School transport budget cuts – a crisis for Birmingham families.

What if your children were autistic (autism is a lifelong neurological condition leading to ensuring developmental issues) and their learning needs were so great that they could not be educated in a mainstream setting, and were placed in a special school?
What if that school wasn’t local to you?

What if school transport was withdrawn for your autistic children, and you had to transport them to school yourself using a bus pass or personal transport budget?

What if you don’t have use of a car, and the “support” offered by the local authority only enabled you to utilise public transport? 

What if that journey on public transport involved taking three different buses, at peak travel time when the buses are most crowded, a journey that would take nearly two hours? 

What if you had to make the same two hour, three bus journey home again at the end of the school day?

What if your autistic child suffers with high levels of anxiety, sensory processing problems, is unable to communicate verbally, cannot tolerate crowded spaces such as buses, demonstrates aggressive or self harm behaviours, or is a serial absconder with no sense of risk or road safety.

What if transporting your children on a bus would put them, and potentially others, at risk?

What if your child has continence issues and wears incontinence pads, and there is nowhere on the bus route that has changing facilities for larger children and adults? 

What if you also have a job that you somehow have to get to?

What if you have other children in a different school who also need to arrive at that school on time?

What if you had two autistic children, and had to take them on the bus on your own? 

What if this just wasn’t feasible, and you have no idea how you are actually going to get your children to school in 6 weeks time when term starts?

What if….

Yet this is the reality faced today by my family and countless other families across Birmingham.

There are a significant number of autistic children in Birmingham whose education needs cannot be met in mainstream schools, and who are placed in special schools. These schools are usually not local to the children’s homes. Until this year, the local authority has provided door to door minibus transport to enable these children to travel to school safely. 

However, due to a decision by the council to cut £2.8 million from the school transport budget, this door to door transport service is being denied to all new children who apply, and is being withdrawn from children who are passing through the years 6-7 (the transition from primary to secondary education), and from children who have a special needs sibling in the same special education setting. The wording of a recent managerial job post advertised by the Council suggests that these changes are the start of a plan to overhaul the model for transport services and to continue with wide scale withdrawal of the minibus service. The advert uses words like “independence” and inclusion”

Now, I’m all for supporting people with extra needs towards greater independence, and enabling them to develop skills such as using public transport, which will enhance their autonomy and integrate them into the wider community. I really hope that one day my children, who are aged 7 and 3, will be able to benefit from a properly supported individualised independence plan that helps them gradually learn to navigate the use of public transport at a pace which suits their understanding and abilities. But make no mistake, these changes are not part of a well thought out plan to promote independence amongst our children. This is a cost cutting exercise, and is the equivalent of taking someone who is recovering from a spinal injury and is learning to walk again, and in their very first physiotherapy session taking away their crutches and expecting them to run a marathon, with no assessment or consideration of their needs and abilities. 

There has been no consultation on the impact of these changes with any of the key stakeholders  ie the children and their parents, the local public transport companies  and the special schools. The council took in excess of 8 weeks to process many transport applications, meaning that a lot of families did not receive notice about their transport offers until the very end of term. The two-stage appeals process (which is currently overwhelmed by appeal claims) takes 45 working days, which means that for many of us our children’s transport arrangements won’t be finalised until after the new school year has started in September.
I’m asking you to PLEASE share this information with friends, family and your local councillors and MP’s, especially if you’re in the Birmingham or West Midlands area, to make people aware of the impact that these budget cuts and operational decisions are having on some of the most vulnerable children in this city. We are trying so hard to get the council to reconsider these changes and to actually consult with the people who use their transport services. Our voice will be stronger with your support. Together we are louder. I’m including links to two blog posts written by a local woman whose children are also affected by the transport service changes. They sum up the reality of what those changes will mean for her children. Thanks for taking the time to read this. 

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Selfish and on benefits.

