That’s what it is

Hindsight and regret is so easy to fall back into. We all do it. Especially when you suffer bereavement. I do it. I could fill a War and Peace size book with all the missed opportunities.

  • The deterioration came so quickly that we never had that last proper conversation. The last goodbye. I guess the last chat was about sorting out her laptop for when she came out after the tests.
  • We never got to New Zealand.
  • We didn’t have that family Santa trip to Lapland.
  • We never got to Chile.
  • We never got round to trying for a second child.
  • The trip to Tibet and Nepal eluded us.
  • I never did get round to putting those shelves up which she really wanted.
  • Looking at the Northern Lights together remained unfulfilled.
  • I never got round to getting the clip of our sons first steps off the broken camera and on to the video so my partner could see them.

Plenty of time to do these. So no rush. WRONG.

But as that line goes. That’s what it is. Until someone invents time travel I just can’t change the past. Maybe occasionally in dreams but when you wake up it’s back to the reality. But this misses the big issue. Yes stuff got missed. I occasionally unintentionally messed up (maybe more than occasionally). We didn’t complete our bucket list. BUT just wait a picking moment. Look at the stuff we did.

  • Switzerland lots of times.
  • That first romantic trip to the Lakes.
  • The two mad cats and a savage Hamster.
  • The three trips to Disneyland Paris.
  • Buying our first house.
  • Those trips to France.
  • All those walks on the North Yorkshire Moors.
  • That trip to the Newcastle match when you almost got run over by the Juventus Team Bus and the Police Horse ate my Mars Bar.
  • That winter we got snowed in with 18 inches of snow. Days of snow fun.
  • The trips to the Peak District.
  • That stay in one of Britain’s most haunted buildings.
  • Skinny Dipping in the freezing sea at Anglesey.
  • That week in the Scottish Highlands and that cottage next to the grave yard.
  • That walk up Snowdon.
  • That mad evening at a Blues Brothers New Years Eve Dance.
  • The trip to the French Grand Prix
  • That week in the Gypsy Cottage In Northumberland.
  • The concerts. Even Ronan Keating – twice.
  • Getting to see some of the Olympics events.
  • Producing our beautiful son. The single most perfect we both ever did.

Too many great memories to mention here. That’s the stuff I should be focusing on. The memories which should be on permanent replay. You know what – we had a hell of a ride. That’s what it is. Thank you.

Sensory overload

There is a scene from the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie. Sherlock is in the restaurant waiting for Watson and his fiancée. You see him people watching. But quickly the noise and the images overwhelm him and he closes his eyes to shut out the world. Too much for him. Sensory overload.

It’s one of the few times I’ve seen this depicted on screen. It’s a problem for so many in our society. Yet it’s an often overlooked element of autism.

Imagine every time you go shopping, or sit in a classroom, or walk in a busy street or sit on an aeroplane or cross the road …. you get hit with this sensory overload. Too many different noises, too many images, too many smells, just too many sensations. Your brain just can’t process them. It can cause anxiety, confusion, anger, blurred vision, a meltdown or it may just hurt a lot.

Son has suffered with this. I’ve suffered with this.

Sometimes it’s easy to spot those potential sensory vortexes. Places with lots of people in a confined space. Various noise sources. Complex lighting. But often it can be more subtle situations which can produce the dreaded vortex.

  • Bright colours and certain patterns. The wrong type of wallpaper. A vivid unusual designed piece of clothing.
  • Where you try and process a number of facial expressions or different types of body language at the same time. A school corridor.
  • An unusual or striking taste sensation.
  • An unpleasant touch sensation. The wrong type of sock or glove. With me it’s often the feel of cold metal.
  • Trying to listen to a conversation where a number of people are trying to talk at the same time.

Over time you learn which environments will cause the issues and you start to avoid them. That’s potentially one of the reasons some with autism seek isolation and a private lifestyle.

Our son had started to develop his own defence strategies. One of his most effective ones is dreaming. When the environmental factors start to become unpleasant or unsettling he will often dream. Create a world he can fully control. This helps him shut out many of sensory inputs trying to overload him. You will often see him flapping or stimming during this process. He doesn’t completely shut out the entire world. He can keep track of certain inputs. You will see him dreaming but at the same time he is scanning a conversation or a teacher talking. As a kid I would do something similar when the anxiety started to kick in. Suddenly you feel your back in control again. Unfortunately I was not as good at keeping track of what the teacher was saying – my school reports often mentioned I was a day dreamer and needed to try harder.

