A Zebra’s eye view of Amalfi.

My wonderful house elf organised and planned a week in Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast which, as a disabled traveller, was exciting but incredibly daunting. For those who don’t already know me, I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, arthritis, fibromyalgia, Reynauds, Sjogrens, with limited mobility through weakness and fatigue and high pain levels. I use a mobility scooter for any distance walking and a stick when my hands allow it. So, armed with Google Translate and a sturdy house elf, we set off for our Italian adventure and, I have to say, pretty much nailed the Amalfi experience.

Here’s my quick(ish) guide to holidaying in Sorrento, disabled style.

Roads

Initially daunting and terrifying but once you work out that everyone is trying to avoid each other, and that they actually expect and are prepared for you to pull out on you, then it’s fairly straightforward. The roads are chaotic at the best of times manic for the rest and you need eyes in the back of your head (well my house elf did) but it’s all very calm. We didn’t once see anyone getting irate, tooting their horn in anger, shouting or waving their arms around. Tooting the horn generally seems to be for letting you know they are there, and may overtake, or you are a chuffing big bus coming round a blind bend (which is very handy)! Seat belts appear optional, particularly for the elderly generation and on the back seats. Car seats for kids range from a decent type, to granny’s lap! Scooters are everywhere and can carry up to four people and/or a dog or two! You can also use your mobile phone, smoke and ride alongside your pals for a catch up and a gossip. Helmets are worn, although often aren’t strapped on and we even witnessed one driver having theirs held behind the head, you know, just in case? The smallest of children don’t have helmets, but if they survive and get big enough, they are given one.

People

Oh my goodness, the locals are so friendly! They must deal with hundreds and thousands of people every summer, it’s hot and most people don’t speak their language, but they are polite, respectful, helpful and have a great sense of humour! We only came across one grumpy shop owner the whole time! They love it when you try and speak their language and are happy (and thrilled) to help you get it right if you ask. Try hard enough and you will earn yourself a complimentary lemoncello at the end of your meal! Talking of lemoncello, do make sure you try it and if you don’t come home with 3kg of sherbet lemons then… well you are made of stronger stuff than he!

Flora and Fauna

Loved the new plants we spotted, particularly blue plumbago and angel’s trumpet. Loved watching the carpenter bees each morning and also (finally) spotted a humming bird moth! We didn’t see anything bigger than a lizard or mouse and, like Malta, very few birds, other than crows and seagulls. Lots of cats and dogs though! The scenery is stunning, particularly along the Amalfi Coast road and the loop road past Ravello. Every twist and turn gives you another dramatic cliff drop or hidden valley, with the Mediterranean constantly sparkling before you. With steep mountains, deep valleys, impressive coastline and, of course, the ever present Vesuvius to look at, you will never be short of something to photograph. Oops, I may have forgotten to mention the lemons! You may come across a lemon tree, or thousand, they are, after all, what the area is famous for!

Cleanliness

One of the first thing we noticed in Napoli was the bags and bags of rubbish piled up in the streets. It looked like the third week of a binmen strike, but it turns out they collect all the rubbish most nights, including in the smaller towns. However, littering is definitely an issue that’s ruining the beauty of the region and, along the same lines as the N500 and Skye, it would appear tourists are the main culprits. Whoever feels they need to chuck their water bottle over the side of Vesuvius seriously needs a talking to, but many, many must do it. Like the N500, most lay-bys are filled with discarded baby wipes, plastic bottles and food wrapping. The shoreline around Capri was littered and I definitely freaked out when my arm pushed through a plastic bag when I was swimming. Please, don’t be THAT tourist. Show Italy the same respect you would expect guests in your garden to give you. Take your litter back to your hotel/campsite/B&B, you managed to carry it there full, so taking empty wrappers and bottles back should be a doddle – and just don’t use wipes, ever!

Eating Out

Obviously the most important part of a holiday and my expanded waistline tells its own story!

When it comes to eating out, most places either took my scooter inside or I would park it outside and the person on the door would watch it. The staff would happily move tables around and fit me in, after all, they don’t want you going to their rivals next door! As a majority of the eating is outside anyway, it was rarely an issue.

