Spontaneious Travelling: Chester (Part 2)

Saturday 23 March, 2019

After we ladies who lunched in McDonalds, we headed over to Chester Cathedral. This was not a revisit from me and my Nana’s day out in Chester, I’ve just always wanted to go to Chester Cathedral, mostly to compare it to our Anglican one here in Liverpool (We don’t talk about the Catholic one). There wasn’t a set ticket price to enter, however there is a certain pressure to “donate” a “suggested amount” at the entrance before you enter, in the form of an intimidating donation box with a sign as you pre-queue to go in, passed a staffed desk by the doors. I paid the donation, but due to free carer tickets being the standard, I only paid for myself and my Carer came in free with me. I think it was quite fair!

It is nicely done! It is not 100% wheelchair accessible, but it was accessible enough for me to finally feel welcomed somewhere. I would say it’s got a different feel to it indoors than the Liverpool Anglican cathedral, and because I’m biased I might be inclined to say it’s not as beautiful as the Liverpool Anglican cathedral, but that would be unfair. It has it’s own beauty to it and it was nice to look around. We arrived just at the start of a short afternoon service, so me and my carer stayed at the back, admired the architecture and when the priest finished his short service, we went looking around the grounds

I’m not religious now though I used to be, and although there’s a lot that doesn’t sit right with me when it comes to religion – and never did, as a matter of fact – but you have to give credit where it’s due. This building, like the Cathedrals here in Liverpool, have become half way houses to meet the needs of the religious and the tourists, and it is a very peaceful place to wander around.

The side of Chester Cathedral at a corner. A cast iron fence in the foreground at the bottom of the screen, with a bit of green garden between that and the building. The building is mostly a dirty brown. On the bottom floor is 8 glass windows, the second floor shows 10 glass windows, with spires obstructing their view. Above those windows are more spires and the top is the tower bellfry with three chimneys showing

And, like all tourist places, it even had a gift shop! It was a bit cramped, but you’re reading the words of someone who got through Liverpool Anglican Cathedral’s gift shop without knocking a single item over, so rest assured, no items were smashed in the procurement of labelled pens! There was also a lovely stain glass window effect magnet that I now regret not buying.

Finally, after what felt like a terrible morning, my mood was shifting and I started feeling a bit better about this outing and my lack of mobility. Ironically it took an almost 2000 year old building to do that, against a backdrop of modern businesses. Modern businesses in a similar-ye-olde-aged-building, admittedly, but modern nonetheless, with modern customers who are no longer institutionalised in institutions…

Ahem.

Where was I? The only downside was the battery on my wheelchair. Thanks to our stop and start tour around the Cathedral, and the weather warming up temporarily, I found my battery was still hovering on full orange when we first came out of the Cathedral, however 10 minutes later after trying to get my maps on my phone to work to see where the roman gardens were, I turned my wheelchair back on to see I’d gone down a full orange.

I still decided to continue on and risk it. After all, what’s a day out without risking battery failure in the middle of the main road, right? I did let my carer know what was going on, at this point… but not to the degree that I could have. I told her, at that point, I was losing power a bit more quickly than normal, but we should have enough power to get to the park and back. With her faith in me, we continued.

So we eventually got to the park, but not without a few false starts. IE, I can’t read maps and even when I’m following the directions I always tend to go to wrong until the arrow sends me off in the right direction. Unfortunately, it was winter, so the beautiful gardens with the beautiful roman mosaics on the floor didn’t shine up on me like it had all those years ago. Don’t worry, I plan to go back and admire it in full bloom!

So I took a few photos but, the temperature had dropped again, we could see our breaths despite the bright watery sun in the sky, and worried my battery – at this point flickering between one orange and two oranges – would leave us stranded at the bottom of the ramp, we didn’t go much further than half way, and turned around.

“Can we get a hot coffee?” my carer asked.

“Yes,” I said, “And I’ll get a cup of tea.”

