A little bit of France

A largely sleepless night. Too much time to think. World seeming particularly cold this morning. In need of a lift. For some reason the run didn’t work today. Just a freezing slog. A slow 30 minutes and then the motivation battery completely drained. So back home even colder and still in need of a lift.

But then salvation. Old photographs. Memories. Great Memories.

Back to 2001 which finds us in the Loire.

Chateau de Chenonceau was built over the River Cher in 1576. It’s French Renaissance Architecture at at finest. The chateau has a fine collection of masterpieces, tapestries and renaissance furniture. The long Grand Gallery stretches over the bridge and across the river. It’s a stunning place. Inside and outside.

As much as the chateau brings back great memories one photograph lifted my spirits. It reminds me how truly blessed I was to spend time with this special person. Always in love. That makes me smile.

Try harder

I must try harder to catch a few Pokémon. During the week Son likes to see his trainer account topped up with a few catches. I’ve had a fairly shocking catch rate recently. Maybe it’s the Captain Chaos effect.

Our Son struggles with his handwriting. According to several of the teachers at his school he just needs to try harder to get to the handwriting level of some of the other kids. Its one of the reasons he has been labelled low attainment.

Well that’s very helpful, thank you. Just remind me again since you are constantly picking fault with his efforts with a pen – exactly what help do you provide to try and improve things. Yes now what’s the phrase I’m looking for here. Diddly squat.

Yes his handwriting is not what you would call neat.

It has improved a bit over the years. That improvement is down to – strangely – unrecognised hard work by our Son. But we have to recognise for all the hard work it is fundamentally down to a recognised medical condition. A medical condition which has been repeatedly documented by his health professionals and communicated to school. To quote the last health letter sent to school

His poor handwriting is specifically associated with the Developmental Disorders Aspergers, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia. Conventional teaching approaches to handwriting are unlikely to deliver any positive improvements. Focus should be on specific Dyslexia investigations, Fine Motor Skill development, trialling of writing aids and the use of technology.

In effect his handwriting difficulties come from two interrelated factors

  • Visual and Cognitive Letter Perception – he struggles to recognise letter forms. Letters can be reversed and letters can be mixed up (an ‘a’ maybe mixed up with an ‘e’, ‘y’ mixed up with a ‘g’).
  • Poor Fine Motor Skills. He struggles to hold a pen (often held with too much muscle force). He then finds it difficult to coordinate and control the required hand movements (his movements are not smooth).

As I’ve said improvements have been made. We did manage to secure some ongoing Physio Therapy to work on the motor skills. Due to Government cutbacks they are not as frequent as the health service would like them to be. But they have helped. At home repetitively bouncing various size bouncy balls has made a huge difference. From not being able to catch to becoming really adept at it. But he still struggles to write, struggles to tie knots and has to be helped to open things like screw bottle tops. At home we have tried various pen types and grips. We have trialled things like colour overlays and special rulers. But these have had little impact in our sons specific case. But I’m no specialist so who knows if I’m doing it correctly.

In terms of the visual and cognitive perception area unfortunately the health service is not allowed to provide any detailed dyslexia assessments. This has been defined by the Government as an educational area. And in our area the educational services have decided not to provide a specific dyslexia service. So kids like our son are left basically to fend for themselves. Branded as low attainment.

So the hard work will continue. I will try harder to catch some Pokemon. Not hopeful as I’m not that good with computer games (I struggle with fine motor skills as well). In terms of our Sons handwriting I am sure that he will continue to try hard. However just saying he must try harder completely misses the point. Just constantly pointing out the kids who write neater and saying that’s the level you should be at achieves only one thing – erodes personal confidence even more.

One final thought. Associating poor handwriting with low attainment is an interesting concept. Having worked in education, health and policing I can honestly say that the individuals often with the most illegible and scruffy handwriting are the HEADTEACHERS, DOCTORS and DETECTIVES. So if poor handwriting is a sign of low attainment – we are in trouble.

Sunset

Over the last month or so sunsets have sadly been at a premium in Yorkshire.

But when they do make an appearance they are often stunning.

As grim and frustrating as a day may have been just one moment can lift the spirits. An unexpected smile, a compliment, someone showing that they care, a loving hug or in this case a brief piece of natural theatre. I really hope everyone finds at least one of those moments today.

The Huddle

Now that’s how you do a huddle.

HU DD LE

Spelling has never been one of my specialities. So not a lot of help to a dyslexic son trying to memorise 15 words in the hope of getting at least 10 correct to avoid a school punishment. Now that’s a way to spend a Sunday. The approach Son has gone for is to break the words up into little words and the try to do a memory photograph of each little word in order.

