Budget Ibis Hotel, Valenciennes – Accessibility Review

This is an extended version of my TripAdvisor review. I had reviewed this hotel in terms of accessibility with the following in mind:

  • Wheelchair Access: limited
  • Physical Access: single floor / good
  • Disabled Parking: Excellent
  • Sensory: Adjustable lighting / No temperature control / some read noise / linen (plain cotton) / ambient noise – low / reception (strong smell of sandlewood)

Lovely clean room which looked well maintained & had a bath! (Something sorely missed when we’ve travelled before). Fab idea to have one of the kids beds above the double as this saves on room and our youngest was very happy with having her own nightlight. The beds are basic & sturdy (read ‘hard’) which suited me well, but Mr Softie husband wondered if mattress had been optional…

An image of the ground floor family room with a double bed, single bed, & bunk bed width ways over the double bed

Rooms were on the ground floor which meant that you could park right outside the room (lots of disabled bays & plenty of space to get out).

Panoramic image of car parking spaces & entry doors with disabled parking & ramp to doors

The room had a patio door at the back leading to a little patio area & grass, which despite being very close to the motorway, was peaceful and very welcome after hours in a car! The area itself is fenced off which allowed the kids to stretch their legs (with other children doing similar) & us a safe place to store our bikes just outside the door & give us a little more room.

WiFi is included in the price of the room which was very welcome and was a decent speed for general browsing.

Lady at reception was very helpful and took pity on us after our dreadful attempt at chatting in French (I forget words in English, so perhaps a road trip where I attempted to speak French, German, & English was maybe aiming a tad high!). There’s an accessible toilet in reception.

Breakfast was a buffet with coffee, croissant, yoghurt etc. Everything was fresh & very nice. My only issue was using the brilliantly installed wheelchair lift to get to the breakfast bar… which was locked & no one had a key! This was easily solved by sending the family up to the breakfast bar & sitting in the lower table area. This is a potential issue had I been travelling alone.

Wheelchair lift in reception

Getting to reception in a wheelchair is difficult (there is a 2″ step to get onto the ramp which was too steep for me to propel myself manual chair up myself ). Once in reception, there is a lowered desk, although the card machine doesn’t reach it.
Image of tamp to reception with step up get to ramp

There is no resturant on site & if you’re travelling on a Sunday there is very little available. An “emergency” McDonald’s is located 4km up the motorway (about 10 minutes). Usually, there is a resturant available at the neighbouring Novatel.

We booked a stopover here for a family room clearly stating that one person was a wheelchair user at the time of booking. On arrival, we were told that room layouts were either wheelchair accessible for 2 people, or family rooms. As I need physical help from my husband during the night, we couldn’t make use of the suggestion to book 2 separate rooms, so stuck with the family room.

There is a clearly signed wheelchair access route to the rooms from the car park, however this also contains a 1″ lip in order to get up to the walkway. The doors were wide enough to push my manual wheelchair through if my husband helped lift me over the raised frame, and aside from not being able to close the bathroom door & there being no grab handles (remember that this was not billed as the accessible room), the hard floors and clean layout meant that I could scoot about in my chair with relative ease. For those with anything bigger than an active user chair, this wouldn’t be an option.

Overall, it was perfectly pleasant as a stopover with our only grumble being the mildly terrifying ramps & the assumption that a family wouldn’t require an accessible room.

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The Art of More – pacing for control freaks

“Urgh, my back is killing me” mutters a colleague as they stomp across our office rubbing her lower back. The guy I share desk space with visibly cringes and looks at me. Bless him – he’s in his own world of back pain but barely mentions it. He sees quite often first hand me returning from class white faced & pursed lipped as I struggle to maintain the air of someone who’s totally coping with life despite landing in a wheelchair and eating more painkillers than food at lunch.

Today has been a brilliant day. I’ve been a proper mum with the kids, but am suffering for other now by being awake & in more pain than my drugs can attend to. One of my goals this summer is to implement pacing. But do it properly, not just acknowledge I have limited spoons, then throw the whole cutlery drawer at each day. Clear project management is required here.

So what is pacing and why do I need it?

So, imagine you have a baseline which is perhaps laying in bed resting, you can perform an activity within your personal limits then will need some inactive time to follow it. There will be a period of overload because either you’ve tried to do something beyond your energy / physical capabilities or you’ve carried on with a standard activity for too long without a rest. So just like in physics, every action has an equal reaction.

