Four Fingers & Thirteen Toes moved to a new home in November 2015.

August 8, 2016

Dear fans of Four Fingers & Thirteen Toes.

Please note that the Blog has now been moved to the following website:-

http://www.rms-consultancy.co.uk/blog/

It continues to be informative, entertaining and a continuation of my book. Please take the opportunity to read any posts you may have missed.

Don’t forget to make a note of its new home.

Cheers.

Rosie

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – Happy and Glorious

August 15, 2015

22nd November 2014, what a day.

It all started unassumingly enough – My PA wasn’t due in until 9.30am … a lie-in … bliss … and then the postman arrived early.

As he was already up and having his quiet Saturday morning cuppa, Steve collected the post from the doormat, and as usual, just put the pile of letters to one side, for us to deal with later in the day. There was nothing striking about the envelopes – a few brown ones, a couple of white ones, and plenty of Christmas catalogues which always arrive during that time of year, and that really was it. The morning progressed, and at 12.30pm my PA left for the day. Apart from munching through a bacon sandwich (this is usually brunch on a Saturday) we proceeded to open the post.

One particular envelope came to light – a plain white window envelope addressed to me and marked as coming from the Cabinet Office. Steve slit the envelope and then handed it to me and I pulled out a letter on quite flimsy paper which was headed “in confidence” and dated 21st November 2014. I read the letter, and quite frankly thought it was a joke. It was the kind of prank that Steve or James would pull and it was only when I questioned the equally astounded Steve, that we realised it was for real. The substance of the letter was that I was informed “in strict confidence that having accepted the advice of the Head of the Civil Service and the Main Honours Committee, I was to be recommended to Her Majesty … that I be appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year 2015 Honours List.”

The citation was, for Services to Equality and Rights for Disabled People. I had no idea that I had even been nominated, and to this day I do not know who it was that nominated me. If you are reading this blog, thank you so much, you have my heartfelt gratitude.

The letter went on to say that I had to complete an acceptance form (as if I was going to refuse … John Lennon I am not!) and if I accepted, no further communication would be received, and my name would be included in the Honours List published in the London Gazette on the 31st December 2014.

Contrary to popular belief in my family, I am rather good at keeping secrets, and this was one mighty secret that I couldn’t let out of the bag. And so, we celebrated the arrival of this momentous letter with a bacon sandwich and a cup of coffee – and not one phone call was made to anyone to tell them of my news. I have to say it was very difficult not telling the family and there were one or two occasions that I very nearly let it slip. Not even a dickie bird was said to James until he returned from University for the Christmas holidays, and his immediate reaction was that he could wangle a new suit out of us for the Investiture day!

Not being able to tell anyone was difficult, but not insurmountable, however I can tell you that Google went into overdrive that afternoon, as I surfed the net to find out what I could about the appointments procedure.

The five weeks, until New Year’s Eve seemed to go on forever, but you are told that the list goes “live” at 10.30pm on the 30th December, and so at 10.31pm precisely, I made an awful lot of phone calls. Facebook went into meltdown, and, to this day, I am humbled and overwhelmed by the response I got to my news. Literally from all corners of the globe came good wishes from friends and relatives who are usually dormant on Facebook. We sat mesmerised (for over an hour) by the “ping-ping-ping” of the computer as the messages came flooding in. (Of course I received an incredible amount of letters and cards as well, all of which I have started putting into a scrapbook.)

I tried to answer the messages as best I could, but I would have been there for days responding to the posts, and so I posted my thanks to everyone, replied to especially personal messages, and woke up the following day still wondering if it was really true?

It was really true, and so I let the fun bit start and my imagination went wild – Where would the Investiture be? Who would do it? Hat or Fascinator? … Rather like a wedding … But most importantly … would I get there on time? We Moriarty-Simmonds’ are not known for getting anywhere on time (or just about making it) so this was one appointment that I was not going to be late for!

The original letter advised that recipients would be told of their Investiture date about five weeks before the event, but my Dad had other commitments during the early part of the year and was asking me on a daily basis if I had heard anything. So, I decided to enquire with the Investiture Office as to what date I had been allocated. I am sure the people at St. James’ Palace are lovely to everyone, but to me they seemed especially nice. They advised that my Investiture would take place on the 17th July 2015 at Windsor Castle. Closer to the date, I would be sent a formal invitation and instructions on timing, but at least I could now plan for the rest of the summer. And of course more importantly my Dad could attend his bowls weekend and two weddings without having to worry about attending my investiture instead!

With my trusted dress-maker Mel placed on notice of this major event in my life (short of my wedding day, of course) I started to source material for my outfit.

As many of you know, I am not known for subtlety, and my clothes are usually made from material with big, bright bold colours. On almost the first journey to find the material, I came across just what I wanted; but the problem was the hat. Steve had, by this time, endured my “I wonders, what ifs, and what should I wears” for about two months – and whilst he patiently agreed to trundle around town for hats and accessories, he decided it was time for action. His idea of millinery is a million miles away from mine, but I let him have his fun. So, having agreed to go along with his idea of hat creation he marched me into TK Maxx. Whilst not finding quite what I wanted we did have some fun in browsing the hats, and quite by coincidence, did find one with all the colours in my chosen dress material. However, my “big” day wasn’t about to crowned with any old millinery and so the services of renowned Cardiff Milliner, Robyn Coles was sought. Oddly, we know a number of Coles’ in Cardiff … Coles (the Driving School – who got James through his driving test first time); Robert Coles (a wonderful decorator who is one of the nicest men in a pair of overalls, you could possibly meet!); and then Robyn, so I really wasn’t worried about the creation that she would design for me.

I’m not really a hat person … But we had a scream when she called with various hats for me to try, and I felt a bit like Goldilocks – One was too heavy, one was too small, but then the last one we tried was … Just right! Robyn said she would take a main colour from the dress material and contrast it with Ostrich quills that would be painted in some of the other colours from the fabric. It all sounded rather glamorous, and I began to wonder if I could live up to the obligation of looking like someone who would be presented to a member of the Royal Family.

With hat and dress all sorted, we then proceeded to find a hotel in close proximity to Windsor Castle, and (more importantly) someone who could do my hair and makeup on the appointed day. Whilst Steve is pretty good with hair and makeup, I didn’t relish the possibility of looking like Coco the Clown, or ending up with a topknot sitting on one side of my head – rather like a middle aged version of Cyndi Lauper from her “Girls Just want to Have Fun” days.

So, we decided the best thing to do was have a day trip to Windsor – and a very worthwhile trip it was. We found a really good hotel in the shadow of the Castle, and more importantly, a lovely lady called Rachel Staggs who agreed to do my makeup. Now all I had to do was wait for the 17th July. I suppose you could liken it to the anticipation that comes with waiting for Christmas, a holiday or a Birthday – and this was well worth the wait.

We left Cardiff on the 16th July (late as usual) and headed along the M4 with dresses, shirts, ties and suits all cleaned and pressed to within an inch of their lives! We were also accompanied by a Good Luck cake that my good friend Alison had delivered to us – a rather yummy jam and cream sponge, which went very well with the Champagne that Steve had arranged to be on ice by the time we arrived at the hotel. After a really nice evening, and a good meal to boot, we had an early night. The following day was going to start very early – and by early I mean 4am! Steve fell out of bed and managed to get me sorted in time for a room service breakfast and, as promised Rachel arrived armed with curling tongs and make up that would have satisfied the most discerning Princess.

RACHEL DOING MY HAIR AND MAKEUP

RACHEL DOING MY HAIR AND MAKEUP

By the time Rachel left, I did feel like a Princess. Cinderella was going to the ball – well to an Investiture in any event. You will be pleased to know that we weren’t late and having been given a VIP pass to take our car into the Castle grounds, we were waved along the Long Walk leading to the Castle, by some very excited school children, who clearly thought the black car that was passing them contained some Very Important People … Sadly, it was only me, and the rest of the party, but they looked really happy to have waved me on!

What a lovely way to start this unique event, and I knew then that all my wishes for the day would come true.

It was only as we passed security that we were told the Queen would be officiating at the Investiture. I was over the moon. I had secretly hoped it would be the Queen, and my first wish of the day had been granted.

The Castle is an amazing place. Very old, and not terribly accessible, but the staff were wonderful, and couldn’t have been more helpful. They helped Steve and I up to whichever floor it was, in a very old, very small, Victorian lift; through a maze of corridors, and then we were separated … I went one way, and everyone else had to go in another direction. The air of expectation from all the recipients was palpable, and having been given our “pep” talk on what to do we, waited in eager anticipation. I needed a glass of water and a member of staff (who had been assigned to help me) despatched, a very nice man in uniform, who I think was one of the Queen’s footmen, to the kitchen to find me a straw … a straw from the Royal kitchen!

My second wish was not to make a fool of myself when finally appearing before the Queen. It is incredible how the royal machinery operates, and at exactly 11am the Investiture starts. The whole operation is done with such precision that it runs like clockwork.

My time had arrived. Before I knew it, I was waiting to move forward to meet Her Majesty. There are a host of things mulling around in your head, do’s and don’ts, when to bow, when to take the signal to move off – and my mind genuinely went blank as the person in front of me bowed and moved off to the right. I went forward, bowed (I think at the right time) and then received my Honour.

The Queen is small and delicate, with porcelain white smooth skin. Her voice was softly spoken and at times it was hard for me to hear what she was saying. She is gracious and gentle, and we, as a nation, should be proud that she is our Queen. It is only on reflection, that you realise her life of service was determined by a love story between her Uncle King Edward VIII and Mrs Wallis Simpson, over which she had absolutely no control. However, after over 60 years of dedication to her country, she carries out her royal duties with such dignity that you cannot help but be humbled by her selflessness.

I think I acquitted myself without embarrassment, and hope that I did my family – and in particular Steve and James, and my Dad and Sisters proud. I would have loved for my Mum to have seen me receiving my Honour but, a few days before we left for Windsor, Steve gave me a locket with a photograph of my Mum (on our Wedding Day) and of my wonderful Grandmother (on Debbie’s Wedding Day). They were dressed in lovely outfits and wore hats … my Mum’s hat was strikingly similar to the design I chose for this special day. I wore the locket with pride, ever grateful to my Mum and Grandmother for their love and support, which had allowed me to become the person who was able to receive such a wonderful accolade.

