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.