Unfortunately as a society we are just not geared up to understand these issues. If you don’t conform to the required standards then you are labelled different. A problem. Most schools give little thought to how they design a classroom and no thought to what goes on the walls. But this can have such a huge impact. A psychologist told me this true story.

A young girl struggled to concentrate in the classroom. She was unable to read at school or in the home. She was written off as low attainment with behavioural issues. Then she was referred to a specialist who asked school to try and teach her in a different location with plain walls. The only room available was a little empty storage room under the stairs. Unbelievably the girl suddenly started to read in the store room.

The problem was that the classroom had a bright patterned wall which overloaded the girls senses. Every room in her home had complex patterned wallpaper. Quickly her parents redecorated the house with one colour paint. Unfortunately her school did not change the classroom so the girl would go to read in the storeroom.

We are seeing progress. For example some stores are starting to run autism friendly shopping slots. We went to one. The shop had turned down the lighting. Switched off the PA and music. Staff wore white shirts. Some of the bright coloured walls were covered over. The store controlled how many people entered the store. It worked and made such a difference.

As a society we have failed too many for far too long. We need to stop being so judgemental about those who don’t fit into the narrow accepted standards. We also need to have a long hard look at how we design our public buildings and homes. Let’s start to make a difference.

Crazy dreams

Dreams and memories are a vital part of life. After my partner died memories became my essential comfort blanket – something which kept me going. Three years later they are just as important to my soul. The occasional forgotten photograph find rekindle long forgotten life snapshots.

Dreams come in three forms for me. Those dreams of a future life, memories and those dreams which come during those all too brief periods of sleep. My future life dreams died when my partner left us. All I see is darkness. My job is to give our son the best possible childhood. After that nothing. It’s something I’ve heard from others in a similar position to me – I live through my son.

After the world changed my night dreams became a weird bizarre place. Reality completely warped. But increasingly the dreams became memory driven. Accurate replays of precious moments. This brought great solace with a few tearful mornings. But recently things have changed. Suddenly the night dreams are actual memory based but morphed in some important and strange way.

A lovely visit family trip to Edinburgh Zoo to see the Pandas. But in the dream the family trip becomes a trip round Jurassic Park world. All the actual incidents but with a dinosaur flavour.

A trip to the Royal Ascot Racing Festival held for one year at York. The Queen riding past us. 2005. Yet in the dreams it’s not Horse Racing. Sometimes it’s Dragster Racing. Sometimes it’s donkey racing. YES I get these strange morphed dreams repeatedly.

A family trip to the beach. It’s cold so it’s double jumpers. Ice cream and hot doughnuts. Yet on the first sandcastle we strike oil. Oil gushes out of the beach.

A romantic meal. Days filled of love and smiles. Yet the fine food is replaced with bugs and slugs and grubs.

A hand in hand walk round York’s Roman Walls. But instead of lovely views of York and it’s stunning Minster we see Paris on side and Nepal on the other side.

A New Years Eve Blues Brothers Themed Night replaced with a WWE wrestling night.

I could go on. So many odd dreams. I’m not a clever man so I’m not going to venture into Descartes territory. I suspect the reasons may not be that fundamental. But the bottom line is that I want my precious original sleep dreams back. Often they are all that remain of a better place. I like a bit of craziness but not here please.

Imagination

It doesn’t have to be big to have a bucket full of atmosphere.

This is Skelton Tower on the North Yorkshire Moors.

It’s almost 200 years old and is a former hunting lodge.

If you time your arrival at the Tower correctly then you can enjoy the passing Steam Train coming down the North Yorkshire Moors railway. Unfortunately this walking muppet has never managed that. Still you still get views of the haunting Newtondale.

The Tower is also a fantastic dreams portal. As long as no other walkers are in sight our son can spend hours here. Lost in another world. Talking animals and mythical creatures. Playing about with time and the laws of science. I must admit I often dream of rebuilding the tower and living here 200 years ago.

It’s really good to dream and stretch your imagination. I wonder how many inventions and leaps in understanding have come from doing this. That’s why it’s so frustrating that as soon as kids get past the age of 11 dreaming is often frowned upon. At school the kids have a predetermined and restrictive curriculum to get through (set by the Government – god help us). Hardly anytime is scheduled for creative thinking. Even in subjects like art the approach seems to be learn about this artist then reproduce one of the artists most famous pieces. More marks for getting close to it. Only occasionally are kids allowed to free draw. When our son tries to reproduce something then it’s a disaster. He just can’t do it. But allow him to draw from his imagination and suddenly he’s away.

