A Trip to the Dark Side.

As my alarm burst into life at 5.30 am I began to regret my decision to go to Manchester (which is in Lancashire, the sworn enemy of Yorkshire, for anyone who doesn’t reside in the UK) for a conference on disability & LGBT+ intersectionality. I scoffed down some cereal & coffee, washed & dressed hurriedly, & carefully pinned my hair into something resembling a neat hairstyle. Within an hour I was making my way down to Leeds train station where I met my colleague, & together we wove our way between the extensive building works scattered around the ticket hall. Commuter traffic began to increase as we headed to the platform, which involved a lot of ducking under backpacks & around important-looking men in suits who looked down their noses at everyone else.

Black & white selfie. My hair is in a bun on the back of my head & I'm wearing light eye make-up & lipstick.

My colleague & I had booked a ramp to enter the train, instead of relying on mythical levitation tactics, & to my surprise a porter carrying a ramp appeared with time to spare. The ramp was set up without a fuss & soon enough I was on the train heading to Manchester. Funnily enough, I was in the 2nd wheelchair space opposite another wheelchair user, who as it transpired, was heading to the same conference.

A little under an hour later we disembarked without problem, & I pulled on my raincoat as the first drops began to fall. Sheltered outside a small, inaccessible coffee shop we began to call taxi companies. The first company didn’t take wheelchairs at all. The second only took manual wheelchairs that could fold up. The third only had one wheelchair-accessible vehicle which had been booked. The fourth didn’t even answer the phone. In the pouring rain we headed onto a main road & hailed a black cab, & then spent a good 5 minutes finding a suitable place for the taxi to pull over & let me in. The taxi driver lowered the ramp, barely wider than the wheelchair & with no edges to stop me falling off. With great care I edged up the ramp & sat in the taxi. There were no restraints for the wheelchair so I was forced to brace myself as best as I could while we drove through the city centre.

Eventually the taxi came to a stop nowhere near the venue, & I was forced to reverse down the horrendous ramp, leaving a puddle of rain water in the cab. The rain lessened as we hurried to the conference centre, where I saw two sets of revolving doors.

Revolving doors are to wheelchair users what Shakespeare is to infants; a complete waste of time & resources (in fact, I suspect many adults feel this way about Shakespeare too). There were automated double doors between them however, so naturally I went to those.

“Call reception” was the only button for the doors. In the rain I rang the bell & waited while the receptionist finished having her coffee & chat before the doors eventually opened. Then there was a second set of doors, & again I had to call reception & wait to get in. The fact that able-bodied individuals could come & go as they pleased curtesy of the revolving doors, but that I as a disabled person had to be let in like a dog, was infuriating. I was attending a conference about disability that had disabled speakers, & yet ableism was the first thing I faced.

I made my way to the reception desk where the member of staff told me I hadn’t registered (I had, or I wouldn’t have had the ticket with me) because they had missed my name when creating visitor badges. I got a blank & wrote down my name, then had one small cup of coffee. In that short time I was recognised by the first of several readers & followers, something which was a very new & novel experience, which I must admit to enjoying. Then the conference began.

The opening screen of the conference presentation, projected onto a pull-down screen in the sports hall.

As we sat around tables in a chilly sports hall the leaders introduced themselves, & then the first talk about the social & medical models of disability was underway. An hour later we broke off into smaller groups for more interactive workshops, & I remained in the sports hall to look at how being a marginalised group within a marginalised group (i.e. being disabled among the LGBT+ community, or being LGBT+ among the disabled community) effected social interactions, while my colleague made her way upstairs. After the morning’s work we were directed to lunch, a buffet which was impossible to reach from a wheelchair, & went to eat in a dining area filled with long wooden tables & long wooden benches, the type that cannot be moved to accommodate a wheelchair user. I chose to get out of my wheelchair & sit with my colleague, but the others were forced to eat in a separate area with their lunch. I regretted not joining them to make a point, although it did mean that I was nearby when the assistance-dog in training decided to take a nap on the floor.

A black Labrador, assistance dog in training, resting on a patch of sunlight on the floor.

After lunch was a short talk before another workshop. This time I made my way upstairs, having to wait some considerable time for the lift as at least 1 wasn’t working. In the room a member of staff stood in the only space available to reach from a wheelchair due to the cramming of furniture into a small space, & once she did move I had to kick a chair out of the way. Shattered, I barely took in the next session, not least because they decided to over-run into a much-needed break.

I made my way back downstairs for the final session, once again in the sports hall. This one addressed discrimination that can be experienced within marginalised groups, particularly racism, ableism, & transphobia within the LGBT+ community. It is the only time I have ever seen Grindr screenshots used to make a poignant statement.

Afterwards there was a drinks reception, which was ironically one of the most accessible parts of the day, & slowly we drifted away. Myself & my colleague wandered through Manchester, the day having turned bright & sunny, & we stopped for a drink purely for the purposes of hydration. We waited until the commuter traffic had tailed off before heading to Manchester Piccadilly station, & this time we had the cabin to ourselves when we entered the train (also without incident).

A little while later as we pulled into Leeds it was going dark, & the station was the quietest I have ever seen. A ramp appeared as if by magic, & I said goodbye to my colleague who caught a taxi home, this time having no trouble whatsoever as I wasn’t travelling with her. About ten minutes later I was home myself, & not long after that, asleep.

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.