Tuesday 29 December 2015

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

I took a trip to that there London to take in a show. I was going with my girlfriend and I guess the actual show we saw was not particularly relevant, it was more the overall experience of staying in London and going to the theatre that was important. The first choice of play was no longer running when we were planning to go so she chose The Curious Incident as she'd heard good things about it. She didn't actually know it was about someone who has Asperger's Syndrome (AS) when she chose it, she only found out when doing some research after choosing it.

What's curious (pun unintended) is that the author has gone on record to say he regrets saying that the protagonist has AS. However I think that is some splash-back from The Big Bang Theory effect. Many fans of that show suspect the character Sheldon has AS but the un-confirmed nature of it (he doesn't have AS, by the way) means that people can discuss the issue to their heart's content, with people arguing each side back and forth. When you come out and flat admit your character has AS it robs you of that potential for on-line discussion. Having seen the play though, the character clearly has AS.

I'm not a big fan of live theatre to be honest, and having paid for the tickets even less so. If theatres and producers want more people to start going to the theatre they're going to have to stop charging ridiculous prices. However given that a movie is seen by millions and a play is seen by hundreds, bringing live theatre to the masses may well remain a pipe dream, leaving it only to those who do it not because they enjoy it but because it is so expensive and they think it makes them cultured. £500 family night outs so that Olivia and Finlay have something to write about in English class. Given I could have gone to the cinema with my girlfriend 10 times for the same cost I don't think it was particularly good value for money.

Anyway...the play itself :) I'm going to say some things in general about the play, then I'll say some things that have minor spoilers, and then some things with more major spoilers but I'll preface each section with spoiler warnings so if you plan on seeing the play yourself (or reading the book) please feel free to stop reading at the point you feel most comfortable.

In the production I saw the stage itself was also a character. It was like a big black cube with a rear wall that could move back and forth, and it was possible to project shapes and images on the walls and floor to convey the emotions of the characters or for more pragmatic issues such as indicating doorways. There were about three major, constant characters (the protagonist and his parents) but there were lots of minor characters, or crowd scenes etc, that were all played by a handful of additional actors (some played multiple characters) who all remained on stage, sitting on the seat that the edges of the box formed, stepping into the scene only when needed. So the way the play was physically performed made it quite fluid and dynamic.

The story revolves around a boy with AS who discovers a dead dog one night and his quest to find the person responsible for its death. Now we're getting into some minor spoilers so you have been warned. The first act of the play was probably the one I found the most enjoyable, it was kind of a who-dunnit boy-adventure story that involved humorous interrogations of neighbours etc. The second and third acts ran out of steam somewhat. The second act was particularly dull for myself as it was basically an attempt to replicate how someone with AS perceives the world, however I don't want to pay that much money just to be told something I already know :)

Now we're going to get into some of the more major spoilers so you have been warned. The story gradually morphs into a fairly cliché family drama about divorced parents coping to deal with a psychologically demanding child, and overall it left me feeling less than entertained. It was as if they played all their strongest cards first as the opening was quite entertaining and unique and played heavily with the mindset of someone with AS, whereas the later acts focussed on the baggage of someone with AS. The later acts were pretty similar to any episode of Eastenders you'd care to watch.

The thing I found most interesting was that about half way through the play the protagonist sits an exam and there is a mathematical question asked that he answers, and he then says to the audience that he will explain how he worked the answer out later on. When the play was over, everyone got up to leave and they started filing past us. I stayed in my seat and my girlfriend said "Are we going?" to which I replied "No, I want to hear how he solved the maths problem." People were constantly excuse-me-ing past us and I could sense my girlfriend was getting irritated, so I added "He said he'd explain how he solved it and he hasn't yet". Staring at me, not really knowing how to answer, she was sure I was having one of my "annoying moments" (she hates it when I don't do what normal people are doing) the lights suddenly came on bright and the protagonist exploded on stage...all sorts of mathematical symbols were projected, rotating on the walls, and the protagonist asked if we'd like to know how he solved the maths problem. At this point people shuffled back to their seats en masse for the encore.

