A Failed Journalist Reviews: Flare Path

Tuesday 12 September, 2017

Almost 2 years ago to the day, I did something that I haven’t done since before my operation in 2010.
I went to see a show, all by myself, probably to the downright horror of the theatre’s health and safety officer. But hey, that’s what a limited care package gets you.

Anyway, I’ll spare you the back story and get right down to business.

I broke out of my new normal to go see Flarepath, which was on at The Playhouse in Liverpool. Many things could have gone wrong during this play: I could have suffered an asthma attack, my back could have locked up, my heart murmur could have picked up and left me short of breath and dizzy. I could have thrown up randomly, I could have found myself in an altercation with a disgruntled fellow theatre-goer. I could have found myself needing the toilet and not being able to get back out again  – It has happened before. (Misadventure 1: McDonalds, Liverpool Town Centre, heavy door vs No manoeuvre room, Misadventure 2: Broadgreen Hospital, Orthopeadic Clinic, Very Heavy Door.)

I risked all of that, and possibly more! To see two people i’ve wanted to see act in a theatre* near me for years: Olivia Hallinan and Philip Franks! Both being in the same play, it killed the proverbial birds with one stone.

So, for those of you haven’t read Flarepath, and don’t worry, I am amongst you, the play is about a group of people who are staying in the same hotel, near the aerodrome in Lincolnshire, during World War 2. But it’s not just about any old people, no! We have an actor, called Peter Kyle, who checks in to the hotel seemingly under the guise of business, then we have resident Countess Doris Skriczevinsky. She’s married to Count “Johnny” Skriczevinsky and recognises Actor Peter Kyle straight away. She’s a fan! Fellow hotel guest is Patricia “Pat” Graham (played by Hallinan) who is also an actor. Yet, for reasons not yet disclosed at this point, Peter Kyle is rather cagey about whether he knows her or not. Despite having worked on a film together. See? Very cagey.

Then we have Pat’s Pilot husband Teddy, Air Gunner Dusty, who is married to poor Maudie, who is the most normal guest at the hotel. She lost everything when a bomb hit her house, and she’s very pragmatic about it. I loved her and Dusty so much that I would like them to have a play where they’re the main characters instead. Well, as well as, rather than instead. This was a good play!

Count “Johnny” Skriczevinsky, I’ve mentioned him already, he’s Polish and could be considered the comic relief. He could be, but I didn’t. There’s something poignant about a man fighting for a country he can barely speak the native language of. I know, Allies and all of that, it was common. But, no, this man was fighting for Britain, and his wife and their future together. And whilst he did provide brilliant comic relief, I do not want how well rounded and loving this character is, to be overshadowed by that comic relief.

Then there’s Teddy, who I’ve also already mentioned. He’s Pat’s husband, he’s a bomber pilot, and him and Pat have been married for 9 months. Then there’s the amazing Squadron Leader Swanson (Played by Philip Franks) who is all heart and no bite. Somehow, despite rankings and severe punishment for dissension in the ranks, Teddy gets away with calling him Gloria. Admittedly, I didn’t get the joke whilst I was watching it, but when I got back home and mentioned it, the response was “Oh, after the singer!” and I googled it.

Last but not least is the hotel owner, Mrs Oakes. Provider of the full English breakfast, and questionable sausages.

So, what’s the story about, with all these interesting characters? They’re all meant to have the night off, time to be with their loved ones, or in the case of Peter Kyle, seemingly sleep until he leaves the next morning. But far too soon,  Squadron Leader Swanson bursts through the door with bad news: They’re needed for a raid.

Let me break into the retelling of the play to talk about the effects and the set. They were minimal, but affective. The set was laid out like a lounge at the hotel, desk to the right, couch in the centre. The backdrop was just a general outside with a window in front. In the night scenes, before they drew the curtains, it was a dark blue night scene, in the day it was a brighter blue with a bit of a visible garden. The absolute star of the stage, outshining even the great Philip Franks! Was the realistic fire at the forefront of the stage. I wish I had a photograph of it because it was indescribably beautiful.

There was nothing technologically advanced to portray living near an airstrip, and yet! Yet! Some strip of lighting to represent the Flarepath (Yeah, that’s when I twigged about the meaning of the play’s name too) through the window, and some very close, loud, sound effects, and a synchronised reaction as if fighter plane’s were passing by right over head (it’s called acting, Dahling!) makes you duck out of the way. Genius!

I’ll be sending the stage managers the bill for my new heart.

Back to the plot, and this is where I should say there’ll be spoilers, obviously: Whilst the RAF members were away, the crux of the play unravelled. Pat, to the shock of myself, had been in a relationship with Peter Kyle. She had left him to marry Teddy, despite still being in love with Peter Kyle, and, further revelation! After 9 months of being married to Teddy, wasn’t sure she loved him! Teddy, that is. How awful! And Peter Kyle wanted her back! And she wanted to go back! And, urged on by the very site of Peter Kyle, whose presence originally seemed to annoy her, she decided she was going to tell Teddy as soon as he got back. Teddy had no clue that they’d been in a relationship, the poor clueless sod! Was this going to end with her running away with Peter Kyle!?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: She realised how despondent she’d been towards Teddy. She married him on a whim, it was a war time romance, they barely knew each other and she’d never bothered to try. I weeped internally at the struggle. So after a brief bout of ill health on Teddy’s behalf (Like, very brief. All of 15 minutes in real time), she decided she did love him after all, and could love him even more, and stayed.

