Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Elephants, Not Surprisingly, Big Subjects...

Elephants have always been a big thing in our house.. pun intended.  An awareness of elephants has always been present of course, but they seemed to become a very important after the girls were born. The most favoured cuddly toy was an elephant for a while, the favourite books almost always involved an elephant, Babar was the cartoon of choice on TV. There was a short period of dragons being favourite, but that was soon after we moved to Wales where the images of dragons are commonplace and the most played video was Ivor the Engine, particularly the episode with the dragons in Ivor's fire box, but the elephants soon returned as champions. Elmer was a particular favourite.

Somewhere near the middle of my husbands midlife crisis, which has been ongoing for at least twentyfive years, he took a liking to dance music, not Come Dancing dance music but the standing in a field with your arms in the air and flashing lights Ibiza style dance music. One memorable Friday night in the Hippo Club in Cardiff some time in the '90s, he got incredibly excited by some sounds which bore a resemblance to elephants trumpeting, after that he was hearing elephants everywhere for a little while. Consequently whenever anyone he knew came across anything elephant related it seemed to end up in our house. It was also useful when family asked what Bill wanted for christmas of birthdays I just said 'elephants' and left them to it, it worked for a good few years. He didn't seem to mind. I denied all knowledge.

Speaking for myself, elephants are cool, I've got a lot of respect for them and they seem to turn up in the most surprising places. You'd expect to run across them in Asia, and you do. I imagine if you go on safari in Africa you'd be pretty sure of seeing a few, never done that so can't be sure. Seeing them in a field in the bottom of the valley just outside Aberdare was a bit of a surprise. I was alone when I first spotted them, it was not long after we moved to Cwmbach, just outside Aberdare. We'd moved from the Forest of Dean where they have sheep in abundance and the odd pig, there were lots of red deer there as well and I was always seeing them although a lot of the locals claimed never to have seen one and some even denied their existence. I was brought up close to Richmond Park, and not that far from Bushy Park and Home Park, I know a red deer when I see one. And I know an elephant when I see one, or two which is how many I saw this particular day. 

Having just moved, and not knowing anyone in Wales let alone Cwmbach, the only people I met were other mums at the school gates whom I had absolutely nothing in common with, or shopkeepers and checkout persons. Add to that my inability to understand a word anyone was saying, although they were speaking English, it was at an incredible speed with an impenetrable dialect. Anyway, all this was making me feel a tad isolated so I decided to enroll in a local drawing class and it was while I was waiting for the venue to open early one Autumn evening, leaning on a iron fence watching the sun go down over Aberdare that I noticed the elephants wandering across an area I later came to know as 'The Ynys'. It struck me at the time that perhaps I should keep this sighting to myself as a wall of Welsh denial was certain to go up if I said anything, red deer in the forest still fresh in my mind.

I was still struggling with the whole concept of elephants in the Cynon Valley when the chap that was running the class wandered over, leaned on the fence and concurred that elephants weren't something you see every day mooching about down there and he was pretty sure he'd not had all that much to drink, he also felt that perhaps we should keep this sighting to ourselves. We left the elephants to it and went to unlock the class room as more people were arriving for the drawing class, and not another word was said about elephants for almost an hour, when a bit of a rumpus could be heard from the corridor where a whole load of nine year old karate kids were getting over excited about a group trip to the circus on the Ynys at the weekend. Teacher and I exchanged a knowing nod and didn't mention what we had seen to the rest of the class. That weekend I took the girls down to the Ynys to see the animals which was a sad outing, seeing them shackled and static and we didn't go to see the circus as none of us was really very keen on the idea. I just wished more people had been lucky enough to have had  the pleasure of seeing them wandering about in the open as I had. Yes, they did let the elephants out wherever possible to stretch their legs, in fact at one time I understand they would parade through the streets. I remember when I was a kid in Kingston on Thames, being awestruck by the annual Chipperfields Circus parade through town with the horses, trapeze artists, elephants, clowns et al, to the playing fields where the big top was pitched around about this time every year. How innocent we were back then, happily there are no more circus elephants and here would be a good time to admit that I cried all the way through Dumbo and I've avoided it for the last umpteen years, and somewhere on this earth there is a photograph of me aged about six riding with several other children on the back of an elephant in London Zoo. Happily there are not a lot of elephants in zoos these days either.

