Aspergers, Autism, Anxiety, Twitter. And why I am scared. 

I suffer from anxiety very easily. Over most things, over little things. I get very OCD. I panic quickly. I need reassurance. 

Twitter, for all its value. Is capable of scaring me. It did that. 

You see I read some tweets. Not directed at me or anything I had done. But I felt they were. I felt the personal nature of them. The anger, rage, hatred that emanated from them was palpable. It leapt off my screen at me. 

It frightened me. 

They were vehement. They encouraged no argument. They used capitals to reinforce their words. They were violent. They brooked no dissent. They were like a tidal wave that crashed over me, drowned me and swept me away on a current of distress. 

I physically trembled as I read them. My anxiety was like an empty scream, there, but I had no way of expressing it. 

I wanted to respond. I had things I wanted to say. Things I felt I HAD to say. But I lacked the courage in the face of the onslaught. 

I felt violated. I felt mistrusted. I felt less of a person and all my Autistic fears and anxieties rose, en masse and swallowed me whole. 

Twitter is for views. Often we express ourselves in ways that are uncomfortable to others. I know that. But Twitter is also about balance, the cut and thrust of tweeting, the give and take in 140 characters. 

But what I noted, and I mentioned this is an earlier blog, was that these tweets were from a person who, no doubt, wants to be accepted for their Autism. Who preaches awareness, acceptance and who seeks NT adaptability as they live with us. 

But the language used. The violence inherent in the tweets seemed, to me, of such an attitude that they would NOT stand for argument or discussion of the topics they promoted yet would seek to discuss and argue with NTs over Autism. They would want to give in a way that it was not open to others to do so. And again I wondered and worried over causes that bear no examination. Where everything is presented as bald fact. 

And so I must turn from Twitter. I am, for this period, be it days, or longer, scared of it. 

I am not confrontational. I would have, if chance had been available, confronted, but in an open, gentle, probing way, seeking enlightenment. 

I felt wholly unable to do so. 

Until we meet again. Goodbye. 

Persian of Interest

Iran : Part 3

I observe people. I think it’s part of my autistic nature to observe them and try and work out their motivations and thoughts. 

Our group was quite small but had one or two characters of note. First we had Mr I, an investment banker. And then we had Mrs M, a short, elderly retired lady who seemed constantly to have money issues. Inevitably the two worlds collided. 

Almost everyday was interspersed with Mr I bellowing at Mrs M, “You stupid woman!” And her typical response of “Ignorant man!”. I had no idea what the locals thought was going on but to us as a group it was quite entertaining!. 

Outside of grim Tehran the people were much happier. They were warm, they interacted, they were desperate for autographs and, before selfies became popular, selfies!. “Look mum, here I am with a foreign devil!”. We were very much strangers in a strange land. But there was no malice, no harsh words, just gentle smiles and crowds gathering to look at us wherever we went. 

Now it’s only fair that I address the issue of women in Iran. When I went it was a very male dominated society and the women in our group had to adhere to the dress code. No hair showing, as much covered as possible, minimal make up. Which, oddly enough, was in contrast to what Iranian women were actually wearing. The black coats ended above the knees, they wore jeans and trousers, the headscarves were pushed back exposing fine hairlines and eye shadow and lipstick was on display. Iran was not as Iranian as you would have thought. 

I had been told that I must wear long sleeved shirts. But here were young men wearing t-shirts!.  I rolled up my sleeves!. If you can’t beat them, dress like them. 

We had travelled on to Kashan, stopping en-route at the 8th century BC Median Fire temple at Teppe Nush-I-Jan. It was a fascinating place full of broken pottery shards, relics from antiquity and even a used condom!. Since it was rather off the beaten track I found myself admiring the determination of anyone who had come out here (pardon the unintended pun) to do the deed. 

On to Ghom. The road was, by now, a straight one driving through the blistering heat of a desert landscape. The rainy days of Tehran were long behind us. 

Ghom has the highest proportion of clerics in Iran. It is not a tourist town but a centre of learning and, I learned, that Iranians dislike the city and its inhabitants who they believe to be mean and unscrupulous. I didn’t get the opportunity to test that theory as we were soon off again! 

Kashan was reached and explored. An attractive town with a lovely Persian garden and a beautiful example of a Timurid mosque. But the highlight ?. That would be the Hotel of Doom! 

From the outside it looked like a prison. In fact it might still have been one. It was the one place where all the “Death to…” signs above the reception desk looked like they might come true. 

