It wasn’t so long ago that I read a news story about a disabled man who took a bus company to court after a passenger with a pushchair refused to move out of a designated disabled space on the bus.
What a disgrace! I can recall thinking. I would NEVER be so impudent as to claim a disabled space for my own and then REFUSE TO MOVE. It’s like Rosa Parks all over again! What is this world coming to, when we can’t show a bit of consideration for a wheelchair-using bus passenger and fellow human?
Well, that was before I had a child.
Now, it’s wheels at dawn.
To be fair, the bus companies don’t help, given that you have to pay four pounds (FOUR POUNDS, ladies and gentlemen, you do hear me right, FOUR SODDING POUNDS. Did I mention the bus fare from here to the city centre-a distance of some three miles-is FOUR POUNDS?) for a day ticket and then suffer a Sunday service of one bus per hour. That, my friends, is hardly conducive to generating warm fuzzy feelings of selflessness and agape towards one’s fellow passengers when it comes to the battle to get the window seat.
So you can imagine the depth of my sigh when I arrived at the bus stop in the driving rain on the way back from swimming on Sunday, Piglet contentedly dozing in the pushchair despite the fact that he was completely exposed to the elements as the rain cover was squashed underneath the swimming bag in the shopping basket, only to find that there were no less than three wheelchairs already there, waiting to board the bus.
The first bus came and went. There were already two pushchairs aboard, and neither the disabled people in the wheelchairs, nor their assorted carers, appeared to be remotely bothered about asserting their rights and asking people to move, lest they take the bus company to court, so off the bus went. It was a twenty-five minute wait, in the rain, for the next one, and Piglet was starting to stir. Do I wait the twenty-five minutes for the next bus, knowing that it, too, could be rammed to the gunwales with pushchairs, and even if not, the wheelchairs were going to have every bus full for the next two hours? Do I wake up Piglet and attempt to fold the pushchair, even though, fourteen Youtube tutorials later, I’m still not entirely sure how to do it, and anyway I can’t manage Piglet, the pushchair and all our swimming stuff without growing a new pair of extra-long arms like Inspector Gadget? Or do I cut my losses and get on the wrong bus, in the hope that I will end up somewhere slightly closer to home that I can potentially walk to?
At that moment, along came the Student Bus.
Aha! I thought, it’s the Student Bus! The Student Bus goes to the university halls of residence, which are a mere twenty minute walk from my house. And there is never anyone on it! Well, apart from the twenty thousand or so university students! But they don’t have pushchairs. This is the bus of the young and agile! Never on this bus will I have to worry about sitting too close to the front and feeling guilt every time someone vaguely oldish looking gets on, for it is a veritable Bus of Youth! Why, these whippersnappers could all go upstairs should they so choose, and live the life of riley on the top deck.
Wheelchair Number One having already loaded onto a previous bus that I couldn’t catch, Wheelchair Number Two got onto the Student Bus. There was no one else on it.
I peered into the bus.
“Do you think we could fit on this one?” I asked the driver, thinking he was going to tell me to bugger off and leave the disabled alone to their disabled space, to which they were legally entitled by law, and no there would be no reasonable adjustments for pushchairs, and can’t you put that damn thing down? That baby’s big enough to walk.
The driver shrugged his shoulders. He couldn’t care less.
I got on the bus, and off it went.
Once the bus started going, however, I realised that I couldn’t fit the pushchair into the small space that remained next to the wheelchair for love nor money. I was either going to have to park it in the aisle, looking like a right tit and generally posing a health and safety hazard, or the damn thing was going to have to be folded.
I woke up Piglet and handed him to the young disabled man’s carer to hold for a second while I battled with the pushchair. It would. Not. Go. Down. And not only that, but with the carer otherwise engaged and taking his eye off the ball, the wheelchair had done a 90-degree turn, and was in danger of flying free from its moorings and heading straight down the aisle. Not only had I selfishly attempted to park my Bugaboo, bastion of middle class parenting privilege, basically on the feet of a young severely disabled person, but I had now inadvertently sent his wheelchair flying down the middle of a moving omnibus. For God’s sake, no one tell Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson and that bloke from the One Show who used to play wheelchair basketball about this or they will probably have me killed. I am an actual MENACE to disabled society.
By the time I managed to make the pushchair sufficiently small to fit into the remaining space next to the wheelchair, we were at the top of the road and the bus was quickly filling up with young students. Again, I breathed a sigh of relief that they were all sufficiently able-bodied to be able to step over the pile of wheels at the front of the bus and take their seats on the upper deck.
Wheelchair Number One was back! The bus ahead had only gone and broken down.
What is the etiquette here? Does one get off the bus and forfeit the one pound sixty-five one has just paid on top of the FOUR SODDING POUNDS because it’s a different bus company? Or does one duck one’s head and pretend not to have seen the approaching wheelchair?
I will tell you what one does. One ducks the head and hopes for the best.
It’s dog eat dog out there.