Saturday, December 29, 2007

2007 - A Roundup

A wonderful birthday, followed by all sorts of hassle from a bunch of cowboys at a computer shop in Lowestoft which shall remain nameless but is found North of the bridge.

Benefits-wise, I found out that my Incapacity Benefit (the money you get to live on if you can't work due to illness) was secure until 2010, but then I had to start on renewal forms for my Disability Living Allowance (that's the one you get regardless of work or income to cover the additional costs incurred by the fact of your disability). The form filling and a bout of particularly poor health meant that I spent a lot more time than usual laid up in bed, but I managed to get out for a bit on Steve's birthday, which we both enjoyed.

A friend of mine, Jesse, sadly died after many months fighting the double-whammy of heart problems and cancer. I couldn't blog about it at the time - Jesse had been forced to close his blog a few months previously because of a spate of trolls who seemed to be getting their kicks by attacking several vulnerable people (myself included) online from behind a shield of anonymity, and it didn't seem right to offer them another chance to have a pop at him in death.

In March, I also taught myself to knit, which has paid dividends, and first gave thought to buying a Roomba.

I found Web of Wool and Twitter which have both been positive in different ways. My knitting progressed, my health picked up a bit, and I met The Locum Doctor who was covering for my GP while she was on maternity leave.

May started with Blogging Against Disablism 2007. Unfortunately the same day I also ran up against problems with The Locum Doctor (which we found out several months later were due to an error on the front page of my medical records, but not before The Locum Doctor's Report had lost me my DLA award).

Pip and I made all sorts of plans to have a nice summer with the Littlun, but these were scuppered by various factors including the way the summer of 2007 never really got off the ground. Days out enjoying the sunshine were swapped for feeling extra-awful every time the weather changed. On the other hand, this meant my knitting really took off.

Again, a bad start, as I found out for definite that I had been turned down flat for DLA, despite my condition not having improved. June consisted mostly of short bursts of Doing Things to try and mount my case for a reconsideration of that decision, and long periods of waiting for the DWP to do the things they were supposed to do, like sending me forms and information I'd asked for.

I did a fair amount of blogging ("The reason I'm blogging when I should be working on my response, is because after a couple of sensible, thought-out responses, referencing evidence on my forms and the report from the specialist clinic and so on, I got to a point where all I could think of to type was "read my goddam forms, you morons". I doubt this would go down well with the reconsideration lot..") and quite a lot of knitting - I completed my needle case which really helped me to stay positive, having a tangible item that I had created. There was also a happy co-incidence when "NS13", a major overhaul of an online game I play, happened just at the same time as me having sent off my DLA Reconsideration paperwork, so I had plenty to get on with while I waited for the reconsidered response.

The reconsidered response was another rejection of my DLA claim. I was gobsmacked, as was everyone around me, the people who could see the effect my illness had on my life. "Two years ago, the facts I told them resulted in me being given the middle level of DLA Care component and the higher level of the Mobility component. Today, those same facts result in zero. How can this be right?" I had the right to appeal, but I wasn't well enough - even doing the forms had been making me more and more ill. I made the decision not to appeal and my family and friends breathed a big sigh of relief. It was easier for them to support a Mary with no money but some energy, than a Mary with some money but no energy and a shedload of stress.

There was a noticeable improvement in my health, probably due to a combination of the DLA-stress and time-consumption being removed from my life, and the weather steadying out a bit. With the help of other bloggers, I learned to knit in the round on double-pointed needles and I successfully knit my first sock, which I was very proud of. Pip and I took Littlun for a haircut, a course of action it has been decided to NOT repeat. Pip has since arranged to every so often borrow a set of clippers from a friend and do the boy's haircut in short bursts when it's most possible.

The second sock was completed, making a matching pair, and even now I'm still very proud of them. Steve and I set a date for moving in together and I began winding up my life in Lowestoft. Sorting out the admin side of moving house was nowhere near as stressful as dealing with the DWP/benefits lot. In fact the only bit that caused any significant trouble was... the DWP/benefits lot.

I had a doctor's appointment with my Regular GP, back from maternity leave. I told her what had happened with my DLA claim. She was shocked, so I told her about what happened with The Locum. She was even more shocked, checked my records... and found that the front page had never been updated to include ME/CFS as an "ongoing condition". Oops.

I finished my first knitted garment - a jumper for the Littlun - just in time for Steve to give it to him when he drove a van to Lowestoft to pick up the last of my stuff from my flat. As time went on I settled more and more into living with Steve, and initiated the wrangling with the DWP/Jobcentre to try and get them to help me into paid employment.

Joined Ravelry. Bought a Roomba. Realised that life really is quite a lot easier with Steve around, which allowed me to increase my estimate of how many hours of work I could do per week, which in turn meant a higher chance of a job advertised in the local paper matching my spec. In the space of five days I spotted a suitable job-ad, sent off my CV, was offered an interview, attended the interview, and was offered the job. I started work on Tuesday November 13th. It took the rest of the month to organise help with viable transportation to and from work - DWP again, causing more trouble and stress than the job itself. At the end of the month, a really nice surprise - flowers and chocolates to welcome me to the team and congratulate me on learning the job so quickly.

It wouldn't really be a month without a cockup from the DWP, and December was no exception. Despite telling several departments in several formats that I had started work, I noticed they were continuing to pay benefit into my account. Happily they've stopped now, but I've yet to get an official explanation or find out what happens to the erroneously-paid funds still sat in my bank account.

Christmas fell in just the right way so that I had a full five days off work - Saturday, Sunday, Christmas Eve Monday, Christmas Day Tuesday, Boxing Day Wednesday. Steve and I went to stay in Lowestoft so I could see my friends and family again. It was absolutely wonderful. We travelled back here on Boxing Day (Wednesday) and I was back at work on Thursday afternoon, which was a bit much for me, but luckily we're past the Christmas rush so I wasn't letting anyone down by being a bit groggier than usual. I'm getting another long weekend for New Year as well, Saturday, Sunday, New Year's Eve Monday, New Year's Day Tuesday, and we're not going anywhere, so I'm hoping that New Year will allow me to fully recover from Christmas and then I'll be back to my normal levels again.

All in all, it's been a busy year, with more ups than downs. It started well and ended even better. I'm happy, loved, secure, productive and relaxed. I'm looking forward to 2008.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

One Month On

...and working is still going well for me.

My cold is getting better - thanks mostly to Steve, who is being great about making sure that I get a chance to recover properly, get plenty of sleep, enough drinks and so on. If I was on my own and having to deal with cooking and grocery-shopping and laundry and washing-up as well as work, I wouldn't be managing and the cold would have been the final straw to see me land flat on my face.

If I had landed flat on my face... well, I'd have got up again soon enough. The people at work, up to and including The Boss, repeatedly reassured me from day one of my cold that if I had to take a day or two off, it would be fine, they know I work hard and that I'm not going to take the mickey. Apparently I really did look worryingly ill though.

I am managing to not get too anxious about the muppetry of the Incapacity Benefit bunch.

The taxi driver I have hired to get me to and from work is lovely. He's provided the paperwork I need without batting an eyelid, he's friendly, he turns up on time, and on the one or two occasions he personally hasn't been available to pick me up, he's arranged a different driver, he's sorted out payment with them directly (so I just stay on the simple fuss-free written invoice with him), and he's phoned me to let me know the type of car and name of driver. It's going incredibly smoothly.

I got my paycheque, early so it clears before Christmas. It's all sorted out now for PAYE tax and National Insurance contributions (so there's really no excuse for the Incap muppets). It feels good.

So now, there's just a week and a day of work left to do, and then I have a break for Christmas! Steve and I are going to see my family and friends, I'm really looking forward to it. I think my mum is looking forward to it as well - she's even added my favourite type of orange juice to her shopping list for the week, awbless!

Monday, December 10, 2007


I started work on November 13th. I have been a productive little bunny since then. Not only have I worked four hours every weekday, but I've also worked hard to disentangle myself from the benefit system. Here's what I've done so far:

Round One: On the day I was offered the job, I phoned the local Jobcentre to tell the Rubbish DEA, and the regional DWP office to tell the Incapacity Benefit people. They told me to tell them in writing, so I typed up a very nice letter. In all these communications, I gave my name, National Insurance Number (NINo) (note for foreign readers: this is like a social security number, and is used to identify you on all government, welfare and taxation systems), address and so on, and explained as clearly as I possibly could, that I wished to cease my Incapacity Benefit claim from November 13th as I had been offered a job. I told them how many hours I would be doing and how much I would get paid.

Round Two: During my first week of work, trying to arrange transport, I spent some time on the phone with the local council. Again, I fully identified myself including NINo to several people, and explained about having been on Incapacity Benefit, and having recently started work.

Round Three: Having got hold of Access To Work, who are part of the DWP/Jobcentre, I gave all my details again, over the phone and in writing on their forms, including NINo, date I started work, rate of pay, etc. I was approved for assistance with transport to and from work.

Round Four: The Useless DEA had referred me to Remploy back in October, which would have been great if the sole representative of Remploy in this area hadn't been off sick himself. Well, he phoned me back last week and told me that he could get me some extra money - £150 tax-free as an incentive/bonus for anyone who gets off Incapacity Benefit and into work. Fantastic, thought I, and once again gave my full ID and circumstances, over the phone, and again on a form with DWP all over it.

Plus, of course, I've blogged every step of the way. I haven't advertised my identity too much on here but it wouldn't be too difficult for anyone who put their mind to it, to figure out who I am.

