A NIGHT IN PARIS !

Pat was returning to work in Venezuela and, en route, had to spend an afternoon and night in Paris – so he suggested it might be fun if I came along with him for the night and return by myself to Ireland the next day. Is he romantic or what?! Then I found out that Aer Lingus had the flights for €0.0 each way on the days I wanted + airport taxes, of course . ( Sorry for that, football fans !) So I went ahead and booked them. The plan was to arrive and stay at the Radisson Bleu at Charles de Gaulle airport, take a bus downtown, stroll by the Seine, visit a museum, see The Pyramid, etc. etc and end up with a romantic meal at a brasserie. Oh la la !
The Aer Lingus flight was on time, but with no Business Class Pat felt somewhat squashed and I had my usual trouble getting in and out of the seats. When we disembarked we then had a half hour wait for my wheelchair to show up and get us through passport control. As we only had hand luggage Pat carried that and I got pushed to the Disability glass box, which is right next to the Airport Information Desk. I have raved on before about CdeG Airport and its rambling layout, so I ditched the wheelchair and we queued again here to be eventually told that the Radisson Bleu courtesy bus was Exit 30. Off we went, rather more slowly with me on foot only to get there and find exit 30 closed with the Radisson Bleu bus tantalisingly on the other side of the glass! Exit 29 proved to be an incoming door so wouldn’t open, so Pat made a dash for exit 28 (me following slowly) which got us outside just in time to see the bus disappearing into the distance – so another half hour wait for the next one. We eventually got to our room one and a half hours after we had landed.
Then Pat had to go online to do some work, so I looked gloomily out on to the car park and watched the day deepen into night. I rang a restaurant and booked a table for 7pm (us oldies tend to eat early !) and we eventually set off at half five by taxi to save going all the way back to the airport to get a bus or train. Bad mistake. We asked the driver to drop us off at The Pyramid, but after sitting in hellish traffic for over an hour he set us down in the Rue des Pyramids. The only trouble was there was no sign of a Pyramid and it was now totally dark and 6.40pm. All around us the traffic sat at a complete standstill and when we looked to our right we could see that a manhole in the road was spitting out flames to a height of about 20 feet , thus causing all the traffic chaos! There seemed to be roadworks around the fire so we consulted our map by the light of the flames and decided to walk to the restaurant. This plan was hampered by the maze of small streets, my ever flagging footsteps and the fact that only the names of major streets were marked on our map and you needed a torch and a magnifying glass to see anything – which we did not have. Anyway, out of the gloom emerged two charming Gendarmes and with their assistance we made it to the Brasserie Gallopin on the dot of seven o’clock.

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There followed two hours of excellent food and wine and even better service, by the end of which we were in no state to attempt a bus or a train so it was another taxi back to the hotel. This one was determined to break the world speed record from central Paris to the airport. He had an interesting habit or waiting till his SatNav told him to turn left in 30 metres (he was in the far right hand lane at the time) and then swerving across 3 lanes of cars in order to make the left hand turn!
I decided the only course of action was to tighten my seatbelt and close my eyes, but we did make it back in half the time it took us to get downtown ! Pat was heard to remark that it was the first time the trip to a restaurant and back cost him more than the meal !!
I woke,complete with hangover at 8am when Pat had to leave for Caracas, so I put the ‘Do Not Disturb’ notice on the door and managed to sleep till 10am. when the Wheelchair shuttle bus took me back to the airport. There followed lots of pushing round the circular airport with long glass tunnels rising upwards with moving walkways, but I was in plenty of time to get me back to rain-soaked Cork after my romantic breakaway! Would I do it again – I don’t think so !

