Guest post – we’re all in it together – until we aren’t

You may remember Caz from the interview that she did for me earlier in the year.

Caz asked me to write a guest post for her blog, and I’d like to share that with you today.

It’s about the current situation, and how the feeling of all being in it together is slipping away, particularly for those who are still shielding and not taking part in any of the social activities that others are starting to do.

Thanks Caz for the opportunity to write a post for you, and I hope everyone else will check out her blog too if you haven’t already. It’s well worth a read 🙂

August 2020 – chocolate owls, neck fans, results, and cheese bread!

Good things in August 2020

Well, August isn’t usually holiday month for me. It hasn’t been for as long as I can remember. When you don’t have children, taking holidays outside of the school holidays often feels like a smart move! It’s hot! It’s sometimes a bit much! But generally there’s a holiday vibe and I like the long summer nights where you can eat in the garden and spend more time outdoors.

We are still being careful and shielding, so you won’t see a lot of staycation posts this summer, but there are still good things, and things to be grateful for. I think in some ways I’ve socialised more this year than I have before, even though I’m not saying “yes” to any face-to-face socialising right now.

New course

Since I’ve been working for myself, August is often a quieter time because many of my customers go on holiday. This year was the launch of my pilot programme for a new course though, so it was actually quite busy – getting things ready and starting off the programme. I have a really lovely group and I’m enjoying working with them. It’s good to try something new!

University results

This actually belongs in July, but I didn’t write this kind of post then!

The end of the university year was a bit different because two of my final assessments were cancelled. With so much else going on, it was quite nice to not have to do them, but nobody really knew what would happen in terms of the results. We knew the previous results would probably become more relevant now, but it wasn’t really clear what would happen. I think an opportunity for better communication was missed there.

As it happened, I got my two distinctions, but as I understand it, the calculations were all adjusted down because they also reflected previous students’ performances on the final exams. I wasn’t on the threshold, so I got what I was aiming for, but some people dropped down into the next bracket, through what felt like no fault of their own. If you screw up an assessment, ultimately it’s on you, but if it happens because generally other people don’t do as well in that assessment, it doesn’t feel fair.

Overall I was happy – year 1 took me 2 years because I’m part-time, but I did it! Posts about the final two modules are coming soon – I don’t like to write them until I’ve properly finished.

Next module booked

There were some questions about the accessibility of the module I wanted to study next. That took a bit of time to resolve, but it feels as though we have a better process in place now, and a way to make sure that the transitions to future modules go more smoothly.

I’m looking forward to writing the code for web pages – less so to the reliance on diagrams to communicate ideas about how said web pages should turn out! But at least we have a plan now to make it more accessible!

New products

The Body Shop has come out with some new hair and body mists. Body mists are nothing new, but not all of them are suitable to be used on hair – some ingredients can dry your hair out – but these ones are fine .

There are 5 in the range – apricot and agave, lime and matcha, pomegranate and red berries, pink pepper and lychee, and coconut and yuzu.

I got the apricot one and the lime one. My favourite is the apricot one, but both of them are good!

Not quite so new, but I also enjoyed the new zesty lemon range of products – they were a special edition, but if they come back, I can definitely recommend them if you love zingy citrussy scents. I enjoyed the zesty lemon body yoghurt. It’s made with lumpy lemons, which presumably wouldn’t be up to the normal standard for selling and eating.

Portable neck fan

I turned up to an online meeting during the heatwave and a friend was wearing one of these! It’s a great idea – you take your fan around with you wherever you go! It’s like three sides of a square. The side opposite the open side goes behind your neck, and the two arms sit on your shoulders, facing forwards. You have to be careful with long hair, but I push mine back and I haven’t caught it yet! The arms blow out air onto your face and neck, and there are multiple settings for how intense you want the fan to be. This is the neck fan that I got.

New platform to try

I was involved in an accessibility research project throughout August. I probably can’t say a lot about that at the moment, but one thing it also gave me was the opportunity to try out Microsoft Teams with Jaws and VoiceOver (the two screenreaders that I use on my laptop and my phone).

I was impressed! It’s so much better than what we use at university! I mainly use Zoom and other conferencing tools at work, but it was interesting to try something new. It’s more involved than Zoom, but it also has more features for working collaboratively.

Chocolate owls

These are the owls featured in the image for this post. They were delicious – some were with orange essential oil and others with peppermint. (If you intend to try this, make sure the essential oils you have are suitable for internal use – not all are).

The owl moulds can be bought from Amazon – this is one of my owl mould sets.

They were amazing – both sets were good, but I think my favourites were the orange ones! I’m going to try dark chocolate tnex.

New Turkish friends

I know my biggest weakness in learning a language is speaking. I hate it. I don’t want to do it until I’m really good – but the only way to become really good is to do it!

Especially if you’re living in a country where you’re not being exposed to the additional language every day, you need to be more proactive.

So I went to a language exchange site. You have to be a bit careful, because especially if you are a woman, you can get inundated with messages, some of which are quite annoying. I started chatting with a few people. Some fizzle out straight away, so it’s good to not only rely on one or two right at the beginning. I’ve found two people wit whom I’m meeting regularly online now for English and Turkish practice. It’s hard for me – I would much prefer to write – but they are both really friendly and having a real person to speak with definitely gives you a reason to do it!

Duolingo

I wrote before about improving my Turkish on Duolingo.

I saw that this way of strengthening the connection between language pairs was also really good brain training. A lot of activities for training your memory involve pictures, and therefore don’t work for me. But I love languages, so I decided to use my subscription to this app to work on my active languages, refresh a couple that I used to speak, and also try a couple of new ones.

I want to write a more in-depth post about this and what I’ve discovered. At the moment I have 12 courses, which are combinations of 8 languages!

Baking bread

I haven’t jumped on the sourdough train, but we have been trying out some bread recipes. Yesterday we made cheese and onion bread – something I’ve never had before – but it has cheese in it, so it must be good, right? It was amazing! Random internet recipes can be a risky business, but I can recommend this yummy cheese and onion bread! Not an affiliate link – just something we found and enjoyed.