Signpost, political partiesSince I gave up my job five months ago and our family income reduced to one wage, we have been reliant on state benefits to supplement our wage. We qualify for these benefits in the main for the same reason I gave up my job – our 6 year old daughter Melon is autistic, and the chronic sleep deprivation, extra care needs and endless appointments that accompany her diagnosis made the situation of both parents working untenable. This is a common situation for families who have children with extra needs. Even though we were both nurses, Hubs was the highest earner, so my job was the one to go. This isn’t where I thought I’d be aged 36, with an honours degree from a good university and a Masters level nursing qualification, but life is what happens when you make plans.

I’m not proud of it, indeed, a lot of the time I’m deeply uncomfortable about the financial position we find ourselves in. Quite apart from pride – I’ve worked since I was 16, I enjoyed my job, I enjoyed the challenge and the professional responsibility, I enjoyed the contribution it made to my identity and life experiences – and dignity (how often do I cringe as I hear and read phrases such as “benefit scrounger”…”too lazy to work”?), there is also a disconcerting lack of financial control over reliance on benefits. An administrative error, a tweak to the qualifying criteria, a budget-driven snip to certain parts of the welfare bill, and suddenly our family income is reduced, without our voice or opinion being heard.

Well, usually that’s the case. This week though, in the UK, we have our parliamentary general election, where members of parliament, the prime minister and the governing party will be chosen by public ballot. It is our biggest chance to have our say on who we think should run the country, and how. Politics in the UK has traditionally been dominated by two major parties – Labour (left wing) and the Conservatives (right wing), with other smaller parties playing roles of little significance. That’s all changed over the last five years though, smaller parties, and parties local to regions of the UK such as Scotland and Wales have grown in support and influence. We have had a coalitiIon government between those unlikely bedfellows the Conservative and Liberal parties since the last election. The political map of the UK is more chequered than ever before, and there is a strong likelihood of no party winning a majority tomorrow, again forcing one or more parties to broker a deal to form a government.

Even though the political campaigning this time around has been lacklustre, with the Conservatives repeating their same lines about the economy and the need for prudence, and the Labour Party reiterating their belief in public spending and public services, for some reason I’ve been gripped by the proceedings. This isn’t my first or even second time voting in a general election, but it feels like the most important one.

In part, that’s becasue my new status as a benefit claimant puts me at the heart of many of the debates and pre election pledges. The economy is allegedly recovering, but more massive savings are needed to manage debt, and the savings have to come from somewhere. Politician’s promises to protect benefits and raise them in line with inflation reassure me, news stories about planned cuts and previously rejected cuts that may be put back on the debating table have me reaching for the calculator and our family budget plan with cold fear. I’m actually a very cautious person with money. I believe in paying off debt, living within your means and having a plan. Nevertheless, any altruistic thoughts I may have had about the savings that we need to make as a nation have been driven out by more personal, immediate priorities. Does that make me short sighted, selfish even? Maybe. The truth is I would love to be able to cast my vote tomorrow safe in the knowledge that our family could weather whatever financial fall out there may be, but I can’t. We can’t. So yes, I’m thinking selfishly with the priorities of me and mine at the heart of my decision.

It’s not just about our income, it’s about the education, health services and social services that have become so pivotal in our lives now and in Melon’s future life chances. Realistically, she is always going to need a level of support to help her function in the world. I cannot say with any certainty that she will be able to secure and retain a job that will pay her a living wage. I don’t doubt that she will find a place, a purpose and fulfillment in life, but whether those things will enable her to live with practical and financial independence? Only time will tell. So my vote tomorrow is also going to be a vote for Melon’s tomorrow. I know that a stronger economy is important to secure funding for services in the long term, I understand that debt has to be paid somehow, for the good of us all. Yet I cannot conscionably cast a vote which I believe would lead to sudden and significant cuts to our family income, and condemn the services that we rely on (and which Hubs is employed in) to years of drastic cutbacks in the name of prudence. There are other ways to save, there are other targets to aim at.

My name is Liz, I’m on benefits and I’m voting selfishly tomorrow.

What acceptance looks like

(This is a copy of the letter which I sent to the headteacher/principal of a local High School this evening, only my children’s names have been changed).

Dear Headteacher,

I hope you don’t mind me writing to you, but I wanted to let you know how thankful I am to a small group of your pupils who I met yesterday afternoon (Wednesday 29th April). 

