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

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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.

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.

As a child at Christmas

It’s Christmas Day, and I’m sitting here wishing my brain would move as quickly as it was at 1:30 this morning. I don’t know why overtiredness manifests itself in the form of sleepless nights, and I don’t appreciate the irony. I thought I’d grown out of being unable to sleep on Christmas Eve. To be fair though, the cause of my Christmas Eve insomnia has shifted from the anticipation of presents to being walked on by attention-starved cats, replaying any recent social interaction in my head, questioning my own decisions, trying to think of a Christmas themed blog post… You get the idea.

After a few hours of this, it was that contrast that got me thinking about experiencing Christmas as a child and as an adult. I mean, we usually keep it pretty simple every year – lunch, presents, family time, TV – and that’s how I like it. But kids don’t do Christmas by halves. They go over the top with excitement, they want to show off their Christmas presents, and they can scarcely contain themselves.

Unless they’re on the autistic spectrum. Especially if they’re anything like me.

As a child, present etiquette was a bit of a mystery to me. I loved presents as much as the next child, and if someone gave me one, knew I was happy about it. If I was feeling particularly on the ball, I even remembered to say thank you. So why were people so quick to assume I didn’t like it?

It was a while before I got it into my head that you have to look and sound excited when you receive a present, and look the giver right in the eye. A bit longer before I realised I didn’t do any of that. And even longer before I learned that having autism means that displaying body language comes no more naturally than reading it. But as a young adult, I think I’m getting it.

But hey, my lack of awareness back in the day proved advantageous for my mother. For a start, my present lists were basically the same every time. Soft toy, posh chocolates, plasticine. I was easily amused. And to cap it all, I was so unaware of the world around me, she could buy my presents right in front of me, and I would be none the wiser. As much as it was due to autism, my mum put it down to good parenting at the time.

Now the bar for her festive accomplishments has lowered. Now her biggest achievement is not tiring of the same joke year after year: handing me any distinctively rectangular present and telling me it’s a beachball. It seems that Mum was not content to leave it there this time, and so it was that among my presents I found – in a large rectangular box – one beachball. Brilliant.

Christmas performances have been a constant throughout my life. They’ve simply shifted from typical school/church nativities and carol services, to being “sixth narrator” in my primary school’s A Christmas Carol performance, to playing in the school orchestra/steel pan band in town, to singing almost in time with my current choir in the park.

As a child, I would need constant help keeping up with what was going on, with an adult or even a fellow child helping me focus, while I wondered when it would be finishing, so I could avail myself of any post-performance snacks. As an adult…no wait, nothing’s changed.

And so, as the Call the Midwife Christmas special draws ever nearer, I will wish you all the merriest of Christmases. Eat, drink, and be merry. May this be the start of a Christmas beachball trend! And a year of better sleeping.

Food, glorious food

My love for food first became apparent the day I was born. Having started things off while my mum was having dinner the night before, I made my debut at lunchtime, a fact that she – and my stepdad, upon learning about it – will not let me forget. Thus my reputation for being a big eater began.

Despite being an unemployed single parent for a while, my mum did a good job of getting healthy food down our throats, mainly in the form of lentils, wholegrains, and at least one fruit or vegetable per meal. My school, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. Being on benefits meant I was entitled to free school lunches, comprising stale, white sandwiches, a flapjack, a vividly purple or orange drink, and fruit so shrivelled, I decided I would rather save it for Mum as a “present”. The sandwiches were usually dry cheese; I looked forward to the rare occasions they had chocolate spread, not just because they were sweet, but because they were moist!

I don’t know how long this lasted, but apparently when it stopped, the frequency with which I caught colds and ear infections dropped significantly.

Being half British/half Taiwanese definitely manifests itself in my sense of taste. I’ve inherited my biological father’s love of spicy foods; I add garlic to every savoury dish, and will happily eat any chilis that come with takeaway curries or pizza. I love strong tasting, vegetable based recipes, and have never grown to love roasts, pies, crumbles, and other plain, stodgy British things. Yet unlike many (fully) Chinese/Taiwanese people, I love sweet things. Cake, chocolate, and posh ice cream are a sure-fire way to my heart.

As a teenager, I once made a New Year’s Resolution to learn how to cook. You could argue that it started with my first cooking lesson at school, attempting to make scone-based pizza. You could say the lesson was doomed when I tried cracking an egg by tapping it with a spoon. Or when I melted a plastic spoon when making the sauce. It’s better to focus on the positives, though, and once I belatedly removed the pizza from the oven I hadn’t set high enough, it tasted pretty good.

With the help of the various recipe books I’ve accumulated over the years, I think I’ve come a long way since then. I often make dinner, and love making things for special occasions – I’ve been decorating the Christmas cake since childhood, and have more recently taken to making roast tomato and garlic soup for our Christmas day starter. I’ve never fancied working in the culinary industry though. I’m notoriously bad at sharing the kitchen when cooking!