The plan at that point was to head back to the train station, get something to drink there and wait around for our train back. However we saw a nice little quaint tea and cake shop on our route which had a ramped entrance and, frozen to the core and my carer’s caffiene levels dropping as fast as my battery power, we ducked inside for a mid-afternoon, pre-train snack.

Elements of a fancy tea - a jug of hot water, a jug of milk and the teapot behind, all white on top of a white tablecloth with a blue layer coming through the lace. A nicely manicured hand is in the background, the nails visible show an orchid magenta and a light pink on the third nail. To the left of the photo there is a pot of sugar and salt sachets

I found the tea was lovely. My carer ordered coffee and a traditional cream scone which she also thoroughly enjoyed. It was only after drinking my tea and finding myself in need to use the toilet that I realised I’d failed to do the first basic check when in a food establishment – ask where the toilets are first! This place did not have a wheelchair accessible bathroom and their non-disabled toilet were down a set of internal steps.

Bugger. I do hate giving money to places who only want my money, not actually cater to my needs.

On those grounds I can not recommend this place, and that’s also why I won’t be naming them here. You know who had an accessible toilet? McDonalds and the Cathedral!

Oh well! We continued our journey for the trian back. It was at that point I told my carer how bad the battery situation was – I was critically losing battery power, flickering between the last orange and the first of only two reds, and that I thought the taxi driver had done something when he tied his straps around the wrong place on my wheelchair. This wasn’t the usual cold weather battery loss. So the walk back to the train station had to switch to the bus – which was easy to catch once we knew which bus stop we had to go to, and unlike the shuttle bus, it stopped at a normal stop opposite the train station and we got out no problem.

On arrival at the station I nipped to the toilet – red cord was tied up and there was a bin in the transfer space – and then with the help of staff and my Carer, got on board the train. At that point I was down to the reds and wondered if I was going to make the switch between platforms when back to Liverpool, but that turned out to be the least of my worries when I was on board.

I won’t go into details, but basically I got harassed on the train, the staff did nothing to help and next time I go to chester, I will go by bus. On the plus side, thanks to the warmth of the train and being stationary for a while, by the time we got back to Liverpool, I’d gained full oranges again. With the change over to the Northern line and then the pavement journey home, I managed to get back on red, going at a snail pace.

I do plan on going to Chester again, especially because shortly after I got back I was made aware of a guardian article that said Chester was one of the most accessible places! But I would do things a lot differently. Whilst the rows is accessible – as in you can get to them from the ground floor of the shopping centre – it’s not completely accessible, and most of the shops on the rows have steps to get in to them. I have a policy for life – If I have to ask to get in, I won’t go in and i’ll go somewhere else. It could be that the shops have ramps inside, there might be alternative entrances, but that to me is shifting the responsibility of access on me, not them. If there are alternative entrances, why are they not good enough for everyone to go through?

And the shuttle bus situation needs to be fixed. I sent a complaint letter shortly after I visited chester, and I never heard anything back. I should probably chase that up!

But that cathedral is very much worth a visit. I think on a warm, sunny day, just sitting in the gardens would be lovely, and next time I go I’d like to try the cafe instead of depending on McDonalds.

On the matter of this being an affordable day out, let’s tot it up:-

Train Faire:- £5.20, day saver
Begdrudging Taxi Faire:- £10.00
McDonalds Lunch consisting of a McChicken Sandwich, Medium Fries and a cup of tea:- £5.37
Cathedral “suggested donation” entry fee:- £4
Afternoon tea:- £5.50
Emergency Bus Faire:- £2.40

Total:- £37.97.

A bit high for a day that was only half enjoyable, I must admit, especially when you think that taxi faire was completely unneccessary, but for the distance travelled and in comparison to a day out in, for example, London, I think it’s not as bad as it could have been. Especially when you compare it to London even one step further and think how long it takes to get between places when in a wheelchair. At least in Chester, the furthest part ouf was the park.

