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Thursday, 5 November 2020

Norfolk on wheels 3

 Felbrigg Hall and Estate

In general, we like National Trust walks and you can usually get really accurate information on their website to enable you to decide which walks are suitable. I'll start by saying that I couldn't find information on the waymarked walks at Felbrigg but we figured the lack of information probably meant that it was going to be okay.

The problem is, of course, that we are entering lockdown again and although the website says...

"We also have several waymarked walks around the estate, of varying lengths and accessibility. Just have a chat with one of the team when you arrive and they can provide you with a map and send you in the right direction."

... there was no team present. The entrance and information area was kind of deserted. So we had to get all our information from the map board, which didn't mention accessibility at all. Going on previous experience, where the shorter walks are accessible but the longer ones are a bit iffy, we decided to do two short walks, one before and one after lunch.

Victory V walk (lime arrows)

This is a 1.5 mile walk through the woods. The path was wide and apart from a few boggy bits, it was quite manageable. We passed the Ice House, which was interesting and enjoyed the beautiful autumn colours. In general the first half of the walk was a long gradual uphill, and the second half was a series of downhills with some little ups in between. In my mountain trike, it was easily manageable.

A collage of photos showing Felbrigg Hall, woodland paths, the church, reflections in the lake and me in my trike with Liggy, my black labrador.



Church and Lakes walk (blue arrows)

This is a 1.7 mile walk passing St Margaret's Church and then going down to the lake. Right from the outset, it was more challenging terrain, as it was over fields of grazing sheep, with massive piles of poo everywhere and varying lengths of grass and very uneven. However, we made it across the field to the church, which was very pretty. 

The next bit was quite a climb across another sheep field. We could see that there was a gate at the top, but usually National Trust properties have gates that work for us. So we did the climb. When we got there, we discovered a kissing gate and there was no chance of getting me through it. We almost turned back but then another couple appeared and told us they thought the gate at the bottom of the field was okay and that they would go that way and wave if it was suitable. We waited and it was wave-worthy, so we separated and Neil took Liggy the correct route, leaving me with quite a high number of sheep, to navigate a very uneven path down to the better gate. The gate was fine.

We made it through several more gates of varying difficulty and down to the lake... which was stunning in the autumn sunshine. There was a small area fenced off where a large tree had blown over and had left a gaping hole and had its roots sticking up in the air. No problem to get round. The path the other side of the lake did become increasingly narrow and there were a couple of sections where the nettles were closer than I'm really comfortable with, but I was very well dressed so I took deep breaths, prayed louder in tongues than I really intended, swore a few times and got through.

Then the path got really quite narrow, such that passing oncoming walkers would have been totally impossible... but again, it looked possible until we looked just a little further ahead. The lack of photos of what we saw is purely down to shock! Steps. Not a flight of stairs... but more mud steps with wooden edges. We stopped for a while to discuss our options. I've never attempted steps in that number before but they looked quite wide and each step was big enough to pause with my whole chair on, and faced with the possibility of retracing the entire route, I figured it was worth a try.

To our credit, we managed a few steps before I lost the plot. A higher than manageable step coincided with more nettles, which Neil decided he could push me through but I was not entirely sure of our ability to keep me and the trike upright and neither wanted to fall back down the steps or into said nettles, so I opted to get out and crawl up the remaining steps, much to the amusement of some fellow walkers.

Neil helped me back in when we were nearish to the top and we did the remaining steps with lever power and Neil pushing from behind. Liggy was baffled, distracted and less than helpful. A husky would have been more use. 

The remainder of the walk was slightly easier than the steps but still gave us some ups and downs and some more overgrown narrow paths before we eventually made it back to a concrete road. Liggy was decidedly more helpful here and between the three of us - Neil pushing, me levering and Liggy pulling, we got up a steep hill and back to the Hall and toilets. 

Several times on this walk, the thought crossed my mind... 

How difficult would it have been to mention on the map that there were kissing gates and steps? Don't get me wrong, we had some laughs on the way, and the smell of sheep/fox poo on my gloves gradually began to smell quite normal, and we all had a major sense of achievement afterwards... but some better information might have enabled us to choose a slightly more suitable walk.

East Runton

Following our walks, we had decided to visit Cromer, as we were so close. However, in the centre of Cromer was a set of temporary traffic lights, which appeared to be causing more chaos than a small town could manage and so we decided to reduce the traffic jam by one and move on.

As we continued along the coast road, Neil spotted a sign for toilets and a beach. Without even checking whether toilets were needed, he swerved in. We found a car park, toilets and an extremely steep hill down to a pretty much deserted beach... irresistible! 

I'll spare you the details of me skidding down the hill to the beach or being pushed/pulled back up... but it was a lovely quiet beach with a low tide, which gave Liggy some space to run and sniff and play in the sea. The sand was soft enough for me to sit on and relax for a while. 

Apart from being grateful for an hour on a beach, we couldn't help but notice two signs, which seemed rather ridiculous.

1. The car park was rough ground and mostly gravel or mud. At the entrance was a warning sign, telling users that it hadn't been gritted. What!?!?!?! It was made of grit. Why would anyone even think of gritting it?

2. Inside the accessible toilet was a Covid sign, telling users to queue outside the facility. But the sign was inside... so for anyone to read it, and not be at the front of the queue, they would have to be already inside the cubicle with (presumably) a total stranger on the toilet. Really!?!?!?

All week our stereotyped views of Norfolk have been challenged and changed... for the better. These two signs just undid all that good work. 

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Norfolk on wheels 2

 King's Lynn

I had no idea that King's Lynn was such an old city and that there would be so much historical architecture and stories. We needed a day where I could use my normal wheelchair, to give my arm and shoulder muscles a break and King's Lynn was the nearest city, so off we went.

I found a guided walk that the National Trust have written, so I put it on my phone and we followed it round the city, learning bits and pieces about the history of some of the buildings there. If you're interested in doing the walk, it's called the King's Lynn Heritage Walk.

Collage of photos showing a statue of George Vancouver, Neil standing under an old archway along Broad Walk, Red Mount Chapel, the Custom House and the Minster,

In terms of accessibility, King's Lynn was much like any old city - there were some cobbles, some narrow pavements and occasional piles of dog poo that someone had unhelpfully walked in and spread around. However, we found it largely a very pleasant walk, with no major obstacles and an abundance of well maintained public toilets, most of which require a RADAR key. 

One of the things that can spoil a city walk is if dropped kerbs get missed but King's Lynn was pretty good and it was easy to cross most roads. There weren't too many obstructions either, with the exception of a Highways England van, which almost totally blocked an entire pavement. You'd really think they would know better!

We particularly enjoyed 'The Walks'. a beautiful green space in the city, with wide paths, which was great for a walk and gave us somewhere to stop and have a game of frisbee with Liggy. I imagine that for those who work in the city, it provides a fantastic place to take a lunchtime walk and to destress a little.


Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Norfolk on wheels 1

 I appreciate that most people prefer to take their holidays in the middle of summer, when the sun shines brightly and you can wear shorts and t-shirts and eat ice cream... well I'm just different! I love autumn and winter holidays! There is nothing to beat getting all wrapped up and going out hiking or sight seeing with all the beautiful colours of autumn and then stopping for hot chocolate and maybe some fudge.

This year, we decided to go somewhere we've never been before and so we booked a cottage in Norfolk (more about the cottage later) and had some days out exploring the area. Here, in this first post, are the first couple of day trips...

