“You’re NOT playing THAT…”

Many moons ago, I was a very bad violinist! I had been playing the piano since I was four years old (which I loved) and when I moved up to secondary school, I thought I might try a new instrument. I took up the violin and reached the giddy heights of Grade II (with a merit pass – go me!) but it was becoming increasingly difficult and somehow, it didn’t feel like the right instrument for me. So, I took up the ‘cello but was told it might interfere with my violin technique (oh, purleez…). I hadn’t yet mastered Bach’s violin concerto in E major (the very reason I had taken up the fiddle) not could I play Beethoven’s 5th symphony on the ‘cello (with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra playing in my headphones) so I gave them both up!

Then, a life changing thing happened. The sort of thing which happens and doesn’t hit you in the mush at the time but, when you look back at your life, you realise just how important it was. It was the day I met Derek Holvey MBE

I liked school, I loved music but I hated double physics on Mondays so I invented a tenuous reason to be away from the classroom and wandered up to the music teaching room where I had had my violin lessons on Tuesday afternoons. It was a tiny room, overlooking the school car park and netball courts and in among the many instruments and cases sat a friendly looking chap, playing a trumpet. His first student hadn’t yet arrived and he was doing a bit of practise until he/she turned up. He smiled and asked me what I wanted. I didn’t really know but I did like the sound he was making so I told him that I played the piano but had recently turned my back on a hugely successful career as a string player. Was there an instrument he thought I might be able to learn on a Monday? (I was genuinely interested but of course, it would mean missing physics every few weeks too. Method/madness etc.) He looked around the room and pointed to a rather battered looking brass instrument, it was nothing like the nice shiny trumpet he had been playing. He told me it was a flugel horn and said he could show me how to make a sound, then I would have to take it home and practise. Thrilled that I had found a legitimate way of avoiding my science lesson, I picked up the instrument and tried to make a sound. As with many learner brass players, it’s not always easy but I managed to play C D E F and G and was feeling very pleased with myself as I tucked the horn under my arm (it had no case) and hid in the girls’ loos until physics was over.

derek-holvey-mbe

I carried it around all day, took it home on the bus and grandly announced to my mother that I was learning a new instrument. She looked at it in horror, locked herself in the bathroom and shouted through the door “You are NOT playing THAT, you’ll have deformed lips!”

It wasn’t easy making a nice noise on my new toy but I persevered and eventually, my mother gave up the fight and she and my dad bought me a cornet. There was one proviso, I had to share it with my sister, Amanda but as we went to different schools, our lessons wouldn’t clash so that was fine.

I became more proficient and in February 1976, Mr. Holvey suggested I attend a residential orchestral course in Ogmore-by-Sea, near Bridgend. Mid-Glamorgan boasted its own youth choir, brass band and several orchestras including the junior, transitional and senior orchestras. This would be the ‘Trans’ course and it was such a wonderful experience, playing in a brass section behind the strings and woodwind, I worked even harder and in May, I auditioned for the senior orchestra. I was terribly nervous but I managed to play a technical study and the lyrical second movement of the Haydn trumpet concerto without wobbling too much and Mr. Francis (Mid-Glam Music Adviser and conductor of the senior orchestra) said I was playing well enough to join the senior ranks but that he didn’t think there were enough girls’ beds on the forthcoming July course. There were four two storey blocks of dormitories so it was a bit of a balancing act to fill them equally with mad keen music students of both sexes. My dad was thrilled that I’d been awarded a place in the senior orchestra but was dismayed to find I might not be able to attend the next course. He had ‘a word’ with Mr Francis and lo, I found myself sitting in a brass section of 10 trumpets, 10 trombones, 10 horns and 2 tubas. I was the only girl in the trumpet section and it was pretty scary.

