Onwards and Upwards

May 29th, 2017

I’ve grown some courgettes and squash from seed. It’s exactly a month since I did so and now they’re big enough to go into their forever homes. I realised that, despite my best intentions, I’ve, yet again, grown too much in too little space so I’ve decided to be smart and grow vertical. There’s a dark and dingy area stepping out from the back door, where the back gate, bins and nothing much else belongs. I used to think it would be nice to put some trellised planters there so i could look at them while I was washing up. Or the girls could look at them while they are washing up, see how I think of others? So it made sense to buy some of those planters and use them in the temporary site for the veg garden and when everything’s in the right place fill them with prettiness and put them in front of the kitchen window.  I’ve put the squash and courgette in and some nastursiums to add colour. I think i’m going to have to be vigilant and tie in the fast growing shoots and i may have to sling the squash as they grow but that’s the fun of trying something new.

The runner beans I’ve grown from seed are now in their beds and look much healthier than the garden centre offerings, so that’s a definite for next year, no shop bought runner beans, squash or courgette. Only one of my five pumpkin seeds has germinated so i think i’ve been unlucky with the packet. The purple french beans are really healthy and the dwarf french beans are now planted in their beds. We’ve had our first salad leaves for dinner tonight, happy days, tasty summer munchies start here! Broad beans are thriving, as are the peas, radish, beet leaves, beetroot and soya beans. Cabbages are super healthy looking and we’ve had some kale leaves already despite the earlieness. I’m a bit annoyed that about a third of the shop bought plants have bolted already. I’m feeling quite disenchanted with the whole business of buying. I’m very hopeful that my permanent greenhouse will be in before next winter and i can start things off in the safety and warm and enjoy even better results that I’m doing this year.

This is my half term week off work. I’ve been trying to fill in inheritance tax forms which are a nightmare, mainly because people who don’t expect to die young don’t necessarily get their affairs in order. Let’s face it, even people who do know what’s occuring are hardly likely to waste a second of their time on paperwork. I wish we’d got a solicitor to do the probaate.  We’re also getting the other house’s huge garden tidied up with the help of two professional gardeners. I’m hoping to take a few more plants from it before it goes on the market I tried to take some cuttings of magnolia and red quince last year to absolutely no success, not even one took so I may have another go at those. We’re also travelling to wales for the day to see my mum and dad, have some lunch in the fresh air. I’m a bit worried that my week is too busy already but desperately want to spend some more time in my own garden. Tomorrow is the day. Forecast: Well it’s currently teaming down with storminess on the way but i’m reliably informed by the bbc (who NEVER lie *cough*) that if i lay in till 9am I will be able to enjoy a dry day with the added bonus of a well watered garden which willl mean relatively loose soil. It could be the day to try out the new rotovator!

Gardener’s Progress

May 18th, 2017

I’ve always loved gardens and I’ve always loved food. We moved to this house 9 years ago and our garden has been completely neglected for much of that due to beardieboy not being a natural anything that doesn’t involve a guitar and me being progressively more ill as the years have past. I wanted to take control because we have a great location and space and because gardening is very therapeutic, both mentally and physically, it is also a good opportunity to get some vitamin d and teach the youngest about the value of the food that is on the plate. It’s narrow and very long and gets a lot of sun or would have done if the trees weren’t out of hand, so this is where we started.

This was the garden before we got started.


As you look down you can see thick hedges either side. The right side is our responsibility and that hedge was between 6ft and 9ft wide in parts, the hedge on the left is in far better condition and very compact beyond the new growth.  We had some tree surgeons and fencers in.

The hedge filled the entire garden next door as it was being cut down

three trees down, one polarded., fence up.

You can clearly see how ridiculously overgrown the garden was and what a difference taking that leggy messy hedge out and removing the trees has made. The hedge on the left got cut shortly after this making the garden seem even bigger. This was the winter of 2015. I started getting a veg plot together on a temporary site by March 2016.

I have mobility issues. Two bad hips, back problems, grip issues, shoulder injury and an energy limiting chronic condition so I needed to think smart. We couldn’t put the veg plot in its permanent home because the ground needed preparing but we bought a VegTrug to get me started. A vegtrug is a waist high planter that enables a person to manage the crop without having to bend down. They’re also very good for accessibility if  you are a wheelchair user as you can get close to the bed. They’re sturdy but also can be moved. I filled one and quickly went for another. I got two large ones, a herb planter and some vegetable grow bags. I researched growing potatoes and a lot of new thinking is around tubers in individual bags to get the best crop.  I bought a plastic greenhouse to bring the toms along and got started. I mainly used nursery raised baby plants to get started but had a mixed result growing from seed. I pretty quickly felt quite overwhelmed. I’d done a rookie error of putting too much in all at once, no progressive sewing or planting. Pretty quickly I’d gone from an empty garden, see above, to feeling like it was all a bit much, see below. The result of this was loads of veg, yes, but a huge flare up of the chronic condition meant my summer ended in the garden way too early.

