Worth it: being an autistic football fan

Recently I read an excellent book, Saturday, 3pm by Daniel Gray, a series of essays covering the essence of the football experience. I read a staggering amount about football in a given week, some of it well considered, thoughtful and measured, most of it really not. Saturday, 3pm I read on a day when Hibs were playing and I was 70 miles away, relying on social media for updates, constant refreshing of the screen to make sure I didn’t miss a single moment of the action as I also tried to do what I’m actually paid for. I have never read a book that gives such a good insight into what many of us feel on away trips or when the fixture list for the new season comes out, little things that mean a lot to thousands of people all across this land.

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Easter Road
About twenty years ago, I was in primary school. I went to primary school in the east of Edinburgh, about thirty miles from where I grew up. I was in a special needs unit which catered for children on the autistic spectrum, some high-functioning like me, others less so. In those years, we went on some amazing trips, including to the Scotland Yard Adventure Playground in the New Town with its bikes, slopes and sand pits, and Gorgie City Farm with sheep, pigs and cows, naturally enough. One of the most special, though, was to Easter Road, a place I was already very familiar with as the home of my team then as now, Hibernian FC. We had a tour of the Holy Ground, then half-complete with the Famous Five and South in their present form but the West and East still more rustic. I suspect I was one of the few that really enjoyed the short journey to Easter Road but I do remember one of my classmates, who was brilliant at drawing, sketching out a huge likeness of the then Hibs badge when we got back to school.

I was reading an interesting post on one of the Hibs forums about a dad whose lad is on the spectrum and how he is trying to get a sensory room installed at Easter Road, which is an excellent idea. I am fortunate that the sensory experience of football for me is mostly comfortable. Most issues I have at the football are more practical and anxiety-related, like will I find my seat okay or will someone ask me to move to fit their pal on the row or whatever. Most of my life I try very hard to be calm and I have pretty much mastered walking up and through a row of stewards towards a turnstile looking quite unruffled while internally willing myself forward. I have a system when I go to Easter Road. I usually make sure I have change in my hand for my programme and my Happy Hibee tickets, often counted out having paused on Albion Road for a moment. My motor skills aren’t the finest and it tends to be awkward when I’m all awkward scrambling about for change. A lot of folk are very understanding about that, though, thinking my fumbling is because my hands are cold. Usually by the time I reach the turnstile I have a programme in one hand and some change and my season card in the other. By the time I get to my seat, high up in the East Stand, I can have added a couple of pies and a juice to the mix, all balanced with a minimum of fuss.

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My seat
I go to the football partly because I like the crowd. I like being part of a common cause. It would be nice to know more people at the ground but I am used to being alone. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me. I tend to be at the ground early so I spend a fair bit of time watching the ground fill up around me, peering down to the warm-ups and across the city through gaps in the stands. The East Stand where I sit is blessed/cursed with a rubbish sound system. The music played over the tannoy is often muffled and quiet so I don’t always pick it up. I can still hear it but it’s more like a radio in the background. That is an unintended advantage, a reasonable adjustment on the part of the club that I greatly appreciate. When I was at Hampden the other day for the semi against Aberdeen, the PA was loud and boomed. The Hibs one doesn’t boom. I must be one of the few people in the stadium who is happy with our crap tannoy.

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Hampden. A good view of the clouds moving across the sky, if nothing else. Football isn’t meant to be played in bowls.
Until the end of this current season, the Easter Road singing section will be in the East Stand, a couple of sections along from where I sit. I quite like that – I like being near where the action is and that extends to being near where the songs start – and the drum doesn’t frighten me as much as it used to. It has the pleasing sound of a train going over tracks and that can be more soothing, especially when there’s a bit of distance. Next season, the singing section is moving to the Famous Five Stand, to the right of where I sit, about half the length of the pitch away, and I am sure it will be better acoustically. I am desensitised to the drum now and loud singing rarely bothers me either. In fact the only time recently I remember getting even vaguely overloaded was the game at Tannadice, which was also a night game and loud generally.

