Why Minorities Are Not Always Obvious

On Monday I attended an event which turned out to be totally different from what I thought it would be (and not exactly in a good way).

The event was advertised as being on the subject of Mental Health (which is part of the reason I went).

I admit I wasn’t there at the beginning but the talks I heard all made me feel like I was in a three-way Minority (this is unusual because I am more used to just being Half-Dutch and Disabled). I have never felt so “got at” for the sheer fluke of being white than I did after hearing the talks I did listen to. (I nearly cheered when one man pointed out that one section of society wasn’t represented at the event – the Roma/Traveller community. Well, the lady in charge of the event had been saying how diverse the people were.)

Seriously, some of the speakers did have some good points to make. There aren’t enough minorities represented in Public life, and I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that if you want someone to pick up and read a leaflet aimed at them it helps if you represent them in the cover photo.

One speaker reminded me about something I remembered from a very long time ago. At one point EastEnders had a character with Sickle Cell Anaemia. There are a few black characters in EastEnders now but none of them appear to have the condition.

Minorities come in all forms – we have the BAME group, we have the LGBT community, we have the various disabilities, we even have people from different nationalities who don’t get represented in our Political life (for example, my Mum couldn’t vote in a General Election because she chose to keep her Dutch nationality – even though she lived here for most of her life).

If we are going to focus on how best to represent the minorities we should maybe also look at where the minorities merge and how that can be represented as well. For example, a BAME person who is also disabled or a member of the LGBT community.

We need to have a national conversation about the best way to represent all minorities – not just the ones who hit the headlines the most.

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Humour Based On Ignorance Is Just Cruel

I would say I have got a good sense of humour (a bit twisted at times I must admit). As someone who will happily make jokes about my sight I can usually take a joke by someone else on the same subject.

There is, however, one exception. The exception is when it can potentially put my health in danger.

I found one such example on Facebook today. Someone had got so fed up with people running along corridors that they had taken radical action to prevent this. It’s their corridor – they can do whatever they want with it, right??? Up to a point – of course they can.

Their biggest mistake was to publish the photo of how they had chosen to solve the problem in such a way as to make it visible to my eyeballs.

The corridor now has a black and white chequered pattern on it – and it now has the kind of terrain more appropriate for a hilly field.

I was saddened – but not surprised – to see that several people had reacted to the photo (and the accompanying article) with smiley faces to show they found it funny.

I wonder how many of those people would find it funny if someone like me hurt themselves as a result of trying to walk on it. I shan’t go into the reasons I would have a major problem with it – except to say that I would have gone for either the chequered pattern or the hilly terrain.

Humour is an excellent tool for educating people. I have learned a lot through seeing certain comedians’ routines on certain subjects (my favourite example is Kevin Bridges and his “booking a cinema ticket by phone with a Scottish accent” routine).

Humour (even seemingly unintentional) based on ignorance is a different story altogether. It is just plain cruel. Not only that but it is how bullying can start.

When you have got a disability, or some other thing which makes you stand out, you know how far to take your jokes on that subject. I wouldn’t dare attempt to joke about being in a wheelchair or being deaf, for example.

Humour can be a great form of education but the best humour comes from experience.

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The Difference Between Teaching And Educating

There are two professions which make me feel nervous – the Medical profession and Teaching.

I know several brilliant Educators – only one of whom can honestly say they are a qualified, experienced, teacher (I know this because the person concerned has a Degree in Education – and I was in their class when I met them – with them as my Teacher).

You might be wondering what the difference is between a Teacher and an Educator?

Apart from the fact that a Teacher’s natural habitat is a school or other establishment where students are to be found, and I was taught to “respect” teachers even if I hated them, the main difference is that teachers (try to) teach but Educators help you learn.

I was actually paid a very unexpected compliment today by one of my favourite Educators. Now – as far as I know he has never qualified as a teacher – but he does know a lot about his chosen subject of Mental Health (mostly from personal experience of it). The compliment was that I had taught him a lot. I found this very difficult to believe – until he explained that he had learned a lot about sight problems through reading my personal blog.

I will never qualify as a Teacher but – being made to feel that I can even teach Teachers about things that affect me is the best feeling in the world.

The saying that “Every day is a school day” is definitely true – even when you have left formal education there are still things you can learn from others.

