Pug diaries – not all disabilities are visible !

Sitting on the train this morning I’m minded to write this blog about intolerant, judgemental and often unkind people who are so intent on their own comfort and sacred space that they are willing to embarrass and make others feel uncomfortable. 
So what has set me off in this frame of mind ? 
It’s all to do with perception v reality 
In our heads we think of people being disabled if they are in a wheelchair, have a white stick, an assistance dog or a motability vehicle. We often don’t consider the hidden disabilities that plague many of us, that hinder our function, cause us difficulty and stress. 
I regularly travel alone. All over the world. I’m a capable intelligent person and I’m independent in all aspects of my life. I don’t ask for allowances I don’t have special consideration or a badge but that doesn’t mean I don’t need the same common courtesy as the next person. In fact I do have a debilitating condition that gives me some difficulty in e.g. handling luggage and some progressive deficit in fine motor skills so ticket turnstiles etc can be a challenge particularly if I’m managing bags and such like. It’s not a major thing with a little bit of patience,  but my ability to perform tasks efficiently undoubtedly diminishes with people tutting and huffing and puffing with irritation when I take a few extra seconds here and there.
This mornings joy was that I am, unusually, travelling alone with a suitcase on the train. I do all I can to make this easy. It’s a four wheel one I can push along but I still have to lift it onto the train and push it down the wobbly aisle and find somewhere to stow it that doesn’t require lifting. The only space this morning was behind another passengers seat. They weren’t using it but if looks could kill I’d be writing this from the grave. For goodness sake people it’s a suitcase and just because you have bought a ticket for that seat doesn’t not give you a sacred circle of space which no one shall enter. 
It’s the same problem often in shops – I think I’m pretty nifty at packing up a trolley load at the supermarket but I do drop things and cause mayhem and I definitely do this more when I feel pressured.
If this happens to me I wonder how people far more infirm and with other hidden conditions feel. 
Let’s start with the the frail elderly, the confused, the mum with an autistic child, the person with anxiety, the Crohns sufferer, those with a mental health problem – I could go on but you get the point. All of these people and many others at some time may need that bit of extra tolerance, a few seconds of human kindness and understanding and frankly to be not judged as incompetent or stupid or a pain in the ass. 
I have son with dyspraxia. I have fought all of his life for him to be recognised for what he excels at, for his capabilities not his disabilities. He is gifted, capable and intelligent but even as an adult will still be the last in the changing room if there are lots of buttons or laces involved. Getting this point across in his journey through the education system was forever a challenge. 
Why are we so intolerant of others? Should it really require someone to wear a neon sign saying ‘disability’ for us to be able to recognise that some people may need a few seconds space or an offer of help ? Have we really lost the common courtesy that makes the world so much a nicer place? I really hope not and like the optimist I always am I’m going to hope for the best in people. 
Next time you see someone taking a little extra time or struggling with something, how about a smile and a few seconds space or even better an offer of help? Or even nothing …. for that is better than the toe tapping menace that is so commonly seen lurking. 
Have a nice journey everyone ! #notalldisabilitiesarevisible #TweetKindness

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Pug diaries -Seeing past the window dressing 

On the eve of the funeral of a man I greatly admired and dearly loved, a few words come to mind about life, love and philosophy.
Let me start by saying I’m a great believer in looking at what’s on the inside and not being blinded by the wrapping. Pretty faces fade with time but good souls last a lifetime and beyond. 
My pa in law was indeed a good soul. 
He was the person we all turned to when something needed fixing. He could turn his hand to anything (except cooking!) and was often to be found tackling one job or another in our homes, particularly in our early days as young couples when we could ill afford tradesmen. He was a tradesman in his own right – a skilled electrical engineer who worked in the coal mines for most of his life. He was really interesting. He maintained planes in the war – that’s how he met his wife, our wonderful Jenny. 
He was also a great family man. He loved and was proud of his sons and daughters and adored both them and their children. There is no doubt that every grandchild in the family has spent many a happy hour in grandad’s company getting thrown about with wild abandon, taking walks in the park, playing football in the garden and going swimming or to the shop for a ‘mix up’
He was a stalwart baby sitter and having retired early, spent many years looking after one or another of our extended family and their broods. He thought nothing of changing nappies and dealing with scraped knees, tears and tantrums didn’t phase him, he just always seemed to know what to do and did it. We all had absolute faith in the safety of our children in his tender care. Grandad was fun. He was just what you would want your grandad to be in every way. 
When his own pa in law died he took over his allotment and we had many happy years of plentiful fresh veg and visits to the ‘garden’ on balmy summers days. When the famous Gateshead Garden Festival took place it was a scorcher of a summer. Grandad was a steward for the Allotments Association display. It was also the year that my premature boy made his arrival and Grandad and I spent many a happy hour together under the shade of a bandstand, nattering and having a cuppa whilst I breastfed a baby that needed to catch up with life and ‘dad’, as I always called him, batted not an eye – it was simply the natural and expected order of things for him.
He had his quirks like the rest of us. He could sing all the words to “Donald where’s your trousers ?” and a born and bred Scotsman, he had a collection of fine malt whiskys that would be the envy of many a connoisseur. If you put water in it he gave you a cheaper blend to ruin, but if, like me, you liked your malt neat, he liked nothing more than a Christmas morning treat of pouring a dram for you to enjoy the rich, peaty, golden goodness.  
He came from a biggish family and it became evident as the years passed that’s whilst generally long living and robust, his side of the gene pool had several people who suffered pitifully with Alzheimer’s and in particular his own father. It was one of his biggest fears and as he approached his eighties we were all hoping he had escaped. 
When Grandma, his beloved sweetheart Jenny, was alive we didn’t notice some of his functional deficiencies beginning to develop. She was an expert in being his eyes, ears and memory and despite her physical ill health she was sharp as a pin and watched over him. Her loss was devastating to us all. She was quite simply adored and for Grandad, her loss marked the transition from capable family man to something quite different. 

