I had a chat today with a very pleasant man while he cleaned my shoes. We had stopped to look a rather strange looking tricycle.
The tricycle was built out of three quarter inch iron pipe. The welding was crude but effective.
A feature of the bike was the high handlebars supporting two hand pedals connected by a heavy continuous chain to sprockets on the front wheel. The chain quite simply drove the front wheels. It looked as if it took some power to drive the tricycle on a flat surface – much less up a slight incline.
The twin real wheels were driven by a small petrol motor. The plug looked as if it was years old. The porcelain end was a grey orange colour. When the plug had left the factory it would have been white and pristine in appearance.
The seat was as broad as the two wheels – and was covered by cushions.
The wheels were the old wheels of a small motor bike. Our immediate first thought was the designer of this three wheeled carriage had cut the front off a small motor bike and then welded the frame to make the body.
The shoe shine driver explained to us in French that he had had polio when he was nine years old and had lost the use of his legs. He showed us the callipers supporting both legs – much like the one I had to wear for just over a year as a first year student. He also demonstrated that he had no control over the fingers in his left hand. The fingers simply flopped loosely as he moved his hand.
Our shoe shiner explained that the pedals on the steering wheel were for when he had not made enough money to be able to fill his minuscule petrol tank. The tank was around the size of a large mug - about the size of large Starbucks mug.
He explained that shining shoes was rather a precarious career. He earned a basic living and had to hope for tips to top up his income. His clothes were clean – but his tricycle was dusty and dirty.
So I naturally thought about our Eleven Plus children. We enjoy the fact that our children are bright, alive, physically able and remarkably articulate. Yet here was a man who no doubt had had to suffer incredible privation as he struggled to come to terms with his newly enforced disability. I thought too of the worry that his parents must have had as he grew up – not only concern for him as a child but real anxiety about what the world would hold for him when he became an adult.
So when our fine young children stride into school confidently and feeling secure it is natural that we feel considerable pride that we have been able to offer so much to our children. We must have also have had a little concern that our children have made the best of the opportunities that have been offered to them.
The Eleven Plus examinations are demanding. They are competitive. They are draining on parents and children – but there must be a sense of perspective when we remember the struggles of this determined shoe shiner. He did not appear to be sorry for himself. He was not whining about his unfair lot. (“Oh mum, do I really have to?)
We must offer every opportunity that we are capable of towards any disabled child and their parents. We do not need to feel sorry – but we do need to feel respect.