I’m getting a new wheelchair which, for those of you who aren’t sure, does not involve a surgical procedure to have my current chair removed from out of my arse. I am not ‘in a wheelchair’. Not right now anyway, because I’m tapping this out from the comfort of what we used to call the settee.
You may not need an operation to get a new wheelchair but you do need to involve the NHS. Wheelchair Services had spent months trying to contact me and then not being available when I returned their calls until finally they decided to write to me to offer me an appointment. Which I managed to be half an hour late for. I could have had all of this sorted two years ago on my last visit there but back then the only option was a hideous box-shaped item that would have made Ironside blush. And I don’t mean that new version who is supposed to be cool and trendy. Do people still say trendy? The bloke from Wheelchair Services said it a lot during my appointment which I found encouraging and annoying in equal measures. Encouraging because he was assuring me that my new chair will not be an Ironsidian eyesore, but annoying because I’m almost sure nobody has used the word trendy since we stopped wearing hooded tops made by Walker Sports.
I don’t know how I managed to get my appointment time so badly wrong but the fact that I did led to a chance encounter with an old friend I hadn’t seen for 15 years. I’d expected Peter Ball to look a little older. Probably because he was the oldest of my group of friends at school and so we all looked upon him as some sort of senior figure. Two years might aswell be 20 when you are 14. At first I couldn’t be sure it was him. Not only did he not look as old as I had imagined he should but I’m still naïve enough to believe that the chances of me bumping into a disabled person that I know at Wheelchair Services in my home town are quite low. Everyone else thinks that we all know each other but there are an infinite number of wheelchair users and people with all sorts of disabilities whom I do not know and have never even laid eyes on. It wasn’t until Peter spoke that I was 99% certain that it was him.
Strangely there were no displays of wild surprise by either party when we realised that we knew each other. We just carried on talking like strangers in a waiting room might do until the subject of school somehow came up and even then, the tone did not change. We discussed old times with nothing more than a shrug, and hardly stirred even when we noted that we had not seen each other since the funeral of our mutual friend in 1999. We shook hands on the way out and told each other how nice it had been to see one another. It was so matter of fact but in a very odd, almost inexplicable way.
Equally inexplicable is the way in which I was able to order a new wheelchair within 20 minutes given that it had taken two years to get around to it. Replacing Jeff (I think it was Jeff but there is a blog if you can be arsed to check it from around January 2013) was Jay. Jay works for Quickie, which would no doubt inspire a barrel full of arf-arfs from my colleagues at work but is actually a long established wheelchair manufacturer. Jay showed me two options but was almost adamant about which one he thought the better. Quite the salesman he was, which is all very well except for the fact that this being the NHS I’m not paying him a penny for it. No doubt Mr Cameron will do something about that should we see fit to somehow let him stay in his famous old house for another five years.
Little bit of politics, my name’s Ben Elton goodnight.
The new chair is what you might call minimalist. A lot of the unnecessary metal you see on my current model is absent. And it will be great to have a cushion which I haven’t squashed flat with my fat arse so that I might be able to look at people from above groin level. I’m not so sure about the tyres though which Jay described as only half solid whatever that means. But he assured me that punctures won’t be a problem. Punctures were a problem before I got solid tyres and now that I am working for a living they would be a huge inconvenience. Nothing says professionalism like hobbling around on a flat tyre because Ross Autos can’t come out and fix it because they haven’t got anywhere to park near to where I work. You’re probably marvelling at how I have managed to live as a wheelchair user for 39 years and not know how to fix a puncture. I do know how but there are two basic problems. The first is that I can’t be arsed and the second is that since I can’t be arsed I have become one of the least practical human beings on Earth. My brain deals only in words, sarcasm and ire. It can’t fix things.
The chair arrives in eight weeks.
When it does it will no doubt catch the attention of the security staff of St.Helens and elsewhere. This week the London Evening Standard reported that a woman posed as a wheelchair user to steal meat from a branch of Marks & Spencer in Coventry. She and her male accomplice made off with £60 worth of meat from the store (about two boxes of chicken drummers) after she stood up from her chair to swipe the meat from the shelves in the manner of Andy Pipkin from Little Britain. I want that one. Yeah I know yeah. That bloke.
This reminded me of a story my mum used to tell me when she worked in the St.Helens branch of TJ Hughes. She said the person responsible for security there was particularly wary of wheelchair users and this story seems to serve as evidence that she might have been wise. I’d like to point out that I have never stolen anything in my life except for a traffic cone and a photograph of a crap singer called Tony Lemesma from outside a cheap Majorcan bar. Although an acquaintance of mine at school (not the one I met in Wheelchair Services) once told me how easy it was to nick stuff from Burtons by putting it under his wheelchair seat cushion. The stuff of Fagin.
Finally today I have just read the tale of a 20-year-old man from Birmingham who was escorted DOWN a flight of stairs by security staff at a pub because the lift had broken. Apparently he had been lifted upstairs by his friends but was told that his presence there breached the pub’s safety regulations. Despite the fact that this meant that they, untrained as they are in the art of lugging wheelchair users down flights of stairs, would have to do exactly that. The management said that the man got upstairs without them knowing and that they would never have let his friends take him up there had they known. Fine, but since you are not allowed to use a lift in the event of a fire anyway where is the sense in then humiliating the lad by carrying him back down the stairs? It’s dangerous and nonsensical but it seems that as long as it covers the company in accordance with the madcap laws on these sorts of things then it's ok. Why wasn’t the lift working anyway? It probably was. They probably just use it as a store room. Don’t think I’m joking.
Of course, allowing your drunken friends to carry you up a flight of stairs in a busy pub is very much the preserve of 20-year-olds. I remember similar episodes with my friends in such luxurious establishments as The Palace and Peppermint Place from my own youth and to be honest it is quite a relief to be able to fall back on the excuse that I really am too old for that shit now. However, if a man above the legal age to frequent such places wishes to do so on the upper level of a mult-level establishment then I think we can agree that more should be done to allow him to do so. And if these places continue to deny people these basic human rights then perhaps it’ll all end in the kind of farcical scenario which once prompted me to ascend staircases at Crystals in St.Helens and Lineker’s bar in Blackpool among others.
They said that the young man in Birmingham was a security hazard, by the way. As a fire hazard myself (it’s not called that for nothing) I empathise completely.