The Boo Blogs: Day 3 – Otters Don’t Lay Eggs

Mr Geek & I have taken today and the bank holiday off work to spend a bit more pre-GCSE quality time with the kids.

Denial is the order of the day as we ended yesterday sourcing a new boiler & washing hair in bowls of kettle water. So instead of being adults, we headed up to London & went to the zoo!

Despite leaving first thing, we didn’t arrive until nearly midday, which meant that the goats (my favourite gender neutral term for my family, which frankly suits them) were starving. Lunch was duly unpacked & devoured.

Just look at the beautiful table manners we’ve taught them…

Rather than have the tired talk at the end of the day about bankrupting me in the shop, we opted for water bottles all round at the start of the day. This turned out to be a good choice as the weather was incredible! London Zoo has water fountains all over which meant that we could stay hydrated, and if you want to “upgrade” to 500ml of cold filtered water it’s 25p (bargain!).

Mr Geek & I are thoroughly enjoying spending another weekend just chilling together as evidenced by an array of weird selfies as we watched the penguins 🐧 (bangwangs).

After the penguins we did what all self-respecting cat people did and visited the lions. These guys (and gals) are part of an international breeding program and were happily chilling out & washing their toes. Once we’d wandered around the lions, we decided to watch the talk on the work they do with various animals. Unfortunately, the wheelchair accessible area had no shade, so I sent the rest of them the other side of the field to stay cooler. I texted them “Send me a selfie”… And got this:

After seeing cool birds, and meerkats, and more birds, the highlight of my day happened. Out came a serval. Happily following the guy around in order to get a handful of treats. Because she’d been rescued from the illegal pet trade, she was super calm around people and had no issue showing off her moves, although they were quick to warn us that she still thinks like a wild cat and would merrily chew your face if hungry. The way she followed him around chirping for attention & treats reminded me so much of Captain Jack & Leeroy Jenkins.

Oh my word, she was incredible. And this guy has the best job on the planet!

Alongside the tiger (who was resolutely chilling in his wood area) were two very handsome gibbons. But a clear highlight was finding Tad Cooper & singing My Dragon Pal & Me… With hindsight, it might not have been a great idea insinuating that the Komodo dragon could breathe fire with small kids around.

Still, we super believe in you Tad Cooper!

By now, we were pretty shattered, but no trip to London Zoo is ever going to be complete unless I see a sloth. This two toed sloth was not only chilling happily in the trees, but had a tiny two toed sloth baby!!

And with that, I’ll leave you with some final photos from today. Context free – fill in your own backstory!

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Poulet Soup for the Soul

I’ll be honest, many of our adventures out to “accessible” venues have proved to be less than successful, and having visited a UK Centreparcs waaaay back in 1993, I had images of those days of camping cots in a moth ridden room returning. Frankly, TripAdvisor had not made me confident with tales of overcrowding & poor upkeep… so it was with trepidation that we headed to Les Trois Forêts, near Nancy.

We had opted to drive here over 2 days to give me a chance to survive the journey. I’m not ready to fly again & at least in a car, we can manage our own schedule, & the only person assisting me is Mr Geek. Having stopped over in the Ibis Hotel at on the 1st night, for the 1st time in months I was faring better than Mr Geek. The poor soul then drive us for a further 6 hours from Valenciennes through Belgium, Luxembourg, and eventually back into France to just past Nancy where our first destination lay waiting. 

We were handed a smart card for our chalet & told that with my blue badge we could park outside the chalet & leave our car there. We had booked an accessible VIP chalet for 8 as we were spending the week with Mr Geek’s parents & youngest sister. They were braving the journey in 1 and managed the whole thing in just 13 hours (?!?). When initially exploring the idea of centreparcs we’d looked at the European sites as a cost comparison- we were keen to go abroad, and OMFG the prices on the continent were comparable to a week (7 nights) in France in a VIP cottage for 8 equalling a midweek 3 night break in basic accommodation for 4 of us in the UK! Absolute no brainer.

The slope down to (and up from) the chalet was rather steep and had an iffy hairpin bend, but once inside, it was HUGE! There was an enormous living area and two massive dining tables; one inside & one outside. The gangways were nice & wide leaving plenty of room for people.

The kitchen is open plan, but not built for someone at sitting level so whilst I could operate the provided coffee pod machine (massive bonus as this neat I was able to make my own drinks), I couldn’t reach the food cupboards or microwave/oven. I can’t lift pans etc. anyway without injuring myself, but biscuits being deliciously out of reach is a bit mean.

