Sunday, April 27, 2008

Now That's What I Call A Weekend

day at the park
Originally uploaded by girl_of_bats
Finally, after a Great British Springtime of snow, rain, hail, blustery showers and occasional teasingly sunny afternoons followed by yet more rain as soon as I'm not at work any more, we had a proper nice day. Warm but not hot, sunny but not glaring, gentle breezes and no rain. Fantastic.

We started with a lie-in, as many other non-childified adults do on a Saturday. I was pretty shattered, but it really was just too nice a day to spend indoors so I insisted at Steve that he must wake up because we had to go out. We decided to go to Jephson Gardens. I love it there. It's gorgeous, well-maintained, and is one of the most accessible places I've ever been, which is handy when you're being pushed in a wheelchair. We spent maybe two hours there. I did a little bit of sock-knitting (not too much as I've injured my shoulder, that's also why we're on blogging-lite) and Steve took lots of photos of the Ninja Squirrels. It goes like this:

- People scatter nuts for the squirrels.
- Squirrels run and hide from passing dogs (although they're totally not bothered by humans).
- Pigeons descend to eat the nuts.
- Squirrels dash out from their hiding places and attempt to jump on and headbutt the pigeons. Discworld readers: think Nac Mac Feegle, that's what these squirrels are like.

It was really nice to just be spending time outside. The daily wobble from the front door to the taxi doesn't really count, you know?

Back home for bacon sandwiches, and then I went to bed. It was meant to be a twenty-minute nap but instead turned into something in excess of two hours. Normally that would be a very bad thing, but on this occasion, it was exactly right, because while I was enjoying a waking-up cup of tea, Steve got a call from a friend inviting us over for a barbecue that evening. I like barbecues. I like them a LOT.

Last year, the words "fancy a barbecue?" would have been enough to guarantee rain within the next two hours. But yesterday was charmed - we went, we ate, we sat outside and chatted until it was properly dark. More of this sort of thing. Plus, with it having been a Saturday, I now have all of Sunday to rest and recover. Couldn't have asked for a better weekend.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

An Engineer's Guide To Cats

While I don't usually regurgitate the b3ta newsletter onto my blog, this was one of those things. Those special things. Those things that just, somehow, wriggle into your consciousness rather than being a two-minute giggle that is forgotten with the next shiny object that rolls past.

The Engineer's Guide To Cats, by Paul Klusman with TJ Wingard, is nominally about cats. Indeed, Paul opens the video with "The purpose of this presentation is to educate engineers, and the general public, about cats."

Nice idea, but really, I think this is the ideal film to educate the general public (and possibly, cats) about engineers. An oft-misunderstood species, I have believed for many years that engineers make superior boyfriend material (although Dilbert may be interested to know that NASA have not hidden me on the moon yet) but I have been unable to explain WHY. What is it about a man with a scientific calculator, a leatherman, and a roll of duct tape, that is attractive?

I still can't explain it properly in actual words. Could it be the intelligence? The single-minded devotion? The attention to detail? The defeat of self-consciousness? I don't know. But I defy any woman to watch these two play with their cats and not melt a little bit inside. That's what it is about engineers.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Another bit of benefit tangle is a step closer to being untangled.

Long-time readers will recall how, back in November last year, I got a job. A month later, I found that despite having formally and officially told everyone and their dog, as soon as I found out, that I was starting paid employment, I was still being paid Incapacity Benefit. Eventually I got them to stop it, but no one could tell me what would happen to the erroneously-paid money sitting in my bank account.

Well, today - several months on - I finally got a letter about it. The letter stops short of actually accusing me of wilful fraud, but I was less than amused by the weasel phrase "too much Incapacity Benefit has been paid. This is because of your work."

No. My entitlement to Incapacity Benefit stopped because of my work. The issue of too much Incapacity Benefit being paid was because of the failure of the DWP to act on the information about my change in circumstances, which I had gone to all reasonable lengths to convey to several of their departments, both over the phone and in writing.

I am reminded that I must pay it back because it is THE LAW. Gosh.

I'm perfectly happy to pay it back, as it's not money that I was entitled to receive in the first place. But would it kill them to apologise for their mistake? Or for taking four months after I spotted and told them about their mistake to decide what to do about it?

Anyway, I have to phone up and arrange to set up a method of repayment. Annoyingly, I can't do this today as their phone number is Monday-Friday only, which I wouldn't mind, except for some reason DWP postal communications via Business Post UK Mail only ever arrive on a Saturday when the helplines are all shut. I am sure this isn't just to spoil people's weekend with news of a stressful issue they can't take action or advice about for 48 hours, but I have to admit, I do wonder why.

