Friday, 28 December 2018

Looking back on 2018

We've never done a reliable family newsletter but I do manage to blog every now and then, so this is my feeble attempt at our 2018 newsletter/blog. When I say 'our', I intend to speak for Neil and I. The boys are no longer boys, and though they are still very much family, as adults, I'm sure they can tell their own story, should they wish (with one possible exception).

Work

Let's start with the positives. We both continue to have secure, full time, permanent jobs... which, by contrast to our situation a few years ago in Finland, is something neither of us should ever take for granted. We have both largely continued to work for the same employers, doing similar jobs to what we've been doing for a few years. However, we have both had 'insignificant changes' that have actually turned out to be quite significant in some ways.

Neil got moved in June and was TUPE-d across to a new company where he continues to invest my (and others') pensions, with varying degrees of cheerfulness, so that when we retire, we can be sure of a healthy pension income - that's the theory at least. The significant difference is that the new company is nowhere near home, so his previous 5 minute commute each way to work is now nearer 90 minutes each way. This means he is more tired, has less social time and has joined the competition to argue out whether train services are actually worse in the north or the south. Because only one train a day comes anywhere near us, he also has a long drive to get to a sensible railway station that offers a Plan B if his train gets cancelled. On the plus side, he does have a very modern looking, light and colourful office.

I continue (for now) to work in Adult Learning, but in May my role changed slightly. I was Area Manager for a geographical area but changed my area to online and digital. It's a secondment, which means it's a temporary project, and it gave me some interesting and enjoyable challenges in the field that I love - ICT. The highlights included learning about Citrix, which I can only describe as seriously quirky, and introducing myself to the world of Trello (online project management tool). It's quite possible that I will never encounter Citrix again, and may not be any worse off for that. Trello and I are now very close friends though, and if anything were to happen to Trello, I would grieve miserably for a long time!

The most significant little detail about my new role was that it put the word digital into my job title, which meant that when looking for a career move into e-learning, my CV didn't get ditched by robots. The result of this, is that I have just found a new job as a junior e-learning designer. I'm quite excited, at my age, about being referred to (in any context) as junior, and it really isn't as senior a position as I would like, though I hope to progress. It does offer me a few really positive aspects though:
  • Working from home a couple of days a week
  • Getting me out of traditional education and into the private sector
  • Opportunity to learn and become expert with Articulate Storyline (this is the industry standard software and the main obstacle to me finding a job)
  • A role where I can put my Masters to good use and hopefully combine e-learning theory and practice.

Holidays

To say that I have been a pain this year with holidays might be the biggest understatement ever made! We were due to go to Devon in January for a week, but cancelled at the last minute because I was so poorly and exhausted I just couldn't face travelling that far.

Our annual pilgrimage to Skegness went very well, which was fortunate, as I was a little concerned that I was becoming holiday-phobic. Spring Harvest was fantastic, apart from the first day that was so rainy that even I complained about the wet weather. My hands, gloves, sleeves (3 layers deep) and everything were soaked through! Once I'd dried out though, we had a lovely week with equal amounts of rest, relaxation, laughter and spiritual refreshment.

As October was our silver wedding anniversary, we had booked a cruise. We booked it pre-Liggy though and in reality, both the thought of leaving her in kennels for 2 weeks and the thought of having 2 weeks off work (hence using up 2 weeks of precious leave in one go) appealed less and less, so we ended up cancelling it and going to the Peak District for a week instead. That was a fantastic week, in the best accommodation in an idyllic location, with weather that was perfect for me. 

Family stuff

This year has been fairly average... normal... boring even, which made it extremely pleasant in terms of family. No major disasters, dramas or anything. The only really sad event was losing my beloved Nanny in May. It was sad that she's passed away and the last week or two wasn't very nice at all, seeing her, possibly for the first time ever, in pain, complaining and generally unhappy. However, the fact that in all of my life, I don't actually remember her really being sad, in pain, unhealthy or anything else like that, makes the last couple of weeks not seem too bad. She was 94 years old, had virtually no memory left and had no idea where she was, yet she was full of laughter, mischief and a love of life. The only time she ever sounded sad was when she talked about losing grandad - her beloved Frank. Yet even in her grief, she was always positive, talking about the wonderful life they had together. I'll be honest, I don't really want to live to 94, but if I do, I hope I can be like Nanny (but with a better memory).

The more exciting family news is that Andy, our youngest son, got engaged this year and is planning a wedding in June. His beautiful bride is lovely - everything we'd dreamt of for him. Her family and our family are completely different in many ways but I hope that means that their marriage will contain the best bits from all of us. My biggest prayer for 2019 is that their big day is filled with joy and that their marriage is healthy, filled with adventures and brings them closer together with every new day.

