About Me

I am a writer, researcher and project consultant with over 14 years experience of writing about ethical and environmental issues. I specialise in writing, editing and proofing copy for NGOs, charities, social enterprises and the co-operative movement.

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Positive living with illness or disability

In October 2013, I will be running a course in Whalley Range, Manchester called “Positive Living with Long-term Illness or Disability”. The course is totally FREE and aimed at anyone living with long-term illness, pain or disability and will take place over 8 sessions from 23rd October 2013.

Sessions will be held at Trafalgar Court, 199-203 Withington Road, Whalley Range, Manchester, Greater Manchester M16 8JW from 1 – 3.30pm.

Course sessions will be supportive, creative and, above all, fun and
will be set in a relaxed, safe atmosphere (materials provided). Topics covered will include:

·       Assertiveness & confidence building
·      Relaxation techniques
·      Pain management techniques
·      Managing energy
·      Managing own and others’ expectations
·      Putting yourself first
·      Making plans & setting realistic future goals
·      Dealing with negative thoughts
·      Confidence building

We will decide the full curriculum in consultation with participants on the first session.

This course is designed to compliment rather than duplicate the Expert Patient Programme.

Contact me on the form below to reserve your place.

Positive Living word posteroct22

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Ruth’s film awards for 2012

I haven’t blogged in an age, and in a departure from my usual, more political, topics I’ve decided to do a summary of my favourite films from 2012.

Summary (and gender audit)
I saw 28 films in 2012. Only three were directed by women: Sally Potter, Ginger and Rosa; Sarah Polley, Take This Waltz; Julie Delphy, 2 Days in New York.

Just over a handful of films passed the Bechdel test. For those not in the know, for a film to pass the Bechdel Test, it has to have:

At least two [named] women in it,
who talk to each other,
About something besides a man.

Passing the Bechdel Test is not an indicator of quality – just because it passes, doesn’t mean it’s a good film, and just because it fails, doesn’t mean it is a bad film. However, it is a good indicator of gender representation in film and I think it’s pretty sad that only a few of the films that I saw definitely passed the test. They were:

  • Marthy Macy May Marlene
  • The Hunger Games
  • The Source
  • Fast Girls
  • Ginger and Rosa
  • The Sapphires
  • Pitch Perfect

As I didn’t run every film past the test as I saw them, it’s possible that two or three others might also have passed, but definitely no more than that.

Unlike my friend Gill, I don’t rate the films I see out of ten, so I can’t really place them in any particular order, but here are my own personal favourites of the year.

  • Best film adaptation of a book
    Hunger Games. Having devoured the whole triology of books in the space of five days, the film version of the first book had a lot to live up to. Jennifer Lawrence was brilliant and I loved the film’s style and characterisations. It had me tense and absorbed, despite knowing the book. Interestingly, Jennifer also starred in my second favourite film adaptation – Silver Linings Playbook. This was a good film, which I enjoyed a lot, but deviated quite a lot from the book by deciding that the leading female character should not be older than the main male protagonist and instead played by a woman ten years younger than him. Hollywood, pah.
  • Best sequel
    2 days in New York was a glorious, laugh-out-loud sequel to Julie Delphy’s 2 days in Paris.
  • Best non-English film
    Le Havre. This beautiful shot film had sensitively-drawn characters, comedy and pathos. The Kid with a Bike came second.
  • Best film that not only passes the Bechtel test, but does so with flying colours
    Fast girls. Funny, feel-good sporty film with a good (and ethnically diverse) British female cast. How many times can you say that about a film?
    Runner up in this category was The Sapphires, which was a loosely-based-on-fact film about a girl group of Aboriginal woman who go to Vietnam to entertain the troops. Advertised as a comedy, it was much more than that.
  • Weirdest film
    Holy Motors. I have no idea what this film was about. I sort of enjoyed it. At least I think I did. Visually sumptuous, even though it really made no sense at all. There was nothing else like it. 
  • Most beautiful film featuring a very young child
    Beasts of the Southern Wild. Beautifully shot and acted, this film really drew me in and made me think (and jot down some quotes in my notebook).
  • Best fact-based drama directed by former co-star of Julie Delphy
    Argo. Fact-based drama about the escape of Americans from Iran, I was totally gripped.
  • Best British film (featuring caravans and serial killing)
    Sightseers. I was quoting some of the lines within minutes of leaving the cinema. Not sure when that’s ever happened before. Also wins an award for the best use of typically English weather in a film (horizontal sheet rain).
  • Best film with a long tongue twister of a title
    Martha Macy May Marlene. Another film which combined good direction with a convincing cast. Not sure about the ending though. The film stayed with me for quite a while after watching, which means it must have made an impact.
  • Best documentary
    The Imposter. Dramatic reconstructions are paired with real-life interviews, this was a gripping story which would be totally unbelievable if it wasn’t true.
  • Best musical
    Pitch Perfect. Passes the Bechdel test, has some cheesy musical numbers, and some of the best comedic lines of the year delivered Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins, playing it very straight as two commentators at the singing competition.
  • Most overblown film of the year
    Batman. Sorry, but I hated it. I was bored rigid.  

