Is your glass half full or do you think someone is drinking out of it? My glass is half full or at least on its way to being so. Which means that difficulties are just opportunities to overcome problems. Sorry couldn’t resist that pithy little statement. I know I should have done.
How many disabled transport vehicles does it take to get us to the train station? Three apparently and that’s not counting the other three that were called and unavailable. We had a good start to the day, the promised sleet turned into sunshine. Everything was going smoothly. I was ready earlier than planned so when the two volunteer transport drivers turned up, yes two, one being shown the ropes (perhaps not the best day for that), we were ready to go. One tiny little problem. The ramp I need to access the vehicle was broken. Apparently it had been broken by a previous driver and not reported. Then this driver had not checked it; no need it was a new vehicle. Well, maybe a little need with hindsight.
This was where the fact we always allow lots of extra time plus they allow extra time and the accessible train travel ask your to allow extra time paid off; or did it? The driver said he could go and fetch another vehicle. We all worked out the timing. Twenty minutes each way then twenty minutes into Taunton and some leeway. Tight, but just about possible. A better option was to give up on the volunteer transport and try a taxi. So before they left we phoned a taxi company.
Here I will mention our favourite taxi company. Archie’s, the owner Paul had no one available but he spent time ringing around trying to find us another company. That is service. He would get nothing but our appreciation from that and we do appreciate him. No one was free in the short window we had. So we asked the volunteer company to go for it and try to make it in time. After that short delay checking for a taxi, they set off.
Have you ever had one of those phone calls from a mobile where you can’t quite get a connection? Ours went like this, one of the volunteer drivers, ‘we are ten minutes away if you get to the end of the alley…dead line’ me, ‘ok will do…are you there.’ Dead line. Mary and I getting ready in a rush, as rushed as you can when slowed by wheelchair and hoists. Part way through this process, phone rings again, same volunteer driver, ‘we are six minutes away, if you could get to the end of the alley.’ Mary, ‘we would be doing that if I wasn’t on the phone.’ We got to the end of the alley and waited five minutes. They arrived and started loading our cases. I waited at back door of the vehicle checking my watch, time was tight but just about possible, the main driver tried to open the rear door; stuck fast. Tried again; no joy. He got in and tried from inside; no movement. The rain started and I sought shelter. He tried lots of things, all failed.
The driver of the volunteer vehicle had to give up after several attempts to open the rear door and we missed our pre booked and paid for train. As we wheeled back to our house, wondering what to do with the two drivers wheeling our cases. The second volunteer driver said, ‘you’re taking it very well.’ What did she expect me to do? Shout, scream, cry. What good would that do? I certainly felt frustrated. We had advanced tickets that are not changeable other than with a £10 fee plus a taxi that assistance had booked was due to wait in Dawlish. GWR assistance had said Dawlish was not accessible in winter and organised a taxi from Exeter to Dawlish.
Because we had that taxi from Exeter pre booked and sorted we had not sorted or booked transport from Dawlish station to the hotel. After all we could pay the driver to drop us at the hotel. Oh the joys of last minute changes. We looked at the alternative trains, the next two were cancelled. Next one was at 1:47pm. We phoned Archie’s again, they were tied up till 1:30pm but would try and be free earlier. They are who we turn to in difficulties. GWR assistance can’t be booked on the day anyway so it would be a case of booking at the station. No good stressing, so we had lunch and waited.
1pm Archie’s phoned to say they could get to us for 1:15pm, we quickly, as we could, got ready and waited. They arrived on time and we got to the station at 1:37pm, ten minutes to buy tickets, book assistance and get to the platform. The ticket assistant let us have a free change of ticket, but the paper form that authorised that took over five minutes to write! As the lift doors opened on the platform the train was there, doors open, ramp being put in, people being moved from the wheelchair space. Talk about tight timing. I don’t think I have ever been that close for a train.
But then a problem, this train was not straight through as our missed train had been. So we had to change at Exeter and the staff at Exeter checked with Dawlish and found we could get off at Dawlish. So no taxi was booked. That’s a problem because we had not booked onward travel from Dawlish station expecting a taxi from Exeter, they normally take you the extra mile or two if you pay them the difference. Dawlish has no WAV taxis in situ so they have to be pre booked. We were left with one option, a bus. Not ideal, me, Mary and four cases on a bus. The station assistance guy brought the cases all the way to the bus from the platform, which was really helpful and above and beyond for him. The first bus had a wheelchair user already. 30 minutes later with lots of help from many helpful people we got on and fortunately the bus stop was outside the hotel. So not far to get inside.
I was ready for bed on arrival and Mary was exhausted. So three disability vehicles, two trains and a bus got us there in the end. We won’t be repeating it though. The return was much simpler, two Disabilty vehicles and one train, door to door.
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