This is my 50th year on earth. To celebrate our survival, my best friend, Tanya Raabe – Visual Artist (also 50 this year) and I spent a few days together in my home county of Norfolk, UK. I was the ‘party planner’ in charge of ensuring we had a great time, a time to remember in our old age. I think I was mostly successful despite the barriers that befall us. We are both ‘Dissas’, that is, strong disabled women who have been through a life time of discrimination. We have both fought hard to be treated equally although even now the dark shadow of inequality sometimes engulfs us. The only difference is that now, we choose our battles carefully and refuse to allow others to spoil our fun.
Day 1: It’s a lovely day, let’s go shopping. After trying to find the accessible route out of the hotel car park, we finally give up and ask. Minutes later we find ourselves on Prince Of Wales Road but the steep ramp has drained my scooter and I know I won’t make it anywhere and back without a charge. Tanya goes back to the hotel to get the charger as I sit on the pavement trying not to attract too much attention. I did consider getting a can of diet coke but remembered that people had a tendency to think that a stationary disabled person, with a can is obviously looking for a hand out. It wasn’t worth the indignity or the ruined drink, which would probably cost more than the ‘sympathy’ money I might receive.
We crawled to the cinema where some lovely young men, not much older than my son, allowed me to plug the scooter in while we watched the film. It seemed a shame to sit in a dark, air conditioned theatre when the sun was beaming outside but our choices were limited and it felt quite decadent to be in the cinema in the middle of the day. I thought we would be alone but quite a few people joined us to watch a dark film about a child murder in post war, Soviet Union.” Child 44″ was perhaps not the best film to build up a party spirit but it was actually very good and the staff at Odeon Norwich were lovely, nothing seemed to phase them, even when Tanya requested help in the toilet – she had dropped the hotel key card on the floor.
Day 2: Bolstered by our positive experiences in Norwich, we decide to venture further afield. Blickling Hall is a beautiful estate in the depths of Norfolk and boasts a tenuous connection with Anne Boleyn. Stately Homes can be tricky beasts for us Dissas but having visited before, I was confident that we would have a good day and encouraged my husband to take time off work to join us. The first obstacle was how to get there. I wanted to drive but Tanya’s electric chair was too heavy to go into my car without a hoist. However with 3 people and my fully charged scooter would not fit into her car. The solution was to book a scooter at Blickling Hall for me to use – perfect, or so we thought.
If only they had told us that they were down to a single scooter and would not be able to hold it for us. My face dropped as they explained that due to our late arrival, they had let the scooter go to another. I spent the rest of the day being pushed around by my poor, soon exhausted husband (I’m no spring chicken) as I looked longingly at the guy on ‘my’ scooter, who was totally unaware that my jealous eyes were pursuing him. Thankfully, the weather was good and we spent the rest of the day laughing at the irony of the fact that they did have a large all-terrain scooter on charge but wouldn’t let me use it because it wasn’t suitable – they must have seen my driving! The day and our faith were rescued by a lovely evening meal at TGI Friday on Riverside in Norwich where Tanya had her first cocktail and there were no access issues at all!
Day 3: A bit of retail therapy was needed after our brush with all things historical. Norwich has two shopping malls and I love them both. Chapelfield is the younger of the two and still feels shiny and new; boasting shops like House of Fraser and Monsoon, not to mention the Apple Store. Tanya had fun in Apple as the terribly helpful sales assistant searched for an App that would allow her to take voice activated photographs. Let’s just say, there is a gap in the market. I suspect Tanya knew that it couldn’t be done she was just enjoying the attention. The vibrant market showed promise as we easily moved through the labyrinth of market stalls, taking in the smells of fresh fruit and veg mingled with pie and mushy peas. We ended our day, putting the world to rights atop a hill, outside Norwich Castle in the spring sunshine.
If I have learned anything in the last 50 years, it is the value of true friendship, based on mutual respect and understanding. I consider myself lucky to have met Tanya, all those years ago at college, at the tender age of sixteen. Such salad days! Like my loving husband and beautiful son, Tanya is a constant presence in my life which I can’t imagine living without.
Happy 50th dear friend.