Outsider Investigating co-working: Exchange at Somerset House

My current means of making ends meet sees me sat in front of a laptop, wherever there be a decent internet connection, mobile phone by my side.  For various reasons, I’m looking for a change.  These posts outline my attempts at trying to make that all happen and here I’m finding out about co-working in Somerset House…

I was pretty excited about Somerset House.  A beautiful and historic building on the northern bank of the Thames, off Waterloo Bridge, it is easily admired on three sides.  Most Londoners would likely know Somerset House by sight, and probably name, but its purpose, what exactly goes on there, is – or was for me – vaguely shrouded in mystery, broadly covered by the brushstroke description of an ‘arts and cultural centre’.

I knew Somerset House mostly by the Courtauld Gallery, occupying one corner of the building, and claimed by my dad to have “one of the best collections of impressionist paintings in the world”*.  A few pleasant afternoons have thus been wiled away there and in the accompanying tea room.  I’ve also wandered a couple of the free exhibitions on the river side and glanced at the odd installation in the courtyard.

Today, I’m going to see about the possibility of Somerset House becoming one of my regular work haunts.  Full of arts stuff, history, and in attractive settings, I reckon it could be a tad more inspiring than your average desk-in-a-cubicle, sofa-in-a-cafe or, even, super charged contemporary-tastic specifically designed co-working espaces.

To virtually prove my hunch, on my way to meet with Aniela, the Tenant Liaison Manager in charge of the Exchange co-working space in Somerset House, I get a chance to listen to some free acoustic music in the courtyard as part of their live music programme.  Brilliant – off to a good start!

I was expecting to be mostly explaining, even justifying, what it is little me would be getting up to here.  Not having an arts and culture-related job (yet) makes me superficially seem like an odd fit.  Instead of asking my own set of questions, however, I am surprised to be started off with a little history lesson on the place, followed by the announcement that I was to have a tour (Shit!  Might be late for my next co-working space meeting – Somerset House is bloody huge!).

I think I was already sold on the place before my visit, so I am eager beaver-like, in case this does turn out to be some kind of informal interview, as we walk, talk and marvel at the ‘estate’.  With her comprehensive but succinct chat on all things Somerset House, I realise that Aniela is very proud to be a part, and that is entirely infectious; I want part too!

By the end of our tour of the best part of an hour, my head is stuffed full of facts and figures, past history and future plans and I’ve negotiated a labyrinth of lifts, halls and offices, cafes, corridors and courtyards, staircases and studios, meeting rooms, receptions and restaurants, galleries and foyers.  Without my guide, I shall surely never find my way again!  And all that knowledge imparted will positively, slowly dissolve from my mind…

So, purely from my flimsy memory, here are some things that I learnt about Somerset House:

  • A lot of Somerset House used to be occupied by the Inland Revenue until they were persuaded, after the financial crash, that the space could be better used in tough economic times, and that they should move out.  Hooray for the creatives and small businesses, who could now take over some of the vacated offices, and renovations could take place to create more flexible and interesting spaces that could be dedicated to arts.
  • Somerset House is a charity.  Maybe not a massive surprise but now you know if you didn’t before.
  • Over the course of 2016, Somerset house is going to be used as an exhibition and arts space that any of its community members can have a part in.  Members even include those that hot desk in the co-working spaces (so could be me!) and ideas put forward for installations have every possibility of being realised!

So… I’m excited, convinced, and sure I want to become a member of this community!

For now, though, I’m late – late to get to my next appointment to see another, rather different, co-working space just a short hop, skip and jump away in Bedford Square…

*My dad says all things with authority and conviction, and spent the chief part of his career as a graphic designer after having studied at the London School of Printing back in the seventies. I therefore swallow, hook, line and sinker, everything he has to say on art (to despise everything pre-impressionist) not having enough of my own knowledge to rebut his views!

Outsider Investigating co-working: What is this co-working nonsense?!

