Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Ben Miller is right about Pavements!!! Trying to negotiate Oxford Street with a stick.

Ben Miller is right! Pavements should have traffic lanes...!

On an episode of the comedy series ‘Room 101’ hosted by comedian Frank Skinner, Ben Miller stated one of his pet hates was the disorganised way pedestrians walked down streets, suddenly stopping without warning, obstructing, colliding and slowing everyone up in general with no idea of the effect this has on other pavement users. That there should be some form of pavement traffic lane system similar to those on roads in order to ease congestion.

Ben Miller on 'Room 101'. Copyright Hat Trick Productions/BBC

 I have to agree!

Over the last three years now, I have used a walking sick so that A) I know where the ground is and B) to remind me to stay upright. It is my perception of where everything is in time and space with the constant fear of falling that is the cause of the problem I have with my mobility, as I get frequent episodes of vertigo. This causes me to stagger, become very disorientated and could bring on a seizure on my worst days.

In Penzance, I am usually ok with mobility as I know where every stone, every crack in the pavement, every turn, step, corner, pavement edge, cobbled bits are, slippery smooth flagstone, the works. I have lived here pretty much full time since 1984 so know it very well.  

But even then, there are times of the day that I dare not venture forth unless absolutely necessary because I cannot cope with masses of people coming at me all at the same time.  I have to plan ahead where my feet are going and this is exhausting, as you have to consciously and constantly think ahead to where you want to be, how to get there and I have to do this where ever I travel to.

For example in London usually I can manage quite well now on my own if travelling around there during the day providing I take care on the underground, and again plan ahead with allowing plenty of time for travel.  But in some areas, no way can I do this with a margin of safety and still need a companion at the busiest times, because even in this more friendly towards the disabled cities, one can still get caught out. The worse example I can think of is Oxford Street, one Monday evening back in October 2012. 

I had travelled up to see Ben Miller at a gig he was taking part in at the 100 Club on Oxford Street, at a do called ‘Karaoke Circus’. I would have been up there with my husband celebrating our 21st wedding anniversary that week, and was going to stay at a friend’s digs in Ladbroke Grove, but she had taken ill and so our plans were scuppered.  However, I did want to meet up with some friends for a ‘got-married-21-years-beforehand-but-never-had-a-hen-night' do, so this was to be some compensation for that but Dave stayed home, ever the wise man!

I had arrived on time in Paddington and was met by a lovely lady called Emma, who is by anyone standards *very* tall, especially if you’re only five feet in height as I am.  She had kindly offered to help guide me towards the venue and we set off to meet up with two other fine ladies before heading to the club. It was about 4.30pm, dark, drizzly and not the nicest place to be and also it was ‘rush hour’ or seemed to be by the number of people whizzing past, who kept colliding in to us.

What amazes me is that as said before, Emma is very tall and I am very wide, albeit 3 stone lighter now than I was back then.  I had a hold of Emma’s arm so I wouldn’t topple if I became disorientated (which was constantly that evening!) so you couldn’t say we were not visible.  Of course, as one does, we stayed to one side of the pavement so as not to hamper those passing by.

But still people kept walking/running/crashing in to us. After a while this got very annoying and had also started to make me feel quite ill because again of the constant stress of trying to avoid colliding with those coming at us.  After a while I got really fed up of this so told Emma I was going to start swinging my stick from side to side to clear a path, and I think this embarrassed her as it seemed I was trying to make out I was blind but I getting angry for both our sakes, as well as sore from the collisions. 

It turns out that this was a very effective method of at least clearing a little space ahead so we could crawl along without too much damage to ourselves, but I can’t say the same about those who collided with us as some received (deservedly so in my opinion) quite a crack on ankles and knees from my swinging stick. One lady jumped when on the receiving end of my ire and at least apologised, which was nice.  I hope that she at least slowed down a little afterwards to think about what had happened.

We eventually met up with the others and made it to the 100 Club, struggled down the stairs (by now I hope they have had that lift the doorman said I was a week too early for!) and had a good evening entertained by those ‘karaoke-ing’ to a live band and orchestra! Ben Miller, who was joined by Danny John-Jules, did a superb comedy duet of the George Michael and Michael Jackson song ‘Say, Say, Say.’  After which I went back to my hotel (via a taxi share this time) in Paddington and proceeded to have a mini breakdown, but that’s another tale which I won’t repeat here.

Assaulting speeding pedestrians on a busy London street with a walking stick might make for an amusing tale but actually raises some very serious points. As said before, London is usually fairly disabled and mobility impaired friendly (although as I found out with The 100 Club itself, it is best to check with any venue beforehand about access)  but not it seems on dark October evenings!

What if I had been on my own? What if I had been a wheelchair user? Or indeed blind or handicapped in any other way? It’s a very frightening experience having a wall of people coming at you and having to figure out a way of getting through that wall without falling or holding them up.  It is an embarrassing, soul-destroying, esteem-damaging and marginalising experience to have become an invisible annoyance to those lacking the insight or care about others who have difficulties. 

I am not trying to claim a greater right of way on the street than anyone else but given the fact although Emma and I were considerate of other pedestrians because of my impairment, it was to no avail in terms of ease and certainly I will have no problem in swinging my stick again in the future if needs be!

So the message here is – If I am considerate enough to not try and hold you up by getting out of your way, do the same for me or else you will feel the bite of my stick!

So in to Room 101, the unregulated pedestrians and pavements go!

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