I don’t like getting the bus any more

Monday 22 January, 2018

First of all, hello, welcome to 2018. I hope it’s treating you better than 2017 did. For me, it isn’t, but that is something I am dealing with.

Today I want to talk about buses. My parents never had a car, and though I tried learning to drive and even passed the theory test (and that blasted Hazard Perception test), I never got as far as a practical test and getting my dream car. Now I have moments of wishing I had a car, but I have no plans of learning to drive again. So, I have a history with buses. My parents got the bus everywhere, they still do, and so I got the bus everywhere, and well I prefer trains but I still get the bus.

Here’s the problem. I don’t like getting buses anymore, and it’s completely related to being in a wheelchair.

Whenever I could go out, up to the point where I needed my wheelchair full time, I just hopped on the bus. Even on crutches, I hopped on the bus. My friend lived on a different bus route, so I hopped on the bus to one bus stop, got the bus to the bus stop nearest hers, popped in to see her Mum where she worked, and then went to my friend’s. It was brilliant. I thought I could go anywhere by bus, I just had to plan the route!

Where I used to live, the nearest bus to me was less than a 10 minute walk. I lived in a sort of set back cul-de-sac, and two roads away was the main road where the bus was on the corner. The worst part was always having to stand and wait for the bus, and then they brought in the worst most painful bus benches ever, but I still loved getting the bus. Even better, shortly before my Gran died, I got my disabled person’s bus pass that allowed me to travel for free, and she lived in a sort of set back cul de sac on the road opposite the bus stop, which happened to be the next bus stop down from my local bus stop. There was never any issue of me hopping on the bus at my bus stop, and getting off the next bus stop so many yards away outside my Gran’s.

Long journeys, where I was going end to end, I could sit there and listen to music and look out the windows. Short journeys, I tended to know at least one other person on the bus and they always ended up talking to me. Even when I started being a wheelchair user full time, in my manual wheelchair, given the bus drivers could be bothered to lower the ramps down, and even a bus turned up with a ramp in the first place, which let me tell you was hit and miss and on more than one occasion I would have to ring a taxi in a panic when the bus that should have had a ramp in fact turned up with a step with a pole in the middle and a bus driver that didn’t care and I needed to be somewhere in the 15 minutes it would have taken the bus to get me there, it was wonderful to hop on the bus, put my music on, and then get off at the other end. I was independent, I felt free.

The big difference is, the bus drivers who did lower the ramp did so as a  matter of course, I told the driver where I was getting off,  I could get in the wheelchair space nice and easily, the space was sideways so I could see where I was going, and then I rang the bell like any other passenger and then the driver would lower the ramp and i would get off. Like any other passenger.

Now, the freedom buses gave me just 10 years ago, feel like too much hassle for everyone involved Bus drivers have this attitude now – I don’t know if they mean to, but they do, like it’s a very big effort for them to put the ramp out. I can’t see it going down very well if i said my destination was the next bus stop 2 minutes away, like my Gran’s was. The wheelchair space is very difficult to get in to. There’s a bar in the way which means I have to overshoot the space and then reverse into it, the problem is they don’t give enough room to overshoot it, people have to stand up out of their seats to get just a few extra inches, and it’s a very tight fit to reverse and turn into the space. All because of that bar. And then I’m stuck going backwards. I hate going backwards, I can’t see where I’m going. There’s a chance the windows will be obstructed with advert vinyls. I can’t listen to music because these days I follow routes on my map app on my phone and I have to check between the phone and what I can see outside. It’s virtually impossible to go somewhere I’ve never been before in case, like the other day, my app stalls and leaves me clueless as to when the bus stop I need is coming up.

Also, it’s just very unnerving facing everyone else. Especially if something goes wrong with the bus they think is you’re fault – like an electrical failure after the driver’s lowered the bus to let you on – and double especially when you ring that bell. I refuse to ring the bell now. I get my carer to press the one nearest her and then she stands up and sort of blocks people from getting off so I can very obviously turn out of the space and the bus driver will be able to see I’m clearly wanting to get off at the stop he’s just pulled up to.

