Adventures in Home Education & Asperger's Syndrome

More time has passed since I last wrote a blog post than I’d realised.

I’ve decided to put this down to how totally immersing the party was and not to how lazy I’ve been about writing ever since.

Well, I’m back now and ready to give you an exciting run-down of the wonder that is…

THE EDINBURGH BOOK FESTIVAL 2014

I love the book festival. I think I may have mentioned this before. Probably every August since I started this whole blogging thing. I could check but I haven’t. I’ll leave that to you. Or not. Whatever.

This year the weather was a strange mixture of wonderful sunshine and pouring rain, sometimes shifting between the two in a matter of moments. But there was enough good weather to enjoy plenty of relaxing afternoons in Charlotte Square gardens eating and drinking and watching the world go by.

My brother Tim came up for the second week of the festival, which was excellent. He and I left the boys and Matthew to fend for themselves for whole afternoons and evenings at a time while we meandered around the book shop tents, drank tea, coffee, hot chocolate and Pimms (depending on the weather) and people-watched.

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First day of the book festival. The lady selling The Scotsman was offering an amazing array of freebies with the paper. Over several days we picked up free recipe books, coffee, a dvd, children’s books and several I ♥ Edinburgh bags.

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Lots of events on offer over seventeen action-packed days

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One thing about Edinburgh during August…You never know who, or what, you might bump into on any street corner.

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The weather was lovely on the first day. Probably the best day of all in fact. And lots of people flocked to the gardens to enjoy the ambiance. It was busy but still relaxing. Quite different from the more frenetic activity of the rest of the city as it hosts the enormous event that is the Edinburgh International Festival. 

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Here people relax and read and chat and catch up on the latest news. 

Catherine at Book Festival 2014

This photo was taken by the book festival’s roving photographer and put on their website. I discovered it yesterday and spotted myself, captured (sitting on the chair to the left) mid ice cream and having a rifle through my free I ♥ Edinburgh bag!

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It was still sunny when I met up with cousin Ruth and daughter Molly. We ate more ice cream. Of course. Shortly after taking that photo we all had to run for cover as the heavens opened and drenched the place.

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And the people

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The sky transformed as we watched from this…to this. It doesn’t look as dramatic here as it felt at the time. Imagine thunder and rain and a 5 degree temperature drop.

Despite the varied weather there were plenty of interesting events to choose from. I didn’t buy many tickets but did manage to sneak into a book signing queue to speak to one of my favourite authors.

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I chatted to Alexander McCall Smith about greyhounds and he signed a book for a friend of mine who’s also a big fan.

Tim, Matthew, the boys and I did actually attend an event with Michael Morpurgo and a French illustrator called Barroux.

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While we waited to go in we ate…yes, ice cream

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We had to wait quite a while

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But it was worth it. 

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Barroux brought original drawings with him to show us and the WW1 French soldier’s diary that he found and illustrated.

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He also signed our books with an artist’s enthusiasm.

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This is his book, in both English and French

Tim and I did quite a bit of chilling out in and around the book festival.

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Pimms was involved at times.

One interesting event we didn’t manage to get tickets for was with the famous Japanese author Haruki Murakami

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Apparently, in Japan, Murakami gets mobbed by the press wherever he goes, so he requested that here he carry out his signing behind a curtain, out of sight of the cameras and press. So we watched as the patient queue of people clutching their books disappeared one by one behind the curtain, emerging a moment later the other side. Apart from this there was no mob waiting however, just the two of us and a man waiting for a cup of tea. At the end the staff formed a protective wall of people behind which Murakami escaped from the watching crowd of three.

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And then all too quickly it was the last day. We all spent the evening mooching about, not wanting to say our final goodbyes for another year.

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But finally it was time to leave. 

We are lucky to have such an event almost on our doorstep.

It’s been an amazing summer so far. The last seven weeks have been spent in sunny Devon and now we’re back up in sunny Scotland again. Time goes so fast when you’re having fun.

Much of the Devon time was taken up with party planning.

It’s surprising just how much planning is needed for a party isn’t it? Well, this party certainly.

