Monday, 23 April 2018

Mic Check Karaoke!

What if you really want to do karaoke but can't bear the thought of making an arse out of yourself with singing?

Simple answer: make an arse out of yourself by rapping instead!

Impossible on Peter St offers Mic Check Karaoke, a chance to blast out your favourite old-skool hip hop classics. Will I be there? Damn right I will. So will Manchester Cool Bars. We have a crowd going... I want you to make that crowd bigger. We're meeting on Thursday night at 8pm inside Impossible


I will be all over some classic Eminem tracks. Even if you don't want to get on the mic, join the meetup and watch everyone else, and if you're not going to join Meetup you should at least drop in to see me perform. 8pm on Thursday. Be there.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Karting, Farming and Reconciling

This week: I go-karted for the first time in about 20 years, with Andy's Man Club at Team Karting. Great fun. Surprisingly physical. Your whole body gets a workout as you yank it around a very bendy track at 60 mph.

I've also had my first Step-Up session at The Enterprise Centre Bury, a farmyard and training centre for people looking to build new employment skills. Step up, a week at a time, will be training up a group of us in project planning, practical skills and careers advice. I was put in touch with this free course through government scheme Get Oldham Working. Very interesting sessions, involving group work, business skills... and horses.


Looking forward to further self-development.

Last night I went to my 20-year secondary school reunion at Smokies Park in Oldham. Wow. I'm not going to lie, I was a bit of a loner in school so I wasn't sure who exactly I'd be hanging around with, and I had a few issues with a few people back in 1993-98. But I knew the time passed would eliminate all grudges. I was right- on the night, the people I hung around with the most were probably the people I had the most trouble with. These days, it's all good. That said, a lot of the people I hung around with last night were people I did get on with back then. I didn't exactly have a clique, so I spent a lot of the night mingling. A few people said it felt like therapy. Amazing retro pictures sourced from people from my year.

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Great night. The organisers put in a lot of graft to pull the night together, and it paid off!

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Hitting brick wall with the NHS? Try a different GP

Not my brain


It's no secret that I sustained a head injury at birth and that I've had memory difficulties my whole life. Something that I haven't particularly discussed, is that I wasn't properly diagnosed until I was 26.

I had visited psychologists throughout most of my life. Each time, the doctors- from what I could remember- gave me little bits of information about my condition. Most of the time these were sub-standard, partial assessments that didn't actually do anything to move me forward in any way. And, due to the problems themselves, I couldn't follow what was happening with these psychologists and their diagnoses. At 16, when I got to college, I was under the impression that I was straight-up thick. None of the previous assessments had correlated, and nobody the assessment had been sent to (special needs teachers etc) had asked me about it.

As things started to get difficult in college, my tutor thought that the problem could be dyslexia. I didn't believe him, but it didn't occur to me that I had psych assessments at home that would not only contradict the idea that I was dyslexic but would explain, to a certain degree, what the problem actually was. Hence, he guessed at dyslexia, a college support tutor didn't know any better so agreed with him, and them at university some years later a psychologist also didn't know any better so ran few basic tests and labelled me with 'visual memory / dyslexia.'

I carried this label for a long time. Between 16 and 25 I knew that there was a problem. I knew it had something to do with memory, but I felt like I was blagging the system by telling people I was dyslexic. Spelling was one of the only things I could do throughout school. A number of people ran tests on me and not one of them realised that the problem couldn't possibly be dyslexia.

By the time I was 25 I'd stumbled onto an employment scheme for adults with disabilities, and, surprise, I couldn't do the job. The 'dyslexia' was causing problems that nobody (other than me) predicted. The scheme sent a support worker to sit with me in the office. We'll call her JM. JM had a degree in psychology, and she started to help me put together systems that would help me in the office.

Within a couple of sessions, she'd got to the root of the problem. I wasn't dyslexic at all. I'd been misdiagnosed. Had I ever had a knock to the head? She asked. I showed her the pretty large scar on the back of my head. That's what it will be, she said. You've got memory difficulties from that head injury. You need to get reassessed, she explained. She mentioned The Beeches, an NHS department which, at the time, specialised in memory issues.

