Saturday, December 15, 2018

What I realised

This week I realised that:

if I wake up in the middle of a lovely dream at 5 a.m. for a pee, it is still possible to sink back into the loveliness, if not to the dream itself. I'd been dreaming about my mother who died 10 years ago and when I got back from the bathroom and climbed under the duvet and closed my eyes, she was still around 

I need to have my breakfast in bed on a tray, otherwise I get jam on my iPad

if you hang Christmas decorations in a south facing window your eye will be drawn to the muck on the glass lit up by the low winter rays of the sun (reader, I cleaned said windows)

writing Christmas letters via dictation onto my iPad is so much easier than writing them by hand

I did not mind - this year - getting an email instead of a Christmas card, from a friend who preferred to donate the money to Shelter

I was not quite ready to follow suit myself, but I might do next year 

I still love my robin Christmas cards that I've collected over the years, seen here displayed in the loo

forcing myself out on my bike on a bitingly cold day improves my state of mind no end

it is possible to transport a potted African violet without damage on a bike, by placing it in a waste paper basket inside your open pannier.

it still feels weird, even though my 'kids' are now in their 30s and 40s and we've had an empty nest for years, that I am not stressed at Christmas; and sometimes I long for the days when the family was at home and I was working  and exhausted by everything that needed doing and would seek refuge in a long hot bath with the bathroom door locked, refusing all interruptions

my new phone really does take better photos than my old camera. Here's Thursday's sunset taken from the field across the road from our house:

(bother, I just noticed the telegraph wire.)

lastly, something I knew already - even though he hates Christmas, Dave makes beautiful Christmas decorations in stained glass

Thursday, December 13, 2018

asking for a friend

What do you do if you cobble together two recipes and bake the result and it's a Christmas present, and you are not convinced it's worked, and you take a secret taste from the bottom in the middle and no matter how hard you try, you can't convince yourself that it doesn't have too much baking powder in it? 

  1. throw it away
  2. give it to the birds

It didn't help that one recipe was metric and one imperial.

My mind is empty of all inspiration this morning as far as blog posts go, so here's a Christmas quiz I designed and blogged some years ago:

The SHCPS (the Sue Hepworth Christmas Personality Schedule.)

1. When It’s a Wonderful Life is on the TV, do you…
a/  watch it and cry at the end?
b/  watch it and cry liberally throughout?
c/   enjoy the film but feel there are loose ends, e.g. why is Mr Potter not indicted for stealing the £8000?
d/  rush out of the room as soon as the opening titles come on?
e/  rant about why they are still showing a black and white film from almost 70 years ago, especially when it’s post-war American propagandist hogwash?

2.  Christmas trees: do you…
a/  buy a real one, because amongst other things, you adore the smell of fresh pine?
b/  buy a real one only if it has a root, because you worry about the environment?
c/  buy an artificial one, because you worry about the environment?
d/  buy an artificial one, because you loathe and detest dropped needles on the carpet?
e/  buy an artificial one, because they’re cleaner, cheaper and altogether more practical? 
f/   hate Christmas trees because you spend ages putting them up and decorating them, and then two weeks later you have to take them down and put everything away for another year? 

3. Mince pies.
a/  do you use home made pastry and home made mincemeat?
b/  do you use home made pastry and bought mincemeat?
c/  you don’t see the point of making them: what’s wrong with ones from the shop?
d/  you think mince pies are old hat and bring the cool quotient down on your Christmas comestibles
if you ticked c/ skip the next question.

4. What others say about your mince pies..
a/  they’re a perfect balance – in terms of the amount of mincemeat and of pastry?
b/  they’re mostly pastry, and mean on the mincemeat?
c/  they’re very pretty?

 5. Christmas tree decorations. Are yours..
a/  all old ones that you keep and use year after year for sentimental reasons, no matter how tatty?
b/  a mixture of old and new?
c/  only the latest, most trendy ones?
d/  you don’t have a Christmas tree?

That’s it. If I carry on, you’ll be getting the same old questions that all these Christmas quizzes have – I mean, I’ve come across that last one before.

And now I don't have the time to score the thing. I have to check the store cupboard and see if I have enough dried fruit left (and crucially, cherries) to make a replacement cake.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Christmas wishes

On Saturday I made the Christmas cake. Yes, it's late. I usually make it earlier.

You know that tradition of getting everyone to stir the Christmas pudding mixture and to make a wish when they do it? I never make the pudding so I have always done the stir-and-wish thing with the cake. Now the family is scattered to Sheffield and Boulder, and there are four grandchildren as well as the three 'children' plus two daughters-in-law and a son-in-law, it's not possible to have them all here at the same time to stir and wish. 