So, that’s a round-up of my August! Tomorrow is September – I love autumn!

How was August for you?

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Let sleeping pharmacists lie by Janelle Soong

I got to know Janelle a while ago – I believe through a group for bloggers. Since then, I’ve been following her blog The Nellybean and Janelle did a blog interview for me in 2018.

In a saturated blogging landscape with some quite repetitive and superficial blogs, I find Janelle’s posts really refreshing. Often I can relate, but it’s more than that – she has something interesting and authentic to say. So whether it’s make-up, midnight musings, or posts about her pharmacy studies, I read them all! She also writes supportive and interesting comments on other bloggers’ posts, and I look forward to seeing those too.

Recently I found out that Janelle had written a book, “Let sleeping pharmacists lie”. I agreed to review a gifted copy on my blog – so here it is!

Let Sleeping pharmacists lie – tales from pharmacy school and the patients you just don’t forget

Description from Amazon

“Let sleeping pharmacists lie” is a collection of funny (and 100% true) anecdotes from pharmacy school and musings on the healthcare sector. From Viagra lovers to paracetamol hagglers, Janelle tells all in this labour of love inspired by her personal encounters. Delve deep into the colourful – and at times, mystifying – world of pharmacy.

Pages: 106

My thoughts

I’d had a couple of glimpses into Janelle’s studies and practical pharmacy experiences from her blog posts, but I had no idea what it takes to become a pharmacist in terms of what you have to learn, how much science is involved, and how many interesting members of the public and strange requests you have to deal with!

The book is available as a paperback or a kindle edition from Amazon. This was the first plus point for me! Having it available as an e-book means it’s accessible to people like me who can’t read standard print.

The book is a series of short chapters, which makes it easy to read, and gives you a glimpse in to different parts of the learning experience.

I really enjoyed the mixture of more general information, such as the process a new type of medication has to go through before it can be used, to the personal anecdotes from the pharmacy. I also thought it was interesting to see how different medical professionals can work and learn together, and some of the ethical questions you have to think about once you start taking what you’ve learned, and applying it to real-life situations.

It also takes apart some of the stereotypes and misconceptions about being a pharmacist – good for educating us as the general public, and hopefully good for pharmacists too if they don’t have to hear the same old lines about sticking labels on boxes all day!

It’s factual information – so you’ll learn things when you read the book. But it feels as though you’re listening to stories over a coffee with a friend. The scientific parts are explained in a non-technical way that’s easy to understand, and with some of the anecdotes, you can just imagine yourself in the queue at the pharmacy, overhearing the conversations – the bizarre ones, not the personal ones! People really do say those things 😲

I don’t think any public-facing role is easy, but the book also gives you an insight into some of the more frustrating parts of being a pharmacist, and things we as customers can avoid doing!

I haven’t been out much at all over the last couple of months, but I’ve appreciated my local pharmacists keeping things running and being there to give me my prescriptions. So this is a public thanks to them, to pharmacists in general, and to Janelle for giving us a look behind the scenes!

Find out more

This is where you can find out more about Janelle’s book on Amazon

You can also visit Janelle on social media:

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Vitamin C products and beauty box finds

Vitamin C products and beauty box finds

I thought I hadn’t done a skincare post for a while, so here are some of the things I’ve been enjoying (or not so much!) lately. Let me know if you have tried any of them and what you thought.

Vitamin C range from Pixi

I was excited when Pixi brought out its vitamin C range. I’m not sure exactly when they came out, but I got them some time last autumn.

I first tried Pixi skincare when I heard about the glow tonic – I’m all about the chemical exfoliants – so when I heard that the new range had this kind of toner, I decided to give the whole range a go. It’s made with oranges and lemons to brighten and exfoliate the skin, without any abrasive particles.
The cleanser and the serum also contain grapefruit extracts. I know how a product smells is no indicator of how good it is, but these smell amazing and that made me want to use them!

The juice cleanser is a no-fuss cleanser – I’m not sure how well it would work with heavy make-up because I tended to use it in the morning, but it’s gentle and refreshing, and you don’t need to wash it off. The vitamin C tonic is similar to the glow tonic, but I think it’s gentler, and this meant that even when I had both of them on the go, I was more likely to reach for the vitamin C one. The vitamin C lotion comes in a tube and is a fairly light-weight moisturiser, good for wearing in the daytime, and fine for layering with other products.

I’d recommend all of this range. I also have the serum, but it’s still going as it was out of stock when I bought the others. I haven’t tried the caviar balm yet.

Lovelula

I signed up for this subscription because I wanted to try more cruelty-free and natural brands. You don’t know what’s coming in the box, and it tends to be more skincare than make-up. This time there was one hit and one miss, but even if something isn’t for me, I do appreciate the chance to try new things, for a fraction of the normal price.

Madara often shows up in this box, but I’m ok with that as I really like their products. This set of 10 Hyaluronic Collagen Booster Ampoules alone costs double what I paid for the box! They are enriched with hyaluronic acid and natural plant sugars, to stimulate the protein structure of the skin and provide a protective layer to shield the skin’s protective barrier. You basically use them like a serum, after toning and before moisturising. The capsules are very generous, but I tended to use them in one go because I understand the point of having sealed capsules is to prevent exposure to the air. Madara is not a cheap brand, but I am happy to pay more for serums and moisturizers if I think they are worth it. I would buy these again.

I really wanted to like this Rescue My Hair Shampoo Bar – Pollution Patrol from My. Haircare. It was the first shampoo bar I’ve tried, and I love the idea behind it. However, the “ultimate sensory experience” they promised just didn’t happen for me. My hair felt stripped afterwards, I didn’t like the scent or the texture, and I didn’t come away feeling that I’d done something good for my hair. I do have a couple of other shampoo bars, and I will try those, but so far I can’t see myself making the switch.

