November 2003 Newsletter

Useful Information

Why keeping warm matters

To keep well during the winter, it's essential to keep warm. As the weather gets colder, we are all more likely to catch colds or flu; & if your body temperature drops then the risks of a heart attack, stroke or breathing difficulties increase. This is especially true if you are vulnerable as most of us are to a physical disability. Moving around generates extra body heat, so any kind of activity will help to keep you warm.

  • Don't stay sitting for long periods.
  • Spread chores out through the day so you can alternate between rest & activity.
  • Moderate exercise, such as walking (even around the house), has real health benefits. Try to keep your exercise up in winter, without taking risks in wet or icy weather.

The Warm Front Team Grant Scheme (WFS) was launched on 1st June 2000 & is available to households in England in receipt of a qualifying income-related or disability benefit. Grants are available from the Government's WFS scheme to help people with the cost of making their homes warmer.

Warm Front Plus Grant: Grants of up to £2,500, to cover the cost of insulation measures such as loft, cavity wall & draught proofing & where appropriate installing a central heating system in the main living areas. To be eligible, you must be aged 60 or over & in receipt of an income related benefit.

Warm Front Grant: grants up to £1, 500 are also available for households if you are in receipt of a qualifying disability benefit; or if you have a child under 16 living with you, or are pregnant, & the householder receives a qualifying benefit. Please note that Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland have their own separately funded schemes. The scheme is run by two managers from the Warm Front Team & the Eaga Partnership who can help make your application, & arrange for the work to be done.

For information call, Freephone 0800 952 0600.

Local Council Grants

If you have a low income, your local council may be able to offer financial help for:

  • House renovation & improvement, including insulation.
  • Installing disabled facilities that help people to live independently in their own home.
  • Home repair assistance for small work.

The grant will vary according to the cost of the work & your own financial circumstances. Contact your local council for more details & an application form. If you apply for a grant, don't start any work before your application is approved.

Help For People With Disabilities

Disabled Living Centres: Practical solutions for managing the tasks of daily life. For details of your nearest centre, write to: The Disabled Living Centres Council, Redbank House, 4 St Chad's Street, Manchester M8 8QA Tel: 0161 8341044.

Disabled Living Foundation: Information & advice on equipment to assist with all aspects of daily living. Help-line: 0845 130 9177, weekdays 10am to 4pm (local call rates). Or write to: Information officer, The Disabled Living Foundation, 380-384 Harrow Road, London W9 2HU. For further information on any aspect I have raised here, call the winter warmth advice line 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, October to March. Freephone 08000857000. You can also visit the website at www.doh.gov.uk/kwkw or write to PO Box 777, London SE1 6XH. Fax 01623724 524.

Even if retirement is a long way off, if you are a parent or carer you should think about whether you need to take action now to make sure you will be entitled to as much State Pension as possible in the future. The amount of basic state pension that people receive can vary, & you may not necessarily be entitled to the full amount when you reach retirement age. This is because entitlement to the basic State Pension is built up over your working life, & you may have not always been in paid work. However, certain benefits & schemes can help you protect or build up entitlement when you are not working or your earnings are low (below £4,004 in 2003/4). So if you are taking time out of paid work or your earnings are low (less than £4,004 in 2003/4) & you are looking after children or caring for an adult, you need to make sure that you are taking the correct action now to get as much State Pension as you can when you reach State Pension age.

When you are not able to work, you may be given a National Insurance credit to help you build up entitlement to the basic State Pension. This could be because you are ill, or you are unemployed & registered as looking for work. You may get credits with certain benefits - for example, Jobseekers Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Carer's Allowance & Working Tax Credit, or if you are a man aged between 60 & 64 & do not have to pay National Insurance contributions. If you are getting a National Insurance credit, your basic State Pension is being protected automatically. These credits are put into your National Insurance account & count towards a qualifying year for basic State Pension in the same way as a National Insurance contribution. There will be certain conditions you need to fulfil before you can get a credit, & these will depend on the reason you are not able to work.