Many of you will know about the party because many of you were there. Sixty of you actually, well fifty eight to be absolutely accurate. But for the purposes of this blog I will assume you know nothing about the event and give you a guided and illustrated tour of what happened. Because that’s what I do.

The event was my mother’s eightieth birthday. Her birthday was actually in May and she celebrated it then by going out for lunch with my brother Tim. She also received lots of presents and wonderful flowers and generally seemed to enjoy herself.

Last summer while down on our annual visit I casually suggested the idea that to celebrate her big birthday in a bigger way we could have sole hire of a youth hostel for a weekend and invite the whole family. I thought Ma wouldn’t want to do this but I was wrong. She thought it was a great idea and within moments we were discussing it with the extended family and picking possible dates.

We chose August because the boys and I would be down there anyway, Tim had a small gap in his incredibly busy schedule and most other people would be about to start their own summer hols. Actually we originally booked the weekend before last but the hostel was double booked and so we had to move it on a week. The previous weekend was very hot and very sunny. Last week was…er… changeable. Ah well. The rain and hail and thunder ended up being a bit of a feature and it all mattered far less than we feared it would. And we did get enough sun to get a few outdoor photos, so all was far from being lost.

And so exactly one year ago we started planning and organising. I contacted family and sorted out numbers and accommodation and financial stuff and found a hog roast man and paid a deposit for it all and confirmed things and double checked it all and emailed people and worried a wee bit and then didn’t do very much else for several months.

In the new year I focussed back on it all again and did a bit more organising of finances and hogs and people and such and then put it aside for several more months.

And then it was nearly the summer again and we were making plans to travel south again and I panicked a wee bit about the party and started buying disposable plates and napkins and cups and bowls and cutlery, as you do. And also, being a bit of a geek, I started making notices about things and laminating them. I love my laminator. Strange but true.

Once we were back in Devon again this June, Ma and I set to with the lists. SO MANY LISTS.

We made lists of food, lists of people, of rooms, of equipment and of more food. We listed what needed to be made, what needed to be bought, what we could ask willing ‘volunteers’ to help with and anything else that needed to be on a list plus several things that didn’t.

Next we decided to do a recce to help us plan what was needed. So one sunny morning we packed a picnic and, with the boys, drove up to Gloucester to Slimbridge youth hostel where we spent several hours sussing out the place, looking in kitchen drawers, checking out the bedrooms and making more lists. It was the most useful part of the whole planning process by far.

The next several weeks went by in a haze of meringue cooking, soup making, label printing and secret cake baking, until we could do no more and we finally stopped and waited for the party weekend to arrive.

I’ll stop yakking now and just show you some photos of the party.

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This is one of the piles of stuff we accumulated as we prepared for the party. It’s bigger than it looks. 

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 And this is Tim attempting to get it all into his car. I don’t know how but he managed to do it. Just.

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And this is him getting it all out of his car at the other end. There were a LOT of boxes and bags. 

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Slimbridge welcomed us…

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And we welcomed everyone else.

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People brought lovely flowers.

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We put up a noticeboard to show where everyone was staying.

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And labeled each room so in the night no one got lost. Ours was the Scottish suite. We also had a West Country Suite, a Yorkshire one, a Wessex, a Halifax, a Northern one, A White Horse, a Long Boat, a Devonshire and a Maple Leaf Suite. Each intended to have a link with their occupants.

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And placed welcome bags in every room, containing Devon fudge, weird name badges made from a jigsaw I found in a charity shop and a card featuring the in-house star Bruce the Goose.

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The card gave details of the itinerary for the weekend

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Bruce the Goose was extremely popular with everyone, especially the young. He was chatted to constantly and fed croissants on more than one occasion.

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The rooms were excellent. More like hotel rooms than hostel ones for many of us. Two dorms however had ten and twelve beds respectively. Lucky our lovely cousins all get on so well.

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The food proved plentiful, despite our concerns that people might be left hungry. Friday’s pot luck supper was huge and many people took home bags of spare food on Sunday.

