2003

2003. A time before parenting. A happy dreaming couple. A time when digital photography was still seen as the work of the devil by many. When a mobile phone was just that – a mobile phone – nothing else. My football team was still playing in the European Champions League.

31st May 2003. As the local paper described it. A once in a lifetime opportunity. The chance to see a 90% solar eclipse. Two problems

  • The peak eclipse would happen dead on sunrise. Best viewed from the East Coast.
  • This is Yorkshire.

Yorkshire does many things well. Cricket, Rhubard, Beer, Ferrets, Terriers, Chocolate, Moody Moors. We also do lots of cloud and rain. We don’t really do sun – bit of a bugger when your looking forward to a solar eclipse.

With a wing and a prayer we set off for the coast at 3am. Arriving at Scarborough an hour later. People looking out across the sea. Just before sunrise it’s hard to tell if the clouds have formed.

The first signs of morning and we wait with baited breath. Will the Sun appear.

As the sunrise time came still no sign of the sun. Maybe too much sea mist.

Then at 4.36am a thin red strip of sun appears. The crowd let’s out a huge cheer. Some hardy folk jump into the sea for a swim.

Unbelievably the infamous Yorkshire weather was playing ball today. Not a cloud in the sky.

As the Sun continued to rise a beautiful red then orange water path virtually led the way to the eclipse. Someone had brought a ghetto blaster and almost hypnotic music drifted across the morning air. The dreaming couple talked about an adventure to a far off land to see a full eclipse one day. One day.

17 years later. The Yorkshire weather is certainly not playing ball. I came across these photos looking for my birth certificate. They instantly took me back to that time of dreams and a truly magical partial eclipse.

One more little miracle. A photo involving me. A photo I can sign up to. So to those who have asked for a picture. Ok here it is.. Me back in 2003.

Flick the switch

Ans so the transition begins.

A transition from a happy and relaxed boy to one wracked with doubt and anxiety.

School starts to flick the switch again. How many kids are going through this experience. Far Too Many.

Here the school prison gates open on Monday. Son’s words not mine.

So on this glorious winters day he tries to wade through the homework which was dished out before Christmas. He spent an hour trying to sketch a mirror image of a Scream like skull photo. The fear of picking up a negative for not putting enough effort into the drawing driving him on. Sadly I fear it’s also driving any love he might have for art well and truly out of his system as well.

Once the skull torture was finished. He started work for two upcoming spelling tests. Then time spent on Science, Mathematics and French work. Finally he needed to work hard to complete a writing piece neatly. His teachers words. Whats the point, going to get told that it’s not good enough, I haven’t tried enough and it needs to be done again. Son’s words.

This really can’t go on. Son deserve so much more than this. So many kids deserve better than this. Is it so difficult to make education just a little less daunting and just a little bit more inclusive. What’s the word I’m looking for. Welcoming. Another word. Enriching. Another word. Fun.

Who am I kidding. It will be the same school that he was so pleased to escape from before Christmas. But 2020 feels different this time. This time the prospect of a positive change has dimmed significantly. Our Government is now in place until son will have left secondary school. It is committed to extending the current education philosophy which has already created this hell hole. We are now facing a real risk of son being failed for the entirety of his school life. That’s a sobering thought.

2020 will start with yet another push to deliver any positive change at all. Again school and teachers will be told exactly what actions and support son needs to be put in place to make his schooling work better for him. The dialogue will be constant – certainly from my side. But deep down I know what the likely outcome is. So this year the question is probably more about what it will take for us to flick the switch and turn off this failed schooling nightmare. If we were still a two parent family then the switch would have already been flicked. Homeschooling. With Single Parenting it’s more fraught with logistical and financial issues. So many issues to address. BUT son only gets one childhood. One go at his formative years. Flicking the switch is increasingly looking inevitable.

People of Blyth

It’s Friday the 13th. It feels like a real horror story in Britain today. A new dawn of terror.

People of Blyth I really hope your decision to vote Conservative works out for you. I really hope Boris Johnson follows through on his promises. He gets Brexit done then finds money to cut taxes and spend more on public services like our health service. Although a Bart Simpson quote comes to mind.