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Why Making Print A Bit Bigger Can Make Me A Lot Happier

Today found me in a thoughtful mood – indirectly caused by hunger.

I was in my favourite part of Leicester city centre, after a trip to my opticians to get my glasses professionally cleaned, when I started to feel hungry. As I was heading for St Martin’s Square, I noticed a new place had opened selling slices of pizza (even better – they had a lunchtime offer on). So I went in.

I was impressed with the layout of the place. However, I wasn’t very impressed with the size of the print on the menu (it was borderline readable for me). I was even less happy when the lady who served me pointed to the alternative. This was a menu which had been painted on a board and stuck to a wall. It would have been easier for me to read if the lighting underneath it had been arranged slightly differently.

I know I can sound like a broken record when it comes to the size of print but it is one of the first things I notice. In fact, it can make the difference between me entering (and remaining in) your establishment and me departing never to be seen again.

As a rule, I try to use Comic Sans when I type anything. This is because it is the easiest font for me to read (even at 12 point). It might not be considered to be very appropriate for business communication but – if you ask me – anything I cannot read can hardly be considered as appropriate for business communication (the clue is in the word communication).

Another thing which puzzles me is the wide range of font sizes in books. It would appear that the more “cerebral” the subject the more useful I would find the use of a microscope to actually read the book.

It is good job I managed to train myself at school to read print up to two font sizes smaller than I am comfortable with – otherwise my reading material would be seriously limited. (It is not only the elderly who make use of larger print reading material at times so why isn’t “larger print” used as standard?)

I am a member of the public who has a sight problem – my brain is in full working order (in fact, it can – and sometimes does – operate in two languages at once). This means that if you supply me with information in a slightly larger font than you might otherwise do it will get read and acted on. You never know – it might be the difference between you receiving my custom in future and me never darkening your door again.

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When The Inside And The Outside Don’t Match Up (Or – The Disappointing Bus)

There is something quite odd about the town where I was born. It might well be on the same island as where my Dad was born but it has got way more in common with the city where my Mum was born than the one where Dad was born.

My Dad was born in landlocked Leicester and my Mum was born in Rotterdam. Me??? I was born in King’s Lynn in Norfolk. If you have never been there it is a port town with a large river. It is also seriously flat (to the point where Leicester could almost be considered to be on mountainous terrain in comparison).

Yesterday I had one of my occasional bouts of missing flat surfaces and water (and I couldn’t get to Rotterdam) so I decided to go back “home” for a few hours.

I caught the train to Peterborough because I knew there was a bus between Peterborough and King’s Lynn.

I rarely get excited about travelling by bus (it is my most usual mode of transport after all) but I had seen the X1 trundling between Peterborough and King’s Lynn when my Dad had driven me in his car.

The outside of the bus looked really posh with its electronic destination board with white letters on a black background (much easier for me to see than the usual orange letters).

This had made me think it would be as nice as the X1 between Coventry and Birmingham. (Now – that is the best “executive” service bus I have ever travelled on.)

Unfortunately, it was just like the bus between my house and Leicester city centre (with a couple of tweaks). It didn’t have any charging points for mobiles but it did have an almost impossible to read display telling you the names of the next stops (complete with a voiceover which had obviously been nicked from Google Maps).

I hadn’t exactly been expecting a Rolls Royce type of bus but I had expected something with a bit more luxury.

Anyway – I ended up in King’s Lynn, where I wandered around for a bit (I did think about going to see the hospital where I was born but I decided against it) – then I started the journey home.

I thought the bus back to Peterborough might be a bit more like I had expected but it wasn’t.

The other annoying thing was – even though I had caught the bus to King’s Lynn from outside Peterborough railway station, the bus back dropped me off at the bus station. I eventually located the railway station after an impromptu exploration of the Queensgate Shopping Centre – as well as a walk around the outside of the bus station (there were no signs telling me how to get from the bus station to the railway station).

When I eventually found the railway station I had to guess which platform the train to Leicester would leave from. (Luckily I remembered following a Guide dog from Platform 6 when I got off the train in Peterborough so I thought the train to Leicester might go from Platform 7 and I was correct.)

Surely – with a station the size of Peterborough – there would be some way of having a screen on the footbridge between the platforms telling you which platform which train leaves from??? Especially when you consider it is also a station on the East Coast Mainline.

