Saturday, July 28, 2007

Airshow 2007

More planes
Originally uploaded by girl_of_bats
Warning: This is likely to be an appalling post, even by my standards, because I am broken.

So, the Airshow. It's actually a longer event than usual this year. We had planes on Thursday and Friday, then today (Saturday) is powerboat racing, and tomorrow (Sunday) is the Eastern Lights motorbike event.

Thursday the weather was crap, I wasn't feeling too good, and Pip had only managed to get about 3 hours sleep so he wasn't really up for managing awful traffic followed by Littlun in a big crowd. So I spent the whole day in the flat, taking it easy in anticipation of the better weather predicted for the Friday, which as you can see in this photo, we got.

The flight path must have been changed, because the planes weren't anywhere near as noisy as usual. Most years, there's several performances that physically rattle the windows of local residences, but this year, I had the windows open and could hear the tannoy from the beach, but although I could hear the planes, they were no more disruptive than, say, heavy traffic outside.

A couple of planes, the older ones, couldn't make it because of the high winds. I couldn't tell you which ones though. I don't even know what planes are in this photograph. I can identify the Red Arrows but that's about it. A planespotter is not me.

I saw a lot of extremely soggy people scurrying for their homes/cars/guesthouses in the afternoon from the safety of my flat window. This included no less than three children wearing one waterproof between them, which put me in mind of the three-headed giant from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But shorter. Um.

Anyway, Friday was much better, Friday was when I took this photo. Pip came to mine with Littlun and a couple of friends and parked the car in my handy locked off-street parking space that comes with the flat. We suncreamed up - a procedure which Littlun detests, but that's just tough - and set off to the beach.

Lowestoft Airshow is run off money yoinked from wherever the organisers can beg, steal or borrow it from. This includes fees for stall pitches on the seafront area, sponsorship from the larger local businesses, sales of any amount of tat like tshirts, badges, caps, programmes etc, and a voluntary donation scheme. There's this big thing about keeping the show free, but at every entrance to the seafront area they have a bunch of volunteers with collection buckets and stickers. The suggested donation is £1 per adult, which is hardly bank-breaking, and then you get a sticker and can feel morally superior. A lot more people were wearing the badges this year than last year, or so it seemed.

There's also a very effective scheme for lost kiddies. The collection guys direct you to the stalls where you can get a heavy-duty plasticised card wristband clamped onto your kid. Littlun didn't manage to get his off, so they must be pretty damn durable. The wristband has the parent's mobile phone number on it. Any kid found unaccompanied just has to be herded to the nearest stall or Airshow official (and there are hundreds of these, from various voluntary groups in the town). Rather than mess about taking the kid to a central point, the officials all have mobile phones and immediately call the parent directly. In this way most kids are reunited with their parents in less than ten minutes with a minimum of fuss.

We spent a while having a look-round, and we watched the Red Arrows, which was fun - Littlun quickly picked up on pointing and shouting "WOW!" Then Pip made sure I got back up to my flat safely and they went back while I had a sleep.

Later in the afternoon, I went to join them again, down on the actual beach. By this point Littlun had gone through all the clothes Pip had brought for him (two pairs of trousers, two tshirts, a pair of shorts and a jumper) with an assortment of Ribena, ice cream, sea-water (fell over full-length while paddling) and, uh, "misc". He's two, it happens. He ended up wearing Pip's t-shirt which looked incredibly cute (click the picture for my flickr stream).

They were with a bunch of friends who'd come down with a large pack of beer, a radio, a windbreaker and the suchlike. It was really nice sitting on the sand, watching the occasional planes, playing with the kid, having a chatter, relaxing in the sunshine. A couple of the gents dug a big hole for Littlun to play in (we filled it in before we left) which he thought was fantastic. It also had the advantage that we could all sit down without someone having to be poised to dash after him...

I'm paying for it today, obviously, but then I'm not too bothered about Powerboats and it was worth it. Next week most of the tourists should have gone home again and then we can resume normal life.

Edited 17:30 to add tags

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I Aten't Dead

... but apparently I do a pretty good impression of it, or I did last night.

Last night, the young woman in the flat directly below mine, let's call her S, started a fire. Inside her flat. A couple of metres from my sleeping self.