As I got a special Moleskin film diary for Christmas, I will be able to keep a more detailed log of my films in 2013. Looking forward to seeing what cinematic delights the year has in store.

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Share the Road – Ruth’s Cycling Manifesto

There’s been a lot of publicity recently about how Manchester hopes to be the country’s “number one city for cycling” by 2017. Part of the strategy includes a cycle-hire scheme for the city (similar to the London one), and cycle-training. Meanwhile, the Greater Manchester Cycle Campaign has launched its own cycling manifesto for the city with the following five key asks:

  1. Cycling infrastructure should be high quality, consistent and appropriate.
  2. Cycling should be fully integrated into the public transport system.
  3. On-road cycling training courses should be provided free of charge for adults.
  4. Residential areas should have a default speed limit of 20mph.
  5. Campaigns to promote cycling from A to B should be bold, sustained and targeted.

While, I don’t disagree with the above points, I do have a bit of a problem with the emphasis on cycle training, which misses something key to cycling in the city as it is at the moment. While I think that cycling training is great and important for all cyclists, it doesn’t change the behaviour of the drivers of other vehicles. Being a better cyclist won’t protect you from a car breaking the speed limit, running the red light, or passing you with merely millimetres to spare. Until there are separate cycling lanes across the city, all cyclists currently have to share the road with cars, buses and taxis, many of whom don’t know how to share the roads with us.

So I’ve been thinking about what would improve life for me on the roads, and come up with own mini manifesto.

  1. I’d start by training bus and taxi drivers. It’s not that they’re the worst offenders, but it would make sense to require them to have a special licence which would be dependent on them having attended “share the road” training. Such training should include speed awareness training, a highway code refresher (and exam!) and a practical during which they are required to travel their usual route or routes on a bicycle (preferably at rush hour or during the school run).
  2.  Another of my manifesto proposals is for better enforcement of the rules of the road. This would include fines for speeding (requiring the installation of speed cameras across the city), fines for stopping in the green box at lights, and, perhaps most radically, fines for jumping red lights. The latter fine would apply to all vehicles (including bikes), but rates would be proportional to the vehicle size and amount of damage the vehicle would inflict on a pedestrian should it be hit. Naturally, the implementation of this would be costly and identification of the cyclists wouldn’t be as easy as that of cars, but I believe that the amount of money initially raised by such fines (at least until people started to actually obey the rules of the road!) would recoup all those costs. Excess profits would go towards proper cycling infrastructure.
  3. Drivers caught breaking the law would also be required to attend “share the road training”.
  4. All city counsellors working on cycling issues are required to cycle into work themselves at least twice a week. They should also be required to try cycling on the busiest roads and those with the worst surfaces, particularly Moss Lane West (hint hint).
  5. Any driver found parking in a cycling lane would have their vehicle confiscated and replaced with a bicycle of their choosing.
  6. Drivers of huge cars who have no spatial awareness should also be required to attend special ‘share the road’ training aimed at oversize cars/SUVs. If there is no improvement to their ability to share the road then their car should be taken away from them and replaced with a bicycle and trailer for their kids.