Latest in Beauty

I’m loyal to this subscription because I get to choose my products. I might make a mistake, but they’ll never send me something I’ll never use!

Yardley Lily of the valley hand cream – this was an all-round good hand cream. All the hand-washing of late does mean dryer hands, so I want to take care of them. It is floral, but a pleasant kind of floral!

Rodial Vitamin C sheet mask – this was one of the products – usually more high end ones – that they have as the product of the month, which means there is enough for everyone. Rodial is a more expensive brand, but if I were going to invest in something from them, it wouldn’t be a £14 sheet mask! The plan I’m on meant that I paid £2, but I do prefer the ones that are tissue soaked in the serum, rather than this kind of solid slimy stuff – I know that’s not a good description! It felt nice enough afterwards, but is not something I’d rush out to buy.

Single use hair masks like the couple I’ve got from Hask aren’t the most environmentally friendly way to go, but they are a way to check whether you like a product before committing to buying it, and the 50g ones give me enough product to work with as someone with really long hair. I’ve had the charcoal with citrus oil purifying mask, and the argan oil repairing deep conditioner. These can also be bought as a larger size, and it got me interested in the brand, so I also tried the orchid and white truffle moisture-rich shampoo. This is a budget-friendly brand, but my hair always feels really good afterwards.

Advent calendar

So my plan last year was to build my own beauty advent calendar. I had a lot of fun doing it, with some budget-friendly buys and more expensive treats, and the best bit was I knew I would use everything in there. Often the best thing in a beauty calendar is something I don’t want – such as a palette – and it feels like a bit of a let-down. Most of the wellness products have already gone, but I have a couple of skincare bits still going strong! There’s usually a sale at Feelunique in November, so I could try some new things and make the money go further.

I haven’t found a link for the Yves Rocher Hydra Végétal Moisture Boost Serum from a site that I would use, but it’s definitely a good one and one that I’d get again if I found it. As the name suggests, it’s good for dry skin.

I also wanted to try the e.l.f. Beauty Shield Vitamin C Pollution Prevention Serum. I liked the packaging – you push the top down and it draws the product up into a kind of pipette. Unfortunately that’s where the positive feedback ends! I found the product very watery – which in itself is ok if you use it like an essence, but it was sticky too and just not pleasant! I didn’t finish it.

Body shop

I finished the almond bath milk powder from my Body Shop pamper package. It’s powder to milk, so you just shake some in and it becomes bath milk. Think more moisturising than bubble bath, but this is a lovely gentle range.

The banana bath blend smelled good enough to eat! These are bubble baths made with fruit and vegetables known for their vitamins, and these are made from wonky bananas, which makes me happy because they weren’t wasted!
I used up a tub of the shea body butter – I think I must have got it in a set. I usually go for more fruity scents, but this one is good for sensitive skin or if you don’t want a strong scent, and it is really good for dry skin.

An old favourite – the
Gentle eye makeup remover.
This doesn’t sting my eyes, so I repurchase it.

I was super lucky to get to try the two new ranges – Sicilian lemon, and cucumber. Unfortunately the cucumber hand cream also contains mint, and gives you the weird tingly sensation that peppermint products often do. It might not be so bad with a wash-off product, but this stays on your skin and I found it quite uncomfortable. I think it would be even worse for more sensitive parts of the body. I think cucumber would be really nice, but I feel the peppermint was a mistake.

Supermarket

I needed some shower gel, so decided to try something new from the supermarket. I like fruity scents, so I tried the Kind natured lime and mandarin body wash and an almond milk hair mask. This was a new brand for me and I liked the brand’s commitment to natural ingredients and the fruity scents.

So, let me know if you’ve tried any of these and what you thought.

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Why my guide dog is not public property – even if you put some money in a tin

Ok, I don’t actually have a guide dog. But I didn’t have a blog when I did have a guide dog, and this message is important!

I got the idea for the post when I read a humorous article about how some people can’t understand even the most obvious signs that other people don’t want to engage.

You’re reading a book? That must mean you want to talk about that book. You’re listening to music? Let’s start up a conversation about what you’re listening to. You’re working on your laptop? Maybe you’re just waiting to tell me all about your job! That kind of thing!

Trying to start a conversation is not a bad thing in itself, but if the person gives monosyllabic answers, turns away, or tells you that they’re busy – that’s the time to stop trying to engage them in conversation!

I used to spend a lot of time on the train because I didn’t live close to my office. I had some good train conversations too, and many train adventures as well. Some random conversations on trains even led to lasting friendships.

But sometimes, in the early morning or late evening after a long day, the last thing I wanted to do was talk to random strangers. I wanted to read my book, listen to music, listen to a podcast, or just be still and let the day wash over me. Unfortunately, there were some people who didn’t pay attention to the headphones or the “I’m done with people for today” scowl!

If you have a dog with you, it can be even worse!

A guide dog can be a great conversation starter, but having one with me often got me more attention than I really wanted.

The woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer

It came to a head one day when I was having dinner with one of my colleagues after work. She was also a friend. I don’t even remember now what we were talking about, but it was something fairly intense. One of us was having a hard time and we were trying to fix it. Partner trouble, family, annoying colleagues – I really don’t know now. But we weren’t just having a casual chat or open to other people joining our table.

Along came a woman who thought that this would be the best time to come over and wake my guide dog up.

I told her it wasn’t a good time because we were in the middle of a conversation, and instead of doing the right thing, which would have been to stop bothering us, she stayed around and let me know how she’d been raising money for people like me and I should be a bit more grateful.

I was not grateful.

I was not sorry.

She just succeeded in making me more annoyed and I did finally manage to get her to stop bothering us.

The problem

The point of charity work or donating to organisations that help others is not to then give you freedom to do whatever you feel like doing, particularly when that means completely disregarding the needs of those you claim to want to help.

There is a different system here in the UK because unlike other countries, where funding for guide dogs is part of the healthcare system, our main guide dog school is a charitable organisation. This means it runs fundraising events and accepts donations from the public.