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Jess and Lizzy did an amazing job of the table decorations which looked stunning.

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Really beautiful.

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 Saturday was Hog Roast Day. Shaun and his assistant did a great job. It was really delicious and extremely efficiently done. First class service from them.

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And for those who preferred the vegetarian option, a veggie lasagne. My first actually. Great moment to try out a new thing. No pressure at all.

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During the afternoon, Tim, Lizzy, Jess and I made several discreet but focussed visits to the classroom where between us all we gathered together and decorated all the secret cakes people had kindly helped make.  The pressure began to get to us after a bit and hysteria set in. It was hilarious.

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Between four of us (Tim, myself, Jess and Ruthie) we made eight cakes, not counting the failed ones made using the recipe I initially gave everyone, which proved to be exactly half the size it needed to be. We reckoned that between us we’d used just shy of eighty eggs in total. An appropriate number considering the birthday they were being used to celebrate I suppose. Those chickens gave their all in the making of these cakes. But it was worth it in the end I think.

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Da daaaa!

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Here is the finished garden mosaic cake, with integral gnomes and a sad rabbit and a happy mole, hiding there on the cake top right, next to the tree which shortly was felled as the icing trunk finally gave way under the pressure. I know how it felt.

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Martin was instructed to distract Ma while the party assembled around the cake. He then brought her in and made a wee speech, thanking her for being such an amazing wife and mother and everyone else for all that had been done for the party. It was perfect.

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And now for lots of photos of people enjoying the party. Here we have Tim, Lizzy and Jess eating pudding.

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And here are some of the young ones having fun. Ruby, Jakey, Olivia and Megan.

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And even younger ones having breakfast. Olivia, Lola and Florence.

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Some had their own individual ideas about what constitutes fun. Little Michael being a transformer I believe.

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Beth looked lovely in her new dress.

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Tim, Robert, me, James and Martin.

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 Ruth and Neil

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Molly, Ruby, Megan and Eloise

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Colin, Josh, Matt, Jeremy and Margaret

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Tony, Matt, Jess, Lizzy and Ray, who had travelled all the way from Canada for the party.

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Heather, Barbara and Margi

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Ann, at 91, was our oldest attendee.

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Sisters Ruthie, Ray, Margi, Ma and Liz

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        Rhiannan, Léonie and Eirwen

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Theo, Michael and Little Michael

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Sisters Rachel, Alex, Emily, Louisa, Beth and Jo with Jakey, Lola and Florence

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 Helen, Liz and Paul

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Andy, Jakey and Margi

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And the birthday girl herself with Lizzy and Tim

HAPPY 80TH BIRTHDAY MA

You don’t look a day over thirty seven. Honestly.

PS I apologise that not everyone who was there has been captured in the photos above. There are more pics to come once we’ve swapped around with each other a bit. Watch this space. Or another similar space.

The Tempest

The other night we went to see The Tempest.

It was an outdoor production and, for a while earlier in the week, we were afraid we would be experiencing it rather more personally than just on stage.

Fortunately the weather held, despite forecasts of thunder and lightning across the UK and the humidity you often experience in the lead up to a storm.

The evening was warm and sunny, with a pleasant cool breeze blowing across the fields behind us.

We came prepared though, after years of experience of this ever changing climate, with ground sheets and rugs and emergency raincoats. We used all but the coats. Even a warm sunny day can turn chilly by 9pm.

The play was held at Nethercott House, the home of the charity Farms for City Children and the venue for our wedding reception all those years ago.

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Getting set up outside Nethercott House

The Miracle Theatre company is based in Cornwall but tours the whole of the South West with its outdoor productions. They come to Iddesleigh every year and we’ve been going each summer since the boys were quite small.

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Over the years we’ve seen a number of Shakespeare’s plays; Much Ado, As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet… as well as Molière’s Tartuffe. A couple of years ago Ma took the boys to see The Importance of Being Earnest, while Tim and I were up in Oxford selling pots at Art in Action. Last year they saw an interesting production of Waiting for Godot, which they described as ‘thought provoking’.

