A word of advice for my sons…

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And so, as my two fabulous sons head towards manhood (faster than I could ever have imagined), I wonder what advice I will give them when they marry or move in with the young lady of their choice?

Will it be ‘Don’t ever forget her birthday’? or maybe ‘Make sure you always buy an enormous Valentine’s Day card, to show her how much you love her’?

Perhaps I’ll veer toward the soppy and sentimental side with ‘Put little Post-It notes inside her shoes so she’ll find them when she’s getting dressed in the morning’ or ‘Hide the engagement ring inside a box of chocolates’ (I don’t think I would advise putting said blingy ring at the bottom of a glass of fizz, we don’t want my future daughters-in-law choking to death before they enjoy their trips up the aisle).

If my sons and their partners are blessed with the patter of tiny feet, I might recommend they take their fair share of nappy changing duties seriously, allowing Mum to put her feet up and rest. Or I could suggest they pencil in a ‘date night’ once a month while Grandma Fiona babysits and wonders how on earth she managed to have children in her late 30s, got them to fly the nest in time for her to have a bit of a life before she pops her clogs and THEN had to start all over again with the lullaby-singing, tepid bathing, tickling and bedtime story thing…

I might tell them how important it is that the lady in their life knows how much she is valued, how special she is and just how vital it is to keep the flame alive, the romance burning and those vital ‘just the two of us’ times special.

I could give them the age old nugget ‘Never let the sun go down on an argument’ or ‘Always kiss and make up before you go to sleep’ because things fester and can seem so much worse in the morning if at least one of you hasn’t tried to make amends over a squabble.

Or, I could give them the most valuable piece of advice ever passed down from mother to son…

Beside the loo, there is a funny brush thing and a bottle of cleaning fluid – use it!

TOILET BRUSH

 

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I don’t know how you do it…

 

It’s funny, now that Zachary is almost 14 and growing up to be a fine young man, I don’t really remember the difficulties of the early years. Well, I do but given how difficult it was at times, I don’t have terribly vivid memories of each and every year as it happened. It’s all become a bit of a fuzz (oh…Happy New Year BTW xx)

“I don’t know how you do it…” is a phrase I’ve heard more than once since 2006, the Year of the Diagnosis and I’ve never really had an answer because I don’t know how I did it either, I just did.

Zachary Christopher Rae was a much wanted second child. Dominic knows I was not planning to have children but he also knows that having him and his younger bro’ has been the most amazing thing ever to have happened to me (and I’ve sung with Barry Manilow at the Albert Hall so that’s saying something). When I visited my GP to discuss my dates, he laughed his head off. When I asked why, he explained Zachary was due on my 40th birthday. He very kindly popped out two weeks early but still, most people have teenagers or even grown up children by the time they are 40. Not me. I’m now almost 54 and still have a few years left on the school run.

The story of Zachary’s diagnosis is quite a long drawn out one so I won’t blog you to death about it all but suffice to say, between the delayed speech and language, hitting anyone who took his toys (because he simply didn’t have the vocal skills to tell them not to), lying down in the middle of the pavement, screaming at the top of his voice (still not quite sure why he did this), kicking me in the head if I bent over to pick up a toy from the car floor (probably just because he could), asking to watch the same programmes/films over and over and over again, wanting to eat the same foods over and over and over again (no change there then) and the endless explaining to other parents why Zachary had hogged the swing/ball pit/slide for an hour, it was an interesting few years. Two friends had spotted things about Zachary they felt should be investigated but I had pooh-poohed them; there was NO WAY ON EARTH my son was autistic, don’t be so daft.

But he is. And he always will be. He towers above me now, I am 5ft 2 ins and he is about 5ft 10ins.  He weighs 12 stone and I can’t make him eat his peas/do his homework if he’s not in the mood. I used to be able to pick him up and fling him over my shoulder if things weren’t going well but now, I have to negotiate. Thankfully, his speech and language have come on in leaps and bounds and he recently won an award for his Halloween Poem in school. I am so proud of him, I’ve added it to this blog.