Plans to get the garden layout done ready for this year flew out of the window shortly after my summer of gardening came to an early end. Beardieboy’s brother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and nothing really mattered after that. I may talk about it another day but for now I’ll just say we lost him on valentine’s day and it’s only been in the last few weeks  that I’ve really got going again. I’ve got a second temporary larger greenhouse, a small vegtrug with a cold frame over the top and a couple of metre square raised beds as well. I’ve avoided spuds this year. Mainly cause even in the bags they were the most back breaking and difficult crop mobility wise. Instead I’ve added a number of different kinds of beans and peas into my plan. I’ve got broad, soya, runner, french beans, all grown from seed and a handful of nursery plants of runners that are looking pretty rubbish at the moment so I may well give them up and replace them with the seedlings instead of using them as a progressive crop. Last years’s seed planting had pretty poor results all round and that I think is down to the variability of my condition. I couldn’t always get out to water things when they needed it. This year my youngest has promised to help and is so far being a star. When the beds are in their permanent position they’ll be set up with a drip irrigation system. Hopefully that will put an end to mildew and other reasons for less than perfect results.

What am i growing this year?

All ready in the beds are carrots, onions, leeks, lettuce, courgettes, cabbage, cauliflower, strawberry, kale, runner beans, peas, broad beans. In the greenhouses I have tomatoes, peppers, chillies. I decided to work on my propagating and have a number of flower seeds in trays in the greenhouse. I also have soya beans, runner beans, purple french beans, lettuce, pumpkin, courgette, squash, rocket, all of which are coming on very well and benefiting from vigilance in the slug department and regular gentle watering. Not germinating yet are cucumber seeds but there’s still time.

In the raised square beds I’ve sewn drills of beet leaves, radish, beetroot and parsnip. The radish are having a field day and will be ready to thin this week, beet leaves and beetroot are coming on well and the parsnips are still a week or so short of germination.

Half the carrots will be ready early next month, they will make room for courgette and squash. I’m trying to think carefully, diarising my decisions so i can review them next year and make changes if required. I’ve got apple trees growing along the fence line and very shortly will be planting the cane fruit and bramble. I find myself praying for a lull in pain and an increase in energy to coincide with a day of good weather. I think that having that to look forward to and hope for is a very good thing for someone with a progressive illness.

Meanwhile we’re getting on with readying the permanent home of the veg plot, ready to move the raised beds in autumn and may even get round to laying a water supply and a lawn before then too.

I’m Back, Did You Even Notice I was Gone?

May 17th, 2017

It’s been a while. Lots of things have taken place, which I will expand upon another time, as if I told you all of it now you would weep for me. I will summarise, however, because I feel I need to justify my particularly long absence. We have had cleft-palate ops, experimental diabetes treatment, break ups, new relationships, three graduations, a serious motorway accident, aspergers, dyslexia and dyspraxia, deaths, illness forcing change of work pattens and tests for auto immune disorders. I wish I was joking. not that one jokes about much of that. It’s been a tough couple of years and we’re starting to slowly have longer and longer spells between shouting ‘FUCK YOU GOD’ very loudly. Yes, there’s at least a day between curses now.

My favourite gardening supervisor – one of far too many losses for us this last couple of years.

I remember back in 2014 making menus for the week and cooking almost everything in one day because i had so little energy by wednesday but even that was utterly miserable and unsustainable. I’m now working part time, I get chance to rest more and have spent some very important time focussing on trying to be active in a measured way. I took up gardening after years away from the soil. My lovely beardie bought me some raised beds to grow veg in and it’s like riding a bike (although I’m guessing that because I haven’t riden a bike since I was 12 and I don’t think exercise bikes count). I’ll be doing some fairly regular gardening posts as a result. I’m waiting patiently for a large greenhouse and potting shed. I’m told it’ll be between this growing season and the next so we’re busy digging out the ground to extend the shed base. When I say, busy digging,  it’s more like poking at the ground with a spade, grimacing with back pain, saying ‘FUCK YOU GOD’ and pushing all my grief into the soil. I pointed out that the next growing season will start earlier IF i get a greenhouse. That’s its job. If anyone has any new and interesting varieties of veggie seeds that they’d like field tested, feel free to get in touch. I’m not a novice more of an enthusiastic grower with something new to learn every day. I was taught a suprising amount of stuff that I remember now by my grandmother, late father in law and my dad, who now grows his own on a small scale after being an apprentice gardener many moons ago. There’s always the more experienced growers willing to share their knowledge. It’s like being a green geek.

What is it about being in your 40s that is so difficult?

August 3rd, 2014

I’m 46 and I don’t care who knows it. I’m sure some of you would guess it and I’m sure others would argue I don’t look it. Only today I was told I don’t look old enough to have a 26 year old son or a grandchild. It was very nice of the complimentary person, but I don’t really care. I am 46 so would it matter if I looked it? Is there a secret special thing to looking younger? Will I be treated better? Who knows. Anyway, I’m 46. My biggest issues with my age are my utterly rubbish health and my wardrobe. Knowing I don’t care if I look 46 and then seeing me say I have a wardrobe problem doesn’t make much sense does it? Lots of people dress too old for their age, making them seem and act old before their time, a fixed attitude often gets adopted and the world shifts a little bit for every 40 year old who wears a calf length A-line skirt.

This is where I should insert a photographic example of a woman in an aging outfit but I was spoilt for choice. Google ‘frumpy’ and you’ll know what I mean.