After school, I took my children (Melon and Boy) to the park, to play in the playground. There, we encountered a group of around 15 of your pupils, standing and sitting around a truck-shaped piece of climbing equipment, which is set on springs so it rocks. It’s my childrens’ favourite piece of play equipment in the park. The pupils were shouting and laughing, clearly in good spirits, and many young children may have found such a large noisy group intimidating.  My children certainly didn’t, and they headed straight for the truck, where Melon climbed in amongst your pupils. The scenes that followed were especially moving to me, and I have some things I want to say to those pupils (and to you)….

To the pupils that we met in the park on Wednesday afternoon:

You were the group of Young people (I assume you are teenagers, to my eyes you looked about 13-14 years old, but I could be wrong) sitting on the play truck in playground in Victoria park. I was the woman with two young children – a toddler in an orange top, and Melon – The little blond girl in a blue gingham School dress. She’s the one who climbed in the truck with you all, and cuddled up to some of you.

Let me give you some background on Melon. She’s six years old, and she is autistic, she was diagnosed about 2 1/2 years ago. I’m not sure if you know much about autism, so I’ll explain a little to you.

Autism isn’t an illness, it can’t be cured or treated. It occurs when a person is born with the nerve pathways in their brain wired slightly differently to those of non-autistic people (we call that a neurological condition). Autistic people aren’t slow, or stupid. As with any other group of people, some of them are very intelligent, some are average intelligence, some have learning difficulties. Some autistic people have jobs, partners children, others will have rely on carers and support throughout their life. Autism is a spectrum – which means that autistic people are all different, with different strengths and challenges.

Autism can affect how a person understands the world. A person may struggle to understand social rules (such as turn taking in conversation, or following the rules of a game, or understanding social cues and facial expressions); they may have difficulty with social consequences, ie struggle to predict the effect of their actions, to guess what happens next and to assess risk. Autism can affect how a person communicates, for example, Melon has a huge vocabulary, but she doesn’t understand why it is important to speak in sentences, or answer people’s questions. She prefers to use single words and phrases, to repeat phrases she has heard and to make noises. This difficulty in understanding the world and communicating means that autistic people are more likely to get anxious, and to become more easily upset. 

Autism can also affect a person’s senses – touch, taste, smell, sight, sound, balance… For example Melon finds bright lights painful, but staring at red lights relaxes her. She hates being tickled gently, but she loves big hugs and strong pressure, it helps her to feel calm. 

Why am I telling you all this?

Well that’s becasue when Melon climbed aboard that truck with you today, you did something rather special, although you probably aren’t aware of it. At first, you tried to speak with her, and when she didn’t answer your questions, and when I explained that she was autistic, you let her interact with you in a way that was comfortable to her. She cuddled up next to you, she put her head on your shoulders, she hummed and said random words… I know that one of you (the blond boy whose knee Melon patted) was a bit uncomfortable about the touching, but you didn’t push her away or reject her. Those humming sounds are her happy sounds, and I could tell Melon was really happy, it was clear in the big smiles that were all over her face.

It might sound like a small thing, but I want you to understand how important it was, that’s why I’m writing this. We live in a world where people who are different, who behave differently, who communicate differently, are all too often judged and shunned, or forced into a way of behaving that doesn’t come naturally to them.  It shouldn’t be, but it is. Parents of special needs children are constantly on our guard for people misjudging, misinterpreting and criticising our children and their behaviour. And it’s not just adults, Other children can be cruel too. 

Sometimes, teenagers and young people have reputation for being badly behaved, or trouble makers, or judgemental. On Wednesday afternoon, you proved that wrong. You let my little girl clamber into the middle of your conversations, you tried to include her, and when she used her own style of touch and sound to interact, you accepted it. You accepted her, as she was. That was special, because it showed you to be people who don’t judge, who don’t automatically shy away from what is different. It was also special because Melon will keep that memory of being accepted with her. And every time someone shows her kindess and acceptance, she gains a little more confidence in herself, a little more belief that reaching out to other people is a good thing. She kept repeating “the people in the park” all the way home, and she talked about you again this evening. You certainly made an impact!!