The senior trumpet players would ‘ask’ me to count their bars rest while they read The Sun and when my grandparents bought me a fabulous Vincent Bach large bore Stradivarius, I would often be told to hand it down the line so they could play it while I had to cope for an hour on theirs. I put my robust immune system down to sharing the 1st trumpet section’s germs for all those years…

Playing the trumpet was so different from playing the piano. I’d been a solitary keyboard player for ten years but now, I was playing in an orchestra made up of around 150 students, ranging in age from around 14 up to full time university students in their early 20s. It was just utterly, gobsmackingly, incredibly AMAZING and I will never ever forget playing Dvorak symphony no. 8 on my first course. Even now, when I hear the opening bars, I am transported back to those sunny Ogmore July days when we played music, morning, noon and night. The last rehearsal finished at 9pm and we then had some leisure time. I attended around fifteen courses in total and back then, nobody was asked for ID in pubs so I would often be questioned by Mr. Francis during rehearsals. He would put his baton down, slide his music conducting glasses to the end of his nose and would peruse the back row of the orchestra very slowly before stopping and staring – at me…

“Miss Fiona Bennett of “Fernleigh”, Maplewood Avenue, Llandaff North, Cardiff CF4 2LZ, telephone number (0222) 566356 (I don’t suppose Data Protection was very important in the late 1970s) – was that you climbing over the wall and heading towards one of the local refreshment centres at 9.15 last night?”

(being told off by Mr. Francis was bad but being told off by Mr. Francis with 149 other music students staring at you was REALLY bad)

“Erm, no Mr. Francis”

“Are you QUITE sure it wasn’t you, Miss Bennett?”

“Erm, yes, Mr Francis”

“How old are you Miss Bennett?”

“Eighteen, Mr. Francis”

“Are you QUITE sure about that, Miss Bennett?”

“Erm, yes, Mr. Francis”

…I was always in trouble and I’m sure Mr. Holvey wished he had never clapped eyes on me at times. He (and the fantastic Mr. David Hughes) were our brass tutors on ‘The Glam’ and of course, he would have been responsible for me during the week long course. I’m so sorry for all the angst I caused you ‘Strolvey and ‘Strews, you’ll be pleased to hear that, at the grand old age of 55, I have calmed down a bit!

derek-david-fiona-and-john-glam-2016

I still play a bit. Thanks to the amazing Cerian Rolls and her dedicated ‘Glam Team’, we have enjoyed three exciting reunion concerts in Cardiff which prompted me to start playing again. I met up with (and married) my old Guildhall School of Music and Drama trumpet playing pal, John Heritage, in 2015 and we both now play with Newbury Symphony Orchestra and various brass bands.

I still wish I’d mastered the Bach E major but heck, I’ve had so much fun since I first strangled a note out of that old ‘fog horn’ so THANK YOU Derek, THANK YOU David and THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU Mr. Francis xxx

mr-francis-and-cerian

Welsh Not!

welsh-not

This is an example of the ‘Welsh Not’. Not the ‘Welsh Knot’ as one might imagine but a rather grammatically incorrect way of saying ‘Do Not Speak Welsh’. In Wales. Don’t speak Welsh in Wales. Really?

When I hear people say ‘..but everyone speaks English so why bother?’ I wonder how they might have felt if another country had invaded and taken over England. How would the parents of those children, flogged to within an inch of their lives for speaking English in school, have felt when their son or daughter came home, sporting red welts across their hands or legs? For nothing other than speaking the language of their home, the language of their parents, grandparents, siblings and neighbours? Do you think they would have said ‘Oh well, there you go! The foreigners have landed and now, we all have to speak their language so we may as well just get on with it’?

Today, an old school friend sent me a message on Facebook. It contained a blog post by another Word Press blogger called Y Gwladgarwr (The Patriot) and it highlighted some of the worst bigotry I’ve witnessed on a public website in a while. The person in question, Lucy Inglis, claims to be a historian and a novelist. She also lists TV and Radio – nothing in particular but maybe she’s hoping someone will invite her on to share her pearls of wisdom.  I do hope she is never invited to speak on BBC Radio Wales or any other station on the other side of the Severn Bridges because I’m not sure how kindly she would be welcomed given her revolting tirade on Twitter recently.

