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Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2020: Transcript of Our Podcast Interview With Perito Prize 2020 Runner Up – Lucy Grace

Perito Prize 2020: Transcript of Our Podcast Interview With Perito Prize 2020 Runner Up – Lucy Grace

 

You can find the audio version of this excellent interview with Keshe on our podcast host https://www.buzzsprout.com/507109/6577582 and its available on all podcast sites like Apple and Spotify.

 

Perito:     Welcome to Episode 2 of the Perito Prize Podcast 2020. A special Podcast series all about celebrating the writing and creativity for this year’s Perito prize and anthology.  Now in this episode we are pleased to be joined by Lucy Grace, the writer of the second place story for the Perito Prize 2020.  Lucy wrote the short story “Mary Poppins was Wrong about Pie Crust” which can be found in the journal section of the Perito website and was selected by the Judges as the runner-up story for this year.  Hi Lucy and welcome to the Podcast now before we kick off let’s get a warmup question on the grill for you.  Lucy what is more important, and I guess from a teaching perspective you’ll probably be more familiar with this than most, ambition, talent or opportunity, kind of luck in there as well.

Lucy:        Well I once heard somebody say that hard work is never accidental and I thought yes you’re so right on that so while people must have a little bit of talent, some basic skills, I think if you work hard enough I do believe that you make your own luck into opportunity and while I think people have more obstacles and another I think optimism and persistence and just kind of getting your head down and getting on with it will help people get wherever they want to be.

Perito:     (1.16) What made you enter the prize and how did you find out about it in the first place?

Lucy:        Well I love writing stories, I write lots of short stories and flash fiction and I like writing stories in different people’s voices because it’s too easy to fall into writing the same story over and over again, so I decided to have a little experiment and tried to write in a man’s voice, who was 40 and have a little, and try that and then on Twitter, I’m on Twitter and that is the only social media I do I don’t do any Facebook or anything else there’s a really supportive writing community it’s really inclusive and I’ve made some really good friends on there, I’ve never met them, made some really good friends, somebody posted on there, “look at this, this is a great competition for a good cause won’t don’t you have a try” so I looked it up followed the link and found it and thought, yeah that’s right up my street, so I can trial my story out, write a story with this competition in mind.

Perito:     (2.13) That’s brilliant I’m really glad you did because I think it’s a really interesting story, well we’ll come to the kind of like the general tone and feel about it but some people may not have read your story yet so tell us about what it’s about and why Mary Poppins was wrong about pie crust?

Lucy:        Okay well the title came to me near the end of the story and it does fit really well when you’ve heard the story or read the story I think, it’s about Martin, the main character whose a quirky 40 year old man, he lives alone, he lives in the house that he use to share with his granddad and you don’t really know much about his background other than it has a flavour of perhaps not being a very happy background but Martin doesn’t realise that, his quirks are I think that he’s got a few traits of what we could say are ASC and he’s probably on the Autistic Continuum but I don’t think he’s realised, he’s really happy with his general life but he is non-plussed about a lot of things that happened to him so the things about his granddad, I wanted to, I didn’t want to, I don’t want a depressing story I want Martin to be the hero of the story but the story’s got a bit of pathos because he says things like, you know some days he didn’t speak to anybody because he got a free bus pass and a free school dinner pass and free milk coupons so nobody needs to speak to him and that’s better that nobody has to speak to you cos he can just have a pass and now he has a job and he has a work place around his middle so that gets him into the building and he doesn’t have to speak to anybody even now.  So I wanted to write about that but I wanted to think about what the good things that he’s had in his life and how he can recreate them in a world which he doesn’t necessarily understand or is at one with, the world’s a bit of a mystery to him particularly social relationships, emotional relationships.  The one thing he remembers from his granddad was how to make pie crust, his granddad use to make pies and he remembers that and his granddad use to give him bits of advice, he’s remembered that and in the end it’s that that’s his way that becomes his communication, and it’s the way eventually he communicates enough with somebody lovely to find his eventual partner.

Perito:     (4.11) Now there’s a lot about people nicking things from fridges, food from fridges.

Lucy:        (laughter)

Perito:     (4.15) Is this something that happens at work, have you got experience of this?

Lucy:        Well no I haven’t, I mean everybody if you work in a communal place with a communal kitchen there is always about the communal kitchen, everybody has an opinion and in a workplace, in a group of colleagues there is usually somebody who will clean it up, somebody who leaves it in a mess, somebody whose food rots at the end of the fridge for weeks until somebody throw it out, lots of miscellaneous Tupperware, you know there is always a thing about the kitchen because I think the kitchen is usually a private space for your house, your home and when you go to work you’re forced to share with people that you wouldn’t normally share with, I suppose it’s like the same as a house share or a flat share the kitchen is always a bone of contention and I think for Martin who lives his routines very orderly, with a very orderly life in his kitchen at home this is a point, a place where he finds a lot of stress in the workplaces in the kitchen.

Perito:     (5.11) Yeah and I think he might be not alone certainly in the corporate environments I’ve worked in.

Lucy:        (laughter)

Perito:     (5.16) (laughter) I kind of formed the character in my head when I was reading it a bit of a Steve Carrell type guy going on with this one and as I worked it through I kind of see his narration in the background and you saw he’s got a very comic and methodical tone to it which is an excellent reflection of the character they deliberately constructed here and what made you think about writing it in the first place?

Lucy:        I think I enjoyed the character of Eleanor Oliphant when she was written particularly in the opening of the book and I wanted to write a male character who might have Autistic traits and to look at how that would work, I live and work with people on the Continuum and there’s lots of moments where you just have to laugh at their response to a regular situation or you’d just cry, so you just think, yeah how did you get to that point from what I’ve just said or what’s just happened, I think all of us have got traits in us we just don’t want to admit it and I wanted to write a warm, funny story and Martin was the star of it and you were on his team right from the start even though he’s probably quite a unusual colleague, I wouldn’t say difficult he’s probably unusual and I imagine that everybody he comes into contact with whether it’s the bus driver, the person in the paper shop, his colleagues, they know him and ??6.39 oh yes Martin but I wanted to him write him as the hero I think as a star and he is very funny without really realising it I think yeah.

Perito:     (6.45) Now as you know the Perito prize is about inclusion access, inclusive environments, did you find the topic difficult to write about even though you’re amongst people from a work and social point of view?

Lucy:        No I didn’t at all really, it didn’t, it was never a thing, it didn’t make it the competition, the theme wasn’t different to me I think I have, like I say I’ve got some quirky family members older than me, younger than me as a primary teacher you’re surrounded by unusual thinking and I’ve been a SENCO teacher for about 10 years and so I understand that really well, I choose that in my life, I think it adds to my life and I understand completely how, you know toilets can smell purple so children will choose not to use them or people speaking riddles because nobody understands what each other mean, how you don’t understand people’s non-verbal q’s?? or the words they say make no sense so why would you even bother listening to them.  So I think, yeah I understand that and I think it’s really interesting, why is it wrong that you want to drink out of the same glass every day or sit in the same seat every day or cut your sandwiches exactly the same size every day I think that’s okay there’s room in the world for that, so I think that’s just interesting to talk about and like I say I think everybody, when you really get down to it and people start to talk about it everyone has particular fixed behaviours and traits they just don’t always share them.

Perito:     (8.01) Absolutely and this is exactly what this prize is all about, kind of bringing to light the fact that we’re all very, very similar in our differences.

Lucy:        Yes.