On entering my room I observed thus. Two narrow single beds with plastic sheets!. Yes, plastic. I couldn’t begin to work out why although expectations of my being incontinent came high on the list. The windows, and here I laugh hollowly, were two tiny slits of glass jammed tight in case I tried to escape. With trepidation I entered the “bath” room. The tiny bath was deeply stained with an interesting pattern of yellows, Browns and rusty reds. A thick coating of yellow and grey sludge coated the bottom of the tub upon which a variety of cockroaches and other insects strutted their stuff. The wall behind the toilet was bespattered with yellow and brown stains which indicated that previous occupants had (a) very bad aim and (b) stood on the toilet and aimed outward!. The shower was rusty, the curtain beyond human description, the carpets were worn and the place stank of mould. 

I slept in the lobby. It was baking. Dogs barked furiously throughout the night. I found a delivery of blankets and slept fitfully on them until morning came and breakfast was “served”. Thick, lumpy, greyish yoghurt served on cracked, grey, greasy plates. “But sir, with this lumpy yoghurt, you are spoiling us”. Dirty water served in dusty glasses. Hard plastic chairs and grimy tables. 

And it was only a four star hotel! 

Imagine what they could do with a five star! 

I remember that morning vividly. A discontented, tired, itchy group. None of us ate breakfast and our guide was thoroughly ashamed at what we had been offered. It wasn’t ready for tourists. I’m not sure it was ready for anyone. Even prisoners. Even my worst enemy. 

Surely, the bottom of the barrel had been scraped ??. 

She ran. We ran. Iran! 

Iran is full of Iranians! 
Tehran is full of very dour Iranians. They aren’t a happy bunch at all and I suspect the reason is the view. Those mountains, the browny, fudge ones ?. Yeah they resemble large pooh and who would want to spend the day surrounded by them ?. 

Tehran has a glass museum. It is not a museum made of glass for the literal autistics amongst you but a museum which displays glass. It’s okay. It has a carpet museum. No it’s not made of carpet *sigh* but since Persian carpets are famous it makes sense to have a museum in which to display what are, admittedly, pretty amazing examples. It also has a pretty average Museum of Archaeology. I like museums, I like archaeology but I am guessing they don’t get many visitors so it’s not the cleanest place. 

But writing the exhibit names in dust on the display cases was fun. Who knew that writing the word “urn” so many times could give such simple pleasure. And an allergy. To dust. 

Tehranis seem to live under the cosh somewhat. Perhaps it’s the nature of living in the capital. An added weight or responsibility that bears heavy upon them. All I know was that I was glad to leave a somewhat sad city behind. 

We drove for 13 hours to the north-west town of Hamadan. Rain, heavy in Tehran, became more sporadic as we travelled through, at times, spectacular countryside to our destination. 

I recall many of our hotels quite vividly and the one in Hamadan really stood out. Built less than 20 years ago, it was already decrepit and moth eaten and the walk to my room took me on a rather large detour via the outer Hebrides!. Seriously, if I’d walked any further I’d have changed time zones. I was at one end of the gardens, miles from everyone else and no doubt out there to keep my evil influence away from the others. 

And my room was, to use a phrase, interesting! 

A lumpy mattress too small for the bed frame, a sheet too small for the mattress that’s too small for the bed frame and a door so badly fitted that not only could you slip a note under my door but a limbo dancer as well! 

Our evening meal was not good. Our food in general was excellent but unappetising mutton curry and a grey yoghurt dip did little to raise weary spirits. 

Hamadan, though, is lovely. A quiet, clean town with spacious streets and a mild climate and an ideal place to stroll into a girls school playground to view a family tomb. Or not as the case may be as, taking photos of said tomb when you have hundreds of young Iranian ladies who cannot be photographed, is a bit tricky.  

Our journey took us next to Bisitun. Through stunning scenes of snow capped mountains and gentle rolling hills we travelled until they gradually eroded to a flat plain from which the rock of Bisitun reared, like a bucking horse, from the landscape. 

Bisitun is famous for its extraordinary relief which depicts Darius 1st victory over several rebel kings including the pretender to the throne, Gautama. First studied, in perilous fashion, by Sir Henry Rawlinson in 1834 who descended on a rope from the top of the mound in order that he could decipher the script and discover the key to the ancient Akkadian language. He was either very brave or very foolish. Or both. And, given the weather in this part of Iran, he got flaming wet doing it!. 

