Posts Tagged ‘Four Fingers and Thirteen Toes’

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – Happy and Glorious

August 15, 2015

22nd November 2014, what a day.

It all started unassumingly enough – My PA wasn’t due in until 9.30am … a lie-in … bliss … and then the postman arrived early.

As he was already up and having his quiet Saturday morning cuppa, Steve collected the post from the doormat, and as usual, just put the pile of letters to one side, for us to deal with later in the day. There was nothing striking about the envelopes – a few brown ones, a couple of white ones, and plenty of Christmas catalogues which always arrive during that time of year, and that really was it. The morning progressed, and at 12.30pm my PA left for the day. Apart from munching through a bacon sandwich (this is usually brunch on a Saturday) we proceeded to open the post.

One particular envelope came to light – a plain white window envelope addressed to me and marked as coming from the Cabinet Office. Steve slit the envelope and then handed it to me and I pulled out a letter on quite flimsy paper which was headed “in confidence” and dated 21st November 2014. I read the letter, and quite frankly thought it was a joke. It was the kind of prank that Steve or James would pull and it was only when I questioned the equally astounded Steve, that we realised it was for real. The substance of the letter was that I was informed “in strict confidence that having accepted the advice of the Head of the Civil Service and the Main Honours Committee, I was to be recommended to Her Majesty … that I be appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year 2015 Honours List.”

The citation was, for Services to Equality and Rights for Disabled People. I had no idea that I had even been nominated, and to this day I do not know who it was that nominated me. If you are reading this blog, thank you so much, you have my heartfelt gratitude.

The letter went on to say that I had to complete an acceptance form (as if I was going to refuse … John Lennon I am not!) and if I accepted, no further communication would be received, and my name would be included in the Honours List published in the London Gazette on the 31st December 2014.

Contrary to popular belief in my family, I am rather good at keeping secrets, and this was one mighty secret that I couldn’t let out of the bag. And so, we celebrated the arrival of this momentous letter with a bacon sandwich and a cup of coffee – and not one phone call was made to anyone to tell them of my news. I have to say it was very difficult not telling the family and there were one or two occasions that I very nearly let it slip. Not even a dickie bird was said to James until he returned from University for the Christmas holidays, and his immediate reaction was that he could wangle a new suit out of us for the Investiture day!

Not being able to tell anyone was difficult, but not insurmountable, however I can tell you that Google went into overdrive that afternoon, as I surfed the net to find out what I could about the appointments procedure.

The five weeks, until New Year’s Eve seemed to go on forever, but you are told that the list goes “live” at 10.30pm on the 30th December, and so at 10.31pm precisely, I made an awful lot of phone calls. Facebook went into meltdown, and, to this day, I am humbled and overwhelmed by the response I got to my news. Literally from all corners of the globe came good wishes from friends and relatives who are usually dormant on Facebook. We sat mesmerised (for over an hour) by the “ping-ping-ping” of the computer as the messages came flooding in. (Of course I received an incredible amount of letters and cards as well, all of which I have started putting into a scrapbook.)

I tried to answer the messages as best I could, but I would have been there for days responding to the posts, and so I posted my thanks to everyone, replied to especially personal messages, and woke up the following day still wondering if it was really true?

It was really true, and so I let the fun bit start and my imagination went wild – Where would the Investiture be? Who would do it? Hat or Fascinator? … Rather like a wedding … But most importantly … would I get there on time? We Moriarty-Simmonds’ are not known for getting anywhere on time (or just about making it) so this was one appointment that I was not going to be late for!

The original letter advised that recipients would be told of their Investiture date about five weeks before the event, but my Dad had other commitments during the early part of the year and was asking me on a daily basis if I had heard anything. So, I decided to enquire with the Investiture Office as to what date I had been allocated. I am sure the people at St. James’ Palace are lovely to everyone, but to me they seemed especially nice. They advised that my Investiture would take place on the 17th July 2015 at Windsor Castle. Closer to the date, I would be sent a formal invitation and instructions on timing, but at least I could now plan for the rest of the summer. And of course more importantly my Dad could attend his bowls weekend and two weddings without having to worry about attending my investiture instead!

With my trusted dress-maker Mel placed on notice of this major event in my life (short of my wedding day, of course) I started to source material for my outfit.

As many of you know, I am not known for subtlety, and my clothes are usually made from material with big, bright bold colours. On almost the first journey to find the material, I came across just what I wanted; but the problem was the hat. Steve had, by this time, endured my “I wonders, what ifs, and what should I wears” for about two months – and whilst he patiently agreed to trundle around town for hats and accessories, he decided it was time for action. His idea of millinery is a million miles away from mine, but I let him have his fun. So, having agreed to go along with his idea of hat creation he marched me into TK Maxx. Whilst not finding quite what I wanted we did have some fun in browsing the hats, and quite by coincidence, did find one with all the colours in my chosen dress material. However, my “big” day wasn’t about to crowned with any old millinery and so the services of renowned Cardiff Milliner, Robyn Coles was sought. Oddly, we know a number of Coles’ in Cardiff … Coles (the Driving School – who got James through his driving test first time); Robert Coles (a wonderful decorator who is one of the nicest men in a pair of overalls, you could possibly meet!); and then Robyn, so I really wasn’t worried about the creation that she would design for me.

I’m not really a hat person … But we had a scream when she called with various hats for me to try, and I felt a bit like Goldilocks – One was too heavy, one was too small, but then the last one we tried was … Just right! Robyn said she would take a main colour from the dress material and contrast it with Ostrich quills that would be painted in some of the other colours from the fabric. It all sounded rather glamorous, and I began to wonder if I could live up to the obligation of looking like someone who would be presented to a member of the Royal Family.

With hat and dress all sorted, we then proceeded to find a hotel in close proximity to Windsor Castle, and (more importantly) someone who could do my hair and makeup on the appointed day. Whilst Steve is pretty good with hair and makeup, I didn’t relish the possibility of looking like Coco the Clown, or ending up with a topknot sitting on one side of my head – rather like a middle aged version of Cyndi Lauper from her “Girls Just want to Have Fun” days.

So, we decided the best thing to do was have a day trip to Windsor – and a very worthwhile trip it was. We found a really good hotel in the shadow of the Castle, and more importantly, a lovely lady called Rachel Staggs who agreed to do my makeup. Now all I had to do was wait for the 17th July. I suppose you could liken it to the anticipation that comes with waiting for Christmas, a holiday or a Birthday – and this was well worth the wait.

We left Cardiff on the 16th July (late as usual) and headed along the M4 with dresses, shirts, ties and suits all cleaned and pressed to within an inch of their lives! We were also accompanied by a Good Luck cake that my good friend Alison had delivered to us – a rather yummy jam and cream sponge, which went very well with the Champagne that Steve had arranged to be on ice by the time we arrived at the hotel. After a really nice evening, and a good meal to boot, we had an early night. The following day was going to start very early – and by early I mean 4am! Steve fell out of bed and managed to get me sorted in time for a room service breakfast and, as promised Rachel arrived armed with curling tongs and make up that would have satisfied the most discerning Princess.

RACHEL DOING MY HAIR AND MAKEUP

RACHEL DOING MY HAIR AND MAKEUP

By the time Rachel left, I did feel like a Princess. Cinderella was going to the ball – well to an Investiture in any event. You will be pleased to know that we weren’t late and having been given a VIP pass to take our car into the Castle grounds, we were waved along the Long Walk leading to the Castle, by some very excited school children, who clearly thought the black car that was passing them contained some Very Important People … Sadly, it was only me, and the rest of the party, but they looked really happy to have waved me on!

What a lovely way to start this unique event, and I knew then that all my wishes for the day would come true.

It was only as we passed security that we were told the Queen would be officiating at the Investiture. I was over the moon. I had secretly hoped it would be the Queen, and my first wish of the day had been granted.

The Castle is an amazing place. Very old, and not terribly accessible, but the staff were wonderful, and couldn’t have been more helpful. They helped Steve and I up to whichever floor it was, in a very old, very small, Victorian lift; through a maze of corridors, and then we were separated … I went one way, and everyone else had to go in another direction. The air of expectation from all the recipients was palpable, and having been given our “pep” talk on what to do we, waited in eager anticipation. I needed a glass of water and a member of staff (who had been assigned to help me) despatched, a very nice man in uniform, who I think was one of the Queen’s footmen, to the kitchen to find me a straw … a straw from the Royal kitchen!

My second wish was not to make a fool of myself when finally appearing before the Queen. It is incredible how the royal machinery operates, and at exactly 11am the Investiture starts. The whole operation is done with such precision that it runs like clockwork.

My time had arrived. Before I knew it, I was waiting to move forward to meet Her Majesty. There are a host of things mulling around in your head, do’s and don’ts, when to bow, when to take the signal to move off – and my mind genuinely went blank as the person in front of me bowed and moved off to the right. I went forward, bowed (I think at the right time) and then received my Honour.

The Queen is small and delicate, with porcelain white smooth skin. Her voice was softly spoken and at times it was hard for me to hear what she was saying. She is gracious and gentle, and we, as a nation, should be proud that she is our Queen. It is only on reflection, that you realise her life of service was determined by a love story between her Uncle King Edward VIII and Mrs Wallis Simpson, over which she had absolutely no control. However, after over 60 years of dedication to her country, she carries out her royal duties with such dignity that you cannot help but be humbled by her selflessness.

I think I acquitted myself without embarrassment, and hope that I did my family – and in particular Steve and James, and my Dad and Sisters proud. I would have loved for my Mum to have seen me receiving my Honour but, a few days before we left for Windsor, Steve gave me a locket with a photograph of my Mum (on our Wedding Day) and of my wonderful Grandmother (on Debbie’s Wedding Day). They were dressed in lovely outfits and wore hats … my Mum’s hat was strikingly similar to the design I chose for this special day. I wore the locket with pride, ever grateful to my Mum and Grandmother for their love and support, which had allowed me to become the person who was able to receive such a wonderful accolade.

A tour of the State Rooms and Official photographs in the Great Hall topped off what was a remarkable and memorable experience, and my third wish for a day to remember was fulfilled.

OUTSIDE WINDSOR CASTLE AFTER THE INVESTITURE, WEARING MY OBE WITH PRIDE

OUTSIDE WINDSOR CASTLE AFTER THE INVESTITURE, WEARING MY OBE WITH PRIDE

In our usual fashion, we partied, at lunch time and into the evening. I made contact with some wonderful people, and witnessed recipients receiving awards for selfless bravery and loyal service to the Royal Family. I saw members of the establishment receive their Honour in recognition of the work they do for the country. I was honoured to be part of such a wonderful occasion, and (in the words of some colleagues from the Cardiff Business Club) to join a very exclusive Club.

I still can’t quite believe it has happened, and I haven’t yet resorted to wearing the “gong” to bed – even though I threatened to, I’m not sure it’s quite the right thing to do! But, I am so proud to be able to say that all the work that I, and many ordinary people do, in their own fields of charity and business, really is recognised in such a tangible way.

