#LookUp

by Freya Valentine August 16th, 2018

You’re sat on the tube. How likely are you to give your seat up for a disabled person? An elderly person? A pregnant person?

“Me?” I hear you say, “Of course I would!”

Well let’s rephrase that. How likely are you to notice someone who is in need of seat? Because actually, most people will give up their seat if asked or if they notice that someone needs it, but how often do you actually look up? More generally, how much do you notice someone who needs help in any situation? From a struggling colleague to someone struggling with a heavy suitcase?

Being pregnant at the moment, I’ve become hyper aware of those in need of help on the tube. It’s not that I think I’m entitled to a seat, nor do I need one at all times, but my goodness there are some days where you do just need one – whether it’s in your first trimester when you’re feeling exhausted and sick as a dog, in your second when, if you’re like me, you suffer from mad pelvic pain from everything just shifting about, or in your third when you’re just… ungainly and huge.

I’m currently between the mad pelvic pain and ungainly stage. It’s an interesting time. And mostly, the experience has been good. I’m wearing the “baby on board” badge to cut out any of the “is she fat or pregnant?” problems (FYI – right now it’s a mixture of fat and pregnant) and, so far, people have mostly been very accommodating.

However, there have also been times when I’ve been standing, and no one has even glanced up. It’s not that they are wilfully ignoring me. It’s just they’ve had a busy day too and are now delighting in sitting down, reading their newspaper or playing candy crush on their phone. You stand there and hope someone will look up, but often they are too engrossed.

So why don’t I just ask for a seat? I have, once, when I was really desperate. It was during the heat wave and I was immediately offered a seat by about five people at once. But I can be hideously British at times. I don’t want to put anyone out or make a nuisance of myself. Saying “Could anyone give up their seat for me?” is hard, and due to my British nature it’s much more likely to come out as “Excuse me. Sorry. Um, would anyone who feels they are able to, possibly offer me their seat? It’s just I’m feeling ever so slightly faint and actually am feeling quite sick and it would just be really appreciated. But if you’ve got an illness or something and can’t, that’s fine too” or some equally lengthy explanation.

I’m lucky though: this physical discomfort has an end in sight. In just over three months’ time I will have something to show for this – a small person (fingers crossed), and my body will gradually repair itself, my hormone levels will go back to normal, and the extra pounds I am carrying will also cease to be (haha – maybe).

Not everyone has that luxury though. Getting to and from work or just travelling generally is a constant battle for some, and they are often ignored, even when the disability is physical and noticeable. It’s even easier to be ignored if the condition is invisible.

Reading about the #LookUp campaign is reassuring, and I sincerely hope it takes off. We already have the “please offer me a seat” badges, which I’m sure have gone some way to help disabled and elderly passengers, but coupled with commuters actually being asked to look up and notice what is going on around them, this should go a long way towards helping those who do not want to announce to the tube carriage that they are disabled (or those who are simply too polite to ask for a seat) to have a pleasant and comfortable journey.

The reminder is what people sometimes need. A little nudge to take notice of others. It isn’t that swathes of people are selfish and uncaring. It’s that people literally don’t notice. It’s very easy to become so invested in your own little world that you forget to have a look around you and at work for example, to ask people about their day, see how people are and offer them extra support to make their day better.

I used to be firmly in the “but I always offer my seat!” camp, but now I wonder just how many people I mistakenly ignored or missed. How many little bumps I didn’t notice (and don’t let people tell you that women in their first trimester don’t need support) and how many walking sticks I was too involved in a particularly touch and go round of mobile mini golf to acknowledge.

If being pregnant has taught me anything, it’s to look up, be aware of my surroundings and have empathy for others – whether on the tube, at work when some is having a bad day or in any other situation. Small things can make a really big difference.

On a lighter note, it’s also taught me pregnancy is really weird and that a ham sandwich can make me cry.