Looking forward

I don't like new year's resolutions but a new year does give us the chance to set new goals. Here are some of the things I would like to do in 2019:
  1. Make a positive and influential start in my new job. Once again, I seem to have found an employer that looked beyond my disability and saw the skills and experience I bring. I really hope to show them that they made the right decision and I hope I can make a difference in my new team.
  2. Teach Liggy two or three new tasks. We're quite settled now and she does so many things for me that make life easier. She loves learning new things though, and this year, I'm hoping to teach her how to help me open the doors at work (she'll hopefully release them with my access card while I open them). Then we'll see what else she could do to help me out.
  3. Go on several hikes with Neil and Liggy. I would love to do either the Monsal or Tissington Trails from end to end. I don't know if that is even possible but I'd love to try it. 
  4. Keep Neil smiling with lots of lovely home-baked treats. I need to find some that are healthy as well as tasty, or next year we'll both be trying to lose weight again. Why did God make all the tasty stuff fattening?!! I have loved seeing Neil enjoying my homemade Christmas cake, and being able to eat it with him. Now, I want to find some low-fat recipes. I might even make some of my own.
Happy new year to all our family and friends!

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Accessible Peak District - Tissington Trail and accidental Dovedale

Normally, by the last day of a holiday, I'm tired and achy and just want to get back home to my own bed, but by Thursday (our last day) I was really enjoying the week and really didn't want to go home at all. I could have cheerfully stayed for a second week, which is totally unlike me.

Tissington Trail

Following the success of the Monsal Trail, we chose from our remaining list of possible days out. Parsley Hay and the Tissington Trail were on our list and it's another disused railway. It could have been a bit samey but really, if something works, why not do more of the same?


Photo of the end of the Parsley Hay building

We parked at Parsley Hay, which is a lovely little centre, with toilets, food kiosk and a cycle hire centre. It looked like the cycle hire place did a good range of accessible bikes of various types... but I was using my mountain trike again and was more than happy as I was. Like the Monsal Trail, the Tissington Trail is a nice flat route - at least the bit we did - and a good surface with compacted gravel. We set off in the direction of Hartington Station, bearing right at this junction just after joining the trail. 

Photo of Liggy and I starting our walk

The thing that stood out most on this trail, was the beautiful scenery. It was a mainly sunny day but with some cloud and when the sun hit the hills, it made patterns through the clouds. This route felt a lot more remote than yesterday's and so, so peaceful. 

Photo of the distant hills with the sun shining on them

It's about 2 miles to Hartington. We forgot to look at the sign coming out of Parsley Hay but when we got to Hartington, we saw this one. It was nice to see disabilities represented on their code of conduct pictures. 

Photo of signpost and code of conduct including wheelchair pic

Although the actual route was remote and well off the beaten track, the station was quite lively. There was people having picnics and others parked up, beginning or ending their hikes. The station felt like a definite way marker. I don't know whether all the stations on the trail are the same, but the map would indicate good facilities throughout.

Photo of the station building

There is nothing like good toilet facilities but on country walks, the lack of loos is our biggest challenge. Many people can just pop behind a bush but that is too tricky for me. So this is just how grateful I am when we find good, clean, accessible toilets.

Photo of my excitement at good toilet facilities

At both stations we visited, there was also an outdoor tap, so getting clean water for Liggy was easy too - though on this occasion, it was more about washing off poo she rolled in, rather than drinking it. (photo later)

The trail there did feel very flat and it was only on the return trip that I realised it was all just slightly downhill on the way there. You know what that means - it was all slightly uphill on the way back! I managed absolutely fine though. It was the right level of challenge, though I would probably reverse the whole route next time. Here's a couple more pics of the route back.

Photo of little bridge over the trail

Photo of Liggy and me

As I mentioned earlier, Liggy rolled in some poo. She actually did this once in each direction, before being put swiftly back on lead. Thankfully, there was an outdoor tap, so Neil washed it off before we loaded her back in the car. What do dogs get out of this?!! Yuk! She doesn't look very pleased about being washed in cold water, does she? She did get a bath later with shampoo and warm water and much preferred that.

Photo of Neil washing Liggy

Accidental Dovedale

Next on the plan, was to drive to Tissington, have a look round the village and maybe do another section of the trail. However, Neil turned right instead of left and we ended up at Dovedale instead. On our honeymoon, Dovedale was one of our favourite days out, so rather than correct the mistake, we went with the flow.

From the car park, there is an accessible walk to the stepping stones, but that is where it ends. It's a shame there wasn't somewhere I could cross but we had a nice walk and some fun anyway. Liggy even had a little play in the river.

My favourite bit though, just demonstrated Liggy's ability to problem solve. The first photo shows her happily skipping over the stepping stones with Neil. He sometimes takes her for walks in places I can't go and she loves her 'daddy adventures'. She was probably expecting a nice hike off the path.

Photo of Neil walking Liggy over the stepping stones

However, we had been practising recalls in distracting environments and this was a good opportunity. Also, Liggy isn't that keen on water and still smelt a little poo-ish from her morning walk, so we were hoping to tempt her to have a swim. Neil let her off lead, and I called her to me. Keen to please, she set off running through the water, until it got deep enough to touch her tummy. Then she stopped and turned back. Not to be deterred, we tried again. Exact repeat. Third time, I called and she looked around her.

Photo of Neil letting Liggy off lead to come back to me

A look of 'duh!' crossed her face, as she realised there was an easier route back to me. With that, she left Neil squatting on the bank, headed back to the stepping stones and carefully made her way across, before coming and sitting square in front of me, for her good recall treats.

