Monday, January 21, 2008

An Institutional Hotel

Once again I'm going to regale you with a bad beat story about a rubbish hotel. But this one was a little different. This one, well, you had to see it too. Yes, I'm now so paranoid about hotel accommodation I take a camera on my travels. People often don't believe it when I tell them my bizarre accommodation stories. But it's worth remembering a lot of disabled people who travel experience this kind of thing on a regular basis.

It's a pity blogger isn't doing smell-o-vision yet, or maybe for your sake it's a blessing. Because when I arrived, the place gave off the unmistakable aroma of a badly run old people's home. This impression was further compounded by the way the receptionist shouted every word rather than spoke to me. I resisted the temptation to tell her my ears were not resident in my knees and shouted back as good as I got, taking the opportunity to let go of the mounting tension I felt - fearing I'd picked another dump to stay in.

My room had the same smell in it. I opened the small window and it began to clear, but when I opened the wardrobe, it hit again with full force. It was like the smell penetrating the entire building resided in the wardrobe in this room. Lo and behold, there was a bag of men's clothes in there!

I didn't like to think where the owner of the clothes was, but I was willing to bet he was no longer on the earthly plane. Feeling like I would be grateful to leave the earthly plane myself rather than spend a night in this place, I wracked my brain trying to think of somewhere else to go. But I was in a small seaside town, the weather was freezing, and I knew I was too tired to do anything other than have a bite to eat and go to sleep. I lay back on the bed, only to be greeted with the sight of a lamp hanging directly above the pillow that looked like it hadn't been dusted since, ooo, the early '50's.

Regretting my paranoia hadn't stretched to me packing a full cleaning kit in my luggage as well as a camera, I went down to the restaurant to have some dinner. My worst fears were confirmed when I wheeled into a near-deserted dinning room, apart from two elderly people, a man and a woman, bemoaning the choice on the menu. I can hardly bear to go into details about my food other than to say I was shocked that a hotel within 300 meters of the sea served me a sad-looking salad with some boil-in-the-bag fish that tasted as if it had been boiled in a sock. A sock belonging to the person whose clothes were currently hanging in the wardrobe upstairs. I fled, not caring that I'd told the waitress I was starving. I simply couldn't bear to order anything else for fear of wheeling screaming into the night. I decided I'd ring Mr Fang for some comforting words. My mobile was nearly dead, so I looked around for a socket to plug the charger into, whereupon I found an extension cord that probably pre-dated the dust on the lampshade...

"Eat the biscuits on the tray and calm down" said Mr Fang, between snorts of laughter. "Serves you right for trying to book a B&B. You should know by now that unless you use a big hotel chain you risk ending up somewhere like this!"
"I know!" I wailed, "but I wanted to be near the sea front! And the price was the same as a Travel Inn! B&B's who charge that might be a bit weird sometimes, but generally ok!"
"Remember Brighton" was all he would reply.

I sat on the bed and spent the rest of the evening eating the biscuits provided very, very slowly, pretending the first biscuit was the main course, and the second biscuit was dessert. Luckily the tray had some hot chocolate sachets, so I pretended these were additional courses - and very fine they tasted too compared to the fish served downstairs. I watched telly and tried to forget I was in an old people's home trying to pretend it was a hotel. It worked to some extent, and I got into bed ready to sleep with the knowledge that when I awoke it would be time to leave. It was bad, but what else could go wrong?

I was just drifting off when I became aware of an uncomfortable lump in the mattress. It felt like a mattress cover was rucked up underneath the bottom sheet. I tried shifting position, feeling warm and sleepy and not at all inclined to rise and start messing around with the sheets, but irritation began to overtake stupor, so in some despair I got up to sort it out. It wouldn't take a moment to pull any cover straight, then I could get on with being unconscious... ... but this hope was dashed in fine style by the presence of a large piece of wood that had been placed under the mattress! I was aghast! It wasn't even the length of the bed, which was why I'd felt a lump in the mattress! That was that - I was in a rage - which luckily provided the brute strength required to shift the thing further up the bed. I got back into bed and took several deep breaths and a large amount of sleeping pills. Mercifully, they worked.

In the morning I got up early (this not being part of my usual nature), dressed, ordered things from the menu unlikely to need much attention from the kitchen (i.e. toast, butter, jam, water), nodded sympathetically to the two individuals in the dining room who had been present the night before, and went to settle my bill. I was not in a good mood. Then to my utter dismay, the receptionist had decided to upgrade my room booking to dinner, bed and breakfast - the difference being an extra £15! This price covered a 3 course meal (which I had refused after tasting the fish).

