Wednesday, 30 April 2008
There is a new addition to the Jigsaw household; well two new additions actually. Daisy and Rosie have joined our animal kingdom, they seem quite content in their new filtered tank, multi-coloured gravel and Sponge Bob's house. The tank has lights too but the fish seemed rather startled when I switched them on. I never have been able to keep fish so fingers crossed these two will last the week. I might take them back to the shop if they don't. After all, how difficult can it be to look after two gold fish. From my track record, almost impossible.
But back to my sister; we ventured onto a beach yesterday, I was a little nervous about the sand finding its way into my shoes but I found an inner strength as we walked along with Precious. That was until Precious wanted to carry on and we, feeling a little intimidated by a Bob Marley impersonator, decided to turn back and walk the other way. The terrible two's kicked in and the mother of all paddies commenced. A screaming, springing into the air and severe I-want-my-own-way, meltdown. Even "Bob" looked up from his weed and glanced in our direction wondering if it was time he actually gave his gob a rest. With reggae boy and the tantrum toddler it did not make way for a peaceful day on the beach. A group of picnickers sat almost in the dunes wondering what they had done to deserve such a punishment.
The farm was the next venue; sunshine, hungry lambs and a packet of maltesers. My sister does not eat much. She drinks water, eats brown bread, prefers fresh veg instead of my frozen. I guess she should be influencing me into eating more healthily but I am a self-confessed pig, I like chocolate too much and would rather have a coke than a glass of Volvic. Wouldn't we be boring if we were all the same?
Friday, 25 April 2008
Wednesday, 23 April 2008
A few years ago my older brother went through a difficult period in his life when he lost his job and spent months searching for another. He was the main wage earner and he worried; his comfort had been threatened and his pride, dented. Even though his wife kept the family afloat, he could not stand being out of work having been employed since leaving college at 18. It was a shock to him. He needed someone to talk to; someone who would listen to him and understand his thoughts. He, too, wrote a letter to our dad. His words were heard yet unread. My brother has since found the perfect job for him, a job he will no doubt keep for the rest of his working life.
I wonder how much a stamp would cost to a man who lives in Heaven. How long would it take to arrive if he could not read my mind. I used to wonder what Heaven looked like. Two angels eating Philadelphia cheese kind of ruined the image I had conjured up as a child; I had to recreate my idea of that extraordinary venue in the sky. I thought of a white bearded male welcoming me into his lair, giving me a set of instructions to follow, the first one being "follow my instructions". I imagined members of my family to be sat at a table discussing the price of chains; my ancestors with a growth chart. I wondered if my grandma and granddad would be there to welcome me, smiling sweetly behind a pit pony; perhaps my auntie Jean would appear, comparing tobacco with Jim. And then I imagined my dad. My lovely dad in pinstripe attire, reflecting shoes and yellow tie. I saw him with a letter in his hands, addressed to the man in the moon. My letter; my thoughts; my life.
He points towards a house; my farm house which has somehow made its way to this vast openness above creation. Faces press themselves upon the window panes as smoke bellows out from the middle chimney. The grass surrounding is green and lush; pastoral riches pronounce themselves in mindful exercise. My lovely dad smiles at me as he reads my thoughts once more; he lifts up his hand to show me the papers; blank, unfolded, words yet to be written. And when my eyes opened I found myself still in meditative position, feet firmly flat on the floor, the room as it was before I began my journey to find answers from another realm. For the letter I had devised had been sent to my dad before I had even found the words to write. I was comforted as I left the room, until another day.
Monday, 21 April 2008
Day after day we would fall out. I would get angry at the slightest thing; a spilt drink, an untidy bedroom, a lost glove. Things mattered, every thing mattered. Now I have realised that I have every thing that really does matter; my beautiful daughter. Perhaps it is because she has got a little older that the tantrums decrease. The door slamming still goes on but I no longer follow her. I ignore her. And she always comes back. My reaction to her outbursts is obviously what she is waiting for. To her, I Matter. To me, She Matters.