Ms Inglis claims to have spent childhood holidays in Wales and here are some of her comments:

“Wales is very beautiful but I’ve never experienced anything but rudeness there, as a child or as an adult”

“AND THEN, we had the S4C campaign, about preserving the Welsh language. Get royally f*****”

“They would switch from English to Welsh in order to exclude you, as they were buckling you up for abseiling”

“Nothing like keeping a nation in poverty by encouraging them to speak a completely intelligible (sic) language” (I think the poor lady means ‘unintelligible’, bless her…)

“Aren’t they truly horrible? I’m not sure deleting it will help. Some idiot has storified the lot and that’s what (sic) gone mad” (and now, she’s making up her own words…)

Well, what on earth did we Welsh do to upset Ms Inglis do you think? Or, maybe she was having a quiet day, not able to think of anything interesting with which to entertain her Twitter followers? Either way, if you replace every ‘Wales’ with ‘Germany’ or ‘Welsh’ with ‘Israeli’, I do wonder whether she mightn’t have had a tap at the door, asking her to come down to the police station for a little chat? Why not? Why should ignorance such as this be overlooked just because she’s taking a pop at Wales and the Welsh?

Back in the 19th century and well into the 20th century, the Welsh Not was used to oppress those whose first language was Welsh. If a teacher heard a child speaking Welsh, they would be forced to wear a piece of wood, carved with the initials ‘W N’ around their neck. If the first child heard another child speaking Welsh, they had to hand the Welsh Not to them and so on, throughout the day. The last unlucky child wearing the Welsh Not was punished at the end of the school day, often with a caning. Susan Jones, Member of Parliament for Clwyd South, claimed in 2010 that the use of the Welsh Not, including caning as the punishment, persisted in some schools in her constituency until “as recently as the 1930s and 1940s”. So, just seventy years ago, children were still smacked with a cane for speaking a language which came more naturally to them than drinking their mother’s milk.

Imagine sending your precious child into school and begging them NOT to speak the language they had spoken since birth. The language by which they lived their daily lives unless, of course, they were in school and being bullied mercilessly by teachers who were too frightened of losing their jobs to stand up to the ‘powers that be’ by taking a stand for their own mother tongue.  The purpose of the “not” was to discourage pupils from speaking Welsh, at a time when English was considered by some to be the only suitable ‘medium of instruction’. Suitable medium of instruction? Oh, purleez! I’m guessing those in charge felt undermined because they did not understand what the people were saying? Telling them speaking Welsh was wrong and hitting their children if they transgressed was the most appalling form of control. Terrified children, worrying themselves stupid all day long, in case they blurted out a word of Welsh. Now then, people who’ve told me to get over myself, have a think about that and let me know how you’d feel had they been your children.

So, if a child was in danger of hurting themselves (falling over or running into a wall) and the children around them, couldn’t quite find the correct English words in order to warn and help them so blurted out the warning in Welsh, they would be punished. Does that sound fair and right to you? Of course it doesn’t! Does this woman not realise that, in speaking Welsh to one another whilst strapping her up for her abseiling adventure, they might just have been checking with one another (in their own, everyday language), that all the safety rules had been adhered to, in order to keep her safe? Her arrogance stuns me. She says they changed to Welsh in order to upset and alienate her. Had things gone differently and we hadn’t had the language beaten out of us, maybe all people living in Wales might still be fluent and she would be the one in a ‘foreign’ country, having to speak pidgin Welsh to make herself understood. Would she think Portuguese people rude if they spoke Portuguese to one another in Portugal? No? Of course not. Why should it be ‘rude’ for Welsh people to speak Welsh to one another in Wales?

I was told, by several Facebook friends, to ignore this stupid woman, to ‘let it go’ and all would be well. Sadly, her ignorant rant really angered me and I felt compelled to write this blog post. Wales is not England and just because most people in Wales speak English does not mean we don’t value our language, our traditions and our heritage. We are a nation of poets, of musicians, of writers and I am proud to have learned Welsh as my second language (my parents are Irish), proud to have studied my O and A levels through the medium of Welsh and proud that, to this very day, I am able to speak Welsh, despite having migrated, for work purposes, over the bridge in 1987. Please don’t pat us on the head and please, have a little respect for a nation which has fought, tooth and nail, to keep its precious language alive.