Perito:     (8.11) And it’s a celebration of that but what is the most valuable thing for you specifically about going through this writing process?

Lucy:        I think I didn’t have to work very hard but I was very conscious of writing the story where the difference in Martin, I wanted him to have a difference but I didn’t want the difference to be the point of the story to be the thing that carried the story, it was important to make him lovely enough so that the lovely Jo would choose him and so the other characters around them I want them to be the unkind, unthinking idiots, so the people who are kind of neuro typical that surround him in the workplace I want them to kind of be the baddies in the story and for him to be the person that’s speaking sense, which doesn’t seem to happen enough I think in the real world.

Perito:     (8.55) So has this prize made you think differently about how inclusive and accessible the world we live in actually is? and I think I know the answer to that questions from your previous answers but it would be good to hear you draw that our a little.

Lucy:        Yeah sure I think it’s too easy to forget when we’re faced with a roomful of friends or colleagues or students, each of them is bringing something with them, so everybody comes from a different background and I think people are too quick to judge particularly in the world of social media, it’s too easy to be unkind I think, to fix your opinion really early on, on one thing and I think that I would like the world to be more inclusive and accessible and I think we should all allow people some more room really to forgive them and anxieties and their fixed behaviour and work with them as they are and I think the reason that I wrote about kind of an invisible difference is because I think it’s particularly difficult with people with an invisible difference to be treated you know accordingly and think you know I wouldn’t ask a person with physical difficulties to suddenly perform a physical task in front of a room of strangers, if it was something they were unable to do but asking someone with ASC differences to act outside their comfort zone or their capabilities it’s exactly the same and I think people don’t acknowledge that enough because people don’t want to wear the label that says, I act differently, I think differently, I behave differently, my brain puts things in a different order in my head and I think because people don’t know that sometimes then I think it’s, the world can be hard I think if you’ve got an invisible different.

Perito:     (10.22) What always strikes me when I go around doing my work is I tend to ask people about how many people within their immediate circle are or have had either an impairment or a disability and generally the response comes either themselves as an individual or a very close parent family member within the immediate circle and then there’s normally a couple of people in like maybe the friendship or the wider family group, everybody can relate to something with a lived experience.

Lucy:        Yeah.

Perito:     (10.50) Which has either generated some sort of sense of exclusion or simply failure to appreciate the individual’s differences and neuro diversity, I’m always kind of surprised at how coming back to Martin about even the baddy characters in the story will be probably going home and looking after a child with a disability perhaps, maybe a grandparent or a parent with Dementia and it seems to be for me kind of the failure to understand that what’s also affecting you is also going on in other people’s lives.

Lucy:        Yeah.

Perito:     (11.23) Tends to be the thing I’m most surprised by and having to constantly remind people actually you know what you’re not so different it’s time to celebrate the uniqueness but also appreciate everybody else is most likely going through something similar.

Lucy:        Yeah I think that certainly would lead to a happier workplace and a happier learning environment I think.

Perito:     (11.42) So what happened to Martin next, that’s what I was kind of interested to know, where did you see his career going and what happened to him, have you written any more masked stories?

Lucy:        I haven’t no, I’m not sure, I wanted to, I hadn’t considered writing anymore because I think I wanted him to be together with kind of the mysterious lovely Jo from the paper shop who he ends up with and she is clearly accommodating to him, I haven’t really written her as a big character other than that she just accepts him how he is I think, it’s the simplicity of her character I really like that she just says, he goes in a paper shop and he’ll pay with one coin and it’s 20p his newspapers or 50p and when it goes up he’s going to have to buy another newspaper that he doesn’t like with too many parts to it.

Perito:     (laughter)

Lucy:        He doesn’t have to read them all just so he can pay with one coin because he can’t bear the thought of having to hang around and get change it would just mess up his system so he just has to pay with a coin and I think that she just understands that and that’s fine and so she doesn’t use too many words, she doesn’t complicate him, she just answers what he says, it’s a very simple but profound connection that they’ve made and I almost don’t want to explore that in case it spoils it, I like the fact that they’re just out there now living it alongside each other and one day he’s gonna be brave enough to tell him, one day he’ll think, he’s not brave, one day he’s gonna tell her about his granddad and the pie crusts and secrets and things but nothing really important but just so she knows and that’s such a massive statement for somebody whose lived such a solitary life, I just, I love the ending, I had the ending about half way through and I thought that’s where I need them to get to this point so they can end at this point.

Perito:     (13.13) I did find some sort of similarities to, do you remember the television show Monk, it’s about a neuro diversion detective in San Francisco.

Lucy:        Right I don’t think I do, no.

Perito:     (13.23) And he kind of had the same kind of everything had to be perfectly clean, everything, and actually his neuro divergence actually added up to him to be able to do the job as well as he did do, he was a private kind of detective consultant.

Lucy:        Yes, yes, yes absolutely.

Perito:     (13.37) So I could see that with Martin how actually he can, he could, he’s got so much value there hasn’t he in terms of his attention to detail and his, again his methodical approach to life everything was quite relaxing reading what he was saying.

Lucy:        Yeah absolutely I think that if you look in a lot of trades and kind of areas of employment there is a particular type of neuro divergence cos everybody’s different, there are lots of different styles of non-neuro typical people and I think that they do find often a home and clustered together in a profession that really suits them and whose to say that that’s not okay, so it’s unkind that scientists often are boffins, scientist, a boffin is somebody who’s got a very methodical, structured way of thinking and of reporting without kind of going off plan but they also have a kind of a weird opening side to their brains sometimes people who are not neuro typical where their creativity where anything is possible and I love that, that’s just like being a 5 year old all over again, so you can just open your brain sideways??14.31 and say, “well why haven’t we tried this”, and people that perhaps are neuro typical who think in straight lines all the time don’t have that kind of capacity and don’t, and I think that’s something to be valued, I think I’m all for thinking sideways and thinking why not rather than why do we have to.

Perito:     (14.50) Well I was going to say while you were talking there I was thinking about creativity and how neuro divergence can allow the innovation and creativities to flourish because you’re producing something that other people are just quite thinking the same way and I think as we go forward, I think business and certainly the economy needs to start celebrating that neuro divergence so that we can bring new products to market for people who might be excluded communities who are maybe thinking differently about stuff, cos if we do the same things all the time we know certainly from a teaching perspective it gets boring and ends up not working.

Lucy:        Yes, yeah I really do I think it’s just important to give people a voice and I think that there’s been a change, I’m not sure how yet but I think the whole, the shifts to working from home for a lot of people has actually been a really good thing, I think whilst there is a lot of worry about people’s mental health often I think it’s more neuro typical people’s mental health who are missing the workplace, I think people who struggle leaving the house to go to work have suddenly been given a new lease of life and they can do their job just as well at home and without the added stress and strain and the exhaustion and the mental toil of actually leaving the house, going on public transport, getting to a workplace, being with people, trying to focus on the job with the noise and the colour and the smells and the things that aren’t okay and then coming home again and then coming again and then closing the front door and thinking thank goodness I’m back and that will happen again to them tomorrow, and the next day and the next day, you know, that level of anxiety is exhausting and I think that while people yes are saying it’s difficult for people’s mental health because they can’t go to work there is a whole other slice of the population who is just thriving on being at home.

Perito:     (16.30) Yeah not having to put up with the complexities of the workplace definitely.

Lucy:        Yes I think so.

Perito:     (16.36) Finally any recommendations or tips for people entering next year’s competition?

