Tag Archives: trains

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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Thanks, First Great Western…

for royally screwing up my afternoon yesterday, and bringing on a relapse of this damned ‘flu. As a result, you’re now on my shitlist next to HSBC. ‘Whatever did we do?’, I hear you say. I’ll tell you.

For the last three months, I have travelled to Cardiff via train on Thursdays. Not all Thursdays, granted, but most Thursdays. My seminars were on Thursdays. My last one was yesterday. And apparently, you, FGW, decided to make my last Thursday train trips extra-special. The train to Cardiff in the morning was late. Frankly, that’s nothing new, and the ten minute delay barely showed up on my radar. Perhaps that’s why you decided to mix it up on the return journey in the afternoon, to give me a ride that I would not only notice, but come to regret.

I turned up on the freezing cold platform at ten past two to catch the 14.25 to London Paddington, which stops at Bristol Parkway, my home station. It’s normally a forty minute journey on the fast service, which I appreciate. I expected to wait fifteen or so minutes, but a glance at the board revealed that the 14.25 was running late. So far, so typical. Wait… what’s this? The 13.25? Good grief.

By 14.45, this is what the board said: 13.25 delayed to 14.48, 14.25 delayed to 14.52. Perhaps this is where alarm bells should have rung. I don’t know, since nothing like this has ever happened to me before, even on other occasions where trains were so late that the next one was practically up its arse.

The 13.25 eventually arrived at 14.50ish, on a different platform than had been advertised for the previous 35 minutes. The 14.25 had been put back a bit more, presumably waiting for the delayed Nottingham train on the original platform to bugger off. There were various tannoy announcements, presumably regarding the platform change, but of course they’re as meaningless to me as they ever were. I followed the people, which has been the tried-and-tested method of deaf people since the dawn of public transport. The people led me to the correct platform, happily just the next one over, and I looked at the platform screen and it said ‘London Paddington’. Train, check. Correct operator, check. Correct destination, check. This is my train. Or so I thought…

Cardiff was chaotic. I spent the time avoiding being run over by various people and got on the train. It moved off. And kept moving. Imagine my surprise when we sailed straight through Bristol Parkway. Honestly, my face must have been a picture. I haven’t had a ‘WTF?!’ moment like that since a certain phone call to HSBC in July.

A quick survey among the passengers turned up a nice guy with a French accent and a nice lady who I didn’t understand much, but the consensus was that this train was heading straight to Reading. No stops. Just as I was reeling from that, an FGW train person with a suit wandered past, possibly a train manager. I confirmed this information with her, and when I explained that I was deaf and hadn’t heard any of the announcements and that my home station was Parkway, she winced visibly. She was apologetic, and said she would get me information about the next train back to Parkway from Reading, and said the information had been on the platform screens, via the ‘calling at’ rolling info underneath the destination. I didn’t see it. I saw ‘STAND BACK: TRAIN APPROACHING’ which usually stays stuck there until about two minutes after the train has actually stopped moving, by which point I was focussing on avoiding the damn crowd. And besides, I was frozen, tired, still suffering the after-effects of ‘flu and was so happy to see a London train that it didn’t occur to me for a moment that train stops were somehow optional.

The FGW person came back and gave me the info, which she had helpfully written on a napkin for me; ETA at Reading 16.10, next train back to Parkway 16.41. I was taking things quite well I thought, nothing more than the occasional tortured groan, but I did ask in a calm, reasonable voice whether there was any recourse to contact FGW and vent. At this, they got defensive and pointed out that the information HAD been on the platform screens. I frankly didn’t see why they got defensive. It was a reasonable question. It wasn’t like I was tearing my hair out, beating my chest and screaming ‘I want your name, bitch!’. It was, I feel, a fair enquiry. That said, they did bring me a couple of bottles of water and were otherwise apologetic and did tell me that I could fill out a refund form; that would be available on the website.

So it was on the platform screen, or so I’m told. Be that as it may, were I hearing, I would have heard one of the no doubt countless announcements telling everyone but me what was happening. What did I get? A few seconds of rolling text that with various distractions, I obviously missed. Thanks a bunch. I didn’t realise I had to read it. Of course, after this experience I will be even more paranoid in future about public transport than I already am, no mean feat. Hearing people get no choice about hearing announcements. They would have heard about the change in plans whether they chose to or not. I had one little screen that clearly displayed the correct destination, told me to stand back because the train was approaching when it was already there, and standing there waiting for the roll call would have resulted in my trampling under the chaos that was platforms one and two at Cardiff. Thanks a frigging bunch.

