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Columns
Jeremy Smith is a multi-award-winning journalist and columnist who has written about Oxford for more than 10 years. He lives in - and loves – Kidlington.

Man About County

Jeremy Smith

 

Who’d have thought there’d be such a thing as wheelchair snobbery? But there is – it’s petty, puerile, infantile and, somehow, me. I found myself expressing it only this week, as ‘Terry’s Terror’, complete with miniature RAC and AA standards, two large Oxford United stickers, an England flag, an assortment of streamers and a rather grotesque cartoon decal of a large-breasted woman, swept past me in Sainsbury’s.

Now, obviously this ire was not targeted at the scooter itself, which has enabled many millions of people both here and abroad to maintain a level of independence and access that would not have been possible 20 years ago. Rather, it was aimed at its owner. I suppose you could say I’m ‘old skool’: someone who, despite only becoming disabled two years ago, has always held a high regard for the dignity of the wheelchair.

If you take a look, especially at its most contemporary evolution, it is an exquisite piece of design, a stirring example of industrial chic, right up there with the Eames Lounge Chair, the Brillie clock and the Singer stool. It is elegant, delicately indestructible and exquisitely simple. In short, a perfect copulation of craftsmanship, engineering, design and passion. Now consider, reconsider, reevaluate, reassess and, if you’re not careful, regurgitate the image you have in your mind of a mobility scooter. Is it not...lame?

Well, yes it is, but despite its unholy homage to the Seventies school of excruciatingly awful, it does deserve respect for singlehandedly liberating the lives of those afflicted by old age and illness. What I object to – and it does seem to have become something of a pandemic – is the increasingly garish, vulgar and brazen way owners are choosing to decorate and personalise these little mothers. Indeed, you rarely see one nowadays that doesn’t look like it hasn’t been pimped for the Argos Children’s Trike Awards (in association with My Little Pony and Black Sabbath).

So, why does it matter? Well, it doesn’t, but I still can’t understand why scooter owners like to fantasise their four-wheelers are in fact Yankee-friendly 12-wheel rigs taking bootleg moonshine across state lines with Smokey in hot pursuit. Typical scooter monikers I’ve recently seen include “Mary Berry’s Bake Off Buggy”, “Bob’s If-it’s-rockin-don’tcome- a-knockin’ Banger”, “Dave’s Dirty Devil” and “Laura’s Lovin’ Limo”. Package that with furry dice hanging from the handle bars, a small pocket radio playing Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ at full, tinny volume and I hope you get some idea of the crisis our pavements and shopping aisles are facing.

Look, I’m all for adding that small, personal touch that says (in my case for instance): “Hey this is Jer’s” which on my wheelchair manifests itself via a small but beautifully crafted Seventies newsagent’s top shelf stuffed full of miniature ‘Mayfairs’ and ‘Men Only’. But hell, at least it screams taste. So please, can I plead to all owners of mobility scooters to take a little more thought before they christen their scooters “Suzy’s Sexy Sedan” or “Sid’s Silver Surfer”. It’s not big and it’s not clever.

- Jeremy Smith