Saturday, 18 May 2013

Eurovision 2013

So exciting! I'm not at a party this weekend so me and Mrs. RowleyPolyBird are sitting at home liveblogging instead! I know next to nothing about this year's contest except that it's being held in Malmö, Sweden, Bonnie Tyler is representing the UK, and there's a lesbian kiss in the Finnish entry.

I'm ready with some knitting and a bottle of my Swedish beverage of choice (Kopparberg strawberry and lime, thanks), and I'm surrounded by Ikea furniture. Allons-y!

20:03 Right, totally into the Big Gay Butterfly in the title sequence. Speedy as well, that's a big distance he just crossed... Quite liking the opening song and the flag bearers. Someone in Sweden was watching the Opening Ceremony for London 2012, apparently. I assume the choral piece is an original composition? Would be a bit self-defeating if not!

20:09 Graham Norton says the host is actually funny. Her dress is a bit... vivid. (I've just popped the lid on the cider, let's get this party started!)

20:11 British broadcasters?! Yet another thing that Britain invented but suck at.

20:13 "May the best song win".... Or, y'know, whatever...

20:16 Vive la France! I quite like this, I'd actually listen to it.

20:19 Lithuania, not a fan, but the lyrics are very resonant; "love" and "pain" are words I commonly use about my shoes, as it happens.

20:23 OK, Moldova, I am not sure that any interpretation of the Mayan calendar allows it to predict your breakup... I like her hair, though, it's all very La Roux. Also, kudos to the designer using her dress as a blank canvas, it's very striking.

20:26 FINLAND! I've been looking forward to this. "At the end of the song, there are two girls kissing, and if two girls kissing offends you, you need to grow up". Well put, Mr. Norton! This is the best kind of trashy-pop and is totally going on Mrs. RPB's next mixtape! What is that on her knee, though? A leg-warmer-garter?

20:29 Was that the whole kiss? I could do better than that.

20:30 Ah. Me encanta la España. I really like this song, as well. I don't remember the last time I listened to Eurovision and really liked the music!

20:34 OK, Belgium, this song appears to be based on the last few series of Doctor Who, "love kills, over and over". Do the robot, Europe! I don't think this is the winner.

20:39 So far Estonia take the prize for Most Pointless Stylistic Shift with that Wizard of Oz shift into technicolour.

20:42 The giant disco ball was long overdue! Belarus' song reminds Mrs. RPB of Kiss Kiss by Holly Valance. I get that.

20:46 Malta have a ukulele! That's a dilemma. Do I vote for the lesbian kiss, or the ukulele?!

20:52 The entry from Russia is so perfect for Eurovision (key change and all!) that I can't help but see past the very optimistic lyrics and just view it as cynical.

20:56 I really don't like Germany's entry. I didn't much like last year's Swedish winner at the time either (though it grew on me), so I suppose it's not surprising.

20:59 Armenia could have done with some input from a native English-speaker. And a poet. And a composer. I wondered aloud if there was a wind machine on the singer's hair, but Mrs. RPB thinks it's the entire crowd sighing in disappointment at having to listen to this nonsense.

21:03 The comedy manages to both be actually funny and make me want to visit Sweden. Good job! "Gay p....., er, Eurovision fans".

21:07 Oh dear, Netherlands, this is a bit grim. In my most emo days I think I still would have written this song off as depressing.

21:10 "Small children and pets should probably be removed from the room" says Graham Norton. Go on Romania! Haven't we seen that dress on at least one contestant every year?

21:12 I can see that he is a very talented singer but... really?! And what's with the ceiling decoration?

21:15 Woot, UK! Although within the first couple of lines I dislike the song. Damn. Mrs. RPB is praying for a "total eclipse of my senses".

21:20 Well, Sweden will not win again, because of You, Robin Stjernberg.

21:22 Hungary have rounded up all their hipsters for this entry. I quite like it, though. I'd listen to this on the bus. My friend Boy Sam, who blogs for ESC Nation wants this to win. It probably wont.