Lucy:        Oh, I think right opening, right openly, cheerfully, maybe, good stories will often have a character so if you could think of a character a person you know or you’ve known why did you admire them, what did they overcome, what did they live with and write about, you know start with the people first I think and don’t put people into predictable little boxes, let them live the fullest life they possibly can and write about that.

Perito:     (17.05) That’s good advice, great, thank you Lucy, so it’s been brilliant to find more about you and your story but now it’s time to sign off and tell listens about the upcoming anthology which will be available from Amazon around the world and an audio book which will feature Lucy’s work alongside a variety of other entries from the 2020 competition, it will be available on Audible and other audio book sites.  Thanks again to our special guest Lucy Grace, thanks Lucy.

Lucy:        Thank you, thank you very much.

Perito:     Our runner up and creator of the brilliant short story “Mary Poppins was Wrong about Pie Crust”.  You’ve been tuning into the Perito Prize 2020 Podcast Special Edition, thanks for listening everyone, everywhere.

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Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2020 – Third Place: ‘The Little Black Stool’ By Fatema Matin

THE LITTLE BLACK STOOL

By Fatema Matin

 

When people think of accessibility, they may think of sophisticated software or state-of-the-art technology. They may think of equipment that changes lives in previously unimaginable ways and therefore equipment that is expensive. However, accessibility tools don’t always need to be complex. Sometimes, they can be as simple as a little black stool.

The little black stool that lived in our kitchen was like a member of the family. Well, it was to me at least. It was about fifteen centimetres high and I grew up using it every day. The top of the stool was designed with a pattern of circular holes and it had four reliable, stubby legs. It was made of cheap plastic, so it wasn’t worth much in terms of money but when we moved house twenty years ago there was no question of forgetting the stool and leaving it behind. The stool came with us. Whenever I needed to wash my hands or wash the dishes or help with the cooking the stool was there. Whenever I needed to reach up to put something away or to get something down, the stool was there ever loyal, ever helpful. I loved that stool. It meant a lot to me because I have Turner’s Syndrome and kyphoscoliosis which make me shorter than average. When you are shorter than normal, a stool like that is the best tool you can have.

But one day, my big brother stepped on it (the blob!) and it snapped into pieces. The stool died an unnecessary death after a long term of faithful service and my heart was broken into as many pieces as the stool. Slightly ridiculous, I know. We had another stool in the kitchen, but it just wasn’t the same. It was completely the wrong height! When I stood on it I was raised two feet above the ground! It’s kind of hard to explain but when you stand that high above the ground, you physically can’t bend your knees to reach the sink or the counter without the threat of unbalancing and slipping off. I also didn’t need to be two foot in the air every time I wanted to reach the lowest shelf of the cupboard- my family were mindful enough at least, to put most of what I used on a daily basis there. The only other option was to kneel on the stool for prolonged periods of time to be at the right height. but that was uncomfortable! My knees began to hurt so I stopped.

My brother didn’t see fit to replace the stool and no one else missed it like I did- no one else needed it quite like I did- so I wasn’t allowed to complain about it. Instead of replacing it myself- after all, I wasn’t the one who broke it- I do the stubborn thing and force myself to manage without it. My elbows may be by my shoulders, or I may be kneeling on the stool in front of the cooker flames just so that I can see into the cooking pot, but I still do everything that I need to do.

I guess that I’ve always been a bit stubborn. I remember, when I took a GCSE in Textiles, I reached the medals of the sewing machines reasonably well and got on with my practical work just fine. This made me so happy because I felt almost the same as all of my peers in the class. However, the technology department saw fit to arrange for the construction of a wooden pallet which slotted under the desk onto the floor. There was no need for me to feel quite as targeted by this as I did because the wooden block was meant to make the equipment more accessible to me by raising the pedal. It was meant to be a positive thing. Unfortunately, at the time, I couldn’t see it that way. I couldn’t help but feel singled out and I cried tears of shame. Needless to say, I refused to use it. I never touched it. Not even once. I told you I was stubborn.

It’s a pity because something I would have appreciated would have been making the jigsaw in the Resistant Materials Room more accessible. I learned for the first time how to utilise the incredibly sharp rotating blade which moved at incredibly fast speeds. There I would be, kneeling on a stool so that I could see what I was doing and be able to move the object forward towards the blade at the correct angle. The jigsaw was fastened to the counter and if you didn’t hold the material you were using tightly enough, the object you were holding would escape from you and rattle alarmingly around the teeth of the saw. My fear was one that one day I would get startled and topple off the stool backwards, injuring myself in the process. I felt confined and less mobile kneeling on the stool and I didn’t even want to think about falling forward onto the jigsaw! It just occurs to me now to wonder why I never spoke up. Why didn’t I say something about my struggle that a low stool would have alleviated? Things would have been a lot easier. I think that I’m just so used to getting on with the resources that are already available in all parts of my life rather than go out of my way to get what I need. Get a suitcase down from the top of my wardrobe? No problem. Put a board game back on top of my mother’s wardrobe? No sweat. It’ll be difficult but I get things done. Just don’t ask me how.

Anyway, that was thirteen years ago. The stool-less situation continued until my older sister Aysha glanced at me one day recently and asked me what I had been doing.
“I was washing the dishes,” I replied.
“Yes, but why is your chest wet Fatema?” she wondered curiously.
“That’s what happens when you’re shorter,” I sighed miserably.
My older sister is married and she has lived in her own house for about five years now. The next time I went to stay over at her house after we had this conversation, I noticed something new in the kitchen- a low stool, about fifteen centimetres high. I used it every day. No longer did I have to drag a heavy, solid wooden chair from the living room to the kitchen every time that I wanted to reach ingredients for myself and cook or bake. Everything that I needed to do in her kitchen, I could do more comfortably.

Then, each time I returned home, I would return to a kitchen where even getting a glass for water was sometimes slightly less than straightforward. You see, the tall stool is sometimes moved from the kitchen- I’ve yet to know why the person who removes it doesn’t put it back- so that when I need it, it isn’t there. I would get so frustrated that rather than hunting it down and fetching it back myself, I would place a foot on the washing machine door thereby raising myself to reach a glass from the cupboard. Okay, I’ll be honest, at other times I would just be frustrated at being so small.  At those times, dragging the tall stool across the kitchen annoyed me. To get myself a glass, I would disregard it and place my foot on the washing machine door anyway.
My older brother got irritated when he caught sight me doing this because he thought that I would break the washing machine door over time (I won’t). He told me never to do it again but he never once considered my need for that little black stool. I doubt he even remembers that it existed which makes me furious because I think about it every day. I don’t feel comfortable enough to request that my family leave a glass on the draining board at all times for me to access.
“Sure,” I thought bitterly, “I’ll stop stepping on the washing machine when I stop being so short or when I stop being frustrated about it.”

I hate being so short. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t want to learn how to drive. When I catch the bus, I’m the same as every other passenger travelling alongside me, but the thought of getting into a car especially adapted for me makes me feel embarrassed about myself and different from other drivers in an awfully obvious way that makes me squirm. People think that you get used to being short just because you’re born that way but it’s been more than quarter of a century and I haven’t gotten used to it yet so I’m pretty sure that I never will. I know that I should be more grateful. After all, people need all sorts of accessibility equipment to move, talk, hear, see and even simply to breathe. However, maybe I could take some steps towards being patient. I’m going to stop stepping on the washing machine from now on. I could find a driving instructor to accommodate me…and maybe, just maybe, I’ll even let go of my stubbornness and buy a little stool.

