8 + 4 = 1


Richmond – Waterloo – Richmond – Waterloo – Westminster – Fitzrovia – South Bank – Waterloo – Richmond

Some days the world is against you. Fate glances in your direction and just gives you a big ol slap to remind you that you are just flotsam in this soup of happen-stance and coincidence called reality. The thing to do on these days is not to give these Wisps of misfortune a helping hand.

For once in my life I got organised and was running ahead of time. The sun was out and I set off  with a positive feeling that spring has most assuredly sprung. I caught both the bus and the train without incident and disembarked at Waterloo with plenty of time to catch my bus.

Arriving at the bus stop just before me was another wheelchair. In the best British queuing tradition she got the space on the bus which is pretty galling. A double decker bus left the stop otherwise empty but still leaving me on the kerbside. More spaces required.

The silver lining to this particular cloud is that it gave me chance to realise that all the tickets I needed for the days events were still sitting on the kitchen table. Feeling stupid and annoyed in equal measure I headed back into Waterloo to catch the train home to collect them.

At Waterloo there are a group of ‘catchers’ sitting at the assistance desk. Their role is to catch your cry for help and summon a ramp wrangler to your aid. Clearly sometimes they don’t enjoy being trapped. One of the catchers that I see quite frequently, when the wrangler didn’t show up, grabbed his coat and set off with me to the platform. He explained on the way that he didn’t have his key to unlock the ramp, but we’d done this before so he knew I carry one always. Despite not having a radio he was still able to contact Richmond and make sure I was met. There was a certain symmetry provided by the fact that the train back was the same one I came in on.

Having picked up the tickets I set out again. The second time the journey was just as uneventful as the first time. In fact it was better in that the wheelchair space on the bus was free for me.

I’d planned my route quite meticulously as usual. What I stupidly hadn’t done is check how to get from the Scotland Yard bus stop to Scotland Yard itself. In the end I popped into an office and asked the receptionist for directions. It turns out the enormous building is hidden down a side street.

After the meeting I set off towards my next meeting at Portland Hall. My first problem was getting onto the Boris Bus. As so often happens the ramp deployed in to, not on to, the kerb. The problem was resolved by the Conductor who appeared as if by magic and yanked the ramp upwards just in time. Once more the triumph of brute force over technology.

Again I’d planned the route, and again my attention to detail was …. less than it should have been. I knew I needed to change buses at Trafalgar Square. I even knew which stop I needed. What I’d failed to do is look up where that stop was! I did try asking the conductor, but he was as clueless as I was. I did eventually find it by a combination of luck and good judgement in equal measure.

Of course Easter in London means tourists, lots of families with buggies, and sure enough when my bus arrived it was packed with buggies in the wheelchair space like some game of infant tetris. The driver did begin the process of asking them to move, but was very obviously relieved when I volunteered to catch the next one. I wouldn’t have done this if I’d known how long the next one would take to arrive.

Eventually, with a rising sense of panic, I joined the next bus that was even going in vaguely the right direction. I resigned myself to a short walk at the other end. Of course no good dead goes unpunished and my delay meant the bus got snarled up in the rush hour Regent Street traffic. Even after I got off I was caught in a jam, this time of dawdling shoppers and tourists who kept stopping to take selfies or veer into stores at the last moment. Needless to say more than one person will be nursing sore and scarred ankles tomorrow.

For once I knew exactly where I was heading but this didn’t help me. I arrived easily enough, but only to discover people loitering on the pavement and road outside. I discovered, through rumour, that the building had been evacuated. Other people were going in and speaking to reception, an option denied to me by a short flight of steps. Sensing my confusion, I suspect, a member of staff acted as my translator and conveyed messages to the receptionist. It transpired that flooding 24 hours previously had rendered the meeting room a swimming pool causing a change in venue. Don’t ask me why the convener hadn’t sent an e-mail. The new location? A 15 minute walk away in a hall I had not long walked right past. The irony is that the topic of the meeting was how to manage and motivate campaigners and activists. Perhaps it started with a practical demonstration on the importance of communication and I simply missed the subtlety.

Fortunately the next leg, later in the evening, to the South Bank by bus, went without a hitch. As so often transport in London works so much better when fewer people are trying to use it and there’s less traffic on the road.

The final leg was a late night train home. There is no official assistance at Waterloo after 9.45pm so I headed straight to the platform when I arrived. Although not an official ramp wrangler the train dispatcher was happy to help me board. He even provided me with the train head code (a unique number which identifies every train service) though he seemed surprised I should even know about it, let alone want it.

I was confident that, at that time of night, the message of my impending arrival might not get through. My solution was to phone them myself using the station managers number which I picked up a few years ago. Not that this helped. When we arrived at Richmond the platform was deserted and the guard had to assist me off.

So after a pretty poor day of delays, screw ups, 8 buses and four trains, the only actual transport problem I had was one missing ramp. The takeaway lesson, though, is most definitely don’t just plan the route.  Make sure I know where I’m walking/wheeling to.

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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