Monday, 14 September 2015

Musée de l'Armistice

One of the other things on my shortlist for the Compiegne area was the Glade of the Armistice and  Musée de l'Armistice - the French national war memorial in the middle of the forest of Compiegne.  It was here that the Armistice was signed in November 1918, in Marechal Foch's private railway carriage.  It was also where the invading Germans had the French sign the surrender in 1940, after which they destroyed the site and had the railway carriage taken to Berlin, where it was destroyed.

After World War Two the site was restored and another carriage from the same manufacturer was turned into a replica of Foch's carriage.  It's this that you can still see today.  Outside the small but interesting museum, there are a number of memorials related to both World Wars and the location of the tracks and carriages is marked out in stone.

One of the more modern memorials - this one to peace. 

The site is level with fine gravel paths - it's quite a wheel from the car park but completely flat and thankfully shaded - this was the day it hit 40 degrees in Paris!  The museum itself is accessed by several steps and there is a small, elderly but serviceable platform lift.  I had to get No-so-small Scottish Boy to fetch someone with the key (his first French lesson turned out to be "l'acenseur s'il vous plait").  There's another platform lift inside, which is worth using to get up to the rest of the exhibit.  

There seems to be big plans to update the museum - and hopefully also both the access and the website, which is a gem of a site, complete with Forrest Gump soundtrack and a Wanadoo e-mail address, that will take you right back to the late 90s!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Somme

I set a few conditions about our trip.  I wanted to see a Cathedral, I wanted to see some of the Somme and I wanted to see the Carriage in which the Armistice was signed (of which, more later).

The afternoon of our day in Amiens, having seen the Cathedral before lunch, we took a drive out along the Somme to Péronne, to see the Historial de la Grande Guerre.  This was a brilliant museum in a setting which really emphasised how tranquil the Somme is.  The museum itself is set within a Norman castle and despite this is completely accessible - albeit that they are quite keen on ramps (down to the entrance and within the building).  There was a real range of material, including plenty of interest to children.  There were sections about each of the main nations involved in the Somme (including Germany) and also about civilian life during the war.  The final section was an art exhibition.

No photography inside, so the only pictures are of Not-so-small Scottish Boy exploring the defences of the castle and of the view from the terrace of the cafe.

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After visiting we took a slow route back along the Somme itself, away from the main roads.  These tend to go along the plain, whereas the local roads wind their way down into the river valleys, hidden away below what seems from the main road to be flat fields.  You'll dip down and find a picturesque village, a water meadow or a meandering tributary of the river.  For a place with such violent historic resonances as The Somme, it's a beautiful, peaceful corner of France.  It's hard to imagine how it could have been hell on earth, only 100 years ago, were it not for the many, many military cemeteries.


This post has been lurking in drafts since our holidays - poor internet connection prevented me from adding pictures, so I'm posting it now.  Pretend I'm still in France, it's 40 degrees outside, the sun is shining and I have a glass of 3 quid AOC white wine in my hand!

Cobbles have always been a bit lost on me. They look very historic and picturesque but even walking they're hard work - as any number of turned ankles evidences. On wheels, they're a nightmare. However, there are good cobbles and bad cobbles. Good ones look as good, perhaps better, but are a smooth enough surface to wheel over without trapping a caster, which carries the threat of an undignified headfirst tumble out of the chair. Good cobbles also take a fraction of the effort to push across.

We got quite a lot of experience of different cobbles surfaces in Amiens, where the signage for the disabled entrance to the cathedral has disappeared due to building works. Here's some lovely cobbles from Amiens:

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And here's some that aren't. Notice that the good ones look nicer and are free of cigarette ends. These were only a few metres up the same street.

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This evening we had dinner in a family restaurant, Leon, on the outskirts of Amiens. The man at the next table had the same model of Quickie Helium as me, but larger casters. Maybe that was for the cobbles!

Here's a few shots from Amiens.   The Cathedral was wheelchair accessible (aside from dodgy cobbles and a slightly too steep ramp at one point) but the entrance was poorly signposted as there were building works.

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And we found a New Zealand memorial inside.

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Catch-up time

I have so many half-composed entries in my head from the summer - I am going to make a concerted effort to put some of them on here in the next couple of weeks, especially as I went and chatted to the lovely people at Blether FM, a local community radio station, this evening and promised to share this blog with them.  It needs to have some up to date content first!  So, I've all sorts of things on the way - more on France, some other things I've done over the summer and my first wheeled trip to the Helix and the Kelpies.

Right now, however, I need to think of a new nickname for the Small Scottish Boy.  He's had that nickname since he was a toddler, but at 139cm tall and in his last year of primary school,  he is now not so small.  This week he celebrated the massive milestone of his first proper rock concert - Foo Fighters at Murrayfield.

Until I come up with anything better, I think he'll need to be No-so-small Scottish Boy.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Accessible France

We're on our way to France for our summer holidays, which are usual brings the challenge of figuring out which places are accessible and which aren't.  I found very little in English, but I have just discovered J'accede which looks to be very useful.  Not all of it is translated but the basic access information is (mostly) and the good news is that accessibility French is pretty close to English.  First up is Notre Dame d'Amiens, which the site tells me is fully wheelchair accessible.  We'll be there on Tuesday (we've a trip through the Channel Tunnel first!).