It’s appropriate that I’m writing this on the last day of April. April is international Autism awareness month. In the community of autistic people and their families, we always say that awareness and understanding are only part of the issue, and that what our children truly need is to be accepted for who they are. Just like you did with Melon in the park yesterday. So thank you. You might not feel as though you did anything at all, but you truly did.

Thank you.

Liz, a grateful mother of a special little girl. 


Lost

Boy got lost on Sunday. 

One minute he was sitting in a chair eating, the next he was gone. It was 15 minutes at the most from the time he disappeared till the time he was found, but they were the longest 15 minutes of my life.

Let’s rewind to the beginning.

I was taking Melon and Boy to a Birthday party for one of Melon’s school friends. It was in a wooden clad village-hall type building on a beautiful old housing estate. Melon was prepared, excited, fixed on singing happy Birthday to her friend. A sunny afternoon, a picturesque setting. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, for a start I got the times mixed up. The last few weeks have seen a flurry of birthday parties (people we know were clearly feeling frisky in July a few years ago…). All the party times and dates got confused in my head. So, As we pulled up shortly after 2.30pm, some people were leaving. “The party is finishing now” said one little girl, adorned with butterfly face paint. Turns out the party was 1-3pm, not 2.30-4.30pm.  

We had to go in, Melon would have been distraught otherwise. There were still quite a few children there, running round hitting each other with balloon animals. There was still loads of party food. Result! Melon could still participate in her favourite part of any party – eating cake. I settled her in a chair, apologised to the Birthday Girl’s Mom for being late and sat Boy in another chair with a chunk of fruit bread. He grinned and watched the chaos around him. 

Someone asked me where we’d been, I turned and answered. Looked at Melon, she was happy, her friends were round her. Crisis averted. I turned to look at Boy.

He was gone.

Chair empty, chunk of fruit bread trodden into the floor. 

I looked at the sea of children in the hall. Energetic six year olds in face paint. No sign of a stumpy 2 1/2 year old in a bright blue top.

He was gone.

I never lost Melon, ever. For all her sensory seeking, curiosity and lack of risk awareness, she never wandered off, and she always came back when called. Boy is different, whether he’s on the spectrum or not remains to be seen, but as of now he is fearless, fast and he can smell an unlocked door from across the room. 

I turned in a circle and scanned the room, a sick feeling in my stomach, no sign of Boy. The main door to the hall was ajar, I ran up and burst through it, yelling Boy’s name, scattering people in my wake. A woman with a camera stood outside “I’ve said goodbye to everyone who passed through, there’s no way he could have got out” she assured me.

Back into the hall. By now people had realised Boy was gone, every inch of the hall and side rooms was checked. No sign of Boy. I looked back at his chair, the fruit bread on the floor crushed by his little footprint.

There is no space more empty and silent than the place your child should be, but isn’t. I knew he’d got out of the hall, I just knew it. He must have left at the same time as a group of people, hidden by their legs.

I ran back outside, people followed, with more urgency now. Questions flew through the air:

“How long has he been gone?……Describe him?…what was he wearing?….how old is he?”.

He’s been gone ten minutes, he’s got a bright Blue hoodie, he’s only two and a half, he can’t say his name, he’s only two and a half. Please, we have to find him, please, he’s only two and a half. 

Someone got in their car to drive round the estate and search for him. We looked up and down the street he wasn’t anywhere.

I always thought I’d be organised in an event like this, as with stressful situations at work – that I’d be making decisions, taking a lead. In reality, I ran between hall and gate, tears pricking my eyes, calling for Boy. Staring desperately up and down the street.

My stomach churned and it felt like the world was slowly being pulled from under my feet. Scenarios started to spin through my mind, possibilities: Hospitals, ambulances, police stations, family liaison officers, tear stained press conferences, his picture on the prime time news, an empty bed, unanswered questions, recriminations… The first few minutes when a child so young goes missing are crucial. They are so much more vulnerable by merit of their size, poor risk awareness, inability to communicate. I could taste the metallic tang of fear.