"You must be joking!" I spluttered! "£15?! I barely had half of one course! Of boil in the bag fish! Which was badly cooked!" At this point, out of the corner of my eye I could see the two elderly people shuffle out of the dining room and settle themselves in the foyer.

"Alright" said the receptionist, who had suddenly understood wheelchair users didn't need to be shouted out, "I'll take 8% off the £15..."

"8%! I'm not paying more than a fiver for that disgraceful fish!" I yelled, aware that I was now completely losing it. "I could buy a whole box of it for that price! That's before we mention the state of the room! There were someone else's clothes in the wardrobe! Exposed wiring! A lump of wood in the bed! I took pictures, look!" I waved the camera at the receptionist, who was now looking pink and flustered.

She glanced at the camera, then up at the two elderly people who were now giving us their full attention, and muttering about food.
"I told you," said one. "Overpriced," said the other.

"I'll just get the manageress, if I can find her" the receptionist said, in a voice that suggested a long wait would be arranged for my inconvenience.
"Fine" I replied, a kind of psychotic calm setting over me "I'm very happy to wait."
She disappeared.

"Last night my food was awful too," said the elderly woman, and smiled weakly. "It always is, dear." said the man, nodding. "We live here, you know," said the woman mournfully "but they don't listen to us."

Before we could speak further, the manageress appeared, holding the menus from the night before. It was obvious from the frown on her face that not listening was a large part of her repertoire.

"I hear you're unhappy about the bill?" she asked, in a manner designed to show that in her opinion charging £15 for a bit of salad and a boil-in-the-bag fish was absolutely reasonable.

"I certainly am" I replied, in a voice designed to show I was absolutely not accepting it. "I'll offer £5 for the meal and no more. I didn't have 3 courses and I won't pay an extra £15 for it."

She took a deep breath in and looked at a snack menu. "We charge £5.50 for fish and salad on the snack menu, so I'll charge £5.50 to your bill instead. Happy now?"

"Not really" I retorted "The fact you were trying to charge me £15 in the first place is shocking. And I've just had a dreadful night in a bed with a lump of wood stuffed under the mattress, in a room with exposed wires, disgusting dusty lamps and a bag of smelly old clothes in my wardrobe! All for more that the price of a place where you can get fresh food for the price you're charging for boil-in-the-bag fish!"

This obviously being an invitation to start war, she started shouting at me about their large overheads...
"Don't pass them on to your customers then!"
Them being in business 60 years...
"Because you're running an old people's home! They can't leave!"
Nobody having any complaints...
(this is when the elderly couple decided to make themselves scarce)...
And last but not least - how hard it was to house disabled and elderly guests in an old building...
"Then don't!"

After we'd shouted all we could with neither willing to back down, she passed me the bill and the card debit machine in frosty silence, which I used, and passed back to her in equal frosty silence. I left, feeling glad that I had a choice to do so.

And the access? That's a whole other post, I'm afraid.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Assertive Method

Someone posted this to me recently in response to a post I wrote on a support group messageboard. I'm not going to blog in detail about the issue at the moment, but the title of my post 'At the end of my tether and avoiding the physiotherapist - help' pretty much says it all. Many disabled people can feel helpless and angry at some point when using services that are designed to support them - but may feel things are going wrong.

Although I do regard myself as reasonably articulate, there are times when anyone, no matter how confident, can suddenly feel a situation they're in is 'out of control'. Then sometimes it can be hard not be respond emotionally. Pouring it out might feel like the best way to demonstrate your distress at events, but it might not be the best way of getting your point of view across. In cases of emergency, try;

The Assertive Method

The assertive method was developed to its present state as part of the women’s movement, but is more generally effective for anyone. It provides a way to get what is wanted or needed without resorting to methods that generate strong negative reactions. It doesn't always work, but it tends to be very effective. The assertive message means more than simply standing up for yourself; it consists of four parts, preferably delivered in one short sentence each. The content should be:

1. This is the situation.
2. This is how I feel about it.
3. This is what I want you to do.
4. What do you think?

Then say ABSOLUTELY NOTHING until the other has completely run down. The lingering moment of silence at the end can be very compelling; use it.