Alliteration – ALL IT ERA TI ON

Advertisement – AD VER TI SEM ENT

Exaggeration – EX AG GE RAT I ON

It’s not the way I would try but his brain is wired up differently to mine. It delivered 11 out of 15 correct spellings last week. Which is fantastic. What’s frustrating is that it’s such a waste of energy. He can’t read or write any of the ones he got right just 7 days ago. Its achieving nothing. In a couple of weeks he is unlikely to remember any of these spellings. It’s not specifically tailored to help him read or to improve his writing or develop his knowledge or add to his independence or boost his confidence. It’s just about ticking a Government tick box. It’s the Government mantra. Even this week the PMs Dad callee the public illiterate as they probably even couldn’t spell Pinocchio.

GO VE RN ME NT

It’s times like this I really miss my partner. Maybe she would come up with a better solution. A way out of this educational quagmire. She certainly would be lifting all our spirits. She was brilliant at that. Making the world seem so much brighter than it should be. More hopeful. Making sure everyone is feels secure and warm inside. That’s what love is.

LO VE

It’s a new world now and you just have to make the best of it. Face up to the challenges which come your way. Learn to appreciate the small things in life again. Don’t be afraid to smile again.

SM I LE

Like watching the massed ranks of birds coming for their morning breakfast. How the larger birds wait until the little birds have had first crack. Must be some particularly fearsome little chaps..

Thankfully the Birds are happy to get stuck into another failed bread making venture. The humans in the house certainly wouldn’t risk it.

UN DE RB AK ED

Or smiling at the thought of that Amazon Delivery Mans face as he stood at the door waiting for us to answer. Looking at the pair of my underpants – frozen solid discarded on the path. Yes the dog still has a thing about socks and pants.

Or laughing at what the Delivery Man has brought us. A parcel containing a plate and cutlery set. Thinking this is much smaller and lighter than expected. Only to discover that bargain kitchen set was in fact a Kids Kitchen Dishes Playset. Thankfully we are not entertaining anytime soon. Dad is definitely a

MU PP ET.

Or even the sight of a really happy dog ripping apart a newly delivered election pamphlet from the Conservative Party. I’m sure it was full of lots of truthful facts and had absolutely stunning photos of our esteemed leader. To be fair our PM permanently looks well chewed.

BO RIS JO HN SON IS A LY ING TW AT

Time for punishment

After weeks of rain the clouds finally parted and reassuringly the sky is still blue. The sky is blue and the ground is still muddy.

Since it’s a day with a name that ends with DAY – it must be a day for another school moan. Don’t worry it will be the Christmas holidays soon and you will get a break from the rants – hopefully.

Next week our dyslexic son has to sit TWO spelling tests. One for English and one for DRAMA. That’s DRAMA. So to develop any Performing Arts talents he has to learn to spell words like

Melodrama, Exaggeration, Facial Expressions, Placards, Stock Character….

I guess when he wins his first Oscar in his acceptance speech he can thank these Spellings…..

Then we have the English Spelling Test. The weekly spelling test. This week he has 15 words to learn. Including such beauties as

Advertisement, Similarity, Persuade, Exaggeration, Testimonial, Alliteration….

All the class (regardless of individual spelling ability, regardless of dyslexia) have to spell the same words. The expectation is that you will get 100%. All it takes is a bit of effort. Hang on we need to raise the stakes just a bit higher. Anyone not getting at least 10 out of 15 exactly right will get a Negative. Four Negatives get you detention and much shame. It also rules you out of the end of year trip to the Fun Park/Zoo.

For F*#@ Sake.

This new penalty rule was introduced minutes before today’s test. One unfortunate student received his punishment. Our son managed 11 so survived. As he says he had to guess the ending of most words and was largely lucky today. But he’s a nervous wreck. Having seen this weeks words he’s convinced he has no chance. How can this be part of modern teaching. Oh I forgot our Government wants to return to Victorian values. Well they can all bugger off back to Victorian Times and leave us in peace.

On a side not I see our Prime Minister is avoiding being asked difficult questions so he has started sending his Dad to do some of his interviews. I’m not making this up. Well today a member of the public phoned in and basically said Johnson was like Pinocchio. His Dad then said mockingly “the British Public couldn’t even spell Pinocchio if they tried”. Well let’s try – Pinocchio.***** up yours you posh snob.

