A long awaited train trip

A month ago I finally got to go on a special train trip that I was originally supposed to do in 2017. It got cancelled then and in 2018 I couldn’t manage it but after much debate and my changing my mind twice we pulled it off in March.

I went to London for what turned out to be three nights (one at Stratford and two at St Pancras) and on one of the days I went down for a quick breakfast as soon as they started serving at 6:30 am and then dived across to St Pancras for 7 where I met a friend and we got the Eurostar across to Brussels for the day.

We went out of the second train of the day at 8:16 (if you need assisted travel you have to be there 75 minutes before the train so we didn’t think the 6 something was achievable) and then got the last train back which got back to London at just after 9:30 our time. We had about 9 hours in Brussels but that included the 75 minutes we needed to check in, sort assisted travel etc.

The Eurostar was very accessible on board, easy to get on and a spacious wheelchair space. They are in Business Premier and Standard Premier and both are the same price. Annoying, I couldn’t find any Business Premier wheelchair spaces on the trains we wanted in the week we were looking at going but Standard Premier was very nice, we got a light meal on board (wine on the way back!) and because of my chair we were allowed to go and wait in the Business Premier lounge regardless.

The staff were very helpful in both London and Brussels but the actual people getting me on and off the trains in London were a bit rubbish. I have always said that London stations aren’t great at assisted travel so some things never change! I was really impressed with the people who did the actual assistance on and off the trains in Brussels.

The very first thing that we did when getting off the train in Brussels was have a minor problem getting off the platform because of a broken lift. Again with the some things never change!

Looking back I did have a good time but I will admit that one or two parts of the day were tricky and I got a bit upset at one point wishing perhaps that we hadn’t gone.

I travelled abroad a fair amount with family as a child and a teen but I didn’t get my first powerchair until just after I graduated at 22. Although I have been abroad since then I hadn’t been abroad for over 10 years and this was the first time I went abroad using a powerchair (although I did briefly hire one abroad some years before I got my own, I was staying in a hotel that catered specifically to the disabled traveller at that point though).

Before we went I did a lot of research on accessibility and things to do. I found a particular s written by a regular traveller called John Morris who uses a powerchair especially helpful, that guide is here

I will add that one of the big problems we had was with a lack of dropped kerbs (I swear it seems like no one in Brussels, or at least the part we were in, has heard of such a thing). I reread the information John Morris had posted about what he calls “rollability of sidewalks” (he dedicates an entire post to this in his Brussels travel guide) on the train home and I have to say my experience doesn’t match his.

However I think confidence in your own abilities and that of your wheelchair goes a long way to making things accessible. I certainly got my chair up and down higher kerbs than I usually was and coped fine (although my friend did describe my chair as a stunt chair at one point). That half boosted my confidence, half made me worry about breaking my chair and getting stuck.

We did manage to get quite a lot done but there were a couple of things I’d hoped to do we couldn’t physically get too despite trying (rubbish dropped kerbs and a steep hill meaning I was concerned about not having enough charge). I struggled mentally with that and feeling like I wasn’t making the most of it at the time (particularly because it was windy, drizzly on and off and not warm) but afterwards, looking back and less tired I’m thrilled with what we did do.

We started off walking to Mannekin Pis which is a famous statue. Then we went to La Grand Place which is one of the Unesco World Heritage sites. It was a really impressive square with wonderful architecture but none of the buildings are wheelchair accessible. It’s still worth a visit though.

Next we had a relatively long wander around while trying to get to Mont des Artes which we didn’t managed to get to as I mentioned above. I did enjoy just seeing what was happening and the odd interesting thing we spotted. There is a large collection of street art in Brussels, particularly comic book murals. I love street art so we kept our eyes peeled and managed to see 9 or 10 of them with no effort which I was thrilled by.

Then we went to Galleries Royal Saint Hubert which is a shopping centre famous for it’s architecture. We went to a bar in there for our Belgian snack of choice (both glad for a rest by this point!) I had Frites and C, the friend who I was with had a waffle (I’m not a dessert fan so I skipped the traditional Belgian treat). We visited a couple of chocolate shops in their after our food.

