A Series of Unfortunate Events

I’m fully aware it’s been about two months since I last updated this blog; with one thing and another, I never seemed to get around to writing the next post, which I had intended to be about Handel’s Messiah, as performed by the National Choir and Orchestra of Wales and ‘Music and the Deaf’s Dr Paul Whitaker. It was bloody good. And soon, it shall get the post it deserves.

But sometimes, when something is in a bit of a doldrums, it takes a bit of a catalyst to get things moving / kick one up the arse.

A couple of weeks ago, I had my catalyst. And it still took a couple of weeks – what can I say, I’ve been busy. Recovering from Xmas, redecorating a kitchen and rehearsing for a show will do that to you – speaking of which, check out Sweet Nothings by InteGreat Theatre for the SHOUT festival in Brum on 1st March – should be fun!

This is a true account of the events of 26/1/13, a heavily edited version of which is on its way to Virgin Trains customer relations. Why should I pay to be treated like this? I digress. These things were written in the heat of the moment, in a notebook I habitually carry in case I’m suddenly struck by inspiration. Well on this occasion, I wasn’t so much struck by inspiration as the need to rant. And rant. For four hours, this notebook kept me sane.

(Notes in brackets / italics added post-script for clarification / extra comments)

————————————— Notebook —————————

Believe me; I’ve had trouble with trains. Delays, random platform changes, hostile members of the public, clueless conductors, broken screens, non-disabled people using lifts and disabled gates out of sheer laziness whilst I’m ignored, the stories I could tell you would have you weeping with frustration.

Right now, as I draft this in my notebook, I am weeping with frustration.

I have also vowed never, never to use trains again. They’re overpriced, un-disabled-friendly and frankly bloody unreliable. The hell with this.

(I’ve only broken this vow once, the next day when I had to go to Blackpool for the NDCS. Other than trips to London and possibly Cardiff, I don’t intend to break this vow again.)

It began with a busy weekend. After exhausting kitchen service for a charity fundraiser the Friday evening, I was scheduled to go up to Birmingham on the Saturday, for a workshop and a meeting with InteGreat Theatre, followed by travelling up to Preston for a leaving do and to see long-lost Uni friends, followed by giving a presentation for the NDCS on Sunday morning in Blackpool, followed by a long trip back down to Bristol. I had planned to pack a lot into that weekend, I just didn’t realise how much.

It was a long meeting, so instead of catching the 18.20, I caught the 19.20. Or rather, I didn’t. It was cancelled.

So I went to customer reception. They sympathised and said I could catch the train to Chester, changing at Wolverhampton for a train to Preston that would get me there just before 9 o’clock. Remember: this journey was supposed to take one-and-a-half hours. Only thing was, the Chester train was leaving in a matter of minutes, so a mad dash through a typically confusing Brum New Street concourse found me on the right platform just as it was boarding.

Panting, and with jelly legs (I don’t have to move quickly much, and my idea of ‘quick’ is not the same as others’. When I’m in full pelt with my walking stick, I can achieve a very fast hobble) I managed to get a seat, but I didn’t have much time to rest, as before I knew it, we were in Wolverhampton.

I got off the train, and looked for screens. I found some and read: ‘19.37 PRESTON DELAYED’. By this point it was 19.43 and it didn’t say how long the train was delayed for. So I thought I’d better move it and hobbled off down the platform towards the lifts / stairs as fast as I could. The train was on platform 3 and I was on platform 1.

Two women who’d got off the same train as me had the same idea and hared off down the platform and soon disappeared up the stairs; at my fastest hobble I had no hope of catching them – and they were wearing heels for pity’s sake. Luckily though, the lift was right next to the stairs; rarely are train stations so thoughtful.

The lift wasn’t there. It was at the overbridge. I pressed the button. Nothing. I pressed it frantically. Someone getting on at the top, I guessed, but COME ON.

