They giveth and they taketh away

Monday 19 November, 2018

Hello all, hope you’re all well. It’s been a while since my last blog. But here I am again, to complain about something. As usual.

So, as I blogged previously at some point, a few years ago I bought a kindle. It’s a basic model, 5th Generation, and I believe that it’s the last version to have page turning buttons along the side on them. I bought it on sale at a time when the newer Paperwhite and touch screen versions were out.

That was in 2013, and five years on, my little kindle is getting, erm, sluggish. I don’t think it’s ready for the great recycling centre in the sky just yet, it’s only five years old after all, but I am getting the White Screen of Death sort of frequently, and even though the experimental browswer was put on there and never got further than basic searching, it now doesn’t work at all without crashing the kindle in to a White Screen of Death, making that feature completely unusable.

So I’m preparing myself to get a newer one at some point in the future, and here’s the problem. The newer ones don’t work for me. The Kindle basic 5th generation weighs 169g, and has buttons either side to turn the pages. Newer models are heavier and have no buttons, it’s all touch screen. I hold my kindle with one hand supported by a pillow, I can’t hold heavier models and if I can’t use the hand I’m holding the kindle with to turn the page, it won’t be any use to me at all.

To give a better comparison, even the latest ipad air 2, 32GB weighs 500g.

If and when my kindle does go on me, I really don’t know what I’ll do without it if the other devices are much of the same as we have today. And if goes sooner rather than later, it could even affect my degree. I put my text books on there and the tutorial hand out material too, so I can read along with the rest of the group as they read the paper handouts.  I don’t want to go back to struggling, but the Kindle solved the problems I had with reading, and if I can’t get something as good as it, I’ll be back to struggling.

For those of you who don’t know, I was fed up of struggling so much that I bought a mouse shaped device which had a camera where a rollerball on an old mouse would have been, called The Vision Booster, and the idea is you roll the mouse over the paper and read as you go… and it was terrible. There was a fisheye effect and you couldn’t read the inside margins, but you also couldn’t hover the mouse over the spine because then the words went blurry.

So, I have to know. Am I the only person affected by these changes with technology? Or are we, like the straw issue, the hidden minority who are forced to either adapt or be left out because we’re ignored in the drive for superior technical progress? Am I missing some really obvious solution


Plastic Straws vs other plastics

Thursday 12 July, 2018

I wrote a post just under a year ago saying that I was worried eco warriors would cause a blanket ban on straws, and so far at that point, there didn’t seem to be a good non-plastic alternative – not for me, and not for many disabled people. Hey, looks like I was right! And this has turned into an ongoing argument that has swept through social media. For everyone disabled person or carer saying why plastic straws are important, able bodied people will swan in and assume they know better, and will bestow their wisdom by making the same suggestions we’ve already point out won’t work, and shape the argument that we’re being stubburn. Disabled people could literally die without plastic straws, we have a right to be stubburn. This is a matter of life and death here, but it’s being reshaped as an inconvenience just because a straw to many people is a luxury.

Anyway, that’s not what i’m here to focus on today. A couple of years ago, whilst I was in Home Bargains, I suddenly became overwhelmed by the choice in shampoos and conditioners, and a member of staff shouted loudly from by the doorways (a good 10 feet away) to ask me if i was okay, because I was on my own, and at first I didn’t realise she was shouting at me. She saw me, sitting there by myself, looking at the variety available on the shelf, and made a show of me by shouting again to ask if someone was with me. For the record, I was fine, I was just looking whilst the person I was with was deciding between the toilet rolls, and she had no right to imply that I needed someone with me and that something was wrong if I didn’t.

It’s not the ableism that’s stuck with me since, it’s the fact that there are so many plastic bottles of shampoos and conditioners, and hand wash and body lotion and all matter of beauty products available on the shelf, in so many shops on the high street, in every town, in every city, all through the UK. How much plastic does that come to?

I was in Lidl this morning – They have a great deal on Wheetabix. 72 Biscuit bars for £3.99, when I was in Farmfoods the other day and they wanted £3.00 for 12! – and I spotted something. They now have a nut pick and mix area, which is exactly how it sounds. You can choose between a variety of nuts and put them in a bag provided. Nothing stops you from taking your own, but they provide a plastic bag like you get in the fruit aisle, and I have to wonder… could they not provide paper bags? I don’t know much about nuts, even though I quite like some of them, but they’re not very protected for freshness in the shop, so does a plastic bag really provide extra freshness that a paper bag wouldn’t once outside it?

Years ago my mum used to buy bars of soap such as Imperial Leather, Dove, Simple and Nivea, and they used to come in cardboard boxes. We then found places like poundland, and Home and Bargains, were selling liquid hand soap cheaper than the bars of soap and because of our tiny bathroom in our tiny house, it worked out better to have liquid soap nicely contained in a container than it did to have a bar of soap melting on the tiny ledge of the tiny sink. Now, because I’m aware of how much plastic I *need* that I can’t compromise on, I’m trying to cut down on things I can compromise on. Like the soap. But can I buy soap in cardboard boxes without the plastic wrapping? No. There’s nice soap caddies I would love to buy and use – unfortunately I still have to deal with a sink with no space for anything nice – but it’s got me thinking, where do you even buy liquid soap that doesn’t come in a 250ml plastic pump bottle? The re-usable caddy would be pointless. Shopping plastic free is difficult, it’s the infrastructure behind it, but it’s not life or death to replace the packaging soap come in, like it is for disabled people suffering through a straw ban.

Someone on twitter made a very decent point a couple of weeks ago. Disabled people need plastic straws to live, and in fact I’ve recently found out that they were invented for the purpose of disabled poeple to use, and disabled people simply wouldn’t be thriving as well today without them, but until someone invented the plastic credit and debit card, everyone was happy without them. They might have served a purpose originally, for security and fraud protection, but they are solely for convenience now. They get dropped, lost, forgotten, stolen, and cut up and put in the bin when they’re done with and replaced every 3 years even when they’re still in a condition to be used. In these days of mobile and internet banking, and paypal and direct transfers, we could easily mix the modern tech of today with the old tech of yesterday, with some innovative ideas to increase protection against fraud and theft, to eliminate credit and debit cards being used and thrown away.