Today she has returned to school. The last two weeks have been such a pleasure even though we have done very little apart from potter. A long weekend spent at my mum's in between and a few days shopping, the rest we stayed on the farm, stayed together and enjoyed each other's company. Last night I kissed her baby soft skin. We reflected on the past fourteen days with smiles and laughter as we remembered the lambs being fed, Sparky running off, throwing the ball, walking down the road. The normal every day things that matter.
Home is our space; our little corner of the world where we can let ourselves go and be at one with each other. She can be herself with no accent like the one she uses at school. She can laugh out loud at Peppa Pig and Robbie Rotten, walk round the house in pajamas all day, read Noddy in her pop-up tent. She can do the same things that she used to do two years ago, only now she does those things with less fuss, a calmer approach and more confident manner. Inside she is a beautiful child, intelligent and bright, affectionate and loving, cheeky and mischievous. Outside, she is the same. With her autistic traits she has taught me so much; she has shown me a side that does not exist on the inside or outside; a side that matters, just as much as the rest.
Sunday, 20 April 2008
Friday, 18 April 2008
On Thursday morning, the farmer was at his wit's end. Having most of the ewes now happily leading their offspring around farm land, he is free to get on with other jobs which have been neglected over the past few weeks. One of which is to get the hogs cleaned up and sent away to market. This should have been where Sparky comes in. But Sparky would rather play fetch and eat rubber tyres. My irate husband came barging through the back door, shocked at the sight of his pink-fluffy-dressing-gown-clad wife at eight in the morning and announced that Sparky should be sold.
Fortunately, I was only half awake and hadn't actually registered what he had said. It was only later when I was in the shower that I suddenly heard alarm bells ringing and decided I needed to take drastic action. Wishing to be in suitable attire to use the phone, I got dressed and quickly rang our very good friend who knows everything and anything about training sheep dogs, him being a Champion on many occasions in various Sheep Dog Trials up and down the country. He came round to the house, a little concerned at my husband's frustrated outburst and gave us two options. 1) Fill empty plastic milk cartons with pebbles (we have a gravel driveway so not a problem), take Sparky on the quad bike and every time she makes a dash for the wheels, throw a carton in her direction. Preferably hitting her with it. I was somewhat shocked at this but he assured me it is common practice when training sheep dogs and will eventually give her the message that she is to follow orders. Still not convinced but we will try it nevertheless. And 2) Our friend offered to find her another home, a suitable family nearby who would have her as a pet.
My husband nearly fell off his chair. When number 2 was mentioned, it was clear that his little temper tantrum of before was not meant and he is definitely not going to sell Sparky. "If she is to fail as a working dog then she will live here with us as our pet," he managed to say once the shock had worn off. He has a lovely marshmallow centre when it comes to the animals and I am so glad we managed to clear up that temporary misunderstanding. She is a nuisance. She never does as she's told. She runs off if she sees someone at the holiday cottages. She whines, yelps, scratches the door and chews Amy's shoes. She eats the cat's food, pinches Molly's and tips her own bowl upside down. But she's our dog. And we adore her, no matter what.
P.S. Amy sent her a lovely birthday card with a number 1 on the front. I think what really rattled the farmer was when he arrived down in the morning to find half the birthday card chewed and scattered all over the boot room floor. And he had to pick it up. But we still love her!
Wednesday, 16 April 2008
Not a day goes by when I do not think about my dad. He touched my own life so deeply that part of him will live on through me. He found this place for me, this home that I now call my Heaven. He brought me here almost sixteen years ago, introducing me to what lay ahead. And no matter what anyone's beliefs are, mine will always remain the same; he himself was led to this place without the understanding that it would have great significance on his own family. It did not take me long to make the decision to move up here following the passing of my dad. I was scorned upon by many including close friends and family members but nothing and no one was going to prevent me from making a new life in the place that had been chosen by my dad.
