… 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 returning to 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 proprietor 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 and eat a full breakfast every day.

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 a mile 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, eight 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 aficianados like wot we were. We bought a bottle of their sparkling Exhilaration Brut (more of a mousseuse, IMHO) to celebrate Juanita’s imminent 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. 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 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; I couldn’t do it on my oen. Beautiful setting though, I think you’ll agree.

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 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 Terrain — 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 over 100 helpful commments about his driving.

Canmore was the first stop, a smaller town with more reasonably-priced accommodation than its more touristy 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 Linda 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.

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). Later that day, someone died at the 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.

RGK Tiga fx1

… To the Churt Village Panto!

Act the First

Johnny has been seduced out of retirement to appear as the Giant in the CADS production of Jack & the Beanstalk, by Jack Northcott. Performances planned for the last weekend of January and the first weekend of February, 2018.

Johnny says, “I am delighted to once again take on this pitiful pivotal role. I recall with pride and some affection my previous appearance as the Giant, back in 1978. I was part of a groundbreaking new interpretation of the traditional fairy tale, re-imagined by Peter Christopherson, and my character (Empreror Pong the Pestilent) was required during Act 1 to strike terror into the hearts of small children in the audience. Later, magically reduced to a more manageable stature, he was able to balance inhumanity with pathos and finally win their hearts.”

This historic clip will give you a flavour of Johnny’s ability to bring such a complex character to life:

“This time, as the Giant Butternut Trump, I will be projecting my character from off-stage. However I eagerly anticipate reducing junior audience members to tears through the power of my voice.”

Incidentally, Johnny would like to point out, especially to his legions of American fans, that the name of his character was scripted long ago and is not intended to portray anyone, especially not any US President, living or dead. It just means he farts a lot. Indeed, such is his capacity for coughing his rompers during each performance, that Johnny has found it necessary to employ his own Body Gas Stuntman:

… To Hong Kong

This time for real, for the first time in over 30 years. It’s, er, not the same.

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The only building Johnny recognised was the Connaught Centre, now re-christened Jardine House. Opened not long before he landed in the city, it was notable for its round windows and, in the left-hand image above, was an obvious landmark. Today, it is barely visible (centre-right in the RH pic) among the much taller buildings.

The area around the former HMS Tamar is all reclaimed but, roughly where we would have tied up, now lies a marina. There’s still the Star Ferry, and the Peak Tram and the Peninsula Hotel (of Cleopatra Jones and the Dragon Lady fame — and my glittering wide-screen debut). Otherwise it’s high-rise enterprise all the way, from Chai Wan to Lantau, and beyond.

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L-R: ET, David, Ryan & Cheryl on the ferry

We walked peacefully round the summit of the Peak and then crammed ourselves into the descending tram with hordes of tourists — who knows from whence they came? We took the Star Ferry; about the only bit of the entire visit that was familiar to me (the wooden seat-backs, that the first passenger aboard flips to face the front, made me smile). Over in an equally frenetic Kowloon, we saw no Rollers at the Peninsula but an MD902 took off from the roof so standards there are being maintained.

The MTR is impressive and largely accessible, although step-free routes at some stations require a degree of creativity. The taxis are familiar, but presumably new models, and the drivers helpful.

In no particular order we also enjoyed racing at Happy Valley, champagne at a rooftop cocktail bar, dim sum and jellyfish (surprisingly tasty). We pottered around Chai Wan, to the east of the island, where life was equally industrious but somewhat lighter on limousines. And we took a cab over the hill to Stanley Market, where I bought the first set of chopsticks that caught my eye and a small water colour of Central District that may just have featured Victoria Basin, back in the day. You have to learn to let go, Andrew.

Then, before we knew it, we were saying goodbye at the airport. Vaya con Dios, muchachos!

