My wife Tio who worked at the time for the International Red Cross, decided to take a spell working at their Geneva HQ. I devised a plan to consolidate my three days per week at GLAD into three weeks in Brixton and one week in Geneva so that I could join her.
I had always liked the idea of living abroad, and it worked – for me that is. I felt my role was to keep Tio company and busy myself getting things for her flat. I enjoyed taking washing to a Swiss launderette, but found that my confidence, dented by disability, made the relatively simple process quite hard. Still, I was bold enough to make use of my smattering of holiday French, and made one or two friends.
Of course, disability threw up other obstacles. I stood at the top of the long, deep escalator at Hyde Park Corner Tube station and wept. The escalator was not working. A station worker had hastily scrawled an ‘OUT OF ORDER’ notice and strung it limply from a post. It was the second of my week’s Geneva visits.
I had packed a suitcase with not only my things, but some essentials from Tio’s flat and from London’s shops — a coffee pot; Bob Dylan CDs (she had grown up listening to her sisters’ 60s music). I had targeted Hyde Park Corner because I could get almost directly from a cab via an escalator onto the platform for Heathrow, and then a safe transfer to a Departures luggage trolley. I was fairly proud of this plan, being used to leaving things mainly to fate.
That is why I was standing there dismayed, watching how everyone else was managing. And then: salvation! A middle-aged woman approached me. “Need some help?” she asked politely. How did she know? I hadn’t asked, nor was I at that time very obviously disabled.
She must have sensed my predicament from my body language. I told her I was expecting the escalator to be working . She did not hesitate. She took hold of my baggage, trundled it down the stairs, and then waited while I plodded down. As much as I feel frustrated that society – capitalism, the market, and the social structures that belong to it – are deployed against those of us who are disabled, I feel a great love for those whose humanity gets beyond its narrow utilitarian margins.