Saturday, 18 February 2017

Being Treated Like Cattle Without So Much As A Discount

Where are you going on your holidays? Yes, I know it's February and all but there's no harm in having something to look forward to. Especially for me right now since for the last couple of weeks I have been setting world standards for absolute prickery, such is the level of my anxiety, frustration and overwhelming sense of worthlessness. I really must do better.

I'm going to Florida in July. The 17th to be precise, which is fully 149 days away. Not that anyone is counting. But I didn't come here to gloat and anyway due to the aforementioned anxiety, frustration, overwhelming sense of worthlessness and its resulting absolute prickery 149 days might just as well be 149 years. I'm really only focused on getting through single days at a time. No, the reason I mention my holidays is because it ties in with the actual theme of this piece which is the standard of assistance given to wheelchair users in airports. Or lack thereof. Those among you with mobility issues will already know what I'm talking about but the rest of you might not have considered what some of us have to endure just to get on board an aeroplane.

Disability campaigners have. When asked as part of a BBC investigation into the matter Disability Wales said that the service, provided at most of the UK airports by a company called Omniserv, was 'shocking'. A Mrs Mel Davies, a wheelchair user from Pontadawe near Port Talbot complained that she was left in pain on two occasions after being incorrectly lifted by Onniserv assistance staff. Mel crossed her arms over her chest in anticipation of being lifted by her arms only to find that the staff had their own ideas as to the best technique for the job. One grabbed her under the armpits while the other attempted to lift her by the chest. By the fucking chest! Now, I know that it's the era of alternate facts and that the current President of the United States actively encourages the grabbing of women by whichever part of their anatomy takes your fancy, but surely in UK law this constitutes some sort of sexual assault? Have we really reached the point in our society's decline that we now think it impossible to touch disabled women inappropriately because they're just not bothered about that sort of thing anyway? This sort of de-feminising, de-humanising palaver cannot stand. It is little wonder I spend large parts of my day silently fuming at Other People.

To put the top hat on it, it turns out that Mel has had surgery for breast cancer. So as well as the indignity she suffered, the teen-like fumbling of Omniserv's staff also caused her a great deal of physical pain. For an encore, they then left Mel waiting at the aircraft door when it was time to disembark, leaving the airline staff to help her off the plane. I can especially relate to this. Every flight I take ends with at least a 20-minute wait after all of the abled passengers have left the scene as the highly complex task of finding two blokes who can push an aisle chair is undertaken. Thankfully I don't need lifting on or off said aisle chair which is just as well as it would waste even more time than is already written off during the traditional argument about whether or not they bring my own wheelchair to the aircraft door. For reasons best known to people who can wiggle their toes (and why the fuck do you want to do that anyway?) they seem to think that any old wheelchair is acceptable until you get to baggage reclaim. As if wheelchairs are a one size fits all thing and are in no way personal. Like fucking condoms. I steadfastly refuse to leave my seat until they bring MY chair which wastes my own time but is far better than the alternative.

Mel is not alone in having problems with Omniserv. Jen Crispin from Hampshire suffered similarly. Her assistants were so technically inept in the lifting stakes that the person she was travelling with had to do the honours, while on another occasion she was left waiting to exit the plane for over 90 minutes, by which time someone had taken the bizarre decision to shut baggage reclaim! Ah....what does it matter? If cripples don't qualify as sexual assault victims then perhaps they don't need luggage either. They're not real people, after all..

Heather McQueen from Perth missed her connecting flight because of similarly piss poor Omniservice and has vowed never to fly alone again as a result. While understandable, this is not the answer to the problem. In the first place you miss out on travelling which closes all sorts of doors for you personally and professionally at a time when there are enough right wing bellends trying to do that for you. In the second place it means one less disabled traveller, and the fewer of us there are the more likely it is that those of us who do persist will be treated with complete disregard. You have to keep going, keep persisting and keep reminding them that disabled people aren't just going to go away, unsightly though we are.

It's not just when boarding and leaving planes that we experience the ineptitude of airport services. Emma has been asked before now whether the wheelchair has a name, while I love to reminisce about one joyous episode in Salou when a member of staff came up behind me and put his hands on my back in an attempt to push me towards the gate. In what world is it acceptable to just grunt, nod and put your hands on someone? A paying customer? We don't get a fucking discount for being treated like cattle.

