“How was your day, mum,” enquired one of DS1’s classmates as he greeted his mother in the playground after school. That is something I’ll never hear my son say – and not just because I’m his dad, not his mum. DS1 doesn’t do this type of chitchat. It works both ways, though. When I ask him how his day was, he is, let’s say, not very forthcoming. He was there, so therefore you must know

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“How come you can remember you have those?” I asked DS1, as he discarded the duplicates from his latest Match Attax purchases without having to check his album. “Because my brain actually works,” he replied, dismissively. It’s a shame it doesn’t work so well when it comes to doing his homework. But you can’t have everything. The weekly battle to get DS1 to do his homework drags on. We win the occasional battle, but I

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While I don’t condone senseless graffiti, especially when it is scrawled on a wall in your own lounge, the phrase “Good afternoon, your mum looks like Kim Jong-un” did make me chuckle – once I’d got over the fact that I’ll need to repaint the room. Was the sudden urge to write all over the wall a sign DS1 was struggling? Or was it a homage to Banksy? We’d just returned from a few days

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Never say to your autistic child: “Can you pass me a brick wall so I can bang my head against it.” Taking it literally, DS1 pushed my head into the wall. “There you go,” he said. I won’t make that mistake again. While taking the meaning of an expression or an instruction literally is a common autistic trait, DS1 usually grasps the concept rather than taking it at face value – unless trying to be

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TANZANIA 2018 Turning off the main road we head up a windy incline into the foothills of Kilimanjaro towards Kahawa Shamba, a family run coffee farm. ‘Kahawa Shamba’, incidentally, means ‘coffee farm’ in Swahili – it must have taken a long meeting to decide on the name.  I quickly slip (literally) into my first off-road driving experience as we bump along a narrow track to the farm, at the gate of which we are greeted

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Until recently I still viewed DS1’s inability to leave the house at the weekend – sorry, I should focus on his abilities: DS1’s ability to lie on the sofa watching television all weekend – as a major concern. Whatever we tried, he invariably dug his heels in and railed against the barrage of ‘stupid’ suggestions we made in the perverse name of having some fun, venturing outside… or doing his homework. But I have now

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MALAWI: April 2018 The alluring smell of herbs, music blaring from a house, goats bleating. The lap of the water on the shore, the long stretch of untouched sand. The splash of a paddle in the water, the freshness of the air. The heat of the sun, the warmth of the people. Fishermen casting their nets out on the lake, others tending theirs at the water’s edge. The stench of fish laid out on long

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MALAWI: April 2018 There’s something about travel that encourages me to try new activities – the sort I’d never contemplate having a crack at stuck at home. Having exhausted snorkelling and kayaking and general lazing about in the relaxed atmosphere of Kaya Mawa resort – on the picturesque Likoma Island in the middle of Lake Malawi – my attention turns to the paddleboards that lie invitingly on the sand, next to the still, aquamarine water.

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MALAWI: April 2018 As we watch a scrub hare scurrying across the road in front of us, before it just as quickly disappears into the vegetation, Whyte Mhone, our guide on the Nyika Plateau, turns to us, ready to impart another of his wonderful tidbits. “Hares are so clever,” he smiles, a twinkle in his eye. “People hunt them with dogs, and when a dog is the hare will wait until the last second before

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MALAWI: April 2018 Acha Chawinga, as well as extolling the virtues of his country – not unexpected seeing as he works for the Malawi Department of Tourism – likes a good story. The phrase ‘kaya mawa’ – the name of our resort on Likoma Island – is the local equivalent of  ‘mañana’, along the lines of I could leave Likoma today, but maybe I’ll go tomorrow. The wiry Acha explains the meaning in a more

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MALAWI: April 2018 “We need to make Malawi an experience in one country,” says David Kelly, general manager at Tongole Wilderness Lodge in the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. But he adds that he would rather see Malawi promote its diverse ecosystems than go down the big game park route. “Malawi can offer a complete safari in one place – the Lake, wilderness, mountains, mopani forest. There are varied landscapes that Malawi could sell, but it has