The reviews for this version of The Tempest have been enthusiastic and we’d certainly have to agree. It was a really excellent evening, funny and clever and absolutely up to Miracle’s previous productions.

The boys were absorbed throughout and Robert in particular loved the humour. It was great to see him relaxed and laughing at the antics on stage.

I wasn’t able to take photos during the play, although I did manage to snap a quick pic of Ariel just as they started. The actress playing that part was outstandingly athletic and surefooted as she leapt up and down the simple stage layout.

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Ariel balancing on top of a tall pedestal. Very impressive performance.

It was hard to believe that there were only six actors in total, several playing more than one part, with some very quick changes taking place just behind the stage.

We took a picnic, of course. Sandwiches and pies, crisps and puddings, fruit juice and coffee and brownies. Fantastic.

I would post more photos, showing us all happily eating our picnic and so on, but the internet isn’t going to let me tonight, maybe it’s the humid weather, or perhaps it’s the heavy usage that’s being demanded of it from the boys’ gaming. Hmm, we’ll say it’s the weather eh?

If things improve I’ll add more photos later.

This week Ma and I took the boys on a journey to Middle-Earth.

Robert is an avid reader of all things Tolkien. He has bookshelves filled with tomes written by JRR, and not just the obvious ones. He’s also read many of Tolkien’s lesser known books, the ones I started and abandoned years ago or didn’t even know about at his age.

I remember reading The Hobbit with great delight when I was eleven and absorbing myself totally in Lord of the Rings at fifteen, reading it cover to cover in four days the summer I finished my ‘O’ levels. But, unlike Robert, The Silmarillion defeated me entirely.

I’m thrilled that Robert gets such pleasure from Tolkien’s magical world of Dwarves and Hobbits, Wizards and Trolls, and when Ma spotted that a Tolkien exhibition was being held not far away, at Rosemoor, the lovely RHS garden, we thought it would be an excellent outing and a way to get the boys away from their computers for a few hours.

DSCN6948Our journey into Middle-Earth started here

DSCN6962We were delighted to discover this impressively detailed Hobbit hole

DSCN6964Although disappointed to have missed its inhabitant

DSCN6976Our quest took us into the woods…Mirkwood presumably

DSCN6987Where we came across something rather unsettling 

DSCN6994And its owner, hanging above our heads and climbing down a tall tree, blurgh!

DSCN7008Fortunately there was help at hand. Take a close look up in the tree

DSCN7006Those Ents appear out of nowhere don’t they?

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We heeded this warning, but crossed the bridge nonetheless

DSCN7016Fortunately, this particular Troll seemed like quite a gentle fellow, largely because he’s been turned to stone 

DSCN7019James was happy to get a bit closer anyway

DSCN7043We did find this Pixie house, which confused us a bit, there being not one Pixie in any Tolkien book, that we’re aware of. Still nice wee front door

DSCN7061Our quest ended here, with this rather magnificent Smaug, perched on top of a summer house filled with treasure, breathing wickerwork fire at passers by

It was an excellent quest and we were very impressed with the amount of work that had been put into the whole thing. As well as the Dragon’s Trail, they also had an exhibition of beautiful prints and original paintings of various scenes from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, by the Tolkein illustrator Ted Nasmith. Robert took great pleasure in checking out the titles, written in both English and Elvish.

In honour of Bilbo Baggins, we had a lovely picnic while we were there, eating quantities worthy of any hungry Hobbit or company of Dwarves for that matter.

We took a drive across the moors the other day.

Leaving Dartmoor behind for a few hours we ventured North East to Somerset, crossing the wilds of Exmoor.

Winsford is one of the four small Somerset parishes which together made up my father’s final incumbency before my parents retired to Devon, some twenty five or so years ago now.

We drove over to visit Ann, whose family have lived in the village for three generations.

Ann was keen to show us the church’s commemoration of WW1, a display of plaques giving detailed accounts of over forty men of the parish who served in the Great War.

The exhibition was very moving, with stories and photos of young men in uniform heading off to war. Many of course did not return.