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Redhall Walled Garden, Edinburgh

A couple of weeks ago, friends in Edinburgh asked would we like to come along on a visit to Redhall Walled Garden, in the western suburbs of Edinburgh, as they were having an open day.  The small boy was at first a bit reluctant but changed his mind and I am so glad he did.

The garden is run by the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) as an employment and learning support service for people recovering from episodes of serious mental ill health.  They offer training and support but have also created the most magical haven.  It's partly funded from various public bodies, but as with so much these days is increasingly having to become self-sustaining and one of the ways they do this is through plant sales and fundraising on their open days.

The garden itself was originally the walled garden for the nearby Redhall House and served two purposes - firstly it was the house's kitchen garden.  In Scotland, summers can be short and the weather unpredictable, so sheltered walled gardens allowed fruit and vegetables that would otherwise not survive to be cultivated.  A greenhouse attached to a south-facing wall meant tender fruits and exotic flowers could also be grown.  Walled gardens also had a more leisurely function, for the occupants of the "big hoose" and included formal areas, water features and elaborate planting.  At Redhall there is also a summer house, currently being restored, which provided them with shelter, warmth (it has an impressive fireplace) and comfort to take in a view - in this case an avenue of trees down to the Water of Leith.  More recent additions are a replica neolithic roundhouse and a sandpit for kids, as well as polytunnels for cultivating plants.

Today, the gardens are open to the public on weekdays and on a number of weekend open days during the year - at which they also sell the most amazing cream teas.  About half the garden is devoted to raising plants and half is laid out as formal and informal gardens.  There are lots of areas to explore for kids.  The ground is gently sloping with firm gravel, firm grass and a few paved paths - all but the bottom level was easily accessible and I suspect had I explored further I'd have found a way down there as well.  It would benefit from a couple more paved routes from the bottom of the garden back to the top (there's one at the very end), just to make getting back up a bit easier, but I managed on the well-treaded and firm grass paths without help.

As a gardener, it's great place to buy plants as you know they've been raised to survive our climate - as opposed to those at the garden centre chains which have been shipped in from much further south.  I got a nice collection which will be making their way into the bed below my living room window just as soon as the painting work on the windows is finished.  

As ever I took far too few photos - I need to get back into the habit of this as it is much easier with the wheelchair.  I did get a couple of the kids - chasing each other round the herbaceous border and investigating the pond.

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Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Zen and the art of wheelchair maintenance.

I've been a bit lax over the last couple of weeks about wheelchair maintenance - you need to pump up the tyres once a week or so and strip out the front casters about once a month as grit, fluff and hair builds up.  In particular you end up with lovely little circles of hair.  On Thursday I'd noticed the casters were no longer moving very well and there was a bolt that seemed to be coming loose on either side of back, so I decided it was time.  And for the first time I did a proper job of it.

The basic rule is to take the wheels off, squirt everything that should move with WD40, tighten everything that shouldn't move but is.

So I hauled the wheelchair in the house and started stripping it down with my trust set of US hex keys.  So far so good.  Cleaned everything up, squirted WD40 all over the bearings, etc, and in the socket the front fork goes into on the frame of the chair.  As instructed I did the casters one by one, so I didn't forget which of the three positions they needed to be in.  That's the trickiest part and I've never yet managed to do it without dropping the bolts or, particularly, the washers several times.

I also took the wheels off, pumped them up to their full 110psi (that raised eyebrows when I bought the pump in the bicycle sectionof Decathlon) and squirted a bit of WD40 on the axels.

Fully re-assembled, I put the chair back in my car.

I didn't use it  much on Friday, so Saturday was the first time I used it for any length of time and it just felt weird.  Heading out to Tesco, I skidded on some gravel in the carpark.  It seemed to wobble and, on very smooth laminate flooring of the SNP local campaign office, one of the rear wheels skidded instead of turned.

I finally figured it out late afternoon - I'd managed to put one of the casters at the wrong height and that was enough to through the whole chair off.  Luckily it's a quick fix, so my local parliamentary candidate was treated to a quick demonstration of wheelchair maintenance (I keep a small purse with the hex keys for the casters in a pocket on the chair) and I was good to go.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Scottish Sea Life Centre - Oban

I'm still playing catch-up on our trip away during the school holidays, so here's a belated post about another one of our outings.

On our second day at Ballachulish we decided to try and dodge the rain showers and visit the Scottish Sea Life Centre at Oban.  It was featured in Rough Guide to Accessible Travel in Britain as accessible so I thought it would be fine - and have plenty of shelter if it did rain.

This Sea Life Centre is situated in a wooded area, just north of Oban.  Unlike the other's we've been to, it wasn't all in one building, but spread across several buildings.  The car park is about 100m or so from the main buildings and when we visited the ticket office was closed, so you had to enter through a gate with an uneven path.  Once back on the main path, it was smooth enough, with a couple of uneven bits where tree roots had lifted the path.  It's down a slight hill and I was a bit nervous about getting back up.

