January 1st saw the introduction of the new, secure, Blue badge. On the 5th I appeared on BBC Look North (on behalf of Disabled Motoring UK) talking with Peter Levy about the changes and about enforcement of the scheme. This involved getting to the studio in Leeds (somewhere I was already familiar with after my appearance on Radio Leeds in 2011). I was mic’d up in the newsroom and positioned in front of a rack on wheels containing some equipment that looked like mixers, 2 small screens (one showing me and the other showing Peter in another studio) and on top of it all a camera and bright light, which managed to make the most of my shiny forehead! The technician who had mic’d me up and made me comfortable appears in the clip as a hand in the background pretending to work.
January 8th saw the birth of my youngest Niece Phoebe, who I had in my arms within 30 minutes of her being born. My memory is not great but I vividly remember that at home we had just sat down to a Sunday tea of chicken, rice and potato wedges when I got a call informing me that there had been complications during her birth and asking if I could get to the hospital. When I arrived it turned out that Sarah, Phoebe’s Mum, was not well, though I never did find out the details of the problem.
In other news January saw me meeting Pan Aveyard, bag packing on my Birthday, the news that Mat Fleming was being put in for GCSE Maths 2 years early, Von’s car throwing a wobbly, Joe Fleming ending up in hospital with suspected broken ribs and my friend Liz Ellis speaking on BBC Radio Leeds. I was also disappointed at not having been selected to be a torchbearer after being nominated and getting through the second round of selection, but found out that a distant cousin of mine (also a wheelchair user) was carrying the torch through Dewsbury which was cool.
February saw me at my first training session for the Olympics. An orientation session hosted by Lord Coe and Eddie Izzard which was informative and entertaining. This proved to be a challenge to get to as it was held at Wembley Arena and coincided with some of the worst snow seen in London, making a simple 10 mile journey take around 4 hours. I was one of the lucky ones who managed to keep my car moving – I encountered rather a lot of BMW’s and Mercedes’ sliding and slithering around and unable to get up the hills, forcing everyone that could keep moving to have to weave among them.
One of the more positive aspects of that session was that it gave an idea of just exactly how many of us were involved, a chance to speak to some of them and provided a spark of excitement in anticipation of the Olympics.
February was the month of Grimsby YMCA’s annual Sleep Easy campaign and fundraising project. I spent a night in Grimsby sleeping on the street with just some cardboard and lots of layers of clothing for comfort. This was just one night and was incredibly difficult, I think at most I only actually slept for around 15 minutes and it was certainly an eye opener.
February also saw me start doing admin support in the fundraising office at Cancer Support Bradford and Airedale for 2 days/week. This had come out of a conversation with my friend Sarah Firth who works there and (hopefully!) allowed the fundraisers and Sarah to be able to spend more time doing what they’re best at and less time doing admin tasks. This also got me out of the house and interacting with people as well as improving my confidence at the realisation that I could still cope (after some 2/3 years away) with working in an office and be able to problem solve and from time to time even answer IT related questions. This lasted right up to going away for the Olympics in June and the intention was to return to this after the Olympics, but life took a bit of a twist.
In other news for February, I took Libby to the library for the first time, something she loved and has enjoyed ever since, I attended my first (and last!) ever football match, watching Huddersfield Town get beaten by Sheffield Something on Valentines Day and I met and became friends with my “Brother from another Mother” Mark Winterbourne.
March came and brought with it fuel shortages and another bag pack for Cancer Support Bradford and Airedale. At this session I was stationed by an exit of the supermarket with Amber, my friend Sarah Firth’s Daughter and we got talking about MS, what it is and how it happens etc and about the neurological system in general. Something which Amber took in and later educated her Mum on. That was deeply impressive to me and was an illustration of how much you can influence a child just by talking to them.
March was also the month Von passed her 3rd theory driving test which brought her another step closer to getting her license after so many years of being knocked back.
For me March also saw me at Stoke Mandeville stadium spending the weekend handcycling on track and out on the road with the guys and girls from the UK Handcycling Association. This was a lot of fun but also a lot of hard work.
In other news for March I managed to spill coffee on my beloved Kindle DX but also managed to strip it down and clean it all out and it survives to this day. And I learned an important lesson when I failed to display my Blue badge whilst parked in Huddersfield and had to ask Kirklees Council to withdraw a parking ticket, something they agreed to do but weren’t obliged to do.
April was Gadget Show Live in Birmingham with Mat Fleming, this was pretty amazing and gave me a chance to drool over lots of lovely gadgets and then watch a live show featuring some amazing acts like Laserman and Addictive TV.
