Michiel has been playing a new game on his phone for a while… and he’s dragged me into it. I managed to delay as long as possible (pleading uni work, VCH – more about that in another post) but today, one of the hottest days of the year, I finally succumbed and had a go.

Its surprisingly good fun – at least, it is when you’re not slugging down drinks because of the heat – 30*C in the shade is NOT the days to be out and about!

Enlightened portal

A portal in action – how its seems on our smart phones. The green swirly thing is an Englightened Portal. Resistance Portals are blue.

If you want to know what Ingress is, then click the link (wikipedia) but, in a nutshell, and for those a bit less IT-savvy: its a game, using the GPS signal on your smartphone, linked with google maps. The computer server that the game talks to takes your phone GPS and works out where you are, and puts it onto a map – in that sense, its no different to a satnav. What is different is what happens next. on the server, overlaid on the maps are”portals”, which can be hacked, different pieces of equipment can be deployed around them, theycan be attacked, and they can be linked to form fields. Each player collects points; points relate to their level, which relate to the strength of the portals that they attack/set up in the game.

So far, it sounds pretty much like a standard computer game, right? Here’s what makes it different: you can’t play it at home. You have to get out, take your phone to the physical location that matches the location on the server map, where it picks up that GPS signal, so it forces you to get out and about and explore. The game is also split into two sides, two factions, if you like – The Englightened (green, or froggies) and The Resistance (coloured blue, or smurfs). You get better points for your faction if you work as a team; the aim of the game is to set up control fields (via linking portals together), but the game is never really won.

Oh, and this game is worldwide.

I loaded the game onto my phone, via an invite from Michiel last night, and this afternoon we went into Leicester city centre to have a go at playing. there were a few unclaimed portals where we set up resonators to support the portal, a few where the resonators were very weak and susceptible to attack (blowing up a portal feels surprisingly good) and a few that Michiel had to deal with. but we had fun. And at the end of it… I’ve claimed my own portals, set up links between portals, and created my first (rather small) control field. and I’m now Level 2 (out of – so far – 8). yay! More ingress playing yet to come!

first links

The first portals I claimed – and see there are lines between the top two, and also between the bottom three? those are links.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First control field

the first field. see the area between the three blue portals is sort of vaguely blue coloured? that’s a control field. its created by linking three (or more) portals together.

 

 

 

 

 

I just went back to read last year’s BADD offering. There, I confidently stated that I hadn’t experienced disabilism at uni and didn’t expect to. I wish… oh… how I wish I could say the same thing this year. But I cannot, and that makes me extremely sad.

I’m very unsure how much in the way of detail to give about this, mostly because lessons have been learned, which is the most important part. I feel its important to get that out there right away: that the response of the University was fantastic, they acted straight away to ensure that what happened that day never happens again to anyone else. Which makes it sound far worse than it actually was, but I do want to write about it… and the impact that it has had on me.

As part of my degree studies this year, I had to take part in a group project, delivering a group presentation which was graded – everyone on my course did. Its a fairly standard part of degree studies these days as so many people have to go on to take part in a group project or give at least one presentation in their working lives at some point and having the group project experience really adds to the C.V. I really enjoyed my group project. I won’t say what it was about, its irrelevant to this, but the people I was working with were fantastic – five of us in total and they worked really well with my interpreter, and made allowances for me the few times we had to meet without an interpreter (including the memorable, and unavoidable occasion we had to meet in a very noisy student’s union – and they were fantastic at scribbling things down!).

No, my experience of disabilism wasn’t from them; although one might have expected that. It came during the group presentation. We’d been told that we had to give the presentation to two other groups, we were all doing presentations on similar period of history, and we all had to listen to each other’s, and to pose questions to each other at the end of each other’s presentation – how well we responded to those questions would form part of the grading structure. I had arranged, since it was going to be a long afternoon, for two interpreters to be present, to spell each other. they were sat at the front, next to the people giving the presentation, in a largish room (and for a notetaker to be present – who was seated to the rear). the first presentation began: one of their team was late and kept us waiting for 15 minutes. Eventually they were told to start without him, which i can imagine rattled the team quite badly (and he showed up 5 minutes into the presentation, to murderous looks from his team!). One of the team then began to speak. He was undeniably nervous, whether the lateness of his fellow team member had made that worse, I don’t know, but he was mumbling and speaking very very quietly. Neither of the interpreters could hear him, and they were sitting 2 yards away from him! The assessors were at the rear of the room. The interpreter stopped him, apologised, said that she could not hear him and asked him to repeat what he had just said. he did so. the presentation continued. The interpreter had to stop him again… and again. On the third time that she stopped him, one of the assessors got up, came to her and asked her to stop interrupting him. The interpreter protested and said that it had been agreed with the other assessor that she could do this, and that She (pointing to me) had a right to access what was going on.