I often think that the worst part of all this is that in 2017 they haven't thought of a way to make aeroplanes wheelchair accessible. I mean, try having a piss on one when you can't stand up. On our flight to and from New York three years ago they had to physically remove the door from the toilet cubicle to stop me from pissing on their seats. Meanwhile, anyone who can't walk can expect to be routinely dragged backwards down the aisle to the seat furthest away from the door as possible in full view of the other passengers. Which on one occasion included a rather impatient looking Rio Ferdinand. What Rio? You think YOU'RE the one being inconvenienced?

Still, I'm looking forward to Florida should my neurosis allow me to make it that far. It's more likely to stop me than the cringe-inducing incompetence of airport staff.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Using A Bus To Drive A Big Fat Wedge Between Us

Today I'm going to talk about buses again. Which you might think mundane because you able bodied folk can afford to take them for granted. There's absolutely no prospect of you being denied the opportunity to get on board a bus. Not unless you've just thrown up the evening's alcohol intake and it's all over your shirt. Yet for wheelchair users doubt about whether they'll be allowed to travel with the other Loser Cruiser passengers is the stark reality of the situation. I drive so I really only use buses when my intention is to drink enough alcohol that it ends up all over my shirt, but I have enough painful experience to know that when I see that 10A heading towards the bus stop it does not necessarily mean that my wait is over.

A bit of background. In January of this year a man called Doug Paulley took successful action against First Bus at the Supreme Court. He had been denied access to a bus in 2012 when a woman with a pushchair refused to move to accommodate him. The Supreme Court ruled that bus drivers need to do more to accommodate wheelchair users even if there are already people on board with pushchairs. None of which helped wheelchair user Kirsty Shepherd when she tried to get on a bus in Wakefield just five days after the Supreme Court ruling. In fact, this particular bus driver went that extra mile in his bid to avoid helping Kirsty on to the bus, and if he could humiliate and demonise her into the bargain then so much the better. Not only did the driver not ask anyone to move to accommodate Kirsty, he still refused to let her on to the bus even when the person with the pushchair voluntarily offered to move.

An argument ensued and this is where the lines get blurred. When I'm in this situation I tend to let the bus go. The 10A stops outside my local every 10 minutes so it's really not worth getting into a shouting match with a jobsworth driver who hasn't lived a day in my life and would cry himself to sleep at night if he had to. What-fucking-ever. Be the bigger man. Yet why should Kirsty take my view? She may have needed to be somewhere more important than The Running Horses and the bus she was trying to catch may have been less regular. None of which matters anyway. It's 2017. She ought to be able to ride a fucking bus when she wants or needs to for whatever purpose. Yet because she chose to argue her case instead of taking the hit and catching the next one which, remember, offered no guarantee of accommodating her either, the other passengers became restless. They started shouting at her to get the next bus because they had homes to go to. Note that they did not shout at the driver to just let her on. Why not? The woman in the accessible space had moved so there was room for Kirsty, yet she was vilified by the public. The same public we are repeatedly told are no longer prejudiced against anyone regardless of race, gender, DISABILITY, religion, sexual orientation, rugby league persuasion....all that. It's such horse shit. Prejudice is alive and well in 2017.

For a delicious encore, and after Kirsty had met with the same resistance from the driver's manager over the telephone, the driver refused to continue the journey and made everyone get off the bus!!! Now, you can imagine what happened to Kirsty's approval rating in a quick poll among those passengers. Yet they were directing their fury in the wrong place. I would have every sympathy with them in having to stand around in the cold on a freezing January night had they not chosen to make Kirsty the bad guy. Who knows...? Perhaps a little more support for Kirsty among the other passengers could have resulted in a quicker resolution for everyone.

What it tells us that you able bodied lot, instinctively and by your nature, still want to blame us for the fact that the law says you have to adapt. Relations between wheelchair users and single mums are at an all-time low and not just because of the behaviour of me and my mates on a Saturday night. There's only so much space on a bus for wheelchairs and pushchairs and instead of spending money to create more the government would rather drive a big fat wedge between bus passengers who use wheelchairs and pushchairs and those who don't, all the while boasting about what strides we have made in equality and diversity.

