This week has been a bit crazy, which is why I haven't been around these parts much. It's daft because it's exhausting me, and so ultimately it's counterproductive, but sometimes it's just how things work out. One of the things I've been doing this week is test-driving WAVs (Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles), doing three test-drives in two different models of car.
On Tuesday I tried the Renault Kangoo. The guy from the conversion company - Bill - took the car round the back of the house where my wheelchair access is and I met him in Taz. He showed me how the ramp worked, and although it was light enough as it was power-assisted, I think it will be too much with the POTS because the bending and standing affects blood pressure, which I don't maintain well at all. It was quickly decided that I'd need to apply for a grant to cover the cost of a powered ramp (£1200), so that was a very useful thing to discover and discuss. When the ramp was in place I steered the chair up it and into the car, and then secured it down. All very easy, especially as I don't need to be in the chair once I'm in the car so I can reverse the chair up the ramp without actually sitting in it, and there's loads of space for the chair both on the ramp and in the car.
Time for the test-drive itself and all started smoothly enough, but a few minutes down the dual carriageway I could hear a kind of clicky flappy sound that I mentioned to Bill. He said he'd run over something in my street when he was driving the car round the back, and had hoped he'd avoided getting a flat tyre, but now he wasn't so sure. Only minutes later, whilst caught up in the middle of a load of road works, the car was bouncing and making a pflp pflp pflp noise. Yup, we had a flat tyre. I pulled in amongst the road work cones, Bill got out, confirmed the flat tyre, and proceeded to get out the canister of foam stuff that is supposed to fill a flat tyre until you can get to a garage for a new one. It seems that most new cars don't come with a spare wheel these days, and this was certainly the case with the Kangoo. Unfortunately, it turned out that the canister didn't have enough foam in it to fill the Kangoo tyre either, so it seemed like we were a bit stuck. The guys doing the road works (actually, they were gathering the cones in) reversed their truck up the road, parked behind us, and came to see if they could help, having thought that they might be able to change the tyre for us, but of course with no tyre to change they were left just standing looking at the flat tyre that was now partly filled with foam.
The two road works men and Bill stood around for a bit looking at the floppy tyre, and wondering what to do. Bill then decided to phone his office, which is attached to the garage where they actually make the converted cars they sell. It's only a few miles away from where we'd broken down, so he asked if someone could come along with a new wheel and fit it to the car. However, the road work men needed to get on with collecting the cones in, so I had to move the car with it's flappy tyre a little way down the road into a bus stop. This rather annoyed a bus driver a little later on who thought I'd just parked there for fun.
We waited for what seemed like ages, but it gave me the opportunity to think of questions about the car, try out the radio, discuss grant applications, have a little peek around the car (in a very limited kind of way as I wasn't about to get out and walk amongst the traffic), and then get bored of waiting. Eventually the bloke from the converters garage arrived with the new wheel and a car-jack. Bill got out of the car whilst I stayed in it and got tipped up sideways while the garage bloke got the car-jack into place. This was not the most relaxing situation to be in as I was, by then, being tipped towards the traffic moving speedily past me at rather close quarters as the cones had now all been removed and speed restrictions lifted. I don't recommend finding yourself in this position if you can help it.
At last the wheel was changed and we could continue on with the test-drive, which only lasted another fifteen minutes or so, but it had taken over an hour and ten minutes to do a twenty five minute (if that) drive by the time we got back. We sorted Taz, getting him out of the car, and I came back in the flat while Bill drove the car back round to the front. Just as I was parking Taz back up in the living room I realised that while we were out, the cat had weirdly pooed on the living room floor. He never does that, and there doesn't seem to have been any reason for him to do so this time either, but it really was not what I needed to come back to. I swiftly cleared that up and then opened the front door for Bill to come in so we could both have a well-deserved cup of tea while we filled in the Motability assessment form.
