My Friday book: Hilarious book on eccentric maiden: “Aunt Alice’s War”

I can not even remember how I found out about this funny book, since my life is so stressful that I only live one day at a time and discard all unnecessary information. Yes, in a way I feel like I am heading for a mental breakdown, at the same time, there is noone to pick up the pieces, so I just have to toughen it out. This I must do with the help of among other things, good books. And while this book is not long at all and you finish it in an afternoon, it is a delight to read.

imageThe book is a loving portrait of the author Douglas Walker’s aunt Alice. An eccentric unmarried aunt, living in a sleepy old Victorian seaside resort, called St. Anne’s, south of Blackpool. Living on the right side of the train tracks, counting herself as middle to upper middle class, she has never had to go without anything that she’s wants and a war is not going to stop her from living comfortably! But she is also a patriot. Unfortunately being a patriotic, old-fashioned, naive, un-educated, 42-year-old woman, as graceful as an elephant in a china shop and the same size, turns out to be a poor combination.

In the Prologue, the author describes himself as having been about 8-9 years old when the war broke out, and while he usually lived in Scotland with his family, his parents often sent him and his two-year older brother off to stay with his mother’s younger sister Alice. In his opinion Scotland only felt that the war was a “slight increment” over the usual hard Scottish life. North-West England which was hardly the target of the German bombers, had about the same attitude, thinking the war a “deuced inconvenience”, but of course a great conversational piece.

Alice did not know a whole lot, but she had strong convictions and had a purpose with all her dealings, so she felt like a great defender of Britain, which the surrounding society failed to see. The only ones appreciating her efforts were really her young nephews, who were conscripted in to being accomplices when  it came to all her wild schemes. Douglas’ brother John being a less devoted follower.

To be honest, her neighbours were not much less eccentric than herself. Like Perce the lazy neighbour, who refused to work and came to tea every day and every time, there was food to be seen. And his constantly cleaning wife Lou, who never treated anyone to tea or received guests, even though food was always on her mind. Like Little Miss Chistlehurst, who had to look after her housekeeper instead of the reverse and old 90-year-old Mrs. Harmer and her granddaughter, who noone knew what she worked with, but it must have been something hush-hush, since she had a fancy gas mask! Dr. Merrilee who forbade people to drink milk, advocating barley and who was rejected for military service because he told the authorities that masturbation should be compulsory to soldiers, in order to avoid VD. Or how about Father Harry, the brain-damaged ex-boxer who ran the laundry business? He travelled around on a tricycle, collecting incoming garbage on the beach.

But back to Alice. She lived quite well-off, with her maid Mabel and her three inbred dogs. Mabel, being in her twenties, strangely was not called up for service, but spent all her time looking after Alice, going to the pictures, drooling over film stars in the Hollywood magazines and playing with make up.

Then came the outbreak of the war. On the 2 September 1939, Douglas’ mother was actually also present at St. Anne’s. During a visit to the beach, Alice notices the front of Perce’s newspaper, that Hitler has invaded Poland and she will not stand for it. She tells all the present, that it has to be stopped and the children must prepare themselves for rolling bandages, run messages and dig trenches. She gets quite worked up, and so do the boys, while their mother finds her sister tiresome. The next day, they all stand in attention in front of the new, imageelectrical large wireless called Marconi Super Heterodyne, to hear Neville Chamberlain declare war against Germany. Alice doesn’t wait for any directives, she has been collecting civil defense cards in cigarette packages for weeks, so she sends everyone around the house taping the windows, to protect them from a blast. Only to be told by the neighbour, that since they taped on the inside, the blast will just make the window a big projectile shooting inwards. Alice is not stumped for ideas so she phones the Air Raid Precautions’ Headquarters and when she doesn’t get an answer to how they should be taped, she decides to tape the outsides as well, making all the rooms covered in brown light,  and hardly being able to look out. For the rest of the war.

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As with most of Alice’s ideas, they are often good from the beginning, and then they turn sour. Alice having very high thoughts of herself, perhaps since she is VERY big and impressive in stature, volunteers right away to become a leader but the only thing they give her to do, is becoming an ARP Warden for three streets. She is not impressed by the things they give her to fulfill her new responsibilities: a helmet, an armband, a WWI gas mask, a whistle and a rattle. Not even an instruction booklet on how to organize things, but she is not stumped for long. To show authority, she has to have a uniform and when she can not decide which one she likes the most, she combines three in imageto one. Lord Mountbatten’s Navy one, General Montgomery’s beret, Cavalry boots, warden embroidered in gold and a rhinestone brooch stuck to the beret. The Brigadier in charge of the Home Guard is impressed till he realizes that she is a woman, but this he does not discover until she has become the laughing-stock, after getting stuck in a revolving gate. After this she abandons the riding boots which were too small and walks around in uniform and bedroom slippers.

As a leader of such an important job as protecting her fellow citizens, she has to have some headquarters. Her cupboard under the stairs becomes “The Bunker”. Her organization consisting of herself, John and Douglas. Only one adult at a time is able to visit the bunker. She decorates the bunker with a military cot for the person on duty, a bucket of sand and a shovel, to put out all incendiary bombs with, an oil lantern, first aid kit, biscuits, a tin of spam, a couple of bottles of water and most important of all, a chamber pot. And on the door she hangs a sign painted by herself: ARP HEADQUARTERS; AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY. When the Warden, i.e. aunt Alice, blows her whistle, all must run for the cupboard, which becomes very cramped indeed. On the first occasion they try to light the oil lamp and the only thing which happens is that the cupboard becomes full of black smoke, so they have to take refuge somewhere else. From then on, they have to sit there with torches instead. Was the little town bombed? No, but every time enemy aircraft flew over, the siren went off and it was time to dive for the cupboard.

The end of the headquarters come on a night when the boys are back in Scotland. Alice had gone out and her servant girl Mabel had gone to the pictures, without permission. For some reason, 90-year-old Mrs. Harmer was a houseguest. The siren sounded and the two regular habitants of the house, sought shelter elsewhere and did not return home till the all clear sounded, whereupon they headed directly for bed and sleep. Strange that Mrs. Harmer did not appear for breakfast though! After a search of the old lady’s house and the police sending out a search party for the old soul, on the beaches, which lasted all day till nightfall, they finally had to give up and face the music. Millicent, the granddaughter, had to be told on her return home, that aunt Alice had misplaced her mother. The police now searched every house, garden and shed on the street, for the old woman. At tea time, they were invited for tea and this is when they heard a scratch from the cupboard. Alice had great difficulty trying to open the bunker. When the door finally gave way, the old woman wearing gas mask and nightgown, spoke for the first time in years and asked “Is it all clear?”. The police forbade Alice to ever use the bunker again!

When talk of a German invasion started in 1940, all street signs were taken down and the town’s people started joking when people asked for the way: ” Sorry, I’m a parachutist here myself!”. Alice decided that it was best to take down all house numbers on her streets as well, to confuse the Germans, but having changed all numbers around confused the locals more than the Germans. On her own house, since she was obviously going to be wanted by the Germans, she did not put up a number at all but “Beware of the dog” sign. In order not to offend the locals, government had decided to build a pillbox on the beach, so it would not look like the people in town, were considered expandable. It protected the children’s wading pool and the public toilet, without being manned by human beings. On one occasion, Father Harry and Alice, get in to their heads that the Germans are smuggling spies in on the beach, after he has found a strange-looking sailor’s hat. They take up position in the pillbox. The humiliation is great when first they see that it is fishermen bringing fish in and not Germans landing and then not being able to get out, since sand has blown and blocked the door. While they are trapped everyone wonders where Alice is, till Little Miss Chistlehurst announces that Alice has eloped with Father Harry. Him also missing.  The first not to open the pillbox, are a mother and her children bathing, who thinks them perverts in there. The one eventually coming to the rescue, is the leading woman of the social scene in town, whom Alice looks up to greatly. And this woman finds it so hilarious that they had thought this sailor’s hat from a dance club, being a German one, that she happily shares Alice’s latest adventure at the lady’s club.

The Shadow of Treason is a sad chapter indeed, which is all about how the knob on the wireless accidentally had been bumped to another channel than the one Alice regularly listened to. Alice now became the avid listener of this journalist who seemed to pop over to a studio in Germany every day, reporting on events. William Joyce sounding so much more authoritative in her mind than BBC’s new anchor from the North Country. In order to not miss her favourite programs, Alice had had a speaker rigged from the drawing room to the kitchen and it was there, one night, when Mabel was having a date with Cyril, a private who had been part of the Northumberland fusiliers for all of six weeks, that William Joyce’s voice announced that Germany was calling. Cyril, who after six weeks  of blisters and diarrhoea, felt a real soldier betrayed by evil collaborators, screamed out that Alice was a collaborator listening to Lord Haw-Haw. Alice not understanding who he was talking about, became terrified at the word collaborator. Cyril went ahead and smashed the wireless and then walked out, threatening  to have her reported and shot. Poor Alice never dared to listen to herimage big Marconi again, hiding it in the garage and purchasing a tiny plastic Philco instead, which could not pick up anything but the BBC, surely? Cyril was posted to Wales, where he spent the entire war, fighting the Welsh.