I need to work out how my day at work looks in chart form to see how my pacing is going.

On an average day I’m bouncing above that overload line a lot & also not building in any proper recovery time. I’m also packing in more than an able bodied person could realistically contend with regularly. I’m not giving any leeway to accommodate being in pain. So, I need to attack this the only way I know how, and that’s with a list.  That list will contain all the tasks for tomorrow and then I’m going to prioritise them and build in rest breaks (I’m doing this now as I have control over my day which I don’t at work. That’s a different conversation & one I am going to have to have with OH sooner than I’d like). So tomorrow , or technically today as it’s 2am:

  • Get dressed
  • Get downstairs
  • Teeth / hair
  • Hair cut
  • Dye hair 
  • Wheelchair racing
  • Pre-holiday visit to inlaws
  • Buy physio tape, calpol, blister plasters
  • Lunch
  • Pack for holibobs 
  • Print out letters / tickets for holiday folder
  • Tidy room
  • Eat dinner
  • Get up to bed

Oh holy hell. That’s not a restful day before heading out! Almost everything on that list needs to be ddone due to imminent departure on our road trip on Sunday morning. Wheelchair racing is the only nice to have on there & TBH, it’s my last session for 2 weeks and it does me so much good (physically & mentally).

Ok, so let’s add priority:

  1. M- must
  2. NTH – nice to have
  3. CD – could delegate
  4. OTL – off the list
  • Get dressed – M
  • Get downstairs – M
  • Teeth / hair – M
  • Hair cut – NTH
  • Dye hair – NTH
  • Wheelchair racing – M
  • Pre-holiday visit to inlaws – M
  • Buy physio tape, calpol, blister plasters – CD
  • Lunch – M
  • Pack for holibobs – CD
  • Print out letters / tickets for holiday folder – CD
  • Tidy room – NTH
  • Eat dinner – M
  • Get up to bed – Massive

See how cleaning up hit the bottom of the list there? My mum would flip if she saw that! 

CDC sadly falls on the shoulders of Mr Geek & the kids, but I feel a little less guilty having braced myself and bulldozed my way through a whole week of him commuting to London (or from our perspective, not being there to get me out of the house & not getting back until after 7pm). It’s his first week at New Job which he is absolutely loving, but fuck me that was blindingly hard. I didn’t want to worry him, so slapped my happy work face on. I’m paying for it now though  with bones cracking as I breathe & thudding palpitations waking me each time I doze off.

My plan is to use this priority list tomorrow & see how it goes. If anything gets added to the list, I’ll note it down to see how I’m undermining my own paving without realising. The “oh I’ll just…” moments. 

Wish me luck! 

How would’ve you organised my list? Let me know how you prioritise your to do list. Is there an app for this?

#YesICan or Can I?

Channel 4 has just released its advert for the 2016 Paralympic coverage with an emotive advert. 

https://youtu.be/IocLkk3aYlk

Following this, I read a blog post from the Crippled Scholar that made me react in a way I wasn’t expecting. She raised some very legitimate concerns about the advert & yet I felt instantly defensive. Why?  I’m the least sporty person on the planet… or am I? Perhaps it’s because I know one of the athletes in the advert, or because more recently sport has impacted on the way I view my own disability. So rather than try to tweet a response, I thought I’d lay out a stream of consciousness here.

One criticism is the use of the term superhumans. In the context of it being disabled people achieving everyday activities and met with applause, then yes, take your ableism and insert it into yourself in whichever orifice you choose. But when it comes to athletes, some of these people are just shy of X-men. At our local Race for Life 5k, Lizzie beat every single runner by finishing 1st place in 17 minutes by propelling herself in a racing wheelchair. It doesn’t take anything away from her to acknowledge her disability & say that she’s bloody awesome.

On the flip side, there is the potential for making a big fuss of disability sports to create that god awful motivation crap with the “the only disability is a bad attitude” slogan. (I’m still smiling at those stairs Stella). The author of that poster ought to read what the definition of disability is.

I think the major tell here is to look at how other adverts describe the able bodied athletes. 

In the P&G advert, they are portrayed as oddly traumatised & moulded by their mothers – this does show how hard they work, but rather suggests that Dads aren’t as important and that you need some sort of adversity in order to be a winner.