And Now For Something Completely Different...

...a quick reminder about Blogging Against Disablism Day 2008.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Gorilla In Your House

With thanks to everyone over at Ouch.

Acquiring a disability is a bit like getting home to find there's a gorilla in your house. You contact the approved and official channels to get rid of infestations of wild animals (in this case, the NHS) and they umm and aah and suck air in through their teeth before saying something roughly equivalent to "what you've got 'ere, mate, is a gorilla, and there ain't really a lot what we can do about them, see..." before sending you back home to the gorilla's waiting arms.

The gorilla in your house will cause problems in every part of your life. Your spouse may decide that (s)he can't deal with the gorilla, and leave. Your boss may get upset that you've brought the gorilla to work with you and it's disrupting your colleagues, who don't know how to deal with gorillas. You're arriving for work wearing a suit the gorilla has slept on. Some days you don't turn up at all because at the last minute, the gorilla has decided to barricade you into the bathroom or sit on you so you can't get out of bed. Your friends will get cheesed off because when you see them - which isn't often, because they don't want to come to your house for fear of the gorilla and the gorilla won't always let you out - your only topic of conversation is this darn gorilla and the devastation it is causing.

There are three major approaches to the gorilla in your house.

One is to ignore it and hope it goes away. This is unlikely to work. A 300-lb gorilla will sleep where he likes, and if that's on top of you, it will have an effect on you.

Another is to try and force the gorilla out, wrestling constantly with it, spending all your time fighting it. This is often a losing battle. Some choose to give all their money to people who will come and wave crystals at the gorilla, from a safe distance of course. This also tends to be a losing battle. However, every so often, one in a hundred gorillas will get bored and wander off. The crystal-wavers and gorilla-wrestlers will claim victory, and tell the media that it's a massive breakthrough in gorilla-control, and that the 99 other gorilla-wrestlers just aren't doing it right due to sloppy thinking or lack of committment. The 99 other gorilla-wrestlers won't have the time or energy to argue.

I have known people spend the best years of their life and tens of thousands of pounds trying to force their gorillas to go away. The tragedy is that even if it does wander off for a while, they won't get their pre-gorilla lives back. They'll be older, skint, exhausted, and constantly afraid that the gorilla may well come back.

The third way to deal with the gorilla in your house is to accept it, tame it, and make it part of your life. Figure out a way to calm your gorilla down. Teach it how to sit still until you are able to take it places with you without it making a scene. Find out how to equip your home with gorilla-friendly furnishings and appliances. Negotiate with your boss about ways to accomodate, or even make use of, your gorilla. Meet other people who live with gorillas and enjoy having something in common, and share gorilla-taming tips.

People get really upset about this and throw around accusations of "giving up" and "not even trying". They even suggest that you enjoy having a gorilla around because of the attention it gets you (while ignoring the massive pile of steaming gorilla-turds in your bedroom every morning and night, not to mention your weekly bill for bananas). The best way to deal with these people is to smile and remind yourself that one day, they too will have a gorilla in their house.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

More Progress

Armless jumper
Originally uploaded by girl_of_bats
I am pleased to report that I have reached a significant milestone in my First Adult-Sized Jumper - to whit, I have finished the front, back, and neck, and now all that remains to be done is the sleeves.

I nearly reached this milestone on Saturday. I'd sewn the front and back pieces together along the right-hand shoulder, I'd marked the stitches I was supposed to pick up along both sides of the neck shaping. On Saturday morning, I'd picked up every stitch I was supposed to and everything was going absolutely swimmingly for the 13 rows that form the neckband. I cast off loosely as per the instructions, pinned the neckband and left shoulder, and prepared to put it on to get my first real idea of what the jumper was going to look like.

And couldn't get it over my head.

So Saturday afternoon was spent carefully putting in bright orange acrylic safety lines for the live stitches on the front and back pieces, and then frogging the whole neckband. Just like the last time I had to frog part of this jumper, the task was made more difficult by the fact that the jumper is effectively knit in two-row stripes but of the same colour yarn. Still, it got done, and then Steve and I sat down to try and figure out what a sensible next step would be.

Step one: I checked my gauge, which was still the same as that recommended in the pattern.

Step two: I measured the circumference of my head. It's just under 23 inches which is not abnormal.

Step three: I tried to find a way to make my cast-off even looser. The easiest way of doing this appeared to be swapping one of the 3 1/4 mm needles I was knitting on, for a nice chunky 5mm needle.

Step four: With the help of Steve and a calculator, I worked out that I would need to add an extra five or six stitches in order for the neck to comfortably stretch around my head. This would give about an inch extra when flat, and stretch to about two or three inches extra.

