Johnny Sombrero Rides!

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Johnny writes about his travels from the low-slung comfort of a lightweight manual wheelchair. He is often accompanied by his woman, Juanita Fajita. E&OE. He doesn’t do toilets – go before you go out!

Johnny also tries other mobility stuff; horses, handbikes, helicopters, that sort of thing.

… the GTM Mustang!

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Mustang; my new mount.

It’s a wheelchair folks, not a wild horse, but as I decide whether to buy it, you can tell it’s the sort of chair Johnny ought to have. He was measured up for one the other day, the way one might be for a decent suit. But instead of polite enquiries about the number of cuff buttons or whether or not to go for pocket flaps, I was offered titanium push-rims (+ 200 quid) or red-leather upholstery (another 140). No to both of those. As long as I don’t get friction burns on my palms, I don’t mind. And frankly, the more nondescript the bloody thing, the better.

I calculate this will be my seventh chair in, what, 33 years of life as a paraplegic? I don’t forget noticing from my bed at Stoke Mandeville, one of a small stack of brand-new black/chrome government-issue devices, with HEALEY scrawled in black felt-tip on a brown tag. I remember feeling depressed for a while but what did I expect?

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Quadra, a design classic

My second chair was a heavy blue Quickie (yes, really) Quadra, currently resident in my garage. Once I have replaced a missing spacer I shall donate it to a worthy cause.

No.3 was a red XLT (Extra-Light Titanium) that really was light; I sold it after shorter wheelbases became the norm. Four came from Bromakin, a supplier from Loughborough that for a while built its own and was run by folks who I preferred to my local bunch of sharks. It’s also titanium, unpainted, and I keep the frame as a spare.

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Not so Quickie, these days.

And five, another Quickie, is now nearly knackered. Ten years of bouncing down kerbs and jamming castors into ruts have taken their toll. I also depend on it far more than I used to, I think it’s been through three sets of tyres (kevlar-lined so zero punctures), but several sets of tubes as said tyres are a bitch to put on. One stat I do know for sure is that, in 32 years of navigating the world in one of these chairs, I have rolled through exactly one pile of dog-poo.

I thought about replacing my Quickie with the Tigra but have decided that weight, or lack of it, is everything. By dispensing with the folding forks I can save at least 2kg and 600 notes. The Mustang fits the bill so if I can find the dosh, I may well go for it. I have gone for the unpainted look, since you ask.

Look at me, not the fucking chair.

… to Victoria, by Sikorsky

If you need to travel from the commercial centre of BC (Vancouver) to its administrative centre in Victoria, on Vancouver Island, you could catch a ferry. it’s a 95 minute journey. Trouble is, the ferry doesn’t leave from Vancouver and it doesn’t arrive in Victoria. Or, you could nip down to the West Waterfront and fly from there straight to Victoria’s harbour heliport. Point-to-point, 35 minutes. Works for me.

Helijet operates one of the few scheduled helicopter services in the world, and has done so since 1986. I believe it has depended on the Sikorsky S-76 for all that time and, bearing in mind that the aircraft fly all day and shut down after every flight, the better to load and unload passengers, the record speaks well of its reliability. Just so you know.

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Johnny learns he can’t sit up front with the driver

We flew to Victoria in the morning. As a PLM (Passenger with Limited Mobility) I was loaded first and kept well away from the doors. Since I must have been the only passenger to have completed dunker training (albeit in the olden days), this affronted me somewhat. So I leaned over and noted the door-release routine.

Needless to say. the others never got to know what good hands they had been in.

20180810_125911Victoria appears more formal than its free-wheeling counterpart across the Georgia Strait. It boasts lots of statues and, in season, beautiful flower gardens bordering lush green parks. We hung around the elegant Empress Hotel until politely asked to leave; Juanita then visited the province’s parliament building while Johnny sat in the sunshine with a rug over his knees.

The Royal BC Museum is well worth a visit. We headed for the First Peoples gallery and walked through some really imaginative displays. Ceremonial masks and totem poles, and even some historic film-clips of early encounters with white settlers.