And for anyone interested, I went out a few days later and despite only being out a couple of hours I came back on orange. I called up the wheelchair repair people and the guy who came out confirmed what I suspected – the battery case had been cracked, and also a wire connection had been broken. There is only one way that could have happened.


Spontaneous Travelling: Chester (Part 1)

Saturday 16 March, 2019

So I got the news a short while ago that something I contributed to was no longer going ahead. It was originally thought up 2 and a bit years ago, but sadly after a few false starts, it just wasn’t meant to be.

One of the things I did for this project, I only did last year, when things still looked to be going ahead. I was not going to be a regular contributor, because of my health and degree, but I was going to give something when I could. And now I am free to do what I like with it, here it is:

A journey review of Chester. From a disabled person’s point of view, not planned to the nth degree.

I live in Liverpool, and it’s very easy to do, especially for able bodied people, to just hop on the train and go to Chester from any Merseyrail train station with the change at either Central or Moorfields. And it’s pretty cheap at the cost of a Merseyrail Day Saver. I had a vague plan set out. I’d last been to Chester when I was a teenager, and I remember having fun with my Nana, so I wanted to do similar things I’d done with my Nana back when I was a manual user.

I would say this started off badly as soon as I tried to book the ramp. I hardly ever book ahead when it’s Merseyrail, I don’t believe in it and I think expecting disabled people to book everything in advance is holding us to a higher and stricter standard than able bodied people are. However, st the time of this journey, I was experiencing a lot of problems with Merseyrail and their unfair policies that put disabled people at a higher disadvantage to travel than able bodied members.

A member of staff who, for health reasons (she was pregnant), could not deploy the ramp. Merseyrail’s policy was, instead of having two members of staff on shift or having that member of staff in a different role whilst another member of staff was on platform, so that wheelchair users could continue to travel freely on the network, they left that staff member to stay in their role and ordered taxis for anyone wishing to travel.

Now because I complained and explained it was discrimination to expect someone to wait up to an hour for a taxi to turn up, just because they wouldn’t have a second member of staff on to do the ramp, they booked me a taxi to turn up at the time I would get to the station. The problem is the train journey to Central is 17 minutes, with 2 minutes to get from my local station to the next station by train. By road, it takes 10 minutes on a good day, 15 on an average day and 20 minutes on a bad day, meaning I wouldn’t only miss the train I planned to get (the 12 past 10), I would potentially miss the next two, eating in to the time I had available with my Carer for the day in Chester. It was all so incredibly unfair and frustrating.

My carer couldn’t turn up any earlier than 10’clock so we got to the station with 2 minutes to spare before the train arrived, meaning we would have been able to get on the train had I been able bodied. But I’m not, and there was a taxi waiting. My second issue with the taxi situation is that they use the same company that my hospital uses when there’s not a patient transport ambulance available, and I’ve had enough negative experiences with them through hospital transport, that I no longer get this company’s taxis, and I wasn’t happy having to depend on a driver from this company to get me to the next station when I could have just been on the train. And then the day got worse.

The taxi driver was annoyed he’d had to wait, and then he got the ramp down. The staff member had left us to it, because of a previous intense conversation where we clashed over the ramp situation a few times before. I know it’s for medical reasons, but I felt it was partly her responsibility to fight disabled people’s rights to access the train. By continuiing to both be on the station without a second member, or at all, it allowed the continuation of discrimination from Merseyrail.  So, understandably, she left.

I asked the driver to put the seats up, so I could turn around. He became… I won’t say aggressive, but certainly confrontational. “Er, Why?”

I said it was so I could turn around and travel backwards.

He said No. I asked why, and he said he wasn’t going to let me travel backwards, because the wheels turning around in his car would rip up his carpets. I said I always travel backwards, I’ve never ripped up anyone’s carpets. He would not budge. Then he told me I’d be fine, because I’m in an electric wheelchair, and I should travel sideways anyway because that’s safer. They are both lies.

