This is my oldest brother, Shaun. He took me with him to a corporate function at the races. It was lavish and lovely. The people were so nice and I chatted away until my voice was completely gone. So today I am ordering lemon and ginger tea via sign language!
We were hosted by Swire Shipping, with whom my brother does a lot of work. He ships modular hotels around the place on their ships. Swire Shipping is over 200 years old, and have had an enormous impact on the development of Australasia and the Pacific. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with people about my childhood home of Papua New Guinea. Swire and their affiliate businesses are heavily involved in that region, and many of them know my hometown, Lae, because they have lived there too.
The Grand Hyatt in Melbourne was our base. I loved the marble bathroom, what a beautiful stone to walk on! So soft and satiny. I felt like Queen Rach just going to the bathroom! The day started very early for me, with rollers in the hair, scarf on top and down to their award winning buffet breakfast. I felt a little conspicuous in my rollers and scarf, but nobody batted an eyelid. The service and food at the Grand Hyatt were incomparable. I thought the breakfast smoothie bar was super cute!
Back in the bathroom I tackled the face thing. I was worried that my makeup wouldn’t last the distance of a whole day at the races, in the 25 degree heat. Melbourne really put on a cracker day for it! But I needn’t have been concerned. Our venue had a ‘pamper room’ where we could go for perfume spritzing, hair and makeup touch-ups. It was so lah-dee-dah! The area where our function room was located was lined with the most incredible gardens. It was a riot of overblown blooms and colour, colour, colour. Beautiful women sashaying around everywhere in the most incredible fascinators and dresses. Just breathtaking, really. What an event the Victorian Derby is! Like nothing I have ever experienced.
I’ve never been to the races before, so I had to learn about betting and sweeps. Our venue had a great view across the track and we had a bookie in the area with us for last minute bets. My brother, who has good instincts, did well with his betting, finishing far better off than his outlay. I bet the princely sum of $10 each way on Highlad. He came in last, of course. But I didn’t feel at all unlucky, waiters and waitresses swished around with trays of finger food and replenished my PIMMS whenever I needed them to. Then it was sweepstake time and one of my horses came in! That won me a ticket for the major sweepstake, and I won a very cool prize! One of those action camera thingies that you attach to your head and video stuff. It even works under water! I was so chuffed! And slightly tiddly by then… so you know, effusive in my joy!
The horses were so magnificent. I can finally see why horse racing is the thing it is all over the world. It is a celebration of the extreme beauty and power of these extraordinary animals. I can see how they have come to represent so much in powerful circles. It’s not just the money they make for their owners and trainers, it is who they are. They are elite athletes and the sight of them, in person, thundering down that track is exhilarating! It was nothing like the TAB TV’s blaring out of dingy shops on the street, it was classy, compelling action.
My little pair of flats in my handbag were complete genius. I walked back in comfort to our coach, feeling terribly sorry for all the ladies inching their way painfully along the track in their stilettos. It was a brilliant day and I loved it so much. Thanks so much bro, for flying me over to be your plus-one. Thanks Swire Shipping, for a beautiful couple of days in the big smoke. It was great to meet you all!
On Sunday I was flown to Sydney for the 2015 Autograph Curvy Model Search test shoot. I’ve written about what’s been happening here, here and here… and yesterday was the highlight of the amazing journey I have been on. It’s been so exciting! I know some of you are keen for the lowdown, so here’s a little peek into my day being an ‘international curvy model’ (squeeee!)
“Maybe you could just photoshop that arm,” I self-consciously joked with the Marketing Manager for Autograph. “No!” admonished Alexa, her corkscrew curls shaking emphatically, “We want real women!” and I fell in love with that lady right there and then.
