Thursday, 18 October 2012

BlogCamp: Review

The level of concentration required for live-blogging BlogCamp last Saturday was enough to knock me for six over the past few days. (See previous five posts all of differing length!) My dyscognition flared with a vengeance; apart from my body succumbing to between twenty and twenty-two hours of sleep per twenty-four hours. This has meant my usual routine of keeping apprised of current events globally, nationally and amongst my relatives, friends and acquaintances via social media has also taken to the back-burner. I still feel completely shattered; but in a rare moment of cognitive clarity, I thought I had best blog before I faze out again!

[Image description: BlogCamp logo ©]

I thoroughly enjoyed the live-blogging aspect. It was great to convey instant impressions and perceptions. Although, I was unable to keep as strict an eye on my grammar and vocabulary as I would normally, due to time limitations and the need to publish asap (as soon as possible). Furthermore the established comfort of my shelf of dictionaries, grammars and thesauri was not readily available to me as at home. This forgoing of some aspects of control felt liberating. Perhaps another behemoth aspect of my OCD has been slain?

BlogCamp was not what I had expected. Partly this is because the announced agenda was supposedly to include usage and development of Google’s Google+, which did not come to pass, and partly because I, erroneously as it transpired, anticipated a blogging-for-beginners course. Unfortunately for the uninitiated, such as myself, the language of blogging is an impenetrable jargon and alas no glossary was provided. This site was mentioned, that app and t’other plug-in. A-huh: no idea what was being discussed for much of the time; it could have been quantum mechanics for all I knew!

Nonetheless, I did glean the odd gem of information and in due course I shall attempt to apply these to my own blog. I definitely think that video-blogging is the way to go for me. This is partly because visuals are one of the most sought-after types of information, and thus likely to increase traffic to the blog. However, from my perspective as a disabled person, I can imagine that speaking my ideas etc. might be an easier way to access my blog for blind and partially sighted folk. The only draw-back I potentially foresee, is the looming of my stutter/stammer. Although, if I learn how to edit my videos, I ought to be able to work around this impairment.

For someone sensitive to sound, the din of around one hundred womenfolk all attempting to make themselves heard was a veritable cacophony. For the most part I retreated to the relative calm of the venue hall whilst the hens clacked away in the communal zones.

Interestingly, the vast majority of bloggers in attendance were female. This could be due to the organisers predilection for baby, toddler and foodie blogs. Or perhaps this is true in general in the blogosphere? Still, I did chat to several lovely ladies, some of whom wish to remain in virtual contact.

I left BlogCamp at The Studio with a contented smile on my face and a sated stomach - what more could one hope for?

Saturday, 13 October 2012

BlogCamp: Part Five

A break for luncheon: a delicious choice of salads, pasta, meat for the carnivores, bread, olives, hummus,… And miniature bread & butter puddings in espresso cups with pouring cream. Yummy! Who could fail to be sated.

Next up were Becky and Tom Arber who have their own brilliant blog-site, (q.v.). Their lecture was entitled: The Silver Bullet?

[Image description: three snaps from the Arbors website, © Tom Arber]

They spoke entertainingly using a balanced combo of the informative, the humorous and, naturally, the photographic. The main points were:

How to take pictures
Techy tips
Post processing

They suggested using Instaprint via Instagram to get great shots printed up. But beforehand one may need to utilise Blogstomp for manipulating the photographs into interesting images.

[Image description: three more snaps from the Arbors website, © Tom Arber]

BlogCamp: Part Four

Ruth @geekmummy talked about video-blogging. Her main justification is that YouTube is the internet’s second biggest search-engine. I see the wisdom in her justification.

However, given my caution on using imagery and thus Pinterest, I doubt very much I could yet make the leap into video. Nonetheless, I perceive immediately that this would be a great way to discuss ideas and notions. It was suggested by a member of the audience that, instead of talking to camera solo, have someone to chat with to add a more realistic dynamic.

There then ensued a Big Bang Theory nerdy, geeky discussion of technology. ¿Qué? … Oh lordy!