21:29 Not going to write home about Denmark. Seems to be a favourite to win, not sure why.

21:31 All right, Iceland, I'm impressed. I like an awful lot of the music this year, is this definitely Eurovision? (The cat objects to the key change, and has left the sofa.)

21:36 Azerbaijan have borrowed David Blaine for the occasion! Although he now seems to be doing the Dawn French / Darcy Bussell routine from the Vicar of Dibley. (The cat has now left the room, because this song has two key changes...)

21:38 I love Greece! It's like Madness on ouzo. (Side note, whilst the pronunciation is unfamiliar I'm surprised how many words have changed very little or not at all since Classical Greek, especially the nautical terms it seems.) I wouldn't listen to this, but I'd dance to it gleefully!

21:42 HODOR! I wondered where he had got to! Thanks, Ukraine. Bran's changed a bit, though. The song is boring.

21:47 I do like the idea of world peace. I really do, but all the songs about it are so boring. Sorry, Italy.

21:51 That's more like it! Norway's singer is sporting an old Abba costume she found in a Swedish museum. What does this mean, though, "I have the future on my tongue"? The Edward Lear award for Nonsense Verse goes to Norway. It would go to Armenia, but I didn't care enough when I was listening to them.

21:55 It's all gone a bit Disney for Georgia. By no means unpleasant, I quite like it, but I can't imagine it winning. Don't place bets on my advice, though, I didn't think Sweden had a chance last year...

Just realised that Mrs. RPB is following this and reposting some of the comments on Facebook. "It's easier than talking to you." Charming!

22:01 "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." Here ends all comment on Ireland's entry. Graham Norton says that could win. I think he may be biased.

22:08 Having watched the voting recap, I think I want Finland to win for all the wrong reasons. But France was probably my favourite song. Winning preferences (in some kind of order): Finland, France, Hungary, Greece, Norway, Malta, Iceland, Denmark.

22:22 Lines closed. The dull part begins. Bonnie Tyler sounds like she could do with laying off the fags.

22:26 I like the self-deprecating interval act; the host really is very funny. Must go to Sweden some time. Nice touch with the Lutheran gay wedding! It's a shame Sweden weren't any good, I'd like to see them host again.

22:36 I hear the strains of the inevitable Abba tribute... This seems to be the comedian who did the tour of Stockholm earlier (which I thoroughly enjoyed); is there nothing this woman can't do?

22:46 Surprised Finland aren't doing better. I thought the UK might get behind them.

23:10 Hungary got 12 points at last, only took 26 countries! Really amazed that Finland have only got 7 so far, I expected that to do well.

23:20 Denmark. Fair enough. Graham Norton is very surprised Ireland did so badly, but I think I'm actually relieved; Europe showing some common sense! I'm disappointed still that Finland didn't make it to the top half of the leader board, but perhaps it's not so surprising. Making any kind of political statement is always a risk.

Thanks for your patience, if you've kept with me so far, good night!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

I used a bus!

I had a clinic appointment in town today, but the clinic I was attending is on a main road. There are double yellow lines, and it's difficult to stop, so although I was able to get dropped off there by Mum I couldn't get a local taxi firm to come and pick me up.

The nearest place I could be picked up within the town centre was a bus stop 0.2miles, 4 minutes away (according to Google Maps). It's not far, but up a steep hill and took me 20 minutes to walk there.

Of course, by the time I got there I wasn't about to pay for a cab. The bus to my house loops around the village and passes by twice, so the driver let me stay on until the second time (which is on the right side of the road). Thank you, nice bus driver!

This feels like a major achievement, using public transport without help at either end. It was a slow journey, it took an hour and a half, but it's a start.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Learning from the wheelchair weekend

I have always tried to understand how hard it can be as a disabled person to deal with getting around day-to-day. The world doesn't make it easy; help is there but has to be specifically requested and the onus is on the traveller to calculate all the timings precisely. I've been aware of this for some time; I worked with disabled students at UCL and sat on the 'Committee for People with Disabilities'*. I saw how hard it was for people, and like to think occasionally I helped to make it easier, but the fact is that the world was designed by people who don't have to think about this stuff, and changing it will take a really long time.

