"I have realised that people, places and terrains are different but the same." Jonny Wilkinson shares some of his recent encounters whilst entering and exiting public facilities at various locations around Northland.

I have realised that people, places and terrains are different but the same. When we arrived at the Pakiri camp site I was somewhat surprised at how gentrified the place was. The beach similar to Ruakaka – shorter but wider, or vice versa. The camp site and its temporary tenants seemed wholesome.  Lots of young families, metropolitan and multi-cultural. We arrived in three camper vans. Sally and I were in Robbie and Bridget’s mothership. I had my untrustworthy travelling scooter in tow. After exploring the site, I found that there were at least four steps up to both ablution blocks. Now, I find going up steps not so bad, as long as there is something vague to hang onto (particularly when you are motivated by a full to busting bladder), it’s the going down that’s tricky.

However, people were ridiculously helpful. Young fathers with clean cut beards, chaperoning their young sons to the loo were often quick to say “do you want a hand mate” while simultaneously grasping me in a fulsome way. A young mother even bounded up to me on the way into the loo saying “do you want a hand, I’m all wet though.” The trouble is when people grab me like that I instantly go into ‘rigor mortis’ mode; hyperextending my legs right down to my tippy toes like some kind of hideous ballerina. I find it hard to explain to people, “just hold my hand in a relaxed fashion like we are dating”. Especially when exiting a public toilet.

Right at the end of our frivolity filled weekend, a bright-eyed Aucklander type (probably a PE teacher) said to me “you know there’s an accessible toilet round the front of the camp site”. It’s kind of like when you go to another country and, after days of travelling around eating in overpriced cheesy restaurants, on your last day you realise there is a very authentic eatery just around the corner from where you are staying.


Fast forward to Monday, I was driving solo to Kaitaia to meet with Lance O’Sullivan, New Zealand’s favourite award winning GP, to see if he would be involved in a new training package we are developing. I thought I had set off in good time to meander up there. But no, it was ‘Fear and Loathing in Kaeo’. I was thwarted by a detour that circumnavigated the Mangamukas, then, further confused by other detour signs because SH15 to Paihia was shut, I dutifully followed the detour signs and ended up in Paihia. I was starting to run late and starting to jiggle, wanting the loo, when I drove through Kaeo. I got my car as close to the public toilets as I could, but there was still a 25m walk on a concrete footpath. I have developed a phobia about walking on rough concrete with nothing to hang onto. It’s because the grip between one’s shoes and the concrete is so effective that if you have an involuntary spasm your foot gains real traction with the ground, catapulting yourself to Grazeville. I found a great solution to this at home is using a heavy old metal rake as a walking stick. As I crabbed toward the toilets I thought, by God I wish I had that rake! Would that look normal in Kaeo?  Maybe if I had a big old mop that would be pretty normal in Kaeo (it’s town being located at the bottom of a giant sink with not much of a plug hole).

When I was 2m away from the toilet door a young man marched past me straight into the single toilet. I stood there dumbfounded; charming!

On my return to the car I thought bugger this! and strode out on my knees. I felt a hundred hidden eyes watching me.

I got to Kaitaia very late and inadvertently stopped at the first Health Centre I saw on the main drag, ignoring the directional narration on my phone. By this stage I was totally discombobulated.  My Cerebral Palsy was in protest. A young man in the door way said “do want a hand my bro? “  “No no, I’m fine”, I lied. “No it’s all good my bro, where are you going?” “I’m going in there to see Lance” I replied. “He’s not here, he’s in 25 Commerce Street, just down there after the crossing, my bro. Here let me help you back in your car”. I finally met with Lance who was cool and calm as a cucumber, talking with Ricky Houghton another Tai Tokerau legend who recently took out NZ's Local Hero of the Year at the Kiwibank NZer of the Year awards

 They were sorting out the kaupapa for the immiminent arrival of the Governor General who was coming to visit both Lance and Ricky.  Lance was fantastically supportive and willing to be involved with our training. Ricky was flamboyantly funny and charming as ever. Back to my realisation that people are the same but different everywhere as unpredictable as our Northland weather not to mention our roads.

Jonny Wilkinson is the CEO of Tiaho Trust - Disability A Matter of Perception. A Whangarei based disability advocacy organisation.

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A Different Light - Northern Advocate column 03 March 2018 pdf 238 KB

Published 05/03/2018

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