Adventures in Home Education & Asperger's Syndrome

Earlier this week I spent a couple of hours in a cafe in town, made famous for being the place where a certain well known local author sat writing her more than well known Wizarding book some years ago.

I was waiting to collect Robert from Remade, where he spends an evening once a week helping repair computers and such. To pass the time I took my iPad with me, hoping that I might somehow absorb a little leftover creative inspiration and gain some ideas for my as yet non existent entry to a BBC short story competition, due within the next couple of weeks or so.

The only creative experience I had however was seeing how slowly I could sip the large hot chocolate I ordered to make it last two hours because I was too mean to buy anything else. By eight o’clock my drink was stone cold and so was my story telling imagination.

I blame the sofa I’d chosen, thinking it looked nice and cosy and somewhere perfect to snuggle up and write stories. Unfortunately too many other people must have thought the same thing as there was almost no stuffing left in the seat and so instead of being soft and comfortable it felt more like sitting on a bucket covered in a thin layer of fabric.

So no inspiration then. No multi million pound book idea involving witches and wizards, spells and magic was going to come out of my time spent drinking not so hot chocolate perched on a bucket sofa in the cafe famous for being the centre of so much creative writing.

Ah well. Maybe next time I’ll try a herb tea and see what that inspires.

IMG_3371… and inside the box

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Whichever way round it is

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Or in the towel cupboard

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Unlike most of the towels

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Or in front of the computer

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Blogging possibly

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Or on top of the gerbils

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Breakfast anyone?

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Or in the bookcase

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Or on top of the fridge

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Or maybe in the box again

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Or not.

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So many choices

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It’s all too much. Maybe a snooze on James’ chair is best

Later:

Lucky I took these photos before today as Kato found a new place to visit this afternoon… the chimney.

He is no longer a ginger and white cat but more of a sooty black and grey one.

Apparently in the Chinese calendar 2015 is the year of the sheep.

But in the Newnham household it has quite suddenly and rather unexpectedly become the year of the cat.

Over the years Matthew and I have occasionally had the cat conversation. We both like them very much, but the one I had when we first got together caused Matthew to become very wheezy and so we’ve always dismissed cats as potential pets due to the danger of allergies.

It’s probably worth pointing out at this stage that the cat I had then was the most nervous creature in the world. He was a rescue cat that never learnt to trust people. Whenever he was scared, which was pretty much all the time, he would shed hair in handfuls. Once, when I took him to the vets, there was so much hair in his box on arrival that I was surprised he wasn’t totally bald when the vet lifted him out.

So looking back he probably wasn’t the best allergy trial test cat we could have chosen.

And then we got Judy the greyhound. She was absolutely the best dog in the world but probably not one that would have been prepared to share a small flat with a cat. Not for long anyway. Greyhounds are bred to chase and potentially kill small furry creatures. It’s in their DNA. For all we know Judy might have learnt to accept a cat. She was after all the gentlest of animals in all other ways, but we weren’t about to put that to the test and risk the consequences. So, for that reason alone cats were not an option while she was around.

But then sometime over Christmas Matthew and I started a cat conversation. He thinks I initiated it whereas I’m pretty sure it was him. Either way we somehow went from not even thinking about cats to deciding we might like to try having one, in the space of one possibly mulled wine infused evening.

I love cats, well almost all animals actually. I grew up surrounded by a great variety of pet dogs, cats, budgies, fish, mice, tortoises… I even had a collection of garden snails in a jam jar at one point, although perhaps I won’t tell you what happened to them. We had ponds filled with goldfish and newts and tadpoles and frogs. There were always animals around the place.

It didn’t take much discussion to get me enthusiastic about the idea. My main concern was the allergy issue, but Matthew has recently spent time around a friend’s cat and shown absolutely no sign of problems. He felt confident that this would no longer be a major issue.

So the plan was to think about the whole idea for a few weeks, see what was out there, get past all the Christmas chaos and then decide if we should go ahead. That was the most sensible and considered approach to take.

What actually happened however was that, having meandered somewhat idly through various Scottish cat charity online adoptees, I came across an advert for an adult house cat needing rehoming due to the owner’s increasing work commitments. The animal was based just ten minutes drive away.