A tour of the State Rooms and Official photographs in the Great Hall topped off what was a remarkable and memorable experience, and my third wish for a day to remember was fulfilled.

OUTSIDE WINDSOR CASTLE AFTER THE INVESTITURE, WEARING MY OBE WITH PRIDE

OUTSIDE WINDSOR CASTLE AFTER THE INVESTITURE, WEARING MY OBE WITH PRIDE

In our usual fashion, we partied, at lunch time and into the evening. I made contact with some wonderful people, and witnessed recipients receiving awards for selfless bravery and loyal service to the Royal Family. I saw members of the establishment receive their Honour in recognition of the work they do for the country. I was honoured to be part of such a wonderful occasion, and (in the words of some colleagues from the Cardiff Business Club) to join a very exclusive Club.

I still can’t quite believe it has happened, and I haven’t yet resorted to wearing the “gong” to bed – even though I threatened to, I’m not sure it’s quite the right thing to do! But, I am so proud to be able to say that all the work that I, and many ordinary people do, in their own fields of charity and business, really is recognised in such a tangible way.

To end, I have two last wishes … and they are these …

In the Queen’s Official Birthday Honours List 2015, two of my Thalidomide friends, Mikey Argy and Lorraine Mercer were recognised for their campaigning and charitable work. I wish for them, a day that they will enjoy and relish. It will be a day of well deserved recognition, and I hope they will have as much fun as I did.

Even though the Thalidomide story which gave rise to my Four Fingers and Thirteen Toes is now into its sixth decade, the contribution that we Thalidomide Impaired people have made to the advancement of inclusion for disabled people, is at long last being recognised – as it should be, and should have been many years ago.

And so to my final wish … long may that recognition continue.

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – The Definition of a Queue… for a “Disabled Loo”

July 11, 2015

Correct me if I’m wrong but the definition of a “Queue” has always been waiting in line, taking your turn, a group of people waiting for something.

In this connection, one of our greatest British summertime traditions is the queuing for entry to Wimbledon … that most British of sporting occasions.

Only last week, we were treated to a television report on the delights of seeing people queue for Wimbledon’ opening games.  The camera then panned to another queue, and it all culminated with the sight of another queue where those avid die-hard Wimbledon fans could leave their tents and other paraphernalia before – yes you’ve guessed it, joining another queue before gaining entry to the hallowed ground.

What struck me about this report was the very British way in which, no matter whether in rain or searing heat, there was no pushing or shoving, but just patience.

So why is it that such restraint can’t be exercised when people queue to use what many quaintly described as a “disabled toilet.”

Before I go on, I have a bit of an issue with such a description, as it conjures up images of a toilet with a limp or some other obvious impairment(!), and so for the rest of this blog, I shall use what I, and most of the disabled peoples movement, consider is the correct terminology, and described such facilities as “accessible”.

I now have to interject again and emphasis the point that a full-time-wheelchair-users idea of an “accessible toilet”, is poles apart from most providers of so-say, accessible toilets!  They should not be any of the following:-

  • a regular toilet cubical with the door opening outward
  • the above, plus one grab rail
  • the above, plus a baby changing unit sticking out from the wall
  • a storage cupboard
  • a cloakroom
  • a bin collection point
  • an alternative for those too lazy to queue
  • for disabled wannabes
  • for a family trip to the loo (unless at least one member is a bona fide disabled person)
  • A stinking cluttered claustrophobic compartment!

Ideal “accessible toilets” are:-

  • Changing Places Toilets (Designed so that they are completely accessible and provide sufficient space and equipment for people who are not able to use the toilet independently. See – http://www.changing-places.org/ )
  • A truly compliant Accessible Toilet (The guidance in the Building Regulations Approved Document M 2010 & 2013 amendments, and in BS8300-2009 should be accepted, in my opinion as the bare minimum requirements. They are based on many years of research and need to be followed exactly because all of the requirements are important to someone.  What may appear to be a small and insignificant detail to some may pose a real element of difficulty or even danger to a disabled person.)

CHANGING PLACES TOILET

Anyway, over the last couple of months, we have travelled up and down the UK using, wherever possible, motorway routes.  They are generally quicker, traffic jams and Friday getaways permitting, and of course, we are afforded the opportunity to stop, if we need, and use the delightful facilities that are represented (or even misrepresented for that matter) as motorway service areas.

We’ve all been there … those oases of calm that purport to offer you rest, relief and food.  Well, yes they do allow you to rest – always assuming you can find a quiet spot in the car park, and you don’t stay more than 2 hours (otherwise you’ll get whacked with a bill for leaving your tyres parked in a stationary position for more than the permitted time); And granted, you can get food – if you can call pre-packed sandwiches (curling up at the edges) and overpriced coffee and muffins from a well known coffee chain, food.

However, what really gets my gander up is the so-called accessible toilet … If you’ve every ventured into one, you’ll know why I say so-called.  It should be more aptly named the accessible store cupboard.  Therein, you will find buckets, mops, and bins of all sorts … Sanitary bins, paper towel bins, nappy bins – I ask you, how many bins does a disabled person need to use to get rid of all their disposables when they use the loo?

So, when you’re desperate for the loo, and your PA has managed to re-arrange the bins, you then proceed to undertake that most precarious of operations by getting onto the toilet seat.  At this point, it is worth looking at the back of the door, where you will find a schedule of staff members who have inspected this facility during the day.  What I’d really like to know, is whether these staff members have undertaken a proper inspection, because 9 times out of 10 the loo seat is wobbly … Ahhhhh!

Having successfully negotiated the transition from the real world, to the world of the wobbly toilet seat, it would be nice to think you could achieve some inner peace for the duration of your stay, but no … then there comes a rattle, rattle of the lock and a light knock on the door … “Are you OK in there?” comes a voice (note, I don’t say concerned voice) from the other side of the door.  Now, just remember that it has taken a while to re-arrange the bins, making an attempt to secure a wobbly seat, and when all you want is sit in quiet contemplation, some impatient so and so from the outside wants to know if you’re alright!

The simple answer is NO … I am not alright.  Whatever I need to do, I need to do it without interruption.  But, in our usual manner (adopted by most disabled people) the response is “Yes, fine thank you.”  One would assume this reply should allay even the most concerned of traveller.  Sadly that is not the case.  Less than a minute later, comes another knock on the door – This time louder and more impatient than the last.  Now I have to raise my voice “OCCUPIED” … “Please be patient”.  I have to confess to more than a tinge of annoyance in my voice – but I think I’m entitled to sit on the loo in peace for as long as it takes to perform my ablutions!

Most people would take the hint, back off and leave me to contemplate what I am going to say when I’ve finished, opened the door, and hopefully brought a little bit of contrition to those door knockers, when they see me emerging – all fours fingers and thirteen toes of me – with either a PA or Steve.  If it’s Steve, it should render them speechless, two wheelchair users coming out of an accessible loo … Sounds like a rather fun Paralympic game to me.  Maybe Sir Philip Craven could give it some thought in time for the 2016 games!

However, I digress.  I haven’t got as far as opening the door, to leave those outside oozing profuse apologies for rushing me … Sadly, there is a third prong of attack that will be used by those impatient travellers, and that is the Toilet Supervisor.  Oh yes, off they, or one of their entourage have gone, and found the Supervisor who apparently has the over-ride key, and I think you know what’s coming next.

Well, if you haven’t twigged, let me fill you in.  Ablutions satisfactorily performed, the reverse operation of moving back from a wobbly seat into wheelchair has been completed, and the final stage of getting ready to meet my audience is in progress … the adjustment of my lingerie … or as Steve and James would say – my Bridget Jones’s or for us rather well endowed females the good old fashioned control brief.   Just as this most personal of tasks is being finished the toilet door opens without warning.  “CLOSE THE B***** DOOR” come the screams from inside the loo!!

In fairness to the Toilet Supervisor, who probably wouldn’t know what Thalidomide was, let alone be able to spell it, it’s not her fault that she opened the door whilst I am in such a compromising position, but do people have to be so rude, as to not realise that if a person is using an accessible toilet, there is more than a distinct possibility that they will take a bit longer than the users of the regular facilities.  If only.

Door closed, and clothes suitably adjusted, I morph into Disability Champion mode.  With my haughtiest of demeanours, I leave the toilet determined to illicit even the slightest apology from those waiting to use the facilities.      Not likely … With attitude that would put the stroppiest of teenagers to shame, there is not a hint of remorse for the aggravation caused.  What makes it all the more galling, is that on a scale of 1 to 10, I would put their need to use an accessible toilet at -5!!  (Now before you start accusing me of being discriminatory, I am fully aware that accessible toilets are not exclusively there for wheelchair users, any number of disabled people might have continence issues, or may require more space, assistance, or extra time to use facilities (like myself).  But, someone who can walk, could actually use a regular toilet, wheelchair users do not have the luxury of this choice!)

Enough is enough, and with less than an hour to get to our destination, do I go straight back to the car … I certainly do not.  Powering off in the direction of the shop that sells everything your kids really don’t need for a long car journey, I find the site Manager.  I vent my anger at the indignity of what has happened, and I even make him lock himself in the toilet in question, whilst another member of his staff opens the door, for greater dramatic effect.  Tempting as it was, you will be relieved to know that I didn’t insist on him sitting on the loo with his trousers round his ankles just to prove a point!

The problem is, this doesn’t just happen on motorway service areas.  Only two weeks ago, Steve and I were in Devon, and having decided that the public loos were simply too gross to contemplate, we headed for the safe haven that is known as Debenhams.  Trading for over 200 years, surely we could use the loo in that giant of retail institutions in relative peace?  Alas no, our use of these facilities was marred by a perfectly formed queue of non-disabled people, who were just too lazy to walk around the corner to use the male and female facilities, banging on the toilet door, in an even more impatient manner than at the motorway service area; My gosh, did they have the wrath of my tongue after I had finished using the loo.

Most of the accessible toilets require the use of a key (The National Key Scheme (NKS) was developed because some public toilets designed for disabled people had to be locked to prevent damage and misuse. This has been countered by their being locked separately from other toilets.). Most permanently disabled people, like me, have one of these keys. However, there are an increasing number of people who don’t actually purchase one of these keys but borrow one from the facility provider (i.e. motorway service, cinema, restaurant etc).  When these individuals decide that you are taking too long whilst using the facility, they go and get a member of staff (yes… The Toilet Supervisor), who apparently has an override key!  Personally, I am not sure if there is such thing as an override key, or whether the lock in question is broken.