Sandringham Estate

With Covid being a serious concern, we wanted somewhere outdoors to hike but with decent facilities, including toilets and a hot drink. Maybe it's connected with family walks when the kids were little, but I just can't resist those walks where you follow coloured arrows on wooden posts, and Sandringham was great for this. We did the yellow walk - about 3.5 miles and it was perfect for us. Here's a little collage of photos from our hike.

A collage of photos showing me in my mountain trike with Liggy, my black labrador, in the woods, surrounded by orange and brown leaves and a mixture of different trees.

From an accessibility point of view, I would say two things... 

1. The toilets are great! You need a RADAR key, which generally means a clean and well maintained loo experience. It's a proper toilet block too, with good handwashing facilities.

2. The walks are technically wheelchair accessible, in that there are no steps or stiles. However, I can't imagine attempting them in anything but an off-road chair. My mountain trike handled it very well and something like a tramper would probably be fine, but there are lots of ups and downs, and things like tree roots, bogs, soft ground, grass, pebbles, etc. I don't think I would even want to try it in my normal chair with a freewheel. 

Hunstanton

I'll start by saying that we didn't intend to visit this lovely seaside town on such a windy day! We actually set off to Holkham Hall and Estate but when we got there, it was closed, so we had a last minute change of plan. 

In terms of access, I was pretty impressed with Hunstanton. There were plenty of toilets - not perfect, but spacious and clean (you'll need a RADAR key) and somebody has clearly thought about how a wheelchair user would manage cliff paths and tricky terrain.

Collage of photos showing the cliffs, view over the Wash towards Skeggy wind farm, and the promenade

It was extremely windy, the day we visited, and it was pretty tiring fighting against the wind along the prom, though it was very pretty and so nice to hear/see the sea. Wind hypes poor Liggy up something rotten though - it's her nemesis - and so I was fighting against her a lot of the time too, which drains me a bit. It also meant we couldn't really let her off lead on the beach, which was a shame. 

At the cliffs end of the prom, there's a long ramp, taking you up to the Lookout, from where you can see right across the Wash towards Boston - you can just see the Stump on a clear day - and to Skegness and the off-shore wind farm. 

Going the other way, we walked almost all the way to Heacham. The prom is wide and well surfaced. I happened to be in my trike but my normal chair would have handled it well, especially with my Loopwheels and possibly a freewheel. We only really turned back because I needed a toilet and a passer-by was kind enough to let us know that the toilets in Heacham were all locked up.

Would we go back?

Absolutely! These were two fab days out. Loved the venues! Accessible(ish) with the right equipment. We would definitely choose a still day to go back to the beach. Out of season, there are no dog restrictions and Liggy could run for miles and have a great time. The beach is mainly sandy but with pebbles at the top and millions of mussel shells. 

Hopefully, I'll share some other Norfolk days out soon, as well as some pics and a review of the cottages.

Just a word of warning about the aforementioned hot chocolate and fudge... Her Maj is raking it in! A small bag of fudge... £7!!! You might want to remortgage the house first!

Friday, 9 October 2020

Planning a trip

The thing with having a disability, is that most things take more planning. Even a trip to the shop takes some planning, where before, I might have spontaneously just gone and bought a bar of chocolate or something. 

This weekend, I'm taking Liggy and Zerubbabel (my motorhome) and we're heading off for a weekend by ourselves, leaving Neil to attack some of those jobs that he avoids when we're around... like washing the decking, which is becoming slippery again.

So what sort of planning have we done? Well, first of all, there is the choosing of a destination and making sure I'll be able to pitch up. Then there is the more detailed planning to make sure it all goes smoothly. As this is my first solo trip, I did a couple of Amazon orders to get a couple of things to make life easier.

Washing up - we don't have anywhere to drain stuff so normally, Neil washes each item and then passes it to me for drying. We had a gadget on my wish list and were planning to ask someone for it as a Christmas pressy, but I decided to buy it now...

White plastic drainer with a cutlery holder, a grid for putting plates in, and most importantly, a shoot at one end where the water drains back into the sink.



I have planned my trips out, especially thinking about parking. I'm still not sure how parking will go. In theory, I should be able to use my blue badge as normal (must remember to transfer that, along with all my other car stuff) but obviously a motorhome is much bigger than a car, so finding a suitable space could be tricky. 

Mountain trike - one of the benefits of Zerubbabel, is that huge garage, which provides space for my mountain trike. This allows me to go hiking wherever I want... maybe even to get onto the beach, without needing help. The problem is, I can't lift it. It's too heavy! So, following much research into wheelchair ramps (jolly expensive!!!) I ordered two dog ramps...

A single black ramp from the boot of a car to the ground. The idea is for a dog to walk up it.


My plan is to use two of them to wheel my trike up into the garage. I hope it works!

Cooking/food - This is something that Neil usually does and I haven't yet trained Liggy to do. So I needed to plan meals that I can cook without having to stand for ages. I've treated myself to some king prawns and I'm going to prep some of it at home (spices, veg, etc) and I'm going to make a one pot paella kind of thing but not in a paella pan and with far too many missing ingredients. I've also planned lunches, breakfast, Liggy's food and drinks. 

I hope to take everything slowly and take lots of photos, so I might be able to update you on how I get on.

Tuesday, 22 September 2020

Zerubbabel

 Many years ago, I loved camping. By camping, I'm talking old fashioned 6-berth frame tent, with kitchen and bedrooms inside... and a toilet tent with portapotti outside. When the boys were tots, we often used to go camping with my little brother. I loved it! Then, following an extremely wet weekend and trying to roll canvas with rivers of mud flowing over it, we became caravanners. It was different but had the added bonus of feeling much safer, and it did the job for many years. 

Then we went through a posh spell of cruises and skiing holidays and that was kind of how we ended up living in Finland. 

Now, I've wanted to try motorhoming for quite a while but was undecided about whether we would be best with a campervan (who doesn't love a classic VW?) or a huge motorhome. So we've spent a while looking at what's out there and trying to think what would meet my needs best.

Meet Zerubbabel

Okay, I have done it! I have named my beast! 

Side view of a large motorhome with a big back door wide open.

Isn't she beautiful?!!

How does she meet my needs?

1. There are good sturdy handles at all entrances - perfect for heaving myself up and in.

2. At the back is a huge garage, big enough to take both my wheelchairs and luggage too.

View into the garage at the back, showing my mountain trike and Liggy's bed and long lead.

3. It has a fixed bed at the back, that I can get into and out of by lifting myself on my arms. Because it's fixed, it can stay made up.

4. The toilet is high enough for me and the shower is a separate cubicle and has a little seat. 

5. The driver and passenger seats both have really good lumbar support.


Trips away

We've had a one-nighter, just to check that everything worked okay, so next time, we're going for a weekend. Looking forward to nice long walks and maybe a day out at a socially distanced attraction. I'll post again when we've been.

Saturday, 15 August 2020

When it sounds simple but is anything but

  There are words and phrases that will become synonymous with 2020:

  • unprecedented
  • social distancing
  • lockdown
  • test and trace
  • clap for carers.
One that I have come across recently is 'quick and simple'. Everything is being made to sound simple but my experience is that many things are not as simple as they should be.

Symptoms

We were initially given two symptoms that we should be aware of: 
  1. fever
  2. new persistent cough.
More recently they have added change/lack of smell/taste. 

This sounds simple. They keep saying it on the news. If you experience these symptoms, you must self-isolate and get a test. 

