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"Am I the only crip in the village?"

by Flash Wilson

10th April 2007

As a lass who grew up in the country, I often go back to visit my family. Whenever I do, I am reminded why I escaped to London as soon as I could - the lack of accessible transport and disabled-friendly pubs, and the general feeling that I'm living in a time warp some years behind the rest of the world. My last visit was no exception.
A country lane
I arrive by train as usual, but somehow end up on a different platform to my father, stranded and faced with an ancient stairlift that I have no idea how to operate - in any case, I'm on crutches and I can't be sure if it's safe for me to use it. In the end, a wheelchair is brought and a station assistant pushes me over the tracks at a workman's crossing. Oh, for modern technology!

When I turn up at my parents' house, after a bit of catching up we decide to take a family trip to the pub. It's evening, so the public transport is predictably non-existent (we'll come to that later), and instead we pile into their car. This sparks the usual debate about me needing the front seat for my legroom, but other people complaining that they feel sick if they sit in the back of the car because of the winding country lanes. Somehow we all manage to make it to the 'local' in one piece ... although it's not exactly local if we have to get there by car, is it?
A country pub
The pub is a typical country inn: there are small steps everywhere, and a choice of standing at the bar or sitting in a dining area where seats are crammed in with little room to manoeuvre. I don't dare ask about an accessible toilet. I doubt they will have heard of the DDA. This is the type of place where I once rocked the boat by asking if I could have a slice of lemon in my gin - the next time we actually brought a lemon to the pub with us - so I don't want to make a fuss by asking awkward questions. As my mother says, "We have to live here!" At least the tiny toilets are indoors; another country pub I visit still has an outdoor block. Chilly!

The bar is filled with what I would call 'characters'. This time I get away without attracting any ignorant comments, although I know one man doesn't normally hesitate to speak his mind about things he finds "peculiar", bless him. Fortunately, I'm not the most exciting source of gossip as there's an OAP transsexual who lives in the village. I wonder what she has to put up with?
A sign pointing, in one direction, to a bus stop, and in the other direction to a garden tearoom
After a good night's sleep, the next day I long for something to do and decide to go into town. I make innocent enquiries with my parents about whether the bus service has improved since I used to live there. I should have known better! Granted, there are now spacious low-floor buses, so I would no longer have to fold myself into a tiny space next to a granny, but the buses still only go to town a few times a day. In fact, we are lucky to have a daily service at all! In some of the villages, there is only one bus a week in each direction, so if you're travelling in the 'wrong' direction, you have to wait seven days for the bus back ...

Since there are no buses due soon, I scrounge a lift from my parents.

The town hasn't changed at all. It's still full of people who have retired to the area, who shuffle along the pavements at a snail's pace - presumably if they set off in the morning, they reach their cream tea by mid-afternoon! You'd think that with a mostly elderly population, there would be good facilities for disabled people, but the expectation seems to be that they have all day to get around and that they don't want to go anywhere other than a tea shop or a bingo hall. In addition, many areas are pedestrianised with cobbles - not easy for a crutch user to navigate. I may be a crip, but I'm still impatient!

After a brief look at the shops, I can't find anything to do apart from sit in yet another pub ... I suppose in the countryside one is expected to go pony-trekking or rambling, neither of which I find terribly accessible or exciting.
A deserted village green
I get a lift home with my mother, and she asks if I had a nice time. Where was she expecting me to find one? Honestly, I'm only visiting as a duty - if only I could teleport them all to my house instead.

I left life in the country because it was years behind the city - the wages were lower, there were no jobs in my industry, and the transport and range of facilities were so limited. Country people seem to take comfort in familiarity, in knowing your neighbours, in a slower pace of life. But is it reasonable to expect the countryside to fall behind urban areas on all fronts, rather than embracing change? Surely the DDA should apply to the countryside too - and until it wakes up to this, I won't be moving back.

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