Monday, 30 November 2020

Crafting Christmas With Active Hands

The Nightmare Before Christmas

For most of us, referring to 2020 as "a challenging year" would be akin to referring to spinal cord injury as a "bit of back ache". What began as the start of a promising new decade quickly descended into a year to be largely written off. Yet, with us now entering the final straight and a vaccine tentatively hovering on the horizon, the hope of things returning to a semblance of normalcy at some point in 2021 seems to be a genuine possibility.  

Firstly however, there is one small matter left to attend to, one final hurdle in the 2020 marathon to overcome - Christmas!

The recent lockdowns and other strict laws we have seen implemented in the UK, have largely been in the hope that, come Christmas itself, people will be able to celebrate with their families: tucking into turkey, exchanging presents, and pulling crackers; as opposed to sending out a mass "Merry Xmas!" text and setting up a Zoom meeting so everyone can watch Strictly together! 

However, before the big day itself comes the build up, and the many, many joyous Christmas tasks that entails...

Ah the classic festive tradition of decorating the limbless, decapitated mannequin!

Home Alone

I must confess that I love pretty much everything about Christmas - the trees, the decorations, the food, the songs, the family aspect, the hustle and bustle of people trying to get in every little thing they need; there's something magical about the period. As I've become older, I've grown to enjoy the ramp up to the big day as much as if not more than the day itself. That doesn't mean it's not without its challenges mind you, and having a disability that affects my grip certainly plays into this. Staring helplessly at a stack of unwritten cards and a mountain of unwrapped presents would be enough to make me fall to my knees in submission were I actually able to get up again afterwards! 

In previous years, I'll rather sheepishly cop to having friends and family aid me in a large number of these types of tasks, and I'm sure I'm not the only one committing these acts of festive fraud...

This year however is different. With most of us being told to isolate as much as possible, this December many of us shall be doing the vast majority of our Christmas preparations *gulp* single handedly!

With this daunting prospect in mind, I'm going to take a look at some of the products I intend to use from the Active Hands store and how you too can use them to ensure Yule (sorry!) have a cracker of a Christmas! 

Small Item Gripping Aid

Easily one of the most versatile aids on offer, the Small Item Gripping Aid is my go to aid for all things pen related. Simply slot your writing implement in between the clamps, fix in place with the velcro straps and you're ready to dive into that stack of unwritten Christmas cards staring ominously at you from the kitchen counter! I'd previously had to rely on pinning the cards in place whilst using both hands to hold the pen and I swear, to this day half my family have no idea who the phantom scribbler is that sends them cards every Christmas!

What makes this aid so versatile is the fact that, not only can you attach each item at any angle you require, but, with some extra Palm Pads, you can attach multiple implements to them and keep them attached, allowing for quick and easy switching between items. I've used mine to hold everything from cooking utensils to an electric toothbrush, and I know many people use them to apply makeup as well (one likes to look their best for Santa after all)!

Nimble/Table Top Scissors

If there's one thing that could cause me to lose my festive cheer each year then it's the f$*&ing gift wrapping! No longer am I sprawled out by an open fire, gleefully gliding my scissors through paper as I watch a pair of inept burglars stumble through Macaulay Culkin's house of homemade horrors. Instead, it's devolved into a test of sheer will, of man versus paper, as I unroll the giant sheet onto the kitchen table then, using two hands, begin to carefully chop through it with the scissors, the cuts quickly becoming less careful and more erratic as the paper squirms and crinkles, leaving me with a rumpled mess that would've been neater if I'd taken a chainsaw to it! Thankfully I now have not one, but two options to relieve my wrapping woes and ease my stress levels!

The Nimble is a great, little device that you pop onto your finger and then, using the tiny blade on the end, slice through paper by simply running said finger over it. Ideal for cutting in straight or curved lines, this has brought a real ease back to gift wrapping and is equally great for opening mail or food packages.

The other option available are the Table Top Scissors. Place the scissors on a surface in front of your wrapping paper, push down on them and away you go! Operated with one hand, these are perfect for anyone with grip issues or limb difference, especially if a lack of fingers would mean the Nimble was unsuitable. I use both of these and find them never more useful than at Christmas. Trust me, your swear jar will thank you!

On a side note, I would also recommend getting yourself a sellotape dispenser to help with the wrapping, preferably a sturdy one that stays in place on the table, allowing for easy tape tearing. For me, it's a definite step up from having strips of tape dangling from the door handle!


Another highly versatile, multi-functional aid for the holiday season; the Reacher/Grabber is going to be almost single handedly responsible for my Christmas decorations getting put up this year! Simply slide your arm into the brackets and flex your wrist to get the pincer jaws to open and close, the perfect solution for anyone lacking the ability to grip and squeeze a handle.

This tool will come in ultra handy when putting up decorations in hard to reach spots or popping the angel atop the tree. On top of that, I seem to be about ten times clumsier over this period, so it's always kept in close proximity, ready to pluck the numerous gifts/cards/pens/decorations etc I manage to spill across the floor. And that garish Christmas jumper stashed out of sight and out of reach at the back of the wardrobe? The Reacher/Grabber can pluck that down for you as well you'll be relieved to hear!