I love Zachary to the ends of the earth but that doesn’t mean life isn’t difficult with him at times. He likes what he likes and woe betide anyone trying to take him out of his comfort zone or make him go to a restaurant he doesn’t like because he once had a sub-standard pizza. Just as well he isn’t a food critic. Autism is a fascinating condition and increasingly, people know more about it but there are still times I notice people can’t quite fathom this enormous boy with the very loud voice who has a really rather charming and inimitable way of putting across his feelings and opinions. Those who do know him are usually very fond of Zachary and thankfully, he has always been popular in school. This is not always the case and my heart bleeds for my fellow parents whose children are bullied and ostracised. It must be so awful to know other children don’t understand your child and don’t include them in playground activities.

So, there you go. My first 2016 blog post and I’ve barely scratched the surface of ‘the A word’. I wish you all a happy, healthy 2016 and I hope to keep blogging at you for another year. Fiona xxx (don’t forget to read Zachary’s wonderful poem – here it is..)

Witches’ Brew

Tongue of a rabid, grizzly bear

Ear of a ferocious, flea bitten hare

Twelve year old dusty alcohol

A sinful man’s black soul

 

Metal from an ancient, cursed blade

Bones from a murder that has just been made

A snake’s scaly head from Medusa herself

The burnt toe of a man born with wealth

 

A drop of water from the Tsunami of Japan

Seven drops of blood from an HIV man

The throat and teeth of a complete liar

The sinful man’s skull burned in his own fire

 

The oldest fang of a raging dragon

Ancient oak wood of an old man’s wagon

A thirty two year old filthy diaper

Venom from the corpse of a young viper

 

Fossilized egg of a baby wyvern

Piece of a ginormous, half chopped worm

Rib of a homeless man, died of starvation

The sinful thoughts of an entire nation

 

Evil, death, poison and sin

Let mankind’s dark times begin

 

 

 

You did what..?

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I am good at some things. Now then, let me see, what are they..?

I am a good mum (mostly); my sons will never remember me for my creative culinary skills and whenever I start the sentence ‘Shall I cook you some stir fry or shall we ..?’ they both invariably end the sentence with ‘..go to the pub’. I really don’t like cooking. I am a vegetarian and as my husband, John, recently pointed out ‘No wonder you find cooking such a chore, nobody eats the same things in your house’. Funny that, I hadn’t thought about it in that way, I just thought I hated cooking!

I like to think I’m a good friend (you’d have to ask my friends about that obvs) and as I get older, I always try and see the other point of view. For example, if someone seemed grumpy or tetchy with me, in my 20s/30s I would probably have taken it very personally and had an argument or avoided them for a while. These days, if someone is ‘out of sorts’ I usually try and find out whether something else is bothering them. I have been guilty of getting mad with the boys when, in fact, it has been someone else annoying me but they weren’t around for me to shout at. I hasten to say, I always apologise to the boys for these incidents! This all makes me sound very ‘holier than thou’ which I am not but the good thing about being in my 50s (if anything) is hindsight, some wisdom, slightly more patience and to be honest, I just can’t be bothered to get in a tizzy about things these days.

I am a pretty good musician. I play the piano, I sing, I write music, I play the trumpet/cornet and other than my children/husband/parents/poochies, music is THE most important thing in my life. And chocolate. And champagne. Just a minute, someone has hacked my blog…

From time to time, I do something which is so daft, it amazes me, amuses my children and stuns those blessed with the tiniest modicom of common sense. It usually revolves around numbers/sums/maths, not my forte I’m afraid. Dominic and Zachary are both good at maths and science and my lack of numerical ability leaves them both scratching their heads because they can’t understand why I can’t understand things. One time, we parked in town and as I walked back to the car, cursing and moaning, having bought my ticket, 11 year old Dominic asked ‘What’s wrong?’

‘Well’ I said, grumpily ‘those robbing so-and-sos have put up the car parking fee by a whole 20 percent’

‘Really?’ he asked, interested because he likes sums ‘so how much was it before?

‘It was 80p for an hour and now, it’s a WHOLE POUND’

‘Ah, so in fact, they have put it up by 25 percent’

‘No, 20 percent’

‘No mother, think about it. If you divide 80 pence by four, what do you get?’

‘Erm, 20p…I think’

‘Exactly. And they have put up the fee by 20p so that means a 25% increase because 25% of 80p is 20p’

‘What? Oh for goodness sake….well….well…good, I’m glad that posh education your father is funding is going to good use’.