Balloons are literally single use, they serve no real purpose and they end up in the ocean too. And how much plastic is put into our electronics? How much plastic is in the iPhone? Apple have a habit of making phones unusable to force people to upgrade to a newer model long before the tech has actually worn out, how many phones have ended up in landfills before their natural end?

It’s just infuriating me. Convenience for able bodied people is enshrined as “the way things are”,  but convenience for disabled people is too much for the rest of society, and actual life saving neccessities are shaped as conveniences when it comes to disabled poeple. Disabled campaigners are telling eco warriors that they will die without the simple plastic straw, and the response is not to be dramatic, or the fight isn’t against straws, it’s against the single use plastic, and then out come the same 5 suggestions again and again and again. I am tired of explaining that paper straws are no good, sillicone straws are no good, metal straws are no good, biodegradable plastic straws are no good, straw straws are no good. Yes I’ve heard some places do pasta straws, yes many disabled people don’t have carers which yes means they’re alone a large portion of the day. The worst are people patting themselves on the back whilst saying “we all need to make sacrifices”. Again, able bodied people who use them as a luxury is not equivalent to the “sacrifice” of dehydrating or aspirating through a lack of accessible options.

I only need to use straws intermittantly, but as the older I am getting, the more frequent those bouts are. But I am not fighting this for just my own benefit, I am fighting it for others and my friends who depend on them to live.

I will not be convinced that Strawgate is anything more than inflammatory self-congratulatory attempt to look good in the social climate, like a fad. Because until I look around shops and see some sort of dispensory service for shampoo and conditioner to be poured into non-plastic bottles, soaps back in cardboard boxes (or metal tins?), and a real cut down on plastic on the shelves on things that don’t really need plastic, right now it’s just coming across like Marie Antoinette telling the poor people they’re the cause of poverty by eating too much food.


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Sunday 24 June, 2018

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How I Survived My Very Own Financial Crisis

Wednesday 16 May, 2018

Hello there. It’s been a while since I updated about something personal (Who am I trying to kid? Almost everything I write about is layered in personal) but lately I went through something and I feel like sharing about it.

It was just a spate of bad luck that all happened at once. My whole family was sick at the same time as daily living expenses went up, plus I had appointments I had to travel for, and then my beloved pet got sick so I ended up with vet bills, and paying for the taxis that got me and my beloved pet back and forth to the vets. We had, as the old advert went, “More money going out than what [we had] coming in”. It was stressful and it’s only now that things are beginning to level out.

So, how did we survive? Well we couldn’t do anything to bring more income in at that point. For the family members that work, days off sick on 0 hour contracts are days you’ll never get back unless the boss will give you more hours (they didn’t), and it’s not like you can get more ESA just because your heating bill has gone up whilst you’ve been sick over the winter. Personally, I scrimped and saved and became a bit of a Scrooge. I’m ashamed to admit that I noticed i was over charged 70p on a money saving multi-buy item because of a glitch and contacted Morrisons about it to get that 70p back. Even now the vice-like grip of impending destitution (Hi I’m A failed Journalist and I like Hyperbole) has eased, I’m still being as cheap as possible until I really feel like the danger has passed.

First was that any and all points on any loyalty cards were used. I’d saved up quite a few Morrisons points over the last year and a bit, enough to get a lot off the Christmas shopping and still had some money left over to build up on from the new year, not to mention some £10 vouchers for the delivery being late. So £10 a week off the weekly shop helped a lot. Same went for Sainsbury’s. I hardly ever shop in Sainsbury’s, but I have done my fair share of ebay purchases over the last 10 years, and points have built up which I’d never had opportunity or need to use before. Whilst family members who normally care for me were sick with the same flu I’d had, those points went a good way to helping me buy microwavable meals. Boots was another that I had accrued over 10+ years, and £13 covered a nice little Boots spree that’ll keep me going for a few months.

One of my Morale treats is Subway. I originally got addicted to Subway, and yes, addiction is accurate – back before I went to Uni the first time. I loved the smell of the place, I loved the way the bread toasted and the cheese melted, and the way the tang of the gerkin mixed with the sweetness of the BBQ sauce. There was nothing quite like Subway. Unfortunately their ableism became too much for me to handle so I stopped going there, until the last couple of years where the one by where we moved started begging me to go in. And even better, these days Subway has ramps! Not always suitable seating, but ramps, and a disabled toilet! And the staff don’t talk to me through the mostly soundproof glass! Well, these days my food allergies and intolerances have changed my diet a bit, but a nice chicken salad does me no harm. And even better, once you get enough points, you get a free sub! I had enough for one and was well on my way to a second when my Financial Crisis Hit. I got the free sub for a free lunch, and kind companions without their own cards or apps have been happy for me to have their points so I could get a second within a month.

The second method was vouchers. And I hope you note the problem is with all this discounted food. I have the Burger King app. At full whack, you can pay £5+ for a meal at Burger King, with the app vouchers it allowed the same meal cost £2.99. And then McDonalds brought out it’s Millionnaire Winners tokens. With my Unidays app I got a meal, with the token I got from that that I got a McChicken Wrap and Fries, with the Fries I got a cup of tea. I’ve been given unwanted tokens from Carers and Friends. I had five meals for free or under £2 thanks to those tokens

The problem is, I hope you’re starting to notice, is that most of this quick, easy, discounted and free food is all fast food and convenience food. But nobody is thrusting a free lettuce into my face that isn’t on a burger, and nobody is offering me a half price home made roast dinner, and I can’t look a gift horse in the mouth (I’ve heard it’s nice in lasagne).

I save on bus fair by wheeling where I can, when my carer’s can manage the walk. I’m sure if I could walk places or even self propel, I’d be burning off all the calories I’m getting from the fast food but alas, I’m fully electric. If Jeremy Corbyn fancies extending his free public transport idea to under 45s, I’d really welcome that, too! Carers don’t travel for free, you know!

