Travelling has always been a love/hate experience for me, providing both delight and frustration in equal measures. I love exploring a new and different culture. Those in my own country, but more so, those of a distant land. After all that is why I decided on a career in overseas development.
However, getting to my chosen destination is often fraught with potential disaster. If I could just be teleported straight there without the headache of the journey itself I would be forever in the dept of the person who invented the mechanism for doing so. Unfortunately with planes, trains and public transport I regularly have to rely on a complex ‘assisted travel’ process, which all too often breaks down and invariably I have to take proceedings into my own hands if I am to get to my chosen destination at all.
I should have sensed trouble the moment my work colleagues said there was going to be a rail strike the day I was due to travel from Paris to Lyon. No problem I said, “I’ll simply delay the trip a day”. I should have known it was never going to be as simple as that the moment my Parisian colleague, who was kindly arranging my ticket, asked for my Disability Card number. “What is that?” I responded, knowing I wasn’t going to like the reply. “It’s a card that proves you are disabled and in need of assistance,” she said. “What if I don’t have that card?” I countered. She raised her eyebrows and didn’t dare answer. Nevertheless and persistant to the last, my colleague managed to elicit the required help, which involved meeting me at the travel assistance point on the platform and escorting me onto the train.
Of course there was no one to meet me when I arrived at the station. How could there be? The day the assistance was booked everyone at the station was on strike? So while the hapless Travel Information Officer (who’s job it was not helping me onto the train) shook his head saying that I couldn’t board the train because there was no record of the assistance having been booked, I was already heading toward Platform 17 to get on my train.
My plans were scuppered, momentarily, when I surveyed doorway: Level entry onto the standing, and then two huge steps down into the carriage. It would be tricky, but possible. All I needed to do was to wedge my wheelchair in the doorway preventing the doors from closing thereby stopping the train from departing until I was recused by a kindly, apologetic guard who would then direct me to my reserved wheelchair space further up the train.
And that is what happened, more of less. However, the moral of this story is, if you are going to make a protest about accessing a train make sure you do it on the right train. When I finally got up off the floor of the train and pleaded with the guard not to have me ejected from the platform I found myself going shamed face back down the track to, not only the correct carriage, but a completely different train.