So I went to my GP. We'll call him Dr W. I asked him for a referral to The Beeches, explaining that the problems with my memory were causing a lot of problems and having an inaccurate label of dyslexia was making things a lot worse.

Dr W claimed that the Beeches was just 'for old people,' and that they wouldn't help me. He made a referral to some other department.

I went back to work to speak to JM. No, she said, your GP is wrong, they work with adults of all ages and they're waiting to see you. I've spoken to them, and all you need is a referral from your GP.

So I went back to my Dr W, and asked again. Okay, he said, I'll make the referral but you won't find the answers you're looking for at The Beeches.

I went to the Beeches, and the psychologist I'd been booked in to see wasn't there, so another psychologist had taken his place. He asked me a few basic questions about my background and education, asked if I could remember his name (I gave the name of the doctor I'd been booked to see, not his), made a few notes, and ended the session. He said he'd be in touch.

A week later he sent me some notes from the meeting, which I still have, which contained loads of inaccuracies. There were things detailed that I never said, he'd got the age difference wrong between myself and my sister, he clearly didn't understand how GCSEs worked and couldn't grasp that English Language contained an additional score for speaking and listening that didn't count as a separate GCSE, and of course he hadn't actually ran any tests on me so what had been sent wasn't anything like a psych assessment.

After this I went back to the same GP, who forwarded me to other, equally bemused psychologists who couldn't grasp that I wanted them to test me to get to the bottom of the problems that I had.

Around a year later, in work, I spoke to a course trainer who was delivering a disability awareness course. I think he was called MH. I explained my predicament: A job I didn't understand, a support system that didn't understand me (JM had left the organisation and her colleagues were still clueless) problems with my family, a meagre part-time wage, no benefits, a label of dyslexia that I don't have, memory problems that I don't understand, and issues with my social life and relationships. I felt (correctly) they were all connected. Could he help?

He gave me his email.

The same day, I dropped him a line thanking him for the training and asking if he could help. He said he'd get back to me. I've heard that before, I thought.

The next day, though, he called me back. He'd got me an appointment with a neuropsychologist called GW. The name rang a bell.

I met with GW- we'd previously met through work over the years- and she agreed to properly assess me and rule out all the conditions that people wrongly suspected I might have. Over a few sessions she tested me properly, homing in on the issues that I had and ruling out the ones I didn't- dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, instabilities in character- all these were thrown out and I got a solid assessment for short term memory difficulties. While these sessions were taking place, as well as testing, we'd look at areas of my life that needed improving, and one session at a time, I started to develop coping strategies.

Years later, after these sessions had passed and I'd met with a handful of other professionals too, all the advice I'd received still wasn't enough. It was 2014 and I was sure I had depression. I still couldn't talk to women. I was falling out with a lot of friends and shouldering the blame for this. I needed proper advice. I went back to Dr W. His advice was that there 'wasn't really any support out there' for depression.

So what did I do? I went to Manchester to the Samaritans on Oxford Road. What the hell else was I going to do?

The guy I spoke to was really helpful. His advice was to try a different GP at the same surgery. My GP should have forwarded me to services that definitely do exist. I phoned, and booked an appointment with Dr W2. Straight away, Dr W2 put me on a waitlist for psychological therapies. It took 7 months for the sessions to come around, but at least I was on it. The sessions were really helpful. They just didn't last long enough, but that's another issue. Now, for referrals an general appointments, I only deal with Dr W2.

It pains me to think that, in 2008, I tried to meet with a psychologist that could advise me, but I didn't manage to until the following year. (It's more so that she had meetings in the building I worked in.) Dr W gave me further problems after meeting with GW, when I'd been forwarded to Social Services and things had taken a backwards step. Dr W treated me like a hypochondriac. If I'd have just tried a different GP at that point, I could be so much further ahead by now.