We wandered along the inner harbour wall, which is lined with plaques commemorating business, family and individual contributors to Victoria’s maritime heritage. Then, what with an extended lunch (we weren’t driving) and everything, it was soon time to head back to the heliport. Talk about scratching the surface.

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… to Vancouver

Within two minutes of leaving our undamaged hire car on Granville Street, we picked up some groceries from (what I imagined to be) a store typifying the Vancouver vibe. Fresh fruit and vegetables, artisan coffee and a commitment to LGBT rights. The Grizzly Claw coffee was roasted by Kicking Horse. “From the heart of the mountains, a strong spirit roars … headed for a mug near you.” Now that’s Johnny’s kinda coffee..

We had rented a condo in Yaletown for the week and Ryan came round immediately, to show us around a city that he has plainly fallen in love with. We headed to Kitsilano for a rendezvous with his other love, Cheryl, then ate sushi and bought a shower stool.

On our first morning we headed downhill (always the preferred option in a wheelchair) towards the False Creek waterfront, to catch a SeaBus across to Granville Island Market. With the tide at low ebb, the ramp down to the pontoon was steep, and I would not have been able to get back up it on my own. However, 1) Juanita is a sturdy lass and 2) By the time we returned, as if by magic, the tide had come in a bit. How does that even happen?

20180808_103753There are two types of SeaBus catamarans; one for grown-ups and a second, larger craft with a ramp. Both chug around the harbour to what I am sure is a plan, and I loved the tendency for the skippers to chuck existing passengers off their boats, if new ones better suited their particular route. “There’ll be another one along in a minute folks!” Once aboard, it was a treat to view the downtown area on either side of the creek, as we mingled with kayaks, paddleboards and the odd gin-palace.

One more note on the ramps. Passengers to Granville Island and some other landings can use a series of shallower slopes that are much easier to negotiate. One of these is dedicated to former BC lieutenant-governor David Lam who, I was told, championed many access improvements to Vancouver’s complicated public transport network.

20180904_110745Granville Island hosts a number of public markets selling fantastic varieties of food, arts & crafts. We spent several hours sniffing around, at one point trying to eat an ice-cream as it melted onto my wrist and shorts, and listening to the buskers. I also bought, I can now reveal, this ceramic bird for Juanita’s birthday. Oh, and some maple-leaf ear studs acquired earlier, while in panic mode.

Ryan’s partner Cheryl is something of a whizz at ‘hahkey’ and we spent an evening watching her play an off-season match, at an eight-rink complex in Burnaby. Outside the NHL the opportunities for fighting are few-and-far between, so we were better able to appreciate her undoubted skill. She contributed one goal and two assists.

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¡Fiesta Juanita!

On Juanita’s actual birthday the sky was cloudy (and somewhat smoky) and the wind strong enough for our whale-watching trip to be cancelled. So we consumed the traditional Healey Birthday Breakfast in the apartment and a picnic lunch in Stanley Park. Dinner was taken as planned, at the Seasons restaurant in Queen Elizabeth Park to the south of the city. Even with the reduced viz, the views over the city were dramatic and the meal was memorable. Close by the restaurant is the Bloedel Conservatory, a mini-Eden Project dome stuffed with exotic plants and free-flying birds. The big parrots like to perch under their own umbrellas.

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Lunch at Chamber

And we met up with Gordon, my old friend from No.179 Royal Navy flying training course. We went through the mill together for over a year, first at survival school and subsequently on Bulldog aeroplanes, then Gazelle and Sea King helicopters. Gordon progressed to become a fairly heavy-duty instructor on Sea Kings, before settling in British Columbia. He now trains crews with one of the biggest helicopter operators in the world.

Gordon and Lupita gave us lunch in Yaletown and had us round to their place in Burnaby for some excellent barbeque. My first-ever tot of Johnny Walker Blue Label may have been a mistake but getting up the steps to the front door, with Linda and Ryan to the rear, lifting my feet in turn to my command, required a level of coordination that would have been unlikely if attempted while sober. Gordy has yet to take that particular course.