Which is all a rather long-winded way of saying, I haven't exactly tried to conceal the fact of my working from anyone, least of all the DWP. No one can accuse me of attempted fraud, or working on the quiet, or trying to hide the fact that I got a job.

This makes it all the more concerning that, since my start-date of 13th November, two lots of Incapacity Benefit plus of course that famous £10 Christmas Bonus have been paid into my bank account.

And that means that my cold-ridden bunged-up self gets to spend tomorrow morning on the phone to the DWP, AGAIN. Joy.

EDIT 11/12/07
Phoned the DWP Muppet Show. Gave details. Explained situation as a timeline. May have worried the call-taker by making it clear that I keep notes. The overpayment of four weeks of long-term-rate Incapacity Benefit is a sum that can't just be written off as a rounding error (well, in a national sense it could, but) and so there will be an investigation. A decision-maker will determine whether I have to pay the money back (probably) or how much of it I have to pay back, and also whose fault it was.

STEVE: Surely they'll just say it was your fault, you forgot to tell the post-boy in the foreign embassy or something.

A reasonable assumption, but I have a reason to doubt it. (my emphasis)

Dear Mary,
I am a Disability Employment Adviser with a responsibility to support people back to work who have a disability.
Blah blah blah appointment in October,
Yours sincerely,
The Useless DEA

Which I'm taking to mean that, if there's anyone I didn't know I should tell, it's her fault. She is my named liason with the Jobcentre during the Back to Work effort. She is claiming me as a KPI, I was on her caseload, then I entered employment for more than 16 hours a week. She has a self-declared responsibility to support me.

I'll probably have to pay back the money and I'm not complaining about that at all, as it's money I'm not entitled to and didn't ask for. But damned if I'll take responsibility for ANY of their screwups.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


I have Extra Lurgy. Yep, on top of the usual, I've caught one of the glorious bugs that are floating around at this time of year, and I'm feeling crap. Coughing, wheezing, feverish, glandular, snot-ridden Crap. The last couple of nights have been increasingly bad in terms of sweaty-shivering unpleasantness, and last night in particular was just short bursts of sleep in between painkillers and needing another drink of water.

Luckily (although I'm not sure that's precisely the word I'm looking for), it's the weekend, so I'm able to be mostly in bed. I have a good supply of various strengths of painkillers (advantage to chronic illness), I have plenty of Strepsils, I have some Olbas Oil and I have a couple of boxes of tissues. I also have a Steve, who is slightly concerned and fussing a little - but mostly in terms of running me a bath and making me cups of tea, which, you know, I'm really not complaining about.

What is worrying me is tomorrow, when I am supposed to be at work for four hours. Usually when I've been bug-ill on top of everyday-ill, it's been a case of curling up in bed until it's gone. Now I'm working, that's not an option.

I really, desperately don't want to take time off sick.
I really, desperately don't want to make myself iller again in the long-term sense by not allowing myself a chance to recover from this virus (that's the most likely thing that made me long-term ill in the first place).

I don't want to let down the people I work with by being unavailable at the busiest time of year, making them do my share of the work.
But I also don't want to turn up at the shop, do half an hour's working, then pass out, and make people not only have to do my share of the work, but also make them have to spend time fussing over me, making sure I get home safely, writing it in an incident book and god knows what else.

Hopefully I will have intensive rest today, a much better night tonight, and feel better enough in the morning that I can dose up at lunchtime, go to work and just say "look, I'm going to have to be a bit careful today," but still be more or less functional for those four hours.


In other news, Reynolds at Random Acts Of Reality is having a competition to win some books. I've had no ideas as yet.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christmas Cards

One of the things I think is really important, and often overlooked, is Christmas cards.

No, I don't mean like when you're a kid and you carefully write out cards to all the kids in your class apart from that one smelly poo-head you don't like.
No, I don't mean like when you're a teenager and in competition with a sibling to prove who is more popular and ace based on how many cards you got.
Nor do I mean when your business sends cards to all your regular clients and vendors, or when you keep a couple of blank cards in your glovebox just in case, or those godawful "family newsletter" things where you try and advertise how wonderful your household is, and I definitely don't mean e-cards or worse still, the "happy xmas!" email sent automatically to *everyone* on your contacts list including the various Be honest now. How often have you ever re-opened a Christmas email or given a second thought about the person who sent it?

No, I mean an actual Christmas card chosen and given or sent to someone you actually give a monkeys about.

You see, it's not just a bit of cheap card (as in "£1 for a pack of ten cards?! That works out at TEN PENCE per card! That's ridiculous! It's only a bit of card! I bet it doesn't cost anything like that amount to make!" and so on).

It's a physical reminder, at this dark, cold time of year, that someone cares and appreciates you. Perhaps you're lucky enough to see and speak with other people every day. Perhaps you're constantly surrounded by people who care about you or at least talk to you. Not everyone has that though.

Let's do a thought experiment.

Your [friend or relative] is at home, wearing three jumpers because it's getting bloody cold lately but the cost of heating is getting silly. They're very much looking forward to Christmas Day, big family meal and so on, but right now, time is dragging by a bit and they're kind of alone and there's not much to do and not much cash with which to do it. The post arrives - a gas bill, some advertising, and a Christmas card from you with a little message to say you hope he/she's well, and maybe a bit of personal news. Not an essay, just four or five lines in the card.

Do they:
(a) read it, smile, put the card on the mantelpiece, and smile again every time they sees it over the next week or so, perhaps even occasionally taking it down to have another little look at it?
(b) read it, and then pop it into the recycling box along with the advertising? (admit it, this is what happens to those bulk Christmas emails)
(c) read it, and then phone you up to launch into a diatribe about how it's a terrible waste of money and playing into the hands of corporate fat-cats, and write you out of their will?

Extreme example, obviously, and if the answer is (c) then Do Not Do It. But I reckon the majority of people - even if they are incredibly busy and popular - would smile upon receiving a card from a loved one.

Sometimes the absence of a card can be as striking as its presence. If you're swamped by a hundred cards from work alone, you probably won't notice that a family member hasn't sent a card. If you're a little more isolated, then you will. If you have three grown-up children and only one of them sends you a card, you will wonder what has happened to your relationship with the other two to make them feel you are not even worth a 10p card and a postage stamp?

The last posting date for the UK (Royal Mail first class) is December 20th. UK people wanting to post to other places should check here.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Tis The Season

I love Christmas.

Some people get quite upset about that. There's the religious people, who think that as I don't believe the son of God was born on December 25th, two-thousand-odd years ago, I should just butt out of their meaningful celebration. Then there's the anti-religious people, who think that if I am rejecting Christianity then I should reject the entirety of Christmas because blah perpetuating false ideas wibble consumerism et cetera.

I respect both viewpoints (although I realise the tone of the preceding paragraph my put that into some doubt), and as such, I don't mind whether any of the people I know - or any of the people I don't know - spend their December in church praising their Lord and feeling marvellously spiritual, or in their determinedly undecorated houses ignoring the whole caboodle as best they can and burning any Christmas cards that darken their doormat.

But for me, Christmas is largely about the things in the coca-cola advert. Colour and light at the dark time of year. A little bit of magic, even if you know how it was done. Family and friends. Uplifting mood. And, dare I say it, a bit of excess - plenty to eat, plenty to drink, and giving and recieving (with thoughtfulness and good intentions and time and effort and consideration) gifts, including things that perhaps the recipient wouldn't have bought for themselves on their own (ok that's not in the advert, but Father Christmas is, and that's what he represents. To me).

Occasionally I wonder if that kind of thing - the Coca-Cola Christmas - isn't just the next natural progression of the mid-winter celebration/event/ceremony/whatever that humans do have a tendency to do for the last couple of thousand years. Personally, I'm not a Christian or a Muslim or a Druid or a Wiccan or a Pagan or anything else, I think the closest you'd get to classifying me is Apathetic Agnostic. I'm not even a huge consumerismist. But I love the Christmas celebrations.

Warning: There may be more Christmas-based posts to follow.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Love is...

I had a tough time getting to sleep last night and went a bit feverish for a while, but eventually it wore off. Steve was fussing a bit, and the following conversation happened...

STEVE: Are you warm enough? Do you want more duvet? Do you want all the duvet?
ME: I'm fine, I only want half the duvet. *evil grin* well, maybe 60%.
STEVE: Ah, a marital half, I see.
Steve pushes aside the duvet and places a pillow over his arm and shoulder.
ME: What on earth are you doing?
STEVE: Shed.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Fantastic Day

Today was absolutely astonishingly good.

First, I phoned AtW back with the quotes from the taxi companies, which were all the same. AtW Person said that was great, and I could arrange my transport with whichever one of those I wanted, she would send the paperwork for their side of it today and it should be with me on Monday.

Secondly, the post arrived with the application form from Community Transport. I am accepted, I just need to register my details and pay a £5 registration fee. Obviously with AtW sorted, I don't need them for getting to and from work any more - but it will be nice to have them available for shopping, doctors appointments, knitting group and so on - particularly once Steve's back at work.

Thirdly, today my mum recieved the mitts I knitted for her, and she sent me an email telling me how much she loves them and how they look and feel gorgeous.

Fourthly, I had to go to the bank in town to pay in my first paycheque, so Steve and I decided to allow plenty of time and then go to Victoria's for a pre-work lunch of tea and scones. Mmmmmm.

And fifthly, just after 5pm when we'd finished dealing with the post, The Boss and co-workers started drifting into the Dispatch Room, where I was sat doing those sort of wind-down/finish-up type joblets that you do towards the end of a shift on a Friday, and chatting. This isn't really unusual. The conversation drifted towards "you know, with you starting at this time of year as we get the Christmas rush happening, we haven't really had much chance to properly welcome you or congratulate you on getting the job..."

