On and Off and On Again.


Richmond – Waterloo – London Bridge – Waterloo – Kennington – (Vauxhall) – Waterloo – Richmond

I’m quite lucky. I have an electric wheelchair with a decent set of motors and batteries that will take me 20 or 30 miles, to be honest I’m not sure what the limit is for certain as I’ve never even got close to it. There are problems with it. It has solid tyres (punctures in a wheelchair are a BIG problem) and the suspension isn’t what you’d hope for. As a pedestrian you have no idea just how rough and uneven your average pavement really is.

However much freedom the wheelchair affords me, it can’t protect me from the elements, and there were a lot of those around for this trip. A raincoat is hopeless if the wind gets underneath and carries the rain with it. It’s times like this that the importance of public transport steps up a notch.

The outward trip was overcast and definitely windy, but it was at least dry. Of course this didn’t stop me catching the bus to the station. The blue wheelchair request stop button didn’t seem to work in that the “bus stopping” sign remained resolutely and determinedly unlit despite repeated and frantic pressing, and the buzzer didn’t sound either, a combination I’ve not had before. This did cause me a few moments of mild panic, until the driver deployed the ramp. Apparently the indicator on the dashboard had lit up, but how I was supposed to know that is beyond me. It all adds to the rich tapestry of uncertainly when travelling with a disability.

It feels like recently every time I’ve been to catch a train I’ve cut it really fine, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Today I couldn’t have cut it finer. The train was stationary as I came through the barrier. Amazingly, there was already a ramp waiting. Have South West Trains have added ESP as an essential skill for all new recruits? Regretfully, no. As it turns out another chair was getting off, and the ramp was whipped away before I could use it, but a couple of other passengers came to my rescue and dragged the ramp wrangler back.

It’s fair to say the train was packed. I don’t know why, it was after rush hour (just) but whatever the reason it extended to the Jubilee line at Waterloo. The platform was heaving, the glass screens separating platform from track were really earning their keep, so I decided to fight my way to the far end of the platform hoping for a lighter crush, a diet squeeze if you will. Having bashed a few ankles and squished a few toes (sorry victims) I discovered I was wrong, it was full for the entire platform length. The arrival of the first train didn’t help the situation. I stood back as people pushed, shoved and coerced their way onto an already crowed train. The next train arrived almost immediately afterwards, and this time was much less full, but still people contorted themselves into hot sweaty corners just to be on the inside as the doors closed. The platform was still pretty populated but I decided I needed to make a bid for the next train, which arrived less than a minute later. However, I needn’t have worried. The empty train easily accommodated those waiting. A delay of about three minutes made for a much more pleasant experience. A lesson for the future I think.

I got out of my meeting at London Bridge and overcast had turned into monsoon with gales. I did try going out in it, but it’s very hard to see where you’re going with a river of rainwater running across your eyeballs so I rapidly decided to abandon the rest of the day and headed back underground to return to Waterloo. By the time I surfaced again the rain had abated, though not the wind, and my day was back on.

Returning to my original plan I jumped on a bus to Kennington. TfL are proudly proclaiming how much work they’re putting into making bus stops accessible. Sadly the stop in Kennington is one of those with a double kerb which has so far proved too difficult or expensive to fix. This makes it somewhat of a lottery as to whether the ramp will work, can the driver get the bus to raise up on it’s haunches, like a cheapskate football fan peaking over the wall to watch the game? Fortunately for me my luck was in. Maybe I should have bought a lottery ticket.

My stay in Kennington lasted longer than expected. I had planned to head home via Vauxhall, but the prospect of trying to board a packed rush hour commuter train just seemed like an unnecessary unpleasantness. It’s not like, as a wheelchair user, I can just squeeze in at the doorway. First there’s the fight with impatient boarders unwilling to wait while the wrangler puts the ramp down, followed by the crush as I create a wheelchair sized space where there is really no way to make one without someone getting hurt.

I opted instead to bus it back to Waterloo where I could at least be first on the train. It seems to be happening more and more that two buggies were already on the bus. Whilst one mother willingly and cheerfully got off the bus to make way, for which I thanked her, the other mother studiously ignored me. After I got on she twigged that she’d have to move before the bus would go anywhere. I slid into the space and she squeezed her buggy, barely, in behind me, only to get off at the next stop. I really felt for the other mum, waiting in the cold and a gale for the next bus.

I felt vindicated in deciding to head to Waterloo. The plan worked perfectly. I boarded an empty train which filled up rapidly. The ramp wrangler was really helpful and friendly, as they always are at Waterloo, but for whatever reason the message that I was on the train didn’t reach Richmond. As increasingly happens I needed someone to remind the guard that I needed to get off, so he could fetch the ramp. It’s fortunate I so rarely travel alone or many fewer of my trips would end successfully.

So today was, like most of my trips seem to be of late, rather meandering and, as they always have been, full of things worth a mention, for good or bad reasons. This makes for rather overly long blogs and leaves me with a real dilemma. How on earth do I find time to write everything up. Maybe I should go out less!




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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