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50shadesofsun

News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Caring through love not duty

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High above New York City on the viewing gallery of the Empire State Building.

To misquote a well-known Shakespearean saying about greatness: some people are born carers, some people learn to be carers while others have the role of a carer thrust upon them.

In the case of my carer, the last one is most definitely true. Not that my carer thinks that what she does is any more than any loving wife would do but Lisa has to cope with quite a lot – which she does exceedingly well, without complaint, and usually with a smile. And this is despite her having diabetes and a touch of arthritis.

She says she does it out of love not out of duty.

Actually, we both had to laugh when we looked at the requirements for her to claim the UK’s Carer’s Allowance benefit. It says she has to provide at least 35 hours of care a week. Oh, if only it was so little. She provides me with many more hours of care than that. In fact, she rarely goes out leaving me at home alone; and it is almost unheard of for me to be allowed out by myself. And I do mean ‘allowed’ as while, in most cases I have the final say, where my health is concerned Lisa is in charge.

Care covers a whole multitude of things that most able-bodied people take for granted, such as preparing my food, cutting up meat so that I can eat it easily because I cannot hold a knife and fork at the same time, helping me to shower and dress, getting my wheelchair in and out of the car, wheeling me about, and physically supporting me if I try to walk a few yards using my walking stick.

And that does not include extra washing of clothes and/or bedding if I have an accident involving problems with my waterworks. Then there is responsibility for my medication, ensuring we have enough of each one, preparing correct doses and making sure I take the correct tablets at the proper times.

At home, although our new home in Spain is suitable for wheelchair use, I do not yet need to use one indoors. Instead, I get around by supporting myself on furniture and the occasional grab rail. Sometimes I fall and Lisa has learned not to rush to help. If she is in another room, she just calls out to ask me if I am all right. A negative answer or no answer at all would bring her to my side in seconds.

One thing that is remarkable about Lisa is that she married me knowing that I have MS when her only previous experience of the illness was her grandfather and he, it seems, chose to be a sufferer not a fighter.

As my wife and carer, Lisa has to cope with so much, day and night, seven days a week. She has to contend with my occasional outbursts of frustration, my impatience when something won’t go right first time and, sometimes, my determination to do something that I am no longer physically able to achieve – that usually ends in a fall. I often joke that the floor and I are on very good terms as we spend so much time together.

In the ‘CAN do’ attitude to life page on this website, Lisa says I am her hero because “He truly amazes me every day. I don’t think I know a more positive person.” However, in truth, she is really my hero, or heroine if that word is still used today, for all she does both seen and unseen by others.

Lisa is my love, my lady, my life, my very best friend and my carer. She knows that I have a positive outlook on life but she is my strength when I am weak, my support when I am in danger of falling, and, above all, the most wonderful person in my whole life.

 

 

 

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Outsiders may rock political boats on both sides of the Atlantic

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Top: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Bottom: Jeremy Corbyn, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall.

Politics might not be everyone’s favourite subject but there is just so much going on at the moment, I cannot ignore it.

In the USA, the race to become the presidential candidate for each of the two parties has a clear front runner at this early stage. Republican Donald Trump, who started as an outsider, and Democrat Hillary Clinton are the favourites at this point but what happens if, and it is a big if, they do become the two candidates for what is the world’s most powerful role?

Clinton is an ex-First Lady, an ex-senator and an ex-Secretary of State. So, on the plus side, she has political and diplomatic experience. On the negative side, there are still questions about the details of any involvement she may have had in the Whitewater controversy of a few years ago and, more recently, her use of her private email server to handle sensitive, and even top secret, information during her time as Secretary of State.

For the  other side, Donal Trump is a businessman and TV personality and has no political experience but maybe that’s a major plus as the voters generally don’t like or trust the Washington DC political elite. He admits he is not politically correct and, again, the voters seem to love it. Trump may run out of steam but not out of money. One thing for sure is that he has enlivened the race for the White House.