Most of the people who would not accept my decision came round in the end but one did not. He was a man I was extremely close to and loved deeply. He was my mum's brother, my beloved Uncle Tom. A severe epileptic and divorcee, he lived in a two-up-two-down on his own and relied on his best friend and our family to support him through life. He gave everything he had to make us happy. He adored our family. My mum shopped and cleaned for him, often doing his washing and making his meals. Even though Uncle Tom was capable of doing it himself he enjoyed the fuss my mum would make, their own mother having passed in 1990. He used to "borrow" our family pet, Ben, a gorgeous border collie, taking him for ten mile walks, staying out all day and picnicking in a field. He loved life. Hardship was something he had become accustomed to and he just lived with it.
It was July 2001 when my dad passed and I moved here in August, just 5 weeks later. Uncle Tom was not happy. He could not see my reasons for moving and could only feel the pain my mum then endured. He wrote me a three page letter, stating how shocked and angry he felt at my departure; how he felt I had abandoned my mum when she needed me most. My mum's other brother also turned against me, for a short while, expressing disgust in my sudden decision. The time was difficult enough for me having just buried my dad but I knew there was no turning back; somehow it felt right, my dad was telling me it was the only thing to do.
Very soon after I moved, Uncle Tom became depressed. He could not cope with life anymore and became a recluse in his own home. My mum struggled to visit him as often as she had and people started feeling distant from him, worrying about him but tired of his manner. No one really understood depression in our family because no one had ever experienced it. Until my dad passed that was. And we realised Uncle Tom was getting worse and worse, day by day. He was on anti-depressants which did not seem to help and when he stopped going to church we all knew it was serious. The family knew he could not bear to see his beloved sister so upset.
On New Year's Eve, my mum's other brother and his wife took Uncle Tom home after a rare visit for him to their house. Uncle Tom asked to be dropped off a mile away from his house, insisting he wished to walk from there. The following day, on 1st January 2002, Uncle Tom's body was found almost two miles from his house faced down in a stream. Still to this day, we do not know what happened. Many theories have been discussed. He was a great one for writing letters but one was never found concerning the reason for his death.
I am sure my Uncle Tom has forgiven me by now. I have a lot to thank him for; he was the one who encouraged me to learn the piano when I was eight years old; he sat with me for hours when I was little, helping me with my reading and writing and he, along with my dad, inspired me to write my book. Uncle Tom used to love weddings and Christenings, "free food" he used to tease and when Amy was Christened he asked me, "is it a sit down meal or a buffet?" We still laugh about that today. He would have settled for a peanut if he could just spend time with his family.
Tuesday, 15 April 2008
Last years lambs are now classed as Hogs. They are almost ready to be carted off to the local mart but the weather dictates otherwise. Sodden ground prevents them from being cleaned; I expect they are quite pleased. The pony is on the mend. She suffered an infection, similar to the common cold but slightly worse. Old age has set in and the poor creature in quite prone to illness. Laminitis has affected her twice in the last five years which can be fatal. However, adding Happy Hoof into her food twice a day has enabled a significant improvement. No longer does she strain to lift her head or snot all over your hand when you offer a carrot. She is now back to kicking the stable door, then barging her way through once she realises freedom is on the horizon. We have her in the garden most days, too much grass will probably bring back the laminitis. And the state of the grass at the moment will never be a threat. She has the most wonderful character and is more of a pet now than a working horse.
I hope to get the farmer away for a weekend before the silage begins. Anna will look after the place for us. He didn't say no when I mentioned it, nor did he say yes. But I have ways and means of making him talk. And say yes. To put it bluntly, he doesn't have a choice. It's becoming an almost impossible task these days just to get him to the local shop. As much as I know he will follow in Jim's footsteps, I am trying my best to encourage him to have a life. Perhaps one day I might get him on a plane.
Sunday, 13 April 2008
I suppose I am one of life's potterers; up and down the county to the local towns, cruising around the country lanes, there and back to the Chinese. And then every five weeks or so I venture down to the North West to visit my lovely mum. Having come back from a weekend visit just recently I feel refreshed and raring to spend this next week on the farm. Apart from seeing mum, my sister arrived with her daughter, the beautiful and adorable Precious. Amy has taught her to pull faces and someone local to my mum has taught her to say "Eee-by-gum", a very old Lancashire slang term which simply translates to "well I never". But from the mouth of a two year old it sounds particularly cute. I cringe to think what her Irish grandmother will think when forced to witness the little peach from the Jigsaw clan.