For me going to the football is about focus. On a good day I can have a hyper-focus. I am there to watch a football game. I might be taking in the other details, the ad hoardings, the songs, the folk around me, but what I am really focusing on is the game itself. I am fortunate that my spot at Easter Road is in the centre of the stand about three-quarters of the way up, affording possibly the best view in the stadium of the action, high enough to see the whole pitch without any issue whatsoever. My preference where possible is to be side-on as opposed to behind the goals. I don’t mind being behind the goals – as in recent trips to Stark’s Park, East End Park and Cappielow – but I like to see the action, not squint into the distance. I think it’s about difficulties with filtering information. The National Autistic Society’s strapline of ‘Too Much Information’ is spot on. It’s about focus and if I can see properly, there’s less to filter and figure out. I remember being at games as a kid and on the way home checking the news to see who actually scored in the game I was at.

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Stark’s Park. For more Raith-related views, see The view from the McDermid Stand
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East End Park
I don’t tend to think about the business of actually going to the football as much as I do the being there. Being a Hibs fan is a key part of who I am. It helps me talk to people, particularly men, as football is common ground for many of us, even if our teams differ. Hibs have also given me some very good times, foremost among them Saturday 21st May 2016 when the Hibs went up to lift the Scottish Cup and the three times I have so far seen Hearts beaten and beaten thoroughly. As I write this, the season is about to end. I am excited about the next one – the other blog post today is called ‘The close season’ about the trips next season to Premiership grounds – though what has become a key part of my routine will be lost for a couple of months. Luckily there are museums to be visited and shorelines to be walked and soon it will be July, the season 2017-2018, back in the Premiership and maybe to win our Cup back too. It’ll be worth it.

Fidget toys

As befits someone who spends a lot of life writing, I carry at least two pens at pretty much all times. Of course this is also useful when I am working since libraries never have a functioning pen when one is so required. They are also useful for when I need to find what the scientists call local coherence, or in other words when I feel slightly awkward or overwhelmed and need to focus on something else. Just yesterday I was at a social gathering and I took out a pen, just for a second, and pressed its top, open and close, just once. It didn’t involve much conscious thought and it was all done in a matter of moments. I even do it sometimes walking along the street. I used to get told off before going to job interviews for always having a pen in my hand. But then again not having a pen in my hand might have led to Donald Trump-esque hand gestures to emphasise whatever points I was trying to make so there’s always an argument to be made on both sides.

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Pens

It’s why I just laugh when I see kids with the latest in-thing, fidget toys. I’m autistic. I’m the king of fidget toys. At various points, I’ve experimented with figurines of Wallace (from Wallace and Gromit), keyrings, S-loops that are used to hang paintings and elastic bands. Indeed I went to the gym recently with an elastic band still around my wrist from work. Fidget toys are interesting looking, sort of like a safety protector for a plug socket but flat. I have seen shops around the place with signs saying ‘Fidget Toys Sold Here’ and it makes me grin broadly each and every time.

It’s strange seeing the world slowly come round to one’s way of thinking. At the moment designer stubble is fashionable. Shaving too often bothers my skin so I inadvertently keep to that particular trend. A wee while ago, ‘geek chic’ was all the rage. I’ve had glasses since I was 10 and I don’t dress like David Gandy anyway. Or look like him or any other male model. That wasn’t a problem either. When I joined Facebook a few months ago, I found that people I went to school with spent their weekends with their families going around castles. Castlebagging is a real term to describe this thoroughly intellectually and spiritually enriching pursuit. It was written about in the papers a few years back and at the time I felt momentarily irritated at the thought of carpetbaggers filling up good castles when I had some of them to myself for years.

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Castle. This one is Warkworth, in Northumberland

Recently the (very worth reading) Anonymously Autistic blogger shared a link on Twitter to a Kickstarter for something called a Fidgi Pen, or a fidget toy disguised as a pen. I didn’t know there was funding available. I just buy pens and they do the business. As I was thinking of what to write next just now, I played about with a Berol Handwriting pen that I bought in a pack of three from the supermarket for a couple of pounds. No disguise required.

It isn’t always easy to know when you fit in. I am 27 now and I have reached a point when I somehow function in society just fine. I wear clothes for comfort rather than fashion. My glasses were expensive but that’s because I need them to see. I wear Skechers shoes (as written about here – other shoes are available) because they are comfortable and don’t hurt my feet. I generally do okay with people. I am not that confident but that’s okay. Indeed with some people that makes the situation more bearable. In society more generally, the fact that fidget toys are popular with neurotypical bairns can only be welcome. We can only hope that the world changes ever more to embrace our unique way of thinking, rather than just tolerate or accommodate it.

