An old trip out

This is from a couple of years back. A two hour car drive to the west side of Northern England. The Lake District. A place that sometimes feels just a little bit Alpine.

We stopped off at Castlerigg Stone Circle. One of the countries finest historic sites set amongst the countries highest mountains. It’s was erected in the Neolithic period. Sometime around 3000BC. Yes even before I was born. It’s one of those special places. Yes it’s popular picnic site now but it still has an atmosphere. It just feels different. Many years ago after a days climbing, I spent the night here. Just sat on the ground in the middle of the circle. I’m not sure why. Maybe waiting for a ghost or something. Didn’t see anything but when I walked away after sunrise, I had never felt so calm and relaxed. It’s that type of place. I could so imagine a great fantasy author coming here for inspiration.

What struck me about the second photo is the look on my two faithful companions. New visitors had just arrived at the site. The four legged one, I suspect was eagerly checking them out for food or toys. The young boy was definitely not so eager. Once the site started to fill up a little then it was most definitely time to go. Crowds and Aspergers are not great bedfellows. That’s why the time to visit places is such a delicate scheduling task. The choices tend to be

  • Go when the weather is bad,
  • Go just before they are closing,
  • Arrive super early. Try to get round before the masses start to arrive.

As a result visits tend to be fleeting. They also sometimes require really early starts. In this case we set off at 5am. That’s not ideal but needs must. One definite advantage. Nothing better as you drive away from a site and passing the traffic queues waiting to get in. Does that thought make me a bad person….

Not finishing

Every few weeks this rose blooms and every three months we get a large envelope

One thing life doesn’t prepare you for is dealing with the admin side of bereavement. It’s a seemingly never ending slog. Trying to wade through treacle. Form after form. Call after call. Ever decreasing life circles of bank, utility firms and lawyers. Eventually you end up losing the will to live. Which is rather ironic when you think about it. But finally you just about get there. Most of the stuff is sorted. Yes there are a few loose ends but they can either wait or just be left dangling there.

One of those dangling things here is the regular large envelope. An envelope still addressed to my partner.

When she was much younger, my partners parents bought her a life time membership to a national heritage trust. The type of thing which gives you free access to many sites across the country. If you can afford the one-off lump sum they are a great idea. Unfortunately not a great idea if you die young. No argument here as the condition is crystal clear

Rights and benefits shall cease on death and no refund shall be made….

So I really should have phoned up and started the process of cancelling the membership. I can’t transfer it to our Son. But then a thought. Ok Son won’t be able to use it to get into any places for free. But every three months they send out a magazine all about history and nature. Every year they send out a members handbook listing many of the countries best sites and a comprehensive list of what’s on for the year. That’s something. Son will get some some benefit from his mum’s membership. So we are leaving this one dangling. Once the large envelope makes it out of the week long garage quarantine then son will get a free history magazine. Curtesy of his mum and his grandparents. Which is so nice.

Yes not finishing a job is sometimes the best strategy.

Dream

I don’t know why but last night I had a dream about a trip we had a couple of years back to Lindisfarne. A place called Holy Island. You have to drive across a long causeway running out into the North Sea. After a few minutes you arrive at the small island. You can only drive onto the island at low tide. The monastery was founded on the island in 634 by Saint Aiden. It became the base for christian evangelicalism in the north of the country. In 793 it was raided by the vikings and that raid is often seen as the start of the Viking age.

Son absolutely loved this place because of the history. He also liked the thought of walking somewhere his mum had been. We had a lovely holiday here before we became a family of 3.

Don’t know why I dreamt about Lindisfarne. In the dream we were stranded by the tide. Couldn’t get off the island and everywhere was locked up. And the vikings were coming….. Not sure if my car security is Viking raider proof. It will almost certainly invalidate the car insurance.

Bizarre dream.

I keep reading that so many people are having weird dreams at present. I’m certainly on that list. Not going to try and explain it. All I can say is that I do like a good dream but not the endless sleepless hours which seem to follow mine these days. But I am so lucky. A warm bed. Hot drinks on tap. A safe home. Books to read. Old photos to look at. And I am not alone. Tired yes but I can work round that. I’m ok as long I’m not asked about Quantum Theory or French Verb Conjunctions…..

Epic walls

It’s not quite the Wall from Game of Throne’s. It’s hardly Hadrians Wall, the stuff of history. But it’s our barrier. Our symbolic wall. Marking the edge of our current world.

Yes it’s got nettles growing against it. Even on our side. Ok it was too cold for the Game of Thrones Wall to have nettles but Hadrians Wall has some stinging beauties lurking next to it these days as well…And that’s a World Heritage Site.

