Monday, February 15, 2010


Potted Summary for people in a rush who can't be bothered with all these words: This weekend, Evilstevie proposed to me. It was very romantic. I said yes.

Extended Version, with pictures**:

It all started a few weeks ago when Steve borrowed my phone and inserted a "Top Sekrit Weekend Away" at a location defined only as "Elsewhere" for the 13th and 14th of February. Nothing too unusual in that, we've had quite a few weekends away somewhere, why not do it for Valentines' Day? It's as good an excuse as any.

As the weekend drew nearer, Steve told me he was trying to figure out where to eat on the Saturday night. What with it being Valentines and all, it would be best to book a table somewhere rather than trusting to luck, but he was worried about showing me restaurant options because it would make our overall destination less of a surprise. So I told him that I thought I could guess that much anyway. I was fairly certain that he had arranged for us to stay at Rhyd Hir*, a lovely guest house run by the parents of a friend. After a moment's silence and a query about whether I'd been copied in on the reservation emails or something, he confirmed that I was correct.

Although this made deciding on a place for dinner that much easier, it did make Steve fret a little over the next few days about how much I had guessed and whether there was a security leak. Meanwhile, I was being so smugly self-satisfied about my skills of deduction concerning our accommodation, that it never occurred to me there might be more to figure out...

Forward to Saturday, and after a fairly lazy morning we got ready to leave. This took its usual pattern of me getting ready and then sitting with a book for a while so that Steve could flit about the place rearranging his camera bag, swapping lenses, hunting down memory cards, and so on. Nothing odd there. By lunchtime we were in the car and on the road, with a plan to grab some lunch on the way and then enjoy a nice, leisurely drive to Wales, diverting our route as usual on the basis of tea-breaks, interesting-looking brown tourism signs, and pretty photo opportunities.

We found the restaurant about two hours before our table reservation, so instead we went for a bit of a cruise around finding somewhere nice to watch the sun go down, which was very romantic regardless of the date. Then it was back to the restaurant where dinner was both delicious and plentiful - so much so that when we arrived at Rhyd Hir, we eagerly accepted Diane and David's kind offer of a cuppa but emphatically refused their offer of a slice of cake or a biscuit. Once we'd both regained the ability to fold in the middle, we made our way up to a nice, warm, comfortable room where a bed about the same size as my old flat was a very welcome sight indeed.

In the morning I woke up to birdsong outside, which is nice at this time of year when 'dawn' more or less coincides with a reasonable clock-time to be waking up. We'd agreed with Diane and David that we would be down for breakfast at about 9am, but this was another advantage to the small-guest-house not-a-huge-hotel thing - I didn't have to wait for Steve to be up and about and showered and awake so that he could help me traverse miles of corridor in search of a semi-decent cup of tea. I could let him get on with his shower in peace while I took myself downstairs and was rewarded with an actual pot of tea, and indeed a sofa to sit on while I drank it. This was a good thing because it meant I was properly awake to face Breakfast, a meal which deserved full attention and a capital letter. I almost regretted having cleared my plate at dinner the night before. I was utterly baffled by Steve's decision to only have porridge.

After breakfast, and in his role as "father of a friend" rather than "host", David took us for a bit of a tour around the local area, including some spots where Steve could get some nice pictures. Lots of it was places where we wouldn't otherwise have gone - in some parts of rural Wales it can be hard to tell what's a road leading to somewhere and what's someone's three-mile-long private driveway.

David took us back to Rhyd Hir, and then we picked up our bags, said our goodbyes, and set off for Lake Vyrnwy. At one point, we stopped at a viewing area with a gorgeous aspect on the lake. As Steve fiddled with his camera gear, I pulled out my phone and wondered out loud whether it was worth turning it on to see if there was a signal from this vantage point. I really should have noticed the panic with which Steve told me there wasn't and started getting back into the car saying he'd get better shots from somewhere else.

The 'somewhere else' we ended up was a place we'd been to before - still part of Lake Vyrnwy, but rather more secluded. There's a pretty waterfall, a stream, a nice grassy area with wooden picnic benches, and if you know the road (track) is there and where it goes, you can drive right up to it. Steve had told me that he wanted to try and get a nice picture of the two of us there.

me and Steve, standing cuddled up together in front of beautiful scenery
So here's the nice picture of the two of us, complete with hillside, waterfall, stream and cuddle. The camera is on a tripod about two metres away from us. The car is about five metres beyond that. There is a remote control in Steve's left hand (away from the camera) which he is using to operate the shutter. I have happily stood there for a couple of minutes in my role as a marker while he takes test shots, scuttles back and forth making adjustments and so on... nothing unusual is happening. Happy with his camera setup, he keeps whispering jokes and sweet nothings to make me smile and every so often he clicks the remote to take a picture. It's all very romantic and lovely and, although I'm starting to get really tired, I'm having a great time and am really pleased that we've had such a fantastic and relaxing weekend.

same scenery, but Steve kneeling
Then Steve drops to one knee and asks me to marry him. Not believing him to be serious, I basically tell him not to be silly, the weekend has been fabulous and he doesn't have to start proposing in order to make it better.