Back into the hall, Melon was smiling and eating cake, oblivious to the drama. Then, someone grabbed me “we’ve got him!!”

Back out to the gate, Boy had been found wandering down someone’s driveway, and there he was in the arms of another child’s Father, grinning and unharmed. I literally snatched him out of the man’s arms and crushed him against my chest. I don’t even remember if I said thank you, but I’m sure he knew. We walked back towards the hall, until the adrenaline dumping that always follows a period of intense stress turned my knees to jelly. So we sat on the grass for a while instead while I kissed his little face all over and the world slowly turned right side up again. 

No harm done, a big adventure, all over in 15 minutes or less. The longest 15 minutes of my life.

A walk in the sand – Autism Awareness Day 2015

“autism awareness starts with you” – I’ve seen the phrase used a lot in the build up to tomorrow – April 2nd, World Autism Awareness Day. 

Well I want to tell you about a walk in the sand, a walk I took just yesterday with Melon while we are on vacation. A walk that reminded me – awareness, and understanding and acceptance start with me…

Boy fell asleep, Hubs stayed with him at the holiday cottage. Melon and me headed for the beach with dog in tow. It was cloudy, breezy and perfect. We walked hand in hand along the edge of the foamy surf, we sat and ate sandwiches, we listened and looked, smelled and touched, we dug holes. Melon vocal stimmed, and ran through a repeat cycle of echolalia phrases associated with happy memories and happy times. There was no conversation, as such, but plenty of interaction. Like I said, it was perfect.

Two years ago, that same walk would’ve felt a lot less perfect to me. Two years ago, Melon hadn’t yet been diagnosed as autistic. 

I didn’t know about sensory differences, echolalia, non-linear memory. I was unaware. 

I didn’t get that the feel of the wind in her face, the sand on her hands, the smell of the salt spray – all that sensory input – could fill her head to the point where it pushed aside speech and rendered it unnecessary. I didn’t get that repeating phrases and accounts of previous happy memories “Nea has fairies…went for a drive to Uncle Ralph’s house…went up to the theatre” was her way of verbally telling me she was happy now. I didn’t understand.

More than that, I didn’t accept. Two years ago, I’d have spent that walk trying to force conversation to happen, trying to draw her attention to interaction with me. All Melons enjoyment of the moment would have been lost as I tried to enforce my idea of how “enjoyment” should look. 

Two years ago.

I’ve learned so much. I’m Not perfect, not by any means, I still have lessons, so many of them, to learn in this journey. 

But, I’m more aware. I understand more. 

And I accept my little girl, for what she enjoys, for the way she enjoys it, and ways in which she lets me know. For who she is. 

And that has to be. If I am truly ever going to make the world a better place for Melon, a better fit. If I’m going to lobby for change and autism acceptance from family, services and society, then I HAVE to be at a place of acceptance myself.

Autism. It’s always with us. Sometimes it drowns out everything else, sometimes it throws up challenges. And sometimes it weaves a thread of mystery and beauty through simple everyday experiences.

A walk in the sand, rough beneath our feet, spray in our faces, salt in our nostrils, eyes filled with sky, a little warm hand in mine….

Autism, Awareness, understanding, acceptance.
Love.

Fifty shades of beard And why I never sleep with my Husband anymore.

I never sleep with Hubs anymore.

Don’t panic, I don’t mean in the biblical sense, I’m not about to open the floodgates of self disclosure, but I do want to talk about sleep, marriage and staying connected. 

Sleep (or lack thereof) is a big problem in our house. With an autistic daughter who is awake for large portions of the night, several times a week, and a 2.5 yr old  son who is himself beginning to develop disturbed sleep patterns, exhaustion has become the norm for me and Hubs. 

It’s not just the exhaustion that makes things difficult though, it’s the separation. The nocturnal disruption upstairs (our children are LOUD at night) means we have to get creative with sleeping arrangements. We have a kingsize bed, a double bed, a roll out futon mattress, and we have a sofa bed downstairs.  As Hubs has to go to work everyday, drive across the city and hopefully not kill any of his patients, he Usually sleeps downstairs on the sofa bed to try and get some peace to sleep. I’m left upstairs, in the kingsize bed that suddenly seems either really empty, or really full, depending on which of the children and animals decides to share it with me. 