“Dad our world is pretty small but it does seem to have its fair share of weeds and nettles.”

Well not that many.

Dad it took us three days to find my football when it went into hedge. The language I learnt when you had to retrieve the ball from the bush. Apparently you got stung a quite few times .”

Yes quite a few times. It’s not big or clever to use bad language. But in my defence we back onto farmland. It’s a haven for weeds. Our fence does feel like a not so big wall trying to keep out the marauders.

“That feeling we got when we visited Hadrians Wall last year. I can remember the date. 15th August. When we imagined what it must have been like for those Roman centurions stood on the wall. Hadrian came to Britain and ordered that the Wall was to built in 122AD. It took 6 years to build and stretched from sea to sea. It was 80 miles long.”

Its definitely an epic wall.

“Our farm fence is not 80 miles long. Maybe 20 paces long. It certainly doesn’t keep out the weeds. But at least it keeps the world out. So it does it’s job.”

Yes it really does. It allows a space for an Aspergers mind to flourish. A place to breathe and feel safe. So yes it’s an epic wall. A wall to be so thankful for.

Chaos Theory

Guard duty…

Scrap the guard duty, is that a biscuit I can smell….

I think we all have that sixth sense. Mine kicked in during the early hours. Son had just popped his head round the bedroom door.

Are you awake Dad?”

At the time I was reading about chaos theory. Got to explain my cooking disasters somehow.

I’ve got a question in my head and I can’t sleep.”

Sixth sense fully kicked in. My mind better get up to speed quickly.

It’s to do with the Royal Family and the rules surrounding the line of Succession.”

Relief as I feared a bird and the bees type question.

I’m guessing my question won’t be adequately covered in the Succession to the Crown Act”

Must admit in all my many years, I still haven’t got round to reading that real page turner.

I bet the Act doesn’t reflect the progress made in genetics, physics and quantum theory.”

No, I think that is a safe bet. Already my mind is braced for impact. A wander into his world is truly joyous but often feels like my mind isn’t quite able to take it all in. Maybe a bit like a modern and much safer version of a Psychedelic Trip.

Ok the rules on succession are quite straightforward and a lot fairer now. But what happens if we spiced it up a bit. What happens if through the advancement in genetics we managed to bring back a former King or Queen. Or maybe we develop time travel and can bring forward a previous monarch. A King or Queen who didn’t lose the throne in battle. Say Henry V or Queen Victoria. So the question is…. Would they still have a claim to the throne. Maybe it would lead to a civil war between those supporting the current monarch and those supporting Henry V or Victoria. Victoria won’t be best pleased with the current state of her empire. Henry V will be distinctly horrified at the current leadership of the country.”

And with that mind altering nugget he went back to sleep on it. Suddenly chaos theory seems so clear now.

The need for travel

Last night we were watching the new Sonic the Hedgehog movie. Yes we really do like to stretch our cultural boundaries. A couple of times during the movie I found myself thinking – wish I could visit that location. I’ve been doing that quite often recently. Can’t really blame the pesky virus completely for that. I was having those thoughts before the lockdown. Our Son’s world is naturally contracting. So mine is as well. The last time we spent more than one night away from our home was back in 2015. Sporadic day trips and the daily run partially helped fill my mind with some connection to the wider world.

So after Son had gone to bed I went in search of photos. Photos which would remind me of trips and holidays. Soon I was back in Northumberland with my partner. A week in a gypsy cottage.

Walking alongside Hadrians Wall and in the footsteps of Roman soldiers, almost 2000 years ago. Touching and drinking in ancient history.

Enjoying the open spaces. Hardly meeting another soul. Feeling that cold northern wind and walking on the soft moorland. Feeling no limits and letting the map decide the route.

Places like Northumberland have a unique atmosphere. A bleakness. An almost somber beauty.

And then a reminder of why I am so thankful for life.

Brave New World Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Castle

Sheriff Hutton Castle is over 850 years old and was built during the reign of King Stephen. Later Richard III acquired the castle through marriage. He made the castle one of the two sites for his Council of the North. The Council was his method of running the North after he became King of England. It has since fallen into ruin. It’s recently been sold for just over £1Million. It is our local castle.

Seven years ago we nearly bought a house which backed onto this castle. The castle was only 30 paces from the garden. An epic garden view. It was at a time when we we’re going to try for a second child. So we needed a house with an extra bedroom. This house ticked so many boxes. To me being so close to a castle seemed so exciting. However in the end we didn’t buy the house and sadly my partners health soon ruled out another member of our family. Every time I pass the castle my mind wanders off to what might have been.