During the Blitz, a billeting officer arrived to Alice’s and announced that she had room for two evacuee families and they would be arriving the next day. Alice did not take this lightly. After trying to voice her complaints to the Mayor, she has to bite the bullet and sets about creating a rigorous schedule for the Londoners arriving. Set meal times, areas where they were allowed to go and not, a gong summoning them to meals. Only, these East Enders do not adhere to rules. imageThey did not bring any ration coupons which creates a special head ache for Alice trying to keep track of what they eat till she can be compensated. She creates meal tickets in different colours, with the owner’s name on it and at each meal she punches it. Till she discovers that the cockney children has outsmarted her, just like they do with London bus drivers. The gong has to be removed since they use it as a musical instrument and her kitchen becomes a regular cafeteria. Her maid Mabel finding the evacuee mothers more interesting than her duties, stops answering to Alice’s beckon. After the children go through a bout of measles, the families decide to pack up and go back to the excitement of London instead. Mabel runs off with them, since she has come to understand that London is the place to be. Alice is suddenly all alone and full of spots since the children’s goodbye gift, was measles.

In the summer of 1940, aunt Alice is struck with spy paranoia. After putting up a poster “Loose Lips Sink Ships”, she also has her nephews on board. They are put on around the clock surveillance of a neighbour, Mr Bakker, who with his strange-looking name and strange business of repairing wireless radios, must be a spy. The boys putting on disguises of their own making, only manage to become a laughing-stock when after being discovered, John runs down the streets with flannel trousers down by his feet. Mr Bakker suddenly disappears after this, to do his spy business think Alice and the boys, but he returns in a Royal Air Force uniform. After all, his spy accent was not German but that of Newcastle, which the boys’ mother had tried to explain to Alice.

Outside of town, a temporary training camp is set up and aunt Alice has very high esteem for the boys, as long as they do not loiter around in town. After all, they are going to defend her lifestyle. She cherish their arrival and their departure the most and very much wants to get involved with serving refreshments, like they do at train stations across the nation. The only problem being that there was no train station at St. Anne’s. But trains were usually delayed at the Old Links Junction, an old abandoned station. But being held up and stopping are two different things, which meant that Alice did not know when a train was going to be held up nor for how long. She enlists a group of women and they set up a kitchen in the old waiting room, lacking all electricity so they had to work in the light of torches. Moving down the platform in the dark is another problem which Alice solves by attaching the torches to the ladies’ caps. What did they serve? What could be begged from neighbours. Bread, spam and egg powder. Alice had her own recipe for what to do with the latter. Mixing it with water and seasoning it all with mint, sage or parsley. It looked and tasted like plaster but she hid it between slices of bread so… What put an end to this great scheme of Alice’s? After weeks of attacking trains with their tea, spam and reconstituted egg sandwiches, finally a troop train with French Colonials arrived. Tapping on the windows, screaming that there was free food, one soldier finally opened a window only to have his hands scalded when Alice poured tea all over them in the dark. The word spam brough great anxiety to all these Muslim soldiers and when they saw the contents between the bread slices, they threw them back at the women. A regular battle ensued. Men throwing back sandwiches at the women and finally pointing their guns at them, since they wanted to be left alone. Some soldiers had got off the train to fight their assailants and when the train started to move, they were horrified at perhaps being left behind with these crazy women. They frantically jumped on the moving train and noone knew what happened after this, except suddenly there was tall barbed wire fences around the Old Links Station and signs that threatened with severe punishment if one trespassed. Alice had messed up again.

After Christmas 1941, a German bomber escaping from Liverpool, dropped a bomb on the golf course. It never exploded but sappers were brought in to remove it. Alice of course had to be present in full ARP uniform. Things dragged out and she decided to feed her nephews biscuits while they were waiting and have some barley water herself. Then the ground shook, she fell down and rolled down the embankment, making strange noises as she was choking on the barley water. When she and the two dirty boys arrived home, the boys’ mother wondered where on Earth they had all been. “At the front” exclaimed Alice, “War is Hell!”. The boys were very excited though, their first battlefield experience inspired them to become “bomb disposal experts”. John creates a bomb from an old can, old clock and some wire. They compete who can get the can open and get the clock out the fastest, having buried the can in the sand dunes on the beach. One day, Alice walks her dogs  and sees the top of the can, pokes at it with a stick and it sets the clock off ticking. The rest you can guess. The boys do not dare to confess and Alice calls in the Army, who promptly arrive in four lorries with a bomb squad. They can not do anything that evening, but Alice is proud of her moment, wearing her specially designed uniform that bring lots of looks. In the morning, the bomb squad decides to detonate the bomb, which is done while the two little boys watch in horror. When the bomb squad see what they have wasted time on, they leave without a word of goodbye. Alice not understanding anything, goes to the crater and sees the milk can with a childish swastika painted on it, but instead of putting it away as another failure, she proudly lets people see it and comments on how poorly made the German bombs are.

On the topic of rationing, it was stated that the Scots were already used to a Spartan diet. And well to do Englishmen could continue eating as they used to at restaurants. And the poor could continue eating their favourite dish, fish and chips, since seafood was not rationed. They also could go eat at the British restaurant which served a few not too exciting meals. Alice liked rationing from the beginning and organized everyone’s according to size. Big people should get to eat more, in other words she got the majority of the household food. As rationing got tougher and meat became scarce, people had to buy tinned foods on ration coupons. Alice did not want to be limited by coupons though, so she bought a couple of extra tins every week “on the quiet”. People started getting suspicious when all customers looked skinny and unhealthy while the Rumble family, who owned the shop, was rather plump. The police finally raided the shop and Alice got terrified since she by then had 100 tins in stock at home. She desperately looked for somewhere to hide her cans and the opportunity arouse when she was asked to look after her neighbours Perce’s and Lou’s house. She enlisted her nephews in to moving all the cans to Perce’s Anderson shelter. In the middle of the night Douglas is sent to clear the shelter of all garden tools that Perce keeps there, but doing it in the dark turns out to be a dangerous thing. After John is attacked by a garden rake, he has to take charge, since Alice by now is having a nervous breakdown thinking about Mr. Rumble’s prison sentence. But the troops really rise to the occasion and the operation is successfully completed. Perce never doing any gardening, never discovers the tins and they stay there all summer long. When the nephews are to return to Scotland, Alice suggests they take some tins with them back and lures off Perce and Lou on a drive, while the boys go to fetch some tins. The boxes have fallen apart and mice have eaten off all labels, so that entire winter, it becomes a surprise every time they open a tin, as to what it contains.

Civil defence instructions were short and were not supposed to alarm the readers. Alice thought they should have a gas attack rehearsal. This was going to take place at the Homestead Home, an orphanage for girls. Alice had read on the cigarette cards she collected, that gas smelled geraniums and looked yellow, so she had made a concoction of geranium leaves, food colouring and cigarette butts soaked in water over night and then strained to be sprayed on victims. Alice was to wear gas mask, full protective gear swinging her rattle while the boys would creep around spraying the girls, this meaning they had become gas victims. The girls were to wear bathing suits so they could be hosed down afterwards and the boys were very excited indeed over the task given to them. Both Alice and Douglas being nearsighted, creates a problem though because you can’t wear glasses under the gas mask. Stumbling in to the walls, not finding his targets, Douglas becomes very frustrated. He manages to spray down the walls while hearing the girls giggling away. The ones ending up being hosed down are the boys while the girls are laughing their heads off. Moving in oil skins, rubber boots and being nearsighted, had not been a good combination!

Taking a bath was a big ordeal. Alice of course had painted a line in the tub to show how much water one could have. But one day, there was not even that much water coming out of the spout. All plumbers but one old one had been called up, so this one was the one called upon to solve the problem. Alice decides that it must be sabotage and that must be the upstart Mr Milton-Collins being behind it all. He must be jealous of her being an Air Raid Warden when he is just a part-time fireman, is her reasoning. Her next door neighbour, is a retired priest and his wife. They built a gazebo in their garden that summer and Alice strongly disliked it since they could look in to her garden from it. The gardens were built on sand in that area and they could absorb a lot of water. That summer, all gardens looked very lovely and lush even though there was no water coming out of the hoses. Alice usually loved her garden but not when Dr. Chowdray could look in to it. So she decides to get a revenge organizing a garden party on a Sunday. She moves all dining room furniture out in the garden and her best china. The lawn seems moist so they put bricks under the table legs, so they will not sink in to the lawn but they do not do so for the chairs. One of the guests, Mrs Wallington, is as heavy-set as Alice, and when she chose to sit down on a chair, she soon sits with her knees up by her chin and tea-cup held high in the air, to the amusement of the nephews. Soon all chairs sink in to the lawn and ladies’ shoes get stuck. No longer do the white flannel  suits and chiffon dresses look nice but as the guests stumble around, they are soon very muddy. Alice standing with the other guests on the garden path, see all her furniture sink in to a hole and the nice china fly in all directions. The vicar announces from the gazebo next-door “Beware ye who profane the Lord’s day and flee the righteous wrath of the Almighty.” But suddenly he disappears from view as his gazebo topples over, as the hole moves on to his garden. The answer for the calamity comes in a couple of days when it is discovered that all water to that street has leaked through a crack in a pipe and has created a large underground pool of quicksand. All the weight at the garden party combined with the gazebo, had brought the matter to a blow.

