Nashville and the American Superhero. Chapter 10 Book of the Lion.

So how does a West Lothian lad come to be in Nashville Tennessee? Irrespective of the story we were so glad that he was there. Our sister-in-law’s big brother had many years earlier gone to St Andrew’s University and met a girl from the other side of the world. I don’t know much about their love story, but I do know that it was about love and he followed her there, they married and had three beautiful children. Had we never landed in the hospital in Atlanta, we might never have met them. And that would have been sad. Instead it was this American Superhero who offered us a warm hand of friendship that was made all the more meaningful because it was from family, something we so badly needed at this time of crisis, even when your family links are as tenuous as this.

It’s not even that we were in as much need as we had been when the crisis was at its height; when we were alone and isolated in Atlanta, or vulnerable on the Greyhound bus. It was because we were miles away from home, that the Lion was not out of the woods yet and there was an inherent need for tactile family connections. We were with a crowd of holiday hungry tourists, hell bent on fun and frolics that our unfortunate turn of events had disabled us from being able to take part. We had talked about and longed for a trip to Nashville, because we love our country music, finally we had arrived in our most wished for location and all we really wanted was a little bit of home. Isn’t life funny.

We checked in to downtown Nashville to our hotel with the other guests, a quick resume of what was important and what our trip entailed with the tour guide and we were able to head off to explore on our own.

Nashville is synonymous with country music every street, every hostelry is linked to its musical history, The Ryman Auditorium was the original Grand Ole Opry which offered us the imagined experience of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton all standing on that centre stage gazing out on the church like pews to audiences hungry for something different. The gospel songs that so underpinned their religious life were at the heart of this music which, with that all important influence, not only sated but justified their satanic lust for entertainment. Me and the Lion sat on the pews staring at the stage, the two of us alone with our memories, sitting in silence but filled with loud imagined performances of those famous names that had filled our early lives. Memories of the Lion’s Da in the kitchen mending and making to ‘Cold Cold Heart’, or my Mum and Dad’s parties and their radiogram loaded with well thumbed vinyl albums blasted out at parties, enticing a sing-a-long to ‘ You’re my Best Friend’ by Don Williams or DIVORCE by Tammy Wynette.

The Lion told me when he was little and living in Glasgow, family parties were common and since they were the only ones with a radiogram it was hoisted precariously down the close, balanced evenly on the babies pram and guided, wobbling across Glasgow to bring Country Greats to the rest of the family and be shared by those not able to afford a music player. But country music had changed and we now had our own favourites among the legends and we headed to Legends and the Stage to hear new country from Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Terri Clarke and Toby Keith. We were in music heaven and this was also complete with the four hours we spent in the Country Music Hall of Fame. A veritable trip down memory lane peppered with auditory treats when we opened a gold disc that stirred our hearts and minds to days gone by. We loved it, it was our dream venue what was not to like? In fact we loved it so much we have now been to Nashville five times and had a real life country star living in our home ( a blog for another day).

On day one of our two day stay in Nashville we were contacted by our American Superhero at the hotel. A message left at the desk suggested he would pick us up that evening to meet his family for dinner. The Lion was still struggling with intermittent pain, but like me equally excited to be linked with family to home. We waited in our lobby for someone we had never met before, not knowing what to expect, or what they might look like. About 6 o’clock we ventured outside to wait when a blue corvette pulled up alongside our hotel, we were seated near the door taking in the evening sunshine and eyed this beautiful car with envy. A lone man slid out of the low slung seat with all the style of a man confident with his life and location. He walked toward the hotel. Whether it was intuition or just simply the timing I was drawn to him and called out his name. He stopped, turning toward us with a smile exactly the same as his sisters and I knew he was our man. The Lion eased himself up from the chair as we ventured toward this family stranger so glad to have someone in common with him that we both loved and that had brought us together.

