Friday, 1 February 2019

My favourite time of year!

This is the time of year when I feel healthy, happy and balanced. I know there are others that struggle with the winter, and I'm not unsympathetic to their plight, but I struggle immensely with summer and heat, so I don't think I should feel guilty for being happy at my time of year.

This is the time of year for getting out and enjoying the countryside and, as the Finns would say, being in the nature. It's not always easy, as we both work full time but we try to make the most of the weekends by getting out and exploring the area.

A couple of weeks ago, we went to Nostell Priory. It's a National Trust property and we used to be members before we went to Finland, so we decided to join again. That means we now have to visit at least one National Trust place per month to make it pay. In the winter, we'll do all the places with big grounds and lots of walks and then, in the summer, we'll look around historic houses and learn about families we've never heard of.

I have to say, Nostell was beautiful! The grounds are vast and so peaceful. We took my mountain trike so that we could go practically anywhere, and just wandered and explored. We found ourselves in fields, by a lake, and even found an enclosed area where Liggy could have a bit of freedom.

Here are a few pictures to show how lovely it was...

Photo of the lake with leaves on the banks and a winter tree

Photo across the lake with a stone bridge in the distance

Photo of Neil looking out peacefully over the fields

Photo of Liggy sniffing the grass under an old oak tree

The National Trust have an app, which I've downloaded and created a list of places I'd like to visit. On my list are:
  • Beningbrough Hall, Gallery and Gardens
  • Brimham Rocks
  • Clumber Park
  • Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens
  • Hadrian's Wall and Housesteads Fort
I think Clumber Park will be first. There are photos on the National Trust website and it looks like an idyllic place to visit in the middle of winter. I hope the snow doesn't stop us travelling but once we're there, it can do whatever it likes. My mountain trike is fine in snow. 

Friday, 28 December 2018

Looking back on 2018

We've never done a reliable family newsletter but I do manage to blog every now and then, so this is my feeble attempt at our 2018 newsletter/blog. When I say 'our', I intend to speak for Neil and I. The boys are no longer boys, and though they are still very much family, as adults, I'm sure they can tell their own story, should they wish (with one possible exception).

Work

Let's start with the positives. We both continue to have secure, full time, permanent jobs... which, by contrast to our situation a few years ago in Finland, is something neither of us should ever take for granted. We have both largely continued to work for the same employers, doing similar jobs to what we've been doing for a few years. However, we have both had 'insignificant changes' that have actually turned out to be quite significant in some ways.

Neil got moved in June and was TUPE-d across to a new company where he continues to invest my (and others') pensions, with varying degrees of cheerfulness, so that when we retire, we can be sure of a healthy pension income - that's the theory at least. The significant difference is that the new company is nowhere near home, so his previous 5 minute commute each way to work is now nearer 90 minutes each way. This means he is more tired, has less social time and has joined the competition to argue out whether train services are actually worse in the north or the south. Because only one train a day comes anywhere near us, he also has a long drive to get to a sensible railway station that offers a Plan B if his train gets cancelled. On the plus side, he does have a very modern looking, light and colourful office.

I continue (for now) to work in Adult Learning, but in May my role changed slightly. I was Area Manager for a geographical area but changed my area to online and digital. It's a secondment, which means it's a temporary project, and it gave me some interesting and enjoyable challenges in the field that I love - ICT. The highlights included learning about Citrix, which I can only describe as seriously quirky, and introducing myself to the world of Trello (online project management tool). It's quite possible that I will never encounter Citrix again, and may not be any worse off for that. Trello and I are now very close friends though, and if anything were to happen to Trello, I would grieve miserably for a long time!