But that doesn’t make the dogs public property. They are working with an individual to improve their quality of life, give them independence, be a fantastic friend, and enable them to navigate the world with a bit less hassle.

Sometimes, with the owner’s permission, it is ok to say hi, but it’s never ok to assume. If someone asks you to leave or stop engaging with the dog, that’s what you need to do.

I can be a bit forthright, and generally people left us alone when I asked them to. But as well as the practical problem of exciting a dog who was otherwise having a snooze, the issue was about this woman’s sense of entitlement and the assumption that her desire to stroke my dog was more important than the private conversation that I was trying to have.

I’m not sure that the woman in the story really got that point after our encounter. I think she was just indignant that I dared to challenge her.

You can’t win them all! To be honest, her leaving felt like a win that day, even if she just thought I had a bad attitude.

It’s possible that I was a bit short with her. I know I can be quite direct! I try to calmly educate and stay objective, but it’s hard when people don’t bother to think how their actions might be causing a problem, or when they won’t listen. She could see I was leaning across the table, deep in conversation. I wouldn’t go up and bother someone who looked like that.

The other thing is that all these things add up. Someone might have had to deal with the same things multiple times that day. It could be interrupting an important phone call because someone thought that would be a great time to come and make a load of noise saying hi to the dog under the desk. It could be educating parents on a train that a guide dog is not free entertainment so that the parents could have a bit of piece. It could be dealing with the person who thinks that calling a guide dog from the other side of a busy road is a smart thing to do. I’ve experienced them all!

It’s a tough one. If the cute doggy is in the centre of your fundraising strategy, people will identify with the cute doggy! But working with a guide dog means working as part of a team, and the guide dog owner, or the person at the other end of the lead, is also part of the package!

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10 Tips for dealing with the heat when working from home

I’m not good in hot weather. If I’m supposed to be on holiday, I can just about deal with it, but my first thought about choosing a holiday destination is not about whether it’s going to be hot.

I’m one of those people who’s happy like a little kid when the first snowy snowflakes fall, and who complains when the temperature goes above about 27 degrees. Usually the people who can’t understand the latter take holiday to enjoy the hottest part of the summer, or they work in air conditioned offices, but now, with so many people working from home, the heat is affecting more of us.

This week was particularly hot, so I thought I’d get together some tips for working from home in the heat in case it happens again.

1. Do you have to work at your desk all of the time?

My office is one of our hottest rooms, but generally I do like to work there, even when it’s hot. It’s my working space. I have everything I need there. It’s definitely easier when I’m doing video conferences.

However, if I’m just reading or doing admin, I might choose to work somewhere else for a couple of hours if I think it will be cooler there.

Is there somewhere else in your house that might be a bit cooler for you?

2. Can you channel your inner tortoise during the hottest part of the day?

I know some people gave up completely last week, but you might not have that option. I didn’t. But when I was really hot and bothered, I tried to do things that would take less brain power.

We all have those things that need to be done – they might even be a bit boring, but you can do them without too much effort. For me it was designing templates for web pages and writing some website code. I had to pay attention, but it was fairly repetitive and it didn’t need much creative or social energy. I was maybe slower than on a day when I felt my best, but I was still productive.

Of course this depends on what you need to get done, and how much control you have over your own schedule. When I had meetings booked in, I did them as normal. But this is a way to make sure that you still get things done when you’re maybe not feeling your most energised!

3. The problem with fans

I do have a desk fan, but it wasn’t doing a lot of good to be honest. The best ones are those that also cool the air as it’s circulating, but most just push the hot air around. I have heard tips about putting a frozen water bottle or a bowl of ice in front of the fan, so the ice cools down the air before the fan pushes it out. I haven’t tried this, so I don’t know how well it works. But Always be careful with water and electricity!

4. Don’t forget to keep hydrated

It’s easy to get focussed on a task and carried away with what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s also easy to be lazy and think that going to get a drink of water will be more effort than it’s worth. But it’s really important to stay hydrated, especially during periods of hot weather.

I find that if I put a big glass of water on my desk, I do actually drink it. So I need to make sure I get into the habit of doing that.

I know other people use water bottles that show how much they have drunk, or apps that remind them to take a drink so they get enough water throughout the day.

I never forget to drink coffee, but it’s important to have the water as well!

5. Can you change your working times?

The idea of starting any earlier than I need to is painful – unless there is a meeting that I need to attend. Chances are, if you work for yourself, you’ve already got into a rhythm that works for you. But if you can start and finish early, or do two blocks of work either side of the hottest part of the day, this may make it easier for you to concentrate.

6. Other ways of cooling

I heard about someone who froze a hot water bottle and used this to cool off. I’d never thought of this, but I guess you could use cooling packs in the same way.

Less conventional ideas that we have discussed include a paddling pool, and one of those cooling mats that are intended for dogs!

7. open windows, closed curtains

There is conflicting advice about whether windows should be open or shut, but I’ve found that closed curtains to keep the sun out, and open windows to keep the air circulating are the best. Nobody wants to be stuck in a stuffy hot room with no air circulation.

8. Damage limitation

I know I get grumpy in the heat! Irritating people or situations become that little bit more irritating!

If someone or something is getting to you, step away from it for a while. Take a walk, make a cool drink, or do something else until you feel calm enough to respond rather than react.

I even asked S to read an email before I sent it off to see if I was being unreasonable. “It’s polite, but you can tell you’re annoyed” was what he came back with, so off went the email! Annoyed is fine, but unprofessional is not. If in doubt, give it a few minutes or get a second opinion if that’s an option.

9. The cooler evening

I’m not suggesting that people leave windows open overnight, or even in the daytime if it’s not safe to do so in an unoccupied room, but when it’s cooler, it can be good to let the breeze in and get the air circulating.

10. Clothing

I work from home full-time, and I never got on board with the “we’re working at home now so we can wear anything”. It depends on what you’re doing, whether you have any customer contact, and what your company’s dress policy is.

