08/12/2011

To: Santa Claus, Re: Retirement, Cc: the Elves.


Dear Santa.

Thanks for coming. I think it's about time you and I had this chat.

I'll be blunt: I have gone ahead and bought the iPad. I didn't even wait till Christmas to do it, I didn't wrap it, and I started playing with it straight away. Santa, honey, let's be honest here: I've been asking you for apple goods for years now. And I've been good. Certainly as good as some people who have prettier computers than I do.

01/12/2011

Welcome to Bilkent Falls: an advent calendar story

I take a still from my favourite Christmas film: It's a Wonderful Life, and I sketch it. I keep the trees, some cars, the Christmas decorations, and I leave out the shops and the busy street.


Instead, I draw our library and the campus path that leads down to it. In the foreground I draw the children playing in the snow. Max is lassoing the moon, George Bailey style, Charlotte is building a snow man with a zombie-Hermey. I use ink, watercolour, cutting and pasting, glitter glue and white gouache for the snow. For the cars I cut out some of Max's latest pictures.

A day at the mall


'Is this the right direction? Do you recognize it?' 'I'm not sure: I'll ask the driver.' Yes, he says, this is the way to Panora. It's such a long ride: Charlotte is worried she won't meet her friends on time, although it's a good half hour before the start of the film, so it should all-right. We drive through roads we don't know, trusting the driver to get us there. We take a turn to the left and there's a car in front of us, going awfully slowly. Our driver brakes, and I'm thinking I'm glad he wasn't going too fast. Then I hear a bump and everything is in slow motion. We swing back and we swing forward, once, twice, forever. I have time to remember everything I've always heard about car accidents. There's a long silence. The driver turns towards us: Sorry. My hand is holding Charlotte's. She' ok. So am I.

28/11/2011

There's no logic in Christmas puddings.

I won't bother writing the recipe down, as I posted it last year, but here are a few photos of this year's Christmas pudding making.


 Old trusty recipe. Half made up, half copied from various books. Thoroughly imprecise. Vague quantities. 


 This is what we use for sugar: the gunk at the bottom of last year's pekmez bottle. We buy it in Cappadocia from a friend of a friend who makes it with white grapes, which is nicer than the stuff you buy in the markets and is made with black grapes. Apparently.

 Fruit, spices, more fruit, candied peels. The sherry is mine. I've nearly ran out and forgot to order more supplies. I'm worried I won't last the winter.


 This year I had to do without the mango amchoor powder as we'd run out. Instead I used what may or may not have been mace. It smells like pepper. I put a lot in. Just to see.


 Diogene asked that I put in this photo of him, as opposed to one when he was trying to nick the fruit, stick his paws in the mix, or knock down jars.


 The traditional family stir up. Efes dark in the background. That's Guinness substitute to you.


Glass bowls, some grease proof paper and a bit of string.

 

We decided to use one and a half time the quantities, for some reason we ended up with twice as many puddings. There's very little logic in puddings.

26/11/2011

The shocking truth about Marie-Antoinette, by the hon. Edmund Burke.

August 1795, London.

It is with great sorrow that I find myself obligated to report, for the sake of posterity, on a grave but thoroughly excusable mistake I have made. I am, I most shamefully admit, too much of a coward to share my recent observations with my own colleagues. The queen has been executed, and I do not want to sacrifice my reputation along with hers. I can still do some good for my country by holding the values I have always defended against those who would throw us into a senseless and bloody uprising.

It has come to my notice via a certain friend of my old enemy Price, that it was possible to publish one's thoughts for posterity without fear that they would be known during my lifetime. Though I am ignorant of the mechanics I have no choice but to avail myself of this method.

20/11/2011

Portrait of Autism #18


'He's not autistic', he tells me, three lines into our conversation. 
It's my son, he's talking about, not his own, the three-year-old struggling to escape from his father's grasp so he can slide down to play on the floor. Not quite his business, you may think. Except of course, that I'm at the special education centre, where autism is everybody's business. He tries to explain, but he struggles, as his English is not what it used to be – he studied at an English language university, as I know from a previous meeting. Max can speak, he wants to say, he's friendly, so he's not autistic. I point out that even now that Max has made so much progress, we're still experiencing quite a few difficulties related to his autism. The fact that if the slightest thing freaks him out at school he refuses to go the next day, and is incapable of telling us why. The fact that he still has temper tantrums that make us worry the neighbours will report us to security, again. The fact that the rare conversations we have with him are only ever about what he's drawing or transportation, who lives where and where we're going to on holiday. Not that I'm complaining: it's wonderful that he can speak at all, the tantrums are a fraction of what they used to be and he goes to school often enough that he's actually learning stuff.

19/11/2011

A very zombie love affair

After a long silence, we hear again from our eighteenth century correspondent, Mary Wollstonecraft who has much to relate of her  philosophical progress since she last wrote here.

I am sitting down to write this half-way between Paris and Lille which I hope to reach before tomorrow night. I am tired from the journey, and being with child has affected my capacity to reminisce – nonetheless, dear loyal reader, I will now attempt to bring back with words some of the painful events that have plagued me since I last wrote here.

'Tis two years now since I fled infected London for Paris – two wonderful, peaceful years, when the only upsetting events were the occasional loss of a dear friend to the guillotine. 'Tis in Paris that I met my dear beloved Imlay, adored companion and father of my child to be. France is mercifully free of zombies. I believe the revolutionary practice of using the guillotine often and plenty has so far prevented a general infection of the country: the blade that slices through the neck is democratic enough in that it kills zombies and royalists alike. M. Guillotine, I should note, was one of the early proponents of the view to which I fully subscribe that in order to destroy a zombie and prevent it from rising again, one should separate its head from its body.

16/11/2011

Midnight in Manhattan




Is it just me or has Woody Allen taken to recycling scenes in his dotage?

08/11/2011

First catch your pumpkin: a recipe.

I' ve always felt a bit iffy about recipes that start with 'First, catch a rabbit'. I think Mrs. B used it, but given she was a London journalist, and she' d never set foot any where she could have caught a rabbit, one would be justified in thinking it was done for show.
So for readers who feel as I do, I apologise for this extravaganza.


First catch a bus, from the Ankara bus station, ASTI, in the direction of Nevsehir. At Nevsehir, get into a smaller bus to Goreme. When you get off, walk to your hotel, greet the owners like the old friends they have become, dump your bags, and go off for a restorative meal and walk.



The next day, hop into a minibus, driven by an even older friend, Zekerya bey, leaving the kids to sit at the back with his daughter, and enjoying the view. Drive south. Make your first stop at the market in Urgup. Feel a bit sad at the sight of the cows and sheep lined up for the coming sacrifice (Kurban Bayram), reflect that they've got it easier than the cows whose bits you buy in the supermarket most week. Let go.

Look at weird stuff, get daughter to ask what it is, taste it - like stewed apples, she says - buy a little, 'cause what the hell. The leaves make good tea, they say.
Study grapes, ripening in wooden crates, lettuces, lined up like wallpaper, nuts, herbs and spices in rolled up vinyl bags. No apples thanks, we'll pick our own, later.





Settle on a pumpkin vendor, ask his price: 1tl a kilo. This small one is three kilos - that's cheap and not too big to carry back.


