Monday, 14 September 2015

Musée de l'Armistice

One of the other things on my shortlist for the Compiegne area was the Glade of the Armistice and  Musée de l'Armistice - the French national war memorial in the middle of the forest of Compiegne.  It was here that the Armistice was signed in November 1918, in Marechal Foch's private railway carriage.  It was also where the invading Germans had the French sign the surrender in 1940, after which they destroyed the site and had the railway carriage taken to Berlin, where it was destroyed.

After World War Two the site was restored and another carriage from the same manufacturer was turned into a replica of Foch's carriage.  It's this that you can still see today.  Outside the small but interesting museum, there are a number of memorials related to both World Wars and the location of the tracks and carriages is marked out in stone.

One of the more modern memorials - this one to peace. 

The site is level with fine gravel paths - it's quite a wheel from the car park but completely flat and thankfully shaded - this was the day it hit 40 degrees in Paris!  The museum itself is accessed by several steps and there is a small, elderly but serviceable platform lift.  I had to get No-so-small Scottish Boy to fetch someone with the key (his first French lesson turned out to be "l'acenseur s'il vous plait").  There's another platform lift inside, which is worth using to get up to the rest of the exhibit.  

There seems to be big plans to update the museum - and hopefully also both the access and the website, which is a gem of a site, complete with Forrest Gump soundtrack and a Wanadoo e-mail address, that will take you right back to the late 90s!

Thursday, 10 September 2015

The Somme

I set a few conditions about our trip.  I wanted to see a Cathedral, I wanted to see some of the Somme and I wanted to see the Carriage in which the Armistice was signed (of which, more later).

The afternoon of our day in Amiens, having seen the Cathedral before lunch, we took a drive out along the Somme to Péronne, to see the Historial de la Grande Guerre.  This was a brilliant museum in a setting which really emphasised how tranquil the Somme is.  The museum itself is set within a Norman castle and despite this is completely accessible - albeit that they are quite keen on ramps (down to the entrance and within the building).  There was a real range of material, including plenty of interest to children.  There were sections about each of the main nations involved in the Somme (including Germany) and also about civilian life during the war.  The final section was an art exhibition.

No photography inside, so the only pictures are of Not-so-small Scottish Boy exploring the defences of the castle and of the view from the terrace of the cafe.

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After visiting we took a slow route back along the Somme itself, away from the main roads.  These tend to go along the plain, whereas the local roads wind their way down into the river valleys, hidden away below what seems from the main road to be flat fields.  You'll dip down and find a picturesque village, a water meadow or a meandering tributary of the river.  For a place with such violent historic resonances as The Somme, it's a beautiful, peaceful corner of France.  It's hard to imagine how it could have been hell on earth, only 100 years ago, were it not for the many, many military cemeteries.


This post has been lurking in drafts since our holidays - poor internet connection prevented me from adding pictures, so I'm posting it now.  Pretend I'm still in France, it's 40 degrees outside, the sun is shining and I have a glass of 3 quid AOC white wine in my hand!

Cobbles have always been a bit lost on me. They look very historic and picturesque but even walking they're hard work - as any number of turned ankles evidences. On wheels, they're a nightmare. However, there are good cobbles and bad cobbles. Good ones look as good, perhaps better, but are a smooth enough surface to wheel over without trapping a caster, which carries the threat of an undignified headfirst tumble out of the chair. Good cobbles also take a fraction of the effort to push across.

We got quite a lot of experience of different cobbles surfaces in Amiens, where the signage for the disabled entrance to the cathedral has disappeared due to building works. Here's some lovely cobbles from Amiens:

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And here's some that aren't. Notice that the good ones look nicer and are free of cigarette ends. These were only a few metres up the same street.

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This evening we had dinner in a family restaurant, Leon, on the outskirts of Amiens. The man at the next table had the same model of Quickie Helium as me, but larger casters. Maybe that was for the cobbles!

Here's a few shots from Amiens.   The Cathedral was wheelchair accessible (aside from dodgy cobbles and a slightly too steep ramp at one point) but the entrance was poorly signposted as there were building works.

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And we found a New Zealand memorial inside.

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Catch-up time

I have so many half-composed entries in my head from the summer - I am going to make a concerted effort to put some of them on here in the next couple of weeks, especially as I went and chatted to the lovely people at Blether FM, a local community radio station, this evening and promised to share this blog with them.  It needs to have some up to date content first!  So, I've all sorts of things on the way - more on France, some other things I've done over the summer and my first wheeled trip to the Helix and the Kelpies.

Right now, however, I need to think of a new nickname for the Small Scottish Boy.  He's had that nickname since he was a toddler, but at 139cm tall and in his last year of primary school,  he is now not so small.  This week he celebrated the massive milestone of his first proper rock concert - Foo Fighters at Murrayfield.

