Monday, 1 September 2014

The Battle of the Bulge

It might just be me, but in my experience you don’t get to be 47 without…. no wait, I’m 46….(what chance have I got when I can’t even remember my own age)…I’ll try that again – in my experience you don’t get to be 46 without a little middle age spread. Perhaps just a bit too much where there used to be just about enough. Or am I the only one fighting the battle of the bulge?

No, no, no I’m not talking about being overweight! Heavens – I have the figure of a racing snake! No, I’m talking about the spread that occurs when we accumulate stuff in our homes. When the spaces which were once joyously, well spaces, have been overtaken and overwhelmed by 20+ years of books and clothes and toys and games and ornaments and books and clothes and toys and games (did I say that already?)…..

As if it’s not bad enough in our living space, try finding something you want from the garage, and I’m not talking about the car – who on earth puts their car in a garage for goodness sake? How could I when the garage is full of books and clothes and toys and games and lawn mowers and hedge trimmers and half used paint pots and bits of wood that I just know will come in handy one day (come on you men I know THAT is not just me)…..

As for the loft, it’s a wonder everything up there hasn’t come tumbling through the ceiling from the weight of books and clothes and toys and games and Christmas decorations and photo albums and suitcases and Abba LP’s (everybody’s got one somewhere).

So leaving Emily tucked up in bed under the watchful eye of her married big sister (also tucked up in bed) we squeezed the contents of the house into the car and, although I’d have preferred the charity shop or perhaps the recycling facility (or “tip” as we call it up north), we headed for the CAR BOOT SALE.

This for me is about as much fun as toothache. But today we were going to a different one – “we’ve not been here before” I’m told. Joy. (Toothache with anew dentist is still toothache right?) No sooner had we parked up than we were ambushed by a headache (collective term) of bargain hunters. They were in the boot of the car quicker than I could say “no I’ve got no jewellery”. Eventually when they heard that they all disappeared like an early autumn mist – leaving me, Sheron and a toothless Eastern European lady who seemed intent on buying a pair of curtains for 30p.

There has to be better ways of spending a Saturday morning doesn’t there? I think of feigning injury and sitting out the rest of the morning alongside the other men who were there under protest, but my interest in selling our stuff is stirred when I see that people are actually queuing up to buy. I mean, what is wrong with these people? Seriously those miniature Lilliput Lane houses are going to be in their loft before Christmas. Never mind, that’s another few quid. This is getting interesting. And some of them actually speak English. Sheron strikes up conversation, “Morning” she says to a man in his 60’s “how are you today?” she enquired. “Do I know you” the man barked back. “No, just being friendly” Sheron replied. “Oh” says the chap scratching his head, “that’s nice….makes a change”. He stops to engage further in humorous northern banter as I wrestle a $40 New York Yankees cap from the hands of another new friend who insisted on paying no more than £2. I hold out for £3. He walks off but comes back half an hour later with the extra pound. I’m feeling so smug I consider giving that small child the ball he’s looking at for nothing. But Sheron’s there first and clenches proudly the 10p she managed to get for it. We’re on fire.

At the end of the morning we’ve made far more than we could have expected, despite the opening starting bids of 20p from most of the punters. I see a burger van selling cheeseburgers for £2.50 and wonder if they get the same opening bids. “20p…30p if you throw in a hot dog as well!” Perhaps not.

The best thing about days like this is not what we made. It’s not even piling up years of stuff on to a broken pasting table and watching people descend on it and devour the goods like drunks on a Friday night kebab. No, the best thing is getting out there, meeting people, talking to people, they’re actually quite interesting. It made me realise I’m nowhere near as good at this as Emily is. She has a natural ability to communicate. As soon as she understands the context and that it’s like a shop, rather than just talking to random strangers, she’s well away in situations like this.

If only we had taken her this time, we’d have probably sold lots more, instead of loading it back into the garage.


Sunday, 24 August 2014

All About Emily

The great thing about people in the public eye saying negative things about Down's syndrome is that it gives a great platform for us to help change perceptions by posting positive comments, articles, photo's, etc and this has been done so well by the Down's Syndrome community over the past few days.

