Tales from the gym

Exercise has always been important to me. I’m no athlete – my parents both run regularly, my mum was a Pilates instructor for many years, my stepdad swims, and my sister is a qualified dancer and actress, leaving me feeling like the family couch potato. In my defense, I have been going to the gym regularly for several years now. I don’t claim to love it, but nevertheless keep it up because I know it is good for me.

Last month, I moved to be closer to my job. If you had asked me then if I had any worries about this, the actual moving process would have been top of the list. Joining the gym that is conveniently across the road from where I work wouldn’t. Moving day came and went pretty smoothly, with little to report. My new gym, meanwhile, has probably caused me to burn more calories from sheer stress than from the exercise itself.

I spent my first visit being unable to find anything; namely the entrance to the building, the lockers, the lockers that had functioning locks, the labels on said locks telling me to use a 10p coin (instead of a £1 coin), and the gym itself. I could barely be bothered at this point, but thought hey, I’m new here, of course everything’s confusing, things can only get better.

Oh how wrong I was.

When I returned, I filled in a membership form. Come the third time, I tried to get in as a full member, except that the staff had no record of my membership on their system. Their most logical explanation was that I must have put my form in my bag and taken it home. Needless to say, there was no sign of it, nor any way that I would have been allowed to go ahead with my workout without handing it in first.

Which indicated that they must have mislaid it. Complete with my bank details, written loud and clear. Not good.

Feeling pretty fed up about this, I politely but firmly raised the issue with someone at the desk. They just told me to fill in another form. I reiterated that someone here had left a document with my bank details on it lying around goodness knows where for all and sundry to see. This interaction was repeated a couple of times before I gave up in frustration.

I then sent an email via the city council, retelling the story and highlighting the GDPR* rules at stake, which gave them a bit of a nudge. After some careful scrutiny of their CCTV cameras, a member of staff discovered that I had not filled in the entire form, and the person who had taken it had shredded it, but left no notes on the system. To compensate for all the stress – and the fact I’d needlessly changed my debit card – they gave me 2 weeks free membership.

Of course, not every staff member believed me during that 2 week period, or was able to find the notes explaining why I was getting in free. But it’s the thought that counts.

And now I am a full member. What could go wrong now?



*General Data Protection Regulation


Vegan prejudice

How do you know if someone’s vegan? Don’t worry, their daughter will write a blog post about it!

A new twist on an all-too-popular joke these days. I do amuse myself.

People say that being vegan – or even knowing someone who is – is an eye opener to some of the things that happen in the world. Very often, they mean the level of animal cruelty that so often comes with food production. Or, to put a more positive spin on it, a whole new way of cooking and eating.

For me, being a vegetarian with a vegan family definitely does all that. But there is one thing that makes me wary of trying it myself, and no, it’s not my love of cheese. I’m very fond of cheese, don’t get me wrong, but I used to feel the same about bacon and I honestly don’t miss that as much as I once thought I would.

My real reason is just as cowardly: the hatred and prejudice towards vegans that is spreading at least as quickly as the cause itself. The internet practically exploded when Greggs started making vegan sausage rolls. So did Piers Morgan when he tried a gelatin free Percy Pig. You see it in day-to-day life as well. People often don’t object to food that doesn’t contain animal products, or is bacon or cheese flavoured but has no traces of the real thing. Until you put the word “vegan” in front of it. Then they can’t get away fast enough.

Plus, any article on the subject will inevitably be followed with comments like “why not just eat an ACTUAL sausage roll?” Or “vegans should go stuff themselves with kale and leave our sweets alone”. Or “vegans are some of the preachiest hypocrites I have ever met, they should all just shut up and stop shoving their views in my face…”

So here’s what I have to say to those comments:

  1. Vegans – and vegetarians – rarely give up meat because they hate the taste. They simply do not want to eat something that an animal had to die for. Some love meat/dairy/egg substitutes. What’s wrong with that? Others see no need for them and can still have as wide a cooking repertoire as anyone.
  2. Having a veggie version of a popular chewy sweet in no way interferes with your right to keep eating the regular ones. Being a vegan doesn’t make you want variety and indulgence any less. Why does it bother so many meat eaters when vegans try to achieve that?
  3. Many of the most preachy, hypocritical articles and comments I have read have come from meat eaters who complain about vegans shoving their opinions down people’s throats but have no issue in doing the same. Then maybe for good measure, they’ll throw in a quip about how veganism is a lie because it’s impossible to go through life without causing harm. As someone from a family who feeds their cats meat, I KNOW. That’s not the point. The idea of veganism is to simply reduce your part in cruelty as much as possible.

