Silverback

Must cut my grass…..

One of those days where you line up a full day of work and then son wakes up with a temperature…. One too many coughs and he’s off sick. One too many sneezes and he’s contaminated me. Deep joy.

Still a day off from school will delay yet another bust up with the teachers. Maybe get my stress levels down to just below meltdown level.

In one subject last year he had a great teacher who seemed to get dyslexia. At the Parent Evenings she would tell us that in her opinion our son was as good as anyone in the subject in the school. She would say ok he struggles to write the knowledge down on paper – but we can find ways round that to suit him. It was refreshing to hear a teacher say that the key thing is the actual subject matter not the written English – that’s got its own subject anyway.

Unfortunately that teacher left. The replacement teacher seems to follow the school line. Neat handwriting and spelling come first, subject matter second. So now son is seen as low attainment in the subject. This terms homework project requires many pages of handwritten essay work. Points will be given for the quality of the presentation and points lost for things like spelling mistakes. So kids with dyslexia who struggle to write are being set up to fail. The school must know what a huge disadvantage this places on some kids. Oh I forgot – those kids are low attainment so it just proves the point. That’s modern education in England.

So once again I go through the finances to see if I can find a way to homeschool. Once again I fail. It’s at times like this that I feel so frustrated as a parent. It’s like constantly wading through treacle. Every step forward is such an effort. I’m so knackered – lord only knows what our son feels like. Everything seems to be stacked up against us. But sadly I bet if you asked virtually every parent and child dealing with a learning disability then they will say the same thing. It’s a never ending slog. And like all these wonderful parents and kids – we fight on. We love a quote which is maybe from Einstein, but if it isn’t, then it’s still a belter.

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will live it’s whole life believing that it is stupid”

Or the other belter which comes from Spongebob.

“Patrick, you’re a genius!”

“Yeah, I get called that a lot.”

“What? A genius?”

“No, Patrick.”

Talking about genius. Then there is our sons Dad. I’ve been struggling with a Rhomboid injury. I had the bright idea of strapping it up with kinesiology tape. First of all – what a stupid place to put a muscle group. When you don’t have a partner – how in all that is holly am I supposed to get my hands back there… Then having dislocated my shoulders just enough to get my hands next to the Rhomboid I somehow need to attach this super sticky tape neatly across my shoulder blades. With a physio it’s a piece of cake. In my case think disaster. So several strips went on in the wrong place, creased or just badly twisted. But here’s the final insult. Now these useless attempts need to come off. Where in the instructions does it say in big letters – whatever you do if you have a back as hairy as a Silverback Gorilla on no account buy this tape. And if you are stupid enough to apply it to hair then change your name to Mr Stupid from Stupidville.

That’s me and my postal address.

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.

Another odd day

Another odd Yorkshire day. Mixture of sunshine and then chucking in it down. Warmish then freezing. Still and then gales. But it wasn’t just the weather that was odd.

This morning started with a broken works computer system. Won’t be fixed until this – Saturday so that’s several late nighters then to catch up. Didn’t really want any sleep this weekend.

Next came a heated exchange with school. Due to a school admin error son never got his Year 8 injection. Not an issue as the school nurse will be returning next year BUT just a picking minute. If parents or kids make one mistake it’s an automatic negative yet no sanctions on school when they mess up. Apparently in schools case it’s just one of those things as mistakes can happen. Have you had one of those calls where you can feel the blood go from boiling to nuclear. One of those calls where you are increasingly squeezing the life out of the telephone. This was certainly one of these.

The call rapidly moved onto the lack of support for our son and the refusal of school to move him (at least in a couple of subjects) to a higher set. Last school year his Form Tutor told us that he was performing so well even without support from school. She was one of the few teachers who seemed to understand dyslexia and autism. As his marks were in the top 2 of the class then he should be moved up in at least 4 subjects. Unfortunately she left in the summer. On the call school said the Form Tutor was incorrect and it is not just marks that determine academic performance. Now apparently he is viewed as being in the lower middle of his class with many children ahead of him. In effect he is a low performer and any moves up in set are out of the question. The call ended (to the phone handset great relief) with a terse Dad demanding another meeting with school and the council. Not that it will do any good.