It's incredible that this community is almost like a family. We care for another, we support one another, we encourage one another. Yet not only are we are in different parts of the UK, we are in different parts of the world, united by a common desire to make the world a better place for people with Down's syndrome and their families.

One day I'm going to get Emily to do a blog post and let her say what she likes (what is life if you can't take a few risks?) but first I wanted to show how Emily is no different in so many ways to anyone else. How could I do that? Well I thought I'd interview her. Just a series of quick fire questions for her to answer to give a brief insight into her life, her likes and dislikes, her hopes and dreams. So here's what she said. I hope it helps build up a picture of Emily, my beautiful daughter. 

Name: Emily Rosie

Age: 22

Birthday: 12th August

Brothers: Matthew and Mac (brother in law)

Sisters:  Laura & Kerry (sister in law)

Home town: Bramley

Education: Hilltop & Rotherham College

Qualifications: GCSE – cooking, drama & PE

Work experience: Previously been a retail assistant at Mothercare and Spar. I'm going to be working in the office at a local special school and have just agreed to be a specialist disability consultant for YMCA

Boyfriend: Jono (5 years)

Food heaven: Quiche & chips

Food hell: Parsnips

Favourite band or singer: The Saturdays

Favourite hobbies: Swimming, reading, listening to music

TV heaven: Embarrassing bodies, Waterloo Road, One Born Every Minute

TV hell: Family guy

Favourite film: Mean girls, High school musical, Sleepless in Seattle

Favourite holiday destination: Cornwall

Where in the world would you like to visit: Australia

If you could choose 4 people to invite to a party who would they be (alive, dead or fictional)? Mel C, Katy Perry, Princess Fiona from Shrek, Will Schuster from Glee

Who / what makes you laugh? Harry Hill’s TV Burp

Who / what makes you cry? Romantic films

Ambitions: Be in a newspaper, ride a pony, get married, live in my own house, have a job working in the kitchens and do health and safety

Tell us something funny about your family I like to get my Dad to pretend to be a pussy cat and do meowing and purring

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Ability Delusion

If his name is unfamiliar to you, Richard Dawkins is a scientist and writer.  Amongst other works, he is well known for his book the God Delusion where he attempts to disprove the existence of a supernatural creator or God. Science usually demands evidence to support a theory and to my knowledge no evidence has ever been presented to prove that God does not exist. Indeed it is impossible to do so as faith and science are uneasy bed-fellows.

However, I’m not writing this blog to re-ignite that particular debate. I’m just teasing out a picture of how unscientific our scientist actually is.

No, today Richard Dawkins has told his one million or so twitter followers that it “would be immoral” to bring a baby with Down’s syndrome into the world if you have the choice.

When asked whether it was civilised that 994 human beings with Down’s syndrome are killed before birth in England and Wales every year, Dawkins replied “Yes, it is very civilised. These are foetuses, diagnosed before they have human feelings.”

Another person then wrote “I honestly don’t know what I would do if I were pregnant with a kid with Down syndrome”

Dawkins: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

The when Dawkins was quizzed on autism he replied “People on that spectrum have a great deal to contribute, maybe even an enhanced ability in some respects. DS not advanced.”

Excuse me a minute (bangs head on desk several times)

No, it’s still there. Apparently it’s true.

Who DOES this man think he is? He doesn’t believe in a superior creator or God, yet he believes that HE is the one who can tell the rest of us what is civilised and what is moral!!!! On what basis?

The damage his comments could do, or already have done, is incalculable.

Under current legislation it is legal to terminate a pregnancy after 24 weeks “if there is substantial risk that the child would be born with serious physical or mental disabilities” – this includes babies with Down’s syndrome.

Life is considered viable after 24 weeks, at which point, it would be wrong to state that it is a fetus without human feelings. In fact it seems that Mr Dawkins is the one without human feelings, so should a similar approach to be taken for any adult without human feelings? #JustAsking

As for the question of autism versus Down’s syndrome, Mr Dawkins has really shown his ignorance of the subject. There are many people who have a dual diagnosis of Down’s syndrome AND autism. In fact, it is likely that there are a great many more without a formal dual diagnosis who have both characteristics.  Dawkins suggests that people with Down’s syndrome have nothing to contribute.