I miss Hubs being there. I miss cuddling. I miss cuddles that turn into something more. I miss falling asleep with my nose pressed into his back. I miss falling asleep with his arm round me, safe and protected, then throwing him off five minutes later when I get too warm. I miss stretching my leg out in the night and feeling his hairy legs with my toes. I miss waking up in the morning with his head on the next-door pillow. I miss starting and ending every day with him. I miss feeling connected. 

Sometimes it’s like being housemates. After the chaos of bedtime, and the epic post-children tidy up, we finally sit down. We watch a couple of episodes of something on Netflix, then before you can say “maybe we could…creep upstairs and…” one of the small fry wakes up. Then it’s a kiss goodnight and we don’t see each other till the next morning. Ships passing in the night, that’s what we are. Add to that a difficulty in securing babysitters, and the opportunity to spend any quality time together Just as a couple happens more rarely than ever.

So last month, we Tried something different, we decided to make some positive changes. We quit smoking together (16 days Smoke free now), started eating better and exercising. The idea being that this would not only make us into healthier, more-likely-to-live-longer people (and longevity is SO important for parents who may well be caring for their child into that child’s adulthood), but that making these changes together would help us feel more connected. 

And it was working, until Hubs slipped on a toy car on the stairs, landed awkwardly and triggered an old back injury.  Now he can’t exercise, although he’s sticking to the smoke-free, healthy eating plan.

And also, he’s off work becasue he can’t drive. 

He’s been in terrible pain (which is thankfully subsiding) but one positive result of his injury is that he’s home, all day every day. When the kids are at school and nursery and I’d usually be alone, he’s here. Suddenly we have time together in abundance. 

Time to connect. 

Yes, it mainly involves me massaging Deep Heat cream and Diclofenac gel into his lower back while he grunts in pain, or me driving him to doctor/physiotherapy appointments while he regales me with a critique of my driving skills. 

But still, time to connect. Time to become hyper aware of and wonder anew at, each other’s little foibles. Which brings me to the beard. 

Time to appreciate the beard. Have I not mentioned the beard? How remiss of me. In a further example of lifestyle change, Hubs has grown a beard. Over the last 12 days it’s become like a third child to me, so much does it dominate our conversation. Freed from the financial commitments of purchasing tobacco, Hubs has instead taken up researching, discussing with me and purchasing beard grooming products online – combs, balms, oils, brushes, scissors…. The number of beard products on the market is dizzying. Hubs greets every parcel that gets delivered with a childlike delight. He keeps anointing himself and making me smell the beard – “what does this one smell like?” (Honey, it smells like sandalwood. They all smell like sandalwood. I’m married to an incense stick).  

We must have had 1000 plus conversations about the shape and thickness of the beard, and how soft it is, and how lustrous. He’s actually talking about it and checking it in the mirror while I type this and giggle to myself. Seriously, people have no idea of the level of commitment that adopting a beard requires. There should be guides, warnings, online support groups. I actually like the beard on him, it suits him. Even though the congregation at church didn’t recognise him and thought I’d met someone else. And even though my Mom (with the sinister glimmer of cable ties in her eyes) keeps comparing him to Jamie Dornan from the film “fifty shades of grey” (#fiftyshadesofawkward). 

What I like most though, is that for the first time in ages he’s taking pride in his appearance, he’s asking my opinion and valuing it. I’m seeking his advice on my exercise plan. We’re discussing, conversing, laughing with (and at) each other, complimenting each other. We’re driving each other mad with our little quirks, but at least we have time to notice them for once. We’re having petty arguments, but we have time to resolve them. We might not be sleeping in the same bed, or starting and ending our days together, but we’re spending every waking hour in between in each other’s company. I remember who I married, and that I really do love my maddening hirsute guy. For that, for the irritations and for the laughter, I’m grateful. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, we’re going to plan the redesign of our garden. Which may or may not include the identification of which area of the patio we’ll end up burying each other under.

