An innocent underground
6th March 2005
Sometimes when I'm out driving, I look at people in bus queues and think that it must be quite interesting to travel in that way. But then I remember that I'm in my nice warm car, and I turn the radio up a little louder.
Actually, my local buses are all wheelchair-friendly, so I could use them if I wanted to - although I can't read a bus timetable, and I'm in awe of those people who know the difference between a no.9 and a no.12 and can remember where the routes cross over. Maybe I'm just missing that essential 'bus travel' gene.
But let's think this one through. If all the public transport in the UK was made friendly for jellies, wouldn't it mean that those people with Motability cars would have them taken away because there would no longer be a need for them to have their own vehicle?! I hope that no politician reads this column and dares to think that is a good idea ...
I travel the world, and occasionally meet nice people. If I just helped old folks and animals too, then I would be the perfect contender for Miss World. But I still don't have a massive desire to get on a bus. I am proud of the fact that I'm a bit of a public transport virgin.
I do travel by train when I have to, and I've come to realise that it isn't terribly glamorous - especially as I am usually asleep under my coat. But rail travel is a pain too because you have to get 'help', book so much in advance that it is hard to be spontaneous without feeling guilty about it, and quite often have to be a little grateful for the assistance you get. I don't like that.
Then, two weeks ago, I went on the tube for the first time ever, and I was very excited about it. In fact, if I'm being honest, I was pathetically excited about it.
Now I know that if I did it every day then it wouldn't be as much fun, and if I had to go somewhere that didn't have an accessible tube station then it wouldn't be any fun at all. I also remember my Dad telling me when I was eight years old that if London ever flooded, it would also flood the tube system. I think part of my reluctance about using the Underground was because I didn't want to risk being caught on it at the time, Parents, eh?!
Anyway, the first thing that happened was that I didn't know how to buy a ticket, which caused much amusement to the friends whom I was travelling with. I was saved when a friend stepped in and explained how it all worked. All this "Jubilee Line for three stops, change to Central Line" nonsense has always passed me by because I have never had to bother with it before, and I know that I can't imagine London mapped out in that way either.
I came down to Earth with a bump when we finally got on a train and I noticed the unique smell percolating through the carriage. I don't even want to begin to describe it, but it was all part of the experience ...
On a more serious note, what about access? Well, the stretch that I travelled on - a few stops from Canary Wharf to Westminster - was fantastic. There were lifts in the stations and easy flat access to the street and platforms. It was a joy to not feel crippled by the experience, to not have to beg for help or apologise for not booking well in advance.
But these were the good things about the service on a very modern section of the huge tube network. The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic bid is obviously having a part to play in the redevelopment of east London, and along with the DDA it is influencing what it can. If we win the Games, then there will be huge benefits in many ways to disabled people, and a lot more will have to be done.
My first time on the tube was a great experience, and I'm going to go on it again for my holiday next year, just as a little treat to myself. Deep down, however, I'm still glad that I don't have to do it every day.
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