I have currently formed a huge crush and very unhealthy obsession on David Tennant, the man who constantly saves the world, on Amy's telly. I can't say he is gorgeous but there is something about him and Doctor Who has become my favourite entertainment. I even bought a drama on DVD which he was in a few years ago just so I could watch him. The drama is quite good I'm pleased to say. As I haven't touched a keyboard since last Thursday I thought I should treat my fingers to a little movement, hence the drivel I have today published. "I'll Be Back"
Thursday, 10 April 2008
The door is secure. Once closed, will not open without human touch and forceful spirit. The atmosphere changes as darkness ensues. The rats resume their hunt for food, spiders spin, the walls come alive. The tape recorder plays as memories flash before anxious eyes; silence is no longer golden. Someone's space has been invaded, sought with perceptive view. A simple chore becomes impossible to achieve as sound carries from every crumbling stone in every wall.
She continues to fill bags, eager sheep awaiting their bait. Perturbed by the presence which now surrounds her being, listening to the footsteps as they approach frail wood. She stops dead. Her head turns in haste to watch as the latch is lifted by unseen hands; hinges creak and latch drops heavily upon its ancient bed. The door swings open offering light from an outside world.
The old barn seeps energy from man's build. Activity takes place, 250 years of phenomenal ambience inviting to the human mind. Forgotten souls visit; wish to be remembered on much loved ground. Buildings once stood where these decrepit walls now struggle. People lived in huts, families nursing bread, hands warming above bright orange flames. Spirit witnesses Anna at work, before leaving her with peaceful mind.
Tuesday, 8 April 2008
We have since replaced the carpets on the stairs, removing evidence of an almost seventy year habit. The house once more pleases our senses until he appears, smoke drifting beside him as he stumbles upon each stair. He came today. Many times he has presented, yet his opinion no longer needed. Anna has been favoured, blessed by an old farmer who cannot say goodbye to his life. He opens my office door, the hinges still sounding in their bid for my attention. I turn in my chair hit by the intense aroma which now overwhelms me. He enters the room, once his own domain, now my valued space. The temperature drop makes me shiver as he urges me to look out of the window. Anna, our lambing assistant of whom we have become so fond, stands at the gate in the field beyond. She carries a shepherd's crook, the same crook that Jim used, day after day, year after year. We have been thinking about keeping Anna on as a casual farm-hand, her keenness is inspiring. Approval has been given.
Sunday, 6 April 2008
It is satisfaction in droves to feel that ones hard work and dedication to this cause is taken seriously by Members of Parliament. I want our MP's to fully understand how important it is that our disabled members of society should not be ignored. By anyone. There can never be enough support, even the smallest of cases deserves recognition and a high level of care. How rewarding it would be to see our local representatives being able to reassure parents that their child will be supported in every sense. Making promises they were able to keep. Mr. Beith recently wrote to the Secretary of State for Health enquiring about the number of adults currently living with autism in the UK; he received a reply from Ivan Lewis, MP Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health. Money has indeed been spent on aspects such as training for parents, helping people find employment, creating social groups and opportunities for autistic adults to lead independent lives, this names a few on the list.
It all sounds very impressive. But for some reason, the support and the funding does not seem to reach the whole of the country's needs. I cannot comment on where money is mostly spent and where it is least received but I do know that support in Northumberland is not as accessible as it should be. Mr. Beith also wrote to Daljit Lally, Director of Adult Care at Northumberland County Council. Many people with autism are extremely bright; their skills go far beyond those of an average IQ. They need constant stimulation, regular therapy and continuous opportunity to enhance their academic capabilities. Ms. Lally states that specialist health workers do receive appropriate training to "enable them to work with individuals and their families". I would love to meet one of these health workers.