With her gone, we observed his rapidly deteriorating mental state with helpless despair, doing all we could to eke out his days of precious independence in his own home. Despite all of our efforts and all the commitment and help of the agencies involved, it became evident quite early on that 24/7 care was needed. 
His decline from that point was so painful to see. 
What helped however, was remembering him as the person he had always been inside. It’s much too easy to only see the outer shell and forget the person that has been, the contribution they have made to the world and the place they have carved out in a family. Trying to see him always in that context and trying not to lose sight of that essential thread of the essence of his soul helped me to see him as Dad and Grandad not just someone with Alzheimer’s. 
As we say goodbye to him tomorrow I will be thinking of him and all he did for us and the fantastic Grandad that blessed our children’s lives. I won’t be thinking of the shell that settled itself around him in the final years – that’s just window dressing, I hope that somewhere he will be be finally back with Jenny and that there will be a malt whiskey and a tin of black bullets to hand and we shall raise a toast to him and thank them both for being a precious part of our story and living on through us. They will not be here in person but they will undoubtedly be ever present and our lives are blessed that they are a part of us all. 
Cheers David – there will be no water in mine. 

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Pug diaries – Speed dating and hanging offences 

Health warning – For the purposes of clarity let me state at the outset that this little reflection is in no way related to any organisation in which I have worked. The views expressed are entirely and sincerely my own. 

