Timing

I drafted this just a few minutes before Wednesday deteriorated so rapidly. I guess it’s kinda apt now.

Sometimes your just in the right place at the right time. 20 seconds later and I would have missed the winged visitor.

It was the case with my partner. I was in the right place at the right time. She gave me the most wonderful times. Now I carry on with our Son. Trying to burn as brightly as she did. Hopefully making a few people smile along the way. That’s my excuse for the terrible jokes.

The timing of that winged visitor got me thinking. Yes I know that’s dangerous. 20 seconds later and I would have missed it. So if I had not answered that annoying telemarketing phone call then I would probably have never seen the winged visitor. So something annoying led to something quite wonderful. We (I) often forget that. It’s easy to think that ‘Bad stuff leads to more bad stuff’. Well it doesn’t always. Sometimes the bad stuff presents new opportunities.

Looking back I very nearly never took the job that led directly to me meeting my partner. I was due to take a better paid position somewhere else. At the last minute the organisation I was due to move to changed management structure. My job offer was rescinded. Next day I applied for the job that would change my life. A bad thing leading to something beautiful.

Now I’m not going to argue that the loss of my partner led to something beautiful. It was truly awful and will remain that way. But it certainly did change me into a better person and a much more complete parent. It forced me to ditch a career and opened up more quality time with our son. I certainly live a simpler more sustainable lifestyle now. I find it much easier these days to be thankful. So yes a truly awful event did lead to positive life changes.

I guess it’s all about accepting that bad stuff happens and not assuming that bad necessarily follows bad.

Needs work

Another moody Yorkshire summer afternoon. Everyday it’s such a blessing to wake to this view. No wonder my partner fell in love with this house within seconds. And as ever she was on the right side of the conversation. The ‘needs work’ line was a little weak. Actually it still needs work but that view is still here. Tell me what’s more important.

Looking back my line about ‘needs work’ was more about avoiding change. Sticking with what we had. Avoiding that leap of faith. That’s been a theme of my life story so far. I always think my past climbing hobby is a perfect reflection of life. Many goals set but never attempted. It was easier to avoid them, find excuses. Too much caution climbing routes. Using fear and self doubt as an excuse to avoid those more challenging climbs. Backing away from leaps of faith. Yes I had fun but what could have been.

Now the life safety net has been removed. Single parenting and being without that person who held my hand on those big steps. Life has changed but so am I. It’s a slow process but it’s happening. Now is the time to face some of those fears which have held me back. Time to start ditching those constraints that have grounded me. Time to re-evaluate myself. Only by doing that can I be that parent our son truly deserves. Yes the one who protects him but the one who also encourages him to truly flourish. To be that person who he truly wants to be. To live his life.

School at home week something

Still summer…

It’s the end of another school at home week. These weeks are just merging into each other now.

School at home has gone pretty well over those whatever weeks. Son has adjusted well to it. He’s been pretty relaxed but we have a cloud on the horizon. Next week the school is starting to bring in virtual classrooms and live teaching via Microsoft Teams. Son hates the thought of being videoed. He really struggles with it. Plus with the other kids present he will retreat into his shell again. So this new teaching development has filled him with dread. The technology will work. Will it work for all kids. Will it work for those kids with special educational needs. That’s a bridge to cross next week.

The other thing which has stood out is observing the impact a slight change in school routine can have on our son. And it’s not just the virtual classroom idea. Sudden and unscheduled changes in teaching style, teacher, timetables…. All these have a major impact on him. He becomes deeply unsettled and stressed out. This really compromises his performance. I’m not 100% certain schools are aware of the impact these things have on kids on the spectrum.

But back to this week. What has this slightly bewildered parent learnt.

