A primer on planning applications

 Posted by at 00:45 on 20 January 2015
Jan 202015
 

One thing I do on a regular basis is look through the local planning applications and consultations. It keeps me informed about what businesses might be going in where, or expanding; the Derbyshire and Peak District National Park ones in particular educate me about town names beyond the area I know well; and, of course, it keeps me abreast of anything I may have strong feelings about one way or another.

I don’t actually know how the equivalent of planning applications might work in various places in the US. For one, as I keep reminding my UK friends, each local place in the US has its own rules and regulations, so “how does this work in the US?” is rarely a question that can be answered in a sentence or two if it’s the truth you want. For two, I didn’t get involved in this stuff when I lived there, so I don’t even know how it worked in one place. I can only tell you how it works here.

Why people file planning applications …

First, we’ll talk about planning applications. When someone wants to modify a building or plot of land, they have to put in a planning application. I think they only have to do this for modifications that can be seen from outside, unless the building is listed (that is, it has some special historical status, so it is protected), in which case all modifications seem to have to be submitted for planning application. In and around the Peak District National Park, rules are stricter in order to keep it looking nice, so some things must be applied for here that aren’t applied for elsewhere, as well as restrictions on materials used that I’m told aren’t enforced elsewhere – things like our stone buildings, or at least buildings that look like stone, as the price of stone buildings becomes prohibitive, and slate roofs (again, or slate-look roofs), and so on. I see ordinary householders applying for permission to change their windows – I hope this is because of these tighter restrictions because of the park, and not more widespread than that.

When someone wants to change the use of a building or piece of land, this requires a planning application, too. Currently, there’s one for a change of use in the Glossop Market Arcade from a clothes shop to a nail salon, for example.

When the planning department grants planning permission, they usually do it with a number of conditions attached. Once the applicant has fulfilled one or more of those conditions, they then need to come back and file another application, a Discharge of Conditions. This means they’ve met it and they need permission to proceed with the rest of what they want to do. Often they need to show the planning department the materials they want to use, or more specific blueprints, or another bat survey, or some such, before they can proceed to this or that step of the development.

Commenting on planning applications …

Anyone can weigh in on any planning application that they want to. The planning officer or committee charged with deciding that application should consider all submissions (including source and what was said). Naturally, lots of hard feelings abound when the planning decision goes against popular opinion, but people forget that they’re dealing with bureaucrats – they have to tick boxes. They have rules they have to follow, and as with all bureaucrats, it works best if you speak to them in their own language: most of them can’t translate.

If you want to comment on a planning application, don’t just write, as I see so many people do, “This is a stupid unneeded thing, don’t let them put it here!” or something vaguely like that. Realize that when they reject planning applications, they can’t use that argument at all. They must, instead, use their rules to reject it. Go find those rules and tell them what rules the proposed thing would break. Loss of amenity is always a favorite.

Finding the rules was great fun for me, starting from scratch with absolutely no knowledge of how the UK government works, when I first was riled up enough to object to a planning application, but I managed it. I spent about two days familiarizing myself with the regulations, and then another day drafting my eight-page letter telling them, rule by rule, all the ways I could see their proposal broke the rules. After that, I’m familiar with it, so it doesn’t take nearly so long when I get riled up enough to comment on an application. What are these rules? All of us in the UK have the National Planning Policy Framework to start with. After that, check here (type the post code or town you’re interested into in that search box near the top) to see what local authority deals with planning there. If you type in Youlgreave, for example, you’ll get a drop down menu – Youlgreave has both the Peak District National Park Authority and the Derbyshire Dales District Council to contend with. Choosing the local authority you’re interested in gives you a host of links; the Local Plan link is the one you want.

For the Glossop area, we have these currently:

  • High Peak Borough Council Local Plan – until the one currently being reviewed is approved by the Inspector and published, we’re using the 2008 Local Plan (pdf) (link)
  • Peak District National Park Authority Local Plan – (link)
  • Derbyshire County Council Minerals and Waste Planning Policy – link
  • National Planning Policy Framework (pdf) (link)

Planning applications have to abide by all of the policies for the jurisdictions applicable for their site, so figure out which those are, and then go through these rules and find which apply to the application you’re looking at, and use those rules to bolster your argument.

You can read more about the process on wikipedia. Another good summary is on the website of one of the local councillors, Anthony Mckeown, here.


Right, I came here to tell you about a particular case I’ve tripped upon today, but this primer has grown so long that I’m going to leave it to stand on its own and share The Case Of The Caravan Park with you in another entry.

I PASSED!!!

