It's funny how when you're growing up you never wish for the simple things. When I was a kid, I thought I might want to be a nurse (until spending time in hospital at 12 and discovering there were such horrors as bedpans), then an archeologist (until I faced up to the fact I wasn't a hardy outdoors type), or an air hostess (short-lived teenage glamour fantasy that ended when I realised all of my 5ft 1ins wasn't going to get me there). I also thought about working on a kibbutz until being distracted by what turned out to be the first of many car-crashy relationships. Through it all I wanted to be an artist, but lacked the self belief to think it would ever happen - now I am one, it makes me very happy. But I never thought about the simple stuff, like where I was going to live, what it would be like, and so on - well, not beyond the usual dreams of wealth and excess we all have in some form or another, fast car/s, swimming pool, gadgets, fucking big television, and all that.
So it came as a surprise to me a little while back when filling in my Disability Living Allowance forms, that on the bit that says "What Would You Do Or Where Would You Go If.. etc etc" I was putting stuff like I'd (like to) go to... "The kitchen", "The living room", "My garden", "the local shop" and other mundane things. As I went through the last period of deterioration that led the the final diagnosis, these things became big goals in my life as the world shrank. The wheelchair that once allowed me independence couldn't be used outside much anymore - and the house we chose in the mid-nineties wasn't big enough for me to use it much indoors either. I was pretty much living in the bedroom when I was on my own. Although we had french doors fitted in the back room to allow me to go out in the garden, my hopes were dashed at the last minute when the installation people explained we couldn't have level access without a lot more work and money we hadn't anticpated. So there it was, a big step out that I'd have had to get out of the wheelchair and lift it over to get into the garden, at a time when I wasn't supposed to be putting my upper body under any strain.
As an aside, the fact is my joints do still work, albeit with damage from dislocations and arthritic-type pain, which means in more reckless moments I may attempt things I really shouldn't be doing, i.e. it's not completely physically impossible - it's just the price I may pay for taking the risk. Its something thats easy to forget when the sun's shining, it's a beautiful day, and you weigh up the price of struggling to go and sit in the garden with the price of actually being there... and the sun goes to your head.
Moving to this bungalow has been such a long, drawn out process that I've hardly dared talk about it at any great length on this blog, or in fact, to anyone but closest family in any detail. As anyone who's ever moved house will know, there's so many things that can go wrong. Financially, when we first got the particulars (for here) it was way, way out of our price range. I never quite got round to throwing the details away, however, and the agent continued to take us round other properties within our price bracket. On one particularly despairing day, we saw a bunglow that looked quite nice from the outside - but on the inside, had no central heating, no proper kitchen... and in the living room, a tall green plant bursting its way out from out the skirting board to the window above! The place was damp, so much so that if you sprinkled some mustard and cress seeds on the carpet, they've have probably come up.
Viewings were exhausting work and there were a lot of them. I was going round on crutches to places that didn't have wheelchair access which usually meant a day in bed afterwards. The council were talking about placing ASBO's or 'Acceptable Behaviour Contracts' on our neighbours. On the day we saw this wretched plant, I was ready to burst into tears, as it was becoming clearer and clearer we would never find anywhere to live that could be made accessible but was also reasonably nice. The only other affordable property we'd seen was on a big estate where the owner had admitted the children's playground immediately behind the flimsy garden fence was used by kids in the day and teenagers/dealers and the like at night.
"Its not always noisy and they don't chuck stuff over very often" she said...
After our neighbour-from-hell experiences we knew it wasn't worth our sanity to take the chance, no matter how desperate the situation got. Mr Fang summed it up nicely when he said "I can't wait for us to get out of here and go back to being the nice normal people we really are instead of turning into potential axe-wielding maniacs every time next door kicks off."
We'd gone away on a working break only to come back to find the answermachine and email filled up with calls from the agent telling us this nice property previously out of our price range had been reduced - by 20 grand! Deep breaths all round.
We went to see it, and it was, as the pictures suggested, very lovely. It was (is) in a small cu-de-sac of all bungalows, so no through traffic (our old house was on a rat-run). It had a driveway and a long straight entrance to the front door that was perfect for a ramp. The UPVC door was wider than average - these properties had been built for older people, so disability adaptability was reflected in some features, like doors. The living room had a sliding door and wide access with no door at all to the kitchen. The bathroom was tiny, but that's not always a bad thing when you need to hang on to stuff. It was good enough. The bedroom was the right way round to allow me wheelchair access from the bed to the rest of the house - bingo! Stuff dreams of the palace, the swimming pool, and all that - this was enough for us. Our neighbour sharing the party wall? One elderly gentleman. I'd never had the feeling you're supposed to get with the old house, the feeling like you're finding 'the one'. This time there was no mistaking it. Mr F and I exchanged a glance as the agent said;
"There's a couple coming up from Somerset tomorrow and they're probably going to buy it unless you make an offer... what do you think?"
Here we had a little problem. It was reduced, sure, and we were nearly there. But not quite. Parents had made vague noises about helping out... but they were on a SKI-ing (SKI-ing meaning Spending the Kid's Inheritance) cruise. Arrgh. What to do? We took a chance. We barted for what we could afford. The agent said the amount we were offering would only insult and antagonise the owner, who had already dropped his price so far down - and he wouldn't even make the phone call. Arrgh. What to do?
With no way of getting hold of the parents, we chanced it and made an offer that was accepted. What was the worst that could happen? Our situation would remain the same - nowhere to go. The agent informed us the couple from Somerset had cancelled their viewing. All we had to do now was beg our seniors for the readies. Arrgh. Two agonising weeks of waiting for them to come home, only to find us saying, "Um, glad you had a nice time, and were you serious when you said you wanted to help....?"
To cut a long story short, they did. And that was only the beginning of of the tale about how we escaped our horrible neighbours and inaccessible house, and come to live here. But I can't write anymore today. Amongst all the ensuing sagas (and there were many), the roof in this room needs replacing - and although we've been having good weather for the time of year, its rather nippy in here. Not to mention my good office chair is still in the garage and I'm sitting at a high desk on a chair too big for me (still being 5ft 1). And then I'm supposed to be resting today, because as well as all the moving stuff I wanted to talk about, I am becoming a bit of a poker fiend, beating Mr F and 2 of his colleagues in a cash game over the weekend. There's another game tonight (not for cash, only glory) and I'm planning to play in it. It might have been my first public victory, but its an important one to defend. Not only can I move about my home as I wish, but it's game on, people, and there's many a tale to tell from these recent poker adventures as well.
Until then, I am most grateful to be able to cross off a few of my aforementioned ambitions such as being able to visit the kitchen and the living room on my own, forever in debt to our wonderful parents who helped us out in our hour of need, and also greatly flattered that people have been watching and reading and waiting for me to come back. God, this might sound corny, but I'm feeling one very, very godammed lucky crip at the moment.