This was also the month I decided to trial Windows 8 on my laptop and then, shortly after installing it, wondered what I’d done. I soon got used to it though and quickly grew to like it, despite the oft-complained about “split personality”.
April also saw the inaugural #CostaPosse meet up. I have some amazing friends – Liz Ellis, Mark and Elaine Winterbourne and Sarah Firth and we decided to get together at Costa Coffee in Greengates, Bradford. The main link between us all is Cancer but when we’re together we laugh and laugh and laugh. More details of the #CostaPosse are in my post titled “Special Friends”.
This was a busy month for Libby too when she started Karate, graded to White belt and took part in her first tournament.
In other news I got my shifts for the Olympics and got a scare when Libby collapsed on the kitchen floor in front of me, which saw me panicking and frantically trying to get hold of Von and then calling an Ambulance.
May saw another training session for the Olympics which introduced me to my car, a BMW 320d ED, and also to radio communications and the associated protocols as well as a bit of customer service and road safety. After these I was then allowed to get behind the wheel and after a bit of familiarisation with the car and navigation system headed out onto the streets of London for assessment with a driving examiner. Thankfully I passed with full marks for safety and a few pointers such as checking the inside mirror when turning left for cyclists.
May also saw me say goodbye to my beloved BlackBerry when I upgraded to my HTC One X Android phone, which was a massive leap over the BlackBerry in terms of functionality and ease of use. This was very kindly set up for me by the ever-knowledgeable Pan Aveyard at his free social media and Android drop-in.
In June Joe Fleming managed to get a job with his first interview after leaving school. He had printed off several copies of his CV and handed them out at various shops in Dewsbury and got an interview, turned up dressed smartly and got the job.
I battled my fear of heights when I got harnessed up and hooked to a wire to zip slide from the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle. This was 750 feet from the bridge crossing the river to land on the bank at the other side and was done the day after Bear Grylls had taken the Olympic flame down the same line. This was in aid of Cancer Support Bradford and Airedale and required my good friend Sarah Firth to firmly tell me I was doing it and had no choice after I got on the parapet of the bridge and then announced I couldn’t do it. I did do it, am glad I did and will be doing it again.
June also brought another Olympic training session. This time it was venue-specific and so I took me to the ExCel centre in London which was to be my base depot for sessions covering depot procedures, vehicle checks, checking in and out of car keys, radios and paperwork and health and safety around the depot. There was also information around security and access to the depot and I was given a VAP to allow my own car to access the depot and was allocated a parking space. For the rest of the day we hit the road to familiarise ourselves with the routes we would be using. I had passengers in my car from the Metro newspaper who were writing a feature about the Transport team and in particular about the 2 disabled drivers based at our depot, being me and Graham Day.
In other news Libby graded to Yellow belt in Karate and I collected my Olympic uniform.
July was a busy month, beginning with Von managing to fall while ice skating and doing herself some serious damage. It initially looked as though she might have a spinal injury but a few hours later it turned out she’d broken her scaphoid, a small bone near the thumb.
The biggest news from July was Von passing her practical driving test, finally! I was sat by Gatwick airport in London in my Olympic BMW when the message came through and I reckon the scream would probably have been heard in Yorkshire.
And in July I started my Olympic driving duties. My first shift, driving that car out of the depot and onto the streets “properly” made me feel proud, though nervous at what to expect. Those nerves soon turned to boredom though when it transpired that demand for the service had been over-anticipated. During one shift a bunch of us were sent up from the depot in the basement of ExCel into the main area and allowed to watch some of the sport. I ended up watching some fencing which was fun.
After my first shift I headed from London straight to Birmingham where Jodi Picoult and her Daughter Samantha van Leer were doing a talk and book signing of their first co-authored book Between the Lines. This was the second time I’d met Jodi and being in a lecture theatre the stage was down some steep stairs. Jodi and Samantha came up to meet me and sign books and Jodi made a nice comment about my Olympic uniform.
In July Cancer Support Bradford and Airedale held their annual Moonlight Walk event for ladies. I volunteered to help and acted as “emergency” driver carrying first aider Aimee Vonstra-Edwards. During this and whilst following the ladies one of them became exhausted and became a passenger. I was trying to shout encouragement to the rest still taking part. It was a very successful and enjoyable event and there was a great atmosphere.
Back to the Olympics, The Times newspaper did a feature on 3 of the Games Makers and I was one of them. This involved an interview with one of their writers and a photoshoot session at Tower Bridge Studio, the first time I’ve had a professional photoshoot and the first time I’ve worn make up! I was very impressed at the way the photos turned out though.
