Month: April 2018

Disability and Travel

Me and travel have a complicated relationship; I’ve even go so far as describing it as a love/hate relationship.

You see, I’ve always loved to travel. When I was a kid, we drove to Cornwall for two weeks every summer. As I got older, we went further afield after my long suffering Mum forced my Dad to go on a ‘proper holiday’ and during my GCSEs we flew to Greece for the first time. I was hooked. My mum and I will often just jump in the car and drive and see where it takes us. We love freedom and finding new, beautiful places.

Like most families, we had our favourite holiday destinations; Portmellon in Cornwall, near Mevagissey – where I spent every year of my childhood from nappies to GCSEs. Once my Dad had gotten over his fear of trying something new (we think he is also on the Autism spectrum, but denies there is anything wrong with him!) he threw himself into every Greek holiday we had after that – he learned basic Greek very quickly and we made friends with the locals in Petra on the island of Lesvos – it became a regular occurrence.

I haven’t been back to Lesvos since I was in my early twenties, but I definitely have the travel bug now. In recent years I’ve been to France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Iceland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. We came back from Morocco (my first foray into out-of-Europe travel) on Saturday and we are now looking at our next adventure  even further afield – south east Asia.

This all sounds rather wonderful, until you consider that I am unlike most people and travelling is not easy when you have several invisible disabilities. I was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type III (Now called Hypermobile EDS) when I was 19 so for years now I’ve had to make certain concessions as a keen traveller. Now, with my most recent diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, do I have to consider MANY things before we even book our flights.

How much walking is involved?

This is the question that rules my life. Because of my EDS, I cannot walk very far at all without being in pain. I have painful feet, ankles, legs and back. I also tire very very quickly and if I push myself too far on the first day of my travels, the rest of the holiday can easily be ruined. I wish I could just ‘book it, pack it and fuck off’ as Peter Kay so eloquently put it during one of his stand up routines, but sadly, I cannot – we have to research the fuck out of where we’re going, we have to make sure there are either taxis, horse drawn carriages or tuk-tuks – hell, I’d ride a donkey if I had to, just to see some of the world.

How hot/cold/wet does it get?

Another irritatingly complex issue I have, is with the weather. Again, we have a love hate relationship due to a condition I have called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome – this is basically my body failing to cope with certain movements like going from sitting to standing and my blood pressure drops so much I feel dizzy, faint and I lose my vision for a few seconds. Heat is my biggest enemy.

So, not only do I have to consider how hot it gets, but also how wet – because if you’ve ever had the misfortune to have arthritis or any other type of joint injury or pain, you’ll know that wet, damp weather is torture on the body. I absolutely love travelling around Europe, but the dampness is often a problem, so I have to go armed with heat packs a plenty.

Do I have enough earplugs?

I have struggled to sleep when there is background noise for many years now and it seems to be getting tougher and tougher. I cannot sleep in noisy environments so booking a cheap stay at a hostel and sharing a room with other travellers is a no-go. I can’t even sleep with my Fiance unless I have at least one earplug in – just someone breathing next to me is enough to bring on an autistic meltdown.

Where shall we prioritise?

Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is degenerative. That means, it’s getting worse as I age. That also means that we have now had to start planning which destinations we want to put on the top of the list and which destinations we can afford to hold off on. We really REALLY want to travel to Peru to see Machu Picchu but the sheer size of it and the fact that it is an incredibly physically demanding place means that we’re going to have to do it sooner rather than later. The older I get, the harder it is going to get to travel around the places like this. I’ve looked into holidays for disabled travellers and there is a company out there that will literally carry you up the mountain to Machu Picchu in your wheelchair. Sadly, we’re a couple on one salary (of a Primary teacher!) so we cannot afford to book a package holiday like that – we have to do it ourselves somehow. And we will, we just have to figure out the logistics.

We spend so much time and energy planning our travels. We have to. I am limited physically and mentally. I find ordinary life incredibly tough, so add the complexity of foreign travel and you can imagine how hard it can be.

Which airport/airline is best for Special Assistance?

We have only recently realised that there is something called Special Assistance. Basically, the airport or the airline have people on hand to help disabled travellers get around the airport and on and off the planes. I booked my first airport assistance when we were flying from Gatwick to Germany and after quite a wait, I was transported via Wheelchair from Departures to the gate. As you probably know, it can be quite some distance to whichever boarding gate your flight is leaving from, so being able to save some energy was a real help.

