My long-time subscription to F1 Racing magazine recently came to an end, and following this I realised that it would be pointless to renew it before my move to Winchester. I will therefore acquire them individually in the meantime, but even this has so far proved to be easier said than done. In my formative years, and prior to my subscription, I would enthusiastically visit newsagents in various places to pick up my copy, knowing that Dad would be there to hand it to me from the shelf. Now I am older, I am going to such places on my own, and I generally do so eager not to draw too much attention to myself. All I want to do is glide in as quietly as possible, find the magazine, pay for it and glide out again. I want to do this without appearing to struggle, and to be almost completely unnoticed even in my conspicuous and cumbersome chair. As you might expect, however, the layout of many shops means that this is not possible. Lots of interesting magazines, including F1 Racing, tend to be positioned only within reach of those who are much higher up than me, so no amount of groaning or straining from my chair will bring what I am looking for.
I could just ask for help, of course, but it always seems so silly to interrupt someone’s work or browsing just so they can remove something from a shelf for me (it was different with Dad – he was there primarily for that reason). In addition, I would feel like I was admitting defeat too easily – and it’s a magazine, for heaven’s sake! Why shouldn’t I be able to buy one in the same way as everyone else? To answer this question, I have to search far and wide, going from shop to shop on my own personal mission. As I do this, I have to make sure I don’t look too strange as I circle it carefully before exiting without buying anything. I slowly weave my way around to where the magazines are located, trying not to obstruct any other customers, and I stop next to the shelves so that I can scan them as closely as possible. The motorsport magazines are generally grouped into the same category as the regular motoring ones, so I know the titles to look out for – F1 Racing, for instance, can usually be found near Autosport or Motor Sport.
If it is on the third shelf up or higher, any efforts I make will be in vain. Whilst I understand that not every magazine can be placed on a low shelf, my constant inability to independently collect what I want without any fuss does start to grate after a while. I can generally rely on one shop in my local area to always place F1 Racing on its lowest shelf, although there are admittedly a few I haven’t yet looked in. Said shop is occasionally without its copy, so maybe my next trip out for one should feature another mission to these uncharted territories?
It might not seem like an important detail at first, but when I entered my Winchester taster session last weekend I decided to sit on a normal seat. This was primarily so that I could access a table more easily (although Lara had offered to move it) and be more comfortable on what was effectively a big sofa, although the decision may have had a slightly deeper motivation behind it. As I stopped my wheelchair next to the seat, lifted the armrest up and began to slide over, I must have been partly determined to show all of the new people in the room the independence I am capable of. Whenever I do transfer to another chair, it does tend to make a scene – probably because some people don’t expect me to move at all – and maybe, on that one occasion, I subconsciously used that to my advantage.
Firstly, the footplates on my wheelchair are swung back, ironically to stop them getting in the way of my feet as I move. If there is not enough room for them to swing all the way, I take them off entirely, meaning that I have to find a surface they can lean against until they are put back on again. This usually involves at least a small amount of clattering about, and on Saturday that did turn one or two heads. Then, as aforementioned, my right armrest is raised, removing the only obstacle stopping me from shuffling sideways into my designated new seat. I start to move, and my bottom edges off of my gel cushion. At this point people are really looking, but I take no notice – I certainly don’t take it to heart. On the contrary, it is a good opportunity for me to show that I am not fused to my wheelchair, as one girl in sixth form believed until we decided to set her straight one day. I arrive in my new location, and sit back as far as possible to make myself comfortable – on Saturday, when I had positioned myself squarely in front of the table I needed, I took a moment to smile at one or two people who were looking, just to reassure them that I was OK.
Occasionally, I like to go the extra mile, just to demonstrate that I really can be fine without help. At Winchester this meant using my initiative to take my notebook and pen out of my bag before transferring, pairing them up together neatly on the desk as I leant across to it. I politely declined an additional offer of assistance from Lara (perhaps wanting to impress her and make a good first impression), and only asked for her help when I realised that getting my things back across to my bag would be slightly harder at the end. As I got back into my wheelchair again, she kindly kept her eye on me to make sure I would be safe, although she didn’t intervene directly – she could evidently see that I had everything under control, so I must have gotten my point across to her. We left with big smiles on our faces, having bonded so well – and, through something that is so normal to so many other people, I might just have shown her that I’m not completely helpless. That’s important, and I look forward to conveying it more often in September!