The bedrooms were perfectly split into a double & twin with connecting bathroom with a bath, shower, & Turkish bath, a double with a bathroom & shower + sauna, and a twin with bathroom & shower. The connected twin & double were the designated accessible rooms with handrail for the loo, shower seat, extra room in the twin, & just enough room for my wheelchair in the double once Mr Geek had shoved the bed over a bit. He would definitely prefer to share a bed than have extra wheel room & I wasn’t going to.deny him that. The beds themselves were far from the camping cots of memory. Our double had a fully sprung mattress with an extra 2″ foam topper & two pillows each! (Which were added to the collection of pillows & wedges). This was certainly more hotel than holiday park.

As we were all exhausted on the 1st day, we opted to eat in one of the on-line restaurants. Again, TripAdvisor was filled with stories of unclean surfaces, unpleasant staff, and terrible food. Having rocked up at 9.30, we were seated, our order taken in my addled version of French (ha! Brainfog means I can barely speak English, and here I was attempting to get by in a place where mainly French & German is spoken). The staff were brilliant, the food was fresh (as in proper fresh pasta) and they were more than happy for Beanpole to.order an adult dish whilst I had the kid’s menu. The main AquaMundo, which is the main dome housing restaurants, shops, & pool was also entirely accessible through level access. There were a few cambers to contend with & a mahoosive speed bump outside (that was actually understandably protecting cables), but I could propel or be pushed with very few jolts. Their efforts were appreciated. 

The 1st night, we cracked open the mosquito traps as again TripAdvisor had warned is of plagues of mosquitos of biblical proportions. With all of us sensitive to chemicals in the air, we’d bought UV + flypaper style plug in traps and duly plugged them in. Whilst I shall sing their praises separately (the light really does attract the insects which promptly get stuck to the paper behind the grill – no nasty sizzling, just change the sticky cartridge), actually there was only need to catch a minimal number of mosquitoes. We did have plenty of other wildlife hanging about the chalet though – baby frogs in the grass (and decking), and a friendly cat who quickly learnt that the suckers in 709 would exchange paté & salmon for allowing a quick rub behind the ear.
Further surprise accessibility wins were found on day 2 when we ventured into.the AquaMundo swimming complex. At this point there were calls for “I do hope you’re going to blog this…”. Well, yes. Well equipped disabled changing rooms are supplied and kept available by exchanging your chalet key for a special access key allowing you to unlock the changing room doors. Inside the roomy area is a bench, changing bed, shower & stool (no hoist). Already impressed, we asked one of the lifeguards how I could get into the pool expecting to be pointed towards the usual ducking stool. Instead, I was lent the use of a pool chair- leaving my own chair by the side, the pool wheelchair is like an oversized 3 wheel pushchair which can be wheeled directly into the sloped pool until I’m deep enough to float out (I wear a floatation belt), then returned to the side until I need it. AMAZING.  It was dubbed the mermaid chair & was surprisingly comfortable. 

As I sat in said mermaid chair with Squooze (SIL) waiting whilst Mr Geek & small people threw themselves down slides, I asked her how the place was in terms of sensory aspects. Of course, I would be looking at it from a mobility aspect but from  neurotypical perspective. She seemed very much at ease which was ever so nice, but looks can be deceiving so I asked the question: “it’s quite echoey, but it’s big enough to turn the voices into a background hum. The only thing that’s breaking though is the occasional shriek – cue child screaming down slide- and people shouting very close. I don’t like people swimming too close to me either.” It was noted that it was surprisingly uncrowded for late July / August and we were all feeling very chilled. It was nice spending time as a group & it gave Mr Geek & Squooze some time to properly spend time together as sibling grownups. He still feels very protective of her despite being the younger sibling & she still remembers the irritating little knobhead who drove her nuts (yeah, he’s still.in there). 

We were all exhausted after swimming and they all caught the land bus back to the chalet to conserve a bit of energy- I say they because I’d attached Leonardo to use as a type of mobility scooter, so rode him all the way back, plus a bit further to check out the nearly park. With the smooth tarmac pathways built for the hundreds of electric golf buggies, Leonardo can pull some serious speed. I’m happier at speeds under 10mph, especially when there are pedestrians around, but there was a sneaky moment of wind in my hair “bicycle Bicycle BICYCLE!!”.

