Sunday, December 30, 2018

Small talk

'How would you like to change yourself?' is the topic for our Quaker newsletter this issue, and we are each supposed to send a contribution of any kind - serious or humorous, shallow or deep  - to the editor. I am thinking about that this morning. 

Apart from the obvious things like wanting the figure and style of Audrey Hepburn, the sax-playing talent of Ben Webster, and the writing ability of Helen Dunmore or Nora Ephron, I would like the ability to make small talk. 

I can't do it, and it's such a useful social skill to have. It amazes me that Dave as an aspie is so much better at it than I am. He can talk small with the best of them. Why is that? He is generally more talkative than I am but I don't think that's it. He is just very good at 'one-stroke' relationships. I find them unsatisfying and have a tendency to always want to go deeper. That's part of my problem, but not all of it. I just can't think of things to say about superficial trivia. Maybe that's not what small talk is. Any thoughts? 

Anyway, in the pursuit of other ideas about how I want to change, I read through all my screenshots of quotes that I have on the iPad and came across two quotes that I've shared with you before. They are not specifically on theme, but at a time when the world appears to be falling apart and I feel powerless to do anything about it, they are encouraging.

Footpath from Burtersett to Hawes
photo by Rosemary Mann

The second quote is from Andrew Boyd:

You are faced with a stark choice: do you dedicate yourself to an impossible cause? or do you look after your own, making do as best you can?
The choice is clear: You must dedicate yourself to an impossible cause. Why? Because we are all incurable. Because solidarity is a form of tenderness. Because the simple act of caring for the world is itself a victory. Take a stand – not because it will lead to anything, but because it is the right thing to do. We never know what can or can’t be done; only what must be done. Let us do it.

And pursuing this theme of tenderness, I found a report about the Pope speaking at a TED conference last year, in which he said: “Tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women. Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility.”

This concept of tenderness brought me to this quote from the early Quaker, Isaac Penington, which I have so often found helpful:

Our life is love, and peace, and tenderness; and bearing one with another, and forgiving one another, and not laying accusations one against another; but praying one for another, and helping one another up with a tender hand.
Isaac Penington, 1667

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Just so you know...

This year our Christmas was ON, so the family came. Yay!

Many of you have found it helpful to hear what it's like living with an aspie, so I'll tell you that whereas I loved the day, full of love and good food and games, it was a strain for Dave. He never joins us for Christmas lunch, but he always does the washing up, which is wonderful. He collected two family members from Sheffield first thing, and then after an hour's conversation, retreated to somewhere quiet, with only occasional forays into the populated areas of the house. 

We have another aspie in the family and they are currently having two fried eggs every day for their main meal, so that's what they had for Christmas dinner. You know what? It's fine. Why would anyone want to make someone else do something that makes them distressed or uncomfortable just because of some arbitrary norm?  

Next year it'll be Dave's turn and Christmas will be OFF. I'm not pretending it has been an easy journey getting here but we're here now: this is OUR norm.  

As for me, I am quietly and (until now) privately basking in the achievement of getting the following ready for Christmas dinner in a small kitchen, all at the same time:

A (home made) vegan nut roast
A (home made) veggie nut roast
A roast chicken
Vegan gravy
Veggie gravy
Carnivore's gravy
Roast parsnips
Roast potatoes
Baked potatoes
Force meat balls
And bread sauce which I cooked and left on one side and then forgot to bring to the table. In the picture below, the foil parcels on the top of the log burner contain baked potatoes, because there was not enough room in the oven to keep them warm once cooked.

Yes, I was wearing my turquoise sparkly top. 

My only slight resentment about the whole Christmas-with-an-aspie thing is that I can't make chicken soup from the herb-fed-free-range-chicken carcase because Dave can't stand the smell of boiling bones. I often give things away to others that we can't consume, but it seems a little odd to offer a neighbour a chicken carcase, no matter how illustrious its provenance.

