Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Do you believe in karma?

I don't. That's just as well, because if I did I would be seriously worried about what I could have done in a past life to deserve all the bad things that have hit us in the last twelve months.

The latest is a potentially very difficult problem with the ageing parents. Now I know that many people of my age are starting to face such challenges, but let me put it all into context.

I grew up in a small town in a beautiful but very isolated part of the country. We had to travel fifty miles by road to find a large hospital or decent shopping. There were few employment opportunities except farming or seasonal tourism, so it was inevitable that most sixth formers went off to university and never returned. Although my parents moved closer to civilisation on retirement, they are still about 200 miles away from both me and my sister and I only see them briefly once a year. For a number of reasons we don't have a close relationship.

But now they are struggling and they are turning to me (and my sister) for help. The sort of practical help they have never offered to us. Distance and my own circumstances mean that I can offer little day to day assistance, except finding things out and making phone calls if necessary. But I'm already feeling guilty about that, because I think they will be expecting much more. I have noted the comments that they have made in the past about other families in a similar position.

I'm planning a visit in September and will need to be on standby in case a real emergency occurs, but my health and own family have to come first. There is no point suggesting to my parents that they move closer to me, as my mother has always hated London with a passion and anyway they have many friends where they are. They live near to where my father grew up, it is his part of the world. I'm sure they will stay there, by the sea.

And in amongst all this I am slowly losing my mother, at far too young an age, to a cruel disease. Perhaps it is no coincidence that a complicated and difficult mother-daughter relationship is central to my plans for novel two.

Monday, June 28, 2010

College boy

This afternoon Hubby and I went to visit Son 2's new sixth form/further education placement for September. The ethos of the unit won't be entirely new to him, as it is part of the school he has been at for the last five years, but it is located in a separate building in a different area and has its own staff team.

The unit is in a building situated on the edge of a mainstream FE college campus and there are possibilities for a little integration for some students. A focus of the unit is on performance arts, drama and music...but it also has an IT suite and a fantastic teaching kichen, both of which will probably be much more to Son 2's taste! The students still have some literacy and numeracy lessons and get the opportunity to work towards basic OCR qualifications.

Although the premises are old and somewhat battered, probably inevitable given the autistic client group, we felt that Son 2 should be happy there. The transition will be difficult for him, but the consistent approach and teaching methods should make it easier and it will be a good preparation for adult life.

We are very lucky to have such a specialist placement for him. All we can do now is keep our fingers crossed for September.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Hive

See that fabulous new widget on the right? It links to The Hive, the new social media game for Like Bees to Honey by the lovely Caroline Smailes.

I was lucky enough to have the chance to be one of the testers of The Hive yesterday, and whilst I am far too much of a techno-numpty to explain how it works, all the details and The Hive itself, can be found here.

Go and have a play, ask a question and create a bee (mine is pink, by the way). And if you haven't read the book yet you really must, it is amazing.

Have fun and I hope to see you in my hive!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Disability benefits and the Budget

Yesterday's Budget has shown that the current Government does not understand the nature of disability or the purpose of Disability Living Allowance. The proposed changes will potentially have a wide ranging impact, especially for families of disabled children and anyone with a hidden disability or one which varies from day to day (such as MS).

DLA is not, and never has been, related to the ability to work, which is covered by Incapacity Benefit (now Employment Support Allowance). Instead DLA might contribute to the cost of special equipment, of having to take taxis, of replacing household items broken by a challenging child. It might help with the cost of a cleaner or occasional carer. The money (and associated Carer's Allowance) might enable a parent to stay at home to care for a disabled child for whom finding childcare would be very difficult. People perhaps assume that all these things are automatically provided by the NHS or Social Services. Well no, they're not, in fact most disabled people don't even have a social worker. The other truth of the matter is that many people who should be entitled to DLA don't even claim, either because they don't know about it or find the form-filling too complex.

I could write a huge blog post on all this, but Anne Wollenberg has already done so in this excellent piece for Comment is Free for the Guardian. Read it, please.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Slowing down

I seem to have hit a slow patch with the writing, where nothing is quite coming together. The words just aren't flowing, even in blog posts.

That may be because I'm very tired and have increasing family concerns on my mind at the moment. It may also be because I'm in something of a limbo, with novel one out on submission and my planning on novel two not yet complete enough for the actual writing to be started.

I've been trying to plug the gap with a short story or two, but am frustrating myself with my inability to make one particular story work. I keep taking a break and coming back to it, but it is still tantalisingly out of my grasp and a deadline is approaching.

So, ever mindful of my need to pace myself nowadays, I'm taking a step back this afternoon and watching Wimbledon...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Through The Barricades

This was one of my favourite songs of the 1980's and I've been listening to it a lot recently. That may, or may not, be writing related...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pieces of a jigsaw

I was chatting to a friend this morning and she asked what novel two is going to be about. So I started telling her about the settings, the main characters and the backstory and she became very enthusiastic. As I spoke I realised that, although I'm still short on plot detail, I do have the makings of a decent novel there.