It's all simple. It's simple to recognise the symptoms. It's simple to self-isolate. It's simple to get a test. 

Well, let's start with the symptoms. 

Fever

Let's leave aside my disability for now. Fever is an initial symptom of hundreds of different illnesses. In the East Riding, covid infection rates are currently at 2 per 100,000 of the population. The chances are, fever is an indication of something else, but Covid-simplicity means that we now immediately assume it could be covid. 

Now let's add in the complications of a disability. There are infections that are more common for people like me. I have to self-catheterise daily, which can increase the risk of urine infections. I'll be honest, sometimes I get a bit sick of doing it and miss a day or two and then kidney infections are a possibility. I spend my whole time wearing incontinence pads, which are less comfortable than nappies, and these can cause infection. Trouble is, I can't feel much down there, so the first sign that something is wrong is often fever. Any sensation-based symptoms take much longer to make their presence felt.

A lesser-known effect of spinal cord injuries is that your body can be less able to regulate bodily functions, such as temperature. I have found that if I spend too long in a hot environment, my body temperature goes up and I find it difficult to get it back down again. We've been drifting in and out of heatwave, so when my temperature went up on the Friday, I thought little of it. It was 30oC outside, and I was working in a garden office that was not dissimilar to a sauna.

Cough

It's quite simple, if you have a new persistent cough, get tested. A couple of times since the pandemic began, I have coughed and provoked the question, "How long have you had that cough?" I've been asthmatic since I forgot to turn the fume cupboard on in a chemistry practical in about 1991. I ended up breathing concentrated sulphuric acid and since then, I've had a cough. 

My asthma is now really well controlled. I can't even remember the last attack I had, but I do cough a lot. 

I also choke a lot. That is potentially more embarrassing, as I can't control it at all. A bit of food gets stuck and off we go! Once I start coughing, that's it! I can't stop! During this pandemic, I've evacuated a market area in a busy city and an entire country park with my choking.

Get a test - it's quick and simple

I've lost count of the number of times Matt Hancock has said this. You must get a test if you have symptoms. It's quick and simple.

When my temperature was up again on Monday (after being fine all weekend) I was a little more worried. It was still hot outside but not as intense, and I'd worked in the house which was cooler. I was also coughing a little more than usual... so I ordered a test.

Test centres

The website declared that our nearest test centre was 10 miles away. Sounds great, except that this is measured as the crow flies. The town in question is the other side of a large estuary and, not being a bird, and being rubbish at flying, we would have to drive round said estuary, on a 50 minute each way drive. 

The system being simple as it is, didn't give the option to search further.

Home test

On the surface, this seemed a better option. The site assured users that the test would be delivered next day. You then pop it in a priority post box and will get results, probably within 24 hours of it arriving at the test centre. Results are texted and emailed.

SIMPLE!

I ordered the test, first thing in the morning. It did arrive next day but not until 8:00 pm. We had to post it before 4:00 pm. So it missed that day's post. 

Don't even get me started on how 'simple' administering the test was. It was hilarious! You have to wash your hands for 20s before and after cleaning a surface to put your test kit on, and again before and after blowing your nose, and again later in the process. My hands have never been so clean, though may have little skin left!

Royal Mail tracking did enable us to know that the test arrived at the test centre at around 8:30 am on Thursday... 6 days after the initial high temperature. 

It is now Saturday and we still don't have the results. I do, however, have other symptoms that would indicate a urine infection. 

Self-isolation

While this whole fiasco is in process, the advice is simple. Do not leave the house... except to post your test kit.

Thankfully, we are now well sorted with online shopping. On the down side, I have an assistance dog that has bundles of energy and needs daily exercise and our house and garden, whilst not tiny, aren't big enough to provide all her exercise for this long.

So we've been taking her for walks but trying to time it so that we don't meet anyone. I haven't used my crutches for walks, just in case I fall and need help. I've been using my wheelchair only. So technically, I haven't touched anything. In theory, we should have got someone to walk her but not everybody has family and friends nearby and I was not going to ask either of our 80 - 90 year old neighbours to walk her! 

Based on the old rules of 7 days, I should now be fine to go out but they've recently changed it to 10 days, so that takes me to Monday and for hubby, until next Friday. So we've cancelled our plans for the weekend and we'll continue to stay in, except for dog walking, until we get results... which feels like it might never happen. 

And, simple though it all sounded at the beginning of the week, I'm now 99% certain that the results will be negative and that I'll be getting antibiotics for a urine infection as soon as I'm clear to go to the doctor's. Meanwhile, I'm trying to flush it out and drinking so much water that it's probably best to stay indoors anyway. 

I have searched for some information that might cover the possibility that you follow this simple procedure and then realise that the fever was something un-covid-related but there simply isn't anything to help me.

What have I learned?

Firstly, I have learned to be very sympathetic with those who have symptoms but don't get tested. If I'm honest, I wish I hadn't bothered. As we're nowhere close to resuming pre-covid activity, it is highly unlikely that I will get it. We're not really seeing anyone other than our sons, one of which is fully isolating (so we hardly ever see him anyway) and the other who has spent most of his life self-isolating and so is also lower risk. 

We have both been actively trying to lose a bit more weight, as being overweight isn't covid-helpful. However, I am now gaining weight because of lack of proper exercise, in spite of only consuming around 1400 calories a day. This has highlighted to me, how much I need my exercise!

Don't dust (especially a house that hasn't been dusted for months!) It makes you cough... especially if you're asthmatic.

So next time my temperature goes up, I'll keep my trap shut and continue as normal, which basically means social distancing (2 - 3m minimum) and wearing a mask where that isn't possible. I'll also continue to wash my hands (as I have done since childhood). Unless I get severe and definite symptoms, I won't be ordering a test. In reality, you have to order the test before you have symptoms for it to be useful anyway. 

Conclusion: it is definitely NOT quick OR simple!

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Not so low fat strawberry muffins

A few weeks ago, I posted a recipe for low fat banana muffins. It's important to have some good low fat recipes for those days when you sit on your bum all day and do nothing... I mean do mental work instead of physical. Then you need a not low fat recipe for when you are physically active or just need the comfort of a sugar rush. 

I also needed a recipe that used strawberries because my raised bed is delivering at an unmanageable rate and I don't want to waste a single strawberry, but they don't last very long and the freezer is currently full. Nice problem to have!

Ingredients

150g plain flour (I tried it with gluten-free flour and decided it also needed xanthan gum)
1 heaped tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 egg (big is best)
50g butter, melted (if you need dairy-free, just substitute this for your usual marg)
75g soft light sugar
220g strawberries, washed and chopped pretty small (if you have a glut of produce, like me, I recommend separating out the wonky strawberries from the perfectly formed ones and keep the latter for something where looks matter)

A wooden chopping board full of finely chopped strawberries
Wonky strawberries for muffins
A bowl full of perfectly formed whole strawberries
Pretty strawberries for eating
 

Method

1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 or 200oC. If you're American or for some reason still use F temperatures or if you're a geek and think in Kelvin, you're going to have to convert for yourself, or Google it. Also, get all your stuff ready and put 6 or 7 muffin cases into a tin. I prefer silicon ones, unless I'm giving them away. 

A 6-hole muffin tin with alternate blue and purple silicon muffin cases
Prepared muffin tin


2. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. If, like me, you resorted to getting your plain flour from a discount shop due to Covid-flour-famine, it might need some encouragement to get it through the sieve.

