Occasionally, now, she can be prickly,

As hormones without warning ambush her,

Diverting her from habitual dimples and smiles,

Into causeless tears and despairing shrugs.

She does not know why she feels this way,

But I do. I remember.


So I open my arms and pull her close –

Small enough still to tuck under my chin,

With room to spare.

As she nestles into my chest,

Her father’s blue eyes look up at me

From her upturned face, freckled and pale

Like cinnamon sprinkled on milk.


She is all elbows and knees, jabbing into me,

Lithe and lean,

Limbs like knotted rope

From the hours upside down or swinging high

In her purple velvet leotard,

The slightest curves beginning now to break the lines.


Filed under Uncategorized

Going through the motions

pool netThe new school year has seen us quickly hit our stride: football practice (x 2); football match (x 2); gymnastics (x 2); cricket practice; refereeing course; dance class; piano lesson. Three children and ten different weekly out-of-school activities to organise in a plan that must allow for domestic duties, as well as Mother in the Middle and my slim extracurricular interests. Among the pursuits that get too easily crowded out is anything that allows us to exercise and keep fit. Until some way of harnessing our kids’ running, bounding and cartwheeling into our own metabolism is found, we need to get out and exercise ourselves, lest we slip with elevated blood pressure, atrophying muscles and impoverished lungs over the cliff edge at the far end of our forties.

For a year or two I had this dilemma of mixing the kids’ activities with my own exercise cracked. During no.2 son’s football practice, my touchline pal and I would go running. We had the option of running along the canal, around the water park or, if the gate was left open, around the running track. There, I discovered that Mo Farah would complete a 10,000 metres in less than the time it took me to run half that distance. I would however, nudge ahead of Usain Bolt in a sprint that involved him running twice as far as me.

But last season, our sons started playing competitive fixtures on Saturday mornings. My pal and I ditched the running in favour of something far more thrilling: spectating our boys’ matches.

There is, of course, the option of playing with the kids. We kick around in the garden and sometimes in the park. I play with them just enough to know that they play more physically, at greater pace and belt the ball harder than me – and the risk of injury playing with children is well understood.

So I have looked for new opportunities to get my exercise.

A new leisure development close to work has given me the chance to swim in my lunch break or at the start of the day. Determined not to flap up and down the pool doing breaststroke, I took a short course of lessons and have worked hard on the crawl. Stringing together, first eight, then twelve and finally 20 lengths of crawl – before breaking for a few minutes of genteel breaststroke – gives me great satisfaction. Thirty minutes of swimming leaves me fulfilled and fatigued from my shoulders, all the way down my body and legs. When I’m in the pool, I’m definitely not just going through the motions.

Last week, held up in a meeting, I narrowly missed my lunchtime window for swimming. Edgy all afternoon, I agreed a late return home, so that I could swim after work instead. I arrived at the pool as the lessons were ending. Heading from the showers, I stood to one side while the school kids piled into the changing room. I was first into the pool and swam a couple of lengths before a lifeguard bent down to me and asked me to come out while his team prepared and checked the pool. Two of his colleagues wound in the lane ropes, while he patrolled the pool carrying a net on a long pole. I shivered on the side, waiting for the nod to restart.

The man with the net said it all looked clear, but then got into a discussion with a lifeguard. They pointed at the middle of the pool, then looked at me. “Could you, with your goggles, check out the middle of lane three?” net-man asked me. I stepped back in and waded across to the lane, as net-man continued, “we think one of the kids had an accident.” A sticking plaster, I began to think.. “But it’s fine as long as it’s not diarrhoea. The chemicals make it safe.” Right, a poo. “Could you check?”

I ducked under, swam a little way and there at the bottom of the pool was the accident. I surfaced, confirmed the sighting and began wading towards the side. “It’s fine, because of the chlorine”, the net-man repeated. “We don’t have to close the pool.”

The lifeguard and net-man looked at each other, then at me. They were in t-shirt, shorts and trainers and were dry. I wasn’t. Holding out the net to me, he asked, “Would you mind catching it for me?”