So for years I have been doing it remotely. I get the mixture to the point of needing a stir, and then ring up the three households in turn and get each family member to come on the line and have their silent wish, while I stir for them. I'm sure they all think I'm batty but they humour me. Dave is here, of course, and comes when called to make an unconvincing pretence at wishing, while he tweaks the wooden spoon. Either before or after or both he says 'I don't understand this,' which is fine. 

Last Saturday I knew that at least two of the households were having fraught weekends, and it was not a good time to impose my whimsy, so I stirred and wished for all 11 family members individually. I didn't wish for what I thought they might wish for, and I didn't wish for things. I wished for what I thought they needed. It was a piece of cake (sorry) for 10 of them, but for one of my grandchildren I was stumped. I dote on this grandchild, and I  know them well, but I could not think of a fragility that they might need help with.

I've been puzzling about this since Saturday afternoon. Is it that they are bulletproof? or is it that I don't know them well enough? It must be one or the other, because no-one is 100% robust through and through, are they?

Friday, December 07, 2018

Cottage cheese, anyone?

I started 'dieting' in the spring, and as a result have managed to drop a size in Sainsbury's men's jeans. A style icon, that's me. I have lost enough weight for people to notice and say 'Sue, you look so slim!' I have no idea how many pounds I've lost as I don't ever weigh myself, and if the doctor insists on weighing me, I always look away. 

By 'dieting,' I mean cutting out biscuits, cakes and puddings, and having cottage cheese and tomato on Ryvita every day for every lunch I eat at home. That's it. Breakfast and tea as normal. I've had occasional lapses but managed to keep up the pattern now for 7 months. 

Now, however, the short dark days and the cold are taking their toll. And every time I sit down and look at the plate of Ryvita and cottage cheese my heart sinks and my digestive juices drain away in disgust, shrieking "No! No! Not again!" 

Yesterday I got back from a bike ride urgently inserted into the gap in the rain, and was so hungry that I rebelliously stuffed my face with beans on toast. And then, half an hour later at 2.15 (not even a mealtime) I microwaved the out-of-date Christmas pudding that has been staring me in the face every time I've opened the store cupboard door since January. It was delicious.

For tea I had fish and chips.  

Today is a new day. A friend suggested Fajitas as an alternative to Ryvita, so that's what I'm going to try. It's not that I want to lose any more weight, I just don't want to pile it on again over the winter months. What's your secret slimming tip?

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

A further look inside Dave's head

Here's another instalment in Dave's explanation of what it's like to have Asperger syndrome

Still more Aspergery tendrils ….

Somewhere I wrote that I did not have Aspergers, but rather Aspergers had me. That’s about it, really. It shapes most of what I do, and makes me who I am. And after all these years, that’s fine. It’s almost fun. Almost.

The more the brain cells tumbled this idea over, the more stuff emerged that I hadn’t really thought much about. Not doing social is obvious. And there is no denying that my brain is constantly analysing the daftest things to try to understand them. Maybe this is why I watch Donald Trump to try to understand his latest hypnotic enormity.

Then there are the sotto voce small obsessions that shape my life: eating, cycling, struggles with time-zones and anti-social hours, not travelling, dress codes and uniforms, avoiding queues …

At home as a kid, the constant stream of customers in the shop meant that family meals were rare. Instead we grazed, like disconsolate wildebeest, taking food whenever we fancied, and usually alone, while the rest of the herd were busy doing other stuff. Eating was definitely an individual event rather than a team sport. We saw eating as refuelling, and took the same pleasure in it as you get at a petrol station pumping diesel. Eating was purely functional. There weren’t enough people free at the same time to give it a social charge.

We didn’t really have highly-developed gastronomic finesse. Or even a gastronomic vocabulary. On Sunday we had meat. Meat ? Yes, meat. Not a particular kind of meat. Just meat. It was a bit like eating only in primary colours. We did not do shades. Or flavours.

Vegetarian for 45 years now I have the ‘phases of eating’ that are typical of autism spectrum living. I have a limited range of foods which I eat – as many as ten. I eat them for a period of time, and then suddenly move on. It could be four months of scrambled eggs suddenly morphing into toasted sandwiches which segue into banana smoothies.

And always unfeasible volumes of yogurt. Plain yogurt. Buckets of it. Yum. The yogurt phase has lasted about 45 years so far and shows no sign of going away. Sounds boring ? Well, not really. If you like something a lot, why eat anything else ? Yogurt has been the inexplicable constant, and no meal – that’s right, no meal – is complete without it. Did I mention that I like food to be cold, and white ? I also like white dishes, plates, mugs. No patterns, which drive me crazy. Bizarre or what ?

