Cotswold Mother: Capital offence

London Underground

London Underground - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The teachers escorted their students away from the mean-spirited woman from the Cotswolds, who resented delaying her journey by two minutes to allow a group of disabled children a stress-free escalator ride

Having chosen to set my next novel in London, I am finding myself spending more and more time there. I rather like the meandering train journey from Kingham, which gives me time to adjust from the slow pace of life in the Cotswolds to the hustle and bustle of life in the capital. Once there I find myself quickening my step, even though I have plenty of time on my hands, keeping pace with the commuters and their busy lives.

Last Wednesday I pushed through the ticket barriers at Piccadilly Circus along with several dozen others, funnelling towards the escalator. Directly ahead of me was a group of around eight school children, each holding the hand of an adult. Adults and children alike were wearing fluorescent tabards bearing the name of a school. It was apparent that the children had profound disabilities, and I held back a little, to give them some space.

A young boy was reluctant to step onto the escalator, and we waited for a minute or two until he was persuaded to move. Once on the escalator the group fanned out, the children’s special needs quite rightly trumping London’s ‘keep right’ escalator etiquette.

Somebody behind me let out an exasperated sigh. One of the teachers turned round and glared at me. I smiled and shook my head, trying to convey through the medium of mime that the sigh hadn’t come from me, but she had already turned back to her charge. A man behind me tutted, then pushed past the children and made his way down the escalator. The teacher let out a short cry of dismay, glancing behind her and catching my eye once more.

I smiled again. “Some people are in such a terrible hurry,” I said in a conciliatory tone. The teacher scowled, then spoke loudly enough for the entire Underground to hear. “I’m afraid I don’t care if you’re in a hurry. You’ll just have to wait – these children are disabled.” I was horrified.

“But…” I began, realising she had misinterpreted my sympathetic comment for an expression of my own impatience, “that’s not what I meant. I was referring to…” My protestations were ignored. The bit now firmly between her teeth, the teacher rounded on me. “Two minutes, that’s all we’re talking. Is that really going to make a difference to your journey? These kids have never been on the tube before; they’re already stressed enough about it.”

Most Read

“But I didn’t mean…” I said frantically, “I’m really not in a hurry.”

“Disgusting,” someone said above me. “Disabled kids, and you can’t wait a couple of minutes.” There was a general muttered consensus and I felt the heat of accusatory eyes burning into the back of my head. Never had it taken so long to descend an escalator. Never had I felt so embarrassed. Never had I been so wrongly accused. I contemplated trying to defend myself; demanding silence as I explained the nuance of my ill-chosen comment, finishing with an assurance that I was a passionate advocate for accessibility. But it was too late.

We reached the bottom of the escalator and the teachers escorted their students towards the platform, away from the mean-spirited woman from the Cotswolds, who resented delaying her journey by two minutes to allow a group of disabled children a stress-free escalator ride.

I would walk slowly, I decided, thereby demonstrating that I wasn’t, in fact, in a hurry. Perhaps it would introduce some doubt into the minds of those who were, even now, tutting at the back of my head. I sauntered off the escalator, ambling along as though taking a stroll along the beach.

Nobody listens in London, I decided. They’re all too wrapped up in their own lives. Such a horrible misunderstanding wouldn’t have happened in the Cotswolds (and not only because there aren’t any escalators). I mused on this point for a moment, idling vaguely in the direction of the trains.

“She wasn’t in a hurry at all,” I heard one girl say to another, as they overtook me in an indignant flurry. “She just doesn’t care about disabled children.”

I stepped to my right and allowed my enormous handbag to bang against her legs, earning myself another glare. May as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, after all.