Needing to cool the raging core meltdown within I went for a run. A couple miles into the run a hot air ballon appeared over the trees. A quick photo and off I set again. Head down.

Running through the woods I started to hear voices. But nobody was insight on the path. Oh no it’s those Viking Ghosts. Then a roar of a burner above. Now the balloon was directly above and just above the tree line. I’m being buzzed by a mad balloon pilot.

Then a shout and they started waving at me. You wouldn’t be waving if I had a pellet gun with me.

Then it slowly started to rise and off it went.

Just before school finished I had a dreaded dental appointment. Might as well buy a yacht in Monte Carlo – unbelievably expensive. I ended up being told off for trying to be healthy. I have always had lemon water when I am training. Even more since I’ve stopped drinking coffee. The Dentist was not impressed. Apparently lemon (even watered down) is really bad for the enamel. Good job I didn’t mention the super strength lemon drink I have when I wake up. So now I am supposed to switch to Cucumber Water or Thyme Water. Cucumber Water taste like the liquid you drink as the last resort if your stuck in the desert. I’m only guessing that as NO I have not drunk my own …….

One last odd twist. Son came back from school with a letter. The letter was issued to son before my heated argument with school. In a few weeks the school is having an awards night. And son is getting an award for the number of merit awards he got last school year. This is fantastic. BUT. Not sure how this tallies with the schools current assessment of him.

Definitely an odd day.

How does the mind work

I can memorise phone numbers, the stars in constellations, virtually every of the Mr Men books yet every year I can never remember what the tree which overhangs our garden is. Every year I have to look it up……

Dad why do I find some long words easy to remember yet some small words I have to keep relearning every time I see them

It is one of the great frustrations of dyslexia. When you read some words, maybe all words it’s always like your reading them for the first time. Doesn’t matter how many times you see that word it’s always like you have never seen it before. Constantly having to decode and relearn. Speaking with the health professionals there can be hundreds of potential neurological, physical, visual, environmental reasons for this. Often it will be a spiders web of causes. Some get answers, many don’t. With our son we have only just started to scratch the surface. Maybe the best we can hope for is by trial and error we come across stuff which help but we will never fully understand why.

I can sort of understand what our son is going through from my own experiences. I was a reading late starter. I eventually found a way that worked for me. But there are words that I still constantly struggle with. They stop me in my reading track for a few seconds. Thoroughly is one that I have to almost relearn every time I read it. I struggle with spelling. Autocorrect is such a godsend. Then you get words like There, Their, They’re. Every time I use it I have to relearn the rules on which variant to use. It’s as if my brain just blanks the rules as soon as I’ve used it once. It’s not that I don’t understand the rules, I just can’t see them, just see static. Never will understand why.

It’s like trying to fully understand grief. The brain processes it in different ways. Some memories are painful. Some items I can’t touch or look at anymore. Yet other items bring happiness and are almost like a comfort blanket. I drive past the first house we lived in as a couple and I often stop. It brings good memories and smiles. Yet I can’t look at my mums last house. It’s filled with good memories but …. When I go to the Dentist I should drive past the house yet I take a much longer route to avoid the street. I can go by the hospice where my partner died yet I become a shaking wreck if I walk past one of the wards where she was initially assessed.

Some days the brain relishes working on its own. No complications, no alternate views. Isolation is a boon especially when the world seems so alien to me these days. No awkward social moments. Peace and tranquility. Yet other days the brain can’t cope with the isolation. It’s a cold dark prison. The world is living outside yet I feel so adrift here in these four walls. No love for the prisoner, just got to do my time. It’s the same house and same brain yet different outcomes.

How does the mind work – it’s beyond me.

Is Phonics the wrong path

Our much beloved School Minister (and first holder of our Boris Numpty Award), Nick Gibb declared “the debate is over”. He was referring to his decision which meant the all kids in English schools would have to learn reading by phonics. Kids are taught to break words up into parts and then learn individual sound parts. Previously kids were taught with a mix of phonics and the old approach of memorising the whole world.