Outside St. Anne’s there was a remnant of an old castle, Stallwart Castle, nicknamed Wigger’s Piggery. It was subject to flooding and laid downstream to a pig farm. Lieutenant Flowers of the home guard decided to have a night manoeuvre. 12 of the home guard were to be German paratroopers and 18 were to be defenders of the gasworks. The tower at the old castle was to be the observation post and Alice was asked to transport the signaller and the signal lamp there.  Happily she agreed. The signaller was the cross-eyed dustman and the signal lamp was as big old-fashioned thing weighing tons. They were to carry the heavy thing to the top of the tower and face it towards Lt Flowers’ troops, signaling three dots. Depending on where they saw the invaders coming, they would send different signals that Freddie the signaller had memorized. Alice is fine, helping with he lamp, till they reach the top and she feels a spider on her face. She is petrified of spiders and the dark, so she screams and run around, knocking both the lamp and Freddie down. Alice continues looking for spiders and Freddie with a bumped head, now tries to light the lamp. They would not have discovered the invaders, had the same not been singing a rude song about the nazi leaders’ genitalia. It is time to signal but Freddie can not get the lamp working. So a heavy frantic ARP Warden crashes in to the cross-eyed home guard and together they knock over the lamp, trying to get it lit. The room catches fire and Lt. Flowers who expected a discrete little light, now sees an entire burning tower instead. He comes to understand that it no longer is an excercise but the real thing, so he calls the army. The firefighters are already on their way, since the fire has been seen miles away. The RAF thinks there is a sneak German raid, so they take off with their fighter planes. Coastal command thinks it is collaborators sending a signal to enemy ships outside the coast, so they get their patrol boats out. And the Army sends not only soldiers but an entire squadron  of tanks. The invaders go home and a lot of people get demoted that night. Alice and the signaller  snuck off to hide with his mother-in-law, till morning. The invaders claimed they had never been there, the signaller claimed it an act of God and most of the others, remained silent on the matter.

One day Alice feels that Britain has taken enough from the Germans, writing her cousin Adelaide in Boston and telling her that it is time the Yanks get involved. Soon they arrive and according to Alice it has nothing to do with Pearl Harbour but with her letter. imageThe flying boys of the Fortresses, which arrive to the vicinity of St. Anne’s, are all very popular with the girls and Alice. Alice of course decides to organize a welcome at the lawn bowling club and this is where she meets Major Orville Hackensacker from Texas and falls in love. Every Saturday this fat 40 something arrives to Alice’s home with cigarettes and there they sit and drink gin together. She demands to be alone with him, so all the others have to keep in the kitchen, while she and the Major dines on the best china in the drawing room, using up all the rations. And afterwards sitting holding hands gazing in to each others eyes.  He brings her nylons which she can never get in to and she makes him bedsocks. Since he eats their entire meat ration, all of them lose weight that summer. One day, he is posted elsewhere and Alice is devastated till she receives a letter from his mother, saying thanks for treating Orville “Just like your own SON!” The woman sends Alice chocolates every Christmas that Alice refuses to eat! Son indeed!

When Italy entered the war, people did not know how to treat the people who were supplying them with ice-cream and fish&chips.image  In St. Anne’s there were two Italian families, the Verrichis, who kept an ice-cream shop and  the Chicoines, the fish and chips people. Mr. Verrichi, was a virtuoso on violin and Mr. Chicoine, had the most beautiful tenor voice. They were often part of the musicals set up at the town hotel, nicknamed the Hydro. But in 1940, the police found out that most Italians either had to be sent off to the Isle of Man, posing a threat to national security or they had to be incarcerated locally. The police in St. Anne’s decided that they needed their cells, so they incarcerated the two Italian men in a bathhouse, not being used. But the family of Mr. Chicoine could not manage  the fish and chip shop on their own. So, Alice petitioned that the husband would get to look after his business during the day and then lock himself up in the bathhouse, during the night. But he had to use distinct clothing to show he was a prisoner. Usually they were supposed to wear a brown suit with orange target circles on it, but there was none to give Mr. Chicoine, so he put on the most distinct clothing he had. A green velvet gondolier’s costume, he had worn in a musical. Soon, Mr. Verrichi could also attend his ice-cream shop and they could be part of musicals as well. And since Mr. Chicoine had smuggled his wife in to the bathhouse at night, she soon gave birth to twins, which she patriotically gave the names Winston and Spencer.

The Victory Parade was going to be a big thing. The main street decorated with flags and bunting and with pictures of  Queen Victoria and Lord Kitchener and Douglas failed to see the point of the latter. All military men were gone so this was to be a civilian affair, the parade. Alice had been invited since she was one of the few who had a sort of uniform and a car. But her Austin was not doing well. One  no longer could open the doors and the car leaned in 30 degree on the driver’s side, since the springs had worn out, from her weight on that side. Proudly she decorates her car though with flags, bunting and Christmas decorations. On the roof they put a bucket, stirrup pump and a sign with ARP written on it. They arrive to the gathering point where you can find the fire brigade,  football team, cricket club, WVS, St John’s Ambulance Corps, Royal Lifeboat Society, Salvation Army band, Morris Dancers, Masonic Lodge, Home Guard, Boys Scouts, Girl Guides and you name it.

Alice can not find any other ARPs to join her so they get in to the car and is about to start but the clutch will not work. The doors will not open. Douglas being tiny, is able to climb through the window but is not able to open Alice’s doors even with a crowbar. So Alice orders him back in to the car, since she absolutely do not want to miss the parade. Somehow, she manages to get second gear in and starts the car, which jumps forward and scatters some empty cans. She can not hit the brakes, since the motor then will stall and might not start up again. she also has trouble steering the obnoxious car. Bearing down on the parade all she can do is honk the horn which sounds like “an elephant passing wind”. Then the car stalls, whereupon Alice jump starts it again in second gear and shoots forward. This is how they travel that day. After creating havoc in the entire parade and plowing through the Hydro’s flower beds, they stall a final time in front of the town hall. Were an assortment of dignitaries stare at the strange vehicle with broken Christmas ornaments and trailing banners, caught on the way, has just stalled while Alice salutes everyone marching by. She has been in the victory parade and has fought a long and hard war valiantly!

I am sure that some of you might feel that I have given the entire story away here, but considering that the book is out of print and hard to find, and me having been forced to cut out all the funny dry humour in it, by just summarizing the events, you really have something fun to look forward to, when you finally get hold of the book! You will know that it is a hilarious book and that it is worth the hassle and wait.

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A shirt for babies!

Just a cute little blog post about a conversation between my autistic 6-year-old son “Gubby”, whose IQ when it comes to language is 50, and my teenage daughter “Cookie:

“Take your shirt off! It is too small. It is for a baby!” “Gubby” tries to pull the shirt up because he really is getting disturbed by the fact that his sister obviously has a screw loose, who has put on a way too small shirt.

“No, it is supposed to be like this! It is one shirt but two parts. Look they are connected!”, answers “Cookie”, while she desperately tries to keep her shirt on. How does one explain to him so that he understands, that this, this is what is called high FASHION right now! Every single shop sells these.

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To him the shirt is way too short and should not be worn by her. And can you really blame him?  This is a really odd fashion where the shirts don’t cover your belly botton and if you want to be modest, you have to wear something under it that usually doesn’t match. I only bought this shirt for “Cookie” at H&M, because I thought the roses were very pretty and romantic. Had it not come with a tank top attached to it, under, I would not have gone near it. I have seen what her 17-year-old sister does. She wears them without anything under them, since she complains that she gets too hot otherwise. In her mind, they do cover all that should be covered, and of course she will not listen to me when I tell her that it does NOT cover enough. She is showing her entire mid section, which she doesn’t believe, and I bought them with her promising to wear something under for sure.

Every shop I go to now, the shirts look all the same. They are all short and what is the purpose really? It doesn’t look nice unless you have a very tanned body and a flat almost six-pack stomach to show off. 10 cm extra and it might have passed for modest. Yes, I know what the stylists say at the TLC make-over programs. If you have hips, if you have a bottom that is not a firm little baby’s bottom, and if you have small breasts, you must never wear anything below your waist or the focus will be on the hips and bottom and everything which hangs below your waist, will make you look fat. But honestly, this fashion is really going too far. And are clothes only made now for those between 16-20, who can pull this sort of fashion off? What is the rest of humanity to put on when we go outside the door? I agree with “Gubby”, “Take it off! It’s for a baby!”

