Originally Derek and I were set to both moved to Scotland on the 8th of August but due to an ankle injury I had to undergo surgery a month before flying. It came as quite a shock but here is a letter I wrote to a friend updating her about our move and my ankle.
Dear Lee (not her real name)
I thought I’d send you an update. All went well with Biddulphs (our moving company). Alan and his crew are amazing. Let me start at the beginning.
The next day after our last message I was told I needed ankle surgery quite urgently (long story) and it had to be done that next Monday 11th July. This changed my travel plans as I had a long time of recovery. Derek, in the meantime, kept to the original travel plans as we’d already booked Biddulphs and our cat was to fly at the same time.
It was a frantic 5 days before surgery for me as I had to pack my travel bags before I went into surgery, organize my house for when I came out of surgery and sort any remaining stuff I hadn’t done for Biddulphs. On top of that I could not stand because of the damage to my ankle. I achieved a lot with Derek’s help. It’s amazing what clarity a crisis can contribute towards decision making. Derek also said “what you don’t sort here you can throw out there” and although I don’t like operating like that it is true.
Derek moved our bed down into the lounge as, after surgery, I could only move around with a Zimmer frame. This made Biddulphs packing quite a challenge. So I would rate their performance at 500%. We’re not your usual couple and our personal possessions are tricky to pack: fragile antiques, art equipment, such as easels and art done by my father, mother, 2 daughters and myself, and Derek’s electronic equipment for his work. It was a lot!
The packers were kind, understanding, patient, flexible, and kept their sense of humor even with the challenge of packing in a small space made tighter with our bed in the way. They always made a plan, I can’t praise them enough. Like other people say – I would use them again. In three days we were packed. We filled a whole container.
And me: I can’t walk for the foreseeable future or (until the surgeon gives me the go-ahead) so I have been staying with good friends, Tee and Dee, at Rondervlei Nature Reserve. I will be here till 7th September. That’s my flight date to Edinburgh via Amsterdam.
Just to add… A prologue: I try to be a very organized person and having been sent this curve ball was an absolute shock. Through this I have learnt a lot about surrender and trust about the process of my life, trusting not only God but my husband, friends, packers – everyone. It’s OK to let go. I also learned that even when people let me down it’s not the end of the world and there’s a way through it.
I would never have asked Derek, “darling, can you go ahead of me and I will come in a month’s time as I need a retreat and time out”. He wouldn’t have been happy with that but it is what I needed. I have had the most blessed time here on Rondevlei Nature Reserve with the peace and quiet and all the time to reflect over my life. It has been really stretching, constructive and healing and has come at just the right time. It’s a gift and a blessing.
End of letter.
The 7th September: Flight out of South Africa
I had been quite apprehensive about using the wheelchair assistance. I know from experience from past people say “it is a wonderful service” but I was well aware of the staff related issues after covid in the airports as much ground crew at different airports had lost their jobs. There is just not enough crew to go around. I had also read that at Schiphol if you don’t get assistance for your wheelchair you have to ask a fellow traveler to help.
So here is my experiences of wheelchair assistance at the various airports.
In South Africa I was met by sullen looking assistants and a sniffer dog, taken to gate A3 and left there. Before they left me they vaguely waved their arms as they said “if you want the toilet it is there and if you want coffee it is in that direction”. What went through my mind was: “how am I supposed to get there in a wheelchair that is not self-propelled and with all my baggage, especially as there are reminders not to leave your luggage unattended? Should they not have asked me before they got me to gate A3 if I needed the restroom or a coffee?” So I was not particularly impressed with the help and less so when I discovered I was at the wrong gate. Eventually I had fellow travelers help me get to the correct gate.
In Amsterdam the company who does the assistance is a separate company from the airlines and they were very professional. The cabin crew were very helpful and I actually got my bags carried by the captain, but the transition from one to the other was horrendous and I had to walk way further than I should normally do, thank goodness for the crutches, I would not have managed without them. The poor assistant landed up having to commandeer five people who needed assistance and I could see that she was rattled. I had to remove my boot and wait while they searched it for anything illegal i might have stored in my boot. Also at the assistance lounge there was no rest room, no vendors for refreshments and the drinking fountain was less than appealing as people were putting their mouths over the spout. I went without refreshment and bathroom for eight hours! I don’t usually complain but I think it is appalling.
The Scottish assistant met me at the door of the aeroplane, using a lift attached to a truck which drove me all the way to the doors of passport control and baggage. There was no walking involved. We were even allowed to take the wheelchair to the parking garage.
During my journey my foot swelled up despite doing the exercises, massage and getting up to stretch my legs, almost every hour. It took a week of special care for the swelling to go down.
On the light-hearted side…
Firstly, at about 5.30am on the flight over to Amsterdam we were given a bottle of water and a little packet. It was dark so I couldn’t read what it was. I didn’t want to wake people up so I used my powers of deduction which told me that it was most probably a welcome little face cloth as it was squishy and cold. When I opened it I could see it was brown and on sniffing it found it was sweet. I took a bite still wondering if it was a face cloth. As I continued to eat the chocolate brownie I pictured how funny it would have been if I had used it as a face cloth. I would have been a little brown faced.
Secondly, I was told by a very polite Dutch flight attendant that I was to meet my wheelchair assistant at the Dissem Parking Gate. I turned to the lady sitting next to me and said “I wouldn’t know where the Dissem Parking Gate is” and she said “the disembarking gate”… Then she said “you going to have such fun in Scotland” referring to all the Scottish accents.
You always have to find some humor in your day.
Well now there you have it, a little glimpse of my last two months.