  • Son can walk, eat, drink and use his iPad at the same time with ease. I struggle to walk without crashing into walls.
  • Two words have the immediate effect of sending me into the kitchen to eat junk food and find coffee. French and Drama….
  • How many lessons does a kid need just going on about how to make puff pastry. Surely Food Technology can find another food to look at.
  • Apparently the term for you arm hairs standing on end is Piloerection…
  • When I get the feeling that I am right and the science teacher is wrong on magnetic fields, it’s probably best to fact check my knowledge first……
  • Occasionally giving a kid a little constructive feedback on work might be a good idea. Most teachers do. Unfortunately some teachers give nothing back. That’s something like 13 weeks with nothing. Really…
  • Practicing tennis in the garden is difficult when you can’t find any tennis balls.
  • Practicing tennis in the garden is difficult without balls and it’s chucking it down.
  • Practicing tennis in the garden is difficult without balls, in the rain when you can’t find the tennis racquets.
  • Online French classes seem to drain the iPad battery much quicker than any other subject. This is bizarre as French vocabulary seems to have exactly the same effect on me.
  • It’s rather emasculating when your Son decides to film his own art cartoon project. The words maybe getting the cartoon in focus might be a good idea do sting….
  • When your son has Dyspraxia and Dad has basically got the artistic talent of a Brussels Sprout – trying to free draw a pie chart on the iPad is basically a waste of time.
  • iPad voice recognition works with hundreds of languages but can’t handle anyone speaking with a Yorkshire Twang. For example how difficult can it be for a machine to understand someone saying ‘Royalty’. As hard as Son tried the iPad kept hearing Roll over and when I tried it heard Reality. Remind me not to try it with a word like luck.
  • I can’t remember how to programme the microwave or where I left the TV remote control but somehow I can remember school calculus. How is that possible.
  • The school has done a great job in getting the school at home IT working. But it hasn’t cut down the paper usage. Since the project started in April we have used up a full ream of paper….

So another week down. I get the feeling next week will see the return of the really sarcastic parent….

Battered Rose

This rose bush was here when we first moved in. So it’s at least 18 years old. Given the state of it even then, I suspect it’s been here much, much longer. The changes it has seen over those years. Some good, some bad, some happy, some sad. It’s in a really annoying place. Right next to the front door. Constant pruning required to stop your arms and legs getting lacerated just trying to get into your own home. I dread to think how many times it’s been smashed and broken by washing machine and furniture deliveries. It’s regularly attacked by the local wildlife and pets. So yes it’s had a challenging life.

Yes it’s a tad battered. The roses are never perfect these days. Always a little worn at the edges. The foliage is getting a little thin in places. But it’s still here. Just like we are. I can’t speak for you but in my case I am so like this bush. A bit old. The body has taken one too many hits. Definitely battered and a little frayed round the edges. You could even argue that I’m starting to take root. But currently I am still here. Still trying to live. I will give thanks for that.

Get my head round

The sun is shining. It’s still cold but we will settle for this.

So it’s almost official. School has emailed parents to say that looking at the latest government guidance – which apparently isn’t much – only some Primary pupils and those sitting final exams next year will get any direct teaching over the next few months. The earliest Son will be back in school is going to be September. So it’s time to get our heads round this.

Looking at the government’s plan for the economy – doesn’t take long as it’s basically wrote on the back of the PMs hand – probably means the company I work for won’t be operating anytime before September. That’s being extremely optimistic and requires an awful lot of good fortune. Being realistic there is a high probability it will not survive. So it’s time to get our heads round this.

It’s also time to get my head round the likelihood that I won’t be seeing my brother and sisters much in 2020. If things improve then maybe visits at Christmas might be a possibility. Realistically meet ups are not happening anytime this side of September. Already one Government official has said Summer family holidays and meet ups are cancelled, as these are unsafe – but apparently getting on a packed bus and going to work is completely safe.

AND WE HAVE TO GET OUR HEADS ROUND TWO EVEN MORE PRESSING MATTERS.