So of course we went to meet the cat.

I bet you would have done the same. Yes, you would.

Anyway surprise surprise, seven hours and a relatively expensive trip to Pets At Home later, we were collecting our new housemate from his owner and installing him into his new abode.

And here he is…

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He quickly decided this would be a good vantage point to spy on the garden cats. During the day at least.

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He is the most relaxed rescue cat I’ve ever known.

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So relaxed.

Within a few hours he was totally chilled about his new home.

This might of course have been helped by his discovery of… the gerbils.

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The cat decided the best place to be was on top of the tank. He plonked himself up there without a second thought, causing the mesh lid to bend alarmingly. The gerbils were none to pleased either.

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To protect the lives of the poor rodents, I managed to find an old wooden plate rack which fits perfectly across the tank and provides a more secure place for the cat to sit whilst still maintaining the gerbils’ air supply and generally keeping them safe underneath, assuming they don’t all die of heart attacks of course. Poor things.

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The cat certainly approves, although it doesn’t look particularly comfortable to me. 

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 I suspect the gerbils might have some reservations though.

The cat seems to prefer sitting on the gerbil plate rack to curling up next to the Aga on the soft and not inexpensive cat bed I brought home from the pet shop. They really are strange animals aren’t they?

On his way up or down from the plate rack, the cat often likes to have a wee wander along the top of the bookcase. This is the place I recently decorated with my lovely potted hyacinth, Matthew’s gorgeous blue Buddha and, especially for the festive season, the wooden nativity scene.

I quickly realised I needed to find new and safer homes for the breakables, leaving plenty of space for the cat to get up and down as required. However I thought it would be fine to leave the nativity there for the duration.

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 That’s it mostly hidden under his tail end. The three wise men looked on helplessly while baby Jesus vanished beneath a pile of shepherds, a donkey, his parents and a cat’s bottom. 

The next problem was the naming of the cat, formerly known as Tigger.

You may already own or know of a cat called Tigger. I don’t want to suggest this isn’t a perfectly good name for a cat. It is. It’s just not one that the boys would have chosen.

It’s probably worth pointing out here that, despite the cat’s age, (somewhere around seven we believe), we felt that changing his name wouldn’t be a big problem for him since he seems to respond equally well or not at all to whatever you call him, depending on his mood, how focussed he is on gerbils and whether you’re holding food or not.

So we started making a list of possible cat names. It was quite a long list. Unfortunately not one of them was a name we all agreed on.

Super villains seemed to appear fairly frequently on James’ part of it.

By 9pm on New Year’s Eve we still hadn’t decided and I was getting fed up with having a nameless cat. I became determined to have it sorted before the start of 2015.

After lots and LOTS of rejected suggestions I finally homed in on one I thought we might all agree on. Robert was not entirely sure but Matthew and James were happy and so in the end we plumped for Kato. Pronounced Kay-Toe.

Kato is, according to Wiki anyway, the Esperanto word for cat. It is also a martial arts performing character in the film The Green Hornet, played by Bruce Lee. And of course Cato in The Pink Panther films was hilarious as he and Peter Sellers ambushed each other with karate moves and such, pretty well destroying the house in the process.

We chose the K version as James felt otherwise it would look as if we hadn’t tried very hard.

Kato seems to suit him very well, as this cat does love ambushing us round corners and from behind doors. I expect he’d try some martial arts on the gerbils too if given the chance.

I’m sure you’ll be subjected to many more Kato photos in the next wee while. He’s a very photogenic animal as well as being a most affectionate creature.

Although if you don’t hear from me for a while it’ll probably be because I have a cat sprawled out across my knee preventing me from accessing my laptop.

That’ll be my excuse anyway.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE

So Christmas is over for another year. After all the preparations it does seem to vanish quickly doesn’t it?

We had a lovely chilled out day on the 25th. The boys were up early… well 8am which is very early for them these days.

They discovered their mini stockings on the dining room sofa as usual. These started years ago as a brief distraction for little boys to allow their parents time to have showers and get dressed before finding out what Father Christmas had left in their giant stockings under the tree. Now of course mini stockings are not technically required but they are still expected none the less.