  1. Lightweight electric wheelchairs skid and tilt if not either wedged in or tethered down. I am not heavy enough to increase traction or to keep four wheels on the floor if we take a corner badly, and I’ve already tipped backwards in a taxi once, I don’t wish to experience that again.
  2.  It is not safer to travel sideways, it is safer to travel backwards.

At that point I had the choice of sending the driver away, having my PA go up to the station and tell the staff member she’ll have to call another taxi, wait up to an hour for it to arrive, at the risk it would then take 20 minutes to get to the next nearest train station, (when able bodied people could just get on the train and go 2 minutes up the line!!!) meaning another potential hour and a half eating in to the time with my Carer to get to Chester and back, or travel sideways. I compromised, and said fine, but I needed the straps.

Then he argued with me that I didn’t need the straps, because i had breaks.

I’m going to let you in on a secret that manufacturers don’t like you spreading: The breaks don’t do anything unless you’re on free wheel. If you’re on Powerchair mode, which as an electric wheelchair user, I almost always am, the breaks don’t do anything because it’s the motor that stops the wheels from going around, either by being turned off, or by being on but not pressing the joystick to go in a direction. And as I’ve explained already, I skid, which means the wheels are skimming the tractionless floor without turning at the axel. It is the same as being on a boat in your car, and not being tethered down. If the waves are rolling, your car’s going to be too, even if the breaks are on. It’s basic physics. And I say that as someone with dyscalculia that almost failed physics.

I eventually got him to put the straps on, and in that process, he broke my wheelchair. As he tied the strap down in the wrong place, because he didn’t listen to my instructions, nor did he have the right straps, he tightened the belt and I heard a small crack. That crack led to my wheelchair losing power a lot quicker than normally over the process of 6 hours.

By the time we got to our next train station, we literally got there just as the second train was pulling out, so we had to wait for the third. The journey, thankfully, went smoothly from there, getting to Central and then it didn’t take too long until we were in Chester.

Chester has a shuttle bus of sorts that takes you from the station to the city centre. First we tried to find out where it would be, we were told to look at the information board, but it wasn’t actually on the information board, so then we went to the actual information desk, waited in the kew and the information desk said they were only train information and weren’t sure exactly where the bus stopped but if I went outside the main doors, I would either find the bus there or other poeple waiting for the bus that I could ask.

We did, and then we waited. And waited. And waited. And then the bus turned up, and I couldn’t get on it. It was wheelchair accessible, but it was a middle door type situation, and the problem was the bus driver couldn’t get that middle door close enough to the kerb to deploy the ramp because the front of the bus was blocked by a sharp crescent terminus. I don’t know if I believe him, because he wouldn’t even try.  I had people offer to tilt me and lift me on, which the driver recommended I do!!! But otherwise, he couldn’t help and I coudln’t get on.

I said that wasn’t even remotely accessible or appropriate, and we left, allowing a gentleman in a manual wheelchair to be lifted on the bus instead. I make no judgement on people who choose to be lifted, but I’m not a child nor a parcel from amazon, and that ramp is there to be used. I did not get the chance to get a photo of the ramp I couldn’t use, but here’s the front of the bus the driver told me I could get on instead:-

The picture shows a red bus with it's door open, four people's legs in the queue, one lady clearly in jeans and a gentleman in front of her with dark grey trousers on. A man also in jeans is crossing in front of the photo. The bus's front steps overhangs on the curb awkwardly with a ten inch gap

So, we got a taxi to the city centre. I went backwards, and I was strapped in with the proper straps! It costed £10, including the tip (I’m from Liverpool, we tip). I thought it would start looking up. I took photos of the nice buildings, I took photos of the clock, I took photos of a roman soldier wandering around and then hoped I wasn’t breaking some sort of etiquette, and then we headed in to The Rows. Now, I remember the Rows from when I was there with my Nana, and I remember being pretty impressed. This time, it left me somewhat dissappointed!