How did I know the play wasn't over? Because he said he would explain how he did it, and when someone with AS says they're going to do something, they do it.

Thursday 18 June 2015

Rubik's Cube

I recently had a few weeks off work, and in that time there were some things I wanted to do as well as just the usual admin stuff that builds up when you don't have the chance to tackle it. One of the things I wanted to do was learn to solve the Rubik's Cube..

Now when I say "solve", I don't mean I worked out a method of solving it myself; I'm no maths genius, I was quite happy following someone else's solution. I mainly wanted to do it "just because"...geek kudos maybe? But it turns out to have been more beneficial than I first gave it credit for. One of the things about me (and possibly other people with Asperger's Syndrome) is that I seem to get a certain comfort from repetitive tasks, or procedural tasks. I also quite like keeping my hands busy, so when the two combine I'm like a pig in muck. For example if there are cards to hand I'll just sit and shuffle them repeatedly, put them back into order, then shuffle again and so on. Before looking to solve "the cube" I actually had no idea what was involved, but it turns out it is just a number of sets of moves, and the puzzle can be solved by simply learning these moves, then executing them in sequence. No real knowledge of what you are doing is actually required.

So...sets of repetitive moves done in sequence using a device you manipulate with your hands? Why didn't I think of this sooner? So now my cube stays with me and in an evening I'll shuffle it, solve it, shuffle it, solve it, and it plays to a lot of things I quite enjoy doing. And girls love it, there is nothing a woman finds sexier than a man who can solve a cube.

If you're like me and enjoy these kinds of things then I'd definitely recommend you give this a go. It's not super easy to learn, but it's not that hard either, you just need to put in the time. I looked at a few on-line guides and I actually found the one on the official Rubik's Cube site to be the easiest to follow, and there are some videos there as well. There are seven stages needed to complete the thing from start to finish, so what I set out to do was learn one stage a day. Knowing how the brain works, and how we learn things, I thought this was the best way of doing it. By doing the same stage over and over and over it is easier to get that task committed to memory, and to fully master that stage. The next day I would learn the next task, so was doing the previous tasks again (once more, lots of repetition) as well as learning that day's stage on top. I stuck to this plan and on the seventh day I was doing an ok job at solving it (all God did on the seventh day was rest). I would still have to refer to the solution from time to time to refresh my memory of the moves, but with practice it gets easier and easier, and I can now solve it every time without any need to refer to the guide.

The stages themselves start off fairly easy but they get exponentially harder, and for the latter stages there are often two different algorithms you need to know depending on how the cube is currently configured. Given there are about 7 steps to the latter algorithms and a stage can require two to solve, that's 14 things that need committed to memory which is way beyond the short-term mental abilities of humans, so the only way to fully learn is simply by rote....just keep doing it and doing it and eventually it stops being a series of steps and instead becomes muscle memory.

By the way...I lied about women finding it sexy. Sorry.

Friday 22 August 2014

Death and taxes

Yeah I know, long time no blog. Quite sure I've already posted about this (I think I have anyway), but I suppose I started this blog to discuss my childhood, growing up, my life etc, and now I feel that I've done that, I only really have a need to blog occasionally when something happens that warrants it.

Something has been on my mind for a while, something I've blogged about previously. Not at the forefront of my mind, but at the back of it, the kind of things that you only start to worry about as an adult as these things, no matter how far back in your mind you put them, time slowly drags them to the front, under some cruel force of gravity.

Not long ago my mother passed away. She was ill for a short time, but seriously ill, however her death was still unexpected. Maybe one of the more horrible things about this post is that (trust me) I'm not posting this for sympathy; I've long feared how I would react, how I would feel...and now it has happened I can finally dissect it like some cancerous tumour.