BlogCamp: Part Three

So, I now know that the expert blogger is named Cathy James (and her blog is NutureStore). She has an extremely clear delivery and good enunciation. She is full of creative and common-sensical concepts.

Pinterest - everyone knows what it is, Cathy avers. I am the only dissenter. I must be so out of it. Folk keep mentioning this site, that site, this app, that app. I think an interactive white-board may have been useful so that key names could have been flashed for reference.

Pinterest looks fabulous. I shall have to ponder how I might use it. This blog is primarily an ideas and notions pool. I have added photos and pictures to retain interest especially on longer blogs. Could these images be turned into gateways to my blog? I am sure it is possible.

BlogCamp: Part Two

Did not catch the speaker's name, but she set out with some clear goals:

1 community

2 feedback & ideas

3 traffic
4 extending your influence beyond bloggers (on Facebook as opposed to Twitter)
5 secret societies

But very quickly I was lost in the expert bloggers' lingo, an impenetrable jargon full of references to alien beings or Latin plant names for all I knew.

: I have no idea what the speaker is going on about: it's like a foreign language. Using too much jargon... %S

 I need really basic stuff - I'm completely lost now! %(

Pee break & bland latte ensued.

BlogCamp: Part One

Well, after struggling with Manchester city centre’s notorious one-way system, and only a couple of screaming matches with my (wonderful) driver because I cannot tell the difference between left and right (never could), we almost drove past 51 Lever Street. I was looking for The Studio. The name was on a billboard inside the foyer, not on the outside. The window-wall was however emblazoned with huge numerals denoting 51. Driver kindly reversed and deposited me on the kerbside - too high for me to mount; so I walked to the corner to hobble across the dropped kerb. And so to the entrance. Thankfully, a very kind concierge came to my assistance and bade me welcome whilst directing me to the third floor via the lift (elevator).

A couple joined me and prattled on the journey up, through the doors and then assumed I would open a pull-door whilst laden with two bags, a hoodie and walking assisted by two sticks - Oops! Suddenly brought their conversation to a rather abrupt halt as they realised they would have to affect ingress.

Inside, I eventually managed to get the very pretty receptionist to speak loud enough for me to hear what she was attempting to convey. She pointed me in the direction of coffee machines, seats and pastries - CAKE! I joined the queue for coffee. Alas, by the time I reached the equipment coffee was there none. Hot chocolate, hot chocolate or hot water were the only items on the menu. Erm… hot chocolate then.

After half a beaker of a so-so beverage, and a tasteless (but gratis) apple Danish, I sat down to type. A lass who had said, “Hello” whilst I was noshing, came over and sat down beside me. Heather and I had a good natter, before the hordes began to stream into the debating chamber.

10.30 Welcome to BlogCamp
10.45 Boost your blog audience
11.45 Coffee break
12.00 Become a video star
12.45 Lunch
1.30 Photo wizardry
2.30 Coffee & cake
3.00 Getting things done

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

A Crush, a Bromance, a Friendship Ends - A Sexual Peregrination Begins

Thirty years ago this September gone I had my last in-depth conversation with one of my best friends from my school-days. To save his blushes, I shall name him AF. In the previous August AF had declared to one of my friends that he and I loved each other. I was rather stunned to hear such a declaration: seventeen year old lads in the rabidly homophobic early nineteen-eighties did not tend to go round making such avowals. AF had left the education system at sixteen to pursue an apprenticeship, so there was no possibility of him being ribbed (or worse) in the school-yard. The other friend was from outside the area so unlikely to broadcast an exposé. I was touched and, in the giddiness of the revelation, automatically agreed with the sentiment and averred that I reciprocated.

