This is certainly an Otterly Amazing tea towel, for a number of reasons, and comes with an Otterly Amazing story. I bought it in Aberdeen, in the Cath Kidston shop. I am not a fan of the Cath Kidston floral prints; nothing against her designs, but I am not a floral sort of a person. However, when I saw this tea towel, I was very taken with it. Was it those cute little otters, especially the one who is waving their paw? Or was it that stunning pink? Because it is a very pink, pink. Not a girly pink, or a Barbie pink, just magnificent and certainly not the sort of colour you associate with otters.
The trip to Aberdeen was definitely Otterly Amazing, from the moment we arrived at Birmingham Airport. This was only the second time we had travelled by plane, with Liz dependent on a wheelchair. The first trip was without a hitch, not so the second.
The Special Assitance Service has proved invaluable but because I am one of those people who need to get to an airport exceptionally early in order not to miss the plane, it is difficult to put my trust in other people to get us on board; but I have to say we haven’t been let down on the four journeys we have taken. I suppose the process just heightens my anxiety levels. The FlyBe flight was two and half hours late taking off; if you fly with an airline that is based on a quick turnaround, bad weather at one point in the day will always have a knock-on effect later in the chain.
We were meeting Liz’s sister and brother-in-law for an Early Bird dinner; I thought that the delay in the flight would not affect us getting there on time. How naive can you be? Aberdeen Airport has a taxi rank with, what I now understand to be, 57 wheelchair accessible taxis. Should be able to get one, easily. Haha!! We stood in the queue for a taxi. The first driver said he didn’t really know how to use them because they didn’t get disabled people at the airport. That’s strange since our FlyBe flight carried three people with visible impairments. Perhaps they knew better than to try a taxi. He opened his car, put the ramp down and said the wheelchair wouldn’t fit in. Liz reminded him that he needed to fold the back seat down. He said he wasn’t doing that and signalled to the next passenger to get in, and they did without question, not even challenging the attitude of the driver. The second driver said he had the same car as the first driver so took the next person in the queue. Six drivers refused to take Liz; six passengers, without questioning this process, must have thought it was their lucky day. At this point Liz was filling up with tears and said this was too humiliating and we were going by bus. She turned round and started to wheel herself off, but with only one useful arm didn’t move at the speed she wanted to. It wasn’t possible to ‘stomp off’ as a person who could walk would do. I followed quickly, caught up, and pushed in the manner of a stomp. The driver of the 727 bus was brilliant, waiting while we manoeuvred the wheelchair into position.
The kerfuffle with taxis meant we were amazingly late, certainly missed the Early Bird Meal, and Lyn and Rob were so hungry. We had to walk up Union Street, with a suitcase balanced on Liz’s lap. Rob came and rescued us (well actually me because by this time I could hardly breathe); I don’t suppose Lyn expected to spend her Friday night on her own, in a restaurant, with no food. But she had explained to the restaurant staff who were as angry as she was at the attitude of the taxi drivers. They let us have the Early Bird Meal even though we were really outside our time limit. Thank you Howie’s, on Chapel Street, for a generous attitude.
The story of the Airport Drivers of course went further because when the hotel receptionist asked if we had a good journey, they too were angry and gave us a card for a taxi firm (Com Cabs) who they recommended as excellent when taking passengers in wheelchairs.
As I write this now, a week later, I can still feel that sense of anger at the humiliation those six taxi drivers were willing to dish out, and at those six passengers who never questioned the driver’s willingness to take them but not Liz. After a really nice meal, I got back to the hotel and thought I would use Twitter to express my frustration.
Twitter opened a floodgate. Neil Drysdale, who writes for the Press and Journal, took up the issue, wrote an article (“How a trip to Aberdeen to spread her parents’ ashes turned sour for Liz Mackenzie”). I assume he had contacted the Airport Taxis Operational Manager who contacted Liz, apologised profusely, explained how he dealt with the matter (and she couldn’t have asked for more), described the incident as “appalling” and then sent her a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Com Cabs offered a free taxi ride the next time she was in Aberdeen, to show her how it can be done. Aberdeen Airport Taxis asked her to contact them when she was next in Aberdeen and they would deal with her directly.
However, Liz has received some quite horrible Tweets, blaming her for her difficulties; she has blocked them but assumes it was one of the six taxi drivers.
The Otterly Amazing trip continued. The reason we were there was to scatter the ashes of Liz and Lyn’s parents, to return their father to the city of his birth and reunite her parents with her aunts. It was a beautiful sunny day, maybe a bit chilly. This time there were two people using wheelchairs, Liz and her aunt. There was no problem; so you see it can work smoothly.
There is a skill to the scattering of ashes; and everyone has a story to tell. Our taxi driver told of a family gathering to do this and they were all so pleased to see each other that they left the ashes in the car. Someone else told me a story about a former naval officer’s ashes being scattered at sea. There was a regimental parade, in full dress uniform, whose uniforms were covered in ashes because they picked the wrong direction! We were all so worried about the wind blowing the ashes but it was a still day. What we didn’t take into account was how many ashes there would be (and how heavy they would be; thank goodness for Rob’s strength!!). In the main, we got the wind direction right although Jean, in her wheelchair, managed to tip some of the ashes over Liz’s shoes. That lightened the atmosphere!
Scattering of the ashes was followed by lunch at Gordon Highlanders Museum which was delightful.
How do you trust that if you order a taxi that they will take you if you are travelling in a wheelchair? This is a problem if you need to book a taxi to take you to the airport; time is the essence. In Aberdeen, Com Cabs came to the rescue. If you can rely on the transport system, it takes all the anxiety out of travelling. I remember the journalist Frank Gardiner, who uses a wheelchair, complaining about the fact that he was left on a plane, waiting for an ambi-lift for an hour and a half. My belief is that this is less likely to happen if you are travelling on a plane with a quick turnaround than if you are travelling long distance where the plane might not leave again until the next day.
The scattering of ashes is an emotional experience for any family; you don’t need a fight with taxis as well. But, somehow, there are people who understand how wrong that experience was and that helps.