Rain seemed to haunt us wherever we went. It followed us to the reliefs of Tag-E-Bostan and I ate my Iranian chicken sandwiches (excellent) to the gentle rhythm of dancing raindrops. Then it cleared and a blazing sun appeared casting a fierce golden glow over the reliefs in their hidden alcoves and imbuing the stone with a vitality and warmth. My trousers steamed in the heat as the water evaporated and I stood, basking in the warmth,  giving off a consistent stream of steam. 

We detoured to Kermanshah. A traditional and quiet Iranian town at our disposal was a great shopping opportunity if you like bazaars. I don’t. I find them bizarre and all the will you, won’t you and the haggling isn’t for me. I feel pressurised, or guilty about buying, or not buying, tat, or perhaps it’s not. 

I then blundered into a funeral. Look, there’s a message. Don’t let Patrick off on his own. He can’t read maps, he is rubbish with directions, you know that at home he occasionally leaves the sitting room, turns right instead of left and ends up sleeping in the bath not the bed!. Don’t let him out of your sight! 

But they did. Then I did. And two dids don’t make a didn’t! 

I left in confusion. I was confused at a large number of elderly Iranian men deep in thought in a stunningly gorgeous tiled room and they were confused by a confused Englishman out in the midday sun!. 

But a gentleman came out to see me. His father had died and it was the wake that I had blundered into. I apologised. He apologised. He offered me a chair. He arranged for tea and cake to be brought out to me. 

And when he’d seduced me with that, he made me join the Iran National Trust! 

Of which, more, later…..

“We don’t want to see you in an orange jumpsuit….” 

Part One

I didn’t quite take that in when it was first said to me. I probably looked a bit surprised, possibly a bit shocked and nodded and walked away. 

And then I found out it was a joke. With a serious side. 

Unfortunately, although that word is barely adequate, images of orange jumpsuits these days only seem to appear in barbaric videos trotted out by Daesh as they execute yet another innocent victim in some disgusting way. 

But in 1995, when those words were spoken to me, another regime had a reputation for acts of unspeakable violence carried out behind closed doors, in the deepest recesses of the offices of their terror police. And orange jumpsuits! 

I was going to Iran! 

Granted that it’s not your typical holiday destination. You are unlikely to bump into Jim in his Union Jack shorts tucking into a full English or Sonja, on her 18-30 holiday with her friends, drunk beyond reason and vomiting merrily all over her shoes. Well, Iran is a dry country so there was no alcohol for the latter and shorts were banned as well. But it had so many attractions. 

Iran appealed on so many different levels, especially to my Autistic brain. It was an ordered society, strictly regulated. It had clear rules on dress and conduct. It was dry and I wouldn’t bump into Jim (Nice guy but the Union Jack shorts really don’t match his grey socks or grey string vest!) and, in the West, we thought it was evil! 

Or, at least the Sun did!. Ah the Sun. Read by Jim of course. Probably Sonja as well. That harbinger of doom, the mouthpiece of political incorrectness, the hater of all things un-British!. Like the French. And the Germans. And Iran. Which was easy to spell. And a four letter word. Ideal for the Sun. 

Iran was portrayed as secretive. It was evil. It hated us. We hated them. They didn’t trust us. We didn’t trust them. They didn’t like women. We had page 3 (and the page 7 fella, for those who read beyond page 3!). 

But was all that true ?. 

Let’s find out shall we ?. 

I recall the flight vividly. A BA flight packed with Iranian businessmen and a small group of intrepid travellers led by a university professor. I recall the instant the captain told us we would be entering Iranian airspace and how, in an instant, the atmosphere changed. The onboard alcohol vanished and was hurriedly replaced by handfuls of extra strong mints, the women formed an orderly queue for the toilets and entered as a made up, casually dressed traveller only to emerge in dowdy clothes, hair scarf and sans lipstick and blusher. The transformations were dramatic and worthy of Mr Benn himself. Men straightened ties and buttoned up shirts and then sat, for the next forty minutes, solemnly as owls. 

I was as prepared as ever. I had read and digested all I could. I had liaised with the travel company so much they were sick of me and my questions. I had the right attire. I had the right attitude. I was ready for Iran and all she could throw at me. 

Dear Iranians, 

If you are reading this and, for whatever reason, you believe that everything in your country is fine, then please stop reading at this point. I regret to announce that I am going to be saying something you may find upsetting. I do not want you to be upset. I don’t want to wear an orange jumpsuit. It’s not my colour! 

Kind regards, Me. 

