Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Disability.

Not for the first time, I woke up today thinking about disability. I will be 68 next birthday, and other than the usual ‘old man’ aches and pains, occasional bad Vertigo, and some eyesight issues, I have managed to escape anything worse so far.

When I was young, Polio was still a common disease. I would see children having to wear metal calipers to brace their legs, and saw documentaries on TV about people who had to spend their entire lives in an ‘Iron Lung’, a cylindrical machine that breathed for them. By the time I was at secondary school, aged 11, I was already counting myself lucky to be fit and healthy.

Many years later, I went to work in the London Ambulance Service, as an EMT. Soon after completing my training, I was shocked to become exposed to disabilities I had never even heard about, let alone seen. I learned about the ‘unseen’ sufferers, those too badly disabled or physically deformed to be able to go outside much, or participate in things that the rest of us simply took for granted. They were sometimes collected in buses, and taken to attend ‘special schools’. Schools that were not only adapted for their needs, but where they could be educated with people who had similar conditions, and understood living with them. Those too disabled to go to those schools might be home-schooled, or have private tutors.

I met young people whose bones were so brittle, they could break them just by coughing. Brain-damaged teenagers fully aware of their situation, but completely unable to communicate at any level whatsoever. One young lady who had been born with undeveloped bones in her arms and legs, so although she was twenty-five years old, she resembled a floppy rag doll, and I could pick her up as easily as I could a pillow. A man with such disfigurement of his facial bones, that he was unable to speak clearly, or eat and drink properly. His elderly mother cared for him, giving him liquid food and drinks through a tube that passed down inside his nose, something he had to keep in permanently. He rarely went out, as he had bad experiences of being mocked in public.

Many I encountered had been born disabled as a result of their mothers taking Thalidomide, for morning sickness. That great drug scandal of the 1950s left so many children without properly formed arms or legs. Or both. Alongside those who had congenital conditions, I also came across scores of people who had become disabled as a result of accidents, or after having to have limbs amputated surgically. They had led outwardly normal lives at one time, until that life was turned upside down by the events of one day, or by contracting a medical condition. Suddenly, they needed help with everyday things, often very embarrassing things to need someone else to do. They had to consider learning to cope with prosthetic limbs, using crutches, or being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives.

This necessitated a re-think about how they lived, and everything they were used to doing. Beds moved downstairs, specially-adapted toilet and bathroom, and restricted access to public buildings, and most forms of transport. The loss of much-loved active hobbies in many cases, and even the break-up of relationships, when partners couldn’t cope, or the disabled person didn’t want to be seen to ‘tie them down’. Before I was 30 years old, I started to get some insight into just how much such things affect peoples’ lives.

Adding to the list were those disabled by Mental Illness, Epilepsy, complications of Diabetes, severe Asthma, Dementia, Arthritis, Blindness, and Deafness.

Most of you will not have worked in a job bringing you into contact with disability on a daily basis. And even those of you who have personal experience of your own disability, or that of a child, sibling, or parent, may well not have ever encountered those with ‘extreme’ disabilities. But over the last 20 years, we have all seen a greatly increased awareness and understanding around the whole issue. The Paralympics, injured soldiers returning from foreign wars, and disabled people working as presenters on TV shows and news programmes; as well as those actively campaigning for better access to buildings and transport.

Attitudes are changing, but there is still a long way to go yet.

What I learned during those 22 years was remarkable. With almost no exceptions, all those people stayed cheerful. Many were in fact much happier than I was, and they coped so admirably with things I could hardly imagine. They had no demands, few requests, and inspired me with their determination to live the best lives they could.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Funfair Rides.

I was talking to some people when I was out with Ollie yesterday. They told me that they are off to a popular theme park with their children for a few days. It is called Chessington World of Adventures, and combines the former zoo with lots of modern pleasure rides. Things like ‘Forbidden Kingdom’, one of those rides where you whizz around at great speeds, mostly upside down.

