Spontaneous Travelling: Chester (Part 1)

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!

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