Once we’d eaten we went on rather a hunt to find an accessible toilet and eventually found a Marriot hotel which C went into and sweet talked them into opening the accessible entrance (the main door was a revolving one and there was a locked regular door next to it) and letting me use the facilities. Usually McDonalds is the answer to that problem but the only one we found wasn’t suitable.

We went back to wandering for a fair while after that, saw a few interesting things and spotted some more street art but didn’t do or see anything specific. Then we made it back to the train station about an hour before we needed to, I got another snack and we just hung out until it was time to check in and we could avail ourselves of the business class lounge again. I’d drained my batteries from 10 bars to 3 by that point so I had to sit still while C went to investigate the food court at the station as I knew a low battery warning wasn’t far off and I had to get on the train and back to my hotel in London (it’s about a third of a mile). I was pleased to see the Belgian Eurostar business lounge had UK sockets so I could top my poor chair up (I had taken an EU adaptor but was glad not to need it).

All in all it was an exhausting but fun day. I’d definitely go on Eurostar again and I would probably go to Brussels again. I hope to do a day trip to Paris similar to this at some point although at the moment I must admit the lure of a trip to Amsterdam is higher. That would need to be a longer trip (more than a day) and would be trickier as you have to change trains in Brussels so it might be a while before that can happen (not this year).

At The Moment – 14th March

This is the first thing I’ve written this month. Not good but also good to be putting fingers to keyboard once again.

So what’s happened since I last wrote?

The bathroom is finished but there is a problem with some of the paint as the wall is still drying out. It looks rather grim but I’m told anything they do now will need to be done again once the wall is dry so there is no point.

I tied myself in absolute knots over costs and logistics and about a million other things that on the grand scheme of things probably don’t matter but I now have very exciting plans to do something in a couple of weeks that I’ve wanted to do for years. I’ve spent a lot of time lately sorting that out and thinking about it and planning etc. I probably don’t have time to fit in even half of what I’ve thought of. But sometimes I think the pre-visit excitement and planning etc is a big part of the fun. And yes, I am being deliberately cryptic.

Mum and I went to see Kinky Boots the Musical. I wrote a separate blog post about that but it was really good and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the New Theatre less but I was glad to get there again and draw a line to something that had lingered for a long time. I think when I wrote the blog before I said I wasn’t sure if we would if we would go again but I’m still listening to the soundtrack a few weeks later and I think we probably would (or I would at least)

Last weekend I went to Birmingham to meet up with my friend Rachel who I went to uni with. We had a good wander round and a catch up in an Italian restaurant. I had some yummy spaghetti.

I’m making slower than I’d like but consistent progress on a crochet blanket in blues which I’d say is why I haven’t been writing. But that’s not the full story, it’s why I haven’t been writing this last week since I started it but not before that. I have been reading but not a lot and I haven’t been finishing books! Said crochet blanket is why I haven’t done much reading this week although I do have an audiobook on in the background sometimes.

At the moment – 22nd Feb 19

It’s been a frustrating week but I think (hope) it’s all about to come good.

The work for my bathroom did actually drag into a second week and all the way until today. They couldn’t lay the floor on Friday because it wasn’t dry, came back Monday and it still wasn’t dry plus there was obvious water where there shouldn’t have been (given I’d not been able to use the shower). At which point they discovered the reason I’ve had so many problems with my shower is because at some point in the work last year someone drilled into a waste pipe. So that had to be fixed and some of the work redone. But it’s done and I have a new floor and new paint and the guy whose done most of the work went to get them bacon sandwiches this morning and got me one too so it’s all good.

I saw a carer this morning who I hadn’t seen for a few months and she was impressed or even shocked when she saw how much better my legs look, particularly my left. Mum said similar last week when we went to Cornerstone so I could borrow their level access shower. I’m trying not to get too excited about that because the nature of lymphoedema means it will soon change again. 

Last weekend I went with my brother and his family to a play of the Giant Jam Sandwich which is a book we all love. Ben had it when he was a child (it was his favourite) and I bought it for Henry for his very first Christmas when he was just over two months old. It was a lot of fun and we all enjoyed it, especially Henry. As he also loved the kids play Mum and I took him too last year I think we might need to start a tradition.

My writer’s group put on a feedback evening last night and I read the first 500 or so words of a novel I started writing a few years ago. I’ve been picking at the idea again recently so might start rewriting it. The feedback was useful but I haven’t decided what to do about the novel.