THE FOURTH RULE OF FLYING:

is to never smuggle anything or have anything resembling a weapon on your person because all airports have their own rules as to what you can personally hold up a plane with. This will range from a nail file to lip salve, from hairspray to a green plastic space gun (sold to me at the airport airside !) and I think the whole system depends on what they are short of in the particular country you are entering or leaving, Some countries, such as Turkey, Xray all belongings on persons entering the airport, be it just to meet someone at arrivals, whilst others also Xray all your belongings and luggage as you are leaving the airport. This is despite it all being Xrayed at the airport where you boarded the plane. I mean, where are you supposed to have got your bomb or illicit goodies from at 47,000 feet ? Mind you, an airline sold my husband a SwissKit Grooming Kit during the flight and then confiscated it at the airport when he arrived ! I wonder if Ryanair have thought of that one yet ?
No smuggler of anything at all stands a chance at Sydney Airport as the whole place is awash with beagles ! Yes, little brown and white beagles with waggy tails and all wearing the cutest pink and blue vests that say ‘don’t pet me, I’m working’ ! Not a handler in sight ! I asked the man who was pushing my wheelchair what happened if one of the beagles who was trotting along the luggage carousel sniffing all the bags actually smelled something. He said they just sit down next to the luggage/person and bark till the cops show up ! Some are trained for drugs, some for meat and probably some for my lip salve, but they are definitely cuter that the average customs guy !
Is there anyone else like me who just ‘feels’ guilty when going through customs ? Probably from watching too many episodes of “Anything To Declare’. I find myself trying to look innocent of nothing at all, and guess what – I’m the one that always gets searched. Its a good rule to always empty your handbag before you fly anywhere and repack it minus the tampons, the screwed up bits of paper and the nail you found on the driveway when leaving the house. The one good thing about being in a wheelchair when arriving at the airport is that most times you are taken through the bit reserved for pilots and aircrew and don’t have to queue up for hours with the rest of humanity. This does make up for having to wait on the plane until everyone else has deplaned, especially on long-haul flights.
Also on long-haul flights you have to fill in a custom’s declaration. Read it carefully and whatever you do, don’t lie. My dearest daughter in Australia always insists I bring at least a dozen packets of Tayto Crisps to her! In order not to arrive with them all crushed, they have to be in a separate box and must be declared on this form, though I get the feeling that Customs think me more than slightly mad ! I also declare my RA medicines, but I think they consider the quantities not enough to topple the drugs markets in Oz, though as I’ve mentioned before, I always carry the Humira pens and Methotrexate syringes in my hold luggage wrapped up in ice packs and, so far, no little beagles have sat down and woofed !!

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A JOURNEY ROUND MY KITCHEN…

Since I got married some 42 year’s ago, I have had only half a husband ! We moved over to SW Ireland and almost immediately he went to work on the rigs – a month on, a month off. In other words he was home roughly half of the year. Over the last 40 years he has worked his way up to be a Senior Drilling Superintendent, but the one setback with this is that he often has to live and work around the world. For example, he spent the last four years living in Tunisia and I went up and back to visit him whenever I could.
I was diagnosed with RA (finally!) around sixteen year’s ago, so I have had to learn to manage on my own for a great deal of the time. I have my oldest son living about 20 miles away with his family and they are quite marvellous at helping out, but over time I have acquired various ‘aids’ to assist me cope and today I thought I would pass on some ideas to you.
Every morning after breakfast I walk our two dogs. Sometimes with me on my Quingo and other times with me walking slowly on foot. I need to use trail walking flick-lock poles as the lanes are rather rural and wear my neoprene mittens to get a good grip. These have the added advantage of keeping your fingers and wrist nice and toasty too !On my morning walk in summer.JPG