I will say that, although at first glance this does seem like a pricey aid to have, I looked at it as more of an investment. This is a one time purchase that will last a lifetime whilst also saving you a lifetime of hassle, a Christmas miracle if you will! I was lucky enough to try one out a few years ago and I genuinely couldn't believe how well it worked and how precise it was; just see for yourself...

Kitchen Pack/Kitchen Pack Deluxe

Whether you're in charge of organising the family Christmas dinner or simply want to knock yourself up a little Christmas treat, the Kitchen Pack and Kitchen Pack Deluxe contain all the aids you need to cook up a storm with minimal risk of setting off the smoke alarms!

Inside the standard Kitchen Pack you will find:

  • All-purpose knife with right-angled grip, which I use in conjunction with my General Purpose Gripping Aid to cut through everything from raw meat to fruit and veg.
  • Palm peeler, which I slide onto my finger and use to quickly peel fruit and veg.
  • 5-in-1 opener multi-tool, which I use to open all sorts of bottles, jars and cans.
  • Anti-slip coaster, which I use to keep items such as pans, mixing bowls, jars etc steady and is particularly good at preventing slips and spillages.
  • Anti-slip strip, which I wrap around my various pan handles, enabling me to get a much better grip on them and ensuring I don't spill any hot food/sauces/liquids.
  • Nimble, which I use to slice open various food packages with and find much easier than using scissors or resorting to my teeth! 

Upgrade to the Kitchen Pack Deluxe however and you'll get all of the above, plus the following:

  • Bread knife with right angled grip, which I use to saw through tough baguettes and tiger bread, a tasty addition to any meal.
  • One touch can opener, which with the push of a button can automatically cut the top off a tin can, a life saver as I am no longer able to use a manual tin opener.
  • Jar opener, which I pop over the top of stubborn jar lids in order to twist them off.
  • Automatic bottle opener, which is pushed down over the mouth of a bottle in order to remove the metal cap, because why not reward yourself before/during/after cooking with a chilled beer...or two!* 

*Please drink copiously responsibly!

So whether you're a novice dabbler or a fully fledged kitchen wiz, the Kitchen Aid Packs are ideal for anybody with gripping issues. Personally speaking, whereas no one may be crazy enough to put me in charge of Christmas dinner, I will certainly be putting my bake-off skills to the test with a few festive curries and various cakes over the season, something I wouldn't have dared even contemplate before I had this arsenal to hand!

N.B. Each aid listed is also available to buy separately if you would rather create your own custom kitchen pack!

Food Preparation Board

A perfect accompaniment for the Kitchen Packs, the Food Preparation Board is a multi-functional chopping board complete with large chopping surface, spiked area, grater/slicer and collection bowl. This allows you to hold items in place as you chop or peel them (extra handy when using the right angled knives or palm peeler), and also grate or slice things such as fruit, veg and cheese, which are collected in the bowl underneath. This compact kit stores away very easily and is a must have for anyone who, like me, plans to get their hands dirty in the kitchen this Christmas.

Full disclosure: This is one item that I dont currently possess as it's only recently arrived in stock. However, around this time of year, I always like to treat myself to an item or two that I know will make my life that little bit easier, and after getting through 2020 with my insanity (arguably) intact, I think I deserve this!

Cutlery With Loops

This final one technically doesn't fit in with the whole 'Christmas preparations' vibe I've been going for, but what's the point in doing all this baking if you can't stuff your face with it afterwards?!

Anyone with limited grip knows all too well the 'joys' of using cutlery. How tucking into a simple roast dinner can quickly become an infuriating battle as you desperately attempt to saw through your turkey and trimmings without:

  1. Dropping your knife and fork
  2. Causing food to fly off your plate
  3. Skewering an entire turkey leg and gnawing on it like Fred Flintstone
  4. All of the above!

I remember countless times I've relied on a friend or family member to cut my food into manageable pieces for me as I slumped back in my chair, defeated by a Yorkshire pudding! 

Enter the Cutlery With Loops. Now all I need to do is slide my finger and thumb into the looped slots, tightening them if necessary, and the cutlery is instantly fixed to my hand(s) with zero worry of me losing grip on it. There are various pieces of cutlery available, from your standard knife, fork and spoon to steak knife and teaspoon. They are well worth the one off investment, especially if lockdown means that, similar to myself, you're spending a little more time making meals for one.


It's A Wonderful Life

So there we have it. The cards are written, the presents are wrapped, the tree is up, and the halls are well and truly decked. You've cooked and eaten enough food to feed a small army; now all that's left is to kick back with a cold bottle of beer, stick on some Christmas TV and fall asleep within 10 minutes!

Hopefully this entry has given you some handy hints and tips to make your Christmas that little bit merrier, but if you're still unconvinced and require more visual persuasion then I'll leave you with this compilation video showing how Rob is preparing for a family Christmas at ho-ho-home!



Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Co-Existing With Covid

The New Norm...?

In my previous blog entry from April, which feels like a solid decade ago at this point, I confidently mused that by the time I got round to writing my next entry, all this Coronavirus nonsense would be "firmly in the rearview mirror"...
...oh to be young and naive again! 
Yes, I now find myself firmly at the stage where, with no miracle breakthrough on the horizon, rather than considering when we'll get on top of this virus, I'm considering if we'll get on top of it. 
Life, although severely altered for the foreseeable future, must go on however, and last month saw the start of lockdown easing; as the likes of shops, hairdressers, gyms, bars and restaurants all began to reopen. This gradual re-opening also coincided with the end of the suggested 12 week shielding period that the most vulnerable had been placed under, a list that comprised of many people with disabilities, including yours truly.

