Thursday, January 31, 2008


Phone call from Mum today, who read my last blog entry and got all concerned about me. Aww. Mum, you are ace. But now I have the guilts for not phoning/emailing you at least once a week like I meant to.

I also have guilt about not having updated my blog in over a week. I'm not sure how many people read it, but more people than I ever expected spare the time to leave comments, and not just people I know offline either, and I do appreciate it. So sorry if I worried anyone.

The thing is, on the one hand, I Am Okay. There have been no fires or explosions, no trips to hospital, no baliffs at the door or any other Nasty Things happening.

But on the other hand, there's been no finished knitted items, no lovely jaunts out and about, no wonderful bits of news or other Nice Things happening, either.

I'm just balancing, one day at a time, with circumstances that are still slightly stressful and less-than-fantastic.

For example, I still haven't had my appeal form from the Tax Credits bunch (I phoned: apparently it was sent second class and I should call again if it hasn't arrived at the weekend). I'm still having a rough ride physically, with more fainting, more headaches, more muscle pain, and more problems with things like memory and speech when compared to December. The GET is postponed for at least a month or so, I reckon. Everything is just null.

That's depressing. There must be something.

Aha! Yes! Of course! On Sunday Steve went to support his cousin Simon who was taking part in the 2008 Toughguy event. I didn't go - getting up early to go and spend most of my Sunday standing around in a muddy field in January isn't my idea of fun even when I'm feeling good - but it was fun hearing about it when Steve got home.

Simon, being a nutter, decided that doing what amounts to a cross-country run combined with an army assault course simply wasn't interesting enough any more.

He therefore opted to do the course wearing a pair of trainers, a pair of gloves, a pair of speedos, and a pink inflatable rubber ring.

Go on then, have some pictures.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Oh, it's all gone horribly wrong.

The attempt at GET has been called off on account of (1) me not having a bloody clue what I'm doing (see comments, previous post), and (2) me ending up feeling like I'd been scraped off the sole of my own shoe (probably because, see 1 above). I think I'll settle for: as long as I get up every day and go to work when I'm supposed to, then I'm doing quite enough.

The Inland Revenue have been sent me a nasty letter. It's to do with my Working Tax Credits claim from 2003. You don't want to be bored to death by the details - suffice to say, I haven't claimed or received any money from them since I stopped work in 2005 (because, Working Tax Credits, duh), I hadn't heard from them since 2006, I thought everything was fine, I even have a letter from them saying that I owe them nothing and they owe me nothing... but now I have a bill for over £500, which, frankly, is more than a month's wages, and an accompanying letter threatening legal action and 'interest accruing daily until the balance is zero'. I fear this may take a lot of untangling.

Steve keeps injuring himself (mostly hurting his back or his leg) and I can't do anything to help. He's also studying really intensively, so by the time I crawl in from work, we're both shuffling about like the living dead - in body and in brain - to try and prepare a semi-nutritious evening meal between the two of us. It would be comical if either of us were brain-awake enough to appreciate it.

It's the end of January. 'Nuff said.

Even my yarny is causing problems - I started turning the heel on my sock and lo, halfway through the ball, a KNOT. And not just a tangle which with care and attention might be unpicked. No, this was a proper, two definite ends of yarn, tied together in a big ugly knot. Okay, so not the end of the world, I cut it off and then started knitting again as if with a second ball... but for pity's sake, this was supposed to be my birthday-treat, make-me-happy, pleasure-to-knit-with super-nice yarny!

Send positivity soon plz.

*Note for foreign readers: Working Tax Credits are a kind of UK welfare benefit that you get if you are in full-time work, but earning less than X amount. Various factors (including children, disability, hours worked, phase of the moon, consumption of cheese etc) are taken into account when figuring out (a) what that X amount should be for each person and (b) how much Tax Credit that person should be given. The system is hugely complicated and has lurched from one catastrophe to another since it began.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Still Good

Okay, so the Dopey Happy wore off. In the last week I have experienced a full range of emotions both positive and negative. But nothing too extreme and nothing that I thought was worth blogging about.

Plenty of good stuff has been going on though.

Firstly, what you might call my Graded Exercise Therapy (although it's not official, it's just what I've decided to do) has got off to a good start. The plan is, to do a little bit of a walk each day, gradually increasing over the course of several months until I can walk what you might call "a useful distance". I'm letting myself off on days when it's raining (because I can't carry an umbrella) and if it gets icy, I won't go out then either for obvious reasons. But still. Phase One is to walk to the end of the road and back, once a day, a round trip of approximately 400 metres. It hurts, and it takes a while, and I have to stop to rest, and I feel awful when I get back to the house - but I'm doing it, and feeling quite proud of it. Once I'm definitely on top of doing that walk every day, and managing to stay on top of it for a couple of weeks, the next step will be going round the corner to the next corner of the block, making a 600m round trip. Once that's nailed, it'll be the post-box - 900m - and after that, completely round the block, which as far as we can work out, is a full kilometre.