As I've said, a lot of people in customer service work really hard to make life easier. The staff at Travelodge were excellent, and although the system didn't seem to live up to much, once I'd managed to get support at Marylebone the staff were really helpful once they'd realised I was there!

Being dependent on taxis is really hard work; and a lot of cab drivers were really reluctant to lower the ramp or carry the wheelchair at all. The first time I tried to get into a cab on crutches, I fell over on the pavement twice and then had to crawl in - I refused to try again after that!

When you get into a black cab in London, there is a helpful diagram showing you how to position a wheelchair. It is to be wheeled up the ramp, then rotated 90 degrees so that it is facing backwards. The problem is, the wheelchair I was in (which is by no means oversized) didn't have the space to rotate. I found that a little worrying. Obviously I'm fine, but if the guidelines exist, surely they do for a reason? Did no one stop to wonder if there would be wheelchairs that couldn't be manipulated into that position? Why did none of the drivers of the four cabs I took in the wrong position reassure me that they believed it was safe? Why did I have to fight to get the ramp lowered? I don't want to be difficult; I avoid confrontation when I can, but after the disastrous attempts to get into a cab independently at Marylebone I really wasn't going to try again! When you only have one load-bearing leg and are still learning to use crutches, cab floors are too high and ceilings too low to allow it.

When you travel in a wheelchair or need assistance at a train station, you have to phone and pre-book assistance at both ends of the journey. Once you're on the train, the staff at your station of origin should confirm with your destination that you're on the train. The problem I found was that although two members of staff helped me onto the train, and another one assisted me at the barrier, at High Wycombe, no one phoned ahead to Marylebone. If they did, the message didn't reach the people it needed to. I was left on the train until someone came aboard to clean and found me, but they did then help me and it was ok.

The other thing I noticed was that the attitude you face as someone in a wheelchair is unpredictable. A few people got onto the train with large bags, and obviously had hoped to be able to use the wheelchair space to store them. I was a bit embarrassed at their exasperation. Someone also tried to sit in one of the fold down seats but stopped because it would have meant folding it almost onto my lap, so tutted and moved away. I was a bit embarrassed. Of course, other people were very kind. Someone stopped on the way out of the train to ask if I would be ok to get off. I think she was partly responsible for finding a member of staff at Marylebone, actually.

The other thing I found was that people are somewhat prone to help without being asked! I once saw this happen to someone else; I was on the escalator at Angel tube (the longest on the Underground, fact fans), and a man in front of me was supporting himself in a wheelchair. It took a lot of concentration, and he was clearly very focused and knew what he was doing. I didn't want to startle him by offering assistance and would never intervene without permission. I was shocked when a woman marched up the escalator, pushed me out of the way, and said, "Why will no one offer any help?" She just seized his wheelchair without asking permission.

I had the same experience trying to get from the Travelodge to Featherstone Street. People took hold of the wheelchair to move me up onto curbs, or out of their way. Someone even pushed me into the breakfast table mid-mouthful whilst I was still eating breakfast at the hotel! There is a very fine balance between assistance and interference. I was quite scared by people grabbing hold of the wheelchair to move me without asking. You become very conscious of just how vulnerable you really are.

The whole experience taught me a lot about how much we expect from disabled people. I don't know that I see that changing any time soon, either. But we can all educate ourselves about what it's really like.

Have a read of some of these blogs:
Through Myself and Back Again: Lil Watcher Girl, blogging about feminism, disablism and everything
Benefit Scrounging Scum: Bendy Girl, blogging about benefits and the reality of living on them

They both link to a number of other brilliant bloggers and activists.

*Yes, it is a stupid name. And apt; for a very long time there were no spaces reserved for disabled staff or students. 

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Navigating London in a wheelchair (part 2)

After yesterday, I suppose I should have predicted how tired I would feel waking up, but I underestimated by a long way!

