What’s this strange title? Well, it’s because for an hour a day I’m experiencing the rest of humanity at its hip height.
It’s the Peacemobile of course. Rolling through the streets of London and into Hyde Park or Paddington Basin or round the blocks and the lovely garden squares. Delightful. And my eyes are at hip height of everyone else. A new world.
We have to cross roads, the P-mobile and I. Zebra crossings are easy, as are those with traffic lights, because at those points the pavement slopes gently down to the road. Other places can be difficult because the chariot, able to deal with tarmac and aggregate and sand and earth and grass, can’t safely go up and down between pavement and street: the step is too high. Here in London many corners have a ‘dropped pavement’ area which slants down to the street, so we have to search for those. It can be a little inconvenient but generally it works out.
So, on to Hip-Height World. Most pedestrians are helpful: they give me space. Others? A few examples:
The Parkers: cars parked on corners, breaking the law, often with the driver inside. No way for the P-mobile to use the dropped pavement. A conversation might or might not help ….
The Phoneys: we’ve all seen them. Speaking on the phone or texting or browsing or navigating, and oblivious. This is where DP employs his weapon.
If they’re coming towards me I stop the chariot directly in front and wait. A few seconds later as they see the Peace feet a few inches from theirs, they’re in shock. Fortunately most apologise.
If they’re walking away and are slowing me down – me, already a Formula 1 wheelchair ace – I glide past them and then swerve close in front of them, as close as possible. Another shock but no one yet has complained.
The Manholers: a head appears just above pavement level, with barriers. Could be someone fixing power supplies, or water pipes, or installing internet cables. Perhaps there’s space or a route round the barriers for pedestrians one by one, but not enough space for the Peacemobile. That happened yesterday and the man didn’t have a portable ramp, so I had to get out of the chair so that it could be manoeuvred into the street, round the corner, and back onto the pavement. Annoying.
The Chatterers: groups, laughing, gossiping, enjoying the company …. but I can’t get past. My tiny tinny beep button has no effect so I do a loud roar – just about the only sound I can produce these days – and keep the buggy going straight into the centre of the group. It works. Many apologise, and others seem a bit annoyed that they have to move to let me through. My response to all: a cheerful wave and thumbs up, which probably upsets the annoyed ones. Great!
There are others, even solo walkers to whom someone in a wheelchair is invisible or insignificant. They presume that the driver should manoeuvre around them so that they can continue walking straight ahead. Thinking back as a pedestrian myself for seven decades, I’d more often than not have given way to others, especially someone disabled. How odd.
What I’ve written above isn’t a complaint. It’s just a description of new experiences from a hip-height world. As I said, most people are very understanding. For others though I’m quite surprised at what I’ve seen.
It remains enjoyable. In fact it’s fun, cutting in front of some people, waiting for others to walk into me, cheerily careering through the centre of groups, and so on. I’m enjoying it. So perhaps, after all, it should be “Hip! Hip! Hurray!”