Summertime and reunions

So as a blogger you’ve got to have your regular blog posts – your birthday posts, your year’s end posts and so on. A holiday post has also become a staple. This year’s holiday post is more of more of the same than most given that we went to the selfsame place in France as we did last year. But we figured that it all worked so well last year that we would do it all again this year. It consists of a somewhat stressful stage of packing a load of crap into our car plus ourselves, crossing the channel by one of various means, driving through France taking the odd wrong turn, Fo and I shouting at each other until Fo realised I was right all along (I write the blog – she can gainsay this point through her own social media channels should she feel the need) while the children sail through the campagne blissfully ignorant of either the rising tension between their parents or of the cultural treasures of France that they are missing with heads stuck in their iPads. Then we arrive to copious wine and fromage and all is good in the world. Love is in the air entre Monsieur et Madame Baxter, there’s a swimming pool – what more could you ask for.
The only slight difference this year is that on the way home for our history detour we go to Orleans rather than Saint-Malo. For those of you following the history podcast I am doing with Otto you will be getting our live/not live episode about Joan of Arc and the siege of Orleans… soonish.
Sadly the weather was not so great, so we couldn’t spend quite as much time in the pool as Ava-Jane would have liked. The conversation goes like this:
Parent: shall we get out?
AJ: No!
Parent: but you are blue and shivering.
AJ: more wim pool!
She tends to win these exchanges and to be fair to her she has not, to date, contracted pneumonia.
Less time in the pool did mean we had a little more time for exploring, which I love. Fo came up with a classic – Chateau Blasé. This is the chateau that you drive straight past because it barely has any turrets and everyone except dad has long had their fill of chateaux.
Beyond that there is not much to tell other than of waistlines driven ever outwards thanks to the French knack of putting butter and/or creme fraiche in every course from your moules to your crepes and in each of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Merci mes amis. With Brexit looming, we thought it wise to pack every nook and cranny of the car with wine, even though we decided, in the end, not to jettison a kid in order to fit more in. How long will we be able to continue doing this? Come March 2019, will it be back to an allowance of two bottles of wine as it is with the rest of the world? How can a decision that stops you ramming your car with plonk be anything other than a stupid f*cking idea? “Taking back control”, my ar*e! (I do hope the more sensitive among my readership appreciate my strategic use of the asterisk to spare your blushes. I hope that my profanities are entirely unrecognisable to your innocent eyes.)
Mini-rant over. But this summer, for me, has also been about reunions after many, many years with people who have been a massive part of my life.
First we had the visit of RoRo – I am not yet fifty so I can still call her RoRo and not sound like some kidult suffering from severe arrested development, my brother Toby, on the other hand, who is past fifty would just sound weird!! RoRo looked after us when I was three, so not recently! She came with us to Brussels and was a very important part of the family. My mum has stayed in touch with her and was in touch with her parents too but this was the first time I had seen her for years. It was great to be able to introduce RoRo to my own children. Oh, BTW, she is actually called Rosemary, and rereading this paragraph I realise I probably do sound pretty strange.
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Next reunion was with Jakob, see below with gorgeous daughter Malaika. When I was eighteen I went to Argentina to work for the Baron and Baroness von Plessen to teach their son English in Argentina. My official title was “Private Tutor” but essentially I was an au pair – my teaching was very unstructured, it mainly consisted of playing around with Jakob, who was only ten years younger than me, and riding around on horses. Luckily Jakob was a bright kid and he picked up English pretty smoothly – he already spoke Spanish and German.
The year I spent with the von Plessens was an absolutely formative part of my life. It was where I first learnt Spanish. I was picked up from the airport by two gauchos, I didn’t know a word of Spanish at the time, so they taught me words for the things we could see out of the car window: horse, cow, tree (caballo, vaca, arbol), by the time we got to the house five hours later, I had these words pretty well learnt given that there is nothing much else to see on the pampa other horses, cows and the odd tree. It was here also that I had my first teaching English as a foreign language job, which would become the career I have followed in one way or another ever since.
So when I was sent to Buenos Aires for work, I decided to add on a few days to see if I could track Jakob down. I make this sound more of an adventure than it really was – he is on Facebook. It was great to meet him after thirty years and to see that he has grown into the adult he always should have been. He came to spend a summer with me in the UK when he was eight. We arranged for him to meet some Brit kids of his own age and he told them he had shot a wild boar, they naturally thought he was making it up but it was quite true. Jakob has continued to live on the wilder side of life. He organises horse trekking expeditions in Patagonia and Kenya and has broken almost every bone in his body tumbling off horses.
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The chap below, Claudio, has never been my au pair, nor I his! But he was Jakob’s tutor, and Claudio was a proper tutor, after I left. We met very briefly when he dropped Jakob off at mine the following year. But then a decade later, in what felt like a different thread of the space-time continuum, I was introduced to an Argentinian guy on the street in some fiestas in Madrid by our late and very lamented friend Donald. It took us a while to work out the connection but Claudio, being the sharper of us two, suddenly exclaimed “That Luke!!” And we became great buddies and did quite a few more fiestas round Madrid over the years.
Claudio was surprised to see me without a beard so it has been a good few years since we last saw each other. Luckily we pretty much picked up where we had left off the last time ours paths had crossed and did lots of chatting over cocktails, wine, massive steaks and dulce de leche pancakes.
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I do hope that Otto and Ava-Jane will stay in touch with all the lovely people that we have had here with us looking after them, the Boros and the Anders, Noemie and Jess and Emily who is here now. I think that it is such a special relationship, that bond between a kid and a young adult who isn’t a parent but is.
So all in all a very fine summer has been had so far. Great to come back to some British drizzle and know that things are as they should be.