When we arrived the staff gave me a map with details of disabled access.  The main aquarium was not built with disabled access in mind, so you have to enter each of three sections separately to see everything - this means doubling back against the flow of other visitors and then going round the side of the building to re-enter via a fire exit.  At one point I sent the boy down some steps, saying I'd meet him down there, only to find I ended up stranded at the top of some steps at the other side of the building and had to shout across to get his attention.

The tricky bit highlighted in the Rough Guide was the ramp down to the lower level of the seal enclosure, which you also needed to use (again, against the flow of traffic) to get access to the lower level of the aquarium.  It was, as warned, slightly too steep but was also uneven, which made navigating it myself even riskier.  I had to ask someone for help pushing me up (and I hate this so much, my chair doesn't have push handles).  Likewise the adjacent ramp up to the upper seal viewing area is very uneven as well as slightly too steep and again I felt very much at risk of tipping.

There was also a cafe, in a separate building, with disabled toilet and a lovely view over Loch Creran, and a gift shop, with a viewing platform giving views over the otter enclosure.  The entrance to the latter was a little challenging (non-automatic door, plus ramp, plus threshold strip, plus recessed door mat!)

The outdoor areas were not so accessible.  I couldn't get up the path to the children's play area - luckily the boy is old enough to send up on his own, but it would have been disappointing for a younger child.  Likewise the Terry Nutkin Memorial Nature Trail has a narrow and steep path with steps.  The boy went off exploring it on his own, as it was one of the items on the kids' quiz which earned them medals, and was gone long enough I'd started to worry about how to go find him.

All in all we had a good day and I managed to see everything and not permanently lose the boy. I wouldn't like to visit when they were busy, because of the difficulties doubling back and going against the flow of traffic.   Unfortunately, though, I don't think it's quite as accessible as the Rough Guide writers think.

My two pieces of advice to the management are:

  • Fix the ramp at the seal enclosure - I was at serious risk of flipping over and that probably means it's dangerous for mobility scooters and potentially buggies.  The combination of uneven surfaces and a steep incline are a real problem. 
  • Please, please, please, when you're doing a trail for kids, don't include any parts of your site which aren't accessible.  Had I had a younger child, or had my child been the one in the wheelchair, they wouldn't have completed it and there would have been tears. 
Oh and the hill to the car park?  I made it back up that unaided.  And very proudly so!

Apologies for the lack of pictures.  

Monday, 27 April 2015

Great post this weekend on the BBC's Ouch blog about travelling in China with a wheelchair
We were in Glasgow this weekend as I had a residential training course (I'm the Branch Equalities Co-ordinator for my union).  The boy was treated to a day at the Glasgow Science Centre on Saturday by the creche at the course and had a great time.  So much so, he decided he needed to take me there after the course finished on Sunday afternoon. 

Entrance is expensive - it was £19 for the two of us, although they do let carer's in free.  There's then additional charges for the planetarium, the iMax Cinema and the Glasgow Tower.  We'd been before, a couple of years now and I was relieved to find that the main lift was working again.  The centre is home to perhaps the least reliable lift in the city, at the neighbouring Glasgow Tower.  It's been out of operation for much of the centre's life and unfortunately high winds meant it was closed when we were there as well.  As the limit if 20mph, I suspect it reaches it quite often given the Scottish weather (which, by the way, has been stunning the last few weeks!)

The centre is good, there are loads of activities and quite a lot had changed since our last visit so it felt fresh.  They pitch well  to different ages and have sections specially for younger children.  This time we spent a lot of time looking at Bodyworks, which we'd missed last visit.  Given the sheer amount of interactive activities, it was good to see that only a minimal number were out of order - I'm quite sure it's a constant battle to keep things working.  I'd like to see the planetarium, but we didn't have time this visit. 

We went for a snack at the cafe and unfortunately by 3:30 the selection of cakes was poor.  As it was a lovely sunny day, I fancied and ice cream but there were none to be had.   There are disabled toilets on two levels, but there really aren't enough lifts given the number of families with buggies.  There's one large lift near the entrance (which is possibly the second least reliable in Glasgow) and another which is barely big enough for a wheelchair at the other end of the building.  As a result I spent 20 minutes at one stage trying to get up a single floor. 

On the whole, I don't think it's as good as the Science Museum in London, which we visited last year and which is free or W5 in Belfast, which we visited 2 years ago and costs a couple of quid less.  And both of those have better cafes and better lifts.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Culloden Battlefield Site

We're just back from 5 days in the Highlands, so I'll be posting a bit about that.

Yesterday, we went to visit the Culloden battlefield site.  It's somewhere I've always wanted to go but have been put off by the amount of walking.  This time, no walking needed!

I checked the accessibility information on the website before we went.  Like a number of sites, they have mobility scooters available, as well as wheelchairs (which were the typical heavyweight ones found at such sites - fine for someone being pushed).  I asked the very helpful member of staff at the desk about the accessibility and she said the paths should all be OK, so I decided to try it with my wheelchair.

