About six years ago I joined one of those jokey, purposeless Facebook groups. We never meet up, we never do anything fun, we never did anything except bitch about how slow tourists walk. The group was called, “Get out of my way. I walk faster than you.” I think mainly geared at people going to Oxford Street, thinking it’s a good idea at the time, and emerging from the tube into an unmoving throng of people moving slowly, eating, texting, or pointing at planes.
I was the one totally not understanding why anyone under 80, with no bad health problems, would not do the left side of the escalator, the walking up the steps side. I was thinking, don’t you want to get out of the Hogarthian miasma of tube hell asap, don’t you want to join the huddled masses queuing for ill fitting bras at Primark, cos they are cheap? What I was noticing was that a lot of people on the left, walking side of the escalator were wearing fitfuckinbits. Trying to clock up their steps so they could feel scientifically fit at the end of a day. Wankers. The whole point of the left side is to get out of the tube faster, not to work your quads. The right side, the standers, OK if they had big suitcases, OK if they had mobility problems, OK if they had small children ( very OK, my son was horrifically injured as a child, going up the fast lane, where the moving steps swallowed one of his finger tips when he fell). Other than that, why?
But now, I see the world as a very slow walker, on crutches. I hate that I can’t get anywhere fast. The five minute sprint to Tesco Metro is now a 40 minute round trip ordeal, always ending in tears, addictive painkillers, and a bag of frozen peas (not to be eaten, but placed on gimpy foot) People are treating me as a proper old lady. Cars at zebra crossings actually stop as I hobble across the road, in the time it would take to say, move to North Dakota, raise five children and train as a rocket scientist. If I have carry a shopping basket, with the crutches, the surly, stoned guys on minimum, now security guards, will follow me around with the basket as I plunk in my embarrassing purchases – ice lollies, a trashy magazine featuring stories like “I thought I had tummy ache. Then I gave birth to sextuplets in the car park at Homebase, without ever realising I was pregnant” and frozen veg which will not be eaten but placed on swollen, post operative foot.
Is there any good news about being forced to slow down? Yes. You have to stop to rest every now and then cos walking on crutches is basically walking on your hands, full body weight transferred to your upper half, which in my case is fly weight. This means you get to overhear all the mobile phone conversations people have at bus stops. True sample: “I never. ( pause) No I never. She got proper trashed and wound up in the bus garage in Sarf London, and I was like, I didn’t abandon you mate, you puked on my Guess dress, I was like so outta there. I was like all sexy for my date and then he was like sorry love you smell of sick… I fuckin hate when that happens.”
And it makes me glad to not be young anymore. To listen to this stuff instead of live it. And people are kinder when you walk slow, on crutches. They don’t do irritated faces. They do “Take your time, love” gestures, and I do. I hobble over to the corner shop and buy old lady things, like Bigga processed peas and Smash. Open a tin. Just add water. This is the extent of my cookery skills, on crutches. The drug dealers who piss and smoke crack on the stairs say “Mate, you should take the lift” which is about right. I listen to The Archers. It makes more sense on crutches. I don’t know why. I shuffle over to the balcony on nice days and watch people wilfully ignore their pit bulls shitting on our few patches of grass and I think, oh wow I have crutches, I can do that think of pointing and shaking my crutch and shouting “Oi, I see you. I see Jay Z there dumping his crap on our greenery. Pick up after your dog, you lazy sod.” Except I don’t as I am only temporarily crippled and will have to face them again in real life again, when they will kill me. Life in the slow lane is different. It’s like playing a role that may be your real future life. I would take time to smell the roses but there aren’t any around here. Instead, I stand on the balcony in my unwashed dressing gown and watch the blue tins of extra strong brew sparkle like diamonds in the grass. Then I shuffle back indoors, place some frozen veg on my feet, neck a couple of Co Codamol and wait for sleep.