Ebony has never been scared of escalators. She has loved them since she was old enough to toddle onto them. She always wanted to do it by herself. To not hold hands. To jump off them in a dramatic and theatrical dismount. And though it terrified me to my very core, I pretended this was ok. She would stand in front of me, perched recklessly between two steps. I waited behind her, anticipating her fall from grace as the steps parted, only for her to prove me wrong and correct her footing just moments before one step fell into the dangerous chasm beneath.
Only once before had she ever hesitated, leaving me escalating away from her at great speed as she looked on with confusion at the top of the escalator. As I saw my little girl disappearing into the horizon, I was forced to turn and attempt to run back up the descending escalator. No easy feat. And one that was made harder by the deafening laughter of my fellow shoppers. As I reached the top, sweaty and breathless, Ebony simply stepped on, and together we sank away from the belly laughs of the general public. Even after that moment of parental public humiliation and near abandonment, she continued to love escalators.
That is, until the day someone fell on her. If you’ve never seen a person fall on an escalator before, it is quite terrifying. This wasn’t an awkward stumble easily rectified by putting your hands out. This was a backwards fall on an escalator travelling out of the grotty hell that is Piccadilly tram station. I have never fallen on an escalator, but I can imagine it is quite tricky to save yourself once gravity takes hold of you. Where do you put your hands when the floor is slipping away beneath you? This fellow commuter ended up splayed on the escalator, her head landing just where Ebony was stood (when I recounted this event to my husband, he questioned my compassion at not breaking the woman’s fall which, in hindsight, does make me kind of a dick. In my defence, I saw something coming out of the corner of my eye and quickly pulled Ebony to the side. Mother first, compassionate citizen of the world second, fall stopper not so much).
Once the faller was vertical once again, we stepped off the escalator and I noticed tears rolling down Ebony’s face (‘Why did that woman hurt me, mummy?’ said very loudly, next to failed escalator stunt woman). She started to sob. Her head was hurt. She was scared. She wanted to know why I didn’t stop the woman hurting her (tired woman with delayed reaction times first, mother second, compassionate system of the world third).
And so it began, the fear of escalators. We went to Debenhams on a fruitless hunt for a black school cardigan, and Ebony would not get onto the escalator. She wanted me to pick her up. Which I did, because there is nothing more awful than people trying to force you to overcome a fear. And we had a talk about escalators, and the woman who fell on her. And then I thought no more about it.
Until we went to London. The city of escalators. Having now lived with somebody affected by escalator phobia, I can see that London is not a place that welcomes people with this condition. Underneath the city there is a seemingly endless maze of escalators, each one more terrifyingly massive than the next. These are not your average escalators, in fact they grow to about three times the size of escalators in the wild. They are long, soulless prisons transporting hordes or equally soulless, unhappy Londoners to and from their business.
There is no hope of gently encouraging a small child onto these towering metal staircases, because there are always at least 47 people clambering over your head to get on the escalator. Heaven forbid they should miss the tube and have to wait the painfully long three London minutes for the next rush of warm air to sweep into the station. And so, we tried and failed to get onto the escalator a number of times, much to the joy of all of London. She wanted me to carry her on. I could feel the sharp intake of breath around me when she suggested at, as the business people imagined The Horror of having to shove past my cumbersome child-carrying form as they race to freedom on the left hand side. I was carrying no fewer than three big bags, and was already straining under the weight, so there was no way I going to add a hefty three year old to the load.
We moved to the side of the escalator. We sat down. We talked. We visualised. We embraced the concept of escalator travel. Well, I did. Ebony just shouted “NO!” a lot. We spent fifteen minutes sat on the filthy floor of the underground, undergoing the pep talk of a lifetime. In the end, a member of staff came over to check we were ok. I explained the crippling phobia, and nodded knowingly before disappearing into the crowd of grey suits and lost dreams.
It took fifteen minutes, but I was finally able to utter the words that saved the day. The sentence that so easily turned my day of sitting on the floor of the underground to a day of going up escalators. I put my arm around Ebony, I looked deep into her eyes, and I said, “Fine. I’ll carry you.” Then I hoisted her up, splayed my overnight bags out like a proud peacock made entirely of luggage, and dragged myself onto the escalator. London was not pleased, but life is too short to worry about London.
After a 24 hour stint as a human accessory to the London underground escalator system, we went to Hamleys. No trip to London is complete without a trip to the overpriced haven that is Hamleys. The walls are stocked with amazing toys, and I am forced to say ‘Not that, it’s too expensive’ each time we pass a new display (approximately every eight seconds). There are 50,000 toys in Hamleys, spread out over the seven floors (gates of hell). About 49,999 of these toys are out of my price range. In fact, Ebon can basically just have one of the tiny plastic figurines and those are located on one of the top floors.
There are stairs in Hamleys, but they are filled with smug families skipping around with thousands of pounds worth of toys crammed into carrier bags. It gives me rage (jealous rage, obviously). I prefer to stick with people of my own kind. I don’t want to see happy shoppers on their way out of the store. I want to have my cheek pressed against the sweaty faces of other miserable parents wondering how many more floors there are in this humid hell. And so I like to stick with the other people going up. They understand me, I understand them. We’re all suicidal.
I gently took Ebony by the hand and explained that I thought the Frozen Anna figures would probably be upstairs, but that we’d have to get the escalator up. Ok, she said, walking towards and boarding the escalator by herself, before glancing back to make sure I was following (because I control the money). No tears, no pep talk, no worries.
Just greedy, self-serving capitalism. That’s how you get over your fear of escalators.