Kids are not encouraged to explore logic and push the boundaries of thought. In science son has been told on a number of occasions to just accept the facts. Once he asked why science was seemingly so sure of its laws when we can only see less than 1% of the universe. He got the above response.

In maths the class had some questions to work out. Son found a quick way to get to the answer. It worked for every question but was told he was doing it wrong as it wasn’t the approach set out in the textbook.

In our area we are so lucky in terms of history. On our doorstep we can touch the Neolithic. The Stone Age. The Bronze Age. Roman History. Viking History. Medieval Times. The industrial Revolution. Victorian Times. World Wars. So much history to live and breathe. Yet do the schools make use of this. Not really. In his 5 years at Primary School he went to two historical sites. Currently at his present school he has spent one hour at a local archeological dig. What a waste. Won’t the kids learn more about history if they can actually live it. Apparently not – the only source of learning is from predetermined textbooks.

Imagination is the key to so much. It should be one of the key facets of modern education. When I was a kid the brilliant Carl Sagan ignited my passion for astronomy and thinking. I will leave you with his take on imagination.

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere. CARL SAGAN

Commitment

This photo is from a couple of days ago. It was reasonable weather.

Over the last couple of days the weather here has been a little more damp. The Photograph below from The Guardian sums up today’s dampness. Welcome to Yorkshire – the worlds best cyclist competing at the UCI World Championships and enjoying the welcoming Yorkie weather. As my Dad would have said that will put hair on their chests. Bet the poor riders didn’t expect to be riding through lakes. Amazingly the race was completed. Thats commitment for you.

Parenting is about commitment. Even I realised that before our son was born. The bizarre assumption we made was that at some stage the kid(s) would fly the nest and we would go back to something like our old life’s. Maybe after school, after college, after university, maybe a bit later. But at some stage it was happening. At some stage parenting becomes more part time and the stuff we had to park can be resurrected. In my case socialising with friends, climbing, playing sport, career, astronomy….

“WE” would get our life’s back – yes I never envisaged one tragedy…..

But maybe the full time parenting commitment may last longer. I remember our sons lead health professional telling us

It is possible that your son will be largely independent at some stage. However on the current evidence this might be the least likely outcome. You need to prepare yourselves that he may find it very difficult to live independently at any stage.”

As a family we are so fortunate. Son is making great progress in many areas. So many families don’t get this level of progress. But there are clear areas where progress is not being made. We have to be realistic that progress may never be made. Support may be needed life long. That’s a sobering thought and raises so many knock on considerations.

Those parts of my life I assumed would restart at some stage may in fact not happen. I don’t like admitting it but this thought makes me sad. But that’s life. I now realise bad things happen and you have to deal with them. You never know son might one day take up something like climbing. I suspect not in the case of climbing. He is a natural risk assessor. He might make sufficient progress to become fully independent. We just have to see what happens.

I know I’m not the only one who is in this position. I was reading a similar thing from a blogger I really respect just the other day. Parenting sometimes doesn’t work out the way you have imagined. Parts of your world are lost. Dreams become unattainable. Although parenting is the best gig in the world it is so hard to explain to others how part of you can still feels so sad.

I now know that this is parenting. Its about sacrifices. It’s about commitment.

Worth it

The rain clouds finally moved on and the sun shined briefly today.

If you open your eyes it’s amazing what gifts this beautiful world of ours will bestow on you.

The news in many countries is usually grim these days. In the U.K. we find our country run by the most extreme and dangerous government this country has seen in centuries. Your either completely agree with them or you are branded a traitor. An enemy of the people. We have become a country were a PM is hailed by his supporters like a conquering roman emperor after he was found guilty of breaking the law by our highest court in the land. A country where the PM is openly stoking the fires of intolerance and hatred. Where intimidation is commonplace. Brexit has broken the country. Was it really worth it.

So parents have to bring up their children in this toxic environment. A world made toxic by the adults. As a generation we have monumentally failed. We continue to find new ways of making things worse. Our leaders play a daily game of who can be the biggest cheating lying dork. Who can bring down their democracy first. Who can burn the planet fastest.

But hope has not been vanquished. The decent law abiding amongst us greatly outnumber the deluded. The next generation have not been blinded by the madness and greed. The educational system may try to clip their wings but it’s the job of parents to keep those dreams burning bright. The young like Greta are the future. The planet is still staggeringly beautiful. Just a short walk can yield such wonders.