It’s a cliche to vow to revisit the site of a memorable holiday, but in our case we have little choice. I can’t see Ryan returining to live in his tiny flat in Liphook any time soon. And we still have that whale-watching trip to do.

… the Okanagan Valley

To the west of the Rockies and south-east of Vancouver lies a fertile strip of land that’s home to British Columbia’s burgeoning wine industry and its longer-established fruit orchards. The many lakes also provide a popular vacation playground for thousands of Canadians with their RVs and trucks and boats. In August, the shorelines and better known wineries are packed with citizens of the world, but we also found a couple of quieter spots for a refuel and the odd glass or two.

20180804_113917Driving north-west from Revelstoke, we left the Trans-Canada for Highway 97A and soon came across the small town of Armstrong. By sheer chance we also came across the Brown Derby Cafe, a bustling diner along Pleasant Valley Road. What drew us in, though, was a chalk-board advertising Full Breakfasts for $2.99. $2.99? After days of overpriced hotel food we had to do that and we weren’t even hungry.

Clearly a local favourite, we sat in the front yard and swapped banter with the proprietress as we waited for our food. Afterwards I took the wide ramp inside and snuck into the bathroom which, while clearly a multi-purpose facility, was perfectly useable. The winters there are said to be not too harsh so, I believe I shall retire to Armstrong in due course.

Not much to say about Kelowna; our hotel was in an unlovely spot off busy Harvey Avenue. Like true Brits, we left the car and hiked west along it to the City Park, where we ate an ice-cream by the lakeside. For our return however, we offset ourselves a mere block to the north, parallel to Harvey, and discovered an entirely different town. Leon Avenue was quiet and leafy, lined with small parks and period timber houses. It seemed surreal that, 100 metres to the south, four lanes of traffic continued to thunder by.

20180805_111813Our first Okanagan winery (how did that even become a proper word?) was Mission Hill Estate, a swanky place with obelisks, statues and even a bleeding amphitheatre. The setting is stupendous, however. The tasting rooms were packed with tourists who clearly were not afficianados like wot we were. We bought a bottle of their sparkling Exhilaration Brut (more of a mousseuse, IMHO) to celebrate Juanita’s iminent birthday.

We felt more at home at the Crush Pad Winery, off a proper winding country lane near Summerland. They specialise in raising organic grapes and wines, and take pride in storing the latter in concrete tanks for both making their own wines and selling to other estates. Being a bit further away from the Rockies, they have a little more flexibility over grape varieties than Mission Hill, say, during the short, intense growing season. I am in danger of exhausting my knowledge of wine here. Linda bought a bottle of white to go with the salmon that Ryan had just caught off Vancouver Island. He’s in bloody heaven, that boy.

20180805_171715Our sole AirBnB overnight stay turned out to be at the St Andrews-by-the-Lake golf club, which rents out a row of rooms beneath the club house. Heather looked after us well, but beware the steep slope conecting one to t’other. Beautiful setting though, I think you’ll agree. But then, golf clubs usually bag the prettiest views.

The final winery stop was at Hester Creek, which is temperate enough to help them make a decent fist of reds. We tried their Character Red with some cheese and olives on the patio, and bought a bottle of it to take to my friend Gordon’s for dinner in Vancouver. More of him later.

The closer we got to our final destination, the more nervous I felt about damaging the hire car — especially when we took a wrong turning off the highway while in search for top-up fuel. I still didn’t understand the four-way crossing protocol. Stay cool, Johnny.

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… the Rocky Mountains trail

Call me a sentimental old fool but, as you join the Trans-Canada Highway out of Calgary, you can’t help feeling you’re blazing a trail into a strange new land. Imagine it. Just me and you, and maybe a dog named Blue, steering our trusty Conestoga wagon and team of four from the bountiful Alberta prairies, through the tempting temperate foothills, into a forbidding landscape of ice and rock. In the vague hope that somewhere wonderful just might lie beyond the horizon. Somewhere we might, one day, call home.