  • How are we going to celebrate my partners birthday in just over a weeks time. We had been planning on doing a camp fire party. Unfortunately the fire pit didn’t survive the Yorkshire winter. Yesterday I tried to pick it up to clean and the metal just crumbled, leaving me holding just two wooden handles. At least they can be used as fire wood. The other idea was to have my partners favourite meal – Chinese. Unfortunately the local takeaways are still closed and the local supermarket is completely sold out of Chinese food – apart from crispy seaweed. Which brought the response “well the gerbils will eat well then….”. I did offer to cook Chinese from scratch, but that brought the response “I’d rather suck on a gooseberry….”. So we are in plan F territory.
  • Dad I am so missing not going on my trampoline.” A couple of months back our garden pigeons decided to nest right next to the big bouncy thing (thats not my tummy before you say anything….). When I say right next to, I mean within 10 centimetres (not using inches will really upset Boris). Well the pigeons and chicks are showing no sign of moving, so I have two options. One is to dismantle and then rebuild somewhere else. Problem is that it’s in the only flat part of the garden and it’s like trying to assemble a Super Tanker. The instructions helpfully explained that you will need three reasonably fit adults to assemble. They failed to mention at least one of those adults must be an expert in structural engineering and the other two will need to have the strength of The Hulk. The other option is to try and drag the complete trampoline. We tried yesterday and after 30 minutes had shifted it 1 cm (up yours Boris). So we are also on Plan F here as well.

But at least the sun is shining.

Moonbathing

Under the right cloud conditions, a Full Moon can end up looking like the Sun. Especially to my old iPhone camera.

I had yet another weird dream. A weird dream which was so weird that it caught our Sons imagination when I told him about it. The Sun was going through a profound and long lasting quiet phase. It just was just not heating our planet up enough. The world was entering a new ice age. So the scientists decided to reflect giant lasers off the moon to warm things up. The Moon became the new Sun. As a result people would sunbath during the night, moonbathing. Full Moons became huge public holidays and communities held giant night street parties. Beaches and parks only started to fill up at midnight. Our world was forced to shift.

I guess that odd dream had a message that applies today. When things happen sometimes we have to change and adapt. The old way of doing things just stop working and we have to develop our own New Normal….

Dad have we got any graph paper. I need it for science.”

Strangely our massive school stationary cupboard doesn’t seem to have any stocks of graph paper to hand. Music is coming up soon, what on earth will that require.

Music Sheets

Flutes

Drum kits

Violins

Grand Piano

But we have learned to make do. To improvise. The days of just popping into the shops to stock up have gone. It’s one shop every few weeks and you just work with what you have. That’s the new normal. As is…

Dad this weekend since we can’t go anywhere shall we do something in the garden. Shall we turn it into the beach again. Maybe we can camp out on the lawn and imagine we are in the mountains of Scotland. Having our very own moonbathing party.”

That’s a great idea. That would be good for the both of us. The danger currently is that we are just not going anywhere. We don’t even manage to walk through the front gate anymore. Our world has contracted. Days merge into each other. Time passes us by. Even in these strange times, that is such a waste.

Reading between the lines many UK pupils will not be returning to school until September. An attempt will be made to get some younger kids back into Primary School during June. Those older children with key exams next year may get a few weeks of direct teaching time during July. That’s it. So it looks like we won’t have to face the ‘does he return to school’ question for several months. Not going to school has become the new normal. March through August will be completely without classroom teaching. That’s a long time. Such a long time especially when the only part of the world you experience is your garden. But that’s how it is, the world has shifted. So it’s time for us to adapt. Make the best of what we have. Like we had to a few years back. When loss destroyed our wonderful world. We had to adapt to becoming a one parent family.

We did it once, so I’m sure we will do it again. To find ways of stretching our horizons without leaving the garden. Maybe we call that moonbathing.

Brave New World Part 2

I wasn’t planning on having a two part Brave New World post but the staggering incompetence of our Government intervened.

This Brave New World post originated from listening to few callers to a local radio show. A number of times I heard the following heartfelt wish

I can’t wait for the restrictions to be gone in a couple of weeks, we will have beaten this virus and so we can get back to living like we did.

Sadly they are in for a shock. The lockdown will continue for another 3 weeks. It’s not like we have a tap that we can just switch the old life on and off. The eventual easing of restrictions does not mean we have won. Even in countries like Germany who have managed this crisis professionally, the restrictions are being eased while many are still dying. Thousands are still getting infected. We haven’t defeated this virus. All we have done is get through the first onslaught. What’s happening is that we are now trying to find ways of living and working around the virus. This virus is not going away. We wait for a vaccine. Yet even if we are lucky and a vaccine becomes available in the summer, it will take many months for it be manufactured and potentially several years before the programme covers everyone. Things HAVE TO CHANGE for this to work. It will be trial and error. Strict Restrictions may have to be enforced again.