The pizzas there are obviously amazing and even our one disappointment (from a local carry out) was still better than most I have had in the UK! I am also addicted to their donuts (hence my waistline). They taste how I remember ours being, whereas now they seem dry and the crust is always crispy and very greasy. I will admit to squirreling one away to bring home! Their pasta dishes were as varied as they were delicious and we even ate in the home of cannelloni in Sorrento. As a nation, I now realise we have a lot to learn about our ‘so called’ paninis and I cringe to think of Italians coming to our country and ordering them! As a vegetarian, I am always dreading the menus, but most places offer vegetarian options with mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, courgettes (zucchini) and aubergines being the standard alternatives. I made the decision to give up pursuing the vegan option, but we did notice some vegan dishes on the menus. Failing that, there were always chips, vegetables and salad on the menu and gnocchi in tomato sauce is delicious! Keep an eye out for the cover charge (coperto) and if it’s not included, they expect a tip and often deserve it too, especially if they make you a ‘yours and theirs’ pizza!

Disabled Access

Having read the Amalfi guide book and seeing that disabled travel around Sorrento, Naples and the Amalfi Coast was practically impossible, I had contented myself with the fact I would be spending a lot of time gazing longingly up and down stepped streets filled with tempting shops. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of no go areas, but if you have a good sturdy wheelchair, or mobility scooter and a willing pair of hands in support, then you can see plenty. A lot of the beaches have lifts down, which are free for disabled users and whilst I do worry they ship their own disabled people off to more accessible towns, they are incredibly respectful of wheelchair users. Their pavements are generally ‘cobbled’, so make sure dentures are secured and bladders are emptied before each trip out, however, once you work out that all motorists will avoid hitting you, the road is your friend. Lowered kerbs are few and far between and even then there’s no guarantee a car, scooter (or both) aren’t parked on top of it. There are disabled parking spaces, but they aren’t easy to find and there doesn’t seem to be any policing of them, so they are often full. It was easier for me to scoot from our B&B into town than drive. If you have limited mobility or are unsteady on your feet, my recommendation would be to hire yourself some wheels and take some muscle with you to help you up and down kerbs! The streets are busy and uneven and your experience will be far more enjoyable if you aren’t trying to negotiate a smooth path. In all, I found the whole area far easier to get around than London, as long as I was patient and prepared for some no go areas.

Even Herculaneum has made adjustments for wheelchairs, with metal ramps placed between the narrow pavements. However, the paths are bumpy, kerbs are steep and the ‘roads’ are paved with slabs. If you had limited or no mobility, then there’s a lot you will miss out on, but you can still get a sense of the city and it won’t cost you a euro. If, like me, you have some independent mobility, you can park up and go into the houses, but even then, some are still too tricky or out of reach.

Vesuvius has disabled parking at the first checkpoint and they have 4×4 Fiat Pandas that nip between the stations, so you can combine a walk with a few lifts. The path is bumpy and very gravelly, so getting even the thickest of tyres to grip would be tricky I think. Batteries and motors would probably fry at the sight of some of the inclines, plus the heat, so a good off-road chair and several strong travelling companions would be the best way, if you wanted to avoid the 4x4s. The view from all the checkpoints is stunning, so even if you make it to the first, you will be blown away, potentially quite literally as it can get pretty blowy up there. Once again, disabled visitors (and a carer) are free, so other than the €5 parking fee, you have nothing to lose! Top tip: if you are parking at the top carpark, stop and get your ticket on the way up, otherwise you’ll need to go back down for it – you can learn from our mistake!

If the Infinity Terrace at Villa Cimbrone, Ravello is on your ‘must see’ list then don’t be put off by anyone telling you it’s not possible. If it’s not on your list, add it now! It’s a long walk to the Villa from the square, so less mobile people definitely need wheels, but if you have a blue badge, you can park on the street for free. There’s a smart hotel right up the top, so they have made the narrow paths accessible for their luggage carts, which means it’s good for us less mobile types too!

A word of caution though – it is very, very steep. My scooter tripped it’s circuit breaker several times and you would need pretty strong muscles to push yourself up the steep ramps and slopes but, if you take your time and have a strong helping hand, the view will reward you tenfold. The last hurdle though is a set of about eight steps into Villa itself. This is actually where a lot of people stop anyway as it’s €7 euros each to go into the gardens and onto the terrace (no discount). We dismantled (and by we I mean my ever patient house elf) my scooter, carried it up and reassembled. There was somewhere for me to perch and wait each time so, with strong friends and a steady nerve, you could potentially be lifted up the steps. Other visitors were always stopping to offer help when it looked like we were struggling, so don’t be put off if there’s only two of you.

Finally, a boat trip to Capri. We chose to leave from Sorrento and spend the day on the boat. There was no space for my scooter and getting around the boat was difficult, but doable for me. A preparatory phone call could well secure wheelchair support, but I definitely wouldn’t just turn up as there would definitely need to be a degree of management and/or adaptation. That being said, once they realised my issues, I didn’t have to walk back to the bus at the end of the trip and they dropped us off outside our hotel, which was very much needed!