I know a lot of people hate this time of year, so I hope you're managing to get through even if you're feeling low, or if it's especially hard this year because you're missing someone. 

Wishing you love and blessings,

Monday, December 24, 2018

Hope and love

Things are tough out there, aren't they? Stormy, scary, poisonous, and desperate. 

But let's not give up on hope. Hope and love.

Everything Is Going to Be All Right

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

Derek Mahon

from New Collected Poems (2011), published here by kind permission of The Gallery Press

The dawns below were captured by Mick Oxley this autumn and winter. Mick lives in Craster on the Northumberland coast and generously shares the view from his window every morning on Twitter under the handle @SeaSkyCraster

by Mick Oxley, shared with kind permission

by Mick Oxley, shared with kind permission

by Mick Oxley, shared with kind permission

by Mick Oxley, shared with kind permission

from my bedroom window

Thank you for staying with me throughout the year, dear friends. I hope you have the kind of Christmas you wish for. At Hepworth Towers this year it's ON, so I can't stick around here sharing poetry and dawns no matter how much I love you, because Perks must be about it.*

Happy Christmas!

*the Readers' Rosette goes to the first one who tells me the origin of the quote. 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

How long does it take to write a paragraph?

'I spent all morning putting in a comma and all afternoon taking it out.'

This may or may not have been said by Oscar Wilde, but whoever said it, it illustrates something that non-writers may not be aware of, namely how much trouble some writers go to to get it right.

I've been working and reworking a particular scene in my new novel, trying to get it right. And my writer friend Chrissie has been telling me 
a/ to tone it down  
b/ that in certain places, I am telling, not showing   
c/ that the dialogue is still too much on the nose (i.e. my characters' dialogue is too straightforward and I should be using more subtext.)

This morning I'd rewritten the second half of the scene and had got to the last paragraph:

She took another gulp of wine. She was drowning in the past. Then she thought of Alex. She opened the kitchen drawer and took out the card he’d sent her and looked at it for a moment. She got up, and with shaking hands she stood it on the dresser with the family photographs, as if to restore her sanity and stability. 

and I wasn't happy with it. I wanted the last sentence to end with a strong noun with just one syllable. How my prose sounds in my head is important; and the strength of one short beat at the end of that sentence would enhance the meaning. 

I couldn't think of a word that would do, so I tried the Word thesaurus. No joy. I tweeted a request for one syllable words that meant 'stability' or 'sanity' and  helpful people tweeted back words that were not nouns, and ones that had more than one syllable, and then a few which fitted the request, but which still did not say what I wanted: wit, sense, ease, right. (I've just realised why I got words of two syllables! People were not taking me literally!)

I was writing in bed, and I shouted a request to Dave who was scroll-sawing wooden snowflakes in the room he calls his study and I call his indoor shed. He called back 'peace, calm, hold.'

Later, on the phone, I asked the family member who declines to be named. I told him the words I'd been offered and he asked for the context. I told him the sentence and he suggested 'strength.' He said it was easier to think of something when you had the context.

I am grateful for all the suggestions, and have considered them carefully. None seems right to me, and bearing in mind what Chrissie said about showing not telling, I've decided to do without...

She took another gulp of wine. She was drowning in the past. Then she thought of Alex. She opened the kitchen drawer and took out the card he’d sent her and looked at it for a moment. She got up, and with shaking hands she stood it on the dresser next to the family photographs.

I think that's the best option. I am trusting the reader to understand why she is putting the card up there on the shelf. It may not be clear to you, dear reader, but I don't want to give you the whole scene as it's pivotal.

And now, here is something from this morning's Guardian Review that amused me:

I should not put it here because of copyright but I'm going to be wicked for the weekend, and delete it next week.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Banging heads together

Do you ever watch programmes that annoy you and yet you continue to watch them, time after time? 

Two years ago I became acquainted with Gilmore Girls on Netflix. I loved it. I watched an episode a night, every night. And then the main character began to annoy me. I even blogged about how she annoyed me, hereI kept on watching, though, and ended up viewing the entire seven series.