So things will need to change. Certainly over the next year or so, maybe longer. Some things are relatively easy. Shaking hands surely has been consigned to the bin. Increasingly shops are changing how they manage customers to keep them and staff as safe as possible. What worries me is that in some areas the assumption seems to be that we can just go back to the old ways. Namely Schools.

Over the coming months schools will start to reopen. So as mass gatherings are still banned, the daily school mass gatherings will start. What will have changed. In the UK the answer appears to be nothing. It will be ok we are told because kids are at lower risk than others to this virus. Yet even today I’m listening to the Government warning

It can effect any person. ANY AGE. Even those without underlying health conditions can die from it.

But then we are told that it will be ok for the kids as more are naturally gaining immunity and yet we know so little about this virus. How long does acquired immunity really last for. Worryingly we are seeing increasing reports of people getting the virus more than once. Let’s be honest. What ever we do going forward is a risk. Sending kids to school is an increased risk now. So what are we doing to minimise that risk.

So when schools reopen – what’s changed. How are we going to safeguard the health of our kids, teachers, support staff and families. In the UK many school facilities are not fit for purpose. Insufficient and out of date hygiene facilities. A rammed timetable which provides no time for that number of kids to repeatedly wash their hands and for surfaces to be cleaned. Too many squeezed into such a confined space. Absolutely zero social distancing possible. Things have to change.

This is the time we should be looking at all options. Reviewing what can and can’t be done. How can we improve things for the better. Schools should be given the freedom and backing to make positive changes before the kids return. Give Headteachers the authority to protect those under their care.

  • Give them access to appropriate PPE and safety kit. Do kids and teachers have to wear masks?
  • If schools are forced to open before the summer break it’s likely to be happening while infection rates are still uncomfortably high. Do we initially focus on opening for just a small number of children. Just those children leaving in the summer.
  • Allow Heads to consult with parents on which kids can spend part of the school week at home.
  • Rip up the national school teaching mandates. Allow Heads flexibility over timetables, opening hours and subjects.
  • Allow them to vary teaching delivery for each subject. Some classes may need to delivered in the classrooms. But surely not all of them. For example in the UK we have access to an online mathematics teaching resource. The last few weeks have demonstrated that with the overview of the teacher, maths can be successfully delivered remotely. History can often be such a dry subject to deliver from the classroom. How about the teacher delivering lessons from historic sites (either with the class or recording the lesson). Lets make the teaching more engaging.
  • What potential untapped learning resources do we have amongst parents and the local community. At Son’s last school they did a session on the how the various body organs worked. A parent who was a Doctor delivered the lesson.
  • Some kids will need to be in school full time. But we will have a number of kids who can for at least part of the week be schooled at home. What’s the scope of saying some kids attend school for only part of the week and work from home for the rest of the week.
  • Invest in online teaching resources. I am a critic of our Son’s school. But they have invested in this area. They have delivered online schooling for every subject. Yes some work better than others – but it’s worked.

If we can deliver on some of these changes it will allow schools to space kids out more. We can bring down class sizes. We can allow those in school a chance to practice social distancing and effective hygiene. All things we are told that are essential for daily life now. Surely that’s a safer, more effective and sustainable way of delivering teaching in the modern age. I’m not a teaching expert but I have worked for years in logistic planning for public services (including schools). In our country we don’t ask the right questions early enough. Our Government does not allow Heads and Teachers professional freedom. That’s why education is failing so many kids and that’s why our schools are basically unfit to meet the current challenges. It’s time for change. We have to change or this virus (or the next one) will win the war. It’s time for change. Yes it’s time for a brave new world.

Stages

One of my first records I purchased was ‘All the worlds a stage’ by the rock legends, Rush. Shakespeare wrote that ‘All the worlds a stage’. Don’t worry I’m not going all thespian on you. But I must admit I fancy my chances these days of doing a mighty fine Richard III stage performance. Why is the Stagecoach Bus always two hours late when I try to catch it. Just watched wrestling on the TV which is staged. So many stages.

Then you get stages in grief. A couple of years ago someone asked me what stage I was at in my bereavement process. I just looked on blankly. All I could think of was two stages. Your life before the death and the life after the death. So I answered – in the second stage and I always will be. I guess that’s not the answer they were looking for.