Me eight!

It was Ava-Jane’s eighth birthday on Sunday. Her birthday is always very emotional as it was the day after her second birthday that we found out that she had leukaemia. So to have her with us, alive and kicking is amazing. And she is so alive and kicking, even kicking the ball into the net at times.

This year, we had three of her school friends, Tommy, Pearl and Bilaal over for the party. Otto’s school and friends are very local, we know them all and their parents but it isn’t the same with AJ. She goes off in her taxi in the morning and comes back in the afternoon and we don’t know the people she spends her day with in the same way that we do with Otto. So it was fantastic to have her mates round. You could see that she was so happy and comfortable with them all. They are all non verbal to a certain extent but they all knew each other and communicated. Pearl has got a knowing grin that seems to say she has an inner joke going on that we are all missing. Ava-Jane loves to hold hands with both Bilaal and Tommy, I don’t want to be some horribly stereotypical Dad but I think I might need to keep an eye on this going forward, especially as they were both sporting some pretty rakish sun glasses.

So, happy birthday to my little girl. I can’t believe you are eight. You continue to amaze me and bring me joy – keep it going my squidge.

A post from Otto

Otto and I have been busy on our podcast (https://ourhistorypodcast.com/ should you want a listen) and I have not posted here for a while. Not really an awful lot to say on the Ava-Jane front. She is doing well, as happy as ever and even has homework these days!! And there’s just too much to say on the political front and I don’t know where to start (Jez We Can!! Sorry!)

So I thought I would just post this beautiful speech Otto gave at his school about Down’s Syndrome. And here are a couple of pictures of the two of them. She really could not ask for a finer brother.

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Down’s Syndrome

Hello and welcome, as I hope you all know we all had to do a speech on whatever we wanted from football or cars to superheroes or Xboxes- anything in the world. I chose to do mine on Down’s syndrome and how it is misunderstood.

The dictionary’s definition is that Down’s syndrome is a congenital disorder arising from a chromosome defect (basically that’s where the 21st chromosome is in a group of three instead of a pair.) causing intellectual impairment and physical abnormalities including short stature and a broad facial profile. It arises from a defect from chromosome involving chromosome 21, usually an extra copy- trisomy 21 (basically what I said earlier).

That may of got a bit sciencey so to cut it down into non-dictionarified language: Down’s syndrome is a learning disability and not an illness or a disease as many people can think also it’s not overall a bad thing. In fact, I personally think that people with Down’s syndrome are typically happier than people without as I’ve never met a grumpy person with Down’s syndrome. Ah- yes, what Down’s syndrome is. It’s a learning disability as I said earlier but that doesn’t mean people with Down’s syndrome aren’t particularly clever but just that they may take longer to learn certain things- for example, my sister has Down’s syndrome and at three she was just on her way to learning to walk but unfortunately she had a stroke about a year later.

The way Down’s syndrome was discovered was by a Victorian doctor: John-Langdon-Down who coincidently had a grandson many years later who was diagnosed with the disability and that is how it got the name because it’s the syndrome of Jonathan Down (the grandson) therefore Down’s syndrome.

