Routine, mental gymnastics and a stake in the future

Spring 2020

Do you find routine comforting? Do you use certain mental tricks to help you cope with things?

I read an article recently in which somebody commented that isolation was something that disabled people were quite used to. My initial reaction was to think “not all disabled people are isolated!” But then I considered my position even while I was still going into work, until last May. While I was just as much a member of staff as anybody else, for various reasons and largely because I use voice-activated software, I was in an office by myself which did inevitably have the effect of isolating me from my colleagues. Many other disabled people will be in similar situations and isolated in different ways, for example, my deaf colleagues were sometimes isolated because a BSL interpreter had not been booked and it was difficult for them to follow what was happening in a meeting.

Spring 2020
Spring 2020

During my PGCE, my teaching practice placement was away from York where I was sharing a house with my friends and therefore for one term I lived on my own in a bedsit. This is where I learned that lesson that many sleep experts talk about. They often recommend that you don’t do anything work-related in the bedroom. While this was impossible in the bedsit, I did make it a rule that I would never do anything work-related while sitting on the bed so that whenever I looked at the room from that angle I wasn’t in a work frame of mind. It took some mental gymnastics to achieve it, but I think it must have worked as I don’t remember sleepless nights thinking about work.

We usually watch the news a lot but like many people now, we are rationing it and making sure we don’t watch it last thing before going to bed but play some music instead. It sometimes requires some of those mental gymnastics to switch off and leave thinking or worrying for the morning but, like meditation or mindfulness, I think it comes with practice.

Something experts are recommending as a good way to cope with the current lockdown is to maintain some sort of routine. I find people’s need for routine a really interesting phenomenon. I’ve often had a conversation with people in January where everyone admits that we quite liked getting back into a routine after Christmas. Similarly, I remember having conversations as an undergraduate where people agreed that they had started by revelling in not having to get up if you didn’t have an early lecture, eating whenever you felt like it, having breakfast cereal for dinner, that sort of thing and then finding after a while that it was a little bit unsettling, depressing even, and feeling better once they had got into some sort of routine.

On the news the other day, there was an item about a young homeless woman who had been given a flat to live in. It was like a palace, she said and she was really enjoying getting into a routine, preparing meals and so on and had not taken any heroin for a week. I wish they did follow-ups on news items like that, I’d love to know how she’s doing now. Routine is somehow comforting and while ditching it for a while during the holidays is refreshing, for many people it is reassuring to have some sort of structure to your day or week.

Spring 2020
Spring 2020

Another thing we keep being recommended to do is be grateful for what we have and to notice the small things. I think I am doing both of those in spades: we are hugely grateful we have a garden and noticing the small changes in it is one of the great joys of gardening. Every time I go outside I look to see how much further the thyme, the fuchsia or the jasmine have come out into leaf, how much further out is the saxifrage or the blossom on the cherry tree, how much higher the clematis has climbed up the trellis, how much the tadpoles have grown. Also, how the privet cuttings are doing that we planted to plug a hole in the hedge and if the wildflower seeds we scattered have germinated yet. We have a few indoor projects too like spring-cleaning and a mini one is a maidenhair fern we turned around as it was growing lopsided. It looks unsightly just now but I love seeing the new tendrils reaching out for the light. Plenty to look at and lots of mini-projects, all life-affirming and a stake in the future.

Non-New Year resolutions

Distant views, Fairburn Ings

I’ve never been a fan of New Year resolutions. Partly, I think because it’s a bit depressing when you break them, partly too because I’m so in the habit of thinking of September as the New Year, not January.

If New Year resolutions are plans to do something new or better in January, doesn’t that rather encourage you not to make resolutions at other times? I tend to make plans at any time of the year to try new ideas or improve something I do already – perhaps inspired by something I have read or heard – and this could happen on any day throughout the entire year.

It might be something specific or something a bit more general. At the moment my general idea is to keep an eye out for things or ideas which will make life easier or less tiring for me. This usually leads to small tweaks rather than anything major, for example, as my arms get so tired these days, I’ve started using plastic picnic ‘glasses’ to drink from as they are lighter than a real glass.