Back in the kitchen I have all the plug sockets up at waist height and, as I love cooking, I have a raised shower stool with handles to sit on by the kitchen counter ! In the dining room an old office chair on wheels means I can scud around without having to get up. The one step down from the kitchen to the dining room has a secure handle on the wall and there are more secure handles by the steps on the porch. These were put in by my son after I fell down the step in my walking boots and broke my right shoulder and left wrist, late in the evening and all on my own and I just couldn’t get up ! Luckily I always carry my mobile phone on me and rang erstwhile son to come and rescue me and meantime managed to push myself up against the wall and take off my walking boots. I thought that both my ankles were broken, but no – they were protected just fine by the boots. Anyway I learned my lesson to pay more attention to my feet the hard way, but it was also good to know that rescue was at hand should I need it.
Not being able to lift anything remotely heavy due to useless wrists, after visiting my daughter in Australia, I was introduced to an I-Robot, Roomba. This is a little robot vacuum cleaner that tells you what it is doing and scuttles around cleaning the floors all by itself and so I now have one of these as well ! You can program it to start at any time you like and so I thought I would get it to hoover before I got up in the morning and eat my breakfast with beautifully clean floors. This worked well until one day Cooper our labrador got an upset tummy and did a rather smelly pooh inside – all before I woke up. The Roomba was delighted – no longer just a few dog hairs to remove, but a big steaming pile of you-know-what and it set about spreading it all over the kitchen floor into even the furthest corners !! There was nothing for it. I just had to put on plastic gloves and take the robot to pieces and get out all the bits it had tried so valiantly to suck up! Plus practically hose down the floors, the chair legs and even up the walls. I got the poor I-Robot back together and it still works, though now it speaks to me in Italian for reasons best known to itself !!
Not being able to open a jar of any kind, I have a marvellous Culinare One Touch which is a battery driven thingie that you place on top of the can – press the button and it opens any size of jar. You don’t even have to hold it at all. I also have a large handled knife, fork, spoon and teaspoon. Like most aids for the disabled they were fearfully expensive, so I only have one of each. A steak knife with a wooden handle works well for most things and now I ask for one in a restaurant if the ones provided are those nice shiny metal knives that just rotate in my non-existent grip.
In my experience there are all kinds of aids for the kitchen, but you just need to see what it is that you really need – even if it’s just a seat and an old adjustable shower stool no longer needed works just as well as a posh new one!

A LIFE (or 2 weeks) ON THE OCEAN WAVE…..

With a husband who is ex Merchant Navy and a son who builds boats , it probably should have occurred to me earlier that a boat might be a very good way of getting around, being disabled as I am. It’s just that with having nine boats outside our house in various stages of development makes it easy to ignore the obvious ! It wasn’t till I was up in Dublin seeing my Rheumatologist and reading the glossy magazines in reception, that the idea of going on a Gulet ( a 26- metre Turkish wooden 2-masted sailing boat ) around the Greek Islands for our 40th Wedding Anniversary suddenly pinged my consciousness !
I have had both feet operated on in the last four years, so my walking ability is not brilliant, but I can sit on a luxury sailing boat with the wind in my hair and the sun beating down till the cows come home, so we did just that and it was mind blowingly easy.
Our Gulet departed from Bodrum in Turkey and the first time we went we explored the islands of The Knights of St. Sebastian. Magical places such as Kos, Knidos, Symi and Rhodes, to name a few. Our Gulet had a crew of four, including the Captain who were unfailingly obliging and the Turkish food was to die for ! We had a double cabin with shower, etc en suite and before you get ideas of us being on a tilt for sailing, most of the time we used the powerful diesel engines and it stayed upright but I made quite sure I was sitting down when the boat was moving between islands nevertheless ! It was quite interesting getting from our berth up to the deck, which involved going upstairs, but as shoes were forbidden on board, I managed quite well with my bare feet and there were luxury areas , in sun or shade, full of deep cushions that one could laze about on and read or paint. Also one of the advantages of a boat is that it has loads of grab rails in all the necessary places. I think that the nicest thing of all was absolutely no phones, iPads or anything that required internet or WIFI. The various islands had cafes that did have it, but by the time we went ashore, we were so laid back that it wasn’t necessary. It took Pat a while to get used to the lack of phones, etc. after being a Drilling Superintendent in Tunisia and available 24 hours a day, but he quickly got used to the silence !
The tour company did need to know in advance about my RA and what medication I was on, but there were fridges to keep my injections in and nothing was a problem. Getting up and down the gangplank was interesting as it swayed a bit and I get dizzy standing on a milk crate, but the lovely crew helped me in any way they could and Pat went in front to block my view of the drop ! We could go on the various expeditions around the islands if we wished and had great fun doing so. If the distance to the ruins was too far, then a mini bus was provided. Each afternoon at tea time over tea and cake, we had a talk on what we would be seeing the next day and plenty of opportunity to ask questions. Most islands had excellent museums and disabled access toilets and the Greeks are such wonderful people and always willing to help in any way.
Swimming off the boat was not possible for me. They did have sturdy metal steps down into the water alongside the boat, but I wasn’t prepared to risk my feet and if I got too hot and bothered, I just went and stood in the cold freshwater shower !! Pat, of course, leapt off the boat at every opportunity and I must say it did look rather nice and cool, but it was fun to watch him as he is a powerful swimmer. Snorkelling gear and canoes were also provided ! The other 10 guests were all about our age, some younger and some older and 3 doctors amongst them ! The tour company provided Jeremy who was our Leader and confidante and spoke Turkish and Greek so no problems there. It was the best, most fascinating and most relaxing holiday we have had in a long while and I found I could manage really rather well, although I was a bit slow on the walking bits !
Did we go again ? Of course we did ! Setting out from Bodrum again in a slightly larger boat called The Aegean Clipper and this time in May we toured the Cycladic Islands, ending up with 3 nights in Athens with James McKay, our lecturer and tour leader. James is a classics teacher, a poet and a comedian, so you can imagine the fun we had !
I have never been on a large cruise ship, but I gather they have wheelchair access, whereas our Gulet did not, but for anybody who can get around, even slowly like me, then this is the nearest to heaven you will get !

