Evening out to see Ennio Morricone

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On Thursday we had our first trip to the O2 arena to see My Life in Music.  Ennio Morricone took the orchestra through some of his famous movie scores. Many were done well before our time in the 1960’s but I was pleasantly surprised that I recognised about half of them. You might have heard of the most recent films to use his music  – Chi Mai, Casualties of War and The Mission. If you haven’t heard of them – then you will almost certainly know then amazing theme tune of The Good The Bad and The Ugly.  He writes very emotional scores on themes of war and slavery for example – we had to cover his work when I did GCSE music. However, I obviously paid little attention as I didn’t realise that Chi Mai which I’d been studying for 2 years was composed by him. Hmm Fail.

We had seats very close to the orchestra and didn’t really know what to expect. Morricone never spoke once – just came on and got on with it. We had no clue who the orchestra were or the soprano singing (which was apparently Susanna Rigacci – and she was amazing). The Guardian described the sound she made as a human theremin … which is rather good. I’d describe it as akin to the vocal range and sounds from Star Trek the original series theme tune.

We also had a bit of a back stage tour in the quest for the loo and to get to our accessible seating area.  The accessible seating was good – one of the few times we could actually sit next to each other to see a concert which was nice.

 

 

 

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Plymouth Aquarium: Turtle + fish = good times.

IMG_2955My Trip Advisor Review is here.

If you find it helpful – give me a helpful vote on my profile. Always good to know if it was useful 😉

Want to visit an aquarium that’s got good access, good food and easy viewing – then this is the one for you.

If you’re looking for a ‘shark tunnel’ and want to touch stingrays – try somewhere else.

If you want a stuffed toy choice of every sea creature imaginable – the gift shop will appeal.

If you’re planning a Sharknado party – this is the place to stock up on all things shark.

If you want to wait 20 minutes for the Sea Turtle to wake up from it’s regular snooze and swim into view for a few minutes, then this challenge is for you.

Remember folks …. Fish are Friends …. and plastic bags kill our sea life. (Yes you will be told this several times on your way round :-p … although your stuffed toy may well be offered in a plastic bag to carry home).

No room at the Inn – well no bed to be precise.

About 9 months ago the dates for the Firework Championships were announced – so we quickly booked into the Holiday Inn, Plymouth. I’ve written a separate blog post on our holiday.

We had chosen the Holiday Inn based on personal and practical requirements. The location meant we could walk to see the fireworks, it had parking and was one of the few places to have air con (as I need to keep the air cool because of my ventilator mask which otherwise gets really hot and uncomfortable)

At the time of booking the only wheelchair accessible room available was one with a double bed.

Out of 211 rooms there are only 2 with wide doors etc and a larger bathroom for wheelchair users which is rather poor. The chances of getting a twin room in hotels with so few rooms are slim.

 

We made the wrong assumption

 

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When we have stayed at other similar places (Premier Inn, Travel Lodge and even other Holiday Inns etc) where we can only get a double bed, we have been offered a camp / folding bed or sofa bed.

I have to take my pressure relief mattresses, turning equipment that goes under the mattress etc and I use a ventilator – so sleeping in a double bed with my husband isn’t an option. However, he has to be next to me to make sure I’m ok and to help me during the night.

Just before we went I spoke to them on the phone to ask for the folding bed and was told they had a policy not to provide these. Also, if we wanted second room for a carer (which wasn’t adjoining through an internal door, so wouldn’t have been any good for us anyway) we’d have to pay for it.

 

 

Making it possible to stay for work or leisure

Hotels have to make ‘reasonable’ adjustment, under UK  equality law,  to enable disabled guests to use their services – including providing aids and equipment. I’m assuming this is why the portable bed is often provided for carers in other places.

Another example is that if a person can not use the bath they can request a bath lift at one of the major hotel chains. Another chain offers low beds that can be raised on blocks to suit different height requirements.  It can make the difference between going or not going on holiday.

Also, it’s not only holidays that are the problem,  I’ve been to many hotels in the past for business trips, attending conferences or running training events for my company – and it really made working life difficult.

Basically, affordable, portable equipment that can help a range of guests have a much better stay are one of the things they can do for customers.

An apology

Holiday Inn isn’t cheap, we didn’t want to pay double and we needed and wanted to sleep near each other. My husband didn’t want to sleep on the floor – so on principle we felt unwanted and cancelled – moving to the Future Inn.

