The Hidden Village of Aspergers

January 20, 2015

Falling In Love Again

 It’s neither blunt nor bland
It’s Edward Scissorhands
It’s naughty and sublime
Like the Bride of Frankenstein

Anyone who expects all blended families to be like the Brady Bunch is in for a world of disappointment. Sometimes they’re more like the warring clans of the Naruto universe, or characters from Shameless. I’ve been in two. The first time around, I was miserable and felt like I didn’t belong among the horde of new relatives. The second time around, it worked. Both families clicked.

I won’t go into details about my stepbrother and stepsister, in order to protect their privacy, except to say that both are in their teens. He’s a breakdancer and choreographer in the making, she’s into acting and singing. They are two wonderful kids. They’ve been very kind and supportive towards my mum and her alcoholism, and neither of them were freaked out when I had a meltdown in Germany in 2012. I feel more comfortable around then than I do around my last set of stepsiblings, who I didn’t get and who never got me.

When my mum announced in 1995 that she and her then boyfriend were going to get married, I cried. I was angry with her and accused her of replacing Dad. It was only two years after he’d died and I didn’t feel ready at all for a new father figure in my life. I’ve never coped well with change, and having to take on a new family, three new stepsiblings and various extended family, was a lot to deal with. But I learned to like her boyfriend, and to swallow my sadness and try and look on the positive side of things – at least Mum was happy. None of us knew at the time how things were going to turn out. I read Anne Fine’s Goggle-Eyes a lot around that time, as I identified with Kitty, the heroine. She too was the daughter of a right-on feminist mother with a background in CND, and she too was having to get used to a new man in her mother’s life, who was older and more conservative. (The only difference was that Kitty’s parents were divorced, while my mum was a widow.) She learned to get on with him eventually, and I hoped it would be the same for me, and it was, at first. With my brother, it was a different story. He and my ex-stepdad hated each other, and I am not using that word lightly.

To cut a long story short, my mum and my ex-stepdad split up in 2008. It had been coming for a while. My brother wasn’t bothered, but I was, because it was another big change, and because I was more ambivalent about my ex-stepfather; after all, he’d taken me to a Sheffield Wednesday match (I’d wanted to go to one for ages), he’d been kind to me at my maternal gran’s funeral and when he found out I was cutting myself, and when I came out as bisexual, he was totally fine with it. But little things started to dawn on me; he’d never come to visit me while I was at university, for instance, and he’d seemed fairly unconcerned about me when Mum had told him I’d be upset about the divorce. He cast me and my brother off like so much trash, and that hurt. I eventually cut all ties with him in 2009, and haven’t looked back.

Mum started dating again after they split up, mainly guys off the internet, though nothing came of it. Then I found out she’d been in touch with Richard, an old boyfriend of hers from university who she stayed friends with after the split. We’d visited him a few times when my brother and I were kids, and I always remembered him as the Tintin Man because of all the Tintin stuff he had – books, figures, and so on. He’d split up with his wife and he and Mum had been phoning and emailing each other. Eventually, one thing led to another and they got back together. I wasn’t upset this time, just relieved that Mum was happy and that it was someone we knew this time.

Richard became more a part of my life as the years went by, and now it’s 2015 and he and Mum are living together (have been since 2013), and my stepbrother’s at Bournemouth and my stepsister’s in Sixth Form, and they’re talking about getting married, and we had our third Christmas together last month (although the stepsiblings were at their mum’s, so I missed them this time). This time round, I’m prepared. For a start, I’m older and I already know what it’s like to be in a blended family, but also, I’ve had years to get to know my new stepfamily, and this change isn’t scaring me. Plus, we’re not living together, so we’re not in each other’s faces. OK, I did have a bit of a wibble when Mum moved down south, mainly because I would miss her old house and because I couldn’t just hop on a train whenever I was in a crisis (Manchester to Cambridge is three and a half hours’ journey, at least). Unlike my previous stepfamily, I feel like I belong. I don’t feel I have to pretend to be something I’m not. They knew what they were taking on, and Christmas isn’t the awkwardly formal and overcrowded occasion it was with my last stepfamily.

I’m not angry with Mum for marrying my ex-stepdad. She was getting over my dad’s death and she was lonely and unhappy and none of us knew what an utter douchebag he was going to turn out to be. What’s past is past. For all those other people with Aspergers in blended families, though, I hope you get stepfamilies who love and understand you and don’t treat you like some kind of embarrassment. Change is hard, new people coming into your life and staying there is hard, but it’s a bonus if they’re new people you can get along with.

September 26, 2014

Attack of the Mutant 50 Foot Kebab

When your starving pitbull starts to eat your leg
You have to watch your children beg and beg

TW: eating disorders

In December this year, I’m going to see the Manic Street Preachers playing their third album, The Holy Bible, in its entirety. It’s one of my favourite albums of all time. However, there is one bit I’m dreading, and that’s when they play ‘4st 7lb’, a song about anorexia which contains lyrics such as ‘I want to walk in the snow and not leave a footprint’ and ‘Mother tries to choke me with roast beef, but sits savouring her sole Ryvita’. If you look up the song on Youtube, you’ll find dozens of ‘thinspo’ videos set to the song. What Richey Edwards, an anorexic himself, would have thought, I do not know; the song, if anything, is anti-anorexia. The lyrics are filled with horror and despair under the ‘isn’t anorexia great?’ exterior. The girl in the song hates food. She doesn’t see it as comforting, warm, nourishing, delicious, even healthy; it is her enemy. At the beginning of the song, there is a sample of Caraline Neville-Lister, a severely anorexic woman who eventually died of the disease, saying, “I eat too much to die, and not enough to stay alive. I’m sitting in the middle, waiting.” When I was younger, I envied the ‘discipline’ of anorexics; now I look back and cringe. I am trying to have a healthier relationship with food, but it’s not an easy process. I write this after having eaten a large amount of Ritz crackers and thrown them up.