Reasons why Emma isn’t blogging

I was talking about this blogtober challenge at my writers group yesterday. Saying how I either need to start blogging again properly or give it up, not keep posting apologies and excuses. This challenge will be kill or cure for my “bloggers block” I reckon.

But today was very much a day not designed for blogging.

It was a day for only a little internet. For time spent wandering round a bookshop (only to leave empty handed). For lunch with a friend, followed by a large glass of wine at 2pm. For starting a new book on the train to lunch and finishing it once I got home. For entirely too many chocolate biscuits and, shortly, a trip to a comedy gig.

It was lovely. And probably makes me a better blogger.

In which I’ve become one of those stories

When I was looking to buy my Quickie Salsa in 2012 I had to go to a new supplier. I’ve used them ever since.

It’s a family business and the guy who owns it brought me the demo chair out. He told me a bit about the business, a lot about the chair, and a few stories. The chair they did this to, the customer they did that for. About the techs going to rescue people whose chairs broke down and giving people a lift home if they were local and could get in a van. And one mostly irrelevant story about a friend of his with Spina Bifida.

Sometime later a friend of mine was looking for a new manual. She ended up buying from a different supplier but she looked at chairs with the one I use and spoke to the owner. Who told her his stories, the same as he did me. Including the “friend with Spina Bifida” one.

They were obviously something he told a lot of people.

Fast forward 6 years and I haven’t seen him for most of that time as his son deals with repairs and was the one who sold me my Jive. But yesterday he took some chairs out for a friend to trial. She’s nothing like local to me. And they’re Oxfordshire based but on the other side of the county. So neither of them knew the other knows me.

He started telling her the story of a customer, living in Didcot, who got caught in the rain a couple of months ago. It waterlogged the joystick which caused it to trip and need to be replaced. At which point she asked “Was that Emma Crees?”

It was me.

In the six years I’ve known them I’ve done a lot with my chairs, meaning they’ve done a lot to my chairs. Broken things to fix, and worn out things to replace. I find they tend to be very good at getting out quickly when it’s urgent and great in a crisis. But can keep me waiting when it’s routine – probably because the prioritise emergencies.

And I’ve heard versions of “we would expect that to wear out but maybe not this soon” and “I’ve not seen one this badly broke before” after many of my mishaps and misadventures.

I was a bit taken aback to discover I’ve become one of the owner’s stories. But I’m now wondering how many of their staff have a “customer who…” story that’s actually about me.

For the record I am the one who got caught in the rain, the one whose joystick poured water all over the tech when he disconnected it. The one who fell out of her chair on a moving minibus while strapped in. The one keeps breaking gas struts. And who had the tech muttering “hit a train?!” in a bemused tone after an incident on the tube last year (I hit something on the train as I boarded)

But I’m also the one who in between the fails has been to more places in my chairs than I can remember. Hugged friends, drunk cocktails. Advised CAB clients and advocated for my rights. Laughed and lived and to use an Instagram phrase, made memories.

Best Practice by Penny Parkes

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of Best Practice by Penny Parkes in exchange for an honest review. This is a book I’d have been buying on publication day if not as I totally love this series – it’s the third book in the Larkford series following Out of Practice and Practice Makes Perfect (along with the ebook short story Swept Away).

Here’s the blurb:

Dr Alice Walker has become accomplished at presenting a façade to the world – to anyone watching, she is the epitome of style, composure and professionalism. But perhaps it was to be expected that the cracks might begin to show at some point. Thankfully Grace is on hand to offer both friendship and support when it’s needed most.
 
Meanwhile, Dr Holly Graham has her hands full both professionally and personally. Planning a wedding with Taffy Jones is challenging enough, even before some surprising news changes everything. At least beloved Larkford resident, Elsie, still has a few tricks left up her sleeve!
 
Dr Dan Carter, on the other hand, has decided to throw himself into his career – the best antidote he’s found to unrequited love. When tragedy strikes in the heart of Larkford, Dan makes it his mission to help the community.

I mentioned above that I love these books – I actually think it’s my favourite series at the moment.  Before I read the first one I really thought it wasn’t going to be for me but I was proved wrong and three more installments later I’m left hoping there are many more!