Poor Peter Kyle, you might say. I thought the same, until he tried to emotionally blackmail her and manhandled her about the place.

To change the pace a bit, there was a hell of a crash over at the aerodrome. And then only Teddy and Dusty arrived back – it wasn’t looking too good for Johnny. They waited all morning for him, but Squad Leader Swanson returned – after having stayed a while over night with the women to keep them company (see, all heart, that man!) – to tell them that, whilst they don’t want to give up hope, they all knew the chance of Johnny returning decreased the longer it took to find him.

In a random twist of fate, with Peter Kyle out for revenge, to ruin Pat and Teddy’s marriage, Doris, who knows Peter Kyle can speak french, asks him to read out a letter The Count had left for her in the event of him never returning. It was heartbreaking. The letter said how much The Count loved her and how he was sorry he never got to show her his homeland of Poland. I’m not doing it justice, but trust me, I weeped externally and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.

Realising how much of an arsehole he was being, he decided to keep his affair with Pat a secret and subsequently left quietly.

I’m very glad to say that whilst the foreground of the set was very busy, my attention to things that move in the background allowed me to notice a mysterious figure in a big hat come through the door, unnoticed by the other characters.

Could it be?
…Was it?

Be still by murmurring heart! Yes it was! It was Johnny! Wonderful! My heart swelled. Metaphorically speaking.

After a repeated, hilarious retelling of how he survived (I won’t quote it because I won’t be able to do it justice, but, it’s brilliant), they celebrated their reunion with a good, lung beltering rendition of “We don’t want to join the air force”, and, proving that life sometimes changes within a second, a bright light came up and a loud noise hit, and the stage went black. And that was the end.

Wow. I mean, WOW. The acting all around was almost perfect in my books. I was a bit distracted with trying to think who *Peter Kyle* reminded me of and, alright, maybe Philip Franks didn’t get enough stage time for my liking. But for what it was, it was great. I really don’t know why there’s so many negative reviews. Not just for the Liverpool showing, but for the play over all. Boring? Pretentious? Patronising? What play where They watching!? Uncultured swines, the lot of them.

I don’t know how much of the original written play they stuck with, I don’t know if Rattigan evolved it during his time, or, like a few other plays, a new version emerged at some point and theatre producers have been putting that version on instead since it’s incarnation. All I know, is that this play features a variety of characters, and some are flawed, and some you don’t get to know enough of, but there is enough there to relate to them in some way. Or, in my case with Peter Kyle, to know you absolutely dislike them 100%, and that’s okay because it means the actor has done their job.

I do have one criticism: There was a change in cast which saw the character of Percy played by Holly Smith yet one of Dusty’s lines was “Percy, my lad”. And on one hand, I understand audiences are also meant to have a bit of imagination about things, on the other hand, it was jarring and it could have been adjusted with changing the line. It could be because the line continued on to threaten to physically discipline Percy for not minding their own business, and maybe that would have come across wrong with the character being played by a woman. But that also could have been adjusted. I’m sure, as theatre directors should know, not every line has to be exactly the same all the time.

The ending might be too abrupt for some people, as well. At first I was confused, unsure whether I liked the sudden ending, and then it dawned on me, hours later to be honest with you, what it (probably) signified. Ouch, talk about mood whiplash. Talk about delayed mood whiplash!

Anyway. Would I recommend this play? Yes. Especially if Philip Franks ever returns to the cast.

I would also recommend film makers pull a History Boys with this and make a film with the 2015 cast. I have no other cast to compare it to, but, trust me on this. It’s Hallinan and Franks or bust!

10/10

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Fashion Whilst Disabled

Friday 3 March, 2017

I’ve had this entry in the back of my mind for ages, but I’ve never really been able to put it together coherently. But last week was London Fashion Week and it prompted a twitter thread, and I’ve decided to use that as my basis.

My biggest problem with this issue, is that I’m not really into fashion. I’ve never really cared about what’s in and what isn’t, I don’t follow clothing trends and I think anything beyond function and colour is frivelous. In fact, I am very against the concept of the fashion industry, because almost every time I need new clothes, the exact things that I am looking for are no longer “In style” or “in season”, so they are impossible to buy.  Mixed in to this problem is “vanity sizing”, so not only do the fashion lines that make it into the shop become stock-only sizes where one shape is meant to fit all, the sizes they use don’t even match up to what people were.

Every time I have complained about this, I become very mindful of two fundamental problems: There are not enough disabled people included in the industry, and most disabled people who are involved in the fashion industry are, I’m sorry to say, able to pass for able-bodied. I don’t mean to slight those who are in the industry, but it’s true. They don’t cater for *me*.

Just recently a disabled fashion designer realised that standing mannequins don’t do much to show wheelchair users what clothes would look like on people who sit down, so she designed a wheelchair using mannequin. Unfortunately, all it looks like is a mannequin sitting down. The body is proportional, the body sticks to modern so called beauty standards, there is nothing besides the wheelchair (rather than the mannequin in it) which makes me think that the fashion industry is actually trying to reach out to people like me. I’m short, i’m not thin, my bone structure is awkward, I’m almost always cold, and my joints can swell up a lot on bad day. Size 10 skinny jeans that thin down to a size 8 in the shin, without any space in the seat to sit down in (You know what I’m talking about!) don’t cater for me, and neither do sheer fitted blouses. Guess what’s all I ever see in shops these days?

