MELTDOWN: “Greater Force” versus difficult 

“Meltdown” if you’re autistic is the culmination of too much coping, too much stress, too much internalising; too little opportunity for repair, too little understanding, too little time being true to one’s needs.

It’s a powerful rebellion of the inner self, of the true needs of the autistic person. It’s a reaction, a cry for help, an explosion. It’s a need for release from what’s going on now or what’s gone before. It’s an immense sensation that something must give, must break, must end. It can manifest as a strong – if not totally overpowering – need to escape. To rip a hole in this current life and run away.

There is often a sense of a Greater Force beyond our control creating havoc, making life especially difficult and of life conspiring against us.

It’s not a hissy fit. Please don’t say it is. It’s important.

What it really is is an inability to see soon enough that we’re asking too much of ourselves or that others are asking too much of us.

We might react to an immediate environmental or personal impact upon us. We might scream that life or a person is picking on us (it sure as hell feels exactly like that) but what it really is is too much expectation. Too much difficulty. Too much pain. Too much…

Like a belly so overfull it makes you vomit because there simply is no room for anymore, the only thing to do is let it all out or implode.

I see myself trying to carry too much – metaphorically and literally. I watch as I drop things, as I disappointment myself, as I hurt myself, as I become overwhelmed.
I feel a rising tide of everything pushing against me and I rarely remember to stop soon enough – or I am simply not permitted to stop soon enough.

There is no Greater Force conspiring against us.

It’s just too much. It’s too difficult.

But goodness only knows what the answer is.
Another world? Another time? Another set of rules?
Another way of thinking about difference and need?
Some kind of permission for better clarity from autistic people for autistic people and a language based on acceptance and empowerment that allows for difference to be accommodated and embraced is certainly needed; that allows for us to feel safe to say we want change, we want you to change and we want to cope on our own terms. And an end to this feeling that we were not made for this world or that we should try so very hard to not be ourselves when we and the world were very much made for each other.
It’s okay to say it’s too difficult. It’s okay to say your way is not my way. It’s okay to say I have to do a, b or c in order to survive.

But it’s not okay to be in a place of meltdown not knowing that all it was was too difficult, too unsuitable, and we should have been




The Eco Whisperer


I want to be an eco-warrior and stand a-top a mound
Wave leaves and flowers like flags for the earth
And call to all around:

“Don’t kill the animals! Don’t poison the plants!
“Don’t burn trees to the ground!”
“Leave beauty where you see it.”
“Don’t covet all you’ve found.”

I want to fight for truth and hope
Teach sharing, caring ways
And show each human how wanting less will bring us better days

Let’s look past borders, let’s empower the poor
Let’s end this greedy phase
Give hope to future people
And the children that they raise

I want to change the way we teach: setting children on course for greed
Drive minds instead to long term plans
With warnings they must heed:

Give up your ego, give up your bling
Give time to thought and deed
See wealth for what it really is:
Taking more than you need.

For it is our greed that got us here:
Our desire to own and win.
Our minds must change from envy and respect
To avoiding this huge sin.

Quiet, committed thinkers
Are the role models for me
No Bransons, Trumps or Windsors
May ever come for tea

Admire the ones we’ve never heard of
Who never took a dime
Who ask for nothing in return
Though they’ve given so much time.

I’ll never be that warrior
Up high for all to see
I fear for the attention
And the conflict aimed at me
But I will heed my own message
And write for solidarity:

Power to the future
The animals
And the sea
Destroying nature is not progress
And growth?
That’s for the trees.

Mascara and Alcohol: when getting away with it got too heavy. 

mascaraeyeIt was the early two thousands, maybe 2003. I was still booking things, still agreeing to things, but in recent years had gradually begun to back out of more and more plans, and increasingly clocked up more no shows; strangely grateful for a child’s sniffle or a phone call to say things had been cancelled, and yet still in denial, still making excuses, still convinced I could do everything that I wanted to do. And still convinced going out and socialising was fun, was what I wanted. The tiredness or hormones of motherhood were making me enjoy home more perhaps? Being so busy in daily life meant I’d run out of time to get ready or the energy to stay out at night, right? There were well-argued reasons for every time I chose to stay at home. I would often truly feel ill when an event was upon us and I had genuine headaches, genuine stomachs problems. It all felt like real reasons and not excuses, and so the times staying at home built up and up and up like a brick wall. And it happened so slowly and I was so good at convincing myself that it was just this once we’d cancel, just this time we’d stay home because… because… Because, after all, going out is fun. Everyone likes it. Everyone. If you don’t there’s something wrong with you. Humans are social creatures. Fun, fun, fun times…