Tehran is an absolute dump. It’s a terrible place. Utterly bereft of any charm. It’s horrible. It’s really nasty. It’s grey. It’s polluted. It sucks. 

Out hotel backed onto the Alborz mountains or, as I affectionately called them, “those sticky brown looking things covered in dirty frosting!”. Down in the lobby we had been greeted by dour looking receptionists who snatched our passports from us and then pored over every detail as though looking to catch us in a mistake. Did each facial feature match ?. Was every blemish in the right place ?. Were those pointy ears natural ? Or Vulcan ?. Had we got our visas ?. Were they in date ?. Who had the Iranian Embassy let in ?. Had they gone mad ?. Who in their right mind let Patrick come here ??. 

Whilst our leader and the rest of the group conversed in huddled whispers I took a step back to admire the lettering above the reception desk. “Death to Israel. Death to the USA. Death to Great Britain” it yelled at me, in brass letters about 18 inches tall. I was impressed. It was stylish. It was neat. It was all spelled correctly. And it was obviously polished assiduously. I told the receptionist that. Somehow, he didn’t share my enthusiasm. He probably thought I was mad. I am not, my Mum had me tested. But he probably thought I was anyway. 

So that’s how it began, my trip to Iran, in a strange hotel, in a capital even its mum couldn’t love. 

But the best was yet to come..

A Voyage round My Family

Have you ever wondered why you are the way you are ?. 

I mean, deep inside, at the core so to speak, in your soul, your essence. Have you ever stopped fir a moment and really looked inside yourself ?. Paused, had a moment of stillness when time itself stops and turned yourself inwards, beneath the skin, the muscle, the bones, to you, your centre of being. 

I have. 

To me, it’s a voyage, a journey to the centre of the universe, a journey to pinpoint a tiny fragment, that distant pinpoint of light, the you. 

And when you come out of yourself, you draw back from the epicentre of existence, you become whole again, how much of what’s in you do you see in your family ?. 

Somewhere, on the wonderful spectrum of Autism that connects us all, are/were my family. 

My Father was almost certainly Autistic. Like myself, a solitary man, deeply uncomfortable in social situations, quick to anger if what he perceived to be his routine was disrupted, seeking advance warning of any changes, very narrow interests yet immensely talented at constructing things and fixing things. 

Mum was possessive of traits. She was an artist and a very fine one. Very much at ease in social situations, very intelligent and quite outgoing but not good, emotionally, with her family and very rigid in what she would or would not do or try. 

My sister, older than me by 6 years, is a cold, calculating, domineering individual. Very bright but not emotionally warm. Very opinionated and controlled. Again, like Mum, she demonstrates some traits. 

None of my family, bar me, have ever been diagnosed. 

I never envied close family’s. We were, at best, dysfunctional. At our worst we excommunicated each other over petty things. My father and sister did not speak for nine years because of a decision she made. Mum and she didn’t speak for three years about the same decision. My sister and I only spoke once in 15 years after she told my mother how much she despised me and was jealous of my birth. We only talk now to sort out our parents estate. 

But, as the saying goes, you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. 

I wouldn’t have chosen mine. 

I never got on with Dad. Perhaps we were too similar in our social isolation and the fact we enjoyed completely different interests didn’t help us connect. He was never proud of me, never congratulated me on anything and I suspected that I was not the son he wanted. 

Though, from what I understand since he passed away, he didn’t want children at all and, if he didn’t want my sister, he certainly didn’t want a second child. 

Mum and I got on well. I think, if you divide our family into dominant and submissive personalities, you would find a Father/Daughter dominant and Mother/Son submissive. I was terrified of Dad and his meltdowns if you said or did the wrong thing. He was quick to anger and Mum went along with things to keep him happy. I tried to, but, when my Autusm clashed with his, the results were spectacularly bad. 

Mum and I talked about books, she was interested in my trips and I helped her with the crossword. We talked about films and although, every time I rang, I asked about my sisters wellbeing, my sister never once asked how I was. 

Mum committed suicide last August, eight months after Dad died as a result of vascular dementia. I miss her and, although never close, I miss my father or, put another way, I struggle with the space where he should have been. 

So now there’s just the two of us. My sister and I. Separated by the miles and now in regular contact as we sift through the estate and cope with the inevitable bueauracracy that follows an unexpected death. We will never be close. I don’t want to be close. We are too different. 

Before she died Mum said to me, “When I’m gone I’ll enjoy looking down and watching you and your sister fight over everything”. A spiteful and unnecessary comment you may feel. 