 Posted by at 18:11 on 3 December 2014
Dec 032014
 

I have a UK driver’s license!!! I passed the driving portion of my bureacracy test yesterday!!! Yippeee!!! πŸ˜€

DSCF0169

Finally done with that idiocy!!! It’s not a test of how to drive, mind you. There are a few elements of driving in there to fool those who don’t look very closely – you have to make the car go, stop, and steer it. But if you’ve not passed one of these in the past three years or so (or ever), realize that they change all the time. What sorts of things did I need to know and do to pass? I won’t remember them all for this write up (I remember them better when doing them, while driving), but here’s a sampling:

A sampling …
  • When you get in the car, adjust the seat first, and then the mirrors. You’ll get docked if you adjust the mirrors before you adjust your seat, even if you then adjust your mirrors again.
  • Remember when adjusting the seat to check the head rest* for yourself and your examiner, and adjust if needed. (*It’s a head restraint in the literature, which makes me have visions of strapping your head to it…)
  • Before setting off, do your 6-point sweep to make sure you see “everything”:
    1. Look behind the passenger, in the blind spot
    2. Look at the passenger’s side mirror
    3. Look out the front window
    4. Look at the rearview mirror
    5. Look at the driver’s side mirror
    6. Look over your shoulder, in your blind spot. Remember to show the examiner the back of your head this time.
  • Every other time you check either blind spot, don’t turn your head – the book tells us this is dangerous, since you could “lose touch” with what’s going on in front of you. Only give a “quick sideways glance” to see what’s going on over your shoulder.
  • When setting off from being parked at the side of the road (which you’ll do about half a dozen times during the test), put your blinker on if any road users are about to benefit from it, but otherwise don’t. If there’s a pedestrian on the sidewalk near enough to you, then yes, but if they’re far enough away, then no. If they’re working in their garden, then they’re not a road user, so no.
  • Every single other time, use your blinker when turning, changing lanes, etc.
  • Handling the Steering Wheel: Always hold it with two hands, unless you must operate something else vital like the gear shift, the handbrake (emergency brake), windshield wipers, etc. Your left hand always stays on the left side of the wheel, and your right hand always stays on the right side of the wheel. This isn’t strictly necessary, but the “feeding” or “pull-push” method of steering has become so widespread and engrained in instructors and examiners that it was easier to develop the habit in myself than to run the risk of having an examiner who didn’t understand the finer points.



    The requirement is that you maintain complete control at all times. They no longer require that you have your hands at 10 & 2 (or “ten to two,” as they say here), so there’s some flexibility: you can try 9 & 3 if you prefer. I never did push it and try 5 & 7, though. πŸ˜‰ This one took quite a bit of practice to engrain in myself – I’m so used to just using the heel of my right hand to spin the wheel to make a turn. (That’s going to horrify my British readers just like it horrified my driving instructors – they believe you’re not in control of the car when you do that, because “what if you hit something?”)
  • A maneuver is defined as anytime you change speed or direction.
  • To make any maneuver, do this sequence, in this order:
    1. Mirror: Check your inside mirror. Make sure there isn’t someone too close to do whatever you’re about to do. The examiner has to see you look in your mirror.
    2. Mirror: Check your side mirror. If you’re turning left, check your left mirror to make sure there are no bicyclists or motorcyclists coming up beside you. If you’re turning right or passing parked cars, make sure there are no motorcyclists coming up beside you (they like to sneak between the lanes of traffic, which seems to actually be legal), or anyone passing you.