I went on a protest march about a year back, just outside the House of Commons, for a campaign called don’t screen us out- the aim to stop doctors advising parents to abort the pregnancy if tests say that the child would have Down’s syndrome because all doctors saw was what was on paper, the statistics: in other words the dictionary definition using the words defect or disorder and not what they grew up to be like. As I said earlier my sister has Down’s syndrome and she is probably the happiest person you will ever meet. She will make you laugh and smile like never before- but now the health minister (Jeremy Hunt) is trying to use testing to screen all unborn babies to see if they have Down Syndrome.   The test can identify lots of abnormalities, but it is just being used for Down Syndrome; it is an opt. Out able instead of opt In able test which means you used to be have to ask to take the test but now Jeremy Hunt wants to swap it around-, which will increase the abortion rate and overall decrease the population of People with Down’s syndrome in the UK. The abortion rate in Iceland for people who found out that their child would have Down’s syndrome is 100%, which really breaks my heart.   50 years ago, parents were told to leave their children in institutuions and forget about them.   By the 1980’s children with D S were included in mainstream education.   By the year 2000 there were many educated young adults who became actors, gained degrees, ran busineeses and happened to have Downs Syndrome. Imagine – in our generation the UK could eradicate anyone & everyone with Downs Syndrome.   So please agree with me when I say, don’t screen us out! We can’t let this happen in our lifetime.

 

 

Cross promotion ahoy!

Essentially this is going to be a post for anyone who feels they are just not getting enough of all things Baxter through this blog and feels that what they are missing in their lives is a podcast from yours truly + Otto.

Because, yes, such a thing is available and online. Otto and I have been making a history podcast and we have just launched our first episode. As this blog is, entre nous, as it were, I do have to say that the first episode is a bit ropey. We have recorded a few more which we will be releasing and I think they will get better as we go along.

But if you want to have a listen to our introduction and first episode about why we study history, here are some options:

You can go to our website by clicking this link.

Or if you prefer iTunes, click this link.

Some people use Stitcher apparently, if so, click this link.

Family news: We had Mum’s 86th birthday dinner. For very low admin birthday cake, we nicked some ice cream off the birthday girl and put some candles straight into the pot. It seemed to do the trick, see below.

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Lambs 2017

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Ewe-tube?

Ah, yes, there she is! …with her baby.

I have been battering away at this blog for so long now it seems to have built traditions of its own. And one of these seems to be the “Lambs” post, see: April 2016, April 2014, April 2013… I think I was travelling in April 2015.

Our household is fairly manic at the best of times but it goes on complete overdrive in lambing season. We are constantly on the look out for ewes who might have lambed so we can all scurry to administer iodine and “Lamb Kickstart” – a vile looking concotion that is supposed to be full of goodies that get the lambs going. We get loads of help from anyone who pitches up, especially the most awesome Lucy and Maddie.

Ava-Jane and I had a day together – just the two of us in charge of various animals. Step 1 was to get rid of the dog and send her to her Dogfather, Andrew. Step 2 was to decide that the horses were probably going to survive on grass for 48 hrs. So that just left the ovines… Step 3 The poor ram, who has been confined to a stable because he can’t be trusted round the lambs, is going to stay confined to the stable.

So AJ and I set about filling buckets of water, see below, and generally keeping a weather eye on everything. We had reduced the focus of attentions to the ewes and the newborn lambs. There was a set of triplets with one particularly chubby one. So we thought that AJ had to spend a lot of the day cuddling the chubby one so that his siblings could have a shot at mum.

So really not much more to say, there isn’t much to be said politically, nothing to have a rave about. Actually as an emotional metaphor, the upcoming elections leave me feeling much like I felt after Atletico just got beaten 3-0 by Real Madrid with a Ronaldo hat-trick; the bad guys have won, the darkness has overwhelmed us, Frodo is not going to get the Ring into the fire, there won’t be enough “I believe in fairies” to revive Tinkerbell, the Dark Side will rise. All is lost!

Look at the lambs, aren’t they cute!

Toby R.I.P.

 

Well this blog is supposed to be about Ava-Jane with the odd meander into a political rant but tonight I want to pay homage to a very dear friend that we lost today, Toby G-S.

Toby was diagnosed with cancer around the same time as A-J, so they were “chemo buddies” as you can see from the photos above. They’re giggling in the face of adversity in the first and then looking more reflexive in the second.

Cancer is such an absolute fucker and fighting it can fuck you up as much as the disease itself. The fight left A-J half paralysed and it did for Toby. But my friend did put up a gallant fight.

