Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goodbye 2008...

...and good riddance.

Those of you who visit regularly will know that many members of our extended family have had to face huge challenges this year, mainly health related. Things are not back to normal, indeed never will be back to how they once were, but have at least improved and I appreciated all your support. I know that we have not been alone in facing such a difficult year, far too many of my online friends have also been struggling in various ways.

We don't know what 2009 will bring, financially it is likely to be difficult as Hubby has already had to take a pay cut to try to keep the business, for which we both work, alive in the credit crunch. But we will get through it somehow.

I'm not going to make New Year's Resolutions, in the current climate I think I would be far too likely to fail. But what I would like to achieve in 2009, circumstances permitting, is to complete my OU studies and at least the first draft of the novel, to become a more consistent blogger again and also to find more time to look after myself. Everything else will just be a case of wait and see where life takes us...

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Season's Greetings... all my blog friends.

( image by

Saturday, December 20, 2008

It's Christmas

I'm starting to feel Christmassy at last. Only a teeny bit though.

School has finished and my last OU assignment of the year was sent off yesterday. Now I can focus on other matters in hand. The presents are purchased, with due consideration to the credit crunch. The cards are sent. We have no tree, as son 2 has been very upset by the tree over the last few years, too much of a change to his usual environment. Perhaps we will have another go at sneaking it up at the last minute this year. Son 1 is ill with a nasty gastric upset and had to miss work yesterday. It wouldn't be Christmas without some sort of illness here.

So for the next few days I will be house tidying, present wrapping and food shopping...

Three notable things:

1. The X Factor - the right result. But I hope JLS do well too.

2. I now have four versions of Hallelujah on my computer. Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, KD Lang and Alexandra Burke. Yes, I like that song...

3. I'm feeling sad about Woolworths closing, even though it has been rubbish in recent years.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Of music and other things

So it is almost the final of The X Factor and I have hardly blogged about it at all this year. For many weeks my favourite has been Alexandra, who has been classy and consistent, but after last Saturday JLS have really come back into the picture and in many ways I think they have made the most progress ( or perhaps Louis just made bad song choices for them in the past?)

I'd be happy if either act won on Saturday and while we are on the subject of The X Factor, is it really WRONG that I get an overwhelming urge to mother Aston of JLS everytime he gets emotional?!

Son 2 has surprised everyone with his latest choice of favourite music, moving on from nursery rhymes and Disney to Snow Patrol. Chasing Cars is one of my favourite songs too, though how long will that remain the case after Son 2 has driven us mad with repetitive playing of the track?

Three notable things:

1. Son 1 has started two weeks work experience in the self-serve warehouse at IKEA which he is enjoying, though walking miles each day in new steel-capped boots is exhausting for him and his feet are very blistered.

2. I can't get at all enthusiastic about Christmas this year. I'm sorry but I just can't.

3. I received the result of my OU E301 course yesterday. I got the grade I had hoped for, so am very pleased.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Warning

There seems to be a new virus around called Actns/Swif.T which comes through embedded YouTube videos in blogs and elsewhere.

I first came upon it this morning on someone else's blog, when my antivirus highlighted it and deleted it. I was shocked to find my blog was also affected this evening.

I am gradually working back and removing all the YouTube embeds, fortunately I don't have too many, but it is possible you may encounter this virus on an older page here or elsewhere. Google it for more info, I'm not techie enough to understand the implications should it get past your antivirus.

Update: It appears that the situation is not as serious as it seemed. Although it is a very real virus and nasty if you click on the link it delivers, apparently yesterday Computer Associates antivirus, which I have, was throwing up false positives on any page containing embedded YouTube videos. They seem to have fixed their virus definitions now. But still watch out for the virus!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Where does the time go?

In the last week I have spent a lot of time running around with Son 1 and I am pleased to report that he is now enrolled on a college course starting in January. This morning we collected his college ID, we got photos done for his new Oystercard (it has been costing us a fortune since the end of September when he no longer qualified for student discounts). We also bought him a new winter coat, as he got freezing cold when out having teenage adventures last weekend (don't ask!) and his old coat seems to have been lost when he went into hospital earlier in the year. It is amazing how far he has come since then.

I'm drowning in screenplays for the OU course, as our next assignment is to write an adaptation of our previous story for stage, radio or film. I have decided to do film, so am busy reading around the subject. There is a lot of work in this section of the course, but I am determined to keep up as best I can, even if I have to ask for an extension of the assignment deadline. I also have an assignment due in soon on my counselling course and am well behind on the reading for that. Eek!

Three notable things:

1. My mother had an MRI scan on Sunday. We hope this will provide some answers to her currently unexplained neurological symptoms.

2. Mother-in-law is having a short trial, arranged by social services, of carers going in once a day to keep an eye on her and make sure she eats. I hope she will allow it to continue, but she has Alzheimers and always was strong-willed, so who knows?

3. There is a lot of debate in our borough at present, as to how funding for 'breaks for carers' can be best used. I was invited to a workshop day tomorrow and much as I would have liked to put forward my views I have declined because I just don't have the time. I have talked with someone who is going and has a similar interest in the subject, so I know our needs will be represented.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Crisis of confidence

I've had a week agonising about my writing. My OU assignment came back with a mark significantly below what I wanted and even well below what I had realistically expected. The comments and feedback really didn't make it clear enough how I could have improved my grade. I already knew that I was far from the only person experiencing this, which was a comfort.

An email to my tutor did provide some further clarification and I am, of course, not blind to the failings of my work. Indeed I often find faults that others don't see. But for some reason this time the criticism hit me hard.

I've put my OU books aside and spent the rest of the week on my novel. I have recently restructured and savagely edited what was already there and added about 2,500 new words. At last I am feeling comfortable with my chosen style and structure, with the new tweaks I think it is starting to work.

The realisation has been creeping up on me recently that I just want to write accessible fiction, not the highly literary fodder of advanced level university courses. I am a great believer that books can be both commercial and very well written. The two are not mutually exclusive.

I'm not going to give up the course, because it can only improve my writing. But in my novel I intend to stay true to my own voice, which I feel is more commercial than literary. That is my comfort zone, for sure, but if I can get it to work, why would I need to experiment?

Three notable things:

1. We are very proud of son 1, who is having an interview for a college place on Monday and hopefully starting some work experience the following week. His discharge from the day service is planned for Christmas.

2. I spent yesterday evening talking to a group of parents with children on the autistic spectrum, mostly newly diagnosed. I really enjoy being able to show them that the future is not necessarily as bleak as they will be thinking right now.

3. After an appointment yesterday I ventured quickly into Marks and Spencer's one day sale. I took a look at the queues and walked right out again, as I would otherwise not have made my lunch meeting over a pizza.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Another brick in the wall

This year has been relentless, as we have stumbled from one family crisis to another. And still it has not ended.

On Monday evening I got a call from my sister, to say my father had been rushed to hospital with chest pains. On Tuesday morning I called my mum, to find out she didn't know where he was and thought he might be on his way home. It took me a few phone calls to find the right hospital and ward, because admission details had not been updated on the computer overnight, but I did eventually track him down. He was waiting to be seen by the doctors.

Speaking to him after lunch, the prognosis did not seem too good...the doctor thought he would need another angioplasty (he had one earlier this year after a very near-miss heart attack). But by the next day, when he had undergone tests and been seen by the consultant, things were looking better...the pain was eventually put down to a gastric problem and he was sent home on Thursday afternoon.

We are keeping our fingers crossed for no further scares, I don't think my own heart can cope with much more.

Three notable things:

1. Catching up this week with old friends I had not seen for a long time.

2. Feeling very sad over the deaths of yet more children, both in the news and closer to home.

3. Receiving a pristine new textbook from the OU to replace the one torn by son 2.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008


I used to hate statistics. When I was doing my accountancy exams it was always the papers which included statistics which would trip me up and require a resit. I got there in the end but still didn't really understand statistics well.

Nowadays though, I love the tiny stats meters on the bottom of my blog. Sometime last week a milestone of 20,000 hits was passed on the Bravenet counter at the bottom and it tells me how many visitors are new and how many are returning. My sitemeter tells me all sorts of interesting information about visitors, especially the time of a visit, their geographical location and where they have come from on the web.

In the last week alone I have had many visitors from the UK of course, but also lots from the USA, and others from Canada, France, Korea, Australia, Ireland, Spain, Pakistan, Russia, Germany, Greece, Dubai UAE, and Thailand.