Food. My relationship with it is complex. I eat it, I cook it, I talk about it, I swap cookery tips with friends and reblog pictures of cakes on Tumblr, I have a cupboard full of cookery books given to me by family members and copies of Sainsbury’s Magazine, I regularly visit my local greengrocer (Withington Fruit & Veg) and used to buy vegetables at my local monthly market. When it’s my birthday, or friends’ birthdays, I go out for meals with friends, to Pizza Express or a curry house; we share sides between us or try each other’s dishes. Back when I went to synagogue, a group of us – mainly converts – would go out for a meal afterwards. The food is even more delicious at the end of Yom Kippur, when you’ve been sat in a long and draining service and had nothing to eat or drink for hours. One thing that got me interested in Judaism was the love of food, and how interlinked it is with faith. On Pesach, my favourite festival, we have the seder meal (and it’s much more fun when you’re with your mates and you’re all a bit pissed, communal sederim are a bit formal sometimes); on Chanukah, we have doughnuts and latkes; on Shavuot, we have dairy; on Tu B’Shvat, we have loads of fruit, and so on.

Baking has become a trendy thing in the UK, and I actually find this rather pleasing because I’ve always loved baking. When I was a toddler, I learned to bake, as did my brother (whose cooking is out of this world). When Jack and I were teenagers, we were so into baking that sometimes we’d compete for kitchen space. Carrot cake was his speciality and brownies were mine. Delia Smith was the queen of TV chefs, and I learned everything about the basics of cooking from her. Both Jack and I cooked the odd meal. In my family, particularly on my mum’s side, cooking was and is not considered a gendered activity, and everyone does it, except a couple of cousins (although one of them is getting better). There is a running joke on my mum’s side of the family about my maternal gran’s secret stuffing recipe and how many times we’ve tried to replicate it. My cousin Andy has recently got into cake decorating (and not just him – his mum, my auntie Chris, my dad’s sister, made an amazing football-themed cake for my cousin Laura’s birthday earlier this year). My dad cooked, as did my ex-stepdad, and the current one does too (he makes some very nice pasta meals and grows his own vegetables and fruit in an allotment). Jack and I were both packed off to uni with more cooking equipment than you could shake a stick at; my housemates would often steal my garlic crusher, as I was the only person in the flat who had one. Some of my earliest memories are food-related, such as eating duck à l’orange out of a metal tray when I was very little, or coming home from tennis club to find my dad cooking pasta in the kitchen. My ex-stepdad was very big on roast dinners on Sundays. I always dreaded doing the washing-up on Sundays because there was so much stuff to clean, and fat was a bugger to get out of things. This might be one of the reasons why I went vegetarian in 2004, although mainly it was not liking meat. (No kebabs for me, then.)

On the negative side, however, there is the comfort eating, the guilt and the shame that comes with it. I’ve written about bulimia before, and how I’d comfort eat, binge and purge when stressed or unhappy. Recently, I was in Cambridge, visiting my parents. My mum spent most of the weekend in bed, and at one point I went to the Co-Op, bought a packet of crisps and a bag of chocolate raisins, ate them and threw them up. I’m hoping that if and when I see the local mental health services, I will tackle this.

How does this tie in with Aspergers? I think it’s because of my enhanced senses and being sensitive to noise and textures and lights – it stands to reason I’d be sensitive to tastes and smells. There are some foods which I just cannot eat because they make me gag. Aubergines, for instance, and bananas (though I’m OK with banana cake), and cabbages, and swede (I blame school dinners). I also have a raging hate-on for coriander leaves. It’s also the reason, I think, why I like spicy food and prefer to use herbs or spices rather than salt, not to mention the amount of garlic I get through. I am a vampire’s nightmare.

Finally, to end this post and tie in with the Space theme, when Space toured the UK with Republica in March, one hardcore fan, Andy Wilton, brought a cake that his mum had made to the Newcastle gig. It was shaped like a doner kebab. The band loved it and, if I recall correctly, got through it very quickly. (One of my many happy Space memories of last year, incidentally was eating dinner with them; they ordered a Chinese takeaway in the dressing room at St Helens last year, and I ate some leftovers as I hadn’t had much for tea.) I’ve used food as a way to show love or appreciation for someone. (As has Jack – he made a beautiful fairy castle cake for his mate Woody in high school, and he used to bring cakes into clubs. I’m not kidding. He’d put the tin in his rucksack.) When two of my friends got married, I made them cupcakes (and beforehand, I made a chocolate cake which we took to the Wendy House for her hen night), and another time I made them a tin of Rocky Road, with a jar of Bovril in the middle. When my auntie Nicky put me up at her house when I went to see Space in 1998, I made her gingerbread as a thankyou present. I made chocolate fridge cake for my best mate one Christmas, and I’ve made several birthday cakes for my mother over the years. One year, I made her a cheesecake which nearly went horribly wrong, but luckily I had a Plan B. It wasn’t aesthetically pleasing and Mary Berry would not have approved, but no-one cared. My stepdad and his kids were there, as was Jack and possibly his girlfriend, and I sang the Cuppycake Gumdrops song. We ate dinner around a tiny table. It was magical. That is food for me in a nutshell; not just fuel, not just tastes and smells and textures, but also a bonding experience.

August 3, 2014

Fortune Teller

Tears well in their eyes
The strip turned blue, surprise surprise
Your bank balance took a dent
And now you’re Rupert Grint
Nappies cost a bob or two
You wish you were Doctor Who

Controversial post time.

I’ve known since about the age of sixteen or so that I am not going to be a mother. I do not want children. I have never wanted children. I never will want children.

I should probably preface this post by saying that I don’t mean to suggest people with Asperger’s Syndrome should not have kids. There are plenty of parents or hopeful parents out there on the autistic spectrum, and I’m sure loads of them have blogs of their own. This is about me, personally.

The song ‘Fortune Teller’ is about an accidental pregnancy. I had a pregnancy scare in my first year of university, due to my boyfriend and I stupidly having unprotected sex. Luckily, the strip did not turn blue, but it was a tense moment because my period was late. Had I become pregnant, I would have had an abortion. The very thought of getting pregnant and having a foetus inside me frightened me. I was not ready for a child and knew I could never carry a baby to term. I’ve learned my lesson since, I might add, and always used some form of contraception. Even now, I get the chills thinking about it. It’s got nothing to do with losing my figure or stretchmarks or any such body-shaming crap. I have no figure to lose. It was just the thought of having a baby that I didn’t want, and could probably never even love. (As an aside, I hate the idea that you’ve never known real love unless you’ve had a child. I am quite capable of love. I love my brother and mum and would take a bullet for both of them, I love my stepfamily and my other relatives and I’ve loved certain men and women so much it hurts. It is not a feeling alien to me. But that’s another story.)

