Sunday, 25 June 2017

Product Review: Ossenberg Crutches

Been a while since I did one of these.

I've had loads of crutches down the years, several of which have been mentioned on here before now.  Bizarrely this blog gets a lot of hits, still, from my misspelling of cannes anglaises, way back in 2011.  Since then I've had a couple of pairs of folding Vilgo crutches  but the elastic in them worked loose over time.  I then found a pair of OPO ones which were not bad, indeed I still use them around the house, but it seems that, pre-wheelchair, a year was about as long as any crutches lasted without worrisome squeaks and creaks.  And when I came to replace them, there didn't seem to be a UK distributor for the OPOs.  So I took the plunge, about three years ago, and bought a pair Ossenbergs.

Now, Ossenbergs have a reputation for being amongst the best crutches there are.  Their folding ones are carbon fibre.  But they're not cheap, so until then I'd tried various other ones.  I kind of wish I hadn't bothered.

I love them.  They're not as light as I thought, similar in weight to the Vilgos and slightly heavier than the OPOs, because the anatomically moulded grip and sturdier forearm section offsets the gain from the lighter tubes.  They tolerated 20 hours folded on a flight from Dubai to Auckland last year and sprung back into life when put back together.  By contrast, I had a Vilgo become next to useless after being folded for a couple of hours on a flight to Rome. The anatomic grips took a while to get used to and inevitably if I grab for just one, I end up with the wrong one.  But they're definitely easier on the hands and wrists than even the OPOs (which I supplemented with stick on neoprene grips).

Looking at the prices today, it seems Vilgos have gone up in price and Ossenbergs have come down - so they're now pretty much the same price.  They may be boring black, at least if you want folding, but the Ossenbergs win hands down in my book.  Absolutely recommend them.  Oh and the non-folding ones come in cool colours.

Not a paid review.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Boaty McBoatface?

As it happened, the same week I was booking that train trip to Durham, I was also booking our summer holiday.  We're off to France again, this time to Brittany, for 12 days on a campsite and then we're having 3 days in Belgium on the way home.  We've a couple of days in the west of England on the way down, catching up with friends, and Brittany Ferries will be taking us from Portsmouth to Caen.  On the way back, we're going from Zeebrugge to Hull with P&O Ferries.

The outward journey is an afternoon sailing but I did contemplate booking a disabled cabin so I could relax comfortably.  It was only £26.  However, I've travelled with them before and I know they do very good, reasonably priced, food.  By the time we've eaten and looked around a bit, there's not enough left of a 6 hour sailing for much of a nap.  So I decided to book recliner seats for us at £5 each.  The online booking portal had a section for me to fill out with my accessibility needs so I completed that and paid for my booking.

Next morning I got a quick call from them, where they confirmed my booking, I checked that I could park the wheelchair and transfer to a comfortable recliner, and they made sure I was aware I need to be there an hour before sailing.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ to Brittany Ferries.

P&O's booking portal was equally helpful.  We're on an overnight ferry coming back, so I pre-booked dinner (so we can maximise our time visiting Bruges during the day) and an accessible cabin.  They didn't call me, they asked me to call them and that's the only thing reason they get a lower rating than Brittany.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ to P&O.

What a difference from the trains.  In both cases they asked all the right questions in a polite and sensitive way.  "Can you transfer yourself?".  "Do you need assistance to get from your car to the lift?"  They made no assumptions of ability or disability and when I explained my needs they seemed to understand them.

Choo choo, I'm a train.

Last week I ventured on a long distance train for the first time.  My office overlooks a train station and I do occasionally find myself pondering the width of the doors and the size of the step down from the train.  Neither reassured me.  Then there were the posts I read on social media and in the press about booked assistance not turning up.  I've seen statistics as high as a 20% failure rate.  I can't image having to commute via train with a wheelchair, when on 2 journeys a week you either can't get on, or can't get off, the train.  And I'm not sure which is worse.  I used to joke that I was worried I'd end up in Penzance.

Anyway, a work trip to Durham, on a Monday at the start of a very busy week, meant there really was no option but the train.

Guess what.  I had to get a  Penzance train.

I managed to book online and using the Cross Country website had, I thought, booked assistance. What I wanted was to put my wheelchair in the luggage area and sit on a seat - lightweight wheelchairs are inherently unstable, that's what you trade for maneuverability.  On a fast, bumpy train that's not ideal.  Were there a way of securing the wheelchair, it would be OK, but there is no way to secure a wheelchair in most train carriages.  The same is true of buses.  20 years ago we had guidance that Wheelchair and Occupant Restraint Systems should be in place on public transport.  Somehow, that has disappeared.

So.  I e-mailed and checked.  No answer.  Then I got three e-mails confirming my assistance for the return journey (which, due to it costing a mere 20p extra, was in first class) but none for the outbound trip.  After more e-mails, in frustration I took to twitter.  Cross Country's PR team claimed that the wheelchair couldn't go as luggage, as it wasn't luggage.  It couldn't go in the bike area, as it wasn't a bike.  It couldn't go in the wheelchair space if I wasn't in it (reasonable).  It seemed like an impasse.  Eventually I phoned the Cross Country assistance team.  They confirmed assistance was booked, at least, and conceded that the wheelchair could go in the luggage area but only if I could stow it and take the wheels off myself as the assistance staff could not board the train.