Either way, this ‘Catch a disabled person in a compromising position’ game is happening on a more frequent basis and all over the country, people are opening the toilet door whilst I am using it GRRRRRRRRRR.

Now I’m not usually in the habit of naming and shaming – but what the heck … Be wary, if attending a concert at the O2, or a rugby match at the Millennium Stadium, if you are travelling along the M4 motorway and have to use the accessible facilities at the Reading East Moto service area, or in the Debenhams Torquay branch, because visitors to these illustrious venues do not have any patience.

However, as luck would have it on the last occasion … I had the last laugh – and you’ll enjoy this …

I used up the last of the loo roll ……

Ah, divine retribution!

Writing this blog has inspired me to make a new notice, which I shall carry around with me and blue tack it to the door when I am using an accessible toilet – what you think?

POLITE NOTICE FOR TOILETS

Happy summer holidays.  Happy travelling, but beware the queue for the accessible loo.  You never know, you might find me on the other side of the door!

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – Time for a Festive Grumble – Before going off for a Jive

December 15, 2014
Stephen as a Storm Trooper!

Stephen as a Storm Trooper!

Here we are, less than 2 weeks before the “big day” and instead of sipping mulled wine whilst giving orders to my little elf (otherwise known as Stephen) who should have been busily wrapping parcels, we embarked on a rather hectic visit to London; I then had preliminary rehearsals for a variety show, in which I’m performing; and, added to that I have been trying to complete a commissioned painting in time to be delivered as a Christmas present!

However, all of this palled into insignificance by the latest debacle against Disabled People as reported in the media last week.  Three senior Court of Appeal judges – Lady Justice Arden, Lord Justice Lewison and Lord Justice Underhill, overturned a landmark court ruling from September 2014, making it a breach of the Equality Act 2010, for bus drivers to refuse to insist that a mother with a pushchair should leave the designated wheelchair space to make way for a wheelchair user.

The ruling overturned an award to Doug Paulley, a disabled man, of £5,500 damages after he was unable to board a bus because the designated wheelchair space was already occupied by a pram.  It seems the bus driver had asked the child’s mother to make space for the wheelchair user.  She refused.  Apparently, the buggie did not fold down and she wanted to avoid waking her sleeping child.

We are now faced with a situation where the very equalities legislation that was designed to provide Disabled People with a level playing field, has, in this instance, demoted us to the status of second-class citizens.

The implications of the above appeal ruling, is likely to have the effect of dissuading wheelchair users from using public transport, for fear of being left sitting at bus stops for hours on end.

This is already the situation for many wheelchair users trying to use public transport; but now that these incredibly educated judges have effectively stated that mothers with buggies or prams can take precedence over wheelchair users in terms of occupying the designated wheelchair space.  This, sadly, makes a mockery of our disability legislation.

In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 is much stronger than our initial 1995 Disability Discrimination Act, and in most parts of America it has been enforced with vigour. Personally, unless I was absolutely desperate, I would not even bother to wait at a bus stop in the UK for a bus with a vacant designated wheelchair space to take me to my destination.

However, on two previous occasions, Stephen, myself and James have travelled the length and breadth of New York on buses. This might potentially have been a logistical nightmare for two wheelchair users, and a young fit son.  However, fear not, it does not matter where a wheelchair user is in the queue, New Yorkers encourage you to go to the front; and when the bus pulls up, the driver allows alighting passengers off.  The difference between the UK and America is obvious at this point.   Before any embarking passengers are allowed to get onto the bus, the driver will personally assist the wheelchair user to their designated space, strap you into position within an inch of your life, and then allow the other passengers on. If there is somebody standing, a suitcase, shopping bags, buggies and or prams with or without babies in the designated wheelchair space, they will be moved. Nobody argues with the driver!

Whilst on the subject of transport, I have constantly found it difficult to find reliable taxi drivers that you can trust to turn up as and when you want them (at whatever time of the day or night), with vehicles in which you can travel safely.

There was one exception here in Cardiff.  One wonderful taxi driver that I did come to know and trust with my life, he was the kindest driver I have ever met.  I would travel with him on a regular basis (sometimes into the early hours after a night out with my girlfriends) – and he never let me down.  Sadly, Howard passed away over two years ago, and I have not used a taxi since.

On the railways, I can apparently travel from Cardiff Central to London and remain in my wheelchair, in whatever class carriage I choose. However, spontaneity is out of the question … I have to book one of the very precious designated wheelchair spaces three days in advance, and ensure that a message has been forwarded to all stationmasters along the route, in particular to the station at which I need help to get off the train.  Consequently, the last time I travelled on a train in the UK was the early 1980s, and in the salubrious surroundings of the guards van.  Four years ago however, without hindrance or prior arrangement I travelled the trains and subway in New York.

You will have by now gathered that I firmly believe we need enforceable legislation here in the UK, which has real bite!

As for airline travel – don’t get me started.  All I will say is that the amount of support you receive will vary from airport to airport and from airline to airline.  It is equally frustrating and costly and you are constantly worried about your wheelchair being damaged. Reassurance can make or break an aeroplane journey and, having been unfortunate enough to have both manual and powered chairs damaged in transit, I can tell you that airlines and baggage handlers could do with some disability awareness and equality training – not from some non-disabled person pretending to “come fly with me” – but from real people with real experiences.

I, and many other Disability Rights Campaigners, have fought for years for equality for Disabled People. We were part way there when the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was passed. Flawed as it was, at least we had some kind of legal clout, despite the fact that the word “reasonable” was peppered throughout the legislation.  The problem with “reasonable” is that it is very subjective, and differs from person to person.  However, at least with the legislation, we were able to open up dialogue and help many organisations introduce best practice to their service provision and business operations.

The disability rights campaign was the last of the civil rights movements – Gender and Race has long been legislated upon.  We were still in our infancy when the Government, in its infinite wisdom, decided to amalgamate all equality issues into one single piece of legislation – the Equality Act 2010.  Many equality campaigners (including me) predicted that this would be the demise of disability rights. Indeed the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater and disability rights have fallen to the bottom of the equality agenda.

Hate crime towards disabled people has increased; essential disability benefits have been cut; essential practical support enabling disabled people to work and or be educated have been slashed; and vital positive legislative rulings enabling disabled people to move forward, have been overturned on the whim of non-disabled legal personnel devoid of common sense.

So, whilst I am having a good moan, I would like to take a swipe at those companies out there who make a lot of money on the back of the situation in which disabled people find themselves. I’m specifically talking about the companies who provide essential equipment for disabled people, particularly electric powered wheelchairs.

I’d like to tell you about a dream I had the other night.  In the dream I was being taught to dance the jive – specifically the Jive(R) in a Sunrise Medical wheelchair.  Curious? Well read on.

I have used electric powered wheelchairs since I was about nine years old, and Steve has used a powered chair for nearly ten years. Up until now I have always been an advocate of Sunrise Medical powered chairs.  My first was the innovative manual to powered F15, followed by two consecutive F55’s which were strong and robust.

However, the problem comes when you want to replace a well worn F55, and find that this trusted product is no longer manufactured.  For some unearthly reason, the alternatives on offer are named after a variety of Latin dances … Salsa, Jive, Hula, Rumba … You get the drift!  Conversely, I suppose that a Sunrise wheelchair called Foxtrot, Waltz or American Smooth, just doesn’t send the right product advertising messages for a go-getting corporation that services a world-wide market in powered chairs.

Unfortunately, our chosen alternative to the sturdy and reliable F55 proved rather less than a racy and raunchy Latin dance, but more a clumpy mobility version of Ann Widdecombe and John Sergeant combined.

I could go on forever telling you our saga of such a dreadful product – but Steve is still wrapping presents, and the X Factor is blaring away in the background – so I will simply say that after more than six months of aggravation; an engineer bordering on moving in (as he spent more time in our house than he did at his own); a rather fraught visit to the Sunrise manufacturing hub in the West Midlands (where we discovered that patience and understanding are left firmly locked in the time clock, when the Sunrise shop floor workers clock on); Senior  company management  demonstrating a complete disregard for Sunrise customers, (to the extent that even when they are presented with irrefutable evidence of a product so wanting in quality) that they did not have the decency to acknowledge receipt of email communication.  Maybe they should revisit their professed “Corporate Responsibility” as it is so eloquently quoted on the Sunrise website…

“At Sunrise Medical, we’re not only focused on improving people’s lives, but also the way we do business. Whether it’s being respectful of our environment, contributing to the communities in which we operate in or empowering our employees to think and act in a responsible way – managing our business in a responsible way is important to everyone at Sunrise Medical.”

Steve’s chair was returned, as not fit for purpose.  Fortunately, his saviour came in the form of a Meyra iChair MC3, from our trusted regular wheelchair maintenance company – Hereford Mobility Centre – who supplied a rather nifty black and white version which we have nick-named the “Storm Trooper”.  So, to lighten this blog, I am posting a picture of Steve, in his own inimitable way, modelling his very own little Storm Trooping wheelchair.

For me, I am still plodding on with my JiveR.  Currently I have had the controller and tyres replaced, had to have the arms on the chair fabricated in a stronger fashion, and even then, we have resorted to duct tape to keep a number of nuts and bolts in place!  The only reason I am putting up with this is that I am not particularly disposed to the idea of sitting in a Storm Trooper – Princess Leia I am not!

It still seems that even in these supposed enlightened times, particularly in terms of the provision of goods and services for Disabled People, society generally, providers of goods and services, and the Government are doing a disservice to Disabled People. I can put it no clearer than just to say … “two steps forward and five steps back”.

Yet again disabled people will need to rise up and fight for our rights.  We need separate, clear and enforceable Disability Equality Legislation.

Phew … Rant over.   So all I need to do now is wish you a very happy and peaceful Christmas holiday, and to everyone – regardless of gender, race, religion or disability – I hope you have a New Year that brings empowerment and success in equal measures.

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – HOW DO YOU MAKE A “MOUNT’N” MOVE?

July 9, 2014

MONTAGE OF MOUNT'N MOVER IMAGES copy copy

Firstly, welcome to another Four Fingers Blog.  I am sorry for the “blip” in broadcasts, but there has been so much occupying my time over the last few months that the Blog has taken a bit of a back seat.  However, over the next couple of months, I shall update you on the various happenings in the Moriarty-Simmonds household, but for the time being, I thought I would start with a little conundrum about Muhammad and the Mountain.

