Confession. I have not been posting recently because I’ve become addicted to The Vampire Dairies. Where were the tales of hot vampires when I was a miserable teen goth? All I had was Interview with a Vampire, with Tom Cruise being the antithesis of everything a pasty adolescent might fancy
Don’t get me wrong, the Vampire Diaries is properly rubbish, but it’s the kind of rubbish I would have LOVED when I was moping in my bedroom in Scarborough, failing to apply mascara effectively.
And, as part of my regression to the Land of Puberty, I headed to my hometown this weekend: a beautiful 3.5 hours up the East Coast mainline.
Except this time I didn’t lean back into my pre-booked seats and admire the view, I sat on the floor in the corridor between the toilet and 5 bags of rubbish (which expanded to ten by the end of the trip). This wasn’t because I had failed to organise the booking; it was because I was a mum with a sleeping child in a buggy. I usually try to nab the space for the disabled (not pushing wheelchairs out of my way to get it, I hasten to add), but on this particular train it was teeny and already taken.
So instead of the view, I enjoyed the toilet door slowly sliding open every 5 minutes to reveal the lovely odour and, occasionally, a bemused pensioner who couldn’t work out the locking system. I enjoyed drawing my legs in every time someone wobbled past on their way to buy £7 miniatures of wine, and I enjoyed the insane loudness of the wind rushing in through poorly shutting sash-windows.
It made me wonder what life would be like if the things we use on a daily basis were designed by the carers of this world, rather than those who have only known the professional life. If trains were designed by engineer-mums there would be a space with fold-down chairs at the end of each carriage which could be used as seats or as buggy spaces. If food labels were designed by those who care for the partially-sighted, they would all be in clear black and white, rather than a shade of pale blue on a background of light green. And if disabled toilets were actually designed by disabled people, I bet far fewer of them would be hidden on a far, far away floor, through multiple swing-doors.
But the tools of life are designed, in the main, by people who have not cared for a disabled relative, or gone on long journeys alone with small children, and so the considerations in design are to maximise efficiency and ROI.
Now, over a year into single-parenthood, I realise more and more that power is still concentrated into the hands of those who have the most privilege and, frequently, the least insight. I don’t say this bitterly. It makes sense that young, talented designers should want to make packaging look pleasing to the eye rather than legible to a visually-impared minority; it makes sense that the best new engineering is done by those who have had the health, freedom and (perhaps) gender to spend 20 years exclusively honing their craft rather than experiencing the difficulty of hoisting a pushchair up two unevenly spaced train steps. These things are understandable.
But it’s still disconcerting to note that whereas I’ve always been happy to elbow my opinion into decision-making processes, i now have less confidence that my voice will be heard. Now, my complaints are as part of “special interest groups”, rather than as someone who is swimming along on market forces. And it gives me the sneaking suspicion that even in our amazingly open and liberal society, power is still held by the healthy, the unfettered, the professional and the wealthy: not by the carers, the communities or those who speak on behalf of others.
And so I’m writing to the train company. Nobody should pay £90 to sit amongst other people’s rubbish, just because they’ve got a kid. It’s the start of a tiny power-revolution.
Small steps. I’ll keep you posted…
This post is dedicated to the ticket-inspector on the train who took one look at my face, and the rubbish mountain behind me, and said,”it’s all part of parenthood, eh?”. After my inner-vampire removed his throat, we got along fine…