Traditions are traditions after all.

Having watched the boys disassemble those and then fortified ourselves with coffee and gingerbread, we headed into the sitting room.

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This was just the start of the mass present opening. That paper hillock soon became a mountain.

There are now piles of books, games, DVDs and chocolates lying around the floor, also some snazzy pyjamas and a variety of other lovely goodies including the start of a collection of Dr Who mugs James was keen to get. We have yet to find them all homes but eventually they will no doubt become absorbed into the general muddle that is our house.

The boys were thrilled and delighted with each and every parcel they opened.

Lunch was eventually forthcoming. I think the catering elf was a bit too relaxed to get on with it all very early. No one seemed to mind though.

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It looked and tasted better than it appears here. And yes those are sprouts, which I love, whatever anyone else says.

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We had a giant cracker filled with little presents, like robot-shaped USB sticks. The cracker-filling elf even got me one, mine was not shaped like a robot however.

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It’s to store my photos. Great isn’t it? It looks just like the real thing, except it’s only just over an inch long.

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We managed to get both the boys into a couple of photos, a rare achievement these days. I think here I’m checking that Robert isn’t about to bolt, like the dog used to whenever she saw the camera appear. Do you like their t-shirts? They certainly seem to.

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Three boys together, plus compulsory Christmas hats. Robert is wearing one, you just can’t see it from this angle.

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James is a much more willing participant.

When I appeared wearing my colourful bargain skirt, new Christmas ebay jumper, a red and furry mistletoe covered hat and flashing Santa earrings, there was a stunned silence. I like celebrating the festive season, regardless of the withering looks I might get from the male members of this fashion rejecting household.

The rest of the day sailed happily on, with lots more fantastic presents generously sent to us from family around the UK, followed by the Queen at 3pm, then more food and wine and the Christmas cake.

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Those are three melting snowmen there on the top. The nearest one is more of an existential snowman, since it is supposed to have been one before it melted but in fact never was, if you see what I mean. Also the trees were straight when I first put them on. Like me they gradually became more and more laid back as Christmas progressed.

Boxing day was more sociable with my cousin and her family joining us from the Borders. We had lots more food, more presents too and a mini treasure hunt for the young involving clues which had to be sung. I think they were the product of a very late mulled wine infused night. The rhymes certainly deteriorated towards the end.

We all got snoods, ready for the coldest days, also there were some penguins and bags of sprouts, fortunately for the young they were the chocolate variety. Then we all shared yet more lovely presents, lots of chocolate and heaps of other things. Wonderful.

The boys discovered their surprise smart phones at the end of the hunt, which they were more than delighted about. I didn’t take photos for some reason so you’ll just have to imagine the fun. It was fun, with lots of chat and plenty of laughter too. A great way to spend Boxing day.

And now we’re all flopping about, recovering from overindulgence and trying to summon enough energy to write a few thank you letters. I might mull some more wine later to get us more in the mood, or send us to sleep. One or the other.

Meanwhile the boys are intensely focussed on their computers and their new phones too. Robert has already linked the two together so that he can access his games remotely. I doubt they’ll use them for many actual calls, but at least we know they’re there if necessary.

Next on the calendar… HOGMANAY. See you then.

Clan Newnham would like to wish you all a very Happy Christmas…

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… and a happy, healthy and peaceful  2015

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Love Catherine, Matthew, Robert and James xxxx

This year the Gerbils have their very own Christmas tree, because that’s the sort of thing we do here.

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Gerbils right, Christmas tree left, in case you were unsure.

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They also have their own stockings. Labelled and everything.

I hope they appreciate the effort we’ve gone to to liven up their corner of the hall. And of course when I say we I mean I, because no one else in our house, or our street or perhaps even our city, would think to provide four small rodents with their very own Christmas entertainment. Meanies.

The humans here also have a tree and stockings. It’s not purely a gerbil-centred household. Just to be clear.

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Human’s Christmas tree 2014

Those are of course hats, not stockings, which don’t appear until Christmas eve, despite what the gerbils think.