This rather disturbing news came to me this afternoon courtesy of another resident of the flat-block who we shall call V. I bumped into V in the corridor and exchanged the usual pleasantries, upon which he said "and what about last night, eh?" My blank look led him to expand upon this with the words "the fire?" at which point I managed to articulate that I had no idea what he was on about. He related the story as follows:

Late last night, V heard a commotion outside and went downstairs to see what was going on. He encountered some firemen and found S sitting in the middle of the road outside, crying. He physically pulled her onto the kerb and sat and had a cigarette with her and asked what was going on. S claimed that she had seen a mouse, which had run into a paper bag, and that she had then picked up the paper bag, shoved it into the bin, and set fire to the bin in an effort to kill the mouse. Then she had called the fire brigade. She didn't proffer an explanation for the sitting in the road.

I feel quite relieved that the fire station isn't far away.

I feel a bit disturbed that, now I think about it, there's no fire escape here. The front door is reached only by going past the downstairs flats. I don't like my chances of physically managing to climb out of a window, and I really don't like my chances of landing safely on the concrete some 15-20 feet below.

I feel quite annoyed that she called the fire brigade but didn't, oh, just as an example, start shouting "FIRE! FIRE!" or banging on doors to wake the people she'd put at risk.

I feel quite scared that I slept through the firemen turning up and coming in and putting out the fire. On the one hand, okay, they don't use the sirens at night unless there's a big need to, but surely I should have heard the doors banging and stuff? I will take my night-time tablets tonight but it does bother me a little.

And I also feel a little suspicious about the mouse story. I don't know about you, but if I saw a mouse in my flat running into a paper bag, I would probably throw said bag out of the window. If I DID put the bag into the bin, I would then hold the lid of the bin closed and take it outside. I wouldn't hunt around for a lighter and then attempt to ignite the bin. If I was really desperate to set fire to the thing, I'd at least get it the hell out of my flat first...

But, I don't know how S's mind works. She has a lot of problems, including a Class A drugs habit. Maybe there was a mouse. Maybe she hallucinated it. Maybe the pixies told her to start the fire. Maybe she was in the road hoping the fire engine, in its haste to answer the call, would run her over. Maybe it was a cry for help. Maybe it was boredom. I haven't the faintest idea.

I desperately hope that this was a one-off.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Rejected, again.

At the beginning of June, I found out that the Department of Work and Pensions had turned down my application to renew my Disability Living Allowance.

My condition and the way it affects me hasn't changed in the least, so by my logic, the amount of DLA I am legally entitled to shouldn't have changed either.

After a bit of a panic and a lot of support from friends, family and other bloggers, I started the process of asking for an explanation of the decision and a reconsideration. I assembled every scrap of additional evidence I could get my hands on and wrote a detailed refutation of the "explanation" they gave me for their decision. If you want to have a browse through my blog archives for the last two months you will get an idea of how much this took out of me.

Today I got their decision. It's actually some four weeks earlier than expected, so yay them, they get to tick an efficiency target. However, in their words, "we have not changed our original decision". I can't walk to the bus stop, I can't cook a proper meal on my own, I can't do or I have difficulty doing a hundred other everyday things and I fall over a lot... but they have decided I have no care or mobility needs.

I am stunned.

I'm not a fraud or a faker. I told them the honest truth and described the difficulties I have and the help which I need, no more, no less. 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? How does this make any sort of sense at all?

I have the right to appeal to an Independent Tribunal.

What I do not have, is the capacity to appeal to an Independent Tribunal.

I simply cannot do it. Jumping through hoops and visiting their doctors and fighting That Bloody Locum and dealing with legalese and trying to find someone who can represent me and all of this, while coping on a very much more restricted income, and knowing that there's still a good chance of them turning me down yet again... no.

This mess has already done me more harm than good. If I am prepared to lean a bit more heavily on the support offered by my friends and family, then I can get by with just the Incapcity Benefit. But I can't fight battles at the same time. It makes me feel sick to be giving up like this, and it makes me angry that someone in the same position as me but without the friends and family would be so utterly stuck.

Pip (and Littlun, of course) has looked after me today. Many cups of tea have been applied and both shoulders utterly soaked by a sobbing Mary. I'm sure it's not the day he had in mind, poor git. Steve has also been lovely, in a long-distance kind of way, listening to the tears and saying all the right things. I've also had a brief but reassuring phone chat with my mum. The consensus is that it's not right, and it's not fair, but it's also not the end of the world and we've got through much worse than this before.

On the positive side - and there is one - my condition may improve a bit now, because a certain amount of stress has been tossed overboard. I can get on and enjoy the summer rather than back-and-forthing with the DWP. I can sit outside in the sunshine without thinking "ooh, I must save my energy for filling out reams of paperwork". I won't have to worry, every time I have a good day, that someone might notice I'm moving a bit easier or not leaning on the stick as much, and report my one-off good day as me being "better". And I don't have to listen to the DLA unit's hold music, a bonus which is almost worth the money on its own.