I don’t hate kids per se, but I’m not good at dealing with them. Older ones and teens, maybe, but little kids and toddlers and babies? No. I find it hard to talk to them or play with them or even relate to them. Screaming babies put me into sensory overload. I get impatient very quickly. When colleagues bring their young children into the office, I do not coo over them (now pets, on the other hand…) When friends of mine announce that a kid is on the way, I congratulate them, obviously I’m happy for them (and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for certain people I know), but I have no feelings of broodiness myself. I’ve tried to imagine myself as a mum and failed. My womb will bear no fruit. Luckily, my mum is fine about this and has long accepted that she will not be getting any grandkids out of me, and got somewhat pissed off when her colleagues at her old job asked her if Lotte was ever going to give her any grandchildren. (Of course, the fact that my brother might want children did not occur to them – and Jack is far, far better with kids than I am, he is kinder and more patient than me, and I think he’d make a great father.)

I do wonder if people would be more accepting of my choice not to have children, or my awkwardness around children, if I was male. When I was younger, I used to be involved in childfree communities on Livejournal back in the day, as I wanted to meet other women who felt the same way as me, and the communities were predominantly female, and so many of the women in the groups had had relatives being perturbed that they didn’t want kids, or even, in some cases, treating them as they were somehow not real women. Women are supposed to be maternal and love kids and be happy to sacrifice everything for them. What so you mean, you don’t want children? You selfish bitch, you’ll change your mind one day, you were a child once, you’re just bitter because no man will want to fuck you, no-one will take care of you when you’re older, the most powerful thing a woman can do is bear children, you’re a failure as a woman, and so on. Oddly enough, I never heard the same accusations being levelled at childfree men. Somehow, a man not wanting kids was fine. I abandoned the childfree label for several reasons which are not relevant, but at the time, those groups were therapeutic for me and it was also a relief to discover that several friends of mine, some cis women, some genderqueer,  didn’t want kids either.

At university, the man I obsessed over got into an argument with me about children. He said that getting sterilised was an irreversible process (no shit, sherlock), and that his mum wanted daughters, but look how that worked out (he has two brothers). My last boyfriend also wanted kids, and in retrospect, I wonder if our relationship would have crumbled over this if I hadn’t dumped him. I don’t think I could even be a stepmother; I wouldn’t want to inflict myself on other people’s kids. My ex-stepsister lived with us for a period in 2003 and she brought her young daughter with her, and any maternal feelings I may have had died there and then. Constantly being asked what I was doing and not being able to take a shit in peace drove me up the wall. Put bluntly, I would be a fucking rubbish mother, I am too unpredictable and temperamental and used to having my own routine and space and not having to compromise, and no child should ever have to suffer having me as a parent. I hate living with people, and living on my own was a very big leap for me because I’d spent so long living with first my family and then various housemates, and it made me realise how much I needed my own space and my own life. Anyone can be a parent in the biological sense, but not every parent is good at the job.

If Jack ever has kids, I’m happy to be an auntie to them. However, that’s as far as it goes. I do not want children and I do not think I could be a good mother. I’m not putting myself down. I’m simply stating a fact. It does not make me less of a woman or less of a human being.

April 12, 2014

Paranoid 6teen

If you’re getting nervous
Cos all your defences are down
And you’re running through a storm
But there’s no one on the other side
You’ve got to avoid being paranoid sixteen

(Note: I’ve been putting this post off for a while as it’s not going to be easy to write, but my brother turned 28 on Thursday. This post is for him.)

Dear Jack,

You probably have guessed this, but I’m going to come out and say it: I was always jealous of you.

You were everything I wanted to be. You were, frankly, normal. You had friends; you were popular; you were cool; you liked the right music, the right things; and most important, you didn’t have Aspergers and you didn’t get bullied. You weren’t an emotional mess like me (or Mum, for that matter – you’re the only one out of the three of us who hasn’t struggled with some kind of addiction). When Mum yelled at you, you didn’t shout back at her like I did. You were more OK with Mum remarrying than I was (which is pretty ironic, considering how badly things ended up between you and Ex-Stepdad). You did everything before I did. I felt like was the younger sibling; I was so inexperienced and boring compared to you. I didn’t have sex until I was 17, didn’t start drinking till I was in Year 11, didn’t do anything stronger than weed till I was a student, didn’t have a serious relationship until I was in my twenties. You were growing up faster than me, and I resented you for it.

I’m not going to lie and say we’ve always had a brilliant relationship. At times, I hated you and I’m sure you hated me. You were pretty violent to me when we were little, and I returned the favour when I was older. You did a lot of things that made me angry. I hated the way you and your friends would wind me up and laugh at me, especially when I was with R. I hated how you called me a ‘whore’ after you found out about the Krazyhouse incident, how you told me to shut up whenever I sang or played the flute, and how you were clearly ashamed and embarrassed to have me for a sister. When I won the Comic Relief talent contest, kids in your year told you that your sister was a bitch, and one little shitbag joked about us being in an incestuous relationship. However, I also remember that I won a load of sweets, and as you were off sick that day, I shared them with you. Likewise, a year or so earlier, when I was off sick, you gave me a copy of Tin Planet that Danny Melia had taped. (Ah, that album. We fought over it like it was our child, even after you decided you hated Space and that I knew nothing about music.)

But then, I’m going to hold my hands up and say that I wasn’t a very nice older sister. When you and Emily started going out, I couldn’t handle it, I was eaten up with jealousy, and I said and did some pretty nasty things. I scratched you, screamed abuse at you, threatened to knife you. I’m not proud of that. I would never have done it – I’m more likely to hurt myself than another person. Sometimes I’d be spoiling for a fight. I made you cry a few times. I could be bitchy and condescending, and I did side with Ex-Stepdad against you at times, although in retrospect, I wonder if he was trying to play us off against each other.