Luckily, today’s teamsters don’t have to take all the wrong turns, nor be fooled by every box canyon. Johnny drove his GMC Terrain hard from the get-go; hard enough at any rate to stay in the slow lane, along with some bloody big trucks. Juanita made the first of several helpful commments about his driving.

Canmore was the first stop, a smaller town with more reasonably-priced accommodation than its neighbour Banff. The winter skiing resort has year-round gondola access to the 2,400 metre-high Sulphur Mountain. I was dubious of parting with the $64 fare (plus tax, annoyingly, like in the US), since the visibility was not great and, in peak season, it seemed suspiciously easy to book a slot.

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But I am glad Juanita talked me into it. Sure, the visibility was affected by cloud, and smoke from the British Columbia forest fires. Yet you could see the peaks and, as the sun lowered, the cloud lifted to reveal more detail. There’s some fun stuff to do at the top; the ‘interpretive centre’ is actually quite good, the guides are helpful and we stayed for pretzels and beer with a man and his guitar.

There was a storm in the air and some lightning flashed nearby. One lady claimed she’d been struck by it, but only to the extent that her left foot tingled. Dicing with death, I tells ya.

20180802_110006From Canmore on to Golden, but not before a diversion to some of the most wonderful scenery I have ever clapped eyes on. The pictures speak for themselves. Lake Louise is hugely popular, both with pioneers like us and guests of the enormous Fairmont Hotel that borders it.

One practical tip that occurs to me; I had brought my blue badge from the UK and, over the whole trip, it must have saved us hours of tramping through car parks. They are signposted ‘full’ from about 10am and, by lunchtime, the roads to views like this are lined with parked cars. But where there were attendants, they always seemed to find space for us.

We also bought a National Park pass in advance, here. During our own trip we only had to flash it once so, probably, could have saved a few quid without it. Yet it is manifestly selfish not to make any contributiont to the upkeep of such wonders.

20180802_133411Emerald Lake is marginally less popular than Louise, probably because there just isn’t the same amouunt of viewing space. Yet it’s busy enough for tail-backs so, again, just keep driving. I wanted to hire a canoe but Juanita has depressingly little faith in my skippering skills. I used to navigate an aircraft carrier, I’ll have you know. The colours of the water in these images, by the way, barely do the true hues justice.

Do take care crossing the traffic flow on the Trans Canada. After stopping for gas near Emerald Lake, we spent ten minutes wating for a clear left turn onto the four-lane highway (those trucks travel deceptively fast) and later that day, someone died at that very same spot.

Golden was OK for a stopover but we were particularly taken with Revelstoke, which has much more of a small-town feel about it. It caters very much to the activity crowd so there are lots of purposeful young folk in hiking boots; many of the stores are also given over to the outdoor life. Lots of restaurants too and, since it was August, free music in the evenings from the town bandstand.

20180803_105459Midway between Golden and Revelstoke by the way, just off the Trans-Canada, lies the Hemlock Grove Interpretive Trail, a 350 metre, wheelchair-accessible boardwalk that explores an ancient forest of immense giant cedars and hemlocks. It’s a fascinating diversion that also makes for a useful lunchtime picnic spot.

As we left Revelstoke, Juanita announced we were also leaving the Rockies. I felt mortified that we hadn’t done nearly enough pioneering. But if we were done with the National Park, there were still lots of stupidly big stony hills ahead of us.

 

… to ‘Toronno’!

The start of a long-anticipated and carefully planned trip to the land of Linda’s birth; from Toronto in the east to the foot of the Rockies, then along the Trans-Canada highway through the mountain range, down the Okanagen Valley wine-country and finally west to Vancouver, to see our eldest son Ryan and his girl, Cheryl.

Our first stop, Toronto, we liked from the start. We felt welcomed and appreciated throughout our stay. Pearson international airport is connected to Union rail station by the efficient and accessible UP shuttle (named after the two destinations). Once downtown we dived into the maze of city transport services and found that the TTC subway system could get us closer to our hotel. The Osgoode stop has an elevator but, like many older networks, some don’t.

