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London: not so inaccessible after all

by Tanni Grey-Thompson

The thought of living in London has never appealed to me. Because of one bad experience when I was 7 years old, I have always thought that it's more hassle than it's worth.
London's classic - but inaccessible - Routemaster bus
Back in 1977, my parents decided to take me to the capital for a day trip, and this had a big impact on my life. It helped me decide that doing touristy things wasn't always as much fun as it was cracked up to be, and that London was hard to get around.

Trying to get on and off one of London's revolting Routemaster buses in a chair wasn't fun, and there seemed to be lots of sweaty people who fell over me. When my parents asked someone about accessible toilets, they were told that there was one that was only 7 miles away.

About a month ago, while working in London, I drove past the London Eye. My daughter Carys was with me, and like any three-year-old would, she began asking me a million questions about it - what it was, how it was built, who put it there, and whether she could visit it again before she was "really, really old". She probably meant when she was 10.

So putting all my disgruntled tourist experiences behind me, we decided that we would have a happy family weekend in the capital. I expected the worst. I spend a lot of time in London now and realise that things have changed, but sometimes you just cannot shake off history.
The London Eye, viewed from the Thames
The London Eye was a breeze, apart from an obvious lack of signage which meant that no one really knew where they were going. We faced added confusion too because, as a wheelchair user, I didn't have to queue in the normal place. Back came the dilemma you may remember from a previous column; waiting in line with everyone else is one of my obsessions, and I am constantly telling Carys that it's 'nice'. But as a result of this, she has a habit of joining any queue she sees, regardless of whether it's the one we want! Anyway, I was eventually pushed up the ramp by a lovely young man who was worried that I might not make it that far, and we had a conspiratorial giggle with the family behind us who were left to push Grandma up there on their own.

Once our spin on the Eye was over, we decided to confront that nemesis from my childhood visits to the capital: the dreaded London bus. It was a simple journey from Westminster to Marble Arch. I read the timetable, figured out which route number we needed, and then we sat and waited.

Now, many people bemoan the demise of the Routemaster double-decker, and as we sat and watched them go past we had to agree that they did look nice. We laughed as people tried to run after them and jumped on and off while they were moving, but we also gave sympathetic glances to the pregnant women who didn't make the sprint.
London's new and accessible 'bendybus'
While we waited for our supposedly accessible bus, eight Routemasters of the route number that we wanted drove past. Every other bus that was going in a direction we didn't want was, of course, fine for wheelchairs. Carys declared that buses that didn't take Mummies were silly, and the rest of the people at the bus stop agreed.

Finally on board, the best bit of the journey was when we drove past the statue of Alison Lapper in Trafalgar Square. I asked Carys what she thought of it, and was told that "she looks like Mummy". I was a bit confused as I have arms and legs, and am quite obviously not pregnant. But Carys wasn't finished, and went on to explain: "You've both got short hair". Oh, to be a child that is growing up with an open view of the world.

I take back everything I ever said about being a visitor to London. We had a fantastic time, and must have looked like excited tourists. It has even inspired me to think about using public transport. I went to my local bus stop and looked at the timetable. I didn't actually get on a bus, but after so many years of thinking that they're rubbish it's going to take time to change my ways

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