Let me be blunt.
If you want top class emergency care you have to stop treating it as an exercise in speed dating. For years now we have been looking at the delivery of emergency care and in particular A&E services from the wrong end of the telescope. Worse than that we have seen the public whipped up into such a frenzy that they have done the same.
So let’s go back to basics. 
I can tell you that I have always held the view that I want all care to be of a sufficient standard and quality that it should be good enough for someone I love dearly. If it isn’t “good enough for my mam”, then for me it isn’t good enough for anyone. Sadly, the whole system pressure now forces us away from that principle into “hitting the target and missing the point”. Were the powers that be asking me to advise them, I would say “stop counting the hours and start counting the lives” and in particular the quality of the lives lived as a result of outstanding and thorough care. 
If I were advising the public, I would say “stop believing the hype.” By and large, you don’t get better care by timing limiting it, though it’s true that you do for some conditions. What gives you better care, is a well staffed department with people who believe they can take the time to think and act correctly on your behalf, rather than worrying as the clock ticks towards 3 hours 55 minutes. In fact I urge you, members of the public, to stand up for your rights. Don’t demand to be seen within four hours. Demand to be seen and looked after to the best possible standard irrespective of how long that takes. That is what will add years to your life as well as life to your years. 
The sad fact of the matter is, that all across the country we are seeing inappropriate, sensationalist headlines, critical unsupportive government commentary, ill informed barrack room lawyers and Uncle Tom Cobley and all telling us that we are failing the four hour target. No one is saying and so what? I can tell you now, that personally I absolutely don’t care if I am seen and treated within four hours. If I am genuinely ill enough to need to go to an A&E department, I would expect the expert team to do all in their power to treat me to the best of their abilities irrespective of the time. I don’t want conveyor belt medicine – speed dating with a whole series of people trying to get to know me in three minutes before the bell rings. I want a deep and meaningful relationship based on mutual respect and consideration. My deal is, I won’t come to A and E unless I’m really very poorly and in return I’m happy to wait as long as it takes for you to do the best job for me and I don’t want you to be criticised for that. 
What happened to us looking at outcomes not inputs?   
You know when you put a cake in the oven, if you only look at how long it takes to cook and not the ingredients it takes to make it, or the preparation time or skill needed, you are not going to get a very tasty cake. True you might get some form of cake at the end but it’s not going to win any prizes at the Women’s Institute show and may not even be fit to put on the table.
I’m not being flippant. This is a serious issue. The more we pressurise staff to push people through the system as quickly as possible, the more likely they are to make mistakes, to suffer burn out and to forget about “caring” and focus on “doing”. I worry about the staff being harassed to death to meet a target that is commonly known as a ‘hanging offence’ and them worrying as much if not more about that, as to whether a patient is safe, comfortable and reassured.
What would you want if it were you? 
I can tell you, staff do not come to work to do a bad job. They care deeply about the service they provide and they want to do their very best for patients but we make it as hard as possible for them by focussing on the wrong thing. It really does not matter whether you are seen in two hours or seven hours if you are seen and cared for properly throughout. The care is either good or it isn’t and it is not an arbitrary time target that makes care good. 
Let me talk about a couple of exceptions before the pundits start to shout at me. I am fully aware that certain conditions have a golden window of opportunity and that treatment within that time frame enhances the patients’ chances of a good outcome. That is in fact exactly what I am saying. Staff who are not trying to get every single patient through the system against the clock irrespective of clinical need, can focus on those important time critical issues, rather than not being able to see the wood for the trees. We know that people with serious illness who are seen and treated quickly have better outcomes so let’s try to create an environment where clinical staff can make the right decisions made on the basis of what the patient needs rather than the box which must be ticked.
I, frankly, am despondent about the amount of abusive, demoralising public commentary I see about this which never mentions the quality of the outcome for patients but focuses on how long they waited. 
Most people who are serious emergencies will have an awful lot done to them whilst going through their A&E journey. They will almost certainly undergo a nurse assessment and a medical assessment so that early decisions can be made on management. They may need blood tests, scans, X Rays. They could require the opinion of other specialists who may be busy saving lives elsewhere in the hospital. They may need a plaster on a fracture, an ECG, intubation, bandaging, cleaning, stitching, pain relief and, oh yes, reassurance. Then there’s talking to family, contacting loved ones, mental assessment, and I could go on. They may indeed spend the first four hours and more with a multitude of people valiantly trying to save their lives and I bet that whilst that is happening not one of those patients thinks “I hope they meet the four hour target”. Actually, I can assure you that for serious emergencies there will not be one member of staff thinking “oh my God we are not going to meet the four hour target with this one” and quite right so they shouldn’t.
But whilst all that is going on, there will be a whole host of people in the emergency department who need to be seen and cared for and who under current rules should be seen and discharged within four hours. Whilst it would be lovely to see that happen in every case if the quality of care is right, it is fundamentally wrong to focus on how fast you can do something rather than how well. It is right to aspire to achieve both but the higher priority should be the quality of outcome not the speed of delivery. 
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that emergency departments are also full of people who don’t need to be there muddying the waters. They are almost “speed dating spectators” They could probably go to a chemist or look in a medicine cupboard at home, they could certainly go to their GP or walk in centre. They could ask their mum or look online for help but it’s increasingly a pastime to sit in A&E with something minor often accompanied by friends and extended family, watching the world go by and complaining about the length of the wait, the cost of parking, the absence of entertainment and the limited selection available in the vending machine. If you don’t believe me, watch “24hours in A&E” an excellent insight into the difference between serious emergencies and the sideline commentators looking to occupy their time with a bit of a ‘visit up the hospital’
Let me ask you this.
When you next take your elderly frail mum to hospital after a fall, do you want to see her moved from ward to ward simply to keep patients moving through A&E so the four hour target can be met? Or do you want her to have a thorough assessment, a well structured care plan and perhaps to wait a bit longer with appropriate comfort and support before being taken to the ward she should be in for the remainder of her stay?
I am absolutely not undermining the need for performance standards for the NHS. In fact I could suggest a few which would be better than the ones we currently have – is it not more important for example, to look at how long a patient waited to be first seen and assessed before anything was done at all, rather than looking at the total time in the department when a whole series of appropriate and time consuming things may indeed already have been done ? It’s an important part of understanding what is really going on and in improving. I can also remember where time standards came from in the bad old days where we saw patients waiting on trolleys lying in hospital corridors for very long periods of time. My point is that it should be the right targets for the right reason. 
Let me elaborate. 
There is no easy fix to the pressure on A&E services. It’s a system problem across the whole of NHS and social care services. Ultimately however, A&E is the default to which people gravitate for many reasons, sometimes when other systems fail, sometimes through choice, sometimes through a lack of knowledge and awareness or a belief that other avenues are not available. Until the whole system is fixed there is little point in placing further undue pressure on already overstretched hospital staff to deliver faster A&E care.
What is the outcome of the four hour target failure? 
Does the hospital get more resources to treat more people quicker? You can probably guess the answer- no it doesn’t. In addition to year on year additional financial efficiency requirements it faces, it is much more likely to be fined for not meeting the time standard, irrespective of how well patients were treated in whatever time it took to treat them. When regulators and inspectors look at the A&E department targets, they are focussed on how long it took and how accurately it was counted not what the outcome was for the patient. The system drives everything towards the pseudo “efficiency” target so that the government can say it is assured that A&E waiting times are down – therefore big tick in the box and potential vote winner. My concern is that this is done increasingly at the risk of forgetting about what should really be happening to a patient to get the best outcome for them. 
I’ve never been speed dating. I suspect it’s not a very satisfying getting to know you experience. It might be great for first impressions and snap judgements but if you want me to trust you to look after me carefully and treat me tenderly I will certainly expect you to give me more than small talk against the clock. 