I am not the only person who is not in proportion, but shopping makes me feel I am. When I wear fitted women’s clothes, my hips are at the part that goes in for the fitted waist (or there abouts-ish). Fitted clothes are not forgiving to my back. Average beauty standards means they go out where I either don’t, or I go in, and vice versa. I’m finding a lot of cuts these days have sleeves stitched quite low on the sides, and I think if the tops fit the body, they would fit the arms on other people, but they don’t fit me. I can’t wear dresses and I can’t wear swimming costumes. I’m currently in dire need of new long sleeved pyjamas and despite wearing a size 10 or 12 since I was 15, recent changes in styles and sizing mean that I can’t find any that fit me. I had fun two years ago when I found a size 10 set where the bottoms were far too tight, but the size 12’s top was so low cut I might as well not have been wearing it. I did not have the baldface cheek to swap them and try and buy them without the till worker noticing.

My complaints about these issues are mainly met with dismissive attitudes and the suggestions that I must be looking in the wrong places, I must be looking at the wrong sizes. The problem can’t really be that bad. Also, that if it really is that bad, my best bet is buy what I can and then get them altered.

It is that bad, and there’s no high street chain that this doesn’t apply to. And why would there be when the problems come from the root? That there is no thought put into the design stage that not all people will fit into them? We see a lot of movement when it comes to “plus size clothing”, we see a lot of shops only selling up to size 14, and the cost sky rocketing when it goes past that, but even then I would say there is a standard that most people will meet for plus size clothing when they are provided, and when those clothes are of good quality. Disabled people are only catered for right now by small independent online companies, usually owned by other disabled people or loved ones of disabled peopel, and almost all based in America. It can be a lot of hassle to face trying to ensure correct size, shape and cut, and it doesn’t do much for the social aspect of shopping. Yet again, disabled people’s problems don’t make it out of the echo chamber.

Give me clothes that cater for humps, twisted backs, shortened trunks, flared ribs, short limbs and wide pelvises. Give me unmistakably disabled people included in the deisgn, in the whole process, and normalise catering fashionable items for people of body shapes outside of the so called norm.


9/9/2016 – The Anniversary of The Start Of The New Beginning

Friday 9 September, 2016

Hello to the void! I don’t know if I still have any readers about this place but if you are indeed reading this, then I am indeed addressing you.

It’s cliché of me to say, but any perceptions of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. I actually have a half written entry on what’s been happening over the past 8 months that have prevented me from updating on the more regular basis that I was hoping for. And that will still come, but, it’s ironically also been prevented from being written updated by the same factors that have been preventing me from updating.

But anyway!

Today marks a year since my first self-hired Personal Assistant left and I couldn’t let the day go by without acknowledgement. Since I lost this PA (who I hired through a half care agency, half recruitment agency), my endeavour to hire my own PA, with myself completely at the helm, has been nothing short of a nightmare. And to be honest, the events immediately after my PA put her notice in was not all smooth sailing either. From the second I decided to have control who my Personal Assistant would be, it’s been one bad experience after another.

When my PA put her notice in and subsequently left rather suddenly – she actually put her notice in with intent to work her two weeks but because of bad health had to finish her notice on sick leave – my time frame to get a new PA went from two weeks to 0 days. She texted me first thing on the Wednesday morning, but the office didn’t even ring to tell me until 3 in the afternoon, 3 hours before I was due to have a shower call. They were meant to call me back to discuss it further, and they didn’t call me back. In fact I rung them back at half 4, done with waiting, only to be told “We finish at five, and it’s half four now….”. I was told I would have to wait until the next morning.

There was just no urgency of the matter, no sense of duty of care to help me hire someone to replace the person they suggested I hire due to her being on the books already, with very little hours. I was subsequently passed from pillar to post, I did not speak to the same person twice. I spoke to one person, they tried to offer me spare cover of whoever was available with no guarantee of consistency. I emphatically turned that offer down, I was told they would have to speak to their manager and call me back. They did actually call me back but only to offer me cover again. It was like I’d entered the twilight zone.

Then, they, unbeknownst to me, moved offices on the Tuesday. I was meant to be rung back on the Monday, and I wasn’t, so when I rung them on Tuesday morning and was met with a dead phone line, you can imagine what I was imagining! I was up the disability creek without a PA to paddle. When I eventually did get through to someone, I was told the person I’d spoken to previously had left her position (second time I’d heard that), and someone else would be put in charge of the situation, but I wouldn’t hear back from them until the end of the week at the earliest, because they were moving offices.

If I got one thing from all of these phone calls, it was that it was just an unfortunate circumstance that I would be left without care, but they were just really busy over there with their moving offices and changing job positions.

I think what happened after that really sums up my experience with Your Life, Your Way best though. After my final phone call with someone on the morning of 15th of September, 2015, I wrote a very thorough complaint letter to the managing director of the company and told them I’d decided, following that phone call, that I no longer wanted their so called services.