To end, I have two last wishes … and they are these …

In the Queen’s Official Birthday Honours List 2015, two of my Thalidomide friends, Mikey Argy and Lorraine Mercer were recognised for their campaigning and charitable work. I wish for them, a day that they will enjoy and relish. It will be a day of well deserved recognition, and I hope they will have as much fun as I did.

Even though the Thalidomide story which gave rise to my Four Fingers and Thirteen Toes is now into its sixth decade, the contribution that we Thalidomide Impaired people have made to the advancement of inclusion for disabled people, is at long last being recognised – as it should be, and should have been many years ago.

And so to my final wish … long may that recognition continue.

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FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – The Definition of a Queue… for a “Disabled Loo”

July 11, 2015

Correct me if I’m wrong but the definition of a “Queue” has always been waiting in line, taking your turn, a group of people waiting for something.

In this connection, one of our greatest British summertime traditions is the queuing for entry to Wimbledon … that most British of sporting occasions.

Only last week, we were treated to a television report on the delights of seeing people queue for Wimbledon’ opening games.  The camera then panned to another queue, and it all culminated with the sight of another queue where those avid die-hard Wimbledon fans could leave their tents and other paraphernalia before – yes you’ve guessed it, joining another queue before gaining entry to the hallowed ground.

What struck me about this report was the very British way in which, no matter whether in rain or searing heat, there was no pushing or shoving, but just patience.

So why is it that such restraint can’t be exercised when people queue to use what many quaintly described as a “disabled toilet.”

Before I go on, I have a bit of an issue with such a description, as it conjures up images of a toilet with a limp or some other obvious impairment(!), and so for the rest of this blog, I shall use what I, and most of the disabled peoples movement, consider is the correct terminology, and described such facilities as “accessible”.

I now have to interject again and emphasis the point that a full-time-wheelchair-users idea of an “accessible toilet”, is poles apart from most providers of so-say, accessible toilets!  They should not be any of the following:-

  • a regular toilet cubical with the door opening outward
  • the above, plus one grab rail
  • the above, plus a baby changing unit sticking out from the wall
  • a storage cupboard
  • a cloakroom
  • a bin collection point
  • an alternative for those too lazy to queue
  • for disabled wannabes
  • for a family trip to the loo (unless at least one member is a bona fide disabled person)
  • A stinking cluttered claustrophobic compartment!

Ideal “accessible toilets” are:-

  • Changing Places Toilets (Designed so that they are completely accessible and provide sufficient space and equipment for people who are not able to use the toilet independently. See – http://www.changing-places.org/ )
  • A truly compliant Accessible Toilet (The guidance in the Building Regulations Approved Document M 2010 & 2013 amendments, and in BS8300-2009 should be accepted, in my opinion as the bare minimum requirements. They are based on many years of research and need to be followed exactly because all of the requirements are important to someone.  What may appear to be a small and insignificant detail to some may pose a real element of difficulty or even danger to a disabled person.)

CHANGING PLACES TOILET

Anyway, over the last couple of months, we have travelled up and down the UK using, wherever possible, motorway routes.  They are generally quicker, traffic jams and Friday getaways permitting, and of course, we are afforded the opportunity to stop, if we need, and use the delightful facilities that are represented (or even misrepresented for that matter) as motorway service areas.

We’ve all been there … those oases of calm that purport to offer you rest, relief and food.  Well, yes they do allow you to rest – always assuming you can find a quiet spot in the car park, and you don’t stay more than 2 hours (otherwise you’ll get whacked with a bill for leaving your tyres parked in a stationary position for more than the permitted time); And granted, you can get food – if you can call pre-packed sandwiches (curling up at the edges) and overpriced coffee and muffins from a well known coffee chain, food.

However, what really gets my gander up is the so-called accessible toilet … If you’ve every ventured into one, you’ll know why I say so-called.  It should be more aptly named the accessible store cupboard.  Therein, you will find buckets, mops, and bins of all sorts … Sanitary bins, paper towel bins, nappy bins – I ask you, how many bins does a disabled person need to use to get rid of all their disposables when they use the loo?

So, when you’re desperate for the loo, and your PA has managed to re-arrange the bins, you then proceed to undertake that most precarious of operations by getting onto the toilet seat.  At this point, it is worth looking at the back of the door, where you will find a schedule of staff members who have inspected this facility during the day.  What I’d really like to know, is whether these staff members have undertaken a proper inspection, because 9 times out of 10 the loo seat is wobbly … Ahhhhh!

Having successfully negotiated the transition from the real world, to the world of the wobbly toilet seat, it would be nice to think you could achieve some inner peace for the duration of your stay, but no … then there comes a rattle, rattle of the lock and a light knock on the door … “Are you OK in there?” comes a voice (note, I don’t say concerned voice) from the other side of the door.  Now, just remember that it has taken a while to re-arrange the bins, making an attempt to secure a wobbly seat, and when all you want is sit in quiet contemplation, some impatient so and so from the outside wants to know if you’re alright!

The simple answer is NO … I am not alright.  Whatever I need to do, I need to do it without interruption.  But, in our usual manner (adopted by most disabled people) the response is “Yes, fine thank you.”  One would assume this reply should allay even the most concerned of traveller.  Sadly that is not the case.  Less than a minute later, comes another knock on the door – This time louder and more impatient than the last.  Now I have to raise my voice “OCCUPIED” … “Please be patient”.  I have to confess to more than a tinge of annoyance in my voice – but I think I’m entitled to sit on the loo in peace for as long as it takes to perform my ablutions!

Most people would take the hint, back off and leave me to contemplate what I am going to say when I’ve finished, opened the door, and hopefully brought a little bit of contrition to those door knockers, when they see me emerging – all fours fingers and thirteen toes of me – with either a PA or Steve.  If it’s Steve, it should render them speechless, two wheelchair users coming out of an accessible loo … Sounds like a rather fun Paralympic game to me.  Maybe Sir Philip Craven could give it some thought in time for the 2016 games!

However, I digress.  I haven’t got as far as opening the door, to leave those outside oozing profuse apologies for rushing me … Sadly, there is a third prong of attack that will be used by those impatient travellers, and that is the Toilet Supervisor.  Oh yes, off they, or one of their entourage have gone, and found the Supervisor who apparently has the over-ride key, and I think you know what’s coming next.

Well, if you haven’t twigged, let me fill you in.  Ablutions satisfactorily performed, the reverse operation of moving back from a wobbly seat into wheelchair has been completed, and the final stage of getting ready to meet my audience is in progress … the adjustment of my lingerie … or as Steve and James would say – my Bridget Jones’s or for us rather well endowed females the good old fashioned control brief.   Just as this most personal of tasks is being finished the toilet door opens without warning.  “CLOSE THE B***** DOOR” come the screams from inside the loo!!

In fairness to the Toilet Supervisor, who probably wouldn’t know what Thalidomide was, let alone be able to spell it, it’s not her fault that she opened the door whilst I am in such a compromising position, but do people have to be so rude, as to not realise that if a person is using an accessible toilet, there is more than a distinct possibility that they will take a bit longer than the users of the regular facilities.  If only.

Door closed, and clothes suitably adjusted, I morph into Disability Champion mode.  With my haughtiest of demeanours, I leave the toilet determined to illicit even the slightest apology from those waiting to use the facilities.      Not likely … With attitude that would put the stroppiest of teenagers to shame, there is not a hint of remorse for the aggravation caused.  What makes it all the more galling, is that on a scale of 1 to 10, I would put their need to use an accessible toilet at -5!!  (Now before you start accusing me of being discriminatory, I am fully aware that accessible toilets are not exclusively there for wheelchair users, any number of disabled people might have continence issues, or may require more space, assistance, or extra time to use facilities (like myself).  But, someone who can walk, could actually use a regular toilet, wheelchair users do not have the luxury of this choice!)

Enough is enough, and with less than an hour to get to our destination, do I go straight back to the car … I certainly do not.  Powering off in the direction of the shop that sells everything your kids really don’t need for a long car journey, I find the site Manager.  I vent my anger at the indignity of what has happened, and I even make him lock himself in the toilet in question, whilst another member of his staff opens the door, for greater dramatic effect.  Tempting as it was, you will be relieved to know that I didn’t insist on him sitting on the loo with his trousers round his ankles just to prove a point!

The problem is, this doesn’t just happen on motorway service areas.  Only two weeks ago, Steve and I were in Devon, and having decided that the public loos were simply too gross to contemplate, we headed for the safe haven that is known as Debenhams.  Trading for over 200 years, surely we could use the loo in that giant of retail institutions in relative peace?  Alas no, our use of these facilities was marred by a perfectly formed queue of non-disabled people, who were just too lazy to walk around the corner to use the male and female facilities, banging on the toilet door, in an even more impatient manner than at the motorway service area; My gosh, did they have the wrath of my tongue after I had finished using the loo.

Most of the accessible toilets require the use of a key (The National Key Scheme (NKS) was developed because some public toilets designed for disabled people had to be locked to prevent damage and misuse. This has been countered by their being locked separately from other toilets.). Most permanently disabled people, like me, have one of these keys. However, there are an increasing number of people who don’t actually purchase one of these keys but borrow one from the facility provider (i.e. motorway service, cinema, restaurant etc).  When these individuals decide that you are taking too long whilst using the facility, they go and get a member of staff (yes… The Toilet Supervisor), who apparently has an override key!  Personally, I am not sure if there is such thing as an override key, or whether the lock in question is broken.

Either way, this ‘Catch a disabled person in a compromising position’ game is happening on a more frequent basis and all over the country, people are opening the toilet door whilst I am using it GRRRRRRRRRR.

Now I’m not usually in the habit of naming and shaming – but what the heck … Be wary, if attending a concert at the O2, or a rugby match at the Millennium Stadium, if you are travelling along the M4 motorway and have to use the accessible facilities at the Reading East Moto service area, or in the Debenhams Torquay branch, because visitors to these illustrious venues do not have any patience.

However, as luck would have it on the last occasion … I had the last laugh – and you’ll enjoy this …

I used up the last of the loo roll ……

Ah, divine retribution!

Writing this blog has inspired me to make a new notice, which I shall carry around with me and blue tack it to the door when I am using an accessible toilet – what you think?

POLITE NOTICE FOR TOILETS

Happy summer holidays.  Happy travelling, but beware the queue for the accessible loo.  You never know, you might find me on the other side of the door!

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – Time for a Festive Grumble – Before going off for a Jive

December 15, 2014
Stephen as a Storm Trooper!

Stephen as a Storm Trooper!

Here we are, less than 2 weeks before the “big day” and instead of sipping mulled wine whilst giving orders to my little elf (otherwise known as Stephen) who should have been busily wrapping parcels, we embarked on a rather hectic visit to London; I then had preliminary rehearsals for a variety show, in which I’m performing; and, added to that I have been trying to complete a commissioned painting in time to be delivered as a Christmas present!

However, all of this palled into insignificance by the latest debacle against Disabled People as reported in the media last week.  Three senior Court of Appeal judges – Lady Justice Arden, Lord Justice Lewison and Lord Justice Underhill, overturned a landmark court ruling from September 2014, making it a breach of the Equality Act 2010, for bus drivers to refuse to insist that a mother with a pushchair should leave the designated wheelchair space to make way for a wheelchair user.