They have olives! Husband is excited. He thought he'd missed the olive season. Not the olives in jars season, you understand: the raw olive season. He likes to prepare them himself in brine. We buy four kilos.




Next get everything back in the minibus. Drive some more. Stop off to look at some old stone with writing on it. It's not in any of our guides, we've never heard of it before, and have no idea what the writing is. Some really strange hieroglyphs.


A couple more stops: a prehistoric village with houses you can climb into, a monster of a church with Byzantine pretensions, surrounded by a huge monastery complex dug into the stone. No one around: again, this is not in any of our guides.

Our final destination: Soganli. Zekerya bey calls the restaurant ahead to tell them we're coming. They're crowded with two tour groups: but they'll make room for us, we come this time every year.

Out of the bus we fall, Max carrying a huge empty Safeway shopping bag.
The tables are set indoors. Normally we eat in the orchard but it's bloody freezing. But before lunch the ritual. Zekeya shakes the apple trees. The fruit falls every where and the children run and gather it in Max's bag. Zekerya and the restaurant owner cry: 'more! more!'



Bring the bag home after the holiday: fifteen kilos of apples, a pumpkin, some olives, and other essentials.


Carve the pumpkin for Halloween. Use the flesh for a soup, and for a pie.
Put a handful of flesh in a pan with a spoonful of water. Heat it a bit. Don't burn.



Wizz it with a hand mixer. Bang it in the fridge till you need it - it should keep a couple of days.
Mix a small carton of cream with the pumpkin. Add cinammon, crushed allspice, and grate what may or may not be mace into it. Add a bit of sugar, not much.
Prepare a crust: 200 g of white flour, 120g of cold butter, a couple of spoonfuls of sugar and a bit of salt. If you use gluten-free flour, add an egg yolk. Mix with your fingers and don't be ages about it. Add a bit of cold water, roll it, flatten it on some grease proof paper, put the greased pie dish on top, turn it over and make it fit.

Add the pumpkin mix, bang in the oven for about half hour. Take it out to cool, well out of the way of the cat. Eat.


01/11/2011

The Piano Tuner: a Halloween Tale.

- 'Shall we watch a horror movie? I ask. It's Halloween. It's what grown ups are supposed to do.'

- 'No.' He says.

He's wet, I think. Afraid he'll have nightmares.

- 'Fine.' I say, resigned. 'Let's go to bed, then.' 

He looks up from his laptop:

- 'Coming. Leave a note for the piano tuner, will you?'

He doesn't mean anything by that. He said it as he sometimes says: 'Don't forget to put the tiger out'. I ignore him: our tiger is very small and it is not allowed out.

In bed, he says it again.

- 'Did you leave a note for the piano tuner?'

So I decide to tease. Is the piano tuner, I ask, a zombie freshly dug out of the grave to eat our brains while we sleep? Is he a vampire, who will knock on our door once and wait politely to be invited, before he bleeds us to death? Is he perhaps an escaped lunatic, carrying with him the dripping head of his previous victim in one hand and a long shiny knife to kill us in the other? Or is Freddy Krueger, with knives for fingers, a rotten face and an old stinky hat, waiting till we drop off to get us in our dreams? Is the piano tuner a small creature with a bent back and a hooked nose and piercing red eyes, who'll paralyse us with his spit and peel off our skin while we watch? Is he a small child with empty eyes, who will send us crashing to the ceiling with his supernatural strength? An old woman with an axe and a mad determined look on her face? Or a doll, even, a clown, anything at all, that I can summon from the films you don't want to watch with me?'

- 'Go to sleep.' he says. 

But now I can't. The piano tuner is coming. I don't know what he is, but I know I should not close my eyes, or he will come for sure. I mustn't get up to check I've locked the door. Walking alone in a dark corridor is not recommended in this scenario. I might as well invite him in. Or go investigate a noise in dark attic by myself. Or find help where I might normally expect it. I look down at the shape of my husband's neck and head, half under the cover. Can I be sure it's him? I wake him just in case. I need to check. I look deep into his sleepy eyes. I have a vague memory that sometimes in films husbands get possessed by evil aliens. Better not to look too hard, then. If I'm lucky he'll wait till I'm fast asleep to murder me. Ignorance is bliss. I would rather die in my sleep. Painlessly, even, maybe.

But in the end, it is painful. I hear footsteps. My arms and legs are pinned to the bed by needles, knives and stakes. I try to hide under the cover, but again it comes for me. I manage to free a leg and I kick. The thing screams an unholy scream. It's a devil, now I know. Can I find enough strength to wake my husband and tell him to find a priest, an Italian, just like in the Exorcist? I fear he may be possessed already, as he's still fast asleep. I steal myself for more pain. I feel it moving towards my head. Will it enter through the mouth, the eyes, the ears? I close my eyes, shut my mouth, cover my ears and wait. And then it purrs. It was the tiger after all.

I put it out. I close the door.

13/09/2011

All I can do...

A couple of years ago, Rachel Cohen-Ruttenberg wrote on her blog about Simon Baron-Cohen's claims regarding empathy and autism. You're wrong, she said. Autistic people do have empathy. In fact, they very often have too much, which leads to a sort of paralysis of response. What do you do when the outside world is seeping through every pore of your being? You just close down. Now, Rachel know what she's talking about: she's autistic herself. Also, her argument has the merit of making sense, whereas SBC's arguments only really hang together because they tie with well accepted cultural stereoptypes, such as: boys like cars and don't communicate. Girls like dolls and talk all the time.

But Simon Baron-Cohen is not a snob, no, not he. So he agreed not only to read Rachel's post, but to respond to it as a guest poster in a blog.

Unfortunately, as he is a scientist, his hands were somewhat tied. All the poor man can do is 'look at the evidence'. And that evidence points clearly in the opposite direction of Rachel's own experience or that of other autistic people writing for her blog "Autism and Empathy".

And that evidence is first rate: SBC has asked a lot of autistic people, non autistic people and their parents to fill in a questionaire, asking them how empathic they are! This questionaire even has a proper scientific name: the AQ for autism quotient. And the you can find it on the web to find out if you are autistic.

So sorry Rachel and every one else: we simply cannot disregard this evidence.

18/08/2011

Some day, people will say I didn't write my own books.

I've been digging into the x-chromosome side of the history of philosophy lately. As soon as my manuscript on Mary Wollstonecraft (without zombies) was off to the publishers, I started reading Christine de Pizan. Then I had a bright idea and went further back. I knew that Abelard was studied in courses on Medieval philosophy. What about Heloise, his correspondent? And then I went a bit further down.  Plato had female students - did any of them, or any other women in the ancient world, write anything philosophical?

I'd like to say I hit gold - but it would be slightly off the mark. There just aren't many writings by women philosophers before Christine de Pizan. And not many afterwards either until the seventeenth century, when every princess worth her salt started taking on Descartes, and a few English eccentrics wrote metaphysical treatises of their own. Then, gradually, there's an increase in the female branch of the family, and now we make up nearly 20% of the profession! Hurrah! In another three or four centuries, we might actually reach equal proportions. Never lose hope.

I've ranted before about why there aren't that many women philosophers, listing several reasons, none of them have to do with women not being good enough. But I think I may have come across yet another reason.