It was hard when she got quite ill as the pressure to be a "better son" was mounting from my father. As I've already said, we've never really been a close family and I've never really had much to do with my dad, but now I was getting voicemail messages that made it perfectly clear he was less than happy with the fact that I wasn't calling her enough etc. The final call came when I was at work. My dad never calls when I'm at work. When I saw the number flash on my screen, I just knew what it was. I steeled myself, and answered. I have to admit I felt nothing at all. I tried to react as best I could but didn't really know what to say. My dad talking about it a bit, replacing emotion for pragmatism, and after the call I went back to work. Didn't tell my colleagues or anything, I just got on with my day.

I travelled up to stay with my dad for the funeral and my brother and sister did also. They got there a few days before I did, which I was glad of. I was also glad they were there, period, as I genuinely didn't know how I'd cope. Not from grief, but for myself. I've never seen any emotion from my dad at all, but he was breaking down crying at least once a day, and it was just awful, but my sister did the whole comforting thing while my brother and I just sat there feeling uncomfortable. My dad was also quite quick to anger about everything. I didn't blame him though, you just had to stand there and bear it. However I think a lot of it was just years of resentment coming out over what disappointing children we'd all been. Stood in the kitchen, listening to shouting, burned bacon excised to the bin by oncologist father, blaming the oven, the gas, the hob...everything but what he really wanted to blame.

They say these things bring people closer together and I guess it did with my siblings for the few days we were all together. My brother and my sister usually talk away about stuff I'm not interested in, but this time we had a common "thing" to talk about. I told my brother that I was glad he had children, that it was obvious our mum wanted to be a grandmother as her face always lit up when she saw babies on the street. I confessed that I will never have children and I can't see my sister having them either, so I was glad he did have them and gave her the chance to be a grandmother. He didn't say anything in response, but he did wipe a tear from his eye.

As a complete outsider, even to my own family, some things were a bit of a revelation to me. My dad spoke a little about things my mum was involved in that I didn't really know about...about sponsored African children and all things of that nature. The various relatives I met, and the eulogy etc, all spoke greatly of how much she loved her family, and so on, about how religious she was etc. My sister talked about how "dignified" and "proud" my mother was, and how she would have felt about the illness in her final months. None of these are things I'd really have associated with my mum. I don't know if people were just speaking well of the dead, or if the world just revolves oblivious to my observations.

It was a hard couple of days but I got through it, and now...well, life goes on as before really. Obviously I know all about grief, the grieving process etc, but I haven't experienced any of that. It just hasn't really had any negative effect on me at all. I don't mean any judgement by that, I don't pass any and I don't want any. I'm just telling you, my readers, that my mother died and it meant nothing to me. I don't know if that is because I have Asperger's Syndrome (AS), or if I'm just a horrible person.

The "will I" "won't I" about telling my parents I have AS has never really been an issue for me. I lived over half my life without a diagnosis, I always struggled by and I resolved that I would live the end of my life as I started it. I never had any excuses, and now I have a diagnosis I don't want them. And now the whole issue is half moot.

Thursday 3 January 2013

Adam Lanza and the Newtown shooting

It has been mentioned that Adam Lanza, who recently killed his mother then went on to kill students at school, had Asperger's Syndrome (AS). I'm not going to get too deep into the issues surrounding if AS would cause a person to do these things. We all know that having AS doesn't directly equate to being a violent psychopath, however I'm not going to shy away from the fact that it might be a participating factor, especially when combined with other mental health issues. I'm sure there are already lots of blog posts on this subject already telling people that those with AS aren't violent people...but saying that those with AS are not violent is just a big a generalisation as saying that those with AS will end up on a mass shooting spree.

I think what is important to realise is that mental health isn't direct cause and effect, it's not a binary system of people with "this" do "that". No single thing causes someone like Adam to decide to shoot people dead, it's an amalgamation of a lifetime of experiences, probably combined with one or more mental health issues. However people are keen to dissect everything into constituent parts and put each part into a pot and depending on their own prejudices they blame a certain pot, as if that pot can be treated in isolation. People who are anti-gun will say it was his access to guns that did it, some people will say it was his mental health issues, some say it was his loner attitude...everyone wants to focus on one thing and blame it rather than accepting that it was a combination of lots of factors, not the result of a single thing. We have to remember that this is a person who shot his own mother in the head 4 times...I don't know exactly what his issues were, but I think it is safe to say he had them, and had a lot of them.