My current means of making ends meet sees me sat in front of a laptop, wherever there be a decent internet connection, mobile phone by my side.  This could be in bed, at a kitchen or cafe table, or in a beach hut in Bali (as yet untested).  Those are the perks.  The negatives are my lack of passion for the job, lack of variety and challenge, loneliness, and too much screen and sitting on bum time.  So I’m looking for a change: a child of the “everything is possible generation” I still refuse to admit defeat on finding work that ticks as many of the boxes as possible.  These posts outline my attempts at trying to make that all happen…

When I first heard of the term co-working, it came from the mouth of my short-term flatmate, occupying the rotating-flatmate other room of our two bed poisonous wonderful shit-hole of dwelling in London Fields. It was poisonous to both body and soul; damp, mouldy and rotting, it crumbled all around us, as our lives and minds went with it… but that’s another story.

Stuck as we were, the three of us (my boyfriend and I were occupying the larger zone of the botched together living arrangement), mostly working from home, my flatmate often described our set-up as “like being in a co-working space”.  Although easily deducible from the composite elements of the term, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around this alien concept, co-working-space.

I suppose, thinking back now, my lack of willingness to understand, or even have my curiosity slightly piqued, came from the association of co-working with other nomenclatures such as ‘start up’, ‘tech’ and ‘coding’, which also tumbled from her mouth.  “I don’t understand these things”, I would say, technology wise born into the wrong era.  And, to myself, “I don’t think I want to understand these things”.

So that was it; it was clear that these nonsensical concepts had no place in my life, and I essentially closed my ears and mind to them.

What a complete IGNORAMUS I was!, as I find myself, almost exactly one year on getting jolly well excited about a whole new chapter in my life that completely intends to make co-working a central part of it, making it the saviour and salvation, the key to ending all my working woes (you can see how the bottom might fall out before it’s even begun)!

So, I have started the trawl of the co-working spaces.  Naively, I thought that it would be easy to find and identify three or four different spaces that I might like to work in.  It turns out, however, that there be near to 200 (and mushrooming) co-working spaces in London, with no area left neglected, from Putney to Farringdon, Brixton to Islington.

Unsurprisingly, the east has the highest concentration of spaces set up for freelancers, entrepreneurs, creatives, start-ups, innovators and any combination of those.  That would explain to me then, from my brief spell of living east, what the inhabitants were all up to.  As I would sit in one of the many cafes that put up with poor leachers like me, spending hours warming our seats and eking one cold tea out longer than ever previously thought possible, I really did wonder what the hell all my fellow hanger-outers or passers-by were actually doing, 3pm on a Tuesday afternoon, say…  Well, they were all obviously freelancers, entrepreneurs, creatives, start-up geneii, innovators and blah blah blah, on the way to or taking a break from their super flexible hip and cool work spaces.  And that is now going to be me!  No more lonely days and hours spent confined within the same four walls!

After hours on tinternet and having my eyes assaulted by websites filled with images of various exciting, modern, urban, vintage, reclaimed timber and steel, and hanging plant decorated spaces, I’m starting to feel a little sick.  And wary.  A short conversation with ex-flatmate later and I’m pointed onto the right track of places worth giving a visit and those worth steering clear of.  My suspicions were confirmed that, for many a money grabbing business type, traditionally rentable office spaces are now being rebranded as co-working zones thanks to a splash of colour (and/or modern, urban, vintage, reclaimed timber… etc etc).  Essentially desk space for travelling city-types but sold in a different exciting-feeling on trend package.  Nah, not for me.

Having finally narrowed it down to a few spaces, my research officially starts tomorrow as I’ve booked in to have a look around a few… reviews to come.

 

Outsider In Barcelona: Bon Nadal or Merry Christmas!

Three years ago, I wrote about my first experiences in Barcelona – a city previously unknown to me that I had decided to start a new life in.  As this is where the first ideas for this blog came from, I thought it fitting to document my exploits here.  These posts started out life as emails to my friends and family during my time there.

A Christmas message from me to wish everyone a happy festive period and to share just a few bits and pieces that I’ve found particularly amusing in the run up to the holidays in Barcelona.

I think I officially started off my Christmas eating yesterday by going for a three course lunch for only 17€ (with wine, water and bread – hallelujah menú del día!)!  Not that I was paying as this was on the account of the first ever Catalan friend I made in Barcelona a mere half hour after touch down (full account in the first Barcelona blog piece).  My Christmas eating continued in the evening with another three course meal, this time on the account of one of the schools I teach at.  Working at three schools means three celebratory Christmas meals; permanent Christmas food baby, here I come!

