Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Mark a space, light a candle, make a wish

On somewhere around the 1st September 1995, I packed up my belongings into my then boyfriends Volvo Estate and drove to start a new life in Plymouth where I attended university for two years.

On somewhere around the 1st September 1995, I said a very uncomfortable and confused goodbye to my father, and I've never seen him again.

On 7th August 2014 I sat with a friend outside the Starbucks in Villiers Street outside Embankment tube station. On arriving in the coffee shop we were informed hot drinks only. Binary me made to leave. My friend reminded me of the existence of cold drinks and we stayed. I ordered a white chocolate cookie and it was the good kind of cookie, the kind which folds before it breaks into pieces. At times I forgot it existed, at times it was a helpful prop. Mostly it tasted delicious and isn't it funny how something as simple as a cookie can be so many things to one person?

The chair tilted slightly but it didn't bother me the way it normally does. The sound of London in all its chaotic messy noise passing down the pedestrianised street behind me before pouring like milk from a jugs spout into the mouth of the tube station was distant.

Some things are important. And some things are more important than that word itself, even. This was that. We'd not spoken for years, so many I think I've lost track and the not talking this time was not intentional, only complicated and so never met head on but instead shied away from in fear of only making a thing worse, and not better. But this time, in this moment, I knew I had the emotional clarity to stay and listen no matter what the words, to accept them, understand them, but also finally the explanations of myself which I could share too. Finally, I had something to bring to the table.

It's funny the way things work. I have been worried, these past few months. Well I've been worried for a year, and far more than worried but aside from that, I had been worried. I knew something was slowly appearing through the fog that is the future and it was something with massive headlights, a terrifyingly high pitched horn and wheels the size of a wendy house.


It doesn't matter whose. It doesn't matter at all. It's not mine. It's not mine to grieve. But nevertheless it is a thing around which empathy and the lack of it becomes a major major issue. Or rather a lack of empathy for things I've never experienced myself. Which is actually the issue. I can recall an emotion I've felt, or an emotion I've experienced within a certain situation with a clarity that is almost piercing. Oftentimes, piercing is actually a good word, which is how my heart feels when unexpectedly assailed by recall. But anyway.

Death is coming. And I explained to my friend, this person who knows me better than my own mother (which admittedly wouldn't be difficult, but then I think I'm growing to understand and let that go too) that I was afraid. That I hadn't experienced it.

She looked at me oddly. I think it was confusion. Perhaps slight shock? I've known her long and through thick and thin and still I struggle to read her facial expressions, what hope is there for acquaintances? But she does the thing so few people have the patience to do.

She explains the art of grieving.

I can't tell you what she said. It's private. I can only tell you about where it led me and perhaps the things she said which are not an invasion of her mind or her zen, her way of being.  She said that there are spaces, and that death and space are perhaps the same thing, I think. That's what I took, that's what resonated. That perhaps just because there is no body, this does not negate the feeling of grief, of bereft.

On the 28th February 2015 I will marry the man I love. No one will give me away. I don't believe in the giving, but I think I do believe very much in the tradition. Tradition is where neurotypicals and neurodiverse folk cross. Tradition is the thing you wrap around you on a cold winters day to ward the blackness away. It's the reassuring sound of laughter in an empty space. But it is also the thing which seeps into the spaces and fills them, when your heart is sore and weary.

No one will make a toast to the bridesmaids and the bride. I do believe in politeness, but not for politeness sake. But this is not politeness. This is a thank you, an important one. Any bridesmaid of mine, I think we all know, requires a set of special lockpicking tools, the tools which will make my brain quiet, the one which will distract, the one which will occupy, and the one which will misdirect.

I am blessed, actually, to know at least three people who have this unique set of tools. And the joy and gladness this gives me requires that actually, bridesmaids and close friends will deserve and receive a thank you. And in the process of writing this, I think that will come from me. And quite rightly.

But it wont come from the man I said goodbye to almost 20 years ago.

I didn't think I knew about death. I don't. But I do know about grief. I know about the sadness and the space. I know about the wistfulness and the deep deep ache. I know about the wishing for different even though it's not possible and never will be. Sometimes there is no going back, no good in doing so, nothing to be gained, only lost. It is possible for a man to do such damage that existing even in the same country becomes difficult, but it is also possible to grieve, deeply and fiercely and quietly and privately for many many years for the man you lost before he become something else.

My friend talked. And I listened. And at the end I knew.

Space unmarked is an open wound. Space unacknowledged is an open wound. Space ignored will never heal. I have healed, and I have scabbed, but I have not scarred for to scar is I think to finally let go.