First off was the indoor exhibition.  There are sloped areas inside the building, but they are fairly gentle and weren't difficult to negotiate.  The entrance and car park is below the level of the battlefield site, which has a positive effect when you're up on the battlefield itself, so the slopes seem justified and they're well done.

The displays are excellent and easy to see from wheelchair height.  There are interactive elements which the boy liked and an immersive cinema that puts you in the middle of the battle, which was a big hit with him.  At the end is a display of weapons from the battle and he spent about 20 minutes looking at them.  Thanks to some re-enactors from Canada and New York, he got to try a couple of them out.

And then it was out onto the battlefield itself, in our case armed only with GPS enabled audioguides.  

The paths are gravel, but well compacted and fairly smooth - even in April and at the end of a fairly wet week.  The site is not as flat as it first looks (using a wheelchair makes you reassess your definition of "flat"!)  But I made it the whole way round.  The boy gave me a couple of "boosts" (I think he's using Mario as an analogy here!) on some hills, but I didn't really need them.  There was one very small section, by the Well of the Dead, which felt a wee bit tippy, but I made it up that on my own so it can't have been too bad.  


It's a large site and we chose to walk the longer route round (but we didn't walk any of the side paths, which lead to memorial stones).  Google tells me it's a distance of about 2km and includes the areas that the National Trust for Scotland have been returning to moorland - as they would have been in 1746.  

This route takes you along both the Jacobite and Government Lines (marked by blue and red flags respectively) and past most of the main memorials, including the cairn shown at the top of the post.  It was clear there had been some fans of Outlander (which just arrived on TV here) visiting recently, as the Fraser memorial was the only one with wee stones on the top, though some others had flowers (we visited the day after the anniversary of the battle).


It was by the cairn that I hit the only real problem with access - a section of path that had been resurfaced mere minutes before (there was a tractor there when we started our walk) and hadn't had enough footfall to compact it.  Luckily, the surround grass had been compacted so I could wheel across it instead.  I did get a bit stuck first, though - you can see my attempts to get across on just back wheels before I gave up! 

The last section took us past the Well of the Dead and the audio guide didn't satisfy the boy's curiosity about it.  Not sure I did either.  

Finally, it was time to bribe the boy so I could get a picture with me in it - this is outside Leanach Cottage, which is the only building on the site which dates from before the battle (Culloden House itself is about 3km away). 

All in all we had a great visit and I was really impressed at how they have managed to make an outdoor, historic site accessible.  A couple of bits would have been easier with something like a Freewheel (particularly the soft sand by the cairn as it was my front wheels that got stuck.  I plan to buy a Freewheel when I have some spare money, but it wasn't essential at Culloden.  

Saturday, 28 March 2015

"Oh, you're double jointed, I know someone who has that but she doesn't have your problems"

I hear this a lot.  I know I'm far from the only one.  Through my work I know how often Type I diabetics hear all about someone's Auntie whose (Type II) diabetes is controlled through diet alone.  Hypermobility is another of those conditions where various forms of it exist and in this case the benign form is much more common.  You won't believe how many times I've been told I should be good at gymnastics.  Even the medical profession don't seem to always know the difference.

This NHS page is a good basic guide to Joint Hypermobility Syndrome and explains how it's way more than just being able to bend your thumb backwards (in fact, I can't do that), even if they do illustrate it with a picture of a thumb being bent backwards.

This page goes on to describe the diagnostic criteria - the Beighton Score and the Brighton Critera (I'm pretty sure they did that to confuse people).   It was on that basis that I was diagnosed and the main issues I have now is with partial dislocations, bursitis and joint pain.  The pelvis and hip joints are what are most disabling and why I can't manage hills or steps or walk long distances.  And yet, I can still put my hands on the floor with my legs straight!

Friday, 27 March 2015

Hotel review: Novotel Créteil le Lac

I ended up writing a Tripadvisor review on my hotel in Paris and I felt guilty doing so, but I think I have been fair.  It is a nice hotel.  Just look at the views from the restaurant.

But it's not really accessible.  Here's what I wrote:

This is a nice hotel. It's in a lovely location, with views of the lake and town centre, handy for public transport and the road network and the rooms are very comfortable and well equipped. Unfortunately, despite being advertised as accessible on several websites, it really isn't. 

The room itself was great - large and comfortable with plenty of room for a wheelchair. There was a separate bed area which was slightly too narrow to access with a wheelchair. The bathroom, however, was completely unsuitable for someone who was non-ambulatory. Luckily, I can walk quite a few steps unaided, so could manage. The toilet is in a separate room and there would be no way to transfer from a wheelchair onto the toilet. The walk-in shower was good, but there was a step of about 20cm and no hand-rail. Transfer from a wheelchair would have been tricky and stepping in and out was bordering on dangerous. 

