“Something came up, so I couldn’t get to the polling station”
“I couldn’t be bothered”
“I’ve got better things to do”
“My vote won’t make any difference”
“I’m not interested in politics”
“I don’t like any of the leaders so what’s the point?”
“It’s raining! I’m not going out in the rain just to vote!”
“They’re all corrupt anyway”
“The polling station is inaccessible!”
So many excuses I’ve heard over the years. As someone who has never missed an opportunity to vote, I am always frustrated when others fail to. Regardless of your circumstances, there really is NO EXCUSE!
I live semi-rurally and my local polling station – an old building with many steps – is not wheelchair accessible. Now I’m all for inclusivity and accessibility. But, this has never been a cause for concern as it doesn’t prevent me from casting my vote. Years ago I registered online (an easy process) for postal voting. I don’t even need to leave the house to have my say!
Like it or not, politics does affect each and every one of us. Each and every ballot paper counts. Ensure you make your voice heard by marking your choice with an X this Thursday, June 8th!
Rather than the usual Friday ‘I miss… I’m thankful’ post, I decided this week to reflect on current issues including the General Election and terrorism in the UK. Don’t worry, I’ll try not to get too deep & dreary!
It’s fair to say that the past few weeks have been rather tumultuous here in the UK. Election fever has reached its peak as we edge ever closer to the public vote, to be held on June 8th. It’s very much a two-horse race with Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn facing off against Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May.
Now I don’t want to delve into party politics or voice my own predilection. While I do think it’s important that everyone who can vote does so, I don’t feel it necessary to impart my views or those of any other. At the end of the day, we are all individuals with diverse circumstances and priorities. Therefore, I haven’t and won’t be publically advocating any particular party. It is for you to decide who to vote for. All I will say is, please ensure you do make time to cast your vote. After all, people died to allow us the right to have our say. And frankly, if you don’t vote, you really can’t complain.
Late last Monday, 22nd May, a terrorist attack occurred at the Manchester Arena. A 22-year-old suicide bomber took the lives of 22 individuals, including children. 116 others were injured, some critically.
This follows the recent incident in London’s Westminster, when on 22nd March, 4 were killed and 50 more injured by a lone assailant.
Such events are sadly becoming more commonplace in the UK, and we are increasingly told to remain vigilant.
It’s a distressing prospect which affects us all, whether directly involved or not. I was in utter disbelief on hearing of the Manchester bombing, particularly because it took place at a Pop concert and targeted children. What goes through the mind of the person who carried out such a horrific and devastating act is just inconceivable.
The future generation
I am soon to be an aunt, and so the impact on me was greater for this reason. I wonder, in what kind of environment will my new niece or nephew grow up? Will they learn to accept terrorism as the norm? Will they one day be targeted?
We see it on the News every day: ISIS-led atrocities in Iraq and Syria, militant barbarism, explosions, executions and so on. We associate this with the Middle East, not with the Western world and definitely not with us. Not you and me.
But the sad truth is, we are involved, we are a target, and we are fighting a war with terrorism. But what I am thankful for and proud of, is the way in which we respond to attacks made against us.
Stand together, united
Any attack against our nation is an attack against us as individuals and against our freedom. It is personal. We all feel it. As a result, we all pull together in trying times.
Reports of the tireless work of emergency service staff, the charity of taxi drivers, help from the homeless and those from afar offering aid on their day off work. These heart-warming stories unite us. People from all walks of life join forces to repair and rebuild. This is something that the terrorists can never take from us. We are strong and defiant and we refuse to live in fear.
So, in-keeping with my usual Friday themed posts, I’d like to conclude by saying that I am thankful to be living in the UK. I am thankful to be living in a diverse yet united nation. I am thankful that here in England I do not live every day in fear or peril, unlike many unfortunate people in the world. I am thankful for the strength, courage, pride and positivity of Britons. Furthermore, I am thankful for the emergency services and for the NHS. Truly, where would we be without them?!
I’ve noticed a lot of discussion, within Facebook groups, around the topic of walking versus the use of a wheelchair.
Many disabled people gradually lose the ability to walk over a period of time. Often it occurs in stages: from independent mobility, to the need for walking sticks, then a frame and finally a wheelchair.
I appreciate that for the individuals affected, it is an incredibly difficult decision to make. Do I continue to walk for as long as possible, despite the struggle and restraints? Or, do I resign myself to the confines of a wheelchair?
