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And he shall be called 'Petal'

I shall only say this once, but since becoming diabled my name has changed.

Until 18 months ago I was 'Jeremy' and during my year-long stay in hospital it lingered, but since returning to Oxford it has been all but superseded by the following monikers: Among men - mate, pal, buddy, sport, chief, skipper, friend; Among women - sweetheart, petal, pet and luv.

If I had any sense of political correctness I would stand on my soapbox (or roll onto it, more accurately) and, like Joseph Merrick cry "I am not an animal, I am a human being", but for right or wrong, I am more motivated by fitting in than standing out and thus actually appreciate the effort of complete strangers to demonstrate their empathy.

It's not belittling, demeaning or condescending but, dare I say it, actually endearing.

Not once in the last 14 months since moving back to Oxford have I detected anything but encouragement, cheer and guidance from the great British public.

In fact, the only time I've felt disheartened and despairing was in last April when, riding on a bus into town, I decided to give up my disabled space to another wheelchair user (and their carer) who otherwise would have had to continue waiting in the rain.

Since I was in no rush and younger than they were, I cheerfully surrendered my seat to wait for the next bus, but did they say 'thank you' or even show the slightest flicker of knee-jerk appreciation? No.

Equally, rolling out of a disabled toilet in Marks and Spencer in Queen Street, a limping middle-aged woman whose true disability seemed only to be a distinct lack of sartorial elegance, once shouted: "You took your time didn't you?"

Seated in my wheelchair like ET without the charm, I've also noticed that people feel far more ready to finger their way into my personal space.

My right knee has been patted, rubbed, massaged and stroked by women more than it ever was by girlfriends, while shoulders are irresistible to men who want to demonstrate their steely but brotherly affection.

But here's the point - it's all well-intentioned.

Indeed, it's more than that: it's an open, generous embrace intended to show solidarity. So with that in mind I will, by deed poll, be adding adding a few extra middle names to my current solitary 'William'.

After all, I might as well make it official.

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