Midwinter, with its icicle fingers creeping under doors and lazy winds that blow straight through instead of going around, brings with itself a particular delight. I’m eager for its annual arrival, and I mourn its parting, even as the returning sun thaws out my bones. This is winter’s hidden treasure: staying out after dark!
A relatively recent passion; my secret pursuit is only as old as Bugger herself. (New readers may need an introduction to Bugger, or B4, the snappy red power wheelchair with the big heart and bald tyres). This is something we do together. Come to think of it, we do almost everything together. We even sleep side by side, and we always visit the bathroom together – which is why I had to spend a great deal of money making it larger, just so we could both fit in. We are an unusually close couple, and now and then, on especially wintry days, we stay out late. Even after dark!
The thrill lies in the improbability of a wheelchair and voiceless occupant wandering the streets in the dark, complete with head and tail lights. It feels dangerous (only because it actually is dangerous; it was a night time roll in the traffic on a back street lacking both lights and footpath that prompted the lights), and positively furtive. Sometimes (come closer, I have to whisper this part…) sometimes I deliberately miss the late bus home from town, so that I have to catch the last bus!Honestly, this is what I do, and I feel so conspicuous. I drive up the main street a couple of blocks of shops and back, with a purposeful look on my face, just to hide the fact that I have intentionally missed a bus. I’m actually loitering, which used to be a crime, didn’t it? If I miss the last bus there is nothing, no way home. I could be stranded all night. The risk I take is life and death! Well, not really; I would have to call for my Favourite Wife to rescue me. But how shameful would that be? As in, “It’s a shame that didn’t come off”. The last bus takes a different route to every other homeward bus. It skips my stop completely, heading instead along a road with no kerb or footpath, i.e. a road on which the driver can’t set down a wheelchair. But this just adds to the challenge; I have a special card to show the driver which asks him to make a slight detour, just for me. Ah, the guilty pleasure of my foible!
This is all very childish, I couldn’t be more aware of it; but isn’t that exactly the point? It seems to me like only yesterday that I was walking on shorter legs in the early dark of a drenching, windy afternoon, wearing the standard issue wet weather gear for children in the 60s: yellow rain coat, stylish yellow rain hat with elastic chin strap, and those rubber things we pulled over our school shoes. What were they called? Galoshes? How do children survive modern precipitation? There I am, eight years old, bedecked in yellow, striding home through the cyclonic torrents, bound for safety, a warm home, a mother to fuss over me, and – blissful reward – a strawberry jam sandwich.
I laugh at myself, the ‘crazy cripple’, but the better part of my laughter (which very occasionally slips out on the bus, doing nothing for my public profile) comes from the continual and delightful discovery that I am still very much alive. Do you think I’m foolish? Or are many of us on the same road, each with our peculiar ways of testing ourselves, pushing out to touch a familiar boundary; confirming to our troubled hearts that safety can be found, or that we are not alone, or that life makes sense?
(I dare you!)