The bell, which just used to make the same “ding!” noise the other bells did, has had a few changes over the years. First it was a lower toned buzz noise. I didn’t mind that. It signalled it was the wheelchair user who wanted to get off, but it also didn’t alarm the other passengers when they heard a noise they weren’t used to. Then it sort of trilled, which I quite liked the noise of. Some passengers would look up in alarm but see it’s no big deal, it’s just I want to get off the bus. Now it’s an alarm. I mean it actually sounds like a school fire alarm. People look up in panic, and people don’t realise nothing is wrong, it’s just the noise the button makes at the wheelchair space when they want to get off. I’ve seen the stares of people who wonder what the hell I’m playing at, pressing an alarm. I’ve heard someone say “Is that normal? Is she okay?” to their seat neighbour when I’ve pressed that button. People look at me like I’m on fire, and look annoyed at the fact that I’m actually not. I don’t want to bring more attention to myself that I’ve already had from facing everyone’s direction, but I also always want to say “It’s okay! I’m not on fire, it’s just the noise the button nearest me makes! Please write to the bus company so that they change the noise back to the trilling noise, we all liked that one!”.

The ramps used to be shallower as well, or the buses used to be able to kneel more. Now the ramps are very steep, and there’s no traction. I don’t dare get the bus by myself even if i did know where I was going, because i need someone to hold on to my handles as I go down the ramp so that I don’t fall and tip. I get shrugged shoulders when I point out it’s very steep, pointed silences if I ask if they’ve knelt the bus, casual laughs as if it’s perfectly fine to almost fall off the side of the ramp because I’m coming off the bus onto the steep ramp at an angle and can’t straighten out in time, and jokes made at my expense making out that I can’t drive my wheelchair, when really, it’s because my wheelchair is susceptible to skidding, which it wouldn’t if I could meet the ramp head on and the ramp wasn’t that steep. And also, if there was better traction.

And then there’s the time it takes trying to convince parents that they need to vacate the wheelchair space so that the wheelchair user who has a legal right to that space could get on. Which is doubly annoying when there’s two spaces, one buggy and one wheelchair space, but the parent decided to park their buggy in the wheelchair space first anyway. It all used to be so quick and easy, and only the worst drivers refused to let a wheelchair user on, the most untrained drivers who refused to let a wheelchair user on. Now, it’s all of them who treat wheelchair users as if we take too much time to bother with, it’s everyone who would rather leave a wheelchair user out in the cold than do what their own parents did and fold the buggy before getting on in the first place.

It is every single part of getting the bus that has been made harder for wheelchair users, and if it wasn’t for the fact that sometimes, as in quite frequently, it’s the best mode of transport that can get me somewhere, I wouldn’t be using them at all.

And the sad thing is, if wheelchair users were involved in the design of buses, and trains, I doubt these problems would even exist. But we’re not, and things are not retroactively adapted when we point out a problem which really should be obvious at the design stage. When I was in University the first time, just as ramps were becoming slowly the norm, the one bus I could get on, it had a ramp but my wheelchair couldn’t fit down the aisle of the bus to get to the wheelchair space. I had one of the smallest adult wheelchairs you could get, and it was from the NHS so I had little choice in model. Most adult wheelchairs were 2 inches wider than the one I had, but the company’s response to my complaints didn’t change anything.

That was years ago, so I assume that situation improved eventually, but like here, I doubt it improved for long. I don’t know why the world is like this, I don’t know why people are like this, but it’s exhausting to deal with it and fight against it every single day.


A Failed Journalist Reviews: Flare Path

Tuesday 12 September, 2017

Almost 2 years ago to the day, I did something that I haven’t done since before my operation in 2010.
I went to see a show, all by myself, probably to the downright horror of the theatre’s health and safety officer. But hey, that’s what a limited care package gets you.

Anyway, I’ll spare you the back story and get right down to business.

I broke out of my new normal to go see Flarepath, which was on at The Playhouse in Liverpool. Many things could have gone wrong during this play: I could have suffered an asthma attack, my back could have locked up, my heart murmur could have picked up and left me short of breath and dizzy. I could have thrown up randomly, I could have found myself in an altercation with a disgruntled fellow theatre-goer. I could have found myself needing the toilet and not being able to get back out again  – It has happened before. (Misadventure 1: McDonalds, Liverpool Town Centre, heavy door vs No manoeuvre room, Misadventure 2: Broadgreen Hospital, Orthopeadic Clinic, Very Heavy Door.)