It drifted on, to "usually we'd have been out for a drink by now, but with everyone being so busy... and from what you've said, going to a pub straight after work wouldn't really do you any good at all."

Specific Co-worker chipped in "plus, of course, you've now told us you don't drink, so it'd probably be a bit of a wasted effort."

I was nodding and agreeing because they were indeed absolutely right, and I did rather appreciate being told all this, them making the effort to ensure that I knew I wasn't being intentionally ignored or taken for granted or anything, not to mention them having taken on board that it wouldn't be nice to haul me out to a noisy, uncomfortable pub when after four hours' work all I'm fit for is drinking a very quiet cup of tea and gently stretching while whimpering for painkillers. It's more consideration than I would get from a lot of people.

Suddenly a pretty bunch of flowers was held out to me. And a box of chocolates. And everyone around me saying "you've picked up the job so quickly... you've come right in and got on with it... you're fitting in just fine... we really like having you here..."

WIBBLE! I didn't cry but I did well up and kind of squeeee a bit. And I still haven't wiped the grin off my face.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Access to Work approval

Phone call from AtW. I have been approved for help with transport costs.

The deal is this:

If I was able-bodied, then it would be reasonable to expect me to pay my own petrol or bus fare to get to and from work each day.
So the figure of 25p per mile has been set as the amount that it is reasonable to expect me to pay. This will work out as about £1.50 - £2 each day.
The extra costs above this - the ones incurred due to my disability, as I cannot drive or get the bus as an able-bodied person would - will be met by AtW. So if a taxi charges £2 per mile, then I will pay 25p per mile and AtW will pay the extra £1.75 per mile.

I must pay the taxi each time and I must get a receipt for the amount I pay them, stating the date, where I went to, and where I went from.
I can then submit these receipts, along with a claim form signed by my boss to say that I was at work those days, to AtW on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis.
They will then pay their share into my bank account within 7-10 days of recieving the claim form.

So basically I need to get a signature off The Boss every couple of weeks to say that I *did* go to work rather than go shopping.

I need to get quotes from three taxi firms for my transport costs.

Got to go to work now, I may edit this post if I get home and it doesn't make sense.

Monday, November 26, 2007

more Access to Work

As expected, a letter today from Access to Work.

"I am writing to inform you that your application is eligible for consideration and we will be looking at the assistance you need in more detail."

In other words, I have successfully applied for the right to apply... meanwhile I'm embarking on my THIRD week of work without the assistance I require.

I have to go through the form, which is part-filled with my answers from the phone call last week, and complete/amend, sign, and send back to them.

Oh, and I have to make my boss's day by giving him a truckload of paperwork too, and apparently they're going to phone him up to 'discuss' all sorts of things, including my "detailed client needs" because obviously there's nothing he or I would rather do than discuss my medical history when my condition IN the workplace is already taken care of, I only need help getting there and back.

You know, this is really going to ingratiate me as a new employee, at the busy time of year.

EDIT 18:20pm
I decided to put plenty of "Not Applicable" on the forms, with my boss as my boss and with myself as the "employer contact who will have responsibility for ordering support". My boss was fab about it. Conversation pretty much went as follows.
ME: Boss, can I have a word with you at some point?
BOSS: Is it good news or bad news?
ME: It's more of a ten-minute warning in case you get a strange phone call from the disability people.
BOSS: Right... What will they want?
ME: Hopefully just to confirm that I work here, but if we get someone keen, they might start wanting to discuss 'solutions'. Which I don't need, I only need help with the transport. But because AtW is a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, they have to approach it as if I needed all sorts of stuff inside the workplace. So they might need you to confirm that things are all okay apart from the transport.
BOSS: Yes, I remember you said about the transport, is that still not sorted then?
ME: *face* I'm working on it. Anyway, I also have to give you this (brandishes sheet "Information for Employers") which is largely irrelevant in my case as none of the help I need is within the workplace. But I have to have given it to you and I have to give them your details as my manager.
BOSS: So I don't have to do anything with this?
ME: No. I know. I'm sorry. It really is just in case they call you.
BOSS: Right. You are okay though? If you need anything, you'll just come and say?
ME: Absolutely.
BOSS: Fine.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Still working

It's been more than a week now since I started work. It's going well. I am getting very sore and tired, true, but the work gets easier to do as I get more used to it. I've learned the job pretty well and am hardly getting brainflustered at all any more. Co-workers continue to be lovely, and I'm now 'officially' an employee rather than the casual see-how-it-goes thing we started out with.

Things at home are settling out nicely as well. The Roomba (or 'Bloop' as he is coming to be affectionately known) is doing well - not only does he clean the carpets, but I think he also makes us a bit more inclined to keep the place tidy, as roombas aren't really compatible with floors full of trailing wires, shoelaces, knitting, paperwork and whatnot. The shopping delivery from Sainsburys the other day was great, everything well in-date and only a couple of substitutions which I was perfectly happy with (eg "we didn't have the pack of two pain au chocolat that you ordered. So we're substituting a pack of four," OH NOES). Steve has been making more of an effort to do stuff around the house, especially the washing up, which has been an enormous help. Of course when he goes back to work, I'm going to have to pick up a bit more of that, but I'm not panicked about it. The only bit that worries me is the kicking him out of bed in the mornings, which is not a task for the easily discouraged. Steve is reading this, but I honestly think he would have to be among the first to admit that first thing in the morning he Does Not Want To Know about the world outside the duvet.

Knitting is seriously slowed at the moment. I did manage to go to knitting group on Tuesday for about an hour after work, but found myself regretting it a bit. I think it might be better to do what Steve suggested - finish work at 5.30, come home, have a nap, and then go out again to knitting at maybe 7.30 if I'm up to it. I turned down this suggestion last week on the basis that it seemed a bit silly for Steve to have to drive into town and back three times in an evening (1 pick up from work, 2 drop off at knitting, 3 pick up from knitting) but it might be the only realistic way to do it.

As you will have noticed, we're still talking about Steve taking me to and from work. On Friday (the 16th) we went to the council offices and got my ID and Blue Badge and whatnot photocopied, and the plan then was that the council would refer me to Community Transport, and then Community Transport would send me a form to apply to them, and once they had that form back, we could see about transport. However, I haven't had the form yet.

Today, I got through to Access to Work on the phone. Someone answered, took my name and number and a brief run-down of what I wanted, and said he'd arrange for an advisor to call me back.

A few minutes later, Yay, points for speedy actualisation of promises, T, the advisor called me back to tell me that he was going to go through a form with me and it would take 15 or 20 minutes. OK, so far so good, it was mostly stuff like name, address, NINo, do you claim this, do you claim that, what help do you want... great.

An interesting question was "do you claim Incapacity Benefit?" to which my answer, which should have been yes or no, was "not since I've started the job. However, when I first tried to call you, between getting offered the job and starting, then yes, I did get Incapacity Benefit. But your phones were down." Surprisingly enough there wasn't a box for that. T couldn't backdate my AtW claim, so he had to put "no" because at the time of our conversation, I was no longer on benefit. But he did ask what number I had been trying, and apparently "that number" was down for about six weeks. Which implies that they have a second number, which the DEA didn't give me, with which I might have got hold of them sooner. Do we think I should make a complaint about this DEA yet?

Fifteen minutes later, the questions were all answered, so now what? Well, T will post the form to me today. If it isn't with me by Monday, I should call them back. When I get the form, I must check it, sign it, date it, and send it back to them. Once they have the signed form back, then another advisor, a notch up from T, will look at the form and phone me to discuss things in more detail.

In the mean time, the DWP and the council and everyone else official are happy for me to be attempting to get by on £20 a week because of the cost of transport to and from work soaking up most of my earnings - it really is just exceptional luck for me that I have someone who can give me financial support and transport for the short-term immediate future. Dear Peter Hain, THIS is why disabled people who are technically capable of doing some jobs get stuck on Incapacity Benefit...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Transport to work.

Fun and games trying to arrange transport to and from work.

I can't drive, due to the effects of my condition. It would be unsafe for me and everyone on the roads and pavements anywhere I was driving.

I can't walk any significant distance. Particularly, I can't walk to useful places like my workplace in the town centre...

...or the nearest bus stop even, so I can't use the buses either. Public transport is cut off for me.

I can use a mobility scooter. What I can't do is safely use a mobility scooter in the dark/cold/wet for the 45 minutes it would take to trundle from work to home after having done four hours work.

I can use taxis. Taxi fare from this house to the town centre is about £7. Taxi fare to and from would therefore be about £14. I am on minimum wage. My four-hour day earns me £20-odd quid a day, after tax and NI that will be more like £18 or £19 a day - call it £95 a week. I am prepared to make the effort to do this working thing, but I'm not prepared to throw away 75% of my earnings just on getting there and back, working myself into agonising pain and utter exhaustion for a profit of £20 a week - and neither would you. Especially when the government will give you £80-odd a week to NOT work.

The DEA told me Access To Work would pay for my transport. But I cannot get hold of them.

I *have* got hold of the local community transport people at the council. At last.

Because I have a Blue Badge, I can use community transport, and because I can't use the buses, I can get something-or-other Tokens instead of a bus-pass.

This is where we discover that community transport isn't set up for the idea of disabled people WORKING at all. Apparently all these Tokens mean is that I get 20 trips at a cheap rate of 55p a mile.

