Just before Easter, we bought a wheelchair. Though we have borrowed one from a local organisation at holiday times for some years, getting our own was, psychologically speaking, a large step. Our new chair has been to Paris, Cyprus and Fort William. I am proud to say that I avoided mowing down any pedestrians foolish enough to step carelessly into my path in any of these places. I remain militant in shops, however. If the owners have not left sufficient space for me to push my passenger around, hell mend them if I knock into a display or two.
It was in the lounge area of a hotel in Fort William that I found myself questioning long-held but well-hidden perceptions. We were there for a family get-together. The wheelchair sat idle as various Steeles and their offspring chatted over drinks, soft and otherwise.
One secondary-aged nephew then sat in the chair and began to impersonate a character from Little Britain, Lou or Andy. I don't watch the programme. Getting his brother to shove him around, he pointed at postcards and mumbled, "I want that one!" The siblings then took turns at self- propelling, quickly becoming adept at steering and reversing. Unease built up inside me to the point where I had to ask myself what was wrong.
When I was that age, I would never have sat in a wheelchair. Someone would have called me the S-word. I might have been the target of crass jokes, the kind I never told myself and did my best not to laugh at. Or maybe people would have felt horribly sorry for me. I would have been an alien.
I don't generally like to use the terms "politically correctincorrect", mainly because the word "politically" is invariably superfluous. Were my nephews being politically incorrect fooling about in a wheelchair? Was it another example of insensitive behaviour by "today's young people"? (Has that phrase been made copyright by bad newspapers?)
I soon came round to the view that I had been the one with the problem and that what they were doing was healthier and more inclusive than anything that went on in my childhood.
Which attitude do you prefer? I want that one.
Gregor Steele lost weight on holiday, thanks to chair-pushing.