Until I come up with anything better, I think he'll need to be No-so-small Scottish Boy.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Accessible France

We're on our way to France for our summer holidays, which are usual brings the challenge of figuring out which places are accessible and which aren't.  I found very little in English, but I have just discovered J'accede which looks to be very useful.  Not all of it is translated but the basic access information is (mostly) and the good news is that accessibility French is pretty close to English.  First up is Notre Dame d'Amiens, which the site tells me is fully wheelchair accessible.  We'll be there on Tuesday (we've a trip through the Channel Tunnel first!).

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Redhall Walled Garden, Edinburgh

A couple of weeks ago, friends in Edinburgh asked would we like to come along on a visit to Redhall Walled Garden, in the western suburbs of Edinburgh, as they were having an open day.  The small boy was at first a bit reluctant but changed his mind and I am so glad he did.

The garden is run by the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) as an employment and learning support service for people recovering from episodes of serious mental ill health.  They offer training and support but have also created the most magical haven.  It's partly funded from various public bodies, but as with so much these days is increasingly having to become self-sustaining and one of the ways they do this is through plant sales and fundraising on their open days.

The garden itself was originally the walled garden for the nearby Redhall House and served two purposes - firstly it was the house's kitchen garden.  In Scotland, summers can be short and the weather unpredictable, so sheltered walled gardens allowed fruit and vegetables that would otherwise not survive to be cultivated.  A greenhouse attached to a south-facing wall meant tender fruits and exotic flowers could also be grown.  Walled gardens also had a more leisurely function, for the occupants of the "big hoose" and included formal areas, water features and elaborate planting.  At Redhall there is also a summer house, currently being restored, which provided them with shelter, warmth (it has an impressive fireplace) and comfort to take in a view - in this case an avenue of trees down to the Water of Leith.  More recent additions are a replica neolithic roundhouse and a sandpit for kids, as well as polytunnels for cultivating plants.

Today, the gardens are open to the public on weekdays and on a number of weekend open days during the year - at which they also sell the most amazing cream teas.  About half the garden is devoted to raising plants and half is laid out as formal and informal gardens.  There are lots of areas to explore for kids.  The ground is gently sloping with firm gravel, firm grass and a few paved paths - all but the bottom level was easily accessible and I suspect had I explored further I'd have found a way down there as well.  It would benefit from a couple more paved routes from the bottom of the garden back to the top (there's one at the very end), just to make getting back up a bit easier, but I managed on the well-treaded and firm grass paths without help.

As a gardener, it's great place to buy plants as you know they've been raised to survive our climate - as opposed to those at the garden centre chains which have been shipped in from much further south.  I got a nice collection which will be making their way into the bed below my living room window just as soon as the painting work on the windows is finished.  

As ever I took far too few photos - I need to get back into the habit of this as it is much easier with the wheelchair.  I did get a couple of the kids - chasing each other round the herbaceous border and investigating the pond.

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Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Zen and the art of wheelchair maintenance.

I've been a bit lax over the last couple of weeks about wheelchair maintenance - you need to pump up the tyres once a week or so and strip out the front casters about once a month as grit, fluff and hair builds up.  In particular you end up with lovely little circles of hair.  On Thursday I'd noticed the casters were no longer moving very well and there was a bolt that seemed to be coming loose on either side of back, so I decided it was time.  And for the first time I did a proper job of it.

The basic rule is to take the wheels off, squirt everything that should move with WD40, tighten everything that shouldn't move but is.

So I hauled the wheelchair in the house and started stripping it down with my trust set of US hex keys.  So far so good.  Cleaned everything up, squirted WD40 all over the bearings, etc, and in the socket the front fork goes into on the frame of the chair.  As instructed I did the casters one by one, so I didn't forget which of the three positions they needed to be in.  That's the trickiest part and I've never yet managed to do it without dropping the bolts or, particularly, the washers several times.

I also took the wheels off, pumped them up to their full 110psi (that raised eyebrows when I bought the pump in the bicycle sectionof Decathlon) and squirted a bit of WD40 on the axels.

Fully re-assembled, I put the chair back in my car.

I didn't use it  much on Friday, so Saturday was the first time I used it for any length of time and it just felt weird.  Heading out to Tesco, I skidded on some gravel in the carpark.  It seemed to wobble and, on very smooth laminate flooring of the SNP local campaign office, one of the rear wheels skidded instead of turned.

I finally figured it out late afternoon - I'd managed to put one of the casters at the wrong height and that was enough to through the whole chair off.  Luckily it's a quick fix, so my local parliamentary candidate was treated to a quick demonstration of wheelchair maintenance (I keep a small purse with the hex keys for the casters in a pocket on the chair) and I was good to go.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Scottish Sea Life Centre - Oban

I'm still playing catch-up on our trip away during the school holidays, so here's a belated post about another one of our outings.

On our second day at Ballachulish we decided to try and dodge the rain showers and visit the Scottish Sea Life Centre at Oban.  It was featured in Rough Guide to Accessible Travel in Britain as accessible so I thought it would be fine - and have plenty of shelter if it did rain.