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Perito Prize Winners

A Thank You From Changing Places – The Perito Prize Charity 2019

 

 

Dear Perito Prize Winners & Competition Entrants,

We are delighted to to receive the donation of £100 from the sale of the Perito Prize Anthology 2019 to Muscular Dystrophy UK. We know we can beat muscle-wasting conditions more quickly by working together so thank you for all your support. Please extend our thanks to everyone who supported and contributed so kindly towards this.

Muscular Dystrophy UK know that every day counts for people with progressive conditions. That’s why we fund pioneering research to improve the lives of people today and transform those of future generations. And why we’re driving change so that muscular dystrophy becomes better recognised, people get the best care and support and potential therapeutic drugs reach people faster.

With your support we can be here for everyone affected today, tomorrow and every next day. Together we will bring forward the day when we beat muscular dystrophy.

If you have any questions about previous or future donations, please call our fundraising hotline on 0300 012 0172 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm).

Thank you again for your generous support.

Kind regards

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Perito Prize Winners

Introduction To The Judges of 2020’s Perito Prize

The Perito Prize welcomes 3 new judges for the 2020 competition. Find out more about them in this article.

 

Caroline Casey
Caroline Casey founder of the Valuable500
Caroline Casey. Founder Of the Valuable500.

Caroline Casey is an award-winning social entrepreneur and founder of The Valuable 500 – a catalyst for an inclusion revolution that exists to position disability equally on the global business leadership agenda.

Committed to building a global movement on inclusive business for the 1.3 billion people in the world with a disability, over the past two decades she has set up several organisations and initiatives centred on disability business inclusion.

Her latest initiative, The Valuable 500, is a campaign to get 500 businesses to commit to put disability inclusion on their leadership agendas.  Launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Summit in 2019, Casey succeeded in bringing disability inclusion onto the main stage at DAVOS for the first time ever with the support of global business leaders.

The Valuable 500 is supported by a host of global leaders including Sir Richard Branson, and Paul Polman, and global brands including Microsoft and Sky.

Caroline is also a TED speaker, Ashoka Fellow, Eisenhower Fellow, a past advisor for the Clinton Global Initiative, a One Young World Counsellor and is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum. Check out here website here www.thevaluable500.com

You can hear more from Caroline on the Perito podcast.

 

 

 

Abby Crawford
An image of Abby Crawford who won the Perito Prize 2019 and is a judge on the 2020 Perito Prize
Abby Crawford, Winner Of The Perito Prize 2019

Abby was the winner of the 2019 Perito Prize with the story ‘Leg User’, inspired by a family friend whose accessibility trials and tribulations could form a novel (if only she had the time to write it!) She heads up the Equalities Team at the London Fire Brigade, working with staff to create inclusive cultures across London’s fire stations.  She is an avid outdoor swimmer, enjoys creative writing and lives in London with her partner and their poodle, Debs.

Check out Abby’s appearance on the Perito podcast too.

 

 

 

Gavin Neate
A portrait of Gavin Neate founder of Neatebox
Gavin Neate Founder Of Neatebox

Gavin’s background with Guide Dogs UK as a Mobility Instructor for 18 years led him to building a comprehensive knowledge of visual impairment and the wider disability sector along with an ever increasing interest in assistive technology. His mission is to create a truly scalable and sustainable organisation that provides solutions to the challenges faced by our society. He wants to build smart solutions based on the challenges disabled people face every day.

Neatebox have two key products. The Welcome App and Button. Which you can find out more about here https://www.neatebox.com.

You can also catch Gavin discussing his work and products on the Perito ‘Our World. Without Boundaries’ Podcast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Blog Perito Prize Winners

The 2019 Anthology Is Now Available To Buy Or Download from Amazon Bookstore & Kindlestore!

The Anthology is now available to buy from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle from here. This year we will support the charity that campaigns for fully accessible toilets called Changing Places.

You can find out more about them here. They have a range of interesting resources including the Toilet Map –  http://www.uktoiletmap.org/ – and they can be found on twitter here if you would like to follow them.

We’ll keep you updated on how much we make but in the meantime if you want to read some great short stories and support an excellent organisation which campaigns for one of the ultimate fundamental rights, then head over to Amazon, buy a book or download the kindle book (get through every page so we can earn more money for the charity) and post a review which will, hopefully, support and recognise our amazing creative talent who have put their work out there for us to enjoy.

 

The Perito Team

 

 

 

 

 

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Perito Prize Winners

The Perito Prize 2020 opens from the 1st of January 2020

After a wonderful collection of stories for 2019. The Perito Team invite you to submit your entry for the 2020 competition from the 1st of January 2020. The event closes, as usual, in October 2020 with the Anthology likely out for Christmas.

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Perito Prize Winners

The Spirit Can’t Be Confined – A Musical Reading by Margarita Meklina & Maja Elliot

A Musical Reading of the Short Story ‘The Spirit Can’t Be Confined’ By The Author Margarita Meklina

Margarita Meklina, awarded second place in the Perito Prize 2019, has been kind enough to produce and perform in a reading of her short story ‘The Spirit Can’t Be Confined’. This isn’t just any old reading though because alongside story writing Margarita also has a talent for music so she has got together with long time collaborator Maja Elliot to read her story with musical accompaniment.

The music and Maja’s singing really add something magical and very different to the experience. It draws you even deeper into the story and really sets the scene, smells and the experience of living as a disabled person in the Soviet Union.

You can find Margarita’s performance at the usual podcast spot –  and if you would like to find out more about Maja’s work then head over to her site here.

 

 

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

INTERVIEW WITH ABBY CRAWFORD, WINNER OF THE PERITO PRIZE 2019: – PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

In this transcript we visit the podcast interview with the winner of the 2019 Perito Prize, and author of the short story ‘Leg User’, Abby Crawford. Abby’s story can be found on the Perito website @ https://weareperito.com/perito-prize/winners or click here.

Perito: Welcome to the Perito Podcast – Our World. Without Boundaries. A Podcast all about creating an inclusive and accessible world for everyone, everywhere. In this episode we are pleased to be joined by Abby Crawford, the winner of the Perito Prize 2019: For Short Stories all about inclusivity and accessibility. Abby wrote the short story “Leg User” which can be found in the journal section of the Perito website and is a well-rounded tale chock-full of potent messages about the world, topped with a hint of dark humour.

(0m.24s) Hi Abby, and a very warm welcome to the Podcast and well what a great story.  What’s it all about?

 

AC: Thanks. The story “Leg User” is essentially imagining a world where everything is in reverse so a world that is set up purely for people who use wheelchairs. So lots of nice smooth streets, steps don’t really exist, buildings have low ceilings, everything is represented by wheelchairs not people who are able to walk around freely so the main character in this story is herself in a wheelchair and she comes across someone who isn’t in a wheelchair whose the leg user which is the title of the story. It’s a story that’s not necessarily that dramatic in terms of its plot but just follows our wheelchair user main character through her life and her experience interacting with this leg user who experiences the world a little bit differently then she does.

 

Perito:  (01m.20s) Sounds really innovative, what made you enter the prize for this and how did you find out about it in the first place?

 

AC: A few months ago I completed a creative writing course. I did an Introduction To Creative Writing at City Lit which is in London where I am based. At the end of that course there was quite a lot of inspiration in the room and the teacher advised us to take a look at some short stories and competitions that were out there and so I decided that I was gonna try and use my spare time to do some things kind of useful with it. Which is why I started writing some short stories and this is an area that I’m particularly interested in anyway, in terms of accessibility and equality.

