Far From Normal

It’s the early hours of Monday morning. It’s a humid night and I’ve been struggling to sleep, partly because of the heat, and partly because I’ve been reading Francesca Martinez’s brilliant new book What the **** is Normal?

If you’re looking for an inspirational story of a courageous disabled person overcoming adversity, then this might not be for you. But if you’re looking for a book that explores and celebrates difference and blows open the idea of what’s considered normal, then go and buy it right now.

It’s gloriously funny and incredibly moving, and I’ve been enjoying it – a lot. Francesca describes her experiences of growing up ‘wobbly’, which is her name for cerebral palsy. I’m about half way through already and she’s just been rescued from high school by getting a part in the children’s TV series ‘Grange Hill’.

Eventually I decided it was time to settle down and try to sleep, so I forced myself to put it down. Just then I glanced over at my bedside table and saw a large, exotic-looking insect perched on the lid of my SNB (this is a camping cup with a lid and a small hole to drink from. Years ago Leftwing Idiot dubbed it my ‘Special Needs Beaker’ and the SNB acronym stuck). I was gripped by a mild panic. I couldn’t go to sleep knowing this unusual visitor was so close by, but I didn’t want to wake Fat Sister to help me deal with it.

After carefully considering this predicament I decided that because I didn’t want to kill the insect I was going to have to deal with it myself – trap it, carry it out to the garden and release it. I don’t think I would’ve been bold enough to consider this option under normal circumstances, but I’d just read a chapter in Francesca’s book in which, aged fifteen, she told a bully to ‘Fuck off.’ This buoyed me up and I set about my mission, fully aware the required skills weren’t a natural fit for my neurology.

The lid of my SNB has a big lip around the edge, and the insect was sitting in the recess so I put Francesca’s book on top – trapping the insect in the gap between the lid and the book. Stage one complete.

Then I had to get it to the garden. Walking wasn’t an option because it would’ve been game over the first time I dropped to the floor, and I couldn’t haul myself along the grab rail or use my wheelchair because that would’ve required two hands, and both were fully engaged. So I crawled chaotically, concentrating hard on trying not to tic. If I had, the book would’ve come off the SNB and the insect would’ve escaped before I’d completed my mission.

I got to the back door, but to my consternation, I realised the keys were in my room. I carefully put the SNB down and perched something heavy on top of the precariously balanced book to weigh it down and stop it falling off. I crawled off, got the keys, and came back.

As I opened the back door it suddenly occurred to me that the insect might’ve fallen through the hole in the lid and into the water below. It was too dark to see when I nervously removed the book, but when I put the outside lights on I could see the SNB was bare.

So either I successfully completed the mission, and the alien insect is starting a new life outdoors, or it fell through the hole and is almost certainly dead. I won’t know until the morning when I can go and retrieve the cup.

Update: My carer Ana’s just helped me bring in the SNB, and because no insect corpse was found I can only assume I successfully freed the creature. My only worry now is that it mightn’t have been there in the first place!

Francesca, thank you for the book/humane (potentially imaginary) wildlife-trap, the inspiration, and a late night spent with a compelling story.

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