Big City Nights: Part 2.

Tuesday:

Tuesday morning was bright but cold as we headed towards the Thames. The London traffic was in full force & I could have sworn that we were moving faster than most of the cars. We crossed the river getting an excellent view of the Shard & St Paul’s as we did so, before heading down into a underpass. We re-emerged close to the foot of the London Eye.

The ticket hall was chaos. It didn’t help that the wheelchair access was down the side & made you go against the flow of traffic. Fortunately, we had pre-booked so only had to collect our tickets for later that afternoon before heading outside again.

A few doors down was a Sea Life centre, & with plenty of time to kill we decided to pay it a visit. With a couple of school trips taking place it was crowded at points, but we still managed to negotiate our way around without too many problems. My love of biology once again shone through as we meandered past tanks & through tunnels, with one rather large tiger shark seeming to take particular interest in the strange contraption I was riding.

A couple of hours later we resurfaced & headed to a nearby fish & chip shop, the irony of which was not lost on us. On the door we were asked to perform a surprise miracle, as apparently the wheelchair posed some kind of health & safety threat, but fortunately the manager spotted what was happening & dealt with it, giving the member of staff some of the most evil side-eye I had ever seen.

After a short stroll along the South Bank, including excellent views of the Houses of Parliament, it was time to get on the London Eye.

The Palace of Westminster as seen from the South Bank of the River Thames.

We arrived 15 minutes early as requested & waited for the member of staff who would be escorting us to arrive. No one showed up. When we asked a passing member of staff he seemed to have a panic about the wheelchair & needing a ramp, which we had all arranged beforehand, & suddenly disappeared off. Finally, someone arrived & we were escorted to the wheel.

I am proud to say that I am one of the few people the London Eye has actually stopped moving for, allowing staff to lay down the ramp so I could safely board. I parked myself at the end of the carriage as it filled with the small group who had booked VIP tickets like us, & discovered that the mystery panic-and-disappear man was the waiter who would be serving us champagne.

The wheel moved off & the lovely couple next to us took some photos of us, while I returned the favour for them.

All too soon we were back on solid ground making our way back to the hotel, where we rested before heading back out for a meal.

Wednesday:

We woke up to the sound of rain pattering against the windows. After breakfast we returned to the tube station, this time hopping on the Circle Line to Hammersmith, not a line we had used before. It was by far the most accessible tube line I had seen, with the platform being level with the carriage at almost every station.

We emerged from Hammersmith & made our way towards Shepherd’s Bush market, grateful that the rain had thinned to a drizzle, stopping at an authentic Thai buffet on the way. The market itself was ridiculously accessible, with kerb drops left clear & ramps provided, & I wasn’t the only wheelchair user there.

After perusing the market we headed to a local cinema to see Fighting With My Family; we had been to a wrestling earlier in the week so it seemed fitting. While the film focussed on the little emo girl from Norwich, I particularly enjoyed the cameos from Dave Mastiff, Big Show, & Shaemus.

The cinema tickets for Fighting with my Family.

Before returning to the hotel we had one last place we wanted to visit, The Loading Bar (Server) which can be found near the market. This video game themed pub was not only accessible & welcoming, but just so happens to be the place where some of our favourite YouTubers go to film their livestreams. To be sat in the place we had seen on our TV screen so often was rather strange, but we soon settled into a game of Exploding Kittens (yes, that is a real game) over some cocktails. I can recommend the Assassin’s Mead.

The Assassin's Mead, accompanied by 2 chocalte coins.

It was raining as we returned to the tube station but the ride was just long enough to have dried before we headed back out into the rain again. We were grateful for the warmth of the hotel when we returned.

Thursday:

Upon waking up the next morning we were happy to discover no evidence of rain, & the promise of a bright day ahead. I took my time getting ready, pinning my hair into a nice style, & applying subtle but stylish make-up. We ventured out shortly before lunchtime, making our way through St George’s Gardens (the graveyard) & Russell Square, past the British Museum, & into Treadwell’s Occult bookshop.