When I saw the theme for this prize which was on a general website that was advertising short story competitions it just seemed to fit really well with kind of my own passions and my own interest and then the commitment that I’d made to start writing some short stories.

 

Perito:  (02m.19s) So was the access and inclusivity thing the key inspiration for this about making you starting to write it in the first place?

 

AC: Yeah, yeah absolutely. I was drawn into the theme because I thought it provided quite a good opportunity to see the world through a different lens and to imagine what it would be like if it was accessible for the people who its  usually inaccessible for if that makes sense. That was the  main inspiration.

 

Perito: (2m.35s) The judges across the board were very impressed with that. As you started the story it wasn’t immediately clear how it was going to pan out and then as soon as you start hitting with the key the topic there, it made me laugh because I saw very clearly where you were going with it and I hesitate to use the topsy turvy because we’re not really turning this upside down but this is actually such a neat way of packaging up a very complicated topic. Did you find it difficult to write to accessibility because of the complexity of the topic, the language that is sometimes used and I suppose the confusion out there when people see a wheelchair user or someone with an impairment and have a bias or approach that they take?

 

AC:  I think once I started writing the story and I knew where I was going with it, it was actually relatively easy because like you say it is a bit of a topsy turvy way of looking at things and its literally just thinking of the opposite of everything that I know so I thought of all the things that we’re able to do just on a daily basis. I’m not a wheelchair user but I have a family friend, an older family friend, who does use a wheelchair and who I grew up with knowing in my life and seeing her experience of just not necessarily being able to do the day to day things that I was able to do.

Things like change a lightbulb for example, or get on a train without assistance, or go to the toilet in a café and it really made me realise that you can only be as independent as the world lets you be and actually the barriers and the challenges around that possibility, they are made by us. They are the infrastructure that we put in place there, the paths we build and the office spaces that we create to work in. So it was quite difficult at first but once I started getting use to the thought of it I just realised how much of the world is set up for people that can just walk around it with ease. It was actually quite fun to write from that perspective, in terms of turning that on its head and, just like you say, being quite topsy-turvy with it.

 

Perito: (4m 33s)  I’m just under 6’6” and I could relate to the male character in this because he’s struggling in a world which is you are meant to be shorter. I find it difficult to, sometimes, exist in the world we’ve got as well but in the other way. When he was cramped up on the bus and the idea of having these bungalows as the staple accommodation. He’s looking for this high roof bungalow. It was excellent and I could directly relate to that.

Did all these things come to you just as you were writing or kind of spontaneous creativity that gave you ideas or do you ever have conversations about this at work or with other people?

 

AC:  My work is directly linked to this topic. I’m an Equality Manager at the London Fire Brigade so some of my work is definitely around accessibility and I’m definitely inspired by that every day, in terms of the people that I meet and learning about the kind of barriers and the challenges that people face.

I had this idea for a while, I actually saw a video quite a while ago now which was a short film. It was a French film so it had subtitles and it imagined the world if it was flipped from a gender perspective. Basically, imagined men as women, so the sign to the cross the road was a flashing green woman rather than a man for example, all the builders were women, they would, you know, wolf whistle at the men.

It was the men that you know were pushing the prams and dropping the kids off at nurseries predominantly staffed by mean and it really stuck in my head and it’s something that I thought about for quite a while, so when I was thinking about this theme and when I saw the competition, that’s when the penny started to drop and I thought, you know, I found that short video that I saw really inspiring and I thought it would be really interesting to try and do that from a different perspective. By focussing on accessibility for disabled people and not just on gender.  The thought was there and has been there for quite for a while but then I started to develop it as I was writing the story.

 

Perito: 6m.27s) It is quite a serious topic but you’ve definitely brought out quite a lot of humour in the way you do it. It’s such a mundane day to day experience for this lady. it’s humorous, the way you finish it’s humorous. Is being funny a natural talent for you or how did you build the humour in?

 

AC: The French film actually wasn’t funny. It did have a bit of a darker side to it, so it actually examined women’s experiences of assault for example, there was quite a difficult to watch scene to watch in it where a man was actually assaulted by a woman within an alleyway and I actually want to steer away from that in the story.

I think, a lot of the headlines and the kind of reports and things that we see about disabled people’s experiences can be really quite negative and I wanted to stay away from doing something quite dramatic or something quite negative about a disabled person in a wheelchair whose having a really negative experience.  I wanted to just explore that kind of mundane day to day – kind of what’s it like just to get out of bed, go to work, go to a concert and explore those day to day experiences.  In terms of the humour I probably credit that family friend that I mentioned earlier. She’s been in a wheelchair since she was 14, she contracted Polio when she was a child, and she’s been a really longstanding friend of me and my mum’s and she always approached her accessibility issues that she faced with humour, I remember being on a train with her once where we got someone to assist her onto the train and the train guard was pushing her down the aisle of the train and he kept shouting “there’s a wheelchair coming through, please mind out, there’s a wheelchair coming through” and my mum’s friend kind of making a real joke of it and saying “oh gosh, they must have forgotten me it’s just the chair that’s coming through” down the aisle.

 

 

So she’s definitely been an inspiration for that, and it was actually her that had the experience of someone saying to her “oh my brother’s in a wheelchair, you know, it’s really great that you’re out and about” and that’s where I got the flip story and the kind of opening of the story which is when someone taps the leg user and says “oh my brother’s a leg user, you know, you’re a real inspiration” because I remember my mum’s friend just kind of giving a massive eye roll and you know, I understand where you’re coming from but come on you know I don’t need pity I’m just trying to go about my day to day business and that’s, yeah that’s where that came from.

 

Perito: (8m 37s)  Did you feel like you grew your own understanding as you wrote it or was it more of a case of you just, sat down for half an hour and you popped a couple of drafts out or was it more that you developed the story as you changed your concepts and ideas?

 

AC: Oh, I definitely grew as I did it. The more I wrote and the more I edited, the more kind of just tiny nuances of things I realised are set up for people can walk around. The example of when she crosses the road and it’s a green flashing chair that tells her that she can cross, the kind of concept of having wheelchair lanes on pavements much like we, we expect a pavement to be a space that people walk on and that’s kind of what its broadly thought of and so all these things, all these small nuance things came as I was writing it and I had to try to imagine, for example, what an office building what that would look like. That it would have, perhaps, wheel pumps at the end of the corridors and that the canteen shelving would all knee height for someone who was walking.  So yeah, it definitely came to me the more I wrote into the story, the more I started to understand.

 

Perito: (9m 36s) What was most valuable about going through this process do you think. They’ll be other people who will want to follow in your footsteps, who will be listening to this hopefully for many years to come?

 

AC:  Most valuable for me, I think, was the opportunity to use the story to reflect on something that I’m passionate about on a general level, but actually to get a little more in depth. It’s rare that you get an opportunity to just stop and step back and look at the world and try and imagine it from a different point of view and start to understand other people’s experiences. Because my day job is to work with diversity and inclusion related issues it seemed like it’s a kind of my professional life, and I’m definitely interested in the topics that I cover but this was actually a nice opportunity to just get really stuck into it quite personally and to really attach my personality through writing about a character and inventing a person. That was a really nice way to do it, so I found that was really valuable.