Since then, we have had an apology from Holiday Inn after I made a complaint. The manager was very polite and wrote in detail about the facilities they do have and the training provided for staff. He also explained that they do have a policy of offering a free room for carers and will consider a portable bed.  I hope this is a real genuine consideration.

I would like them to understand that things like a portable bed would have made all the difference and is better than the other option of us taking a camp bed or my husband sleeping on the floor.

I suspect many other people are in the same boat as us (from what my friends have been saying) and I know some wheelchair users who sleep in their chairs because of the ‘bed’ problem. It’s hard finding accommodation when most hotels only make 1% of their rooms wheelchair accessible.

Access for people with mobility impairments is more than wide doors and a few grab rails – its also about giving accurate information so that people can decided where they want to spend there money. We need a higher proportion of accessible rooms to choose from – that have been designed in a way that will benefit a wider proportion of disabled guests – not just mobile wheelchair users who don’t need assistance.

 

Our trip to Plymouth for the British Firework Championships 2014

Fireworks

About 9 months ago the dates for the two nights of fireworks were released – so we quickly booked the two of us into a hotel in Plymouth. I’ve done a separate blog on why we had to cancel our original booking with Holiday Inn.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Kevin would have had to sleep on the floor as they didn’t have a temporary camp/sofa bed in the room like other places we have stayed – so we booked a room at the Future Inn.

Back to the Future?

Not quite – we won’t be going back to the Future Inn – for one reason which is particular to people like me who need a pressure relief mattress. You see, the Inn was lovely, staff were nice, we had two double beds, easy parking and a wet room / shower – yet once we had put my mattress on the bed it was too high to get on!

Incidentally, you couldn’t use a hoist neither as the bed plinth was wooden down to the carpet. Also, there was so much furniture in the room I couldn’t get to the bed without scraping my power chair along the bed on one side and the fixed table on the other. There was little room to turn – you went in forward and generally came out backwards.

So for our requirements we really struggled with Kevin having to lift me on the bed and then from the bed onto my mattress.  We rarely have this problem as in other places the beds have been lower – with the option to raise them on blocks in some places. This suits everyone – but this Inn have yet to understand the true meaning of ‘access for all’ or at least ‘most’!

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Top left – This is Sibel, my portable hair washing basin we take in case I can’t reach the sink or I’m too tired to shower. Top right – my new modified shower chair/toilet chair. Bottom left – the crazy small gap to get through to get to the side of the bed. Bottom right – the nice bed we destroyed to put my mattress and things on for me to use it.

On the plus side, we got to see how our modified toilet chair worked in practice and I was able to have a shower for the first time in about 5 years which was rather nice considering I only ever have a sink wash.

Fireworks Night 1

So no fireworks in the bedroom aside deep frustration …. but loads of them out on the Hoe. The first night we drove to the Park and Ride a few minutes up the road. We were dropped off in the town and walked nearly a mile, with the rest of the Pyro maniacs, onto the Hoe for the giant showdown.

There were thousands of people as we expected, a fun fair and the usual array of chip and donut vans. However, we didn’t anticipate on the fireworks being set off far below us on the water (we were basically on a cliff). Even at their highest they weren’t visible overhead- so you needed a clear line of sight to the sea.

Their were 3 displays each night. However, once the tall fat lady stood in front of me I couldn’t even see the sky! I stared at her rounded behind and saw nothing of the first set, about 40% of the second set leaning out the side of my chair around her chubby thighs and about 90% of the third set.

All in all, not so successful. We drove hundreds of miles to see a fat lady’s bum …. not what I had imagined! Incredibly frustrating.  Kevin took a video so I watched that instead.

Tomorrow we would try plan B – arrive hours early and pick a different viewing point.

On the up side, we stood next to a Chinese guy with a mental health problem who was muttering all sorts of random sentences for the duration, whilst doing throat singing and waving his arms in pure delight at the pops and bangs. He was having so much fun oohing and ahhhing in-between the mutterings that we were sucked up into the bubble of pure joy that was emanating from him. That was more magic than the fireworks.

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turtle

 

Earlier on in the day we went to the aquarium to get a fish fix – that was really good and they had good food. You can’t go wrong watching a turtle or jellyfish.  As is customary I took 200 blurry blue photos of fish and videoed the jellies.

