travel blog

Thursday, August 25, 2016 - 15:36

We were driving half-way across the bloody country, it seemed, to check out a puppy at a farm near Bungay, in Suffolk. The fact that our previous two dogs had each been sourced from farms within a kilometre of home, only added to my sense of outrage over the journey the mission involved. And this was only a recce; a further trek would be necessary to pick up any selected animal.

To add insult to injury, Linda announced she wanted to take short (she said) detours from the A12 trunk road to visit the picturesque villages of Dedham and Flatford, the inspiration behind many of the landscape paintings of John Constable. I muttered into my beard but, as usual, rolled onto my back and capitulated.

It was the hottest day of the year; temperature in the 30s and the sky an unbroken cornflower blue. We peeled off the northbound carriageway and, true to Linda's word, found Dedham within minutes. It is a truly beautiful village with a broad, tree-lined high street, and at mid-morning was already bustling with summer visitors and their cars. We found a shaded table outside a popular crafts centre and, while waiting for our sandwiches, Linda went for a mooch. I fell into conversation with two ladies on the adjacent table and we talked about the respective fun-loving characteristics of Essex and Suffolk girls.

Dedham

The second detour, to Flatford was a little more involved and the lanes a lot narrower. Happily I was, by now, a willing accomplice. The bucolic riverside setting for The Haywain, Flatford Mill and many others is now owned by the National Trust and a paper or human guide will steer you towards the recognisable locations. Of course we wandered around and bought the guide on the way back to the car-park. I must get a RADAR key.

Flatford

JC took a few artistic liberties with his composition but you can tell what he meant. The outside of Willy Lott's Cottage, to my untutored eye the most obvious feature, has been restored.

This long-range shot taken from the cool of the café.

Cooling Off

With more time we would have hired one of the rowing boats tied to the riverbank. By the time we left, at around 11am, it was becoming noticeably busier. Rejoining the busy A12 involved quite a culture shock.

Oh, and the point of the whole exercise was ...

Ludo

My much better name suggestions have been discarded and he has been christened Ludo.

Monday, August 22, 2016 - 12:29

I thought I had done with zoos, at least for the time being. Our kids are grown up and not, as yet, procreating. And even when they do, they won't be keen for me to take theirs to one. Some ten years ago, we were at Regents Park Zoo in London and Caitlin (then 10), was sat on my lap in the chair. Within the grounds we encountered a small underpass and I thought it would be a wheeze to roll down the slope and out the other side. Unfortunately, at the bottom of the slope we hit something and we both flew out of the chair. Thank goodness I was unhurt as I landed on my daughter. Inconveniently she wasn't in such great shape, and we spent the next three hours in Casualty getting her patched up. I still get grief for that, unfairly IMHO.

This time we went on a Linda birthday jaunt with her twin brother Ian, his wife Zara and their children, Neil and Nadia. Son Ryan had the day off work and Linda's parents Alan and Barbara, in their eighties, gamely came along for the ride. I say gamely because it rurned out to be a rugged experience.

After Edinburgh my enthusiasm for hills was diminishing, and Marwell Zoo is spread over a bunch if them. Like many such attractions their growth over the years has been haphazard and, within the overall up and downhill loop of the circuit, a bunch of enclosures have been tagged on and shorter but still steep slopes confront you with tiresome regularity. It's also a bit of a maze. Once again I had forgotten my Freewheel, which would have helped, so I needed pushing quite regularly ("no, it doesn't have bloody handles!") and that took the shine off the experience, somewhat.

But we saw all the good stuff. Marwell is an old-school, non PC establishment and still has tigers, cheetahs, giraffes and a choice of train - a chuff-chuff on rails that we missed and by road, a clunky ride behind a tractor. Rather risky access is via a pair of wheel-ramps pulled out from the side of the carriage. It's a way to avoid the hills but getting on and off it, frankly, is a pain.

The kids enjoyed the day, which was the main thing, we all enjoyed the family treat (the first outing for the twins for many years) and no one ended up in hospital. We also enjoyed a splendid birthday picnic!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016 - 11:49

Thousands of shows at hundreds of venues, spread about Scotland's capital city. What with the more sedate Festival and military Tattoo, August visitors to the Fringe comedy gala have a huge amount of choice. The other 11 months of the year, according to several taxi drivers we chatted to, "business is dead".

