Blood Swept Land and Seas of Red #TowerPoppies

Mum and I spent a long weekend in London last week. I feel like I have many things to say about that but I’ll start by sharing the photos I took when we went to the Tower of London.  Or at least some of them because I took loads – couldn’t see how they were coming out due to the sun reflecting on the screen of my phone. But luckily almost all of them are brilliant.

We went to see the Poppies exhibit there. It’s official title is apparently Blood Swept Land and Seas of Red but I’ve only heard people refer to the Poppies. Which was amazing.  Basically, they are planting ceramic poppies in the moat surrounding the Tower of London.  They started a couple of months ago I think and the last will be planted on Rememberance Day in November.  At that point there will be 888,246 poppies – one for each British solider killed in the First World War.  Here is the official website.

We’d heard that the best place to see the poppies was from outside the Tower and given that only the Crown Jewels have full wheelchair access had decided not to go into the Tower itself.  When we arrived and we could see them a bit I thought we might need to change our minds.  But as we got closer we could see much more.  And actually we were able to walk around the entireity of the Tower and see everything.  I’m convinced that we wouldn’t have been able to see the Poppies from inside the tower due to it’s design.

2014-09-21 11.19.19 2014-09-21 11.26.24 2014-09-21 11.26.55 2014-09-21 11.29.19 2014-09-21 11.29.35 2014-09-21 12.42.52 2014-09-21 12.35.54(Images are 7 different views of the so-called “Poppies” exhibit at the Tower of London.  Because of the nature of the exhibit different parts of the moat are fuller than others and the various pictures reflect this.  Some famous landmarks can be seen in the background of a couple of the pictures)

Spotted At The Sailing Club

I wanted to do these regularly this year but so many times when I’ve seen things to post I’ve not had my phone so couldn’t take a picture.

Tuesday night, just before ten to seven (although to be fair I only know that due to the date stamp on the picture) three of us were chatting.  And then we realised that the clouds had parted somewhat and the sun was visible again.  Bright red in a very gray and previously bland sky.

It didn’t stay long as it was very rapidly setting.  But we all went scrabbling for our phones and just about got pics in time.  It seemed to be changing every minute and set very soon after I took this.  But I think it captures something I love about sailing and that I’ll miss over the winter.

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Invictus Games 2014

On Sunday my friend Eleanor and I went to the Invictus Games. We went to the sitting volleyball in the Copper Box on the Olympic Park.

Sitting Volleyball is one of the sports Eleanor and I saw at the paralympics (and then I saw some later in the paralympics with my Dad).  I loved watching it then but at the same time it made me a tiny little bit sad because it was the one of all the sports I saw that I wanted to play but I don’t have enough mobility for it and probably not enough sitting balance (it’s played sat on the floor).  I enjoyed watching it a lot on Sunday but it didn’t make me sad then. Mostly because I’ve discovered no where near here has a sitting volleyball team so it’s a moot point.

We met in London and were going to get the tube from Waterloo over to Stratford but the lift down onto the platform in the tube station was broken. So we had to walk to Southwark and get the tube from there.  The staff at Waterloo gave us directions to get there and radioed through to Southwark to check the lifts there were working and it all worked fine.  It just took a bit longer to get there although we were still in our seats with 20 minutes to spare.

There was a bit of an issue over our seats as it seemed our tickets had been sold twice. As I was already in the wheelchair space when this happened I just told them repeatedly that I had tickets for those seats and they found the other person somewhere else to sit. My suspicion is that our tickets were actually the wrong ones as the weird numbering of the wheelchair seating made little sense and the guy who took my booking seemed confused. But as none of the staff helping the other person actually asked to see my tickets we’ll never know. The other person was using crutches but not a chair.

The first match was the bronze medal match between Georgia and The Netherlands.  It was a best of three sets match and only two sets were played.  It made it very quick and I didn’t remember it being that quick during the paras so I was a bit confused. But then I figured out they were playing fewer sets than we’d seen during the paras.  I was a bit frustrated when it ended after only 40 minutes because I felt like I’d not had a chance to get into it properly and then it finished. The Netherlands won that.

In between the matches and in the breaks between sets they had all the audience doing mexican waves and slo mo waves which are always fun.  They also did this “invictus” cam thing where if you appeared on the screens you have to do a set task.  They did it three times and it was pretty funny. I was torn with the later ones which involved having to stand and do a task at being annoyed by the ableism in that request and the “encouragement” when people didn’t and cracking up laughing, especially when they got little kids who looked so proud to stand up and salute the camera and big burly army guys to stand and wiggle their bum at the camera.  I’m pretty sure they deliberately didn’t aim the cameras at the rows with wheelchair and transfer seats in though.

