Living in an inaccessible location

When I was a child growing up in the Cotswolds, we had snow every year – remember that!  Hopefully it would arrive for December 25th and stay for a few mischievous weeks.  It was the annual adventure and I could never understand why the crusty old folk never liked it!

My father owned the village post office and general stores so it was his job (delegated to my older sister and I) to deliver the post and groceries.  There were two hamlets, high up on the Cotswold escarpment that got cut off every year – the “Wood” and the “Peak” as we called them.  My sister and I would go as far as possible in the van, then take to our feet with the groceries on a sled.  We were always warmly received at journeys end and our efforts so very much appreciated.

You might think those days are gone forever, but in a manner of speaking I’m still making that same journey to remote and inaccessible places today, albeit with the help of my brilliant staff at Tomcat.  The “Woods” and “Peak” have changed for some equally off the beaten track locations, like the Orkneys, Shetlands, Hebridies, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.  We must not forget the rest of the world of course and I doubt too many businesses can claim to have custom made a tricycle for a child in Chernobyl, but we have!  My point is that if I need a boat, plane or camel to get to meet you in person, don’t despair!  We can still build you a custom made Tomcat just the same!

How do you do that, I hear you ask!

These days we are blessed with seven regional agents and many specialist centres, but for those far away places, we can still do it the old way as we did when Tomcat had created its life changing innovations such as Carer Control™, Carer Braking™, Dual axle™, Trailer Trike™, Swivel Saddle™ and others, but didn’t have the infrastructure to travel to the customer.   Instead, I would have an in depth phone chat with the customer, about every aspect of the child’s circumstances and abilities, and what the family wanted from a trike.  Better health and social freedom generally summed things up!

At the same time, I was developing computer models of the child’s “anatomy in motion” which we still use today, and from which I could design their trike.  I needed to custom build in those days because Tomcat was pioneering new ideas and pushing the boundaries of who could ride a trike, but I soon realised that with that extra effort,  custom building would produce success stories like no off the shelf product with a few standardised accessories ever could.  As a result  the company’s reputation soon began to build.

I loved doing it that way, because you made friends of strangers, and became a part of their lives and story.  Often those stories were very moving; the dedication of not just mum and dad, but the carers and professionals who were also trying to help the children, very humbling at times.  That personal involvement helped me form the moral code Tomcat has always followed; namely, that as a company, no employee would every breach the trust that was placed in us and that we would put the child’s best interests first in everything we did.  It was a policy that brought us many, many customers thereafter.

There is one little incident that happens every year that epitomises why I love this job and why it is more than just a job to my staff too.  Every Christmas for sixteen years – without fail, a lady whom we helped in a special way, travels to Tomcat from Taunton with a Christmas card and strawberry jam and custard doughnuts to say thank you.  Her son still rides a Tomcat every day of his life and we are still a part of that family’s story.

Anyway, I digress! 

Eventually I got round to writing down all the questions I would usually ask on a computer form with drop down answers so the customer could give us the information we needed to custom build.  At that time it wasn’t used for English speaking regions; instead we translated the questions into other languages for the foreign enquiries that came our way.  It took some fine tuning, and we always ask for a little bit of film of the child being as active as their disability would allow (walking, wobbling or playing on the carpet for example) but the basic trick is not to ask about the cycling skills they probably don’t have yet, but to ask about the life skills they demonstrate every day, and of which mum and dad are very familiar.

For example, if the question was … “Can your child climb stairs to bed at night?” I’d have little interest in their sleeping arrangements, but just think about what that question says!  If the answer is yes – (with or without hands held) – we know that the stair will be 25cm, and when we also know the child’s height, we can fairly accurately calculate the length of their femur and tibia.  Thus, we can calculate the exact angular range of movement of their hip and knee as they climb, and this is priceless in calculating frame size and pedal crank length.  It also tells us they can lift their own body weight, and if they can lift their body weight, they have more than enough strength to pedal.  It will also give us a good steer on balance, coordination and stamina.  It’s just a simple question, but with very far reaching implications!

Of course one swallow doesn’t make a summer and it needs the cross comparing of several answers to come to a conclusion over certain aspects of what we recommend, but Tomcat has built thousands of tricycles by this system over twenty years, so though it requires great skill of interpretation, we have got it off to a fine start.

So my message with this blog post today, is that if you live in one of those remote and beautiful parts of the British Isles we thankfully still have in great abundance, you are not cut off from the very best special needs tricycles in the world.  We can still build one for you and guarantee it will do its job.  In fact, it will be our very great pleasure!

Bob Griffin