Friday, 28 December 2012

Squeaks of protest

Yesterday I risked shopping in the sales.

To buy WD40.

It turns out that taking part in a nerf war with family (looks like a new tradition) in a park with a HUGE puddle across the path, and discovering that wheels are the ultimate vehicle for getting through such obstacles unscathed while sniggering at people gingerly tiptoeing their way around the edge 10 metres away is a recipe for squeaks of protest from my poor wheels.

So while I work at the unglamorous task of un-squeaking the grumpy wheelie parts, I will snigger quietly to myself at just how much fun making that discovery was.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

A beautiful Christmas Rush

Everyone knows about the terror of last minute Christmas crowds. The horror stories of self absorbed people  focused solely on what they want. Ignoring the needs of others - or frustrated to boiling point when things don't go as they planned.

For me, this was the first time in 4 or 5 years that I have been out and about to experience the Christmas Rush.

I needed a few last bits. With slight trepidation I found a parking space. But as I left my car I realised just how lucky I was.

I was on my own - independent, shopping for things for Christmas tea. Things I chose, for an evening I will host. True, the goodies gradually filling my basket were pre-prepared, but 2 years ago I was in hospital scarcely able to sit or talk. And now see how far I have come!

And suddenly I wasn't fighting crowds, trying to get my list finished, I was a little patch of contentment happy to wait while the lady in front made up her mind regarding cheese. I saw teenagers helping and being appreciated by parents, and fathers taking time to make have silly conversations with giggling toddlers, and of course, I laughed at the funny dance one does when meeting someone coming down the middle of the aisle you are heading up - while the universe decides whether you will go left or right.

As usual at several points I needed to borrow some height. I thought it would be difficult to get people's attention, that I would feel like I was in the way.

But no.

Cheerful comments, casual assistance, and an array of positive Christmas greetings.

So, for me, this year, it has genuinely been a beautiful Christmas Rush.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Excuse me, may I borrow your height?

I often need help when out and about.

Especially in supermarkets. For some reason my favourite products seem attracted to top shelves.

So I ask for help. Every supermarket-shop.

At least I thought that was the case, last night I realised....

I never say "Can you help me."

I ask instead "Excuse me, may I borrow your height?"

I don't ask the person to help me because I am incapable. I ask if I can borrow a single, usually insignificant part of their practical abilities because it is a useful tool that solves a specific, usually insignificant practical limitation, which although an issue for reaching a product right now, won't be an issue once it's in my basket and I'm off to continue my day.

I know they mean the same in a way, but I like my line. It puts me in control. In my head it doesn't have any 'helpless' connotations, just a recognition that on wheels I am short.

And it always gets a smile.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

A little white lie

When people ask me about my stickmen and the work I do, I never know quite what to say.

I might talk about equality.
About making disability normal.
Creating a better world.
Or about educating through humour,
Breaking down barriers,
Using images to convey complex concepts in a simple and accessible way.

I talk about challenging peoples preconceived ideas, taking away the fear of difference. About helping people be more accepting of others.

I might even mention challenging the negative perception of disability.

And it is kind of true. That is in a way what I do. But it's a bit of a white lie.

Because really,


I draw my life. My reality, my giggles, my challenges, my perspective. And sometimes my way of dealing with seeing someone making the same mistakes as I did and wanting very much to yell at them about not being so stupid. (I might not learn from others mistakes, but they should learn from mine.....surely?)

I couldn't tell you what the latest law says, or update you on the current disability related campaigns - but I can tell you that
a) wheeling fast through puddles is really fun,
b) the fridge door is stronger than my wrists,
c) my sofa is a very dear friend and essential support in times of need.

Anything more than that is, to be perfectly honest, a happy coincidence.

Don't get me wrong, I rather like the happy coincidences which mean my stickmen help get a positive message across, and sometimes wanting to make a positive impact is hovering at the back of my mind as I create, but in all honesty: if you hear me spouting off all the snazzy sounding quasi political stuff....well....take it with a pinch of salt.

Monday, 3 December 2012

International Day for People with Disabilities

It is nice to think that around the world people will be celebrating and embracing differences, perhaps being a little more open-minded than usual.

I would write some deep, insightful blog entry in honour of the day.

I would....

Only my disability got in the way.

So instead of doing some awesome disability awareness stunt, I shall be spending my day: doing physio, having a shower and pacing* like a professional to keep my heart rate under control and my conciousness level high.

Perhaps next years event will involve slightly less sofa and a little more excitement.

Having said that, looking back, sometimes just in the process of managing our own conditions we educate others.