It is also interesting to see what brings people here from Google. Obviously the mention of something very topical, especially a name, brings extra hits. But searches which I see coming up time and time again include agoraphobia, essay stress, read it and weep (a Disney Channel movie I believe) and most of all celebrities and autism.

Fascinating stuff.

Three notable things:

1. Son 2 tore pages out of the back of one of my study books yesterday. Eeek.

2. The new Starbucks limited edition Dark Cherry Mocha is delicious. I am tempted to go back into town today just to have another one.

3. I've bought a much-needed new pair of boots, so I am all set up for winter now.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Self harm

Self harm is a very current topic of concern in this household, so I was interested to find a video on Caroline's blog. It is a trailer for an educational DVD made by Harmless, a support organisation I had not heard of, but will certainly be making a note of.

Self harm is much more common than people realise and is undertaken by both sexes. Some self harmers have serious mental health issues or learning disabilities, but many more don't, they are just ordinary people struggling with life. Some kids even get drawn into self harm through peer pressure.

Self harm needs to be brought out into the open, to stop being a taboo. Hopefully Harmless will help, through this DVD aimed primarily at health and social care professionals.

Three notable things:

1. Michael Crichton of Jurassic Park and ER fame has died. What can one say about a man who brought George Clooney to my attention (as Dr Doug Ross in ER)?

2. I went shoppping yesterday and came back with secondhand books for my writing course but not the item I needed.

3. We still have ongoing problems with our parents on both sides of the family, which led to a call from a social worker yesterday. It is so hard not being close enough to do anything practical to help.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The American Dream

We hardly dared believe it could happen.

Barack Obama has a huge job on his hands, to unite America and to restore its reputation in the world. But if the passion, poise and efficiency of his campaign is anything to go by, he can do it.

History has been made. Thank you America.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Write on

I'm back to the novel in earnest, rewriting my first chapters. I think I have found the right starting point at last, now I just need to find a way of fitting what I have deleted back into the narrative structure at a later point. Some recent events have also provided me with new material to stash away in my notebook, so I am feeling very positive.

Your Messages is also back! It is in a different format this year, with no publication involved, but there is a prize of books for the entry Lynne and Sarah consider to be the best. Unlike last year, I will not have time to contribute every day, but I did post a piece yesterday and will definitely dip in and out over the month. If you are not doing NaNoWriMo then do take a look at Your Messages, it is great fun and much less onerous, as this year posted pieces can be 30 or 300 words.

Three notable things:

1. We are waiting with bated breath to see what America decides today. Let's hope change will come.

2. I will be off shortly with son 1 to investigate college possibilities for January. He is still educationally very fragile and anxious, so we will need to be vigilant that his needs are understood and adequate support offered.

3. Son 2 doesn't seem quite himself, tired and quiet. Hope he is not getting ill as soon as school has restarted.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Gentle hands

Well the debate may be long since finished, but the issues it raised are still churning around in my head, keeping me awake at night. Yesterday I actually found myself hyperventilating with anxiety when Hubby took son 2 out for a walk, even though they were just going on their regular stroll to local shops where he is well known.

Hubby and I were discussing how we could try to make sure that we discouraged son 2 from trying to approach strangers ( he doesn't often anyway) without stifling his desire to communicate, which is something everyone has worked so long and hard to encourage. We couldn't really come up with an answer.

We thought back to how he used to be. When he was younger he was in a huge autistic bubble. People, including most of the time us, didn't mean anything to him. He had no desire to communicate with anyone. He only emerged briefly from this bubble when he felt threatened, a sort of fight or flight reaction. His way of communicating at that moment was to bite.

My lower arms would be covered in bruises from his bites. Sometimes he would sink his teeth in and almost hang from my arm. We were lucky that there were very few injuries to other children, because son 2 never really has had any interest in his peers, but staff working with him would also get bitten. Like many kids on the spectrum, he has no impulse control or sense of danger.

It was a relief in some ways when the biting changed to pinching. Still painful, but not as bad. The pinching remains a behaviour to this day when he is very distressed, but it is rare now and usually directed at himself rather than others. Instead we taught him what we called 'gentle hands', in other words when he felt the uncontrollable impulse to pinch someone's arm, he should stroke or pat gently instead. He later spontaneously developed this to show affection as he is nonverbal.

It worked, but clearly now he is bigger it seems to have made him potentially even more socially unacceptable to others. Now to my mind a gentle pat or stroke is a million times better than a bite or a pinch, but of course others don't know his history, don't appreciate how far he has actually come back into our world.

Time for a new strategy I think, but I'm damned if we could think of one yesterday...

Three notable things:

1. We watched the F1 Grand Prix on TV yesterday. Well done, Lewis Hamilton, but you did put us all through it on the way.

2. School is back today but the council 'forgot' to arrange the transport until the escort rang them to remind them this morning. As a result the bus was very late and there was stress all round here at home.

3. Time for a much-needed coffee now, before I start work!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Another course

Some of you may remember that a year ago I gave up my voluntary role as treasurer for our local ASD support group. It was a great relief after 9 years, but I did promise that I would stay involved in a non-official capacity.

I attend the support coffee mornings once or twice a week, supposedly for my own support needs, but have actually found myself still being needed to talk to often distressed parents, as if my role in the organisation had not changed. We had been increasingly recognising that to do the job properly at least some of the volunteer committee members needed to have had some formal training in basic counselling and listening skills, so two people took an introductory course at our local college last year. When I first started working with the group I did have some rudimentary training in listening skills provided by another charity, but that was a long time ago. However I did not want to commit to a college course, since due to everything else going on here my study needs to be flexible and home-based.

I needed to find 10 more points to complete my OU degree, so I was delighted to discover a new course D171 Introduction to Counselling, which I have just started alongside the writing course. It is level one, so not too onerous academically, but will provide an introduction to skills that I will be able to use in many aspects of my life. The charity benefits too, as I am funding it myself courtesy of my Tesco vouchers.

And I've just had my arm twisted to return to the charity management committee, though I have made it clear I am not going to be treasurer again. A friend of mine took over that role from me, she is doing a great job and I am willing to advise when needed. I do have a wealth of experience to add to the committee, yet I have made it understood that from now on my input is on my own terms, I no longer want to feel obliged to work unpaid three day weeks!

Yes, I know I'm mad...

Three notable things:

1. Good tutorial yesterday...nice approachable tutor, five chatty students, it flew by.

2. The travel was fine, I was incredibly lucky with bus and train connections. In fact I got down into London remarkably early, having allowed extra time.

3. It was a bit of a shock to come out of the tutorial into pouring rain and a howling gale. I couldn't even go straight home, as I had to stop off in our local shopping centre to get some shopping for the boys.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

A sense of commmunity

I'm a private person, always have been.

I grew up in a small town where everyone knew you. I couldn't wait to leave, to live somewhere where I would have a little anonymity, where I wouldn't feel everyone knew everything about my life. I can still feel the panic attacks that I felt after my first really serious boyfriend had chucked me very unexpectedly, knowing that everyone I met on the street would ask after him and had been expecting us to get married.

I moved to London where the community bonds are less strong. That doesn't mean you don't get on with your neighbours, we do. I can honestly say that after 20 years in this house and several changes of neighbours, we have never had a fall-out. But like most Londoners, our relationship with them is very arm's length.

The benefit of this, of course, is that you can choose the friends you share the real details of your life with. I have two main special groups of friends...some that I met at mother and baby groups with son 1 and some I have met through the local special needs support groups, which I attend and have helped run for many years. Both these groups of friends are highly trusted and play a very important role in my life.

Internet groups add an extra dimension. I visit a number of open and closed forums and groups for writing, special needs and at the OU. But to me there is a downside. Some of the groups are huge...some of the OU ones are potentially open to every single OU student, one of the special needs groups is nearly 3,500 people hidden behind usernames. You don't know who is reading, any more than I know who is reading here. So I am very cautious about what I post in such places, just as I am here. What you might read is just a tiny snapshot of my life. I rarely write about anything which is currently raw. I think hard about who else might be affected by my words. I know some people think as a result that I am aloof, that they don't know me. But for me it is just basic internet safety, a protection for those rare occasions when things go wrong in a community. Lets face it, that happens on all forums from time to time, nowhere is entirely safe.