The building itself is barely accessible. The main entrance is up approximately 20 steps, but there is a ramp down to a fire exit through which you can enter the lower ground floor. This ramp is too steep - I could only just get up it and I am a relatively fit user of a very light-weight chair. It was difficult to maintain control going down. It would not have been appropriate for someone with an ambulatory disability. The lift doors were almost exactly as wide as my chair (a 44cm frame with standard wheels on a 3 degree camber). A standard chair would not have fit. 

All in all, I'd recommend this hotel, but not for someone with a disability.

Product Review: Quickie Caddie - Plus the Airports

So, I said I would do a post about my experience using my own chair in airports for the first time.  It was mixed.  First, though, I need to review my latest wheelchair accessory - a pair of Quickie Caddy thingamajigs.  As previously, I bought these myself, this isn't a paid review, etc.

One of the things I'd been thinking hard about was managing luggage with the wheelchair.  I think I am best described as stubbornly independent, but for the last few years I've booked wheelchair assistance at airports.  What I hoped was, with my own chair, to regain some independence at airports - particularly in those long boring hours between check-in and boarding.  On our trip to NZ last year this meant forgoing wheelchair assistance and using crutches to get through the airport.  On previous trips I've found us spending long periods waiting in very dreary corners.

The other place I had worries about was getting from the car to check-in and again from the plane to my accommodation at the other end.  You can't sling a heavy backpack over the handles of a Quickie Helium, because it's so light.  And in my case, it also has no handles.  When I saw the Quickie Caddie it seemed a good solution.  This picture, from Dutch blogger Leven Op Wielen, had me convinced it was viable:

So I bought a pair.  They're not cheap - at over £40 - and I was surprised how light they were when they arrived.  I was also worried about them getting in the way when I was using my chair day to day.
When I unpacked them, this is what I found:

That's one - there are two but I forgot to take the pick before I installed one.  They were easy to fit - apart from the fact that as Quickies are made in the USA they use non-Metric hex keys.  I had to buy a set of those (3 quid from Wilko).  When not in use, the spike thingy (seriously, what's a good name for these!) folds up parallel to the fork of the chair and they weigh next to nothing.  They fold down easily so you can use them for a basket in a shop or, for example a box containing a loom (which was my first use of them!)  I did discover, with the loom, that if you're travelling over bumpy ground, down slopes, or on cobbles, it's best to use a strap of some sort to secure the load.  On a flat smooth surface, for example in a shop,  you don't need to as there are non-slip grips you attach to each one.  For my trip to Paris I invested in a pair of Velcro straps which I wrapped round each wheelchair fork and round the case.  I got 68cm ones and joined together they worked on my carry-on sized case.  Separately they'll be good for smaller loads.

I have to say the Quickie Caddy worked great - I was able to get myself from the disabled surface parking area at Edinburgh Airport to check in (including a diversion back to the car to affix a temporary disabled parking pass to it!) and I would have managed through security and all the way to the plane but I'd opted to check my luggage.  I would have struggled to flick up a kerb because of the extra weight at the front (my case was approximately 10kg) but I didn't feel unstable at all and the manoeuverability wasn't massively impaired - my chair was still much easier to manoeuvre than the Red Cross one I had on loan last year!  There is a ramp from the parking area to the terminal at Edinburgh and I managed that OK.  At Charles De Gaulle I managed to get myself from baggage claim to the minibus which had come to collect us without problems and when I returned to Edinburgh I got from baggage claim back to my car on my own.  I got one of my colleagues to take a picture when we got back:

All in all everything went well - apart from a snag on arrival at both airports.  Even though I'd gate checked my chair, it didn't manage to make it back to me at either airport.  In both cases I was met at the door of the plane by someone with a wheelchair and they took me to baggage claim, where I found my own chair, but I haven't got to the bottom of how to ensure they bring me back my own.  I remember having the same problem with the buggy a few times when L was small.  In Edinburgh they kept assuring me "you'll find yours on the carousel" which had me slightly panicked.  After the third time I said "it's two and a half grand worth of kit, I'd rather it didn't go on the carousel" someone went to intercept it!  I think the lesson is to get it tagged as fragile at check in (they tag your chair at check in, just like other luggage, even though you're gate checking it).

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Paris(ish) on wheels

This weekend I've been on my first overseas trip with the wheelchair.  I was a bit nervous, but did it in a way in which I knew I'd have a bit of support.  I've been working with our local twinning association ever since I moved to Scotland, so when I was invited to take part in a trip to the Festival Filmes des Femmes in Créteil I jumped at the chance.  Because the trip was being organised with the help of Créteil Jumelages there was someone arranging things for us  and they would be with us for the whole trip.  I was travelling with two colleagues as well.

We stayed at the Novotel le Lac in Créteil, which I'll do a separate post about and I'll also cover my experiences at the airport separately.  Most of the visit was a mixture of official visits (to schools, their fabulous new Mediatheque and the Conservatoire), excellent food and films at the festival.