The second match was USA v UK and was a five set match.  I got much more into that one and really enjoyed it.  Three sets of that led to a decisive UK victory for the Gold but I must admit during the last set I was sort of hoping the USA team would take that one so the match would go to a 4th set.  The whole place literally exploded with noise when they announced match point and then seconds later we took the gold.

Prince Harry was there watching and he was in the section almost exactly opposite where we were. They kept showing him on the camera doing the mexican waves and it took us a while to figure out that must be where he was.  A bit later they were setting up for the medal ceremony and showing random people on the screen.  They caught him but he didn’t notice because he was taking a pic or videoing on his phone. Everyone was cheering and laughing at that and he looked up to see and realised he was on the screen and grinned a bit.  He seemed like a good sport but of course it could be an act.

After the medal ceremony we went into Westfield (the shopping centre right by the Olympic park) for the loo and food.  We got the tube back to Southwark because they’d said they didn’t think the lift would be fixed at Waterloo when we left there that morning and then I got the train home and Eleanor went to get the bus home to Oxford.

All in all a very long but fun day.

All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner

Yesterday I went to London for the day. I met a friend there and we went to the Invictus Games to watch the sitting volleyball. It was a lot of fun and I’ll blog about that separately at some point over the next week.

The route I usually get on the train to London takes around two hours each way including time between trains. Which is fine because I have lots of time to read. Because yesterday was a Sunday there was more time to wait between trains and they went a different (longer route). I left London Waterloo at 5:39 last night. I was home (ten minute powerchair from the station) around 8:20. So the choice of the right book to take with me was crucial.  It had to be something I’d not started yet, it couldn’t be a short book and because I can’t remember when I last charged my kindle and didn’t think the battery would last it had to be a physical book.

Simon and Schuster had sent me a review copy of All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner. After much faffing about whether this was the one book to take on a long journey and much changing of my mind about whether I needed a longer book I decided this was the book to read.  At just under 390 pages it was the perfect length. The local stopping train went through the station before mine and I had maybe 20 pages to go. I finished it in time to have it back in my bag and my coat on just before the train got to the station.

Allison Weiss is a typical working mother, trying to balance a business, ageing parents, a demanding daughter and a marriage. But when the website she develops becomes a huge success, she finds herself challenged to the point of being completely overwhelmed. As she struggles to hold her life together and meet the needs of all the people around her, Allison finds that the painkillers she was prescribed for a back injury help her deal with more than just physical discomfort – they make her feel calm and get her through the increasingly hectic days. Sure, she worries that the bottles seem to empty a bit faster each week, but it’s not like she’s some Hollywood starlet partying all night. It’s not as if she has an actual problem. Until she ends up in a world she never thought she’d experience outside of a movie theatre: rehab. And as Allison struggles to get her life back on track, she learns a few life lessons along the way. With a sparkling comedic touch and tender, true-to-life characterizations, All Fall Down is a tale of empowerment and redemption and Jennifer Weiner’s richest, most absorbing and timely story yet.

A train journey that’s as long as the one I did yesterday can be boring. At no point was I bored whilst reading All Fall Down.  I was worried at one point that I was going to run out of book before I got home but then I spent a big chunk of the time between trains chatting to someone so problem solved.

I liked the story and I wanted to know what happened, it hooked me in and made me keep reading.  I kept being surprised when we stopped at a station and we were further along that I thought we should be…  Even when it ended I still wanted to know what happened next.  That’s in part because it seems to spend most of the book dealing with Alison’s downfall into addiction and then rehab and very little on what came next. And it ended with a few threads dangling still.  I’d have liked to have seen more of the post rehab section.

I loved the character of Ellie, Allison’s daughter.  I was convinced for ages that she was going to be diagnosed with an autistic spectrum condition as an excuse for why she was “difficult” and it surprised me when she wasn’t.  But I was glad of that because it would have ruined the book for me.  Disability in books is important. Disability as an excuse or explanation for a plot device sucks.

Ellie loves musicals so they get mentioned a lot. There’s also a section involving the Sound of Music. I love musicals and have been listening to the soundtrack of The Sound of Music lately. This combination meant I kept finding myself humming “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?” and making myself stop then starting again without realising.

There was another big moment in the book that I was sure would have been a big point in the remainder of the story. I won’t say what as I don’t want to spoil people. The fact it was mentioned and then basically ignored was wrong – it would have been a very different book if it had continued and dare I say it turned a good book into a brilliant one.

I’m not sure how but I seem to have missed out on reading Jennifer Weiner before which surprised me when I saw the list of her previous books and she has some big name ones. I would like to go back and read some of them.


You Know You’re a Bookworm When…

You get an email from Amazon that someone sent you a gift card.

