After a brief stay in London we took the train north to Yorkshire to visit some friends of ours. Helen and Ian live in a village called Kippax, which is just outside the city of Leeds. They had invited us to stay with them for a few days so that we could explore their part of England. I am so glad that we did this.
Helen and Ian opened their home to us, fed us, and showed us around the country that they love. I think seeing this part of England was one of our favorite parts of this whole trip. However, next time we go, we will be sure to take some Dramamine, as the roads in Yorkshire are rather narrow and curvy. I can safely say that I was holding on for dear life as Helen drove us up to the Yorkshire Dales. This area, as you can see from the pictures below, is stunningly beautiful. I had always wanted to see the English countryside and the Dales did not disappoint.
Getting to meet other friends that live in this part of England, such as Gail and Sue, was also a treat. It was fun to spend time with all of these people and hear about their lives. They all treated us with kindness and hospitality. I can think of no better example of this then Ian and Helen driving us from Kippax to Liverpool, which is a little over 80 miles.
It was a rainy day, and Amanda and I had just planned to be dropped off in Liverpool. We would then book a tour that would show us around the city that gave birth to the Beatles. However, Ian would not hear of it and he proceeded to drive us all around Liverpool so that I could catch glimpses of Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, John Lennon’s boyhood home, and other parts of the city where Beatles history had been made. The selflessness of this act is something that will always mean a great deal to me. Ian also made sure that we were safely escorted to the airport in Liverpool for our flight to Dublin. There are still good people in the world, and many of them can be found in England. Oh, and the secret to London’s public restrooms is a “radar” key. Helen and Ian provided us with one of these. It is a key that, according to the BBC, “unlocks the doors of more than 9,000 handicapped restrooms across the UK.” I accidentally brought this key back to the U.S. with us. Helen if you are reading this, we will mail it back to you!
P.S. – If you ever find yourself in the city of York visit Betty’s Tea Room for some tea and a piece of their lemon curd torte. Also, make sure you visit York Minster. It is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. You will not be disappointed.
By day two in London we had gotten a better feel for our surroundings and found that the transit system in London is quite accessible to those with disabilities. Many of the train platforms have been constructed in such a way that those in wheelchairs can roll straight from the platform onto the train, which made it very simple to travel from one part of London to the next. Likewise, just about every curb has a cutout or is level with the street so that rolling along the sidewalks is no problem at all. I’ve never been in a city quite as accommodating as London, for not only are physical structures accessible, but the people are more than willing to go out of their way to help. Nowhere was this more evident than in the tube stations and bus stops all across the city.
As noted above, many train platforms are level with the train compartments so that rolling right onto the train in a wheelchair is very simple. However, there are still some stations that do not have this kind of accessibility. This was no problem though, as there always seemed to be transit workers there with portable ramps which enabled me to roll right up onto the train, as pictured above. The kindness displayed by these workers was something I will never forget. Many times we were asked what station we were headed to next and the attendant would radio the next stop and let them know that we would need a ramp. I felt as if the whole of London was rolling out the “red carpet” for me wherever I went. Now if only the queen would have invited us in for tea when we stopped by Buckingham Palace.
The busses in London were also very easy to use, as they all
are equipped with wheelchair ramps that come sliding out onto the
sidewalk. There is also a designated
area just for wheelchairs in each bus.
An added bonus is that disabled individuals can ride the busses for
free. So, if you are thinking about
heading to London you might want to get yourself a wheelchair.
Buildings that are thousands of years old are also very accessible to those with disabilities. For instance, when we visited Westminster Abbey, the staff from the church brought out portable ramps, which enabled me to roll right up into the cathedral. This was true for every cathedral that we visited all throughout England. Why are buildings that are far more new here in the United States not as accessible?
With ease we were able to tour the market on Portobello Road, see the place where Jimi Hendrix, one of my musical heroes, died and visit other sites that we had only ever dreamed about seeing. This was all made possible by those willing to lend a hand to two crazy Americans that jammed a month’s worth of sightseeing into just two weeks!
That infamous wheelchair, which I mentioned in part two of this story would prove quite valuable during our first full day in London, for we were off on a walking tour of some of the sites related to the history of the Beatles. Our guide for this tour was a man by the name of Richard Porter, who makes his living showing Beatles fans around London. Richard was an interesting man, to say the least. He resembled Richard Simmons and had the energy to match. Were we going to be “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” or merely taking a leisurely stroll through London’s Soho? Fortunately, it was the latter. Richard had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Fab Four, so our tour led us to some very interesting places.
Our first stop along the way was Paul McCartney’s office building. Richard said that Paul can be spotted at times coming and going, but we had no such luck. We then stopped in front of Trident Studios. This is the studio where the Beatles recorded much of the White Album, along with one of their last singles, “Hey Jude.” Many other legendary musicians have recorded here as well, such as David Bowie, Elton John, Queen, The Rolling Stones, and Frank Zappa. From Trident Studios we headed to Carnaby Street, an area well known for its fashion boutiques that catered to many of the popular bands of the 1960’s.