With all the aplomb of the sanitation engineer that I’m not, I took the net and after a couple of swipes made the catch and returned the net, receiving thanks and further reassurances of the efficacy of the chemicals. I then swam 40 lengths, eyeing the pool floor suspiciously. I showered and at home took a bath.

A few days later I told some colleagues the story of my odd job at the pool. “You didn’t really go swimming,” someone said. “Oh, yes I did.” “No,” he countered. “You were just going through the motions.”


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A Life Ends Alone

il_340x270.94197839Grace came to England from Jamaica in 1962, when she was a capable, enterprising young woman in her thirties. She settled in the Moss Side district of Manchester and never left the country again, scarcely even set foot outside Manchester again, and died recently in hospital at the age of eighty-something.

I first met her about a year before she died, when she was ill, virtually housebound and stubborn as a mule. The Council had embarked upon an extensive renovation project involving several streets of terraced houses and was busy relocating the (mostly grateful) tenants to better and brighter homes. Not so Grace, however, who point-blank refused to consider moving from the dilapidated mid-terrace that had been her home for the past fifty years. She liked where she lived and she wasn’t about to move out of her home, she explained tetchily to the series of increasingly exasperated – and increasingly senior- Council employees who trooped in through her front door to try to change her mind.

I had my suspicions during my first couple of visits that Grace was in fact living only in one room of her home, the back room, with occasional shuffles from there into the kitchen which ran directly off it.   I do not know at what point she had given up trying to climb the steep Victorian stairs but, when she eventually trusted me enough to send me on an errand to her bedroom, the upper floor of the house had a strange, unlived-in air. The bed’s pink candlewick cover was entirely undisturbed; the bottles and pots covered in a thick layer of dust on the dressing table.

Where was she sleeping, I asked her? At first she maintained that she was sleeping in her bedroom but later, defiantly, confirmed that she was sleeping in her armchair because of her COPD. What about the toilet, I asked her? Wordlessly, she jutted her chin in the direction of a bucket half-concealed in the corner of the room. Washing herself, it turned out, was a precarious, infrequent event standing at the kitchen sink.

I tried to talk to Grace about accepting some help, explaining that the housing officer and others were very concerned about her, and that the GP was frustrated when she rang with emergencies. It took several visits even to be able to mention ‘social workers’ without a sucking of teeth and a vehement shaking of the head. I told her that I needed to alert social services to her vulnerability, as I was concerned about her safety, at which point she asked me to leave, subsequently refusing to answer the social worker’s knock at the door.

A couple of weeks later, she rang and asked me, stiffly, if I would kindly rearrange the appointment. I called round to meet with her before the social worker arrived, and she asked me to help her tie her headscarf and put in her earrings. She was donning her armour, I realised. And I felt like I had been taken into a circle of trust, a club of which I was perhaps the only current member.

Over the next few months, I got to know Grace a little better and she told me about her life in England. About how she had come over from Jamaica with her brother and had always been ‘one of the boys’. About the fine life she had had, when they all looked after her and she looked after them. About how she had never been interested in marriage or children, telling me that you can get on with men just fine, if you operate on their level, but you must never trust them an inch – experience (darkly hinted at but never disclosed) had taught her that. About how, when her brother died ten years ago, she had lost her last link to her family, having never kept in touch with the extended members back in Jamaica.   One by one, her friends had passed away or moved away until, finally, she was the last one left in the street from the old days. Her friend’s son now kept the shop she had always patronised and, if she rang him up on the telephone, he would (for a cut) go and draw her pension for her at the Post Office and then drop off parcels of ackee, rice and chicken.

The ‘package of care’ which she reluctantly accepted from the social worker was endlessly problematic in its operation. Grace did not fit the mould: she did not want cheery carers turning up in pairs to wash, dress and feed her in fifteen minutes flat – she wanted a discrete lady to sit outside the bathroom whilst she took a bath by herself, just to be on hand in case she ran into difficulties. She did not want microwaved frozen shepherd’s pie and sponge pudding plonked in front of her – she wanted saltfish, rice and peas, freshly cooked.  Grace did not want to be carted off to day care, to sing along with other pensioners, or play bingo. All her friends had gone, she said and she did not want new friends. Several times, the care agency complained to the social worker that they were running out of carers who could work with Grace, as she continually refused their interventions, but the endless parade of interchangeable young women only served to enrage her further.