The bonus tree was a spontaneous buy, spotted whilst wandering through a local charity shop. There it was sitting in the window, all tiny and neat and with a £3 price tag. I thought it would be fun to set a mini tree up next to the gerbil tank, brightening up an otherwise dull, dusty corner of the hallway. And of course it might have the added benefit of drawing people’s eyes away from the layers of dust, piles of papers, books and general detritus that greets us all as we first step indoors (no photos of that you’ll be relieved to know).

The gerbils watched with interest as I fiddled around next to their glass home, moving tables and sorting out plugs and wiring and such. And then finally I turned on the tree lights.

There was a moment of stunned silence in the tank as the gerbils all stood transfixed by the giant multicoloured monstrosity towering over their home. They looked as if they’d been hypnotised by an evil magician and were awaiting their orders to… kill… Kill… KILL!

And then all hell broke loose. Tony, the gerbil voted most likely to panic, darted underneath their nesting box and started thumping. Apparently back leg thumping is gerbil language for; ‘Danger! Danger! Dart around in fear. Stare momentarily paralysed at the lights before running around in circles squeaking for a bit… then hide. Repeat until exhausted and then fall asleep on top of Steve.’

So that’s what they did.

Fortunately, now the tree’s been up a couple of days, the guys seem to be getting used to its menacing blue, red and silver lights, its terrifying miniature baubles and intimidating little gold stars. They have in fact more or less settled back down into their normal behaviours. Well, normal for gerbils anyway.

I think perhaps seeing their mini stockings hanging under the tree might have helped a bit. Even gerbils like surprise parcels left by Santa in the middle of the night. They’re not completely daft you know.

I think they will approve of their edible gerbilicious gifts and will spend a very happy new year chewing on carrot shaped maize treats to their heart’s content.

And they’ll miss the tree when it’s gone.

Almost certainly.

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Tony panicking a wee bit.

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You are under my spell…

(That little circle is stuck on the glass to stop the box room door handle from slamming back into it and cracking the tank. It’s not an eye patch that Steve’s wearing to cover up his pink eye)

I like lists. They help me focus. Also I have a terrible short-term memory so they are vital to keep me from forgetting what needs to happen next.

I have a Dogbusters list on the wall in the kitchen. That tells me that we have three dog walks booked this week. The boys never look at it. I’m not sure they even know it’s there actually. If I didn’t stand at the door in my coat, clutching a handful of doggy poo bags at the appropriate times during the week, Dogbusters would… well… go bust.

I also have a list above the calendar telling me when the boys’ favourite Superhero programmes are on throughout the week. Tonight it’s Gotham, which is about Batman’s childhood, before he became Batman, if that makes sense. On Friday we have Marvel Agents of Shield, which isn’t strictly about Superheroes per se but they do get mentioned. On Thursday we have to watch The Big Bang Theory. That isn’t about Superheroes either, but the main characters in it do spend a lot of their time in comic book stores, reading or talking about The Hulk or Spiderman or The Flash, so I count that. Dr Who is on a Saturday normally, although not now until the Christmas Day special. Does he count as a Superhero? I’m not entirely sure.

You’d think the guys would remember such important events in their week as these wouldn’t you? Well, sometimes they do, but often they don’t. So it comes down to me to act as TV monitor and gather the troops as required. I need to organise meals around these times too, as it is impossible to watch any of these programmes whilst things are boiling on the stove or saucepan lids are being clanked. Trust me it’s impossible.

Going back to my lists, in the hall I have a chalk board, which I rescued from a charity shop, on which I write reminders of appointments. At the moment, and for the last several months actually, there is only one word written up there. DENTIST.

I glance at the board every time I walk past it and eventually will have to make the call and book us all in for our very overdue family check up. Eventually.

My most recent list is leaning up against the door of the airing cupboard in the dining room, next to the coffee machine, so it can’t be ignored.

When in Lidl a while ago I spotted a bargain. A very large white board at a ridiculous price. I looked at it for a while, then circled it with my trolley several times. Eventually I saw a couple looking very interested in it, so once they had moved on, I grabbed it and wrestled it into the trolley and eventually into the car.

It is big. Standing about three feet tall and two feet wide. I got it home and wondered if I really needed a board that big.

