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Mean Streets

by Francesca Martinez

23rd October 2002

Getting from A to B can be very frustrating when you've got a mobility problem.
Yes, I know that seems obvious, but I'm not talking about my own difficulties with balance and coordination - I can cope with those. Well, if I'm not in too much of a hurry. And if I have a nice, strong arm to lean on. And if there aren't too many revolving doors - me and a revolving door equals a bra in a tumble dryer - or escalators. And if it's not chucking it down ...

No, I'm talking about the problems other people give me!

Since the Edinburgh Festival, I've been touring all over Britain - and I mean all over. More 'A to Z' than 'A to B'. I've travelled by air, rail and road, and it has been mostly fine, but a few incidents have been bizarre. In lovely, friendly Dublin, for instance, this bloke came up behind me and my brother as we were walking down a really wide, deserted road and said, "You shouldn't walk so slowly! You're blocking the pavement." He had no idea I had a disability. OK, he had no idea about anything because he was totally off his head with booze. I put it down as a one-off. But then it happened again. A woman, this time. Completely sober. Weird.
Funnily enough, that's never occurred in the streets of London, where I live and do some of my best pavement-hogging work. Not only that, but when I'm on a zebra or pelican crossing, no driver has ever hooted at me or screamed abuse along the lines of "Could you kindly accelerate your rate of progress, Miss?" Yet just the other week in beautiful Edinburgh, I was almost run over by an irate taxi driver who must have thought I was walking a 'bit funny' to cheese him off. An easy conclusion to jump to, I suppose. I mean, why else would someone be impersonating a snail in the middle of the street?

Don't think I'm saying that London's perfect when it comes to getting around. I remember the time when I was sitting in a 'priority' seat on the bus, and an old man started to tell me off about it. I just kept quiet. The look on his face when I got off at my stop was a picture! I win, don't I?!

And the stories don't stop even when I'm driving my car around town (yes, it's amazing - I can't stand static on a moving staircase but I can drive you to Land's End). Recently I was backing into a disabled parking bay when another car pulled up alongside me and sounded it's horn. I stopped and saw this woman with steam coming out of her ears, pointing to the disabled parking sign on the pavement. It was one of those times when I thanked my lucky stars that I am to 'normal' what Jeffrey Archer is to 'moral'. I whipped out my disabled badge and waved it at her. A lot.
Ah, parking bays. Central London. Kind, considerate traffic wardens ... I have a thousand and one horror stories about this subject, but this one sort of sums up the problems I face each time I drive into the West End to do a gig. Unlike able-bodied drivers, I don't have the option of travelling by public transport unless I'm accompanied - and even when I do, you've seen the grief I've got for plonking myself down in the 'wrong' seat. Last Sunday I took part in a big charity show at the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, to help raise money for breast cancer. I drove in with time to spare. It was rainy and very trafficky. After ages looking for a place to park, I'd used up all my spare time. The minutes were ticking away and I was getting more and more nervous driving around. And around. And around. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. Is that a place? Is it hell! Double yellow lines. Red lines. Resident's parking. The few disabled bays I noticed were taken. Round and round I went. At last, I found a parking space that was about ten minutes from the theatre at my pace. I did the show. When I got back to the car, yes, you've guessed it ...! I could have killed someone (in a traffic warden's uniform, that is). Turned out that you could only park there if your name was Jimbo, you had green ears and the date was 43rd of March!!

What I'm trying to say is: can we please have some more disabled parking spaces for those of us who have to drive into central London to work? And if you're reading this in Dublin or Edinburgh, remember - I can't walk any faster. Honest. And if you're reading this and you're a traffic warden - **?!##**!!?!

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