First came the bad news.
Debs, who was due to be my ‘carer’ for the day, wheeling me around the venue, had been felled by the lurgy. Not just any old lurgy, but the first time in five years she’s been sick.
On the eve of #Blogfest.
Where I was scheduled to speak on a panel about Campaigning Bloggers; a big deal and NOT to be missed.
What to do? Panic? No, too many spoons involved in panicking. Could Son1 substitute? I did ask, but was given short shrift. I should have saved my breath.
Nothing else for it. Two legs, encased in firm-grade compression tights and a walking stick encased in a slim sheath of zebra print, would have to do. Blogfest or bust!
All was going well until I got into the taxi at Waterloo. The driver was chatty but seemed determined to avoid traffic so took me via Shoreditch. £40 effing quid from Waterloo to King’s Place near Kings Cross, a £14 taxi ride. I only had £36 in cash.
The fact that the lovely ladies at MumsNet were reimbursing my travel was beside the point. It was the principle. I was stuck in the back of his cab, in the middle of London, unable to walk far unsupported, totally vulnerable. By the time I finally arrived, over an hour later, I was almost in tears from the stress.
Still, I was there. Deep breath, swallow hard, blink back budding tears and best shuffle forward.
I passed Prof. Tanya Byron on the way into the Green Room as she was leaving. I almost greeted her like a friend, then realised who she was. Oops classic non-famous person mistake!
Once inside, it was a dream. I was gathered up and taken to the Green Room. Everyone was so welcoming, kind and friendly. I’m not very good in situations like that; arriving in the middle of something with no one I know. Another deep breath. Coat off. Someone made me a cup of tea. Earl Grey, if you ever have me round at yours.
I suddenly realised I was sitting next to Justine Roberts, the founder of Mumsnet. The very same person who chose SNJ as a “Top 50 website to make you Smarter” (Scroll to No 34) in The Times newspaper this year. Not just blog - website. That’s blogs and websites put together (yes you’d figured that bit out already) I mumbled something about it, a bit awestruck, when I should, in fact, have fallen at her feet in thanks. Of course she would have had to haul me up off the ground again, so she's probably glad that I didn't.
Then it was our panel, “Shaping the debate: how blogging and social media can change our world” chaired by Helen Lewis of The New Statesman and alongside me on the panel, Tanya Barrow of Mummy Barrow, who lives not five miles from me, Laura Bates of The Everyday Sexism Project and Maddie Sinclair of Gammon & Chips.
Maddie is championing an anti-bullying campaign “Love For Izzy Dix” following the heart-breaking suicide of 14 year old Izzy after she was repeatedly harassed online. I hope to have more about this in time for Anti-Bullying Week.
Tanya B, who among other things, blogged from Ghana for Comic Relief, was to my right and at the other end was the lovely Laura Bates, who campaigns to end, well, sexism, and all that entails. Don’t think it still exists? Check out her quite amazing global site. It was hard to believe the amount of abuse she’s had to endure because of it. I really do not understand what drives some people. Not enough to do? Jealousy? Poor upbringing? (and I don’t mean ‘poor’ as in no money – often the opposite, just look at the way they behave in parliament!)
It seemed to go by in a flash. I know from reading tweets from others that I said something about ‘blog from the heart’ and about how SNJ was just started five years ago as a way to remember what I did to get first one son, then the other, a statement of SEN.
— StephsTwoGirls (@stephc007) November 9, 2013
Nowadays, it’s more difficult to talk about my boys as they are young men and deserve privacy. When I do write about them, it’s with their blessing.
Then I watched a session about storytelling and my eyes were all for Lionel Shriver and her pink mini-wellies. She is my favourite writer, along with Carol Shields and Arthur Miller. Afterwards, I spoke briefly to her in the Green Room. I told her, awestruck again, that I was reading her book, ‘So Much for That’. She asked where I was up to and when I told her, advised that I wasn’t up to the biggest shock yet. I love her writing, sparse, yet full of meaning.
I have been overwhelmed by the wonderful reception I received, both at Blogfest and from people on Twitter. It was such a struggle to get there, but it was so worth the effort.
And then there was that session. The one that’s sparked a million tweets (well a lot, anyway) about feminism and blogging. My only contribution, aside from listening rather uncomfortably, was:
— Tania Tirraoro (@TaniaLT) November 9, 2013
Blogfest highlights include realising that my heroine writer, Lionel Shriver has the same writing process I do – but, of course, a zillion times better. Listening to Jo Brand at the end, just brilliant.
But the best bit of all was catching up with my girls: Our SNJ Columnist (on sabbatical) Renata Blower of Just Bring The Chocolate, on day release from Great Ormond Street Hospital where she is caring 24/7 for her son, Dominic, because the NHS can’t give him the level of care he needs without his mum making up the shortfall and then some.
Steph Curtis, of Steph’s Two Girls, who WILL be writing about her EHCP experience very, very soon for SNJ.
New pals, Jenny Soppet-Smith, an EDS alumnus from Cheetahs in my Shoes and the ladies from SpeechBlogUK who are.. drumroll.. NEW SNJ COLUMNISTS!.. were also there to share a chirpy Prosecco and *cough* a splash of G&T.
Thanks also to Hayley from DownsSideUp (and brill columnist of course!) who couldn't make it but was so supportive from afar and who made me howl laughing at her twitter autocorrect typo (scroll down the tweets)
So many, many thanks to my husband, Marco, who drove all the way from Farnham to collect me and was there bang on time.
And thanks also, of course, to everyone at Mumsnet for the invitation, for being so kind and for the lovely goody bag and mega tin of freshly baked yummy things that my sons have since devoured.
I hope I explained about why it’s important to me to blog: because it gives you a voice, and, given the right audience, you can influence opinion and change hearts and minds. Most of all you can bring comfort, information and solidarity to people who desperately need to feel they are not alone, that others have gone before, are there now and will come after.
It is my hope that by making this site into as useful a resource as possible, I – now, we - including Debs and our merry band of columnists – can make the tangled trail less treacherous for those just starting their journey through the Special Needs Jungle.
She is also an experienced broadcast and print journalist & author. Tania also runs a PR, web & social media consultancy, SocialOro Media. She is a Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
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