I could get around the ground floor, great. And then we went up. I could get from one side of the outside, to most of the way around the building, but I could only get in one or two shops due to those shops having steep steps either up or down into them, then I had to turn around and go back the way I’d came whilst people who could use stairs had free run of the whole place. Either I’ve misremembered how good Chester was, or I didn’t care at that point because I loved spending time with my Nana, or something’s changed in Chester since then.

It had gone lunch time by then, and to say I was down was a bit of an understatement… and then I noticed my battery gage. Talking of things being down… I had full green when we left the house, and I was suddenly on the last green, except what had really caugtht my attention was the flickering out the corner of my eye. It was going between at least one green and just the oranges. I can lose battery in the cold quite quickly, but it hadn’t been that cold, even if it was, this was quicker than even that, and I’d never seen it flicker between two colours like this before. It wasn’t quick, but it seemed that any time I changed direction, or stopped, I would gain or lose a bar, respectively.

So we tried to get lunch in somewhere warm, hoping my battery would re-calibrate itself. Or I was, anyway. I, er, neglected to share this news of impending battery death with my carer for fear she’d make us go home 3 hours early…

It didn’t go well. I mean, lunch plans specifically, not the battery issue. Either places I could get in did food I wasn’t kean on – I might have mentioned previously, I eat pretty bland foods with simple recipes. No herbs, nothing spicy, nothing too heavy, and nothing I can slop down myself; And the places I wouldn’t have minded trying, all little eateries, had no wheelchair access. We ended up in good old McDonalds. My Carer wasn’t best pleased…

But hey, McChicken Sandwich, Chips and a cup of tea. 10/10, would recommend!

A photograph of a meal from Mcdonalds. A cup of tea in a jazzy style cup a mcchicken sandwich in the middle with stray bits of lettuce in the box and a carton of medium fries on the right with a monopoly sticker showing. The fries are spilt on to the tray.

Chester Nay McDonalds yay

The question is, did the rest of the day get better? Tune in next time to find out!


AFJ’s response: Fireworks.

Saturday 2 March, 2019

A couple of days ago, I became aware that Parliament is launching an enquiry into why, over the last few years, there have been a sudden increase of petitions from the general public asking for the government to create new, stricter laws in regards to fireworks. As the words on the webpage go on to say, the committee are asking for people’s views on the current laws on fireworks, and what needs to be considered when looking at changing the current laws on fireworks.

And on one hand, I’m grateful for someone elevating this issue, not just purely on fireworks, but also for noticing that so many people keep signing petitions, and each time are effectively fobbed off and patronised. The last time I signed one of these petitions, I was disgusted, yet not surprised, to find the response was basically “We don’t need to do anything more, because there are current laws in place that deal with the issues being addressed by this peititon”. So I do think it’s a good thing that someone is asking for our views further. The problem is, these views have been covered by every petition to date. Even in the webpage, they have listed what some of the reasons they’ve found on the petitions they’ve looked at, and still want people to contact them with their reasons, in their own words.

I feel like that’s slowing down the process they could already be making, and it’s putting responsibility on the general public. For example, I did eventually get an email about this, but I originally only even knew about the committee because my friend linked me. How many people would love a say and will miss out because the call for their input hasn’t reached them?

But, I have got the call and I will be sharing my views directly with them, using their contact form on that link. And I will say a better written version of the following:-

I’m afraid of loud noises. I don’t have any specific reason, i’ve just always been that way. And yes, admittedly, somehow during my teenage years I managed to supress my distressed reaction. Then late teens hit and I found I couldn’t suppress it anymore, then the twenties hit and I found every phobia I have is ten times worse than what it was in childhood. And it’s not just fireworks out in the wild, it’s also pyrotechnics at concerts, thunder storms, and even, depending on the tones, loud angry shouting and loud bangs in film.