So what bought all this to mind? I saw this link by chance on Twitter and clicked on it:

                         Thai Elephant-Assisted Therapy Project - autistic autism

Like all therapies, it will work for some and not for others, but that is neither here nor there, it was the sheer joy that the thought of an elephant assisted therapy bought to me, and which has stayed with me that interested me, suddenly I was six years old and on the back of a huge grey elephant in London Zoo, swaying precariously and looking down at my Mum and Dad waving up to me, I had no idea that anything could grow so big and be so gentle as I discovered when I gave the elephant the bun I had been given to say thank you for the ride, after all these years I remember the soft warmth of the huge trunk gently taking the bun from me. Elephants are big and strong gentle, and so was that particular memory, and it occurred to me that I have clear memories of all my encounters with elephants, be they real or in books or films, they are without doubt a memorable animal, and for me, just knowing that there are elephants in the world is a therapy in itself. 

Monday, 25 October 2010

Queen Street.. Revisited

Sarah and I went to Cardiff today, and this has been rattling around in my head from the moment we turned a corner into Queen Street, one of the main shopping streets in Cardiff now pedestrianised and always busy... that wretched Tory saying us benefit scroungers from the top end of the valleys could all get on buses and come and seek work in Cardiff. (See previous post for that particular rant.)

This particular benefit scrounger has a degree in Art and Aesthetics, and I have always had an interest in public art, particularly the sculpture that graces our streets in the form of statuary of the great and good. South Wales is a good place to be if you like that sort of thing, there are bronze castings of wiry boxers in Merthyr, the Nos Galon runner and his dog in Mountain ash, we've got Kier Hardy and Griff Rhys Jones in Aberdare. No, not that Griff Rhys Jones, this one was known as Caradog, and conducted a 400 strong choir that won prizes in the 19th century. All good stuff. Cardiff has got an awful lot of the great and the good as you would expect in a capitol city, but their are two in particular that stood out for me and did their statuary brethren proud today. For me, their positions, one each end of a bustling retail thoroughfare, both of them are either greeting you as you enter, or watching you leave, speaks volumes about the city, the history, the politics and the people who find themselves walking along Queen Street.

At one end we have Nye Bevan, he was a politician, so he's on a big plinth, unfortunately he is also under a tree, so he gets a lot of bird crap dropped on him. This is the man who started the National Health Service, the man we have to thank for the Welfare State. Beyond any shadow of doubt, one of the good guys, there's a lot of us wouldn't be here today but for him. But the birds don't know that, so they can be forgiven.

And at the other end of the street we have the Miner. The same sculptor produced both pieces. Robert Thomas, from Cwmparc in the Rhondda, '26 to '99.

You cant help but notice that the Miner is only slightly elevated, he's not standing on a plinth like Nye, he is standing on a slab that is barely a foot high, He's a little bit larger than life and you have to look up to see his face, but then, isn't that as it should be?  Here is the hero, the working man, the guy that lives next door and goes to the working mens club on a friday night, the salt of the earth. Today he would be labeled a benefit scrounger by certain section of society.

So back to the object of this post. We are presented with two very different people, the politician who worked with ideals and ideas, and the miner who worked with his strength and courage, both working for the greater good, both heroes in their own way. One of them at each end of the street.. What has been rattling around in my head all day today has been the nerve of the Tories who are reveling yet again in the suffering of sections of society that they have no concept of, and would any of them have the humility to feel ashamed of themselves, were they to walk the length of Queen Street with their eyes open wide enough to see the strength of character  expressed by these two emotive pieces of statuary... and I have to admit, I would really like to see them squirm.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Spending Review, Ian Duncan Smith, Cold Calling.. This Has Not Been A Good Week...

I'm not going to talk about the Spending Review, I don't need too. It is all to obvious to all of us that it is an ideological swipe at the poorest and most vulnerable people in society. The image of whooping and cheering Tories waving order papers in the House of Commons at the prospect of destroying the welfare state will stay with me for some time. As for the LibDems, well, what can you say, this coalition stinks and it's intentions are clear. Their definition of fair seems to be something along the lines of being fair to everybody, and if you've already got more than you need, it's only fair you get a bit more. With the Tories in charge you can guarantee that some of us will be more equal than others.

Now IDS has decided to turn up the volume a bit to remind us all of the appalling 'get on your bike' statement made by Tebbit last time the Tories screwed up the country. This time the unemployed in Merthyr Tydfil are supposed to have lost the ability to get on busses and go to Cardiff to seek gainful employment in a city that already has a bit of an unemployment problem. According to IDS it's only a 50 minute ride to Cardiff, not going to argue with him about 50 minutes, that's probably about right. Now if you glance back through some of my previous posts you will see that I am no stranger the bus journeys in the South Wales Valleys.