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Pug diaries – Shake those tail feathers baby

 
  

Last Sunday was international ‘Coming Out Day’ in honour of which lots of people told their stories of their own coming out journey, one of whom happened to be my son. I’ve since had a few people ask me to tell the story from a parent’s perspective with a view to helping other parents.
Here goes, hold onto your hats! 
First of all let me start with the controversial. I fundamentally don’t agree with the ‘coming out’ business and even more? I don’t agree with the media description that my son endured from a major tabloid newspaper which described him as ‘admitting he was homosexual’ when as a member of Collabro he was asked direct in an interview and confirmed that he was indeed gay. It was worded as if it was a crime and later rectified by a much more supportive piece by Dan Wootton in another paper which made it clear that Jamie has been overt about his sexuality since he was a teenager but as a member of Collabro he simply had not been asked nor should he have been – I feel my inner lioness growling already.
When Jamie’s coming out story was published last week in Gay Times, he had a largely positive reaction interspersed with quite a lot of undoubtedly well intentioned homily about the fact that no one should ever have to come out, that it should never be an issue and that love is love and should be without judgement. Who can argue with that? 
To me it is blindingly obvious and I have to say this was the very point I started from when I first realised Jamie was gay. I was absolutely vehemently against the requirement for a label or an announcement of any kind – no one ever asked me or expected me to speak about my sexuality, or to ‘clear things up’ and I certainly didn’t see why my son should have to do that.
In fact I’m singularly ashamed to say that initially I discouraged him a little from doing so in the early days – not because I didn’t want people to know he was gay, but because I didn’t want it to be dramatised and somehow therefore making him an exception to the rule rather than the norm. I’ve since come to understand that until things change further in our society, it is in fact necessary to be clear about these issues if people who are LGBT are not to suffer in all kinds of other ways through the pressure to conform to expected norms with which they may be profoundly uncomfortable.  
Let’s go back then to when I knew. 
I think inside I knew when he was at primary school but he didn’t broach the subject with me until he was about 12 or so. I was ready in my head but not in my heart. That’s not due to any disappointment in him but I feared for him and in many ways I was right to do so and I’m relieved to say that in many ways I have also been proved wrong. In fact I was pretty ignorant myself and didn’t know enough about it to make sensible judgements. I did however know a lot about being a mum and in the end it’s that what matters. 
We talked it over then and subsequently on many occasions and discussed exploring sexuality and taking time to know your place in the world and being sure. We also talked about when to be open and the implications that brings. 
Jamie was always clear that once his thoughts and feelings were clear he wanted to be open and comfortable in his skin. He wanted others to know and felt it would be easier once the initial reaction wore off. I felt that there probably was a timing issue and that whilst his close friends were in the loop it might be easier to bring the wider world in when they were mature enough to act responsibly towards him.
We can only do our best when guiding those we love, we act as a mirror to reflect things back to them and help them see their way. I have always tried to be that mirror to my children and like them, I am human and get it wrong sometimes. I don’t know if I was wrong about this but when I look back dispassionately at it, I think that we impose a culture of expected norms on our children from an early age. We are not expected to call boys sissy names, or dress baby girls in blue . Putting a boy in pink is nigh on impossible unless you knit something yourself – you try looking in all the major stores and see what you find. 
Toys are gender stereotyped. I have never subscribed to the boys play with footballs and girls play with dolls philosophy but so many of us do. Look at the major toy aisles in every store they are almost universally segregated in this way.
Equally however, I wouldn’t want them to be tailored for different sexual orientations; that in itself is stereotyping. What I want is for it to be gender neutral – my goodness a free choice of what to play with based absolutely on what interests you – how radical ! 
So, perhaps the freedom to be open and openly discuss sexuality and feelings at any age would be better and until we break that mould such stereotyping will continue and the pressure of expectation it places on our children will continue 
But back to Jamie’s story. 
Ultimately when he was sure, he wrote me a letter to confirm his thoughts and feelings. I still have it somewhere. We are definitely beasts of the written word Jamie and I, we like to express ourselves through this medium and actually although we talk for hours as a routine, it was a really good way for him to draw that line giving me the chance to ‘get my face straight’ as my dad would have said. In other words when your child tells you something you are going to have to work through and prepare for, it’s good to have a little space to get your head together and say things in the right way when you are face to face. 
So having had that discussion and despite the fact that I knew deep down before he told me, I still nonetheless had a grief reaction when it was absolutely confirmed and I was deeply ashamed of myself for that. I wasn’t and have never been ashamed of him. I am immensely proud of both my children, they are wonderful and I know I am blessed. However, I was frightened for him. I feared he would be bullied, that he would be lonely, that he would be judged or even ostracised, I was fearful of HIV and even worse AIDS and somewhere in there I felt grief that I may not be a grandmother and that Jamie who loves children may not be a father. 
  

