What price a scythed chariot? Wheelchairs in Cheltenham

It’s been a long time – they say a week is a long time in politics, but politics seems to drag on interminably right now. Today I’m not talking about the Election though; I have been pushing a wheelchair bound elderly lady round Cheltenham, and I thought I’d reflect on the experience.

The lady in question is lovely – we have been friends for many years now, and she is one of my neighbours, but after a fall in which she broke her hip early this year we no longer get to go shopping together a we had for the last few years. Still she is doing well – daily visits from the physio are working wonders, and we have no access to a wheelchair arranged by another neighbour, Alison, so we can quickly run in to town when the weather is not too bad. CJ pushing a frail old lady a few hundred yards up town and back, what could possibly go wrong?

Actually quite a bit! To start with, our road is really not made with any kind of vehicular traffic in mind. If you hit the little depression in the centre where the 19th century open sewer has been covered over, the wheel chair bucks alarmingly, and then we have to take a blind corner through the little passage that leads to the High Street, which is always a bit unnerving, as idiots occasionally come shooting down the pavement at speed on bikes. Even as a pedestrian I occasionally collide with people who simply do not realise the archway opens on to another street, though I have learnt extreme caution. Then out on to the lower high street, and we are away, moving up towards Tesco, our ultimate destination.

It’s interesting to reflect on peoples reactions. Elderly people shuffle past, and often pretend not to see us   I think, or are lost in their thoughts, and perhaps the sight of another elderly person in a wheelchair is distressing to them — I don’t know. Other wheelchair users, young or old smile and nod, especially the self propelled young ‘uns who nod cheerfully and put on a burst of speed or demonstrate their great agility and skill, making me feel clumsy and useless as a push-person! Young women often smile, and sometimes ask if it’s my mum – they are often surprised to find it’s my neighbour, and pretty girls make friendly small talk, in a manner I associate with when I have had cause to carry a kitten.  Muslim ladies in headscarves invariably seem to nod, smile, and make room for us – their manners are excellent. Men are on the whole exceedingly friendly – and men in their forties and fifties often make cheery comments, though many know the lady I’m pushing from her time working in a shop may years ago – she is incredibly well loved, and seems to know half of Cheltenham.

The “does she take sugar” syndrome, bane of many a chair users life, is completely reversed most of the time. People talk to the lady in the chair, especially old friends, and I’m just invisible as a “carer”. I don’t mind a bit, nd it’s nice to have a break while she chats to folks. It all sounds rather good doesn’t it?

It’s not. Where people are concerned, by far the worst are mothers with pushchairs. I’ve been hacked in the ankles many times in my life by the infernal devices, and let’s face it a push chair is a ghastly thing. Completely necessary, but after a few minutes of plodding through town with a wailing infant, often a gaggle strung out behind also demanding attention, and  negotiating rough pavements and awkward pedestrians mothers seem to succumb to some kind of “pram rage” – they become surly, selfish and unthinking. I hesitate to condemn the whole breed, but I can honestly say that a mother with courtesy and a pushchair when faced with a wheelchair user is something I have yet to encounter. I know they exist, but today we were pushed in to scaffolding (while stationary) by being barged, and sworn at by a ten year accompanying what appeared to be a prosperous middle class family (dad behind pushchair) while trying to turn in to our alley; he could not see why we were turning right, so just assumed we were blocking the pavement I guess, but a momentary slowing and we would not have been slammed in to the wall. People with pushchairs move a lot faster than I do with the wheelchair. I’m hesitant, and slow, knowing my passenger gets travel sick if I zoom round too fast. I stop for pedestrians carrying burdens, and let others through – we are after all in no great hurry. To be rammed twice out of the way, once when stopped, by pushchair users sets a new low however.  I can sense the frustration they feel — yet why do others who are disadvantaged and struggling have to be so damned unsympathetic? I wonder if some pushchair users actually ram other pram and pushchair users as much as they do us? I fear it may be the case. Perhaps there should be some kind of driving test to operate one? 🙂

However that was not the worst today — today the worst was when we were in Tesco. A woman in her fifties I’d guess was talking on her mobile, walked round a corner with her shopping basket under her arm and smacked my passenger in the face with it. She was apologetic, and luckily it was a glancing blow, but it could have been a lot worse – luckily no harm done, but it shook me up, while not seeming to worry my neighbour much.  People talking on phones in busy supermarkets should probably stand still I think, but if they failed to see me and a wheelchair then maybe the phone made little difference.