The photos included one of Ann’s uncles. He died aged 21 in the trenches of France. The picture showed the pale face of a very young man, with no idea of the horrors that were to come.

The church was decorated with flowers and displays of croqueted poppies hung from the ceiling lights. In the church yard small wooden crosses with poppies were placed in front of the gravestones of all those who had served in the war.

It was a fitting reminder of the sacrifices of those young men. Such a small village and yet what an impact the war must have had on that community.

 DSCN6886Poppy flowering outside the church doors

Ann is a close family friend. She’s also an artist. One of the things we always enjoy when visiting her is being shown around her studio.

She has two large and wonderful old easels at which she still works. They stand the full height of the studio. She also has a large printing press, dating back to the late 1800′s and still used by her to make prints of her etchings.

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It is worked by turning an enormous spoked cog wheel (I’m sure there are actual names for all its parts, but I have no idea what they might be). The spokes must each measure three or four feet in length.

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I particularly love Ann’s work bench which is covered in an array of old tools and jars of screws, nuts and bolts.

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Next to her easels is a small table where she places her tubes of paint and the assortment of brushes with which she works.

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To someone who hasn’t picked up a paintbrush since school, largely due to being rather cruelly advised that my painting was like that of a three year old, all this paraphernalia is fascinating and holds a beauty all of its own.

Any visit to Ann’s isn’t complete without saying hello to the chickens and in particular to Alfred the Great…

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Such a majestic creature.

We enjoyed our visit across the moors, although were a little disappointed not to come across a deer or two during our travels.

Maybe next time.

Sunny Devon

It has been beautifully sunny ever since we made it safely to Devon six days ago.

I gather we left Scotland just as the heatwave hit. Twenty seven degrees shortly after we escaped. Phew!

Since we arrived, having successfully negotiated the various motorways and A roads that led us here via Nottingham (dropping Matthew off there for his meeting along the way) we have been relaxing and chatting and generally enjoying being back in the old country again.

Yesterday we decided to take a trip to my brother Tim’s garden to catch the final day of his summer exhibition, before it all gets dismantled.

It was another perfect day, sunny and warm and peaceful. The garden looks spectacular. It is even better than last year, if that’s possible, which is hard to imagine.

Of course I took pictures. And here they are, or at least some of them. I did take a lot.

DSCN6768 We had tea in the garden and the boys tested out the swing seat, on loan for the exhibition. It’s lovely!

 DSCN6832The pond in the foreground contained some interesting wildlife, and I don’t just mean the tadpoles. 

 DSCN6665This rather lovely creature could be found wallowing around in Tim’s pond, along with his/her friend. They seemed very well behaved fortunately.

 DSCN6666Gorgeous. 

 DSCN6707Ma and Tim admiring the borders.

DSCN6674 Even the best gardens can suffer from pest invasion.

 DSCN6726They grow them big in Devon

 DSCN6695These guys tried hiding behind the shrubbery, but being something around six feet tall, they didn’t do a very good job of it.

 DSCN6694Jemima…we can see you.

 DSCN6813Gorgeous planting. 

DSCN6762Some handsome pots, just so you know it’s not just about the wildlife.

The garden is fantastic. In fact it’s utterly beautiful. Everywhere you look, quite apart from the glorious planting and colour, there are interesting objects, some hidden surprises and many wonderful creations.

Inside the gallery there are some lovely flowery pots by Laurence McGowan.

I have so many photos that I can’t possibly show them all here, but hopefully you can get just a taste of how fantastic it all looks.

Step one:
Do some blogging, and make a cake or two, some biscuits and a pie.

Step two:
Open the wardrobe and stare at the chaos in there for a very long time. Close it again, make a pot of tea and eat some cake and biscuits and a pie.

Step three:
Wait a day or two before returning to the wardrobe, tea in hand and start pulling every piece of clothing you own out onto the bed. Stare at it all for a long time then retreat to kitchen, reheat tea and find the very last bar of chocolate at the back of the fridge.

Step four:
Realise at midnight that the bed is still covered in clothes. Pile them onto the floor and go to bed, reminding yourself not to trip up on them in the middle of the night on the way to the loo.

