If there’s one topic of conversation that we Brits do well it’s the weather. I wonder what on earth we would talk about if our weather was always the same. Without this subject, I fear we may never talk to our neighbours or people we meet ever again!
Picture the scene, a busy Post Office, in a suburban town in the U.K.
A queue. Oh we do those well too, queues. Usually in silence and often impatiently. Avoiding eye contact and hoping that no one invades our personal space. Unspoken rules of being British, and, if you are a visitor to these shores or have made your home here then you will have possibly been on the receiving end of one of our glares or tuts of disapproval if you dared to get any of this wrong. Please accept our apologies if this has happened to you. We don’t mean to be so rude. At least I don’t think so.
But you are not alone. My daughter, who has Down’s syndrome, hasn’t learnt those rules either. And I hope in some ways she never does. As we took our place in the queue, me standing and Hazel in her wheelchair with shiny bright pink wheels, waiting our turn, she pretty much broke every one of them.
Firstly, she cheered as we went in, hands waving frantically. Everyone turned and stared at us.
Ssssshhhhh, they said, not actually saying a word.
Secondly, she laughed. Loudly.
At what, I have no idea. Maybe the fact that there were lots of people all standing there saying nothing at all was very funny. It is, if you stop and think about it.
The Post Master definitely smiled, I caught his eye from my place in the queue.
Cashier number 2 please.
Two more still in front.
A commotion behind us. The whirr of an electric wheelchair. Not pink and pretty, but cumbersome and clunky.
The silent, staring, glaring faces turned again. Then turned quickly back for fear of making eye contact with its occupant. Letter in one contorted hand, control stick in the other.
More silence, if there is such a thing as more silence when you already have silence. Relief that they were ahead and not behind was tangible.
I moved her pink wheels to make room in the cramped waiting area for his black ones. As I did, she broke another rule. Or was it a barrier? She reached out her hand and placed it firmly on his knee. And, in a second, the rule was broken, the barrier lifted.
“Hello”, he said
“How are you?” He said, his voice as shaky as his hands.
She didn’t answer. She can’t. Yet.
But she spoke louder and more clearly than all the articulate people in the Post Office put together.
The Post Master smiled. So did the other customers. One stepped forward to help our new friend put his letter on the counter. Another turned and spoke to Hazel, admiring her pink wheels.
Silence broken. Lines of communication opened.
As we left the Post Office, our electric powered friend was already half way up the road. There was no stopping him. Though I’m sure there are plenty more barriers he will have to face in his life. As do we, but, at least for now, in her five year old world, Hazel has no idea those barriers even exist.
Turned out nice again.