A sieve full of flour, baking powder and salt, over a large plastic bowl
Sieve dry ingredients


3. In another large bowl, whisk the egg, butter and sugar until all smooth and gooey. You could also add vanilla essence here, if you like it.

Glass bowl containing egg, melted butter and sugar
Egg, butter and sugar ready to whisk
Wet ingredients after whisking. It looks like a pale brown soup.
Wet ingredients after whisking


4. Sieve the dry ingredients from the first bowl into the wet ingredients. Delia always recommends a double sieving and she is the expert on such matters.

5. Quickly and lightly, fold in the dry ingredients.

6. Add the chopped strawberries and mix these in too. Try not to be tempted to steal any to eat now and/or give treats to the dog.

Raw muffin mixture with the strawberries mixed in.
Raw muffin mix


7. Share the mixture between 6 or 7 muffin cases. As usual, I recommend making a spare, so you can test one and still have half a dozen for any socially distanced guests.

Blue muffin case full of the raw mixture
Filled muffin case


8. Bake in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes. When done, they will look like cooked muffins, instead of raw ones, and a pricker will come out nice and dry.

Freshly cooked muffins, still in the tins
Freshly cooked muffins


9. Whilst they are cooking, lick the bowl out. This is very important. Nanny, from whom I learned everything I know about baking, taught me this. It also makes washing up a bit easier too.

10. When cooked, put them on a wire rack to cool. Whilst cooling, eat muffin number 7 hot.

Cooked muffins cooling on a black wire rack. They look extremely tasty!
Seven freshly cooked muffins - though one won't be around much longer!

Sunday, 7 June 2020

Processing #blacklivesmatter as an outsider

The last couple of weeks have seen social media filled with posts connected to the #blacklivesmatter agenda. It's kind of weird as a white woman trying to work out where I stand on this. I fully support the cause. The very fact that police are targeting black people more than white people, which is happening in the UK too (All the data on black people and the police in England and Wales) is just unacceptable and completely wrong.

Whilst I haven't experienced discrimination based on the colour of my skin, I have experienced discrimination based on other characteristics: disability, gender, age, language, even accent. Every time I have experienced discrimination, it has been hurtful and has made me feel like less of a person. And that's not okay.

So my first question is: why are some people racist? Maybe the bigger question is: how do we become prejudiced?

I had a little look around the Internet and found a couple of articles that helped me to begin to consider this.

Why are people racist? - this is targeted at Australian young people. It focuses on how early relationships influence our views, how we take on the views of our family and friends, and how we then form connections with others that reinforce those views.

The psychology of racism - this addresses the idea that somehow racism is a natural thing that enabled early humans to have access to food and resources. I have to admit, this would never have crossed my mind. I was quite relieved to read that the theory is probably unfounded.

Racism vs discrimination: why the distinction matters - I found this one easiest to relate to. It made me question my own prejudices, which I think are mainly connected to other characteristics than race, but do include some racial aspects.

What this article does suggest, is that open and honest discussion about prejudices is needed. The way to avoid discrimination is to be more self-aware and to feel safe to acknowledge where we have biases, whether conscious or unconscious.

As a child, I don't recall being prejudiced at all. I grew up without much awareness of the wider world. I didn't watch TV at all, never mind the news. The first experiences I had of meeting people from other races, were positive (for me at least).

1. There was one black girl at my secondary school. She was very beautiful! Her skin was so smooth and her hair fascinated me. I once ended up behind her in the dinner queue, and I tried to touch her plaits without her noticing. I just wanted to know what her hair felt like. Mine was straight and straggly and I plaited it to keep it out of the way. I would have done anything to have Hattie's hair. I even went home and tried to do my hair in lots of little plaits like hers, but it didn't work with my hair.

2. There was one shop in town that was owned by a Pakistani man. He was quite sceptical of teenagers, only allowing two at a time in the shop. This didn't bother me. I mean, I just accepted that he had probably had teenagers stealing from him and was responding to protect himself. He sold sweets in jars, the old fashioned way, and I loved buying sweets there. What really stood out to me though, was that this man had no staff. He alone ran his shop and it was open from early morning to late at night. I don't think he ever had holidays. I was struck by this level of hard work, commitment and dedication to his business.

Without realising it, prejudices and biases were beginning to form. I had learned that black people are more beautiful than white people and that Pakistanis are harder working than English people. Why did I associate these with a whole race, rather than an individual? I don't know. Maybe because each of them represented ALL the people I had encountered from their race at that time.

I had other prejudices form as I grew up, not connected to race. I learned that most men are violent and are likely to harm women. You can trust old people but not young people. I also learned, growing up on a large council estate that being part of a defined group, connected to where you live, can give you protection if you stay in your location but can be a problem if you go to a rival estate. As a young girl, afraid of pain and fighting, I went with the idea of keeping a low profile and trying to fit in when I had to walk near another estate. Of course, this affected my beliefs about culture and that still feeds into my adult views.

Human views are really very complex. Each of us has had experiences that have caused deeply rooted beliefs about all kinds of things. Sometimes these reinforce each other and sometimes they cancel each other out.

I'm lucky, my experience of black people has remained positive. I still maintain what started as a joke, my biggest prejudice is against black BMW drivers. By that I mean people who drive black BMWs, not drivers of BMWs who are black. It's the colour of the car, not the person. I don't know how this prejudice started. It has developed in the last 5 years, and is largely connected to the area where I live. In this area, it just seems that black BMWs are driven in such a way to put others at risk. Of course, then, every time I see an accident involving a black BMW, my views are reinforced.

It's easy to see how the same could happen with racist views. It could start with one experience, which is backed up by another experience and then all the positive encounters go unnoticed whilst further negative encounters reinforce the racist beliefs.

I definitely think the key is more honest discussion. What do we assume when we are confronted by a negative situation? I've just seen on the news, an incident from yesterday's #blacklivesmatter protests. Somebody (unseen) pushed a bike into a police horse, causing it to bolt and injure the rider and another protester. The horse was clearly very frightened and whoever did it... well, that's the question. What do I assume about the person who did it?

I'll be honest, I didn't think about whether that person was black or white. I did assume they were male. I did assume he was young (probably between 20 and 30 years old). I made assumptions about how he was dressed and what his voice sounded like. I assumed he was shouting aggressively. I also assumed that he was there more to cause trouble than to support the original cause.

If pressed, I might actually assume that this person was white... that maybe his intention was to discredit the cause, make the protesters look bad.

There, you see, I've decided that I know an awful lot about a person who I have never even met. You might not have done that. You might be a better person than me.

I'll tell you what I didn't think. I didn't assume that the bike-hurler was a white middle-aged woman in a wheelchair.

I'll tell you what else I didn't think. I didn't think it was just an accident. I didn't think it was possible that somebody had just cycled down a hill and their brakes failed and they saw impending doom and jumped off the bike just before it hit the crowd. But that is also a possibility... not the way the media showed it... but possible.

So yeah, the media also play a large role in developing our views. Social media does too, maybe even more so.

I think, having processed some of what is happening right now, we all have a whole range of biases and prejudices, often unconscious, that are responsible for our initial reaction to a situation. In order to challenge and change these views, some of which might be right but many not, we need to be open and honest about them. We need to be able to discuss them without feeling attacked or threatened. We need to be able to make decisions about them... whether they are based in fact or fear.

Prejudice is something we all have within us. Discrimination is when we act on those prejudices in such a way that we treat a person or a group badly because of our prejudices. That's not okay. It is wrong.