Home Responsibilities Protection is not a benefit. It helps protect your basic State Pension & since April 2002 can also help you build up additional State Pension through the State Second Pension Responsibilities. Protection helps protect the State Pension of carer's both men & women, by reducing the number of qualifying years they need to build up the full basic State Pension, & by helping them build up additional State Pension through State Second Pension.

  • You need to claim Home Responsibilities Protection if you fall into one of the following groups. You are looking after someone with a long-term illness or disability regularly for at least 35 hours a week & you do not receive a Carer's Allowance.
  • You have been getting Income Support & did not have to look for work because you were looking after someone with a long-term illness or disability.
  • You are looking after a child who is over 6 years old who has a long-term illness or disability.
  • You are a registered foster carer throughout a full tax year & do not get Child Benefit for any children under 16. To qualify for Home Responsibilities Protection & from 6 April 2002 build up State Second Pension, you must get the highest-rate or middle-rate care component of DLA for the child.

If you want to apply for Home Responsibilities Protection, you will need to fill in the form Home Responsibilities Protection (CF411). You can get the form from any social security office or jobcentre or you can contact the Inland Revenue on 08459158224.

For the first time, an additional State Pension is available for certain carers. If your child is 6 or over but also has a long-term illness or disability, you may also build up a State Second Pension. If you are caring for a child aged 6 or over with a long-term illness or disability you may need to claim Home Responsibilities Protection you make sure that as well as protecting your basic State Pension, you are also building up State Second Pension.

If you are looking after someone who has a long-term illness or disability your basic State Pension is automatically protected if you claim Carer's Allowance. You will also build up State Second Pension for each full tax year. You may be able to get Carers Allowance if you regularly spend at least 35 hours a week caring for a severely disabled person. The disabled person must be receiving either the highest or the middle rate of the DLA care component, Attendance' Allowance, or an Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, Constant Attendance Allowance, or War Pensions Constant Attendance Allowance at the normal maximum rate or above. Not everyone who cares in this way can receive Carer's Allowance. For example if you receive other benefits you will get whichever benefit pays you the highest amount but you may still get a Carer's Allowance National Insurance credit. This is called having an 'underlying' entitlement. You will automatically receive a National Insurance credit for each week you receive Carer's Allowance or have an 'underlying' entitlement to it. This means you will not need to do anything to make sure that the period which you receive Carer's Allowance, or have an underlying entitlement to it counts towards your basic State Pension & additional State Pension. You can get a claim pack by phoning the Carer's Allowance unit on 01253 856 123. The e-mail address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

You can also write to the Carer's Allowance Unit, Palatine House, Lancaster Road, Preston PR1 1 HB.

If you want to know how much State Pension you may get when you retire, you can contact the Retirement Pension Forecasting Team on 0845 3000 168.The RPFT will fill in a forecast application form over the phone. Or, you can write to RPFT, The Pension Service, Tyneview Park, Whitely Road, Newcastle upon Tyne NE98 1 BA for a forecast form (BR19) & a return envelope. You could also visit the resource centre on the Pension Service website at:

www.thepensionservice.gov.uk

Deal Direct

Lets face it we all enjoy waiting for the postman & opening up our daily correspondence, I know I do. However, most of the people who forward junk mail do not have a conscience they are just out to make a fast buck. How many mornings have you woken up & gone to retrieve your post only to find that half of it is unnecessary junk mail? Apart from having to visit the recycling bin several times a week your privacy is being invaded. Unfortunately, in your mail you are very likely to also come across marketing scams. For instance, a company will write to you informing you of your fantastic win of say £6,000 & all you have to do is send them a small cheque of £25 within the time stated to a PO BOX (so they can't be traced) to cover their personal insurance & within the time stated & they promise that they will send your prize back via registered post within 48hrs. Sorry to say but a high percentage of these companies do not exist & the exact nature of their correspondence is to build peoples hopes up then let them down with one hell of a bang & also pocket a fortune at the same time. Regrettably, it doesn't end there many of us have probably experienced cold callers on the door step or the telephone - {unless of-course you are ex-directory) trying-to sell you double glazing, insurance (car or home), household appliances, the list is endless. Unfortunately, these services are able to obtain consumer information, for example, your name & address & interests from each other which significantly increases the amount of junk mail we continue to receive which in addition is increasingly frustrating. It is worth bearing in mind that there are services you can register with that will remove your name & address from their mailing lists (see below). I believe (don't quote me) once registered firms who continue to send you junk mail can be fined.

