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 interest. 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 effort... 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 more? 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 disabilities. 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.
Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | MS | TV | Critics | Disabled Travel | My Trip | My Home
See also another good page on disabled travel, Global Access.
Back to the top of this page.
Back to the first page