I may not be a vegan myself, but prejudice in any form gets my blood boiling, and I’m glad to have got that out of my system. Being a vegetarian can be enough hassle, and I’m still working on dealing with the minority categories I’m already in before I choose to put myself in another. Through years of meat eating, vegetarianism, and veganism between us, my family and I have always been firm about not forcing our own ways on other people. Yet once people get it in their heads that this should go one way, they forget it actually applies to everyone. Couldn’t we all benefit from remembering that?

The VEGAN Christmas cake a made and decorated the other year.

Getting healed?! Further thoughts

A couple of years ago, back when I was an intern at a Christian bookshop, you may remember I had a customer who was dead set on asking God to cure me of Asperger’s. That’s right. I gently explained that it isn’t an illness, or a flaw, and that implying that there is something wrong with the way I am is actually pretty insulting. A crazy thought, I know, but I think I managed to get it across.

What first got me thinking back to this incident was the comments thread on an article I read about autism. People were going off on all sorts of tangents, and I don’t really remember what the article was about. The comment that got my attention was from someone who had a child on the severe end of the spectrum. They mentioned that their child was having a pretty tough time with autism, unable to communicate clearly, and in need of constant care. And their point was that when people talk about how autism is a key part of who they are that doesn’t need fixing, it is actually harmful to people like that child for whom it is nothing but a burden. Because they would have a better life without it.

Wow. That definitely got me questioning my perspective.

Which – in regards to myself – hasn’t changed. AS does mean I have frustrations that many people don’t have to deal with. But if I wasn’t autistic, I would be a different person.

It did, however, pose a question that had never occurred to me before. Autism isn’t actually one thing. It’s a wide spectrum of very different conditions. That much I know. When I explain to people I’m autistic, I’m aware that, to them, that could mean anything. So of course there are people who don’t know how to talk to me, and who are surprised when I don’t always need help. Then on the other end of the spectrum, you have people who constantly struggle in a world that doesn’t meet their needs at all, and who would change it if they could. Is it problematic to label so many different conditions with the same name?

But of course, it’s not even that simple, because whatever end of the spectrum someone falls on, there will be other – often external – factors contributing to their quality of life. A person with Asperger’s may have experienced so much loneliness and isolation growing up, that they would give anything to change. A severely autistic person, on the other hand, may have a pretty comfortable life with just the right support.

So it looks like my reflection on this issue is inconclusive, and I’m sorry if that’s unsatisfying. I also hope there was nothing patronising or condescending about anything I said. If so, I’m more than willing to edit this post. Mostly I just wanted to share a few thoughts I’d never had before, and see how other people feel about this. What are your opinions?

Getting the bus

Public transport has played a major role throughout my life. In fact, given that I was born abroad, you could argue that without it I wouldn’t be where I am today. Literally. But just lately, it has been finding new ways to have a bit of a joke with me. So I thought I’d return the favour and write a blog post at its expense.

Since March 2018, I have been getting to grips with the bus. Having spent several years taking the train to uni, work experience, and my bookshop internship, I then got a job in a place that was only accessible by road. It still runs on wheels, I thought. How hard can it be?

After insisting to my parents I could get there unaccompanied on day 2 of my job, I then got onto the slower bus – the one I’d been advised NOT to take – and was late for work. Despite this, I was determined that this was just one slip up, and I definitely knew what I was doing now.

The following weeks disproved this. I didn’t realise I had to wave at the driver so I could get on. Or that I had to press a button to get off. I misinterpreted the ever-changing ETA* updates on the signs and gave up on many an incoming bus just because it temporarily disappeared from the sign. At this point, I thought: hey, it’s early days, this time next year, buses will feel just as straightforward as trains.