The ruling overturned an award to Doug Paulley, a disabled man, of £5,500 damages after he was unable to board a bus because the designated wheelchair space was already occupied by a pram.  It seems the bus driver had asked the child’s mother to make space for the wheelchair user.  She refused.  Apparently, the buggie did not fold down and she wanted to avoid waking her sleeping child.

We are now faced with a situation where the very equalities legislation that was designed to provide Disabled People with a level playing field, has, in this instance, demoted us to the status of second-class citizens.

The implications of the above appeal ruling, is likely to have the effect of dissuading wheelchair users from using public transport, for fear of being left sitting at bus stops for hours on end.

This is already the situation for many wheelchair users trying to use public transport; but now that these incredibly educated judges have effectively stated that mothers with buggies or prams can take precedence over wheelchair users in terms of occupying the designated wheelchair space.  This, sadly, makes a mockery of our disability legislation.

In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 is much stronger than our initial 1995 Disability Discrimination Act, and in most parts of America it has been enforced with vigour. Personally, unless I was absolutely desperate, I would not even bother to wait at a bus stop in the UK for a bus with a vacant designated wheelchair space to take me to my destination.

However, on two previous occasions, Stephen, myself and James have travelled the length and breadth of New York on buses. This might potentially have been a logistical nightmare for two wheelchair users, and a young fit son.  However, fear not, it does not matter where a wheelchair user is in the queue, New Yorkers encourage you to go to the front; and when the bus pulls up, the driver allows alighting passengers off.  The difference between the UK and America is obvious at this point.   Before any embarking passengers are allowed to get onto the bus, the driver will personally assist the wheelchair user to their designated space, strap you into position within an inch of your life, and then allow the other passengers on. If there is somebody standing, a suitcase, shopping bags, buggies and or prams with or without babies in the designated wheelchair space, they will be moved. Nobody argues with the driver!

Whilst on the subject of transport, I have constantly found it difficult to find reliable taxi drivers that you can trust to turn up as and when you want them (at whatever time of the day or night), with vehicles in which you can travel safely.

There was one exception here in Cardiff.  One wonderful taxi driver that I did come to know and trust with my life, he was the kindest driver I have ever met.  I would travel with him on a regular basis (sometimes into the early hours after a night out with my girlfriends) – and he never let me down.  Sadly, Howard passed away over two years ago, and I have not used a taxi since.

On the railways, I can apparently travel from Cardiff Central to London and remain in my wheelchair, in whatever class carriage I choose. However, spontaneity is out of the question … I have to book one of the very precious designated wheelchair spaces three days in advance, and ensure that a message has been forwarded to all stationmasters along the route, in particular to the station at which I need help to get off the train.  Consequently, the last time I travelled on a train in the UK was the early 1980s, and in the salubrious surroundings of the guards van.  Four years ago however, without hindrance or prior arrangement I travelled the trains and subway in New York.

You will have by now gathered that I firmly believe we need enforceable legislation here in the UK, which has real bite!

As for airline travel – don’t get me started.  All I will say is that the amount of support you receive will vary from airport to airport and from airline to airline.  It is equally frustrating and costly and you are constantly worried about your wheelchair being damaged. Reassurance can make or break an aeroplane journey and, having been unfortunate enough to have both manual and powered chairs damaged in transit, I can tell you that airlines and baggage handlers could do with some disability awareness and equality training – not from some non-disabled person pretending to “come fly with me” – but from real people with real experiences.

I, and many other Disability Rights Campaigners, have fought for years for equality for Disabled People. We were part way there when the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was passed. Flawed as it was, at least we had some kind of legal clout, despite the fact that the word “reasonable” was peppered throughout the legislation.  The problem with “reasonable” is that it is very subjective, and differs from person to person.  However, at least with the legislation, we were able to open up dialogue and help many organisations introduce best practice to their service provision and business operations.

The disability rights campaign was the last of the civil rights movements – Gender and Race has long been legislated upon.  We were still in our infancy when the Government, in its infinite wisdom, decided to amalgamate all equality issues into one single piece of legislation – the Equality Act 2010.  Many equality campaigners (including me) predicted that this would be the demise of disability rights. Indeed the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater and disability rights have fallen to the bottom of the equality agenda.

Hate crime towards disabled people has increased; essential disability benefits have been cut; essential practical support enabling disabled people to work and or be educated have been slashed; and vital positive legislative rulings enabling disabled people to move forward, have been overturned on the whim of non-disabled legal personnel devoid of common sense.

So, whilst I am having a good moan, I would like to take a swipe at those companies out there who make a lot of money on the back of the situation in which disabled people find themselves. I’m specifically talking about the companies who provide essential equipment for disabled people, particularly electric powered wheelchairs.

I’d like to tell you about a dream I had the other night.  In the dream I was being taught to dance the jive – specifically the Jive(R) in a Sunrise Medical wheelchair.  Curious? Well read on.

I have used electric powered wheelchairs since I was about nine years old, and Steve has used a powered chair for nearly ten years. Up until now I have always been an advocate of Sunrise Medical powered chairs.  My first was the innovative manual to powered F15, followed by two consecutive F55’s which were strong and robust.

However, the problem comes when you want to replace a well worn F55, and find that this trusted product is no longer manufactured.  For some unearthly reason, the alternatives on offer are named after a variety of Latin dances … Salsa, Jive, Hula, Rumba … You get the drift!  Conversely, I suppose that a Sunrise wheelchair called Foxtrot, Waltz or American Smooth, just doesn’t send the right product advertising messages for a go-getting corporation that services a world-wide market in powered chairs.

Unfortunately, our chosen alternative to the sturdy and reliable F55 proved rather less than a racy and raunchy Latin dance, but more a clumpy mobility version of Ann Widdecombe and John Sergeant combined.

I could go on forever telling you our saga of such a dreadful product – but Steve is still wrapping presents, and the X Factor is blaring away in the background – so I will simply say that after more than six months of aggravation; an engineer bordering on moving in (as he spent more time in our house than he did at his own); a rather fraught visit to the Sunrise manufacturing hub in the West Midlands (where we discovered that patience and understanding are left firmly locked in the time clock, when the Sunrise shop floor workers clock on); Senior  company management  demonstrating a complete disregard for Sunrise customers, (to the extent that even when they are presented with irrefutable evidence of a product so wanting in quality) that they did not have the decency to acknowledge receipt of email communication.  Maybe they should revisit their professed “Corporate Responsibility” as it is so eloquently quoted on the Sunrise website…

“At Sunrise Medical, we’re not only focused on improving people’s lives, but also the way we do business. Whether it’s being respectful of our environment, contributing to the communities in which we operate in or empowering our employees to think and act in a responsible way – managing our business in a responsible way is important to everyone at Sunrise Medical.”

Steve’s chair was returned, as not fit for purpose.  Fortunately, his saviour came in the form of a Meyra iChair MC3, from our trusted regular wheelchair maintenance company – Hereford Mobility Centre – who supplied a rather nifty black and white version which we have nick-named the “Storm Trooper”.  So, to lighten this blog, I am posting a picture of Steve, in his own inimitable way, modelling his very own little Storm Trooping wheelchair.

For me, I am still plodding on with my JiveR.  Currently I have had the controller and tyres replaced, had to have the arms on the chair fabricated in a stronger fashion, and even then, we have resorted to duct tape to keep a number of nuts and bolts in place!  The only reason I am putting up with this is that I am not particularly disposed to the idea of sitting in a Storm Trooper – Princess Leia I am not!

It still seems that even in these supposed enlightened times, particularly in terms of the provision of goods and services for Disabled People, society generally, providers of goods and services, and the Government are doing a disservice to Disabled People. I can put it no clearer than just to say … “two steps forward and five steps back”.

Yet again disabled people will need to rise up and fight for our rights.  We need separate, clear and enforceable Disability Equality Legislation.

Phew … Rant over.   So all I need to do now is wish you a very happy and peaceful Christmas holiday, and to everyone – regardless of gender, race, religion or disability – I hope you have a New Year that brings empowerment and success in equal measures.

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – UNIVERSITY CHALLENGE

September 30, 2013
Another fine mess...

Another fine mess…

It’s really quiet in the house at the moment. I don’t mean quiet because we are all working really hard … but because we have just completed the University Challenge.

As I sit at my computer writing this blog, James will have finished his first day of University lectures, and I can reflect on twelve months that have been satisfying and challenging in equal measures.

I can’t quite believe that it was last September when we joined the University applications treadmill. Firstly there was the acquisition of The Times Good University Guide; working out that we could discount a visit to Oxford and Cambridge and then getting wholly realistic about the best Universities for photography. I really wouldn’t have believed it could be so difficult to narrow the choice down, but as James had already decided his final choices would be loosely based on or close to a main motorway corridor, it made the exercise a little easier. From Exeter to Manchester and Swansea to London, the list was slowly whittled down until five possible locations were agreed.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I think the weather makes a difference as to how you see a place. So, here’s a brief meteorological summary of the places we visited. Bristol was bright and breezy; Newport was nice (it doesn’t always rain in Wales); Roehampton was rainy – and I mean wet; Cardiff was close (far too close to home) and Southampton was snowy.

For any readers who may be embarking on a similar merry-go-round with your soon to be independent offspring, be warned … once you have done one open day, the rest will be guaranteed to be a clone of the first. With hindsight, we should have realised that all the Universities are interested in are bums on seats, and so the open days are really nothing more than a selling opportunity. There is also a limit as to how often you can espouse the virtues of the Student halls of residence. I mean, if you put the Hotel Inspector into these baron concrete blocks that pass for somewhere to live, I am quite convinced she would have a serious rant. What would she make of magnolia walls, and fixtures and fittings that are so minimalist that even those who love Bauhaus or Philipe Starck would find it hard to find positives out of Formica and vinyl.

Making all the right noises is paramount; even if you are secretly wishing you’d bought a winning lottery ticket the week before, and then you could install your little darling in moderate comfort rather than condemning them to 41 weeks in Prison Cell Block H.

However, enough of my maternal self pity. After the open days and the relevant selections made, the “send” button was pushed with gusto. Then all we had to do was sit back and wait for the UCAS offers to start arriving.

Interviews were completed in the few months thereafter, and offers were then received and final choices had to be made. Now, this is where it starts to get tricky. The battle between parental practicality and student stupidity is a tough one. How do you reconcile the hottest female totty and the hippest nightclub with the best darkroom and digital suite? Yes, it’s a no-brainer really, and the balancing of compromise brought a solution that was just about acceptable to new student and the cash cow that is the bank of Mum and Dad.

And so fast-forward to results day. Our email inboxes were bursting with messages from chosen Universities saying “don’t worry if your results are not quite what you expected” (what a confidence boost!) – to be interpreted as being we still need your bum on our seat and we’ll bend over backwards to get you there. A quick early morning phone call from one of my dearest friends to say the UCAS system had gone live and there it was, a message to say “Congratulations, your place at Southampton Solent for photography has been confirmed”

All those days and nights of nagging to get as much revision as possible done before it was too late, had paid off. And, in an instant I had become the mother of a soon-to-be student.