Next, we found ourselves in front of the London Palladium, the theatre where “Beatlemania” is said to have begun . Unfortunately, as you can see from the picture below, the only thing happening this day was a concert by Rick Astley.
From the Palladium we ventured on to a club called the Bag O’ Nails. This is a club where the Jimi Hendrix Experience played one of its first live shows. It is also where Paul McCartney met Linda, his first wife. Loving the music of both the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, it was a thrill for me to see these places that I had only ever read about in books.
Then, as if this day could not get any better, it was time to see one of the places that looms quite large in the legend of the Beatles, Apple Studios at 3 Savile Row. This is where the band played their legendary rooftop concert on January 30, 1969. Sadly, this was to be their last live performance as a band. After spending a few minutes taking pictures and soaking in all of this wonderful history, it was time to move on to our next two stops.
The first of these places was the Scotch of St. James,
another very important landmark in the history of 60’s rock and roll, as this
was a club that saw many legendary performers play. In the same square where the Scotch of St.
James is located also stands the building that once housed the Indica
Gallery. The Indica was an art gallery
where John Lennon was first introduced to Yoko Ono. Oh, if only John had stayed home that night!
To end our day of Beatles sightseeing, Richard, Amanda, and I caught a train that would take us to Abbey Road Studios. This is a sight that I thought I would never get to see in person. As you can see below, I was able to roll across the famous crossing where the Beatles were photographed for the cover of Abbey Road, which is my favorite album of theirs.
After a very long, but exciting day, at least for me, we rode the train back to the heart of Westminster. This is where Big Ben and the Houses or Parliament are located. I had waited years to visit Big Ben, and to my dismay it was obscured by layers of scaffolding! However, that wasn’t the biggest problem I’d encounter this night.
One thing that became more clear as the night wore on, is that public restrooms are few and far between in London. Having grown up in the United States, where you can stop at almost any fast food restaurant or gas station and use the restroom, I was shocked to discover that this was not the case in London. This realization almost became a disaster as I spent nearly an hour looking for a place to use the restroom. Then when we found one, we had to find a person to unlock it for us. I’m not sure if they were worried someone was going to steal the toilet paper or run off with the commode, but as we found out later there is a secret to these restrooms! After the restroom saga came to an end, we looked for a place to eat. We settled for an interesting pub across the street from Big Ben.
As we were eating we began to speak with the couple seated
next to us and found out they were from Chicago, which made for some enjoyable
dinner conversation. It was fun to share
stories with them and just soak in the culture that surrounded us.
After a very eventful day, we took the train back to our hotel and settled in for the night excited to see what the next day would bring. Oh, and that wheelchair, it made it through the day as well, but it too was weary. I wonder if it has ever been found, but more about that in the next post.
After winding our way through some shady looking parts of London, we finally made it to our hotel. As it turns out our cab driver was not a murderer after all. In fact, he turned out to be a rather nice gentleman. After retrieving our bags from the trunk of his car, in which there were no dead bodies, we walked inside the hotel. Check in was quick and we set off for our room. Once inside, neither one of us could figure out how to turn the lights on until Amanda discovered that we needed to put our key card into a slot, which enabled the lights to operate. By this time both of us had been awake for several hours. However, due to the change in time it was not easy to get to sleep, as we both were still on Illinois time and were excited about our adventure. Despite this we each climbed into our single bed and drifted off to sleep. We had finally made it to London and now we were in a 1950’s sitcom, each of us snuggled in our own single bed.
Waking up the next day feeling not so refreshed, Amanda and I caught a bus that would take us back to the airport so that we could catch our train into Chelsea, which is the part of London where we would be staying for the next few nights. Not realizing that we needed bus fare for the ride, we both climbed aboard where the driver explained that this was not a free shuttle service to the airport. However, being very kind, he let us both ride for free back to the airport. This act of kindness was the first of many that we’d experience in England and Ireland.
On our way back to the airport we finally saw the area by the light of day. It actually did not appear as menacing as it had the night before. In fact, you could say parts of it were rather idyllic as there were sheep grazing in a pasture along the way. This was certainly no place for a gangland style murder.
After about 30 minutes we arrived back at the airport where we thanked our driver for the free ride, exchanged some currency, and made our way to the tube station at Heathrow. Getting to Chelsea required a few transfers from one train line to another, however, things were well marked and we had lots of friendly people helping to direct us to the correct platforms and stops. We finally made it to Chelsea and found that our hotel was approximately 200 yards or so from where we got off of the train, which was great because we both were pretty exhausted at this point. Upon checking in, we found that the wheelchair that we had rented for our trip had arrived. This wheelchair would play such an important role while were we traveling, and to this day it is a mystery as to whether or not it made its way back to its rightful owner. However, that is a story for another section of this series.
