I was thinking of writing a letter to the fifteen year old me but I realised that I would not have read it. I thought I was so cool, so knowing but in reality I was too gauche and dull to be open to the wonder of life.
I could write a letter to future me when I have lost my mental capacity to make decisions. However what would be the point of telling future senile me that the life I can’t remember was great.
So I am going to write something to you. And here it is. Brace yourself.
Today I opened the curtains and saw the dawn. Even insomnia is a gift if you grab it and embrace it. Mother Nature was flaunting her beauty for the crowing cocks while most of the world was oblivious. I could have spent my hour grumpily bemoaning to my pillow that sleep is a necessity but instead I did something. I seized the day and made my lemonade and a whole host of gee life is great and amazing clichés.
Fifteen year old me was too stupid and maybe ninety year old me will be senile. However, right now I’m fifty years old and living in the moment. Why don’t you come and join me.
Today is just an ordinary day. The sun rose and an hour or so later, so did I. My mornings are remarkably similar. I potter through the news and messages and intersperse my updates with word games and brain training.
I lead a charming, charmed life. Here I am now sitting on comfy chair composing poems that few people read and writing this blog, that apart from you, I am uncertain ever gets read. Life is sweet and simple.
I could defame the government, blaspheme expletives onto the page or indulge in amateur auto pornography. I don’t think my readership would rise. Though I suspect your eyebrow might. However I am not feeling provocative or provoked so this blog will also carry on in its ordinary fashion. I will write words and wonder who reads them and why.
So here I am in Cambodia. Gratefully reporting that all is well. For that is surely what ordinariness is. It is not only the absence of anything unusually good but also the continuation of the fact that nothing particularly bad has happened. Now that is surely something to celebrate.
“Whatever makes her happy on a Saturday night” sang Suede once upon a misspent youth I squandered many years ago. However I don’t think Brett and the boys ever thought that going out on a Saturday night could be so tragic and terrible.
In London there has been yet another attack and yet more loss of life. So tonight it won’t “be okay like everyone says” it won’t “be alright and ever so nice”. It has been carnage and chaos on the streets of Britain’s capital and far away from home I worry about the people I love.
However, what happens after an event like this is what is important. If you allow hate to be planted in your heart then the war on terror has been lost. Hate and fear are what terrorists want. They seek to divide the world. At a time like this, I hope that people will look for commonality and not difference. The diverse people of Britain are united in a kingdom where we share more values than we realise. We want to live in peace and go to work and get on with the banal and humdrum daily activities of being a mum, dad, sister, brother, daughter or son. We want to build a life to share with the people we know and love.
So on this Saturday night I won’t be singing to Suede. I will return to the song, that for me is a relevant today as when it was written because “we have got to find a way to bring some understanding here today”. Forty six years later I still agree with Marvin Gaye.
War is not the answer for only love can conquer hate
Living in Cambodia I see what life is like without a welfare state. It’s frightening for the poor and underprivileged. Money talks and poverty doesn’t really have a voice.
Here they barely have a state school system and even in that system the underpaid teachers often sell the information need to pass tests. Universal access to good quality education is key to providing good life chances and allowing all people to achieve their potential.
Here, getting sick is a privilege. There is no sick pay from work and the cost of a trip to the hospital is beyond the means of the average person. I am advised, as a foreigner, that if I get really ill to get a taxi to Bangkok. I have been raised in a country where I have never had to think how much a treatment would cost. I get free health services not just when I am ill but when I want to be more healthy.
Here the railway station is closed. There is no track and in truth there is no public transportation system of any kind . The roads are unsafe and there are high numbers of accidents. There is not much investment in public transport. The rich drive big cars and the poor don’t travel very much. When I was young everybody complained about National Rail. Now in Britain have to complain about private companies which we subsidise.
Here the postal service doesn’t really work. The price of electricity varies on where you live. People don’t have running water and sanitation in many homes outside of urban areas.
I am not criticising Cambodia. They have survived things I personally cannot imagine. This is a call to the people of Britain. Living here highlights the things that I have taken for granted. You have a choice to make on Thursday. Are you going to vote for a country that views education, health, transport and postal services as publicly owned parts of the nation’s infrastructure that are there for the good and benefit of all. Or are you going to head down a road of privatisation where money talks and poverty doesn’t have a voice.
I have chosen the path I walk through life. The multiple decisions that I have made all through my life have brought me to where I am now. I am happily living in Cambodia, some six thousand miles from where I was born and working as teacher. I may never return to England or I might fly home tomorrow. My life has no long term plans.
It has been an amazing life so far. I was a school dropout at seventeen. I left home and my studies suffered as a consequence. That decision, catastrophic as it seemed to my parents, had set the tone for my entire adult life. I have made decisions that have been hard for others to fathom. I have lived outside the box and more than once have come dangerously close to living in one. My life has always had a semi permanency as I have travelled through. I was told, at fourteen, that I was a dilettante and I would seem to have fulfilled this idea that I am a butterfly who may never truly settle.
Along the path I have acquired tools and strategies. I had to work hard in a variety dull jobs when I was young but I have learned a lot. I have returned to education many times. I may have dropped out of education once but over the years I have acquired a plethora of teaching qualifications and these enable me to live and work almost anywhere in the world. It’s hard to say what makes a good teacher but I hope I have something to offer.