And, in a way, perhaps it was. Perhaps I never really got my Mum. Perhaps I misjudged her. Comments in her diaries show emotions ranging from pity to frustration to disappointment in me. She used to say “You do know I love you, don’t you ?”. But was that a love born out of duty ?. 

So, that’s my family. I do wonder if, to the casual reader, this will come across as bitter or down. It’s neither. It’s just who we are and who we were. 

I see parts of my family I clearly inherited and parts that I hope I never do. 

And when I look inside myself, and I seek out that centre, I know that whoever I am, good or bad, is inextricably linked, genetically, with my family. 

But I am my own man, I choose my own path. I didn’t choose my family. 

Autism. Why I don’t fit in with the crowd 

I don’t fit in with Autism. 

I was diagnosed aged 42 on 13th February 2009. By then I had adopted a neurotypical stance and the real me had become disguised under years or practice at being something I was not. Occasional slippages were put down to “mental illness”, “depression” or simply “having a bad day”. 

Years of self restraint, of training myself to dull my excesses and grind down the sharp edges of my Aspergers left me feeling hollow inside, broken and abnormal. I rarely felt free to be myself apart from when I was free from the shackles of work and the expectations of others. 

Of course I was depressed. I have Dysthymia but that is simply another part of me and is not, of itself, a result of being Autistic. I just rarely feel joy or happiness as life wears me out and I don’t have the energy to be happy. I would rather just curl up. 

The Autistic crowd in Twitter are a great bunch. I am sure they are true Autistics. 

But I don’t fit in with them at all. 

I read posts that genuinely scare me. I don’t want to be in the same group. I don’t share the venom that’s spilt. 

Of course everyone has an opinion but when that opinion is put forward as representative of the Autistic community I find that genuinely frightening and, in all honesty, it doesn’t further our cause. 

I am not a rebel. I am not here for a fight that involves a depth of feeling, no doubt genuinely held, that manifests itself in name calling and vile diatribes when, with the next breath, we are asking to be taken seriously and preaching awareness and acceptance. How can we ask that when we offer up such nastiness ?. 

I feel ashamed and sad. 

I don’t fit in for another reason. Intelligence. I am sure many Twitter “friends” have very high IQs. They exhibit the high functioning attributes so often associated, rightly or wrongly, with Aspergers and Autism. 

I am not intelligent. I am not a genius. I have no talents. Anyone who says otherwise really doesn’t know me very well. I know what my IQ is and, honestly, it’s nothing special (and the mind can be trained to do IQ tests so I doubt they are really that accurate). 

And so I don’t fit in. Much of what is discussed and which appertains to Autism is so far beyond my understanding that it might as well be written in Martian. And that’s another worrying thing. 

I fear there is a division within Autism itself. Some, no doubt well meaning Autistics, seem to think they talk for everyone on the spectrum. But they don’t because they use a language that only those who are high functioning will understand. Those of us, somewhere on the spectrum but lacking the mental capacity, are being left behind by a movement over which we have no control. 

By doing this, the false impression that the NTs hold, that we are all savants and super bright is reinforced. Has anyone ever thought that, as a non high functioning Autistic, I simply get placed as being someone with a mental illness because I don’t match the public  criteria of Autism ?. 

The final reason I feel out of place is a move to diagnose more and more people with Autism. I don’t agree with it. I think it’s dangerous. 

It’s becoming fashionable. It’s becoming the thing to be. Diagnosed or not (and everyone should have a formal diagnosis) now “celebrities” are taking about it and claiming it as some sort of fashion accessory. 

I suspect millions of NTs have Autistic traits. That little thing that, on its own, is just how they act or feel and meets a diagnostic criteria on its own. But that is not Autism. That is not Aspergers. That’s just them. 

I know that, within the community, there is a move to encourage more and more people to come out. But which is more desirable ?. A core of properly diagnosed, supported and resourced “true” Autistics or a mass of (hopefully well meaning) self diagnosed Autistics using resources which could and should be aimed at those with genuine need ?

So, three reasons I don’t fit in..

I said on Twitter that this blog might be controversial. If it is, then so be it. I write from the heart. 

My opinions are my own. I don’t follow the crowd. I don’t enjoy the crowd. 

So.. I don’t fit. 

Egypt : My Special Place

Long before the rise of Daesh and the threat of terrorism many millions of British holidaymakers travelled to Egypt. 

For many the attraction were the holiday resorts of Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheikh but, not being a beach person (Sand does get where it really shouldn’t)  I had my eyes on travelling down a river of legend, The Nile. 