Is he suggesting that MY daughter has contributed nothing for the past 22 years?

Is he suggesting that she has no enhanced abilities?

How can he do so, he has NEVER met her (Yes Mr Dawkins you have made this VERY personal).

I do not feel I need to defend Emily or anyone else with Down’s syndrome. The way they live their lives is defence enough. Unfortunately Richard Dawkins and people who hold similar views, usually speak out of ignorance and intolerance. If he were speaking about people of a particular race, religion, ethnicity, gender, etc his words would be considered a hate crime but, hey it’s ok to talk about people with “disabilities” like that.

I have a theory. I have no science to prove it so I reckon that puts us on the same playing field Mr Dawkins. But here goes….

·         Drug dealers are never people with Down’s syndrome

·         Alcoholics are never people with Down’s syndrome

·         Wife beaters are never people with Down’s syndrome

·         Bank robbers, crooks, fraudsters – Down’s syndrome? NO

·         Murderers, rapists, muggers – Down’s syndrome? NO

·         Paedophiles – Down’s syndrome? NO

·         Liars & cheats – Down’s syndrome? NO

·         Rioters, arsonists and terrorists are never people with Down’s syndrome


The Ability Delusion has sold us a lie where we have come to accept that the things listed above are “normal” and that the way that people with Down’s syndrome live is something which deserves eradication of all human species with trisomy 21.
Now those of us in the know are more than aware that people with Down's syndrome are not angels. They can have tears and tantrums, they can fart and swear just like anyone else. But they bring something out of those of us who get to know them, qualities which we didn't even know we possessed. My development as a human has been enhanced by the presence in my life of Emily and many other people I have met with Down's syndrome. So if evolution really is about the survival of the fittest and the development of the human species we need to have an outlet for those very qualities which make us truly human - patience, compassion, grace, acceptance and love.

So Mr Dawkins, come and talk to me; come and talk to my daughter. Accompany her on a night out with her boyfriend. See what she’s doing in college. Take a look through my photo’s of the past 22 years. Sit in her bedroom and tell me that she does not deserve to live. The least you can do is read Emily’s Room.

If there’s something uncivilised here; if there’s something immoral and without human feeling; if there’s a lack of contribution then it’s all coming from your side of the fence.

And may the God you deny forgive you.


Monday, 18 August 2014

A Different World

“Aren’t these things marvellous!” exclaimed 94 year old Uncle Walter as I showed him photographs of the children on an iPad, “It’s a different world!”

It’s a different world.

I paused to think on that. How the world has changed even in my lifetime and I’m only half Uncle Walter’s age. Don’t you think it’s amazing how quickly things change? There are things which have always been, which we take for granted, and then in a heartbeat they are gone; consigned to the pages of dusty history books and historical society photograph exhibitions.

If, like me, you happened to live in, or visit, South Yorkshire before the mid 1980’s you will remember the iconic pit head winding wheels which stood proudly in virtually every village in the area. They were symbolic of the people who lived in those villages, the working class Yorkshire folk – proud, gritty, parochial, hard-working and generous to anyone who was prepared to put in the time and effort.

The rumble of coal wagons and the steel hammer of a distant foundry provided the soundtrack to my night-time as I lay in bed as a boy; an industrial lullaby as comforting as the tap tap tapping of sleet at the window on a cold winter’s night when you’re all tucked up under a lovely warm duvet after a mug of hot chocolate. Cosy. Sleepy. Lullaby.

Now the collieries are all closed, the coal wagons are redundant and the winding wheels are only seen amongst the flower beds as you enter a village; a tombstone, a memorial to days gone by; a reminder that time stands still for none of us, things change whether we like it or not.

(Yes it is a bit melancholic isn’t it? Stick with me, it may get better....)

I took a walk with Emily recently on a beautiful nature reserve. We never made it as far as the lake where swans were protecting their young, but it was just great to be out breathing the fresh air as the evening sun set the clouds on fire in the western sky. This is the place I feel closest to my dad, who died back in 1987 when I was still a teenager. This nature reserve was where he worked. I met him here many times as a child and I still do today. As I bent down amongst the tall grass I pulled from the ground a shiny black rock; a reminder of why he came here. Coal. My dad worked at the colliery on this very spot. This is where he met the Queen! When I came here as a boy it looked so different. The red brick buildings, the dirt, the grime, the noise, the lorries, the railway, the miners – now all gone, silent, replaced by grasses, thistles, wild flowers, hares, skylarks, peace, stillness and the ghosts of my memories.

