Thursday, 31 May 2012

Parents Night

Parent’s night has come and gone. My last one at daughter’s primary school before she heads up to the academy. She’s been a great credit to herself over the years and has achieved ‘Golden’ status more times than I care to remember.

Parents night is a breeze, we wait for half an hour because they always overrun, only to be told how the teachers look forward to “these ones” because they are easy for them. Pleasantries aside, we are in and out of there in less than five minutes, with glowing reports of how great our daughter is.

Our son was at this same school for three years. His autistic disorder meant he could not cope with mainstream and they could not cope with him. I spent those three years of my life almost continually battling with the establishment to either explain to them how autism needed to be adapted for or defending his rights. 
We went through two headmistresses, three classroom assistants and two special needs one to one teachers. 

My e-mails and letters are the stuff of legend, no matter how clever they thought they were being I responded clinically and defended my son while slashing through their waffle and exposing their lack of knowledge and at times sheer incompetency.

We had so many meetings, reviews, urgent summonses, illegal exclusions and downright avoidance of responsibility that it almost drove us to despair. As a professional, well informed individual who is tough in nature, I have no idea how some parents cope with this shambles. We felt stigmatised, alienated and discriminated against.

At times it was regularly suggested that his challenging behaviours were a result of naughtiness or insinuations about our parenting methods were made. For this I have to be even more grateful for our daughter’s performance than anything. She stood as testament that we, the parents of the child from hell were not at fault. Without her we would have been subject to even more criticism, blame and probably more social work scrutiny.

If our parenting was ever in question, we were lucky in some respects to be able to say, look at our daughter, look how she behaves, how she responds, how polite and eloquent she is.
For parents with children who are all autistic, they won’t have this yardstick for others to measure them on and I would imagine the pressure must be even greater.

To you and other parents who are fighting bureaucracy or policies that do not deliver what they say and who have to cope with crap day in, day out.....Try not to let those bastards get you down. You know your child better than they ever will, but they will always think they know better.

Parents of autistic children tend to become very well informed about the condition. Initially this can be part of the denial phase where you franticly search for every little bit of information trying to convince yourself that your child doesn’t have the condition. This quickly progresses to scrambling around to understand entitlements, policies and current practice and is further reinforced by the realisation that many professional teaching staff know very little about ASD or its complexities as far as individual presentation goes. This drives you to become an expert in your own right and soon you learn where to take information from and who offers the best explanations. Undoubtedly this is provided by other parents – or more valuably by those who have learned and adapted to live with the condition. Their insight and perspective means a great deal to me.

Of course the internet can be your enemy too, and there is far too much nonsense out there, be it outrageous hypothesis or sheer exploitation. In truth, we may never know why our children have this condition, nor fully understand, but we must cope with it and the difficulties it brings.

Friday, 25 May 2012

First BBQ

Following some of the coldest, most miserable weather I can remember for May, the sun has finally hit the sky and we have had three great days. Well great for all of you who weren’t stuck in an office all week.

By the time I have travelled home and had supper, the sun has passed over the house next door and only a small sliver of sunshine is left across the bottom corner of my garden. Still quite pleasant though, and nice to sit out even if it’s only for twenty minutes or so.

However, last night I got home about 5.30pm and could smell the enticing whiff of smoky barbeques resonating from various back gardens. As I drifted into a hypnotic state drooling at the thought of grilled meat, it seemed like a good idea to go and fire up my own BBQ.

The cover had torn during the winter and when I removed what was left of it there was more dust, rusty bits and spider webs than I was expecting. The grill was slightly, ok more than slightly manky with the remains of the final cooking last year and the lava rock looked like it had degraded to dust.

No problem I thought, a quick brush down, soak of the grill, replacement briquettes and we are good to go.
Of course, being completely stupid, I’m still dressed in my finest work trousers with shirt and tie which of course became tarnished with grease, rust and black marks only seconds into my mission. Cue first batch of cursing.

I attempted to clean the grill, only to find out we had no brillo pads and so left to soak in very hot water while I shovelled out the old lava rock. A family of slugs had moved in to the bottom of the grill pan, and I must admit that even I was beginning to be put off the idea by now. I gloried on, removing dead and living creatures and went to the shed only to find there was no replacement lava rock. Curses.

OK, I thought, while the grill pan is soaking – I’ll nip to Asda, pick up some sausages, burgers, buns, lava rock and I’ll be back in a jiffy. Well despite the fact that the supermarket has had barbeque food in store since the 3rd February (a bit ambitious for Scotland) there are only about three sausages left on the shelf and no kebabs or anything else worth having. Furthermore despite selling gas barbeques they have no lava rock. More cursing and a trip to Homebase now required. Time is moving on here and it’s close to 6.15pm and I’m now hungry and irritated.