Sunday, 24 May 2020

Low fat banana muffins

I've never done this before but I love baking and often adapt recipes and ways of working so that I can bake independently and enjoy nomity treats without putting on weight. So from time to time, I may share a recipe or two...

I've been trying really hard to cut down on the amount of stuff we throw away, so where possible, I will suggest non-disposable items and recipes that use up food that might get thrown away.

Low fat banana muffins

This recipe has no butter/margarine in it and uses half rye and half plain flour. It is easy enough to make without an electric mixer, as there is no beating and it doesn't create too much washing up.

6 low fat banana muffins cooling on a cooling rack; one muffin on a plate, ready to eat while it is still warm


Ingredients

50g dark rye flour
75g plain flour
3 rounded tbsp light soft brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
50 ml oil
50g natural yogurt (low fat)
2 mashed bananas (best to use the ones that are so ripe you thought about chucking them)

Preparation

Pre-heat the oven to 200oC
Put 7 silicon muffin cases into a muffin tray (that way you can test one and still leave a nice half dozen for later)

Method

  1. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl. 
  2. Add the sugar. 
  3. Whisk the egg, oil and yogurt together.
  4. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ones.
  5. Stir with a spoon.
  6. Add in the mashed banana and stir.
  7. Divide the mixture between the muffin tins.
  8. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 minutes.
  9. When they are done, they will look nice, smell nice and a cake pricker will come out nice and clean when you stab a muffin through the heart.
  10. Put six of the muffins on a cooling rack for later and eat the seventh one while it is still warm. That way, all the calories will just melt away.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

A new set of wheels

It's a problem children face - growing out of their wheelchair and needing a new one, even though the old one is still fine. Except, children grow. I shrunk. My old chair is 18"/19" wide, because that's what I needed when I bought it 4 to 5 years ago. Now, I'm a good 2" narrower and I rattle around in my old chair. It no longer supports me properly and there are several aspects that I wanted to change.

My new chair

So here is my new chair. It's a Kuschall K-series.

I'm sitting in my new Kuschall wheelchair. It has a purple frame which is all new and shiny. The wheels are a just standard wheels.

The first thing I wanted to change was the colour. My old chair is white, which is lovely, but a pain to keep clean. White shows all the scratches too. This time, with Canine Partners in mind, I've gone with purple. Now Liggy and my chair match.

I'm sitting in my new chair and Liggy, my black lab assistance dog, has jumped up and has her front paws on my lap.


Colour isn't that important though really. So some of the other changes are:

  • Width - this chair is a standard 16" wide. This will support me better but also will get through narrow doors and other spaces more easily.
  • Lower back - with hindsight, the back on my old chair is too high. It gets in the way of my arms and I frequently have bruises from bumping my upper arms on it. This one is much lower, as you'll see in the next photo.
  • Front casters - I love the flashing front casters because they attract attention and look really cool. However, they are very hard and are quite uncomfortable on rough surfaces. Also they are thin and that makes thick pile carpers so tiring. So this time, I've gone for wider, softer casters. If I don't like them, I have a plan B but for now, I'm giving them a go.
  • Seat cushion - I wish I'd done more research last time about cushions, as they can make a big difference to comfort. The wrong cushion can result in sores and nobody wants those. This time, I've got a gel cushion. It's heavy but really comfy and it sort of cools you. 
  • Foot plate - this time, I've got the footplate tucked under so that I can tuck my legs out of the way. Also, posture-wise, I'm hoping this will enable me to go faster when I need to. Again, it will help with tight spaces too. I've got a much smaller turning circle now.

The back of my wheelchair, showing the lower back.

Wheels

The only thing I really don't like about this chair, is the wheels but that is just a temporary problem. On Wednesday, my new wheels should arrive. I've ordered a pair of Loopwheels Urban. They are one of their new products and if they are as good as my old Loopwheels, I just know they will be amazing! I'm very excited about getting them and will be posting pictures and videos to show you what they are like. 

Meanwhile, I'll just have to make do with these wheels. They are just normal wheels, with an inner tube and a standard tyre. The pushrims are narrow metal ones, which I find difficult to use but with gloves, I'll manage for a few days.

Attaching Liggy

I'll post more about this next time but my old chair has an attachment on it, that Canine Partners put there. It's firmly attached and has a squiggly metal pole, like a pigtail, that I attach Liggy's lead to. I had hoped to find a less permanent option and I've got a couple of carabiners that attach with a velcro strap but I tried them yesterday and they move around too much. We may have to move the permanent attachment over, but if we do, I want something under it to protect my paintwork. It's made a right mess of my old chair! 

Saturday, 25 April 2020

#TwoPointSixChallenge

What is the #TwoPointSixChallenge?

We are overwhelmed with information about Covid-19 at the moment. Everybody is affected in some way or other. There will without doubt be casualties beyond the horrendous list of hospital admissions, critical care cases and deaths. We are aware that businesses are struggling and more recently, attention has turned to charities.

We have been inspired by Captain Tom Moore and his walk around his garden to raise money for the NHS. Some of us flit between charities, just giving when a story touches our hearts. Others commit for the long haul to one or more chosen charities. 

What is certain, is that charities are going to lose an average of £1,000,000 of revenue because of the lockdown, and for some, that could be catastrophic! So the 2.6 challenge is an opportunity for us all to support charities.

The idea is to come up with a challenge which has the numbers 2.6 or 26 in it, and then ask people to sponsor that challenge.

Canine Partners

Over the years, we have supported different charities that we feel a strong connection to. Most recently, Canine Partners have become my passion. I was partnered with Liggy, my wonderful assistance dog in November 2017, and since then, I have seen first hand the many benefits that such a partnership can bring. Liggy goes everywhere with me: shopping, work, cafes, restaurants, the cinema, museums... everywhere. And then the lockdown started.

You might think that Liggy is now on some kind of extended holiday. Maybe she's been furloughed. But no. Liggy is working just as hard as ever because at home is where I face the most challenges. At home is where I do the most difficult tasks. At home is where I drop things, lose things, get stuck and need personal care. So Liggy is working hard to keep me going through the lockdown.

It is well documented that dogs have a positive impact on our mental health and well-being. Liggy is keeping both Neil and me positive and motivated throughout this time. She is helping us to keep to daily routines, reminding us to get up and move around regularly, and ensuring that we play and laugh a lot too.

A montage of four photos showing some of Liggy's tasks: tugging my socks off, doing the washing, fetching the phone and lifting the footplate on my stair lift.

My challenge

In the week running up to 26th April (2.6 challenge day) I have been videoing Liggy doing some of her tasks. On Sunday, I will upload and share the finished film. The film will be exactly 2.6 mins long, so short enough that everyone can watch it and see how amazing these working dogs are.

I'm aiming to raise £260, which is a huge challenge because many of my friends will be facing their own financial challenges, and a huge number of my family and friends have their own chosen charities that they support regularly, rather than giving here and there. 

One thing I was undecided about - whether Liggy should wear her jacket for filming. Normally, Canine Partners would ask that they wear their jackets to help share the brand and identify them as working dogs. However, the whole point of this film is about how Liggy helps me in our home. She never wears her jacket at home. Her jacket isn't a signal to her that she is working. She is never off-duty in the same way that guide dogs are. Her jacket tells others in the outside world not to distract her and that she has access rights beyond those of a pet dog. So I have deliberately left her jacket off. 