So that got me thinking this morning…

I grew up with things like the swings on chains, shown in the photo above. The Big Wheel, The Helter Skelter Slide where you came down on a mat, and Dodgem Cars. There were places that had rides that were more exciting. Travelling funfairs added The Whip, or the covered-in Caterpillar. Then there was The Waltzer, with your car being spun by an attendant, as it went around the track. All of this was done to a soundtrack of loud music, often the pop songs of the day, bright flashing lights, and the squeals of the people supposedly enjoying themselves.

Seaside towns had rides that went up very high, like The Mousetrap, or the various wooden roller-coasters that seemed to get bigger and more terrifying every year. They had a Parachute Drop, Water Splash, and the usual Ghost Train and kiddie rides too. Once holiday camps became popular, they built large amusement parks inside their camps that came with the added bonus of all the rides being included in the price. Compared to the white-knuckle attractions seen today, all of these would be considered to be tame indeed.

But I have a confession to make. I hate theme park rides.

Going round in circles at great speed makes me feel sick. Dropping five stories on a roller coaster that sounds as if it will come off its tracks at any second has no appeal to me whatsoever. Travelling upside down at a strange angle is something I have avoided all my life. So paying a substantial amount to be able to do just that seems just silly, from where I sit.

When it comes to funfairs and modern theme parks, I am the least ‘fun’ person you can imagine. I will hold the coats, go and buy the soft drinks, and sit on a bench until your ride has finished. I might even walk around and take a few photographs.

But if you think you will ever get me to go on one of those rides, you’re very much mistaken.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Food.

I woke up thinking about food this morning. I wasn’t hungry, it was more by way of reminiscing about things I have eaten, in a reasonably long life.

As a child, I had no options. I ate whatever my Mum decided to give me, and with few exceptions I always enjoyed it. That involved basic food. Filling food like dumplings, stews, and suet pudding with jam for dessert. And cake. Lots of cake. In many ways, it was certainly a very unhealthy diet.

What vegetables we did have were usually cooked until they were almost a puree, and many were tinned to start with. Potatoes were generally roasted in beef fat, and some of the meals, like spam fritters, were deep-fried in the same.

It had to be very hot out before salad of any kind was served. Then it consisted of just cucumber, tomatoes, and lettuce leaves. It was often accompanied by hard-boiled eggs, sliced ham, or tinned fish, like salmon. The only rice I ever saw was tinned, and in a sweet milk and cream sauce, usually baked and served as a filling dessert. Pasta was unknown to me until I was in my late teens, and no meal cooked at home ever contained garlic.

Like many women at the time, my Mum was also stuck in a cooking routine, with particular meals being served on the same days every week. So it was easy to anticipate what we would be eating on any given night. Eating out was rare, and a treat. Then it usually involved buying fish and chips, or meat pies and mash. When I was aged about thirteen, we went to a Chinese restaurant in Limehouse, and I had my first ever oriental meal. But even that was a ‘western’ version, with fried prawn balls, chow mien noodles, and sweet and sour pork.

This culinary tradition continued until I was old enough to make choices for myself, and had some money to spend on those choices too. My first hamburger and fries, in a local Wimpy Bar, and a frankfurter sausage in the same establishment. How exotic that all seemed to be back then. A taste of America, in a shopping street in Bermondsey. Once in my early twenties, and able to drive to different areas, I tried Indian food for the first time. Experimenting with curry that was so hot it made me ill, and finally getting the ‘dry’ rice that I had never tasted before. Unusual spices, huge Naan breads, and crispy accompaniments like samosas and bhajees.

I was soon on a roll. Italian restaurants in Soho; Osso Buco, Chicken Parmigiana, Tiramasu. Greek restaurants in north London, with endless choices of Mezze, Stifado, Pitta Bread, and salad with feta cheese. Authentic Chinese restaurants in Chinatown; crispy duck, steamed buns, tasty noodles, and spare ribs. It seemed like I was on a mission to try anything, and up for the challenge. Turkish restaurants with food very similar to Greek ones, and Spanish Tapas, when I had to ask the waitress to recommend her choices.