It shifts even more for every 40 year old who steals nightclubbing outfits from their young adult offspring. A volcano erupts every time a 40 year old woman wears a plunging neckline or transparent top without a gravity-defying bra.

Perhaps a bra, madam?

A crevice appears in the streets of LA every time a 40 year old man renames himself Bert, wears braces and grows a handlebar moustache. Accept your reality and enjoy it. You don’t have to act like a 20 or 80 year old when you’re 40 (although if that IS your gig then enjoy it my friend, be happy), being 40 is great. Being 40 is all the experience with none (or little) of the incontinence. So who do we turn to to dress like ourselves but ourselves in our 40s? What shop is that recipe from? Jacamo? Wallis? I don’t know but I’ve yet to find the written rule book. There are obviously those words that don’t need to be spoken when a 48 year old man wields a replica 80s Adidas bag or when a woman of 47 buys a dress with cut aways in it.  On one hand I admire the determination to wear exactly what you want regardless of whether you’re slavishly following trends or whether you’ve worn this style of dress for 30 years and you’re not changing now; but on the other hand I feel like there should be more, a layer of shopping and fashion that is not round, one that we can’t access and have no help with  so can we be blamed for looking ridiculous or mundane beyond measure? Yes I’m judging, but I’m not just talking about the choices that we make, but also the choices that we have. Anyway, it’s nothing to worry about, if my crap is just crap, I’m not the Minister for Age-Appropriate Clothing for Ex-Goths and Metalheads, Post-Pubescent Punks and People Who Can’t Dress Down, Even 2 Weeks into a 2 Week Holiday. No, I’m just a person in their 40s trying to be comfortable with my style and questioning whether I ever had one. I have also watched my friends, who used to be hippies, heavy metal faithfuls, new romantics or punks really struggle with the ‘what do we wear now?’ question.

I’ve tried every kind of fashion, non-fashion and trend. Some are a disaster on me, others better, but really I’ve only known one style suit me all my life and I don’t even know if it suits me, I just like it and that’s enough. I bought my first nehru collared tunic from Phool with my Saturday job money at the age of 15. I have loved the simplicity of Eastern design for ever. The last time I bought such a thing was yesterday, a pretty shirt from East but I love kurta and admire a lot of the Asian designs my friends wear. I prefer plain but colourful or simple prints. The main difference, 25 years on, is the design, the accessories and mainly the person inside it.

The only think that seems to be a constant is the older you get the more you have to spend to look good. Where I used to be able to buy a high street dress/trousers from the likes of New Look or River Island I find that I have to pay a bit more and at the very least go to Next and M&S for the basics. I’m the UK average, a 16 and have had four kids. Let anyone who has had one baby fill you in on that, there’s a lot of things that can no longer defy gravity *grim nod*.

Other than the basics and apart from liking Eastern influenced design I have a huge fondness for European lagenlook (which means ‘layering look’ in German) . I have bought a number of pieces over the last few years including a Mary Portas dress which fits into the oversized, layering style of lagenlook that I bought just yesterday (it sounds like I’m always shopping but I’m not, I can’t remember the last time I came home with shopping bags containing clothes for me). Leaders in design of Lagenlook include Sarah Pacini, Rundholz, Privatsachen, Completo Lino, Hebbeding and, well the list is by no means exhaustive and I’ve found the odd piece that fits the look in Primark but that is unusual.

A beautiful outfit from Amalthee Creations. I adore it but the total of the three pieces is over £200. It’s undoubtedly good quality and well designed but ouch.


The clothes are normally very expensive and well made, they transcend the changing seasons of fashion but at the same time can be very edgy and fashionable. I have friends in Germany who are extremely chic with what appears to be no effort, which usually means it’s cost them a bob or two. I need a job with a better salary to enjoy such comfort but I keep buying bits and pieces and know that it is never wasted money (the resale on lagenlook is suprisingly good and very consistent). My difficulty with this style of clothing is that because it’s expensive and because I can’t afford much of it I can’t wear it to work on a daily basis because I can’t wear it consistently so I’d rather stick to relatively mundane for work and keep my happy clothes for outside of work.

One day, when my older children are out if uni and relatively self-sufficient or when I win the prize of a better-paid, more enjoyable job, or even when my ship comes in, I’ll wear what I want all the time. I’m sure it will look great with grey hair.

Madam, I Have a Cure for Your Fibromyalgia, You Just Have to Wait 20-30 Years

July 4th, 2014

I had a meeting with the daftest, well meaning doctor I’ve ever met at pain clinic today. I met him after I met the nurse who listened while I described that my pain radiates from my spine like a cruel gnawing octopus, its tendrils creeping up and across my back making it feel on fire, irritated, poisoned; that my tender feet feel every bump on the pavement; that I’m so tired I drive the length of my street so that I can catch the bus; that my skin crawls at the thought of someone touching me or giving me a hug, that I can’t think of the words to speak when talking to people and find focussing hard, and that if she looks at the picture of the human form on the ‘how’s your pain’ questionnaire she would be hard pushed to find any area that’s NOT shaded to show where the pain is. She was great, patient, positive and concerned when I told her that I’m struggling with a decision of whether to reduce my working hours or not, unwilling to let go of the probable illusion that I’m somehow coping if I work full time. So, after I’d spoke to her she sent me back to the waiting room to see the doctor. If only she’d thrown in a description beyond his title, like ‘madly unrealistic’ or ‘never having suffered the kind of pain you suffer’. If she’d done that I would have braced myself.