 

 

 

What the…?

First, a disclaimer. This post is mildly sweary. It is part of the story to be sweary this time and I have a policy of not using asterisks as the world doesn’t need to be bowdlerised.

That being out of the way. Last weekend Hibs won the Championship. We will be promoted to the Scottish Premiership next season, which is brilliant. We won the league with a 3-0 win against Queen of the South, after Falkirk drew with St Mirren. When we won the Scottish Cup last year, there was an epic pitch invasion which is still being investigated by Police Scotland. Near the end of the Queen of the South game, the stewards started putting up barriers separated by flimsy red and white tape right in front of the East Stand, which is where the rowdier elements of the Hibs support sit and also where I sit. The absurdity of this made me laugh but what made me howl was the response of the singing section, which was the chant ‘What the fucking hell is that?’ to the tune of ‘You’re Not Singing Anymore’. Class.

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Why I’m telling you this is I had a similar response to this when I was in Dunbar the other day. In fact, twice. When I was at high school, I didn’t have a lot of friends. I often went out for a walk at lunchtime and ended up in one of two places, on the Prom or if I felt like walking further, to the bottom of a park called the Glebe, on a point jutting out into the sea. I walked along there to find a fence a good ten feet from where the cliff dropped and right in front of where I used to sit. My response was ‘What the fucking hell is that?’ Seriously, East Lothian Council! Without sounding like the Daily Mail, health and safety gone mad. Indeed whenever I am in Dunbar I make a point of sitting there for a while. I did this time too, by climbing through the fence and plonking myself on the grass and eating my pieces, on the wrong side closest to the sea. It was brilliant as the sun came out and I sat in my T-shirt as I ate and looked over to the harbour and to the folk climbing on the rocks nearby.

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Time number two was when I walked on the Prom. As long as I have been alive, the Prom path has always been cracked. Indeed when I was a kid I used to walk along the cracks for much of the route. But a small part, as it passes the Pin, has been tarred. No idea why. No other part of the path, which runs to about half a mile, has been tarred. It was very recent, not recent enough to draw your name in it or anything but only a week or two old. Even newer was a John Muir quote chalked onto the tarmac, namely:

‘These temple-destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar.’ (The Yosemite by John Muir, Chapter 15, http://vault.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/writings/the_yosemite/chapter_15.aspx)

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I spend a lot of my life thinking thoughts along the lines of ‘What the fucking hell is that?’ One of the ways I keep sane is marvelling at how absurd the world is, in how people think and what people think is a good idea. I don’t normally sing it, though, but I might just have to start, even just to be absurd myself for a bit.

Writing about autism

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Sitting on the edge of Bowling Harbour

April is Autism Awareness Month. I did plan to post something on World Autism Awareness Day, which is April 2nd, but the only autism post I had wasn’t quite right. It might appear some time in the future – it’s about special interests. Anyway, I want to write something about autism this month but to do it in my own way. There are plenty of autistic bloggers out there. They cover the Actually Autistic perspective well. When I write about autism, I always feel it is a diversion from what I like to write about, visiting places and what I see along the way. Writing about autism, particularly its drawbacks, is hard and doesn’t feel quite natural. I haven’t known any other life than the one I’ve lived. To write about what it’s like being autistic needs a certain amount of looking from an outsider’s perspective and indeed one of the characteristics of being on the spectrum is not being able to see things from another’s point of view. I can to some extent but only so far.

What I am getting round to is that being autistic can be hellish. But it is who I am. It gives me the problems with eye contact as well as the words that make other folk laugh when I say them or think when I write them. It makes me good for helping fill out forms or sort out dissertations but less good at speaking up when I have a problem. I hear too much and I have to focus extra hard. Sometimes I fall into bed exhausted from my day being all social. If I could change it, though, I wouldn’t. I would be a different person and that wouldn’t be right. I am me, autism and all.

This blog has been one hell of an undertaking. It is a blessed relief and a beast that needs fed regularly to keep it sweet. It is written by an autistic person but not necessarily fuelled by autism. I write out of more than my condition. I write because it is how I best express myself. It is loosening my shoulders as I write. Writing releases the thoughts and tensions of the day and the life I’ve lived and it is, some of the time at least, an absolute joy. What appears here is an insight into my world, how I see and how I think. Autism is a part of who I am. But I am also what I write about here. I find fulfillment in writing but also in walking the world, visiting castles and watching the mighty Hibernian FC in action.