*pacing: the art of balancing what you need to do with body's limitations, attempting to walk the thin line between over-doing and under-doing, trying to build my strength without sapping it. Involves frequent rest breaks in even simple tasks.

(added as an after-thought: Perhaps next year I could do some 'International Day of People with Disabilities' stickman greetings cards. Would people be interested?)

Friday, 23 November 2012

The perfect imperfect apple

Yesterday at the supermarket I bought some apples.

I looked at them.

Some were bobbly, oddly shaped, blemished.

They were like the apples that grew on the tree in the garden where I grew up.

Not plastic-looking apples but real apples.

It was oddly comforting. Like for a moment I wasn't in a looks obsessed world, but one which appreciated an apple for it's appleness - not for it's plastic appearance.

I found my imperfect apples....absolutely perfect.

Monday, 19 November 2012


As of today, I am running a 'Photo and Feedback' Competition

A bit of fun: finding photos featuring my stickmen and learning what people like about them. Winning photos and captions will be turned into a video picture cavalcade to be used on my website and youtube.

The Prize!!

Winners will have their photo(s) along with their captions put onto a 'Stickman Communications' video picture cavalcade, and receive a FREE STICKER (positive wheelchair logo, in colour of your choice, from Hannah's 'Positive Wheelchair Logo' sticker range)

The rules:

Open to UK residents only.

Somewhere in the photo there must be at least one of Hannah Ensor's stickman products.

You must have permission from anyone recognisable in the photo to submit the image. The photo does not have to include any people.

By submitting a photo you give permission for it to be used online and in print by Stickman Communications for publicity/advertising purposes.

Photos must be accompanied by a short comment on the product/my work - which will be printed (in whole or in part) with the entrant's name, alongside the photo.

All photo's must be suitable for viewing by young children.

With the photo and comment, you must also send:

  • Your postal address (in case you win!)
  • Email address
  • Name
  • The name you wish to be identified by, should your photo be published on my website/youtube.

Maximum of 4 entries per person.

Photos will be judged by me - Hannah Ensor. My decision is final. I will be looking for a wide variety of pictures - so feel free to be creative.

Submit your entries by email HERE. Please write "Photo Competition" in the subject line so I know it isn't spam.

The deadline for submissions is 12:00 midday Friday 14th December

Friday, 16 November 2012

Chatting on the train

The other day I was on the train.

As so often happens with me I got chatting to the chap opposite me.

We started off general stuff - and he then broached the subject of disability. Very cautiously. Unsure whether I would bite his head off in response.

Some people get offended when asked. I know they do. But personally I like this kind of conversation and appreciated his question. Why?

1) The initial chat had established that I was a person.

2) We had already exchanged pleasantries and I'd decided I wouldn't mind spending the journey chatting to him instead of staring out the window.

3) General travel etiquette in Britain (in my experience) is that if you make a comment about the weather or similarly innocuous subject, and the person gives a chatty response, and conversation develops, questions such as 'going anywhere nice' etc are quite normal.

4) It would be kinda odd for someone not to be curious about my wheelchair and disability when I am sat in what is clearly a very sporty set of wheels, have said I am on my way to hospital, my job is drawing disability related stickmen and I went dancing yesterday. (Ok, I can't remember exactly what I told him - but you get the point.) When doing general 'get to know you a bit' chat, people who ignore the wheels can come across as slightly odd. Awkward. Artificially ignoring something which to me is totally normal. (People who accept the wheels as normal are different. Hard to explain but it just is)

5) Most people don't have a close friend or relative who uses a wheelchair - let alone who has my conditions and is affected in the same way. So perhaps the only way they will learn to relate to people with disabilities is through talking to random strangers. If I want people to understand my viewpoint I have to take the time to tell them about my world - otherwise how can any prejudices be changed?

So I enjoyed chatting with this chap. We talked about other stuff too. Conversation drifted - like conversations do (I may possibly have advertised my stickmen products to him too).

However, I would like to point out that while asking about my disability in a mutually enjoyed (I hope) chat is fine (I can always say no/change the subject if I want) approaching me randomly in the supermarket and  starting a conversation with 'why do you use that' or 'how do you pee?' is not.

I would still try to be polite, but I would really really appreciate people remembering that such random demands do not comply with general social etiquette for out and about. If you are nosy about someone try striking up a conversation about something general - like the weather, or Christmas. If they don't want to chat, back off. If you find yourself chatting happily and you are intrigued by an aspect of them - it is OK to ask - but respect their response if they don't want to take the conversation further.

P.S. I would like to add that "How do you pee" and other such questions of a personal nature are never appropriate unless you are a) my boyfriend/fiance/husband or b) My doctor/nurse. 

