Great Western’s 12:16 arrival from Hereford dumped me on Paddington’s most northerly platform. Actually, it was the refreshment trolley guy who deployed the wheelchair ramp. In fact, he asked me to guard his goods while he went in search of Network Rail’s finest. I confess it’s a hit and miss, the disabled rail services in the UK. I had booked special assistance for this particular journey weeks ago. I was in their system, as it were, and had an email to prove it. Still, it took a long time for the Pakistani refreshment guy to return with a person who could help. Meanwhile I stared at his assortment of crisps, drinks and sweets. I marveled at the train carriage, the amount of curvilinear steel gadgetry packed into it. And finally I was rolling up the platform, pursuing a guy with a baggage cart who drove with remarkable speed. Inside the Paddington Hilton, the head chambermaid gave me a hug, Mark the doorman shook my hand…and I felt very much at home.
One can go on and on about being a disabled tourist, but the fact is that much of one’s mental energy tends to get consumed with practicalities…of the most mundane variety. The Rough Guide to London gives way to the Rough Guide to Quadriplegia. And for once, I let myself enjoy, even savor this fact. After all, if I’m not making special disabled arrangements, I am worrying about them.
The bedside table. This is where I position plastic urinals at night. I can only roll over and reach so far, of course. Which doesn’t matter in the custom environment that I call home. But there’s nothing custom about this Paddington hotel. In fact, the table is too low…so with Jane’s departure for San Francisco, I kept worrying about this. What would I do if I couldn’t reach the plastic bottles at night? In fact, this became a public topic. In Gloucestershire, I kept asking Alastair, known to be eminently practical. Did he have a small wooden box that I could place atop the table? What did he advice? I even thought of several two-by-fours, not known for their lightness. Fortunately, I rejected this concept.
I departed Gloucestershire this morning with an entirely new plan. Empty out my large suitcase. Turn the sucker upside down, then place the table atop it. Okay, it would kind of put the suitcase out of action, I must confess. Still, this was the plan…right up until the moment when I signed in. The assistant manager took me to his disabled-friendly desk. This, I knew, was the moment. I pleaded my case. Engineering, he told me, would be right up. And, thanks to my forthright declaration of need, coupled with an assurance that no solution had to be pretty…damned if these two hotel guys didn’t know just what to do. A cardboard carton, from Staples yet. I got them to position it in just the right way. And there you have it. It’s the little things.
Evie, an old friend, is accompanying me tomorrow on a day trip to Suffolk. This evening, when we chatted on the phone, she mentioned that she had just had a periodic scan for cancer recurrence. Along with an unprecedented test for dementia. Absolutely no reason for the latter, except time’s winged chariot. Which is more or less the same reason for the former. Which has hung over this trip, for some reason.
One of my cousins it is in treatment for cancer. We didn’t talk about this very much. It’s just not his style. Which, I realized in the course of a wonderful weekend, is quite all right. Bob is so engaged with life, that he would rather talk about the present. And the present, it turns out, is rich. Bob’s career has plunged him deep into organizational life. So we revisited some great moments in BBC’s ’Yes, Prime Minister.’ And just this morning, we had a discussion of Mumbai’s lunch system…which one can learn about in the Indian film, ‘Lunchbox,’ not to mention the Harvard Business Review which did a study of this highly functional, nonsystematic system for transporting millions of hot lunches. I would never have known.
More to the point, I would never have known that I would be discussing such things with Bob at this particular moment. But this is the point, this particular moment, and as always, Bob made it rich. I have been worrying about him…or worrying about myself– it’s hard to say–and instead of worrying, we had three very enjoyable days of visiting.
There were all sorts of things I thought of doing this evening. A live recording of one of the BBC Proms halftime (interval) talks. But how much did I really want to get in cab and journey down to the Royal College of Music? Not enough, it turns out. This sort of realization, by the way, it is a direct gift from Jane. She makes no apology for this sort of thing. Yes, I am in London. And tomorrow I will journey halfway across it to Liverpool Street Station…on to Woodbridge, Suffolk…and, honestly, that will do. Paddington Station, immediately next to my hotel, is full of life, anyway. As I say, it will do.