The strapline of World Autism Awareness Week this year was:

‘Until everyone understands’

Until everyone understands. I’m not sure I agree with this. Understanding is one thing, accepting is quite another. I don’t entirely understand neurotypical people. That doesn’t mean I necessarily want to or have to. But I accept them without question. I have to. I quite like neurotypical people, well, some of them. They form the majority of the population, after all. Some of them are funny, thoughtful, interesting. Some of them might even be sexy. Or not, as the case may be. Understanding and acceptance comes when you least expect or realise it. It takes time. Autism is hard to write about because I live with it every day. It doesn’t go away when the whole world feels like it is smiling nor when it’s falling around my ears. It’s why if I have something interesting to write about autism then I’ll share it whenever I feel like it, not waiting for a particular month to come around. Awareness is good, though, and I hope it continues into May and June and all the way back around to next year and the year after. Then it builds into understanding and acceptance then maybe even love, which we all need most of all.

With a little imagination

I subscribe to a newsletter of a website called ‘The Mighty’, which invariably pops into my inbox in the wee small hours of the morning. When I read it (at a more civilised hour) this morning, there was a link to an article with the intriguing headline: ‘How to Explain an Autism Spectrum Diagnosis to a Child‘. The pay-off was when the author met a young child with autism who explained his diagnosis thusly:

‘I have autism. Sometimes, I struggle with things like looking people in the eyes. But it also means that I have a great imagination.’

In my years, I have used various formulae to explain my own condition. I went as far as having a standard form of words I used to use in job applications in times gone by. I have an autistic spectrum disorder, diagnosed when I was 6. While I have some difficulties with communication, particularly in making eye contact, it does not impede my ability to work, indeed often it enhances it. When I talk about being autistic to people, which I do occasionally, I tend to have a standard spiel. I talk a little about being diagnosed, how it affects my brain and how it’s wired. I usually talk about how sometimes it can be difficult to process information in all its varieties. Sometimes I nick a quote from Temple Grandin, who said that an autistic brain can be like being in a busy office with one functioning fax machine. I tend to keep it personal. If you go into psychological speak, people glaze over.

In my work, I always believe it best to level with people. When it comes to describing who I am, I prefer not to bullshit. I also don’t like people thinking I’m amazing. I’m not, really. I’m not inspirational or all that special. I have a brain that is wired a bit differently. Being autistic can be a major pain in the arse. It can be isolating and it comes with a whole load of other concerns. I am quite anxious some of the time and I have bowel problems too. But it is also a major part of who I am. However, it is by no means the only part. It is one label.

We all have labels. We attach labels to ourselves and each other. All too often, they define us in others’ eyes. We are more than our labels. Off the top of my head, I am a writer, blogger, library assistant, Hibs fan, brother, son, uncle, cousin, grandson, nephew, friend, colleague, subordinate. And I am autistic. I might be weird or I might be a geek. So what? We are all people. I was brought up to treat everyone the same. Think of your favourite celebrity, your bit of pash or whoever. They put their trousers on the same way as anyone else does. They go for a dump, they fart, whatever. They are just people, whatever their label.

We are all in the business of selling the best version of ourselves. The explanation of autism as coming with setbacks but blessings chimes with my own perspective and hopefully it will be reflected in the wider public perception of autism in time to come.

 

 

 

Snap unhappy

Every so often, Hibs run tours of Easter Road Stadium, otherwise known as the Holy Ground or the Leith San Siro. The tours are run by a really nice gent called Tom Wright, the curator of the Hibernian Historical Trust who have done great work showing off our club’s history around the ground. I went on a tour about a year ago on a grey January afternoon and I enjoyed it immensely. Being in one of my favourite places on the planet and getting to see behind-the-scenes was an absolute pleasure. During the tour, though, one of Hibs’ PR guys kept getting the group together for a photo. One of the photos duly appears now and then on the Hibs Twitter and Facebook feeds, as shown below, with me on the bottom left. I should explain that I tried very hard not to be in the photograph and had to be cajoled to be in it and right at the front too.

