Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Keeping warm

So, I'm at home all day now, more or less every day. The thing I currently miss most about work is that it was warm. The weather has turned quite chilly - as one might reasonably expect, what with it being nearly December - and so it's a good time for those of us who maybe can't quite move around enough to keep ourselves warm to remind ourselves of the current advice in the form of the Keep Warm Keep Well campaign.

Okay, so as usual there's ample opportunity to snigger at the naivety of those who wrote it, for example the way they think that despite the level of poverty with which many elderly and disabled people live, we'll all have central heating with a thermostat that works. It's also very easy to get angry about the failings of the Warm Front grants.

Nevertheless there's a lot of good tips and advice in there but some of it does seem a bit... mutually exclusive. For instance:

"Fit draught-proofing to seal any gaps around windows and doors."
"Remember to close curtains and shut doors to keep heat in the rooms you use most."

does seem to clash a bit with:
"If you use a fire or heater in your bedroom at night, always keep a window and door open."
"Keep your home well ventilated."

Am I meant to be sealing myself in, or trying to get a breeze coming through? I'm just not sure any more.

On balance I've opted for sealing myself in - it's warmer that way, and there are worse ways to go than carbon monoxide poisoning*, where from what I understand you feel drunk and then you fall asleep, which is a reasonable summary of my day to day life anyway.

It's a good tip about keeping the blinds or curtains closed, and it makes a noticeable difference. However when you're stuck alone in the house all day, even if you don't have depression or SAD, it's all too easy for your mood to plummet, so I'm making a point of spending at least a couple of hours sitting by the window with the blinds open trying to enjoy what natural light there is.

It's also a good tip about having plenty of hot drinks, although again, not without drawbacks. I know I'm not the only disabled person who, when having a painful day, doesn't drink as much as she should, in order to minimise the number of excruciating climbs up and down Mount Staircase just to pay a visit.

So I've formulated my own advice. Ready?

If you can, spend as much time as possible out of the house and in a place where someone else pays the heating bill.

This slightly contradicts the official advice about not going out unless absolutely necessary, depending on whether you read it as "don't leave the house" or merely "don't spend time hanging around outdoors". And of course for many of us it's impossible - or at the very least, the cost of taxis would outweigh the cost of properly heating our homes. But if it's in any way an option, my inexpert advice would be to do it. Spend an afternoon in the library, sitting by a window on the sunnier side of the building. Go to a shopping mall and sit under the skylight watching the world go by. If possible, find some volunteer work, then there's free tea and coffee too. Join in with a free course at the Community Centre even if it's a topic that doesn't raise your interest. See people, get sunlight, get your money's worth from your council tax, because there are few more frustrating ways of spending a day than cooped up indoors with the curtains closed, shivering.

* I am a very fortunate disabled person who lives in a centrally heated house with reasonably-sized rooms. I am not sealing myself into a tiny bedsit flat with a gas fire, so please do not worry - or at least, not about me...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pass the parcel

So, in my path to become self employed, we were as far as: I need help from Access to Work in order to work, I need a business plan in order to get help from them as a self-employed person. I contacted Business Link (who, as you can see, are a .gov.uk and therefore official) and they referred me to a local business development agency.

The local business development agency said yes, we run free informal courses for people starting up their own businesses, during school hours, locally. Great! Except "locally" is apparently Coventry. To a Normie living where I live, that's £5 for the return train ticket and maybe £2 for buses at either end. For me, it's over £20 each way in taxi fares (big thank you to Warwick District Council for removing the accessible transport scheme).

I'd pay that money quite happily for a one-to-one session with someone who would check that I had ticked all legal boxes for my specific situation - or more importantly, tell me which ones I missed and what to do about it - and confirm with authority that I was ready to start trading. But I don't exactly have it knocking about as spare cash to hazard on fuzzy informal courses that may or may not have any relevance to my business.

Oh, they said.

So they in turn have passed me on to something which might be called the Regional Disability Infrastructure Support Service, or might be the Council for Disabled People, or might even be something else entirely. I'm not sure what this multi-monikered organisation's remit is - whether it's helping with the transport issues or helping with the "setting up a business" issues - but it doesn't matter for now as they can't see me until mid-December.

Meanwhile, I am apparently welcome to use the resources and forum at the website of the Coventry-based business development organisation. The resources are... well, they're very good, nicely laid out, but I am worlds away from their target audience. Here's a small quote from the section on Personal Development and identifying transferable skills that may be of use in your business:

Do you organise yourself, your children and your partner?
Organise the playschool’s fundraising activities?
Act as secretary to the tennis club?
Organise lots of social functions for you and your friends and family?
Cook and shop?
Organise who does what in the local community fair?