Créteil itself is a new town on the edge of the Paris suburbs.  Most of the city has been developed since the 1960s and it is fairly flat, which made it easy to get around.  The town centre has a very 70s raised town square area, with carpark under, which is surrounded by the Hotel de Ville, various civic buildings, some flats and the Maison des Arts de Créteil (MAC) where most of the festival took place.  Access to this part of town was quite good, although the route from the MAC to the single lift into the carpark was a bit circuitous.  The MAC itself was accessible and had a lovely cafe.  There was plenty of room to move around.  Wheelchair access was to the bottom of the cinema, at the very front, which is normal, however we left the wheelchair at the door and I used my crutches to get down the top couple of steps to get a better view from the front.

Connected to the town square was an enormous shopping centre, which we visited briefly for some shopping and ate at on two evenings (once at a creperie, the second time at Flunch).  It was a good shopping centre but again it only had one, small lift, at which queues formed on a Sunday) not as accessible as it should have been.

The festival's other venue was a small cinema, La Lucarne, which was located near the Mediatheque in an area of Créteil built in the 1960s, one of the poorer areas of the city.  Unfortunately the 1970s building was not very accessible - there was no disabled toilet and it was the only place I absolutely needed to get someone to help push me up the hill (apart from the ramp at the Novotel, which I'll cover in a separate post).  However I managed to get into the auditorium for the film, so everything worked out.  The mural on the outside of the building was painted by a Chilean artist who fled the Pinochet regime.

The films we saw were Todos estan Meurtes, which eventually one the Youth Jury prize; Sol Branco, the winning short film (which we saw twice); Notre Enfance á Tblisi; the Grand Prix winner Objects in the Mirror and a Beatrice Dalle film, Bye Bye Blondie, which I need to try and watch with subtitles.  It was the only one with no subtitles.  Todos estan Meurtes and Objects in the Mirror both had English subtitles.  Sol Branco and Notre Enfance á Tbilisi had French subtitles which I could sort of follow, so Bye Bye Blondie was the only film I really struggled with.

On our "day off" on Sunday we were taken for a brunch at La Bellevilloise it Paris itself.  The meal was *amazing*.  The venue was wheelchair accessible, in that there was level access and a disabled toilet, but very busy so I was glad I had taken the crutches and could use those instead.  I ate way more than I should have (including two desserts!) but look at the food!

The venue was pretty good too.

Our hosts then very generously drove us on a tour of the main sights of Paris, which is as amazing a city as it was last time I was there.  I plan to go again.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Legless in Dublin

On Sunday I went to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, in my wheelchair and was chatting  to Yvonne from Dublin Dye Company (a business she started with an online friend of mine, many years ago).  She recommended I check out the Legless in Dublin's blog and I'm so glad she did!  I've really enjoyed the quick look at it I've had so far and I'll have to read some more later.  I've added a link to the sidebar here so I remember.  I found her entry From Sticks to Wheels really caught a lot of how I've experienced the transition, but I think I could add something about the enormous frustration I've been feeling about other people's attitudes to it. 

She's also given me some ideas for this blog.  First up, but not right now, will be a review of Edinburgh Corn Exchange where the event took place. 

Saturday, 28 February 2015

This just impresses me.

It took me too long to figure this out.

At the moment I need to take the wheels off the chair when putting it in the car.  This means a bit of juggling (standing with my weight mostly on one foot, of course) to take the wheels off.  Once I made this discovery, though, it got a lot easier...

The chair will balance on the front footplate, not just with the wheels off, as shown, but with either or both wheels on.

Someone thought about that.

Product review - Silicone Pushrim/Handrim Covers

One thing I figured out quite quickly was that the standard anodised aluminium pushrims/handrims on my chair were hard to grip, especially in the cold of an Edinburgh January.  Gloves helped (and I'll do a separate entry on them) but weren't always practical and I probably won't want to wear them next time I go to Dubai!  One afternoon we were having a discussion about silicone bakeware and I went "ah! I know what I need - silicone pushrim covers".

When I got home Google told me such a thing already exists!  One of the first pages I found was information on Grippoz, which looked great but sadly are not on the market and their Kickstarter failed to reach it's target.

I found some less innovative options already available though - in a range of colours and a fairly large range of prices from various retailers.  In the end I went with plain black ones (because I am boring!) from Mobility Pit Stop.  Like all wheelchair accessories, as I am discovering, they were not cheap at just short of £50 including postage, but they were delivered within a couple of days and, to my relief, were very easy to fit.

They've made a massive difference to my hands, which no longer end up stiff because they have been on the freezing cold, hard metal.  Pushing is much more effective - making it less effort on the flat and making hills and ramps much easier.  So they've been totally work the money.  I don't need my gloves unless it's actually cold!  I've done a couple of 3-4km outings using them and am very impressed - in particular it was lovely not to have to ask someone to "give me a shove" up a ramp.

One small quibble - they do flick off if I catch them on a tight doorway, which is annoying but easily enough fixed. I suspect making them slightly smaller, so they have to be stretched to put on the rims, would fix this, but make them harder to fit.  

I wasn't paid to write this review and I paid for the product myself - if this is ever not the case I will make it clear.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

At the museum

The National Museum of Scotland has an exhibition on computer games at the moment and I've been meaning to take the Small Scottish Boy since it opened.  We didn't have any plans this weekend, so we went in today.