 

Perito: (10m.38s) Right at the end without spoiling to anyone who hasn’t read it yet, the lead character has a moment I think we’ve seen on movies and TV’s many times where she has a, essentially a shrug of the shoulders moment. It came across as, not inhuman, but it’s just almost a matter of fact wasn’t it and it was a lovely way to finish the story in that it culminated the current opinion that a lot of people have, just in that moment. ‘Well, you know what it’s not my problem, I’m not going to worry about it, what’s for dinner’.

What led you that write that conclusion or what kind of process did you go through as you wrote that final line? Did you have extra lines and deleted it to just that? What was your thinking behind that final sentence?

 

AC:  I think that was definitely the angle I was going for, so I think the main character is called Sam and I think Sam has the attitude of so many people that I’ve come across. So many people who are not impaired or are in a wheelchair, the attitude that they have about people with disabilities I think is actually summed up in the final attitude of Sam. In that she’s kind of interested, she’s always fascinated even because of, you know, the difference but actually she just really wants to just stick with what she knows and with what she’s comfortable with and I’ve seen that happen quite a lot actually.  Just the other week on the way to the shop, and it made me think about the story that I’d written when I experienced this, I saw a man in a wheelchair who was trying to get up a kerb and he was looking around for someone to ask, if someone could help him, and I was about to get to him when a man who he’d kind of got his attention turned around and said to the man in the wheelchair, “sorry I don’t have any money” and it really felt because I thought the perception that this man has and that the only reason that, you know, this disabled person would be asking for help is because they want some money or because they’re begging. I found it really shocking that this man just walked on by and kept himself to himself, kind of shrugged his shoulders and said “No, sorry I don’t have any money” and it shocked me that people don’t necessarily want to break out of that comfort zone to acknowledge the struggles and the issues that people who are, not as fortunate as them in terms of being able bodied and able to navigate the world easily kind of have. That’s what I wanted to sum up with the final attitude with the character and I don’t think any of the story is particularly dramatic, it doesn’t take us on a huge narrative plot but I think it was quite a fitting ending I think. In terms of Sam and her attitude and just being almost nonchalant by the end that she’s just kind of going to get on with her own life and her own day. I think that’s what a lot of people do when it comes to kind of acknowledging other peoples issues.

 

Perito:(13m.00s) She did kind of fancy the male character though didn’t she? There was kind of a light romantic thing going on. What would have happened there if she’d continued, would she have gone back and seen him at work again and said, “oh hi”?

 

AC: I think she possibly would have. I think that’s what I kind of wanted to leave open because is it this unprofessional fascination actually? Is this a little problematic in that she’s getting a bit obsessed with him because he’s different and, you know she wants to stare at him and she wants to know how does that feel to be able to use legs, or is it that she fancies him a bit and then she’s almost troubled by that because he’s so different?  I left that open on purpose but it’s interesting you took that from it.

 

Perito: (13m.40s) It was a good story and the fact that it’s about everyday existence was a really strong feature for it. A lot of the submissions we had for the prize were high quality, extremely good writing, very intense, very emotional pieces that drew out emotions in the judges.  This was kind of the opposite, essentially that everyday experience and the thought processes that people have. It was a good decision to write about that. Well done and thank you for submitting it.

 

AC: Thank you very much.

 

Perito: (14m.16s) Do you have any recommendations or tips for people entering next year?

 

AC: I think one of the main things I did with this story which I’ve always been really reluctant to do, is to really seek some feedback from friends and family. Some of the feedback that I got from my friends and family really directed how I ended up writing it and writing the ending of it in particular.

I’d definitely reach out for feedback even if you’re not that comfortable doing that, find someone that you trust, and someone that will give you a bit of constructive feedback and perhaps suggest some edits because that was definitely really useful for me. Also some of the tips that I got from the writing course that I did, which was a really basic kind of introduction to creative writing.

The most helpful one that I got was about free writing. It’s about setting a timer and just putting your pen to paper or getting your notebook out and just writing, it doesn’t need to be good; it doesn’t need to be even about, you know, the topic that you want to write about. Just get words down on paper because then it’s much easier to edit what you’ve got, and to start to have a think about whether this makes sense? Is this something that I am actually enjoying writing rather than sitting, you know, with an empty notebook and desperately trying to think of ideas?  I found it quite useful just to start the process, but yeah asking for feedback is something I find a bit excruciating personally but it definitely got the story to a standard where I felt like I could submit it for a competition and it’s the first competition that I’ve won so I’m really pleased.

 

Perito: (15m.36s) I think the feedback concept is a difficult one because you need to find someone who wants to do it as well.  It can be very demoralising if you’ve got someone who you are asking for feedback and you’re open to share your creativity and what you do but you’re suddenly realising that actually that they’re not feeding back any useful constructive criticisms.

 

AC: Yes, yeah.

 

Perito: (15m.58s) It’s just, oh no it looks fine, or nothing at all which is worse than saying that it’s absolute rubbish.

 

AC: I would recommend asking specific questions.  I tried to stay away from just, what did you think about this, or do you think this is any good? Perhaps ask for a specific bit of feedback on a particular paragraph for example – does this make sense? If I were to change the main character from male to female do you think that would be better? Really ask some specific feedback if you can and then they haven’t got an closed question just to tell you that it’s either good or not good.

 

Perito: (16m.28s) It’s been excellent finding out more about you and your winning story Abi but now it’s time to sign off until next time.  Thanks again to our special guest, prize-winning writer Abby Crawford, thanks Abby.

 

AC: Thank you very much, cheers.

 

Perito: It’s been a pleasure. You’ve been tuning into the Perito Podcast, Our World without Boundaries, thanks for listening, everyone, everywhere.

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2019 – Winner: ‘Leg User’ By Abby Crawford

LEG USER

By Abby Crawford

Sam waited for the lift, palms of her hands buzzing after the long push up the maze of ramps to enter the office building.  She was lost in thought, scratching her forehead as the lift arrived with a ping, steel doors sliding open to reveal two colleagues, both in blue wheelchairs. She recognised one of them but couldn’t remember the name, was he from finance? IT?  As she rolled herself into the metal box and pressed the button for the sixth floor she heard a yell behind her. “Please hold it!” A man’s voice, accompanied by the unfamiliar sound of running feet.  It had been a few months since Sam had seen a leg-user and longer still since she had shared a lift, or even a building, with one, and she found herself jolted by the surprise.  He seemed enormous and she chastised herself for staring.

The leg-user ran to a halt, panting, just as the lift doors closed behind him and was still breathing heavily as they ascended to the next floor.

“Thanks”, he laughed.

The colleague who Sam vaguely recognised was tapping incessantly on the side of his wheelchair and Sam resisted the temptation to tell him to stop.  The lift slowed as it approached the third floor and just before the doors opened the man tapping on his chair leant across and pressed his fingers against the leg-user’s hip.

 

“Excuse me?” he smiled.  “I hope you don’t mind me saying but I think it’s great, that you’re out and about.  My brother is a leg-user. He’s not great at leaving the house these days but people like you, you are a real inspiration”.

The man blushed and shuffled his weight through his feet, he looked embarrassed and Sam considered intervening.  She bit her lip and was grateful as the man stepped through the lift doors at the third floor. She watched as he ducked to avoid the low ceiling and disappeared, still stooping, around the corner.  He had to bend over to open the door handle into the office and Sam was hit by a surprise wave of sympathy.

She was feeling embarrassed at her pang of pity when the lift approached the sixth floor and she rolled out, along the familiar wide corridors to her office.  Sam had worked for the council for three years now. Her initial ambition had been quashed by multiple rejections for promotion and for now she had decided she was happy with her lot.  To even have a job in the current climate was good and she was grateful, she thought as she wheeled her chair around the side of the low sweeping desk, tucked herself under and reached to turn on her computer.