I get to Homebase, there is one person on the till and I’m in a queue of five people who are all carrying out major decorating projects, complete re-landscaping of their gardens or requiring assistance with carrying their newly acquired patio sets. I get home at 6.40pm.

Wife hasn’t even washed the grill for me because she was doing something else far more important. Cue some harsh words, slight argument and she may have used the words ”you can stuff your burgers then”.

So by 7pm, I’m sitting in the garden (now in the shade) on my own eating frozen beef burgers with processed sliced cheese, and a few of the worst sausages I’d ever tasted wishing I just hadn’t bothered.

On the upside, it was tranquil, no-one was bothering me and I had a beer in my hand. Tonight I think I might just go straight for the beer.

Monday, 21 May 2012

When I was a boy

I watched the Halfords seventies inspired TV ad on youtube the other night and it really reminded me of my own childhood right down to my beloved Raleigh Grifter.

I grew up on a city estate but was lucky to escape to the small town where my grandmother lived almost every weekend, where a harbour, two small rivers, numerous woods and fields replaced the concrete jungle and hard play areas I was used to.

I had a completely different set of friends with a spread of a few years between us and that always ensured a variety of ‘experiences’ as I grew up. The oldest ones always set the pace and probably drove many of the rites of passage.

We spent a considerable amount of time in the woods, playing cowboys and Indians at an early age, right through to full teenage making out sessions and everything in-between. We had rope swings over the river, “death slides” across a steep embankment, dens built in the trees or bushes and an inordinate amount of matches / firelighters and penknives.

We weren’t a bunch of raving arsonists either, well apart from the time we inadvertently set one of the hay bales on fire. In truth we were a bit naughty, but I remember making campfires responsibly by finding a clear area and using stones to build a surround – we knew to be careful. There was the odd occasion where the temptation of spraying lighter fluid got the better of us.

As for the knives, well these days kids all walk about threatening to stab each other. Back then, you had a knife for carving your name in trees and for gutting fish, cutting line and you could just walk in to the local sports shop and buy one without anyone batting an eyelid. Those fishing trips were always hilarious with people throwing worms at each other, running away from the local gamekeeper or stuffing a brown trout down someone’s pants.

Every time we went out someone always ended up soaked either by being pushed in the river, jumping into the harbour or falling off the rope swings.

I also remember we all used to gather empty refundable lemonade bottles from our respective houses and club together to buy sweets from the corner shop…. or sometimes 10’s of Regal King Size when they still sold them to twelve year olds.

Camping in the dark in the woods was also incredible as a kid. I remember bravely setting off with one of my friends as the others all chickened out. We were full of bravado and it was all great, setting up the tent and filling up with food as the sun was setting. By the time it got dark, we were absolutely shitting ourselves, not helped by my mate’s older brothers collapsing the tent at 11.30pm in a horror attack reminiscent of the Blair Witch Project.

As I look back with nostalgia at all those experiences, I realise how different childhood is these days. So, what of my own children. Well, I have to say they have never been fishing poaching, camping trespassing, built a fire burnt anything down or pushed anyone in a river tried to drown anyone. I must be doing something right.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

I am Lazy

Following my confessions of indoor Frisbee playing and thoughts about walking the dog on a treadmill from my armchair, I have realised I am officially a lazy git.

I am the kid who was led to believe that by the turn of the century we should have had robots doing the housework, serving you drinks and washing the car. Personally, I blame the programme “Tomorrow’s World” for introducing us to all these labour saving concepts and thereby brainwashing me as a child.

Having said that, I am also guilty of failing to take advantage of the many technologies that do exist to make our lives easier. For example we still do not have a dishwasher. I defend this by suggesting it’s far more environmentally friendly to wash your dishes by hand. In doing so, I am of course single handedly saving the planet. My wife will say that I’m just a tight git who won’t buy one. I’ll leave you to make up your own mind.

Anyway, now I have confessed to being a tight and lazy git I might as well ask for some other offences to be taken into consideration.

It struck me this morning that despite having an annoying warning message flashing at me on the car dashboard every day for the last six weeks, I still haven’t got round to changing my brake light bulb. I mean we are not talking huge expense or a major inconvenience here, all I have to do is stop past Halfords and spend about two minutes in the boot of the car and yet it remains undone.

In fact, bulb replacement must be one of my weaknesses. Again, I tell you no lies; my fridge light has been out for at least six months. Someone (My Cuntry Manor) was posting pictures of inside your fridge on Twitter the other week and I couldn’t join in, because my fridge was too dark.