She also states that "people can access educational places into their early 20's". What happens when they reach 25? A variety of day opportunities are apparently available, including "horticultural skills". I will be enquiring about other skills too, i.e. computer technology, languages, musical studies and hair dressing to name but a few. I cannot complain at the efficiency of Mr. Beith's reply to my email, nor can I complain at the copied letters he enclosed received from Mr. Lewis and Ms. Lally.
But I am greedy. And I will not stop campaigning for people who deserve an equal chance in life, giving them the opportunities and support they so desperately need. Just quoting individual financial distributions which have been allocated during the last five years is not enough. How many staff wages throughout the country (not county) will £51k in 2007/08 equate to? And out of that amount, what about facilities and vital support? We need to make every one aware that autistic people will stand up and be counted. Every parent wants to feel confident that their child makes it in life; that they fulfil their dream and live life to the full. Our children are the most important part of life, they are the faces of the future. Those people with needs which beckon adult support have a right to fulfil their dreams too.
Saturday, 5 April 2008
I had a job in a small computer firm as a receptionist. There were just ten employees, some of whom were loyal to the company and some whom couldn't have cared less should it have burnt down, so long as they got paid first. I worked with a girl called Sue who spoke beautiful English. If you have ever watched Hotel Babylon, the attractive receptionist with the brunette locks always reminds me of my ex-friend and colleague, Sue. She could never put a foot wrong, everything she did seemed perfect. I always felt clumsy as I sat beside her, answering the phone in my usual Manchester accent while she answered the phone as though she were addressing Prince Charles. Everyone was "sir" or "madam", everything was "yes, certainly". We were all convinced she was having it away with the boss because of the laughter and the many times she would spend in his office. Of course Sue did shorthand and was always called upon to attend meetings. I was left to man the phones, hoping Prince Charles wouldn't be on the other end.
The boss's wife was the ultimate drip. She would come into work just three mornings a week to do the accounts while her husband sat in his office pretending to read the Financial Times. When she had gone, he would get out his note book and call Sue into the office, the door gently closing behind her. Everyone thought the same yet no one dared speak about it. None of our business, I guess you could say.
After only a few months of working at the firm, I had to stay at home for a couple of days with an horrendously sore throat. On antibiotics and ice cream, I took to watching Richard & Judy at Liverpool Docks. It was a Wednesday morning when the phone rang and Sue spoke to me in her Queen's English. "Can you come into the office, the boss wants to see you. It shouldn't take long." Not being as thick as I sometimes make out, I knew straight away what the boss wanted to see me about and I reluctantly agreed to be there within the hour.
It came as no surprise to me that the boss had scarpered before I arrived in and had left his wife to do the dirty work. I sat in the chair opposite drippy Dana while she announced I was no longer needed. My employment would be terminated as from that day and they would pay me until the end of the week. How generous of them. I was pretty upset at the time because I was in the throws of planning my wedding and needed the money. Dana could hardly talk to me, she was embarrassed at having to be the one to sack me for no apparent reason.
After our ten minute conversation I looked straight into her eyes and asked her to tell me the truth, "why are you letting me go?" I felt I deserved a better explanation. "You have the wrong image for our company. Your accent doesn't fit and some of our clients are commenting on the fact that they would rather speak to Sue because she sounds more refined." The first place I went after becoming unemployed was the Citizen's Advice Bureau. Unfortunately, I didn't have a leg to stand on due to me only being with the company a short time. And I still have my Mancunian accent.
Thursday, 3 April 2008
Six years ago I lost one friendship which meant a great deal to me. A life-long friend turned against me when I decided to move to Northumberland. She could not understand my need to make a new life and could only think about my mum, who was at the time, in mourning for my dad. My timing to move away could have been better but if that friend had been able to see both sides she would have appreciated the urgency to my life changing decision. It was particularly sad when we agreed to break contact with each other and move on with our lives. That friend has a physical disability. She is a decent human being and has two beautiful daughters. I think about her often. And I will always love her despite our differences.