It’s a different world.            

What will our world look like when our children are older I wonder? It’s a sobering thought that the things we take for granted now may be consigned to the digital version of a dusty history book (an archived web page doesn’t sound half as romantic does it?) But it has made me realise once again that life goes on, change happens, people come and people go but we leave a legacy that lives on in our children and for our children. I want to make sure that what I leave is worth leaving. I want to ensure that change has happened because I could be bothered to make positive change happen rather than leaving people to complain about the effects of negative change, when I could have done something about it. I want to help ensure that people with Down’s syndrome, those already alive and those still to come, have better access to services they need. I want to help ensure they have a fairer education where their needs are not just met but where they have the support that will enable them to thrive and flourish. I want to help change the perception of Down’s syndrome so that health professionals and expectant parents see termination as a last resort rather than a default setting.

Now that would be a different world!


Monday, 30 June 2014

Who knows where the time goes?

I'm not sure quite where to start, it's been such a long time. So much has happened and is still happening but I thought I'd better at least let all you lovely people know we're still here, not dropped off the planet, just busy with all sorts of stuff, as I know many of you are too, so thanks for taking the time to give this a quick shufti (it's a real word - I looked it up and everything!).

Oh for the life that the Righteous Brothers sang of in Unchained Melody "...and time goes by so slowly..." Yeah! Right! (vinyl record scratches to a stop) ......And before you start asking who the heck are the Righteous Brothers when everyone knows it was done by Robson & Jerome, just look it up on Google - it's been done by everyone from Elvis to Jimmy Young, Barry Manilow to U2!

Anyway I digress.

Time does NOT go by so slowly, it goes by so flippin' quickly I can't believe Emily is nearly 22 (as she reminds us daily), so enjoy the moments pop-pickers, enjoy every day and cherish the memories. "Who knows where the time goes" by Eva Cassidy (and others but let's not start that again) is more like the tune playing in my head on a regular basis.

So what have we been doing? Lot's actually. Things we've been up to but not told you about yet include:
  • Emily and me being on BBC Radio Sheffield with Andy Crane (if you're young enough you'll remember him from the broom cupboard with Ed the Duck)
  • Emily being bridesmaid at her big sister's wedding in America!
  • Emily discovering that she's going to be an auntie (she's excited about that one)
  • Emily starting independent travel training
  • Emily doing a voluntary work placement in a charity shop
  • Emily passing her Stage 4 Musical Theatre exam
  • Emily getting to the end of her 3rd year at college
I hope that as Emily and I come to tell her story a bit more, you are encouraged by what you hear. I appreciate that there are a lot of people who read these words whose children are much younger than Emily. I want to let you know that there is a world of possibility out there if only we are prepared to help the rest of society understand and lift the limits.

The other thing we all need to remember is that different schools, colleges, clubs, societies, etc are only as good as the leaders who lead them. It's not even about one part of the country being better than another - it all comes down to people. So I say let's influence the influencers. Go to the top, head for those in positions of authority because everything rises and falls on leadership.

Anyway, enough of this for now. I will get round to telling you more about some of these things above over the next few months. The wedding was a particularly memorable event and Emily gave a superb speech as sister of the bride (look she's always been a pioneer and a trailblazer so if she wants to give a speech who in their right mind is going to try and stop her!). I'll let you know about that one soon. In the meantime here's a picture of Emily with her sister Laura and new (American) brother-in-law Mac.

Bye for now,

Friday, 21 March 2014

Thank you

Today is World Down Syndrome Day. People all over the world are celebrating the unique character and personality of people with Down's syndrome. We're celebrating the colour they bring to all our lives. I'd love to put together a really clever tome to inspire and encourage everyone. But I simply want to say Thank You. 

Thank you to everyone who has been blogging, tweeting, posting, youtubing, emailing and generally all things ending with, the world over, for raising the profile of people with Down's syndrome and helping to challenge outdated thinking and perceptions.