There were three women on the monitor in front of us. One of them was me, 41, a wife, mumma and writer. My arms are roundy, like my Grandma’s used to be. Baker’s arms, dimpled and soft like a warm bun. Those arms make my embraces comforting. Then there’s Rowena, 25, a cop, daughter and girlfriend. Her tiny waist curves the way down to her voluptuous rear end. But hers is not a standard pear-shape figure, no… she’s all spicy pear! The kind of wiggle when she walks that makes all the guys look. And then there is Lauren, 26, a wife and mum to two under three, working for an airline. Cheekbones to make Pocahontas insecure and a figure with all the right oomph in all the right places, including a little curve on the tum, that beautiful space where she carried a baby just one year ago. Our ethnic backgrounds are diverse. I am a kiwi Pakeha. My genes fetching me down through generations from the viking clans, through the British Isles and to my Aoteoroa. Rowena is a Samoan Australian and Lauren, an multiracial-Australian. We are all testament to the antipodean pull of the decades; our families settled us in the lucky countries. We’re Tasman neighbours and new friends. We are every woman. Our bodies express our life experiences. We represent some of the vibrant spectrum of plus sized women down under.
Today, we’ve gathered here, from across Australia and New Zealand. Altogether we are ten, chosen from more than 4,500 entries. The studio space is incredible. Hanging plants and exposed brickwork in an impossibly funky foyer space. There’s a portrait photography exhibition in the foyer/cafe; the whole venue oozes artsy cool. Our studio is huge. A concrete curved backdrop arcs up the double height wall. The equipment is extraordinarily technical. When I first arrived and walked past all the monitors, lights, stands and foam partitions, I realised what an out-of-the-ordinary day awaited me.
Ahead of me, the other girls had swished into the waiting area. There were leather chairs and sofas, a big table, lighted makeup mirrors and all the trappings that attend a shoot. Clothing racks bedecked in bright summer colours, accessories in a jumble, a big bowl full of sparkling waters and Italian soda. The food had already begun to arrive. Sourdough with avocado, goats cheese, tomatoes and basil. Tiny little granola and yoghurt pots. Bamboo spoons. Fruit platters bigger than Carmen Miranda could handle.
It was all so chic!
I introduced myself to the makeup team and then to Nicola, the marketing rep from Autograph. She is all cool sophistication. Ruler straight caramel hair, groovy glasses, structured tunic, stovepipe crops and pretty flats. She is warm, too. Friendly and welcoming. I felt all fluttery and excited but also strangely relaxed. The atmosphere in the studio echoed the brand… all bright, comfy; happiness. I found myself exhaling and letting myself go with it all. I could barely believe I was really there.
The clothes I saw on the rack were my kinds of clothes. Tunics, floaty dresses, crop pants. There were the necklaces that help bigger girls achieve outfit balance. Clinky bracelets and dangly earrings. I was in my fashion comfort zone. And the colours! Deep cobalt and coral, apricot pink and sunshine yellow, jade and aquamarine. The happy colours of summer. I kept taking deep breaths and trying to memorise the moments before they slipped me by. I heard Richard the photographer asking about a light test, so I volunteered to step into the studio space. He sticks down two strips of tape on the floor (my ‘mark’) and I stand there, ready for him to set up his equipment. I love that moment, the first moment there in front of the camera.
He feels strangely close yet far away, a familiar stranger, connected to me via the invisible line between the camera’s lens and my iris. In the second the photographer bends to his lens, it’s just him and me. I am imagining what he is seeing. Smiling at him through the lens. I think, Hello over there, Richard! He smiles back.
After adjusting the flash and moving some of the foam walls, he said “Why don’t we just do this?” and that’s how it started, I was having my test shoot! I felt giddy with happiness, floating around my mark in a coral embroidered kaftan. I felt beautiful. Someone blew cool air towards me from a gap in the movable walls. It made my hair blow back from my face, just so. And the coolness was so welcome under the lights.
I still can’t get over being able to stand for this long. To feel the energy coursing through my body. It makes my heart sing, this freedom to move. It’s not that long ago that I could not have done this and the familiar gratitude fills my heart. It is so easy for me to smile. Who wouldn’t? The joy of life bubbles up and engulfs me. I want to giggle. A girly giggle for all the girly goodness I am experiencing. I am modelling! I am blown away by all this. So lucky. So incredibly grateful! For health, for opportunities, for this life of surprises and soulfood. Thank you, I think. Just thank you, for this. For all of this loveliness.
The day passed after that in a giddy blur. Two more shoots happened. I met my Australian modelling agent, Ekke, and the Vivien’s Model Management boss, Catherine. They felt like family within minutes. We talked about the lovely people at 62 Models in Auckland. We sipped on our Italian sodas and organic juices. A lavish lunch arrived. There was time to chat and selfie with all the girls; every one, a beauty, inside and out.