ME: Twenty trips?
Council Lady: Yes, and then it's £1.05 a mile.
ME: So given that I work five days a week, that's two weeks transport?
CL: Yes, that's right.
ME: Wow.

Still, it's 3 miles to work, so that's £3.15 per trip, or £6.30 per day, which is still half the taxi rate and leaves me with about £12 or £13 per day profit, or £65 a week. So I'll still be worse off than I was on benefit, but not *quite* so drastically. Okay, Council Lady. How do I get on this scheme?

I have to:
- Go into the council offices that are hidden round the back of wherever.
- Wait about while they photocopy my blue badge and a couple of utility bills.
- Go away hoping desperately that they will be competent.

Then Council Lady will start a referral to the transport scheme, confirming that I am resident in the area and that I am mobility-impaired and therefore need community transport.

Then Community Transport will send me a form, which I have to fill in and send back to them, and THEN I might be able to actually arrange some damn transport. God knows how long this will take. If it wasn't for Steve still being on his study break I would be screwed. If I lived alone, couldn't wangle an occasional lift, needed to really turn a liveable-on profit... this is probably the point at which I would have given up and decided to live on benefit ad infinitum.

Your (and my) tax dollars at work, people.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

First Day - short version

There may or may not be a longer version at some point but right now, I'm too shattered to do a proper post.

Major cock-ups - zero
Minor cock-ups - a couple of "doh" moments but I don't think I *really* embarassed myself.
Pain levels - high
Bewilderment - 68%
Tiredness - exhausted
Co-workers - lovely
Specific co-worker who I will be working with all the time - very lovely, could not have imagined better. He's looking out for me without fussing, he's being patient without being patronising, and just seems like a really friendly guy.
Transport - still not sorted
Clothing - hurrah, I can wear flat shoes and comfy clothes

All in all, I'm a bit dead, but not nearly as dead as I feared I might be. I'm going back tomorrow, when I suspect some things will be easier, but some things will be harder going as I pick up speed.

Popped in at knitting to say hello and let my friends there know how it went, but I didn't have it in me to hang about and knit. Which is a shame, but never mind. Maybe once I'm more used to the nature of the work, I'll be able to go and knit as well.

Dinner and an early night I think, and a long soak in the bath tomorrow morning.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

One hassle after another

The world and his dog is conspiring against me and my hopes for a smooth transition from benefit sponge to Usefully Employed Member Of Society.

You've already heard about the woe of the Interview Trousers, and how by the time they are the right length for me, I will already have been working for two days.

Steve isn't feeling well, so I'm worrying about him on top of everything else.

I'm less than optimistic about my ability to do effective grocery shopping in my first week of work, and have similar reservations about my ability to cook. So, I wanted to get a decent amount of shopping dealt with and out of the way, including a load of easy meals in that if necessary Steve can cook (if it was up to Steve he would live off chilli, pot noodle and biscuits, which on the one hand he enjoys, but on the other hand is not a balanced diet or one that I want to live on). Couldn't go shopping on Friday because Steve wasn't feeling well. Which meant dealing with a Saturday Supermarket Shop.

It would not be outrageous of me to suggest that most people find supermarkets on a Saturday at least a little bit stressful. Imagine, then, that you walk into the supermarket clutching your trolley and realise that the shelves are looking a bit... sparse. In some cases, one might even go so far as to say, "empty".

It seems that the local Sainsburys depot has unexpectedly closed, and that therefore the usual stock replenishment has not been able to take place. So there was precious little food to be had, particularly the fresh stuff. What there was, was hovering on the sell-by date, and not even priced down because it was that or nothing.

It wasn't quite a case of fighting scrums of desperate shoppers for the last pack of bacon, but there was a definite air of frazzlement as people tried to re-plan their week's meals, hunted for alternatives, put the goods they had gathered back on the shelves so that they could go try tescos instead... I confess to feeling a little burst of joy as I picked up the last steak pie, in contrast with the realisation that ALL the pre-prepared potato products were gone and that I would have to do my potatoes the old-fashioned, time and energy-consuming way, starting with peeling the damn things.

Still, got a £5 voucher by way of "sorry we didn't have everything you wanted".

And finally... the Muppet Show that is Jobcentre Plus. Ever since I found out I have a job on Friday, I have been trying to sort things out with them.

First, I contacted the Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) to tell her that I had a job. Her response was:
1) To give me the phone number for Access to Work - along with a warning that AtW's phone lines were down and that I would get a "this number doesn't exist" type message but that it definitely was the right number.
2) To give me an 0845 number for the Incapacity Benefit section so that I could call them and let them know about my job. When I told her that I only have a mobile phone and that as such, 0845 numbers are very expensive for me to call (they're only local rate from regular landlines), her response was "well, that's their number, you'll just have to phone them."
3) To make unsolicited excuses about Remploy and how busy they are and how that is why I got a job before they got back to me, then telling me that I should get in touch with them, and to give me their phone number as well. My experience in the field tells me that this is less for MY benefit and more for THEIR Key Performance Indicators. I suspect reporting a positive number of disabled people getting jobs is central to certain bits of funding for them.

By this point I was wondering if I'd called a DEA or if I'd got confused and dialled some sort of spontaneously number-spewing Directory Enquiries. I have no interest in spending my time and money on phone-chases in order to make other people who I've never met look good on their KPIs.

Which is probably why I came out with something along the lines of "I'm quite impressed that I managed to get myself a suitable job so quickly. It's reassuring to know that I've still got the skills to negotiate disability issues with an employer properly."

To which she responded with something along the lines of "You're nowhere near as disabled as my other clients. It was hardly difficult for you to get a job."

If it had been "you have a better set of skills and experience", or "you're a very motivated person" or even "you have a lot more confidence" I wouldn't have minded so much, but this woman knows absolute jack about 'how disabled' I may or may not be, apart from that I have a diagnosis of ME/CFS and an IB award until 2010 - which you don't exactly get for no reason. That's leaving aside the whole discussion about how disability isn't on a sliding scale anyway. Gaa.

The woman on the other end of the IB helpline told me that I would have to write a letter with the details of my job and send it to them. Well, eventually she said that. First, she said that my details were still being held by the Bury office and that she would have to pull them across to Cannock. I wouldn't mind if I hadn't already asked for that to happen no less than four times in the last two months and each time been told "yep, no problem".

Access to Work's phone lines are indeed down and were still down on Saturday. It's a good thing I told my new boss I needed Monday to deal with the benefits people. It's also a good thing that Steve isn't at work again yet and can give me lifts to and from work. Hopefully I will be able to get hold of them on Monday, and then make a doctor's appointment if necessary and prepare for whatever other hoops they tell me to jump through.

The actual job is rather secondary in all this faff and stress.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Job Offer

Got the phone call at lunchtime today, and I have been offered the job.

Amazing. One application, one interview, one job offer. I had been under the impression it wasn't meant to work like that.

The manager asked if I could start Monday but I've said Tuesday because I need to go to the Jobcentre and get all that stuff sorted out.

It's sort of casual to begin with - so if I end up after a week or even an afternoon of it going "owww, eeek, I cannot do this after all" then I can just leave, no harm, no foul, which is good, but does add a little to the nervousness.

I am very excited and nervous. I also have this panic on about how I must get all the housework done in the next two days because once I'm working I won't have the energy any more.

A little bit of help in that direction though - the Roomba is now up and running and as I type, is cleaning the bathroom and landing. Well, the carpets, anyway. It seems to be having fun. I still think it's cute. It is still trying to attack Steve periodically. The cliff-sensor works, so it's not falling down the stairs, but there is one of the bedroom doors that doesn't shut as securely as the others and the Roomba keeps trying to nudge it open.

It seems to put Steve in mind of the Luggage from Discworld - pottering about with homicidal tendencies.

Oh, and from what I hear, my friends and relatives in Lowestoft are all okay. Which is good.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Very quick post

Interview went ok. I don't think I embarassed myself or cocked it up in any especially spectacular way. I'm fairly sure I could do the job - my guess about what's involved was pretty accurate, apparently it's already been being done by someone else for quite some time but now they have a bit more than he can manage on his own.

There were two interviewers - Chris, a fairly young bloke who is the manager, and Maurice, an older bloke who is the owner. They seemed a bit uncertain about how my health would affect my ability to do the job... I was honest about stuff like not being able to go up and down the stairs all day and not being able to spend all day on my feet. They asked about my health in a conversational kind of way ("are you alright with the stairs there?" followed by "so were you in an accident or something?") and I told them in nice, simple, nonspecific terms that a couple of years ago I got loads of viral infections which kind of overloaded my immune system and led to long-term illness to the point where I had to leave work, but that now I am recovered enough to look at part-time work again. I pointed out that I'm getting good at finding ways of doing things and working around the restrictions imposed on me by my illness, and also that I wouldn't say "yes, I can do this/that/the other" if I can't, because I have no interest in making myself more ill again.

They are interviewing two other people, one this afternoon and one tomorrow (Friday) morning. They will contact me on Friday, to say yes, no, or "we need to think about it over the weekend" but they've assured me they will let each of us know either way.

More importantly, the Roomba has arrived, and it is SO cute! It needs to charge for 16 hours, so all we've done with it so far is set up the docking station, pulled the battery tab, and told it to go find home. I pressed the button too long initially so it was about to start the demo and ran off to nibble Steve's shoelaces, but having read the manual I knew how to stop it.

It goes "bloop!" It is so full of cute! I love it!

Tomorrow, it will be charged, and I will play...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Just had a phone call from the manager at the music shop, offering me an interview tomorrow (Thursday) at 9.30am.