But what has also struck me recently is how quickly an internet group can change. Writing groups dry up after the loss of a few active key members. OU forums can completely change in nature as one cohort of students starts to move on and another moves in. The social groups that are formed online are flimsy, to say the least.

Regular readers will know that I have met in real life people from a number of my internet groups, many of them writers, and they have been, without exception, lovely people. Today I'm going to meet some of my online tutor group for the writing course. I don't know what to expect, but I'm sure they will all be nice too (and if they aren't we only have to meet one more time!) I'm equally sure though, that I probably won't still be in touch with many or any in a year from now.

For real life support on some of the things that really matter most in life, such as my family, I will stick with my flesh and blood friends here. I know who I can trust with confidences, who is likely to be able to advise in a particular situation, who could help out in an emergency, even to care for son 2.

I know how lucky I am to have them.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Writing again

My first assignment for the OU Advanced Creative Writing course was duly despatched last night. After spending time on the novel and other small bits and pieces it was weird having to write to length and to a deadline again, but I'm sure I'll get used to it. Tomorrow is a writing workshop, the first of two on the course and a chance to meet our tutor, so I'll be off into London for the day, a welcome break after a very stressful half term.

I have been inspired and encouraged by Calistro's recent wonderful news, and now that the assignment is out the way it will be back to the novel next week.

Three notable things:

1. Snow on our cars yesterday morning, almost unknown in October.

2. Our little neighbour was thrilled with the Maltesers we gave him for Trick or Treating this evening.

3. Son 1's discharge is being planned due to the fantastic progress he has made in recent weeks.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Potentially controversial

A fierce debate on an internet forum yesterday has left me feeling quite shaky about the way the world views young people like son 2.

It is a fact of life that older people with learning difficulties can display behaviours which might be considered cute or quirky in a younger child, but are perceived as threatening in a bigger person. It is something that every carer is painfully aware of and the reason why every trip outside is planned with military precision and a view to risk assessment, including potential risk to the public. Nothing in our life can be spontaneous.

But a lot of our young people can be friendly in a way which is not age appropriate. I'm not talking about sexual here, that is a different matter altogether and should never be tolerated. But son 2 might suddenly stretch out a hand to gently stroke someone's arm for example. It his way of showing friendship and is the reflex reaction of a small child. Son 2 might be 14 but he has the cognitive function of a four year old and the social awareness of less than a two year old. I try always to be aware of this possibility, but if I am on my own with him I can't be standing on both sides to prevent it. He is also over 9 stone and too strong for me to physically move him away, as I could when he was smaller and before I wrecked my back doing so. On the rare occasions it happens, we firmly tell him no, apologise profusely and explain he is autistic. I have never yet met a negative reaction from the public if I do this.

Now of course we all understand about personal space and indeed son 2's school have done a lot of work with him on that very subject. But to find some people on a special needs forum stating that they would consider such a gentle touch to be assault, has rocked me to my core. It has made me question whether I should take son 2 out at all on my own, yet often there is no choice and our rare trips out together are limited to very familiar places anyway. Of course I appreciate there are two sides to every story, I do understand that other people don't want to be touched. I certainly do not condone such behaviour and do my best to prevent it, but it would seem that for some people that is not good enough.

Yesterday, after reading the forum I collected him from playscheme. In order to do so I had to park in the neighbouring supermarket car park and walking him back through, I found myself struggling not only with the usual worry of keeping him away from cars, but now from people as well (and those two aims are not really compatible anyway.)

So where do we go from here? Do I never take him out? Or do I risk a member of the public accusing him of assault? He is 14 now and about to hit a delayed puberty, it is a problem that will only get worse as he gets older, even though he is a child who is considered by all his teachers and carers to be very gentle and actually vulnerable himself. That gentleness is something we have worked so hard over the years to achieve, but now the world seems to want to throw it back in our face.

Sometimes your best just seems not to be good enough.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

In the worst possible taste...

Call me old and boring if you like, I think I must be one of the few people in the world who doesn't 'get' Russell Brand. And Jonathan Ross' interview techniques can sometimes leave me cringing too, especially when he can't take his eyes off a female guest's cleavage.

The BBC pays these two men a lot of money, by anyone's standards. But their latest stunt was just sick. I'm not sure an apology is enough, learning some self control would be better.

Three notable things:

1. A recent disagreement on an internet forum has left me wondering yet again why some people can not and do not want to understand the challenging behaviours that can arise in people with learning disabilities but no obvious physical disabilities. Challenging behaviour can restrict lives just as much, if not more so, than being wheelchair bound.

2. The sun is shining. Hooray!

3. I've still got that pesky commentary to write...

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Picador blog

I have a post on there today.
Read it here

Three notable things:

1. My OU assignment story is written. Just the commentary to go.

2. Thanks to some extra respite care last week, I am surviving halfterm so far...

3. I'm on The Picador blog today. Did I already mention that?!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

To MA or not to MA?

Longer-term readers here will know that I had a plan for my writing career which went something like this...finish my 'accidental' OU Open degree with the Advanced Creative Writing course then try to get a place on a Creative Writing MA, all whilst writing my 'blockbuster' novel.

Well of course I was at risk of overloading myself, especially whilst juggling so many other family things at the same time. I have studied almost continuously for the last four years and I think I might actually appreciate a break from academia. There are also a number of practical barriers to accessing an MA course at this stage of my life. Not totally impossible, but not easy.

So this week I have done some serious thinking and I have committed myself to the novel. I shall still be doing the OU course, which will be complementary, but for now the idea of an MA is on the backburner.

Finish the degree, finish the novel and the MA courses will still be out there. In fact there may be even more choice. But I wonder if I will still want to do one?

Three notable things:

1. Son 2 has started rock climbing with school. I would love to be a fly on the wall.

2. I did a very small charity 'audit' yesterday as a favour. I'm so glad I no longer work full-time in accountancy!

3. I'm very impressed with the look of Caroline's new venture, BubbleCow. I'm sure it will be a great success.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

For those who have Virgin media TV...

...put it on to channel 109 and tell me how many hours you could watch/listen to that without going completely mad.

(Son 2 seems to think it is the only channel worth watching. He is very controlling. I am trying really, really, hard to ignore it, but I fear my mental health is suffering...)

Three notable things:

1. After a flash of inspiration on a bus last Saturday, I have written half a story for the first assignment of my new writing course.

2. I am getting excited that the course will also help me to pick up the novel writing again.

3. Over the space of three days I lost a tutor and gained a new one.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The X Factor

I live in a testosterone-fuelled household, so Saturday evening viewing has to be ITV rather than Strictly Come Dancing, which I can of course catch up with on BBC iPlayer anyway.

The X Factor is so far living up to what you'd expect. An array of weird and wonderful contestants at the audition stages. A handful of people who can sing but perhaps get further than they otherwise would because of their backstory. Judges sniping at each other from time to time. A new judge, Cheryl, who has shown an unexpected emotional side.

And at last we now know the final 12 for the live shows.

The groups - Louis
Frankly I don't care, none of them will win, but I liked the boy group best.

The over-25s - Danni
Did you notice how Danni looked a little like Joan Collins in the last programme? Anyway...Rachel, raw talent but a risk. I personally would have chosen Susie over Ruth, she was more consistent. Daniel, lovely guy with a very sad story, but not a star...??

The boys - Simon
Austin can sing but can he hold it together for the live shows? The other two don't inspire me yet.

The girls - Cheryl
The strongest category this year, crammed with Amy/Duffy wannabes (I love Amy and Duffy's music so in my mind that is not necessarily a Bad Thing, but I thought they were seeking someone original this year). There were four very strong contenders so sadly one had to lose out, but personally I think I would have chosen Hannah over Diana.

Three notable things:

1. How do I write a constructive criticism of a short story I hate ( but was written by a member of our course team)?

2. A long phone conversation with an old friend ths morning provided a good catch-up and some unexpected sad news.

3. Son 1 will be 17 tomorrow. My baby is old enough to learn to drive. How can that be?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Reviving bookersatz

Unfortunately Annie, my co-editor and I were both otherwise engaged over the summer with family matters, study and life in general, so bookersatz had to take a back seat.

Today I have posted up a great review of Caroline Smailes' Black Boxes by HelenMH. I have one or two other reviews in reserve but we are now actively looking for contributions. The philosophy behind bookersatz is to post reviews of books we have enjoyed and would like to recommend to others, and to encourage our readers to add to a debate via the comments.