So how to decide? Well, this is where a wheelchair user like me has, for once, something approaching an advantage. Because only so many of the venues are accessible. So when Linda and I got hold of the printed Fringe programme we could, from the comfort of our armchair, undertake an immediate and savage cull of those not boasting the "wa" gif. It was not 100 percent correct, as you will discover. We booked most of the shows via the dedicated accessibility phone line (0131 226 0002).

However accessible the venue, the programme's map of them all lacks contours. Fringe virgins like us are left to discover both the city's sometimes vertiginous hills and its cobbled heritage for themselves. A prime centre of the festivities, the Pleasance Courtyard (Nina Conti, Pete Firmin, Doug Anthony Allstars) is a complete bugger to get around in a chair without a Freewheel. My first transit involved much cussing and subsequent ones a set of clenched teeth.

PLeasanceWhile on the subject of the Pleasance, there must be as many bars within the courtyard as there are shows. I got over-excited the first night and learned, once again, that you have to pace yourself. London prices at least. We became thoroughly caught up in the atmosphere -- everyone was out for a good time. It was easy to chat to fellow visitors and a pleasure, for once, to deal with the kids laden with promotional flyers.

The light underbelly

We tried to wheel between the centres but now and again succumbed to the taxi rank, where the public hire ones are all wheelchair accessible. So are the buses, by the way, but we didn't have time to get the hang of the network. London black cabs are best; the alternative vans are too big, if anything, and setting up the ramp is a right palaver.

UnderbellyThe Underbelly area brings together a set of venues in the St George's Square park. You can't miss it on account of its centre-piece; a massive purple upside-down inflated cow. Here we saw Australia's frantic-fantastic A Simple Space acrobatics troupe and, in the same venue, the equally energetic acapella/beat-box Gobsmacked group. We also got hi-jacked off the path to listen to Daniel Cainer, a Jewish singer-songwriter who spoke and sang eloquently about his life and loves in Gefilte Fish & Chips.

From there, t'was but a short wheel to the Assembly Studios, where the Viscera Theatre gave us In Tents and Purposes, a "witty and intelligent" two-hander about fate and fortune. I fell in love with both actors.

As well as the hills and cobbles, We also experienced the phenomenon that is Edinburgh 3D. On our way to see Henning Wehn in the Cowgate area, we found the exact spot for the venue but it was nowhere to be seen. Linda then peered through a builder's screen and picked out the Rowantree Bar, at right angles and at least 100 feet below. Overcoming the steep hill linking the two levels required all our wheelchair-handling skills. Henning welcomed us at the door, made us laugh for an hour in his strangled accent and shook our hands on our way out. Top Bloke.

WIth the chair we got to queue-jump and were invariably offered a space in the front row. But in the chair, I was usually safe from selection as an audience stooge. The exception to this rule was the Doug Anthony Allstars, where I had something obvious in common with one of the trio, Tim Ferguson. We bantered a bit and, luckily, audience participation was not part of the act. Because it was FILTHY.

The fly in the ointment

Your correspondent must make mention of the last show we saw at the Fringe. A Play, A Pie and A Pint did exactly what it said on the tin at the Le Monde, on George Street. We enjoyed the mock trial, even if the "charge" of rape didn't chime with the light-hearted tone of the thing. In the jury we got the verdict wrong but I got the impression that, either way, you don't get it right.

But, and it's a big But. The programme said the venue was wheelchair accessible and, on the fence outside, there indeed sits a Blue Badge call button. Inside was a perfectly acceptable loo and lift access to all areas. Unfortunately, between the two, was an insurmountable set of five concrete steps. Negotiating them required two burly staff-members to lift me, my chair and my evaporating dignity up and down. No one there seemed to understand that this, in 2016, is totally unacceptable.Frown

So, nine one-hour shows in an evening and two days. We had an absolute ball. If we had to pick out any of them, A Simple Space expended tons of energy with great humour (strip-skipping, anyone?). On the face of his appearances on panel shows I didn't much care for Henning Wehn, but I took a chance and now I'm a fan. The venues were (mostly) fine and so were the facilities.

We're so glad we made the effort. Edinburgh was never built around the wheelchair but the Fringe, at least, recognises the challenge and does what it can. Now that we know what to do, we will definitely be back. In the meantime, one day next week I hope to be able to lift my arms above shoulder-level.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016 - 11:01

We had a ball. Read all about it in The Guardian.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014 - 09:50

We have all the paperwork now and Johnny Sombrero has found his driving licence with more than an hour to go before leaving the house. That's paper too, another proof-of-advancing-age identity.