Christmas yogurt stored outside because there was no room in the fridge

There are intense ‘special interests.’ I started cycling at university. Not for fun, but to get limited-loan books back to the library late at night. I did a regular run for the women in Sue’s hall on a borrowed bike. Later, with my own bike, I set myself the life-time target of cycling to the moon (say, 250, 000 miles). Why ? Who knows ? But I landed a couple of years ago, and am now on the way back. At nearly 70 it’s unlikely that I will get much out of lunar orbit. Oh, and I have always tried to do a balance of clockwise and anti-clockwise rides on my usual circuit. I used to get really jumpy if the balance was uneven, but I have mellowed with age.

Did I mention that I have supersonic hearing ? I can tell when snow is falling outside by the change in sound. It’s not really a very useful thing, but it means that I don’t really like loud noises in the same way that my cat doesn’t. ASD people very often have some sensory problems. Visiting a school, I came across a ‘naughty’ boy who spent a lot of time under the tables. It did not take long to discover that he was hiding from the bright classroom lights. When he had a dimmer environment, he began to thrive.

I have difficulty with authority of all kinds. After leaving university I had 11 jobs, nine of which I quit with no job to go to. Self-employment was the answer, but I could no longer resign in a fit of pique. Uniforms of all kinds get my goat. I can make a logical case for hating school uniform and business suits, but it’s all guff. It is something much more visceral: I hate being told what to do. Dress codes are no exception. I did once have a suit for an interview. It’s still here, I think. I am with Thoreau who warned that we should beware of any occupation that required a new suit of clothes.

I have no dress sense whatsoever, and wear a rag-tag collection of mostly second-hand clothes. I like clothes that shrug off stains and have lots of pockets. I am a sartorial disaster area.

From tie-zones to time-zones.

Since giving up work, I also gave up watches and do not own one. This makes things so much easier, though faintly feral.  I get up when I wake, usually around 0400, and go to bed routinely by 2100. Between those hours I graze through the day and go cycling at the hottest point the day offers. I am ridiculously punctual and am habitually early, timing journeys carefully to allow plenty of time for delays.

Changing the clocks takes me at least a week to get used to. Sometimes I change them early to give myself a chance, and we have the bi-annual argument about leaving the clocks as they are and just ignoring the change. I always lose, but keep asking myself what time it is REALLY for at least a fortnight after the change.

When Sue goes to the States I can never figure out which day she is on. Is it tomorrow there ? Or yesterday ? And what time ? Or even next week ? Who knows ? Not me, for sure. Maths always feels like comfortable territory, but time is the exception. Somehow I just cannot get the hang of time-zones.

So when Sue goes to the States, why don’t I go as well ? Easy. Travel is a definite no-no. My passport just expired after 10 years of non-use except as proof of identity for suspicious officialdom. Geography is a mystery to me.  I have never been greedy for new places, or suffer any pang of visual acquisitiveness. The real trouble here is that there is no need of a holiday from where I live. It’s a holiday from being me that I need. In the future maybe we will be able to hire a body and brain to inhabit for a fortnight, just like a holiday cottage now. That will suit me fine, leaving myself in store while I gallivant away with a brain that works slightly less eccentrically.

As it is, travelling is unsettling, and stress levels rise in proportion to the distance from home. Clinging to the wreckage is what I do well, and travel loosens my grip. Apart from that, if you go away, you don’t want to go to a place worse than home, and if you find somewhere better than home you will come back feeling dissatisfied. You might even want to live there. So when we holiday on barges – the ideal resort for ASD people as you take your temporary home with you – I always come back yearning to buy a barge and go and live on it. Always.

And of course, the dollar note is that I tend to go on and on and on about pet subjects, just like I am doing right now. After decades I can just about judge the moment when Sue glazes over at the latest exciting development in astro-physics, and of course the enticing numbers that come with it. But it beats me how people can not be excited by the stuff that is so INHERENTLY exciting that it is like a constant intellectual firework exploding in the darknesses of the brain. Romans, Latin poetry (especially Catullus and Martial), the history of scarf joints, crokinole, table tennis, cosmology, astro-physics. All overwhelmingly absorbing and impossibly throbbing with excitement, right ?

Or maybe not.

If you think it’s tough dealing with someone who has ASD, try being one of us ! Oh dear.

If you missed his earlier instalment, it's here.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Cards, or what?

I try never to think about Christmas - except whether this it's ON or OFF - before December. This is a definite policy.

Now, however, it's December 4th, Christmas is ON, and I realise I have done nothing except buy a couple of packs of Christmas cards and a unicorn wristwatch for Cecilia. I'm panicking.

