Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Thank You

Thank you to everyone who posted the kind and encouraging comments about this blog in response to my concerns that it had become stale and past its sell-by date. As a token of my gratitude, here is a video that Dabbler supremo Andrew Nixon posted on his Facebook page. It might seem an odd way of saying thanks, but this is one of the most enjoyably eccentric things I've seen for a long time.

I hope you'll agree that clip is in a class of its own; utterly bonkers, but wonderfully exhuberant:

My eyes....THEY HURT. What was that.
Posted by Rupan Bal on Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Sunday, July 26, 2015

I Give It a Year

Every dog has its day and after almost nine years of blogging, I feel that this one is slowly limping towards its inevitable end. Perhaps the tenth anniversary would be a good stopping point. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

This blog began as an idle experiment to relieve the tedium of being stuck in bed, while I was recovering from a particularly violent bout of food poisoning. It was called 'The Age of Uncertainty' because I had just entered my 40s and the job that I mostly loved had literally changed overnight into one I largely hated.

I wasn't planning to make a habit of it. However, when Ms Baroque kindly commented on my first post, generously refraining from pointing out how banal it was, I couldn't quite get over the novelty that a complete stranger had read my words, thought about them and bothered to write a reply. It seemed quite wonderful.

I think the blog really hit its stride when I worked for a company that provided me with a constant supply of old photograph albums, secondhand books and quirky ephemera from house clearances. I particularly enjoyed sifting through the fragments of lost lives, sharing the best of them. If the rest of the job had been as enjoyable, I might have stayed.

Four years after becoming self-employed, the photos and letters are thin on the ground and I seem to have fewer things to say, perhaps because my time is largely taken up with family concerns that wouldn't make very interesting reading. When I do have an idea for a post, it's often accompanied by an awful sense of déjà vu.

If I had more time, I might have written a post about the Roald Dahl Museum, which I visited a couple of weeks ago (the photo at the beginning of this post is of the wall of the church where Dahl's funeral took place), or of the discovery of an abandoned quarry in Lewes, hidden behind a thick undergrowth:

But most of my mental energy is going into getting my ASD son used to being outside again.

Last year his agoraphobia became so severe, he began to suffer from vitamin D deficiency. The lack of sunlight, exercise and human contact had a predictably debilitating effect and it had been a gargantuan task to reverse this decline, but at last, things are looking up:

This photo, which my younger son created on Instagram, was taken yesterday afternoon during a visit to the South Downs.

Recent trips out have followed a familiar pattern of a five minute walk, followed by a frantic request to go home. But yesterday we walked for over an hour and, to my amazement, were able to go for a pub lunch afterwards. Like a normal family!

All of this has been achieved over time with a lot of help from professionals. There are no easy fixes and we are not going to make the mistake of thinking that the problem has been solved. It will always be an ongoing battle and when winter comes, we will have to be careful not to let my son's world shrink again.

It's extraordinary how little we know about these conditions, except that there is a genetic factor. I have taken part in Simon Baron Cohen's autism test and I am less autistic than the average male, but I did suffer from what are now known as 'neurodevelopmental disorders' as a child, so when I heard that a team at Sussex University were looking for volunteers for a research project, I decided to volunteer.

It's a decision I began to regret when, last Tuesday, my head was place in a vice-like grip and my brain was bombarded with a high-powered electro-magnetic field for an uncomfortably long time, but they seemed suitably appreciative afterwards and perhaps it may turn out to be one of the most useful things I've done in my life.

And that's largely it. The days are spent going on short trips, usually taken between midday and three o'clock to ensure that my older son gets plenty of vitamin D. In the evenings, my wife and I enjoy our guilty pleasure - drinking Pimms and watching The Good Wife on Netflix.

If all that sounds a little dull, I would agree. But after the last few years, dull is good.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Ruination of London

I was going to write a blog post about what's happening to London, but Alain de Botton has summed up the problem far more eloquently than I ever could in this excellent short film:

I don't agree with everything he says. There is a place for the occasional 'fun' building and the view from the Shard is one of the most exhilarating experiences I've had in recent years. But if developers have their way, that view will become an increasingly depressing one, as a great, historic city gradually becomes subsumed under a tidal wave of skyscrapers.

