Saturday, 22 November 2008

The wheelchair V The Walker

On the post Grit In The Shoe Of Life I listed three of the petty annoyances of my disability. Here is another one, let's call it The Walking Wanderers.

Imagine the scene; you are wheeling along the High Street pavement, thirty feet ahead of you are an elderly couple, laden with Christmas shopping, walking up towards Woolworths and a whole bundle of 3 for 2 offers. They walk slowly and you in the wheelchair are closing fast since the chair moves at the equivalent of a brisk walking pace. You line up to overtake on the inside, next to Superdrug, when with feet to go, and for no apparent reason, the elderly couple stop dead. You come to a juddering halt yourself and miss smashing in to their brittle boned back of the legs with less than a foot to spare. You release a breath in a hiss of relief and prepare to negotiate around the now stationary obstacles. But then, one of the couple (usually the man for some reason), without looking, takes a step backwards and onto your metal foot-plates. He stumbles, partially falling into your lap, and glares at you, assuming you have run into him. Once disentangled he limps away on the arm of his spouse muttering about not letting 'them' out unaccompanied.

Some time later, with rolls of wrapping paper strapped to the back of the wheelchair and a box containing special offer bubble bath on your lap, you are heading back down the High Street towards Marks and Spencer's to buy a woolly hat when the same elderly couple step out of WH Smith's directly into your path. You just manage to swerve around them, nearly taking out a woman and her baby-buggy, and head off away from the couple, hearing her saying to her husband something about 'liabilities'.

The final encounter comes as you head back towards the car-park. You spot the by now familiar anorak and beige mac a little further down the street, and mindful of their erratic wanderings you slow to match their speed. But their pace grows ever slower as they discuss the merits of Vicks Synex spray over menthol lozenges, and eventually, as you realise that Christmas will be long over before you reach the car at this ever creeping pace you determine to overtake them, albeit at a wide margin. It is at this point, as you prepare to manoeuvre around them, that they speed up a little and begin to zigzag back and forth before you. As you try to anticipate a gap in which to ease passed they begin to vary their speed, randomly quickening and slowing, meandering left and right. You draw level and try to squeeze by. The old lady, with out looking or giving the slightest hint of intention, suddenly changes direction and bumps into you side on. She glares at you. “I do wish you would watch where you are going, young man!” she says. Then she pauses, taking in the wheelchair, and asks. “Where's your Mummy or Daddy?”

Tips for people who can walk.

  1. Walk in a straight line. Don't zigzag- It's not clever and it's not funny.

  1. Don't stop abruptly. Slow to a halt. 1f you can't do this then at least wear warning lights on your back.

  2. Maintain a constant pace. Speeding up and slowing down randomly is just plain mean. Leave variable speed to those of us with electric motors and adjustable power settings.

  3. Remember you share pavement (sidewalk) with other users. It is not a lavatory for your dogs, nor is it the ideal place to leave gum. Wheels are harder to clean than shoes.

  4. Stopping at the narrowest point of the pavement (eg between a bin and bollard, tree or lamppost) for a conversation is selfish. Don't do it. Ever.

  5. Waving a cigarette around at waist height while you walk is tantamount to poking me in the eye with it. Don't be upset if I throw take-away coffee over it. Or you.

And don't get me started on umbrellas.