When the lift finally came down, the only occupant was a young man wearing a fashionable t-shirt and ripped jeans, chatting on a mobile, and aside from a sideways glance at me as he sauntered out of the lift without a care in the world, he barely acknowledged I was there. He didn’t look the slightest bit disabled. He looked like a complete and total time-wasting lazy prick.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to remonstrate with him (or punch him in the face) so I leapt into the lift and pressed the button. The doors didn’t close, and a disembodied voice said something. I pressed the button a lot harder, and in their own sweet time, the lift doors started to close.

I hobbled over the bridge as fast as I could and again banged the button for the lift. It was bit quicker this time, there being no lazy able-bodied time-wasting bastards on the other end, but not quick enough. By the time I got to platform 3, the Preston train was long gone.

A lot of emotions, then. Frustration, mainly.

I went back to platform 1 and the ticket / info desk, where I told my sorry story to the sympathetic man behind the counter. He was patient, printed out an alternative train, two alternative trains and wrote on the printout that I could get more help at customer reception. I was guided there by a security man, and met by an apparently friendly lady behind the desk.

Once again, I told my story, that I has just got off the train from Brum and simply hadn’t been able to move fast enough to catch the next train. During the course of the conversation, I discovered that they had actually been holding the Preston train in case there were passengers like me who needed to catch it due to the cancelled trains. They were holding it for people like me. Or rather, people not like me. No doubt those two women who galloped off ran up, got on, the train manager decided that was it, and fucked off.

When I tearfully lamented that I hadn’t known they were holding it, that the conductor on the Chester train had seen my ticket / disabled railcard / walking stick and had apparently not passed on this information, the lady’s reply was:

“You should have asked for assistance at Birmingham.”

Her exact words.

Quite apart from the foray into victim-blaming, the average train station worker is far too busy to do things like help disabled people without at least 24 hours’ notice, which is what most train companies require if people need help – 24 hours’ notice or more that they’re going to need help, whether they know it or not. I had five minutes’ notice, which I then had to use in order to catch the Chester train. If it had been mentioned to me then that they were holding the train in Wolverhampton, I might have asked them to hold it a little longer. Or they could have used some initiative and called ahead to say a deaf, mobility-challenged passenger was on their way. None of this happened. So how was I to know? How was I to know that I would only have a tiny sliver of time in which to catch the next train, that some lazy wanker would hold up the lift, that the train manager would assume that everyone can run that fast?

I found her comment unhelpful on so many levels.

She then went on to say how, if they’d called from Brum to let her know, she could have met me and helped me across. Well, I’m sure she would have – maybe – but again, how was I to know? They didn’t tell me – or I didn’t hear – at Brum that the train was being held, or I bloody well would have asked them to hold it a little longer for my poor little legs.

But they didn’t, so I didn’t, and here was this woman who seemed to be trying to turn it all back on me that it was all my own fault and I should have asked for help. Bitch.

I didn’t know!

I replied that I didn’t know I’d need it and I didn’t usually need assistance, I can get myself on and off trains, I’m just not very quick.

She looked sympathetic but didn’t say much, though she managed to find me a couple of slightly quicker trains, and promised me assistance at Manchester.

At this point, the full, terrible truth dawned on me. I wasn’t being offered two separate alternative trains. These were the alternative trains. I was going to have to go to Manchester Piccadilly and catch another train, and I was going to arrive in Preston at least an hour and a half later than I’d intended.

It doesn’t help that my phone has chosen today to die. I can receive text messages but not send them. I suspect GiffGaff. I had assumed my deal would roll over automatically, after all, that’s what I clicked. Apparently not, and O2 have cut me off. That’s what I think happened, but I don’t know until I go online to check (it was exactly what happened, thanks GiffGaff!). In the meantime, how do I let my friends know, who are expecting to see me at 9, that I won’t be in Preston til at least half 10? This is like being back in the dark ages, or pre-21st century… If I start getting worried messages, I’ll have to approach another passenger and ask to borrow their phone, but hopefully my tearful appearance will inspire sympathy.

Yes, tearful. After I’d thanked the lady for the new printout (my, wasn’t I brought up well) and made my way to platform 2, using the curséd lifts which were now of course moving in a timely manner, and found somewhere to sit, I burst into tears.