I was called up two days later by a member of staff trying to set me up with cover. My complaint had not only not been shared to other members of staff, it hadn’t even been read yet.

10 days after I sent my complaint, the managing director of the company emailed me back, first to apologise for my poor experience with the company, but then ended her email by stating I’d contacted her office since my email asking her to get in contact with me because I wanted to interview people, not just have cover sent to my house.

Does that message sound familiar?

After that, I decided to go at it fully on my own. I’ve talked about this before. I put up adverts, I booked a room to interview people in, I arranged interviews, people confirmed, and then came the day. I went ready and prepared, I had my best friend and my mum with me. They were going to be the Karen Brady and Nick Hewer to my Alan Sugar.

Nobody turned up.

The next set of interviews I organised, 3 out of 5 people turned up. I gave someone the latest slot I could give them because they asked for a later slot due to prior engagements, and they didn’t turn up. Following that, I had someone leave verbal abuse on my phone to someone called John. They never left their number but I recognised their voice from an applicant who never turned up.

Out of the three people who did turn up, though, I hired one person. I thought she was just perfect for the job, and I think for the first 6 weeks she was. And then something changed. I don’t know what brought it on exactly, but the first incident was her turning up late with no real explanation. Then it was a last minute cancellation where it was like a chain of knock on effects, her mum got called into work so couldn’t look after my PA’s son, so my PA requested to change days. These things happen but as someone with no priorities, I always feel like I can’t say no without sounding unreasonable. But the fact of the matter is, I choose these times and calls because they are the best time and days for me. And then I’d say the death knell was her getting another job for more money, which I understand was necessary for her, but it killed off any availability for me. I was then hurt in an accident which meant I had to rearrange calls, which was difficult because of the aforementioned lack of availability. Further late arrivals, and just had something changed in her attitude whilst she was here. I knew I had to speak to her, and her probation period was ending so the next call I had, I was going to sit her down and talk to her.

Before I even got to really play the role of the boss, she said, amicably and quite friendly, that she would have to put in her notice in, because her other job could offer her more hours, and she wouldn’t have the travel costs and it would just generally work out better. It’s understandable, and I suppose it saved me the job of having to ask her if this was a job she really wanted to keep.

The thing that sort of annoyed me on that, though, is that in the interviews I always ask how the applicants intend to travel to mine. I point out, if they take public transport, that Sundays have different time tables that might mean they can’t work Sundays after all. And around that 6 week mark, my PA started getting taxis home from my house because there was no bus home. The way it worked out she was spending her Sunday hourly wage on her taxi fair, and I look back and wonder if she resented me for it, for maybe not offering to pay for her fair for her.

Since then I have set up four more interview days in the interview room, usually arranging to interview 5 or 6 people a day, and many people have been unsuitable or just not turned up. It’s like I said last time, people were applying without reading the advert. I heard more than once that they thought they were applying for a full time job, and I just don’t know how because the advert specified, at that point, 6 hours a week, with the hours broken down into time and days of the calls.

I found two people I was happy with, and it was a hard choice between them. I have sadly regretted my wrong choice ever since. I went for listed experience over everything else, and I selected someone for a second interview – I was doing this slowly this time and not the rushed pace the social suggested. They came to my house and we chatted. I felt like we got on like a house on fire, so I  told her to think about it for a week, and to get in touch if they had more questions. A week later they came to my house to sign the employment contract. I had to print off so many things for the social to confirm I’d hired someone. I gave her a start date.

She didn’t turn up. I texted, I called, and nothing. I can’t tell you how excited i was to finally get a shower after 6 months. I was left disappointed, and confused. What had gone wrong!?

I eventually shook it off and decided to shake things up a bit, due to lack of all around availability, and I did phone interviews. It was a bit different. I couldn’t get a real picture of some of the people I interviewed and could only go on answers alone. But I found two people yet again I was happy with. I was planning to have further interviews, this time face to face at my house, much like with the last potential PA, to go through further details of the job and see if it was something they really wanted.

I called up one and arranged the details. I called up the other and…. Nothing.

Day of the second interview came for the applicant…. And they didn’t turn up either. To say I was disheartened would be putting it lightly.

It’s been 8 and a half months since my last PA left and seeing as I depend on my mum, who is disabled herself, this situation passed miserable and unbearable four months ago. Except for twice, I have only left the house with friends or for medical appointments, and those two times were quick short trips where I struggled to manage independently, but had to go out because I could not stand being indoors whilst it was gorgeous and sunny outside anymore.

There is no care agency – apart from the care agency I ditched for being unreliable, and I refuse to go back to them – in my area who will take a young disabled person unless they have either a mental health problem, a learning disability or a neurological condition. And I have none of those things. I have some sort of physical bone disorder that is something like osteoarthritis. I have to hire someone, and there’s some more applicants lined up to interview, but I am fed up going through it all – spending time and energy separating the wheat from the chaff, only to be disappointed at the end of the process.

It’s been a year since the last choice blew up in my face, how much longer will this reign of bad luck last?


A Failed Book Review: Handle With Care

Tuesday 12 January, 2016

Content Warning: This review mentions and in some cases goes into depth about eating disorders, self harm and rape. If these topics are upsetting or triggering to you, please stop here and either navigate to another post by the links on the right hand side, or exit the blog via your back button. A new post will be up in 2 week’s time and will replace this post as being the first to read should you wish to return.

