Polar express

A beautiful train line in the distance. Even beautiful at night…

Last night we had a chat about Christmas. This year will be a slightly different one. No family visits and wider family meals. No friend visits. No 50000 spectator football match. No concert. No special trips out. No nice country walks. No carol singers. No Father Christmas riding through the village on a tractor collecting for charity and then handing out sweets to the kids. Basically just us, the pets, the house, the garden and one visit from the jolly big fella dressed in red.

It’s still Christmas. Still a time to make memories. Still a time to live. So we make the best of it. Never forgetting those we love the most.

Last year we thought that we had started a new tradition. A trip out on a Christmas Train. A wonderful night trip on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. A beautiful illuminated stream train with even some magical creatures in the passing fields.

So we had planned to do the same this year……

Well it’s not happening. So it’s time for plan b. We have decided that on the same day as last year we will head out on our own polar express. I have some really cheap solar powered Christmas lights. The car will adorned with these. A Christmas music cd will be loaded up on the car stereo. Christmas snacks will find their way into the car. Silly hats and reindeer jumpers will be donned. And off we go on our own polar express. A slow drive around a little used country lane route.

That’s a start. What else can we come up with. What new memories can be born. Always remembering to carry those we love in our hearts as memories are made.

Moon

Another one of those dark days. But at least it’s not like yesterday…

It’s definitely one of those days that it’s difficult to work out how far we have got through this week. Think it’s Thursday. Possibly.

I was outside this morning trying to do my yoga session. I’m sure the yoga vibes lose a bit of meaning across the miles. I follow someone who leads yoga instruction from Austin, Texas. Often she is on a mat outside in the blazing sun. Meanwhile I load up the video desperately trying to keep the iPad dry in the driving rain. The yoga mat is covered in puddles. Any exposed skin is risking frostbite and I’m thinking that two wooly hats was definitely not enough. Don’t you just love Yorkshire. Inside is not a viable option as I can see a dog and cat looking through the window, just waiting to excitedly pounce.

We were outside last night having a late night chat. It was dark, cold, windy and damp.

Dad why on earth do we live here?”

Absolutely no idea son. I was thinking exactly the same thing.

We could be sat outside somewhere with T-shirt’s on. We could even be in The Alps walking about in beautiful snow.

Meanwhile Hawklad we are grimly walking around trying to keep warm while wearing 9 million layers. The waterproofing on our coats has long since been jet blasted off.

Dad we sound like a right couple of misery heads…..”

I think it’s a Yorkshire thing. That’s why Wallace and Gromit always sound so depressed and seek solace in Wensleydale Cheese.

Dad NASA are about to make a big announcement about the Moon. Wouldn’t it be funny if Wallace and Gromit were right and the Moon was made of Wensleydale or Stilton cheese.”

Maybe they have found intelligent life there. That would confirm its alien not human…… No one intelligent would choose to live in this weather.

Dad well it’s better than living on the moon. I hear the atmosphere is quite bad there!”

Jarrow March

This photo was taken 4 years ago to the day. A day in October. A day early in my grief journey. A moment in our family history.

Time to turn back the hands of the clock back to before the Second World War. To another moment in our family history.

October 19th, 1936. Chesterfield to Mansfield.

From the 5th to 31st, the Jarrow March took place. 200 men walked 300 miles from the north eastern town of Jarrow to London. Jarrow was like many northern towns in that period. Bleak, stagnant and forgotten. The impact of a world wide depression was hitting this area hard. There was no employment. Unemployment was endemic. In Jarrow the unemployment rate was near 70%. The Government seemingly did not care, blind to the suffering. The Government even blocked loans that would have saved the town’s industries. Rising anger at gross inequality and injustice. The growth of racism and extreme right wing politics.

That was the context as 200 men set off on their crusade. A peaceful and dignified protest, carrying a 12000 signature petition asking for their industry to be reopened. A simple message. We want to work. We want hope.

The marchers were treated as heroes on the route. Galvanised a growing mood in the country. The petition was handed into the government with so much dignity and respect. In the short term the March failed. The Baldwin Conservative Government brushed the march and the petition aside. Clearly in their eyes some people were more equal than others. But in the long run the Jarrow March delivered. It set a new agenda. After the war the new Labour Government set about writing the wrongs. A comprehensive welfare state was introduced. Government with a conscious was established. One that cared for the less fortunate. Sadly a conscious which has started to be unpicked and now unravelled.

We live in a time of rising unemployment. Inequality and injustice are ripe. The growth of extreme politics. Sound familiar. We could learn so much from the Jarrow March. A Crusade marked down in English history. A family history as well. My family was on that march.