The boat parks up so you can go for a swim, but getting on and off the boat is very hard work and I needed a lot of help. They will happily lend you a life jacket or life bouy as a swimming aid if you aren’t confident, which I would highly recommend for a less stressful bob around in the Med!

We had four hours on Capri. We shopped, ate lunch and took the furnicular up to Ana Capri. Again, get your ticket before you queue! There’s a disabled ramp to get you on and off and lots of places to get around at the top. We were very much limited by my low mobility and the heat and then made the mistake of joining the standard queue for the return journey. Don’t be like us – ask to use the lift!

The alternative method is to get the ferry from Sorrento to Capri and a boat trip from there, giving you the option of having your wheelchair/scooter on the island at least. I saw several scooter and wheelchair users up at the top of Ana Capri too!

Napoli Airport

Their special assistance is fantastic, but a bit of a hidden secret, particularly airside. Going through security was a doddle, even for an anxious traveller like me! To save you wandering around aimlessly like us, for Special assistance airside, head to Gate A1 and it’s just as you come out of the lift on your right hand side. They’res still food and shops down there, although less choice, but there is a lego shop.

Toilets

I have left the most important holiday deal-breaker to last! Toilets. As with the UK, toilets can be a hit and miss, particularly the disabled facilities. Restaurants etc tend to keep theirs very clean, although toilet seats are not always included, irrespective of where you are. Even the disabled toilets at Napoli Airport don’t have seats, which does make things difficult and hardwork, especially if you have balance issues and short legs, like me! Also as with the UK, I would recommend carrying hand sanitiser and water (and a spare toilet seat if you have the space).

All in all? I saw a lot more than I expected and loved the whole experience. Not sure I will be using any of my new-found skills around my home town, but they will stand me in good stead for my next adventure! Ciao!

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I have spread my wings 

To many, I am sure a week in the sun is an annual pilgrimage and is as important a tradition as Sunday lunch or Easter Eggs, but for me, the thought of going abroad has filled me with anxiety for years.

Years ago, before I was a wife and mum, I watched the film Buster, with Phil Collins. The scene with Julie Walters in hospital, trying to get somebody to understand what was wrong with her sick child filled me with fear and left a lasting scar on my memory.

So when my children came along, the idea of a foreign holiday was shelved; for a long time. We took our holidays close to home, enjoying the stunning beauty of the West Coast of Scotland, with enough lauding from me to secure an ambassadorial role with Visit Scotland. Years passed and my family grew up, but as my health and mobility declined, so my anxiety around overseas travel grew. My life began to shrink into my smaller and smaller comfort zone. I told others I was simply a creature of habit and myself that I was set in my ways and quite content. Besides, why did we need to travel with all this beauty right on our doorstep? 

As the children began to move on, the talk of foreign holidays was back up for debate, with my husband keen to explore further afield together. I was still full of ‘what ifs’ and ‘it’s too difficult’ and couldn’t see how I could travel abroad and feel confident that all my needs would be met. To be frank, the whole idea scared me witless and I withdrew more into my comfy shell, confident in my decision and convinced I wasn’t missing out on anything spectacular. 

Enter Flying Scholarships for Disabled People. I was lucky enough to be chosen for selection and, much to my disbelief, blessed with a scholarship. There is no way I can overstate the changes that I have been able to make in my life, since those three weeks in June 2016. It’s basically like playing 52 card pick up, I chucked everything I knew about myself up in the air and re-ordered it into a new and surprising deck. 

My new, post FSDP deck holds a whole host of cards I never even realised I held. Who knew I was capable of running my own little craft business, or writing well-received articles for a local magazine? Certainly not me, but it seems those clever people at Flying Scholarships for Disabled People were more aware of my potential than I was. I thought I needed a whole new deck, but they realised I just needed to give my life a good shuffle.

So, it was with my new-found disabled confidence that we planned our first romantic getaway and I chose Malta, a place which has always lived in a small corner of my heart and somewhere I never thought I would see again and as the last few hours of my holiday tick away with the setting of the sun, I am reminded of just how far I have come, figuratively and, finally, literally. I have reached for the sky and spread my wings. 

Flying Scholarships for Disabled People is only able to deliver flying scholarships as a result of the incredible generosity of donations and fundraising. This year, to say thank you, I am aiming to raise £1,500 for the charity, so if my story has inspired you, please visit my Virgin Money Giving page or Kinneddar Crochet Facebook page and help me spread the word and reach my target. Thank you. 

