My Formula One Chariot is speeding along a gravel path, speed 4, well beyond the Tortoise, not quite up to the Hare. It is getting cold… colder when you have been sitting still, powered by this sophisticated bit of hi-tech kit. We have left beautiful preening swans behind and there are tall trees on one side; on the other there is a steep bank down to water shimmering in dying rays of winter sun. I am steering my joystick keeping well away from that drop in case I lose concentration and inadvertently stray from the straight and get wet as well as cold!
We are heading back to the car, hoping as we go to catch glimpses of the dusk flights of masses of birds heading for the crowded security of their night roosts. This place, Ham Wall RSPB reserve, along with many places round the country is well known for spectacular clouds of starlings whirling and twisting through sunset skies – murmurations.
TV’s ‘Winterwatch’ and ‘Hugh’s Wild West’ have transformed humble starlings into bird celebrities. People come to see them in droves, and I am now driving my Chariot among one of these people murmurations, but the trouble is I am going in the opposite direction against the flow. Celebrity birds are better at crowd movement. Each bird watches their neighbour and tilts and turns to follow suit so mass movement is synchronised, orderly – predictable. A crowd of excited humans hurrying to their goal is not.
With eyes fixed on the distance, the sky, or lost in chatter they don’t notice a wheelchair below their eyeline. The mobile tweeters are on their virtual planet oblivious of obstacles of the actual kind. This is a test of slalom manoeuvres at Tortoise speed. People begin to fall into categories: the oblivious, the evaders who turn their gaze away, embarrassed at the invisible sign of ‘disabled’ which hangs over wheelchairs, even a magnificent modern looker like this one. Then there are the many who relate with a smile, maybe even detour to make life on wheels easier. And there are unpredictables who move kangaroo-style, stopping or changing direction without warning. The subtle joystick and immediate stop when I lift my hand save me from embarrassing too-late encounters.
A few days later, and I am escalating to ‘A’ level People Avoidance – I am not a city girl. I am speeding down a train platform accompanied by a man with a neatly folded ramp. The train stops, the ramp laid out and I must now steer accurately up into the carriage… under scrutiny. Not much room for error… the joystick delivers and I now face the people. There are few and it is not rush hour, thank goodness. The London cabbie is utterly professional and helpful and we arrive.
It is a gathering and there are engineers present. With six 5-Star reviews of my book on Amazon I have felt a tiny flutter of celebrity, but now I am completely surrounded by enthusing admirers. This is REAL celeb status… not for me though… It is for the sophisticated cool design of my Chariot.