Melanie Reid’s Spinal Column

Authored By M. Reid. Reproduced by kind permission of the Saturday Times Magazine

9 Jun 2016

"With my scooter it's just me and the dog, going for a wander together again. It is wonderful"

"It looks like a ride on lawn mower", "No, it doesn't", "The front's like a bobsleigh", " Nonsense", " the Union Flag upset the Nationalists". "Listen, both of you, be quiet. I love my Tramper".

We are in the kitchen, and Dave and Janice, my carer, are mocking my new mobility scooter. Which is in the best tradition of iconic British design, very functional -looking. The teasing makes me laugh, because it is true: The Tramper was not styled by Alfa Romeo, but that is the story of my life.

Back in the Sixties, when all my gang had modern bikes, I had a monstrous old thing with sit-up-and-beg handlebars, designed for the wicker basket on the front and a Vicars wife in a tea dress. As our favourite game was Q-bikes - from the Beano cartoon of a junior vigilante bike squad - - I was forever a loser in the image stakes.

There was the same timeless sturdiness about the family car, a MK2 Landrover, an ex-army one with double bumpers a reserve fuel tank and steering wheel the diameter of a car tyre. The Mk2 handled like a Silvercross pram. Stylish it was not, along side everyone else's Mini.

My scooter, a legend in the scooter world, is very much in that bracket. Sit- up-and-beg boxy, simple switches and unapologetically unsexy. It arrived this week, and despite the pouring rain and Dave's disapproving face, I went out straight away. Just me and the dog, the nearest thing to the old days, going off for a little wander together again.

It was wonderful. There was freedom, but almost silence - the scooter runs off a battery - and solitude. Just that heady green fragrance, from falling rain on dry ground. I headed down the track. I'd promised Dave I'd turn round at the cattle grid, but I was enjoying myself, Pip needed a longer walk.

I'd like to say she was enjoying herself, but she wasn't she was unsure, because I 'm the person who lives indoors with her. Kept very close to the scooter, unsettled, checking me. "Go and run.Be happy," I exhorted her. She kept glancing anxiously back at the house.

Before I left hospital, all those years ago, a doctor handed me an advert for the all-terrain Tramper."That's what you need for the fields" he said. He meant well, but I was huffy. "Thank you", I said, "but I'm going to do it on foot." "Good for you," he said. I believed it at the time. It's taken six years to realise that I don't have to stop believing it, but it makes sense to get out there and enjoy life in the meantime. I am, as you may have gathered, a stubbornly slow learner.

Over time, lots of fellow spinal readers have tried to kick me into action, telling me that Trampers are brilliant, tough as old boots and go on for ever, rain or shine. One user even rescued an injured walker by putting them in a trailer she was towing. Others go on Ramblers' club outings on them. "I know how unglamorous they are honestly, I've had such a sense of freedom with mine," writes another friend.

Another lady feels like Jeremy Clarkson in hers. "If I switch it to top speed, it does not make me feel disabled, but rather powerful." Now I wish I could say the same after one outing, but certainly I felt an adventurer, intimate again with nature, experiencing the forgotten, precious thrill of loitering in my own time, close to the exotic spring growth on the trees and the birdsong and crunch of the stones.

Other readers encourage me to try a less sedate solution, a revolutionary British wheelchair called the Trekninetic, designed by a Formula One motor racing engineer. It's reversed, with the big wheels at the front and a single wheel at the back, and described as sensational off road by its users. Perfect for Q-bikes, I reflect. But I have chosen the Vicar's wife's bicycle.

When I got home, soaking wet, Pip was ecstatic to be back and Dave had that where-have-you-been look on his face. "do you know how long you have been away? Forty minutes" It dawns on me that every one worries about my safety except me.