Coming ‘face-to-ear’ with cerebral palsy
The loss of my twin sister can show itself in the most unexpected places.
Whenever I go somewhere new, I’m aware I’m inadvertently addressing its accessibility – Are there any steps? If so, how many? How wide’s the doorway for a wheelchair? Are there any sharp turns?
So far, so predictable. But this morning, on my walk up from the tube at Barbican I was stunned by whom I stumbled across.
Still half-asleep, I’d walked up the stairs from the platform, just gone through the ticket barriers and was about to turn left to go up the stairs to the street, when I noticed two men standing awkwardly. The first, a middle-aged businessman in a smart chalk-lined suit, was carefully – too carefully – putting money into the slot of a charity collection bucket being held by the other. The collector wore a Batman mask and cape.
I hadn’t paid much attention as I squeezed past them, but at the top of the stairs my ears pricked up. I heard Mr Suit tell Batman to ‘take care’, in a tone of voice which showed he genuinely meant it.
Three-quarters of the way up the second flight of steps, I heard something else which made me came to a complete stop, much to the annoyance of the person behind me.
I froze when I heard Batman calling out for donations. Well I assume that’s what he was doing, only I couldn’t make out a word. True there was traffic noise from the street above but I cocked my head to one side listening intently. It was incomprehensible.
Cerebral palsy, in one of its many cruel guises.
With Jenny it was the inability to walk, or even stand unaided. In this man’s case, he must have managed the stairs but had trouble with his hands – precise movements like guiding the money into the box. And his voice. That ‘cerebral palsy’ slurred voice, so slowed down. And the man himself slowed down too, standing with a collection box on a Friday morning as the rest of the busy world rushed by.
When I was out at street level, I realised I’d subconsciously counted the steps from the ticket barrier to the pavement – there were 23.