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The Puzzle Piece school for autistic children

imageWhen the speech therapist, for the second year in a row, wanted to send “Gubby” for testing to see if he is autistic, she did so no doubt in order to save herself or rather her department, which she was in charge of, money. She said that she can not help an autistic child but that there are people who can. So far I haven’t seen such a person, and then he has had his diagnosis for over 11 months now. One thing I got to ask her before she basically threw us out from the normal children’s speech therapy department, was “which school should he go to if he is autistic?”. She answered: “I have no idea. But there is a new school called the Puzzle Piece.” I went home and looked it up and at least the home page looked fancy enough. But what was the point in contacting them before we knew if something was really wrong. Everyone I spoke to, thought her balmy for even suggesting such a thing as “Gubby” being autistic. He doesn’t act like such. If one doesn’t know what one is looking for.

Then I finally had his diagnosis but BUP could not say anything about the school. I got most of my information when running in to an old substitute teacher of “Kitty’s”, at the village supermarket. She asked about him and I told her that he is doing so-so, having ADHD and being at a school who has so far failed to educate themselves in what it means to teach a child with ADHD and what sort of adjustments have to be made around him, in order for him to thrive. She told us about her own woes, having a son just diagnosed with autism and him getting zero help at the village school, called “the village school”. A council school with a headmaster wanting to save money. So much so, that some classes are taught with 50 pupils in attendance. She told us that her son can not cope and that they had been looking at the puzzle piece school but were thinking about another school, one just like it,  in another council and part of the province. She said she was fed up with our village.

As soon as “Gubby” had his diagnosis I contacted the puzzle piece school. But did not get an answer. I sent e-mails, tried to phone but got no answer. The special ed teacher tried to contact them for me, but without success. Finally T. managed to get hold of someone, meaning I suddenly had an e-mail saying that he had been put in their queue. Right. Nothing wrong with that but I thought it  very strange to be in a queue for a school that I had never ever even visited and had not spoken to anyone at the school, either. In the autumn, habilitation was on to me, telling me to continue trying to get hold of the headmaster, but no luck. The special ed teacher tried as well and the headmaster at the Montessori school actually got hold of her, but when I tried, no answer. I started getting really perturbed. This is insane, to have a school that noone can get in to contact with. What if one has a child there and worries about the child or needs to leave a message? And noone picks up the phone! Finally, I saw that they were on Facebook. They proudly declared that they had been allowed to open short stay rooms at the school. Some people had written in the comment box how great that was and that they hoped their children could start at the school. I wrote a nasty comment saying that I wish they had paid less attention to creating more and more things at the school and starting law suits against the council for refusing to pay for pupils, and instead should answer e-mails from parents needing answers. Within minutes I had an e-mail from the headmaster apologizing and wanting to know what I needed. I answered that I thought it bananas to be in queue at a school without ever having visited the school. She let me know they would have an open house but not when. So I kept checking Facebook, even though I hate the place. Even signed up to follow them, and two more places called “Underbara ADHD” with things concerning ADHD of course and then also “Barn i behov” which means Children with Needs, which basically pertains to all autistic children. I also signed up to join the Autism and Asperger Association, since I can get rebate on courses, if I am a member and we might be allowed to use the pool at habilitation. Only members of the association is allowed to do that!

Finally, it seemed actually like an afterthought, I found out that they had put together an Open House on the 22 December. So we drove to our neighbour village and found the school via the GPS, right beside the police station. They are actually in the same building. I really don’t know what to think. The school has 12 pupils. 4-6 of them severely retarded, so they are in the special needs school, in a separate building. The others are counted as high functioning Autistic or with Asperger’s, there being a big difference

They might choose to do away with Asperger's and choose to call it autism, but autism it is not! If you call it that, noone will know what autism is anymore and that will create problems in reaching these children and helping them!!!

They might choose to do away with Asperger’s and choose to call it autism, but autism it is not! If you call it that, noone will know what autism is anymore and that will create problems in reaching the truly autistic children and helping them!!!

of course. The building is very fresh, but what stands out is that these children would never ever be counted as high functioning by society, as the headmaster said. How can you be called high functioning when you can’t be around other children or human beings, without it creating conflict? The 6-8 children attending the school, all have a room each where they decorate as they imageplease. They have an assistant each and if it is possible, they can try to do things with another child, but for the most part that does not work. I got the feeling that this is “the final solution” for children who can not fit in at any other school. And I am not sure that it really is the sort of school “Gubby” needs yet. He does function among other children in that he does not act out. He is loving, caring and doesn’t harm a fly, but of course is very naive and trusting, which does not work in this world. He needs to be around other children, he wants to play with others. He just doesn’t know how to do it and is a little bit in his own world, so he plays parallel to other children. But he does enjoy their company. Children at the playground think he is weird, but what is wrong with being different as long as you do not hurt anyone or cause bodily harm to anyone. THAT is “Boo’s” problem. He does act out and is the one who needs a school like the puzzle piece. Unfortunately, we had not put him up in the queue, since he did not get his diagnosis till September, and after that I have just not thought of trying to put him up too. Plain forgot!

I talked to the headmaster for over an hour, telling her about our boys, what the problems are at “Boo’s” present school and what we fear will happen to “Gubby” in a normal school. She shook her head because my fears are not unfounded and the situation really is bad in Sweden for these children. She wished that she could take more children, but there is a limit. And she said they would start looking at the queue in January. I assume that we are not even close to he top, since I have not heard a word from her.  The worse part with a school like this too, is the fact that you can get a phone call saying that there is a place for your child, but then starts the real work for you as a parent. Now, all documentation needs to come in to the school, why your child should be allowed to attend the school. And then comes the toughest part of all, when the school applies to the council to get the money for the pupil. If the council refuses, your child does not get to start and the place goes to the next one in the queue…. We live in a council that has Lund as its seat. Lund is an old University town from the middle ages, a seat of learning, but our council is of the opinion that they only people deserving to learn anything, are those who are NORMAL. There is no room for autistic children, children with ADHD and so forth. So, the puzzle piece which is situated in our council, in a village outside Lund, has no children from the council of Lund. All the pupils come from other councils that think differently and have realized that if you don’t spend money on these children now and help them when they are young, they are going to cost the state A LOT OF MONEY in the future. It is not a coincidence at all that a lot of the prisons in Sweden today, house lots of inmates with ADHD. I would not be surprised at all if they also house people with Autism and Asperger’s! But Carpe Diem, right? Live for the day, tomorrow might never happen? Or let’s deal with the problems when they arise? That is how Sweden look at children in need today. Seems like the parliament is full of people with ADHD, because that is the way such persons think. They live for the 4 second rule: There is no tomorrow, only today. The world will go under in 4 seconds, so we might as well live now. Live now and do not spend money on the handicapped, they might be conveniently dead tomorrow. Or?

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The 2015 Book Sale in Sweden: The best sellers and what I bought!

Today was the first day of the yearly booksale and as a fervent book lover, I just could not get myself to stay away from the big bookshop in town. Eventhough I had made sure that I got all the books I really, really wanted, beforehand, by ordering them from one of the internet shops. They have this good thing going for them, they do have a wider selection than what the physical shops have, even if most of the books are the same in all shops around the country, with slight variations and price differences.

The yearly book sale opens its doors at the major bookshops, at 07:00. The days are gone when they opened at midnight! Pity! It was fun to stand in the long queue at midnight, with all excited shoppers, in an otherwise dark, cold and empty town. The bookshops started loosing money though, with fewer and fewer people showing up at that time. They can’t keep the same prices as internet and some people have moved over to reading all their books on reading tablets. But, they do open at 07:00 and up till 10:00, they let you buy 4 books for the price of 3, which is great. All people make sure they have the even numbers and put back books if they go over…

imageI managed to get “Gubby” to pre-school already at 08:00, so that I could make it in time to get my 4 for the price of 3 deal. What was already sold out when I arrived at 08:30? Christopher Hibbert’s “Borgia…”. I strongly suspect that the book might have sold so well, because there has been a TV-series with Jeremy Irons in it, portraying this ghastly family. Talk about corrupt and evil. I was actually tempted to order it on the internet because D. accused me of only reading WWII books and what kind of a historian am I then? I wanted to prove him wrong. But then I remembered sitting and watching one episode of the TV-series and I can’t say that I enjoyed it one bit. I did nothing to remember when subsequent episodes were being broadcast and I do not feel like I have missed out on anything important or something interesting. Some historical figures are interesting and exciting to read about, but I felt that reading about the Borgias would not be a good use of the free time I can steal for myself. But others in town really thought it would be an exciting read, that is for sure, since I heard disappointed customers finding out that it had been sold out right away.

Otherwise most of the books seemed to still be there when I arrived. But there were some, where there were only a few copies left: Like the books on Magda Goebbels, Hermann Göring  and Wittgenstein. I had decided against Magda Goebbels since she was animage atrocious woman, killing all her children but one, because SHE did not want to live in a world without Hitler. But they might have been alright with it? Actually, they probably would have been just fine! I was told about the book, by a music teacher, who is also a member of our church. She knows the author of the book, who decided to write about Magda, because they both had the same amount of children. She is not an author by profession so I have no idea what this book will be like. Nor how well researched it will be. But when I saw that there were just a couple of copies left of it, I decided that it was now or never.

