Wednesday, 14 November 2012

An (abridged) Honest Answer

What follows, like all anecdotes featured in this column, is 100% true. I may yet choose to embellish it for the book that I am still laughably trying to write, but this is what actually happened, not what could happen given a certain set of circumstances.

Incidentally I have not managed to add anything to the word count of the aforementioned book tonight. I have been to see the new Bond film which is utterly splendid. A proper Bond film. There's no mileage in me promising a review however. I still haven't done that review of The Campaign which I saw over a month ago. At the end of the day you're not reading, either because you want to see the films and therefore don't want them spoiled for you, or because you have no interest in the films at all. Or because I'm shit.

So let me take you back about eight hours. It's Wednesday lunch time. I have been to Burger King in the city centre and am on my way back to work. I'm pushing up the hill near to Moorfields station, wishing I hadn't eaten quite so much and/or that I wasn't quite so old and heavy. A man with a walking stick is limping slowly towards me. He smiles at me knowingly, slows his limp down even further and says;

"Excuse me mate, do you mind if I ask you a question?"

Oh fuck. This is going to be about wheelchairs. Strangers do not stop me in the street to ask me where I bought my jeans. And if he just wants directions then in the first place he is shit out of luck because I'm out of my comfort zone, and in the second place he probably would not have asked whether I minded. For the briefest of nanoseconds I consider pushing on and pretending that I haven't heard him. I'm disabled. If I have a wheelchair then who is to say that I'm not deaf aswell? And blind while we're at it. Or just simple minded? I could easily carry off the notion that I haven't seen or heard him at all. The moment is devoured by a rare moment of guilt and responsibility;

"Of course mate, go ahead." I hear myself say.

"The thing is I am going to be in one of them soon and I just wondered how you get on?"

He points to my chair with his walking stick but the penny has already dropped. He's referring to the wheelchair. One of them. He can't even bear to say the word;

"Yeah, I've got MS, and I'm going to end up in one of them so I just wondered what it is like for access and that round here?"

At this point I lie, or at best offer a highly censored, truncated version of the truth. I'm late back as it is. What I would do if I was being brutally honest and if I had the time is take him to the nearest pub and warn him exactly what awaits him over a pint. Explain to him in great detail how it will slowly but surely turn him into an emotional fuckwit. But I stick to answering what I have been asked in the time I have. I have to. I'm down on my flexi;

"Well I'm used to it mate, I've had it all my life so it doesn't bother me." I lie.

"Really mate?" he asks with a smile, bouyed by my deceitful, smelly, matter-of-factness. He is soon to be brought down from his cloud of optimism;

"The wheelchair will be the least of your worries, mate. It's other people's attitudes to it that are the problem." I announce, more coldly than I had intended.

"I know, bastards aren't they?" he answers, without elaborating on who 'they' might be.

"Good luck mate." I say finally.

He'll need it. Especially when that first person approaches him on the street and says;

"Excuse me mate, do you mind if I ask you a question?"

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