And all the while, the Council’s renovation works went on around her. Grace was by now quite the only person left living on her street. There was scaffolding all along the outside walls of the terrace and the resolution had been taken to carry on with the outside work only whilst Grace was still a thorn in their sides. The house vibrated and dust rained down around her – COPD or no COPD – as the workmen pressed on. I expect they thought she’d give in eventually; I think she knew she didn’t have long left and she wasn’t about to give them the satisfaction of making things easier for them.

One day when I turned up to see her, birthday cards – about fifteen of them – were strung up on a piece of wool around the walls of the back room. I congratulated her and commented on how lovely it was to see she had such a lot of cards. She looked me straight in the eye and nodded, looked at the cards, looked slowly back at me and admitted that she put them up herself every year. It dawned on me that these were the same birthday cards that she had kept and displayed year after year: on closer examination, five were from her brother and the most recent card was from about 8 years ago. I recall feeling close to tears as I looked back at her, but her defiance (almost) repelled sympathy.

Grace died about three weeks later. She was found, collapsed, by one of the carers on the floor of her back room and taken to the local hospital. She never regained consciousness and died a day later, alone.

I wish I had known she was in hospital. I would have gone to sit with her and hold her proud hand.


Filed under dying, Uncategorized

Bold fearful boy

FullSizeRenderObserving no.1 son grow up has, on many occasions, felt like undergoing a psycho-therapeutic exploration of my childhood. So many of his motivations and anxieties trigger memories of my own youth and the predicaments that my thoughtful but naïve younger being would self-inflict. And seeing my older son heading up cul-de-sacs of his own making would make me wish I could convey what I have learnt: making mistakes is uncomfortable but worth getting used to; doing something is almost always better than doing nothing (exceptions: sinking sand); you only look embarrassing if you are looking embarrassed.

I have never been unaware of the possibility that I am merely projecting my personality and motivations onto my older son. Approach a problem with a particular frame and you’ll see what you want to see. I believe, though, that I have indisputable evidence that this is not a solipsistic delusion. The most persuasive argument I can present is: no.2 son.

Four and three-quarters years younger than his older brother, the third and last of Mother in the Middle and my progeny, he clearly has different influences to the first born: the example of two older siblings, relatively relaxed and experienced parents, a busy household, a school and social life where for many he is so-and-so’s little bro’.

Yet, allowing for these environmental factors, there is an innate distinctiveness. When friends ask how the family is, I relate Mother in the Middle’s non-stop life and then for the children I will summarise the latest achievements of no.1 son and the 1&onlyD, then pause. “No.2 son, he’s just a [insert age] BOY.” That sounds belittling, but I know when I’m saying it, I’m shaking my head with wonder, trying but failing to encapsulate the essence of energetic, affectionate, noisy, charming infancy that he represents. Where his older brother and sister have been precocious, pushing some of the boundaries of their age, no.2 son exists comfortably within the developmental median for his calendar age. He’s a pup in no hurry to be a dog.

Mother in the Middle booked our summer holiday before last Christmas. The kids had months to speculate and build expectations of their two week stay in France in August: the pool, the tennis court, canal, river, pizzeria, beaches and French folk. One day, earlier in the summer, rain falling outside, the 1&onlyD was longing for this trip. It would be so good just to sit in the sun and read, we agreed. No.2 son heard us, expressed shock: “No. There’s a pool and a river, we’re going to be swimming, not reading.” We had, but really didn’t need, fair warning.

The first morning of the holiday, I woke early. I carried a chair, a book and a cup of tea out into the sunny garden. Minutes later, no.2 son was at my shoulder, asking for breakfast. Not many minutes after that, he was back, in swimming shorts.

Can we go to the pool?

No. It’s too early.

Will you play football?

