Farewell October

Just a quick post today. As promised here are this years pumpkins. Unlikely to win any awards, granted, but not too shabby I reckon. They’ll do for me anyway.

Not one to put anything to waste, I thought I’d try my hand at making spiced pumpkin soup for the second time. The first and last attempt was a few years back, and so I decided it was about time to give it another go.

All you need to do is dice the pumpkin flesh into small pieces, chuck in a saucepan with a drizzle of oil and reduce down on a medium heat. Once softened, add onion, tomato purée, spices of your choice (no more than half a teaspoon) and a little double cream. Heat through, season to taste and blend for a smooth texture.

Do excuse the ice cream pot folks. This is going home with my brother so that he can warm it up for his supper. What a wonderful sister I am!

As suggested in my previous post, I chose to simply roast the pumpkin seeds for 20 minutes. Served in a snack bowl for a light bite on Halloween night, you can’t go wrong with this easy treat.

Admittedly I’m not looking forward to the dark days and frosty nights that winter will surely bring. The invigorating colours of autumn will be greatly missed, as will the mild temperatures we’ve experienced of late. Nevertheless, embrace it and face it I say, after all it’s headed our way.

Will you be sad to wave goodbye to October, or are you counting down the days to Christmas now that Halloween is almost over for another year?

Halloween is on the way…

I love Halloween, always have always will. I can’t explain exactly why I love it so much, after all nothing particularly exciting happens. I guess it just appeals to my inner child. Either that or it’s my curious fascination with the macabre! I’ve never attended a themed party nor have I been trick or treating as a kid. My parents are quite conservative and so wouldn’t allow myself or my brothers to go “bothering people for treats”.

As an adult I’m more of a ‘cosy night in’ type anyway, so my ideal Hallows’ eve involves cosying up in front of a wood burning fire with a hot chocolate, a scary film and the lights out. Wild eh!

Black dog in place of a black cat?

I must admit I really don’t scare easily. I find most horror films predictable and silly rather than spooky. I can honestly say I’ve never watched a film that has genuinely frightened me. However, when channel flicking one night, by chance I caught one that made a memorable impression…

Film recommendation:

Saw (2004) Dir. James Wan

This is the first film by Aussie duo James Wan and writer/actor Leigh Whannell. On a minimal budget they made this really clever and creative film that has spawned a whole franchise.

The basic plot sees Oncologist Lawrence (Cary Elwes) and photographer Adam (Whannell) wake up in a filthy, dilapidated bathroom, both chained to pipes at opposite sides of the room. Between them lies the corpse of a man who holds in his hands a revolver and a cassette player. The two men soon realise that they’re only way of escape is to play along with the game set by the sadistic ‘Jigsaw’ killer.

Personally I wouldn’t bother with any of the sequels; as you would imagine they’re rather unimaginative and repetitive. However, the original Saw has a simple but great premise and a shocking concluding twist that will leave you gripped to your seat.

*Tip* if you have the patience to sit through a whole movie commentary, I thoroughly recommend you check this one out. An informative and animated discussion including impressions and plenty of laughs; you will see this psychological horror film from a whole new perspective.

Family Film:

Hocus Pocus (1993) Dir. Kenny Ortega

If you’re looking for a fun family film, you can’t beat this classic starring Bette Midler. Although it’s been over 20 years since it was made, it hasn’t dated and is still just as enjoyable as it was on its initial release. Midler, Kathy Najimy (Sister Act) and Sex and the City’s Sarah Jessica Parker, as the three witches are the standout attraction. Jam-packed with music, magic, adventure and plenty of laughs; both young and old will revel in the delights of this Disney experience.

Pumpkins:

If nothing else, you’ve got to carve a pumpkin for Halloween! It’s something simple you can do, especially with children, to partake in the seasonal celebrations. It’s fun, messy, creative and cost effective. To me it’s the first thing I associate with Halloween and as such my family and I carve one every year. We always intend put the removed flesh to good use, though we rarely do. My brother and I did make pumpkin soup a couple of years back which seemed to go down well!

Other pumpkin recipes you might want to consider include, of course, traditional pumpkin pie, as well as muffins, smoothies and even ice cream. A member of the squash family, you can also dice it into chunks and roast or bake it. You could use it in curry, casserole and risotto or carve out smaller pumpkins and stuff them with whatever you fancy; a slight variation on stuffed bell peppers.

And don’t forget the seeds! Pumpkin seeds are highly nutritious, containing iron, heart healthy magnesium, copper, manganese, protein, antioxidants and zinc for immune support. Naturally high in fibre and omega-3 oils, they’re hugely beneficial and easy to incorporate into your diet. Roast for 20 minutes for a quick and easy snack on the go, sprinkle over salads, porridge and muesli. You could add a few to your cakes, flapjacks and stews for extra crunch, make some pumpkin seed loaf, or you could simply blend until smooth for your very own pumpkin seed butter.