In those days I was not really aware of my own sexual proclivities as such and for much of my life have led a hermetic asexual life-style (for reasons I may one day blog). In the eighties there was no ready access to pornography or explicit queer literature. I would not have known what to do sexually with my friend in any case. There were certainly stirrings in my loins which I did not understand; but no erections, no masturbatory fantasies. I experienced wet-dreams for years before some school lads explained the mechanics of masturbation in sufficient detail that I could work out what to do. It certainly prevented the nocturnal emissions. However the onanistic pleasure was a physical, sensual thrill from turning myself on and making my body feel so vital. It had not occurred to me to fantasise about masturbating someone else, let alone sexual intercourse. The school-boy term for anal intercourse was ‘bumming’; but I thought this just meant bouncing on another’s bum (buttocks)! Ah, wrong end of the stick as usual due to my dogged naïveté...

Up to that point I had spent countless hours with AF: holding his hand whilst sitting beside him; linking arms whilst walking out and about; placing arms around each other’s shoulders leaning into each other whilst chatting with others; huddling under an umbrella in the rain; holding on to one or other of his calves or stroking them whilst sitting at his feet; tickling one another; playing rough & tumble; hugging one another (I am now a hugger, but my younger self generally did not like such close physical contact). It was the most physical, by which I mean tactile, affinity I had experienced up to that point. Middle-class families in the seventies and eighties did not really do the touchy-feely shift that came with the more nurturing nineties. There was no kissing on my part as I considered it an expression of feeling love and I was not intellectually certain that what I felt was love. AF would occasionally give me a chaste peck on the cheek. Remember this was before the continental vogue for cheek-kissing spread (resurgently) to England!

It was a crush; in modern parlance, a bromance.

So back to thirty years ago. For my birthday he presented me with a box of chocs and a greetings-card. We chatted for ages in his car. For the life of me I cannot recall what we discussed; though I have attempted to plumb the depths of my mind for a clue as to what was about to occur. Within a month AF completely stopped talking to me and refused point blank to elucidate his reasons therefor. Within three months we had ceased altogether from seeing each other. I was emotionally devastated. Some three years later I received a short, formal note advising that he wanted nothing further to do with myself: this after a wordless meeting on a ‘bus. And that was that. Eventually he emigrated.

For years I had seldom thought of AF, but when I started to use social media I, like many others, looked for lots of folk from various stages in my past. I discovered AF is on Facebook as he was listed as a friend of a mutual school chum. I sent AF a brief message to see if he would like to be Facebook friends, but that no umbrage would be taken if he did not. Answer came there none. And no exception was taken. I was not in the least upset - or so I thought.

Occasionally I think of him, usually on or around his birthday which co-incidently is the same as for two other friends of mine.

In 2010 I woke up sweating from a discombobulating vivid dream. As is my wont, I turned on the laptop to record some notes and ended up scribing the following poem (in part due to medication I was taking at the time!):


walking out
waiting outside
for us
for me
for you
who knows
what goes thro’ your mind
I see you stare
and my heart trips
then rips again
were you waiting or
was it just co-incidence
why come back
what for
after all these years
and my heart bleeds again
stabbed by that youthful love
I feel you close
scent of lost innocence
once forgotten
fresh out of the unstoppered vial
the one with your name on
my breathing quickens
shallowed inhalation
my chest constricts
recalling your memory
hallowed sentiment
impromptu assignation
I take you in
you’ve put on weight
skin’s less wan
lentiginous still
tho’ submerged in tan
I hear your voice
and melt inside
like that foolish youth
naïf child-man
no more blotches of eczema
I smell your creamy
spicy skin
how you let me in
your touch
calloused palms
warm, pliant flesh
errant life-line
firm grip
even when you left
why have you come
your wife and kids at home
my partner next to me
one for old-time’s sake
or fresh fantasy
you’re a moment
embroiled in time
still torturing me
spectre of a painful past
an unburst boil
summer’s here
I thirst for release
but what do I know
can I divine your intent
lost in the hedgerow
bending behind shushing grain
the susurrus’ sirenic strain
stroking a wheaten tress
in unspoiled soil
hopelessly content
on the bed
lie down next to me
you said
caressing my hip
stealing away
in the vintage banger
we drive fast
past you
you silently stare
surrounded by
abounding fecundity
heart-rate pounding
you’re just reverie
dulled glass
I cry
your reality
wake up
bugger me
only in dreams
to see

Whilst I rarely consciously think of AF, he obviously is still inhabiting the dark recesses in the underworld of my sub-conscious!