Reading up on the Abelard and Heloise literature, I found very little analysis of what Heloise had to say. Instead, authors questioned whether she'd written the letters herself. Was the whole correspondence a forgery from the author of Le Roman de la Rose? Or did Abelard himself concoct them as a publicity stunt? Some more generous commentators suggest that maybe Abelard discussed with Heloise what her fake responses might be before he wrote them. The thought that Heloise was a highly educated woman, who taught Greek, Latin and Hebrew to the nuns in the convent she ran, did not dampen the of those wanting to write her out of philosophical history.  Of course no one suggests that it's because she's a woman. No. It just so happens that the best use of some scholars' time is in coming up with arguments why Heloise couldn't have written these letters. It also turns out that these arguments don't hold much water - as a more careful scholar, John Marenbon, convincingly argues.

When I eventually located a text attributed to an Ancient Greek woman philosopher, I had the same experience. I quickly found myriads of poorly constructed arguments why she could not have written her own piece of philosophy. Granted, the writer bore the name of Plato's mum. Given there are no records of her being a philosopher, it stretches the imagination a bit far to think she was a well-known author. It doesn't stretch it as far to think she would have written a short text though, so I'm not sure it's worth getting one's knickers in a twist. But the texts themselves are discounted as forgeries by men writing some four centuries later. Again, the arguments are shoddy. And no one seems to even entertain the possibility that the forger, or pseudonymous writer, could have been a woman. I call it bad faith. I call it bad scholarship. I call it bad philosophy.

Telling 'Im indoors about all this at lunchtime, we pondered why and when this taking over of women's philosophical productions stopped. After all, he said, nobody is claiming that Wollstonecraft's or Simone de Beauvoir's books were written by men. I said that maybe that was because they were both active, public figures, who discussed their works with other writers, so that there could be no doubt about authorship. He replied that maybe these memories were still too fresh in our minds, but that a few centuries from now, people would again start questioning whether these works had not in fact been written by Godwin or Sartre.

Which brings me to the title of this post. How long till fragments of my books turn up in some archive and someone, bent on identifying obscure philosophers from the past decides that I couldn't have written them and attributes them to a male contemporary of mine? I suppose I won't be worrying about the royalties, then.

09/08/2011

A Welsh bestiary

Max is not big on animals. I often feel a twinge of envy ('Your kid's autism is better than mine'!?! - I know...) when I read about autistic kids who get help from having close relationships with dogs or horses. Max is just afraid of them. It's been a pain at times, as animals do get around. But mostly, I've felt that he missed out not only on fun with cuddly beasts, but on a whole learning experience that other children get from talking about nature.

Well, things did start to change for the better during our Welsh holiday last month. Max was on the whole calmer around animals, able to talk about them and learn from them.

He went fishing in rock pools with a little net: proudly caught a dead crab, all by himself, and marvelled at the tiny shrimp and catfish his daddy captured for him. He also enjoyed throwing them back in the sea, so we had no floaters to deal with.

During our cliff walk to Aberystwyth, we were able to talk about sheep, and how they give us wool, and cows and how they give us milk. A few days later we visited a fantasy farm and Max pulled on the udders of a plaster cow.

I took him to a small zoo where he was given a cup of raw veg and peanuts to feed the animals. He let me handle the actual feeding part of it, but was absolutely delighted to see the squirrels eat the nuts.

But his favourite creatures were definitely the gulls, despite the fact that there were so many of them, that they came very close to us, that they were loud and aggressive, he loved them. He sought them out, imitated their cry, and walked up close to them. A week before we went to Wales, he was still scared of pigeons.

Today, he told me he'd like to have a cat. 


A few bestial encounters.






Oh, one last thing. If you liked this post, would you mind terribly clicking on the RSS feed, here, or the Google connect buttons (top left), or by email at the bottom of this page? And if you didn't like it, you might still want to look around. There's three of us, you know, so you're (almost) bound to find something you like. And then, if you've still got time, you could share this post or stumble it, or both and get in touch with your local tv station to sing our praises. We'll love you forever.

08/08/2011

What to do at the beach on a rainy day.


Ok, so going into the sea when it's cold and raining does get old. After the first day of our Welsh holiday, I made a social story for Max with a list of things we can do when we can't swim. I don't normally do list posts - that's Marianne's thing - and this isn't really a list, more of a heap.



We blew bubbles,  we painted stones, took a ride on a steam train, picked early blackberries, played in the playground, visited a zoo, took long walks in the country side, painted stones, learned how to do ceramics, threw a ball on the beach, built castles, went fishing in the rock pools, rode a boat on a pond, learnt how to wire up a circuit, played angry birds, and built Lego tractors.
Let's just say no-one got bored.

Oh, one last thing. If you liked this post, would you mind terribly clicking on the RSS feed, here, or the Google connect buttons (top left), or by email at the bottom of this page? And if you didn't like it, you might still want to look around. There's three of us, you know, so you're (almost) bound to find something you like. And then, if you've still got time, you could share this post or stumble it, or both and get in touch with your local tv station to sing our praises. We'll love you forever.

07/08/2011

First - and last - date

It had been a while since I hadn't been on a proper date. First of all, I'd been married for 10 years and living with the same guy for 5 more, so that's a total of 15 years without a date. Long time, eh?

I was freaking out. The guy - let's call him Robert, asked me out as we bumped into each other in the Paris metro. We hadn't seen each other in four years, chatted for a few minutes and he asked for my number, promising to call me a few days later. Right, I thought, he'll never call. I'm 34 and yet I still cannot tell when a guy will or will not call, I think it's pretty pathetic, but anyway. He called, of course (maybe I should strongly believe I am ALWAYS wrong and know, from now on, that men will do the exact opposite I think they will do. That should work!) and asked me out. On a date. As in, a real one. Restaurant and all. He even offered to pick me up at home.

I should have known something was wrong as I received the 15th text about where and when we should meet. Seriously. Pick a time and place, ask the woman if that's OK and go with it. It was flattering and sweet at first "Where would you like to go?" "I thought of this place, what do you think?", but then it got annoying. I'm not patient. There. I grow tired of people who do not know what they want.

Of course I bought a new outfit, spent an hour applying make-up and doing my hair, changed three times and swore a million times about said make-up, clothes and me being a fat cow. I think this was, by far, the best part of the date. I had forgotten the excitement of it all.

He arrived right on time and we walked to the restaurant. While we ate I begun to wonder if I hadn't been tricked or something: all Robert talked about was his ex-wife. By the end of the meal, I felt I knew her pretty well, now. What I did know for sure is that Robert was not over her.

He walked me home, the perfect gentleman. But for God's sake, it was the most boring evening ever. I was back home at 10pm. I called my girlfriends, took a cab and went off to have some actual fun in bars and clubs.

I thought he'd never call back but of course he did. I saw him once more (well, he was good looking and nice and clever, so I had to give him another chance) and it was just as disastrous. I had to tell him he was not ready. At least he agreed with me.

Dear Robert, I hope you'll be better at dating soon. What I know now is that your next date will not be with me ;)


 Oh, one last thing. If you liked this post, would you mind terribly clicking on the RSS feed, here, or the Google connect buttons (top left), or by email at the bottom of this page? And if you didn't like it, you might still want to look around. There's three of us, you know, so you're (almost) bound to find something you like. And then, if you've still got time, you could share this post or stumble it, or both and get in touch with your local tv station to sing our praises. We'll love you forever.