Even as my mouth replied in my best telephone manner that yes, that would be marvellous, thank you very much, my brain was whirling on the priorities, namely, that my lovely new Interview Suit Trousers which needed leg-shortening adjustments won't be available until November 15th. I am disturbed by how my brain works sometimes.

I still has jacket, but must bully Steve into taking me shopping for suitable trousers ASAP. It must be the very special sort of shopping that doesn't leave me too knackered for an interview first-thing tomorrow morning.

A little semi-secret... I have never successfully interviewed for a job for myself. All the jobs I've had, from teenage babysitting to telesales to my most recent job before I got sick (helping disabled people into work) were offered to me directly or were promotions/upgrades from what I was doing before.

In mitigation I have only done about three or four interviews in total for myself, but still.

I am trying to keep giving myself all the advice we used to give clients about interview prep and technique. This includes the difficult balance of positive thinking ("of course I will get this job. I am the person they want. All I have to do is Not Cock It Up," and so on) versus not getting so hung-up on it that it is a horribly crushing blow when rejection happens.

But before all that, I really must find some trousers.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I can has job plz?

Yesterday evening one of the local papers dropped through our letterbox and, as one does, I had a leaf through it. The usual small-town 'news' stories, a couple of advertorials, skip the property section, glance at the entertainment section, and there we are at the jobs pages.

I've been doing this for a while, but there hasn't really been anything suitable. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong papers. Some jobs are out because of distance (Access to Work will do a taxi to the town centre or the industrial estate, but not to Rugby or Coventry). Some jobs are out because they require a drivers' licence. A lot of jobs (double glazing doorstep canvassing, being a carer, delivering leaflets, etc) require a degree of mobility and physical strength/stamina that I simply do not possess.

Then the pickiness sets in. I don't want to "work from home and earn $$$$ in my spare time!!!", partly because considered as an hourly rate, home-working can be less than minimum wage; partly because it takes over your house; and partly because a major point of this exercise is to get me OUT of the house.

Telesales has been considered, and there was an ad for a telesales position in the paper doing 'research' for Barclays Bank (I suspect it may be researching the question 'do you want a loan or credit card? Let me help you with that...'). I've done telesales before, but from what I gather it's changed quite a lot, with automated systems ensuring you are constantly talking to customers, one after the other, bambambambambam, with no chance to take a deep breath after someone difficult, much less to turn away from your terminal and put your head between your knees for thirty seconds because of a killer headache. I could do telesales from home, or maybe in a small team of like six people in an old-fashioned set-up (like with actual phones and a printout wodge of numbers to dial), but I'd be stuffed within minutes of entering a big call-centre factory with dozens of people competing to be heard.

But, there was one other part time job, in the town centre, that didn't appear to require abilities or qualifications that I don't possess. The advert was maybe thirty words, including the "please send a CV and covering letter to...", so a lot of this is guesswork, but. The job is 'CD dispatcher working above a small independent music shop. Good computer skills essential. Mon-Fri 1.30pm - 5.30pm".

IF that means they want someone to drive/cycle/whatever around hand-delivering packages of CDs, then no, this is not the job for me.

Our guess is that it's to do with their online shop, and that they want someone who can look at an order, get together the CDs required, package them appropriately, complete the paperwork on the computer, put the right address on the right package, and put it in a box/sack/wheelybin to take to the post office/give to a courier/attach to delivery pigeons.

The hours are longer than I'm looking for, but whether that's a problem or not just depends on how much actual work there is to do. If it's like "we have an enormous backlog and need a team of people to send out CDs on a production-line basis, go go GO" then I'd be stuffed after an hour. If it's more "we send out about twenty packages a day, and need someone to be here for a few hours every day just so that the orders can be processed As They Come In without the shop-floor staff being overstretched" then it's bloody ideal. The only bit where I fall down is that I really don't have terribly much interest and enthusiasm for music.

Anyway, as the advert requested, I've polished off my CV, made sure it's got an appropriate title (NOT 'myCV.doc') and is definitely in .doc format, and emailed it to them. The only problem with that is that although the paper with the advert in only arrived yesterday evening (Sun 4th), the paper itself was actually several days old (Thurs 1st). I'm hoping against hope that the different jobs climate here (as opposed to Lowestoft) means that the shop didn't receive 100 CVs on Thursday evening and had already filled the position by the time I saw the advert.

This morning I awoke to the horrible thought that with this job-quest I shall have to go clothes-shopping for a suitable interview outfit - if not for this vacancy then for the next one, or the next one, or the next one after that. Call me crazy but I somehow don't think jeans will cut it. I suppose that is at least better than having awoken from a terrible dream where I turn up for interview naked or something.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Boo, Erk, Yay

A mixed day yesterday. Still recovering from having overdone it during the week, but then, I'm at home with the wonderful Evilstevie, Maker Of Cups Of Tea Extraordinaire, so it could be very much worse.

Feeling like this, and knowing that feeling like this is a regular thing, and being in a fairly large house (certainly lots larger than the flat), and knowing that Steve will not always be on study-break, I have finally decided, for definite, that I am buying a Roomba. I found a proper online store in the UK that sells them (as opposed to someone bringing one back from the US), compared various prices and specifications, and chose which one to buy.

Put it in the basket, signed up to the site, chose my options for delivery and gift-wrapping and carbon-offsetting and god knows what else, finally got to the 'now give us your credit card details' bit... and noticed that something had changed. The previous pages had been secure. Yellow address bar, https, little padlock sign, all tickety-boo. The credit card page, however. It still said https, but it wasn't yellow any more, the padlock had a line across it and further investigation offered the warning "some of the information on this page may be readable by others", and I just know that the day I take that chance is the day some bugger steals my credit card details and runs up thousands of pounds' worth of debt that I, having taken the chance, am fully liable for. Paranoid? Perhaps.

Tried to ring them but their customer service line is closed at weekends, so I emailed them instead. Boo.

On, then, to "erk". A friend of ours who lives nearby wants to have a fireworks party on Monday. So yesterday, I had a cuppa with his girlfriend while he and Steve went out to buy some fireworks.

Remember kids, you can't say "firework" without "erk!"

They came back with over £100 worth of fireworks. I asked them, did they bring any sparklers? I like sparklers. The answer was no... they went to an industrial-fireworks place for the stuff and the only sparklers available were in packs of over a thousand. Which would, I admit, be overkill for a party of maybe a dozen people, but makes me even more anxious about the nature of the fireworks they have purchased.

Some of you know Steve. Look upon the following sentence and tremble: In terms of this firework party, Steve is being the voice of moderation. He's even made sure they have purchased a remote detonation system. This is not like Steve. Steve is usually the one shouting for more flammable materials.

And finally, the yay - I got my Ravelry invite! YAY! I've already hooked up to several people I know and I'm sure more will follow. If you want to find me on there, I'm on as batsgirl. Still working on bringing it up to date - so far I've only listed two 'projects', the first scarf I did and that knitting on screwdrivers thing. It does seem a very sensible way of organising things, although I'm still finding my way around it.

Oh, and I've written my letter to WDC, I just need to remember to print it. Thanks to everyone who made suggestions :)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Jumping Through The Hoops

Although I still have many hoops to jump through for the Jobcentre, it's all on hold until such time as my medical notes arrive from Lowestoft and I see my new GP.

I swear Waveney District Council must have heard that I was getting a week or so grace from performing for government departments, because they have kindly provided me with more Big Brother tasks.

I was liable for part of the Council Tax on the flat, because while the Jobcentre Incapacity Benefit letters all said "this is the amount the government says you need to live on", the Waveney District Council letters all said "(you must give us money and pay part of your rent yourself because)...your income is more than the amount you need to live on". Which seemed like a bit of a local/national kind of discrepancy to me, but, whatever, I had not got the time, energy, inclination or resources to fight with them over a tenner a week or whatever it was.

Anyway, I made a lump-sum payment to cover the whole year just so that they would leave me alone, which worked beautifully. Unfortunately it meant that, as I moved out before the end of the financial year, they ended up owing me money.

Currently we're on letter number 3. Number 1 said "we will stop your payment." Number 2, the other day, said "we have stopped your payment". Number 3, which arrived in the same post as Number 2, was the one which made me do a double-take. It amounts to "we owe you about £65. We're not sure if you actually want that money. So if you do want it, you can write to us and ask nicely for it."

I am trying, I swear, I am trying to write a concise, polite letter to the effect of "actually yes, I would rather like you to pay me the money you owe me, if you could be so kind" but so far I haven't come up with anything sendable. I fear that a request for payment that is too snarky or sarcastic or critical, may well end up in my file being 'lost' or something. They're that kind of organisation. So I'm blogging my frustration instead.

Your suggestions, sensible or snarky, are more than welcome.

(In other news, there are now only 728 people ahead of me in the queue to get on Ravelry. I'm getting quite excited.)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"Access" to work

I had my appointment with the Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) at the Jobcentre yesterday. We spent about an hour talking about what I would like to do, what my limitations are, what help I want, and the various rules about work and Incapacity Benefit. So that's pretty much the same conversation I had with the IB adviser last week, except the DEA seemed to know a bit more about the IB/work rules, or maybe she just felt more inclined to show off her knowledge.

The upshot is that I've been referred (surprise!) to Remploy, who hopefully will get in contact soon. I remain unsure about exactly who they will refer me to what they will do for me.

Remploy or otherwise, the DEA thinks I should be eligible for an Access to Work grant for my transport, assuming I can get my doctor to confirm, in writing, that I do need the exact physical help that I am requesting.