I don't know whether others have experienced this, but if two NHS employees do the same job, and you go to them both with the same problem, they (theoretically) should give you the same advice and make the same referral (not that they should need to). But they don't. Take it from me. If you hit a brick wall with one, get a second opinion from another. You may find that immediately you'll get a referral that moves you forward.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Translation poem with a weird bear photo

NaPoWriMo's Day Five prompt is a poem that 'reacts both to photography and to words in a language not your own.' Here's This is Not Going to Stop until You Wake Up so Give Up.'

27.-Esto no se va a detener hasta que te despiertes así que ríndete. Una racha de pájaros. Un puñado de nenas como flores. Estamos para tu preámbulo. Caminamos a ti. Unas llegamos tarde para colocarnos el bozal. Tenemos máscara de ti, de tus ojos cerrados. Alguien calculó cada rostro. Orfebrería aplicada con dolor sobre la piel del cielo. La mano de alguien dio forma a cada labio. Creó el labio y estimuló el labio. Lo creó como golpe. Alguien nos colocó en la máscara tu labio.”

And here's a photo I took in The Milton Club on one of its final nights.


It's not just in your dreams that the desperate bear
rinses you. And you reach for your pyjamas
because the bear never comes with flowers.
This is just a preamble.
With his camisole, hat, and legs in trousers,
he's coloured like a bozo.
Tenuous mascara and a bow tie
Odd descriptions just corrode.
Alan called to wear it on the roster.
'I didn't apply to be sober,' he says,
'I'll have to peel the seal.'
The men have all gone to form a cad labia
creosote the labia. Stimulate the labia.
Creosote and gulp.
Its all gone now. Let's go loco
with mascara on your labia.

Sorry about that translation. The literal translation is here.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Support Groups; Reality TV Arses


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Week before last: talked to Marlie from Ibiza Weekender about her arse, and then almost met her at the Freda Funk launch but I didn't recognise her. Next time!

It seems the success of men's support group Andy's Man Club is spawning a few similar franchises- Nexus Art Cafe hosts a talking therapy group of sorts between 1pm and 6pm on Mondays. 'The Auricle' drops into the Northern Quarter diner on a weekly basis. I'm in work, so I can't check this out, but I'd be curious if anyone could fill me in a bit. Tweet me- we can follow each other so we can private message the details. I'd be keen to hear more.

Another support group has recently formed and is advertising over Meetup. Talk About It Mate offers 'a friendly non-judgemental environment in which to meet others who have experienced different issues.' Their next meetup is in Fallowfield, which is a little far for me, but their previous sessions have been in the city-centre pub The Waterhouse. I'm not sure how private a session would be in a Wetherspoons, and I'm not sure personally about the combination of discussion of depression and the availability of alcohol, but time will tell.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Freda Funk Launch in Celeb Hotspot Menagerie

 

Sunday 8th April: Charlotte Dawson, daughter of comedy legend Les, star of Ex on the Beach, Celebs Go Dating and Celebrity Ghost Hunt, launched her new 'string to her bow,' the FredaFunk clothing range in Manchester's Menagerie.

On arriving I bumped into local celeb blogger Georgia Broadbent, who covers celebs in much the same way as I do. Keep your eye on her blog as she's a rising talent in Manchester's blogging scene. She recognised a fair few more faces than I did!

Before going in I grabbed a selfie with Marcel Sommerville from Blazin' Squad and more recently Love Island, and his girlfriend- also from Love Island- Gabby Allen. Cool couple.


I also bumped into Tyne-Lexi Clarson, who I though was one of the nicest in Love Island S3. Surprised she didn't stay on the show longer.


£15 on the door. Once inside I caught up with the lovely Charlotte herself.


Here's Nadia Essex, expert from Celebs Go Dating.


Shorter than I expected, but really nice. I mentioned I'd applied to the show and not heard back- her advice was to keep applying.

Matt Sarsfield from Swinton Lions Rugby, Charlotte's boyfriend. Decent bloke. I mentioned we both know Luke Ambler, former pro rugby player and founder of Andy's Man Club.


Chet Johnson from Ex on the Beach, and Cally Jane Beech, From Love Island S1.


I mentioned to Chet I'd applied for a few shows here and there. He suggested, like Nadia, that I keep applying. He explained he got a lot out of the experience of being on his show.