06/08/2011

The cliff walk


The weather is turning. There is now more blue than grey in the sky and it looks as though it might get warm later on. That said, we're still avoiding spending time by the beach – yesterday we took the cliff top walk to Aberystwyth, today we're off to visit an Cistercian Abbey: Strata Florida.

The good weather is getting to everyone. Out of the window I just glimpsed an elderly man striding the beach in front of the cottages, a smile on his face and a bottle of rose in his hand.

The walk yesterday was more difficult than we'd anticipated, not because it was long or harduous – the climb was a bit steep at times but always you could walk it, rather than scramble. We're used to scrambling when we walk in Cappadokia. In fact, we're pretty much used to scrambling to the point where we have to go back because it's impossible and we probably took a wrong turn somewhere in the valley. The good thing about cliff walks is that it's fairly obvious where you should go. On the other hand, it's also pretty clear what would happen to you if you took a wrong turn, or if the children took a wrong turn. So it was a little nerve wracking and I pretty much had to drag Max all the way to Clarach (or some such thing) where we decided would be a good place to stop and ask for a lift – a mere four miles from where we started. 




The good thing about having to stick close to Max is that we got to talk about what we saw a lot. I was able to teach him about how we get wool from sheep, and milk from cows which I think he understood. I also tried to explain that we ate the animals but couldn't think how to move his imagination from the large living thing to the plate of chili con carne. It was probably the first time he'd looked at a cow without cowering – he even baaaed at the sheep and moooed at the cows – so I didn't want to add pictures of slaughter to the mix.

We also saw a snail – not just a shell as we find in Ankara, but a living thing, out and about with its little horns poking out. And no, it wasn't the kind we eat, so I didn't bring that up. (I have a vivid memory of Marianne picking up a small yellow snail in our garden, and gobbling it up, thinking it was a sweet – she still loves snails.) We saw a moth with black, red-spotted wings. I wished I had a decent camera, then.



We stopped on a beach by a farm to eat our sandwiches. The farm was huge, resembling a small castle. White, and with a thick wall surrounding it. I thought of the farms I'd seen in Yorkshire, in particular the small pile of grey stone that had once been the inspiration for Wuthering Heights. Yorkshire was on my mind as the friend I'd called to pick us up at the next village had just moved from Leeds where we'd visited in previous years. How convenient, how thougthful of them to move right next door to a place where that is bound to become our new base in the UK. Thank you Hannah and Roger, for making our lives so easy. 


Oh, one last thing. If you liked this post, would you mind terribly clicking on the RSS feed, here, or the Google connect buttons (top left), or by email at the bottom of this page? And if you didn't like it, you might still want to look around. There's three of us, you know, so you're (almost) bound to find something you like. And then, if you've still got time, you could share this post or stumble it, or both and get in touch with your local tv station to sing our praises. We'll love you forever.

05/08/2011

Frankenchicken

I've been reading a fantastic book by Rebecca Skloot called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It tells the history of the artificial growth of cancerous human cells for the purposes of research, of the dying woman the cells were harvested from, without her knowledge or consent and of her family who found out about the existence of the cells years later and never saw any of the money made from the growing business of selling HeLa cells, as they are still called. Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951, at the age of thirty-one. At that time segregation was still lawful and she ha been treated in the 'colored' section of the Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore. She came from a small tobacco growing town and had five children, the youngest  still only a baby.



04/08/2011

The sense that behind the grey, there is blue.




This is the third of a series of posts I drafted while on holidays in Wales last month. You can read the first two here and here

Running on the beach this morning I picked up a long piece of sea weed, like a big curly brown kite ribbon. I held it up in the air and it floated. I hung it up on the clothes line when I got back – thinking that given the weather so far, it would probably be the only thing up there. Yesterday and the previous day there was rain. And wind. We've not come out of our winter clothes since we arrived. And everyone assures us that this is not typical weather. I have the feeling that this is what you have to learn to say when you live somewhere on the Welsh coast, and it's best if you can believe it, even. But today, the air was slightly different. If you look at the clouds, and try to see through them, you nearly can. I don't mean you can see around them – the sky is still pretty much covered. But whereas yesterday the clouds were deep, dark, Sheffield grey, today they are a little more fluffy, a little more transparent. And behind the clouds, if you close one eye and look for long enough, there is blue. 






Oh, one last thing. If you liked this post, would you mind terribly clicking on the RSS feed, here, or the Google connect buttons (top left), or by email at the bottom of this page? And if you didn't like it, you might still want to look around. There's three of us, you know, so you're (almost) bound to find something you like. And then, if you've still got time, you could share this post or stumble it, or both and get in touch with your local tv station to sing our praises. We'll love you forever.

03/08/2011

Blue Island Ceramics


On our second day, we fight back the weather by finding an indoors activity that is such that we'd rather do that than be on the beach anyway. We go and paint pots at Blue Island Ceramics. We're shown into a studio with two big tables and shelves all around, covered in white pieces of pottery. We're told to choose one each. Emma, step-sister in law, picks a milk jug and her daughter, Lottie, a box shaped like a cup cake, then Charlotte chooses a plate, Max a mug, and Bill and I decide we can do a bowl between the two of us, so we can also help (keep an eye on) Max. There was a dog outside, but Granny Gaby, step-mother-in law, mindful of Max's little quirks, has had it put inside straight away so Max is fine. No all we have to worry about is making sure Max doesn't break anything. He doesn't normally, but that's how we tend to react when he's in a new environment which is a bit close.

On the table there are numbered pots of colours. There's a tile that shows how each colour will look once it's cooked. And there's illustrations on the walls. Zana, the owner, shows us what to do. We clean our things first with a wet sponge, then we apply a first coat of paint with a brush, and a second with the sponge. We need to pick, design, get started. 


Welsh musings

I've been away for a while, leaving sunny Ankara for doing-as-best-as-it-can Wales. My internet connection was sketchy - mostly over the phone - and I was busy enjoying myself and relaxing. But writing is relaxing, so I did jot down a few things which I'll post now, over the next few days, because I'm lazy and can't be bothered to think of something else, and also, because I want to post some of my photos. 


Courtesy of my father in law and his wife, I am now sitting in the kitchen of a cottage in North Wales. Out the window is the sea. Rolling, cold, completely impenetrable by small children and their blow up boats, but the sea. And the beach, pebbles and sand, raised at the top by trucks and tractors and things who are unfortunately still here (although today, Sunday, they are home). And the rain, which flic-flocs on the windows at regular intervals. There'll be more of that during our stay, according to the people in charge. 



23/07/2011

Of cat and men

I think I'm fed up with my cat. It's really disturbing, because I love my cat. I like it. I mean, not as much as I used to like it, but still.

I remember how it used to be at the beginning. I was all over it, cuddled it, though it was the cutest thing ever. I was thrilled that it would come to my bed and purr at night.

I don't think my cat changed much. I mean, it got older, but it's still the same cat. And yet, I'm just tired of having it around. I don't want that many cuddles anymore and when it comes at night all I want to do is sleep and for the cat to leave me alone. I don't want to play with it anymore, but I make tons of effort to take care of it.

I sometimes try and talk to my cat, but seriously, who am I kidding? How can a cat understand what I'm saying? So I just keep on making efforts, hoping it'll get back to what it used to be.