I just had to ask Lisa about her views. She is American and says she does not like either candidate but that if she had to choose, she would vote against Clinton. Not really for Trump, just against Clinton.

Moving across the pond to Britain, we find that the Labour Party is embroiled in a campaign to elect a new leader. There are four candidates but one has injected the otherwise dour contest with a sense of interest and purpose, not to say controversy. And that is because left-winger Jeremy Corbyn started as a rank outsider but has risen to be the front runner and that is causing many in the party hierarchy to have major meltdowns, saying his victory would make the party unelectable. We’ll have to wait to see how that develops.

The other candidates are Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall.

Turning now to what will be our new home country in November, there is some good news for British expats living in Spain. The UK government’s Votes for Life Bill, as announced in the Queen’s Speech, is to remove the current limit of 15 years for voting in UK general elections. This is due to come into effect before the next general election but not before the European referendum which is a cause of disappointment for long-term expats.

Speaking as a person who is taking advantage of the current European freedom of movement rules to set up home in Spain, I am sure that you will understand that my vote will be a ‘Yes’, in favour of the UK staying an integral part of Europe.

 

 

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An old lesson for religions today

300px-SiegeOfAcre1291 Christian crusaders unsuccessfully defend Acre in the 12th century.

Many of the world’s problems, both today and throughout history, can be traced directly back to religion. Not that the different beliefs involved actually advocate violence and bloodshed, they all seem to include peace among their teachings and holy books.

It is important not to get the idea that any particular religion, or its followers, is to blame, because it isn’t.

Today’s IS and its jihad or holy war is made up of Sunni Muslims but we must remember that a few hundred years ago it was the Christians who waged their own holy wars, or Crusades, in the Middle East. Their avowed intention was to wrest the so-called holy lands from the Muslims and they were sanctioned by the pope and numerous European monarchs.

Even within the Christian faith, there is a history of hate and persecution. Ever since King Henry VIII severed ties with the pope and had himself proclaimed head of the church in England, effectively setting up what was to become the protestant Church of England, there have been problems. Catholic monarchs have persecuted Protestants; Protestant monarchs persecuted Catholics. And both were anti-Jewish.

In more recent history, Northern Ireland saw many years of troubles between the Catholic republicans and the Protestants who wished to remain in the UK.

In the Muslim world, there is also a serious, and often violent, split between the Sunnis and Shias, or Shi’ites, which has its origins in the immediate aftermath of the death of the prophet Mohammad.

These are just examples of the many religious differences, troubles, violence and wars throughout the world over the centuries – all in the name of their own god.

It should not be beyond the capability of people of all faiths to recognise religious differences and to peacefully co-exist with one another.

All it would take is for each faith’s, each denomination’s, leaders and followers to stop insisting that their way is the only way and that everyone else is ‘in error’ or ‘damned’

Am I religious? Where do I stand in this? I am religious but I am not Christian, Muslim, Jewish or a member any other religion considered as mainstream anywhere in the world today.

My religion predates Christianity and Islam, it does not seek to preach or convert others to its ways, although its adherents have themselves been persecuted in years gone by. It recognises the right of everyone to choose their own religion, or to choose none at all, and to live in peace with them all. It can be summed up in one word: Tolerance.

An old lesson there for the 21st century.

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¿Puedes hablar español? Not yet but I am learning

abc_frontpageA 2009 front page of ABC newspaper in Spain

Preparing for our move to Spain is much more than packing the belongings we want to take with us, it is also about getting ourselves ready to live there.

In fact, there is such a long list of things that need to be done before we leave that I have created a spreadsheet. Using this, we can keep track of what needs to be done with a planned date for it to be actioned and when each item was actually completed. Organised or what?

One entry that is not there, however, is one that we have already started, will continue right up to the day we leave and carry on even after we arrive at our new home.

I am talking about learning to understand and speak everyday conversational Spanish.

If we had chosen to move to a tourist area, we would have probably been able to get by in English alone but we wanted a different lifestyle, we wanted to live in an area in which, when we go to the nearest village, we would need to speak Spanish.