Last night I was reading an online article about bereavement counselling. It talked about every bereaved person going through the same 6 stage process. I wasn’t convinced. Surely every person’s grief journey is unique. Why force people to follow a predetermined text book bereavement route which doesn’t suit them. So I gave up with the online article and scribbled down my own staged journey so far. It’s my interpretation of MY journey and in no way is it supposed to fit other people. Remember I’m not a Doctor or Psychologist. I moved a potted plant into my bedroom to raise the rooms overall IQ score. The height of my powers these days is to get the cling film wrapper off food without slicing off a finger…. So here goes with my journey.

The SHOCK STAGE. Within a period of 6 weeks I’ve just buried my mum and then my partner. I’m a complete mess. Barely able to function and yet I’m supposed to be a Dad. It’s like living in a prolonged nightmare. Trying to sort out the practicalities and legal side of death, but actually got no idea what I’m doing. Basically doing stuff I’m told to do.

The FRUSTRATION STAGE. The cards, flowers and phone calls have dried up. I’m becoming more aware of the reality of the situation. Trying to get my head round how to be a single parent and at the same time keep some money coming in. I need to find an alternative to my career as it just isn’t doable anymore. The frustration comes from realising that what worked in the past just isn’t going to work now. It’s also so frustrating that the world is still spinning without seemingly even blinking after my partner exited stage left. It feels like I’m fighting this new normality.

The ACCEPTANCE STAGE. Eventually I began to accept the new reality. This is how it is and I just have to deal with it. I came up with a mental picture which I still use today. A door on my former life has locked shut. It’s never going to open again. I can look through the door window and see memories but I can’t touch them. I could stand here forever but this door isn’t opening. So I have a choice. Continue to stand by the door or set off and find other doors which are still open.

The IT’S LOVE STAGE. Linked with the Acceptance Stage. I opened a mental dictionary and found a better definition of grief. It defined grief as another word for LOVE. That sounded so reassuring to me.

The IT’S OK TO GRIEVE STAGE. Up to now I would hide my grief. As if it’s something unhealthy, something deeply embarrassing to others. People might ask how I was doing but they appeared to rapidly change the subject if the answer I provided was not – I’m fine…..But suddenly as grief was another way of saying LOVE, suddenly it became ok to grieve. Yes it could still be so painful but it’s something I shouldn’t be hiding. It’s nothing to be ashamed about. It really is OK to be sad.

The IT’S OK TO LAUGH STAGE. Up to now I felt bad about smiling and laughing. It was just not right. I would focus entirely on making our Son happy but shunned doing it for myself. It took well over a year but the penny finally dropped. Yes it’s ok to be sad AND YES it’s just as OK to be HAPPY.

The IT’S OK TO LIVE AGAIN STAGE. After the funeral all my dreams died. When I looked at life I saw it entirely through our sons eyes. When I tried to see it through my eyes all I saw was blackness. Absolutely no future. However over time it became OK to live again. Remarkably I can still be happy. I can find new doors that will open and create new memories. Life can still be at times sad and painful BUT IT CAN also be fun. Just starting to dream again.

That’s the stage I am at now. Embracing the happiness as much as I respect the sadness. Maybe, just maybe tipping the life balance in favour of fun. Yes it still can be a wonderful life.

Sitting here

It’s early morning and I’ve just finished my workout outside in the breezy Yorkshire air. Son is still asleep safe inside. I’m looking out into the distance and seeing no sign of human life. In the far distance you can just about see the main road leading to the coast. At this time of year it should be nose to tail with caravans and cars packed with excited families. Today it is completely deserted. I patiently waited for five minutes. Not one vehicle. Then I fall backwards and look at the heavens. An empty sky. Yes clouds and fleeting glimpses of lukewarm sun, but not one single aeroplane. To the East we can see one of the main air corridors. We often excitedly get the Flightradar24 app out and check where the many planes are heading. America, Canada, Europe, Asia. Today nothing. Not one single vapour trail.

Has the world stopped turning?