And so I'm writing this blog entry from a post-shielding perspective, as one of the many who has recently emerged pale-faced and bleary-eyed from their shelter, gazed up at the sky, breathed in the fresh air, and cautiously begun to reintegrate into society. Okay so that may have been a tad dramatic, it wasn't exactly a stint in Guantanamo Bay, but you get the gist!
Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'...

Joking aside, I will admit that, similarly to those who are locked up, or from a personal perspective, similarly to when I was in hospital after my injury, lockdown has seen me become a little institutionalised. After my initial panic and dread at the thought of being trapped at home, I soon found myself adapting and settling into my new routine. Online deliveries became the norm, my mum popped round twice a week to provide me with some human interaction, I handbiked from my kitchen five days a week, did an alcohol fuelled Zoom quiz with friends on a Saturday night and continued to work from home for Active Hands. Plus, with enough video games and streaming services to fill up the evenings, it was surprisingly easy to forget about all the things I would have been doing otherwise. 

The Lockdown Lethargy Legacy

I am, and always have been, a creature of habit. I find the idea of change quite intimidating. As a child, even when I was getting bullied, I turned down the chance to move schools, as the idea of leaving the only educational environment I'd ever known and starting somewhere completely new proved too daunting a prospect. After my injury, it took me years to fully adapt to life on wheels as I felt nervous and self-conscious whenever I was outside. So when life as we all know it changes, and we are suddenly forced to do such things as queue and wait our turn to enter shops, follow a set route round and be constantly aware of staying clear of other people, one can't help but feel a tad frustrated and long for the good old days where you could nip to the supermaket for a couple of essentials and be done within five minutes, or enter hand to hand combat with another customer for the last Iron Man onesie in Primark!
To the victor go the...ahem..."spoils"!
Long a staple of many a Saturday night, I am stunned to admit that, since the pubs reopened, I haven't been once; instead choosing to have a few drinks at home whilst testing my quiz skills on Zoom. I'm not saying I don't miss the bustling social atmosphere of the pub, quite the opposite in fact; as it is largely the idea of appointmented hours, fixed seating and table service that is vastly lessening the appeal to me. For what is a pub without crowding round bars and seats, striking up conversations with strangers and having the freedom to congregate wherever you please?

In no way am I saying that all of the measures being taken aren't completely valid and necessary, they clearly are. I'm just saying that, once again, it's going to take some time for me to "fully adapt" and accept this as the new way of living. In a way, it feels like a mourning period for the loss of what had always been taken for granted, and I'm sure I can't be alone in having this melancholy sense...

Surprisingly, out of all the changes that have occurred, the one I've had the least problem adapting to is the one that seems to be causing the most uproar - namely wearing a mask. I certainly don't feel like this small piece of cloth is violating my civil liberties in any way; the only major downside being that, when worn in conjunction with glasses, the fog effect leaves me looking like a cross between Mr Magoo and legendary disabled highwayman Crip Turpin!

Anti-fog lenses - a mist opportunity!

I don't mean to paint a picture of doom and gloom here. I've not become a bitter house hermit, staring longingly out of the window whilst singing Barbara Streisand's The Way We Were, a single, solitary tear running down my cheek! There are plenty of activities I am looking forward to getting back into, a couple of scheduled trips planned and several ways I've already taken advantage of the lockdown easing.

Pensively Planning Out Productivity

On the social side of things, since lockdown began to be lifted, I've seen a couple of friends on their birthdays, been to a barbeque and gone for a wander along the coast with my mum and her dog, Bertie! In the coming weeks I'm looking forward to socialising with more friends, resuming my regular cinema trips and getting back to wheelchair rugby training. And with a couple of mini excursions to Scarborough and Buxton on the horizon, it'll be interesting to see how different areas are coping and to what extent this is affecting nightlife and tourist activities. 

A shameless flaunting of the two metre rule by Bertie!

In terms of the more mundane side of things, with opticians and barbers appointments both ticked off the list, the dentist is the next one to organise, although that definitely comes with the higher risk of the three as you literally have someone peering and prodding in your mouth. As will be the case for many people who have either been furloughed or worked from home during lockdown, my job at college will also resume next month and I'm genuinely looking forward to getting back into the building and working face-to-face so to speak. I quickly found out during the previous term that supporting students from home and getting so much as a peep out of them was something of a nightmare and in complete contrast to being in a classroom where you often couldn't get them to shut up!

Everyone is different though and I think the important thing is to only do what you feel comfortable doing, especially in terms of social and non-vital activities. Socially distanced outdoor activities such as drinks in the garden or walks in the park come with a much lower risk than indoor activities such as going to the gym or cinema (which circulate air all around them). Whereas hospital and dental appointments are often necessary and unavoidable, the likes of hair and beauty appointments are much less vital. There are ways of greatly lessening the risk involved, but no activity involving others is completely risk free in this post-corona world we now live in, so it's important to plan accordingly, think of others and take it slow.