I live in Aberdare, one valley over from Merthyr (35 minute bus ride away, weather permitting in the winter). If you are not familiar with the area we're talking about, open up your Google Earth and have a look. If you are unemployed and living in Merthyr the chances are you are housed on one of the estates to the north of the town. These estates are not exactly walking distance from the bus station in town where the cardiff bus can be caught, you are looking at adding another 30 minutes at least to your journey. Of course, another problem is on the return journey in the evening the chances are you would be too late to catch the last local bus back to your estate. I live on the edge of an estate 3 miles south of Aberdare, the last bus from there to where I live is at 6.00pm, whenever I have left Cardiff after 5.00pm I have never managed to catch a connecting bus and end up paying more for a taxi to get me home. I know 3 miles isn't that far, but look at the terrain, the last mile is seriously uphill. They may be small but they are still mountains! So Ian Duncan Smith, commuting into Cardiff by bus from the Heads of the Valleys bears no resemblance to commuting into London from the suburbs, believe me, I know, I have experienced both. Come down here and give it a try before you start telling the people whose families your predecessors have already tried to destroy by taking away their livelihoods and dignity one way or another for generations, that they have forgotten how to use busses!

Which brings me to a personal gripe which has niggled me more than a little this week.. cold callers, particularly the ones who call in the early evening when you are trying to get the tea ready. I knew they were in the area, I saw them while I was waiting for a bus earlier in the day, (ironically, on my way to the jobcentreplus to get a bit of paper stamped).  These two were from Scottish Power, apparently not selling anything, just anxious to show me all the savings I could make, I told the talking one I wasn't interested, but he was jabbering so loudly he couldn't hear me. He had to take a breath so I took that opportunity to say again that I wasn't interested and quite frankly fed up with the likes of him standing on my doorstep trying to sell me stuff I didn't want and started to shut the door. To cut a long story short, he took exception to my refusal to listen to his sales spiel,  told me I was abusive and the last thing I heard as I shut the door was him telling me I was rude and ignorant.  I have been in touch with Scottish Power, waiting for an apology as I blog.

That was Wednesday, yesterday it was TalkTalk, earlier in the day but still inconvenient, This one came out with some crap about did I know about the free internet being rolled out over our area. I said 'no, but somehow I already have free internet, so cheerio.' He then told me his internet would be faster, I suggested it probably wouldn't be and tried to shut the door. He's now waving a leaflet in my face asking me if I had read the leaflet that I should have received last week. I had to tell him that unsolicited mail went straight into the bin and was never read. What followed was a silly statement from a man who is only carrying a clipboard, 'Only we're collecting them back for recycling because we are a green company' I told him we were green too and all his junk mail went out with all the other paper recycling shortly after a nice man from the council delivered a very cute little green wheely bin for food waste only the day before and shut the door quickly before he could think of anything else waste my time on.

Now to pull cold callers, IDS and the spending review together. Old council estates with their high percentage of the low paid or unemployed and of course, a lot of elderly people, usually women since most of the elderly men have long gone with silicosis, must seem like the happy hunting ground for these high pressure and deceitful sales types. Faced with the onslaught of 'facts and figures' these people regurgitate on every doorstep I'm pretty sure the unwary get sucked in by the false enthusiasm and just go along with it.  I don't imagine these people do a lot of trade in the areas which sport front drives, nice cars and neat front gardens, I would hazard a guess that the people who live in that sort of environment are not the ones IDS is having a pop at either. Well, we all know who is going to come off worse when the spending review cuts are implemented and lets face it, the nice cars and neat front gardens are going to get over it if they lose a bit of benefit, maybe take a cheaper holiday, maybe put off the new kitchen for a year. Heaven forfend, they could send their children to the local comprehensive and save on school fees, their kids will still be able to take their A levels and go to University!

But back to the cold callers for a moment, I suppose they are just as worried as the rest of us about how the cuts are going to effect them, so of course they are going for the easy targets, get your sales numbers up, less chance of losing your job. Which is what the government is also doing, ensuring their core vote is happy by targeting those that they perceive to be scroungers, which unfortunately includes the people who will be least able to cope with cuts in an already meagre income, not to mention the inevitable reduction in social services as councils pull in their belts. They know these people are the least likely to vote, let alone vote tory.  It is despicable behaviour by people who should know better and that is as far as I am going, the sun is most definitely over the yard arm, Sarah is away in respite this weekend, and the said weekend starts here........