It was nearly 2.30 by the time we got to bed, the queue to the park and ride was longer than anything you’ve ever seen at Disney.  So, we got in and the night ended with hubs throwing me onto the bed, quite literally.  ZZZzzzzz

Fireworks Night 2

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After a day on the South Devon Railway (great access, friendly staff and a lovely journey), we put into action Plan B. We parked at the aquarium around 6pm to get a place in the multi-storey, went for dinner, then ambled round to the front of the aquarium where we had a great view of the fireworks. Away from the funfair, the crowds were less dense and more civilised! It was nice and quiet with the gentle hum of people wondering if it was ever going to start after a 30 minute technical glitch. There were 3 sets on night two – each company got the usual 10 minutes to show off what they could do.

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I was sat next to a small child by the harbour railing. She was about six years old and stood as close as she could to my side and just stared silently and intensely at me for a whole 10 minutes during set 2 . Alas I was trying to watch the fireworks so there wasn’t the time for conversation. The thing was, I could feel her breathing down my neck and as I turned my head to see what she was doing we met virtually nose to nose. She still had a perplexed look on her face, clinging like a limpet to my armrest which started me laughing. I give her top marks for her endurance and finding me more amazing than the fireworks she was missing. Maybe she was a robot child or something – who knows.

So it was another late night and after more mountaineering we made it into bed.

Day 3

Going home day. A nice late checkout, we went home via a slight detour for Kevin to do some bridge spotting. Now, what he didn’t tell me was to get to the bottom of the Tamar bridge, at Saltash, to take a photo, involved the steepest road you’ve ever seen in your life – the sort you would normally go down on foot attached to a rope and harness. How anyone can live on that hill is beyond me.  This little escapade also meant driving over the bridge twice – with only a little barrier on the way back to stop you plummeting to your death. Lovely.

 

 

 

 

 

Dungeness RSPB reserve and lighthouse

Saturday was a scorcher – just right to visit Dungeness as it’s probably freezing any other time of the year.

First stop was the RSPB reserve.

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The entrance drive/path is horrifically bumpy if you have low muscle tone – and very long. We paid a grand total of £2 to get in (the soon to disappear concession rate) plus assistants go free. The visitor centre was rather nice with a gift shop and glass front overlooking the main water of the reserve. You could sit and use the telescope/binocular view finders to watch the comings and goings. Many different birds if you know what you are looking at.

I tried out my iPhone zoom lens to look over to the nuclear power station.

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We then had a wander around.

Paths are small shingle bumpy and hides are accessible (you can drive to them if you ask). Hides are great but not for arachnophobes like me. I managed to go inside a few. They did get stuffy in the heat and a bit dusty. This us the view from one.

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For me the best attraction was watching butterflies i’d never seen before.

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Next we drove down the road to Dungeness lighthouse.

What a weird place. Shingle, succulent cabbage type plants and the bumpiest board walk I’ve ever rolled across. I can quite honestly say I won’t ever be going back there. There are also these cabins / houses that are a cross between a dreary beach hut and a large garden shed, dotted around the grass shrub. The sort serial killers or zombies live in. A ‘shop’ was selling mystical gifts and there were a few boats.

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Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve

A lovely afternoon here and it’s right off the main road – so easy to get to.

Clocked up 2 miles following a straight path walk by some of the lakes. We got close to some bunnies, saw some busy bees nesting at the side of a bird hide and quite a few butterflies, dragonflies and damsel flies.

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A short video of the reserve.

 

 

 

 

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The paths were pretty good but you do need binoculars to see the water birds.  There are accessible toilets and smooth car park spaces. The Grebe Hide has a ramp to one of the windows but you can’t see the bird feeders or anything through the side windows. Kevin did the bee video for me to see what they were doing.

 

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New Forest Reptile and Amphibian Centre

At the weekend we went down to Southampton for 3 nights. The main aim was to see if we could still manage to go on holiday as I haven’t slept in a normal bed since my specialist profiling bed arrived last year. The fact that I can blog about our weekend means we survived… and not only that but the two things we were trying (inflatable things to hold my position in bed and a portable hair washing sink) worked very well. Just got to figure out how I can use the toilet now.

Anyway, our second day was lovely – we are more forest people than townies. Give us a forest and some animals and we are very happy.

We went to the New Forest – to a newish reptile and amphibian centre. It was free and consists of several ‘pens’ with netting over them, in which you can see most native and settled UK reptiles and amphibians. We spent the whole afternoon staring into the pens trying to catch a glimpse of shy and camouflaged lizards and snakes.