Now disabled access – full marks to Tesco Metro Cheltenham High Street for trying, no steps at all, and getting in is easy. The exit ramp however is very steep, and the wheelchair pulls away from me as we leave and come down it like a bobsleigh accelerating down the Cresta Run.  It’s unnerving, and the first time I did it I thought for a fraction of a second the wheelchair would tip over or launch in to the High Street in an inadvertant kamikaze run it to a passing bus. I’m used to it now, and can just about hold back, but the sickening acceleration does not impress my passenger. Have a look next time you are in town – it’s not high, but the curvature of the ramp is hard for me to negotiate. I think in future I may just ask if I can exit by the entrance, at least till I am better ale to control the chair. Again, great staff, wide aisles, good shop. It’s just a pity the exit ramp has to be so steep.

By far the worst bit though is half way between home and Tesco, by the audio shop, just before a zebra crossing, across the road from the public convenience (think bowling green/Istanbul kebab shop area). There are renovations going on in what I think is a housing association block of flats, and the pavement is blocked by scaffolding. You have to negotiate a slalom course between bins, a bench, a lamp post and the scaffolding, and the banked brick pavement is wide and perfectly adequate for pedestrians, but its hard work with a wheelchair – any slight slope and I lose a lot of control, and the banking of the brick area i am forced on to here is a bit hairy. Pedestrians sometimes move to one side, and I make it through — it’s only temporary, but it’s a bit dicey each time I grit my teeth and go for it.

Hey we made it back, and getting out to the shops seems to do her the world of good. Still, if I have to deal with many more pushchair psychos I will have to do some rapid work on the wheelchair, and fix lawnmower blades to the wheels – if it was good enough for Boadicea, it will work for us!

scythed chariot

I'm sure adding blades to the wheelchair would make life easier!

cj x


About Chris Jensen Romer

I am a profoundly dull, tedious and irritable individual. I have no friends apart from two equally ill mannered cats, and a lunatic kitten. I am a ghosthunter by profession, and professional cat herder. I write stuff and do TV things and play games. It's better than being real I find.
This entry was posted in Social commentary desecrated, Uninteresting to others whitterings about my life and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to What price a scythed chariot? Wheelchairs in Cheltenham

  1. Tom Ruffles says:

    I sympathise Chris. Based on past, and alas long-ago experience pushing my parents – not at the same time, I hasten to add – I found the best way to neotiate a ramp was to do it backwards, and hold the chair with my bodyweight, coming back slowly. That way if you hit a bump you aren’t likely to catapault your chairee into the street. People can be gits though, can’t they? They should remember that it could be them one day but of course we never think it will happen to us. Still, if you think Cheltenham streets are tough, try some of the pavements in Cambridge. I once pushed an elderly chap along one because his wife just couldn’t manage it, and you had to keep the chair level by bicep power because the slabs were at all sorts of angle. And that’s without the risk of being mown down by cyclists when crossing the road.

  2. Darren says:

    Chris, I DARE you to borrow that chair, have a seat and bring YOURSELF out for a bit of a shop. I think you would write a different article.

    Kudos for taking the time to bring your neighbour out when they needed it. You are a fucking hero. (Totally serious, Chris)

    -“The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker.” – Helen Keller

    Thanks for this tiny push.

  3. Lyndale says:

    Hi CJ

    It is wonderful to see you helping out your neighbour. Good on you.
    I thought I would add our experiences as a young(er) couple with my wife needing to use a wheelchair. (you thought you had it bad).