Photo of Liggy coming back over the stepping stones

I have to say, this was probably my favourite day out of the whole week. I hope we get to go back to the farm, the Peaks and do one of the trails again. Yesterday, I said I hoped Countryfile would do one of their rambles on the Monsal Trail but actually the Tissington Trail would be better. It's longer and has loads of toilets on the route.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Accessible Peak District - Monsal Trail

I'm back at work, which has given me less time for writing, but I am desperate to share the last two days of our holiday in the Peak District. We had a list of days out planned but, as Tuesday hadn't been the best day, and because we saw Steve Brown on Countryfile on the Sunday evening (as we cosied up in front of the log fire on the farm) and he did a piece on the Monsal Trail, we decided to change our plans.

Disused railway lines can be a perfect place for wheelchair hiking. They are rarely completely flat, but I don't want completely flat; I do need occasional low maintenance days. Have a look at the map of the trail. We did a little bit of forward planning on the Tuesday afternoon, on our way back from Chatsworth. We found, with some help from Google, Bakewell station. I wish I'd taken a photo of the ramp that goes from ground level up to the railway bridge. It certainly wouldn't have met any gradient rules at all! Then we spotted a sign with the little blue wheelchair and before I could scream obscenities at it, realised that the whole point was that this was NOT accessible but Hassop, the next station was.

I have to say, Hassop was lovely. We popped in, parked up and checked out the important things - toilets - which were cleverly at the back of the shop. As we were leaving, I spotted a lovely scarf/shawl, which I actually thought my mum-in-law would like the colour of... but then I touched it. It was 20% wool and 80% cotton and soooooooo soft! Neil, as he has a tendency to do after a tough day, immediately bought me it. I did tell him it wouldn't help my pain levels but I do love the scarf. It's the sort of texture that a small child would suck their thumb and stroke their cheek with it.

Monsal Trail

Having checked out Hassop, we went home and reviewed the map. No idea why, but I get quite excited by tunnels and I wanted to do a section that had tunnels and maybe some viaducts. Hassop is several miles equidistant from all tunnels, so we abandoned Hassop and parked up at Millers Dale. This was quieter, more remote, very peaceful and pretty (in spite of the redevelopment works going on). There was good toilet facilities and very easy access onto the trail. From there, we headed west to Chee Tor tunnels.

I had my Go Pro on, but that's ended badly! I transfered all the video to our new Chromebook but it bunged up the storage (which is tiny) and the Internet wasn't great, so it wouldn't sync. I thought I'd still got a copy on my SD card so I deleted the files. You can probably guess the rest and there's not going to be any video clips this time. Ooops! Because I videoed the whole day, we only took a couple of photos, but here they are:

Photo showing the entrance to one of the tunnels

Photo showing a close up entrance to one of the tunnels

You can see how lovely and smooth the surface is. It was great all the way that we did. It's also well away from roads, so Liggy got some extended off-lead times, which she loved. I was a bit concerned about whether she'd be frightened of the tunnels - in spite of some lighting, they were quite dark - but my bomb-proof pup was totally unphased. I loved the tunnels. They were cold and quiet but echoed beautifully. They were dark and eerie and you could only see other people as silhouettes. And then you got that 'light at the end of the tunnel', literally.

I also loved the scenery along the route, which I am unable to share, sadly. What I would love to do, is go back some day and do the whole route end-to-end. That would be a really cool challenge. Maybe Countryfile could make that their accessible ramble for Children in Need next year. The only downside on the Monsal Trail is the lack of toilets along the route. There are only two accessible ones, as far as I can tell. Thursday's day out may solve that little problem though, so you'll have to wait (as I keep being told about toilets)!

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Accessible Peak District - Chatsworth

This is a good example of how things change from one day to the next, and how accessibility is not a simple thing, not black and white, not there or not there. It's a long spectrum, with variations that depend on many different things.

Looking back

We visited Chatsworth about a year and a half ago, focussing on the house and gardens. We had the best day out and felt that this was a really wonderful accessible venue. We took my usual wheelchair and freewheel, which worked perfectly for the gardens, as most of the paths are compacted gravel. We enjoyed lunch and afternoon tea in one of the restaurants and absolutely loved it. We have said many times that we would both love to visit again.

Silver wedding anniversary treat

With the aforementioned day in mind, we planned to spend our actual anniversary at Chatsworth, but this time exploring the parkland and country estate. We debated which chair to take, and decided on my day chair with freewheel. I've had some problems with it recently but the last time I used it, all was fine, so it seemed a good choice.

Photo of me in my wheelchair with freewheel attachment

What we hadn't factored in, was how exhausted I was from the previous day's hilly exertions and how windy it was going to be and that I just generally didn't feel very well. We also hadn't realised that the estate paths are very stony and that in places, the stones are sharp and very uneven. We managed to move around a little and take a few photos but I wouldn't call it an enjoyable day, as my arms and shoulders were aching too much to manage the terrain.

The restaurant

The best part of the day was lunch. The restaurant at Chatsworth is really lovely! The day we went, they had, amongst their options, a chicken and brocolli pie with potato and veg. It was a wonderful, warming, autumn meal and even though it was quite busy, we managed to find a good place to sit.

