Ability Or Disability

27 November 2020

What is disability? I don’t regard myself as disabled – I am more of a person with disabilities. I count myself amongst those who have lived with disabilities all their lives. We have either found ways around them or, in later years, made it clear, albeit as politely as possible, that there are some things we cannot do without some assistance. At one time, when I was much younger, my peers would make life difficult for me – I know of some folk who have said school days were the happiest times of their lives, but mine were not. Happily, most of the people I encounter nowadays listen to me and don’t try to make me fit into a category, like being of a certain age, a certain weight and therefore physically capable of doing those things that others of my age can do. It is probably why I have so often wanted to do things on my own, without help from others – but in the last few years I have learned to accept help gracefully.

When someone has a huge plaster cast on their arm, or is in a wheelchair, it is natural for us to relate those things to experiences we may have either had ourselves, or seen with family and friends. The broken arm – a skiing accident perhaps? The wheelchair – a car accident, maybe? In such cases we may be right – but we may also be very wrong! So, what about the people you see walking along, apparently ‘normal’. Beware please, all may not be as it first appears! Allow me to expand a little on this point if I may, through some of my own experiences. It may come as a bit of a surprise to some of my former work colleagues who are reading this, or perhaps not! But here we go.

I have had, from birth, a muscular weakness all down my right-hand side. As a result, I am left-handed and when singing in the church choir I found it impossible to hold a hymn or prayer book in one hand and turn the page with the other. So I found an alternative method – put the book down and sing largely from memory. I didn’t know it at the time, but this really was invaluable training for me for later! I learned to carry the cross during church services, to assist the priest during communion, but I learned ‘alternative’ ways of completing these tasks.

At school, my love of music continued and I learned to play the cornet and then the trumpet – except I used the fingers of my left hand to work the valves, not my right. It may have looked awkward, even strange, but it worked for me. One year I was given a camera for Christmas – I was around twelve years old. The camera used a drop-in cartridge film, rather than the standard film that had to be threaded into the camera in order to make it work. My parents had recognised that even at that age I was getting rather proud, even stubborn, about not wanting to appear ‘different’ to others at school, so they found ways of managing these difficulties without making it seem too obvious to me! For some years I was doing various therapeutic tasks, like squeezing a rubber ball in my right hand in order to give it some strength and some use. I was given Airfix models to build, the old ships, like HMS Victory, with literally hundreds of very small cannon to fit onto the ship, as well as the gun port covers for each gun. It was good therapy – it also kept me quiet for hours on end!

A few years went by and I started work. It was a big shock to me, learning what work was, but I learned. After a while I was moved into a different department, but the work involved using my right hand and whilst on holiday about three months later, I had an epileptic fit. I was diagnosed with epilepsy and also given tablets to control the condition. On my return to work, I did other work that did not involve me using my right hand as much. I was now earning money and so bought a better camera, finding one that I could manage and where I could operate the shutter button with my right hand. I also started singing in a couple of choirs, as well as continuing to play a trumpet, first in an orchestra, and then in a brass band. With one of the choirs I was asked if I could sing from memory, rather than holding the music, but that was easy for me.

Being left-handed meant that my writing was not the best in the world, under any circumstances. At school we used old-style ‘Quink’ ink, which smudged easily and meant that my written work was covered in blotches. I learned to angle the paper so I was writing across the paper, rather than along it, and that made things easier. Whilst working at BT I found that others had similar difficulties – one chap would even write with his hand facing the opposite way, so it looked like he was writing backwards, but it worked for him. That, along with other things, helped me immensely – I felt I was no longer alone in facing these challenges – others were, too. But bigger, better things were to come!