Arriva, the company which runs the bus, said that it had had 'extensive conversations with Ms Shepherd about the incident' and that it was 'investigating this as a matter of urgency'. In addition, it said that it was 'in the process of downloading the CCTV footage and speaking to those involved'. So, I can expect to never again be told by any Arriva driver that I can't board his bus, can I? And presumably this disability-hating Disciple Of The Alt Right bus driver will lose his job?

You'll forgive me if I remain sceptical.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

York - Golden Eggs Laid By The Golden Goose

I like spending money. I just do. If something is overpriced but I want it I will still buy it if I can afford it. I’m the sort of person who would rather get slightly ripped off than go without. Yet even I had to draw the line when faced with the prospect of buying breakfast for the two of us at the Yorkshire Bar And Grill, you remember the place adjoined with the hotel, on Saturday morning.

We never got as far as finding out what breakfast fully entailed. There might have been golden eggs laid by the golden goose herself, served by topless dancers while a video of Saints greatest ever games played on an endless loop on a big screen on the wall. We’ll never know because as soon as the restaurateur informed us that it would be £14 per person we decided fairly hastily to look elsewhere. Fourteen quid? Who pays fourteen quid for a breakfast? I would want it to fly me to Tenerife for that. Dick Turpin is said to have lived and been hanged in York. At least he wore a mask. It all reminded me of our now infamous visit to Palm Desert when we entered a restaurant called Ruth Chris. On that occasion we sat down, ordered cokes and perused the menu to find that a piece of chicken by itself would set us back $23. That was before you tried to buy anything to go with it. We left. It was all very embarrassing.

In some shock from this latest attempted extortion we journeyed on towards The Cross Keys where we had been late the previous evening. They do a more civilised two for a tenner deal on breakfasts although this doesn’t include your cup of tea. No golden eggs, no golden goose, no topless dancers and no Saints videos but a good brekkie for a fairly reasonable price. Even if they did serve the beans in a separate pot which for some reason I find slightly off-putting, and even if the milk that came with the tea was served in jugs from which it was impossible to pour without covering the table with the stuff. Yet still I was glad we hadn’t paid a combined £28.

It was raining heavily. The plan was to visit the new Richard III Experience (also at Monk Bar, but isn't everything?) in the morning and maybe carry on the history and monarchy theme in the afternoon with a mooch around the Henry VII Something Or Other. Though I'm about as anti-royal as you can be without actually bursting into Buckingham Palace and opening fire, I do have an interest in history and in particular Richard III after firstly watching tacky but somehow unmissable BBC drama The White Queen a few years ago, and after visiting Leicester where the hunchbacked king's remains were found under a car park by some nosey buggers. A monarch with a disability is something I can get on board with. Yet inevitably another access problem is hurtling its way inexorably into this story. We should have done our research, then we would have saved ourselves the bother of trudging through the rain only to find that the 'Experience', such as it was, was located within the city walls. You can guess what is coming if you were with me for the Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate debacle of my last entry. Accessing the Richard III Experience required passage through an arch barely big enough to accommodate Mose Masoe (and he would have to duck) and certainly required the ability to walk. A non-starter.

So instead we made our way back towards York Minster. Access fans will be interested to know that this again requires a lot of negotiation of cobbles and uneven paving, but had it not been for the rain it would have been a pleasant enough stroll. I had stopped to take a picture of the Minster, something to which Emma was totally oblivious which resulted in us getting split up. It took me quite a while to get to the door of the Minster which is so vast that it is one of those places you can see from everywhere giving the appearance that you are near to it when in fact there is still more distance to travel. I had to make my way through a large grassy area (although there is a path) before I got to the entrance. Once there I avoided the majority of the queuing by taking the ramp which is situated over to one side. Nobody seemed to mind, even when Emma eventually found me and dodged the now massive queue that was forming at the centre.

