The Hidden Village of Aspergers

August 20, 2017

We need to talk about Kevin.

(Note: this mentions abuse, so may be triggering for some readers)

Never push a loyal person to the point where they no longer care. – Kevin Pressman

For my dad, I cried a thousand tears  / For you, I won’t cry one / You were rotten to my brother and abusive to my mum / I know you’ll look down on me for being a fat, depressive Jew / But I’d rather be anything as long as I am not like you – LucyShadow, ‘Kevin Pressman’

I’ve not posted on this thing for a long time, due to working two jobs, going to Space gigs, the usual, and not having much to say, but I’ve wanted to talk about this for a long time. As some people who know me might know, I write songs. I’ve been writing since I was 13 or 14, played my stuff at open mic nights and have started writing, or trying to, again. One song I wrote used an old tune I’d written in high school, and it ended up being a massive coping mechanism for me because I was finally able to articulate how I felt about my ex-stepdad.

It all began with football. More specifically, it all began with Kevin Pressman.

A bit of background for non-football fans: Kevin Pressman is a former footballer. He’s currently goalkeeping coach at Millwall, but he is most known for playing in goal for Sheffield Wednesday for nearly 20 years, during which time he scored an amazing penalty against Wolves in the FA Cup and made 404 appearances, the most out of all post-war Wednesday players. He joined Wednesday as a teenager in 1985, and left in 2004, aged thirty-six. He was one of many players let go by Chris Turner. Four years earlier, in 2000, his contract had run out, and as this article shows, he was pretty bitter about it. He’d grown up supporting Sheffield Wednesday as a kid in Dronfield, he’d outlasted several other goalies – Chris Woods, Pavel Srnicek (RIP), Matt Clarke, Ola Tidman, and so on – and had helped out with coaching at the club academy. Even now, he still cheers Wednesday on and irritates many a Sheffield United fan on Twitter. To the disappointment of many Wednesday fans, unlike other players who’d done their ten years, he never got a testimonial, which seems like a huge kick in the teeth for someone who’d spent so long at the club and been so loyal. (Even though, there are petitions calling for a Pressman testimonial, though the man himself is presumably too busy with his charges at Millwall.) I’d always thought Pressman was cool as a player, and along with Matt Le Tissier, Alan Shearer, Zinedine Zidane and the great Marco van Basten, he was one of my non-Everton favourites as a kid.

Where does my ex-stepdad come in? Well, firstly, he’s a Sheffield Wednesday supporter, and one of my best memories of him involves them. I was desperate for him to take us to Hillsborough, and in 1997, he took me, my brother Jack and my ex-stepbrother to see Wednesday play Chelsea (who, incidentally, are my current stepdad’s team). Wednesday lost 4-1, Dan Petrescu – who had recently moved from Wednesday to Chelsea – got a ton of abuse, and an annoying man behind us commentated throughout the match. But for me, it was like a bonding experience and a chance to spend quality time with my ex-stepdad. Football was one of the things that brought my dad and me together, and it was the same with my ex-stepdad, and it was part of a bigger picture. While he and Jack had a bad relationship – and for the sake of Jack’s privacy, I won’t go into detail as to why – I was the one who tried to be a good stepdaughter and make him like me. I did my chores and pretended to enjoy the incessant walks we went on. I even internalised some of his values, which is why it took so long for me to admit I had depression and needed help. Several years later, when he and my mum separated, Mum apparently asked, “How do you think Lotte will feel?” He dismissively replied, “She’ll be OK.” I started crying, because I felt like I’d been cast aside like a piece of trash. I also found it strange how he never came to visit me while I was a student, yet after the separation he sent me a card, which I threw in the bin. It felt like he only cared when it was convenient. I remembered how he’d comforted me at my maternal gran’s funeral, how I’d cried in his arms after admitting I’d been self-harming (Mum was at choir practice and Jack was too young to help). And now this.