Then I got married, and started to travel abroad a lot. I had soon sampled caviar in the Soviet Union, and later feasted on smoked impala, in Kenya. I had eaten some amazing meals, and some pretty awful ones too. I declined to eat a deep-fried black scorpion offered to me in Beijing, though did struggle with a near-elastic duck’s foot, in the same city. Back home in London, the choice was constantly expanding, and I tried Ethiopian, Algerian, and Argentinian restaurants as they appeared. Moroccan food in London was even better than when I tried it in Morocco, and I eventually got around to trying Japanese food too. But uncooked fish was never going to be something I enjoyed, though I did like the cooked varieties on offer.

Now I am older, and can lay claim to have tried almost everything, (except insects) I sometimes miss the variety I once enjoyed.

But I can forget all that, by tucking into a nice full English breakfast.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Travel.

I woke up dreaming about being in a foreign country this morning. I am not sure where it was, but it was hot, and the sea was blue.

That made me think about how I haven’t been outside the UK since 2011. Of course, I had a lot going on back then. I was coming up to retirement, we were buying a house here in Norfolk, and my Mum was very ill. No time to think about holidays.

Then I settled here, and got Ollie. Once you have a dog, it makes you have to consider who looks after your pet if you travel abroad. Neighbours, kennels, or friends can all be asked or paid for, but is it really fair on your dog? After all, he has become used to being with you, and a sudden absence might upset his routine. So we started to go on short holidays in the UK instead, to places where we could take our dog.

But I can’t just blame pet ownership for not travelling. I had lost interest in the queues at airports, the cramped economy-class seating, and the inevitable delays and hassles. All that to get to a place not dissimilar to one I had already seen, with the possibility of upset stomachs, insect bites, and unsatisfactory accommodation. That first week away feeling like something fresh and different, but the second week appeared to just hurtle toward the departure date. More coaches, more airport hassle, and always the crowds.

I began to conclude that I am ‘holidayed out’, as far as travelling to the usual tourist destinations is concerned. I don’t have enough money to do it in comfort and style, and although there are some interesting European cities I have never visited, I really can’t be bothered to take all that time travelling, just to spend a few days seeing them.

So unless something unexpected happens regarding my finances, I doubt I will ever be seeing Venice.

Or Vienna, Budapest, Madrid, New York, or Lisbon. Or any tropical island paradise.

I have discussed this before on the blog, but I suspect my subconscious is still hankering after that feeling of a relaxing holiday.

To be honest, I’m not that bothered anymore.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

A woman on The Moon.

This month sees the 50th anniversary of The Moon landings, in 1969. When I woke up today, I was thinking about that, and the sheer scale of Space, as we understand it. And that’s the second time this year I have done that, and been prompted to write about it here.

I was seventeen years old at the time, and watched it on television, along with everyone else on Earth who had access to a TV set. To be honest, I was unimpressed. I didn’t think it looked much like The Moon as I imagined it, and the limited walkabouts gave me no impression of size, or any vast landscape to admire the strangeness of.

Maybe that sounds churlish, to not be impressed by what so many believe to be mankind’s greatest achievement? Sorry if it does, but I wasn’t, and I am still indifferent to it. Even as a teenager, I just could’t see the point of it. All that time, and a huge amount of money, just spent to land some men on an uninhabitable rock. Science and exploration were the reasons given at the time. We would learn so much, discover wonders, and change the future for the better.

I didn’t buy that. It was just about who got there first, and which flag was raised before any other.