My grandmother had suggested I was depressed when she noted my increasing insistence for staying in, staying home but I looked at what I had and I was happy with my lot. And I could always always reason my actions. Until that day, one Christmas holidays, I was sure I was making my own choices and was in complete control.

It was the Christmas period. I’d booked pantomime tickets for what was then the four of us plus my parents. Getting ready for Christmas as a whole was difficult for me, it left me in a constant state of list-making, obsessing over minutiae, sleepless nights and panic, and the extra socialising completely drained me. I had to drink a lot to cope with anything social. I thought it was the same for everyone but I was chaotic for weeks, and every moment was taken with pinning down my panic and attempting to appear organised. I did appear organised but appearing organised was actually all I managed. It was a performance so convincing I managed to carry it off for years. I once admitted to being shy to a friend and she laughed and said “You’re not shy!” I really had pulled it off! So I just kept turning up for things and drinking and talking crap. I remember telling one of my Open University tutors that I got through Christmas on mascara and alcohol, and she told me I should write a book called Mascara and Alcohol. Maybe I will.

As our children were still young, I’d booked matinee tickets for the panto. Already in a flappy state (I didn’t know I had anxiety. I wasn’t even kind enough to give myself the gift of a label those days. All I knew was that things made me flap, made me worry, made me stressful. I got stressed. I stressed out), I found myself getting hotter, trembling, focussing on negatives about my appearance, obsessing about a pimple, unable to draw that line that said “finished getting ready” and walk out of the bedroom, downstairs, to the front door. I’d got the children ready, given my parents a picking up time, my husband was downstairs ready and waiting to start the car. I’d organised every thing and every one but I was Not Ready. I would never be ready. I couldn’t complete getting ready because that would mean leaving the house and I was trapped inside a forcefield that was insisting I stay home.

I’d met that forcefield before. Once as a teenager when cycling to a holiday job I cycled into the forcefield and it span me around and I found myself heading home again. At the age of five I refused to leave the house and go to ballet lessons because I knew I simply couldn’t go. I loved ballet but I never went again. I danced alone at home instead. Forcefields existed around doors and I couldn’t walk into certain rooms or areas at school.

But all these years later I still wasn’t joining the dots and putting together the picture of someone who physically and mentally couldn’t socialise regularly.

Upset, my family went to the Panto without me. Upset, I stayed home alone. I was relieved and comforted by the escape but incredibly upset.

What had gone wrong?

I’d done what I always do when going anywhere: I’d been in control of planning everything, I’d chosen in advance what I would wear, I’d pictured us there, I’d placed myself in amongst many people, imagined the claustrophobic crush in the entrance, pictured sitting under pre-performance lights, pictured people sitting all around us, imagined being spotted by people we knew, people we half-knew, people I couldn’t remember because (as I now know) I have a degree of face-blindness, imagined what I would say to people, realised I didn’t know what I would say, and knew deep down that I wasn’t going to cope – some other time, yes but not this time. But it was deep, deep down and I wasn’t really sure what was controlling my actions. My subliminal knowledge that I’m not coping or that I won’t cope often simmers away in the background until I meet that damned forcefield, and WHAM! – can’t do this. This one event in itself was not a big thing but everything else had circled around and around until I felt that just doing this one thing was like entering a black hole.

That day was a biggie for me. I’d let a lot of people down. And I haven’t been able to trust myself since. Other people in my life no longer want to take the risk with me either and I’m rarely invited to anything. I’m not entirely sure what I want to risk committing myself to anyway. My husband will never plan surprises for me because he too doesn’t trust me. This is not necessarily a bad thing because he’s not a fan of too much socialising anyway, and I think his habit of being a grumpy, unsociable git at times is what attracted me to him!

