… To nowhere

Surprisingly cold at 0400

It was shaping up so well. We climbed the gangway, signed on, made up our bunks and drew foul-weather clothing. Unexpectedly, Jock volunteered us for an 04-0600 harbour watch. But after breakfast the next day, we learned that the Trust had failed a safety audit and we weren’t going anywhere soon.

The ship systems were fine but the MCA found fault at Head Office. We were hoping to sail on Saturday but when this was extended to Monday, Jock and I (with plenty of experience of weekends stuck alongside) pulled the plug. We could no longer make Oban on time and would have to head straight for the less-salubrious port of Campbeltown.

It is such a shame. We were settling in with a great bunch of able-bodied and disabled crewmembers, plus volunteer watchleaders and permanent crew with exactly the right attitude. The weather was set fair. What could be better?

We were promised expenses and offered refunds or a substitute voyage. We will try again so friends who supported my own effort can rest assured their contributions will not be in vain. As we used to say, it’s just life in a blue suit; a shipmate told me she had sailed with the Trust 20 times and this had never happened before.

I note the Lord Nelson will spend much of next January and February sailing from Antigua. Just a thought …

… The SmartDrive MX2+

This battery-powered clip-on doo-hicky may not extend your mobility horizons, but it should make your existing ones easier to handle.

I have been struggling up the uneven slope to my office lately, and searching for a little oomph to avoid my shoulders becoming any more knackered thatn they already are. The choice was between a hand-bike attachment at the front of my wheelchair and a SmartDrive underneath.

This kit from Cyclone Mobility mounts to the chair front

The former option — several makes are on the market — effectively upgrades the chair into an electric trike. Another term for it could be mobility scooter. I make the comparison only because your hands move from the push-rims to handlebars and all the power then comes from the front wheel. You just steer it. I once tried out my Dad’s mobility scooter and froze half to death after half an hour excercising only my right thumb. That said, the combo does look and perform much better than a scooter. It also lifts the front castors of the ground so you can try it out OFF ROAD!

With a SmartDrive, your hands must stay in contact with the wheels, if only because the thing will push when you start it and only stop when you tell it to. If you come up against a stone or tree-root and fail to avoid it, stop or lift the front castors manually, it will keep on pushing until, in a worst-case secanario, it tips you onto the ground and runs you over. Your own chair. Oh the indignity. But at least the blood keeps flowing around (and potentially out of) the body.

Safely at the office door

You control a SmartDrive through a Fitbit-style wristband with a Bluetooth connection. This feaures an accelerometer that reacts to taps on the push rim. Two taps to go, one to stop accelerating and two more to stop. After a couple of near disasters pushing/driving up my uneven slope, I have the hang of it. It helps if you (counterintuitively) lean backwards. I will now trial it at the local beauty spot where I exercise the dog; if that works, which it should, everything else will be a bonus.

I will also use it in conjunction with my FreeWheel, which will get round the castor problem. That should make for quite a nifty combo. More later.

… to the Amalfi Coast.

The Vertical Coast, more like. L arranged this trip and, if I had seen in advance photos of towns like Positano, Maiori or (our base) Minori, I would have whinged like a sailor denied shore leave in Rio. Our flights were to Naples so I thought I had only Visuvius to worry about.

Imagine my surprise, then, as the autostrada dipped down between two cliffs and transformed itself into the first of numerous hairpin bends. Truth be told, it was somewhat hilly. How hilly was it? It was so hilly that, whenever the Croche Rossa ambulance sped past our hotel, sirens blaring, we would get the Doppler effect two or three times as it zig-zagged up or down the main street. In fact it wasn’t hilly at all. It was edge-of-the-cliffy.

This gangway was a tight squeeze for the chair

But we managed, as always. Our hotel had a decent accessible room. The boats linking many of the neighbouring towns were do-able, if you were prepared to be manhandled up and down the gangways. Many of the restaurants have outside seating at street level. Most of the village piazzas are at least on the level. And of course for every uphill, there’s a downhill.

Just don’t expect much in the way of lifts, ramps or loos. We depended on taxis for every journey, and even then they insisted on sending vans. Easy for the wheelchair, not so much for Andy. Linda’s informal scouting revealed two, count’em two, accessible loos along the entire coastline — one in Ravello (doubling as a storeroom) and another up several steep steps at the Blue Bar on Positano beach. As for ramps, the Villa Rufalo in Ravello boasts the steepest, longest one I have ever been expected to negotiate. Definitely a group effort required but, if you can muster the support, the gardens and the views are stunning.

A whole ‘nother challenge in Ravello

We ate well. Most meals started with an amuse-bouche, the food revolved around seafood and lemons, the coffee was wonderful and, to finish with, there was often a free tot of home-made limoncello. Orchards lined every road, many protected by netting and some of that, so we were told, concealing illegal building projects.

We were about 90 minutes from Pompeii and that is a sight to behold. Our visit concentrated on the structure of Roman society and the precarious nature of one’s position as patrician, pleb or what-not. Our guide led us from the Coliseum entrance, avoiding the smutty mosaics that had been the focus of my first visit, back in the day. We got in free, by the way.