Later that afternoon Sam felt the familiar fog of an incoming headache and ventured outside for a wheel.  Fresh air often cleared her head and Ryan, her manager, was out yet again.  She snatched her coat from the rack and was soon outside, rolling over the smooth polished concrete streets beaming in the early afternoon sun.  She found her thoughts drifting back to the leg-user, his condition restricting him to walking everywhere, stooping and bending at every door, desk and table.  She wondered why he was in the building as she sat at the edge of the road by the traffic lights, waiting for the green flashing chair that told her it was safe to roll across.  She remembered he had exited the lift at the third floor, human resources, and decided to ask Melanie when she saw her later that evening.

The queue for the concert that night wound round the side of the building and Sam could see Melanie waving frantically as she approached.  She wheeled past the waiting chairs to where Melanie sat, beer in one hand, fanning her face with a pair of tickets in the other.  The sun was clinging on into the early evening and the glint from the queue of wheelchairs reflected into strange shapes on the polished concrete of the walkway.  They were early, but the doors would be open soon and Sam was looking forward to catching up with her cousin – despite working in the same building their only real interaction was a snatched wave across the canteen, or a quick catch up in the lift before one of them rolled off for a meeting they were inevitably late for.

Melanie worked in human resources, some sort of talent management role Sam didn’t really understand, and she grabbed the opportunity after they had kissed hello. “Did you see that leg-user today?” she asked. “Yes,” Melanie rolled her eyes, “He’s part of the new intake programme, something to do with leg-users being underrepresented in management, that sort of thing.”

“Oh, so he’s got a management job?”

“I think so,” Melanie frowned.

Sam felt her chest sink and was annoyed at herself for feeling hard done by.  There had been two years of desperation to climb the slippery management pole and despite convincing herself she was content, she couldn’t help feeling a pang of envy at this newcomer, who would probably end up being paid more than her and getting away with doing less, if Ryan was anything to go by.

Just as Melanie noticed her cousin’s expression turn melancholy the doors to the concert opened and she felt a bump on the back of her chair as the man behind them nudged her into action.  “Alright, alright,” she removed her brake and rolled slowly forward with the line.

They took their bays near the stage and Sam’s stomach was feeling warm with beer when she glimpsed a figure to her left.  She turned to see a familiar body shuffling down the aisle, ducking under the low beams and flanked by two people in red wheelchairs.  She watched him take a seat in the leg-user zone by the side of the stage, it was strange to see him lower himself into a chair without wheels, and she nudged Melanie. “It’s him,” she pointed, but just as she did the man looked across and saw her, pointing and animated, and gave her a small wave.  “Great”, Sam exhaled, turning back to face the stage.  She was unsure whether her cheeks were burning from embarrassment or the beer, but she was soon interrupted by Andi and the Banshaws rolling their famous golden chairs onto stage and the simultaneous yell of excitement from the crowd.

The man drifted out of view and out of Sam’s thoughts as the band started up, thumping with percussion and their familiar melodies.  During the second song she was temporarily distracted by the leg-user dancing, standing up and towering over everyone else, moving his hips and legs in a way she’d never seen before.  How did he manage? Didn’t it hurt? She found herself staring and Melanie tugged her arm, handing her another beer and pointing back at the stage.

At the final encore they joined the sitting ovation before wheeling off to the exit by the end of the aisle.  The building was an old Victorian concert hall, and Sam admired its swooping ramps and ornate low ceilings as they rolled, undulating with the swell of wheelchairs heading for the same door.  As they slid over the exit ramp and out into the street Sam reached for her jacket on the back of her chair. The temperature had plummeted in that unpredictable spring-like way and she had a bus journey to endure before she’d be back in her bungalow.  Still warm with beer she kissed Melanie goodbye and found her eyes reaching for a last glance of the leg-user, though the reason eluded her.

Sam decided to wheel to work the next morning, taking the wheelchair road rather than the path and as she joined the lane of commuters she noticed how uniformly tired everyone seemed, sitting slumped in their chairs, pushing monotonous wheels of metal and rubber over the colour coded concrete zones alongside the road.  At the traffic lights near her building a woman dashed between the queue of chairs, another leg-user, dodging the stream of wheels, barely fitting on the pavement between the crowd of seated commuters.  As she reached the office it struck Sam that it wasn’t constructed particularly well for leg-users, and she was surprised that this was the first time she’d noticed it.  She felt like she was seeing the building for the first time – low ceilings, wide sweeping ramps, wheel pumping stations at the end of every corridor, a canteen with its waist-height counter and bottom shelf access to the clip-on lunch trays.  She thought again of the leg-user from the concert, stooping under doorways and leaning down to open handles, and the wave of sympathy from the day before slammed back into her chest with a thud.

Her day went slowly, punctuated by the usual requests from Ryan but also a weight in her stomach that pulsated every time she thought of the leg-user. She’d heard of people like him having to wait for housing, heard the horror stories of long lists of leg-users desperate for rare high-ceilinged bungalows, a supply that never seemed to meet demand.  She’d heard of people being turned away from jobs for not ‘fitting in’, claiming endless benefit payments for lack of employment.  She was wondering whether she might see him again as she left the office that afternoon and rolled to the bus stop across the road.

When she reached it she felt an arm brush the back of her hair, far too high to be a wheelchair user and the unfamiliar feeling sent her spinning her chair around.  “Are you following me?” He laughed. It was him.

“No, just waiting for a bus, sorry”

“I saw you at the concert last night, pointing at me”

Sam sniffed and pulled her jacket around her.

“I’m sorry.  It wasn’t what it looked like, I was there with my cousin and she works in the council, well I do too, I saw you in the lift yesterday,” she stumbled.

“In the lift at the concert?”

“No at the council.”

“Oh.”

The silence filled the empty bus stop and she was relieved when the number 24 appeared around the corner.

“Your bus?” he asked

“Yes, you?” she replied, her relief snatched away by the possibility of having to share a journey home with the man who had occupied her thoughts too much already.

“Yep”

“Great,” she mumbled, “need a hand getting on?”

“No I should be alright.”

The bus came to a stop and the ramps slid out from underneath the door.  Sam wheeled on board into a bay and was about to swallow her pettiness and introduce herself to the leg-user when she heard a commotion behind her.

“There’s no free standing bay, sorry pal” the bus driver seemed embarrassed.

“I can just squeeze in there though, look” the man was pointing at the space between the ramp to the upper deck and the luggage rack.  Another leg-user was awkwardly leaning in the only standing bay, sandwiched between the back of Sam’s chair and the emergency exit window.

“I’ve told you mate, I’m sorry.  There’s another 24 due in 15 minutes.” He went to close the door but the leg-user refused to move.  He looked across at Sam just as two other passengers rolled forward, annoyed at having to wait and becoming increasingly incensed at the man’s refusal to get off the bus.

“You heard what he said,” a woman in a pale green wheelchair lurched towards the leg-user.  His demeanour suddenly shifted and he slumped his shoulders, turned down the ramp and headed back onto the pavement outside.  As the bus rolled away Sam glimpsed his face through the window and wondered why she was like this, always investing in other people’s problems.  She turned away and counted the stops til home.