Monday was D-day.  I was at the station at least half an hour before departure and chatted to a nice woman who was the sole member of staff assisting passengers on a busy mainline station. My train wasn't on the board yet so I said I would wait on the concourse.  25 minutes later, with less than 10 minutes to go and with the colleague I was travelling with having arrived, I asked their gate staff to let the assistance woman know that I was heading down to the platform.  She arrived a couple of minutes later.  I got on the train no problems.

Once on the train I started disassembling the wheelchair, much to the confusion of the Train Manager.  It seems they are very frustrated with what is said by both the PR team and the assistance booking team.  My situation is not unusual (there are a lot of lightweight users out there) and what they advise is to book for Coach D or F.  Then they just wheel the wheelchair through to the luggage area. So now I know for next time.

My journey of course wasn't over.  When we got to Durham there was no sign of the booked assistance.  Virgin East Coast had no record of my request for assistance.  My colleague and a stranger helped me down from the train - just as well or I could have ended up in Penzance after all!

On the way back, I got to the station an hour in advance and, thankfully, everyone had a record of me and I got all the help I needed.  Since the train was quiet, my wheelchair sat in the wheelchair space and I sat in my seat.  I suspect the fact I was in First Class helped.  I hate to say it, but I suspect that's what I'll do in future, if I can.

My assistance failure rate - 25%

Time for a gratuitous use of this wonderful moment in Glasgow.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

There's a ramp!

I'm on a panel today and am very impressed to find there is a ramp up to the podium!  Well done NHS Lanarkshire.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Almost but not quite...

I'm at the Nottingham Human Rights Law Centre Summer School this week and we are staying in a Premier Inn in the centre of Nottingham.  I've been given an accessible room, which usually I don't bother with as I can walk the short distances in a hotel room.

The hotel is almost brand new and very comfortable.  It has a wet room with plenty of hand rails.  The basin is a decent size and there is counter space for toiletries and make up.  There's plenty of space to move around.  All in all the architect designed an accessible room that meets all the right standards but doesn't feel like a public toilet.

And then, I suspect, someone with a bit less knowledge came along to fit it out.

There's a shelf unit (with wheelchair height hanging rail) that sticks out into the room making it very difficult to squeeze a wheelchair through.  They should have put hooks on the wall.  

There's a very bulky shower seat in a small but otherwise workable shower area.  It makes it tricky to shower whether or not you're using it.  You can get much smaller ones than this, that take up less space or they could provided a freestanding chair or stool that could be moved out of the way.  

The phenomenon of a building being designed accessible but obstacles being added that reduce accessibility is not limited to hotels.  Shops are really goo at adding free standing displays that block aisles or even the tills!  

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Where did the ramp go?

It's actually reassuring to discover that problems with ramps are not confined to this country.  A friend pointed me in the direction of this article from a local paper in Connecticut, USA, about a perfectly good ramp being moved in a way that made it barely accessible.

I wonder if they thought to move the disabled parking bays as well?

Friday, 3 June 2016

I'm at an event today at the Lighthouse in Glasgow and had to take a picture of this symbol they've used in all the signage for their disabled toilets.

I love active wheelchair logos, like the one on the Edinburgh trams I posted about a couple of years ago.  This person is clearly going up a very steep hill!

I'd suggest one small change - maybe it should be at the eye level of a wheelchair user.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Money, money money

We're off to Denmark* on our holidays, so I dug out the Danish coins in our random coins jar.

The small Scottish boy had a look through some of the others - I have lira, Deutschmark, Belgian Franc, Guilder and even some Czechoslovak and Soviet coins (bonus points for having not only currencies which no longer exist, but ones from countries which no longer exist). Also, for some unknown reason, I have about 10Fr in 10 and 20 centime coins.

Anyway, conferred with the Nationalbanken website to see if the Danish coins were still OK. They all are, except the old style 25øre and 5øre but they had been withdrawn in 1991 when I got them.

I don't have any notes, which is good, because they've been replaced twice since I lived there. The new ones have bridges (real ones, not the Euro fake ones) on one side and Viking things on the other.

I was impressed though that the last series (which I'd not really looked at - they were just coming out when I left in 1999) was gender balanced - given the debate about having just one woman (aside from the Queen) on bank notes generates here. There were five notes, so the 1000kr had Anna and Michael Ancher. Karen Blixen, Carl Nielsen, Johanne Luise Heiberg (who was played by Sidse Babett Knudsen in 1864) and Niels Bohr were on the others.

The ones before, the ones I know from living there, are the 1972 series. All but one of those have women on. Prior to that was a portrait series of all men. I do wonder if any other nation has had as many physicists on it's notes - Bohr, Ørsted and Rømer have all featured down the years.

*Yes, I know, Abba are Swedish. Three years of Scandinavian Studies at University here! Our plans also include a quick visit to Sweden one evening for dinner. I've been there just once, for a few hours one Easter Sunday in the 90s. I had no Swedish money with me, but as nothing was open, it didn't matter.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016


Frustratingly, though Copenhagen's streets are fantastic for cyclists, they're a bloody nightmare for wheelchair users.  It's so tempting to head up that beautiful smooth cycle path but when I briefly did, because the footpath was blocked by parked cycles, I got shouted at (and shouted back I might add!).

So I've struggled along with those rows of cobbles which are almost exactly the width of my chair apart.  Even with the freewheel, the least worst option is to follow the cobbles with it.  This is pretty good path.  Most are half the width and very uneven.

Also, when everyone cycles, there are as many arseholes cyclists as arsehole drivers.