What we didn’t know then was that the assessors had been told by the university that they were not allowed to interrupt on the basis of not understanding what they were saying. If the presenters could not be understood they were to be marked down accordingly. This was to give everyone a fair chance, to make sure that each and every team being assessed was being treated equally. Which was fair enough; except that no one had told us. And it led to a situation where the Assessor was torn between making sure I had equal rights and obeying the rules governing the assessment (which were, and are, and need to be, as strict as the rules governing examinations, for example). Unfortunate, bad planning, yes, absolutely, but the only incidence of disabilism thus far was in the university’s failure to plan ahead and to see a situation where this could have arisen. Its not like they didn’t know I was there and the University has an AccessAbility office which should have been involved in the planning for this kind of thing – as it was, it was left to me and my interpreter to bring up the issue of communication support a couple of weeks before the assessment.

That much, I could understand, as could the interpreter, although we found this all out later. It was what the assessor did next that was really beyond the pale. When the interpreter protested that I had a right to access what was going on, the Assessor’s response was: “she’ll have to make do with the handout”. and that was the end of it – he sat down and the interpreter had no choice but to continue to interpret what she could hear, and do the best she could in a bad situation.

Now… this was disabilist on several levels. 1) it was directly discriminating against me, preventing me from accessing information on the same level as everyone else. 2) It was discriminating against me because it was telling the rest of the people in the room that it was okay to discriminate against me, that its convenient to shove the rules aside when it suits them. 3) The tone in which he spoke implied, and perhaps I am being oversensitive here, that he thought I should be damn lucky to get the handout and that I really should just siddown and shuddup and stop making his life difficult. And finally, it was actually discriminating against my classmates. By preventing me from accessing what was going on, it prevented me from asking questions at the end. The purpose of the questions is not just to be marked; it was also to give the group a chance to consider alternative perspectives from outside the group, which could then subsequently be built into their group report, giving them a chance to increase their marks, expose any weaknesses, and so on. While I don’t claim to be any kind of genius, by preventing me from being able to ask those questions, it essentially meant that any feedback I could have offered the other two groups was removed.

The assessor was someone who had actually taught me the previous year. He knows what I’m capable of. He has had multiple interpreters and notetakers in his class. He knows that this is not just a “tickbox exercise”, that this is a genuine need of accessing what is going on in order to contribute to the class. More to the point, and more shockingly, he was the Accessability Officer for the School of Historical Studies that semester. Part of his job is to liase with the AccessAbility office to make sure that all the material used by the School of Historical Studies is accessible to people with disabilities. For him to speak in the way that he did was not only unnecessary, but worse, disabilist as well. Not in a deliberate, “I hate disabled people” way (I’m sure he doesn’t, and would be horrified if he heard this story from someone else) but in an unthinking way, in the sense that deafness hasn’t impacted on him, that he hasn’t considered the implications of what he was saying. Which, in some ways, was worse than if it had been said with malice.

After this confrontation, I was extremely upset. I was shaking, angry, upset and distressed. That I managed to hold it together enough to deliver my own presentation was a minor miracle – I know it affected my delivery of it, rattled me enough that I stumbled a lot and it was anything but the smooth presentation I had given in the practice run a few days earlier. After the whole thing was over, and everyone bar the assessors had gone, I stayed to talk to them, along with my primary interpreter. I tried to make them understand how the whole thing had made me feel, but the assessor that had caused the issue was more interested in telling me that “I wouldn’t be penalised for the whole thing”, and refused to listen to what I had to say. In fact, he was NOT-listening and interrupting me so much that at one point I had to actually stop him and says “I was talking, would you actually do me the courtesy of letting me finish?”. I think he realised he had messed up and just wanted to be anywhere but there, which is understandable on the human level but… honestly? If he had just apologised and explained what had caused the situation and apologised for his reaction, that he was caught on the wrong foot, we would have understood. Neither of us (my interpreter and me) are PC-mad, we would have understood that, c’est la vie. Shit happens, as my father-in-law is wont to say – and let it go.

I was ready, at that point, to put in a full complaint and take it all the way to the top. The School’s reactions – or, perhaps more accurately, the reactions of the Head of the School and the other assessor, pre-empted that. the head of the school heard what had happened, realised it must not happen again, and asked the other assessor to write a report suggesting changes to ensure it didn’t happen again. That assessor asked both myself and the interpreter to meet with him to discuss what had happened and to make our own suggestions for avoiding this. We did, and the report was subsequently written. I am told that future presentations will be changed so that no assessors are put in that position again, and that some deaf awareness training will be included as part of the “giving a presentation” lecture that we all received as part of that module before the presentation. Other things have also been put in place: its clear that the University understood that what happened was unacceptable and that they needed to step up to the plate – which they did.