Hermann Göring was not an option. I have already read a book on him and his narcotic abuse. One book was bad enough, I don’t need to read all that information again. If anything, I would have liked to read the American psychologist Gilbert’s diaries, since he got to talk to Göring every day in prison, while Göring awaited trial. That would have been an interestig book!

To get my 4 for 3, I had to have one final book and I stood and looked at all sorts of books, till I walked over to the biography section and came upon the Wittgenstein book, which there were only two books left of. Reading about the Jews and Vienna, about a month ago, and watching seminars on TV, his name came cropping up all over. Philosophers are usually people I stay clear of since their theories tend to give me a headache. But this book also being written by a Swede and being about Wittgenstein the person, could actually be a good read. Just the fact that he was one of Europe’s richest men and gave everything away, makes him interesting. Add to that, all the different occupations he tried out, fighting in WWI and claiming that “If you can’t talk about it, you must be quiet”. My choice stood between “Ulysses” or 708 pages of Wittgenstein and you see what I chose.

A third biography was a very much planned purchase. The little book by Chil Rajchman, called “I am the last Jew: Treblinka (1942-1943), translated from Yiddish. Only 57 people from Treblinka survived and I suspect that they survived because they managed to escape. 900 000 were killed at that extermination camp, so his testimony is extra important.

I think it was last year that I decided to stay away from novels at the book sale. After all, why waste the money when you can borrow them at the library? I usually only read a novel once, unless it is Jane Austen. So, why fill your bookcase with books you will never look in again? That is why, I only ordered one of the novels E. wanted from the internet: “Insurgent”, since she has read “Divergent”. But I will send her to the library for “The Maze Runner” and the third book of “The Circle”. After all, she hasn’t bothered reading the first two parts of this Swedish series, now going up in the cinemas. Books I have bought for her, previous imageyears. But I decided to be nice and buy my husband a book at the sale, him slaving away at work all day, not even getting close to a booksale. He loved the book about the 100-year-old who stepped out of a window… So today, I did buy him the author’s second book, about the illiterate who could count. I also decided to indulge “Kitty’s” and D.’s interest in the Titanic, which is actually a beautiful book full of glossy colour pages, most of them with the newspaper clippings from back when the ship went down. D. of course is doing his military service at the moment, so he can not tell me what he thinks about it, until he comes home on leave, but “Kitty” was excited and thought it a really, really nice book.

What was selling the quickest according to the personnel? A book that I thought was new, but since the author passed away in 1947, it is hardly new is it. Last year, the big seller was his “Alone in Berlin”, about resistance in Hitler Germany. And this year itimage is his book about the breakage point between Weimar Germany and the Nazi era. In English “Little Man – What Now? “. I stood with the book in my hand, but gazing in it a little bit here and there and reminding myself that I can borrow it at the library, I went against the current, and did not put it in my basket. Nor did I do like everybody else and put the book about Winston imageChurchill, in my basket. This will also be a big seller since it is the first book ever written about him in Swedish, by a high school teacher. But do not think that I have gone insane. I did order it on the internet since I did not want to fight for a copy. Like I do not have enough books on this man! I have actually started to contemplate emptying a shelf in one of my many bookcases and create a Winston Churchill shelf. He is my big hero and I doubt that the Swedish author has done him any kind of justice, nor do I think he will add anything which has not already been said, but I think it would be interesting to see how a Swede will treat the subject of this brilliant man, who really was a glow-worm among worms. It really has not got that great reviews compared to this other book, also written by a Swede, but sometimes I just like to form my own opinion on books.

The other two books, I ended up coming home with, was a book I have looked at on and off for a while. According to a imagepsychological test I took in the US, MANY years ago, when at the University there, I am an introverted introvert, having the same personality as Eleanor Roosevelt and Mahatma Gandhi. I must add here that I would never ever dare to pose for the press in my knickers, so I must be way more introverted than Gandhi! Anyway, they had Susan Cain’s “Quiet : The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking”, at the sale and I decided together with two other women, that maybe this was a good book to read for us introverts, who might need a boost to our ego.

Another book I suddenly put in my shopping basket was “le Petit Prince”, because when our French teacher forced us to read it in a French class, or parts of it I should say, in Gymnasium, I did not understand anything and thought it was thoroughly weird. Then when I went to France, for a three-week stay with a native, while my friend actually attended French lessons, Madame made us listen to the entire story on a record player. I don’t know if my friend understood a thing, but I sure did not, apart from a word here and there. Today I felt inspired to give the story a final chance. It is a translated version so who knows, I might actually like it? Here’s hoping! The world having loved it since 1946!

imageI don’t usually walk over to the religious bookshop, for its sale, but I heard some students talk of it, so I decided that since I was in town anyway, and no children in tow, I might as well take a peek. And I really found some really nice books at “the Ark”. I mean, how about the Veggie Tale Bible. One of my dear penfriends will know this book for sure, since she told me about the very funny films, years ago. I was quite impressed that Sweden has actually brought this book in and translated it in to Swedish. In it, there are some of our favourite stories like “King George and the Rubber Ducky”, “Mrs. Blueberry” and “Joshua and the Great Wall”, but lots of others as well. I am quite excited over this find, vegetables telling the Bible stories in a fun and exciting way, for both children and the adults reading the stories to them. The second book is about the animals telling the biblical stories, like the snake telling the story about Adam and Eve, the Whale the one about Jonah, the Lamb the one about the birth of Christ and so on. The third one is a book with 365 mini lessons to be taught each day to children. Every day has a fitting Bible verse as well and my thought was that it would be nice to read a page, every day, before the boys head off to school. Getting a good and calm start, on the day. The hug message for example, was the lesson for today, the 25 February and looked like this:

image

Sorry it is a little bit blurry but the ceiling light doesn’t work, eventhough T. just changed the two bulbs, and “Gubby” tried his best to hold the book still, while I took the photo. It says: “Nellie loves her big furry dog. She gives him a big hug. Do you think she hugs her family too? Who do you like to hug? You get warm inside when you hug others. And then they know you love them. To give someone a hug is like saying ‘I love you’ without words. How many people do you think you can hug today?”. Really nice and T. was mighty impressed when he got home!

The few books I ordered from Adlibris also arrived today. Books not available at the regular book sale in the physical shops: A book about Nazism in Sweden, 1924-1945, a dark past we don’t like to talk about and which the ordinary person knows nothing about.

image image imageAnd then this adorable little travel work book, for children to make their trip more interesting or alive. I bought one each for “Boo”, “Kitty” and “Cookie”, in case we actually get to go somewhere this summer. I took some photos earlier today, to show how there is plenty of room for them to record their days and then fun pages that you fill in, like the ones below where you are supposed to say how one says hello, in the language of the country you are visiting. Drawing the flag of the country and many more pages like that are found in the book. One can add photos and postcards, whatever one likes really, to make it a fun memory book. I loved the idea, since when you are a child, it is difficult to remember, in the years to come, what one saw and experienced, when travelling with one’s family. And I can see my children doing everything to find things to add to their books. “Cookie” will take lots of photos that I will hate to develop for her… (Money makes the world go around, the world go around…)

Well, this was my little report on my day at the booksale. I am sure that other people found completely different books to tempt them and that is the great thing with the sale, there is something for everybody. And for all people who did not go there today, I am sure that there will be plenty of fun things to purchase in the next couple of days. Just remember. A book on history is so much more fun to have in your bookcase, to return to over and over again, to refresh your memory, than a novel which will only stand there and collect dust till you one day want to try to get your money back for it on eBay or Tradera, and noone wants to buy it! Most novels end up at the charity shops! Buy wisely!

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A visit to the zero-class at Montessori

On the 24th November 2014, parents of children in the queue for zero class at the Montessori school in our neighbour village, were invited for an information meeting. Since “Gubby” is already in a Montessori pre-school belonging to the school, he automatically had a place folded for him if we wanted it, so all parents in our situation, were also there at the meeting. We of course had to go, since habilitation had not told us anything, whether he need special needs school or must go to regular school, and we had to proceed with decisions, in order not to get burned. Montessori wanted to know by the 5th December, which children in pre-school wanted their places at the school. After that date, they would start phoning parents in the outside queue.

I can not say that I drove to the school with happy thoughts. And I had two “children” at home objecting! Both of them having attended the school at the age 7-9 and D. even till the age of 10, since he had to do third grade two years in a row, to catch up to the others. I had to tell them that things change when personnel change. But the bitterness is still there. J. getting terribly bullied at the school since he was so odd. If we had only known then what we know now. That he is with 100% likelihood autistic. He should have re-done first grade. He should have been moved in middle school so he could not sit off time for three years, like he did.