I was hard on myself but never on him. I was fiercely defensive of his rights to be who he is and to be comfortable with it. I realise now it was natural to feel like that. Society develops expectations in us that all children will grow up and form heterosexual relationships and have babies and live happily ever after. At that time I didn’t know anyone who had been through the same experience. I didn’t have anyone to talk to overtly about it – this was Jamie’s story to tell when he was ready not mine, and so I internalised it and fretted and tried to provide him with the safety net I knew he would need from time to time. 
I may have been mentally alert to the possibility but I had to learn fast to deal with the reality. 
Let me be clear I am a person who loves unconditionally. I believe profoundly that this is what builds the strongest bond between mother and child. There is nothing that my children could tell me that would stop me loving them. 
It was disappointing therefore when people became aware that Jamie was gay and said things to me about how surprised they were at how well I had taken ‘it’ like ‘it’ was something to be ashamed of, or let down by. I know what they meant and it wasn’t said with bad intent but it hurt nonetheless and I’m sure he has, without comment about it, suffered much more of that than those who love him have. 

  

My philosophy is this. Our children cannot walk in our shoes. They cannot live the life we wish for them or indeed what we may wish for ourselves. It is their journey and whilst we do all we can to equip them for it, they must make that journey themselves in their way with whatever life gives to them. Our job isn’t to judge or to direct, it is to offer support, guidance and help when asked and to surround them with unconditional love. I hope I have done that.
For those of you out there that may be worried that your son is gay let me give you this one piece of advice. The day they tell you that, in whatever way they choose to tell you, is probably the most important day of your relationship with them. It’s natural to be concerned for their welfare and to worry about happiness and safety and to take time to absorb and process the information but it’s imperative to accept and be positive and to recognise that it is absolutely no different from any other big life event that your children face and to treat it as routine. The fear is much worse than the reality. Your gay child does not suddenly grow two heads or start dancing round in a feather boa in public, though if they want to that’s fine. 
Frustratingly, people often say to me that it’s ok because with Jamie you would never know because he doesn’t ‘act like that,’ he has a ‘big deep voice’ and ‘looks normal.’ What they mean is that he isn’t rampantly effeminate and in their eyes therefore an embarrassment. Others have said, with the intention to reassure me when describing gay couples, things such as ‘oh you know such and such the ones who are, you know, ‘funny’ ( all said with arched eyebrow and singsong effeminate twang usually with a droopy hand gesture) followed by ‘not like Jamie, he’s not like that’ 

  

I’ve learned that by and large this is ignorance not malice. I don’t overreact and have no intention of being the martyr in the interests of political correctness, but I do wish that people would think before putting foot in mouth and that they would just not expect me yet again to sit through their explanation that Jamie is ‘ok’ because he isn’t like the ‘others’ and he is just ‘really lovely.’ My inner lioness is growling again -my child does not need your approval of his life choices and certainly not of his sexuality – end of!
Jamie is of course really lovely – both of my children are. They are decent human beings with great values who care about society and other people. One is gay, one is not but it has nothing to do with their sexuality, they are just nice people.

  

We are all different irrespective of sexuality. 
Our personalities and behaviours are part nature and part nurture. We learn from the world around us and until we break the prejudice that society has about these issues, people will feel pressurised into declaring their sexual preferences so they are not shoe horned into expected societal norms living an uncomfortable lie rather than a comfortable truth. It is not our gay children that have the problem, it is us and the rest of society that really needs to wake up and smell the coffee and realise that we will all know people who are gay and it’s pretty good odds that we will all have someone who is gay in our immediate or extended family. 
By the way says the lioness, not all men who are gay are ‘effeminate’ and similarly not all girls ‘butch’. Not all dancers are gay and policemen are not all straight. We just are what we are so let’s just get over it. 
It’s a silly prejudice but it’s an ignorant one by and large and it’s unacceptable nonetheless. 
What I can say is that the world doesn’t end the day your child tells you they are gay. It’s a different life to the one you may have expected from the way we are conditioned to expect life to be, but it’s just as wonderful a life as any other child’s, with the same pride and pleasure in watching their development and their achievements and their successes.  
I’m pleased however that Jamie shared his story and I hope it will help other people who are gay to deal with the pressures they may be facing and I hope it may help the parents and families to be prepared and supportive
Day to day I can tell you it just never occurs to me if I am honest. I don’t look at Jamie and think ‘how is my gay son today’. He’s just my big daft lad the same as he always has been, making his way in the world and my heart is filled with love and pride. 
Mind you if he does start dancing round with a feather boa fair play to him that’s his choice but I hope he will get lessons – I do like him to do his best at everything! 

