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Gordon's D-Zone Arcive (2006-2014)

Thursday, July 17, 2008


I came in from a direct flight to Malta from Leeds just yesterday. The air travel experience was better than other times and so, there’s no real story there… However, my ‘graduation experience’ was quite exciting and I felt proud to be present during the degree ceremony in Leeds. I must admit that the University of Leeds gave me a lot and, hopefully, I will go on with my studies with this University for my PhD

for a couple of years more. If I stay alive, of course!

Left: Photo of me in my ceremonial dress and new haircut!

However, I want to write about how this unique experience was unique in other ways too. Granted, it was the first time I got a Masters degree and to attend a UK university, but it was also the first time for other things …


It was the first time I travelled by bus almost daily. My parents thought it was a good idea to use one to save some money spent on accessible taxis when going to the City Centre. I enjoyed the experience of being with other people when commuting!

Unfortunately, the problem with accessible buses is that there are few

places for wheelchair users (only one per bus) and I found myself a bit awkward when a woman using a pram was told to move and put away the pram so that I could fit in. The driver announcing that "Wheelchair users have priority!" didn't sound very nice to me. Apart from that, the fact that

it's obvious that other people might benefit from accessible buses why not have more? And why not increase

available space that, when unused, could be also used as a seating place?


Enough of that, fire is the next topic. No, it's not about the episodes of fever I got over my stay in Leeds - yes, I got those too. No, it's about a small fire that broke in our hotel after a man was smoking inn bed at night! I was awake when it happened but only half so. There I was, at 1,30am,

in bed with only my underwear on being bombarded by the sound of a siren sound and not knowing what hit me. Was this a nightmare? It wasn't and I had to dress quickly (ok, sluggishly) and wait for someone to take me down. The stairs... No, the lift couldn't be used and as I waited with my parents on the first floor, two staff members carried me down like a pagan god down the narrow and tall steps. Hot and feverish, I hoped no one would slip.

I was using my manual wheelchair for the trip so I wasn't bothered much by the damage that it could suffer. But me, that's a different story!!! There really should be ways of getting out from buildings in case of fire if you're a wheelchair user. Anyway, after two hours waiting we were given clearance and I could sleep. I ended up wrecked for the whole day as this stress didn't help my fever at all. No, you can’t use fire to fight fire …


I forget ... I didn't speak about my room. On the first night, I had booked two rooms for my parents to stay in and one for myself (I need my privacy!) Unfortunately, both rooms were inaccessible to me so I found myself wondering how the hell I was going to get into the bath when morning came. I could manage to get on my high bed, but the bath ... no way! Eventually, I changed my room to an accessible one the next day and I had a walk-in shower which gave me the chance to be clean and happy!


Of course, being presentable was one thing I wanted to be since on Thursday 10th I had to attend my graduation ceremony. I was, if I say so myself, very scattered and pensive on the inside but looking good on the outside. After all, this was what I would be getting for my two years studying! And, most importantly, some of my friends would be watching the live web cast ... aaaah! No chance for a bad hair day. So, before the occasion I decided to give Leeds hairdressers some business and cut my hair at the Leeds City Market. I looked cool and ready for the big day!


As I had visited the University a few days earlier to know what to do on the day, it was not as

confusing as it would have been otherwise and the campus was quite accessible too (although on few occasions you had to take the long route). I took my dress and photos and proceeded to the actual ceremony. I was a bit overwhelmed by the whole event as it was different than my first degree ceremony back in Malta... The music, the ritual ... it was like being in a Harry Potter movie!

Ok, there was no 'real' magic...

However, people did see me turning on stage from nowhere and then disappearing again into nowhere! This was no trick... as the other graduates used the steps and thus was in full public view; I had to use a lift backstage as if I was Harry Houdini or David Copperfield performing an illusion …


Bah, I did realise how being a wheelchair user sometimes makes you look awkward. But, other times, you can break conventions without really trying or meaning to! For instance, when everyone was instructed to stand up as the deputy chancellor and other staff members came through the Great Hall, I could calmly sit down and grin. No, not wish that I could stand up. Just grin like a naughty Cheshire cat.

Last thing I learned from my trip was about the dilemma of whether you should choose family members as PAs. I took my parents this time round because it was both proper and practical for them to be there and, to kill two birds with one stone, assist me if I needed. In my accessible room I was able to shower and dress but still needed assistance getting around and paying my bills (!). And yes, I love my parents. But, parents or family members, I confirm are not as personal assistance if you plan to take real choices on your life. They mean well, but at times, your wishes come second and you find yourself at odds whether to say something or remain shut to avoid hurting them when you want to decide something. So, even if Parents and PAs have two letters in common - it's best to avoid mixing family and work.

That concludes my account for Leeds. Of course, there were other things and personal stuff going on in my head but some of it is personal and some will fill another post in the future .

I was a bit embarassed to watch my appearance on stage as I took a glimpse at the archived webcast. Really, I stopped watching as soon as I heard my name being announced. no, actually I felt rather anxious again. For those who want to see it, it's ceremony 17 and can be found on the Degree Ceremony webcast page.