Every now and then I felt old. Eleven years separated me from the nearest in age to me. All the other girls were in their twenties, fresh of face and firm of curve. I felt a little intimidated in flashes, and then I just told my brain to shut up. It was the only way. To stop that inner critic so I could enjoy being myself. I’ve been practising it a lot more lately. Once I’d silenced my self-sabotage-software, I enjoyed just being there with them, sharing their youthful energy and infectious laughter. We all changed into a second outfit for a small group shoot. I was grouped with Rowena and Lauren, all of us in gorgeous summer dresses. It’s impossible not to feel breezy and beautiful in Autograph clothes. I linked arms with them and felt their warm energy, their hearts hammering in unison with mine in that small space. We joked with each other and the laughter came easy. I am glad I have had the chance to meet them. Impossibly lustrous hair, velvety skins, clear healthy eyes. There’s that familiar internal self pinching again. Was I really there with those beauties? It made me smile.
All of these women are not just beautiful because of their outward curvy lusciousness. They’re not just beautiful because of the expert hair and makeup attention they’ve received today. They’re beautiful because of the lives they live, the families they love, the work they do, the women they are. Like me, they’re representing every woman. Women like you. I wish I could have had you all there with me in that studio yesterday. I wish you, too, could have been treated to makeup artists and hair stylists and friendly warm people making you feel like a million bucks. You there, with the roundy arms, or defiant boobage. You, with the mumma tum, the wobbly bum. You are woman, and you are beautiful.
In the pink… an expression which describes the look of good health. But what if your health isn’t good? Can you still look gorgeous? My friend Kendall looks just like an exquisite porcelain lady doll. She is redefining what it means to be ‘in the pink’! She is one of the sickest people I know yet she blows my mind every time she posts a photo. So stunning! I am so delighted that she agreed to write a guest post for the ‘Meet my Peeps’ series, because I think her voice is so important. But it hasn’t been easy, since I asked her if she’d like to do a piece, she’s been in and out of hospital at least four times.
Kendall, I so appreciate the efforts it took to write this piece for my blog.
Thank you so much! x
And she is beautiful. Read on, all about her journey into better self esteem and how she expresses her individuality through beauty, fashion and social media…
Yes, let’s start this post bragging about what an inspiration I am and.. wait, what!? When did I suddenly become an inspiration? Beautiful? Confident? Calm? What’s all this about? Did someone start paying these people off?
Let’s rewind. My name is Kendall. I have a chronic illness. It sucks. I spend a lot of time in hospital and an obscene amount of time in bed. But I also like to play dress up, usually just to go to a doctor, hospital appointment or even just if I’m staying at home, seeing no one apart from my significant other for a couple of hours when he gets home from work. At first I never questioned why, I suppose it was because my appearance was one of the only things I still had control over. I’m no great beauty and I’d never been the type to dress up, let alone slather on a full face of makeup and prance (well, roll) around in pretty dresses just because it made me feel good about myself. I was the jeans and t-shirt girl. The girl people would laugh at if they saw me in a dress. I actually recall quite vividly a friend stopping me in the street one day. She had a good laugh that I, for some unknown reason, had chosen to wear a dress that day! I didn’t wear a dress again for years. The quintessential tomboy, the shy little wallflower that wanted to perfectly blend into her surroundings… that was me back when I was healthy.
If my past self could look at my current self, health issues aside, I imagine she’d screw up her nose, call me too girly and make fun of me. PINK hair? Pastel at that! A floofy cat dress, complete with a bow tie? And what’s with all this damn lace everywhere? It’s almost as if I’ve done a 180 in a couple of years. It all started when a group of wonderful friends from a support group got together to organise a hairdresser to come to my house. She dyed my hair a beautiful pastel pink that I had been considering for quite some time. I had just gotten an NG tube and was curious about this pretty pastel hair trend that was going around. In the back of my mind I wondered if I could be the girl with the pink hair, instead of the girl with the feeding tube hanging off her face. It worked, and it was probably the best thing that ever happened to my self-esteem. You may be able to tell from my mentions of wanting to be a wallflower but I was, and still am to an extent, a very timid girl. Standing out was not my thing. I’d never dare admit to wanting to wear those pretty, glittery shoes, that beautiful floral dress with lace inserts or that adorable clip on hair bow back then. They were for other people, no matter how much I lusted after them.