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2019 – Runner Up: ‘The Spirit Can’t Be Confined’ By Margarita Meklina

The Spirit Can’t Be Confined

By Margarita Meklina

 

For eight years, with magical regularity, e-mails from a far away, mysterious world appeared in my mailbox. Pressing F9 and refreshing my Outlook folder, I was peering into the land of yurts and nomads. Taiga and flatlands. Kazakhstan: the vast territory once ruled by the Russian Empire. Later – a Central Asian Republic lying in the political ruins of the former USSR. When I received my last letter, it was still a country dominated by a totalitarian ruler, who stepped down only after thirty years in power.

I was a penniless writer, a Russian-born immigrant lifting packages for UPS in California, and I needed all support I could get. From Russia, from Kazakhstan, from anywhere! It suddenly came from this petite woman in glasses, with fragile bones but with a spirit of steel. Devoid of allegiance to clichés, she published my writings: an essay about Vladimir Nabokov’s son and butterflies, a novella about a young queer woman looking for love in San Francisco, a short story about the frequent abusive relationships in immigrant families. Printing my texts in her magazine in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s cultural capital, this physically distant yet warm and caring correspondent offered her critical eye. Her mental, inner vision was sharp; her eye vision was blurred. She was even prohibited by doctors to write on a computer, but she continued to give me her vital feedback.

Raising a baby and trying to keep my writing aspirations alive, I was inspired by the quest of my virtual friend. Her vision was vaster than Kazakhstan steppes. As it turned out, this woman of small stature in a wheelchair created what the entire Ministry of Culture in Kazakhstan couldn’t achieve: a new wave of writing. Her name was Olga Borisovna Marcova and she was an editor, an educator, an activist, a guru, a researcher, a mentor, a friend.

Not having access herself to regular doctors or libraries, she underlined the importance of the accessibility of information. Placed into a confining jacket of censorship together with other Kazakhstan citizens, she dreamed that young writers would find the freedom within. “I am a mixture of terrible pessimism and unending idealism,” one of her letters proclaimed. “These weeks, I have been depressed, but I have to keep up my appearance for the people in our office. I’d better tell you about the new round table I organized. It’s called ‘Literary magazines as an instrument of cultural politics.’ Representatives from Central Asian Republics and Russia will all be there!”

In the second letter Olga reported, “Our writers were just sent to Russia’s capital for a special gathering! There they’ll get access to publications in Moscow!” Then she added mischievously, “And yesterday, for the commemoration of Pushkin, one of our writers had to eat his prize, a huge Pushkin chocolate sculpture.” Suddenly, in small font, she mentioned her aging parents, “They are nearing their eighties and I hope that I will die before they pass away.”

The next month, she proudly described an event, “With the British consulate, we organized a literary seminar with a writer who writes for teenagers. Have you heard of him before? I’m researching him and he is a gem.” When I was about to send a congratulatory response, I noticed a post scriptum, “There are very few buildings in Almaty suitable for wheelchairs. My eye sight is bad, there is a problem with retina but because the ophthalmology equipment is on the third floor, I can’t go for my checkup.”

She asked me about the difficulties of raising a new baby, almost never mentioning her own problems. Suffering and setbacks were hidden among the reports of success, “I’m training a new editor. I wrote an essay about book publishing in Kazakhstan. We’re organizing a contest for the best writing by a woman writer who writes in Kazakh. We also conducted master classes for writers from far away regions, those who due to their geographical location can’t get access to cultural places.”

And in the next sentence, “The majority of public buildings, offices, medical centers and supermarkets are inaccessible for people like me. Our society doesn’t think of it as a problem. My father took me out for a walk near our house in my wheelchair, but the wheel got stuck in a crack and the wheelchair overturned, together with my father and me!”

And then she again wrote to me about her everyday life, “We had an evening of poetry organized together with the American embassy… How important was it for you to participate in elections? When I see the news from the West, I think that such activity in my country wouldn’t be possible. By court order, they just closed the office of Democratic party. Also they shut several media outlets. And now the access to LiveJournal and other social media sites is blocked completely…”

Olga had been confined to a wheelchair since birth. Yet, in my then-precarious situation as a main breadwinner raising a baby, it seemed like she was the one who was more stable. Traversing the Web on her virtual wheels. Reaching out to every corner of the globe with the literary masterworks of her pupils. “She turned a wheelchair into a throne, she was an empress,” as another friend of hers said.

Transplanted from Russia to the U.S., I was trying on different languages like new clothes and, not always fitting into the new attire, was consoled by encouraging letters from far away. A young mother struggling to secure the first professional job and to write in two languages, I heard from Olga, “Please kiss your daughter from me and let your husband take care of you. The baby surely will be like her mother, an avid traveler and a storyteller. Wasn’t she conceived in Kazakhstan when you visited us?”

Olga’s public triumph was at the front of her letters, “Literary magazines here limit the number of acceptable topics. The government demands loyalty. There is no other organization besides ours that supports writers who steer away from the government ideology. We make sure that our authors reach an internal freedom that will allow them to say what they want.”

Her personal problems were hidden behind, “There was a literary seminar on the four floor, organized by our sponsor from the Netherlands. I couldn’t get there. Once they moved it to the first floor, I was able to participate… Recently, when I called a tour agency, they were so surprised that a person in a wheelchair wanted to travel by air. They even reprimanded me for assuming something like this! But I want to see Paris!”

Now, eleven years after our e-mail exchange ceased to exist, I pluck the saddest parts of her letters:

“You can’t imagine how I look, just like a scaled dragon… at home, one of my aging parents lost their balance and overturned a pot with boiling water on me.”

“A terrible thing happened today. A woman hit me in the eye with her large bag inadvertently when my father took me out in a wheelchair. Now I have to go to eye doctors again, but all the diagnostics equipment is on the third floor and there isn’t a lift.”

“My father is eighty-one and he fractured his hip. For two months he has been confined to his bed. My mom is my only helper for now.”

Then, “Mama broke her arm, I’m drowning in everyday problems. Papa still didn’t recover after his stroke. I’ll die without their assistance.”

The letters stopped arriving eleven years ago. My daughter had just turned fourteen and, as Olga predicted, she is a steady writer and a stoic traveler. Did I just tell you that Olga’s last letter came in 2008? That I didn’t hear from her since that time? That because of Kazakhstan’s poor healthcare and Olga’s weak immune system she died of flu at forty-four? Did I mention that she was able to visit Paris with parents her and that she managed to write a number of books?

You just read excerpts from her letters, which means that something of her is still alive. In some geographic locations, these pleas for help are still urgent. In many countries, in many regions, there is still no accessibility. Can’t life extend after death? Out there, there are writers she raised. Some of them became quite well-known. There are ideas she planted. There is her spirit that still traverses the roads of information; her wheelchair crosses the borders. Last month I was riding my bike and suddenly a woman at the bus stop raised her arm to waive the approaching bus and hit my shoulder quite badly. I shook. Was this a reminder from another realm, telling me that as a fully-able adult and a fully-fledged writer, I have to do more?

More than anyone else, Olga understood that “accessibility” means the right to be free, both in physical movements and in movements of thought. As much as a people with limited capability need physical freedom, spiritual and political freedom is also a must.

My daughter, the one for whom Olga always blew virtual kisses, recently went on a trip with her school, visiting a wheelchair facility. They made teenagers ride in wheelchairs, so that they knew what a person in a wheelchair experienced. Wouldn’t Olga find it amusing? She was quick to adapt new ideas. She’d say, “I would like the health officials in our country to ride in wheelchairs, to understand what it means to have accessibility.” Now I’m reaching for my archive to let out her spirit, which has been confined to our private e-mails, and her spirit is reaching out to you.