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An example of the Hibs Historical Trust’s work, in the West Stand at Easter Road
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Home dressing room at Easter Road
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Hibs Facebook page

I hate getting my photograph taken. I am quite self-conscious about my appearance and in most photographs I tend to be either gurning or have a bright red nose. Last year I was in the local paper for a Bookbug session I had delivered and not only was my nose bright red, my smile was wonky and the paper got my name wrong, to top it all. There was a group photo taken when Langside had its 100th anniversary and I am probably the least comfortable looking one there, by smile and general demeanour. A couple of times recently, though, I appeared on Twitter delivering a class visit to primary school children at Langside, one of the photographs surprisingly quite flattering as I was focused on speaking to the group of children massed in front of me, my face pale and hair slicked up and not at all out of place, a very rare event indeed.

A high percentage of photographs taken of me in the last few years involve me in a costume or with someone in a costume. An exception is the photograph I have of me and the Scottish Cup, taken after our game with Dundee United in October. In our living room is a photograph the day we went to Blackpool Pleasure Beach. I don’t think I have ever shared here my deep love of Wallace and Gromit. Indeed I drink out of one of two mugs in our house. One bears the image of David Gray just having scored the winning goal in the Cup Final, the other has Wallace and Gromit and the legend ‘It’s Like No Cheese I’ve Ever Tasted’, which I think can pretty much sum up my outlook on life. Anyway, the photograph shows me standing next to someone in a Gromit costume. Other photographs exist of me dressed up at various museum events, as pirates, vampires or as 1960s people. I say they exist, hopefully they have been expunged by now.

The first time I saw the tour photograph, I was slightly bothered. Now I am not at all fussed, even while I was quite spotty in the photo concerned. It’s like speaking to a group. The first time makes you nervous, the hundredth time is familiar and comfortable, just another bit of business, well, mostly.

The Scotsman

Catching up with programmes on the iPlayer tonight led me to watch a documentary marking the 200th anniversary of The Scotsman, one of Scotland’s great newspapers. (It is available for just over three weeks on the BBC iPlayer here). It made me think of a childhood memory. I went to primary school in Edinburgh, more precisely in an unit specifically for autistic children. Each day we had a copy of The Scotsman though only I read it in much depth (I was always a weird boy). One of my classmates did usually look at the sport though. The Scotsman was and is the morning paper of Edinburgh and surrounding areas, just as The Herald is Glasgow’s, The Courier Dundee’s and the mighty Press and Journal of Aberdeen. It was only natural that the paper we got was published only a few miles away, at that point on North Bridge in the very heart of our capital though soon to move to Holyrood Road in the shadow of the then-new Scottish Parliament. I became deeply interested in the Parliament after I was encouraged to do a project on it and then I read of its doings and sayings each morning, sitting in my little cubicle ‘office’ in the Miller class flicking through The Scotsman.

The Scotsman of Saturday 21st January 2017, courtesy of Glasgow Libraries

I haven’t read The Scotsman in a long while, at least in paper form. I do read it, or parts of it, most days online, usually from links on Twitter. I might buy a copy once a year, perhaps if on a long train journey and it hasn’t changed much in a while. When I was a kid, it was a broadsheet while it has been a tabloid for quite a few years now. I never paid too much attention to its politics, which is probably for the best since when I read it regularly, it was a High Tory sort of paper. I would read it for the news, not bothering to stay for the views.

The stablemate of The Scotsman is the Edinburgh Evening News, or the ‘Evening Blues’ as I sometimes call it because it used to be exceedingly bloody miserable when I looked at it each day as it came into the library. Very often I buy a News if I am in Edinburgh, mainly to catch up with Hibs coverage. That stems back to a tradition of my boyhood. I got a taxi each day to school in Edinburgh and the driver and his wife always had a copy of the News, keeping aside the Monday sport supplement for me to read the latest affairs of Hibs over the weekend, catching up even if I happened to be at the game or indeed if I had read about it in the Pink on the Saturday night (blog post on that subject here). Courtesy of one of my relatives, I have a complete set of the News, including its special tribute edition, following Hibs winning the Scottish Cup last year. It felt right.