I believe that my chronic illness, starting with being brave enough to go ahead with the pink hair, opened up many doors for me in regards to my self-image and self-confidence. I’d lost so much. I felt there was nothing I could possibly gain after the trauma of losing my health, my job; my whole life, as I used to know it. Sounds overly dramatic but that’s what it was. A sudden onset for me. All my losses happened, quite literally, overnight. But out of this mess, I gained confidence. I finally gained the tools I needed to not care so very deeply about what people thought of me and how I appeared to the world because after what I’d been through, any opinions on something as superficial as my appearance could hardly mean much at all. Really, what’s someone asking if my hair colour was a dare? Not much compared to coding yet surviving on an operating table in the middle of a life-saving operation. At 30. Yeah, it’s totally incomparable.
With my slow but steadily rising new found confidence I started shyly posting selfies of myself when I was a bit dressed up. Selfies were not something I’d usually do! I’d always worry too much about people thinking I was narcissistic, or that I wasn’t pretty enough, and all those things that people with low self-esteem think. My confidence took off even more as I received a few compliments here and there and started connecting with the chronic illness community via social media through images. Images of the good times and the bad. The dreadful unwashed hospital selfies, the tubes, the lines, the scars …but also the nicer times, of dressing up, of makeup, of pretty hair and cute collectibles. I’d become this girl with the pastel pink hair, fancy dresses.. and a NG tube on my face. Somewhere in there, I finally found the confidence to be me even with a feeding tube prominently displayed! Without knowing it, seeming to also inspire some people along the way. No one just considers themselves inspiring and rarely sets out for that to be their goal. It just.. happened. In finding and helping myself, I’ve somehow helped other people and even if that’s only a couple of people in a small way, it’s certainly more than what I was doing before.
There are several movements with a focus on looking good or glamourous, even though you feel like you’re falling apart, that have taken off on social media. Karolyn Gehrig’s #HospitalGlam (and you can find her on Instagram @karolynprg) is the most widely known. Some other friends or followers have created their own hashtags or names for modelling while on bed rest, such as #bedrestmodelling. When not feeling too great, people are creating poignant portraits that are beautiful in many different ways. I definitely recommend checking out some of these hashtags if you own an Instagram account.
(Ed: and you can find Kendall’s instagram account here:@Kendelfe it’s a confection of pink!)
I personally just like to have fun with my style and there aren’t too many times where I’ll refuse to waste the extra energy into putting on the best damn dress I own, spending probably a little too much time on my makeup and stumbling into my doctor’s office or hospital appointment looking like I was going out somewhere special. Some people might say that their ‘spoons‘ might be spent better elsewhere and I can’t argue with that. Others may say that their doctor may not believe that they’re ill if they don’t look sick but my argument is that if you have a good doctor or specialist, they’ll know. My doctors know me well enough to know that if I’ve no makeup on then I’m not doing too good at all. One claims I have an “Emergency Department face” when I walk in and will know straight away when things aren’t looking too good for me, even if I am dressed up to the nines. I do believe that attention to presentation can play an important part when it comes to others seeing how to feel about yourself as a person, and in showing that you’re still you and (as @minadraculada said in one of the opening quotes to this article) that it’s not over bitches, that you’re still you, still have control and that you’re still standing.
In closing, I suppose I wanted to express how you can still make gains even when you’re quite severely ill, whether that be through your appearance and fashion, a new hobby, new found friends or something else. I also wanted to show that just because we feel ill doesn’t mean we need to act or look a certain way, the way society often portrays the disabled and/or ill. Show the world you’re still you, because you’re still beautiful even if your body might be a bit broken. My only regret through all this is that I didn’t find the confidence in my appearance that I have now back when I was healthy but ironically, if I had remained healthy, I probably wouldn’t have.
Thank you for reading, and thank you to the fabulous and always lovely Rach for posting my piece!