The last year, E. attended the school, I had a very difficult time with the personnel. They looked at me with contempt, they were rude and cold, and I could not wait, to take my child out of there and never return. And now I was back and who do I encounter in the zero-class classroom? Some of the judgemental people from when E. did her last year at the school. I was in shock and so were they at seeing me. But I decided that people can change. And what options do I really have? Perhaps things will not be so bad in zero-class, especially if “Gubby” gets an assistant? I decided to try to be open-minded. We both did, T. being with me for once. We sat down and saw that some other parents from our village Montessori pre-school was also in attendance and I felt that this was a little bit comforting, since “Gubby” will then recognise some of the children. Providing they actually take their slotted places.

I am not sure what I thought of the information meeting except that I got vexed at this woman from the outside queue. She brought up the topic of home language which has the formal name of Mother Tongue. That is for children who has at least one immigrant parent, who speaks the language of their home country, at home. In our case, its English of course since T. speaks English ALL the time with the children and he and I only converse in English between us. This lady, has a daughter and at her pre-school the daughter was allowed to sit in on the English lessons and she thought it was so much fun! And the parent was delighted that she got to learn some English at such an early age. It made me angry!!!! First of all, my child’s pre-school has had to cut home language lessons because it costs too much. So “Gubby” has not received his entitled home language lessons. These lessons cost the schools a lot of money so they are only meant for the children who are entitled to the lessons. They are not supposed to be something fun for Swedish children! And this cow sat there and argued with the teachers that why should her daughter not be allowed to have all this fun at their school as well, even though she has two 100% Swedish parents? I wanted to bite the woman’s head off and hoped that no place would be offered to her child, because I’d rather not “Gubby” go to school with such a stupid woman’s child! Nor do I want to meet that lady again at future parenting meetings etc. She has completely missed the point of what home language or mother tongue is all about and that it is a service the school buys in. A native teacher comes to the school, to teach his or her language. There were other stupid questions from this lady and another lady from the outside queue, but the above is the only one that I really got emotionally involved in. (The fun thing is that all places have been taken by Montessori children, so these outsiders asked their stupid questions in vain!)

After we went on a tour of the school, which has changed A LOT since E. quit, we got to talk to the teacher who will be in charge of the zero-class. I wanted to see her reaction when I asked her about a child with autism attending her class and how they could adjust things for him. I guess autism is not a foreign concept at the school like it is at the Catholic school that “Boo” attends. Some children have assistants at the school which sounded positive in my view, since that means that the headmaster is willing to exert himself on a child’s behalf and apply to LSR (School Resource Center for our council) for help. It sounded like they would try to help “Gubby” as much as they possibly can. But I guess one will not know that until one sits in the middle of it. It was decided that I come and visit the present zero-class to see how they work on that level, since none of my children ever attended zero-class. It did not even exist when J. and D. was that age.

On the 27 January 2015, after saying yes to the place at the school on the 5th December, but still feeling undecided if it is really right for “Gubby”, I went to spend the morning with the zero-class. I arrived at the school at 9:00 and was received by the special ed teacher who has been down to help both “Boo” and “Gubby” with their speech and language, at the pre-school. She walked me in to the classroom which is in the middle of the school. My first concern of course being that “Gubby” will run off to the loo and get undressed to poop and then noone will hear him, if he learns to shout that he is ready and needs to be wiped. I can see him running out naked like he does at pre-school, to get someone’s attention and this will of course not work at a school where children from age 6-12 is in attendance. I fear that he might get bullied and teased, unless they realise how sweet he is and needs help?

imageThe school was really quiet, everyone working hard and I was surprised at the little group in front of me. Sitting one and one, by little tables or on the floor, working on their own tasks. Hm! How will “Gubby” do in that environment, with glass windows all around the room, but that is the limit of how far he is allowed to go. If he is going to go flaxing, it will have to be in the room! Because flax he will do! No way to escape it until he grows out of it or learns that there are places where it is not completely alright to flax about. Flaxing? Have I not explained it? He looks like a bird, flaxing his wings in order to take off and he runs while doing it. The new thing though is to clap his wrists when he is flaxing and running. It can get on my nerves so sometimes I beg him to stop, but he doesn’t usually pay attention to me. The best thing is to call out to him and beg him to come. Come and look at this book with me! Come and let us build a puzzle! He does the flaxing when he is tired, happy, bored, overwhelmed or unsettled. So what the school needs to do, is try to catch his attention when he does this and suggest something for him to do. It usually works at the pre-school. I am not sure how M. will handle it at the school though. She can get irritated and I see why. She has a class of about 15 pupils who all need her help, a lot!

The first hour, they were two people in the classroom. One woman from after-day care helping out in the classroom. But the second hour she has to do her real job for some reason, even if the school day is not out for anyone yet. And that is when the real problem starts. One person trying to help all the children working on individual tasks. I saw how thinly stretched M. was and that it would be impossible for her to have “Gubby” in the classroom, without him having an assistant. He would be lost and spend all his day flaxing. He needs to have someone there for him alone. Especially when I saw how advanced these 6-year-olds were and where he is at. One boy sat on the floor and read cards matching them up with clocks. And he did them all correctly. One girl sat imageand did Math. She had to fill in the number coming after a number. Like what comes after 599, 437… Some children sat and worked on work sheets that had a picture that they had to colour and then they were supposed to write a text under it. The teacher writes the text in very thin pencil and they fill in her writing. One boy was sitting doing number exchange, which I still do not understand but then I am not a math genius! I know that “Boo” would not be able to do what that boy was able to do, and then he is two years older than all these children. As a matter of fact, it felt like all of them were way more advanced than both “Gubby” and “Boo”! It felt worrisome. I spent a lot of time looking at all the different Montessori materials and everything looked terribly advanced. I got so worried that “Gubby” will not find anything to do, that is within his scope of intelligence, that this school is too advanced for him and then we are only talking about zero-class, which is not supposed to be serious and should be mostly about play. There was no playing in that zero-class at all. It is all very serious already. ,

M. had some time for me, when most of the children had done their two tasks that day. In their planning books, she writes up two things for them to accomplish every day. Some gets them done quickly and some barely get them done at all. The girl with the math sheet for example, did not get a lot of free time, because she just sat and looked at everything going on around her, wanting help she said. But when M. sat down to help her, it was clear that she needed no help, she just wanted company. I sat down with her for a while and she said she did not know what to do, but I told her that I knew that she could do the numbers and she gave me the answers. She just wanted immediate feedback and someone to sit and chat with, while doing the paper and this, the teacher does not have time for. M. told her that she was just being lazy. At a meeting at BUP, the counselor asked me if I really want my child in a school where the teacher says that to children. The counselor doesn’t have any children! I told her that there are teachers that say far worse to the pupils and that no school is perfect. At the Catholic school I have heard teachers swear at the pupils like the worse harbour workers, so you just have to decide which level of badness you can not tolerate.

imageM. told me that they work on different time periods from the big bang and so on. (They are very anti religion at this school which is one reason I was adamant about taking my children out of there.) Those are the worksheets that she writes text on and that they have to fill in. Not all the children can read what they have just filled in. She also said that there is plenty of Montessori material to work on, depending on where you are in the development. I am sure that some things “Gubby” will recognise from his pre-school and some things she showed was actually on his level. One was these boxes with littleimage tubes in them and you listen to them by shaking them, determining which ones sound the same. It seems like if he received an assistant, that person could sit and help him use that material, if the other pupils are doing more advanced things. And he could definitely sit and colour in the worksheets, even if he does not understand at all what they are about and what she has just had a presentation on. He could even fill in letters I think! But would he learn anything? No, but he would learn to sit still for a while on a chair. For the future, that will be good.

The good thing is that the group is small, the room not too cramped up and light. He can look outside. And the noise level was very low if not completely quiet. Only when it was nearing lunch, did the volume go up. I did not stay for lunch but it is eaten in their room, so they do not intermingle with the older pupils who can get very noisy at lunch. During the lunch recess they also have someone go out and do organized play after a while, which is nice since he certainly can not come up with things to do on his own, except flaxing or running around. Well, going on slides and such, also works of course, but I did not see if they still had the slide or not. My concern is the big forest right by the school and that he will take off in there and get lost. Or children lure him in there and then abandon him for fun. But with an assistant, he would be safe. So everything hangs on a little thread called an assistant. Failure or success is dependant on such a person being available to him. Then I think, he could continue to thrive at the Montessori school, just as he has at the pre-school. There he is surrounded by understanding children. Would it be the same at the school? I wish I had a crystal ball so I could see in to the future! What should I do?

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Habilitation causing more stress to a family in need, than helping: IQ testing of a 6-year-old

December 2014:

After habilitation screwed up, it was time for another round of testing for poor “Gubby”, who of course do not understand what anything of all this is about. V., the psychologist went to the pre-school and all I know is that “Gubby” made a very positive impression on her. He is a huggy child and one who is completely open to meeting strangers, so he had just run up to her and taken her hand, to lead her in to where he was working. He made sure she went where he went, during the entire visit, so she got to help him bake “lussekatter” among other things. She was very impressed and thought he was the cutest little charmer. That you just love him. So far so good!

