September 2011 Archives

Connected by yoga

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Hi, all. I haven't written on this subject yet, because I was waiting for my piece for the Guardian to run. It is in tomorrow's paper, so do have a read. It is a subject to which I am convinced I will return.
Unfortunately, my bladder challenges are continuing, so I am a tad delirious at present, hence I will leave my 'professional voice' to tell the story..

Scents of place.

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It is often observed that our sense of smell somehow taps into memories more intensely than any other (there have been some grisly examples of this: It was said that serial killer Dennis Nilsen was caught after a drainage engineer recognised the smell of decaying human flesh from his time as a fire-fighter during the blitz).

Thankfully, most of our olfactory 'memories' will be of something pleasant such as the smell of a mother's perfume when she was going out, or a favourite dish that a much loved grandparent would prepare.

In my case, the smell-memory connection is something of a mixed bag. Over the last 6 years, I have become acutely aware of how many toiletries use similar ingredients. Many showers have been punctuated by a flashback to my time in the acute ward of Stoke Mandeville Hospital.

Washing, shaving and masking the smells of the ward felt really important during my rehabilitation. Maintaining some control over my appearance and aroma was a vital way of keeping in contact with my 'old' life and sense of self-respect. These little details can become very important to patients and should never be trivialised.

But the substances that enabled me to keep 'institutionalisation' at bay ended up paying a high price, as they became inextricably linked to this, most desperate period of my life. When I was discharged I had to bid a sad farewell to the aftershave that had nobly stood by me and kept me resolutely connected to days when I was at my poncy, primping best.

There is a theory that the strength of our response to smell is because we process smell and taste in a different way. What we see and here is received by our ears and eyes  in the form of waves that our brain decodes (with varying degrees of success).

When we smell something there is a different interaction taking place. A molecule of 'stuff' comes into contact with the olfactory cells in the nose making a direct connection with the substance, which is then identified. It is because we have this physical contact with what we smell that the olfactory cells reproduce very quickly. If we smell smoke, there is a good chance that the olfactory cells will be burned and destroyed in the process, so rapid regeneration is essential.

This characteristic has made the research into olfactory cells an exciting part of the search for the treatment of spinal cord injury. If cells these from the patient's own body could be used for  regenerative purposes, there would be virtually no risk of the material being rejected.

Should such treatment prove successful, it is still likely to be a long time before people with injuries as profound (and old) as mine are fixed.

Still, it's something to think about as I add yet another brand of shower gel to the banned list...


Déjà Views

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This is a subject I have surely covered in the past, but my goat has been got again, and this time I've been snap happy, recording things for posterity. The well worn topic for today's blog entry is the disabled toilet. Or rather, the disabled toilet as store-room.

OK, the first example comes from The Old Dairy pub in north London:

Lovely attention to detail here. Not just an obstruction, but and artistically constructed and very unstable obstruction. But then, where else would you put your bar stools. What's that? By the bar? Surely not.

The next example can be found in the disabled bathroom/changing area at Highbury Swimming Baths:

As a father, I have had cause to be grateful for a change table in the disabled toilet. Except when it is right by the door, making access to the room virtually impossible. When I pointed out that having all this stuff by the door made the room virtually impossible to use, the staff member I spoke to said, "Well, lots of people use the shower chair.  If you need it moved, you can always come and find a member of staff to move it for you."

I can see how that would be reasonable. Except that I've just rummaged around to find my RADAR key, and I'm trying to use the toilet before the rest of the family come out of the changing rooms, children damp and ready to go home. I don't want to have to go and find a member of staff (not always easy in leisure venues in my experience) just so that they can re-arrange to furniture. Especially as the room in question is big enough to store that stuff at the far end.

I'm sure if I asked at the pub they would have moved the bar stools (as they did the table, chairs and sofa blocking the ramp by the front door).

But I don't really feel like having to trawl around a venue trying to find a member of staff before I can use the toilet. If the pub is busy and noisy, with lots of people standing up, just getting to the toilet can be a real hassle, and sometimes I just don't have the energy for feeling 'different'. I just want to take a leak. I don't want to be placing my nose on the bar and hoping my hair is tall enough to be spotted by the bar staff.

In some ways, I'd rather a venue have no disabled facilities, rather than fill the disabled toilet with the entire contents of an Ikea catalogue. What that says to me is,
"We've put in a disabled toilet to conform with our requirements, but storage space is more important to us than whether or not any disabled patrons can use the toilet."

By contrast, I've been to venues where the facilities are far from ideal-ramps too steep, doorways a bit narrow, but they've made an effort. They make sure staff are switched on and helpful. At  Nikole Lowe's  Good Times Tattoo studio, there is a massive staircase to be negotiated. I was still made welcome, with three members of staff carrying me up and down the stairs in my chair. Once up there, the bathroom is accessible, and the whole studio is on one level.

All of which proves that when it comes to access, attitude is everything.


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My six year old daughter Rosalie squealed in delight as she leapt from her seat and ran after the white rabbit. Alice sighed and put the 'drink me' potion back in her basket, content to finish her story another time. I looked up from our tea party, and stared at the Olympic Stadium. For Rosalie and her friends, would the Games feel any less of a fantasy than this afternoon's entertainment?

Before you conclude that I have lost more than a few marbles, dear reader, I should explain. The Mad Hatter's tea party was not a figment of my imagination, but a tribute to that of Lewis Carroll. The long tables, activities and willing actors were provided by the Discover Centre in Stratford, a wonderful place of stories and games that fire the imaginations of all children who visit.

The venue was The Greenway, outside the View Tube café. For anyone unfamiliar with this location, perhaps an explanation is in order...


The Greenway is the unlikely name given to a footpath and cycleway, which stretches from Bow in east London out to Beckton. This pleasant path is actually laid upon an embankment containing London's northern outfall sewer.


The View Tube is a social enterprise comprised of a café and a community venue. It was built using recycled shipping containers, and commands a fantastic view of the Olympic Park. It is a popular tourist attraction, with regular tour groups making their way along the Greenway to enjoy the view and read the information boards provided by the Olympic Delivery Authority.


This corner of east London has already seen profound change at a rate that some people see as unsustainable. Where successful urban regeneration usually evolves over time as local needs are identified and issues resolved, the Olympic circus lands on a city and then moves on, leaving any number of sites and facilities. The challenge of incorporating these into a successful legacy is a tough one. There are some notable successes, the most obvious being Barcelona, but even in such instances the transition has taken a number of years.


One of the best ways to encourage the successful integration of the site into east London life must be to engage with the local community. With the demand for tickets and the questionable 'lottery' system for allocation, there has been no ring-fencing of tickets for local people. It is a shame that this idea was not adopted, as it would have strengthened a sense of ownership of the Games among the local community. This means that fringe sites and events will be crucial in making people feel fully involved in the changes taking place in their neighbourhood.

Events like the Mad Hatter's Tea Party are a good start. I hope there are many more creative activities over the next twelve months. It's certainly feeding Rosalie's imagination. When we discussed the stadium afterwards, she asked what the grass in the middle was used for. I explained that it was for things like throwing the discus and shot put. She looked at me with a confused expression.

"Really? They throw biscuits and chocolate?"


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