Please consider donating

If you are still reading, please consider giving a donation. Even if everybody I knew gave £2.60... it would soon mount up. To donate, just go to my JustGiving page. Thank you in anticipation of your generosity... and if you are in a difficult financial situation yourself, please don't feel bad. We're all in this together. Feed your family first.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Questions about Covid-19 and the lockdown

We're now almost four weeks into the lockdown and in some ways, it's beginning to feel like normal. We've managed to largely find ways of making life work, though nothing takes away the desire to see family and friends, and to go for a walk on the beach.

As the time ticks by, I find myself with so many questions. If you have answers for any of my questions, please feel free to comment.

The virus

Q. Why is there such a huge spectrum of symptoms from the same virus? We're told that older people and those with health conditions are more vulnerable, which seems to often be true... but then... Some very old and/or people with underlying conditions get a mild version and/or recover. Some young, healthy people die. Scientifically, there must be reasons for this. What is going on?

Q. How long does the virus live on different surfaces? We know that it can live for 3 days on most hard surfaces, hence the need for constant hand washing. Does the ground count as a hard surface? Assuming that infected droplets fall to the ground within 2m of you breathing them out, is the ground covered in the virus now? Most people will barely think about this. I know some are taking their shoes off before entering their home. That is almost impossible for me though. I have two large wheels with pushrims, two front casters and four paws that have all been in constant contact with the ground. What is the risk here? 

Lockdown

Q. Why is there so much conflicting advice? The government has issued some rules, which seem okay, except that they are a little bit vague. Police forces have all interpreted these differently and issued a mixture of official and unofficial guidance, some sensible, some not. There is a fine line between people trying to find loopholes to justify going out and those whose circumstances are not standard, trying to work out how to get through this.  It would be so much easier if there was more clarity.

Q. Has anyone thought about cars? I know this seems a strange question but I am concerned that when this is all over, we're going to all have problems with our cars. I have a diesel. Diesel cars are designed for long runs and motorway-type driving. When barely used and only doing short runs to the supermarket, they begin to object. We know this from Neil's dad. Neil had a lovely Ford Mondeo diesel. We never had any problems with it. When we changed cars, Neil's dad bought it from us, but he didn't drive much and mainly stayed local. The next time we drove that car, it was awful. I took off, one holiday, with two small children and chugged and bounced around the M25, with black smoke puffing out of the back. I have never been so scared in all my life! I really want to take my car for a longer drive every couple of weeks, to keep it healthy. Obviously the health of my car doesn't matter to anyone else, but like Liggy, it is crucial to my independence, and I am acutely aware that a breakdown situation for me is far more complicated to deal with than for most other people.

Immunity

Q. Couldn't people who are known to have had the virus and recovered, go back to normal life? I don't know many people who have had it. In Yorkshire, the numbers are thankfully still relatively low. However, in London, it would appear that many people have had it. Certainly, we know there are over 100,000 people in the country who have tested positive. Couldn't they be given some kind of ID card that allows them to go out again as normal?


I also have lots of personal questions, about how to deal with this situation as a wheelchair user, how to balance staying safe with staying healthy, how to keep Liggy safe and healthy, and about plans we had for later in the year. 

There's a lot of people on social media, being quite harsh with the message about staying at home. It's easy for those with no additional needs to follow the rules to the letter and just stay at home, and exercise from home, etc. Most people can take a variety of routes from their home to go for a 30 minute walk. I have one or two options... only one that is really safe and doable. I get that preventing the spread of Covid-19 is important but walking around a cemetery every day for a month, staring death in the face every time I leave the house... I am beginning to find that quite depressing. I'm trying to focus on the positives... on life and nature... but there's only so many squirrels and pigeons to see there. The number of fresh graves being dug is more 'in your face'. 

On a more positive note, we were doing some work in the front garden yesterday (quite rare) and got chatting (at an appropriate distance) to a neighbour. It emerged that the guy makes hand sanitiser and anti-bacterial soap. I joked that at least they should always have some. At this, he asked if we needed any, and then proceeded to give us enough to get us through the next few weeks (maybe months). For those that are under the impression that I always refuse help... you're wrong. I refuse un-needed help but when someone offers something that I really need, I say a huge thank you and gratefully accept. 

Friday, 10 April 2020

Social distancing and Covid-19

I feel like I want to write something, just so I have a written record of what is going on at the moment. I don't really have much to say though.

This virus has spread across the world at an alarming pace. On 12th and 13th Feb, I was at the Learning Technologies conference and exhibition at the Excel Arena in London. Now, only weeks later, the Excel is the Nightingale Hospital and we're not allowed to go anywhere. Even if, like me, you quite like working from home and having social distance when you go outdoors, the speed with which this has happened can feel quite scary!

What I don't like about this

1. Every time I hear the news, more people have died. Initially it was small numbers but now it's hundreds of people a day. Watching the news makes me think about that scene in the last Harry Potter film, where Ron was listening to the radio in his tent, just hoping he didn't hear bad news about his family. The thing that really upsets me, is knowing that these people are dying alone and that families are grieving alone. It's just horrific!

2. I miss being able to meet up with family, especially my sons. I usually head to the coast at least once a fortnight. I might not see the boys very often, but we all know we can when we want to. Not being able to visit people and places is probably the worst part of this. 

3. Random food shortages. First it was just toilet rolls, which didn't worry us, as we buy on bulk and still have loads left from our last delivery. It was when we couldn't get basics like milk, bread and flour, that I started to feel a little bit panicky. It's also quite stressful sending Neil shopping without me. I have a difficult food allergy - difficult in the sense that it's not one of the main allergens, not in bold and it can be hidden on the ingredients list. We have to check everything we buy and Neil's eyesight is ageing, such that he can't see tiny ingredient fonts. 

Some of the things I like about this

1. Working from home all the time. I normally go into the office 2 days a week and work at home the rest. It has been wonderful working from home full time. If anything good could come from this, it would be allowing me to make this my norm! I haven't had to queue to go to the toilet once in the last month. I haven't struggled to get a drink or my lunch or anything. My home is set up perfectly for my needs. It's the most comfortable place for me to be. 

2. Reduced risk of being 'helped'. I'd had a few experiences, just before this began, of people trying to enforce help on me. I really don't like the fear of being man-handled when I go out. Now, everybody is largely keeping their distance. I think, even if I needed help, I wouldn't get it, as nobody wants to touch anyone else. This makes my daily walks a lot less stressful. 

3. Family Zoom/Kahoot/JackboxTV sessions. For the last few weeks, we've had regular family online get togethers, where we've played games and shared quizzes. It has been really good fun and brought us together in a way that we rarely use normally. Of course, it's no real substitute for face-to-face time but we're all a bit geeky and enjoy playing games and doing quizzes at family parties anyway.

4. My last one is a wider issue. We desperately need to make changes to our lifestyles if we are to halt the damage that we are doing to this planet. This virus has made us stop all the frantic travel, challenged us to consider what are essentials, and has made us more aware of the things that matter. I feel like our value systems had become warped and this is helping us to reassess and get our values back in line. 

After this is over


I hope things don't just go back to how they were when this is all over. It would be such a waste. I hope that on many levels, we change for the better:

1. Working from home - if people want to work from home, and there is no operational reason why not, then why not?

2. Values - people are more valuable than stuff. Being caring is more important than being rich. We all have the capacity to put the needs of others first. Let's keep doing that.

3. Politics - the last few years, politics has been full of nastiness and hate. We are showing that it doesn't have to be that way. Parties can work together, with appropriate challenge but without all the spite. I hope that the political landscape changes after this and becomes more focussed on making this country a better place to live.