I’ll be honest – they don’t. Take last week, for example. My bus pass expired and I didn’t have enough cash. When I bought a regular return ticket, the driver was unable to print it, and said if I explained this to the driver on the way back, they’d understand. Come home time, the bus driver I saw refused to let me on without printed evidence. The irony was, this driver seemed unable to print tickets too.

When it’s not ambiguous rules, it’s the actual journey. Like when I sat down on a suspiciously wet, smelly seat. Or when I walked downstairs from the top of a double decker and overheard a bunch of teenagers saying “I would have laughed if she’d fallen over!”.

My most draining journey happened a few weeks ago, when 30 seconds after getting on, the heating broke down, and we were escorted onto another bus. The only downside to this bus was that it violently shook and made an ominous rumbling noise when accelerating, and so it was that we waited another 30 minutes on the A6 until another bus turned up. Choc full of people, with barely enough room to awkwardly stand backwards, not knowing what to hold onto.

By the end of the day, I’d had enough of my usual bus, and went for the slow bus instead. No problems there. But why it was covered with onions, I’ll never know.

Mercifully, it looks like I may be getting some respite from commuting – this coming Sunday, I will be lodging just a 15 minute walk away from work. Don’t get me wrong, I love leaving the house at 7.15 every morning to get two buses that are probably running late and full of screaming children. What’s not to love? I ask, sarcastically. But strangely, this has started to wear thin, so as I get re-accustomed to living away from home, watch this space!



*Estimated time of arrival

10 assumptions I have had to deal with

Oh the joys of being a mixed race, autistic woman…

  1.  I got into a conversation with someone at a church I went to a while back. Having briefly mentioned I have Asperger’s, they asked me if I had ever been to uni. Their response when I said yes? “And what did you study? I bet it was Maths, Science, or IT! All autistic people I know did something like that.”
  2.  I was walking through town one day when an older woman – a complete stranger – tried to offer me Chinese literature.
  3. Someone once asked my mum if I could talk.
  4. At least one person my mum has spoken to has assumed I must be prone to rage and aggression. The irony is, many of my problems at school and uni were a result of me being a complete pushover.
  5.  I mentioned on a job application that I’m half Taiwanese and was born in Taiwan. Despite me also stating that I live in the UK, they contacted me asking what time would work for an over-the-phone interview, given the 8 hour time difference between here and Taiwan.
  6. At primary school, a couple of kids in the year below me came up to me and asked – completely seriously – if I had brain damage.
  7.  Someone at church who I’d never met (not all Christians are prone to things like this, I assure you), came up to me and asked if I spoke English. On realising I did, they then told me that they had met a French student, and were trying to find other foreigners for this student to make friends with.
  8. This was more about my mum than me: when I first started school, my teachers noticed something was different about me. Rather than considering autism, or any learning difference to be a possibility, they were sure it was a result of having a recently divorced mother. When they arranged for me to be seen by a doctor, or a psychologist, or someone along those lines, the person in question tried to get me to take my clothes off so they could check for bruises! To which I replied: “But it’s rude to show someone your knickers!” I made my mother proud that day.
  9.  When I studied French at secondary school, I was put in the “mixed ability” class. I spent the next 5 years feeling frustrated by how basic the work was, and trying, with my parents, to get the teachers to move me up a class, only to be told I would not be able to cope with being in top set. Weeks before my GCSE French exams, I was moved up a set, and passed my exams with a high B.
  10.  At uni, I joined the choir, only to find the communication impossible to keep up with and the events we did overwhelming. Choir was supposed to take priority over any other non-study related things in my life, yet I felt completely invisible there. I tried to get through to the leader, but as friendly and well-meaning as they were, they were sure I was doing fine because they hadn’t noticed any struggles I was having and were sure I must be doing fine.

Inspiration porn

Before I get to the point, don’t be fooled by the word “porn”. This is not that kind of blog! Now do read on.

In a recent issue of my writing magazine, I read an article about how to write about disabled characters sensibly. It covered several pretty good points – person first vs identity first language, don’t use slurs, make disabled characters as well rounded as non disabled characters – but I thought I’d look at one that got me thinking: disabled people being seen as inspiring for managing the simplest daily tasks. Or, as the magazine put it, inspiration porn.

