Wednesday, 24 September 2014

London Continues

Stevo is talking about the following day's Challenge Cup Final between Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers;

"I think if Daryl (Castleford coach Powell) lets them play they'll give Leeds problems at Wembley." he says.

Ah yes, the wide open spaces of Wembley. One of the truly great sporting myths. It comes from a time during the 80's when Challenge Cup Finals at the old Wembley were played out in a more open style than you see in the modern game. When Wigan beat Hull in '85 nobody seemed to be worried about 'getting through the sets', 'winning the arm wrestle' or my personal favourite...'interfacing at the ruck'. But which do you prefer? An era of open, flowing rugby in which Wigan win everything or an era in which coaches rack their brains to find ways to strangle the game but in which Saints have a reasonable chance of picking up silverware each year? The latter for me. The former was just too Hellish.

Stevo seems genuinely disappointed when we tell him that we are not going to Wembley tomorrow. I explain to him that we don't book early in case Saints don't make it (which of course, they haven't) and we end up watching 'that lot from over the lump'. He laughs, but he gives me a look that suggests I'm being a bit harsh which is rich coming from a man whose job is to upset everyone who doesn't support Leeds. I want to stop for a while longer and ask him how he comes to the conclusion that the club that has topped the Super League for most of the season (and would go on to win the Sky devalued league leaders shield) is in crisis. But there's lots more to do down here in The Smoke. Stevo was never part of the plan.

We head on down towards Trafalgar Square from Whitehall, past the Queen's Horse Guards. The horses are particularly skittish today but then you might be if you had to spend your days surrounded by tourists who just stare at you expectantly. You'd probably be thinking 'I'm a horse, what do you want?'. On board these impressive beasts are the fabulously over-attired guards who, like those at the palace, seem to be employed for their ability to remain utterly motionless in the face of persistent annoyance. We stay a while but we can't get a clear view of 10 Downing Street. The road itself is cut off from the public and watched over at all times by policemen. Who would have thought that David Cameron would need such high security? As if anyone would want to lob half a brick down the street at his putrid little bonce. Anyway, the result of all this police presence is that even the famous door to the Prime Minister's home is not visible from where we are.

We carry on down towards Trafalgar Square and it is only a few minutes until we arrive at Nelson's Column. It's so tall that it is impossible to get a photograph that features both the Column and a five foot nothing biff. Not helping is the fact that there is a road going right around the square so you can only step so far back to try and get everything into shot. Nevertheless it is another brilliantly iconic monument. It is over 51 metres tall and almost 175 years old. At its base are four huge stone lions of the kind that used to frighten me when I was a kid. I've got issues around lions, even stone ones. I have a recurring dream about mammoth-sized lions roaming free in local parks. It's only the males. It must be something about the mane, the magnificence of it all which awes me a little. Yet I have no problem seeing them at the zoo or at Safari Parks. They're quite beautiful so long as there is an excessively large fence between us.

Next it was on to the London Eye. The Tourist Attraction Formerly Known As The Millennium Wheel. It's a long push over to the other side of the river and we have to cross at a bridge some distance away due to a broken lift by the Millennium Bridge. Still, it's a nice day so it is a pleasant enough journey. We are greeted at The Eye by queues. Lots and lots of queues. It's like an X-Factor audition except those patiently waiting are hoping for some eye-catching views of the capital as opposed to the opportunity to prove to the world that they sound like a particularly cack-handed schoolboy scraping a pair of scissors down a blackboard. The levels of delusion which feed that show's very existence are a grave concern for me. It's one thing to have a go at the karaoke at the local, and quite another to whail your way to inevitable disappointment in front of millions of people with nothing better to do on a Saturdy night.

Happily we managed to skip most of the queuing. Staff opened gates, unhooked ropes and cleared pathways as several thousand irate tourists looked on. This is where people's utter lack of respect for the disabled comes in handy. The kind of people who think that using a wheelchair makes you deserving of their pity aren't going to complain when you are fast-tracked past them to the London Eye. I have yet to see anyone vocally take issue with my staff-assisted queue jumping racket. They just stand there thinking 'aw, yeah let him go first'. Morons. Still, as I have always said, if you are going to deal with the shit that disability throws at you then make sure you take the perks. I resist the temptation to wave at anyone on the way past.

The Eye itself is majestic. I knew that the capsules were much bigger than those on the versions at either Sheffield or Berlin but it really does feel like you are in a small room. A small room which just happens to be crawling around the circumference of a 440ft wheel. Curiously it never stops, except to let me on with my wheelchair. Most people are expected to step on board while it continues to move, albeit at the kind of pace that would have your average slug tapping his watch impatiently. It almost stops, but it never does. The only fault I can find with it is that it is maybe a little overcrowded which obstructs my views at times. Nevertheless we get some dizzying looks at the Tower of London, Wembley Stadium, St Paul's Cathedral and the Shard amongst many others. The Shard is somewhat ubiquitous the whole weekend. Every street we turn down we seem to be able to see some or all of The Shard. It takes about 30-45 minutes to get back to the bottom of the eye to disembark and at £29 for the two of us we had little to complain about in terms of value. Which is a shame because this column is at its best when it is complaining about something.

Included in that price is the London Eye River Cruise along the Thames. This again is a quality experience, far better than those we have had elsewhere. We have access to both decks of the boat and, get this, we can even hear the commentary fromoura very knowledgable guide. She spends a little too much time telling people off for standing up on the top deck (which we have decided to stay on for a bit of air) but she makes up for that by pointing out everything from the many and varied bridges which cross the Thames (and the stories behind them) to the headquarters of sinister but comic London Mayor Boris Johnson, the ITV Studios, Westminster Abbey, The Houses of Parliament and, of course, the ever present Shard.

The evening is spent in Leicester Square taking on some liquid refreshment. Towards the end of the night we run into several gentlemen hailing from the borough of Wigan. Or pie eaters, as they are more commonly known. They torture me by trying to force a Wigan flatcap on to my head. I'm drunk, but I've never been that drunk. One of the men tells me that he has not missed a Challenge Cup Final in 35 years, proving that the tales of Wiganers and their obsession with the greatest game is not just a story. Paul used to tell me that some of the disabled fans at Central Park must have stayed there for a fortnight watching the grass grow in between games because no matter what time he got to a game they were always there in the best spaces. This was long before common sense prevailed and they started letting us purchase season tickets. Or indeed any kind of tickets. What they haven't worked out yet is to make it possible for you, as a wheelchair using season ticket holder, to go to the game with another wheelchair user and be able to sit together. Or indeed for anyone else other than your chosen companion to be able to sit with you. How did this blog turn into a complaint about disabled access at sports stadia. I told you I was good at complaining.

Next time, we aimlessly hunt down an inaccessible pub, drink off lemonade in a branch of Bella Italia and pop round for a brew with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

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