I don’t want my customers to see me in my fitness clothes or my bikini. But if you can wear something more loose-fitting, it will help you to keep cool.

Do you have any other tips? Let us know in the comments!

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8 Wheelchair Access Issues You May Not Consider

You may remember Gemma from my interview blog post that we did a few weeks ago. We’ve also done an accessibility post exchange – I wrote a post for Gemma’s blog about accessibility problems that make me abandon my virtual shopping trolley. Now Gemma has written a post for Unseen Beauty about the things that make life inaccessible for her as a wheelchair user. I guess we all know about steps – they’re the first thing that comes to mind, but some of these other things, although they seem obvious when you think about it, are things that I hadn’t thought about before.

That’s why I believe it’s so important to talk, and to learn about people whose access needs are different from our own.

I also found we have something else in common – I know too well what it’s like to be frustrated at buffets because I can’t see to serve myself. The dilemma of what to do and how to try and make sure you get something you actually want to eat.

So I’ll now let Gemma carry on with her post…

* * * * * * *

Being a wheelchair user, it is often assumed that steps are my biggest obstacle. I’d be lying if I said they weren’t a big deal, they are, but they’re also often an easy to solve issue.

It’s the finer details that can make a day or experience smoother for me and more accessible.

Space

Is so limited in a busy world where businesses try to fit as many things and people in as possible as to make the most profit and serve demand. Isn’t the saying ‘quality over quantity’ true though? It’s about the experience.

Take for example public transport. Those allocated spaces for wheelchair users can be incredibly small.

I’m not sure if anyone has actually measured your average wheelchair, or they just expect everyone to have the compact, sporty, self propelling kind. I haven’t.

There’s cluttered shops and cafes too. Where I feel I have to pass some kind of obstacle course before I even get to my destination.

Awkward tables

A big part of socialising, for me anyway, is eating and drinking.

Steps, narrow doorways, and cluttered cafes are the obvious barriers, but once I’m in the building, it does in no way guarantee a fully accessible experience for me.

There’s the issue of table height. Oh why is it no longer popular to provide a decent, at sitting height, dining table?! Too often cafes, bars and restaurants are full of bar height benches with stools, or informal sofas and coffee tables.

For starters these are always the tables remaining when I go anywhere. Which tells me I’m not the only one that doesn’t find them practical. But for myself, who’s forever sitting at the same average chair height, these are completely inaccessible. I cannot stretch up to reach the bar height, or bend over for the coffee table. My lap becomes littered with crumbs and coffee drips. I have to constantly ask people to pass me stuff or to put my drink down.

The most frustrating of them all though is the table that gets your hopes up. It looks a good height, seems easy to get to, but still you end up eating from your lap.

The chunky farmhouse chic wooden table. They may be pretty, but I sigh inwardly whenever I’m confronted with one.

So yes they are the right height for me, what more could I want? Well getting close enough to eat from them would be a start. The chunky legs are often too close together, particularly if I’m on an end or it’s a small table for two, for my wheelchair to fit between. There’s always a large wooden rim underneath that my knees can’t quite get under. Socially, this works better than the bar benches, but not practically.

I so often end up sitting at an awkward angle or eating from my lap when dining out. It’s one of my biggest annoyances.

My table of choice would be circular. Not only is it much more sociable for speaking with a group of people, but also easier to drive up to due to minimal legs. The curve is also a bonus when armrests and joystick controls get in the way.

Buffet restaurants

Sticking with the dining and socialising theme. A slight dread washes over me when someone suggests the buffet style restaurant. Buffets are one of my most uncomfortable and inaccessible dining experiences. Don’t get me wrong, having a variety of options is a bonus, as is trying things I maybe wouldn’t otherwise. But not only does the thought of hygiene make me twitch, I find the whole affair very confusing.

I never know what to do for the best. I obviously cannot serve myself. I can barely even see the dishes if they are on one of those bar style serving areas.

I hate getting in the way, it’s hard enough getting to my table in the first place in some restaurants, having to push past and interrupt other diners.

Do I cause a scene and go look at food I can’t even properly see, to instruct a friend to dish it up for me? Do I take a quick browse on the way in and make mental notes of a couple of things? Do I ask someone to go up and let me know what’s there? Maybe taking the odd photo to show me? Or do I go roulette and just send someone that hopefully knows me well to bring back a surprise plate of maybe not delights?

It’s all just too much effort. Whatever I choose, I’ll wish I didn’t.

The food height is often level with my shoulders. Could you easily view and serve food at that level?

How do you make the buffet restaurant accessible?

I’m not sure. Maybe a menu of the regulars? Or even a live stream of what foods are on offer and how they look? Maybe an app? I could deal with the sending a friend to dish up bit then. Even though it will never be my first dining choice.

Eye level displays

Being at a lower height than many doesn’t only pose a problem when viewing food, but also causes restrictions on pursuing the shops.

Jewellery counters can be particularly difficult to view when seated. As can clothing that is displayed high up.

In most instances I can point out things I’m interested in and they can be brought closer to me so that I can view the item in detail. At other time’s I’ve got the person I’m with to take photographs on my phone, but this doesn’t always provide scale or detail.

It’s also the case for display cabinets in museums and galleries. Where often the treasure on display is encased in glass on a plinth that’s eye level for those standing. There is no other way to view the object, it cannot be removed or even photographed.

I understand that some things need to be seen from a certain perspective, and with art this can be crucial.

Lower displays, though, can still be viewed by people standing, or even people that aren’t very tall. Images or booklets could assist with visuals, but shouldn’t replace the opportunity to see something in the flesh.

Directions

When you’re seated at the height of most people’s belly button, it’s not always easy to find your way around. Signposts are high, so if I’m too close I have no chance of seeing without snapping my neck. I understand the reasoning of them being high, so that they can be seen at a distance above a crowd of people. But when your viewpoint in a crowd is a mass of bums, you’re never going to see over the heads to search for a sign.

