Yeah, you really couldn’t make this one up.
I suppose I should have known this was not to be an ordinary trip if my arrival into the UK for the first time in over two years was to be the judge.
As my plane pulled into the gate at Heathrow T4 the captain announces we cannot leave because we have a security issue.
First thought that comes into my hack mind: Funny time to hijack a plane as we’ve already landed.
The threat becomes clear when three burly coppers appear trying to arrest a man on the other side of the plane from me. He complains loudly of harassment for just trying to expose child abuse among Jehovah’s Witness followers.
‘Just because I’ve jumped bail,’ he protests, apparently failing to concede that this might be the very reason police are here to arrest him. I think: How was he allowed to get on the plane in the first place? Security fail.
A few hours later the morning’s entertainment was a faded memory as I tried and failed to find somewhere to stay. This was no mere Plan B adventure. (Blogs past) more of a Plan C, D and E misadventure.
And somehow my request for oatmeal porridge with soy milk was lost in translation when a jug of the cold stuff arrived with a bowl of dry oats. Still the chance of a hot shower and a lie down couldn’t be too far away could it?
Oh but it could.
Moving up to my disabled friendly, walk-in shower room I instantly spot a problem – the raised lip at the edge of the shower area. Presumably designed to stop water flowing out, sadly preventing me from rolling in.
Ok no problem. Been here before. On to Plan B. A quick call to my mate Susy who identified the far classier Park Plaza Westminster Bridge just down the road at Waterloo.
She’s called them, there’s a disabled room available, deposit paid on Agoda and we’re off. As far as the bathroom door – not even the shower this time.
A steep ramp’s in the way. Now while two and a bit years in a chair has given me ‘great guns’ according to my American friends, but more realistically boxers biceps, I cannot negotiate the barrier. I’m not a pro-wheelchair user and have had no training. I’m just a middle-aged hack who’s starting to lose patience.
So then, I ask, can your night staff come up several times a night to help get me to the loo, when I need to go?
Errm Ma’am no I don’t think we can.
Errm ok then Miss I need my money back and somewhere else to stay.
Onto Plan C. Let’s go to our sister hotel Park Plaza County Hall, just over the road, says the front desk manager. My friend Sam has joined me by now. We trundle down the road and up to the disabled friendly room.
No nothing into the room or bathroom. 🙂
And no bleedin’ shower chair. 😦
Plan D then.
You havin’ a laugh?
You might ask.
Sadly I was not. Definitely.
Approximate time awake by now – approaching 36 hours. Approximate time before completely losing it – approaching five minutes.
I think Park Plaza is feeling a little guilty. A few phone calls later and I had a mates’ rate deal for three nights at the Marriott County Hall, where I’d stayed before.
A definite success.
After that the rates shot up, so I foolishly, foolishly booked five nights at the Mercure on Southampton Row. I’d stayed there before too, what could possibly go wrong?
But I digress. The stress of trying to find somewhere to stay, severe dehydration and a total lack of sleep meant the only place I was sleeping my first night in London was St Thomas’ hospital on a drip.
Definitely not a five star experience and the health care was less than stellar too.
So two nights only in the Marriott. The hotel has had a multi-million pound makeover since I last stayed. The room was great but there’s a problem – I see a hotel fashion this year. A mattress cover so thick it’s a mattress in itself. Same problem as at the Ibis Singapore. (Blogs past)
If this doesn’t come off I’m screwed again. Fortunately it does. Relief. “Yeah, we’ve had other people ask for this to be taken off before,” one of the staff tells me. Yep, it really shouldn’t be a princess and the pea moment.
And we still had to fit the bed rail.
Sadly 48 hours overlooking Big Ben and my two-night stay for the cost of three was over too fast. A taxi ride across the river and I’m outside the Mercure. Plan E is in motion.
My fifth hotel in four days.
“The disabled ramp’s just around the corner, through the café,” I tell my friend Susy, who’s come to help. She reappears seconds later. “No it’s not,” she says. Three years and a renovation has also taken place.
I eye the steps at the entrance.
“Ermm, how am I going to get up that then?” “Ohh we’ve got a ramp ma’am,” says the doorman.
I’m beginning to get that sinking feeling, and once inside (after being carried up the steps) my unease increases. I call for the lift. The doors open and I wonder if I can even get through them.
A knuckle scraping push and I’m in and that’s about as good as it got.
Up to the exact same room I’d stayed in when I made my doco on MS three years ago. The walk-in shower was great. Note the key phrase: walk-in. Three years and a wheelchair later not quite the great shower it used to be.
The feeble shower stool and another bed with 15cm mattress cover sealed the deal.
An urgent Plan F was required.
Again, dear reader, insert expletive of your choice here, and repeat at will.
Four hours and many, many phone calls later and it was back to the Marriott. The mates-rate deal had gone. Marina Bay Sands (Blogs past) was looking like budget accommodation.
There comes a point however, when money ceases to be an issue. Safety, comfort and accessibility are the priority for those of us in chairs.
How is it though hotels large and small seem to get it so badly wrong?
I’m very fortunate enough to be able to afford expensive hotels…(well my credit card has enough stretch left in it for now) the majority of people, probably less so.
London accounts for nearly half of all tourist dollars spent in the UK, more than US $43 billion a year. Tourism accounts for about 10% of the country’s GDP.
It’s difficult to find any figure for the number of disabled people who travel, but a very unscientific check of London hotels, who claim to have disabled facilities, brings up more than 1300 places, so the hotel industry clearly thinks there’s a market.
Hotels need to make improvements. The de-facto ‘disabled friendly’ cheat sheet is flawed. And I suspect it’s because no-one thinks to even ask a disabled person what’s needed. I’m happy to offer my advice.
As a postscript I really cannot fault the Marriott (well ok, the strange lack of shelves, or railings to hang the towels in the bathroom was a bit odd).
There were the pull down railings around the shower and toilet.
Alarm cords for emergencies (though only one on one side of the bed, the opposite side to the one I sleep on) and space to put my wheelchair by the bed.
We even installed the mobile bed rail
And of course the staff was fabulous and the view of Big Ben inspiring.
Now if we could pervert Listed Building statutes and have the hotel make the entrance disabled friendly too, instead of having to use the back door on Belvedere Road, that really would worth the money.