Wall-mounted dispensers from simplehuman.com
Wall-mounted dispensers from simplehuman.com

Another recent innovation is wall-mounted dispensers for shower gel and shampoo from Simplehuman. They are easy to use and save me from faffing around getting shower gel or shampoo out of bottles. I used to use shower gel in containers that you hang by a hook but there aren’t that many of those around any more and the one I particularly liked, Pears, changed to an ordinary bottle. (I contacted them to ask why and they said it was to use less plastic and sent me two huge bottles of liquid soap!) In the past I have used a button-fastener which worked really well when I was a little more dexterous and I sometimes use a ‘grabber.’

Button fastener from Essential Aids
Button fastener from Essential Aids

At some point last year, we decided to make an effort to visit more local places that are accessible such as Burnby Hall Gardens or Fairburn Ings. This is a resolution we will definitely be continuing!

Distant views, Fairburn Ings
Distant views, Fairburn Ings

Another area of frequent resolutions is around what to eat. Several years ago, I went to see a nutritionist, Sally Duffin, as I felt perhaps my insides weren’t working as well as they might. She made all sorts of suggestions to try for three weeks and I definitely felt better for it. Inevitably, I didn’t adopt all her ideas or some that I tried fell by the wayside after a while but our diet definitely had a major overhaul and we now eat much less red meat, more fish and some meat-free meals. This feels quite zeitgeist-y as vegetarianism/veganism is having a bit of a moment right now for both health and environmental reasons so our diet-related resolution has an extra spin off.

The Rock Garden, Burnby Hall Gardens
The Rock Garden, Burnby Hall Gardens

At first, I wasn’t at all sure about what to cook as a vegetarian meal and tried Quorn mince instead of beef mince in chilli, for example, but decided that actually it didn’t taste that great and just including a larger amount of vegetables and pulses was nicer. We now make chilli with chicken or vegetables, bolognese with tuna instead of beef, vegetable ‘shepherd’s pie’ and moussaka and various vegetable curries and are trying to perfect home-made vegetarian sausages.

We often have cauliflower or carrot ‘rice’ and spiralised butternut squash or celeriac instead of pasta. I tried going completely carb-free for a few weeks, which sounds a bit bonkers given that I don’t have to for allergy reasons like some people, but I thought it might be a kick-start to perhaps losing some weight or at the very least make me think about portion sizes. It had no effect on my weight at all so I continued for a while longer and found that it did seem to have reduced the stiffness I often felt first thing in the morning. However, it did leave me somewhat lacking in energy so I reintroduced some carbs here and there and am now introducing a few more as I still seem to be very tired. I really hope it doesn’t increase my stiffness, but of course I don’t actually know if it was the carbs that caused that. Hopefully I’ll have the energy to do more exercise!

Clearly it is a case of experimenting and working out what works best. I wonder what other wheelchair users or people with MS have found? If anyone has a recommended gadget, diet-tweak or anything else to share then please do! Obviously, what works for one person may not work for another but it can be really useful when people share their own practical experiences.

Plenty of resolutions, then, but at all times of the year!

Do explore my website accessibilityreviews.org for more ideas. A lot of the places to visit that I have reviewed are near York, but if you look on the map and zoom in, there may be places near you or inspiration for somewhere to go on holiday!

Changing priorities

York Uni Christmas Day 2019

Looking back over my posts for the last couple of years, there was not as much of a change in our activities as I was expecting. Does that mean we’re still doing things or does it mean we’ve never done that much?

York Uni Christmas Day 2019
York Uni Christmas Day 2019

I think we probably do more in the way of gardens and outdoor spaces now and fewer restaurants as it’s tricky not to put on weight even when eating healthily if you can’t really exercise. Also, there are not that many local restaurants which are really easily accessible especially with the parking situation in central York.

Ambiente, Fossgate, York
Ambiente, Fossgate, York

Our last holiday was a lot less ambitious than previous ones where we would stay in three or four hotels on the way to and from a holiday cottage in France or Spain for example. I currently find staying in lots of different places on the same holiday too tiring.

Carpark, Les Saules, Baie de Somme
Carpark, Les Saules, Baie de Somme

I was pleased, though, to see that we are still managing to see live music fairly regularly. I think, also, that even if I was perfectly hale and hearty, we would be doing different things than, say, ten or fifteen years ago. More gardens than, for example, stately homes or museums as I really like looking at gardens these days, much more so than I used to. We’ve always liked visiting castles and we used to like city breaks in Europe but we have done plenty of that in the past and while of course I would like to do more it’s not breaking my heart. Except the thought of never again being able to just wander around Paris looking at things like the flower market on Ile de la Cité – that just gets to me every time.