Meanwhile, one of my next culinary endeavours over the coming fortnight is to make fudge for not one, but three good causes: my job’s Halloween bake sale, a visiting gift for my stepbrother and sister in law, and to line my parents’ stomachs. I’ve made many things before, but fudge isn’t one of them. So this should be fun! If no kitchen utensils will be harmed in the process.

 

Last year’s Christmas cake

 

Cupcakes

 

My Mothers’ Day lasagne

Dear diary…

“Have just had my toughest experience ever: Mum sitting on me, squeezing my blackheads, with Rhian looking on!”

“Sometimes I wish time wouldn’t drag so, especially after the Easter hols…” 

Is this normal writing for a 13 year old?

My journals and I go back a very long way. Even as a kid, I loved the feeling of having a fresh new notebook, which I could decorate as frivolously as I wanted, before complaining to it about my life. And let’s face it, when you’re a teenager – and an autistic one trying not to be eaten alive by non-autistic ones, at that – there is a lot to complain about.

Actually, my first diary was more of a travel log, three days before I turned 11, just before adolescence became an issue. We were en route to New Zealand, and I was not letting a moment of our upcoming adventure go to waste. Amid jetlag from hell, day trips of a lifetime, and hours of travel by land, sea, and air, I was determined to write down everything we did. I don’t know why I wrote as if I was addressing the rest of my class at school (why the heck would they care how many bedrooms our third motel had?), but that aside, I’m glad I did it.

Since then, my journals have evolved considerably, and have seen me through nearly a decade of teenage angst, followed by my attempts at adulthood. Journaling is my main way of keeping myself writing every few days, and a testament to what a nerd I am is how I feel like I have a different relationship with each one, depending on a number of factors. Like how often I wrote. Or what stage of life I was at. Or how much written self-reflection I did. It makes me feel pretentious, putting it like that, but it’s true.

Through keeping it up, give or take a few slips, I’ve definitely benefitted a lot from journaling. For a start, it helps me remember. I love laughing at my old diaries! It also helps me regulate my thoughts and emotions, making them less overwhelming when I can see them on paper. I’ve written down hard learned life lessons, I’ve made important decisions through brainstorming, I’ve poured out my heart about many a difficult situation, and instantly felt calmer.

Most recently, I’ve come to realise that writing a diary has helped me be more honest with myself, because I can get my thoughts and feeling out without being heard. Or maybe practise getting them out until I’m ready for them to be heard. Sometimes I don’t feel like it, other times I get started and don’t stop for ages. Either way, it feels like a constructive habit, and if it keeps me writing and learning, long may it continue!

My diaries, minus my current one, two pocket notebooks, and a wad of cat shaped post it notes. Starting with my neon travel log, going clockwise, and finishing in the middle.

 

Summer goals: expectation versus reality

  1. Expectation: Have a massive clearout, paying particular attention to all the extra tat I acquired during my uni years (no, seriously, it will happen this year). Reality: Keep telling myself that every year.
  2. Expectation: Meet up with *insert friend*. Reality: Have lengthy text conversation with them about the days when one of us is free, but the other isn’t.
  3. Expectation: Get through reading list. Reality: Add more to said list than I cross off.
  4. Expectation: Take up singing lessons again to overcome fear of singing on my own. Reality: Wait until I’m alone in the house. Listen to Memory or The Sound of Music on my iPod. Mumble along too quietly to hear myself properly.
  5. Expectation: Improve at Chinese. Reality: Remind myself again of the difference between the words for “horse” and “mother”. Tell myself that at least I am far from meeting strangers’ assumptions about my mother tongue.
  6. Expectation: Get back into art. Reality: colour in a single object in one of my ten or so adult colouring books. Feel suitably accomplished.
  7. Expectation: Try to practise my violin more often. Reality: Practise once. Make notes on how to improve next time. Feel suitably accomplished. Forget about notes. Repeat process every month or two.
  8. Expectation: Work on my writing. Reality: make minor adjustments to the book plans I made last year. Convince myself that my life’s ambition of becoming an author is just around the corner. Feel suitably accomplished.

I think my heart sank a little bit when I scrutinised my previous journals for summer to-do lists, only to realise that they were nearly the same from year to year. But hey, this summer has already given me more than my share of fun and adventure, namely:

  • Visiting Jennie, and taking a train that had to stop and go back the other way. Getting off in the middle of nowhere and being told that replacement taxis would be arriving shortly. Having to be rescued by Jennie and Jan when the replacement taxi drivers had no memory of being booked.
  • Missing the train home and waiting an hour for the next one.
  • Taking my semi-Asian skin for granted, and accidentally giving it sunburn.
  • Finding out I have astigmatism as well as short sight.
  • Nearly being defeated by the Sainsbury’s self checkout, with the intervention of Sainsbury’s staff who were evidently too good to let me pay for the same item twice.

All riveting stuff. And now, after a draining few weeks, I find myself more in need of a holiday that I have felt in a long time. So until next time, happy summer everyone! Think you can cross off a summer list better than me?