When I first started at BT, I was just sixteen and my manager was an ex-army major who everyone called ‘sir’ or Mr. No first names were used in those days! Most of the time I didn’t speak unless I was spoken to and I waited for others to finish speaking before I spoke. A few years passed and both my knowledge and personal confidence grew as I was moved around a few more departments in order to increase my knowledge of the business. I gained a promotion, and a while later was moved into the Sales office. A little later we were advised that new technology was soon being introduced – computers! I went home and talked to my dear Dad – it might be difficult for me to learn and use this new technology, as not being able to type might jeopardise my work, even my career! I borrowed my Dad’s typewriter and learned the standard keyboard layout. Typing with one hand was quite easy for me now. Then new technology was introduced and to my delight, I picked it up instantly – even my good keyboard skills were commented upon. Over the next few years I learned more sales skills, joining a team of people staffing various exhibitions before finally gaining further promotion and moving first to Leicester, then I was in Nottingham, Birmingham and Sheffield. These years also saw me married, then divorced, it saw the real birth of home computers, my skills and knowledge of these increased before seeing me in Sheffield as a tutor/trainer on some of BT’s computer systems, as well as doing the odd piece of what could be classed as ‘professional’ photography work. I finally found my way back to Leicester, still as a trainer with BT, before being made redundant in 2007. After a few years looking for other work I found that my age and medical situation, including a heart attack in 2010, meant that I was unlikely to get work easily. So I started up my own photographic and training business, teaching people how to take photos and use social media as well as computer programs to adjust and share their photographs.

But the question still remained – was I disabled? Over the years I acquired the skill of almost ‘hiding’ the limitations of my right hand. It still became apparent at times, especially when I needed to carry multiple items at the same time – when others would use a tray, I did not. In fact, I couldn’t, the weight was far too much for my right hand. Entertainingly, when I visited old friends we would walk to the nearby pub for a few beers. I would get the first round in, as there were usually three or four of us and I couldn’t carry several pints all at once, even on a tray! But this way, my friends were still standing at the bar so I could pass their drinks to them. Once settled in Leicester, a good friend of mine said they were sure I ought to get something from the government for my disability. I enquired about this but was told that I had overcome my disability and so did not need help in any way, and nothing in the way of financial support would be forthcoming. As a child, my dear Mum wanted to always buy me slip-on shoes, as I couldn’t do up shoelaces. My dad, however, knew that was not the best thing for me. I found an alternative way of tying shoelaces, a method which (with minor modifications) I still use today. I therefore had the ability to complete this task. As the years have passed by, new challenges have been put before me and most of the time I have accomplished them – though as I said at the beginning, nowadays I accept that I do have my limitations.

There is a quote from one of the Harry Potter films, spoken by the headmaster of Hogwarts school, Albus Dumbledore, who says “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are – it is our choices”. My right side is physically weaker than my left, so that really is a disability. But I have chosen to live my life, not despite these physical limitations but with them, recognising them for what they are. I have the ability to complete these tasks, whether by my own hands or with the help of others. I firmly believe that not accepting the limitations we might have is the disability – accepting them and not being ashamed or afraid of them gives those of us who others might sometimes consider as ‘disabled’, a greater ability than anything else can do.

This week, I have a quote. I am not sure who first said it, but it is this:
“Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs. The ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you, no matter what.”

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Living By The Rules

20 November 2020

But not everybody does. We have all seen over the years how many people believe that they are somehow exempt from rules and regulations. I am again reminded of the time whilst watching a particular tv series where a car was on the road with no car tax, no insurance and no MoT. The police stopped the car and asked the driver why he had none of these. Police now have sophisticated equipment in their vehicles which can check the status of a motor vehicle in just seconds. They also have cameras that automatically scan vehicle number plates and give an alert to the police so they can then act on what is found. The driver informed them he had been driving for almost seventy years, he’d never had an accident and anyway “I can’t afford such stupid things now”. He was not allowed to drive any further and I believe he sold the car…