I sat yesterday morning in the infusion centre beside a beautiful woman called Christine.
We always try to sit together when our dates coincide in the infusion room at Auckland City Hospital. She goes more regularly than I do, for her regular vials of IV Immunoglobulin. Every fourth Monday since we first met, we’ve been sitting together while her IVIG boosts her fight against Myasthenia Gravis, and my Pulse Methylprednisolone suppresses the cause of my Pandysautonomia. She’s great company.
I am always impressed with Christine. In the face of some truly difficult and devastating challenges, she always looks beautiful and is beautiful. Carefully groomed, well dressed with such a warm and lovely nature. She always has a bag full of occupations to keep her busy. Yet, she makes time to chat, to ask how things are. She remembers my kid’s names and cares about what they’re up to. She works part time as an English tutor and is studying the Maori language in her spare time. She is a devoted mother and grandmother, wife, neighbour, online patient forum member, and friend to many. I honestly can’t comprehend how she manages all of those things, every day, and a severe chronic illness as well. But her example makes me want to be better at living with chronic illness. She has made me think more about all the things that we can try to do, to distract, manage, cope with and transcend chronic illnesses. She is one of the people I look to for guidance, carefully watching how they do it. There are some incredible people out there to learn from, I bet you know some too. You probably see one of my sources every time you look in the mirror!
Here are the 8 of most effective ways of overcoming I have observed in the world of chronic illness.
Knit, crochet, write, listen to music, paint, sew, create, play an instrument, make, or do whatever it is you can do within your ability. Remember the complete satisfaction of creativity? It’s transformative, distracting, wonderful. Listen to creative people talking about their creativity. Invite creative people over to teach you techniques. Watch YouTube tutorials. Do some online courses. Search for ideas. If you can, attend cultural events, musical recitals, the ballet, a musical, a movie festival, poetry reading, gallery or museum. If you can’t, visit them online.
Participate in the initiatives and events being organised by your patient groups on facebook and elsewhere. Get to know others. There is so much soul-food in the solidarity of people who have travelled the same paths as you. Engage with them. Help fundraise for research. Get the word out in whatever ways are available to you. Post, and comment in patient forums. Ask questions, help out with the knowledge you have gained on your journey already. Finding your tribe is so good for you. So affirming. And there are always avenues to be proactive about the circumstances chronic illness has given you. Being an involved member of society is a wonderful way to begin to overcome.
I have spent days that became weeks that became years, living in old jeans, t-shirts and sweat tops, or staying my PJs. It made me feel even more grey and unattractive. If you can manage it, find a position that works for you near a mirror and put on some makeup. Brush your hair and find something nice to wear, even if it is simply a favourite scarf. Sometimes, getting ready for the day, even if it is likely to be the same as yesterday, makes you feel a little brighter. I don’t understand the psychology of that, but it just somehow seems to work. When my Mum was battling ovarian cancer, she spent some time with the good people of the ‘Look Good, Feel Better’ Foundation. She came back armed with bags of goodies, a stunning make up look they had helped her to create and new ways of styling her headwear. She walked taller, smiled more and reported more energy when her lippy was on. It’s a kind of magic for the self esteem, somehow. A lesson I need to remember more often.
Get Outdoors or Bring it In
Even if getting out takes enormous scheduling, incredible effort and results in days of payback, try to get out when you can. Try to make it into the outdoors to look at the beauty of that sky, to breathe in that fresh air and feel a breeze on your cheek. Even rain feels incredible when you have been stuck inside for too long. I have never felt so amazing as when I floated in the warm sea on my back, blue sky above and white sand below. It’s so therapeutic. We are born for nature. If you are bed-bound, see if someone can bring you something beautiful from outside from time to time. My kids have always been so lovely with this. A cicada shell, a posy of autumn flowers, a droopy dandelion seed head with all the wishes, wished. Treasures from outside to hold and to take your mind out there. Maybe you miss seeing all that beauty for yourself and it’s impossible. Take a look at my photo series from Be Couper: How to Just Be. She has generously shared some of her stunning photography for my readers to lose themselves in, when nature needs to come to you.
