High Tea (and a less than stellar poem) in Hardy Country
Updated: Jun 5, 2022
We were in need of a good location. Spike had arranged to meet her father's sister, Anne, and her husband, Jeff, somewhere in Weymouth. They were travelling from Gloucestershire, two and half hours drive to the north.
Not being locals ourselves, we turned to the ladies of Heron Close -- Mary (Spike's grandmother), Margaret and Brenda -- for advice. And after some discussion the consensus settled on The Wishing Well Tearooms and Winter Gardens, Upwey; a tiny village with a 15th Century church, a manor house, a disc barrow and Portland stone cottages with lovely flower-filled gardens.
There could be no better place for Spike to meet an aunt she had not seen in twenty years or more. The renowned tearoom in a quintessential Dorset village. Just follow the sign.
Our first challenge would be getting to Upwey. It sits just on the northern edge of modern Weymouth, four miles from Spike's grannie's apartment. Pushing there and back was not an option. I'm getting fitter and stronger thanks to the exercise physiologist's support and advice I receive (funded by the National Disability Insurance Scheme). But I'm not THAT fit.
We don't have a modified car here. So driving was not an option.
But there's a train ... Mr Google told us. It's four minutes from Weymouth station to Upwey station.
Four minutes? Problem sorted. Or so I thought.
I know enough about wheelchair travelling to check destinations. Even in the 21st Century it's not unusual to discover that the departure station has access (often larger towns and cities) but the destination station ... not always. The lovely little Upwey station -- which features in a poem written by Thomas Hardy by the way -- threw us what I think American baseball fans call a 'curve ball'.
Platform One (going north to London) has step free access. Platform Two (above) which takes you back to Weymouth is not accessible. There are many steps up and down to cross the railway bridge. So what's the point of that? Which wheelchair user on the planet would take the train to Upwey knowing the return journey is completely inaccessible?
Never mind, I thought. Infrastructure changes -- like making BOTH platforms wheelchair accessible in a TWO PLATFORM station -- take longer. Although -- not that I want to start a fight in an empty room -- hasn't it been 37 years since the first iteration of anti-discrimination disability law was passed by the UK Parliament?
But be reasonable Douglas. Rome wasn't built in a day.
Besides, what have the Romans ever done for us?
And besides besides -- there are always Weymouth's wheelchair accessible taxis. It's a four mile trip? It couldn't cost too much.
But we will never know.
More than twenty-four hours before our 3:00 p.m. booking for High Tea at The Wishing Well every single wheelchair accessible taxi was not available. "Doing school runs," I was told by one company. "We don't have any," said a second. The third went straight to the service information message loop of death.
Can I just take a brief detour here?
A long long time ago in a galaxy far far away -- let's call it Edinburgh, Scotland -- 1994 -- our disability rights advocacy group worked in a positive, committed and strategic manner with Lothian Regional Council Transport Department and the City of Edinburgh Council Taxi Office. We agreed a regulated, phased, progressive introduction of wheelchair accessible taxis and a taxi travel subsidy scheme for people with disability excluded from public transport services because of vehicle design and other inequalities -- steps onto buses, trains and -- oh, I don't know -- station platforms.
Before the enactment of UK-wide anti-discrimination legislation our wee bunch of hairy-arsed activists secured a policy change that required all registered taxis in the city -- that was 900 black cabs at the time -- to have wheelchair access within 10 years. It resulted in the world's first taxi fleet in which 100% of vehicles had wheelchair access.
100% of vehicles. First. In the world.
I'm quite proud of that piece of work. But pride comes before a fall.
So -- 38 years later -- I found out that 24 hours before I wanted a wheelchair accessible taxi, I could not book one for love or money. That seems fair.
That's when the ladies of Heron Close came to the rescue.
"Maybe you could take a bus," suggested Mary (Spike's grandmother).
I had several thoughts (none of which I articulated).
There's a bus?
Why didn't anyone mention there's a bus?
How can it be, Douglas, that after 40 years of campaigning for access, inclusion and disability rights that your default value mindset is (at times) an assumption that some questions aren't even worth asking? Of course any bus wouldn't be accessible.
I did, however, ask the one reasonable question Mary's suggestion provoked. "Do you know if the bus is wheelchair accessible?"
Mary didn't know but told us Margaret might. So we phoned Margaret (on the ground floor).
Margaret was "almost certain" but wondered if maybe we should check. Mary suggested we should check.
So -- acting on the advice of the ladies of Heron Close -- I phoned FirstBus to ask their Wessex information person.
A very polite lady asked if it was alright if she put me on hold while she checked? I agreed. There was a pause with some music. Then the polite lady returned to tell me that FirstBus proudly complied with fully inclusive access policies on all their vehicles.
There was a tone in the polite lady's voice that suggested -- what kind of person in the 21st Century would ask if all of their vehicles were accessible?
Which is pretty much where I began with the Upwey station platforms question.
So today we took two buses to High Tea at The Wishing Well Tearooms and Winter Gardens; one from Spike's grannie's road to the King's Statue (the same not-insane king as yesterday) then another to Elwell Street, Upwey.
We wandered down country lanes with a bench beneath trees. Along the way there were purple poppies and an old red post box.
We discovered the Upwey pottery, inspected the kilns, bought some of Bill Crumbleholme's fine work (including a gorgeous raku vase) and talked firing temperatures and transporting beehives full of bees on trains and campervans to St. Ives in Cornwall with Laurence Eastwood.
We met Anne and Jeff for High Tea in The Wishing Well and had a lovely time.
And then -- like anyone else who chooses public transport on a lovely summer's day -- we caught the bus 'back home' to Weymouth.
By the way, here's the poem by Thomas Hardy. It's not his finest (in my opinion) but Benjamin Britten thought highly enough of it to set it to music. Shows you how little I know.
At the Railway Station, Upway
"There is not much that I can do,
For I've no money that's quite my own!"
Spoke up the pitying child -
A little boy with a violin
At the station before the train came in, -
"But I can play my fiddle to you,
And a nice one 'tis, and good in tone!"
The man in the handcuffs smiled;
The constable looked, and he smiled, too,
As the fiddle began to twang;
And the man in the handcuffs suddenly sang
"This life so free
Is the thing for me!"
And the constable smiled, and said no word,
As if unconscious of what he heard;
And so they went on till the train came in -
The convict, and boy with the violin.