But it turns out I do.

I now keep a list of everything important I need to do. As I get them done I make a point of dramatically scoring a line through them and then leaving them there for a bit to remind me that I don’t just slob around in my dressing gown all day.

At the moment number one on the BIG list is MAKE A FAMILY DENTAL APPOINTMENT. That’s been there a while. I really must do something about that.

Next we have WRITE CHRISTMAS CARDS. Last night I was able to score through that one with great satisfaction having spent the whole weekend getting our cards written. I do enjoy doing them actually. For many friends and family it is the only point of contact we have throughout the year, so I try to add a chatty line or two to each. But it’s also a relief when they’re done and ready to be posted, simply because there’s so much else that needs attention. You probably feel a bit the same.

Number three on my big list is BACK UP BLOG POSTS. I really need to do this regularly as the idea of all this writing, over three years of it now, just vanishing in a puff of cyber-smoke, is more than I can bear. So far I’ve managed to convert about a dozen of my 268 or so posts into word documents. This could take some time.

The list goes on down the board, almost to the floor in fact. As I scan through it I see I need to decorate the cake, write a Christmas story for my creative writing buddies, clean the entire house and then decorate it for the festive season, paint the window frames where I reputtied them a couple of months ago and re-cover the sofa cushions which look like a dog ripped into them searching for a bone.

I have at least crossed some out too. Finish the Christmas letter… done. Send parcel of pressis to Devon…done. Book dentist… bother.

So I’d better stop whittering on here and go and do the next thing on my list. It’s not actually written down, but it’s there none the less.

MAKE A CUP OF COFFEE.

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and the dentist thing of course. Let’s not forget that.

I can’t remember if I’ve already told you about the two computer related activities Robert is currently involved with.

If I have, then just ignore this post and go and make yourself a cup of tea.

You might want to do that anyway.

If not, then I’m not sure why I haven’t written about them before since they are between them two of the most successful activities Robert has been lucky enough to take part in.

Actually I’ve just done a quick search and realised I did write about one of them back in June. http://sidewayslearning.com/looking-for-different-and-finding-it/

What I didn’t do was to follow it up and tell you how Robert was getting on there.

So just to remind you, Pass IT On is a fantastic charity which accepts donated computers, renovates or rebuilds them and then either gives them away to disabled people or sells them.

Robert joined them in August as part of his work experience…experience, and has been thoroughly enjoying his time there ever since.

So far he has helped take old machines apart, put new ones together, assess whether parts are working or not and lots of other things too computery to go into here.

He has also chatted and laughed and generally enjoyed socialising, in his own quiet way. Being around just two or three other kind people talking about the thing he loves most in the world is pretty much the perfect activity for him, apart from PC gaming anyway.

The added bonus is that Robert often comes home clutching a little piece of computer technology, either too damaged or too old to be of any real use, but of great beauty and significance to him.

It’s more than great to see how much he gets out of these sessions.

Having found this place for Robert over the summer we were feeling pretty happy with how things were going for him and then we heard about Remade.

Remade is also a local charity. It started I believe as a drop-in place for people to learn how to repair and recycle their stuff. Sewing classes are on offer and folk are encouraged to bring along clothes or other items in need of repair instead of throwing things away.

And then just a few months ago they started a drop-in computer repair evening and workshops advising and assisting in basic repairs to computers, laptops, phones etc.

We discovered these had started from Flora who now runs the social club James still goes to. She contacted the chap who runs the computer repair events and Robert was invited to go along to see what they did there.

He now spends one evening a week helping with repairs and learning a lot about it all from Sotiris the computer engineer in charge. They seem to get on very well and Robert comes home with yet more wee gifts of spare parts to add to his collection.

How amazing, after searching for so long for the thing that would be good for Robert to do, to then find not just one but two amazing places filled with amazing people where he can relax, chat about computers to his hearts content, learn his craft and socialise in a safe and understanding environment.

Long may they both continue.

After I dropped Robert off at his work placement this afternoon I took the bus back into town with my camera to visit the Garden of Remembrance.

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It was a sobering sight seeing so many individual wooden crosses, most with a hand written name of a relative killed as a result of war, some including words of love and loss.