Now, anyone who knows me well would be aware that, other than English, my language skills are pretty limited. Learning languages is not something I ever found to be easy.

I studied French for five years at school only to have it give me up as a lost cause when I failed the spoken French exam, age 16. I think that the main problem was that I could not learn to think in French so I had to translate the question into English in my head, think of the answer and, hopefully, translate that answer into French. All that took too long, it was hopeless.

It was a similar tale with learning Welsh. Although I understood some of what I heard, I only ever learned to say a few words. Interestingly, though, one day when I was working as a journalist for the Caernarfon Herald two of my colleagues were talking to each other in the newsroom. I heard Eryl ask Neville a question to which he did not know the answer. I did, so I happily told them what it was.

There was silence. I had looked back at what I was doing but quickly looked up again to see two surprised faces. I didn’t know why until one of them said that they had been speaking in Welsh. I had understood the gist of their conversation without even considering the language and had then given the answer they needed but I had spoken in English.

Learning Spanish has, so far, proved easier than either French or Welsh but there is much still to learn and we will have to wait and see how it works in practice. One big advantage when learning Spanish is that its grammar, its sentence construction is very similar to English.

The development of my Spanish language skills may be at a very early stage but I am already feeling encouraged by my progress so far.

  • The Spanish in the heading reads ‘Can you speak Spanish?’

 

 

 

 

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Dream the impossible dream…..but sometimes our dreams do come true

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Left: The beautiful Na Pali coast, Hawaii in December. Right, reindeer in Norway, in July.

Dream the impossible dream? Ok, ok, what’s he rambling on about now?

To tell you the truth, my dreams only really started to come true after I met Lisa. Let me explain.

I first married in 1977. It was on 26th February to be exact, I was 24 years old. Over time, the relationship deteriorated until we were finally divorced on 5th September 2011. Somehow it had managed to last nearly 34½ years. It should have ended years earlier but inertia kept it going.

It was not a life in which I was happy. Of course, there were good times but overall neither of us were enjoying the marriage.

My earliest dreams that I never, ever thought would come true were as a youngster. My mum (who would eventually become a top breeder, exhibitor and international judge of Pembroke Welsh Corgis) sold a couple of dogs to someone in Honolulu. It sounded so exotic but was so far away, so out of my reach.

Australia was another country on my dream list, also sparked by mum exporting dogs there.

Similarly, at high school there was a trip to the USA but it was expensive and I thought it was too much money to ask my parents to find. So I said that I didn’t want to go but, in reality, I would have loved it.

During my first marriage, I wanted to go on a cruise but that was not to be. In fact, I had dreamed of crossing the Atlantic on a liner since that form of travel caught my attention as a child watching television.

Then it all changed. I won’t bore you with exactly what happened and when; it is enough to say that Lisa and I met virtually at first, playing a computer game. That was in October 2009 and after two years, and two divorces, we married.

married2  Lisa and I on our wedding day at sunset.

Not any old marriage ceremony for us though. We married on a beach in south western Florida, where Lisa then lived. It was at sunset on 31st October 2011, it was attended by Lisa’s mom, sister, brother in law and two of our friends whom we had also met online. That was my very first trip to the USA. A dream wedding in a dream location, with dolphins playing just off the beach.

A cruise holiday was next on my list and that came true in 2013 after I received a £1,200 grant from the short break fund of the UK’s Multiple Sclerosis Society. It was great, two weeks on board with various shore visits in and around the Norwegian fjords. That was on Lisa’s dream list too as her dad’s family were from Norway, so she is half-Norwegian.

A second, week long cruise, followed a few months later. This time we few to Milan for a circular cruise around the Mediterranean. A day on Sicily ticked off a second dream on Lisa’s list as her mom’s family came from there, making her half Sicilian.

