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Tuesday 6 January 2009

Snow in the City

January 5th, 2009, Nürnberg, Germany

...and even more “am Land” (in the country)

When going out of the city this morning everything got whiter and whiter until it was impossible to distinguish between land and sky. A fine snow had been falling all night and it was still coming down, touching my cheeks and making them tingle.

It was the type of snow that is not at all good for snowballing or snowman-building but because of its dryness, and therefore its lightness, it is very easy to clear away. This was a good thing as the snow had yet to be cleared around the centre where I work and, before I removed any layers of clothing, I set to pushing away snow, clearing a path for the wheelchair-users. This activity is always a really good way to get warmed up, which I needed after the tramp across the fields from the bus stop.

Yes I had actually left the bike at home today!

Snow chains for wheel chairs?

Has anyone who doesn’t normally use a wheelchair tried moving around in one in the snow?

Apart from the hands becoming instantly numb from the cold metal, and compacted snow and ice, it is very difficult to move forwards. Even in an electric wheelchair there is always the danger of wheels spinning and digging oneself deeper and deeper into the snow. This is especially so when negotiating a cleared pavement where snow is always piled up on the sides, making the paths very narrow and hardly ever wide enough, even for a baby’s pram to pass by.

I have yet to see snow chains on wheelchairs but I expect that they exist somewhere. I certainly would have been happy to have had them on a couple occasions with a wheelchair-using friend when we dared to be like all the other folks one Christmas and venture out to “walk” in the forests. I had to dig the chair out with my bare hands, pack branches under the wheels and push!


Work in Germany has not actually got back to normal yet after the festive season as tomorrow, 6th January, is a holiday. Most people have tacked an extra day on to their break and “real” work will start in earnest on Wednesday.

My “workers group” and I have been meeting regularly over Christmas in an attempt to combat the stiffness which usually accompanies the long break. This is a time when most physiotherapists and occupational therapists, masseurs and other professionals who have anything to do with manipulating and moving bodies, seem to shut up shop for weeks on end.

We have actually managed about eight hours of Conductive Education over the past ten days, which isn’t bad but still not enough when all the other activities which keep my clients active have been cancelled. There has been no swimming, no physio and very little fresh air.

I realised that I too was moving cautiously as I tramped through the snow, and while working in the group I took care to make sure that my back behaved itself in the cold. I have been wrapped up in alpaca, angora and oiled Guernsey wool all day, with the hope of keeping my muscles warm.

Winterschlaf (hibernating)

There are about fifty people living in the centre where we have our Conductive Education rooms, there is also a workshop and some private housing for people with disabilities.

Four people come regularly to my "workers group" on a Tuesday evening. Today however only two turned up, the others not finding the motivation to come out in the snow or to interrupt the last days of their holiday with some activity.

It had actually been the same two clients attending the group most of the Christmas holidays. It isn’t only the motivation that is lacking with the others. It is getting increasingly difficult for these people to find the money to pay for Conductive Education and it is understandable that after the expenses of Christmas they decide to take a break.

Ready for a bit of action

The three of us, however, were there and raring to go! I had cleared a path, the wheelchair-users had found someone to accompany them the few hundred metres on foot, just in case of a spot of trouble on the ice, and we were ready for a bit of action.

After the regulation eins, zwei ,drei, vier, fünf (one, two, three, four, five) accompanied by some lovely music I would have loved to have taken my clients out into the snow for the " walking programme", but being alone I found it was a bit too risky, I didn’t want anymore accidents!

From drab to sparkly and tingly overnight, just like Cinderella going to the ball!

We walked and did other things indoors, like observing the snow from the window.

I am still so inspired by the snow and the light effects from Norway, with its pink skies at night and never-quite-light days, with the blues and purples reflected in the snow, that I had been talking to my clients about it. It is really quite a change for our senses when suddenly overnight our surroundings change from the winter drabness of the grey and brown earth colours, with a hint of dull green and black branches of trees, to a delight of dancing lightness when it all becomes covered in deep snow. The white reflects the light and a weak sun changes the colours constantly, shadows on the ground are no longer black they take on colours, either warm or cold.
I talked to my clients about all of this, about the brown-to-white overnight, about the colours and the whiteness, the shadows and the shapes. I did this with the hope of inspiring them in some painting. It is difficult to guide people to see what is there and to help them transfer it to paper, rather than for them to put on the paper what they think they see, without actually looking. It is just as much about changing how we think and see and move as all other aspects of my work.

We attempted some paintings of our German snowy landscape which, although very different to what I experienced in Norway, was still very beautiful. I put a selection of papers and colours on the table and we had thirty minutes' relaxation with music and painting and enthusiasm.

Art in action

The session was a good end to the holiday season and an inspiring introduction to getting back into the swing of work. We have orders for paintings from another department in the centre, to be hung in an intergrated kindergarten, so we discussed organising another weekend of “art in action” to produce them. They have particularly requested pictures with lots of bright colours so next weekend we may be recording our experiences of the New Year fireworks or the hope that we have of spring appearing soon from beneath the snow.

Hopefully on Tuesday evening we will be back to normal with all the members of the “workers group” back in full swing and motivated once more. I will be there, hopefully riding my bike again, it will be wondering where I had got to!