It was the Friday of the referendum to do with repealing the eighth amendment to the Irish constitution; 25th May 2018.
I’m a disabled sixty-two year old man, tetraplegic but with some use of my arms and hands following an accident in April 2016, I get around in an electric wheelchair.
My friend drove me to the polling station, it was a beautiful day in late May and everything was in full bloom. I remember hearing the garden blackbirds singing for all they were worth as we left the house.
The polling station is, as it usually is, in a local national school, an interesting building from an architectural point of view, reminiscent of art deco and those triumphalist buildings that the Germans were so fond of circa WW II.
It took a few minutes to gain entrance to the polling station, although having said that, the voting people were so very helpful. It was just that the ramp for wheelchairs could only be accessed through the schoolyard which in turn could only be accessed through a side gate which was at that moment locked and the key had to be located.
Once the voting was done, we decided to go to a local Costa Coffe, where we might get one of their outside tables, to enjoy the weather.
There are two disabled parking bays outside the coffee shop and we parked in one.
As it happened, we did get an alfresco table, adjacent to where we had parked and my friend went in to get the coffee.
While I was sitting there passing time, a delivery guy in a white van drove in and made like he was going to reverse into the empty disabled bay. However just as he reversed in he looked up, caught my eye, changed his mind & drove off to find parking elsewhere.
A few minutes later while we were arranging the coffee and cakes on the table another car appeared as if by magic in the bay and the occupant or occupants had left it by the time I noticed. It did not have a disabled tag on the windshield so it should not have been parked there.
Neither of us had noticed it arriving or had seen the person or persons who left it.
There was a large sign affixed prominently on each parking space, assuring people who illegally parked in the disabled bays that they were under constant CCTV surveillance, that cars without the disabled tag would be clamped immediately and it would cost a sizeable amount of money to have them un-clamped.
We saw no evidence of ‘clamping people ‘during our time there, perhaps the immediacy mentioned was somewhat overstated.
About 20 minutes later two men emerged from a nearby convenience store and made straight for the illegally parked car. Both were dressed for the barbecue, shorts, tee shirts and white trainers. One was heavily muscled and tanned to within an inch of his life, the other skinny and white. When I was sure that they were going to the vehicle in question I called across to them “excuse me” but they didn’t hear so I repeated myself louder and a woman passing between us notified the gentlemen that I was trying to get their attention.
The leader, I shall call him that because he was by a long way the bigger of the two (pumped up & obviously not a stranger to the gym, the spray tanners and perhaps to steroids) and well, he seemed to be in charge.
Turned to me and said, “wah?”
I said “sorry could you come over for a moment please” he approached me, leading with his slab of lager and when in front of me he repeated, “wah?”
I told him that, as he didn’t have a disabled tag on his car and that he was obviously not disabled in any way, he should not be parked in a disabled parking bay because a genuinely disabled person might need to use it.
He said “who will fucking stop me?”
I said “well I rather hoped that your social conscience might”.
He said “I’ll drag you out of that fucking chair you crippled c- -t and stamp all over your fucking head.”
“No social conscience then” I said
He turned away in a cloud of expletives dragging them along in his wake, the best I could come up with in the face of such an assault on decency was “I love the spray on Marbella tan” a weak enough riposte I know ,but I was a little in shock. Actually he may not have heard me, because those who engage in spray on tanning do not like to be reminded of it, and that might have been the tiny push needed to provoke him into a physical assault upon my person.
I truly hated to give him the last word in our exchange but I’m afraid I did, I believe it was “bollix..”
My dear friend who sat through this display quietly now said “no! Don’t!” As I was desperately trying to give a one fingered salute to the car as it drove by, but alas with my limited finger dexterity, I couldn’t.
I hadn’t in my wildest dreams expected anyone to threaten a disabled person in such an aggressive manner.
I firmly believe that that person would have carried through his threat without batting an eyelid & it says much of how lacking in humanity certain sections of society have become.
I felt no fear in those moments, and I wondered whether my adrenal gland that would normally pump adrenaline into my system at such times, to aid me with Fight or Flight & pump me up somewhat, has been paralysed with the rest of my lower body.
Part of me hoped that he would drag me from my chair etc, etc, an attack such as that would surely focus the attention of the people of Ireland , and might even take up a few days of the Joe Duffy show. He didn’t though, so the whole nasty episode could have become an amusing anecdote.
Later that day after my friend had gone home I received a text from him telling me to check my email. I was sitting in the garden at the time, and because the screen of my phone is cracked I cannot see emails very well, so I waited until later.
When I finally got to my computer after an hour or so, there was an email from him, with a link to a well-known Irish edition of an English tabloid newspaper article, identifying the creature as a very well (but not to me) known Irish criminal, thug, enforcer and trusted confidant of a Dublin murder and drug cartel. There he was, staring menacingly at the camera, just as he had stared menacingly at me. He had obviously missed his appointment with the spray on tan people that week because he was pasty white in the photo.
The article gave a long account of his misdeeds as a major player in Dublin’s criminal world.
I had, quixotically, taken on a real ‘giant’.