You just bought another load of crap from the world’s fattest fertilizer salesman.”

To be fair to Blyth I could have picked a number of Northern English Towns and Cities. That includes my childhood home town – Redcar. Or as Johnson has now called it Bluecar. I hope people remember that Redcar is named after an area of poorly drained land. Kjar (Car) is old Viking word for marsh. Maybe Conservative Blue and poor drainage are a suitable combo.. My old Dad always said he would never ever vote Conservative. He must be turning in his grave at a Conservative MP of Redcar.

So we wake up to Boris Johnson as the Prime Minister. I was careful there not to say our or my PM. He certainly is not my PM. He needs to earn that. If he proves himself capable and trustworthy then I will start to call him MY PM. His remit is to get Brexit done. As far as many are concerned that is the a Brexit debate finished. We are now leaving. Leaving hopefully with the best negotiated terms and relationships possible. Although many of his backers want to have the process fail so they can just crash out of the EU without any constraints. I genuinely think it’s the wrong call but we have lost the argument and IT IS WHAT IT IS. We need to move on.

I’m not going to rant at the majority of people who voted Conservative. Your opinions and values are just as valid and heartfelt as mine. I do shake my head at some of the reasons a worryingly large number of people decided to vote on. Ones I have personally heard include

  • I’m not voting Liberal as the leader is a woman,
  • I’m voting for Boris because he is funny,
  • I’m voting for Labour as Gary Neville (ex Footballer) said he was,
  • I’m not voting Labour as they backed the Terrorist who attacked a London Bridge (a fake news story)
  • I’m voting Conservative as they will teach Europe a lesson because they are to blame for our problems.

Simply staggering….

Our political system is broken – probably beyond repair. Increasingly money buys you power. We have political leaders who openly lie and spread unfounded rumours. We have effectively a state sponsored public broadcaster while the other news outlets are in the hands of a few Conservative supporting billionaires. Media groups who openly flout electoral law and favour the incumbent government. Where opposition parties are scrutinised and vilified while at they same time reporters act as a mouth piece for government propaganda. It’s not even subtle anymore. A BBC News reporter days before the election told viewers that Boris Johnson ‘so deserves’ the victory he is hoping to get.

We have potential Russian meddling in our elections. A crucial report on this was buried by the Government a month before the vote. But let’s be fair to Russia it’s not as if the UK or the US have not also interfered in the the affairs of other nation states as well. If we do it why can’t they.

We have a fragmented opposition where the two main players have lost the plot and would much rather fight each other than actually focus on trying to be a credible government in waiting.

We have a ridiculously out of date electoral system that makes it virtually impossible for parties like the Greens to make any headway. Yet it gives huge majorities to a part that gets less than 50% of the vote.

We have a United Kingdom which is literally falling part. As much as Johnson has denied it his Brexit Plan will split Northern Island off from the rest of Britain with a dedicated border control. Scotland now votes in an entirely different direction than England. Scotland voted against Brexit. Scotland votes SNP. How can calls for independence be denied any longer. It’s probably appealing to Boris as he would get rid of a large and vociferous opposition grouping. Locking in a Conservative Government for a generation.

And then we get back to the good people of Blyth and Redcar. A political system which has for years ignored them and failed them. Now we have a hardcore of disillusioned voters who have little faith in their politicians and leaders. No wonder they see Brexit as a way of bringing change.

So we batten down the hatches. Focus on what is truly important – family and friends. Do whatever we can to protect them while doing our bit for the environment. Completely block out the tainted media groups like the BBC which simply cannot be trusted anymore. Find our own news sources. And we move on hoping that things don’t go as badly wrong as I fear. I really fear for minority groups, those who are sick, those who are on benefits, those who are out of work and I am petrified about what will now happen to our environment and wildlife. So ends the rant and now I get back to being a crap dad trying to cope with whatever life chucks at me. Fingers crossed I don’t need to mention Boris again.

Melodrama

Dad we have an end of term Drama assessment tomorrow. It’s basically a spelling test. Have to learn words like Melodrama, Facial Expressions, Villains, Exaggeration, Storyline, heroic and conclusion. No wonder Im in the bottom set if they only judge kids on spelling.