He smiled and showed me in. His opening gambit was that there was ‘good news’, and that is that Fibromyalgia goes away in old age, NO old people have fibro….(throw caution to the wind there doc, not ‘some’ old people but NO old people). I was so blown away by this ‘fact’ that I said ‘Oh that’s nice for them’ (me not being old and finding the thought of waiting 30 years for a miracle seemed a bit less than ‘good news’). I said my mum has Fibro and he dismissed me, oh that must be ‘secondary’ fibro (which is clearly a totally different disease because an old person has it). He also told me I could think my way out of unbearable pain by thinking happy thoughts and that when I am exhausted and in bed at weekends so I can manage to stay in work in the week that all I actually need to do is ‘find’ my extra energy and it will come. I explained that whenever I ‘find’ extra energy I am actually borrowing it from the next day or day after. He shook his head like he’d heard the spoons theory and dismissed it as horse manure (when I read it, I thought ‘my god that’s my life – I certainly didn’t develop a set of symptoms to fit a theory I’d never heard of) and he said no, no, it doesn’t work like that…I told him he was wrong because that’s exactly how it works for me and I have been digging deep to find extra energy from a shrinking reserve for years and for the last 8 -12 months I have found that I can do less and less outside of work and even the things I enjoy, like my music, are difficult; that I can’t do a big trolley of shopping because I’m exhausted before the trolley is even filled, I can’t continue volunteering for Childline, I don’t go out visiting people, struggle with days out and actually struggle with staying in work now, which is horrifying because it makes me feel useful and makes an important contribution to our income and to my children’s role models, thinking of reducing my work time is an extreme decision for me. He said ‘what you need to do is think happy and then the pain will be less and the energy will be more’. I told him I have been thinking positive for many years in the face of increasing pain which was undiagnosed for most of those years, and that right now the drugs they give me are less effective than 2 years ago and I am in more pain, more often and am more exhausted and that a ‘cure’ of old age is no cure at all, if it’s 20 year away (and if it exists at all – but I didn’t say this). I also told him that when the pain was managed and the exhaustion was under control I am very happy, people would vouch for me, I am very positive without the hindrance of confusion, energy and too much pain. I am going to take him all the leaflets and booklets given to me by his colleague, the specialist who diagnosed me, who told me that there is no cure but lots of things can help (like medication, pacing, reducing stress). All those pamphlets (and the NHS website) say that Fibromyalgia is a condition without a cure, which may occasionally go into remission (not age dependent) but is progressive. The fact is, some people’s Fibromyalgia DOES go away when they’re older, but then again some women find it goes away when they’re pregnant, for so many others it stays and for unfortunate few it gets worse, and I hope I’m not one of those. gah. On the plus side, he did offer me the lignocane infusion. I am on a 3 month waiting list…pain clinic, where you get to wait and think about your pain for 3 months while your drs go on their summer holibobs (yep, that’s what I was told). In the spirit of being fair(ish) I did some research of my own tonight and found this article which is clear that age is not the miracle panacea he would have me believe.

This Week’s Menu

January 12th, 2014

We both work full time, Beardie often works more than 12 hours a day so needs lots of food to keep him going. I have diabetes and fibromyalgia so i have to watch my diet. Although we work full time I very rarely resort to ready meals mainly because of the high fat/sugar content in them, so when I do feel too ill to cook or too tired I don’t feel so guilty buying the odd one.

Homemade multigrain porridge
3 parts oats
1 part rye flakes
1 part barley flakes
dried berries, usually try to include some ‘superfood’ like goji berries, but tastes just fine with mixed fruit in. Make as usual with skimmed/semi-skimmed milk and a dollop of fat free greek yogurt.

Jungle chicken curry (fresh ready meal) and deli samosas – £1.44 reduced from £4 at tesco.
Lemon couscous stuffed bell peppers with lemon and cracked pepper mackerel
Lentil soup
Vegetable soup
Leftover Christmas Cheese and bacon Frittata

Monday – Freezer fish stew
Tuesday – Chicken and chickpea casserole
Wednesday – Sausage and red wine casserole
Thursday – Left over day (I always make too much of everything)
Friday = Christmas party chilli (evidence that I make too much of everything)

The soups are home made and follow no set recipe. I always make a litre to fit in empty ice cream tubs I use two stock cubes, 2 sticks celery, 1 large onion, salt and pepper in everything I make. The veg soup this week has sprouts, carrots and parsnip in but I’ll use whatever veg i have in the house. The lentil soup has a full mug of dahl lentils in (just a mix of lentils, ready mixed for the supermarket but my experience is a cupful of any lentils will work), carrot and cabbage. Be as adventurous as you like, I leave the garlic out if it’s soup for work.

I found a recipe online called ‘leftover cheese pie’ but figured the cheese made it fatty enough, without pastry so I just made the old faithful frittata and replaced the usual cheddar with whatever was left from christmas – stilton and cheddar with chive. Now I know it works I’ll keep my eye open for reduced cheese chunks. My general rule of thumb is I cook enough vegetables to ensure I can’t see the bottom of the pan (all are optional except the onions and potato) –
diced courgette
onions/spring onions
peppers (sliced frozen peppers are £1 a bag at iceland)
1 large potato microwaved, skinned and thinly sliced (or left over spuds from your sunday roast)
6 large free range eggs well beaten and approximately a mug of grated cheese.