 

Overcoming obstacles is the stuff of being a disabled person, and so when the mountain seems ever harder to climb, we look at ways of moving the mountain a little closer which, for most of us, means we can look at ways of making life easier in all kinds of different ways.

 

In my case, the imposing mountain was finding it impossible to hold things and quite hard to bend forward to draw, use the iPad, read and to take photographs.  So, I set about doing some internet research on products which were available that might allow me to overcome the mountainous problem of stiff bones for, what seems these days, to be almost all of the time.

 

In our house, Steve has a knack of finding almost anything on line.  His theory is that you ask Google a question (other search engines are available!) in very specific terms, and it usually comes up with the right answer.  I have to confess, it doesn’t always work for me, but in this instance, after months of researching, one day, ‘voila’ it did!

 

Mount’n Mover by BlueSky Designs seemed to be the answer to my prayers. Technically very clever, but also very simple to use.

 

As you know from previous Blogs, I have a clever engineer friend, who has made many useful items for me – one of which – was an electronic camera mount that worked from the battery power of my electric powered wheelchair. 

 

Some of you may also know that late last year, Steve and I acquired new wheelchairs, and without saying too much, quality and durability were not high on the agenda for the design team that manufactured the latest wave of power chairs for the Sunrise Medical stable.  Needless to say, I shall tell you more about our wheelchair experiences in due course, but for the time being it is suffice to say that it would have been almost impossible to transfer my electronic camera system to my new chair, and so a less complex gadget had to be found.  The Mount’n Mover system seemed to be the ideal solution.

 

If we experienced poor customer service with our wheelchairs, my faith in human nature was restored with the management at BlueSky Design – Dianne G.  Having told her what I was after, she rose to the challenge of tailoring the product for my requirements with enthusiasm.  Initially I was looking for a camera mount to attach to my wheelchair, but I got equally excited as the more I researched the product, the more uses I could find for it!  The UK distributors are Leckey.  Based in Northern Ireland, Leckey and their mainland team worked with BlueSky, to get the assessment done, to confirm what I needed. Then we organised a delivery date, which would have put our wheelchair manufacturers to shame. I said I wanted to have the product in time for our holidays, and true to their word thanks to Stephen K., it arrived well before our week away, and  ready for my “newest best friend” Graham B., to come and fit the bracket to my chair and give me some basic training on how the whole thing operated. Regular readers won’t be surprised to hear that I am the first person in the UK to take delivery of this system!

 

One of the things the Mount’n Mover does is give you back some of the spontaneity that life as a disabled person doesn’t always allow.  As an example, taking a photograph is relatively simple task … You see an image, you whip out the camera, take aim and shoot.  With me, it was, a major operation – get out the camera, assemble the electronic system, attach it to the wheelchair, mount the camera onto the electronic system, and by the time all that had been done, the magic of the moment had passed before I had even got my eye to the viewfinder!

 

However, with the Mount’n Mover, simplicity is the key.  A single pole is attached to the wheelchair, with a fairly robust bracket.  At the top of the pole an adjustable arm is attached, at the end of this there is a mounting device onto which all the attachments clip in a matter of seconds.  And so, with a little help from Steve, James or anyone else for that matter; I can manage a multitude of tasks with the minimum of fuss.

 

From the little montage of photographs with this Blog, you will see that I can now use all my “smart” gadgets on the go.  I can even paint and sketch without the need to carry a massive easel. 

 

Over the next couple of months, I am doing some painting exhibitions with the MFPA, and in August I am holding a garage exhibition at home.  I am hoping to showcase how easy it is to use the Mount’n Mover during those events.

 

Keep an eye out on Social Media for more information on the exhibitions; but in the meanwhile I hope this Blog has given you an insight into how the Mount doesn’t just come to Muhammad but can even “Mount’n Move” its way to Rosie!

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE

September 30, 2013
Another fine mess...

Another fine mess…

It’s really quiet in the house at the moment. I don’t mean quiet because we are all working really hard … but because we have just completed the University Challenge.

As I sit at my computer writing this blog, James will have finished his first day of University lectures, and I can reflect on twelve months that have been satisfying and challenging in equal measures.

I can’t quite believe that it was last September when we joined the University applications treadmill. Firstly there was the acquisition of The Times Good University Guide; working out that we could discount a visit to Oxford and Cambridge and then getting wholly realistic about the best Universities for photography. I really wouldn’t have believed it could be so difficult to narrow the choice down, but as James had already decided his final choices would be loosely based on or close to a main motorway corridor, it made the exercise a little easier. From Exeter to Manchester and Swansea to London, the list was slowly whittled down until five possible locations were agreed.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think the weather makes a difference as to how you see a place. So, here’s a brief meteorological summary of the places we visited. Bristol was bright and breezy; Newport was nice (it doesn’t always rain in Wales); Roehampton was rainy – and I mean wet; Cardiff was close (far too close to home) and Southampton was snowy.

For any readers who may be embarking on a similar merry-go-round with your soon to be independent offspring, be warned … once you have done one open day, the rest will be guaranteed to be a clone of the first. With hindsight, we should have realised that all the Universities are interested in are bums on seats, and so the open days are really nothing more than a selling opportunity. There is also a limit as to how often you can espouse the virtues of the Student halls of residence. I mean, if you put the Hotel Inspector into these baron concrete blocks that pass for somewhere to live, I am quite convinced she would have a serious rant. What would she make of magnolia walls, and fixtures and fittings that are so minimalist that even those who love Bauhaus or Philipe Starck would find it hard to find positives out of Formica and vinyl.

Making all the right noises is paramount; even if you are secretly wishing you’d bought a winning lottery ticket the week before, and then you could install your little darling in moderate comfort rather than condemning them to 41 weeks in Prison Cell Block H.

However, enough of my maternal self pity. After the open days and the relevant selections made, the “send” button was pushed with gusto. Then all we had to do was sit back and wait for the UCAS offers to start arriving.

Interviews were completed in the few months thereafter, and offers were then received and final choices had to be made. Now, this is where it starts to get tricky. The battle between parental practicality and student stupidity is a tough one. How do you reconcile the hottest female totty and the hippest nightclub with the best darkroom and digital suite? Yes, it’s a no-brainer really, and the balancing of compromise brought a solution that was just about acceptable to new student and the cash cow that is the bank of Mum and Dad.

And so fast-forward to results day. Our email inboxes were bursting with messages from chosen Universities saying “don’t worry if your results are not quite what you expected” (what a confidence boost!) – to be interpreted as being we still need your bum on our seat and we’ll bend over backwards to get you there. A quick early morning phone call from one of my dearest friends to say the UCAS system had gone live and there it was, a message to say “Congratulations, your place at Southampton Solent for photography has been confirmed”

All those days and nights of nagging to get as much revision as possible done before it was too late, had paid off. And, in an instant I had become the mother of a soon-to-be student.

After the flurry of obligatory texts and phone calls, father and son then had to sit down and organise accommodation – The sentence of 41 weeks in Prisoner Cell Block H had been handed down. Two hours after they went into Steve’s office, James emerged – a shadow of his former self – I gather in typical Stephen fashion, James was given chapter and verse from the University website as to what he could and couldn’t do in halls. Rumpole was happy, satisfied that our budding Mario Testino wouldn’t have anything hotter than an a fiery pepperoni pizza in his room, when all James was interested in, was how many crates of beer we could get in the car to get him through Fresher’s Week.

Our next big challenge was to amass the stuff which we are told students simply cannot live without – Beer and, well more beer. Internet research suggested that apart from beer there were other more mundane items which would make life in cells (no, sorry – I mean halls) more comfortable.

At this stage, I have to just digress a little. My lovely hubby is a great believer in lists. We have a holiday list, which from underwear to umbrellas has never failed us when we go away, and so it seemed only logical that a list should be prepared to gather what would be needed for University life.

After making up the list, Steve decided that we would turn the living room into an Amazon warehouse, and the room would be split into sections – Studying, Kitchen, Bedroom, Enjoyment and Fun.

Now, just take a look at the list. What does the order of priority tell you about the man to whom I have been married for longer than you get for murder? The answer is quite simple, it tells you who the party-lovers are in our house, and so James and I decided priorities needed to be changed … Enjoyment and Fun, Kitchen, Bedroom and Studying … now that’s more like University life!

Over the following few weeks, “the list” did work wonders. Woks and pots, Beer and more beer, Bedding and towels, and oh yes, study equipment soon swamped the room. I couldn’t go in there without dissolving into tears, and Steve just became increasingly concerned about whether the credit card had reached breaking point.
However, by some miracle everything on the list got ticked off, and we were ready to go. The general idea, was to pack as much of the luggage into the car as we could the day before James was due to fly the nest, and that would just leave a few bits and pieces which would fit in after we had loaded the wheelchairs.

Our last supper was over and all that was left was to get an early night for the long journey the next day. They do say the best laid plans go awry, and with us that is certainly true. An arrival slot between 2 and 4.30pm had been booked for halls, but as is usually the case, we were late leaving home. The main problem was that the car hadn’t been packed the night before; and James had much more stuff than we expected. I had to get into the car about 45 minutes before we were due to leave, so that all the rest of the bags and luggage could be strategically packed around me.

Off we eventually went, and decided that a motorway stop for lunch would be a good idea. When we pulled up at the service area, I swear that the people around us thought we were setting up camp. It did look as though we were part of the anti-fracking campaign which was taking place near our destination. Out came one wheelchair, then a collection of bags and bedding before I emerged, a bit like Lady Gaga bursting out of an oversized birthday cake, concentrating on one thing – no, not the thought of an M&S sandwich and a latte, but – whether the accessible loo which doubles as a baby changing station would free!

Sandwiches eaten and latte drunk, we got back in the car, and joined the throng of commuter traffic travelling towards the south coast. Nearly five hours after we left home we arrived at the halls and it looked like a ghost town. As we were almost two hours over our expected arrival time, most organised parents had been and gone, and (I have no doubt) their once angelic offspring were planning their first binge of Fresher’s in the closest pub they could find.

Joking apart, the student members of the residence team were great. As soon as they realised that James had arrived with two “extras” from Casualty, they set to and helped unload the car. We then discovered there was a step into Block C (it was such a pity it couldn’t have been Block H) and one of the residence team used his initiative and went off and returned with a table top which he fashioned into a makeshift ramp. Who says all students leave their brains behind when they leave home!