And there's another thing. I'm wondering whether or not to send Christmas cards at all this year and to email instead and say I am donating the money to charity. Every card with postage is going to cost not much less than £1 each. Imagine. I could spend £50 in the Help Refugees Choose Love shop.

In the past when I've had an email from someone who's given to charity instead of buying cards, I've felt diminished. Also - being honest here - I've felt it was awfully worthy and a little bit miserable. And now I'm dithering about doing the same.

One friend said one year we should keep our Christmas cards and just return them to the same people the following year, adding a new date and more love. I'd like to do that, but it still leaves the huge postage costs.

What are you guys doing?


Postscript to the last two blog posts:

I need to emphasise that in case you were thinking otherwise, I am no saint: there has been mutual aggravation in this relationship. We are both still here, so I assume Dave thinks it's worth it, just as I do.

Monday, December 03, 2018

The wife's tale

Dave, who has Asperger syndrome, wrote the last post on here about how he feels in social situations, and someone suggested I write my side of the story. Here is a slightly amended version of something I wrote for the National Autistic Society's magazine, which was at that time called Communication.

An odd marriage
It hasn’t been an easy marriage. And I know that Dave would say the same. But it has been a long one – 48 years. After huge difficulties – especially in the early years - we’re still together, still good friends, and I’m happy. Very happy.
It’s a little difficult to write about one’s marriage honestly without saying things you’d rather not share with the world at large. Perhaps that’s why I wrote a novel - rather than an autobiography – about a woman married to a man with Asperger’s syndrome. The novel, for those of you who haven’t read it, is BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU. The main female character (Fran) doesn’t know her husband (Sol) has Asperger’s syndrome, and only realises this towards the end of the book. She has been married to him for thirty-something years and finds him hard to live with, awkward, stubborn, pathologically unsociable, with inconvenient food fads and obsessive interests and addicted to routine, but at the same time honest, loyal, caring, reliable, creative, fascinating, and always with something interesting to say. She also finds him very very funny.
If I had known in the early days that Dave had Asperger’s syndrome, it would have made things so much easier. I can’t remember now all the adjustments I had to make, but I learned to go to parties on my own, often to go on holiday on my own with the children, to travel abroad on my own. He would not eat with the children and me: he ate different food at a different time. Perhaps I’ve managed because I have a robust self-confidence, and because I don’t mind people thinking we are odd. And I have learned to see things from his point of view. For example, if he finds parties painful, anxiety-provoking experiences, wouldn’t it be mean to insist he come with me?

I look slightly sozzled on this pic

There are still some problems. Dave sometimes misinterprets my reactions and emotions: he often thinks that I’m angry and hostile, when actually I’m upset. At other times he can’t appreciate the intensity of my feelings if I am speaking calmly, without obvious signs of distress. I may have to get to the point of tears for him to grasp how I feel. It’s different if I am physically hurt, when he will respond immediately with sympathy and care.
Another issue for me is his apparent inability to accept that my feelings can change. If I tell him one time that, for example, I don’t like a person, he doesn’t seem to allow me to say later – “Actually, now I know them better, I think they’re OK.” He will forever say “I know you hate so and so.” Note here that he doesn’t say “dislike” but “hate.”
Things are either black or they’re white. If he makes something and brings it in from the shed to show me and I say “It’s very nicely made, but it’s not my favourite thing you’ve made,” when he later shows it to someone else he will say “Sue hates it.” 
     It was only a few years ago that I found out the reason for Dave’s unusual behaviour and outlook on life. Someone else in the family was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, and Dave and I researched the disorder, and it all became so obvious that we wondered why we hadn’t thought of it before. It explained EVERYTHING.
     Does it make any difference to me now, knowing about Dave’s Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
        What helps at this late stage is knowing that the little things he makes a fuss about are genuinely upsetting to him, and he’s not just being a drama queen. He was upset that the monitor of his new computer was black, when he’d ordered a white one. Black upsets him. He went on and on about this problem, which appeared trivial to me. OK so you don’t like black! Get over it!  But to someone with ASD this kind of thing isn’t trivial.
         He finds patterned fabrics visually disturbing, so we have plain furnishings. He has an unusually sensitive sense of smell. Narcissi and hyacinths make him unbearably nauseous, as do the smell of many foods I like to eat – blue cheese, parmesan, fish pie. I just asked him for some other examples of domestic smells that upset him and he said “Gangrene.” Thanks, Dave.