Not yet. And can you speak quietly, there are lots of people sleeping around here

Ok. [withdraws, singing heartily]

Throughout the two weeks, no.2 son’s appetite for activity was continuous, and probably entirely consistent with that of a nine year old. In child- and adulthood, I have had a threshold where the desire for activity is submerged by a preference for comfort. Sure, I’ll play in the pool. But once I’ve dried off, getting wet and cold again has insufficient appeal. A kickabout in the garden is fun, but tea time means full-time, not half-time. No.1 son shows similar reservations and qualified commitment.

I admire and envy my younger son’s relentless pursuit of physical fulfilment. Another plunge into the pool, yet more charging after a ball in the garden, gymnastics with his sister if that’s the only action on offer. This physical boldness equips him well for sport: tackle after tackle on the football field; every time he gets the ball, a dribble past opponents or attempted defence-splitting pass; in goal, he bursts out towards attackers, diving at their feet; on the cricket field always closing in on the batsman, defying the coach’s instruction to take 10 steps backwards; sliding, sprawling to stop the ball hit in his vicinity.

Standing on the touchline, I see him play without fear. It is exhilarating, the most predictably exciting part of my week. And it’s disorientating, that a child with my genetic inheritance runs unencumbered by fear, the very impulse that has inhibited my every sporting fixture or active adventure.

He’s not tireless or immune to pain, but neither are reasons to stop. Activity is an end in itself. Comfort, reflection, quiet time are reluctantly accepted and usually attempted swinging from a chair, singing or chatting in a funny voice. A family friend once asked Mother In the Middle what it must be like for no.2 son to live in such a quiet family. It’s a good question.

Where might this boldness end? In A&E, Mother in the Middle worries, particularly when we’re on holiday. Our time in France, though, showed that it has its natural limits.

Sitting together on the flight, I tried to distract no.2 son’s anxiety of flying by reading and offering sweets. Twenty minutes after take-off, his hand still gripping my arm, Bilbo Baggins’ adventures were lost in the drone of the plane’s engines and no.2 son’s anxious inattention. A lady in the row behind tapped me on the arm. “My daughter wondered if your son would be happier with this,” handing me an iPad, headphones and a Pixar movie, which he used for the rest of the flight.

Shopping in France, there was a bouleversement in the supermarket. A known shop-lifter was being escorted out, against her will, noisily. No.2 son grabbed my arm and tried to drag me away from the till which the assistant was keeping shut while the incident was dealt with. “It’s a riot. I want to go. Take me out,” he implored.

Then there was the thunderstorm. Like flying (and dogs) it’s not an unusual fear for a nine year old. But, given his bullish, bold presence through so much of life, it’s a reaction that surprises me.

There’s one rather bland conclusion to this reflection about my younger son: that we are all complex beings with apparent contradictions at our heart.

Writing it down has helped me reach a slightly more sophisticated insight. It suits my shorthand image of my family that no.1 son is ever so similar to me and his younger brother a different animal all together. As a shorthand it holds a lot of truth. But as an appreciation of my children it short changes them and risks me under-appreciating where my older son is different to me (his ease in the company of adults, is a strong example) and the many aspects of my younger son where I can’t just sit back and say, “Wow, I could never have done that.” Difficult as it is to do, I would be better off keeping the comparisons to myself out of it.