So tomorrow Johnson will continue to try and push our country nearer the precipice. But take a quick walk and look at what is around you. Take a good look at the faces of the young. See their dreams. That’s the important stuff. That’s what should be guiding our direction. Not the poisonous Brexit agenda – whether we should leave or remain. Regardless of what happens we are going to have to get the country working again. Bringing the artificial divisions together again. A time to marginalise the extremists, build bridges (not walls) and reclaim our wonderful planet again. The kids deserve that.

Autism and football

The Blueberry Plant is anything other than blue now.

That looks too like a Liverpool and Manchester United shirt for my liking. But it’s still better than that black and white barcode which your team wears. Watching barcodes run about a pitch must give you headaches.

That Football team of mine just gives me headaches period.

Son has set his heart on playing football for a team. Over the last few months we’ve tried to kick as many footballs around as the weather has permitted. It hasn’t been easy for him. Difficulties with coordination makes playing any ball sport a tough ask. That’s the issues facing many kids with Autism and Dyspraxia.

But there is hope. For a start dyslexia is not a barrier to sport. So many positive examples.

  • Kenny Logan – 70 Caps for Scotland (Rugby Union)
  • Scott Quinell – multiple caps for Wales in both Rugby Union and League
  • Lewis Hamilton – 5 time F1 World Champion
  • Magic Johnson
  • The great Mohammad Ali

In terms of autism it allows you to see the world in different and imaginative ways. This can be such an advantage in sport. Psychologists believe that some of the greatest sporting talents may be on the spectrum. They can see opportunities that other teammates just can’t pick out. It’s speculated that one of the greatest footballers on the planet (maybe the best) is on the spectrum.

Our son is tall for his age and very slim. He seemed the perfect shape for a modern style goalkeeper. So that’s what we started with. This also made it easier as we could just focus on his hand to eye coordination. For years he couldn’t catch a ball. But for ages now he has been bouncing a bouncy ball on our pavement. With hard work he now has really good catching skills. Then he started trying to catch a tennis ball while bouncing on his trampoline. Again after a lot of hard work he now is great at diving and catching one handed. So the next stage was to change the bouncy ball and tennis ball for a football. Quite quickly he managed to start catching two handed.

A small goal was bought for the garden and I started hitting some soft shots at

him. With hard work he can now dive and make some great saves. He’s now better than I was at his age.

But now he wants to see if he can play as a midfielder.

That would be cool dad.

This is a harder challenge for him as he still struggles coordinating his feet to kick a ball properly. But let’s see what we can do about that. Any skills he learns with his feet will be useful if he goes back to goalkeeping as these days they need to be comfortable passing and dribbling.

This year he has started going to the football club at school. It’s a steep learning curve. Suddenly it’s not just his dad, the dog and the ball. It’s lots of moving bodies, so unpredictable and loads of shouting. The shouting really disoriented him on his first session. He played one short game in midfield.

Dad I didn’t touch the ball but wow did I look good…. (said with a smile)

He went in goal and made some good saves but

I took a goal kick but the defender didn’t see me pass to him and the striker got the ball and scored. The teacher shouted that it was my fault.

Unfortunately too much shouting and blame goes with kids football in our country. Kids should be encouraged to try things, make mistakes and learn from them. Unfortunately too many are scared of making errors. You don’t make dreams come true by shouting at kids. At least son could see the wider picture.

Typical the other team scores and everyone blames the keeper even when it’s not his fault. What did you do when they blamed you for letting a goal in. I bet you let too many goals in.

Oh I just smiled, clapped my hands and immediately forgot about the goal. You move on and think about the next shot. (That’s not the whole story. I was a bit of a hot head back then and I would threaten to stick the ball up the backside of anyone who blamed me. But I won’t tell him that.)

So fingers crossed for the next club session.

Autumn

Autumn is upon us. Everywhere you look the signs are clear.

The hedgerows are brimming with fruit. Intricate cobwebs everywhere.

Most of the swallows have now departed starting their six week trek to Africa.

Yellows, browns and reds are starting to dominate the foliage. Trees letting go as sad leaves fall to the ground. Soon the fruit in the hedgerows will be gone.

It was the time of year my partner loved the best. She loved the colours and the reflective atmosphere. A time she could walk quietly and just think. Now I walk the same paths. Today I was struck by one thought. My partner would have been looking at these same autumnal sights. Countless generations will have been looking at these sights. As much as you think the world has stopped because of your personal tragedy it never does. Life continues. The never ending cycle of life. The empty branches show the fleeting nature of life. Leaves fall but they will be reborn again. So should you – in your own time. When the time is right – it’s time to live again. It’s time to find a new way of blooming.