Now read this text again and replace "it" by "him" and "cat" by "man" or "boyfriend". Creepy, huh?

Oh, one last thing. If you liked this post, would you mind terribly clicking on the RSS feed, here, or the Google connect buttons (top left), or by email at the bottom of this page? And if you didn't like it, you might still want to look around. There's three of us, you know, so you're (almost) bound to find something you like. And then, if you've still got time, you could share this post or stumble it, or both and get in touch with your local tv station to sing our praises. We'll love you forever.

22/06/2011

You're talking to me?

For this week's writer's workshop over at Mama Kat's Losing it, I picked prompt #1, mainly because it's a list. Also, Sandrine asked me to write a list on Facebook and I tend to do as she says, otherwise I'll be in trouble. I know, she lives in Ankara, I in Paris, but still, she can be pretty convincing.

So here's 10 things I'd like to say to strangers who share unsolicited advice about my parenting skills (some of which I've actually said).

1- Thank you so much. Now please get out of my way before I ask my devilish child to bite you.

2- Wow. You seem to know a lot about parenting. You must be so proud. You're very ugly, though, can't be easy.

3- Interesting. Let me think about it and I'll get back to you. Not.

4- Yes, please DO call the police. My kids love uniforms, it might calm them down.

5- Yes, I would very much like them to stop, too. Now if there's nothing smart you can say, please move over. At least you can walk away. I sort of have to stay with them.

6- Do you have children? No? You have no right to give your opinion, then.

7- I'm sorry, I can't hear you, my son is screaming too loud.

8- Even though I appreciate your comment, I am against violence towards children. However, I'm more than open to it towards adults. Wanna check?

9- Yeah, you're right, they're horrible. Maybe I should just return them to the store. Oh no, wait, can't do that, they're CHILDREN.

10- What? Who? I'm sorry, they're not mine. I just borrowed them for the day and trust me, I am taking them back to their parents right now.

Just remember it's ALWAYS easier when the kids are not yours. And if you're not a parent yourself or have grown-up children, you are not allowed to give your opinion. There.

Oh, one last thing. If you liked this post, would you mind terribly clicking on the RSS feed, here, or the Google connect buttons (top left), or by email at the bottom of this page? And if you didn't like it, you might still want to look around. There's three of us, you know, so you're (almost) bound to find something you like. And then, if you've still got time, you could share this post or stumble it, or both and get in touch with your local tv station to sing our praises. We'll love you forever.

The beginning of summer

We've not been blessed with sunny days these last few months. Instead of the usual Anatolian five minutes spring, followed by dry, hot days, we've had what I can only describe as English weather crossed with a monsoon. It rained every day for all of May and every other day for most of June. Especially in the evenings.

So yesterday, as we were setting off to a picnic party to celebrate the Solstice, I had my doubts. The picnic was set in the hills behind some out of the way university accommodation, and our hosts had gone to a great deal of trouble transporting blankets, torches, plate and cutlery and a three course meal! Had it rained on all that there would have been a bit of a scramble getting it back under cover... But the weather was beautiful, and the event truly marked the beginning of summer.









                                  And then we went home.

My son, the artist.

Last summer, I decided to join the Sketchbook project. It's a travelling exhibition organised by the Brooklyn Art Library. You send for a sketchbook, fill it in, send it back. They put it in a van and it travels. You get notified whenever somebody looks at it. Sarah in San Francisco picked up ours, last week.

I thought it would be a cool thing for Max to do, a way of marking the fact that at this time in his life, he draws all the time. Every week I throw out large quantities of paper (trees, I know) covered in little pictures of us, the teletubbies, boats, buses, planes, story boards for what he's done, what he's dreamt of, what he's going to do. The pictures are getting more and more sophisticated - he's getting good at colour.

In October we received a purple Moleskine notebook with a theme: A day in the life. I kept it on my desk, by my bed. When Max came to us at way too early o'clock, I whipped it out and told him to draw, knock himself out. By December he'd filled every page. We sent it back. It arrived in Brooklyn, and joined thousands of others in a van which went travelling. Five people have viewed it so far.

I paid a little extra to have it digitalised. Here it is. You can click on the thumb nail to see inside.


I think I might order another one this year. If you're interested, you can order one here.

14/06/2011

A medieval philosopher goes on a slut walk

If you're at all like me, you'll be irritated to hell by the nasty little comments people have been making about the slut walks. So let's get a few things straight.

Women, on the whole, do not dress up in short dresses because they want strangers to pay them for sex.

Those who do, actually want to enter into some sort of contract with their potential customers, that is, they must agree to serve them and settle on a price for their service. They are not free for all.

No woman, sex worker or otherwise, wants to be raped. This means, amongst other things, that choice of clothing never indicates the desire to be sexually assaulted, by strangers or otherwise. And that still obtains even with very short skirts and very low cut tops.

To think otherwise is utterly unreasonable. Men who work in construction often go topless, sometime showing off the proverbial builder's crack. Do we think that they are thereby inviting somebody bigger and stronger than them to take them by force, maybe with the use of the instruments of their trade? No. No one, to my knowledge, has even so much as suggested it. They undress because they're too hot, and because they can.

So granted, women don't always wear skimpy clothes because of the weather. But they do wear them because of fashion. And fashion, whatever one says, is important. A teenage girls who has nothing to do with it will find it harder to make friends - not to find a boyfriend, mind you: teenage boys don't care so much about fashion - they'll find it hard to fit in. Of course that can be character building. But let's face it, we're not all cut out for isolation, and it's actually not bad for us to learn how to fit in with a community of peers.

And then there's work. Who - outside of academia - is going to give a job to a 'frumpy' looking woman? Some jobs actually require you to dress nicely, that is, to wear skirts, and heels. Maybe not short skirts, but once we become used to a certain dress style, we're going to work with it as we can. I think it's outrageous that employers should demand that women dress in a 'feminine' manner, and that the fashion industry should so relentlessly target young women. But they do. So let's not pretend that we, women come up with the idea of wearing skirts all by ourselves.

And we shouldn't get raped for it. Or be blamed when we are.

I was mulling over all this, when I came across very similar arguments in a book I am reading for next semester's teaching. It's by a medieval French philosopher, Christine de Pizan:
I am troubled and grieved when men argue that many women want to be raped and that it does not bother them at all to be raped by men even when they verbally protest. It would be hard to believe that such villainy is actually pleasant for them. (The Book of the City of Ladies II.44)

She goes on to discuss a whole bunch of famous women, from Lucretia onwards, who clearly didn't like being raped.  Then she asks whether women who like to look nice, who are coquettish are doing it to seduce. Nonsense, she says. It's perfectly natural, for men and women, to enjoy pretty things and looking good. It's done, unless one is actually required to dress a certain way, first and foremost for one's enjoyment.
No one should judge someone else's conscience from dress (II.62).

I like to think that if she could time travel, Christine would have put her ink and parchment down, last Saturday, and flown to London to join in the slut walk there. And with her medieval dresses, she would have fitted right in with the colourful and sometimes outlandish outfits that women wore on the march.


