I had a training course to attend today for work. I’d been looking forward to this as it meant going back to school to do coding. Heaven.
The plan was that Mr Geek would take the day off work and come with me as my assistant in case I had difficulty. (We envisioned this as me not being able to get on a bus, or getting lost, or getting faint and needing help).
What I forgot is that today is Thursday. And Thursdays don’t like me.
We left the house at 7.15am to drive the 30 minute journey to Hassocks station as it is more accessible than our local one which has stairs all over. 30 minutes… nope. 60 minutes. I’m now running late which doesn’t work for me at the best of times. But once we were on the train it would be fine!
Hasocks station ticket guy: have you booked assistance? … no, despite using the route planners to highlight we needed a stepless journey, there was no indication that we needed to warn people in advance that we were travelling. Someone didn’t learn from her trip to Ireland that I can’t just be spontaneous now. I was already a bit sensitive about being late, so wasn’t bowled over by being singled out as making his day more difficult. But they got the ramp out and I wheeled into a middle section of the carriage.
Now, a bit worried that we’d miss registration, I emailed venue to let them know we’d be late. All would be fine.
As we pulled up at Haywards Heath to change for our London train, Mr Geek had to call the guard for me (how do you do that from inside the train on your own? ). For future solo journeys, may I suggest a flag on a stick?
Getting off the train was fine, but up onto the Gatwick Express was a different thing entirely. I got stuck on the ramp going up as the train was much higher. Mr Geek had to push me up. This is the kind of thing having a power chair was meant to avoid!
Gatwick express actually has bus style seats for wheelchairs so you’re not put in with the bikes which is nice, but unless you have a slimline chair, good luck getting through the doors!
Trying to get off at Victoria was verging on hilarious. To get out, you need to tackle a right hand turn the width of the chair, then a narrow passage and doorway out. Now, when you have a turning circle of a small country and the spacial awareness of a bull in a china shop, that’s not a fun task. After a three million point turn and getting very flustered I emerged from the train. Now even later. Bugger.
Step 4 of 5 was to get a London Bus to Covent Garden. The No 24 London Bus had an automatic ramp that just popped out which was great because there was no fuss getting on! I have yet to work out how you get onto a bus and back into the official space whilst people fuss around you and before the bus pulls away. I ended up facing forwards & figured that if I get thrown forwards, I at least have a soft thing to smack into 😉
(Note that time… we left the house at 7.15, my course started at 10am. Lesson learnt here is that travelling by chair requires at very least 50% extra time for getting stuck, people faffing with ramps, and wheelchair accessible trains with a tiny right turn that touched the wheels of my chair on both sides – no hope of you have a self propelled manual chair).
By this point, being jostled about on trains and busses is causing enough pain to make me feel sick. Handbag full of drugs at the ready!
I’m late for my course, I’m in pain & I’m not wholly sure how to get my chair off of the bus. It turns out that rush “hour” in London ought to be referred to Trading Standards. Our top speed was slower than my chair! It took us 45 minutes to do 2 1/2 miles!
So 4 hours to get here. And now it’s raining. Ffs.
Final step was a 10 minute “walk” which involved me grumbling about Mr Geek having told me that the weather was ‘mild’. I was cold, wet, and eye level to every cigarette in London. Btw – umbrellas are a wonderful invention, but if you put them in front of your face, the angry woman in the wheelchair you’re walking into is going to tut at you. And flinch because that thing is pointy!
Having emailed a month in advance to double check that the venue was accessible, my Thursday just continued. The training itself was on the 1st floor (woop! Lift) & we arrived just in time for coffee. The one and only accessible loo was downstairs, so off I trundled. Then realised that the lovely wide doored accessible loo was behind two narrow wooden doors. No prizes for guessing who smacked her hand on the doorframe.
Just before lunch, the trainer called a member of staff to explain how to get up to lunch. She arrived and explained that the dining hall was up on the 2nd floor but there were stairs, so could I leave the chair at the bottom and walk up? …. That’s sort of not how the wheelchair thing works? Ok, yes if I’d had my crutches I could’ve gone a few metres, but not up stairs & not in my current state. We gave up and went out to the cafes along the road.
Back down in the lift with more attempts at reversing out without hitting the stairs that were placed conveniently at the door of the lift. It was 1pm and I was ready for bed (and still really cold).
Whilst I got stuck in to some afternoon object instantiation with what little brain power I had left, Mr Geek went out to the shops in search of something to keep me warm and dry and returned with a lovely woolen shawl & an emergency poncho. No there are no photos, you’ll just have to take my word for it that I looked hot. Or at least slightly less cold.
Getting on the train back at Victoria was much easier and we were helped into the wheelchair bay where we found this:
Super helpful! Especially as when it fell over a lovely lady chucked it out of her way towards my knees. (Can you see the lovely shawl? It really is lovely ). So still absolutely freezing, exhausted, and more and more palpitations, I vented to the world on a blog post!
What have we learnt from this?
Public transport is terrifying
London is moreso (people / cars/ noise / lack of drop kerbs )
People kicking my wheels or tip wheels drives me to a state of irritation that mirrors Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
I’m basically useless without Mr Geek
Mr Geek is deathly accurate with an umbrella if you get too close to me
I can push myself to keep going for hours longer than I think is my limit.
I will pay for this tomorrow.
One day I’d like to write a positive blog on disability and access and generally falling apart, because even I’m bored of my incessant whining. That day will not be today.