I wouldn’t like to imply that there was even a good thing about this, because I’d go through bankruptcy if it meant he’d have had something treatable that I could have bought medication for. But it does mean no more emergency transport to the vet, and the electric bill  go down as

So that’s foods, toiletries and transport. What about hobbies and other daily stuff? Well, luckily for everyone, I already had enough hobby fodder in from bulk buying on sale two years ago. So that’s keeping me going. I’m on the cheapest phone tariff I can find. I’m using a free student trial of Amazon Video to keep up with film watching and I told NowTV I could no longer afford their services, so they kindly offered me the movie pass for half the price I was paying. That has now run out but it was nice whilst it lasted. I didn’t have any other subscription services other than Cinema Paradiso, which I cancelled back in February.

On a bizarre twist, I went further out of my area with my travel pass for a cheaper trip to the cinema. The disabled travel pass meant my train journey was free, the cinema is a short walk from the station, and the ticket itself was £5.75 with a free carer ticket, and I don’t bother with concessions on a normal day, so I definitely didn’t bother on my “keep the price as low as possible” kick. With my local cinema it’s almost £20 there and back in a taxi, and between £8 – £11 for a ticket. The only downside was that the wheelchair seat was way too close to the front so I won’t be repeating that money saving venture again!

I might have come across as a neurotic scrimping fiend the past few months, but all I can say to those that helped me and gave me their freebies, is that i’m grateful. Indulge me in my hyperbole here, but helping me keep things as cheap as possible kept the stress and the tears at bay. And, I’m relieved to say that the clouds do seem to be parting. Working members of the family have been back in work and back to normal for a few weeks now, prescription costs are back down to a more affordable level, and the weather is improving so some of the household bills are down. But the books balancing doesn’t mean the money’s stacking up, it just means for now, the waves are settling. There will always be water, and rain clouds can gather again to flood us out of house and home, and there’s not much I can do to build up a defence against it other than what I did this time; And next time, if I’m knocked off kilter again soon, I won’t have anywhere near as much of the safety net I’d incidentally created for myself.

Sorry, unsually for me, that’s all I’ve got. It’s hard to end this on a positive note.


Spring Cleaning Can Make You Money – As long as you had money to start with

Monday 16 April, 2018

There’s a history to Spring Cleaning, that I won’t go into because the history is long and I can only remember a small bit of it that I learnt from watching Ruth Goodman in Tales from the Green Valley, but it’s enshrined in western culture. When Spring eventually comes around, we dust the window ledges, we stack our cupboards a different way and we throw out the old curtains that did not survive yet another winter.

But lately, on the radio and on prime time TV shows for the masses, I’ve noticed there’s a bit of a fad about it this year. This happened a few years ago as well, around about the economic crash of 2008. The radio was full of top tips to make money on your unwanted goods, and the tv had shows about items you just happened to have in the attic being worth an unbelievable amount of money. This year, the fad is back and it seems to be tied to the fact we’re more conscious on the amount of household waste we produce.

In the last week alone I’ve listened to tips on how to get some of your money back from the clothes jamming up your wardrobe – Sell them to those clothing merchants you see on the high street (Cash4Clothes!), sell them back to the high street shops you bought them from (They named a place I’d never heard of, so I assume it’s expensive) or sell them on ebay or Gumtree as a joblot. If you’ve got gadgets you don’t use, sell them too! All this advice was intertwined with stories about some households who just threw things out instead of recycling, and landfills being filled with perfectly good clothes and accessories that could have gone to a good home if given the chance. Even worse, some items that say “this is not recyclable” could be recylable if you seperate the bits that aren’t recylable from the bits that are. You have to be conscious about everything you do. And I agree with that. As a minimalist on the verge of hoarding (I’ll get to that contradiction in a minute), I agree that what can be recycled, whether that means melted down and remade, or passed on to someone who could use it second hand, sent to a charity shop, or given to someone who can make something else entirely out of it- should be recycled. Unneccessary waste is wreaking havoc on our planet.

What I don’t agree with is this patronising tone it’s said in. Because it presents the idea that it’s the solution to clutter, without considering what causes the clutter in the first place, and even worse, without considering that the “make money off your unwanted shit” idea won’t benefit everyone. I’m coming at this from a personal angle. I had some unwanted clothes in my wardrobe. I recently went through my wardrobe and binned anything that couldn’t possibly be used by anyone else, and put what could be used by others in a bag for a charity shop (I have a threshold here, if they’re not fit for me to wear, they’re not fit for a charity shop).

The real problem is, is that my wardrobe is cluttered because I have very little space and I only have the necessities and some items I was given as  a gift. (Minimalist) But I had clothes that had holes in them, fraying at the seams, and the worst ones I threw out and I’ve kept some of the rest so long despite being in such a state because to me, they still serve their purpose and I can’t possibly throw them out (Hoarding tendencies) until they stop serving their purpose.

Some other advice was selling valuable jewellery, and gathering up any collectibles and finding a buyer of them to get the most money for these items. I don’t own any “valuable” jewellery that I’d be willing to part with, because the two items I do have mean a lot to me. I don’t own any collectibles, we’ve never had the space for them and my family have never inherited any from late relatives.

What I have are old clothing, some  20+ years old, some from charity shops, some from Primark, one or two items from New Look, a well worn pair of Jeans from Matalan, and a dress I bought for a wedding that will no doubt become The Wedding Dress (As in, the dress I’ll wear to people’s weddings, not my wedding dress… Although….). Nobody is going to want to buy these things off me when I am done with them. I will not make money from my unwanted goods, because the biggest reason for most of the things that are unwanted, is because I’ve worn them down. I’ve worn them down and worn them out. And that is the case for a lot of poor people, so this solution is being presented TO poor people to make some money off their stuff despite it not being practical advice for a lot of poor people. This solution also assumes that people are cramming items in because of an excess of items and a forgetful disposition, when these days it’s more a case of lack of space within the home.

Don’t get me wrong, if you can make money off spring cleaning, then all the luck to you. But you have to realise that in order for you to be making money off your unwanted, you have to have money in the first place to get them, or to store them somewhere where they’ve gone unused and untouched.