I love teaching and I thrive on change and new challenges. So here I am on the path I have chosen, slowly travelling through my life one country at a time. Hopefully helping a few people along the way and earning money for food and a roof. It’s not everyone’s dream and I’m not sure it’s mine. It’s where my decisions took me and I am happy to be here, for now.
Is anyone ever really on your side. I wanted someone to stand shoulder to shoulder with me and they did not. They took a position removed from my own. They were not diametrically opposed but they I didn’t feel that they had my back.
In this world we are all alone. At any time the sensations we experience are processed separately and each of us had a unique perception of the world around them. Sharing is at best a compromise of ideas and at worst a complete subjugation of the self. I have known for a long time that we all die alone but it is living alone with everyone else that is slowly killing me.
I’m not talking about solitude. That lovely place is where I am right now, alone with my thoughts and lost in the most beautiful place I have ever been, the inside of my own mind. It’s the feeling of being alone that others bring with them and unpack as thoughtlessly as some tuna sandwiches on a plate at summer picnic. People laugh and smile and every foray into the light soufflé of society leaves me pancake flat as if there is no air in those cheerful places. The hail-fellow-well-met brigade offer a hearty superficiality that is not concrete enough to lean on.
I want someone on my side. Someone who thinks I am great and supports me with unconditional love. They need to travel with me on the Asperger Path and hold my hand.
Given that it cannot be anyone else I will learn to love myself. Now where is that Whitney Houston CD?
I don’t know quite how to say this. “Fuck off” doesn’t seem too subtle and even “go away” seems much too direct. I want to avoid being Greta Garbo about it but, you know, she had a point.
I have given it some thought. Well, actually I have spent nights and nights analysing the situation and dissecting every interaction. I have even analysed the amount of analysis I have done. By the way it might be too much, but I need to look at that again before I can be absolutely sure. Can I get back to you on that? Or maybe I shouldn’t given what my findings are.
I am digressing. Even mentioning digression makes my digression worse. Or is my digression bigger or perhaps wider. What would be the best comparative to use with digression. I’ll have a think about that. At what point does a digression become a meander rather than a moment straying from the path. Damn that is interesting but unfortunately we are half way through something else.
Now where was I. This situation we have. I am autistic. You feel hurt and overlooked. You say I don’t think about other people. You think I get lost in my head. You think our friendship needs to change. You have needs that I don’t meet. You are right. It is true. So I have analysed, or possibly over analysed, the situation and I have found out what the problem is.
It’s not so much that one conversation can entirely change the course of my life. At fifty I am probably no longer open to that sense of immediacy and change. However, as I travel languidly through life, I meet people and there is a connection and it’s like a fresh breeze blowing through my cognitive cobwebs.
On the Asperger Path my small talk is rarely small. The little social niceties are often over looked as I dive headlong into conversations. I enjoy people with something to say and love an evening happily squandered over food and beer sharing thoughts about the thorny issues of life, love, death and god.
I would love to say I am open minded enough to share my table with the full range of human ideology. I am not. I like to discuss things with people who may have similar core beliefs but see the world from another perspective. I find it best when my core foundations are left stable but questions are poised that make me question what I have been constructing.
My life is simple. I don’t believe in much except myself. And it is this simplicity which becomes complex. To build a moral framework from scratch without the church, party or the state offering you a blueprint. So I would like to thank the architects and the engineers, the thinkers and the dreamers who have shared their time and thoughts with me. I am who I am today because of a thousand big conversations and no small talk .
Sitting in a café with Karen Carpenter on the radio and the rain falling my mind drifts and it’s yesterday once more. For a moment it is hard to believe I’m not back in Swindon town.
How did I get here. That boy with the bad highlights, a French horn and Clarks shoes is a long way from that tatty terrace on the hill. I never dreamed of going to Cambodia though I have a dim and distant memory of raising money for Kampuchea with a school fete.
I am not quite sure why but just for a day I became Madame Pasta Macaroni with horoscopes cut out of my gran’s copy of The Woman’s Realm. I read palms and told tall tales of dark strangers at ten pence a pop. A plump thirteen year old in drag raising money for a country I had barely heard of and certainly couldn’t place on a map.
Now I’m here. Swindon is definitely yesterday . I no longer need look to the stars for my fortune because tall tales of dark strangers are no longer just a fantasy.
Cambodians smile a lot. It’s one of the most wonderful things about living here. There is almost no situation where a smile is not appropriate. Unfortunately the smile had dropped from this Cambodian face.
He wasn’t very happy and he seemed very anxious for me, the source of his anguish, to share in his misery. I had tendered my resignation and he thought that telling me I was a bad person and how I had acted wrongly would make me reconsider and stay. There was nothing positive evolving and in the end I left the room. I had tried to do what I perceived to be the right thing, but it wasn’t being well received.
Outside, I spoke to a kind and helpful colleague. He always smiles and is a delightful man. I was trying to rebalance the situation. Even on the Asperger Path I like to leave avenues open though I seldom return. In the course of the conversation I made a comparison with England. Like a bullet from a rifle, the angry man charged from his office to chastise me for talking to his subordinate. You’re not in England now he shouted, this is Cambodia. He was right, but this Cambodia was rough and angry and not like the land of gentle harmony I have seen so far.
I have a month’s notice period to work. It feels like it might be tough. I have a plan though. I will take a gentle path and wear a Cambodian smile. After all there is almost no situation where it’s not appropriate.