Not only was the shop one of the only accessible one’s on the street but I was grateful not to find myself at the centre of an impromptu healing ritual, with the salesman letting us peruse the shelves at our leisure. Jarred said that if anything “spoke to me” or “leapt off the shelf at me” we should consider buying it, at which point I informed him that this being an occult shop, if anything did speak to me or leap off the shelf, I would make a hasty exit. Eventually we did have to make a somewhat hasty exit, as the incense was triggering my asthma.

We meandered through the West End, stopping to look in any shops that caught our eye, & made our way to the crowded Trafalgar square. Opposite the square was St Martin’s, the fully accessible crypt of which turned out to be a café.

After lunch and a quick peruse of some of the art in the National Gallery, where I proved to be an uncultured swine, we headed back into the West End. Around the corner we came to our destination; Her Majesty’s Theatre.

Upon showing our tickets for Phantom of the Opera to the member of staff outside, we were ushered into the stalls via a side entrance. As we went to our seats the disabled toilet was pointed out to us, & because the aisle was a ramp instead of steps, I could go all the way to my seat before getting into a theatre seat. My wheelchair was stored safely to one side as the rest of the audience filed in. It wasn’t long before the show began.

Inside Her Majesty's Theatre, before the show began.

The show was truly a spectacle to behold, akin to nothing I had seen before. By the time it ended a chandelier had been dropped above the audience, & we had been close enough to feel the heat of the pyrotechnics. Still buzzing from the excitement, we went for a meal, returning to a pub from earlier in the week & returning to our common people lifestyle.

Friday:

The week had flown by & now it was time to pack. We checked out of our hotel & hopped back on the tube for one last trip, heading back to Victoria train station. We browsed a couple of the shops & ate lunch there before heading to the coach station, & soon it was London we were leaving behind.

I spent the journey looking through the photographs, wishing I could do it all again. However, it was still good to see the Leeds skyline ahead of us & to know we were nearly home.

Big City Nights: Part 1.

Saturday:

The sound of my alarm is usually an undesirable one, but today was different. Today the alarm indicated that I needed to get out of bed not to go to work, but to go to London. The long-awaited honeymoon had finally arrived.

Having packed the night before Jarred & I had plenty of time to eat breakfast, get dressed, & pack the last few essentials. I got in my new self-propelled wheelchair, took a bag on my lap, & Jarred hoisted the rucksack onto his back before pushing me to the coach station. The coach arrived on time & I was allowed to get on first, sitting at the front of the vehicle while my wheelchair was folded up & placed in the luggage hold. This was far less stressful than using the trains, mainly because the assistance we had discussed with the company in advance was actually provided, not that booking the assistance in advance was even essential. I settled back into my comfortable seat as we pulled out of the coach station, and within a few minutes Leeds was behind us as we headed for London.

Four and a half hours later we pulled into Victoria coach station in central London; the longer journey was worth it for the greatly reduced stress. Once we had retrieved our luggage & the wheelchair, we made our way across to Victoria train station where we had our lunch on a balcony overlooking the trains.

The view from the balcony over the trains in Victoria train station. There are a couple of stationary trains visible.

After lunch we made our way down into the tube station, & somehow managed to navigate the impatient crowds to our platform. We went to the raised area and didn’t have to wait long before the rush of air that indicated an arriving train blew my ponytail into my mouth. The tube screeched to a stop & the door slid open, revealing the “level access” to be more akin to a step than a ramp. This was why I was in the manual wheelchair & not the powered.

Jarred gently bumped me up the step & looked around for the priority space but couldn’t see it, mainly because it was behind three people stood in it staring at me. We managed to negotiate our way into the space, miraculously without taking out anyone’s ankles.

Soon we were resurfacing in St Pancras, and went straight to our hotel, the same one that we had used 18 months before. We checked in & had to ask for a second key, just in case I did decide to propel myself independently in the local area.

My wheels sunk into the thick carpet making it virtually impossible for me to propel myself up the ramp to the lifts. Three floors up the door to our room was on a tight corner, & the platform lift was not in line with the door meaning I had to do another 2 sharp turns to get through. Our room was down a ramp on the right, only the ramp was a very narrow zig-zag. The tight corners were problematic enough, without having to negotiate a slope as well. Finally, we made it into our room, unpacked, & collapsed onto the bed, the day’s travel having caught up with us.

