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Where There's a Wheel, There's a Way

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WHEELCHAIRPANORAMASPLASH
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So here I am. Still adjusting to wheelchair life, having swallowed enough mephedrone to rouse a rhinoceros and then jump off a flyover. I try to confine my communications to email and text. The other methods - phone and face to face - well, I might say something regrettable. I have made impact with the ground but I have not yet landed. Right now, my body ricochets from the surfaces it encounters. It hasn't made the final thud. Hear Our Prayer... Lord In Your Mercy... except I'm not a believer, so I'm not sure why these phrases from Mass wriggle and writhe with one another in my mind.

First, there's the appointment with a local wheelchair service. "Our driver is outside in Kilburn Square". Well good luck to him, but that's not where I live. No, it most certainly isn't where I live and neither is it an address I've ever muttered over the phone. Am I just an ungrateful sod? I'm trying to play along with the system as best I can. He or she will just have to wait. I wheel myself downstairs. Another call. The driver is in Kilburn Square. I thought we'd already been through this. I don't live in Kilburn Square. I'm extremely grateful that the wheelchair service wants to help, but I don't know how many different ways I have of explaining that they're at the wrong address. I rush, I flail, I flap. It becomes apparent from our interactions that they see things very differently: it is not they who are at the wrong address - it's me. Why, I ask the driver, can't he come to my address, wrong though it is? Oh, he can't and that's that. He has a script and he mustn't deviate from it. Help me, someone. Why am I so interminably dreadful at asking for help? I get the distinct feeling they want to help. They are kind and considerate in their manner. But they can only go to Kilburn Square.

My mind darts back to the day I started my first full-time job at IPC Media, which then had the more attractive name of IPC Magazines. It was 1995 and I'd found a way into journalism by taking a job that was part administrative, part editorial. I remember a ridiculously chippy man at a party commenting that I'd only got the job because 'Daddy runs IPC'. Why didn't I stick up for myself? My father worked in an entirely different profession and had no connections whatsoever to publishing or media companies. I hadn't got the job unfairly. Why did I cower in front of those little bullies? We've all met them; the people who pull you down, who devastate you with a killer line, even though you've never harmed them or hurt them in any way. And I'm sure I'm not alone in having that version of Stockholm Syndrome which prompts you to collude passively with your bullies, to take sides with them. What on earth are they here for, sharing this journey with us, those strange, psychological assassins? There's such a sadistic pointlessness to what they do. I think back to my teenage tormenters at The Hurlingham Club (a country-club in Fulham that aspirational people, people blood-hungry for status, wait ten years to join). I remember the first day that my mother and I joined the club with the entirely different motive of wanting to swim and have fun. It was 1979 and I held her hand as we walked through the gates and found piles of autumn leaves to jump in and throw around with our hands. We had no idea how unpleasant the other members were. I recall the Catherines, Claudias and Mimis, the Jonathans and Sebastians. I could never understand why they ridiculed me at teenage parties and seemed to have a sixth sense for locating my most vulnerable areas - my emerging sexuality and my nervousness. I have never met people so unencumbered by angst or self-reproach, so cushioned by their glib sub-urbanity. But I suppose that's how bullying works; it exults in its own sheer needlessness and un-called-for-ness.

So, back to my first job; someone else had been working it on a provisional basis. The job was called Features Assistant. Sophie, I think her name was, had been doing it pending approval by the editor. Well, if looks could've killed when I came for interview and landed the job on a permanent basis. I've never felt so hated. The job had been promised to her, and how dare they take it away. She found a place on another title, so I kept bumping into her in the building. She used to dart me the most awful paint-stripping glances when she saw me in the canteen. I can only begin to imagine the joy my current predicament (broken back, unable to walk, mentally incapacitated) would bring her if she ever found out about it. She really seemed to think that I'd got the job as a deliberate and personal affront to her own ambitions.

Back to now; I have pressed the 'fail' button. I've put several fingers on it just to be sure. I'm so scared. In my former life, I never had to muster the courage to have a shower. It was just something I did without thinking about it. I didn't have to plan it, as though something might go wrong. Now, I reach out for the things that comfort me and which don't require form-filling or phone calls. I watch ropey 1970s horror films (Italian or English ones are the best) and black comedies, and I listen to my favourite songwriters. Thank God (if you believe in God; I mainly don't) that life has brought me into contact with these amazing people. First and foremost, there's Pamela, a friend who has been with me through every victory and disaster and never loved me less because of my flaws. Then there's darling Harriet Schock and Andrea Ross-Greene, who believed in me despite my failings. I think of Essra Mohawk, a musical pioneer who's made many brilliant albums and whose Primordial Lovers deserves much more attention than it gets. And Catherine Howe, an RCA recording artist who has become a real friend.

Songwriters and lovers of songwriters came to my aid when I was lying, incapable of motion, at St. Mary's Paddington. Lori Lieberman wrote a song for me. To say that I was grateful and astonished would be an understatement. The incredibly good songwriter, Renee Armand, sent me messages that never failed to amuse and educate. And then came Christopher, a charming man from Seattle, whose words of encouragement combined flirtatiousness and wisdom in hitherto unheard of ways. I am so lucky. Nice, interesting people flow into my life. There's Seth, Eryl, James, Arabella, Sally, Andrea, Tom, Sarah, Adam, Nicky, Niall, Janet, Michael, Huw...where do I stop? These lovely people never judge or castigate me. There are many more of them, and I mustn't slight them by leaving them out, but I cannot mention them here or this update will read like a laundry list. And my parents are the two funniest, lovely-looking and intelligent people I've ever met, never failing to make me laugh or feel exuberant.

At last I begin to think of how lucky I am. No, I can't walk properly. I can't don suitable attire and go for a run. But there's so much I can do. I can cook (or at least someone is going to help me try, next week). I can play the piano, despite the metal in my left wrist. A wheelchair-accessible gym is just one minute away. With help, I can wash myself. An amazing company called Sweet Tree sends saviours to me every day who help me work out what to do and how to move forward. There is so much I can do, that instead of being overwhelmed by it, I am going to start doing it.

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