Traffic calming, Roman style

So I guess the point of this entry is to encourage any fellow wheelchair user who might feel intimidated by the obvious obstacles lying in wait along this dramatic coast, to have no fear. We spend our entire bloody lives improvising so it would be a shame not to take it up just one more notch, if you want to experience some of the most spettacolare scenery Europe has to offer.

… To Oban. Post the second

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I am now a fully paid-up and insured cabin boy aboard the good ship Lord Nelson, pressed to take passage north up the Irish Sea in May. Will Nelly keep a sextant and chronograph? All I will need then is a clear civil twilight, a flat horizon, sight reduction tables, an astro-globe, nautical almanac, a chart … or Google Maps. Handsomely now, me hearties. Keep sending the treasure!

… to Oban, aboard the TS Lord Nelson

We set sail from Poole in May. If you visit my JustGiving page (click on button below) you’ll see I chose a similar adventure just 49 years ago, in the TS Winston Churchill, just before joining the navy. I could have waited an extra year to reach the half-century but, once I had the idea, I got excited.

Will keep you posted during the build-up and (I assume there is Wifi) while at sea.

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… roughshod over new emojis.

I do not think much of these at all.

Static and dependent

I thought we had moved on from this perception of wheelchair users. What do they all have to sit bolt upright in old-fashioned chairs. Why can’t they look just a bit more dynamic? And call me Mr. Picky but, we don’t all need push-handles.

These are Unicode images and can be tweaked. I urge platform owners to add a little pizzaz, It doesn’t take much …

LIke this

… the GTM Mustang, forever

I’m pleased with this. Well put together, good lumbar support and (I think) a touch lighter than my Helium. Good brakes too, although I should bloody think so for 200 quid extra. I mean, ABS they ain’t.

The clothes guards can be removed, which seems fair enough until you remove them — and wonder where on earth you’re supposed to put them. I met a girl this week whose RGK chair has guards that fold back against the seat-back. I admit it, I was seduced by the name.

100 notes-worth, right there.

I get fed up with all the extras, and their cost. All the dealers are the same. The brakes were my only indulgence and I steered well clear of the various upholstery, wheel and push-rim options, which could have added almost a grand to the quoted price.

And then there was a delivery charge. I should have known that but it still came as a shock; so much so that I got into an argument with the dealer. No way was I about to schlep halfway to Scotland, just to pick it up. At no point was the charge mentioned, either verbally or on the paperwork.

Everything’s fine now, and I like dealing with Cyclone, but if you sell your stuff nationally you must support it nationally. Buying a power attachment from them for this chair would entail a day at the Widnes dealership, plus the petrol and probably an overnght stay somewhere. That adds a lot to the already substantial ticket price. It follows that I am much more likely to buy a different product from a local supplier. So, I would argue, why bother selling nationally?

As for the ‘forever’; well, if this thing lasts for ten years, it may well be my last manual chair. It all depends on how my shoulders hold up. I dread the prospect of going electric for all the obvious reason, plus this. Some years ago, when I took my late Dad’s mobility scooter out for a family walk in Jersey, my left thumb was the only bit of me that got any exercise. As a result, I froze half to death.

So a power chair will always be very much the last resort. We must all face our mortality at some point, but trading up/down/across to one of those will make a particularly brutal statement.

… to Twisted Spine, Wyoming*

How did that happen? One day I’m walking like a grown-up, hitching my weak right leg over my stronger left one as merrily I go along, sweating bullets. The next day I’m using the chair more as, frankly, it’s getting to be hard work and I’m not sure that, if pole-axed, I could get up again. Then the one after that, literally, Johnny is slumped like an old timer with a backbone like a lariat lying on the desert floor. Johnny the gimp.


I thought I was caring for my posture, both in the wheelchair and on my super-dooper office chair. I celebrated the latter for its miraculous effect on the nerve pain that, in probably related news, has now resumed its position as the bane of my life. Well so much for that, and it’s hardly likely to get better now, is it?

Back in the olden days, in Stoke Mandeville, I was lectured on the danger of ignoring posture and becoming ‘wheelchair shaped’. I paid attention to that but took it the physio was referring to my body’s side-on aspect and I could avoid that by, whenever the opportunity arose, standing up straight against a wall and lying on my back in bed. I must have done that at least once every day, ignoring the possibility that my plan view might be at risk as well. Now all I can do is try to sit up straight, but every adjustment has to be thought about and, a second later, it has to be thought about again.

Is it too late? Are the vertebrae now fused? Can I stop it where it is? Can I even alleviate it by suspending myself by the ankles in a frame (the physio says noo-oo)? I have appointments with the experts in February, by which time I may be even shorter. And it’s not as if I have much height to play with.


Slightly left-wing low in the Philippines

  • If there is such a place, I want my picture taken by the welcome sign

(Actually, I think I may have dreamt all that. While my spine is indeed curvaceous in some unexpected directions, my pelvis is the main culprit.)

… the GTM Mustang!


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?

Quadra (640x480)

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.


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.