Being disabled and not being a billionaire evil genius is a shite state of affairs.
After a six year trial period, I’ve decided it’s not for me. The problem is context – context being, supposedly, everything. You see, I didn’t spec my environment; I don’t have a hollowed-out island full of boiler-suited minions, with smooth floors and rapid, spacious lifts. I have London, and it’s a fucking disgrace.
Let me tell you about my “wheel-chair”. The concept of a chair with wheels seems to perplex some people, but I’ll assume you’re not one of them. Do your knuckles drag on the ground when you walk? Are you involved in civic planning for one of London’s numerous (peculiarly autonomous) boroughs? Do you own an airline? No? OK.
It’s electric – I don’t even have the dignity of a cool titanium-framed carbon-wheeled manual chair, because my right arm has no function at all; I could propel a manual, but only in circles. So I hum along, steering the thing left-handed with a little joystick. It’s correctly called a powerchair. People call it an “electric chair”, and we laugh, or a scooter, and I correct them. If I had a pound for every time I’ve seen someone park one of those mobility scooters, hop off, extinguish their cigarette and stroll into a shop, I’d have enough money to buy a pair of American Apparel underpants.
As Alistair Cookie once said on Monsterpiece Theater: Me digress.
Where was I? Oh yes, fucking disgrace. Pavements full of bombholes, unending “maintenance” work, people wandering slack-jawed, their faces and minds buried in text – on my way c u in 5 lol. Bikes and dogs’ eggs, always dumped right in the middle of the pavement. And then…
In every street there’ll be one junction where the kerbs aren’t lowered. Or my favourite variation – it’s lowered on one side but not the other. How does that happen? Are the two sides of the road in different boroughs? Did the budget run out just there? So I have to venture out into the road and find the next place where I can clunk back up onto the pavement. Fifty percent chance I’ll be going against the flow of traffic.
I have to do just that to get to my own front door. A few months back I was scuttling along my street, hugging the kerb, pulling an apologetic face at the drivers of the few cars coming the other way, and the last one, a dark blue Vauxhall Astra, swerved towards me.
Let me reiterate.
The driver. Of a car. Swerved towards a guy in a. Wheel. Chair. The driver started shouting.
“Wot the fack you doin’, you’ve got the whole fackin…” I didn’t hear the rest, I just kept going.
Since then I’ve taken to waiting at the end of the one-way stretch until there are no cars. I then buzz along full tilt, past my own front door to the first available driveway. Still, that takes a while; a car can easily appear at the far end and meet me half way. A few days ago, that car was a dark blue Astra.
We must have both performed an instant risk assessment – the type that doesn’t involve research and analysis, the type that doesn’t even really involve the brain. And what our spines told us both to do was: Keep going. I maintained a completely blank expression and stared at him; he just looked straight ahead, and we breezed past each other.
I struggle on in my naïveté, continuing to believe that people are basically decent. Catch them on the wrong day, though, and they’ll drive a car at a guy in a wheelchair.
Painful to live in fear isn’t it? Nothing is worse than having an itch you can never scratch.
Oh I agree.