Sunday, 26 April 2015

everyday images 20/4


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I set myself a challenge this week - to use manual focus for my everyday images.  You'll notice there are no pictures of people - too prone to movement!  Lots going in the garden though, and the kind of weather you can spend however long it takes to figure the focus out!  I think Saturday and Sunday are my joint images of the week - no photo manipulation at all, but both very effective shots I think.  The colours are great on Saturday, and I was really proud of the definition of the flower and the contrast with the textured background (of the garden chair).  Then the spiny tentrils left from the cherry blossom on Sunday - the delicacy of those stems, splayed out with their pollen heavy heads - just beautiful.  So, linking up with Truly Madly Kids as usual, for Image Of The Week - it's a lovely friendly group of regulars and easy peasy to join in, any way you like.

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Friday, 24 April 2015

Rant response

I wrote last week about my thoughts in response to a Guardian article written by Stuart Heritage in which he used the phrase "remedial level dipshit".  Having written my rant, which was read by a lot of people after it was picked up on twitter, I felt it only fair to publish the response I received to my complaint to the readers editor.  I have checked with Stuart and have his permission to share this.

So there you go.

(FYI, I am no longer blocked by the writer on twitter)

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Thursday, 23 April 2015

Warm Up Bristol - the show home

While I'm pondering kitchens and french doors and accessible showers, Mr Manley is researching various eco technologies and measures to keep the utility bills down.  Theory being that moving from an eleven year old three bedroom bungalow to a one hundred and thirty five year old four bedroom semi-detached house might be a bit of a jump.

Even at this stage there is already a 'this needs doing' list, including replace the old double glazing; take up the carpets; replace the boiler; get rid of the ancient aga; installing an electric charger for the car.  The plan is that by making sound choices at the beginning and adopting certain green measures there will be less disruption than if we leave it until we've moved in, and (hopefully) slightly lower utility bills for this victorian house then there might otherwise be.

This means we need to be doing the research now, and so this morning Mr Manley and I visited the Warm Up Bristol* show home.  This is an ordinary house in Easton which, with the support of the council, has been stripped back and fitted with a range of measures designed to reduce energy usage and carbon emissions.  It's run by the Easton Energy Group, a community organisation committed to providing advice and support for local people to reduce their energy consumption.

Open from 9:30 to 4:30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 10:30 - 2:30 on Saturdays, the show home is located on one of those tiny roads in Easton off of Stapleton Road that you drive down while crossing your fingers you won't meet anything coming the other way.  Once you're on the right road it's easy to spot, with an incredible mural painted on the whole of the front of the house - the more you look at it the more shapes you can identify - I'm pretty sure I've found an upside down dinosaur. 

Inside the show home we found Nigel, who clearly knew his stuff, and was enthusiastic and yet realistic when explaining what measures we could see in situ and their potential benefits and drawbacks.  Very conversant on the government Green Deal initiatives that Mr Manley keeps trying to explain to me, Nigel was happy to discuss the significant measures that might be relevant to our new house, as well as those with far lower cost implications like light bulbs.  There are a range of measures to nose at, including internal and external insulation, a fancy heat exchange system, and water conservation ideas like water butts and extended guttering.

There are displays around the show home explaining what you can see, why it was chosen and how it works - big diagrams with labels make it understandable to someone with my (pretty basic) level of knowledge and as Nigel showed us around he explained everything anyway.  Bristol City Council logos abound, but since they've provided the lions share of the funding I guess that's to be expected.  Bearing in mind all the cuts in local authority funding I was impressed to see they have actually put their money where their mouth is and supported this initiative to help reduce the energy bills faced by ordinary families living in the city.  By linking to the Green Deal and other national measures to improve energy efficiency the council have been able to dovetail their information with national funding, which I suppose makes them look good as well as ticking various boxes - Bristol is the European Green Capital 2015, after all!  

The show home is a work in progress, with solar panels the next on the list, and we plan to pay them another visit further down the line.  Do check out the various websites if you're interested, and visit the show home if you have the opportunity - it is well worth a nose if you're wondering how you can reduce your bills a bit as well as your carbon footprint.  The small garden of the show home was filled with sunshine, and the contrast between the crisp clear lines of the new render and the blue sky with hazy white clouds called out to the photographer in me, so I'll leave you with this image.  