After our celebratory introductions he beckoned toward his beautiful car, roofless there was clearly no other way to travel in such glorious sunshine. But I noticed very subtly the Lion hesitated as the journey flashed before him and he contemplated how he might go about getting into such a low lying vehicle with his sore back. This seemed lost on our host, and reaffirmed that unless you have lived it and its happening to you its not really going to penetrate the conscious activity of others. It was not lost on me and I looked at the Lion sympathetically hoping he wouldn’t make a fuss and be able to make it into this fabulous carriage without upsetting our Hero, despite his back limiting injury…………………………….

Me and my Lion. Chapter 1 Book of the Lion

It’s our wedding anniversary today, 36 years ago we said I do. It was a whirlwind romance, exactly the kind of romance you would expect from this impulsive, risk-taking dreamer. He was cautious, hesitant and averse to any kind of risk, the perfect balance then! Despite its spontaneous origins and our polarised personalities our marriage has endured (or in his case been endured) and defied any logic or odds that, on this basis, it would have survived.

Living with me has seemed at times chaotic, capricious, erratic and even effervescent, No two days were the same and he soon realised that life as he once knew it was never going to be the predictable, stable and ordered way it had been. It all suggests it’s a miracle we are here at all. And to be honest, it’s only as I have gotten older and more introspective that I have actually realised this, and it makes me all the more grateful that we made it.

We met while I was working, helping out at a local youth club where he and his cronies were playing indoor football. I was immediately drawn to his smouldering good looks, despite the fact he had a moustache ( it was the 1980’s) Our eyes met across the kitchen server at the Lanthorn in August 1980 and we had our first date in April 1981. ‘Making your mind up’ won Eurovision the night we had our first kiss, after which I certainly had.

The blog title “life’s little dramas” was not a random selection and, it’s been well documented there, that total disaster lurks around every corner, and not only when it comes to holidays. There were so many other events in our marriage that were also predicated on the same dramatic foundation I wonder why we survived them?

During the 36 yrs we have had 5 house moves, none of which he wanted to make. I used all available tactics to ensure I could get what I wanted, Once he came home and there was a for sale sign being erected in the garden. I took him to see our potential second home by torchlight that evening. I persuaded him to move to our fourth house without having sold the third and we ended up bridging for over a year when the housing market crashed in the late 80’s. (Accept that wasn’t my finest decision) Our current home, which was in need of a major upgrade when we bought it, was the closest we have ever come to a divorce but its the one he loves the most and that has secured us financially.

To the onlookers this all might curl your toes, it provides the appearance of a very unequal arrangement; perhaps you see a browbeaten husband who kowtows to his wife’s every whim. Don’t make that mistake because beneath that placid, easy going nature there’s an inner lion. While he is clearly the hesitant one, his calm, considered and thoughtful approach emerges in just the right measure when necessary. He has learned, rather deftly it must be said, to keep me tamed without me even realising it was hapening. A subtle glance, the slight tightening of the lips, the total lack of any verbal response that he knows drives me crazy but buys him the exact amount of time for the impulse to dissipate and for my reflective brain to kick in.

Also in my defence, while my decisions on the surface convey an illusion of being haphazard and ill-considered, there was amidst it all a long term strategy for our future. To give us the best opportunities later in life, required risk, boldness and bravery. He acknowledges that if it was up to him we’d still be in our first home, change was never a welcome activity. And I’ve come to realise that my impulsive decision-making wasn’t the only thing that got us here. All the best partnerships have the right blend and antidotes fundamental to establishing and maintaining equilibrium. His hesitance, pain and even panic amid my endless determination and ambition has ensured we made it in one piece to our destination.

