Friday, 27 May 2011

Trainspotting and a boat trip on the River Thames

I couldn’t resist the heading as I am a fan of the books of Irvine Welsh.  His Edinburgh as some of the grit found in the earlier Ian Rankin novels, Iain Banks, James Robertson, AL Kennedy and less of the contrived Alexander McCall Smith.  Needless to say, all these authors are available on RNIB talking books.  My fascination with St Pancras is partly historic, though it is handy for a visit to Camden Town Hall, British Library and RNIB and a lot more comfortable than the construction site that used to be Kings Cross. 

The weather in London has been quite warm and, for me at least, with two ‘good vision’ days on Tuesday and Wednesday.  (We had a terrific downpour on Thursday and I got well and truly soaked.)  On my way back from a routine eye clinic I forgot to count the stations and realised I had gone past my ‘home’ station.  It was probably a case of too much information, as the announcements were clear enough but I was not paying attention.

I found myself at Willesden Junction, which has connections to London Overground and the Bakerloo line, and decided to go to Clapham Junction.  This was my first solo trip.  I used to use this station quite a lot from the 1970s, but have only used it in the company of others since I lost my sight.  I found myself on the revamped overhead walkway and when I got to the gates, asked the staff how to get to Waterloo.  I was told that the smartened-up walkway had lifts to the platforms and then taken to one.  On the way down, I was shown where the emergency button was - the one you’re not supposed to hit – and then put on the next Waterloo train.  Very helpful staff!

Waterloo Station is one I was familiar with, but again had never been here on my own for the last 10 years.  The staff at the gate indicated the next available ‘relay point’.  I got to the information kiosk and then the Travel Centre.  The purpose of all this was to get hard copies of the new timetables.  I know they are available on the web, but sometimes it’s nice to have a current timetable that you can hand someone to check, in case you’re fed up with a poor website or are bored with your screen reader. 

My train journeys were going quite well so I decided to see if I could make it to Greenwich.  I have done this before and for my first post you might recall some conflicting pointing from the railway police!  I got to Greenwich, found the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) platform and went one stop to Cutty Sark.  I managed to find the Greenwich Peer, which is a massive building site, and the ticket booth where I bought a ticket for Thames Clippers from Greenwich to Embankment (£2.80 with a Freedom Pass). 

Now here is a pleasant surprise: at the ticket booth I was given instructions on how to get to the peer for the Clipper.  Later I was commenting to one of the staff how good the instructions had been by the lady at the ticket counter, only to be told “I sold you the ticket!”  So well done Jessica (0174)!! (A sighted friend read out the details on the till receipt!) 

The Thames Clipper is well worth a trip.  Again, I have used it before with friends and was doing this one on my own for the first time.  It’s hard to describe what one actually sees, but I was aware of the changing silhouettes on my peripheral vision and going under the bridges, especially the stop near Tower Bridge.  At the Embankment, London Underground staff took me down to the platform and I knew my way back once on the Bakerloo line.

The next day I thought I would be more daring and tried out a totally new line on my own.  The old East London line extension recreates the North London Line link from Dalston Junction to Broad Street, but diverts at Shoreditch to South London.  This might sound very trainspotterish but I confess to being fascinated by railway architecture: bridges, especially the Forth Railway Bridge; stations, such as St Pancras; and junctions such as Crianlarich Junction.    (In the old days I had made very long train journeys in the USA, west Europe, the old Eastern block, southeast Asia and bits of Africa.)

I managed to negotiate Highbury & Islington on my own and changed at Sydenham and West Croydon to arrive at Sutton, where I had lunch and then came back on the Thameslink via St Pancras. 

You may well ask what is the point of all this.  I think this proves that with some attention by the transport providers in London, and the right amount of information and goodwill from staff and fellow commuters, a blind person can get around independently – or at least arrange to go somewhere on a whim without having to rely on others taking him.  This makes a lot of London accessible, provided you know what you want. 

So, many thanks to all, especially Clapham Junction staff, London Waterloo Information Centre, a fellow passenger at London Bridge, Thames Clippers staff, London Underground Embankment, London Overground – particularly Highbury & Islington – and Sutton railway station. 

Regarding communications, I’ve had problems with a revamped Twitter interface with JAWS 12 update.  This is beginning to be as nightmarish as a Google predictor, though I have just discovered Msgs (it says Alt+3 - note for anyone using JAWS) on mobile twitter. 

Update: (4/6/11)

The following are excerpts of a conversation I was having with @defarrington on the Guardian blog regarding the new hybrid buses that are to be introduced in London in the next few years.  As a blind person, I am concerned that we may not recognise a silen vehicle as a a moving vehicle, especially if we listen for traffic noise in making a judgement about when to cross the road.  I don't have a guide dog so can't speak for those who do, but I've had a couple of near misses with careless drivers who reverse illegally into a road and you just don't hear them.

As a blind person, one has got used to hearing the whine of the current diesel buses. I am concerned that a hybrid bus will go into silent mode at the apparent whim of a GPS signal, thus removing a sound 'signpost' or warning for people like me. We might think that the bus has stopped when in fact it might still be moving. I've had a couple of near misses with hybrid cars, especially when they reverse in silent mode.

@defarrington’s reply :
They're engineering an exterior noise for the bus when in electric mode. Most electric cars have them and they'll soon become law in the EU and US.
No need to worry.

Thanks - but it's still scary. Is this noise rule widely known? I will try and raise this at a transport liaison group. We've had problems with the top market hybrid cars and their drivers! Green doesn't always mean safe - or polite and considerate.

@defarrington’s reply:
The noise rule isn't yet law, but I believe it's on the way.
I'm currently using a Nissan Leaf battery car which has an exterior noise mode.
Worth bringing up with TfL.