the best decision I could have made!

Frohe Weihnachten/buon Natale/Merry Christmas!

J

6 things I wish didn’t exist

  1. The automatic voice on the Student Finance helpline: OK, I realise that having real people answer your query probably costs far more than entrusting it to a disembodied voice with an IQ of -27. However, having to deal with said disembodied voice also causes my stress levels to rise significantly. It probably has something to do with their insistence on using the phonetic alphabet for ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. Instead of making life easier, this usually results in me repeatedly shouting ‘Victor’ down the phone. This (unsurprisingly) achieves nothing and results in me being put through to an actual person, which I can’t help thinking would have been easier in the first place.

2. Dropped kerbs which aren’t dropped kerbs: Picture the scene. You’re wheeling around the town centre and from a distance you spot the fabled bumpy bits which signal a dropped kerb. Come a little closer, however, and you realise you’ve been cruelly misled. What initially looked like a friendly, inviting dropped kerb is in fact about as flat as Mount Kilimanjaro. Don’t get me wrong, I’m used to navigating around inaccessible places. Much like supporting Aston Villa though, it’s the hope that kills you.

3. People at the till asking me ‘Is that everything’?: I can’t say I’ve ever understood this question. I can only imagine it’s a marketing technique. There must be people out there who, upon being asked ‘is that everything?, suddenly realise they need three wide screen televisions, a radiator bleeder and some food for their guinea pig. I am not one of those people. Also, why do people say ‘That’ll be £4.50 today?’. Will The Great Thursday Pricehike mean it will cost £46.70 cost tomorrow?

brix-2016

4. Booking wheelchair assistance for a train: After 20 minutes spent trying to get my head around how to book assistance, I often feel my life choices have been misguided. I really should have ditched my languages course and instead enrolled on the ‘Wheelchair Assistance’ degree, as I’m pretty sure it must take a good four years to work out all of its charming intricacies. Of course you can’t just turn up at the station. Not only do you have to book said assistance at least 24 hours in advance, you also have to ‘announce yourself’ half an hour before the train leaves. I’ve often wondered what the best way of ‘announcing’ myself would be. Should I hire a giant megaphone? Should I perform a complex interpretative dance? Maybe Morse Code would be best? After all that, there’s no guarantee the assistance will actually show up…

5. The voice on the Sat Nav: Why does it have to be so smug? Do they not think people are annoyed enough when they go the wrong way without a snide, automated voice telling them to ‘perform a U turn’. Surely when people drive down a narrow dead end they can work out for themselves that all is not well. Due to my appalling sense of direction, people have often suggested I attach a sat nav to my wheelchair. Having thought about this suggestion for approximately 1.6 seconds, I concluded that my lack of spatial awareness was embarrassing enough without a loud voice publicly chastising me for not keeping to the ‘highlighted route’…

6. People who give complicated directions: On a similar theme, I’m always a bit wary of asking strangers for directions, mainly because I’m practically incapable of following them accurately. When these well-meaning people start mentioning ‘third room on the left’ or ‘after the traffic lights’, I quickly lose all hope. But the phrase to end all phrases is ‘You can’t miss it’. Many painful years of experience have taught me that if there is someone who can miss the unmissable, it is me. I can only cling on to the first thing they said in the vague hope that I don’t look an idiot by immediately disregarding their lovingly-formed route in front of their very eyes.

That’s it for now. Just off to book some assistance for a train journey. That’s as long as I can remember where the station is…

J