It used to be so easy writing a blog about living with disability - people do funny or silly stuff, write it up, other people read it and laugh or gasp at said silly stuff, job done. I was always careful, just in case someone recognised themselves in the pieces I wrote, and when I lost my anonymity I removed lots of old posts as it wasn't fair to have written about people who had no right of reply. So that's why, since the blog-worthy incident on Saturday I've been wondering how I can write it up honestly when some of that honesty is about people who may read this having behaved badly? It seems the only way is to be considerate but speak the truth.
It all went really smoothly initially - I know the Lime Street assistance staff and they know me, ensuring I'm on the train with no problems - just like any other journey to London. I'd booked my tickets early, reserved the wheelchair space and the seat opposite so I can transfer out of my uncomfortable scooter. I'd even, unusually for Virgin Journey Care received an email confirming that I'd booked that particular wheelchair space and seat. So, when a lady of about my age arrived on the train just moments before departure it was obvious something had gone wrong.
And it had, we'd both booked the same seats. Instead of informing the lady that the seats were already booked when she rang journey care someone simply left my reservation on the wheelchair space and added her PA's to the additional seats. That meant I was booked in, the PA's (her husband and an employed PA) were booked in but the lady using the powerchair was not.
The whole carriage was busy and two women using mobility equipment plus one set of rather pissed off carers meant we were attracting alot of attention. It was immediately obvious that the other lady had to have the wheelchair space - she was a powerchair user who couldn't transfer into another seat whereas I can. It was also obvious that if we didn't figure out a solution quickly between us all that the train would need to leave and we'd be put off the train. The train staff did their best to sort it out, as did I and the other wheelie using lady but the attitude of the people with her, whilst totally understandable was unacceptable and left me feeling really vulnerable and threatened. Had GG who usually puts me on the train been there, there would have been a full on fist fight given the attitude of the other carer's - neither GG nor the other lady's husband were the type of men to back down and neither of us would have managed to control protection fuelled testosterone fury. So, intimidating and upsetting though it was to be on my own, it was probably better that way.
The most infuriating part of the whole situation was that the other lady and I had immediately started to work out between us how we could share the available space - she had to have the wheelie space, there was no question, but fortunately as we were both very petite we could just about manage to re-arrange so that she had room to turn round, and we could squeeze in my scooter so that people could pass. The only reason we were able to do this was because it was a weekend and there were no catering trollies needing to get through - people could pass but on a weekday one of us would have been put off the train.
However, the lady's companions were having none of this 'we'll share' plan which the other lady seemed as ok with as I was. The people in the seats immediately behind offered to move, but the PA's were still cross and wanted to insist I was in their seats and had to move. The other lady had already seen the confirmation email I showed her and knew it was a genuine mistake but the other's acted like I was just one of those people who sit in a wheelchair space and refuse to move.
Things culminated when the PA said to me "I'm not being funny, but you can walk a bit and xxxx can't walk at all, so you have to move" Having exchanged horrified glances with the other wheelchair user I managed to calmly but firmly reply that I was on my own with no support and couldn't move further from the toilet, whilst they were two people to support the other wheelchair user and that it was not a competition as to who was more disabled, but that there was no reason the two of us couldn't share the wheelchair table and the PA's sit immediately behind us. I'd checked with the other lady that she did not have to have her PA's immediately next to her and she was quite happy to share the table with me with her PA's immediately behind me in her line of sight.
The train moved off and that settled things - she got the space, we got my scooter moved and for the rest of the journey she and I had a really nice chat while her companions continued to glower. It was stressful, upsetting and degrading for us both, but additionally for me, enormously intimidating. I understand the attitude of her companions, I've seen a similar attitude occasionally amongst some of my friends when access has failed and the general public are being deliberately unhelpful, but this was slightly different - I was a disabled woman on my own and of all people I sort of expect other disabled people and their staff to understand. The other disabled lady and I understood each other perfectly, but for some reason her companions thought it was acceptable to be aggressive and intimidating not just to a woman alone, but another disabled person.
Given the potential for the other people involved to read this blog post I can't take the easy route, call them wankers and be dismissive of their viewpoints. So, instead I'll just say to all PA's, carer's, family or friends of disabled people - please bear in mind the affect of your actions on other disabled people, not just the one you are with. We all understand the frustration, we all live with it, so that means that of all people we should treat each other with that compassion and understanding, not go off like a bottle of pop at the first hint of a problem!