* The Warm Up Bristol website gave my tablet a bit of a panic attack, with warnings and red text about how it wasn't secure or it might be part of a nefarious plot to steal my identity or bank account or kidney.  It's obviously up to you if you choose to click through - my thinking was that the links I used were from the Bristol City Council website, and they are unlikely to be involved with plotting to steal my kidney.  But then you never know.  I have informed the council about the scary red writing, they tell me they've passed it on.

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Wednesday, 22 April 2015

talking with Smiler

I guess some might think that title is misleading - after all, Smiler is officially non verbal (which is daft, because he speaks...ish), but for us, talking goes beyond words - it's communication, certainly, and perhaps more complex and involving than 'talking'.   When you're discussing something with him, you have to take into account his facial expression, any Makaton signing he's using, his body language, words or fragments of words he's using, eye contact, and the situation as a whole.  If you ignore any one of these, you can completely misunderstand him.  I think of him as being able to talk, but I suppose objectively, the truth is not quite that straightforward. 

By way of illustration, a typical conversation with Smiler this week went like this:

So, Smiler, did you have a good time at school today?
Un, un. {Makaton sign 'happy'}
Oh, so you had fun at school? What happened?
Did Abby [child in his class] do something funny?
Es.  {Nods}
What was it that Abby did that was funny?
All dan.  {Makaton sign 'fall'}
Did Abby fall down?
Na.  {Shakes his head}
Who fell down?
Na, na, Ubby arf.
Did Abby laugh because someone else fell down?
Es.  Unny, unny!  {Makaton sign 'happy'}
Who fell down? Was it an adult or a child?
{Makaton sign 'little'}
Was it a child in your class that fell down?
Es.  F-tay f-day.
Birthday?  Do you mean Kate? [another child in his class]  It was her birthday last week, wasn't it.  Did Kate fall down?
Es! Es!  {Nods}
That doesn't sound very funny to me - poor Kate!
Arf... Arf
Kate laughed?
Mm.  Ubby.
Abby and Kate laughed?
Did Abby hurt herself, or was she okay?
Kay.  Add eas-er.  {Makaton sign 'ill'}
Who had a seizure? Kate?
{Shakes his head} 
Na.  {Shakes his head}
Did anyone have a seizure?
Nup.  Tend, tend.
Pretend?  Did Kate pretend to have a seizure?
Did Kate fall down and pretend to have a seizure?
Es.  {Nods}
That's not funny!
Arf.  Tend.  Tend add eas-er.
It's not funny to pretend to have a bad seizure!
Em.  Em tend.
Emma [one of the teachers] pretended to have a seizure too?
Es.  Elp.  Elp eas-er.
Hang on, was this about the people who help us thing?  Emma pretended to have a seizure so you could all help?
Sue.  Off-y.
Someone went to the office to get Sue [school nurse]?
Es. Es. Ubby arf.  {Makaton sign 'happy', nods}
Abby laughed at Emma pretending to have a bad seizure?  So who got Sue from the office?
Na, na.  Uzzer.  {Points at me}
Someone pressed the buzzer to get Sue from the office?  Who pressed the buzzer?
Ate.  {Makaton sign 'girl'}
So you were learning about people who help us, and Emma pretended to have a seizure, Abby laughed, and Kate pressed the buzzer to get Sue from the office?
Es.  Gate un, gate un.  {Bounces in his chair while giggling}
And it was great fun?

Of course.

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We checked with the class team the next day, and found out the 'people who help us' topic had begun in ernest, with discussion of the people who help when someone in the classroom at school needs help.  They role played someone having a fit - a part played by the teacher,  Emma - and while talking about who helps if this happens for real, one of the more mobile children, Kate, had run and pressed the emergency buzzer on the wall, summoning help in the guise of Sue, the school nurse.  Really impressive problem solving by Kate, but apparently Abby thought it was all very funny.  Impressive communication by Smiler too, but you can see how being a passive listener wouldn't have worked - you have to constantly repeat back what you've heard and understood, for him to confirm or correct. 