Muscles I'd forgotten even existed in my arms and my right (i.e. non-broken) leg were sore as soon as I woke, but I managed to wash, dress and get down to breakfast in the hotel this morning. 

The Travelodge staff were excellent at breakfast, they helped me to a table and collected my breakfast for me, then helped me to reception to check out and out onto City Road to head back for another day with Leaders. 

I was astonished, however, that whilst I was eating breakfast, someone moved me out of their way! I suppose I was taking up a bit of space in a wheelchair, and he wanted to get past, so he pushed me forward into the table. It took me a second to register what had happened, I spilled the drink I had in my hand. 

I thought I was running late for the morning session, and admittedly I suppose I was a bit cocky, so I tried to make my way along City Road on my own. It's a five-minute walk, but took me about half an hour even with some help from nice people along the way. Again, one or two people took it upon themselves to move me in the wheelchair without asking, or telling me what they were going to do. I admit that I was struggling, but I was embarrassed to be struggling, and I felt even more embarrassed when I was just moved out of the way like an inanimate object. 

I wouldn't attempt something like that again - it was a pretty stupid idea - but I'll admit I was pretty pleased with myself when I did finally make it to the office. 

I had great fun in the morning with fellow-Leaders Katie and Tolu leading a session on developing and strengthening the Leaders' network to achieve even more in the next twelve months than we have in the first year. We played a game at the beginning of our session where we asked people to label each other with a range of tasks they've completed in their time as volunteers. I had my labels collected on my cast - which had remained stubbornly undecorated over the previous ten days! 

Later on, some of the girls took it a step further, so that before I left for church I had collected three very sweet messages! 

Thanks, Rochelle, Rach and Sophie!
It always sucks to say goodbye at the end of the weekenders, but I hope we're all pretty fired up and looking forward already to the next one!

I was lucky again to have some fab support getting to church, in the form of a lift from Debbie. She wrestled my heavy and clunky wheelchair single-handedly into the car and braved the wrath of Camden's many over-keen traffic wardens to get me there. I honestly wouldn't have managed it otherwise - I couldn't have either got a cab or a bus without pretty serious difficulties.

Was lovely to be back at church after some time off - and I was really pleased that I managed to get up to celebrate communion and pray with some of the congregation against the odds. I had another lift home from one of the deacons, and am now thoroughly exhausted. 

I'll sleep well tonight. 


Saturday, 14 July 2012

Navigating London in a wheelchair (part 1)

Before I broke my leg, I planned to attend a weekend of workshops with YouthNet at part of a programmed called Leaders. I enjoy the 'weekenders', always get to meet new volunteers and I've made some great friends through YouthNet over the years so it was one thing I was really keen not to miss out on.

However, the logistics of getting me and my broken leg from Bucks to Old Street turned out to be rather on the complicated side! Luckily,

I managed to get onto the train with the help of Chiltern Railways staff, but then almost didn't get off it at Marylebone! Of course, I discovered a major advantage of being in a wheelchair on a busy Saturday morning train is that it guarantees you a seat. The disadvantage is that people with luggage who were expecting to be able to use the wheelchair space get somewhat openly frustrated to have to stand because someone's parked a wheelchair there...

Thanks to the lovely Matt - a fellow Leader who'd traveled into Paddington - I eventually got off the platform. There was some problem because the wheelchair accessible barrier at platform 3 was set to entrance not exit, so we had to leave through platform 1 (more complicated than it sounds!) and it took a while to find a cab.

When we did find a cab, the driver couldn't get the ramp out so I foolishly tried to get in on crutches. Hint: you can't! The floor of a black cab is too high, and the ceiling too low. After a couple of undignified falls, I settled for the even-less-dignified crawling-and-dragging-my-cast method. Nightmare!

But eventually, we did make it to YouthNet and it was a relief to be settled somewhere that was both all one one level and navigable! I only had a couple of minor falls during the course of the day. (And, to be fair, they were my fault...)