    Lynzi has been in the chair since she was 20 yrs old, she is now 34, and has always used a push wheelchair as she couldnt manage to propel it alone (hence my job as her pusher) ***(NOT drugs i should add)*** although I will get her some ‘Coke’ from the shop if she asks me, as long as it is not diet. URRGHH.

    We didnt find many problems with pushchair users, but lynzi used to have a little collection of stickers and toys attached to her wheelchair, so the little children with the parents, liked the toys. We used to have parents say, ‘we couldnt stop them from crying till they saw you in your BIG pushchair with your toys 🙂 .

    Our main problem was with the elderly population (not all I haste to add, but the majority of them). They used to look down on Lynzi with scorn and distaste, even commenting on occasions about ‘why are you in that chair? If I can manage without one, so should you’ or things of that nature.

    Shopping in shops and supermarkets was my biggest hate. We would be stopped in front of some clothes for example, so Lynzi can look at them, and people would step in front of her, almost straddling her knees to get to the clothes/goods. If I left Lynzi unattended, some people would actually push her out of the way to get to the goods.

    People stepping out in front of us, or stopping dead in the street, right in front of us was also a bugbear of mine. They would stop, and if I was unable to stop immediately or didnt see them stop, the footrests would catch them in the back of the ankle/heel. They would then give us a mouthful about not being careful. We used to joke that we would sharpen the front edge of the footrests, that would stop them barging in front and stopping without warning **MWAHAHAHAHAHA**(evil laugh)

    One of the worst experiences for Lynzi was when she was attending an event at Debenhams, they had these events twice a year, for makeup and perfume. There was food, wine, demonstrations etc, and she used to really look forward to them. I would sometimes stay with her, or drop her off and go to the pub, then go and pick her up later. Whilst at one such event, she was alone, me having abandoned her for the local hostelry, and having a really good time. She then overheard one woman saying to her friend ‘Honestly, they shouldnt let people like *that* in here ‘ refering and pointing to Lynzi. She was absolutely devastated. Luckily Lynzi was friends with the staff, and one of them overheard this woman and her comment and said ‘ Just because her legs dont work, it doesnt mean she cant hear you, or her brain doesnt work. She deserves to be here as much as you’. The woman was asked to apologise to Lynzi, refused to do so, and was kicked out of the event, to cheers and applause from other patrons and staff at the event. Unfortunately, this doesnt take away the negative comments the woman said, and as a result, Lynzi didnt attend anymore such events afterwards.

    Just a few thoughts, from a younger wheelchair user
    and when you get the wheelchair adapted with blades remember to sharpen the footpedals too 🙂

    Lee & Lynzi

  4. Mo says:

    I’ve been wheelchairing my dad around lately, but I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to use a car for the long hauls inbetween him and the shops. (I could do an annoyed post about disabled parking spaces, but that’s another story.) People here have generally been pretty courteous — maybe the slower pace of East Anglian life! Sad to say though, I haven’t had the positive attention from young women that you describe — perhaps because Dad is not a little old lady 😉

    I was very sad (and angry) to read Lee’s story about Debenhams. Hope the woman regretted it later, even if she wouldn’t at the time.

  5. Parents with youngsters in pushchairs are indeed the most inconsiderate people in the world.

    Because we haven’t had a solid night’s sleep since our passengers were born.

    It’s not an excuse, but please don’t think that just because someone is pushing the pram, as opposed to sitting in it, that they are fit-minded and able bodied.

  6. CJ says:

    Actually parents are often quite considerate — I was unlucky that first time out. Since then I have formed a certain empathy with the weary parents – an hour a day of pushing chris does that to you. At least my passenger does not wail or throw tantrums. I would if writing this piece now note that MArks & Spencers customers are the rudest people in the world. 🙂

    cj x

  7. great post.love it.,
    I really agree with it,It’s interesting to reflect on peoples reactions. It was been said that we should compare ourselves to others for we,each one of us is unique and that by comparing yourself to one that you above than you will feel discourage.So cheer up!

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