I have noticed, from comments on social media, that this is how some view wheelchairs: objects of confinement and restriction.
On the contrary, I see my wheelchair as an essential mobility aid, removing the limitations I faced when walking for only short durations. The powered chair I now use offers me freedom and independence.
Obviously, your condition and individual circumstances determine whether or not you have the option to continue walking.
Personally, I never had a choice. I have Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy and lost the ability to walk quite abruptly at the age of 10. Not that I could walk very well or very far up to that point.
Nevertheless, the choice was taken from me. I had reached a stage where I literally couldn’t support my own weight. Grit and determination played no part. And so, I went from walking minimal distances whilst wearing leg splints, to using a manual wheelchair that I couldn’t self propel due to a lack of strength and joint contractures. Sticks and frames were of no use to me whatsoever.
It was a difficult transition, of course. But not totally unexpected. As a child, I was offered little assurance of how my condition would progress. Doctors simply didn’t know. They couldn’t tell me if I would maintain my ability to walk or not. It was a case of, wait and see; roll with the punches. So that’s what I did.
To be honest, I was to a large extent relieved to be using a wheelchair, despite the fact I was dependant on others to manoeuvre me around. Even just a few small steps was a huge feat and physically laborious. That in itself was disabling me.
Committing to a wheelchair full time meant that I was free to roam with my peers. Kids at school used to squabble over whose turn it was to push me around. I was no longer exhausted, battling to stay on my feet or falling over and injuring myself. Being non-ambulant, I no longer had to wear those unsightly leg splints, which pleased me no end!
I had recently started middle school and, within a matter of a few weeks, I found myself completely unable to weight-bear.
However, less than twelve-months later, I was fortunate enough to benefit from my first powered wheelchair. I can’t emphasise enough how much of a difference this made to my life.
I could zip around at break times with friends, I could take myself wherever I wanted to go without the need for assistance, and I could venture into the local countryside. I was no longer confined!
It’s been eighteen years since I took my last footstep. And, I can honestly say I don’t miss walking. Naturally, I wish I could stand, walk and run ‘normally’. But I would never trade my wheelchair for my old leg splints, the bumps and bruises from falling so often, and the constant exertion to achieve a few small steps.
Last week, Channel4 aired the final episode of its reality series The Undateables, a dating show for disabled people.
For those who are unfamiliar, individuals with any disability are invited to appear on the show, now in its sixth season.
With the help of dating agencies and personal introduction services, they take part in blind dates, speed dating and match-making in the hope of finding love.
Now, I’ve seen almost every episode since it premiered in 2012, and I have to say I am a fan and supporter.
I appreciate and understand the controversy surrounding the show, particularly within the disabled community, although I personally disagree with much of the negative criticism. For this reason, as someone with a physical disability myself, I would like to offer my point of view.
Firstly, I’d like to point out that all participants have applied of their own free will. Following their appearances, all have reported a positive experience, even those who did not find love as a direct result of the show.
Tammy from series 5 says, “I put myself forward for The Undateables. At no point during filming did I feel like I was being used for entertainment. It’s an entertaining show [but] we all just want to find someone who loves us for us.”
The program has been invaluable and life changing for many, leading to long term relationships, marriage and babies. Furthermore, despite the claims of some, disabled individuals have not been coupled exclusively with other disabled people.
For example, Brent, a young man with tourettes married his able-bodied date Challis.
Then there’s Carolyne from the first series, whose childhood sweetheart left her when she became paralysed following a spinal cord lesion. She later met Dean who is able-bodied. The couple had their first child together in 2014.
These are just a few of the many success stories resulting from the show.
Some critics have called into question the editing, which it can be argued is an issue with any reality TV show. However, taking into consideration the accounts offered by the participants themselves, it would seem to me that great care has been taken to ensure fair and accurate representation.
Again, I personally have no issue with the tone or editing, and have never found it to be exploitative, patronising, sensationalist or insincere. Quite the opposite in fact, I feel The Undateables realistically and positively depicts a range of disabilities, thereby raising awareness and breaking down social barriers and stigma.
James, who has Asperger’s, took part in the show last year. He told ITV’s This Morning, “It [the show] provides a lot of education on a wide range of things, not just conditions… The fact that people will tune in knowing they will learn a bit more, maybe take away the stigma, is a very positive thing. It paints a very positive picture of British audiences.”
The format itself is understandably a contentious issue: why is it not the norm for disabled people to participate in mainstream dating shows such as First Dates, (also a product of Channel4), and ITV’s Take Me Out?