Toby was laid low by the chemo for a while but bounced back and embraced life for all that it was worth for as long as he could. In our Pony Club days (more on that anon) it has to be said that Toby was no great horseman but all of a sudden, like some arisen centaur, Toby post-chemo took to the life in the saddle. He launched back into parenting and found some sort of peace in the world and starting addressing everyone as “Friend Luke/Stan/Bobby etc.”

I have known Toby since I was a sentient being and before he was (I am a bit older than him). He was always that massively talented friend who you admire and envy in equal measures. I credit myself for a bit part in the legend of Jamiroquai in that Toby asked me to go and convince his mother that it was actually a good idea for him to drop out of his university studies at a prestigious institution and form a band with a twat in a hat. Once Toby was famous one of my favourite party tricks if I ever found myself socializing with his music celeb crew was to tell them “Toby and I are friends from Pony Club”. I’d get admonished by Toby “So not cool, Luke, so not cool.”

Someone has put together a nice montage of Toby playing in Jamiroquai here: https://youtu.be/_qcEZR4A3Uw

Pictures from the Sleepover party at Toby’s and organized wonderfully by Gaby. Toby and Starzy and Dylan playing a tune en famille – it was great that Toby survived to do this, such a shame he didn’t, so he can’t do it more often. Toby looking handsome. The Pony Club Crew: four fascinating people and me (false modesty will get you everywhere.)

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But apart from being a massively talented musician, Toby was also the guy that could build cars. These are skills (cars and music) that are both, in their own way, so completely beyond me so it has been great to have a mate who knows about that kind of stuff.

Toby was also one of the funniest, smuttiest people who I have ever known but he carried it off with such humour that you could forgive him anything. And that’s what I will miss so much, that old, old buddy who would make me laugh, who I knew and who knew me. Go well my friend Toby, go well, we will all miss you back here.

21-3

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Today is World Down’s Syndrome Day. Celebrated on 21st March, to salute the fact that people with Down Syndrome have three (rather than two copies), hence 21-3. Clever that!

The value of these sorts of days is somewhat debatable but I do love having a day when people with DS are made visible. There have been some lovely blogs from the community of bloggers that I belong to, Team 21, and it is great to see so many happy people and families. In our moments of honesty, we would probably all say it ain’t always easy but we know that we have children of great worth who bring as much and as little to the world as any other child. And as I have often said, I just wish AJ “only” had Down’s Syndrome.

Anyone up for Weird, Inexplicable, Undiagnosed Brain Damage Day? It would probably have to be celebrated on April 1st!

All about Ava

So, this post is just going to be about Ava-Jane, nothing else, no political rants, promise.

I have had the chance to go to a couple of AJ-related meetings this week. We saw her neurologist on Tuesday and then had her Annual Review at school today.

We’d been pressing to see the neurologist for a while. We had even been to one appointment and the receptionist forgot to tell the doctor we were there, so she went home. Now, I love the NHS, it has seen us through all sorts, but I did have to try not to feel too disappointed that this chap was still in a job when we returned this week. 

We have been worrying about AJ’s spasms that seem to be getting worse and disturbing her more. She has two separate things that could be epilepsy or could be dystonia. Ah, yes, that’s a whole load more medical we have to get our heads round, i.e. Google. Unfortunately they are both things that have loads of different types, so there is quite a lot of reading to be done. 

AJ has big severe spasms, Otto used to call them her “Ninjas” as it looks like she is about to do a massive karate chop. She also has a tremor on her right side, sometimes her right hand can be almost constantly moving.

She has been on a variety of medicines to treat both these things as well as the stiffness she has. Her medication programme is basically to try something out and gradually up the dose until we note either a beneficial or negative effect. And you’ve got to watch out that her anti-stiffness meds that are designed to make her too floppy, don’t make her so floppy that she can’t do basic things like sit up or wear a riding hat.  Fo is essentially in charge of her medication, the whole process is a series of educated guesses by the doctors and by us and Fo knows AJ better then anyone and can notice changes better than any doctor who might only rarely see AJ. And obviously she is a very smart woman, my Fo. 

