Cripple in Cambridge – Week 2
This week ABBI BROWN uses handsome men to take an everyday trip to the UL.
Rising phallically out of the grey wasteland that is West Road, the UL is a place of myths and legends. A place where sex between shifting stacks is apparently a thing, where Harry Potter himself may or may not reside, and where your dreams of becoming the kind of student who does the reading, attends the lectures and has actually read Ulysses, die.
But there remains one UL challenge which few have attempted, a quest which yet fewer will survive: attempting the UL, alone, in a wheelchair. Tab, I’ve done it. And I’ve lived to tell the tale.
15.30 Arrive outside UL. Take a moment to breathe in fresh air and appreciate outside world. Wheel effortlessly over to lift at side of steps, remembering that, as surfaces go, tarmac in front of UL is second only to smooth flooring of Grand Arcade. Bliss.
15.31 Press ‘lift call’ button.
15.33 Remember two fun things about UL’s outside lift: lift does not function if gate at top isn’t shut, and UL is surrounded by deciduous trees.
15.34 Loiter nonchalantly next to steps, trying to look less pathetic than feel. 15.39 Successfully ambush Nice Looking Man. Nice Looking Man hops up steps and removes dead leaves from lift gate with foot. Squeal gratitude up lift shaft. Board lift.
15.41 Approach the only truly reliable element to UL quest, the accessible door. Press Access button and give door appreciative pat on way through. Approach reception desk. Sarky Librarian (who was once not only incredulous that I could possibly be a student here, but also nearly refused to let my dad come in to carry my books because he didn’t have his own card) is absent. Super Friendly librarian isn’t here either. Three Overly-Helpful librarians dive for button to open side gate. Side gate opens.
Someone goes to find key for lift to first floor.
15.44 Lift key is found. Awkwardly negotiate entrance to lift and relevant button-pressing. Politely ignore librarian’s crotch in face when she leans over to open door.
15.45 Arrive on first floor. Thank librarian profusely. Turn right and, in excitement at having made it in, take first left down corridor lined with that smooth carpet you get in airports. Another excellent surface. Good one, UL. Whizz down corridor shooting smug looks at slow pedestrians.
15.46 Realise this is wrong corridor. Sharp U-turn. Whizz even faster past same slow pedestrians in vain hope of being too fast to be seen.
15.48 Press button on North Wing lift. Remember cage lifts are a wheelie’s nightmare; should have continued down previous corridor to big-ass lift near Rare Books Room. Too proud to return. Decide to start on fifth floor.
15.50 Arrive on fifth floor. Noisily bash way out of lift and begin search for Targets #1 and #2.
15.52 Why is it so dark in here?
15.53 It’s dark because stack lights have to be turned on individually. Can’t reach stack lights. Balance phone precariously on knees for use as torch.
15.56 Find correct stack.
15.58 Can hear own heartbeat. Dry mouth. Curse high-up light switches.
15.59 Find correct books. Thank the lord correct books are within reaching distance. Take back all curses. Two down, three to go.
Can’t reverse down stack without crashing because of virtual darkness. Continue down stack, turn at the end and go back down, following Rule Number One of UL (established in first year): Always Retrace Steps.
16.02 Feeling brave, decide to attempt seventh floor. Enter lift forwards (mistake).
16.04 Manage to open lift door with arm twisted behind back. Feel grateful for own double-jointedness. Reverse straight into bookshelf, which someone has shifted too close to lift and not put back. This is probably negotiable, but not in pitch black dark, with one arm turned inside-out to hold lift door open and books balanced on knees. Discouraged from using phone to get a better look by memories of Keys Dropped Down St John’s College Library Lift Shaft fiasco of 2012.
16.07 Moment of nostalgia for college library. Obscure American social theory of 1920s can’t be that important anyway. Return to first floor.
16.09 Go to open door using double-jointed method, but first-floor door is heavier. Scrabble at door but it doesn’t budge. Break out in cold sweat. Curse UL, curse lifts, curse arms not growing out of body backwards. Vow to become better person and spend significantly more time in gym (i.e. any) if make it out alive.
16.13 New method: jam wheelchair handles against door. Door opens. Praise all known deities.
16.14 Go to open door into North Wing. Misjudge reach for handle. Knock books off lap onto floor. Nice Looking Man No. 2 retrieves books and opens door. Thank NLM 2 profusely but also silently wonder where he was three minutes ago.
16.17 Find two remaining books with ease. Settle down at desk with feeling of confidence and superiority. Have cracked this place. Feel bond with other students working on same desk. Finally, am One of You. Will do all reading, attend all lectures and read bloody Ulysses.
16.19 Open laptop. Begin taking notes. Go on Facebook to notify ‘Gals’ thread of presence in UL. Gals suitably impressed.
16.40 Have to be in Queens for supervision at 5pm. Consider taking books out, but leaving them here will force return to UL. Work SO well in UL. Leave books in neat stack with reservation note on top.