Reading, listening to audio books and watching television series or movies will take you places! Overcome your reality with a healthy dose of fiction. It’s brilliant to vicariously live the experiences you can’t easily have. Audio books are particularly helpful because you don’t have to lift the book or strain your eyes. Libraries usually have a good stock that you can order. Sometimes even online! The Book Depository has free worldwide shipping and a staggering range of titles if you prefer to buy. When I really want to get outside of myself, I call a close friend or family member overseas and indulge in a long chat. Imagining the things they tell me about, where they are, how it looks, how it feels. It’s armchair travel with the joy of connection. Bliss.
…because laughing raises your endorphins and happy hormones can’t help but leave you, happy! Watch the comedy channel. Listen to children talking amongst themselves or playing games. Be silly. Pull faces and do funny accents. We have a dress-up box and nothing makes the kids giggle so much as coming home to find mummy in an odd wig. Wear crazy things, if that is your thing. Listen to podcasts from clever comedy writers. Read funny blogs. Let your children choose your clothes for a day. Google jokes on subjects that you find funny. Tell them to people. Recall funny memories and tell them to the kids. Friends. The nurse. And when you laugh, make it big! Breathe deeper, laugh louder, linger longer on the funny bit. It’s good for you.
Chronic Illness teaches us so much. We often would rather skip the lesson, thanks. But we get it. And consequently, we ‘get’ a lot about life; about what is important. About how to truly love. About patience, compromise, honesty and communication. Be generous with that hard-fought wisdom. Be a good listener. Do you have a talent or skill that you can offer? A wonderful person I know is severely debilitated by her illness. She volunteered to cut up blankets for the SPCA. Because she could do that.
Do the household tasks around you that are achievable. Fold those clothes. Chop the veggies in your bedroom or set-up on the kitchen floor. Whatever works for you. Maybe there is something else you can think of that you could do for someone? Find ways to tell people how much you appreciate them. Because being generous is one of the ways that human beings become happy. If you can’t give of your energy; you can give of your heart.
Find Your Thing
All of these strategies are things I have observed in people I admire with chronic illness. Some of them work for me too. But for me, the greatest of all is writing. It is my favourite overcoming tool. Writing a blog is a focused habit of writing that I use as my therapy, my release, my way to help, my journey to memory, my connection with my community. If you would like to try blogging too, I recommend it. It can open doors you might never imagine. Being part of the blogging community has also introduced me to some of my favourite regular blog reads. It has given me a format for my research and learning around Dysautonomia and an avenue for meeting people I may never have met if I hadn’t begun to write. I can’t thank Kylie at Rainbows and Clover enough for starting me back at the keyboard, or my fellow Dysautonomiac, Michelle Roger, for sparking this blog by doing such a rad job of her own. And of course… Pip Lincolne for teaching me how to make it happen! I hope that someone else out there might find the spark too. It’s helping me overcome, every day. Ask me about it! I have an online course recommendation! 😉
Whatever methods you employ, don’t give up. There are always, ways to overcome.
Have I missed some good ones?
How do you distract yourself from the daily realities of chronic illness?
…and Christine? You are doing brilliantly. Thankyou for being such a stoic, thoroughly great person to infuse and enthuse with. Kia Kaha. Stand Tall.
NB. to my shame, this one of the only Maori phrases I know, but it is useful and pertinent for a girl like me, I use it all the time!
Yesterday was my birthday… I turned 28. In hexadecimal “nibbles”.
(google it, hexadecimals are kinda cute).
But back to the story…
…my friend Flo came and picked me up and took me to the mall. The scooter hire girl remembered me and I got the highly coveted Scooter Number One. It is zippier, better at stopping when you ask it to, and the side mirrors don’t flop down all over your handbag. Score! I tootled around a few shops high on the joy of a birthday and time with Flo. I tried not to be distressed that I couldn’t even get down the lingerie aisles in Farmers Department Store. I figured I didn’t really need a birthday bra. I smiled anyway at the shop girl near the fitting rooms in Esprit when she said it might be easier to shop online. It might. But it isn’t as much fun as shopping with Flo. And why shouldn’t I enjoy a bit of retail therapy? Then I dropped Flo off for her appointment at the makeup counter. I should be, er… more into makeup… but the bookshop was just down one floor and it is an unfair competition! Hmmm… makeup, books, makeup, books. It’s really no competition between makeup and books. A hole was burning in my pocket. For my birthday I’d been given a cool hundy, and I was thinking about the delicious potential to drop it exclusively on BOOKS! Squeee!