This Sea Life Centre is situated in a wooded area, just north of Oban.  Unlike the other's we've been to, it wasn't all in one building, but spread across several buildings.  The car park is about 100m or so from the main buildings and when we visited the ticket office was closed, so you had to enter through a gate with an uneven path.  Once back on the main path, it was smooth enough, with a couple of uneven bits where tree roots had lifted the path.  It's down a slight hill and I was a bit nervous about getting back up.

When we arrived the staff gave me a map with details of disabled access.  The main aquarium was not built with disabled access in mind, so you have to enter each of three sections separately to see everything - this means doubling back against the flow of other visitors and then going round the side of the building to re-enter via a fire exit.  At one point I sent the boy down some steps, saying I'd meet him down there, only to find I ended up stranded at the top of some steps at the other side of the building and had to shout across to get his attention.

The tricky bit highlighted in the Rough Guide was the ramp down to the lower level of the seal enclosure, which you also needed to use (again, against the flow of traffic) to get access to the lower level of the aquarium.  It was, as warned, slightly too steep but was also uneven, which made navigating it myself even riskier.  I had to ask someone for help pushing me up (and I hate this so much, my chair doesn't have push handles).  Likewise the adjacent ramp up to the upper seal viewing area is very uneven as well as slightly too steep and again I felt very much at risk of tipping.

There was also a cafe, in a separate building, with disabled toilet and a lovely view over Loch Creran, and a gift shop, with a viewing platform giving views over the otter enclosure.  The entrance to the latter was a little challenging (non-automatic door, plus ramp, plus threshold strip, plus recessed door mat!)

The outdoor areas were not so accessible.  I couldn't get up the path to the children's play area - luckily the boy is old enough to send up on his own, but it would have been disappointing for a younger child.  Likewise the Terry Nutkin Memorial Nature Trail has a narrow and steep path with steps.  The boy went off exploring it on his own, as it was one of the items on the kids' quiz which earned them medals, and was gone long enough I'd started to worry about how to go find him.

All in all we had a good day and I managed to see everything and not permanently lose the boy. I wouldn't like to visit when they were busy, because of the difficulties doubling back and going against the flow of traffic.   Unfortunately, though, I don't think it's quite as accessible as the Rough Guide writers think.

My two pieces of advice to the management are:

  • Fix the ramp at the seal enclosure - I was at serious risk of flipping over and that probably means it's dangerous for mobility scooters and potentially buggies.  The combination of uneven surfaces and a steep incline are a real problem. 
  • Please, please, please, when you're doing a trail for kids, don't include any parts of your site which aren't accessible.  Had I had a younger child, or had my child been the one in the wheelchair, they wouldn't have completed it and there would have been tears. 
Oh and the hill to the car park?  I made it back up that unaided.  And very proudly so!

Apologies for the lack of pictures.  

Monday, 27 April 2015

Great post this weekend on the BBC's Ouch blog about travelling in China with a wheelchair
We were in Glasgow this weekend as I had a residential training course (I'm the Branch Equalities Co-ordinator for my union).  The boy was treated to a day at the Glasgow Science Centre on Saturday by the creche at the course and had a great time.  So much so, he decided he needed to take me there after the course finished on Sunday afternoon. 

Entrance is expensive - it was £19 for the two of us, although they do let carer's in free.  There's then additional charges for the planetarium, the iMax Cinema and the Glasgow Tower.  We'd been before, a couple of years now and I was relieved to find that the main lift was working again.  The centre is home to perhaps the least reliable lift in the city, at the neighbouring Glasgow Tower.  It's been out of operation for much of the centre's life and unfortunately high winds meant it was closed when we were there as well.  As the limit if 20mph, I suspect it reaches it quite often given the Scottish weather (which, by the way, has been stunning the last few weeks!)

The centre is good, there are loads of activities and quite a lot had changed since our last visit so it felt fresh.  They pitch well  to different ages and have sections specially for younger children.  This time we spent a lot of time looking at Bodyworks, which we'd missed last visit.  Given the sheer amount of interactive activities, it was good to see that only a minimal number were out of order - I'm quite sure it's a constant battle to keep things working.  I'd like to see the planetarium, but we didn't have time this visit. 

We went for a snack at the cafe and unfortunately by 3:30 the selection of cakes was poor.  As it was a lovely sunny day, I fancied and ice cream but there were none to be had.   There are disabled toilets on two levels, but there really aren't enough lifts given the number of families with buggies.  There's one large lift near the entrance (which is possibly the second least reliable in Glasgow) and another which is barely big enough for a wheelchair at the other end of the building.  As a result I spent 20 minutes at one stage trying to get up a single floor. 

On the whole, I don't think it's as good as the Science Museum in London, which we visited last year and which is free or W5 in Belfast, which we visited 2 years ago and costs a couple of quid less.  And both of those have better cafes and better lifts.