Only the names were changed 

​I have been efficiently checked into Special Assistance by Bubbly Babs, who has taken me shopping for food supplies before safely delivering me to the secret special area. 

My fellow elite and special passengers are very much of the OAP variety and I am waiting patiently with an earmuffed green-topped lady and a talkative brown-toppedlady. This moment provides an excellent opportunity for some pre-flight people watching. 

Green lady has finished sighing heavily and organising herself, so is now wandering around asking the confused, smiling staff about passenger wifi.  Not being passengers, the staff are baffled. Keen for closure, I beckon her over and, with a couple of screen swipes and a form filled, she’s happily playing 888 Ladies and the staff can stand down. 

Brown lady opposite me is on her second telling of  Starbucks’ slow service and inability to spell her name correctly. Shockingly, they put an “h” on the end. She’s been wheeled away; clearly complains are dealt with promptly in the secret special area. 

Her spot has been taken by white-topped lady, who has is aware of the complaints procedure, so is keeping very quiet.  

Rushing Roger has booked a mixed double team in who have taken themselves shopping, with disgruntled mutterings about not having a member of staff helping them navigate the shops. I am not going to  tell them about helpful Bubbly Babs. 

There’s still no sign of brown Starbucks lady and white lady has still to so much as sigh inwardly. A pink-topped lady has arrived, but seems unwilling to be penned in and so is heading out to forage. 

Green lady has wandered back from a tour around departures and is back with the smiling staff to enquire if she has time to eat her sandwich. Earmuffs still firmly in place, her ability to hear or speak quietly is severely hampered. 

Pink lady has returned from her second foraging trip and is happily munching her hoard. 

Clearly impressed by the secret special service, green lady is phoning her sibling. She’s wandering back to the still smiling staff who are now speaking to said sibling to provide secret special information. 

A young lady has checked in but has sped away in her elite wheelchair, clearly worried the silver lady condition is contagious. 

Bubbly Babs is back and has made polite enquiries as to the standard of my Starbucks muffin.  We have concluded it was adequately tasty enough to fill the gap. She tells me white lady is on the same flight. White lady has smiled and nodded happily, but has yet to speak up. 

A teenager has arrived, her beautified companions capturing the moment with an unrehearsed selfie. Check-in done, they have charged off to shop at, one assumes, Claire’s Accessories. 

A tiny, blue-topped lady has arrived and is happily chatting about past travel and holiday experiences with white jumper lady. Apparently, in Corfu you need to be aware of youths who like loud music and drinking, so checking ahead is advised to avoid being near these awful people, who are sometimes even British. Shocking. 

Brown Starbucks lady has clearly gone for good, the mixed doubles are still shopping and there’s no sign of the young wheelers.  Green lady seems more settled and pink lady has moved her suitcase again. White lady has still to speak and tiny blue lady has nipped to the loo whilst jumper lady and pink lady are discussing her tiny impressive age. 

White lady has been whisked away, silence didn’t save her. They are coming for the rest us and there’s much excitement and bustling. They don’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation, brown Starbucks lady never came back. 

We’ve been herded onto a bus; my wheelchair is lying folded and crippled beside me.  Green lady has asked the smiling staff how to put her seat belt on and is now happily regaling tales of New Zealand’s superior roads and public toilet facilities.  Nobody is singing and the conversation has moved fluidly on to mutually shared, silver lady incontinence problems. 

There’s till no sign of brown Starbucks lady. 

Onboard I buckle up and close my eyes and let the excited chatter about special secret travel wash over me. It’s time to go home. 

This relaxed and wordy moment was brought to you by Flying Scholarships for Disabled People. To hear more, please make a donation. To hear less, please make a bigger donation. 

*The account you have just read is a true and slightly accurate recollection of my people watching moment, only the names were changed. 

Flying Scholarships for Disabled People is only able to deliver flying scholarships as a result of the incredible generosity of donations and fundraising. This year they are introducing their Scholars’ Scholar campaign which aims to raise at least £10,000 – enough to fund one scholarship.  My blog is my small part of that campaign and I hope to help raise £500 to say thank you for this incredible gift. If my story has inspired you to donate, please visit my Virgin Money Giving  page. Thank you. 

What exactly is the problem?

There have to be times in your life where pause for a few moments and look at where you have come from before it’s eyes front again and on with the journey.

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You may remember (I know I still do) the panic that ensued when Easy Jet sent me an email letting me know I could check in for my flight to Bristol. My blog Procastiblogging diaried the complete panic I was spinning in to; trying to think about packing, going away for three weeks, being alone.  The blog finished with …

Now I am pretty sure anyone reading this is wondering exactly what the problem is.