Mailing Preference Service

Freepost 22
London
W1E7EZ

Tel: 0845 703 4599

www.mpsonline.org.uk

Telephone Preference Service
DMA House
70 Margaret Street
London
W1 8SS

Tel: 0845 070 0707

www.tpsonline.org.uk

Fitness Website

www.access4fitness.org is a web-based service designed to help more disabled people access fitness centres in the U.K. A survey undertaken for the launch of the site revealed that although there are 4,300 health clubs & fitness centres in the U.K. few disabled people have access to them. Only a small number of centres meet the access & equipment needs of disabled people.

Disabled Living Foundation

There is a wealth of equipment specially designed or adapted for use by disabled people around the home. The difficulty, often, lies in finding out what exists, whether it is suitable for your own particular needs & where to find it.

The DLF runs a national advice telephone helpline to provide immediate advice & information on equipment, gadgets & where to find them. It can also put people in touch with other organisations providing related information. The equipment centre is the only one in the Greater London area & one of the largest demonstration centres in the U.K. In addition, it's extensive range of fact sheets, which explain how to chose the right equipment for individual requirements, is available.

The Equipment Centre

The DLF'S equipment centre holds over 800 items which visitors can see & try out. The centre includes a new children's communications & garden areas & an updated In -Touch kitchen. In addition, there is a bathing, showering & handling equipment, ceiling track hoists, manual & powered wheelchairs, clothing & footwear.

The DLF has run a national telephone help-line service since October 1997. This service means that adults & children no longer have to wait long periods of time for advice. DLF help-line staff which include healthcare professionals, undergo intensive training on disability issues & equipment. The DLF can also make sure that their enquirers are put in touch with other organisations providing related information. Last year over 40,000 people had access to this immediate information through our specialist advisory service. The help-line no is: 0845 130 9177 (open 10am - 4pm, Mon -Fri) e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or take a look on their website www.dlf.org.uk.

You could also write to them at:

Disabled Living Foundation
380-384 Harrow Road
London
W9 2HU.

I do hope in anticipation that many of you will find an article within these pages that will hopefully provide an explanation to the many aspects of life (ailments or otherwise) that we all experience from time to time.

Fsp Membership Survey- August 2003

Mike Fawcett & Sally Langton

Thank you to the 62 members who contributed to the survey. Compared with the current paid up membership of around 150, this represents a 41% response. We think the results of this survey are interesting, & in some cases a little surprising.