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One of the best things I’ve seen in my life, that headline
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Closely followed by this
When I was a teenager, I used to read The Herald, an unusual move for any teenager or indeed someone living in the east of Scotland. I now see The Herald at work and it is a friendlier paper than its Edinburgh rival in typeface, design and even its history. Then for lots of years I read The Guardian each day until I realised I read more of it online than in print. At one point I read four papers on a Sunday and two on a Saturday, one on a weekday. Now I buy a paper at best once a month, sometimes on a Sunday, sometimes if I’m travelling. I read my news online, like most people, and again like most people I don’t pay for it. That does give me a moment’s pause but I am also employed to give people books for free so I like free knowledge.

The Scotsman is now produced in a drab office block on Queensferry Road in Edinburgh, to be fair with quite nice views across the north of the city. Its previous homes on North Bridge and Holyrood Road are both beautiful in their ways – the former dominates a fair bit of the city centre, stood high up on North Bridge and hitting the ground outside the station on Market Street, while the latter is a modern building in the shadow of Salisbury Crags. One is a hotel, the other, ironically, housing new media in the form of a video games company. Undoubtedly The Scotsman has seen better days. Whether it is on the right side of political opinion now, as it often was in the past, foremost in the campaign for Home Rule, who can say? Particularly in these times of Brexit and Donald Trump, we need a free press and we need The Scotsman, and every other paper, just as much as ever to keep the powers, princes and potentates honest, in Edinburgh and a lot further afield.

Still a country bumpkin

To some extent, I am still a bit of a country bumpkin. I am a product of my upbringing but I am also autistic and a fussy person when it comes to food. I am getting better. My love of croissants, for example, came after a meeting I had with an employment adviser in Edinburgh when he shared his breakfast of an almond croissant with me. I tend to be more adventurous when there isn’t a choice. For example, recently I was at a friend’s house for dinner and almost everything I ate and otherwise consumed that evening was unknown to me, with the sole exception of a French martini, which I had tried on a previous visit. I enjoyed it too, not just the food and company but encountering something new. I spend a lot of my leisure time travelling but it isn’t entirely new as an experience. Spending time on buses and trains is familiar and comfortable. Eating chilli or broccoli soup isn’t. Neither is being social, at least to start with.

The reason I mention it is the serendipity that sometimes happens when you are thinking about something and the world responds to it. I subscribe to an e-mail newsletter called Lunchtime Poetry, put together by Laura Waddell of Freight Books. I think I have written about it before in the context of Pablo Neruda. One of the poems a couple of weeks ago was ‘Naming it’ by Leontia Flynn, published in 2004, which reads:

Five years out of school and preachy

with booklearning, it is good to be discovered

as a marauding child.

To think the gloomiest most baffled

misadventures might lead so suddenly

to a clearing – as when a friend

taking me to her well-stocked fridge says:

look

this is an avocado and this

is an aubergine.

I should add that to my knowledge I have never encountered an avocado or an aubergine. This poem is 54 words long and contains at least three moments that give me pause. I am just shy of ten years out of school though while I can be preachy at times, hopefully what comes out of my puss isn’t always booklearning. Hopefully I am still a marauding child, though, or at least a marauding man-child. I am still on the hunt for new experiences and adventures, or more likely baffled misadventures, which seems like a neat description of much of my life to date.

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Belfast

Leontia Flynn, incidentally, I hadn’t encountered before. I’m glad I did. I just looked at her website and she is from Northern Ireland, County Down to be precise, though now lives in Belfast. Read some of the poems on her website, ‘The Vibrator’ particularly is excellent. They are neatly worked poems, conveying a lot with not a lot, the best kind of poetry with those that take the feet out from under you with just a few stray words.

Glasses

I first found out I needed glasses from a speech therapist. When I was at primary school, I regularly saw a speech therapist and there was one session where she held up a book not so far from my face and I couldn’t see what was on it. I tried on one of my classmates’ glasses and discovered I could see perfectly with them on. So, I got a pair of my own and I’ve worn glasses ever since. I’ve never ever been tempted by contact lenses for the simple fact that I’m incredibly clumsy and also squeamish. Early one morning, I would do myself an injury, guaranteed. It’s a complete non-starter and the optician has stopped asking.

Wearing glasses is a considerable part of my identity and self-image. I’ve worn them since I was 10. I’ve been made fun of and complemented for how I look wearing them, the former more than the latter. They are like armour to me, an essential part of getting dressed and just as well since I’m very short-sighted and would walk into things without them. I walk into things with them too but at least being able to see helps avoid it happening as often.