This is where I hope to educate rather than moan about other people. We sat in the dog-friendly area, where we should have attracted less attention than usual for Liggy. Fortunately, she was being really good (as she generally is when we are eating) but we had several members of the public come very close and just stand there and stare at her. Usually, I am quite patient but Neil had obviously realised how tired and unwell I felt and tried to warn people to leave us alone. He explained that she is a working dog and asked people to leave her alone. This had no effect whatsoever. They continued to stare at us, making eye contact with Liggy and trying to get her attention. One man came up and started talking to her. I tried to explain that it was our anniversary and we would really like to enjoy an uninterrupted meal together, just for once, and we would really appreciate being left in peace. He retreated a few metres but continued to just stand there watching us.

The education point is this... I don't carry a sign on my back telling everybody that I'm having a rough day, that I'm in pain and have no energy left. Liggy does have a large sign asking that people don't distract her, not that many people see it or take notice. That day, I really needed Liggy to be on task, able to help me take my coat off, pick up my phone when dropped, and generally be on best behaviour. Although she ignored the staring people, she was struggling to grip on a slippery floor and found tugging my sleeve tricky. She was in a totally new environment, as everyday this week was, and probably felt the stress of me being off colour. I can't always communicate all the reasons why some days we just need to be left alone, but some days we do just need leaving to do our thing. Leaving us absolutely includes not sitting/standing and staring at us.

If you are ever in that situation and someone with an assistance dog asks you to leave them alone, it's nothing personal and they are not being rude, but some days, living with a disability can be tough - really tough! That day might coincide with a special occasion and the inner disappointment of it not being as special as it should have been. It might be that in spite of good accessibility, like at Chatsworth, no amount of adjustments and accessible features can ease the pain and frustration of a bad day. The person who you want to chat with about their beautiful dog, might just need a day with their other half, to make them the only person who matters that day... because on a bad day, they are the only person who really matters. It's not rude, it's just how it is.

So sorry Chatsworth but we didn't have the best day. It was nothing you did or didn't do. It's still a beautiful place and we will return again on a better day. Thank you for a lovely lunch! and a clean toilet! and free parking! and and and... here are a couple more photos...

Photo of deer grazing

Photo of some building that I can't remember the story behind.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Accessible Peak District - Derwent Dam

I've missed a couple of days, because Sunday we met up with friends and went to church, which was great but not very interesting to read about... and Saturday, we went to Leek, which is hilly and in places lacks dropped kerbs but does have a town crier, who recommended a great pub for lunch.

Monday

I did plenty of research before deciding on days out, so that we wouldn't waste days, attempting to access places that clearly aren't meant to be accessed. I found the Access for all website really helpful in doing my homework, and from there, I found some video clips of various places and decided that Monday would be a great day to go to the Derwent Dam (and Lady Bower reservoir and Howden Dam).

Photo of the information hut at the visitor centre

There is a decent sized car park at the visitor centre, which also has a food/drink kiosk and toilets, including an accessible one. Having done my research and having decided this venue was a mountain trike venue, I found it easier to leave my 'monster machine' outside the loo and hobble in without it. As it weighs a fair bit and has seriously good brakes, it's also a handy anchor point for Liggy.

The walk doesn't get much of a mention in the accessibility guide, which could be because it isn't an easy walk without some help. They apparently have a Tramper for hire but I prefer to struggle around with my trusty Husky (at least in her mind) and Neil. The walk offers some seriously stunning autumn scenery, with a forest in full colour on the opposite side of the reservoir. The sad thing for us, was the serious lack of water. In theory, levels are at 40% but in places, it was bone dry!

Photo showing an empty section of the reservoir

I seem to remember this being mentioned on the news recently (or maybe it was on Countryfile). A village that was buried when the reservoir was made, has become visible for the first time in decades.

Photo showing ruins of a house, visible only because the dam is empty.

The path is extremely hilly! Having said that, it's a good surface - mostly concrete - and is lovely and wide. We managed it fine between us, but I was glad we had decided to put the push handle on the back of my trike. Although it was a cool day, it was sunny and very pleasant to be outdoors. 

Photo of me in my mountain trike with Liggy attached at my side.

We took loads of photos of the walk, mostly of the dam and the scenery but this one shows how nice the paths are... and that it was definitely not flat.

Photo showing nice wide path reaching the brow of a hill

If you follow the road up from the visitor centre to the viewing point, there is a lovely photo-taking spot and we spent a while there just taking piccies. Here are a couple of the better ones...

Photo of the reservoir showing some water but lots of bank too. 
Photo of the dam with the two turrets


We then continued past the viewing point, along a flatter path but more of a dirt track. It was really quiet and peaceful and the views were even better! Here's one, looking back towards the dam.

Photo of the dam, showing from a distance


When we eventually wandered back to the turrets, Neil had a nosy through the gates. There is a memorial for the Dambusters (cue for a song) which looked like it should be more visible really. It would have been very easy to miss.

Photo showing a memorial to the Dambusters, with flags either side.