So these days what I want to do and what I’m able to do sometimes overlap beautifully like a Venn diagram, and sometimes they stay firmly separated in their big old lonely circles. Often I will put myself through what is uncomfortable because it’s probably what’s best, other times I will actively seek out peace. Lying awake at night after an event (sometimes for weeks or years afterwards) and remembering how you cocked everything up is no reward for pushing yourself through something. It’s hell and it’s not worth the pain of clocking up yet another bad experience, yet another disaster. So instead it’s a lifelong project of daily self-assessments now. This self-awareness has given me a more joined-up picture of someone who has to carefully measure and weigh up what’s going on, what’s necessary and what’s doable on a daily – sometimes hourly basis. I have to give myself permission to make plans for fun things but I also have to be able to admit that not doing something is also okay and sometimes crucial. And I have found comfort and beauty in just being and not always seeking outside experiences. I do like time at home. I like it a lot. It’s not just something that I have had to force upon myself. It’s often something I have to fight for.

At a wedding a few years ago, I was struggling to cope and someone next to me was involving me in conversation. After a while of getting limited response from me she turned to her companion and muttered something about “…so rude…”. I’m not rude. I spend my whole life adjusting myself to people and situations in order to not be rude. It’s exhausting. Why push yourself through things if you’re so overwhelmed you’re just going to appear rude? Humans are complex beings (no shit) and we can respond very differently to different situations, and there’s nothing quite like feeling trapped in situations that other people clearly find fun and enjoyable.
There’s something about socialising less that makes you look like you’re coping less. But I’m not coping less these days; I’m just coping differently.

Backward Forward Thinking

shutterstock_135498428Somewhere out there, in a parallel universe, there are humans who knew that dragging coal and oil out of the earth was stupid, dangerous, dirty and unsustainable so they left it there and instead they developed products and technologies from safe, clean, sustainable sources, fought the NYMBYs and the luddites centuries ago, harnessed, wind, wave and solar power and will continue to thrive and renew for eons – long after we have fried.

It’s not too late to join them as a sort of sickly, recuperating, penitent relative with previous self-destructive addictions, trying to clean up our act,  but it looks like we’re not even going to bother because we still haven’t admitted we’re addicted and we’re in the wrong.

Well done to the wise inhabitants of that other earth in that parallel universe. I wish I and my descendants could join you.

Rivers, chasms, rocks and balls

shutterstock_152045750There are many days when I feel life is a combat; a clash: it’s about all problematic differences and inexorable imperfections. I don’t go looking for them – they go looking for me. These differences come and get me, bash into my safe world and make it unsafe. I don’t want it but there’s an adversarial edge about me. What I actually want and what I feel I am really looking for are similarities and sameness for comfort. But on days like these there’s a sense that my difference and my way of looking at life is a chasm, a great, hulking, massive mile-wide fissure between me and everyone else. I’m desperate and separate, and longing for the most familiar and recognisable people and beliefs so that I may latch onto something secure. I feel a need to be fully understood and yet I am aware that that is not possible, and it’s so tremendously heartbreakingly painful. People I know let me down by not being exactly as I need them to be and not saying exactly what matches my thinking. I need them to fit – and of course they can’t (and why should they?).

When I look back on days where I’ve felt this way, the me from the outside – the me who has made it through and has shrunk the chasm, feels so protective of the me who was crying for help and clambering over rocks on the other side. I want to tell that me how well she’s doing, how she must hang on, and how of course the fight is as big as it seems but that fight is not necessarily always with other people – it is with the chasm. I wish I could reach out and help her up and over and out of her distress.

But there’s a sense on days like those that rejecting people would be easier. Just let go of everyone and fall/fly/run – depending on my mood, and be free of contention. People are contrary, oppositional, and cause conflict. I don’t want the conflict of contradiction or unexpected words. It makes me feel unsafe. I want to be offered a hand, but would I take it? Would I trust it?

