The good news is we made it to Plymouth. The bad news is Argyle played well and Athletic didn’t. I swear the first goal was offside, but to depart with a 4-1 thumping after the cost and effort of getting to the south west is a tough pill to take.
For the first time I availed myself to “special assistance”. I’d requested it on a couple of flights earlier this year but decided I was ok at the airport and carried on as usual. This time, I needed it.
The concept is simple. You prebook somebody to wheel you and any bags from point A to point B while negotiating an airport or railway station.
Manchester Piccadilly was our starting point for this. Although there’s nobody to wheel you from car park to special assistance help. And it’s not obvious where to find special assistance. In the end we wandered into the ticket office who directed us to a group of staff in hi-viz gear. And a nice chap wheeled me to the platform with Chris close by.
I suppose it worked, but the walk to the ticket office was probably longer than the roll to the platform. I suppose I know for next time.
On the train there were three disabled seats in our carriage. We grabbed two. Slightly more leg room. I usually prefer a table but these seats were good for stretching out my leg. Chris rolled out the flask of coffee and a bottle of whisky and combined the two. While I don’t tend to drink much, this went down well.
As we pulled into Birmingham New Street the train announcer said “the next train to Exeter is 10.30am”. I thought “great – that’ll qualify us for £50 delay compensation and give us more time to connect without missing kick off”.
We stepped off the train to look for our special assistance support. A lady sent us to the lift and said to go up and she’ll meet us. So we did. And she did. But despite a nice email the day before telling us a wheelchair will be provided, all we got was an escort between platforms. Not being funny, but if I’d wanted to hobble between platforms I wouldn’t have requested special assistance.
Better still, the station boards told us time was running out. The 10.30am claim from the train announcer was garbage. 10.12am was fast approaching and that was when the train was timed to depart.
We queued at the lift. Wheelchairs and luggage carriers filled it before us. It was 10.08am and we couldn’t get in. It returned at 10.10am. Hardly any space. I got in and Chris took the escalator. We reunited on the platform, I hauled myself onto the train and we walked down the carriage. A feeling that “special assistance” at Birmingham New Street was, in fact, a bit crap.
I was ready with a rare assertive moment to tell the buggers in the disabled seats to clear off. I chose not to when I saw their age and crutches. We eventually got seats further down the carriage and the train set off to Exeter. A lack of leg room, but somehow I coped.
Then, assisted by a few ciders, we arrived in Exeter. Slightly late. We reported to Mr hi viz on the platform who said somebody else had already benefited from my chair. He told us where to stand while he went to fetch the chair. No available benches to sit on.
Had we been taking the train on to Plymouth, it was generously parked on the same platform we’d pulled in on. When Mr hi viz returned a few minutes later we asked him to wheel us to the exit where Heather awaited. Not seen her in years! I alighted from the wheelchair and got into our generously provided transport to Plymouth.
The hour passed quickly and we got out of the car at a busy junction to minimise the walk to the ground. I heard car horns, presumably welcoming us to the south west. Chris quickly handed me my walking stick so that I could at least demonstrate to the offended motorists the reasons for their short delay. I may have shared their impatience had I been in their car. A reminder that sometimes the swine delaying you has good reason to be in your way.
We spotted John and Jack, our matchday buddies, and loaded our bags into the boot of their car. Chris retained a second flask of Baileys Cream infused hot chocolate for half time consumption.
The walk around the stadium to the poorly signed away end was tough. We were allowed to access via the exit doors rather than a very narrow turnstile. And after a chat with friends entered the stadium.
I’ve written before about football ground design and those with disabilities. Plymouth met the standard. No railings on the stairways that give the seating areas. I took the option of free styling myself up the steps, one at a time, but with nothing to lean on it’s bloody tough. This was a modern stand built to modern planning requirements that haven’t taken gentlemen and ladies of restricted motion into account at all.
Granted, a proactive steward suggested I sat on the front row. But I prefer my football from a higher vantage point and a fine rain that soaks you right through was in the air that the roof wasn’t keeping off those at the front.
I pondered the disasters of Hillsborough and Ibrox. The latter involved a crush on the stairway exiting the ground. I probably add to the risk of such a situation where I have no railing to support myself. We waited for the masses to leave before taking to the steps again for a slow descent.
Strangely, our hotel asked if we would need assistance in the case of evacuation. I ticked yes. I’d never seen the question on any check in form before. I’ve no idea what this would look like if fire alarms went off, Hopefully I won’t be responsible for creating a hotel worker trying to get me out of the building.
But it reminded me of other situations where life could be made so much easier for those with a disability.
My hotel in Windermere a few weeks back had a stairway leading down to pool and hot tub. The stair railing started over the first step. It didn’t reach up to the landing area. Net result, Dave having to lean disturbingly far forward to get onto the stairs, risking a fall.
The recent cold weather reminds you that councils tend not to grit footpaths and side roads. Not always easy for the able bodied. An absolute disaster if you already feel like your leg is hanging loose on your hip and you end up doing a Bambi impression.
Perhaps our society has given thought and money to wheelchair access to facilities over the years. Maybe those in a wheel chair would think otherwise. But for those like me who can still propel their legs forward in a restricted way, the world can feel like an unhelpful place. A dangerous place. And a handful of small changes could make it so much easier for the older generations and those like myself.