  1. Ages:
    In terms of ages, it appears we are an older group, 33 members were born before 1950, 22 between 1950 & 1969 only 7 hailing from the period between 1970 & 1989. Clearly to keep the group thriving we need to attract more youngsters & to try & get our children to take up active membership.
  2. Age Of Onset Of FSP:
    As regards to the onset of FSP, 22 members were diagnosed before they reached 30 with another 30 members developing FSP after that age. 18 of those members were the only ones of the immediate family affected. 22 of our members shared FSP with their parents & grandparents & 32 of you named your offspring, brothers, sisters, nieces & nephews as also being affected.
  3. Areas Of Body Affected:
    As many of you are probably aware FSP strikes most frequently in the legs, thighs & the back, & all members named some of these. Arms & hands were mentioned by 10 members & to a very minor extent problems with the neck, shoulder, mouth, vision & mental effects. 30 members (nearly 50%) had bladder problems.
  4. Tests Used To Ascertain Diagnosis:
    In descending order, MRI SCAN - 39, ELECTRICAL TESTS - 28, LUMBAR PUNCTURES - 24, MILOGRAMS - 4, other methods - 7 , & members who had not used any tests - 6.
  5. Drugs Used:
    Muscle relaxants, for example Baclofen were used by 18 members, Zanoflex by 6. For bladder control, Oxybutin by 2, Xatral by 2. Anti -inflammatory, for example Ibuprofen & various other types of analgesics were used by 9 of our members. N.B. a lot of our members seemed to feel drowsy & worse when taking Baclofen.
  6. Severity Of Condition:
    Members able to walk without any aids - 12, members needing wheelchair assistance - 38, members using stick - 32, crutches - 10, frames - 8, stair lifts - 6, scooters - 2.
  7. Driving Or Not:
    Drivers - 44, non -drivers - 18, DLA claimants - 52.
  8. Did Fsp Stop You Working?
    Members below 40yrs of age - 9, 7 of these had had FSP from youth. 16 members 40 - 59 yrs of age stopped working & there were only 2 members aged 60 & over who also had to give up work.
  9. Excersises Indulged In:
    Swimming was the most popular - 25, along with walking - 12, cycling - 6, wheelchair tennis - 3, fishing - 2, & bowls & golf - 1.
  10. Comments About The Group:
    Some comments were really ecstatic, such as the "happy development of friendship within the group". "Wonderful support", "very valuable" were just few. The emphasis that came across is that the group gives members the ability to talk to others, as well as providing information on keeping up to date with research etc! & Finally that regional gatherings are excellent in meeting others to help relieve any feelings of isolation.
  11. Volunteering For Committee - Assisting With Local Events In Your Area:
    The response to this was unfortunately not very good. As I'm sure you will all appreciate as we continue to grow & need more funds we are going to need more help. Please note we had only 6 members who did actually volunteer.

We hope you have found that the survey has given you some useful information. Sally ((Langton) & Mike (Fawcett) have enjoyed researching it. Dated 18/10/2003.

FSP Group Agm

For those of you who may have forgotten or were unable to attend, this year's Southern A.G.M. & Conference (I say "Southern" as our Northern friends have had their own meeting in Wigan). This took place on Saturday the 20th September in the Wallsworth Centre adjoining the Nature In Art Centre at Twigworth , Gloucester. What a beautiful part of this country it is too.

Proceedings started at 10.50 am with our Secretary David Pearce welcoming everyone (approximately 50 people in attendance) to the meeting. Apologies were put forward for Sally and Alex Langton. Unfortunately Sally was ill, we all hope you are feeling better now. Likewise, apologies for our newsletter editor Sharon Gradidge and husband Kevin. Sharon and Kevin had made the trip but Sharon had taken ill at the hotel they were staying in; we trust you are also now fighting fit. Also final apologies for John and Stephanie Flower (nee Pengelly). Did that fool anyone? John and Stephanie had only just arrived back from their honeymoon. We trust you both had a good time.

Following on from the A.G.M. was our first guest Carole McFaddon of the Salisbury Hospital. She showed us the "Oddstock Dropped Foot Stimulator". The what I hear you ask". This is a clever little gadget which involves an insert being placed in your shoe and being connected to a small electrical box of tricks which can be strapped to the side of your leg. The idea is that a message is sent between the insert and box when you are walking making your foot position itself more correctly when you are in gait. There are two types of stimulator, each dependant on if it is to be used on one leg or both. We were able to see this first hand with our own Ian Bennett giving us a demonstration by walking around the room. We could all see the improvement, a very clever device.

Lunch followed our guest. A good spread was set before us by the staff at the centre. Plenty of food and drink for everyone. As visitors to the Wallsworth centre we were given free passes by the Nature In Art Centre and some of us took the opportunity during the lunch break to taken in it's offerings.