4. Humility - the human race had become rather superior. We were convinced that we could do what we liked. Nothing could stop us. We are so clever, know so much, we're pretty much invincible. This virus has shown us what we don't know. It has challenged that sense of invincibility. A microscopic, invisible virus has brought the whole world to a standstill. We are not in charge of this world. Living on earth is a privilege and a huge responsibility. I hope we begin to take that responsibility more seriously, with a more humble attitude. 

I feel like there are only three more things to be said: stay home, save lives, protect the NHS! 

Saturday, 28 March 2020

We're all very selfish!

Last Saturday, we were amongst the crowds that flocked to the coast. On Monday the Health Secretary described us as "very selfish". At the time, I disagreed strongly. Very selfish made it sound as if we knew that it would be busy and just didn't care about anyone else. I still don't think that was the case. I think many, like us, just didn't realise that everyone was going to do the same thing.

The road through the East Riding was much, much quieter than normal, so we thought our plan had worked. When we got there, the north bay was busy so we drove round to the south bay, which was quiet compared to normal. The disabled bay, opposite the Olympia, that is normally full, was empty. We were the only car parked there, and one of three when we left. We walked past the spa and as soon as possible, with my mountain trike, got down onto the sand. It was quiet and we had a nice walk.

On Look North, Peter Levy asked people who had done this terribly selfish act to text in and explain why they had done it. I don't think many replied.

So why did we go to the coast? Well, the reality is, we usually do go to Scarborough. I grew up there. My family are there. It's home. Also, as a wheelchair user, the beach and Marine Drive are a place I can exercise without worrying about accessibility or getting hurt. I have Liggy, my assistance dog. She has many food allergies and the beach is usually the one place she is safe from dropped/scattered food. I can let her off lead for a really good run, knowing that the only thing she is likely to eat, is seaweed, and that is one of the things she's not allergic to, along with fish. So, knowing that we may not be able to exercise her properly for months, we took her for a run last Saturday.

Did we think it was a holiday? No.
Did we disregard the advice? No, at that time, the advice was to stay 2m apart from others... and we did.
Were we being selfish? Not intentionally. We were also buying milk and bread to deliver to my parents, who are self-isolating. My dad had surgery very recently and needs a nasty virus like a hole in the head. So we bought them essentials and delivered them to their house. We didn't go in. We stood out on the driveway. We didn't hug. We just made sure they were okay. I had even stopped at the toilets at Staxton Bank on the way to them, so I wouldn't need to go into their house and use their toilet. I'm grateful for the disabled toilet there, but it's cold, dark and not very pleasant.

It didn't feel like a selfish act.

This week


From Monday, we have followed the lock down guidance. We normally shop together. I'm allergic to beta-carotene. It's a natural food colouring that is in many fruit and veg (carrots, swede, beetroot, mango, etc) as well as being added to many products. It has an e-number, E160b. Normally, we have to shop together. Neil takes the food off the shelf and passes it to me. I check the ingredients. The same products can have annatto colouring one day and carotenes the next, so we have to check every product every time we shop. Unfortunately, the ingredients are so small that Neil can't see them.

This week, Neil has shopped without me. We're asked for just one person to shop. This does mean, we will inevitably buy food which I can't have. We'll waste money on products that would make me ill. Some will end up in the bin. Some will eventually make it to a food bank.

We've organised our one form of daily exercise so that Liggy gets two walks. She is a working dog and her well-being is everything to me. She enables me to keep my independence. She's not just a pet. So in the morning, I'm walking her and in the evening, Neil is walking her. For the most part, that will work fine. I mean, we like to go for a walk together but Liggy's needs come before our likes. She is normally out and about with me all day - at work, shopping, in town... I hope she is still able to cope with all that after a long isolation. I hope the public will be sensitive and not overwhelm her with too much attention when all this is over.

Building up sufficient strength to self propel the distances I do, has taken many years of exercise and hard work. I have two chairs - my normal day chair and my mountain trike. They use different muscles. It's important to me to keep up sufficient exercise that I don't undo all the hard work I've done. So the plan was to use my day chair for most walks but on my days off, drive to the canal or the park (both local) to use my mountain trike, and keep those muscles working.

Then I saw the police posts about not being allowed to drive for exercise. That is difficult for me but I tried not to be selfish and attempted the walk along the riverbank behind our house. We are just metres from the River Ouse. Neil walks there a lot. I rarely do... certainly not without help. That is because there are five entry and exit points. Two of them (the ones at each end) are ramps - steep but just about accessible. The rest are steps and one of them has a metal barrier to stop motorcycles going up there. The path is wide and clear most of the way, except for one very narrow point. We've managed it once before but Neil took Liggy, as together, we were too wide.

Having made a very selfish move last Saturday, I just got on with it yesterday. I took Liggy and my trike and we went a kilometre or so to the bank that has a ramp... and we got up onto the bank. It was a beautiful day. Nobody was about apart from one couple that I passed. They were keen to point out that I would not get through the narrow section further down. As I continued, I tried to work out what to do. The only other exit that doesn't have steps, is an unmade path into the cemetery. It's there because lots of people use it as a cut through. It's steep but at least not steps and no barrier. So I tried it. Actually, I made it down the steepest part okayish but then hit a tree root at the bottom and kind of catapulted to the right. In a matter of seconds, I was laying on the floor, covered in mud. My chair was upside down and Liggy was still attached to it and kind of stuck.

I realised I'd hurt myself immediately but what could I do? There was nobody around and even if there was, they shouldn't help me. I eventually managed to detach Liggy's lead arm and get her in a safe place. Then I had to turn my trike back over. It's really heavy and everything hurt. Getting back into it and getting home was really painful. I knew Neil was on a work conference call, but when I got back, I couldn't move and had to call him to help me. How selfish!

It's now Saturday again. This morning, Neil will shop without me. Then, at some point, I will have to try to find a way of walking Liggy. Of course, Neil could... but he's not allowed. We can both walk once but I presume I can't donate my walk to him, no matter how much pain I'm in.

So who's selfish?

Well, on reflection, I think we all are. We naturally put our own needs first. In a society where nobody else will do so, we have to. I've done so many selfish things this week. I took my dog for a walk on the beach. I bought bread and milk, even though there was hardly any on the shelves. I've passed people on my daily walk with less than 2m because going into the middle of the road feels inconvenient and dangerous. 

But from my perspective, I've witnessed selfishness too. 

The old lady who was walking in front of me in the cemetery, scattering nuts for the squirrels. Nuts that could make Liggy extremely sick... and at a time where we are very limited on where we can walk. 

The bin men who casually tossed the empty bins back on the street, blocking my way home.

The very tiny child who was throwing a tantrum right in the middle of the path - no 2m passing for anyone there.

The architects, who when faced with a choice between putting steps or a ramp in, to create access points to the riverbank, decided steps would be better.

The motorcyclists, who have obviously caused so many problems along the riverbank that somebody decided the only option was to but steel barriers in, thus blocking anything other than a pedestrian.

The neighbour who had a delivery for some building work and badly damaged the pavement... and just left it damaged. 

Did any of them intend to be selfish? NO! They just put their own needs before the needs that they were unaware of.

YES, we are all selfish. We all think about our own needs first. Of course we do! We're human. Even when we applaud the NHS workers, what we are really saying is that we are glad they will be there when we need them. 

