Equality Schmequality

Come on Britain, open your eyes and look around you. Is everyone the same as you? No? Thought not.

I ran a stall at a Christmas Fair yesterday to raise a little money for charity – mainly the MS Society. And Ty Hafan Children’s Hospice, as I’d bought a load of Christmas cards from them to sell. I was also supporting a relatively large event being run in a small village. It’s almost an hour’s drive each way, and Martin and I gave up our Saturday for this. I’m just setting the scene before I start criticising.

Because most people we met were very nice.

But the ones that stick in my mind were the rude ones. The ones who can’t cope with anyone being different from themselves.

One woman wanted Christmas cards, but told me she wouldn’t buy the charity ones because “charity encourages lazy people to expect everything for free”. I sold her some that didn’t say they were charity cards and forgot to tell her where her money would go.

A middle-aged woman told me how much she liked to support new talent and asked me which of my books I would recommend. I suggested The MonSter and the Rainbow, thinking she may appreciate that. She flinched when I mentioned it was about disability, so picked up a copy of Chrystal Heart to read the back. It took about three seconds for her to read my tagline, “She’s a 188 year old, bisexual, cyborg vampire and she might just save our world” and put it down as if she might catch something. She left my stall in a hurry.

I’m afraid if you don’t want to read about people who have disabilities, non-mainstream sexual preferences or interesting personal habits, then you’ve come to the wrong writer.

If anyone’s thinking of reading Chrystal Heart, I should warn you that it includes a character who cross-dresses, someone with a disability and even a redhead. There’s also one character who will behave in an unexpected way after their initial appearance – but you’ll have to wait for the next book to find out who. Unless you’ve already spotted the clue, that is. 😉

Personally, I like a fictional world to bear some resemblance to the one around me. That includes people of different shapes, sizes, skin colours and modes of dress. I’m not going to set a story in the 21st Century and pretend no-one is blind or in a wheelchair, not will I insist all my characters stick to heterosexual relationships and dress in three-piece suits. But I won’t include people from minorities just because of some belief it’s the “right” thing to do.

The weirdest behaviour yesterday, though, were the people who decided I was a rubbish bin for their use. I spotted a man dashing away – having left a couple of polystyrene cups in my stock behind the stall. At least I assume it was him- he didn’t wait to be asked, just came behind our stall and the cups were there when I went to investigate what he was doing. I was too busy to take them to the bin, but I looked round a little later to see a woman adding another cup to the stack.

I said, “Excuse me – that’s not a bin!”
She gestured at my wheelchair, “So you put it where you want to.”
I tried again. “Can’t you put your cup in the bin?”
She snorted, “You people,” pointing again at my wheelchair. Then she left.

She didn’t know me, she hadn’t even looked at my stall and evidently had no interest in me, except to assume that my wheelchair entitled her to treat me like a servant. Or a bin.

A few minutes later, I spotted a man adding an empty beer can to the growing pile of rubbish in my stock.
“That isn’t a bin,” I said.
“It’s not mine,” he replied. I must have looked as dumbfounded as I felt.
“We just found it outside,” he explained.
“So you thought you’d add it to my stock?”
The same woman who’d shouted at me before shouted again, “Just leave her to it, if she’s going to be bad-tempered about it!” and the man left again.

Bad-tempered? Yes, I was. I think I have every right to be bad-tempered when someone’s rude to me, expects me to clear up her rubbish and then sends her husband (or whoever) to do the same. She could have told him to drop the can into the bag of rubbish in the car park – or to put it under the stall closest to the door. Instead of dumping it in the stock of the person in the wheelchair who had the nerve to complain that she wasn’t a bin.

I hadn’t gone all that way to be a servant for a lazy woman without any courtesy for someone who happens to be in a wheelchair. Neither do I write my books for people who can’t see beyond their own cosy world.

If you disagree, don’t try to read my work. It’s not erotica, but neither is it dumbed down to only include white, middle-class middle-aged people with no unusual habits. If you’ve bought a copy, it’s yours to burn as heresy, if that’s what you want. In fact – you’re welcome to burn as many copies as you can buy. I don’t mind. I’ll even sign them for you, if that’ll make you feel better.

It isn’t illegal for someone to be different from you. What is illegal is treating them as lesser because of those differences. And being rude when they object.

Come on Britain, we’re better than this, aren’t we?

Trip-End Tuesday 13-11-19

The snow is thawing! It came to visit for a few days – to give us a chance to see how beautiful Iceland is in its white coat. This morning, everywhere is black rock and brown vegetation, with only the occasional streak of white highlight to make the point.

