Mr and Mrs Short visited the Eden Project earlier this summer and wrote this commentary on their visit. We've reproduced the letter in full as it gives some important (and entertaining) insights into how visitors experience a place.
Two short Shorts visit Eden
When you are four feet tall, you take two steps to everyone else’s one. When you are also getting on in years and needing to use a walking stick, any distance other than in one’s own house becomes a problem.
So when friends suggested we visit the Eden Project, we gave them one of those looks which says “You must be joking”, or “You are out of your tiny little minds.”
However, since we never ever turn our backs on a challenge, we looked the Project up on the Internet and found out we could actually borrow electrically driven wheel chairs!
Ah, but what SIZE would these chairs be? Most are far too big for us to get into, let alone, with our short arms, have the control knob accessible.
Thankfully, a very good friend of ours from the Sensory Trust with direct association with the Project, was able to measure the distance from the back of the chair to the control knob. She e-mailed us to say, “It’s one and a half pamphlets from back to front”!!!! Hmmmm, well, we could only give it a try.
So, we rang Eden and explained to “George” (the man in charge of booking the chairs; later to find his name is George Dyson), that we were Mr. and Mrs. Short, both dwarfs and wanting to book the chairs for a visit in the near future!!!!! Wish I could have seen the look on his face...
We arrived (as instructed) at the “Apple 2” car park with our two able bodied friends. This is the car park designated as the car park for the “disabled.” Supposedly the closest to the reception area?
We looked around, all we could see was trees! Then we spotted ‘wheel chairs’ but not powered ones! First question in our minds was how, had we arrived without ‘able bodied’ assistance, were we supposed to get wherever the powered chairs are? Surely, we thought, (or imagined) that the car park would be smack bang next to the entrance? Not to be dismayed, our friends got two wheelchairs, bundled us into them, and took great pleasure in pushing us down the relatively steep ramp to the entrance, when we were instructed that the powered chairs were waiting for us at the opposite side of the building, where we found Daren waiting for us!
Being ‘disabled’ as we are and the size we are, we are used to the patronizing attitude of society. But Daren! Wow! He never blinked an eye lid, made no reference to our size OR our name, and was just soooooo matter of fact and professional in the manner he introduced us to the chairs and explained the controls etc. Even down to his obvious training in how to lift someone safely, when I needed assistance to get INTO the chair! Once he realized we both have a damn good sense of humour, we got on great with him.
This is a difficult relationship (with society) to explain, but when we arrived back at his base, he didn’t ask “Did you manage?” “Could you cope?” etc. No, he asked if we had had a great day etc! Then listened with a big beaming grin on his face as we described with GREAT delight where we had been and how much we had enjoyed it. He then arranged with a colleague to accompany us back to the car park to our car, and to take the chairs back to base.
The conversation we had with him demonstrated clearly his love of the job and pride in Eden. He took time to explain future projects, what is being done, how past events such as the glowing description he gave of your last winter success. Yer, he’s a great guy and a credit to the Project.
Oops! I’m getting ahead of myself.
Sooooooo, after the explanations, and being armed with a map of the Project showing the most suitable route for the chairs, we were off!
There is no way one can explain to perfectly ambulant people, the sheer delight and euphoria we experienced in those first few moments of realizing that a) we were going to be covering huge distances without paying for it with great pain at the end, b) that thanks to the rule of the Project regarding speed, we were not going to be going any faster than average walking speed (much to the delight of our friends) and c) that for once, just for once, we were going to tire our friends out this time, rather than it be the other way round!
After that, well, it was like floating on a cloud! We cruised around the complex not quite sure whether it was the scenery or the ease with which we were doing so, that gave us the greatest pleasure.
We could stop whenever we wanted to take photos! Normally we can only do this when there is a seat nearby and we would be able to sit, put the walking stick down, take up the camera and snap whatever the seat was near. NOT IN THE CHAIRS!!!!! Take the chair right up to whatever we needed to photograph! Just sit there, compose the picture and then glide on to the next
This may sound weird, but because we didn’t have to concentrate on our walking, or the pain levels, we actually saw more! We could concentrate on the detail of the plants, marvel at the colours and patterns in the flowers, etc etc etc. We could stop whenever we wished, we could just sit, relax, admire, observe etc.
Normally we rarely look up because we are too busy concentrating on what we are walking on and where our next step can safely take us. But the paths in Eden are super smooth, the chairs floated over them Well, most of them
If we had any constructive remarks to make, it would only be because we were learners in the chairs! i.e. on the ramps leading down into Eden from the reception area, at times we could have done with raised sides to the paths to stop us when our steering was crap. Also, because we are so low down in the chairs (as we also are when walking) some of the bush work at the sides of the ramps was just that bit too high to see over. Perhaps a topiarist could work the odd undulation into them occasionally to allow wheelchair users to see?
Talking of steering…… we soon realized that reversing is an art! Especially when either entering or leaving one of the lifts.
Seriously though, the project may be called “Eden” but for two dwarfs in powered wheelchairs, it was like being in heaven, or at the very least, floating on Cloud 9
We are now left wondering why it took us all these years to get round to our visit. Why did we think a visit would be more like riding a horse in the Grand National over all the jumps, when in fact it was to be experienced with such consummate gliding ease?