The most significant little detail about my new role was that it put the word digital into my job title, which meant that when looking for a career move into e-learning, my CV didn't get ditched by robots. The result of this, is that I have just found a new job as a junior e-learning designer. I'm quite excited, at my age, about being referred to (in any context) as junior, and it really isn't as senior a position as I would like, though I hope to progress. It does offer me a few really positive aspects though:
  • Working from home a couple of days a week
  • Getting me out of traditional education and into the private sector
  • Opportunity to learn and become expert with Articulate Storyline (this is the industry standard software and the main obstacle to me finding a job)
  • A role where I can put my Masters to good use and hopefully combine e-learning theory and practice.

Holidays

To say that I have been a pain this year with holidays might be the biggest understatement ever made! We were due to go to Devon in January for a week, but cancelled at the last minute because I was so poorly and exhausted I just couldn't face travelling that far.

Our annual pilgrimage to Skegness went very well, which was fortunate, as I was a little concerned that I was becoming holiday-phobic. Spring Harvest was fantastic, apart from the first day that was so rainy that even I complained about the wet weather. My hands, gloves, sleeves (3 layers deep) and everything were soaked through! Once I'd dried out though, we had a lovely week with equal amounts of rest, relaxation, laughter and spiritual refreshment.

As October was our silver wedding anniversary, we had booked a cruise. We booked it pre-Liggy though and in reality, both the thought of leaving her in kennels for 2 weeks and the thought of having 2 weeks off work (hence using up 2 weeks of precious leave in one go) appealed less and less, so we ended up cancelling it and going to the Peak District for a week instead. That was a fantastic week, in the best accommodation in an idyllic location, with weather that was perfect for me. 

Family stuff

This year has been fairly average... normal... boring even, which made it extremely pleasant in terms of family. No major disasters, dramas or anything. The only really sad event was losing my beloved Nanny in May. It was sad that she's passed away and the last week or two wasn't very nice at all, seeing her, possibly for the first time ever, in pain, complaining and generally unhappy. However, the fact that in all of my life, I don't actually remember her really being sad, in pain, unhealthy or anything else like that, makes the last couple of weeks not seem too bad. She was 94 years old, had virtually no memory left and had no idea where she was, yet she was full of laughter, mischief and a love of life. The only time she ever sounded sad was when she talked about losing grandad - her beloved Frank. Yet even in her grief, she was always positive, talking about the wonderful life they had together. I'll be honest, I don't really want to live to 94, but if I do, I hope I can be like Nanny (but with a better memory).

The more exciting family news is that Andy, our youngest son, got engaged this year and is planning a wedding in June. His beautiful bride is lovely - everything we'd dreamt of for him. Her family and our family are completely different in many ways but I hope that means that their marriage will contain the best bits from all of us. My biggest prayer for 2019 is that their big day is filled with joy and that their marriage is healthy, filled with adventures and brings them closer together with every new day.

Looking forward

I don't like new year's resolutions but a new year does give us the chance to set new goals. Here are some of the things I would like to do in 2019:
  1. Make a positive and influential start in my new job. Once again, I seem to have found an employer that looked beyond my disability and saw the skills and experience I bring. I really hope to show them that they made the right decision and I hope I can make a difference in my new team.
  2. Teach Liggy two or three new tasks. We're quite settled now and she does so many things for me that make life easier. She loves learning new things though, and this year, I'm hoping to teach her how to help me open the doors at work (she'll hopefully release them with my access card while I open them). Then we'll see what else she could do to help me out.
  3. Go on several hikes with Neil and Liggy. I would love to do either the Monsal or Tissington Trails from end to end. I don't know if that is even possible but I'd love to try it. 
  4. Keep Neil smiling with lots of lovely home-baked treats. I need to find some that are healthy as well as tasty, or next year we'll both be trying to lose weight again. Why did God make all the tasty stuff fattening?!! I have loved seeing Neil enjoying my homemade Christmas cake, and being able to eat it with him. Now, I want to find some low-fat recipes. I might even make some of my own.
Happy new year to all our family and friends!

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Accessible Peak District - Tissington Trail and accidental Dovedale

Normally, by the last day of a holiday, I'm tired and achy and just want to get back home to my own bed, but by Thursday (our last day) I was really enjoying the week and really didn't want to go home at all. I could have cheerfully stayed for a second week, which is totally unlike me.

