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Size counts

THE time has come to replace ‘Modestine’.

She is chugging up even minor slopes, apparently the braking system is loose too. She has dings on front fenders from efforts to dodge the farm gate, while the statutory prayer flags on the non statutory-height pole are faded and frayed.

You may have guessed: Modestine, named for Robert Louis Stevenson’s donkey, is my mobility scooter.

The notion to upgrade came from seeing a second hand model for sale locally.

Modestine was bought from a friend who had it for his father who was not vertically challenged. Hence the shiny model in the showroom appealed for its compactitude. The seat, the steering, the body, fitted my being.

I have lived for 73¾ years in an Alice in Wonderland world – without benefit of the cake spelling ‘Eat Me’ in currants for growth. I was 4ft8¾, but shock horror, a recent review revealed more than an inch has vanished. Height officially now is 140cm – can’t bring myself to convert. Means more than ever that kitchen benches, car seating, mirrors on bathroom walls, shop counters, cappuccino machines and venue chairs are painfully inconvenient. Particularly dining chairs - within half an hour, agony. Easy chairs inevitably are too too high, too low or too deep. When legs dangle – particularly from hard seating – circulation is impeded at the biceps femoris. Consequence: cramp, pins and needles.

I have rarely spoken up. Time to stand up for stature was long overdue.

Thus I request appropriate seating at home and out. People are really helpful, despite barely concealing the smile over ‘short people’ (hate that song!) Even at the National Gallery of Victoria’s posh café a lower chair was found. And this week, a dear friend arrived with a director’s chair to accompany me in the car. <3

But we were talking about Modestine.

She came to occupy the woodshed in 2011 when the darling husband was sent away for three years (another story. Request by email: ‘Royboy – a polyunsaturated life’). Mr Henke had walked the dogs, shopped for heavy things, cooked when fatigue set in and put out the bins. Suddenly those balls were in my court, served like aces from an in form Roger Federer.

A mobility scooter seemed the best solution for exercising the dogs. We tried walking around the block, would get half way, hit the wall, then comes the common polio wail: ‘how the hell are we getting home?’

With a savvy friend went to Westernport Mobility to investigate options. Learned four wheels were preferable to three for stability and in respect of terrain. Several affordable second hand (one owner, recently deceased) were available. But hang on, not so long ago I drove an MX5 – a classic racing green Mazda sports car! Big fall in style. Tears were shed.

Decided before any purchase to evaluate reaction of the boys to running alongside little wheels. Raji was seriously anti bicycles and lawn mowers. A knowing dog, he realised this acquisition was for his benefit. Kabir took the role instantly of lead dog, mini Husky.

So one of Ian’s friends, stalwart pal in his absence, suggested his late father’s scooter might suit. The 10 year old Pride Victory was pulled from his garage, cleaned as only a Dutchman can, new batteries inserted and the seat lowered. I eventually added a rubber mat to bring the floor to a more usable level.

Day one was disastrous of course. Raji and Kabir had to learn to run on my left. Raji didn’t, owing to an emergency barkorama. I kept driving to drag him away and the lead wound tightly around the back axle. Fortunately three hefty gents at a party nearby responded to a knock at their door, laid Modestine on her side and affected rescue of Raji patiently pinned to the wheel.

Motorists in our area have been kind as we wind our way around the treed and narrow streets of Old Tyabb like Bodicea on a battery. Most slow, wave, lean out the window for a chat, asking about the dogs. Even drivers of the behemoth garbage trucks signal. Worst speedsters are young women in their ‘biscuit box’ cars, no feeling for little old ladies, four legged best friends.

More mishaps occurred – most spectacular involved about 20 elderly men in Lycra. The Southern Peninsula U3A cycle club stopped to help over a minor issue with Kabir’s lead and the axle. Thought Raji would go right off over so many bikes, but restrained himself given overwhelming numbers. Another time close to home, he ran behind, the lead jammed the drive shaft (?) Modestine could not move. Ended up with two women armed with screw drivers taking the wheel off, scooter on her side on a driveway. Couple of blokes stopped to offer assistance but the ladies were almost rude in rejection. We had it in hand.