For a start, I should probably differentiate between validating someone’s struggles and achievements, and inspiration porn. We all survive tough times, and accomplish things that we’re proud of, and chances are, we appreciate it when people understand our struggles and admire our achievements. I don’t know about other people with disabilities, but for me, being autistic doesn’t change this.

Then you see articles on the Internet about people with physical disabilities, learning differences, etc., depicting them as being an example to everyone just for getting through life with their condition. Maybe they’re shown doing a normal activity that may or may not be harder for them, leaving everyone amazed that they managed it at all. I remember people at school saying they felt sorry for me because of “that thing” I have. Or they need help or friendship, someone offers it, and suddenly that person is a saint. It seems that everything the disabled person does is either because of, or in spite of, their disability.

Now I understand these reactions are well meant. There are things that are harder to manage when you have a disability or illness. Showing kindness to someone who has one is a good thing. But there will be many things in a disabled person’s life that are just routine to them and/or are unrelated to their disability. We don’t exist solely to inspire others by managing these things. Like pity, showering someone in praise over the smallest thing implies that you don’t expect them to be that capable.

I remember I once touched upon a similar topic: being kind vs being patronising. I said that pity is feeling sorry for someone just because of the way they are, as if that makes them lesser. Sympathy is understanding what someone is going through and supporting them accordingly. Perhaps you could compare it to attitude towards race – I don’t want or need to be pitied or admired for being half Taiwanese. On the other hand, I’m sick to death of racist catcalls, and the more people understand why this bothers me, the better.

Do you see? Stories about disabled people making any kind of achievement may be heartwarming, but to truly appreciate the things someone has mastered, you have to get to know them like any other person.

Thank you for the music…

…the songs I’m singing…I do love a bit of ABBA.

Last weekend was a particularly full one, comprising a double (triple?) dose of musical endeavors. Church band practise on Saturday morning, choir concert Saturday evening, and church band on Sunday. The choir concert started with me understudying a singing solo, and ended with us all singing patriotic British songs and waving Union Jacks. Church the following day saw me playing my usual trick of reading a chord sheet, improvising on my violin, and hoping for the best. Just another Sunday in the band!

Music has been an important part of my life since I was six. I was asked at school if I would be interested in violin lessons. Given that we were on benefits at the time, I’m not sure how my mum must have felt when I said yes before consulting her, but I went ahead with it, and before long, I had learned my very first song. It may have included only two different notes and not many more words. But it still counted.

As the years went by, I grew more adventurous, and was always quick to volunteer to play for any occasion. I played Morning Has Broken at my parents’ wedding all by myself. During my first year at my second primary school, aged nine, I played in the school talent show and won the “special commendation award.” At the time, I thought this was the greatest thing ever. Right now I find myself wondering why I didn’t qualify for first, second, or even third place…

I also started playing at my then-church’s junior music team. I frequently stopped playing in favour of daydreaming, and needed constant help from the child next to me. And our leader. And my mum. A few years ago I discovered a note from our leader at the time, expressing concern and thinking that I was only in it for the snacks afterwards. Perish the thought.

I hasten to add that my attention span, dedication, and awareness of other musicians have improved greatly since then. I have since been in two church music teams, and have not required parental supervision or food motivation once.

Once I got to secondary school, I joined not only the school orchestra, but also the steel pan band. It was an interesting life decision that resulted in years of steel pans lessons at unpredictable times, an issue that got mixed reactions from teachers in my regular lessons. I did have fun learning songs like I Have A Dream, Amarillo, Yesterday, and Rocking Around The Christmas Tree, though. And the memory of playing in the local shopping centre while Mum and her friend posed in tiaras and feather boas in a nearby accessories shop to embarrass me still makes me roll my eyes today.

And now I go to choir every Saturday, and play at church once a month. I have less time for music than I did, but I’ve never stopped finding the fun in it. It keeps my skills sharp – my stint in the Loughborough Orchestra taught me a lot about pretending to play classical music perfectly! It’s also given me some great experiences, and through my musical activities I have often found a sense of fellowship. I may not be a professional, but I will keep marching to the rhythm of my own violin. As the saying goes.