We spent the rest of Day One orientating ourselves around the hotel, taking photos at the nearby big-letter Toronto sign and working out the details of our Sunday pilgrimage to Oakville.

The next day was spare. Between research visits to the bars and restaurants along the waterfront, we watched water taxis plying for trade out to the hugely popular offshore island chain. God, but Canadians are active. If they’re not skiing or snow-shoeing by winter they are rafting, kayaking or (in this case) cycling everywhere. It’s exhausting. Unprepared for this, we strolled past tall ships and critiqued the approach techniques of smaller planes, on finals to Billy Bishop Airport.

Caesar.

Hail Caesar

I also experienced a Eureka moment. At the Amsterdam Brew House I consumed possibly the finest alcoholic drink of my entire life. A Caesar is the Canadian version of the Bloody Mary, but made with Clamato juice rather than TJ. Mine was garnished with a wedge of lime and a delicious pickled bean pod, and rimmed with celery salt. Not just a ‘lunch in a glass’; on that hot day, in that bar, with that cool sea-breeze and with ma best girl ba ma side, it was perfect.

The next day we caught the GO (Government of Ontario!) train to Oakville. The carriages are double-deckers and wheelchair users will find a raised platform ramp to the door of a passenger car, where a helpful guard will admit you via a level bridge. On our way back, by the time we’d gone down and  up in the lifts to the platform, the Toronto train was ready to pull out and the doors had shut. The engineer saw us rolling madly towards the ramp and reset his brake, radioing his colleague to open the door for us. I can’t see that hapenning on Southwest Trains, or whatever they’re called this week.

BridgeThere is no blue plaque at Linda’s birthplace, on Bridge Road in Oakville. Now more of a dormitory town to Toronto, the timber houses have little in common apart from automatic garage doors (for the winters) and cellars. The Failey family spent two years there until Alan, an aerospace engineer, lost his job overnight in what became known as the Avro Arrow scandal. He had to quickly leave his growing brood to seek work in the US, before returning home to join the British Aircraft Corporation. At the time he lost on the resale of their home but, with its proximity to Tornto and the rail ink, it is worth a bit more now.

We couldn’t not do Niagara Falls. I initially blanched at the idea. First weekend in August? In a coach? Are you mad? But I dutifully followed Linda onto one of several buses collecting from our hotel alone. Our only hope was that the low grey cloud would put off the thousands of fellow travellers.

A coach trip there has its advantages though, I have to say. Primarily, your booked slot in one of the boats means you don’t have to queue for hours. It’s also a flog from the rail station. Side trips are usually included; we visited the manicured lawns and spotless streets of Niagara-by-the-Lake, and the enthusiastic staff of the nascent Ontario wine industry. (They make a passable Riesling and a concentrated ice-syrup that works well as a topping or Balsamic-type dressing.)

And you get a courier. Ours was Alex, a giant Canuck with an accent straight out of Just for Laughs (Juste pour rire). He taught us how to say ‘Toronno’, ‘Kebeck’ and ‘Hawkey’, pointed out the queues we were about to jump and the (other operator) attractions that were best avoided. He kept up the patter all the way there and concentrated on the driving all the way back.

You have to do the boat ride. It’s a life experience. It is indeed an awe-inspiring sight from the cliff-top but you only get the full thunderous roar of the falls from being set practically alongside in a boat. Not the Maid of the Mist any more, by the way. Its operator lost the Canadian contract and now services the US side. The only real downside is struggling with a plastic kagoule. But you will otherwise get soaked. And it is free.

Being at the bottom of a sheer drop, wheelchair access involves taking an alternative route to that used by the hoi-polloi. It involves several lifts and some steep slopes. It is do-able but perhaps not solo. You need someone like Alex.