Thank you very much and apologies for any inconvenience. If you’d like to contact me for any reason, please use the comments on this page to do so.

 

Handle With Care.

Handle with Care was published in 2009 and was written by the famous My Sister’s Keeper Author, Jodi Picoult. This novel, Handle with Care, is hard to describe and it’s only today that I realised why. This novel is meant to be about the difficult life of a young girl, called Willow, who was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type 3 (Brittle Bones Disease), and how her parents are coping with having a disabled daughter (her sister: a disabled, younger sister). What this story is, like what any other story is when it concerns a disabled person, is more about how everyone around this disabled character deals with the disabled person’s existence (in this case Willow), and how their existence impacts on their own lives. This book is not so much about Willow, but those characters in the peripheral of Willow’s life. She is, arguably, both the main character and the most minor character in the book.

The main character, I would say, is her Mother, Charlotte, who tries to show that she cares the most about Willow, by suing the Ob/Gyn for wrongful birth.

And here’s some context as to why I read this book:

I hadn’t read Jodi Picoult before and I didn’t know all that much about My Sister’s Keeper. I knew the film was “a weepy”, and I tend to avoid those, so I didn’t know it was a book nor did I know the author’s name. But this book, Handle with Care, was recommended to me by my the mum of my friend, Laura.

My friend Laura, for those who don’t know, had Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type 3. Actually, according to her specialist, she had one of the most severest cases of it he’d ever seen. Unfortunately, after a serious bout of sickness related to her condition, she passed away back in October 2005, aged 20. It was with personal interest in mind that her Mum read the book, and then recommended it to me some years later. In her words, “Just so much of it’s like Laura”.

So, with high expectations but the understanding that any knowledge I had of OI, and the treatment of it, was second hand and might very well be outdated by now, I started reading. And for a good two thirds of it, I couldn’t put it down.
The story itself is pretty easy to follow, despite story switching POV between multiple characters, and random recipes and misplaced narrative throughout the book. Charlotte had her first daughter Amelia, then she married Sean O’Keefe and had her second daughter, Willow. Charlotte was best friends with Ob/Gyn Piper Reese, who became her and Sean’s go to doctor when they had trouble conceiving, and when their friendship somehow survived through all of that awkwardness and then some, she took on the natal care of Charlotte.

By the time Willow is five, which is when the novel really starts, where the real introduction to Willow happens, the O’keefe’s have mounting medical bills, money problems, a frustrated pre-teen daughter, and a super intelligent, intuitive younger disabled daughter who is being held back by her mobility problems and America’s general lack of understanding of severe disability.

I’m going to take this moment to say that I didn’t realise wheelchair services were so bad in America. Unless Picoult has used some artistic licence, I didn’t know that children had to wait so long between fittings for a suitable wheelchair. We’re not much better in the UK, especially now in the age of the post code lottery, but at least the wheelchairs are free, they tend to try and get things right, they’ve always provided children with chairs you can sort of adjust around their growth, and charities do always help where they can. Leaving a child of five to sit uncomfortable in a chair they got fitted in when they were a toddler, especially if it can be dangerous to their health and safety, would have been unheard of (until about 2010, when the wheelchair services all had their fundings cut. But that’s a post for another day!)

Back to the Book. This is when it starts to get a bit complicated, but I’m going to try and simplify it as much as possible. The O’keefe’s go to Disneyworld and Willow suffers from a bad fall (as is the unfortunate nature of Brittle Bones Disease) and both her thigh bones end up broken. The doctors at the local hospital check it over, but because the medical letter that explains Willow’s condition was accidentally left at home, they mis-read all of Willow’s breaks as abuse, and both Sean and Charlotte end up being arrested. Amelia ends up in guardian home for the night, under child protective custody, and poor Willow ends up in hospital, alone, in a spica cast.

Curiosity drove me forward in reading, but even at this early stage I was sitting there wondering how realistic this would be.

Knowledgewise, I was questioning whether it would be really possible for a child with OI type 3 to be put in a spica cast. I was put in a Spica cast following corrective surgeries on my legs when I was five, they’re not the easiest things to live with; And Laura couldn’t have any casts of any type put on her, ever, because they were more of a danger to her than helpful. They were so heavy, they would have caused breaks either side of the cast. And, a Spica cast can go almost all the way up to the chest, just one bump or wrong turn could have meant the spica cast digging the wrong way into a rib. I was left wondering if maybe things had progressed so much that this wasn’t actually a fatal risk anymore. I welcome comments to inform me either way!

Similarly, besides the bouts in her wheelchair, Willow could walk. If medical treatment and medication has come on leaps and bounds since Laura was a child, I’m happy to hear it, but you hardly ever heard of someone with OI Type 3 walking, even into the late 90s. I’m aware a friend of Laura’s could walk with crutchers, but he was a lot bigger than she was so I don’t think he had type 3. What many people with OI decide to do, is to have steel rods inserted into their long bones, so that their legs can bare weight. That was never an option for Laura, her bones wouldn’t have accepted the rods.