I had hoped the the global recession would call a halt to this madness, but instead London has become more attractive than ever to investors, few of whom have an emotional investment in the wellbeing of the city. London has effectively become a high class hooker, flaunting its wares before a parade of wealthy clients.

But I'm now in danger of writing the blog post that I said I wasn't going to write, so I'll stop now.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Mild West

I have just returned from the first family holiday we've had in three years. It lasted for two days, which was quite enough for everyone. It seems extraordinary that my childhood holidays were always a fortnight long.

One of my earliest memories is of a disastrous stay in rural Wales, where my parents had booked bed and breakfast on a remote farm. It rained for the entire two weeks and the holiday felt more like penal servitude.

The farm's owners rarely spoke English and regarded our presence as a necessary evil, although when the weather was particularly bad, we were once invited to watch an episode of 'The Virginian' with them. 

We never went back. The following year, we began the first of many successful holidays at a caravan site in Devon, where I befriended two girls and their younger brother. We got along so well, our parents decided to synchronise their holidays. I have many happy memories of Enid Blyton-style adventures involving deserted cottages, poachers and secret dens.

When the holiday began, the two weeks ahead felt like an eternity and we gladly turned our backs on the dreary, monochrome existence of our real lives. Local landmarks became old friends: a telephone box, a garage with a blue door, a wonky road sign and prehistoric tumulus in the distance. As we approached the caravan site after a day out, my mother would say "We're home."

The long summer holiday was a gift I wanted to give to my children. It never occured to me that the prospect of spending two weeks in an idyllic setting, exploring the countryside and beaches, would be anyone's idea of hell. However, children on the autistic spectrum hate a break in their routine.

When I broached the subject of a holiday with my son, I felt as if I was brokering a deal as challenging as the Greek debt repayment. In the end, we agreed that two nights would be acceptable as long as the hotel had wifi and wasn't further than 120 miles away.

It was a plus point that we were returning to Dorset, as my son would know what to expect. I didn't mention that the hotel was 800-years-old, as that would probably be a bad thing in his book.

Golden Cap, the second highest point on the south coast of England

Dorset was as pretty as I remembered it, but many of the traditional family-run shops have been replaced with chi chi cafes, artisan bakeries and places selling rather poorly-executed paintings. It looks as if the London diaspora has reached Dorset and the rhotic r has been replaced by the 'flat white'.

If I had my way, I'd reintroduce smocks and pitchforks, with penalties for anyone who didn't say their rrrs and oiz properly.

A strange rock formation that vaguely resembles a porpoise's head

Lyme Regis harbour

Overall, the holiday was a success. There were a few wobbles and I felt sorry for my younger son when a fossiling trip came to an abrupt end, but most of the time we managed to achieve something that faintly resembled a normal family holiday. When we returned home, our older son said that he would like to do it again.

P.S. I've become a big fan of Instagram recently, so here are a few pictures from the trip:

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Lord of the Dance

Some time ago I mentioned the Lewes Dancing Man - a gentleman who is something of a local celebrity. If you look him up on YouTube, there are several videos that show the full majesty of his talents.
I first came across him in a pub, ten years ago. To begin with, I barely noticed the man in his 50s, sitting alone at a nearby table, staring into a pint of Harvey's. Then someone selected a Rolling Stones song on the jukebox and he was up, performing a highly individual dance routine.

I thought the Lewes Dancing Man was unique, but this morning I discovered a new pretender to the throne:

The dance moves are quite similar (albeit with a lot less legwork), which suggests that LDMII is either an understudy to the original or that this is how we'd all dance if we weren't worried about looking silly. The band - an excellent group of young men called the Ouse Valley Collective - were suitably bemused.

I would rather walk through a building on fire than dance in public and looked at the new Lewes Dancing Man with more than a little envy, as he seemed so unihibited. My wife suggested that this was because he was mentally ill. I wasn't entirely convinced.

But even if the new LDM does have a few 'issues', give me a madman any day over some of the clinically sane people who have appeared in the news recently for various reasons

If only they'd embraced their inner Lewes Dancing Man, we might all be better off.