Manchester

darknessI was shaken awake at 1am this morning by The Teenager.

He had watched hours of rolling news of the atrocity in Manchester and couldn’t bear to be alone any longer.

We sat together downstairs, watching the tv, discussing what we were witnessing, both of us crying.

His father is from Manchester and it is a city he has frequently visited to catch up with his grandparents. He has friends there and they meet up to go to football matches, restaurants, shopping. He is due to travel there on Saturday to watch a concert at Old Trafford.

He was adamant his plans wouldn’t change and mentioned he has grown up with terrorism. It is a topic we have had to return to over and over, as I’m sure it is with other parents. We were still living in London when Hammersmith Bridge was bombed in 2000. The day the Towers fell, I left work early, picked him up from nursery and held him tight, watching the news in horror as the Manhattan I had lived in and loved seemed to disintegrate before my eyes.

When 7/7 happened, he began to have nightmares. He travelled through to London every month to see his father and had been doing so since he was four. He loved travelling on the Underground. Now he was six and it took months to work through his fears and he often woke screaming in the early hours.

Together we watched the events in Paris in 2015. There were more discussions. How were we to respond to this roll call of tragedy? We were helpless bystanders and could do nothing.

And now Manchester, an attack deliberately aimed at young people. People like The Teenager. I never like to write meaningless tweets or posts, but my heart is truly breaking for all the parents affected by this.

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What’s Five Years Between Friends?

fiveWhen I was a kid, five years was the difference between mittens with a string through both sleeves and a proper pair of gloves to make snowballs with stones in them (I grew up in Scotland, natch).

Or being in Primary School and Secondary, where you got your head flushed down the toilet on a daily basis.

Five years is huge. Massive. Like, really big.

Now, on the cusp of my five year MS-Versary, it feels … weird. I don’t feel that much older or more informed. I still tug those metaphorical mittens, making sure they’re safely attached.

Perhaps with an illness like MS, with so many new medicines and numerous medical trials, we struggle to find out exactly where we fit in the MS Scale, Bad to Worse.

I remember clearly the night before My Diagnosis. It was Make Or Break. I was going to present my neurologist with every last scrap of evidence (carefully assembled in my MS Notebook of ‘Most Notable and Curious Symptoms’). I was fully armed. After ten months of wandering in the wilderness, experiencing relapse after relapse, I was ready.

As it was, that same neurologist peered at my brain on his computer and said, ‘yes, MS’.

I was stunned, hugged my MS nurse for a very long time, clutched the leaflets she gave me, went downstairs and bought a Boots Meal Deal for lunch.

I went home. I cried. A lot.

Now, five years on. I’m much more savvy, sure. I’ve re-adapted a whole lot of things in my life. My main aim upon being diagnosed was to get my son in to University and I’m now mere months away. I’ve almost done it.

However, he’s no longer fooled with my Sofa Command Centre. It scares him when I sleep a lot and I don’t blame him. This last relapse has been a cruel trial at one of the most important junctions of his life.

But I’m still here.

I’m sanguine now, I think. I hope. Life is easier now I have accepted how much more difficult it is. Which sounds strange, I know. Last week, I thought my epic relapse was over and then, blam, I fell asleep twice in one day. First time was on a site visit. I was in the van, which was a bit awkward -the boss woke me up strapping soil pipes to the roof and I thought I was being attacked by vampire snakes.

I’ve taken to working in our new office, which is lovely as I have coffee on tap and I can play music on the Mac. I create colourful charts and add up scary figures for the boss.

Ultimately, this MS-Versary will be understated. Long gone are the days of my Pity Party For One. I don’t rant and rave. I don’t rail against the injustice. I will only put up one banner, and have two or three party poppers.

I will reflect. On what it is to be human. We will all get sick. Just some of us sooner than others, natch?

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You Don’t Matter …

marchThere are 13 million disabled people in the UK, with 89% of them eligible to vote in the upcoming General Election.

13 million.

Have you heard any of the political parties address us and our needs directly during the election campaign?

Have you been overwhelmed with election promises about rolling back the savage cuts and stigma we have faced since the recession began way back in 2008?

Of course you haven’t. We don’t matter. Our purpose is purely as a scapegoat – when the chips are down, blame the people least likely to be able to fight back. It’s cheap but brutally effective. According to the tabloid newspapers, we all drive top-of-the-range free cars, doss around at home, unwilling to work and more than happy to leech off the state.

Yet this election is central to our future and we need to make our voices heard. A few facts:

  • 1 in 5 disabled people struggle to pay for food.
  • 1 in 6 wear a coat indoors as they are unable to afford heating.
  • The number of physically disabled people deemed homeless has increased almost 50% between 2010 and 2016.
  • Motability cars are being removed from disabled people at the rate of 700 a week – or 35,000 a year – due to reassessment from DLA to PIP.
  • 85% of people with MS will be unemployed within 10 years of diagnosis.