What prompted me to write about this issue was an article I saw in a UK tabloid newspaper called The Sun. It was an opinion-piece written by The Sun columnist Denise Welch. You might not be familiar with Denise Welch so I shall fill you in on who she is. She was an actress in soap operas on UK television and went on to appear on a show called "Loose Women" (if you're American, it is like "The View"), which is a show that popularises and celebrates misandry. Denise had an affair during her first marriage, her second marriage was to someone 15 years her junior, and during "Celebrity Big Brother" she got into a hot tub topless (at over 50 years old) to flirt with men half her age whilst exposing herself to the nation. Basically, she is what we Brits refer to as "a real class act".

Denise has also suffered from depression and is quite outspoken about mental health issues in the media and tries to use her celebrity to bring attention to these issues. Altruistic? Or just trying to get people to pity her, and to excuse her her transgressions? Regardless. She choose to do a column on this shooting, and what drove Adam to do these things. First up was his mental health issues. Denise used this as an opportunity to bring up her own depression and the stigma society has around those with mental health problems. She was quick to point out that not everyone with mental health issues are "nutters", so she dismissed that this shooting was a result of his mental health.

Right...let's take a moment to digest this. Here is a man with a known history of mental health problems who shot his own mother then went on to gun down innocent children, then kill himself...and because Denise has suffered from depression she thinks it was nothing to do with mental health issues? Is she serious? I don't want to trivialise depression, or claim that there is some form of "pecking order" to mental illnesses, but to equate depression with severe personality disorders that drive people to kill? I was speechless. Because Denise has suffered from depression and hasn't gone on a killing spree, no killing spree is the result of mental health issues?

So what does Denise blame this tragedy on? What did spur Adam on to cause this atrocity, in her opinion? Video games.

Denise, I know you think you're helping by bringing attention to mental health issues, but when your opinions are as whack as this, you're really being no help whatsoever.

Monday 31 December 2012

Internal / external

One thing that is probably a common source of frustration to people with Asperger's Syndrome (AS) are the difficulties in dating, finding a girlfriend or boyfriend. It's annoying in two ways...first, we all want someone special in our lives, maybe people with AS more than others as someone with AS' significant other is probably the only person in their life they feel close to. Second, it's annoying that the things that other people seem to find easy to do is impossible for us to do. My own personal philosophy on this is that I am working to recognise my strengths and my weaknesses in this area. I have come to accept that I'll never be the type to go up to a stranger in a bar and start talking to them, or to approach someone in the other common dating hunting grounds. My own strengths tend to be with women that are in my life anyway, the getting to know people as friends first as a segue to something deeper, as that timeframe gives me time to get comfortable (and therefore, "myself") with these people. I also tend to do better with women that communicate with mainly through electronic mediums. It is this system of strengths and weakness that I try and manipulate in my favour. Basically, I have always seem my AS as my problem that I have to deal with.

However, I have been spending time analysing the behaviours of other AS sufferers on dating sites and relationship forums, and it seems that there is another way of looking at things...that your AS is actually everyone else's problem, and that everyone else should make allowances for you, they should "give you a chance" when they wouldn't normally. That people who can't "see past" your awkwardness and deficiencies are somehow shallow or bad people.

It made me think back to when I used to attend a support group and one of the members was a mother whose daughter had AS, and she would go into detail about all the help she is given from the school, the local authorities, universities and so on. I remember thinking at the time, "What about when she gets into the real world and people stop making allowances for her?" I grew up undiagnosed so no-one ever made a single allowance for me in my entire life. I grew up "the hard way". It's great that increased awareness of the condition means children are diagnosed early and get support, but is this frustration in dating the result of all that support?

