I have been pondering the nature of fitting in, and today I experienced some stark examples of being almost catastrophically non-mainstream. First there was my quest to find some kids’ multivitamins that don’t involve fruit juice, citrus flavours, or hidden fructose. There doesn’t seem to be such a beast, but there is a large collection of people keen to assure me that I don’t really want anything so bizarre. But with kids possibly suffering from fructose malabsorption, and one with severe reflux in the presence of anything even remotely citrussy, I really did want something exactly that bizarre. So mostly I encountered a lot of shaken heads. Oh, and Blackmores kindly said that they couldn’t tell me what their flavours were, due to commercial confidence, but it was perfectly ok, because they’re “all natural”. Oh. Good. So is hemlock.
So I gave up on that and foolishly did a quick rummage through clothing shops, hoping to upgrade my wardrobe just a tad, since most of my clothes are utilitarian at best, threadbare and a decade old at worst. Being the middle of winter, I thought some winter clothes would make useful additions to my wardrobe. Such naivete! The only clothes currently in the shops are summer clothes. Of course. Now, I admit that August did sneak up on me with great cunning and duplicity this year, but last I checked August was still very much winter. Certainly the hail currently pounding down outside my study window suggests that warm clothing might still be a good idea. Not that I wouldn’t be happy to see a little sunshine right now, but I think summer clothes in August would be “courageous, Minister”!
In a last desperate throw of the dice, I decided to look for gluten free (GF) food that is also fructose friendly. For those of you who haven’t met the twin problems of gluten intolerance and fructose malabsorption, they are fairly compatible dietary restrictions. Gluten free food is by nature wheat free, and fructose friendly diets must also be wheat free. So far so good. But those who suffer from fructose problems must also avoid onion, garlic, honey, and a bizarre range of fruit and vegetables. Oh, and a weird artificial fibre called inulin which seems to be particularly prevalent in GF food. Most of the GF cereals are sweetened with honey. Or worse, fruit juice concentrate. And the savoury foods all seem to have onion or garlic.
That’s it. The shops have nothing for me anymore. They don’t want to know about me. I am far too weird for them. And yet it is not uncommon for those who suffer from coeliac disease (extreme sensitivity to the slightest crumb of gluten) to also suffer from fructose problems. So there must be an awful lot of people out there combing the GF aisles, and sighing sadly to themselves. Clearly one of us needs to start up our own food range!
Similarly it is surely not uncommon for people to seek to buy winter clothes in winter. Especially for kids – I have no idea what size my two year old will be by January. She may be taller than me, at this rate! So the idea of buying summer clothes for her in advance is just absurd. But by March, when it will be hot, and she will probably have outgrown most of her stuff, what will be in the shops? Winter clothes! Round and round and round we go. Where shall we stop? Nobody knows, but let’s just hope we’re not going postal.
Anyway, all of this failure to thrive in the retail world has left me with a shocked sense of what it is like to be permanently different. I am relatively lucky – having coeliac disease curtails my dining out opportunities dramatically, and makes it unlikely my friends will want to, or indeed be able to, cook dinner for me (apart from one utterly magnificent angel who can achieve absolutely anything in her kitchen with grace and good humour. With the possible exception of the transmutation of lead into gold. Possibly.). Because the diagnosis is recent, I am still stunned by all of the things I cannot do – like stopping to buy a snack if I get hungry. But I can still walk. Just imagine trying to make your way through the world in a wheelchair. Even those places that have ramps often have impossibly difficult doors that swing rather than slide, and are ludicrously heavy. And doorways are narrow (difficult enough to get through with a pram, take it from me!). Buses? Even those with a low floor? hah! Now there’s a thought – someone needs to invent hovercraft wheelchairs.
Imagine, for a moment, being blind. Or deaf. Or in any way non-standard, really. For all our rhetoric about diversity, inclusivity, and even multi-culturalism, we are really not good at including anyone who was not stamped out of the standard mold. Sure, we can retrofit ramps, or put beepy things on our pedestrian crossings. But it’s all a bit of an afterthought. Don’t even get me started on the topic of websites and accessibility. Oh, we might try, if we can be bothered. But it’ll be tacked on at the last minute. And not necessarily updated when we update the content. I mean, they can always phone, right? And we’re only talking about a few people. It’s not crucial. It doesn’t matter to us if we lose that tiny fraction of available business.
Can you imagine the sense of alienation? Here is another website I can’t access. Here is another building I can’t get into. Here is another sign I can’t read, another person or business who doesn’t give a damn about me. What a damning indictment of our society, that we are not inclusive as a matter of course, but only when we have to be, by government ruling.