You’re the reason why I cut Ex-Stepdad out of my life. He used you as a way to get at Mum. When he was angry with me, I’d get it in the neck, but when he was angry with you, he took it out on Mum instead. Maybe he was jealous of you. I hope not, because that would be fucked up. He badmouthed you to the McPartlands one time and I was really angry. Basically, I can talk shit about you because I’m your sister, and you can say what you want about me, but Ex-Stepdad doing it was different. He was an outsider. He called you an arsehole behind your back. Mum told me he didn’t trust you, and he was prepared to leave you to spend the night sleeping in a station in Crewe. Yes, you were a pain in the fucking arse at times, missing the last train home and asking Mum to collect you, but still. I lost my temper at Ex-Stepdad that night, I tell you now, because I was worried something would happen to you. That was why I found it weird that he sent you a card, and I don’t blame you for ripping it up. (I put some sweeties in your birthday package because of that!) You were only little when Dad died, and you needed a father figure, and he failed.

The turning point for me came when I found out he’d asked Mum how I was doing, but not you. He made it clear that he didn’t give a fuck about you. That settled it. We are a package deal. Just as Alice and Tom are a package deal – I mean, fucking hell, can you imagine Mum blatantly favouring Alice over Tom like that? No, you couldn’t. When it came between you and Ex-Stepdad, you won out and I was so disgusted by the way he treated you and Mum that I cut him out of my life. I regret nothing.

It took me by surprise when I found out how upset you were about the overdose, and that you’d argued with Mum, saying she shouldn’t let me go back to uni. I honestly did not realise you cared so much. Then you sent me a text telling me you loved me, and one night you were pissed and told me how much it hurt you when I cut myself. When we were helping you move out of Liverpool halls, you saw the scars on my arms and freaked. I think we became closer partly due to that. You began to open up more; you even started hugging me. We never hugged as kids. The only body contact we had was hitting and kicking and scratching each other.

I have many happy memories of you, before you think that I’m just slagging you off. The Famous Five fanfic we wrote together, the word games we’d play in the car or walking the dog, the Sundays with Dad in Hove Park, dancing to East 17 with Danny and Mike in Southampton, going swimming with Mum. More recently, there’s Primavera 2013. When we were at Leeds 2002, we avoided each other, and 11 years later, we were watching Wu-Tang Clan together with your mates. How times change. You also helped me during the time when Mum was in rehab – you and Richard helped me get over my guilt and sadness and helplessness. She also told me you looked after her when she had a panic attack. I was so proud of you. I only wish I’d been able to go to your graduation ceremony (bloody swine flu). Again, I was so proud of you. Ex-Stepdad never had any faith in you, but I did. I knew you’d be OK in the end.

I do care about you. When I came home from work and saw you crying on the sofa, and Mum told me Emily had dumped you, I wanted to beat the shit out of her, because I couldn’t bear to see you so upset. Seeing you cry at Gran’s funeral in 2005 hurt, as did finding out that you weren’t as confident as I thought you were, that you had insecurities of your own. I’d known you all your life, and yet I knew so little about you. I’m glad that we’re making up for the teenage years now. A lot of damage was done, but we’re getting there. You’re not ashamed of me anymore and I’m not jealous of you anymore. I’m looking forward to seeing you soon.

I love you, and I always will. You and Mum are everything to me.

Lotte x

April 2, 2014

The English Language Let Me Down

All my words done failed me
Every line derails me
This is the day that the English language let me down

Words. Language. Etymology, definitions, wordplay, translation, stories and poems, word puzzles, word games. English, French, German, Spanish, Hebrew. Language is both my friend and my enemy. In I Am Unlike A Lifeform You’ve Ever Met, I talked about books and the imagination. This post covers speech and language.

Somewhere, there is a tape of me reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, aged about two. My first word was ‘duck’. I’m not sure when I learned to talk, though I wasn’t a late developer or non-verbal. I do remember, however, that I spoke in a monotone, and that efforts were made to correct this and have me intone words like ‘normal’ people. Mum also told me my speaking voice was too high-pitched and that I should try and make it a bit deeper, and that I was too loud. “Turn the volume down,” was a comment often directed at me. Years later, in synagogue, the rabbi took me aside and asked me not to sing so loudly at Friday night services as I was drowning other people out. This upset me a lot; I was just enjoying the service and had no idea that what I was doing was wrong, and as it was not an Orthodox synagogue, the principle of kol isha did not apply. Was it because of my Aspergers? How the fuck should I know? Maybe it was. I have no idea how I sound to other people. When I hear my own voice played back to me, it sounds horrible, like a cross between Morrissey and Henry’s Cat. I hate my singing voice as well, possibly because Jack always used to tell me to shut up whenever I sang along to music in my bedroom. I have a bit of a complex about it. How it could turn any nice Jewish boy on, I do not know.

Anyway. Tangents aside, I apparently went to see a speech therapist at some point when I was younger. In terms of writing, I was doing OK – I got team points for stories and essays I’d written at school (I even wrote the script for our class’s production of the story of Pandora’s box), I was in the top group for spelling, and when we had to write sentences using words on coloured cards. It was also at primary school that I discovered an aptitude for languages. OK, I’m not a polyglot and I’m not fluent in any language besides English, though I can speak German pretty well, but I got interested in languages after going to French Club in Year 3, having French lessons off a friend of Mum’s in Year 5, and doing French lessons in Year 6. Even when I was little, the way people said things in other languages fascinated me. When we went on holiday to the Algarve, I pored over the Portuguese phrase book we had. I was fascinated by an old English/French picture dictionary and the conjugations of irregular verbs. How could ‘avoir’ become ‘aurons’ and ‘aurez’, and what the hell was the deal with ‘être’? When Dad went on a work trip to Germany, he brought back comics in German. I didn’t have a bloody clue what any of the words meant, though they did come in handy when I started doing German in Year 9. I found the German language even cooler than French, with its complicated word order and Modalverben and ever-changing masculine definite article. I also liked the way it sounded, and was made up when a friend gave me a Rammstein tape. (Till Lindemann’s voice helped. That guy could sing the contents of the Dusseldorf phonebook and make it sound sexy.)