HK airport farwell

 

… with Thresher Sharks

They can be seen most mornings — early mornings — at the Monad Shoals, off Malapascua Island in the northern Philippines. The vertical wall, with a convenient viewing point 30 metres down, provides a convenient cleaning station for the graceful beasts with the elongated tail flukes. Johnny and the Varmints hitched themselves to the guide-rope.

IMG-20171021-WA0001The small island of Malapascua lies a 40 minute boat ride from the northern tip of Cebu, which itself is 200km from the international airport on the southern tip. The journey between these two points can be covered by a rental vehicle, either a car, van or in our case, a float plane. Never assume that the fastest vehicle will be the most convenient; we had arrived at the fag-end of a typhoon so adjustments were necessary. As it turned out, including the plane, the poor weather meant we utilised nine separate modes of transport to reach our destination.

Some transfer or another

One of several boats and chairs. This one was in brown rattan

For the final leg the dive centre sent its boat (there is a public service but it was now way too late for that). We made a night assault on the beach and I and the kit was dragged round to the shop. Johnny’s hotel was next to the Fun&Sun PADI centre, one of several dotted along the fine sandy beach on the southern island coast. An idyllic setting for grown-ups but never less than challenging for wheelchair users. Luckily, son Ryan would be at my side throughout the adventure.

To visit Malapascua from the UK and return after only four nights may seem an odd use of one’s time and money. But Ryan was joining Cheryl, his girlfriend, for a family reunion and a subequent invitation to me seemed too good to turn down. I love my diving; I knew this would be difficult but was also confident there would be plenty of willing hands.

Our programme began the next morning, bright and early. The boat’s ever-resourceful crew would experiment with ways of getting me on board from beach, boat or ocean, before settling on a plastic chair lashed to a pole and hoisted by them onto the fore-deck.

We made several dives during the build-up to the thresher descent; one to the small marine reserve of Gato, where we swam through a tunnel that was long enough for us not to be able to see the other side. It took a small leap of faith to make the dive into the abyss but it was probably only half a minute before the pale blue exit hove into sight.

And thrillingly, there were white-tipped reef sharks! Several of them, more of a conventional shark shape than a thresher and more menacing for that. By the time we saw them I was clear of the swim-through but others behind me inadvertently hemmed one in, and it darted towards them before finding a way out.

But the threshers were the highlight and they didn’t disappoint (video by Warwick Ngan Kee. The shadow at the end is of the diveboat, 100 feet up). As we were deeper, our sightings were limited to appearances through the gloom. Later there were arguments about just how many we had seen — several in succession or just one swimming in circles? Their mouths, while the familiar sickle shape, are far too small to pose a threat. But sharks of any kind have this mystique and thresher tails, which they use to stun their prey, are especially impressive.

Again due to the depth, our bottom time was limited and we needed to make a decompression stop while surfacing. On our way back to breakfast we were an excited group.

I always enjoy night dives, from the tip backwards into the blackness to giving the thumbs-up signal and piercing the silver surface above. And you always see good stuff; to improve my chances I tied a torch to my mask strap. This evening’s highlight was a writhing mass of green and black sealife, presumably feeding on some corpse, looking for all the world like the fabled snakes on Medusa’s head. They looked like eels but I later learned they are a type of catfish.

IMG-20171028-WA0000Now, back in England, having spent most of the past week either in the air or under the water, I feel a sense of accomplishment. I also feel shattered, which is odd considering others were doing most of the hard work. Would I go back? I initially thought never again. But on the other hand the hotel quickly put up several ramps, one permanent (Ryan christened it before the concrete set). I eventually found an almost sand-free route between the hotel and the dive school (the FreeWheel was again invaluable). The chair device works, although we must have stressed this particular one to its limits. And I finally made it into the shower without Ryan’s help (the exiting manoeuvre requires more thought).

So, with all that infrastructure now in place — madness not to, really.

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Johnny gets a pressy. Thank you all!