I scootered down there faster than you can say ‘tortoise’. A few aeons later, I arrived. Mobility scooters have a speed switch that ranges from slow (a tortoise icon) to fast (you guessed it, a hare)… but even at hare-speed, it takes a looong time to get anywhere. In the front of the bookstore of choice, Whitcoulls, they have some displays of new releases. My twitchy fingers were eager to pick up the first one I could see. I liked the title, ‘Gone Girl’. But the angled display tables made it impossible for me to pull up alongside on my scooter. I did a sleek little (sixteen point!) turn and tried to reverse in. I banged the corner of the table. A Whitcoull’s employee looked across at me, arched her eyebrow and walked off in the opposite direction. I reached for the book. It was 5cm out of my grasp. There was no room to ease myself off the scooter and stand to give myself more reach. Had I had room, I’d have been able to do that. But it occurred to me in that moment, that many people in wheel chairs can’t stand to get to things out of reach; what would they do in this situation? I looked around for the employee, hoping for some help. She was gone, girl.
I was not going to be deterred. A hundred to spend on books is one of the greatest gifts of all time. I wasn’t going to let a bookshop girl with her archy eyebrows get the better of me. I gave my embarrassment a silent talking-to and manoeuvred out of the space. At the back of the store, the wall is lined with authors from A-Z. I wouldn’t have a spotlight on the newest, but I might find some gems. I set my course for the rear. Half way on the dial between tortoise speed and hare speed. I was veritably hurtling, turtle-style. The aisles in Whitcoulls do fit a scooter if it is going straight down the middle. Sadly, turning is not optional. People on mobility devices clearly shouldn’t want to browse in bookstores. There are artfully arranged stacks of merchandise on the floor at the corners of all of the aisles. The Little Yellow Digger-gift-boxed-set display met Scooter Number One as I attempted to round the corner. Scooter, 1, Diggers, 0. A mother in the same aisle helped me by picking them up (thank you anonymous mother).
I spent half an hour in Whitcoulls. I looked for help no less than fifteen times. Help to reach down titles I couldn’t reach, help with the infernal aisle corner displays. Help finding the poetry section. I saw three more staff members. All three saw me and changed direction. No one offered to help. The crickets chirped. When your eyes are not at the height of standing people, it is quite hard to get eye contact. When you are down that low, even a wave can be lost behind a bookshelf. My hundred dollars hid deeper into my pocket. No party for it, today.
I lost my desire to purchase books from that store. I threw the scooter into reverse. It has a really high pitched reversing beep. It’s an incredibly annoying sound. I left it in reverse long enough for archy eyebrows girl to give me one last look. I accelerated past one last corner display. I may have *cough* inadvertently disturbed its symmetry. I left the store. In my imagination I looked a bit like a speedy hare, leaving a cloud of dust in my wake. In truth, it was a less dramatic exit. Think, slo-mo. But the expression on my face remained steely resolute. I patted my pocket. That’s a hundred bucks you don’t get today, Whitcoulls. And then, I was a gone girl, too.
So my post about my birthday books is postponed. …maybe there is a bookstore out there who wants my custom, even if I am not walking on two feet.
I sent the people at Whitcoulls a link to my post as soon as it went up. Very quickly Diane got back to me. I am very grateful for such a timely response and so glad that the store will look into ways to improve customer service for people on mobility devices. Thank you, Whitcoulls.
This is what she wrote: Thanks for touching base and sharing your in store experience with us. It is disappointing that we have not been able to deliver the customer experience you, and every customer, deserves. There is nothing better than browsing books especially in the excitement of birthday present shopping. I will be passing this information onto our Store Manager to ensure they can look into this situation and how they can use this to improve their customer service.
In the meantime, I would love to extend a birthday present to you from Whitcoulls. If you are still interested in the Gone Girl Book, I would love to send you a copy along with a $20 Whitcoulls Gift Card that may enhance your birthday spending money. If you can send us your courier address and we will arrange to get this out to you.