Wednesday, May 30, 2012

First Anniversary

It seems hard to believe, but Evilstevie and I have been married for an entire year.

Truth be told, the year, while not tragic, has not been a terrific one either. His work schedule has involved a level of "out of hours" work rather higher than we had expected and this extra work tends to crop up at extremely short notice - we rarely know in the morning whether we will be having an evening meal together. His workload over the last twelve months has been so heavy that it was January before he was able to take time off work for our "honeymoon" and he is still accruing "time off in lieu of hours worked" faster than he is getting a chance to actually use it. For my part, chronic illness does not respond well to such chaotic routines, so my pain and energy levels are no longer as well controlled as they once were, which in turn means the carefully balanced dominoes of my overall health and ability to Do Things (work, socialise, eat properly, manage disability bureaucracy) have crashed. It's all a bit of a mess, really.

On the bright side, we're very much still hanging on to each other and making each others' worlds that little bit nicer. This is definitely a more positive outcome than the alternative, which would be each of us yelling at the other "this is all your fault!"

And on the even brighter still side, at the beginning of May, Evilstevie came home with the biggest grin I'd seen in a long time and proudly announced that he'd booked the week of our anniversary off work, and we both squeaked and hugged each other and began to make plans.

On the morning of our anniversary, we had a quick photo-session to try out an idea I'd picked up via Ravelry. This was to take a picture of the two of us holding a picture of the two of us from our wedding. We took several - this is one of my favourites, although you can click through to see the others:

me and Evilstevie looking at each other, holding between us a black and white photograph of us kissing on our wedding day

Then next year we print off one of those pictures and do the same thing again... you get the idea.

Photos taken, we packed ourselves into the car and set off to use an outstanding wedding gift from some very generous friends - a night at a luxury B&B in Devon. The weather steadily improved as we drove south and by the time we arrived I was regretting my failure to pack sun-cream and sandals. Instead we got a chance to sit in the shade looking out at glorious countryside, with tea and knitting for me, and coffee and camera for Evilstevie. Dinner in a nearby pub/restaurant was delicious and falling asleep in a beautiful room under crisp, fresh sheets felt like the holiday had properly begun.

The following morning, after guiltily declining most of the humongous breakfast spread on offer in the B&B's dining room, we loaded back into the car to go to one of my favourite places on earth - the Eden Project.

a stitched panoramic photograph of the Eden Project

me sitting in my wheelchair, fiddling with my phone, with the Eden biomes in the background

We first visited the project in January, and if you GiftAid your entry fee then you can get a year's pass to return as often as you like (or at least, as often as you can, because I think I could go every week for a year and not get bored). A brief stop to share the joy with Twitter, and then we spent the morning trekking up and down the outdoor areas, the idea being that if it started to rain, then we could head for the indoor biomes. Of course it didn't rain at all, and by the time we'd decided to stop exploring outdoors and head for the Link, my shoulders were about ready to drop off. We had a break for a late lunch, but I felt that I wouldn't manage much more pushing and that I'd like to just go into the smaller Mediterranean Biome to relax, instead of trying to hike around the larger, steeper, hotter Rainforest Biome. Evilstevie agreed and we made our way across.

That was where we found "the Back-rub team" offering 15 minutes of reiki back massage for £10, which to my burning shoulders and floppy exhausted arms seemed like a wonderful idea.

It really was. I mean, I didn't leap up and dance my way around the citrus grove or anything, but after a bit more of a rest and stretch I was able to not only get around the Mediterranean Biome but in short bursts I managed the Rainforest as well.

That night we crashed out at an unremarkable Travelodge in Bodmin, with the idea being that in the morning we'd be able to head home or elsewhere as the fancy took us. I'm sure nobody will be surprised to hear that in the morning, despite being shattered, we went straight back to Eden - we didn't find the back-rub team but we caught the Storytelling and had a lovely lunch before reluctantly heading for home and a couple of days to recover.

Monday, May 14, 2012

This is a technical document

Well, of course, it isn't, but I could put words like Cisco and network and voice over internet protocol all over it, and then it would look a bit like a technical document. It wouldn't make any sense, but I can't imagine who'd notice.

You see, ladies and gentlemen, there have been complaints. A particular reader is being a Bad Example To The Younger Generation by reading my blog at work, and apparently I must post more often. It's okay, English is unlikely to be the first language of anyone peeking over his shoulder. Yes, hello you. :)

There now follows a diagram. This proves the technical nature of this document which is entirely work related.

graph showing number of passwords you have against times you use the wrong one

Look, I'm sorry. I mean to write more. I also mean to not just write about disability. I want to write more about my life and what I'm doing, but things divide into two groups:
  • Things which are too boring and inconsequential to write about.
  • Things which are quite interesting and I want to write about, but after doing the things, I'm too tired to write about the things until later.
Perhaps I should try doing shorter posts?