So I choose to mark a space. I will work around things, through things, over and under things on my wedding day. But I will also mark a space. I will place a nod, to a man who shaped me, and who I think loved me deeply before the desert winds came and blew his mind away. Love is a strange and difficult thing for me. People are a strange and difficult thing. But on a busy street in London, something mended.

Thank you lady. It seems that as good as I have got, there are still things I need to write rather than verbalise. The words be brave, be strong span through my head all the way to Heathrow. You are both. Thank you.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Nine Worlds 2014 - How to do accessibility

Hello world.

I'm not going to do a linear review. My brain doesn't work in linear ways. If you want more context for the way my mind does work. reading this might help. Otherwise, the long and short of it is I have Autism Spectrum Disorder (Aspergers), depression, anxiety and a right leg which likes to go numb combined with two bulging spine disks and a hyperextending spine, I suspect among many things.

So why did I think going to a con for 4 days was a good idea? Because I contributed to the kickstarter and attended last year, of course. The addition this year of an access co-ordinator who very obviously had more than half a clue also might have helped persuade me. So I think we'll start there.

How to do accessibility without 'doing accessibility'

 An accessibility policy with added co-ordinator is of course a good place to start. Obvious even. Until you realise I can't go to San Diego Comic Con and will never be going to SDCC as long as their accessibility 'section' reads 'come and speak to your desk we'll see if we can help you'. Sorry SDCC, not good enough. People are flying thousands of miles to come attend your event - we might be able to help you, but we might not isn't good enough.

Yep, the biggest con in the world has a lot to learn from the most inclusive con in the world. Ah, you say, but that's a bold statement.

So here's the thing. Normal accessibility is about wheelchairs. And it feels a little bit like that's where it ends for most people when thinking about how accessible their event is. Now wheelchair accessibility is important, and I need to write a post about the utter despair of bad design that some wheelchairs are, but they're the beginning. When it comes to a big event in a big hotel with events, panels and talks in something like 30+ spaces, there's a lot of people who unless their accessibility needs are met, can't come.

Nine Worlds know this. Their initial manifesto hinged quite strongly around a product which was accessible to all, and was a safe space. It's why I bought tickets for something I'd never heard of, with no idea of who would be attending. So how are they doing?

From my perspective, fantastically well. I arrived at the desk and tickets were found and sorted lighting fast. Everything was clearly labelled around the venue so finding everything was easy. Some sessions ran out of chairs (and we'll come to that in a bit) but I only needed to take advantage of the 'priority seating' once. Most sessions were in exactly the right sized room for the amount of people who wanted to attend leading to few needing to sit on the floor and potentially block exit routes for wobbly/wheeled people.

Sessions in the programme were mostly marked and described well, meaning I didn't spend energy leaving sessions midway through bored to tears. I never felt claustrophobic in any of the spaces except in the winding corridors on the fourth floor. Not the organisers fault. The map was clear and easy to read (for me) so I didn't worry about occasionally splitting up from my partner and then finding him again. I never used the quiet rooms because I simply sat outside when I was too tired to do sessions and chatted in small groups. I never used my communications clip though I had a red one in my handbag all weekend. I never felt like I was holding people up being slow climbing down stairs, no one tutted, muttered or certainly audibly expressed frustration.

I didn't really interact with the staff except one bar person who was lovely and didn't seem phased by me at all. The atrium was painful and echoey a lot of the time so I didn't spend any time there during the sessions crossing over and made sure I did use it when it was quieter as it was a beautiful light space. There were hidden pockets and chairs and sofas scattered helpfully through the hotel for those 'I've completely run out of steam' moments. Food and drink were expensive but they quality of both meant I resented neither. Water was available widely and freely. Sudden noises, or changes were minimal, raucousness something I only came across once, and only once did I need to leave a session because I just simply couldn't cope with being there any longer.

This was the first con I spoke to someone I didn't arrive knowing who wasn't 'staff'. For me that's a massive massive thing. I also asked a few questions of panelists and though meeting with mixed responses, I was never made to feel stupid, only that I could have phrased something more carefully and it would have helped had I been less nervous of actually asking the question.

These two things are huge for me. My partner of 10 years commented on both, because we both know they're not things I'd ever do if I didn't feel massively comfortable. For me, this is proof that Nine Worlds have created something magical, rare and worth fighting for and protecting. I found my voice again after losing it for a year, found a little independence, a little bravery, and a lot of strength. I can't thank the team of volunteers enough for what this weekend has given me in terms of affirmation, empowerment, warmth, kindness and patience. I suspect you only see the problems during the weekend. It feels so important to me to explain clearly what you're hard work resulted in for others.