Thank you to the organisations, charities, support groups who do so much to support people with Down's syndrome, their parents and carers, friends and family.

Thank you to the forward thinking media planners and producers who give air time, column inches and a voice to people with Down's syndrome across many media channels.

Thank you to health care professionals who do so much to care for people with Down's syndrome when they need it most.

Thank you to teachers, teaching assistants and all people connected with education who make education a possibility and a reality through creative planning and inspirational teaching.

But most of all, thank you all those beautiful people who have Chromosome 21 in triplicate - our friends with Down's syndrome. Quite frankly I am a far richer person for knowing you. You bring light, life and colour into the world. You make me see things in a completely different way.

You make me slow down. Stop. Look. Breathe.

You challenge me. You challenge my thinking. You challenge my hopes and my fears. You challenge my prejudice. You challenge my patience. You challenge my learning and my desire to learn more. You inspire me. You bring out from within me something that would otherwise have remained buried deep down; compassion. You help me realise that the most important person in the world is NOT me.

Thank you!!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Emily's Weekend Off

What do the parents of a 20 something get up to on those days when your loved one is staying at Grandma's? - or Nana's as it is round our neck of the woods. Well those days don't come around very often for us but last weekend Emily was having a weekend off - giving Nana the full Emily experience - so we decided to head for The Smoke!

Our excuse was that we wanted to show Mac, Laura's American fiancé, the bright lights, the hustle, bustle and general mayhem that is London, that way he may be even more grateful when he gets back to Yorkshire (just joking London friends before you all close the page!). Just for clarity, Mac is Laura's fiancé and he's American. By saying he's her American fiancé, I'm not for a moment suggesting she's got fiancé's of other nationalities - we don't live like that up here in then North you know! Glad we've cleared that up.

Where was I? Oh yes, Emily's having a weekend off so like any other sane family we were up at 5am and heading for the 6.29 Sheffield to St Pancras, first class if you don't mind! We'd tried to book a taxi to take us to the station but we'd have had more luck asking for a fleet of unicorn's to pull us in a chariot of gold. Instead, I was nominated to drive us in, drop the passenger cargo at the station and then go and park where I work - a good mile away. So by 5.50 I'd dropped them and was on my way to parking when I got a missed call. Laura was ringing to tell me the 6.29 was now the 6.09 due to a landslide and East Midlands trains do apologise for not letting me know! Oh, and it's an hours wait if we miss this train.

An early morning run in shoes and leather jacket through the city centre was not top of my list for Emily's weekend off, I must confess. And my family must have wondered if I was actually going to survive those last few metres before I staggered onto the station concourse, clutching at my chest and pointing like a madman for everyone to get to the platform. Not quite the first class start to our first class travel day but it had to get better from this point right? Hmmm....

I could tell you all about Westminster Abbey, the Whispering Gallery at St Paul's or the beautiful walk along the South Bank in glorious Spring sunshine but, quite frankly, nothing London had to offer compared with a First Class train journey on East Midlands Trains. Let me tell you why.....

I quickly nicknamed him Safety Steve

We'd not been going long when we were welcomed aboard by a confident man over the tannoy letting us know we'd be stopping at Chesterfield, Derby and London St Pancras. He also told us in no uncertain terms that this being a Saturday, First Class passengers would not be getting a trolley service and if we wanted our complementary drinks we'd jolly well have to go and get them ourselves. However, if we dared to go without our tickets, or if we ordered a drink before showing said ticket, we would be served a chargeable beverage and there'd be no going back. He proceeded to terrify us with so many health and safety instructions we were looking for tin hats, life jackets and inflatable dinghy's just in case. I quickly nicknamed him Safety Steve.

Laura and Mac were the first to venture to the buffet car. They returned carrying their coffee cups in brown paper bags, saying that the European gentleman (I later discovered his name was Ivan, as in Lendl) serving them, insisted it was carried this way. I suggested it would be a health and safety thing, you know what it's like. Sheron and I were next up. We got to the buffet car and were about 5th and 6th in the queue. Suddenly from behind us the slide door drew back and in rushes a fortysomething, portly train employee, along with ticket machine, shouting for us all to move to one side and make way as he has top get through. What could have happened? Surely he must be going for a defibrillator for a collapsed passenger?  