So if you would like to send in a review for consideration (200-300 words is ideal, certainly no more than 500 words) please contact me for details, the link to my email is in my Blogger profile. We will sort out the layout and photo, we just want as wide a range of books and contributors as possible.

Three notable things:

1. I can't believe I haven't blogged about this year's X Factor yet. Watch this space.

2. We are searching for cures for chronic insomnia (for son 1, not me!) Any ideas?

3. Reading, writing and a little bit of studying. I'm looking forward to the next 9 months...

Friday, October 03, 2008

Silent Witness

Did any of you watch this on Wednesday and Thursday?

I don't want to give too much away, as it is on iPlayer for anyone who wants to catch up, but I just found the story so depressing. It depicted an area of London where some of my friends have lived, indeed one is still there. It showed the sort of society which spawns the knife and gun crime which we hear so much about, the hopelessness, the inevitability that the cycle of violence will continue.


Three notable things:

1. I was stared at by two foxes in the garden yesterday. They are getting bolder.

2. Our next door neighbour knocked last night as her shoe had flown over the fence into our garden whilst playing football with their son.

3. This made me laugh. I never thought I would find Schiller funny.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A short breather

So the final assignment for E301 has been submitted and received by the Open University. I can finally pack the books away. It has been a fascinating and challenging course and I don't regret having taken it, even though it was bloody hard at times!

Onwards now to writing again. But I decided to take this week off. On Monday I wandered around charity shops in search of play scripts and screenplays, as the Advanced Creative Writing course concentrates on drama in all forms as well as poetry and prose. I sat in Starbucks and had a coffee. I took the bus home in the sunshine. Yesterday I huddled indoors, feeling the cold. I started to tidy the house. I read lots of blogs and surfed the web. I did a little knitting. I dragged son 1 out of bed at lunchtime.

Today I went to the parent support coffee morning and managed to fall flat on my face in Tesco's carpark. Life goes on as usual...

Three notable things:

1. We continue to celebrate the tiny steps son 2 is making in his communication. On Saturday he told his music therapist that it was time to finish by pointing at her watch and then at the door.

2. I've had a bank account with Lloyds TSB since I was 18. Should I be worried?

3. Sarah Palin's political ineptitude is astounding. It would be funny if it weren't for the fact that she could end up a heartbeat away from being President of the USA.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Black Boxes

Last night I had a lovely evening out at the launch of Caroline Smailes' new novel, Black Boxes, at Borders in Oxford Street. Sadly I couldn't make it in time to hear Caroline read, but she looked gorgeous and had a constant stream of customers at her signing table, while her husband and three beautiful children helped out amongst the guests.

It was rather like a bloggers reunion...lots of lovely Novel Racers, of course, including Liz on a flying visit back from the Middle East, but I also met Helen - who has written some great reviews for bookersatz - Sue Guiney and DJ Kirkby for the first time, all of whom were so friendly and it was great to see Sarah Salway again ( for those of you who don't know, Sarah co-edited the book Your Messages in which I got my first pieces published in print earlier this year).

Despite my lateness I arrived before the wine ran out and I came away with a signed copy of Black Boxes, which I am very much looking forward to reading. Having just done the OU E301 course, I now have an even greater appreciation of Caroline's style and how she has brought her linguistics background to play in her novel writing. It is all very clever, but those of you who have read any of Caroline's books will already know that!

Three notable things:

1. My end of course assessment for E301 is finished. I proofread it on the tube into London last night, put a few minor adjustments in this morning, will print it over the weekend and it will go on Monday. Hooray!

2. The results of all the tests my mother has been given are starting to come in. Nothing too awful yet but no firm conclusions either.

3. If you like knitting take a look at this new online shop, Cafe Knit. I think the website design is just beautiful.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A new autism blog

Well, new to me anyway.

Yesterday I discovered Living not Drowning, quite by chance. I happen to know lovely Karen and her two beautiful children, but I had no idea she was also a blogger. Reading her blog took me back to how it was for us ten years ago, how stressful it was finding a school placement for son 2 and just dealing with life in general. It also made me appreciate how much easier son 2 is now, or perhaps it is just that my own ability to cope with him has improved.

If you have any interest in autism or living with a child with special needs do read Karen's blog, a beautifully written and honest account of the daily struggles. Oh and she is not just a wonderful mum but a great knitter too!

Three notable things:

1. The world of finance seems to be collapsing around us. Of course I should understand what is going on, but it is so long since I worked fulltime in auditing that it is a total mystery. I'm a little concerned for a friend whose husband works for HBOS though.

2. I'm about half way through my end of course assessment, with less than two weeks before it needs to be submitted. At least I have got some sort of structure to the essay at last and know roughly where I am heading. That's a start.

3. Everyone in the house is either coughing or sneezing...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I wandered into our local Waterstone's last Saturday and whilst I was browsing I came across the Sony Ebook reader which they have just launched there. Being curious, I had to have a little look.

I want to like ebooks. I quite like gadgets, so the idea of getting so many volumes on one little piece of equipment is appealing. It would certainly save space in our house which is looking more and more like a public library ( but less tidy). I do sometimes read ebooks on my laptop now, just to save a few trees.

But I don't think I could justify buying an ebook reader. For a start there is the cost...£200 before you've even put a book on it. Yes the Sony comes with a vast CD of out-of-copyright classics, but most classics are available to download as free ebooks anyway if you search the web. Another ebook reader available in the UK costs almost £400. Then there is the cost of the books themselves. Ebooks are only marginally cheaper than the list price of their print equivalent, depite the fact that once the ebook has been produced there is no ongoing manufacturing cost. Why, when I can walk up the road and pick up a paperback novel for as little as 39p in our local hospice charity shop, would I want to pay that much money (except perhaps for books that are hard to source)?

Then there is the digital rights problem. Ebooks come in a number of formats which are not compatible with each other. Not every book is published in every format and they can only be read by the purchaser on a small number of compatible and registered gadgets. So if you go with Sony now, you may well be tying yourself into Sony in the long term...fine if you get on with it, not so good if you don't.

I'll admit that I do have some ebooks on my computer and two different ebook readers...Microsoft Reader and Adobe Digital Editions. Many of the books are classics I have downloaded for free, others are slightly obscure writing textbooks or other nonfiction which I have purchased electronically to save space at home. I don't really enjoy reading books on a screen enough to read for pleasure that way, so for now I don't really see the point of an ebook reader. I don't commute, I don't go on long flights,I'm quite happy with just a paperback stuffed into my handbag when needed.

The only ebook benefit I can see is that because the print can be resized I can pop some OU manuals and other textbooks onto a memory stick and read them on the tiny screen of my Eee pc using Microsoft Reader or Adobe Reader, if I am away from home. For now I think that will have to do, though of course were I to be given a Sony Reader for Christmas I'm sure I could probably be converted...

Three notable things:

1. Got son 1 to the dentist yesterday. He did have to have one filling but it was only a tiny one and was done then and there.

2. The juggling the doctor's appointments on Monday didn't work out well. I just knew it wouldn't!

3. Better late than never, I forgot to mention earlier that the lovely Calistro has had not one but two bits of brilliant and well-deserved writing news recently, something to give hope to us all!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The hockey mom

I'm fascinated by Sarah Palin. It's always good to see a woman being given the opportunity to reach a high level in politics, the workplace, anything. She's attractive, feisty, talks the talk...


Her beliefs are reactionary. She apparently doesn't believe in abortion, whatever the circumstances of conception, even rape. She thinks that teenagers should be taught abstinence as contraception. Now I am not for one minute suggesting that Sarah's 17 year old daughter Bristol should have had an abortion, she is above the age of consent and that choice is for her and her alone. I am not too sure that I would be happy about my 17 year old getting married, but again that is the young couple's personal choice. At least I hope it is. What worries me is that Sarah Palin's conservative policy views would not enable other teenagers to have choices in future, nor help educate them in safe sex. Even the experiences of her own family have not made her get real.

What concerns me even more is that Sarah is the mother of a five month old son with Down's Syndrome. Again I respect her decision to carry on with the pregnancy, if indeed she knew the diagnosis before birth. I do not in any way believe that all disabled babies should be aborted, to do so would devalue the life of my own son. After all, many disabilities cannot be detected in the womb or actually occur due to birth accidents. But I do defend the opportunity for parents to have information and choices where appropriate.