An Existential Fork In The Road

From a personal perspective I would say that, although I am very much aware of the differing risk levels involved in the various things we are now allowed to do once again, I don't want my life to be dictated by fear. Yes, it will certainly be in the forefront of my mind the first few times I go back to the cinema, and yes, I am somewhat hesitant to return to the pub under the new guidelines; but I also know that I'll almost certainly embrace both once again in the coming weeks.

By far my biggest concerns are whether Covid-19 is even able to be eliminated at this point, the longterm effects it will have on our way of life, and whether things will ever be able to go back to how they were. For many of us with underlying health and mobility issues who already faced difficulties getting out and about, this virus has made each trip outside a potential life or death gamble; where fear of leaving the house can lead to anxiety, depression and an overwhelming sense of isolation.  
There are so many small freedoms you take for granted and don't fully appreciate until they're gone.
To do or not to do. To live or not to live. 
Not wanting to end on too bleak a note however, I will say that I would like to think most if not all of us will have had at least one positive experience come out of lockdown. Whether it's spending more time with your children/partner, learning a new skill, improving your baking, overhauling the garden, reading the entire 50 Shades saga, writing your memoirs, or just having a bit more time to relax - there will hopefully be at least one positive you can focus on.
My main positive is that my lockdown exercise routine has seen me reach a level of fitness not seen in years! This is something I am desperately keen on retaining in the longterm and hope to stick to my schedule of exercising at least five days a week. Unfortunately, my current level of boasted fitness is all stamina based, so whereas I may have the endurance of the Duracell Bunny, I have the strength of the Andrex Puppy, all the while continuing to look more like one of The Muppets!
I'm just saying, have you ever seen Animal & I in the same room together...?


Friday, 10 April 2020

Life In The Time Of Corona

Apocalypse Now

I'm not going to lie, a few months ago when we initially entered 2020, I didn't expect my first blog entry of the new decade to be dealing with the apocalypse, but here we are. In fact, it seems positively ironic that in my previous entry I'd spoken about how uncomfortable I felt accepting help off strangers, and now it's illegal to be within 2 metres of any of them...I guess the moral of the story is be careful what you wish for!

Only a few months since the first case was reported in Wuhan, China, Covid-19 aka Coronavirus has spread across the globe, forcing not only entire countries, but entire continents into lockdown as governments battle to stop the spread. All but the most essential of businesses are closed, and the vast majority of people are told to work from home if they are able to. 

Working from home - because that PC of yours isn't just for porn you know!

As the virus is a respiratory illness that affects the lungs and airways, anyone with a pre-existing medical condition relating to these areas is urged to remain at home as much as possible; with the most high-risk cases being told in no uncertain terms to stay indoors for at least 12 weeks. For many people like myself, with disabilities affecting the lungs, this can sound and feel an awful lot like a prison sentence, and it certainly affected me psychologically in a way I had not seen coming. But after the initial shock, quickly followed by the likes of denial, anger and depression, I seem to have reached some kind of tenuous acceptance of the situation.

That's not to say I'm okay with the position I find myself in; I've just made temporary adaptations in order to safely get on with my life. However, there will be many people out there who remain in a state of panic at what is going on, and I can't really blame them. This feels like the first act of a horror movie, with the zombie onslaught mere minutes away! So with all this in mind, I've decided to focus this blog entry on the survival aspect of things currently. That means looking at not only how best to stay safe and survive the virus itself, but how to deal with the self-isolation; along with the physical, emotional and psychological effects this can all have when you live with a disability.

1. Don't Be A Corona Loner

Self-isolation has the potential to be a mental health nightmare, and we have to work together in order to stop it.
It's safe to say that, never in my life have I regretted more, a) being single, and b) living alone. I've always been fine with my own company and in the past have enjoyed spending the odd lazy day by myself. But something about being told I have to spend weeks in almost complete isolation, with no sporting or social interactions, sent me into a bit of an emotional panic. Okay, it sent me into a lot of an emotional panic, and for the first few days I was equal parts upset and bitter, as I felt entirely alone for the first time maybe ever. 

What I can be found doing at some point most days!

What helped me get past this stage, was firstly realising that I wasn't alone in feeling alone. Spend 10 minutes on social media and you'll see that millions of people, both able and disabled, are going through the same thing currently; and even in your own social groups, it is highly unlikely that you are the only 'single person' out of all of them. But even if you are, take solace in the knowledge that most couples will be driving each other crazy by day 3 of lockdown! 

So, bearing in mind that most people you know are going to be in a similar boat to you right now, the logical next step is to make contact. We are unbelievably fortunate to be living in an age where we can keep in touch with virtually every member of our friends and family at the push of a button. Whether it's via text, voice or video chat, there has never been a more perfect time to resurrect friendships or call that family member you haven't spoken to since Christmas. Hearing a friendly voice, having a chat, making each other laugh or just ranting about how sh*t everything seems - it's all therapeutic and it all helps. On top of this, there are endless games you can play with friends online, from fast-paced PC and console games to simple mobile puzzles and quizzes - after all, it'd be a crying shame if you had to go months without reminding your friends and family just who is the king of Game of Thrones trivia!

2. Exercise Those Demons

It's easy to look at the current situation and think to yourself, "well that's it, everything's closed and I can't go outside for the next 3 months, commence Operation: Vegetate". But in reality, this couldn't be further from the truth. We're housebound, with a finite number of options to keep us entertained, there has never been a better time to get fit!