The ironic thing is that the Dyslexic pupil is getting higher marks than many of the other kids in the test he is being set up to fail in. Plus I’ve said it before – isn’t Drama supposed to be about creativity. What’s creative about spelling Melodrama. Maybe the creativity is finding different ways to misspell words.

MELODRAMA – melonram, meltorama, melodyarm, mouldyfarm, mellowdram

The worlds a melodrama.

A world where a PM driving a forklift truck is deemed more newsworthy than young children spending hours on the floor of

underfunded hospital’s because no beds are available. How a PM can walk past a homeless man sleeping rough and SMILE. So many countries run by liars and self serving buffoons. How a teenager with Aspergers is vilified for standing up for the planet. How so many societies are descending into hatred and violence. Where it’s open season on minority groups.

Photo from Inside Croydon

On days like this part of me is relieved my partner is not hear to see this. To see what has become of our country, our world over the last three years. She would be devastated.

And then your see a beautiful sunset over a little church which has been around for hundreds of years. In those brief moments before the darkness falls you see hope and you see a reason to fight. If enough good people see this then the day of reckoning will soon come for those who abuse their power and abuse their position.

When that day comes the melodrama will centre on the facial expressions of the villains as they are brought to justice. It’s no exaggeration to say that will be a storyline which has taken far too long to come to his heroic conclusion.

**************

This went down a route I wasn’t expecting. Like many people in the UK we are going down with election cabin fever. Clinging to hope yet fearing the upcoming darkness which may befall our country tomorrow night.

Boris Award.

A while back we started the Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson Award for services to numpties and overall nastiness.

We haven’t awarded a Boris in a while. Almost too many candidates to consider but today’s winner just went that little extra mile. Meet Sally Anne Heart the Conservative candidate for Hastings & Rye.

Sally has some interesting views. But just one needs special attention.

Sally believes that Disabled People and People with Learning Disabilities should be paid less money because ‘they Don’t Understand Money’.

Shame on any person from the constituency who votes for this candidate. Shame on Boris Johnson for allowing these views to come from his party. And shame on the media for completely ignoring this.

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.

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.

Rain and mud

Dad can we have a Thanksgiving meal this week. I like the idea.

Ok what shall we celebrate.

How about the rain. It’s the only thing guaranteed to be around when we have the meal.

*************

He is so true. It must be Yorkshire’s biggest commodity. I was reading that one Yorkshire weather station had recorded its wettest Autumn on record – with 15 days still left for more rain. And yes we’ve had much more rain.

One big problem with rain is when you live in the country everywhere gets covered in mud. Lots of mud. I had to put winter tyres on as my car as it was wallowing on the sea of mud. Mud everywhere. On the roads, paths, tracks, garden, house floor and on the DOG.

On his walk today he became caked in brown stuff. That means the most dreaded two words – Dog Bath. Many pet owners will know the feeling. Two hours to catch the mutt (they have a sixth sense when it comes to visits to the Vet and Bath Time). Those wonderful 10 minutes standing next to the bath where the owner gets wetter than the dog. Then trying to catch the manic hound to dry him. At this stage the dog develops Cheetah speed and flies around the house coating every room in lovely smelly Dog wetness. Then you spend hours trying to clean and dry the house. And what does the dog immediately do. Go outside and roll in the mud. Deep joy.

You may think the water is quite clean. He was that muddy as Sherlock Holmes would say – it was a two bath problem.

Obelisk

The Obelisk at Castle Howard. It is over 300 years old and is 24m tall. It has the following inscription

VIRTUTIS ET FORTUNAE
JOHANNIS MARLBURIAE DUCIS
PATRIAE ET EUROPAEQUE DEFENSORIS
HOC SAXUM
ADMIRATIONI AC FAME SACRUM
CAROLUS COMES CARLIOL POSUIT
ANNO DOMINI
MDCCXIV

I think my translation is pretty accurate.

Virtually everyday is wet here. If you have the misfortune to come here you will need three jumpers, extra thick wooly socks and two umbrellas. I could have been built somewhere warm and dry like Rome but no. For some reason they built me in a place that only the Saxons could love.