It was hard to imagine Toronto in the winter; it gets some horrific snow-dumps off the Great Lakes. On days like these the denizens take to the PATH; a mostly underground pedestrian walkway network ithat connects more than 371,600 square metres (4 million sq ft) of restaurants, shopping, services and entertainment. That must make a great difference to wheelchair users’ mobility.

On our last night we visited the Senator, this year marking its 70th anniversary as a diner and the oldest one in town. The Thai Red Curry Bowl certainly packs a punch, but after an initial coughing fit I took to the task. The server told that, before me, no one had ever finished it.

I bet she says that to all the boys. Roll on the Rockies.

… The Tiga FX wheelchair

I have used a rigid-frame wheelchair ever since I left my almer mater, Stoke Mandeville, in 1986. They are lighter, less ‘wobbly’ to steer over rough ground, cheaper (usually), and  they fulfill my prejudice that the less equipment you need, the less disabled you feel. I know,  who cares? I do.

The only problem is, they take up a lot of space in the car and they usually need to go in an airliner’s hold. I went through more than 20 years of uncertainty, every time I flew, as to whether my chair would turn up where I had left it, outside the main door. Quite often, my £2,500-worth of titanium would head off to the carousel like the rest of the baggage, leaving me to feel like shit as I faced being pushed to Arrivals like a cripple. I always flatly refused to experience that ride and once waited 90 minutes after ‘doors open’ for my chair to be retrieved. It really pisses off the oncoming crews trying to make a pushback slot.

Nowadays airlines, dispatchers and flight crews seem to have their act together and appear to know what we expect. Recent trips have been trouble-free. But if it can happen to Frank Gardner in 2018, then it can still happpen to any of us. So it’s still true to say, there’s no substitute for having it in the cabin with you.

RGK Tiga fx2.jpgIf you fly Business Class in a Boeing 747-400, a rigid frame will fit in the cabin wardrobe. Otherwise, you might consider the RGK Tiga FX chair, which fits in a standard overhead locker. Like most chairs this clever device has a folding back, but it also has a folding front frame that reduces it to — in the manufacturer’s words — the size of a briefcase. Well it would have to be a pretty damn full briefcase, to be sure, but I get their point.

There’s a dreadful demo video here.

I asked for a quote. Fellow raspberries will not be surprised to learn that a basic TIga FX – minus cushion, minus scissor brakes and so on, costs over £3,000 of your English pounds. I shouldn’t be surprised. I can’t afford that right now (I’m a pensioner since Saturday!) so am investigating funding options.

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… to Churt village fete

My village. Well, the nearest village; we live in the middle of nowhere. But the infants’ school is important; all three of our kids went there and Linda teaches the Reception Class. The village hall is important; God knows how many plays, pantos and PTA quiz-nights I have attended over the past 25 years. The Crossways is important; a proper beer-drinker’s pub that I would frequent more often if only, Teresa, I could open the bloody door and get up that bloody ramp without yelling for help. And then there’s the ‘Rec’.

Behind the village hall, the Spar, the Pipasha Tandoori restaurant and the lawn-mower shop is the vast green Recreation Ground, lined by trees, tennis courts, the pavilion and a playground. For most of the summer it’s given over to cricket (I wish I could have convinced my boys to play cricket) and on the second Saturday each June, it’s the venue for the village fete. We held it last Saturday and it went pretty well, I thought.

Games1There was a brass band, a BBQ, a dance display by the St John’s School-kids, a Pimms stall, a free surfing simulator, a dog-show, food and drink stands, the local Honda dealer, Cub Scouts and the WI — dozens of stalls encircled the cricket square. We ran a set of family games. You know the sort of thing; three-legged race, scarecrow relay and so on. Anarchy ruled for a full 40 minutes. And if you hung around until the final medal had been handed out, Tom Viveash (chair of t’fete commitee) drew the winners of the various raffles.

Not bad prizes either. The one I cPimms1.jpegrossed my fingers for was the wheelbarrow-full of booze, offered by Ros who manned a fundraising stall for local students planning a trip to Ghana. You got the wheelbarrow too and watching the two delighted winners manoeuvring the loaded barrow through the exit was, for me, the high-point of the afternoon.