However, by the time the car was in a sufficient state of unload that I could get out, James’ appointed cell – no, sorry bedroom – was full, and I mean FULL! Think Stan Laurel standing in the middle of a room, in a complete state of chaos, scratching the top of his head, and you will get a general picture of James during the first 30 minutes in his new home for the next 41 weeks.

I gallantly refrained from blubbering (until out of site), whilst we decided that short of blocking up the whole of the corridor watching James shift boxes from one part of the room to another, there was little we could do to help.

Having said a quick hello to some of his flatmates, we left them with the conundrum that is Rosie and Stephen, as we said our goodbyes and my “little Solider” was deposited there and ready to start his new life.

We’ve just had our first full weekend of Rosie and Steve time for 18 years. Steve can’t find enough washing to do, he hasn’t yet mastered making dinner for two, and keeps on wanting to tidy up – but the problem is, there no messy teenager to clean up after.

There is one small consolation … I have taken ownership of the Sky remote, and am indulging my passion for all the programmes that I like on TV. Steve is not so keen on grisly television, and has been demoted to the kitchen, but has confessed that Strictly come Dancing by subtitles does have its drawbacks!

And finally, just to let you know, we had a phone call last night from a student who is suffering from Fresher’s flu, but who is looking forward to the challenges of his course. Orders of priority have changed and we were consigned to being slotted between a vegetable stir fry and a trip to the pub.

Whether he’ll have the same outlook on University life after a long day of lectures – only time will tell. But, at least for the moment, it’s good to know that (H)alls well that ends well!

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – MORPHING

June 26, 2013

The last couple of months have been rather hectic to say the least, and there has been an awful lot of morphing going on in our house.

It all started with preparations for the Thalidomide Society 50th Anniversary AGM which was held in March, and at which we were able to celebrate the achievements of the Society and look back at a momentous period of time which saw the organisation go from a small group of parents who came together with the aim of supporting each other through our early childhood, into a body that is well able to represent its members at national and international forums concerned with those who have missing limbs due to various conditions. However, at the core of these celebrations was an acknowledgement that the Society’s history is rich with many diverse characters and personalities, that have helped shape what it does today.

The weekend celebrations culminated in a gala dinner-dance (complete with “jivers” sporting missing bits of all descriptions) which was themed as a murder-mystery evening filled with gangsters and molls. Now to convert into a moll, all we girls need is a bit of red lipstick, a string of fake pearls, a rather dubious looking feather for the hair and a dress with a plunging neckline. Fortunately, all of these items I was able to locate without too much difficulty. No comments about the red lippy or the plunging neckline please … we girls of Irish origin do have to keep the Celtic end up! For my dashing son, morphing into anything remotely resembling Michael Corleone didn’t involve too much trouble, but the conundrum facing us was … what we do with a rather portly husband who left dressing up behind when he left the Wendy house in reception class at Primary school. The problem was compounded by the fact that Steve had been asked to take part in the periphery of the murder mystery by posing as the head of a Chicago mafia family, pitting himself head to head with our good friend Eddie Freeman and his family. Undaunted, and determined to do justice to his debut into the world of murder-mystery, we raided the wardrobe and found just the outfit … A dinner suit, which yes, surprise surprise still fitted, a 1930’s style wing-collar dress shirt, a black bow tie (and self tie at that!), a trilby hat and a rather dapper looking buttonhole in the shape of a red rose (get the connection) which we cannibalised from one of my hair scrunchies from way back in the days when I sported outsized hair bands and bobbles. The 1980’s have so much to answer for!

With the whole ensemble being topped off with a silver walking cane, he really did look the part … So much so that if they ever need to digitally re-master the original Godfather, then I have no doubt that we’ll be packing our bags and heading off to Hollywood!

Now, as you know, I’ve done a bit of acting over the last couple of years, but I had no idea I had a challenger for the title of champion thespian in our family. But rise to the challenge Steve really did. His Chicago accent was a combination of New York Bronx and Forrest Gump with a bit of South Wales Valleys mixed in for good measure. He and Eddie made a grand job of running rings around the paid actors, but somehow, I don’t think they will be invited to join the troupe on a permanent basis.

However, at the end of the day, I think we did a good job of “glamming” up and it was fun, flamboyant and fabulous!

Having found myself in danger of being usurped on the acting front, it was a good job I was able to do a bit of morphing myself, into a student painter with the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists. Since June last year, I have been busying myself and brushing up (excuse the pun!) on my painting skills, and was delighted to have been accepted as a Student of the Organisation, shortly after “Don Simmioni” had made his acting debut. And so between keeping the business ticking along, I now find myself whiling away the hours in front of an easel, from which I have produced a number paintings, with varying degrees of success. However, on the whole, the painting disasters have been far outweighed by the finished pieces which I have been able to submit.

Of course, alongside all of this, has been our need to morph into parents of a nearly adult. And that is not an easy task. How we managed to survive James’s A’ level revision is anyone’s guess, and so to the next morphing episode. Steve has always had a leaning towards being a teacher. I think it may run in the blood, but the law beckoned as a career, and I can’t help thinking that his downfall on the teaching front would have been patience. It may have something to do with taking a horse to water and trying to make it drink, but despite extolling the virtues of revision notes, which would have made the final revision “push” a little bit easier, this worthy suggestion seemed to fall on deaf ears. On a couple of occasions over the last couple of months, I’ve gone out for a pleasant evening with my sisters, only to wonder whether there would be blood on the walls when I returned home. Fortunately, my fears were allayed. Instead I would return home to find a wearisome hubby sitting in front of the telly, with a son who had retired to his room and was engrossed in a Skype conversation with a certain young lady which said conversations (quite understandably) occupy more minutes than Steve has hairs on the top of his head!

It was only the day of the last exam, that I found myself morphing into a blubbering wreck, rather like the one I was fourteen years ago, when we said goodbye to the staff at Acorns Nursery, and Mummy’s “brave little soldier” set off for life in the new world of “big school.” Now Mummy’s boisterous, rowdy, and messy teenager was leaving “big school” and getting ready for the new world of University.

This is where our skills of morphing now have to be imparted into the next generation of Moriarty-Simmonds’. Having secured a part-time job just before Christmas last year, we had hoped that James would have grasped the nettle on budgeting … Wrong! One of the big issues at the moment is fashion, which seems to come at an astronomical price. My most recent duty as the mother of a sixth form school leaver was to spend an afternoon in town, only I must add, to supply the credit card, to buy a new suit for the sixth form prom. The afternoon was great. Rather like old times. We had lunch, mulled over the fun times that flagged up with both of us … For example, the time James and a couple of his school friends were made to sit outside the primary school Headteacher’s office, as they had proudly announced they were going to make a fire by rubbing twigs together – That obviously wasn’t a good idea, but how on earth the playground supervisor thought they were going to morph into the next Bear Grylls, with just a couple of damp twigs from the privet hedge that bordered the playground is beyond me. Then there was the school sports day when James insisted on folding up his clothes before moving onto the next stage of the obstacle race, only to trundle over the finish line, about 10 minutes after the winner, wearing the biggest and broadest smile you could ever wish to see. This was topped off with a reminisce about the primary school proms, which were about as tuneful as the Worzels and the Wombles put together.

How Steve (and his Mum for that matter) weren’t ejected from the concerts is a mystery to this day, for laughing uncontrollably at the string section of the orchestra which sounded more like a collection of alleycats on a promise!

However I digress, back to the shopping expedition. The suit was bought, and having arrived home, Steve needed a stiff drink when he realised he would have to morph into a male escort to pay the bill. The fashion show commenced, and I looked on with more than a little bit of pride, knowing that the bundle which had brought me so much joy when he was born, was parading before me in a grown up suit, and was about to become an adult, and make his own way in the world.

But of course, before those dizzy heights could be scaled, there was a small matter of mastering the washing machine. And there was only one person who was suitably qualified to impart the virtues of separating whites, blacks and colours. Who I ask was this person? Yes, it was none other than good old Stephen.

However, I have to tell you that before he earned his stripes on the washing front, there were a number of mishaps that have left me emotionally scarred. To explain, I have to take you back to a galaxy far, far away. Well, actually, to a time about 25 years ago. In those days, it is fair to say that Steve’s choice of underwear colour was (shall we say) a little sartorially challenged. To be precise – brown and cream, and purple and white! Now, I shan’t take it any further than that, but needless to say, as soon as I was able, I did all I could to morph him from that strange land of psychedelic underwear. Sadly, it was not before he managed to turn everything in one particular wash a rather fetching shade of pink, including shirt, which, once white, was proudly worn as pink for many months; and believe it or not, there wasn’t a tell-tale blotch in sight.

Fortunately, Steve is a fast learner, and quickly learned the importance of not mixing colours. This art was mastered to such an extent that by the time James got to High School, there was only one kid in the class that stood out on the walk home from school. The 60 degree wash, produced such brilliant results that Steve was moved one day to say how proud he was of James … And of course, you now know that I’m not talking about classroom achievements (although there were many of those that Steve was rightly proud of) but rather how the whiter than white shirt was born as a badge of honour to someone who had learned the hard way that clothes washing is a skill in itself!

So, with two loads of washing successfully completed, and with James having a reasonable degree of competence in the kitchen, the only skill which remains unconquered is the budgeting. I guess the next morphing session will be into that of a financial advisor. Whether Steve will finally learn the art of patience, or if he will simply give up and change the PIN number on the bank account remains to be seen. All I hope is we crack that one before the 15th August when the results come out, and my brave little soldier will trundle … not into the Wendy House, but into the Halls of Residence, with a packet of Persil and the words of his Dad ringing in his ears … “Whites, colours and black”
At that stage, Steve can move onto his next morphing act, which is to conjure up lots of things for me to do from September. After all, there are only so many paintings that you can paint in a month, and, come Fresher’s week, the house will be really quiet, with no one to shout at to turn off the lights, or to remind them to flush the loo, or scream at to get them out of bed.

Ah well, long may this summer holiday last, because even though I think we’ve cracked the morphing from being parents of a child, and then into parents of a teenager, and now into a nearly adult … I’d like to hang onto my “Mumsyness” for just a couple more weeks.