Interestingly our School Minister who is an expert in all things education has no practical experience of teaching. He is an accountant. Which makes me equally qualified to set school policy….

Yes phonics does work for some kids but not for others. For example many kids with dyslexia or kids on the spectrum struggle to decode words and then struggle to produce the right sounds for each individual part. I’ve tried phonics and I struggle with it. It’s a disaster with son. We could be trying to use phonics for the next 100 years and it will still not help our son to read.

We all must have done this. Set out for a nice walk. In the case of the photos across the stunning North Yorkshire Moors. Then you come to a crossroads. Paths going in all directions. You look vaguely at the map. Try to look like a professional. Fold up the map carefully. Then go Eeny, meeny, miny, moe and randomly guess the right path. In my case it is usually unerringly wrong. After several miles you get that sinking feeling – wrong path.

Actually wrong path is not the best description. It will be the right path for many. It will take them to their desired location. But for some (like me) we could go down this path for years and it will never ever get us to our desired location. So what I need to do is get off this path and find a path which works for me. That is the sensible thing to do. As a I am not that sensible I won’t retrace my steps back to the crossroads. I will try to break trail in a different direction in the hope that I will find the path for me.

Now according to our Schools Minister all kids should go down the same reading path. Unfortunately doing that will guarantee that some kids never do arrive at their destination. Endlessly walking down this path, getting lost, getting disillusioned. That’s what happened to us. We blindly went down the phonics path and basically got no where.

But then we stopped and said stuff you Nick Gibb. And we broke a new trail.

  • We started learning some of the most common words the traditional way. Son would memorise the whole word.
  • We started playing around with various learning to read games on the internet.
  • Using trial and error son would try to use app’s like YouTube, Google Search or games like FIFA by himself.
  • Son would watch TV shows with the subtitles on. Movies like the Avengers were perfect. He knew them virtually off by heart. So he could focus on the subtitles and start to make links.
  • He would relentlessly work on his coordination. He would read a grid of letters while clapping his hands. He would bounce a ball while trying to learn and read words.
  • We would jointly read books. Normally Mr Men books. They were just the right length and fun. He would join in when he wanted to. I would never correct a mistake. He would process that himself.

The new trail has started to work. We haven’t reached our son’s destination but it feels like we are heading in the right direction at last. Enough for son to call himself now – a reader.

So I hope our Schools Minister finds his own path. Preferably takes him a million miles away from this countries classrooms. Then we can get back to trusting parents, teachers and kids to pick the education path which best suits them.

Lego

Rewind several years and we find our son seriously struggling at school. His reading development has flatlined. First impact of dyslexia but also the Governments forced phonics teaching approach doesn’t help. He is increasingly alone in the playground. In lessons he struggles to stay still and concentrate. He’s become clumsy and his fine motor skills have deserted him.

We had a few warning signings at nursery but these we largely missed. In fact at nursery he was ahead of all his age development targets. He was a character who was happy to be the centre of attention. He had loads of friends and the little girls would fight over who was going to marry him. Within the course of a few months this all changed.

WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF ASPERGERS, DYSPRAXIA AND DYSLEXIA.

As we started the process of getting a diagnosis everything we tried failed to work. It felt like we were working in the dark. Any type of win would really boast everyone’s confidence. Step in LEGO.

On the recommendation of a health professional it was agreed with school that we try a teaching programme based on those magic little toy blocks. Over the course of a few months school would incorporate a number of 1 hour LEGO sessions into each week. At home we would take every opportunity to encourage our son to play with his LEGO in a structured way. The whole approach was heavily influenced by the increasing use of LEGO-BASED THERAPY in schools and autistic research. The process worked and delivered clear results.

  • The repeated process of picking up small and differing shaped blocks started to improve his finger control.
  • Incorporating role play and story telling into model building helped him develop his imagination.
  • In the school sessions increasingly other kids were brought into the programme. This really helped his team working and willingness to share. Plus it gave kids a chance to see a different side of our son.
  • Increasingly complex designs helped with improving concentration levels.
  • As every small milestone reached gained a certificate. Son could see progress. This really helped his confidence.