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

A Bus Too Far.....

We've just had a four day weekend. Very nice you might think if you subscribe to the normal five day working week with Saturday and Sunday off. In our household it's not quite that simple. Sarah spends four days a week in the day centre, transport picks her up at 8.45am and delivers her home at about 4.00pm, Tuesday to Friday. Well that's what should happen but that damned butterfly keeps flapping it's wings somewhere in the Amazon resulting in all sorts of nonsense occurring here in the Cynon Valley.

As you would expect, I arrange all appointments, missions, meetings, whatever, for the days when Sarah should be in the Day Centre. The second Friday of every month is the day chosen for the little writers group I am part of to meet up for a couple of hours in the Muni Coffee Shop in Pontypridd...  as an aside, if you should happen to be a carer that lives in Rhondda Cynon Taf and you're at a loose end on the second Friday of the month, the Muni does a decent cup of coffee and you don't have to be able to write to join us, having an interest and being a carer is sufficient... So the butterfly flapped it's wing in celebration of chaos theory and sods law, and Sarah is home on the second Friday of the month because of staff training and we've got a four day weekend on the back of a three day week.

Now Sarah, being autistic, assumes that she and I will go out for the day, somewhere exotic like Swansea or Cardiff. I explained to her that we had already visited Cardiff on Monday and I've got to be in Ponty for 10.00am which means catching a bus at 8.30am, If she wanted to come with me she would have to get up as if she were going to the Day Centre and not having a day off, and anyway she would only get bored because I would be talking to other people, so perhaps she and her Dad wouldn't mind following me so that we could meet up in the Muni around midday when my meeting would be breaking up, have a cup of tea, maybe go and have some fish and chips (always a deal clincher with Sarah) then the three of us come home on the bus together. By some miracle this suggestion was accepted and put into action. I met up with fellow writers and we were just winding up when Bill and Sarah arrived.

After a round of hello, how are you, nice to meet you and so on which Sarah loves, (a whole bunch of new faces with names and birthdays to remember and recite when I least expect it!) we set off for the fish and chip restaurant at the other end of Pontypridd, feed our faces and then head back to the bus station. It's round about 2.00pm and a bus is due in. And here it is, and it has Aberdare written in flashing orange lights on the front. Not the usual bus, which should have alerted me to potential problems, but it did say Aberdare, and when I showed the driver my return ticket which had 'Aberdare to Pontypridd return' writ large upon it and said 'Aberdare?' in a questioning manner, he nodded!  Bill travelled as companion to Sarah on her disability bus pass so no words were exchanged there. So off we go, should be back in Aberdare well before 3.00pm.

Quite a crowd on the bus, all happily settling down for the ride to respective homes, bouncing along the A470 towards the exit before the dreaded Abercynon roundabout. Passengers accustomed to the journey are preparing for the long left turn we are about to go into only to be surprised by the shortness of our turn to the left as we find ourselves going to the right and along a road that is not going to take us to Aberdare. A few of us noticeably sat up and paid attention at that point, and probably all thought something along the lines of 'at least I'm not alone!' Being British, none of us said anything. Working on the basis that this isn't the sort of bus that goes a very long way, Bill and I decided to treat it as a game and played at guessing our destination from the road signs, landmarks and clues like railway bridges etc that we spotted along the way. We were a little disappointed when we saw the road to Merthyr and didn't go down it. We then spent a good half an hour touring housing estates we'd never heard of, a few people actually got off, I'm guessing they knew where they were. We went through more places we'd never heard of and finally landed up in what passes for a bus stand in Bargoed. By this time the only people left on the bus were the confused from Aberdare. The silence needed to be broken so I thought I'd go down and speak to the driver. He told me that I must have got on before he changed the display on the front of the bus, I asked him where he had come from before arriving at Pontypridd, he said Aberdare, I wondered why the display hadn't said Pontypridd and was answered with a shrug. So then I enquired as to where he was driving to next because myself and most likely the half dozen others who got on the bus before the display was changed were curious. Pontypridd. Good, and where to after that? Aberdare. Right, I left it at that with the driver, he didn't seem at all bothered and anyway his phone was ringing, so as I returned to my seat I suggested to our fellow travelers that we all just stayed put on the bus until it got us to where we were supposed to be, being British there was an assortment of responses along the lines of  'deww' 'typical' 'durrr' 'tsk' all accompanied by raised eyebrows and rolling eyes and shaking heads.

