Friday, 31 March 2017

The beginner's guide to a vaulting competition (4)

Part Four: advice for vaulters
  1. Don't change your routine in the fortnight before the competition (ideally this should be month, but hey). This includes the day before and the day of the competition. It also includes when you are actually on the horse in front of the judge.
  2. You should only consider changing bits of your routine when they have played the wrong music for you (but see 'Part Two', points 2 and 3). Or, you know, you could just do your original thing with all the planned artistic moves and leave the judge to try and figure out why you're wearing green face paint and a witch costume for Pachelbel's Canon (true story: this actually happened to one of our girls at the English Champs).
  3. Vaulting is a team event, even when you're competing as an individual. Remember your lunger and be sure to let them know how valuable they are!
    For propping up purposes too!
  4. Vaulting is a fun, happy and collaborative sport, including between competitors from rival clubs. Keep that in mind and be friendly and supportive to everyone. If they don't return the respect or if they mistreat a horse then you can, of course, hex them.
  5. Even if you're sharing a horse with lots of other people, remember to help with keeping them happy and comfortable. Take a grooming kit and horse treats, and help to loosen the girth or walk the horse round slowly.
  6. Judges like to be acknowledged. Obviously they're terrifying people who you hope you'd never meet down a dark alleyway, but try and give them a smile which doesn't just look as if you're baring your teeth in the face of sure and certain death.
  7. Point your toes, keep your head high, feel the music, be strong, show off and enjoy the moment. It's not like doing a long dressage test - you only have a minute to show what you can do so make it absolutely top quality throughout!
  8. 'What am I doing? What was I thinking? What have I let myself in for?' - ask these things the day before the event (or earlier) so that you don't have to worry about them on the day.
So, I'm meant to do what exactly?

The beginner's guide to a vaulting competition (3)

Part Three: What to be aware of if you are a friend, family member or other supporter of a vaulter
  1. It's a competition. It's nerve-wracking. Please don't add to the nerves of your vaulter - especially if they are very young - by adding either your own hopes and expectations or your own nerves about seeing them flinging themselves around on a horse.
  2. Don't use flash photography. Some horses are fine with it, but some aren't, and generally there are better times to discover this than when there's someone standing on their back.
    Contrary to popular belief, not a real horse.
  3. Do not get up and start moving around or try to enter/exit the competition arena whilst people are doing a routine. It's distracting for them, the horse, the lunger and the judges. It's rude and can be dangerous. 
  4. Clap for everyone.
  5. When you hear 'Let it Go' from Frozen for the fifth time in an hour, try to arrange your face in a friendly way.
  6. If you aren't in the right place at the right time with everything your vaulter wants at that precise moment then you might get snapped at. Just remember to be perfect and to predict every whim and you'll avoid a lot of grumpiness. 
  7. If your vaulter is being a truly insufferable diva you can always just stand up to take a photo with flash in their routine and see how that goes.
    (In all seriousness though, please don't. Just refuse to take pictures until your vaulter calms down.)

The beginner's guide to a vaulting competition (2)

Part Two: Things to consider in the days before your first vaulting competition
  1. This list assumes that you have a routine, music and a costume. If you don't then you probably shouldn't do the competition.
  2. There is a special place in hell reserved for people who do not label their CD (the CD itself!) clearly. Somehow playing the right music at vaulting competitions seems hard enough anyway, so put your name, club and class on your CD as well as a CD case.
  3. Even if you just have two tracks on your CD (one for running in/compulsories and one for your freestyle) things can still go wrong. Just have one track on each CD. Yes, it costs a fortune and is wasteful, but you'll wish you'd done it when the wrong music is playing for your routine and you have no option but to go along with it.
    The moment when I realised they weren't playing the right music...
  4. You are not going to want to wear a catsuit pulled up all day, since it makes going to the loo a right pain in the bum. Wear a t-shirt and keep the top of the catsuit rolled down until you need it. 
  5. Know when you are competing. 'Nuff said.
  6. Plan your hair and make up before you get there. 
  7. Everything takes longer than you think it should, except for the one minute you have for your freestyle.
    Tee hee hee, I'm just a stupid clock! Credit
  8. Plan time to go to the loo - it's hard to vault nicely when you need a wee.
  9. Remember that vaulting is fun even if competing isn't always fun! Try to enjoy being with the horse. Think of competing as part of the fun of doing vaulting instead of being its own scary thing. You've got this!
  10. You get a rosette anyway and you get to spend time with the horses so it can't be all bad. πŸ˜€ 

