Next stage on the independent-living-for-Grenouille travels, a visit to the Occupational Therapists’ Aladdin’s cave where they keep all their magical enabling equipment. Oh, my life.
We were presented with a massive array of the severely functional, generally seeming to be taken from Utility Furniture design archives for the War Economy Standard. Make-do-and-mend, nothing matching or co-ordinating, and all of it costing a fortune.
Perching stools with white tubing legs, black rubber feet and beige PVC seats. Hideous bath benches in white plastic that would render the bath unusable by the rest of the family. Ugly white-enamelled grab rails that belong only in institutional bathrooms, not real homes. Vinyl-covered ‘easy chairs’ in surgical-appliance-pink.
Kids’ walkers and wheelchairs these days come in funky metallic colours: burnt orange, scarlet, royal blue, magenta. This lot was anaemic and made me feel about 80 just looking at it, although saying that, my 80-year-old mother would call all of it “too ugly to be given house-room”, and quite right too. Why is specialist equipment for disabled adults reduced to the mere functional, with no thought for any aesthetics? The ‘like it or lump it’ attitude inherent in the ‘design’ of these items is so depressing in its dismissive contempt. How much effort would it take to make these things attractive, or simply inoffensive? Yet no-one, it seems, can be bothered.
There were a few gems. A magnetic, battery-operated tin-opener that loaded, locked and swivelled itself around the top of the can. A natty ring-pull lever for canned drinks and baked-bean tins. Frog-shaped silicone oven mitts. Interestingly, these mostly came from a well-known kitchen supplies retailer that prides itself on espousing design values as well as functionality.
G’s particular kitchen ambition was to be able to make hot drinks. We experimented with travel kettles, but even those are too heavy for weak, wobbly hands. The OT showed us two varieties of a contraption called a ‘kettle tipper’. I felt it was more of a ‘hideous Heath Robinson heartsink’. You place your kettle on a platform that hangs like a mangled swingboat from a pair of large, clumsy, plastic or coated-wire A-frames, belt it in with fuzzy, dust-trapping Velco straps, and once the kettle’s boiled, you push a lever that swings the basket to tip the hot water out. You have to track the arc of the swing with the cup, not a good idea for someone with spatial processing difficulties.
“Although!” said the OT, brightly, “If you stick your tipper to the kitchen top, you can make a marker-pen X where the cup needs to sit!” That, I thought, is going to work really well on a polished black granite worktop; and besides, WTAF? Would you expect to put glue and marker-pen X’s all over your kitchen just so’s you could use the appliances? Of course you wouldn’t. You’d expect appliances designed to be usable.
“I think it would take up rather too much room in our kitchen”, I said, striving for diplomacy.
The OT skipped over to some wire shelving. “I’m afraid this is the only alternative”, she said, indicating a £70, three-litre tea-urn. “Maybe not the best if space is at a premium?”
“No-o”, I said. Grenouille, meanwhile, was edging towards the thin end of a tantrum: “Want to make my own tea! My own tea!”
“We’ll have a think about it at home”, I said, ushering G towards the exit. “Um, maybe do some measuring and see if we can fit it in”.
G groused for ten miles in the car, and ramped the whinge-offensive up to Defcon III when I turned into the carpark of our local discount supermarket. “Why we stopping here? You said we were going home to do measuring!”
“Yes, I know”, I said. “But I need to get some tomatoes for tonight’s dinner. I’ll only be two minutes, are you coming in?”
“I’m staying here”, said G, grumpily, switching on the radio.
I sped briskly down to the back of the store and grabbed the tomatoes. On my way back towards the checkouts, I spotted something else I thought would come in handy, and picked that up too. G gave me the stink-eye as I returned. “Why’ve you got a big box? You said you were just getting tomatoes!”
“Wait and see”, I said. “You can unpack the big box at home”.
G unpacked and set up the contents of the box. Suddenly, all was sunshine on Planet G. “Thanks, Mum, you’re the best!”
And what was it in the box? A well-thought-out, kettle-sized cordless water boiler, complete with fixed cup-stand and integral, removable-for-cleaning drip tray. Because it is made for everybody, not just ‘those bloody disableds‘, it wouldn’t look out of place in anybody’s kitchen. It cost me £23. And it came in a choice of colours.