What made it worse in retrospect was finding out that he’d been abusive to my mum – emotionally, if not physically. I’d heard them arguing, and by ‘arguing’ I mean yelling at each other and him making her cry. My dad had never done that. I won’t go into detail about the things he said, out of respect for Mum’s privacy, but one of the reasons why she is an alcoholic is because of him. At least he wasn’t abusive to me, thank G-d, but Mum and Jack are my flesh and blood, and if you hurt them, you hurt me too.

Secondly, I am an Everton supporter myself, but reading the interview with Kevin Pressman, I began to see parallels between his relationship with Sheffield Wednesday, and my relationship with my ex-stepfather. Pressman loved Wednesday to pieces, gave his all for the club (especially in Steel City derbies), and stayed with them through the good times and the bad, even after they were relegated, even when he was dropped in favour of Chris Woods, and they eventually cast him aside like a piece of trash, never even giving him a chance to say a proper goodbye (compare to how Everton treated Tim Howard in 2016). While I was upset about my mum remarrying at first, I genuinely wanted to make a go of things. I wanted everyone to get along and I really wanted my ex-stepdad to love me. I wanted to win his respect and since Jack was the ‘bad’ child, I felt I had to be the ‘good’ child. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t good enough. Like Pressman, I felt like I’d been kicked in the teeth when my ex-stepdad – like the powers that be at Sheffield Wednesday – stopped caring. Sometimes I even wonder if he resented the fact Mum had children. And like Sheffield Wednesday in the 00s, my blended family began to show cracks. Pressman wanted to get Wednesday back into the Premiership, and I wanted a normal family, but my parents grew further apart and split, living separate lives under the same roof, then in separate houses, then officially divorcing in 2008. I may not be a goalie (back when I played football, I was more of a defensive midfielder), but I understand the pain of being loyal, or trying to be loyal, to someone, only for them to gradually erase you from their life.

One day, I had a dream about Sheffield Wednesday, and a line about ‘watching Kevin Pressman’ got stuck in my head, and gradually I came up with more and more lines and wove them into a song, the song I’d been meaning to write for years. Music has been one of my coping mechanisms, and writing that song was a huge release for me – I still listen to it when I need a kick up the arse. I’m going to end this post with the final line:

I’d rather be at Hillsborough watching Kevin Pressman / Than spend another life with you.

 

 

April 4, 2016

It’s me again, in-sig-ni-fi-cant me again; also, Autism Speaks can fuck right off

I’ve not updated this blog in over a year. Basically, a lot of stuff has happened.

– I changed jobs in January last year and now work in a hospital. It’s better than the last place, thank G-d. I’ve also started doing freelance translation work on the side.

– I sang The Ballad Of Tom Jones onstage with Space at the Liverpool International Music Festival in summer. It was one of my proudest achievements and I can’t thank them enough for letting me do it, it was an honour. I got to do it again in Runcorn, where I was dressed up as Anne Shirley (I pretended Tommy was Gilbert Blythe).

– My brother was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in summer, and has been in and out of hospital having chemotherapy. Thankfully, he is fine now and will be coming to Primavera this year.

– My mum was admitted to hospital in January this year after drinking too much and passing out due to dehydration and lack of food. She’s OK now, but it was…not pleasant.

– I have been having some very disturbing intrusive thoughts about Roberto Martinez, Everton’s manager, which I will detail another time. I’m getting help for it.

On another note, it’s April, it’s Autism Awareness Month, and this means the dreaded blue jigsaw piece and the ‘turn it blue’ meme are going to rear their ugly heads. I’m talking, of course, about the notorious Autism Speaks, the group with THAT ad about autism. Well, they don’t bloody speak for me, or any of the autistic people I know. Autistic Hoya and The Caffeinated Autistic both explain much better than I could why Autism Speaks are bad, bad people, and not an organisation you should be supporting. Be warned: some of the content is very distressing.

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.

