Friday, 13 April 2012

Train Travel - disability style.

I often go by train between Didcot and Bristol Temple Meads. Yesterday's journey illustrated several differences in what train travel is like when you have wheels of your own:

I booked assistance in advance as per usual.

And then:

8:00am A call from local train station. The train I'm booked on will arrive at a destination platform with out-of-order lifts, so they have a suggested alternative route which will avoid these issues.

Cool. Problem solved almost before it started. Slightly later train means slightly longer in bed :D

8:10am A call from destination station. Confirming that lifts are out of order, and that adapted route will be OK.

Wow! Talk about excellent customer service. Impressed that both stations are being pro-active and problem solving.

10:57am. Cheery, polite station staff put up the ramps and get me on my train.

10:58am. FGW trains have automatic doors between corridor and carriage. I get my feet through the door then it closes. Hitting the foot rest and knocking my chair askew. No big deal, it opened again.

10:59am. Try to move now door has opened. Back left wheel jammed against wall. Front right corner jammed against doorframe. Front castor at the wrong angle. Can't move forwards. Can't move back. Can't rotate. My eyes widen, and I catch the eye of a gent in the first row of seats "I'm stuck!" I say, wide-eyed with surprise, but grinning somewhat at the absurdity. To which he responded "here, let me try" and with a hefty tug on the frame, I'm free and settling in to my space.
(And Mr Knight in Shining Armour, if you ever read this, you did exactly right - you assumed I was fine and capable til I said I was stuck and needed help, then you helped 'til I was free, and you let me be again. Perfect)

11:40 Arrive at Bristol Parkway. Chap is waiting with a ramp. He asks if I know the way out - "But I need to catch another train to Temple Meads!" "Ok, that'll be this platform in a few minutes" - so we chatted until the train arrives. I learnt that in Cross Country trains, if the front couplings are yellow, 1st class is at the front, if white, 1st is at the rear. And the wheelchair space is at the opposite end to 1st class) We also swapped horror stories regarding buggies vs wheelchairs in the wheelchair space.

11:56 Ramp onto the train. All good.

11:57 ARGH! BUGGY!! .....Oh. Thank you, young mother, who without fuss or complaint, moved so that I could travel safely. (Ms Young Mum, If you ever read this, thank you so much for your respect and your attitude. People like you give young Mums a good name.)

11:58 I settle in to the wheelie space. It is next to the toilet, smelling of wee. But there is a really big, complicated looking emergency alarm thing. I want to see what happens when I press it. But I don't. Because I am good.

12:08 Arrive at Temple Meads. Staff member with ramp waiting cheerfully. I thank him and reassure him that I know the way as I speed towards the Exit (station floors are just perfect for fast wheeling)

12:09-16:00 Getting on with stuff.

16:00 Arrive back at Temple Meads for round 2

16:01 Emergency swerve to miss a woman who's paused infront of me. "Sorry!" I say with a grin. I hear an annoyed "Some people are in such a hurry". Thinking about it I grin. I wasn't in a hurry to get anywhere. But I was speeding. Simply cos I can and it's fun. I'll be more careful in crowds - but I still intend to enjoy the flat-surface-speedway stations provide.

16:03 Report to Customer service for assistance. Whoop!! The lifts were fixed at 15:10, having been broken all week.

16:10 Arrive at platform. Am greeted with a wave and "Be with you in a bit" by the chap dispatching a different train.

16:12 Person 1 asks whether I want help onto the train. "'s OK, a chap'll be here in a minute with the ramp"

16:13 Person 2 asks whether I want help onto the train. Ditto.

16:14 Ramp onto train. No issues with door. No luggage in my space. No problems.

16:17 A family of parents, Grandma and 3 kids age 2,4 and 6 sit in the seats opposite. Chatty but well behaved. I settle down to enjoy watching them, and listening in on their chatter. Their buggy fits nicely across the aisle from me. The Dad looks for a seat - I point out the flap down one behind him. And we start chatting.

16:25 A young Mum arrives with a 1 yr old. And non-foldable buggy. Recipe for disaster? No. Recipe for cheerful musical  chairs as they solve the space/buggy puzzle like a jigsaw.

16:30 train pulls out. By this time young mum and myself are totally involved in the general chatter of the family. Really lovely.

