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….


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’


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.


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.




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!


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?


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…


A few thoughts on disability…

Sometimes the simplest things can be the most moving. If you turn on the TV on any given day, the chances are that you’ll come across some programme that’s designed to be moving. I’ve seen so many episodes of the X Factor where a contestant sobs about their pet chinchilla having a rare disease or about how they they’re only auditioning because their beloved basset hound looked like it needed cheering up. However, I was genuinely touched by an episode of Channel 4’s ‘The Last Leg’, where presenter Alex Brooker talked engagingly about how the Paralympics had inspired him as a disabled person in everyday life. I was so impressed at how he was able to talk so openly and articulately about his disability. He spoke honestly but matter of factly about life with a disability and I thought that I should try to do the same.

For me, one of the most positive things about the Paralympics has been the opportunity to listen to disabled people talking so openly about their everyday lives without inviting pity or having to answer patronising questions. I’ve always set really high standards for myself and don’t always like to have to talk about things that I have difficulty with. However, seeing people with similar disabilities to me openly discussing how much energy it takes for them to do everyday tasks and talking about how they have to use support assistants has reminded me that I don’t need to hide my disability and that it’s definitely OK to ask for help when I need it. I also don’t need to feel apologetic if there’s certain things I struggle to do or if I have to insist on certain things being made accessible. One thing that the Paralympics emphasised is that society needs to adapt to disability rather than the other way around.


This principle was demonstrated even further by my recent poor experience with the local physio service. After waiting over a month for an appointment due to various administrative errors, I was suddenly offered a consultation 40 minutes away at 8.30 the following morning. After stopping for a moment to consider whether this was even feasible, I was scolded by the receptionist on the phone for hesitating and told I should infact be ‘really delighted’ by their benevolent, obliging service. What she totally failed to understand was that I am unable to get to an appointment by myself and have to rely on others to help me get there. This means getting to things at short notice and early in the morning is something of a challenge. Her later claim that it had all been a ‘misunderstanding’ was about as convincing as Aston Villa’s recent appalling attempts at defending in the last ten minutes of matches. I still remember a lady’s comment to her son when I was about nine, when she pointed at me and whispered rather too loudly ‘Just be glad you’re not like that’. Presumably ‘that’ referred to my Aston Villa top…

To put it simply, I hope the Paralympics goes a long way towards normalising disability. I read an article recently that stated up to two thirds of disabled people try to ‘hide’ their disability in public and I can fully understand their reasons for this. As a wheelchair user, hiding my disability isn’t especially easy but I still do face a dilemma, particularly when talking to people I don’t know particularly well. I don’t want my disability to be the first thing I mention or the centre of attention (I feel there are so many other things to talk about) but I don’t want it to be ignored either. I’ve found that trying to play it down causes more problems in the long term than just being honest about my cerebral palsy. Ultimately I want people to be able to accept my disability and ask questions about it without fear of offending me. If I didn’t mention it at all, I’d be sending out totally the wrong message.

I’m pretty sure anyone with a disability who says they’ve never wished they weren’t disabled isn’t being entirely truthful. However, much like my enduring and painful support of Aston Villa and my abysmal sense of direction, having cerebral palsy is part of who I am.  Although it’s taken me a while to feel open, honest and unembarrassed about it, I’m tired of apologising if it takes me a bit longer to get somewhere, if my wheelchair’s ‘in the way’ or if I can’t make it up seven flights of stairs. If there’s one thing that Channel 4’s coverage of the Paralympics has taught me, it’s that disability is much less scary when it’s openly discussed and that the majority of people will react positively if only they’re given the chance. And if they don’t, that’s their problem.


Do’s and Don’ts of working in a hotel…

After spending 6 weeks working in a hotel, I thought I’d compile a simple list of do’s and don’ts so you can laugh at my staggering ineptitude.

1. Accompany the resident basset hound across the road: The hotel is home to an adorable basset hound, said by one reviewer on Trip Advisor to ‘preside majestically’ over proceedings. Her advanced age means that she is slowing down somewhat but that doesn’t stop her from determinedly taking her daily stroll in the garden. Reaching said garden requires negotiating a busy road and supervision is required to ensure everyone’s favourite basset reaches the other side in one piece!

2. Choose the correct language when talking to guests.
One of the quirky parts of working in a bilingual region is that German and Italian are constantly interchanged. This can get quite confusing, although one of my favourite games was called ‘German/Italian’. This creatively-titled activity involved guessing what language someone was going to speak before they opened their mouth. You’d think I’d guess right at least 50% of the time. I didn’t. A special mention goes to the irate lady who demanded to be passed to someone who speaks ‘proper Italian’, I obviously need to work on my accent!