      If you’re on a bend and can’t see anything out of the “appropriate” mirror, check it anyway. It’s a minor fault if you don’t. You can then go on to check the mirror you can actually see something out of, but you don’t get extra credit for this, and aren’t encouraged or discouraged to do this by the book.
    3. Signal: There are a lot of signals to use; I can only remember two right now. (1) Put your blinker on. (2) Touch your brakes so the brake lights come on. Don’t signal before you check your mirrors; that’s a minor fault.
    4. Position: Get your car to the left, right, or center of your lane as appropriate, or move into the right-turn-only lane that’s just popped up, for example. The roads here being so much more narrow than American roads, this was laughable to me to start with. Turns out the answer is that in my town, the roads are exceptionally narrow – they’re wider in the town I tested in – and they have far too many parked cars, so it truly is laughable here (aside from the main roads and the new estates). In other towns, it’s less so – they sometimes manage to make cars narrow enough and roads wide enough and drivers used to having little enough space that they can squeeze past someone waiting to turn right, if that person’s scooted right up to the right edge of the lane.
    5. Speed: Now slow down (or speed up).
    6. Look: Look for other traffic when you reach a point from which you can see.
      • Assess the situation.
      • Decide to go or wait.
      • Act accordingly.
  • Major Maneuvers: There are 5 of these, and they’ll generally test you on 2.
    1. Turn in the Road: Also called three-point-turn, though you can take five points if you need (which is why they changed the name). You’re not allowed to touch the curb, or take more than five points. Make sure you look through the rear window when reversing. Stop and put the emergency brake on if a pedestrian comes along behind or in front of you or if a car decides to pass. When you’re nearly at the edge of the road each time, turn the wheels fully the other way so they’re ready to start the next bit. Don’t “dry steer” – steer when the car isn’t moving.
    2. Reverse around a corner: Find a side road to the left (usually). Pull past it about two car lengths, and stop on the left. Stay one meter (one yard) from the curb, reversing around onto that side street until you have about two car lengths of clear road in front of you. You have to look in your passenger’s side mirror to keep that meter from the curb, but you have to look through the rear window because you’re reversing, and you have to look all around every so often in case anyone’s come up in any other direction. If anyone comes up from anywhere, stop and wait, emergency brake on, until they pass. Very rarely, they use a side road to the right to do this, but that’s easier because you can just look out your window and see the curb.
    3. Emergency Stop: When the examiner says STOP, press the brakes very quickly (as if there were suddenly someone in the road). Pump them if necessary to avoid skidding (info on this is in the book).
    4. Reverse parallel parking: You pull up beside a car, lining yourself up with its headlights (if it’s pointed the right way). Then you reverse to park behind it (parallel to the curb). This is actually a good one to learn, provided you can get traffic behind you to stop and wait. Reversing in means you only need 1.5 car lengths of space free instead of the 3 car lengths the papers tell me you need to pull in forwards, and if you learn it well, you’re less likely to hit the curb. Curbs here are low, so it’s not actually such a problem, but in some places hitting a curb could give you a blown tire, so y’know, that’s useful to know.
    5. Reverse park into a parking bay: A lot like the reverse around a corner, but with less traffic and much more precision, of course. I routinely park this way (you can see so much better when you leave if you’ve backed in or pulled through), but am thankful it wasn’t another hurdle on my test – they only do this at test centers that have parking bays, and Buxton’s doesn’t.
  • At all times, the overarching mantra is DO NOT INCONVENIENCE OTHER ROAD USERS as much as possible. So when you set off from the side of the road, if there’s a car coming, you wait for it to pass rather than take the chance that it might have to slow down because you’ve pulled out. This is a judgement call, of course – can I get up to speed before that car catches up to me – so you just wait if there’s a car in sight at all, because the examiner will probably have a different opinion than you.
  • To be clear: waiting’s okay by me. I’m completely fine with waiting. Except for the bit where they get you for “undue hesitancy” – if you don’t go when they think you should, that’s a minor fault. We’re not to “hold up traffic unnecessarily.” In real life, the book warns us that many wrecks happen at roundabout entrances when the second person in line is watching the roundabout traffic and assumes the person in front of them has gone because they’d have gone, and rear-ends the first person because it turns out they didn’t go. Can’t teach people to look at the cars in front of them before they go, so instead we’ll teach people to go ASAP. Clearly this makes more sense.
  • Speed: Obviously you can’t speed. You don’t have to worry about going a couple over for a minute, so long as you bring it back down. But you also can’t go too slow. Obviously if you’re crawling along in traffic, then that’s that, but if you’re going 20 in a 30 for no apparent reason, that’s a minor fault. If you don’t get up to 60 on the country roads that are twisty, hilly, possibly being actively rained on at that moment, then that’s another minor fault. One student I was told about failed one test because someone passed (overtook) her while she was on her test. Her own speed didn’t even matter. Most of those roads are really short, so you have to gun it – but without flinging your passenger about – and get up to that speed before gently slamming on the brakes when that 30 sign pops up. One of those roads has a 60 zone for 0.2 miles; it’s so stupid. Another is a 60 road for a decent length, but it’s very narrow, and it has SLOW written all over the road with warning signs out the wazoo – I would rezone it to 30 at most, or possibly 20. Certainly when passing cars, 20 is the fastest safe speed because of the narrowness (see the next point).
  • Distance: You need to keep a meter (a yard) from the edge, generally. This means a meter from the curb, or the parked cars, or the wall alongside the road, or the hedge, etc. The rule of thumb is that if you have the space to keep a meter away, then you can go 30mph; if you can only keep 2 feet (2/3 meter), then drop your speed to 20mph; if you can only keep 1 foot (1/3 meter), then drop your speed to 10mph. Find or put something on your dash to line up to the edge (whether it’s the curb or the parked cars) and keep it there. I had lots and lots of trouble with this.
  • Put on your emergency brake (handbrake) when stopping with a pedestrian crossing in front of you. It provides a tiny little extra bit of protection to the pedestrians in case someone rear ends you.
  • Independent driving section: It’s such a misnomer. Anyway, so here’s what happens. For most of the test, your examiner says, “I’d like you to take the next left,” or “Please take the second right, on the bend.” Then, for about 10-15 minutes of your test, you’ll have one or a mix of three things for your directions happen:
    1. Follow signs – “Follow the signs to Macclesfield”, for example
    2. Shown diagrams – like these:
      independent-driving-test
    3. Given a list of directions – “Turn right at the end of the road and then go straight through the traffic lights,” for example.

    It doesn’t matter if you miss a sign and go the wrong way, so long as you do it safely. It’s hard to remember that in the heat of the moment, though, when everything else has to be perfect.