And the message from your friend is that she was going to send flowers to say thank you but she figured reading or free spending would be more appreciated.  She didn’t need to send me something to say thank you, I didn’t expect it. Just the words were enough

I would have enjoyed having flowers. They are always a rare but nice surprise. But my friend knows me well.  I’m definitely a massive book fan and they last forever or there abouts. So I’m loving that.  Currently trying to remember when a book I’ve been looking forward to is coming out (I think it’s a week or two) and if I can wait till then to spend it. Or shall I go poking on Amazon and see what I can see?

It was a lovely surprise and made me smile.

I sometimes tell people that I don’t finish every book I start because life is too short to read bad books. Unfortunately life is also too short to read all the good books. I’m making it my goal to read as many of them as I can though! So far this year I’ve read 71. And I shall use the giftcard to buy the books that may form part of books 72 and beyond in 2014 (am aiming for 100 this year having decided that last years 140 is a feat I don’t want to aim for again).

Sarah, Thank YOU!


Many Things

I feel at moment as though there are many, many things I could blog about or talk about or write about in different circumstances, different situations and at different times (depending on what/where/who I’m doing with).  But at the same time I feel like I’ve got nothing to say that it’d be worth people listening too.

The main problem is that everything seems to have hit all at once.  I’ve got writing opportunities what feels like everywhere but they all need stuff doing for them either this week or by the end of next at the latest.

In the middle of that I’ve got an appt to go and see about a new manual wheelchair tomorrow.  I’ve been to sit in on a disability group on the opposite side of the county this morning to see what they do. I’m going to a meal tomorrow night being put on by one of the organisations I volunteer for to thank their volunteers. I’ve got my usual CAB stuff.

And I’m going to London twice in the next couple of weeks.

It’s all at once and maybe a bit overwhelming.  But taken individually it’s a lot of fun and useful stuff.  Focusing on it individually is the difficult bit though.

I’m gonna leave this here and go focus on what might well be the last sail of the year.

Emma, Elsewhere

If you were looking for a blog post from me today you’ll have to wander over to Disability In Kidlit where a discussion post I contributed to has just been published.

Say What You Will is a YA book by Cammie McGovern where one of the main characters has CP and the other OCD.  If you’re like me and in the UK you’ll find it in book shops under the title Amy and Matthew.

***This link contains spoilers but this post on my blog hopefully doesn’t***

Emma Crees, Courtney Gilfillian, and s.e. smith review SAY WHAT YOU WILL

I really enjoyed the discussion and getting to chat with Courtney and s.e.  It’s a long time since I’ve got to chat disability with knowledge people with similar views to me.  And to get to do it in the context of a book was even better.

I liked the book more than I think comes across in the review until I started thinking in depth afterwards about how sucky the disability aspects were. I don’t think I’d recommend it though.

It was obvious from the word go that the disability stuff was a bit OTT and bad but then when I started chatting with my fellow contributors and thinking about the whats and whys.  I think it’s easy when you’re reading a book and caught up in the plot to overlook the sucky bits but not when reviewing and discussion.  And I wouldn’t want a teen I cared about with either CP or OCD (or actually any teen) to think the portrayal of the characters and the way they were treated was OK.

The Longest Six Months Ever

My first ever shift as a CAB volunteer was Wednesday 1st September 2004.

I was looking for paid work and wanted to do some volunteering to keep me busy whilst Iooked and so I had something work wise to put on my CV.  I was going to do admin and I’d said I thought I’d do six months.  I wasn’t going to train as an adviser because you really needed to commit 12 – 18 months for that.

But then very quickly I was going to train to be an adviser.  And then social policy came into my role there. Followed by gateway assessor.  I can’t remember which way round those last two happened but I think it was that way round.  It’s strange I can’t remember when they were both a big deal when they happened.  And I love doing gateway now but I was so nervous of it when it came in.

Then I’d been there a year and that seemed strange.  A few more years passed and I’m suddenly one of the ones who’ve been volunteering the longest.  And now, today, it’s been ten years.  It’s a bit like “holy crap how did that happen, surely I’m still 22 and I only graduated a few months ago?!”

I thought it would feel like a big deal and that when I was in the bureau this afternoon doing social policy I’d be thinking about it a lot.  Because sometimes I feel I’ve not achieved a lot with my life since I graduated.  I’ve done a lot, I know I have, but not necessarily the big life events people focus on.  I’m OK with that – but it can be something I struggle with on milestones.

But actually I forgot until a few minutes ago. And really it’s just another day.

Whenever I talk to someone (often a new volunteer) about how I got involved in CAB and how long I’ve been there I often joke about it being the longest “six months” ever.

And it has but it’s been worth it, I’ve had laughs, made friends and enjoyed it.  It’s stressful and you can’t always help people.  I’ve probably advised hundreds of clients and I can’t remember most of them but I hope I’ve made a difference.

My “six months” of volunteering will probably continue a few more years.  But, if I’m completely honest I do hope I’m not sat here on 1st September 2024 writing about how I’ve been there 20 years.

It’ll be OK if I am though.