Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Wheeling On A Jet Plane

As anyone who has read slogged through my previous posts will have noticed, I have a tendency to get carried away, go off on tangents and waffle on to my hearts content. This results in every entry being the length of your average War and Peace chapter, and I'm not entirely sure that's what people are looking for when they sit down to read a blog, especially not one as dubiously written as this! I'm aiming to write a snappy, light-hearted and entertaining take on life with a spinal injury as opposed to a huge tome of the trials and tribulations I endure every day, this is not Game of Thrones. True story: I am a massive fan of ancient history and fantasy, so Game of Thrones, or GoT as nerds in the know would say, is pretty much my idea of a perfect show. However, I had to stop watching it, as seeing virtually all of my favourite characters die whilst the villainous ones largely got off scot free was leaving me emotionally scarred! Anyway, with all that in mind, I am going to try my damnedest to make this entry shorter and thus hopefully more accessible, although spending the middle section of the opening paragraph talking about a TV show with dwarfs and dragons is probably not the the most succinct way of beginning!

Last weekend I had the pleasure of flying to Amsterdam and back on a plane (or metal dragon if I wanted to desperately try and tie it in with my opening paragraph)! And this meant going through the delightful process of airport check-in and airplane boarding, wheelchair style! In truth, I can't fully recall what it was like to do all this before I was in a chair, so many aspects may be more or less identical. But hell, I've started so I'll damn well finish!

The first thing you need to be aware of is when they suggest you arrive at the airport two hours before your flight so all the necessaries can be carried out, this is the bare minimum you need to give. Granted I was traveling in a herd and we all had rugby chairs with us but, good grief, there is a lot of umming and erring when it comes to getting a group of gimps off the ground! Do we have a Mr Dave Isabled here? Is this your sports chair? Do the wheels come off? Does the backrest fold down? How much does it weigh? What's in that bag? If Jimmy sets off from home at 8:20am and drives at an average of 40mph, at what time will he reach work, 16 miles away? Why are you crying? Just a few examples of questions you can expect upon arrival (though sometimes Jimmy is replaced with Selam to show gender and ethnic diversity, this is the 21st century after all)! If you are smart enough to pass these tests then all your cases and equipment will get tagged, even the chair you're sitting in, so you get to spend the rest of the time in the airport rolling around like an escaped piece of luggage!

After this comes the pat down. Due to the fact that pretty much all wheelchairs contain some form of metal, there is no way in hell you are going to make it through the metal detector without setting the alarms off. This means that you have about as much chance of getting through airport security untouched as a gentleman of Arabic descent on September 11th. So you get politely taken aside and legally fondled by a security guard, much to the amusement of any able bodied folk you may be traveling with! This normally consists of a quick brush over of your torso, arms and legs, followed by a scan with something that resembles (and could well be) a toilet brush. This last time however, the guard went slightly higher up my leg than I was expecting and made contact with my own personal WMD, though it was cleared as being of no real danger to anyone. *Weeps silently*. Oh and if you happen to be catheterised and leg-bagged, have fun explaining all that to them!

So after a good couple of hours shooting around looking for the right check-in desk, the oversized baggage area, the correct boarding gate and most importantly the toilet (good luck if you need to go mid-flight), all the while thrusting your passport and boarding pass at every member of airport staff you come across, you are finally ready to board the aircraft. And that means surrendering your dignity and transferring onto...The Aisle Chair!
*Note: The Ferrari red version above is only available when traveling Virgin business class
Once on this part wheelchair/part wheelbarrow hybrid, men in luminous vests securely pin you down with straps and you are instructed to fold your arms across your chest, make peace with your god and above all pray that the rest of the passengers aren't on board to witness this. You are then tipped onto the back casters, pulled backwards onto the aircraft and down the aisle to your seat like one of the FBI's recently apprehended, most wanted criminals. After this however, the rest should be more or less 'plane sailing' *boom boom*.

"Our in-flight meal today is liver served with fava beans and a nice chianti."
So there, in a nutshell, are some of the things you can look forward to when winging it in a wheelchair! And despite all the palaver, it is completely worth it when you end up in another country, 300 miles away, in less than an hour! Just keep your fingers crossed that none of your vital medical gear or Active Hands products (don't travel without them folks!) get lost in transit, but that's a whole other story...


Monday, 1 June 2015

With Great Sponsorship, Comes Great Advertising!

I know in the last post I started off by complaining about my Monday night insomnia, but nothing will make you appreciate your own bed more than spending 10 solid nights in several of the nation's finest 0.5 star Travelodges. Fancy sleeping in a bed the width of a lap tray, with a sandpaper-like undersheet? You got it! It's a catchy enough slogan and would fit in nicely with Premier Inn's 'Everything's premier but the hotel!' Harking back to the Travelodge anorexic bed widths though, as a disabled guy who uses the bed to get dressed on, the act of rolling from side to side whilst pulling ones trousers up becomes a matter of life or death. Roll slightly too far either side and you could topple over the edge, plummeting a gargantuan two feet to the ground and making half-naked body contact with the sticky, stained, swamp that is the Travelodge carpet. And trust me, there is no amount of showering that will get that dirt off! Speaking of showering, one of the Travelodges was equipped with the smallest shower seat I have ever seen, it really was quite impressive, especially when you think that someone must have designed this, looked at it and thought, "Yes, I can see an average disabled adult who doesn't possess the balancing skills of a tightrope walker being able to perch on this with ease!" God knows what would've happened if a larger person/average American had attempted it, a 24 Hours in A&E special most likely! And so it came to be that for three consecutive mornings I would have my danger-wash, teetering on the brink of disaster, one buttock on one buttock off, washing myself with one hand and holding on for dear life to whatever shower fitting I could grasp with the other, knowing that the next spasm I had could be my last! Okay, so I maybe wouldn't have died if I'd fallen off it, but I would most likely have had to pull the emergency cord and summon the hotel rescue team to scoop me, butt naked and wringing wet, off the floor and onto the sandpaper bed, which I think we can all agree wouldn't be the most dignified way to start the day!