Eventually, we decided to head back to Flash, but even driving back, there were still plenty of photo opportunities. I love this one, if only because I didn't even look through the viewfinder. I just stuck the camera out of the window, whilst Neil was driving, upped the shutter speed and clicked...

Photo of the road bridge over the reservoir.

So, in summary, this was a wonderful place to spend the day. Facilities were great and the paths were well surfaced and wide but it was really hilly and my shoulders seriously killed all week. Was it worth it? Every bit!!!

Friday, 26 October 2018

Accessible Peak District - our accommodation

We've just celebrated our silver wedding anniversary and after much deliberation and a near miss with a cruise, we decided to return to the Peak District, where we enjoyed our honeymoon 25 years ago. The only difference is, of course, that this time accessibility was a thing, whereas 25 years ago, we could pretty much do anything and go anywhere.

So let's start with our accommodation - a beautiful farm retreat in a village called Flash, the highest village in the UK.
Sign saying "Flash - highest village in Britain 1518 feet"


I have to confess, the journey there in the dark on a Friday night, was interesting! I have never been so grateful to Google Maps in my entire life. We took both cars, so that we could take both wheelchairs and some luggage, which meant we were both driving alone. Well, I took the lead... and the satnav and Neil followed me. I am not entirely sure that some of those roads were even real roads but we did eventually end up on a very steep, windy lane, from whence I spotted the lights of the farmhouse, and realised we had found it.

Photo of the farmhouse, taken from the gate - a considerable distance!

Axe Edge Green Farm is a working farm, with pigs, sheep, poultry and a variety of cats and dogs. The owner has made every effort to ensure that it is a safe environment for dogs who are visiting. Her own dogs are very friendly and Liggy was keen to spend as much time as possible running around the farm with them. We were assured that Liggy was fine to chase the hens, as there was no chance of her catching them. I'm not sure whether she just didn't want to chase them or whether she gave up trying, but she seemed more interested in exploring and sniffing out the environment.

The path from the gate to the farm is long and steep. I couldn't do it in either chair without Neil's help. I did manage it twice on crutches (different days) but I'm still paying the price! The views are stunning though and we must have had every kind of weather (except snow) at some point during the week. The early morning mist was very eerie but soon cleared to show views over the hills.
Photo of the view from the farm, showing green hills and dry stone walls.

We stayed in the Hayloft, which as the name suggests, is upstairs. There is a lift (a wheelchair lift) but it was too narrow for my chair, so I just used it with my crutches. The apartment itself is wheelchair friendly, though I managed without mine. There is a super wetroom, which satisfied my showering needs perfectly. The only thing it lacked is grab rails around the toilet, but we'd spotted that on the photos on their website, and took my portable stand. 

The kitchen is small but well equipped and the sink and some of the worktops are lowered. The living and dining area are open plan and have huge windows to show off the views. There is a lovely wood burner too, which made our evenings nice and cosy.

If any other Canine Partners are looking for a spot in the Peaks, this place has one big plus - right next to the front door, is a large pebbled area which is a perfect spot for 'better go nows' and there is a bin there too to put poo bags in. Liggy soon adjusted to that being her place to go and we had no problems getting her to perform. 

One final thing about the owners, Agnieszka and Ian... they were so friendly and nothing was too much trouble. They are very hardworking and aimed to make our holiday as special as possible. They left us some nice things in the fridge, including some freshly laid eggs and even brought a card and present round for our anniversary. 



Friday, 31 August 2018

Off the beaten track

I wouldn't call myself an avid hiker but outside of the nettle and wasp season, I do really enjoy getting out there, off the beaten track, in the woods and exploring the countryside. I thought, with my Freewheel, that I'd found the best solution for off-roading, but to be honest, I've had so many problems with it that I just don't trust it that much, so I started looking for something better.

Mountain Trike

When I Googled off-road wheelchairs, most of the results were big electric scooters, and as many of you know, it's really important to me that I get exercise, so powered vehicles aren't my thing. Then I found the Mountain Trike website. They've updated their site since then, and now the first thing you see is the price. I had to search for prices and I nearly gave up when I found them. It seemed too expensive. However, I did want to try one out, so I kept searching. That was when I found Experience Community, a Huddersfield-based group that are about getting disabled people into the countryside.

Back in January, we were supposed to be going on holiday but had to cancel, as I was too unwell. Later in the week, however, I felt up to some day trips, so we had a drive over to Slaithwaite, near Huddersfield, to try out a Mountain Trike. The guys at Experience Community were absolutely great. It helps that some of them are also active wheelchair users, so one of them showed me how to use the trike and took us for a walk along the canal bank. By the time we got back, I was sold!

How it works

The main difference between the trike and a normal wheelchair is that you propel it using levers. The advantage of this, is that you don't get wet, dirty hands and wrists when it's wet. It also means that you can pretty much get across any surface. The wheels have got huge tyres with big grippies that are perfect for mud, grass, sand, etc. The mechanism makes it much easier to progress over uneven ground than in a normal chair. Plus, it's got mega-suspension that takes out all the bumps and vibrations, to make it really comfy.

