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Disabled travel


On June 4, when I had returned from France, I was interviewed on the ABC local station in Adelaide, 891 5AN, by Philip Satchell. I think he was struck by the idea of, firstly, someone taking their electric scooter with them on holidays overseas, and secondly, that there didn't seem to be any scooters in France. Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.

PS: Speaking of France, Tim Potter is one of the ABC'S managers and he
    has just come back from a trip to France.  I don't think he'd mind me
    saying, Tim suffers from MS and he gets about, he's quite mobile, but
    he uses a stick and he only walks short distances.  He's brilliantly
    covered this, as have so many people in this country, by using one of
    these scooters.  And I said to him, how did you get on on your trip?
    Did you take your scooter?  And the answer is yes.
TP: Yes I did.  I understand that all the airlines will fly your scooter
    free of charge, which suddenly opens the world to you.  Mine is a
    very small scooter, very light, only weighs about 48 kilos.  But the
    world opens up, it's fabulous.  And I got to France, I was in France
    for three weeks. and you know I didn't see another scooter for the
    entire time.  I saw lots of wheelchairs, I saw people on sticks, but
    no other scooters.  Which meant I certainly was an object of
PS: So people took an interest ...?
TP: Absolutely!  And you have to be used to this.  When I was a student I
    rode a moped which broke me into this business of being an object of
    interest.  Especially children are interested, kids are fabulous
    because they have no inhibitions, they'll come up and just ask you.
    Or point and say "Look! Look!"
PS: You've often been surprised that I think I'm about the only person
    around here who pinches your scooter and takes it for a ride around 
    the building.

TP: Because I think most people somehow feel that they're not sure what
    it will telegraph if they ride on the scooter.  Three people have,
    you're one of them.
PS: I think it might be the bad omen, like walking under a ladder.
TP: Exactly right. although having said that, my kids think its
    fantastic!  And their friends want to have a ride too!  Again, kids.

PS: Where did you go in France?.

TP: Essentially a U-shaped itinerary starting in Strasbourg and looping
    down through the Dordogne and then up to Paris.
PS: Starting in Strasbourg?
TP: I have friends there.  In the apartment building they have very
    little lifts, and maybe that's why they don't have scooters, because
    if you live in apartment, where do you put this?  In this apartment
    it was a very strange lift, it had a door on the front (which you got
    in on the ground floor) and a door on the side (which you got out
    from on the third floor).  Which made getting in and out in a scooter
    very difficult.

    The publican in Paris was very understanding, obviously has a lot of
    international guests, and said, just leave it in the foyer, just plug
    it in (of course you have to recharge them).  He was terrific.
    Although France has one thing which we don't have, and that's cobble
    stones!  Here I have something with solid rubber types and no
    suspension... you get sick of the cobble-stones after awhile.  And
    their kerbs are very high and there are some of those lips on them
    for things with wheels, but fortunately I am a bit mobile so I could
    lift it a bit if I needed to. And people were nice, there were lots
    of people who helped me.
PS: Did you find you got access to the buildings all right in France?
    You're not a good example because you could get around this building
    without your scooter.
TP: Yes I could but with difficulty, and I think there are a lot of
    people in Australia, in the world, like that.  I have thought that
    travel would be a markedly different exercise were I to be totally
    immobile, and I know people like that.  But we know more people who
    are partially immobile.  And France is okay, especially in the newer
    buildings.  With the older ones, as an example, the Orangerie in
    Paris there are some lovely pictures you can only see by walking.  On
    the other hand, the Louvre has relatively recently been renovated,
    they have little lifts everywhere, like in Ron Radford's art gallery
    here on North Terrace, with lifts to get you up those flights of four
    or five steps.  The Louvre is fine although to get around the Louvre
    (which is like a football field, it's like five football fields), you
    use one or two... or three or four of these little lifts.
PS: I'm tempted to say that travel with MS is a fairly courageous thing
    to do.  Did you have to sort it out before you went, did you have to
    think hard about whether you would make the big excursion?
TP: Yes and no.  I made some enquiries but a lot of it was flying blind.
    Because with a bit of help you can lift the scooter and so I decided
    to chance it.  But for example I discovered their very fast train,
    the TGV, has this thing they wheel up which is a ramp.  You'd never
    see that here, or I should say, I've never seen that here.
PS: Did you take the TGV from Strasbourg to Paris?
TP: No, it runs from the south to Paris, and I joined it in the Loire.
    It took an hour at 300 km/hr.  It was just amazing and that was part
    of the experience.
PS: The French, post the bomb, what was it all like?
TP: That was terrific too because they know they've been mucking around
    in our back-yard, they're just so nice.  Your ordinary French person
    is somewhat apologetic because, essentially, they've been defecating
    in our back-yard.  All those stories about Gallic arrogance, I didn't
    experience any of it.
PS: Not at all?
TP: Well... they do shut down for lunch which takes a bit of getting used
    to. Everything in France closes at lunchtime.  You turn around and...
    excuse me?  What's happening?  All the shops are closed!  They go to
    lunch.  One particularly arrogant woman in one shop just wanted to go
    to lunch, and if you want to buy something you had better buy it
    right now!  None of this looking stuff!  That was the only thing.
    Also, there's an importance in meeting them half-way: everybody in
    France speaks English but a lot of them, won't unless you make the
PS: To speak French...
TP: Yes.  They're very formal, it's always "Bonjour Monsieur", you take a
    stab at it, and then the conversation retreats to a sort of dumb show
    and they speak a bit of English.  But I did miss a real conversation,
    there were times I wanted to ask, "Why is this... ?" or "How long...
    ?" or "What's the story about... ?" and my French was not good
    enough.  But nonetheless, one year of French at age 14 got me
    through!  There's hope yet.
PS: Was it easier in the Dordogne than in Paris?  Did you enjoy that
TP: It was different, although I must say people were terrific.  I can
    remember we were at the Festival of Strawberries in Balieu sur
    Dordogne.  They grow the most fabulous strawberries and they have a
    festival.  They had the world's biggest strawberry flan and everyone
    was bogging into it, and this man and woman of advanced years came up
    to me and asked would I like them to get me some?  I said: it's all
    right, someone's already doing a run for me!

PS: Somebody has asked -- not knowing that you are a man somewhat close
    with his wallet -- how much did your scooter cost?
TP: Scooters vary, mine cost around $2,000, but they cost around about 3
    or 4 for the really flash ones, but I haven't priced them for over a
    year.  And I bought mine second-hand.
PS: I thought it was nice to celebrate the scooter again because it has
    made the most extraordinary difference to some people with
TP: Yes, I can go up and down Rundle Mall if I feel like it.  It sounds
    so simple, but ...
PS: You can stay working, otherwise this building would be challenging
    without your scooter.  And that Tim can go to France I think is
    fantastic.  And that you found the French lovely to deal with.  Did
    you go up the Eiffel Tower?
TP: No I didn't because -- this is a funny story -- it was closed due to
    an industrial dispute over staff parking.  So, all round the world
    it's gratifying to know that the important issues are parking and tea
    money.  But I saw it.
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