I've been drinking too much over the festive period to find the time to relay this true story to you. Yet now, as my impending return to work looms on the horizon like a great big looming arsehole preparing to crap all over me, let me take you back to the events of Wednesday December 23 2015, the last day at work before the Christmas break.
We had finished work around 1.15. This was a massive bonus in light of the brain-mashing tedium of what had gone on the previous year. Then we'd had to listen to the business as usual mantra for what seemed like decades until finally we were released, literally staggering home with boredom after an unsuccessful round of Spot The Student. Of course there weren't any because students give up on attending university weeks before the staff take their break. So this year common sense had prevailed and by 1.20 the first round of drinks had been ordered at the pub next door.
We didn't stay long, just a couple of hours. It's nice to have one or two with colleagues on the last day but at the same time everyone was ready to officially start the Christmas break. That means going home to their families and not spending the rest of the day with people who, lovely as I'm sure we all are, are nevertheless inevitably associated with the sinister evil that is work. You might get on really well with your dentist. You might even fancy his assistant. You still don't want route canal treatment.
I remember how cold it was on the push from the pub to Lime Street Station. This December has been unseasonably mild, but as we all know that's of little consolation to me because I don't have a coat. I have tried to find one but I'm the wrong shape. Everything is either too small around my Bud-gut or too long in the sleeves. My mum said I should just buy one and she'll hem the sleeves, a kind offer which I have not yet accepted on account of no longer being eight years old. The uphill slopes between the pub and the station helped to warm me up in any case.
I arrived at the station at around 3.40. The train to Thatto Heath was scheduled to leave at 4.00. I asked the man on the gate for assistance and he nodded and mumbled something into the radio. At this point you probably know what's coming, don't you? Twenty minutes should be more than enough time to arrange for someone to walk around to the platform to help me access the portable ramp. It hasn't taken much longer than that for me to write this story. I could, it being the festive season and all, have popped into the Head Of Steam for a pint and still had time to catch the train. There's two bars in the station but the inaccesibility of the other one has caused me to banish its name from my memory. It's dead to me.
In the event I decided to just wait on the platform as I have done a million times before. I had my MP3 player with me so I was content to just wait it out, keeping an eye on the digital clock on the platform. It wasn't until about 3.58 that I began to feel a queasy mixture of alarm and deja-vu. As the clock ticked and no assistance was forthcoming I found myself remembering the last time this happened. A quick look through the archives of Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard proves that I missed a train home from Lime Street due to a lack of accessibility and assistance in 2010. Twice in the space of two weeks actually. Getting back on the Motability Scheme and back behind the wheel of a car means that I don't have to put up with this shit very often. But on this occasion I'd been drinking, and even if I hadn't there was still the fact that Emma had the car in Plymouth visiting her brother and his family.
What baffles most is that still, five years on from the last time they just didn't bother to offer assistance, we are still living in a country where trains are not accessible to wheelchair users without having to rely on assistance from temperemental station staff. It's positively primitive, and yet more evidence that while the we all feel so pleased with ourselves about how we now treat disabled equally and with the appropriate level of respect, we're actually telling ourselves a pile of horse shit. Access costs too much, clearly, and pounds and pence have always taken precedence over the need for genuine integration under successive governments.
I huffed back through the gate after watching the 4.00 to Thatto Heath roll away. I sarcastically thanked the staff for their excellent service and continued on my way. One of them caught up to mem tapped me on the shoulder and said something to me, though I don't know what. I'd lost interest at that stage, so much so that I didn't even bother to take my ear-plugs out. Music was a far better option than whatever bullshit excuse for dehumanising me he was going to offer. In the end I got a taxi from just outside the station, still too fuming to turn off the music and engage in yuletide small talk with the driver. I suppose I should just be grateful not to hear him say that he didn't 'do wheelchairs'.
Even if it did cost me £35........