Filed under individual development, young shoulders

A Journey in June

IMG_2815 It is impossible at the start of my familiar journey north by train not to think of the same journey, attempted last July. Now, I have a ticket and a seat for a journey I have planned for several weeks. Then, I rushed to the station, panicking after the telephone call from my father, barely able to breathe deeply enough to state my destination at the ticket office. He had called me just as I arrived into work, saying hesitatingly that, perhaps, I ought to come back sooner than Friday after all. It was Wednesday morning and I had been home since Monday afternoon. Now, it is a suddenly beautiful, sun filled late afternoon in an unseasonably cold and rain filled June. I sit in an air conditioned carriage with other urban workers, bunking off early on a Friday afternoon to make the most of the weekend. Then, I stood on a train from Manchester to Blackpool, the quickest way north being to get as far as Preston and change onto a train to Scotland there.  I wedged myself into a bulging, sweating carriage of mothers and grandmas and school-holiday-children with buckets and spades, picnic bags and even two dogs, heading for a day at the seaside. Then and now, the trains leave the City quickly, the landscape outside the window quickly turning lush and green. This June, I have a book and an iphone and a coffee. Last July, I have nothing to do but stand and stare out of the window, willing the train to go faster. I wanted to be able to pace up and down, but had to content myself with constantly shifting position, wringing my hands, turning around on my small portion of allotted space near the door, as a panting dog’s tail periodically thwacked onto my foot. Now, the train powers through the improbable leafiness of Wigan North Western and surges forward towards Preston. Then, somewhere just past Wigan station, the train started to slow. It stopped entirely for a couple of minutes, then made occasional spasmodic progress for the next ten. I checked my phone for the time continually, conscious of a connection I needed to make in Preston. The thirty allotted minutes for the transfer were ticking inexorably away as the children got restless, a ball was thrown and the mothers remonstrated with a pair of overheated, sullen pre-teen boys. I told myself I could still make it. I visualised the dash through the station I would be obliged to make – probably up the Victorian steps, across the bridge and down to the other side. It was doable. And then, last July, after nearly half an hour of stop-start jerks taking us no more than a couple of hundred metres, the platform in sight from my window, the train came to a complete standstill, just outside Preston station. A politely apologetic intercom announcement referred to being ‘held’ because of an ‘incident’ in the station. The minute for my connection ticked past, as I frantically googled the next train out of Preston to Scotland. As my phone struggled to make the internet connection, a ring cut through and my father’s name and grinning picture flashed up. She was gone, he told me. It was, finally, peaceful, he told me. Your sisters didn’t make it either, he told me. He had thought she would have a little bit longer, but he had been wrong. I turned off my phone with difficulty, hands shaking and sweating, chin wobbling, as the day trippers continue to snack and bicker and moan about the waste of a sunny day. I started to cry, properly, noisily; I rang my husband and said out loud for the first time that she was dead. No one said a word; the children stared, the adults averted their eyes. A few minutes later, the train lurched forward and disgorged us into the heaving, chaotic station. I walked around in circles, not sure what to do. A young woman approached me, saying ‘I was on the train, are you ok?’. ‘My mother just died and I don’t know what to do’ I say. ‘I know’ she said as she stroked my hand, flagged down a station guard and asked about trains to Scotland for me. It turned out that my train had not yet left after all. I ran up the stairs, across the bridge, down to the other platform. I jumped on the train, in wild-eyed hurry and flung myself into the one available seat I could see. A man opposite asked me where the fire was, there’s no hurry, he’d just been told there were no trains travelling north for the next few hours at least. A man was up a tower threatening to jump and no trains were going through. I got off the train again and tried to speak to the guard. He said there was little hope of getting to Scotland today. He said he would advise anyone with non-urgent travel to try to rearrange – can my journey wait? I said I suppose it could now. I walked back up the stairs, back over the bridge and down onto the first train back to Manchester. Then, I finished the journey, blinking into summer-bright sunshine at Piccadilly station, aware that my vision was starting to go and a migraine would shortly follow. Through the haze, I saw the top half only of my husband’s face as he took my hand and led me to our car. Now, I continue my journey north, sailing through Preston and beyond, arriving many hours later at the small, achingly familiar station in the middle of fields, the village of my childhood summers to my left, the town of my mother’s last years to my right. I have been travelling to this station all my life but I know that this is the last time I will make this particular journey, for my father is moving. I get off the train and see him coming towards me through the last glimmers of a long, Scottish June evening. He is little bit greyer, a little bit smaller, than last year. He takes my bag and leads me to his car for my last weekend stay at their house.

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IMG_0910No.1 son’s team capped off a season in which they won every league match with a cup run. The final was played on a bright, blustery spring afternoon – cherry blossom swirling across the pitch to give a brief wintery feel. The venue was a local non-league club ground, several steps up from the public park environs the teams normally play in, with their undulating fields, haphazard grass-cutting and careless dog owners.