In other news, the Lowestoft Airshow is almost upon us - this coming Thursday and Friday. God only knows what the weather will do, and as such, plans are near impossible to make. I'm going to start in much the same way as last year - rest up beforehand, buy plenty of milk/juice/etc before the tourists descend, and generally arrange things so that there is nothing I *need* to do. Those of you I know in real life, are any of you planning on being round this way?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

More Fun With Benefits

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce a new contender in the Great Benefits Cock-Up... Waveney District Council!

Regular readers may recall that a couple of weeks ago I was feeling quite relieved that I had finished dealing with the benefits stuff and that "all" I had to do was contact the council, who manage the housing benefit, to change the designation on my file from "Disabled - in receipt of DLA" to "Disabled - in receipt of long-term Incapacity Benefit". After taking soundings from blog commenters, family, and real-world friends, I went for the double safety of writing a clear letter explaining the situation, but taking it into the offices in person and getting a receipt as well.

A letter arrived from Waveney District Council today, a surprise in itself as today is not a Saturday. It informed me that due to my change in circumstances, my housing benefit would be suspended as of the first week in August. It asked me to provide additional information (such as bank statements) and to please fill out the enclosed form and return it within fourteen days.

First Cock-Up: I thoroughly searched the envelope and both sides of the letter and found nothing at all resembling the alleged "enclosed form".

Luckily my stepdad was able to offer me a lift to the Council offices to try and sort things out. I got signed in at reception and was given a number. Then I sat down in the waiting area with my knitting, which incidentally is a great ice-breaker in a setting like that.

Second Cock-Up: They forgot me. I sat quietly and knitted for about an hour before deciding to go up to the desk and check that I had got my number right.
Me: I think I'm number 36 but my brain's not up to much, could you check?
Her: What's your name?
Me: Mary.
Her: Yes, you're 36. Oh dear. We seem to have forgotten you.

After reminding them of my existence, I was seen quite quickly and given a form. A whole new application form. Seems that they can't just change my designation, they need to renew my claim.

Back home and filling in the form, I got to the Third Thing, which in fairness wasn't so much a Waveney District Council thing as a JobcentrePlus thing. The Form requires an exact breakdown of my income, and I don't have handy the precise amount of Incapacity Benefit that I get. So, I decided to phone up and ask.

Third Cock-Up: The computer systems for Incapacity Benefit at the DWP were down and had been for most of the day. So no one could log in to check. Apparently I should try again tomorrow.

I've completed pretty much all of the form now, and hopefully I will be able to get that last bit of information and take it back to them either tomorrow or the next day. I feel utterly drained though.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Forgive the lack of blogging.

Having dealt with the benefits paperwork and reached the point where there is nothing left to do but wait, whatever was keeping me going this month kind of fell down and I don't seem able to pick it up again.

An apology to the owners of the various blogs I've left comments on this week. I'm just not properly coherent. Think of them less as constructive comments and more as freeform stream of consciousness verbal art. Or a load of old bollocks, whichever you feel is more appropriate.

The current Knitting In Progress is the hat for Sister Dearest - the yarn, Rowan 4ply Soft 100% Merino wool in the shade "Sooty" from Web Of Wool arrived in the post a few days ago. It's the plainest of plain hats possible - 19cm x 155sts of stocking stitch and then about 20 rows with decreasey bits to form the crown. But at the moment, that's about the limit of my capacity.

I really, really want to learn socks. Really basic, boring, do-it-in-your-sleep socks perhaps made a bit more interesting by using multicoloured yarn.

I also want some bungs to go on the ends of my needles, as the problem with a knitted knitting needle case is that the points can rather poke through. Ideally I'd find a range of sizes so that not only would they protect the needles and stop stitches falling off needles-in-use, but also I could keep my needles-not-in-use in pairs. I have a very clear picture in my head of what I want and I feel sure it must be available somewhere but I have no idea what search terms to use.

It's ridiculously late to be blogging. Unfortunately this afternoon and evening I don't seem to have a right leg. Below the knee I simply can't feel at all, and above the knee all the way to the hip is like a very heavy chunk of cold pain, sort of like a brain-freeze sensation but in the muscle of my leg and it's not bloody well going away. It's added considerably to my Lurch Factor while I tried to fix dinner, and it's also stopping me from sleeping. So lucky you, you get the late-night outpourings of my addled little mind.