Well, guess what. Thanks to those magical people at FSDP, I am now reading back on that blog and wondering who wrote it, becauase it certainly can’t have been me/

This Saturday, I am “popping” down to Kemble to visit my instructor and catch up with a few Flying Scholarships for Disabled People friends, especially some who are actually doing their scholarship at the moment and I can’t wait to hear how they are getting on.

The call went out on FSDP’s Facebook page to see if people wanted to attend a Battle of Britain event at Cotswold Airport and I immediately thought “Yes! Me, I want to”. I then booked my flights and sorted out my bed for the night.

In June, when my confirmation email came through from Easy Jet, I ignored it and pretended it wasn’t there. This time? I checked in immediately.

In June, I fastidiously printed off my boarding passes and clutched them anxiously in my sweaty hands, checking them several times before the flight. This time?  I have installed the EasyJet app and downloaded my boarding passes on to my phone.

In June, I stressed for days about what to pack, so much so that I couldn’t bring myself to actually do it. This time? Well to be honest, I haven’t really thought about it, but not out of fear or anxiety, but because I am just planning on taking a few overnight items in tote bag. No suitcase filled with safety blankets – it’s all very simple.

In June, I sat at departures in my wheelchair like a scared mouse, too afraid to ask anyone to help with anything and too worried to leave my spot. This time? I intend to ask the Special Assistance team to help me get to the coffee shop and toilets before I am sat in the “special spot”. I will have no worries about being an oject of inerest and think other passengers are watching me being wheeled around,

In June, I practically cried when they shut the aircraft doors; the fear of being alone amongst strangers was daunting and god forbid the person next to me should actually say anything! This time? I am planning on having a Nana Nap, so I am bright and cheery for the day ahead.

In June, I worried about how to get out of Bristol airport or where to meet someone. I got abandoned on the tarmac and left alone at a lift for (what felt like) an eternity. This time? I will be confident enough to speak up and not be overlooked and will simply text John (my instructor) and let him know where and when to “swing by” and collect me.

In June I woke up every morning, filled with panic and couldn’t focus on anything else around me. This morning? I woke up with an excited giggle at the thought of going away for the weekend on my own.

So yes Karen, what exactly is the problem?

FSDP is only able to deliver flying scholarships as a result of the incredible generosity of donations and fundraising. This year they are introducing their Scholars’ Scholar campaign which aims to raise at least £10,000 – enough to fund one scholarship. My blog is my small part of that campaign and I hope to help raise £500 to say thank you for this incredible gift. If my story has inspired you to donate, please visit my Virgin Money Giving page. Thank you.

A whole other language 

One week and another three, brand new Flying Scholarships for Disabled People moments to enjoy. I am beginning to wonder how I am going to fit them all in these days? 

I also wonder how many of these moments now simply pass me by,  registering as nothing other than “normal”. Don’t get me wrong, this is good, normal means natural and doesn’t require any over thinking – something I may have been accused of once or twice!  

When I relate these stories, I want you to cast your mind back to the person I was, pre FSDP. Before I had learnt to fly and spent three weeks with John Griffin. Before I had survived life by myself in a strange place. Remember also that this was a person who didn’t like personal attention and lacked confidence, causing anxiety when out alone.

FSDP Moment 1:
Home alone and hungry; I was aware my chances of anything more substantial than cereal for my tea were slim. My house elf was having a meal with work colleagues and my daughter would be exhausted after her first week back at school.

So what was to be done to make sure I had enough in my belly to get me through a full evening of fundraising? Easy, I can simply get in the car and take myself off to lunch in my favourite café, alone.

Yeah I know, no biggie really is it, but you know what? It was massive for me! No frets, no dramas, no thinking. I sat on my own, ate lunch and cake whilst playing PokemonGo (don’t judge me, I love it).

FSDP Moment 2:
Ok, now this is a long story, but to save you some time for more exciting blogs, I will condense the experience into fewer words…

  • Fundraising event, ladies evening with stalls and pole fitness demonstrations. 
  • The evening wears on, with wonderful entertainment and lots of great chatter. 
  • A friend bravely tries her hand pole dancing and makes it look easy. 
  •  Her friends are all shaking their heads and pointing to unremovable footwear as a reason not to try and no-one else is stepping up.

Next thing I know, my shoes are off and I am stood at the pole, ready to give it a whirl (see what I did there). The words “simply” and “just” punctuate the instructions and calls of encouragement are shouted by the footwear-handicapped onlookers.

