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Saturday, 28 March 2020

We're all very selfish!

Last Saturday, we were amongst the crowds that flocked to the coast. On Monday the Health Secretary described us as "very selfish". At the time, I disagreed strongly. Very selfish made it sound as if we knew that it would be busy and just didn't care about anyone else. I still don't think that was the case. I think many, like us, just didn't realise that everyone was going to do the same thing.

The road through the East Riding was much, much quieter than normal, so we thought our plan had worked. When we got there, the north bay was busy so we drove round to the south bay, which was quiet compared to normal. The disabled bay, opposite the Olympia, that is normally full, was empty. We were the only car parked there, and one of three when we left. We walked past the spa and as soon as possible, with my mountain trike, got down onto the sand. It was quiet and we had a nice walk.

On Look North, Peter Levy asked people who had done this terribly selfish act to text in and explain why they had done it. I don't think many replied.

So why did we go to the coast? Well, the reality is, we usually do go to Scarborough. I grew up there. My family are there. It's home. Also, as a wheelchair user, the beach and Marine Drive are a place I can exercise without worrying about accessibility or getting hurt. I have Liggy, my assistance dog. She has many food allergies and the beach is usually the one place she is safe from dropped/scattered food. I can let her off lead for a really good run, knowing that the only thing she is likely to eat, is seaweed, and that is one of the things she's not allergic to, along with fish. So, knowing that we may not be able to exercise her properly for months, we took her for a run last Saturday.

Did we think it was a holiday? No.
Did we disregard the advice? No, at that time, the advice was to stay 2m apart from others... and we did.
Were we being selfish? Not intentionally. We were also buying milk and bread to deliver to my parents, who are self-isolating. My dad had surgery very recently and needs a nasty virus like a hole in the head. So we bought them essentials and delivered them to their house. We didn't go in. We stood out on the driveway. We didn't hug. We just made sure they were okay. I had even stopped at the toilets at Staxton Bank on the way to them, so I wouldn't need to go into their house and use their toilet. I'm grateful for the disabled toilet there, but it's cold, dark and not very pleasant.

It didn't feel like a selfish act.

This week

From Monday, we have followed the lock down guidance. We normally shop together. I'm allergic to beta-carotene. It's a natural food colouring that is in many fruit and veg (carrots, swede, beetroot, mango, etc) as well as being added to many products. It has an e-number, E160b. Normally, we have to shop together. Neil takes the food off the shelf and passes it to me. I check the ingredients. The same products can have annatto colouring one day and carotenes the next, so we have to check every product every time we shop. Unfortunately, the ingredients are so small that Neil can't see them.

This week, Neil has shopped without me. We're asked for just one person to shop. This does mean, we will inevitably buy food which I can't have. We'll waste money on products that would make me ill. Some will end up in the bin. Some will eventually make it to a food bank.

We've organised our one form of daily exercise so that Liggy gets two walks. She is a working dog and her well-being is everything to me. She enables me to keep my independence. She's not just a pet. So in the morning, I'm walking her and in the evening, Neil is walking her. For the most part, that will work fine. I mean, we like to go for a walk together but Liggy's needs come before our likes. She is normally out and about with me all day - at work, shopping, in town... I hope she is still able to cope with all that after a long isolation. I hope the public will be sensitive and not overwhelm her with too much attention when all this is over.

Building up sufficient strength to self propel the distances I do, has taken many years of exercise and hard work. I have two chairs - my normal day chair and my mountain trike. They use different muscles. It's important to me to keep up sufficient exercise that I don't undo all the hard work I've done. So the plan was to use my day chair for most walks but on my days off, drive to the canal or the park (both local) to use my mountain trike, and keep those muscles working.

Then I saw the police posts about not being allowed to drive for exercise. That is difficult for me but I tried not to be selfish and attempted the walk along the riverbank behind our house. We are just metres from the River Ouse. Neil walks there a lot. I rarely do... certainly not without help. That is because there are five entry and exit points. Two of them (the ones at each end) are ramps - steep but just about accessible. The rest are steps and one of them has a metal barrier to stop motorcycles going up there. The path is wide and clear most of the way, except for one very narrow point. We've managed it once before but Neil took Liggy, as together, we were too wide.

Having made a very selfish move last Saturday, I just got on with it yesterday. I took Liggy and my trike and we went a kilometre or so to the bank that has a ramp... and we got up onto the bank. It was a beautiful day. Nobody was about apart from one couple that I passed. They were keen to point out that I would not get through the narrow section further down. As I continued, I tried to work out what to do. The only other exit that doesn't have steps, is an unmade path into the cemetery. It's there because lots of people use it as a cut through. It's steep but at least not steps and no barrier. So I tried it. Actually, I made it down the steepest part okayish but then hit a tree root at the bottom and kind of catapulted to the right. In a matter of seconds, I was laying on the floor, covered in mud. My chair was upside down and Liggy was still attached to it and kind of stuck.

I realised I'd hurt myself immediately but what could I do? There was nobody around and even if there was, they shouldn't help me. I eventually managed to detach Liggy's lead arm and get her in a safe place. Then I had to turn my trike back over. It's really heavy and everything hurt. Getting back into it and getting home was really painful. I knew Neil was on a work conference call, but when I got back, I couldn't move and had to call him to help me. How selfish!

It's now Saturday again. This morning, Neil will shop without me. Then, at some point, I will have to try to find a way of walking Liggy. Of course, Neil could... but he's not allowed. We can both walk once but I presume I can't donate my walk to him, no matter how much pain I'm in.

So who's selfish?

Well, on reflection, I think we all are. We naturally put our own needs first. In a society where nobody else will do so, we have to. I've done so many selfish things this week. I took my dog for a walk on the beach. I bought bread and milk, even though there was hardly any on the shelves. I've passed people on my daily walk with less than 2m because going into the middle of the road feels inconvenient and dangerous. 

But from my perspective, I've witnessed selfishness too. 

The old lady who was walking in front of me in the cemetery, scattering nuts for the squirrels. Nuts that could make Liggy extremely sick... and at a time where we are very limited on where we can walk. 

The bin men who casually tossed the empty bins back on the street, blocking my way home.

The very tiny child who was throwing a tantrum right in the middle of the path - no 2m passing for anyone there.

The architects, who when faced with a choice between putting steps or a ramp in, to create access points to the riverbank, decided steps would be better.

The motorcyclists, who have obviously caused so many problems along the riverbank that somebody decided the only option was to but steel barriers in, thus blocking anything other than a pedestrian.

The neighbour who had a delivery for some building work and badly damaged the pavement... and just left it damaged. 

Did any of them intend to be selfish? NO! They just put their own needs before the needs that they were unaware of.

YES, we are all selfish. We all think about our own needs first. Of course we do! We're human. Even when we applaud the NHS workers, what we are really saying is that we are glad they will be there when we need them. 

Thankfully, our selfishness usually extends to include those we love. I don't see Neil putting his needs before mine. The speed with which he dropped his call yesterday to help me, shows that he automatically puts me first... as I would, him. 

So maybe the key is to extend the love. We put those we love first... then ourselves. Calling people very selfish isn't the best way of getting people to act in love. Showing understanding might be more effective. So this week, I'm on the look out for acts of love... I'm going to keep a list and post them, to prove that although we are inherently selfish, love is more powerful!