I just don’t get it. I just can’t do it. I look at Zachary’s homework and my brain just frazzles, turns to scambled egg and goes into meltdown so I have to console myself with being a nice mum, a good friend, a loving wife and a lovely dog adopter. We have three. I only meant to get one. See how bad I am at maths?

I once went on holiday to South Africa and then, travelled up to the Victoria Falls on a posh train. There were dozens of young men at the train station, all hoping to be the ones to transport our luggage to the various hotels. I called one over and told him where I was staying. He duly plonked my cases on his makeshift wooden trolley and said he would meet me in Reception. Having used the SA rand for two weeks, I had to work out how much the Zimbabwean dollar was worth and then, give him a tip. I carefully counted out the money and handed it to him with a big ‘Thank you’. He looked down and didn’t seem too chuffed at all. When I had checked in, I asked the concierge how much the currency was worth. He smiled and told me I had tipped him the equivalent of about 8pence. Oops! I dashed back to the train station and managed to find him. I gave him a much better tip and was rewarded with a huge smile but that is just typical of me, I can’t do sums to save my life.

The daftest sums related thing I’ve ever done also involved a car park ticket machine. I bought myself an hour of time so, in went the pound and out came a ticket saying my time would be up at 13.00. I collected my shopping bags from the car and then, it hit me, I had an appointment in town and would need longer than an hour’s parking. So, I went back to the machine and put in another pound. The ticket slid out and guess what? It said my time would be up at 13.01. I had spent another pound and bought myself another minute of parking time…

You couldn’t make it up, could you?

I HATE SHOPPING!!

CUSTOMERS IN SALES

I sometimes wonder whether I am female. Most blokes seem to think we girls LOVE to shop. For shoes, handbags, make up, clothes. Some think we just like to shop for shopping’s sake and don’t really care what we buy.

Well, I might be a little off the wall here but I really don’t enjoy shopping at all. I hate shopping for clothes but suspect that is because I am not at all happy with the way I look right now; maybe if I lost a stone/two stone/three stone I would relish trying on lots of clothes, taking them back, trying on loads more, taking them back…but right now, I would rather rifle through my wardrobe and find something suitable to wear to an event than buy anything new.

I just don’t enjoy the process. I’ve heard some women enjoy the buying/paying/taking things home to try on again. I don’t even enjoy shopping for food although, granted, it is much more fun when John and I go together. I only buy food so my sons and dogs won’t starve.

I do understand why, if you really need a new TV, bed, gadget, you would save up and buy it at exactly the right time e.g. January sales but this business of counting down to Black Friday (even its name gives me the shudders) is becoming a little crazy, wouldn’t you agree? People trampling over one another to get that last bargain, people fighting  because they saw someone push into the queue. Oh, the queue. I understand there will be some queuing up overnight, in near freezing temperatures, just to bag something they feel they absolutely MUST have.

So, how ’bout, this Black Friday, going for a walk, going to visit an elderly neighbour, inviting some friends over for coffee, making those phone calls to people you’ve been putting off? How about you look around at what you have and wonder whether you really NEED to spend pots of cash on something you probably wouldn’t have given the time of day had it not been for the endless advertising for Black Friday?

Someone once pointed out to me that a bargain was only a bargain if you really NEEDED it. Buying something just because it’s on a special offer isn’t always as fulfilling as one might hope. I have heard of silly people who go shopping, buy things, never wear them and then, donate them to charity shops. Oh wait, that was me…

What’s important? Well, in my life (and in no particular order although I’ll let you guess) – my husband, my sons, my three rescue greyhounds, my parents, my friends, my health and the blessings I count each and every day. I have a TV, it might not be the most up to date one but it works and I can watch Coronation Street on it with subtitles (my hearing isn’t great). I have a laptop, it’s a few years old but it works and it enables me to keep up with the world and in touch with my friends via social media. My mobile phone is a couple of years old, it works well enough despite the cracked screen (I took a tumble, one day in town and haven’t got around to having the screen fixed so poor John looks a bit wrinkly at the moment, when he smiles out at me from the screen!). I am able to walk my dogs for miles and miles each day because I am relatively fit and healthy.  For someone in a wheelchair or not able to walk long distances, I bet that would be on their wish list.