So what do we do. We have the weekend to think about it. I’ve offered son the day off if school insist on him sitting the test. At the moment he is saying that he will have to sit the test. He doesn’t want to be picked out as different. But that’s the problem with the current approach to handling dyslexia in the classroom. It’s the same as with Aspergers and the classroom. The approach is so fundamentally wrong.

Assume the child is low attainment.

Resist providing proactive support

Deliver one standard teaching programme for all kids – no variations

Put the onus on the child to put a hand up and ask for help – in front of all the other kids

Child doesn’t put the hand up so assume everything is fine

Watch child struggle in tests and class work

Confirm assessment that child is low attainment

One final thought. It’s ok to penalise the kids but what about those leading us. Our School Minister – Remember him he’s the lovely chap who thought kids having time off for bereavement was like “an extended holiday” – was asked a grammar question he was expecting school kids to get right. Guess what the numpty got it wrong. So maybe he should get a negative and be barred with running our schools. That is one punishment I can agree to.

Knife edge

Another day and yes more rain. It’s been that wet for weeks we have new streams starting to form. More rain it will get bigger. A couple of dry days and it will be gone. It’s survival is on a knife edge.

Yesterday two things happened which got me thinking.

  • I went for a run in the rain and the mud. It was actually great fun. Had the forest and hills to myself. For a few minutes I felt connected to nature again. So good for the soul and it helped lift the veil which has shrouded me for days. After a couple of miles I encountered a steep downward muddy bank. Combination of my rubbish well worn trail shoes and trying to run to fast – quickly I slipped. Who needs a toboggan when you have a butt like mine. I slid at an alarming rate for about 30 yards. Somehow missed some alarmingly large boulders.
  • While trying to give the dog another bath. He is just a mud magnet at the moment. I slipped on the wet bathroom floor. Went down with a violent bang. Really cracked my head, my back and my knee. Luckily apart from some bruises no damage. But for a few seconds I was crumpled up on the floor pretty sure I must have broken something.

Both of these incidents could have ended up oh so differently. Fine margins.

So many of us live survive on fine margins. Operating without a safety net. Knife edge budgets. Parents or carers with no support and no cover. People trying to balance multiple jobs while maintaining a family life. People needing care but with insufficient support. People becoming increasingly isolated from society with wafer thin social connections. People battling odds stacked against them.

Life is always about fine margins. Many people will understand this.

My parenting support net was ruptured three years ago. Suddenly it was parenting and caring on a knife edge. No one else there for our son. I’ve got the ball and I just can’t drop it. I have to be there for him. But what happens if one day I don’t miss that large boulder or the bathroom floor is less forgiving. Forgive the language but the answer is – we are screwed.

But in the great scheme of things – we are lucky. So far we have managed. Yes money is very tight but we are stable. Far too many good people have fallen on the wrong side of the knife edge.

One worrying trend paints this picture. In Britain the use of Food Banks has gone from a few thousand food parcels issued in 2010 to millions of emergency hand outs in 2019. But here’s the rub. The Government has washed its hands of the problem.

Our Home Secretary said “You can’t blame the Government for poverty”

The vile Michael Gove helpfully pointed out that families who survive on handouts from Food Banks only have themselves to blame because they were “unable to manage their finances”.

Both of these characters will earn a minimum £142,000 a year. £142k was an amount our Prime Minister said that he struggled to live on. On top of that modest BASIC income they will top it up further. In the case of the Home Secretary she was also working as a strategic advisor to a Communications Company. Her poverty wage for that job was paid at £1000 per hour. They don’t have the first clue about the real world and what it’s like to be on a knife edge.

So yes we are fortunate as a family. But we are so aware that many are in a far worse place. Its all about fine margins. One unforeseen incident and suddenly we lurch to the wrong side of the edge. That is such a sobering thought.

More rain

And still it rains. And rains. And rains.

And still it rains at school.

French Homework is to complete a crossword. A French Crossword. Marks will be deducted for incorrect spellings.

Dad I can’t even do a crossword in English never mind French. I can remember the sounds but I can’t spell the words. The Teacher knows this but just says I have to try harder.

And we have more…

Drama Homework is to complete an acting related Word Search Game. Really. Very early on his previous school it was identified that he could just not do Word Searches Tables. The Psychologist who looked into this established that for some reason he was not able to visualise letters and collections of letters if they were printed diagonally or backwards. On top of this his dyslexia just made identifying words difficult. As this was stressful for him it was strongly recommended that his education did not use word based games. Fast forward a couple of years and his current school now requires him to do word searches as it’s the set task for the class.