I don’t like getting the bus any more

Monday 22 January, 2018

First of all, hello, welcome to 2018. I hope it’s treating you better than 2017 did. For me, it isn’t, but that is something I am dealing with.

Today I want to talk about buses. My parents never had a car, and though I tried learning to drive and even passed the theory test (and that blasted Hazard Perception test), I never got as far as a practical test and getting my dream car. Now I have moments of wishing I had a car, but I have no plans of learning to drive again. So, I have a history with buses. My parents got the bus everywhere, they still do, and so I got the bus everywhere, and well I prefer trains but I still get the bus.

Here’s the problem. I don’t like getting buses anymore, and it’s completely related to being in a wheelchair.

Whenever I could go out, up to the point where I needed my wheelchair full time, I just hopped on the bus. Even on crutches, I hopped on the bus. My friend lived on a different bus route, so I hopped on the bus to one bus stop, got the bus to the bus stop nearest hers, popped in to see her Mum where she worked, and then went to my friend’s. It was brilliant. I thought I could go anywhere by bus, I just had to plan the route!

Where I used to live, the nearest bus to me was less than a 10 minute walk. I lived in a sort of set back cul-de-sac, and two roads away was the main road where the bus was on the corner. The worst part was always having to stand and wait for the bus, and then they brought in the worst most painful bus benches ever, but I still loved getting the bus. Even better, shortly before my Gran died, I got my disabled person’s bus pass that allowed me to travel for free, and she lived in a sort of set back cul de sac on the road opposite the bus stop, which happened to be the next bus stop down from my local bus stop. There was never any issue of me hopping on the bus at my bus stop, and getting off the next bus stop so many yards away outside my Gran’s.

Long journeys, where I was going end to end, I could sit there and listen to music and look out the windows. Short journeys, I tended to know at least one other person on the bus and they always ended up talking to me. Even when I started being a wheelchair user full time, in my manual wheelchair, given the bus drivers could be bothered to lower the ramps down, and even a bus turned up with a ramp in the first place, which let me tell you was hit and miss and on more than one occasion I would have to ring a taxi in a panic when the bus that should have had a ramp in fact turned up with a step with a pole in the middle and a bus driver that didn’t care and I needed to be somewhere in the 15 minutes it would have taken the bus to get me there, it was wonderful to hop on the bus, put my music on, and then get off at the other end. I was independent, I felt free.

The big difference is, the bus drivers who did lower the ramp did so as a  matter of course, I told the driver where I was getting off,  I could get in the wheelchair space nice and easily, the space was sideways so I could see where I was going, and then I rang the bell like any other passenger and then the driver would lower the ramp and i would get off. Like any other passenger.

Now, the freedom buses gave me just 10 years ago, feel like too much hassle for everyone involved Bus drivers have this attitude now – I don’t know if they mean to, but they do, like it’s a very big effort for them to put the ramp out. I can’t see it going down very well if i said my destination was the next bus stop 2 minutes away, like my Gran’s was. The wheelchair space is very difficult to get in to. There’s a bar in the way which means I have to overshoot the space and then reverse into it, the problem is they don’t give enough room to overshoot it, people have to stand up out of their seats to get just a few extra inches, and it’s a very tight fit to reverse and turn into the space. All because of that bar. And then I’m stuck going backwards. I hate going backwards, I can’t see where I’m going. There’s a chance the windows will be obstructed with advert vinyls. I can’t listen to music because these days I follow routes on my map app on my phone and I have to check between the phone and what I can see outside. It’s virtually impossible to go somewhere I’ve never been before in case, like the other day, my app stalls and leaves me clueless as to when the bus stop I need is coming up.

Also, it’s just very unnerving facing everyone else. Especially if something goes wrong with the bus they think is you’re fault – like an electrical failure after the driver’s lowered the bus to let you on – and double especially when you ring that bell. I refuse to ring the bell now. I get my carer to press the one nearest her and then she stands up and sort of blocks people from getting off so I can very obviously turn out of the space and the bus driver will be able to see I’m clearly wanting to get off at the stop he’s just pulled up to.

The bell, which just used to make the same “ding!” noise the other bells did, has had a few changes over the years. First it was a lower toned buzz noise. I didn’t mind that. It signalled it was the wheelchair user who wanted to get off, but it also didn’t alarm the other passengers when they heard a noise they weren’t used to. Then it sort of trilled, which I quite liked the noise of. Some passengers would look up in alarm but see it’s no big deal, it’s just I want to get off the bus. Now it’s an alarm. I mean it actually sounds like a school fire alarm. People look up in panic, and people don’t realise nothing is wrong, it’s just the noise the button makes at the wheelchair space when they want to get off. I’ve seen the stares of people who wonder what the hell I’m playing at, pressing an alarm. I’ve heard someone say “Is that normal? Is she okay?” to their seat neighbour when I’ve pressed that button. People look at me like I’m on fire, and look annoyed at the fact that I’m actually not. I don’t want to bring more attention to myself that I’ve already had from facing everyone’s direction, but I also always want to say “It’s okay! I’m not on fire, it’s just the noise the button nearest me makes! Please write to the bus company so that they change the noise back to the trilling noise, we all liked that one!”.

The ramps used to be shallower as well, or the buses used to be able to kneel more. Now the ramps are very steep, and there’s no traction. I don’t dare get the bus by myself even if i did know where I was going, because i need someone to hold on to my handles as I go down the ramp so that I don’t fall and tip. I get shrugged shoulders when I point out it’s very steep, pointed silences if I ask if they’ve knelt the bus, casual laughs as if it’s perfectly fine to almost fall off the side of the ramp because I’m coming off the bus onto the steep ramp at an angle and can’t straighten out in time, and jokes made at my expense making out that I can’t drive my wheelchair, when really, it’s because my wheelchair is susceptible to skidding, which it wouldn’t if I could meet the ramp head on and the ramp wasn’t that steep. And also, if there was better traction.