So, by all means, queue up for hours or overnight, max out your credit cards, spend money you don’t have but once the rush and chaos is over, look around, enjoy what nature has given us for free and have a great weekend!

The Nativity chickum…

ZACHARY PINEWOOD PIC NO. 3

Zachary has high functioning autism. He was diagnosed at the age of 4 years and 3 months and it was the blackest day of my life. We knew he had speech and language problems during the early years i.e. he didn’t say much at all but we thought things might improve. When he was three and a half, I panicked and realised we only had a year to get him ready for school.

Post diagnosis, the prep school Dominic attended simply told us ‘Sorry, we can’t cater for special needs, you’ll be better off in the state system’. We didn’t have a Plan B but a friend said he’d heard Cheam School had had some success with a little girl who had autism. We rang the pre-prep department, left a message and their head teacher called me back. Marion Scott Baker seemed very interested in meeting Zachary and so, Z’s dad and I arranged to take him over. We made sure he had his favourite Transformer and small box of Lego as we knew he wouldn’t say much and needed some sort of entertainment while we chatted to Mrs Scott Baker.

Thankfully, Z was having a good day. When I say a ‘good day’, I mean, he got into the car, didn’t scream a lot, didn’t kick me in the head when I bent down to retrieve toys from the car floor, didn’t lie on the ground refusing to move (hard to imagine now that he’s capable of walking into Pizza Express, asking for a table, ordering the drinks and starters and waiting for us all to arrive). I crossed my fingers and said some prayers.

Z sat on the floor, playing with his Lego and his enormous Transformer. Marion watched with interest and eventually said that, she’d noticed he had very good ‘making’ skills. His speech and language were practically zilch but he did make amazing things with building blocks and Lego. This is very common among autistic boys, they don’t say much but boy they make up for it with their other, non-verbal skills. Zachary was taken over to the pre-prep where he instantly became the most popular boy on the planet and apparently had every boy following him around for the rest of the visit, wanting to play with Optimus Prime. The visit went well and Marion offered Zachary a place in the Reception class, starting in September 2006. I wanted to KISS her!  I was absolutely over the moon, ecstatically happy that she was prepared to take a punt on our rather silent, unpredictable son and give him a chance. The proviso was that we had to provide a 1:1 Learning Support Assistant to be with Zachary, throughout the school day; we agreed and so Marion said she would begin advertising immediately.

Z started school, it was difficult at times. Some people didn’t know much about autism and his silent, black and white take on the world took a little more understanding but, on the whole, things were going swimmingly. If he appeared to be struggling in class, Tracy (his support assistant) would take him out and do something different with him so as not to disrupt the other children. One day, at pick up time, one of the mums asked if I was Zachary’s mum. The first thought, whenever anyone asked that, was ‘Oh no, what’s he done now?’ but in fact, she wanted to tell me that her son and his friends in Year 2 thought Zachary was amazing and used to get out all the Lego and other toys at break, just so they could watch him create something fantastic. He was becoming a pre-prep celebrity! One day, it was announced his teacher was expecting a baby and I think the words were ‘Mrs So-and-So has a baby in her tummy’. He approached her, looking very worried and uttered the now immortal words ‘You ATE a baby?’

Christmas was looming and the staff started organising the Nativity play. They appointed two very accomplished young actors to play Mary and Joseph, a group of boys and girls were given the role of the shepherds, they chose three splendid kings and all was taking shape. What would Zachary be, I wondered and would he cope with the excitement and total change of scene that day?

Zachary was the chicken. No, I didn’t know there was a chicken in the Nativity either (or as we know call it ‘chickum’; Zachary couldn’t pronounce his favourite meal but he could say ‘chickum’ so that’s what we now buy when out shopping).

I sat in the audience, on red alert as ever. Anything could go wrong. He might flip, he might wander off, he might refuse to take part, he might give Joseph (or worse, Mary) a bunch of fives if she annoyed him or took his distraction toy from him. The play began, it was fantastic. Lovely costumes, great acting and then, on came Zachary. Think Big Bird from Sesame Street and you’ll know what I mean. Z has always been quite ‘cuddly’ and he was a real vision. A bright yellow feathered chicken wandering around the stage, oblivious to the content of the play.  His LSA sat in the audience, close to the stage but she had to let him be, they needed to know he could be trusted to take part in things without someone breathing down his neck the whole time.