Last year, we enjoyed an absolutely magnificent holiday. In December, we flew to Honolulu (childhood dream) and enjoyed three full days there visiting a luau and Pearl Harbour– among other things. After that we boarded a ship for a seven day cruise around the Hawaiian islands, with shore excursions every day. The whole trip was warm and sunny, even in December.

We then flew to New York (high school dream) and spent three full days there. My ex had never wanted to go to NYC but Lisa was born and brought up there and so I was given my own personalised tour with a very special tour guide. Highlights were riding to the top of the Empire State Building, going to the famous Radio City Music Hall to see its Christmas Spectacular, Times Square, Central Park, the 9-11 Memorial which I found very moving, the Rockefeller Center and store windows all decorated for Christmas.

Added to that, we travelled a little outside the city to meet up with Lisa’s other sister and her husband, plus their children and grandchildren.

Needless to say that the weather in New York was more wintry than in Hawaii but we went prepared for both.

This year, we are in for quite a busy time this autumn. In October we are sailing on an eight-day Atlantic crossing (childhood dream) from Southampton to New Jersey, then spending nine days touring several north-eastern states. We fly back – and then we are moving to Spain. There we will be able to escape the rainy British climate and be able to soak up sunshine for much of the year. And that is fulfilling a dream that I only had early this year.

Do I have dreams left on my list? Oh yes, a cruise taking in Australia, an African safari (photos only, no shooting), a Caribbean cruise and a second trip to Hawaii are all high up there.

But my biggest dream has already come true and I live it everyday. I am talking about meeting and marrying Lisa. She is the one true love of my life, my soulmate, my lover, my best friend – my everything. We make each other so happy and so full of life that my illness, my multiple sclerosis, pales into insignificance. That’s what dreams are made of.

 

 

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Access for people with disabilities. What is ‘reasonable’?

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For the disabled, particularly anyone in a wheelchair, gaining access to buildings and all their facilities can still be more than a little difficult in the UK. The situation in other countries may be similar but, from what I have seen, Britain seems to be lagging behind other westernised countries.

True, we have the Equality Act 2010 that followed the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and this legislation is supposed to make discrimination against the disabled illegal. But the trouble is that the law contains the word ‘reasonable’ and that term is subjective – what is reasonable to me might be unreasonable to someone else. Just who determines what is reasonable?

So, as far as access to a building and its facilities such as toilets, the owner of any commercial business otherwise known as the ‘service provider’ is required by law ‘to take reasonable steps to remove, alter or provide a reasonable means of avoiding a physical feature which made it impossible or reasonably difficult for disabled people to use a service.’

Hm, one sentence with reasonable twice and reasonably once; room enough, in my view, for said ‘service providers’ to avoid doing anything.

Of course, most shops, restaurants, offices open to the public and so on do have level entrances or have alternative means of access, such as ramps or lifts but some still need improvement.

Over the last year, Lisa and I have eaten out at several restaurants in Colwyn Bay, the town in which we live. All the meals have been enjoyable but the facilities for customer with disabilities have been a bit hit and miss.

Pen-y-Bryn bar and restaurant is in its own grounds with a large car park but, disappointingly, has just one bay bearing the wheelchair symbol. Access to the building and the necessary facilities is trouble free.

Dolce Vita Italian restaurant has an on-street location with a level entrance. It has its main seating area and facilities upstairs but when I telephoned to make a booking and mentioned my wheelchair, I was guaranteed a table in the small ground floor dining area and was assured that I would be welcome to use their staff restroom on the same level. The owner also told me that he had plans to put in new customer facilities downstairs.

Vergilio’s Pizzeria and Portuguese Grill also has an on-street location and when I phoned to book I was told that my wheelchair would not be a problem. Well, true the staff were attentive and most willing to help me overcome the step into and out of the building as the entrance is not level. However, the bigger problem is that the restrooms are upstairs and so beyond the reach of people like me.

The Venue @ The Clockhouse Indian restaurant is another on-street location with a step to go in. Once again, the owner and manager together made short work of helping me both in and out of the building. Inside, everything is one level but facilities for the disabled do need improving. I discussed the issues with the owner and was pleased to hear that he already had plans to address both of them.

