Faith Restored

On Monday afternoon, my struggle against inadequate disabled facilities continued. Keeping the recent experiences outlined in “A Long Way To Go” firmly in mind, I considered things to have hit an all-time low when I was guided to a cubicle in a local car park by a friend in my time of need. I had my RADAR key with me, so opening the door was not a problem, and although it was a touch on the heavy side, my upper body strength meant I could move it independently. When the doorway was clear, the daylight revealed a room that should have been just the right size to accommodate my wheelchair – doubts remained, however, so I only tentatively moved in. Unable to hold the door behind me any longer, I relaxed my arm, and it slammed shut with a hefty thud. It was then that I faced my biggest challenge yet, and not in negotiating the toilet. I was suddenly finding myself stuck in pitch darkness, and unable to find a light switch!

There was absolutely nothing for my eyes to adjust to, so aside from the fact that the door was behind me, and the toilet somewhere in front, I had no idea where anything else was. I had no choice but to unzip the bag strapped to the left side of my chair and fumble for my phone. I pulled it out and the screen came to life, only to illuminate the positively disgusting lavatory visitors were expected to use. It was almost full to the brim with long sheets of discoloured and soggy toilet paper, as well as the leavings of the last poor soul who struggled in there. The walls and floor weren’t much cleaner, and the sink and taps – ironically for items that exist to wash your hands – were most likely dirtier than the fingers of anyone who has just done their business. I will admit that I can’t recall what the handrails were like, or even if there were any proper ones at all, but in any case, this was a toilet I simply could not use without a light and some degree of sterilisation.

I was desperate and without relief once again. I was also naturally angry, since I was having to take yet another detour just to perform a common bodily function, but thankfully the next disabled cubicle was only a short distance away. Out came the RADAR key again, and with the help of a kind stranger – who waited and held my umbrella outside whilst I did my thing – I was in. This new toilet was not spotless either, but it did at least contain a window, so natural light was in abundance. Space was plentiful too, and upon approaching the bowl I was grateful that it was positively poo-free. Lovely. Well, it wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do. Within a couple of minutes I was done, having been able to wash my hands without touching anything thanks to an automated system. I emerged onto the pavement again, and the stranger handed me my umbrella with a smile. The kindness of ordinary folk can manifest itself in the most insignificant ways, and that was one such way – but, with my toilet ordeal now over, the stage was set for another to appear.

The time came to go home, and that meant getting on the bus. This particular bus had evidently seen better days, however, and any modern designer with a shred of common sense would surely have made the wheelchair space much bigger – not that I could access it anyway. The issue on this occasion lay not with another wheelchair or a pushchair, but with a sea of suitcases belonging to several holidaymakers. Bear in mind that the disabled space must always be given first and foremost to someone who really needs it. In this case, I was that person, but before I’d even edged onto the ramp to board the bus, the owners of the cases were complaining about having to move them. Luckily for me, the driver stood firm, insisting that I had to be allowed on and they would have to do what they could to fit me in. What followed was a series of inch-by-inch shuffles and slides as I did my best to squeeze, but even when it seemed impossible, we managed it – almost certainly defying physics in the process. This was in no small part due to the determination of the driver, who showed a great deal of patience as I lurched into my slot. Indeed, she held the bus at the stop until I was safely seated, and when I needed to get off again ten minutes later, she made a very nerve-wracking departure a whole lot easier. People like her are those I probably don’t give enough credit to when I’m moaning about others, but now is her moment and I wanted to express my thanks for her consideration here – not forgetting the umbrella-holding man either. Your contributions to my day may have been relatively small, but they have not gone unnoticed. My friends and family are there for me on a daily basis, and they should always know how valued they are, but in your own little ways, even you help restore my faith in humanity.