So when you’re eagerly carving away, please don’t cast aside the gift that’s inside. Proven to help the heart, liver and the immune system, these little seeds also act as an anti-inflammatory, a sedative for a good night’s sleep, and an insulin regulator. Essential for men and women, they have been found to promote prostate health and suppress menopausal symptoms. See, Halloween can actually be good for you!

I’ve not yet bought this years pumpkin so once it’s carved and ready for display, I’ll post some pictures for you. Every year I attempt a different design but for the moment I’m undecided which way to go. I warn you in advance though, limit your expectations (I can sense the excitement already). As previously mentioned, I have a muscle wasting condition and so must work within my means. I’ll not be producing anything too adventurous.

I’d love to hear all about your Halloween plans. Do you enjoy it as much as me or are you the type to shut the curtains and ignore the trick or treaters tapping at your door?

The Girl on the Train: British book vs. American adaptation

I’ve always been a movie buff, a regular cinema goer, and although I enjoy a good book every now and then, I’m not a big reader. Every year I encourage myself to read more, keep the mind active. After all reading’s good for you, right? But alas, it never materialises. It’s so much easier and less time-consuming to watch the film adaptation; two hours allows you to absorb the whole plot plus a musical score. You don’t get scores and soundtracks in books do you! Nevertheless, my conscience continues to creep up on me; that sensible voice at the back of my mind telling me to read. ‘Stop procrastinating, stop playing on your mobile phone, stop browsing Amazon for gadgets and gizmos you don’t need. Just read a book, a whole book’.

It was only when I caught the trailer for the recently released film, The Girl on the Train, that I suddenly decided I would read the best seller before allowing myself to see the much anticipated film. A good incentive I thought; I love films and was instantly grabbed by the look of this one. Therefore, Paula Hawkins novel might be a good place to start me on the track to regular reading.

Warning: This review contains spoilers.

girl-on-train-book-photo
Plot: Hawkins psychological thriller is narrated by three women: the eponymous Girl, 32 year-old Rachel Watson; Megan and Anna. Rachel is a reckless alcoholic who divorced Tom following his affair with the beautiful Anna, whom he later married and fathered a daughter with. The new Watsons now live in the house he once shared with Rachel, while she is forced to rent a room in the home of her friend Cathy. Every day Rachel takes the train from Ashbury to London, claiming she’s commuting for work when, unbeknownst to Cathy, she lost her job due to her excessive drinking. Her days, like her commute, represent the typical monotony of life as an alcoholic. A dependence on gin and tonic in particular leads to blackouts, aggression, injury and memory loss.

Rachel’s daily journey passes Blenheim road in Witney where she lived with Tom, offering her a passengers’ insight into his new life. Seemingly obsessed with her former husband, she continually harasses him and Anna to the extreme; calling and even visiting their residence unannounced. A few houses down from the Watsons, live Megan and Scott Hipwell, an attractive young couple on whom Rachel becomes fixated. She watches them from the train and invents for herself an idealised version of their life, investing in them, in their love for each other and in their perfect marriage. So when Rachel sees Megan kissing a man other than her husband, her illusion is shattered. Angry and disappointed, she spends the night binging, then wakes in a bloody and bruised state with no memory of the night before.

It soon transpires that Megan Hipwell is missing, and having seen Rachel drunkenly stumbling around the area on the night in question, Anna reports her to the police. Rachel denies any knowledge of Megan yet feels instinctively that she is somehow involved, and so she conducts a self-led investigation. She later decides to report having witnessed Megan with the unidentified man, suggesting they were having an affair and that he must therefore be involved in her disappearance. She meddles further, contacting and lying to Scott about having known Megan, and learning that the man in question is Kamal Abdic, Megan’s therapist.

Disturbed by her blackout and intent on piecing together the series of events surrounding what evolves to be a murder; Rachel finds a much needed purpose. It emerges that Megan was pregnant at the time of her death, though neither Scott nor Kamal are the father. Anna, despondent at the persistence of Rachel’s presence and harassment, begins to question Tom’s reluctance to report his ex-wife to the police. She uncovers a spare mobile phone belonging to Megan and realises that her husband, like Kamal, had also been having an affair with her.