At five months old it is surely too early to establish what that child's prognosis is, beyond recognising or ruling out some perhaps medical issues such as the heart problems which are common with the syndrome. For every happy, smiley child with Down's, there is probably a much more severely learning disabled one. A dual diagnosis of Down's and autism is not uncommon, with all the behavioural problems that can bring. All children with the syndrome will require support throughout their lives.

I have personal experience of how much attention a child with special needs requires in the early years. The importance of early intervention. The number of therapy and assessment appointments which must be attended. The battles to get the right help, the right education (though I guess a Governor/possible Vice President might not have to fight the same battles?). It's hard enough to balance all that with one other child and a very part-time job. I can only assume that Sarah Palin does not intend to take on the role of main carer herself. But what about the emotional impact of just being his Mum?

I wish her luck with her family.

Three notable things:

1. The doctor's surgery had misbooked my appointment for next Thursday instead of today. I have had to rebook for Monday and will be rushing from one doctor for myself to another to discuss son 2's x-ray...

2. I have a written a little more of my assessment today but have found it hard to concentrate because of...

3. ....Caroline's Black Boxes Widget! If you are visiting my blog from the widget please do stop and say hello in the comments, so I can visit you too! ( PS who on earth would offer the choice of toothache or migraine?!)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Today a parcel arrived via DHL. The materials for the new OU Advanced Creative Writing Course, mailed out a good week earlier than we had expected.

I've taken a look. I think it will be challenging and a little scary, I can't wait for the course to start.

But until then I have packed the book away, because I've still got my end of course assessment for the current course to write. Mustn't let myself get too distracted...

Three notable things:

1. If, like me, you won't be reading the novels shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, you can take a shortcut here.

2. This morning I had my teeth cleaned by the dental hygienist, at great expense. Son 1, who had announced that dentists were for wimps, or words to that effect, suddenly decided this evening that I should book a long overdue check up for him...

3. Lovely Caroline Smailes has a new novel, Black Boxes, coming out this month. She has a fantastic new widget on her blog ( and now on here too), which will take you on a decision based blog adventure. Go and play, it's addictive fun...

Monday, September 08, 2008

Taking stock

It's been a funny old year so far. If I tried to tell someone what has gone on, they probably wouldn't believe that so much could happen in one family in a period of six months.

Son 1 and the remaining grandparents all still have health challenges ahead. Yesterday my Mum had a brain scan, today she sees a psychologist ( or maybe psychiatrist, I'm not certain). Hopefully at the end of all her assessments a clearer picture and possible prognosis will emerge.

I'm in the finishing straight of my OU E301 course, with just the end of course assessment to complete in the next three weeks. It has been a real challenge to do the course alongside all the family crises but I'm glad I stuck with it. The course has been fascinating and challenging in equal measures, but I have certainly learned a lot.

A new creative writing course is on the horizon and I hope it will banish the writer's block which E301 induced. I am really looking forward to kick-starting my creative side again. Then I have to make some serious decisions about whether to apply for an MA course for next year or wait a little, bearing in mind that I am not getting any younger...

Three notable things:

1. Son 2 went back to school this term with a skip and a smile.

2. Andy Murray has just beaten Rafael Nadal for the first time. He can obviously play tennis but I do wish someone would send him to charm school...

3. Although I am usually pretty apolitical, I am fascinated by what currently happening in the USA. Whichever side wins, there will certainly be a big step forward in equal opportunities. But...( and I may come back to this another day!)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Gadget girl

I'm writing this from my parents house in Devon on my new toy, an Asus Eee pc 901, using a mobile broadband gadget. Just because I can.

Home tomorrow and I will catch up more then.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Well, that was easy...

On Tuesday we had to take Son 2 to the hospital for a knee x-ray. It wasn't urgent, we know the limp he displays is probably congenital, but having consulted our GP about it last week we needed to get it done.

After previous difficult experiences, I know that a non-emergency hospital visit has to be planned like a military campaign. One thing that autistic people don't do well is wait patiently, especially in crowded waiting rooms. The outpatient x-ray department in our hospital is right next door to the pharmacy, with one open-plan waiting area for both. During the day it is chaotic.

So the first part of the plan was to phone ahead and check the potentially quietest time, which turned out to be around 7pm. We then had to choose our day...both Hubby and I would need to be available to go and we decided that Son 2 would be more co-operative if he hadn't just had a long day at playscheme. We settled on Tuesday, a whole week after we'd actually seen the GP.

On the day I used our symbol software to write a social story for Son 2, explaining the timetable for the evening. Hubby bought a new DVD as a bribe/reward, which son 2 could carry into the hospital. When we arrived, we were lucky enough to find a free disabled parking space and Son 2 trotted happily into the building. The x-ray department was empty. Despite a short hold up at the desk because our GP had not put the surgery details on the form (luckily I know them by heart!), Son 2 was seen immediately. He co-operated to the best of his ability and the job was soon done with no stress involved for anyone.

Back to the car, breathing a sigh of relief, only to get caught in the heaviest downpour you could imagine. But as we finally turned into our road we we were greeted by the sight of a beautiful double rainbow...

Three notable things:

1. After a freezing cold start to the day it is warm and sunny, just as summer should be.

2. I am nervously awaiting the return of my last Open University assignment, whilst trying to concentrate on planning the next.

3. The GB team is doing quite well at the Olympics so far, despite a few disasters...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Credit crunch

So how is it affecting you?

I was interested to read this article yesterday, saying that the food bill for the average family has risen by £27 a week, as that is exactly what I had thought. We are an average size family (although two teenage boys do eat more than average...) and I was only thinking last week that I seemed to be spending around £25 a week more, even though I don't shop extravagantly.

Then of course there are the fuel price increases. We are a two car family but getting rid of one is not an option, as Hubby uses his for work and I need my tiny old car to taxi Son 2 around, even though I use public transport myself whenever possible. We use the washing machine and tumble dryer at least once a day because of the mess Son 2 creates, though we haven't replaced the broken dishwasher. The house needs to be heated all day in winter as I work mainly from home. Our council tax is already huge and will no doubt increase even further.

But in many ways we are lucky. Our mortgage is finally paid off, five years early. We had a deliberate policy to make the most of a more prosperous cycle (Hubby, being originally an economist, is quite tuned into the cycles of the economy) and were also lucky enough to inherit some money to pay off a chunk. So we are not going to get caught out by rising interest rates or the need to find a new mortgage at the end of a fixed rate deal. Although house prices are falling, our house is still currently worth about twice what we have spent on it. After all, what is most important is having a place to live and it is just about big enough for us all (though the conservatory plans are on hold temporarily).

We live for now. What we don't have is adequate pension provision, because living on one and a little bit salaries we can't afford to pay into pension plans. Our eggs are all in one basket as far as work is concerned, since I am also employed as a very part-time accountant by Hubby's company, so if it were to fail we'd lose both salaries at once. He works in an industry that is already seeing a huge downturn, though the nature of his work is perhaps more recession proof than some. We are about to lose child benefit for Son 1 as he is not going to college yet. The complications of the benefit system and the need for after school and holiday care restrict my own earnings capacity, otherwise we could end up worse off by losing my Carers Allowance.

We are OK for now. We are not in debt. We do have some back up savings from the days when we had two well-paid jobs. But I believe the credit crunch is real and it will hit us all hard next winter when our power bills increase. I just pity anyone trying to move house or get on the housing ladder.

Three notable things:

1. Working with the BBC webfeed of the Olympics on in the background and celebrating welcome early British successes.

2. The kindness of the staff who look after Son 2 on holiday playschemes.

3. Trying not to worry too much about the news that my mother is displaying some worrying symptoms of confusion. Best to wait until she has seen the consultants and we find out something more concrete.

Friday, August 08, 2008


I'm suddenly feeling rather old.

It's not just the hot flushes, which have hit me in a big way in our humid summer weather.

It's not even the fact that son 1 has officially left school...not that he was actually there for the last two years, but you know what I mean.

Nor is it the fact that all our surviving parents have suddenly become more frail, both mentally and physically, and are likely to need a lot more input from us in future, even though they live so far away.

Most worrying of all is the fact that I'm starting to think I would like to move away from the city. For someone who grew up in the middle of nowhere and worked so hard to be able to move to 'civilisation', that is a shocker. But, even though we live in statistically the safest borough in London, as the mother of teenage boys I worry. London no longer seems civilised. I want out, though that isn't possible due to Hubby's job and son 2's specialist schooling.

