Alexei Sayle

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Next week I'm going to go out and buy a wheelchair and some walking sticks, a Zimmer frame, and I might even get one of those chairlift things that take you up and down your stairs because you can't climb them yourself.

Don't worry - I haven't suddenly become disabled, I'm just being a realist. Although I don't need all this stuff at this precise moment, I reckon that one day, hopefully in the distant, distant future, I am going to need these things.

Now, all the experts say the absolute best way to bargain when you are buying something is not to really need the items you are haggling over. Then you have the upper hand from the start. So if I go into a medical goods showroom while I'm still hale and hearty, I should be able to drive a really hard bargain with the sales people because all the other customers they have ever encountered will be disabled, or shopping for people who are disabled - and they're not going to haggle, are they?

It's like all the motoring magazines, which advise that when you want to buy a speciality car, the best time to do it is out of season, when they're not in demand. So if you've got your heart set on a convertible, you'll be able to do a much better deal in winter, when nobody else is thinking about top-down motoring. Similarly, it you fancy a four-wheel drive, you go down to the Land-Rover showroom in the height of summer, when there's much less demand for mud-plugging vehicles.

So what I'm going to do is to somersault into the medical goods showroom, do 40 press-ups and a couple of handstands and say to the sales assistant: "OK, punk, I'm your worst nightmare - a fit person who wants to buy cripple stuff. Now, how much are you going to knock off the price of that bath lift over there - and don't mess me about because I'll walk - and I do mean walk - right outta here!"

This gear is really pricy and I'm convinced there's plenty of room to offer discounts to the cunning shopper with ready cash. So I bet I'll get all the walking sticks and vibrating chairs that I want for about half the price the disabled person would pay.

I might even try to get them to throw in one of those giant big-foot heated slippers while I'm about it. I've always wanted one of those.

Mind you, I was telling somebody at dinner the other night about my plan to buy wheelchairs before I need them (I bet you wish you could be part of my social set) and she pointed out a possible flaw in my plan. She said that by the time I came to need my wheelchair, stair lift, Zimmer frame, whatever, technological innovation will have made my 1995 model equipment totally obsolete, and every other disabled person will be zooming about in anti-gravity hover-chairs while I'm wombling about in some antique contraption that I bought 50 years ago. In consequence, I'll be the laughing stock of the sheltered dwelling units.

That set me back a bit, but on balance I'm prepared to take the risk. Remember in the Eagle comic in the 1950s they confidently predicted that by 1975 every schoolboy would fly to school with his own jet-pack on his back, holidays would be taken on Mars and all food would be dehydrated pellets. Apart from that last prediction, it hasn't really happened, has it? These Tomorrow's World-style advances never seem to actually arrive in the real world. Our technology is still basically that of Victorian England.

When you think about it, wheelchair design in particular isn't one of those fields where there's been relentless innovation in the past hundred years - one chair, two wheels, that's about it really. Sometimes a bit of a battery attachment, but I bet that probably hasn't changed since the Thirties. And walking stick design hasn't exactly changed out of all recognition since Victorian times either, has it? If Sherlock Holmes was resurrected for one last case now, he wouldn't say, "My Lord, Watson, what is that strange object clutched in the hand of that old woman? It seems to be some aid to perambulation, but I have scarce seen anything like it in our age."

So I reckon I'm going to be all right purchasing all my disabled old- age stuff next week. My only worry now really is that I spend a huge fortune buying all this medical gear and then I end up living an incredibly long, active, fit life, finally dying at 120 years old in bed with a couple of ballerinas - and I never get to use all the handicapped gear I've bought. That'd just be my bloody luck!