Part of one of my meals yesterday included a typical dish of canelones – yes, that well known Catalan foodstuff..?  Well, obviously it’s Italian but somewhere along the line Catalonia decided to take pasta eating from the Italians and make it theirs, as they also have a special pasta soup that they eat on Christmas day, which is so important and traditional that, of course, GIANT pasta shells need to be scattered across the city in decoration!  I suppose they look quite nice and, if I was a kid, I would definitely be crawling around inside them.  I would actually do that as an adult too as I could fit in them easily but I think I’d probably break them and get dirty looks from the pasta-loving Catalans.

You also know that it’s Christmas in Spain thanks to all the giant legs of cured, slightly mouldy looking ham, jamónor “jam”, as my mispronouncing students often like to tell me – hanging around all over the place; you literally bump into them in shops!  They cost a blooming fortune and, traditionally, businesses would give them out to their employees as Christmas gifts but, what with the economic ‘crisis’ and cutbacks, people are barely even receiving turrón from their bosses these days – tablets of anything sweet, more or less, made of nuts, honey, nougat, marzipan, chocolate… basically if it’s sweet and can somehow be formed into a rectangular block of sticky yumminess then it’s a turrón!

Other clues that it’s Christmas (because the weather sure ain’t one of them, seeing how it’s gone back up to about 16 degrees again) are the beautiful fairy lights all over the city.  They spent ages putting them up but not turning them on until one night when I was walking home from work, minding my own business, and came across thousands of people in the streets.  Only then did I twig that the lights were on and people must be out in celebration.  I didn’t know the half of it, though: these people were not really out for the lights but out for the big street party that had set itself up on the fanciest, most bourgeois Avenue in town – Passeig de Gracia – where all the shops you could never afford to shop in can be found. 

Apparently, the general consensus was to flip two fingers up at the economic crisis and pretend, for one night only, that you were of the ilk that schmooze around drinking champagne, shop in Prada and wear sunglasses at night time… I am, of course, talking about late night Christmas shopping until about 3 o’clock in the morning which accompanies the illumination of the city’s Christmas lights, and on Passeig de Gracia, it happens in a big way. 

It was quite fascinating as there were mini-catwalk shows taking place, pop up VIP bars all down the middle of the avenue, mostly selling gin mixers (THE drink of the moment over here) full of people being just faaaabulous daaaahling, and shops with DJs mixing in the windows with competing sound systems.  It was all a bit of a ‘look at me’ event and I was actually quite happy to be looking at the look-at-me characters who’d made a big effort to be looked at by the slightly dazed onlookers like me!

By the way, Merry Christmas – Feliz Navidad in Castillian – is actually Bon Nadal in Catalan.  When I learnt this I realised that meant that Spain’s top tennis player is technically called Rafael Christmas!  And, of course, that made me smile 🙂

Finally, I will leave you with my most absolute favourite discovery about Christmas in Catalonia, which still makes me burst into fits of giggles when I think about it and I couldn’t not share it.

Children in Catalonia don’t generally celebrate with stockings and Father Christmas, no.  They have something entirely different: they have a tió – known to all the rest of us as a log.  Now, Christmas logs aren’t that unusual but the ritual performed with a log in this part of the world verges on the perverse and absolutely tickles me! 

Tió gets painted with a face, given a Christmas hat and, if it’s particularly cold, it gets wrapped in a scarf too.  In the run up to Christmas, Tió sits in the house and the children faithfully feed it with oranges, cakes – whatever logs generally like to eat – and give it water every day.  It’s important to fatten up Tió as much as possible, the reason for which will now become clear.  When it comes to Christmas day, the tradition can vary slightly depending on the family but the basics of it are this:  the children get a stick and sing a song whilst HITTING TIO SO THAT IT SHITS OUT THEIR CHRISTMAS PRESENTS!!!!!!!

Ah…

And with that thought, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy holiday period in general!

x

Outsider In Barcelona: First observations

Three years ago, I wrote about my first experiences in Barcelona – a city previously unknown to me that I had decided to start a new life in.  As this is where the first ideas for this blog came from, I thought it fitting to document my exploits here.  These blog posts started out life as emails to my friends and family during my time there.