Dave with his Christmas yoghurt

Even the pluses have their downside. Dave’s honesty, which I value immensely, has made my strong self-confidence necessary for survival. One morning I woke up very late. When I eventually came downstairs, Dave said: “You’ve been asleep for so long, I was beginning to think you were dead.”
“Didn’t it occur to you to come up and check? Weren’t you worried?” I said.
“It would have been fine. I know how to get rid of a cadaver.”
He said this in all seriousness. Fortunately, I found it hilarious.
And then there are the “compliments.”
          Dave: “From this angle, your nose is rather reminiscent of the twisted spire in Chesterfield.”
          Sue: “Can’t you say something nicer than that?”
          Dave: “But I like the twisted spire. And don’t forget it’s a tourist attraction.”
          I found this last comment so comical I put it in the novel. For me, his unusual take on life is refreshing, challenging and interesting, as well as often funny. Here’s another real-life conversation I used in the novel, word-for-word:
          “I’ve conceived a strong antipathy for my dark blue underpants,” he said.
          What?” she said. “But they’re exactly like your light blue ones. M&S. Exactly the same design.”
          “The dark ones seem sinister, ideological, repressive. They’re less willing to negotiate than the pale blue ones. I don’t want to be bullied by my underpants at this age.”
          All marriages, whether or not to someone with ASD, have their difficulties, their irritations, their times of frustration. What it boils down to is this:  How much do you love this person? and How much do you want to stay married?  Each person has to decide whether the balance between what they are putting into the marriage and what they are doing without in order to stay in the marriage, is worth what the marriage gives them. Dave is honest, loyal, caring, considerate, supportive, incredibly helpful, a wonderful home-maker, reliable, creative, engages me in fascinating conversation, and makes me laugh. That’s more than enough for me.

p.s. I need to emphasise that I am no saint: there has been mutual aggravation in this relationship. So I assume that just as I think it's worth it, Dave does too. 
Also - I would urge you to read Dave's post, so you get a better understanding if what's going on. Here is the link to his first instalment, and here's the link to his second.

 Further reading for newbies on the blog - Christmas in the Shed

Friday, November 30, 2018

What it feels like from the inside

Today, I have a guest on the blog - my husband Dave.  

Doing social

Having Aspergers means that I rarely have a sense of what is going on.

Early on I learned – don’t ask me how – that the best I could do to understand the world was to conduct constant and exhaustive analysis. I have done this habitually all my life. It may take days, weeks, months, and even years on some occasions. There are things I am still analysing after 40 years and somehow the committee of brain cells is not satisfied yet.

Many of these analyses have a life of their own. They are fired often by puzzlement. Feeling bamboozled is fairly familiar. Feeling lost.

An example – a trivial example – of such analysis is Having People Round. They may Eat, Visit, or perhaps just Chat. Everything is OK until they leave. I ask Sue ‘Was that OK ? Were they alright ?’ and then, whatever her answer, plunge into analysis. I search for nuance, study body language, remember what seemed significant moments, trying to figure out if the evening went well. The thing here is that I simply have no circuits to tell me how it was, whether they were OK or not. I have absolutely no sense of it, and have to try to arrive at a conclusion by means of relentless analysis.

To normal people, this process is at best aberrant, and at worse plain nuts. They have an intuitive feel for whether some social occasion has been OK. They don’t need to ask anybody. The question seems absurd. To them, whether someone enjoyed themselves or not is obvious, like asking them if the sky is blue, or what colours mix to make orange. It is not something they think about. Ever. This always feels like amazing magic to me: some spell I never mastered. One of very many.

Analytical thinking was useful at work, when it was explicitly useful. Leading a group through the foothills of analysis to the peaks of understanding was something I could do with ease. But nobody at work knew that the same process was constantly clicking over covertly in my head. It is incessant. It is exhausting, but I can’t stop it. And if I ever did stop it, I would have no understanding at all of what is going on around me. Analysis is the best I can do.

Sometimes there are intuitive insights which make me feel like an idiot savant. I can sometimes pick up on odd emotional undercurrents, and can stumble upon the hidden issues to unlock problems. This can be mistaken as being smart, when it is merely an accident of circuitry.

In particular, my radar has always been tuned to the wavelength of distress. I have never handled happiness well, and cannot detect it confidently in other people or myself. But misery ? That’s another story. I seem able to see the tapestry of misery with all the subtlety of a Farrow and Ball paint chart. I seem able to home in on people’s hidden sadness in a way which often takes them aback.

Why is this ? Well, I do not know, of course. It was true when I was a child, and is still true now.

This random and bizarre combination is all I have to try to understand the world. No wonder I feel so often out of place, puzzled, adrift.

I am hopeless at ‘doing social’. I often wonder aloud to Sue whether people I know might be considered friends, or if she thinks they might think of me as a friend. I was never sure, am still never sure. People are at best a mystery, and occasionally a nightmare.