The BBC advert is just a bit weird with a sloth doing gymnastics & an anteater on the shot put. No suggestion of being superhuman, but there’s that whole rippling muscles theme.

https://youtu.be/CKcEySuuUuE

I think from all of these, the only message is that advertisers are playing to an agenda and won’t please everyone. Based on the adverts I’ve found, despite initial grumbling, I’ve found myself agreeing with the Scholar & the raised eyebrow at the Superhuman term is probably valid as it hasn’t been used equally for the able bodied athletes who also deserve the same recognition for being a little bit amazing.

The second concern is one I feel much more qualified to answer. The ‘yes I can’ song was initially a bit cringey & the scene with the school saying no you can’t even more so. But actually, there’s a message here on a number of levels:

To individuals- don’t feel that because you have a disability, it’s game over (especially when those who believe they know best tell you to give up). I spent my entire life avoiding physical anything because of chronic pain and continual injury. Earlier this year I tried going to a local gym & cried with frustration having been wheeled past the bins to meet an instructor that couldn’t comprehend not using a treadmill despite being in a wheelchair… It would’ve been easy (and perfectly acceptable) to give in, but our school is all about Grit & Zest & Growth Mindset & other ones… whatever – I’m a stubborn old bat who won’t give up (Also known as gritty). Later, when I announced that I was going to try wheelchair basketball, family & friends were horrified. It turned out that no, that wasn’t the sport for me – the risk (and reality) of dislocation was too much. But then I discovered wheelchair racing & everything changed. After 36 years, I found my sport. I still dislocate most sessions, but rarely a major joint, and I’m building strength & stamina in my upper body that has a knock on effect on my dysautonomia. Mentally, I’m in a much better place because I’m told twice a week that I’m a racer & doing great.

The reality is that I’m still dragging myself around and finishing so exhausted that I want to vomit & my arms are constantly sporting the bruises that come from pushing smaller rims  (racers badges of honour). I may look like a wheezy flintstones car, but in my head I feel like a superhero.

To parents / partners /friends: the loss of mobility doesn’t prohibit your loved one from trying something new. Please don’t hold them back in case people stare or laugh. Yes, the gym bunnies look at me like I’m an alien when I rock up in the (new) gym in my wheelchair & use the handcycle, but when I arrive to chair racing with my fellow wobblies, I have never known a more supportive atmosphere. Our coach is a volunteer and does it because he’s passionate. The guy deserves a medal (and beer) himself for keeping us in line. One of the upsides of camaraderie is improved mental health – the downside for our poor coach is that we giggle & hare about the track like naughty schoolkids.

Finally, and probably most importantly, the “Yes I Can” message from the advert sends a very clear message to local Athletics clubs that sport is sport able or disabled. Worthing Harriers is an athletics club, we just happen to be the wheelchair division. The club owns a set of chairs for us to use & as we get into the sport, then we can choose to buy our own chairs (and even then, the contacts through the club help with finding 2nd hand chairs or fundraising for custom built kit). The whole thing started with one child contacting the club and asking why he couldn’t train with them. 3 years on & we’re growing in numbers.

Many people working in sports fields need to hear the Yes I Can message. There is still a huge stereotype within society that disability means you just stop & if you don’t, then you must be faking it. So the more disability sports is shown on TV, the more normalised it becomes. If it’s normalised, then sports clubs will begin to assume that accessible clubs are just the norm and include them as standard… prices come down… they’re no longer superhumans because it’s normalised. Job done.

I made it sound so easy! 

So yes, I agree that the advert isn’t quite how I’d want to be portrayed, but it is playing on the vibe left after invictus to make able bodied people sit up and take notice that people with disabilities are actually out there doing more than spending their taxes (oh yes, I’ve heard that line). We’re working, we’re having families, we’re learning, we’re pushing ourselves to our mental & physical limits. Just. Like. You.

Sunday Night Optimism 

You know those awful ten things posts? Yeah, I’m going to do one of those. 

I was being a bit of a grumpybum earlier, so decided to a list of reasons to be happy.

*accessibility warning – there are some fast rolling image gifs at the end of this post*

1. This guy. We’ve been together nearly 13 years & married for 11 of those this year. Aside from snoring like a dying gruffalo, he’s pretty amazing.