In the past year, my wife and I have also dined at more than 10 restaurants in Honolulu, New York City and Spain. All had level entrances or gentle ramps, the ones with dining rooms not on the ground floor had elevators. All washroom facilities were perfect. A lesson worth learning.

Back in Colwyn Bay, The Toad restaurant is in a prime location with sea views from its first floor restaurant. But there lies the problem, access is by external stone stairs while inside there is a staircase going down to the toilets on the ground floor. When I asked about facilities for customers with disabilities, I was told nothing could be done as it is a Grade 2 Listed building. That’s a building of special interest.

However, to say nothing can be done to such a property is not true. Any alteration would need listed building consent but even if such consent was denied a service provider would still need to take whatever other steps that are reasonable to provide the service.

And to underline that, Planning Policy Guidance Note (PPG 15) issued by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions makes it clear that “it is important in principle that disabled people should have dignified easy access to and within historic buildings” and that with a proper approach “it should normally be possible to plan suitable access for disabled people without compromising a building’s special interest”.

So, alterations should still be possible – even to listed buildings.

Access laws in America seem more strict than in the UK. Lisa told me about a Florida restaurant that had an upstairs bar and entertainment venue with no access for people with disabilities. The owners were told to make such access available or to close their business. No messing.

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It’s summer? Really? Where is the sun?

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Do you get fed up with news reports claiming that this, or next, month is set to become the hottest July, or whatever, since records began? If so, you are just like me.

You see, it is not only the weather that irritates me with so-called summers having too much rain, overcast skies even when dry and biting winds. It is the seeming inability of the weather forecasters to get any prediction of sunny weather correct. They have no problem with rain; if that is forecast then it’s pretty definite it will rain. But say that we are set for sunny day, or even a collection of them, is doomed to failure.

Saturday news on the internet was quoting meteorologists as saying yesterday would see temperatures to rival Spain with them reaching 26 Celsius (79 Fahrenheit) in England, 24 (75) in Wales and 22 (72) in Scotland. Guess what, nope didn’t happen at least not here in Wales. Here it was only 19 Celsius (66 Fahrenheit) just after midday.

Looking out of the window, yesterday I saw a completely overcast sky with no blue showing at all. Also, although it soon died down, the wind was whistling around where we live.

So much for yesterday being the start of a heatwave.

And, for all the media hype about hottest months in the UK, there has not been one in 2015 so far. In fact, the hottest June, August, September and October since records began all happened in 2014.

This, in comparison, July got off to a great start with the hottest July day ever on the 1st but that was it. In fact, July was so cold on some days that we turned our heating on and, from talking to people, I know that they did the same thing. Needing heating in July is plainly ridiculous.

August is supposed to have a heatwave and with three weeks left that is still possible. But realistically it really is only possible, not probable at all. I would not put money on it and I am most certainly not going to be holding my breath in anticipation.

It may be memories that have improved with time but I can remember sunny summers in my childhood. Not every day, of course, but days and days when I could enjoy being out in the garden enjoying the sunshine. And I can clearly recall my mother and then teenage sister sunbathing on our lawn much more frequently in the early 1960s than would be possible now.

As for yesterday equalling the temperatures in Spain, what a laugh. Even if they had reached the predicted levels, they would not have been anywhere close to those in Spain. Checking yesterday’s weather where we will be moving to in November, I found it to be 31 Celsius (87 Fahrenheit), a bit different from the UK.

It just makes our plans all the more attractive and confirms that we are most definitely doing the right thing. All that lovely sunshine and natural vitamin D too. Lisa and I really cannot wait to be there.

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Stopping abuse of parking bays for disabled people

Not all physical disabilities, let alone the mental ones, are necessarily apparent to other people – and by ‘other people’ I include those of us who live with more obvious physical disabilities.