Friday, 2 November 2012

'Giving up' vs 'Accepting'

As a person with chronic health conditions/disabilities I am often told that a) I need to accept my condition, and b) I mustn't give up.

This isn't as simple as it sounds!

If I accept that my body has limits, then try to live within those limits, 'encouraging' people tell me I shouldn't give up.

If I ignore the limits and don't give up on an activity I am told I have to accept my condition and not be in denial.

I can't win.

So I redefined 'accept'
= be realistic about what to expect from my body. Recognise what after-effects will be caused by doing certain activities, likely recovery time etc. and come up with ways to minimise the after-effects, and make sensible judgements whether to do, do adapted, or not do. And constantly 'update' my expectations based on experience - not other peoples opinions.

And redefine 'Give up'
= stop looking for things I can do. Stop enjoying what I can do. Stop actively managing my condition (physio, diet, meds, pacing etc.). Stop giving my boundaries the occasional POKE to see if they've moved or can be made to move. Stop being positive about my future as a whole (i.e. beyond my condition - encompassing family, friends, happiness, hobbies, work, church etc. etc.)


I can now accept and not give up.

You may not notice it - it is easy to mistake wise, long term choices as giving up - but they aren't. And just as easy to think 'Denial' when you see me take a calculated risk, when actually I've thought it all out and reckon there should be no long term negative effects - and the short terms ones are worth it.

Monday, 29 October 2012

In the smell of a teabag

I admit this is random, but it is my blog and I'm entitled to be random.

I just poured a cup of herbal tea. It's supposed to help me sleep - I have, as yet, no idea whether it works, or even what it tastes like as it is still stewing on the side.

However, as I opened the bag and it's scent wafted out, I was immediately a small child again.

Standing with my Dad in the old 'Health Food Shop' that used to be down town. That mix of spices, the sense of being in a place of mystery. Quiet. Always quiet.

I can't remember what we used to buy there, but I remember holding his hand. A place of safety from which to view the fascinating world around me without fear.

I miss my Dad.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Stylish Disability Stickers


My stickers are here!

And as usual, opening the parcel felt like Christmas. I am totally biased - I create stuff I like, so unsurprisingly, I love them.

Static cling - so won't leave a sticky residue, with designs ranging from those for putting near the front door to let delivery people know you might take a little longer to open the door, to ones for the car - e.g. letting the driver parking next to you know that you need space left by your car, so you don't get blocked in. All done with humour and charm.

Perhaps my favourite car sticker is this one:

Cos you know what? Sometimes the genuinely disabled person doesn't have a wheelchair, or obvious physical deformity. Sometimes we may look fine, but actually be struggling. So here's a cheery car sticker for spoonies everywhere.

The only drawback is that they have been delivered on large backing stickers with multiple stickers per sheet. I sense that I may develop a close bond with my scissors over the next few weeks. Even if it is a 'need/hate' relationship.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The waiting game...

I've spent months mulling over concepts,

weeks honing the ideas,

days designing and redesigning,

hours tweaking,

And at last sent the sticker files for a sample to be printed!

I'll need to make sure they'll look as fabulous as I want them to. Did I choose the right size (240x65mm)? Did I get the font large enough to read from a suitable distance? Is their message clear? Does the 'static cling' actually cling? Oh so many unknowns.

And then I can approve them for the main print run.

And then more waiting.

And then face the ultimate unknown: Will They Sell?

My 10 static cling sticker designs. They've been so long in their creation I know a few more days won't hurt....but please, oh please Mr Postman, don't make me wait much longer!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Wheelchair shopping #2

Yesterday I went to GBL wheelchairs again. I'd done more research since my last visit, decided to try giving my old Kuschal Compact a full refirb, new tyres etc and see if that turns out OK for 'really bad arms, foot propelling needed' days. In which case I could get a standard rigid lightweight chair, or I could go for the Xenon (folding rigid) or Panthera S2 (rigid, flip up footplates - heaven for foot propelling).

So off I went.

All fine till I'm nearly there. When the traffic stops. 10 mins and I travel about 100m.

I called GBL "I'm gonna be late - I've hit a traffic jam, but I'm less than 2 miles away"

Edging closer, it feels like an age later that I get to some traffic lights. I want to go straight on. I think GBL is just up this road. I think it is. but I don't know for certain. But it's blocked by a police car.

The police chap says OK, drive down the blocked road. I was wrong. I'm further back that I thought - and there is a gut-wrenching mess of road accident detritus all over the road, which I can't drive past. So I park up and wheel up to to the parade of shops. GBL is just past a parade of shops. It was a different parade of shops. I'm still not close.