Congratulations, National rail, Virgin trains and life in general, after many stressful, delayed, cancelled and generally incompetently run train journeys, you finally broke me. Well done.

I’m now writing this as I head to Manchester. It remains to be seen whether I’ll catch the first connection there. If I miss it, I’ll be arriving in Preston gone 11.

And to make everything better, four rowdy men got on at Macclesfield and as I write, they’re singing loudly and stamping their feet, causing my hearing-aids (which cut out automatically over a certain decibel volume) to switch off intermittently and the vibrations from the stamping causing my seat to shake to the rhythm, because that’s just what I needed right now.

At what point do you stop crying and start laughing?

For the time being, I’ve switched off my hearing-aids and I’ve dried my tears, and I’m down to the occasional resentful sniffle.

In fact, now I’ve calmed down a little, I realise there’s no point in plotting dark revenge.

I don’t yet know why the 19.20 was cancelled, but I’m sure there was a reason. It didn’t occur to the people in customer reception at Brum to call ahead and let Wolverhampton know a deaf half-cripple was about to attempt to change trains, and it didn’t occur to them to let me know the train was being held. The same failed to occur to the train conductor on the Chester train, despite having my disabled railcard and Preston ticket literally waved under his nose. The women who ran off probably had no idea that I wanted the same train, if they noticed me at all. The lazy dickhead was just a lazy dickhead. The train manager of the Preston train has no idea I exist (though maybe they will when my letter arrives at customer relations), and it clearly never occurred to them that slow people might want their train too. The lady in customer reception at Wolves (probably) didn’t mean to be a bitch. The men laughing and singing loudly and banging tables in the middle of the carriage have probably barely noticed the small woman huddled in the far corner, curled up with her hood up and scribbling away in a notebook.

In essence, I am lucid enough to know that most likely, no one person has deliberately set out to fuck me over this evening.

It’s a series of unfortunate events, exacerbated by my deafness and my inability to sprint like Usain Bolt, and my feet hate me for trying.

————————Manchester Piccadilly ————————-

Well, the train that I was on, which was meant to arrive at Manchester at 21.39, arrived at 21.43. What a surprise. And the assistance that the customer reception lady in Wolves promised me at Manchester entirely failed to materialise. Again, oh, quelle surprise. Plus, the train she’d marked for me to catch at 21.46 (hah) was at platform 14. For those unfamiliar with Manchester Piccadilly, platforms 13 and 14 are half a mile from the station proper, and serviced by two moving walkways which – of course – were switched off (double hah). I didn’t even try to cover that distance in 3 mins. As we’ve by now established, I don’t run very fucking fast.

Getting to the ‘lounge’ for platforms 13 and 14, I found my next train was Barrow in Furness, 22.16. As I had twenty mins, I approached a friendly-looking group of coppers and train station security and begged the use of a mobile to text my friend, and my dear Mum who had texted to ask if I was in Preston yet (triple hah!). The nice station security man let me use his, even though I wasn’t crying any more. It was also a blast from the past to use a phone that had 3 letters to a key… but old skills came back, like riding a bike, and I managed a couple of brief texts. Cheers, man. Much appreciated.

I headed down to platform 14 to await the Barrow train. I had time to reflect that if I had just taken my car and braved the Brum traffic system, I would be in Preston, somewhere warm and halfway to drunk by now. But I wasn’t, because I had thought that trains would be simpler and easier.

QUADRAPLE HAH.

And as I was standing there, in the bitter wind and rain and cold, 22.16 came and went. Then when a train arrived at 22.20, the destination said Chester. Chester? I looked up at the screens and where mere moments ago it had said Barrow, they now said Chester. Judging by the looks of confusion and puzzlement around me, the hearing crowd was just as bemused. We must have looked like a bunch of people who have just watched a magician make a car disappear – except they’d made a whole train disappear.

Now that was impressive. There were a few minutes of aimless milling around, as the bereft herd waited for new information. Eventually it came, naturally in the form of an incomprehensible tannoy announcement. I chose a target carefully (no beard, check; looks friendly, check; etc.) and found out the Barrow train was now coming in on platform 13. All well and good, I shuffled over there.