You can sweat the veg off in a frying pan then put them into a quiche dish add the eggs and cheese and bake for 20mins at 180c or if you have a hob to oven pan just stick it all in and pop it in the oven. Once it’s cooled slice it into thick wedges and wrap in greaseproof paper, keep in the fridge.

The Death of a Lonely Bewildered Widow

April 14th, 2013

Like the biggest tragedies throughout the history of Great Britain, the loss of our industry and the discouragement of social responsibility through the lives of an entire generation is something that continues to cause pain to the people of this country, it is an open wound, unfinished business, an unrepented sin against the working people.

The death of Margaret Thatcher is not something that should be celebrated, in my view, it is sad. It is sad that the irony of her death is not realised by her home county buddies. That her children barely saw her as she lost her grip on reality, that her so-called friends thought the best thing for this frail, demented, elderly widow was to put her in a hotel, thereby fulfilling their responsibilities toward their ‘friend’ in the twilight of her day. She died, like many old people in today’s society – alone, not really cared about, dealt with; those who were meant to be there had consciences clear. Why did this happen? It happened because in three terms as prime minister, Margaret Thatcher may well have led the country with authority but she did so by pushing down the poor, encouraging selfishness and greed in those who wanted a better life and made them believe that by putting themselves first and trying to attain more wealth they could achieve that better life. She did very well, and her buddies in power today continue to do this well. So she died in a manner befitting, with no one considering her, no one caring, all too busy making their own money and using it to put her where they didn’t have to think about her. That is what she considered was the right way to live and so it must be the right way to die, for her. It’s very sad though, as a human being I feel sorry for her in death and the way she was left to decay, regardless of her unforgivable behaviour in life.

I won’t be celebrating Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, I think my time is better spent thinking about the families and communities who were torn apart by the loss of the coal and steel industry and the people who lost an important part of their souls along the way to their success. The behaviour of the bankers who caused this new tragedy of global financial despair lived exactly by the words of Margaret Thatcher and they continue to rake it in while the poor really do continue to reach breaking point (that’s the point that’s so far under the breadline that most of us can’t comprehend it). My Nan, in the final days of her life, with all those she loves around her, told me that the important things in life were the ones you need to take the most care of and she also told me that there are no pockets in a shroud. At the end of your life, all that wealth she encouraged people to accumulate, that stays here and you leave. You are no better off in the ground a rich man than a poor man. I’m sad for Margaret because she didn’t have my Nan’s wisdom.

April Fools Day Plebs!

April 1st, 2013

Today Britain will wake up to the greatest changes in modern times.

Bedroom Tax will come in, anyone making a new claim for Disability Living Allowance will be put through the lower paid PIP test (this, apparently this lesser amount of money to support their medical care and mobility needs will give them greater personal independence). Let’s not forget there are still test cases being considered in court for the most profoundly disabled of us (and they are among us, they are not just ‘them’, they could very well be you or I tomorrow), as the Independent Living Fund is being taken away and councils will be expected to help these people themselves but the money for the funding of complex care will not be ring-fenced – ultimately human beings will end up being hostage in their own bodies as councils opt to use nappies for disabled people who are NOT incontinent so that they can leave them alone all day, put currently dignified adults to bed at 5pm so that we can pay carers less and people who are currently working, studying, contributing to society will be confined to their homes or IN HOMES as councils may find this the only way they can ‘manage the problem’ of the severely disabled, yet the fund is working well as it is and is very cheap in comparison to putting human beings into ‘homes’ that couldn’t be further from homes.

Let’s also not forget that ESA is already under deep scrutiny by everyone except those how prefer not to know the facts and those who are implementing it. The assessments, in a bid to make them fit everyone, fit no one. People are actually dying because of the assessments and NOBODY THAT CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT IS DOING ANYTHING ABOUT IT.

BUT, back to today From today, Councils across the country will ask the lowest earners to start contributing to their council tax (on top of them potentially losing up to a quarter of their housing benefit through the Bedroom Tax). Let’s not forget that these people, many on minimum wage, in part time jobs, TRYING, are kept below an acceptable standard of living by a subsistent benefit system.

FROM TODAY, The NHS WILL NO LONGER BE, at least not the way you know it, all decisions will now be made by GPs, not NHS trusts, but not really by GPs cos they don’t have time (who gets to see their gp when they need them?) , instead it will be done by PRIVATE management companies who will put all works and supply opportunities out to tender, what where it goes from there, but don’t worry about neck ache, standards won’t be going up!

From today, thousands of ordinary people will lose access to Legal Aid. That’s it, if you need legal help, screw you, you should earn more and then you can have justice.

Universal Credit rolls out, only in one area, and why is that? because it’s so badly designed and the system has so many bugs that thousands of people are likely to be left high and dry while system errors are resolved. It’s a social disaster waiting to happen.

Welfare Benefit Cap will start. Let’s hope none of us need more than the national average to live on. Which sounds ok, if you’re an average family, in a part of the country where you need the average income, I’ve yet to meet a family like this.