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The Third Rule of Flying – what to do with Aliens !?

At Paris CDG airport, wheelchair users are taken to a central point in the vast circular concourse and deposited in a sort of glass box to wait for transfer to Terminal 2 which is some distance away by coach. One time when in transit here en route to Tunis from Cork, I was dying to go to the loo. The lady in charge of us said she would not look after my case – I would have to take it with me. As the transit wheelchair had not arrived, I decided that I just could not wait, got to my feet and pushed said luggage through the noisy and milling crowds and around the concourse very slowly till I found the Ladies!

As I pushed open the door, it seemed that the entire Japanese nation was in there all chattering and shrieking loudly and occupying every stall. By this time, not only was I very sore from walking so far, but not able to wait for them to decide who was next. So I rather rudely pushed myself and luggage to the front, smiled sweetly and told them it was an emergency and fell into the next available loo ! Very relieved, in more ways than one, I read my magazine for a short while and generally made the most of my little bit of peaceful space, not paying any attention to the airport announcements, (which were in French of course), or noticing that the Japanese hullabaloo had died away.
I emerged after what was probably 15 minutes or so to find the Japanese gone. Not only them, but when I pushed open the door to exit the Ladies, the whole huge concourse was completely empty! It was like some sort of sci-fi film where all living beings are beamed up into space, leaving just me and my suitcase. What to do ? I thought I had better return to the glass box from whence I came and was slowly pushing my multi-colour case back round the empty concourse when the French airport cops, complete with guns, arrived at speed on those Segway things!

I’m not sure who was the most surprised – them at seeing me wearily trudging along, or me being overcome at the dozens of questions in French ?I tried telling them in my best English that I had no idea what they were talking about, when one threw up his hands and went off to find a cop that spoke English. It transpired that whilst I was taking my R&R on the loo, there was a bomb alert and the airport had been evacuated and everyone sent to Terminal 2 which was where I was waiting to go to ! So I got transported to Terminal 2 in a cop car with the siren going and delightedly put down at exactly where I needed to be. Merci Bien !

 

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Paris CDG Charles de Gaulle Airport Terminal 1

