Flash Says…

Archive for July 2011

Today Formula 1 fans in the UK woke to the news that from 2012 the BBC will only show half of the season’s Grand Prix. Sky Sports will cover every race. This is bad news for the sport and the fans alike.

The sport loses out because their financial model relies upon races being broadcast on free to air (FTA) television. Instead of taking money from TV revenue, the teams have sponsors, based on the fact that their logos will be seen on television screens the world over. Back in May the President of the Formula One Teams Association (FOTA), Martin Whitmarsh, said: I think it’s clear that the business model of all the teams relies on free-to-air. We’re selling a large, broad, media exposure. That’s the business model and I’m sure that that’s the business model of all the Formula One teams will require going forward.

Ofcom agrees, explaining “The majority of Formula One’s income is derived from sponsorship which relies on the sport attracting large viewing figures …
Sponsorship, rather than media rights, is the primary source of income.”

Unfortunately it’s more likely that the BBC are trying to make savings and can no longer afford to keep Formula 1 in its current format, than that Sky have made a vast offer to show the sport, which would filter down to recompense the teams. I can see FOTA being up in arms about this move away from every race being free to air in a country which is one of their largest audiences, and where most of the teams are based.

The news is bad for fans, too. My husband has already said we won’t subscribe to Sky Sports as he doesn’t want to line Rupert Murdoch’s pockets; not everyone can afford the subscription in any case.

So my other option is to find a bar showing each race. Hang on – some of the Grand Prix are on at 5am! No longer will I be able to trudge to the television while wrapped in a duvet, and pubs don’t open in time to show many of the early morning races.

Even when the Grand Prix are on at a more humane time of day, why would I want to watch them on Sky? For me, the BBC is the home of Formula 1. I grew up listening to the excitable Murray Walker and posh James Hunt. Nowadays I enjoy Martin Brundle’s grid walk, and the post race “Red Button Forum”. Sky just won’t be the same. Martin Brundle himself is not happy, having tweeted: “Found out last night, no idea how it will work yet – I’m out of contract, will calmly work through options. Not impressed.”

What is the point for the BBC of showing just half the races? The news is spun by the broadcaster as a way that the sport can remain with them for longer. Rubbish! People will want to follow the whole season or not at all. Watching Grand Prix becomes a fortnightly habit – I keep the weekend clear and tune in. Inevitably people will get used to watching Sky, the BBC will demonstrate a drop in viewing figures and bow out altogether, leaving us with no alternative.

I wonder whether Sky will offer online options – like they do for cricket – where you can sign up just for the day and stream the event? That could work, although I would keep the sound down and listen to BBC 5 Live’s commentary in the hope of some familiarity and a credible commentary. There are other, less legitimate, websites which stream races – at least that would be one way to watch the race without giving my money to the Murdochs!

Whichever way you look at it, this new deal is bad news for both the sport and the fans. With the new deal, we get the worst of both worlds.

A simple change to a regular journey can reduce a confident traveller to nothing. That’s what happened to me when my train pulled into Paddington this week – and I ended up exhausted and on the verge of tears just from trying to get home. Transport for London, what went wrong?

I turned up at Paddington expecting to take my usual route home (onto Circle / District line, change to Hammersmith & City line at Edgware Road, change to Central Line at Mile End, arrive at Stratford, taxi from there), and this is a good route as although there are 2 changes there is a long rest in the middle.

On arrival at the tube station I was told access to the Circle and District line had closed 2 days previously, and there was no accessible alternative. This was apparently planned maintenance, but I hadn’t seen it advertised anywhere while travelling the previous week, and nor had friends – so it took me completely by surprise.

I asked the staff for a copy of the Step Free Guide so I could plan an alternative route, but nobody had a copy.

One helpful chap (Ben) rang up his manager for me to see if they could authorise a taxi home for me, as has happened before when my usual route was closed. Sheepishly he told me he’d “got an earful” for asking and said he’d been instructed that I should get on the Bakerloo line. This has a long and steep escalator. I took one look and said no way! Ben offered to hold my wheelchair on the escalator but I was having a bad day with my knees and didn’t think I could stand up safely, all the way to the bottom.

I sat briefly in the concourse and rested. It was now 45 minutes since my train had pulled in, and I should have been nearly home by now. I talked to my friends on twitter:

District & Circle lines closed for a month at Paddington. No alternative step free route home! Was told to take big escalator in my chair(!)

I genuinely feel stranded, don’t know what to do. And phone nearly out of juice.

So that left me trying to get a minicab home; I went to Station Reception at Paddington where the Network Rail staff were very kind and let me use their phone. I tried 6 minicab companies and no luck except for one which MIGHT arrive in half an hour, charging £42 (was he joking? I paid £27 for the same journey last week).

This left me no option but to get the bus to Kings Cross and pick up the tube from there; but I wasn’t sure I had the energy to propel myself out of the station uphill to the bus stop. I was already tired and my journey had yet to begin! Still, seeing the bus approaching gave me the incentive I needed to push hard, so I could get on board and rest as soon as possible.

The bus stopped and I pressed the button for the ramp to be released. Nothing happened. I ended up pressing the button four times before the doors opened – but no ramp! So I got my feet on board, and dragged my chair up the step into the bus behind me, at which point the driver slammed the doors closed onto my chair. With me in it. Nice.