Although I was due to test-drive a Citroen Berlingo with a different converter company on Friday, I arranged to do one in a Berlingo with Bill on Saturday as well. Bill suggested that I speak to Motability in the meantime to discuss the possibility of grants.
So a guy called Phil came with a Berlingo on Friday. At first glance it seems pretty similar to the Renault Kangoo, but when actually driving it felt different - better acceleration, less like a van and more like a car, a bit quieter, a bit more refined. I went the same route on this test-drive as I had done on Tuesday. This time there were no flat tyres, but at almost the exact same spot that Bill and I had got the flat tyre, we got caught up in the almost immediate aftermath of a crash between a car and a small truck, probably because the road works cones were out again and someone wasn't paying attention. Thankfully the accident didn't look too awful, but several police cars and an ambulance quickly arrived on scene. We got through the backed-up traffic eventually and continued on with the test-drive without any more events, but it hadn't been a very quick journey. Anyway, the upshot was that I preferred the Berlingo to the Kangoo, although I didn't like the ramp provided by this converter company as is didn't fold so blocked most of the view out of the back windscreen. Oh, and this conversion company said that they can't'/don't do powered ramps, so that kind of rules them out of the picture. Not that I mind very much, because Bill's company is local and I like supporting local business.
Bill came back on Saturday with his Berlingo, which also had three back seats as opposed to only the one in the car that Phil had brought. Phil had said that the XTR Berlingo (top of the range one that he brought) only came with the one back seat, but one of the things that had originally attracted me to the Berlingo was the possibility of having all three back seats if I wasn't taking Taz. Well, Bill and I worked out that it would be possible for me to get Taz into the boot of the car and still have two back seats up and able to be used as I wouldn't need any leg space for the wheelchair as I won't be travelling in Taz. This is a huge advantage. Also, if the hospital could adapt the fitting of the control panel on Taz so that it swings sideways or slides out of its current position, then I'd be able to have all three back seats of the Berlingo available for passangers or for luggage storage whilst still having Taz in the boot. It was a tight squeeze, but Taz fit snuggly and safely, and it would mean that on a long journey I could put luggage on the back seats and have really easy access to Taz at any service stations I stop at. Bill also said that they could fit a bit of carpet onto the ramp for me to stop the metal ramp tapping against the metal back of the wheelchair.
The Berlingo Bill brought on Saturday was a VTR, so the model down from what Phil had brought, but also the model that I'd most likely get funding for as the XTR has an extra £700 advance payment. Having said that, Bill said that his company are providing the VTR Plus at no extra cost until the end of March, and that has a few little extras which would be nice.
For once, the test-drive went ahead with no dramas - crashes or flat tyres or anything else - and I enjoyed the drive of the Berlingo again. I think I'm also beginning to get a bit more used to the idea of needing a WAV, so am beginning to be able to enjoy the process of choosing the car. I've pretty much made up my mind that the Berlingo is the car for me at this time, so the next step is to apply for grants.
I spoke to the grants department at Motability on Friday afternoon, at first, after an initial basic assessment, being told that I wouldn't qualify for financial assistance. I thought I had explained what I needed, but I obviously wasn't clear enough, because the woman doing the assessment seemed to think that I was asking for assistance for a vehicle that would allow me to drive from my wheelchair. I don't need that, and I'm not suprised that I don't qualify for financial help for a 'Drive-from' WAV. After questionining my eligibility for a grant, and working out the misunderstanding, the woman did another initial assessment that indicated that I would most likely be eligible for financial help, although she couldn't give me a definitive answer. I still have to make the official application, and she sent me the application forms straight away.
I've spent some of today filling in the grant application form, and printing off some of the required accompanying evidence, although I still need to get a letter from my GP and then sort some of the other paperwork. However, once that's done then I'm pretty much ready to send the forms in, and Bill said that Motability are currently getting through applications quite quickly, so he reckons that I could be getting delivery of my new car by early/mid may. Obviously I can't place an order for the car until I know what funding I have, but things are now getting sorted and a resurgence of my independence is in sight.