Thursday, August 31, 2006

10 Consecutive Hads

As a follow-up to yesterday's post on unusual words, a grammatically correct sentence submitted by a reader with ten successive uses of the word 'had':

John, where Janet had had 'had', had had 'had had'. Had 'had had' been the correct answer.....

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Unusual Words

On the way home from Edinburgh last week I discussed the subject of unusual words with my friends. Words like 'queueing' which have 5 vowels in a row, or 'catchphrase' which contains 6 consecutive consonants.

I particularly like words that have repeated letters or dots (as in 'hijinks' or 'Fiji'). Such words include 'wallless' (having no walls) and headmistressship.

Some words seem not to fit what they describe - for example: the word 'long' is short, and the word 'short' is longer. Same for the words 'big' and 'small'.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Edinburgh Festival

Just come back from several days in Edinburgh, attending the annual International Book Festival there. My event on the 22nd was with the journalist and TV presenter Joan Bakewell. I really enjoyed the whole experience. I gave a podcast interview for the festival's website which you can listen to at:

Afterwards I attended events by the Scottish Society for Autism and the Autism Initiatives charity. It was a privilege to meet some of the people who work so hard and give so much to help those on the autistic spectrum, as well as several parents and grandparents of autistic children.

Before leaving Edinburgh I had the chance to watch several street performances by jugglers, acrobats and magicians and a comedy gig - 'Funny Women' - which I would definitely recommend as being very, very good.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Benefits of Self Sufficiency

I try to live as self sufficient a life as possible. For example, we grow many vegetables and some fruit in our garden. We make soup from the tomatoes and cider from the apples. I've even attempted to make oat milk on a few occasions and we regularly eat sandwiches made of freshly baked bread and our own peanut butter.

I don't own a single credit card or have even one loan. I budget our grocery shopping weeks in advance and spend carefully, mostly in small local shops rather than the big supermarkets. We have saved tens of thousands of pounds in interest by saving enough over several years to pay off our mortgage a decade and a half early.

One valuable thing I learnt a long time ago was to have a way of looking at the world which gave a means of forming ideas about your life and how you want to live it. Then it's a question of actually putting those ideas into practice.

For me, independence from bureaucracy, banks and big business is very important. That way a person can have real control and freedom in his or her life. I choose what time to wake each morning and what goes into the food I eat. I select what work to do and when. I don't care about buying the next 'big thing' because possessions alone can't make a person happy.

I like listening to the birds singing as I work in the garden. I like the taste and flavour of home-made food. I like the creativity of making my own birthday cards for friends and family. I like having enough free time to spend with the people I love. I like not having to worry about sales targets or board meetings or the risk of redundancy.

The control and rituals of a self-sufficient way of living are reassuring and satisfying to individuals on the autistic spectrum. I find anxiety is much less a problem for me than before. An attention to detail helps when fixing a budget, planting seeds or darning socks. Personalised routines are easier to stick to and leave enough free time for hobbies and individual interests.

Try sites such as to find out more about living a more self sufficient way of life.

Friday, August 11, 2006

G K Chesterton and the Wisdom of Fairy Tales

I loved reading fairy tales as a small child and it was with great pleasure when many years later I read that my favourite author and thinker, G. K. Chesterton, had had very much affection for them too and believed them a source of great wisdom:

"According to elfin ethics all virtue is in an ‘if.’ The note of the fairy utterance always is, ‘You may live in a palace of gold and sapphire, if you do not say the word "cow"’; or ‘You may live happily with the King’s daughter, if you do not show her an onion.’ The vision always hangs upon a veto. All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend upon one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden."

Chesterton believed that all people were specially shaped to experience the joy of being alive, but that happiness was ultimately something that had to be accomplished. It is conditional on our capacity to experience it - a capacity that can be naturally trained like any other.

Fairy tales teach us to feel wonder for ordinary things - rivers running with wine remind us of the marvel of rivers running with water, talking flowers reflect the beauty of all flowers and golden apples are as wonderful for being apples as for being made of gold.

In the end, the test of all happiness is gratitude - an appreciation of the little, everyday things that make up the fabric of each human life.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Claim of UK Overpopulation is Bad Maths

Journalist Rod Liddle writing in today's 'Spectator' magazine claims that the UK is catastrophically overpopulated:

"If you live in the south-east of England you will already be familiar with the iniquities imposed by overpopulation: the railway network which collapses under the weight of numbers... the waiting list for treatment at your local hospital; the bulging school rolls... the incessant angry growl of traffic during the day, the eerily pale mauve night sky, deprived of its right to darkness by the street lights; the queues everywhere, for everything... You cannot water your garden because there is not enough of the stuff to go around... the strange re-occurrence of TB in our inner cities...the lack of community in your town... and the sense of alienation which this engenders; the loss of habitat for our indigenous wildlife."

He then goes on to state:

"We can be sure that Britain is one of the ten or 15 most crowded countries on earth..."