The beginner's guide to a vaulting competition (1)

Tomorrow we have our first vaulting competition of the season. It's 'at home' for us which is pretty good - it means we don't have to travel far, we don't have to load the horses, we know where everything is and where it will be, and we have an opportunity to raise a bit of cash for the club. On the other hand there's still lots to organise for our coaches and parents!
Cambridge vaulters at a competition in September 2016.
For quite a few of our vaulters, this is their first competition. Vaulting competitions are really odd if you're only used to 'normal' horse shows, so here is a rough and ready guide to vaulters, parents and spectators for their first event!
How many other equestrian events end with a massed dance off whilst the final scores are added?!
 Part One: What to bring
    1. Obviously you need your catsuit(s) or costume(s) - for all the rounds you're doing (e.g. compulsories and freestyle; individual and pas de deux) 
    2. Water. Loads of water. Avoid fizzy drinks, for what will hopefully be obvious reasons.
    3. Food. Loads of food. 
    4. Money to buy more water and more food.
    5. Enough hair spray, scrunchies, hair grips, bun nets and bun donuts to sink a ship. Not a big ship - they're not heavy things, after all - but a ship nonetheless. More than one hairbrush is also wise.
      I bet you thought this was for horses. Nope, it's for hair supplies.
    6. Make up
    7. A mirror, because there will never be one free when you're fighting against a crowd of small and excitable vaulters.
    8. Baby wipes so that you can scrub out your first few make up efforts until you've landed on something that doesn't look too horrifying, or until you simply can't afford to spend more time on make up because you need to get on a horse and do your thing.
      Never mind. It'll have to do.
    9. Chocolate and sweets or similar bribe for your lunger.
    10. Apples and carrots or similar bribe for your horse.
    11. A copy of the running order. This will also make you everyone's best friend for the day. It's a high value item, so consider bringing more than one...
    12. A camera so that you can capture your/your friends' brilliant (and not-so-brilliant) moments.
      I was pleased with this one from September.
    13. Clothes to pop over catsuits so that you can, if required, pop to a nearby supermarket for provisions without looking very, very odd. Layers are good because stable yards can go from boiling to freezing in half the time it takes to boil a kettle - especially in the Fens!
    14. Spare contact lenses and a pair of glasses if you, like me, are blind as a bat without them.
    15. CD (and a spare) with your music on if you haven't already sent it off. See also Part Two: what to consider when preparing for a vaulting competition.
    16. Exercise bands and any physio stuff you need for warming up, including, paradoxically, ice packs.
    17. Supports and vet wrap for any and every joint your body has - or is this just a para thing?
    18. Pills and all other medical supplies for any and every eventuality. #BePrepared!
      Never forgetting your Tin Man Funnel-Shaped Healing Hat and your Bored Female Could-Probably-Perform-A-Quicker-And-More-Evidence-Based-Solution-To-This-Man-Than-Brain-Surgery-In-The-Presence-Of-A-Priest-Instead-Of-Just-Being-A-Glorified-Shelf Book Balancer.
    19. Ear phones and a stress ball for nerve control (psychological if not physical in my case!).
    20. Lucky underwear. 
Look out for Parts 2, 3 and 4, which will tell you all you need to know to help you blend in like a pro at your first vaulting competition! 