Still no aurora last night. This winter may be the highest sun-activity season for many years, but we seem to have picked a low patch. A shame, but we’ve still had a great time.

One final breakfast of freshly-baked waffles with lashings of syrup (but no ginger beer), squeeze everything into the suitcase and heck the bag full of knitting wool isn’t likely to explode on the plane. (We brought this bag in the suitcase, just in case!) Leave the booze we didn’t finish for the hotel staff to enjoy. Pile everything into the car one last time and checkout.

MK Waffle Stack

I chatted about knitting with the staff behind the Reception desk while Martin checked the tickets before our bill was printed out. An interesting difference- in the UK, Hotel bills are usually designed to be vague, listing just “meals” rather than details. Our bill in Iceland is detailed, clear – and accurate. There are no hidden charges – and we’ve already been informed that we are not expected to tip anyone here. Refreshing, really!

We drive out onto a black road, tarmac chewed up at the outside edge where snowploughs dug in to break up the ice. Our tyres are studded with metal – as is every vehicle here and it’s clear that the country has a policy of replacing roads as they become undriveable and expecting drivers to be prepared for freezing conditions. We haven’t seen any gritting or salting a road and less evidence of drivers having lost control than we would at home. Even the tourists seem to cope well with the conditions – given the right vehicles and rules. And most drivers in the UK don’t even have a set of winter tyres. We could learn a lot!

Mountains Clouds

Our flight isn’t until this afternoon, so we head into Reykjavik one last time and park in a different area – I think Martin’s afraid I’d buy more wool if he took me anywhere near the yarn shop. And we can’t cram any more into the luggage!

Instead we check out a few tourist shops (decent quality tat, but still tat) and take photos of a Viking boat on a roof, a really cute fountain and an open square with excellent wheelchair access – which was obviously part of the original design, not just added later when someone complained. This is a civilised country!

Reykjavik Ramp

And so to the airport, back to normality. We check-in and find the travel company have booked seats for us at the rear of the plane this time. The staff do what they can, but can only bring us a few rows forward. So I’m forced to hobble most of the length of the plane to reach our seats. Then the plan is half an hour late taking off. Yup, this is reality. The pilot makes up for the delay, but doesn’t have a miraculous solution to the seating problem.

It’s been a great break. Iceland is stunningly beautiful and we’d love to go back again to see more of this unique Island.

Happy Hour

Blue (Lagoon) Monday13-11-18

Everybody who knows Iceland – however little – tells you to go to the Blue Lagoon. We don’t generally follow the tourist trail, but this sounded intriguing.

We’d had another undisturbed night – so if the free Aurora wasn’t going to make an appearance, we’d pay for a session in the Blue Lagoon Spa, instead. Another seriously cold morning:

Car Thermometer -13

We’d also made the mistake of leaving a bottle of water in the car overnight – yes, it’s solid.

Cool Water

I did wonder if these two trucks were jousting:

Icelandic Jousting

We took the road along the South Coast of the island. Snowy desolation! Very picturesque!

Morning Moon

The path down to the Spa from the car park is narrow and treacherous. We managed to get my wheelchair down there, but if you’re none too mobile, phone ahead and ask for directions to an easier route.

Picture a small, shallow lake. It’s entirely manmade, with huge rocks around the edge and little Oriental-style bridges spanning the occasional inlet of the water.

The water itself is the most remarkable thing. It’s been brought up from the lava-depths, passed through turbines at a nearby power plant (Iceland has an unbelievable amount of geothermal energy), then passed through a heat exchanger (which uses the heat elsewhere, cooling this water) and the now-bearably warm water then feeds the Lagoon.

So a gigantic bath, rising to shoulder height in places, filled with blood-temperature water and big enough to swim in. You can’t see anything under the water because it’s a white-blue colour due to dissolved mineral salts (including natural chlorine, so no more need be added). It steams in the cold air and smells slightly of hard-boiled eggs.

I could learn to love this place!

The water buoys you up better than fresh water, so it’s easy to float. Alternately, you could have a drink from the bar and stand at the side to drink it.

Didn’t I mention there’s a bar in there? They sell a range of Alcoholic and soft drinks, which you charge against the electronic “locker key” on your wrist and pay when you leave. Trust me – a really cool system.

So this is me, with a beer. (Apologies for the “nudity”. I appreciate that many of you have never seen me without a hat before!)