And then, on cue, it started spitting with rain. Looks like we had a great turnout though, if the activity in the carpark was anything to go by. Many of the local villages hold fetes, on specific weekend days to avoid clashes. So Churt is always on the second Saturday in June — mark your diaries for 2019!

Many more terrific photos like these right here. Thanks Rob. And the suddenly redundant fete site is here.

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… to Dallas & Fort Worth

I needed to interview a bunch of old Bell Helicopter hands for a book. Many of these gentlemen still live in the DFW area and there’s a cluster near Arlington between the two cities.

20180313_184538I blew the budget on Business Class tickets (BA’s 747-400 interior is showing its age) and suceeded in getting the chair stowed in the wardrobe  — thus avoiding a Frank Gardner moment at the other end. But immediately wracked with guilt, I booked a lowly Howard Johnson Express hotel, centrally placed for my task but squeezed between the I30 Eastbound and the Six Flags Over Texas theme park.

I had booked a car through Expedia but couldn’t specify one with hand-controls online. I had thought the big outfits would have a couple hanging around in case a vet turned up and demanded his ADA rights; however they require 48hrs notice. So I ordered the first of many, many Uber cabs (latest Visa bill says 25) and it worked out pretty well. Being Texas, many of the vehicles were trucks — and so involved a certain amount of heaving — but the drivers were invariably helpful and only one was unafraid to die.

The hotel was basic, and filled with families on Spring Break, but the bed was comfortable and the bathroom OK, with a roll-in shower. They found a shower chair and when I pointed out that the towel rack was way too high for me, they unscrewed it,  moved it down three feet and filled the old holes. I bet you wouldn’t get that in the Four Seasons. On the other hand the toiletries were rubbish and why, I ask you, should you need glasses to read the labels in the shower? This parsimony is not confined to hotels; who cares what essential oils or exotic bee-shit extracts are in your stuff IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S FOR?

But I digress. The comp breakfast was iced buns and Fruit Loops, essentially.

20180317_152510Mid-way through my interview schedule, I took a day off to visit the Fort Worth Stockyards. A bit of a tourist trap and not hugely accessible, but I enjoyed a great New York Strip in the Cattlemen’s restaurant. Unfortunately I ordered dessert and missed the twice-daily cattle drive.

But there was a rodeo! Very excited about this. The wheelchair space was right next to the pens so we could see the cowboys taking a grip on their rope-thingies. Bull-riding, steer-roping, bronco-riding. Brilliant and vaguely erotic entertainment; Brokeback Mountain has a lot to answer for. I took some great video and promptly deleted most of it; this rather lame clip is all that remains.

 

 

 

I was intending to fly to Philadelphia after a week but a snow-storm led to my flight being cancelled. I managed to squeeze in another interview and otherwise went heads-down on the laptop. Apart from steak I ate Tex-Mex, Japanese and Mongolian — and one burger, a messy chilli-burger, here at Tom’s!

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… To face the final curtain

Act the third

It’s OK, we got through it. In fact, as we approach that Difficult Second Weekend phase, I think we can be satisfied with our performances to date. But will we remember every one of Cerys’ last-minute instructions? Can we attain that elusive “extra notch”? Will we all remember our lines (you know who you are)? I have the luxury of being able to read from a script but will that dog-eared document survive another weekend on the sound-desk/in the bag next to my coffee cup? Will I finally snap and hurl said coffee over bloody cloud-children in their fluffy white costumes? The tension, so quickly released last Sunday, starts to re-build. Remorsesly.

Meanwhile, some good audience reviews, none of which I can remember but then, neither can you. “We really enjoyed it” (Dot Summers); “The Giant was particularly good” (Linda Healey); “How did you make your voice sound so scary?” (small boy); “I don’t like it mummy please take me away” (toddler on opening night — reSULT!).

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With Jack & Jill. Linda says, harshly I feel, that I look like Stephen Hawking.