I think I’d better stop now before I get carried away.

Transport for Manchester’s Cycling website
Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign
Cycle Journey planner – handy for finding quieter routes

What’s the point in separate cycle lanes if vans are parked right in them?

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On being disabled

Last weekend I went to Wilderness festival. Camping, outdoor living, the damp, late nights and poor quality sleep is usually a recipe for an arthritis attack. Two years ago I had one of the worst attacks I’d ever had at a festival. The pain hit me in almost every single joint and I was unable to walk, stand or even sit comfortably. On the Saturday night, while everyone else was dressed in fancy dress costumes, dancing and having fun, I was lying in my tent in agony crying my eyes out.

I haven’t always had arthritis (or to be more accurate, Palindromic Rheumatism – PR for short). I developed it seven years ago after a big life change – which is apparently not uncommon for auto-immune disorders. It was a confusing and difficult time. I was dealing with the break-up of a long-term relationship while getting my head round these weird attacks. Sometimes it would be mild, but hang around for days or weeks in one or more joints. Sometimes it would be extremely acute – usually in the larger joints – and leave me worried that somehow I had dislocated or broken something. Painkillers didn’t touch the pain. One day it would hit one joint, the next day the pain could be somewhere else or even gone entirely. It was all very weird.

I was eventually diagnosed and had to learn to adjust to living with a long-term condition. Applying for jobs three years ago, I found myself on the phone to Arthritis UK to try and find out whether or not I should be ticking the ‘disabled’ box on the forms. I was told to consider myself at my worst and if that was ‘disabled’ then I was.

I was flummoxed. Disabled? Me? I’d got used to living with PR but until that point hadn’t ever thought of myself as a disabled person. I still cycled everywhere when I was able, still had an active life, still went diving on holiday. How could I do all those things and be disabled? Yes, sometimes I couldn’t walk properly or was overcome with fatigue, but then I compared myself with people who had more severe PR or rheumatoid arthritis and wondered how I could be considered to be disabled when I wasn’t as badly affected as they were. Like many people, my definitions of what a disability was were pretty narrow. It certainly didn’t include someone like me.

Over the past year, I’ve started to think much more about what it means to be a disabled person. I’ve begun to feel more comfortable with explaining that, because I have a disability, being self-employed is my preferred way of working; I can manage my own time, don’t have to get up too early, and if I need to work from home I do. Yet I still find it tricky and it never flows easily. Other people’s reactions don’t help. “You don’t look disabled” they sometimes say. It’s true that my pain is not visible to others. I look more or less exactly the same when I’m having an attack or overcome with fatigue as when I’m completely pain-free and full of energy. And so I worry about people’s pre-conceptions, and whether I am really disabled ‘enough’ to call myself disabled.

Earlier this year, I started to plan this summer’s festivals. My experience at Shambala and a bad attack at WOMAD last year, meant that I needed to have a rethink. I don’t want to give up going to festivals. I’ve been festivalling since I was 17 and I’m not ready to stop yet. And while an arthritis attack is likely, it is not guaranteed. So, what would make attending a festival easier? Having disabled access seemed to be the answer. The trouble is that there doesn’t seem to be anything (correct me if I’m wrong) that proves that I’m disabled unless I claim benefits. But I don’t feel that I need to claim benefits. The process is daunting and as the paperwork seems unable to cope with variable conditions, I think that I would not be considered disabled enough. Happily, the organisers for Wilderness festival were flexible and so we rocked up on Friday, and drove straight into accessible camping.

I still had a few internal struggles. Was I asking for special treatment by asking for disabled access or was it just allowing me to be at the same starting point as everyone else? I worried that people might be judging me, thinking that if festivals might trigger an attack, surely I should stop going to them altogether? It didn’t help that Wilderness had run out of disabled wrist-bands so that every time I tried to get access to a viewing platform, I had to explain myself; not particularly empowering.