Our 1st proper evening was very reminiscent of the countless other evenings that we’ve spent holidaying with Mr Geek’s parents. Although I wasn’t partaking of the “happy water” (apple schnapps), it was flowing and we laughed away the evening with card games including the staple Uno and theist competitive game of Pass the Pigs imaginable. I may have been a little number in the head after a round of (much needed) painkillers, but the human interaction from evening silly games is like chicken soup for my soul. It creates connections. And although they are my family by marriage rather than birth, I’ve spent 1/3 of my life with them and don’t feel like that outsider looking in. 

This is in stark contrast to how I see (saw) my parents with their respective inlaws. Being here, it occurred to me that all of my memories of visiting my maternal grandparents for a ‘holiday’ included me sharing a room with my mum & her making the standard excuse of “he’s really busy at work”. Even now, excuses are made not to go & support mum when she makes the journey to care for her mum. I can’t imagine not rocking up & helping if Pen & Mr Geek Snr. were declining in health, or at least just supporting mentally.
This doesn’t just apply to my dad. His parents visited once every 2 years from Canada & stayed with various relatives. In total, I met them 8 times in my lifetime. Nevertheless, they were my grandparents and I created a whole rose-tinted idea of them. As I got older, more details were mentioned about the relationship my dad had with his parents growing up & I resolved to have children who genuinely had the kind of grandparents I’d made up in my head. Consequently, my girls have the kind of relationship with their grandparents the Mr Geek had. And just look at how he turned out. My babies have been raised by a village. They’re incredibly lucky.

Note: the insomnia is clearly still.here, hence blogging until 2.30am!! 

This is a personal take on our first few days at Centreparcs- for my official review, please visit my Les Trois Forêts Review Post.

Budget Ibis Hotel, Valenciennes – Accessibility Review

This is an extended version of my TripAdvisor review. I had reviewed this hotel in terms of accessibility with the following in mind:

  • Wheelchair Access: limited
  • Physical Access: single floor / good
  • Disabled Parking: Excellent
  • Sensory: Adjustable lighting / No temperature control / some read noise / linen (plain cotton) / ambient noise – low / reception (strong smell of sandlewood)

Lovely clean room which looked well maintained & had a bath! (Something sorely missed when we’ve travelled before). Fab idea to have one of the kids beds above the double as this saves on room and our youngest was very happy with having her own nightlight. The beds are basic & sturdy (read ‘hard’) which suited me well, but Mr Softie husband wondered if mattress had been optional…

An image of the ground floor family room with a double bed, single bed, & bunk bed width ways over the double bed

Rooms were on the ground floor which meant that you could park right outside the room (lots of disabled bays & plenty of space to get out).

Panoramic image of car parking spaces & entry doors with disabled parking & ramp to doors

The room had a patio door at the back leading to a little patio area & grass, which despite being very close to the motorway, was peaceful and very welcome after hours in a car! The area itself is fenced off which allowed the kids to stretch their legs (with other children doing similar) & us a safe place to store our bikes just outside the door & give us a little more room.

WiFi is included in the price of the room which was very welcome and was a decent speed for general browsing.

Lady at reception was very helpful and took pity on us after our dreadful attempt at chatting in French (I forget words in English, so perhaps a road trip where I attempted to speak French, German, & English was maybe aiming a tad high!). There’s an accessible toilet in reception.

Breakfast was a buffet with coffee, croissant, yoghurt etc. Everything was fresh & very nice. My only issue was using the brilliantly installed wheelchair lift to get to the breakfast bar… which was locked & no one had a key! This was easily solved by sending the family up to the breakfast bar & sitting in the lower table area. This is a potential issue had I been travelling alone.

Wheelchair lift in reception

Getting to reception in a wheelchair is difficult (there is a 2″ step to get onto the ramp which was too steep for me to propel myself manual chair up myself ). Once in reception, there is a lowered desk, although the card machine doesn’t reach it.
Image of tamp to reception with step up get to ramp

There is no resturant on site & if you’re travelling on a Sunday there is very little available. An “emergency” McDonald’s is located 4km up the motorway (about 10 minutes). Usually, there is a resturant available at the neighbouring Novatel.

We booked a stopover here for a family room clearly stating that one person was a wheelchair user at the time of booking. On arrival, we were told that room layouts were either wheelchair accessible for 2 people, or family rooms. As I need physical help from my husband during the night, we couldn’t make use of the suggestion to book 2 separate rooms, so stuck with the family room.