After the flurry of obligatory texts and phone calls, father and son then had to sit down and organise accommodation – The sentence of 41 weeks in Prisoner Cell Block H had been handed down. Two hours after they went into Steve’s office, James emerged – a shadow of his former self – I gather in typical Stephen fashion, James was given chapter and verse from the University website as to what he could and couldn’t do in halls. Rumpole was happy, satisfied that our budding Mario Testino wouldn’t have anything hotter than an a fiery pepperoni pizza in his room, when all James was interested in, was how many crates of beer we could get in the car to get him through Fresher’s Week.

Our next big challenge was to amass the stuff which we are told students simply cannot live without – Beer and, well more beer. Internet research suggested that apart from beer there were other more mundane items which would make life in cells (no, sorry – I mean halls) more comfortable.

At this stage, I have to just digress a little. My lovely hubby is a great believer in lists. We have a holiday list, which from underwear to umbrellas has never failed us when we go away, and so it seemed only logical that a list should be prepared to gather what would be needed for University life.

After making up the list, Steve decided that we would turn the living room into an Amazon warehouse, and the room would be split into sections – Studying, Kitchen, Bedroom, Enjoyment and Fun.

Now, just take a look at the list. What does the order of priority tell you about the man to whom I have been married for longer than you get for murder? The answer is quite simple, it tells you who the party-lovers are in our house, and so James and I decided priorities needed to be changed … Enjoyment and Fun, Kitchen, Bedroom and Studying … now that’s more like University life!

Over the following few weeks, “the list” did work wonders. Woks and pots, Beer and more beer, Bedding and towels, and oh yes, study equipment soon swamped the room. I couldn’t go in there without dissolving into tears, and Steve just became increasingly concerned about whether the credit card had reached breaking point.
However, by some miracle everything on the list got ticked off, and we were ready to go. The general idea, was to pack as much of the luggage into the car as we could the day before James was due to fly the nest, and that would just leave a few bits and pieces which would fit in after we had loaded the wheelchairs.

Our last supper was over and all that was left was to get an early night for the long journey the next day. They do say the best laid plans go awry, and with us that is certainly true. An arrival slot between 2 and 4.30pm had been booked for halls, but as is usually the case, we were late leaving home. The main problem was that the car hadn’t been packed the night before; and James had much more stuff than we expected. I had to get into the car about 45 minutes before we were due to leave, so that all the rest of the bags and luggage could be strategically packed around me.

Off we eventually went, and decided that a motorway stop for lunch would be a good idea. When we pulled up at the service area, I swear that the people around us thought we were setting up camp. It did look as though we were part of the anti-fracking campaign which was taking place near our destination. Out came one wheelchair, then a collection of bags and bedding before I emerged, a bit like Lady Gaga bursting out of an oversized birthday cake, concentrating on one thing – no, not the thought of an M&S sandwich and a latte, but – whether the accessible loo which doubles as a baby changing station would free!

Sandwiches eaten and latte drunk, we got back in the car, and joined the throng of commuter traffic travelling towards the south coast. Nearly five hours after we left home we arrived at the halls and it looked like a ghost town. As we were almost two hours over our expected arrival time, most organised parents had been and gone, and (I have no doubt) their once angelic offspring were planning their first binge of Fresher’s in the closest pub they could find.

Joking apart, the student members of the residence team were great. As soon as they realised that James had arrived with two “extras” from Casualty, they set to and helped unload the car. We then discovered there was a step into Block C (it was such a pity it couldn’t have been Block H) and one of the residence team used his initiative and went off and returned with a table top which he fashioned into a makeshift ramp. Who says all students leave their brains behind when they leave home!

However, by the time the car was in a sufficient state of unload that I could get out, James’ appointed cell – no, sorry bedroom – was full, and I mean FULL! Think Stan Laurel standing in the middle of a room, in a complete state of chaos, scratching the top of his head, and you will get a general picture of James during the first 30 minutes in his new home for the next 41 weeks.

I gallantly refrained from blubbering (until out of site), whilst we decided that short of blocking up the whole of the corridor watching James shift boxes from one part of the room to another, there was little we could do to help.

Having said a quick hello to some of his flatmates, we left them with the conundrum that is Rosie and Stephen, as we said our goodbyes and my “little Solider” was deposited there and ready to start his new life.

We’ve just had our first full weekend of Rosie and Steve time for 18 years. Steve can’t find enough washing to do, he hasn’t yet mastered making dinner for two, and keeps on wanting to tidy up – but the problem is, there no messy teenager to clean up after.

There is one small consolation … I have taken ownership of the Sky remote, and am indulging my passion for all the programmes that I like on TV. Steve is not so keen on grisly television, and has been demoted to the kitchen, but has confessed that Strictly come Dancing by subtitles does have its drawbacks!

And finally, just to let you know, we had a phone call last night from a student who is suffering from Fresher’s flu, but who is looking forward to the challenges of his course. Orders of priority have changed and we were consigned to being slotted between a vegetable stir fry and a trip to the pub.

Whether he’ll have the same outlook on University life after a long day of lectures – only time will tell. But, at least for the moment, it’s good to know that (H)alls well that ends well!

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – MORPHING

June 26, 2013

The last couple of months have been rather hectic to say the least, and there has been an awful lot of morphing going on in our house.

It all started with preparations for the Thalidomide Society 50th Anniversary AGM which was held in March, and at which we were able to celebrate the achievements of the Society and look back at a momentous period of time which saw the organisation go from a small group of parents who came together with the aim of supporting each other through our early childhood, into a body that is well able to represent its members at national and international forums concerned with those who have missing limbs due to various conditions. However, at the core of these celebrations was an acknowledgement that the Society’s history is rich with many diverse characters and personalities, that have helped shape what it does today.

The weekend celebrations culminated in a gala dinner-dance (complete with “jivers” sporting missing bits of all descriptions) which was themed as a murder-mystery evening filled with gangsters and molls. Now to convert into a moll, all we girls need is a bit of red lipstick, a string of fake pearls, a rather dubious looking feather for the hair and a dress with a plunging neckline. Fortunately, all of these items I was able to locate without too much difficulty. No comments about the red lippy or the plunging neckline please … we girls of Irish origin do have to keep the Celtic end up! For my dashing son, morphing into anything remotely resembling Michael Corleone didn’t involve too much trouble, but the conundrum facing us was … what we do with a rather portly husband who left dressing up behind when he left the Wendy house in reception class at Primary school. The problem was compounded by the fact that Steve had been asked to take part in the periphery of the murder mystery by posing as the head of a Chicago mafia family, pitting himself head to head with our good friend Eddie Freeman and his family. Undaunted, and determined to do justice to his debut into the world of murder-mystery, we raided the wardrobe and found just the outfit … A dinner suit, which yes, surprise surprise still fitted, a 1930’s style wing-collar dress shirt, a black bow tie (and self tie at that!), a trilby hat and a rather dapper looking buttonhole in the shape of a red rose (get the connection) which we cannibalised from one of my hair scrunchies from way back in the days when I sported outsized hair bands and bobbles. The 1980’s have so much to answer for!

With the whole ensemble being topped off with a silver walking cane, he really did look the part … So much so that if they ever need to digitally re-master the original Godfather, then I have no doubt that we’ll be packing our bags and heading off to Hollywood!

Now, as you know, I’ve done a bit of acting over the last couple of years, but I had no idea I had a challenger for the title of champion thespian in our family. But rise to the challenge Steve really did. His Chicago accent was a combination of New York Bronx and Forrest Gump with a bit of South Wales Valleys mixed in for good measure. He and Eddie made a grand job of running rings around the paid actors, but somehow, I don’t think they will be invited to join the troupe on a permanent basis.

However, at the end of the day, I think we did a good job of “glamming” up and it was fun, flamboyant and fabulous!

Having found myself in danger of being usurped on the acting front, it was a good job I was able to do a bit of morphing myself, into a student painter with the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists. Since June last year, I have been busying myself and brushing up (excuse the pun!) on my painting skills, and was delighted to have been accepted as a Student of the Organisation, shortly after “Don Simmioni” had made his acting debut. And so between keeping the business ticking along, I now find myself whiling away the hours in front of an easel, from which I have produced a number paintings, with varying degrees of success. However, on the whole, the painting disasters have been far outweighed by the finished pieces which I have been able to submit.

Of course, alongside all of this, has been our need to morph into parents of a nearly adult. And that is not an easy task. How we managed to survive James’s A’ level revision is anyone’s guess, and so to the next morphing episode. Steve has always had a leaning towards being a teacher. I think it may run in the blood, but the law beckoned as a career, and I can’t help thinking that his downfall on the teaching front would have been patience. It may have something to do with taking a horse to water and trying to make it drink, but despite extolling the virtues of revision notes, which would have made the final revision “push” a little bit easier, this worthy suggestion seemed to fall on deaf ears. On a couple of occasions over the last couple of months, I’ve gone out for a pleasant evening with my sisters, only to wonder whether there would be blood on the walls when I returned home. Fortunately, my fears were allayed. Instead I would return home to find a wearisome hubby sitting in front of the telly, with a son who had retired to his room and was engrossed in a Skype conversation with a certain young lady which said conversations (quite understandably) occupy more minutes than Steve has hairs on the top of his head!

It was only the day of the last exam, that I found myself morphing into a blubbering wreck, rather like the one I was fourteen years ago, when we said goodbye to the staff at Acorns Nursery, and Mummy’s “brave little soldier” set off for life in the new world of “big school.” Now Mummy’s boisterous, rowdy, and messy teenager was leaving “big school” and getting ready for the new world of University.

This is where our skills of morphing now have to be imparted into the next generation of Moriarty-Simmonds’. Having secured a part-time job just before Christmas last year, we had hoped that James would have grasped the nettle on budgeting … Wrong! One of the big issues at the moment is fashion, which seems to come at an astronomical price. My most recent duty as the mother of a sixth form school leaver was to spend an afternoon in town, only I must add, to supply the credit card, to buy a new suit for the sixth form prom. The afternoon was great. Rather like old times. We had lunch, mulled over the fun times that flagged up with both of us … For example, the time James and a couple of his school friends were made to sit outside the primary school Headteacher’s office, as they had proudly announced they were going to make a fire by rubbing twigs together – That obviously wasn’t a good idea, but how on earth the playground supervisor thought they were going to morph into the next Bear Grylls, with just a couple of damp twigs from the privet hedge that bordered the playground is beyond me. Then there was the school sports day when James insisted on folding up his clothes before moving onto the next stage of the obstacle race, only to trundle over the finish line, about 10 minutes after the winner, wearing the biggest and broadest smile you could ever wish to see. This was topped off with a reminisce about the primary school proms, which were about as tuneful as the Worzels and the Wombles put together.

How Steve (and his Mum for that matter) weren’t ejected from the concerts is a mystery to this day, for laughing uncontrollably at the string section of the orchestra which sounded more like a collection of alleycats on a promise!