10/06/2011

Spiders and other scary things

I've never been scared of snakes in the way that I am of spiders. I remember a brother and sister whose parents kept an anaconda in a vivarium in their bedroom. I think the father was a zoologist. The parents were away often, and we would take over the house, often camping upstairs, by the snake tank, sometimes downstairs in the cellar, where other, smaller snakes were kept, as well as a variety of rodents to feed them. Sometimes we would take the snake out of its prison, allowing it to roam the room, slide over our lap, never thinking the poor thing might be indisposed by the smoke of the cigarettes we constantly lit. Once my friends' parents had found the snake in their bed, so we had to be careful always to put it back when we left the room. It took three or four of us to carry him on our shoulders - teenagers between 13 and 15. I wasn't often enough at the house to witness its meal times, but the son and daughter recounted with glee and horror how it would swallow a whole live baby goat.

I have other memories of this house. I remember playing manhunt, escaping with a friend out of the tiny bathroom window to climb onto the roof, then having to jump down from an uncomfortable height because I couldn't get back to the window and didn't want grown ups to find me up there. I remember another frequent guest, a slightly older boy who would boast of his frequent sexual conquests, and talk of the praise he got from women for his 'fairy fingers'. We called him a 'mythomane' - a pathological liar. In retrospect he was probably just struggling with his sexual identity. French teenagers of the eighties were not the most accepting of sexual difference (or anything else, for that matter).

This morning, on my way to work, I had an unwelcome flashback of the biggest spider I ever saw. It had been in the sink in my mother's kitchen one night, and just outside in the grass the next. I can't remember if I ever saw it, or if I was just around when others did. But my senses didn't seem to care. Within seconds I was walking faster, arching my back in case someone had put the spider there as a joke. Some joke.

09/06/2011

Real women don't have caesareans

At least, that's what old Mr Leboyer told Jane Garvey on last weekend's Woman's Hour. Supposedly the grandfather of natural birth, Leboyer told Ms Garvey that her two elective caesareans were a mistake. Her babies were breach, he said? So what: it's natural. She should not have been a coward and should have delivered 'naturally', i.e. through her vagina, and without any painkillers or assistance.

Ms Garvey admirably kept her cool when she asked Leboyer whether he himself had ever given birth, naturally or otherwise. 'Everything I know, I learned from Woman', the old man replied. For years Leboyer was an obstetrician and, in his own words, he supposed that giving birth must be so painful he would inevitably give his patients chloroform. Which does really make one wonder how any of them would have been in a position to comment on the experience.

Never mind, because Leboyer tells us that nothing in the birth giving process can be put into words. In fact, none of the important things in life can be put into words. The birth giving experience is a secret that women discuss with no one, especially not men. Again, Jane Garvey is forced to remind the old man whose memory is clearly no longer at its best, that he is not a woman. But, sharper than I had given him credit for, Leboyer has an answer for this too: the secret cannot be told, but it can be guessed, by wise men. Here one can only assume that Leboyer himself is such a man. Jane Garvey, obviously, is not.

A wise man, of course, can put into words what women cannot. So he goes on to explain what the birthing process really is: it's libidinal - he checks with Garvey that she knows what this means - it is the ultimate goal of the sexual experience.


Jane Garvey takes her job very seriously: instead of killing the old man on the spot, she probes him about other aspects of his theory: are there no circumstances where the medicalisation of childbirth is at all useful? What about the fact that so many women die of childbirth in the developing world?

'A lie!' insists Leboyer. A myth made up to stop you feeling guilty when you have caesareans! Giving birth dangerously is an essential part of the experience of being a woman, he says. When a woman gives birth, there comes a point when she thinks she is going to die. Then she is no longer afraid of death. This is what makes her a real woman.

Now I'm all sympathies with the view that child birth is over-medicalised. There are way too many places where women are advised to have caesareans when they don't need them, and without them being properly informed about the adjoining risks. I also don't like that in hospitals, we are trussed up like animals, lying on our backs with our feet up in stirrups, when it's really the worst possible position in terms of ease and comfort. I also feel that more women should have the option of being attended by midwives or doulas during the birth process, rather than - often male - doctors. Incidentally, what is Leboyer's view on the place of the midwife? In the kitchen, making coffee!

Whatever next, we think? Should the husband be waiting outside, ready to light his cigar? Mais oui! Leboyer tells us that birthgiving is a private experience between the mother and the child. On no account should the husband be part of it as he would break the woman's concentration.

At the very least, one hopes at this point that what he says is meant to be empowering for women - in his own twisted way. Wrong again: women, he says, do nothing during the birth process. It is the babies that do all the work.

At this point, all we can do is thank Mr Leboyer for his wonderfully encouraging words and thank the universe that because he's ninety he won't be with us much longer to say those words. Oh yes, and tell every one you know not to buy his book. Much cheaper to buy toilet rolls at the super market.

26/05/2011

My NOT to do during Summer list

For this week's writer's workshop over at Mama Kat's Losing it, I picked prompt #5: Your top 10 Summer Don’ts. You do know I love lists AND I also like telling others what to do -or in this case, not to do- so I think Mama Kat really thought of me there.

1- Don't fall in love with the bartender/surf instructor/lifeguard: he will not be Tom Cruise nor Kelly Slater nor any of those hotties from TV shows. Wipe off his tan, picture him in jeans walking in the grey city. There. Now listen to him speak. I don't think I need to add anything.

2- Don't go away on vacation in July: you'll just hate everyone when you get back in August. They will all be making fantastic holiday plans when you'll be losing your tan at the office. Chances are you won't have a tan at all, because we all know that it rains in July (especially in France, I know).

3- Don't go away on vacation in August: you'll just spend the whole of July envying those who take their holidays before you and chances are you'll see them coming back with a tan and this 'I'm just back from holidays and I am fine' look. Also, we all know it's too hot in August.

4- Don't buy ANY souvenirs. Those shoes look adorable ON THE BEACH. They'll just make you look plain stupid back home.

5- Dont you EVER have your hair braided. There is no excuse for that unless you are under 14 years old.

6- Don't go on a diet. Summertime was made for BBQs, rosé and cocktails. You'll be fat, but happy.

7- Don't go to parties on the beach. You'll just end up wasted and sleeping with a bartender/surf instructor/lifeguard (see point 1)

8- Don't follow any advice in women's magazines. They'll try and make you believe you can find true love (point 1 again), that you'll be thinner and that you will look fabulous with that green hat on.

9- Don't think it's the Summer until it's actually hot outside. Also, there is no excuse for flip-flops in the city. Just don't wear them. Please.

10- Don't think it'll last. We Parisians very well know actual Summer lasts for approximately two weeks. And that's if we're lucky.

Oh, one last thing. If you liked this post, would you mind terribly clicking on the RSS feed, here, or the Google connect buttons (top left), or by email at the bottom of this page? And if you didn't like it, you might still want to look around. There's three of us, you know, so you're (almost) bound to find something you like. And then, if you've still got time, you could share this post or stumble it, or both and get in touch with your local tv station to sing our praises. We'll love you forever.

23/05/2011

The end of the pineapple

A couple of days ago, I was given a pineapple. Yes, the fruit. No metaphor or anything, just a pineapple. I love pineapples, and not just because they make delicious piña coladas. But I just cannot peel them or open them.

Last time I saw someone try and cut out a pineapple, I fainted. Twice. Now I just don't look whenever someone tries to cut one. I must have been 17 years old. My mother was making dinner and was preparing a pineapple. We were chatting in the kitchen and I saw the enormous knife cut into her hand instead of the pineapple. Blood started pouring (yes, pouring) over the kitchen counter.