The match fulfilled one of the cup final archetypes that all football fans will recognise. The stronger team (‘our’ one) dominated possession, created chance after chance, but couldn’t score against dogged, determined opponents with a hero-in-the-making in goal. Mid-way through the second half, the archetype shifted. In a rare break out of their own half, the other side’s lone striker ran past ‘our’ central defenders and struck the ball firmly past the keeper.

The match reverted to type, with no.1 son’s team piling on pressure and with ten minutes left, equalised from a corner kick. More chances were saved or missed before full-time. The game re-started with 20 minutes of extra time. Despite the rolling substitutions, the size of the pitch had tired both teams so that a sustained attack was beyond them. Penalty shoot-out.

“This will end in tears,” was the conclusion my touchline pal and I reached as the players gathered in the centre circle for the penalty prelims.

No.1 son’s team were to maintain their perfect season, winning the shoot-out 5-4. The image at the top of the post shows him driving his penalty into the top left hand corner of the goal.

The other side’s second penalty taker steered his shot wide, lifted his hands to his head and walked slowly back to the centre circle without showing his face. There he sat, staring at the grass, amongst his teammates, who were presumably offering their support. His miss, as he must have feared, as all of the boys dreaded for themselves, was the difference.

I question the value of a penalty shoot-out in a junior match, where the result has no further consequences. Earlier rounds in a knockout tournament do need a winner for the competition to progress; I’ll return to that subject shortly.

Having joint cup winners is to me an entirely legitimate result for the teams that cannot be separated over full and extra time. The trophy can be shared; the individual statuettes would just need ‘finalist’ inscribed on them all, instead of one-half; both teams can celebrate. I see nothing to be gained from spoiling one or two young lads’ days, as almost always happens in a shoot-out.

I imagine proponents of a definitive result arguing that youngsters should not be sheltered from the harsh truth of life and its repeated sifting into winners and losers. I think kids know that well enough. Everything they do is imbued with competition: school, gaming, appearance, getting noticed by girls. Why not, in these rare instances when the score remains tied, show magnanimity and recognition that the contest, not the result, is all important?

“They don’t take it that seriously,” may be another rebuttal of my idea. Many, I agree, probably don’t, and can stride on after a penalty shoot-out miss, walk tall in the playground on the following Monday and savour the opportunity for another chance to take a penalty. Others, though, do not. The coaches, I observed, selecting their five penalty takers, are not overwhelmed with volunteers. It’s a stress that many boys (indeed, professional footballers) prefer to avoid.

Several weeks after the final, I took my younger son to play a cricket match. There were puddles on the pitch and storm clouds overhead. The game would normally have been called off before bedtime the night before, but this was a cup-tie and a definitive result was needed. The method used, a bowl-off, is cricket’s equivalent of the penalty shoot-out. Bowlers deliver a single ball at an undefended set of stumps. Whichever team hits the stumps most often wins the tie-breaker.

The situation was tense, the boys were anxious during the match. One team was delighted and the other disappointed at the end. There was a key difference to the penalty shoot-out that made it less likely that a single player would feel the burden of responsibility for defeat. Instead of each team fielding five players (as in a penalty shoot-out), all eleven in each cricket team had to bowl. The greater number of competitors and efforts means that the margin between teams is a lot less likely to be a single point. The individual is a smaller part of the team score and gains protection. With all players participating, it is more of a team event.

This should be the model for penalty shoot-outs in junior football. Involve the whole team. Do less to isolate individuals. Try not to spoil one young lad’s day.

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Filed under winning and losing, young shoulders

An Inspiring Mother

hands2If you were to catch a glimpse of Anne walking down the street, you would not think her extraordinary in any way. Perhaps you wouldn’t even notice her in the first place – most people don’t notice old women. If you did pause to look for a moment, you would see a white haired, stooped, smartly dressed eighty three year old who still moves quite briskly for her age. If you looked a little longer, you may pick up in her unflinching, challenging gaze a hint of the steeliness and determination that sustains her.