AN APOLOGY………

Sorry to be late with this Blog, but I have been recovering from a quick, 4-day trip to London. As all RA sufferers will know, advance planning is the key to hassle-free travel. So I booked the wheelchairs, pre-ordered a taxi to get us into the city – what could possibly go wrong ??
Firstly, although Cork airport does have air bridges from the terminal to the plane, they don’t normally use them for reasons best known to themselves. This being so, I would have to avoid the stairs down to the plane by taking a wheelchair in the lift and out to where it is parked, then haul myself slowly up the plane steps. But this time, hooray – the air bridge was out and I could walk down the shute into the plane !
Aer Lingus only has one cabin class so they have put several rows of extra seats where Business/First Class should be. I find it really difficult to get to the seat near the window, and just slightly less of a squeeze to get in the middle seat. Sit in the aisle seat I hear you say ….. but then, as I have a wheelchair booked for Heathrow, I’m commanded by the cabin crew to stay in my seat till everyone else has left the plane. No problem except for the two people in the seat beside me who want to get out ! My RA has reached the stage where sitting and rising are quite painful and difficult for me so trying to do it in the face of everyone pushing for the exit requires me to grit my teeth and try not to swear too much !
The new Terminal 2 at Heathrow is brilliant and they have also got the new solid wheelchairs which make life so much easier and I found my taxi with no trouble. But although I was itching to get around London, see the shops, etc. etc. in reality I couldn’t walk very far and the pavements are quite uneven, forcing me to look where I am putting my feet and not in the shop windows ! After 4 days of meeting good friends and travelling by cab from one side of London to the other, I was absolutely exhausted. What I thought I could achieve and what my body actually let me do was not exactly the same thing and I will think twice before going on a ‘quick’ trip next time. I actually need a full day at each end to recover from the travelling and if faced with a late night (any time after 8pm !) I need an afternoon rest. In actual fact its worth saving up for a Business Class ticket to Australia because at least you have a bed and can sleep most of the way there and back !!
So now I’m home again, trying to catch up on everything and wondering how just a four day trip can generate so much dirty laundry ! But at least the dogs were pleased to see me after their trip to the kennels and husband Pat is here re-organising the house! It’s so lovely to be home !!

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The Kenmare Bay near where I live- a long way from London !

THE BIONIC GRANDMA !

If you have Rheumatoid Arthritis, you are probably no stranger to having various bits of your anatomy replaced at one time or another and all of these will set the alarm bells ringing when you pass through Security at an airport. When I first had surgery to replace a hip, the hospital gave me a letter stating this fact. I still have it, and to date no-one has asked to see it ! Mind you, at Brisbane Airport my new hip did not set off the alarm and they kept passing me through and through the security gate trying to set it off ! Now with an added knee replacement and two titanium feet, I don’t stand a chance ! I get the security pat down like it or not, but at least my watch which used to set off the alarms at Cork airport before I got RA, passes through un-noticed !
Because I travel so often, I am well aware of what you can, and cannot, take through security. This prompts great suspicion that I simply must be carrying something illegal ! I take off my coat/jacket, never travel with a belt, but just try asking for a chair to take your shoes off with! Oh the suspicion of it all – a granny shoe bomber who has to sit down !
Mind you I am always more than willing to comply being reminded of a young man in front of us after going through several security checks in Istanbul after a bomb had gone off that morning in the City. We were leaving to come home and endured security check after security check . Then at the last one they made us all take off our shoes and lo and behold the young man in front of us had a small knife in his shoe! He’s probably still fading away in some prison somewhere judging from all the armed cops that fell on him and we were pushed on to the plane still with our shoes off – but at least I could sit down in my seat and put them back on !
My handbag was tested for explosives recently in Cairns with one of those long probes with a special bit put on the end. Of course it was OK, though I always feel as if I am looking terribly guilty of something or other. However the lady doing the probe was far more interested in if I had seen Steven Spielberg at Mossman where apparently they we’re filming a war movie with 400 extras and bombing the beaches ! Seeing as how we were staying just up the road from this tiny town with a population of less than the extras, she was finding it harder and harder to believe that I hadn’t noticed being bombed whilst lying on the quietest, most beautiful beach it has ever been my
privilege to lie on. Maybe they were filming the crawling through the Daintree rain forest bit whilst we were there because they all passed unnoticed to my laid back, laid down personage !

