I had the unfortunate need to borrow a wheelchair from the local town Shopmobility service last week, and as my other half Brawny was pushing me around the town centre I decided that, as a non-wheelchair user for the majority of the time, I would have a look and see how much of an effect my new wheels had on other people.
We started off by heading down the far end of the High Street. Firstly, the chair was uncomfortable for me as it had no suspension so every loose brick in the paving we hit felt like Brawn was running me over Ben Nevis; and I can only imagine how painful it was for him to be pushing his girlfriend (who will admit to being overweight) around terrain resembling a slab of peanut brittle. So we were both gritting our teeth, aware that it was uncomfortable and cumbersome for both of us.
After our trip down the other end of the High Street we decided to drop in on our favourite games shop. Luckily, all of the stands were placed far away enough for me to slip through and not bother other people, and there was a wheelchair ramp that enabled me to reach the tills. I did knock a few stands of games off, but that was entirely due to my own incompetence - in fact, a couple next to us helped me put them back, and we enjoyed a little bit of banter with them. So far, so peachy.
Upon reaching the main shopping precinct however, things got a little sticky. People started looking at me oddly, including one teenaged girl who stared at me so bluntly that I found myself smiling and waggling a hand at her - she at least had the decency to 'snap out of it' and smile nervously back, as if suddenly remembering I was human.
It seemed our biggest rival was the mothers with pushchairs. Brawn wheeled me into my favourite High-Street clothes shop, which was a lot more awkward compared to the games shop. It just wasn't designed for people who weren't walking, let alone wheelchair users. Just as I was looking at a pair of trousers, from behind us came a very quiet cough. Brawny turned, only to notice a procession of about three large buggy-pushing mothers. In all fairness they did ask if they could pass politely, but the only way to get me out of the way was to push me towards a group of girls who definitely did not want to move. Here, Brawny's powers of intimidation came into play: a gruff "Excuse me" from him and the girls scattered (without an apology of course). The mothers thanked us, but once they'd gone past a line of people started trickling through the gap we'd made for them, leaving Brawny unable to reverse me back to where I wanted to look. So there we were; stuck in the middle of an aisle, wondering if it could get any more awkward, when along comes a Shop Assistant with a bundle of clothes. And where does she want to put them? Right where I am, of course! At this point, we gave up and left the shop as quickly as physically possible.
Next, we needed to head upstairs. We headed to the lift, only to find it out of service. The one across the other side of the precinct was also, you guessed it, out of service. The notice on the broken lifts said to go through to the back of the nearest department store, which we did. It was pretty annoying.
Now, we all blame each other for rudeness in public. Kids blame old people, the elderly blame the youth, mothers blame bustling businessmen and women who in turn blame women with giant pushchairs. Everyone picks on others, usually the people who are the antithesis of themselves, so why bother to differentiate if someone's going to blame you anyway? The point is to make yourself exempt from the generalisation of others; especially if you come across someone who is physically impaired, has young children with them, or is carrying heavy baggage or items. Be mindful of others: if someone's in a wheelchair or on crutches, let them go on their way but don't stare as if they are exhibitions. If you're going to have a chat, don't do it in shop doorways. If you're cut up in the High Street by a stressed woman juggling two or more jostling children, let it slide. It may seem like common sense to most, but according to my soiree it appears to be something that a majority of people are lacking.