I haven’t seen the assessor since. I remain very angry about his reaction, because I have received no apology from him. I resolved to avoid having him for a dissertation supervisor, and thankfully, that has happened. I could well wind up with him as a teacher for next year. I don’t know how I will handle that if it does happen.

But more than that, I want to talk about how this has affected me. I feel disillusioned. Not about the University (their response was great and if anything I’m really proud of how they handled it). But about the individual. I had hoped – perhaps foolishly, perhaps naively, that things were getting better, that people were understanding more, that the idea that someone disabled should “have to accept things” had gone. Its clear that I was wrong.

This happened last December. Since then I have been plagued with dreams – no, nightmares – of an extremely misogynistic, disablist company I used to work for about 15 years ago. A company that tried everything they could to get rid of me after first hiring me to make themselves look good on the equal opportunities sheet. I don’t think its a co-incidence that they have come back after 15 years – the incidence at university has stirred up a lot of bad memories. But all that makes me wonder: Am I over-reacting – is it the bad experience from 15 years ago that is driving my feelings about what happened at that presentation last December? I find it very difficult to seperate the two – and I know that part of the anger I feel towards that assessor has to do with blaming him for stirring up all this stuff, making me have to deal with it all over again. And I need to be careful: that when, and if, I do have to deal with him again, that I don’t unfairly blame him – he isn’t responsible for what happened 15 years ago.

What is clear is that since then, I have been … ultra-sensitive to any potential incidents of disablism at uni. One of my teachers is foreign; her attitude and an incident in class made me question whether she was expressing prejudice towards me on the basis of my disability. I had to get external verification that she actually probably wasn’t, before I could let it go within myself (the teacher in question knows nothing of this, this is an internal battle). I hate that ultra-sensitivity, that anger. That’s what I mean about being dissillusioned. I feel like one of those ultra-PC people who go around with massive chips on their shoulders, seeing prejudice everywhere, even places it really doesn’t exist. I don’t want to be that way. I really don’t.

Few links to photo sets, and an update of our summer….

In June we drove to Germany to stay with Michiel’s parents for a couple of weeks. We daringly decided to drive, having just bought a car a few months beforehand. Michiel was a little apprehensive about the idea of me driving on the “wrong” side (as was I, if I’m honest) but in the even it went swimmingly, and I only had a couple of problems. Unfortunately when we were returning from a visit to the Netherlands to visit with his family a small deer ran out in front of us and I was unable to stop or swerve to avoid it. It was killed on impact, fortunately (and not running around the woods in pain). Fortunately there was very little damage done to the car, just a bit of dented bodywork – and a rather shaken me! We also visited Osnabruck, to look at the Cathedral and the Liturgical Museum which was amazing, had BBQs and went strawberry picking under a blazing blue sky. We had a fantastic time, having the car made a lot of difference to our freedom while there, and next year we plan to drive to the south of France to stay with his parents there (they have a caravan down there).

Holiday Photos

In July my mother’s church hosted a 24 hour “entertainathon”. I offered to make some cakes/buns for this, and we went down to help. I got roped in doing flowers for the church, doing an arrangement I was very pleased with, and I was pretty pleased with the varieties of cupcakes that I produced too! Took the opportunity to take photos of the fields surrounding Mom’s church, as well as photos of the event but I can’t post those on a public forum, alas.

Entertainathon Photos

In August Mom visited for her birthday and we went to Donington-le-Heath Manor house, near Coalville. The friends of Donington were hosting a “Donington at the home front” day, with lots of demonstrations of crafts and a live fire exercise from the home guard! Mum and I had a lovely afternoon wandering around the gardens and house, and jumping at the bangs coming from the demonstration, and talking to the various volunteers.

Donington-le-Heath

Just a couple days ago I visited St. Mary in Arden, a ruined church in Market Harborough, Leicestershire. its very picturesque and well worth a visit. I returned a couple days later with the camera, and these are some of the results. I’ve visited other properties but i keep forgetting to take the camera, so this is all the photos there are! I also visited St. Dionysus (the main church in Market Harborough) but the photos of that visit were hurried and not so good.