Step five:
Put plaster on shin to staunch the bleeding from tripping up and cracking it against the bed during a nocturnal visit to the loo.

Step six:
Wait until holiday is imminent and it’s far too late to shop for more clothes, then start trying on last year’s summer gear and find it’s almost all too small. Wonder how skirts and blouses can possibly shrink during storage.

Step seven:
Make a twenty minute supermarket dash around M&S outlet store, while boys at social club, and spend the remainder of a birthday token you’d forgotten you had in your purse. Convince yourself that going up a size since last year is simply because you need things extra loose, due to massive hot flushes and nothing to do with eating pie, cake and chocolate biscuits.

Step eight:
Start changing the sheets on all the beds, because that’s really going to help with the packing. Pull out a very old duvet cover, with pictures of The Hulk on, and discover a bra tucked inside which must have been there for months. Decide NOT to tell boys who would then refuse to use that duvet cover ever again. Throw rediscovered bra into holiday bag.

Step nine:
Finally start actual packing. Shove random selections of badly folded clothes into bags. Knowing they are all going in the back of the car this year instead of on a plane, don’t bother to make difficult either/or decisions. Just take everything.

Step ten:
Start mildly panicking and grab handfuls of pants and socks from everyone’s undies drawers and put them all into one large bag. Then spend twenty minutes digging several back out again to wear today and tomorrow.

Step eleven:
Do a bit more blogging to put off necessary trip to supermarket to stock up with food for the journey. Eventually concede defeat and go shopping anyway.

Step twelve:
Spend evening studying maps of M1, trying to plan route south involving dropping Matthew off for a meeting in Nottingham on the way and then not getting lost somewhere on the M42 between M1 and M5.

Step thirteen:
Hopefully reach wednesday in one piece and manage to wake the whole household up in time to leave at 6am with a car full of clean, dry clothes, journey food, two boys and every computer game they possess, and Matthew, having remembered to leave the gerbils with enough food to last them for two days and a list to remind Matthew to feed/water gerbils on his return on thursday.

Drive for the following twelve hours with the intention of arriving in Devon…eventually.

I love holidays. So relaxing…

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Last night was, I think, one of the warmest nights we’ve had so far this year.

The gerbils, like us, were feeling a little sticky in their cosy sleeping quarters, so three of them decided to camp out under the stars.

For some reason however, Bruce elected to remain under cover.

Perhaps he was afraid of bears.

Or, maybe he had eaten too many sunflower seeds yesterday and his brothers were forced to sleep outside on the roof, to prevent nocturnal asphyxiation from the all-pervading gerbil aroma.

Who knows?

If they were trying to cool down though, I’m not sure this was the most effective way of doing it.

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I was a wee bit concerned about little Steve, the runt of the litter, being stuck there on the bottom. That’s one heavy pile of gerbils. Fortunately he survived his squashing, crumpled but otherwise intact.

Since starting along the interesting, sometimes challenging and always unexpected road of autism, we’ve been constantly surprised by the directions we’ve found ourselves taking.

Of course one of the biggest surprises for us all was the home education journey. That one really appeared out of nowhere.

Since then more twists and turns have occurred, some carefully planned and thought out, and others much much less so.

Discovering the joys of Philosophy, for example, started simply from a book that James picked up in the Oxfam bookshop and an article I’d read a year or two before about Philosophy and Superheroes. We put the two together and that lead to some tremendously interesting lessons and a whole shelf full of Philosophy and Popular Culture books, some of which we have yet to crack open.

When a new direction is indicated I usually do some research, a lot of thinking, a bit of worrying and then, eventually, a solution seems to evolve. It’s almost never exactly the one I’d imagined, but often a good fit nevertheless.

After three amazingly active and creative years of home ed mayhem, it became clear that James in particular was beginning to need some greater challenges in his education.

We pondered the problem, discussed the issues and came up with precisely… nothing.