Tissington Trail

Following the success of the Monsal Trail, we chose from our remaining list of possible days out. Parsley Hay and the Tissington Trail were on our list and it's another disused railway. It could have been a bit samey but really, if something works, why not do more of the same?


Photo of the end of the Parsley Hay building

We parked at Parsley Hay, which is a lovely little centre, with toilets, food kiosk and a cycle hire centre. It looked like the cycle hire place did a good range of accessible bikes of various types... but I was using my mountain trike again and was more than happy as I was. Like the Monsal Trail, the Tissington Trail is a nice flat route - at least the bit we did - and a good surface with compacted gravel. We set off in the direction of Hartington Station, bearing right at this junction just after joining the trail. 

Photo of Liggy and I starting our walk

The thing that stood out most on this trail, was the beautiful scenery. It was a mainly sunny day but with some cloud and when the sun hit the hills, it made patterns through the clouds. This route felt a lot more remote than yesterday's and so, so peaceful. 

Photo of the distant hills with the sun shining on them

It's about 2 miles to Hartington. We forgot to look at the sign coming out of Parsley Hay but when we got to Hartington, we saw this one. It was nice to see disabilities represented on their code of conduct pictures. 

Photo of signpost and code of conduct including wheelchair pic

Although the actual route was remote and well off the beaten track, the station was quite lively. There was people having picnics and others parked up, beginning or ending their hikes. The station felt like a definite way marker. I don't know whether all the stations on the trail are the same, but the map would indicate good facilities throughout.

Photo of the station building

There is nothing like good toilet facilities but on country walks, the lack of loos is our biggest challenge. Many people can just pop behind a bush but that is too tricky for me. So this is just how grateful I am when we find good, clean, accessible toilets.

Photo of my excitement at good toilet facilities

At both stations we visited, there was also an outdoor tap, so getting clean water for Liggy was easy too - though on this occasion, it was more about washing off poo she rolled in, rather than drinking it. (photo later)

The trail there did feel very flat and it was only on the return trip that I realised it was all just slightly downhill on the way there. You know what that means - it was all slightly uphill on the way back! I managed absolutely fine though. It was the right level of challenge, though I would probably reverse the whole route next time. Here's a couple more pics of the route back.

Photo of little bridge over the trail

Photo of Liggy and me

As I mentioned earlier, Liggy rolled in some poo. She actually did this once in each direction, before being put swiftly back on lead. Thankfully, there was an outdoor tap, so Neil washed it off before we loaded her back in the car. What do dogs get out of this?!! Yuk! She doesn't look very pleased about being washed in cold water, does she? She did get a bath later with shampoo and warm water and much preferred that.

Photo of Neil washing Liggy

Accidental Dovedale

Next on the plan, was to drive to Tissington, have a look round the village and maybe do another section of the trail. However, Neil turned right instead of left and we ended up at Dovedale instead. On our honeymoon, Dovedale was one of our favourite days out, so rather than correct the mistake, we went with the flow.

From the car park, there is an accessible walk to the stepping stones, but that is where it ends. It's a shame there wasn't somewhere I could cross but we had a nice walk and some fun anyway. Liggy even had a little play in the river.

My favourite bit though, just demonstrated Liggy's ability to problem solve. The first photo shows her happily skipping over the stepping stones with Neil. He sometimes takes her for walks in places I can't go and she loves her 'daddy adventures'. She was probably expecting a nice hike off the path.

Photo of Neil walking Liggy over the stepping stones

However, we had been practising recalls in distracting environments and this was a good opportunity. Also, Liggy isn't that keen on water and still smelt a little poo-ish from her morning walk, so we were hoping to tempt her to have a swim. Neil let her off lead, and I called her to me. Keen to please, she set off running through the water, until it got deep enough to touch her tummy. Then she stopped and turned back. Not to be deterred, we tried again. Exact repeat. Third time, I called and she looked around her.

