In August 1991 Shand was feeling bored.
“I need a holiday,” he informed me, with his schoolboy pout.
“Okay” I replied. “Make it August if you can. There is every chance I can get away then”
“What?” he stuttered. “What do you mean?”
“I mean go ahead and organise something”
“What sort of thing?” he asked
Long-suffering patience was not my forte.
“You said you wanted a holiday – go ahead. I will keep you company wherever you decide you want to go!”
“And you want ME to organise it?”
“Of course!” I replied. “There is nothing wrong with your brain. I am very busy at work, and if you can do this for me, it would be very helpful.”
It only took twenty-four hours. He was up and running (well, metaphorically)
And so it came about. He organised a strict itinerary.
Edinburgh to King’s Cross by train: then the circle bus which operates hourly for the disabled until 7p.m. to take us to the Tara Hotel in Kensington, where, if you belong to the Visitors Club, there is a room at half price. Then a night or two to take in a London show, then the train to Folkestone and a ferry to Boulogne the following day.
Boulogne to Paris by train, and a couple of nights in Paris.
Paris to Nancy by train – our final destination.
And then all the way back again.
Thunderstruck does not describe my emotions. I mean, did he not realise the difficulties of holidaying with an electric wheelchair and a battery charger as our two main pieces of equipment? Clothes came a poor second due to the extent of his disability. His hands were now reduced to a flipper like movement, and he could no longer feed himself.
“I thought you wanted a holiday, not an endurance test!” I observed
He went all huffy.
“Do you know that I spent hours and hours at this? I was on the phone all day!” he replied. He had a special loud speaking phone, which maximised his volume. However, this was now so poor that, to be heard, he had to throw the top half of his body forward towards the phone with every sentence. Anyone watching through the window, and not understanding the way he achieved volume on the telephone, would have wondered what on earth was happening. It was certainly equal to a full work out.
“Okay.” I replied. “I just wanted to be sure that you know that accomplishing this will be more difficult than arranging it!”
So, with the all-important equipment, we left Edinburgh in late July. He carried what items he could on the back of his wheelchair. We caught the train, and started to enjoy the holiday mood. This did not last for long. By the time they reached York, the train was running three hours late, even if we made very good time, it would not be possible to catch the circle bus. A taxi would add to the expense. The temperatures in England were most unusually high, and the rail tracks had expanded, causing delays throughout the system into London. Instead of arriving at 5p.m., we did not make it in before midnight.
The queue for taxis was right around the block. As the night was still very warm, it was feasible and could be quicker to walk to Kensington. I got out a map and stood underneath a streetlight to work out where we were. A young, blond haired male came up and said:
“Can I help you, love?”
I explained that we were going to Kensington, and he said:
”Oh , that’s five miles away.”
“We really haven’t got an alternative” I said, indicating the queue.
“I’ll take you,” he offered.
“What are YOU driving?” I enquired most ungraciously. “This electric wheelchair has to go too!”
“I’m in that Transit over there. Just hang on a minute while I get a paper.” And with that he disappeared.
“What do you think?” I asked Shand
He suggested that we take a look at the van as he thought it could be too high. Correct. Electric wheelchair plus passenger too heavy to lift….
And then Shand spotted a skip across the road……
Under instruction, I ferreted and emerged triumphant with one good solid piece of wood, to act as part of a ramp. On heading back again to attempt to find a second, the van owner reappeared.
“What are you doing?” he enquired.
I explained my attempts to make a ramp, but he laughed and shouted to two fellows passing by:
They responded, and the three of them lifted chair and occupant into the back of the van, which was filled with old pieces of furniture, settees. Slightly apprehensive, I wondered if we were being foolhardy? Too late to have second thoughts, off we went into the night…………
“Are you going this way anyway?” I enquired of the driver
“Heavens, no! I come from the other side of London!”
“So why are you doing this?” I persisted
He only laughed and said he liked to be of help.
“But what will you charge?”
“Send me a postcard from wherever you are going. It will be enough to know you got there safely!”
We arrived at the Tara in this old Transit van full of furniture. If the doorman thought it was odd, he was too polite to say.
This was the unorthodox start to one of the most memorable and lovely holidays of my life.