With lunch over, our next speaker was Richard Sealey, an expert in Orthotics and Physiotherapy.

Richard made it clear to us that if we are seeking advice in respect of exercise and physiotherapy we should be consulting a Neuro Physiotherapist. They will forsee the problems that we all suffer from and will know best how to fight them. Richard demonstrated a few simple exercises which he felt might be of some help. One of these was to lift each leg slowly out sideways and hold for say 20 secs. Richard also showed us examples of orthotics which can, have, and are being worn today. One of these fittings was shown on film to us being demonstarted in hospital by our own Eric Spalding. I trust Eric will not mind me saying, but the improvement when Eric was wearing the orthotic boots was fantastic. Once again as with Ian and the Oddstock Dropped Foot Stimulator the difference before and after was amazing.

Our final guest speaker of the day was Dr Phil Wilkinson. He provided us with an update on the research that is going on to try and understand Familial Spastic Paraplegia and beat it. He advised us that they have now located 24 genes. If my memory serves me correctly it was 19 at last year's A.G.M.

Headway is being made but it is slow. FSP is not a life threatening illness/disease and therefore does not command the notice of say the cancers. However fear not, Dr Wilkinson advised us that research is progressing all the time. The Americans have a fruit fly that has been given FSP and it now does not fly very well. The French have given FSP to a mouse and it has developed. Yes I know this is small change given the bigger picture but I felt reassured in knowing that we were not alone, other peoples and countries were fighting with us. Dr Wilkinson also discussed the research that had taken place in America and the Middle East where certain groups produce large families and this in turn can test the "hit rate" when FSP is passed from one generation to another.

The final item of the day was a raffle, put together by Sharon. This is turn drew proceedings to a close choruses rang out, and we all made our way home.

I would like to thank all those responsible for arranging the day and putting it together. I think we can all draw a lot of positives from the day.

Nigel Bulbeck, Region 1.

Minutes of The FSP Support Group Annual General Meeting Saturday 20th September 2003

The meeting began at 10.50am. David Pearce, Group Secretary opened the meeting and welcomed everyone to the Wallsworth Centre of The Nature in art Museum in Twigworth Gloucester.

Apologies have been received from Stephanie and John Flower, Sally and Alec Langton, Sharon and Kevin Gradidge.

The Minutes of the 2002 agm had been circulated in the November 2002 newsletter and assumed read. There were no matters arising and they were agreed as being a true account. As a point of reference, at future AGMs copies will be available on the day and made available to new members (on request) who had not received the appropriate newsletter.

Mike Fawcett circulated the Income and Expenditure account for the year ending 30th April 2003. The financial support the group had received over previous years in the production and distribution of our newsletter highlighted the real price for products and services we were now confronted with. Increased costs for both printing and mailing of the improved newsletter (vital in how we present ourselves to the medical profession and like minded bodies) were noted. We have for example, purchased a laser printer for £395 to handle the newsletter & upgraded the help-line computer for £410. It was suggested that where appropriate newsletters will be circulated by electronic mail. The subject of the extent to which we may be able to make donations to those involved in the research on FSP is to be investigated. There were no questions.

David Pearce began by confirming Ian Bennett had kindly agreed to investigate our approach to The Charities Commission where inevitably the committee structure and tasks undertaken will need revision. A situation where too much dependence is left with one post is most certainly not in the interest of the group’s long term functioning. Clearly a greater number of smaller roles are more easily covered as circumstances dictate. The recent questionnaire produced offers of help, which David would follow up on. Chasing of subscriptions continues to be a very major headache were valuable time, money and effort is being wasted every quarter. It was agreed the renewal form could be inserted separately in the very front of the relevant newsletter.

Projects for the coming year are to include:

    • Guidance from the membership to ensure we operate on a needs led basis.
    • Conferences in both the North & South
    • Greater support to area coordinators
    • Update of the flyer to reflect the successes and steps forward we have made together over the last three years.
    • Mail shots
    • The right people in the right places to achieve the above and more.