Steve still kneeling, holding up a ring box. Me looking shocked.
Steve assures me he is serious, it's not a spur of the moment thing, he's not just trying to make me happy in the immediate sense, and that he has a ring to prove it. If you zoom in on this one, you see me gaping in shock and turning a funny colour, and him looking both smug and relieved that I hadn't guessed all of his surprises...

Steve still on one knee, me squatting leaning against him trying the ring on.
Predictably I've lost concentration on standing as I am slightly overwhelmed. At least now we both have wet knees. Steve gently reminds me that it is traditional for me to give him a yes-or-no answer. It's a yes.

my hand with the ring on it. The ring is white gold with a solitaire diamond in a bezel setting.
As the good old Welsh drizzle picks up, we whisk ourselves and the camera back into the car. After a lot of giggling and deep breaths, Steve changes lenses for a shot of the ring in place. We find our way back to the main road and from there to the Lakeview Tearooms for a well-earned cuppa and something to eat - the appetite which had deserted Steve at breakfast has for some reason come back with a vengeance.

The ring on its own, on a black fabric background with a blue light shining through the diamond.
As we drive back to civilisation, Steve also explains to me why he'd been so twitchy about my phone. Knowing that we would be out of signal, he'd set up his server to upload this photograph, and tweet it with the words "fingers crossed @batsgirl says yes..." at lunchtime, so that when we got back into signal (after the proposal) our twitterfriends would have begun to respond and it would be all squeaky and yay. But in his increasing pre-proposal anxiety, he started worrying that the tweet might have gone through early, and I might see it before he'd actually asked the question and he really didn't want to inadvertently propose via twitter.

Knitters will notice that the ring has a bezel setting rather than a prong setting, so that I don't have to worry about it snagging on anything. Apparently Steve had done his research and decided on this before he set out to buy, but had a hard time explaining to the various jewellers that yes, prong settings are very pretty, and very traditional, but he wanted to get me something I could wear every day rather than something to store in my jewellery box.

I'm still getting my head around it, and we haven't set a date yet - we've got as far as "probably summertime" and "probably not this year". We're still too busy giggling to have a sensible discussion about practicalities.

*Access note: Rhyd Hir isn't wheelchair-accessible and the bedrooms are upstairs. But it's not much bigger than a large-ish family home and there's parking right by the door. So if, like me, you can manage indoor-wobbling, it's not a big challenge - plus, there's no epic trek along miles of corridor to find anything.

**All pictures are used with permission, copyright Evilstevie, all rights reserved. Click on the pictures to see the flickr pages for each photo, complete with notes.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Make Her Stop

Scrolling through an otherwise innocuous twitter feed this afternoon, when up popped a tweet from Disability Now about the latest antics of Heather Mills.

Now, before continuing, it's only fair to point out that, generally, the online disability community regard Ms Mills as a bit of an embarrassment. Her grasp of disability politics is only marginally superior to that which you might expect of a concussed duckling. The major difference being that the duckling isn't trying to market herself as a disability spokesperson.

Usually it's easy enough to ignore her in much the same way as you might ignore a toddler who is acting up just to get some attention. But then every so often, she ups the ante enough to make me reel in shock that a person can be so stupid.

Yup, Heather says she is making a show where non-disabled celebrities pretend to be disabled so they can, in her words, "see what it's like to live with a disability." Worse, she then goes on to equate this with wheelchair use. All together now:

A Wheelchair Is Not A Disability.

A wheelchair is a piece of equipment you might use if you have any one (or more) of a thousand conditions which involve impaired mobility. Disability is what happens when, despite having appropriate equipment such as a wheelchair, you are still faced with more barriers to your day to day life than one person should have to deal with.

By voluntarily using a wheelchair for a week, you learn what it's like to use a wheelchair for a week, safe and certain that it's only for a week, and that if there was an emergency - or if you simply got bored of playing the game - you could just stand up and walk away.

You don't lose your job in a week. You don't lose contact with your friends in a week. You don't spend months on an NHS waiting list in a week. You don't have to try and co-ordinate moving house in a week. On the other side of the coin, you don't develop your upper body strength very much in a week. You don't become part of a community in a week, or learn the myriad tips and tricks for wheelie life.

In short, there is very little to be gained or lost through playing at "Cripples" for a week. At least, until Heather gets involved...

"We would also get a chef like Gordon Ramsay, blindfold him, and put him in the kitchen for a week."

Leaving aside what Ramsay himself might have to say about it if she tried such a thing - that's just dangerous. If you were to suddenly lose your sight, you would be rushed to hospital. You would be there for a while so that they could attempt to restore your sight, during which time you would slowly get used to the disorientation and to doing certain things by touch. If they could not restore your sight, you would (or at least, should) not be discharged until you've been assessed on how you will manage your basic needs at home, whether there is someone to help you manage, and referred to Social Services and an occupational therapist. You don't get dumped into the middle of a kitchen full of gas burners and sharp knives and told to get on with it. That's a reality-tv experience and has nothing to do with learning about disability.