16:45 2yr old starts to get restless. Oh look! I just happen to have "Biscuit Baking" and "Welly Walks" in my bag. Grandma loves them. I'm not sure 2 yr old is convinced - til she demands "do it again" then sneaks over to ask for the other one from my bag :D Young Mum also reads them to 1yr old. Who loves the colours, but wants to eat the pages and doesn't care about the words. Grandma also reads some of 'You know you've been pushing it when..' and kept hooting with laughter.

17:05 Tickets checked. Train Manager also checks which station I'm going to.

17:08  the 2 yr old finds the 'call button' by my seat and pushes it before Grandma can leap across the aisle. Train manager arrives within seconds. I look all innocent and point at the 2 yr old with a grin. Manager believes me. And we decide to temporarily deactivate the call button - if I need help, someone from the nice family will run for help or press the call button in the loo.

17:10 My speech is getting more difficult. Not only is coordinating harder, but I am at the 'If I talk I'll choke' stage. Inconvenient. How do I explain I'm not being rude, or deliberately backing out of conversation. AhHA! Communication Cards here we come:

It is the first time I've used them when I've been unable to speak, but wanting/needing to.

Response? a howl of laughter. Followed by "But you are OK?" Thumbs up. And they continued including me in the chatter just like before, reading responses from my face and gestures. I was all  prepared for sympathy/fear/difference opening up a gaping chasm of awkwardness, and what I got was casual acceptance. Perfect. Slightly surreal, but perfect.

17:15 Train manager returns to ask my name so he can check Didcot is expecting me. Moment of fluster - he knew I could speak cos we met 10 mins ago. AhHA! Communication Cards.

Response - slight twitch of concern. I then show him my name on a card. He grins and thanks me.

17:16 through the carriage door I hear the manager calling a station, and telling them I'll be arriving so be ready with a ramp.

17:17 Manager pops his head back into the carriage, reassures me that he's made the call. Thumbs up and grin.

17:28 Train arrives at Didcot Parkway. The lovely family is also leaving at this station. I get to the ramp. No uniformed man. Few moments pause. Lovely-family-Dad asks if he can help. I point at a distant yellow jacketed figure. Lovely-family-Dad heads off while I discover that a pair of hot-pink DM boots sticking out of a door is an effective way to prevent train departure.

17:30 Staff member sprints up and grabs the ramp. He's met me lots of times, knows me by name and was really appologetic - the message hadn't reached platform staff.

He continues apologising - I still can't speak without mega choke risk. Momentary panic - he's worried that I'm quiet cos I'm cross/offended/upset. He'll be really upset if he thinks I haven't forgiven him - AhHA! Communication Cards!

I show him the card, with a grin and a shrug. He shouts with laughter - accepts my silence as unconnected to the ramp mishap, and again, returns to treating me as usual, interpreting my grin, fake stroppy face, shrug, grin as ''Twasn't your fault, was slightly annoying, but hey, these things happen, and you've handled it well -thank you" - At least I think and hope he did!

So we parted with a 'See you soon' on his part, and a happy wave on mine.

17:31 Off I wheel, speeding along the smooth floors, relishing the freedom of movement that they give, and pleased to be nearly home. Just one taxi ride away.

ARGH! What if the taxi isn't here?! I can't call for one! - I wheel out to see.

Phew. Taxi is waiting. The driver has met me before, and knows I always chat. This time the 'he's gonna expect me to talk' moment holds no fear - I immediately hold out my trusty card. 'That's just not good enough!' he laughs (he's driven me often and we always tease each other, so this was a perfect response) - and completely unphazed he asks me whether I'd like to go in the front, or stay in my wheels - I point to the front seat, he sorts it out. He chatters away, just like he usually does - and whenever he realised he'd asked a 'words answer' question, he'd rephrase, but not as if it was tedious, or as if it was a special concession. As if it was a normal part of conversation.

I arrived home, worn out, silent and happy, safe in the knowledge that although in one way so much had gone wrong, so much had also gone right. And the rights were so much bigger and funner than the wrongs, making the day a good one.

But are you surprised that public transport travel exhausts me?

P.S. The timings aren't really 100% accurate really. It just seemed like a good way to structure it! I am not really that time-accurate. And don't complain if the times don't entirely 'add up'!