Why must the disabled community be confined to a show exclusively for them? There is no definitive answer, though I would argue that it comes down to choice and demand.
As previously stated, those who partake make the choice to do so. Many have learning disabilities and are supported by family, friends and caregivers, as viewers will know. Therefore, to suggest they are being taken advantage of by producers, which some critics have, I feel implies that these people are not able to form rational decisions and make up their own minds. This is inaccurate and unjustified.
Secondly, the show is now in its sixth year (as of Feb 2017), which proves there is continuing demand from both the viewing public and applicants eager to find love, friendship and companionship.
I have found that questions and accusations such as the aforementioned are often posed, more often than not by those with disabilities. This indicates to me that, in fact, it is not predominantly the able-bodied community who have issues with the show. Yes, you may hear the occasional, ‘bless them’, ‘aw, how sweet’ and ‘good for them’ from able-bodied viewers – how very dare they indeed!
But to conclude that this is a form of ‘inspiration porn’ is in my opinion, vastly overstretching the mark. I take issue with the term ‘inspiration porn’, particularly in relation to The Undateables.
Frankly, even if viewers are in some way inspired by the determination and go-getting attitude of those they see on the show, why is that so awful?
Paralympians are equally as inspiring as Olympians. Yet there are some, particularly in the disabled community, who deem this to be ‘inspiration porn’. That is to say, people draw inspiration from disabled athletes solely due to their disability rather than their sporting achievement, as well as to feel better about their own lives. Personally, I think this is nonsense and insulting to both the able-bodied and disabled.
I cannot speak for the entire viewing public, obviously, but I have watched the show with friends and family over the years, and the feedback has always been one of support and genuine happiness for the love-seekers. Not one person I have spoken to has ever indulged in this so called ‘inspiration porn’ to, as critics say, feel better about themselves. This is the one accusation that frustrates me the most.
Okay, the title… Are Channel4 saying that we, the disabled, are undateable? Put simply, NO!
Producers have themselves stated that the title is to challenge this common misconception within society. Furthermore, as viewers will know, during the opening sequence of each episode, the prefix clearly falls from the word ‘dateables’, thus indicating the contrary.
The show itself is proof that no one is undateable – an eye opener to many viewers who may have previously thought otherwise, or have just never considered the fact that like them, we (the disabled) also need, want and desire love and intimacy.
For one reason or another, there remains a section of society that has never encountered anyone with a disability. Through no fault of their own, they consequently may be ignorant to the needs, desires and feelings of disabled people. I think The Undateables is a great way to introduce this concept to such individuals.
As James with Asperger’s says, the show is successfully removing stigma and raising awareness.
I have an older brother with complex learning disabilities, and so I’m able to draw from his perspective in addition to my own. He has expressed a keen interest to appear on The Undateables, and my family and I would be more than happy for him to do so. Neither of us feel alienated, uncomfortable, ridiculed or patronised by the show. Again, I do appreciate the criticism but for those who bother to watch it with an open mind, I believe you will find it to be well-meaning, sincere and sympathetic.
Those involved have benefitted, it has given others in similar circumstances the confidence to look for love, and it has made society realise that we all have basic human needs and desires, and the right to pursue them.
It’s easy for viewers to criticise on social media, having watched only one episode, or even one at all. But I implore you, ask the participants. Their response says it all, for me anyway. It seems to me the majority of negative critics haven’t actually seen the show and are therefore judging it superficially. It is certainly not a freak show and is not treated as such.
The dating agencies, often run by the parents or relatives of those with disabilities, aim to match clients based on common interests. Disabled people are not matched with others with similar disabilities. To assume so says more about those who think this than anyone involved with The Undateables.
So finally, I urge the harsher critics out there to actually WATCH (preferably more than once!) before judging so narrow-mindedly.
Who knows if Channel4 will commission another series of the popular show. Based on viewing figures, I’m guessing it’s more than likely they will. If so, I’ll certainly be tuning in.
9/11/2016 ~ US Election Result: Trump triumphs over Clinton. A day many would rather forget!
11/11/1918 ~ A day we must never forget.
Today is 11th November 2016 ~ Armistice Day
It has now been 98 years since the brave soldiers of The Great War lay down their arms for the last time along the western front. Almost a century past, but now and always we will remember and give thanks for their selflessness, heroism and sacrifice.
