Monday, 14 December 2009

Padlocked

So there I was, bossing the children around. “Clear the table, Matty, it's tea time.” “Sam, put that toy away.” Polly was attaching the Neater-Eater arm. The chilli was ready. Strictly Come X-Factor was on the telly. I went to move backwards so we could move the table ready for tea. My wheelchair wouldn't move. I tried again. Nothing.

It is a law of the universe that electric wheelchairs only break down at the weekend. Stephen Hawking, in his seminal work, A Brief History of Wheelchair Related Inconvenience postulates that the relative complexity of a wheelchair multiplied by the disabled persons dependency on the chair divided by the distance a service engineer will need to travel and factored by the time any office of any person able to facilitate a repair closes will mean that a wheelchair will breakdown after 5:30pm on a Friday and before 8:30am on a Monday. The Hawking equation therefore determined that my chair broke down at 7:00pm on a Saturday.

I pressed any number of combinations of buttons to no avail. The LCD screen on the controller had a picture of a padlock on it which summed up the situation very well. Eventually we called SERCO and explained how stuck I was. We declined the offer of an appointment on Tuesday (between the hours of 8:30am and 6:00pm) and reiterated that I was very stuck. My chair, when working is a marvel of technology – when not working it is a very very heavy armchair with a substantial human male in-situ. There are rockeries with more mobility.

The problem with engineers from SERCO who, on the whole are nice, competent people, is that they do not have specialist knowledge of every model of wheelchair. It is not realistic for them to know the ins and outs of every make and my chair is very high spec and therefore relatively uncommon. As a result Polly and I did not hold out much hope when we were told that the duty emergency engineer was on his way. Still, at least there would be an extra person around to help push.

Meanwhile we ate tea and watched Stacey be voted out of the X-Factor final. We also started ploughing through the vast amount of paperwork that came with the chair. I dimly remembered reading a manual that appertained to my particular controller. Several manuals had pictures of controllers that bore no relation to the one I have, with its smug picture of a padlock displayed on the screen, but eventually, in a folder filed under U for Unlikely to be needed, we found a booklet with some details that roughly corresponded to mine.

To unlock the padlock, which we were informed was a necessary security feature, we had to move the joystick in a particular sequence of movements. No one was more surprised than me when this worked and my chair was restored to full working order. We immediately phoned SERCO to cancel the engineer. Unfortunately he was already committed and wasn't going to return to the depot without a signature on his paperwork. He duly arrived and sucked air through his teeth whilst examining the controller in a manner meant to reassure us he had seen this model before. According to him, the padlock security feature is to enable the wheelchair user the ability to lock the chair whilst they pop into a pub or an inaccessible shop. This makes perfect sense. Anyone who needs a multi-thousand pound high specification wheelchair often wants to get out of it to wander around shops or to get some liquid refreshment. He also informed us that the padlock could be activated by nearby magnets or electrical devices like mobile phones. Perhaps you can begin to see why I don't have complete faith in the abilities of SERCO engineers.

To be fair, the engineer was very gracious about being called out on a wasted mission. We signed his paperwork and promised to keep the electric wheelchair away from anything electrical. I also assured him I'd use the padlock security feature whenever I got out of the chair to go shopping. Now, if only I can work out why the bloody thing activated in the first place.

Until next time...