I can appreciate his sentiment, but sadly in this example the man was not giving any thought to other road users, in cars or lorries etc as well as pedestrians. He may have behaved sensibly, but sadly others do not for all sorts of reasons. When I had my heart attack in 2010 and was given extra tablets to take, I rather naively asked how long I’d be taking these. I was told, of course, “always”. So I try to live by the rules and take them regularly, as they’ve been prescribed. I follow the rules. I am at present in a Care Home which has its own set of rules. I’ve had to adapt a bit, but the staff are good too, they know all I can do and what I need help with. The inmates here are, as you might expect, all quite different and some I know are difficult at times. I said when I first got here that if things are good, I say so. In the same way, if they’re not good, I say so. It’s only fair that we be open and be honest. It’s how I was brought up to be. I am also a firm believer that if rules are wrong, they should be challenged and made better. But not in a selfish way.

I’ll not say too much on what’s going on around the world right now, but it does seem some folk will not admit defeat, even when it is clear they have lost a battle. Likewise there are those who do not believe this Covid thing is real. I’ve seen some fantastic theories around, I’ll leave them to it and do my best to stay as healthy as I can by eating, sleeping, exercising (as best I can) and generally working towards getting out and about again when the time is right. The latest one seems to be a conspiracy theory in which a vaccine will put some form of  ‘unique identifier’ in our blood which then effectively gives each of us a ‘bar code’! Except even with my basic grasp of biology, I seem to recall our blood completely replaces itself automatically over a fairly short time, through our kidneys I think, also our bodies are designed to fight and then remove any foreign bodies that it finds. So if  the theory was true, then the ‘bar code’ would need to be replaced every few weeks… It is probably why dogs have a micro-chip inserted, but not everyone would like one of those. What purpose would it serve, anyway, apart from keeping Civil Servants in a job? Sir Humphrey, where are you now!?!?! As for identifiers in our blood, I am no expert, I will let those who are more knowledgeable on such matters have their say.

Sometimes it isn’t easy to change, to adapt to new ways, but that is what happens in this beautiful world of ours. Things change. I’ve said before how I have known those folk who just would not adapt, would not change. Many are no longer with us, I am sad to say. But for me, change is part of living our lives. We adapt as we must. There is always a difference occurring around us and with technology as it is, we get to learn of it so very quickly. The first speeding ticket in the UK was, I believe, issued to a motorist on January 28th, 1896 in Paddock Wood, Kent. A constable spotted a fast driver named Walter Arnold speeding down the street and since the constable didn’t have one of those early motorised vehicles, he had to give chase on his bicycle. I guess Mr Arnold wasn’t doing a tremendous speed then!

Likewise, some people do not seem to believe me when I tell them that my very first computer was a Sinclair ZX 81 with just 1k of RAM memory. Bought in 1981, it used a basic black & white television, tuned to certain channel for a display. Any programs were loaded from and saved to a small tape, using a standard cassette recorder. But it got me started on what home computers were about and I am glad I did. It has helped both my career and later my own business in ways I could never have imagined. Sir Clive Sinclair, I thank and salute you!

But back to my point. Computers use a number of languages all their own. A good friend of mine is now learning a language and they are getting to know the rules of that language in order to be able to read, write and speak it. I used to do a little bit of programming when I was at work, some of what I learned I can and do still use. A very dear friend is learning how to take good photos and they are learning the controls, all the rules to be followed to adjust the camera to get the appropriate effect, in focussing, light, depth of field etc. We do these things as we need to, like to take better photos, but at times also to better ourselves. I am so much better by eating proper, healthier food. Except for me, cooking is still a mystery and always will be! I have been taught a good relaxation therapy and it has helped me a great deal, both in my health and my attitude to life. It has certain actions and exercises which involve my own touch, sound & breath. We learn to live by the rules, although we may not always perceive them as such.