This is autism. This is how the part of autism that cannot cope with change, unfamiliarity and difference manifests in me. It’s not about prejudice or discrimination in the way a person with racism or hatred would see difference. It’s more about familiar thinking and familiar behaviours, similar likes and dislikes, similar needs and similar struggles. And it’s about feeling that people are doing and saying unnecessary things and adding to my distress. People simply seem more cruel and less warm. My ingenuous detector becomes highly discerning and there is very little I am able to trust. It’s similar to childlike intense distress at not being fully understood and knowing the adult brain can’t see what you are seeing. But it’s a grown-up, dark distress that can only deepen with the realisation that outsiders are unable to validate or comprehend your distress. I can feel as different from other white, forty-something western women with homes and children as it is possible to feel if they are not looking at the world in a similar way to me. And while I’m being so apparently oh so the same as everyone else the river of difference keeps flowing, wide and fast and keeping me separate.

Then when the time has passed and the difference waters are calm, I am calmer too. I feel guilty and am quite awkward about being so at odds with so much of the world. I see how I was irreconcilable and possibly inconsolable. I want to love and be loved and mend fences. I am filled with intense amicability. And yet I am full of fear for when it will happen again and doubts about who will hang on through another earthquake.

What I am trying to fathom out now I am over the latest chasm is whether these chasm days are necessary? Whether, like autism meltdowns, they are an obligatory release and rest from social play? Does all the fitting and understanding and placating take its toll on the autistic brain so much so that we need compulsory rejection days? Is modern life insisting that we continue to socialise, and function on a constantly communicative level when really what we need is to retreat? Is my brain marking out all these differences as oversized predicaments to get me to withdraw?

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in the past few months it’s that I must withdraw and I mustn’t fight that need to get lost in the wilderness. Other people’s everyday social behaviour is like a tennis match to me. I have to remember to get out at intervals and stop letting the balls hit my head because it ruins it for them and it hurts me.
It’s a lonely place over the chasm, and the urge to curl up and weep is huge but as the world becomes noisier and less and less private the opportunities to do just that become fewer, and rather than wish I didn’t have to go there I fear for the times when I – and those like me may find we can’t escape for our solitary climb in our mind or in our own backyard.

Today the differences are not looking for me and I am not stumbling over rocks. I am not caught in a tennis match. I feel my heart is huge and the chasm is small. I am appreciating a view from my always slightly different angle on the world. I am not looking for people to only say things that make me feel safe, but I think I appreciate this feeling all the more for knowing so well what it’s like to be ripping my nails out trying to hang on.

I think autistic people want and need their right to position themselves where they want in the world, to look on the world with a knowledge of difference and to have that view validated, but we also need the offer of a hand up when we think we are slipping.

Today’s thought…

shutterstock_170125076I’ve been thinking about this obsession with looking younger. I just had a spam email advertising looking 10 years younger in 10 minutes. I don’t actually want to look any younger. I like being a grown up. I don’t want to walk around with my husband looking like he’s my father. I am proud to have kids in their late teens and to look like I’m old enough to be their mother.
I have no desire to look like an expressionless, startled, immature, unexperienced child or object. I like looking experienced, less threatening, and I like how other women chat to me when I’m shopping. That never used to happen when I was younger. I like how my sexuality has developed, settled and become a part of who I am instead of a feature.

Yes, it’s nice to look and feel healthy whenever possible but I certainly don’t want to go back in time. There’s a reason why I look like I’m over forty – and that’s because I am. It fits.

Impressed? Not much

I’d love to live in a world where humble, modest and generous-hearted were held in the highest regard, respected the most, and seen as the best properties to strive to attain and achieve.

Yet I believe we live in a world where quite the opposite is true – and people who want, take and show off are given unhealthy and ugly undue respect for being selfish, power-hungry and greedy; where somehow it is okay to steal as much as one wants regardless of the unfairness, decide to throw back a little where one chooses to celebrity-studded charities that shouldn’t even exist – and this is weirdly better and more applauded than never stealing at all.

Every day I feel guilty for the imbalance and inequality in my life compared with others. I see admiration for cars and houses and businesses that are bigger and more damaging than necessary or fair, and I wonder why we should be so impressed, and how on earth we could believe that anyone, anywhere deserves more – especially when it is based on want not need?