And then there’s the time it takes trying to convince parents that they need to vacate the wheelchair space so that the wheelchair user who has a legal right to that space could get on. Which is doubly annoying when there’s two spaces, one buggy and one wheelchair space, but the parent decided to park their buggy in the wheelchair space first anyway. It all used to be so quick and easy, and only the worst drivers refused to let a wheelchair user on, the most untrained drivers who refused to let a wheelchair user on. Now, it’s all of them who treat wheelchair users as if we take too much time to bother with, it’s everyone who would rather leave a wheelchair user out in the cold than do what their own parents did and fold the buggy before getting on in the first place.

It is every single part of getting the bus that has been made harder for wheelchair users, and if it wasn’t for the fact that sometimes, as in quite frequently, it’s the best mode of transport that can get me somewhere, I wouldn’t be using them at all.

And the sad thing is, if wheelchair users were involved in the design of buses, and trains, I doubt these problems would even exist. But we’re not, and things are not retroactively adapted when we point out a problem which really should be obvious at the design stage. When I was in University the first time, just as ramps were becoming slowly the norm, the one bus I could get on, it had a ramp but my wheelchair couldn’t fit down the aisle of the bus to get to the wheelchair space. I had one of the smallest adult wheelchairs you could get, and it was from the NHS so I had little choice in model. Most adult wheelchairs were 2 inches wider than the one I had, but the company’s response to my complaints didn’t change anything.

That was years ago, so I assume that situation improved eventually, but like here, I doubt it improved for long. I don’t know why the world is like this, I don’t know why people are like this, but it’s exhausting to deal with it and fight against it every single day.


12 Year Memorium

Monday 16 October, 2017

You and I have memories
Longer than the road that stretches out ahead.

1985 – 2005


The Sex Corner: Ding ding ding, round two!

Tuesday 26 September, 2017

Sticks of card with the titles of the books written on them in black ink arranged artistically against purple and green patterned wallpapered walls. The two titles seen clearly say Under the knife and The Ben Hope Series the card obscured at the back only shows the word The

Thought I couldn’t possibly find more fault in the big land of literature? Well, you would be wrong. My reading was down over the last year because University got in the way of reading for pleasure, but when I did read for pleasure I noted down which books were good, which books were bad, and which books deserved a special mention on this here blog.

So without further ado, here we are, round two of The Sex Corner:

It’s not easy being asexual in a sexual world, and it’s even harder trying to avoid something that is always considered a selling point. (Although it isn’t really, but that’s a post for another day). Luckily there will always be more books for me to get my head into. Well, for as long as my kindle works and libraries exist, anyway.

And that is where of which I procured the new editions to the The Sex Corner from. (Holy awkward sentence, batman!).

The first is an early piece by Tess Gerritsen. You might recognise her name, she is the prolific author of the Rizzoli and Isles series, but before them, there was a Under The Knife. It start’s with a female doctor, called Kate Chesne, being accused of malpractice which leads to the uncovering a murder plot. And that sounded brilliant, I was all for that! Murder? Hospital related? So my cup of tea it was practically a family sized teapot full of Tetley Decaf.

Until the lawyer came into it.

At first he was looking into the case, and then suddenly it turned into a whirl wind romance that left me wondering the legalities of the situation. Would a prominent lawyer take such a risk by dating his client? He wasn’t only risking the case, he was risking both his and Doctor Chesne’s reputation and their respective licences to practice, if she was to be found guilty. She could have been branded as the murdering doctor who slept with her lawyer so he’d guarantee she’d be found innocent. He could have been branded as the lawyer who had sex with a murdering doctor, not caring about the evil deeds she’d done, bringing his firm into disrepute. What does that say for either of them, in character and ability to act reasonable?

It says nothing other than this is book is full of ridiculous people who can’t do their jobs. I can’t possibly understand these characters, and I certainly can’t empathise with them. I don’t know if other people can or do. All I know was that I was in it for the crime and the court case, and I left at the door by badly written, convoluted romance and unfathomable scenes of a sexual nature.

So, in the sex corner it went!

And it was followed very quickly by Shadow of the wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Initially this is a story about a lonely lad, Daniel, who, grieving after the death of his mother, is shown a library of forgotten books. The Cemetary of forgotten books.

Remembering what someone once said to him about your first book always staying with you, Daniel carefully chooses a book called The Shadow of The Wind. And he becomes enthralled by it. After he reads it, he wants to know everything he can about the author. He wants to be an author! This book has picked up this lonely lad and gave him a purpose beyond his own existence. It was beautiful and it was brilliant! I was all for that.

And then it derailed.

Daniel, the lonely boy, develops a crush on an older girl called Clara, whose father is a rare book connoisseur. And it turns out this book is as rare as you can get. Not wanting to be turned away so soon after he refuses to sell his book, which was an amazing, once in a lift time gift from the very secret library of forgotten books, he offers to return regularly to admire Clara from an up close and personal distance. Oh sorry, no, I mean, so he can read to her because it just so happens that she’s blind.

And that still isn’t where my problem was with this story. Developing crushes is fine. I remember the older lad I used to have a crush on! But one part I had a problem with is that Daniel seemed to think that Clara owed him something just because he liked her. And she wanted to see him less and less, probably because she was 6 years older than him and he was just an opportunistic child. And he gave her the book to keep. Yes, the very rare book he at one point would not let out of his sight.  He just gave it away.

There is such a mystery surrounding The Shadow of the Wind. All the other copies of this book was burnt by the author himself. Why? That’s part of the mystery. One night, fearing for Clara’s safety and the safety of the book, he sneaks in to her flat to take reposession of the book, hears, uh, noises, goes to check the, uh, noises out, finds Clara is, erm… quite happy where she is, erm, shall we say? And then he promptly gets beaten up by Clara’s boyfriend. He flees with the book, and then makes acquaintances with an eccentric homeless man called Fermin Romero de Torres.

My biggest problem with his reaction after finding out Clara’s got a boyfriend and that they seem quite happy together, is that he seems to think that she was using him. From my point of view, he was foisting his attentions on to her and imagined a whole Will They/Won’t They scenario in his mind, like a delusional fantasist, whilst she probably didn’t even think about him at all, especially considering his age. Like, in her mind, he was probably like that young next door neighbour you used to play out with when you’re both in the bracket of “under 16”, and then you’re over 16 and you go off and do your A Levels, but the next door neighbour’s just gone into year 10. Except this book is set in just after the Spanish Civil War, so, you know. No A Levels, or year 10. But ignoring the speciifcs, generally speaking, that’s life, it happens, and everybody moves on and makes friends with people their own age.