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Spork theory

The other day, my friend MJ shared an article which you can read here. Before you do that, though, you might want to read up on what Spoon Theory is all about. I've mentioned it before but for a reminder head here!
Basically, the point of the article is that 'Spoon Theory' has its problems. Whilst it's a nice way of describing life with very low energy to those who only get tired when they've done stuff (as opposed to someone with a chronic illness causing severe fatigue, who will be tired for basically no reason), it also implies that if you 'save up' spoons one day - or one part of the day - you will be rewarded with greater energy later on. Unfortunately, though, this relies on the basis that your energy works like a normal person's; that you don't have weird and wacky fatigue that only exists to beat you up, then lull you into a false sense of security another time, before beating you up once more.
This was the best sneaky spork I could find.
In Spoon Theory, a spoon is a unit of energy. My alternative is based on a similar premise, but instead of spoons you get sporks. Sporks are those irritating things that are a bit of a cross between a spoon and a fork, without being very good at being either thing. You have this thing which is more useful than not having anything, but isn't quite as useful as just having real cutlery. You have a little utensil that you know has some kind of function, but you don't know quite what that function is - or how long you can use it for before it breaks or you get so frustrated with it that you give up.
I'm undecided on this thing.
The thing with sporks is that they're neither as useful as spoons nor as safe. Sporks don't really have a proper function. More to the point, they can stab you in the back - literally and metaphorically! They're just nasty stabby little spoons but even their stabbiness is limited because they're so hopeless.
I mean, look at them!
Sporks fit my experience of fatigue and chronic illness better than spoons. Spoons are too reliable. Sporks are not reliable. You may think you have loads of spork power left, but then they all disappear or they all break. You may think you're OK, but then WHAM! Pain hits and all your sporks buckle under the pressure, or WHAM! Someone sends an email that you have to answer but it takes way too much emotional energy, or WHAM! For literally no reason whatsoever the energy just drops away from you so suddenly that you can feel it. Sporks are sneaky and devious. They trick you into trying to do too much. They can never be found when you need one. I am not a spoonie. I AM A SPORKIE.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

RDA A-to-Z

At the moment I'm not up to writing much and I'm not feeling particularly imaginative, so I'm wimping out as a blogger and going for some 'pastiche'-type stuff. Here's the first - an A-to-Z. Who doesn't love a classic A-to-Z? This one is RDA-themed, because I've spent so much time working on RDA committees recently that I can't think of anything else!
A is for Aids. These will be some of the first things you learn about as a new rider and, natural or artificial, they will be the backbone of your ability (which also begins with 'a', by the way) to ride. 'A' is also for Apple. Horses like apples.
Boysie reminding me that he likes apples.
B is for Bay. RDA isn't just about riding - you also learn your horse theory and stable management skills, including all about different horsey colours.

C is for Countryside Challenge - a competitive discipline unique to the RDA but which is similar to handy pony competitions. Each year there are regional qualifiers and then a National Championships in this event, which caters for riders of all ages, with all kinds of disabilities, and of varying levels of indepdendence on a horse. It's a fantastic event and tests a variety of physical skills alongside riding - it's tough!
My RDA friend Anne riding Boysie in the National Championships
D is for Dressage. It has to be, doesn't it? The UK is the best para-dressage nation in the world (no other nation has ever won Team Gold in the Paralympics!). This is largely thanks to the tremendous support given to the sport by the RDA.

E is for Equitation - 'the art of riding'.

F is for Friends, both equine and human. Expect to gain a few!

G is for Gallop. Beats any rollercoaster!

H is for Half halt. The half halt is vital for dressage and jumping, especially if you happen to ride a steamroller like Rolo. πŸ˜‰
I do love this little guy though.
I is for Impulsion. This is the energy that you see coming from the hindquarters in a really top-class competition horse - but even us more lowly beings (human and equine) can achieve it when we work for it!

J is for Jumping. With the RDA, you can go from poles on the ground (set out as a course) in walk or trot to cantering around an international competition.

K is for Kur - freestyle to music, usually in dressage but sometimes also in vaulting.
RDA vaulters 😊
L is for Love. Love the horses, love your friends, love the sport, love your life.

M is for Muzzle - the horse's nose. The muzzle is possibly my favourite part of a horse - it's soft, gentle and wrinkles in a really cute way!

N is for Nose clamp (aka 'twitch'). I'm including this because I find it fascinating - it's a clamp which goes on the horse's nose, and although it looks a bit horrifying it doesn't hurt them at all, and instead seems to calm them. We're not sure why it works, but explanations range from it being a distraction from the fresh horror of hell that is a set of clippers to it affecting an acupuncture trigger point, or it causing endorphins to be released in the brain, or it causing 'tonic immobility'. However it works, it's harmless and keeps the horse calm during certain medical procedures or just being clipped without the need for potentially harmful drugs or a stressed out horse.
Weird but so cool - anything that makes horses more comfortable is all for the good.
O is for Oh my word are you really going to try and tell me that vaulting is a good idea for disabled people? Erm, yes. Yes I am.

P is for Paralympics. The RDA supports riders from the very beginning to the very top. Pretty cool, really.

Q is for Quadrille. This is a musical ride performed by a team of four riders/horses, and it's the very first event I did with the RDA, just a month after joining.

