Homer Had It Easy

25/6/15

Intended – Richmond – Earls Court – Kings Cross – Newark Northgate – Lincoln
Actual – Richmond – Earls Court – Kings Cross – Peterborough – Lincoln

After yesterdays largely self inflicted botched trip I set about today with a renewed sense of optimism and resolve. When will I learn? Einstein said (he didn’t, it’s a misattributation but I’m not going to let that stop me) that the definition of idiocy was “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”. That makes me a pretty big idiot.

The trip started out well in that I got on to the Underground at Richmond, but from then on it went downhill. Earls Court was entirely devoid of a ramp wrangler when I arrived, in fact it was devoid of any staff whatsoever. I set myself up in the usual position for this situation, that’s to say in the door so that it couldn’t close. Sure enough, the driver tried to close the doors, which failed of course. At this point things took an unusual turn. A nearby tourist, American from his accent, assessed my predicament and decided the correct course of action was to pull the emergency alarm. This obviously kicks off a set of actions. Whilst I don’t know what all of these are, I did see two immediate effects.

Firstly the driver appeared looking rather flustered. He started by accusing me of activating the alarm, which I could easily deny as it was much further down the carriage where I couldn’t get to in my wheelchair. He reset the alarm and disappeared just as quickly as he had arrived.

The second effect was the appearance of two suits from London Underground. I assume they were managers because they carried radios and ID badges, but weren’t wearing LU uniforms and had no obvious practical knowledge of the platform environment they found themselves in. Their first question, “where did you get on?”, was valid but completely pointless. Their second question, “do you need a ramp?”, was asinine at best. If I didn’t need a ramp I would have got off and the train would be well on it’s way by now. Having finally sorted out the facts of the situation to their satisfaction, the pair set off in a Laurel and Hardy parody to first find and then fetch the ramp, a process which only further served to confirm their status as managers rather than actual workers.

By this time the train had been stationary for nearly ten minutes. I always feel awkward around other passengers whose journeys are delayed by the failure to properly assist me. Whilst most are sympathetic and understanding, I can always feel resentful, glaring eyes drilling in to the back of my neck. I was saved this imagined intimidation by the arrival of another train on the neighbouring platform. Like a flock of starlings at dusk the occupants of my train all lifted and swept across to the other train as one amorphous mass. I half expected a tumble weed to roll down the centre of my now deserted carriage.

The Chuckle Brothers returned with the ramp moments later and, after a little to-ing and fro-ing, I finally touched down on the platform and left the platform with the train still stationary, the echoes of a “delays on the District Line” announcement still ringing in my ears. For anyone caught up in those delays I am sorry. I was the cause, but it was not my fault. The blame lay elsewhere and I’m sure an inquisition was had to find out exactly where.

The next leg of the trip was simple, as it always is. The Picadilly line is step free to the train. No assistance is needed so there is less to go wrong. If only everywhere was this easy.

I arrived at Kings Cross late thanks to my earlier delay. I’d missed the 11:30am train I’d been hoping for so I knew that I’d have to find a new train as well as arrange a ramp with the assistance desk on the concourse. My original, missed train had a journey time of two hours, so I was very surprised when I was told by the apparently helpful and knowledgeable desk jockey that the next train, the 12:30pm would get me to Lincoln by 13:36pm. This seemed wrong to me so I asked him to check again. Sure enough, this was arrival time at Newark where I would have a long wait before getting to Lincoln at 3:55pm. I’ve done this trip a few times so specifically asked to see if changing at Peterborough would get me in any sooner, but no, this added a change but didn’t alter the route (still via Newark) or the arrival time. I’ve made this mistake before so we agreed on the 12:30 Newark and I went off to pick up some lunch.

I got back quicker than expected and arranged to catch the earlier 12:08pm service. It wouldn’t get me there any quicker, but at least I’d be moving. A ramp wrangler was arranged and I settled into the wheelchair space to enjoy the journey.

Once we got going I grabbed my phone to pass the time and, on a whim, jumped on the interwebs to do a journey search. A mobile is not the best device to do this on but in this case it confirmed changing at Peterborough would indeed get me in earlier, by 3:03pm. Of course, as a wheelchair user needing a ramp I can’t just change my travel plans mid journey. The only hope I had was that the guard would come past. Fortunately she was on a ticket check and I grabbed her. When I told her my destination she immediately knew to change at Peterborough and grabbed her phone to make the arrangements. I caught a glimpse of the complete list of stations on the network in her phone book, each with a phone number. What I wouldn’t give for five minutes with that phone! With a couple of breaks due to lost signal she made the arrangements and carried on with her check.

The change at Peterborough happened smoothly enough and the journey to Lincoln was pleasant, save for the rattly old train, nicknamed ‘The Dogbox’ apparently. I have no idea why. Predictably there wasn’t anyone to meet me at Lincoln, but the guard grabbed the ramp on his way past and helped me off.

To cap off the end to a perfect day, the taxi I’d booked to pick me up at the station wasn’t tall enough to properly fit my wheelchair. By this time I’d just had enough and wanted to get it all over with, so rather than wait for a different, correct cab I removed the headrest and contorted myself into a position to fit in for the ten minute trip. The icing on the cake was a ¬£5 wheelchair surcharge for the privilege which more than doubled the cost. Not uncommon but it annoys me every time.

If you’ve managed to get this far, dear reader, I applaud you. It really shouldn’t be that a journey of 200 miles or so has all the challenge of Homers Odyssey, but sometimes it just does. I will raise the issues with the companies concerned and hope, maybe, that things get fixed for the next weary traveller. I’ll let you know the outcome.

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About Alan

I'm an Economist, Geek, Campaigner & wheelchair user who's been using all forms of public transport for 20+ years.
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