And talking of size… It has happened that the less severe forms of OI has been misdiagnosed as severe abuse, and probably does continue to happen. Because you’re looking at someone just a bit outside of the averages of height, weight, proportions and mobility. But with OI type 3, the person is very small. They have certain, unmistakable attributes to their physical appearance. I can understand these factors being overlooked twenty-five years ago, especially in a very young child up to toddler age, but it wouldn’t have taken them more than two seconds to see Willow’s body differed from that of an average child: Her body being a certain shape, the length of legs and arms not being in proportion to her torso or head, the whites of her eyes possibly being a blue-tinted colour, and a voice at a higher pitch than normal you’d find even on an able bodied child. With some conditions, you might not know what it is you’re being faced with, but you certainly know that, skeletally speaking, you’re looking at someone atypical. A child, yes, but an atypical child in physical appearance. Abuse wouldn’t explain low levels bone density or unusual calcium markers in the blood, and I would expect doctors, especially within the last decade, to check into these things before throwing the A word around.

It was one of many occurrences I found that Picoult depended on the sheer ignorance characters and readers alike to carry the plot along. (But hey, how else would the story drive forwards?)

Anyway, in the plot, once everything is sorted out and everyone’s released and free to go home, that leads to the O’keefes trying to sue  everyone involved in the events that lead to the mistreatment of the family. The lawyer says that’s a no go, but they should consider sueing the Ob/Gyn for wrongful birth. That is to say, sue the doctor overseeing Charlotte’s pregnancy for not figuring out that Willow had OI in time to give Charlotte the option to abort.

In other more specific words, blame and sue Piper for not giving her the option to abort Willow. Despite the fact that they’re catholics, abortion was never going to be an option as agreed by both Sean and Charlotte, and a late term abortion was in fact offered to and subsequently turned down by Charlotte.

Amelia develops bulimia, the sisterly relationship between the two daughters breaks even further, and eventually Charlotte’s drive to carry through with her plan causes a rift in her and Sean’s marriage.

 

It’s a very full on story, and the further long I read, the less sympathy I had for Charlotte. She didn’t see what she was doing to her family. Or she did, but she didn’t care. There was one bit where, because Piper’s husband is the small town Dentist, Amelia misses her appointments, because Charlotte refuses to take her, even though she was due to have her braces removed. That’s just cruel.

Willow was intelligent enough to pick up on what was going on, and there’s just no nice way to say “if I’d have aborted you, we wouldn’t be in so much debt” to a young child. There’s also no nice way to say “I do love you, but I didn’t ask for this and someone has to take the blame for that.”

Then there was the convention. Charlotte is confronted by a bunch of mothers who read about the court case in the news. Charlotte is actually angry for being confronted. Charlotte really doesn’t understand how lucky she has it, in comparison to other people. Meanwhile, Amelia’s wandering around the hotel the convention’s held in, pretending to have a lesser form of OI, and she picks up a boyfriend along the way.

Those are the parts I’d say that were written well, even if on the surface I didn’t particularly enjoy the plot. However, intermixed with these parts were really poor writing and plot devices that made me think Picoult’s editor had set a holiday response for their email saying “Whatever you’ve written, I’m sure it’s perfect! We’ll publish it in when I’m back!”

We’ve got the part where, following the removal of Spica Cast, Willow needs to exercise. How does an over protective mother encourage her reception aged daughter, who has a condition where just one fall can kill her, to exercise? She makes her to walk the end of the driveway, by herself, to collect the post (admittedly something she likes doing but still…) where any dubious adult could just come along, sweep her up and run off with her. The route to the mail box at the end of the driveway involves going past a pond that Willow has an attachment to, and not the adult logic of risk assessment. Between any of these points, she could fall and die, if not be abducted by the aforementioned dubious adult.

Holy Brain Fart, Batman!

(I later realised this was a Chekov’s Gun situation, but I’ll get back to that later.)

At one point Sean and Charlotte talk about Willow’s future, and I cringed at the ignorance. It’s very realistic for parents to suddenly realise what the future holds for a disabled offspring, but it’s very undermining to the plot when you have a character (in this case Sean) who are portraying themselves as masters of their daughter’s care, victims in the eyes of the law, prepared to do all that is needed to make sure their daughter’s life is lived as equally as possible… being disparaging about any aids she may need in the future. If it’s meant to add depth to the character, it doesn’t. It wreaks of short sightedness and narrowmindedness.

Then we’ve got the “let’s throw this in/blink if you miss it” rape. Yeah. Rape. Sean and Charlotte have a break in their relationship, and then from the point of view of Sean, they have awful sex that Charlotte didn’t want, where Sean’s main goal is making her hurt as much as her actions have hurt him. Deliberate hurtful sex without enthusiastic consent? That sounds like rape to me.

Then there’s the part where Willow selfs harms because she’s seen Amelia do it to herself. I’d say that this was the point where it felt like Picoult was dragging it passed the point where she should have ended the book. This didn’t just feel like a red herring, it felt tired. It felt like a way to allow the author to point to the book and say “No, see! It really IS about Willow!”, instead of having Willow be this sort of phantom main character that the story is meant to be about, but really isn’t.