  
.

 

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Pug diaries -Too clumsy for words – dumbing down dyspraxia part 2 

Having had a lot of heartfelt feedback about my previous blog on dyspraxia I thought I would try to expand a bit further. 
Let me start by saying that in my experience we live in a society that labels . 

  

My beloved mother was a nurse and worked for most of her career in elderly care. She taught me that when we look at an elderly patient we only see what is in front of us, the frailty, the dementia, the illness. We called them ‘geriatrics’ or even worse ‘gerries’. We see what’s on the tin but we don’t see the contents inside. We don’t see the person that has been , nor the richness of the life lived. The best advice my mother gave me in this respect was to talk to older people, but more importantly to listen, to appreciate their histories, their place in the world and hear the tapestry of their experience. They are not a caricature sketched in the lines of old age . They are multi dimensional and once we see them like that we respond to them differently. In my experience she was right . 
I came across this great photo recently and it encapsulates what I mean . 
 

The same applies to people with disabilities . There is a danger that we see the disability not the person. I have a good friend who is a doctor. He is also profoundly dyslexic. I wouldn’t know that until I saw his written word because he is highly intelligent, articulate and has many interests that he pursues successfully. He is also an excellent doctor but he just can’t spell for toffee amongst other dyslexic limitations. He is also highly quirky, interesting and a tad eccentric and all for the better. 
My son Jamie is dyspraxic but he isn’t ‘A’ dyspraxic . He is a vibrant, intelligent, loving and capable young man with a wicked sense of humour and an immense talent for music and languages. He has a functional condition that he has to work hard to overcome to be able to live the life that he wants without hinderance, but it does not define him . It’s simply one facet of who he is.

   

 This is an important perspective because I have never presumed that Jamie can not do something because he has dyspraxia. It’s very easy to overcompensate and not allow someone to stretch their boundaries . We kill with kindness. That said, I have always understood when he tried and couldn’t do something or couldn’t do it well, but I always encouraged him to try . 
So, he had a couple of years horse riding as a small child . I didn’t know that he was dyspraxic at the time but I knew that it takes coordination and confidence, particularly for someone with sequencing and motor skills difficulties, and I knew he had these. 

He loved it. He wasn’t particularly going to be an Olympic equestrian but by the time he moved onto other things he could competently canter round the ring and go over small jumps. 
He also did judo. 
Now, you may not know that a common factor in dyspraxia is hyper extension of the muscles and upper body weakness. From the banal frustration of not being able to get the lids off jars to learning how to throw someone to the floor in a complex sequence of judo moves, this was undoubtedly a hindrance to him and has always been so. But he did it and got a few brightly coloured belts to his name and it improved his confidence and coordination, though he still struggles to get the lids off jars!

When he announced at the age of 8 that he wanted to learn cello I was horrified but only at the sheer thought of having to lug this huge ungainly bit of kit around, I didn’t think he couldn’t do it, I just wished he preferred trumpet, violin or some such other more manageable musical passion. Later when I knew he was dyspraxic I was incredibly proud to see him develop as a skilled cellist taking his musical grades and passing them with merits and distinctions . 