Meg Blue Lagoon Beer

We took Martin’s phone in with us – in a waterproof pouch that just happened to be in our luggage. (We took many more photos, but this is the only one he’s let me have a copy of – so far!)

For me, the wonder is in the contrast between blood-warm water (38 degrees) and air at -8 degrees. You don’t feel cold, although the lifeguards are wearing snow suits. Bizarre!

If anyone’s heading to Iceland, please believe the hype about the Blue Lagoon – it’s incredible. For maximum enjoyment, aim to spend an hour in the water, eat a meal and then another hour floating around. The café wasn’t too expensive and they made good coffee and sandwiches! Pick a day when it’s likely to snow lightly, if you can.

The whole resort is also very friendly to less-mobile visitors. There’s even an easier entrance, if you know where the “Volcano Restaurant” is. (Maybe phone ahead?)

We bought a framed rock in the Gift Shop. Trust me – it’s beautiful. Then we took the more usual Reykjavik route back to the hotel and ordered a meal from Room Service.

It takes a lot of showering to get all the mineral salts out of your hair – I couldn’t get mine clean until I soaked it all away in the bath back home!

Double-checked that our room number was on the Aurora Watch list. This is our last night in Iceland and we don’t want to miss the display!

Snow Face

Birthday on Ice

The subtle hints worked! Began the day with a special birthday pressie from Hubby. Barcud Coch (Red Kite) pendant made by Clogau. Breakfasted on freshly-cooked waffles with syrup again and wrapped up ready for a day’s sightseeing. (No Aurora again last night, despite the clearest evening sky we’d seen yet.)

Barcud Coch Pendant

Outside, the morning was bright and cold. SERIOUSLY cold. I didn’t even know that car thermometers went down to -13.5 degrees Celsius! Martin helped me out of the hotel and into the car, where I snuggled into the passenger seat with its heating elements on full while he scraped the frost off the car windows. I’ve realised I can dry and warm my gloves by sitting on them while the car seat warms both them and me – and found that a very good tactic for coping with these cold mornings.

Martin Braves Snow

We drove to Selfoss and then took the Golden Circle route to Geysir, where we left the car to walk around the hot springs. There were signs everywhere warning that the water could be up to boiling point, so we didn’t go paddling! The Geysir itself is well past its best, (aren’t we all?) but smaller geysers performed very well. As did the various bubbling springs – both water and mud. We resisted the temptation to throw another tourist into one geyser when he insisted on walking in front of me in my wheelchair, despite Martin pointing out I was trying to film the eruption. It would have been so inconvenient for him to walk behind, you know.

Hot Spring

We stopped for a cuppa at the café adjoining the Geysir site. I was fascinated by the statue that occupied centre stage in the café and asked the waitress to explain. She told me the men depicted are competing at Glima, a form of wrestling which is the Icelandic national sport. Video of the genteel sport was showing on screens around the café, too.

Glima Statue

We toured on for a few hours, then back to the hotel in time for dinner – a birthday treat in the restaurant. We began with cocktails in the Bar – a Vodka Martini for Martin and a Choco-Martini for me. Then into the restaurant proper for our meal. I’m not going to quote the prices, but they were painful. The food was very good, but not that good! I understand it costs a certain amount to import anything they can’t grow or produce here, but that overhead would be in proportion to the size or weight of the imported item – not scaled according to its price. So if it adds £20 to the price we’d pay for a good bottle of wine in a similar UK restaurant, how come the overhead is more than £100 for a reasonable champagne? It may be a special birthday, but there are limits!

We quaffed a very nice bottle of Cava.

The Hotel’s owner came to chat while we were waiting for our main courses. He seemed to assume that we would eat in the restaurant every night we were staying there – nice thought, but unlikely!

Martin had Reindeer Carpaccio, followed by Beef Tenderloin and then Skyr for dessert. (This is an Icelandic speciality, something like a cross between cream cheese and yoghurt. Yummy!)

I started with Brenivin-marinaded Salmon, then beautiful Icelandic Lamb and finally a Melting Middle Chocolate pudding.

And finally, an espresso each. We don’t get to eat like this very often, it’s good to push to proverbial boat out onto the ice!

It’s been a busy day and a wonderful birthday. Finally, check our room number is marked on the Aurora Alert list and turn in.


Reykjavik and Shopping 13-11-16

Life in Iceland is rumoured to be expensive. Truth is – it depends what you’re buying. So we breakfasted on waffles and syrup (I could get to like this place), and set off for Reykjavik, intent on spending money.