Three notable things:

1. Son 2 behaved beautifully when we had to take him to the doctor on Monday.

2. Only one more assignment and a final assessment to go on my course, then I can look forward to studying writing again.

3. One week of son 2's summer holiday down, three to go...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


On Saturday morning, at about 8am, there was a loud knock on the front door. I staggered towards it, dressed alluringly in my pyjamas, sporting curry stains from a previous night's dinner, my hair probably something of a birds nest. I was closely followed by a half-naked Son 2.

It was the home delivery parcel man with a box of cheap books from The Book People, which needed my signature. He was quite chirpy for such an early hour, though I did idly wonder why he was so chatty.

Fast forward to Monday lunchtime, another loud knock. Home delivery parcel man again, this time with a box of DVDs son 1 had ordered from Amazon.

'Oh, you're dressed today', he says, sounding a little disappointed.

'I'm sorry, you caught me at a bad moment on Saturday', I reply.

'It wasn't bad for me', he winks.

Oh dear. I think he must have seen more than I intended. I knew I should have done up some of the buttons on that deep neckline...

Three notable things:

1. A busy day yesterday sorting out doctor's appointments, making surreal calls to the Child Benefit office who couldn't answer my question, and working in between on the bookkeeping, until my eyes went funny.

2. A friend called by today with a tray of Italian patisserie, brought home from Lake Garda as a thank you for keeping an eye on their house in their absence last week.

3. After a conversation with a Jewish friend who recently visited Auschwitz, the capture of Radovan Karadzic comes as a relief. Watching the news this morning, I was surprised to learn that he was a actually originally a psychiatrist who had recently been working in a clinic practicing alternative medicine under a false identity. Hopefully this will finally help the families of his victims move on with the rest of their lives.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I'm back

Well it's been almost a month and what better way to mark my return to blogging than meeting up with a crowd of fellow writers and bloggers?

The Novel Racers held a meet in London on Saturday and it was wonderful to meet in real life so many people who I already felt I 'knew' from blogging. They were, without exception, just as lovely as I'd expected and the conversation flowed freely on the fifth floor of Waterstone's, Piccadilly. A great afternoon.

You will also be impressed that I considered the credit crunch and bought no books at all in Waterstone's, though I did treat myself to a pretty little notebook decorated with an antique style butterfly design. Although it was tempting to shop and party on into the evening with those Novel Racers who were staying in Central London, I decided to go home, probably just as well as son 1 arrived home shortly after me, feeling rather ill with a nasty virus.

I still have virtually no time to write for a few weeks, but the Novel Racer meet has invigorated and inspired me and I am looking forward to getting back to work seriously in the autumn.

Three notable things:

1. Son 2 has no school transport for the next two days due to a council strike so I am going to let him stay home, rather than battle dangerously through the rush hour traffic with a child who tries to exit the car each time it grinds to a halt in a traffic jam.

2. Train tickets have been booked for son 1 and I to visit the grandparents at the end of August, provided everyone concerned is well enough.

3. The knee-height grass in the back garden has been hacked back by Hubby, but our garden and our house are both beginning to look in need of some TLC, for which we currently have neither the time nor funds. One day...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bad blogging

I dropped into Lane's blog this morning and she is apologising for her absence recently. Everything that she says applies to me has just got in the way. I'm sorry.

Please don't give up on me. I am still here, I will be back and posting more regularly as soon as I can. But I'm feeling a little burnt out. Not just from blogging but writing as a whole. I'm saturated in my current OU course which, though fascinating, is very challenging. I have work to do over the next couple of months, of the boring but paid accountancy variety. I have family challenges. The details of my life right now would not make exciting reading for anyone.

I need to take a little time and get my writing mojo back in time for the OU Advanced Creative Writing course starting in the autumn. I need to spend a little more time on bookersatz, so that it doesn't fade away from neglect. I need to concentrate on life at home. I have to be careful what I write in that respect but things are going very well, it is just that the path forward is not likely to be entirely smooth. I need to look after myself.

I will try to pop in and post here at least once a week if possible. I'm sorry that I am not commenting on other peoples blogs as much right now, but I do read as often as I can.

And I will definitely be back properly soon.

When my head clears.

Three notable things

1. Son 2 has taken to getting up between 5 and 5.30am. Even on the occasional day that he sleeps in to say 6.30, I wake up at 5.15. Urgh.

2. The grass in our garden is as high as my knees. We are trying to bribe son 1 to cut it for us...

3. The right person won The Apprentice, given that Raef had already gone.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Flying without wings

It comes as a bit of a shock when your teenager suddenly gets a life. Especially when said teenager has previously been confined to home by anxiety and agoraphobia.

I'm trying really hard not to ring his mobile more than once or twice a day, not to be an overprotective parent even though I have only a rough idea of where he is half the time at weekends. Luckily he is sensible and we trust his judgement, but I guess we are getting into a whole new set of parental worries now.

I do love seeing my offspring take his first tentative flights away from the nest though...

Three notable things

1. The winners of The Orange Broadband Prize and the Award for New Writers have been announced. More details here.

2. I had a great day out on Wednesday helping to teach student health professionals at City University, followed by a lengthy browse around Borders bookshop.

3. Have just realised that I have got an assignment to write urgently at the start of next week, as soon as son 2 returns to school. Although I've done most of the reading I don't know where to start...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I'm back

Oh. My. God.

I've just realised that it has been over a week since I wrote anything here. Sorry. No real excuse, I was just taking a short breather from blogging, and all is well here.

My novel is also still on the backburner due to having to spend all my time on paid work and studying at the moment. I wish I was the sort of writer who could stay up burning the midnight oil, but I'm not. I get too tired, especially when son 2 is deciding to get up ridiculously early...5.30 am on Saturday!

Half term has also just begun. It only seems a minute since he was last on holiday but here we are again, another two week half term, a house full of noise and chaos and me trying to read my study books. The paid work will have to wait until he goes back to school, I'm afraid, though I did do a little yesterday. It is fortunate that my boss is also my husband...

Three notable things...

1. Son 1 had a great weekend at home, doing normal teenage things...

2. It has stopped raining at last.

3. Son 2 will have two days of playscheme this week. Hooray!

Sunday, May 18, 2008


I'm not usually greatly affected by the news. But these last few weeks have been particularly gloomy. The cyclone in Burma and the refusal of the regime to accept international aid. The earthquake in China and the devasting effects of substandard building. The senseless murder of Jimmy Mizen, contrasted with the quiet dignity of his family. Gordon Brown. The credit crunch and the accompanying feeling of guilt as I shop in Tesco and realise I should look even more closely at every price label...

Then of course there are all the things that have been happening here. Earlier this week a phone call from the hospital, saying that son 1 had done a runner, sent me into a panic. (He hadn't, he was chilling out in the grounds but hadn't told anyone and they didn't search properly). Hubby has been away on a short break since Thursday, so son 2 and I are home alone. So far so good, but I'm exhausted due to sleeping worse than usual.

I've upped my medication temporarily and am floating around in a cloud of relative detachment to get me through this grey, feeling sorry for myself and others phase...

Three notable things:

1. During this difficult period bookersatz is being updated slightly less regularly, but we still welcome contributions at any time and aim to post up at least one review every week.

2. I loved the idea of this poster to encourage kids to read.

3. I so wish I had seen this last month. I'll never be able to go to Liverpool Street station again without thinking of Rick Astley!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Catching up

I think I am currently brain dead.

I spent last week writing an essay. The word 'intertextuality' is now firmly lodged in my brain. Hubby looks despairing when I interrupt a conversation to say 'ooh,that's intertextual'. The essay was sent on Friday, but I have no idea whether I really answered the question. I was just relieved to get rid of it. Now for the second half of the course and a change of emphasis...

My writing has totally stalled, due to the intensity of this course and all the other stuff which is going on around me at home. I am behind in updating bookersatz. I've got books I need to read and review. Another half-term is fast approaching, I have paid work to complete by the summer holidays. I need to get a grip.

Son 1 is still up and down. He's just had a great weekend, but the previous one was difficult, he wasn't well at all. His peers will be starting their GCSEs this week, while he has now been out of education for two years. We live in a different world now.

Three notable things:

1. I have just spent a fortune on new clothes for son 2 who is growing rapidly in all directions...

2. I have finally found another mascara which doesn't irritate my eyes or make me look like a panda, after my old favourite was sadly discontinued. My girlie readers will understand the importance of this!

