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In our house, the end of August traditionally heralds the arrival of a time to have a real good sort out.  That probably applies to most households anywhere in the world where there are kids getting ready to start the new school year.  But this August was a little bit different as James had decided it was time to have a good bedroom clearout.  You know, the kind of mass clearance that we do when we leave one part of our lives and move onto a new chapter.

The time had come to find more space for the trendy new clothes that had been bought over the holidays, and ditch the torn and battered posters in favour of new ones ranging from Sly Stallone to The Stig … You get the drift, the move from childhood to entrenched teenager!!

The Bank Holiday weekend dawned.  The weather was … wet as usual, and with gusto I sent Steve (my lovely hubby) into the abyss that had hitherto passed for the corner wardrobe in James’ bedroom.  Me, I don’t do cleaning! The little matter of four fingers and thirteen toes gives me a great escape clause.  However, I am a great believer in delegation and I am a superb supervisor!! 

James also opted out of the job in hand.  He had decided the time was right to accept an invitation to  spend the night (with a couple of mates) in a friends’ garden shed, that has recently been renovated “Extreme Makeover” style to accommodate a flat screen TV, a sofa, a mattress and a fridge (soft drinks only of course!)

So, back to the bedroom.  Out came the primary school books.  They were duly boxed up with the efficiency that can only come from a Solicitor archiving his files!!  Next out, came the Key Stage 3 books.  It only seemed like yesterday that my “baby” had moved from primary school to high school, and now his books were being crated up in the hope that these manuscripts would at some stage in the future open the memory to a time when innocence was bliss.  

Then came the real heart-wrencher … the baby stuff.  First the cuddlies – “Duck Duck” (he always went to nursery with James), “Dotty” (the stuffed cat that came from a great-grandparent) and all manner of other wonderful reminders of a magical time that I have chronicled in my book.

Then, we came across the gadgets and gismos that were acquired to make life easier for me in caring for James.  There was the baby grow that we bought for James to wear home from hospital with easy open poppers, that made getting him dressed and undressed as uncomplicated as possible.  But then the Pièce de résistance emerged.  A retractable dog lead that I used to extend the standard length walking reigns that you get for your inquisitive toddler.  I just clipped the lead onto the reigns and hey-presto, you have a child who thinks he’s walking ahead of the pack, but when danger strikes – just one flick of a switch and the toddler comes flying back – rather like superman (but, please be assured that no child was harmed during the use of this piece of equipment!!).  However, if I had a pound for every passer-by who asked whether he was pulling me along, I’d be rich woman!!!

For disabled people, gadgets of any description can really make life easier.  Technical stuff, like voice activated software, that I now use on my computer has enhanced the quality of my working life so much.  It is sometimes hard to remember how I managed before, tapping away at the keyboard with two sticks, one tucked under each arm.  And, prior to that, scribbled writing with pen clenched between two fingers and my chin pressed down on the top of the pen for stability.

Similarly, those little lengths of doweling rod that I have strategically placed around the house still come into their own for pushing things back or pulling them closer.  I have a helping hand for picking things up that have been dropped on the floor — although don’t expect to be able to pick up anything heavier than a pen or a piece of paper. 

Whenever we go on day trips, holidays or to visit people with inaccessible homes, we take a folding portable ramp.  There are all sorts of gadgets and gizmos in our kitchen from battery operated can openers to electric knives.  The environmental control system is brilliant at being able to turn lights and other electronic equipment on and off, and of course the automatic front door opening system, which can be used either from an intercom or key fob, is essential.

But you know you are getting older when the gadgets you need are more functional than Hi-tech. 

Take the loo for example.  When it’s a struggle to get from your wheelchair to the toilet seat and back again, you know it’s time for action. 

So, how do you remedy such a delicate dilemma?  Well, the first thing you do is telephone your friendly Clos-o-Mat man.  He’s the guy who comes every now and again to service the shower toilet (it’s like a toilet with bidet combined).  When you finally get hold of him, you tell him that you need a higher plinth. 

After his visit, the result is a toilet that looks rather like a porcelain birthday cake.  Now, when I sit on the loo, I look like one of those figurines you see twirling around in the window of the local jewellers shop.  Steve and James think it’s hilarious.  But no matter, I now get on and off the loo with the grace and elegance of a ballerina!!

As a child and into my early teens I spent many hours in hospitals and rehabilitation units experimenting with all sorts of aids and equipment, which I was constantly told would make life easier and enable me to be independent!  Some of them, like my electric wheelchair, were brilliant and liberating.  Others were hideous, useless and impossible to use — a “bottom wiper” springs to mind! 

Picture the scene.  My legs end way above the average persons’ knees and I have two fingers protruding from each shoulder.  The bottom wiper was basically a plastic coated length of thick wire that had been bent at one end to make a loop so you could hold it.  The other end was coiled around a sponge.  I was expected to be able to tuck some toilet paper around the sponge – the toilet roll being out of reach seemed to have evaded the very keen occupational therapist – then wipe my derrière whilst I balanced on my ribs, on the arm of my wheelchair and with my dress held up in my teeth, all at the same time.  Now you know why I opted for a Clos-o-Mat!!!

I guess the moral of the story is this.  Over the years, the way I’ve had to do things has evolved.  A wacky approach to everyday life is part and parcel of being a disabled person.  No matter how many fingers and toes you have, everything is possible with some lateral thinking.  There really is nothing to be gained by worrying about how other people perceive you.  It is best to just get on and do what you do, as best you can.