There were some small problems however.

People don't like it when they're made to feel stupid

I knew Just a moment would be very busy. It's always very busy. It's become a con staple when Paul Cornell is present because Paul Cornell is frankly excellent at this - dry, sarky and enormously intelligent. We arrived a little later than planned to a room we had not been in before, therefore we had no idea of its size. It didn't look like too many people in front of us so I assumed seating wouldn't be an issue. Wrong.

A kind lady saw me looking hesitantly at the floor and offered me my seat. I couldn't accept because it would have been wrong to. She'd arrived in good time, and queued for it. I hadn't, mostly because I was exhausted and struggling a lot, but that wasn't her problem. I saw carefully on the floor with my back against a pillar and explained that at the end they might need to step over me because I wouldn't be able to feel my leg for a bit. This was the point where I realised I was a fire hazard.

Paul Cornell spotted there was a very full room and pointed out that the front row was for 'priority seating' which is how it is referenced both in the Nine Worlds programme given out to everyone, on the website and on tube trains and buses as well. One lady as she passed me standing up said 'apparently it's for special people'. I replied 'no it's for broken people' and she replied with something else equally unpleasant but I didn't catch and my partner can't remember. 

4 chairs were free at the front. I sat in one at the end, my partner sat to the side of my on the floor. I shook for 30 minutes and tried tapping rather than rocking which was what I really wanted to do but didn't feel I could do because I didn't want people staring at me any more, frankly. The 3 chairs to my right stayed free until one at a time, two more people entered the room, asked if they were free, I explained they were for broken people should they need them and the sat in them.

The chairs didn't have labels on. These people had missed Paul Cornell's explanation. I ended up gatekeeping and being forced to interact while in a state where I'd really rather have been in a quiet corner rocking to myself. 

The panel was awesome. My right leg lost all sensation during it despite lots of shifting around. I managed to exit the room before it collapsed completely and I had to stand for 5 minutes holding onto a wall to stop me falling over. 

To summarise, and as I fed back to the lovely Access co-ordinator when I'd finally stopped hurting about it all so much was, people don't like it when they're made to feel stupid. That woman said what she did because she felt like she'd done something stupid. She hadn't. There should have been labels on the chair, stuck to the chair so they couldn't be removed or lost. They weren't. After explaining this to the Access co-ordinator all front row seats had priority seating labels on them after this point. 

When is a lift not a lift?

When you need a key card to operate it and  you're not staying in the hotel because you can't afford £150 plus a night. It got sorted, at some point. But I didn't know what that point was. 

I can't role play

I signed up for the Sherlock scavenger hunt because I am a complete Sherlock fangirl. I thought it would be a scavenger hunt, it said it would be in the programme. It also said it was a rerun of a game at a picnic but having not attended the picnic I didn't know what that meant. So I assumed it was a thing where you went around on your own or maybe in pairs looking for clues and solving riddles.

It actually involved teams of 5-9, each of whom picked a card and the card would tell you whether you were a detective or a mole, there being one mole per team. Guess who was the mole? Me. Now there's been much discussion of whether autistic people can lie or not. I can but I feel massively uncomfortable doing it, it consumes massive amounts of processing power and I associate it with some very bad situations I've been in recently. Deception, which is what this actually was, consciously deceiving people, is something I don't like doing. I didn't want to do it. So I swapped cards with my partner. Thus ruining the dynamics completely of the game.

This led to horrid. The rest of the team I think picked up that there was something odd going on and didn't include us really in the clue solving bit - we went looking for clues and I found none because I of course avoided all the places where people and busy and noise were and looked in the quiet spaces. But of course that's not where the clues were hidden. So I assume the rest of the team also assumed we weren't trying or contributing.

It was a mess. The kind of mess I don't have the social skills or social understanding to deal with so I just withdrew. It was the longest 2 and 1/4 hours of the entire weekend and I have never been so glad for something to be over. I got in a proper muddle about how I felt and the emotions it was making me feel, being spectacularly bad at identifying anything more complex than happy or sad and yeah.

Ultimately I felt like my monkey had ruined other peoples fun. 