Benefit Uprating will start, this is bringing benefits in line with inflation, which is a good thing because so many people in social housing, under most councils will be an average of £900 a year worse off due to the rest of the cuts. Imagine trying to cut your monthly budget by £75 when you’re already only able to spend £50 a week to feed your family of four.

On the plus side the 50p tax for high earners is being scrapped, good eh! We’re all in it together.

You might think that nothing except the NHS changes affects you (as if that’s not enough for you to grab your pots and pans and make some bloody noise!), but you’re wrong, if your neighbours are suffering, then your community suffers, domestic abuse will rise, child neglect will rise, illness (depression, suicide, self harm) will all rise, obesity will rise (it’s STILL cheaper to eat processed food than eat fresh wholesome food), homelessness will rise, crime will inevitably rise. All this affects you. You, me, everybody. We’re all in this together, us, the 99%.
Things were not even this bad under the last draconian Tory government (and let’s not kid ourselves about who in this coalition is in charge, shame on your leaders libdems) Write to your MP, whoever they are and whoever they represent politically because regardless of their politics they are paid to represent you and if you don’t tell them what you want from them they will assume you don’t mind what they do. Write to your council, protest, tell your friends (it’s amazing how many people don’t know what’s happening). Be peaceful, PLEASE BE PEACEFUL but be heard, make a BIG NOISE. Tell the opposition what you expect from them if they get into power, make people responsible for the promises they make. Stand up for what you believe in. Love your fellow man, oh and please stop reading the Daily Mail.

More Information

Things you can do:

  • Write to your MP here
  • Write to your council by googling your council , eg search for Birmingham Council, a council website usually ends in .gov.uk and following the ‘contact us’ links. 
  • Write to your favourite newspaper by sending letters to the editor.
  • Organise or take part in peaceful demonstrations by searching for them on social networks like facebook or twitter, just search the thing you want to protest against along with your area, eg ‘chester’ ‘nhs cuts’ and see if there is an activist group in your area. Remember you have the right to peacefully protest, please do not ever use violence, we aim to make the world a better place. 
  • tell your friends and neighbours, start conversations, inform people and read more, inform yourself. knowledge is power!
  • Join twitter, search for the subject you are angry about, you will often find a hashtag has been created (a hashtag is like a subject heading, it helps you join the conversation about the things that you want to talk about) eg #bedroomtax and read the tweets, answer them, write your own. Do not underestimate the power of your own words and beliefs
  • sign a petition – be thoughtful about this, sign a petition that you believe closely represents your views, again this helps you be heard.
  • join in in your local community. Many of us live in a small bubble, never reaching out to those we live among. Say hello to neighbours, check on the old and infirm. Can you do more? Probably, most of us can. Why should you? Because your life and the lives of others will be improved.
  • all the other stuff I haven’t thought of. I am just one person, I can’t think of it all, but together we can come up with more ideas, more ways of making ourselves heard, giving ourselves a voice, making our lives better.#

What are all these benefits you’re talking about?

Who’s losing Legal Aid? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21668005

Universal Credit – a proposed system of benefit payments where most benefits will be made in one single monthly payment, this benefit will be given at some level to all people who are either out of work, in work or unable to work if their household income does not come up to the required minimum without assistance. It is not just an out of work benefit. You can find out more about it from Shelter here

ESA – ESA is not disability benefit. It is similar to the old Sickness Benefit, in that it is given to people of a working age who are unable to work for reasons of health. Some of these people will recover, like when you break your leg and need 7 months off recouperating, or if you have a continuous and debilitating illness such as severe depression, cancer, mental health issues, fibromyalgia, arthritis, epilepsy etc. The difference in the new benefit (ESA stands for Employment Support Allowance) is that ESA requires the applicant to have an assessment, currently managed by ATOS. This assessment is meant to determine if the sick person may be able to return to work (not immediately but at some point in the future, with support). However it does not offer support it directs them to complete unpaid work or if they can’t do that (possibly because the assessment is wrong) then they can either appeal (currently 40% of those who appeal win, more when professional help is given) or come off the ESA altogether and go on Jobseekers Allowance. There have been problems with this when the person is clearly too ill to be seeking a job they have been directed to reapply for ESA and the process starts again. The people assessed as being able to work in some way are placed in the WRAG (work related activities group) the others are placed in the support group before being reassessed at some point in the future.  Government info about ESA here and the controversy about it here

Disability Living Allowance – this is not an unemployment benefit,  a person who is disabled may or may not be working and in many cases may only be able to work due to the support given to them through the DLA. A person who is sufficiently disabled can be assessed and receive Disability Living Allowance for either a set period or for life if it is clear they will not get better. There are two components: Mobility and Care, each of those components can be given at a low, medium or high rate. A person may receive both components if their health requires that much support to help them maintain a degree of ‘normality’ in their lives.  – From 1st April 2013 any new applicants or current recipients who need their care reviewed will be put on to PIP (personal independence payments) .  You can find out the government facts about DLA here and about PIP here