Photo of me taking the dog for a walk with my mountain trike

To steer, there is a side to side mechanism on the right lever. That's also where the brakes are. You just push the handle to the left or right and that makes the back wheel change direction. It is a bit weird at first, having rear steering. It's like driving a B&Q trolley! Also, when Liggy pulls to the side, I turn the other way, which total baffles her. 


Hills

In my normal chair, going up steep hills can be a little scary, as the centre of gravity makes it want to tip over backwards. Going down is fantastic though - great fun! Well, the mountain trike is the opposite. Going uphill, though slow and hard work, is great. The trike feels very secure and even on steep hills, it shows no signs of tipping, mainly because the trike wheel is at the back. Going downhill, on the other hand, is quite scary! The brakes do help but any thoughts of sailing down at high speed, in manner of rollercoaster, have to be totally suppressed! It's quite hard to brake gently and when I brake, I get thrown forward, which is what those little front wheels are there for. They stop me falling too far forwards.

So, if you like getting out and about and don't want to be restricted to concrete and asphalt paths, I strongly recommend this piece of kit! Rather cheekily, I got mine second hand off eBay, but I would certainly use the guys at Experience Community, and I've already had it into them for a gold service.



Photo of me sitting in my mountain trike and Liggy sitting on the lawn

Thanks to my brother-in-law, Graham, for the photos.


Friday, 10 August 2018

Adapting the home

When we bought our current house, back in 2015, we knew it needed a couple of things doing urgently. The bathroom was completely unusable for me, so that had to be replaced before we even moved in. We got a stairlift fitted pretty quickly too. The rest was always a bit of a middle to long-distance dream.

Most of the spring was taken out with a major rebuild of the downstairs of the house. The main aim was to make the kitchen accessible but we wanted to really make better use of the space too. It's just as well we got on with it when we did! Now Neil is back to commuting to and from work every day, I need to be able to cook independently and safely, and the recent renovations have allowed that to happen.

The kitchen

Our kitchen was quite small and the entrances were too narrow for a wheelchair. There wasn't enough worktop space and I couldn't stand for long enough to prepare food anyway. So here's what we did...

1. We knocked through into the dining room to make one big open-plan room. It's now a lovely L-shaped room with plenty of space and fully wheelchair accessible.

2. We included one lowered worktop. We also bought a spare wheelchair for in the house. So now, I can sit and prepare food in comfort, wheeling myself between the fridge, cooker and work prep area.

Picture of lowered section of worktop with food ready to prepare and wheelchair

Picture of worktop with potatoes ready to peel and chop


3. We splashed out on an oven with a retractable door. This makes it much easier for me to get things in and out safely.

4. We went for a hard-flooring option. Actually, it's vinyl, but not like the 1970s lino that I imagined. It looks really clean and modern. It's hard-wearing enough for wheeling over and for Liggy to run around on.

The toilet

Our downstairs toilet was not dissimilar to the sort you get on an aeroplane. It was tiny and really difficult to get in and out. So we built a new utility room, with a toilet at one end. Again, it's fully accessible in my chair, though I often don't need to wheel in.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

What does your dog do? (4)

She undresses me

I remember being asked, at my Canine Partners assessment visit, whether it would be useful for a dog to help me get undressed. I dismissed it as something I could do myself and thought no more about it. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, it is one of the most useful things that Liggy does for me. Sure, I can do it myself but I hadn't realised how much energy it would save me and how much better my back would be if I stopped fighting with my clothes and let her do all the hard work for me.

My favourite thing is when she takes my pyjama jumper off. I've got one of those big fluffy over-jumper thingies that I use instead of a dressing gown but the sleeves stick to my pyjama sleeves, making it really difficult to remove. Liggy makes light work of it though. For today's video, I didn't think taking pyjamas off was a very good idea, so we went for the removal of coat and saloupettes.


She also takes off socks, shirts, hoodies, cardigans, etc. Her latest trick is to remove my socks and then run straight round to the other side of the bed and put it straight in the wash basket. I think that is just brilliant!

Saturday, 17 March 2018

What does your dog do? (3)

Sticks and crutches

I had a few people, last week, tell me they enjoyed watching Liggy retrieving small items off the floor. It is quite amazing how she can pick up even really tiny things and give them back to me, without eating them. However, I find it equally amazing, given her relatively small size (for a lab) that she can pick up big items like my walking stick and crutches. This was one of the first tasks she learned when we came home. To help her know where to pick them up, we put blue tape round. This is also helpful because metal can feel a bit strange on her teeth, so the tape feels soft, which she prefers. Anyway, this video was taken at Christmas (hence the tree). At that time, it was just a game but now, it's another of those tasks that I wonder how I ever coped without.




Sunday, 11 March 2018

What does your dog do? (2)

Yesterday, I showed how Liggy comes downstairs on a morning and lifts the footplate on my stairlift. The next thing she usually does, is perhaps her easiest task of all but she does this a lot for me, at various points throughout the day. She does it a lot at work. She does it in church. She does it in restaurants...

Being unobtrusive


Photo of Liggy lying quietly in her bed

It would be easy to forget the value of this one because it's not a task at all really. However, can you imagine what my work life would be like if Liggy wasn't able to settle quickly and quietly, wherever I need her to? In reality, she does a fair bit of this in my office...