The problems started on the 8th December when habilitation phoned me and said that my next day visit, was cancelled since the psychologist had got the flu. “What about the appointment on the 10th?”. She could not answer about that nor when the IQ-test was to be done instead. Now I really got angry. I told her, that I was in queue for the Montessori zero-class and had to let them know if we wanted the place. That it was pointless to take the place if he must go to a special needs school and that I already had an appointment to discuss the IQ-results on the 18th, so the testing had to be done by then. I had also received a time on the 15 January to discuss the results with the pre-school.  I really needed the secretary to fix everything! It took hours before she phoned back and gave me an appointment on Monday the 15th. Instead of being tested on the 9th, “Gubby” went to pre-school as usual and they thought this was very odd, all this changing of appointments. They wondered how things would work out with all appointments, the head having told the headmaster and special ed teacher to show up for the 15 January, and freeing herself from the child group that day as well. I just had to shrug my shoulders and say that I knew nothing.

When we got home that day, another secretary who could hardly speak Swedish phoned and said that the appointment the 10th was cancelled because V. was sick. I asked her for a new appointment and she said it would have to wait till January. “No way! I was given an appointment for Monday, yesterday, and I need more appointments next week!”. “That is not possible!” “I don’t care! I am sick and tired of putting my life on hold like this. On the 18th I am supposed to get test results. On the 22nd there is an open house at the autistic school and I want to tell them the results. I have already accepted a place at the Montessori school thanks to your tardiness, even though I do not know if he can attend a regular school. And on the 15th January other people are expecting test results. You can’t mess me around like this. I bend over backwards to sort out babysitting and things with school. Now you better fix this. I was given an appointment on Monday. Now I need another appointment for the one we miss tomorrow!”. She did not understand how someone could have given me an appointment the day before, and asked who the culprit was. Like I had paid attention to the name! She said she would discuss the matter with the team the next day and then call me back. Well,she never called back and I got so angry. I had T. phone them and demand an appointment. After two phone calls, he finally found out that the lady who had spoken to me on the 9th, was noone of consequence, someone who did not know a thing and she had not talked to anyone about another appointment. So, I ended up with two new appointments the last week of school, on the 15th and 16th.

When I wrote up everything that was going to happen week 51, on our whiteboard, I felt very tired just looking at it all. Monday 8:30-10:00 IQ-testing and then on to the BUP nurse to discuss “Kitty’s” medicine. Tuesday 10:30-12:00 IQ-testing. Wednesday 9:00-10:00 Play observation for “Boo”. 12:00-13:00 results for play observation. Thursday 10:00 school-term-ending ceremony at Catholic church, 15:00-16:00 Test results for IQ-testing of “Gubby”. Friday Christmas party at “Gubby’s” pre-school.

So, we showed up at habilitation Monday morning, “Gubby” and I. And this was not as fun at all, which he had expected, since he remembered the fun he had had with K. He had not forgot the fun toys in the double-mirrored room that he had been allowed to play with etc. Now he had to sit by a table and answer questions and me sitting behind in an armchair, not being allowed to say a thing. Not being able to coax the answers. Let’s say, he thought it was tough, very tough and he could not get through everything needed that day. V. just looked at me and said that she did not know what to do. I told her that we had to be done by the 18th, no matter what, so finally we came up with the insane thing that D. would have to come with me on Wednesday and sit with “Gubby” while she tested him and I had to be with “Boo” at the play observation, since I can’t split myself in two. So, two children tested in two different rooms at the same time! But there really was no alternative if we were to keep the time plan.

Tuesday we were back and I felt so sorry for my little boy who he has to go through all this. And for what? What will really come out of it? On the 10th December, on the day when Malala received her Nobel peace prize for fighting for children’s rights to study and get schooling in her country, the parents of children in need, living where they could go to Stockholm, had all gathered in a mass protestation in the middle of Stockholm. They felt that it was the perfect day to point out that when they give the prize for Malala’s fight for all children to receive schooling in Pakistan, then Sweden also breaks against the UN child convention since children in need in Sweden, do not get the schooling they are entitled to. Perhaps one should look at one’s own country’s shortcomings when it comes to education for the handicapped, instead of starting to complain about what is done on the other side of the globe?! The politicians in Sweden can be outraged at what is done in that country but not what is done in their own country. Or what is not done! According to the school law, every child in this country is supposed to get to learn according to their ability. School is supposed to give them the help they need and adjust the school system to let them fit in. But that is not done! Because Sweden has decided to spend its money on other things. Instead of the schools falling under the state, so one can check up on that things are conducted in the same manner all over, they all fall under their respective councils. Poor councils will make cuts where they want to and they always, always cut the school budgets. And when they do that, the schools have no money to spend on all the children with special needs. They are forced to sink or swim. And more and more children in Sweden sink. They stay at home, because they can’t go to school. Not receiving the help they need and must have, to progress.

Wednesday, it felt like we spent the entire day at habilitation. D. walked in with “Gubby” to the last day of IQ-testing and I walked in with the counselor, to the one side of the double-mirrored room, together with a counselor in training. The counselor filmed and asked questions to clarify some things “Boo” was saying and that is the bad part about sitting behind a mirror and not in an open room, like the one “Gubby” did his play observation in, that you can’t have any contact at all with the special ed teacher. We had to tell her things afterwards. If we remembered. She had decided that one could not put “Boo” in the big play room though, because then he would not sit down and do things with her. He would have started to climb, build with the gigantic stuffed building blocks and swinging, not listening to her at all. So they had to do things in a more boring room. But he had a fun time with her and we laughed behind the mirror when they played doctor. K. is really great with kids. She acts like them and totally get in to pretend play and “Boo” really responded to this. He giggled and laughed and played along. I think he could have stayed there and played with her all day, if he could have. As it was now, we drove down to school and dropped him off there and then I persuaded D. to take “Gubby” on the bus and go home, because it was not fair for him to have to sit in a boring waiting room till 13:00 and then the two of them going with me and sit in the car till 14:00, waiting for “Boo” to get off school, so we could all finally go home after a very long day. Reluctantly D. went on the bus with “Gubby” and the latter was such a good little boy. D. is such a wonderful brother. He made sure that “Gubby” got his beanie on, his zipper closed on the jacket and then he told him how to keep his hands warm till the bus arrived, since we had forgot the mittens at home. It was bitterly cold. I stood and spied on them from opposite the bus stop, because they were so cute together. “Gubby” did not flax about but stood like a good boy beside his brother and when the bus approached, he took D.’s hand and they got on the bus, “Gubby” all excited with a big smile, since he LOVES going on a bus.

I drove back up to habilitation and sat down to find out that “Boo” had done well on the play observation but that they feel they must go and check out the school situation. He said many bad things about school and how he is treated there. He must also go and see the work therapist and the physical therapist to test motor skills but also perception. I thought it would happen soon but soon in their book is March 2015! In the meantime, he has to sink or swim, which has made me or forced me to look at alternatives to the school he now attends! And they are shocked, that I have moved forward before they have had their say. They do not seem to comprehend that there is a limit to how much one can put up with and how long one can wait with things. Sometimes one has to move fast or one will miss out on opportunities. He will not meet the two therapists till the 4th March, the school observation is not until the 11th March and the outcome of these things will not be presented until the 18th March. How can they not see this as a joke, when school ends 12th June? Three months or actually less, for the school to try to sort things out and make changes. And for what purpose? He is so behind in his school work. An entire year behind!!! When school started in January, I was given a new plan of action for this term. The goal is that “boo” by the end of the term, will have caught up with grade 1. When he is in 2nd grade now! So when he starts grade 3 in the autumn, he has all of 2nd grade to catch up on. And moving down to 2nd grade does not work because the parents of the children in that class are still wimps who scream and raise hell if someone so much as touches a hair straw on their children’s heads. An autistic child who acts out like “”Boo”, will touch those children, no doubt about it! “Gubby” is the exception to the rule when it comes to Autism. Autistic children act out, they hit and they scream because they do not understand the world! So at his present school, I have no options at all except to let him fall more and more behind. And let’s say, he is not entitled to special needs school. He does not have an IQ below 70 and is counted as high functioning. Which is a very relative term!

After the school-term-ending ceremony, I dropped all children at home and had to head back to habilitation for the results of the IQ-testing of “Gubby”. I sat down with V, psychologist, and K. special education teacher, and was given a sheet of paper that said it all. To cut it short, he is under 70 IQ when it comes to everything language but on everything else he ends up about IQ 90. So he does not have a right to go to a special needs school. And I must say that it made me depressed, because it means that his entire life will be a struggle. He will be misunderstood in school and be teased about his handicap. He will stand out among the other normal children as very abnormal and perhaps be bullied. And in all likelihood, he will not receive all the help that he will need to get through school. Because no school has the money. It would have made his life so much more easy if he had been allowed to go to a special needs school. Then I would not have had to sit and cry about his future and have to fear for his life. Because these innocent children get taken advantage of . One is not allowed to be different in this society.