Armed with a few pieces of exercise equipment and the right set of exercise aids, anyone can turn their home into a home gym. From simple items like dumb-bells, resistance bands and pull-up bars to bulkier items like handbikes, rowers and cable machines; all are available to buy new or second hand online. Just committing to exercising a few times a week with one or two of these items can make a big difference both physcially and mentally. Sitting around doing nothing, on top of being extremely unhealthy for the body, can also be a major cause of depression, and exercise is proven to combat this. I bought an ex-gym handbike from eBay a few years ago and I've never used it so much - pop on some music, open the French doors for a bit of breeze and I'm away!

Image represents average man's hair length by the time barbers re-open!

For a more substantial list of exercises you can do from home, check out my article Exercising At Home - A Self-Isolation Guide on the Active Hands website. It really can help take your mind off things and make a difference. And how awesome would it be if, once all this is over, you come out of your house fitter and stronger than before you went in?! Take that Corona!


3. Get A Change of Scenery

Remember up top when I said this whole thing could end up feeling like a prison sentence? Well if anything is going to drive that feeling home then it's sitting and staring at the same walls day in day out. That's why it's so important right now to grasp any and every opportunity we get for a change of scenery, even if it's only a slight one! 

Obviously we're not able to pop down to the local beer garden for a pint in the sun, but if you've got a garden, a driveway, or hell, even a window you can open, then use it! Sit outside for a little bit every day, breathe in the fresh air, crack open a beer, look at the sky, the plants, the birds; unlike the walls inside, the outdoors is constantly changing and no two glimpses are ever the same. If there's one thing I'm grateful to this virus for, it's that it had the decency to wait until Spring before fully unleashing itself. Granted it's resulted in most summer events being cancelled, but at least if we sit outside now there's only a 50/50 chance of it raining on us!

I mean, there are definitely worse ways to spend an afternoon!

Most of us are also allowed to brave it in public and get our one walk/push in each day. If this is the case then find new routes or paths to explore. As long as we keep a safe distance from each other then the air itself isn't going to kill us, and it may even do us some good! I've even taken to driving 20 minutes to the coast once or twice a week so I can park up by the sea and read. However, although I stay in my car the entire time, I'm not sure how strictly 'legal' this is currently, so please don't quote me on this in court!

4. Explore Your Options & Set Some Goals

Ever fancied yourself as a tormented artist or green-fingered guru? Ever dreamed of expanding your baking abilities and creating a signature dish? Ever wanted to finally read that book series, binge that boxset or complete that video game that's been silently taunting you for months? Well guess what...

It's highly unlikely (fingers firmly crossed) that we'll ever find ourselves again in a position where we're being told that the most productive thing for us to do is nothing. Now that we've got so much time on our hands with nowhere to be, instead of falling into a routine of boredom, why not consider rekindling a passion you once had or trying your hand at something you've always fancied but never had the time for? Of course, your options are limited to things you can do from home, but that can encompass a fair number of possibilities if you sit and think about it. 

During the afternoons, I've taken to testing my cooking skills and experimenting with a few new recipes, and on an evening I'm currently working my way through a backlog of TV shows and video games. Sure, I could be learning a new language or clearing the clutter off my work surfaces, and if that's something you discover a passion for then fantastic! The point is that we can use this time to do something we want to do, not something we feel we have to do; and realistically, how many chances are we going to get after this? Plus, with all the kitchen aids, gardening aids and small item aids available; we're really running out of excuses not to!

Stir fry: not the most testing of meals to prepare, but a definite step up from toast!


5. Enjoy The Little Things

One of my all-time favourite films is the 2009 zomcom Zombieland. In it, the main character survives the undead uprising thanks to a set of rules he holds to, one of which is "enjoy the little things". There are plenty more rules I could have chosen, however I'm banking on this virus not going full zombie-mode, as I would hate to have to "double tap" my next door neighbours!

When I say enjoy the little things, I mean try not to focus on the negatives of the current situation we find ourselves in but instead seek out positives and give yourself things to look forward to. This could be anything from ordering a new book, movie or video game online to sitting out in the garden with a cold drink and taking in some sun. Like it or not, self-isolation is affording the vast majority of us a lot more free time right now, so treat yourself while you can. I'm not by any means saying this virus is a good thing, and I think I speak for us all when I say the sooner we create a vaccine the better, but in the meantime it's okay to be doing things that make you happy, this doesn't mean you're a bad person.

As I alluded to previously, now that my evenings are free from wheelchair rugby, table tennis and any social events usually involving the cinema or pub, I've had time to finally get back to playing Red Dead Redemption 2 (my last save was dated July 2019)! And if by some small miracle I finally complete the damn game, then do you know what I'll do? I'll treat myself to a new one!

Saturday night is now takeaway night in the Gimpy Kid house and is something I look forward to every week; perusing menus days beforehand to check out my options! Sure I guess I could get a takeaway every night if I really wanted to, but instead I'd prefer to give myself something to aim for each week, a treat to stop the days blurring into one. Plus, I'd rather maintain a somewhat healthy diet throughout all this (healthy diet = healthy immune system), not completely negate the hard work done in Section 2 of this entry and definitely not have to explain to wheelchair services why, after only 3 months of having this chair, I now need one four inches wider!