I was released, although the bus promptly pulled away while I was still manoeuvring into the wheelchair bay, wheee! Plus I was now facing backwards into the bus with no knowledge of where I was. The visual descriptor was above my head and for some reason the audio announcements were off. I had to rely on other passengers to let me know when we arrived at Kings Cross.

Fortunately those same passengers advocated my presence to the driver, and the ramp was put down so I could leave the bus. I now had to push myself to the underground station, negotiate two lifts and a passageway, but I boarded the tube with no trouble – other than having hit rush hour thanks to all the delays and diversions. This meant that the tubes were crowded and people tripped over me, stuck in the vestibule / doorway space with nowhere else to go.

At Stratford I was SO pleased to arrive, now all I had to do was get a taxi home. I waved my taxicard and was directed to the first Com Cab in line, where I said “Don’t worry about the ramp, I can get out and we can lift it in.” The driver turned to two others and said in a mocking voice “Ooh, we can get out apparently”. So I got in the taxi and said “please can you be careful when you lift my chair, there’s a box underneath…” to which the response to his fellow drivers was “Ooh, there’s a BOX underneath!” This mocking continued with everything I said. Eventually I burst out “PLEASE just LISTEN!” and he turned to his friends saying “Oh, got to LISTEN, that’s what YOU’ve got to do…” I just said “No – YOU!” then gave up and sat back (trying not to cry, well, it had been a bad day).

After a bit more banter with his mates, my driver became bored, lifted my chair into the taxi, and entered the driving seat. I asked “Why is the meter up to £3.80 already when we haven’t gone anywhere?” His reply: “because it took so long to load you”. I was speechless.

Ten minutes later I arrived home and could collapse – not relax – for a while. Two days later I am still feeling the exhaustion in my limbs, and an amplification to my aches and pains. I had planned for a routine tube journey, but thanks to un-advertised maintenance, I ended up with a terrible trip, pushing myself further than expected, and taking an extra two hours to get home.

Thanks friends, I’m fine, just REALLY exhausted. Had a bus driver shut his doors on me, heaving tubes, then a taxi driver who laughed at me.

I am so exhausted I feel like bursting into tears, am also furious about my journey home, everything hurts, angry letter to TfL coming soon.

I wonder what Transport for London will say in response? Watch this space.

It’s been an odd three months, since my dad died. I’ve been wearing painkiller patches which have turned me into something of a zombie, making me sleep 14 hours a day. Last week I ripped off the patches and for the last few days I’ve woken naturally at 11am – a great improvement! I’m getting my life back on track. That includes resolving to blog here more often, too! So…

Now I’m almost back to my usual everyday state, I thought that I’d demonstrate what the “everyday state” for someone with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome can be like. It’s a condition that people know I have, but unless you’re also affected it’s hard to fully understand. Let me explain by making muffins.

It’s 4pm. I think it would be nice to make strawberry and chocolate muffins, a treat for both me and my husband. I find a simple “foolproof” recipe and pop to the corner shop to pick up some fresh flour.

Of course, I need a sit down after walking to the shop (a distance of about 30 metres), a little rest for my knees and hips. At about 430pm I gather myself and go to the kitchen. I put out the ingredients and begin chopping the chocolate and strawberries. The chopping takes me 15 minutes, and I get backache after standing for more than 5, so I’m hurting and sit down for a rest against a specialist supportive chair.

This is a good point to introduce the concept of “being a spoonie”. Christine Miserandino’s magnificent Spoon Theory describes the concept of spoons representing energy. You might keep a spoon in your back pocket, or borrow from tomorrow’s allocation, but you always have a limited capacity and whatever you do will have a physical payoff. Or as I always used to say before I had a diagnosis, “the more I do, the worse I am”.

After some painkillers and half an hour’s rest I felt able to go and blend the ingredients. It sounded simple, until I had to add melted butter. Hang on, where did the recipe mention melting? Now I had to find a pan! However, all went well until it came to stirring the final mixture. The recipe suggested it should be done by hand, to leave small lumps. My wrist didn’t feel strong enough to stir such a stiff mix and I had to wear a wrist brace to finish the job.

At last I could drop the mixture into cases and pop it in the oven (using two hands in case a wrist wobbled). I had a lovely 25 minute sit down which I needed to recover from 12 minutes mixing! And then, as 6pm approached, a wonderful hot chocolate and strawberry muffin to enjoy!

My husband arrives home and asks “What’s for dinner?” At this point I realise I’m exhausted. I’ve used all my spoons making the muffins, and don’t even have the strength to cook pasta. My back hurts from standing. My wrists ache from stirring. So, guess what we both ate that night?

That’s what happens when you’ve got Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome! It’s a genetic collagen disorder, meaning the collagen in my skin, ligaments, tendons, every tissue in my body, is too floppy. My joints bend in ways they shouldn’t and sometimes dislocate. My gut misbehaves. Everything aches, and some bits of me stab in pain. But hey, there’s no part of my back I can’t reach (to scratch) so that’s alright, eh?

A few days later I made these double chocolate muffins “to use up the ingredients”, and they were perfect. To anyone who has the spoons to cook, I recommend them. After all, when it’s a choice between muffins or dinner, you want the tastiest recipe!