Doing social was always a problem. Living in a shop, there was a clear boundary between the house and the shop. You stepped through a door from a private world into a public one. In the public one there were likely to be hordes of strangers: customers, reps, deliverymen, all of whom you were supposed to talk to. I remember always feeling tense before stepping through the door that led from the safety of the house into the shop where strange customers might be lurking. It often felt like us against them, though none ever got through the door to the house and actually invaded.

When ‘visitors’, ‘strangers’ actually got into the house, it was usually at my mother’s invitation. She even invited relatives to visit. When they came, much to my mother’s delight, my father, grandfather and I saw thought of it as an alien invasion. Relatives were inconvenient, verging on hostile. We withdrew into our respective shells like alarmed tortoises. There were a few exceptions: relatives with favoured status. We never invited anybody: relatives had nothing to do with us. We tolerated them to please my mother. I think she found this difficult.

I never understood relatives, and could never find common ground with them. It was hard to even figure out how they fitted together. They always felt like a problem that was just too difficult to solve. After my mother died in 1971 it was an opportunity to slip out of sight of many relatives, and her funeral was the last time I ever had any contact with most of them. I do not know whether they are alive or dead, but either way they do not trouble me now.

The family motto was “God gives you relatives. Thank god you can choose your friends.”

The thing was that we did not choose many. My mother had a bunch of them. She visited them, and they came to see her. I think she probably needed the light relief.

My father had a friend. Jack Brownhill had improbably furry eyebrows and appeared very infrequently. He had been best man at my parents’ wedding, and after that came around like a comet maybe once every two years. It wasn’t a close friendship, but it was the closest my father had. Jack Brownhill and my father both look bewildered on the wedding photographs, though that might have been due to the fancy dress. I have no idea who Jack Brownhill actually was.

My grandfather had a tiny group of friends who never visited, though he went to see them. They were previous colleagues from work, and all of them female. He – and I – always got on more easily with women than with men. Neither he nor I were competitive, and both of us were vaguely cerebral, probably feeling safer in our heads than out in the company of people.

As a kid, I had friends at primary school. I even did Susan Sloboda’s maths in exchange for her doing my sewing. My stuffed Bambi still has Susan’s tiny seams punctuated by wild blanket stitch where I took over. My sewing looks like the webs spun by spiders after being given marijuana. But I was taken home ill from the end of school leaver’s party. It was the social stress that made me ill, rather than the jelly and buns.

Secondary school was a nightmare of Kafka-esque proportions from the first day to the last, and ‘friends’ there were never more than acquaintances really. The school used surnames only, so I guess that friends were the people whose first names I knew. The main task at school was to protect myself from the school’s desire that we should all fit in with what were odd rules of behaviour. I did this by being difficult when I was there, and by being there as infrequently as was possible. I was often not there when I was actually there – playing truant inside the school. I have been playing truant all my life.

I did A levels at 16, and went to university when I was just 17. I was socially inept, hideously immature, ill-at-ease, but good at Latin. It was not a promising prospect.

The university wanted me to go into hall. This was a deal-breaker as I simply could not face spending time in the company of so many strangers. I wrote to say that I would not be going to the university at all if I had to be in hall, and so I ended up in digs with a dozen other misfits, oddballs and eccentrics. They were delightful, though Sue always felt we were faintly creepy as a bunch.

University was the best period of my life. By light years. There were very few, if any, rules. Nobody seemed to care very much what you did, and there was no pressure of any kind. I failed to turn up for any departmental meetings, parties, meals or wine tastings, and did not go to graduation. I missed not only lectures, but whole courses of lectures. I read voraciously and discovered delight in so many areas of learning. I bought astonishing numbers of books and had VIP status in the bookshop as a result.

As an adult I have studiously and creatively avoided groups of people wherever they gather. Shops, parties, weddings, sports, festivals, collective bonhomie of all kinds. I am most alone in groups of people, and feel existentially threatened. I have been to three weddings, one of which was my own, but could not face going to my wonderful children’s weddings. There are many reasons for that, but social events are something I welcome as much as the invitation to have flu for a month, or have someone push wires under my toe-nails. I break into a sweat at social events, feel my pulse rate and blood pressure rise, and can’t wait to get away.

To other people, it seems incredible that I have this debilitating lack of social feel. It is unbelievable to normal people that anyone can lack this basic capability. I look un-ironed but otherwise almost normal. My behaviour is a little eccentric, but not wildly enough to have me barred from public spaces. But there is just no circuit in my head which can tune in to how happy people are, whether they like me, whether they are having a good time, whether they are satisfied.

Analysis, analysis, analysis … there are usually several simultaneous analyses continually running in my head. No matter what I am doing, however absorbed I am in some obscure woodwork or music, committees of brain cells are beavering away trying to find answers to impossible and often trivial questions.