Liggy lying quietly in my office

In the morning, she generally lies quietly while I have my breakfast and a couple of cups of coffee. Then we change rooms and she lies quietly again while I do physio. Of course, if something were to happen... if I were to drop something, she would be up in a shot!

Retrieving dropped items

It's pretty much impossible to video this in a real situation because even though I drop things all the time, I rarely have my phone to hand and ready to video it. She is just too quick for that. Here's a quick clip of her retrieving some items. I picked a pencil, a highlighter pen and a loyalty card. A pencil is thin but otherwise, not too tricky. She does pens too. The highlighter pen is quite tricky because it's slippery and a funny shape. The loyalty card is really thin and small. If she wanted to, she could probably eat it... but she knows it's mine and it doesn't smell of food, so she hands it straight back to me.



At some point, I should count up how many things I drop during a normal day. Keys, pens, money, cards... That's why this was her first task that she learned. I would guess that this is the most commonly taught and used task for Canine Partners.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

What does your dog do? (1)

I wish I got a pound for every time I'd been asked this question. I'll be honest, sometimes it's a bit annoying. I only get half an hour's lunch break and I don't have time to throw in 5 conversations about how amazing Liggy is, even if I would love to.

A while ago, I did a whole load of posts about PIP. I took a section per post and it took ages to get through. Well, I'm going to attempt to do the same here in answer to the question, "What does your dog do?"

First thing in the morning

Liggy is like me, an early riser. She loves waking up and greeting me with one of her growing pile of soft toys. This morning, it was her rugby ball (Ikea - dirt cheap). Once I'm up, we come downstairs. It goes a bit like this...




When we first came home, I wondered how the stairlift would work. There wasn't one on the onsite training and it was the first new routine I had to work out for myself. I had discussed it with Cat, Liggy's trainer, and we'd decided I would put her in a sit, make her wait and then call her when I get to the top/bottom. In reality, she found it difficult to sit for that long on our slippy floor. I don't know whether her hips are a bit double-jointed but when she sits, her legs slide out and she does the splits. It's the same in shops, so now we use a 'down' more often unless it's on concrete or carpet.

First thing in the morning, I'm trying to be quiet so that Neil can sleep, so I keep commands to a minimum. Liggy knows the routine though. The only thing she needs a command for is to break her wait and let her know she's safe to 'lift it' (the footplate).

Lift it

This was Liggy's second task that I taught her by myself. I used a clicker to train her to do it. It took ages for her to work it out but I had listened to Cat's instructions and tried to build it up gradually and always end with the finished result. So first, I just put the footplate in the up position and got her to touch it with her nose. Then I pulled it out a little and got her to push it closed. The hardest bit was when it was fully down. She couldn't work out how to get her nose under. So we took another break, went and played and came back to it later... and she just suddenly did it. I threw a party (and treats - all over the floor) and then she just wanted to do it again and again. Each time she did it, I added the command, 'lift it'. I don't know if she really knows the command yet. I think it's more that she hears my voice and knows it okay to do it.

This task is helpful to me, as I don't have to bend or try to balance on one leg whilst lifting it with my other foot. Plus, Liggy loves it. Did you see her tail wagging?!!

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Wow! Liggy has rendered me silent!

I've only just realised, it's over two months since I last posted. I really thought that I'd be on here more frequently, posting updates of Liggy's antics, but in reality, I've forgotten about this because I've been so taken up with my new friend. So, now seems a good time to share what life is like with my new Canine Partner.

At home

I'm an early-bird. I usually wake naturally between half past five and six o' clock in the morning and I'm full of the joys of spring. Okay, my body takes a little while to kick in but in my head, I'm ready for action. Until recently, I've been alone in this. Neil and the boys like their sleep, so I have to get up quickly and quietly so as not to disturb them. Now... now I get a morning greeting that is simply wonderful! The second I wake up, Liggy is off her bed and at my side, tail wagging ten to the dozen.

In spite of her enthusiastic 'good morning', as soon as we come downstairs, she goes back to sleep for an hour or so while I eat and consume vast quantities of coffee. She comes into her own, when I go up to get showered and dressed. She knows the routine now... I sit on my bed and she sits in front of me. I offer her a sleeve, a trouser leg, a sock... and she tugs gently until it comes off. If it's something small like a sock, she brings it back to me and puts it in my hand. I have to say, I hadn't thought about a dog helping me undress but it has been really helpful and takes the pressure of my lower back.

In the evening, after work, Liggy absolutely loves coming home, especially if Neil is home before us. She leaps around and dances round in circles like a mad dog. She has a thing about carrying a soft toy when she is happy or excited, so she runs in, grabs the nearest teddy or soft ball and parades it around with utter pride. Recently, she has taken to emptying her toy box and having a very quick play with each toy before leaving them all scattered around the house. Later, we have a game where she picks them up, one by one, and puts them back in her toy box. Hopefully, this game of putting things in a receptacle will eventually extend to the washing machine and tumble dryer.

When I go upstairs, I usually use my stair lift. It took some practice to get Liggy to wait at the top or bottom while I travel and then come and join me, but now she does it automatically. Even better, I've taught her to lift the footplate up, out of the way, when I've finished with it.