Photo of Neil letting Liggy off lead to come back to me

A look of 'duh!' crossed her face, as she realised there was an easier route back to me. With that, she left Neil squatting on the bank, headed back to the stepping stones and carefully made her way across, before coming and sitting square in front of me, for her good recall treats.

Photo of Liggy coming back over the stepping stones

I have to say, this was probably my favourite day out of the whole week. I hope we get to go back to the farm, the Peaks and do one of the trails again. Yesterday, I said I hoped Countryfile would do one of their rambles on the Monsal Trail but actually the Tissington Trail would be better. It's longer and has loads of toilets on the route.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Accessible Peak District - Monsal Trail

I'm back at work, which has given me less time for writing, but I am desperate to share the last two days of our holiday in the Peak District. We had a list of days out planned but, as Tuesday hadn't been the best day, and because we saw Steve Brown on Countryfile on the Sunday evening (as we cosied up in front of the log fire on the farm) and he did a piece on the Monsal Trail, we decided to change our plans.

Disused railway lines can be a perfect place for wheelchair hiking. They are rarely completely flat, but I don't want completely flat; I do need occasional low maintenance days. Have a look at the map of the trail. We did a little bit of forward planning on the Tuesday afternoon, on our way back from Chatsworth. We found, with some help from Google, Bakewell station. I wish I'd taken a photo of the ramp that goes from ground level up to the railway bridge. It certainly wouldn't have met any gradient rules at all! Then we spotted a sign with the little blue wheelchair and before I could scream obscenities at it, realised that the whole point was that this was NOT accessible but Hassop, the next station was.

I have to say, Hassop was lovely. We popped in, parked up and checked out the important things - toilets - which were cleverly at the back of the shop. As we were leaving, I spotted a lovely scarf/shawl, which I actually thought my mum-in-law would like the colour of... but then I touched it. It was 20% wool and 80% cotton and soooooooo soft! Neil, as he has a tendency to do after a tough day, immediately bought me it. I did tell him it wouldn't help my pain levels but I do love the scarf. It's the sort of texture that a small child would suck their thumb and stroke their cheek with it.

Monsal Trail

Having checked out Hassop, we went home and reviewed the map. No idea why, but I get quite excited by tunnels and I wanted to do a section that had tunnels and maybe some viaducts. Hassop is several miles equidistant from all tunnels, so we abandoned Hassop and parked up at Millers Dale. This was quieter, more remote, very peaceful and pretty (in spite of the redevelopment works going on). There was good toilet facilities and very easy access onto the trail. From there, we headed west to Chee Tor tunnels.

I had my Go Pro on, but that's ended badly! I transfered all the video to our new Chromebook but it bunged up the storage (which is tiny) and the Internet wasn't great, so it wouldn't sync. I thought I'd still got a copy on my SD card so I deleted the files. You can probably guess the rest and there's not going to be any video clips this time. Ooops! Because I videoed the whole day, we only took a couple of photos, but here they are:

Photo showing the entrance to one of the tunnels

Photo showing a close up entrance to one of the tunnels

You can see how lovely and smooth the surface is. It was great all the way that we did. It's also well away from roads, so Liggy got some extended off-lead times, which she loved. I was a bit concerned about whether she'd be frightened of the tunnels - in spite of some lighting, they were quite dark - but my bomb-proof pup was totally unphased. I loved the tunnels. They were cold and quiet but echoed beautifully. They were dark and eerie and you could only see other people as silhouettes. And then you got that 'light at the end of the tunnel', literally.

I also loved the scenery along the route, which I am unable to share, sadly. What I would love to do, is go back some day and do the whole route end-to-end. That would be a really cool challenge. Maybe Countryfile could make that their accessible ramble for Children in Need next year. The only downside on the Monsal Trail is the lack of toilets along the route. There are only two accessible ones, as far as I can tell. Thursday's day out may solve that little problem though, so you'll have to wait (as I keep being told about toilets)!