No. He was going for Ivan (that's I-van, not Eye-vern - these things are important) serving beverages in bags. He drew Ivan out from behind the counter and proceeded to tell him, in front of us all, how he had seen a customer walking along the train without a brown bag. Poor, humiliated Ivan, began to protest but his colleague, Darren, said that if the drink was spilled he, as train manager, would get into trouble but Ivan would get the sack. At this point he rushed to the tannoy next to us and announced that no hot drinks could be served as there were no more brown paper bags for them to be carried in. This was a health and safety requirement. And THIS was Safety Steve! Real name Darren. Safety Steve suited him better I couldn't help thinking. He went on to say that paper bag reinforcements would arrive when the train pulled into Derby!

.....faster than the steam from a boiling kettle

Well, the queue evaporated faster than the steam from a boiling kettle. However, *light bulb moment* we knew such a bag existed and was back with Laura in First Class. I rushed back and grabbed the bag and held it close as I made my way back to the buffet car, it was strangely like I'd found a golden ticket in my Wonka Bar! I entered the queue-less buffet car, smugly showed my First Class ticket and ordered two coffees, whipping out the lucky bag like I'd pulled a rabbit from a hat!

"Where did you get that?", Ivan enquired, smiling broadly. We told him and he said there were only three such bags on the whole train. You'd think it was the Polar Express and had been travelling through time to get to Chesterfield. Only three bags! The train started at Sheffield. They probably thought that by sneakily setting off 20 minutes early we'd all miss the train and they wouldn't need to sell any health and safety drinks! I felt sorry for poor Ivan, being told off in public like that, so told him he was doing a good job, shook his hand and began the hazardous journey back to First Class, sweat beading on my forehead, with nothing but my own guile and a brown paper bag between me and potential disaster. At that point I considered getting everyone involved in a treasure hunt for the other two bags but ran out of time as the train began to slow.

Soon we were pulling into the Paper Bag Depot, aka Derby Station. I sensed a loud cheer from all aboard the train, but maybe that was my over fertile imagination. I looked at those poor souls waiting to board, not knowing how close they were to not getting a drink before St Pancras. Hang on, what's this? A lady getting on carrying a Costa cup, presumably containing a latte, without the aid of a paper bag. Does she know what she's doing? What if Safety Steve comes along now? Thankfully, his attention was diverted counting the bags on board, and she found a seat. Phew! That was close.

Here's another announcement. It's Safety Steve again helping all those who got on at Derby to understand how important health and safety is, that this was HIS train, and they'd better not forget it. Oh, he also told us bags were on board but anyone caught carrying a drink without one would probably be shot by the time they got to Luton. Well, perhaps not, but you get the gist.

Caught up in a frenzy of excitement we couldn't help but go for another coffee. A longer queue this time but just like Groundhog Day here comes Safety Steve again. Surely not. No. Please no. Well actually this time his finger wagging and general "mentoring" for Ivan was to say well done. A customer had dared to complain that Ivan insisted on a bag being used even though he didn't want one. Steve let us all know that he'd told the customer, "well, you won't want to pay my mortgage when I get the sack will you!"

You couldn't make it up. This was the best train journey ever. I was at this point disappointed we were soon pulling into St Pancras, I'd have happily kept going and back up to, I don't know....Inverness!

Oh we're not done yet. Costa lady was ahead of us in the queue. She wanted to dispose of her Costa cup but couldn't find a bin she could fit it in. Ivan pointed to our side of the buffet car but again she said it wouldn't fit. He asked her if she was in First Class, which she affirmed. Understanding he was talking to train royalty Ivan agreed to take the cup and place it in HIS large bin! Jaw-dropping stuff but you couldn't help like Ivan.

Eventually we reached Ivan and asked for two coffees. Ivan smiled and said how about tea? Ok no coffee left, two teas. Ivan's face dropped. He didn't have two teas. He searched and searched and found only one tea bag. However, we could see he know had plenty of brown paper bags - he just had no hot drinks left to put in them!

All aboard, all aboard the Laughter Train...... next stop Chuckle Town....................