A foray into the world of the invisible classes

22nd May 2012: I’m thrown into a new, until now undiscovered, by me at least, world. A broken femur leads to 3 days in hospital, a metal rod, three screws, and two crutches for (I’m told) between 2 and 4 months. And then I’m spat back out, to discover a world where two legs are most definitely better than four.

Let’s fast forward a bit to today. 27th Jun 2012. I’m still on two crutches. I have another month before my next X-Ray, which means at least another month on them, and I’ve learnt one hell of a lot about what it means to be on crutches, to become one of an invisible class of people – those with some kind of permanent, or as in my case, temporary, disability.

To be dependent on someone is one thing. To be unable to carry things in your hands, to need help with making your dinner because it takes forever to move a few steps across the kitchen with something from the fridge. To need someone to carry the rubbish downstairs, or to bring the shopping up. Even to do the shopping (I can only give thanks for online grocery shopping here). That’s all stuff that, for a fiercely independent person such as myself, is a bit of a pain in the backside. I can live with that though.

What I’m really struggling to come to terms with is the reaction of others around me. The bus driver this morning; he drove off before I’d sat down. I’m reliably told they have a motto “find a seat or I’ll find one for you”. That’s despicable. It’s my left leg that’s broken, and I did find the first seat on the right hand side of the bus so I could stretch in to the aisle. If that is genuinely what goes through a bus driver’s head, they don’t deserve their Olympic bonuses, let alone their normal salaries in my opinion. On the way to the tube station later on, it’s quite apparent that people almost walk closer to you when you have crutches, and don’t think to get out the way, leaving you to either bump into them, risking toppling over, or trying to side step, which believe it or not is nigh on impossible on two long sticks attached to your arms. My personal space invaded, and a complete lack of respect for the amount of space required to manoeuvre that I’ve never experienced before this accident. Don’t think this is a one-off either. This is normal day to day London.

The journey home this evening, and the debacle only gets worse. No one, I repeat no one, on the bus moved to let me sit down when I got on. No one moved when I asked to sit down. Still no one moved when I asked a second time, and when I demanded a seat the third time, one chap decided it was sufficient not to get up, but to apologise on behalf of the guy sitting in front of him with an empty seat next to him (which I couldn’t get at) saying he couldn’t speak English. SO WHY DIDN’T YOU GET THE FUCK UP INSTEAD, TWAT?!

Amazingly, it doesn’t end there. I get to the Overground station at Shepherds Bush, up the lift to the bridge, down the lift to the platform at the other side, and there’s a train at the platform. As I leave the lift, the driver looks at me, closes the doors and pulls the train out of the station. He looked at me, and chose to ignore that I was there.

I’m incensed enough by the way Londoners clearly treat each other to write this, in the hope that it eases my mind having written down my experiences. It’s atrocious that people can’t take a little time to look at what is going on around them and behave appropriately. I’ve had people barge straight into my leg without so much as an apology, or just stand on my feet, look at me and shrug their shoulders. If that happened and I was standing up, with no crutches, I’d have got an apology. Now? Nothing.

I hope someone senior at TFL reads this. I hope someone at each and every one of the bus companies that operate in London reads this. And I hope that those people that have behaved like rabid animals around myself, or around others with disabilities who need space and time to get around, read this. For everyone else, please take a moment to consider what you take for granted in this world, and what it would mean not to be able to do those things that you consider “normal”.

An open letter to Transport for London

Dear Sir/Madam,

This morning I arrived at Clapham Junction station expecting to get on the 09:39 to Willesden Junction from Platform 17, and get off some minutes later at Shepherds Bush. I did not expect to leave, and arrive back at Clapham Junction on the same train nearly 3 hours later without having first reached my destination and alighted said train. What transpired is what I can only describe as a comedy of errors. What I would like from you is an explanation detailing why your team was so incapable of providing communication to the several hundred stranded customers aboard the “service”.

So what happened to make me so irate as to write this open letter? I’ll start at the top:

About 5 minutes into our journey, the train came to a halt. It was at approximately 09:55 that we had our first intercom announcement, 6 minutes after should have been at Imperial Wharf, and around the same time as we should have been leaving West Brompton: “I apologise for the delay to your journey. The train has a power failure and we’re trying to fix it.” OK, but you’ve already been sat here a while knowing you had a power failure, and we now know there is a problem, but not what you’re doing to resolve it, and if you can’t, what you have to do to get someone else to resolve it.

In the next few minutes we heard how you still had a power failure, but your guard and driver knew how to fix it and we should be on the way shortly. After which we moved about 10 metres forward, and then about 15 back. Wonderful. We were on the way, but in the wrong direction. You can see the funny side to all of this, can’t you?

Some significant period of radio silence later and we were duly informed that the on-board staff had indeed not been able to resolve the power issue and that we were now waiting for an assistance train to arrive. It would turn up in about 15 minutes. So, when it turned up 35 minutes later, we were ecstatic. We were told “the assistance train is here now, so we should be on the way soon”. “Soon”, it seems, is relative according to TfL.

“This is your guard. The assistance train has broken down behind us.” That was another half an hour after it first turned up. This is now getting beyond the initial laugh and joke that it once was. An hour and a half into a 20 minute journey and we’d had 4 pieces of communication. You can imagine my indignation when, on passing through the train, the guard duly informed us that the driver had left with the other train which was now fixed. “So we don’t have a driver on this train, and we’re stuck somewhere between Clapham Junction and Imperial Wharf?”. “No.”. Great. Now what?

Well, now what is that it gets worse. We’re now about 2 hours in, and in 40 minutes we’ll be back in Clapham Junction, to start our respective journeys again. And so far we’ve had 6 official communications and one unofficial one that just upset us more than anything. One of which was “there is too much snow on the line”. Really? Sheffield has invisible tracks due to the volume of snow and still has an operational tram and train service. We have this. When we did get back to Clapham Junction, we were told not that there was excess snow on the line, but that the live rail had iced over. Oh, so what you tell your customers is a bunch of fibs too then? Amusing, I think not.

I did eventually get to my target destination 3 and a half hours later. Given that you charge me to use your service, I have a right mind to charge you for my time: £700 + VAT.

I’ll leave it to you to dig yourself out of the mess you have invariably got yourselves into through profit-mongering cost cutting measures, and thank you in advance for your prompt reply. Oh, one last thing: You’re running a train on “production ready” software with a version of 0.3.5. I’ll ask you to think that one through again.

Kind Regards,

Tom Simnett