A black on white photograph of myself sat on the bed in the hotel room, leaning back on the pillows, scribbling some notes into my notebook in preparation for writing this blog post. I'm wearing jeans, a t-shirt, & a denim shirt.

We turned on the TV & channel-surfed, a novelty to us in the age of Netflix, a finally settled on Despicable Me 2, arguably the superior film to the original. Afterwards I had a bath, and once again as I lay back to wash my hair a tube passed underneath the hotel, causing a flurry of bubbles to rush past my ears.

Sunday:

On the Sunday we had a slow morning before getting back on the tube. We made our way from St Pancras to Canary Wharf, where there is an entire shopping mall hidden underground. I immediately found the food court thanks to my inane ability to find anything food related, and after lunch we browsed some of the shops.

Later in the afternoon we got back on the tube & headed to South London to New Cross. This was a station that at least declared its lack of access, and so we were well prepared for me to hop off the train.

We turned left and headed up the main road, finding our destination with surprising ease; the New Cross Inn, grunge music venue and where we would be seeing one of our beloved wrestling shows.

We were early, having left plenty of time in case we lost our way, and located a nearby bookshop. After purchasing what felt like half of their stock we headed back to the New Cross Inn, bought a couple of pints & a teddy bear (as you do), & settled down to watch the show. Much to our delight several of the faithful Leeds fans had also decided to visit New Cross Inn, & in the midst of all the Londoners was a loud chorus of Yorkshire greetings.

A photograph of the teddy bought at the show; it's a lion wearing a t-shirt for The Lion Kings, one of the tag-teams performing that night. I called him Sebastian Durreiss Warrior after the members of the tag team.

The show was, as always, a blast. The wrestling was top notch & both the organisers and the venue staff could not have been more welcoming or supportive. Perhaps the highlight of the show came when one of the TIDAL regulars and holder of one of their titles saw me in the crowd as she made her entrance, & gave me a big hug. She seemed genuinely happy that I was there.

Eventually the show ended & we made our way back to the tube station, making multiple stops to change lines & avoid inaccessible stations where possible. One of these changes just so happened to be at London Bridge, with an entrance at the bottom of the Shard.

A photo taken from the base of the Shard, looking up the building into the night sky. Some of the lights are still on in the building.

Once back in the hotel room Jarred quickly went to one of the local shops, arriving back with warm pasties which we ate while watching TV, the very peak of honeymoon romance.

Monday:

On Monday we decided to revisit the British Museum. Once dressed we ventured out, deciding to take a short cut through the delightful-sounding St George’s garden. It was a graveyard.

Having made our way through the garden/graveyard we stopped in Russell Square to have a coffee, before going to the back of the British Museum.

Once inside the museum we headed straight for the Ancient Greek exhibits; I can neither deny nor confirm the allegation that this period had peaked my interest due to it being the setting of the latest Assassin’s Creed game. We even went on a quick tour lead by someone who had clearly studied the period academically, starting at this jar. I half expected the Disney muses to appear & start singing as they do in Hercules.

After we had seen all there was to see of the Parthenon, we made our way to a smaller & lesser-known museum run by the university, the Museum of Zoology.

I spent a long time slowly moving around the room gazing at the thousands of specimens on display. Despite being on holiday my love of all things biology (& gross) shone through. There were skeletons, taxidermy, fossils, microbiological slides, & perhaps the most interesting to me was an entire nervous system of a small mammal preserved in a jar. Overseeing the whole room was a family of skeletons.

Inside the Museum of Zoology, looking up at the balcony with the skeletons. There are 5 in total including a human, an orangutan, a gorilla, a gibbon, & I believe a chimpanzee.

Although small it was an accessible & welcoming place, not least because the receptionist immediately picked up that as I was the scientist, wheelchair or not.