The good news is that the tremors have reduced a lot, the bad news is that the Ninja spasms have got worse. It is quite difficult to gauge how much discomfort AJ feels. Her general demeanour is so joyful and she will always manage to raise a smile however much pain she is in. And obviously as she has not got much communication, it is hard for her to be specific about aches and pains. But these spasms are definitely causing her discomfort and also embarrassment. It is heartbreaking seeing her little face looking bashful and then giving one of her “no one, not Job, not Sylvia Plath, not Morrissey, has ever been sadder than this” faces. See below for examples of this face:

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So we went to see AJ’s new neurologist. Her old neurologist has finally managed to retire. The very taciturn but wonderful Dr Pike was one of the original three wise men who saw AJ back when her brain damage first set in. He had been trying to retire for a while but kept on coming back to see AJ, partly I think because he found her a fascinating case. She was the first patients with whom he had used a Quaver as a diagnostic tool – he could test her right-sided brain functions by seeing if her vision would track her favourite cheesy snack down and to the right. She still has trouble seeing anything on her right, which was something we discussed with her school, more on that later. Though, I do like to think that Dr Pike (he did look a bit like a pike) also didn’t really want to retire because AJ is so damn cute.

But AJ’s new neurologist, Dr Ramdas, is young enough not to be retiring anytime soon, so she will probably be off on maternity leave just as soon as she has got to know AJ! She seems great but did not offer us any major breakthroughs – more fiddling with meds, trying another one and upping the dose, seeing what the outcome is and meeting again in three months’ time. I do still dream of a resolution, where a one-off pill or a slap round the head would just fix it and AJ would get her right side back and her balance restored. (For info: I don’t slap her round the head just on the off chance.)

So, on we went to AJ’s Annual Review on Thursday (if the times refs jump around in this post it is because I am writing it in chunks!). When we go for a parents’ evening at Otto’s school, you see one teacher, maybe two if they are job sharing, when we go to AJ’s; it’s a panel. We have social workers, visual impairment specialists, teachers, heads of department and therapists of various flavours – even without the physiotherapist, who couldn’t make it (“Again!” says Fo), we had a pretty full session. I do love the fact that AJ has all these professionals on her case. Her main teacher really does seem to be properly on a mission to sort AJ out.

The debate we always have in these reviews is whether AJ, who has both speech and mobility impairments, should be in a class with the speech impaired or the mobility impaired. I have always told her “If you need to get what you want, you either need to walk or talk. You can either get it yourself or you can ask someone to get it for you.” So, should we and her school focus on the walking or the talking? The general consensus seems to be: the talking. I really don’t think she is ever going to walk and she is absolutely lethal with her electric wheelchair. Her teacher said that they don’t really have any radiators left in the classroom as AJ has taken them all out, presumably along with quite a lot of staff shins.

But her talking is coming along. She has got a proper range of vocabulary and she is beginning to put it together into basic sentences. The aim for this year had been to move from two words sets to three words sets. So before she just had things like noun + intransitive verb: “Me go”, “Me eat” or noun + adjective: “black cat”. These utterances really don’t give you enough information to be really able to work with and help her much: “Me go… where?” “Me eat… what?” or “the black cat did what”? But if you can put three words together, you can say things like “Me eat cake” and with that, you can get quite far in life.

So, she is going to spend some time in a class where people are more vocal. The staff do have to weigh this up – to what extent it will be good for her to spend time with people who speak more even though it might not be so good for their progress.

One of the reasons for these Annual Reviews is to the review her statement to decide whether she needs more/less/different care. It’s all supposed to be very official but there is some sort of administrative thing going on, which means it is not worth making any changes to the statement but then all the people who know AJ best – us and the wonderful professionals who care for her – basically decide what would be best for her and then we discuss what the school can afford!

“New hat… Me ride April”

 

She has just got her first riding hat and she can sit up while she wears it and she is very proud of herself.

So, in conclusion… Ava-Jane will probably never walk or sit up straight unsupported but she might well be able to progress in her communication. Her spasms are not epileptic, epileptic seizures are caused by the brain and also damage the brain, so the thinking is that while they make her uncomfortable, they are not doing her lasting damage. We might happen upon a drug, a dosage or a combination of drugs/dosages that alleviate the spasms and the tremors while at the same time not impeding her. Ava-Jane enjoys life as much as anyone I know. Statements, medication, doses, blahdi-blah, yeah it ain’t easy but being AJ’s parent is the greatest gift I have ever received.

Tales from a wonderful family holiday, some cute pics of AJ and just a wee bit of Armageddon

So, 14 Baxters descended upon Sri Lanka for two weeks of sun, sea and sand and fun and frolics. The poor locals must have been worrying that the days of Empire had returned. We chose Sri Lanka because it was roughly equidistant between the UK and Australia, where brother Toby and his mob live.

