Saturday, 14 July 2012

Navigating London in a wheelchair (part 1)

Before I broke my leg, I planned to attend a weekend of workshops with YouthNet at part of a programmed called Leaders. I enjoy the 'weekenders', always get to meet new volunteers and I've made some great friends through YouthNet over the years so it was one thing I was really keen not to miss out on.

However, the logistics of getting me and my broken leg from Bucks to Old Street turned out to be rather on the complicated side! Luckily,

I managed to get onto the train with the help of Chiltern Railways staff, but then almost didn't get off it at Marylebone! Of course, I discovered a major advantage of being in a wheelchair on a busy Saturday morning train is that it guarantees you a seat. The disadvantage is that people with luggage who were expecting to be able to use the wheelchair space get somewhat openly frustrated to have to stand because someone's parked a wheelchair there...

Thanks to the lovely Matt - a fellow Leader who'd traveled into Paddington - I eventually got off the platform. There was some problem because the wheelchair accessible barrier at platform 3 was set to entrance not exit, so we had to leave through platform 1 (more complicated than it sounds!) and it took a while to find a cab.

When we did find a cab, the driver couldn't get the ramp out so I foolishly tried to get in on crutches. Hint: you can't! The floor of a black cab is too high, and the ceiling too low. After a couple of undignified falls, I settled for the even-less-dignified crawling-and-dragging-my-cast method. Nightmare!

But eventually, we did make it to YouthNet and it was a relief to be settled somewhere that was both all one one level and navigable! I only had a couple of minor falls during the course of the day. (And, to be fair, they were my fault...)

We headed out to the Travelodge on City Road to check in. One of the volunteers took the unenviable task of pushing me along what might be the most uneven pavement in London, but did an admirable job of getting me there intact! I hadn't booked a disabled room (I wasn't broken at the time of booking!) so I was in a room a fair distance from the nearest lift. The corridors are narrow and winding, and the doors very heavy, but it was possible to get around unassisted. There was more than adequate space in my room to get around it either in the wheelchair or on crutches with the chair locked in place by the bed.

Getting out for dinner at The Breakfast Club (Hoxton), was surprisingly easy once we'd found a cab prepared to lower the ramp. Getting pushed up a ramp into a taxi is a pretty nerve-wracking experience, and my wheelchair was too big to manoeuvre into the safest position (back to the driver), but not uncomfortable.

It was easy enough to get the chair to a table at the back of the cafe when we arrived - and, of course, the food was absolutely delicious! I had a veggie burger with smoked applewood cheddar, and a Cadbury's Caramel milkshake. Yum. Highly recommended - I always love the atmosphere of the place and the menu is consistently fab, even for awkward veggies.

The next adventure was to get from Hoxton Square to Rowans in Finsbury Park - positively one of my favourite places to spend an evening. It took ages to sort out a cab because it was Saturday night and the first two we booked didn't arrive (thanks, Radio Taxis) so we hailed one from the street when it started raining!

I'd forgotten, because it was never relevant to me before, that Rowans is a very high step up from the street. Thankfully, there were two very nice - and very strong - security guys on the door who were amazing about getting me in and out. I was mortified, but can't fault them for trying! The bowling lanes themselves are up a few steps, so I couldn't get the chair up to the lanes and couldn't carry a ball on crutches. No worries - it saved me a whole heap of embarrassment, as anyone who has been bowling with me will attest.

Getting back tired was a bit tricky - both my stamina and balance get very ropey when I've been out a long time, so getting myself back to my room and into bed was hard work, but I made it! I can't help feeling a bit proud of myself...

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