Best Practice doesn’t disappoint. It has a brilliant feeling and moments that make me laugh.  But it also has it’s gritty heart in mouth moments  and others that just make you go “aww”. I really can’t say too much about this book or recommend it highly enough But you shouldn’t read this book if you haven’t read the others, go read those first. I don’t think you necessarily have to read them first as I think there’s enough set up that Best Practice could stand alone. You’d just be missing a couple of amazing books and probably wouldn’t enjoy this one as much.

I love seeing the characters grow and change and develop as real people. It’s just brilliantly done.  A few weeks ago I was at the Books and The City Spring Blogger Evening where Penny Parkes talked about Best Practice and how real the characters have become to her.  She shared a story about seeing a house for sale and thinking “Elsie’s house is for sale?!” and another about how her phone is full of pictures of info from the Drs surgery (and actually I was waiting at my Drs shortly after reading this and wondering whether the receptionists who get a bad stick were actually anything like the ones in the book and just how true to life it is)

Something else I loved was the fact that it was set rurally and had a brilliant community feel to it. I can’t think of another book I’ve read in the last year or so that does that so well.  I think this has a wide ranging appeal and is just brilliant.  Best Practice is definitely going to be in the running for my book of the year.

And I Would Walk 500 Miles…

Last Saturday marked six months since I got my Quickie Jive M (I think I can no longer call it my new powerchair). I had done 487 miles in that time.

I was, however, a tiny bit disappointed that I hadn’t done 500 miles because then I could have written a blog entry using the Proclaimers song for a title. I was still going to write a blog entry about having had the chair six months.  But I was taking my time getting round to it.  Then this morning I did my 500th mile.

So now I can both write a blog entry about having had the chair six months and using the proclaimers song for a title. This is silly but makes me happy.

That’s absolutely flown by in many ways.  And it blows my mind to have done so many miles. To have been so many places and done so many things that I wouldn’t have been able to without a powerchair. Some of which I wouldn’t have been able to do without this powerchair.

When the wheelchair tech delivered the chair he referred to it as “black beauty” (because I’d been so insistent on having it in black).  It’s still black now but wether he’d still call it beauty I don’t know – it’s muddy with the odd scratch and several loose bits – Mum had to come round as an emergency on Saturday when I found a bolt hanging out and tightened that and several other bits. One of which is already hugely loose again. And it’s noiser than it was.

The number of miles I’ve been doing per month has been lower over the last few months as I’ve been doing less in the cold weather.  And my wheelchair batteries are definitely not holding a charge as well as they were because of that cold.

I’m definitely looking forward to the warmer weather and getting out do more things again. I think my next big trip will be Birmingham to see Billy Elliot the Musical in April with a uni friend but I’ve got a date in the diary for cocktails in Reading with a twitter friend and other things are a work in progress.

It definitely feels appropriate to end this entry like this

…and I would walk 500 more!

Reading Down My TBR Pile – Weeks Three and Four

I didn’t write an entry about what I’d been reading last week because I didn’t finish a single book the week before.  I have finished some books since then so I’m back updating this week.

I may also have bought three books and received a review book last week (and received another review book the week before) but we won’t talk about that!

The Secret Life of Lucy Lovecake by Pippa James

This was a fun book and I enjoyed it a lot.  I took part in the blog tour for it and my full review can be read here.

Our Tiny Useless Hearts by Toni Jordan

Before Christmas I requested another book to review and when it came I found a copy of Our Tiny Useless Hearts had been included in the parcel too.  It was a nice surprise especially because it was a book I hadn’t heard of and on the face of it, it appeared to be a book that I’d really enjoy.

Unfortunately it fell somewhat short for me and I felt like it wasn’t holding my attention well.  I did like several of the characters and would definitely like to read more about the MC, Janice.  And her two nieces were brilliant, kid characters can be hard to write but I thought these were done well.

There were a few funny moments that I liked but in other places it just felt ridiculous.  It’s not a bad book, it just wasn’t for me – I think I would have enjoyed it more if it hadn’t been so many characters with all their complex interactions going on at the same time. If I lived in that house I’d have to move out!

White Lies and Wishes by Cathy Bramley

I don’t have a favourite author as such but Cathy Bramley is definitely one of my favourites. I would highly recommend checking out her books if you haven’t read them yet as I’ve enjoyed them all.