David thanked the area coordinators and committee members for their help, encouragement, and support throughout the year.

Election of Committee Members

As there were no nominations the following have agreed to stand, were proposed and seconded for the coming year.

David Pearce: Group Secretary.

Sharon Gradidge: N/Letter.

Mike Fawcett: Treasurer.

Stephanie Flower: Help Line.

We would like to take this opportunity of thanking Sally Langton for her work in creating an awareness of the group for many years. Via various publications, she has probably encouraged some 20/30 people to become members. Whilst stepping down from the committee she has agreed to continue her work following up on all new members with the view to maintaining a detailed data base re age, family, location etc.

The meeting closed at 11.25 pm.

Since The AGM The Following Decisions Were Made

      1. David Pearce, will take on the role of FSP Support Group Chairman
      2. Ian Bennett and Nigel Bulbeck will give assistance to David with secretarial duties
      3. Mike Fawcett, in addition to being Group Treasurer will also be conference organiser and travel advisor.
      4. Ian Smith and Sally Langton will stand down. However, Sally will still continue with her very important role of promoting group awareness.
      5. Stephanie Flower will still continue with the very important role as Help-Line advisor.
      6. Sharon Gradidge will continue as Newsletter Secretary.

Outstanding Subscriptions at 31st October 2003

The treasurer has found that we have entered the second half of our financial year with 30 unpaid subscriptions and have thus been deprived of no less than £360. He should not have to keep reminding members that our financial year commences on May 1st each year and subscriptions are payable shortly after that date. Many of these people left it late last year as well.

Please forward your outstanding payment to: Mike Fawcett.

A.G.M. Saturday 20th September 2003 Members’ Letters:

Gabrielle Cooper writes:

Dear Mike, I am writing to thank you & the members of the committee who organised the annual conference. It was the first time I had attended an A.G.M., & I was overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people & the outstanding quality of the guest speakers. I was genuinely surprised to walk into a room of people who had the same problems I have, after dealing with my disability alone for so long. Although my problems in dealing with FSP are far from solved, the conference was a positive step in tackling the issues, which surround the condition.

I was also delighted to meet with other members who had been affected by FSP at a young age, & who were the only members of their family to have the condition. It certainly made me feel that. I was not alone!!

I close this letter thanking you & all those involved for your hard work, & look forward to seeing you next year,

Yours faithfully, Gabrielle Cooper.

Jacqui McLaughlin writes:

Dear David, I am most grateful for getting the chance to attend the A.G.M. As you know I travelled from Glasgow, which took around six hours. Fortunately the weather was very pleasant with delightful scenery. Mike Fawcett had informed me of a hotel very close to the Museum Of The Arts, I dined there with my husband & mother which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Mike had kindly taken the time to draw up a map for me, which enabled me to easily find my destination. The meeting was fantastically beneficial to me. It was most interesting & a learning curve in the right direction for the future. I thoroughly appreciated the time the speakers had taken to come & share their knowledge with us. The Physiotherapist gave great tips, which I have already taken on board. Ian Bennett, demonstrated the electrical foot stimulator, which I myself hope to use at some point in the future. This gives me great hope & puts me in a more positive frame of mind to know there are steps being taken to support HSP patients. It gave me great comfort to have informal chats with other HSP members. It gave us the chance to share our experiences & concerns. I hope that you found it equally beneficial. Thank you for you time & support. I look forward to seeing you at the next annual meeting.

Best regards, Jacqui McLaughlin.