But this just isn't true - a brief search on the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia reveals that the UK is in fact ranked 48th in the world for population density
(Wikipedia: List_of_countries_by_population_density)

Furthermore, the article is wrong in my opinion to blame 'overpopulation' for various social and environmental problems. The UK has 60 million acres, 1 for every person in the country. The 2001 National Census gives a figure of 21 million UK households - that's almost 3 acres per household (equivalent in size to an entire football pitch per household).

The real problem is the poor distribution of land ownership throughout the UK: 90% of the population of Britain live on just 10% of the land, with 69% of the UK's acreage owned by just 0.6% of the population (people like the Duke of Buccleuch who owns 270,900 acres).

The fact is that people naturally cluster together in cities, towns and villages - many like 'hustle and bustle', others prefer greater quiet and seclusion. The lack of community and sense of alienation, cited in the article as a consequence of overpopulation, has probably more to do with factors such as family breakdown: the 2001 census reported that 30% of all UK households are occupied by a single person.

The myth of overpopulation has a long history going back centuries. But the fact is that fertility rates in the UK (and across Europe) are falling: there were 1,014,700 births in Britain in 1964 compared with 716,000 in 2004. 1 in 5 British women do not have any children at all (compared to 1 in 10 a generation ago). The UK's low fertility rate ranks 153rd in the world
(Wikipedia: List_of_countries_and_territories_by_fertility_rate)

The UK has many problems and faces many challenges, but overpopulation isn't one of them.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

On Being A Christian

I think many people are surprised to hear that I believe in God and that I am a Christian. I think this is because many assume that autism and belief in God are somehow incompatible. In fact other autistic writers, such as Temple Grandin, have written about their own spiritual beliefs and practices.

I struggled for a long time with the concept of God - I wasn't interested in something that I could not see or hear or touch directly. As a teenager I began to read the writings of G. K. Chesterton, an early-20th century English journalist who wrote at length about his own journey into faith and defence of Christian ideas - and found myself gradually more and more receptive to the possibility of faith.

I became a Christian at Christmas 2002, aged twenty-three. At that point in my life I had arrived at the conclusion that Christianity was true. Extremely challenging and puzzling concepts (for many if not most people) such as the Incarnation and the Trinity made a lot of sense to me. It seemed right that God would choose to come into the world, to reveal Himself to us, in a way that we could all of us relate to - as a man among men, a human life lived like other lives: as a child, a worker, a friend, a teacher, a Son.

In the Trinity there was the idea of God as being both a mystery and a reality that each person could in their own way relate to: the living, breathing personification of Love and of Relationship. God wasn't something unknowable or untouchable but a tangible presence: the idea of Trinity was something I could picture in some way in my head, and understand and accept.

Faith isn't easy - but I consider it a blessing and a gift. Quite often, in sudden unconscious moments like an awakening, I realise that I am a member of the mystical body of Christ - something far bigger and greater than I can begin to comprehend, but nonetheless something in which I do not feel a stranger, but at home.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Advice for Parents with Autistic Children

I am regularly asked for advice by parents with children on the autistic spectrum. Because autism is such a profoundly complex condition, and very personal in how it affects each individual, it is not possible to offer advice that will be equally insightful or helpful to everyone. From my own experience, I suggest the following:

Ensure good basic hygiene skills, particularly tooth-brushing (which I had considerable problems with over many years into adolescence) and which I've subsequently read is a common problem because of the sound or texture or both of the brushing action.

Help teach your child core skills to function in society: how to dress themselves, tell left from right (perhaps use 'L' and 'R' labels as my parents did with me), maintain eye contact, understand and respect the concept of 'personal space', how to ride a bus etc.

Nurture any special interests, while finding ways to use them to help your child learn more about the wider world (for example, a passion for spelling can be used to discuss the names of family members or neighbours etc).

Discourage tantrums by identifying triggers and finding ways to avoid them (for example, supermarkets can often be overstimulating, try using smaller local shops).

Have patience - progress, if and when it comes, can often be sudden but is the result of many months or years of incremental steps forward.

Most importantly of all, know that your child is capable of great depthes of feeling and of love, even if it isn't much or often demonstrated.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Cxu vi parolas Esperanton?

Mi esperantigxis unue antau kelkaj jaroj, de leganto frazojn esperantajn rete. Gxi estas interesa lingvo kaj facilega lerni, kun multaj vortoj de la lingvoj europaj. Kelkafoje mi ricevas e-posxtojn skribata esperante de uloj de tutaj partoj de la mundo. Esperanto estas lingveto, sed vere internacia! Se vi volas lerni pli pri la lingvo esperanto, skribu la vorto 'esperanto' en sercxilo kaj vi trovos multaj mil de pagxoj.

I first found out about Esperanto several years ago, from reading sentences in Esperanto on the internet. It is an interesting language and hugely easy to learn, with many words from the languages of Europe. Sometimes I receive emails written in Esperanto from people from all over the world. Esperanto is a small language, but truly international! If you want to learn more about the Esperanto language, write the word 'esperanto' in a search engine and you will find many thousands of pages.