So in an increasingly alien world for our son and his struggling parents those little building blocks brought our first real ray of hope. They really do work.

Why?

Because learning works best when it’s fun.

Numpty Award

The world is increasingly been filled with Charlatans, Liars, Cheats, Self Absorbed Tossers and Unadulterated Numpties. For too long these individuals have gone unrecognised. So I’m going to rectify this by introducing our very own Numpty Award which will be fittingly named after the UK’s most esteemed PM.

The the first Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson Numpty Award goes to this man. Nick Gibb who is the UK’s School Minister.

Today good old Nick made the following comment about today’s brilliant Global Climate Strike.

“We share the passion, as a Government, of young people for tackling climate change, and that is why this Government and this country is committed to reaching net zero greenhouse gases by 2050.

But we don’t think it should be at the expense of a child’s education because what we want is for the next generation to be as well educated as possible to tackle these kinds of problems.”

So Nick shares the passion does he. This is clearly backed up by his Parliamentary voting record on addressing climate change. According to TheyWorkForYou.com on measures to prevent climate change he has “generally voted against” these. His record is 10 votes for, 17 against and 5 absences.

He seems happy with the commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That’s another 30 years of screwing the planet then.

He has voted for the reintroduction of Fox Hunting and backed the culling of badgers.

Let’s not forget that dear old Nick was the Minister who told schools that kids going through bereavement must be in school. He called kids missing school on the grounds of grief as ‘an extended holiday’.

This is a man who is convinced that increased discipline and a return to the 1950s school system is the answer to our educational problems.

This is the chap who refused to separate spelling testing from the assessments for 10 year olds even though Teachers and Dyslexia Associations objected to the fairness of the approach.

This is the man who told schools they must only to use Phonics to teach kids spelling. Another policy which appalled teachers and health professionals. Yes phonics can work for many kids but is completely the wrong approach for some kids, especially those with special needs. Nicks approached moved schools away from explaining what words mean to learning parrot fashion how to spell a set list of words.

This is the man who introduced exams for 4 year olds. FOUR YEAR OLDS. Yes the wonderful baseline testing which is largely rejected by educational professionals and parents.

And let’s not forget that the man behind so much testing for kids 4 and 10 year olds actually got one of his own English questions wrong live on radio. He then refused to answer the maths question thrown at him.

This is the guy who said exams didn’t put pressure on kids. Social media was the cause of the pressure.

So I present to you Nick Gibb the first holder of the Numpty Award. Who can deny this monumental bellend his moment of glory.

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.

Clueless

It’s been a clueless type of day.

The company I have been doing some work for asked me if I would phone up the Brexit Helpline to ask some technical questions. Apparently because I talk tosh they thought I might be better placed to understand the helplines answers. I won’t bore you with the whole conversation but basically this was the nub of it.

Can I ask you some technical questions relating to Brexit and my company?

Please do. That’s what we are here for.

If we have staff who need to work in the EU for a short period of time what are the new regulations we must observe?

Don’t know

If we undertake work in the EU but need to employ EU based subcontractors what are the tax implications?

The current tax and excise regime will change on the 31st October. You will need to start planning for the changes now.

Yes I realise that but what will be the new regime.

It’s still being formulated

If we have web based sales to the EU what will be the export tax position?

Don’t know.

And on and on. To all my questions I received three basic replies.

  • We leave the EU on the 31st October and things will change. You will need to plan.
    The Government is still working on the details.
    Don’t know.

Anyway it proves that Brexit is a typo. It should be Breshit….

Absolutely clueless

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

I spoke to school again about our son. He’s had zero additional help so far this school year. It’s actually got worse. At least last year the teaching staff got to know him and some of teachers did try to help. We even had a couple of teachers who really got to understand him and they did try to modify the programme for him. For this school year his teaching staff and teaching assistants have all changed. So we are back to square one.