R is for Rolling. Horses love a good roll around in the field, and humans love to watch them!
Even if the horse-human enjoyment equilibrium doesn't quite extend to a grey horse rolling in mud...
S is for Spook - what your horse does when he wants to remind you that he's a big girl's blouse at heart.

T is for Tack. We RDA riders sometimes have some funky kit you don't normally see, including toe-cap stirrups, bunny ears mounted on the saddle, 'soft saddles' and, of course, bar reins!

As modelled here by Rolo.
U is for Unsound (lame) - what you hope your horse will never be, otherwise you might be seeing...

V is for Vet - the nice person who you hope not to see too much!
W is for Whinney (neigh) - the happiest sound in the world.

X is for Xenagogue. OK, I admit it, I found this by searching through the OED for words beginning with 'x'. I like it though - it means 'one who conducts strangers; a guide.' There are all sorts of xenagogues in the RDA. There are human xenagogues - volunteers who come to lead horses and walk alongside riders; volunteers who come to help people they don't know and to whom they have no obvious relation but who come to guide us both literally and more poetically through life. The horses are also xenagogues. We aren't the same as them, and even when we know them well and connect well with them, we are still strangers to them in a way because we think so differently: whilst we know we have a connection with our horses, that connection is remarkable because it is such a different kind of relationship to our human relationships. It doesn't make the equine relationship any less valid to notice that we remain strangers in some sense. The fact that our horses are so kind and gentle and protect us so much just goes to show how good they are at being a guide for strangers. They carry us and keep us safe, but for RDA riders, drivers and vaulters they also guide us away from a life of exclusion, dependency and immobility. They guide us towards achievement, physical strength, friendship and, above all, hope. I can think of no better place to aim for, and of no better guide.
Y is for Yearling - a horse who is a year (or so!) old. Or, in other words, a horse who is four years away from becoming an RDA potential steed. πŸ˜‰

Z is for Zebra, and zedonk whilst we're here! Zebras are the Ehlers-Danlos symbol, so I could hardly pick anything else, could I?!
Just look at it! 😍
So there you have it - the RDA from A-to-Z. There were a lot of words I had to sacrifice in favour of others on this list (except for words beginning with 'x'; not so many of them) so maybe one day we'll do the sequel!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Minor good news story

Amidst all the negativity that builds up between disabled people and the various layers of government, here is one small story which is only partly bad, and is therefore worth sharing!
Like many countries around the world, the UK has a system for helping disabled people to park their cars. I'm often surprised by how many people ask me why we need blue badges, and whether they're just a perk of being disabled, so I'll address that first!
  1. They aren't 'just a perk.' They are useful to have and I'm sure a great many people would pay good money for one, but they probably wouldn't want to have the disability that goes with it, so their understanding of 'perk' is a bit one-sided!
  2. Having a blue badge gives certain rights. Most people will have seen disabled parking spaces in big car parks. They're usually located in the most convenient position (e.g. near the entrance of a store) and they tend to be wider than standard spaces. 
  3. They are more convenient in location because, unsurprisingly, the people who need these spaces would find it hard to move much further. You have to think of before and after here - you may be able to whizz a distance in your chair as you enter the supermarket, but getting back to your car with all your shopping afterwards is a nightmare if you've got too far to go. Similarly, some people with blue badges will be able to walk but only for short distances, so it's important that they don't have to walk too far.
  4.  The wider spaces are there to make it easier to get a wheelchair in and out, or to open a door fully so that the disabled person can get out of the car more easily. I would have thought that this would be obvious but apparently not!
  5. Blue badge users are allowed to park on single or double yellow lines for three hours, as long as they aren't parked in a stupid or dangerous spot. This is because it can be very hard to find anywhere else to park, so this system allows you to park close to whatever it is you need to visit (doctors' surgery, pharmacy, shop, house, whatever). 
  6. The precise rules concerning where, when and for how long blue badge users may park in on-street parking and residents' bays vary from town to town. In Cambridge, they're pretty generous - unless there are time restrictions on the specific bay (e.g. for loading) you can park in any on-street parking (disabled bays, pay and display, or residents' parking) for as long as you like and for free. This is quite a boon in Cambridge, which is notoriously busy and expensive for parking otherwise. However, it reflects the fact that travelling into town on the train or Park and Ride buses is really difficult - the train because the station is so far from the centre of town; the buses because, well, they're buses and buses suck for wheelchair users. Similar systems in other towns are there for the same reason: they reflect the fact that using public transport is significantly more difficult for people with disabilities (not just wheelchair users, but people with sensory impairments, for example) than it is for people without a disability. They also reflect the fact that disabled people in possession of a blue badge are significantly less likely to be able to walk or cycle any significant distance.
So, to sum up, this is why we need a disabled parking system:
  • other forms of transport are not an option (train, bus, taxi - too expensive and too few take wheelchairs, cycling, walking, etc.)
  • disabled people need to be able to park close to where they want to end up
  • people with all kinds of disabilities need extra space at the sides of the car
  • some people would find it very difficult to pay for parking, such as people with a visual impairment or those with a disability severely affecting both arms 
  • carers may not be able to handle looking after disabled people any other way - if wheelchairs are very heavy or complex and can't be loaded onto another vehicle, or if a person with a learning difficulty has debilitating anxiety, for example. 
Anyway, here in the UK we have the EU system of blue badges - at least for now. What happens when we leave is anyone's guess...