I have booked a limo for the airport-to-hotel ride, from memory it's only a five-minute drive so will have to knock back the complimentary sparkling cider in short order. And who will get the single complimentary red rose? A source of unnecessary tension amongst the laydees, even before we check into the famous NYNY Hotel, casino and roller-coaster. I shall invite them to release it by screaming out show-tunes through the sun-roof.

Part of the Las Vegas preparations will involve a visit to a Western outfitters. I have decided a fringed buckskin jacket and leather chaps would not be a wise investment, and Johnny will not be wearing a stetson. Is there such a thing as a non-straw sombrero? I'd love some boots but there's a putting-them-on issue. I quite fancy a bright shiny, tight-fitting shirt with the curly pockets but, like the chaps, when will I wear it again. Actually, when will I wear it - ever?

I need a weskit and a belt with a 'silver' buckle would be good. I'll probably end up with a bandana.

Monday, September 15, 2014 - 12:55

Not long to go now, before four of us set off for our dude ranch holiday in Ariz. Flying to Vegas, staying there for 3 nights, then hire car to Stagecoach Trails near Yucca. We have our cowboy names and are that close to forming a gang and getting a gang tatt.

I am writing the stay up for The Guardian and am looking for other commissions, especially in LV. Taking access for granted there but how much do the themed hotels (NYNY, Paris, Venetian, Luxor) reflect handicapped access in the original locations. Not too hot, I happen to know.

And I don't have a 'Use of English' blog but if I did:

Dear God RT @jenlong: My mum is so pissed off about this. pic.twitter.com/UChi9DfjJY

— Graham Linehan (@Glinner) September 15, 2014

Tuesday, December 18, 2012 - 13:48

Argentine Antarctica.svgSo the UK is to name its southern Antarctic Territory 'Queen Elizabeth Land', in honour of the monarch's 60th anniversary. That's super, but the change is unlikely to be adopted by other claimants of (roughly) the same segment of the southern continent.

Argentina (Antártida Argentina) and Chile (Territorio Antártico Chileno) both have communities on the Antarctic Peninsula and that of the former includes children born there -- native Antarcticans?

The Antarctic Treaty adopts a live-and-let-live attitude to manoeuvres such as this and the re-naming, so long as the residents of the various bases comply with the non-military ethos applied to the entire land-mass. It's a permanent agreement. But when the scale of unexplored energy resources coincide with the technology to exploit them, all bets will be off.

Queen Elizabeth Land will become the source of a great deal of international tension. And the way things are with the Royal Navy, it will be powerless to intervene.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 - 14:42

The opportunity to mix helicopters and travel, that is. Read my Guardian piece on the Penzance-Scilly closure here.

Friday, August 24, 2012 - 11:01

I just added this job description to my Linkedin profile. "Duties included waving athletes onto team buses, sometimes with a clicker, sitting outside the athletes lounge wistfully watching the live feed and filling the odd arena seat."

That about covers it. Totally under-employed (better that of course, than the alternative). But what a blast, just being there. I would arrive hours before my (8-9 hour) shift just to wander around the Olympic Park, exchanging the odd word with random people and generally soaking up the atmosphere. Someone was quoted as saying something like, "I love those Games Makers. No idea what's going on but what enthusiasm". Ah but that was week one, we had it nailed for week two!

Saw some basketball. Snuck in to watch 15 mins of Argentina v Lithuania. Had no idea of their pedigree but what a revelation, they weren't taking any prisoners. Much more fun that the only full match I saw, when Brasil rolled over China later in the week.

Watched some athletics with the family too, and saw the perfect Games Maker role for me - driving the radio-controlled Minis back and forth with the 'discarded' javelins. Only question remains - how do they replace the pole vault bar?

And there's more! Ryan and I went to Wembley for the football final, Brasil v Mexico. Great match, terrific atmosphere.

One of the best two weeks of my life. No question. And thanks to Mick for the loan of his London flat..

Tuesday, July 24, 2012 - 09:38

Aerials of the Basketball ArenaI've completed training and had my kit issue -- like joining the army -- and am ready for my first shift at the Basketball Arena on Sunday. Some excitement here. I shared buggy rides in the Park with a team manager for the Aussie BB team, a coach who teaches cyclists how to ride a velodrome and a lady who will be in period costume at the opening ceremony on Friday.

As a further sign of my commitment to the cause, I stood in the rain to watch the Olympic flame pass through Petersfield. Surely all this entitles me to light the cauldron on Friday? Catch me on my cell.