We thought that snakes liked to sunbathe – but apparently temperatures like we had (above 15 degrees C) and they start to burn and look for shelter. We saw elusive smooth snakes and adders and Kevin did eventually glimpse two types of lizard. I couldn’t see the lizards as the height of the pen walls blocked of a good view.

 

The Marsh Frogs were very vocal – a species settled over here from Europe. They were doing their Budweiser call lol. The noise was amazing – but apparently not as loud as the Natterjack toad which is the loudest in Europe. Mr Toad wasn’t in the mood for talking though.

Their is a forest trail which we wandered up (not so bumpy unlike the horrific drive into the carpark where I lost my head even with my neck braced). When we came back, people were packing up but I spent a while trying to photograph birds. Their is a RSPB hut with information and hands on creepy crawlies, and they feed the birds so you can view or photograph them. They also had a web cam on a goshawk nest with chicks in.  I saw my first nuthatch and lots of birds we just don’t get in our garden. All in all, well worth the visit.

 

 

Marle Place

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Just over 30 minutes from us is Marle Place. We spent a Sunday afternoon wandering around the gardens, woods and orchards. It costs £6.50 for adults and wheelchair users get in free. However, we were charged for my entry. It’s a strange policy as it’s pretty accessible on powered wheels and specifying only wheelchair users gain free entry as opposed to disabled people in general is somewhat strange. Neither did their website mention access on their visitor info web page.

Anyway, hidden in the web text was a mention of access and a ‘wheelchair friendly lavatory’. Personally I’ve never met a rude loo but there we go.

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We meandered across lawns and I bumped over tree roots through woods. They have an art gallery and a range of sculptures in the grounds. It was a shame there was no information about the works.

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My favourite part was the chickens. They posed for me to try out my zoom lens and very good subjects they made too!

We ended our walk with a cup of tea and cake in the tea shop.

Afternoon at the Hornby Museum / Visitor Centre

Steam Train

Our first visit to the Hornby Visitor Centre in Kent was a pleasurable afternoon. Our group, once again, consisting of my mum-in-law, husband, nephew, teddy and myself. Fortunately, this time, teddy wanted full participation in what the museum had to offer and shared the full experience with my nephew James.

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First stop (after an initial fail to find the car park) was to peel James away from watching a model train layout in the Hornby shop (*you have to be careful how you type that) and tempt him into the restaurant with the promise of a ham sandwich.

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Their meal selection was quite nice, Kevin and myself had  a ‘blow your head off’ chicken curry which was perhaps just the ticket (ha ha) for a cold rainy day.

So, all fuelled up, we headed at full steam into the museum. We weren’t sure what to expect because their website didn’t say a lot.

We spent the whole afternoon there, following James around as he did laps of the exhibits. As expected, a short narrative of the man himself how he started of as a toy maker and moved into inventing Mechano, then the famous scaled ‘toys’ and models of planes, trains and automobiles.  A small, un inspiring Thomas The Tank Engine layout was the first exhibit which was made slightly more exciting by having domes in the middle that children could pop their heads into, in the middle of the layout.

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 There is a small video room, a model train layout (again not the best, but not the worst neither), a few rooms with cases of various models for display and how the scaled models are produced for AirFix.

At one point teddy was given a leg up to peer into the model railway and nearly caused an epic derailment and the felling of several fluffy trees.

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There was also a weird display of cars on podiums (Pocher Models) that were about 5 foot off of the ground… small people need not bother with this room. The museums is modern, airy and had a ‘science museum’ feel to it with low level lighting and lots of blue and white spotlights.

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However, most of the time was spent playing with the Scalextric circuits at small person’s height! He thought this was great fun even though he generally lasted 5 seconds on the track before shooting off. We stayed most of the day in this area! Kevin seemed to enjoy it too – boys and their toys!

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Apart from the one room with the high plinths, access is fine and you will find the pleasure of not one but two roomy accessible toilets hiding in the gift shop area (one without a baby changing mat you will be please to know!).

I think James gave the museum a thumbs up and we all had an enjoyable afternoon.

Deserts, rain forests and a broken wheelchair

Tropical plants

Last Saturday it was a hot and sunny day in Richmond, Surrey – and perfect weather for visiting the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew.

