The Griffiths' Clan decided to load up the entire contents of Tilly's bedroom and bathroom; family frox box; and a small mini-bar into our car and head south for the winter half term holiday. It is quite alarming, almost embarrassing, just how much stuff we have to take away, even for a nightstop, and having a long-based accessible vehicle and the personal strength of a Russian shot-putter sure helps. Any family living with disability knows that this 'jolly' has been months in the planning, with Rolf nervously booking non-refundable theatre tickets, with fingers and toes crossed that Tilly would remain fit enough to travel.
We were warmly welcomed, and assisted, into the Premier Inn, just next to the London Eye, and were amazed at the location and facilities of our holiday home. Rolf is still thanking his lucky stars that he could park our vehicle right underneath the hotel, where we could get at it, at no extra charge - a major selling point! The only slight drawback is that wheelchair access is only via this car park and a hotel employee is needed to operate the lift to reach this level from reception. We were told that they were looking into a lift at the front entrance, but no plans are drawn.
This hotel came well-recommended and we were not disappointed. The room was actually big enough to accommodate all of Tilly's machines, with proper beds and enough room to spin a wheelchair. The only snag was that there was no roll-in shower, so Daddie had to be Tilly's 'supporting cushion' at bathtimes. This was one of the few bits of equipment that we were sure we would not need! We'll check next time! We are also very lucky that Tilly is still light enough to be able to be transferred manually by two of us, but I imagine that it wont be too long before we will need to shoe-horn in a mobile hoist and slings to our packing.
Having cracked a bottle of Champagne to celebrate Valentines Day, and the start of our adventures we walked over the Jubilee Bridge to Chinatown and celebrated Chinese New Year at the Wong Kei restaurant. It was the girls first authentic taste of China and they loved it. Tilly caused quite a stir managing to eat with chopsticks using her arm support, and the waiter filled her lap with fortune cookies and dancing dragons.
Monday's weather was glorious so we marched off along the south bank of the Thames on the fully-accessible towpath which was truly wonderful. We stopped off at the cavernous Tate Modern, and took in a magical tour of the Globe Theatre, all without any access issues. We trooped over the Millennium Bridge and found ourselves in the jaw-dropping splendour of St. Paul's Cathedral. There is a lift for wheelchair access on the south side of the courtyard which goes to the main floor and the Crypt. Tilly was delighted with a 'round-the-corner' lift which carried her up to the main alter - brilliant. Candice and I left Tilly and Daddie scooping up a delicious stew in the Crypt cafe and moutaineered up hundreds of steps and narrow winding staircases right to the very top of the Dome. The view was certainly worth the climb.
Forsaking the buses, which are all fully accessible, we strolled down Fleet Street, and the Strand and landed in Sarastro's Restaurant in Drury Lane. The rich velvet and tasselled decor, with gilded finish and elegant chandeliers gives you the impression of actually dining on stage set for an opulent opera - which indeed you are. As the food is served the music starts and we were treated to live performances from accomplished musicians and opera singers and we were transported to La Scala! A truly unique dining experience - but watch out for the loos - younger visitors need to close their eyes and the faint hearted need to divert their gaze as the murals would like to transport one off to a Roman orgy!
Tuesday was thick with grey rain, so we hopped on the Thames Clipper with a day rover ticket. This is a brilliant service which runs every twenty minutes, stopping off at key locations from The London Eye, right up past Greenwich to the O2 Arena. The views are fantastic along the way and there is a little cafe onboard too. We loved it, especially as the Underground is pretty much inaccessible for our needs.
We jumped off at The Tower of London and tried our best to get around this amazing site. The cobbles, however, made the going very slow and uncomfortable for poor Tilly and 'her tiny hand was frozen' in the relentless rain. At other cobbly locations outside the Tower there is a single paving stone path laid which would have made Tilly's trip inside much more enjoyable. However, we were escorted by one of the very helpful Yeomen into the dazzling display of the Crown Jewels and all was instantly forgiven. Tilly went around and around on the moving walkway, eyes sparkling reflecting her joy at the magnificent treasures.
Tilly and I settled in one of the spacious cafes for lunch and Candice and Daddie explored the twisting and treacherous Tower. Next time we'll take Tilly's 'all-terrain buggy' and hopefully chose a more clement day.
We hopped back on our boat and returned to the Embankment and made our way back to Drury Lane, this time to see Oliver. We were welcomed by name at the accessible entrance and were all spellbound by the performance. It was great to see Jodie play Nancy as we had watched her progress to this role on TV.
We must have a word with Boris, however, as there is a serious lack of dropped-kerbs in this very busy area of Theatreland and there were many other wheelchair users having to negotiate steep drops and having to stay on the road at the mercy of the busy traffic. The other 'blackspots' that we found were the approach to Covent Garden, and right outside The Albert Hall there is a dropped kerb to cross a very busy road which does not have a dropped kerb the other side - there are a couple of steps! Wheelchair users beware!
We couldn't get over the relaxed breakfast scenario at the Premier Inn, which ran from 0700 to 1030. It was an amazing buffet catering for every taste, and children ate for free. What a bargain!
On Wednesday we spent the morning the National Gallery and immersed ourselves in this glorious world. It was great for the girls to see the originals of works that they have studied at school, and access to all areas was brilliant.
One of the highlights of this holiday must be our trip to see Les Miserables. The soundtrack is a real family favourite and we all know nearly all of the words as it is played on many a long journey. Tilly and I sat in a newly-installed 'lodge' which felt just like sitting in a proper 'box' - a personal lifetime's ambition! The production was magnificent and Rolf and I felt completely destroyed by the extremes of emotion that we'd encountered throughout the show. The girls loved it and want to see it again!
We didn’t really encounter too many difficulties in finding somewhere to eat in the evenings, although there are many restaurants that have steps leading into them and look like ‘no-go’ zones. To be fair, we didn’t even ask these places for entry and settled for level-access chain-style restaurants like Pizza Express, Garfunkles or the Strada