  • Grip right hand on pole above your head – ok, as high up as you can get it – done.
  • Left hand in front of you – done
  • Left foot hooked around pole – done.
  • Lift right foot and wrap around pole next to left foot.

Lift right foot and wrap around pole next to left foot.

  • Lift right foot and wrap around pole next to left foot.
  • Ok, so that’s not going to happen.
  • Time to call for a friendly boost.
  • Two helping hands encourage my rapid ascent of the pole – done. Support your weight on the pole – yeah that’s definitely not happening. 
  • Immediately, I am heading back to the floor with all the grace of a newborn giraffe.

More hands arrive and there’s talk of belt loops being held on to…

It all sounds feasible so “one, two, three” – double boost…

A wedgie at 50, not what I expected to experience.

Achievement? No over thinking, just action and the sad acceptance that my pole dancing days may be behind me.

FSDP Moment 3:
It’s ok, this one doesn’t need as much telling, as it was a simple and quick process of casually booking flights to Bristol for an overnight visit to catch up with fellow Flying Scholarships for Disabled People scholars. Boring and straight forward I know, but a massive difference to the anxieties and procrastination which riddled my previous Bristol flight booking. 

  • Will I get bored of these FSDP moments? I doubt it.
  • Will I become immune to their importance? God, I hope not.
  • Will I stop having them? Well no, why would I, although my daughter did voice some concern as to how far I would take this whole “try something new” philosophy. I don’t know myself yet!

All I know is, sentences like “I had  lunch out alone today”, “can you book me a flight to Bristol “and “I twisted my back pole dancing” are like a whole other language, but one that’s fun to learn!

Flying Scholarships for Disabled People is only able to deliver flying scholarships as a result of the incredible generosity of donations and fundraising. This year they are introducing their Scholars’ Scholar campaign which aims to raise at least £10,000 – enough to fund one scholarship.  My blog is my small part of that campaign and I hope to help raise £500 to say thank you for this incredible gift. If my story has inspired you to donate, please visit my Virgin Money Giving  page. Thank you. 

It’s plane and simple 

Fundraising has always been a passion of mine,  I use it as a form of pain relief and to stop me from lying down and giving up. 

I chose to support the RAF Benevolent Fund because of their Airplay youth project, which allowed my youngest daughter (second in on left in the picture – proud) to enjoy some great days out and trips, that she would never have had otherwise, plus a weekly club meeting where she could relax among fellow “RAF kids”.

The RAF Benevolent Fund are now also funding a complete bathroom modification for me, something that’s going to make a massive difference to my life, so my support for them will always be a big part of my life through Team RAFBF Lossiemouth.

I didn’t I could squeeze another charity into my affection, but Flying Scholarships for Disabled People have given me back something I hadn’t even realised I had lost; me and I would like to give something in return. 

I am pretty sure my fellow scholars: Mark, Adrian, Mark, Peter, Lee, Stuart, ClaireHoward, Derek and Celestyn will remember this summer for a very long time, I know I will! As disabled individuals, we all have our different stories, each one as important and heartfelt as the next, but we all have one thing in common; the urge to grow and change, and we are incredibly lucky to have been gifted the opportunity by FSDP.

I could never repay the gift FSDP have given me and they wouldn’t expect me to, but I would like to say thank you in some small way and this blog is part of that thank you.

By baring all and sharing my FSDP story, I hope to raise the charity’s profile and, more importantly, encourage donations to their Scholar’s Scholarships. Plus, if my “warts and all” account of my experience inspires just one person to apply for their own scholarship, then all the cringing will be worth it!

Read our stories, watch our presentation and visit the FSDP’S You Tube channel. Then think of me, struggling to  crochet small aircraft, with hands riddled with osteoarthritis and crippled by pain (I am not beyond begging for sympathy donations), to raise funds for this incredible charity and place an order – or just donate if crochet isn’t your thing! 

They deserve your support, it’s plane and simple!

Flying Scholarships for Disabled People is only able to deliver flying scholarships as a result of the incredible generosity of donations and fundraising. This year they are introducing their Scholars’ Scholar campaign which aims to raise at least £10,000 – enough to fund one scholarship.  My blog is my small part of that campaign and I hope to help raise £500 to say thank you for this incredible gift. If my story has inspired you to donate, please visit my Virgin Money Giving  page. Thank you. 

Challenge accepted 

The past two days have been the first time I have felt totally overwhelmed by my joint pain since I finished my Flying Scholarships for Disabled People course.