Housing Benefit is for low income households, a portion of the housing costs are met through housing benefit. If the family’s income increases the housing benefit will be removed or stopped.  From 1st April 2013 families can lose up to 25% of their housing benefit if they live in social housing which is assessed as having too many bedrooms. It is believed that two-thirds of those who are in this position are disabled or have disabled children. You can read and get advice about Bedroom Tax here

Independent Living Fund – a government fund for those of us with the most complex care needs, which is about to be decentralised to councils who have no obligation to use the funding for its current purpose, leaving councils to decide what standard of ‘life’ is acceptable to the most vulnerable in their community. You can read about the fight to stop this here



An Email to Alec Shelbrooke

December 21st, 2012

Yesterday Alec Shelbrooke MP tabled a bill to introduce the ‘Welfare Card’. I believe this to be a further worrying development in the Conservative war against the poor. I felt I had to bring a few of my concerns to Mr Shelbrooke’s attention. I realised after sending this that I did not raise the question of purchasing toys for child development, birthdays or christmas or how people on limited incomes, who usually buy replacement white goods second hand in a cash transaction are meant to replace a broken cooker or fridge. I apologise for any important points I didn’t raise. If you feel that you can make further points please do email him before the second reading of his bill. If Mr Shelbrooke takes the time to respond I will update this blog with his response.

Hello Mr Shelbrooke,

Thank you for taking the time to respond to me. From the outset I should state I am not in support of this card and believe this, the Universal Credit scheme and almost every other Welfare Reform to be ill-conceived and ill-considered. I had a listen to your speech and have a number of points and queries I’d like to raise.

You suggest that there will be no stigma attached to the introduction of this card. Is it your intention that the card will look exactly like a standard debit card or do you have designs for it to be clearly different, as with the Australian ‘basic’ card model which defines the user as someone on benefit and has been the cause of humiliation for many people at the checkout . This detail I believe is very important as dignity is something that you, I have no doubt, wish to allow the claimants.

You wish to limit the use of the card to ‘essential’ items. I’m very keen to know what you consider to be essential items? You stated food and clothing but made no mention of paper products. Will people be allowed to purchase daily newspapers, writing materials, stamps and other stationary?

Would this card system allow the user to buy from any supermarket with a card machine or would it limit their use to the big three or four and prevent shoppers from seeking a better deal in discount stores such as Aldi or Lidl. One may look down the nose at Aldi or Lidl, considering Tesco or Asda to be the main shops of choice but I can assure you that as a family with 2 full time earners and 1 part time earner we cannot afford to shop regularly at any of the bigger food shops. My years of budgeting have taught me to analyse and compare and since changing my shopping habits I have saved well over £1000 a year in food bills. I cannot imagine it would be in the tax payers interests, therefore, to limit the use of the card to the more expensive stores.

I have a concern that the shops and outlets which cannot afford the use of card machines will be destined for certain failure. Independent news agents, corner shops, market stalls etc would not be able to survive the drop in income that may occur due to this proposal. The lifeblood of Britain is its market towns and its corner shops. One cannot state enough that anything that does not safeguard the identity of small towns and high streets in Britain should be rethought. Is the government going to freely supply card machines to all small shops and market stall holders so that they can continue to benefit from the custom of all of their potential customers? If so am I paying for those card machines?

How would parents pay for clubs such as youth clubs, sports clubs, brownies, scouts, st johns ambulance and many other great character building clubs that run on a subs basis? Are we to say that things that give children an outlet and a focus are a luxury too? I don’t think they are, in fact, I believe in a home where there is no working role model (whether by choice or misfortune) that such clubs become even more essential to those children. And whilst I realise that most poor and underpaid families can rarely afford to give their children money the importance of them being able to do so cannot be underestimated. Parents need to reward their children and children, especially teenagers need to feel like they are part of society and having some sort of income is essential to meet their needs. As a tax payer I do not resent the idea of unemployed or low-paid parents being able to treat their children by allowing them to make independent purchases. I’m sure you remember going to a record store to buy your first LP or going to the youth club disco or summer trip. These are important steps in any child’s life, whatever their background.

If a low earnings family wish to take a budget-conscious holiday such as a camping holiday how can they do so without the physical cash to pay for it? Are we to say that non-working and low-paid working families do not have the right to expect a holiday? Do these children not deserve a holiday?

The suggested uses of the card you mentioned included paying fixed costs such as rent, energy, tv licence etc. Will this be money that is ring-fenced on that card so it can only be accessed by a different pin number? This would prevent the monies for these fixed costs being accidentally spent by people who may have no head for figures, no experience in budgeting etc and who have an unexpected cost in their month (for example broken heating, car troubles, etc). If a family uses the money that should be paid to landlords for other items then their housing will come into jeopardy. I believe that the monthly payments intended under the universal credit and this card will, together, cause a huge rise in homelessness amongst families and will, as a result of this, lead to greater costs to the tax payer in the way of emergency housing and rehousing.

Will any of these families be offered budget advice and guidance?

How can these families use the card to pay for taxis? Many families in the low/non income bracket cannot afford to pay for a car and rely on taxis to bring home their weekly shopping. Not every person in Britain lives within walking distance of a supermarket and if they are unable to shop at those places and get their heavy shopping home then they will be forced to use smaller and more expensive ‘convenience’ stores, which as you know, is a poor use of anyone’s budget. Most private taxi firms do not have EPOS machines in their cars and the costs of introducing them to all private taxis would be prohibitive and only be productive to the EPOS manufacturers and the banks.