Chicken covered in cheese covered in steak - a local "delicacy"...

Survive, Thrive and Stay Alive

So there we have it - 5 basic hints and tips to get us through self-isolastion with only a minimal loss of sanity! Obviously there is plenty more that could be included to keep us safe and well prepared; things such as ordering prescriptions well in advance, ensuring any personal assistants take the necessary precautions before beginning work, ordering shopping online as much as possible etc. My list is more about maintaining positive mental health than anything.

With any luck, by the time I get round to writing the next entry, all this will be firmly in the rearview mirror and the main concern involving Corona will be whether it comes with a slice of lime or not! Random final thought though: I wonder if they'll end up changing the name to avoid the stigma now attached to the C-word? I mean if people are willing to believe that 5G causes Corona then they're willing to believe anything!

Coming to stores Summer 2020!

"We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again." - The Queen 

Stay safe everyone!


Wednesday, 16 October 2019

My Disability Inability To Accept Offers of Cordiality

An Aversion To Assistance

Confession time: My name is Gareth and I am terrible at asking for help from strangers. I haven't always been this way however, this little aversion being a definite mental side effect of my injury. I'm not sure what exactly it's rooted in; whether it's a combination of pig-headed pride and stubbornness, or whether it's because I always used to be the person others would come to for help when it came to physical tasks and hate the thought that I'm now somehow less able than I was. Either way, for the last 14 years I've struggled to shake the feeling of defeat when having to rely on a random person to help me do something, especially if it's something I could have done with ease before my injury but am now entirely incapable of doing myself.

The thing is, I know exactly how ridiculous this all is, especially as a person in my firmly seated position who realistically should be requesting and accepting help far more than your average bipedal human. The most common example of this bizarre phobia can be found in the supermarket where I have zero problem asking for something to be passed down from a high shelf if I'm with a friend or family member, but if I'm on my own then I'll sit there, sizing the challenge up and judging whether I can get my fingertips to the item without causing a "clean-up on aisle 3" alert! If there's no chance of me reaching it and it's something I absolutely need then sure, I'll bite the bullet and either find a member of staff to help me or awkwardly camp out under the shelf and wait for an appropriately sized civilian to pass by. But countless other times, if it's something I've wanted but not necessarily something I've been in urgent need of then, rather than bite the bullet, I'll instead bite my tongue; aborting the mission rather than seeking out help. And that's weird right...I'm weird?!

Oh top shelf, why do you mock us so...?


When Helping Hinders

Without doubt, one of the biggest pet peeves since my injury is people who won't take no for an answer, the insistent assisters. These people, although well-meaning, don't so much offer help as insist upon it. I've lost count of the number of times I've declined an offer of help as I'm pushing up a bank, only to hear the familiar follow-up of, "don't be silly, I'll give you a hand!" And suddenly I'm whisked away, whether I like it or not; eyes glued to the ground in front of me for any potholes or other potential death traps. Similarly, when leaning out of the car and dismantling my chair, I've had people ask if I need help whilst simultaneously scooping the chair up and out of my grasp. Every time this happens, the same thought goes through my head: "well, I didn't need help before you did that...!" Oh and please, taxi drivers, I am begging you, if a person is transferring out of your taxi and into their wheelchair, do not grab them under the very arms that they are currently using to lift themselves with! We essentially become a sack of potatoes when you do this. But even after myself and/or my chair have finished being manhandled, what do I do? I say thank you! Granted this is more of a begrudging politeness uttered through gritted teeth, but what else can you do?! They're not doing this out of malice, but rather out of a misjudged kindness; I'm their good deed for the day! 

Sometimes however, no matter who you are or how awkward you may feel, sometimes you genuinely need to ask for help. For me, those moments arise whenever I inadvertently nosedive out of my chair and onto the floor, more often than not in a bewildered heap. In those moments I know that, barring some kind of a miracle, I'm going to have to yell, call or buzz someone for assistance. But even then, I'll still give a few gung-ho attempts at recovering the situation, and a comical montage of desperation unfolds before finally admitting defeat and slumping into a pile of C6 frustration. The one time I actually managed to drag myself from the floor to the bed exhausted me so much that I needed an immediate recovery nap!

The Big Bathroom Blunder

A perfect example of this stubborn desperation occurred earlier this year when staying at a Travelodge in Glasgow. A few years prior I had posted a blog entry about the proud moment I figured out how to get myself in and out of the bath, and as of January this year I had a 100% completion record in this feat...

I guess it was always going to happen and alas, this was the day. I drained the water, popped my legs over the side, pulled myself forwards and upwards onto the edge of the bath, went to place my hand on my chair for support, completely missed and somersaulted forwards, out of the bath and onto the floor, naked as the day I was born!

You're welcome!

It's safe to say I was somewhat aggrieved at the circumstances I now found myself in, but this was virgin territory for me; I'd never fallen out of the bath before and as such, I'd never attempted to get myself back in either. So I swung the lower half of my legs back over the bathtub, pulled my torso up against my thighs and for a solid (no joke) 30 minutes valiantly attempted to haul myself back into the bath, failing miserably of course. But do you know what, there were a couple of times where I thought I had it, a couple of times where I was desperately grasping for the bath rail, wishing I had an Active Hands aid with me so I could actually get a firm grip on what kept slipping through my fingers. Hell, the new Hook Aids would be ideal! Sadly neither were on hand, therefore off I shuffled into the bedroom to roll around on the floor and get some clothes on, coming face to face with all the secret stains and smells hidden in the Travelodge carpets; truly a bucket list item was ticked off that day!