The landscape had been transformed overnight from the moon-lava landscape we’d driven though to gentle white hummocks piled like newly-washed bedding in a very cold airing cupboard. Barren austerity to pristine fluffiness in one night’s snow.

Snow Road

And that’s quite enough purple prose.

We parked easily – for a capital city, Reykjavik seems to have lots of space for cars and we found a space just off one of the crossroads in the centre. Choosing a direction we walked up towards a piece of architecture that’s divided opinion throughout Iceland. It’s a concrete church called Halgrimskirkja. Piccie below. Decide for yourself, but we both loved it. The statue is Leif Eriksson, the Viking explorer.

Halgrimskirkja Leif

We wandered about, checking out a few interesting-looking stores and wound our way back to the junction where we’d left the car. Crossing to the opposite corner, I rolled into a store that displayed lots of hats and fur-lined gloves. I could only get a short way inside and Martin went down the few stairs to check the rest of the store. He came back with the words,

“They’ve got wool!”

Martin has a theory that I instinctively find the knitting shop in any
town or city on the planet. Someday he’ll be proved wrong.

So he carried the wheelchair down the stairs while I scrambled after in an unladylike manner.

The staff were completely unphazed by my rather undignified entrance and keen to help, proud of their stock of local yarns and English-language Icelandic patterns. Oh, the wool! Great range of colours and weights – and a fraction of the price I’d pay at home. Apologies to anyone who doesn’t share this obsession. But this is my artist’s palette.

Not to mention that I was spending time with members of the International Sisterhood again. They admired Martin’s jumper and we talked knitting and the benefits of Icelandic wool.

So I bought some:

Icelandic Wool

Looking for a loo, we fell into a brasserie and stayed for a lunch of reindeer pate and smoked trout. (Not on the same plate!) And Skyr – an Icelandic delicacy that tastes like the illegitimate child of yoghurt and curd cheese. Served with blueberries.

Back to the hotel with our souvenirs of Reykjavik – and the wool.
The nights begin early up here.

Moonrise at Ranga

We checked our room number on for aurora alerts, but had another undisturbed night. Still no Northern Lights.

Travelling to Iceland 13-11-15

Airlines don’t make it easy for travellers who use wheelchairs. This was the first time I’d flown in years and I admit to some trepidation.

For once, the journey was uneventful – in a good way. I packed my knitting into our case – always traumatic for me to be separated from my needles, but the airlines won’t allow me to carry such dangerous weapons in my hand baggage. We checked the case in and went through passport control.

As usual, I was frisked (well, there’s not much point taking a wheelchair through a metal detector). The nice lady seemed quite interested in my heavy knitted jacket and asked me,

“Do you need your jumper?” in a Spanish-sounding accent. I must have looked puzzled so she tried again.

“Neet your jumper?” whilst making the international sign for handknitting. Now I got it.

“Knit my jumper? Yes I did,” I replied with a huge smile. “You knit, too?”

She grinned back at me.

The International Sisterhood of Knitters gets everywhere. I could not hold a conversation with this lady, but we knew we were Sisters under the skin. Or jumpers, at least!

We bought a couple of small bottles of spirits in Duty Free, knowing that alcohol was not available as readily and was reputed to be expensive in Iceland. We also bought some sharing bags of chocolates because, well, why not?

I’d been reserved seats near the front of the plane, not too far to hobble on crutches, and enjoyed the three-hour flight. We saw a nice rainbow ring around the sun – the photo doesn’t do it justice, I’m afraid.

Rainbow Aura Plane

And I took the obligatory photos from the plane as we came in over the island. I don’t know the name of this peak, but I christened it “The Lonely Mountain” for obvious reasons. Tolkien would have approved!

Lonely Mountain

Disembarking was painless, with my wheelchair waiting for me and the airport staff very helpful in getting me through their system.

It took Martin some time to sort out the paperwork for our hire car, but the registration number was a prime, which we took to be a good sign. We loaded up and were on our way to the hotel. We were staying a couple of hours from Reykjavik, in fact a long way from anywhere. The hotel is situated where there’s no chance of light pollution to spoil any view of the fabled Aurora Borealis. They also offer a wake-up service in case of any display and we checked our room number on their list. This room number was another prime and we had a good view of the sky to the North, which would be the most likely viewing angle for any auroral display.

Quick meal from Room Service and an early night. Tomorrow, the adventure begins!

Discrimination by Any Other Name…

… would still smell as foul.