2. Mrs Gypsytree visited this summer. We didn’t get to see each other as much as we’d like as their summer started a month before ours does, but we got a lovely evening in where we celebrated them finally owning a real proper house in Norn Iron. I still miss her being a few minutes up the road, but they’re ever so happy & that’s good. 

3. I’m superhuman. Wheelchair racing has transformed being in a chair from a loss of mobility to a doorway to new friends, supportive but very real competition, and a sport that I can participate in for the first time since forever without crippling pain. Don’t get me wrong, it hurts, in fact on the first corner of this particular race my hip popped so badly that it came all the way out & I pushed 800m with a fully dislocated hip & a subluxed shoulder. At the end I was gasping for breath & Mr Geek had to haul me out of the chair and push everything back in & feed me morphine.

BUT, I competed in my first race with my friends, showed people we’re enabled, & we all came away with fist bumps and massive smiles.

This is the face of someone who is going to FINISH this race.

4. We’re getting somewhere with the joined up thinking. I’m now officially seeing the neurology team at UCLH and not only are they looking into the POTS symptoms, they’re being joined up and looking at the other weird nerve issues with the lack of feeling & strange reflexes in my feet, and looking at ways to manage the EDS. It means more time & lengthier stays here, but it’s progress and very positive. They even encouraged my chair racing as a positive way to keep the autonomic car crash that is my body as functional as possible 😆

5. Half way there! The scary seven are still enjoying lashings of ginger beer together. Despite now living 600 miles apart, the minute they get together they’re back to being the same tribe that they’ve always been. This year we couldn’t physically make it up to “our tree” so settled for a bench instead. They didn’t seem to mind, although this once again confirms that it is impossible to get a photo of all of them making a near sensible face!

6. My life doesn’t have to be restricted to reality. My hands may not grip pens or paint brushes anymore, but on a good day I can hold a controller and paint virtually. The VIVE has allowed me to return to using a virtual paintbrush & now sit quietly in a vast dark room and paint in 3D. The best bit is I can choose from any size brush and whilst the virtual brush size changes, the controller remains the size of a crutch grip & is as light as a tv remote control. I’ve learnt how high I can lift my arms now without dislocating (Although I still get engrossed and utterly forget, then re-enact the scene from Horton hears a who where the mayor runs from the dentist). Weirdly, I can self-propel in VR & it feels like normal.

7. My friends are just as daft as me. When it comes to showing cancer where it can shove itself, we certainly did. The volume of physio tape it took to hold three women with connective tissue disorders together must’ve made KT rub it’s hands together, but nothing beats seeing your proper mega serious marathon runner friend skipping beside you in a tutu. To top it off, Lizzie on the far right, won the whole flipping race as the 1st finisher in just over 17 minutes. There’s a reason she uses the hashtag #RoadToRio in her posts. And when (not if) she brings home a medal one of these days, I’ll still be chasing her like a slightly defective whippet after a rabbit!

This was one of my happiest days from 2016.

8. Yeah, ok, it had to be in there somewhere. I’m not out there kicking arse every day. Quite a lot of days I’m in here wondering how I’m going to make it those 5 meters to the loo without ending up on the floor in a heap. So to keep me amused, I have Pokèmon Go! There are a few teething issues with servers and the fact that the developers rather forgot that people with physical disabilities may have rather an issue with walking that 10k needed to hatch an egg, or get out there & explore for PokeStops… I’m sticking with it for now in case they add some more accessible features. Until then, here’s the bastard that chewed up 11 of my pokeballs & still got away!

9. Friends. But more importantly, friends who understand why I cancel plans at short notice, double book myself because my brain is shot to pieces, who still invite me to things even though I’ve declined the last four hundred times because I’m too tired. And who get that me being too tired means I’m probably actually in too much pain to be near people. Some of them are fellow Spoonies, others are just empathic enough to see through the “I’m okay!”.

They’re good people. 

10. And very much not least are Beanpole & TinyPants. They are wise beyond their years and not given nearly enough credit for the caring that they do. I have the best time with these tiny little ladies even if I do have to pretend I’m actually a grown up who’s in charge on occasions. There aren’t many 10 year olds that just stop acting up or having fun because they can see that mummy is in more pain than usual. They carry stuff, they give up trips out to snuggle in bed with the TV, they get on with their homework so I can nap. I may regret being so impressed with them once they turn into unresponsive grunting teenagers!