I return to my car having wheeled about a kilometre. Drive back to re-join the inching-along traffic queue.

Eventually I get there. It has taken well over an hour to cover the final 2 miles. Not only had I missed the start of my appointment, it was well past the end of my appointment.

How do GBLwheelchairs react?

I arrived to a smiling, helpful receptionist, who welcomed me and wanted to know if I was OK.

I'd been sat up for a bit too long. The only way to achieve even semi coherence was to lie on the floor and try to get my POTS back under control. Which nobody minded at all. I kinda expected that I would need to go home again without the having appointment - arriving well after 4 for a 3pm appt isn't practical! But no. Mr Wheelie Seller (Ian) was fine with staying on a bit longer. He even let me lie and rest quietly for a few minutes while I recovered a little and he lined up the chairs I wanted to test. There was an engineer still there, and he was quite happy to change his plans and service my Compact anyway. And the receptionist was lovely - not cross with my extreme lateness, and helpfully went and fetched the Compact from my car.

Very helpful, matter of fact, and I think Mr Wheelie-Seller may possibly have ended up late for basketball cos he was putting up with me and my wheelchair dilemmas. Sorry Ian!

But I recovered enough brain to get on with the matter in hand: NEW WHEELS!! I tried the Xenon and Panthera (which I shall shortly review on but I chose the Helium. I decided the refirbed Compact will be good enough for footpropelling days, so I could go for a lightweight rigid which my arms prefer. And the Helium fit the bill.

All in all, an exhausting day, but worth it. I am one step closer to getting my new wheels.

Thank you, GBL wheelchairs people, for being so extremely accomodating!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A Paralympics to be proud of

I loved the paralympics. (I saw almost none of the last few days due to other commitments, and couldn't do stickmen on a few other days, so forgive the lack of 'Weirwolf' cartoons, and all the other memorable moments not depicted)

I loved the talent, athleticism, speed and brilliance.

The suspense, the 'edge-of-the-seat' terror, the willing them on, the yelling at the TV screen.

 The unabashed joy, the all-consuming pride at medals won,

The incoherent enthusiasm about incredible performances

Days full of awe, joy, heartache, skill and pride topped off by Adam Hill's 'Last Leg' - a realistic,  down-to-earth, honest and highly amusing show where talking about disability was no longer taboo.

How can we not be changed? I am. More open to ability, enthusiastic about sport, hooked on wheelchair basketball and rugby, and considering trying a 10k 'run' (wheel).

Perhaps some people will now expect too much of me, but that doesn't matter - I can communicate and explain if I need to.

I have already noticed a change in the looks I get - still stares, but interested not pitying. Not looking down, but looking across.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

"Are you in the paralympics" Take 2

I know I've just done a blog on this, but I had to blog today's experience, because it made my day.

First, this encounter was with a chap (Obi) manning a charity stall at the supermarket entrance. Compliments paid therefore have an element of 'persuade her to give money', but I like to think there was some sincerity in what he said.

It had been raining. I love being out after summer rain. I love the cool air, the sound my wheels make, the freshness of the world. And I had to buy stuff for dinner.

So I went in to town.

The carpark was wet, with a light spray being thrown up by my wheels as I sped across the smooth, flat, surface at 'cruising speed'. This means that I  engage my core muscles, lean forward and accelerate hard, building up a bit of momentum, then, still leaning strongly forward I maintain the speed with long, easy pushes, using my whole upper body and letting my hands swing forward before looping back at the end of each push.

It is a pushing style that I love - and one influenced by watching David Weir. And when rolling along like that I feel I could take the world on and win. I might only be able to maintain it over a short distance, but I feel like I'm flying - every muscle dances in time, perfectly in tune with the wheels, to let me move in a way that is indescribably powerful, free, and alive.

Anyway, I reached the supermarket and pulled my usual handbrake-turn to pick up a basket and slow to a more pedestrian pace.

"Excuse me, are you a paralympian?" asked a voice.

I looked up and saw him. Tall, and to be honest, rather handsome. I grinned.

"Seriously, are you an athlete?"

"No, I'm not".

First his face registered disappointment. "Oh, I was gonna ask for your autograph". Then embarrassment. "Sorry, I know....I mean....I've never seen a wheelchair user so full of energy....and you look so alive....and confident....and the way you were pushing....and....I thought....I thought that kind of slope-y out wheels....were...well...specialist sports ones..." Apparently I was inspirational too.

Oh. My. Word.

Talk about a compliment!

