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Rail Travel is a Piece of Cake

Rail Travel is a Piece of Cake

Man in a wheelchair with his guide dogTravelling if you have a disability can be difficult, but wheelchair user Allen Parton is one man who proves that with a little bit of help from your friends, it can be a 'piece of cake'. Kirsten Newman talks to a man whose positive spirit is outshone only by the special bond he has with Endal, his canine life line.

A tragic road accident changed Allen's life completely in 1991, seeing him suffering a severe head injury and consequently, considerable physical and emotional trauma.

Allen was a Chief Petty Officer serving in the Royal Navy during the Gulf War. He had a very promising military career ahead of him and a wife and two children at home in Portsmouth.

His life changed for ever after his accident. It wiped out his memories and left him unable to walk, speak or write. He couldn't even remember getting married or the birth of his children. He spent the next five years in hospital, struggling to come to terms with his disabilities. He had lost the ability to feel any emotions, not knowing how to love, laugh or even cry. He became very introverted, his confidence was shattered and he could not see any future. He was so miserable and depressed that he even tried to commit suicide. As a result, his relationship with his wife Sandra and his children became strained.

Nine years ago Allen was partnered with Endal, a yellow Labrador part trained by Canine Partners. It has developed into a life-changing partnership and a heart warming tale of man's best friend giving one man and his family a new lease on life. Endal has given Allen back his independence, freedom and peace of mind, and helped to rebuild his relationships. 'I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for Endal,' Allen says.

As well as everyday tasks such as helping Allen out of bed and into his wheelchair, withdrawing money from cash points, and doing the shopping, Endal can also respond to sign language the pair have developed between them over time, for when Allen can not remember the words for items such as razor, hat, or gloves.

Allen is a regular traveller on South West Trains and Endal ably assists from the word go in his journeys by pushing the button to get on the train. He makes regular trips to London and Leeds for the charity, Canine Partners, and has recently been travelling a lot whilst making a film about his life.  The pair then settle back in air conditioned comfort and proceed to make friends up the length and breadth of the country on their travels, which are considerable since the pair's celebrity begun to grow a few years ago.

It's a long way since the days of travelling in the guards van, Allen says wryly, which was no fun, being cold, draughty, and a bit lonely with only the bikes for company. 'It was a bleak, lonely place, to be honest. Having said that, I did become a bit of an expert on bikes.'

Returning to his home in Petersfield, Hampshire, he is a familiar and welcome sight with his faithful friend, greeting the staff cheerily. 'Sometimes I shout, hi honey, I'm home,' he jokes, as they assist him with the ramps and ensure he has anything else he needs. 'They're out there in the wind or rain with the ramp, and always ready with a bit of banter or a laugh,' he says.

He's particularly impressed with the service he receives when travelling from Petersfield to Leeds, a journey which takes him about four hours, and requires three changes to complete the trip.

'I really am very positive about rail travel. Yes, of course there are always things that could be tweaked but overall the (rail companies) do such a good job. Travelling on the trains is not a bind any more,' he says.