There is a clearly signed wheelchair access route to the rooms from the car park, however this also contains a 1″ lip in order to get up to the walkway. The doors were wide enough to push my manual wheelchair through if my husband helped lift me over the raised frame, and aside from not being able to close the bathroom door & there being no grab handles (remember that this was not billed as the accessible room), the hard floors and clean layout meant that I could scoot about in my chair with relative ease. For those with anything bigger than an active user chair, this wouldn’t be an option.

Overall, it was perfectly pleasant as a stopover with our only grumble being the mildly terrifying ramps & the assumption that a family wouldn’t require an accessible room.

A Wheelie Good Summer

I’ve not blogged for a while as I’ve been in a bit of a slump. The lack of outdoors has rather hit me this year & combined with missing my partner in crime and her tribe as the weather attempts to look vaguely like spring I’ve been having a bit of a pity party for 1.

Having always been a bit of an active family, finding myself sitting on the sidelines or being wheeled about on nice flat surfaces is immensely frustrating. And welcome to the conundrum that is knowing that I am immensely lucky to have Mr Geek to look after me whilst also being so frustrated at being left out & having no physical outlet for stress.

I’ve made peace with the idea of being in a wheelchair. My pelvis is shot & the nerve damage is clear. But the pain Management team gave me that tiny light at the end of the tunnel that with persistent physio there is the hope of improving my general pain levels and upper body. But ongoing physio isn’t a thing that’s on offer – it’s a case of being given ideas and doing it yourself. So off we went and found this!

Hiring was our initial thought, but with only a couple of places in the UK offering this, supply & demand means that prices are upwards of £125 ($180) per week. Erk! So, what about buying? …. an adult bike is usually a few hundred pounds…. oh. The curse of the disability markup strikes again.

So, what to do. Firstly, we start saving as much as we can. Secondly, my doctor has referred me to wheelchair services to ask for help with a manual rigid chair, and finally, swallow my pride & concerns and ask for help.

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https://www.gofundme.com/294kw344

If you’re reading this, I’d be so grateful if you’d consider sharing either this blog, or my link.

As always.
Sending much love into the ether that is the internet 💕

While The Sun Still Shines

It’s been a weird one today. It’s the final few days of the summer holidays and we’ve all got nearly September gitters. So, today was the final day spent in the open air with my friend (the wonderful Mrs GypsyTree and our tribe of kids before the kids go back to school and I go back to work and we go back to snatching a few hours together on the occasional weekend we’re both free. But for today, the sun was shining and we abandoned our homes for the top of a hill from where we can see all of our town and out to sea.

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We’ve said before that we don’t need to live in each others pockets to be close, and over the years we have sporadically lived in close proximity with patches of time where we are only contactable online. Despite this, we still parent each others children like we see them every day, and my girls see them as siblings rather than friends. The grown ups are given the title ‘Aunty & Uncle’ not just a respect thing, but because they are family in all but blood.

This summer has had it’s Enid Blyton moments.

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Although, in the background what you don’t see in these pictures is me and Mrs Gypsy huffing and puffing our way up the hill with picnic bags strapped to us venting our stresses at each other and eventually seeing what an amazing childhood we are giving the small scruffy wildlings in our care. We’re not meant to be the ones rolling down the hill. We’re there to provide the lashings of ginger beer (or shandy / water in their case), and we’ve done an admirable job of providing sustenance for tree climbing and hill rolling this year!

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We follow these tiny scruffians around with our cameras in the hope that we can capture just enough of this summer outside bliss for them to look back on and for us to hold on to (via rosé tinted glasses). All the time laughing at ourselves to remain sane. For the record, my walk is normal and I could teach an alien to walk very well!

These offspring of ours have spent most of this summer covered in dirt and either up a tree or rolling in long grass. I’ve never seen them so unkempt, or happy.

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Then there’s the tiny one. She’s nearly one. Wheasy is getting a real sense of humour and making her mum laugh. (You can see why I take lots of my parenting cues from this woman)

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And then Wheasy shows everyone who’s actually the boss here….

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This summer has been a blast. I’m mentally and physically recovered from the last term and ready for the new job and all the possibilities that come with it.

I also know that I’ve rejoined my family, immediate and extended. I’m sad that I won’t see Bam’s gorgeous smile, feel Spud charge in for a cuddle, chat with Boo about her knees, watch Bear idolize BeanPole or bore Wheasy to sleep for the next seven weeks, but half term looms and with it comes birthday parties and Halloween!

For now, thanks for making my summer guys. Don’t forget to shout BOGIES!! Xxx

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