It is inevitable that throughout our lives we will make friendships which will fade into the distance, only to leave a valuable experience along the way. Some friendships last a life time, others just a few months. Since having Amy in my life, friends have naturally come and gone and some I have been saddened by their departure. But it has also been the case that some friendships I have made have dwindled simply because our children have so little in common. As Amy has got older, she still has the social mind of a much younger child and it would be fair to say, finds it easier to play with children two or three years her junior. Apart from a couple of good friends of which I hope will remain for many years to come, children of her age have an obvious mental age difference which is made plain to see when watching them play.
I am sure that throughout Amy's life, she will form solid friendships which will last, from those children who have understood her challenging and alternative social skills from the start. She will also, like every one, find good company from a passing friend only to realise they have nothing in common. To me, finding friendship is vitally important in any person's life. Losing it can be heartbreaking. So many doors will open throughout our existence, each one revealing a new path in which to tread and find a new friend. As Amy grows, even I do not know whether her mental age will increase. When she is twelve will she still socially interract like a nine year old? When she turns sixteen, will she just become a teenager? There is of course one thing Amy will never lose; her ability to make friends.
Tuesday, 1 April 2008
Some words in which Amy has recently picked up are rather inappropriate for an eight year old child to be using. Even though I wear rose tinted glasses and often walk around with my head in the clouds I am not unaware of the fact that swearing has become (if not more so now) a part of our vocabulary which is all too often used.
Amy's latest whim is to use the word "bloody" in almost every sentence. "I can't get my bloody socks on," "stupid bloody lambs," "I'm not ready for my bloody bed." She knows it is a swear word. And the other word she uses on a regular basis is "bugger." I am very careful when Amy is around. I always have been. It stems from when she was a baby, a story I may be brave enough to share one day.
Should there be any changes made to our daily routine it is always a good idea to inform Amy about them in advance whenever possible. She can cope to a certain extent but we always have to remember that her condition makes her extremely unpredictable. Our local grocery store has recently been refurbished, a very exciting project for the locals as it is the only grocery store for miles. I took Amy over the weekend, packing her into the car and setting off on the seven mile journey up the A1. All the way there I explained that the store would look different inside. They had changed it and made it look better. It would probably be bigger and she would therefore have to stay near me and not run off, which she usually does when I am standing at the check-out in a queue. Unfortunately, she tends to run off to the entrance and I then have to abandon my shopping basket to run after her due to her lack of road sense. Suffice to say, it takes rather a long time to buy my groceries when Amy is with me.
Upon arriving at the store Amy examined the outside and came to the conclusion that it looked no different. Quite right. I parked the car. I helped her out of the car and held her hand as I led her up the ramp and into the store. The store which now looks totally different on the inside (and a lot better I might add). And as a queue of people stood at the check-outs my lovely innocent daughter shouted at the top of her voice, "this stupid bloody shop has changed. Why has it changed? Oh bugger!"
It is times like these that awareness to autism is desperately needed. My daughter is autistic. She is not rude or naughty (well okay, not all the time). Every single person in that shop gasped. No one had any idea of how they should react. They looked at me as though I was the worst mother on the planet and seemed to question why I had not taken her outside to have a short sharp word in her shell-like. I could have assured them all that it wouldn't have made a scrap of difference. In fact, it would actually have caused her to have a tantrum in the carpark and we probably would have had to go home, empty handed.
It does not take much for someone to smile. It does not take much for someone to understand. People are all too quick to judge, especially in an awkward situation where an uncontrollable child is involved. If only they knew the truth. If only they knew about the condition known as Autism. But of course many people do not want to know. If they have no one in their immediate family living with ASD, what is the point in them finding out about it. Why should they bother to understand a brain abnormality which will never affect them anyway. But as a society, as people who care, is it not our duty to understand our neighbours, to accept them as they are? Rather than judging what we have no right to judge; to try and make an effort to be at one with a human being who might not appear the same as ourselves. Every one is special. Every one is an individual.