Caroline Begg Writes:

I am 27 years old & was diagnosed with HSP at the beginning of this year, although I have had symptoms my whole life. Being diagnosed made me really happy as I could finally explain my condition to others instead of describing it as a "balance problem". The first meeting I attended was 1st April this year, I was really scared, as I didn't know what to expect. However, when I saw people walking the same way, & everyone so happy it put me at ease & I didn't feel so strange anymore. Not knowing much about HSP, I presumed that everyone who has inherited HSP has had it from birth, not true in my case, as I am the only sufferer. I was also fascinated to learn that most people only develop symptoms in their mid-thirties. >The A.G.M. was a huge success. It was great to bring my sister along as she could see HSP from another side & meeting & chatting with everyone alongside familiar faces from my first HSP meeting. At the beginning of the meeting David stressed that he wished more members would attend, so I would like to say that if I hadn't attended these meetings I would not at present be so confident in myself or understand HSP as much as I do now & suggest that members find out more about meetings in their area. I learnt a great deal from this conference, which helped both my sister & I understand many aspects of HSP that were previously to daunting to take in. I would like to thank everybody who helped in organising the conference, as I am sure it helped all those who did attend.

Take care, Caroline Begg.

Chatsworth (Derbyshire)

[The home of the Duke & Duchess of Devonshire]

I was fortunate enough to be invited to join 3 friends on a day trip to Chatsworth House. We were to go on Friday 4th July, 2003. (The intention was that we would all contribute towards a joint picnic). Now, I'm not one for stately homes as such, but fancied the idea of a picnic on someone else's lawn, and a day out too (as a child I'd been made to visit Woburn Abbey so many times, I felt I knew the (then) Duke of Bedford, personally). But now that I've matured a little, I find that I appreciate 'gardens' for what they are (A tranquil refuge from the hurly burly).

I pre booked an electric scooter (free) at Chatsworth. And was pleasantly surprised to find that these were not the 'rough and ready' type sometimes seen at supermarkets. For details, Tel: 01246592204, Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit www.chatsworth.org

We had arrived at 10:00, and were a little early for the 'staff'. In fact, we were probably amongst the first 20 cars there, and were directed to park in front of the lodge. My friend had said to the car park attendant the I was disabled, and I displayed my blue badge too. Little did we know it, but we were within 25 paces of the loo's. Fantastic. Whilst waiting for my scooter (we were early) a chap jumped out of his JCB digger and enquired after my health (I was clinging to my walking frame). My friends and I assured him that all was well, and that the lodge staff were aware that I was there. From that moment on, I 'knew' that I would have no problems being 'disabled'.

My electric scooter duly arrived, I demonstrated that I had understood the 'driving instructions', signed the form, and was "free'. We went off to the stables restaurant for a cuppa (we were all gagging) and on arrival, asked where I should park the scooter. The staff wouldn't hear of me parking it, and instead insisted that I drive into the dining area. From there we perused the stables shop & plant area. Still no problem with access. At some point, we had been given a map of the area. This map indicated 'good paths & flat going', 'various surfaces & slight gradients', 'grass paths & steeper surfaces'. My friends wanted to visit the costume area & the house. I was content to visit the garden.

Using the map as a guide, I located the garden entrance and was about to pay the entrance fee when the chap waved me through (free). He asked if I needed a map, and tactfully suggested that I stay off the grass until it had time to dry. The gardens were a treat. Something new around every comer. Water falls, ponds, rock formations, a squirting 'Willow'tree, a small maze (daren't go in), an unusual 'human' sun dial and various meandering walks around bluebells etc.

At lunch time, we met up at the car, collected our picnic and ventured back into the garden area (still no charge to me) and deposited ourselves on a 'bench' to one side of the vast lawns. The day was 'pleasant' and dry, but could have been a little warmer. A member of staff had said that if it was much warmer, it would have been too hot. So perhaps we were lucky.

I couldn't have gone around the house on the scooter if I'd wanted to, but could have 'viewed' the house on a video displayed in an ante room. I was met by nothing but kindness and courtesy from the staff (something I'm not used to) and would have no qualms about suggesting it as a possible day out for the disabled. I was given the scooter at 10:30 ish, and returned it at 16:30 ish. A brilliant day out. I didn't see it all, and hope to return next year.

Ray Exley co-ord, region 10.