Fellow chronics will probably understand what it’s like when your daily, background pain is suddenly ramped up for no particular reason, and you just can’t seem to find your focus. I always find “new” pain harder to cope with and it has the potential to drag me back down.

However, every day is now an FSDP lesson opportunity, so the important thing is to recognise the signs of relapse and work out how I can use my flying experience to push through it.

Usually, my strategy for coping with “normal” daily pain is my fundraising/volunteering activities for the RAF Benevolent Fund. Nothing helps distract me more than working at the computer, engaged in poster design, social media, admin and communication – it’s what I love doing the most.

Unfortunately, days like today make that impossible, so instead, I spend my day propped among comfy cushions and pillows, crocheting whilst allowing mindless television to wash over me. It’s less fulfilling, but still productive!

So, how am I going to “FSDPup” this situation? What can I do to make sure I don’t slip back into my old ways and let the pain take control?

Believe me, it would be very, very easy to stay at home, wrap myself up and protect myself from further discomfort; but in the long run, that’s a lonely path back to anxiety and I didn’t survive 20+ traumatic take off and landings to hide back under my comfort blanket!

So firstly, I decided to accept I would be in pain, whether I was sat at home or in my favourite café and instead of relapsing into my habit of hiding whilst in pain, I put in a request for a lunch date with my house elf. It may have been more uncomfortable than my sofa, but it didn’t finish me off and I had cake. Win win.

Secondly, I am going to make the most of my new found confidence to be seen out on my mobility scooter and get some fresh air this weekend. Google and I have put our heads together and come up with a “walking” website aimed at wheelchair users. So I will be dragging my house elf, teenager and dog off to explore a brand new area around Spey Bay, where there’s also cake. (Coincidence? You decide)

So what’s the point of this blog? Well it’s definitely not to feel sorry for myself, those days are long gone! No, never one to be seen to fail, I have to find a way to make sure I follow through, no matter how comfy my sofa & blanket may look. So, as the saying goes, what is written cannot be unwritten and as soon as I hit “publish”, I am publicly throwing down my own gauntlet. Challenge accepted.

Flying Scholarships for Disabled People is only able to deliver flying scholarships as a result of the incredible generosity of donations and fundraising. This year they are introducing their Scholars’ Scholar campaign which aims to raise at least £10,000 – enough to fund one scholarship.  My blog is my small part of that campaign and I hope to help raise £500 to say thank you for this incredible gift. If my story has inspired you to donate, please visit my Virgin Money Giving  page. Thank you. 

Redefining my normal 

Several times this week, I have found myself yearning to return to my FSDP bubble. Not just to be flying, but to be immersed in the whole experience.

My scholarship was intense, emotionally, physically and mentally. I felt incredible the whole time and you can’t possibly live like that for three weeks and not experience a bump when normal is your new reality.
When days are no longer lived to the max, with a new experience around every take off and landing. There’s now structure and responsibilities, where spontaneity, and an element of selfishness, once thrived and everything seems so – well, boring!

It will come as no surprise to learn that I have been doing some navel gazing over this and have come to the conclusion that it’s important to realise that everything has its time. My scholarship time may have passed, but that doesn’t mean my new normal can’t be sprinkled with a healthy dollop of FSDP magic.

After chatting to Flying Scholarships for Disabled People’s General Manager, Julie Bull, earlier this week, I decided one way to get over my blues was to have an “FSDP moment” and to continue to honour their investment in me with as many of these moments as I can.

This doesn’t mean a weekly skydive, bungee jump or open swimming (I have learned it’s ok to just not want to do some stuff), but what it does mean is making an effort to get out and trying something I would have usually baulked at.

This week’s challenge was to drive 40 miles along the coast to collect something I bought on a local selling site, from an address I didn’t know – something I wouldn’t normally even consider considering, let alone consider doing!

But you know what, I did it! I ignored the tightness that threatened to spread across my chest, turned up Fall Out Boy and sang along with my less vocal teenager. To stretch myself further, and overcome my anxiety of getting lost, I even purposely headed off onto unknown streets, whilst my navigator caught up with me on Google Maps.

Mission accomplished, we headed home via our favourite ice cream parlour for a well deserved reward. Situated just 13 miles away from home, Fochabers Ice Cream Parlour been “too far” for some time now, but that’s something else I can happily include in my new normal!

That was supposed to be my FSDP challenge – after all, one a week is acceptable right? Well not for me it seems as without so much as a second thought, I also agreed to go on a first visit to someone’s house, on my own, and to meet someone I have only known via the internet for around 10 years.

So, whilst life after FSDP may seem bland to me at the moment,  I have realised it’s actually an exciting journey of redefining my normal and that’s pretty cool!