Ms Inglis has deleted her thread of hateful, racist Tweets and I’m sure she’s wondering what all the fuss is about. Well, let me tell you Lucy, wars have started from insults and hatred such as yours so in future, take a deep breath and THINK about what you are writing before putting it out on Twitter for the rest of the world to read.

Cymru am byth!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s eat grandma…

FRUSTRATED WOMAN

Funny photo eh? This is how I feel when I read some of the stuff posted on FB and Twitter and I know I will be shot down in flames by the ‘If-you-can-understand-what-they’re-saying-it-doesn’t-matter’ brigade (but at least I put ‘they’re’ and not ‘their’). That’s the kind of thing I mean. Do people, these days, really not understand the difference between ‘they’re’ (they are), ‘their’ (possessive e.g. their house) and ‘there’ (over there…or, if you’re Welsh, over by there).

I left school in 1980. I attended a Welsh school i.e. most of the lessons were taught through the medium of Welsh. This can be hard to explain to those living on this side of the Severn Bridges but, for example, French was taught in Welsh. If the teacher (Dr. Ellis) wasn’t speaking French, he was speaking Welsh in class. Sadly, there were no Welsh/French text books, only English/French and so we would have to take the books home, translate the English into Welsh and then, set about learning the French translations of the Welsh words and phrases. Sounds mad doesn’t it? In fact, the standard of education in our school was incredibly high and we sent our fair quota of students to the UK’s best universities. English was, interestingly, taught in English. It was a rare time when you could speak English to a teacher without being given a ‘cosb’ (punishment) and as we all lived such a long way from our school, it was never detention but more likely to be ‘write out the school rules 100 times’. Yup, being caught speaking English was a punishable offence. Don’t ask, that’s just the way things were. I suppose if you’d chosen (or your parents had chosen for you) to attend a Welsh school and you didn’t speaka da lingo the whole time, what was the point in being there?

Anyway, I digress but suffice to say, the standard of English teaching at our Welsh school was also very high. If you were to pin me to the wall and ask me to explain how I know about language, I really wouldn’t be able to tell you. I have no idea about subjunctives or personal possessive pronouns or any of that stuff, I just know that ‘they’re’ means ‘they are’ and ‘you’re’ means you are. I once received a message from a bloke on a dating website. He wrote ‘Your a good looking girl Fi’. Well, two things darling. Don’t call me Fi unless you know me personally and if you think I’m going to go out with you, having read your abominable opening gambit, you’re very much mistaken (you’re not your, see?). I am pretty sure I don’t use commas or semi-colons correctly, I am almost convinced I wrongly put full stops inside or outside the inverted commas at the end of the sentence but on the whole, I think I write reasonably well and people say they enjoy my Facebook ramblings and are looking forward to my first book ‘Hero the Greyhound’.

I just want to chew my laptop (see above photo) when I read ‘Your welcome’ or ‘Your such a lovely friend’ and if that makes me a fuddy-duddy pedant, so be it. I titled this blog post ‘Let’s eat grandma…’ and initially left out the apostrophe in the word ‘let’s’ but I just couldn’t do it and had to add it again (let’s = let us).

Some people say they don’t care whether or not people write correctly and as long as they get the jist, they couldn’t give a monkey’s whether the spelling and grammar is correct. Txt spk is on the up, several of my fellow school mums write texts I can’t understand and have to read phonetically ‘Gr8’ and ‘c u later’ abound whereas I tend to write fully worded, grammatically correct texts (see ‘fuddy-duddy pedant’ above). It’s just the way I do things but I tell you one thing, if you think ‘Let’s eat grandma…’ looks OK without the comma, I’m glad I’m not your grandmother.

Nothing to be depressed about…

Happy poochies

“You? Depressed? What on earth have you got to be depressed about?”