Mason

Minutiae

I often find that amusement and humour can be taken from some of the smallest things that life has to offer, such as the conversations we overhear or the quirks we find in the personalities of others. I look and listen out for these wherever I can, lest they provide my notebook with useful inspiration, but just every now and again something seems to fall directly into my lap, begging to be written about. Such a gift was presented to me yesterday afternoon, when I got home and read a text that had been accidentally sent to me earlier in the day:

“Hi Oli – sleepover numbers for 16th March. 56 children, 11 adults and 4 vegetarians. Thanks, Sharon”.

Once I’d opened this, I had three options. I could either ignore it, take advantage of the situation to pretend I was Oli and completely mess up Sharon’s plans (“the vegetarians have cancelled, sorry – meat only”), or politely respond that she’d simply sent it to the wrong number and leave it at that. Being the gentleman that I am, I went for the latter:

“I think you might have the wrong number 🙂 sorry! Mason”.

I saw the smiley face as an important inclusion. Without it, the text could have seemed snappy and rude, and I couldn’t have that. Since the original message had put a smile on my face – thanks to its random and unexpected nature – I had to convey as much in my response, and that was obviously the thing most likely to do the trick. Having released it to Sharon, I put my phone down, expecting the matter to go no further. Ten minutes later, however, she was back again, having also seen the funny side:

“Whoops! So you don’t fancy a sleepover with 56 kids and 4 vegetarians? LOL”.

I obviously knew that the offer wasn’t genuine, but I was relieved all the same. To be quite honest, I wasn’t sure how being surrounded by 56 overexcited kids – probably all bouncing off the walls with no intention of getting any sleep – could be at all appealing to the 11 adults who would be there. I certainly kept them in my thoughts, as they’d need all the willpower and luck they could get. All that was left was to respectfully and jokingly decline Sharon’s offer:

“I’m afraid not! Best of luck with it though :)”

That really was that. Part of me hoped we had started a chain of updates as the seemingly chaotic sleepover approached – events that would provide me with more potentially useful material – but it was not to be. This particular flame of conversation had burned all too brightly and all too briefly, but it had once again proved that life’s most enjoyable aspects don’t necessarily have to be the biggest ones. Thank you, Sharon, for showing me that and, in doing so, improving a stressful day to a small extent. What’s more, if you are due to be an adult volunteer on 16 March – tasked with the welfare of 56 kids – I hope reading this has made you feel a little less apprehensive ahead of the big day. Look on the bright side, you’re only going to be totally knackered for one day!

Mason

Wrong Number Stories

My line of work, like many people’s, involves answering the telephone on an hourly basis. As I’ve explained before, this is something fairly nerve-wracking for me, but there’s also a substantial amount of curiosity to be found in the task. Recently, at one of my two workplaces, we’ve been receiving a steady and noticeable stream of wrong number calls from various people. When you answer the phone to them, some pre-empt what you are going to say, admit their mistake and immediately hang up on you. Others are ensnared in a moment of confusion; I will open with my usual professional greeting, and they will question why they aren’t speaking to their mate Derek before the penny quickly drops and they leave me be. In my particular experience, there have even been elderly people who – mistaking my workplace for the local hospital – have proceeded to describe gruesome ailments in considerable detail before my awkward admission that I am not medically qualified to deal with their complaint. They can put you off your lunch at times, as it happens.

Whatever their reasons for calling (albeit unintentionally), these people do all have one thing in common, at least in my view. Because they’re totally anonymous – the calls generally don’t last long enough for me to establish their identities – I always do wonder who they are, and what their stories are. Why might a phone call to the aforementioned Derek be so important? Was it intended as a simple catch-up between friends, or was he being sought out as part of the resolution to a life or death situation? When I am mistakenly contacted by confused hospital-goers, how worried are they about the problems they face? Are they looking for an answer to a simple question, or are they frantically searching for a second opinion on something that could potentially change life forever? All I can do is ponder, as any writer might. Whatever the truth may be, that’s what this is good for – imagination and inspiration. As annoying, inconvenient and brief as some wrong number calls may be, they do make me think – so maybe the people on the end, whom I generally speak to for no more than a split second each time, do have a much bigger impact on my day than I could ever have anticipated.

Mason