But before I got there I recall vividly my first sight of the Pyramids, looming out of the mist on an already scorching day, their imposing might, their vastness, utterly dominating the encroaching city. My hands touched stones laid in place over 4500 years ago and I instantly knew peace. I was home. 

I remember the thrill of clambering within the Great Pyramid. The vast chambers, that feeling of weight, of sheer tonnage above you, around you and my slack jawed astonishment that such a monument could ever have been built in ancient times. I also recall being taken short when in the very heart of the edifice and spending the most painful 15 minutes holding it in whilst trying to extricate myself through a one way system filled with eager tourists. 

But if the pyramids wowed me, the Nile seduced me. 

My holidays are about seeing. I relax badly as my brain is rarely quiet so a balance between overload of information and chill factor is essential. Do too much and I burn out. Too little and I burn out, but in a different way. 

Cruising the Nile provided perfection. 

My first visit was actually in the wake of terrorist threats so the country wasn’t as busy as she otherwise might have been. Our boat, built to hold seventy passengers, only had to cope with thirty so I also had that space, that quiet area I could retreat to when I got overwhelmed by the sites, sights and people. 

I was also fortunate that my cruise was ten days long. The full Nile cruise, not the shortened version that was reduced shortly afterwards in the wake of terrorist threats in Middle Egypt. Ten days in heaven! 

The routine was brilliant for someone with Autism. An early rise to avoid the heat of the day, breakfast (always amazing. I recall a chocolate mousse so good I could have wallowed in like a happy hippo), leave the boat by 7.30, back by 12.30, lunch, cruise, afternoon tea and cake at 4.00, dinner at 7.30, rinse, repeat. 

And the sites. And the sights. 

Philae, the island temple to Isis, moved when the high dam was built and Lake Nasser was flooded. Perfection, hypnotic, amazing, astonishing. Oft repeated words. 

Abu Simbel. Ramesses the Greats staggering colossi again, moved when Lake Nasser was flooded. A combination of ancient building and modern invention. 

Karnak. The largest religious site on earth. It’s ten vast pylons, the hypostyle hall of 134 columns, it’s statuary, it’s development over progressive dynasties. It was just good, it was awesome! 

Medinet Habu, rarely visited, so quiet yet so colourful. Images so fresh they might have been painted yesterday. The entrancing backdrop of the Theban hills. 

Deir el-Bahari. The Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Where the famous female Pharaoh left her mark. It’s elegant lines, it’s almost modern construction. 

And, of course, The Valley of the Kings. 

I have seen many wonders. I have seen Petra. I have seen the Taj Mahal. I have seen the Shwedagon Pagoda. And I have been to the Kings Valley three times and emerged from each visit, moved, humbled and uplifted. 

The tomb of Seti 1st has been closed for many years now. Kv17 has suffered much at the hands of tourists but I have been there. Oh, the colours, the colours. No words can adequately describe them nor the richness of the images, the depictions of Gods and monsters. 

Kv57, Horemheb. Sparsely decorated but the panels that are, life sized depictions of Pharaoh and the Gods, on a rich blue background leave the senses reeling. What genius. 

I never visited Tutankhamun. He is there in his tomb but the extra cost didn’t seem worth it and, after all, it’s the most photographed and publicised of the lot. Perhaps the fact I was living in Dorchester helped where they have the tomb recreated in the famous Tutankhamun exhibition. The tomb was on my doorstep. 

But my passion for Egypt extended beyond the sites. It was deeper than mere sightseeing. It was because I understood them. I taught myself rudimentary hieroglyphics and tested myself regularly (8/10 ?. Must do better). I could identify the images, not only by their physical appearance but also by the glyphs beside them. I recognised the letters, the numbers, the prayers. I felt involved in their lives. I felt I knew them. I felt an affinity with them beyond that of mere traveller or observer. I felt I belonged. 

I felt free. I felt at home. I could watch the sunlight sparkle in the blue Nile. I could sit outside on a warm, muggy evening and watch the city lights dance and sparkle in the black. I could marvel at ancient works and wonder at the people who made them. And I was happy. 

So Egypt means the world to me. It’s my spiritual home. 40-50 books sit on my bookshelves ready for me to immerse myself once more. 

I dream of returning. I dream of a time when it’s safe to do so. I dream of once more walking through Karnaks great halls. I dream of the Nile. I dream of resting my hands upon those ancient immovable blocks of colossal stone and whispering “I’m home”. 