When we did a few exotic holidays, such as going to India, I don’t remember at the time thinking that we had better do these now or we might not be able to later but that’s how it turned out and I am very glad that we did as it is lovely to look back on those holidays.

Our tastes have changed, partly, I suppose, to do with ageing, but also to do with accepting the inevitable. The important thing is to try not to make comparisons with what you used to do, which would change anyway, but to do what you can and what is enjoyable.

The Alnwick Garden
The Alnwick Garden

Reviews of accessible places to visit

Reviews of accessible places to stay

Reviews of accessible places to eat

Is this year’s panto as good as ever?

The auditorium, Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)

Well, not so sure. This is the first time in 30 years that Berwick Kaler has not starred in the York Theatre Royal pantomime although he did write and co-direct it. He also appeared in the filmed section which has become an annual fixture.

The auditorium, Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)
The auditorium, Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)

I don’t think the issue was the lack of Berwick so much as that the pantomime can be a bit hit and miss. Some years you come away having laughed solidly all the way through, other years not so much although it is always very good with plenty of audience participation, great sets and costumes, no smut and Wagon Wheels aplenty!

Whether you like it or not is, of course, subjective. It was always going to be tricky continuing the pantomime after Berwick’s retirement but I think they have succeeded very well, particularly as the usual cast were all in there.

Foyer, Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)
Foyer, Theatre Royal (dezeen.com)

Like last year, we had places in the Dress Circle, only this time on the side nearest to where you enter. The accessibility is just great, the lift is spacious and you don’t need to back out of it as it has doors on more than one side. They could maybe have created a wider corridor outside the lift but were probably restricted by the space available and have done the best they can. It would be good to know what their policy is on evacuation of wheelchair users in case of fire. Obviously, it’s not something you want to think about but I suppose one should.

The staff are all incredibly helpful and pleasant and the honeycomb ice-cream is delectable. The pantomime runs until 25th January.

As usual, we parked in Duncombe Place, braving its horribly rough tarmac.

Will we go next year? There’s plenty of time to decide.

Check out more reviews of accessible places to visit.

Haringey on the Danube!

NCEM entrance
NCEM entrance
NCEM entrance

The Budapest Café Orchestra play a wonderful mix of Eastern European dance tunes, gypsy music, Kletzmer, even variations on classical tunes. None of the band are actually from Budapest but how they explain this and their general banter is great fun.

As I have said before, the National Centre for Early Music needs a decent sized band, ideally above three, to really fill the place with sound and the four incredibly accomplished and versatile members of this group certainly managed to do that with their double bass, accordion, violin and guitar (or sometimes balalaika) plus percussion.

I read somewhere that the NCEM had been given some funding to increase accessibility, so I was interested to see if there had been any changes. The only one I could see was that the gaps between the paving slabs up to the entrance (from Percy’s Lane) had been filled in, making it much smoother. I was disappointed that the thresholds hadn’t been changed, they still give you rather a jolt but in general the place is very accessible.

We had joined their Access Scheme and had booked a Blue Badge parking space but unfortunately when we arrived both the accessible spaces had a car in them, with no Blue Badge on so we just pulled up and decanted me then Pete parked up in the one remaining ordinary space.

I went inside and explained the situation to the person on reception who was most apologetic and made a note so we shall just have to see what happens next time. At the end of the concert, one of the accessible spaces came free so Pete moved to that so I could get in the car. By the time we left, even though we were amongst the last people there the car park was still almost full so I think they probably weren’t concertgoers but people sneakily using a convenient parking place.

Not an ideal situation but at least they are trying to have a good system in place. It’s good to support somewhere accessible and we have never had a disappointing evening at the NCEM.

I thoroughly recommend The Budapest Cafe Orchestra if they have a gig in your area, you are sure to have a fun evening!

More music reviews at the NCEM.

Revisiting familiar places

St Nicholas Fields

Recently we visited somewhere we’ve only been to once before at a different time of year, a couple of places we are very familiar with at all times of the year, somewhere completely new and somewhere we haven’t been to for 19 years!

Decent path surface, Fairburn Ings
Decent path surface, Fairburn Ings

All of them were great in different ways. It’s lovely to go somewhere that you’ve never been to before, as Fairburn Ings was for us, especially if you come away feeling that you would like to go back, that there is still more to explore.