Eventually I learned not to drive on regardless. Developed a mantra of ‘stop, turn off, rescue dogs, rescue self’.

This came in handy when a Wills St neighbour’s dog out as we were passing, terribly quickly seized Kabir by the throat. The aggressor, known to us (police parlance) was so big it could stand on hind legs to perve over our six foot fence. Fortunately Kabir, tiny Tibetan Spaniel, has a thick shawl. The big teeth made no impression. Owner saw and rushed to grab his Howitzer (any big breed is dubbed Howitzer here). We saw the bloke a couple of weeks later in a moon boot. “What happened?” I called from the road.

“Did my knee in saving your dog”, he replied bitterly. Was hard not to smirk.

As usual I wrote about the scooter acquisition process, singing its praises as a vehicle for independence. Research on road rules was included in the article. Included too was the story of scooting into Hastings where one transition between road and footpath was so rough the driver was dangerously dislodged from her seat.

This roadway is home to several nursing homes and retirement villages, so with fellow scooter users in mind, emailed the shire and our ward councillor. David rose to the occasion, organised fellow councillors to borrow mobility scooters and conducted a drive around the town. They learned the hazards facing scooter users, such as lumpy slopes between road and footpaths and perils for pedestrians of speedsters.

The outcome has been a shire mobility map for Hastings, recharge points and education forums. ‘Boadicea’ was invited to be a Scooter Ambassador. We did safety talks and became hooked on scooter advocacy. Maps for Rosebud and Somerville followed.

Back at the showroom five years later, much has changed. Husband is home safe. Raji tragically has gone to heaven, Kabir remains lead dog. The olive tree has grown so much new farm gates were installed with the opening arranged to be easier for the scooter and tall persons on foot. (Well I wasn’t being whacked by wet branches was I?)

The little red scooter that initially attracted was deemed unsuitable – the chair wasn’t sprung and its suspension wouldn’t deal with our terrain. We have no footpaths, our favoured trails involve mounting a bank, traversing drains, unmade roadways (council is frequently emailed about time for the grader to come. Must be fed up with me – Her again!).

An OT is coming to look at Modestine, look at me, go to the showroom. This time the purchase will be covered by our Aged Care Package, so has to be properly assessed.

For this I am truly grateful because one of life’s great pleasures is tootling along the road on a sunny day, listening to birds, looking at gardens, waving to neighbours, facilitating dog meetings. Even dog scooting in winter, cold winds, scarves, woolly hats, dog coats, offers exhilaration. We don’t do rain, electricity and water not advisable, though Kabir loves drinkable puddles. We carry dog drinking water but puddles are preferable, no matter how muddy (Raji loved standing in them). We also carry ‘dog poo’ bags.

For isolated or disabled people for whom recreational walking is not possible, getting out in fresh air, into the community is essential.

I suggested to a cousin in similar circumstances that a scooter enable her to go shopping, take part in community activities. “I wouldn’t have one of those!” she snorted. “I have one!” I rejoined. “Yes, but you need it, I don’t”.

Oh yes you do. Don’t be snooty or sad about the need to have little wheels.

Every new horizon is worth exploring.

Top:The bronze statue of Boudica with her daughters in her war chariot (furnished with scythes after the Persian fashion) was commissioned by Prince Albert and executed by Thomas Thornycroft. It was completed in 1905 and stands next to Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, with the following lines from Cowper's poem, referring to the British Empire: “Regions Caesar never knew Thy posterity shall sway”

Middle: Pic courtesy Jann Hartman, now poster girl for a Super Hero scoot at Hastings Day Parade (all being well) below: fund raising scoot across Hastings foreshore for Polio Australia with weary travellers, the late Raji and Kabir nursed.

Above top: me and my shadow

Left: pic for front of the Hastings Mobility map & right: Education forum, Hastings Community Centre.

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