The other day I was reading something that made me think of the place my glasses have in my life. It was a book of nature writing articles and it occurred to me about how my perceptions are often altered because I wear glasses. One example is in the rain. There are times windscreen wipers would be useful just as there are times when I might as well take my glasses off for what I can see. Another would be on hot days like when I was in London recently when the sweat was getting absolutely everywhere, including into my eyes. Wiping my eyes made them sting and then my glasses got all greasy. Walking about with my glasses all dirty also changes how I see the world. Dust and smear marks can shift what I see making it much less than HD, much more analogue with crackles and interference.

I knew someone who wasn’t at all vain but bought glasses that gave him 20:20 sight, much better than his own eyes could achieve at the top of their game. I wouldn’t ever do that because there’s a point you don’t need to go beyond. If I did an important job like surgery, then fine. I see enough for my needs, well, most of the time.

I always remember the day I got my first glasses. The optician was in Musselburgh and we were walking along North High Street back to the car and the world was like it was in lots more dimensions than it had ever been before, even if they were all in grayscale. I was slightly scared because the nose pads moved about a little until I realised they were supposed to do that to adjust to the curvature of my beak. I was 10 years old and being bespectacled quickly became normal. The only time when it  isn’t is when I get my eyes tested. They’ve been X-rayed and I’ve read letters down many charts and recited many numbers. The last time, my photo was taken wearing the display glasses with an iPad to see how I looked in them. That didn’t happen in 1999, back when a speech therapist told me I needed glasses.

Smile

One of the WordPress challenges a few weeks ago was to write about a piece of advice one has been given. It made me think of one bit of advice I got a few years ago. After I left school, I went through a few years which were interesting, to say the least. I didn’t work enough though I wanted to, I didn’t spend enough time with people though I wanted to. The experiences I had during that time and since have made me a much more resilient, resourceful and experienced individual. I met with various people from employment agencies specifically set up to help people with disabilities get jobs. One was in Haddington. The meeting essentially signposted me to other places and other directions though it was notable because the person I was meeting with asked me to look up. She complemented me on my eyes and said I should smile more.

My expression is often perpetually perplexed. Indeed I play on it sometimes. I was once speaking to a reader in a library who said I looked confused in response to their query, to which I promptly replied I always look like that, which elicited a laugh and broke the tension. Amazingly, I am told that I am quite a cheerful person, which is certainly not always how I feel, but I sometimes have to work harder at smiling and present a professional persona whereby I might be smiling and all business on the surface but surfing on a sea of chaos underneath. It is multi-tasking, something I have become a bit more skilled at in recent years, even being able to combine eye contact with processing what I need to do and doing it. It doesn’t always work but it is getting better.

Eye contact is incredibly difficult a lot of the time. I was once told that my difficulties with it would make it very hard to find another job. I have been able to largely overcome that and get jobs since. The times when I find it harder to make eye contact are with people I don’t know or when on the customer side of a customer-service interaction. I was once advised to feign eye contact by looking at the end of the nose of the person I was speaking to, though this was once made significantly difficult during one job interview where at the end of the interviewer’s beak was a nose ring. I try to do it for a few seconds at a time, consciously working hard to concentrate on what they are saying while keeping manners and thinking of what I might say next. It seems to work as a strategy, even while it can still be improved and built on with life as it goes on.

Recently, I was talking to a colleague about my being involved in leading singing and rhyming sessions for babies (and their parents). She asked how the first session had gone and after I replied fine and that I managed to get through okay to my new audience, she said that my charm will have helped. I am sometimes told that I am charming. I just try to do things my way, being polite, friendly and interesting. I find small talk boring and I want to do my best for people. It makes the day faster and my job more rewarding. Charm is hard to manage in some circumstances. I try just to be myself though there are times when you have to present a persona, as I said earlier.

When leading Bookbug or Bounce and Rhyme, you need to be friendly, warm, approachable and calm, much the same as working with children more generally. I find leading a session like that more comfortable than I do in many social situations. There are exceptions, of course. I have learned how to behave and how to handle some parts of life. Others will come in time. Much of it happens because of smiling, even if life is hard, even if in a few minutes time, you need to navigate across the city and somehow get lunch at the same time, even if the person you are speaking to might be attractive and your heart is in your mouth. Some advice you can safely ignore but even that you need to smile and nod while listening to it, or appearing to. Smiling is good, even if it takes time to be able to do it.