As per the plan I detailed last time, today my PA and I set off for the local Citizen's Advice Bureau, to see about getting help with the DLA forms.
The CAB is at the end of a long terrace of gorgeous Regency houses that have been converted into offices. In other words, steps all over the place, mostly without so much as a handrail. But charity sector and public sector buildings tend to do much better on access than private sector businesses, and as such there is an outdoor lift at the side of the CAB's building. Hurrah! At exactly 10am, which is when they open, we rolled up to the lift-gate, read the instructions, and twisted the red gate-release button. Nothing. Pressed and twisted the red button. Nothing. Pressed the lift-call button to make sure the lift was properly down (often they won't open unless they're right at ground level). Nothing.
Feeling incredibly fortunate to have a PA, I sent her to the top of the stairs to see if it worked at the top (or to put it another way, "is this thing on?"). Yes, the lift call button at the top worked, the lift rose majestically, and the gate at the top opened. Now that the lift was up, my call-button at the bottom worked to make it come down again... but would the red gate-release button release the gate? Would it hell.
Okay, never mind. I asked my PA to go inside and see if she could find a staff member who would come out and either (a) say "ah yes, we know that button is broken and this is how we deal with it," or alternatively, (b) take my details and arrange an appointment at a different building without me having to physically go into the CAB.
What we got was a staff member who assumed my PA was on about a child in a pushchair and who looked horrified when she saw me sitting there. I sat in the cold, damp alley and shivered while she went through all the button-pressing sequences we had, to no avail, and went back inside to ask for help.
So then there were three different staff members milling about outside. Volunteer One was standing at the top of the stairs, ineffectually musing about how they'd had the lift repaired only a couple of weeks ago and wasn't it awful, you would think an outdoor lift would work outdoors, the whole thing was a big waste of money. Volunteer Two, after a few minutes, decided to give up on the lift, apologised to me, and asked if I'd mind awfully if she took my details outside and then she'd arrange for a referral to a specialist advisor who would phone me to make an appointment. I'd have been happy enough with that, but then the third staff member, who'd been raising and lowering and prodding and rattling the lift, made a triumphant sound and opened the bottom gate. And they all looked at me, expectantly, and my PA and I looked at each other, in horror.
See, stranded at the bottom of the stairs with a non-functional lift is not too much of a problem. You are effectively locked out of the building, but you can cut your losses and get from where you are to just about anywhere else - including your car and your house. Stranded at the top is a different matter entirely. You are effectively locked in and can't go anywhere.
Did we trust this lift to not only get us safely to the top, but also to deliver us back to the bottom and let us out again?
Well, no, not really, but three volunteers, none of whom were dressed for being outdoors in October, were standing around waiting for us to embark - one with a very pleased grin at his success in opening the gate - and I wasn't up to an argument. We rolled on and did our best not to wince as the gate clanged shut behind us.
Now, to be fair, once we were inside the building everything went marvellously well. Since I'd already explained my situation and had a certain amount of advice from Volunteer Two, I didn't have to queue behind all the people who'd walked in while I was sitting at the bottom of the lift, she just carried on sorting out the referral as she would have done if I was still outdoors. It was arranged that an outreach worker specialising in disability would call me in the afternoon to arrange an appointment at a rather more accessible premises that also happens to be nearer to my end of town. Pleased with this, we left.
Or tried to. Because, unsurprisingly, the bottom gate refused to open, and this time, we were on the wrong side of it.
Now, I'm going to take a moment to describe this lift. An effort - a very creditable effort - has been made to make it fit in with the surrounding architecture. Or to put it another way, the safety barrier all around the lift is five-foot-tall black iron spiky railings, to match the ones adorning the other houses. However, it is difficult to feel the proper appreciation for such attractive and thoughtful design when you are trapped inside it and staring out through bars getting gently drizzled on, while a couple more volunteers, neither of whom were present at the original effort to open the bottom gate, poke and prod and make useful observations such as the fact the top gate opens.
This in turn made us late (not to mention cold, bedraggled and miserable) for the Social Services meeting, but at least we had a good excuse.