I have to say,  we flew to Morocco from London Luton and the special assistance service was absolutely fantastic. We somehow managed to arrive rather short on time so the guy rushed us through security via the Priority Boarding lanes and I was also escorted onto the plane via a lift that meant I didn’t have to tackle any stairs at all. I couldn’t fault the service at London Luton aiport. Thank you!

Marrakech Airport also, took me by surprise. As soon as we got off the plane, there was a gentleman and a wheelchair waiting for me. He transported me through the airport, through security (there was apparently a 45 minute wait for able bodied passengers) and he even took us to the Bureau De Change (you can’t take currency into Marrakech, you have to exchange it when you’re there) and then out to the taxi rank. The service when flying back from Marrakech airport was also fantastic – I was transported straight to departures, through security and the only waiting we had to do was for the gate to open! I was so so surprised by the hands on attitude to disabled travellers at Marrakech airport. It is strange to say this, but we had a far far better experience being disabled in Morocco than we have visiting some places in England! Thank you Marrakech ❤

Can we afford it?

I can imagine a lot of our friends/acquaintances wonder how we manage to travel abroad at least once a year and have a mortgage on just one salary – the answer is; living frugally!
Honestly, it’s as simple as that. We don’t smoke, we buy a bottle of wine maybe twice a month and we eat a mainly vegetarian diet (I eat meat when we eat out – usually using Tesco vouchers – thank you Mum!) and we are big savers. We don’t live a hugely expensive life – we don’t have Sky (we’ve only just bought a telly with money given to us for Christmas) and we are lucky enough to be on a friend’s Netflix account (massive massive thank you to Andreas, you beaut!) so we can afford to pay our mortgage, bills AND save for our holidays abroad. We rarely go out socially and we also brew our own beer – or rather, my other half does (I’m wheat intolerant, of course – not to mention lactose intolerant too but that’s another blog!)

So you can see, if you make the necessary sacrifices, you can do more. You can choose to attend the same festival year in year out (not my thing, but if that’s what you like, I couldn’t care less!) or you could travel further and see more of the world.

We have travelled by car, ferry, bus, train, airplane and horse and carriage – we will see the world by any means necessary. That is how important travelling is to us as a couple, and how important it is to me, as someone with disabilities. I will not let my illnesses define me, or stop me from living my life. If I can do it, you can too!

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We’re engaged! (aka Fuck You Disney!)

My partner Carl and I have been together for nearly four years. He is my first long term boyfriend (my last relationship lasted just a year!) and we bought a house together in October last year. I guess it was only natural that being a woman, I’d be the one dropping hints about marriage.

We had discussed marriage quite early on in the relationship and agreed that it was something we’d both like to do at some point in the future, but Carl had said that he believes marriage is a religious institution so wasn’t too fussed about it either way.

Unfortunately for me, and most women my age, I’d grown up watching all the Disney ‘happily ever after’ fairy tales where the Prince rescues the Damsel in Distress and they get married and live happily ever after.

It dawned on me very recently, that I’m in a relationship with a man who wasn’t surrounded by the fairy tale romance ideal that is thrown down the throats of us ladies. He’s a man – he doesn’t watch chick flicks obsessively like I do. He doesn’t live vicariously through the Sex and the City crew or the Gilmore Girls like I do.

The ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ idiom is one that is true, at least for me. It was this realisation that made me stop and think ‘no, fuck you Disney, I’m doing this my way’ – So I decided to fuck every fairy tale and chick flick I’d grown up with and decided to move my relationship on myself. I asked Carl to marry me one night as we were sat on the sofa. I instigated ring shopping by saving my favourites to my Etsy account and asking Carl his opinion. When I found the ‘one’ I showed it to him and he gave me his card to buy it.

It wasn’t until we were lying in bed one night and he turns to me and says ‘give me back the ring, I want to do it properly when we’re in Marrakech’ – and he did. He got down on one knee, with the ring, on top of the terrace and asked me to marry him. Of course, I said yes! But, I didn’t NEED him to get down on one knee and propose. I was happy being the instigator in the proposal, but he obviously felt like he wanted to propose to me too and that was lovely.