However, even in this there is such good. I asked Nine Worlds Access and another chap at the con who was feeding back on autism related stuff if I was being crap. Both were kind and lovely and then someone who had helped adapt the game for the con joined the conversation on Twitter and was lovely about it too and something which had felt tight and coiled and furled unravelled. I have absolutely no doubt that next year there will be things on the programme warning of social, teamwork or role playing being required. And you know, if I'd not felt comfortable raising it, I wouldn't and in the past I haven't bothered to say anything when in these situations. Again it speaks volumes about the inclusive nature of this event that I do feel comfortable writing this, explaining this.


Nine Worlds are venturing into an area of accessibility others mainstream cons don't reach. They were conducting themselves with transparency, patience and kindness. Some things went wrong. Every time I've raised those things I've been met with 'can we fix this, how do we fix this, we can fix this'. I believe that these things will be fixed if possible and reasonable, and wont be if they are not. I love Nine Worlds very very very much and we have bought tickets for next year already. People on my Twitter stream have said they will come to, based on the positive tweets I have sent and I have no fear at all that they will regret it. Many many larger cons could learn from the bubbling laughing enthusiastic joy Nine Worlds creates. I hope that somewhere, somehow, I contributed to that in opening up, being brave, talking in the clear and always suggesting fixes where I could think of them. It would make me very sad to think that I'd not tried in the right way or hard enough.

Thank you Nine Worlds. For 4 days I did not feel like a freakgirl. xxx

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Fat is the last bastion of British rudeness

Last September I weighed 3 stone less than I do now. I was a size 20. I am now a size 24/26. So I reckon I'm qualified to write the following. I'm not a nutritionist. I am not a dietitian. I am not anything except an invisible member of the obesity corps - the faceless and often headless mass of wobbling flesh you all seem to find so disgusting.

Yet I say I am invisible. I am not. I wish so desperately I was. Invisibility is the thing I wish for more than anything. Invisibility is mind space that I don't seem to be allowed the luxury of through the fact that I am fat.

I've wanted to write this for so long. I didn't because people told me 'don't be famous for being fat, there are better things for being famous for' and others told me 'yeah we like your writing but less of that fat stuff' (I'm paraphrasing the latter but it's the message I received). So what changed?

I went to France. Let me tell you what did not happened, literally the second I crossed the channel.

  • No staring 
  • No doubletakes
  • No shouts out of cars
  • No comments muttered under breath about 'fat bitches'
  • No staring into my food trolley in the supermarkets and tutting
Shall I tell you what happened?

I lost weight.

No, really, I did. And actually I lied, there were some comments. They were made by a pair of old British people sat outside their caravan under their awning. One comment was on the Tuesday when my back collapsed on me a bit and I had to resort to using my Leki pole to walk. 'Oh now she's using a stick' he shouted back to his wife. The next day, when I went past on my mountain bike, there was silence. Lots and lots of really pointed staring and an open mouth you could have driven the channel tunnel through - but there was silence. 

Those moments were the only moments the entire time I was in France where I remembered I was fat and therefore fair game. Because let me tell you - when you're fat you're fair game. You don't have any privacy - in changing rooms girls peer around the edges of curtains to catch a glimpse of the fat girl. In restaurants, people stop talking to hear what you're ordering. In supermarkets, I have genuinely had people stare into my basket and tut. Do you know what I had the audacity to buy? A potato and salmon salad at a total of 450 calories for dinner. I get asked who ate the pies very loudly when I go out on my bike, and the garage workers at the bottom of my hill feel it's okay to shout 'hey <name> it's that fat bird on a bike I told you about last week'.

So here's the thing. All of this constant fattist noise stops and I lose weight. The same thing happened when I went to Florida two years ago where fattist comments are noticeable in their non existence too. Or maybe I'm not fat enough for Americans to notice - that's certainly a possibility.

Am I blaming everyone else for me being fat?


I'm telling you, that you, yes you, are not helping. There are very few fat people who do not know they are fat. The mirror tells them every god damn day. It's not something you can avoid discovering about yourself, as much as you might want to - and we'll come back to that later. Instead, we get all of you weighing in on us, reminding us, telling us, holding our fatness right up in front of our noses all day every day too. Some of us, we could outrun you, out ride you, out step you, but it doesn't matter to you, we're fat and therefore we're less than human.

That's the attitude I'm blaming. Less than human. Take smoking for example. Another thing that you arguably 'choose' to do. Now I'm not saying most people choose to be fat, that would be dumb (though it was a choice I made for reasons I am not prepared to disclose but is strongly associated to the word invisible) but it's a useful analogy. Is it your job, or your place, to walk up to every single person who is smoking, pointedly cough in their face, and then walk off talking about how stupid that person is and how they're taking up precious NHS time and money?

