Lifestory Showcase - Chappell
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After my operation when I was able to fit into a car again and we had recovered to some extent from our experiences with the 'sink', one of our first journeys was to visit two friends and their son and spend a few days with them at Milton Keynes. They lived in a specially designed bungalow for wheelchair users, but neither of them used a chair.
In addition the husband was born in Dorset and was hoping to move back down there. We had never thought of moving so far North and mother was now in her mid seventies. The first time we saw the bungalow we were very impressed, and we spent a weekend being driven around to see the sights of Milton Keynes. The new railway station had just been opened and the development of the city was well under way and we thought it was all very nice for them
We wended our way back to Dorset, we had enjoyed it but it was all very new and foreign to us. But after about the fourth visit we saw so many disabled people going around so independently in wheelchairs that mother and I gradually began to see a far better life and future for me there. A bungalow like that of our friends would be ideal and disabled people were coming to settle here from everywhere.
When we came up again in July 1983, David my friend suggested that I go to the Development Office myself and make an application to be offered housing when some was available. We asked mother to drive to the city centre and take me into the office. She did not realise quite what we were up to, and the deed was done, I had filled out the application form.
The next week, I heard that I had been accepted onto the housing list and I was willing to wait my turn. After tea we all sat outside in the sun chatting when David suddenly suggested that we should exchange bungalows. I thought he was absolutely mad and said that he was, to think of leaving Milton Keynes when they were both disabled.
Yet I knew they were trying to move for some reason. I never really knew why. My friends were very keen to exchange and kept niggling about it for some time until one day during a phone call I agreed that they should begin enquiring about an exchange.
This went through without a hitch in Milton Keynes but as I said, my Social Services took their time to sign the necessary forms. That was just the way they work in Dorset, we could have moved immediately as far as Milton Keynes was concerned and they wanted to know why there was such a long delay. While these things were being ironed out, mother had a dream or premonition just as she woke up one morning in November.
She had seen a man with long hair standing by her bed who told her quite clearly that we would be in Milton Keynes by my fifty-fifth birthday in March. She came into my bedroom and told me this, and we felt sure for the first time that we were doing the right thing and began packing in our minds.
The winter went on, by January we were definitely coming, but our friends had booked a holiday in February and wanted to have that first. We brought up a car load of valuables. breakables and bedding, and took back some of theirs and away they went on holiday. Before they returned there had been a break-in, they lost more than we did including David's electric typewriter.
We only lost a small vanity case with mostly papers in it and a little ornament of which mother was very fond . The great day arrived for us all, Doreen had already arrived at Marnhull, and on March 9th, nineteen days before my next birthday we had packed and were on the way before ten in the morning. Our home was following us in a van. It was with great relief that we left Marnhull but we were sad to be losing our panoramic view over Hardy's Blackmoor Vale.
We had enjoyed that sight for the past eight years, and now our view was to be a wooden fence only a few yards from our window. Before we left the village mother stopped the car right outside Marnhull church, put her arms around me and said “We have done it. We don't know anyone in Milton Keynes but there are a lot of people just waiting to meet you and welcome you to your new surroundings, men, women and children”. Mother had never said a truer word.
By this time I knew the way to Milton Keynes and had written out the route on my electric typewriter for the removal men.. They just followed it, and got from door-to-door easily. Mother was a good driver but I always have to navigate and when we had reached Bicester she turned to ask me where we were, as she felt that she had not driven the car herself but was being guided along. We were well on our way by then and arrived about two o'clock, time for a cup of tea with David who was waiting for us and our van with its two young men who arrived safely shortly afterwards.
Poor mother I can see her now, the foolish idea was to unload our home and repack theirs for the van's return journey. So what a mess and muddle she was in when the van arrived around three thirty that afternoon, unloaded and reloaded at the same time. But finally we were here with our own beds made up and ready to fail into that night. We were alone in, what was for us, a far off part of the country.
In a very short time, just long enough for us to get settled in, an Occupational Therapist began bringing things I needed, and also to see what alterations the Corporation could do for me. Soon workmen arrived to do the various adaptations I needed. There was none of the fuss and hassle that we were used to in Dorset.
It was just wonderful, as I said, we felt that we had jumped at least one hundred years into the next century overnight. Derek was abroad and did not have a clue where we were until he came to visit us a long time afterwards and he was very impressed. Some of my old friends who have visited us have also been suitably impressed.
I was soon out and about getting to know people who I found very friendly and helpful. When asked if they could help with getting things into place such as fixing up the television, if they themselves could not help they knew someone who would, and in no time it was done. I joined in with things being done by and for disabled people and soon found myself on many local committees.
I knew nothing about committees and had to learn fast. I joined a local church and was soon involved in publishing a newsletter on my typewriter. The Head of a Middle School, when he knew of my voluntary work experience in Dorset, invited me to come along to his school two days each week to listen to children read, spell and later do computer work. This I did for four years and got along very well with teachers and pupils there. I had also bought myself a new scooter so kept the older one at the school to spin around on.
On my new scooter I was soon going out exploring the famous Milton Keynes redways which are paths for cyclist, pedestrians and wheelchairs. They run throughout the city away from the main roads only crossing them by means of underpass or bridge. The main roads are either numbered with a V. for vertical or H. horizontal and each junction has one of the famous roundabouts that no stranger likes.