Still I think this quote is a really nice way to end this blog:
“There isn’t a child who hasn’t gone out into the brave new world who eventually doesn’t return to the old homestead carrying a bundle of dirty clothes.” ~ Art Buchwald

Fingers crossed for the 15th August, and for everyone else waiting for exam results this summer. Good luck and God speed – Remember to tell them to separate their washing and don’t, under any circumstance buy purple and white underwear!

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – HORSING AROUND

March 6, 2013
Steve and his Chaos in the kitchen at Christmas

Steve and his Chaos in the kitchen at Christmas

On 1st March I was privileged to attend the National St. David’s Day celebration in Cardiff. At the after-service reception the subject of Welsh foodie delicacies cropped up. Amongst many, Welsh cakes and Welsh Rarebit seemed to top the poll of welsh delights.

This got me thinking about the origins of Welsh food, and why certain dishes are called what they are.

For example, Welsh Rarebit has nothing to do with rabbits, and there are doubts as to whether it originated in Wales. One theory suggests that way back in the 17th century a “poor man’s” meat in England was rabbit. In Wales, where “poor men” simply couldn’t afford meat, they resorted to cheese, and as a result some “taffy” or another conjured up the name for a snack which we in Wales love.

As for Welsh cakes, we adore them. Sugared, stodgy and yummy. If you ever come to Cardiff, try the ones from the Victorian Market. The best in town and its reputation has now stretched to Hampshire. On the other side of the Severn Bridge there is a far more formal “take” on the recipe. The less, stodgy and less sugary English version is the scone. However, back to Welsh cakes … It seems our friends (with Welsh heritage) in Patagonia have a different perspective on this particular piece of “Welshness”. They say that back in 1865 when a number of Welsh settlers started to build new lives for themselves, they struggled to find food that would sustain them in lean times. So, they mixed together brown sugar, sweetened nuts and fruit to make a cake of strength, and one that would last once cooked. In Patagonia, the Welsh cake is also considered significant for newlyweds. Tradition has it that the bottom tier of the wedding cake is made of Welsh cake. After the wedding, the other tiers of the cake are eaten, but the bottom layer is wrapped up and the newlyweds eat a slice of the cake every month for the first year of marriage to give them the fortitude to survive the trials and tribulations of married life.

Where is this taking us? Well, apart from having a burning desire, right now, to have a coffee and a Welsh cake, it got me thinking about how cooking skills and techniques develop as time goes by.

Way back when, in 1988, Steve appointed himself as official food shopper for our household. That was OK, but his way of shopping bore no relation to how we had shopped when I lived at home. Before we got married, my idea of shopping, was to trundle off to the local shop with my PA; get a loaf of bread, a tin of soup, a packet of biscuits and a few other essential ingredients – such as meat (no horse of course!) to make sure I could live, if not quite like a queen, then as close as you could – bearing in mind the varying level of cooking skills that (over the years) my PA’s have demonstrated.

I can still remember the day that Steve returned from his first “married” shopping trip … having spent two hours wandering around the supermarket, returning with provisions that would have seen us through a nuclear war, let alone a month. But who was I to argue. In came bread, butter, meat, vegetables, tins, biscuits, more biscuits and even more biscuits … you get the drift on his priorities. I have to admit the system worked, and we never did run out of food, but what he did with all the carrots he bought continues to be a source of intrigue to me. I can only think they did some good, as he has only recently conceded that his 20-20 vision isn’t quite what it was.

However, buying wine was another thing entirely. Coming from a good Welsh Presbyterian background, he was hardly likely to be a fine wine connoisseur, but when he proudly announced we were going to host a dinner party for his senior partner, and other office colleagues, I did start to wonder whether I should take responsibility for the wine ordering. Having fixed a date for the meal, decided upon the menu, and organised the dining room table, all that was left to do, was the shopping. Off to the supermarket Steve went, armed with a list of ingredients for the meal, and with firm instructions on what wine to buy. Now just remember that at this time, here was a man who couldn’t tell a Merlot from a Muscadet. Disaster was bound to loom. I did wonder whether I should have gone to the shops myself, but when you have to impress your senior partner, there is nothing for it, but to let the captain of his sinking ship stay to the bitter end.

An hour or so later, Marco Pierre White returned. Armed with everything that would make the evening go with plenty of joie de vie, Steve was confident that his future in the practice was secure. However, when I enquired as to how he had chosen the wine, the reply floored even me. “I liked the look of the label” was the chirpy response. Too late to do anything other than see his professional development go down the drain, rather like the plonk that had been bought, we got ready for the evening. The guests duly arrived and we proceeded to dinner. In fairness to Steve, the meal was really rather good and the evening was a great success. However, the funniest thing of all was the wine choice. Apparently 1988 was a good year for Bulgarian Merlot, and what came home from the Supermarket? Yes, a generous number of bottles of Bulgarian Merlot over which Mr. Williams (the senior partner) raved. Career intact, Steve decided to keep one of the bottles for posterity. He suggested we open it on our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Well, that significant date looms in September, and the only remaining bottle of 1988 Merlot continues to sit in our wine store. I hardly want to burst his bubble, but the bottle which so saved his career is about as past its sell-by-date as the man who bought it 25 years ago!

This quite neatly brings me onto the subject, more generally, of food.

In the early years of married life, we both worked long hours. Usually I got home before Steve, and supervised the PA’s in getting our evening meal. I shan’t labour some of the tasteless delights that emerged from our kitchen, but these palled into insignificance when I think of the cake and pastry delights that my lunchtime PA could conjure up in an hour. However, on a Saturday that changed. If we weren’t going out, then Steve would take charge in the kitchen. As you know from Four Fingers and Thirteen Toes, we are partial to a Chinese takeaway, but Steve would also quite willingly wield the saucepans and create some dish which usually involved a sauce. He likes his sauces, and it is only recently I have plucked up the courage to tell him how awful they were in those heady days of lust and love!

Thankfully, things have improved, and to give you an idea of just how far I have brought my own “master chef”, I have to take you back to a time just before we got married. “I’ll cook you tea” was the offer one day. Well, there was nothing for it; I would have to try his cooking at some stage, so I thought I’d just as well “try before I buy”! What was the menu I hear you ask … Beef burgers and chips (now you see the horse connection…!). This, in itself wouldn’t have been too bad, but beef burger cooked in a microwave (arhhhhhh!) Well, I ate, I digested and went to the loo just as soon as I could. Apparently, a meal of beef burgers and chips was the regular dinner for a busy lawyer – especially on a Monday – prepared just in time for Coronation Street. What an exciting life he led before he found me!

Having poked fun at the male cookery skills in our house, it is only right I tell you about my own culinary demons. Again, many years ago, some well meaning social worker decided that I would benefit from domestic training at Rookwood Hospital Cardiff, where they are able to assess whether you need any special equipment to live independently. Off I went, and cooked a cake … all by myself. I made such a mess with the flour that my black hair looked curiously like a Cruella De Vil hairstyle on a bad day, and as for the cake, can I just say that at the time we were having a new wall built, and it is no understatement to say that the bricks from the wall, were softer than my cake!

No more cooking for me – Phew! Instead it was decided that I would supervise from the safety of the other side of the kitchen. Slowly, oh so slowly, Steve was weaned off microwave beef burgers, and encouraged to use a cookery book – not just to fill out the shelves on the kitchen units, but use to them properly. Out went Microwave Cooking for Dummies, and in came 1001 Recipes for Idiots. Just what was needed!

A few wine tasting evenings, care of the Porthcawl Lions Club, meant Steve was confidently able to identify the difference between Chardonnay and Chablis and even Alberino from Asti Spumante.

But, it is only right that you don’t get completely the wrong idea of what goes on in our kitchen. Since those dark days of long ago, my “little chef” has become something of a “whizz” at conjuring up all manner of tasty delights. Thai, Italian, Chinese to name but a few and of course the traditional Sunday roast. What he can’t do with a punnet of strawberries and a generous helping of Tia Maria is nobody’s business, and his Christmas Eve meal for anyone who wants to join us, has become the stuff of legend!

However, every now and again he does fall off the wagon. Somehow burgers do find their way back onto the BBQ menu, but at least they are cooked over the coals rather than in microwaves. And, with the best intentions in the world, the wine choice still causes ripples of amusement. As an example, the favoured white for our last Christmas Eve meal was… Flip Flop (!) Asked why this particular choice was made, the answer was “Well, it reminded me of the summer and the Olympics” Did it make him legless? I’ll let you decide, but please, no “Oscar P” jokes!

I’m just waiting with eager anticipation to see whether I will be favoured with Bollinger or Baby Cham on Mother’s Day. It’s a good job that James will be 18 in a couple of months time, and hopefully my “wine worries” will be over. Then, he can be responsible for showing his Dad some real wine!

And so, where do I end? There appears to be a noise in the kitchen as I write. Can I allow my mind to wander to a place where Thai fish curry or mixed salad and smoked salmon will greet me at the dinner table? Sadly no … it’s Wednesday, and the chef has the night off. Thank goodness the Pen-y-Lan fish shop has a menu to suit even the fussiest of eaters. However, there is always tomorrow, and I hear rumblings of a steak and ale pie – Now we’re talking … Move over the hairy bikers as my own little four-wheeled wok-wizard will soon be back in action, and I can’t wait!

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – Dear Kate, Tempus Fugit … It really does

December 5, 2012

OMG!! The beginning of December and here we are on the round of festive greetings, shopping for all and sundry and probably spending far too much in the process. But, what wonderful news … we are all expecting a royal baby next summer. And I do mean “all” for we shall all share in every expanding inch in the development of the newest member of the Royal Family. Most of us will sympathise with the Duchess of Cambridge for having the news of her pregnancy announced in the way it was. No glorious fanfare to herald in the new year, but a rather hasty announcement, marked by the decampment of the world’s press (for goodness knows how long) to a hospital somewhere in central London … I bet Starbucks are rubbing their hands in glee!

With this in mind, I simply couldn’t miss an opportunity to cheer you all up, amid your Christmas preparation with a little blog designed to help the Duchess wile away the time she still has, until she has no time to herself!

Like I said, the announcement, and its manner was really unfortunate. I bet the Catherine Walker dress was all lined up for a suitable photo shoot and then we would have gone into overdrive as to the most suitable maternity gear for our future Queen. However, I am just glad they didn’t take up the invitation of Mat and Alex on BBC’s the One Show, and send a camera phone picture of them snuggled up with a pizza; and a slogan which said something like “Wills and Kate have managed to mate”!