I just can't make up my mind whether to plan this one in much more detail than novel one, or whether to start writing and let the characters show me the way. I know from novel one that this might lead to non-productive periods as I wait for the next plot twist and conflict to present itself to me, but I still have some background reading and research to do, so hopefully it will all be clearer then.

I probably just need a few more pieces of the jigsaw to fall into place before I can begin writing seriously...

Monday, June 14, 2010

Peace at last?

Son 2's half term was only two weeks (yes, I know, he gets just four weeks holiday in the summer) but it seemed endless.

It wasn't that he was particularly difficult, in fact he amused himself very well. But he was LOUD. At almost any time of day he would have the television on at one end of the room and his computer playing video clips, noisily and repetitively, at the other end. He wouldn't let us turn either off, he is indeed Mr Control Freak, and he would also 'shout' loudly and nonverbally over the top, especially if anyone was trying to talk.

I used to be able to switch off from all his noise and let it wash over me, but recently I seem to have lost that ability. Even though my desk is upstairs, the sounds are very disturbing if I leave Hubby in charge and try to work. I did escape to the library one day last week but it was full of toddlers and students on exam leave. So in the end I had to accept that the story I am writing was not going to get done during half term and I just got down to some novel research instead.

The difference today is amazing and although I normally take Son 2's first day back at school off to recover, my concentration is rapidly starting to return. Until, that is, the football is switched on and I have to suffer the drone of the vuvuzelas...

Saturday, June 12, 2010

While you were gone...

I've had a redesign, after playing around with the new Blogger templates.
What do you think? Please do let me know if you have any problems reading it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Yesterday I spent most of the day teaching at City University in London. Perhaps teaching is really too strong a word, as I'm not professionally qualified in any way to teach. But I, along with two others, spent time talking to a whole year group of student speech and language therapists about our experiences of parenting children with language and communication difficulties and helping them understand how to communicate with parent carers in their professional lives.

I've been doing these occasional sessions for about five years now and find them very enjoyable. Yesterday, as I was recounting some of our experiences to the room, it struck me how much easier it had become. Not just to speak out to so many people, but to discuss the past without getting upset. That, I think, is a measure of how far son 2 has come and perhaps also of my ability to deal with his autism.

The first year students always seem to appreciate our input. We guest speakers arrive after they've already had a short academic session and we then take turns to tell a little of our histories. After lunch the students undertake a fun written exercise in smaller groups and we circulate the room, helping them and enabling them to ask lots more questions if they wish. It works well and the students all seem to enjoy it.

As always, I was impressed by how well the students had taken in the themes under discussion and the intelligence of their questions. There is no doubt that they are all entering their chosen profession with genuine motivation. But there were also fears being expressed privately about the uncertain future of the NHS. There is already a shortage of speech and language therapists in frontline services and the future does not look bright for either therapists or service users.

Although I never had any desire to be a teacher like my father, I really do enjoy my brief forays into higher education teaching. It's fun. Maybe I actually missed my vocation somewhere!

Monday, June 07, 2010


I was on sole parental duty all weekend, so I used snatched moments to research online for novel two.

Without wanting to give too much away, the novel will be set in two cities, one of which is London and the other is a city in Europe I visited many years ago. I now need to research that city at two very specific points in the last century. It is proving a challenging and fascinating task, since for plot reasons it is critical to get certain things right before I start writing. Today I visited our small local library for more information and I'm also planning a couple of research trips into London at some point.

I didn't have to do so much research for my first novel, as the setting was fictional and the timeline wholly contemporary. But I've always had a strong interest in history, so I'm enjoying researching these elements and look forward to being able to apply creativity to them in due course.

In other news, it's still half term here for another week and I'm teaching in London on Wednesday, so my writing time will be somewhat limited. Normal service (and hopefully more interesting blog posts) will resume properly next week!

Thursday, June 03, 2010


When I was a kid my best friend used to be allergic to sticking plasters, which was highly inconvenient when first aid was required. I married a man who has a number of food related allergies, including certain types of chocolate and red wine, and on one occasion I had to take him to hospital after a severe reaction. I was always very glad that I didn't have allergies.

Then about ten years ago I developed a nickel allergy, an angry heated rash under my watch strap. I had to buy a new watch with a stainless steel strap, I can now only wear jewellery made in precious metals or steel. But that isn't too hard to live with.

Yesterday, after taking the last tablet of a seven day course of antibiotics for a sinus infection, I came up in a lumpy red rash. I took an antihistamine tablet but the rash remains today. I visited the doctor yesterday evening, who suspects that I may now be allergic to penicillin, however the only way to be certain is to see if I react when given it again.

I don't think I'll be trying that in a hurry. We have had exactly the same question hanging over Son 2 since he was a toddler and I always say he is allergic to penicillin, for safety. I'll now do the same for myself, even though it means I'll be cutting myself off from a whole family of potentially life-saving drugs, and it will be flagged in my medical records. We can't take risks, not just for him but also for me as his main carer.

In the meantime, I'm hoping this irritating rash departs soon.