A small glimmer of hope. The article tells us that "Although she said that the programme is in production, Mills did not reveal its transmission date or which broadcaster had commissioned it." So there is a chance that she's spouting pure, unadulterated rubbish. It's sad that this is the best-case scenario.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Definition of Relief

Regular readers will be aware that I've been waiting for the results of my DLA renewal. To recap, that's the disability benefit that is received regardless of work or income because it is supposed to help cover some of the essential disability-related additional expenses like equipment and transport.

I've been very anxious about this. Partly because of the circus that was my last renewal and partly because my existing award was due to expire at the end of this month, and I did not need my first few months of business to be dogged by personal financial struggles as well.

So this morning, when I heard the post land on the doormat, I wobbled out to the hallway, saw the unmistakable DWP Brown Envelope, reached for it, fell over, and was ripping it open almost before I'd hit the floor...

I have an indefinite award, at the same level I've had for the last two years.

In DWP-speak, indefinite is the word they use because the word permanent doesn't allow for people recovering, and the leaps and bounds of medical science can be unpredictable.

If I get better, then I must let them know and they will reduce the award.

If I get worse, then I must let them know and they might increase the award (or they might decrease it, because who knows where the political goalposts will be?).

If someone has too much time on their hands, they might decide to review my claim at any point just for squits and giggles. The government retain the right to put me under intense covert surveillance (google "Operation Ramesses" (sic)) and generally treat me like a criminal whenever they feel like it. That's par for the course of any kind of claim for assistance.

But it means they acknowledge that I've been in the same condition for long enough that I'm really not likely to change, and that there is little point putting me through the expensive bi-annual mill of renewals and medical assessments and appeals and suchlike. The level of assistance I receive can now be considered as permanent as my condition.

I'm shaking like a leaf. I've got the letter folded open here on my desk so I can keep looking at it to check I haven't mis-read.

If I was a more spiritual person than I am, I might believe this was some sort of reward for having finally taken the plunge yesterday and registered as self-employed. Which was going to be the topic of today's blogpost, but the DLA thing has kind of overwhelmed it.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Getting on with 2010

Life has been (mostly) nicely full since my last post.

The biggest nice thing was that Steve and I went on a little weekend jaunt to the top left north-west corner of Wales. There wasn't a special reason beyond "getting out" and in many ways I think that made it even more enjoyable. We were supposed to have another friend with us, but unfortunately he had to drop out at the last minute... in retrospect that's probably a good thing because I don't think Steve's car was built to hold more than two adults for long journeys.

So we spent Saturday trundling as far as Bangor, where we stopped overnight at a Travelodge, and then on Sunday we picked up a load of leaflets from the foyer to see if there were any particularly appealing attractions. Which there were, but for some unfathomable reason most of them aren't open until Easter. Tsk. So we decided to take our trek to the top left north west corner to extremes, and headed over the bridges to Anglesey, and thence to Holy Island.

On the way we stopped in at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and got a couple of postcards, because we couldn't not. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day, so we then continued on to the bird sanctuary at South Stack. There was wheelie access right up to the clifftop (and probably right off the clifftop if you weren't careful) and it was lovely to be able to sit there watching the sun, sea, waves, lighthouse, birds, boats, and also looking out for our own noses falling off with frostbite because it was COLD! Still, that's only to be expected for January.

Steve tucked me back into the car to defrost while he ran about taking more photos. I got out my phone to amuse myself and was a little disturbed to find a text message from my mobile phone provider welcoming me to Ireland and advising me of the Euro Roaming Charges. I don't know whether to be peeved at the lack of local signal, or be impressed that my phone was getting a signal from over 60 miles away.

The rest of my enjoyment of the beautiful scenery was from inside the car, but it most definitely was beautiful. We found time to stop at Trefriw Woollen Mills which was nice in a "yay! found yarny!" way, but again, most of the features apart from the shop were closed up for the winter.

Poor Steve obviously had sole responsibility for the driving which meant that he was as shattered as I was by the time we got home. A substantial part of last week was spent with me taking it as easy as possible during the day, to make sure that when he crawled in after work in the evening I wouldn't have to ask him to do as much.

Then on Friday, just as we were picking up again, we both came down with the latest illness sweeping around his office! It was a really nasty one with fevers and yuck - one of those ones where you decide you can't cook, order a takeaway, and then it arrives and you just look at it, knowing that you should eat, but unable to bring yourself to actually do it. Happily it was just a two-or-three-days one and we're both feeling a lot better now.

The business stuff is all but ready to go now, thanks to the help of the Prince's Trust. There's still a few chains to be completed, silly things like: I want to pay for my insurance, domain name, etc, from the business account; I'd rather not start charging things to that account until I'm certain that the capital I paid in has cleared; I won't know if it's cleared until I've had a look in the online banking; I can't look at the online banking until I have all my login details. But the bits and bobs are in place. Mainly I just have to man (woman?) the heck up and take the plunge of registering.