“Mind the f***ing gap!” On Friday night last week, two men in yellow Swedish football jerseys and with not a few beers under their belt followed a London Underground official as he walked them through from the Westfield Shopping Centre through the tunnels and corridors to platform three to catch the Central Line. It’s not a simple journey.
You turn left out of the centre past M&S and into Stratford Station, through the turnstiles on the left, turn left down the escalator, move to the right-hand side of the tunnel, then turn left past the stairs to the platform heading east, down about 50-metres, then turn right, walk straight until you see the sign for “Platform 3’, and turn left up the stairs. Then wait. It wasn’t all that easy for the two beer-up gents from Sweden. They were armed with white canes and while not blind drunk, they were blind.
They thanked the official and then waited for the westward-bound Central Line train to arrive, speaking Swedish, which is a language that sounds like it should come from a six-foot blonde lounging in a Jacuzzi. These two had just come from the Paralympics and looked more Springbok than Stockholm. The train arrived. They went to get on, tapping their canes. One’s foot caught the edge of the train door and he stumbed forward. He laughed. His friend laughed. He turned to him and shouted; “Mind the f***ing gap!” I laughed. They laughed louder still. Then they sat down and Jacuzzi-spoke to each other, repeating the stations as they were read out. “This is Liverpool Street,” said voice of the nice lady on the recording. “This is Liverpool Street!” they gurgled. Then got off. “Mind the f***ing gap,” I implored them. They laughed.
I catch the Central Line twice a day at the Paralympics – once in the morning on the way to Stratford and once on the way back. I hope on at High Street Kensington, take the Circle Line to Notting Hill Gate and change to the Central Line. I do this every day. I could walk along the route with my eyes closed. I could probably do it while almost blind drunk. Actually, I did do it rather drunk just over a month ago after I had a good session at the Prince of Wales with some friends during the Olympics.
Every time I pass through Liverpool Street I think of July 7, 2005, the day that terrorists set off bombs around London, bringing the city to a standstill and leaving it in fear. It was just 90-metres away from the Liverpool Street Station, on the Circle Line, on a train heading to Aldgate, that Martine Wright became a Paralympian. It was the day after it had been announced that London had won the right to host the Olympics and Paralympics. The celebrations were immense in Trafalgar Square on July 6. Wright had celebrated along with the rest of her city and her country. A day later she was sitting some two metres away from Shehzad Tanweer, one of the home-grown terrorists who set off the bombs. Seven people died that day. Wright’s legs were mangled by the carriage. She was cut out, and had lost 75 percent of the blood in her body. She was saved by off-duty policewoman Elizabeth Kenworthy, who tied a tourniquet around one of her legs. She was in a coma for 10 days. She lost both of her legs.
On Friday she played for Team GB at the Paralympics in the sitting volleyball team. It was, she said “one of those things – I believe this is a journey I was always meant to make. You might go through the worst thing that you can ever imagine in your life but you can turn things around. I think this is what the Paralympic Games is all about - showing people out there that, whether you’re disabled or not, anything is possible.”
It’s about minding the gap and knowing that it can always be crossed.