I’ve been here about six weeks now, and I suppose I’m settling into some sort of routine.  I at least have a flat, some Catalan flatmates, three jobs and a few Spanish and Catalan words under my belt. Barcelona being a wonderfully human-sized city, I’ve cultivated a slight obsession with going everywhere by foot, to the extent that I’ve started to resent hopping on a metro or bus for even 10 minutes.  Not that public transport is bad here – far from it.  So, as an alien in a new world, assaulted from all sides and through all senses by my new surroundings, I share with you some of my first observations, and why not start with the most thrilling?… public transport!

The Metro

Stairs – flipping loads of them in the metro!  As there are about six different entrances to most metro stations, which can seemingly be spread across four blocks, should you make the mistake of entering into the wrong one for your line or direction, be prepared to go up and down stupid numbers of times before reaching your required platform.  This was all kinds of fun when I first arrived with my overweight, limping suitcase and no chivalrous help at hand (New-Catalan-Friend was no longer with me at that point because of the lost telephone at airport debacle – previous post).

Changing lines – DON’T DO IT!  You may be mistaken in thinking that because lines converge or cross at one station that you can hop off one and onto another.  Nuh-uh.  Be prepared for the aforementioned stair obstacle course as well as crossing half of Barcelona in a muggy, 70s-ugly tunnel. Best to walk that bit further in the pleasant outside world to a different station and just take the one line a few stops (just choose the right street entrance…).

One amazingly fantastic super duper thing, however, is that the metro runs ALL NIGHT on a Saturday!  Brilliant!  So I guess that makes up for all the stairs.

More things about Barcelona, though:

People

There are lots of nose rings.  Various types.  Every second person seems to have one.  Or dreads, or a mullet.  It’s like being back at college again (except for the mullets).

People call you guapa and cariña all over the place.  I know this is the equivalent to being called love or darling in the market or at the pub but I unapologetically rather like it.

The economic ‘crisis’ that we’ve all been going through is evident.  My fully qualified architect flatmate is fully unemployed, along with the majority of those in her profession in Spain.  Quite a few people beg on the street with cardboard signs declaring the number of children they have to support, the lack of food…  Then there are those who sell packets of tissues, lighters or chewing gum on street corners to make a bit of change.

The self-employed bin men are also a common sight, which is a bit shocking to see in a European country*.  Like modern day rag and bone men, they seem to collect just about anything which could have even the smallest amount of second-hand worth.  They are found rummaging through the many vast recycling containers, dotted on almost every street corner, accompanied by a shopping trolley and maybe a hammer, packing in as much as they can, from cardboard boxes to old clothes and shoes, electrical goods (and bads) and metal items.  Where on earth these then get distributed to after, I have no idea. But someone must have worked out that it was worth a little something because there sure are a lot of people doing it.

*it certainly was in 2012 but is potentially a less shocking sight nowadays with persisting economic difficulties, and immigration and refugees in Southern European countries

Football

Futbal Club Barcelona is NOT just a football team.  ‘More than just a club’, it is, I’ve learned, religion and politics combined: fans more like fanatics, it is a symbol for how Catalonia could stand independently of the rest of Spain.  And any match between Barcelona and Madrid is a grudge match to end all grudge matches.  Catalans would rather sell their nans than have Madrid beat Barça!

There is even a whole TV channel dedicated to the team: if you wish, you could spend hours watching montages set to music of the best Barça goals of this season, last season, 20 seasons ago… or you can watch tiny little Barça players being coached into future Messis or Iniestas.

Buzz

Not a week goes by without a protest, fiesta or strike.  I don’t think people in Barcelona know how to manage without some mass gathering and noise-making.  I must admit, I find it all quite fun and have been tempted to grab my saucepan and wooden spoon and join in on the banging and marching, but I’m not sure I’d manage the chanting, let alone the meaning behind it all.

Apart from the protests, fiestas or strikes, there is always something going on.  And, because Barcelona is pretty small, it means you can actually participate in much of the fun – the idea of a ‘trek’ across town is, in reality, a maximum 20 min train or bus ride, even taking the stairs into account (imagine that London!)!

Buildings

The beautiful buildings – ahh.  There really are some fantastic, interesting, curious, different, crazy and beautiful buildings all over the city which can just make your day that bit brighter.  There are ugly ones too but so many that I pass only seem to get better the more I look at them, as I notice more details, more colours, more shapes.  And, be it right or wrong to accredit him entirely with the glorious architecture of the city, I say thank you to Gaudi for his part in the daily feast for both eyes and soul that I enjoy.