Mentioning computers has reminded me of this:
A number of years ago, some new language translation software was being tested on an early computer, attempting to translate from English to Russian and straight back again. The saying “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” was returned as “The vodka is good but the meat is rotten” and “Out of sight, out of mind” came back as “Invisible maniac”. It was a good try, but clearly more work was needed…

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Looking And Listening

13 November 2020

As a youngster I was reminded that I have two eyes, two ears but one mouth. So I should look and listen twice as hard as I speak. Very young children naturally reach out and touch things as they see them, often wanting to put an item in their mouth. I had a set of small toy bricks which were painted either red, yellow, green or blue. I must have liked one of the blue-coloured ones as I wore much of the paint from it! But I learned that it was not a good idea to always touch things. At school I tried to sit near the front of a class, purely so I could see and hear all that was being taught. I wanted to learn and that has always been my way.

Sadly some things were not always explained to me in the way I would have wished, like I had a history teacher who undoubtedly knew her subject but didn’t teach it in a way that worked for me. When I asked questions I would almost be told to be quiet and learn! Why did we need to know when certain things occurred in the past? To know them and pass exams, so I could then get a better job to earn money to live and perhaps then provide for a wife and family, I learned that later. So as a result, in subjects where I was very well taught I did well at, but where I was not, I saw no point in learning. I was and probably still am too logical in my ways of thinking! Perhaps that is why I can work with computers!

Sadly I did not get on too well with one particular Maths and English teacher. I was away from school for a short while as I needed a hospital operation. When I returned to school this one particular Monday, the maths teacher gave us the homework on what she had taught the class during the previous week. So after class, I spoke to her and explained that I’d been away the previous week and couldn’t do the homework. Her reply was “that’s not my problem!”. So I went home and told my Dad, who himself was a teacher. He taught me all about this aspect of maths, then I did all the homework on my own. Dad did tell me afterwards that I’d got all the correct answers, I showed my working too. But when I handed the homework in, it was given back with the words ‘This is not the way I taught you!’ scrawled in red all over it. Unusually for him, my dear Dad decided to complain and he took this same teacher to task over this. I had not been in class so had missed the lesson through no fault of my own, I had done the homework, getting all the questions right and showing all my working! Then the following year I got a very different Maths & English teacher and my grades improved dramatically!

It proved to me then, as it still does now that we should always take the time to listen. I know a famous story which ends with “There are teachers and there are educators”. I like that, it is so very true. A few minutes taken to listen to another person can save a lot of disagreement. I am reminded of a sign I saw which read “This department requires no Physical Fitness programme. Everyone here gets enough exercise always jumping to conclusions, flying off the handle, dodging responsibility, pulling the strings, stretching the truth, bending the rules and pushing their luck!” We are all human (I think!) and therefore we make mistakes, we forget things. It is part of who we are. But I know of times when some people have been verbally abused abominably for simply forgetting an item.

Right now I am in a Care Home and I am being very well cared for, but yes, they sometimes do forget that I prefer one sugar in my tea but no milk. If they forget and put milk in though, I politely and calmly ask them for a replacement with no milk. My health has improved since cutting that out. But if they forget to put sugar in, it’s no big deal, I either drink it without or I put a bit of sugar of my own in as I now have a few sachets… But in the past I’ve had to turn my car around, drive home and get an item I needed. So, I’ve learned to reorganise things so that if there’s an item I need to take with me of a morning, I put it in a prominent place by the door the night before! I am very rarely at my best first thing in the morning… Let me have breakfast and a cuppa, then I might just about be able to converse with you!!!

I have mentioned before about my love of music, I am told that my dear mother was singing when she was carrying me inside her, she was so happy. Mind you, I also found out that after having two boys, they had hoped for a girl! Then I turned up… As well as singing in the church choir I was also in one at school. With my weak right hand there were a few musical instruments like the piano or the recorder that I could not manage but a harmonica I could. I tried a cornet and a trumpet, learned to play those as best I could – it looked awkward but the valves I managed to do left-handed. It meant that I joined a youth orchestra, I also joined the Nassington Brass Band for a while, but then they told me I had to give up my singing and concentrate solely on practicing with them, but that I could not do. I continued singing!

