Straddling the pavement were three enormous Highway Maintenance vehicles. I could see them in the distance, and the crew of the first one watched me approach.
'Sneaking up on me like that, you almost killed me' one of them offered as I rolled passed them on my way into town. I also passed half a dozen disabled acquaintances, with their family or friends, heading in other directions. The sun shone and it was business as usual in town.
Arriving at the gathering point, I was a little more than dismayed to see (bright yellow and black), big and bold placards saying 'VOTE LABOUR'. I believe that politics in general, and party politics in particular, are how we ended up in this mess and the reason we will find it very nearly impossible to get out of.
There were also furled flags in black and yellow, carried as inconspicuously as possible by three smartly dressed young men. A similar, smaller version, flapping red and black, proclaimed 'Unite Community'.
There was a gentle air of fancy dress conferred on the gathering by a woman in a long, green cloak and a man who might have been, possibly, a Druid. He carried a staff to which was pinned an A4 poster: 'Atos Kills'
Yes this was the Salisbury protest. 30 quiet people brave enough, caring enough (or just cunning enough to seek to make political capital on the back of other people's suffering?).
The press turned up, there were photographs and interviews. And we were entertained by a talented, generous young vocalist/guitarist.
I wasn't in the mood to be entertained. I was breaking apart. The population of Salisbury was 470,981 at last count and this protest was quite widely publicised.
I understand that people may be too unwell or too afraid to turn up, but is there really no support from those outside the fear zone?
I find the sheer volume of indifference devastating.
Being proud of a country
doesn't mean sods of earth,
mountains, trees or coastline.
A country is people, and having
reason for pride is people willing
to invest in each other, respect
each other, go the extra
mile; this is
greatness. This is
where I dream
of living and
it isn't here
it isn't now.
Rolling slowly across the road, my powerchair's on the blink - again (I've had persistent recurring battery problems). I am in a lot of pain and cannot use my right arm, so when the bag and glove on my lap start sliding to the ground I am unable to take action.
A passing car stops behind me, an unseen voice asks if I need help and an approaching pedestrian comes close enough to retrieve my belongings; kneels and kindly enquires if I need any further assistance. I don't, I'm coping, even heartened by these offers of help; pain and the fragility of my emotions, threaten to overwhelm me.
I start up again just as a casual, passing couple admonish 'no speeding now' with cheerful indifference.
And suddenly I'm not coping.
My quiet : 'that is so not funny' is as dignified as it gets. But the couple are deeply offended and stalk off (faster than I can roll) condemning my rudeness. I have challenged their perception of 'my place' and consequently their own sense of superiority.
And I have no doubt just reinforced the negative image of disability promoted by this government and its media.
It's not much of a tale. And there are no great vilains, certainly no heroes, just me, two kindly strangers and one act of thoughtlessness. But it is the thoughtless people who stack up. Days, weeks, months and years of them, with not just no improvement, but actually with deterioration. The thoughtlessness degenerating into animosity more readily now than I can remember.
I wouldn't normally bother to repeat this trivial tale, but I've had enough. I am tired of the fight, exhausted by the daily battle for equalities. Tired of waking up each morning back at square one. Sick and tired of the presumptions people feel they have a right to - because I sit in a wheelchair. Sick and tired of a nation that stands and watches while the government and media crucify and crush the country's poorest, most disadvantaged people. Totally disillusioned with a nation walking by on the other side - tossing handfuls of throwaway ignorance that persistently force disabled people to confront the negative image of disability.
Even when we are not forced to face major threats to our existence, we are still not allowed to just be getting on with life.
It is still within living memory that a nation stood by whilst a handful of malignant bastards committed atrocities that required external interventions to bring to a halt. I'm thinking that the guys who put their lives on the line then would be ashamed of this nation now.
I've been utterly defeated, humiliated and emotionally destroyed by battles with DWP and NHS, I identify with people driven beyond reason. And my heart bleeds for those who cannot see a living way through the blackness of despair.
But here's the thing, in spite of experience, I think I believe in the living community. I really want to.
I want to believe in the power of existence as a force for growing humanity into the very best it can aspire to be. There are even one or two non-disabled people out there who give me reason for hope. And of course, the Purple Underground.
I would believe "we are indebted to one another and the debt is a kind of faith — a beautiful, difficult, strange faith. We believe each other into being." (Jennifer Hecht)
Olympians in the day to day where nothing is given,
there are those of us who glitter energy and ideas
for the fight. Giants in the rage for sober equality.
Participants on the world stage who individually
transcend the image of disability in the eye of
the beholder. And there are people like me, people whose hope
is to add to humanity's goodness by our presence, by
the richness of our being, drawing breath, believing ourselves
into our future. Not giving up until it really is
time. "They also fight who only breath and wait" Milton might have
said about this war, our war, the war that has become a
way of life where every breath, every inch of not giving in,
not giving up, is a weapon. One more brick in the wall
of solidarity that is our hope on the front line, voice
of silent protest. On days where breath is all I have, I draw
breath so you might and hoping you draw breath for all the people
being human invites you to cherish; now people, future
people, remembered people, the host of people your heart can
encompass. And if today you believe me into being,
I thank you.
Daily I see examples of hero communities rescuing vulnerable neighbours from floods. Real proof that community still exists in this country.
I also see these vulnerable people trusting their neighbours with their personal safety and in some cases with the safety of their homes. The fitter, healthier folk are donning their wellies and waders and mucking in. The institutions we might have assumed were responsible for our safety and welfare have been exposed as unready, unable and unwilling.
People are giving generously of themselves, but we all know, we all think, that this task of looking after our country is one we have elected and are paying eager people to do. People who promise us a standard of living, safeguards, improvements and some kind of hope.
These same people are in the process of promising us less. They want the same money, but are proposing that we, in return for less tax will get less service. They are in effect saying that it's not enough to don wellies and ferry your vulnerable neighbours to safety, not enough to donate food to your local food bank to feed hungry people in your community, not enough to be a volunteer driver to take sick people to hospitals and surgeries for treatment. Not enough to volunteer assistance to keep law and order in your community.
I'm not knocking volunteers, but I'm not going to vote for anyone who says pay less tax and get less service; get less when you are sick, frail, old, unable or disabled.
Pay less tax and watch vulnerable people get frightened, pushed to the brink, victimised. Pay less tax and dread old age, sickness and disability.
Pay less tax and stand alone. In a sea of isolated people each looking out for themselves you will be competing with your neighbour and when it is your turn to be that vulnerable person, will you be able to trust the competition?
Where are the people who will resist spending gigantic sums of money to save smaller amounts?
Where are the people who will resist the slash and spend?
Where are the people who will invest wisely in people, in communities?
And where are the people who will ask for the kind of taxes that will make this country a fairer place to live?