Now, as much as I am into vampires, I hate blood. The mere thought of it makes me sweat and that's the main reason why I didn't become a doctor (that and the fact that I sucked at maths, but like the blood reason better). I calmy walked to the bathroom, opened the closet, pulled out everything that was needed, walked back to the kitchen, rinsed my mother's hand under the water and put a bery big bandage on the wound. It feels like yesterday. I actually feel quite dizzy just telling the story. I looked at my mom, asked her gently 'Are you O.K. now?'. 'Yes', she said. And I fell. As in, fell on the floor, unconscious. I woke up a few seconds later, looked at her hand, and fainted again.

I've always been scared of knives but now I'm also scared of pineapples. So when I was given one a few days ago, I panicked. There is no way I am doing anything to that evil fruit. So I stared at it, I posted about it on FB and now I'm blogging about it. It looks like therapy, doesn't it? I hope it'll work. In case it doesn't, I'm bringing the thing to work tomorrow. I'll find a brave guy who'll kill the thing for me. My kind of hero.

Bloody ridiculous, isn't it?

Oh, one last thing. If you liked this post, would you mind terribly clicking on the RSS feed, here, or the Google connect buttons (top left), or by email at the bottom of this page? And if you didn't like it, you might still want to look around. There's three of us, you know, so you're (almost) bound to find something you like. And then, if you've still got time, you could share this post or stumble it, or both and get in touch with your local tv station to sing our praises. We'll love you forever.

16/05/2011

L'argent et les femmes

According to Le Monde on Sunday afternoon, after Dominique Strauss-Kahn's arrest in NY on charges on rape, DSK, the potential (not any more!) future leader of the French left, has two weaknesses: money and women.

Some days, most days, I'm glad I'm no longer live in France because of shit like this. Some days, I wish I was still there so I could spend more time kicking the arses of bastards who write and think that stuff. As it is, I'm limited to virtual arse-kicking.

So let's have it. We, women, are not a weakness. We are not a treat that you can become addicted to, or that you need somehow to resist. We are not displayed, as in a shop window, to tempt you into having sex with us. In fact, if you're an old ugly bastard like DSK, we'd, very frankly, rather iron our tits than have sex with you.

Oh, but they say, French women are not like that. They're attracted to power. 

Listen, busters - I know there's many of you out there who think like that - I'm a French woman. And I know power is not really, of itself, an aphrodisiac. It can be, in the right circumstances, with someone attractive, some very clear rules, and a safe word. But when someone like DSK thinks he's getting laid by people who are not his wife because he's powerful, I think he seriously misunderstands the chain of causation that leads from his position at the head of the IMF to the women in his bed. Basically there's two ways in which it works.

1) As a powerful man, he has many people at his beck and call. If a woman says no to him, she can either be raped and no one will say anything, or lose her job, and no one will say anything.

2) In some very rare cases, a woman may choose to sleep with an ugly bastard because he may help advance her career. But, before we get all judgy here, I would like to exert some caution: it's often unclear whether a woman who sleeps with someone and sees her career move forward as a result really had any choice at all. The alternative may well have been what I describe in (1).

As to all those people who believe that,  like Assange, DSK was set up by bankers who want to keep the left out of their money - that's neither here nor there.
What, to my mind, is rather disgusting, is that these men were aware of DSK's 'weakness', i.e. his propensity to indulge in sexual harassment and rape, and only chose to use it when their money was threatened.

Am I under any illusions that the bankers and right wing politicians are less likely than the men on the left to abuse women? Certainly not. I reckon they go to the same orgies - the only difference being that when the orgy is over the right-wing men go to church and the lefties go home to cook with their wives.

Conclusion: there's way too many bastards out there who think that women are treats they can consume, with only one scruple: that having too many is bad for their political diet. So let's not be surprised if they don't stop dishing out sexist policies that disadvantage women in all aspects of life, any time soon.

10/05/2011

The royal ticking bomb

I posted this yesterday on my other blog, The Forbidden Sister, but as the comments on that blog are broken, I thought I'd repost it here, and share it with you. Here goes.

We can now breathe a huge sight of relief – but ten days ago, unbeknownst to us, forces were at play to destroy us. Not only did they want to destroy us, but they picked a time when we were at our most vulnerable, basking in the glow of royal love vows and cartwheeling vergers. But the dark forces were very much at work, as we are now finding out.

There was a bomb. Not only was the wedding itself being targeted but it was done from its most vulnerable point – planted inside the bride’s womb! Top lifestyle/career blogger Penelope Trunk explains to us, step by step, how it came to be there and how it was defused. She tells us that Kate was indeed a ticking bomb but that her timely wedding was enough to defuse it, and that we should all be grateful to her.

Just in case the same terrorists decide to plant bombs inside of us too, Ms Trunk advises we follow the same steps as Kate.

1. Don’t bother about a career: it will only interfere with your finding a husband, and you’ll have to give it up anyway.
2. Have children young, before thirty, as otherwise they will have birth defects, and they will probably become terrorists.
3. In order to have children before thirty, you should be married by twenty-eight, which means that you must have found your prince by twenty-five. Ms Trunk links to ‘scientific research’ that proves this and quotes ‘zillions’ of books that back it up.
4. Relocate, relocate, relocate. Give up your career, if you were stubborn enough to start one, and follow your husband. It is a fact (scientific research, zillions of books, etc.) that women do not care much for their careers and that men do not care much for their family. Hold on, that’s not right. Of course men care for their family, it’s just that women care more. Or care better. Or are too stupid to say they care for anything else. Or whatever.

If you follow all these steps, disaster will be averted and the bomb will not go off.

I think we can all learn from this near catastrophe, and avoid making potential terrorists of ourselves by following Ms Trunk’s advice as closely as we can.

09/05/2011

Social story for travelling by plane.

We're doing it again, attempting to take a holiday in the UK. Two years ago, it was a bit of a fiasco as far as Max was concerned. He had daily meltdowns because he wanted to go home. We travelled around far too much, to visit relatives, go to a conference, and even took the train to Paris for a couple of weeks. And we had a huge amount of trouble getting Max into a plane - he had to be carried in screaming a couple of times. Not fun.

Then, last year, we discovered social stories. Drawing things for Max before they happen really worked. He would know what to expect, would rehearse it in his head, and be prepared. We drew some when we were going to fly to the coast to holiday with Marianne and her family. Max wasn't reading yet, but he understood pictures, no matter how sketchily drawn, really well. We got him there and back without too much problem, and there were no major meltdowns while we were there. It was a good holiday for all. No mean feat.

Then last month we went to Cappadocia and I drew some very detailed social stories about travelling and being there. Because Max can now read I also inserted quite a bit of text, which enabled me to get more detail into the sequences. This was a success. Max loves going to Cappadocia, but he always gets nervous at various points during our stay and that means he's more likely to have meltdowns. This time, he was relaxed the whole time, enjoyed every moment, and was even able to take in small variations in the plans.

So now our plane tickets are confirmed, I'm beginning to get busy with the stories. That means asking the people we're staying with some very detailed questions about houses and habits and stuff, and of course, producing the stories is, as you can imagine, quite time consuming. One thing I've tried is to scan the pictures and enter the text with  a picture editor. This saves me having to draw the letters carefully enough so that Max can actually decipher them.