Europeans over several centuries have often commented on British, and particularly English, boys' and young men’s romantic affinities with one another. Perhaps friends or family had made some snide remark to AF. Perhaps he had become self-aware and/or self-conscious of a relationship that could have gone nowhere. Perhaps he had become bored of it. Perhaps I had upset him unwittingly. At first I attempted to work out what if anything I had done wrong. Maybe though, the bond that had made us close for a while had just faded. The friendship had simply completed its course.

[Image description: the author with his current best (male) friend in a side-on embrace.]

On those rare occasions (roughly one per decade) when I have terminated a friendship, I have given an explanation (this is the lesson I learned from my friendship with AF): unwillingness to be open where repeated discussion got us nowhere; breach of trust after breaking promises made to me; sexual infidelity amongst my group of friends; inability to come out of the closet for himself let alone me; lack of shared values. I have never taken the decison lightly and invariably have attempted to sort out matters to mutual satisfaction in the first instance. However, for the most part, I consider myself loyal to my friends and love each of them in a Platonic sense and hold them in great affection.

I find it comforting to think of past friendships (with men or women) as being complete. Not everything must endure for ever. Besides, if some relationships had not ceased, I should never have made new pals and experienced so many subsequent pleasures. Anaïs Nin* said something along the lines of each new friend brings out a different facet of our self. My aim every year is to make at least one new friend. Thankfully, I seem to have left crushes in my past. Note should be taken, however, that the word ‘friend’ comes from an Indo-European root meaning ‘to love’. Irony perhaps!

"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born." 

Monday, 1 October 2012

Ed Miliband M.E.N. Question & Answer Event

[Image description: Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party and official Opposition to the UK ConDem Government, addressing a room of two hundred Mancunians.]

The Media

What was weird about seeing members of the Media in the flesh was just how many of them are short, white men. Familiar faces from the BBC, Channel 4 News and newspapers, etc.; generally with satchels (not man-bags) and trench-coats. Completely stereotypical of the hack image. Interestingly, for the most part, they did not mix with we hoi polloi but steadfastly remained with their ilk. Oddly, the only member of the Press who came to speak to me worked for the Mail group. Cynically perhaps; but I suspect he was attempting to confirm his papers’ pre-conceptions of the Labour Party or perhaps the nature of spin. All he wanted to determine was whether I am or have ever been a member of a political party. Ed Miliband, in his opening address, said that he wanted to get to meet real people and find out what concerned us. What a shame that Britain’s Media did not want to become equally sullied! They spent fifty minutes just chatting and milling amongst themselves. A wasted opportunity surely! Channel 4 News’ Gary Gibbon even departed after approximately a quarter of an hour, just one sixth of the session, i.e. he heard Ed Miliband’s introductory comments, but exited before the plebeians got deep into their input. All in all, I am led to assume that all the Media was interested in was re-confirming their own agendas.

The Venue

On arriving at East Manchester Academy (a stone's throw from Manchester City FC's stadium) it was satisfying to encounter plenty of disabled parking spots. Unfortunately, the camber of the pathway from the car-park to the buildings went off in two different directions, making it difficult to self-propel my wheelchair. Thankfully, I had my trusty assistant at hand. The main entrance was permanently open due to the large numbers of people coming and going: so, I cannot say how accessible the entrance is on a normal day. All floor surfaces were covered in a man-made product that had some give in it (according to my trusty assistant) and so was a delight (his word) to walk upon. For me too it was a delight, for the surfaces throughout were even and smooth: just perfect for a wheelie! I was relieved I had overcome my stubborn independent mind as I should never have managed to open most of the internal doors: none operated either automatically or via a disabled push-button, so all had to be opened for me. Well, except the door to the disabled w.c. This I managed by myself, including un/locking it, although some canny manœuvring was required which resulted in my pulling a back muscle! In the refectory I was able to tuck myself, still in my chair, under the table - the first time ever (see photograph below). So all in all, a high score for the edifice, its environs and its fittings.