He didn’t particularly like written music theory. Those in the know about dyspraxia will be aware that complex patterns can appear to be just a sea of dancing shapes and in Jamie’s case basically getting in the way of a good tune, but he understood it as a means to an end – his beloved music. So, he slogged at it and got his grades and can competently sight read, manage music scales and is a pretty good musical arranger. Who would have thought it when I watched him fighting with a jigsaw or a piece of Lego getting more and more frustrated at the jumble of unrelated shapes and colours in a tangled mess in front of him!
I tell you these things not to boast about him but to set a context. 
My father told me that you can do anything you want in life if you want it enough. I have always told my kids the same. It might not be easy . There are always obstacles, but if the passion to achieve something is there, it can be done. I think both of my kids have proved that in many ways and I think that part of that is our collective determination to avoid labels and look at the whole person not the ‘condition’ or the limitation. 
Sadly, not everyone sees this the same and it has not always been easy to gain the understanding and acceptance of key influencers who could and should have made a difference. Where Jamie had supportive understanding mentors, he excelled. They brought out the best in him and celebrated his talents rather than his limitations. In his case the proof is definitely in the Languages, English and Musical pudding. 
However, I recall at one famous parents evening, a particular teacher saying to me that Jamie couldn’t be bothered to make an effort because ‘everything came to him easy and always had’. I burned with the humiliating way this was said undermining Jamie’s confidence further in a topic he actually loved, but just couldn’t get the results. I was most incensed however because Jamie never had it easy. Because of his difficulties, he had to work to overcome obstacles and everything was a challenge, particularly where numbers or formulae were involved. The injustice made my blood boil. The battle was unequal. 
Jamie’s coordination problems were not all down to dyspraxia . He was pushing six feet tall when he reached his teens and long gangly limbs and poor coordination are not a great mix. Then of course the onset of acne and teenage weight gain, coupled with a growing awareness that he was gay did not make for an easy life. He was the perfect fodder for bullies and I am convinced to this day that this is what honed his talent for acerbic wit and cutthroat responses. He might not have been the muscle on the pitch but he could win any battle of words. He is also the champion of the underdog. He can’t abide bullies or injustice and no doubt from his own experience isn’t backwards at saying his piece about the things he feels strongly about. 

Looking at him today you would never know these parts of his tapestry but they are part of the fabric that makes him the person he is today. 

  

Of course dyspraxia is not all about coordination. 
Autistic spectrum disorders manifest themselves in many and quirky ways . Often people who are dyspraxic have hyper sensitive skin, particularly on their scalps and dislike having their heads or hair touched. Jamie is no exception, but also hates his neck being touched to almost phobic proportions.
Rituals become part of every day life. Whether it is turning around twice before sitting down, or doing things in a certain sequence, the need to control and organise to survive either results in, or exacerbates, already inherent obsessive behaviour patterns. 
These are not big issues that should hold someone back . We are all different and I, for one, love quirky people and Jamie is definitely quirky. It makes for an interesting myriad of changing patterns and colours but we all have things that add layers to our personas and the world would be a less interesting and greyer place without these subtle differences. 

   
   

My daughter for example, always puts the knives and forks out the wrong way round. This has never held her back, she isn’t dyspraxic, it’s just one of her quirks and I’m sure it won’t stop her being a top class doctor when she qualifies. She will, however, have to remember her right from her left but we won’t hold that against her. 
  

Labels are for jars not for people. 
I want to know if it’s lemon curd or strawberry jam because I like one and hate the other. People are not quite so straightforward. You wouldn’t know that Jamie was dyspraxic at first sight and you might not ever have known if he hadn’t shared his story. The important thing in knowing is not to label him but to accept that in his particular combination of neurones he has some things he has to deal with that are different from many other people, that he has to work hard to overcome these, but that it is not who he is, simply how his particular systems of connecting wires and levers works.  
When we label we limit. Sometimes, as in Jamie’s case, we have to label to get the right level of assistance and support in those formative years but that should be a quiet well oiled mechanism to gear up useful action and reaction, not a neon sign shouting ‘different’ 
Jamie is absolutely not ‘A’ dyspraxic.
He is gifted and talented, intelligent and quirky. He has a myriad of achievements and many skills. There is little that phases him in life – as long as he doesn’t have to tie his shoelaces quickly! 

  

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Pug diaries -The tale of the disappearing rabbit and other strange events

In my pug wanderings this week there has been a definite theme of survival of the fittest and it’s brought to mind the sort of ‘shower thoughts’ about life, love and philosophy – you know the ones where you have arguments with yourself and plan what you are going to say about something or what you wish you had said because it never comes out that way in reality?

  
Well, it all started with the poor little hedgehog that clearly had a battle with a car and lost. I first saw this sad picture three or four days ago and noticed today on my walk with Princess Peggy, that it still lies there to all intents and purposes intact, but definitely dead . That set me thinking, because yesterday on my early morning pug wander, I saw a wild rabbit mangled into a very odd calamity of tangled front and back legs lying in the middle of the road and clearly having breathed its last.
  