In desperation at the juvenile and destructive behaviour of our parliament and my inability to influence what happens next, I've been seeking comfort viewing and having gulped down The Kominsky Method within a weekand having watched Grace and Frankie's four series yet again, I've returned to Gilmore Girls

But now I want to complain again. How can it be that Lorelai, the main character,  was a single mother at the age of 16 and without a private income managed to raise her daughter single-handedly to the age of 16, and yet she never learned to cook? She eats out every day at her favourite cafe: how can she afford to? In one episode, we see her clearing out her fridge of left over junk food and doggy bags. She takes a pizza box out of the fridge, looks inside and sees a sixth of a pizza and then closes up the box and crams the whole thing, food included, into the bin. She does this with the next pizza box, the left over Chinese food, pasta, whatever.  It made me feel queasy to watch this scene. Quite apart from the waste of food, has she not heard of recycling?

You know what I'm doing, don't you? It's called a displacement activity. I really want to bang the heads together of every member of this appalling government and their irresponsible behaviour in throwing away the prosperity of this country on top of ignoring the increase in homelessness and hunger and poverty and the ill-treatment of asylum seekers, and every other social ill you can think of. This week, with 99 days to go before Brexit and nothing yet agreed as to how it's going to be handled, they are arguing over whether Jeremy Corbyn said 'stupid woman' to Theresa May. 



OK, now I'm going to go and look at my tree to cheer myself up.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Frugality plus inventiveness can be a trap

When people see all the beautiful things Dave has made - furniture, stained glass, carvings, Christmas decorations - they envy me. 

They also envy me because he is so good at FIXING things. I am a lucky woman. I know this.

However...there is a dark side to all this talent: his eagerness to create things from bits and bobs when one would much rather go out and BUY said object. 

Take yesterday. I came home from Bakewell market and complained to Dave about the heavy shopping, and how I was wondering about buying a shopping trolley - a trendy one (if 'trendy shopping-trolley' is not an oxymoron.)

He said 'Oh, you mean one of those tartan ones.'

'No! No! Something modern!'

'You don't need to buy one,' he said. 'I'll make you one. Something robust and capacious.'

My heart sank.

'What you need is one like window cleaners used to have,' he said. 'I could use old bike wheels. I've got two in the shed.'

'I have no idea what you're talking about, but NO.'

'Yes, yes,' he said. 'Google an image of a traditional window cleaner's trolley.'

I did.

'That's it,' he said. 'But there should be a box on top.'

'And how am I expected to get that in the back of the car to bring it home from Bakewell?'

'I'll make you a ramp!'

You may laugh, dear reader, but he wasn't joking. 

Anyway, this conversation reminded me of a piece I once had in the Times which I don't think I've shared with you before:

Make do and mend spend !