Find your ideals, not your idols

nofaceWe don’t tend to watch TV talent shows or a lot of sport in our house. I see how easily children (and adults) can become overly impressed with celebrity, with superficial adoration from a crowd, with narrow, one-sided ideas of success and achievement that, rather peculiarly, seem to exclude almost everything that is truly good in the world. And yet somehow modern media and its ideas of good role models has got to our youngest child: through kids’ TV, through school friends, through films and radio. She has been fed this notion of being noticed, of being the centre of attention as some kind of ambition. Like so many young people these days her list of “Things to Be When I Grow Up” includes a singular rather than a group mentality.

For me, the best people are not celebrities, not sportsmen and sportswomen, not winners, not rich, not on TV talent shows, not actors, not royalty, not in government; not Richard Branson, David Beckham, Barrack Obama, Cheryl Cole, not even J.K. Rowling or the lovely Stephen Fry. No, for me, the best people are the ones we will never know: the ones not striving for recognition, power, money, top jobs, top positions, top earnings, or top speeds. Our best role models are the people we may probably never meet or just never notice. We may pass them in the street without being awestruck, they may stand quietly behind us in the queue, they might deliver our online shopping or serve lunches at our children’s schools.

Once in a while you might catch a glimpse of them in a newspaper photo holding a placard in a crowd, or their head bobbing amongst many on a TV screen as they join in striving for a better world. Just one in a number fighting for a cause, content to be one of many, part of a struggle, part of a solution.

The photo next to a description of a true hero, a true role model, is an empty box. They don’t want our attention or strive for our adoration. We must find our role models in ourselves and accept that the true heroes are lost in the crowd -because by singling ourselves out for some higher place, we put ourselves before others and therefore we can no longer be the best we can be.

I don’t know exactly who all the true role models are for me and my children, but I know they are out there and I know what they do. They think well of others, they help others, they think about their actions and how they impact on others. They teach, they nurse, they fix, they heal; they inspire quietly, slowly and indirectly through consistent goodness and thoughtfulness and not by some crazy drive for individual achievement.

Nelson Mandela: This white person’s perspective

shutterstock_157100942 “White people: now is not the time,” wrote someone on Twitter last night, in the minutes after the announcement of Nelson Mandela’s death. And after I’d thought ‘Ouch!’ I thought it’s true: the facile offerings by white male British politicians that began to seep into the news reports last night were irritating, hypocritical and disconnected.

But what about us other white people? Are we right to celebrate his life, mourn his death, bombard social media with tributes to a man who fought for people in a way no white person ever fought for those people? My opinion is that of course it is right to share inspirational quotes from the great man and talk about our memories – but remember the bad stuff and show some respect. But being of the race that was party to years of rule, segregation, privilege and brutal inequality for centuries, we must also keep ourselves in check. The negative legacy of this must not be underestimated.

Nelson Mandela was about black people; he was about fighting and closing a crazy chasm created by white people because of something so ridiculous as thinking a darker colour of skin was somehow inferior. His fight had been for black people and against a white people’s regime.
How disgusting that such a situation as apartheid ever existed. How disgusting that white people didn’t do more to stop it. How disgusting that it took so long to defeat. (Has it been defeated? I think not.) How disgusting that fair voting didn’t exist until as late as 1994! Too much of the world had been controlled for too long by white men to the detriment of people-of-colour, and most of us non-people-of-colour and our ancestors didn’t do anywhere near enough to challenge it. Where was our unwavering respect for fellow humans? Where was our fury at injustice and gob-smackingly cruel inequality? My mother refused loudly to buy South African apples in the green grocer’s in the 1980s (much to our embarrassment), we bought and played “Free Nelson Mandela” by The Special AKA, we tutted a lot at the news, we watched the news of Mandela’s release with tears in our eyes, we behaved ourselves back home here in the UK. We didn’t have black maids, we didn’t tell black people to sit somewhere else, we understood in theory that everyone is equal no matter what colour their skin.
But. Let’s face it: we didn’t do enough. The inequality went on too long, the fight took too long; the right people were made to feel like the wrong people. There was apathy everywhere. Inequality still exists – and not just on streets but in hearts. And it still exists everywhere.

