My PA having left on maternity leave in mid December, in January I began working with a new, temporary, cover PA. I had another ATOS medical examination for my DLA renewal which went about as smoothly as these things can. I gave up on the business support organisations that had been messing me about and got in contact with The Prince's Trust, who were much more positive and useful about things, and helped me to write a business plan.
On February 5th I took the plunge and declared my little business “open”. Obviously there was a lot still to be accomplished in terms of developing and marketing, but it meant I was able to start invoicing and earning little bits of money from clients I already knew. As if in reward for taking the plunge, I found out that following my medical I had been awarded DLA “indefinitely” which meant it would likely be several years before I had to go through the process again.
Then, just when I thought life couldn't get any better, Evilstevie whisked me away for a surprise Valentine's weekend, and pulled off the most beautiful, geeky, romantic proposal I ever could have wished for with twitter, automated computer activities, stunning scenery, photographs throughout, and a gorgeous diamond ring. I said yes.
Since this was not a proposal for the sake of being romantic, but a real engaged-to-be-married one, wedding planning started with looking at potential venues and crunching through lots of brochures. At the same time, with the business “open” and a business plan completed, I was able to properly apply for, and was assessed and approved to receive, practical and financial help from the Prince's Trust, as well as Access to Work support in the form of an appropriate powered wheelchair.
This April I got very much into an online event called Such Tweet Sorrow - Romeo and Juliet, set in the modern age, with the core characters “acting” in real time by posting tweets, blog entries, YouTube videos and other interactive media. Usually you go to a theatre and suspend disbelief for two hours, but this was five weeks of having six additional people popping up in my twitter feed at all hours of the day and night, and audience participation was encouraged and responded to in character. This meant that the fictional, scripted characters were just as “real” to me as many of the people I interact with online in my wider social circle.
Meanwhile the business was still at a stage of mostly waiting on other people, and the wedding planning was at a level of research research research.
As usual, May opened with Blogging Against Disablism Day. Becoming increasingly immersed in wedding planning, my post was entitled It's Not Bridezilla To Want Access and highlighted the ignorance shown to disabled brides by the wedding industry. On a happier wedding note, we picked a date and a venue.
I also went to vote - not that it's done any good - and the Such Tweet Sorrow event reached its conclusion.
In June the Awesome Wheelchair was delivered and the world opened up for me. Steve was taking a holiday from work and we were able to go on many days out to properly enjoy the summer sunshine, and even took a short trip back to Lowestoft to say hello to everyone there.
June also saw the beginning of an amazing government-backed propaganda campaign against disabled people which laid the groundwork for the increasingly severe cuts to essential services that have been being announced ever since.
In July we officially gave our notice to get married, which is an interview where they check all your documentation to make sure that you are who you say you are, and you're eligible to get married in the UK. We also booked our bouncy castle, started buying pirate accessories, and made our Save The Dates.
Another wedding-focused month. I learned how to make balloon swords, because we don't want any injuries from people bringing their own wooden/plastic/metal ones. I also went dress-shopping with Steve's mother, which was an accessibility nightmare but happily resulted in the purchase of a lovely dress at a reasonable price.
In September I decided to start working on layouts and discovered Google's SketchUp software. I got a bit carried away, which means that yes, on the one hand, we have a to-scale representation of the reception building, with the correct number of to-scale chairs and tables and other items of furniture, all based on real measurements, which can be moved around to try out lots of different ideas. On the other hand, it means I sunk several hours into it and now have what might be called an excessively accurate 3D colour model of all indoor and outdoor areas when really, a bit of graph paper and some post-it notes would have probably sufficed.
Away from the wedding front, I went to the Food Festival with my PA, and had a wonderful time browsing around and enjoying the atmosphere. And Carie knitted a baby!
In October the attacks on support and welfare for disabled people became even more definite in the Comprehensive Spending Review. One of the most shocking cuts being made is the withdrawal of DLA Mobility from people living in care homes. We also saw the severe restriction of the Independent Living Fund (with a view to its closure in the next few years), the restriction of contributions-based benefits to a period of one year, shuffles to Housing Benefit which will see many vulnerable people being split off from their informal support networks of friends and neighbours, and drastic cuts to local authority budgets which are having a direct impact on Social Services.
Due to my privileged position as the de facto housewife of a man who earns enough money to keep a roof over our heads, petrol in the car, and food in the cupboards, I am not as severely affected as some. However it is no exaggeration to say that my independence will be affected, and that if I was still on my own, it wouldn't be a question of independence or of quality of life - I would be struggling to survive, and many other people aren't as lucky as me.
In November Steve took a permanent job, as opposed to the contracting work he has been doing so far. It has been taking some adjustment to get used to, but it is in many ways a relief to have a regular and predictable income and it has enabled us to push forward with a few more aspects of the wedding planning. My maid of awesome, Jiva, came to see us for a visit and we arranged the cake, tried on the dress again, and made a bit more headway with the planning.
Every 2011 bride I know held their breath as Prince William and Kate Middleton announced their engagement. Eventually they named their day and along with many others I breathed a huge sigh of relief that it wasn't going to clash (and my phone buzzed with “thank goodness! not your date!” messages). We must feel sorry, though, for the people who had already planned to get married on 29th April, who are now wrangling with Bank Holiday issues, London transport/major event issues, and the risk of being rather dramatically upstaged.
Early December saw the arrival of Pip's new Littlun (actually a Littlunette) who I am looking forward to meeting at the wedding if not before. As usual, December was largely focused on steering Steve and myself through Christmas. We got off to a flying start - the cards were written and 90% of the presents wrapped before the halfway point - but then illness and weather started to interfere, with the result that our final Christmas card was only delivered on New Year's Eve and we still have a present lurking under the tree. I've also had PA problems - the young lady who went on her maternity leave last year didn't come back, but she also didn't resign or let me know what she was doing, so I'm grinding through the disciplinary process which is a whole drawn-out procedural mess of formal letters and hearings and paperwork that I could have done without. I also found myself writing a guest post for Where's the Benefit when David Cameron made his priorities clear in a sickening if predictable way.
Nevertheless it was a very enjoyable Christmas. We saw in the New Year with friends (although, unusually for us, without fireworks), and we're confident and ready for 2011.