Getting out and about

It was a weekend, the sun was shining, I had nothing to do, so my daughter and I thought we’d go out for the day. We didn’t have a specific idea where but we live within easy driving distance of many lovely places.

Problem – neither of us drive. Me because my licence has been revoked following my partial sight loss, and my daughter as she questions whether she should drive in terms of what is good for the environment.

We did not have massive expectations. We weren’t looking for a massive day out, just somewhere out of the big city where we could get a spot of lunch and perhaps a bit of shopping in a quaint area where you don’t take your life in your hands every time you cross the road.

We live on the outskirts of our city. We don’t have a local train station. We started thinking of places we could get to on the bus. We don’t mind having to take several buses to complete a journey. We are used to that.

Many of the places we looked at needed you to catch a bus or two, and then get a train. Or drive to the bus/train station. Or walk a long way (for me at least).

It’s doable I suppose, if you have no mobility problems, or anxiety with travelling problems, or have unlimited supplies of energy.

To get to Stourport on Severn, a riverside town I loved to go to with my parents as a youngster, is a thirty minute drive in a car. On public transport it takes one hour and thirty-four minutes, assuming the buses and trains are on time. We would have had to walk to the bus stop, get a bus to Halesowen, then a bus to Kidderminster, and then a train to Stourport. We decided not to go there. The journey sounded exhausting.

Evesham is somewhere I used to go often when I could drive. There was a café by the river that did delicious bread pudding. Mention Evesham in my house and someone will say ‘do you remember the bread pudding?’

Forty-five minutes by car, just over two hours on public transport. A bus, then train, then change trains. We gave this one a miss as well.

We had initially planned to go Worcester. This wasn’t too bad – one bus and one train. However, when we arrived at the train station the next train had been delayed and another one cancelled. So we went to our back-up plan, Shrewsbury. This was one bus and one train, a two and a quarter hour journey. According to Google maps, in a car it would have taken an hour and five minutes.

This journey went off without a hitch, no delays, no waiting around, and we had a lovely day, pottering round the outdoor market, lunching outside in the sunshine, and sitting in the grounds of Shrewsbury castle – I didn’t know it had one either!

I was fortunate that my daughter was able to come with me on this outing. Since my stroke I find travelling difficult in several ways. The more I have to think about, the less able I am to deal with it. To travel a new route I need support to plan the journey. I can usually manage a simple journey such as one bus to visit my daughter, or one bus to the local shopping centre, as long as it is thoroughly planned in advance and I know exactly where to get off etc, etc, etc.

A journey with several changes is a nightmare. I get lost easily, and as my stress levels mount, the more likely it is that I will end up phoning someone for help – this is my location, talk me through where to go next.  Changes en route such as having to change trains – which happened to me on the supposedly single train journey home from holiday, with family seeing me on to the train at one end and others waiting to meet me at the other end – are scary.

The more energy I need to sort out the travel, the less energy I have to do anything when I get where I’m going. It’s not just the travel. I went to our local shopping centre with my daughter at the weekend. I went to the disabled toilet on the ground floor – it was out of order. I made my way to the next floor. Those toilets were also out of order. A sign directed us to the supermarket to use their facilities. At least there was an available toilet, but really we need to get these things right.

This may be my little rant and I know that I am more fortunate than others but if we look at the bigger picture, we are letting down a lot of people. And it’s not just differently abled people. We are constantly being told to use our cars less, save the planet. Until we have a greatly improved public transport system, this isn’t a genuine option, not where I live at least, unless we are expected to confine our lives to our immediate vicinity.

Portland Jones disability liaison for Pagan Federation Midlands