It may have started out as a whirlwind romance, with nothing but hopes and dreams to build on, has been the rollercoaster ride of our lives. But believe that someone has a plan for me and that it was not destiny, no He sent me exactly the man that I needed. Here is to the next 36 years (if we get them) and I cant wait to see what dramas life has for us and what my lion has to cope with next. Love ya❤️

The Usain Bolt of airside assistance. Chapter 25

I gingerly edged out of the buggy, the absence of the pre-ordered wheelchairs meant that we had to walk through the security system at Gatwick. In normal circumstances that’s fine but my pace at the moment is tortoise and we ain’t got that much time. The other passenger in the buggy however was much older, had heart failure and she was exhausted just getting out of the buggy. (Shame on you Gatwick). The driver stayed with her as my husband and I started to meander through the second set of security since being airside for 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Theoretically we may have surreptitiously been targeted while contained in the safe custody of passenger assistance and had something slipped in our hand luggage. We may have been the unwitting bearer of unknown terrors between deplaning and waiting for a buggy to arrive. But as we are frequent flyers we acknowledged the need for security despite the rapidly reducing time to reach our flight. When we eventually made it to the belt other customers, who were obviously not frequent flyers and not the slightest bit aware of the rules or regulations for modern travelling, were ahead of us.

They were frantically searching their carry-on’s (that were big enough for the hold) for bottles of liquid, sharp objects and aerosols as if it was all new to them. Their ignorance nonetheless creating a sense of sheer frustration for those of us in the know and waiting to begin the security process. While I stood there patiently fuming, I was increasingly aware of my continuing bad karma that had directed me to the wrong queue. A quick glance behind us and I could see our elderly companion some way behind struggling to even make it to the line.

As we piled our minimal hand luggage into the plastic tray, I had to also remove shoes and jewellery whereas in Edinburgh, with assistance we were fast tracked and was not asked to do this. It took time with two crutches to achieve this. As in Edinburgh we were body scanned and swabbed just to be extra sure but we still managed to get through it within 10 minutes. However that only left 10 minutes until we departed. Our other companion was still being processed and, acutely aware of our plight, was notably more than a little stressed. Our buggy driver joined us advising he had organised wheelchairs which were waiting for us on the upper floor, he would then collect us at a place the buggy was accessible and take us onto the flight. Pardon me if I’m not entirely convinced this might happen as planned,

In the lift our poor companion, god bless her, continued to apologise claiming she was hindering us in our dash to make the flight. I tried to reassure her but she knew it anyway. She could hardly catch a breath, it was an awful situation we were now in thanks to the delays experienced in getting the much needed assistance in the first place. Thankfully when the lift arrived and the doors opened two wheelchairs and assistance staff were in situ, exquisite joy all round. All we had to do now was wait for the buggy. However it was clear the anxiety around our soon to depart flight was finally dawning on the assistance staff, and our woman took the initiative to take us directly to the gate herself. I have to admit that, considering the distance of this entire transition, we would never have made it to the flight on time on the crutches either.

It became apparent we had the Usain Bolt of the assistance team. we reached warp factor 50 as the wheelchair flew toward gate 21. Folk were jumping clear in fear of being mowed down like skittles. There was a considerable queue at the gate as it became obvious that boarding had commenced and almost completed. That was when Usain morphed into a bowling ball shouting “Coming Through” rattling through the jet stream of waiting passengers. Admirably and without fuss they all moved to the side and there we were tipped out of the chair and finally able to get onto our plane……………

Mobility matters. Chapter 24

Having taken the risk of going on holiday with an injury, I was seeking to explore the support for those with mobility issues. While at the same time experiencing the holiday from a completely different perspective than I am used to. It’s been an eye-opener and of course a drama.

When travelling it is always best to advise the insurance company and we have an annual plan. It was straightforward enough there were 4 simple questions to test whether you needed further assessment from medical practitioners. Bit like NHS 24; a triage system with the specific difference being that the call take is only trained in answering the phone. So the process is designed to get rid of the dross immediately. Did I have a terminal condition? Not that I was currently aware of, so NO. Has your Doctor advised you not to travel? Now that is an easy one because I have asked this repeatedly, I’m going with the senior professional as it adds weight; the Consultant suggested 6 weeks ago, ” should be fine”. Check two. Do you have any medical admissions or treatment planned while away? This was also easier since the misdiagnosis mean’t I couldnt have any, NO. And finally, the insurance get out of jail free card ” is there any reason you think you should not travel?” I’m thinking many reasons my holiday experience will be diluted; potential of DVTs, not really able to drink, sleep, dance, go excursions, but still I have answered NO despite this which should tell you how desperate I was to get out of here………

