As a car driver in London, cyclists are not my favourite people. I find the way they ride aggressively and in packs quite disconcerting, and their disregarding of red lights and the rest of the Highway Code appalling.
When I could walk, albeit using an elbow crutch, I had several encounters with cyclists riding on pavements and was knocked over twice. Neither cyclist cared about what happened to me – just riding off swearing because I didn’t get out of their way, dispute the fact they were in the wrong.
A few days ago on my way across London I decided to go shopping at the largest Marks & Spencer store in the capital. There are five Blue Badge Bays at the rear of the Oxford St shop, luckily I only had to lurk for about 20 minutes before a space was free. I manoeuvred into it quickly as other cars were also waiting.
It was only when I got out of my car to unload my wheelchair that I realised I was going to have a problem, a very inconsiderate cyclist had chained his bike to the post displaying the Blue Badge signage. This meant that getting my chair out was going to be very difficult.
I couldn’t move my car any further back, as that would have meant that I did not have enough space to get my wheelchair out. If I moved any further forward, the front wheels would be over the bay markings and I would get a parking ticket. I contemplated doing that, and then moving my car back inside the bay, but obviously that would mean leaving my wheelchair on the pavement. I was really uncomfortable with that option as I feared my chair would be stolen whilst I was re-parking. I’m not being paranoid, this not unknown.
So I decided to try and get the chair out without moving my car. This was easier said than done, the positioning of bike meant I couldn’t set the chair down whilst standing in front of it, the best and safest way. I had to try and guide it from the side, this was much slower to do, and took more time than usual, causing me pain. In doing this, I had to move round my chair to operate the control used to hoist it. My balance hasn’t been good recently and, inevitably I fell, landing on the bike and injuring my leg.
I was really cursing the cyclist by now! Though I suspect he had no idea at all that he had caused any inconvenience to anybody.
Eventually a kind person helped me up, and I managed to move my chair so I could sit in it and get the electrically operated hoist back into the car. I put the footrests on my chair and went off shopping.
Sadly, my hunt for the perfect small black cross-body bag was not successful and I couldn’t find the sleeveless t-shirt I was looking for either. As I got into the lift to go to a higher floor to mooch the garden furniture (well I might get a flat with a balcony or garden when I move) I was joined by two other women. One was, at a guess, in her late sixties, the other about 20 years younger, and as I later discovered didn’t speak much English. As I went to push the lift button to go up, the older woman pushed my arm away, hit the down button and said; “I’m going to the lower ground floor first, you can wait, you’re in a wheelchair.”
For a moment I didn’t quite know what to say, but then I found my voice, “There is no need to be rude to me, I’m entitled to use the lift as much as you are.” By then we had reached the lower floor and the older woman just glared at me and walked out of the lift. I quickly pushed the button to send the lift upwards.
The younger woman looked at me and in broken English asked what had been said, I just shrugged my shoulders pointed to my head with a screw-like gesture saying, “The old lady was rude and mad.” By now we were at the floor both I and the younger woman wanted, I wheeled out of the lift and drove off towards the garden chairs.
I’ve encountered all sorts of reactions to being in a wheelchair, including the women who as she entered the lift with me on my way down to the store exits, just demanded straight out; “Why are you in a wheelchair?” I gave her a quick, truthful response (as I’ve done numerous times before), which thankfully ended our conversation. But, being regarded as a second class lift user is a new one to me!
However, as Eleanor Roosevelt said; ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’ So, I held my head up high and wheeled out of the shop and went off to browse bags I could only pretend to afford across the road in Selfridges.