Would you actually do that?

No. You would not. You just wouldn't. Instead you walk through the cloud of smoke expelled by the smokers by the door, say nothing, think no more of it and carry on with your conversations. So why do you point so much audible anger at fat people? Why do you think it's okay? Why is it not the same thing as smoking? We know food is bad for us (again arguable, we'll come back to this) we still eat it. The smokers know smoking is bad for them, they still do it.

What exactly is the difference here?

You don't think sugar is addictive to some people? You seriously think that there is a large amount of large people in this country who are thinking 'yay I'm fat woohoo?'

The problem here is this. You are not qualified to make a decision about whether the person in front of you is fat because one of the following reasons:

  • Steroids used to treat cancer - yep there's a particular person I'm thinking of who since being diagnosed with brain cancer has doubled in size.
  • Steroids used to treat bowel disease such as Crohns. I know two people with Crohns and I've seen pictures of them mid flare. It's not pretty. They're fat. 
  • Endocrine problems. Yes I know everyone blames them and they're often not to blame but that doesn't mean no one has these problems.
  • Disability. Chicken and egg problem this but I can speak from personal experience that being disabled in whatever way that might be has a serious impact on your weight.
  • Drugs that are not steroids but might be anything from those which treat endocrine problems to anti-psychotics. My GP shamefacedly admitted to me on my last visit she knew exactly why I'd put the 3 stone I'd lost back on again.
  • Lack of education. As in, genuinely no idea about calories in vs calories out. It's possible, hands up who knows what kids are being taught about basic nutrition in schools right now?
  • Emotional distress, grief, loss, bereavement, trauma. Emotional eating is a thing. 
In all of those situations, your comments on their eating or not isn't helpful. In at actually, all of those situations, your comments are at best unhelpful and at worst life threatening. Think I'm exaggerating? Imagine being a svelte 16 year old at school, developing Crohns, putting on 3 stone due to the medication and putting up with the shit currently in the media aimed at fat people. Do you think she would be tempted to stop taking the medicine that is saving her life? Do you want to be the person responsible for that?

I get that it's a complete lack of understanding of the severity of potential outcomes as a result of this bloody constant negative narrative against fat people, but answer me this? Why is it that other countries manage to not be engaged in a near constant negative stream of words at us? Why does no one bat an eye in France?

Is it because we have become, as a nation, utterly obsessed with looks? That we really don't believe any more it's what's inside that counts? I think it is. I think it's also a symptom of something much worse - of cruelty. There are groups of people within the UK who seem to enjoy inflicting misery on others. They can't legally inflict that on black people or women or the disabled (arguable again) any more so they inflict it with glee on the last group of people who frankly are probably in no place to defend themselves. I mean what is someone on steroids supposed to shout back to the 'who ate all the pies?' comment exactly? 'Fuck off I've got cancer' just isn't the done thing and I can almost guarantee that the person doing the shouting is a whole hell of a lot more rude than the person they're shouting at.

You see, being fat, no matter what the reason is shit. I enjoyed life at size 20 a million times more than I am right now. I hate being fat. In the space of less than a year I have had first hand experience of how people treat you differently when you're fat. They don't open doors for you, they don't let you out of the lift first, they don't smile when you arrive at their check out and they make it really clear in department stores that they don't want you in their changing rooms. You get your items checked a whole lot more for hidden shoplifting in supermarkets like Tesco and you get followed a lot more in places like Primark by security guards. Believe me when I tell you the only thing that changed in those 10 or so months was my weight. It's shit. And it's an attitude which all the articles in the media do nothing but encourage. Every time you print something saying I'm lazy and should go on a diet, the incidents get worse. And guess what happens?

I don't lose weight. 

The trick to losing weight it turns out, is being happy. And I am not happy when you are all staring at me and judging me. I am happy when I am left alone to work out in my head for myself all alone, that yes I am overweight, yes this is too far and yes I need to do something about it, and then work out an attack plan that solves the problem.

I am not alone in this. Lots of women in particular say that as soon as they accept themselves at the weight they are, they start to lose weight.

So actually, it turns out, I am blaming the media and all of you for my weight. Or rather, I'm blaming you for the process of accepting myself as I am, accepting I am beautiful, as I am, and accepting that I could be better if I were smaller taking way too long.

It's your fault. You are part of the problem. Unfortunately, no one cares about us stupid ugly fat people to do anything about it, so carry on. And watch the problem, pun intended, get bigger and bigger and bigger.