(Newell Beach – Far North Queensland)

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THE SECOND RULE OF FLYING…………

The second rule of flying is to seriously label your luggage. You cannot put too many labels on to a bag that is going to be checked in. I take the precaution of also having luggage that is recognisable from a considerable distance, my current case being all colours of the rainbow which I found by chance at a handbag shop in Port Douglas, Far North Queensland!  Bright colourful luggage means you will be able to spot it when it comes in at completely different carousel to the one you are waiting by and also gives you a good description to give to the man who is totally disinterested in finding your luggage after it has not arrived from Paris or Heathrow, or wherever you changed planes at.  I remain convinced that Paris CDG only moves the luggage from Terminal One to Terminal Two once a day – and vice versa – after numerous occasions of having a no-show of luggage at my final destination. So now when I go via Paris CDG I take my luggage off at Terminal One and then lug it across to Terminal 2 myself – not easy with a wheelchair though my luggage has four wheels and can be pushed with one finger ! A vital necessity for the handicapped.
What you can take in your hand luggage has also changed massively over the years and it is necessary for all of us to conform. The liquids ban has me mystified. You can’t take liquids through security, but you can purchase them by the litre in Duty Free and then take them on the plane. Sales of such innocent stuff as water must have rocketed airside, and surely if you were inclined to blow up the plane, you would take whatever you needed in bottles of less than 100mls ? I had a clearish bottle of Oil of Olay confiscated at Security just he other day when they could see that it only had a half inch left in the bottom which I thought I would use up on my two week trip. But the label said it had 250ml originally in it, so it was over the limit. Had I bothered to decant it into a smaller bottle, etc. etc……. but life is too short for that as is taking the rules and regulations that far.
The first time I went to Australia, I phoned up Singapore Airlines to find out how I could take my pre-filled syringes of Humira and Methotrexate  (for my RA) with me. They said I could take the liquid in the aircraft fridge, but not the syringes.  A long discussion followed on what the words ‘pre-filled’ meant, but I eventually ended up wrapping the syringes in ice packs, putting them in my hold luggage and hoping for the best !
The absolute opposite of all this paranoia can be found at Adelaide Airport in Oz where (possibly due to the nearness of the Barossa Valley) you are allowed to carry up to six bottles of wine on to any internal flight as long as you haven’t unscrewed the lid for an early impromptu wine tasting and don’t put it in the overhead locker. The bottles are gently laid down at check-in and scanned with no trouble at all.
The two times my husband has taken me to stay at some of the most expensive hotels in the world – the Burj al Arab in Dubai for our 30th Wedding anniversary and The Residence in Tunisia (just because he was missing me after two month’s away !) I have arrived with only the clothes I had been wearing all day and no sign of my luggage anywhere. Admittedly these sort of hotels have everything provided in their bathrooms from dressing gowns to moisturiser, but it’s a clean pair of knickers you really want and a fresh t-shirt that hasn’t been flying for the last 24 hours ! The only shops you will find nearby are Designer Shops of the Burberry and Gucci variety and the cost of a pair of extremely flimsy knickers is likely to bring on a heart attack at the very least ! Also those Designer Shops have never heard of a size 16 and the size they label ‘extra large’ would be hard pushed to fit an 8 year old in.
So whilst sticking all those labels on your luggage, put a pair of spare knickers in your hand luggage and pray your handbag doesn’t get searched at security and your smalls displayed to one and all on that moving belt ! Lost luggage does eventually turn up, usually just after you get back from shopping for new clothes to wear !

more WHEELCHAIRS……..

(I hope you all have noticed that I managed to sort out a text widget and a photo widget ! Took me all day, but I got there eventually !)

Now, when I had my first hip operation, I decided that I would need a wheelchair to get from a to b. So after having a minor fit at the price of the electric variety of wheelchairs, I went out and got an ordinary fold-up one. Reasonably comfortable, but as I soon discovered, I couldn’t move anywhere unless someone pushed me ! It was fine for moving me from the car to the house and vice-versa, but useless if I wanted to go to the loo and nobody was around ! Anyway, not so vital for the hip as walking is supposed to be good for you !
When I had my left foot done and couldn’t walk and my husband was away working in Tunisia, I had real problems. So next stop was a power chair. ( Dutiful son came over and built the ramps again !) A power chair is like an electric wheelchair on steroids !! I was very soon to discover that it’s seriously fast and responds to the slightest touch. My hands (full of arthritis) are not my most sensitive appendages and I did some very fast rotating on the spot and hurtled into a few walls before getting the hang of it. The speeds seemed to vary from stop to rocket launch mode, but at least I could get around inside the house. My recovery was slow due to my RA and I soon found myself looking out of the window wishing I could get outside. Once again my husband came to the rescue with a Quingo.

