Over the weekend I went to the Stitch and Craft Show at Olympia. Big Chief White Hair accompanied, guided, created paths, and generally was a thoroughly nice chap all day despite problems of his own, including an almost pathological fear of knitting needles. I shook hands with Jane Greenoff, who didn't mind being called a cross stitch goddess when fibro fog flared at a most inopportune moment; I LOVED her hair which was curly and silver-fox with lilac tips - she is stunning, it has to be said. And I have to say that while there were the odd incidents of doziness among my crafting sisters, the vast majority looked out for me on the scooter, offered help, showed me stuff on stalls that I couldn't ride up to, and I was overwhelmed by all the hints on how to take people's legs out from under them with my walking sticks! Quite apart from all the lovely crafty and haberdashery-y stuff, it was a very reaffirming day, despite the sore throat and croaking like a frog. I was even allowed to add to my roomfull of stash with some rather lovely South American hand-dyed sock wool.
Saturday was rather contrasted by yesterday; for reasons far too boring to mention, I sat for 4 hours in a hospital bay with other G P referrals having some tests run. The others we sat with had been there for a couple of hours longer than us, and perhaps didn't have my prior experience so hadn't brought any books or magazines with which to while away the time; instead, they talked, mostly about the length of time they'd been waiting, or told jokes. K and I joined in if we felt like it, which mostly we didn't because he had the D S and I had my knitting; but there was something almost furtive about the way the jokes were shared, initially at least. Irish, Essex and blonde all combined to make one joke which I wish I could remember because it would stand scrutiny on my English course - it wasn't a particularly funny joke because I'd heard it several times before, and it hadn't needed anyone in it to be Irish, from Essex, or blonde, to have been very funny the first time around. But this in turn led to much funnier home-grown jokes told for the sake of playing with language alone, and it has to be said made the atmosphere much friendlier and helped pass the time too. But while this humour didn't do enough, sadly, to abate the cross air, when D H had to return home so that the house wouldn't be empty for D S after school, I had offers of help to collect my sticks'n'stuff to walk to the exam room.
So don't believe it when people say chivalry is dead. In the sense of "little women can't turn door handles" it is, and three cheers I say; but what has taken its place is that men and women alike seem to evaluate better what help others need, regardless of their age and sex. Not everyone, not all the time, and maybe not at all in some places; there was an example on Saturday of help not being rendered at all despite D H requesting - and needing - it, apparently and unfortunately based on his age, sex and size. But I do witness frequent offers of assistance from people wherever I go, whether offered to me or to other people, and it belies talk of a community spirit vacuum. Men don't doff hats or hold doors open for women just because they are women; but young people and old alike do look out for each other and offer help because they genuinely think it might be needed.
Of course again there are exceptions, such as the cab driver I shouted at the other day. He sits on a cab rank not far from the house, and if I call for one at a certain time of the day, it would be odds on that he would turn up. And it would go something like this. I'd approach the cab, by which time he'd spot the sticks, be out the door, round to my side and open the door before I could scrabble for the door handle; but then he would grab a part of my body - despite my oft-repeated "no thank you"s - and lever me in through the door (I should make it clear this is a black cab). On arrival, again deaf to my "I'm Ok"s, he would grab a bit of me to pull me out. Now I'm not complaining about his offers of help, just that sometimes they seemed an excuse for a course of action he had already decided to take whether I wanted his help or not.
Anyway, about a month ago - or was it only a fortnight? - he arrived again, and my heart sank. A neighbour was on the other side of the road getting into or out of his car; and the black cab rolled up, just far away from the front door that he could get round to my car door before I got there. And, in a progressively more daring move than he had made before - each prior grab had been just a teensy bit more daring and a teensy bit more close and a helluva lot less appreciated than the one before - he grabbed me by the left shoulder and by my right arm in a one-sided bear hug. And I almost screamed "DON'T TOUCH ME!!!!" It was the accumulation of many such episodes, many such cab journeys with this man, many such tiny humiliations at his hands that I simply lost control - plus more than a pinch of fibro-fog getting in the way of a more measured reply to his hands. The neighbour across the road literally jumped; the driver certainly leapt three feet backward, and I got into the cab under my own steam and slammed the door. The ensuing journey passed in embarrassed silence, and suffice to say that although I have had need of cabs at that time of the day in the intervening period, I haven't seen him since.
I dunno what his motives were. I dunno if he looks at me and thinks poor thing, so young (I'm not!) oh two sticks, I dunno. I dunno if he's a filty letch who clocks my 40FFs and thinks the sticks render me super-vulnerable. What I do know is that however I retell the story, however much hilarity with girlfriends ensues, what was not funny was the shaking I couldn't control for the next half an hour, even talking to D H on my mobile to talk it out. The feeling that being disabled means that people don't have to listen to you any more; that they can touch you wherever and however they want; but most of all that they can ask meaningless questions of you and totally ignore the answers because they have the power.
Not THIS girl, not THIS lifetime.
And Saturday was actually a healing experience.