I have registered at the local surgery, and I've had a kind of introductory appointment with the nurse, so that if I turn up because I'm oozing disturbingly, the system won't just throw up a blank - they have my height, weight, blood pressure, brief family history, that sort of thing. But I can't have a routine appointment with a doctor until my notes arrive from Lowestoft. This could take some weeks. When they arrive, the surgery will contact me and then I can make a routine appointment to see my named GP.

Then I get a ten-minute appointment slot to try and persuade said GP - who may or may not pay attention to my previous GP's notes, and whose standpoint on the veracity of my symptoms may well be unsympathetic - to write a letter saying "Mary can't actually walk very far at all and is unfit to drive". I'm trying not to think about that bit. Let's assume I'm successful.

This letter combined with the geographical fact of the house being some distance from the nearest bus route, should persuade the AtW gatekeepers that I am eligible for their scheme. After that I'm on my own until I have obtained a secure job offer to show them, and then the DEA will do the paperwork to apply for the grant for...

*curls up and sobs* Can someone tell me again why it is that I am doing this instead of simply being Steve's housewife?

Anyway. Once I have a GP's letter, I will finally be able to apply for jobs while feeling about 80% certain that when I begin a job I will be able to get to and from the workplace while remaining in profit.

Here's the rules:

1. If I do voluntary work for less than 16 hours a week, I must tell the Jobcentre, but it doesn't affect anything much - mostly it just covers my back if someone tries to report me for fraud saying "she works at [charity]!" I can get my expenses reimbursed by the voluntary-employer, but must not be paid for my work.

2. If I do paid work earning up to £20 a week, I must tell the Jobcentre, but I can keep the money and keep my benefit.

3. If I do paid work for less than 16 hours a week, earning up to about £80 a week, I must tell the Jobcentre, but I can keep the money and my benefit, for either 6 months or 12 months** depending on what my support status is deemed to be. After that time I must choose to (a) give up my benefit or (b) give up the job and not work again for a year.*

4. If I do paid work for more than 16 hours a week... well, that's all irrelevant really, there is not a snowball's chance in hell of me being able to do that any time in the forseeable future.

5. If I earn more than the aforementioned £80 a week... this is probably irrelevant too although I suppose it could happen. If it does, I'm simply telling the Jobcentre to stick it where the sun doesn't shine, as I wouldn't have a problem with taxi fares.

*Incapacity Benefit is about £80 a week. Wages for ten hours work at £5 an hour is £50 a week. So basically, I would have to decide whether to work my backside off for £50 a week plus my personal pride, or sacrifice my pride and sit on aforementioned backside for £80 a week**. What would you do?

**The idea of the time limit is that it forces encourages claimants to increase their hours to more than they can handle, sending them crashing back onto full-time benefit again more than 16 hours per week, and claim Working Tax Credits instead. Believe me when I say that the Tax Credits system is even more of a nightmare than the Jobcentre system, and that I would sooner work in the sex industry and live on the streets, than attempt to deal with Tax Credits again.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Seeking gainful employment

The time has come to search for a job. I am settled in one place, with a partner who earns, so I don't have to deal with the &%#£ing Tax Credits level of Dante's Inferno department to make sure I can still afford to pay my bills. And, the new living conditions mean that I am no longer using most of my precious "up-time" just on essential things like keeping my housework done and my fridge stocked.

Of course, I still have certain limitations. The obvious physical symptoms of my illness rule out quite a lot of things, especially in terms of the usual easy-to-get minimum-wage flexible-hours jobs. I don't think I'm in any way 'above' cleaning toilets or serving fast-food or collecting trolleys from a supermarket carpark, but I would do such an ineffective job of those tasks that really, another person would have to be employed just to pick up my slack.

The other big barriers are transport and hours, which sort of link together. I certainly won't be able to manage a full-time job. I think I can probably work 10 hours a week, but it will have to be spread over several days rather than one ten-hour day once a week. I just don't have that much uptime all at once.

There's the field narrowed quite a bit already. But then there's the transport issue.

I can't walk or cycle to work, or even to the nearest bus stop. The mobility scooter provides a lot of freedom but is somewhat weather-dependent - it's in no one's interests for me to short-out in the rain halfway between work and home and need rescuing. I can't drive, and it would be unsafe for me to learn - it's one thing to get woozy as a pedestrian, even on the scooter, and stop and move to the side of the pavement until it passes, but quite another to get suddenly woozy at the wheel and semi-consciously pilot a ton and a half of metal automobile up the pavement into a wandering mums and toddlers group. It wouldn't be good. The remaining option is taxis. The taxi fare from my house to the town centre is about £6 or £7 each way. So if I'm working three hours at a time, at £5 an hour... then after transport costs I will have about £2.50 left to show for each day I knacker myself out. If I have to buy work clothes too - which I probably will - then we're looking at months of work before I so much as break even on this deal.

So really, I need some kind of scheme, some kind of assistance, to help me access work. Luckily, there is such a scheme, run by Jobcentre Plus, called Access to Work. How handy.

With this in mind, I traipsed into the local Jobcentre Plus, and after some considerable effort and negotiation (see last post) I was offered a seat and told that the Incapacity Benefit advisor, C, would be with me shortly...

As several readers know, my job used to be helping disabled people into work (although not for JC+), and I really wanted C to help me, so I figured I would try to come across as the sort of client that would have made me do the "getting this person a job will be a piece of cake" grin. As C walked into the waiting area I put my walking stick in my left hand, and when she called my name, I stood up, made eye contact, smiled, stepped towards her, confidently introduced myself as "hi, I'm Mary, you must be C, nice to meet you" and held out my right hand.

Oh dear. I've had better handshakes from half-used balls of yarn. I'd thrown her completely off balance with my impression of an incredibly confident and totally employable person and now she didn't know what to do. (A cruel person might suggest she didn't know what to do in the first place, but I am lovely and suggesting no such thing.)

Our encounter went from bad to worse when she asked what sort of work I used to do. I put it as gently and nicely as I could, cushioned with lots of "obviously I'm not up to date like you are with the current rules and legislation," and "I only know what was available two years ago in Lowestoft, I have no idea what's available locally here in 2007 except what I've gleaned off the web," but it didn't help. The terror shining in her eyes was somewhere between wondering if she was being tested, and wondering how she'd feel if it was her who had suddenly landed on the other side of the desk.

Anyway. The upshot is, she has referred me to the Disability Employment Adviser (DEA). I got the standard patronising letter from the DEA today. An appointment has been arranged for me at the end of the month.

"The main purpose will be to find out more about your current situation, your job goals and to see if I can give any additional advice that may help you to move into employment. Please bring with you a current CV or details of past employment..." I have done my best with my CV. Unfortunately it still effectively reads "I used to do what you're doing now," which will make it even more obvious that I am less interested in her advice and more interested in accessing the practical help that I know is available. I am hoping against hope that she will be able to deal with that.

My back-up plan, if the Jobcentre continue making me despair, is to get in touch with volunteer groups in the area. OK, so financial gain is nil, but expenses are generally paid, work hours are flexible, and I will get a reference and the gap on my CV covered over, so I can apply for jobs that pay *more* than minimum wage and thus the transport costs won't be such a scary percentage of my earnings.

The temptation to be "just" a housewife is quite strong at the moment, I'm not so scared of working but I really, really HATE dealing with the bloody Jobcentre.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Yet more moving faff

...but first, a knitting update. I have embarked on my first adult-sized jumper. The yarn (Colinette "Cadenza" 100% merino wool in "slate") is gorgeous, the colours are beautiful. It's mostly blue tones, but with patches of rainbows. Meanwhile, Left Mitt v1.0 has been tried on, the only adjustment needed is for the fingers-bit to be a little longer. So I've done that, and have nearly completed the matching Right Mitt too. After that, will be another identical pair for when this pair are in the wash (or lost), and a similar but smaller pair for my mum. Basically I'm reckoning that at any given time for the rest of the year I will have one project on regular needles (the jumper) and one on DPNs (the mitts).

Now. Today being the first working day after my Official Move Date, a certain number of things had to be done. I had to go to my bank and my building society to update my details (understandably enough, these institutions won't let you do that over the phone), and I wanted to go to the Jobcentre in order to check that everything was as it should be with my benefit (I still get the same amount of Incapacity Benefit but it has to come from a different regional pot) and find out about help available for disabled jobseekers in the area.

The mission started off quite well, really. Steve drove us into town, and then, fortified with tea/coffee and scones, we went to my Building Society, which I would be naming here to praise their good customer service to all and sundry, except I'm not sure how sensible it would be to put any of my financial details on the internet, so let's just call them my Building Society and I promise to email them direct.

Stepped up to the reception desk, queued for about a minute while the person ahead of us was dealt with, then was greeted by a friendly, smiling member of staff, the conversation went thus:

HER: Can I help you?
ME: Yes, I've just moved house and I'd like to update my address details for my account.
HER: (fishing sheet of paper on a clipboard out of a drawer) No problem, have you filled in one of these change of address forms yet?
ME: Um, no.
HER: Is the account a joint one, or just yours?
ME: Just me.
HER: Then you only need this one form. Would you like to fill it in now, or take it away and come back another time?
ME: (taking form and noting it is a single side of A4) Um, now is fine, we're not in a rush.
HER: Okay, here's a pen, there's seats round here, oh, or there's a desk over there if you'd like to use it, just bring me the form once you're done, and I'll be here if you need anything.
ME: Marvellous, thank you.

Sat at the desk, filled out the not-too-complicated form, queued again for a minute or so, gave form and pen back to smiling lady who thanked me, assured me it would get sorted out today, and we left.