I dream of Egypt.  

I believe in the power of Magic!

I recall Saturday evenings. I recall “The Paul Daniels Magic Show”. I recall how much my Dad liked it. 

Growing up, or at least at a certain point in my growth, there was a golden age of magic on TV. Paul Daniels, Lance Burton, Siegfried and Roy…..

But the shining star was David Copperfield. 

His yearly specials wowed us, amazed us, astonished and captivated us. He had the looks, the charm, the charisma and his illusions were unlike anything I, or we, had ever seen. If he wasn’t walking through the Great Wall of China or making the Statue of Liberty disappear he was going over Niagara Falls in a barrel or escaping from a straitjacket tied to a burning rope, suspended over a pit of stakes!. 

The grand illusions were very grand indeed but he could also perform incredible sleight of hand and even someone as unromantic as myself couldn’t fail to be moved by the intimacy of his smaller works. The Ghost House, Interlude, Heaven on the Seventh Floor, Floating Rose, Twister, The Fan and Deathsaw are all fondly remembered. 

When The 100 Greatest Magic Tricks are shown on TV, two of Copperfields usually appear in the top 5. The first is Deathsaw, that stunning recreation of sawing a person in half as he is cut in two by a lowered circular steel blade. It looks so real as he attempts to escape and beat the timer, the tension is palpable, the drama is heart pounding. Of course it’s got that trademark humour to lighten the mood but, by God, it’s incredible. 

But the second illusion, and the one that gets voted number one, is an illusion that makes me cry. To this day I can still watch the YouTube video and be carried back to when I first saw it because, for setting, music and the sheer beauty of its staging, it has to be, Flying. 

I know how it’s done. Debunking illusions is fairly commonplace these days (sadly) so some of the magic has gone out of magic. But putting that aside, I can disbelieve I know how he’s doing it and just immerse myself in what I believe is the greatest five minutes of my life. It’s a singular event/piece that brings emotions out in me that rarely surface. An emotion of being so happy/sad that I simply sob my heart out (the ending of Gladiator and the Lord of the Rings trilogy have similar emotional attachments) if I am in a place where I’ve stored up feelings for too long. 

In 1992 and 1993, David Copperfield did shows in the UK. He hasn’t done any since. I saw him at Earls Court in 1992 from a side view about half way down the arena. In 1993 I went to the Hammersmith Odeon and sat three rows from the front, centre stage as he performed all the great pieces including, as the shows climax, Flying. 

Perhaps the passage of time, a cynicism, a world weariness, a depressive fog, now casts is pall over my life. Happy times seem more fleeting, more elusive, harder to find, let alone keep. 

But I recall a time, a time when the worlds greatest illusionist shook my hand as he crouched, centre stage at shows end and I thanked him for two incredible hours and how, for that suspended time, he had washed my troubles away and made the world feel just so right…

I believe in the power of magic….  

Let’s talk about Work..

Once upon a time, in a land far away, an Aspergers boy (that would be me) was happy in his work. 

He rarely saw others. He sat in an office with two other people who were out the door by 11.00am, and he worked until 1.00pm when he retreated home to a soothing cuppa and he continued to work till 4.30. It was a time of Autonomy. A time of freedom and a job, so long as it got done, was governed by a set routine. 

The years passed and the boy became a man ( I believe this is where you have to suspend belief as I was about 43…) and change was forced upon the man child!. The days of routine freedom were numbered as the great cost cutting machine was raising its ugly head in the public sector and it was decided that a trained imp could do the job for a fraction of the cost. 

(On a serious note here, I would like to point out that austerity, whilst not as draconian as it is now, started under Labour. They screwed me out of my job by cutting costs in my departments in vast swathes. My team was decimated. Out of 70 people they only retained a dozen!) 

Redundancy was a bitter pill. Of course it gave more freedom but it disrupted routine and gave way to listlessness, depression (in a newly diagnosed Autistic man) and the awful struggle for employment. Benefits were denied. Too much money in some cases, not being able to attend job centre interviews in others. I was pushed from pillar to post and eventually only my MPs intervention got my NI contributions allocated but they still wouldn’t pay the benefit because I mentally wasn’t prepared to travel miles for job centre interviews with unfeeling bureaucrats! 

Three years later, redundancy down to the last few hundred, two hundred applications and six interviews later, I got this job. 

I wish I hadn’t. 

