W and I have been to Beamish Museum three times this summer, most recently on Wednesday. It's a great day out - a 'living' open-air museum, covering a vast area, depicting life in the late 19th century/early 20th century in northern England. It's a fascinating place, lots of fun and great for all ages.
The first time, W and I went in my car, taking my attendant-assisted wheelchair. W pushed me around in it all day, and although she doesn't mind doing this, it is a heck of a lot of work, especially on the cobbles and up and down the hills at Beamish. The second and third times we went, W drove and I got the bus so that I could go in Taz (my electric wheelchair) - much better all-round, although it did mean a pretty early start for me.
I think the first time I went to Beamish in Taz was in late July. It means getting a bus from my house into town, and then a bus from town to Beamish, which is in County Durham and takes almost an hour on the bus. When the bus from town (28) arrived at the bus station the driver informed me that I wouldn't be able to get on the bus because the ramp was broken, but then it transpired that because this bus service is advertised as accessible, and it was the bus company's fault that this particular bus wasn't accessible, they have a legal obligation to get me to my destination. The bus company ended up paying for a taxi to take me from Newcastle to Beamish, costing them £28.80. I was told that the same thing would probably happen on the way back. The route is covered by the numbers 28 and 28A buses, both of which do a circular route, though ever so slightly different. As it turned out that day the weather was atrocious so W and I abandoned our Beamish visit after 4 hours of getting soaked, and the first bus that came was the 28A, the ramp of which was working fine.
I thought that the ramp on the 28 would probably have been fixed by the time we went back to Beamish on Wednesday, but it turned out not to be. Again the bus company paid for a taxi to take me from Newcastle to Beamish, this time costing them £15.50 (they used a different company). After a fantastic day together (about which I'll do another post sometime soon with some photos), W and I headed for the exit and the last bus (W waited at the bus stop with me before she drove home). It arrived, and it was the 28 with the broken ramp, so we had to go through the rigmarole of having the bus driver phone through to control to get them to sort out a taxi and to pass on my details so control could phone me back and let me know how long I'd have to wait. The call took longer than usual to come through on my mobile and when it did, control were ever so apologetic, but they couldn't get me a taxi as it was rush hour and all the taxi companies they'd tried were busy. Instead they were sending a bus from not-too-far-away Chester-le-Street to take me to Newcastle. A whole bus just for me!
While W and I waited for this personal bus service to arrive, a family of three generations came to the bus stop to find that they'd missed the last bus back to Newcastle. They weren't very happy. I explained my own situation and said that if they were sending a whole bus just for me then it'd be really mean of the bus company to refuse to take them too, seeing as I was going exactly where they wanted to go. We decided that we'd team up and they could chance it.
Then the bus arrived. Not only did I have a whole bus to myself, but I had a whole, bright pink, double-decker bus! All for me! Just me (so far as control were concerned)! Well the bus driver was a cheery fellow and he had no qualms at all about taking the additional passengers, and he let them all travel for free :o) I get free travel on the buses anyway as a disabled passenger :o)
But the saga wasn't over. No. Just as I was getting on to the private, pink monster-bus, the 28A doing it's last journey for the day to Chester-le-Street pulled up at the bus stop and said that control had been on the radio saying that we may have to swap buses because they suddenly realised that the double-decker wouldn't be able to get under a low bridge on the 28's usual route. It would've made sense to swap the buses over as there were only 7 of us on the pink monster-bus, whereas the single-decker 28A was jam-packed with people standing in the aisles. However, it was decided that the pink monster-bus would divert from the usual route of the 28, at first going all round the houses and then onto the A1, so as to avoid the problem low bridge.
After setting off, the driver put some lights on for us inside the bus, then he started playing with them, flashing them on and off saying that it was party time and he thought we should have disco :o) I was secretly glad when he didn't continue playing with the light switch as he drove us round some fairly twisty roads. Then he said that we needed some music, but he didn't have a stereo so someone should sing. Well the family of three generations had two very young children amongst their number, so they started off singing 'The wheels on the bus go round and round' :o) It was all very jolly, and totally, totally mad.