Labour staffers

My treatment by Labour staffers was not quite so good and did not create a good first impression. The chappy who greeted me upon arrival was chirpy and enunciated clearly. Unfortunately the lass who called me over, cutting across the former’s conversation, went unheard to a certain degree as I am hard-of-hearing in one ear. I suggested it is best not do so to the young lady; but she just glowered at the constructive criticism. Then she proceeded to try to communicate directions, but turned away from me so that I could not see her mouth nor hear what she was uttering. She certainly did not take kindly to being asked to look at me when speaking. Apart from being a common courtesy, it is also essential to many hearing-impaired individuals.


Despite making it quite clear that I would be in a wheelchair, there was no allotted space. At first I settled in an aisle; but it soon became clear I was going to be blocking photographers’ access and so on. My assistant had taken a single seat at the back of the room. I suggested he pulled me back and position me next to him. Out of everybody’s way or so I thought: three staffers, one photographer, one technician and several of the questioners walked into me. Only two apologised: one of the staffers (a microphone runner) and the photographer. The technician must have had magnets in his legs, because he walked into me five times. I am not sure non-wheelies understand that one’s chair becomes part of one’s body. Banging the chair is like stepping on someone’s foot or such like. If one accidentally contacted an able-bodied person, one would apologise; so why do able-bodied folk generally not apologise when accidentally coming into contact with wheelies? I wonder whether it is the same for blind folk? Or other types of visibly disabled people?

Developing my Open Letter and Question

As soon as Manchester Evening News offered the opportunity to put a question to Ed Miliband, I knew I had to apply. A few weeks ago I had written to Sonia Poulton who was collecting (in the end some six thousand) signatures for an open letter to Ed Miliband. I had said that Mr Miliband was at liberty to call in if he was ever passing. I live in the suburbs of Manchester, but whilst this kind of trip meant using a lot of energy and spoons, I felt morally obligated and spiritually motivated to make the attempt in order to iterate the deaths, the suicides, the attempted suicides, the despair, the excessive stress, the aggravated ill-health of disabled and/or chronically sick Brits that has only recently been openly discussed by some parts of the Media.

Morale support was what I needed, so I contacted the veteran disability rights campaigner and über-blogger, Kaliya Franklin aka BendyGirl. She very generously gave of her time and spoon reserves to help devise a question. However events moved quickly and the points became moot after new announcements by the Labour Party. In the end I had so much I wanted to say that I put down my thoughts in the following open letter to Mr. Miliband.


Dear Mr. Miliband,

Labour was responsible for the introduction of Employment & Support Allowance (ESA), the replacement for Incapacity Benefit, the out-of-work benefit paid to those who had become either physically and/or mentally impaired or had become chronically sick after a period of employment in which they had paid sufficient National Insurance contributions.

Labour was responsible for the introduction of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), that is supposedly meant to determine whether or not disabled and/or chronically sick folk are capable of any work never, in the long-term or in the short-term.

Labour was responsible for negotiating the original contract with ATOS, the international conglomerate now widely despised by disabled and chronically sick folk, for processing disabled/chronically sick folk.

Labour was responsible for the Freedom of Information legislation which means we, the public, are not entitled to see that contract due to alleged commercial sensitivity so it is impossible for the electorate, let alone Parliament, to judge whether or not the contract is flawed.

The ConDem coalition that followed the New Labour Government extended ATOS’ contract and has made matters much worse. It permits the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP), and even the ODI via for example the Minister for Disabled, to constantly and repeatedly feed inaccurate and misleading statistics and stories to the Media. The result has been the worst increase in hate crime towards disabled/chronically sick folk since records began.

Labour was responsible for the Equality Act (which incorporated some of the Disability Discrimination Act) but which does not include an offence of incitement to disability hate crime, unlike race, etc.