Its other claim to fame is that when I do my long run I perform a u-turn here and head home. It was very kind of Sir John Vanbrugh in 1714 to think of my recreational needs. Clearly a very clever man. Although he was a tad over optimistic that my little legs would get me to one of his other creations – Blenheim Palace. Not sure even my car could make it there.

But to be fair to the great architect he’s not the only one who can struggle with the powers forward planning.

While my partner was here we disagreed on which secondary school to send our son to. I favoured his current school as at least he would know some kids there. My partner favoured either another secondary school or even a special school. In the end my partner died a year before the decision had to be finally made. So he went to the school I had favoured. With hindsight that was a monumentally poor decision. Talk about a school getting a kids education so badly wrong. The only redeeming feature about my decision is that according to the health professionals the other secondary school option is not much better.

So now we are caught in the classic parent catch 22 position. Does he stay in this failing school where at least he knows some kids. Does he move to the other school which potentially is not much better and would mean a huge upheaval for any kid – especially one with Aspergers. We could look at a special school option but even the health professionals agree that he just wouldn’t suit that educational approach. We can’t afford to sell the house and move to another catchment area. Moving also means having to probably reapply for an Education and Health Care Plan which given the government cutbacks would prove extremely difficult. AND YET I just can’t find a practical way of educating from home.

Sorry to swear but BLOODY HELL.

So I look at the Obelisk and think that’s it’s good but maybe the architect could have included say a comfy seat, a water dispenser, some energy drinks and maybe a supply of oxygen. I look at our sons schooling and think what changes can deliver the best fit in a few years time. I suspect the Obelisk is the easiest to change.

I am not a widow

Bereavement is one of the most intense and horrible experiences a person will ever go through. It’s sharp prickles and thorns grab hold of you. It scars you. So how can you ever forget it’s happened.

I had stopped off at the local store for food for tonight. Son is easy – just look for any food that starts with an S and ends with ausages…. Then fill the plate with tomatoes, carrots and bell peppers. I will look longingly at the cakes then eventually go for soup. Oh look they have some giant jacket potatoes I can get them for my partner. Where’s the cheese to go with them. No prizes for spotting the deliberate mistake.

It wasn’t until I was focusing on finding a mild cheddar that the brain finally kicked into gear. Oh bugger. For a few glorious seconds I was not bereaved. Not a widow. Then that sinking feeling. That awful feeling in my tummy. Completely disoriented trying to process two completely different places which are three years apart within a few seconds. Maybe this is what Time Travel will feel like.

Not a widow.

According to the UK Government I’m actually not a widow. Officially you can only be a widow if you are married in a manner recognised by our beloved rulers. We were a couple for 20 years. Now approaching 23 years…. The plan was always to get married but we had plenty of time to sort that out. Then we became a family. Then Aspergers entered our life’s. Again marriage was put on the back burner as we had something far more important to focus on. Then time ran out.

So since we were not married I’m not supposed to call myself a widow. The Government is not stupid. It’s a money thing. Death benefits are aimed at easing some of the initial financial pressures which will hit when a partner dies. These benefits need to be restricted so we have a very selective definition. If you are not defined as being officially married then it’s zero help for you. Your not a widow. It’s not the denial of benefits which annoys me it’s that somehow that unmarried bereavement is officially seen as less important. Not an issue. I remember talking to a man whose male partner had died. For years they were unable to get married because of the law. That has now changed. The irony was that it was done by a Conservative PM who needed help from the opposition as many of his own party voted against the change. Five of the current Government voted against same sex marriage. This wonderful couple never got married after the law changed in 2013. The man said

All I wanted to do was call myself a widow and get on with grieving. But according to the Government I am not a widow.

We agreed an appropriate response. Bugger off. We don’t care what others may think because in our eyes we are widows.

So I may briefly forget that all this bad stuff has happened. But sadly it has. So yesterday, today, tomorrow and going forward I AM A WIDOW. Interestingly my spell checker is desperate to change widow to window. So to keep it happy I AM A WINDOW. Now that opens up a whole new philosophical blog and probably makes a great Prog Rock Album Title. On that thought it’s time to draw the blinds down and go to bed.

I know that I will miss her tonight.