Towards late afternoon we made our way to a nearby pub where we had agreed to meet up with Jarred’s Best Man & my new brother-in-law. Over a meal and some drinks, we caught up on everything that had happened over the past few months before returning to the hotel.

London Calling: Part 3.

After eating we set off for a pub that is pretty famous among gamers; the Loading Bar. Various pinball machines lined the wall opposite the entrance and there were other classic arcade games scattered around the room. On the wall facing the bar was a TV linked to a PlayStation 4 and there was another corner stacked high with various board games. Even the cocktails had game-themed names such as Skyrum. We had arranged to meet up with some friends, primarily Jarred’s future best man for our wedding. We laughed and joked with each other, and I watched the others’ playing board games which I opted out of due to fatigue.

We decided to leave as the sky began to darken, catching a much cooler and quieter tube back to Green Park from Stratford. We changed onto the Piccadilly line to St Pancras, during which a woman entered the tube with a very friendly dog called Charles who licked my wheelchair while trying to lick my hand.

Once again I slept very well and was only woken when the alarm rang. We got dressed and packed our bags, checking out of the hotel a little after 9 am, before returning to the British Museum to see the exhibits we had missed before. The morning was another bright one but it was significantly cooler, and there was a distinctly Autumnal feel to the day.

When we arrived at the museum we were directed along a route that surpassed the inaccessible wheelchair ramps, which they were working to replace. It was particularly reassuring to know that the museum staff had recognised the inadequacy of their disabled support, and were actively trying to improve it.

On the third floor of the British Museum the mummies can be found. I was fascinated by the biochemical processes of mummification, and was particularly entranced by the ability of modern science to be able to determine the diseases suffered by some mummies simply by looking at their remains. As it turned out the state of their teeth enabled the diet of the Ancient Egyptians to be understood too. I was also amused to find a prosthetic toe found on a mummy, proving that disability has been a problem for many millennia.

Image description: a prosthetic toe found on an Egyptian mummy.

A few rooms further through housed the infamous Sutton Hoo helmet, one of only four of the delicate and probably ceremonial Anglo-Saxon helmets in existence, and then we came to the hall of clocks. We passed through the darkened room slowly, looking at the wide range of mechanisms used to track time throughout history, eventually arriving at a Sony digital alarm clock the like of which I had owned as a child. As we exited the room we came to a lovely view point of the museum, and it struck 11 am; there was a cacophony of chiming behind us much like the opening scene of Back to the Future.

Image description: looking up at the patterned roof in the central area of the British Museum.

After exploring the Aztec and Enlightenment galleries on the main floor of the museum, we went to the old, slow lift to leave. Just as the lift arrived, a powered wheelchair pulled up alongside us. The man in it was exceedingly grateful when we pulled the manual wheelchair over as far as possible, giving him room to enter the lift beside us instead of waiting. I explained that I used a powered wheelchair myself most of the time and knew just how frustrating it could be. He smiled and thanked us again as the lift arrived at the disabled entrance, and we made our separate ways across London.

We wandered through the streets of North London, making a small detour to buy lunch to be eaten on the train, and arrived at King’s Cross in time for our train. We approached the disabled support desk with our paperwork and were invited into a quiet side room to wait for our porter. The quiet, calm room was extremely pleasant after the bustle of one of the busiest train stations in the UK and was designed specifically to help people who were anxious in crowds to unwind before the journey. The porter arrived as promised and we were helped onto the train well before we were due to leave, so we relaxed into our seats. As we tucked into our lunches the train began to roll slowly, and we were on the way back to Leeds. I fell asleep for a large portion of the journey, which was uneventful, and I was very happy to see a porter standing outside our carriage as we pulled into the train station in Leeds.

Image description: taken from the train window before we set off, looking out over the platforms of King's Cross at another train.

London Calling: Part 2.

That evening I had a bath. The hotel was built over a set of tunnels, one for the trains in and out of London and one for the various tube lines running from St Pancras, the tube station attached to King’s Cross. As I submerged myself in the warm water a train ran underneath us and the water made a strange bubbling noise around me. Having not eaten Mexican food recently I was perplexed, and it took me a minute to figure out what the noise was.