Dads

That’s what my old Dad would have called a proper apple. Misshapen, blotchy and seriously tart. But with a lot of sugar it will make a grand apple crumble (crisp).

Actually that could be me. Misshapen, blotchy and seriously tart. I do like sugar as well. Actually that was definitely my Dad. Round here a better way of saying that is – he was well weathered. Another phrase is – he definitely had a well lived in face and body. He left this world when I was at university. So our son never got to meet him. In fact he never got to meet his other granddad. Which is sad.

Hawklad has asked about where their ashes are scattered. Unfortunately the answer is rather unclear. With my dad we just don’t know. How bad does that sound. Mum decided against getting the ashes back. They were scattered by the crematorium but we can’t remember where. We are not even sure that they were scattered there. It was one question we never got round to asking mum.

With my partners dad it’s equally hazy. He was scattered on a Swiss mountain top. The people who took them there have left this world now. The only person with a clue is me. The person with a capacity to forget important stuff and remember the useless stuff. I call it – Selective Total Recall. My partner wanted part of her ashes scattered on that mountain as well. One day she briefly described the exact location. I didn’t write it down as why would I need that any time soon…… So I’m a little unsure of the mountain and even less sure of the location on that mountain. Apart from its by a bench with some stones to one side. The ashes are where those stones are. Hardly GPS accuracy. At the moment it’s not really an issue. Travelling to Europe at present is not very likely for our family. But one day it will be.

Today Hawklad mentioned the need to get on with the ashes when he is ok in the world again. The pressure just ramped up a bit. I’ve started studying the names of Swiss mountains. Narrowing the potential choices down. If only I had wrote the instructions down. Still there’s a different way to look at things.

Dad we might have messed up the scattering of the ashes in Britain by then. The secret is for us to do that before I get to the age of 18. Then I can officially blame you as the legally responsible parent and adult. No pressure on me then….”

Swiss Sunday

Spiez and The Niesen

It’s Sunday so it’s time for our weekly virtual trip to beautiful Switzerland. A country we haven’t been able to visit since 2015 but it’s still very close to our hearts. The family link started just after the Second World War when my partners worked in the country on charity work aimed at helping injured service men. The link has stated strong since then.

It’s such a friendly and utterly stunning place. It’s a clique but everything does work like clockwork. Once you visit those mountains and lakes the place just stays with you. Gets into your soul.

So here’s the thing. Those in the family with the strongest links to Switzerland have now sadly left us. So the baton has passed to me and our son. To maintain those links. It won’t be easy. Single Parenting, Aspergers, Finances and European Travel will make it difficult. But we both respect family tradition and so love Switzerland. We will find a way.

Which way

In life you get asked so many questions. But some questions keep repeating themselves. Like the classics ‘Are we there yet?’ and ‘where’s the remote control?’.

Then there are other questions. More vexing questions. One question keeps popping up. I’ve been asked this by family members, other parents, teachers and even once a nurse. It does have a number of variants but it’s basically the same question

Will your son get better?

Will his Aspergers improve?

Will his Aspergers improve as he gets older?

I’m no clinical specialist. Just a bumbling parent. But here’s my take on the question.

Aspergers is a lifelong syndrome. It’s not going to get better. Its not going to be cured. It’s not going to disappear. What might change is that over time the individual and the family may develop strategies to help deal better with some of the situations life will throw at them. Also some of the specific symptoms may fluctuate over time. For example in a number of individuals something like repetitive hand flapping may become less prevalent with age. Also Aspergers often coexists with a number of other conditions – dyspraxia, ADHD, dyslexia…. It is possible that some of these conditions could improve with time. For example our son has with hard work started to overcome some of the issues which his dyspraxia and dyslexia had caused him in his earlier years.

So yes it is possible that improvements may occur. But here’s the thing, it’s not guaranteed. Each individual case is different, unique. Things may stay the same with age. They can also get worse with age.

So we just don’t know.

The Clinical Psychologist who did the full review of our Son was quite clear. The majority of his Aspergers related traits will stay with him over his life. However at around the teenage period changes may start to occur. It could go either way. He could become fully independent or he may regress and may need some form of life long support. She talked through a number of possible scenarios. One scenario was that some improvements would occur potentially in the areas of dyslexia and the diminishing of some of the repetitive behaviours. Another scenario painted a downturn in his existing anxieties and fears. This could occur naturally during his teenage years or could be triggered by a single significant event which effects his view of the world. Tips the balance in his risk assessments of the world. This could lead to significant mental health concerns and potentially social isolation. Where we are sat currently, we are not a million miles away from that scenario. The triggers – the death of his mum, a pandemic, his teenage years…. He is currently physically cut adrift from the world. His fears and anxieties ramped up to the rafters.