3. I lost the magnetic bracelet which helps my arthritis in town today.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Up, up and away...

Last Tuesday morning I looked out of the window to see if son 2's school bus had arrived and couldn't believe what I saw. A large bunch of red and silver metallic balloons was bouncing around in the gutter outside our driveway.

I wasn't sure whether to run outside and pick them up, but leaving son 2 unsupervised, even for a moment, can have dangerous consequences and I really didn't want him to become obsessed with balloons just before school. So I decided to leave them, thinking that the breeze would soon take them further on their journey, hopefully before the arrival of the school bus.

Five minutes later the bus was outside the house. The bus driver had parked further out than usual, carefully avoiding the balloons, which were still there. Thankfully son 2, who once had a serious balloon obsession, ignored them completely and was soon on his way. I picked up the balloons and brought them into our porch, thinking they would be an evening treat for him. Each balloon was emblazoned with 'Mercedes Benz Direct'. I still have no idea where they had come from.

After school son 2 completely ignored the balloons in the porch. The same happened on Wednesday. It wasn't until halfway through Thursday evening that he decided they might be fun to destroy. We spent the next two days retrieving helium balloons from our ceilings until he had finally burst them all.

There is no accounting for the autistic mind.

(Yes, I should have taken a photo and no, I couldn't find the camera... Sorry.)

Three notable things:

1. Boris is the new Mayor of London. Hmm. But I can't complain really, as I didn't bother to vote.

2. An Open University day school in London on Saturday gave me a welcome escape.

3. What is it with Austrians and cellars? Life can be stranger than fiction but this latest case is truly horrific beyond belief.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A double tragedy

For a week now I've been meaning to write something about the tragic deaths of Heather Wardle and her disabled son James Hughes. But to be honest I wasn't sure what to write. We can't be certain exactly what happened and in fact we may never know.

Reading about James, hearing of the tributes from his birth father and former headmaster, I was reminded of a less able version of son 2 (who is 14 but functions largely at the level of a 4-5 year old). The whole story seemed too close to home for someone who is already having to start thinking about what might happen to their extremely vulnerable child when he leaves school.

But others have written movingly on the case and their own personal experiences of parenting a disabled child. Between them they have said everything I wanted to and more. Please, please read Claire Bates, Nuala Gardner and Christopher Stevens.

Three notable things:

1. I enjoyed a trip into London for my tutorial on Saturday and even managed to avoid the temptations of Waterstones...

2. Son 2 has, for the last two days, decided that his day should begin at 5am. So mine does too.

3. Son 1 came home with a nasty cold this weekend. Just what we all need!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Meme part 2

The lovely and talented Sarah Salway has tagged me for a meme. I've actually already done this one here but hey, it is the sort that can have many answers, so here goes again:

Link to the person that tagged you.
Post the rules on your blog.
Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs.
Let each random person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their website.

1. I have a rare genetic condition that means that I need a lot of dental work and my toenails are weird.

2. I am an enthusiast, I throw myself wholeheartedly into new projects and hobbies.

3. I qualified as a Chartered Accountant even though I was by no means guaranteed a pass in my 'O' Level Maths exam at school.

4. On holiday I like to head for galleries, museums and shops...

5. Although I grew up in a rural area, I am a city girl at heart.

6. At university I studied German, French, Italian and Dutch to varying levels. Luckily the Russian Literature course was in translation.

I think most people have already done this one, so I'm not going to tag anyone, if you'd like a(nother) go, feel free.

Three notable things:

1. At the bus stop last Saturday, a man asked me if I spoke French. When I replied 'un peu', he handed me a Jehovah's Witness Watchtower magazine in French...

2. My mark for the OU assignment I did during the height of the crises was very acceptable, even if not quite as good as my first one. I just feel proud to have completed it.

3. Son 2's school was unaffected by the teacher's strike today, thank goodness.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A new term starts...

School was back today, so I am trying to have a quiet day as I feel quite stressed. This always happens at the end of a school holiday, after being on full alert for a couple of weeks I find I just need a day to chill, and I try to make allowance for that in my plans.

Son 1 came home for much of the weekend. It was lovely to have him back, though I think in the end he was glad to be able to escape from the noise and chaos of home and go back to to see the new friends he is making in the hospital.

I've got some reading to catch up on for my OU course and any idea of writing has to be pushed to one side until that is done, as there is another assignment looming. I am enjoying the course, but there is a lot of information to take in and understand. If it all seems too much, I just have to remind myself that I am doing this because I want to, rather than because I have to, and that therefore I could stop at any time. That thought usually boosts me to carry on regardless, because I am not easily beaten!

Three notable things:

1. A rather strange lady was checking through our wheelie bins yesterday, supposedly in search of her mother's handbag which had been stolen by a con man.

2. I only managed to read son 2's school report for last term this was excellent.

3. My father seems to be making good progress.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Brain dead

I can't think of anything to write about this week. I'm not sure if that is due to some medication I'm on, or whether it is the school holiday effect or just blogger's block.

I've been trying to read, but can't concentrate. Son 2 is testing my patience to its limits at times.

What's new?

Three notable things:

1. I picked up a review copy of Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill, shortlisted this week for the Orange Prize, for just £1.99 in a charity shop yesterday.

2. The sun is shining today, highlighting the new green leaves on our apple tree.

3. We have been considering some home improvements and Hubby has given me the go-ahead to get some quotes.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A sombre day

Hubby has gone to the family funeral today, picking up Son 1 on the way and taking him too. It will be a long day, with a lot of driving, but it has to be done.

I have managed to fritter away most of my spare time while Son 2 is at playscheme today, even though I had intended to do some reading and studying. Instead I have been replying to emails, updating bookersatz and paying for eBay purchases of DVDs for Son 2 who is able to destroy a disc almost as easily as a tape...

Three notable things:

1. My boys have grown up watching Mark Speight on TV. What a tragedy.

2. I had both my babies here. I guess I was one of the lucky ones...

3. The London Book Fair is on this week. I would so love to be able to visit it one day.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Getting back on track

Things are calming down a little.

Son 1 finally seems settled in his new hospital, though it was a rocky road at the start. My father has had his angioplasty and is back home. The family funeral is next Monday but I won't be going, as I have Son 2 to care for and it will still be school holidays.

So back to the writing, in thought if not in action quite yet. Remember I told you that I found another OU course I am interested in? Well it is this one.

I am interested in it for two reasons. Partly because I have many years of working in a support role in the voluntary sector, although with no formal training. I don't, however, have ambitions to be a counsellor myself, though I believe (and know from personal experience) that the work they do is very valuable.

But I would like to be able to one day combine my voluntary experience with my writing, to explore the use of creative writing as a means of expression for the everyone, including the vulnerable. A couple of friends have just taken an introductory counselling course at a local college and one intends to go on to a counselling degree. I had already decided that I would be interested in doing the short course once I had finished at the OU, but this course would serve the same purpose and give me hopefully enough points to complete a degree.

Afterwards I might even apply for this...

Three notable things:

1. I finally got Son 2's replacement Blue Badge yesterday (we were late applying for the renewal). The Council is becoming increasingly strict due to the widespread misuse of the scheme and no longer sends them out by post...

2. I have done no studying at all this week due to the school holiday and everything else going on.

3. The central locking on my car is playing up. Again. But last time it inexplicably put itself right, so I'll just wait and see. I need the car all next week anyway.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Another update

It's all happening here.

Step-father-in-law passed away last Thursday and Mother-in-law is very confused. Her future is still be sorted but Brother-in-law is with her this week.

My own father is still in hospital, but will hopefully have a procedure today and then perhaps go home tomorrow.

Son 1 is to be moved to a new hospital this afternoon due to funding issues. It is another private clinic, but the one where our local NHS Trust has a contract and where he would have originally been placed had there been a free bed. He was not at all happy about the decision and initially threatened to discharge himself, but has now agreed to go, so hopefully the transfer will take place shortly. It is a shame as he had settled really well where he was, but at the same time it was not unexpected. Just another source of stress for his poor long suffering parents as the phone calls have been flying around today!

Three notable things:

1. There was an interesting blog tour visit by author Orna Ross to Caroline's blog yesterday. If you didn't make it, the questions and answers (in the comments box here) are well worth reading.