Thankfully, our selfishness usually extends to include those we love. I don't see Neil putting his needs before mine. The speed with which he dropped his call yesterday to help me, shows that he automatically puts me first... as I would, him. 

So maybe the key is to extend the love. We put those we love first... then ourselves. Calling people very selfish isn't the best way of getting people to act in love. Showing understanding might be more effective. So this week, I'm on the look out for acts of love... I'm going to keep a list and post them, to prove that although we are inherently selfish, love is more powerful!

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Loch an Eilein (a few months late)

You might remember that we had a holiday back in October. We spent a lovely week in Aviemore, hiking and sight-seeing.

One of our days out was a hike round Loch an Eilein. I wasn't feeling too good when we set out and didn't think we'd get very far but we ended up having a fantastic day out and a lot of laughs. I meant to post this video earlier but it's taken me ages to edit it down from 2 hours of headcam footage down to about 7 minutes.


Thursday, 16 January 2020

It's bin day

Bin day happens at least once a week... sometimes twice. It often means I'm trapped. I get part way down the street and then the path is completely blocked by a bin... or several. If it's full, I don't stand a chance of moving it. I just have to turn back and take the car instead, or abandon my plans.

How to be good bin-citizens

This morning, I had a rare moment! It was almost as if someone had set the bins out, ready for a perfect bin-citizen photo...

Photo shows one side of the street. There is grass between the pavement and the road and hedges down the side of people's properties. It's blue bin day and each house has their blue bin set as close to the hedge as possible, leaving the path free for wheelchairs and buggies. It's all very neat and tidy!

Today's challenge: be a good bin-citizen. Don't block the path!

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Say nice things...

You'd be amazed at some of the things that I hear as I go around just doing life. I don't think most people mean to offend but some people (me included) do tend to open their mouth before engaging their brain. Sometimes though, people say really nice things. Here are some of the things people have said in the last few days (either to me or near enough for me to hear):

  • Your dog is so well-behaved!
  • I love your wheels!
  • It was lovely to meet you!
  • We're a team.
  • I'll move my car; you can have my space (when visiting a client).
  • Thank you for your help/your hard work.
  • What a beautiful/clever/amazing dog!
  • That (chair) is soooo cool!
  • You must have serious arm muscles!
  • I love you!

Challenge

I'm challenging myself here too! Every day this year, try to say something nice to or about someone. At school, we were never allowed to use that word. "Find a better word," teachers say. Actually though, no... just be nice!

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Alternative text for images

At work, I've been doing a lot of work to ensure that people with screen readers can access everything we produce. Like I said the other day, it's not a binary state. You can't say it is fully accessible or fully inaccessible. Like with many things, we can all do our bit. Start somewhere. Don't do nothing, just because you don't know everything.

What can I do?

1. Whenever you post an image of any kind online, always give it a text description. Usually there is a specific place to add this, called 'Alt text' but if it's on social media, you could just add it into your post. The only time you probably don't need to do this, is if you are sure that only a known number of people will access it, and they can all see. For me, I know that all my Facebook friends can see, so I don't tend to do it. However, on Twitter, I have followers who are blind. It wouldn't be very friendly to post stuff that they can't enjoy, would it?

2. Ah, that's for another post!

Challenge

Post a photo and write a text description of it, that a blind person could use to imagine your image. I wonder how many people will do this!

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Accessibility is not a binary state

Believe it or not, this has come has a bit of a revelation to me!

What is accessibility?

Of course there are certain things that we associate as being accessible or not. For example, step-free entrances are accessible, whereas a flight of steps isn't. Poor contrast on a website isn't whereas good contrast is. 

We have guidelines, which tell us what various places/services need in order to be classed as accessible, and that is helpful... to a point.

So what's the problem?

The problem is, everyone is different. I have three people in mind. We are all wheelchair users. I also have a ramp in mind. One of my friends would definitely NOT be able to get up it. I would (with some difficulty). The other chap would get up it, no problem. 

There are so many disabilities and they all have different access needs. A blind person (I presume) quite likes all those little pavement bumps that let you know there is a road, crossing, steps, etc. As a wheelie with a spinal cord injury, they really cause me a lot of pain. So we have to compromise all the time.

You think you've got access as good as possible but then find there is a new problem. Things change. People change. Equipment changes. So accessibility is a bit of a moving feast.

Is there a solution?

Yes. I don't expect everyone, everywhere to get it right all the time. What I do expect, is for people to listen and acknowledge the issues. If a solution is immediately possible, then do it. If not, let me know what you will do in the short and long term. 

I've just discovered a new issue with some eLearning. It's an issue that will be in every package I've produced. I'm aware of it now but I can't fix them all immediately. I can thank the person who let me know about it, ask if they have had any other issues, listen and try to understand... and put a plan in place to get it put right. 

I wouldn't dream of laughing it off and saying, "Oh yeah, that's silly, isn't it?" and then doing nothing (with a gormless expression on my face). Yet some do. Fortunately most don't. Most want to get it sorted.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

There's a reason for most things

What is he/she doing?

I often get that look - the look that says, "What is she doing?" It's usually when I'm wheeling along and make what appears to be a strange movement or even a determination to stick to my chosen path. I got that look yesterday, whilst wheeling along the promenade next to the beach.

There was a lot of thick sand on most of the path, but a narrow section that was sand free. I charted my course so that I was on concrete rather than sand as much as possible. 

Sometimes it's the camber. Camber is the way the pavement slopes to one side or the other. Sometimes it does both, creating a small section down the middle that is like the top of the mountain. Camber is effectively a sideways hill. Gravity means that I will automatically descend a hill, unless I work hard to fight against gravity. So I usually plot my path to avoid unnecessary effort.

Broken glass and dog-poo are often obstacles in my path. They aren't pleasant for anyone, but for me and for Liggy, glass is a danger and poo could end up on my gloves, wrists, clothes and then, anywhere I touch. Not nice. So I'm constantly scanning the path to avoid them.

Look for the reason

So you're walking along and a wheelchair user does something unexpected... swerves suddenly or takes a certain part of the path. Rather than silently cursing them and assuming they are stupid, look for the reason. There will almost certainly be a reason. Ask yourself what is on the path that they might be trying to avoid? What might cause them difficulty? How can you help them to navigate the path without difficulty?

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Making the world a better place

When I started this blog, my focus was mainly on wheelchairs, how to choose and use a wheelchair, improving the image of the humble wheelchair and other mobility aids. I've also looked at travel, holidays, days out and general examples of good and poor access.

We have just entered a new year... in fact, a new decade. It is 2020. I feel the need to be positive right now. It is too easy to find what is wrong with the world, to criticise and complain. Seeing the good and promoting the right behaviours is more difficult. It has to be a conscious choice. So that's what I'm going to try and do in my next few posts. I don't know whether that will last a day... a week... a month... a year... or even a decade. It matters not! I'm just going to either highlight specific examples of how people have got it right, or offer positive advice on what makes for a better world.

Beginning a new job


My Facebook memories inform me that exactly a year ago, I visited my new workplace for the morning. The aim was to assess the offices and decide what reasonable adjustments were needed. It's the 4th January. I was due to start work on 28th January. They planned ahead. They were proactive. They didn't wait to find out what might go wrong. They took action to ensure that as much as possible would go right. They ordered the right chair, checked doors, toilets, bins, etc. When I started on 28th January, everything was already in place.

Positive action

Plan ahead. Don't wait until an adjustment needs to be made. It could be too late by then. Look at what changes could be made right now. Do it now.