I cannot tell whether people are angry or upset. This is true of myself, too. It is hard to distinguish between them. I try not to get into that whole territory, as it feels rather scary. On occasions when I have been angry, I feel out of control and unstoppable. Martial boggled at the rhino displayed in the arena. He commented that it was slow to anger, and hard to provoke, but once aroused it was ferocious beyond belief. The Romans were awe-struck that a rampaging rhino, suitably goaded into action, tossed anything in its path. Its fury was indiscriminate and implacable. I know how it felt.

Until really recently, and decades after her death, I always thought of my mum as volcanic. She seemed to me to have two settings: calm and explosive. There was no mid-setting, and she moved unpredictably from pacific to violent without warning. It was scary and made me feel a bit insecure. Now I see that she must have had infinite gradations of gently increasing annoyance. The puzzle for her must have been that I ignored the warning signs and ploughed on regardless. It must have been so frustrating and inexplicable. But I simply did not notice any warning signs, could not read them, did not even see them. I simply went on with whatever nefarious thing I was doing, and kept on enthusiastically until she exploded, much to my complete surprise. And much to her huge incomprehension. How could I be so wilfully annoying ?

No relevant circuits, that’s how.

I am colour-blind. My rainbows, wonderful, glorious, and moving have only two distinct colours really. I see yellow and I see blue, and maybe am aware of another colour, though I don’t know what it is. Not for me the ROYGBIV version which I know exists for other people, but never see. It’s just the same with emotions. You have to work with whatever you have.

The second instalment to Dave's explanation is here.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Addicted to turquoise

A friend emailed me a few annotated photographs of her daily life yesterday as a newsy update. She's been doing a lot of dressmaking and has in the last couple of years broken out from the oppression of neutrals into brighter colours. You can see the results in her wardrobe:

It made me think about the colours that dominate my wardrobe, but it isn't 'colours' it's one colour - blue. And it's a specific shade - turquoise. I've spread them out on the bed to show you.

Yes, I'm addicted to every shade of turquoise - whether it's 'aqua' or 'eau de nil' or 'sea breeze' or 'ocean' or 'sea mist' or some other name for the same hue. I am so addicted to it that my granddaughters call the colour  'Sue blue' and someone at my Quaker Meeting calls me 'The Turquoise Lady.'

I know that the colour suits my complexion and colouring, but it's hold clutches further than clothes. It's scary. My study walls are pale turquoise, my kitchen walls are similar, I chose turquoise for two of my books covers, my favourite earrings are turquoise. So is my bedside light and my pencil case and my teapot and omg I won't go on. 

In the summer I took great care choosing my outfit for the Croatian wedding as mother of the groom, and then went to get a pedicure. I was looking for something sophisticated, of course, and then I saw the colour chart and this happened:

When I got home from the salon I was appalled. Not only was it glittery, it was turquoise, and it so bright! I tried to remove it, but it was so stuck on there, that I only managed to lighten it. Surprise, surprise, it was not the focus of attention at the wedding, though someone did admire it.

When I went for my next pedicure in Boulder in October (Wendy always treats me) I was looking forward to having bright red toenails again, but when the manicurist showed me the colour chart, my eyes were drawn to - yes, the turquoise, and before I could stop myself, I had chosen it.  I despair.

I am beginning to feel as though I am another version of The Green Lady. Click on the link and check her out.

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


Last week I was lighting candles, and this week it feels as if I am snuffing them out, and it's a dispiriting business.  

Let me explain. I mentioned to you before that my two grandsons, whose ages are now into double figures, had asked me to delete all photographs of them from my blog. This is both sad and annoying, but I respect their wishes and I have been deleting said pics as soon as I track them down. 

But even when they have been deleted on the blog that you see, they are still in the ether, and are (for the moment anyway) still available to Google searches. So for the last few days in odd moments I have been trawling through deeper files and albums to erase the things forever. 

It makes me feel sad. I hate deleting photographs of people I love, even when they are ropy pictures. To delete specially chosen lovely ones feels like sacrilege. I find the power of the visual image so strong that I feel - and I know this is stupid and irrational - as though I am erasing the boys themselves.

And in the olden days (before the edict) I would now show you how fab these boys are by posting a photo. What's to do? Should I post a photo of Lux and Cecilia, my two young granddaughters, instead? or will the time come in a few years time when I will have to remove these too?

Bugger it!

Here is a picture of me and my little sister instead:

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Light in the darkness

This is my Twitter profile. For those of you not on Twitter, the 'pinned tweet' stays there permanently, and underneath come all my current tweets in chronological order, newest at the top.