  • You can’t cut corners, which means go into the other lane when you’re turning. You have to line up the car so that you stay only in your own lane. You really do, because that’s what everyone expects, so you’ll cause wrecks if you don’t master this one, even though the roads are absurdly small.
  • Don’t brake or change gears during bends. You need both hands to steer in a bend.
  • If you test in a stick shift, you have to be in the right gear at all times. If you’re in the really wrong gear, the car stops going (voice of experience here), which I could understand counting as a fault. But no, they’re talking about just being one gear above or below what they deem you “should” be in. The book talks about fuel consumption considerations.
  • The book warns you to be gentle with the gas and brake so as to also use less fuel. This is fair enough, too, and to be honest, I’m glad they’re trying to turn out drivers who drive more gently: it’s far more comfortable for the passengers. I’m glad I’m already this kind of driver, but it does add one more thing to worry about to this laundry list – a sudden stop to avoid hitting something, and I’m not sure, is that a minor fault in this category? Is that in addition to a minor fault in the observation category? Hm.
  • You can’t curb check at any point – touch the curb or go up onto it. “The examiner will see that as though you’ve just driven over some pedestrian’s toes,” my instructor warned me, whether anyone’s around or not. It’s all presented as being about what COULD happen, possibly, maybe, perhaps. (More on this below.)

Three minor faults in one category will fail; 15 minor faults altogether will fail; a single major fault will fail.

I know I’ve left things out, but there’s a sampling to get you started.


M&Ms do what? …
It was a glorious day of sunshine - I remembered to take a photo while I was on the train.

It was a glorious day of sunshine – I remembered to take a photo while I was on the train.

With that Mirror-Mirror-Signal-Position-Speed-Look-Decide-Act sequence, I had a great deal of trouble with the first few – always the inside mirror, then the appropriate side mirror, THEN the signal. These are things the practiced driver doesn’t even think about – try to pay attention when you next drive to see what you do. I put my blinker on first, and check my side mirror first if I’m on a bend (which is what I’ll go back to, because it affords the best view). Position was an entirely new thing to learn; speed just sort of happened in conjunction with the first few steps, not as a separate thing later. The last few were fine.

I was so worried about that bit that the examiner has to SEE you check your mirrors. Chris and I joked about having to make exaggerated head movements. Thankfully, in the end, I didn’t need to. The one I had must have seen me check them, because I didn’t get any faults for not checking my mirrors yesterday.

I had so much trouble with the sequence, though, that I just chanted it to myself: “Mirror Mirror Signal Position Speed”. The night before the test, I stuck notes all around the house with MMSPS written on them. I didn’t mention to Chris what it was about at all. Later, he came to me:

Chris: “I’ve got it.”

Me: “What’s that then?”

Chris: “M&Ms Stop Police Sirens.” (He hadn’t actually told me he was referring to the notes around the house.)

Me: “…Well, I suppose if you get enough of them, and bury the police car in them … or possibly put them in a specific place to disable the soundmaker … What brings this on?”

Then he told me about seeing the notes. I laughed, and told him what they really stood for, which of course is far more boring. I’ve not forgotten Mirror-Mirror-Signal-Position-Speed, thanks to M&Ms Stop Police Sirens. πŸ™‚


Some thoughts …
There was a beautiful sunset.

There was a beautiful sunset on our way home.

Everything was that much harder because I already know how to drive. The bit of me that says, “That’s a stupid way to do that, it should instead be done this smarter way” – like checking the mirror that shows you nothing when you’re on a bend – just had to be shut up for long enough, and I just had to Do What The Book Told Me Regardless. That bit of me that was indignant at being treated like I didn’t know anything also had a really hard time; poor Chris has had more than his share of listening to me rant through this process. Truth is, it’s always easier to train someone from scratch than it is to retrain; one of my first bosses actually refused to hire anyone who’d had any previous jobs just so he wouldn’t have to deal with retraining issues. (It was McDonald’s, so he could do that.) The whole system is geared at those who don’t know how to drive; those of us who already do know have a really hard time. Of course, everyone rates themselves as an above average driver, so this means few like to be told where they need to polish up.

They want you to anticipate other road users’ needs and actions, but only to a point. They want you to look down the road, instead of focusing inside the cab of the car like a beginner, but I was chastized over and over by my instructor when I anticipated too much. You sort of need an intermediate level, so I had to back down what I would react to – but not too much. At one point, the correct answer was that I was better off causing a traffic jam (between parked cars, oncoming traffic, and what the car behind me was doing) than getting a bit closer to the car in front of me. Right.

It really isn’t about Just Driving. If it’d been about Just Driving, heck, it would’ve been a walk in the park – or easier, given my foot problems! It’s about doing things by the book, the exact way they want you to do them, to the level they want you to – only an intermediate level.