When I got into Sixth Form, I decided I wanted to read languages at university, since languages were my thing; I was doing A-Level French, German and English Language (and my transcripts of Space interviews came in handy when we were studying accent and dialect!) I wanted to read Chinese or Spanish alongside German. Cambridge turned me down, and I got offers from Durham and Leeds, but went with Manchester, which didn’t do Chinese at the time but did offer Spanish. I took night classes in my gap year to give me a bit of a grounding in Spanish. I find it harder than German, I have to admit. Maybe it’s because German is closer to English. When we were studying the evolution of the English language, I noticed a lot of similarities between Old English and German. The fact it was phonetic, for instance.

On the subject of accents, Rudy Simone writes in Aspergirls that she has a tendency to pick up accents; she recalls being mistaken for an immigrant after speaking in a ‘Hispanic’ accent that she’d picked up from a colleague. The same thing happens to me. The one time I did consciously put on an accent was in high school, because I was being bullied for talking ‘posh’, but after moving to Manchester, something bizarre happened where I was out with mates and I started talking in a sort of weird half-Manc half-Yorkshire accent. Everyone thought I was putting it on, but it was real. I’ve toned it down a bit, but it changes depending on who I’m with and where I am. Expose me to Everton matches or members of Space, and my accent gets a Scouse tinge. In London, it goes a bit cockney. I’m not putting it on to make fun of people; it just happens. It’s a kind of osmosis. G-d help me if this ever happens in Scotland. Perhaps it’s some kind of instinct to imitate sounds, like a baby learning to talk.

As I’ve said before, I find writing easier than talking. Writing helps me organise my thoughts better, and I can rewrite what I’ve written, whereas when I say things, that’s it, the cat is out of the bag. Sometimes I can’t find the right words to express myself when I speak, or I say stupid or horrible things without thinking. At least, sitting at a keyboard, I have a bit more control over what comes out.

March 30, 2014

Suburban Rock ‘n’ Roll

TW: eating disorders

I hate that coward in my dreams
He steps in front of every goal
Life’s a suburban rock ‘n’ roll

In the summer of 1995, Mum, Jack and I moved to Chester. I left home for good in around 2006-2007, when I moved into a small flat in Victoria Park. When I started at uni, very rarely did I go back there, except to catch up with the odd friend or see my mum. Firstly, I was happy at uni, enjoying the new city, meeting new people and getting to live on my own and eat Nutella out of the jar and go out clubbing every week. Secondly, one of my now ex-stepsisters and her kid were living with us in Chester, and the atmosphere in the house was very tense. I disliked sharing my space with them and whenever an opportunity to go out came up, I took it, as did Jack. My ex-stepsister was getting away from her abusive boyfriend, and one time I accidentally let him into the house – I didn’t know who he was – and had to ring the police. Jack and I were hiding in the annexe, and I was in a mess. Another time, there was a confrontation and Jack had to look after the kid while Bastard Boyfriend threatened my ex-stepdad and the police had to be called, again. Luckily, I was at a mate’s house in Handbridge and missed the drama. At the time, I wasn’t very good at empathising with others, hated change and having to adjust to new people, and hated me, Jack and Mum all being sucked into drama that had nothing to do with us.

I don’t want to post too much about my ex-stepdad, except to say that I cut all ties with him in 2009, and a few years later, I cut all ties with my former stepfamily after Mum wrote an angry Facebook post about my ex-stepdad, and my ex-stepsister sent Mum a horrible message. Jack had cut ties with them long before me. He and my ex-stepdad never got on. I wouldn’t say they hated each other per se, but they antagonised each other a lot. My ex-stepdad talked shit about Jack in front of family friends, and took it out on Mum whenever Jack did anything wrong (he didn’t do this with me). He blatantly favoured me over Jack – when he and Mum were splitting, he asked about me, but not Jack, and made it clear that I was the only one he gave a shit about. This pissed me off. I felt he was trying to drive a rift between us (and I’ll talk more about this in Paranoid 6teen). He wasn’t abusive to me or Jack, he didn’t beat or neglect us, and he didn’t hit Mum or anything, but there was a fair bit of emotional abuse. Even now, I don’t think I know the half of what must have gone on, though a lot came out after the divorce. Out of respect to Mum, I will not go into detail, but what I will say is that she has a lot of demons, and he is one of the causes. It took her a long time to get over him. She constantly beats herself up about remarrying so soon after Dad’s death, and while I was angry with her, I understand now that she’s one of those people who just needs to be in a relationship and hates being alone, and he was basically a rebound. She wasn’t to know how things would turn out. None of us did. I had mixed feelings at first, as he was kind to me at my maternal gran’s funeral and he did have his moments, but now I feel nothing for him. Anyway.

I hate Chester. Not because it’s a shithole, it’s quite nice as cities go, but because of all the memories there. In Manchester, you can be fairly anonymous; in Chester, everyone knows your business. Even after I’d left school, people would shout things at me in the street. As I said in earlier posts, I had a reputation as the school’s weird girl. I couldn’t wait to go somewhere where no-one knew who I was. My social life wasn’t great; Foregate Street is one long row of wine bars, and the one club I did like, Love Street, closed down in 2004, with its metal night moving to Rosie’s, our local dive where most of my year went when we got our A-Level results. I started going clubbing in Sixth Form and loved it. Since we lived in the arse end of nowhere, in Christleton, it got to the point where taxi drivers recognised Jack and me. “Big white house, right?” After life in a city, living in a village where the nearest supermarket was at least half an hour’s walk away and buses were hourly was a bit of a culture shock, as was the fact that nearly everyone in my high school was white (there were about four Asian kids in my year, and that was it) and nominally Christian. Coming back from Manchester was even weirder and made me realise how much I wanted to get out. So many people I knew in high school have left Chester, whereas loads of the old primary school crowd are still in Brighton. People at uni said they loved Chester and asked me if it was like Hollyoaks. If only it were that exciting. Some people might think uni is a waste of time and teaches you no life skills, but had I not gone to Manchester and realised that, despite having Aspergers, I could fend for myself, I would have been stuck at home in Chester for years, living with Mum and doing crappy office jobs and learning nothing. No thanks.