Well, after he had wandered around the stage, strutting just like a chicken, waved up at his dad and me in the balcony, hidden himself behind Joseph and Mary, peeping across to see if we could see him, he decided he would walk back and stand behind the three kings. Some of the other mums and dads had seen him (trust me, you couldn’t miss him) and it was clear, he was causing quite a bit of merriment but I didn’t want the other children to be upset that he had upstaged them so I pretended not to see him and watched the play intently.

After the play had ended, all the parents met for coffee and mince pies. I could hear the mums and dads saying ‘Did you see the chicken? Wasn’t he hilarious? Especially when he started picking his beak…’

I am going to copy and paste the link to this blog post and send it to Marion Scott Baker. Zachary is now a strapping 5ft 11ns 13 year old lad. He is still in mainstream school, studying French, German, science, maths, English, music, drama and he is a very good drummer. He is regularly complimented on his handwriting (thank you Mrs Moore in Year 3!). Marion and her wonderful pre prep team gave Zachary the best possible start and I will always be indebted to her. Thank you Marion and thank you Cheam School.

Pushing children uphill…

 

“Erm…there’s something I want to tell you…erm…erm, it’s like this…erm, erm…I want to give up the piano”

KABOOOOOOOOM!

That last sound was my father, hitting the roof, not a pretty sight!

It was 1975; I had been having piano lessons since 1966 and I had reached that point of ennui, it just didn’t excite me any more. Learning new pieces didn’t float my boat.  The main reason for this was, I never learned any new pieces, ever.

When I began piano lessons at the tender age of 4, I LOVED them. I loved playing tunes, I loved the little bits of theory my teacher set me each week, I loved the fact she presented me with two chocolates at the end of every lesson (one for me, one for my sister; my sister, mysteriously, never received any) and I just LOVED playing the piano. I took my first exam at the age of 6 and passed with Distinction. Go me!

This all took place in a tiny little village on the Isle of Anglesey, Llanddaniel and not only did I begin learning the piano, it was also the beginning of a life long love affair with the Welsh language. My folks are Irish and I have absolutely no Welsh blood but those early days have stood me in good stead and, despite moving to Berkshire in 1990, I am still fairly fluent and can chat to anyone in Welsh.  Not much use if they are Russian but hey…

So, we moved back to my home town, Cardiff in the early 1970s and once Amanda and I were settled in school, my parents found me a new piano teacher. He was a sweet old soul and we set about learning the Grade 3 Associated Board syllabus. I passed with Distinction. All was calm, all was bright.

I passed Grade 5 with Merit. Not so good. We had studied the same three pieces, scales and arpeggios for a whole year and I was so sick of Beethoven’s sonata in G minor, I wanted to burn it on a bonfire. So, I girded my loins, took a deep breath and broached the subject of NOT playing the piano ever again with my father.  As I said before…’KABOOOOOOM’.

Des (I have called him Des since I was a teenager, everyone calls him Des) was not best pleased, to put it mildly and this was because he knew I was good. He knew I had potential, he knew if he let me give up the piano, I would regret it forever. He was right. So, after the ‘KABOOOOOOM’, we talked a bit. Well, he talked and I listened. Then, one day, at the recording studio where he recorded bands, orchestras, choirs and anyone who wanted to make music, he got chatting to two brothers, one was a trumpet player and one was a pianist.

“Who would you recommend to teach my daughter the piano?” he asked, during the coffee break.

In the blink of an eye, the piano playing brother said “Mary Rees, she teaches at the Castle”. The (now) (Royal) Welsh College of Music and Drama was situated within Cardiff Castle at the time, hence it was known as ‘The Castle’. My dad arranged a meeting/audition with Mary at her beautiful home and I gazed in wonder at her four grand pianos. Four? Gosh, I could only dream of owning one.

“So, what are you going to play for me?” asked Mary. She was so kind to me, I felt nervous but at ease with her.