But new information seemed to be filtering through the herd; it seemed the train was in fact coming in on platform 13a. We were on platform 13b. The other end of said platform. Marvellous. I followed the herd, slowly, falling behind as usual. We got there, and sure enough, the screen said Barrow. But after a few minutes of waiting, we all saw a train pull into 13a, lights on in the distance. A few brave souls went to check but it said ‘not in service’. I positioned myself between a and b anyway, as by now I was in a high state of paranoia.

It paid off. The trains’ destination screen changed and became Barrow. I went from being the crip at the back of the herd to being the crip at the front of it. Is this the point at which I start laughing?

Mwahahahahahahaaa.

I just made it, even though I swear I could feel them all catching up to me, and got overtaken once or twice. I am now seated on a warm train, unlike those who suddenly found themselves demoted to the back, and the next stop is Preston. I don’t think I will ever have been so happy to see it in my life.

It’s now 23.11. I left Brum at 19.25. Three hours and 45 mins and we’ve not arrived yet. Over two hours late.

From now on, all long inter-UK journeys shall be undertaken by car. Except to London. I’ve only driven in London once, and never again.

But all other journeys; car. Why should I pay for this?

————————— Post-Script ——————————

Arriving in Preston was joyous. I even walked to the nightclub where my friends were with a spring in my step. But when I got there, the bouncer stopped me. “Mumble mumble mumble” he said, pointing at my legs. “Huh?” I said. “Mumble mumble too casual” he said. I couldn’t believe it. After all that, I was being thwarted at the last hurdle because something I was wearing was too casual?

My main priority at that point was to let my friends know that I was alive and well and not dead in a ditch somewhere near Manchester, so I explained my phone was dead and PLEASE could I borrow one and text my friends? They looked uncertain but one said he’d take me in to find them then we had to come back out. Fine, whatever, fine.

Once in, friends were quickly located, as was the woman of honour (congratulations on the job, Claire Pink! Best of luck for the move!) and our warm greetings may have moved the bouncer a little, but also maybe when I explained to them I was going to be sent back out, I openly pointed accusingly at him, leading him to get some funny looks. He spoke into a radio and suddenly, a man in a suit turned up.

He proceeded to try to explain what the problem was.

“Mumble mumble mumble” *thumping dance music* “mumble mumble mumble”

“What?”

“Mumble mumble mumble” *thumping dance music*

“Is it the bag? The bag is cos I’ve just come from Bristol!”

“No no mumble mumble mumble” *thumping dance music*

“Er, can you text it? Text?” *wave hands vaguely to indicate tapping on a phone*

Thankfully, he obeyed and while he typed, I tried again to guess what the problem was with the bouncer, who was still hanging around.

“Is it the shoes? The shoes?”

“Mumble mumble mumble” he said, while pointing down. I thought he meant the shoes.

At that point, something in me snapped.

“What do you mean?! I’ve had two operations on my feet! These ARE my only shoes!!!”

And bless me, the bouncer, who was a good foot and a half taller and twice my size, actually backed away a little.

“No no no mumble mumble mumble” he said defensively, again pointing down.

“Well, what then?!”

By this time, the manager had finished typing, and rescued the bouncer by showing me the message.

My trousers. Apparently, cargo trousers, even nice ones with a microscopic check design (not denim) are too casual for this nightclub on Saturdays. Well, excuse me.

I took a calming breath and thought.

I typed back that I had some navy blue jeans that looked nice in my bag, would they be OK?

The manager almost seemed relieved. Yes, he typed, that would be just fine.

Was there somewhere I could change?

‘Yes, come with me’, he typed, and even added ‘sorry for the inconvenience’

There you go. Patience in a moment of anger (shouting at the bouncer notwithstanding, normally I’m very nice to bouncers, honest) and problem solved. I was allowed to change and go catch up with everyone, and they weren’t forced to publicly throw a disabled woman out on the street.

It was really great to see everyone! Lots of chatting, and even made some new friends. It really was fantastic to trade news with old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years.

In the end, it turned out to be a pretty good night, but no thanks to Virgin bloody trains.

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