For now, I’m pretty thankful & optimistic for a good week. I hope yours goes well too. Xxx

#WhyImNotSleeping Chronic Memes

There was a Tumblr some time ago that touched a chord with us as parents. It was called Why My Child Is Crying. It saw the funny side of situations that make so many parents want to bathe in wine until it goes away. Here’s a few choice examples :

There was something about those parents sharing the photos of the realities of parenting a small human that made us feel a bit better about how we stumble blindly through parenthood hoping we don’t mess them up too badly. So that got me thinking. Surely there should be something similar for those of us with chronic illness who have the option of drowning or seeing the ridiculous & amusing in our situations. The thing that gets to me the most is my sleep pattern (or lack thereof), so here is is, #WhyImNotSleeping is now a thing. Tweet me your photos & I’ll collate them on here.

For now, here’s my own personal collection 😴

Perhaps there’s a noise in the room…

Or because of our nightly 1am visitor

Or maybe it’s because my friends are also nocturnal…


Finding humour in my strange little quiet & low lit world certainly makes it a nicer place to be. So, Why aren’t you sleeping?

Check out my Glossybox

Hehe. Sorry, that made me giggle. Not sorry.

A package arrived in the post today. It all started a week or so ago when I was laying in bed doing the pain party conga & feeling about as girly and sexy as a slug. A dehydrated slug.

So I succumbed to the glossy adverts for Glossybox and set up a monthly order for my box of secret girly stuff to be delivered directly to me. At £13 per month, I figured if the first one was awful, it was a one off and I’d cancel it.

Glossybox unopened box for July

Beanpole and I were impressed when we opened the outer package as we were expecting a cheapy type gift bag. Instead there was a nice cardboard box that was totally usable for storing little trinkets in…

Even opened, there was tissue paper with a cute little ribbon around it! (Can you hear my self control flying into the ether?).

Then the probably more important part of the box (probably – we were having great fun getting excited about pretty parcels tbh) which started with a greeting card & a recipe idea for spiralized courgette spaghetti.

Inside was a little (25ml) tube of Utan night cream which contains a gradual self tanning element. As a regular user of Olay’s self tanning day cream in an attempt to hide my unsightly pale complexion & suitcases under my eyes (we’re  way beyond bags with the lack of sleep I get), this sounded quite exciting. 

RRP £12.50 

Would I have indulged in this? Probably not tbh, it’s quite pricey for the size so this is a good way for me to try out a brand I’ve not heard of. This is a potential birthday list product though.

Next up, an F20 Flat Brush from Blank Canvas. I actually had to check that this was synthetic fibre as it’s so soft. I’ve not bought a big make up brush since I splashed out on Bare Minerals & my original brush is still used for everything from powder to my haphazard attempts at contours. It has a nice chunky handle which doesn’t taper off making it easy for me hands to hold even on really crappy days. I’ve been meaning to get another brush for a while, so yay!

RRP: £11.95

Would I have indulged in this? I think so. I would have ummed & ahhhed over the price, but I think it would have won me over.

Next is the Hairon detangle brush. Now, we’ve bought a detangle brush before for the kids and these things are bloodhound awesome. I spend the majority of my time with my hair wrapped in scarves to protect it from breaking any further (after several months of mega vitamin D tablets, the areas that fell out at the start of the year are growing back, but it still breaks easily if I let it tangle or get dry). This one is the perfect size & shape to fit into my hand without causing extra stress on my wrist. This means I can tidy the front all by myself! (I still can’t get to the back without pulling out a joint, but small victories!)

RRP : £6.99

Would I have indulged in this? Clearly I would having already bought one! It’s quite expensive for a small plastic brush, but totally worth it for small screechy people.

Next is Emotion Allowed mascara from Icona Milano. It’s a proper, full sized mascara – not a tester size in sight. It’s waterproof, so perfect for impending holiday & also for current super high pollen days where my eyes are itchy and watery which equals smudgy panda eyes.

The brush is curved & the mascara isn’t too heavy, but doesn’t clump too badly so you can make it heavier if you want. However, it’s light enough for Beanpole to wear it as she tries out how make up feels and still look tasteful.