Is the Labour party therefore partially responsible for the hundreds of thousands of incorrect assessments, each affecting an individual, his/her family, carers and local community?

Is Labour in any way responsible for the hundreds of deaths that occur shortly after folk have been found fit for work?

Is Labour part responsible for the tens of thousands of folk who are too well to receive ESA but too ill to receive JSA, so effectively exist on no income?

Is Labour in any way responsible for the rise in disability hate crimes, in part due to its failure to ensure incitement to hate crime is itself a crime (which inter alia could act as a deterrent to some of the more extremist stories appearing in the Media)?

Is Labour responsible in part for any of the hundreds of actual and attempted suicides?

Is Labour responsible for any of the despair caused to hundreds of thousands of disabled/chronically sick people and their communities?

Does the Labour Party take any responsibility?

Do you Mr. Miliband?

If so, will you apologise to disabled citizens for flawed Labour policies?

And if not, who do you suggest the disabled vote for in future and why?

Yours faithfully,

Colin-Roy Hunter aka criquaer

Obviously, the letter is far too long to have been read out in the limited time of a Q&A session. So I redacted the letter and amended until the question took less than a minute to read out. Here it is:

Labour was responsible:

for the introduction of ESA and accompanying WCAs;

for negotiating the original contract with ATOS for processing disabled/chronically sick folk;

for the Freedom of Information legislation which means the public are not entitled to see that contract;

for the Equality Act which does not include an offence of incitement to disability hate crime.

Is Labour therefore in any way responsible:

for the hundreds of thousands of incorrect assessments, each affecting an individual, their family, carers and local community;

for the hundreds of deaths that occur shortly after folk have been found fit for work;

for the thousands who are too well to receive ESA but too ill to receive JSA, so effectively exist on no income;

for the hundreds of actual and attempted suicides;

for the despair caused to hundreds of thousands of disabled/chronically sick people?

Does the Labour Party take any responsibility?

Do you Mr. Miliband?

Will you apologise to disabled citizens for flawed Labour policies?

Putting my Question

Throughout the session, I kept raising my hand, but Mr. Miliband never looked my way. Finally for the last round he wanted three questions and for the third he looked at me and said, “The man at the back in the...” And then he changed his mind and said he needed to ask a woman to redress the gender balance. My opportunity was about to be lost. I don’t know what came over me, as normally I would stammer and procrastinate, but I just blurted out, “I’m queer, if that makes a difference!” The room burst into uproarious laughter. Ed gallantly conceded that he would come back to me. And he did. I put my question - apparently one lady in the room clapped - and Mr Miliband responded without answering. I was surprisingly not downhearted as I had not really expected that he would. The area is far too contentious. But the question had to be put whilst the Media were there. Ed needs to know that it is his compassion that is needed, just as much as speedy actions.

Impressions of Ed Miliband

Mr. Miliband finished with a succinct précis. We all applauded as he had given us an extra thirty minutes of his time. Then he began to shake the hands of the individuals sitting on the end of the rows to my right which would lead him to his exit. I quite expected him to go. To my astonishment, he swivelled around and came back to me, shook my hand and thanked me for my question whilst holding my gaze. He also took care to thank my assistant too.

Certainly he looks more alien in real-life: such a svelte body with such a bobble head. (My tastes are for chunky.) He is however wholly human: full of compassion, sympathy, understanding and grounded pragmatism. Earlier in the day both my carer and I had discussed the relative merits of Ed and his brother David. Both of us had preferred the former as an example of the Northern European consensual style of politician. However we both thought that the Public would prefer David who fits more into the traditional rôle of strong but unfortunately dogmatic British political leaders. I have to say, like many others in attendance, I was open to being persuaded. And I am persuaded by Ed. Not so sure about many other leading members of his party though.

The Open Letter

And that open letter? Well, one of his affable staffers promised faithfully she would ensure it got to him and I believed her. So, I shall wait and see...

[Image description: Tory advertising hoarding on van stating, "LABOUR ISN'T LEARNING" parked outside the venue.]