I wrote this as an entry piece for BBC Ouch in the hopes I could perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Although I was unsuccessful, I thought it’d give you guys a giggle. Happy reading…
Imagine me on a hiking trip. Yes, I am on wheels and yet, I somehow found myself butt naked on a fell. Let me set the scene.
My gran died in 2001; three days after 9/11 – what a mighty fine year that was. Anyway, she was a born and bred Cumbrian who loved nothing more than to spend her spare time eating apple pie, watching Countdown and climbing Carrock Fell. Therefore, when she died, it made perfect sense for her to be laid to rest at the place she adored. I was only seven, but I vividly remember sitting on my dad’s shoulders as he marched up the mountain, grabbing a handful of Gran’s ashes and being utterly perplexed at the fact that no one could tell me which bit of her I was ungraciously chucking on the ground. What can I say – I’m disabled; the javelin has never been my strong point.
Flash forward ten years to a gorgeous summer’s day when I was visiting my aunty aka, Ant. We decided it was the perfect day for a picnic and thought we’d tie it in with going to see my dear old Gran, or at least go and sit by the stream where she may or may not be floating. For all intents and purposes, it was a grand plan, until you realise within the ten years that’d past, I had not grown up to be any less of a cripple – Cerebral Palsy doesn’t file for divorce after the seven-year itch. I was also in the depths of anorexia, so the thought of a picnic ironically had me running for the hills. And there was no way on God’s green earth that Ant could carry me up a mountain because she’s a short arse with a bad back. So, as with anything in our family, it was down to Unc to provide a practical one-man solution in the hope that the shit didn’t hit the fan too much.
Off we went on an adventure that was bound to be hilarious yet simultaneously catastrophic. But what the hell, you only live once – Gran would know. I may have been a mere four stone and inherited Ant’s vertically challenged genes, but Unc found it a lot harder to haul me up Carrock Fell than Dad did. Although, that probably had something to do with his Santa-like stature and the fact that Ant had left him to push my chair whilst she titter-tottered over the rocks - Greggs sandwiches in one hand, a bottle of vodka in the other.
The further we got the more Gran’s exact whereabouts became a hot topic of debate. Ant was convinced she was “up there and to the right” whereas Unc, who hadn’t had a skin full, was certain she was “up there and to the left”. Me? I didn’t have a clue. I was too busy clinging onto Unc for grim death, knowing that if my spazzy hand decided to play the disabled card and spaz out, I would plummet to the floor and break most of my bumper-free bones in the process.
Long story short (or not as the case may be), Ant went “up there and to the right” and Unc stuck to his gut instincts, which of course, led us to where we’d left Gran a decade earlier.
We’d potentially found Gran but definitely lost Ant. We were in the middle of nowhere, so twenty-first-century technology was as much good as Ant’s alcohol-infused orienteering. There was nothing we could do other than send the one man we had, and his dog, on a search party. Unc plonked me in my chair, made sure the brakes were on so I didn’t go swimming with the fishes, and made sure my spazzy hands would not be able to throw the unwanted sandwich far enough to feed them. Off he wandered, through the shrubbery and into the abyss.
You know they say the sound of water will make you need to pee? Well, it’s true. The only problem was (and still is) I was a cripple stuck in a set of immobile wheels in the middle of nature with no way of relieving its call. It’s not the first time it’s happened either. Being desperate to pee without a chance of peeing is one of the perks you receive when you sign up to Cripples R Us…
There was this one time when Mum, who is equally as alcohol-infused as Ant, put me on a train to London. My cousin and I had wangled free tickets to see Shrek: The Musical just because we happened to be in the right place at the right time. And also because people like to give cripples free stuff as a way of compensating for what they deem to be our pitiful, legless life. Anyway, Mum was sure I was going to be raped or kidnapped on the way to meet my cousin, who was travelling from Carlisle. So, she left me in the capable hands of two OAPs.
Just as we reached Kings Cross. I got a text from my cousin saying she’d been delayed. I was desperate, proper desperate. I couldn’t cross my legs any longer – well, that’s never a skill I’ve had, but you know what I mean. I had no option but to ask my geriatric friends to assist me to the loo, which they gladly did. Those bogs on trains don’t give you enough room to swing a cat, let alone a wheelchair, a cripple and an old biddy. So, with the door wide open, because the button you push for privacy is always on the blink, and the old fella standing guard, the stranger in her eighties heave-hoed me out of the chair and onto the loo. As I was precariously perched and making a futile attempt not to pee on the floor, the woman announced she was pleased we’d survived because she’d had a heart attack six weeks prior. It’s safe to say I lost my dignity, but found the loo, lost my cousin, but found some pensioners, lost my Unc, but found my Ant. And back to the matter in hand…
When she came stumbling out of the trees without Unc in toe, it was a dilemma as to whether I asked Ant to assist with my peeing needs. She’d quite clearly lost her husband but found another bottle of god knows what on her excursion. However, the alternative would’ve made for a very wet journey home for us all. Out of the chair we climbed and onto the floor we landed – there are uncanny similarities to the balance of a cripple and the balance of an alcoholic. After she’d managed to yank my trousers down and roll me over so I could give the grass a water, she announced that she’d left her handbag on a rock in the middle of the stream. That went a long way to explaining why she’d emerged from the bushes soaked up to her waist, but still left me baffled as to where Unc was.
Off Ant toddled like a lost garden gnome in pursuit of her handbag, with no awareness of the fact that we were one man down. And, if I wasn’t already, her choice to take my empty wheelchair in case she couldn’t carry her handbag, left me well and truly scuppered. What’s a cripple without a chair? A cripple abandoned butt naked on a fell!
Needless to say, enough time had passed for my bare arse to acquire a healthy lobster-esque glow. I was in the middle of ‘they’ll find me, they’ll find me not’ with the last remaining dandelion in my reach when I heard the familiar sound of Unc’s elephant footsteps. After a belly laugh that would pip Santa to the post; “You could park a bike on that”.
Photo credit: Wainwright Routes