St. Mary in Arden

A mini update: In terms of my uni studies last year, I’m pleased with the vast majority of my work. I just missed out on a first across the whole year, but that doesn’t affect my final degree grade – all that is required from the first year is to pass (40% or above). Full details, as ever, are on the education page. With regard to my health and diabetes, my weight has been steadily creeping up again, and my blood sugar with it, so I have to make an effort to get that under control again. Jess is fine. Another dog attacked her earlier this summer, cutting the skin around her eye quite badly and shaking all three of us up and necessitating a trip to the emergency vets. But with antibiotics and lots of TLC she was soon back to normal. She’s getting old and slowing down, sleeping a great deal, but otherwise, is fine. Like many of Britains cats and dogs she contracted fleas this summer, so we had to deal with that too. She definitely didn’t like the scratching! The house is good as well. we settled in very quickly and have loved this summer, being able to sit outside in peace and quiet. I developed a little garden in the yard, out of a series of pots, which has been lovely to watch and potter around in over the summer as well.

Garden Photos

So on that note I’ll leave you to enjoy my garden photographs… till the next update!!!

 

 

“It’s May 1st!”, I yelped as we sat down to eat our evening meal. I’d spent the day either driving Michiel van Wessem to the range/home again, or with my nose in books, researching The Black Prince, and why his death in 1376 was so critical for England. The fact that it was the first of May had completely passed me by. And this is important because….?

B.A.D.D., of course! Blogging against Disabilism Day!

Posts on this subject in previous years can be found here: Demonisation of the disabled (and sadly, but not surprisingly, nothing has improved, a year on – if anything, its worse), People like Me (not written by me), Researching disability in ancient Greece, Expectations and Stereotypes, I don’t suffer from disabilism, and Prejudice from “your own kind”. I missed it in May 2010, but otherwise I’ve posted every year.

I think I’ve written some about my experiences of disabilism in Further Education (which is what I was doing this time last year) but not yet on my experiences in Higher Education. Granted, I’ve done less than a year of Higher Education so far, but hey, this is where i am so this is what you get 🙂

Its very different to Further Education. There, I ticked the box on application to the college to say that I had a disability, wrote down the nature of my disability and the college did the rest. Provided notetakers, interpreters, did an assessment, the lot. All i had to do was to get my backside into class and pay attention. And do the work, of course! If I sound somewhat cynical its perhaps because getting ones backside into class, let alone paying attention, seemed to be beyond some of my classmates. Still, that’s by the by. My notetaking team at The Manchester College were wonderful. I Miss them!!! *SOB*… they were damn professional, proper deaf notetakers – that came equipped with a laptop, a connected notebook so that I didn’t even have to sit by them if i didn’t want to, and since the classes were 4 hours long, they came in pairs so that they could spell each other. Notes were emailed to me at the end of the session and they wrote down EVERYTHING. Or tried very very hard to! Some of my more juvenile classmates thought it hiliarious to say swearwords to get the notetakers to write that down. That didn’t last long, and a bit of deaf education awareness soon sorted that one out (good thing I’m not shy with doing presentations is all I can say!).

At Uni, the onus is on you to sort yourself out. That sounds harsh – it isn’t, if you need help in getting sorted out then it will be provided, but they do want you to do as much as you can on your own. Before you start at University you have an assessment by an independent assessor, who writes a report back to Student Finance England making recommendations on what kind of funding/Equipment/personnel help should be available, and Student Finance England accepts that report. This assistance is not repayable, unless you drop out of uni without a good reason within a certain amount of time, but otherwise, they just seem to accept that its required (Cameron and Co – are we making notes?). My assessment was done last summer – a very simple process, a 2 hour conversation with a lovely chap and it was all sorted before I even got to Leicester. I’d already been in touch with the Disability unit at Leicester so they knew I was coming even before the assessment landed on their desk, and I’d given them a heads up on what I required.

My initial experience of the unit was… well. lets just say it rang some warning bells. I’d told them what I needed – i.e. an electronic notetaker. Their response was, i’m afraid, less than stellar – “We don’t do electronic notetakers”, in a tone which very much implied “you’ll take what you’re given, missy, and be grateful for it”. Thank god for my assessment, is all i can say – I’d found an electronic notetaker through my old notetaker, who went to a conference and met someone there from the Midlands who she thought might be able to help – and i’d given her details to the assessor, who listed her on my assessment report. That meant she could bypass the unit. Its a little known fact – students do not have to accept what is given by the unit, if they want to go and find their own support, and arrange for their payment by Student Finance England, they are perfectly entitled to do that. Once the Unit realised that I knew this and was perfectly capable of doing so, AND that i knew what i was talking about (i.e. I wasn’t just throwing a strop and demanding an electronic notetaker to be awkward), and that I’m a mature student their tone seemed to change completely – and I’ve had nothing but excellent support since. Well.. from the unit, anyway.