Under current legislation, blue badges should only ever be approved for people with a permanent disability. If you have a nasty injury that will heal but will take time (a complex fracture of the leg, for example, or severe ligament damage) you might have a fight on your hands to get a badge. Despite the fact that you usually need to have a permanent disability in order to qualify for a blue badge, they only issue them for 3 years at a time. Going through the triennial process of confirming that you do still have the progressive condition previously diagnosed and affirmed to be true is a bit of a bore.

Here's the bit that's the good news story!

Well, first the bit that's not so good.

My blue badge expired yesterday (10th March). Being an occasionally sensible person, I looked up how to renew it in January. You can renew it from 10 weeks until the badge runs out, and your council will send you a renewal letter to remind you and to help you to do this. I ensured that the council had my new address and awaited the letter. Every few weeks I checked again, and it just kept saying that a renewal letter would come. Because I was still waiting for the letter, I assumed that 10 weeks was a fairly arbitrary time period and that the actual time it would take to renew a badge would be much less than that.

With only two weeks left, however, I decided it was time to stop waiting. I went onto the website and found that I couldn't order a new one as if I'd never had a blue badge before, but neither could I do a proper renewal without the reference number on the letter that I'd never received. Being a wimp about using the phone and not hearing/understanding people, I got my mum to ring up! They gave us a reference number and I immediately sent in the details required - my PIP letter, to show proof of automatic entitlement (8+ points in the 'Moving around' section), a new photo (they were all dreadful), and proof of address. All of this took until just over a week until the badge ran out. I was initially told that the confirmation of eligibility could take several weeks - argh! - but fortunately with a slight begging email that came through on the same day and I paid up pronto (£10).
The next bit of information was 'it's on its way - which takes up to 15 working days.' This meant the prospect of surviving two weeks without a blue badge (which would be pretty dreadful tbh) - but it arrived today! Hooray! Here we have a rare example of efficiency in local government. I'm so excited that I don't have to replan my entire fortnight around affordable and convenient parking. I'm relieved I had automatic entitlement so I didn't have to go to all the effort of obtaining medical support/evidence and attending another assessment. It's the most exciting bit of post I've had in ages!
So, there's my good news story. A council did its job after not doing its job. It's about as good as it gets. πŸ˜‰