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The whole lot, reading from left to right: AJ, Zac, Faith, Toby, Guin, Mary, Nora, Molly, Me, Josh, Fo, Matt, Laura, Otto above. More of same below.

It was AJ’s first time on a plane and, as is our wont of not doing things by halves, we decided to start her off with a ten-hour long hauler. The flight itself was fine, ably assisted by some pretty potent sedatives she had been prescribed, so she slept the whole way there and back. The challenge was getting on and off. They have these teeny weeny wheelchairs that are specially designed to fit along an airplane aisle, which are great but they don’t have any support. I turned away for a second once and AJ tumbled to the floor, oops. We also needed to have special plane seat for her, which needed assembling and disassembling as all the passengers on very full flights tried to get to their seats. Incidentally at the other end of the transport scale, we also discovered that tuk-tuks are also not massively wheelchair friendly.

Anyway, the holiday was a massive success. It was fab spending time with all the famalam. From seeing cool cousin Zac teaching the littlest ones, Guin and Nora to swim, getting AJ breakfasted by Laura and Molly, to having to stay up late and drink a shedful with Toby and Matt so Toby was awake to greet late arrival Josh. And of course and massive hats off and thanks to Mum for sorting it all out. Most of us got some sort of stomach bug, Mum was pretty touch and go for a bit and Otto was projectile vomiting on New Year’s Eve but other than that, it could not have been bettered.

On the AJ front, we are a bit worried at the moment. Her tremors are getting worse and they seem to be discomforting her. She is not one to grumble but she does seem to be in some pain. So it is back to googling yet another medical condition, dystonia, to see what can, or it seems, in this case, can’t be done. So far it seems to be: no cure, pain management.

Spot the difference. Both these photos below are of me and AJ going for a walk, one  was taken in Sri Lanka and the other, a couple of weeks later, in North Buckinghamshire. Can you tell which is which?

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So enough about that, on to Armageddon. I was listening to a very serious political podcast, Talking Politics, link here. And they were discussing how Trump and his team probably don’t really expect all the ghastly things he is trying to do to get past the judiciary. The US constitution is set up to rein in the president’s power but he is quite happy having the judges stymie his moves while he trash talks them on Twitter. But when something bad happens, and it will, he will then be able to say, “I told you so, I warned you there were bad dudes and those judges let it all happen,” and then he would have popular support for his arseholery. The academics on the podcast were very careful not to stray into anything that smacked of conspiracy theory but it got me thinking. Now, I’d hate to think of myself as a conspiracy theorist but… taking this thinking just a little further, what Trump really needs right now is a 9/11 all of his own. Even though Dubya was caught looking gormless, reading a kid’s book about a goat as the towers fell, he did somehow manage to turn it around and present himself as something that enough people considered to be presidential in adversity. Likewise, Maggie Thatcher’s ratings were through the floor in the very early eighties when Galtieri conveniently invaded the Falklands/Malvinas for her and she was suddenly the new Churchill.

So just imagine how much good it would do Trump to have some bad dudes do some bad shit, to make him look like some sort of prophet/saviour. And now to stray firmly into the realms of the conspiracy theory, is it entirely impossible that he and his team might try to engineer this? I mean, if it can occur to me, they must have game-played it in some darkened room somewhere, no? 

If I were a betting man, I would place some money on one or all of the below, which would cover all sorts of Trump bases.

  • A dirty bomb made from Iranian-supplied fissile material = so we can totally ditch Obama’s attempts to keep a lid on Iran’s nuclear missile development programme
  • Planted somewhere on the West Coast, apparently Calexit is a thing, i.e. a Californian secession = take that you pot-smoking liberal judges, oh and hopefully take out a few speechifying Hollywood types
  • Planted by a Syrian/Yemeni asylum seeker = I told you they were bad dudes

I would obviously genuinely love to be proven wrong on this but just in case, I would like to get it down in writing and out on the internet, so as to be able to bask in the most unsatisfying “I told you so” ever, as I stockpile peaches in syrup and read up on “butchering your own sheep” to await the long night that awaits us. 

Buenas noches señores y señoras…

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas…

img_7629…jingle, jingle [a cacophony of wrenching gears, screeching brakes, scratched vinyl and an untuned radio a la intro to Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here], Honk! Parp! …2016, eh? What a year!