Anyway, FGW are stuck in the 20th century. If this had been a Virgin Train, it would have had a little screen next to all of the doors clearly displaying destination and scheduled stops. It would have had a little screen at either end of each carriage, with rolling info about scheduled stops. In other words, if this had been a Virgin Train with proper visual up-to-date access, this may well not have happened. FGW has outdated carriages, with paper on the windows to show stops, if that, which aren’t exactly ideal for displaying up-to-date info. And if it was a Virgin Train, and it had current info, and I still missed it, I would have had no excuse. And if it was a Virgin Train, and they hadn’t updated the info, I would have had every excuse to do my nut. FGW = “No, but it was on the platform screens…” = massive sulk. Those screens aren’t yours anyway. They belong to Cardiff Central. What exactly is FGW doing to make themselves more accessible to deaf or HoH customers? Not a damn thing. Go to Virgin and learn. I digress.

Reading was chaos.

Every single bloody train was delayed. The main screens consisted of two little pathetic TV screens that were almost entirely taken up with delayed trains from the last two hours, with only one or two current trains and certainly no future trains, like, say, the 16.41. Luckily, the nice if slightly defensive FGW woman had also thought to include the platform number with the info she gave me, so I headed to platform 4. Eventually Swansea 16.41 came up on the platform screen (those again) but it claimed it was still coming at 16.41 despite all the delays and I could see that was a non-starter. I laid down some groundwork by finding someone in a fluorescent jacket and telling them I was deaf and was worried about missing announcements. She nodded professionally, said ‘no problem, wait here’ before disappearing. Oh, great. However, I saw her talking to a fellow fluorescent jacket and pointing at me before leaving, so I nailed my colours to that mast instead, making sure I was never more than a few feet away from him. And it paid off when, at 16.45, Swansea disappeared from the screen, and when I grabbed him he told me the correct platform without hesitation.

I hightailed it to platform 8, cutting my way through the crowd but getting stuck behind a tall, skateboard-carrying, beanie-wearing, suitcase-dragging tweenie who was probably having his own issues with the crowd on platform 8, but my internal monologue wasn’t so forgiving; “do you WANT to catch this train or not? Move your…”

We fought our way to the train, which was stuffed to the gills. The door compartments were full of people, but a quick glance through the carriage window showed that they weren’t spilling into the carriage, they were filling up the door area and not using the extra potential standing room at all. I tried to indicate this to the people, but they just stood there and looked at me like cows. It’s at times like this that I wish I could use my walking stick as an offensive weapon, or in this case, a cattle prod.

I managed to squeeze myself into another door compartment, and a couple of people managed to squeeze themselves on after me, and this is how I spent the journey from Reading to Didcot Parkway; standing with a bunch of fellow luckless sardines, making notes in the memo app on my phone for this blog, and ignoring the complaints from my feet, which by the way, are punishing me today. Like it’s my fault.

After the exodus at Didcot, I found a seat, and rued the day I’d ever heard of FGW. I eventually arrived at Bristol Parkway at 6pm, three hours after I should have done, were there no delays. I do intend to fill out a refund form, and according to FGW’s own guidelines, I qualify for a full refund. What I find amazing, is that if you’re half an hour late, you’ll only get 50% of the value of your ticket, over an hour and you get all of it. Imagine if that happened in Japan, where according to Wikipedia:

Punctuality
Japanese railways are among the most punctual in the world. The average delay on the Tokaido Shinkansen in fiscal 2006 was only 0.3 minutes.[9] When trains are delayed for as little as five minutes, the conductor makes an announcement apologizing for the delay and the railway company may provide a “delay certificate” (遅延証明書), as no one would expect a train to be this late. Japanese passengers rely heavily on rail transit and take it for granted that trains operate on time. When trains are delayed for an hour or more, it may even appear in the newspaper.”

Can you IMAGINE? Imagine if the UK’s train companies were held up to these standards. Just imagine. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful day? They’d spend all day apologising constantly, and handing out delay certificates to all and sundry, hell, they’d probably have to take over a factory to print them all.

I’ve also had a look at FGW’s website for their accessibility guidelines, and there’s a lot of noise about how they’re improving services and making them more accessible, for everyone, it seems, but the deaf. Braille information? Lower steps on trains? Lovely, but what are you doing about visual displays? These wonderful ‘Help Points’ that you’re installing all over the place – how many of them have visual displays? Only a select few? Oh, that’s very helpful.

My recommendation is to take a leaf out Virgin Trains’ book. Screens, screens, everywhere. FGW, you’ll be hearing from me.

P.S. This here, is a man after my own heart. Tired of delays on his daily trips with FGW, he’s started writing letters to the MD every time his train is delayed, with the length of the letter corresponding to the length of time wasted. I’d love to follow his shining example, but I’m not sure even I can write a letter of complaint that takes three hours to read…

I might try though.

http://letterstofgw.blogspot.com/

Ahead of the game – for once!

Last weekend, I popped up to Preston to attend the leaving do of a former lecturer, and it was great to catch up with faces I haven’t seen in years. Preston seems like it’s hardly changed at all, and I daresay I could still find most of my student haunts (read: pubs and nightclubs) without too much difficulty. Eventually though, it had to end, and I found myself on a train back to Bristol.