I can see the point of a French Crossword for some kids but how is a dyslexic kid expected to complete this. Has our school system become so inflexible that we can’t just vary the teaching programme a little for each individual child need. Clearly not. The Government is committed to this Factory/Production line model of education. That’s for State Schools. Private Schools have more scope to flex the teaching programme. Unfortunately many can’t afford to go Private. But that won’t bother Boris and his buddies. As long as the chauffeur driven car turns up and the expensive wine keeps coming.

Ok I can see the point of a crossword for French for some BUT… What is the pigging point of a word search for Drama. I guess it’s all part of the Government’s drive to make every kid spell correctly the defined key words. Spelling is given a higher profile that actually understanding what the word means. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the best way to develop the next Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Anthony Hopkins, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg and Tom Cruise is to focus on spelling. Oh hang on a minute these have dyslexia as well. So no I don’t see the point.

We just set too many of our kids up to fail. They see other kids repeatedly praised for great spelling or neat handwriting while at the same time they are just told to try harder. How demoralising is that. A phrase you hear often is that kids with learning difficulties have to try super hard just to keep the perceived learning gap from widening. DAMM RIGHT THEY DO. Too many kids are forced through the same stereotyped classroom hoop. Never given a chance to demonstrate their unique skill sets as these are not in the areas deemed valuable by the Government.

Too many kids have been failed by our society. It’s not as if our society is particularly successful or sustainable on the back of this. This has to stop. When it does stop and we start allowing all our kids to grow – just take a few minutes to think how good this world will become. That is a hope worth fighting for. That is a hope worth voting for.

Another day

Another day in Yorkshire and another day of rain.

Another day of rain and another very muddy dog.

Another very muddy dog and another very messy house.

Another very messy house and another need to clean.

Another need to clean and another news bulletin on the radio.

Another news bulletin and another interview with a government spokesperson.

Another interview from a government spokesperson and another bunch of lies.

Another bunch of lies and another radio turned off.

Another radio turned off and a another realisation that the clock is ticking..

Another realisation that the clock is ticking and another urgent search for the right colour school football sock.

Another search for a football sock and another school bag not meeting school requirements.

Another school bag not meeting requirements and another day in school.

Another day in school and another day without support.

Another day without support and another set of exams.

Another set of exams and another setup to fail.

Another setup to fail and another shed load of young anxiety.

Another shed load of young anxiety and another failure of school to support.

Another failure of school to support and another mother lode of parent stress.

Another mother lode of parent stress and another phone call to school.

Another phone call to school and another wall punched.

Another wall punched and another ice pack applied.

Another ice pack applied and another attempt to soothe the school anxiety.

Another attempt to soothe the school anxiety and another set of school homework to be done.

Another set of school homework and another list of misspellings to write out three times.

Another set of misspellings to write out and another wave of young anxiety.

Another wave of young anxiety and another search for something that will help.

Another search for something that might work and another frustrated parent.

Another frustrated parent and another attempt to bring some smiles.

Another attempt to bring some smiles and another viewing of The Guardians of the Galaxy.

Another viewing of Guardians of the Galaxy and another bedtime.

Another bedtime and another living room to myself.

Another living room to myself and another forlorn wish to turn back time.

Another forlorn wish to turn back time and another realisation that ‘it is what it is’.

Another realisation that ‘it is what it is’ and another day gone.

Another day tomorrow……

A very long time

I believe Marygate Landing was built in 1324. In all though years it’s seen many many things. So many passing boats. So many passing souls. And I understand as many as 4 sunny days in 785 years. Another day and another drenching.

So in the end it’s been a complete weekend lockdown. An attempt to soothe the raging anxiety which school and modern life creates in someone so young. Someone with Aspergers and Dyslexia who doesn’t in to the current factory schooling regime. A regime which will only get much worse if the current Government with its elitist dogma wins the election.

Last night we were due at a concert. One of my favourite bands. A chance to see them for the first time. But it wasn’t to be and in the grand scheme of things – it doesn’t really matter. When you experience grief. When you enter the world of parenting. When you become a single parent. It changes you. It changes your outlook on life. It changes your life opportunities.

Ten years ago I would have been really annoyed at the sudden change of plan. Frustrated at missing that concert. Not now. It is what it is. With little support you learn to appreciate even the smallest win. An hour reading. A good movie. A nice walk. A good run. Yes a night out with friends or a days climbing would be wonderful. But it’s probably not going to happen. It’s now over 4 years since either of these occurred. But you get attuned to the new life. Yes one day it would be nice but there are other more attainable wins to build your life around. The main one is blocking the system out so you get to see your son smile and be relaxed.