I am interested in what entertainment items would be allowed using this card. Would people be allowed to buy books and music or should all poor people be culturally bereft? Would they be allowed to use the card to pay for a trip to the cinema or theatre? What about theme park entry for those families who will never be able to save for any kind of holiday but taking a day trip to Blackpool or a theme park would help shape their children’s memories. Would they be able to purchase broadband? If not would broadband be supplied for free to households who need to use this card? I ask because we have seen a huge increase in library closures under both this and the last government and the only access to the internet which many people in the low income bracket have is in the library. The United Nations tell us that internet access is now a human right. How will this right be supported if the card does not allow broadband to be purchased or a free service supplied to these households. How are these people who rely on Universal Credit to access those credits without the access to the internet. I believe that any changes in the way monies are paid to people being supported by tax payers money must be considered carefully to avoid unnecessary infringement of human rights and dignity.

I understand that the Australian model of the welfare card, which has come under both praise and heavy criticism has not reduced gambling in the Northern Territories where it has been tried. I also understand that thoughtless implementation of the scheme means that the card user is unable to make very basic purchases such as jeans!

I believe that the Australian scheme allows the card a certain amount of money for things like alcohol and cigarettes and does not disallow them entirely and this is an important thing. By over-parenting the recipients of welfare the government does not make the recipient more responsible it reduces their personal choices and personal freedom. By implementing this card you will be implementing an unequal system where those who are fortunate enough to have jobs that pay enough are allowed to make all their own choices and those who do not have a job or are exploited in low paid jobs do not only have the humiliation of being in that situation but are also ‘monitored’ by the state to make sure they are being good boys and girls. For my money, and it is my money you’re spending, I have no issue with people who face poor job prospects and endless days of rejection having a drink occasionally or having a cigarette to manage what must be intolerable stress. I have no problem with them trying to make the most of that money by bartering with the second hand shop or market stall. I believe that, if implemented this card system will further increase the distance between rich and poor and further alienate the people from their government. If your government is the ‘working person’s government’ why on earth would you suggest that low-income earners should be forced to use these cards?

My parents are live long Tories, but increasingly since the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition has been in place there are changing their minds about what makes a good government, or rather your government is changing it for them. I will never be a Tory for almost every reason I can think of, however that does not negate my views on your bill. Please take my questions in serious consideration. I may be a wage earning fully independent member of society but I have been in a place where every penny counted and my dignity needed to be intact for me to move forward.

Planning or the Absence Thereof

February 20th, 2012

I’m not even going to pretend to be any kind of expert in sociology or policy.  I’m not going to pretend to be poor, although I have been. There was a time in my life as a divorced mum, working in a number of part time jobs, that I got by by going around kwiksave with my head down, never changing the list, never buying biscuits, squash, sauce, soft loo roll, etc. I never had new things, we lived in second hand clothes, I never had a car and didn’t take holidays. I was 35 before I had Sky TV and went to the cinema about once a year.

Today I work full time and earn a low but steady wage, my husband earns reasonably too, albeit by working 50-60hrs a week. We are currently ok, but if my disability becomes increasingly problematic (as it is threatening to be) then we may have problems, mainly because we no savings other than in the equity of a house that we’re unable to sell in a financial crisis. We feel lucky though, we have our own house and know that if times turn harder we could rent a room out and make ends meet.  We live on a nice street but just a street away there is evidence of extreme poverty. I live in Birmingham edging on Sandwell and this evidence is everywhere. I see stressed people. I also see a real lack of job opportunities and an increasing lack of hope.

The Guardian (who are doing a stunning job of reporting attacks on those who cannot defend themselves and the very nature of British society) have noted London council plans to assist people to be rehoused to cheaper accommodation in yorkshire, hull etc.  I’ve seen an unsubstantiated report that Haringey council are planning on/already in the process of rehoming people to Birmingham. Let’s think about that for a minute. Birmingham where the Birmingham Mail reported in December last year that we are currently only building half the housing stock necessary and that the West Midlands as a whole has a housing crisis. Birmingham where the Post reports we have the highest unemployment rates in the country. In 2008 the Guardian reported that Birmingham was the epicentre of child poverty in Britain. Oh but that was then, this is now, now we see that 46% of children in Ladywood are living in poverty. So for every two children you see in Ladywood you know one of them is potentially going hungry. We see that food banks here are one of the few growth projects. I could go on, fuel poverty, crime rising, you name it, we’ve got it. (Don’t tell my mum, I don’t want her to worry.)

How can moving people to places already riddled with difficulties help them or the area they’re moved to? Do you think this will make the people happier. Are we to get extra funding? Extra youth clubs? Hm, doubtful. I reckon we may see extra food banks though.

The only comforting thought when councils make ridiculous statements like ‘To live in Westminster is a privilege, not a right‘ is that they will be able to boast of plenty of job opportunities in the lower end of the job market in their area because no one will be able to afford to live there and fill those vacancies. The other comforting thought is that while more and more unemployed, desperate people flood the west midlands seeking low rent accomodation  then the area will need increasing numbers of drug & alcohol workers, nurses, teachers, council staff and police.  Yay for social engineering.