Unfortunately, my electronic notetaker could only be with me for some of my lectures, because she has other bookings, so I was still reliant on the unit for other notetakers. Initially they teamed me up with a guy who used a computer to take notes, but who isn’t a deaf electronic notetaker in the same way that my other lovely lady is (*waves at Jill*). What Jill does is to take as much information down as possible, including things like pronounciation and so on, and puts a dictaphone at the front so that she can listen to the lecture afterwards to be sure that she’s gotten all the important information. the other guy simply wrote basic notes. He wouldn’t put a dictaphone  at the front to go through later – “I don’t have time for that, I notetaker over 30 hours of lectures a week!” (which is, perhaps, fair enough – for each hour of notes, i think Jill works about 3 hours in total, including the hour of the lecture). The notes he wrote were note format – what a hearing student, listening to the lecture, might note down. Which is fair enough, and perfectly fine for someone with a different disability to mine, whose ears work just fine but for some reason isn’t able to make notes of their own. For me, its not enough. If i struggled, for whatever reason to understand the lecturer, then that standard of notetaking left me clueless – sometimes worse than that, because there was very little in the way of explanation of things in the notes. I remember coming home from a lecture one night early in the semester and burst into tears, i found the whole experience so stressful, and threatened to quit there and then. Of course, i didn’t, but when the man couldn’t make it and a handwriting notetaker was sent instead, who gave me twice the amount of notes (Even by hand), I realised that electronic doesn’t necessarily equate to quality and asked for that notetaker for the second semester instead.

This semester has been better. I’ve had better notes – I’ve still got Jill, and two other notetakers who hand write notes for me. Jill also encouraged me, as a communication support worker, to consider alternative methods of communication for lessons outside of lectures, such as tutorials and seminars. It became clear quite early on that notetaking as a form of support for fast moving group work was less than ideal and Jill worked with me to find a level of sign language support that i felt comfortable with. I’ve since extended that to work with two other interpreters and things are much better – even if it means i sometimes have to show up for tutorials with two support workers in tow – my interpreter and my notetaker. My Entourage, I call them!

The teachers, lecturers, have been nothing short of fantastic. Every single one, almost without exception has been supportive in terms of making powerpoint presentations available to me after the lecture, being clear about speaking to me direct outside of the lecture, making a real effort and I love each and every one of them. I just hope it continues next year (I gather that one lecturer who teaches a second year module refuses to make powerpoint presentations available – if this is the case, then we’re going to butt heads over this. I just hope i hear wrong!).

From my classmates, I’ve had similar reactions. There’s the initial fascination with the interpreters – its a common mistake to want to watch the interpreter when you’re talking, and completely understandable! – but it soon wears off and they seem to accept me for who i am. I think my age causes more of a divide for them than my disability, to be honest – and that’s perfectly fine, that’s understandable and i don’t want to foist myself on them. They’re friendly when i see them and I have some of them on my facebook account. 🙂

Very different reactions to the experience I had last year in Further Education!

Have I experienced disabilism in the last year at University? Not by the University, and not from my classmates. Which is a real relief, and assures me that perhaps there is less far to go than we think. Then again, given the demonisation of the disabled in the media, and by the government, perhaps its a case of one step forward, five steps back…

Encouraged by the adventures of a mutual friend, Michiel was keen to try air rifle shooting, and when he found out that one of our local clubs offer a one hour taster session, we agreed to go along and have a go at it for an hour.

This was the second place we’d visited – the first was an archery store north of Leicester which we’d gone along to look at how much the equipment would cost for me, and then found out that they also did air rifle equipment, as well as having a range – but I was very very impressed with Kibworth. We walked in and introduced ourselves and despite not telling him, despite my hair being down (and thus covering my hearing aids), the man on reception picked up on my deafness and made sure to talk directly and clearly to me. The Instructor (Richard, lovely chap) was even better – positioning himself so that I could see him clearly, making allowances for my deafness (e.g. for safety, if a whistle is blown, we down guns – I asked him to tap me on the shoulder instead. Not needed, but it was good he was so deaf-aware) and I saw 2 people in wheelchairs so they were very disability friendly. Big plus to them!

The session itself was great fun! In the end we shot for longer than the hour we’d booked, and it absolutely flew by – we were given instruction in how to use the gun, the ones we were shooting were called PCP air rifles which use compressed air to propel the pellet – how to hold them, how to load them, use the sight, and so on. Very clear, very straightforward, then he let us lose on the range, encouraged us to go for a close by target first, then work backwards up the range. Each target was a steel cut out of an animal with a small circle cut out in the “kill” zone, when you fire through the circle, it knocks a piece of steel backwards, which you can then “reload” by hitting your next shot at the reload button at the base of the animal. Here’s a picture:

Normal steel target - the circle in the middle is the kill zone and when primed, the circle has a backplate to it that has to be knocked down by shooting the pellet through the hole.