Everyone bar Daniel.

But the scenes of a sexual nature don’t go away just because Clara is no longer in his life, nooooOOoooOoooo. First you have Fermin Romero de Torres, who is never too far away from talking sexually, and then you have the very graphic sex scenes.

I was less than a third into the book but I was out. I’d powered through the Clara thing in the hopes the mystery of the book and Daniel’s plan to be an author would remain in the foreground. It didn’t. Once again, I paid the price for powering through.

Just when I thought I was learning!!

So, last but not least is a series of books I think I got into under false pretences. My friend recommended this book to me (the same one who recommended the Languidoc series. I need to stop listening to this friend’s suggestions). She said it was like Dan Brown’s books, but better written, with better plots. And I thought, well you can’t get worse than Dan Brown, surely? So why not give it a go? Hah. Why not, indeed!

The series was the Ben Hope series, by Scott Mariani. I started in the order Mariani recommends on his website, with the prequels first. The first one, Passenger 13, was flawless, filled with violent action, mystery and a little bit of back story. I couldn’t fault it. The second one, Bring Him Back, similar on the violent action but the mystery involved a child with “special” telepathic powers. I could see the Dan Brown comparison. And yes, it was still very well written. Then I read his real first published Ben Hope book (if we talk chronologically by published date), The Alchemist Secret, and I didn’t think it was as good as the prequels. Mariani seemed to be suffering from a case of “Plot strong, writing weak” itis. I figured, that’s understandable. My writing wasn’t as good in my first chapters than it was in my 10th chapters of a multi-chaptered story I’m writing, I can forgive tired tropes and poor narrative in the early days of his career. I can’t forgive the James Bond-esque poor treatment of female characters, though, making them look bad so men look good. I had a watchful eye out but ultimately, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Then there was The Mozart Conspiracy, which again had a decent story but the narrative style really started rubbing me the wrong way. Some chunks of purple prose here and there, and the romantic elements on the up, and then as usual with male writers, using female character’s suffering to drive a male character’s story onwards. This is irritating and insulting to the point where I thought I’d draw the line there and then. None of the bad elements were what I was reading this series for!

But then I got an email from my local Library. The next book in the series was available. So I thought, I’d give it one more chance with The Doomsday Prophecy and if it’s the same, I’d give up. It was the same, and a little bit worse. In this story, he starts off so torn up about his dead wife that he plans to finish up his theology degree from years before, and reconsiders going into the priest hood. We get one woman chatting him up and he turns her down, though it seems more begrudgingly because of appearances of propriety and the prospect of a job rather than earnestly out of mourning. And then he spends the rest of the book having a sort of “will they, won’t they” type romance with the next woman he meets. I’m not saying he should have been donning mourning suits for the next three years, but the timeline in the book means it’s only about 4 months since the apparent love of his life is dead before all of this happens.

Some of the dialogue meant to be enriched with romantic tension is so convoluted I felt like I was reading bad fanfiction.

I ummed and arr’d over reading the next lot. I thought, “this isn’t as bad a decline as the Oz books, and I’ve not faced anything overly sexually graphic, just the romance really pulls the stories down” and planned to go on. Then I was hit by a snag. The library didn’t have the next two books on audiobook and had no plans to stock them. I couldn’t afford to buy them, especially if I didn’t like them, so I just waited it out and put Ben Hope to the back of my mind. Probably for the best, considering.

Then I found out something unrelated to this which has made the decision once and for all about whether I should continue reading or not. There was a promotional campaign for the latest Ben Hope novel in The Sun. And then I found out that HarperCollins is related to The Sun. I did not know that before then.

So now I will have to pick my books carefully because there is no way I’m supporting anything in relation to The Sun.

But, all in all, that doesn’t change the fact that these books will be going in The Sex Corner. And then after that, I might throw all Ben Hope novels in Mount Doom.

I may be slow to update, but as long as there’s good books ruined by unnecessary romance plot lines and sex scenes, there will be The Sex Corner, so watch this space!


The Wizard of Oz Series

Tuesday 19 September, 2017

I love the films. Well, the original film and it’s sequel, “Return to Oz”. The James Franco film was such a painful experience I like to pretend I haven’t seen it and that it doesn’t actually exist. I also watched an amazing miniseries called Tin Man and that is a gem of a find!

So, with that in mind, I got the whole entire book collection (For free, on Kindle. Thankfully) and set out to read my way through it. I knew people said bad things about it, I knew that he wrote in response to people’s requests, I knew that people lost interest the further along the series they got. I disregarded that and, much like Dorothy, started on the yellow brick road, prepared for the journey that was ahead of me.

I thought I was prepared, anyway. Turns out that I wasn’t prepared at all.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

This first book was alright, actually. All things considered. I think the Judy Garland film represented the first book quite well and some sloppy writing aside, stands up as a good children’s book.

The Marvelous Land of Oz

The second book, part inspiration for the second film, also mostly good. It is a nice little story, written for children.

Ozma of Oz

This book was most of the inspiration for the second film, Return to Oz. But sadly it’s where the problems were becoming too big to go without mention. There’s plot holes and cop out solutions. The story is very dragged out, and I think I would have been unimpressed with the story even as a child.

With the film, I was terrified of The Wheelers. They even unsettle me to this day. Tiktok could only make them behave for a short while and they come back later on in the film, scary as ever.

In the book, however, Tiktok disposes of them swiftly and they’re never seen again.

“Only, you must promise not to try to frighten children any more, if they come near to you.”
“I won’t–indeed I won’t!” promised the Wheeler.

I want to know why that didn’t happen in the film, because I lost a lot of sleepless nights thanks to them. That was the best part of an otherwise below average children’s book. I would not have been impressed if I’d have read it as a child.

Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz

This book was where I realised by what people meant when they say the books lost quality as they go on. I thought they meant further along, I didn’t realise they meant “book 4”. I mean, to put in perspective, I wasn’t that keen on the third book and this was worse.

In this book, we have plotholes, continuity errors and a whole lot of retcons. Dorothy’s personality has been lost somewhere along the way, and her strength as a female adventurer  went with it. The blatant sexism just came out of nowhere, as she deferred decisions to her male companion and fainted when things got tough. Her male companion did not faint, because, and I quote, “being a boy, he did not faint”.

I was very unsure about continuing to the next book, but I had the books, they were free, so perservere I did.

The Road to Oz

This was just dire. There’s no other words for it, it was Dire.

This should be named “Don’t Do What Dorothy Does” and used as a teaching device for children’s stranger awareness.

There is a character called The Shaggy Man, and he practically abducts a bunch of children! First Dorothy, who he asks for directions and somehow gets her to show him the way to a specific road, despite actually not wanting that road, he just wants to avoid it. Then there’s Button Bright, who they find crying in the middle of the road, digging, for some bizarre reason.

And then there’s Pollychrome, the daughter of a rainbow man.

It started off pretty much like an episode of Criminal Minds. And said like a true abusive character, the fact they followed him was their own fault, apparently. Or rather, it wasn’t his intention to lead Dorothy away from home and get her lost, nor to find these lost children along the way. But they did, so it’s their fault. I’m not sure how I’d take that as a child, but as an adult, it reads very sinisterly.

And then we have “the Love Magnet”.

This is an actual excerpt of the book:

“The Love Magnet! Why, what’s that?”
“I’ll show you, if you won’t tell any one,” he answered, in a low, mysterious voice.

The warning bells, oh how they rung!

It’s a real magnet, and it makes people fall in love with whoever has possession of it. Right? Because that sounds completely above board.

And then there’s Johnny Dooit, who the Shaggy Man wants “real bad”, who’ll do anything The Shaggy Man asks. We’ve gone beyond Criminal Minds here, and we’re in an episode of Tales from The Crypt.

In essence, the story is about the odd bunch of travellers AKA, The Shaggy Man and his Oblivious Gang of Abductees, going along trying to find the Land of Oz and Ozma’s palace; And they all come across all sorts of people along their way, in true Baum fashion. And the crux of the story is that leaders of all these different groups all want invitations to Ozma’s party.

Well, where I come from, it’s rude to put people in the position of asking for invitations from a mutual friend, but what do you expect from a land where changing people’s heads into animal’s heads is acceptable behaviour? Once that’s considered fine behaviour, a bit social faux pas is hardly going to be on the inettiquette radar!

And then we have the senseless animal abuse, and a good allegory on the topic of disability. The Musicker man can’t help but make music, it was the way he was born. Think of something like a musical-orientated tourettes. He makes music and it is out of his control. Everybody shuns him and feels sorry for him. Nobody wants to be around him because of the music he can’t help making. He’s considered annoying. There’s no disguising the lack of acceptance, and they are cruel about it. It’s ableism at it’s most basic form. It is childhood classroom bullying and I couldn’t stand reading it.

I skipped a lot because the formula had well and truly worn thin by that point, and the ending was no different.

That was me done for Baum’s Oz series.

Read the series at your own risk.

 


A Failed Journalist Reviews: Flare Path

Tuesday 12 September, 2017

Almost 2 years ago to the day, I did something that I haven’t done since before my operation in 2010.
I went to see a show, all by myself, probably to the downright horror of the theatre’s health and safety officer. But hey, that’s what a limited care package gets you.

Anyway, I’ll spare you the back story and get right down to business.

I broke out of my new normal to go see Flarepath, which was on at The Playhouse in Liverpool. Many things could have gone wrong during this play: I could have suffered an asthma attack, my back could have locked up, my heart murmur could have picked up and left me short of breath and dizzy. I could have thrown up randomly, I could have found myself in an altercation with a disgruntled fellow theatre-goer. I could have found myself needing the toilet and not being able to get back out again  – It has happened before. (Misadventure 1: McDonalds, Liverpool Town Centre, heavy door vs No manoeuvre room, Misadventure 2: Broadgreen Hospital, Orthopeadic Clinic, Very Heavy Door.)

I risked all of that, and possibly more! To see two people i’ve wanted to see act in a theatre* near me for years: Olivia Hallinan and Philip Franks! Both being in the same play, it killed the proverbial birds with one stone.

So, for those of you haven’t read Flarepath, and don’t worry, I am amongst you, the play is about a group of people who are staying in the same hotel, near the aerodrome in Lincolnshire, during World War 2. But it’s not just about any old people, no! We have an actor, called Peter Kyle, who checks in to the hotel seemingly under the guise of business, then we have resident Countess Doris Skriczevinsky. She’s married to Count “Johnny” Skriczevinsky and recognises Actor Peter Kyle straight away. She’s a fan! Fellow hotel guest is Patricia “Pat” Graham (played by Hallinan) who is also an actor. Yet, for reasons not yet disclosed at this point, Peter Kyle is rather cagey about whether he knows her or not. Despite having worked on a film together. See? Very cagey.

Then we have Pat’s Pilot husband Teddy, Air Gunner Dusty, who is married to poor Maudie, who is the most normal guest at the hotel. She lost everything when a bomb hit her house, and she’s very pragmatic about it. I loved her and Dusty so much that I would like them to have a play where they’re the main characters instead. Well, as well as, rather than instead. This was a good play!

Count “Johnny” Skriczevinsky, I’ve mentioned him already, he’s Polish and could be considered the comic relief. He could be, but I didn’t. There’s something poignant about a man fighting for a country he can barely speak the native language of. I know, Allies and all of that, it was common. But, no, this man was fighting for Britain, and his wife and their future together. And whilst he did provide brilliant comic relief, I do not want how well rounded and loving this character is, to be overshadowed by that comic relief.