A large part of the aforementioned mind is taken up with thoughts of moving. I have been promised by Steve that we will definitely get me moved before the year is out. I am excited, nervous, hopeful, trying not to get my hopes up because plans have a tendency to backfire, all sorts of things. It resolves into:

1) the fact of being moved - all the things, good and bad, that are going to be different once I live in Steve's house in a different part of the country and with Steve, rather than on my own in the town where I've lived my whole life and where my friends and family are.

2) the act of moving - the sheer logistics of shifting me and all my stuff is something I'm finding pretty daunting. I moved all my stuff into this flat and got everything set up and unpacked, with the help of Pip, mum and Sister Dearest, within one day. But that was when I was in a position to run up and down stairs bearing items of flatpack furniture. And I only moved a few blocks, as opposed to a couple of counties.

3) the timing or more to the point, the lack thereof. I have no idea if I should be starting to box stuff away now or if I'll be wanting my creature comforts for the next six months. I don't know if I should send my Christmas decorations to Steve's or if I should hang onto them here. There are a couple of things I'd like to buy for the flat - they'll be worth it if I'm here for another four months, but a bit of a pointless waste of money if I'm only here another four weeks.

And now, it's tomorrow, and I am going to take as many painkillers as I'm allowed in the hope of a few hours' blessed oblivion. I do hope this post is at least partially coherent. Good night.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


I got myself a new cookery book the other day. It's called Just like mother used to make and it's by a guy called Tom Norrington-Davies. On the back are a couple of quotes from reviews, and the one from The Times says that "the recipes are simple to follow and comfortingly delicious to eat." Marvellous, thunked Mary. This is the book I need.

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear.

I should have looked at the name, really. This book is written by a man, who has access to many varied London shops, and above all, can afford a dishwasher. This is speculation, of course, but if he washes all his own dishes I will be very surprised.

I'm on page 82 now and I am stunned with the amount of faffery this guy suggests. It's the sort of cooking that's probably fun a couple of times a week if you're the sort of person who enjoys cooking and gets a kick out of accomplishing a meal (and you have a dishwasher).

A particular area where Tom and I have fallen out is over the issue of soup. He describes several "comfort soups" which according to him are "low maintenance" and "great food for those times when we are under the weather." Under the weather, that's me, let's take a look. Tomato soup, great.

First, he wants me to peel and chop onions, garlic (actually this should be "bruised" whatever the hell that means), a leek, and some carrots. Washing-up count so far, at least one sharp knife and chopping board, and a bowl to put the chopped veg in, plus it's taken me four hours due to keeping needing to sit down, the odds are I've cut my fingers, and we've not even got to the recipe instructions yet. You're then meant to stand at the cooker for ten minutes "keeping an eye on" the veg while they sweat in a little oil in a covered saucepan (washing-up count: saucepan, lid, wooden spoon). Next, we add some sugar and some tinned tomatoes (tinned? Tom, I'm shocked, you mean I don't have to grow them myself?), whack the heat up, and stand at the cooker for at least five minutes, "stirring constantly". Add some water (he prefers stock but he can stick that up his jumper) and allow to simmer, uncovered, for about an hour, because I always wanted to turn my flat into a tomato-scented sauna. Finally, we chuck it through the blender (washing up count: one blender which he doesn't tell you must be washed before the soup sets on the blades - handwashing blenders is Not Good) and add milk, salt and faff to taste. Serve (washing up count: bowl, spoon, and he also wants nice fresh bread but we're just not going to go there).

Total washing-up: two bowls, one spoon, one wooden spoon, blender, saucepan and lid, sharp knife(s), chopping board(s), and I bet the work surfaces and cooker hob got splattered too.

Tom. Mate. If you ever feel really under the weather, here's what you do.

Get the bowl you intend to eat from, the spoon you intend to eat with, a tin-opener (I know you have one because of those tinned tomatoes) and a can of Heinz Cream of Tomato soup. Open the can and empty it into the bowl. Put the bowl into the microwave and nuke it for one minute. During this minute, assuming you recycle, peel the label off the can and rinse the can under the tap before chucking it in the appropriate bin. Rinse the tin-opener too and leave it on the draining board to air-dry. Get the soup from the microwave, stir it with the spoon, and then put it back in for another minute. Have a little sit-down. The microwave will beep but don't get excited, just in your own time get up and get the soup. The bowl will be hot, be careful. Give it another stir and eat. If it makes you feel better you can put a sprig of freshly plucked basil on top, or an artistic little swirl of cream.

Total washing-up: one bowl, one spoon.

I'm not even going to talk about what he expects me to do about mashed potatoes. Still, I have another 106 pages to read and hopefully there will be some genuinely simple and easy thing that I can serve up with microwave mash and instant gravy.

I don't want to be a domestic goddess, I just want simple easy food!