There where a few reasons why we didn’t move here. One of the main reasons was our son. At that time a carefree, gregarious toddler had quickly transitioned into the world of Aspergers. Suddenly his world was populated with doctors, psychologists and other health professionals. It must have been so scary and disorientating for him. The one place he felt safe was our little bungalow on the hill. The bungalow was all things to him.

His Panic Room

His Safety Zone

His Dream World

An Exclusion Zone for the many who looked at him differently because of one word

His Play Zone

His World

It was the only place he felt comfortable and relaxed. From our experience Aspergers seemed to loosen and destroy all of our sons life foundations. Life became precarious and the slightest disturbance could bring everything crashing down. His little bungalow was one of the few things which was still secure and stable. The last thing he needed was for that to be torn down as well. So we decided to stay.

We are still here in that little bungalow on the hill. It’s still such a safety net for our son. A place he feels secure and at ease in. It still excludes those who discriminate. The garden fences mark the boundaries to his world. His ramparts. In a way it is his very own modern castle.

Swiss Sunday

It’s Sunday. A very wet and windy Sunday here in Yorkshire. So let’s go on a trip to beautiful Switzerland.

This time let’s return to a place we visited so many times. Schloss Spiez. Spiez Castle.

Work on the castle started in 933 by the King of Burgundy. The tower was added in the 12th century. Over the years it has been transformed from castle to a gloriously romantic residence.

In all the times we visited here we never once went inside the castle. Son is not keen on confined spaces. But you can walk around the outside and the gardens for free.

Son loved coming here from the hotel. It was only a 5 minute walk. It was always quiet. He always has had to stand next to his knight pal Adrian Von Bubenberg.

The Castle Church is stunning. So peaceful inside.

If you time the trip well you can sample the local wine from castles vineyards.

The castle offers stunning views across Lake Thun and the surrounding mountains.

The castle dominates the marina area of Spiez.

And on a hot day the gardener puts the water sprinkler on for the kids to play in. One of Sons favourite places ever.

Kings, Queens and Telly Tubbies

4am When the world hopefully sleeps.

The bedroom door bursts open.

Sorry Dad can’t wait to ask. If you had to be related to a king or queen which one would you most want it to be and which would you be most embarrassed to be associated with.

Erm top of my head probably Queen Victoria and probably not mad King George III. How about you son.

Henry V would be so cool but he only had one child and he was pious so it’s not likely. Many would say King John as one your embarrassed with as he is seen as the most useless one but he was actually not as bad as that. Henry VII probably as his claim to the throne was illegitimate. Night Dad.

I then I had a bizarre dream about being late for a meeting with the Queen. A meeting which was to happen on a train in a random rainy town. And I got lost. At least Son had not asked about my favourite Telly Tubby. Getting lost on the way to meet my favourite Telly Tubby would have been a dream too far.

So at breakfast I decided to continue the historic theme. I convinced son to have a trip to see the beautiful ruins of a local Abbey. He wasn’t convinced but finally we set off. I really should stick to my level. The Telly Tubbies. We arrived to find the site closed until March and that knowing look from son. At least we got a few lovely views from the outside.

I gave our son the option of extending our trip but he just wanted to go home. Too many people about. That’s becoming an increasingly common comment from him. As the months go by he finds it harder to deal with social contacts. He can still cope with rock concerts. It’s because he thinks they are still very inclusive. Doesn’t matter what you sound like, dress like or look like – your just accepted. No condescending looks. It helps that it’s dark and noisy so it’s unlikely anyone will talk to him. He was also ok on our recent train night but that was onboard the train. Luckily no one was sat opposite us. On the platform he struggled. We basically stood inside a coal shed until we could board. He had been ok with the cinema but now if the screen has more than handful of people in then he can’t watch the movie. We were going to see Jumanji but the screen was half full and that was the end of that. At school he’s just not happy. The crowded school bus is becoming impossible for him. You can see the change in him when he’s back home. He’s confident and happy. Outside he’s nervous and wants to hide. As soon as we leave the front door his hood goes up.

I remember a conversation with a really good Child Psychologist who worked for a time with him. She thought that his social difficulties may well become more pronounced as he became a little older. She had worked with a number of kids a bit like our son and they had all found mostly happy life’s. But isolated life’s. One or two friends and some family contacts allowed into the inner sanctum. Pets and animals definitely. But the rest of the world – preferably not.

It’s early and things may change. He will follow his own path. I will be there as long as I’m needed. But it’s his own path and he needs to find the type of world he’s most contented with. A closed abbey with a handful of walkers being too busy is potentially an indication of the direction of travel. If that path takes us inevitably into a more isolated world then so be it. And for those interested my favourite Telly Tubby was Laa Laa.