There is also a conversation after Willow is hospitalised for self harming between Piper and Sean, because Piper is the only reasonable person in this book. She (rightfully) suspects that Amelia is self harming and suffering from bulimia, and thinks (knows) that’s where Willow “learnt” how to hurt herself. What does Charlotte do when Sean mentions that his information come from Piper? She has a go at him for talking to Piper, talking to the “enemy”. She’s got one daughter in the hospital, and another daughter suffering from serious emotional distress that has manifested into self harm and an eating disorder. But all she cares about is the case.

There’s the whole side plot involving the lawyer, Marin, who doesn’t like the case, because she was an unwanted child herself. I’m not sure what she really added to the story, but things got very contrived when one of the jurors turned out to be her birth mother. What are the actual chances?!

And then, the main big problem I had with the book. The ending.

Willow, once again, is a child who could die from a sneeze (No exaggeration, sneezes can break ribs, ribs can pierce lungs), and yet she is allowed to go outside, by herself, to look for Amelia. It’s cold, slippery winter weather. There’s that pond that she can’t resist going near, which her mother knows. And Yet! The over protective parent allows her to go, by herself, despite ALL of these dangers. Despite the long arsed court case that she’d just won, by saying how much she looks after her severely disabled daughter.

And what happens? Willow goes to the pond, the ice breaks suddenly, and she falls through into the freezing cold water and dies.

The epilogue involves a brief update on everyone. Sean and Charlotte are back together, Amelia’s in therapy, Charlotte placed the cheque she got from winning the case in the coffin with Willow, and Piper moves away and is never heard of again.

I was left so disappointed by the whole ending. Not because of the understandable “After all that!?” feeling I was left with, but because… I suppose, because there were more realistic ways for a person with OI to die, and Picoult chose that one!?

I went from wondering whether a child with OI Type 3 these days could actually walk, to wondering what sort of brain fart do you have to have to let your child, who could fall and die by slipping on ice (as any child could, but this is more so), go out by herself in icy weather?! You can only consider it in character because of the same brain fart earlier on, (Chekov’s brain fart alert!) and although it must have been planned out due to the previous incident of letting Willow out to the end of the drive and going missing by the pond, it just reads as a quick solution to bring about the end of the story.

There are natural complications with OI that a person can die of.

There are the usual risks anyone has in daily life where the risk of dying is increased due to the nature of the condition. For example, one day, Laura, aged 4 or abouts, was spinning happily around in a circle, in her wheelchair, and Almost cracked her head on the edge of a piano. She didn’t, luckily, but the point is, it could have happened and the outcome would have been devastating. An able-bodied child would probably just give themselves a concussion.

It feels, for the lack of a better word, disrespectful.

And then Piper… Piper just moves away!? I think that was another point of contention for me. It was written in a half unbiased, half sympathetic style directed at Charlotte, as if we should all see it her way. It was all very pragmatic towards Piper, a sort of “Well, what can you do? Someone has to answer for this child being disabled” attitude about it. There wasn’t much sympathy at all for a woman who not only did not cause Willow’s disability, by action or inaction, but also did everything right by the whole family, and still had her career ruined for it.

I’ve missed a lot of out, half because I can’t remember it, and half because I couldn’t be bothered going into those bits. There is so much to this story, from so many different points of views, it’s just difficult to go over.

I’ll give credit where credit’s due (although again, I wonder if this was from lack of research on Picoult’s part and not really through a deep understanding of disability), there was one good thing that came through over all. Many people don’t understand that disability can be a spectrum, and that mobility can and does change from day to day for many people. Sometimes there is a conscious choice involved over what “part” of your disability you have to consider most important, and allow the rest of yourself to suffer the fall out. For example, having to walk because a problem with your upper body doesn’t allow you to self propel, and then dealing with the pain in your legs from walking, which is the lesser of two evils in this scenario.

In this book, there is an understanding that when Willow’s health is best, she can walk and only needs her wheelchair for safety and speed. She also has a walker and other aids for bad days and an array of things for the worst days. Many people think that if you’re a wheelchair user, that’s it, you can’t walk. Nobody says to Willow’s parents, “Well, she could walk yesterday”, nobody asks why she doesn’t use walking aids all the time. It’s just understood she uses whatever she needs, whenever she needs to. That’s so unaccepted in today’s society that people have actually become afraid to stand up, lest they get abuse for it.

People who deal with fluctuating conditions are at least experienced in preparing for the worst but knowing that’s not always the case so do what they can on their good days. There needs to be more of that shown across all medias.

Although, preferably with accuracy and research, and not a research fail, which is what I suspect is the case here.

The remaining issue is: Was Willow like Laura?

Well, yes and no. Laura was a lot like Willow when she was that age. But, a lot of disabled children are, just like a lot of able boded children are similar. There’s just this amazing phenomenon where physically disabled children develop brilliant personalities that differ from their able bodied peers, and some are quick witted. In the book, it’s explained that children who can’t learn through physical play find solace in books and television, and they become intelligent because there’s this thirst to do everything and know everything, and if all they can do is read and watch television instead of, I dunno, play football and poke things, then they will quench that thirst with good interesting books and documentaries. And Laura did have a high reading age for her age and was interested in a lot of things. But Laura also did accessible sports, so, you know, same outcome, different processes.