Then there’s Teddy, who I’ve also already mentioned. He’s Pat’s husband, he’s a bomber pilot, and him and Pat have been married for 9 months. Then there’s the amazing Squadron Leader Swanson (Played by Philip Franks) who is all heart and no bite. Somehow, despite rankings and severe punishment for dissension in the ranks, Teddy gets away with calling him Gloria. Admittedly, I didn’t get the joke whilst I was watching it, but when I got back home and mentioned it, the response was “Oh, after the singer!” and I googled it.

Last but not least is the hotel owner, Mrs Oakes. Provider of the full English breakfast, and questionable sausages.

So, what’s the story about, with all these interesting characters? They’re all meant to have the night off, time to be with their loved ones, or in the case of Peter Kyle, seemingly sleep until he leaves the next morning. But far too soon,  Squadron Leader Swanson bursts through the door with bad news: They’re needed for a raid.

Let me break into the retelling of the play to talk about the effects and the set. They were minimal, but affective. The set was laid out like a lounge at the hotel, desk to the right, couch in the centre. The backdrop was just a general outside with a window in front. In the night scenes, before they drew the curtains, it was a dark blue night scene, in the day it was a brighter blue with a bit of a visible garden. The absolute star of the stage, outshining even the great Philip Franks! Was the realistic fire at the forefront of the stage. I wish I had a photograph of it because it was indescribably beautiful.

There was nothing technologically advanced to portray living near an airstrip, and yet! Yet! Some strip of lighting to represent the Flarepath (Yeah, that’s when I twigged about the meaning of the play’s name too) through the window, and some very close, loud, sound effects, and a synchronised reaction as if fighter plane’s were passing by right over head (it’s called acting, Dahling!) makes you duck out of the way. Genius!

I’ll be sending the stage managers the bill for my new heart.

Back to the plot, and this is where I should say there’ll be spoilers, obviously: Whilst the RAF members were away, the crux of the play unravelled. Pat, to the shock of myself, had been in a relationship with Peter Kyle. She had left him to marry Teddy, despite still being in love with Peter Kyle, and, further revelation! After 9 months of being married to Teddy, wasn’t sure she loved him! Teddy, that is. How awful! And Peter Kyle wanted her back! And she wanted to go back! And, urged on by the very site of Peter Kyle, whose presence originally seemed to annoy her, she decided she was going to tell Teddy as soon as he got back. Teddy had no clue that they’d been in a relationship, the poor clueless sod! Was this going to end with her running away with Peter Kyle!?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: She realised how despondent she’d been towards Teddy. She married him on a whim, it was a war time romance, they barely knew each other and she’d never bothered to try. I weeped internally at the struggle. So after a brief bout of ill health on Teddy’s behalf (Like, very brief. All of 15 minutes in real time), she decided she did love him after all, and could love him even more, and stayed.

Poor Peter Kyle, you might say. I thought the same, until he tried to emotionally blackmail her and manhandled her about the place.

To change the pace a bit, there was a hell of a crash over at the aerodrome. And then only Teddy and Dusty arrived back – it wasn’t looking too good for Johnny. They waited all morning for him, but Squad Leader Swanson returned – after having stayed a while over night with the women to keep them company (see, all heart, that man!) – to tell them that, whilst they don’t want to give up hope, they all knew the chance of Johnny returning decreased the longer it took to find him.

In a random twist of fate, with Peter Kyle out for revenge, to ruin Pat and Teddy’s marriage, Doris, who knows Peter Kyle can speak french, asks him to read out a letter The Count had left for her in the event of him never returning. It was heartbreaking. The letter said how much The Count loved her and how he was sorry he never got to show her his homeland of Poland. I’m not doing it justice, but trust me, I weeped externally and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.

Realising how much of an arsehole he was being, he decided to keep his affair with Pat a secret and subsequently left quietly.

I’m very glad to say that whilst the foreground of the set was very busy, my attention to things that move in the background allowed me to notice a mysterious figure in a big hat come through the door, unnoticed by the other characters.

Could it be?
…Was it?

Be still by murmurring heart! Yes it was! It was Johnny! Wonderful! My heart swelled. Metaphorically speaking.

After a repeated, hilarious retelling of how he survived (I won’t quote it because I won’t be able to do it justice, but, it’s brilliant), they celebrated their reunion with a good, lung beltering rendition of “We don’t want to join the air force”, and, proving that life sometimes changes within a second, a bright light came up and a loud noise hit, and the stage went black. And that was the end.

Wow. I mean, WOW. The acting all around was almost perfect in my books. I was a bit distracted with trying to think who *Peter Kyle* reminded me of and, alright, maybe Philip Franks didn’t get enough stage time for my liking. But for what it was, it was great. I really don’t know why there’s so many negative reviews. Not just for the Liverpool showing, but for the play over all. Boring? Pretentious? Patronising? What play where They watching!? Uncultured swines, the lot of them.

I don’t know how much of the original written play they stuck with, I don’t know if Rattigan evolved it during his time, or, like a few other plays, a new version emerged at some point and theatre producers have been putting that version on instead since it’s incarnation. All I know, is that this play features a variety of characters, and some are flawed, and some you don’t get to know enough of, but there is enough there to relate to them in some way. Or, in my case with Peter Kyle, to know you absolutely dislike them 100%, and that’s okay because it means the actor has done their job.

I do have one criticism: There was a change in cast which saw the character of Percy played by Holly Smith yet one of Dusty’s lines was “Percy, my lad”. And on one hand, I understand audiences are also meant to have a bit of imagination about things, on the other hand, it was jarring and it could have been adjusted with changing the line. It could be because the line continued on to threaten to physically discipline Percy for not minding their own business, and maybe that would have come across wrong with the character being played by a woman. But that also could have been adjusted. I’m sure, as theatre directors should know, not every line has to be exactly the same all the time.

The ending might be too abrupt for some people, as well. At first I was confused, unsure whether I liked the sudden ending, and then it dawned on me, hours later to be honest with you, what it (probably) signified. Ouch, talk about mood whiplash. Talk about delayed mood whiplash!

Anyway. Would I recommend this play? Yes. Especially if Philip Franks ever returns to the cast.

I would also recommend film makers pull a History Boys with this and make a film with the 2015 cast. I have no other cast to compare it to, but, trust me on this. It’s Hallinan and Franks or bust!

10/10