Thursday, 17 July 2014


Edinburgh has been a city on my must-visit ever since coming over to the UK (and possibly before that) and last week I finally got to go, and for a good cause too!

Last month I got a call for work asking if I would like to be a volunteer on a Back Up Course. 

A little about Back Up
The Back Up Trust is a charity that helps all those affecting by spinal injuries. It was first set up by James Bond stunt double and Freestyle Champion Mike Nemesvary in 1986 after he broke his neck.

 'Despite being paralysed from the shoulders down, Mike was determined to get back to the life he enjoyed.  Back Up was initially set up to offer ski courses for those affected by spinal cord injury. Over the years, Back Up has expanded its services to challenge and empower people to get ‘back up’ to a place they were at before their accident.'   

The charity lead around 17 courses a year, ranging from ski-karting in Sweden, water ski-ing, multi-activity courses in Exmoor to Back to work courses and skills for independence.

I got to go on the Edinburgh City Skills for over 50s, the first time this particular course has been run.

So after a long journey on the train up from London (4.5 hours) and getting lost I checked in to the hotel and we all gathered in the courtyard for introductions. We had 12 people on our course, and everybody has a different role. We had 2 Group Leaders - one wheelchair user and one able bodied, 2 wheelchair skills instructors, 3 buddies, 2 Personal Assistants and 3 participants. 

Our ice breaker was 2 Truths and a Lie.

Can you guess my lie?

* I can drink a glass of vinegar straight
* I played basketball for the state defence team without ever playing beforehand
* I've been travelling for the last 3 years

The course included a day of wheelchair skills. We were lucky enough to invade RBS headquarters on the outskirts of Edinburgh - it's like a town unto itself! Starbucks, Tesco Express even a flower shop!

As an able bodied person you don't realise how much you take for granted. Simple things like curbs or manoeuvering around objects, carrying a beverage, even a slight incline on a road are made that much harder for chair users. 
We had two great skills trainers on our course J and R who went through some tips on how to navigate obstacles, like flicking the front wheels up onto a curb at speed and then using the momentum to get the back wheels up.

Or having a friend that has a power chair ;-)

The next day we hit up The National Museum of Scotland. The museum is housed in a grand old building looked over by this bloke. 

I'm not sure who he is, but he definitely needs a bit of a bath!

The museum is amazingly huge! Set over 7 floors, the exhibits range from a Chinese Dynasty, the animal world, science, Changing Scotland and much more! You definitely need a whole day to prattle about.

One of the interactions is driving a F1 car. Which I did. And I failed dismally. Besides that one time when I crashed, i'm a great driver (if I do say so myself) and I stand by my judgement that the museum staff have buggered up the steering on this ride. 

My favourite bit of artwork/painting/photo was this one that I found in 'Common Causes'

Can you guess which photo is of the Australian Scottish Regiment?

In the afternoon we had a bit of a treasure hunt around the city. At one stage the clues sent us hurtling down a hill the wrong way - but there was free fudge!  Who knew a 'crag and tail' meant crossroads? Google sure didn't!!

There was a bit of controversy when we got back regarding the last clue. 
'Take the ramp down to Waverley Station and take a photo that includes every team member - must not be taken by another person. hint, head towards Left Luggage'

My team and I had no idea why we had to head to Left Luggage, but we got there and took our selfie that included all 3 team members and even the left Luggage sign. When we got back, the other teams were in uproar because we outselfied them. Well, we had different interpretations of the out of date clues. Apparently the clues were ridden before selfies were invented so you supposed to get a photo from the photo booth right next to Left Luggage. We still won though! WOOO!

Selfie at Left Luggage

Sunday included a trip to the Castle. I love a good castle and Edinburgh is awesome, especially for the views over the city. 

We started at the bottom of the Royal Mile and had to go uphill on cobblestones, which isn't the most pleasant experience in a chair. You can buy a contraption called a Free Wheel that clips on to the footplate and lifts the small front castors off the ground and turns the chair into an all-terrain vehicle.  

As an AB (able bodied) if I see someone struggling, my first desire is to give help. Don't do it! Offer help but don't do anything until you've been specifically asked. The course was all about gaining the skills to be independent. One of the participants is over 70 and pushed himself up the Mile without any assistance! With anybody or anything, you never know if you don't try. 

Knowing when to ask for help is important as well. One way we assisted the chair users is by pulling them up steep inclines. This is done with a loop of rope or similar. Put it down on the ground, roll across one side and pull the rope up so that it's in between the castors and the back wheel and under the knees. If you're assisting it's much easier to pull than push too.

 Edinburgh Castle
There is a bit just in front of the drawbridge that is supposed to have spectacular views, but the Tattoo grandstands had already been set up, so we missed out on that unfortunately.

Once inside the inner castle walls, the ground kind of flattens out a bit and to the right are the battlements and canons. We saw the canon that they shoot off every day at 1pm except Sundays. We went on a Sunday so we missed out but we got to see the gorgeous views.