So, anyhow, here's what I've got so far.  Any ideas as to how I might make it better are welcome. And please fell free to download it and put in your own text if you think that would be useful (I've used Picnic, which is free and easy to use).







15/04/2011

Of boys and horses: what does autism awareness mean?

'Do you know the way to Pancarlik church from here? No, we don't have a car. We want to walk in the valley.' 

We get directions. In Turkish, of course. We check which of us have understood. It doesn't matter much what I understood as I can't so much as tell my left from my right most of the time. There's a hamam involved, the back of a castle, and you should take the little path to the right (or left?) not go straight down the valley to Urgup. Oh yes, and it's six kilometres.

We take our time to leave the castle top cafe, giving the patron just enough time to bring his friend who knows the region like the back of his hand. He explains in a bit more detail (turn right at the hamam, and walk till you see the back of that castle and then go down to the valley). We're still not convinced we're going to make the 6km walk without getting lost. I joke to our minibus driver that if we're not at Pancarlik in 3 hours he should send the helicopters. We grab our coats and look in the direction we're supposed to go (we think). And then, just in time, the guy from the cafe is here and he offers to guide us. It's a good price. And he'll take us to a church on other side of the valley first. He assures us he'll take it slow, for the children. Off we go.

The church is amazing. And we wouldn't have found it without him. You have to climb up a stiff side to see it's here, even. And it's not in either of our guides.
He's giving us all a hand on the difficult passes, and carries Charlotte's bag.
It's beautiful.


Then it's down again, and in the opposite direction.

Within a hundred yards, we freeze. Standing before us, are six horses, and two dogs. The horses are about to be mounted by a small tribe of French people in full horse-riding attire. Some of them are very young - younger than Max. Their beige trousers and black jackets look incongruous in the wild and muddy landscape. We freeze - Max screams.

I don't have much time to explain. I tell the man: he's autistic, and he's really scared of animals. Especially dogs. But horses too. The man nods and picks Max up. You're going on my shoulders, he says. You'll be fine. Max screams again a bit when we cross the area where the horses and dogs are. One child holds a dog, and a woman tells him to move it out of our way. Another woman tells Max not to scream. I tell her he's autistic and scared. I don't know if she's convinced, but she shuts up.

And then we're through. Max is calm. He comes down. He and the guide chat for a bit. Then the guide asks me why Max is afraid. Is it an allergy? Has he been hurt by a dog or a horse before? I say he's autistic. Then, as it doesn't seem to mean anything to him, I try to explain, in my skeletal Turkish. It's a mental condition. It means he has communication problems, speech problems, and he has phobias. He nods. That'll do.

We trudge on for six kilometres. jumping over the river every five minutes or so to get to the less muddy side. It's a bit cold, but after a while we still have to peel off a layer or two. The landscape is amazing.



The children are used to long walks, and they're mostly enjoying it. When Max gets tired, our guide carries him. Or he races him and then they sit down to wait for us. When they sit, I notice that he puts his hands on Max's head very firmly, the way Max prefers to be touched, the way that calms him. The way you're supposed to touch animals, and especially horses to reassure them. Very quickly, the two develop a rapport. For the entire walk, they're together.




12/04/2011

Echolalia, Echolala: don't knock it.

Before Max was diagnosed, before we even took him to see that first psychiatrist who told us all was fine but, when she saw us one year later, acted surprised that we didn't know Max was autistic and said she must have 'forgotten' to tell us - bitch - his kinder-garden teacher suggested all was not well with his linguistic development. Everything he says seems to be repeating something he's heard, she said. Even the tone is the same. When he says 'don't do that' (in Turkish of course, which is the only language he spoke back then), he's copying the voice of his teacher. This, she says, is echolalia. And it's not a proper way for language to develop.

She was right, in that echolalia can be a symptom of developmental disorders, like autism. Many autistic children who don't have 'spontaneous speech', who don't volunteer information about themselves, who don't answer questions, who are not able to make small talk, still speak a lot. That is to say, they repeat things they've heard other people say, on tv, etc. It just isn't relevant a lot of the time. Max used to rehearse entire conversations from his favourite tv shows before he could even say what his name was. Actually that's not very representative, as it's only recently that he's started to answer the question 'what's your name?' by anything other than 'what's your name?'. Let's say, instead, before he could ask for a glass of water.

We worried, of course. And shortly after this we did take him to see that psychiatrist, and then a speech therapist. But we were always slightly resistant to the idea that this repeating of what he'd heard was all bad, despite his teachers' assurance, from the height of her status as a psychologist, that it was not healthy.

I'm still not sure what the consensus is. I've recently begun to think that with autism, after a while, it makes more sense to think hard about the particulars of the situation you live with, than find out every thing about what everyone thinks - including the 'experts'. Not because every one else is wrong - but because every person with autism is different, and because you have to work within your particular environment and resources which people on the internet can't possibly know the details of. So after an initial bout of frantically reading every thing there was - which proved extremely useful to get started - I'm now dipping in and out, and mostly concentrating on understanding what makes our son tick. And here's what we've noticed.

Nearly all the things Max has been repeating for years are now part of his active vocabulary. They've helped shape his social interactions, his imaginative play, and inquiry. TV shows he used to repeat at odd moments are now part of his creative play. He plays 'tweenies' and 'teletubbies' and creates adventures for them based on actual shows, but also invented. (And believe me, if they were just recreations of what he'd seen, I'd know. There isn't one episode I haven't seen at least a dozen times.)

One fascinating feature of his echolalia, that always had us thinking that it wasn't quite as mindless as some people thought, was that he could translate everything he said. He'd start off repeating something he'd heard in Turkish, and pretty soon, he'd be saying it in French too. Just as inappropriately, but in translation. Now, I don't really know about the mechanisms of translation in trilingual autistic five year olds (which is how old he would have been then). But then again, I doubt anybody does. And I get kind of pissed off when people claim they do. Not like there's a huge sample for them to conduct research on, is there?

But here's the thing I was getting at - a bit rambly today, I'm afraid. Blame it on the late night return from our weekend in Cappadocia.

On our way to Goreme three days ago, we travelled next to a German couple who were clearly holidaying in Turkey for the first time. Max sat next to the man in the mini bus. I suggested he say 'Hi'. 'Merhaba', he said. 'Nalsilsiniz? Ben iyigim, tesekkurederim'. Or something to that effect. So I pointed out that the nice man probably didn't speak Turkish. Max is normally good at judging what people speak, but he wasn't really paying attention, too excited about arriving.


So now he takes one look at the man and works out he's not French, but probably speaks some English. So he pipes up: "Hi, How are you today? We're going to Cappadocia today!" All with perfect accent and pronunciation. Repeat three times. And this was a mixture of something he'd heard in the Tweenies, that he's been repeating recently and probably conversations he'd overheard between grown ups about Cappadocia. For how else would he know how it's pronounced in English?

So here you go: a mixture of echolalia and properly learnt language makes for perfect social creativity!

I was prompted to write this post by MommyleBron's post on that same topic. Her daughter has a slightly different form of echolalia - she seems to be a lot more verbal than Max, and quite a bit older, so that figures! - but I found Mommylebron's insight really interesting if only because it shows how differently a condition with the same name can manifest itself. 
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