Perhaps it was the fatigue from the long day, perhaps it was the alcohol, or perhaps it was the insanely comfortable bed, but that night I slept better than I had for months. Even the trains failed to wake me, and the rattling of their passing beneath us was strangely soothing. I didn’t wake until the alarm sounded at 8 am the next morning, and while eating breakfast I discussed various futile plans with Jarred for stealing the mattresses.

The morning was bright and sunny and after getting dressed, I leant against the window frame watching the trains rattle past until Jarred was also ready. We made our way to the nearest entrance to St Pancras, but the lift here had been closed without warning. Fortunately,at another entrance a different lift was available, and we went underground. We bought our tickets in the unbelievably stuffy ticket hall, and then hopped on the Piccadilly line to Green Park, which was the nearest accessible tube station to the Science Museum, our destination.

Image description: the view from the hotel window overlooking the train tracks as a tube train speeds underneath us.

We went straight from the tube station to Green Park, and the fresh air was a welcome relief from the heated stuffiness of the underground tunnels. We had coffee at one of a small chain of coffee shops found in central London’s parks, and then made our way towards Buckingham palace.

Once Jarred had snapped the obligatory photo of me in front of the palace we made our way through Hyde Park, along the edge of the Serpentine. The day was warm and soon we shed our coats to hang them off the back of the wheelchair. About half way along the Serpentine we spotted a heron wading through the water, slow and graceful as if it were royalty.

Eventually, we arrived at the Science Museum on exhibition road, adjacent to the Natural History Museum. Here, I met Jarred’s mother and little brother for the first time, and we went to the café in the museum to eat lunch together. Jarred’s sister, who worked at the Imperial College next door joined us for her lunch hour, and we sat together, laughing and joking as if we had known each other for years.

After this, Jarred’s sister returned to work, and the rest of us explored the Science Museum together. The space exhibition had life-size models of rocket engines, the moon-landing station, and even one of the surprisingly small Hubble telescope. Tim Peake even had an exhibition dedicated to him as the first Brit to enter the International Space Station, and the first Brit to undertake a spacewalk. The floor above housed an entire room dedicated to genetics and DNA, where I was able to answer a plethora questions from Jarred’s little brother, who is an aspiring scientist himself. I was in awe of the model built by Crick and Watson to discover the structure of DNA, one of the biggest and most important discoveries of the 20th century. Above this was the environment floor, and after this a floor dedicated to flight. This including model Spitfires, and even a model of the first machine ever to fly.

All too soon the afternoon came to an end, and we were saying goodbye to our family. The sun was still shining as we traveled back through Hyde Park and Green Park, returning to the tube station just as rush hour began to kick in.

Having bought an unlimited travel ticket for the whole day, we were able to bypass the ticket hall in Green Park tube station, instead going straight to the Jubilee line headed for Stratford. While the platform was crowded, we didn’t have to travel far to the raised platform for wheelchair access, and within a minute the strong breeze that announces the presence of a train far before you see or hear it rushed past us. The tube squealed to a halt and we were able to squeeze into the wheelchair space inside the carriage. Jarred clicked the wheelchair brakes on to prevent any inertia-related incidents, and then we were off, howling down the dark tunnels and stopping every few minutes. I felt a little like Katniss Everdeen headed to the Capitol of Panem, except I didn’t have to worry about a murdering contest at the end of the line.

At each stop more and more people climbed aboard the carriage. Soon every seat was taken, as was most of the standing room too. It was easy to identify the regular users of the tube; they were standing unaided in the carriage, looking at their phones or reading a book with their bags between their ankles, swaying gently with the motion. The heat of so many crammed into such a small place was overwhelming and I had to avoid several bags held on a level with my head, but I still had to wonder what all the fuss of the London Underground during rush hour was about, as I had faced far worse before.

Eventually, the train sped into daylight, and I was momentarily blinded after the darkness. Minutes later it came to a halt at the end of the line, Stratford. We left the tube and wandered over to Westfield, the humongous shopping centre over-looking the 2012 Olympic park, where we ate our evening meal.