However I digress, back to the shopping expedition. The suit was bought, and having arrived home, Steve needed a stiff drink when he realised he would have to morph into a male escort to pay the bill. The fashion show commenced, and I looked on with more than a little bit of pride, knowing that the bundle which had brought me so much joy when he was born, was parading before me in a grown up suit, and was about to become an adult, and make his own way in the world.

But of course, before those dizzy heights could be scaled, there was a small matter of mastering the washing machine. And there was only one person who was suitably qualified to impart the virtues of separating whites, blacks and colours. Who I ask was this person? Yes, it was none other than good old Stephen.

However, I have to tell you that before he earned his stripes on the washing front, there were a number of mishaps that have left me emotionally scarred. To explain, I have to take you back to a galaxy far, far away. Well, actually, to a time about 25 years ago. In those days, it is fair to say that Steve’s choice of underwear colour was (shall we say) a little sartorially challenged. To be precise – brown and cream, and purple and white! Now, I shan’t take it any further than that, but needless to say, as soon as I was able, I did all I could to morph him from that strange land of psychedelic underwear. Sadly, it was not before he managed to turn everything in one particular wash a rather fetching shade of pink, including shirt, which, once white, was proudly worn as pink for many months; and believe it or not, there wasn’t a tell-tale blotch in sight.

Fortunately, Steve is a fast learner, and quickly learned the importance of not mixing colours. This art was mastered to such an extent that by the time James got to High School, there was only one kid in the class that stood out on the walk home from school. The 60 degree wash, produced such brilliant results that Steve was moved one day to say how proud he was of James … And of course, you now know that I’m not talking about classroom achievements (although there were many of those that Steve was rightly proud of) but rather how the whiter than white shirt was born as a badge of honour to someone who had learned the hard way that clothes washing is a skill in itself!

So, with two loads of washing successfully completed, and with James having a reasonable degree of competence in the kitchen, the only skill which remains unconquered is the budgeting. I guess the next morphing session will be into that of a financial advisor. Whether Steve will finally learn the art of patience, or if he will simply give up and change the PIN number on the bank account remains to be seen. All I hope is we crack that one before the 15th August when the results come out, and my brave little soldier will trundle … not into the Wendy House, but into the Halls of Residence, with a packet of Persil and the words of his Dad ringing in his ears … “Whites, colours and black”
At that stage, Steve can move onto his next morphing act, which is to conjure up lots of things for me to do from September. After all, there are only so many paintings that you can paint in a month, and, come Fresher’s week, the house will be really quiet, with no one to shout at to turn off the lights, or to remind them to flush the loo, or scream at to get them out of bed.

Ah well, long may this summer holiday last, because even though I think we’ve cracked the morphing from being parents of a child, and then into parents of a teenager, and now into a nearly adult … I’d like to hang onto my “Mumsyness” for just a couple more weeks.

Still I think this quote is a really nice way to end this blog:
“There isn’t a child who hasn’t gone out into the brave new world who eventually doesn’t return to the old homestead carrying a bundle of dirty clothes.” ~ Art Buchwald

Fingers crossed for the 15th August, and for everyone else waiting for exam results this summer. Good luck and God speed – Remember to tell them to separate their washing and don’t, under any circumstance buy purple and white underwear!

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – HORSING AROUND

March 6, 2013
Steve and his Chaos in the kitchen at Christmas

Steve and his Chaos in the kitchen at Christmas

On 1st March I was privileged to attend the National St. David’s Day celebration in Cardiff. At the after-service reception the subject of Welsh foodie delicacies cropped up. Amongst many, Welsh cakes and Welsh Rarebit seemed to top the poll of welsh delights.

This got me thinking about the origins of Welsh food, and why certain dishes are called what they are.

For example, Welsh Rarebit has nothing to do with rabbits, and there are doubts as to whether it originated in Wales. One theory suggests that way back in the 17th century a “poor man’s” meat in England was rabbit. In Wales, where “poor men” simply couldn’t afford meat, they resorted to cheese, and as a result some “taffy” or another conjured up the name for a snack which we in Wales love.

As for Welsh cakes, we adore them. Sugared, stodgy and yummy. If you ever come to Cardiff, try the ones from the Victorian Market. The best in town and its reputation has now stretched to Hampshire. On the other side of the Severn Bridge there is a far more formal “take” on the recipe. The less, stodgy and less sugary English version is the scone. However, back to Welsh cakes … It seems our friends (with Welsh heritage) in Patagonia have a different perspective on this particular piece of “Welshness”. They say that back in 1865 when a number of Welsh settlers started to build new lives for themselves, they struggled to find food that would sustain them in lean times. So, they mixed together brown sugar, sweetened nuts and fruit to make a cake of strength, and one that would last once cooked. In Patagonia, the Welsh cake is also considered significant for newlyweds. Tradition has it that the bottom tier of the wedding cake is made of Welsh cake. After the wedding, the other tiers of the cake are eaten, but the bottom layer is wrapped up and the newlyweds eat a slice of the cake every month for the first year of marriage to give them the fortitude to survive the trials and tribulations of married life.

Where is this taking us? Well, apart from having a burning desire, right now, to have a coffee and a Welsh cake, it got me thinking about how cooking skills and techniques develop as time goes by.

Way back when, in 1988, Steve appointed himself as official food shopper for our household. That was OK, but his way of shopping bore no relation to how we had shopped when I lived at home. Before we got married, my idea of shopping, was to trundle off to the local shop with my PA; get a loaf of bread, a tin of soup, a packet of biscuits and a few other essential ingredients – such as meat (no horse of course!) to make sure I could live, if not quite like a queen, then as close as you could – bearing in mind the varying level of cooking skills that (over the years) my PA’s have demonstrated.

I can still remember the day that Steve returned from his first “married” shopping trip … having spent two hours wandering around the supermarket, returning with provisions that would have seen us through a nuclear war, let alone a month. But who was I to argue. In came bread, butter, meat, vegetables, tins, biscuits, more biscuits and even more biscuits … you get the drift on his priorities. I have to admit the system worked, and we never did run out of food, but what he did with all the carrots he bought continues to be a source of intrigue to me. I can only think they did some good, as he has only recently conceded that his 20-20 vision isn’t quite what it was.

However, buying wine was another thing entirely. Coming from a good Welsh Presbyterian background, he was hardly likely to be a fine wine connoisseur, but when he proudly announced we were going to host a dinner party for his senior partner, and other office colleagues, I did start to wonder whether I should take responsibility for the wine ordering. Having fixed a date for the meal, decided upon the menu, and organised the dining room table, all that was left to do, was the shopping. Off to the supermarket Steve went, armed with a list of ingredients for the meal, and with firm instructions on what wine to buy. Now just remember that at this time, here was a man who couldn’t tell a Merlot from a Muscadet. Disaster was bound to loom. I did wonder whether I should have gone to the shops myself, but when you have to impress your senior partner, there is nothing for it, but to let the captain of his sinking ship stay to the bitter end.

An hour or so later, Marco Pierre White returned. Armed with everything that would make the evening go with plenty of joie de vie, Steve was confident that his future in the practice was secure. However, when I enquired as to how he had chosen the wine, the reply floored even me. “I liked the look of the label” was the chirpy response. Too late to do anything other than see his professional development go down the drain, rather like the plonk that had been bought, we got ready for the evening. The guests duly arrived and we proceeded to dinner. In fairness to Steve, the meal was really rather good and the evening was a great success. However, the funniest thing of all was the wine choice. Apparently 1988 was a good year for Bulgarian Merlot, and what came home from the Supermarket? Yes, a generous number of bottles of Bulgarian Merlot over which Mr. Williams (the senior partner) raved. Career intact, Steve decided to keep one of the bottles for posterity. He suggested we open it on our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Well, that significant date looms in September, and the only remaining bottle of 1988 Merlot continues to sit in our wine store. I hardly want to burst his bubble, but the bottle which so saved his career is about as past its sell-by-date as the man who bought it 25 years ago!

This quite neatly brings me onto the subject, more generally, of food.

In the early years of married life, we both worked long hours. Usually I got home before Steve, and supervised the PA’s in getting our evening meal. I shan’t labour some of the tasteless delights that emerged from our kitchen, but these palled into insignificance when I think of the cake and pastry delights that my lunchtime PA could conjure up in an hour. However, on a Saturday that changed. If we weren’t going out, then Steve would take charge in the kitchen. As you know from Four Fingers and Thirteen Toes, we are partial to a Chinese takeaway, but Steve would also quite willingly wield the saucepans and create some dish which usually involved a sauce. He likes his sauces, and it is only recently I have plucked up the courage to tell him how awful they were in those heady days of lust and love!

Thankfully, things have improved, and to give you an idea of just how far I have brought my own “master chef”, I have to take you back to a time just before we got married. “I’ll cook you tea” was the offer one day. Well, there was nothing for it; I would have to try his cooking at some stage, so I thought I’d just as well “try before I buy”! What was the menu I hear you ask … Beef burgers and chips (now you see the horse connection…!). This, in itself wouldn’t have been too bad, but beef burger cooked in a microwave (arhhhhhh!) Well, I ate, I digested and went to the loo just as soon as I could. Apparently, a meal of beef burgers and chips was the regular dinner for a busy lawyer – especially on a Monday – prepared just in time for Coronation Street. What an exciting life he led before he found me!

Having poked fun at the male cookery skills in our house, it is only right I tell you about my own culinary demons. Again, many years ago, some well meaning social worker decided that I would benefit from domestic training at Rookwood Hospital Cardiff, where they are able to assess whether you need any special equipment to live independently. Off I went, and cooked a cake … all by myself. I made such a mess with the flour that my black hair looked curiously like a Cruella De Vil hairstyle on a bad day, and as for the cake, can I just say that at the time we were having a new wall built, and it is no understatement to say that the bricks from the wall, were softer than my cake!

No more cooking for me – Phew! Instead it was decided that I would supervise from the safety of the other side of the kitchen. Slowly, oh so slowly, Steve was weaned off microwave beef burgers, and encouraged to use a cookery book – not just to fill out the shelves on the kitchen units, but use to them properly. Out went Microwave Cooking for Dummies, and in came 1001 Recipes for Idiots. Just what was needed!

A few wine tasting evenings, care of the Porthcawl Lions Club, meant Steve was confidently able to identify the difference between Chardonnay and Chablis and even Alberino from Asti Spumante.

But, it is only right that you don’t get completely the wrong idea of what goes on in our kitchen. Since those dark days of long ago, my “little chef” has become something of a “whizz” at conjuring up all manner of tasty delights. Thai, Italian, Chinese to name but a few and of course the traditional Sunday roast. What he can’t do with a punnet of strawberries and a generous helping of Tia Maria is nobody’s business, and his Christmas Eve meal for anyone who wants to join us, has become the stuff of legend!

However, every now and again he does fall off the wagon. Somehow burgers do find their way back onto the BBQ menu, but at least they are cooked over the coals rather than in microwaves. And, with the best intentions in the world, the wine choice still causes ripples of amusement. As an example, the favoured white for our last Christmas Eve meal was… Flip Flop (!) Asked why this particular choice was made, the answer was “Well, it reminded me of the summer and the Olympics” Did it make him legless? I’ll let you decide, but please, no “Oscar P” jokes!