Then, it'll only be another 200m on top of that, to get me all the way to the bus stop, which is my definition of "a useful distance". Unfortunately that last 200m is all uphill, so we could have upwards of a year to go before I swap my community transport membership for a bus pass. Still, like I say, Phase One is going well.

Secondly, the jumper I'm knitting - my first adult-sized one - is coming along nicely. I am only a couple of rows away from having the back piece finished. I think I should get it done tonight, and probably cast on for the front piece as well. As I suspected, I am on schedule to get it completed just as the weather gets a bit too warm to wear a jumper.

And thirdly, Access to Work. Since I bang on about all the trouble I have with these schemes, it's only fair that I should report when things go right.

The job I do has two major elements. There's the boring part, which is looking at the order someone has placed, picking the CDs they want off the shelves, scanning them to book them out of the stock, and printing off the paperwork. Then, there's the really totally insanely boring part, which is wrapping and packing each set of CDs and sticking the paperwork into a documents pocket on the package.

The packaging we use is this self adhesive corrugated card, with the hand press which squishes the layers of card together at either end of the package, sealing it. As you can probably imagine, it's rather difficult for me to use. I can do it once or twice quite easily, and I can do it five or six times without too many problems, but after about the tenth package, I can barely lift my arm any more, much less squish the card with the force required to seal it properly.

Of course, usually I'm not working alone, so I do the picking, and my fit, healthy and energetic CoWorker#1 does the packing. But there are two problems with this. Firstly, it's unfair on CoWorker#1 to always be doing the insanely boring physical part of the job. Even if he didn't complain, I would feel bad about it. And secondly, CoWorker#1 does sometimes get sick, or take holiday.

This might have been enough to make me turn around and say "okay. I can't do this job for four hours a day after all," except for The Machine. The Machine was sent to us on approval at about the same time as I arrived. It works much like a mangle. Two mechanical rollers spin, and you feed the end of the package through, and it squishes the card shut. No physical strength required. It means I can do as much of the "packaging" end of the job as they want me to do.

However, the approval period has come to an end. It's an expensive piece of kit, and I'm the only one who needs it - CoWorker#1 hates it (he just can't get the hang of it) and no one else does enough packing to have an opinion either way. In the words of The Boss, "so you find it useful... but is it really £severalhundred worth of useful? Because we don't exactly have that much money going spare."

Well, it's necessary for me to be able to perform all aspects of my job description. Enter Access To Work. There's a certain amount of paperwork to be done (isn't there always) but the advisor reckons we can get help with purchasing The Machine. I don't have to give up my job. CoWorker#1 doesn't get the nasty end of the stick regarding distribution of tasks. The Boss doesn't end up out of pocket. Everybody wins!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dopey Happy

I really am quite stupidly, insanely, indescribably happy right now.

No reason.

In fact it's been a rather pants few days really - notable points of the last 48 hours include slicing my thumb open while chopping carrots, and getting out of my taxi all ready for work on Friday afternoon and promptly fainting, straight into a puddle, and spending the afternoon wearing cold, wet jeans. Not really up there in the "fun" stakes.

But nevertheless, I feel really positive.

I've just spent the best part of 45 minutes reading a book while Bloop the Roomba cleaned the living room carpet. Every few minutes I was looking up and watching it make its way around the room, thinking and sometimes saying "this is amazing. I live in the 21st century. I have a robot doing my housework."

Carpet cleaned, I took a few photos of the jumper I'm knitting. Again, it was all "wow, I made this, with my hands, I knitted each of these many many stitches, and it's all the right numbers and shape..."

Prior to that I was eating dinner with Steve, which was also incredible. Here's a really nice bloke, who I get on well with, and we're living together, and everything is happy and nice and working out well. It's astonishing.

I almost hope it wears off by Monday, because if I'm just wandering about with a Big Stupid Grin on my face going "hey, that's fantastic!" at everything I see, I'm not going to get a lot of work done.

It can continue tomorrow though.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Obligatory Incapacity Benefit Post

My birthday improved no end over the two days after the actual day. Also, Steve and I have decided that we'll probably not make a big thing about his birthday in February, and just have an "official" birthday for the two of us some time in late spring/early summer.