Country life was not for us. We three are townies at heart. The endless walks at weekends that I put up with so as not to anger my ex-stepdad, the mud, the renegade cattle, the pavement-less roads with rogue drivers…it was like being on the moon. One thing I did like was the wildlife; the foxes, the badgers, the odd pheasant or weasel. Other than that, though, it wasn’t much fun being cut off, and it had a weird effect on Mum. She became a lot more conformist, always worrying what people would think of her, and by extension, me. A lot of screaming matches were had and at times I felt I was a disappointment and that I was not the daughter she’d wanted; I was prickly and aggressive and moody and preferred books to clothes, and she couldn’t dress me up and take me shopping and squee over shoes with me. I wonder how much of that was my ex-stepdad’s influence. I know he’s one of the reasons why it took me forever to admit I needed help; he despised depressives and thought they were weak. He also hated fat people. No doubt it would have been some consolation to him to hear his stepdaughter vomiting in her sink.

The song after which this post is named, and the album that spawned it, is about suburbia, the cramped and inward-looking nature of it and the goings-on behind closed doors. We lived in suburbia in our first year here, alternating between a tiny rented house in Hoole and my ex-stepfamily’s house in the sticks, and it was claustrophobic. So was living in the village. Jack’s mates all lived in the arse end of nowhere, while mine lived in Vicar’s Cross, in the sticks. Now that Mum and I have left Chester, we’re like Battle Royale characters whose explosive collars have been removed from our necks. We are free to be who we want. She’s got a new set of friends and I’m living alone. We are not forced into little boxes anymore.

March 25, 2014

Gravity

You’ve lost all the feeling in your heart and soul
It’s not enough to cry

We all knew the end was coming.

In that respect, we were lucky. A friend of a friend’s dad had gone to play tennis and never came home; he’d died of a heart attack. On 11th September 2001, eight years after my dad died, firemen and passengers alike were killed in a terrorist attack, their children unable to escape from the horrible images on TV and in the press for days on end. On 15th April 1989, several kids in Liverpool waved goodbye to their fathers as they went off to watch a football match in Sheffield, never to return. Other children have had to wait for days, weeks, months, not knowing if their fathers are alive or dead, until the dreadful news finally comes. That was the one advantage we had; we knew. Mum and Dad were always honest with us. Unlike my best friend at the time, who only found out her mother was dying through overheard conversations, we were told everything. There was no bullshit, no whitewashing.

All we could do was wait.

We had had a false alarm at one point; it looked as though he was going to be OK. But from the beginning of 1993, he went into rapid decline and had to move in with my paternal gran in St Annes-on-Sea; he was in a nursing home for a bit, but it was pretty bad. He gained a load of weight on steroids and sent letters typed on Gran’s typewriter and – thank G-d – was around long enough to meet Laura, his new baby niece. In September, on the day Jack was supposed to start primary school and I was supposed to start Year 5. Instead, we found ourselves on a train to Lancashire. Jack explained that Dad was going to die any minute. Me not getting my priorities right, I was pissed off because I was worried about missing school. We spent a few days with Gran and Auntie Chris and her family, and said goodbye to Dad, who was in hospital by this time.

That was when I experienced death for the first time, the realisation that people you love won’t be around forever. For days, I couldn’t believe he’d gone. It must have been worse for Mum – just being surrounded by reminders of him everywhere, the ties he would never wear again, the CDs he would never play again, the empty space next to her in bed. No wonder she went crazy. My memories of the time are patchy, but I do recall going to a friend’s house the day after, presumably because Mum was too worn out with grief to pay much attention to us.

Why do I write about this so much? This was the event that pushed me over the edge. It’s not the only time a death in the family pushed me over the edge; my maternal gran’s death in 2005 was one of the things that led to me trying to kill myself. I acted up in school. I could never handle change, but this massive change had hit me, soon to be followed by another one when Mum decided she couldn’t stand living in Brighton anymore, and the bottom had dropped out of my world. Little things got to me, and still do. The Lion King still makes me and Jack cry (and if you’re a kid who’s lost a parent, watch it – it is a fantastic film for bereaved kids to see and it came out at the right time for us), as does Home Alone 2, the last film we saw at the cinema with Dad. The funeral was hell – I’m glad Jack and I went, as it gave us the chance to say goodbye, but seeing Gran collapse and have to be carried out of the chapel by two men, and the coffin going into the incinerator, and grown men and women crying – it was too much to take in.

We didn’t want to scatter the ashes, so Mum went alone one day while we were at school and threw them in the sea. Seeing my maternal gran’s ashes freaked me out enough, seeing what looked like something you’d scatter on your driveway and realising it used to be a person – I could not have handled that at nine years old.

The other massive change that came as a result of Dad’s death was what it did to Mum. She and Dad were always close; they never argued. They loved each other to pieces. Dad dying broke her. We went on holiday to Menorca in 1994 and she spent most of it in bed with stress-induced migraines, while Jack and I amused ourselves in the swimming pool. In April of that year, Mum used some of the money Dad had left us to take us to Australia to see Auntie Debby, Mum’s older sister, and her family. We spent nearly a month there. When it was time to return to England, Mum broke down at the airport. I was still getting accustomed to seeing her cry. Adults crying confused me. I thought it was something only kids did. I couldn’t get my head around why she was ill all the time. Seeing someone you’ve known all your life acting out of character throws you.

I talked before about strong emotions in Mister Psycho, and how for a lot of people with Aspergers, everything is intense. We love intensely and hate intensely. We see black and white, not grey. When we love someone, we put them on a pedestal and act like the sun shines out of their arse, and are surprised and disappointed when they show any kind of flaw. We cannot always find the words or means to deal with strong emotions. Maybe that was why Dad’s death broke me. He’d been a massive part of my life for nine years, and now he was gone, and the despair manifested itself through behaving badly at school, crying all the time, running out of class, skiving, hyperventilating, being unable to interact with large groups of people, and Mum didn’t know what the hell to do with me, and the rest is history.

March 17, 2014

Everybody In The Madhouse

If you’re cool, I hope you’re lucky
I hope your life is fulfilled
If you’re bad, I hope you rot in Hell
Or get run over by a train

Ah, primary school. Stanford Junior in Brighton, to be exact. Some of the best years of my life, and one of the worst (my annus horribilis, 1993). Most of the people I knew, it seems, are still living in Brighton. Helen, who was my best mate back then, is married (and I cried when I found out – not out of jealousy but out of joy, because she’s had a hard life and I’m just relieved she’s happy). Many others have kids. It seems so long ago, but I can still remember it as clear as day.