Flying Scholarships for Disabled People is only able to deliver flying scholarships as a result of the incredible generosity of donations and fundraising. This year they are introducing their Scholars’ Scholar campaign which aims to raise at least £10,000 – enough to fund one scholarship.  My blog is my small part of that campaign and I hope to help raise £500 to say thank you for this incredible gift. If my story has inspired you to donate, please visit my Virgin Money Giving  page. Thank you. 

As for the cows 

​This time last week I was at the Fairford Air Tattoo with Flying Scholarships for Disabled People, surrounded by fellow amazing scholars past and present, awesome FSDP Trustees,  President, Vice Presidents, Founders, sponsors, wonderful volunteers, fantastic supporters and a splash of Royalty. 

Today I am surrounded by young people as we head out for my daughter’s birthday treat, but I still carry the FSDP spirit with me, and always will. 

It’s been a strange week; getting used to home life again, catching up on my RAF Benevolent Fund fundraising, reconnecting with family and friends and generally reacquainting myself with life back on the ground, while someone else takes my place in the cockpit! 

I am often asked how FSDP has changed or affected me and, although it’s often hard to identify until after the fact, I do find myself doing things differently, or at least the same things with a different attitude.  

The thing about the “FSDP effect” is that it’s always there, ready to give you a boost, like a sparkly health pack, tucked away in your back pocket.  I find myself making decisions and wonder where they came from.  Offering suggestions and suddenly thinking “did I say that”? Actions that once seemed impossible are happening with little thought or anxiety and life feels that bit lighter. 

From driving three hours and getting lost in Glasgow, to visiting a travel agents, or even staying in one place when all I wanted to do was run away and hide – it’s all down to the FSDP magic. 

Even coming to the realisation that learning to fly has overwritten a large chunk of my memory bank hasn’t sent me scurrying to the safety of my comfort zone.  I am just going to work on rewriting and committing the information back to memory and develop some new skills and techniques to remember the important stuff, as well as identifying what the important stuff is in the first place! It’s scary, but doable. 

As for the cows? Well they will remain the same size and at a very safe distance from now now! 

Flying Scholarships for Disabled People is only able to deliver flying scholarships as a result of the incredible generosity of donations and fundraising. This year they are introducing their Scholars’ Scholar campaign which aims to raise at least £10,000 – enough to fund one scholarship.  My blog is my small part of that campaign and I hope to help raise £500 to say thank you for this incredible gift. If my story has inspired you to donate, please visit my Virgin Money Giving  page. Thank you. 

Prologue to the rest of my life 

​There are some days that just can’t be summed up. Whether you are a Booker prize novelist or a 140 character Twitter journalist, it’s impossible to articulate the importance of the moment. 

At the Flying Scholarships for Disabled People’s Presentation Ceremony today, I was surrounded by amazing people whose disabilities had enabled them to become incredible human beings. People who had overcome the challenges they faced on a daily basis and exceeded more than even their own expectations. 

We all had our different reasons to be there; our individual demons, our own challenges, dreams and hopes but we were all united by one thing, the desire to grow. 
Throughout the day I heard stories that gave me goosebumps and brought me to tears, but I also heard stories that filled me with admiration and inspired me to continue my FSDP journey, no matter how hard or challenging. 

For me, today was like arriving at Cranwell back in March; suddenly surrounded by unknown people and back in at the deep end. Of course the difference this time was that I had been taught how to swim – sorry, fly. 
With much wringing of hands, I worked hard to talk to as many new people as possible, approached others, initiated a conversation or two and was even able to ask for something that was incredibly important to me, just me. 

I recognised when I began to babble manically with nerves and rather than running away to save embarrassment, I focused on relaxing and trying to appear less hysterical.  

Unfortunately, the panicked urge to return to my seat after my Scholarship presentation was so strong that I snubbed a Royal handshake, but I wouldn’t want to crack everything in one sitting! 

Instead of scurrying away home like I did in March, today I left with hugs and promises of Facebook requests, meet ups and return trips. 

It feels to me today that the next chapter of my FSDP story is just about to begin, and the last six months have merely been the prologue to the rest of my life. 

Flying Scholarships for Disabled People is only able to deliver flying scholarships as a result of the incredible generosity of donations and fundraising. This year they are introducing their Scholars’ Scholar campaign which aims to raise at least £10,000 – enough to fund one scholarship.  My blog is my small part of that campaign and I hope to help raise £500 to say thank you for this incredible gift. If my story has inspired you to donate, please visit my Virgin Money Giving  page. Thank you.