Eastbourne pavements are terrible. How do I know? Because I push 98 year old auntie around in a wheelchair, and since I started my arm muscles are bigger than Arnie’s.
For a town of 100,000 population with a reputation for the elderly, the uneven condition of the pavements is surprising. The paving slabs are often broken, the joints are uneven, and the kerb drop-down is frequently covered with an inconsiderate motorist blocking.
Try pushing a wheelchair for a couple of hours in Eastbourne and you will immediately relate to my rant. The mobility shops even sell chairs with seat belts!
Auntie Joan is such a lovely old lady, never complains, (okay, rarely), and loves to be wheeled out for a jaunt along the seafront. This morning was a typical journey. There is a certain technique to prepare for a wheelchair ride, and it starts with carrying the contraption down the seven stairs from our front door to the pavement.
The wheelchair is blue. Not relevant, but it helps me to tell you this. The springs are getting a little rusty, and the two foot rests are detachable but not interchangeable. Don’t try to put the wrong rest in the wrong hole. It doesn’t work, and creates great merriment amongst the inevitably critical audience who never become involved in this part of the operation.
The chair did not come with a cushion. This is an extra £20, foam, with a ribbed surface one side, flat the other. Sit on the ribbed part, it’s comfier. That is a lighter blue.
Always ensure that the brakes are on. There are two, one either side. Down the steps, auntie pops herself nice and comfy, take the brakes off, and off we go. The first corner is always difficult, because it is on the seafront, and is also the location of a bus stop. People queue, standing in the middle of the pavement. Auntie has a loud voice, crying out ‘mind your legs.’ She knows that this has an immediate effect.
Instead of just looking where you are walking, have a look at the pavement obstacles. Metal covers from the water board are particularly problematic. They are proud, difficult to evade, as they are usually in a clump, so have to be negotiated while avoiding the parking ticket machines.
Being by the seaside, we have a lot of language schools, with the inevitable unmanageable groups of foreign students who only want to talk, use their mobile phone, snog the girlfriend, smoke, and find the nearest McDonalds. Many is the time that I have to shout at them to stop them from walking into the wheelchair.
On one occasion I failed, and this stupid youth virtually sat on her lap. She was bruised, shocked, and he just ambled on his way. The team leader didn’t get off so lightly, I berated him at length, and then contacted the London headquarters to report his stupidity. Their offer of flowers was turned down, we just wanted to ensure it was not repeated.
Drivers are particularly patient with wheelchairs. They almost always stop the traffic to let me push across the road. Cyclists on the pavement and seafront promenade are almost always ignorant and inconsiderate.
Poor old auntie gets bumped and jumped in her seat when I am pushing, despite my care and attention. It is the Eastbourne pavements, not me. The seafront is much better, smoother, just like the roads.
Now if I could push her along the streets instead, then no problem. Cyclists have designated cycle lanes. Why not wheelchairs?