Monday, 6 March 2017

Club membership

I'm sure every wheelchair user has heard this question at least once: “Do you know my friend, x? He’s in a wheelchair too.”
As much as I’d like to say, “No, sorry, we’re not all members of a secret society,” the truth is that somehow we are. If your friend lives somewhere near me (and often even if they don’t) and they are a wheelchair user, then I generally do know them, or will at least have another mutual friend. There are the folk you bump into at sporting events, the folk you meet wrestling cobblestones, those users you seem to bump into waiting for a lift in the shopping centre each week. ‘Users’ takes on a very different meaning to what it conjures up for most people. 
All of these people are my friends!!
We are a special club. Membership is open only to those who have evolved beyond the need for legs. It’s for people who grit their teeth up hills or through narrow, crowded spaces in shops. It’s for adults who, at the height of the average seven-year-old, are fed up of being walked into, or having backpacks swung in their faces. You can be a member if you’ve sliced your hands on new tyres, or broken fingers, or burned the palms of your hands; all in the name of mobility. You’re a member if the medical profession have given up on curing you but the DWP tells you nothing's wrong. You’re a member if you watch people walking towards you, texting away, and wait until the last minute before shouting, “LOOK UP!” You’re a member if this gives you satisfaction, but not enough to get over the fact that grown men and women can be so reckless.
You’re a member if you’ve cried inside as people hug the wall edge of the pavement, when you quite clearly can’t just pop one wheel off the kerb and then back on again to get past. You’re a member if you’ve cursed every person who has left their bike on a narrow street, especially if someone has brushed past and now a wheel is in your way. You’re a member if you’ve felt the frustration of there being inadequate loos - not big enough, not on the ground floor, or (most frustrating and mystifying of all) up a single step. You're a member if you've voiced your frustration that the bin in the disabled loo can only be opened with a foot pedal. You’re a member if you’ve managed not to bite someone’s head off when they offer to carry you and your chair up the stairs, because you know they are trying to help but you’re fed up with a system which makes you so powerless.
Credit: Hannah Ensor of Stickman Communications.
You’re a member if you’ve watched umpteen buses with plenty of space drive straight past because they don’t want to stop for you. You’re a member if you’ve played the game properly and informed station staff of when you want to catch a train with plenty of days’ notice, yet on the day there is no-one to help with a ramp, and you miss your interview, or your appointment, or your day out with a friend. You’re a member if you’ve been let down by hospital transport and public transport, and you arrive too late for an appointment which now won’t be scheduled for several weeks at best. You’re a member if you’re fed up of always being inconvenienced - of having to be endlessly patient as you wait your turn to get off a train or a plane, or as you wait for people in front of you to move so that you can gain the attention of the shop assistant.
You’re a member if you’ve ever contemplated a Jaws-like attack on people who think it is acceptable to lean over your head in supermarkets to grab a bottle of milk off the shelf, or to press their bodies against your chair and your own body as they reach diagonally across - all because they’re too rude, stupid and impatient to wait for you to move. You’re a member if you’ve ever spent five minutes sitting in an aisle at the supermarket watching a bunch of people, and wondering which of them is least likely to object to you asking for their assistance in reaching something from a high shelf.
You’re a member if you’re fed up of being told you can’t when you can, or that you can when you can’t. You’re a member if people infantilise you because you sit down more than they do. You’re a member if you’ve ever assigned points to pedestrians getting in the way. You’re a member if your primary concern before going ANYWHERE is accessibility. You’re a member if you dread your library book being on the top shelf. You’re a member if you’ve tried to buy Polos in Tesco, but found that the packets of Polos were on the top shelf, so you trekked back to the front of the shop to try and buy them from the snack section, only to find they’re still on the top shelf, and you wonder why they couldn’t just rotate what things go on top?
Gotta love a bit of Avril
You’re a member if you’ve wondered why the ‘fancy’ milk (and here I mean the milk which doesn’t wreck your digestive system and/or kill you) is always at the top when it could be in a column and still have space to wheel in big trolleys of regular milk alongside. You’re a member when you have routes around town which favour minimum camber and bumpiness rather than minimum distance. You’re a member when, every now and then, you just want to sit in a normal chair, but as soon as you do so you forget and instantly try to reach for pushrims that aren’t there.
You’re a member if the clothes you buy are dictated by wheelchair use - nothing too loose that can get caught in the tyres (this includes tops that can’t be zipped or buttoned up), nothing too tight on the legs to stop you fitting in the seat, nothing with sleeves that can’t be pushed up and away from the muddy tyres. You’re a member when you take baby wipes everywhere because your hands get so grubby from pushing against a tyre that has to go through puddles and muck. You’re a member when you curse the dog owner who didn’t pick up their dog’s poo and now you’ve wheeled through it, so guess what? It’s all over your hands, and your car, your house, your clothes and your hands will all smell of poo now.
You’re a member when you’ve wept in sheer rage after an inconsiderate lout has smashed an empty beer bottle and the shards have punctured your wheels, and you know that getting anywhere now is going to be incredibly slow and difficult, and getting the non-bike-sized tyres replaced will cost a fortune. You’re a member when you’ve managed to flip your chair backwards in front of a crowd (my best is the EasyJet check-in queue at Gatwick), or you’ve managed to catapult yourself forwards out of your chair when a caster hits a rut. You're a member when you’ve known kind folk to rush to your aid, only to make things harder. You’re a member when a well-meaning non-wheelie picks up your chair by the back wheels when the brakes aren’t on, then looks surprised when the chair flips back on itself and hits them in the knees. You’re a member when you’ve had to go up behind someone and you know they aren’t aware you're there, but you don’t want them to step backwards into you, so you try and make as much noise as you possibly can and self-consciously cough very loudly, but it still doesn't work.