Nor did they seem to mind paying £10 each to gain entry to the Minster. Had we had any better ideas and had it not been bouncing down with rain I might have lodged some sort of objection. But we're back to how I just spend money if I can afford to. Entering the Minster didn't really qualify as something I couldn't do without, but there were few credible alternatives beyond sampling more of York's 365 pubs. That would have led to an early bath, so we sucked it up and paid the entrance fee. It's not all bad. I know I hate churches every bit as much as I hate the monarchy but as with the castles and palaces of the UK the cathedrals and basilicas have great history and blinding architecture which you can't help but appreciate. Also, there is now a museum down in the basement of the Minster which celebrates the history of the place and of the city of York itself. And yes, it is accessible. I spent a good 45 minutes to an hour wandering around the museum and messing about with its interactive gizmos which certainly softened the blow of the entrance fee. Actually, I probably spent a good 10 minutes of that time contemplating whether I should push on to the glass floor above the digs exhibition. No matter how many times I push on these things there is always that moment beforehand where I hesitate. It's irrational, illogical and well...utterly typical of my behaviour. Despite my enjoyment of the museum I stopped short of putting any of my change in the containers dotted around which are adorned with signs asking you to help pay for the upkeep of the place. If you are inside the building then you already fucking have!

Time for a photo. York Minster in all its glory, obviously enhanced by my dazzling photography skills;

Ye Old Starre Inn

An hour or two in York Minster was both an interesting diversion and a handy way to dry off, but that wasn't going to stop us from getting thirsty. We decided to take some liquid refreshment at Ye Old Starre Inn back on Stonegate. It's another of York's very old watering holes and is reached by passing through a small covered passage, the kind of thing you might have seen fat blokes from dramatic adaptations of Dickens novels ducking under at some point. It's filthy and depressing to be honest but what lies beyond it is much more attractive. It was busier than any pub in St.Helens I've ever been in on a Saturday lunchtime which is perhaps even more surprising given that they are not showing the football. Since I can't see it, I'm annoyed by how often I find myself checking my BBC Sport app on my phone to find out how Liverpool are getting on in their FA Cup tie with Wolves. They are losing 2-0 as it turns out. I tell Emma that they will score and lose 2-1, because it is the hope that kills you. They score and lose 2-1, because it is the hope that kills you. This shot of Ye Old Starre Inn shows its rather grandiose, booming banner which lets everyone who passes know exactly where it is. Otherwise you might not see the passage to the entrance which is just underneath the Walker & Preston's banner to the right of the picture. You'll see it if you click on the photo;

Strangely I need some jeans. This is what happens when I don't do my own packing. Normally a couple of pairs of jeans would do me for a weekend but the weather has intervened. They don't do denim in the shade of mud that my jeans tend to turn to in wet conditions. Happily, I've got vouchers for Debenhams so we go there and fix that small problem and also to Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe, one of my favourite haunts in historical towns and cities. I buy jar of mixed sweets for my work colleagues and a jar of cola bottles each for me and Emma. I'm forced down this route as they have somehow managed to not stock cola cubes which we bought on our last visit to one of Mr Simms' stores in Shrewsbury last year. After that it is back to the hotel for a refresh and a rest. I've had one beer by this point but if I keep going there'll be trouble. Pacing myself.

Snickleway Inn

We revisit the Royal Oak but it has lost much of its magic from the previous evening. There's no live music on and the only seat available is the one closest to the door which seems to be constantly opening and shutting as punters come in off the street. I don't stay long enough to necessitate the removal of the sandwich boards from the disabled toilet. It's one and go, as we move on to the brilliantly named Snickleway Inn. As Emma is at the bar I pull my usual stunt (without trying I hasten to add, this is never my fault) of attracting the not so great and good of the establishment who are keen for a chinwag. This time it is Max, whose mother is a scouser (from Aigburth) but has not passed on her local knowledge to her son who has no idea where St.Helens is when I tell him where I am from. As Emma returns we make small talk for a while before trying to find a seat. I even do the joke about how I don't need a seat because I've brought my own. Brings the house down that one. Eye roll. Max is not discouraged either way, as when we find a table in the corner of the pub he asks if he can join us. What do you say? No, go away strange local person? No. So against my better judgement I tell him it is fine and he takes up a seat opposite us and begins regaling us with his knowledge of physics. He has an assignment to do by Thursday, and the biggest problem he has is that the question the assignment is based on is three pages long and he doesn't understand it. It's for a PHD. I haven't got a PHD but I know that at degree level you can pretty much come up with any crap you want as long as you can find some resource somewhere which backs it up. There are no right or wrong answers so Max will be fine. Although I can almost guarantee you that he failed geography.