Next, I need to get my meds organised. An on-line repeat prescription all that was needed for my liquid Morphine. In fairness I wasn’t using it all that much now but ever the pragmatist, I felt there might be a risk of slips or further falls, so wanted to cover that eventuality because frankly nothing else covered that level of pain. All good, except the request prompts a call from my GP, checking of course I’m not addicted to it…..yet. But also because I might not be able to take it into the country. (Oh didn’t think of that one.) A website called HealthPro will provide the insight but my helpful GP, who having recently read the appalling debacle surrounding my injury and diagnosis was more than happy to do a little bit more and checked it out herself. Lo and behold right enough not able to take it into St Lucia. So she prescribed co-codamol instead and that served everyone’s need. I wouldn’t be an addict, nor arrested for narcotic importation and she had demonstrated the level of care we thought was lost in the NHS.

Feeling pretty organised I had also pre-booked some time ago mobility assistance through British Airways. There is a standard that is automatically associated with this brand so it was, I hoped, going to be well coordinated and seamlessly supportive in each part of the journey. In fairness to BA, they rely on the ground staff to deliver the service and ground staff are employed by the Airport, hence leadership and staff management are critical to how well the service might be delivered. Edinburgh were brilliant; excellent service, prompt, friendly staff, helpful, just the right level of intrusive questions and timely arrival at the gate. It was a scoosh at security and my husband was able to get me, albeit reluctantly to the duty free so I didn’t miss out.

Gatwick bit of a debacle; timely helpful disembarcation there and a very smart and competent coordinator who redeemed them somewhat. Guess what we had a quick turnaround between flights. (I know). While getting us off the plane (there were 3 of us needing this assistance) was easy, it seems getting back into the terminal then onto the next flight was not so straightforward. Our anticipated pre-booked connection wasn’t there, nor when this was queried was it planning to appear anytime soon. The coordinator despite her best efforts wasn’t able to assure us of anyone arriving in time to make our transfer.

I started to become a little stressed after 20 minutes when we were still airside and it was 30mins till our flight departed. It was another Florida moment. The coordinator advised the group that the connecting team were more likely to be transporting people already in the terminal, random requests brought tips and this was far more lucrative for them than fulfilling the pre-booked arrangements. Finally with 20 minutes to go we had a driver, but we still had to get to security. And of course you need to get out and walk through that or wait till they bring you a wheel chair.

It’s worth mentioning that we had a companion on the buggy, an older lady with heart failure travelling to Tampa but thankfully much later than our flight. She was unwittingly drawn into our little drama as we drew up at the security and there were no wheelchairs in sight………………….

Bastille Day. Chapter 19

It was becoming apparent I was a bit of a jinx where holidays were concerned.  While  it was bad enough wondering whether  I would make our Caribbean holiday,  another holiday was  also beginning to look a bit uncertain.  I’d booked a further two holidays while laid up, determined to make the most of my available  time.   The latest booking was to Australia, a bit of a  dream since my retirement in 2012, but it had always seemed a journey too far for my other half.  Until this accident.   In a moment of  weakness strengthened, I suspect,  by sympathy  he finally relented agreeing at last we could  go to Australia!

I didn’t need telling twice  and immediately sent for the brochure expecting  to make a hasty booking before he changed his mind. It was not unusual to be reserving another holiday before we left on the current one  and, although usually meticulous,  haste was a key factor in the uncertainty that was now unfolding.  Notwithstanding this, and before the jinx element of this story can be realised, there’s another holiday drama which plays directly  into  this story and the emerging uncertainty for our Australian trip.

