6pm, Wednesday 22nd August
On Monday, my parents were driving up to Bath. So, wanting to see Alex (my girlfriend) who lives on the way, I hitched a lift.
I arrived early afternoon when Alex was still in London, working. As I waited for her to return home, I spent the time working on my book and chatting to Alex’s mother and sister, Annabel and Oriole.
When Alex arrived home we had dinner, watched St Trinnians and went to bed. This is just the second time since dating Alex that I’ve managed to stay the night at hers. Things like getting up from the loo or taking a shower here hadn’t been tried before.
The morning was spent checking the feasibility of these challenges and I am delighted to say, we succeeded in every one. Looks like I will be able to stay at hers more often. The only real challenge remaining now is the train.
Tuesday evening, I got the chance to meet Alex’s grandparents. Since GBS hit, I have found my alcoholic tolerance to be greatly reduced. So, drinking two weak gin & tonics and a glass of wine that evening made Wednesday morning noticeable for the rediscovery of the hangover. That morning, trying to stand up from the loo, I pushed down on the lid and snapped its hinge. ‘Poo’. As Alex and I left for the station that morning, I quietly let Annabel know about the broken seat, hoping nothing would be made of it.
Sadly, taking the train back to Haslemere was not easy as I’d hoped. So bad was the service, I filed a complaint. Possibly the first complaint to SWR filed by someone under the age of 25! Copied below are the contents of this angry letter:
On Wednesday the 22nd of August I planned to take the 9:06am train from Andover to Haslemere, changing at Woking. Having called, requested and been granted passenger assistance the day before, I expected it to be an easy journey. I was wrong. Arriving early as was requested of me, my girlfriend and I could not see any member of staff in the station other than the man in the ticket booth. The 9:06am train was due to arrive in at 9:16am, so I called passenger assistance to let them know that I would not be able to make the change at Woking and would require the following train departing from Woking for Haslemere. On the phone they were surprised to hear that there was no member of staff on the platform with me. I was instructed to press the station assistance button but there was no answer. The man on the phone tried to call the station staff number, but again no answer. At this point I realised that my only hope would be to ask the guard of the train for assistance, when it pulls in.
When the three-carriage train pulled in, there was a mad rush as those on the platform squeezed into the already cramped train. I waved my crutch to the guard who was at the back of the train, but she would have none of it. She wagged her finger in return. Thinking she didn’t understand, I hobbled over towards her on my crutches and asked her for help. Patronisingly, she told me that ‘she hadn’t been told’ and that my case was ‘none of her business’. It would have been discrimination had it not been for the 20 other able-bodied people who there was no space for on the already saturated train. However, at this point I was furious. When I called in advance yesterday, I had been told that the guard on the train would come out to help me. I believe that to call in advance and notify the train service of the exact train I plan to take is already asking a lot from a disabled passenger, so to not deliver and to patronise my girlfriend and I in the process is utterly despicable. My girlfriend, who waited for me, was now late for work and I, for the nature of my condition and under the stress this journey had put me through, was exhausted.
With a little more time to wait for the next train, I called up the passenger helpline to let them know I would be needing a ramp to board the following train. The lady who answered was proactive and apologetic, restoring my faith in SWR. In the meantime, my girlfriend went to ask the man in the ticket booth for assistance. The man in the booth suggested she look for the platform staff, who might be hidden down platform 1 in a waiting room. There she found him. The gentleman was too busy eating a sandwich to notice my name and train time on the sheet directly in-front of him. The sheet in question, funnily enough only had one job for the day, and that was to help me board the 9:06am train. My girlfriend very politely asked him to come and help me onto the train that was about to leave in two minutes. Taking advantage of her kind nature, he blamed her for not finding him sooner and insisted that it is our job to find him, not his job to find us! They both ran to meet me as the train pulled in and we boarded the train just in time. I was able to sit on the disabled seat where the poster behind me applauded the firm’s promise to its passengers, reading; ‘We’re passionate about delivering a great service for you to make travelling even easier. We will…Be visible and available to you when you need us’.
At Woking station, the platform staff were running up and down with the ramp looking for my carriage because the guard at Andover had not thought to phone ahead. The station staff at Woking were fantastic, letting me know the platform I needed to be on, pointing at where to stand for the disabled carriage and being there to put the ramp down. They phoned ahead and getting off at Haslemere was very easy and stress free.
This is not the first time my girlfriend and I have had a problem with boarding a train at Andover. The previous problem arose from there being no station staff and a grumpy guard. But that time we had not called 24 hours in advance, so I did not see it fit to complain.
I have mentioned many of the problems with the rail service. So to conclude, here is my summary:
- Station staff at Andover not doing their job
- Poor attitude amongst guards and platform staff at Andover
- Regular delays, causing many people to miss connecting trains
- Trains often not with enough carriages to deal with capacity
- A very good service from station staff at Woking and Haslemere
I understand that SWR has many major problems facing it today. However, I would like to think that my complaint is not side-lined and I receive a serious response in due course.
Thanking you in advance,
I am pleased to say that I received a fast response, promise of compensation and the following weekend, found the service at Andover much improved. When I was picked up from the station by Alex’s parents that following weekend, they showed off their exciting new purchase: A bag of DIY toilet seat hinges. Not as subtle as I’d hoped.
7pm, Thursday 23rd August
Whilst I was in neuro-rehab I got to know a gentleman named Chris. At 73 years old, Chris looks younger for he retains a full head of hair. He adores his wife, who he’s been married to since the age of 19 and his weekend pastime had been fixing up and riding his motorbikes with his son.
On the 17th September 2017, Chris was brought into hospital after suffering a motorbike accident on a track day. He had come off his motorbike unharmed, but unable to avoid him, the biker behind him drove across his back, damaging his spine. Chris was helicoptered to hospital where he died and was defibrillated twice on the operating table. The seven-hour operation ended a success and he spent 12-weeks waiting for a bed in the rehab unit. A week after entering rehab, I met him.
For most people, like myself, progress in recovery is unnoticeable on a daily basis. But for Chris, he recovered quickly. After two months of rehab, Chris was out of his wheelchair and walking using a zimmer frame. However, Chris found life in the unit difficult. Having been retired for many years, he was set in his ways and struggled with abiding by the strict rules set in the unit.
Twelve weeks in, he saw a specialist in regard to a small growth he’d found in his neck. After several scans, the growth was confirmed as cancerous. Believing that he didn’t have much longer to live, Chris felt it was time to leave the rehab unit.
He spent several months undergoing intense chemo and radio therapy. The treatment for the cancer was exhausting and he struggled to keep up with the physio.
Since he left the unit he had rung me on a monthly basis, so it was no surprise to miss a call from him when I was in physio. I called him back once home, keen to see how he was getting on. For the first time since I’ve known him, a sense of joy in his voice was present. He told me that he’d been for a scan yesterday and the results were fantastic, he no longer had cancer!
I’m delighted for him. It never seemed fair that he be dealt such a tough hand, so to hear that he was over the worst part was fantastic! It’s the ‘best news he’s ever heard in his life’, understandably so.
Two weeks later, the news is still hard to digest, ‘but you have to accept these people are cleverer than you and hope for the best’!
Chris loved the Beatles so for this peice I select the song: Here Comes The Sun by The Beatles.