I’m just waiting with eager anticipation to see whether I will be favoured with Bollinger or Baby Cham on Mother’s Day. It’s a good job that James will be 18 in a couple of months time, and hopefully my “wine worries” will be over. Then, he can be responsible for showing his Dad some real wine!

And so, where do I end? There appears to be a noise in the kitchen as I write. Can I allow my mind to wander to a place where Thai fish curry or mixed salad and smoked salmon will greet me at the dinner table? Sadly no … it’s Wednesday, and the chef has the night off. Thank goodness the Pen-y-Lan fish shop has a menu to suit even the fussiest of eaters. However, there is always tomorrow, and I hear rumblings of a steak and ale pie – Now we’re talking … Move over the hairy bikers as my own little four-wheeled wok-wizard will soon be back in action, and I can’t wait!

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – THAT WAS THE MONTH THAT WAS!

April 26, 2012

Indeed, this as has been quite a month. New grass, new gardener, rain, rain and more … of the general hassle which comes with the end of the financial year.

However, Nil desperandum.  I am pleased to say that there have been a couple of rays of sunshine on the horizon of a rather miserable spring.

Firstly, I started work with the USS.  Ah! I hear you exclaim, another recruit for the secret service.  Well actually no.  USS is my pseudonym for Disability Arts Cymru’s Unusual Stage School.  My Facebook friends will know that for the last month or so we have been rehearsing hard for the adaptation of Birds by Aristophanes.  Now the plug … For those of you in close proximity of Cardiff, the Sherman Theatre Cymru 11th and 12th May are the dates you need, and for more information log onto the Sherman website at http://www.shermancymru.co.uk/performance/theatre/birds/

 

Rehearsals for this production have been a learning curve for me.  I haven’t sung for at least 20 years (apart from singing along to songs on the radio to fill the inordinate amount of time I seem to spend in the bathroom these days – and no, I’m not on water tablets!) and the last time I really remember acting (apart from the ‘D’ Monologues) was in the odd Shakespearian production at Treloars.  Anyway I can’t give away too much, save to say that I rehearsed my first stage kiss yesterday.  And  what about my verdict on my stage beau?  Well that’s for me to know and for you come and find out!

However, rehearsals aside, just before Easter the postman arrived with a bundle of post, and one very “posh” envelope from Buckingham Palace.  Addressed to me, yes, not Mr and Mrs, but just Mrs …!  It was an invitation to attend the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Service of Thanksgiving at Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff.  Fortunately, on reading it, the “Mr” of the house was also included and so the invitation was duly accepted for Mrs. Rosaleen Moriarty-Simmonds and Mr. Stephen Simmonds.  Who needs equality legislation? The Palace seemed to have cracked that one no problem!

The next major dilemma – and one which every self respecting woman experiences on a regular basis – is what to wear?  The dress code for women, stipulated day dress and hat, and for the men, lounge suit. Easy peasy for the men, a new suit, shiny shoes and a smart bright tie.  But for us girls the issue of suitable attire for a Royal event needs more thought.  Inspiration on this occasion came in the shining vision of Bryony.  A young talented costume maker, whom I met through the Birds rehearsals, Bryony is one of the costume makers for the production. 

Now, I had no desire to be bathed in plumes of feathers for this dignified event; so, after a visit to one of the many fabric shops that I use for my dress material, I settled on a rather sophisticated fabric of black and silver.  I also decided to team this with a shiny black collar.  Bryony took the material away, and came back a couple of weeks later with the creation – all discreetly elegant and everything that I could have asked for.

But the more pressing problem was the head gear.  Picture the scene that is me … short arms, short waisted and not suited to hats whatsoever.  I remember with fondness my good friend Jeanette on our wedding day.  Jeanette was shaped very loosely like me, and hats simply do not mix with our shape at all. 

So, how do you overcome the problem of the hat requirement whilst accommodating my physique?  The solution requires the help of two sisters who were responsible for my “blond” phase about six years ago (was it a bad decision to go hat shopping with two people who had single-handedly turned me from black to blond in a moment of madness) and a number of very patient shop assistants.  I must confess that the exercise of choosing head gear was one made more pleasurable by a leisurely lunch, and then a hazy winey blur resulted in the acquisition of a rather fetching fascinator.  White feathers … we’re back to Birds again (but not my colour – you’ll still have to come to see the colour of my feathers on stage!).  The said item was to be delivered from a branch of the chosen department store outside the area.  When I gave the shop assistant my post code, it transpires that “Mr” had already bought items from that particular department store – although on questioning when I got back home, I was assured no female apparel had ever been acquired.  Phew, with the month that I’d just had, I don’t think I could have coped with a major life changing confession!

 

There was another issue which needed to be considered.  And like every other occasion in this country, it is weather-centred.  Remembering our encounter with the rain in New York last year, it is little wonder that every time I went shopping I came back with a different umbrella.  The stand in our hallway was once the sole domain of Steve’s walking sticks, but it now proudly displays a variety of umbrellas from one which is green with white spots, to a rather nifty looking brollie that Eliza Doolittle would have been proud to use at Ascot!

The day of the Thanksgiving Service arrived.  Weather checks every thirty minutes determined that Her Majesty might very well get wet.  But enough of me, Steve and James were more concerned with the Queen!  I opted for the discreet silver umbrella that went rather nicely with my outfit, and teamed very well with the clutch bag that I had decided to use.

There was a moment of tension when the fascinator went into my hair, and we wondered if I’d manage to get in the car without squashing the feathers, but all was well.

Armed with instructions on where to park in Llandaff (which is incidentally, a City within a City – for those of you reading this blog from outside of the area), admission cards and suitable forms of identification we set off.  The instructions had tersely advised that all guests had to be seated by 10am.  Surprise, Surprise, we were late leaving the house.  No worries, the traffic and traffic lights were (for a change) with us, and we drove gracefully down the High Street in Llandaff and were met by a rather helpful Steward who pointed us in the direction of parking.  Admission cards and passports at the ready, we presented them to the attendant police officer (who, to his credit was taking his job very seriously).  The Cathedral was rapidly filling and at the appointed hour, the pomp and circumstance commenced.  Guardsmen, Beefeaters and senior members of the clergy made the occasion very grand, and the music from the choristers, the organist and orchestra were simply awe-inspiring.  Timekeeping was impeccable, and right on time, the processional music commenced and the royal party entered the Cathedral.  Her Majesty is a grand lady, with grace and poise that has come from years of service to her country.  The affection from the congregation for our monarch was palpable. 

We had joked that we would probably be seated behind a pillar, and guess what … we were!  However, the aisle on which we were seated was wide enough for me to slip forward to see the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh as they walked to the front of the Cathedral.  I was thrilled when she caught my eye and smiled in acknowledgement. 

The service was over all too soon, and almost as soon as the cheers from the crowds outside the Cathedral has ceased, the congregation departed.  Back to their regular daytime activities, but if they were anything like us, highly honoured to have been part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, even if it was witnessed from behind a pillar and further obscured by a rather large christening font.

It’s now just about time to view the evening news, and reflect on the fact that “we were there”.

 

Tomorrow, it’s off to hear the Deputy Prime Minister speak at an event organised by the Cardiff Business Club.  I’m not entirely sure he will be received in the same manner as the Queen, but I guess he can dream! 

As for me, well my respite from rehearsal has nearly come to an end.  Later I shall be filling the house with my dulcet tones to the Birds chorus … and no, I’m not telling what the lyrics are.  On that note, hopefully I will see you in Cloud Cuckoo land, or even on Twitter for that matter.  So for the time being I must fly!

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – WHAT’S IN A NAME?

March 5, 2012

Over the half term holiday, Steve and I took a short break to London.  We used a hotel at which we have previously stayed, and in the hope that I could sweet talk the manager into finding a room for us to book when we (fortunately) travel up to see the Olympics.

“Mr. Pessimistic” said I had no chance, but worry not, the name Rosaleen Moriarty-Simmonds is enough to strike fear into the soul of even the most hardened of hotel managers!

So having had a really good Valentine’s meal, not to mention polishing off an appropriate bottle of pink bubbly stuff, I set about my task.

Down to the front desk …. “Allo Madam” … Oh how my heart melted, a Frenchman on Valentine’s day!  I felt fleetingly guilty for leaving Steve to settle the restaurant bill with a rather burly female restaurant manager of Eastern European origin; But, I must confess the emphasis on “fleetingly” as I can’t remember the last time I was in company of a real Frenchman.  With all the charisma that I could muster, I put my chair into riser mode, and inwardly chuckled at the look of amazement on his face, as I appear Goddess-like from the other side of the reception desk.

First things first, I introduced myself.  “Ah Madam” you are of Irish Origin.  “Qui” I replied, and we proceeded to make small talk about how awful it was for so many Irish Rugby fans to have travelled to Paris for the game that never was.

I ascertained that the Manager’s name was Jean-Claude (commonly known, as I discovered during our stay, as “JC”).  I garbled out my request.  I really didn’t think a woman of a certain maturity of age could still be so struck by the French accent, but there you are.  JC reassured me that if I called at the desk in the morning, he would be pleased to help in whatever way he could “Until the morning – Merci” was my reply, and with all the grace of a deflating hot air balloon I returned to ground level, and back to Steve.  Between getting to our room and drifting off to sleep, I had composed a chanson d’amour especially for JC, the lyrics of which will remain firmly in my subconscious!

True to his word, JC did indeed do all he could to help, and managed to persuade the computer system to let him book a room for our Olympic stay.  So, for the time being “Au revoir JC” … Or certainly until our next visit.

The point of the little deviation in this blog is to show just how we react to names.  Would we have taken the Duchess of Cambridge quite so readily to our hearts if she had been called Lilly.  Somehow, “Wills and Lills” doesn’t have quite the same appeal on the tea-towel! What if the Duchess of Cornwall was not Camilla, but rather Cilla … “Charles and Cilla” sounds more like a couple who should occupy one the famous houses on Coronation Street.  But fortunately for our future monarchs the issue of a troublesome name has eluded them.

Most names are capable of change – usually shortened, Ed, Bob, Fred, Andy … the list is endless, and the minute you read those names, you will instantly be able to put a (Thalidomide) face to those names.  Shortening names is OK if you get it right.  For years, I have variously been called Ros, Roz and Rosalind … until I put my foot down – well, in the metaphoric sense.  Now, I am contentedly called Rose or Rosie, or by my correct title of Rosaleen (pronounced Rose-a-leen).  A couple of years ago, Steve had a song written for our wedding anniversary.  From what I can gather, he had more than a little difficulty explaining to the lyricist and the singer how to pronounce my name in the song. Fortunately, in the final product, they got it right, and (as I lean over the bucket!) I can still hear the dulcet tones of the Cornish folk singer telling me how wonderful I am … Ah!