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What’s a Quingo you may well ask ? Well its a five wheeled, battery driven, brilliantly stable mobility scooter which can easily cope with our tiny roads and the grass growing down the middle! It has all the bells and whistles needed to take it on any road around here and the fifth wheel in the middle comes into play if the others tip in any way at all. As its quite large and needed to be indoors when not in use, we had to plug it in down in Pat’s tool shed to keep it charged. This meant that my long suffering son had to come and put more ramps in to get me from inside to outside and then create a path down through the gravel on the driveway to the shed so that I could whizz down on my power chair and get alongside to get from chair to Quingo. Once there I was free as a bird with a range of 80kms before running out of battery and able to walk the dogs all by myself. They soon learned that on hearing a car coming, if they came and sat down beside me they got a treat !! All sorted and my son has now learned that when he takes up the ramps previously installed, he keeps them nice and safe and ready for the next time! Its over 18 months since my right foot was operated on and I’m back walking very slowly with sticks and the various wheelchairs are put away ready for the next time, which I hope will never come !

Wheelchairs and the like……

WHEELCHAIRS and the like …

I have discovered that there are all manner of wheelchairs throughout the world and due to my RA I find them a necessity when travelling – especially in airports ! I can walk, though slowly and not very far, In Gatwick you used to have to walk halfway to Ireland before getting on the plane, though they have recently shortened this distance. If you need a wheelchair when flying, do book it in advance and make sure it is booked for the way out and the way back! You will be asked a number of questions, such as can you make it up the aircraft steps or are you bringing your own wheelchair? As long as I am pushed from check-in to departure gate and possibly to the door/steps of the aircraft, I’m happy.
I can recall once arriving at Frankfurt Hahn on our way home to just being given a folded up wheelchair at check-in. Luckily Pat was there and able to push it, but several other disabled passengers had no one to help them and had to struggle through to the security check and departure hall clutching their wheelchairs ! In the departure hall, we could clearly see our plane just outside, so I folded my wheelchair up neatly and tried to go through the boarding gate only to be told by the stewardess that I needed a wheelchair! I pointed to the one I had and said I was quite capable of walking the 20 feet to the plane and up the stairs, but she refused to let me (or Pat, though I’m not sure why he was included) on board. She then summoned a sort of tilting cart with full body harnesses and strapped me into it. I was then formally wheeled the 20 feet to the plane steps and let go again, by which time all the overhead bins were full and Pat and I had to put our hand baggage on our laps and feet – not happy travellers at all ! Thank you Ryanair !
As a travel a lot on my own, I make a point of chatting to the poor person having to push me and give them a small tip if I can. They are, without exception, happy, cheerful people and have to come through all the pre-departure security with me. When the Shoe Bomber was caught and we all ended up having to remove our shoes in security, this originally gave me a problem as I have trouble putting my own shoes on and off. The trick is to travel in slip on shoes and bare feet ! Being a Bionic Woman with all my new hips, knees and feet, I certainly set all the alarm bells ringing ! This necessitates a full body check to see if I am armed as well ! What I really like is when they check the wheelchair too and I tell them it is their chair, not mine – all to no avail.
Some wheelchairs are comfortable, some are definitely not. Newer ones are made of hard plastic , really comfortable for my bad back and allow for your hand luggage to be put underneath. After the 2 and a half years it took me to recover from my botched knee operation, I could not have any hand luggage dumped on my lap, so it got put on my feet instead ! In Tunis one time, there were two wheelchairs to meet the plane and mine only had 3 wheels ! Undeterred the man pushing tilted it up on to its two back wheels and ran me down to arrivals – quite exciting really !
In Singapore the wheelchairs are motorised and you sit facing backwards clutching your hand luggage whilst the driver whizzes along at great speed weaving in and out of the other passengers hooting loudly ! Quite took my breath away!
I have more stories, but you will just have to wait till next week and the next blog for them…….!!