Weather

Finally, I couldn’t possibly end my observations without comment on the most talked about topic on the isle from which I hail… and, do you know what, it actually rains quite a lot in Barcelona.  I know, I was surprised too! Don’t get me wrong, there were still days into late October when I could careen around in a dress and cardigan and not be feeling the cold but there has been a surprising amount of water falling from the sky too.

Most memorably when I was with a friend watching a fantastic light show being projected on to one of the more notable Gaudi buildings, Casa Batlló, with hundreds of other people all crammed in the street to watch.  Not five minutes of the show had passed when an absolute torrential downpour started, resulting in almost flash-flooding of the street we were on. Masses of people rammed together and desperate to keep from getting wet only resulted in hundreds of mini umbrella waterfalls, so it was rather like having a cold, temperamental shower attacking you from various angles!  When the lights from the show went off because a thunder erupted, everyone screamed and decided that was the time to panic-scramble, with umbrellas now as weapons to barge through the crowds…!

So for everyone suffering from a bit of SAD back in the UK, or just the usual shit-weather grumbles, be comforted that the grass is not always greener on the other side (or that the sun doesn’t always shine in Spain), and that we sure are a lot more stoic about rainfall; for when the skies open here, the city closes: never is it emptier on the streets than when it’s wet outside.  I’m starting to suspect that Barcelona’s residents share a certain attitude towards water with Oz’s most villainous inhabitant…

Outsider In a world of limited mobility: Supermarket shopping on wobbly legs

This series of posts harks back to summer 2015 when I broke my foot, the first time I’ve ever experienced a debilitating injury.

After my minor outing to the opticians, I was craving a bit more going out time and so hit upon the rip-roaring adventure of a supermarket shop: food needed to be got and I needed an exit from the house, so it seemed like a good idea.

Of course I couldn’t make it to the supermarket alone, so I hopped (literally) into the car with my mum who’d promised me that the nearby Morrisons had wheelchair trolleys, as crutching it around the shop with my novice ability was going to be tiring, dangerous and completely useless (see first entry about carrying stuff).  Oh, and slow.  So, so, so slow.  I reckon it that I’m at least four times slower on crutches than normal moving about pace.

We arrive at the supermarket and I start to get the willies.  This seems to have been a bad idea.  The supermarket seems big and awkward, with lots of other people in it, and we’ve accidentally coincided with school kicking-out time.

As I stand at the entrance while my mum searches out the wheelchair trolley, I feel in the way and vulnerable.  My mum is taking an age and I’m now anxious that my decision to come along is causing an unnecessary fuss, and that I am going to be a bothersome nuisance; I could have just stayed at home.

I learn from my mum when she arrives back, tutting that the motorised wheelchair trolley was wedged in an area at the far end of the shop and getting it out was causing a considerable amount of difficulty.  Whilst this only serves to compound my embarrassment and certainty that it was a mistake to have come, my mum has only criticism for the incompetence of the staff and the store for not being immediately ‘disability ready’.  A motorised wheelchair, though?  I feel like a complete fraud!  I’m ok, I want to say, it’s only a temporary break after all; I’m sure I’ll manage…

Some moments later, my mother loses her patience: off she goes again, and comes back instantly with a bog standard, push around wheelchair.  With relief I plop myself into the chair, grab a basket to go on my lap – this chair will get me around the supermarket but it sure as hell ain’t got no trolley attached – and wheel off with half the list, determined to be an aid in this shopping expedition, rather than a complete encumbrance.

Half an hour or so later and I’m positioned by the checkouts in an attempt not to get in anyone’s way.  There are a few last bits and bobs to pick up, and my mum was deemed the more capable of retrieving them.  It transpires, you see, that supermarkets are not really designed for wheelchair users (not an original discovery, I’m sure).

I’m not talking about the fuss and the faff at the beginning, nor the layout of the aisles with obstacles of piles of specials, pop-up mini frozen counters or pretend market carts, chicane style all over the place… what I’m saying is that a lot of stuff is just too darn high up!  And not just too high up to reach but too high up to even see.