If I may, I would like to make a rather sketchy comparison between the inequality of skin colour with the inequality between sexes. Long after the amazing discovery that women are equal to men, some people have only taken on this information in theory and some haven’t even managed that. Most men are saying equality exists. Men are accepting women should be paid as much as them for doing the same job (why did that take so long?!). Men aren’t really supposed to say housework and child-rearing is women’s work. But it’s not really happening. For all the decent, sensitive, feminist men who see a need for more effort and fairness there are many who think we’ve already got there and those who think it’s all a bit of a joke. The fight is very much still on, and so because of this even the well-meaning non-women need to keep themselves in check.

You see, however hard they try men can never know what it is like to be a woman: to be bombarded from birth by obsessions about appearance, to be excluded from things such as sport and engineering and banter designed for men by men, to be pressured to be all things to everyone, to never kick up too much of a fuss in case it doesn’t look feminine or nice enough. Most men have no idea about the in-fighting that exists between women they have caused because of their opinions about what being a woman actually means. Whether they are party to the prejudices within society or not, all men are within that group that caused us harm, that kept us back, that refused us the vote, that told us how to behave, that didn’t pay us fairly, that made us feel inferior, that treated us as objects, that still jokes about us, that calls us bitches, that forces unpleasant sexual acts upon us, that compares us with other women. Need I go on? The best men can do is think, ‘I hope I’m being fair to women but I accept there’s still a long way to go and I must keep trying.’

So, in same the way that all men are tied by their sex and should be obliged through the acts of other men to keep themselves in check, to treat us as individuals, to remember how we have suffered in the past and how we still suffer now – whether they are directly causing any harm or not, we white people must also remember we are tied by the acts of fellow white people, and how there is still much work to be done and much respect to be found. For all our empathy, imagination and feelings of solidarity, for all our reading of books by Maya Angelou and downloads of world music and posters of Bob Marley we do not know what it is to be a person of colour, what it is like to be treated as different or inferior or bullied by a white person, and so Nelson Mandela is and always will be, a hero for people of colour and we white people can only imagine what that feels like.

I thoroughly respect and admire the great healing process that Nelson Mandela began. I feel an overwhelming fondness for a man whose kindness and forgiveness shone across the world through my TV screen over the years, but I am ashamed that as a black man he had to risk his own life, freedom and future to tear down the walls created by white man and I understand as a white person we need to make sure it never happens again and continue to fight for freedom by watching our own behaviour.

His fight was for his race. His message is for all of us.

One in Twelve: how we invent problems

The ugliness of uniformity and weeding things out.


In a clump of about twelve daffodils under a tree in our front garden, there is one daffodil facing a different way from all the others. The rest of the group face in a general southerly direction, but this one daffodil faces north. It is as tall and strong and straight and healthy as all the other daffodils. It looks just like a normal, bright, yellow daffodil, but something has caused it to take a different direction in its growth, and therefore face a very different world from all the others. It seems to have a pretty good life though. To its right in the morning is the sunrise, to its left in the evening is the sunset. It faces the birds nesting in the hedge and the traffic going by. Daffodils have so much character in their appearance one can almost imagine it is looking out on the world (well, I can imagine it).

I relate to this daffodil. I feel as if things about my early growth caused me to take an individual view on the world. I crouched in the wet grass to photograph it being all different and taking an alternative view on life, and I sniggered “Ha. Good on you, pal.”

I guess in a perfect show garden, in a public garden, in a neat little controlled garden this one daffodil might have been sacrificed, plucked out, discarded for not fitting in. It might have been planted in an orderly formation in a perfectly boxed-in little patch of neatly-bordered ground, and when it didn’t quite line up it may have been removed or replaced. Some people can’t cope with visual difference or glitches to their own idea of order. “It’s just the same in almost every way,’’ perhaps an obsessive gardener might have observed, “but… well… there’s something about it that makes my ordered, daisy-free, straight-lawned world look messy.”

I often look at the ideas of an ordered world that our systems and societies try to create. In institutions such as schools with their rules and their uniforms, for instance, there’s an obsession with making everyone look the same, making them fit. This insistence on order says, “Don’t embrace difference, don’t accept wonky, individual, new or surprising, and for heaven’s sake don’t challenge our idea of the norm.” Uniforms are getting smarter and smarter and more and more samey. The idea of smart samey children troubles me enormously.

