Well, we're back from Venice and we had a wonderful time. There are so many things I could write about the trip and I do think it's worth recording many of our experiences, so bear with me. It's not the most disabled-friendly city in the world, but he managed really well. We saw the physio before we went, and she agreed that two sticks would be a good idea. There are always crowds of people in Venice, and using two sticks alerted them to his vulnerability and allowed for a degree of space around him. He can certainly move faster than when using just one. People were very understanding and sympathetic. From the old Italian woman (70's?) who helped him off the bus in the Piazzale Roma when we arrived from the airport - I wasn't sure how he would feel about that - to the man who himself had difficulty negotiating the steps on a little bridge. He saw that Roch needed to be by the balustrade more than he did himself, and as he passed by, he patted Roch on the shoulder, muttering in Italian (We're pretty sure he was muttering in sympathy but for all we knew he could have been cursing Roch for being in his way - I don't think so).
We had some interesting encounters. We met Larek, an American who asked Roch straight out why he had to wear his foot-ups (we were travelling on a water bus -vaporetto- at the time). This led to a conversation about the disease and Larek was keen for Roch to get an opinion on the effect mercury has on the nervous system. Lots of research is being done, he said, on the detrimental amounts of mercury in the water in The States. He praised Roch's positive outlook but the real moment for Larek came when Roch told him his name! Larek was overcome with a sense of coincidence or happenstance, if you like. He was in Venice, writing a pamphlet on St. Roch as he has an interest in saints with a dog in their story. I wasn't sure how Roch would react to this guy, but they ended up having a good conversation. I don't know how much the other travellers understood. Larek's little girl Angie was sure gettin' bored. We met up with him by chance again later in the week and photographs were taken, greetings exchanged. A nice guy. Maybe a bit too spiritual for Roch.
How was the travelling, you ask? Well, thereby hangs a tale. I think I'll leave the return journey to a later post, but on the way out well, where are you now Mandy? The wonderful Mandy. I had, of course, requested Special Assistance when booking. When we arrived to check in at Gatwick, the Easyjet queue was awesome (thank you Larek) in its length and I was frankly appalled. I left Roch with the case in the queue and approached the Special Assistance Desk. First of all, I had to report that the Sp Ass telephone downstairs had been vandalised, so we hadn't been able to call ahead for help to get to Check In. I explained this at the desk and was met with an expressionless stare from a hard faced blonde woman. She told me they knew about this and 'We're working on it.' Not fast enough love. However, I learned from my father many years ago to meet soulless officialdom with a pleasant demeanour (at least to start with) and I expressed my gratitude to hear that Gatwick Special Assistance were on the job. I then went on to say that it would be quite impossible for my husband to stand in the Easyjet queue and that we had requested help when booking. Judging by the look on her face, Blondie had about as much interest in offering assistance as the desk she was sitting at. In fact, the desk was showing more interest. But before Blondie had time to open her mouth, the woman sitting next to her stood up and introduced herself. It was Mandy, our Fairy Godmother. Mandy turned to her colleague and said simply, 'I'll deal with this', and so she did.
Off we went, collecting a wheelchair on the way. 'Don't you worry, love, I'll explain how it all works,' she assured me. She would brook no argument from the man himself. Less than five minutes later, she had Roch in a wheelchair at the top of the gigantic queue, straight in there. A stocky woman, Mandy, strong in mind and body. I got the impression that whatever she made up her mind to do, you just didn't stand in her way. And no-one did. From the check in desk to the Special Assistance in Duty Free, where she deposited us to wait for our Gate to be called, it was smooth and trouble free. Mandy looked after us and we had cause to look back with nostalgia on our dealings with Mandy, let me tell you. On the outward journey, we were well looked after. Graham took over from Mandy to bring Roch to the Gate, after a late call for the flight. He was determined to get us there on time, and kept up a polite conversation until leaving us right at the aircraft door. Graham has highly recommended a cruise experience to us - maybe for next year? He and his wife (he's Australian, she's from the UK) enjoy a cruise - but he advises us to choose one of the bigger ships - better disabled facilities.
A pleasant, hassle free trip shouldn't depend on the kindness of individual Special Assistance people or Airport officials, but by the time we were home again, I would realise that in the real world, it does. I would also realise that Roch needs a Carer now when travelling in a way that was not necessary in February, when we went to Tenerife, and I have to be up to the job.