In the end, though, the vast majority of it comes down to luck. Obviously, you need to be able to make the car go, etc. But yesterday, the examiner was just in a really good mood: I curb checked coming around a really tight bend towards the end of the test and was sure I’d failed, but lo and behold, the examiner decided that no, “lightly touching a curb” was only a minor mistake and didn’t need a failure. I was thanking my lucky stars all day yesterday, and am still today.

I didn’t actually believe him when he said I’d passed. “Well, I’m pleased to inform you that you’ve passed …” he said words after that, but they all sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher as I reeled in disbelief.

I finally interrupted him to say, “I’m sorry, did you say I’d passed?” He smiled a bit and said, “Yes, you passed. You thought you’d failed when you lightly touched that curb, didn’t you? I could see it drain out of you.” Yep, yep it had. I’d checked everything else my driving instructor had said in the book to make sure he told me right (because we’re all only human), but that’s the one thing I didn’t check. I think the truth is that it depends on the examiner and their mood, and the severity of the curb check. Easier to teach the student to not curb check.

Oh, and? That “independent driving” section is really stressful for me, because reading road signs while simultaneously keeping everything else in mind to be perfect about is just about more than I can do. Guess what I got to do AT THE SAME TIME yesterday? That section – with a cop on my tail. Because I needed ALL THE STRESS, clearly! I think I absorbed it for the whole wide world for that particular ten minutes, actually. So much for being okay to go one or two mph over for an instant!


Anyway, it’s finally DONE. At last! We shall soon be properly mobile over here! Hip hip hooray!

This is what I felt like doing yesterday πŸ™‚

When I got home, I hopped on the train to go straight into Manchester to tell Chris in person. I took a book to read on the train, and happily read until a pair of males decided to sit near me and talk very loudly. Even my ear plugs (a vital necessity for public transport – I go nowhere without them) didn’t muffle them much. It was a good reminder of why I’d just put myself through this wringer. The indecently high train fare, and the 2-hour 17-mile trip also underscored that.

The sunset was behind us, but this picture came out too dark - you can have us or the sunset, but not both at the same time.

The sunset was behind us, but this picture came out too dark – you can have us or the sunset, but not both at the same time.

Yes, I’m looking very much forward to having my own car here.

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Third Pumpkins of 2014 & Anniversary

 Posted by at 00:29 on 20 October 2014
Oct 202014
 

Pumpkins3

Chris’ on the left, and mine on the right.

Batch two didn’t last quite as short as it looks – it took me a couple days to post them – but we did only get five days out of them before the mold was untenable, versus the seven we got from the first batch.


We’ve also enjoyed celebrating our anniversary today – seven years ago, we became boyfriend and girlfriend. Because we’re terrible romantics, we celebrate all three of our anniversaries: we set aside time to spend with each other, exchange cards, have a nice dinner, and come up with varying ideas to mark the occassion.

Tonight’s dinner was crawfish roban, a favorite we found at Semolina restaurant in New Orleans on our first joint visit to the city. Today’s main activity has been reminiscing of our most beloved memories of our relationship so far. Terribly mushy, I know. Then, of course, there was pumpkin carving and pumpkin pie eating tonight.

It’s been good. Hope you all had a good weekend. πŸ™‚

My Plantar Fasciitis & my foot injury

 Posted by at 07:35 on 18 October 2014
Oct 182014
 

I injured my foot lately, and am almost at the end of its healing time. I’ve had to explain it over and over again, and watch my friends’ eyes glaze over, so I thought I’d save us all some pain and just put it here so I could tell you all to come skim it at your leisure. πŸ˜‰

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On Monday, the 28th of July 2014, I was walking – just walking normally, on a sidewalk near high street – and I felt something go wrong in my foot. I didn’t put my foot down wrong; I didn’t twist it; I just took a step, something I’m quite well-versed in at this stage. It felt like I’d pulled a muscle in my foot. It wasn’t agonizing; it just hurt. (I’ve noticed that I have a high pain tolerance in those bits of me where I have pain often, and a low pain tolerance in those bits of me where I have pain infrequently.) So I limped on to where I was headed – about a mile away still – where I sat for about half an hour til it was time to go on – another mile to walk home.

Then I sat for about an hour, and when I got up again I could barely walk. I frequently have foot problems, so this was a bit odd in severity given the walking that’d happened (only about four miles in all), but not too outrageous, so I had a hot bath that night to ease my aching muscles, and then looked up pulled muscles online.

Turns out, you’re supposed to treat pulled muscles with cold, not heat. Oops. Oh, well, what’s done is done, and I still reckon it did help all the rest of my muscles. My feet have been messed up for years, and once you have foot problems, it causes leg and back problems, so all those muscles hurt, too. Hey ho. I mostly stayed off the foot for a few days, then it felt fine, so I went back to my usual routine and thought nothing of it.

2007_0810 DSC03094

I walk for transportation, so my usual routine includes around 10 miles a week of walking, give or take. We set off for Germany on Friday 15 August. The first part of the vacation (through the 19th) didn’t need to involve too much walking because we’d rented a car and were in the countryside. For the second part, though, we made our way through Munich on public transport, which always involves a great deal of walking. For 6 days, my feet hurt exceptionally, which severely curtailed what we could do. That was a bit frustrating.

I got back home, rested a bit, but was still in agony. Finally I got some friends to point me to which type of person I should see – there are podiatrists, chiropodists, and physiotherapists, and I was pretty clueless about what each did. They highly recommended a particular chiropodist, but he was headed off on vacation when I rang him up, and didn’t think he could help anyway, so he pointed me to a particular physiotherapist. He gave me some exercises to do, told me the importance of treating this with cold rather than heat when it gets aggravated, and explained what I’d done.

From Gray's Anatomy, via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

From Gray’s Anatomy, via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

If you were to peel back the skin on the bottom of your foot (don’t try this at home), you’d see a whole bunch of muscle fibers covering everything else – these form the plantar fascia. That day in July, I’d torn several of the fibers of it, and they needed to knit themselves back together again. It just takes time of not using the foot to do it. Every time I stood, and every time I walked, I tore them again. Aha; no wonder it hurt.

So the only thing that would heal it is staying off it long enough for those fibers to knit back together again – 8 weeks. Le sigh. He also referred me to a podiatrist to deal with my underlying foot pain issues, so I went there the next day, 9 Sept.

The podiatrist is an affable chap, and asked intelligent questions relevant to this bit of my health history, and listened. This was my first experience just going private so far in the UK, and it was a dream – I was treated properly, listened to, not rushed about, the building was clean. To be fair, I had this experience at one NHS place, too – Salford Royal Hospital – but that was very much the exception.

Anyway, so he diagnosed plantar fasciitis. What’s that fancy phrase mean? That thing I said about my injury, where I keep tearing the fibers every time I stand or walk? Turns out that my underlying problem – why my feet have hurt for the past decade – is that that’s been happening for ten years. Obviously to a lesser degree, since I’ve still managed to clock up ten miles a week normally. I’ve clearly broken more fibers just recently, concentrated in one particular area; this underlying issue is about muscle fibers all over the foot breaking. He confirmed everything the physiotherapist had said, including the 8 weeks of recovery with No Unnecessary Walking. Blegh. I’d learned that they were right on this the hard way by this point – the three miles I’d managed the weekend between my two visits to the physiotherapist had crippled me for days afterwards.

So, he took a mold of my feet to make some orthotics for me – custom ones for my feet, rather than the drugstore ones I’ve struggled on with all these years. The mold process was swish: he put plastic bags on my feet, and then these things that were like socks (ankle-high). About two minutes later, off came the socks, now hardened into casts. Huh! Here was me, expecting plaster of paris, but nope.

He sent those off to a lab, and two weeks later I went back to pick up my new orthotics. I made another agonizing trip to see him (by public transport again, and even though I did minimize the walking as much as possible, I was still very much injured) to pick them up on 23 Sept, and we got the fit adjusted, and he answered the questions I’d thought of in the meantime. I need to see him again for another followup next month, and then I think it should be all fine.

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So, home again to sit on my derriere for 6 more long weeks. The idea is that the orthotics will:

  • give me the support needed to speed the healing of this injury,
  • keep me from having the foot pain that has been a fact of life for a third of my tenure on earth so far, and
  • help prevent further injuries by having my feet supported properly.

Turns out, this and the injury I had two years ago – when I partially tore my achilles tendon (which is actually the same thing as your plantar fascia, just running up your calf instead of along the bottom of your foot) – would have been caused by this same plantar fasciitis. That was another one where I didn’t step wrong or anything, either. I’m now miffed that the doctor I saw didn’t think to have a podiatrist look at me to see why such a simple action had caused such a severe reaction (I couldn’t actually put any weight at all on that leg for weeks for the searing agony). Turns out, we all have to research and advocate for ourselves.

I’ve been very blessed to escape immobilizing devices (casts, boots, etc) for both injuries – those always look so very troublesome. I have, however, noticed that when you don’t have a visible thing like that, many people seem to not believe you that you have an injury. A boot or cast wouldn’t have done any good – I needed to not put weight on the foot, rather than keep it in a certain position, which is what boots and casts do – and the foot pain wasn’t bad enough (provided I stayed off my feet like they told me to) this time to put up with a walker or crutches, which make your hands and/or underarms ache like mad. I used a walker (zimmer frame) for my achilles tendon injury, and I ended up wrapping the handles in towels to try to deal with the pain. Haven’t they designed walkers and crutches with handles that don’t hurt yet?

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It’s a bit more insight into how invisible disabilities are disbelieved. I’ve had ten years of disbelief that there’s anything wrong with my feet when I can’t carry on walking as far or fast as others – after all, I’m only twentysomething or thirtysomething: I’m clearly lying about whatever my problem is. I’ve had it rephrased as “when you get tired” – no, honey, stabbing foot pain is not the same as getting tired. Why does anyone think that anyone might ever lie about what ails them? We’d all love to be spry and be able to do as much as possible, and not feel like we’re disappointing others because our bodies are giving out. Disbelief of invisible (and visible) disabilities continues to mystify me.

What’s been most difficult with this injury by far, however, has been missing seeing the season change. Fall is my favorite season. We have some trees we can see through the windows, and I have watched them change, but that’s it. Any places I’ve been, I’ve been whisked to in a car, windows rolled up (sensible because of the cold); a very sterile situation. Not seeing and experiencing things properly has been driving me slowly mad(der). Finally, last weekend, I couldn’t take it anymore, and Friday we walked down to the high street and did some shopping. I managed two miles (plus all the standing inherent in shopping) before my feet gave out, and was well pleased at that. The riot of sensation was pure bliss: smells, sounds, sights – it was sheer joy. The smells of autumn, especially, don’t permeate so much into my home: fires going, leaves decaying, crisp air.

Thankfully, I am healing – Friday didn’t do me in nearly as much as seeing the podiatrist last month did. Two and a half weeks left now on that 8 week prescription, so life is getting back to normal – though now I’ve caught a headcold! Hey ho, today was better than yesterday, so it’ll be gone soon enough. This, too, shall pass.

Second Pumpkins of 2014!

 Posted by at 00:08 on 17 October 2014
Oct 172014
 

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Another round of fun. πŸ™‚ My portrait of Cass the Scaredy Cat on the left, and Chris’ Cyclops on the right.

Click for more …

These are larger, but not particularly large yet. No names on the pumpkins yet.

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We went to Buxton on Saturday and took in the Great Peak District Fair, always a favorite in the fall. I enjoyed getting out and seeing the changing foliage, and snapped a few photos. πŸ™‚

We managed not to break the bus this time. That was a relief!

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Chris’ Birthday!

 Posted by at 18:02 on 9 October 2014
Oct 092014
 

Chris’ birthday was yesterday!

Happy birthday to Chris! (I really must remember to get the number candles next year...)

Happy birthday to Chris! (I really must remember to get the number candles next year…)

Unfortunately, I woke up with the worst crick in my neck imaginable, and he wound up spending the day waiting on me hand and foot! I managed to leave the heating pad a few times, in short bursts. Thank heavens this morning it was right again, just the barest twinges remaining to remind me of yesterday’s agony.

Anyway, I think he had a good day despite that. We hung out at home, he unwrapped presents, chatted to his folks and mine, he played some Kerbal Space Craft (a video game he enjoys), we had one of his favorite dinners – fish and chips – and generally relaxed.

Photos!

We also got a completely unexpected gift – someone from freecycle gifted us a projector, which I’ve been wanting for quite some time, wewt! It’s old, but it works perfectly, and that’s the bit that matters! Hooray! πŸ™‚ Now I can take it along when needed for my community groups’ meetings (looks like it’ll be in use at WI in November), and we can bore our friends with our vacation photos πŸ˜‰

But without further ado, photos from yesterday!

First pumpkins of 2014!

 Posted by at 22:32 on 7 October 2014
Oct 072014
 

Ah, fall!

We’ve carved our first pumpkins of the season tonight – Chris’ is on the left, and mine is on the right:

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They’re only small, these first ones we found. Larger ones will come later on. We both had other ideas for what to carve, but they’ll have to wait til the larger pumpkins come in. When they do, our local greengrocer’s staff members will start naming the pumpkins, which is always amusing.

We had a cinnamon candle burning, and a pumpkin pie in the fridge – Chris made it yesterday. He fell in love with pumpkin pie before he even knew I existed, so started making it way back then. He’s carried on – he makes a good pumpkin pie! πŸ™‚ We’ll have some later on.

And now our jack o’lanterns are doing their job: sitting on the windowsill, scaring away any evil spirits. We face one in for us to enjoy, and one out to scare off bad things, and light them both each evening. These’ll last about a week, and then we’ll get some more and carve them, and continue til there are no more pumpkins. It’s our annual October ritual; the small things sure do perk up the calendar.

The Discomfort of Thought

 Posted by at 08:55 on 23 September 2014
Sep 232014
 

When I was a small child, I trusted adults and authority figures greatly. I think most small children do. I was usually teacher’s pet; I vividly remember this being true in my second kindergarten (we moved part of the way through) and in third grade. I helped them with things without giving any thought to why or whether those things were important – like randomly checking to see if desks were kept neat and tidy. Today, I reckon it doesn’t matter if someone’s desk is tidy or not; everyone has their own system.

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So what changed my attitude? Mrs. Curly, in fourth grade. I lived in Hawaii for kindergarten through third grade (ages 6-9), complete with lessons in the Hawaiian language. (I can just about remember how to count to four in Hawaiian.) Then we moved 4,500 miles to Michigan for my fourth grade year. We arrived in time for the worst blizzard they’d had in 30 years; that was fun. Mrs. Curly, who had very curly hair, was my teacher. We got to the part in the textbook where it told us about the Hawaiian island of Kauai. We must’ve been reading aloud, I suppose. The text book told us to pronounce it “kow-eee”, which is completely wrong. In Michigan, Hawaii is a faraway, almost mythical land, so they’d never know the error, except here they had someone on hand who did know better. I raised my hand and told Mrs. Curly that no, the book has it wrong, it’s actually “ka-why-ee” (with a very brief pause between the second and third syllable, which is why modern spellings put an apostrophe in the word that wasn’t in my textbook). She decided that no, we’d use the book’s pronunciation. Little did she know what a watershed that moment would be in my life.

In that instant, I learned that authority figures can be wrong. I learned that you should never believe anything just because “the teacher says so” or “the book says so.” I’ve carried that with me my whole life. I’ve questioned, I’ve wondered, I’ve pondered, I’ve challenged, I’ve looked for evidence, I’ve disproven, and I’ve proven. As I’ve grown, this has expanded to other authority figures, friends, “common knowledge”, received wisdom, and so on.

I’m inspired to share this after running across this quote recently (thanks, Dr Mabry), from John F Kennedy’s 1962 commencement address to Yale University:

As every past generation has had to disenthrall itself from an inheritance of truisms and stereotypes, so in our own time we must move on from the reassuring repetition of stale phrases to a new, difficult, but essential confrontation with reality.

The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie β€” deliberate, contrived, and dishonest β€” but the myth β€” persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichΓ©s of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. [source]

Overall, this questioning attitude has stood me in good stead. I did well through most of academic life in large part because I asked questions and sought to understand how things really worked, rather than just learn by rote. I ran into one or two more teachers like Mrs. Curly who weren’t confident enough to deal with me querying things, and shut me down instead – but only for their classes. In my early working life, I was blessed to mostly have managers who were open minded when I asked why a process was run this way instead of that more efficient way.

In ordinary life, it means that when I moved to the UK and discovered the water isn’t fluoridated, I researched fluoridating water and learned that they’re not really sure it helps anyway (and it may in fact harm, but they’re really not sure), so then I wasn’t bothered.

By  Alias 0591. CC 2.0

By Alias 0591. CC 2.0

When I wondered about the idea – treated as gospel in the US – that we should all drink eight 8-oz glasses of water a day, I researched it and discovered that, back in the 1980s, the bottled water industry took something from a 1945 paper. Recommended dietary allowances by the Food and Nutrition Board of the US National Academy of Sciences (No 122, pages 3-18) “recommended daily water intake of 2.5 Liters. These guidelines were based on opinion, not scientific evidence, and suggested the majority of the 2.5 Liters/day of water intake be derived from prepared foods. This portion of the 1945 recommendation has been largely ignored.” [source; Snopes] Did you know that roasted chicken breast (meat only) is 65% water? [source] Yep, you’re getting water from your food all the time. The bottled water industry conveniently left that part out of its advertising campaign. Don’t drink eight glasses of water a day; just drink when you’re thirsty.

Very rarely, I have to turn down that part of my brain to get through a specific ordeal, but generally the questioning lets me get to where I can understand the motivations behind what’s going on, even when those answers are entirely unsatisfactory (the answer might be “because he’s only concerned with how anything impacts on him personally” or “for the money,” for example). I can cope far better once I can understanding why people do the things they do.

Always question. Always ask.

Even if only inside your head, always challenge the received wisdom until you figure out what’s really going on.

Home Comforts

 Posted by at 17:58 on 1 September 2014
Sep 012014
 

We went on vacation – twice in two years, I know, we’re such slackers. We were in Germany for ten days. More on that in future posts.

We got home around midnight Sunday night (the 24th); our vacation extended into Monday since that was a bank holiday. We picked up a few things here and there as the week progressed, besieged with life, as happens. I finally did a proper shopping trip on Friday. As usual, it took far longer than I expected it to – I always wonder how that happens. Hey ho.

On Saturday, I sat down to my lunch: A Proper Sandwich. As I devoured the bread from the market, lettuce and tomato from the greengrocer, meat from the deli, cheese from the market, pickle from the import store, miracle whip from one supermarket, and ketchup from another supermarket, savoring the wonderful medley of flavors, it slowly started to dawn on me why my shopping takes as long as it does…

It’s worth it. I’ve repeated that Proper Sandwich for lunch on Sunday and Monday, and the cacophony of deliciousness is well worth whatever it takes to create it. Man, did I miss proper sandwiches while we were travelling. I’ll have another tomorrow, and then I’ll be a sad panda because I’ll be out of this lovely blacky ham. Then I’ll likely have to suffer the gorgeous cheese and onion pie in the freezer from Marmalady, my favorite jam and pie maker from the local farmers’ markets. Oh, the humanity! ;-P