Bullying, victimisation, feeling out of place, not feeling valued, subject of some nasty emails, accused of betraying a bosses confidence; it’s really not for me and that’s before the sensory issues of strange lighting, cramped conditions, too hot or too cold, the loud buzz of a dozen computers, the social interaction and the 160 telephone calls a day!. 

I do work hard. In fact I know I do twice as much as most. I am the go to guy for finding stuff out and my irreverent humour, terrible puns and quick wit keep my section entertained. 

But I’m dying inside. 

I do like work. There’s no money in working for a charity so I am not in it for the money although I need it to live but I just can’t cope with the noise, the pressure, the stress, the unpredictability of the calls, the ones who don’t listen, who talk over me or interrupt me so I lose my thread and work colleagues who do more small talk than work because they know “Patrick will do it”. 

So that’s my job. I give Tax advice. I’m good at it. I’m popular on the team. I’m helpful, I’m funny, I get people through the day. 

But who gets me through ?. 

Because I’m dying inside… 

Let’s talk about Snakes! 

How many people will read that heading and say, no thanks ?. 

I suppose that’s the problem. People don’t like snakes. And people not liking snakes is the reason I do. I identify with the underdog (undersnake ?) and the misunderstood. And with typical Aspie enthusiasm, I say, I really, really love them! 

People I know sort their objections to snakes into three parts. One, they’re slimy, two, they can kill you and three, the bible says snakes can’t be trusted! Oh God! (Almost literally). 

So, let’s debunk these three points. 

One. They aren’t slimy at all. They are actually dry. It’s hard to define how a snake feels because it goes beyond mere skin type (Would that be oily, dry, or somewhere in between Madam ?. We have products for all skin types!). The sense I have always had when holding a snake, is power!.  Essentially they are one long, flexible muscle of surprising strength, some with smooth scales and others with abrasive. All powerful and all beautiful. 

You think I am joking ?. Have you ever actually studied a snake ?. Look at the colours, the patterns, the subtle camouflage of the Sidewinder to the vibrant colouring of the Eyelash Viper. These are astonishingly beautiful creations, diverse, a rich part of life’s tapestry but so often feared and overlooked. Look at a picture and ignore the fact it’s a snake. Concentrate on the colour, the pattern, see how different shapes and subtlety of shading emerge from the form. And tell me it’s not beautiful. 

Two. Snakes can kill you. So can cars. So can guns. And I’ve never seen a snake driving a car or firing a gun!. People kill you deliberately, because they want to, snakes because you got in the way of their escape or you hurt them. Big difference. 

A little known fact is that Snakes (Venomous ones) can deliver dry bites. They can control venom output. Makes sense because, if they kill us they can’t eat us, so why waste precious venom in trying ?. Snakes hear us coming and hide. They don’t seek confrontation and, if we get too close, they’ve developed the Rattlesnakes warning rattle and the Saw Scaled Vipers, rough, rubbing sound and the loud hiss of the King Cobra (My favourite snake). Some will bite only after the most severe provocation, some, like the Rinkhals, play dead but the point is, they’re not out to get you. They don’t have a motive, they don’t have a plan, they just want to be left alone to do their own thing (they are probably on the spectrum!). 

Three. It’s a Bible thing. My late Mum thought that, in women, it might be a genetic thing that dated back to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. An interesting theory if somewhat hard to prove. All I can say is that, of people I know, men tend to “not mind” snakes whilst most women “hate them”. 

I respect snakes. I respect those who risk their lives extracting venom which is used in medical research for cancer busting drugs. That’s another thing people don’t understand. What could kill us is saving us as the proteins in the venom have many medical uses. 

From having “Poisonous” Pythons wrapped round me in India, to being up close and personal with three huge Burmese Pythons at a snake temple in Burma, from watching a green Viper saunter across a baking Burmese street to the snake charmers of India, to having dinner in my hotel in Sri Lanka when, to my delight and surprise, a banded Krait, one of the worlds deadliest, undulated past me and coiled up not three feet away in an ornamental pool and to a hot summers day at Crackington Haven in Cornwall where, high up on the cliff path, the Adders came out and lay in their dozens across the baking tarmac and our walk was, rather too hastily curtailed. 

I’m not saying people should love snakes. I’m not forcing you to my point of view but think of me as an advocate for serpent rights, a promoter of their good side and a snake myth buster. 

And when you next see a picture of a snake, don’t hurriedly turn the page, don’t shudder and turn away, instead, focus the eyes on the alluring patterns in the scales, the rich colours, the depths and hues and remember, it’s not your enemy.