It happened last year when we went to Florida  with our daughter and her family.  We had two weeks in a villa experiencing the most wonderful sights of Disney through the eyes of our grandchildren. Our daughter and son-in-law took full advantage of the on-hand  baby sitters having time to explore the adult aspects of the parks. After a full two week break we were due to fly home on Bastille Day;  the 14 July.

As we approached the last few days of our holiday we painstakingly planned our final schedule  to allow everyone the opportunity  to do exactly what they wanted and still  leave ample time to prepare for going home on Saturday. On the Friday, my daughter and her husband elected for a date day at Universal Studio while we remained  at the villa with the kids to make a start on the packing. I dropped them off glibly telling  them to take as long as they liked and enjoy their day.

I  arrived  back at the villa around noon. The kids wanted to get in the pool but papa had kept them waiting till I returned. This epitomises his cautious nature; he thrives on preparation and planning, nothing spontaneous, he does not do surprises.  Despite the delay and now the rain we all got in the pool where much fun and hilarity ensued. I made lunch about 1,  then put the youngest for a nap while the mermaid and her papa went back in for a swim.

A few texts back and forth between my daughter and I established that the kids were fine and that  they should relax, have a great time and stay out as long as they liked. I was truly an earth mother; equal measures of  satisfaction and magnanimity emanating from  my selfless actions  which had  ensured everyone was happy.    Saturated with smugness  I wanted my son to share in this rare display of earth motherliness and experience  this aura of happiness and calm I had created,  so I face-timed him and his wife whilst leisurely laying at the pool.

After this I quickly glanced at a  few Facebook posts, an almost automatic reaction before putting the phone down, only to immediately pull it back into my face when a reference to Bastille Day flickered across my screen. I’m smart enough to know that is on the 14 July and that realisation suddenly  caused a nauseaous bile, propelled by panic, to flood into my throat. I glanced at my husband and the mermaid  frolicking  in the pool and snuck unnoticed into the villa.

A quick look at my emails  identified a flashing red reminder from British Airways.  I clicked on the link fearing the worst and to my horror confirmed  I had  to check in immediately-my flight was leaving  in 2 hours. Trying to contain my  panic  I was also fast forwarding  the events about to unfold as I tentatively walked back  to the pool side to ‘surprise’  my better half  “You’re not going to like this………….”

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Is there anyone able to help? Chapter 13

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Five weeks after the accident I was still confined to bed 🛏 . I was managing to navigate the stairs with help and take a shower 🚿 if my husband was around. I was still in considerable pain 💊 and this was limiting everyday normal physical activity. The same might be said about my brain,  🧠 as it was being impacted  by both boredom and meds. So I could not work.

The home visit for my ESA remained elusive so I had no choice now but to chase it up. From my call log I identified the number☎️  I used before to ring for an update. Learning from previous failures  I called at 11am which,  even with the crystal maze element,  🔮proved useful as it was answered within 20 minutes. In fact this caught me a little by surprise; Mozart  was playing on a loop on loudspeaker on my phone. The monotonous lilt was boring me into a semi-slumber, although the relaxation 😋 was a welcome relief,  when a brisk “Hello” interrupted my reverie. I grabbed the phone  before she had the chance to hang up and managed to articulate reasonably quickly  that I was calling about my planned home visit. Was that a stifled a laugh? 🤪

This was the call that rumbled the dirty tricks 😡. deployed by the previous two encumbents.  Claims were recorded over the phone at this call centre.  Not emailed. Despite the two earlier calls to this number I  learned, despite my details having been taken, they had no trace of 😵 me. She was about to start the process of form filling when I begged her to check again.  Up to this point I must have been speaking Swahili 💩 as she could hear me  but  clearly not understand what I was on about. I’m  unaware of what exactly caused her to stop in her tracks and  check some other system,  but she finally found my details and lo and behold  agreed I had been referred for a home 🏡visit. My elation was short lived, but she could not help me,  I now had to call the DWP.