Step five: I decided where the best places would be to add my extra stitches. I picked up two extra ones along each side of the neck on the front piece, and then added one at each end of the live stitches for the back piece.

As you can see from the picture, it worked. I feel so happy. I really like the way it looks, I like the way the colours have worked out, I like the way the neckline sits, I like the length, and I'm still absolutely gobsmacked when I look at all those little stitches making up this great-big jumper and think "I knit each and every one of those."

My plan for wowing the ladies at knitting was sadly scuppered as Anna at Web Of Wool is a bit under the weather at the moment. Still, I'm sure everyone will be just as impressed next week, and who knows, if I get really bored I might have finished a sleeve by then as well!

Thursday, April 03, 2008


Lots of little things going on, but nothing I can make into a full-on blogpost.

The Tax Credits letter has been sent. So that doesn't need worrying about for a while again.

Steve passed his second exam with flying colours. There's two more to go.

Littlun is due to start at the kindergarten/reception type class at the school on Tuesday, doing half days, five days a week. However due to an administrative snarl-up, Pip won't know if he's doing mornings or afternoons until Monday.

Recycling has been properly introduced in this area. I am incredibly relieved - it was horrible not being able to do it any more after having really got into the habit back in Lowestoft. It's not exactly the same system as I was used to, but they've been really good about sending out the leaflets and whatnot.

What they're not so good at is dealing with queries. The helpline has been utterly swamped. According to the local paper, this is mostly by people who haven't read the leaflet with the list of collection dates, people who are complaining that the system is too complicated (let's put it this way: even I can understand it, so it can't be that hard), and people complaining that the bins are 'unsightly' so they don't want them at the front of their properties and won't give the bin-men access to the back. So, we took the path of least resistance and shelled out a whole £2.99 for a food-caddy from the supermarket rather than messing about to claim our free one.

I've totally slowed down on knitting the jumper because I have to write out longhand the row-by-row instructions for the shoulder shaping to make sure I've really understood it. The instructions in the pattern book are written to incorporate several sizes of one pattern. So for example an instruction might be written as "Cast off 2 (4, 6, 8, 10, 12) sts". If you are knitting the very small size, you cast off 2 sts. If you are knitting the biggest size, you cast off 12 sts. You see? But me, I'm medium-sized, and I keep forgetting which set of numbers I'm meant to be paying attention to and it drives me mad, so I write out the pattern instead.

The sock is coming along nicely. It is the second sock of the birthday pair, made of the stripy Regia Silk yarn I bought with my birthday money back in January. I've turned the heel and have about 10 more rows for the instep and then it's just round and round and round until I get to the toe decreases. Steve 'helpfully' offered that if I was stuck for what to knit next, he could always frog them for me so that I could do them all over again. I am pleased to report that I did NOT skewer him with a 2.5mm double pointed needle, but it was a close call.

And to round off, a Roomba Report. I still love it, I still think it's some of the best money I've ever spent, although I do regret spending the money and wouldn't have done if I'd known how things were going to pan out. But then I suppose that's the same for everyone. Anyway, yes, the Roomba, or "Bloop" as he is now affectionately known, is doing sterling work of keeping the carpets clean for me, but we did have a little incident the other day.

It involved a reel of black cotton that we are both quite sure was safely on a shelf before we pressed the button and closed the door. Perhaps the breeze from the door closing was what caused the reel to fall to the floor. Or perhaps Bloop bumped into the shelf a little bit hard. We don't know - after all, the point is, you don't have to be in the room while it's cleaning.

Thing is, if you're using a conventional vaccuum cleaner, then when you spot a cotton reel on the floor, you stop. You pick up the cotton reel and you place it somewhere safe. If the vaccuum cleaner has already sucked up the end, then you turn it off, untangle it, and only then do you attempt to continue cleaning. Not so for Bloop. He keeps going, and going, and going, and because of how he works, twisting and turning and moving all the time... eventually he had got the entire length of thread wound around his brushes, upon which, he sucked up the plastic reel as well, which finally jammed the brushes and caused him to make his "uh-oh" noise.

Black cotton thread wound tightly in a non-linear fashion onto black brushes. Oh boy. It wouldn't unwind at all. We had to try three different pairs of scissors to cut it all off without cutting the brushes themselves. It was a tricky job. But, even so, after maybe an hour of surgery, it was all sorted out and Bloop was able to do the whole room again, properly.

Steve has presented the incident as being further proof of Bloop's malevolent sentience. Not only does my robot want to join in the knitting, but he even knows better than to have a first try with any of my decent yarn.