So we revisited our mystery tour route, but the other way round of course, arrived in Ponty, picked up more passengers and then on to Aberdare arriving nearly an hour and a half later than we should have. I couldn't help wondering how many people were standing in Aberdare bus station scratching their heads and wondering why they weren't in Bargoed! First lucky break of this convoluted return journey then happens, as we are making our way to the stand for the connecting bus to Cwmbach, home and a cup of tea, it obligingly pulled in and within a quarter of an hour the kettle is on and Bill is summoning up Google Earth to try and make some sense out of all the twists and turns we had just experienced.  So that was day one of our long weekend,  on day two we didn't go anywhere near a bus. Day three... buses are few and far between on a Sunday. Yesterday Sarah, who by the way, thoroughly enjoyed the extended jaunt on Friday, decided we needed to go to Merthyr for which I am eternally grateful, since up to Sunday night she had been talking about going to Swansea which involves a bus change in the middle of nowhere onto yet another dodgy service running buses that have definitely seen better days.

Our Merthyr trip was uneventful, there and back again with no problems, but I've got to admit I could have done without it, for me it had no real purpose, but Sarah loves it, sitting on a bus with her earphones on, calculator in hand and a bottle of water and I could always do the same, except read a book rather than grapple with a calculator! But that trip on Friday, well the word Bargoed has begun to take on a whole new meaning over the weekend. I have a feeling it is going to become a point of reference when planning trips and events. I can almost hear myself saying as I study timetables or stand in a queue,  'Under all circumstances, we've got to avoid a Bargoed.' Without doubt, it was a bus too far. Ropey old vehicle, badly maintained and extremely bendy roads and by bendy I mean be up and down as well as side to side. Bill and I were so knackered that by 9.00pm we were both spark out in front of the TV.

Well that lot is better out than in, but there is one thing I should add, Bargoed actually looks like a pretty good place by Valleys standards and one day when I've nothing better to do I will probably go there on purpose, although if possible, not via Pontypridd bus station and preferably by train...

Friday, 8 October 2010

Turning The Tables...

Nearly a month since I last blogged.. how remiss of me, but I have been basking in the glorious peace that has descended on our house since Sarah seems to have turned another corner and has changed her default  reaction to any given situation from..

'I want nothing whatsoever to do with what you are suggesting and until I get my own way I will shout, scream, stamp my feet and inflict as much damage as possible (physical and mental) on you, me, anyone and anything that is within reach.'

"Ok, I'll go along with that. We are going to have something to eat aren't we? Busses can be a nuisance sometimes, never mind, earphones on, iPod on, can I have a drink of water? What is 64x72?'

In the last month several things have happened that would have resulted in utter meltdown seven or eight weeks ago. We've had changes of staff at the Day Centre, changes of personnel on the transport, a full moon, a menstrual cycle, several technical hitches involving freeview box, DVD player and iPod and a nasty cold which has left us with a nasty cough which we cannot shift.

So what's going on? What's happened? As far as I can see it is just two small adjustments made by everyone who has dealings with Sarah. At the Day Centre and at home we have made a concerted effort to ensure Sarah knows where all the people who are important to her are and that she is told well in advance of any events coming up, or changes to events she is already aware of. A couple of simple things really, but we had all let them slide and had not noticed. It needed to be pointed out to us because we just couldn't see it. Something was obviously making her feel as mad as hell,  none of us could work out what it was and we all just reverted to damage limitation and putting up defences.

As I said in an earlier post, we had visits from a psychiatrist. He finally assured us that the problem was not a mental health issue that required medication. This was a relief, Sarah has never had any medication beyond the usual antibiotics for infections etc, and decongestants because she doesn't cope well with stuffy noses. He was of the opinion that psychology was the way forward but he would keep a watching brief on progress.

Psychologist turned out to be a marvelous woman who hit it of with Sarah as soon as they met. Of course I was the one who had to do most of the work, listing dates, events, good days, bad days, what the weather was like, who was around. endless little details going back six months or more. and also keeping a diary with detailed descriptions of any challenging behaviours Sarah displayed what may have prompted them, where she was etc. A similar thing was being done at the Day Centre. Every week for five weeks Amy the psychologist and I went through the events of the week with a fine tooth comb, she made a chart and with the aid of coloured markers we started to see patterns emerging.