Nothing he said sounded like it came from pity or low expectations. He didn't see the wheels and think 'poor you'. He saw me. He saw life, joy, speed and confidence. And then he saw the wheels - and registered them not as an aid for a poor person who can't walk, but as a piece of sports kit. Which is fair enough given that it is technically an old basketball/sports chair with a 6degree camber.

Funnily enough I didn't mind him thinking I looked full of energy despite my seriously depleted energy supplies.

It is strange, but oddly uplifting, to think that my beloved 'cruising speed' brightened up the day for someone who had, by his own admission, never spoken to a wheelchair user before.

I rather like this 'being mistaken for a paralympian' lark. And perhaps, sometimes, I don't mind being inspirational either.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Are you in the Paralympics?

The current most commonly asked question by random strangers when they see me in my wheels.

Many other people with visible disabilities are finding the same. It has triggered much discussion in social media, but broadly speaking there seem 2 main attitudes towards this assumption that disability=paralympian. One of annoyance, and one of pleased-ness.

So, from what I understand and have read:

When you know how exhausted you get, your pain levels etc, then the paralympic comment feels a bit like a slap in the face. And seeing as part of you is probably a bit jealous and would love to train every day without hospitalising yourself - well, it just isn't a happy moment looked at like that.

And then there's the fear that people will only see your value if you are a paralympian. That to be sporty makes you socially acceptable. Perhaps an unattainable target for some. And the "if they think I am an athlete, they are totally going to overestimate my abilities, and I'm going to have to keep explaining my limitations over and over again, sounding feeble and emphasising my disability. Depressing."

It is like when you are feeling seriously rough and someone tells you you look fabulous. And you get the urge to hit them on the head yelling "I feel hideous, and I will make you feel equally bad so you understand!!". Only bigger.

To be mistaken for an elite athlete....well....there has to be an assumption on their part that you are talented, fit, awesome and generally to be looked-up-to. Ok, so you might know you only just managed to drag yourself out of the house for the 1st time in weeks, and feel hideous, but hey, people looking at you have positive sterotype - and aren't all pitying.

It beats the second most common assumption which is that a wheelchair user is helpless and feeble.

And perhaps sometimes it isn't really a serious "I actually think you are a paralympian" more a conversation starter and something to break the ice. In which case I find it preferable to "it must be so hard for you having to use that." 

And it is certainly an indicator that people are starting to recognise that disability isn't all doom and gloom, but contains definite potential for Gold.

Personally: (and therefore you don't have to agree)
I think I have both reactions within me. 

That means I can choose which I act on - which I feed, and encourage to grow stronger.

I've decided to choose the Pleased-ness.

And from a place of pleased/complimented I can let them know that actually, I'm an author, or I'm just shopping, or doing physio. And perhaps a short conversation will ensue, which leads to them being that bit more comfortable with and understanding of disability in general.

Because experience tells me that it is much easier to help someone see disability as OK, and part of normal when I feel positive than when I feel offended.

And I like being complimented. So I will assume, from now on, that anyone who asks me if I am training for/in the paralympics, is really saying that they recognise that I am a valuable member of society.

True, they might have actually mean't "If you aren't an athlete then you have no value", but if I've just responded with polite cheerfullness, showing positivity and that I am an intelligent person who contributes to society, the chances are they'll go away with something to think about and maybe change their perspective. They are hardly going to say "Actually I meant that you are worthless cos you don't do sport." - And if they do? - I'll pity their blinkered prejudice which must limit them in far more ways than a set of wheels, and move on. Leaving their problem with them.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Shopping for new wheels.

On Wednesday I went wheelchair shopping at GBL wheelchairs with Emma. I need a new chair - my current one is, amongst other things, too small and not suited to toe propelling.

My local NHS PCT cannot supply one light enough for me to push, so I have a voucher and am off to find a chair that works for me. Rigid framed chairs with swing away footplates are not easy to find!

So I spent a few hours at GBL wheelchairs. I wasn't playing. Honest!

  So, I need a light set of wheels, but my budget isn't that big.

A more realistic prospect is the Panthera S2. The swing away footplate, light weight, rigid ticks all the essential boxes. And wheeling round both by toe and standard propelling was fun (although I'd have mine set up a lot more 'tippy').

We established that I wouldn't need the full 'swing away' footplates, just 'flip up' - cos they don't get in the way when I transfer. As the salesman commented, I can transfer without problem. Although he appeared a little bemused by my reply.
I could have spent hours in there. It's SO useful to actually see and try out the various adaptations and styles of chair. I found out about pushrims in different grip shapes, and with different coating, and fell in love with the 'dual grip' which means you have the option of using grippy area to push- especially in the rain, then the smooth area to steer/brake/control on hills. 