I've used wheelchairs in the museum before - both the Red Cross one and one of their own ones - so I was interested to see how my own chair compared in a familiar environment.  The answer is, it was a massive difference.  It still astounds me just how easy it is to wheel, compared to even the expertly maintained Red Cross chair, let alone the not-maintained museum one.

I didn't get to try it on the challenging entry slope to the new part of the building, as every single disabled parking bay was already in use (and, as ever, not all by people displaying badges).  I ended up parking further down Chambers Street and on the other side, meaning I discovered that unfortunately, there are no dropped kerbs anywhere near the main entrance (in the old building) and the kerb is well over the 10cm I practiced at the Westmarc centre.  I'm pretty sure it's not actually possible to get up it safely, no matter what the skill level.  Many millions have been spent on the museum over the last 20 years - firstly the extension and then the refurbishment of the older part of the building.  You'd think someone would have thought of a dropped kerb somewhere near the main entrance.

That said, I don't think access was exactly to the fore of anyone's mind.  The building also suffers from a dearth of both disabled/family toilets and lifts (elevators).  In particular, the main entrance is served by two small glass lifts and at weekends there are pretty much always queues of families with pushchairs and/or disabled people waiting for them.  It took us 15 minutes to get up to the 3rd floor and another 15 minutes to get out.  Once you're out of the basement entrance, there are a couple of other lifts in odd corners of the old building, whilst the new part is well served by large lifts (but it has that tricky slope to get in!).

On the plus side, I found our visit way more enjoyable, once we were in, even compared to going round in other wheelchair.  So another thumbs up.  The exhibition was fun too -  we'll go again at least once before it closes, especially since I bought a membership.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Time for some car shopping.

My Motability contract is coming to an end soon, so the last couple of months have been spent car shopping. This is my third Motability car and once again I get to shop with a friend whose contract ends around the same time - we ordered our first cars together 6 years ago, accompanied by two small boys, walking in saying "we'll have one of those in red and one of those in grey". They're not so small now.

I started my spreadsheet about 3 months ago, having decided on my essentials: cruise control, automatic (I can't manage a clutch), diesel (more economical for the driving I do), some way of plugging in an iPhone or iPod to play music and finally parking sensors. It can be a bit tight in our (shared) driveway, with 4 cars, a transit van and a motorbike. I had a hire car with "beeps" last year and was won over.

That narrowed it down a bit and I started to compare advance payments, fuel economy and features. The arrival of the wheelchair added a criteria - I needed to be able to fit it in the boot (trunk) without taking the wheels off. Whilst it's OK occasionally, on a weekend day when we're going from place to place, often in the rain, doing it every time gets old, quick! So whilst it does fit in my existing car, with the wheels off, I need something bigger.

A few cars went on and off the list but the final shortlist was the Ford Grand C Max, Citroen C4 Piccaso, the Grand C4 Picasso, the Peugeot 3008 and the 5008. A very late addition was the Ford Kuga (aka Escape), which we discovered would fit my wheelchair wheels on and was cool. As my friend (with two kids and a bigger wheelchair) said "someone needs to have a cool car, not a bus or a van!"

In the end, the fuel economy on it wasn't as good and the advance payment (deposit) was high for one with all the features I wanted. In the end, low advance payments and good features meant Peugeot won out and it was down to two cars - the 3008 or the 5008. There's 17cm different in length and two extra seats on the 5008 (though the wheelchair means I couldn't really ever use both). Time for a comparison.  I also really like the semi-automatic gearbox the Peugeots and Citroens have - my last two cars (Grand C4 Picasso and latterly a 308)  have both been semi-automatics.  I'm also clearly a fan of French cars - having owned 2 Peugeots and 5 Citroens.

5008 - more space to the side, but the extra seats folded into the floor makes it higher, so the chair is above the level of the back seat

3008 - the chair fits in, with the back folded, under the parcel shelf. There's marginally less room beside it - the space is narrower, but it's also taller. We have a winner.

I ordered it on Friday, need to go in to do the paperwork one evening this week and it should be here in a few weeks. I've requested an early changeover, if it arrives early, which Motability have approved on the grounds that I'm having to take the wheels off to get my chair in my current car. It will be Shark Grey - a boring colour but one of the three options with the nearest delivery date. It'll look a bit like this.


Edinburgh's trams caused chaos and no little controversy (which continues) while being built, but finally started running last spring. I've been on them a few times before, but last week took the wheelchair on for the first time. It was great. The Park and Ride at Ingliston has disabled parking right by the tram stop, though it seems to be a well-kept secret and I hesitate to publicise it! The platforms are all engineered so there's level access, without even enough of a gap for my 4" casters (that's the front wheels) to get caught. There's loads of space (4 wheelchair bays in each tram) and they're quick and smooth. They stop longer (and open the centre doors automatically) if you press the stop button with the wheelchair sympbol. I really love the active user logo they have chosen as well.