And then I happened to be randomly searching the internet, looking for nothing in particular, when I spotted an article about Coursera and MOOCs**

What a perfect fit these have proved to be for him. Just at exactly the right moment they popped up out of the blue and presented James with opportunities to learn University level Psychology and Philosophy, Maths and Astrobiology, Roman Mythology and Graphic Novels. And now, of course, US Law and Forensic Science!

What a world of knowledge has opened up in front of him, and how well James has embraced it. An answer to prayers, you could say.

So what about Robert?

Well, we’ve always known that Robert would gain most if allowed to play to his strengths. And IT is the obvious direction for him to head in. That’s his passion and it’s hard to imagine him doing anything else.

The college course he tackled last year was indeed a big first step out into the world and it had some very valuable components to it, but I think we all realised very early on that it was a fairly big compromise for him. Very much a curate’s egg in fact.

After nine months of struggling to get what he could from it, in the end it was too much for him and we moved on. But what could take its place?

This is the question we’ve been pondering ever since. Online programming courses have filled the gaps to a degree but only as a temporary holding situation.

Then a few weeks ago I contacted an organisation called Aspire that specialises in helping young people on the Autistic spectrum to make the move from school to further education or whatever. Transition, as it’s called nowadays apparently.

Rather half-heartedly (if I’m honest) I arranged for a worker from there to come and discuss Robert’s possible next steps with us.

I was only half-hearted because we’ve had SO MANY conversations with professionals such as this before. After years of repeating the same explanations and receiving much the same advice, it becomes a little harder to keep the faith.

Anyway the other day we welcomed this young man to the house for a chat. Initially he too had a fairly standard idea of what we might find useful. Much the same as has been suggested before. But he seemed like an eager and friendly chap, so instead of simply agreeing to the standard list of what was on offer, I decided to tell him EXACTLY what we were really searching for. And to his eternal credit, he listened.

“What we need for Robert”, I explained, “is one person, just one person who gets him and who is patient with him and understands what he needs. That one person needs to be heavily into IT, working somewhere where Robert can learn about computers in a totally hands-on way. Maybe he could help build or repair computers? Perhaps there’s a place where computers are recycled and resold for charity for example. It needs to be a real one-off kind of place in fact. Not mainstream at all. So…”, I asked hopefully, “…is there anyone that you know of who does this and who understands autism?”

And the answer was, no. He had no idea if such a person existed. BUT he would do some investigating as there was a place his colleague had mentioned hearing about several years ago. No idea what it was or if it was even still running though. He promised to look into it for us.

Anyway, a couple of days later I got a phone call from him. Had I ever heard of the charity “Pass IT On?” Nope. Never. He gave me their website and this is what I found…

Pass IT On is a very small group of IT people who take in old computers and repair them and adapt them for very disabled people to use. Not only this, but they do sometimes have work placements available for young people with additional support needs. Sound familiar?

So yesterday, Robert and I (and James) took the bus across town to visit them.

It felt as if a genie had heard our wish and produced EXACTLY what we’d asked for.

Pass IT On works from a large garden shed! They are, in their own words, different and off-beat and not at all mainstream. “GREAT!” I said, “That’s exactly what we are and what we’re looking for.”

They already have a young lad working there who has Asperger’s as well as another young man recovering from a stroke.

When Robert was taken into the workshop to meet people and see what they do there, it was as if he’d walked into his best dream ever. The shed was stuffed from floor to ceiling with computer parts, monitors, keyboards and every internal component they could extract from each donated machine. There was a lot of gentle banter too. Within moments Robert was grinning. Mind you that could have been because he was eyeing up the mountain of hard drives stacked on shelves around the room.

Robert looked as if he’d happily move in there, permanently.

So we chatted with Sandy, one of the two founders of the charity. We talked about computers, about fundraising, about admin and about Star Wars. He showed the boys stuff they’d made out of old computer parts…a letter rack made from a circuit board, a collecting box which had originally been an Apple II and the shell of an old blue iMac, now used as the cat’s bed! It was all quirky and fun and different but at the same time it was professional. It was clear that they take the work they do very seriously indeed.