I was immensely amused to find that Emma, a wheelchair user since childhood, had never discovered the different shaped pushrim tubes. I think she felt a little cheated.

Testing out all these in a small warehouse may possible have made me over-heat....

Overall, the Panthera S2 is definitely in the running as a possible choice, but it doesn't look as sporty as the Kuschal K4 - which I am waiting for further info re the 'swing away footplate' version. And since I'm spending well over £1K of my own money, I want something that looks sporty. I just do.

So I haven't made my choice yet. Not least because I was excessively exhausted afterwards, so a quick nap in my car boot before the journey home accidentally happened.

Which was extremely comfortable, and now it has been discovered I intend to use it a lot more.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Olympic to Paralympic

(Note: this is my opinion and approach. You are welcome to your own.)

I watched the Olympics.

I loved the Olympics.

 They made me laugh, they made me cry.

They made me want to hug random strangers.

The dedication, skill, perseverance, talent and courage of the athletes was simply awesome. The achievements were immense - whether medals were involved or not.

And now I look forward to the Paralympics.
I can't wait. Each advert I see makes me will the opening ceremony closer.

There are loads of political arguments around about whether they should be merged, happen one after the other, should paralympic athletes compete in the Olympics aswell...

My opinion? I'm sure there are pro's and con's to every argument. I haven't followed the debates or given it much thought, because.......THE PARALYMPICS ARE NEARLY HERE!!

I - and I suspect the entire nation - will see and love the same dedication, skill, perseverance, talent and courage of the athletes. And once again the country will buzz with excitement as the games unfold.

I don't have energy to spend arguing semantics or political slants, I don't want to sit there wondering whether I should use the term 'disabled' or not, trying to guess how able bodied people, or the government, or DWP will view the events, stressing over that fact that some people will react negatively to the games (after all, with millions watching, there will always be someone who reacts in  a way that annoys me). Politics can wait.

What I want is to watch David Weir and Hannah Cockroft - yelling them onwards from my living room. (Plus a rapidly growing list of GB athletes as learn more about them) I want to see the INCREDIBLE skill of the visually impaired long-jump-athletes (saw it at the disability athletics grand prix in May. Loved it.) I want to laugh, cry, shout, hold my breath and punch the air in jubilation. I want to celebrate more fantastic athletes.

So please don't send me equality/disability arguments - I just want to watch these fabulous sportspeople show the world their skills.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

He got it right.

Today I was in town. There is a pedestrianised section of shops. Smoothish brick paved (good), but on a fairly steep slope (not so good).

I am hugely proud of myself and the hard work I have put into my fitness level, strength and joint control - meaning I am now able to wheel myself at speed up the full length of the slope and visit all/any shops I choose.

Today I was wheeling up the slope and I overtook an 8yr old boy with his Dad.

Boy: "I didn't know wheelchairs could go up here."
Dad: "It's a flat surface which is good for wheelchairs."
Boy: "But it isn't flat."
Dad: "It's quite smooth. But yes, you'd have to be fit to get up here."

He got it right.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Book Signing Highlights

Now I've recovered a little from my debut Waterstones book signing on Saturday at The Oracle, Reading, I'll tell you my favourite moments:

1. A 10 year old girl approached me shyly, asking if I worked in Waterstones. We got chatting and it turned out she was an author too - she'd had poetry book published. We talked about writing as a career and about how to get book signings. She was a real pleasure to talk to and I look forward to watching her career. I really hope she gets a signing - I want a signed copy.

2. Not only was 'You know you've been pushing it when...' popular with teenagers for no other reason that that they found it funny - which means they'll also accidentally be well educated when it comes to wheelchair reality - but two of them, once they'd persuaded their parents to buy it, asked "Are there any more in this series?"

But my best moment of all:
3. I introduced a young family to my books, but with the 2 small boys given free reign to choose one book each from the many available, I left them to it. Later, the Dad came over and chatted to me while his wife and 2 young boys were in the checkout queue. We were interrupted by a shrieking ball of excitement that came pelting across the store waving a book above his head in glee. "I got it!! It's mine Daddy! It's mine!!" 

The book was Biscuit Baking.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Being Inspirational

Decided to try and decide how I feel about this through blogging today.

Having a public appearance tomorrow, I need to handle any 'you're inspirational' comments well. I can't snap at people because then they won't buy my books! - I mean, because it isn't nice.


Why does being told I am inspirational annoy me?

I get told I'm inspirational by complete strangers, where all they have seen is me being wheeled up a ramp onto a train, and manouvering myself into the wheelchair space or pick up a packet of cornflakes or sit and have a drink.