Schools, the council, the police and so on...they often have legal obligations to make allowances for "disability" (in the UK, autistic orders are classed as disabilities when it comes to legal matters), but private individuals don't. Have these children grown up thinking that all through life everyone will make allowances for them? Now that they are old enough to live outside of the system, they are probably experiencing culture shock...for the first time in their lives, someone is not making allowances. A private individual, be it a friend or a potential partner, is treating them the same way that they would treat anyone else.

I think it demonstrates the balance that has to be maintained. There is nothing wrong with giving children support, but we have to be careful it doesn't become mollycoddling, that we're not wrapping them up in cotton wool. When children are given extra help, we should ensure that it is equally made clear to them that when they grow up and enter society, not everyone is going to make allowances. That private individuals are going to treat them the same way they will treat everyone else. That life is going to be hard, and sometimes unfair, but there is no point in whining about it and blaming everyone else.

Saturday 1 December 2012

What's good for the goosestepper...

I was reading the following article on the BBC's website about Hitler's personality


and a few things caught my eye. His avoidance of small talk, his annoying voice, his general social inadequacy. Normally when people mention these things about the famous dead, they are quick to follow up that the person must have had Asperger's Syndrome (AS). I didn't read that in this article though, and now I come to think of it I've never seen Hitler's name on any of those internet lists about all the great people who "must have had" AS. After all, it's such a gift, such a wonderful thing that makes you an exemplary human being...right? ;)

Hitler does feature on the Wikipedia article about famous people posthumously diagnosed, but I see he has a special note that indicates people disagree and think there isn't enough evidence for a diagnosis. Yet we know more about him than many other distance historical figures as he has only just passed from living memory.

Friday 12 October 2012

Double D Dilemma

When I was away, it took me a while to settle into the town I was living, and find things like a good pub to spend time in, reading a book. I visited most a few times, then settled on a particular one. It wasn't too quiet, or too busy. They had decent music on the jukebox, but it wasn't loud. But most of all, the barmaid was pretty hot lol. Not "classically" beautiful, but she was very pretty, lovely auburn hair, great figure. She didn't work every night, only a few a week but I liked to go when she was there.

I normally only stay for one drink and a read of my book, but one particular day I decided to stay for more. There was a group of "lads" in at the bar and it was all very interesting for me. When the barmaid was at the bar they were all trying to chat her up, but quite disrespectfully. I suppose this is the "cheeky" attitude and confidence that men think women like. When the barmaid was away from the bar, collecting glasses and whatnot, the guys would talk about her amongst themselves, again in quite disrespectful tones. I'm not going to moralise on the way they spoke among themselves, as I'd be a liar if I said that I've never had some below-the-belt banter with friends. But it was obvious they all saw her as some kind of prize...literally. Just a notch on the bedpost, made valuable as she was "hard to get". When she returned they'd be asking her if she was single, asking her out for a drink and so on, all advances batted away in a tone that made her consider them disingenuous.

They didn't stay all night and soon left. Two other guys came in, older guys...late 40s maybe. Already so drunk they could barely walk. Propped at the bar they spoke among themselves. Within about two minutes of the barmaid turning up, one of the drunks tottered forward and in a slur asked her if she was "dating". She replied that she wasn't, he then asked if she'd like to go out for a drink with him. Bearing in mind, she is a beautiful girl in her early 30s and he's a drunken wretch, late 40s, face like a road map (google maps, not Apple maps), in a suit I don't doubt he woke up in. She politely declined and said she wasn't looking for a relationship at the moment. "Wha? Pretty girl like you?" he slurred before slinking off the toilet. When he was gone, she explained to his slightly more sober companion that she had been single since starting work at this bar some years ago, that it just put her off men. Having been a fly in a book for the evening I guess I can understand why. Each man was in the bar barely 5 minutes before they were asking her out, all just wanting to fuck the local barmaid. How can you possibly tell who is genuine?

I'm the opposite of these people. Not by choice, but by genetics. It made me think back to a few of my relationships and in a way I wonder if that has actually helped me? The fact that I don't go chasing girls, I don't go asking all and sundry out, draping myself over them and obviously lusting after them. More aloof, I get to know girls and let them get to know me and if things happen then great for me.