In other news Libby made us proud with her SAT results and her acting as Nancy in the school production of Oliver and I confronted a man acting bizarrely on our street, parking his car and watching kids playing then driving round the corner, parking again, putting on a hat to cover his face and walking round the street. That was also reported to the Police and thankfully he hasn’t appeared again.
August saw me in hospital after going to A&E in lots of pain and being admitted. Not a great time but made better by visits from family and a surprise visit from the the #CostaPosse Sarah, Mark and Liz, who I understand had some fun of their own trying to find the ward and confusing the nurses. High point of that stay and what made me laugh through the pain was being told by one of the nurses that I was “well equipped”.
September came and with it a new job, working as an IT contractor at Rotherham Hospital, I just can’t stay away from the places lol. It was quite possibly very well timed though as I wasn’t in a good place mentally at the time
September also brought 2 thank you letters just days apart. 1 from Cancer Support Bradford and Airedale thanking me for my efforts over the few months I was there and 1 from David Cameron that was a thank you to all the Games Makers for their efforts during the Olympics.
And being September it was time for the DMUK Awards. This was a fab and successful event with examples of great things being done by and for disabled people and showcased some wonderful achievements. I was particularly pleased to be reunited with an old friend – a certain 1932 Argson mobility trike which has been restored by Twisted Mind Custom Motorcycles and also to meet and talk with Sue Marsh who, along with Kaliya Franklin, received the Denny Denly award in recognition of their work on producing the Spartacus report which forced the Government to rethink some of their welfare reforms. Sue is a lovely lady who was so modest and it was great to meet her.
In other news, Libby successfully got through another Karate tournament and I was named as the first “champion” of the Great Yorkshire Stair Climb.
October was all about In the Pink. My awesome friend Sarah who works at Cancer Support Bradford and Airedale had set herself a challenge to wear something Pink every day of October and to have at least 10 photos taken out in public places. Now at first this might sound easy but when she mentioned about how it made her feel, really self-conscious and nervous, it becomes clear that it wasn’t quite that easy. Sarah got donations of all sorts of items of clothing in Pink including wigs and even had a Pink car to use for the month. Could she be any more conspicuous! Sarah did an amazing job and pulled it off magnificently.
October also saw my first visit to Top Gear Live, which I loved and the full release of Windows 8 which, after having trialled it, I upgraded to whilst away in a hotel.
In November my friend Pan Aveyard finally managed to jump out of a plane. This was supposed to have happened in July but the skydive people had to rearrange due to the weather, then it was supposed to be September but I had a job to go to so had to rearrange. So it finally happened, on a cold but dry and clear day this brave (mad) man went up in a plane, which is bad enough, and then jumped out of it. Thankfully he made it back to earth safely and in so doing raised lots of cash for Cancer Support Bradford and Airedale. Respect.
November held a challenge for me as well in the form of the Great Yorkshire Stairclimb. This event involved climbing up the stairs inside Yorkshire’s tallest building, Bridgewater Place in Leeds. There are 522 stairs and I believe I may be the only wheelchair user in the world to have completed such a challenge and am possibly the only wheelchair user ever to have been on the roof of this building.
In a moment of fun November brought me my first ever taste of race car driving on a track. Organised by ST Accessible Motorsport and using their race prepared Volvo S60 with 240bhp and which can be quickly adapted to be driven by people with a wide range of disabilities. This was a huge amount of fun and after telling Von about it it sounds like she’ll be up for a go at a future session.
November also saw me arranging my big challenge for 2013. I signed up to take part in the Edinburgh 5K wheelchair race and the day after the Edinburgh marathon. Then was told by the organisers that I wasn’t allowed to take part in the marathon as they don’t allow wheelchairs in. There then followed almost a month of discussion while they tried to find a valid excuse for not allowing me to take part. The details of that are in my post titled “The Challenge is to be Accepted for the Challenge”.
December started with Gadget Show Live @ Christmas at the ExCel centre and it sure was strange seeing it in civilian guise after having been based there during the Olympics. The exhibition wasn’t as good as at Birmingham and was a lot smaller but the show was fab.
And December entailed getting ready for Christmas. Decorating the house, wrapping gifts and writing cards. Catching up with friends and family.
I was also asked by Dilwyn Price to be best man at his wedding to my Mum in May next year which was a shock but in a nice way.
We spent Christmas Day at my Mum’s in Wales which was nice and relaxing and made it more enjoyable than usual.
Looking forward to 2013….
2013 already has a challenge arranged in the form of the Edinburgh wheelchair race and marathon and I will be starting training for that shortly and starting on a diet too. May is going to be a busy month with my Mum’s wedding on the 4th in Wales, the DMUK AGM in Glasgow on the 18th and the Edinburgh events on the 25th and 26th.