Do you ever look with dissatisfaction at your furniture and wish you could start again? You don’t want to submit to the horrors of trial by makeover, but you would like to junk that ugly lumpen armchair your mother-in-law gave you, or that trendy-in-the-seventies standard lamp reminiscent of a salon hairdryer? After we lost all our things in a fire, and the emotional ashes began to settle, we had that chance to start again. But even with a lump sum and an empty house the task was arduous for a couple with no experience of buying new furniture.
We married as impoverished students, and as the years passed most of what furnished our house before the fire was not so much chosen and bought, but inherited, or just somehow acquired. Objectively speaking we had some good stuff, such as the three handsome grandfather clocks my husband Dave had inherited. But I could have counted on the fingers of one hand the items of furniture which we actually went out and bought in a shop. This was a result partly of lack of funds at the appropriate time, but also of an abhorrence of waste, a make-do-and-mend philosophy, a drive to recycle and reclaim wherever possible, and the inability to look a gift horse in the mouth.
In our young and untroubled student days when we were able to afford a Land Rover but not new furniture (why was that?) we had been asked by some newly married friends if we would take to the tip a “hideous three piece suite” which a parent was foisting upon them to be helpful. Well, the suite turned out to be beautiful - art deco, upholstered in blue velvet, with walnut veneer arms – so we took it home. It became one of my favourites, much coveted by the more discerning of my friends, but much reviled by my modernist husband.  It was followed by similar items, which friends wanted to get rid of and which I wanted to give a good home to. At one time in the sitting room of our first small flat we actually had three sofas.
It’s hard to buy new things when recycling is in your genes. I remember going off to camp for the first time with a home made rucksack my mother had recycled from an old gaberdine mac, with zips reclaimed from long dead trousers, and a cord from a pair of tattered pyjamas. She would make us bedside tables and dolls houses out of orange boxes, and even long after she had anyone needing dolls furniture, she found it excruciating to throw away those tiny plastic catering tubs when emptied of jam or UHT milk - they made such wonderful wash-basins. Her one thousand and one ways with a pair of old tights is so well documented that we can’t see a pair adrift in a hedgerow without my husband saying “your mother must have been here again.” Her favourite use was as twine for tying up my father’s raspberry canes in the autumn.
And my grandmother was the same. She made a superior picnic blanket out of an old tweed coat, and dusters out of old knickers  (“every gusset a memory” – Victoria Wood.) Her better underwear was not suitable for dusters, being made from an old silk parachute. The tights-recycling gene manifested itself in her case in the knitting of them into peg bags.
As for Dave, his recycling tendencies verge on the pathological. Once, to get rid of unwanted junk, we hired a skip with the couple next door. The two men would each wheel a barrow full of old rammel through their respective gates to meet at the skip with mutual cries of “Don’t you want that? Can I have it?” followed by the swapping of treasures and the wheeling of full barrows back up the two garden paths.
So you can see that the fire did us one or two favours:  I am delighted to be rid of the hundreds of beads from a dismantled car bead seat, the spherical light shade made out of Sainsburys High Juice plastic bottle caps, and a mound of worn bicycle tyres.
Make-do-and-mend is a trap. In one of my Dave’s joyful austerity periods he mended my daughter’s glasses with string and then sprayed it gold to match the glasses: she has never forgiven him. He also resoled his shoes with an old car tyre. Even now, when anyone needs anything at all, from a bird feeder to a roof rack, our long flown children will say with ghoulish delight “Don’t worry - Dave will knock you one up out of an old bike tyre!” Don’t get me wrong: I love the huge set of wind chimes made from wardrobe rail which now adorn our hall; and the aerobic ankle weights he fashioned from a piece of old lead piping are great.
But recycling requires raw materials, and even Dave was flummoxed by an empty house. On receiving the insurance cheque it was extremely difficult to break away from frugal ways and actually spend money on large items of furniture, particularly when we viewed them as once only purchases which had to last us the rest of our lifetimes.
And even though we had been married for 25 years, the profound clash in our tastes only became apparent when we were choosing new things. It was a case of traditionalist with a penchant for period style meets radical minimalist who thinks that form should always follow function. What possible middle ground in clothes storage is there between someone who wants an Edwardian chest of drawers in satinwood, and someone who prefers a stack of wipe clean plastic boxes? Or between someone who yearns for a king size cast iron bedstead, and someone who hankers after hammocks?
Yet another problem was Dave’s aversion to shopping. I thought I’d found the solution by using mail order. But catalogue sofas with apparently perfect proportions, when transposed to our sitting room looked like sofas on steroids. We returned them, and for 18 months we sat on the floor. 
We have now managed to buy most of the furniture we need, but it has been a novel and a gruelling process. And after having  a lot of detritus forcibly taken from us, we are definitely more discerning in our recycling. But what’s that lurking behind the new sofa? A carrier bag full of old tights?

© Sue Hepworth/Times Newspapers 2018
published here with kind permission of Times Newspapers

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