Several of her books have come out in installments and having read two of those as whole books and two of those in installments I’d say definitely wait for the whole book to come out rather than installments. I think I enjoyed those a lot more but it’s really hard to resist the installments as they come out!  So for that reason I was glad that White Lies and Wishes was just released as one whole book. I read it in two long sittings over three days and it was just brilliant to lose myself in it.

White Lies and Wishes was fab. I loved seeing the characters grow and change through it. And I especially liked the unusual beginning and unexpected moments that were scattered throughout.

NCTJ Level 3 Certificate in Foundation Journalism

In October 2015 I started studying for a Level 3 Certificate in Foundation Journalism.  This was an NCTJ (National College for the Training of Journalists) qualification and it involved a 1 day session each month at an accredited centre in Oxford.

The course turned out to be very different to what I expected. It’s a very new course (it was the first year it was available but it had been piloted the year before) and I think perhaps that played a role in that.  But I enjoyed the discussions we had and it made me write some pieces I never would have done.  My piece Death in the Facebook Age is one and remains one of the best things I think I wrote last year.

On the whole I’m glad I did the course. I’m still in touch with several of the people I met through it via Facebook and have met up with a couple of them since it ended. We have plans to meet up again this week and perhaps we’ll be able to arrange to meet up with others from the course in the future. It’s something I’ve been thinking about.

Previously I’ve only ever done courses that were wholy academic (like my degree) or things like writing or craft workshops  to learn something for fun. Doing a more vocational course like this was a new experience and I keep changing my mind about whether I’d want to do a vocational course again. I definitely missed the more structured aspects of academic learning.

I knew in early December that I’d passed the course and the week before last I finally received my certificate in the post.  Soha had paid for me to do the course (and for my taxis to get there) as a thank you for my work on Tenants Times. And they asked me to take my certificate in when I had it.

Me with my NCTJ certificate. I’m in my powerchair and wearing a green fleece. It was taken in an office and the TT blog can be seen on the computer screen behind me.

So I did and they took a photo of my with it which was shared on their plasma screens in their offices and also on their social media. I shared the posts on my FB and twitter too.

And the next day I saw that my Mum had liked the post and realised I’d never mentioned to any of my family that I’d got my certificate at last. A few days ago she came round and I showed it to her and said “I never told you I’d got this did I?” and she said “you didn’t tell me you’d passed the course.” Which means I didn’t tell any of my family.

So that looks like a pass for the course and a fail on keeping everyone else informed!

 

 

The Secret Life of Lucy Lovecake by Pippa James

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for The Secret Life of Lucy Lovecake by Pippa James.  I’d like to thank the publishers for my copy of the book.

Daisy Delaney’s life is pancake-flat. A talented baker and passionate lingerie specialist, she has wound up with no one to bake for and a career that hasn’t proved successful. But when she starts a delicious relationship with famous French author-chef, Michel Amiel, everything begins to look a bit more exciting.

That is until Michel’s bestselling cookbook is knocked off the top spot by newcomer ‘Lucy Lovecake’. His outdated recipes slide down the charts, while the popularity of Lucy Lovecake’s new dating cookbook is rising like the perfect sponge.

 

The Secret Life of Lucy Lovecake was a lot of fun to read.  I really enjoyed it and can’t remember the last time a book left me with such a good feeling when I finished it. Perfect for a very cold and miserable evening.  In fact I picked this up intending to read the first two chapters and then make something some dinner. I started reading and the next think I knew it was  7pm, I was 50+ pages in and really wishing there was someone who could make me dinner so I didn’t need to put it down.

I can’t decide who my favourite character is.  I should probably say Daisy and I did really like her.  But I must admit to having a soft spot for her group of friends because they were just brilliant and the sort of friends every girl wants. I would tell you who my least favourite character was but that would be a massive spoiler.  I will admit to changing my mind a few times!

One thing I didn’t expect when reading this was how much it inspired me.  I thought it might make me crave sweet treats and it did. But reading the sections where Daisy is writing and trying to get published really made me want to get my writing out and get going with it again.  Just as soon as I finished reading the book.

Pippa James is to be congratulated for producing such a brilliant book with The Secret Life of Lucy Lovecake. It made me laugh and left me with a good feeling, a smile on my face and lots of inspiration.

Check out the other posts on the blog tour to find out more