For is it not the season when a retrospective comes to us all, whether in the shape of a round robin Xmas card or some sort of blog round up? I keep getting “Memories from Facebook”; mostly my own blog posts, so I get to relive our moments through the years. I have been blogging for quite a while now and I seem to have established some sort of a tradition of a year’s end blog post. I recently got one where I was saying “AJ seems to be having some sort of a problem with her head but it probably isn’t anything”, innocent days, innocent days.

So anyway, 2016… Well apart from Bowie making a strategic exit right at the start, us Brexiting into the void, Colombians voting against peace, yer man Trump getting elected to be President of the United Sates of America, oh for god’s sake, that still looks ludicrous, Leonard Cohen shuffling off, Prince! Prince!! [sad face] Aleppo… Aleppo… jesus christ, Aleppo, we have had a pretty crap year as a family. Mum had cancer, she made a complete recovery, but still… and my dearest, and last uncle, Nin, died. On the plus side, in the geopolitical arena, the Austrians didn’t elect a Nazi, they almost did, but they didn’t, so that’s great, yeh! While on the home front,  AJ can count to four in French apparently  (she hasn’t done it for me), and errr… she has just got some really nice red shoes. You win some, you lose some… and then you lose some more, it would appear.

I would love to be wrong but I really do think that we have just lived through a year that will echo through history, a kind of 1066, 1492, 1789, 1914, 1917, 1933 sort of a year, a year when things changed. Even when these changes might have had some benefits in the long run, they are very rarely much fun to live through at the time. A French Revolution may have ushered in many of our concepts of modern democracy but it did involve a lot of heads being chopped off at the time.

But my complete fear is that in the face of catastrophic climate change, which is a truly existential threat to us as a species, we will be dicking around with totally inconsequential issues. So in 1914 they all trooped off to what was a horrific slaughter on a global scale but by the end of the affair; female suffrage became inevitable and the process of decolonisation had begun, so that was all good, it did involve the deaths of millions of combatants and civilians but some good came of it (obvs, I am avoiding, the whole “…and the rise of Fascism/Nazism across Europe” angle). But at this time, the participants were not facing a separate threat that they needed to deal with together.

Let’s imagine the best possible scenarios that the 2016 clust*r fu*k (I hope my strategically placed asterisks avoid your blushes) leaves us with. Let’s imagine that the UK leaving the EU does not lead to the disintegration of the EU thanks to the rise of other anti-EU forces in European countries, and let’s imagine that this does not lead to war between France and Germany, which has been the historical norm across the centuries. And let’s imagine that having a US President whose campaign benefitted from Russian hacking and who has just appointed the CEO of Exxon and friend of Putin as Secretary of State does not mean the forced reintegration of states from the Ukraine to the Baltic into some reconstituted oligarchic Soviet empire.

Let’s imagine these things and let’s focus on how rosy it might all be, maybe Brexit will only mean years of negotiations with bureaucrats over the minutiae of trade laws and agreements. It might mean that, hooray, we get some sovereignty back and we get to decide just which immigrants we want. OK, in the end we will probably need roughly the same number of immigrants per year as we are getting at the mo but hey, we will be in charge of exactly which immigrants we get to allow in. And a Trump presidency might mean little more than US democracy being dragged further through the mire than it already is. My guess is that after Republicans having tried to invalidate the Democratic presidencies of Bill Clinton with the attempted impeachment for sexual peccadilloes and Obama with the whole Birther thing, the Democrats, with no control of either house, are going to fight dirty. They have little to lose. And frankly you are not going to have to dig awfully deep to find the dirt on The Donald. (a word in your ear Donald: you are far better off as a populist having the army behind you, vis The Gracchi brothers, Robspierre, Mussolini vs Augustus, Napoleon, Franco/Pinochet/Perón, the last lot tend to die in their beds)

So best case scenario… We avert global conflict but we expend all of our political resource on what I called, and I do apologise for my language, “dicking around”.

I don’t claim to be any sort of expert on any science but, and I know this is the age of the anti-expert, 97% of scientists involved in climate change think it is happening and it is caused by the actions of humans. Moreover, the people who know about this stuff think that the pace at which global warming is progressing will make this planet uninhabitable for humans within the lifespan of our grandchildren.