In some cases this impedes just my brand or price choices: Happy Eggs, supermarket’s own eggs, or the oh-no-I-can’t-reach-them-so-I-can’t-have-them organic farm eggs.  And as I wheel along the booze aisle I have the choice of three, rather than five, shelves worth of wine.  Boo.  But in the rice section, the powers that arrange the selection of bags of dried grains are clearly telling me that I shouldn’t cook paella, way over my head as those little pouches are.

Sitting in my wheelchair I feel a number of things: uncomfortably conspicuous and a bit of a nuisance – I’m not sure I like being more noticeable in this way -; somewhat indignant (or even self-righteous!) – why should I not be able to independently shop and have access to the same choices as my upright counterparts? -; and a little bit tired in a kind of powerless and vulnerable way – what a faff and palaver to go through, just to half-achieve something so run of the mill!

Then, suddenly, I feel something else: a girl, whose uniform denotes that she works at the supermarket, goes whizzing by me on a pair of crutches at some super speed to reach her till and start running things through the checkout.  She had moved with two crutches planted ahead of her then swung both feet through quite a distance where they limply, but effectively, propped her up long enough for the next purposeful crutch plant, allowing the swing to happen again.

I deduced that she must have some form of muscular disorder, maybe from birth, rendering her legs unable to take strides by themselves.  I also reckoned that she must have steely-superwoman arms and hands from the nifty way in which she got herself about.

Looking at her I feel humbled and, quite quickly, a little ashamed.  What fusses and new discoveries I’m making, what new difficulties and obstacles I’m experiencing, what new grievances I’m venting, and how temporary my impairment…

My mum arrives with the last bits to go through the till.  I abandon my wheelchair and manoeuvre my way through on limbs and crutches.  Six weeks.  I’ll probably forget all about it once I’m ‘back’.  Well, I determine, I better just write some stuff about it then, that way I jolly well won’t forget, will I?

Outsider In a world of limited mobility: Cabin fever

This series of posts actually harks back to the summer, but I wrote them fresh as the experience unfolded, so I’ve kept them intact here.

Temporarily (and serendipitously?) living at my parents’ at this point in time, I couldn’t be in a better environment for this period of enforced convalescence. Both parents retired, I awake to breakfast laid out (quite a decadent affair*), have lunch fully prepared and dinner seen to, so no complaints possible there.  Makes me wonder, though, how anyone can manage with the loss of use of a lower limb without a parent or two around… saintly housemates or a devoted partner, I suppose.  Or with an immense amount of difficulty and no choice but to just get on with it.

Nevertheless, comfort and care though I be in and under, vaguely bored I have not escaped being.  The number one rule of working from home, as I do, is to bloody well make sure that you get out of that home once a day to avoid ‘rat-in-a-box’ syndrome.  So, again, without forgetting a) how lucky I am to be surrounded by unconditionally loving carers (M & D), and b) that my unfortunate accident (one dodgy moment in netball) has not unduly interrupted my working routine (er, yay..?), it has most definitely royally arsed up my ability to GET THE HELL OUT OF THE HOUSE which is undeniably necessary to my equilibrium i.e. sanity and, in seriousness, happiness.

With usual activities off the agenda of netball, a long walk, popping up to London to hang out with boyf, getting in the car to see friends, yoga, rock climbing, tennis, going to a gig, walking over to brother’s house to pester him and potential future sister-in-law (blah blah, doing active, social stuff)… I have had to settle for other ways of breaking up the periods of: sitting in front of computer; sitting down for a meal; and crawling, bum-slipping, or actually using my crutches in the correct and incorrect manners up and down the stairs.

Yesterday, therefore, I demanded to be taken to the opticians. Oh yes, the opticians. My new glasses are too loose on my face and constantly slipping down my nose, plus, being larger than before, they end up getting smudged by my eyebrows (bit weird) and so they’re constantly a bit foggy.  Ergo, I absolutely MUST be taken to the opticians.  Quick trip in the car, stumble stumble of crutches, chat chat, momentary blindness, glasses returned, better fit, which size bottle of glasses cleaning spray should I get (medium)… and then I’m back home again.  Oh… balls; that wasn’t as momentous or distracting as I’d hoped. A new plan needs concocting for tomorrow… oh yes, I know – The Supermarket!!

(*muesli pre-soaking, at least three types of pre-cut fruit, a selection of juices and tea in the pot if I’m up early enough for it to still be warm!  Spoilt?  Yes.)