Once dressed I did what any sane person in my position would do and spent a further 30 minutes valiantly stupidly trying again to get myself back into the bath, because jeans would surely provide less friction than skin against the tub, allowing me to glide up and a panting pile of prostrated paralysis on the bathroom floor!

Aching and overcome, I reached out a quivering hand and for the first time ever, deliberately pulled the emergency cord dangling by the bathtub. And I waited...and waited. After 5 minutes had passed I figured that particular cord must be faulty; after all, every time I'd accidentally activated an emergency button in the past, within seconds the door was being eagerly beaten down by staff members. So I did my little butt shuffle from bathroom to bedroom, where another emergency cord hung, and for the second time ever I deliberately gave it a yank. And I waited...and waited...and waited. Eventually, after more minutes had passed, I accepted the fact that my calls were going unanswered and so telephoned the reception on my mobile, explaining my predicament. Seconds later a couple of very helpful and very apologetic staff members came in, scooped me off the floor and plopped me into my chair whilst explaining that they assumed it was the cleaners who had set the alarms off and definitely not the wheelchair user occupying the room at that time! Still, they were very nice and helped make me feel a little less sheepish about things, so it was all good. I'm just relieved I was able to get myself dressed first, for their sakes as much as mine!

Anyway, for several days after "the incident", the muscles in my arms and shoulders ached fairly intensely, so I'm going to say the moral of this story is; if you end up in a heap on the ground, then swallow your pride and get someone around!

A Gradual Acceptance of Assistance

I think what I've come to realise through all this is that, no matter how prideful, embarrassed or stubborn I may feel, and no matter how much it may pain me to do so, sometimes you just need to ask for help. And that's okay. Nobody in the world, no matter how able they may be, goes through life without asking for assistance at various times. And inversely, nobody goes through life without being of assistance to others; after all, help doesn't always have to be physical.

I'm sure I can't be sitting here alone in my little assistance aversion bubble though, I can't be the only stubborn S.O.B. out there, right?! Feel free to leave a comment below if you can relate to anything I've said here, it'd be nice to know I'm not a solo weirdo! Or hell, feel free to comment telling me what an idiot I am, it happens more often than you may thi...actually, it happens exactly as often as you may think!

In the meantime, I shall leave you with a brief synopsis of an instance in Rio a few years ago when I did actually ask for help, having fallen when transferring into my shower chair late at night.  On this occasion I'd had to haul myself down the hallway to my friend's room and knock on the door for assistance, only to be greeted by a bewildered Brazilian lady in a nightgown. It was at this moment I realised to my utter horror that I had my hotel layout all wrong and had in fact knocked on the wrong door. Late at night. Whilst sat in just my pants. After sharing several seconds of mutually horrified eye contact with the poor lady, I began slowly shuffling my-largely-naked-self backwards down the corridor, like something straight out of a Japanese horror film...

Who knows when the dreaded creepy crip crawler might show up outside of YOUR door!

...and we shall never speak of this again!


Monday, 1 July 2019

Hook Aids - A Gimpy Kid Review

A New Product To Get Hooked On

A few years ago you may (or more likely, may not) recall that I wrote a blog entry about how Active Hands was branching out and had begun selling certain disability products designed by others alongside their own gripping aids. I focussed specifically on the Ungrip, a material loop that fits onto the back of any phone, allowing you to slide a finger into it and ensure it spends more time in your hand and less time on the floor with a giant crack across the screen! Since then, plenty more new and unique items have been added to the website, a detailed list of which can be found here.

However, it's not just the Products by Others section that's been growing, no sir! Far from resting on their laurels, content with the creations they've already concocted, the Active Hands elves have been hard at work crafting some brand new, ingeniously innovative aids designed to help anyone with limited hand or finger function 'get a grip' (three words I hear on a near daily basis)! A couple of years ago they launched the Limb Difference Aid, specifically designed for those with missing fingers and/or hand parts. Fast forward to present day, and the first half of this year alone has seen the release of not one, but two brand new gripping aids; in the form of the Small Item Gripping Aid and the Hook Aids. Having already written an article for the Active Hands website on the former (which can be found here, complete with video montage of yours truly), I decided that I should now focus my attention on the latter.

So without further ado, here is my review of the Active Hands Hook Aids and how you can incorporate them into your workout, whether at the gym or at home:

What Are Hook Aids?

Hook Aids are a new type of Active Hands gripping aid, specifically designed for easy hooking onto and off of various gym apparatus and exercise equipment. They are ideal for use in any activities that involve close-ended bars, and are great for the likes of: pull-ups, rowing machines, lat pull-down machines and certain handbikes.



How Do They Work?

Similarly to the General Purpose gripping aid, once you slip each hand into a Hook Aid, the neoprene material is securely fastened round your wrist using a Velcro strap. You then slip the elastic loop over a finger (usually the middle one), pinning the stainless steel hook to your palm and stopping it from flopping forwards onto your wrist. You then have complete control to hook onto and "grip" whatever exercise equipment you so wish. And once you are done, simply lift your hands/hooks off the equipment, undo the Velcro and remove the aids.