As just one example, let’s look at car parking bays denoted by the well known wheelchair symbol that are reserved for people with disabilities – and by that I mean people possessing the relevant document to allow them to use one of those bays. In the UK these are ‘parking cards’ but are popularly referred to as ‘blue badges’, in the USA they are generally known as ‘parking placards’ while in Canada they are called ‘parking permits’.

Different rules exist for each country, so users have to know where they may and may not park, but I am sure similar issues exist all over the world.

So, let’s look at the country I know best – the UK – and the use of parking bays for disabled people. These are reserved for blue badge holders who only obtain those by receiving one of a certain range of disability benefits or have gone through a pretty rigorous application process for the badge itself.

Now imagine this scene. A car pulls into a parking bay reserved for a person with a disability, the driver puts a blue badge on display and walks away from the vehicle without a walking aid and without any obvious sign of a disability.

Of course it is possible that another member of the family is improperly using the blue badge but is it possible that the correct person, the one with a disability, is whom has just walked away? Well, not all disabilities are obvious, some are known as ‘invisible disabilities’ and a person walking without a mobility aid of some kind might still be in considerable pain.

If someone is not receiving a benefit that automatically entitles him or her to a blue badge, that person has to undergo a walking ability assessment. In general terms, such a person will only be able to get a blue badge if he or she can walk only with great difficulty, at an extremely slow pace or with excessive pain.

Remember, though, anyone who is used to living in pain is usually very good at hiding it.

I have to admit that, in the past, I have on occasion been guilty of making rash judgements relating to someone’s walking ability on leaving a vehicle in a blue badge bay. Fortunately, my misguided comments never got outside my car and were quickly countered by my wife Lisa who, quite rightly, pointed out that all disabilities are not obvious just by looking.

It is more important to trust those who assess people’s abilities before issuing blue badges and to ensure that parking facilities provided for the benefit of drivers or passengers with disabilities are not abused. We need to protect our parking bays from abuse by anyone without a blue badge or by someone misusing a badge issued for a family member who is not in the car at that time.

It is not our, or anyone else’s, place to cast doubt on another’s right to have a blue badge or whatever the parking permit is called in any particular country.

 

 

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MS is the driving force behind our move to Spain

There were a number of factors which lead Lisa and I to want to move, then to decide roughly where to go and finally to choose what we consider to be our perfect home but, without a doubt, multiple sclerosis was – and is – the main incentive.

Let me explain. Taking things in order, we realised that our present rented flat is not suitable to convert to being totally wheelchair friendly if my MS deteriorates enough for me to reach that stage. Currently, I do not use a wheelchair at home, only when I am out and about. But we had to think of what the future could hold, so we needed a place that either was already suitable or could be easily converted if the need does arise.

Secondly, we knew that my former marital home was for sale and a deal would be likely to be finalised by the summer and then I would have just six months to spend it on a new home without my benefits being affected.

So, having decided to move, we then started to look. We scoured websites like Rightmove that are popular ways for estate agents to advertise properties they have for sale but nothing seemed to match our needs.

We were getting fed up with the weather and we both wished for more sunshine. Also, we had noticed that my MS symptoms seemed to get worse as temperatures changed; more consistent weather was called for. Then, one day we were talking about our holiday two years ago when, on my November birthday, we had been sitting outside a Barcelona bar sipping Sangria in the sunshine. And that was when I suggested to Lisa that we should move to the south of Spain.

She was unsure at first as she didn’t want me to later regret leaving the nation of my birth. No such trouble for her though, as Lisa left the USA more than three years ago. Also, for the 18 years before she moved to Wales she lived in Florida so had become used to hotter temperatures. Anyway, once she was reassured about my feelings, she was as enthusiastic as I had become.

Picking an area of Spain was a little more difficult as we did not want to be far from the sea but wanted to live close to Spanish people and did not want to be surrounded by tourists. We settled on Almeria province but not the city itself, the home we found is within easy reach of a little village but only a 15 minute drive from the Mediterranean.