On my way back from our constitutional however, the rabbit had moved and unless it was supernatural forces at work, it certainly could not have been of its own volition. That said, moved it had, to the side of the road and lying in a different position with a trail of unpleasant insides behind it. 
Suddenly in front of me, a couple of magpies swept down, having patiently circled above us unseen like buzzards. Watching them I realised that the little corpse had been dragged to the side of the road by the local carnivores, who clearly did not want to follow in its unfortunate footsteps, so pulled their prey to a safer place to eat at will 
Sometime later, the time for afternoon pug fest was upon us and I casually looked at the spot to see that the little carcass had gone altogether. This seemed hard to credit. I would at the very least have expected to see remnants of some kind. Then catching my eye, was a very neatly ‘french trimmed’ set of bones way over in the field where they had been casually taken as carrion and picked quite clean, all in the space of a few hours. 
This sad little tale led me to think about our passion for rabbits and dogs and horses and other animals and the angst we rightly feel when they are treated with cruelty, abandoned, run over or stolen. 
The Yulin scandal has in itself alerted the world to the plight of common cats and dogs when the time for traditional eastern delicacies comes around. I understand and sympathise with the outcry, but wonder why we distinguish between those we cherish as pets and those other animals for whom we do not have the same regard and in effect live comfortably with double standards side by side. 
Now, before I continue my ramblings, let me clear something up.
I was a vegetarian for 11 years and have been verging on the vegetarian for most of my life. So, knowing this fact may lead the reader to presume that I write this with a bit of leery eyed ‘new age ‘ prejudice.
Not so. 
My vegetarianism was entirely to do with a lifelong dislike of many meat products and nothing to do with the ethics of eating other living creatures. I believe we were born to eat a wide and varied diet and developed to do so as hunter gatherers. I personally however, quite simply like fruit, veg and carbs much more than I like meat but in the end, a bacon sandwich did for me and I do now eat meat in moderation, if I can face it, or be bothered, which more often than not I can’t.
So, in those shower thoughts I muse as to why it is that it is ok to eat pigs or cows but not cats or dogs. Why do we feel very little for a wild rabbit mangled by the roadside, or a flattened hedgehog which was just too slow on that lazy summer evening, but freak out when the domestic rabbit escapes from its cage to a similar fate, or when we see rabbit on the menu of our favourite restaurant 

  
In Peru we know that guinea pigs are a delicacy but in our house they were beloved pets full of personality with almost human like qualities – we could no more think of eating Domino or Bailey – they were fully fledged family members! Similarly our little Sherbert, accidentally dropped onto his head at birth due a mishap from which my son Jamie has never recovered, was simply the quirkiest and most lovable, if somewhat intellectually challenged little rabbit in the world.
   
    
 
But it is true whether we like it or not, that there is in all things a degree of evolution that leads us to forage for what we need and to eat it. I know that we could live a life without meat and survive, but we won’t. It simply isn’t generally in the majority of our natures. We can, however, live a life with meat that doesn’t involve cruelty and does not enrage those, of which I am one, who prefer that we don’t kill other living things for our pleasure 
So, at one end of the spectrum, to see a hunter grinning inanely over the dead body of a newly killed giraffe, its life extinguished in the whisper of a moment in the name of sport, frankly makes my blood boil. I accept however that we breed cattle for meat and provided we look after them well and give them a good quality of life, I think I can live with that – it seems to fit into the proper order of things. 

  

Having worked on a battery farm as a very young girl, I simply don’t ever want to eat anything but free range eggs. If you have any doubts, do a couple of shifts on a battery farm, there is absolutely no glory for the human race in the way those chickens are treated. It’s appalling.

  

I suppose what I think I’m getting to, is that there is a fine boundary between the natural way of things and killing for pleasure.  
A local cat killed our lovely rabbit but left it largely intact just for a bit of wicked feline fun. It made me murderous and I’ve often been tempted to swerve when I spot it sitting smugly at the bottom of my drive and take the ultimate revenge – but I don’t have it in me and in the end if I did that would reduce me to the level of the callous hunter myself, so I turn the other cheek. 
 Killing a beautiful animal for a trophy or some extreme apothecary to increase one’s libido is just beyond the pale. I can not and will not ever understand it.
Breeding animals for basic foodstuff however, is the natural order. How we do that leaves us to be judged as to whether we cover ourselves with honour. If the Yulin festival involved pigs or sheep would the western world protest so much ? I abhor it, but that’s because in my head cats and dogs are domestic animals but they may be basic meat products or delicacies elsewhere in the world alongside Guinea pigs, deep fried crickets and many other unmentionable things that don’t tempt my palate. Irrespective of that, the way those dogs and cats are treated shames the world – it is barbaric.
When I was little, whilst I disliked most meat, I adored rabbit gravy on pancakes followed by rabbit stew. I did not like the fiddly bones but the meat was sweet and melted in the mouth. My daughter Caitlin, a lifelong rabbit lover, cannot bear the thought of eating her pet, but happily eats most other meats and is undoubtedly a carnivore of the first order. 
So when I ‘shoo’ the local cat away from the bird table, I do so to protect the birds which I love to watch and encourage to feast for my pleasure. But in the natural way of things, that’s not my job . Just as in the same way it’s not my job to protect the worms from the birds or the flies from the spider. These things are part of a delicate balance and it’s not for me to yank the precious food chain and weaken its intrinsic links.

Just like the rabbit as he disappeared swiftly into a pile of cleanly picked starch white bones-he was not killed by the magpies, but they wasted and wanted not in his honour and that is the way it should be in the natural order of the world. 
Now back to my cheese sandwich ……. 

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