Okay, this is a rant. I’ve been trying to book theatre seats. I was pleased to find that I can book them through my favourite cashback website, giving me a small but handy discount on the price. So I clicked through to the booking website, gave them my contact details, told them what we’d like to see, which performance and everything. The website offered me a few possible seats, but of course they’re not accessible. I hunted for the “wheelchair seat” option and found nothing. Eventually, I scrolled down the screen and spotted a sidenote which says, “To request accessible seating or wheelchair access, please call our team on…”. I swore quietly and rang the number. Two hours of patronising messages later I was still ringing the number. I think it was answered at one point – I’m sure I heard the phone being picked up – but then it was dropped and the line went dead. Eventually I got through to a person, who continued the theme of patronising me – insisting that it’s not possible to book wheelchair spaces online because the theatres have to speak to the wheelchair user to make sure they have all the assistance they need and everyone’s needs are different. I asked for her name and got an extremely patronising response. She did the old “talk loudly and slowly” thing and told me she wasn’t being patronising, that I had an attitude problem. Then she told me that this as the wrong number (despite their website’s statement) and gave me the premium rate number I have to call.

I called the number she’d given me and quickly got through to a very pleasant young lady, who checked and informed me that the theatre only has one wheelchair space and it’s already booked for the performance I wanted. So it goes. But we had a nice chat; I told her about the rudeness I’d experienced at the hands of their agents and she told me their justification for insisting on speaking to someone on the phone to make sure they took care of their specific needs in each case.

Now, I may be biased, but I call this discrimination. If I wanted “normal” seats I could book them online. It would take a couple of minutes to click through the relevant web pages and buy them. But because I need to arrive in a wheelchair, I have to phone both the booking company and then the theatre to make the arrangements. I would have to give my credit card details over the phone (which I hate doing – you don’t have the security you would online), waste half my day and don’t even get cashback on the purchase. I’ve already received one sales email from the agents – and I’m not even allowed to book seats through their website!

I understand that wheelchair spaces are at a premium in theatres, especially in the older ones that are minimally accessible. But is it realistic to effectively add to the cost of booking in this way? I spent two and a half hours to find out there was no suitable seat available – do I have to do this for every performance until I find one I can attend?

And if they’re so keen to speak to me in person rather than letting me book online, why isn’t the accessibility assistance number a normal-rate geographical one? Or even a freefone number?

Mustn’t Show Photos of Wheelchairs

Most events come with an official photographer, or at least a lot of people with camera phones. And I’m sure a lot of the attendees check out the web page / facebook group / whatever a couple of days later to see if they’ve been recorded for posterity. But have you ever noticed how rarely these photo show someone in a wheelchair?

I know I don’t have the prettiest of faces, but rumours of camera lenses broken by taking my picture have been greatly exaggerated. So how come, event after event, there are no photos of me in my wheelchair – even when there are a lot of group photos?

The exception, of course, is when there is a political statement to be made. If the organisers want to be shown to be inclusive. I’ve even been at events where I’m grouped with the token non-white person and the politician who invited me. Or included in the background of a single photo, where I’m as far from the camera as possible. Minorities are there to be seen on photographs, but only when there’s a reason for including them – not as a normal member of the public.

I recently attended an event where the photographer appeared to follow me round – apparently so he could stand beside me to take photos of the rest of the attendees. That’s a good way to ensure I wasn’t in the photos. One shot which featured me was posted on Facebook, but I made the mistake of tagging myself in the shot – and it was promptly deleted. I’ve even known people to lean on my wheelchair to steady themselves to take a photo – which doesn’t work as I tend to move away from people leaning on me.

So what’s wrong with showing someone in a wheelchair? Are people so offended by the sight that such photos have to be destroyed? Unless, of course, someone wants to make the point that their event was open to everyone – even if they’re from an ethnic minority or the disabled community? Interestingly, people seem to make more of the fact that they’re accessible when the event was only partially open to people in wheelchairs.

So I’ve been struggling to negotiate the one-third that is open to (full fee-paying) wheelies and then get photographed to prove that the organisers were happy to have disabled people there. I get a lot of criticism for suggesting that a discount should be offered to people with mobility difficulties and have even been told that it would be discrimination to charge less for disabled people! (The person who told me that was arguing that it was my choice not to go round the exhibition in an inaccessible part of the castle which was part of what I paid for!)

Wheelchairs are only in group photos if their disability is relevant. Either because it was an event for disabled people, or the token wheelchair is used to prove that it was all-inclusive. Even when it wasn’t.

Or am I being too sensitive?