You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty the ocean does not become dirty. – Mahatma Gandhi
The older I get the more appreciation I have for others that are able to show compassion. I believe there is still a lot of good in humanity. Despite what you might read in the newspapers or see on the television news, there are still many honorable people that are willing to help others in need. Perhaps, the best demonstration of this for me was on a recent trip that my wife Amanda and I took to England and Ireland.
Amanda and I departed for England on September 1 from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. As we got to the airport we checked in with the airline and then went straight to security. The TSA agents were polite and professional. However, getting through security at an airport has always been a particular “treat” for me. This time was no different.
I was escorted to a chair and asked to remove my belt and my shoes. Then once the security agents realized I was also wearing leg braces, I was asked to remove them as well. Next, my crutches were confiscated so they could be rubbed down and x-rayed to see if they were carrying any illegal substances. I guess my idea of becoming an international drug smuggler will never come to fruition, as my crutches are not the perfect hiding place as I once imagined.
So, there I sat with my pants half way off, no shoes, and no crutches. It really was a helpless feeling. After sitting there a while I began to wonder if they had forgotten that I was there waiting. Would I just be left there to spend the rest of my days in the airport? Fortunately, this did not happen and everything was eventually returned to me. Then the arduous task of putting everything back on began before I could leave the security checkpoint.
After passing through security we realized that our gate was at least a 10 mile walk, or so it seemed. I had already been violated by the TSA and now I was required to walk what felt like a marathon. However, the goal was worth it so I pressed on and we finally made it to our departure gate. Then, after a relatively uneventful 45 minutes we were told that it was time to board. Thankfully, since I have crutches, Amanda I were given priority boarding, which basically means only Amanda and the flight crew got to see me walk clumsily through the gauntlet of tightly packed rows of airplane seats.
Once we reached our seats, the flight attendants were very accommodating and helped us get our carry-ons in the overhead bins. This is the part of any flight that makes me a little anxious, as my crutches are usually taken away from me and stowed away in an overhead bin that is packed to the gills with baggage. What happens if I need to get up and use the bathroom during the flight? Digging through an overpacked bin to get a pair of crutches out is not an easy task. However, I figured I’d deal with it if and when the time came. Luckily, that time did not come until we touched down at Heathrow at about 11 p.m. London time.
When we disembarked there was an airport attendant waiting for me with a cart. I asked her to take me to the nearest restroom, which was just a short ride from the gate. After 8 hours I was finally able to find relief!
We then made our way to customs, which consisted of two grouchy agents asking us what we were in England for and where we’d be staying. Upon the conclusion of our brief interrogation our escort asked us where we needed to go. She then called a cab for us, which was a black Mercedes Benz. We knew that our hotel for our first night in London was just a few miles from the airport, however, our cab driver took us through an industrial area, which by night, looked like a perfect place for a murder to be committed. Where were we going and why did it seem like we were being driven to the ghetto?
“Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine.” — Lord Byron
Writing a blog is an idea that I have had for quite some time. However, I have always hesitated because I was not sure anyone would be interested in anything that I have to say. Then, it occurred to me that writing is something that can be very therapeutic. If people enjoy what I have to say then that is just a bonus.
Since I was in high school I have always enjoyed writing. Being a life-long introvert, writing gave me a way to express myself. It also helped me to unlock some of the thoughts I had kept bottled up inside of me for many years.
When I was born my parents were told to take me home and love me and to treat me as they would any other child. The problem with that is I was not like any other child. I was born with a birth defect called spina bifida, which would require frequent trips to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Children’s was like a home away from home for much of my adolescence. Despite what you might think, I have fond memories of Children’s. The nurses and doctors there provided a level of care that was second to none. This was also a place, where as a young boy, I began to see the absurdity in life.
Self-deprecating humor got me through many days and nights in the hospital. If I was not able to laugh at situations it would just lead to frustration. Having a disability is frustrating!
Living in a world that was not made for someone like me forces one to overcome. Thank goodness for my stubborness and for my sense of humor. They are two assets that I have used in my life to climb over obstacles.
This leads me to why I chose “Put the Crippled Kid up Front” as the name for this blog. This comes from an incident when my family and I were at a local restaurant. The wait for a table was quite long, so my mom whispered, “put the crippled kid up front.” I then walked to where the owner of the restaurant could see me. He took one look at me and we had a table.
Since this time “put the crippled kid up front” has become an inside joke for my family. It is a way that I have used humor to overcome obstacles. It has also led to some surprises along the way.
In this blog I will share some of those surprises and will explore how living life with a disability can be both challenging and rewarding. I hope you will stick around and see where life has taken me.