We headed out to the Travelodge on City Road to check in. One of the volunteers took the unenviable task of pushing me along what might be the most uneven pavement in London, but did an admirable job of getting me there intact! I hadn't booked a disabled room (I wasn't broken at the time of booking!) so I was in a room a fair distance from the nearest lift. The corridors are narrow and winding, and the doors very heavy, but it was possible to get around unassisted. There was more than adequate space in my room to get around it either in the wheelchair or on crutches with the chair locked in place by the bed.

Getting out for dinner at The Breakfast Club (Hoxton), was surprisingly easy once we'd found a cab prepared to lower the ramp. Getting pushed up a ramp into a taxi is a pretty nerve-wracking experience, and my wheelchair was too big to manoeuvre into the safest position (back to the driver), but not uncomfortable.

It was easy enough to get the chair to a table at the back of the cafe when we arrived - and, of course, the food was absolutely delicious! I had a veggie burger with smoked applewood cheddar, and a Cadbury's Caramel milkshake. Yum. Highly recommended - I always love the atmosphere of the place and the menu is consistently fab, even for awkward veggies.

The next adventure was to get from Hoxton Square to Rowans in Finsbury Park - positively one of my favourite places to spend an evening. It took ages to sort out a cab because it was Saturday night and the first two we booked didn't arrive (thanks, Radio Taxis) so we hailed one from the street when it started raining!

I'd forgotten, because it was never relevant to me before, that Rowans is a very high step up from the street. Thankfully, there were two very nice - and very strong - security guys on the door who were amazing about getting me in and out. I was mortified, but can't fault them for trying! The bowling lanes themselves are up a few steps, so I couldn't get the chair up to the lanes and couldn't carry a ball on crutches. No worries - it saved me a whole heap of embarrassment, as anyone who has been bowling with me will attest.

Getting back tired was a bit tricky - both my stamina and balance get very ropey when I've been out a long time, so getting myself back to my room and into bed was hard work, but I made it! I can't help feeling a bit proud of myself...

Thursday, 12 July 2012

I ventured out into the real world

...and I am knackered!

I went from the car park, about 100m to Waterstones (with a rest half way, and a nice sit down inside) to buy myself the new Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, The Long Earth. I also bought the new Thursday Next title by Jasper Fforde for my sister, and was about to take a sneak peak when I realised I've not read the 5th or 6th - almost exposed myself to a spoiler. Lucky escape!

Then I was tired so I hobbled to Zizzi and had a lovely pizza (thanks, Mum!) and some of my lunchtime painkillers for dessert. Then I wanted to get some shoes for Amy Oliver-but-soon-Webb's wedding (actually I just wanted one shoe, but they come in pairs). So I hopped all the way to the lift, and back across the shop to the shoe department (hard to rest en route, the only seat is in the shoe department). Anyway, I bought some nice flip-flops for the wedding and made it all the way back to the car (four benches en route, I am in love with the architect who designed the Eden Centre).

We went home via Grandma's, so I had the chance to give her the tea cosy I designed based on a song she used to sing us:

I like a nice cup of tea in the morning,
Just to start the day, you see,
Then at half past eleven,
Well, my idea of heaven
Is a nice cup of tea.
I like a nice up of tea with my dinner,
I like a nice cup of tea with my tea
And when it's time for bed,
There's a lot to be said
For a nice cup of tea.

I've just fallen over trying to cross my bedroom without crutches. So it really hurts and I need to take some pills and get some sleep!

Here is Binnie Hale singing A Nice Cup of Tea. Good night!

Friday, 6 July 2012


(That's what a knitting spell would look like if I wrote Harry Potter.)

Of course, even Molly Weasley doesn't have a knitting spell. That would take all the fun and the little imperfections out of handmade goodies.

I've been crap at finishing Kirsty's Weasley Sweater but there's nothing like a broken leg to get the knitting juices going. So here's the finished object!

I've also finished another sweater for Joshua. Unfortunately, it took a month so he's nearly grown out of it.

This is his "no, really, I love it" face.