Maps aren’t much better. You know the ones you find at zoos or parks, city centres or shopping malls. They may seem low when you’re standing, and maybe some thought has gone into them being at a universal height (I do get that those standing don’t want to be constantly hunched with bad backs), but when they’re still higher than your eye level and you can’t get close enough to see the tiny writing because your foot plates and knees are in the way. Height isn’t the only problem.

Getting close

Being at a distance from things is one of my biggest accessibility challenges. Sitting means that your knees and feet are always in front of you, getting in the way. There are ways around this, for example overhanging surfaces, sinks and information boards. But they’re rare. I see many wheelchair users struggle with the side on approach. Where you jut your wheels sideways so to be able to reach things. It requires dexterity, a bendy torso, and the neck of an owl. This isn’t an option for me.

Shop counters

Are a big one for the sideways position. Facing head on to the till or customer service desk means that I am not within arms reach of the counter or a friendly speech level distance from the shop assistant.

This is an issue using cash points, paying in shops, being served at bank or post office desks and the like. Anywhere that you need to be face on with something but there is no leg room.

Lift buttons

The same goes for lift buttons. Or any buttons really. Those at crossings, doorbells, intercoms. They all rely on foot butting and stretching, or the side on position. Neither of which are easily accessible for myself or others.

I have noticed recently that some automatic door opening buttons (I know, automatic shouldn’t require a button) are on a type of post at a distance from the door. These are actually much easier to press.

What I dream of is an app that you can use to call lifts, press road crossings, etc. I basically want all buttons to be accessible via my phone. Or even better, mind control.

Until then, some of these small changes could make a big difference to many.

Check out Gemma’s other links

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Skincare in May – some new discoveries and a couple that were not so good

It’s halfway through June and I’m just getting my act together to talk about the products I tried and used up in May! As always, let me know if you’ve used any of these.

You may have noticed I’m trying out some new brands, and also trying to make my collection more cruelty-free. That doesn’t mean chucking out things that have already been purchased, because creating waste doesn’t help anyone, but I am trying to be more mindful with what I buy, and my Lovelula and Pip Box subscriptions are introducing me to some cool new brands and products.

All of these products were paid for with my own money, apart from the customer loyalty product, which is labelled as such.

Balm Balm

The little miracle cleanser was one of the first products I got when I started the Lovelula boxes again and it helped me to decide that yes, I actually do like oil cleansers. I’m not sure what put me off them before – I think I had a particularly sticky and unpleasant one, but this one isn’t like that. It is a budget-friendly gentle cleanser that removes make-up easily and leaves your skin feeling really soft and smooth afterwards. It also has a pump dispenser, which I like when it comes to getting the right amount of product, and it’s definitely one I’d buy again.

Body Shop

I’ve mentioned Heidi and her Body Shop pamper packages before. I’m a member of Heidi’s Facebook group, where it’s possible to earn loyalty points by either buying products, posting reviews, or interacting in the group. These points all add up and can lead to loyalty point gifts, such as my Spa of the World™ Tahitian Tiaré Hand Wash. This is out of stock as I write this, but it’s so important to keep our hands clean, especially now with increased hand washing because of the virus. This hand wash contains coconut oil to moisturise your hands, and it leaves them smelling of flower blossom – not in your face floral, but more of a subtle scent. Body Shop hand washes are not the cheapest, but they are a nice treat or a practical gift.

Of course Miss Mango has to have a mango product in here – this is my favourite scent from the Body Shop, and I used up another of their Mango shower gels. Not much to say really, other than it’s good quality, good value, and smells amazingly of mango goodness!

There was also an offer on haircare, and I got a set of the banana shampoo and conditioner. The conditioner always runs out first, so I finished up the banana conditioner to deeply nourish hair. I don’t have particularly dry or damaged hair, but it’s long and I have a lot of it, so I like a deep conditioner or hair mask for it. The strawberry and shea ranges are good too, but the banana one with banana puree from Ecuador is still my favourite.

Elizabeth Arden

This Green tea body cream was supposed to be a luxurious treat in the advent calendar that I put together myself last year. I really wanted to like it – it smells good, with the green tea, but it also had crushed up bits of something, which I can only assume is green tea leaves, in it as well. So I came out of the shower all fresh and clean, and ended up feeling dirty again because my body cream had bits in it. I tried, but I didn’t end up using this up. It may have been ok as a shower gel or something, but I can’t deal with a body cream that has bits of anything in it – I’m not a fan of glitter particles either for that same reason. Oh well.

Flawless Beauty

I haven’t been able to find this on a site that I know, so haven’t included a link, but we got a Parma Violet Luxury Body Cream in one of the Pip Box subscriptions. I’m not familiar with the brand, but it was a lotion-type cream, that did smell of parma violet, but not in a real sweet and sickly way. It had some other scent with it, that was a bit like cucumber. The bottle was kind of squishy too, so you didn’t feel as though you were wasting any. I’d try more from this brand, and I’d be interested to see what other ranges they have. That’s the nice thing about the subscription boxes – you don’t use the same things all the time and can find out about new products.

Kathleen

This natural bright mask was in one of our Lovelula boxes. I liked the sound of it, using white willow bark and hibiscus extracts, both of which are natural acids for exfoliating the skin. I always choose chemical exfoliators over physical ones, so thought this would be really good. The mask itself was ok I suppose, but it is sooo messy! It’s a bit like the cheese you get on top of a pizza, which sticks to itself, the fork, the knife, and is just a nightmare to cut. Whether you get some of this product on your finger, brush, spatula, or whatever you’re trying to apply it with, it has a long stringy tail and clings to the rest of the product in the pot. Or it hangs down precariously, threatening your top! Having this consistency doesn’t make it particularly easy to spread evenly either and because of this, although I liked the idea, it’s not something I would get again.