Every disability blogger and their dog is doing a post about the current government/media demonisation of disabled people. I thought about it but wasn't sure if I could rustle up a whole coherent post about it. Here's the main points I would like The Great British Taxpayer to bear in mind:

1) Not every disabled person is on benefits. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest the possibility that there may be more disabled people who are not on Incapacity Benefit, than there are people on Incapacity Benefit who do not have a disability.

2) Not every person on benefits is a fraudster. I accept there will be some fraud, but that doesn't mean every claimant is a con-artist, just like one City businessman doing a phenomenal tax fiddle doesn't imply that every taxpayer in the country has dodgy accounts.

3) If you really know a person who is fraudulently claiming Incapacity Benefit - you actually know for a fact that they no longer have or never had the specific problems which they claim stop them from working, or you know that they are doing undeclared paid work - then report them. Please. You'll be doing us all a favour. The National Benefit Fraud Hotline is 0800 854 440...

3a) ... but please bear in mind that you do not have access to their medical history and that "disability" does not equate to "uses a wheelchair all the time". That there is a difference between managing to do something once a week (with a wheelbarrow full of medication, and time to both prepare and recover from the effort) and being capable of doing it several times a day every day. That some people have hidden conditions and look perfectly fit and able right up to the (unpredictable) point where they really don't. And that many people are using all their resources to cope with the basics of day-to-day living (bathing, dressing, cleaning, cooking, eating, attending dozens of medical appointments) and just don't have any spare for putting 37 hours of work each week on top of that.

You will look like a prat if you report Bob because you saw him walk to the corner and post a letter with no difficulty, but it turns out that the reason Bob is deemed unable to hold down a job is because TV screens, monitors and florescent lighting all trigger fits for him.

4) I've yet to meet the disabled person who says to me "I don't really want a job, I'm perfectly happy on benefit." What I have heard time and time again, are big long lists of types of support - not unreasonable things either - that a person needs to have in place in order to do a job, which no agency, scheme or individual seems prepared to supply. Simple things like "If I start work at 9am, then I need the carer who comes to help me wash and dress in the mornings to turn up at my house earlier than that, and they won't." Essential assistance and medical treatment for disabled people tends to be based around them being unemployed.

To be blunt though, I'm glad I'm out of it and hoping I can stay out - it looks like "getting tough" on disabled benefit claimants is going to be a big thing for the next election.

Monday, January 07, 2008


Happy birthday to me. Sort of. I'm beginning to think I might be karmically paying for having had such a great Christmas.

My birthday did not get off to a roaring start. I'm feeling utterly, utterly rubbish at the moment. This particular definiton of rubbish is the one where I had to cancel the plan for Steve and I to go and have a nice lunch at the Victoria Coffee House because it would have taken so much out of me that I wouldn't have been able to manage work afterwards. When you feel so rubbish that you have to cancel Exciting Plans at the level of sitting in a quiet cafe with your boyfriend... that's pretty rubbish.

I have no presents, and one card, which Steve went out to get while I was at work this afternoon. This hasn't been the worst birthday I've had, but it's a long way off being one of the better ones.

BUT, I do have cake. Let me tell you about my cake. It's good cake. I'd found a little sandwich-shop type place supplied by the same small business that made my mum's wedding cake a couple of years ago. I bought a couple of gift-boxed chocolate brownies. Some excerpts from the ingredients list on the box:
Dark couverture chocolate (32%) (min cocoa content 53.8%)
Cocoa butter
Madagascan vanilla
Espresso coffee...

AND, there were lots of phone calls and texts. Apparently not all parts of my pressie (very mysterious!) from my family are with them yet, they were kind of hanging on and hoping, but as it is, mum says she's sent the bits they have got special delivery and they should be with me tomorrow. I am very curious.

One thing that made me super-happy was when my mum told me that my grandmother had asked for my phone number so that she could call and wish me a happy birthday. This is impressive because:
1) My grandmother really, really, really hates using the telephone and will go out of her way to avoid having to make or recieve calls. She can just about deal with calling her own kids and panics if she gets an answerphone.
2) My grandmother lives in Germany. Her English is about as good as my German, ie, Not Very and uses a great deal of mime.

So the fact of her being prepared to make a telephone call, risk the possibility of someone she doesn't know (Steve) answering it, and take her best jump at the language barrier is really quite something. However, we don't have a landline phone, so she was spared it and I got my birthday greeting from her via my mum later in the day.