The test results said “Gubby” “is a happy little boy who at both the observation and the testing tries to do his best. It is of great importance that he gets the support he needs and that one uses his strengths so that he will not encounter failure and so that he can keep the good self-image which he has. He is a boy who will have to go to regular school but who will need a lot of support because of his autism and his language difficulties. He is helped by visually clarifying strategies which creates structure, predictability and which creates an understanding of context. He needs help with finding out what he needs to do, where he is supposed to be, with whom he is supposed to be with, how long it will all last, what is going to happen next, what he is supposed to bring and why he is supposed to do things. If you adapt this for him, then he doesn’t have to spend so much time figuring out the world. Children with autism has a difficulty with imagination. If he can get help from the outside with this, he can possibly learn patience and be able to learn things and also be able to socially interact. In March a speech therapist will do language tests. The IQ test has to be re-done in one year.”

When I sat there, I felt a hopelessness come over me. I told them how hopeless “Boo’s” situation is at his school and how will I be able to prevent this from happening to “Gubby” as well? How do I protect him from failure? What school do I look at? And this is where habilitation really shows its real failure or should I call it weakness. Because they are not allowed to advice you. They can’t tell you what schools work with them. What schools will give my boys the help they need.  I am totally on my own in this and can get really burned. For some reason, the Waldorf school popped up in my mind. I have not thought about this alternative for years because someone told me that they spit on religion and make children feel really bad about being religious. But suddenly I felt the need to ask about this school form. K. told me that it’s only for some people. That the child will fail the national tests in grade 3, because they focus on other things in the lower grades than pure book knowledge, but at the national tests in grade 5, they have caught up with the national average. They do a lot of crafts and art and to me it sounded like heaven, like the perfect thing for “Gubby”. So I decided to investigate further. Too bad that everyone had gone on Christmas holidays then, till the 8 January. I was forced once again, to put all questions and our lives on hold. To be continued…

 

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PEP-test and too much of habilitation

24 February 2015:

4 November 2014 was one of those days I hate, when it feels like I am nothing but a hamster running around dizzy in a hamster wheel. I had to be at habilitation twice this day and in the evening at an information meeting about Special Needs Schools which in Sweden are called “särskola”. In translation it would be “apart school” because the child is more or less kept away from “normal” children. We were told to go there in case “Gubby” has to go to one, if he has an IQ under 70, and if he does not, then we need to prepare a defense speech based on facts. People are always going to question WHY he is not in such a school, if he is put in a normal school. People having no knowledge at all what goes and what the rules are. But I might save that information for a separate post, because before one gets that far, lots of things have to be done first.

My morning, started at 9:00, at habilitation with counselor and psychologist and the conversation was our third about “Boo”. But when I got there, half of the time was dedicated to “Gubby” since there has been a misunderstanding, them having started to do a PEP-test instead of an IQ-test, which is the one weighing heaviest on school choice. The psychologist had not read his files properly and had understood that he is born 2009, meaning plenty of time to do things. I had to tell her, no, he is born 2008 and if I am going to put him in a normal school, I need to know so very soon. I am not putting him in a big school where he will get bullied for being innocent and naive and independent schools have long queues. As a matter of fact I should have been in plenty of queues by now, but since they have dragged out the testing so long, I have been left in limbo. And sure, I could do as they tell me. Put him up in queues all over, just in case, but many schools will charge money for queueing and others demand that you visit them before you can put yourself in their queue. Also, it is very time-consuming checking out schools and if he is to go in a special needs school, why should I waste precious time on unnecessary things? I can’t understand how they reason and I am getting REALLY angry and perturbed at them and all the crap that goes on. All this waiting time! My child’s life doesn’t stop while we wait for the next appointment!!! I can’t hit the pause button!

image

Couldn’t say it better myself! But the Swedish government and authorities couldn’t care less, could they???

Finally I managed to make the psychologist understand that our case is very urgent and why should “Gubby” have to pay for their mistake? And finally we could move on and talk about “Boo”, the reason why I was there, that morning.  Read the sentence on the photo again, and then listen to this: It had been decided that “Boo” should come with me, on the 17 DECEMBER, for play observation. Right! Over a month and a half, before they are even going to meet him for the first time and START checking what he might need help with. May I scream now? Things are like a roller coaster for him in school, but habilitation can not start helping him until all tests are done and they can’t give him an appointment sooner since SO MANY children in Skåne are diagnosed with Autism. It is today’s epidemic. Am I completely out sailing when my mind wanders to when I had the children vaccinated against the swine flu? 2009 I think it was. Same year as “Kitty” was diagnosed with ADHD. And before this date, my two youngest were utterly and completely normal. I am reading a book right now where it says that parents start suspecting something is wrong with their children when they are 16-18 months old. Well, I felt that my boys were normal. And who knows, people have got ill from that vaccination, among other things with narcolepsy. My husband falls asleep whenever and wherever. What if? Is it normal to sit at a psychologist after one’s baby has died and fall asleep sitting up on a chair? Or sitting in church sleeping through a sacrament meeting? He is just one BIG embarrassment so I avoid taking him with me to important things because what sort of impression does that give of us as parents, when the father sits and sleeps through a meeting? Looks like he is very interested in his children, right?

In the afternoon, I had to bring D. with me, to babysit “Boo” at habilitation while I went in with “Gubby” for his second day of PEP-testing. It was 14:30 so he was not at his most alert and he did not think the testing was very fun anymore. Now he knew where that funny chicken toy was, that he played with on Halloween. And he wanted to go in to the two-mirrored room again to fetch it, instead of asking questions. I had to try to make him sit on the chair and it was not easy. He played behind the curtain, crawled on the floor and acted sleepy. But he did fairly well when we got him to cooperate. K.understands that he uses his own words for things when he doesn’t know the right ones, and that they are often a description for what the thing does or what it looks like. One of the weirdest things she did was copy cat his movements and speech, to see if it would irritate him or if he did not even notice it. At first he was chattering away and did not pay attention and then suddenly he looked at her and said “STOP IT!”. We both had to bite our lips, because it sounded so funny.

When we were done, I just had to treat all the boys to ice cream at the supermarket. All this is so tough on them. And the boys do not even understand what it is all about! As we got home, I had a phone call from K. (the special ed teacher) who had been testing him. She had realized that she had forgot to test some things and she would go to the pre-school the next day, to complete the PEP-test there. It was not the regulars that were at pre-school at that hour, who had taken her phone call, so when I arrived the next morning, the regulars were pretty upset. Well, not upset really but a little bit irritated. They did not have time for her at all and lacked teachers that day, so she had to just take him with her upstairs, to their resting area, and do the final things up there. I had no explanation to give and the only thing I could do was apologize. I mean, I only found out myself after 17:00, when the pre-school is closed! But I guess it worked well after the initial frustration from the pre-school teachers.

What can I say about the test results that I received on the 6 November? A meeting which continued on the 19 November, so that the psychologist could get updated on what she needed to do? His curve looks like one of those curves one sees on a monitor when a person is having his heart rate monitored. Up and down in peaks!

On the imitation part, where he is supposed to repeat what someone else does, he barely reached age 4. He is 6! You have to be able to do this in order to be able to learn social behaviour and social language. Read off cues in other words. On perception, they can only test up to age 5 and he reached this. What does perception entail? Understanding one’s world via sight, hearing, senses, taste and smell. So he did well on that even though they could not test up to age 6. Strange, really. Fine motor skills was something he excelled on. There he reached age 6. On the gross motor skills, he did less good though. Barely reaching age 4, on his way to 5 years of age. But I thought he did well on everything she asked him to do. On eye-hand-coordination he reached 5 1/2 years of age. Then came the non-verbal skills, cognition. There he is on a 4 year old’s level. In this category you sort things in categories, categorize, pairing things up. I thought he did well and it said that he did well, so why those results? Finally, the last category being verbal cognition: making sounds, say words, sentences, the ability of communication by speech, where his age is 3.

Psychologist V. was told that he doesn’t know how to tell people that the tasks given to him are too difficult. That is when he starts hiding behind curtains, under the table etc. That he does best on tasks with pictures since abstract things are difficult for him. And short explanations are to prefer. A school do best not to give him long and complex tasks, but short things that don’t tire him out. Another thing I found out was that this is how autism looks in reality, some things the child can not do or do worse at, and other things the child will do just like a normal child does them. In other words, they are a nightmare to teach and things have to be adjusted for them. But only if you have IQ 70 will schools in this country do that. Takes too much from a teacher otherwise, too much preparation and less time with the normal children. But I will come back to that in later posts because this is not over yet. Not by a long shot!

I can just say this, that the Psycho Educational Profile-Revised, PEP-R test is pretty much useless. And after it was done, the special ed teacher still could not say what sort of school “Gubby” might thrive in. The results were too messy to really tell anything. This of course put me on the potty, because my only thoughts were, how do I proceed then? I will continue these posts so you will see exactly how life turns out for a child with autism in Sweden. And all the hassle the parent has to go through, most things just leading to a dead-end street. So look out for the next post on my continued woes with habilitation. I was told to be back there for the IQ-testing on the 9 and 10 December. On the 3 December V. would go to the pre-school to observe him there, in action so to speak and to actually meet him for the very first time. And then on the 18 December, I would get those test results. Not the December that I had in mind…

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