2. I had a light bulb moment on Saturday when I found the perfect new short course to finish my OU degree, which I hope to take alongside the Advanced Creative Writing in the autumn. It would fit in so well with my future hopes and plans for my writing. But more about that another time...

3. I've finally managed to update bookersatz today, after a rather hectic few days...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

An update

Son 1 is enjoying his hospital stay! Of course being a private clinic the facilities are somewhat superior to the NHS. Today he phoned home to ask us to bring in swim gear and shorts for the gym...

Mother-in-law has been assessed and hopefully some home care will be put in place shortly. It is highly unlikely her husband will return home.

Father is still in hospital having tests for probable blocked arteries. Best case prognosis is medication, worst case bypass operation.

Three notable things:

1. I've completed my assignment and emailed it to my tutor today, as well as reporting our difficult circumstances. It's probably a load of rubbish, but hey ho!

2. It was World Autism Day yesterday. This sort of passed me by, but thanks to Casdok today I found this list of famous people and fictional characters suspected of being on the spectrum. It's interesting because the Google search which most often brings people to my blog is for 'celebrities and autism'...

3. Last day of school for son 2 tomorrow before a two week break for the 'Easter' holiday. I still can't my head around how weird it has all been this year with Easter so early.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Crisis? What Crisis?

What I didn't mention yesterday is that Son 1 is not the only member of the family in hospital.

200 miles away my Dad is in hospital having tests for chest pains...not the first time this has occurred, but last time no cause was discovered. I only learned about this yesterday although he was rushed to hospital in the middle of last week.

Then in a completely different part of the country there are complicated issues with the in-laws. Step-father-in-law is in hospital, mother-in-law is very confused and needs help but so far won't accept it.

A triple whammy.

Three notable things:

1. I forgot to mention that I hosted my second coffee morning at Novel Racers on Friday.

2. I still have that pesky assignment to finish...but I have been granted a seven day extension if I need it.

3. Son 1 seems to be OK so far.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Urgh. Son 1 had a crisis on Friday, or rather one had been building up, slowly but surely for a month. On Friday he realised he couldn't go on, he finally admitted (to a good friend of mine) that he needed serious help and was willing to be admitted to hospital in order to get that.

She immediately took action, we all ended up at the hospital and six stressful hours later, son 1 was found a place at an adolescent psychiatric unit in Central London. It is in a private clinic used by the stars, but is being paid for by the NHS, so how long he will be able to remain there is questionable, still at least for now he is safe and we can relax a little more in that knowledge.

There is a real lack of hospital facilities for children and adolescents with mental health problems. At first they tried to have him admitted to the local children's ward but, because they would have had to hire trained mental health nurses to be with him there 24/7, the consultants refused to have him. Our local children's mental health team works 9-5, Monday to Friday, with virtually no emergency cover even in those hours, so when something like this happens the child is assessed by the adult services based at the hospital. Although son 1 is 16, all were thankfully agreed that placement on the adult ward would be highly unsuitable.

So, we wait for tomorrow, and the return of his own local consultant to find out what the future holds...

Three notable things:

1. I bought myself a bright new handbag yesterday. Well, what else is a girl supposed to do in a time of crisis?

2. Son 2 hardly seems to have noticed his brother's absence. After all, Son 1 did spend most of his time in his bedroom...

3. ...talking of which we are in the process of cleaning out and fumigating said bedroom!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Easter blues

Well what a miserable weekend of snow, sleet and freezing cold...

At least it gave us an excuse to chill out at home and do very little other than eat chocolate and occasionally go shopping!

Three notable things:

1. I am Brain Training on a Nintendo DS Lite. I started off with a brain age of 60, argh!

2. I am still struggling wih my assignment and waiting for that lightbulb moment.

3. This website is frankly scary. Is this what they call post-feminism?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Easter arrives

So, Easter weekend is here.

It seems weird not having Easter in the middle of a school holiday. Son 2 is totally confused, however much we tell him that there is no school today (or Monday), he keeps putting his coat and school bag ready by the front door.

Son 1 is sleeping a lot after having something of a setback over the last few weeks and me, well I've got to go to Tesco today. I've also got a tricky assignment to start to write and I'm floundering...

Three notable things:

1. Coffee with a foster carer friend yesterday, when we had a very interesting conversation about the difficulties of finding local foster carers for disabled kids, inspired by my reading of When the Bough Breaks. She is going to take some of what we discussed back to the Local Authority.

2. We have too much chocolate in the house. But it is well hidden, I hope!

3. I'm hosting the coffee break over at Novel Racers today.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Writing as therapy

Someone suggested to me last week that perhaps I had started studying creative writing in order to find expression for some of the stresses in my life which would otherwise remain bottled up. Actually I started writing seriously at a time when life was as stable as it gets here, and it was just a way of being able to fulfil a very longheld ambition.

But having now read When the Bough Breaks by Julia Hollander, I can see that writing the book must have been cathartic for her. A means of trying to justify to herself the decision to abandon her profoundly disabled daughter in hospital at the age of five months, as soon as a formal diagnosis was received. I can't imagine why else she wrote the book, as neither she nor her partner are portrayed in a very sympathetic manner. In publishing this memoir she has opened up to very public media scrutiny an area of their lives which perhaps should have been kept behind closed doors for now, if only for the sake of their other young children.

It is a very well written book, but an uncomfortable read, which at times is all too brutally honest. I'm not judging her actions, she was clearly unwell and under great stress with little support and none of us can second guess how we might have reacted in that situation. After all, unconditional parenting does not come naturally to everyone.

I have to admit though, that the only thing that made me read to the end was the fact that I know there is a happy ending for Hollander's daughter Imogen. For Julia Hollander herself, however, I'm not so sure.

Three notable things:

1. I bought three tops for £9 in the M&S sale yesterday. Two I love, one I'm slightly less sure of, but what a bargain!

2. The French Market was in town. It is always fun to browse around, even in the rain.

3. I've pre-booked for the new level three OU Advanced Creative Writing course which starts in the autumn.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Silence broken

Sorry about the silence. It is turning out to be 'one of those weeks', I've got a lot on my mind and I can't think of anything much to write about.

So for now here are

Three notable things:

1. I got my OU assignment back yesterday. To say I was pleased would be an understatement.

2. My friend Andrea in Australia has set up a new blog. Go and visit her at Don't Spare me the Details, she is great writer, especially about life with her autistic son.

3. There are two new reviews and some book news over on bookersatz this week. Please keep visiting, commenting and contributing reviews, we need your help to make it a success.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Care controversy

This book, When the Bough Breaks by Julia Hollander, has been causing a lot of controversy on the web in the last week. The story of a mother who gives her profoundly disabled baby up into foster care, it was done no favours by a distinctly sensationalist feature in the Mail on Sunday last week.

To be honest I wasn't going to read the book because it feels far too close to home. I know a little about Julia's daughter Immie and there is absolutely no doubt that she is in a very loving and caring foster environment where she is thriving. Julia and her partner were also lucky that such a suitable carer was available in their own county so they could keep close contact with Immie. That wouldn't necessarily be the case everywhere.

But deep down I do have some slight misgivings. Giving away a disabled child so young could send the wrong message to her siblings. No one has a right to a 'perfect' child, it is a risk that is taken with every pregnancy. Even children who seem healthy can later become disabled by accident or illness. If that should happen to one of Immie's siblings, or if they should go off the rails in adolescence, what would the parents do?

I didn't expect to be a carer to both my children as teenagers. But if son 1 had already seen us put son 2 into care, would he have worried that we would do the same to him when he had his breakdown? Fighting for both of them has worn me down, has affected my own mental and physical health. But I wouldn't have done otherwise. Son 2 has made progress beyond all expectations and we have so far managed to keep son 1 out of psychiatric hospital. For me that is reward enough and yes, I too have had to have counselling because I felt that I was not a 'good enough' mother.

As I said, I wasn't going to read the book. But having now read a much more balanced feature in The Guardian and knowing the background that I do, I've changed my mind. Unlike many of the commenters on the web, I will not judge Julia Hollander's actions until I have read her whole story.

Three notable things:

1. A tutorial in London yesterday gave me a chance to browse in the Gower Street Waterstones, where I purchased this book.

2. I finally managed to get a piece of work together to submit to the bloggers' War Child anthology. In the end I edited a piece from some life writing I did on my OU writing course two years ago. I was surprised at how much rewriting I needed to do, a sign I think of the improvement in my writing.

3. I caught up with an old friend for coffee on Friday.