Outsider In a world of limited mobility: Daily routine, interrupted

This series of posts actually harks back to the summer, but I wrote them fresh as the experience unfolded, so I’ve kept them intact here.

I am temporarily experiencing life with limited mobility.  I wouldn’t be so bold or ignorant as to state that I therefore understand what it must be like to live with a permanent physical disability, but I’m bloody well getting to know that anything other than full-limbed mobility comes with more every day restrictions and frustrations than I’ve ever previously taken the time to try and imagine…

My first point of upset is that I can’t go anywhere with a cup of tea.  Or anywhere with anything, for that matter.  In true British form, though, it’s the cup of tea that seems to grate most.  One small hop-shuffle-wobble, and a tea disaster would ensue; were my hand actually free to clasp a mug, of course.  No, as I stumble around in my attempt to navigate from one place to another with giant, cumbersome, cyborg boot and crutches, the most I can do is take my slightly damaged self from A to B, all ever so slowly and precariously; loading myself down with baggage – or a cup of tea – doesn’t even come into it.

A second simple example to outline my minor plight (a broken foot) comes from working in the study today, when I start to feel a little chilly.  Oh dear, the sun has moved, no longer streaming straight into my window; its warmth is gone and, in its place, a breeze wafts in. The window is mere metres from where I sit.  Nevertheless, the simple act of getting up to close it has turned into a bit of a physical challenge in my current state.  Thus, the following sequence:

  • Retrieve crutches from somewhere they’ve fallen, hopefully nearby;
  • Place handholds in H-shape in front of me – like the nice physio lady told me – ;
  • Push down on those and through good but pathetically weak leg, plus anything else hopefully supportive within grab’s reach, all the while ABSOLUTELY NOT bashing boot-laden, gammy foot on floor.
  • Once balancing on one leg upright (hurrah!), rearrange crutches into “walk” mode and set off to window negotiating anything left on floor to make route trickier.
  • Reach window, shake crutch off wrist where it then slides to floor – shit – and close window.  Task accomplished!
  • Repeat more or less in reverse, hoping temperature doesn’t rise in room any time soon requiring window to be open again.

No, my suffering is not large, but compared to ‘stand up, walk to window, shut window, walk back, sit down’, it’s a pretty damn laborious ball-ache, really.

Another complaint of top annoying things about being on crutches (I suspect this list to get boringly long) is the palaver of bathing…

I fractured my fifth metatarsal (like the footballer I am not) on a Monday evening.  By Tuesday afternoon my fat foot was fat-boot clad and I was crutchmobile, or thereabouts.  Various trips to medical facilities, becoming accustomed to my new state, and the exhausting impracticability of basic movement, meant that going about having a wash was firmly off the list of the day’s events.  Wednesday morning, and I had no more excuses.  The bathroom awaited me, but the bathroom had warped into a newly scary place: all ledges and angles and sharpness and hardness: ceramic, metal, plastic, fibreglass, enamel…  Add water to all of this and I was in a slippery minefield of potential woe.

A flamingo-style shower was definitely out – horror stories of falls in showers resulting in car crash-style injuries were reverberating in my mind (fractured ribs, punctured lung…). So bath it was.  Keeping modesty intact, here goes the summary-

Getting into the bath: Not so difficult; we have handy handles on the bath for some unknown reason. I could kind of sit, brace, swing and lower easily enough.

The washing part: Pretty standard as fat-boot is removable.  I daren’t go near the foot itself, though, for fear of awakening a painful beast, so it shall remain as dirty and smelly as it wishes.

Getting out of the bath: Here is where it nearly all came a-cropper: a one-legged, slippery person, on a bath tub edge, with no handy hand holds outside of the bath, and nothing else to grab onto?  I was just one wet backside slide away from another trip to A&E…

You will undoubtedly be relieved to know that I conquered the bathroom on this particular occasion; through some inelegant scrabbling around with the toilet seat and a precarious, free-standing towel rail, my ablutions were concluded for the day.  No medal for heroics deserved, of course, but I feel victim more than vanquished as I begin to understand an altered world. 

Hobbling off from the bathroom to complete the start of the day with the getting dressed routine, I already feel a little battle weary at the time and energy this simplest of tasks has demanded.  I’m not sure I can be doing with it, not every day.  Nope, for the next little while, a bit dirty with a broken foot is going to have to be my thing.