Reconsidering the overground

After over eleven years of living in London, I feel I can use the tube pretty confidently: With the underground, it’s simply a case of checking which stations are accessible and taking things from there. Although, as explained here, nowhere near enough stations have wheelchair access, I find the tube network pretty easy to use unaided. However, the overground rail system is another matter. I have never got my head round London’s overground rail network. For starters, you need to ask for help with ramps when you’re getting both on and off the train, which means knowing precisely where you’re going. Another problem is the overground rail network seems far more complicated than the tube. However, Tuesday’s trip down to Richmond has made me think again: the journeys there and back were comfortable and quick, and organising ramps wasn’t that difficult. Like the tube and the bus, it was also free. With several train stations nearby, it might be time for me to start using the overground a bit more, mostly as an alternative means of getting about the city, but also to see whether I can.

Exploring Richmond Park

Yesterday was a lovely day for me, but rather long and tiring. A couple of days ago, my old PA and friend Dominik suggested meeting him and going out to explore Richmond Park. I had never visited that area of London before, so of course I said yes. We met up at Waterloo, then got the overground to the south-west of the city. Getting there, the first thing that struck me was how different it felt from the rest of London: Richmond seems like a small, well-maintained town; there, the Thames is much thinner and prettier, so it looks completely different to the one I know here in the east. We walked along it’s banks, past pretty little shops, pubs and cafes, until we reached Richmond Park. I think that was what Dom wanted to show me: it is massive – the biggest park I have ever seen, and surely the biggest within the M25. It is also, of course, stunningly beautiful; we walked around it for most of the afternoon, admiring the well-kept trees and deer. Most of the paths were well-maintained, although I did have a bit of fun in my powerchair following some of the routes Dom lead me down.

The park is so big that it took us several hours to walk around, and by about five I think we were both getting tired and hungry. Eventually finding our way back to Richmond Town Centre, we bought a sandwich to eat on a bench before making our way to the train station. It had been a lovely day. This metropolis never ceases to amaze me: no matter how long you live in London, there will always be a new part of it to explore. Yesterday I discovered another of its wonders: a gigantic, four-century old park I had known nothing about, only about an hour away by train. I was stunned by it’s beauty, serenity and size. It makes me wonder what other surprises London – and indeed the world beyond – could still have in store.

The coolest toy ever

I’m not going to suddenly claim to be a Transformers fan: I was never into them as a child, and the recent films don’t interest me now. I vaguely remember my brother Mark having a few of the toys though, one of which was Optimus prime: it was fairly unsophisticated, but even so the Ginger One never let me play with it. I had forgotten about it, but was reminded of it when I came across this video. A new Optimus Prime toy has been created, and it is so incredible that I had no choice but to flag it up here. To call it a toy doesn’t really do it justice: watch the video and you’ll see a highly sophisticated piece of engineering and computing. Essentially, it’s designers have taken a children’s cartoon character from the eighties and rendered it as a completely functional, seventeen inch high model, controllable by both speech and app. The result, I think you’ll agree, must surely be the most awesome toy ever (although the price tag is slightly less awesome).

A clear case of discrimination

Yesterday was a lovely, sunny day. It started quite well: I went out on my usual wanderings, and by mid-afternoon, having done all the sensible stuff I needed to do, I was beginning to think about having a beer somewhere. At first I tried at the Tudor Barn, a fine old place not far from here, but they were running on pre-bookings only. The staff know me there and tried to fit me in, but there wasn’t any space. I knew that was a long shot anyway, so I carried on up the hill to Eltham High Street. The Weatherspoons is still shut, but I found an Italian bistro serving drinks on a large square. There were several people there enjoying theirselves, but also several tables free.

I rolled up to one of the staff, and through my Ipad asked if I could have a beer. At first everything seemed fine, but then a person who I presume was the head waitress intervened, saying I wasn’t allowed alcohol: I could have coke or a soft drink, but not beer. She struck me as abrupt, stern and rude. Angered, I tried to ask why, but she refused to answer, stopping the other staff from speaking to me. I tried to ask to speak to the manager but was completely ignored; they were treating me like a child. I persevered for about ten minutes but then headed home, quite furious about what had just happened.