For me, these things do not require great bravery or courage. And even if they were difficult for me, I am fully aware that the person being inspired has no way of knowing what my struggles are - which kinda invalidates the praise.

So it doesn't feel like praise. It feels like 'Clearly your life is terrible, so I, from my pedestal, will be inspired by you because you have exceeded my expectations for you, which are practically zero because you use wheels and therefore can hardly do anything.' At best, a backhanded compliment - at worst, an insult.

It unsettles me. I know that I have done nothing noteworthy - yet am routinely at risk of being fawned upon by strangers. But if I really challenge myself and go for it (e.g. use crutches instead of wheels) - strangers won't think twice about me.

Their inspiration isn't triggered by me, or anything I have achieved, but by their own view of disability. I am immaterial. The disability is the important thing. I don't like it.

It is really really uncomfortable to be praised highly for something that is totally normal/automatic. Would you praise an ablebodied stranger for managing to open a standard door? What about if they drank a cup of tea? - not unless you wanted to insult or patronise them.

I want people to accept that I have a different normal and it is no big deal. Yes, I have wheelie skills that they lack, but if I started telling every person I saw who walked better than I can "You are inspiring, the way you walk" I'd soon be locked up for excessive weirdness and harrassing members of the public.  - so what gives them the right to do that to me?

But on the other hand...

I get exactly the same phrases said to me by people who know me a little. Perhaps the guy I've been chatting to for an hour on the train - who's witnessed my ability to speak go AWOL. Or the taxidriver who used to live down the road from where I grew up and has driven me loads of times - seen me on bad days, knows a little of my condition. Or the nurse on my hospital ward who has just relocated my wrist. Again.

My initial reaction is the acute unsettled feeling of wrongness. The knowledge that this phrase is based on assumption and is actually nothing to do with me at all.

And then I think - actually, they do know a bit more about me. They do have a shrewd idea what some parts of life are like.

To be honest, it still feels wierd - because, for example, learning to cope calmly and cheerfullly with random bouts of inability to communicate verbally is, for me, just another essential life skill. But thinking about it, well, not everyone does cope calmly and cheerfully with that kind of thing. And most of my coping strategies/skills are based on my faith in God - so hardly something of great personal merit.

And then there are comments in reaction to my stickman pictures/work...

Again, this feels weird because mentally I link it back to the disability - relevant in scenario 1. But actually, thinking about it, someone liking my work really isn't about my disability at all - it's about my work.

And while I don't think a talent for drawing stickmen is particularly inspiring, nor my ability to 'take the mick' as something of great worth, other people can think what they want.

So: in conclusion, this is how I currently feel:

Don't go up to a stranger whom you know nothing about and declare that you are inspired by them. It is weird and often you are basing your reaction on lots of assumptions which may be incorrect.

If you get to know me a bit (or a lot), or if you like my stickmen and decide I'm inspirational....OK. Very nice of you and all that, I won't be offended - but nor will I treat it like a profound comment. If I inspire you to live a better life, happy days, but really I'm just getting on with my life. Occasional comments are OK if you feel the need, but don't overdo it.

And I reserve the right to be amused.

After all, 'inspiring' is generally used in association with 'getting off ones backside and doing something' - whereas I remain firmly planted on mine.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

A Doc Martens Dilemma

Event: Booksigning at Waterstones, The Oracle, Reading.
Time: 11:00am Saturday 14th July
Outfit: Black trousers, floaty black/green/pink top, and DM boots.

The Top 

(Clearly, on Saturday the hair will actually be styled rather than dragged through a hedge backwards)

But Which Boots? 

The Green


The Pink

I need to look like a professional author/illustrator, capable, creative, fun - and obviously someone who's children's picture books and disability cartoon/educational humour books are well worth buying. 

So do I go for green or pink?

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Happy, positive disability stickers

Fed up of the boring, static disability/accessibility/wheelchair icon I designed an alternative.

Now I have durable vinyl stickers with it on. And I am in love. How many disability symbol stickers do you see - and immediately feel happier and more positive? Personally - none. Until now....

Medium Pink on my kneebraces
Small - all colours on my crutches

Medium Purple on my laptop.

Large Blue on my car.
All now available - exclusive to my shop

Friday, 22 June 2012

A Pocket Full of Confidence

I don't know about you, but when I approach potentially challenging situations, the thoughts come:

How do I explain wheelchair etiquette without offending? How can I ask for personal space without sounding petty or demanding? How do I convince someone that this is my normal and I don't need medical assistance and they don't need to worry? How do I say I'm in pain without being thought a moaning whinger? etc.