Monday, 10 March 2014

I'm applying for ESA.

I thought I'd document the process as one week in I am already astounded.

Disclaimer: I am no longer a government employee therefore this is no ones business but mine. 

Monday 3rd March
Called ESA claim line and answered questions about employment, sickness and background. Call took 35 minutes. It should have cost the price of a local call but I used no more 0870 to find a number I could use from my mobile as that meant it was a free call.

Wednesday 5th March
Letter received from Preston benefit centre telling me my medical certificate that I sent them has run out and can I provide another one from 3 December to 9 December 2013. I have to send them another certificate by the 10th December if I am still sick. If I do not this will result in my payment being stopped or suspended. 

I have sent no certificates and am at a loss as to how you can suspend or stop something hasn't been started yet. As to how I go back in time to submit a med cert by 10th December, I am at a loss.

Text message received on same day saying my application for ESA has been successful.

Thursday 6th March
Letter received from Preston Benefits Centre telling me I must fill in a questionnaire which I don't have yet. 
Also included is the notification of a decision that I cannot back claim ESA to 13/11/13 which is when my SSP ran out. I cannot appeal this despite the reason I did not make the claim and get involved with this whole rigmarole being closely tied to why I am claiming ESA in the first place. 

Friday 7th March
Another letter from Preston Benefit Centre. It informs me that I will be paid ESA from 3rd December 2013. It tells me what I am entitled to. It's not a lot but I am claiming contributory component only as my parter works. It's a good thing he's not a kind man and not abusive or prone to withhold money for any other reason. This isn't the problem. The problem is that despite working at times 3 jobs at once for most of my 20's and never having claimed any benefit from anyone ever in my entire life, I am only entitled to one years worth of ESA on contributory level unless I am placed in a 'support' group. The letter doesn't inform me what a support group is. It does of course make mention of filling out the questionnaire and attending a work capability assessment. 

I am confused as to why when I have been paying more than my fair share of NI for most of my life I am only now entitled to one years help back when I really need it. 

Monday 9th January 
Two letters this morning. Let's start with the hilarious one. It is 16 pages of data, most of it a direct copy of the info I gave on the phone exactly one week ago. Except it days that 2 sections of information are missing, tax and employment. I flick through and can see no obvious gaps in the form, but the letter assures me that there is missing information in this personal statement I have made. So I ring up yet another 0845 number which is costing me money I don't have. 

Apparently it's okay. They now have this information. And this is where I'm mightily confused. Because surely in order to tell me I only qualify for contributory ESA for one year, you have to have my tax details? This is all somewhat confusing as the letter is date stamped 3rd March. It's taken a week to get to me which is confusing as Preston is in the same county. Who knows what order it issued itself incorrectly on. It also asks for, yep you guessed it, a medical certificate from the 3rd December. And pay slips. And and my SSP1. Which was issued by DWP. And which I now need to send to DWP.

This letter contains something interesting. Under Your Declaration it states:

  • Your doctor, or any doctor who has been treating you, being informed about the Secretary of State's determination on your limited capability for work
I have two questions. What qualifies the Secretary of State to assess whether I am capable for work and why does he get to override the decision of my doctor? And if the medical certificates which my doctor signs to say I am no fit for work are not to be considered worth the paper they are written on, since they can be over ridden, please tell me why I've been asked for the same medical certificate 3 times and counting.

Because, wait for it, another letter arrived this morning.

It says my last medical certificate ran out on 9th December. Despite, as I am sure I don't need to remind you, them sending me a letter 4 days ago telling me it was actually from the 3rd December they needed the medical certificate for.

At the bottom, under Important in type writer font it informs me:
If we do not receive a medical certificate or a reply to this form by 23rd December 2013 we will stop your benefit and you may have to attend a medical examination arranged by the Department of Work and Pensions.

The letter is dated 5th March 2014.

I need that time machine again.

I now have 5 letters. One request for a phone call which was actually unnecessary. A text message which told me I was entitled to ESA but no more and as such rendering it useless and a waste of money to send. One 16 page print out which didn't need to happen. 3 separate requests for the same medical certificate all required by December sometime and all with accompanying freepost envelopes. Which is very sweet and all but a freephone number would be sweeter. Time and money wasted on both sides definitely a factor.

Then there's the fact that the thing they've asked me for 3 times by their own admission is completely worthless as the Secretary of State is a better judge of my current state of health than my doctor is. Apparently.

And I'm knackered and confused and cross already and I haven't even got to this fabled questionnaire yet.