Let me give a little background detail here; whilst I regularly use trains to get about, they’re far from perfect. Announcements over the tannoy are incomprehensible, and leave me reliant on random members of the public. Ticket inspectors may or may not be deaf aware, and methods used to attract my attention have included tapping my newspaper, clicking fingers and waving a hand in front of my face. As my legs get less reliable, so I’m finding train stations less and less accessible, with lifts often to be found half a mile down the platform. And so it is, that I reserve a special place in my heart for Birmingham New Street, a place that I detest more than any other in Britain. Noisy, chaotic, and until they installed the screens, the most un-deaf-friendly place I’d ever clapped eyes on.

Ahem. So I’m going home to Bristol, a journey that requires me to change trains at Birmingham New Street, a prospect I didn’t relish. But then – a problem. We sat, unmoving, outside B’ham for 30 minutes before an announcement was made that (according to the man two seats away) there was a fire on the tracks and we would be delayed. Would we really? 10 minutes later, a further announcement that (according to the nice young man opposite me) we would be going back to Wolverhampton for alternative transport. Not great news, but at least I was keeping up, and the other passengers were equally as lost. At Wolverhampton, we were all herded onto a different train and sent back to B’ham. So far , so good.

At B’ham, I got off the train and immediately homed in on the nearest departure screen – thank you B’ham upgraders who put departure boards on EVERY PLATFORM, bless you – which indicated that the next train to Bristol was leaving from the platform I’d just disembarked onto in ten minutes. However, the train I had come in on, which was itself horribly delayed, showed no signs of leaving. So I patiently waited for the screen to change, which it did, sending me to platform 4. However, it appears that an audio announcement wasn’t made at the same time, meaning that as I turned on my heel to march to the correct platform immediately, the hearing were still a little behind me. In fact, I was able to get on the train, pick a seat and settle myself before a small horde of hearing people swamped the train.

Speaking as the one who is usually left behind as an entire platform walks away, the one who has to try and find someone easy to lipread to find out what is going on, or throw myself on the mercy of station staff, as the one who is usually last to receive any useful information, it was wonderful – just this once – to be ahead of the game.

Liz Carr, London Pride and Signing Ticket Inspectors

Oof – an interesting couple of days has seen me attend a BSL interpreted performance of Liz Carr’s “It Hasn’t Happened Yet” at the Tobacco Factory, watch a play by Deafinitely Theatre, check out the main stage at London Pride in Trafalgar Square and be pleasantly surprised by a deaf-aware ticket inspector.

On Friday night, I got myself down to the Tobacco Factory, expecting that there would be a decent audience for a comedienne of reasonable fame; indeed Wikipedia describes her as “a British actor, stand-up comedian, television presenter and international disability rights activist”. I was surprised at the low turnout, but those of us who were in the audience enjoyed the show, and it was lovely to have another BSL-accessible performance so soon after Caroline Parker’s / Graeae’s “Signs of a Diva”, held in the same venue a few months ago. I see a bright future for the Tobacco Factory. Whilst it’s true that some of the humour was ‘lost in translation’ – plays on words for example – the show was signed with verve and good timing by the interpreter, who was at one point incorporated into the routine himself. I could identify with having an inner ‘evil’ voice making sarcastic comments and inappropriate outbursts whilst dealing with life, and some comments regarding the mechanics of disabled sex added some spice to the evening. It was just a pity the lighting technician kept dimming the light on the interpreter, making it at times hard to follow, but this is something can easily be improved, and my hope is that as the Tobacco Factory puts on more BSL accessible shows, they’ll get better at it.

Saturday saw me travel to London for a day out at the theatre and London Pride. Deafinitely Theatre’s new children’s play, “The Boy and the Statue” was visual, funny and enjoyable, and I enjoyed chatting to the actors after the show – I’ve known one of them since Uni and haven’t seen him in ages, it was very cool to see him performing in his first full-length play.

London Pride was amazing! Beautiful weather, loads of people, roads clear of traffic – but not of rubbish, despite the best efforts of roaming roadsweepers – lots of colour and a great atmosphere made for a great Pride event, and even better – they had BSL interpreters on the main stage with the performers! They even had their own little corner on the big screen, they’d even set up a little blue screen on stage that the interpreters could stand in front of, so they showed up better. Brilliant. I don’t know who was in charge of organising the interpreters, but kudos to them – and to the interpreters of course, who were signing everything from dance to rap to bitchy drag acts. Wonderful. More, please. Pride events, take note.

All in all, a pretty good day, but it was topped off by an unexpected delight – a ticket inspector on the train who waved a hand to get my attention, signed ‘hello’ and then signed ‘thank you’ after I produced my ticket. Wow! I can honestly say I think this is the first time this has ever happened in all my years of travelling via train, and I can only hope this is the start of a trend. Train companies take heed – start teaching your staff to sign and they might just make a deaf person’s day.