If you get what you want, great. If you get an acceptable alternative, give it a try, saying something like "That seems like a reasonable way to start, I'm willing to try it." If the response is very unclear, ask for further explanation. If you get neither what you want nor an acceptable alternative, DO NOT ARGUE WITH ANYTHING THAT HAS BEEN SAID, simply say, "I understand, but [this is what I want you to do]." Continue to repeat steps 3 and 4 indefinitely. If it seems that the person with whom you are talking has lost track of parts 1 or 2, it is ok to restate those.

Sometimes it may help to check understanding. In that case, saying "Am I explaining myself?” is less confrontational than “Do you understand?” and less likely to put the other on the defensive.

The variant for refusal would involve repeating, "No, I won't do that, it will (e.g. hurt me)" followed by "I understand, but I won't do that, it will (e.g. hurt me.)"

Saturday, January 05, 2008

1st Disability Dilemma of the Year

There's mystery meat dog food on my kitchen ceiling.

How do I get it off?

It's really horrible dog food too. Not food for horrible dogs, horrible food. The vet gave it to us for our poor dog with a sore ear who's just been sedated so he could have his ear cleaned.

Last night when he got home the poor chap didn't know what planet he was on. He stood at the door for no good reason, gently swaying, ears flat, nose pressed against the frame. The vet had thoroughly washed his ear so on one side of his head his fur was all raggedy. It looked like he was using his nose to support his whole body weight. If you've ever seen the zombie flick Dawn of the Dead, you'll remember the hoards of zombies quietly standing outside the shopping mall, unresponsive until they saw something that caught their attention. Last night poor dog was a dog zombie. If we ever fall prey to a Dawn-of-the-Dead type virus out here in the sticks, at least I'll know when the dog's got it.

Just like people who've had a general anesthetic, dogs need to be looked after, kept warm, fed bland food, and be gently indulged when they do silly things. We have four cans of 'post-operative' dog food for poor dog's special recovery diet. When I was a child, after you got your bewildered animal home you didn't get special post recovery food. We just used to give our animals a bit of mashed potato or some rice and a bit of boiled chicken. But what the hell, it's Petplan's money, not mine.

When I opened the can I was hoping the goo inside would slide out satisfyingly like in the old Petigree Chum adverts - all slick and glistening with the lines of the tin can embossed on the side.

I gave the can a little shake. Nothing happened. I shook harder. Nothing. There's a vaccuum between the sides of the can and the meat, I thought to myself. One stick of a spoon will have it out. But when I stuck the spoon in there was no movement and no sign of the wet slurpy noise you get when releasing smelly gelatinous mystery meat from a tin can. The stuff was dense and evil-smelling, and it was at that point I knew I'd have to dig it out.

'This looks disgusting,' I said to poor dog, who looked up at me mournfully, 'maybe you'd be better off with a few biscuits in thin gravy?' But with a very subtle change in expression, the look on poor dog's face reminded me that when something is disgusting dogs like it all the more, so because I was indulging him with his lopsided ear and matted fur, I kept on digging. It was hard work watching me so in the meantime he lay down for a little sleep. I made the best of it but the stuff stuck to everything - the spoon, the sides of the can, my fingers, the kitchen counter. But the stink of it made poor dog look optimistic and a bit less lopsided so I let him gorge on it whilst I set about scraping it all off the places it shouldn't be.

Then because I am still under the illusion that recycling the few things our council is saying it can manage to recycle will actually save the planet, and to try and compensate for the large carbon footprint I generate because I'm a gadget-dependent cripple, I decided to try washing out the can. Big mistake. One of our taps shoots water out at tremendous speed. The jet of water shot into the can and out again at great speed, going ever upward and taking the remains of the mystery meat with it. I suppose I was lucky it missed my face.

But that's how it got onto the ceiling. How I'm going to get it off before Mr Fang sees it or poor dog acquires the power of flight is tomorrow's adventure.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Peeking out from under the covers

Is it over? Has everyone gone? Didn't it go quick?

Mr F is back at work after the holidays and I am here in the company of a mournful looking dog with a sore ear.

Happy New Year. No promises, no resolutions.

However, I intend, somewhat cautiously, to be more chilled out this year.

For the second year in a row we had a family bereavement, on top of a monstrous workload, and I'm determined nobody is going to die or be overworked (especially not me) this year.

That's a good start, innit?

Not Only, But Also, on New Year's Eve the wheelchair service rang to say I was top of the list for an indoor outdoor wheelchair. I'm pleased of course, (again, with some caution) but a little miffed too, because I just answered the new question on my profile rather succinctly...