But let’s focus on fireworks. My fear of the noises they produce means for a week before the 5th of november to the week after, and all through the christmas period to some weeks after January the 1st, I am caused significant distress, because the fireworks are available, and people will just set them off because they can.

I do my best to protect myself from the bangs of the fireworks, and I want to just make it clear here that this specific issues is literally just the loud bangs, if the pretty twinkly ones didn’t end in a loud explosion, I would be fine; But the problem is, they aren’t just silent twinkles, they are loud explosions, and they seem to be louder every year. That means a week of earphones in, loud music that drowns it out, from maybe 6 o’clock in the evening, to 2 o’clock in the morning,  hoping that no random bang from a firework will be set off outside of those hours, and what is set off isn’t so loud I can hear it over my music.

And I am not alone in these fears, and I feel many other people have a much better reason than I do for having these bad reactions. There are people with autism, there are war veterans who are triggered, there are people with non-autistic sensory issues, and then there’s the animals. And they are suffering. We shouldn’t have to live like this!

And that’s just the noise!

Around here in Liverpool, though I imagine it’s the same up and down the country, fireworks seem to go hand in hand with anti-social behaviour. If irresponsible kids aren’t setting off fireworks in the parks and fields, late at night to the early hours of the morning, anytime between September and January the 15th, they’re setting them off in the middle of the road in the direction of cars and buses. Just a couple of years ago, a firework was aimed at the side of the bus, reportedly so it would go in through the open doors, but luckily it went off course. They’re setting them off in random bins, with no care for what might fuel the fire in the bin and cause a spread to the building (which also happened here, right opposite my flat!) and they’re setting them off as pranks, and sometimes, they’re setting them off with the deliberate aim to hurt people. The response to the last petition talked about the laws, but let’s face it, the kids run off before the police get there, and the damage has already been done, and when do the kids ever get caught? If the bangs aren’t coming from somewhere definitive, how can the police even get there in time to catch them?

The current laws are not stopping the irresposible ownership or setting off of these fireworks,  they’re not helping after the fact if they’re not caught red handed, and how can the police catch anyone red handed when police numbers have been cut?

It’s just ignoring the key issue. These things wouldn’t happen if kids couldn’t get ahold of them in them in the first place, and I really believe they wouldn’t be able to get ahold of them, even illegally, if they only went direct from warehouses to organised public displays and pyrotechnic specialists thereof, and controlled via licenses. We understand a lack of access to guns means less gun-related accidents and crimes in the UK, why not with fireworks?

And, with public displays being the only way to celebrate occasions traditionally celebrated with fireworks, we need to go back to only celebrating on celebration nights. Yes I am aware of diwali and chinese new year, and I am including these too. It is not a human right to celebrate with fireworks, and maybe if more people go to displays, the prices of them would drop back down. It is not fair to those of us who can not tolerate the constant barrage of loud noises to put up with it for two weeks at a time. The other year, Bonfire Night seemed to be every night from the weekend before, and the weekend after, and New Years, the week before christmas and on and on and on. Even if you take in to consideration of irresponsible kids just setting them off whenever they like, you still have a lot of responsible adults thinking their right to buy fireworks from any supermarket and newsagents in their area, and their right to set them off in their own back garden, trumps the health and wellbeing of everyone else around them. It doesn’t. I honestly don’t care if the 5th falls on a Tuesday and people are too tired from work, I should not have to spend a fortnight dodging explosions coming from far beyond my home and neither should anyone else, nor animals who can’t understand what exactly is going on.

So, to summarise my feelings on fireworks, the noise levels of those explosions need to be brought down, firework purchasing should be only for license holders, those license holders need to be managers of public displays, and those public displays need to be scaled down to just the day of celebration. Any unlicensed use or ownership should be treated as a criminal offence, stronger than “antisocial behaviour” by the fact it’s literally someone setting off explosives.