… to Malapascua, Philippines

The 7P principle

Odd, you might think, to write a travel blog about a place that you haven’t yet visited. But scuba-diving this remote Philippine island, lying off the northern tip of Cebu, will present something of a challenge for Johnny Sombrero and his trusty steed. And as the departure date approaches, as is Johnny’s wont before any trip (ask Juanita), he starts to worry.

It’s not that he’s alone. Ryan and members of Cheryl’s family will be there to provide all the support he needs. His concerns have nothing to do with the distance, or the flights, or the Hong Kong stopover, or climbing into the minibus for the four-hour drive north — or even the scuba diving itself.

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The paraw dive boat

It’s getting on the damn boat. Ordinarily, this is my favoured method of starting a dive. You get driven to the site, you kit-up, you sit on the side like a frogman and, boom, there you are surrounded by bubbles, above what you came to see. Getting on a modern dive boat is also a cinch; you wheel along the side of the marina and balance onto the stern dive platform. Still in the chair, job done. Well, more or less.

In this case, the stem of the local vessel, a paraw outrigger, faces the beach and access is via a plank. For an able-bodied person, negotiating this requires no more than a few steps up (maybe with arms outstretched for balance/effect). For me, well, I’m still not sure.

Plan A

If the plank is wide enough for my arse-cheeks, and if I can get purchase on it with my hands underneath them, I propose to sit on it and bum-shuffle my way backwards, up to the stem. If someone is standing either side of me in case I overbalance and if a third helps me reposition my feet in front of me as I mount. I can see that working.

My concern is that, from a manoeuvering point-of-view, my arms and shoulders are all I have. And after decades using them to pull myself up from the ground into my chair, my shoulder joints aren’t as secure as they once were. They have no effect on my day-to-day mobility and, for weeks now, I have been exercising to re-stabilise these joints. I have made progress, but I don’t want to undo this good work by being manhandled.

And while I’m at it, helping me out of the water after each dive needs some thought too. After passing my kit up, I do not want to be dragged up by my wrists until my belly folds over the side of the boat. That will hurt. We should find a point from where I can be pulled up using a twist-lift.

IMG-20171002-WA0006Most sailors will be familiar with this method. The deal is,  from in the water I face the side of the boat with my upstretched arms crossed above my head. A crewman takes each hand. We start a plunging motion into the water and, on my count, we all lift on the upstroke, untwist the arms and (in theory at least), I end up sitting on the edge. Minimal strain on the shoulders that way.

If this option isn’t available, again, we will find an answer. I may end up being towed. As long as we talk it through first. Because, as we used to say in the Navy, Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance

Johnny feels better now. Andale andale muchachos!

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Photos courtesy Cheryl Kng

 

… with a new bedroll

The Unstoppable gearbag clips to the rear rail of a wheelchair for hands-free carriage. It is not only hugely practical but possibly the first bit of kit ever designed for the disabled community that actually looks cool. Consisting of an 87 litre capacity main bag and a 31 litre back pack, the two fasten together for towing behind the chair or, if required, separate for check-in and carry-on baggage.

Unstoppable_1Designed in the UK by Andrew Slorance, the Unstoppable also features a nifty set of wheels that turn in two axes, allowing the user to spin as well as roll. It doesn’t affect balance in the chair so you can cop a wheely up a kerb as usual. The zips and materials look pretty hard-wearing too so we shall see how they behave during next month’s Far East trip. While the wheelchair clip appears tough as well, it protrudes and so appears more likely to be vulnerable to the tender ministrations of the world’s airport baggage handlers. If damaged, the component is simple to replace.

Zips, straps, handles and clips abound on the Unstoppable in fact, so much so that Andrew thoughtfully places stickers next to the ones you need to fasten the bags together. Another zip at the top allows access to the main bag while it is attached to the wheelchair, if say you feel the need to panic-stow your liquids at check in. There’s a telescopic handle too, for the use of a companion.

20170913_172723The Unstoppable costs £289. If you’re a regular traveller, Johnny doesn’t even think that’s overpriced.

Which makes a change.