How I well remember the moment when the line turned blue in my pregnancy test; and the look on Steve’s face when he realised his dream of ever owning an expensive car had disappeared in the hazy mist of a Chinese takeaway and an early night!

I read in the newspapers this week that all the female editors of ladies magazines knew straight away that something was up when Kate changed her hairstyle – Does that woman ever have a bad hair day!

The tell tale signs for me, were slightly more boring. No change of hairstyle, I just gave up the cigarettes and alcohol. Now for an Irish Catholic family that must have been a dead giveaway.

So, fast-forward to the latter stages of pregnancy and the obligatory anti-natal classes. Ours were held in the hospital about five minutes from where we lived. Therefore arriving for the first (and possibly the most important) class should have been a piece of cake. It would have been, but for one thing. In those days, Steve worked about 30 miles away, and try as he might, he could never get away from work and home on time for anything.

Before I continue with the anti-natal class story, I have to digress – It is relevant, especially as the Christmas party season is fast approaching. In the early 1990s, a certain 70’s pop star had made a successful comeback, complete with all his glitter (need I say more), and I had booked tickets for an arena concert to kick start our Christmas festivities. I was home from work, dressed and ready to go by 6.30pm but there was no sign of Steve. The show was due to start at 7.30pm and allowing time to park the car, we needed to be on our way by no later than 6.45pm.

Steve arrived at 6.40pm blustering profuse apologies for being late, and explaining that some emergency application had to be made to the Court. He threw a cup of tea down his neck, and without time to change we waltzed off into town.

Picture the scene, 3000 glitter wigs and more spandex than you could throw at Abba, and Steve … all togged up in his work suit! James reckons Steve was born with a briefcase in his hand, and looking back, I can just see why he gets that impression. Plonked on a seat at the back of Cardiff’s International Arena, and well out of his comfort zone, I decided that there was no option but to leave Mr. Conventional and launch myself into the sea of glitter and merriment. I returned two hours later to find Steve pretty much where I had left him, but with the addition of a glitter hat, and copious amounts of lipstick on his face after being attacked by some over-excited 30-something women, who apparently went wild for men in suits! As for me, I was happily contented that the (fallen) star in question had asked “D’you wanna be in my gang”. Phew. Am I now glad I didn’t say yes!

But back to the anti-natal classes. 1995 was a hot summer, and yes, you’ve guessed it Steve was late … again. By this stage of pregnancy, I was contented wearing floral dresses that flattered my ever expanding girth, and looking forward to an evening of relaxing meditation. Beware expectant mothers reading this blog – the reality is far from the dream (Branwen you have been warned!). On this occasion, Steve managed to have his tea, but again didn’t have time to change. Minus the jacket, but with shirt and tie in situ, we legged it (excuse the pun!) off to the maternity department. The first problem was getting into the building. Everything was security locked. From the outside, Steve managed to locate the room in which the class was being held. He attracted the attention of some bronzed Adonis of an expectant father, who kindly obliged and opened the door. The sight that awaited us in the room, was of various shapes and sizes but all with a common bump … and then we arrived.

Those of you who know Steve, will understand when I say getting on the floor was always going to be challenge, and to this day, I do not know what possessed him, but he decided to avoid the floor and sit on a pile of springy rubber mats. Not a good idea when you have a full complement of legs, but when you don’t there is only one result. Steve sat down, the mats went up in the air, and he ended up in a heap on the floor, with me cringing at the thought of my moment of anti-natal glory forever scarred with this memory. Still, I consoled myself with the fact that things couldn’t get any worse. The lesson eventually started and having completed a session of relaxation, it was time for a break. The mother superior, or should I say the anti-natal nurse said we could all go and have some Squash for a small charge. Squash!!!! My old man needed something far stronger than Squash after the effort it took to get him off the floor, but Squash it had to be. Back-track to when we left the house. Late as usual, and with the suit jacket left in the kitchen we didn’t have a bean to bless ourselves with! A saviour came in the form a lycra-clad angel, who ended up having her baby on exactly the same day that James arrived. Oh don’t you just hate those people who look good in lycra with an enormous bump out front. The class finished, we bundled ourselves into the car, and made a sharp exit from the hospital – only to see said lycra mum power walking up the road … Ahhhhh! After that, we made sure we were on time for the classes, Steve tried not to fall asleep in meditation, and we always had change for the Squash.

If Kate (by some small miracle) happens to be reading this blog, the next bit of advice is crucial. Just make sure you are nowhere near electricity when your waters break. Me? I had a lucky escape. I had just waddled onto the loo when the whoosh occurred. I was about five seconds away from a curly perm courtesy of an electric wheelchair. Our family seem to have a thing about electric wheelchairs and water – not a good combination.

So, the Cambridge’s will settle into a cosy life with Nannies and servants. Entertaining the little one/ones will be a breeze, just as it was for me. James loved books. His favourite game was to look at the books I gave him, promptly throw them out of his pram and then look quizzically at me when they weren’t retrieved. However, I can’t forget the occasion that my Mother’s help had left for the day, and James was (at that time) sleeping contentedly in his play nest. Not 30 minutes after Anne left, he woke up and decided to bring the house down. Even my singing (I could do it reasonably well in those days) wouldn’t pacify him. There was nothing for it. With child screaming wildly in the kitchen I made for the living room. I did think about stopping off at the drinks cabinet, but motherly instinct took over. I bounced from my chair onto the sofa, rolled from the sofa onto the floor, and managed to get from the living room back into the kitchen. Within seconds the little **** had fallen asleep, leaving me propped up against a play nest for the next couple of hours until Steve came home. I cannot help but laugh as I recall the look on Steve’s face, when he saw us both on the floor surrounded by the devastation that was the afternoon play session.

The new arrival will progress to playing in the garden, and that is good fun. We are blessed that James is so patient – perhaps not so much these days, but back in the days of doing what you are told, he was pretty good at alternative sport. The best alternative game had to be mop football. The rules are quite simple. All you need is a little toddler, and football net in the garden, a mother wielding a floor mop and you have a recipe for an instantly satisfying afternoon. The mop was designed to stop the ball going into the net, but when the cute little one soon twigged that if Mum’s hands are full with the mop handle, she can’t move her chair to stop the ball going into the back of the net, our future David Beckham was never going to miss a free kick.

Snow was always good fun too, and so it will be with Wills and Kate. Back in the days when Steve was still able to get about quite well, we had our first fall of snow when James was about two. Excitedly father and son got togged up in winter woollies and gingerly staggered to the snowiest part of the garden. “Bigger Daddy” was the cry as oxygen was needed to make a ball of snow big enough to even resemble a snowman’s body, rather than an obese snowball. When the bonding session was over, I swear even the Borrowers would have been bigger than the snowman that adorned our patio for all of two hours before it collapsed in a very slushy pile, complete with branches for arms. Ironically the branches had two little twiglets sprouting from each side. “It looks just like Mummy” was the declaration as the wellies were deposited by the front door. Was my child seriously suggesting that I looked like a huge ball of soggy cotton wool? Please, do not answer that one!

Then there will be the family photographs. Of course there will be the pitfall of making the little one look in the right direction at the right time, but I am sure the Royal photographer will be able to cope. Who knows, the photographer may even be one James Moriarty-Simmonds of JMS Photographs fame. Whatever the occasion, the garden will always be the focal point for photographs. The only difference between us and the royals, is the size of the garden and the number of gardeners you have to keep it looking good. First day at school, last day at school. First detention, Last detention and all other occasions in between are recorded in glorious colour in the photograph album. Talking of which, how many people have photograph albums that come to an abrupt end at a crucial developmental stage in a child’s life. I think we have about fifteen years of photos which need to be put into albums in time for the cringe-worthy wedding power point that will run continuously in the background at the reception and embarrass the socks of our once bundle of fun.

Kate and William should not be put off by the financial cost. It does plateau (not sure when – as we haven’t reached that point yet), and of course there will be striking differences. James had his first Reading Festival experience in a tent bought from a budget supermarket, whereas our newest young royal will doubtless enjoy Reading or Glastonbury (or Glasto – as I understand some sets like to call it) in a hand built tepee complete with ensuite for that delicate royal behind.

But, all in all, the most amazing thing is how “Time Flies”. It only seems like yesterday that we made our grand entrance into the anti-natal class, and now we are being hounded to check the UCAS website for progress on university applications and cash for petrol. A little black book has also been opened for the subs.

Would I change anything … Not one dirty smelly nappy of it!! And as I close this blog and look forward to Christmas, I wish the Duke and Duchess the most wonderful time as parents, and may their reflections on parenthood be as wonderful as mine.

Happy Christmas, Joyeux Noël, Feliz Navidad, Glückliches Weihnachten, Gelukkige Kerstmis, Nollaig Shona, Natale Felice, Szczęśliwych świąt Bożego Narodzenia, Счастливое Рождество, Nadolig Hapus, and here’s to a New Year full of fun blogging.

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – A summer of LOuVrE

September 4, 2012

It’s been a little while since I updated you on what we in the Moriarty-Simmonds household have been up to, and so with the onset of the darker nights, I thought it about time to tell you about our summer.

It all started well enough.  We managed to get to the end of the summer term, survive the AS exams and then started looking forward to our summer holiday.  At this point, there was a slight problem … No summer holiday booked.  So, in the typically democratic manner which befits most of the decisions made in our house, we had a board meeting. 

The junior partner in our “firm” expressed a desire to spend the whole of the summer in Hampshire, a rural setting which had only one pull (Ahh – the joys of young love!).  That decision was overruled in the most draconian of fashions on the basis that we should at least try and spend some time over the summer as a typical British family – doing typically British holiday things, which of cause is a very subjective viewpoint indeed.

The second in command expressed a desire to spend some time in the sand dunes of an area of the Netherlands called Zeeland.  Now, I have to tell you that in our partnership, two of us have quite a dynamic view of how to spend the ideal holiday and it does not, unless push comes to shove, involve a combination of sand dunes and the North sea – with respect to any of my readers who may either live or frequent the area of the Netherlands of which I am talking!

Option three then came up for consideration – a week in Paris. The City of Love (satisfies junior partner) a little bit of water provided courtesy of the Seine for the second in command and lots of cultural and shopping stuff to appease the senior partner – and you don’t get a prize for guessing who that is.