Despite it's hills, the main streets of Edinburgh's New Town are built along the hill, so there's no more than a gentle slope as you go along Princes Street and, if you alight at St Andrew's Square, the same is true for George Street. There's a slight hill, beyond me just yet, between the two, but the trams do make both of Edinburgh's main shopping streets accessible to me. Which is just as well because the Council have somewhat misguidedly blocked off half of George Street (and thus half it's disabled parking bays) to create outdoor dining spaces (in Edinburgh!). These have proven less than successful, apart from for a few weeks in August. I can even make it to John Lewis without braving the horrors of it's parking building.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

"You will fall over..."

Lovely OT made it very clear she was expecting me to be an active user of my chair. And take risks. And she also made it very clear that I would tip it over at some point. It's about finding your balance, so it's like riding a bike. You'll fall off a few times. You can add anti-tip wheels to the back of chairs, kind of like training wheels, but they add weight and can prevent you getting up a kerb. So she doesn't fit them.

The inevitable happened on Tuesday night. A good combination of a slightly too steep ramp, rookie mistakes and not paying enough attention. It happened very quickly but I did manage to do what I had been taught, which was to bend my head forward, so I didn't hit it. Surprisingly I didn't really injure myself at all. The back of the chair doesn't have a cross bar that is flush with the back, but one which curves out so there is about 5cm clearance between the back of the chair and bar, so you end up lying on a padded hammock. The only bruises were to my ego.

For now, though, I am being a bit more careful with slightly too steep ramps!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Well, hello again

I'm dusting this blog off through a combination of a new year's resolution to blog more and because various things are happening and I thought this is a good place to record them.

Over the last few years I've been thinking hard about the transition to using a wheelchair, at least part of the time.  I've been borrowing them at museums and galleries and last autumn hired one from the local Red Cross.  The chair I got from them was a basic folding one, of the sort the NHS used to provide, but it wasn't too heavy and I was able to hack it to make it relatively maneuverable - removing the footrests and armrests and half folding the back.  It was significantly lighter than the heavy duty ones you find at museums.  It got me through a conference and the Scottish Referendum count and sold me on the benefits of getting one.  That decided, I started looking at the bewildering range available.  You can buy a folding wheelchair for £100 or a lightweight one for £400 and I suspect many people start with these.  I was lucky though in that a friend pointed me in the direction of the new NHS wheelchair service National Wheelchair Eligibility Criteria and it seemed like I might be eligible for an energy efficient lightweight wheelchair, so I had my GP write the referral and, after an initial hiccup when I was sent a non-energy efficient chair (within a week!) I had an appointment with a lovely Occupational Therapist (OT) to discuss my needs.

I have to say - I have never been so impressed with an NHS service.  And I'm a fan of the NHS.

Lovely OT listened to my views of my disability and discussed with me what might be suitable.  She discussed the pros and cons of a lightweight chair and was frank about what I would need to do to use one - that I would need to commit to going through to Glasgow to learn how to use it safely and that it wouldn't be ordered until I had demonstrated I could.  It might take 2 or 3 visits to get my skills up.  Not a problem.

So, a couple of weeks later I was through in Glasgow, with Lovely OT again, trying out wheelchairs.  She had me try a Quickie Life which was amazingly easy to use, compared to the Red Cross one.  At the Westmarc centre, they have an obstacle course to try out and the reason they do this was clear as I arrived.  Somewhat sadly, an older lady was failing her skills test for an electric wheelchair.  The course has a range of surfaces, two ramps of different gradients, a narrow "parking space" and different height kerbs.  Here's a picture:

 photo ca2d6e2a-174f-4dd8-8b6e-c079a9c6621b.jpg

In addition to this obstacle course, the main skill is what are called caster flicks - flicking up your front casters (those dinky wee wheels that are really maneuverable) so you don't get stuck in tram lines or at a kerb.  So I got to do that over a broom handle, over the cracks in the pavement, up a 5cm kerb and eventually up a 10cm kerb.  The idea is you do them whilst moving - going up kerbs you need the momentum to get the large back wheels up.

Lightweight chairs are very different to standard chairs.  The word Lovely OT used was "tippy", which is a good word, because what they want to do, lots, is tip over backwards.  So most of the skill involved is learning how to use your upper body to counterbalance them so you don't end up flat on your back (which apparently, everyone does at some point).  Lovely OT followed me round, holding a strap attached to the back bar of the chair, to prevent this, and she has given me one to bring home for practicing the hardest skill of all - back wheel balancing.  This is different for everyone and very dependent on your weight, but I'm told it's like riding a bicyle - once you learn, it's easy.  All I know is it will involve a bit of abdominal muscle development as well!

It turned out I was able to do everything the first time, which I credit to some practice in the Red Cross chair but also to having pretty good upper body strength after 5 years on crutches.  So we talked chairs.  She ended up ordering me the Quickie Helium - one of the lightest (and therefore tippiest) chairs on the market.  I even got to pick the colour (black with faint sparkles) but sadly not the colour of the aluminium bits (I'd have gone for red), which are also black.  I picked it up last week, but I think that should be another post.