After an hour’s easy chat, we agreed that after our long summer break we’d get back in touch and arrange for Robert to spend a couple of hours a week there, to begin with at least.

This might seem like a tiny step to most people, but to have found something that fits so accurately our image of what Robert was hoping to find, seems to us nothing short of miraculous.

So now we have a nice long break to mull it all over and Robert can think about it all and decide what he feels. Although he’d pretty much decided by the time we’d got home on the bus. He wants to go there!

Hopefully this will turn out to be Robert’s equivalent of James’ Coursera courses. Maybe not a long-term solution, but certainly it could turn out to be a perfect next step, and after that, well who knows?

If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last few years, it’s that planning beyond the next step is almost impossible to do. There are simply too many variables.

But, if this works out, then for now that is more than good enough for us.

So watch this space. We’ll keep you posted, come August.

Exciting eh?

 

 

** MOOC = Massive Online Open Course

The weather today has been glorious. Sunshine has been pouring through the open windows of the dining room and bathing the whole place in light and warmth. A gentle breeze has been blowing the trees backwards and forwards in the garden, their leaves making a lovely soft rustling sound.

After a rather minimal Sunday lunch, consisting of sausages and baguette, after I forgot to defrost the chicken last night (this was by no means my worst bit of parenting today by the way), I announced to the boys that we were going to…

GO OUTSIDE!

This was the weekend of The Meadows Festival and I was keen to go.

For anyone who doesn’t live here, this event is basically a massive car boot sale, with add-on foodie stalls and a funfair for those who want to spend several fortunes giving themselves motion sickness.

Moreover, this is the event where, several years ago, I bought my banjo. So you can see why it holds such a warm place in my heart.

Matthew and I used to live directly opposite the Meadows, when we first moved to Edinburgh, so the festival was one of the first things we experienced here. Fond memories of meandering around the stalls together, buying unnecessary plastic objects.

We still have a rather wonderful, yet completely useless, bakelite telephone, which we humped back across the road from there, so many years ago.

DSCF4884They don’t make them like this anymore.

Anyway, I really wanted to go and mooch and also thought it would be much healthier for the boys to come too, instead of being glued to computer screens for even more hours. Fresh air! That’s what they need!

So off we three hiked, Matthew having already gone off for an even healthier run and swim.

As we hiked, I chattered on about the lovely sunny day and about the festival and how much fun it was, and what a nice day it was….

The boys however plodded silently along beside me, presumably dreaming of zombie battles and Star Wars. The beauty of the summer’s day was pretty much wasted on them.

Once we arrived at the festival, the two of them dutifully followed me around from stall to stall as I enthused about fudge and rails of old clothes and tables groaning under the weight of weird collections of…well…junk mostly.

DSCN0805Vintage clothes…Excellent! DSCN0808 Painted cats…Cool!DSCN0837Dinky cars…Dinky!

As we weaved through the crowds I happily scanned the stalls on either side for bargains, or banjos. Behind me two boys trailed along, staring straight ahead and waiting for their ordeal to be over.

The noise of the funfair became considerably louder as we turned the corner at the top of the Meadows and underfoot the ground was rapidly turning to mud from the overnight rain and the massive footfall.

And then it started to drizzle.

It was, I thought, rather refreshing, warm and gentle. I didn’t mind it at all. Apparently I was however alone in this view.

Robert struggles with sensory overload when faced with sunshine and crowds and noise and mud, and James apparently finds the sensation of light rain on his face almost unbearable. So two hours of enforced sensory challenges is a lot to ask of them I suppose. So I was told numerous times anyway.

As we headed back up the hill, James sheltering from the odd spit of rain under my tiny folding umbrella and Robert wrapped up tightly in his fleece-lined winter hoodie, I brightly asked the boys if they’d enjoyed their lovely summery outing treat.

Robert replied darkly that he would like to challenge the words lovely and treat.

James thought for a millisecond and then said…”Well I didn’t die anyway.”

I am a BAD mother. BAD BAD mother.

On the way home we bought puddings…lots and lots of puddings.

So I did something right anyway.

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