You can see the circles where you have to shoot quite clearly. Once we’d done the nearest target, and reloaded it, we were encouraged to move backwards through the range, as the more distant targets present a different challenge:

The range

I went to the one right at the back and got the shot I wanted – which kind of startled Richard, a bit, I don’t think he expected me to get that one straight away! I then moved forward to a squirrel in the middle of the range with a really tiny circle…. and had a lot of problems with it, it was very challenging. Richard suggested I try one of the other targets instead and I glared at him and told him firmly “oh no, I don’t give up – I’m gonna get that bloomin squirrel if it kills me!”. He laughed, said “that’s me told!” and helped me by using the scope on his rifle to tell me where my pellets were hitting, and then set up a paper target to calibrate, to “zero in” where I was shooting and to adjust the scope:

Zeroing in - see how tight the shots are?

He was pretty impressed by this – good tight shots, all aiming the cross hairs at the scope. the target is around 20cm square, and this was shooting at 25 yards. tight shots is what you aim for – once they’re tight, you can adjust the scope, but if they’re all over, then you’ve got bigger problems. After this procedure he told me to try again at the squirrel, and to my delight, I got the bloomin’ thing!!!

That bloomin' effin' squirrel!

After that, he pulled out two 20cm sheets with 5 small targets on, set them up at 25 yards, and told us to shoot against each other – cue lots of joking about if Michiel wins, he’s walking home! – apparently this is the normal size of targets used for shooting competitively at 25 yards, so. five shots each, one on each little target. Here’s mine:

Competitive Targets

I won’t post Michiel’s (for that, you’ll have to look at his blog) but I can tell you that I scored 35, Michiel scored 28. So he got home safely. LOL. I think Richard was pretty impressed by both our shooting – although Michiel has shot before, I never have, only archery – which of course, has transferrable skills. It has, however, left me with a dilemma – I was going to take up archery again (its a sport I enjoyed a great deal as a teenager, and I was pretty good at it) and leave the shooting to Michiel but I did enjoy myself a great deal this afternoon, so while on the one hand, its good to know I haven’t lost my “eye”, so to speak, on the other, I am now very torn, and I have to decide which sport to take up over the summer. Can’t afford both, as they both involve expensive equipment. GAH…. I hate decisions like this!

Still, it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and I look forward to Michiel, if not me, spending many happy hours at Kibworth!

Its a minor miracle I don’t have a hangover. I think because I stuck to white wine, but I certainly drank enough to get me quite merry!

We went, last night, to a French restaurant we’ve both been longing to go to for a while, which serves very very good French food. Le Bistrot Pierre, a lovely little bistro in the heart of Leicester… and which absolutely made our night. From the waitress (who was charming, cheerful, who seemed to display a sixth sense about when she was wanted and when she was not: thank you, Kerry!) to the decor, the food… it was not a cheap night but it wasn’t about being cheap. If we’d wanted that, there was a McDonalds over the road! We threw caution to the heavens, ordered what we wanted, and to my surprise, when the bill arrived, it was not as expensive as I had feared. Win-Win on all counts!

We arrived and were promptly shown to our table by Kerry (Michiel having booked ahead). The restaurant wasn’t busy – we were seated towards the back of the restaurant, sharing a room with one other couple, but that was perfect for us! Kerry advised us on wine selection to go with our food – unlike most restaurants I’ve been in, most of the wines on their wine list are available by the glass (and two sizes of glass as well, in some cases) as well as by a half bottle and a full bottle. This gives great freedom in trying wines, especially if you are new to the whole wine thing, as I am, which was lovely.

I started withSalade de betterave et chevre (‘Warm trio of beetroot salad, including honey roasted golden beetroot and striped ‘Candy’ beetroot, served with goat’s cheese, lamb’s lettuce and garlic croutons’). This was delightful – not at at all what I expected. The beetroots were sweet and tangy, which offset the tanginess of goat’s cheese wonderfully, the croutons giving a welcome crunch factor in a plate that would otherwise have been devoid of that element. Although its marked as a vegetarian option I would recommend it to non-vegetarians, its that lovely.

Michiel had Sardines Grillees (‘Grilled Sardines with confit red peppers, salsa verde and a dash of pernod’). This is not something I would have ordered at all (sardines being filled with tiny bones – which I have a horror of) and initially Michiel struggled with it, before finding the knack of lifting the meat from the bones without ending up with a forkful of bones! He said later that he felt a fish knife would have helped with this. He carefully picked out a small piece for me to try, ensuring it was bone free, and I was quite surprised how subtle it was. In the past when I’ve had sardines, the flavour has always been quite overpowering, to the extent that it was difficult to taste anything else. This was subtle, present, but allowed the sweetness of the fish to come through as well – and I had no difficulty tasting the salsa verde that he slipped to me immediately afterwards.