Furthermore, my cooker hood bulb went out over a year ago, leaving my hob in relative gloom. Even worse, the oven light, you know the one inside the oven hasn’t worked for as long as I can remember.
Don’t mention Christmas lights either, half the bulbs on the tree were not working last year, although in my defence I couldn’t find any suitable replacement ones in Homebase after I was nagged incessantly for half of December.

Now that covers all my lack of bulb replacements, I’m glad I’ve got that off my chest. Oh crap, just remembered one of the table lamps in the bedroom too.

I’m not sure I have time to go into all the torches, toys or other things that are lying around needing batteries nor the set of shelves we bought from IKEA four years ago that are still sitting in the bottom of the wardrobe waiting to be put up.

In fact, I was also supposed to touch up all the internal woodwork varnish last year but I think the wife has forgotten about that , or is just keeping quiet about it because her bloody dog has chewed half the skirting boards.

I think I may have to stop this confession as I’m starting to recall even more grievous acts of sheer laziness that I had no intention of uncovering and must have been successful in forgetting them altogether in the first place.

I’m beginning to think I must have Spanish blood or the most advanced case of “mañana, mañana” syndrome in the western world.

Friday, 11 May 2012

We're All Going on a Summer Holiday

Well I say “holiday” loosely of course as anyone who’s ever been away from home with kids for any longer than five minutes will testify that most of the time its just more stress in a different location.

Having a son with autistic disorder makes our trips even more daunting and you tend to spend virtually every minute on edge just waiting for something to trigger a meltdown. Usually if we are lucky this might just involve him running away from the situation and probably interrupting our meal while one of us goes after him. In some cases it can be a bit more serious than that and it can be embarrassing having to apologise to restaurant owners for the smashed plates or when the whole breakfast room turn their heads at once while your ten year old is shouting at the top of his voice and stamping his feet like a spoiled three year old.
I have countless examples of our recent trips descending into difficulty and for this reason my wife decided this year we were not going to go abroad. She’s had enough. I can’t blame her. What used to be something to look forward to has become something she dreads and you wonder whether there is any real point in going anywhere.

We have been lucky enough to get away nearly every year, albeit we probably shouldn’t have and my outstanding credit card bill remains testament to this annual folly. I reluctantly agreed and instead of booking flights on the 3rd January like I normally do, we didn’t plan anything.

As summer gets closer I have been getting a little grumpier about this, the thought of being at home for two weeks is not appealing. We will be at each other’s throats, the kids will not be bothered about going anywhere local as they’ve been to everywhere before and the weather will be crap. Did I mention optimism has never been one of my strong points?

Anyway, about a week or two ago, my son starts asking where we are going on holiday. Ironically, he’s expecting to go somewhere and was not happy when I told him we hadn’t planned anything. Cue meltdown and endless whinging for the next week solid about how his summer will be boring and that he doesn’t want to stay at home. Now I’m thinking my two weeks off will be even more gruesome with an unhappy autistic person. Again this entrenched state of mind is a common trait where people will get it in to their head something is happening or should be a certain way and will simply be unable to accept it’s any different.

I started looking at the possibility of going somewhere in the UK. Yes that’s right, I said the UK. My utmost and absolute worst possible holiday destination. We don’t cater well for people in this country, the food is generally poor or chain related, the accommodation is overpriced or shabby and the weather is, well enough said. On top of this, you end up spending more than you would have done on holiday abroad in the first place without the benefit of increased vitamin D exposure or bikinis by the pool to gawk at sideways through your sunglasses.

My wife used to go caravanning with her grandparents in the seventies as a young child and has really fond memories of this, so suggested we could hire one for a week. A caravan? – I’d rather spend a week in Beirut. I dismissed this idea swiftly by pointing out that if we can’t survive in a two bedroom apartment without war breaking out, then the close living quarters in a caravan would result in all out Armageddon.

To make matters even more difficult, trying to book a cat and dog into kennels for the school holiday period needs to be done with military planning about nine months beforehand, not a matter of weeks. Following various phone calls, begging, pleading and bribery I managed to get the local cattery to take the cat for five days and the in-laws to look after the puppy. They have no idea what’s going to happen to their house!

So, after a week of steady, heated negotiations we are going to a certain woodland holiday village for a four day “break”. I can’t see this being any less stressful for us, but at least we won’t be at home the whole time. It does seem over priced, my son will probably not cope with the activities but did like the look of the pool and my “boy hunting” daughter will spend hours doing her hair and preening herself even if she’s about to go down a zip wire. Actually, she also seemed keen on the archery – I think Katniss is her new role model.