We’ve had a very egalitarian relationship from the beginning – we both cook, we both clean, we both make financial decisions, we discuss everything together. It seemed that we also managed to have an egalitarian engagement too!

I’m not saying, by any means, that ‘romance is dead’ or that I forced my partner into agreeing to marry me. By telling our story, I’m trying to diffuse the myth that a relationship (or marriage) is all about a man getting down on one knee. It doesn’t have to be that way – FUCK DISNEY, FUCK THE CHICK FLICKS. Also, fuck the ‘leap year’ idea that a woman can only propose to her man during a leap year – how the fuck does that make any difference!? Honestly!

There is no shame in a woman asking a man to marry her. Let’s break down the patriarchal dictatorship that rules our lives and say no to being the damsel in distress. I am not a princess locked in a tower, waiting for a knight in shining armour to save me. I’m a woman, who deeply loves her partner and wants to be legally married to him, to be his wife. Why does the man have to do the asking? In my world, he doesn’t.

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(Photos taken on the roof terrace of Riad Assouel in old town Marrakech, Morocco)

DIY Victorian Stair Makeover

One of the first things I thought when I viewed the house for the first time was ‘urgh, who paints everything white?’ and my second thought was ‘How the fuck am I going to undo all this!?’

A couple of months after we moved in, I did some research online and found a chemical paint stripper that would be strong enough to remove the paint from the stairs (Yes… there is white paint from floor to ceiling!!) I settled on Langlow’s Strip Away Pro. It had brilliant reviews online for its efficacy,  I decided to give it a go. A word of warning though – it is designed to be used by ‘professionals’ and as such, is only available to buy on Ebay and Amazon. It is incredibly strong stuff and burns through latex gloves – I double glove with Marigolds AND latex gloves underneath and still have to replace them after a few uses. Langlow paint stripper BURNS the skin, so protective clothing, gloves and facemasks are definitely necessary. It’s also important to adequately ventilate the area before, during and after use as it also burns the lungs if not properly ventilated during use.

So, I have my stripper, some wire wool, a scraper, protective wear, some cloths and a bucket of water and get to it. I started on a floorboard nearest the bedroom as we have a yoga mat in the hallway (it’s incredibly echoey when everything is painted and there are no carpets!) so I could hide it if it didn’t look good or work out. Luckily, the paint came off incredibly easy with the scraper. Sadly, the previous owner hadn’t done the best job (to put it lightly!) on painting or varnishing the entire hallway upstairs and down. The whole lot needs to come off, then be sanded down. What a job!

I have to say, I am loving every minute of it! Yes, it stinks, yes it’s hard work physically (I’m wearing my wrist splints more and more since I started the stair makeover) but the instant gratification of the paint coming away is indescribable! Renovating a house is an incredibly slow, laborious thing if, like me, you have no money. I’m doing the stripping myself as my Fiancé works full time and I am really enjoying having something to fill my time with.

Here are some pictures of the stair makeover so far…

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I quickly found out that to strip the paint (mainly gloss, with 2 layers of Victorian varnish) from the skirtings was not a job for a chemical paint stripper. I googled how to strip paint from skirting boards and architraves and decided the best course of action would be to purchase a Heat Gun.

I practically ran down to my nearest Screwfix and bought their cheapest (yet most highly rated!) 2000w, 240v heat gun by Energer. I already had everything I needed so the next day after watching several You Tube videos, decided to give it ago.

It’s definitely all about trial and error and I learned quickly the best techniques for stripping the skirtings. I’m really enjoying the process of stripping, but I honestly can’t wait to hire a sander and get them ready for my next step (staining them as dark as possible!)

Here’s what the skirting boards look like.

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I ran out of chemical stripper so am waiting for a delivery of the next 5 litre can. I’m working with the heat gun on the skirting boards while I’m waiting to finish the stairs.

The next step, as I’ve said, will be to hire a belt sander (my dad’s loaning me his hand sander for the fiddly bits) and then I’ll look into the array of wood stains. My plan for the hallways and stairs is to stain the wood as dark as possible – a dark mahogany, hopefully, then matt varnish over the top. I’ve been researching original victorian floors and the plan is to get them looking as authentic as possible, so that means they’re going DARK! No more white paint thank you very much!

Watch this space – I’ll be posting another blog once I’ve finished the stripping process and I’ve hired a sander… that’s the really scary bit! Eeeeeek.