Sunday afternoon was spent just like the Scottish do - Whisky!
I'm not a big fan of Scotch so the best thing about that was the free glass you get ;-)

Monday morning we headed down to Holyrood to go to Dynamic Earth. I love interactive stuff so this place was amazing! The floor shook, there was 'snow' dropped on us and a AI who answered the  most stupidest questions. 
The exhibit takes you through a series of rooms depicting the universe, from the Big Bang, right up until today. The rooms changed temperature from warm (volcanic era) to really cold (ice age) which I thought was great. 

I was lucky enough to grab a kiss off this handsome fella:


Monday afternoon was free time, then we all came together for one last dinner. This one was participant's choice and we headed to Cafe Andaluz on George Street for Spanish Tapas. They were amazing! The staff were attentive, the food was delicious and the company was great. 

Tuesday morning was farewell unfortunately. I had booked my train for the afternoon so I caught up with an old friend for lunch. I got to try the Scottish National Dish of Haggis, Neeps and Tatties. 

It was delicious! Haggis tastes just like the insides of a meat pie, only a bit more peppery. 

My 5 days in Edinburgh were amazing. I got to see nearly everything I wanted, spent time with some quality people and learnt a lot that I can hopefully apply to my job. 

Back Up is always looking for volunteers and support. If you are interested contact the team through the website: 

This was my first course but hopefully it won't be my last!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

British Summer Time Festival

On the 3rd July the British Summer Time Festival kicked of in Hyde Park. The festival goes over 7 days and features a variety of amazing musical talent.

As the Tuesday previous was payday, me and my roommate decided it would be worth it to splash our cash on tickets to the Sunday and relive our childhood with Backstreet Boys and Five!

Thanks to amazing friends of my boyfriend's I also got to go on the opening night (for the low ticketed price of £2.50) and see Jake Bugg and Arcade Fire. Even though I had no idea who they were they were pretty damn good live. Although young Jake could up his game on the interaction front. Not once did he even talk to the crowd.

As I mentioned, I haven't heard any of Arcade Fire's songs, so judging by the name I thought they might be a bit of a rock band. Turns out they're more country/mellow style. 

The festival itself offered many attractions besides the music. There were many food stalls - a lot even offering gluten free options - as well as rides like a ferris wheel and this swing chair thing.

One way to judge a festival is by the toilets. British Summer Time delivered! It was like the Ritz of portaloos, although the toilet paper needed to be stocked up more often. 

The facades of the bars looked a cross between a scene from a wild west movie and the colours of Cinque Terre in Italy.

Sunday turned out to be a lovely day, if a bit Melbourne-like in weather (4 seasons in one day). Brenna, Cara and I had a look-see around before plonking ourselves down in front of one of the big screens showing the main stage - we were fully prepared with Cara's picnic rug. 

The first act on the main stage was Diversity. For those back home, they are pretty much the British version of Justice Crew.

The next act was another one I had never heard of - Scouting For Girls

The third final act was The Vamps, one of Cara's favourite bands. They had some pretty good tunes that were easy to sing along to.

In between sets the festival had Carnival. This consisted of people dressed up in costumes and dancing to Caribbean music.

About 6pm Bree and I set off to find out where 5 were playing. There are about 5 different stages set up in the festival and unfortunately the one we wanted was closed for the day! Even more upsetting - Five had cancelled!

Luckily Cara had stayed at our spot and we were in a great place to view The Backstreet Boys when they came on the main stage half hour later.

As they started playing, the crowd came from way back to rush to the front of the stage. Everybody was on their feet dancing and singing. (Please mind the singing - I am a wee bit tone deaf!)

About halfway into their set the heavens opened and we got absolutely saturated with rain. Clothes plastered to your body saturated. Even with an umbrella. 
Didn't stop everybody from rocking out to their favourite hits from the 90s.

After the Backstreet Boys had played their last song (back streets back, alright!) we decided to pack it in and miss out on McBusted. I just wanted a nice steaming hot shower and some dry clothes.

It was an amazing day out with some good friends and well worth the £54.95 the tickets set us back. 

Monday, 7 July 2014

Richmond Park

On Thursday I caught up with my Australian mate Nathan. 

It was a lovely Summer's day so we decided to check out one of the eight Royal parks that are dotted around London. 

Richmond Park is in the South West of London and dates back to the 13th Century!. It is the largest of the parks and is also a national nature reserve. 

It was a long walk from Richmond tube stop to the gate so we decided to head in the direction of the closest cafe. And lucky we did! 

About 5 minutes down the road we came across a herd of deer. 

One of the deer thought that the grass would be greener on the other side and proceeded to hold up traffic and cross the road. 

This particular deer wasn't scared of us mere humans, he came right up and nibbled my hand! He also posed a bit for photos. 

After are amazement of the deer wore off we headed to the cafe, grabbed a cider and enjoyed the sunshine and beautiful scenery. 

River Thames

Richmond Park

Richmond Park

random path

On our way back to the tube station we found a playground! 
We took one spin on the spiny-round thing before I felt ill (I don't do rides real well) and headed down to walk along the riverbank.

We of course had to take on last selfie together as today Nathan departs on a 47 day Topdeck trip before going back to the land down under as his visa is at an end (sad face)!