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Accessible Peak District - Chatsworth

This is a good example of how things change from one day to the next, and how accessibility is not a simple thing, not black and white, not there or not there. It's a long spectrum, with variations that depend on many different things.

Looking back

We visited Chatsworth about a year and a half ago, focussing on the house and gardens. We had the best day out and felt that this was a really wonderful accessible venue. We took my usual wheelchair and freewheel, which worked perfectly for the gardens, as most of the paths are compacted gravel. We enjoyed lunch and afternoon tea in one of the restaurants and absolutely loved it. We have said many times that we would both love to visit again.

Silver wedding anniversary treat

With the aforementioned day in mind, we planned to spend our actual anniversary at Chatsworth, but this time exploring the parkland and country estate. We debated which chair to take, and decided on my day chair with freewheel. I've had some problems with it recently but the last time I used it, all was fine, so it seemed a good choice.

Photo of me in my wheelchair with freewheel attachment

What we hadn't factored in, was how exhausted I was from the previous day's hilly exertions and how windy it was going to be and that I just generally didn't feel very well. We also hadn't realised that the estate paths are very stony and that in places, the stones are sharp and very uneven. We managed to move around a little and take a few photos but I wouldn't call it an enjoyable day, as my arms and shoulders were aching too much to manage the terrain.

The restaurant

The best part of the day was lunch. The restaurant at Chatsworth is really lovely! The day we went, they had, amongst their options, a chicken and brocolli pie with potato and veg. It was a wonderful, warming, autumn meal and even though it was quite busy, we managed to find a good place to sit.

This is where I hope to educate rather than moan about other people. We sat in the dog-friendly area, where we should have attracted less attention than usual for Liggy. Fortunately, she was being really good (as she generally is when we are eating) but we had several members of the public come very close and just stand there and stare at her. Usually, I am quite patient but Neil had obviously realised how tired and unwell I felt and tried to warn people to leave us alone. He explained that she is a working dog and asked people to leave her alone. This had no effect whatsoever. They continued to stare at us, making eye contact with Liggy and trying to get her attention. One man came up and started talking to her. I tried to explain that it was our anniversary and we would really like to enjoy an uninterrupted meal together, just for once, and we would really appreciate being left in peace. He retreated a few metres but continued to just stand there watching us.

The education point is this... I don't carry a sign on my back telling everybody that I'm having a rough day, that I'm in pain and have no energy left. Liggy does have a large sign asking that people don't distract her, not that many people see it or take notice. That day, I really needed Liggy to be on task, able to help me take my coat off, pick up my phone when dropped, and generally be on best behaviour. Although she ignored the staring people, she was struggling to grip on a slippery floor and found tugging my sleeve tricky. She was in a totally new environment, as everyday this week was, and probably felt the stress of me being off colour. I can't always communicate all the reasons why some days we just need to be left alone, but some days we do just need leaving to do our thing. Leaving us absolutely includes not sitting/standing and staring at us.

If you are ever in that situation and someone with an assistance dog asks you to leave them alone, it's nothing personal and they are not being rude, but some days, living with a disability can be tough - really tough! That day might coincide with a special occasion and the inner disappointment of it not being as special as it should have been. It might be that in spite of good accessibility, like at Chatsworth, no amount of adjustments and accessible features can ease the pain and frustration of a bad day. The person who you want to chat with about their beautiful dog, might just need a day with their other half, to make them the only person who matters that day... because on a bad day, they are the only person who really matters. It's not rude, it's just how it is.

So sorry Chatsworth but we didn't have the best day. It was nothing you did or didn't do. It's still a beautiful place and we will return again on a better day. Thank you for a lovely lunch! and a clean toilet! and free parking! and and and... here are a couple more photos...

Photo of deer grazing

Photo of some building that I can't remember the story behind.