diamond geezer

 Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's early evening at a quiet East End station. I've alighted at the very far end of the platform, and before long I'm the only man remaining on the platform. As I approach the foot of the exit staircase I notice a young woman with a buggy standing there waiting. She's motionless, facing the steps, holding her pushchair tightly in front of her. It's clear she's waiting for assistance.

Would you stop and help out? Or would you walk on by?

What would you do?
Stop and help out        Walk on by

Surely it's only polite, even chivalrous, to offer to help. She could be standing waiting for several minutes otherwise, the unwitting victim of TfL's inability to make all stations step-free. A flight of stairs can be a terrible barrier to movement, not only for those in a wheelchair but also for those with small children. Imagine having to make your way around the capital facing these challenges every day. The very least a passer-by can do is to stop and offer to assist. Grabbing hold of one side of the buggy would be the right thing for a caring citizen to do, surely, and walking backwards up some steps isn't hard. Then there's the pleasure to be gained from helping out, especially when a young child's involved, and the "thank you" that's sure to come at the top of the flight. If more people stopped and helped rather than walking on by, imagine how much nicer our society could be.

But why not leave her to it? Everybody else walked off the platform and left her to it, so why should you be any different? She couldn't have known you'd be here, and relying on goodwill to get around is somehow wrong. It's her own choice to be on this inaccessible platform, when there's a perfectly good step-free bus at street level. And who's to say she wants you to nip in and take control anyway? Imagine how scary it could be for a stranger to appear from leftfield and grab hold of your child, however well meaning they might be. A lot of would-be Samaritans are far too keen to assist without stopping and thinking whether they're actually required. Not to mention, what would be the consequences if you slipped or tripped on your buggy-carrying journey up the steps? You could do more harm than good, with no legal means of recourse.

If you haven't made your decision yet, now's your last chance before reading ahead. Go back and select an option - help out or walk by - and then I'll tell you what I did.

I had a good think about this one. I was trying to work out why a young woman with a pushchair might be waiting at the bottom of a staircase facing away from the platform. Was there somebody else I hadn't seen who she was waiting for? I looked up to the footbridge and indeed there was. An older woman, probably her mother, was standing at the very top of the steps setting down several bags of shopping. This was no solo journey, this was a planned manoeuvre in two parts with the buggy going second. I could still have intervened. I could have offered to help out, saving the mother a walk back down the steps and speeding up their eventual exit. But no, they had it all worked out, so I left them to it.

I'm a walking on by kind of person. If someone's lugging a heavy suitcase up some steps, I'm content to leave them. If two young parents are negotiating a staircase with two buggies, I won't intrude. It's their choice, not my responsibility. I'd not expect anyone to stop to help me. I'd make sure I could cope with my luggage before leaving the house, or travel with a friend, or take an alternative route that allowed me independence. Sorry, if that was you on the stairs when I walked on by. You coped without me. I'd rather not get involved.

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