I really shouldn't complain though, as I had a very enjoyable time in London and then Glasgow, with the Travelodges only really being used as a wash and sleep stop. And besides, if I really wanted to complain about something (and it would seem that I do!), then I'd just have to bring up the potholed minefield that is Glasgow's roads and pavements. Good luck navigating those in a chair! 

On the plus side however, I surprised even myself when down in London, by being able to navigate my way from one part of the city to another using a combination of buses, trains and tubes, all without a single screw up. This may not seem like an overly impressive feat, but bear in mind that I hadn't been to London since I was a child and my sense of direction is so bad that I practically need a satnav to find my way around the flat I live in! It has to be said though, as a wheelchaired chap, the London buses were fairly epic. When one pulls up, you signal to the driver that you want to get on and he waves you towards the back of the bus where the secondary entrance/exit is. They then push a button and a ramp slides out from the doorway to the pavement, and you roll straight on! Granted I think I've only used a bus on one other occasion since the accident so this ingenious invention may be more widespread than just London, but even so: Mind. Blown. And did I mention that in London, buses are free for wheelchair users?? Is this common practice throughout the UK?! I've lived a sheltered life if so! And as far as spaccessibility on The Underground goes, I'm going to make a sweeping generalisation here and say that, as long as you stick to the Jubilee Line you should more often than not be fine. Any other line however and you're on your own!

The London Underground pocket map, for when you've grown bored of cracking the enigma code

Right, I've once again wandered off track and got lost in my own waffling. As I said at the end of my last post, I want to spend a bit of time talking about Active Hands, how they link to this blog and what made me start writing a blog in the first place, and like a Hercule Poirot case, you'll soon see that all the events link together...

Pretty much ever since the injury, people have been saying I should start a blog. Not masses of people (my ego isn't that big), just a few people every now and then, doubtless tired of me ranting at them about whatever's on my mind that day and desperately seeking a way of helping me channel my nonsensical ramblings elsewhere. It always sounded pretty appealing, but I always seemed to find a reason not to, whether it be I felt too busy at that time, I wasn't sure how to get started, or I just plain didn't think anyone would want to read what I had to say (jury's still out on that)! I did, for a time, do some wee film reviews on Facebook, films being one of my main interests. I called it The Crip Review, and I'd rate the film I'd just seen from 1-5 Wheelchairs (cos, you know, I'm disabled, what else am I going to rate it in, stars?! Pah!). I did quite enjoy doing that and it gave me an outlet for some of my creativity in a way but in the end I think I felt a bit silly/arrogant, bombarding people on Facebook with my personal film reviews. And I think it's safe to say that Mark Kermode wasn't feeling overly threatened by me!

So yeah, I did my little film reviews and continued making excuses when anyone mentioned blogging, up until this year that is. That's when I got an email from a guy I used to play wheelchair rugby with and who now represents GB in track racing, Rob Smith. As well as competing all over the world in track, Rob is also the founder of Active Hands, a gripping aids company that pretty much every quadriplegic in the UK will have heard of and purchased from at some point. Rob was interested in me doing a blog about my life, the things I get up to (within reason!) and how the Active Hands aids that I own contribute to my independence and general well-being. He was under the, hopefully not mistaken, impression that this may be something that would prove of interest to Active Hands followers on Facebook and Twitter, and this also meant I'd be getting sponsored (ie. paid) to do it. Well suddenly the idea of writing a blog became infinitely more appealing and I began feverishly looking into sites to host it, like the shamefully money-driven whore that I am!

In all honesty though, if you're going to get sponsored to write a blog, far better to be sponsored by a company whose aim it is to help people, than by one whose sole purpose is to extract money from your wallet. And that's what Active Hands is...the good one, not the evil, corporate America one! So, if you haven't already then go, check out the Active Hands website, watch the gym workout video, and see the kind of products they make and the benefits they offer people like myself!

Yes, I'm aware that was a shameless bit of advertising and product placement there, but as my Uncle Ben always used to tell me, 'With great sponsorship, comes great advertising'. And there will of course be more nods and nudges in the direction of Active Hands in future posts, but you have my word that this will only ever be done whilst I'm dressed to the nines in my finest pimping gear: White suit, fedora, diamond earring, gold dollar sign chain, bling rings, stogie clenched between my teeth. The works!

This finally concludes my trilogy of background, scene setting posts and brings us about up to date with where I am currently in my life. I will likely delve back into the past if I feel it's relevant to what I'm writing about at the time, or if I just fancy dragging you on a merry trip down memory lane. But I hope to remain more grounded in the present for at least the next few posts, providing of course that there are enough interesting occurrences for me to blog about. I don't think anyone wants to hear me regale my daily shower and skin care routine...right? I mean, I could, you know, if people wanted. Wheelchair washing with Gareth, you gotta admit, it's catchy! Guys? Hello...??