Rollo’s Mission Commences: the London Episode

As previously mentioned while in London Rollo and I set out on the start of what has become our mission…

This mission was planned on the train on the way down south, partly as a distraction from the journey and partly in the quest to find something positive in everything…

Now Rollo is here and has been personified it seems only right that he should be entitled to adventures! Consequently we decided to see how many places Rollo could be photographed in. The reason behind this is threefold; it encourages me out and about in the chair. This is important as it would be incredibly easy to become isolated, stay at home and refuse to use it. Going out in the chair does make me feel unwell, but not as unwell as standing. I dislike being stared at which invariably happens and also once you're in a chair people automatically assume you are nonverbal, can't think for yourself and are deaf. Consequently the person with you gets asked all the questions on your behalf and you become, while there for being stared at, invisible in relation to everything else. With this it would be quite easy to stay in and I now fully understand how this happens to wheelchair users. HOWEVER the psychological benefits of getting out and about far outweigh any physical side effects or recovery time I may have later. With a mission and purpose with Rollo it's easier to focus on the positives of being out and ignore the rest. It helps to keep things in perspective.

Secondly, it turns Rollo not just into a mobility aid but also is fun project. Shoes are a necessity and for other people wheelchairs are. Both should be normalised as they carry out similar jobs and purposes. Rollo having adventures, helps to normalise this. He gets me from A to Z and it may as well be made fun along the way.

Finally, it helps to challenge the stereotype that everyone in a wheelchair must be old and not able to stand or walk. Rollo when possible has been photographed without me sitting in him, when I can stand. Not everyone in a wheelchair is unable to stand and this assumption is very problematic as it leads to people being accused of being wheelchair users under false pretences and getting abuse from this. Photographing Rollo, in a small way, helps to combat that.

Rollo rolls round London…

London was the perfect place to start this adventure. Tourist sites and monuments galore and all in a reasonably close distance together, this was clearly the place to begin.

While setting out on an adventure of this sort, the first task in hand is getting to the starting point. Easy if your travelling on legs, not so easy on wheels. The London Underground is becoming more accessible over time but having been built so long ago this is not a task that can be completed overnight or potentially completed at all. Transport for London seem really good on accessibility however and can provide you with a 'I need a seat' badge if you get the tube, have a map of the stations that are step free and wheelchair friendly and if you book it well enough in advance can even provide you with a travel mentor for your first few journeys to help you find your route, get used to being in a wheelchair and getting on and off transport and give you some support.

However, with staying in a hotel that was near the hospitals and accessible I hadn't looked up any of this in advance. Unfortunately, we were no where near a station that was wheelchair friendly and I didn't have enough notice to book a mentor to work out buses. I don't like buses anyway so this was quite stressful. Consequently, we decided we would walk everywhere!

Walking round London was a completely new experience as I normally get the tube. However, I really recommend walking as there is so much to see above ground that could be missed from ornate buildings to parks, window shopping to blue plaques. Admittedly a journey that takes 6 minutes underground taking 45 minutes to walk or roll can seem a bit excessive but sometimes necessity wins.

First stop on our tour was St. Paul's cathedral. A very famous site, it towered over us, to such an extent that Rollo and the cathedral were hard to get in one photo- so we made do with a sign outside! There are a lot of steps at the front but there is an accessible entrance round the side which also means you skip the queue! (There are some benefits). We didn't go in but I did stand up for this photo while my Mum shouted 'it's a miracle' and many tourists stared!

Stop two: opposite St Paul's was a bagpiper busking. Having a couple of double takes about how Scotland had arrived in London, this seemed a good photo opportunity for Rollo! Turns out the piper is from Bathgate but frequently plays in my nearest town and plays in London for a couple of weekends a year. The piper got into the spirit of the mission of Rollo and posed for this photo while playing a tune!

Stop Three: the Millennium Bridge. So many people! So many people whose reaction to a wheelchair is to stop directly in front of you and stare as if you are the first wheelchair they've seen! So many people to navigate round! Apparently when the millennium bridge was first opened people got sick on it because it moved. Luckily they seem to have changed this and we wheeled our way across and saw some police speed boats carrying out some sort of task on route.

Stop Four: the Tate. Again we didn't go in but this seemed fairly wheelchair friendly. Also outside is a great place to people watch! There were several buskers and street performers next to here too and a lot of other wheelchair users who had also come for a spin along the river bank.

Stop Five: the Globe and a portrait of Shakespeare. By this point I was getting a little bit too tired to stand out the way for photos so here I am with Rollo in the second picture. There were quite a lot of cobbles along here which made for an interesting journey but definitely more difficult for the Rollo pushing members of our mission squad then for me.

Stop Six: Sir Francis Drake's boat. I didn't know this existed still until I wheeled on by. It definitely looked like it could be old enough though to be the authentic thing. Didn't spot any pirates.

Stop Seven: Tower of London. I really want to visit here one day but this was a quick pass by as we started to think about returning to the hotel. Looks interesting though!

Stop Eight: Tower Bridge. The biggest part of our mission was working out how to get across this or how to get on to it. The footpath along the riverbank suddenly turns into steps up into the bridge to access it. However in following our noses after a bit of back and forth we managed to get up into the town away from the bank and find the road that goes across, even spying some very fancy restaurants as we rolled along! The bridge was a bit claustrophobic as being at a lower height I could see above people anymore and there were a lot of people! It's a bit like being a child in a crowd again and I had forgotten what a frightening experience that is. Survived though and had a celebratory slush puppy at the other end (me not Rollo).

Stop Nine: the Shard. Impressive building and it makes a fairly good compass point to work out where you are. By this point I was feeling ill and ready for a nap but London and Rollo mission was almost complete!

Stop Ten: Gray's Inn Pit stop on the way back to the hotel. While my mum dealt with her blisters from walking (another wheelchair bonus), I had a recovery lie down on the grass and Rollo, well he held the bags!

So the first Rollo trip has been completed and I think it started well!