It's been a dark week. There are so many dark weeks, and I am finding it a struggle to focus on the lighting of candles. Perhaps I have been spending too much time reading the news. Perhaps it's the lack of light and the fog. Not's really the state of the world, the state of this country.

I'm sure you read about the UN report on poverty in the UK. It didn't tell me anything I didn't know but it brought it all together in one damning and desperate bulletin - the cruelties of Universal Credit, the huge increases in homelessness, the explosion in food bank usage.

What's to be done apart from voting out this compassion-less and incompetent government?

Some people are doing things. Take, for example, Jack Monroe, the food writer. After her experience of trying to feed herself and her young son while living on benefits in desperate poverty for two years, and then using a food bank, she started cookery writing, beginning with a blog, in which she offered tasty recipes for people on tiny budgets. One of her books is Cooking on a Bootstrap and the latest is Tin Can Cook. Both would be useful for people using food banks, and she is currently raising money so that every food bank in the country will receive a copy of Tin Can Cook, which they are free to photocopy for all of their users. If you donate £9 to the scheme, a food bank will get a copy plus three tins. This covers all costs, including postage, packing and admin.

Help Refugees has also been lighting a candle this week with their Choose Love shop in London. A real pop-up shop at  
30-32 Fouberts Place, Carnaby Street, London, W1F 7PS 
has items on sale that you can buy for the charity Help Refugees to give to refugees. You can also buy them online here.

Yesterday Dave and I lit another candle. This autumn we read a War on Want report called Deadly Investments, about UK banks' complicity in Israels' crimes against the Palestinian people. You can read the full report here. Here is an excerpt:

We banked with the Co-op Bank for 30 years until they had all that shenanigins five years ago and we worried about losing our money and moved to First Direct, which is owned by HSBC.

Yesterday we moved back to the Co-op Bank and it's a relief to know I am not helping to arm Israel in their violent oppression of the Palestinian people, of which THIS is just the latest example. 

Do you have a candle you'd like to light?

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

On the nose

Writers love lists. This writer loves lists of tips on writing, and I came across my latest one thanks to Billy Mernit. It was written by William Goldman about screenwriting, in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade:

1.     Thou shalt not take the crisis out of the protagonist’s hands.
2.     Thou shalt not make life easy for the protagonist.
3.     Thou shalt not give exposition for exposition’s sake.
4.     Thou shalt not use false mystery or cheap surprise.
5.     Thou shalt respect thy audience.
6.     Thou shalt know thy world as God knows this one.
7.     Thou shalt not complicate when complexity is better.
8.     Thou shalt seek the end of the line, taking characters to the farthest depth of the conflict imaginable within the story’s own realm of probability.
9.     Thou shalt not write on the nose — put a subtext under every text.
10.   Thou shalt rewrite.

I am still trying to work out what number 7 means, and I always have trouble with number 9. I am not good at writing subtext in my dialogue. For non-writers, subtext in dialogue is the underlying meaning or motivation behind something someone says. When you write something straightforward with no subtext it's called writing on the nose. When I was working on the screenplay of But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You, a friendly writer critiquing it for me said the dialogue was 'too on the nose.'

After much thought I realised that if you live with someone with Asperger syndrome for 50 years (in my case, Dave) and you have other people in the family on the autism spectrum, you learn to talk in a straightforward and unambiguous way, otherwise you are misunderstood. Even then it can be tricky, because some of these aspies look for subtext that isn't there and read all kinds of things into what you say that you really did not mean. But that's another problem. 

In addition to being programmed over the years to be straight-talking, I am basically a frank person, and am sometimes criticised for being too frank by certain members of the family - ironically the two main critics are the ones who often look for subtext that isn't there. 

But the crucial thing with my screenplay difficulty was that the story is about a marriage in which the husband has undiagnosed Asperger syndrome, so the long time wife had learned (as I did) to talk without subtext. What's a girl to do? it's a conundrum.

Subtext in dialogue is a huge problem for me, and it's one of the things I am currently wrestling with in the rewrite of FRIENDS, LOVERS AND TREES.

Now for something for everyone - whether or not you're a writer. I came across an idea on a blog yesterday. It's the reverse advent calendar. I am a little late with this, as you're supposed to start one at the beginning of November. You collect an item every day of November - an item for a foodbank - and then hand it in at the end of the month, so the items can be given out by the foodbank in December.  Isn't it a cracking idea to do with children? I would do it if I had kids still at home. As it is, I just put something in the foodbank collection basket every time I go to the Co-op.

And now, one more list that popped up on Twitter:

p.s. Dave just explained to me the difference between complex and complicated. Hurrah!