Back here I tapped the restaurant’s name into Google and, finding their website, emailed the manager to ask why I had been treated like that. I also messaged a friend of mine, Will, who normally works at the nearby ‘Spoons, to see if he could help. An hour or so later, Serkan got here for dinner. I was still furious and showed him the Email I had sent to explain why. He immediately became angry too and suggested going back to the restaurant together to talk to the staff.

I thought that was a great idea, and a short while later we got there. Of course the staff recognised me from earlier. Serkan asked them why they had treated me as they had, and they explained – talking to Serkan rather than myself – that they didn’t know whether I was on any medication or whether I was fully ‘up there’. The exchange didn’t last very long, but it was quite clear that they just hadn’t wanted me there.

We got back here still quite angry; I felt discriminated against, and still do. I’m still waiting for a reply to my email. It occurs to me that, had something like this happened to a member of any other minority, people wouldn’t put up with it, so why should I?

Sickening Self-Importance

How much longer do we have to put up with the utter charlatan Boris Johnson calling himself Prime Minister? It has been widely reported that he promised his mate James Dyson a tax cut in exchange for favours, but I just came across this. The bastard doesn’t have the authority to make such a promise: “Boris Johnson’s claim that he arranged a tax break for James Dyson was impossible because he doesn’t have the power, according to former Attorney-General (the government’s top lawyer) Dominic Grieve.” Just how privileged, self-important and arrogant can anyone get? Johnson obviously just assumed he had the authority to do what he liked, as if he was above the rules. How blatant does it have to be that this despicable, self-important scumbag shouldn’t be anywhere near government?

Back to my usual combination

Out on my trundle again today, I thought I would head for Charlton. I must admit, the direction of my daily wandering is chosen more or less at random and on the spur of the moment, unless there’s somewhere specific I need to go. I go to Charlton fairly regularly , but today, for the first time in months, I found the cafe in the park open for table service again. Until now, of course, it has been take away only, meaning I could not stop for a coffee. Today, however, the situation was different, and rolling up to one of the well distanced tables I asked for my time honoured combination of a double espresso and a cappuccino.

As I sipped my coffee, I thought about the innumerate times I had sat in that very spot over the last decade or so: of the memories I had built up there, and the friendships I had made. I used to spend hours there, talking to people. Lyn would often join us once she was ready, coming rattling around the corner in her powerchair. I half expected that to happen today, although I knew it couldn’t. I suppose it’s just an inevitable part of the human condition that, however much you want things to stay the same, however much you return to the places which once meant so much to you, nothing ever stays the same. Apart from the staff there was nobody I recognised there, and I didn’t stay long. The Old Cottage Cafe in Charlton Park may still serve the best coffee in South London, but for me, it can never quite be the place it once was.

The Ravensbourne

When I was fifteen or sixteen, one of the poems I remember studying for my GCSE English literature was Rising Damp by UA Fanthorpe. It’s quite a nice piece about the lost rivers of London: the ancient rivers of the area, now trapped underground, diverted through tunnels. One of the rivers I remember it mentioning (although, strangely, having just Googled it, I can’t find a copy which does) is the Ravensbourne. I hadn’t thought about it in ages. This morning, though, heading out on my daily trundle, I decided to go and explore the other side of Greenwich, around Deptford. I don’t often go that way, and felt like a change. It’s a nice, pleasant area close to the Thames. After a while, I came across a river flowing through a new-looking park, a well maintained path running beside it. A sign nearby named the river, and my memories of GCSE English twenty-five years ago came flooding back: it was the Ravensbourne, now restored, cleaned, and looking rather pretty in the Spring sun. I think Mrs. Fanthorpe would be pleased.

Another Amazing Frontier Crossed

Surely the only thing I can blog about today is this absolutely incredible news that NASA has successfully flown a helicopter on mars. “The drone, called Ingenuity, was airborne for less than a minute, but Nasa is celebrating what represents the first powered, controlled flight by an aircraft on another world.” Of course, there’s not much I can say about it, other than how awesome I find it. As a guy who has trouble controlling his powerchair sometimes, I can’t even begin to imagine the technical ingenuity which must have gone into this feat. In terms of human achievement, surely this is another huge milestone.