“Erm, I thought I might play Beethoven’s Sonata in G minor” (fair play, I didn’t know anything else)

“Off you go them” so, off I went. In G minor.

I had my first lesson with Mary in January 1976. Within four years, she took me from Grade 5 (with Merit) to diploma standard. I was awarded my LTCL (Licentiate of Trinity College London) performer’s diploma and I returned to the upper sixth with letters after my name. Chuffed? Just a lot.

Mary changed my life. She was a second mum to me during the tough O level and A level years, she listened, she commiserated if I hadn’t had time to practise much because I’d had too much English homework. Although I dedicated ‘A Country Suite’ to my mum and dad, I gave Mary a very special mention.  She died recently and I was devastated, both for her wonderful husband, Frank and for myself and all her other students, who also loved her dearly.

I eventually moved to London to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama but there are times I think my playing might have improved to a greater level had I stayed in Cardiff with Mary. She told me, some years ago, that she had missed me terribly when I left her in 1980 but didn’t tell me because she didn’t want to make me feel bad. What might have happened had I stayed and studied with her full time, we will never know but I do know one thing, she was the right teacher at the right time and she really did change my life.

Thank you Mary xxx

Better To Be Born Lucky Than Rich…

THIS YEAR CHRISTMAS SONG COVER

“It’s better to have been born lucky than rich” said my dad. Many many times during my growing up years. Every time something good happened to me, he would give me the thumbs up, smile and say these very words and I think he may have a point.

What’s the point in being wealthy if you are poorly, in pain, have lost someone special or are unhappy? They do say it’s nicer to be unhappy being driven around in a limo than driving a clapped out old banger but in fact, some of the people in my life have very little but seem extremely happy. I know wealthy people who buy people’s attention and friendship, I do wonder whether, if the money dried up, those so called friends would still stick around.

So, am I lucky? I should say so. I have two fantastic sons and despite the black days of Zachary’s autism diagnosis, we have come on in leaps and bounds, he is in mainstream school, is a great little drummer, wins many commendations for his work and all in all, things couldn’t be better.  Dominic is now 17, growing up so quickly.  He passed his driving test, attained his 1st Dan black belt for karate, has a lovely young lady and some very nice friends. My husband, John, arrived back in my my life in April this year, we hadn’t seen one another since 1982 and were both surprised to find the other was footloose and fancy free so we met up and married within three months. He’s gorgeous, I am very happy. My parents are in good health so all in all, I couldn’t be happier and I feel blessed every day of my life.

What’s missing?  I’ll tell you what’s missing shall I? Just a teensy weensy bit of recognition for my musical abilities. My fantastic army of Facebook friends and supporters voted three of my classical piano tracks into the Classic FM Hall of Fame chart this year (nos. 154, 273 and 299) but sadly, the station says they won’t play them. I can’t hold a gun to their heads so I’m being positive and looking for another avenue.  The other day, I had a minor brainwave and found the recording of ‘This Year’, a Christmas love song I’d co written in 1997. I had a listen and it sounded quite good so I got online and began the process of uploading the song to the internet stores such as iTunes and Amazon downloads.

The song was written because my friend, Ruth Graham, and I subscribed to a monthly magazine called ‘Songlink’ which told of people in the music biz who might be looking for new songs. Allegedly Barbra Streisand wanted a new Christmas song so Ruth and I gathered around the old joanna and within a few hours, had written ‘This Year’. An unusual collaboration for me, I usually write all the music and someone else writes the lyrics but we both pitched in and wrote both music and words together.  We duly sent it off to Babs’s management but I guess it ended up in the circular file on the floor? I registered it with the Performing Right Society and all the other publishing and mechanical societies and we recorded it on my album ‘More Than I Believe’. I performed it on Welsh telly (in Welsh obvs) and it had a few spins on BBC Radio Wales/Cymru but then, it was put away.

I am hoping it will be available online in the next week or so and then, all systems go to promote it. If I never made a penny out of my music, I would just so love for people to hear it. This Year seems to have grabbed the imagination of those who’ve heard it and some of my newer Twitter pals have muttered things like ‘Radio 2/No. 1’ but I can only dream!

So, if it’s better to have been born lucky than rich, I am doing very very well indeed. A Christmas No.1 isn’t much to ask for though, is it? 😉