Tuesday, 15 April 2008

A Marathon Day (Part Two)




Watching Polly disappear off over Tower Bridge was strangely emotional. Thousands of people lined the route shouting encouragement, blowing whistles and banging inflatable cheer sticks together. I began to appreciate the scale of the event, more than 34,000 people running, the vast majority raising money for causes close to their hearts. People had died running this race in the past. And there was Polly right in the heart of one of the greatest sporting events on the planet, running in the same race as Olympians, celebrities and people dressed as rhinoceroses, camels and a McCain`s oven chip. How could you not be proud?


Paul, Darren and I set off for London Bridge station again. The route took us past the London Assembly, the modern rounded glass building on Queens Walk. To my surprise it was open and since the Tower House Bar hadn't had an accessible toilet I thought that we should avail ourselves of the facilities that my tax was paying for. I assumed that the building would be wheelchair friendly and as it turned out it was. First we had to negotiate an airport style security check. I was waved through with barely a cursory glance whilst Paul and Darien were subjected to everything short of a full body cavity search. (Note to terrorists - if you want to blow up Ken or Boris find a suicidal wheelchair user.) So as I said, very wheelchair friendly.

The London Assembly Building is architecturally quite stunning, a distinctive glass globe. A vast atrium makes you think the structure is hollow. A ramp spirals the edge giving access to all ten floors or you can take a lift to the viewing gallery. A platform circles the outside of the top of the building which offers views of the river and especially Tower Bridge. There are even telescopes for those who can stand up to use them. And, of course, it has accessible loos.

On our way to London Bridge station we were caught in one of those April showers Chaucer mentioned. The kind where the clouds do away with individual rain drops and settle for emptying buckets directly on to peoples heads. We entered the station dripping and headed for the lift but were intercepted by the duty station manager. He asked if we were heading for Westminster. We were, the plan was to head for Parliament Square via the Jubilee Line and to catch Polly and her friend Anna as they reached the final stretch. He told us that Westminster station was closed west bound and wouldn't be open for 50 minutes or so due to over crowding. He told us to wait on the platform and he'd make an announcement when it opened again. So we descended in the bolshy lift again, careful not to block the doors, and waited as we watched jam-packed trains come and go. Eventually an announcement came over the tannoy saying that if the gentleman in the wheelchair would return to the ticket hall they would arrange a taxi for him. Paul, Darren and I looked at each other, this was not the level of customer service one had come to expect from London Underground. We got back in to the lift and stood well clear of the doors and made our way back to the ticket hall where we waited another 20 minutes before being told that no taxi would go near Westminster for 3 hours because of the marathon. It was then suggested that we go to the station beyond Westminster and walk back to Parliament Square. Okay, so down we went again, standing well clear of the doors, and struggled on to the next train that came along. We slowed tantalizingly as we approached Westminster station before speeding off to the frustration of our fellow passengers. We exited the train at Green Park and wandered around hopefully looking for a non-existent lift. You will not be surprised to learn at this stage that Green Park station is not wheelchair accessible. Now what?

We heaved the chair back on to an east bound train intending to return to London Bridge and seek out the station manager to thank him for his helpfulness but as luck would have it Westminster east bound was open. You have to take 3 separate lifts to get out of that station. It took over quarter of an hour before we joined the crowds gathered to watch the end of the race. The journey from the London Assembly had taken more than an hour and a half and I was worried that I'd missed Polly and Anna. Finding a vantage point to watch from was quite difficult. We headed for the finish line but were thwarted by a flight of steps. A text informed me a friend had seen Polly at the 23 mile mark more than half an hour ago. With one eye on my battery gage I headed back to the square and waited anxiously as Tarzan, a man in a kilt and the camel ran by. Some joker was shouting at the runners to keep going, they were nearly half way. If any of them had had the energy left they would have run him to ground and left Nike treadmarks all over his face. And then suddenly there she was, walk jogging along with Anna by her side. We yelled her name and miraculously above the din she heard us. I don't mind admitting I had a tear in my eye as she raised her arm to wave at me. I watched with what would have been a huge grin on my face had I had the facial muscles to do so, and saw her disappear off around the corner in to the Mall and the final 385 yards. Go Polly, go!

Next time - The long journey home.