In other words, am I a vision of middle-class feminine perfection? Well, no. I have many skills that I use, as an employer of a PA, as an employee of my bosses, as a "customer" of the DWP and Social Services, as a blogger, as an active participant in the disability community, as a friend, as a supportive partner, and as a housekeeper. But I am, in short, not their kind of person, and knowing that makes me wonder how much they will actually help me.

For now, I continue ploughing through pages after page of information that for the most part doesn't apply to me, gleaning out the little germs of usefulness.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Paid time off

I've worked my last afternoon at work, accepted my leaving card and gift voucher, spent a couple of hours sitting in a pub listening to my erstwhile colleagues talk about things that are now a big old heap of Not My Problem, and now I am on paid holiday time for just over two weeks while I wait for my contract end date and my P45.

Today, at about the time I would otherwise have been getting ready for work, I turned the heating on. When I would have been getting into my taxi, I went upstairs and put some nice essential oils onto an aromatherapy diffuser. Then I ran a bath (big thank you to Steve who scrubbed the tub just for this), added half a bottle of bubbles, put on a CD of meditation music, and settled down for an hour's soak that, technically, I was being paid for. Bliss.

Of course there's only so much time you can spend gazing at the bathroom ceiling, so as per the advice given on previous posts, I also contacted Business Link to find out what they could offer someone in my position. I think this was a good move. I now have a name for the type of work I'll be doing - Virtual Assistant - which is much easier than "doing admin and officey stuff from home for people who need things doing but don't have the resources for a full-time on-site admin assistant". I'm being sent an information pack about that sort of work; in the meantime my details have been passed to a much more local Business Development Agency who are affiliated with Business Link and should be able to provide more specific support. Above all, they will help me write up a Business Plan, and with a Business Plan, I can get support from Access to Work as a self-employed person, and that opens up all sorts of possibilities.

I'm scared as hell, but apart from that I'm feeling really very positive about the whole thing.

Meanwhile I just keep listing in my head all the things that I don't have to worry about any more. I'll hopefully stop having nightmares where stacks of CDs fall on top of me. I can grow my fingernails, and paint them, without them getting broken and chipped on tape dispensers and dodgy shelving. I'll hopefully be in a lot less pain. I'll be in charge of whether or not I have music on, and if so, what sort of music, and at what volume. It's going to be great.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

There is no pause button on my life.

I feel that this is an appalling oversight on the part of the manufacturers. Still, what do we do?

So, I've resigned from my job and the final details have been ironed out. I officially finish at the end of this month, but I have quite a chunk of annual leave left to use up so my last actual working day is Tuesday 10th November.

My handy printout from the nice lady who does the payroll confirms that I only had one and a half days off sick in the last 12 months, which is way below average, even pro rata, and should be a jobsearch asset. I turned myself inside out to keep it that way and I'm so glad I didn't have to screw it up at the end by getting signed off.

It still stings quite a bit that leaving the job wasn't entirely my choice - I could have stayed another few months but would have been trying to work (a) without any additional support or equipment to deal with the increased demands, and (b) in the explicit knowledge that I was not wanted there. But I am still convinced that my decision to not attempt to drag it through the courts is the right one. I would rather use my energy on dealing with the necessities of life (considers another YouTube clip, decides against it) and have a bit left over for, you know, enjoying myself.

I have managed to complete my draft answers for my DLA form, which this time round is just over 19,000 words. It saved a lot of typing that I already had my answers from last time in electronic form, but it wasn't just a straight copy/paste job because they've shuffled the order of the questions, and merged some questions and split others up differently. Although my needs haven't changed, I also had to change some answers to account for factors like the PA and the social worker that I didn't have last time - for instance, whereas last time I wrote "I would like to go swimming, the help I would need for this is XYZ," this time it was more "When I go swimming my PA helps me with XYZ." The help I need is the same but the context has altered and the form must accurately reflect the current situation.

I've got all of my Social Services paperwork up to date as well, which is a relief after the collision of two separate threads of PA issues and the Monitoring Return. Better yet, the Monitoring Return was approved without query and I don't have to do another one until January.

My Access to Work advisor got back to me, and says that although I'll have to re-apply for support with my job as I switch from PAYE to self-employed, since I'm on the books and my needs haven't changed it should go through quite smoothly. I've prepared my "final" forms for my transport support, ready to be stamped and signed by my soon-to-be-ex-manager on Tuesday.

So, all that stuff dealt with, I think after Wednesday I can properly apply myself to researching things like Business Link and getting everything in place to embark on the self-employed adventure in December.

One question. I hear that when I set up as self-employed, I have to give my 'business' a name. Apparently many people use their own names, but I don't really like my full name and I'm not sure I want it to be google-searchable either. I'll probably end up with a generic [name of business advisory service][client number] combo, but if anyone has any ideas I'd be interested to hear them.