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Joe Mc on a journey through the underworld ... / 21 August 2010

Eurydice'a journey between the two worlds
(oil on oil painting paper August 2010)
© Joe McConnell

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A few weeks ago i was overjoyed on reading a blog post from Colin Hambrook, where he told us that one of his favourite movies is Orphée (Jean Cocteau, France, 1949). It is one of mine as well. After a couple of decades of boring, sterile computer-generated effects on modern mainstream movies, the scene where Heurtebise (the chauffeur of Death played by the amazing Maria Casares) leads Jean Marais' Orpheus through the looking glass - impeccably cut with a rippling surface of water - still wallops the pants off anything I've ever seen done by Spielberg.

I was reminded last night of the ethereal voyage depicted in the movie while embarking on what became a somewhat surreal journey through London. My good mate Nancy Willis is about to screen her award-winning movie Elegy for the Elswick Envoy (Nancy Willis, UK, 2007) (Nancy Willis, UK, 2007) at the forthcoming Portobello Film Festival. She kindly invited me along. So we had to make a journey from somewhere in North London to Portobello which lies somewhere this side of the rainbow to the west of the city. A journey that 'unimpeded' travellers would take no more than 40 minutes to make.

We began by consulting the oracle. London Overground on the web. We humbly asked it to cast before us mere mortals a map of accessible stations which would lead us to our destination. In the blink of an eye, we had an interconnecting link of no less than five stages to this journey.

So in all good faith we hit the road. At Station One we were met by a small team of railway men. We were delighted that we could access the platform via a well-built ramp. The team then tripped over themselves – with choreography which would have pleased Gilbert and Sullivan - to ensure that the rest of our journey would flow smoothly. One eye cast on our map, showed them that the oracle had spoken falsely. Station Two on the route did not have level access. But we could transfer to a train which would bring us to another station - which we duly did - only to double back on our tracks to head off towards our destination. Confused? So were we as was the host of lovely, helpful railway angels who tried their best to get us to our destination.

And to our destination we did finally arrive. A mere two and a half hours after setting out. We went to the Film Festival gig and it was all cool, but not particularly relevant to this story. So not long afterwards we hit the homeward bound road.

Earlier, Station Four had been followed by a bus ride and returning on the same bus was more or less straightforward. However, the same Station Four, from which we had blithely issued forth earlier, explained through the medium of a benign customer service agent that the platform from which we needed to make the return journey was at the bottom of a vertiginous staircase! We quickly realised that the way out was one thing, the way back was something else entirely. All of a sudden the original flawed route, that had at least got us to our destination, fell apart completely. A lengthy discussion on the various alternatives followed. The lack of certainty about the accessibility of the suggested stations did not inspire confidence.

On this occasion all was well that ended well. On pointing out how misinformed we had been by London Overground, a lovely official, who was consulted by phone, gave the nod and ordered us a taxi home. When you're in good company, meeting lovely helpful entities along the way, a difficult journey can be a magical mystery tour. But it can just as easily be a voyage to hell. London Overground - and I suspect the transport systems in other major British cities - really have a long way to go before you could say that a disabled traveller is having anywhere near an equal experience as others.

It was the strange dreamlike quality of the journey that reminded me of Orphée, a film I passionately recommend if you haven't seen it already. Elegy for the Elswick Envoy is also a wonderful. movie and also highly recommended. The eight (at the last count) awards that it has won across the globe would seem to agree.

Keywords: access issues,accessible vehicles,film