In reality though, anyone can spout some jargon about a product and what its supposed benefits are. But the products sold by Active Hands are specifically designed for people with limited hand and finger function. Therefore the most logical way of reviewing a product of theirs is by sharing my own personal experience of using it as a tetraplegic... 

My Hook Aids Experience

I will admit to being both excited and a little sceptical when I first read about the Hook Aids. I had given up my gym membership towards the end of last year due to there not being enough equipment I could easily access to justify the monthly fee, and had instead purchased an ex-gym handbike. This, when coupled with my dumb-bells, gave me just as good a workout as I had been getting at the gym, but I was always on the lookout for more exercises to add. The slight scepticism I felt was all down to my niggling doubts as to whether my C6 quad arms would be able to 'pull up' any part of my C6 quad bod! But I chose to remain positive, and once I knew the Hook Aids were on their way, I popped online and ordered an inexpensive pull-up bar (just under £15). This bar was designed to be attached to either side of a doorframe and, when used in conjunction with the Hook Aids, should allow me to do pull-up exercises from home. (A quick word of advice if purchasing a doorframe pull-up bar: Make sure it's a removable one; unless of course you want the added comic value of anyone over 5 feet tall getting clotheslined whenever they walk nonchalantly into the room! Mine slots fairly easily in and out of two brackets that had to be screwed onto the frame, and it's possible they are all designed like this. But just in case they're not, you have been warned!)

Twist the bar one way to lengthen & attach, then the other way to shorten & detach.

Another thing I will stress is the importance of reading the instructional leaflet that comes with the Hook Aids themselves, as this explains how to adjust the position of the hooks and how to either trim or stab a hole in the neoprene at the desired spot so that the elastic loop can comfortably go over your finger. It's important to take your time with this and it may be worthwhile seeking out a handy helper monkey to do the aforementioned trimming/stabbing, as the neoprene cannot be untrimmed/unstabbed. A friend of mine (definitely not me) thought he (or she, could've been anyone) was above reading instructions, and instead spent a truly embarrassing amount of time squinting at the neoprene whilst trying to push the elastic loop through a non-existent hole. What a buffoon that person must've felt eh (a person that, I cannot stress enough, definitely 100% was not me)!

Anyway, once the aids were set up, I parked myself under the pull-up bar, fastened the Hook Aids firmly round my wrists, hooked them snugly over the bar, took a deep breath, and heaved upwards... 

A proud moment as I perform my very first quiff-up!

Success! I actually managed to haul my butt off the seat and do a bloody pull-up (my first in over 14 years)! Feeling an exhilirating swell of confidence, I decided to do a few more, and quickly discovered the rather shameful limits to my stamina levels! Happy with my initial test run, I lifted my hands up and the hooks instantly detached from the bar. Realising how simple an exercise this was for me to do, I returned to it the next day, and the day after, and the day after that; my stamina levels gradually increasing. It turns out my scepticism had been unwarranted, as these aids genuinely do give a person with limited arm and finger function the ability to do pull-ups, pull-downs, and any other related exercises you have the equipment for. (Full disclosure: After seeing videos of it online, I did strap myself to my chair and attempt a MEGA PULL-UP; however, trying to lift what is essentially a 57kg dead weight strapped to another 13kg dead weight using just my arms, proved a bridge waaaay too far, so for now I shall remain content with my modest butt lift pull-up!)

To Buy or Not To Buy...

But would I recommend getting this product even if you already have other Active Hands aids? Honestly, this was something I'd asked myself before the Hook Aids arrived, as I was unsure what they would offer that I couldn't get from, say the General Purpose gripping aids. However, after having tried them out for the past month, I can confidently state that these are a totally unique and very worthy addition to any gym user's or fitness enthusiast's Active Hands arsenal. To start with, I would have to stress the ease of use and independence that the Hook Aids offer. I love my General Purpose gripping aids and I use them for countless activities around the house and in the garden, as well as for the obvious fitness purposes. I'll admit though, it can be a little tricky to independently attach a left glove and a right glove at the same time. So, for example, when I lift dumb-bells, I do a set with my left hand, followed by a set with my right, as opposed to doing both arms together. However, I can effortlessly attach and use both Hook Aids independently, and the elastic finger loops ensure I am able to hook onto, and afterwards unhook from, the pull-up bar with ease.

 The other thing I will say is that using the Hook Aids in conjunction with a pull-up bar gives you a swift and simple exercise that takes up no time and focusses on specific muscles, so you really feel like they've been worked afterwards. I usually jump on and do 5-10 sets of 5 pull-ups which takes maybe 10 minutes, but during this time I can feel the tensing of my biceps, shoulders and lats. Hell, I'm not even sure if my lats are functional but something's certainly burning in that area afterwards!


I was very pleasantly surprised with these Hook Aids; they've opened the door to another great exercise I can do from home, an exercise that requires far less time and preparation than say, a stint on the handbike or a set of dumb-bell lifts. And if you're a gym member or have access to, for example, a rowing machine or lat pull-down machine, then there are even more options open to you. They can be found now by searching on the Active Hands website or by simply clicking the link HERE.

I shall leave you with video footage of the moment I donned the Hook Aids for the first time and heaved myself to the heavens...or at least a few inches in that direction!