How we are addressed defines who we are.  In a recent report on Dignity in Care for Older People, certain recommendations were made to avoid the use of patronising names for older people. One description which is hoped will be outlawed, is the use of the term “Old Dear”.   I can interject here and tell you that one of my current PA’s used to help an older lady.  She always referred to her as the “old dear” and for the two years that my PA worked for me and this older lady, I never got to find out what her real name was.  I am still trying to educate this particular PA on the use of politically correct language.  Only time will tell if I succeed.  *_*

However, some terms of endearment are can be quite hilarious.  Take for example, the checkout girls at our local supermarket.  I nearly laughed my socks off the other day when, having just bought some petrol, we drove up to the kiosk and the lady behind the glass quaintly referred to Steve as “babe”.  I gather he has a maenad of female followers dotted around the supermarket from the bread section to the flower stall, not to mention the filling station.  All I can say is “Should have gone to SpecSavers”.

Like us, I am sure you have pet names for the members of your household.  I am Oshie (as my sister Denise couldn’t pronounce Rosie, when she was younger); Steve is Tug (a derivative from thug, when he had a short haircut); James is Dopey (need I say more!).  My Dad progressed from plain-old Dad, to Pappy (when he became a Grandfather) and sometimes to Raggy (I think it has something to do with his working clothes!).  My beloved maternal grandmother (to whom I refer in my book) was known as “Queenie” as she never left the house without a string of pearls, rather like the Queen Mother. 

I shan’t even bother you with the pet names that James uses for his Mum and Dad.  Just think cattle – female and male, and you’ll get the drift.  But where those particular terms of endearment came from, I have absolutely no idea.

Names, used in whatever way, can help to form a view of a person or product.  Whenever I venture to have a manicure, I count my lucky stars when I come out the other end with all digits intact.  After all, a book entitled “Three and a Half Fingers and Thirteen Toes” just doesn’t have the same ring as Four Fingers and Thirteen Toes!  Heaven only knows what would happen if I ventured to have a pedicure.  “Four Fingers and 9.75 Toes” would, most definitely fail to ignite the imagination.  Moreover, where would Amazon place it their category list … Maybe under “Contortion Made Simple” or “One Good Reason Not to have a Pedicure”.  Thank goodness I’ll never have to worry about that little problem … I’m not sure if I could cope with a rewrite!

When I googled the meaning of the name Rosaleen, I was surprised to find a conflict between its origins.  I had always thought it had its origins firmly rooted in Irish culture.  Rosaleen is considered as an allegory for the Irish nation communicating a message through a symbolic figure.  It became more widely used following the translation of the Gaelic name Róisín in the James Clarence Mangan poem “Dark Rosaleen”. 

However, a further search shows the name Rosaleen also has a German origin.  How strange therefore, given the whole crux of my story started in Germany, and is inextricably linked to Ireland, that my Mum decided to give me such a unique name.  It was not chosen for any educated or intellectual reasons, but, as my Mum explained to the Doctor who delivered me, she chose it as a “pretty name” – and indeed it is.

Roisin Dubh (pronounced; row sheen dove) means Little Dark Rose or Dark Rosaleen in Gaelic. It’s a traditional Irish poem turned song, that dates back to the 16th century and is one of Ireland’s most famous political songs. In a time where the Irish were not allowed to sing proud songs about their country, many songs arose that seemed to be about women or other subject matters, but were really a pseudonym for Ireland herself.  Thus the name ‘Dark Rosaleen’ is Ireland.

In honour of St. Patrick’s Day, only a couple of weeks away, and in honour of my Irish roots and family, here are the words of ‘Dark Rosaleen’.

Dark Rosaleen

By

James Clarence Mangan

O MY Dark Rosaleen,
Do not sigh, do not weep!
The priests are on the ocean green,
They march along the deep.
There’s wine from the royal Pope,
Upon the ocean green;
And Spanish ale shall give you hope,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
Shall glad your heart, shall give you hope,
Shall give you health, and help, and hope,
My Dark Rosaleen!

Over hills, and thro’ dales,
Have I roam’d for your sake;
All yesterday I sail’d with sails
On river and on lake.
The Erne, at its highest flood,
I dash’d across unseen,
For there was lightning in my blood,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
O, there was lightning in my blood,
Red lightning lighten’d thro’ my blood.
My Dark Rosaleen!

All day long, in unrest,
To and fro, do I move.
The very soul within my breast
Is wasted for you, love!
The heart in my bosom faints
To think of you, my Queen,
My life of life, my saint of saints,
My Dark Rosaleen!
My own Rosaleen!
To hear your sweet and sad complaints,
My life, my love, my saint of saints,
My Dark Rosaleen!

Woe and pain, pain and woe,
Are my lot, night and noon,
To see your bright face clouded so,
Like to the mournful moon.
But yet will I rear your throne
Again in golden sheen;
‘Tis you shall reign, shall reign alone,
My Dark Rosaleen!

My own Rosaleen!
‘Tis you shall have the golden throne,
‘Tis you shall reign, and reign alone,
My Dark Rosaleen!
Over dews, over sands,
Will I fly, for your weal:
Your holy delicate white hands
Shall girdle me with steel.
At home, in your emerald bowers,
From morning’s dawn till e’en,
You’ll pray for me, my flower of flowers,
My Dark Rosaleen!

This blog has been an interesting voyage, which started as a humorous look at names and how they shape characters.  Ironically, and almost by default, I have discovered that all the attributes which come with my names seem to fit my personality and life story perfectly.

So, whilst I am happy to be called Rosie, Rose, or anything else that might seem appropriate! I am Rosaleen through and through, and can’t thank my Mum enough for giving me my name.  It might not figure in the top 100 list of babies names, but if it is symbolic of triumph over adversity and matches my personality, then I’m happy with that.

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY

February 6, 2012

Every picture tells a story.  How true.  They say the camera never lies, and as time goes by, those photographs that we look at from yester-year allow us to cling onto a hazy youth and far flung times, when no-one seemed to have a care in the world.

Just last week, my diary flagged up a reminder that my blue (disabled) parking badge is soon due for renewal.  With the form that comes from the Local Authority, there will a request for a passport sized photograph, for ID purposes.  Fortunately, the photograph for blue badge purposes does not have to conform to passport regulations – thank goodness for that, I cringe every time I look at my passport.  The resultant scramble through the digital images stored on my computer reminds me that whilst the mind still thinks I’m eighteen, the reality is very different!

In this collection of first generation and scanned images there are the wedding photos, with me looking all fluffy and flushed with expectation; The honeymoon snaps that had me looking all … well flushed; a succession of holiday photographs of me looking all lobster-like, the “just given birth” pictures in which I was plain exhausted, and then the “significant” birthday images, which start off all demure and descend into chaos with the debris of many empty bottles visible as the significant celebrations trundle into the night!

One of the biggest problems with the age of digital photography is, that you have to be so conscientious about downloading your photos after each time you use your digital camera.  That, I confess, is where I fall down. 

I have two cameras.  One is an SLR which I use to take “important” photographs and the other is a neat little compact camera which fits nicely into my handbag for those impromptu moments which are, more often than not, the stuff of those magical moments – cute, funny or serious – that we come across so regularly in the media.

Here in Cardiff, there is a wonderful man called David “Dai” Lloyd.  He works for City Motor Services (CMS) who specialise in the adaptation of vehicles for disabled drivers and passengers.  I have known the guys at CMS for over 14 years, and Dai especially, never fails to come up with an idea for making life easier.  When I decided to make a foray into more serious photography, I asked Dai whether he could fabricate a tripod for my camera that would attach to my electric wheelchair.  I had a rough idea of what I wanted, and I particularly like the idea of being able to cut the camera upwards towards the sky and downwards towards the floor!   But had absolutely no idea of how this could be done on a technical front.  Dai asked me to let him give it some thought, and after a couple of phone calls to confirm matters I left him to get on with work on the tripod.  Sure enough, after a couple of weeks, I got a call to go down to the garage, and I was thrilled with the fruits of his labour.  With a few minor adjustments to the arm of my chair, Dai had fabricated an electronic tripod with an actuator which, when plugged into the electrics of my chair, allowed the tripod to rise and lower (with camera in situ) so I could take the clearest images you could wish for.  I can now take photographs of birds up in the trees, and children sitting on the floor.  Every woman should have a “Dai”!

The “happy-snappy” camera is the one which, if everyone is like me, gets left until the memory card is full, and then the panic to download goes into overdrive.  You end up with all the downloaded images being placed in a folder on your PC hard-drive, with some obscure name, and the photos then languish – unloved and forgotten – until you need an image from way-back-when, and you spend half the night trawling through said photographs and having a real good laugh at how much some dim and distant relative has changed since the photograph was originally taken.

I was in this situation only last week.  During one of my rare moments of madness when I decided to change my handbag, and the compact camera appeared from the farthest crevice of my rucksack, I decided to download the photographs.  What a laugh – “Take That” from two years ago; Numerous photographs of my Dad’s dog Max – taken for a reason that I really can’t remember – but I am guessing he was either doing something funny or naughty.  Steve’s first attempt at a Steak and Ale pie (which I have to say was surprisingly good); A photograph of me with Rhydian Roberts (remember him of X-Factor fame) taken at a function a couple of years ago;  A photograph of Steve, James and I with Shirley Bassey taken in Monaco when we were in our 50th birthday holiday celebration mode; Some photographs of us at last year’s Royal Welsh Show (I learned last year that Steve has a fascination for new farm machinery – you really do learn something new every day!)  To top it off, I found a collection of photographs of Rosie, Steve and James looking less than glamorous in our pyjamas (which have now thankfully been consigned to the recycle bin, thanks to the almighty power of the delete button).

In our own way, all three of us, have a good eye for a photograph, and James especially has taken some really good images since an early age.  When he was about two, he had a toy camera for a present, and used to spend hours pretending to take photographs of everything around the house.

James Moriarty-Simmonds, 2 years old, first photography assignment!

As he got older, he used to pester me to use my first SLR and somewhat reluctantly I agreed.  During a trip to Hereford Museum, where we went to see a gypsy/traveller caravan that Steve’s Great Uncle had renovated, we discovered James’ real talent for photography.  He couldn’t have been any more than eight, but the images taken of the intrinsic renovation work, were far beyond his years. 

Since then, we have all taken some very interesting photographs, and our Christmas cards usually feature a piece of work which James has done during the preceding year.

We have tried our hand at photographic competitions, but James has enjoyed more success than I.  He has been fortunate to have a piece of work accepted as part of the celebrations for the Cultural Olympiad. His work together with other winners will be exhibited at the Norwegian Church Heritage Centre in the heart of Cardiff Bay. On the back of that, the selected image is available as a postcard available free to the public at 25 selected venues throughout Wales. It will also be included in a book.

He has already had a number of great commissions, including a shoot of Wheelchair Rugby Paralympians, which will be on display this year at the National sports Centre for Wales, Sophia Gardens. Further, a number of the images will be included in the welcome packs for Olympians and Paralympians who train in Cardiff during the run-up to the Olympic Games this summer.

James is in the process of establishing a website to market and promote his work. His forté is very much abstract and landscape, but he is equally at home with portraiture.