If I hear (No Saint) Theresa May appeal once more to ‘ordinary hard-working people’, I will scream. What is ordinary? Normal? What if I’m disabled and still work hard? Well, Theresa, I guess that makes me extraordinary, given the almost insurmountable barriers in my way.

At the last general election, I cornered one of our MP-hopefuls in the street as he was campaigning. I politely asked him what he was going to do about the disabled parking abuses rife in this area. He couldn’t get away quick enough. It’s a non-problem. I challenged someone who had parked, without a blue badge, in a supermarket car park on Monday at around 8am. His reply? ‘Disabled people don’t get up early, what’s your problem? Now **** off’.

It seems we face a battle on two fronts – being ignored by all the main political parties and the increasing hostility by the general public (whipped up to almost hysterical levels by the media, owned by billionaire political party donors).

I despair. Frankly, I’m worried.

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London …

londonI ♥ London.

The Teenager was born in London and the city always holds a very special place in my heart.

So to travel down there for the MS Society Awards as a finalist in the Campaigner category was wonderful.

Sadly, The Teenager was studying, so I took my Boss and best friend, Tony, as my companion and human walking stick.

The event was to take place in County Hall, overlooking Parliament and right next to the London Eye. The location could not be more perfect – our hotel was just a few metres from the venue. We travelled down the night before and wandered around the banks of the Thames, ending up in a little Turkish restaurant.

The next day we had coffee at the South Bank Centre and then got ready for the ceremony. Or, I did. The Boss went for a walk, I panicked about my outfit, my weight, my balance, my eyelashes.

Anyway, when we got there, nothing else mattered except for meeting the most incredible people. Truly, the Awards are amazing. There was a chance to catch up with most people beforehand but there just wasn’t enough time until we were called in to lunch, and the Awards.

Reader, I didn’t win, but to be a Finalist is a prize in itself. I felt as if I was floating on air and to make it even more special, Lord Dubs was on my table. The Lord Dubs.

Back in the hotel, I changed in to jeans and comfortable shoes and made a wibbly beeline for Foyles, the bookstore. I bought a couple of books and literary magazines (half of which are waaaay beyond me), and snaffled a few of the free bookmarks. We had a drink at the theatre and wandered back to the hotel before collapsing from exhaustion.

I love London. I love the buzz, the energy, the thrill. But, when I could barely walk down the South Bank without help, I knew times had changed. It seems like only a few short years ago that I would take my newborn/toddler on endless walks down the same streets. Miles and miles and miles. And now, it’s metres before I grasp the nearest arm (usually The Boss, sometimes a complete stranger).

And now I am back home, exhausted, thrilled and filled to the brim with emotion. The Awards may showcase the finalists, but there are so many of us living day to day with MS. We are all finalists, winners, whatever you want to call it.

I may not be a winner, but I will still speak up, speak out and speak loud about the inequalities we face on a daily basis. The most heartening story I heard was that when I was speaking about employment discrimination last year on the radio, someone called in to say their employer was brilliant. That same employer won an MS Society award on Friday…

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I’m A Finalist …

tubeWho would have thought one little line in a blog post would lead to so much?

That’s what happened when I mentioned in passing that I had been refused a taxi at Carmarthen train station, on my way to a meeting (it was a short fare, I offered a decent trip but he didn’t want to lose his place in the queue – of three taxis …)

My post was actually about The Teenager and whether he (and the cat) would survive me being away for one night.

The media picked up on it and long story short, I won the case against the taxi driver, after enduring a gruelling grilling from the Licensing Committee (the driver denied the altercation ever took place – CCTV proved otherwise). It was uncomfortable to say the least and I asked for him not to be punished unduly (this was Christmas, a prime season for taxis). All I wanted was a little more awareness.

I spoke on the radio, appeared in news articles and was filmed at home during a relapse – hence my stunned, pale face. Not helped by the fact that I was wearing a white blouse.

Anyway, I am now a finalist for the MS Awards, in the Campaigner category, and a big thank you to whoever nominated me. I’m due to go to London on Thursday evening, ready for the ceremony on Friday. However, I’m a little wary as, well, um, I’m big. Huge.

I ordered a bunch of clothes off various outfits and split seams, cried and stamped my foot.

I sent them all back.

I ordered more, and miracle of miracles, one of them actually fits me. The size will remain a closely-guarded secret. And so it is, I will be all in black – slimming, lol – mysterious, and, well, slimming, hopefully.

I met a friend for coffee this morning as I’m working from home, so can spread out the paperwork over the whole day. She bigged me up and told me to sail forth and go for it.

I will try my hardest. In the grand scheme of things (a phrase we say a lot in work), does it really matter? The best part of being there will be meeting everyone else – I’ve been to two other ceremonies (yup, I lost out twice before) and really, the people make it. There are so many inspiring, incredible and utterly gobsmackingly amazing people, it’s just a joy to be in their company.

So with that in mind, I will big myself up (lol), push my shoulders back and, um, sail? Does one sail after reaching a certain size?

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