I risked all of that, and possibly more! To see two people i’ve wanted to see act in a theatre* near me for years: Olivia Hallinan and Philip Franks! Both being in the same play, it killed the proverbial birds with one stone.

So, for those of you haven’t read Flarepath, and don’t worry, I am amongst you, the play is about a group of people who are staying in the same hotel, near the aerodrome in Lincolnshire, during World War 2. But it’s not just about any old people, no! We have an actor, called Peter Kyle, who checks in to the hotel seemingly under the guise of business, then we have resident Countess Doris Skriczevinsky. She’s married to Count “Johnny” Skriczevinsky and recognises Actor Peter Kyle straight away. She’s a fan! Fellow hotel guest is Patricia “Pat” Graham (played by Hallinan) who is also an actor. Yet, for reasons not yet disclosed at this point, Peter Kyle is rather cagey about whether he knows her or not. Despite having worked on a film together. See? Very cagey.

Then we have Pat’s Pilot husband Teddy, Air Gunner Dusty, who is married to poor Maudie, who is the most normal guest at the hotel. She lost everything when a bomb hit her house, and she’s very pragmatic about it. I loved her and Dusty so much that I would like them to have a play where they’re the main characters instead. Well, as well as, rather than instead. This was a good play!

Count “Johnny” Skriczevinsky, I’ve mentioned him already, he’s Polish and could be considered the comic relief. He could be, but I didn’t. There’s something poignant about a man fighting for a country he can barely speak the native language of. I know, Allies and all of that, it was common. But, no, this man was fighting for Britain, and his wife and their future together. And whilst he did provide brilliant comic relief, I do not want how well rounded and loving this character is, to be overshadowed by that comic relief.

Then there’s Teddy, who I’ve also already mentioned. He’s Pat’s husband, he’s a bomber pilot, and him and Pat have been married for 9 months. Then there’s the amazing Squadron Leader Swanson (Played by Philip Franks) who is all heart and no bite. Somehow, despite rankings and severe punishment for dissension in the ranks, Teddy gets away with calling him Gloria. Admittedly, I didn’t get the joke whilst I was watching it, but when I got back home and mentioned it, the response was “Oh, after the singer!” and I googled it.

Last but not least is the hotel owner, Mrs Oakes. Provider of the full English breakfast, and questionable sausages.

So, what’s the story about, with all these interesting characters? They’re all meant to have the night off, time to be with their loved ones, or in the case of Peter Kyle, seemingly sleep until he leaves the next morning. But far too soon,  Squadron Leader Swanson bursts through the door with bad news: They’re needed for a raid.

Let me break into the retelling of the play to talk about the effects and the set. They were minimal, but affective. The set was laid out like a lounge at the hotel, desk to the right, couch in the centre. The backdrop was just a general outside with a window in front. In the night scenes, before they drew the curtains, it was a dark blue night scene, in the day it was a brighter blue with a bit of a visible garden. The absolute star of the stage, outshining even the great Philip Franks! Was the realistic fire at the forefront of the stage. I wish I had a photograph of it because it was indescribably beautiful.

There was nothing technologically advanced to portray living near an airstrip, and yet! Yet! Some strip of lighting to represent the Flarepath (Yeah, that’s when I twigged about the meaning of the play’s name too) through the window, and some very close, loud, sound effects, and a synchronised reaction as if fighter plane’s were passing by right over head (it’s called acting, Dahling!) makes you duck out of the way. Genius!

I’ll be sending the stage managers the bill for my new heart.