And above all, how do I do the above without instigating a 'pity response' - get across the message that I might have a disability or two, but life is still fun and interesting?

Initially I created the first 'Cartoon Keyring Communication Cards' for a friend - but I fell in love with them. The first time I used them was on the trainSince then they have been used in the post office, out shopping, at the bank, in taxis, with friends, at events, with family, at work. 

And the responses? Acceptance, laughter, respect, 'Oh Okay' - followed by compliance. It seems that the humour in the message negates the pity factor and takes the sting from potential offence, and the fact that it is written down makes people accept it so much quicker. 

My pocket full of confidence.

The way in which I say something that is socially challenging in an entirely socially acceptable way :D

(If you are interested in communication cards with designs/messages not currently available, please email )

Monday, 18 June 2012

What's in a name?

I will shortly be updating the communication cards section of my website to make it easier to use, better descriptions and better photos. - Not least because I now have a full set of stock in high quality laminate, all exactly the same size and impressively durable, thanks to finding a new supplier :D

I will also be putting together a few packs on specific themes -of course more cards can be added to them, but it might be easier to buy, for example, a Wheelchair Etiquette set, or a basic EDS set and then add any others you like.

Up 'til now I have called them communication cards. Because they are cards, and they communicate.

But now they have been on sale for a while - including at various events over the past few weeks I am wondering whether to call them Keyring Cards instead.


Because the established 'communication cards' are ones with purely functional pictures, usually aimed at those with long term conditions which make cards one of their only options. They seem to connect in many peoples heads with learning disabilities and total speech loss.

Some people saw the name and went to walk past - then when I encouraged a closer look, they ended up falling in love and buying some.

Yes, some are applicable to those with speech problems, but really these cards aren't about having no other option but to use a communication cards for all types of situations (the keyring would get too heavy!!), but a fun, novel, lively and entertaining solution for when:

  • talking isn't easy - whatever the reason (ASD, fatigue, sore throat, depression, grief, pain, etc.) or 
  • it's a tough concept to get across without offending, or
  • the answer to a question is 'negative' (e.g. How are you? - answer: hideous pain/hormonal/exhausted/want to be alone) but want to say it in an up-beat way.
  • you are fed up of explaining 'what's wrong with you?' and showing a card or two with a cartoon and mini blurb is so much more fun than never-ending lecture giving.
  • you want to educate someone as to the basics of wheelchair etiquette without telling them they are a ****.
And some of them are applicable to people regardless of disability/medical condition - like 'Rampaging hormones' or 'Go Away' :D

My new printer called them 'Keyring Cards' and I thought it sounded interesting. Crip themed cartoon keyring cards. It made me want to go and look at them.

And I realised that 'Communication Cards' were less of interest. Purely by name. They sounded official. And I don't like official. I like off beat. I like fun.

And I suspect that people who like my cartoons also like slightly off beat.

I would be really interested in hearing what others think about this!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


I've been toying with the idea of stickers for ages.

Happy, positive, disability related stickers that people can buy from my shop.

So here are a few sample designs.

What do you think?

All feedback gratefully received - via comment, twitter, facebook or email.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Thank you, Karni Liddell (paralympian)

A few days ago I read 'Paralympic Athlete Karni Liddell's Journey' in Disability Horizons (online magazine).

Brilliant. One of those things that made me dance inside. 

It wasn't that she'd beaten the odds and learnt to walk, speak, dance etc.

It wasn't the she'd competed in the paralympics, won medals, become a radio broadcaster, studied...etc.

I mean, those parts made me glad for her, and proud for her - and seriously want to meet her parents who sound totally awesome. But the bit that made my heart sing was:
"… I learnt from my disease and my body that the only thing any of us have control over is our attitude and how we handle our darkest moments."
That is what makes her awesome. That is a recipe for success. Not success in the 'become a millionnaire and really famous' way, but in a 'become a happy, fulfilled individual' way.

Taking positive responsibility for my actions and reactions is a key part of my Christian faith, but I've struggled to find the right words for it. Now I've found them, courtesy of Karni, I intend to keep and live them forever. And to join her in making 
"...a choice in life to be happy, healthy, grateful, generous and tough."

Friday, 8 June 2012

For a very special Mum!

Mum's 60th birthday was weeks ago.

We gave her a present at the time, and we had a party with family and friends. I'd created a cavalcade of stickman pictures for her - a few snapshots of the happy memories with which she filled our memories.

Then over the following weeks I turned them into a book - about 40 pages long.

Today I received the finished product. Within 2 hours I'd persuaded Mum to drop in to 'pick something up': 

It made her laugh. 
It made her cry.
I think she liked it. 


My Mum is Ace.