Boardwalk and flooding, Fairburn Ings
Boardwalk and flooding, Fairburn Ings

It was also fascinating to visit the place we hadn’t been to for nearly 20 years, in this case St Nicholas Fields in York. They run all sorts of eco-themed events for kids and anyone who wants to get involved but it’s also a very peaceful and wildlife friendly place for a stroll. We lived very near it when it was first established and, as you can imagine, it looks very different now: little saplings are now fully grown trees!

St Nicholas Fields
St Nicholas Fields

That’s what I love about going back to familiar places: seeing how they have changed. When we went to Burnby Hall Gardens recently, I found that my memory of it was very hazy and it was actually much better than I remembered! This is partly because they have been developing it, creating new pathways, revamping the museum and generally making it more accessible.

The Rock Garden, Burnby Hall Gardens
The Rock Garden, Burnby Hall Gardens

Visiting places you are very familiar with could be seen as routine or dull but when it’s a garden or park, it’s different every time you go. When we lived near Rowntree Park we probably averaged a visit every week and while we don’t now go there as frequently as that, we know it well enough to notice small changes and developments.

Rowntree Park
Rowntree Park

It’s great to see that at least some of the roses planted next to the pergola have grown up the posts and over the top like they’re supposed to. I expect a lot of the children who visit would agree that the totem pole and ‘chess piece’ horse (if not perhaps the helmet which never seems to receive much attention) are fun additions to the park. The flowerbeds seemed to be doing very well on our last visit and there is always something of interest, whatever the time of year.

The pergola, Rowntree Park
The pergola, Rowntree Park

The University of York campus also changes all the time, although that is often because new buildings are being added but it is still very pleasant with plenty of wildlife and good paths.

Tree maintenance going on at York Uni
Tree maintenance going on at York Uni

More and more, I feel inclined to give my time and money, if we are talking about somewhere with an entry fee, to places that have made an effort to make themselves accessible to all, rather than ones that have made what seems to be more of a token gesture. There are also places which are reasonably accessible but it’s just not that convenient for me anymore such as ones where you really need to be use a proper overland type scooter because of the terrain, such as Golden Acre Park or Temple Newsam near Leeds or Thorp Perrow Arboretum near Bedale. If you can manage a large mobility scooter and cope with some jolts and bumps over the rough terrain, I still thoroughly recommend them.

Thorp Perrow
Thorp Perrow

It’s a bit cold now for visiting outdoor places – fine you are walking briskly but rather too chilly if you are sitting on a scooter! I’m already planning and looking forward to next year’s excursions though!

Here are some more accessible places to visit.

Fairburn Ings – huge wetlands, somewhat wetter than usual!

Distant views, Fairburn Ings

It had occurred to me that after all this rain, Fairburn Ings might be flooded but it was a lovely sunny day so we thought we’d go anyway.

Distant views, Fairburn Ings
Distant views, Fairburn Ings

Fairburn is quite near Ledsham where we have been to the Chequers Inn on many occasions and is easily accessible from the A1.

It was steeper than this looks!
It was steeper than this looks!

The Ings are managed by the RSPB and they have reclaimed former coal mine spoil tips to create different types of habitats for a variety of wildlife.

Decent path surface, Fairburn Ings
Decent path surface, Fairburn Ings

The paths are generally quite fine gravel and there are also boardwalks. Most of the boardwalk areas were inaccessible due to flooding but the small bit we were able to do, part of the duck and swan feeding platform, was a great surface. We could have explored much further around the site than we did but it would have involved a long and quite steep slope so we just admired the view and turned around. There are various hides, all of which have level entry. There is really good access information on their website.

Entrance to visitor centre, Fairburn Ings
Entrance to visitor centre, Fairburn Ings

The visitors’ centre has level access and a power-assisted door and sells lots of RSPB gifts as well as birdfeeders and food. It doesn’t have a cafe but it does have a coffee machine and snacks and a little seating area where you can eat or drink. There are loos including a unisex accessible one.

Accessible loo, Fairburn Ings
Accessible loo, Fairburn Ings

The staff member who welcomed us was really helpful, pointing out on the map which parts of the Ings were best for wheelchair users and which were not flooded!

Boardwalk and flooding, Fairburn Ings
Boardwalk and flooding, Fairburn Ings

Entry is free for members of the RSPB and for Blue Badge holders (non-members are charged £4 per car).

This is definitely a place to revisit once the floods have receded!

Fairburn Ings
Fairburn Ings

Here are some more accessible places to visit.