It wasn’t too long before I happily joined in with the conspiracy theorists. Did they actually go? Was it all possibly filmed on a secret film set, tucked away in some remote part of America? The footage sent back was ‘limited’ at best. It could certainly have been a set, there was no doubt about that. But although I still have some nagging doubts, I was captivated by later views of The Earth from space, and on balance, I believe they did go.

But I still believe it was ultimately pointless, and that so much more could have been done with the vast amounts of money spent on what was ultimately a ‘vanity project’.

Like most people, I am rather fascinated by the size of the Universe. The stars are amazing, and the incomprehensible distances involved are impossible to imagine. Fifty years later, and we have satellite technology, space junk floating around, and talk of a new mission, Artemis, in 2024. This time, they want to put a woman on The Moon. I am all for equal opportunities, but I think that a country with a health care crisis, unresolved environmental issues, and a propensity to invade any other country they don’t like could find a better use for the (at least) $30 BILLION it will cost.

But it will be a woman on The Moon. And an American woman, of course.

I’m no scientist, but it seems to me that fifty years later, they have learned nothing.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

The Quiet Life.

I woke up earlier to the distant sound of a lawn mower, which stopped soon after. Almost a hour later, and one car drove past the house. Since then, the only noise has been the sound of confused bees flying into the windows.
The soft tapping as they try a few times, before realising it is pointless.

The quiet life indeed.

Remembering the sayings of my youth today.
‘Live fast, and die young’. ‘Better to burn out, than just fade away’.

I genuinely never expected to get old. I worked in stressful jobs, smoked too many cigarettes, and liked a drink too. I lived fast, but didn’t die young. I used to say that I would be lucky to see sixty, and when I got to sixty, thought another five years might see me out. But that didn’t happen. I think about why that didn’t come to pass, and can only put it down to living a quiet life.
I stopped worrying about being able to go to shows and exhibitions, or the ability to eat out anytime I chose to. Stopped worrying about having to keep in touch with everyone, and to meet up on a constant rota of plans and engagements. And I moved away from the stress of life in the big city, the constant noise, and crowded streets.

I got a dog, and started to wander about. Living a quiet life.

I rarely go out in the evenings, and there is no circle of friends for me to socialise with. I sleep longer, think a lot more, take some photos occasionally, and read some books. The closest I get to excitement these days is enjoying a binge-watch of a TV series, or a good film that I have been looking forward to seeing.

When I lived in London, I used to hear people talking about wanting to live a quiet life, somewhere peaceful. I thought they lacked imagination, and would regret that choice. They would hanker after the bright lights and entertainment choices they had left behind, later realising that they had made the wrong decision. I didn’t tell them that of course, believing they had to find out the hard way.

Then I got to the age when I could imagine the same thing. I remembered those conversations with a wry smile, as I found myself having them with younger people keen to deter me from making the same decision. I concluded that you have to wait for the right time. That time when the quiet life beckons, and you are able to embrace it.

And I did.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

So Tired.

I had a good sleep last night, but woke up feeling overwhelmingly tired. I did do a fair bit of grass-cutting yesterday, and I am not as fit as I used to be. But this isn’t the usual aches and pains associated with moderate manual labour. This is bone tired. Reluctant to emerge from the bedroom.

I considered that it was mental tiredness. That led me to wonder if you can indeed be ‘mentally tired’. Does life sometimes just get too much to cope with? And does that mean that there is something wrong somewhere inside me? I shrugged that off, as the last thing I am is a hypochondriac.

But I cannot deny the reality of how I feel. The sluggishness, the apathy, the indecision.

I feel as if I could go back to bed and lie down again. I might not sleep, but the idea is there, undoubtedly. A Sunday awaits me, with all its possibilities. And yet I see none of them. Instead, I am just feeling tired.

Is this a product of getting older, I wonder? If so, I sincerely hope that it doesn’t become a regular feature of my life now.

On a day when so much could yet happen, and lots could still be done, my first thought is to escape back to bed, and avoid all of that.

Not a nice way to think, as I am sure you will agree.