I may sound like I am being picky but – if I had not timed my trip back so I knew I would do the majority of it in daylight – I could have ended up seriously panicking about whether or not I would get home again. (I don’t like being in strange places on my own in the dark – especially if I have to interact with strangers.)

Sometimes I wish the people who were in charge of planning public places (particularly transport hubs) would consult people like me so they could design places which were actually “user-friendly”.

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The Funny Thing About Language

Here is a question for you – if someone left you a note saying “the key is on the plank” would you include all possible planks of wood in your search for the aforementioned key? Or would you assume you were looking for a loose plank (which may or may not be propped against a wall)?

That was the situation which my English Grandparents faced when they found the above note written by my Mum. After searching the building they were in my Grandparents did indeed find the key where Mum had left it. Minor problem was – my Mum had used the Dutch definition of “plank” (and her in-laws couldn’t speak a word of the language). If they could understand Dutch their search would have been a lot shorter as they would have looked on the “shelf” where Mum had put the key.

Growing up hearing two languages spoken (sometimes in the same sentence) was an interesting experience. There are some words in Dutch which sound like English ones but (like the “plank” versus “shelf” above) mean something totally different.

For example – my favourite word for a settee or sofa is the Dutch “bank”.

What sparked this train of thought off was reading a book on English Grammar written by Professor David Crystal.

Professor Crystal pointed out that the rules of English Grammar have to change as the usage of the language evolves (even though I am a native English speaker there are some things I find odd about it – the lack of distinction between the “formal” and the “informal” you, for example).

There is one “rule” in English which has never made sense to me – it is the “I before E except after C” one. My brain has been hardwired into thinking that the placement of the I and the E change the pronunciation completely. A good example of what I mean is the difference in pronunciation between “piece” and “Einstein” – nobody would pronounce those two the same. (I have an interesting way of remembering how to spell “experience” – tweak the pronunciation to how it appears to my brain. This means that – instead of saying “experience” – whenever I want to spell it – I say (usually in my head) “exper-ie-nce” so the “ie” sound matches “piece”.

My Dad and I still sometimes speak to each other in a mix of Dutch and English.

It would have been my Mum’s 75th birthday today. She is the one responsible for my love of language and playing with words.

My favourite times (when it came to listening to her speak) was when our English-speaking friends got unexpected Dutch lessons as part of a conversation – usually because Mum had forgotten the English word for something, used the Dutch word, and carried on in English. The poor human she was speaking to would then get a description (in English) of whatever English word Mum had forgotten. (What they didn’t realise was they could be thankful she actually described it to them. Me??? I had to guess what she meant. If my ears picked up what sounded like “board” and Mum and I were either standing in the kitchen or discussing food, for example, my mental phrasebook would flag up that she meant a plate.)

There was one word she never used the English definition of in my earshot (she never used it when she was speaking to me anyway). My ears picking up “mess” would not be translated as “untidy” – they would send me towards the nearest knife (mes being knife in Dutch). She had enough Dutch words to describe a mess without needing to add any English ones.

Language evolves according to how we use it, we just have to make sure everyone can easily understand what we mean.

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Some Friendly Advice That I Wish I Had Taken Myself

I don’t usually use this blog to discuss things which are happening in my “private” life but I wanted to tell you about something important which may end up saving your life.

A few months ago I ended up in hospital rather unexpectedly. I have been given a diagnosis of Terminal (even though they never mentioned the word – they just talked about Palliative Care) Breast Cancer and Heart Failure. Don’t worry – I intend to stick around for a long time yet.

We are all told what to look for when it comes to checking for Breast Cancer. However, not that much is advertised about the symptoms of Heart Failure.

One of the major symptoms – and one of the first ones – is swelling of your feet and legs (as well as them turning a very perculiar colour).

So – next time you take your shoes and socks (tights, stockings, etc) off please do the following – and do it before you put them on as you get dressed as well.

Look at the top of your feet. Do they look swollen??? Touch them – can you feel the bones without having to press down??? If the answer to question 1 is “yes” and/or the answer to question 2 is “no” I suggest you make an appointment with your GP. Even if it is not Heart Failure it could be something equally as life-threatening.

Remember – breathlessness is a more recognised sign of Heart Failure but it is not the first one.

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