Today, I did some grocery shopping online. The best bit of doing online shopping when your brain doesn't work the way it's supposed to, is that when the shopping arrives, you've forgotten what you ordered. It's as if some kind of benevolent pixie sent you £70 of delicious food, and there isn't a single item you don't like!

I also had my laundry done. Yes, that's right - don't tell any of the women in my family, but I use a laundry service for my towels and bedlinen. I am a slattern who does not do her own housework. Or possibly a person who prefers not to injure herself wrestling large, wet, heavy pieces of cloth. Either way, in the morning the nice man picks up a sports bag of smelly linen from my house and in the evening he brings it back, fresh, clean, dry, and neatly folded.

I'm struggling with the paperwork for my assistants at the moment - making sure they get paid, and the monitoring that Social Services conduct to be sure I am using the money properly. I set up my systems really well, and my more lucid self has written out clear instructions for how to do each stage so that when I am not very well, I can still get things done. The problem at the moment is I quite literally don't know what day it is. I have "today" and "yesterday". All other days are confused together in a big tangle. So the timesheets and invoices got in a muddle and weren't submitted at the proper times... I think I've unpicked it, though.

Steve and I have been married for nearly a year and we are wondering what we should do for our anniversary. He's been able to book a little bit of time off work and we're looking at options. We have all these ideas - we'd love to go back to the Eden Project, or alternatively there are a few places in London we'd like to visit, for instance the Science Museum - but Steve is so tired out from work, I think he could sleep for a fortnight. We could just stay home and try to put together our wedding photo album. Right now we have thousands of photographs backed up to multiple storage devices, but unless you count shoving a USB stick into a digital photo frame, no album. There are also several guests who we have no pictures of, which is a bit sad.

The book I'm reading at the moment is Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. I have read it many times - I first picked it up in high school. It's a bit of escapism, I suppose. I have the DVD as well, but I think the DVD won't make much sense to people who haven't read the book because it misses out an awful lot of backstory and historical detail. Some of the "historical" detail is inaccurate but then it is a fiction novel.

I don't know. What else? What do you want to know?

Following technical complaint about the diagram above: (written by evilstevie)
This diagram clearly only holds true for a relatively small number of passwords - above a certain point you are either some kind of memory-whizz or use a password-manager program to ensure the right password goes in the right box. This has to be the case as most applications of passwords also have something in place to prevent brute-force guessing of passwords, either a counter or timer (or in some cool applications, both) to make it difficult or impossible for you to try more than a few passwords. At a certain point on the graph you simply get a flat-line as you can't enter any more wrong passwords and you stop making new ones or come up with a new way of dealing with passwords. Also, I'd like to add that Batsgirl's clearly been around me too much when she considers VOIP usable in everyday conversation or blogging...

Friday, May 04, 2012

Naidex 2012

On Wednesday, I went to Naidex National at the NEC, Birmingham.

I have to say, Naidex itself wasn't as good as last year. Last year, I saw all sorts of innovative products and came home with lots of literature and a wish-list as long as my arm. I also picked up goodies like the National Trust's Access Guide, and was able to have demonstrated to me how much more comfortable an ergonomic office chair can be. A number of stallholders were communicating on Twitter, having actual conversations with people who said they were going to Naidex, encouraging them to come and say hi at their stall, and I dropped in on several of them. There were also a few inventor/entrepreneur types there, interested to hear ideas about what products we'd like to see in the future. I felt like I was the target market as a disabled adult in charge of her own home, equipment and finances.

This year was different. Only one company - PoolPods - engaged with me on Twitter. Their product, while I'm sure it's lovely, isn't really relevant to me - but I thought I would say hello anyway. Except I couldn't find them! Step One was easy, finding them in the list of exhibitors, they were listed under "P" for "PoolPods", simple. Stall G82. Step Two was slightly more difficult, trying to find Stall G82 on the printed room plan, but after a bit of hunting I spotted it tucked somewhere at the back of the hall. But Step Three, actually finding that stall? Couldn't do it. There were frequent traffic jams because a small cluster of two or three people standing in front of a stall could block half the aisle. Add to that the lack of signposting or labelling of the aisles (would it be so hard to have North-South aisles numbered 1, 2, 3, and East-West aisles labelled A, B, C?), the manoeuvrability issues of many attendees (wheelchairs don't tend to sidestep well, mobility scooters are often quite long) and the usual pedestrian traffic flow problems (people stopping for a chat on a busy intersection), and it was nigh-on impossible to follow a planned route to a particular point on the map. Nor was it possible to just wander up and down the aisles until you found what you were looking for - the layout was confusing, the aisles weren't continuous, and stalls faced all directions. There were several stalls I saw twice or three times and others I didn't see at all.