The conversation turns to the troubled world, to talk of Donald Trump and the implications of his racist regime on Max's four-year old daughter who is back in London with her mother. We'd love to stay and discover what Max's great plan is but we still have over 350 pubs to fit in to our itinerary. It's another case of one and go I'm afraid. The access report is mixed also. I didn't try to find a toilet as the need did not arise, but what I can say it is that it is another of those 'snug' pubs you tend to find in York which make moving around a challenge if you have the extra baggage that is a wheelchair. But it's nothing that you will find insurmountable if you are thirsty enough.

The Old White Swan

It's a pity it is not summer. We had walked past The Old White Swan a number of times already and it has a really nice outdoor area before the main building which is set back from the street. You could have a nice meal and a few refreshing beverages here if the weather was warmer. Since it is January we go inside for our feed. Eating is cheating but we have to have something if we are going to last the pace. Again there is only one table free and again it is the one nearest to the constantly opening door. How does this keep happening to us? Fortunately, a couple on the table behind me are getting up to move into a table in the corner that has just been vacated, so we move on to their table which, although it is a little too close to the aisle next to the toilets for my liking, is at least a little bit warmer. The food's decent, but we only go as far as garlic bread, chips and onion rings or something. Eating is cheating, remember. And that is just about as much as one can say about The Old White Swan. Except to say that it does have a disabled toilet, the only drawback to which is that it is right next door to the ladies and so if you have to wait for someone else to vacate it then it is quite likely that the ladies exiting their toilet will think that you are just sitting there waiting to look at them. Which of course you are absolutely not. This kind of thing is maddening. Why do we even have disabled toilets anyway, as if we are some sort of third gender? Why do we not have accessible toilets inside the gents and the ladies? I have made this point before and it continues to fall on deaf ears. My local MP has just been made Shadow Minister for the Disabled. Whatever that is. Maybe I will have a word.

Aside from that there is no Max-like character to chew the fat with and so we just talk normally in the way that a couple out celebrating their 18th anniversary of being together might do. Nothing to see here Except perhaps a shot of the pub;

The Golden Fleece

Our last stop is one that, according to Emma, we had visited before on our last visit. We are all just going to have to take her word for that because none of the pieces I wrote on these pages about our last visit to York contain anything about any pubs we visited. Which at least means that you are not having to read the same piece that you might have read seven years ago. We are sat at a table near the entrance (again) and Emma reckons that just next to the bar there is a passage which leads to the area we were in on our last visit. I don't test this theory out as there is no real need to. We're happy enough here, whiling away the rest of our evening in a slightly drunken stupor.

The background noise to Sunday morning breakfast back at The Cross Keys is a group of locals out for an early boozing session. I don't know how they do it so early. It makes me vom. I have my back to them but listening to them talk about Leeds United's prospects at Sutton United (they end up losing which costs me £30 on a five-team acca but that is by-the-by) conjures up images of Keith Lemon again. One of them is unfortunate enough to have to use a voice-box like Peter Baynham's character in that episode of 'I'm Alan Partridge'. Now your're talking my language, he says to Alan when he is offered a pint. I hope not, comes Alan's typically unsubtle reply.

After breakfast I want to go back to the Minster to get a few more photographs, specifically one of the statue of Emperor Constantine. He was hanging around the city in the early part of the fourth century and is, among other things, responsible for the naming of Constantinople which is now known as Istanbul. So if you are a bitter Manc you can take up any complaints you have about the events of May 2005 with him. Constantine is said to have united the Roman Empire, though in this picture he is only lolling about doing not much uniting of anything. He actually looks a bit bothered by the sun but again that is just down to my poor photography skills;

And that is York, in all it's pub-riddled, cobbled, crazily paved expensive breakfasted glory.