Monday, January 31, 2011

Stunt Bride and Groom, complete

Further to my previous post, I am pleased to present the completed Stunt Bride And Groom!

Stunt Bride And Groom

I'm quite pleased with how they came out, really. I think we hit the right level of detail. For instance the Stunt Bride definitely looks like a bride, but her dress gives away only the already-known facts about my dress, namely that it is white and that it is a wedding dress without a train. I am also happy to reveal that my full-size dress is not made out of felt. We considered making the dolls hair and glasses but decided that it was better to keep it at a completely non-detailed "concept" level.

I was wrong about the jacket being the most complicated item. I'd overlooked the facts that:
  • The jacket is open at the front, whereas every other item of clothing would ordinarily be done up with zips or buttons. Except I don't have zips and buttons that small, so the clothes that needed to be done up had to be sewn onto the dolls. This involved a lot of mattress stitch and, for Stunt Bride in particular, an undignified experience with a teaspoon up her skirt.

  • The dolls have metal poles up their bottoms which rather interferes with the proper fit of trousers. I think it took me nearly as long to properly stitch what Steve refers to as the "arse-fly" as it did to do all of the leg seams. However at least Stunt Groom won't get debagged at his wedding reception.

The dolls both balance nicely, Stunt Bride can certainly stand up for much longer than the real bride ever can, and the arms and legs and heads are still poseable, so hopefully they will keep the photography posse amused and we'll get some good pictures.

Meanwhile the happy couple are posing together in our living room, and it's making me feel really happy to look at them.

Edit 19:50 31/01/11 to fix link.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Stunt Bride and Groom

I’ve been stressing out a little bit about the wedding photos. With Steve and many of his friends being keen amateur (and in some cases, semi-professional) photographers, there are going to be hundreds, if not thousands, of photos taken at the wedding.

I don’t photograph well at the best of times - I always have my eyes half-shut, I’ve got terrible skin, my posture is awful, and I’m that kind of overweight that is noticeably flabby but still too skinny (and with too small a cleavage) to be able to wear the stuff at plus-size clothing stores that makes larger people look good. Steve also has a tendency to, in his words, "look dead" in photographs. We have many strengths as a couple but conventional attractiveness is perhaps not one of them.

Over the last year I have seen many, many wedding photographs. Some have been beautiful. Others have been hideous. The ones that scare me aren't the Big Fat Gypsy Wedding ones full of orange faces and enormous pink dresses, because the people in those photos have achieved the 'look' they were aiming for and the fact that I don't find it attractive is irrelevant. No, the ones that scare me are the ones where someone has tried to achieve a look and they haven't quite managed it. Cakes that cost a fortune but look tiny and forlorn. Venue decorations that make you think the venue probably looked better without. And above all, brides and grooms looking tired and miserable.

Looking through yet another set of ugly, depressing wedding photos, I turned to Steve and asked if I could have a Stunt Bride for the piccies.

He said yes. We formulated a PLN.

For Christmas, we asked my parents for a couple of those little wooden poseable artist’s models, which we now have. One is six inches tall and the other is five and a half inches tall. These are our Stunt Bride and Groom. Stage 1 of the PLN was complete.

The next phase of the PLN is to dress them in very rough approximations of our outfits (partly because future-mother-in-law will kill us both if I reveal too many details of The Dress). I'd been planning to get cheap "Barbie and Ken wedding" dolls clothes but then I discovered that dolls are generally bigger than six inches and that dolls clothes are Not Cheap. However I used to make clothes for my dolls all the time as a kid, so I decided it would be worth a try. Discussion with knitting friends brought me to the conclusion that the best way forward would be to buy some squares of felt (soft, durable material without a distinctive grain or bias, unlikely to fray, reasonably cheap to buy in small quantities) and take it from there.

I am happy to report that I have just finished making the Stunt Groom's jacket.
Stunt Groom

This was the most complicated item and the successful completion has put me in a very positive frame of mind for the rest of the project.

We will therefore have pictures of “the bride and groom” at all areas of our wedding, with all the unique features of our wedding, having a lovely time, without a spot, scar or cellulite wobble in sight… just in case the real pictures are too awful to look at.

I shouldn’t feel this much better for such a silly solution, but I do.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Over the last few months I've been hanging around on a couple of bridal/weddingy forums.

For very good reasons, it's not the Done Thing to out and out criticise other people's wedding choices.

It's acceptable to offer constructive input when asked, and to show respectful interest in the different customs and traditions being observed. That's a good thing. When someone is trying to decide between bows and floral swags to decorate the ends of the pews in their church, it's a good time to offer any experience of those products, but it's not the time to spark a fundamentalist religious debate about whether they should be getting married in a church at all. Tolerance is important in a community and it's great that different people, in different countries, having very different weddings, can all support each other.

This, however, is not a community. This Is My Blog, just like it says at the top of the page, which means it's not inappropriate for me to voice my opinions, and this has been bubbling up inside me for months now. In the interests of civility, I must stress that I recognise that different people have different tastes and if you want any of this stuff at your wedding, you go ahead, it's your wedding. If you are planning a wedding, or you just had one, you may prefer not to read any further. This is your fair warning: you may be offended.

But at last, I must say that I find the following things hideously tacky.

  • White hoodies with diamante transfers saying “Bride” or “Maid of Honor”. (American spelling intentional.) Yes, while getting ready for your wedding it's a good idea to wear something warm and comfortable that can absorb any spills. It's good to wear something that is fully front-fastening so it can be removed without disturbing your hair and makeup. But white with diamante? My dear, you will get enough attention today once you're in the dress. Be content.

  • Flip-flops with soles that print “Just” and “Married” as you walk along wet sand. My PA spotted these in a craft store and proposed them as the winner of that store's Wedding Tat collection. And believe me, they had some tat.

