What do you think about when you are planning to visit somewhere? What do you think about when you enter a room? I’m guessing what you think about and what I think about won’t be the same unless, that is, you have mobility issues and maybe, like me, rely on a walking stick, or need to use a wheelchair.
Going somewhere new for me can be a nightmare. Let’s take going to a pub I haven’t been to before. Now at least, I can do a reccy online. Firstly, I try to check where the disabled parking is in relation to the entrance to the pub, because I can’t walk very far. Google maps is great for this one. Are there any steps? If so how many and how high? Is there a shorter route to the entrance that involves grass? What are the weather conditions? Is there ice? Are there leaves on the floor that I might slip on? Do you begin to see? And I haven’t even got into the building yet. Once inside, how far is it to sit down? Is it a place where you have to stand and wait to be seated, and for how long? What are the seats like? Certain seats force me to sit forward and press on my legs making my knees ache. I prefer to seat on the benches along the back if I can. How much room is there between tables as I don’t want to catch my stick as I manoeuvre between, or risk hitting someone else.
Getting invited to someone’s house is lovely but ….. once again, there is a lot to consider. Can I park near the door? Is there a step. If it is raining do they have vinyl or laminate floor? If you get a rubber ferule wet and depend on it then lean hard, it slips – I know. Then you go into a room. How high is the seating? Will I be able to get up from the sofa?
When I go on holiday, I stay in cottages as hotels are far too complicated. I have to check where the parking is, and all the above, as well as the height of the bed for the same reason as the sofa. I book single story places to make life easier. Older properties can be cluttered. How much room is there to use my stick? If it is narrow, are there other things to lean on? A chest of drawers or a table can be useful, and a wet room is fabulous. Are there chairs in each room I can use, including the bathroom?
At home, I have a chair in every room, except the second bedroom because I don’t go in there very often. I wash up and cook sitting down. My house is modified to suit me, but life isn’t, and that is fine unless I have to venture into it.
When I wrote Seth in Choosing Home, I was very conscious of his mobility issues. Seth, like me has to assess every situation, every piece of furniture, every distance, every landscape. When I was editing a scene, I realised I’d written Seth kneeling, and he can’t do that. I can’t do that, so I had to change the description. Maybe someone who has never had to think about this would not realise. I understand this. I want people to understand my situation, but I recognise there is no reason why it would enter into their thinking. Why would it? I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, and I accept I can be touchy or impatient. It is a very fine line.
When you have mobility problems, or use a wheelchair, it is difficult to be spontaneous. I ended up in a chair once when I went to hospital and I simply couldn’t get to places because the distances were too far. I had to be pushed around. The porters were lovely, but there were hazards, including my skirt getting caught up around the wheel. Brice, in Returning Home, is an independent rather spikey individual who, with his house adapted to his needs, lives by himself. Seth is new to having mobility problems on top of his already considerable issues, and is still learning to adapt, whereas Brice is two years down the line, but still can be forced to swallow his pride when faced with visiting a place his chair will not go.
Therefore, in these stories, I consider how both men would see a situation, or view a room and its contents. I wanted to reflect how they would see things from how I see things. I wanted to be as accurate as I could. I wanted readers to understand. I’ll be guilty of telling and not entirely showing, or even of repeating the bleeding obvious, but there is a purpose. Neither Seth, Brice, or myself, can take anything for granted. So I hope you’ll forgive this minor rant about the realities of life for me, and through me, for them. No one person is the same. No disability is the same, or how a person copes and deals with it. This is my story, my situation, and mine alone. I feel exposed talking about it, and I don’t want to appear to be whingeing, but as both books are out soon, I thought it was time to get this out of my system.
One of the joys of writing for me is that in my books I can go anywhere and do anything, and by reading the words of others my imagination can soar.