After looking at details of many Spanish properties online, we knew we had to take a trip out there, which we did at the end of April. It was so worth it. We knew as soon as we entered the second property that it was for us. It felt like our home and while I was sitting talking to the owner, Lisa was already working out in her mind what could go where.

Our living room in Spain looking from the back door through the wide arch into the kitchen diner. Beyond the display cabinets on the left is another wide entrance way into the hall that gives access to the wetroom and two bedrooms

Some work needed to be done before we move in but this is already in hand. We agreed the details and accepted a quote and the seller, who lives nearby, agreed to oversee the work for us. When I received my share of the money from my previous matrimonial home, we completed the purchase of our dream home that will be wheelchair accessible right from the start. Actually, we received the money into our bank account on a Friday and we completed the purchase on the Monday.

The work includes stripping out the old bathroom and installation of a wet room complete with a large shower area with a fold-down seat, fitting a new wider back door and fly screen leading from the living room out onto the decking, a ramp from the back garden up to the decking and a levelled and resurfaced walkway from the drive to the back garden. There is other work being done as well but these are the main items to make life easier for me.

It really is ideal and living in the warmth with plenty of natural vitamin D will be perfect.

As an added bonus, we even have a second bedroom so friends and relatives can stay.

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Driving will be all right on the night

two way traffic sign

Driving on the right hand side of the road, or the ‘wrong side’ to Brits, is something that I knew would take a little getting used to – having driven on the left for almost 45 years.

Lisa, being American says they drive on the right so we, on the left, are the ones on the wrong side. My counter to that is that Americans drive on the right but Brits drive on the correct side of the road.

I had driven on the right before, some years ago now, when visiting friends in northern France. But then I was driving my own right hand drive car. So, it was with some sense of trepidation that, having hauled myself upright from my wheelchair, I eased myself behind the wheel of a left hand drive car for the very first time.

This was towards the end of April this year, when Lisa and I spent nine days enjoying beautiful weather as we looked for our new home.

Our plane landed just as the sun was setting but by the time we had got through passport controls and customs, and then completed formalities at the car hire desk, it was dark before we were actually able to leave the airport.

So, picture the scene if you will. I am driving a car that is not one with which I am familiar, the driver’s seat is on the left so the controls are on my right instead of the more familiar left but luckily it is an automatic so no need to change gear. I am driving on totally unknown roads, following a list of directions received via email, at night. And I have 160 miles to go.

I felt like an explorer; I certainly needed a sense of adventure to deal with all that.

So, we set off without any incidents and we are making steady progress, if a little slow. It is about 30 minutes into our journey, while driving down an autovia (motorway to us Brits) that it happens.

It? What ‘it’? Did you have an accident? I can almost hear you asking.

No, nothing like that. The ‘it’ in question is that our car is overtaken. Nothing wrong in that, in itself, as I am driving cautiously…….but in this case I am overtaken by a truck! I have a nagging feeling that I need to speed up a bit.

Well, by this time I am feeling more confident and so we do begin to travel faster – although I do keep to all the speed limits, which is pretty unusual for me.

The only problem I am having by this stage is to keep the car in the middle of the lane. You see, I keep positioning it as though I am driving a right hand drive car, so we are going too close the edge of the road. In fact, I touch the rumble strip about a dozen times along our 160 mile journey.

Eventually, at about 1.15 in the morning, we reach our destination. Tired but safe.

My confidence grew over the nine days we spent in Spain and I felt quite relaxed driving on the right, quite comfortable in a left hand drive car.

So, having found the home of our dreams – actually only the second property we looked at – we returned to the UK. We collected our car from Manchester Airport and headed back to Wales. I remember saying that it felt strange to be driving on the left again. Oddly, it felt wrong.

The next morning, we collected our two cats from the cattery. I turned right out of the gate onto the wide country lane and had gone about 20 or 30 yards before Lisa asked “Shouldn’t we be on the left hand side of the road?”

I quickly corrected our position, luckily there was no other traffic about.

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