All Dressed Up With Nowhere to Go

In less than two months I will be 35 years old. My imminent feet-first roll into decrepitude has been marked by two events: the arrival in my life of a powered wheelchair (my shoulders are demanding better working conditions:- it’s all got a bit Scargill v Thatcher with my shoulders telling me they’re not for turning); and the discovery that programmes I watched as a child are now been repeated as part of retro cult television programming.
I saw a trailer for the pioneering 1980s children’s gameshow ‘Knightmare’ and had a flashback to my childhood.
Myself and a couple of friends considered applying to take part, to take up the quest, navigate the dungeon and emerge triumphant at the end. However, the idea was short lived. We figured we were on to a loser as two of us struggled to tell left from right and the third couldn’t side-step outside without the parallel bars we used in physiotherapy. Oh, those heady days of social exclusion.
I am happy to report I have now just about mastered the whole left and right concept. Well most of the time. At this point I have to confess to being secretly thrilled when I successfully manage to navigate an unsure taxi-driver around my estate; first left, second left, never felt so good.
I should also tell you that I spent some 18 months trying to learn to drive a car, with some very interesting results. I once managed to “bunny hop” an automatic car. My friends tell me this cannot happen. It was spectacularly jerky and felt like it. The only direction I could manage with any kind of finesse was reverse and emergency stop. I gave the lessons up as a bad job after some sound advice from a Clinical Psychologist I was seeing at the time.
My newfound directional competence was put to the test recently when, after many months of waiting and being permitted only to use my power-chair indoors, the big day for the Electrically Powered Indoor Outdoor Chair (EPIOC) assessment arrived.
This is the driving test that qualifies me to use my power-chair outdoors. When I first read the acronym on the letter I half expected to be greeted by a furry alien created by George Lucas.
I had spent months debating using the chair full-time; it sat in the corner of my lounge for a while as I tried not to think of it as a spectre in my future. What I would be reduced to as my condition deteriorated.
I spent a month using it nonstop one snowbound January. Having put on a stone, I decided this was a bad idea. Periodically I would catch glimpses of myself in my glass oven door and would have to look twice to check it was really me. I hadn’t realised just how much my wheelchair has become part of my image, a second skin I wear. Its colour and style chosen to reflect who I am and how I want to be seen. The chairs I have had are custodians of a lifetime of stories and adventures, keepers of the secrets of a misspent youth.
The gentleman at the EPIOC test really put me through my paces, just think of a horse doing a dressage demonstration and you won’t be far off. He proceeded to send me over a piece of grass to show what terrain the chair would cope with; an emergency stop on a steep incline, drive over uneven terrain, go up and down kerbs – forwards, then the same in reverse. Cross a busy road – great when you have poor depth perception and so struggle to judge distance of approaching vehicles – and following someone in a chair (similar to a motorbike test) to direct me around the course.
The major difficulty on this day was transporting myself and the very big chair to and from the assessment venue. I had tried to arrange a taxi for a week, only to find that very few were available that could accommodate the chair. Most accessible taxis are tied up on Social Services contracts and not for public use.
So, I am now all dressed up with nowhere to go, I have a fantastic chair, but no means of transporting it anywhere so I can use it. Ironically, I could get an accessible car through ‘Motability’, but I cannot drive and have nobody to drive it.

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