Yeah, well, you see, it doesn’t really work like that. Those of you who’ve suffered Black Dog or ‘fallen into a black hole’ will know exactly what I mean. You don’t have to have been made redundant or to have realised the marriage you thought was forever, isn’t. You don’t have to be suffering empty nest syndrome or the loss of a beloved pet (although both of these can trigger the most awfully sad feelings); anyone can have depression. People who’ve taken their own lives but have been seemingly outwardly ‘fine’ and ‘normal’ are usually depressed and just can’t find the way foward and tragically, some simply don’t have the will to carry on.

I once told my GP (many years ago) that I’d had suicidal thoughts. He didn’t even look up, he just carried on writing out yet another prescription for my grotty skin tablets and said “Hasn’t everyone?” I felt surprised and also, slightly relieved to know he thought it was almost normal for me to have had such black thoughts. Of course, I have never really planned anything so dreadful but there have been moments when I’ve been so down, so confused and so depressed, I just couldn’t work out how to move on, how to get well or how to be happy. Then, as suddenly as it had descended, it went. That’s how it is with me. I get depressed and then, I’m not depressed any more. I never know when it’s going to happen and I never know when it’s going to go away again.

I’ve never asked my GP for anti depressants but you’d be amazed how many people I know who take them. They work for some people but not for others. Personally, knowing what an addictive person I am, I worry I would depend on them and never be able to give them up so if things are very bad, I buy St. John’s Wort tablets and take them twice a day until things seem a little less bleak. Bleak? Fiona? What on earth does she have to feel bleak about? Nothing really. I have a handsome, loving husband, two fabulous sons, three gorgeous ex racing greyhound girls. Both my albums are in this year’s Classic FM ‘Hall of Fame’ Top 300 (woohoo!). My parents are still alive and kicking and I have lovely friends. I don’t see them all the time but I know they’re there and I also know they would help if I needed help. I’ve never failed to feed my dogs or make dinner for my sons. I’ve never caused Zachary to miss his school bus. There are some things which HAVE to happen in my life; it’s not their fault I’m depressed after all. I have, however, been known to let the dishes pile up for several days at a time until we simply don’t have enough plates left (yes, we do have a dishwasher, don’t nag) or go back to bed after I’ve served up the dinner, pull the duvet over my head and block out the world until I get up, put the dogs out, clean my teeth and go to bed again. I have the Gift of Sleep, no two ways about it!

I am in a bit of a ‘black hole’ at the moment and the only reason I can think why is that I worked so hard to get my music voted into the Classic FM Hall of Fame (and managed to get both albums in) and now, that’s all over and I’m not sure what to do next. I don’t actually need to work (how many people would love to be able to say that?) but there is something which drives me on to be better, to achieve things, to work at something special until I feel it’s done.  The two classical albums are done and dusted and both are in the Hall of Fame so now what? I’m half way through a book called ‘Hero the Greyhound’ and I know it’s a lovely story so I do need to finish that. I have started a memoir about Zachary, his autism diagnosis and our lives during the first ten years of his school career. I started it in the mid 2000s but it just fell by the wayside. That’s also a typical trait of mine, I start something and then, it peters out before I finish it. I am feeling a bit off kilter, a bit ‘spaced out’, a bit ‘what’s the point?’ and ‘why do I bother?’ at the moment and so, I know, when the time is right and things are right, I’ll get back to it. Being older means knowing my limitations and just going with my body/mind until it all feels right again. Nevertheless, I have had those moments where you stand, staring at the skirting board, not knowing which way to walk down the hallway as you can’t think what to do next. These lines from the very sad and lovely Stephen Sondheim song ‘Losing My Mind’ say it all…

“Sometimes I stand in the middle of the floor, not going left, not going right…”

I seemingly have everything; a comfortable home, a gorgeous family and a lovely life and yet, there are times, I just want to get under the duvet and sleep until things make more sense. If you know how this feels, then I’m glad you understand. Of course, I like being happy, cheerful, upbeat and I like achieving things but just sometimes, it’s all too hard. Those who don’t know me well will be amazed to  hear any of the above stuff. I’m told my Facebook posts are funny and people enjoy reading my blog. I’m good at sounding upbeat even when things are not quite right and that is no bad thing.

