A rather irritating thing occurred to me a few weeks ago – initially I let it go, but then almost exactly the same thing happened again this morning. It has really got up my nose which means I should probably write it all down, take it to the window and chuck it out with the rest of the mental garbage I insist on drowning myself with.
So, here goes.......
First, a snippet of background: My back and leg problems have left me in a bit of a state. I try not to use my walking stick – I have a hate/hate relationship with the blessed thing - it's a symbol of everything that is wrong with me and I stubbornly refuse to lie down and give in (at least to the outside world). I live in a rural area (8 miles to the nearest shop) so I rely on the car. I have also shoved my pride up my backside and accepted a blue mobility badge, which entitles me to park nearer to places and has admittedly been a great help.
When I received the badge, one of the first things my parents said to me was “well, you'll have to limp more than you do when you get out of the car; otherwise people will think you are cheating”. I was horrified at this suggestion. I have nothing to hide, I didn't blag my way to easy parking - I cannot walk 60/70m without resting and my application was fully supported by my GP, hospital consultant and physio, but it just shows the suspicious society we have sadly become. Now the general consensus is that everyone else is working the system and no-one (especially the law-abiding tax-payer) likes to think they are being short-changed by what they see as the privileges of others – the 'big society' sure is a leaky bucket.
Still, the brush sweeps wide and paints a lovely shade of stereotype. Although a number of people will fit the bill, we now seem to have a media situation where anyone on benefits is probably a 'cheat'; all single-mothers are pony-tailed, teenage miscreants wearing large gold hooped earrings (widows are also single-mothers, but let's not worry about that, it doesn't fit the argument). Oh, and don't forget those pesky teenagers who are all trouble-making hoodies; or how you can only be considered disabled if you are in a wheelchair; not to mention all mental health patients will most certainly push innocent strangers under trains at some point; or all Londoners are either the Notting Hill set or cheeky chappy cockney wide-boys etc., etc.,........I could go on.
But hold on a minute, I've been a few of these. I was born in the East End, and although I am generally cheerful, I don't spend my waking hours walking around with my thumbs in my braces, saying “gawd blimey guv, strike a light, those apple & pears have knackered me out today”. I've been a single-mother (sans ponytail/ earrings); I am now unable to work and have been on benefits in the past (which is not a lot of money for quite a lot of humiliation in the assessment tests). I have suffered mental health problems through depression – but I have never felt the urge to hurt anybody - and now I suppose I'm considered disabled, but I am resisting the wheelchair with all my might.
However, as it turned out, it would seem that my parents were right...
Which (finally) brings me to my:
'bug up the nose episode of the week.....'
I had parked in a disabled bay outside the supermarket; it was busy and quite a few of the other disabled bays had cars with people sitting in them, presumably while their other half did the shopping, which you are not supposed to do, but is actually quite common practice. Anyway, as I was getting my bag out, an old boy, who was a complete stranger to me, came marching over and demanded to know the 'nature of my disability'. I was so shocked, I told him to mind his own business – whereupon he gave out a diatribe about how his wife was in a wheelchair, implying that she needed the space more than me. Perhaps she did, and I would have been happy to have moved on, if her other half hadn't gone into the “attack mode” straight away. It may have been wrong, but he was told in no uncertain circumstances where to go and I limped off into the supermarket with steam coming out of my ears.
It happened again today, when another old chap accused me of not being disabled – purely on the grounds of what I look like. He also got a flea in his ear, because I would like to ask: what the hell is a disabled person supposed to look like? And why should they have to look like it? I have spent most of my adult life working in the Artificial Limb Centre in Roehampton, where the doctors and prosthetists work extremely hard to help patients function and appear aesthetically as near normal as possible. Most of the time you couldn't even tell if someone was wearing an artificial limb or not and surely that's the way it should be.
The sad thing is that this guy was convinced he was in the right and once he realised I was entitled to park in the spot, he accused me of not displaying the badge properly (it was clearly on show on the dashboard, he just hadn't bothered to look). He made all of his assumptions and accusations completely without grounds and then refused to take responsibility for them. The whole episode was unpleasant, upsetting and unnecessary and in the end he marched off without so much of an apology, kiss your ass or anything. He had no understanding that people who have needs (whether physically or mentally) come in all different guises and need help for all different reasons - some of which will not be immediately visible. Books and covers come to mind.
I know I am extremely vain and I go out of my way not to look my age or display what is wrong with me. In fact, I have actually heard someone say:”well, she doesn't look very disabled,” and this observation was made when I have been sitting inside the car. Well, thanks very much, but I don't want to wear a t-shirt that shouts:
'I AM DISABLED'
if it's all the same - not because I'm ashamed, but because as far as I'm concerned, that is certainly not what defines me as a human being.
So, I shall still continue to have Pink blaring out of the car stereo when I pull up into a disabled parking bay and I shall refuse to dress my age; I shall keep wearing the eye-liner and Jackie O sunglasses and my only concession to the Daily Mail/Express disabled stereotype are my flat shoes and my stick (which I plan to cover in shiny diamante stickers). As I refuse to conform, I expect I shall be having a few more “discussions” like the one I had today with certain members of the Big Society, which seem to be mostly old boys in Waitrose car-parks.
I hear so much hullabaloo about equal rights for the disabled and yet, when you try to remain equal, you are immediately labelled (yet again) with blagging the system. The bottom line is you can't have it both ways.
End of rant.....