London Calling: Part 1.

Just prior to midday on the 30th August Jarred and myself made our way down to the train station, a mere 10 minutes down a gentle slope surrounded by shops. I had borrowed my mother’s manual wheelchair which Jarred was pushing as I wasn’t confident that the trains could accommodate my powered wheelchair. We grabbed sandwiches from a café hidden just behind the doorway of the train station and sat in the waiting area looking at the departure board, waiting for the 1.15 pm to London King’s Cross (yes, that is the one featured in Harry Potter) to appear.

Half an hour before we were due to leave we went to the disabled support desk. When booking the train tickets we had also booked a porter and ramp in advance, and I had printed off the documentation to prove this. Once the documents were shown to the porters they happily escorted us to the train, and by 1 pm we were safely aboard. The only fly in the ointment was the woman who had a pram in the space reserved for wheelchairs, who not only refused to move (despite the notices and even the law giving wheelchair users priority to these spaces), but once I had claimed a nearby seat and the wheelchair had been folded up, fretted to Jarred that it would fall on her precious offspring. Her precious offspring then continued to cry all the way to Wakefield, where I was grateful to see them exit the train.

A little over half way through the journey, having drunk a 500 ml bottle of Coke Zero, certain needs made their presence felt. I waited until the next stop before getting up and hobbling the few metres to the bathroom. Unfortunately the train set off just as I was getting up again, and I very nearly ended up flat on the rather sticky floor. I managed to steady myself against the walls of the cabin and then made the short journey back to my window seat.

As I sat down Jarred began to laugh. Naturally assuming he was laughing at me for something stupid like having toilet paper stuck to my jeans (we’ve all been there), I glared at him. Then I realised that he was using his phone to track the progress of our train, and as it turned out, we were passing through the charmingly named “Bitchfield”.

Less than an hour later we pulled into Kings Cross, where a porter greeted us with a ramp almost as soon as the train had come to a halt. We made our way through the impressive train station, which in all seriousness has a dedicated Harry Potter shop, alongside a platform 9¾ complete with luggage rack entering the wall which fans spend hours queuing by just to get a photo of it.

We wandered out of the train station, from which our hotel could be seen. We crossed the insanely busy roads in the pouring rain, and were soaked by the time we reached the reception desk. The lovely receptionist offered us two key cards for our room, not just one, in case I wanted to venture out on my own. Given that I was relying on Jarred to push me everywhere this would have been pointless, but the unprejudiced gesture was very much appreciated anyway.

The room we had been given was perfect, with plenty of room to park the wheelchair, and a bathroom full of grab rails to help me move around. The beds were twin beds because in most cases a disabled person would be with a carer, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to share a bed. Fortunately the beds were pushed together, although on occasion one or the other of us disappeared down the gap between them.

Tired as we were, it seemed a shame to waste the remaining afternoon in our hotel room, and so we made our way to a nearby attraction you may have heard of; the British Museum. It was both free to enter and accessible, although the tent where bags were checked by security guards had wheelchair ramps that were, rather ironically, almost impossible to surpass in the wheelchair. Just inside the accessible entrance to the side of the museum there was an old lift. The first time the lift arrived for us, however, we couldn’t enter because a family of physically able-bodied people refused to budge one inch. The lift being old and slow, it was another 5 minutes before we finally got to enter the lift.

With only an hour or so before the museum closed, we didn’t have time to explore more than part of the Ancient Egyptian display. However, we still had plenty of time to find some impressive artefacts including the Rosetta stone, and this sheep-sphynx that reminded me of my favourite teddy, a sheep named Lamb-da.

Image description: a stone ram in a Sphinx-like position found in the Egyptian area of the British Museum.

By 6 pm we had returned to the hotel, where we made hot drinks to warm ourselves through. After this, we made our way to the only accessible pub in the vicinity – Wetherspoon’s. Having travelled all the way to London, we ended up in a pub we have less than 10 minutes from our flat. One hotdog, millionaire sundae, and Strongbow Dark Fruits later, I was feeling very happy.