I took a brave pill and did something solo for the very first time this past week. I took the train
The last time I went anywhere by rail, it was February 2004 when my friend and I had an appointment at the American Embassy to get my visa for entering the USA via the tall ship I was voyaging on later that year. When you have an able-bud, two heads and her muscles get us to where we need to be all rather straight forward, usually.
Now I have travelled on my own before, wheelchair bound, but it was always direct flights [Houston, Bermuda, Gran Canaria], with these you know the plane is not going to suddenly dash off with me still on-board and the cabin crew know help is needed and make sure it happens ….. but ….. with the train, it is very much a stop-and-go affair and these days it don’t hang about either.
I emailed the assisted travel people with what must have seemed some very simple blonde questions about how their service operates, sometimes it can be difficult to ensure a well meaning able bodied call centre person realises the full implications of “I cannot wheel myself”. A quick reply was received and all seemed to be in order. But I forgot to ask the most basic of question – do I book my tickets with them or book with whomever and then contact them hoping the wheelchair space is available. Which then made me think that having to book with them would mean I lose out on offers, following the ever present ethos that as a crip, living on benefits, I have oodles of cash to pay extra for everything! Thankfully when I called the tickets were the prices regular-joe pays and all was set, reference numbers noted, all was set for the day.
My mind was whirling and worrying, what if Peterborough don’t drag me off, I’ll end up gawd knows where, stranded, like a paralysed mute, how would I get back!! What if the space is taken and there is no room. What if the person supposed to help, doesn’t wheel me to where my friends are waiting. What if there is a breakdown or engineering works requiring coach transfer .. oh gawd no, what if I get the half dressed drunk insisting on sitting near me and talking to the world, or the bemused geriatric who comes over all concerned parent in wanting to entertain me and help, or the screaming child ….. what if what if what if what the heck am I doing??!!??!!
The day arrived, my Sister wheeled me to the customer services desk, and some jovial chaps were aware and sorted me out. The ramp was put down and Lynn parked me and then abandoned me, lol. I organised my coat pockets, so only my tickets were in one for easy grabbing come conductor time. I took out my book, calmed my racing heart and quietly hoped. The journey was uneventful, no weird passengers, no chatty individuals, all quiet, rattling along, bouncing and bobbing with the motion and camber of the train. Peterborough was arriving, oh please let the system work, I’d like to visit Liverpool one day but not today. There was no reason to fear, the uniformed man was waiting with the ramp and right behind him were my friends – oh what a relief, familiar faces!!!
When the time came to return home, we got to the station and waited at the little help booth when the man walked up and asked “Are you the lady for Norwich” .. Yes! I am known of .. phew the system works, people do read their memos . We waited on the freezing platform after being taken in the little beeping yellow buggy up and down the ramped overpass. Train stations are such desolate places when there is no train there. As the train pulled in, the ramp was put down, there was some motion in the carriage as the lady was asked to put her child’s stroller in the luggage rack [she was not very impressed and moaned about it]. Tearful goodbyes were said before the man rolled me into place. There was a moment of panic when realising that the train had approached the station from the wrong direction and the half mumbled barely audible announcement said words like Cambridge, Stanstead, London Kings Cross … nooo!! that is not this train, my train surely, they couldn’t have put me on the wrong train, could they? It said Norwich on the front, but … … … there is always that 1% possibility … … … I felt a flush rise to my cheeks as I wondered what the hell I could do if they had when I overheard someone saying that they were going home to Thetford. Oh good, if it is the wrong train, more than one of us is on it. It was a noisier ride home, but thankfully no one engaged me in conversation, I sat nose buried in my book.
Norwich appeared along with a lady with the ramp, but no Sister – oh heck, was she stuck somewhere a wrong turning had taken her. No she was waiting at the barrier, the Lady all ready to wheel me all the way to the car.
I think I should award myself some gold stars I am feeling quite proud and brave .. of course that will only last until the next time I have to go then I will be back to the nervous wreck