Charlotte jumped on the mic to welcome us all. While she talked, a strange smell permeated the air.

Sorry,” said some stunning young girl next to me. “That was me.”

Astounding honesty.

Charlotte welcomed Paige Young onto the stage, who gave a quick speech and performed one of her songs. Before she dropped the mic she ended with, “Let's get drunk!”


Menagerie was perfect for a fashion show with its elevated catwalk and cutting-edge décor.


Alas, I was driving, so I couldn't take Charlotte's advice. I still got chatting to a few people after rolling in solo thanks to a welcoming atmosphere.

Check out the M.E.N writeup here.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

HMRC have got their debt collectors onto me.

HMRC still want £416 in overpaid tax credits. I have asked them repeatedly to explain to my why they overpaid me- I eventually found out from Citizen's Advice.

In order to be awarded Working Tax Credits, you need to be working 30 hours per week- unless you are in receipt of the Daily Living component of either DLA or PIP. Under DLA I was receiving both Daily Living and Mobility, so despite only working 22.5 hours, I was still eligible for WTC. I had applied for WTC a long time before receiving DLA- 2008, but I was denied due to working too few hours. Nobody explained the above to me until late 2010, though, even when Pure Innovations took over the Work Choice scheme and I started to get what I was entitled to.

My DLA was stopped in December 16, in preparation for the unconfirmed move over to PIP. I applied for PIP. During this fiasco, HMRC continued to pay me WTC. I assumed that there was no problem with this as the two were separate benefits.

Eventually, after PIP was awarded, my Working Tax Credits were stopped, and I assumed this was because they were about to move me over to Universal Credit. It was not.

At the same time, HMRC claimed I owed them £416 in overpaid tax credits. They did not explain this. I phoned them numerous times to give me a reason for this demand, and each operative I spoke to told me my tax credits were 'under review.'

Months later, similar letters came through- I still owed them the money and I still couldn't get back onto Tax Credits. No explanation.

Eventually I contacted Welfare Rights. It emerged that, because I was not moved over from DLA to PIP automatically, that break signified a change in circumstances and my WTC were due to be stopped. Some weeks after I was only awarded the Mobility component, WTC payments eventually stopped. This took some time for HMRC to realise THEIR mistake, though, so they sent me a letter demanding this money without explaining the above.

Rather than paying the money, I've spent my time trying to get to the bottom of this and asking my employer for more hours. (I'm waiting to hear back from HR.)

HMRC are still paying me a monthly block payment of £88, the weekly £22 Mobility PIP component. This, plus my part-time wage, isn't enough to get by on. £416, my apparent debt, is about half of my monthly wage.

This week I received a letter from Advantis Debt Collection Centre.

'This is your opportunity to put things right,' it says. If you don't contact us or pay what you owe now HM Revenue and Customs has instructed us to pass your debt to debt collection agents for recovery. Yours faithfully.'

Faithfully. Hmm.

My question to HMRC: What is the point in continually paying ME benefits when, at the same time, and due to YOUR error, I owe YOU money? Why not stop paying me until the debt is balanced, or deduct a certain amount each month until the overpayment is rectified over a 12-month period? Why blame me, a learning disabled man, for your financial error? And how interesting that it takes so much effort to get these benefits awarded- even when there's solid proof of a disability- but you're so quick to start demanding the money back and threatening me with BAILIFFS?!

Meanwhile, I have asked my employer for additional hours. If I work over 25, I can claim WTC as a normal applicant, regardless of disability. Now is apparently the time, with the ongoing restructure, that it might happen, if ever, but of course I have not heard back. I have also asked Social Services for support in relation to finances, but, again, probably due to being employed in a public sector desk job, and because I speak and write eloquently, the idea that I might genuinely need their support with this situation will most likely be incomprehensible to them. They may think my application is some kind of administrative error.

And with the money the Tories have saved from cutting disabled people's benefits, what is Mrs May doing? Mental health training in schools? Providing homeless shelters? Rebuilding the country's hacked-down police presence? Training more nurses? No: Syrian air strikes.