I believed from the start that what was needed was a fresh eye looking at the problems we were having, I had a bit of fight to get anyone to take me seriously and it wasn't until the Day Centre had trouble keeping Sarah calm on some days and I expressed my concerns for my own health at our GP surgery that action was finally taken and we were referred to the psychiatric dept. I believe I was proved right.

Two weeks in, Amy noticed that the worst incidents were occurring when things change and Sarah was not informed. We have always known that Sarah doesn't like surprises, We also know that, being autistic, routine rules, and that changes have to be explained carefully. What the Day Centre and ourselves had lost sight of is how small these changes can be and if too many changes are occurring, as they had been for Sarah for almost a year it turns out, she is not surprisingly going to get a bit miffed!  So, rules laid down, strategies put in place, and the last month has been plain sailing. We just couldn't see the wood for the trees.

So we have had the pleasure of a cheerful and relaxed Sarah for a few weeks now, she is not worried about what horrendous changes might have taken place overnight, so has space left in her head to think about other things, like getting back into teaching herself to read, she still doesn't like people showing her what to do or how to go about things, she has to work it out for herself. Also multiplication tables.

Like most of the pre calculator generation, I learned my tables off by heart in junior school from 'Once one is one' all the way through to 'Twelve twelves are a hundred and forty-four'. Now here comes the rod for your own back confession...  when Sarah was about three years old she didn't do a lot of sleeping and the only way to get her to lay down and shut her eyes was to sit next to her bed and talk to her. This happened every night, sometimes all night, sometimes just for an hour. We tried the classic children's books but she wasn't too keen. I'm not too good at singing so I used to recite Bob Dylan songs to her, she was, and still is, very fond of Mr Tambourine Man. My version of Subterranean Homesick Blues used to go down quite well too. Then we would say the alphabet, forwards then backwards, at least twice, then we would count to a hundred forwards, then backwards, she was usually getting dozy at this point, and the only thing left in my head that I didn't have to think about were multiplication  tables. We did this for a solid two years, then spasmodically, mainly through school holidays, until we moved to this house and she had a room to herself. She was about eight years old by then and she knew her times tables, she didn't know how to use them, but she knew them, and being autistic, she still knows them but doesn't have much idea of what they are about. Now she has all this spare time to use up, time that she was spending getting wound up about which bus was coming for her in the morning.

On Saturday the penny dropped.  

We had bought two sponge rolls for £2.00 from Marks and Spencers. I won't go into why we were in Marks and Sparks food hall, thats another blog for another day, suffice to say that a Cappuccino Chocolate Sponge Roll and an Apricot Sponge Roll for £2.00 was an offer we couldn't refuse. That evening, we had to decide whether we should break out the Cappuccino Choc or the Apricot. My husband, Sarah's father, suggested that we could have a slice of each.. each. Sarah was a little confused by this radical suggestion, but conceded it was a good idea after a small demonstration of swiss roll slicing. It was demonstrated to her that each cake was sufficient for nine good slices which meant we had three days worth of cake if we had one slice of each cake each and there would be no argument over who had most of which one. An astounding piece of logic to emerge from our house really.

In Sarah's mind, all those abstract numbers she's been carrying around since my attempts to bore her to sleep twenty odd years ago suddenly turned into slices of cake and by the time she'd finished eating her slices of cake she was grappling with the calculation for how many sausages were needed if there were ten students, four staff and they wanted three sausages each. she got to the answer before I did. Mental arithmetic was never my strongest point. So now she is asking me to confirm the answers to mathematical questions she is setting for herself. I really am useless with numbers, I learned tables by rote, that is the only reason I know them. I'm sure there must be a name for it, something like number blindness, dyslexia only it's numbers not letters that I have difficulties with. With paper and pencil I can do the basics, with a calculator I can do VAT returns, double entry book keeping is not too much of a problem, I just can't hold the numbers in my head long enough to do simple mental arithmetic that other people seem to find easy. I had difficulty telling the time as a child, I just learned to recognise the angles of the hands, I had to look very long and hard to be sure. Digital clocks were a bit of a bother but I think I've cracked them now, although twentyfour hour clocks can still be a bit troublesome.

So this latest bit of progress for Sarah is proving to be a bit of a problem.  She has literally turned the tables on me! I've had a few weeks of breathing space I suppose, now I'm just going to have to get to grips with the calculator and do my damnedest to catch up on the maths. Never mind, no peace for the wicked, as they say...  Hmm...  sometimes I regret my ill spent youth....