The small, interesting vendors with "everyday" disability products (such as Trabasack and DisabledGear) didn't seem to be present this year. I also felt that there were fewer stalls aimed at "people like me". For instance, I saw umpteen companies offering incredible, amazing off-road wheelchairs, powerchairs, hand-cycles and suchlike. We're talking massive knobbly off-road tyres, aggressive-looking LED arrays and exciting metallic paint finishes. That's great, but these aren't the sorts of chairs you can use for your everyday needs. You couldn't ride them into Starbucks, or a high-street shop, or a work meeting, or your kid's school for the parent-teacher evening. They also probably won't fold down to fit in the boot of the average Ford Focus, either. They're aimed at people who are disabled but who also have TENS of THOUSANDS of pounds to blow on leisure equipment over and above what they use every day. This made me feel sad. I mean, on the one hand it's terrific that disabled millionaires have so many choices of how to spend obscene sums of money, but on the other hand, products like comfortable wheelchair jeans are going to be far more relevant for far more people.

But! That was only part of why I went. The other part was to have the opportunity to meet up with other disabled people, and that was managed with great success. One is a very good friend who I have met before on several occasions, and we had a much-needed cup of tea together that in itself made up for the disappointment of the exhibition. Another person I have "known" and considered a friend for many years, but only online, and my PA tells me that my face lit up like a Christmas tree when I saw her for the first time. Others had familiar names and I'm pleased to be able to add faces. Eventually our group - consisting of two powerchair users, two manual wheelchair users (myself included), one person using a mobility scooter, and two people without any visible mobility aids at all - made our way into a well-known pub/restaurant chain for lunch.

Incidentally, I still get a thrill from that. Us being able to go and have lunch together in a pub is concrete proof that campaigning for equality works, has worked, and can continue to work. There's still a way to go, but it would have been unthinkable thirty years ago.

The meal was not spectacular. The company and the conversation were. There's an unusual sense of freedom when socialising with other disabled people, because you can actually go ahead and talk about disability issues without having to draw a diagram of the welfare/social care systems, and without being pitied, and without having to listen to any ablesplaining about how surely X doesn't happen any more, and the real problem is Y, and if you try Z it'll all be sorted out. No one feels the need to make the stupid jokes about running over people's toes and there's no sense of being the "odd one out". For me, it's also really refreshing to socialise in a role other than as "Steve's wife" - Steve is a nice person and so are his friends, and I like spending time with them, but it's a completely different thing to socialising as purely myself.

Of course we're all rather wiped out now. For spoonies, a look around an exhibition followed by a couple of hours having lunch and a chat with half a dozen friends can have repercussions for days on end. It's embarrassing to think about how long it's taken me to write this post. Nevertheless, I still think that despite the disappointment of the exhibition itself, the day was worth it.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

That's not a compliment

Written for Blogging Against Disablism Day 2012.

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2012

I try to keep my personal and professional identities separate. When people ask me what I do, and they are potential friends rather than potential clients, I tend to grin and rather flippantly tell them that I write blethers for other people's websites. That's not all of what I do, not by a long way, although it's the favourite part of my job – it's interesting, I'm good at it, and I often enjoy it. But let's face facts, the question “what do you do?” rarely means “please describe to me in detail everything you do with your day,” rather it means “tell me something that will fill this conversational gap, and possibly help me to build my mental image of you.” Telling them with a smile that I write blethers for other people's websites is a short, good-humoured and effective way of filling this hole with the image of a woman who spends her day working in an office, at a computer, the image equivalent of a Visa card, acceptable everywhere.

What does that have to do with disablism? Well, it's about where the conversation will go from there.

Often people feel compelled to congratulate me. Good ways of congratulating a person include phrases like “Hey, that's great!”, “it must be so rewarding to have a job you enjoy,” or even “I wish I could do something like that!”

Unfortunately all too frequently I hear something along the lines of “Great! At least you're doing something with your time, not like all those lazy benefit spongers, half of them aren't what I'd call disabled anyway, I mean if you're doing it, why aren't they?” Often this is followed by an anti-welfare rant rounded off with a baseless assertion that “most” disabled people “won't even try,” and a final verbal pat-on-the-head to me for “giving it a go.”

TOP TIP. The way to compliment me is not to disparage the entire minority group to which I belong. Treating my work, where people pay me money for my skills, as nothing more than a time-filler is also insulting. Furthermore, it would be good if you can avoid waving around the negative stereotypes and slurs which have been applied to me and my disabled friends on a regular basis for the last few years, and while we're at it, please don't attack the welfare system which quite literally saved my life by keeping a roof over my head and food on my table for the first couple of years when I got sick.

I'm one of the lucky ones, and I don't want the price of that luck to be ignoramuses trying to use me as a stick to beat down the people who have not been as lucky in similar situations.