Saved from a Pickle

After 14 hours on the train from Brisbane to Sydney I very nearly ended up in a pickle.

I ran out of time for an important task on my way through Sydney last week, which was to call in at the Pensione Hotel in George St. to check that there were no steps. I have learned that it’s always best to make contact with a hotel and ask if there any steps: specifically any rise more than 1 inch high. It’s surprising where steps turn up; and surprising also how invisible steps are to people for whom they present no obstacle. Even with my simple 1” rule I can still arrive and find a step hiding somewhere. The most common step is actually the curb; occasionally it is very difficult to find a way from car park to path. Well, I should have emailed the hotel in Sydney, but I didn’t do that either; it was entirely my fault that I had no idea what I would find at day’s end.

And what a surprise it turned out to be!  Two big, convict-laid sandstone steps rising from the footpath to the front door which opened onto a tiny foyer containing a lift and a cedar staircase winding its way upward.  A sign pointed invitingly upward to Reception on the first floor. I always carry with me an excellent pair of German made collapsible carbon fibre crutches, so leaving Bugger and The Chug somewhat exposed on George Street I mounted the sandstone treads, caught the lift, and immediately descended three steps to a wandering corridor that led to Reception. My thoughts were running to the cost of  a new hotel room, the probably forfeiture of this hotel’s deposit, and the problem of just how and where another room might be found in the Sydney CBD at 9pm. I felt somewhat foolish explaining my mistake to a young man behind the counter, but he was charming and enthusiastic, “No Sir, I don’t think this will be a problem, let me go and check”.

He was gone a few minutes and returned with confidence that the room I had booked could be accessed. He then accompanied me back along the wandering corridor, back up three steps, back down in the lift, and back down two sandstone plinths to the footpath, where we found Bugger and The Chug safe and sound on George St.  Then I followed this helpful fellow a few doors further up George St. and into an old arcade, studded with tiny shops.  The arcade narrowed considerably and after squeezing between two columns at the end we turned and passed several tables of diners, then on round a couple of bends to our goal: another lift!  The building, my guide told me, was very old and had once been a post office. The lift itself was the oddest shape, as was the room when I eventually found it.

The tiniest room in the world: single bed, Bugger and The Chug, and only half of me.
Just enough room for a single bed, Bugger and The Chug, and half of me.

To reach my allocated room we went through two large fire escape doors and along a couple more winding corridors that changed width considerably and occasionally dodged old sandstone cornices and columns. Destination: the tiniest hotel room in the world!  But everything was fresh and new, it had an en-suite, and it was definitely the best sleep of the trip.

The kindness people show me is continually reassuring. If I stop somewhere to read a map or to figure out a timetable it is quite likely that someone will stop beside me and ask if I need any help. The Chug attracts comment virtually every time I leave home; many people say enthusiastic, encouraging things to me. Entertainingly, people frequently offer to help me get it on the bus ( … how are they planning to help … actually?), or offer to help me push it along! I can’t imagine how they think I am pushing it, but the function of The Chug – which is to pull me along – seems elusive to many. It is quite amusing when people finally figure out how it works. Their faces light up, and they say, “Oh, now I get it!”

In a world gone mad, a world that seems ever more impersonal and commercially driven, a world obsessed with profit, fascinated by disaster and ringed in conflict, it seems to me endlessly reassuring that ordinary people are nice. It’s a terribly bland word isn’t it? Nice. It’s oh-so-average and ho-hum, but perhaps it’s underrated. Most people are ordinary (I like that statement), and my observation is that most ordinary people are nice.  But think for a moment what that actually says about the world around us: contrary to what we are told daily by our government and the media, we are surrounded by nice people! Most of the time strangers are not dangers.

There is one caveat to this observation: people were not as nice to me when I was an able-bod. Not that people were unkind, or un-nice, but the innate goodness of people seems often to be hidden away; until it can be drawn out by a fellow human’s need. I didn’t especially notice the kindness in the throng of humankind until they saw my limitation. En mass we seem capable of callous indifference, hatred even; but one by one we are beautiful.

One of the things I find most attractive about Christ’s teaching and life is his concentration on individual people. His message did not have corporate appeal; and was never intended to build empires. It takes considerable embellishment to turn Jesus into a juggernaut. He calls on people one by one, and then asks us, “How do you treat the stranger among you?”




I’m actually back at home again now, so you can’t write to me ‘on the road’.  But write anyway: