A branch of the WI was founded where I live this year, and I was excited about it after hearing about the WI from cool people like Cerys Matthews who had a feature about it on her radio show. I went along to an early meeting where our adviser was telling us about the history of the WI and its founding principles sounded marvelous to me: about tackling the problems of isolation and limited scope in life, specific to women -- especially a hundred years ago when it was formed -- to promote women getting together, educating each other in whatever they were skilled at (which is how it gets its reputation for things like jam-making, the hokey stereotype seems to be borne out of the idea that everyone has something valuable to teach as well as to learn, even if it's just their special recipe for a particular dish) and working on various political but non-partisan causes of their choosing. Even in the fifties and sixties they were about things like STDs so again, not so stuffy as the WI's reputation might suggest.
And over the year I've met some good people and the regular groups for things like crafts and walking/hiking as well as one-off days out have been really good for me. It's how I met the person who gave me the idea to include interviews with other people in my Kickstarter book.
But despite how great it's been, it's also been kind of difficult too. Attendance started to dwindle. I didn't see my fellow poor, queer, foreign, chronically ill/disabled etc. women around so much any more.
Communication was breaking down. When I said I'd consider standing for the committee next year, a few of the friendly acquaintances I'd made that had been committee members this year started sharing things. Concerns that hadn't been addressed. Procedure that hadn't been followed -- those hundred years of the WI come with a lot of formal structures! A few of us decided we wanted to try to get on this year's committee and...well, I've got a page of notes somewhere that has scribbled across the top "Democracy - Transparency - Inclusivity" because that summed up what we were aiming for.
We got our nominations in and agonized over little biographies of ourselves to go along with them. We all turned up to the Annual Meeting -- me with a migraine, a friend with terrible acid reflux from chronic illness, it was that important! -- mostly sat together at the back of the room, and sat through the formalities of officer reports and the strange voting system the WI uses.
Then we had to wait while the votes were counted. I'd made pumpkin pie, as I'd promised way back in the summer I'd do at the meeting closest to Thanksgiving, and a lot of people were telling me it was nice, many of whom had never eaten it before! One person said it was her favorite bake all year and even if no one else thinks so I'm happy to take the accolade of being somebody's favorite out of a whole WI in a whole year!
Then the new committee was read out, one name at a time. There had been fifteen on the ballot and twelve would be elected. My friends and others said that whoever got elected we'd be happy with. Mostly it was new people, not returning committee members. The list, like the ballot, was read out in alphabetical order and people were asked to come up to the front as their names were called. So I saw Pat and Zoe and others go stand at the front, and my heart rose each time. Then I heard Tas's name, and Tas was the one I wanted to be our new president -- the presidential election was done separately afterwards out of the people who've been elected to the committee, so of course it was a vital first step towards being president that she get this far! We clapped after every name was read but I clapped extra frantically for that one.
But then I realized: Tas's last name is after mine in the alphabet.
I wasn't elected.
The list went on and my friends' names kept getting called until I was the only person left sitting in our section of eight or so seats at the back. As soon as the new committee had been announced lovely Katy, who'd been so good all year at making sure things were accessible to me, getting me cups of tea if it looked like I'd just spill mine over everyone if I'd tried, and just generally being kind and awesome, came over to me and said "oh, Holly, I'm so sorry..." and sat down next to me to give me a hug. And it was only then that I felt a little sad, but I think I managed to keep my cool and say I was all right and that's the way democracy goes. I was all right, really, because I knew the new committee would do good things and that I could probably even still do what I would've done as a committee member without being one: we'd made it clear in our discussions of how we'd like the WI to be that one of the first things to go would be the kind of us-and-them mentality we'd encountered from some of this year's committee.
The committee stayed at the front of the room for the presidential election, where you just write the name of the person you want on a slip of paper, and Tas did win. I was overjoyed.
Then everyone came and sat back down again and I had lots more hugs and people telling me they were sorry I hadn't made it. We'd all worked so hard in sorting things out and getting ourselves this far that it did seem harsh for all-but-one of us to make it -- I told everyone not to be silly but I know my heart would've broken for one of them if our situations had been reversed. Tas the new president sat down next to me, wrapped her arm around me, and said I was still one of them and would still be helping out.
In a funny way, losing was better for me emotionally than winning would've been. Having lost meant I could see that my new friends -- almost all these friendships borne out of the adversity of this first year in our WI -- really did value me and the contribution they thought I could make.
The new committee had proper paperwork to sign and things, and ideally a bit of a handover from the old committee, but they'd said they were going to the pub after and did I want to go with them. I felt a bit sad at being the Not-Committee-Member among the new committee while I was waiting, but in the pub I was repeatedly assured that I had been co-opted and by the end of the evening I was in the new facebook group for the new committee members.
The other two who were unsuccessful in the vote were also approached and invited to join in anyway, since anyone who wants to contribute enough to have put themselves up for election is, our new president reckons, the kind of keen person we want helping out and we all have different skills and interests and whatnot. One wasn't interested but the other is apparently delighted at this but health problems haven't permitted us to spend time with her yet. I don't know her well but I know she brings diverse perspective and connections that can only be a good thing for our WI.
And in a way this has been perfect for me too: the person who didn't want to be on the committee expressed some of the same reservations that I'd had -- people didn't want me, they wanted someone else, so it'd be unfair for them to get stuck with me anyway -- and I saw how the new committee didn't feel the same way at all which put my mind at rest a bit on that score. And the person who is interested means it isn't only me who's been co-opted onto the committee so I feel less like an exception has been made for me because the committee's made up largely of friends of mine -- that's exactly the kind of cliquiness I want to steer well clear of. But I've been reassured on that, too.
It's sort of the best of both worlds, losing! It's nice to feel wanted, to have people sad that you didn't make it onto the committee, to get lots of hugs, to still be wanted and welcomed. It's only been a week and we've got so much to catch up on, so many ideas, so much to talk about. We're all excited and only slightly daunted by the prospect of what our WI can do in the next year.
This might be the only election of 2016 that went the way I wanted it to, but I'll take it.
You ask me questions or give me prompts to write about particular things, and I write a post for each of the prompts sometime in December, up to one a day (I don't think it will be anything like every day, and I'll be away for part of December).
I'm happy to answer most questions and it's OK to ask even if we don't know each other very well.
Why is the employment rate among disabled people (46.7%) so much lower than for non-disabled people (80.3%) and how can the gap be closed? pic.twitter.com/6se7ITFW2u— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) November 28, 2016
I've had lots of nice messages from friends, family and even the people from Scope I talked to on Friday about this. Most of them have been about Gary.
I'm a bit sad my own family can't see me on TV -- while also kind of glad because they Don't Think of Me as Disabled and I'd worry they'd think I was complaining -- but I thought maybe I'd see about finding some nice stills from the video and getting them printed as proper photos for my family's Christmas presents. Seems a bit self-absorbed but I'm sure they'd like it. They don't have many pictures of me anyway. And none of the dog!
In the morning, I saw that SurvivorKatie had linked a tweet at me about a focus group Scope were doing for visually impaired people. "It's a chance to get paid for what you do anyway!" she said, which made me smile. I told her I'd e-mail the guy for information like the tweet said to, but that I'd bet it's in London.
I e-mailed the guy and he e-mailed me back questions and details that didn't mention the word "London" anywhere (usually there's just a postcode or borough name hidden somewhere...) but yep, it was in London. So I wrote back to nicely suggest that they might like to include that fact in publicity for future such things because it saves the likes of me wasting their time (but I didn't say it like that, I said it in a nice way).
And I actually got a nicer reply than I expected: the guy said he'd only moved to London a couple of years ago and he'd gotten annoyed at how London-centric everything had been too. And he asked where I live since there are other things like this in other places.
We were e-mailing back and forth in between me getting ready for the day: I got dressed, walked the dog, all that kind of stuff. I was going to have a cup of tea with a friend, my new Bluetooth keyboard (Xmas present from Andrew) was arriving for my new tablet (birthday/Xmas present from mother_bones) was supposed to be arriving which I was looking forward to, I was going to the pub with the rest of the new WI committee that evening...it seemed like a nice enough day.
Just as I was getting to my friend's house, my phone pinged with an e-mail: it was from this Scope guy and it said something like "well actually we're looking for someone to do a media opportunity this afternoon, pre-record for the BBC for Monday, would you be interested?" I didn't look at it that closely, but I thought that all sounded okay so I wrote back yeah, sure and rang my friend's doorbell and didn't think much about it.
In the time it took me to drink about three cups of tea, I'd suddenly become this guy's favorite person because I think I'd solved a problem for them on pretty short notice. And this wasn't even going to be BBC radio like I'd been on a couple of times before, it was BBC Breakfast -- morning TV! They were going to talk about the "disability employment gap" and wanted a disabled person on who'd had trouble in, or getting, work. I was like hell yeah, I have opinions about that: If I had a job that didn't make me worse, it'd solve approximately all the problems in my life (while giving me a bunch of new ones, yes I know, but at least they'd be novelties).
As is the way of these things I was starting to hear slightly conflicting stuff and soon talking to a bunch of different people. After a few more e-mails and phone calls, what had changed to being a pre-record done over the weekend somewhere local to me (either my house or something like a cafe, and I was like...uh, yeah, cafe please, my house is awful), it suddenly became "right, I've got your address to tell the cameraman, he'll be on his way over really soon." I wasn't even home yet myself, I was still sitting on my friend's sofa when I heard that.
So I ran for a bus back from Reddish and on my way called Andrew and tried to explain. "He's coming here?" he said.
"I...guess so? I don't really know."
"But have you told him about our house?! Have you told him about Gary the Wonder Dog?! Why don't you go to Inspire instead?" All valid points, I felt, but there wasn't anything I could do about them.
I got home, needed a wee, but my phone rang again and the cameraman said he was leaving now so should be here in 30-45 minutes. I had enough time to wash my hair and put on a slightly-less-scruffy top. Andrew helped me pick everything up off the floor and furniture so it was at least possible for people to walk or sit down in our living room.
I was by this point anxiety-attack levels of anxious, though not exactly having an attack, and it was all about the state of me and the house rather than about the interview!
While I was waiting for the guy to show up, I talked to some Scope people about about this, what they'd like me to say if I could -- though they repeatedly emphasized that I should only say it if I actually thought it and not to worry if I didn't manage it. I think they were pretty grateful they'd found someone to do this and the guy I'd originally spoken to seemed to think it was as funny as I did that it'd turned out this way. "We're going to do this all backwards," he said, "because you'll do the interview and then I'll catch up with you and get details from you for our Stories project..."
And then the guy finally turned up and he was very nice. Since the dog, as always, went mental because someone had knocked on the door, I greeted him with "Sorry, I should've said we have a dog, I hope you're okay with dogs!" He was very okay, which was lucky really...or in another way, maybe not, because if he hadn't been maybe we could've gone to Inspire after all!
But then Gary wouldn't have ended up a TV star. But also nobody would see the piles of dirty dishes in my kitchen! "Swings and roundabouts," as the locals say.
Both of these things (dog and dishes, not swings or roundabouts) were used for "sequencing shots" -- the "look this is a normal person who does normal things!" kind of thing that's there to break up a talking-head interview, because really who wants to look at my stupid head for the whole two minutes or whatever they'll use.
I had to do everything twice -- play with Gary, put food in his bowl, pretend to wash one cup (so I guess at least if I look like I have a kitchen full of dirty dishes, I at least also look like I am actually going to do them!) -- so it could be filmed from different angles, and the whole thing seemed slightly surreal. I wasn't nervous about it because on some level I couldn't convince my brain it was really happening.
The guy was a bit self-conscious about all the faffing, messing with lights and doing things from different angles and whatnot, but I didn't mind at all because I was clearly a very small cog in a very big machine, and I could just wait to be told to do things and I didn't need to care if they were silly or confusing things. And it's not like they were difficult things. It was quite relaxing, actually!
Oh and as for what I talked about, I have basically no idea. My memory goes to shit when I'm anxious anyway. I do remember talking about Occupational Health being so shit when I started my NHS job, I hope that patronizing cow who tied my shoe for me hears herself being talked about on the telly, except I'm sure she doesn't remember it...). I probably talked for 15 minutes or so and they'll use two minutes of it and I have no idea which two minutes.
But you can all find out, if you want! It's apparently going to be on at ten to seven tomorrow morning, me pre-recorded with some employer in the studio saying no doubt that I am wrong about everything.
Anyway, what Scope asked me to mention is that there's a Government consultation going on into "helping disabled people find employment" but maybe we can convince them that the reasons we're not finding it are to do with employers disabling us rather than us just thinking life on benefits is so easy and nice that we can't be arsed getting a job... I'm going to try to write a response to the consultation, anyway, and would encourage any of my disabled chums to do so too. I'm happy to talk through or help anyone with that, if it'd help.
My grandma, meanwhile, has just been told she has macular degeneration.
If you're going to die, don't die on a holiday that isn't on a fixed date. It means in future years the date of your death and the holiday will be on different days, and it makes two very difficult days. Last year, the twenty-forth of November was almost a week distant from Thanksgiving (which is always on the fourth Thursday of November) and I thought that was worse. But this year they're on the same day, today obviously, and my mom finds that harder.
So I'm glad they're able to do something different from how they usually spend Thanksgiving. My dad's sister and her partner have moved this year, they're fixing up what sounds like a nice house out in the woods in northern Minnesota, it sounds lovely. But it's also lovely because it's something new, because they're not doing what they always did, they're not surrounded by several generations of my mom's family without having their own children there. My aunt and her partner have grown-up children who are scattered around and who I don't think will be around this weekend. And since it's a long enough drive they're not just going for the day like they would if they were going to my mom's sister's, they're staying for the whole long weekend, which will keep them away from the whole holiday palaver, the Black Friday sales and the traffic and everything.
But I miss them. I didn't get to talk to them last week before they went, which is a shame. Thanks to Skype I should be able to talk to them at some point while they're at my aunt's, but still. I worry that they think I'm somehow unaffected by this because I'm not there, and we don't have the holiday. But I am, and I'm affected differently precisely because of those things.