So, what do I do to make things ‘better’?  I eat. In days gone by, I would probably have put away a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc but these days, I know the effect it will have. I will feel rotten and ill the next morning and nothing will be any different. So, I raid the cupboards. We keep a large bowl of cereal bars (to all intents and purposes for John. He has MS and needs to snack/eat regularly or he falls over) but once I’ve opened that cupboard, they often disappear a whole packet at a time. It doesn’t help. Well, it does but not for long. I need to shed at least a stone (or even two) and when I’m in this black mode, even knowing eating will make the problem worse, it doesn’t stop me. That’s the joy of depression, there is no rhyme nor reason to it.

It will pass. It always has and I’m sure this time is no exception. I slept for a few hours this afternoon which is a bit of a waste of time but clearly, my body needed the rest or I would have just lain there with my eyes wide open. I will now go and make dinner and then, maybe John and I will walk the poochies around the village.

Life is good, there is nothing really wrong. I just get depressed sometimes. I hope it goes away soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Classic FM Voting Poem

 

I haven’t blogged much recently. I have been on Twitter and Facebook pretty solidly for weeks on end now. Rather like I was last year although I learned one or two lessons after the 2015 Hall of Fame e.g. put the voting link in your Tweet, that way the recipient doesn’t need to go looking for it. Hashtag lots e.g. if you’re Tweeting a greyhound charity, add the #greyhounds hashtag so anyone searching for stuff about greyhounds will see your Tweet. All fairly obvious but this year, very helpful.  I have sent out hundreds (possibly thousands) of Tweets, I have targeted those I felt might be interested in my music and the fact I’d love to be voted back into the Hall of Fame for another year.

This morning, so fed up was I with all the social media stuff, I sat down and with the tune ‘My Way’ in my head, wrote this little ditty. Promise to sing it out loud when you read it and if you have already voted for The New Lady Radnor Suite and A Country Suite – THANK YOU SO VERY VERY MUCH! xxx

 

The Classic FM Hall of Fame 2016 Voting Poem – by Fiona Bennett

**dum dum dum dum duuum duuuum, dum dum dum dum duuum duuum**

So now, the end is near

The Hall of Fame will close the voting

It would be such a shame

To find the others are all gloating

To know I’ve not got in

To hear bad news would bring such dread in

To find that I have failed

Would – do – my – head – in

 

I’ve sat at my PC

My RSI is very painful

I’ve sent so many Tweets

It may not work, that would be shameful

I’ve called, I’ve mailed, I’ve begged

I’ve asked you all to put your votes in

To find there’s nothing there

Would – do – my – head – in

Chorus

For what is a song, what does it do?

Would life be empty, is it true?

Without my tunes, would I be sad?

Would life be really all that bad?

Does Heaven know, how far I’d go

To write – a – good – tune?

 

So now, it’s almost time

Classic FM will close its curtains

If you don’t vote for me

Then I won’t win – of this I’m certain

I’ve handled it quite well

I’ve had my picture in the paper

So now, it’s down to you

Vote – so – I’m – safer

Chorus

For what is a song, what does it do?

Would life be empty, is it true?

Without my tunes, would I be sad?

Would life be really all that bad?

Does Heaven know, how far I’d go

To – write – a – good – tune?

xxx

The Undiscovered Workforce

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My Zachary is 14 years old. He was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4. His diagnosis was revised when his dad and I sought a second opinion and so highly did he score in his non-verbal reasoning tests e.g. block building, puzzles, putting pictures into the right order, his diagnosis was revised and we were given a glimmer of hope when the specialists told us he had ‘high functioning’ autism.