Maybe I should sneakily book one of that single person holidays in the Greek islands somewhere and tell the wife I have to go on a weeklong residential course for work.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

All Grown Up

This is my daughters twelfth birthday weekend; she came into our world on one of the sunniest, warmest days of the year on Sunday 7th May. I remember hanging out the baby clothes to dry, because I had to quickly wash them all as she arrived unexpectedly, 3 weeks early. In contrast, today is only six degrees and its blooming freezing.

All parents come out with the old “don’t know where the time has gone” line, but it is true. Seems like yesterday we were cleaning up baby vomit, spending all our money at Mothercare or sterilising milk bottles and suddenly we now have a young woman about to start secondary school.

Her birthday treat tonight is a proper slap up Chinese meal at a restaurant, followed by some sleepover chaos at our house. Of course, with her impeccable timing she announced on Thursday evening that she didn’t have anything to wear. Cue frantic shopping trip yesterday and a £60 dress and a new pair of shoes, which to be honest wasn’t in my budgeting plans. Combined with her extortionate list of sleepover requirements – Strawberries, Raspberries, Cream, Hot chocolate, Crepes, Waffles, Syrup, Chocolate Spread, Fresh Orange Juice, Face Masks, Popcorn etc – I am now financially crippled. Given her current insistence, I can only imagine what her “rider” would be like if she is ever famous. Probably Vintage Champagne, Caviar and hand crafted chocolates with someone to serve it to her on a silver platter.

Changed days from my birthday parties. First off, you only ever got one now and then if you were lucky. I have great memories of late 70’s birthday teas at my grandmas house though. Home made scones, fairy cakes, jelly moulds, ice-cream, sausage rolls and sandwiches were the order of the day. I can even see the old brown and orange plates in my minds eye with the plastic tumblers and diluting tartrazine filled orange juice. Oh we knew how to party back then.

I can also just about remember being twelve myself. I went abroad for the first time to my beloved Majorca in 1982, got the Aston Villa away strip for my birthday (not because I supported them, just cause it was a smart top) and spent a lot of time snogging girls. Crap, that must mean my beloved little angel is probably hanging round snogging boys. Time to get that big stick out of the shed.

In fact the next few years are the ones I’m dreading as a parent. Four years ago she was eight, in four years time she’ll be sixteen. We are on the cusp of a huge swing. Daddy’s little girl has almost gone and that makes me sad. I guess I always want her to be the eight year old but all I can now hope for is to help her grow into a responsible adult. Although, I’m not quite sure I’ve even managed that myself yet.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Homework Excercise

It has been some days since my last blog. I may have alluded to the fact I am very busy with work to the extent where I’m in the office at 7.15am, getting home at six and taking the laptop with me. The old work life balance is in danger of going the wrong way again.

I would have loved to have said my time had been taken up with extensive physical exertion and that I have been sweating buckets training for a marathon or something worthy, but I haven’t. In truth I mostly sit around during the day, then come home and sit around in the evening, with as little dog walking as I can get away with in between. In fact, the most exercise I get these days is sprinting up the stairs at work, but only if anyone attractive is in the near vicinity.

My work has a fantastic gym facility with modern equipment, exercise programmes and sporting events ongoing throughout the year. The gym is so great, I have been there, ooh let me see, that’s right, zero times since I joined.

 I’ve never been bothered by weight issues much and because I looked after myself by going to the gym in my twenties, I am probably getting away with murder these days. My waistline has crept up over the last ten years, but if I breathe in you couldn’t tell. To be honest I’m actually losing weight at the moment due to my healthier lunchtime breaks, where salad is the order of the day. Well to be fair some token lettuce and a few peppers get to accompany the roast ham or chicken I have on my plate. In all seriousness, I have stopped eating crisps, sandwiches and chocolate bars for lunch, which is probably the main difference.

I am wondering whether now is the time to pick up the mantle and start training again. A quick run round the block shouldn’t kill me, should it? or maybe it would. An old colleague of mine firmly believed in a theory that every living thing only had a certain number of heartbeats and then it would die. He justified this by explaining hamsters have tiny little hearts that race very quickly and they only live a very short time and would go through a whole story on a range of increasingly sized mammals to illustrate his point. He always culminated with a dig at joggers and used to jokingly say they were just wasting their heartbeats.

I swear that guy led the most sedentary lifestyle ever, feet up on the desk, wouldn’t even walk from room to room if he could get away with it and he smoked like a chimney in the days where smoking was still allowed. He retired about ten years ago and he’s still knocking around, so perhaps there was some merit in his theory.

So, back to my new exercise regime. I need to get some motivation, but while I’m still taking work home with me it’s unlikely to happen. The temptation of a glass of wine in the evening is far more appealing than pulling on my trainers and old tracksuit bottoms. Yeah, that's it I need some new kit first…...