I wonder how life would be for all the thousands and thousands of children who grew up being the one in twelve – who wanted to face a different way from all the others – if teachers, parents and society had said “Good on you, pal.” I wonder what life would be like for the other 11 in every twelve who did find it easy to do what they were supposed to do, to have been allowed to witness that it’s okay to have something about your classmates that makes them seem a bit unusual. Maybe some of them could have been more brave about their own differences, and would have learnt to accept that just because someone has something about them that causes them to look at things differently from you doesn’t make them all that weird. Maybe we would all be better at just allowing, just accepting, just letting be if we weren’t so focussed on sameness being a positive thing.

My intense dislike of uniforms probably amuses others. Especially those who see them as benign, harmless or even good for everyone. I see them as the quite the opposite. I see uniforms not only a symptom of a society gone wrong but also a cause. They are anything but benign. Uniforms are for grouping together and for separating out. They are for armies to show whose side we are on and to identify the enemy; they are for workplaces to show who is serving and who is the paying customer. They divide people and they create subservience. Uniform says you need to look like everyone else or you are not with us. It says defining us by looks is important. It encourages us to weed out anything that doesn’t fit: to fight an enemy, or to send home a child who doesn’t look like all the others at school. It teaches children that fitting in and looking the same helps you get on in life.

Looking different may not even allow you in.

The message this gives is “If you want to be with us sort out the way you look first. If you can’t, you’re out.”


My suspicion is that there are probably at least 2 children in every class with a strong need to express their difference and many others who would like to be quietly non-conformist without the attention. But they are all squeezed in or kicked out. Sometimes discarded like a weed or planted elsewhere.

Now I’m older I don’t think of myself as the only one who felt a bit weird or a bit as if I was looking at things differently from everyone else. I feel like I’m one of the one in twelve, who probably exists in almost every situation, and who feels this way. There are loads and loads and LOADS of us! And I often wonder how many of the other eleven secretly sympathised with us and would love to have joined us if they hadn’t been forced to fit in. Maybe they would like to turn around to see the birds in the hedge too.
But maybe it’s too late for some of those who were forced to fit so much that they can’t ever look at things differently; their brains have be trained to admire 12 straight daffodils and no weeds without questioning why that might be a bit bonkers.

Yesterday, I was fairly pleased, after fifteen years of the damn things, to finally read a school report that didn’t suggest one of my children needed to change in any great way. Ever since our eldest child’s first report at age three, we have been told our children are too something-or-other, not enough this, perhaps a bit that. There has often been some unnecessary character assassination. In this latest report for our youngest, there was reference to her messy handwriting as a concern but no mention that she needed to change who she was. I felt it was okay for her to be her and that there was perhaps a certain amusement and fondness even for her character. I’m not going to let her get uptight about her writing though. From my previous experiences, a child who is concerned about his or her handwriting – especially because of what adults want from them – tends to tense up and write in an inhibited way and it can make things worse. She loves making up stories and has a marvellous imagination but already refuses to sit at the table and write at home because she says she does enough of that at school and she doesn’t enjoy the actual physical process of writing (<- my choice of words!). Her father struggled with his handwriting and too much was made of it and he never recovered; her brother struggled with his handwriting and I tried to not let too much be made of it, and these days he writes just fine; now here’s our youngest “struggling” with her handwriting too and I don’t want her worried or discouraged by expected standards. When I say “struggling”, I actually mean “isn’t writing as neatly as is expected for their age group” and “isn’t reaching the required standard”

But if it wasn’t for these required standards there wouldn’t be a problem. It seems to me we invent problems -which is a bit silly because there are enough real problems already.

I’m keeping a close eye on the next clump of daffodils about to flower. I hope there’s one facing it’s own way again and that there’ll be others just generally looking relaxed about their free-thinking neighbour.

And do I pull out weeds? Do I remove things that don’t fit in my own garden? Yes I do – I don’t want unwelcome plants crowding out my vegetable patch.

But weeds are not people.

People are not weeds.