On the 11th November 1918 the guns fell silent, and finally, four long years of fighting came to an end. The Armistice of Compiègne led to six more months of negotiations which resulted in the Treaty of Versailles, effectively concluding the First World War.
Sadly, conflict continues to rage on around the globe, with many lives lost every day to war.
Today, we should all take time to commemorate servicemen and women, past and present. It is our moral duty to show appreciation for all who have fought for our protection, for peace, stability and liberty.
9/11/2016 ~ Trump Triumphs
This week we enter a period of unprecedented political turmoil; a time of uncertainty, instability and division.
Of course, I’m (begrudgingly) referring to the newly elected President of the USA – Donald Trump. I have debated whether or not to acknowledge his recent victory on my blog, since it is such a divisive issue.
However, being a woman with a physical disability, I feel compelled to comment on his offensive attitude towards minority groups throughout his controversial campaign. On a personal note, I find it shocking and unnerving that a bigoted, misogynistic, ableist, racist, xenophobic, ignorant narcissist can acquire such popularity and power!
Although it’s true that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, Trump is headed to the Whitehouse in January 2017, due to the arguably flawed Electoral College system.
The fact is, Trump achieved marginal wins in several large states, meaning that, like it or not, he will be the 45th President of the United States of America. We must now accept and respect the result and unite in an organised and peaceful manner, in order to move forward with positive intentions.
Violence and disorder has already broken out in America following the news of Trump’s success. People are wreaking havoc, causing damage and fighting each other in angry desperation. The widespread fear and distress is understandable, but nothing positive can be achieved from hostility.
1914 ~ Christmas Eve Ceasefire
Even in times of war, humanity will prevail and divisions can be broken down. The Christmas truce of 1914 demonstrates how opposing forces put aside their differences, if only temporarily.
On Christmas Eve, a ceasefire along the western front saw British and German troops greet each other in no-man’s land to exchange pleasantries, take photos, play football and bury their dead before returning to their trenches.
So, on this, Armistice Day, please look to and learn from the past, and move forward with love, positivity, unity and the best intentions.
A decision has been made, like it or not; Trump will be the President of the United States. We can’t and shouldn’t fight this decision. We need to offer support, goodwill and compassion to all. One day at a time.
Well, it’s upon us again; Flu season is here. Every year my family and I get the Influenza vaccination, which is free of charge here in the UK, courtesy of the NHS.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had the Flu jab to protect myself through the harsh winter months. It’s important that not only I am vaccinated, but that those closest to me are too. My immune system is much weaker than average, and my condition makes it considerably more difficult to overcome respiratory infections. For me, a common cold can quickly develop into something much more serious. It’s therefore very important that I am not unnecessarily exposed to the Flu virus.
As I have aged, my declining respiratory function has become the most concerning symptom of my disability. Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy causes muscle degeneration and scoliosis. Not only are my lungs squashed and unable to expand as they should, the muscles that make them force air in and out are slowly wasting away.
Over the years, I have fought recurrent chest infections, several bouts of pneumonia, pleurisy and an acute pneumothorax (collapsed lung), requiring a chest drain. Many long, drawn-out days have been spent in hospital trying to overcome serious complications resulting from respiratory viruses.
For this reason, I implore and encourage you all to go and get the Flu shot. It takes no time at all and I promise you, it’s completely painless. There are fables floating around that will attempt to make you believe the Flu jab can give you the Flu. This is not the case at all. Yes, the vaccine does contain a small dose of the inactive virus. This triggers antibodies, which within two weeks will protect you, if and when you’re exposed to seasonal Flu.
Like all viruses, there are various strains of Influenza which change annually. For this reason, it is essential to ensure you are vaccinated every year.
I visited my local pharmacy, without appointment, a few weeks ago to get my free vaccination. If you haven’t already, please don’t delay. Go and get yours NOW!
For more information on the Influenza vaccine visit the NHS web page here.
I’ve always been a bit of a movie buff. Though I enjoy a good book every now and then, I’m not a big reader.
Every year, I try to encourage myself to read more. But sometimes, after a long day, it’s so much easier to watch the film adaptation.
When I caught the trailer for the recently released film, The Girl on the Train, I decided to read the best-seller before allowing myself to see the much anticipated film.
Warning: This review contains spoilers!
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 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.
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.
At times, the pace was 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. It seemed 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.
Directed by American, Tate Taylor, the film, starring British actress Emily Blunt, is 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 film’s 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, 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 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. As Hawkins herself says, she is far too beautiful.
Blunt 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.