July 2011 Archives

Swept up.

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Sometimes, it's the small things that make a big difference.

On the way to the school gate, parents walking in the other direction will see me coming and insist on clearing a broad path for me. This is considerate, but can leave me feeling a little uncomfortable, especially when the pavement is usually wide enough to accommodate everyone. Often, small children will be barked at or yanked out of the way, and I fear some kind of Pavlovian response may gradually develop. I fully expect to be shoved into bushes by vengeful teenagers in the fullness of time.  Perhaps it is this parental conditioning that leads to people parking in disabled bays as adults.

But for the most part, people are considerate is a reasonable way, especially as they get more used to seeing me regularly. In this, there is much to be said a the sense of community, which is certainly helped by being a parent of school age children.

It doesn't stop there, of course. Our regular postman knows to wait a bit longer for me to get to the door (especially as he insists on calling as soon as my boney arse hits the shower seat).

People are largely considerate and thoughtful in my experience, but I'm sure that I see this side more frequently, since becoming a wheelchair user. There are occasions when it grates, and I want people to treat me as invisible, or  display 'normal' rudeness, but this is rare, and usually because I'm in a bad mood and want someone to scowl at.

It's certainly more of a positive than negative experience, being the recipient of consideration. I even enjoy a feeling of confidence around groups of posturing teenagers, as I now seem to have dropped out of their target audience. Instead, they will offer to help me with stuff, although I suspect that the majority of them are also decent, considerate human beings. In the words of Guy Garvey, "We should help our young people, not fear them."

But of all the small acts of kindness, there is a regular one that never fails to lift my spirits.

It all started in late Autumn, when the leaves were bustling up and down the road on an icy wind (we have two large trees at the front of our house, and the path spends much of the year clogged with leaves, twigs, seeds and bark). I was unloading some shopping from the car and making my way to the front door, just as the street sweeper was making his way along the pavement.  I had seen him a few times, making his way around the neighbourhood. I'm always pleased to see a familiar face in local jobs like this, as it suggests continuity and stability in the delivering of services by the local authority. It is also reassuring to think that there are people around during the day who would notice if someone was perhaps trying to get into a house which was not theirs, for example.

On this occasion, when he saw me, he stopped and asked, "I sweep your path?"
I smiled, and said, "It's ok. It will only get covered in leaves again."
But he was already weighing in , enthusiastically, broom in hand. "Is no trouble."

I thanked him, and went into the house thinking how considerate he was. I may be able to manage a leaf strewn path fine in my wheelchair, but it is fair to say that sweeping it is a real hassle for me, and Penny was pregnant at the time.

It didn't stop there. Since then, he has regularly swept our path. Often, I come home to find it has been done while I've been out. I always say hello to him if we meet in the street, although our conversation never goes much further than a few words about the weather (I think his command of English is limited). Today, I saw him sweeping the path once again, and Penny took him out a cold drink and some fruit.

And that's it. The full extent of our contact. And yet, his considerate gesture reaches much further than our path. It reinforces my conviction that the vast majority of people are decent and thoughtful. It's just that some are a little more considerate than others.

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