At that point I felt wonderfully positive. So I kissed Steve and sent him off to the local park to take photos of ducks while I attended to my Bank and dropped in at the Jobcentre.


At my Bank, I was waiting for what seemed like ages (by the clock, probably not much over five minutes, but when standing is agony, your sense of time gets skewed) while a woman about my age grumpily dealt with the two or three customers ahead of me in the queue for reception, including going and having a rather unprofessional argument with one of the tellers behind the cashier windows. Eventually it was my turn, and she glanced up at me and opened proceedings with an abrupt "Yes?"

ME: Um, hi, yes, I've just moved house and I need to update my address details.
HER: Have you got ID?
ME: Yes, (opens foolscap folder) I wasn't sure what you'd need so I've brought all the ID I've got.
HER: Driver's licence or passport.
ME: I don't have either of those. (leafing through folder) I've got a full birth certificate, and my marriage and divorce certificates, several recent utility bills in my name, a bank statement, National Insurance card, P60...
HER: We only take driver's licence or passport.
ME: I can't drive and I haven't travelled abroad in years. To the best of my knowledge, neither of these things preclude me from having a bank account, or an address.

At this point she made a noise I'm more accustomed to hearing from Sister Dearest when she's in a moodypants. However, she finally deigned to poke my assorted paperwork and put my details into her computer.

Don't get me wrong, I'm hardly sweetness and light 24/7, but then, I don't work in customer service.

Onwards to the Jobcentre, where no less than three advisors were standing about by reception - fair enough as there was no queue. I started with "I've just moved to the area and I want to double-check my incapacity benefit has moved with me," but before I'd finished, one of the advisors had moved to a phone kiosk on the wall, picked up the phone, and was impatiently holding it out to me. Confused, I took it. It was the all too familiar sound of the standard Jobcentre helpline, inviting me to press 1 for income support, or 2 for Jobseekers Allowance... I pressed 3 for Incapacity Benefit and a couple of minutes later, a friendly voice at the end of the phone was making sure that the "push", as they term it, was happening. I checked and re-checked that this meant there is nothing else I need to do and the friendly voice confirmed that yes, everything is fine, there is nothing else I need to do. Grand. I thanked her and hung up.

Back to the Three Stooges Advisors, interrupting their chat to ask about local provision for helping disabled people to access work, training, services, etc. The person who wordlessly shoved the phone at me before, stomped to the wall of leaflets and wordlessly shoved the generic national leaflet for Access To Work at me. By now I was quite cheesed off, so I flipped open the leaflet and said "you see here where it suggests that I contact my nearest Jobcentre? That is what I am doing. I have come here, to my nearest Jobcentre, to ask about what specific help there is available in this specific town, yes? I've already read this leaflet, it's in every other Jobcentre in the country and online too."

I immediately felt bad about being so snappy, but Wordless Guy didn't seem to give a monkeys and one of his colleagues had decided to join us. As Wordless Guy wandered off, Colleague asked if I'd like to speak to the Incapacity Benefit advisor, C, who might know more about the sort of services I was after. He ushered me to a seat and said he'd find out if C was available now or if I needed an appointment. A moment later he was back to tell me that C would be with me shortly, but that's another blogpost.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


This is a long post. Waffle about home, waffle about nice people, and a waffle about knitting. Feel free to skip to whatever bit you want.


I'm definitely much more settled in now than I was last time I posted. Steve and a friend went to Lowestoft to pile the rest of my stuff into a van, so now it's all here. Mum and Sister Dearest have done the finishing up at the flat - disposing of the last bits of rubbish, giving the empty flat a final once-over with the vacuum cleaner, that sort of thing - so now all that remains to be done, is for Mum to call the leccy people with the final meter reading, and then hand the keys back to the landlord's agents.

A three-bedroom house containing my boyfriend is obviously going to be a very different home to a small one-bedroom flat that was just mine. Nevertheless, a home it is. It's amazing how much difference small things can make. For instance, the bedroom here, now contains the small bin and a few framed photographs that were in my bedroom back there. My poor abused houseplant is in the lounge. My trusty kettle is in the kitchen. And because of this, it doesn't seem to matter so much that 90% of my books are still inaccessible due to being boxed up, because there's a significant amount of familiar things that are definitely mine, but have their place here. It's very reassuring. Yes, I realise this makes me horribly materialistic. I don't care.

Nice People

More proof has been asserted for my "People Are Basically Nice" theory. This time, it was in the form of our next-door neighbours and an end to the Saga Of The Sink which I think several real-life people have heard about but I don't seem to have blogged.

Precis: There was a drip under Steve's kitchen sink (it started several months ago before I lived here, so definitely HIS sink). While it was creating half a small bucketful of water every fortnight or so, it was a bit of a non-issue. When I moved in here and discovered that it had deteriorated to a point where the brimful bucket needed emptying three times a day, I started being a pain in the arse at him to either fix it or call a plumber to fix it. I also dug out a Bigger Bucket. On Saturday morning, we found that the Bigger Bucket had filled to the top during the few hours while we slept, and Steve said I could call a plumber if I wanted.

Finding a plumber in Lowestoft would have been easy. Verily we could sayeth unto Pip, or other person involved in the building trade, "what plumbers do you know who could come and fix this for me?" and yea, he declareth "Bob's a decent plumber and a nice bloke, good mate, he won't overcharge you" and lo, for Bob the Plumber doth cease the flow of water and only charge for parts, and all is good with the world.

Here, however, I have yet to develop a personal and prioritised hotline to the world of tradesmen. Nor do I have the other common plan of having used a particular firm's services once, and on the basis that they didn't steal or break anything, hanging onto the number to call them next time there's an issue. So, I decided the sensible thing to do would be to pop next door to have a word with the lovely couple who have lived there many many years, and see if they had either of these resources.

All I asked for was a phone number of a plumber they could recommend. Of course, they asked what the matter was. In an effort to reassure them that they wouldn't be affected, I told them. "But why do you need a plumber for that?" they asked. "Because we don't know how to fix it ourselves," I answered. Next thing I knew, our friendly neighbour was coming round to have a look at it. He told Steve where to find the thingy to turn the water off, and undid the bit that was broken, and sent Steve off in the car to get a new one. Steve returned with the new bit, our friendly neighbour fitted it, and ever since, no drip.

I have no idea how we can thank the man. All I'm sure of is that giving him money would mortally offend him.

(At this point I also need to say that, on his plumbing expedition, Steve got new taps, the lever type ones, which are SO much easier for me (well, for anyone really) to use. Well done Steve.)


I finished the jumper for Littlun, just on time for Steve to take it with him to Lowestoft when he went to pick up my stuff. I finished it perfectly, but then, I panicked. I had somehow convinced myself that there was no way the bound-off edge of the collar would be big enough to go over Littlun's head. Steve tried to persuade me it would be fine, but he didn't want to be too insistent because he was more concerned about making me calm down.

So rather than taking photos of the perfect finished item, I frantically unpicked the collar seam and knitted up a triangle shape to shove in, effectively increasing the neck by one inch. It didn't exactly look right but, he's three, he's not going to be wearing it perfectly straight at the best of times, and no other knitters are likely to inspect it. I didn't have time to re-do the bodge, but at least now I knew he would be able to at least put the jumper ON.

Steve took lots of pictures for me, but here is just one of the Littlun in his new jumper.

Since then, I have been working on my adapted version of these mitts for my stepdad. Today I finished Left Mitt v1.0 which I am sending to my parents for approval. If they tell me it fits, I can get on with knitting an identical Right Mitt. If it doesn't fit, I shall make a start on v2.0, with whatever adjustments they tell me are required.

Of course the big problem with this is the postal system or more to the point, the postal strikes. If I post v1.0 tomorrow (Monday), it may well not reach them until the following week or longer. I would also guess there's a higher chance than usual of it going missing altogether.

This means I have no current projects on the needles. Which feels weird. And I don't want to start the right mitt with the v1.0 pattern only to find it won't fit. And I don't have a clue what to knit next. Ideas?

Friday, October 05, 2007

Settling In

So, I've been here at Steve's house for about a week now. Technically it is also my home too now, but I'm still having trouble getting my head around that. My clothes are all hung and folded in my designated wardrobe, my makeup and toiletries are on the dressing table, a couple of my family photos are stuck to the fridge, my shoes are lined up by the door, I've even had one or two bits of post arrive addressed to me here. But it still feels very much like Steve's House. If all of my stuff was removed from it, the difference would not be noticeable.

Next week, Steve and his friend should be going in a van to get the rest of my stuff from the flat, like my bed, my sofa, my boxes of books and so on. I'm hoping that having my things here might make Steve's House feel more like My Home too, but at the moment there's nowhere to put any of it. Hopefully by next week we'll have cleared enough space at one end of the lounge so that we can stack up my stuff indoors where at least it won't get rained on... but to me there doesn't seem much difference between having my bits and pieces packed up in a load of boxes at one end of one room in the same house I sleep in, and having my bits and pieces packed up in a load of boxes a couple of hundred miles away. I want books on shelves and ornaments on windowsills, you know?

Sorry this post sounds so negative. I am happy, I am glad I've moved, and I am sure everything will get sorted out. I'm just also intensely tired and sore, which in turn is making me irritable. I'm at that point that most readers will probably identify with from their own long or short-term spells of illness: the bit where there's SO much that needs to be done, but you have to push and push and push yourself just to cover the minimum activities, and pushing yourself becomes an exhausting activity in itself. But there's so much that's important so you keep pushing just as long as you can stand on two legs and when you fall, you rest on the floor, as you are, trying to figure out what things you can usefully do while crawling... On top of which, the "minimum" here and now is very different to the minimum, say, a month ago at the flat. There are a number of things that have to be sorted out ASAP, some mountainous things which need to be chipped away at steadily if any sort of dent is to be made, and other things which aren't that urgent or daunting but are accumulating at an alarming rate.