Back to the plot, and this is where I should say there’ll be spoilers, obviously: Whilst the RAF members were away, the crux of the play unravelled. Pat, to the shock of myself, had been in a relationship with Peter Kyle. She had left him to marry Teddy, despite still being in love with Peter Kyle, and, further revelation! After 9 months of being married to Teddy, wasn’t sure she loved him! Teddy, that is. How awful! And Peter Kyle wanted her back! And she wanted to go back! And, urged on by the very site of Peter Kyle, whose presence originally seemed to annoy her, she decided she was going to tell Teddy as soon as he got back. Teddy had no clue that they’d been in a relationship, the poor clueless sod! Was this going to end with her running away with Peter Kyle!?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: She realised how despondent she’d been towards Teddy. She married him on a whim, it was a war time romance, they barely knew each other and she’d never bothered to try. I weeped internally at the struggle. So after a brief bout of ill health on Teddy’s behalf (Like, very brief. All of 15 minutes in real time), she decided she did love him after all, and could love him even more, and stayed.

Poor Peter Kyle, you might say. I thought the same, until he tried to emotionally blackmail her and manhandled her about the place.

To change the pace a bit, there was a hell of a crash over at the aerodrome. And then only Teddy and Dusty arrived back – it wasn’t looking too good for Johnny. They waited all morning for him, but Squad Leader Swanson returned – after having stayed a while over night with the women to keep them company (see, all heart, that man!) – to tell them that, whilst they don’t want to give up hope, they all knew the chance of Johnny returning decreased the longer it took to find him.

In a random twist of fate, with Peter Kyle out for revenge, to ruin Pat and Teddy’s marriage, Doris, who knows Peter Kyle can speak french, asks him to read out a letter The Count had left for her in the event of him never returning. It was heartbreaking. The letter said how much The Count loved her and how he was sorry he never got to show her his homeland of Poland. I’m not doing it justice, but trust me, I weeped externally and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.

Realising how much of an arsehole he was being, he decided to keep his affair with Pat a secret and subsequently left quietly.

I’m very glad to say that whilst the foreground of the set was very busy, my attention to things that move in the background allowed me to notice a mysterious figure in a big hat come through the door, unnoticed by the other characters.

Could it be?
…Was it?

Be still by murmurring heart! Yes it was! It was Johnny! Wonderful! My heart swelled. Metaphorically speaking.

After a repeated, hilarious retelling of how he survived (I won’t quote it because I won’t be able to do it justice, but, it’s brilliant), they celebrated their reunion with a good, lung beltering rendition of “We don’t want to join the air force”, and, proving that life sometimes changes within a second, a bright light came up and a loud noise hit, and the stage went black. And that was the end.

Wow. I mean, WOW. The acting all around was almost perfect in my books. I was a bit distracted with trying to think who *Peter Kyle* reminded me of and, alright, maybe Philip Franks didn’t get enough stage time for my liking. But for what it was, it was great. I really don’t know why there’s so many negative reviews. Not just for the Liverpool showing, but for the play over all. Boring? Pretentious? Patronising? What play where They watching!? Uncultured swines, the lot of them.

I don’t know how much of the original written play they stuck with, I don’t know if Rattigan evolved it during his time, or, like a few other plays, a new version emerged at some point and theatre producers have been putting that version on instead since it’s incarnation. All I know, is that this play features a variety of characters, and some are flawed, and some you don’t get to know enough of, but there is enough there to relate to them in some way. Or, in my case with Peter Kyle, to know you absolutely dislike them 100%, and that’s okay because it means the actor has done their job.

I do have one criticism: There was a change in cast which saw the character of Percy played by Holly Smith yet one of Dusty’s lines was “Percy, my lad”. And on one hand, I understand audiences are also meant to have a bit of imagination about things, on the other hand, it was jarring and it could have been adjusted with changing the line. It could be because the line continued on to threaten to physically discipline Percy for not minding their own business, and maybe that would have come across wrong with the character being played by a woman. But that also could have been adjusted. I’m sure, as theatre directors should know, not every line has to be exactly the same all the time.

The ending might be too abrupt for some people, as well. At first I was confused, unsure whether I liked the sudden ending, and then it dawned on me, hours later to be honest with you, what it (probably) signified. Ouch, talk about mood whiplash. Talk about delayed mood whiplash!

Anyway. Would I recommend this play? Yes. Especially if Philip Franks ever returns to the cast.

I would also recommend film makers pull a History Boys with this and make a film with the 2015 cast. I have no other cast to compare it to, but, trust me on this. It’s Hallinan and Franks or bust!

10/10