October 22, 2014

An open letter to alcohol

Filed under: mental illness,relationships with others — kankurette @ 9:11 pm
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(NB: when my mum was in rehab recently, one thing she had to do was write a letter to alcohol. Both my stepdad and I agreed to write letters of our own. This is mine)

Dear alcohol,

I’m not going to lie. We’ve had some good times together, like all those parties at E’s house, or going backstage with Space. We’ve had some bad times, like Chris Butt’s party in Year 11, or the HARM party in my first year of uni where I passed out. I remember when I was a kid and you were part of a mysterious world to which I wanted the key. I wanted to get to know you better, in the hope that it would make other people like me.

Right now, though, I fucking hate you.

You’re an arsehole, alcohol. You’re a bad influence. You’re cruel. You’re deceitful and evil. You’re a false friend, a snake in the grass. You’re hateful and you make people ill and jealous. You kill. You turn the honest into liars and manipulators. You’re noxious and obnoxious. You’re petty, the queen of pain, rotten to the core. You’re Super High School Level Despair. You take and take and take and you’re so ungrateful to the people who depend on you. Vodka, whiskey, wine, you have different names, but it’s always the same old lies. You exterminate, you turn skin yellow and red, make eyes bloodshot and remove their sparkle and zest for life. In Manchester, you’re everywhere. You’re watching over homeless people and students and teens and football fans and middle-aged women in crap jobs. You’re the life and soul of the party and you’re going to make everyone join in, whether they like it or not, and you whisper in people’s ears that you’re their only friend and the only one they can trust.

You know why I hate you right now? Because of what you did to my mother.

You turned one of the bravest, kindest, most talented and creative and generally amazing people I’ve ever known into a mess. You sapped her creativity and you made her lie and hide bottles and spend most of her time in bed. My mother was never deceitful until you showed up. You’ve caused friction in our family, you’ve made me and my brother and my stepdad go out of our minds with worry because we’re all in over our heads. When she was lonely in Chester, you pretended to be her only friend. First wine, then whiskey. She doesn’t even like that stuff. Even after she’d gone into rehab for the first time, you wouldn’t leave. Like the cat in the song, you came back and you just wouldn’t stay away, and no-one had any idea what was going on. You’re good at hiding yourself, or you like to think you are, anyway. I’ve been worried sick about what you’re doing to her because I’ve already lost one parent and I can’t bear the thought of losing another. You preyed on someone who was unhappy and vulnerable and who needed real friends and real support, not a monster in a bottle. If my dad was alive, he’d be furious with you for what you’ve done to her. You are no substitute for him or Richard or me or Jack or anyone else.

That September weekend I spent in Cambridge will stay with me forever. I hated going to the Co-Op to buy more whiskey and being stared at by customers. I hated begging Mum to eat (two days later, she collapsed and had to be taken to hospital). I hated being angry and crying into my stepbrother’s teddy and ordering Mum to ‘get in the fucking shower’. I hated myself for not hiding the bottles or pouring you down the sink, even though I knew that was the last thing I should be doing. I was nine years old again, and helpless. And all the while, you were in the background, thinking, “You’ll never get rid of me.”

I’ve never liked being drunk, and after seeing Mum in possibly the worst state she’s been in since Dad died, I feel even more out of sorts around drunk people. I hate the expectation on me to get pissed, even though I’m on Venlafaxine and my tolerance is rubbish anyway. “What’s the matter?” you say. “Come on, you miserable git. Join in. Have fun. Live a little.”

But this isn’t about me. It’s about my mum and what you did to her. There’s a Tori Amos line that sums up how I feel about Mum right now: “Give me life, give me pain, give me myself again.” I’ve got my mum back now, hopefully for good, and if you want her back, you’ll have to go through us. She’s not going down without a fight this time. I have to thank you, actually, alcohol, for bringing us closer together and for making Mum realise who her friends are. Clue: none of them are you.

Alcohol, you bastard, I’m through.

No love,

Lotte.