  • Hen parties with “naughty” games and gifts. Well done, it's a (whatever) shaped like a penis. It's not comical, it's not erotic, and the faint air of desperation is unsettling. Lingerie and sex toys can be great, but I can't imagine there's anyone who's actually turned on by pink plastic fluffy handcuffs, or anything with a picture of a cat and “Sex Kitten!” emblazoned across the front.

  • Music on the wedding website. Internet access has reached a point where even your parents have it, so a wedding website is no longer necessarily a celebration of self-obsession viewable only by other geeks who aren't invited to the wedding anyway. But automatically playing music is a step in the wrong direction, as are hearts falling across the screen, or anything that won't properly load onto the smartphone of a guest who's got lost on the way to the venue.

  • Vistaprint overdose. On the one hand, Vistaprint do a very good line in affordable, fuss-free printing that can be invaluable for things like invitations and RSVP cards. On the other hand, just because they can put your picture on more or less anything, doesn't necessarily mean it's a good idea. The overdosing idea also applies to people who went to a venue dresser for a few flowers/balloons/table decorations, and ended up ordering a twenty-foot-tall inflatable Bride and Groom in the belief that these would somehow look appropriate outside their elegant, classy venue.

  • Pretending to be something you're not. This covers people getting married in churches who don't believe in God, people getting married in libraries who don't read, people who order glass carriages and aren't princesses (Kate Middleton got that bit spot-on), and people who order fancy formal meals that they're not sure how to eat. You make some pretty hefty promises on your wedding day - make them as yourselves.

Ohhhhhh, that feels better.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

One Month Before Heartbreak

This post is rambling, but that can't be helped. There's just too much to cover.

One Month Before Heartbreak is a blogswarm to try and raise awareness about the consultation on DLA reform, which ends on 14th February. I'd like to encourage anybody, disabled or otherwise, who is bothered by these reforms, to join in.

This post from the Broken of Britain explains a bit more about it, or if you're feeling brave you can download the official DWP consultation document from the DWP website.

The short version is: DLA is a benefit paid to long-term disabled people with significant care and/or mobility needs. It is paid regardless of whether or not a person is working, in recognition of the fact that the expenses of disability are non-negotiable - to give just one example, a working disabled person who finds their budget is tight is probably unable to save money by choosing to get rid of their car and walk places.

The coalition government intends to rebrand DLA as PIP (Personal Independence Payment). As part of this rebranding exercise, the qualifying criteria will be shifted with a stated aim of reducing the caseload by 20%.

As we've looked at before, benefit fraud is only around the 1% mark, and for DLA it's even lower, at just 0.5%.

This means that there's about 19% of the caseload (that's 570,000 people) who are genuinely disabled - not just that, but disabled enough to pass the already stringent tests - and legitimately claiming help with the unavoidable costs associated with disability, who are suddenly going to find themselves up a rather nasty creek.

We don't know who's going to be "safe". The document talks about continual reassessment (at great expense to the taxpayer and great profit to ATOS) even for people with lifelong and incurable conditions.

It talks about withdrawing support from people who use wheelchairs independently on the basis that since the DDA, the whole country must now be fully accessible to wheelchair users and thus there is no additional expense and support is no longer needed. The fact that many of those wheelchairs were purchased using DLA is not properly addressed.

It talks about introducing not just more restricted residency rules, but also rules about "presence" (ie attending regular meetings at the Jobcentre, a far from easy task for a disabled person) to bring it in line with other income replacement benefits and encourage people into work. Except DLA is not a sodding income replacement benefit and has bog-all to do with whether or not a person is working! And what if you are working? Will you be expected to take time off to attend your DLA interviews? Will your employer be expected to just suck it up that you are unavailable?

How am I affected personally? If it hits me, I will no longer have any personal income beyond my part-time self-employed earnings, and as I've already admitted, my business income after business expenses does not cover even the most minimal costs of living. Without DLA, not only will I be dependent on Steve to meet our combined bills like rent, council tax and electricity - I will have to go to him with my hand out for most of my clothes, and when I need a taxi to a medical appointment, or to buy a new prescription prepayment card, or replace my mobility aids.

That's not the point, though. At least there is someone in my life who will, in a crisis, fund the essentials of life. Many people are not so fortunate. They don't have anyone to help them out, or worse, the person who helps them may easily become resentful of the extra costs and start withdrawing support.


The single thing I have done in my life which has saved the Great British Taxpayer the most money was getting together with Steve. All of a sudden, they no longer had to pay my housing or council tax, and the care I was deemed to need was greatly lessened by the fact I was living with a non-disabled adult. Then, thanks to the support and stability Steve gave me, I was at last able to get a part time job, which meant I was no longer claiming Incapacity Benefit or Income Support, either, which meant I was no longer entitled to free prescriptions or dental care, nor could I claim back costs of transport to medical or DWP appointments, and of course I was now paying in tax and NI. I still cost the system money, true, in the form of my DLA, the Access to Work scheme, and my little bit of social care. But this is much, much less than it cost to keep me alive as a single person.

I would not have been able to develop this relationship and thus become a working member of society without the independence DLA gives me.

It's not something that's going to persuade the coalition, but the fact remains - a non-disabled person might willingly move in with a disabled partner who is independent and only increases the food bill, but they're not so likely to take on someone with higher than normal expenses and no income at all.

I apologise again for the disjointed nature of this post, the probably appalling grammar, and the fact it's a bit late. As usual for winter, I don't have an excess of spoons right now and I'm using up most of the energy I do have on frivolities like eating, washing, work, and my duties as an employer of PAs (more on that another time).

Saturday, January 01, 2011

2010 - A Roundup

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.