Work was ok, I was very tired but as I've said before, my co-workers are really good about giving me any help I need, and for the most part it's a fairly simple if time-consuming job. I shared my cake but there's still quite a bit left over.

I think I'm going to have another, pretend birthday later in the year to make up for this one having fizzled a bit. It is possible that this is just any excuse for more cake.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Woo! It's 2008!

Nearly didn't make it though. We had a bit of an... incident... with the fireworks, shortly after midnight.

Firstly, I should explain that we tend to be quite sensible with fireworks. We have them maybe 3 or 4 times a year, at the home of E and L. There is a patch of dug earth (once a vegetable patch) at the bottom of their garden, furthest from the house, and Steve and E go out some time beforehand to plan the display, dig in the launch tubes and whatnot, taking their time and thinking it through. We even use a remote detonator - five electrical cords, one end clipped to the firework fuse and the other end plugged into a little box of tricks, which in turn has a remote sensor, and the remote control is with the spectators. This is not a "light the blue touch paper and stick it up your nose" kind of event.

So at about 11pm, the boys wandered outside to begin setting up. The remote detonator will take five fuses at once, so we had two big rockets, two smaller but still quite sizeable rockets, and one large box which fired about a hundred shots of various types (big, small, noisy, crackly, you name it) but just off one fuse. The display was meant to last just a couple of minutes, and having it already set up meant that as soon as Big Ben bonged, we could run outside, push the button on the remote, and wheeee!

I have since heard from Steve that there was some debate over what order the fireworks should be set off. He insists it was E's idea that the box should be first, and then the rockets.

Anyway, at five to twelve we started getting our shoes and coats on, and at midnight we did the countdown with the tv, hugs and kisses and yay all round, outside, and pressed the button, and our fireworks started, and it was pretty and wonderful.

Until the fireworks from the big box started doing their "fan" setting, two flares simultaneously fired, one to the left, one to the right. And it knocked one of the rockets that was ready and waiting to be set off. Not hard, but it moved just a little as the right-hand flare went past to explode in the sky. And again. And again.

What to do? No one was about to run back to the immediate vicinity of a still-firing one-and-a-half-minute barrage box just to make sure an as-yet unlit rocket was perfectly upright.

Then it caught.

There was just enough time for E (who had the remote) to say "I didn't set that off!" and it took off.

Or it tried to.

It had been knocked just enough, or maybe it lit in the wrong place, but anyway, it clipped the fence and fell back into the garden.

Still fizzing.


E, L and I had ducked, turned to face the wall, covered our heads, that sort of thing.

Steve, on the other hand, was happily taking photos of fireworks exploding against the night sky and was utterly oblivious to events at ground level in the garden.

The first he knew about it was when there was a bang that we could feel and a glowing piece of something quite solid landed on his trousers, at which point he took his eye away from the viewfinder of his camera, started patting himself out, looked to one side, saw me brushing ash and debris off myself, looked to the other side, and saw a charred, spent, 3-feet-long wooden stick with empty rocket bindings that looked suspiciously familiar sitting only a few inches away from him. Smoking.

Swearing may have occurred.

We were a little bit shaken as we watched the rest of the fireworks. There was also a bit of concern when we saw that all five of the electrical fuses had fired, but there was still a rocket that hadn't gone off. This happens sometimes, a duff fuse or whatever, but this time round we were a little bit more cautious than we usually are about hunting out a lighter to make it fire the old-fashioned way. Disturbingly, it was Steve who was going "it's fine, it's definitely not lit, you can see that, give me the lighter" and so on. Maybe he just felt invincible or something. Anyway, the final firework went off safely, and we hung about for a bit with sparklers watching other people's displays

Anyway, we're all feeling pretty good, it could have been Very Bad Indeed but as it is, we're all okay. I have asked Steve to please not be dead any time soon. To back up my position, I pointed out that if he was dead, I would have to claim Tax Credits in order to get by, and no one deserves that. He agreed and will do his best to not get killed this year.

So, after that slightly shaky start to the year, things are pretty normal now. I have today to rest up and try and recover, and then tomorrow it's back to work. Thursday is the day I'm really worried about. My Specific Co-Worker won't be in, and although it's not like I'll be alone in the building or anything, I don't want to have to keep asking people (who already have other jobs to do) if they could give me a hand with XYZ. The Christmas rush seems to be more or less over, but it's still really a two-person job and I fear I may finish the day slightly behind on the work that needs doing. Even if I'm having a good day, four hours of Mary-effort is never going to equal four hours of Mary-effort plus eight hours of Co-Worker effort.

I also want to order some sort of birthday cake.