So, in reaction to what the experts think,  we essentially have two options:

  1. to say “Oh bollocks, what do those people who have spent their entire lives studying and questioning climate change know about climate change?”
  2. to go “aaaaaaahhhhhh, we are all going to die, fuck, what can we do about it? Let’s not waste too much time dicking around worrying about whether Russia should invade Latvia (they shouldn’t) or whether Trump is a misogynist pig who shouldn’t be allowed to walk free, let alone hold the highest elected position of the known universe, (he shouldn’t). Let’s park all of that for a moment and all get together and focus on “not destroying the only planet that we, as species, can currently inhabit.”

Oh, Ok, I do realise that my political solutions can be somewhat simplistic at times. I have always advocated a middle east peace plan that ran along the lines of “Just chill the fuck out, OK!? Both of you, give it a rest, alright?! OK, cool, so that’s settled then?”

And I really don’t have any idea of how we get ourselves out of the quagmire that we are currently in. Let’s think about Aleppo and by the time I post this post, it might be too late to think about Aleppo. We haven’t got involved in Aleppo because of the string of disastrous interventions “The West” have got involved in, in the area over recent years. And not only that, Aleppo is being wiped out not just by the local potentate, who “The West” could feasibly eradicate like a Saddam or a Gaddafi, Aleppo is being wiped out by Russia and that is a completely different ball game. And that’s the quagmire that the eastern portion of a middle eastern city that hasn’t had a global importance since the crusades presents us.

And how many more quagmires do we face? Obviously all of the below are completely inflected by my own bias:

  • Do we fight Brexit for all we are worth even though it is “The Will of the People”? Even if “the people” would feel utterly betrayed if a cabal of the liberal and political elite plot to stymie their “will”?
  • Does the apparatus of the US constitution clunk into gear to invalidate a Trump presidency through fair means or foul?
  • Do we impose what will be viewed as censorship on the internet in an attempt to combat the post-truth age? (fyi: we probably don’t have the tech to do this even if we wanted to)
  • Does the left need to get over the identity/political-correctness agenda in order to focus on the fundamentals?

So those are my biases, my worries, none of them have much to do about whether my car is electric (it isn’t) or how  much I recycle (I do my best… I try, I really do… But, you know, how much good will it really make…? I have a busy life… It was only a yoghurt carton… It was probably not even recyclable… That’s the corporates, that is, why can’t they make things recyclable…? …bastards!)

I probably shouldn’t but I am going to post all of the above as a post. On a personal level, I too have had a bit of crap year professionally.

…but this is a blog about Ava-Jane and in all of the above, I have hardly mentioned her at all, so if you have made it this far…

…she’s great. She is the funniest person I know and I know some fairly funny people.

If I have been working hard and feeling stressed, there is no better way to recharge the batteries than having a cuddle with AJ.

Ava-Jane really is progressing with her speech. She understands so much more than she used to and is vocalising a lot. Even when she is not quite getting it right, she at least knows she is, which is, I think, a big step in the right direction. For example, this evening, she kept saying “me, me” and tapping on her knee, which we all knew meant that she wanted to sit on someone’s knee. But we all insisted that she distinguish between the “m” and the ‘n” sound before we let her sit on anyone’s knee. And when she did finally, clearly enunciate “knee”, with a really good “n” and everything, I asked her “yeah but how do you spell it? You’re not sitting on anyone’s knee until you get that weird initial “k” right.” (just in case anyone is reading this who doesn’t really know me very well, I didn’t really do this, I did joke about it but only when I was cuddling AJ).

So yeah, I should be wrapping up at this stage, it is late and there is only so far that a bottle of your Mum’s Rioja can get you. 2016 is appalling vs Ava-Jane is great; I know which I would pick. Oh and Otto, look at the picture for this blog. AJ is obsessed with Father Christmas , she has a Father Christmas doll and bangs on about “Papa Chri” as she calls him. But when Christmas comes around and she gets to actually meet Father christmas, she always completely freaks out, which is kind of a good thing, after all our troubles with our childhood heroes, it is probably not a bad thing that one’s daughter raises an eyebrow to a bearded old man bearing gifts.  In the photo, you can see that Otto is with her, holding her up with Father Christmas. This was at our Down’s Syndrome party and Otto was beside AJ the whole way through the party. Because of all her extra difficulties, even at a DS party, AJ can feel like an outsider, luckily for her, she has her brother by her side. I hope one day you read this Otto and realise how much I appreciate what an amazing brother you are for Ava-Jane.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to one and all. Oh by the way, the Baxters are all off to Sri Lanka for Christmas, we’re OK!!