Anne’s son is nearly fifty now. He does not live with her, but she sees him three times a week. One day she visits him, one day he is brought to see her and one day they are supported to go on an outing together. If they have enough staff on the rota to provide him with the two-to-one cover that is required to keep everyone safe, that is, so quite often it gets cancelled.

She told me that she knew from when he was a toddler that something wasn’t right. To start with, people told her the tantrums were a phase that he would grow out of and that all children behaved this way. She so wanted to believe that her beautiful, bewildered boy would stop the biting, the head-butting, the rocking, but as time went on and he didn’t grow out of anything, she grew more and more worried. As the months and years ground on, it was clear to everyone that he wasn’t developing as he should; that he was not ‘normal’. The few words he learned were simply not adequate for him to articulate the frustrations he felt with the world and so the lashings out continued. He clung to Anne as to an anchor in a stormy sea but, sometimes, she got in the way and the older he got, the more it hurt.

Friends drifted away. He was too difficult to be around and people – even the kind hearted, sympathetic ones – didn’t want their children to be around him. Eventually, when their boy was five, Anne’s husband left too and neither of them have seen or heard from him since.

The doctors tried to help her, but they couldn’t find an answer. He was definitely autistic, they told her, but that couldn’t explain everything. There was no other specific diagnosis, but talk of ‘developmental delay’. They talked about finding him a place in a children’s home, about how this would be the best place for ‘a boy like him’. So she went to look at the one they wanted to send him to and decided that no-one was going to lock her son up and throw away the key.

Who will love him when I’m not here?

So she fought the doctors who thought they knew best and kept him at home with her. She fought the social workers and she found a special school that would take him. She fought the local authority and she got the budget for transporting him to school and home again and for some respite time for her, so she could keep going. She fought the system and – eventually – she got the disability benefits to which they were both entitled.

Who will fight for him when I’m not here?

When he got to be adult sized, Anne realised she could no longer cope by herself. She couldn’t keep him safe and she couldn’t keep herself safe. She couldn’t believe that he wanted to hurt her, when she knew he loved and needed her so very much, but she did keep getting hurt. The amount of physical restraint required to control him became impossible when there was only her there to do it and he was bigger and stronger than she was. The complexities of dealing with a boy whose hormones, cruelly, developed normally whilst the rest of him did not, were too great for her to manage alone. So he went to live in a house with ‘boys like him’, with staff there day and night. And then, in due course, to another house, with different men.

Now, at almost fifty, he has been living in the same house for nearly two decades. Other men have come and gone, carers’ faces have changed regularly but there has been stability and security for him and always his mother at the centre of it all. Anne has continued to fight for him every step of the way, has been at every assessment and has protested against every repeated attempt to cut his care package. She has taught herself about the law and about his rights and she has been tenacious at securing those for him.

And now, as she progresses into old age, Anne is preoccupied with trying to make sure everything is as secure as it can be for her child before she dies. She has made sure that her son is not just locked away, that he has the opportunity to have physiotherapy in a hydropool, that his physical health needs are not neglected just because he cannot articulate what those needs are, that he is taken out into the community with an appropriate level of support.

Who will make sure he gets what he deserves when I am gone?

She has made friends with each and every one of the underpaid, endlessly replaceable carers assigned to be his key worker, to show them she appreciates what they do in the hope that they will be more inclined to look kindly on her son.

How will he cope in a world when he is difficult to like and there is no one left who loves him?

She is dismayed at the news of the austerity measures and the public sector cuts and what this will mean for her boy. She has refused to accept austerity-inspired attempts by harried social workers to ‘still meet his assessed needs, but in a cheaper way’ and has harnessed the support of charities and solicitors to prevent her son being moved, aged 49, to a care home with people decades older than him.

Who will protect him when I’m not here?

Anne once told me that she wished people who said they never wanted their children to grow up had some understanding of what having a child denied the opportunity to grow up was like for a mother. Meeting her, witnessing the strength of her love for her son and the extent of the fight she has made, has been humbling and moving.

She is an inspiration as a woman, an (unsung) disability campaigner, carer and mother.


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