RRP : £13.04

Would I have indulged in this? It’s not a brand I’ve heard of before, so it’s nice to be persuaded to try something new. It’s a little more than I would usually spend, but it’s nice so I could be persuaded.

And finally  (yep, still going!), anti-perspirant from Soft&Gentle… err sorry, what? Deodorant? Actually, yes. Again, full sized but with a twist. It’s a hair minimising anti-perspirant. Apparently clinically proven to reduce the thickness & growth speed of hair in 8 weeks.

It’s worth a shot & it smells really nice… I wonder if they do whole body spray?

RRP: 2.99

Would I have indulged in this? Tbh, no. This is the kind of thing that I’d usually look at, chuckle and move onto the trusty razors that maintain my body topiary. 

So, was the box worth it? At a RRP of £47.47 compared to my £13 for the box, then Glossybox wins hands down. But what about actually wanting the products? Well, aside from being a bit dubious about the hair reducing deodorant, I’m really rather chuffed with my little gift box and it’s absolutely convinced me to hold out for August’s box of goodies which is a special 5th birthday box.

Where did I sign up? This link takes you to their sign up page

More ways to be Chronically Optimistic 😆

Chronically Optimistic

I quite often feel bemused when people look at me just getting on with life and exclaim “I don’t know how you’re so cheerful”, or “I don’t know how you do it. You’re really brave.”

Anyone who actually knows me, knows that rather a lot of the time I’m angrier & more irrational than a wasp, and spend an unnecessary amount of time holding pity parties. Generally this is in the privacy of home where Mr Geek can appreciate the full spectrum of my whining. God, he’s a lucky bastard.
But as I trundle out of the door, Mr Geek gives me a kiss & grumbles something about dinner and I slap a smile on.

Because, you know, if you take a deep breath & smile…. it confuses the living shit out of people. I smile at people because it makes people feel nice to be smiled at. I love my good morning routine as I roll past the ladies in the front office, the premises guys, & the happiest maths teacher on the planet. 

It doesn’t matter that I’m struggling with increasingly uncontrollable pain levels. I’m more than my body. I might not be physically dancing about in a snorkel anymore, but I’m still me. Weirdly, the end of term approaching has reminded me that I’m more than the sum of my parts. Rather than finishing this year haggard and wondering what a bloody stupid idea it was to become a teacher, this year I’ve been a wreck anyway so actually I’m ending it appreciating all the ways that teaching allows me to be a real person.

Next year, I welcome my new form (my last lot have now flown my nest after 3 years of growing into adults!). Each of us in the year team have a special reason for students to be placed with us – think of it like a teacher talent tree. Mine is routines & extra TLC. Our routines are visual and planned in advance – I am happiest when everything is structured & my kids tend to be those that thrive on similar. The TLC bit applies to a whole range of reasons. Kids arrive with a spectrum of issues that reflects the adult world, from shyness to mental health to physical health. There is no child that doesn’t benefit from someone who welcomes them as part of their extended family. In turn, I get to witness their successes, their soap opera style relationships, hand out birthday cards, read to & with them, I’m the sympathetic ear when they need one, and the kick up the backside when they’re being a knob. My last form witnessed my health decline rapidly over 3 years & they used it to forge intensely empathic responses to others who needed help. I didn’t think I could be prouder.

Then I was when I met my new form. I ended our induction day by showing their parents photos of our day together where they’d overcome fear of school, of new places, of sensory overload, of looking silly (posing for selfies with our form teddy bear when you’re 13 wipes out any Alpha male ideas). Just like having another child, you don’t divide your love, it multiplies. And stealing the words of an old headteacher “you’ve gotta love em. Children, no matter how old, need love”.

So as one academic year ends (in a week and 1/2) & another is right around the corner, I’m optimistic. By September, I’ll have my Master Teacher badge which sadly is just that – gone are the days of elevated pay, but it’s nice to be recognised as a subject specialist & be involved with training new Computer Science teachers.

Making it through the tough bits means I reap the rewards of being a stubborn arsehole who’s still got more fight left in her. And, well, Mr Geek, that lucky bastard gets at least another academic year of me falling asleep on my marking & being a diabolical wife.
Maybe this year will be the year I finally get around to submitting my fellowship for the Society for Education… dream big 💖