Increasingly able to certify her own memories, Rachel not only unveils facts about the night of Megan’s disappearance, but also about her former life with Tom. A skilled manipulator, he had blindsided Rachel for years, causing her to believe his accusations and blame herself. When unable to conceive, he betrayed her by sleeping with Anna, and then proceeded to cheat on Anna with Megan who became pregnant with his child. Rachel seeks to warn Anna at the family home, but Tom returns and a violent confrontation ensues, the result of which sees both Rachel and Anna participate in Tom’s death.

We learn that what Rachel had seen that night in her drunken stupor was Megan getting into Tom’s car. Thinking initially that it was Anna and not Megan, due to their uncanny resemblance, Rachel called after her and incurred her injuries when Tom approached and attacked her. Following this, the car drove away to obscure woodland where Megan informed Tom of her pregnancy. Unable to pressure her into pursuing an abortion, Tom murdered and hurriedly buried her in a shallow grave.

My thoughts: A first person narrative told from the point of view of three interwoven women, I personally found the novel a fairly easy read. Each chapter is voiced by Rachel, Anna or Megan, and as such the perspective changes considerably, along with the dates; posing the only minor challenge for the reader. The pace at times was for me a little slow and drawn out, mainly throughout Rachel’s chapters, though this serves to represent the drudgery of her purposeless existence. She’s a divorced, unemployed, alcoholic and like her pointless daily commute into London, her life is headed nowhere. However, the pace and tension picked up substantially in the final third of the book. A dark and dramatic conclusion rooted in the realms of reality will maintain your attention and keep you enthralled to the last.

A heavily character driven plot, every individual we meet is flawed and hard to really care about. I sympathized with Rachel’s downfall; her life having disintegrated following a failed IVF attempt and her husband’s affair. After Tom marries the much more beautiful Anna with whom he has a daughter, Rachel completely lets herself go. Reason enough to reach for the bottle, or in this case a can of gin and tonic. But as her obsession with Megan’s case unfolds, her increasingly extreme actions stem from pure desperation and loneliness. Her erratic behaviour and confused recollections cause both she and the reader to suspect that she could be the killer. Nonetheless, I have to admit that by just over half way through, I correctly judged that Tom was the guilty party. Though by no means apparent, it appeared to me that any of the other characters would have been too obvious.

Inevitable comparisons have been made with its recent predecessor, American author Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Though understandable, The Girl on the Train, or more accurately the woman on the train, is a much less sensationalised psychological thriller. Furthermore, it is a thoroughly British psychological thriller touching on themes such as voyeurism, addiction, the psyche and even Feminism. This consideration regarding the novel’s ‘Britishness’ brings me to its newly released screen adaptation.

Directed by the American Tate Taylor, the film starring British actress Emily Blunt is significantly set in New York as opposed to London. Blunt as Rachel travels the Hudson line to Manhattan, and leafy Westchester takes the place of the Victorian town of Witney. We see our anti-heroine drinking in Grand Centrals iconic Oyster Bar rather than raiding an off license for pre-mixed cans of gin and tonic, as in the novel. Even Central Park is featured, specifically the Untermeyer Fountain and its sculpture of three dancing maidens; a physical representation of the three female voices. Consequently, the stop-start nature of London’s rail works and the sense of hustle and bustle is lost in the films glossy New York scenery. Whereas I had envisaged a grittier, greyer world more reminiscent of ITV’s Broadchurch; Tate Taylor’s reimagining presents a moodier, broodier, more sexualised James Patterson vibe.

The characters in the film are underdeveloped and their traits and actions are never fully explored. There’s far too much ‘Hollywood’ posing and as a result they lack dimension, humanity and are less sympathetic than Hawkins’ inventions. I think had I not read the book first I would have struggled to follow and comprehend the events as depicted on the screen since so much detail has been casually brushed over. For example, Megan’s dead brother Ben whom she loved dearly and made future plans with, is briefly mentioned only once.

As much as I love Emily Blunt, she is a far cry from Hawkins’ creation. She certainly doesn’t have the physicality to portray an overweight, bloated, lacklustre binge drinker and as Hawkins herself says, she is far too beautiful. Nevertheless, she retains her English accent, presumably to hark back to the story’s original setting. Then again, perhaps it was just easier than adopting the Manhattan drawl? That aside, Blunt gives her all and offers a convincing portrayal of a woman on the edge. Hers is by far the standout performance. For the most part, all characters are well cast though some such as Edgar Ramirez who plays Kamal Abdic are somewhat underused.

Overall, I’d recommend saving your money on a cinema ticket. While it’s worth a watch, I feel this was a missed opportunity. Had the filmmakers followed Hawkins lead more closely in terms of tone, setting and character focus, it could have received the same applause as David Fincher’s Gone Girl. By all means indulge in the novel, you won’t be disappointed. If like Rachel, you are a daily commuter, maybe even consider reading it on the train for added effect.