Primary school wasn’t as bad as high school for bullying, though I do remember an older boy threatening me with a knife in Year 3, and another boy stealing my hat, and other kids certainly thought I was weird. I remember breaking out into song one time in class and the other kids would not let it go, and I wished the ground would swallow me. Helen was picked on a lot by other girls in our class, and there was only so much I could do. She was probably the only real friend I had, although there were others I got on with. A group of us would walk to and from school, and for some reason, on the way back, they’d walk through the infant school and I didn’t want to for some reason, and Kate, the group leader, would lie to me about things happening, and I believed her. She claimed she was doing it to prepare me for the future, to help me. Somehow, I doubt that.

One of my proudest moments was writing the script for our class play for assembly, ‘Pandora’s Box’, when we were doing Greek myths. Primary school was where I discovered a love of writing and history, and later on, languages. We learned French in Year 6, presumably because of being on the coast. This bit me in the arse somewhat in high school, as I was way ahead of most of the class and ended up being bored. We did shows at the Dome – I remember doing one where I was dressed up as a male evacuee. My memories of primary school are fractured. Dressing up as a policeman to sing ‘A Policeman’s Lot’ when we were doing the Victorians. Mrs Cairns, my teacher in Year 5/6, writing a little poem for me in my leaving book. Reading Chalet School books. Jack giving me a thumbs-up from the stage when his class were doing a play. A trip to the museum, where I failed to copy a David Hockney painting. Playing short tennis in the playground and coming home to Dad cooking pasta with tomato sauce. Playing girls’ football and being rubbish at it. Trying to make one of the teachers laugh, as part of an activity day where different teachers hosted different activities. Walking out of assembly in front of everyone else. Writing a story about a character who ate too much chocolate and vomited copiously. Dad winning a jar of pickled beetroot in a raffle and Mum refusing to let him bring it in the house because of the smell. Those were the days. I only have to hear Blur’s ‘End Of A Century’ again and I’m in the classroom on the final day of primary school, before we all went off to the Big School and started to grow up.

It was in primary school that my symptoms started to really come out, and luckily, there was support. After Dad died, I saw a counsellor at school and it helped somewhat, though I still had crying fits and an abject fear of anything unusual happening. I talked more about it here. The other major change that occurred during primary school was my mum meeting J, my future stepdad (not to be confused with Richard, the current one, although I did meet Richard when I was a kid). If I recall correctly, she found him through a Lonely Hearts page in a newspaper. She’d been dating various guys, but J was The One. When Mum told us she and J were getting married, I cried a lot and accused her of wanting to replace Dad; it was only two years after his death. Jack, ironically considering how much he and J ended up hating each other, was fine with it. I liked him at first – I compared him a lot to Gerald, the heroine’s mum’s boyfriend in Goggle-Eyes by Anne Fine – and made myself adjust to the fact that I was living in a new town and going to a high school where I wouldn’t know anyone. Had I stayed in Brighton, I would have gone to Varndean, but instead, I found myself at an induction day at Christleton High School, before seven years of hell began.

March 15, 2014

I Am Unlike A Lifeform You’ve Ever Met

Filed under: books,childhood — kankurette @ 11:36 am
Tags: , , , , ,

I’m a midnight creeper, an all-day sleeper
Waiting for the night, I feel I’m gonna meet her

“Books,” my mum once said, “are like food to Lotte.” She wasn’t kidding.

One of my biggest pet peeves regarding misconceptions of people with Aspergers is the idea that we don’t have an imagination. We do. Just because I am very literal does not mean I don’t have an imagination. I can’t speak for all people on the spectrum, everyone’s experience is different, but I definitely remember writing stories, creating characters and worlds, and playing dress-up and other imaginary games with Jack or my friends. I remember us both being obsessed with the Disney version of Robin Hood, and playing games where he’d be Robin and I’d be Maid Marian. We’d also play at Thunderbirds, or being Top of the Pops presenters, and we wrote a fanfic together on my dad’s old typewriter, about the Famous Five. Sadly, it was lost years ago, but I do remember the word ‘vagabond’ was used a lot, Julian’s catchphrase was ‘I know, I know’ and variants thereof, and they ended up eating Timmy. In school and at home, I wrote poetry and stories. I drew pictures. I invented characters – my most notorious one was Mike Mushroom, an anthropomorphic mushroom who I drew on all my books at school and my desk. Mum thought it was something to do with Dad dying. Maybe it was, I don’t know. Like a lot of kids with Aspergers, I was obsessed with Sonic the Hedgehog (although I grew out of it once I grew out of gaming) and Thomas the Tank Engine, and I used to draw pictures of Sonic and Tails on my books. I also had imaginary pets – an entire menagerie – as Mum and Dad wouldn’t let us have a cat. I definitely remember having two dogs called Anne Albertine and Claire Beetroot. Again, I have no idea where these names came from.

Then, of course, there were books.

Franny & Zooey. The Very Hungry Caterpillar (there is a tape of me, aged two, reading it aloud). The Lost Continent. Mrs Pig’s Bulk Buy. Jill Investigates. The Chalet School and Nancy Drew books. The Women’s Room. Is It Just Me, Or Is Everything Shit? Ladder Of Years. Paul Jennings’ short stories. All these are books I’ve loved, and read and re-read until the spines cracked and pages came loose. Some people find the idea of re-reading books weird, but for me, it’s a mixture of familiarity and the fact that I pick up on things I may have missed the first time around. My house is full of the damn things. There are books piled up on the bookshelves in my kitchen and my living room, on the windowsills in my bedroom, in a basket in the toilet (I read on the toilet and in the bath), on my chest of drawers. Some are presents, some are from charity shops, some are nicked off my parents. When I’m on holiday or going to gigs out of town, I take books with me. I can remember taking Linda Goodman’s Love Signs to Space’s Leeds gig, When We Were Bad by Charlotte Mendelsohn to their St Helens gig, Sue Townsend’s Rebuilding Coventry to Hebden Bridge in the summer, and Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman to Birmingham in October. In Germany in 2012, I slogged through Moby-Dick, and Tori Amos’ Piece By Piece kept me company in between watching bands at Primavera Sound last year. One time, while visiting Jack in London, Mum left me in Foyle’s, and I could have happily spent the day there. As a kid, I gave zero fucks about clothes shopping; it was bookshops, and later music shops, that got me interested. Also, and I know this is a massive cliche, I love the smell of old books. I think it has something to do with being sensitive to smells. (I’m not one of those people who’s anti-Kindle, by the way. I think Kindle is a great idea, though not for everyone.) Both my parents are/were readers, as is my stepdad, whose book collection makes mine look miniscule (sometimes I worry about taking books off his bookshelves in case a pile of books falls on my head and brains me). There is a photo of me as a toddler pulling books off a shelf. Apparently I did this a lot. My parents also learned the hard way that I would read anything, including things that weren’t suitable for a little kid. The awkward moment when you’ve read Lern Yerself Scouse and you sing ‘get plasterd, yew basterd’ on your dad’s birthday, and wonder why your family are staring at you…