I also kept returning to the idea of what we think of as disabled, which so often seems to be about visible conditions – wheelchair users, those who are sight or hearing impaired. But looking around the accessible camping field was a perfect illustration of how disabilities are much broader than that. Except for the two women in wheelchairs, it was impossible to tell who, among the forty or so people camping, were the disabled ones; mine is not the only condition that is invisible to others.

The difference that having disabled access made to the quality of my weekend was enormous. Having the car next to the tent, so that I didn’t have to carry everything for miles, leaving me exhausted before the festival’s even begun, was fantastic. Viewing platform access was also great – meaning that I could sit down and still see. It would have been better if Wilderness had provided the chairs (is it possible that the organisers thought that only wheelchair users would need the platforms?), but I had my own, so that I could sit and rest whenever I needed to.

As it turned out, the expected arthritis attack never arrived. It could have been pure chance or it could have been that minimising the stress on my body was the reason. Whatever it was, this weekend’s experience has been positive. It has highlighted the importance of feeling confident enough to demand disabled access, what difference it can make and allowed me to know that I can still go to festivals and enjoy them.

I’ve also finally realised that it’s only by embracing a broader definition of disability, that I am much more comfortable with that identity. If it’s taken me that long to do it, it makes me wonder how long it will take for the rest of society to do the same.


• Information about Palindromic Rheumatism

• My blog on living with Palindromic Rheumatism

How I Became Disabled: great blog which inspired me to think more about my own condition and issues around accessibility

•  Guardian article on employment and disability (featuring me!)

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Women at Womad 2011

Last year, after my return from the WOMAD festival, I did a gender audit to see what the percentage of female artists there were on the festival programme.  I found that female artists made up just 13% of the programme, bands with both men and women 12% and the remaining 73% were male artists or all-male bands.

This year, I returned to the festival and was pleasantly surprised to find that there seemed to be more women on the bill than the year before.  I decided to use the same methods to assess whether this was just a feeling and did the same audit. I counted the gender of the number of artists named in the programme – regardless of the gender mix of their band. I also included all male or all female bands, and bands that were of mixed gender.  I was pleased to find that I was correct: there were more women than last year. This time, male artists or all male bands made up 60% of the bill, female artists or all female bands made up 20% and bands of mixed genders 20%.

Even though this was an improvement on last year, male artists still made up more than 50% of the bill. Is this good enough, I wonder? Or should we really expect a more even balance of genders at a festival as large as WOMAD?

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Co-ops and choirs – what they have in common

If you believe the TV talent shows, then music, especially singing, is about ‘following your dream’, making it, and, above all, competing with other singers to be the best. Actually, I haven’t watched any of those shows for a while, but even when I did, singing wasn’t about joy and it wasn’t about co-operation. Glee, an American TV show portraying a group of singers, also highlights the competitive aspect of singing; the group are perpetually competing against other show choirs, while one of the main characters constantly fears another, better singer stealing her position as soloist and grabbing the limelight.

Making singing so competitive is a relatively recent development – giving how long humans have been doing it – and reflects our society’s growing obsession with individualism and competition.  But in moving towards such an individualistic focus, it is moving away from the one thing that singing can be very good at: bringing people together.

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Mary Portas tells Co-op Congress how it is

This weekend I went to my first Co-operative Congress, held at the start of Co-operatives Fortnight. One of the draws was a Friday night session with Mary Portas. Not having a TV, my knowledge of Portas is limited. I had never seen her programme, nor heard her talk. But I was aware that she was a big champion of local shops and independent businesses so I was interested to hear what she had to say.

I’m lucky in where I live. I have a local high street and many small independent shops within walking distance of my house. Yet I know that these days this is the exception rather than the norm. The big supermarkets and chain stores have resulted in most of the UK’s towns turning into what NEF describes as “clone towns”. Worse than this, the growth of out-of-town shopping centres have seen clone towns turning into ghost towns, where shops are closing down altogether. In the small Welsh village where my in-laws live, all shopping is now done (by car) at the nearest Tesco hypermarket. The village once had its own baker, newsagent and butcher. Now it has none of those things.

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