3. Avoid giving directions or assisting with bus timetables at all costs: Many of you will know that my sense of direction is non-existent, even when in England. Reading bus timetables has also proved a bridge too far. You can imagine my mild panic, then, when someone asked me when the next bus set off to a lesser-visited mountain. In French. It didn’t go well.


1. Impale yourself on a staircase: One of the highlights of my placement came quite early on. I quickly decided to climb the stairs rather than using the lift to get some much-needed exercise. My sedate progress on the stairs led to one guest kindly asking if I wanted to use the lift. I declined and attempted to carry on my way before realised my trouser pocket had become caught on the elaborate antique staircase. I tried to convince the increasingly concerned guest that I really was OK despite my precarious-looking situation. I don’t think he was convinced.

2. Get lost in a hotel you’re supposed to be working in:
I always find walking purposefully gives the impression that you know where you’re going. The fact that you’re dressed in work clothes should also theoretically add to this impression. However, all the different corridors look suspiciously similar at first and let’s face it, it doesn’t take a lot to get me confused. Perhaps that explains the sympathetic looks from guests…

3. Be afraid to embrace the local culture: After a year away, it took me a while to tune back in to the local dialect. As it doesn’t resemble anything approaching Standard German, it was certainly a challenge at first but I quickly got used to it. I initially worried that attempting to speak some dialect myself would be offensive but people actually found it a useful source of entertainment . It definitely makes standard German sound straightforward by comparison.

That’s it from me, just off to find a Basset hound puppy I can adopt…


An eventful fortnight: Reflections, results and referendums

I’ve had a pretty eventful couple of weeks. As a long-suffering Aston Villa fan, I’m all too used to brief flashes of hope followed by crushing, familiar disappointment so it’s made a change to see that pattern reversed over the last fortnight. There’s been one disappointing moment that stands out (*cough* REFERENDUM *cough*) but overall it’s been really positive. Before going into too much detail, I should probably start at the beginning.

It all started on the day before the referendum, which I like to call Intolerant Thursday. Let’s call it Whirlwind Wednesday. I began by having a meeting with the Disability Service at Durham. As anyone who’s kept an eye on this blog over the last few years will know, the disability service makes Aston Villa look like a competent organisation. After four years of frustration and endless emails, I decided a face-to-face meeting was the best way of giving some honest, constructive feedback. Given I hadn’t had a personal email from the disability service for 15 months and the fact that it was now a full four years since one of the Elvet Riverside lifts had ascended to the Great Elevator in the Sky, I wasn’t feeling too optimistic. However, after an inauspicious start which involved them claiming that the Disability Service had been secretly advocating on my behalf for many years, I felt our chat had a positive outcome.

The same afternoon I learnt the result of my degree, which definitely put me in a good mood for the rest of the day. It was great to know that four years of hard work had paid off and it confirmed that I had the marks I needed to start my MA in Oxford in September. More importantly, Durham had given me the chance to meet lots of lovely people who I’m sure I’ll keep in touch with.

However, the celebrations of Wednesday were quickly followed by the downright despair of Farage Friday. Instead of waking up to find out that open-mindedness and tolerance had won out over a campaign based on fear and division , I saw Nigel Farage’s smug face grinning unbearably at me. Not only that, he had the cheek to proclaim ‘We’ve got our country back’. There are many things I could say here but suffice to say that if Nigel’s idea of ‘our country’ involves Europeans feeling unwelcome, then I’m ashamed and embarrassed to be British.

Despite my continuing disappointment about how the vote went, I was still determined to enjoy my graduation, which took place the following Tuesday. It was a lovely day despite the expected Durham downpour. I particularly enjoyed the fur on my graduation gown and despite my fear that the ramp up to the stage in Durham Cathedral would never materialise, the whole ceremony went smoothly. I even managed to execute a tight manoeuvre in my powered wheelchair without seriously injuring the Chancellor, which was a definite bonus.

imageMy adventures, however, were not quite over yet. Farage Friday was followed a week later by a rather more Fantastic Friday as we unexpectedly got hold of some returned tickets for Centre Court at Wimbledon. Having turned up expecting to get a pass for the outside courts, being able to watch Serena Williams and Roger Federer was a very pleasant surprise. It was also a timely reminder that British culture is far more about orderly queueing and strawberries and cream than ‘taking back control’ and mythical independence days.

My frenetic fortnight has now come to an end but it’s also given me a useful chance to reflect. Since using the complex names of Aston Villa players to encourage me to do speech therapy when I was younger (special thanks to Julian Joachim and Benito Carbone), I now have a languages degree from Durham. I’ve learnt a new language, met some fantastic friends and managed to live independently for four years at uni. I won’t pretend it’s always been easy because it hasn’t, but the positive moments far outweigh the negative ones. Villa may not have made much progress but I feel like I definitely have.