We were also served a basket of French bread and butter with the starter. In these days where french sticks are so easily available in the supermarkets its a joy when you’re reminded just how good GOOD french bread can be – this was soft in the middle, slightly crunchy on the outside without the dryness that you can sometimes get in inferior french sticks that makes eating it almost a journey in pain. They hadn’t stinted on the butter either: small packets of Lescurebutter, which gave a lovely salty flavour (without being over salty) that puts most packaged butter in the shade.

We each had a glass of Basa, Verdejo-Sauvignon Blanc (‘Telmo blends a little sauvignon blanc in with the local Verdejo grape. The result is subtly unconventional and delicious’) from Rueda in Spain which was lovely – not at all dry and without the crisp acidness that you can sometimes get with whites – I would happily have this again.

For our main meal, I had Supreme de Poulet (‘Chicken supreme with apples, Calvados, smoked bacon lardons and caramelised onion). This was delightful – I polished off every scrap, with the exception of the skin, which had been left on the breast (and which Michiel gleefully polished off instead). The apples lended a sweet note that wasn’t at all odd in a savory plate, and while I had expected the bacon to add a certain salty note, it didn’t do this at all – just a lovely subtle bacony undertone to the chicken, which was allowed to shine through as the star of the dish in a way that rarely happens. I had a glass of Sancerre (‘Aromatic, complex, lithe and elegant’) from the Loire Valley in France which was the only wine I didn’t much like for the evening. It had that crisp, acidic bite that many like, I suspect, in a white, but that I don’t. However, Michiel encouraged me to finish the glass at least and I’m glad he did because by the end of it I was picking up some of the other notes behind the initial tartness, which were quite lovely and subtle. But not a wine I shall be repeating, I think – although this is personal taste and certainly not in any way a ‘bad’ wine.

Michiel had Epaule d’Agneau (‘Overnight slow-roasted shoulder of lamb with minted pea puree and Roquefort butter’) and this was absolutely divine. Quite the star of the evening, it melted in the mouth, so unbelievably tender in a way that quite belied the fact that it had had a long, slow cooking – and wasn’t dry at all. The sauce with it made Michiel close his eyes for a moment’s concentration on the flavour, and when I dipped my fork in it, I did the same – the depth of the sauce was gorgeous. He had this with a half bottle of Cotes du Rhone (‘Grenache based blend with dashes of syrah and mouvedre. A lightly perfumed combination of pepper, spice and berry fruit’) from Le Pas de la Beaume, France,  which was the recommended red to go with the course (if you look at the menus, which are available on the site, you will see that some of the courses have specific wine recommendations which is a very very good idea, I think). This was a rich, deep wine with very little of the tannin bite that I dislike in cheaper reds, and complemented the lamb beautifully.

Both of us were served two little side dishes: a sort of Dauphinoise potato dish, which I think had some cheese in as well, and a red cabbage dish with a spice I initially struggled to identify until Kerry thankfully cleared the matter up: cinnamon. Quite surprising and very very nice.

After our main course plates had been removed Kerry cheerfully asked if she could interest us in the dessert menu. “ohhhh YES!” was the reply which earned us a merry laugh. I chose Cafe Gourmand (‘A platter of small desserts – mini citron flan, mini tart-tatin, raspberry sorbet and mini chocolate torte’). This can be served with an espresso coffee, but I chose to forgo that and instead indulged in a chilled glass of Muscat de Saint Jean de Minervois (‘Sweet, fruity, floral and utterly unctuous’) from Domaine de Barroubio, France. This was glorious – a nectar I could happily drink for the entire meal, although it certainly would not go with any of the other foods! The platter was glorious – one difference from the description – the sorbet was a strawberry sorbet, not raspberry, but this really did not matter (and I only realised it when typing this just now). I tried the mini chocolate torte first – at first glance, it looked like a small, slightly bigger than bite sized chocolate cake, quite simple and unprepossessing. Cutting into it with my spoon though… the cake oozed a chocolate sauce that was hidden in the middle and I gleefully said “ooh Chocolate Fon-don’t!” (for the uninitiated, chocolate fondant has failed so often as a dish on Masterchef (the TV series) that its now called “Chocolate Fon-don’t”). Although small I wasn’t left feeling short-changed in any way at all – the rich, chocolate velvetiness was wonderful. Next time I shall certainly go for the Moelleaux au Chocolat (‘Chocolate torte with whipped maple and Grand Marnier cream’) which I think the mini chocolate torte is based on. Next up was the strawberry sorbet – sorbets can be a little wishywashy but this wasn’t. It was almost more strawberry-ery than a strawberry! Placed into a small bowl with a mint leaf delicately placed on top, the strawberry flavour refreshed my mouth and left it aching for more – which I found in the form of the mini tarte-tartin, which tasted almost like a toffee apple, deep, rich, and unctuous – of all the four desserts on the platter, this best matched the wine, I think, although all went well with it. Finally, the mini citron flan – lovely and lemony, not tart but not oversweet either – that balance is so difficult to get right – with an unexpected crisp layer ontop of the tart, where I think a blowtorch had been run over to create a sugared layer to give a lovely crisp snap in the mouth. Gorgeous. My only gripe is that I wanted to order it all over again and I didn’t have room in my tummy!