Knowing the context makes a big difference with Smiler - he couldn't tell me the name of the child he wanted to tell me about, but was able to point me in her direction by referreferring to her birthday, which we spoke about earlier this week.  Referencing someone or something - in this example, a child - through common knowledge that he knows we share - her birthday - demonstrates that Smiler's understanding is not as basic as it might seem from his (often) single word responses.  Smiler remembers a lot of what goes on around him, and is able to be surprisingly precise about it afterwards, as long as you know the right questions to use to elicit his response, and how to interpret that response! 

Although Smiler has a reasonable vocabulary for a child with his level of intellectual disability (though of course not comparable with a standard or 'neuro typical' young person of his chronical age), he often skips the beginnings of words.  Not just more complicated or long words, but words he is very familiar and comfortable with - such as 'yes'.  We've never been able to definitively identify if this is due to a hearing impairment and he doesn't hear the beginning of the words we use and so doesn't emulate them, or whether he struggles with pronunciation (he has great difficulty controlling liquids in his mouth, which may be a result of coordination issues and / or lack of strength in his facial muscles and tongue).  His hearing is reviewed every six months, but testing is getting tricky because he knows when the person sat in front of him stops playing with whatever toy is attracting his attention, the noisy toys at the back of the room must be going off,  and there's a 50/50 chance that he'll turn to the correct side to see them.  Now he usually refuses to turn altogether - he smiles at the person opposite him and laughs.  He's teasing them - he knows they want him to turn, and thinks it's funny not to do so.  But as I said, it makes it difficult to know what he does and doesn't hear!

No one is entirely sure why it happens, but Smiler has a 'specific word finding difficulty' - words that he knows and is familiar with can sometimes get completely lost.   I think of it as being similar to when you know what you mean, but call something a 'thing-a-me-jig' - you know?  When the word is on the tip of the tongue, but you just can't think of it - hugely frustrating for everyone!  There are also plenty of things he has an inexplicable but complete blank - on weetabix for example.  For most of his life he's had weetabix (or at least the own brand version) for breakfast - as in he has it at least six mornings a week and has had since he was about one, but he still can't say anything approximating the word.  He just draws a complete blank.  He can tell you 'ot' (hot - he has it warmed in the microwave), get his bowl out of the cupboard, point at the box on top of the fridge, but not be able to make a sound that can be identified as weetabix.  It's a mystery. 

Something else that gets in the way of communicating with Smiler is his intermittent stutter.  When he's having lots of seizures or absences he often gets stuck on a word, and will repeat the same sound over and over and over and over, like a scratched record, without seeming able to move on.  It doesn't seem like much of a problem, but at one point we were asked to time how long he got 'stuck', and we realised this was often over 60 seconds, with a single sound - 'ah - ah - ah - ah - ah - ah' - a minute is a long long time.  We could restart the sentence with him,  or say the word we thought he was trying to say, but it made no difference, he'd still get stuck.

But hey, we were told when he was ten days old that he would never be capable of any manner of communication.  At the end of the school day he can tell us about something that happened, and we can understand.  So it's a win.

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Monday, 20 April 2015

finished lightcatchers - shifting tides

I realised a couple of days ago that while I shared my thought process and experimentation involved with creating the textured lightcatchers, I hadn't shared the finished result, so here it is - one of the three anyway!  You can find the others here and here

This is the larger of the two sea inspired pieces, measuring 26 cm by 12cm.  
Petal has appointed herself the official master of the names, and this one has been dubbed 'shifting tides' - I'm not sure if she's using a thesaurus but she is naturally very poetic - I'll never forget her telling her brother to "bridle thy tongue" when I banned them from telling one another to shut up!  Sorry, I digress.  The lightcatcher.  As with the others,  I've resisted drilling holes to suspend it from in case the eventual owner would prefer it hung differently.  In the hope of finding that owner I've listed it on Folksy - although in the meantime I must say it looks pretty comfortable rested against my window! 

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