Many dated back to the first and second world wars, others were much more recent. Some had photos attached. All looked so very young.

Like me, other people were wandering around, quietly reading or writing individual messages and taking photos.

One or two were searching for specific names amongst the mass of crosses.

I wondered who it was they were searching for. A son maybe, or a brother, a father, or grandfather.

There were certainly women commemorated there too, although it seemed the vast number were men.

I took some photos, stood quietly for a few moments and then left the others to their private moments.

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I had a £10 haircut this morning. It was a bargain.

I resent paying up to four times that for a trim when more often than not the cut I get is less than satisfactory.

Having hair like mine almost invariably makes for misery at the hairdressers. I’ve lost count of the number of local salons I’ve tried over the years. Once or twice I’ve struck lucky and found a good cutter with a natural sense of shape and form who is able to avoid the common problem of turning an unruly mop of curls into an almost completely circular ball of fuzz, not unlike those multicoloured wigs worn by people advertising the National Lottery. Just add a hint of blue or pink or orange and I’d be perfect for a career in television, or in the circus. Unfortunately every time I’ve found a good cutter they seem to vanish into the night, or take on new careers or some third thing.

My salvation for the last twenty plus years has been Heather, the mobile hairdresser who cuts my mother’s hair, and mine whenever I get back down to Devon. Unfortunately one haircut every nine or ten months isn’t enough to get through the year looking even slightly groomed.

It’s been three months since my last cut and the mop was becoming unmanageable again. I needed a trim but paying vast amounts for a haircut is a challenge, especially this close to Christmas, so I decided to try offering my services (again) to a trainee hairdresser.

I’ve done this twice before with limited success. The first time, while waiting for Robert on his IT course at Edinburgh College, I booked myself into the training salon there. The poor girl presented with the task looked aghast when she saw me and her hands shook throughout the time I sat there. Not a good way to engender confidence in ones customers I thought.

The cut was not a good one. Not the worst one I’ve had but certainly not the best. Still it was only £7, so I wasn’t really in a strong position to complain. I did discover though that they seem to train their hairdressers to cut by numbers. I was a number four I think. No question of assessing my hair or the shape of my face or even looking at the photo I brought with me to show what I was after. No, a number four was what I was going to get and presumably that was what I got.

The next person I let loose on my hair was from a salon with a notice in the window asking for models for students to practice on. I volunteered my services but when I arrived for my appointment I was told that my hair was too challenging for a student to tackle and instead was given a newly qualified cutter.

Despite being upgraded, cutter-wise, the end result was equally disappointing. The girl did her best, but her only guidance was the odd grumpy shout from a more senior stylist on the other side of the room, not enough to prevent another poor quality haircut.

Anyway, not to be put off and encouraged by a lack of funds, I decided to give the trainee thing another try. After all how bad could it be?

This time I took my courage in both hands and headed into the new upmarket salon just around the corner. I’ve walked past it many times but never dared go in knowing the prices would be way beyond my budget.

I bravely asked if models were needed for trainees and they couldn’t have been nicer about it. An appointment was made and the price (£10) agreed.

And so there I was at 9am this morning, hair wild and unkempt from windy rainy weather and not having had time to wash it for several days before getting there.

The trainee, Chloe, was totally unfazed by being met with such a mop of curls and we had a detailed chat about what I wanted. She then discussed her plan of action with her supervisor before confidently getting stuck in.

This was however not before bringing me a cup of peppermint tea… and a biscuit…on a tray. If I’d gone next door to Starbucks, the drink and bickie alone would have cost almost what I paid for the haircut. In fact the salon actually had a menu, offering a range of herbal teas, three different types of coffee, two types of mineral water and orange juice. Presumably people who frequent these sort of places expect this nowadays. I don’t know. It’s not a world I often step into.

And about 90 mins later I was able to leave the place sporting a pretty decent haircut. Maybe not quite up to Heather’s annual trim, but not at all bad for the money.

So hopefully that’s me sorted again for the rest of the year. If I’m lucky maybe they’ll let me do the same thing again sometime in early 2015.

Next time perhaps I’ll go for a latte.

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