It works well, finding one's way around soon becomes very easy and there are not many accidents for the size of the city. The estates are between these roads, so traffic need not go into any estate unless it needs. Everything is so well signposted and signposts to other towns are also in the right places. The street lighting is excellent and after a Dorset village it never seems to get dark in Milton Keynes.
The reason why so many disabled people live here is simply that it is a brand new city and the needs of wheelchair users were considered before a brick was laid. Bungalows and flats have been well designed to suit all our needs. All public buildings such as the Library are accessible so we can join in and go anywhere. The Shopping Centres are also accessible and easy to use. A special transport association has mini-buses that take us from door-to-door and most of us now have various electric wheelchairs to transport ourselves around.
There are workshops and schools for all different disabilities, the lame, deaf, blind and slow-learners and day centres for when school days are over. There are very nice flats in sheltered housing units for elderly people with Wardens and Staff on call. Most disabled like me are connected to an Alarm System for twenty four hours a day every day of the year, have a visiting Warden and a help-line phone.
We have a hospital and health centres within easy reach of everyone, home carer's, crossroad scheme, the Red Cross and child care. All this helps to give us peace of mind in our attempts to live a normal life. Most of us disabled people use computers in this age of technology and we all find ourselves on at least one committee to keep everything flowing as well as possible.
I have been on and off nearly all these committees; but now after almost ten years of trying to help wherever I could, I am now taking life more easily and enjoying the benefits. I am now living alone which never seemed possible and enjoying myself doing what want. I go swimming twice a week and I sail throughout the Summer months.
Mother now has her own little bungalow and the freedom that she deserves after doing so much for me and never letting me down, no matter how hard arid difficult it has been for her. If only father had done the same. My birth ruined his life in every way for he could never accept my disability. He must have suffered so much and died many years ago a very, very lonely man, just before his first grandchild was born.
I am now. in an amateur dramatic group of disabled people. We meet each week to read famous plays. putting on a production to an audience every few months.. Everyone enjoys them and we are known as the Fletchers Players, called after Fletchers Mews the address of the Resource Centre where we meet and rehearse. I also belong to two writers groups as this is now my favourite pastime. I have also dabbled in the arts and many other interesting outlets.
As far as I am concerned Milton Keynes is the nearest thing to heaven for all disabled people as a lot is done by the local authorities to make all our individual dreams possible. The city gets its fair share of vandalism, burglaries but then so does everywhere else at the present time. But on the whole everyone is very helpful if they are asked, otherwise we are left to get on with our own lives.
My whole life has changed in every way, moving here was the best thing that mother and I ever did. She likes it here but of course would never have come here without me. Our vision of a future for me has certainly come true, far more than we visualised.
One of the first clubs I was taken to was the Spastics Group where among the first people I saw was a couple whom mother and I had met at Brighton where they then lived. Soon they were busy taking me out and introducing me to so many others. It was suggested that I should join the ACTIVE Group which was a club for disabled people arid parents of disabled children.
At that time they got together every month to help each other understand computers which at that time were beginning to be used in their children’s education. I had never even seen a Computer in my life but I was soon hooked, but I only got to use one on one evening a month and I think my fascination must have soon have become apparent.
The school where we met to use their equipment offered to lend me a computer, disc drive and printer during the Christmas holiday. Those three weeks went by too quickly, and I had done nothing else but study the books and write. My typewriter seemed very old hat after that and I had to get a computer somehow. I was hooked and could write easily for the first time in my life.
At the beginning of March right on our first anniversary of living here, I arrived at ACTIVE and a lady was waiting to be introduced to me. The lady spent the next two hours just talking to me asking me all sorts of questions, mainly about what I would do with a computer if I had one. I did not realise what was happening and where it would lead.
As we parted she kissed me goodnight, and I gave her my address hoping we would meet again. Two days later, a note arrived from her, telling me to go out today arid buy all the computer equipment I needed. It was just frightening, mother was more upset than pleased. “It was charity” she said and that she had never accepted. I felt there was also a little jealousy from the other members of ACTIVE. I was still an outsider and others needed computers too. No one would give me help as to what to buy or where to buy a BBC B. Computer for that was what I should get.
Weeks went by, I did nothing until the guardian angel rang me for she was waiting to pay the cheque, and said “You have to do something about getting it.” So the next day, I went to John Lewis's and bought what I thought I needed. It was paid for, delivered and set up in the office we had prepared up for it.
My life began all over again and I have never looked back for writing is my life. The lady came to visit me once, had tea with mother and I, before looking around our specially designed bungalow and the little office I had made for myself. I had only bought a black and white monitor and she wasn’t happy with that. She put it right the following year when she phoned telling me to buy a colour monitor. I have never seen her since but we do keep in touch.
What a difference it made to me, I got on so well but nine years later I am still learning more about it and teaching others. The BBC B. has been updated to a MASTER 128 and I am so happy. Not only did a computer solve my writing problems, it helped me to become steadier and more confident in everything else I do, even my speech is a lot clearer. Using a computer has even led me, in 1989, to begin living on my own without always needing my mother around. Moving to Milton Keynes was the best thing mother and I ever did, a new life in a new city.
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