Giving the Train a Fighting Chance

Sunday July 1st.

2.15 on a Friday afternoon, and I have boarded the town bus, heading for the station to meet the 3.11 train.  My Favourite Wife and I are spending a weekend in Melbourne; for her it’s mainly Auslan training, for me it’s mainly JS Bach concerts.  Teen Girl is in respite care, which is as painful for us as it is for her, but she always has a good time once she gets there.  This is our first trip together in quite a while; soon we will meet on the station platform, and we will be on our way!
The train leaves at 3.11pm … … precisely … … and waits for no man … … keep that in mind … … 

2.16 pm       The bus goes around a corner, and instantly I’m facing a different part of the bus. This is not as it should be, and I quickly conclude that one wheelchair wheel has not locked properly. On inspection, one brake lever on Bugger (I’m feeling like reviving the old name) seems to push down far too easily. Now, why would that be?  It takes me a moment, as this has never happened before. It’s a flat tyre, the second flat tyre this week. The first flat tyre I’ve ever had on a wheelchair – ever – occurred two days ago, on Wednesday, when I had pneumatic tyres fitted to Bugger.  The mechanic pushed the finished chair out from his workshop, and as I was fitting everything back onto the chair he said, 

“Hang on, somethings not right here” 

and before our eyes one tyre began looking less and less interested in work. 


This was not a promising start really, as I had been debating the pros and cons of changing to pump-up, pneumatic tyres for several months.  For 8 years I have run solid tyres on my chairs to avoid the possibility of a flat, but I’ve noticed that serious wheelchair people run pneumatic tyres; so with much consideration, and apprehension, I am giving it a go. It takes the mechanic a further two hours to make several attempts to repair the tube, and finally, in defeat, nick one from another wheelchair on the floor.  But back to the present…….

2.28       It has begun to rain, but there is a bus shelter at my stop, and once off the bus I immediately unpack a good deal of my gear to find the toolkit, buried deeply under the seat, and begin to change the tube. Just yesterday I had visited the bike shop and stocked up on tyre levers, a spare tube, puncture repair patches and little pressurised cylinders that take the place of a bulky hand pump for filling tyres. I’ve not changed a bicycle tyre this since I was a kid, but it feels familiar and I am pleasantly surprised how quickly the job is done. A moment to pat my own back and I’m packed and ready to go, if a little wet around the edges.

2.39       Too quick by half, it would seem. I have another flat. I assume I’ve pinched the tube when I was getting the tyre back on. One option is to repair one of the the two punctured tubes, using the rain to locate the hole.  This is a dumb idea: using the rain, as if!  Therefore the only option is to make a dash through the rain to the bike shop, which is so very fortunately located between the bus stop and the train station about a kilometre away. Some more quick unpacking to get the rain cape, as the rain is getting steadily heavier. 

2.41       I’m soaked, despite my usually reliable cape. This rain is now pelting down. Travelling with one flat tyre is not the easiest thing; neither is steering a wheelchair in the rain with treacherously slippery push rims and leather gloves.

2.45       It is now hailing. Heavily. But the hailstones are mercifully small, and do no harm.

2.49       Absurdly, the sun comes out with startling speed, and my first thought is that now nobody will believe me about the hail. 

2.52       I’m in the bike shop!  As a considerable puddle of water emanates from my chair and discarded rain cape I try to sound mater of fact and ask if someone could possibly fix a tyre. I don’t want to beg, but I do mention that the train leaves at 3.11.  This is the very same bike shop I was in yesterday, and the fellow who sold me yesterday’s supplies is amused.  I’m also amused, which worries me because I have noticed that I do tend to find potential disasters energising, and often quite funny.  This is a point at which my Favourite Wife and I differ, considerably. She will have played safe, and been on the platform for quarter of an hour at least, whereas I like to give the train a fighting chance.  

2.56       Two cycle aficionados (aficionadi?)  are debating which of two tube sizes would be more suitable, as my 25” wheelchair rims do not have a corresponding bicycle wheel size.  I knew this already, but I’m not an aficionado. They settle on the one I had, as it happens, asked for. 

2.58       There is a problem. My wheel doesn’t have the tape that usually sits over the ends of the spokes and protects the tube. (I’d actually wondered about this way back at the bus stop, so perhaps I am an aficionado in the making?).  Would Sir like tape with his order?  Well, yes, but the train does leave at 3.11!

3.01       I’ve gone to the front of the rather large shop, paid them for their trouble, and for two more tubes and more little gas cylinders, just in case, but there’s no sign of a wheel yet…  

3.07       I am at the train station, on the platform! 

Honestly, what was all the fuss about?
But where is Favourite Wife?  I’m ringing her phone.
There are several messages from her that I have failed to notice – and do you blame me?
Why won’t she answer?!
But at the very edge of my awareness I hear a little voice. Where is it coming from?  Is it behind me? Is it saying “Maynard, Maynard, Maynard”?
Yes, it is!  This is my 3 year old grandson with his Mum,
and his Grandmama,
and here we go!



Post Script:  Next month I have a far richer, far better, almost miraculous tale to tell …. but not just yet.  I need to be sure. 

Post – Post Script: Two weeks, and my flat tyre count is now four.  Will I persevere?