The Gibbon and the Little Yellow Monkey

Mum’s invitation to the MNDA Parliamentary Reception in October gave her the kick up the butt she’s needed to finally come and visit me in London. I moved down here when I graduated in June 2016, and she’s been saying she wants to come and visit ever since. Now, she has.

I was anxious about how this trip would play out. Having used the tube network for over a year, I know how little it caters for disabled people, and I was worried about getting around.

I was also concerned that Mum might struggle, being in London for the first time in, what, ten years? I think the last time she came down she did the Marathon. Now she can’t even walk 1 mile, never mind run 26.

It was so wonderful to have her here, though.

All good stories start at the beginning, so I should rewind, back to being stood in King’s Cross looking for my mum’s twelve foot tall husband (he’s only 6” 4’, but she’s 5 feet tall and, especially in the wheelchair, the difference is stark). He hadn’t been on the underground before and, with his partial sight, he’d expected it to prove tricky.

We opted for Mum’s manual wheelchair supplied by the NHS, rather than the electric wheelchair, as we thought the smaller, lighter chair would make manoeuvring easier on the tube. I definitely think it did make using public transport simpler for us, even if the independence of the power chair is always preferable.

On the first day, as I’d mentioned before, she met my partner’s parents for the first time – a big step. We sat around my table and had a shepherd’s pie, in the hope that she could eat some of it too. It was sad to sit back and watch, knowing his parents would never know my mum as she used to be, only a few months ago. When they think of her, their only reference will be the woman using a notebook to scribble down replies, and a teaspoon to desperately try to eat some of the food (which she didn’t really manage).

She was staying with me, which I really enjoyed. Compared to Tim and my sister, I provide very little care, and it felt good to be playing my part – disinfecting her syringes, preparing her drinks and fetching her supplements. Even after eight months, or especially after eight months, I still feel very guilty that I don’t do more for her.

We wanted this to be a particularly memorable trip, so we crammed it with activities.

TOP TIP: If you are disabled, make sure to plan everything in advance.

I had no idea that most attractions in London ask for a minimum of two days’ notice if a wheelchair user is planning to visit. We couldn’t go to Madame Tussauds or the Shrek place, or Sealife, because we hadn’t planned in advance.

Saying that, I’m glad we didn’t go to Madame Tussauds, because instead we headed over to London Zoo, and that was so much more fun. Mum made friends with a gibbon. We were there for ages as she smiled, waved, and said hello. It just sat there staring at her, looking around, not doing much. What a life, eh?

There was also the incident with a little yellow monkey, which is something I will never forget. We went into a part of the zoo where the monkeys roam free. Curious by her wheelchair, one came over and hopped onto her foot. It was her weak foot, which I hadn’t seen move so fast in months! She shrieked and instinctively flinched, and the monkey sprang away back into trees. So we turned back round and left – no messing around with monkeys for Mum.

It was a little holiday for Mum, and for me, in a way. Nothing else mattered but enjoying spending time with her. I hope we can do it again soon.

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