Sunday, 28 August 2016
As predicted Tuesday was a write-off. We'd drunk far too much on Monday night at Akathor to even consider getting up early and battling it out with the French rail service. There's no pool at Hotel Mercure so after a quick visit to La Boulingerie and the Spar (really) we spend much of the day in the room recovering. Even the maid can't get in to change the sheets. There's something on the telly. A film, in French, but to be honest I'm drifting in and out of consciousness so much that I can barely make out any of the images on the screen. For all I know it could be hardcore pornography or, worse still, The God Channel.
I remember hitting one or two bars along the prom in the evening, and eating chicken and chips at a restaurant out that way. It's one of the best meals we have while we're out here. But we keep the other, wetter excesses to a minimum so we can be up early on Wednesday to go to Cannes. Like Monte Carlo it's all about the glitz and glamour in Cannes. The glitz and glamour of the film festival and, if the rest of the south of France is anything to by, it'll also be about some absurdly steep hills that no wheelchair user in his right mind would go near. You're ahead of me.
Regulars will know that, in the spirit of various Sean Bean internet memes, one does not simply go on a train in France with a wheelchair under one's arse. Our trip to Cannes introduces us to a whole new world of railway pain. We'd arrived at the station just after 9.00am, fully expecting to be made to wait until nearer to 10.00 before departing. To our amazement the lady at the information desk had told us that actually she could arrange to get us on the 9.30. We'd be in Cannes just after 10.00 and even have a couple of hours before lunch to mooch around buying mugs and looking at tat.
Would we shite.
We crossed the track at 9.20, I with the latest red t-shirted buffoon on the railway staff and Emma by the staircased subway. All seemed well when Red T-Shirt Man began fiddling around with the lift and invited me to roll on to it in preparation for boarding the train. He wound the lift to train height and told us that the train would arrive in just a few minutes. Then he noncholantly walked away without explanation, crossing the track the same way we had earlier before disappearing into the crowds shuffling around the opposite platform.
Nine-thirty comes and goes and I'm still parked on top of a portable lift. There's no way off without help from Red T-Shirt Man and it's especially comforting to know that if this mobile lift should roll off the edge of the platform and on to the track then I'll be joining it. It's perhaps an irrational fear but there is something intensely disconcerting about being left on a busy platform on top of a mobile lift without explanation by strangely absent railway staff intent on doing whatever the fuck they like.
Finally he returns. It's about 9.50 by now and he manages to blurt out that the train has been delayed and so won't arrive until after 10.00. Still he does not release me from my steel prison. Not that is until 10.00 passes and he informs us that due to some unscheduled tomfoolery on the railway line the train will not be arriving until 10.30. Even then he just winds down the ramp, opens it out at the front and invites me to vacate the lift despite the fact that he has moved it to a position from which I would, if I were to roll straight off, very probably come to a halt a few inches from the edge of the platform. I'm obviously not comfortable with that but it takes a while for this particular penny to drop for him. Eventually he closes the lift again and turns it so that I can roll off without ending up on the line. Not that there is much chance of a train coming along to run me down.
Eventually we board the train, some 75 minutes after first being invited to cross the track. The train still doesn't leave because first the guard needs to wait for his mate's girl to turn up. They hold the doors for fully three minutes for her and then the lot of them go and sit up front away from the less important passengers.
By the time we arrive in Cannes it is around 11.15. Again we've skipped breakfast to get to the station early, a cruel irony since we could have eaten three square meals in the time we spent on that pissing platform. So the first thing we do is address our peckishness. There's a small but attractive cafe on the front by the sea, next to a children's fairground area. Toddlers pretend to drive fire engines and helicopters while I put away beefburgers on a whopping baguette and Emma tucks in to the biggest fish I've seen outside of the Sharknado franchise. No really. Get on to the Syfy Channel.
After lunch we visit the tourist information centre and are told that there is no tour bus, but that the petit train de touristique is accessible and is probably the best way to take in the sights of the city. As we head back to buy our tickets for the train tour we stop to view the handprints in the Cannes version of Hollywood's Hall Of Fame. I take a photograph of Paul McCartney's just because I'm amused by how much my mum loathes him. I resolve that this will be the first photo I show her when I get home, but unfortunately the joke's on me because the camera doesn't show his signature below the handprints all that well.
The train tour is not accessible. Not by any sane person's definition. The man selling tickets tells us that it is, and when the time comes to board he purposefully fiddles with panels and seats to make space for me. I'm expecting some wondrously clever lift to jut out from somewhere, but instead the ticket seller and his mate physically scoop me up and plonk me on to the train. Access south of France style.
The tour takes you around the city to view all the posh hotels and casinos, all with an in-depth commentary in several languages via your own personal headset. The problem is that it's not loud enough once the engine starts running so you only catch some of what is being said. Still Cannes is fabulously picturesque so you get plenty out of the one-hour ride whether you listen to the commentary or not. There's an awkward moment for wheelchair users when the train stops at one of the highest points to allow the passengers to get off and enjoy the views. But not you Wheelie Steve as my uni mates used to call me. The driver hasn't brought his mate with him and it clearly takes two out of shape, middle aged men to haul your arse off this thing.
Tour done and dusted, we decide to find out whether the city's big wheel is accessible. Think the London Eye. It's a sightseeing thing. I only have one rule with these things, provided they are accessible, which is that they need to be enclosed. I can't be going up that high and be exposed to the elements. I'll vomit. And what if my shoes fall off and hit a passing child beneath? I could be done for manslaughter.
As we make our way to the wheel we pass the Grand Theatre. This is where the slebs and stars flock to during the festival. A place where world premieres are aired but mostly a place to be seen for the rich and famous. There's nobody famous here today but I took a photograph which I include for your viewing pleasure below.
The wheel has a ramp leading up to the ticket kiosk. That has to be a good sign, right? We approach....
"Is this wheelchair accessible?" I ask. He doesn't seem to understand so I ask again, this time pointing helpfully at my chair. Finally he cottons on, as they where I come from.
"Oh!" he starts....
Surprised but impressed we move on to the entrance, watching the pods go by, the people getting on and off. There's somebody supervising this so we wait patiently for him to give us the nod. Finally he stops the wheel again and beckons us towards the pod. Two things are immediately noticable. Firstly, there's a fairly sizeable step up to the pod. Secondly, the pod is about the width of a toilet door in a Spanish bar. A little less roomy, perhaps. By now the ticket seller has got involved. The two of them are trying to pick my chair up to lift it on, blissfully ignoring the minor detail of its width. It takes what seems like several days to explain to them that the pod isn't wide enough and that I'm not going to develop the ability to stand in this lifetime. I know, I'm so negative.
We soon give up and go for a beer instead. After all, it's about a 15-minute walk back to the station and we might have a long train journey ahead of us.