Three years ago our little home stopped dead yet the world kept turning. It was a harsh lesson. Even when good people leave us the vast majority of the world is oblivious. In the days after the funeral I would question

Why has the world not stopped…..

Well it appears to have stopped now. Yet does it help. NO.

Later I am inside listening to music on the radio. It’s a sobering experience. Usually listeners are requesting celebratory songs for weddings, anniversaries and birthdays. Today the airwaves are frequently filled with songs dedicated to rock lovers who have lost a fight with an unseen new enemy. My heart goes out to you all. It was only a matter of time before someone requested Alter Bridge and Godspeed. The finest song I’ve come across about loss. My bereavement go to track.

Test me once again
You know I didn’t do anything
Set my life on low
You know I could have had it all
Drifting out of place
With no direction and no escape
Set out all alone
Oh to a place I don’t belong
Without you
I know that I must change
Without you
I’ll never be the same
No
Farewell
Godspeed
And goodbye
You have lived
And you have changed
All our lives
Test me all the way
Surely you know
I’m not afraid
Prove now once again
That I will never see the end
Without you
I know that I must change
Without you
I’ll never be the same
Farewell
Godspeed
And goodbye
You have lived
And you have changed
All our lives
Cast away
Our regrets and all our fears
Just like
Like you did when you were here
And then the days
They ran out
And then the days
They ran out
Farewell
Godspeed
And goodbye
You have lived
And you have changed
All our lives
Cast away
Our regrets and all our fears
Just like
Like you did when you were here
And then the days
They ran out
And then the days
They ran out

Lyrics by Tremonti/Kennedy (source Musixmatch)

Even after a few hours the cars and aeroplanes are still missing. The world may still have stopped. But son is finally rousing himself. Our little world cannot permanently stop. He has a childhood to live and enjoy. So one more sip of my hot drink and find that happy face. Reach for that bag of tricks we all have and find a way to shut this horrible situation out for a while. Start having as much fun as we can. Let’s keep living and hope the world starts turning again real soon.

Stay safe my friends and I really hope you find your own way to smile. Maybe if enough of us do this then we might just be able to start the world turning again.

Swan

It was good to see the swan observing social distancing at the local lake today. If only some of the humans could get their head round the concept. Our village thankfully has. Apart from the postman, the occasional food delivery driver and a handful of dog walkers – that’s it. All the cars are parked up and are not being used. Virtually no through traffic. We don’t have a shop, cafe or pub. The village hall and church are temporarily closed. Basically it’s like a ghost town. It seems to oscillate between beautifully peaceful and slightly unnerving.

It’s the new normal.

Work is definitely shutdown until at least mid June now. No sign of schools reopening anytime before September. The countrywide lockdown isn’t being relaxed any time soon. No long runs. Apart from the very occasional trip to a shop for essentials, that’s it for physical social interaction. Maybe for months. It’s not happened yet but I can see this ramping up a grief attack soon. Especially as my partners birthday is looming. But it is what it is. Another thing for my constantly racing two cell brain to deal with.

We were watching Toy Story 2 last night when a thought popped into my head. Apart from the obvious one – oh man I look increasingly like Mr Potato Head. Wouldn’t it be great if toys did come alive. How much fun would that be. Suddenly a whole new self contained social circle. And yes we have a Buzz Lightyear so maybe he could teach us to fly.

I feel bad now Dad. Not played with a number of my toys in years. They have been shelved. Woody was mortified when he was shelved. Maybe we should dedicate the online Drama lesson to playing with old toys.”

He’s been so turned off from the subject that playing with old toys would certainly have more learning value.

Dad Ive been thinking about Toy Stories meaning. Basically it’s that you need to keep old toys come what may. Yes always play with them, even when your old. But never, ever give them away – even to a needy cause. It’s a bit of a grim message really.”

And with that he was off to find his old In The Night Garden Toys. But unusually for him, he did not fully think this through. His Dad fell in love with that old BBC kids show. His Dad can still answer any question thrown at him about Igglegpigle, Makka Pakka and the gang. And rather than looking for the shelved toys in the old toy baskets he just needs to look at his Dads bedroom table. No shelved toy sadness here. The In The Night Garden gang are very happy each night. Much loved by someone who really should know better.

Photo from the BBC.