Yes because of circumstances you make countless plans. You try to create stability and repeatability. But in our world life happens. You might hope for the perfect day. But in reality how many perfect days come your way. Not many. So Plans change. Son was watching a video about Prussia and the famous quote from Helmuth van Moltke (Military Commander) came up

No plan survives first contact with the enemy

Today maybe this can be changed to

No parenting plan survives first contact with the outside world.

You learn to be flexible and pragmatic. A well thought out plan for a concert did not survive first contact with an Aspergers Meltdown. So we lockdown. So when the concert was due to start I asked the question “here’s the popcorn, what movie shall I put on”. Expecting something like Marvel End Game or Paddington and not expecting this response.

I fancy something a bit different. This movie has had great reviews and apparently is historically very interesting.

Oh he’s going for Apollo 13. I like that movie.

Can you see if you can find Victoria and Abdul. It’s about a friendship between Queen Victoria and an Indian Muslim Servant. It supposed to be very good and it shows how racist Victorian Society was.

Ok. Never saw that one coming. After much searching and after paying the £3 online rental we watched the movie. And it was really good. Son enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. It was a win. So the original plan failed but it worked out ok in the end. If we can keep doing that then we will be ok. If I keep remembering that actually I have a lot to be thankful for. Yes life will be a struggle but every so often wins come along. Just need to see them and grab them. Make the most of the many imperfect days. In the end it’s not worth relying on that perfect Yorkshire sunny day to arrive as you might be waiting a very long time.

Foot bath

The sun so tantalisingly close but no cigar. That’s as close as it came to beach weather here in Yorkshire today. When I say beach weather that is in terms of Walruses.

The picture is perfect for my mood today.

Trying to be a ray of sunshine but not quiet achieving it. After the stress of the last few days I was aiming to have a nice day. At home sorting out the works payroll run while listening to a fine collection of relaxing music. Not forgetting to fit in a run around a slightly extended lunch break. Well that was the plan.

Unfortunately as I was heading for bed at 1am I noticed son had lost a button on his school jacket. That’s a School negative and would send him into meltdown again. So the half asleep Dad with the sewing abilities of a drunk Penguin spent most of the night basically sewing various fingers onto the front of the said jacket. How difficult can this really be. As a guide it took me 40 minutes and three hot drinks to just thread the needle. At one stage I must have dozed off as I managed to head-but the sewing box. Eventually I made bed at just after 4am with a pretty decent sewing job completed. Unfortunately now I was wide awake and sleep passed me by for another night.

Relaxation and no sleep are not a great combination. Especially when the old CD player annoyingly developed a jump while playing my favourite cds. Thankfully I made it to my run. An almost enjoyable run until my sleep deprivation led me literally down the wrong path. Normally the right one but since the last floods – not a great one. The ground was becoming increasingly squelchy until I came to the large beck. Normally a nice wooden bridge joins both sides of the path. Unfortunately the bridge collapsed months ago and is currently heading towards the North Sea. So two choices do a u-turn which will add another hour to the run or jump the beck. The need to restart work ASAP dictated the mad option. I guess I can just about jump the beck – it’s only about 6 feet. I hit the long jump perfectly and unbelievably sailed clear over the beck. My moment of triumph was short lived. As quick as my considerable momentum tried to take me forward my left foot tried to sink into the mud. Then the dreaded muddy suction sound and a foot reluctant to come out for air. Something had to give. My foot released unfortunately my shoe didn’t. Hoping around on one leg while trying to prize the missing trainer from its muddy grave. Unfortunately gravity always wins and my exposed white sock sunk into the mud. When the trainer was rescued it was full of thick cold mud. Lovely running in that for the final 2 miles. At least my left foot got a free mud bath.

But here’s the rub. To take my mind off the mud drenched foot I replayed memories in my head. Happy memories of my partner. Passing one particular farm field I was taken back about 16 years. A late sunny evening walk. Maybe one too many wines. Then trying to make snow angels in that fields wheat crop. Completely forgot that one. It’s such a treat when you discover keys to long lost memory doors.

The mood darkened a bit on news that son has to revise for two tests on Monday morning AND spelling tests will now happen every week. Deep joy. So yes it’s been a day which could have been really uplifting but never quite managed to shake off the dark clouds. Maybe tomorrow the sun will shine.