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.

Mission Impossible 5: Time for a Holiday.

Everyone needs to take a break every now and then, and I’m sure it comes as no surprise when I say that even going on holiday is problematic for those of us with a disability. If it does come as a surprise, you might want to crawl out from underneath that rock you’ve been living under.

The first hypothetical hurdle comes when choosing where to go. Holiday parks like Disneyland are probably a relatively safe bet when it comes to accessibility, but not everyone enjoys eating pure glucose while being harassed by princesses and having to dodge around marriage proposals on every corner. City breaks provide a solution to most of these problems if you can cope with the heavy levels of traffic as everyone not lucky enough to be on holiday travels to work. These also rely on venues being accessible, something which is not always guaranteed. For those who aren’t especially fond of other human beings there are many beautiful historical and geographical marvels around the UK, particularly around North Yorkshire and the Lake District, but mountains and castle ruins aren’t the most wheelchair-friendly terrain.

The next thing to consider is accommodation. I was never one for camping as the idea of sleeping on lumpy grass while rain batters the tent mere inches from my face, and having to check food for insects before eating it does not appeal to me. While there probably is a wheelchair friendly tent hidden in the annals of the internet, I imagine it would cost a pretty penny, so camping is immediately ruled out. Youth hostels are often affordable and have accessible rooms, provided you can cope with sharing a space with delinquent adolescents. Independent hotels are never guaranteed to have accessible facilities, so the easiest route is to hope that a chain hotel in the area has an accessible room free for when you want it.

Most difficult of all is the consideration of transport. There are countless instances of air services losing wheelchairs, literally leaving the wheelchair user stranded in a different country while the staff try to figure out what all the fuss is about. Trains are also horrendous. Booking assistance to get on the train is like disability roulette as many a time it simply doesn’t materialise. Wheelchair spaces are often two narrow to accommodate a wheelchair, as are the bathrooms, and on occasions trains insist that wheelchairs are stored in luggage carriages (at an extra cost) at which point they get lost. Coaches can only accommodate manual wheelchairs that fold up and fit in the luggage component, although the drivers are usually trained in how to handle disabled passengers so are significantly better than trains and planes. Travelling any distance in buses or taxis soon accumulates great cost, and it is common for a disabled taxi to turn up very late, or the wheelchair space on a bus to already be in use.

All in all, the stress of organising everything and dealing with the inevitable accessibility issues often makes going on holiday feel like hard work. I know many people who choose to have a “staycation” instead, where they stay at home and only visit places in the local area for relaxation. Non-disabled people might find this concept ridiculous, but when going back to work feels like the holiday you were supposed to have, what’s the point in going at all?