Ignoring the terrible M25 queue (trying hard not to turn this whole blog into a pun), we had a brilliant afternoon. Kew is super accessible and quite straight forward to get to. We had planned to park in the car park but couldn’t access it because of road diversions. Eventually we decided on to park on a quiet side street on Kew Road (which is also the coach drop of point). There are lots of ‘parking permit only’ signs but these seem to be odd times and not applicable when we were there so we chanced it. Incidentally, if you are lucky to get one of the 300 parking spaces in their carpark it will cost you £6.50! Kew has a vast array of transport and parking information on their web-site which is worth a look.

So, parking done, time to head towards the gate. Oh my goodness. You know those drills they dig up roads with that vibrate the brains out of the operators …. that is how my head felt after driving along the most bumpiest pavement I’ve ever been on. If you use a chair – DO NOT use the pavement alongside the wall of Kew on Kew Road. It is horrific (take a look at it on street view to see how bad it is).

My brain now feeling like a blancmange that has gone through a tea strainer and my contact lenses still whirling round my eyeballs, we were in. We don’t know why but we were both given free entry (normally, carers/assistants go free and disabled people get a concession).

Really, I should have been paying full price because my experience was no different to people who walked in. The 300 acre grounds are all very accessible, smooth paths and gentle slopes. I could see nearly everything and they get a pat on the back for having a CP toilet.

Here is a sample of some of the different paths/terrain.

Paths at kew gardens

Kew is huge and you can easily spend an afternoon in one glass house. Currently the Evolution and Temperate House are closed for major works that will last many years. However, give me a tropical house and a huge conservatory with ten climatic zones any day. One minute you are amongst the plants of Madagascar and then next you are sitting with Cacti of central America. Did I mention I like succulents…. and rain-forests of orchids…. and bananas and mangos…. lets just say I was dragged out of there.

Kew plants

Tropical plants require tropical climates – just perfect for me. So with my husband and mother-in-law, Molly, wilting, I reluctantly came out the other end. I guess I’ll have to save the other side of the Prince of Wales Conservatory for next time.

We were rather out of season for the grass gardens and some of the floral displays but had a gentle meander through the rock garden and pools.

Next stop was a wander towards the Palm House. Within seconds of entering Kevin and Molly shot straight back out the opposite door! If you think the desert is hot – try this on a scorching summer day. Kevin did the gallant thing and came back in just in case I passed out or something. This glass building has 16,00 window panes to channel that summer sun like a death laser onto your hot and sticky body. Hard to believe the whole thing was dismantled and replanted in 1988. The glass is now toughened safety glass and the frame is stainless steel.

Here is a fact, inside this building is the Mexican Yam – used to develop the contraceptive pill! You can find plant facts and touchy feely boxes all around kew – it can be a very tactile experience! All the main tropical fruit trees and huge palms can be seen.

With the humidity in the extremities of the building it must have been over 100 degrees. After ten minutes I melted and went out. If you can walk down steps into the basement there is a modern aquarium display of 4 marine environments so I just read about it on the Net.

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Bit of a breakdown….

There is only one ramped entrance but a few stepped exits – and it was on my way around the outside building that my chair started making a loud whirring noise… then it went putt-putt, jumped around … and stopped. My right motor failed and got extremely hot. Eventually it cooled down and I could move on snail speed. I don’t think it was the heat directly but the tropical house probably hastened its death.

I limped around the water-lilly house and we wandered through the wood area towards the lake. It was late afternoon and the treetop walk had closed. Kevin was quite up for it … until he saw how high it was (18 Metres high) and that you walk on mesh looking straight through to the ground! The walkway has a lift but does not permit mobility scooters (I guess electric chairs are ok?). Either way, some people were still going up despite signs that it was closed. We gave it a miss.

We also missed the Stag Beetle habitat, the Bonsai House, bee garden, aquatic garden and Lily Pond, museum, Kew Palace … so many areas that you really need a 2-3 days (and of course different seasons if you want spring bulbs or cherry blossom).

and for the tech geeks….

I had the Kew App (which you can download at the gate on free wifi) and with that you get a whole encyclopaedia of plant information. You can scan QR codes or hold up your phone to scan the area. As you hold up your phone on camera mode, it highlights the names of trees and plants you are looking at, which are clickable. You can then find out about the tree, what the wood is used for, where it comes from and all the technical information a hardy botanist might need.