Despite Maria's assurances of perfect access it seemed to take me much more time to arrange my travel and be more expensive than for the other guests. Travel Insurance cost double the standard amount, then there was arranging support at each airport before I went, which could only be confirmed on a 10p a minute phone line. The Bride had booked a hotel with access for the reception, in which I had to stay because whilst all the cheaper accomodation 'just over the road' was within comfortable drunken stumbling distance it certainly wasn't within any kind of deathwalking distance.
Although I'd been most worried about the airport part of the journey and specifically flying with Ryan Air (who have a certain reputation among disabled travellers) that did all go according to plan. I was running late by the needing access clock, which dictates anyone needing help must be there hours before everyone else to hurry up and wait, but Scousers give assistance in a distinct style so when GG explained I wanted to buy a book before I got on the plane the guy shouted across to the two ladies who came to collect me that they had to make sure I had 50 Shades of Grey before I got on the plane.
I knew there were alot of people travelling to the wedding on the same flight...but unfortunately I didn't actually know any of them properly, and couldn't spot any of the people I would've vaguely recognised. But, I did have to give Maria some credit as I got the crip perk on the plane of a row of seats to myself. The flight was of the variety where people sit in stunned silence apart from the odd involuntary scream. The weather was dreadful and Liverpool to Knock is a notorious route for turbulence so it was a white knuckle 40 minutes fighting the need to vomit.
My neighbour had booked an accessible mini bus to take us from the airport to hotel which we eventually managed to find after a somewhat disturbing Mrs Robinson moment. There was a very attractive young man who looked in his early 20's on the flight who was also going to the wedding, who helped with my bag. I began to think it might be great fun until he told me had never flown alone before and his mum hadn't given him any money for the mini bus at which point I felt like a paedophile!
When the mini bus arrived it was accessible in that it did have a ramp and some grab bars. Except the ramp didn't work and it was only accessible if you could get out of your wheelchair and be helped onto the bus. Oh and have a child sized wheelchair that can squeeze into a very small space. I had a moment when I realised the powerchair I've been dreaming of to increase my independence would actually have made me more dependent and left me stranded alone at the airport. But it's ok, that shouldn't be a barrier to spending £6500 on a powerchair, the UK's definitely all accessible and that would never happen. I trust that nice Maria, she looks awful sincere when she says that.
The mini bus journey was similar to the flight...with the added smell of old diesel for ambience. We all sat, in somewhat shell shocked silence, fighting the urge to vomit. Eventually we got to the hotel in Westport and then it got really tricky. But, I was in Ireland...so I offered up my prayers to Maria. I knew she'd fix it.
There were plenty of people attending the wedding booked into the hotel, plenty of whom had said they'd be happy to give me a hand when the bride asked them. And they were...but I couldn't find any of them until late that night, by which time I was feeling horribly vulnerable, scared and upset. The accessible room was way too far from the lift, as they often are in hotels, and the wifi was only in reception. The instructions about putting towels on the floor when I had a shower struck me as slightly odd in a 4* hotel, but I was initially impressed by the newly built wetroom. It had a proper level access shower, adapted loo, sink alarm cord and a shower chair. It was a bit weird that it was directly off a non accessible bathroom, but well, access, hurrah! And then I had a shower....
Despite six towels on the floor when I came out the outer bathroom was completely flooded and the carpet by the bedroom door saturated. Which explained the awful smell in the hotel room, it was damp and mould so pervasive that when I opened my bag on returning home, everything in it stank. It turned out that somehow, the builder had neglected to put any kind of slope into the wetroom floor so that when it was used it was just like pouring a hose onto a normal tiled floor. As both bathrooms flooded beyond the capacity of any towels to deal with it was also really dangerous. But, it was access. I gave my thanks to Maria once more.
I went to bed early knowing it would be a long day, only to wake up at about 3am when the great vomit experiment decided to go international. After a long night during which I was able to ponder the relative different ways medications appear after being thrown back up, including several supposed to stop throwing up medicines I was in a bit of a state. I'd booked room service the night before to avoid the deathwalk up to the reception, ignoring the additional cost because I have such faith in Maria, so I was hoping that I might be able to keep some food down and make it to the wedding. But breakfast never arrived so just after 9am I staggered into reception, grey and shaking and burst into tears at reception. With only one noteable exception all the Irish people I met were incredibly friendly and willing to offer help, and the hotel staff were lovely. After I'd managed to explain I didn't need a doctor, they found me some lemonade, promised to send breakfast down to the room and get the flood cleared up. The lemonade made it to the room but breakfast never did and flood clearance didn't happen until late afternoon.
I didn't make it to the wedding, which was a 45 minute coach journey away. Fortunately I managed to stop throwing up and get some sleep so I did make it to the reception at around 5pm. It was a lovely night, and I even had a bit of a dance....well, the bendy version of dancing which is wiggling about a bit. It's often easier for us to do that than stand or walk. At the end of the night there was even some wheelchair dancing...the instructions for which were a much needed 'hang on tight!'
One of the other girls offered to push me back to my room and we sat outside before heading back. Which is when we met the noteable exception. He looked down at me in my wheelchair and loudly accused me of faking it as I'd been walking earlier. This was met by a kind of stunned, uncomfortable silence as people who didn't really know each other all looked at each other in confusion. Had he really just said that? He had. And chose to follow it up by looking me up and down while explaining he was from Kerry* and therefore rude, then sneering that I would clearly never get laid again. The silence got a bit more stunned and not really knowing what to say to a drunk stranger who looked as happy with his opinions as Toby Young is about wheelchair ramps I smiled, and said everyone had to have a talent...his was clearly offending people.
Irish weddings don't finish until the last person keels over so there was many a sorry looking person waiting for the mini bus back to the airport the next day. We'd booked the same driver and bus so all stocked up on stemetil in preparation for a rough ride. Unfortunately we lacked enough sick bags to go around, and after half an hour or so in the diesel scented rollercoaster ride at high speed no-one was looking happy. One girl had managed to discreetly fill her vomit back...which she was generously willing to share with others who needed it. Another eventually shouted to the driver to stop and shot out of the bus into the driving rain to throw up on the side of the road. I rapidly followed her and sat on the side of the bus while another girl got halfway out desperate for a wee only to find nettles everywhere and head back into the bus trying not to laugh at the vomiters for fear of peeing everywhere. We were an awful sorry bunch when we fell out of the bus at Knock airport, soaking wet and smelling of vomit and chewing gum.
I'm really glad I got to see the bride and groom on their big day, but I can't help feeling that Maria really let me down. I had such faith in her, she tells us all often enough that everything's great and well...it kind of wasn't great. More a bit crap really. So next time I think I can travel alone, without any support I'll have to remember Maria and her magical misleading missives.
*Apologies to the people of Kerry who I'm sure are all very nice