Korres

I’d tried a lot of bath and body products from Korres, so decided to try one of their face creams as well. I went for the almond blossom moisturising cream for very dry skin (I think they do two formulas using the almond blossom, because there is one for oily skin as well). Following some changes to medication, my skin isn’t very dry any more, so this is no longer the best choice for me. As such, I ended up using it more like a mask if I felt my skin needed some care. It’s a good moisturiser though, and I would be interested to try more skincare from the brand.

Natura seberica

The rich Siberian body butter also came in a Lovelula box. We had quite a few body butters, but I use them all the time, so this didn’t bother me! According to the site, ” Siberian cedar and Red Juniper oils improve blood circulation, while Siberian Fir Oil rejuvenates and smooths skin. Altai Oblepikha and Arctic Cloudberry oils protect skin from environmental impacts, making it soft and enhancing natural glow.” It was a fairly thick butter with a faint citrussy scent. Due to its buttery consistency, it is rich and you do need to take the time to massage it in, but if you do, it leaves your skin feeling soft for a long time.

Ooh-Arr

I haven’t found where you can buy these individually, but Latest in Beauty were offering both the strawberry and the orange face masks from this range recently. These are single use masks, but my LiB choices end up being £2 per product, so this is ok for a mask. It’s a thick, creamy mask that smells deliciously fruity. I usually do them in the bath and just wash them off after.

Pai

Another LiB choice is this rosehip cleansing oil. The only thing we seem to get from Pai in calendars or beauty boxes is the throat cream, which is ok, but I’m still not convinced we need a separate one. So I was interested to try something else from the brand. It’s a cleansing oil, and as I’ve reviewed two this month I do prefer the Balm Balm one, but this one did the job and I wouldn’t mind using it again.

Rituals

Another of my own advent calendar treats was finished up in May – my Ritual of Ayurveda Hand Lotion. There’s always something luxurious about rituals products, and this one has Indian rose and almond oil in it. It smells amazing, and is a pretty good hand cream too. This is definitely something that I would get again.

So there we have it – a couple of misses, and I think my favourite products were the first and the last in the list. How about you? Have you tried any of them? Let me know in the comments!

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Let’s not lose the positive things after the lockdown

People’s experience of the lockdown has been very different. I talked about that in my walk a mile in their shoes or stay a day in their self-isolation house post, so I’m not going to cover the same ground again. But whatever your experience of lockdown has been, in a general sense, there have been some good things to come out of it, and I think it would be a real shame if the lessons we learned were lost when things start going “back to normal”, whatever that is.

Also, I’m fully aware that it’s not over for all of us. Many people are going out and meeting up with some of their friends again, and many shops are set to open again next week, whereas others of us are still shielding. I hope we won’t be forgotten about because we can’t join in just yet. I don’t mean that people should not do things just because some of us can’t, but it would be good if our contact didn’t dry up as some people’s need for online contact decreases.

The environment

One of the business Facebook groups that I’m in did an activity where you can link up with local business owners for a one-to-one chat. I really enjoyed it, because I prefer one-to-one conversations anyway, and I got to know some lovely people through it too.

At least two of the people said they had noticed a lot more litter just in the week after people were told they could go out more. Just one week. Previously there had been less of it, but as soon as people started going out again, back came the litter.

They were from different areas too, and I’ve seen similar complaints from people that work in national parks or other beauty spots.

One of the bloggers I follow mentioned how many discarded face masks she’d seen in the supermarket car park.

Can we not do better than that?

Getting happy about the small things

Many people are feeling a bit unsure about the advice that people who’ve been shielding can now go out once a day, especially as it came sooner than we were supposed to be doing that. In our house, we haven’t been out for non-essential journeys for about 3 months. Last weekend we decided to go for a walk, choosing somewhere that we knew would have less people around.

It’s true that I will always get more excited about walks than S, but it felt so good to be out walking in the countryside again. We’re fortunate enough to have a garden and I can get fresh air whenever I want to, but there’s something so good about being out in the nature and going for a walk.

One of my students was telling me about her son’s reaction to seeing all the things he hadn’t seen for a while after a period of quarantine. “Woooow!” Several weeks is a long time for a small child, but I do get where he’s coming from! Let’s not get so busy again that we don’t take the time to say “wow!” or at least still appreciate the little things.

Doing things online

Ok so I’m biased. I have been running an online business since 2012. For me, doing things online isn’t something that we do because of the virus – it’s how I choose to work all of the time. That doesn’t work for all businesses, and some things definitely are more of a challenge online. It’s been fun to see people’s creativity though!

But online anything – not just learning – doesn’t have to be the second-best. Sometimes it can run really well alongside or as an alternative to the face-to-face things.

I’ve been doing online networking in one of my business groups. I’m sure it’s not going to finish, because we have members from different countries there. International networking makes sense to be online! But there are other activities that I’ve done during the last weeks, other people I’ve caught up with, other groups I’ve been involved with online – and it would be a shame if they all just fizzled out because some people can start to meet up again.

As I mentioned before, there are people who are still shielding, and even if you take that out of the equation, online meetings are the easier option for a number of people due to circumstances around a disability, not being able to drive, other caring responsibilities etc. We’ve had a more equal playing field in some ways, and it would be a real shame to lose that.

Catching up

There’s something about this time that has made people look up others from their past, or message people they haven’t been in touch with for a while. Mostly it’s a good thing – sometimes not so much. There is a reason why some people are in your past, not your present. You don’t need to feel the need to contact all your exes before the apocalypse strikes and you never get the opportunity again! Because really, who needs that?

But generally it’s been a good thing to reconnect with people, or to spend a bit more time with people that we’ve kept meaning to contact. Let’s not get so busy again that we stop making time for that.

Finding time for things

I got sooo tired of seeing that “now that we’ve all got more time on our hands” assumption – because some of us were still working, and then trying to fit in all the extra social stuff that kept popping up! But at the weekend I found myself with a bit more time and have done some baking, cooked more home-made meals (because we wanted to try out some new recipes. After the initial shortages, this became possible and I’m sure we’ll keep on doing it.