For me I’m still in the existing stage. I don’t tend to have personal dreams anymore. For years we had shared dreams. When my partner left us those dreams died. Now my dreams are my sons dreams. I exist because of my son. I live life through my son.

At some stage I will transition into the next stage. When I start to live for me. When I start to dream again. It’s strange how Autumn which is a time of life coming to the end of its cycle has sparked these thoughts. But maybe a better way to look at Autumn is that it’s a time of letting go before you start again. Rebirth. Yes that works better for me. It’s a time just before you live again.

Hadrians Wall

This is the final instalment of our unscripted and unplanned day trip. So far we have ventured to Kielder Forest and Kielder Water. So where next. After a series of left and right turns we are driving along a road when.

Dad stop. That most be Hadrians Wall. Ok it could be a farm wall. But it looks Roman to me.

It was the famous Roman Wall and ten minutes later we were trying to find a parking place at a Roman Fort.

Dad this is really busy. Too busy.

Luckily after buying tickets (while son hid in the car) I was able to find an alternate way onto the site avoiding the crowds. Hopefully the sheep in the neighbouring field didn’t mind us trespassing too much. It would have been such a shame for our son to miss this piece of ancient history.

Housesteads Roman Fort was built around 124AD to help defend Hadrians Wall. The wall was 73 miles long and stretched across Northern England from the Tyne to Solway Firth. It marked the northern boundary of the Roman Empire.

When it was constructed the wall was up to 20ft tall.

Housesteads is the most complete Roman fort in Britain. It stands on a stunning Northumberland escarpment. Can’t think of a more stunning location for a history lesson.

I wonder what the Romans would have made of me. Aspergers wasn’t even a word back then.

Before I could say anything he smiled and said.

Maybe they would have just said he’s on whatever Nero is on.

Back to the Fort tour. Son had obviously banked a considerable amount of information about this Fort from somewhere. No need for a guidebook.

As son was lost in a dream I wandered around the Fort silently with him. Trying to imagine what the site would have been like almost 2000 years ago. Good job the Romans installed steam underfloor heating. Would need it in summer never mind winter. Then another thought. All those years later and we are still trying to build walls. Put up barriers to try and protect our way of life. Have we learned nothing in all those years. Actually our PM is increasingly Nero like. A few other countries have their very own modern day Nero’s.

George RR Martin has revealed that Hadrians Wall provided the inspiration for Game of Thrones. The imagery of the book and it’s Wall are strong and echo that of a Hadrians Wall all those years ago. Romans stood on a huge wall marking the very edge of their civilisation. That view to the unconquerable northern lands must have been truly frightening.

Dad it’s funny when you think about it. The Romans would probably now be standing in the opposite direction, looking South and thinking the same frightening thing. A strange, scary land.

Yes England seems to have gone completely barking mad. Looking into England is a very scary prospect.

And with that we head back home. The road trip has been a great success. Especially as I only thought we would be having a random visit to somewhere local in Yorkshire.

Dad I’ve decided we need to have more road trips to make sure I visit the 12 new places. One needs to be to Scotland. Sorry Dad that might mean we are setting off before we go to bed.

What do you see

What do you see?

Well Dad I see a fox on a motorbike crashing into an alien while being chased by seahorses.”

That’s better than my Lego Ninjago Ghost Warriors playing cricket….

Lying on the ground seeing what pictures the clouds can paint. It was always a favourite of mine as a kid and it’s the same with our son. I’m pleased he still enjoys the game. It’s good to exercise the imagination every so often. The best thing it’s free. Unfortunately in Yorkshire it’s often just a plain grey sheet we can see.

In Nursery and Primary school they did provide the kids with a platform to dream and play. To let their minds fly. Secondary school is different. Suddenly it’s all change. No play, no freedom, no room to imagine. The lucky few if they can act or sing or dance or play an instrument can get into the school performing scene. For the rest it’s just facts and rules for them. 100% focused on exams at 16. Nothing else matters.

Is that really in the best interests of our kids. Or is it just about feeding the system. Justifying the Government Target Policy. I think we know the answer to this.

So back to the clouds. What do we see now. That big cloud looks like a hippo at a watering hole.

“I’m just seeing something big. Something very big. I’m seeing my dads belly. That will block the sun out for days…”