Have Powerchair, Will Travel (Part 3)

Part One and Part Two

A couple of weeks ago I went to London for the day and went to Buckingham Palace.  I went last year with my mum and you can go back within a year for free if you get your ticket validated.  They wouldn’t validate my mum’s ticket because it was a free carer one but they validated mine and promised another free carer ticket if I went back.  Mum didn’t want to go back but my friend Eleanor came instead.  I wouldn’t have gone back if it wasn’t free but was keen to because as well as getting to look around the Palace they have an exhibition that changes each year.  Last year it was on Royal Childhood which was great. This year it was on Preparing for State Visits which was also very interesting and I enjoyed but I liked Royal Childhood more. Simply because there was so much more and so much more variety to see in that.

I love going to London.  I love the long train journey and a chance to really get stuck into a book. I love the variety of things to go and do. And I love going on the tube.

There are trains from here which go direct to Paddington but I prefer not to go on those – I went on one in January for the first time in years when I went to Cirque du Soleil at the Albert Hall.  The trouble with going to Paddington is it hasn’t until recently had step-free tube access.  And it now claims it does but only to one line in one direction and frankly the details it shares about it (high step and large gap between train and platform) suggest it’s actually nothing like step-free. You could probably bunnyhop a manual chair up it but not a powerchair. Come to think of it, it’s probably considered step-free to platform not step-free to train but the step-free tube guide doesn’t have the colour coding for any station (stations/line with a wheelchair symbol on a blue background are step-free to train, those with a wheelchair symbol on a white background are step-free to platform)

So I get the train from here to Reading and then change onto the local stopper to London Waterloo.  It takes an hour and a half (sometimes slightly less) from Reading to Waterloo but given that it puts me right in the middle of London walking distance from several things and on an accessible tube line (Jubilee) it’s worth it.  Given that I’d have to take the stopper to Paddington due to the safety mechanism in my chair meaning I can’t get on the high speed trains at Didcot it’s not actually that much longer than going to Paddington.

Got off the train in London and had to laugh.  The guard on the train had come down to me when I was getting on the train, asked where I was going to and asked the assistance guy to put me in a different wheelchair space.  Waterloo aren’t good at assistance she says, if I’m in the front space I’m right by where she’s based on the train she can come and help me off quickly rather than hang around while they sort themselves out.  I agree with her that Waterloo tend to be a bit late with assistance and I’m likely this plan. So I’m sat on the train and the guard is stood next to me chatting and holding the onboard ramp up ready to stick it down. I won’t be hanging around, I’ll just be straight off the train all good. Then the train stops and right where it stops on the otherside of the door is a man waiting with a ramp. Honestly… you spend an hour and a half on the train then two ramps come at once 😉

I mooched around for a little while or so (popped briefly to one of my favourite London places that’s right by Waterloo but didn’t have time to do it justice. Probably shouldn’t have bothered but it’s free and they have a much nicer disabled loo than Waterloo does 😛 ) then got on the tube.  That was a quick couple of minutes hop from Waterloo to Green Park.  But the thing about Green Park is that it’s step free by means of a platform hump.  Meaning that I have to board the train at the right place. As noted by the big blue wheelchair symbol on the floor and the “board here for level access at Green Park” underneath it. I love being able to get on (the accessible parts of the tube) when I want without asking for help.  Of the tube and winding my way through the long tunnels and several lift to outside and in the park waiting for Eleanor.

We hung out in the park for a while and then walked across it to Buckingham Palace.  They are very good as a whole at wheelchair access there. I couldn’t access the gardens the normal way so I’ve never seen them but that was all. The first time we went they said there wasn’t access to them which had confused me because I’d thought from the website there was. This time they said there was but we’d have to be escorted and their priority was escorting people in and out the accessible entrance so it might be a wait. We declined.

Popped up to Fortnum and Mason for a look but didn’t buy anything and then Eleanor and I went our separate ways. Cue me forgetting that the platform hump is at the back of the train travelling away from Waterloo but at the front travelling towards Waterloo and getting very confused and having to let about four tubes go before I figured it out (luckily they are about once a minute at that time of day) and twigged that I’d gone the wrong way when I got out the lift. They don’t have the helpful board here for access signs at Green Park because they have the oh so obvious raised platform hump.

Got the train back to Reading and was met by a new assisted travel guy I’ve only met once or twice S.  One of my regulars walked past me as I was getting off the train and called hello.  Then I agreed with the person helping me that as I wanted to go to Starbucks  on the bridge for a bacon butty I’d meet him on the platform for my next train. I could see he was still there talking to someone when I had my sandwich but as we’d said we’d meet on the platform and there was a while yet I headed for the platform. I barely got past them before a third staff member (not one I knew) walked past me and shouted across to them why wasn’t someone helping me, they needed to come help me. S came back over to me at that point and we were discussing need for help vs perceived need for help as we headed to the platform.

Made it back to Didcot and had a quick chat with them there about the fact the lifts are being replaced and so will be shut for the next three months before coming home.

All in all a good day but I had hoped to have a bit more time for mooching in London post Buckingham Palace.

So comes to an end my Have Powerchair, Will Travel series for now.

(Except to note that I went back to Reading last week for the day and no one met me from the train. Luckily someone else getting off went and found a member of platform staff who claimed he hadn’t be told I was coming. Which has since been disproved because I asked the assisted travel guy who came to help me on the train later and he had just started but could see my outward journey booking on his list. *sigh*)

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