I have never been much of a TV person. Depriving me of TV was never a good punishment for me because I would just read instead. Maybe it’s because TV has the sights and sounds all laid out, whereas with books, you only have words to rely on, but words can paint pictures of their own. I like getting lost in a book and imagining what the characters look like and being sucked into their worlds – Panem, Ankh-Morpork, the Tiern See, the America of Brave New World, O Henry’s New York and Wild West, Hogwarts, the Glass family’s living room. When I was having a bad time at school, books were my comfort. They may not have taught me how to interact with people – though The Women’s Room changed the way I saw the world – but they took my mind off the bullying and the loneliness. Like Space, they were my escape route. Like Anne of Green Gables, one of my favourite fictional characters as a kid, my imagination was one of the greatest weapons in my arsenal.

March 10, 2014

Avenging Angels

Angel, oh angel, here to brighten up my darkest day
Take me in your arms, protect me from my enemies
Oh deadly angel, oh angel, and when they’ve got me on my knees
When I’m just about to do the deadly deed, you rescue me

The song I chose for this blog post is the song I love the most by Space, because it was written by a man who was very close to his father, who wanted to write the kind of songs his father would like, and who coped with his father’s death by writing Avenging Angels. When I heard the story behind it, it made me feel comforted, to know that a singer I loved understood how I felt. Like Tommy Scott, I adored my dad, Andy Holmes. He was, and still is, one of my heroes. Like Tommy Scott, I feel as though my father is watching over me, from wherever he is now. I sometimes worry I’ll forget him, even with my ridiculous photographic memory, but I won’t. All I have to do to remember my dad is look in the mirror.

Those dark eyes, that nose, that acne-scarred, pockmarked skin (though his was worse), that unruly dark brown hair, that profile – all those I inherited from him. I like to think I got my writing ability from him as well, though I’d be happy if I was only one-tenth as talented as he was – he was a journalist for the Financial Times and edited a magazine called Power in Europe, as well as writing the odd article for Greenpeace on the side, and he was on the editorial team for Brig, the Stirling University student paper.

What does this have to do with Aspergers? Well, Dad’s death was the catalyst for my diagnosis, and to show you just what an impact it had on my life, I have to explain just what a big part of my life Dad was. He was, after all, half of me. I was always quite the daddy’s girl. I used to love playing board games with him and having him read to me and dancing around the kitchen with him to the Pogues. We shared a love of language and wordplay; he got me into Edward Lear’s limericks (the one about the bear always reminds me of him), and we had these characters to help teach me words and shapes. The one I always remember is Snoopy the Snake, with an opera ticket in his hat. He introduced me to greengages. He loved exotic fruit. In fact, he loved his food generally, although, like me, he was a pescatarian (no moral issues; he just didn’t like meat). He used to tell me outrageous lies about how haggises were birds with square heads, and I believed him. He wasn’t perfect. He had off days, just like any other parent. But I loved him. I loved it when he would come home from work and play with us, or when he’d take us to the park to give Mum some alone time, or when he’d take us to the cinema. I always associate Home Alone 2 with him, since it was the last film he took us to before he died. I loved Sundays in Hove Park, when Dad and Jack would play football and I’d mess around on the swings, or the time when Dad took me to his office and I met his colleagues and he took me out for lunch at a Mexican restaurant.  These are the memories I try to keep in mind, not the ones that came later, the hospitals, the cancer, the memory loss, the steroids that made him gain weight, my mum’s panic attacks, the horrible nursing home, the last time we saw him and he was barely capable of speech and had to point at pictures on a card if he needed food and so on. I still find it hard to reconcile the man lying in the hospital bed in Preston with the father I knew.

In Naruto, the manga from which this blog gets its name, Sasuke – the titular character’s rival – has a massive inferiority complex where his older brother Itachi, an immensely talented ninja, is concerned. Sasuke feels as though he is always living in Itachi’s shadow and that he will never feel good enough. Sometimes I feel like that with Dad. It’s not like my family constantly compare my achievements to his and find me lacking. Only I do that. I feel I’ve got to do something, anything, to make him proud of me, though my family tell me he would have been. He never lived to see Jack and I grow from little kids into teenagers and then adults, get our GCSEs, our A-Levels, our degrees. He never lived to see me diagnosed with Aspergers, though he was around when I was in the remedial PE classes, and I wonder how he would have felt if I had been diagnosed before his death. Would he have been in denial that his daughter had something wrong with her? Would he have done everything he could to ensure I got look after at school? It’s one of the things I will never know, so I can only guess. He certainly was never ashamed of me or treated me like a weirdo.

My dad had a lot of connections. He worked for both the Labour and Tory parties, though he was definitely an Old Labour sort of man, and when he died, the likes of Tony Blair sent us cards. I am not kidding. Loads of people – journalists, union reps, politicians – were at his funeral. I had no idea of the impact he had on people and even today, I’m still learning things about him. I watch his TV appearances and remember how I thought very little of it – to me, he wasn’t Andy Holmes, the energy expert, he was my dad. Recently, I went to visit my auntie Chris – Dad’s sister – and she showed me tons of photos of them when they were kids in Greenock. Last year, I went through a box of memorabilia Mum had kept – cards, the eulogy from his funeral, photos. A lot of tears were shed.

He was a warm, funny, intelligent man, a bit of a gentle giant, who loved his family and was loved by many, and it’s twenty-one years on, and I still miss him, but I will always be grateful for the nine years we had together.

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