The DWP has a slightly less confusing version of the crystal maze 🔮to permit  you access  to a human person. I felt quite smug to have made it through on the first attempt. This was another trick.  The human person that answered my call  was only programmed to provide responses to the right questions. There are no clues🔬 provided as to what these questions are. There is a strong assumption that you have  been on Mastermind 📺 with DWP/ESA as your specialist subject. No normal, polite interactive conversation  where you each take turns at trying to find common ground where they assess your need and direct your enquiry, here. Every thing was responded to with  with a sneering 🤨combination of “I don’t know what you are talking about”,  “who gave you this number?”  “This is not a Universal Credit Line”

I don’t know if it was the pain, the boredom, the frustration,  or my patent  lack of ability in all matters benefit, but I lost it. 🤬 He had the ability to put me through to a Job Centre in my area but  was electing not to. I fumed and snarled, (articulately of course) the rabid dog 🐕 was back, go Jax ! And somewhere in the tirade I must have appealed to his inner conscience, either that or he just wanted rid of me, because mid stream🐸 he put me through to a helpful person at the Job Centre………….

Enter your post code after the tone. Chapter 12

Fresh from our embarrassing and uninvited visit to the Job Centre, (it’s fine we just peaked too early).  I now had a new number to call  to process my ESA claim and make an appointment to progress it …  guess where, at the Job Centre.

Nevertheless, I made the call. The government call centre’s are automated; you mainly just press numbers  but they do ask you to speak your postcode. Postcodes, remember, are important because they determine if you can claim Universal Credit. Universal Credit eligibility enables you to claim ESA etc, etc.  Anyway I have no idea why they make you speak the postcode?  Wouldn’t it be interesting to discover how many calls fail due to frustration at this stage?  I certainly gave up, albeit after six attempts, and in at least one of them I was shouting at the phone.

It is not as if we have an obscure post code; it concludes with an F, so  I always use the phonetic alphabet for clarity, especially on the phone.  However, the auto-Matilda didn’t permit that helpful approach (this reference to the Handmaid’s tale  not entirely misplaced). Neither does she have any tolerance for the well spoken  Scottish dialect. So I hung up.  Fuming.

I re-dialled when I regained my composure two days later. In my defence I was not well and was easily stressed.  I had a  couple of gobstoppers  stored in my cheeks  to aid diction.  And, with all the determination of  a lemming  driving blindly towards the cliff’s edge,  I managed to navigate the system just before I was lost in the abyss. A cautionary note, during this process Matilda will ask questions about your Universal Credit claim.  Be warned this is a trick, don’t fall for it, keep listening and wait for the option that takes you into ESA.  It is not easy but DO NOT LOSE FAITH at this stage. Just persist, persist, persist.

Once I passed through the crystal maze I waited a further 90 minutes (wondering at this stage what the key performance indicators might be for this call centre?) to be spoken to by a human person. I was again perilously close to the 6pm deadline which I’ve since realised heightens the chance for  errors.  If you are able to make the call well before 4pm;  catch them  fresh.

What should happen ( although this was not made known until much later in the process) is that  the call taker should have verbally taken me through the form and completed it at their end (some 50 questions= Some 60 minutes). Then an appointment is made for me at the local job centre to do the same all over again but this time in person.   Crazy. However, as you will recall I’d already been sent the form and completed it, totally unaware this is not normal procedure.   So the call  taker,  half an hour to finishing time,  was audibly relieved when I declared this and moved straight to making the appointment for the job centre.  But I cannot walk, or sit, or travel to a job centre I panicked. “No problem,” says he “we will arrange a home visit.”

Well, I was taken aback by this offer and quite chuffed I’d achieved it. However, I waited, and waited, and waited but the home visit didn’t materialise. I began to worry,  then I started to think they were spying on me monitoring my movements from a white van, to find ways to bust me as a fraud for asking to be seen at home. Never mind that I was genuine, applying for this benefit was beginning to make me feel as if I was some kind of cheat. I was feeling a lot like Daniel Blake…..

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