Nothing is set in stone. We just have to go with the flow and see what life brings. It could be still be a fully independent life. But it could also entail a lifelong requirement for support. In this country we don’t cater for the latter scenario. Support has to be fought and won for young children. That support is at best is patchy. During the teenage years the support tends to be reduced due to funding cut backs. By early adulthood the support has completely vanished. That’s a sobering thought for parents in this position. It really is.

Swiss Sunday

It’s Sunday so it must be time for our weekly trip to beautiful Switzerland. We haven’t been able to go back there recently but it’s still a country which means so much to our family.

As a child I would visit the local library most Saturday mornings. I would spend a couple of hours reading books while sat next to the libraries little goldfish pond. One of my favourite books was an old book on climbing. Lots of pictures of a dreamlike country called Switzerland. It just seemed like a different world to a young lad from a grey and rundown Yorkshire seaside town. I so wanted to go there. Many years later I got my wish. See dreams can come true.

Flying towards Geneva and seeing The Alps for the first time was awe inspiring. Then the next seven days confirmed just how special this country.

It’s that good that photographs just can’t come close to capturing how beautiful and epic it is. Simply breathtaking.

So I will keep dreaming that soon our family can return there. Because dreams can come true.

Swiss Sunday

It’s Sunday so it must be time for our weekly virtual trip to beautiful Switzerland. A place we haven’t been able to visit for 5 years now but which still holds a special place in our hearts.

Times are tough. Travel and seeing the world is almost a nonstarter. That actually applied to many even before a pandemic kicked in. It certainly feels that way for our little part of Yorkshire. A little piece of the world that seems to contract just a little bit everyday. But some things still provide hope. Shine a light in the darkness.

To Hawklad and me Switzerland is one of those beacons of hope. A land which is almost too beautiful to seem real. As if you are visiting a land formed in an old art masterpiece. Maybe a perfect fantasy world created in a brilliant mind.

But Switzerland is real. It is that perfect. We endlessly look at old photos of our family trips there. Those memories brighten and expand our world. Sustain us through the dark days. Provide hope.

The thing about having hope is that it keeps you going until the clouds of life start to part. When it does for us there is always Switzerland.

Keep that special place close to your heart.

Family History

I was checking my phone for a photo for the blog and I came across this one. Yes Hawklad has been playing Pokémon Go again. Either that or my last selfie was a bit of a shocker.

I am listening to a cheery Pearl Jam cd and thinking about family history. For a lesson today he is trying to list some of his family tree. It’s easy with my partner as we can go back at least 300 years. Lots of documented history. Long line of Quaker and Liberal Political tradition. An MP. With mine it’s more patchy. Yes we can go back to someone born in 1805 but there are lots of blanks. Someone who refereed a big national football semifinal. Someone who walked on the Jarrow Poverty March. A female relative who went to be an exotic dancer in London at the turn of the last century. Someone who was gassed in World War One and survived. An uncle of mine who was a pilot during the Korean War. My Dad who fell in love with Iceland while serving during World War Two. But that’s about it. So many gaps.

So as Hawklad thinks about being partly English, Welsh, Scottish and German (maybe even more diverse), I have a new project. Time to try and fill in some of these family gaps. I owe that to my son.

It’s so important that we keep our own history alive because it forms a narrative to how we are.

Lost Stories

That’s a leaf that clearly has a story to tell.

We all have so many stories to tell. Wonderful stories. Stories that tell us about life. Characters. Events. Even reveal things about ourselves.

It’s sad when those stories are lost. When the are lost they are lost forever.

I’ve lost so many people in my life. Friends, grandparents , parents, even my partner. All had stories to tell. One of my biggest regrets is that the importance of stories didn’t sink in until far too late. Not until they had left this world. So many stories went with them. All I can do now is just shake my head at the thought of how little I really know about those loved ones. Can I even remember how their voices sounded!

Now I look back and wonder what could have been. If only I had found more time to listen. To ask more questions. To write some words down. Maybe even record them. How treasured would it be to listen to some of those lost voices again, to listen to them tell their stories. Even just to hear those voice again talking about routine stuff. Just before my partner went into the hospital for the final time she left me a voice mail. Seemingly nothing important, can’t even remember what it was about. Why didn’t I save that. Why didn’t I save that last voicemail from my mum asking for some items from the local shop.

These are real regrets. Please don’t make the same mistakes I made. Some mistakes can’t be fixed.