With other activities outside the home being put on hold, I made more of an effort to separate work time and non-work time, which meant I had more time for other hobbies. Those habits aren’t so bad! It’s so important to have these boundaries, especially when you work for yourself, work from home, or both!

New skills and hobbies

As I said, I haven’t had a lot of extra time, but I do have a break from my part-time university course now, so I decided to take up Turkish again. I’ve started reading and listening to more in Turkish, and have a regular online meeting with a Turkish friend.

For everyone who has taken up new skills and hobbies or brought old ones back to life, it would be nice if we could build them into our schedule and make them part of our new normal.

Final thoughts

My lockdown has been pretty ok. I’m in a house with my partner, and it’s easy for me to catch up with other people whom I care about -even though it’s not face-to-face, I can still talk with them online or in the many other ways we have of contacting each other. I dread to think of my phone bill if this had happened 25 years ago!

I miss physical contact, but I’ve made a point of keeping in touch with people in the ways that I can for now.

I have food. I can still work, if a bit less than usual. My health scare last year is not so far in the past that I don’t remember how I felt, and how lucky I felt to still be here with no lasting damage. That makes me grateful, but it also makes me not want to be reckless.

Some may say I’ve had it easy, but it’s never really that simple is it? It’s true, some people have had more physical hardships to endure. Some have been far away from loved ones, or going through each day knowing that loved ones are in danger. Some have had to close their businesses or are worried about their jobs when all this is over.

But I also think that if you decide straight off that everything’s awful, you hate it, nothing is fair etc – you’re probably going to have a really miserable time.

However you feel about the lockdown, are there things that you have learned from it, things that you want to do differently, or new habits that you want to continue? Why not share them in the comments?

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25 things that I’ve learned on trains

I don’t commute now, but I’ve spent a lot of time travelling on trains because I used to work in London. I commuted in for over 10 years, and for much of the time, it was a 3 hour commute each day – so plenty of time for stories!

I saw someone else doing this and thought it might be a fun idea to share some of the things that I’ve learned on my train journeys – some funny, some important, some actually terrifying! If you have any lessons from trains to add, let me know in the comments!

  1. You never know whom you’ll meet and where those train conversations will lead. I’ve been left holding a baby while his mum and grandma went to deal with a medical emergency, been given phone numbers, none of which I followed up, and got chatting to people who later became friends. Who knew that a conversation beginning with “you look really stressed! I’m going to buy a coffee, do you want anything?” would lead to a friendship?
  2. People don’t look under tables to see if there is a guide dog under there before swinging their bags or legs under.
  3. There is something hilariously satisfying about seeing a wave of red wine flowing across the table in the direction of a colleague who has annoyed you, (I didn’t do it!) and watching them leap out of the way before the red wine wave hits. At the same time, you have to keep a really straight face and not fall about laughing, which is your initial reaction.
  4. Generally, people don’t respond well to a colleague dropping a metal guide dog harness on their heads because they didn’t put it on the overhead rack properly. We had to move to a different carriage!
  5. If you’re late, the train won’t be. If you’re on time, chances are it will be late.
  6. The Wimbledon Loop is a curious thing. If you want to go to Sutton, it’s quickest to take the Wimbledon train and the same applies the other way round.
  7. The scariest things don’t always happen late at night. The guys threatening passengers with knives incident happened at 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. The best part was when they saw my sleeping golden retriever and ran for the doors in terror.
  8. Speaking of golden retrievers, asking your guide dog to find the door usually works, apart from when the train driver leaves his door open…
  9. Train departure board announcements and audible announcements are not always updated at the same time. This is annoying if you’re relying on the audible ones as they are sometimes an afterthought.
  10. It is possible to do your make-up on the train, but it’s best to leave mascara to when the train has stopped. I have seen a report where the German reporter was laughing at the English women for doing this, but seriously – the time I had to get up to commute into London, I’d rather have had those extra minutes in bed and done my make-up on the train.
  11. If you are unfortunate enough to slip on a wet floor and go sailing off the platform edge onto the tracks, it’s a long way down. I was glad I had the upper body strength to haul myself up again before the train came in, and I really wouldn’t recommend the experience. Fortunately the only thing that got broken was the end of a make-up brush, which I carried around for ages to remind me how lucky I was to have made it out of there!
  12. If you commute into London, you’re likely to see the same people every day. This can develop into a little community where people have birthday breakfasts, Christmas meals, and a cooking club together – all because you first met on the train!
  13. You might find yourself associating train stations with numbers because you count them off every single time because someone has turned off the audio announcements and it’s the only way you’ll find your stop.
  14. Knowing which side the doors are going to open at each station is really helpful when the train is packed.
  15. There’s something really reassuring about hearing the announcement “lady with a guide dog! Don’t run! The train will wait for you!” when you’re about to miss the last tube home!
  16. It’s also quite funny to hear a train guy say “running isn’t part of passenger assistance training” when you’re trying to encourage someone that it is ok if it means the difference between making your connection or waiting another 30 minutes for the next one.
  17. Sometimes people don’t believe there really is a guide dog and that’s why people can’t move down any further. Some people will even jump up at the windows to try and find out for themselves whether you are lying to them.
  18. Sometimes an alert dog and a worsening allergy means your suspicions are right – there really is a cat in your carriage!
  19. One way to be really late for your course is to get on the tube going the wrong way and then not realise for half an hour.
  20. There are people who will offer you seats, but not follow through with the information that the seat is available. So if you can’t see it, they either think you’re rude or just not very bright.
  21. You can get through a lot of books or podcasts if you have a long commute.
  22. Looking busy is a good way to prevent most people from talking to you when you’re either half-asleep or you’ve run out of social interaction energy for the day.
  23. A busy station is better than a deserted one any time you’re not exactly sure where you have to go.
  24. Train coffee isn’t great, but most of the time it will do if the need for coffee is greater!
  25. In London, you can get to most places by train, which is brilliant if you don’t drive.
  26. How about you?

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