In terms of support for Aspergers the school provides no support. It has established a quiet room which kids can go to. But this is a small, cramped room which is frequently used for teacher meetings and storage. Even our gerbils would be able to design a more autism friendly space than the schools attempt. The only area the School has talked about was maybe giving our son more time to change when doing sports – but this in practice has never happened. That’s it – no other help. It’s not seen as a school problem it’s something the NHS deals with.

In terms of dyslexia school argues that it provide a Teaching Assistant in each lesson to provide support. This is not dedicated support. The TA has to try and support the whole class. Our son’s class also has a profoundly dyslexic child and the TA helps this child during any reading elements of the teaching. Again school argue that our son should put his hand up and ask for help. Unfortunately the TA is frequently already occupied. More fundamentally requiring a dyslexic child to put his or her hand up and ask for help completely misses the point. Most dyslexic kids won’t put their hand up because of the stigma still associated with not been able to read. Putting your hand up is seen as flagging up that you are different. Consequently son never puts his hand up anymore. So school argues that the lack of support is down to our son not requiring it. They can’t seem to get their head round being proactive.

Absolutely clueless

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It’s Autumn so it must be time for home made soup. So the chef places the ingredients in the slow cooker and lets them stew for a few hours. Then it was time for the chef to blend the ingredients in the smoothie maker (it’s a multitasker). Unfortunately the chef forgot to put the lid on . So now the kitchen has gone from a magnolia paint feel to one more a kin to a Ghostbuster ectoplasmic theme.

Absolutely clueless

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To try and calm down after my two earlier conversations I went for a run. Within minutes my running to the beat of Mongolian Heavy Metal came to a halt as the mp3 batteries died. Still it’s a pleasant day for a run. Halfway round I stopped to tie my shoelaces while a rather inquisitive cow peered over a gate. Thirty minutes later I arrived back at the house. Where’s the MP3 player? Pants I must have put it down when I tied my shoelaces. So I had to run back to that gate. Visions of a head banging cow thinking why she had never come across Mongolian music before.

Absolutely clueless

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

So whether it’s been Government Officials, Teachers, Parents, Chefs or Runners. It’s been a day for the clueless.

The tree of hope

Three years ago I was trying to get my head round organising my partners funeral. At the same time I was trying to empty my mums house and wrap up her loose ends. My head was completely spinning. I was in full zombie grief mode.

One family personal trauma doesn’t stop the world from spinning. It carries on regardless. So I was immediately faced with continuing the application for our sons Education Health Care Plan. Sat bewildered at my partners desk trying to find on my own the words for the final application form. The words came so easy when it was two minds. Now the one failed me. Then the black pen stopped working. Couldn’t find another and the form had to be completed in black on the pain of ……

So I set off to the shops to buy a pen. But quickly I was lost in a sea of grief and unanswered questions. An hour later I found myself at a random garden centre. Clearly a good choice for stocking up on pens. I wandered around aimlessly looking at plant after plant. The cctv must have been focusing on me as I was clearly not acting like your ordinary shopper. Then I came across a sad looking tree. Actually more like a snapped twig. The label said ‘discounted Pear Tree due to damage’. I felt sorry for this broken life form pushed to a dark corner of the store. Now no more that an afterthought. It felt like me.

So I went in looking for pens and came out with Groot (Marvel Universe).

Over the next three years Groot has grown and is now about 5 feet tall. Looks surprisingly healthy. AND this year for the first time it’s produced pears. Just FOUR pears. But it’s not the fruit crop which is important here. It’s something completely different. It’s HOPE. When personal tragedy strikes your whole world is turned upside down. It will never be the same again. You move from creating memories together to replaying memories in isolation. But you can’t live your life in those memories. Life has to go on. In my case life did go on. Yes I miss her dearly. Yes sadness always feels just round the corner. Yes I’ve become increasingly isolated from society. But life has gone on. Sons Education Health Care Plan was approved. I’ve changed careers. Progress has been made with Dyslexia. The house no longer feels like a funeral parlour largely down to the addition of a barking mad dog. I’ve increased the range of foods I can destroy. And Groot is thriving. That gives me hope.