Bunker Punks on the Road

Something you probably don’t know (and why would you? I’m not in here as often as I should be, I’ve been suffering from blogger’s regret for three straight seasons now) is that I’m a member of an online blogger’s group called the Brain Storm Bunker. It’s a lively place full of people who surpass me in energy, creativity and humour. They let me hang round anyway, they give me little jobs to make me feel valued, sometimes I bring them coffee, but I always get the order wrong (cinnamon on the latte NOT on the mocha, and vanilla syrup in a straight americano?! What was I thinking)

Anyway, by the time I’d finished wiping the coffee stains off the wall at which the unfortunate recipients had hurled their cups in disgust, I caught the tail-end of a conversation. 

“It’s the bunker punk tour deadline today”

“The What now?”

“Liz, the bunker punk tour. We’ve been talking about it for ages. Get with the programme”

“Again, the what now?”

“For F’s sake. It’s simple. We each write and post a blog entry that answers five questions about ourselves. It’s a way for us and our readers to get to know each other better. Even you can get your act together to do that, surely?”

“Ok, I can do that…”

So here goes…

What is your most prized possession?

That’s a tough one. I’m not big on possessions. Not because I have philosophical anti-materialist leanings, it’s mainly because between me and the kids most stuff in our house gets broken, chewed or lost. I am big on memories. I have a wooden box full of photographs from my childhood, and a huge plastic storage box full of mementos from my life – I call it my memory box. Pictures and letters from my Dad, before he passed, little things from old relationships, bad poetry I wrote as a child, all the postcards I had on my wall when I first left home and went to university. 

Yes, that. The pictures and the memories. They are who I was and who I am. 

How do you unwind after a long day?

In short, maladaptively (is that even a word?). It used to involve cigarettes and red wine, and the contemplation of a LONG night of wakefulness ahead. My eldest child is autistic, and has serious sleep problems, so a long day for us includes a fair portion of the nighttime hours too.

I’ve tried to make some healthy changes these last few weeks though. We’ve dropped the cigarettes, cut back the wine and started using our rowing machine. I’ve dropped three pounds, I’m a firmer and more energetic me. Does that count as unwinding? It’s more like energising. Feels good though. 

If I truly want to unwind it involves massage and all sorts of fun stuff that I have precious little opportunity to indulge in, and even less inclination to discuss here…

What is one song that has followed you through your whole life?

“We are the champions” by Queen. Their Greatest hits album was the first I ever knew off by heart. Queen were my Dads favourite band, EVER. Every long car journey, every holiday trip, when he needed to relax, when he needed to energise – that’s what was on the stereo. He was also a massive fan of Birmingham City Football (soccer) team, and they used to play “We are the Champions” at all their matches.

Dad passed away in 2002, and at the end of his funeral, as we all filed out of the church to the burial plots, we played “we are the Champions” to him for the last time. To this day, I still can’t listen to it without a flood of memories and a tear or fifty.

If you could give one piece of advice to new blogger’s in your field, what would it be?

I don’t really feel like I’m qualified to give advice. Also, I’m at a strange place with my “field”. I started out blogging as an parent of an autistic child. Yet my last few posts haven’t been anything to do with autism. Or anything to do with each other. I get a mental block with my blog – I feel like every post should be some worthy, fine-tuned pice of master prose. I have ideas and then intimidate myself to the point where I can’t write them out.

Maybe that’s my advice. Relax. Set targets and deadlines if you need to, trawl around for submission sites if that’s your thing, but don’t put yourself under too much pressure. This should be fun. Write about what moves you when it moves you. If you are constantly battling with yourself, the best of your words will never shine through.

Oh, and proof read. Always proof read.

Now that you’re famous, we need a quote from you:

“If you find yourself tumbling towards the edge of the world, look for something to hold onto – a memory, a relationship, an object, a place. Then reach out, there will always be hands reaching back to pull you up”

Ok. That’s me. Thanks for reading. Now where’s my mop and bucket, I see a vanilla coffee stain on the floor that needs my attention.