Why ‘Life on the slow lane’?

I have so many ideas buzzing around my head for future blog posts, but as yet no specific aim or objective. This blog, at present, lacks a specific purpose and serves no function other than to allow me the space to vent. However, in time I hope that I may also be able to advise others in a similar position. By this I mean I endeavour to help, support and share information with others living with muscular dystrophy. I’m not in any way professionally qualified to counsel on this topic. All I have to offer is my own personal experience, that being almost thirty years with me, myself and Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy. I will get to the ins and outs of how this condition affects me at a later date, but first I feel I should explain my reasoning behind the naming of my blog.

So, why ‘Life on the slow lane’? Well first of all, I don’t walk. At all. I roll. Let me clarify, I’m not a skateboarder, a rollerblader, a cyclist or a car enthusiast. I’m a wheelchair user. My chair of choice is the Quantum 600 powerchair by Pride Mobility. It allows me to go wherever a 16+ stone wheelchair can go. But it can only move at a maximum velocity of 5mph. This limited, ambling pace can be considered a metaphor for my life.

I regard myself to be living life on the slow lane as everything I do takes at least twice as long as it would an able bodied person. Being non ambulant does not lend itself to speed or spontaneity. Every task, however insubstantial, requires careful consideration, support and time. From washing and dressing, to eating and travelling, every activity depletes both time and my meagre energy reserves.

I would love to be one of those carefree, go with the flow types. You know the kind; those people who are seemingly fazed by nothing, never forward plan and simply take life as it comes. But I can’t. I see them cruising along, living life in the fast lane, taking risks and seeking adventures unknown. I see them fly by me as I trundle along in my slow lane.

My body is weak and fragile, and consequently I can’t afford to be daring or gamble with my health. For instance, catching a cold for your average Joe is an annoyance yes, but it passes after a few days and it isn’t a cause for concern. If I catch a cold the consequences are severe and potentially life-threatening. Sounds dramatic doesn’t it! But because my condition affects my respiratory function, a simple viral infection can and has on multiple occasions led to complications including pneumonia, pleurisy and pneumothorax (collapsed lung). Many days and nights have been spent on hospital wards and in ICU; time seeming to slow with every tick of the clock. You know how they say time flies when you’re having fun? Well it drags like Hell when your sole focus in life is to just keep breathing.

My disability has effectively prevented me from flooring the accelerator pedal and pursuing my wildest childhood dreams. I’ll never be able to book a flight on the spur of the moment, jump on a plane and jet off to some mysterious destination with only myself for company. I’ll never experience the thrill of running to the edge of an exotic waterfall, to then dive into its frothy waters without a care in the world. I’ll never have children and since UCMD is progressive, I won’t reach old age. On the contrary, my life is slow, monotonous, routine and unexciting.

Don’t get me wrong, by no means am I saying that being confined to a wheelchair is not synonymous with leading a happy, fulfilling lifestyle. I can only speak from personal experience and how my condition has impacted on me. There are so many things I desire to do but cannot. Sometimes I get frustrated and wish I could get up & go for a country walk to let off steam. It would be such a relief to grab a quick shower whenever I want and not at a regimented time. I will lie awake until 3 o’clock in the morning, wishing I could drag myself out of bed to make a midnight snack. But I can’t because I’m stuck on that slow lane.

This is the card I’ve been dealt and that’s ok; I’ve adapted and learned to live within my means. I do what I can and I enjoy what I do. I have the wackiest and most wonderful family anyone could hope for, and an eclectic band of friends! I appreciate that this is more fortune than a great deal of others ever experience, and for this I’m thankful. My loved ones more than make up for missing out on living life in the fast lane.

Find me elsewhere

The first article I wrote for Disability Horizons lists my choice of the top ten apps for disabled people.

No matter what your disability, there’s an app out there that can assist you in some way. With the help of such technology, we the disabled community can make our lives that little bit easier.

New apps are being developed everyday. But for the time being, here are my recommendations.

You can also find a few of my articles on the MDUK Trailblazers website. Find out all about my life with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy here.

The Channel 4 show The Undateables has proved highly controversial and divisive, particularly within the disabled community. Read my take on the debate here.

An Introduction

First and foremost, welcome to Life on the Slow Lane, a disability and lifetyle blog.

Here I share personal experiences, advice, reviews, interviews and more.

I also write for Disability Horizons, Muscular Dystrophy Trailblazers and Limitless Travel.

Please take a look around my blog and let me know what you think!


My Disability:

I have lived my entire life with a condition called Ullrich Congenital Muscular Dystrophy. It is rare, progressive and sadly widely unrecognised. There is currently no cure for UCMD.