I have to tell you that the junior and senior partner are not known for travelling light … Make-up for me (well I have to try and keep up with Paris chic) and an abundance of toiletries that would blow a hole in the ozone layer from a million miles for James. Steve has tried to strike a happy medium of taking just enough to last the holiday.  But when he suggested recycling the unmentionables just to save space, I very firmly drew the line.  So, we would take the car.  Bundies, make-up and toiletries galore and everyone was happy.  Our chauffeur however insisted that we find a hotel with on-site parking.  Now that in itself was no easy task at the best of times.  In Paris it is almost impossible, but our ever-trusted travel agent Allison was on hand to sort out the arrangements. 

As an aside, you may remember I told you in a previous Blog that everyone should have a “Dai” – Well add to that everyone should also have an “Allison”.  On that basis, if you have a “Dai” and an “Allison” you simply don’t need a David, Nick, Barrack or even a Tony.  The problems of the whole world would be solved with just these two people.

However back to the summer, and all was not destined to go smoothly before our departure.  The ongoing saga of the lovelorn teenager meant we relented and had a visitor from Hampshire to stay for a few days before we left.  No problem really, but unfortunately, our upstairs bathroom decided to misbehave and spring a leak, very late in the evening, two days before we were due to leave for France.  Well, actually it was more of a tsunami.  It started with a drip, then a bigger drip, and when it became clear (ceiling bulging like a balloon) that there were more than a few spots of water lurking above the plasterboard, Steve decided to have a go at the ceiling with a broom handle.  His theory, the water was better down than up.  Sensible man (well he thought so – and who I am to burst his bubble!).  After he had finished poking holes in the ceiling it looked like a very good impression of a dot-to-dot puzzle, and having satisfied ourselves that most of the water was down, we all trundled off to bed, safe in the knowledge that what would be would be – Que sera sera.  Bad move!

After a restful night’s sleep, we resolved that an early morning would mean we could at least get a plumber to come and fix the leak and then we would sort everything out when we came back from holidays.  However, as you have probably guessed, it wasn’t a plumber that was needed by the time we got up, but rather someone who would obligingly clear up after the ceiling collapsed.  The area around the bay window looked like Bosnia and the rest of the room could well have passed for a Liberian war zone.  Undeterred, our two love birds willingly cleared up the mess and made the room presentable – well at least as presentable as you can with what appears to be an inverted volcano in your ceiling.

A couple of phone calls, a nice plumber and a house secured from further water damage allowed us to look forward to our, now much deserved, break.  Car packed, and off to go.  A short stop at a service area on the M4 to handover one half of the Celtic love spoon; a chat with my friend Tom who has helped me rediscover my love of painting, with an introduction to the Mouth and Foot Painters Association; and then off to Folkestone.  Now it goes without saying that we have never been known for making things easy, and the drive to Paris was no exception.  The journey through France is one that we have made many times, and the auto routes are the most wonderful thing the French have ever invented, aside from croissants.  However, why we decided to enter one of the busiest cities in Europe on the final day of the Tour De France is totally beyond me!!  I was assured to know that Chief Officer of Police had our car details on file, together with the name, driving licence and passport number of our Chauffeur.  I therefore felt safe in the knowledge that Chief Inspector Clouseau would undoubtedly ensure our safe passage through the throng of Bradley Wiggins fans that would be lining the Champs-Élysées. 

However, one coffee too many at the service area, a distinct reluctance by our love birds to be surgically unwrapped from one another, and the switch to European time conspired to ensure that we were entering the “City of Love” when it was getting dark.  Now I really don’t know what happened when Steve fitted the obligatory beam deflectors, but had the light from the headlamps been any dimmer, then our dash across the Place de la Concord would have been even more hairy than it was.  Fortunately, even as our lives flashed before us in the Parisian dusk we were lucky enough not to encounter any ghostly images of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette on their way to the guillotine.  And so, miraculously we arrived at the hotel without hiccup.  Given therefore that all Bradley’s fans did not have the good courtesy to wait for my arrival, the next most pressing problem was finding somewhere to eat.  Alas, Paris is not New York.  It is fair to say that Paris is the city that sleeps – and most certainly on a Sunday!  A charming restaurant a few doors down from the hotel did their best with the time honoured French snack of croque-monsieur, but I have to say it was a long way off what I had imagined our first Parisian meal to be.  But when reminded that if I didn’t have to travel like Prince Charles and take my loo seat everywhere I went, not to mention enough unmentionables to keep the foreign legion satisfied, then we could have quite easily travelled by air, and arrived in time to have a decent meal …  But c’est la vie!

Moving on.  Joy of joys, the next morning saw us eating a proper breakfast.  I looked on in wonder … cheeses, bread, pastries and all those naughty things that really are the nicest.   Memories of the previous night’s croque-monsieur disappeared into a distant fuzzy haze.  And with just the faintest hint of conscience before tackling the feast which awaited me, I consoled myself that if all else failed, Steve and I could take up where those two rotund ladies left off, and we could have our very own daytime television programme … the title?  I saw it in all its jammy glory … “Two Fat Flids.” Conscience satisfied, I thoroughly enjoyed my buns, jam and everything else that my lovely French waiter could give me.  That reminds me, why do I have such a thing about French men? … remember Jean Claude (o-la-la!).

But then, back to earth, the chauffeur had gone off to find the obligatory tourist guide and was determined to make the most of his Parisian experience.  We would go in search of King Bradley’s throne.  Well, actually, we would take a stroll up the Champs-Élysées. 

The French seemed to have no sense of urgency about dismantling the seating and stands that had been erected for the final round of the Tour De France, and so a quiet amble up the widest road in Paris turned out to be the negotiating of an obstacle course that would have been a worthy sport in the London 2012 Paralympic games.  Three quarters the way up, we stopped for a break. Do they have Pimms in Paris?  Not being entirely sure of the reply that came from the waiter, I opted for the safe bet “cafe au lait, s’il vous plait”.  We spent a leisurely hour watching another emerging Olympic sport.  Tourist ten-pin bowling.  We were reliably informed that the object of the game is to see how many tourists (European or Far Eastern – it doesn’t matter) Parisian drivers can knock down whilst they (said tourists) try to get the best photograph of the Arc de Triomphe, without being killed in the process.  Needless to say, our intrepid junior partner decided to have a go, and came out unscathed, and with some jolly good photographs to add to our digital collection of holiday snaps.

Continuing our theme of love, we walked towards the river and left some padlocks on the bridge of love over the Seine, and had a trip up the Eiffel Tower (not all in the same day.  Remember we were on holiday and not training for the marathon).  We did however discover, that to eat lunch before being sent skywards in the Eiffel Tower elevators is not a good idea.   But then, the colour of Steve’s complexion after this episode was nothing compared to the colour of his cheeks after an evening at the famous Lido floorshow. 

Having decided we should introduce James to the delights of French nightlife, the Lido floor show seemed an ideal option.  Tickets ordered, we got all dolled up and decided to walk to the show.  After all, the Champs-Élysées hadn’t seemed that long a few days beforehand.  However, when all togged up in attire rather more formal that chino shorts and a T shirt, I must confess James did suffer. Never mind the cool air conditioned auditorium would sort him out.  Maybe I’m a bit old fashioned, but I had assumed that smart, or at the very least smart casual, would be the order of the day for such an evening.  However, things appear to have changed since our last outing to a Parisian floor show 24 years ago when we were in Paris for our honeymoon.  I have a feeling that the tourists who survived the Tourist ten pin bowling were quickly shunted over the road by their tour guide and into the Lido – It was a kind of a no-man’s land between Butlin’s in September and a Warner’s weekend (strictly for grown-ups). 

The show started and then I noticed a rather puce looking face peering intently towards the stage.  Having never subscribed to any more risqué satellite TV channel than UK TV Style, the sight of scantily clad dancers held a certain fascination to our chauffeur.  I have to say James was coping really well, but when Steve expressed some confusion over the more masculine flat chested dancers, it was then I decided he needed more champagne!!  It is so true … you can take the boy from the valleys, but you can’t take the valleys out of the boy!  But please don’t worry, composure regained, we went on to enjoy a wonderful evening of entertainment which saw dozens of set changes, so many costume changes I lost count, and when a fully grown stallion appeared on stage I could do nothing other than marvel at its bowel and bladder control!

We visited the Notre Dame, but sadly as a place of worship, it had become nothing more than a tourist attraction.  For those in the Cathedral who just wanted to spend a few minutes in quiet contemplation, it was almost impossible.  The clicking of the cameras and the popping of flash lights was almost intrusive. I have to say, nothing at all like St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, where even though the throng of visitors was greater than at Notre Dame, there was just a more respectful air about how the tourists conducted themselves.

We did the Da Vinci thing and went to the Louvre, where we met the most fascinating man who very kindly guided us out of the museum when we became totally lost in the maze of corridors and exhibition rooms. 

Have you ever come across a person who you find curious and rather odd at the same time?  Well, this man had obviously worked in the museum for a very long time, and knew everything you would possibly want to know about the Louvre.  But when he got us back to the exit, before we could thank him, he disappeared as quickly as he appeared.  It was a bit like those films you see when ghostly images appear and fade away in the blink of an eye.  Spooky yes, but we all agreed that with his grey wiry hair and chiseled features, he was most certainly a descendant of the French aristocracy.  

Throughout the week, we did all the other usual things that you do when on holiday, like buying fridge magnets for an already over-magnetted fridge, and consuming far more rich food and drink than is good for you.  But with the pending redecoration of our living room waiting for us on our return it was a few days of well deserved escapism.

Talking of insurances and redecoration, let me pose a question.  How many people does it take to process a house insurance claim?   The simple answer is more than one, and at this moment we’re up to five, and counting!!  The only consolation is a change of decor now beckons for the room that we have nick-named Etna.  My imagination is currently running wild.  I have considered subtle shades of grey, with more vibrant accent colours, but then, why not be totally outrageous.  How about a mural of a scantily clad woman, cavorting around on a fully grown stallion, whilst munching a generous portion of croque-monsieur at the top of the Eiffel Tower?   

Now that really would be a talking point for the neighbours, but would the accent colour on Steve’s face together with the need for a generous supply of blood pressure tablets create the desired result?  Maybe not, but you have to agree, its good fun even just thinking about it!

So it’s back to the wallpaper catalogue of this seasons “must have” colours and textures to make the perfect ambience to recreate our summer of LOuVrE,  Happy days.