Mostly, they just shared experiences. I may have been the one with the Spica cast, but Laura was the one going to hospital every few months and spending three days tied to an IV pump of pomedrominate (before they switched to tablets for Laura). Laura did have to go on holiday with letters from doctors, to prove she was fit to fly, to prove that her Mum knew what she was doing. Laura had fun getting fitted for a wheelchair in a way that the O’keefe’s were only aware of. She was mistaken more than once for a baby. Even at the age of 18, she had people mistaking her for a toddler, and sometimes her and her mum couldn’t tell if people were speaking down to her because they’d mistaken her for a child, or because of a terrible attitude towards disabled people (again, different process, same outcome). There’s only so many ways you can react to these life situations, and maybe that’s what feels so familiar.

But that stops, the characters all become their own beings… and it stops being an enjoyable read.

I gave this book a 2.5/5


Beware the man in the wheelchair with worn out shoes

Thursday 8 May, 2014

I keep seeing that phrase thrown around twitter, and it really winds me up. I’ve seen various versions of it as well, each more offensive than the next. Sometimes it’s aimed at fictional characters on telly, disabled characters played by able-bodied actors, and sometimes it’s aimed at wheelchair users who don’t always depend on a wheelchair. There’s sexist versions, homophobic versions, racist versions. The ignorance in this one ignorant comment is horrific and worrying, quite frankly.

No matter how it’s said or who it’s aimed it, it doesn’t matter, it’s a saying that needs to stop. It’s offensive and it’s incorrect. It comes from the belief that every wheelchair user is always in a wheelchair, and it further perpetuates the belief that if you use a wheelchair and are then seen standing up or walking, you are faking, lying and downright untrustworthy.

Honestly, disability is not that plain and simple. Yeah, able-bodied actors playing disabled characters annoy me, because there are plenty of disabled actors out there, who maybe could add a bit of insight to the role, and they don’t get a look in. Why? I’ve never heard of one decent reason yet. But, the way people point out able-bodied people’s portrayal of disabled characters because they happen to see legs moving, feet tapping, is also wrong.

Not all forms of paralyses mean that a person can’t moved affected limbs completely, it also doesn’t mean that the affected limbs are numb to sensations, and it goes without saying that not all wheelchair users are in a wheelchair because they’re paralysed, and not all wheelchair users are wheelchair dependent. Here’s an interesting fact: Some people use wheelchairs because other parts than their legs don’t work! Their legs might be fine and functional, but it’s their backs that don’t work, they might have a heart condition, they might have chronic fatique syndrome. Even some severe forms of tourettes can affect a person’s mobility so much that they need to depend on a wheelchair.

And, for those of us who consider ourselves wheelchair dependent, it still doesn’t mean we’re in our wheelchairs all day, every day. How do you think some people get into their wheelchairs? Magical bubbles lifting us from our beds into our chairs? I use crutchers, some of my friends side transfer, some use a hoist.

All variety of disabilities and mobility aids have their own ways of wreaking havoc on shoes. Don’t believe me? Have a look at these!

my pair of old grubby trainers
These are my shoes, and they’ve been my shoes since 2009. I couldn’t get a decent photo of the tread underneath, but the worst looking shoe from the top is also the most worn out shoe from underneath.

If you’re not the type to think it’s proof of a lack disability, you’d probably think that that’s the shoe for my good leg, and maybe even that it’s all wrecked from having to put my best foot forward everytime I walk. Ahhh, if only I actually had a best foot to put forward! It’s more like not-as-dead-as-my-other-leg!foot Vs the-actual-dead-leg!foot.

Some people who understand the complexity of mobility issues might even assume that it’s all marked at the side from me crossing one leg over the other, or maybe tapping my leg against my chair or crutchers, or maybe even standing on the sides of my feet.

Well, you or that person would be wrong. Cos the worst shoe actually belongs to the foot of the leg that hardly ever moves. The whole leg is practically a dead weight, it catches on the underside of my footplate when I’m lifting it up onto the footplate, it’s constantly rubbing against the holding bar of the footplate as I merrily go along my day. It’s the foot that lands heavily on the ground, I’ve never lifted my feet properly but my knees are now buckled since my hip operation and I’m sure that has made my weight bearing even worse, from a functional viewpoint, so the underside of my shoe takes a bit of a beating.

I’ve seen shoes of the friends who use hoists, and their shoes end up in much the same state, and usually a lot quicker. I’ve seen the treads of the friends who side transfer, and the tread is always worn down, marked, marred or bobbled on the side of the shoes that hit the footplate bar. Same goes for those who use platform footrests and the metal holders.

Honestly, any comments like that are so… stupid and offensive! I can’t even believe people say it. I’ve had these shoes for 5 years, and yeah they’re the longest lasting pair of shoes I’ve had, but look at the state of them! Look at the left shoe! You can’t see it from this angle, but a small bit of stitching has come undone by the heel, it’s only because I don’t walk that that those shoes are still holding together. I imagine if I started miraculously walking everywhere tomorrow, I wouldn’t get very far before the stitching undoes completely and the heel starts coming apart.

Please, next time anyone says it, tell them how wrong they are. Or better yet, point their ignorant faces in this direction. If they want to carry on believing wheelchair users have perfect, pristine, unmarked, unworn shoes, they’ll have to keep me and every other wheelchair user in supply of new shoes every few months!

Oh, that’d be too expensive for them? Well, then they’ll just have to learn and accept the diversity of disability then, won’t they?