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

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 6, 2014

Dark Clouds

I think we need a holiday, a week or two in Mexico
The two of us, leave the fools at home
Away from all the heartache and the troubles that we’ve suffered
In the last two weeks, though it felt like years

It’s stupid o’clock in the morning. I’m watching Blur, in a concrete park full of hipsters. Jack and his mates are somewhere ahead in the crowd. Blur are playing ‘This Is A Low’, and behind me, the waves are crashing. The last festival I was at was Latitude, in 2010, where I camped with my mum, stepdad and one of my teenage cousins. Now it’s 2013, and I’ve seen Jack screaming like a teenage Justin Bieber fangirl at the Wu-Tang Clan, and wandered Parc Guell under a burning hot sun, looking down over the city. I travel around on the Metro and surprisingly, it takes very little time to get to grips with the Metro system, compared to its convoluted Berlin equivalent. I’m living on cheese sandwiches, knockoff cornflakes, pizza and festival food, reading Tori Amos’ Piece By Piece, talking to a Floridian woman and her gay best friend outside the hostel, sitting on the beach being mithered every minute by dodgy men selling mojitos and towels. It’s not my first holiday without my family – that would be the German Soc trip to Cologne in 2005, not to mention that I’d previously been to France on a school trip, Germany on a terrible work experience week and Poland and the Czech Republic on a choir tour. But it’s the first time I’ve been abroad, deciding for myself where to go and what to do, arranging my own cash conversion, booking my own flights and accommodation (which reminds me, I need to get this year’s accommodation for Primavera sorted…) There is no rain and no mud and no annoying teenagers slamming into me and no burning tents. Reading, this is not.

I should probably do a music festival guide for people on the spectrum, as festivals are a daunting experience. I had more panic attacks than I care to think about during the time I stewarded for Oxfam. I did have fun at Glastonbury and Reading, but there were times when I just wanted to go home, and let’s not even get into the last night of Leeds 2002. I would have to be on the campsite where the helicopters and burning toilets were. I think I got about half an hour’s sleep that night.

I sometimes fear that I depend too much on my family, and as I said the last time I wrote about it, going to Primavera Sound 2013 was a challenge; I wanted to prove to myself that I could manage in a foreign country, albeit one where I spoke the language to an extent. Unlike the other students in my flat in first year and the majority of the Jewish Society at Manchester University, I did not teach English to little kids in Israel or go hiking around Thailand or Africa or India. All the times I had been abroad were organised for me. Then, of course, there is the nightmare that is the fucking airport. The very thought of what happened at Schonefeld in 2012 brings me out in hives. Luckily, that stage of the Barcelona trip went fine – the worst bit was having to get rid of my shampoo. Barcelona itself is a beautiful city. Loads of my friends have been there; two of my favourite musicians, Cerys Matthews and Franny Griffiths of Space, both lived there (and Space shot the video for ‘Diary Of A Wimp’ on Las Ramblas). My mum took my maternal gran there for her eightieth birthday; I’ve promised to do the same for Mum if either of us live that long.

As an aside, one of the highlights of going to Barcelona was seeing Jack outside of a family context. A couple of months earlier, we’d met up before a Space gig in London as Jonny Abrams, a guy who I knew through Space fandom and who also turned out to be on Jack’s course, was also going and I had promised Jack that, were Space to play in London, I would come down and see him. Consider that when Jack and I were at Leeds in 2002, we avoided each other and the few times I did bump into him, I either blanked him or gave him the finger. Eleven years on, here I am sitting outside a pub with him and his mates while they eat some rather dodgy-looking tapas. Later we meet up and watch bands together and Jack tells his mates about Dad and one of them manages to sneak in some gin. Had someone told the teenage versions of us that we would have been hanging out at a festival in a decade or so, we would have both thought, “Hahaha, as if.” We are both older and, although this is debatable, wiser and not living together anymore. As much as I love Mum and Jack, I think the fact I no longer live with them is one of the reasons why my relationships with both of them are so much better these days.

Anyway, I don’t wish to go over old ground, except to say that I am going to Primavera again this year. Jack, sadly, is not as he is skint, so being abroad without anyone I know at all being there is the next step. Queens Of The Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails, the Pixies and Arcade Fire are all playing. I hope my body can take it.

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