Michiel ordered the Plateau de Fromages (‘Our typical rustic French cheese board of: Brie de Meaux, Tomme de Savoie and Bleu d’Auvergne, served with biscuits, celery and red onion confiture’), which he had with Quinta do Crasto (‘Intense, powerful and peppery port – ripe flavours of raisins and dried figs’) from Duroro, Portugal. The port was simply lovely – I got warned off taking too big a mouthful by a possessive Michiel! – and with the blue cheese, it was toe-curlingly wonderful, you simply had to close your eyes and wish the world away to concentrate on the flavour. I wasn’t too impressed with the Tomme de Savoie – the first time I have tasted this cheese – but Michiel liked it well enough and it was his meal! The Brie was lovely too but nothing could match the loveliness of the bleu d’Auvergne with the Quinta do Crasto, for me, after that – Stilton and port aficionados will understand the loveliness of that pairing, although this was more subtle, with more depth, than the average Stilton and port combo.

Would we go again? Oh.. yes. in a heartbeat. tonight, if we could afford it, which sadly, we can’t! The restaurant does special evenings though, ‘Soiree Gastronimique’ and ‘Dine with Wine’ evenings that may be a little cheaper for us than last night’s dining from the a la Carte menu, and I am sorely tempted to go and try their Breakfast or Lunch menus. Part of me is tempted to wait and try their Spring/Summer menu when it comes out. Quite when we will return I don’t know but I do know that we will!! Thank you, Le Bistrot Pierre for making our anniversary night so special!!

Every now and then a date comes by where you stop, sometimes just for a moment, sometimes for longer, and just think about where you are, where you’ve come from, where you want to go. We all do it, different dates for each of us, although some of us have dates in common, such as 9/11. Some dates are more personal. For Michiel and me, its today.

9 years ago today I stepped into his arms and whispered to him to never let me go. He never has. That sounds terribly romantic, but its not the sop to cupid that it sounds. That never letting go has meant heartache and pain and growth and love for us both. Somehow, we’ve clung on together, while the waves and tides of our lives have dashed us around, sometimes near the rocks, sometimes out to sea, sometimes into calmer waters, but always, always, we’ve managed to cling to each other, one of us always holding on even when, temporarily, driven to the brink by the pain of the moment, one wanted to let go.

We don’t stop, I think, he and I, to consider the beauty of that, or to honour and reflect on the strength and determination that has allowed us to maintain that grip on each other.

But today I want to change that. Yesterday, I stopped outside a lecture theatre and reflected on where I was 9 years ago – then, I was attending a friend’s wedding with Mom and Dad. It was a period of my life that heralded great changes: I’d just ended one relationship in very very upsetting and painful circumstances. I had to close down the home I was then living in, and I had no job, no future. Everything I had depended on up until about 4 weeks before that point had vanished, except my family and friends. I remember Dad driving us home that night and looking up at the moon and wondering where my life would go, reflecting on the changes that were to come. I suppose I could have been excited by the chance to change where I thought my life was going up to that point, but I don’t remember thinking that way. I think I was still too wounded at that point for that.

I’d met Michiel online a few weeks before we met in person. It was a friendship that grew into something more, although we both agree now that it was too soon, for me, especially. But despite the problems that came afterwards, in that moment when we met for the first time, a connection was forged that has withstood everything that’s been thrown at it for the last nine years.

In those nine years we’ve withstood a breakdown (mine), depression, unemployment, illness, antisocial behaviour from so-called neighbours that drove us both almost to the wall. We’ve withstood family problems, deaths (from my dad and grandmothers to his grandfather, to friends, who died far far too young), a cross-country move and the beginning of my studies. In that time we’ve both changed a great deal. I can only speak for myself here; but I’ve grown as a person and now bear little resemblance to the wounded individual I was nine years ago.

And its that connection, in many ways, that has enabled that growth to happen.

Thank you, Michiel, for never letting go. I love you.