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A Crip In London

“A trip to London on my own? Yeh I can do that. Been going to London for years – since I was a teenager. No problem”

“But what about your disabilities, won’t you need some help?”

“No! I’m fine, stop fussing…”

This is the sort of conversation I often have with my wife. As she tactfully (and sometimes not so tactfully) reminds me, I have a number of disabling conditions and generally need help or support in some way.

I, on the other hand, am still in denial when it comes to where I can go and what I can do.

So. A lovely friends book launch and conference and meeting up with other special women requires an overnight stay in a hotel close to the venue.

According to the website, the hotel is a short walk from the venue, and the hotel is a short walk from the DLR station. Short walk. My brain interprets that as about 5 minutes. I can walk 5 minutes with my case and bag. Book it.

Wife insists on me having first class train tickets – partly because they’re only a tenner more – but also so I have space and comfort and coffee. She’s a good wife.

The Journey to London

The platform is cold and windy. I feel slight panic as I don’t know where to stand to get on the right carriage. I know I can get on any carriage, but then I have to bump all the way to my seat with a suitcase and bag and a lack of balance. First class, I think. That’ll be at the front of the train. So I walk down the platform to wait at the point where I think the carriage will stop.

Train arrives. I was wrong. My carriage is the last one. Frustrated, I try to hurry myself down the platform to my carriage as people are getting off or coming the other way. I make it. I put my suitcase on the rack and find my seat. The carriage is fairly empty apart from an extended family with twins ages about 2 and a baby. They are making the sort of noise that kids make, normal noise. But I have become so sensitive to sound because of my disabilities that it’s like they are screaming in my ear.

The train stops at York and the carriage fills up. It’s a Friday afternoon train to London and it only has five carriages. Obviously.

Standard class is standing room only so people are spilling into first class. The noise level rises, the carriage gets hotter as it gets more and more crowded. I can’t bear it.

Finally. London.

The Journey to the Hotel

I get off the train once most people have gone, and walk towards the tube, repeating over and over, “northern Line to Bank, Northern Line to Bank” in the hope it will stay in my brain. I walk to the northern line which is a good 15 minute walk for me. The first tube is rammed so I make my way unsteadily through the crowds to the end of the platform and wait for another one. I know I can’t stand up and keep my balance with my case as well so I need to try and get a seat.

Next tube is fine. A seat and only four stops to Bank.

Between arriving at Bank and getting on the DLR takes about 25 minutes of stairs. Up and down carrying my case. No escalators. So tired now.

I get off the DLR at my stop. Excellent. I’m tired but pleased I have navigated it all ok. I put the hotel details in the app on my phone and the map comes up. “Head south west.” I don’t know what this means. My brain doesn’t understand things like that. Not for the first time I wish my immensely practical wife was here. She would know exactly what this meant and which direction to go.

I keep walking. And stopping to check the map on my phone. It’s dark, I have no sense of direction nor any sense of where I am. My suitcase is really heavy and the more anxious I get, the tighter I grip the handle and the more locked my fingers become. I realise I’ve come full circle. Thirty minutes of walking in circles. This isn’t a short walk. Where the fuck is my hotel? I decide to go back to the start and see if I can navigate from there. Eventually the map tells me I’m going in the right direction.

I arrive at the hotel – the short walk from the station has taken me almost an hour. I am overheated, scarlet in the face, sweating and very sore. I look like a big tomato head. The man on reception asks me twice if I’m ok. “Yes,” I say, thinking “just give me my room key and let me go to bed.”

I get to my room. No comfy chair to collapse on to; only a bed which feels really high up and hard. I have to try and bend down to get my boots and socks off without falling on my head. Not an easy feat.

I throw all my clothes in a heap on the floor and limp to the shower. I feel really grubby and I need my pyjamas.

I get in the shower and instantly slip, grabbing at a pipe to stop me falling. It was the hot pipe.

Ow.

Shower done but I can’t get my pyjamas on yet. I have to air dry because my hands hurt too much to dry myself. I text my wife an underplayed message of “I’m fucked ha ha” or something similar. She’s not daft but I think chooses not to call me on my nonsense.

In my pyjamas, in bed, audible on, lights out, done.

The noise from outside is deafening to me. I live in the middle of nowhere. The only sound I hear at night is an owl. I sleep really badly. Everything hurts, the bed is uncomfortable.

Awake at 11, 2, 3.30, 5, 7am. I get up and make a coffee.

No. I swing my legs over the side of the bed, stick my feet into my slippers and tentatively stand up. My feet feel sore. I shuffle to the kettle, pick it up and go to the bathroom. The lid falls off when I press it and I can’t work out how to put it back on. Fuck it. I fill the kettle with water, shuffle back and boil it. In order to have a coffee I have to open a sachet of Nescafé. It has a perforated edge but I can’t open it. I try another one and this time it works. Sort of. Well, at least I’ve got a corner open. Same with the sugar. Same with the cartons of milk. The coffee is shit and I want to go home.

Breakfast. I’m starving.

The dining room is full of people; families mainly, so lots of noise. Children running about, shouting, crying. Basically doing all the things children do. My ears seem to amplify their noise and it rings in my head.

I try to negotiate the breakfast line. I can’t understand the system or where things are. It’s not logical to me so I just stand in the queue hoping I will move up to a place with a coffee machine. Someone is using a machine but it says hot chocolate on the screen. My brain tells me that’s a machine for hot chocolate, so I move on. I notice other people using these machines; they can’t all be having hot chocolate. Of course they’re not. I’m a moron.

I sit down with my croissant. I try to cut it open but my fingers are sore and the knife isn’t sharp. I tear it in the end. The butter is hard and cold, and I can’t open the jam because it has one of those stupid tiny corners to pull and I don’t have the dexterity or strength to manage it. I almost cry. But I don’t. I just pretend it’s Boris Johnson and stab at it until it collapses in on itself.

Back up to the room to gather my stuff which has mysteriously scattered itself all over. Painfully, I pack my case and book an Uber on my wife’s instruction to take me to the venue. It takes several minutes to get me and my case downstairs to reception to check out, and then back to the lift to go down again to the front. By which time my Uber has been and gone. I book another one.

I get to the venue which has a long drive leading off the road but the driver has to drop me at the road side because there are two vans blocking the entrance.

I trudge up to the front doors, up two flights of steps and in.

I store my case, meet my friends and find a seat.

I’m now on my train going home. The remainder of my day was made easier by Uber and friends. I am totally knackered and want to be in my home with my family.

I wrote this just to highlight the reality of attempting to take part in an activity when disabled. I haven’t even included all the steps, trip hazards, barrier negotiations or things provided ‘for your convenience’ which are massively inconvenient actually. Like plastic sandwich cartons.

Anyway. I have to laugh about it because what else can I do? I can’t make the world change around me, and I can’t always navigate it on my own so I just have to accept that there are some places or events or occasions I just can’t go to.

And that’s absolutely shit.

Thanks for reading.

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