Singing in choirs as I did required much looking and listening. I could sight-read music, no problem, but I was invited to join a small choir in Peterborough that went round various cathedrals and sang as the leading choir in their Saturday as well as Sunday services. It has been my privilege to sing such services in several cathedrals in England, but during choir rehearsals if anyone made a mistake they were expected to raise their hand straight away. If necessary the individual then sang the part solo to ensure they had got it right! That was pressure, but for me it meant that I always tried my best to get it right.

As I grew up, I was taught to always tell the truth. So that is what I do. Though I am told the more one lies, apparently the easier it gets. In my case I have had enough trouble remembering even the truth at times! Though interestingly, I have found that with my epilepsy, the move to a different medication a few short years ago has not only controlled my epilepsy better, it has helped me to recall past memories. I even remember peoples names better now! Fascinating. But to know peoples names has meant looking and listening, even having something that links their name to a place or event. For example, I will go outside for a walk in the gardens which, because I use a walking frame at the moment, is an Extra-Vehicular Activity. Once out in the gardens I sometimes see a lady as she sits outside, smoking a cigarette. Her name is Eva. It coincides with my bit of a walk, or EVA. That’s her name easily remembered.

Sadly some people don’t bother to try and listen, I have met a few folk who do not  – all they do is want to have their say. It seems they have no interest in others, just in themselves. I recall having to ask a colleague in a church choir I was in to not talk to me one time when the priest had begun his sermon. I think the chap was a bit put out at this, but I wanted to listen to the priest! In fact many don’t bother to even look or perhaps care how others are. I wish some would take a look at themselves and their own behaviours, change may not always be easy but they would have a far better and happier life if they did. Looking and listening helps.

Last weeks writing was a bit short, this week I have gone on a bit more so I’ll stop at this point with what is an absolute favourite of mine.

“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.” ~ Australian Aboriginal Proverb

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Visiting Hours

06 November 2020

A dear friend came to see me earlier this week, as it was a few days prior to ‘lockdown’. But it was just for half an hour. In some ways it was a bit like how I believe life can be in prison and given my general theme for this series of writings, it prompted me to compose the following:

Day 122: Today I was allowed outside into a different area here, they had put up a small structure in the gardens for folks to come and visit us. I thought it might be a chance for me to escape, but two warders (sorry, I mean ‘Carers’!) accompanied me and escorted me into the ‘pod’ as they have called it. A dear friend had come to see me before we all get this total ‘lockdown’! Then I saw that it was all set out like the old visiting rooms as shown in prisons on some tv series! This meant that I was on the ‘inmates’ side and my friend was on the ‘visitors’ side, with a Perspex screen in between. So we were able to see each other and talk using the speakers and microphones built in, but no exchange of goods or anything. I was kept on my side until the ‘Carers’ came to collect me, half an hour later. Still, it was really good to see my friend after so long.  She had brought a few items to me, but the bag was taken away and then left in my room. They probably checked all that was in it, too! I was hoping that I’d get that skeleton key to access the front door, but no such luck! Health & Safety, Security and all that I guess. I returned to my room as it was time for lunch and the smell of all the fresh paint in the nearby Tv room was too much to bear! Well, we are looked after. But it did cross my mind, wondering about what things we had done wrong. I’ve an idea about my life, but what about others – they’re not saying…

In truth though, all the staff at this Care Home are brilliant, they all do a really excellent job and I’m happy to be here for as long as I am meant to be. 

I’ll make no comment on the world outside, there is silliness all over the place as usual, including elections in the U.S.A. Perhaps I am in the best place right now. For some reason I was not at my best earlier this week, but the painters are decorating some of the rooms here and my sinuses have been playing up. I had an awful headache the other day, but that’s all cleared now I am glad to say. So I’ll keep this weeks writing a bit shorter than usual and look for a bit of inspiration for next week!

I finish this time with a quote:
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain!” ~ Vivian Greene

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