You’re a member when you’ve been asked, “Why do you have that? What happened? What’s wrong with you? Can you have sex? Are you on benefits? Do you work? Are you a Paralympian? If you can move your legs, how come you need a wheelchair? Can I have a go in your chair?” You’re a member when you have your sarcastic or facetious answers ready for those who don’t really care about you: “Because it’s fun. I was born broken. Nothing’s wrong with me, this is the way loads of people with my disability are. What’s wrong with YOU? I can, but not with you. Are you on benefits? Why wouldn’t I work? Are you an Olympian? If you can see without glasses, why do you need them? Can I have a go on your legs?”
Another of Hannah's.
You’re a member when you’ve batted away people who don’t understand that, ‘no, I can manage’ also means, ‘no, please do NOT touch my chair.’ You’re a member when you have someone who knows when you do want a little help. You’re a member when you treat your chair as part of your own body; if someone bashes into it you wince and if they don’t treat it with respect you feel mad. You’re a member if you’ve ever felt you had to shut up and smile sweetly at people who make your blood boil because, oh, they’re TRYING, you know! You’re a member if you’re fed up of being told you’re an inspiration for doing grocery shopping (“Look at that, she can carry the basket on her lap!” - “Yeah, and you should see what I can do with a trolley…”).
You're a member if you look at representations of wheelchair users in the media (as an extra in a soap, or in an advert) and you know from looking at them that they are perfectly ambulant, because you know nobody that age goes around in a chair like that. You're a member if you know that the standard image of a wheelchair in most people's minds is about 40 years out of date - that's how you tell if the wheelchair is a prop or a necessity. You're a member when you’ve made a shop assistant dismantle an entire till so that they can pass the chip and pin machine down to you, even though you have contactless payment and are quite happy to let them wave the card, so you feel that you must repeatedly thank them for going to all that trouble when really it would have been easier for both of you if they’d just done what you suggested. You’re a member if any of these misguided attempts at help have made you annoyed at the source of the attempts and five times as annoyed at yourself for being so ungrateful. You're a member if you feel furious that all your life you ‘should’ be feeling grateful for other people trying to make things easier for you when really they are just rebalancing the status quo that is the social model of disability, and they are creating something which should exist automatically.
As a young adult, you’re a member if you’ve pulled into a blue badge parking space and been accosted by (mostly) elderly men and women who don’t believe you could possibly be disabled, even when they peer in your car and see two day chairs and a race chair. You’re a member if your boyfriend has driven you somewhere and leapt out of the car on his nicely functioning legs only to be glared at with the venom of a thousand vipers until he starts to assemble your chair, at which point the glare turns into a simpering smile in recognition of this brave young soul who is so good to his disabled girlfriend. (I mean, yes, the people who help me ARE great, but I'm generally nice to them too in ways that don’t involve having great mobility.) You’re a member if you’ve ever had it assumed that your partner or your friends must be disabled too. You're a member if you’ve ever been told, “at least you don't have cancer.” (Try saying this to a wheelchair-user whose condition you don’t understand but which causes a lower life expectancy. Just try it.)
Ball is rapidly approaching face.
You’re in this big, fun, happy club when a malfunction on your wheelchair or a broken-down adapted car leave you housebound. You’re in the club when you want to go and get some fresh air but the logistics of it are too much. You’re in the club when you wish you could talk to someone on the phone at the same time as moving about, but with both hands busy pushing your chair what are you supposed to do? You're in the club when going out with friends becomes an evening of balancing up severe neck cramp with staring at people’s crotches.
You’re a member if, like me, you’ve read the above but you still have more to add. You’re a member if, like me, you don’t have the energy to add more right now. You’re a member if you understand that I need to leave this list unfinished. It will never be complete, and you understand that.
This is the wheelie version of the Domesday Book.
When we look at each other and nod or smile, we aren’t just sharing a joke at how fun it is to wheel around a shopping centre. It’s a sign of respect. It’s a sign of mutual understanding. It is a sign that there is another person, one who looks so happy and capable, who understands your struggles.
If you remember nothing else, please remember this: We are tired of being told we can’t do it when we can, and that we can do it when we can’t.