Every image that we look at really does tell a story all of its own, and when I committed “pen to paper” for Four Fingers and Thirteen Toes, I decided that each chapter would start with a photograph.  The photographs do, like every photographic image, hold memories of happy, sad and poignant times.

February is always a sad month for me, as it marks the anniversary of my Mum’s passing.  This year will mark the 20th anniversary since the day that my world was turned upside down.  However, Chapter 17 of my book contains a photograph of my Mum on the 6th February 1992.  It was the occasion of my niece Daisy’s first birthday.  It is the last picture I have of my Mum, and one that I cherish very much. 

Today, Daisy will celebrate her twenty-first birthday, and when she, and her sister Jodie and brother Hugo pose for the obligatory birthday photograph, that photograph will tell a story of a Grandmother who was fiercely proud of her grandchildren, and of Grandchildren who have honoured her memory in the best of ways.

Yes, there will be the raucous photos on Facebook, but as time passes, it will be the photographs of the glamorous Hollywood themed 21st Birthday party which we will all remember – how handsome the boys looked, and how strikingly beautiful the girls were. 

However, make no mistake, in couple of year’s time, from the deepest darkest depth of my computer’s memory, I shall find old photos of gangly teenagers and young adults, posing with grossly overdone lipstick and sporting Spice Girl hair and fashion.  I shall take great delight in reminding my nieces that the camera never lies, and every picture tells a story.  Oh what a delight it will be to make the younger generation squirm, just like our elders did to us!

Which reminds me, I must check my own Facebook pages and make sure that any incriminating photographs of me are removed; for fear they should become encased forever on some mega main frame in Cyber Valley California.  After all, I do have a reputation to maintain – Don’t I?

Now, where can I find the best photo for my new Blue Badge … Ah well, only three million digital images to go!

FOUR FINGERS AND THIRTEEN TOES – THE NEED FOR AN EASY LIFE.

January 12, 2012

The title of this month’s blog may seem a little misleading.  I’m not wallowing in self pity or vying for an easy life, but rather taking a view on the need to just make life a little less stressful in all sorts of situations.

So, here I sit surrounded by lots of things designed to make life easier.  I have my all-singing all-dancing computer, a phone that I can instruct to “phone so and so” and now I have a music system that allows me to play our entire CD collection without so much as slipping a CD into the CD player. 

More of that later, but let me take you back to early December.

For various reasons, mostly family, the preparations for Christmas in this house were, to say the least, running behind. 

Fortunately, we have never been traditionalists, and so an artificial Christmas tree has always been our preferred choice of marking the festive season.  This choice does avoid the need to go traipsing off to the local garden centre and coming back with something that you imagine would fit in the house, only to discover you need to lop a bit off the top before you can even get it through the front door.

Over the last twenty three years, in addition to getting through a number of artificial trees, we have also gathered an array of festive décor.  You know the things I am talking about – the bauble you bought from a Christmas shop whilst on summer holiday, the remnants of a primary school education, and even (in our case) an inflatable goose (bought when Steve and I went to our first pantomime together back in December 1988).  You’ve probably gathered that the panto we saw was “Mother Goose” and Steve insists that this relic comes out every year, and sits (along with other festive cuddlies) under the tree. 

As our Christmas tree was being taken out of its box this year, Steve and I mused over how our family Christmases were etched with memories of father’s struggling with tree lights that were not packed away neatly the previous year, and so with unerring regularity, the ritual of untangling tree lights would begin in earnest with tempers fraying at the first knot to be encountered on the long road to festive heaven!

I can still picture the scene in our house.  My Dad, having had a long day at work, would come home on the dreaded day of tree decoration.  He would be sweetened with his favourite dinner, and then banished to the front room, and told to stay there until the tree lights were working.  Sometimes my Mum would take pity on him and smooth the rocky path with a glass or two of whiskey, but the outcome was always the same … After a couple of hours, and very many expletives, Dad would emerge from the front room, triumphant, having won the annual battle of the lights. 

But, we all knew it would end in tears on twelfth night.  Taking the lights off again was another battle, which did result in Fatherly defeat.  The surrender would see my Dad, with a mixture of frustration and temper, rolling all the lights up in a ball, grumbling with post Christmas misery, and packing the problem away for another year. 

Determined not to make the same mistake as our fathers, and to avoid a December Armageddon, we decided that our tree lights would be packed away in meticulous fashion.  And I have to say, it worked perfectly until … and this is where I come back to making life easier (and your patient reading has paid off) after one particularly stressed tree decorating session, Steve decided that trying to balance his bum on the arm of his wheelchair whilst wielding a string of fairy lights and striving for symmetry on all areas of the tree was just too much.  A hasty trip to B and Q was organised, and hey presto, a fibre optic tree materialised that disposed of one Christmas problem.

The next issue that desperately needs to be addressed is how to make wrapping Christmas presents easier.  We have a major problem in our house.  I am Rose amongst two thorns – well actually two blokes – who have absolutely no idea how to wrap presents! 

With me, the small matter of four fingers doesn’t help either, but try as I might; I have not been able to coach my men in the art of present wrapping.  Granted things have got better since those heady days of our first Christmas, when I spent hours on Christmas morning unravelling yards and yards of wrapping paper that had been rolled and rolled and rolled around my presents and secured with copious amounts of sticky tape.  But I always knew the one to leave until last.  It was the one with nice shiny paper and swirly festive twine – that had been wrapped by the nice lady in the jewellery shop.  Need I say more!

It is fair to say that things have moved on a bit.  We have reached a situation where a little thought is given to the choice of wrapping paper.  Now, at least, Steve does try to alternate the wrapping paper that he uses when wrapping presents.  It is an attempt – albeit a vain attempt – to avoid the “production line” syndrome which constitutes present wrapping in the Moriarty-Simmonds household.

Just before our annual wrapping fest started this year, we watched a programme on TV which espoused the virtues of wrapping made easy.  Ha (!) the premise of the programme presupposed a household where the kids were in bed, or down the pub (dependent on age), the partner was manfully hoisting a Christmas tree onto his broad shoulders and marching it into the living room where the log fire was blazing, and the lady of the house was sitting, all designer clad, on a newly waxed wooden floor surrounded by parcels neatly stacked into piles.  Wrapping paper and sharp scissors were at the ready, and the sticky tape dispenser actually worked!

For most of us, as the reality is so far removed from this fantasy, the programme presenter might just as well have come from another planet – and the further out in the galaxy the better.

With us, wrapping is either done during the day, in between work and business commitments or at some unearthly time of night when you’re so tired the sticky tape seems to stick to everything except the wrapping paper. 

There is however, a problem if you have time to indulge in festive wrapping during the day.  And that is you can guarantee the door bell will ring unexpectedly.  Then a panic of nuclear proportions erupts as you try and get the presents hidden for fear that the caller may be the recipient of one of the gifts that you are trying to wrap with such care and creativity!

There are at least two people reading this blog who go to inordinate lengths to produce beautifully wrapped parcels with baubles, bells and bangles.  How I yearn to produce such wonderful creations … Utopia!

This year, I got James to give me a hand to wrap some of our parcels.  I thought a little festive bonding between Mother and Son was the order of the day.  Well, that was the theory.   James has obviously inherited his father’s ability on wrapping.  Let’s just say that the wrapping paper industry will not flounder unless James grasps the idea that unwrapping Christmas presents is not a new innovation in the game of “Pass the Parcel”.  To top it off, we ran out of labels, and had to resort to post-it notes.  Steve’s pressies had yellow ones, and James used what was left.  Lurid green seemed to be in vogue.  If that wasn’t enough, we both got decidedly bored of writing messages on post-it notes, and by the end of the session, my labels had gone from expressing undying love “for my wonderful husband” to “Love Always R xx”.  That reminds me, I must also make a mental note of the need to find a more efficient way of writing labels for next year.

Fast forward to Christmas Day.  The effort of wrapping presents and decorating a fibre optic tree had taken its toll.  You know you are exhausted when your father (remember, he of the fairy lights battle) who stays with us for Christmas Eve, marches into your bedroom at 9.20am and demands to know why you are not yet up and dressed, and if you want tea or coffee to go with the Christmas Day breakfast that he has prepared.

And so, all bleary-eyed with wonder and excitement – well it used to be that way – we trundled up to the living room.  Twinkling fibre optic lights and an array of presents surrounded the base of the tree.  Presents to Steve, Rosie and James, were all easily identified by the psychedelic post-it notes, and were interspersed with those fancy parcels from … I shan’t name you but you know who you are!

There was the obligatory present from Steve, all nicely wrapped, but this time it was wrapped by the shop assistant in the rather expensive perfume shop.  Then I got down to the business of unwrapping my other less elaborately wrapped presents.  The music system to which I referred earlier is one of the most useful presents I have been given for a long time. 

I really do love music, and I will now be able to listen to my CD collection without having to trouble anyone to load or unload the music.  The only problem is that the CDs have be loaded into the system first, and having started on the task, it has quickly become apparent that my taste in music has changed dramatically over the last twenty, maybe even thirty years or so … Aled Jones and the Snowman; Charlotte Church and the Voice of an Angel .. What was I thinking of!

So in the last couple of days, whilst I am learning to operate my new voice activated phone (a present to myself whilst spending wisely my birthday and Christmas money from Dad – he of previously mentioned crumpled fairy lights saga), and Steve spends his evenings loading CDs onto my new music system, we have discussed how we can make things even easier.  I’m told it is going to start with storing the Christmas tree in a Christmas tree storage bag.  The recycling bank will be in for a treat when the old boxes end up in cardboard heaven.  I think a collection of storage bags arrived from Amazon the other day.  There will also be storage bags for all our other festive bits and pieces.  The theory is that by cutting down on unnecessary festive trinkets we will have more time for packing.  We shall see.

Let’s just say that festive gift bags, with tissue paper for protection and labels already attached to the bags become more appealing by the minute as I write this blog.

I am however worried that Steve is taking this make life easier crusade a little too far.  Today he suggested we do away with our lawn in favour of synthetic grass, and has even suggested a “Wallace and Gromit” style machine to help me get dressed in half the time, it takes me to get dressed at present.

If he thinks I am going to be propelled from my bed into my clothes rather like Russell Grant was fired out of his canon on “Strictly” then he can think again. 

Making life easy – whether at Christmas or any other time – is one thing, but the root cause of the problem has to be tackled.  As I see it, there are two solutions to making our festive fun more feasible.  Firstly we hire someone who provides a nice tree decorating service to decorate our Christmas tree, and secondly I enrol my boys on an intensive course on gift wrapping. 

However, to be absolutely honest, I rather like the over-dressed fibre optic tree, with the mish-mash of baubles collected over the years.  Yes, it would be nice if the presents were all wrapped in the style of an expensive department store, but does it really matter how the gift is wrapped … Isn’t it the thought that counts? You can let me have your thoughts on this point, in next year’s Christmas cards please … Or by posting comments on my blog site!

To end this first 2012 blog, I hope the New Year is kind to you and your family, and that all your dreams and ambitions are fulfilled just as you want them to be.

Happy New Year!