The past ten years have been hugely challenging at times although as Zachary matures, his speech/language and social skills have improved and I no longer need to monitor every single piece of homework or sit with him while he works. I can wave him off and know he will meet me in the pizza restaurant and not vanish into thin air and I am thankful he has friends in school who genuinely seem to like him and enjoy his company. Having said that, I was present during one of Zachary’s ‘Did You Know?’ dinosaur onslaughts and could see the other boy’s face glazing over. Eventually, I managed to gently move Zachary away from the topic and seeing the other boy heave a huge sigh of relief, asked “Was he doing your head in?” The boy simply nodded, not realising how difficult it can be for the mum of an autistic and rather obsessive child, to know her precious son can drive others to distraction if they don’t have the same interests.

When Z was younger, it could be frustrating if I said something along the lines of “Don’t forget your jacket sweetie” only to be told (every single time) “It’s not a jacket Mummy, it’s a blazer” or “How were your pals today?” (meaning school friends) to be told “They’re not pals, they’re friends; the Pals are in my bedroom” (Zachary had a huge array of fluffy toys and we would refer to them as The Pals; Z’s brother, Dominic, used to tell Z a bedtime Pals’ Story and the shrieks of laughter still ring around my mind now – good times!).  The moral of this story is that, when dealing with someone on the autism spectrum, you must always call a spade a spade and never a shovel as they will invariably correct you and this, in turn, will drive you, not them, mad!

So, imagine you are a company boss and you have an employee who turns up on time every day, takes one ten minute tea break, exactly one hour for lunch, never faffs about on Facebook during work hours and works right up until the clock strikes five. Someone who enjoys routine and ‘knowing where they’re at’, a person who thrives upon, rather than detests, repetition (repetition is safe, you know what’s coming next and it won’t scare you by doing something different). Of course, it’s not all plain sailing when dealing with someone who finds it difficult to look you in the eye when you’re speaking to them or someone who might need to take a ‘sensory break’ from the overhead fluorescent lighting every hour. Some people with autism actually wear headphones to block out unsettling noise e.g. traffic, people chattering, music. I am, of course, generalising and that well known saying “Once you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism” comes to me whenever people look at me with sympathy when I tell them Zachary is autistic. They immediately imagine someone flapping their arms and making loud unintelligible noises, a far cry from my articulate, highly intelligent and very funny son.

“People with autism and Asperger syndrome often have numerous (and sometimes exceptional) skills which enable them to make excellent employees. As well as their individual abilities, some traits associated with autism can, when well channelled, be a considerable benefit in the workplace. For example, many people with autism are good at paying close attention to detail and are meticulous about routines, rules and accuracy – meaning they are often extremely reliable, and can excel at jobs such as accounting, where consistent procedures and precision are vital. Other people with autism enjoy repetitive tasks (whether basic or complex) and perform very well in fields such as IT or administration” (source: http://www.mmu.ac.uk/equality-and-diversity/disability/the_undiscovered_workforce.pdf)

I know other ‘autistic mums’ who insist their child looks them in the eye when they are speaking to them and I try very hard to explain that this is not because they are being rude or ill-mannered. I noticed a long time ago, when testing Zachary on school work, once I’d asked the question, he would immediately turn his head away before answering. I now know he was ‘seeing’ the answer, whether written in his book or just in his head, he couldn’t look at my face AND think about the answer at the same time. I once heard it explained beautifully, by a teenager on the spectrum “It’s not that I don’t want to look at you when you’re speaking, I have to look away in order to SEE what you’re saying”. Autism brings many challenges, many of which are sensory. Bright lights, loud noise, scratchy labels just inside the neck of your jumper can all drive someone with ASD potty and so, they have to find ways around the every day challenges we don’t find any bother at all. For some, looking at someone’s face AND listening to their voice is overload, meaning they can only really focus on one of the two which is why they choose to listen rather than look.

I could write a book about Zachary, his autism and our journey since his diagnosis in 2006. It has been hard going, frustrating but at times, hysterically funny. I tell you what though, if I say “Shower at 8.30 please sweetie”, John and I will hear ‘clump, clump, clump’ as my 13 stone teenager moves around his room and heads to the shower and you can guarantee, come 9pm, he will be in bed with the lights switched off. I adore him and I give a wry smile when I remember the friend who told me God had sent me Zachary for a reason. I think he may have been right!