I am, I like to think, a person of few prejudices.
I’m not sexist, racist, homophobic or transphobic, and take genuine pleasure in the diversity that makes our world a more interesting and colourful place. I like the weird and the eccentric: you do you, is my rule. I may suffer from a touch of reverse class snobbery, but, well… That’s their fault, not mine.
I have one major bugbear that I’ve found difficult to shake, though: the mobility scooter. To be clear, I’m pleased that frail old ladies who might otherwise be housebound can fetch their weekly shop, or visit friends and relatives.
But, by my wholly unscientific calculation, this cohort only comprises around 30% of the mobility scooter population. The majority, meanwhile, look to have no obvious physical defects or weaknesses, other than carrying a little extra weight.
I’ve seen people hit the brakes and park up like something from CHiPs, before springing out of their seat for a casual browse around the racks in M&S, or for a cackling fag with a pal in the town centre. Some have attached stickers and flags to their mean machines: I’m convinced there are late-night drag races going on in the railway car park.
There is, surely, some great con here, some calculated, cynical raid on the much-stretched taxpayer. Perhaps, as with some Turkish barbers or Chinese restaurants, it’s all a front for organised crime. Perhaps The P&J should investigate the mobility scooter-industrial complex.
I’m not being entirely serious, of course – forgive the columnist’s poetic licence. People struggle with all sorts of limiting conditions, often invisible to the eye, and there are tight regulations around who qualifies for a scooter. But, my goodness, there are an awful lot of them these days.
A motorised Gandalf living his best life
I’ve recently had a couple of reasons to reconsider my bias, anyway. The first is a magnificent fellow who has popped up in Stirling, where I live. He appears to be somewhere in his late 130s, has a long, white beard and raisin-wrinkled skin, sports a dashing taqiyah, and looks, for all the world, like he should be leading prayers at the local mosque.
He is, however, a menace. I have never before witnessed the kind of speeds he builds up on his scooter. Perhaps he’s had it souped up, like a teenager with his first Corsa, or has secured a sponsorship deal with McLaren.
You hear him well before you see him, which might be the only reason he hasn’t yet (I hope) caused any fatalities
Whatever it is, he gives pedestrians no quarter, sending us flying into market stalls and through shop windows as he barrels through our midst. He laughs as he goes, like a wicked, motorised Gandalf.
This isn’t even the craziest thing, which is the music. Some sort of sound system has been installed, the kind with speakers at the back. This means you hear him well before you see him, which might be the only reason he hasn’t yet (I hope) caused any fatalities.
His playlist consists of only two genres: the first is a kind of sinuous, sub-continental folk music; the second is thumping, hardcore rave. He is clearly living his best life.
Project Get Fit for 50 encountered some issues
The second reason for my softening is that I’m starting to wonder whether I might soon be applying for one of these scooters. Despite the byline pic that accompanies this column each week – like an IRA mugshot from the late 1970s – I’m only 49. But I’m having one bodily disaster after another.
I know why this is. At the start of this year, suddenly confronted with the impending shift into a new, grim decade and the quickening, downhill march to the grave, an old friend and I agreed we would get “fit for 50”. God heard, and laughed.
Since then, I’ve struggled with a daily headache, which is either stress, a brain tumour, or too much coffee. My right ankle, hacked at repeatedly by lesser talents across 40 years of football, has begun to throb constantly. A couple of months ago, I put my back out and it is stubbornly refusing to heal: I creep around with my top half at a 30 degree tilt to the lower, smothered in cold sprays and heat patches, which make no difference whatsoever.
Worst of all, I’m being sent for an endoscopy. Last year, I wound up in hospital with a bleeding stomach ulcer, and the doc thinks it may have started leaking again.
He arrived at this conclusion following a series of blood and poop tests, and after sticking his finger up my bum. I prayed he wouldn’t use the endoscopy word, having suffered through one last time. But, there we are: ageing is indignity layered upon humiliation piled upon mortification.
As the months pass and September nears, the aspiration of “fit by 50” is becoming a bad joke. Perhaps if I’d kept the thought to myself, the heavens would have continued blithely to ignore me. But I didn’t, and they haven’t, and now I’m being pinged around the place like a crumbling Subbuteo figure.
So, mobility scooters: I’m planning something in Ferrari yellow, with fins, whitewall tyres, and a drawing of Ava Gardner in a bikini on the side. I’ll need space to chalk up my kills, too. There’ll be no sound system: you won’t hear me coming.
Chris Deerin is a leading journalist and commentator who heads independent, non-party think tank, Reform Scotland