For the disabled person, it is composed of several odd parts. Naturally, there is the peeing. Fact is, almost any toilet built into the curved hull of an aircraft makes it hard for me to get my hips forward enough to, well, hit the target. That, coupled with the fact of a variable quadriplegic stream, makes the whole experience rather fraught. Not to mention sordid. For I miss, that is the essential fact. Honestly, I do my best, but there is no way to achieve the objective. No way. So, what do I do? Mop up. Drop a bunch of paper towels on the floor of the 747 lavatory, move them around with my one non-paralyzed foot…and briefly eyeball the dry floor, savoring my mopping up operation. Before phase two, the picking up of the sodden paper towels. How do I do this? With difficulty, of course. After all, one tends to be tired after the night before, whatever occurred on that departure eve. So, leaning over to pick up anything with one mostly functional leg, is probably ill-advised. But there I am, slightly compulsive, feeling guilty about despoiling the aircraft toilet. So lean over, I do. My nonparalyzed leg tends to slip, but an airliner toilet is a pleasantly confined space. One can’t slip much further than the closed door. Thus, the flight home.
Even under the best of circumstances, with Jane’s help, the whole thing is fraught. It cannot end too quickly, yet it doesn’t. In our case, it really didn’t. Our Tuesday departure from Heathrow actually went rather well, until about 10 minutes after takeoff when the plane went into a tight turn, the pilot announced that we had mechanical trouble and were heading back. We dumped fuel over the Irish Sea, then the Channel, then scurried back into port. A day, an entire day, at the Heathrow Sofitel followed. Why? It’s summer. Flights are jammed, oversold in fact. Presumably extra planes are pretty thin on the ground. Explaining why ours was on the ground for an entire day, and us with it. And so the second flight home was one too many. A very spoiled perspective on an extraordinary event, intercontinental air travel, a third of the globe in 11 hours. Sober up, one has to say.
It’s disorienting, travel. Which may be the best, and the worst, thing about it. After three weeks without exercise, I was a little leery of getting back into my usual aerobics. Jane didn’t quite have the time to hang about while I did my full exercycle 45 minutes. And I could just see it, the aging quadriplegic’s heart attack. Or, the discovery that I was too weak to get off the machine alone. Or simply my foot slipping off one of the pedals. In short, I wasn’t feeling all that robustly independent. A byproduct of travel, I suppose. Weeks of Jane being around to help almost constantly. And now anxiety about what I could, and couldn’t, do on my own. So it was a pleasant surprise, invigorating actually, to find all my strength was there, and more. For the truth is that getting off the exercycle is always a tricky maneuver. More to the point, it’s slightly scary, leaning my weight against the handlebar, struggling to get my leg over the machine. But in traveling, I have become battle hardened.
For what is the most dangerous part of overseas travel? The shower. Anywhere. And, let me point out, every single shower I encountered over my three weeks in Britain was disabled-friendly, if that is the term. Yes, accessible facilities everywhere. Still, one must not be duped. The railings are invariably in the wrong place, the floor is slippery or, worse, I am simply tired. So, as with the 747 lavatory, one soldiers on, gets used to deciding that balance be damned, one must shower. Taking small chances, boosting one’s sense of ruggedness and rigor. Not to mention a very strange thing. I kept doing my leg exercises, the very ones that were assigned in June. My physiotherapist here in California would be proud. After all, walking with my crutch proved to be the only exercise available in the UK. So I had to deal with my leg. And I did. It explains why getting off the exercycle is actually easier. Which explains why travel, being forced out of the safe environs I rather desperately crave, well it’s a good thing. Where was I?
Cadogan Hall, Monday afternoon. Oh, I can certainly sing the praises of Pembrokeshire. But this was so exquisitely London. A lunchtime concert, part of the BBC’s summer Proms. Introduced by a very familiar classical radio guy, someone Jane and I hear several times a week on BBC podcast. But there he was, the famous radio voice in a young man’s body, giving us the rundown on a wonderful chamber recital. And wonderful to see Cadogan Hall for the first time. Is London growing? No, this hardly makes sense. But its classical music venues keep expanding, or so it seems. This hall at Sloane Square only opened a few years ago. Magnificent airy space with lots of natural light. And even better, a balcony packed with listeners. For seats upstairs are cheap, as they should be. That was, and is, the idea behind the Henry Wood Promenade concerts. The people’s music. Bringing joy and pleasure to us. We. Never mind the mortgage manipulators, the divisive politicians, and the sharp-suited practitioners of the dark capitalist arts. There’s still an England, or my idea of it. More on this.