Work

I remember when Cat, Liggy's trainer, first rang me, she said that Liggy would be a good match because she is clever and active and loves doing tasks, but she will also settle really quickly and sleep while I'm in meetings. Well, she was spot-on! Mostly, Liggy is off-lead at work. She is free to potter around the offices and do what she wants. In reality, she chooses to lie on her bed in my office until I drop something and then she is up in a second and picks up whatever I dropped and gives it back to me.

Some of my colleagues wanted a way of interacting with Liggy, so I bought her a little bag, small enough to carry bits and pieces around. Every now and then, someone will call out, "Send the bag!" I give Liggy the bag and tell her who to take it to. They help out by calling her name. Then she returns it to me with something in it. She clearly thinks this is a great game, as she then stares me out until I restock the bag and send her off with it again, tail wagging away.

Out and about

Okay, so nobody is perfect and as they told us at Canine Partners, she is a dog, not a robot. She has a personality and some quirky behaviour. Generally, she is great to take out with me. In restaurants and shops, she is as good as gold! She walks nicely, lies quietly, helps me take my coat off and picks up anything I drop, even my crutches!

Her Achilles Heel is wind! When it's windy, she finds it difficult to focus on anything except how exciting leaves and sweet wrappers are when they blow. In the grand scheme of things, it's not a big problem for me, as I wouldn't choose to spend long battling windy weather anyway but it's something we are working on with her.

This week, she has also had her first proper experience of snow. At first, she wasn't very keen and just kept sniffing at it with a suspicious look on her face. By Wednesday though, she was playing on the field at work with a colleague and me and she was loving it! I kept throwing her ball and she ran and then skidded and rolled around in the snow to get it. Then we substituted snowballs instead of her rubber ball. This was hilarious! I threw a snowball and she caught it - she's getting good at catching - but then it melted in her mouth before she could give it back to me. She was completely baffled by the mystery of the disappearing balls!


Monday, 1 January 2018

New Year Round-up

About this time last year, I posted my plans for 2017. I thought it would be interesting to see whether I actually did any of them. After all, Facebook is currently filled with posts informing us that nobody ever keeps their new year's resolutions. So here goes:

Places to go:

  • Rother Valley Country Park - Neil and I went there in January. It was beautiful and we had a lovely afternoon out. We walked round the lakes there and had afternoon tea in the cafe. 
    Monochrome photo of birds on the lake
  • Cairngorms - In March, I had a lovely week in Aviemore with my two adult sons. We were a bit limited on snow sports because of the weather but it felt amazing to ski again with my boys!
    View from the top of the mountain, showing a little snow
  • The beach (actually on the sand and in the sea) - This was one of the highlights of my week in Kemi in June. I had a picnic on the beach with my friends and managed, with crutches, to walk over the sand and paddle in the sea. 
    Rather grainy photo of me paddling in the sea with my friend
  • A European capital - okay, so I didn't get to that one. Maybe next year.
Things to do:
  • Sitski without tethers - In January, I did this at Snozone and it was the most amazing feeling. I had a session with my coach and most of my family that are into snow sports. Sadly, in February, I had an accident and injured my arm. I realised that my arms are now more important to me for getting around and decided that skiing independently was probably not going to be a long-term reality for me. I still enjoyed skiing with the boys on Cairngorm though.
  • Find something to do to serve the church - We finally found a church where we feel at home and somewhat predictably, I'm taking care of the website. I wish I had more time to devote to it but at least it's a contribution and I feel like I'm giving something again.
  • Finish my Master's - I submitted my final assignment in September and got my results a few weeks ago. I got a distinction for my last module and have completed my MA.
  • Improve my photography skills - I'll leave that for others to judge but I don't feel like I've devoted enough time to this. Maybe in 2018.
People to see:
  • Family and friends - One of the best things about being back in the UK is seeing family more regularly. However, the flip side is that I miss my friends in Finland sooooo much! It was wonderful in June to spend a week in Kemi, catching up with some of them.
  • Disabled people who are into sport - funny, eh? This has become less important to me and I've gone more towards taking part in regular sport but in my chair. In particular, I've got into Parkrun, which I love. As well as great exercise and fresh air, the people are incredibly friendly and supportive!
  • Help or inspire someone else - I think this will always be a rollercoaster ride! There have been times when I've helped or inspired others, or at least people tell me I have. More often though, I draw my inspiration from others. This year, I have been particularly inspired by the people I met on the Canine Partners training course. It was so encouraging to spend a fortnight with other people with disabilities and share our stories and ways of managing life
This year, I feel disinclined to make any particular plans. As well as the above achievements, 2017 had its share of ups and downs. At times, I have seriously struggled to stay positive and have been hit by some of the frustrations of living with a disability. On the other hand, being partnered with Liggy, my assistance dog, has been a wonderful end to the year. 

This year, my hopes and dreams are pretty simple... I would like to move into a line of work that is more closely aligned with my recent studies, either with my current employer or elsewhere. I would like to do something that will change another person's life for the better. And obviously, I aim to work with Liggy to have the best trained and most adorable assistance dog there has ever been.