Happily, one of the things which I have classified as "important" is an attempt at a social life. I went to see my friend Carie on Sunday, and I went to the knitting group at Web of Wool on Tuesday. I had a great time on both these occasions. I have finally finished giving myself blue fingers with Littlun's Jumper (just waiting for that to dry so that I can finish sewing it together) and I've made a start on my next project, which is this lovely pair of mitts, slightly modified for my stepdad. Everyone was very helpful as usual - especially Carie, for suggesting and discussing how to modify the particular pattern, and the ever-patient Anna (who owns Web of Wool) who rescued me when I had a brain-blank and gazed at my cast-on stitches for the mitt for several minutes before saying in a small voice "I've forgotten how to knit in the round." Not a laugh, not a snigger, just a gentle reminder and then my brain clicked in again and everything was fine.

Okay. Not a dazzling social calendar there. But it's still Getting Out and Seeing People and Doing Things, and in my own right rather than as Steve's hanger-on.

Also on the plus side, I am enjoying Cuddles On Tap, as well as copious provision of tea and chocolate. It's also really nice having all of my clothes in one place, rather than opening the wardrobe and realising that the top I want to wear is in a different county.

I'm sure things will get a lot more normal soon enough.

Friday, September 28, 2007

That explains a lot

I had a doctor's appointment the other day, and happily, it was Dr W, my GP of many years, just back from her maternity leave. The whole DLA, GP on leave, locum doctor who wouldn't listen to me thing has finally become much, much more clear.

(Brief recap for any new readers: earlier this year I got turned down for half my disability benefit largely on the basis of a report by Dr M, a locum who was covering the maternity leave of Dr W. This baffled and upset me as Dr W has always supported my benefit claim - it was her who insisted I stop work. Dr M reported that I suffer from depression, and that I have no difficulty doing many everyday tasks. This is inaccurate.)

It boils down to: Dr W is an extremely good GP. However, she would be a rubbish data entry clerk.

If you were to read the actual notes that Dr W has written about me over the last couple of years, they are covered in terms like "ME", "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome", "Post-Viral Fatigue Syndrome" and so on. They describe problems I have and how I overcome them, medications that have been tried and the effects they had, how I got on at the specialist ME/CFS clinic, everything you could want to know. You would see copies of the sicknotes with "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome" written large and clear, right up to the date when the DWP decided I didn't need to submit sicknotes any more.

If, however, you were only to glance at the front page of my computerised medical notes, you would have seen:

"Current ongoing conditions: none"

You would also see a note from the late 1990s suggesting I should be monitored for symptoms of depression and anxiety. The significantly more recent psychiatrist's letter giving me a mental health all-clear, is jumbled up with the reports from every other investigation into the possible causes of my illness that I underwent at that time - psychiatrist, neurologist, physiotherapist, and probably the butcher, baker and candlestick maker for good measure. You wouldn't see it unless you hunted for it.

Add to this, that I am not one of "those" patients, who marches off to the doctor every couple of weeks clutching an article about some revolutionary new cure or treatment or research. Since the Incapacity Benefit people decided I didn't have to provide sicknotes any more, I haven't actually been to see my GP about the whole ME thing, I've just turned up when I start oozing. Okay, so my tendency to get the sort of tonsillitis or ear infection that makes a practised GP recoil in horror and begin writing the scrip for antibiotics before they've even sat back down is because of the ME, but that's beside the point. If you look at the summaries of my recent visits on the notes, they're nothing to do with the ME.

So, let's look at my encounters with Dr M from a more sympathetic point of view.

A patient wobbles slowly into the consulting room, leaning on a walking stick and pulling faces. She gasps as she sits down, and explains she has come to see you about an ear infection. You look in her ear and sure enough, it's gunky. You look at her throat and that doesn't look too healthy either. You ask about other symptoms and she says that although she's having a bit more difficulty with certain things, it's just like an extra helping of her normal symptoms.

You quickly look at the notes on the screen. No ongoing conditions, the last thing she was here for was a throat infection, what's going on? What "normal symptoms"? What's with the stick? You ask what she means and she looks at you a bit funny before saying "the ME, or CFS, or whatever you want to call it." You spot a flag telling you to monitor her for mental health problems. Gently you ask a couple more questions. The patient says she's been like this for a couple of years, and no longer has a job. You can't quite make up your mind whether she's actually ill, or if she's a benefit scrounger, or if she's under some kind of delusion that she suffers a physical illness - she seems quite certain that it should be on her notes somewhere - but right now it's not terribly important. She has come here with an ear infection, she very obviously HAS an ear infection, so let's treat that and leave the rest for another day. Then, when you think you're home free, she tells you her benefit is being reviewed and that you may get a letter through asking for a GP's report. Great.

This also explains why Dr M was kind of obstructive when I asked to see my medical records. It could be psychologically damaging for a delusional person to read that their family GP thinks that they are delusional...

Dr W has of course apologised and corrected the front page. She's also made sure to put in plenty of information in the notes for our recent consultation a couple of days ago that might be important for whatever new doctor I get in Leamington - basically making sure the relevant details are at the top for a new GP. Yes, I realise there is a possibility that I am delusional and she is humouring me, or that I hallucinated the whole thing. But that just gets too metaphysical. I shall stick with the logic that, if the psychiatrists don't want to try and treat me, or even put me on a waiting list, and I'm not on psychiatric medication, and I'm not crying all the time, then I'm okay in that respect.

In other news... Stage One of the move has gone well. I will write more about it another time. For now, suffice to say that I am in one piece, partially unpacked, and very happy.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Almost done

So, today is my last full day here on my little lonesome. I have one more night with a bed all to myself, and then I become a respectably living-in-sin woman. According to The Plan, Steve should turn up here tomorrow, on Wednesday take me to the doctor and help me pack more stuff, and on Thursday (possibly Friday), whisk me away for good.

Thursday (possibly Friday) isn't actually the Official Move Date. But with the best will in the world, I am not going to be a great deal of help with shifting boxes and furniture out of a first-floor flat. So we're moving me first, with a suitcase containing the stuff I need or that is highly important to me, and then at a slightly later date, Steve is going to come here on his own with a van which my friends and family will help him load up with boxes of books, furniture, remaining clothes and stuff. My mum and stepdad will be in and out disposing of the bits and bobs that I won't be taking with me, and then at a slightly later still date (which is so late mostly because of the "one month's notice" thing) they'll return the keys to my landlord on my behalf and hopefully get my deposit back too.

It feels REALLY weird. All of it. Like, I don't exactly have hundreds of friends who I see every week here, but I have a small handful of people I would define as Real Friends. And I am going to miss each and every one of them. They're all happy for me, they're all glad things are working out and going my way, but it still felt odd to hug someone and say goodbye like I have done a hundred times before but then instead of saying "don't forget to send me a text about next weekend" or similar, saying "don't forget to email me, and good luck with [long term life plans]."

The worst one is going to be Pip. And the Littlun of course, but let's be honest, I haven't known the Littlun as long and he's not a fab conversationalist. Admittedly neither is Pip but we have best-friend telepathy. But I'm not sure how well said telepathy will work across this kind of distance.

I miss him already and I've not even gone yet.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Today, I've been doing a lot of the admin side of moving. This has involved listening to far too much hold-music, negotiating with automated systems, speaking to people with assorted flavours of so-broad-it's-barely-understandable accents from around the globe, and silent swearing when my mobile started to ring *just* as the people at the JobCentre said "Good afternoon, can I take your national insurance number?"

I started my day by sorting out some letters with the date that Steve and I have defined as the Official Moving Date. There's a letter to the landlord, and two to Waveney District Council - one for the Council Tax department and one for the Housing and Council Tax Benefit department (Waveney District Council rarely if ever answer their phones). I emailed the document to myself and went to mum's to print it out. Well, that was the plan. In real life, we discovered mum's printer had run out of ink (magenta ink to be precise, are there any b3tans with a confession to make?). I couldn't easily find a way to convince it that being out of magenta ink did not preclude printing a black and white text-only document, so I let her have the fun of reordering the cartridges while I went to the internet cafe a couple of doors down to print my stuff off there.

Home, a bit of lunch, a bit of a rest, and then I got on the phone, and in the case of TV licensing, the internet, because their automated voice-recognition system is beyond crap. Now it's half past four, and I've decided I'm finished for the phone for the day. My arms and shoulders ache from holding the handset up to my head, and my speech has gone completely, I simply don't make sense any more.

But I'm still not finished for sorting out this move. Let's recap.

Notice to Landlord
Council Tax notification
Housing and Council Tax Benefit notification
TV license
Water (supply)
Water (sewerage) (these have to be separate here)
Phone (calls)
Phone (line rental)
Incapacity Benefit (except, I have to call them again once I've arranged a new GP at the other end)

Electricity (need a final meter reading five days before Official Move Date)

Building Society
Credit Card
South Warwickshire PCT (for GP, dentist, etc. Still not entirely sure how this will work)

Can anyone think of anything I've missed? Gas isn't on the list because this is an electric-only flat, and I don't have a car or pet or gun license... ideas welcome.

This afternoon has reassured me that I still have a certain level of job skills, but reminded me that I mustn't get ahead of myself and apply for jobs where I'll have to concentrate for more than an hour or so at a time.