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MALAWI: April 2018 As I sip a cool drink, perched on a barstool at Kaya Mawa on Likoma Island, overlooking Lake Malawi, barman Luke Kakhongwe tells me he was born on the island and has always lived here. Although members of his family have moved to the mainland, he seems to have no desire to do so. And looking around me, why would he – he has a great job in the perfect surroundings. As

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MALAWI: April 2018 “The translocation programme started in 2015, when African Parks took over Nkhotakota and Liwonde,” says Marnet Ngosi, education officer for African Parks, as she talks me through the largest transfer of elephants to a single reserve ever undertaken. Dubbed ‘500 Elephants’, the initiative saw the conservation NGO African Parks, together with Malawi’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife, move more than 500 elephants to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve in the north from Liwonde

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MALAWI: April 2018 “I was attacked by a leopard when I was around seven years old,” says Emmanuel Kandiero, a guide in the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. We are sipping rather generous measures of Jameson whiskey (well, I am, Emmanuel’s drink of choice is a ‘Green’ – a Carlsberg to you and I) around the campfire at Tongole Wilderness Lodge, while telling stories. I have a feeling Emmanuel will trump the rest of us with this

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MALAWI: April 2018 James Lightfoot, a tall, blonde Englishman appears to love his lifestyle. Co-owner of Kaya Mawa on Likoma Island, a Malawian outpost that lies in the Mozambican-owned waters of Lake Malawi, he is also co-founder of Latitude Hotels. A backpacker in the ’80s and ’90s, like myself, he wanted to recreate the experience for that generation of travellers now that they had ‘grown up’. Although, we both agree, we haven’t really grown up.

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MALAWI: April 2018 Christopher Mvula, known more affectionately as Mr Christopher, is an engaging character. He oozes charisma and has one of those faces that you don’t forget – the sort you know has a thousand stories to tell. I’ve met him before – in Liwonde National Park on a previous trip to Malawi – but on that occasion I didn’t get the chance to sit and chat; this time I don’t miss the opportunity.

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“You can use this to cure nosebleeds,” Whyte Mhone – our guide from Chelinda Lodge, high up on the Nyika Plateau – informs us, picking up a porcupine quill he has spotted lying abandoned on the track. “If you burn the end and sniff it, it aids clotting.” As if this doesn’t seem far-fetched enough, he tells us about a friend of his at guiding school who came to the aid of a colleague who

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MALAWI: April 2018 I have a T-shirt from the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa that states: “Football is life”. For many people around the world this is certainly the case – and Africa is no exception. Africans are obsessed with the game. Not so much with their own teams but with overseas leagues – the English Premier League, in particular; their allegiances often influenced by African footballing exports. They are fiercely proud of

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MALAWI: April 2018 As I buckle up for the flight that will take me from Addis Ababa to Lilongwe, I fall into conversation with my neighbour. Abraha, who hails from the Ethiopian capital, is on his way to Malawi for the first time. I can see the sense of excitement etched in his craggy face; maybe a touch of apprehension too. I’m full of anticipation as well. I’ve had the pleasure of travelling to Malawi

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“Hurry up,” DS1 messaged the wife. Given that the wife was only a couple of feet away from him at the time and on her way out of his bedroom, having been chatting to him while he lay in bed ill, she was somewhat flummoxed. “What with?” she replied digitally. “Leaving,” he responded. I think it was at this point that she regretted giving him his phone, so that if he needed anything he could

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“All Tottenham and Arsenal fans over 18 will be murdered,” said DS1. “If they are under 18 they will go to prison, then when they become 18 they will be murdered.” Although, obviously, I don’t condone killing people, I couldn’t be more proud of his need to dish out a punishment for such a heinous crime. Perhaps, I should explain. This term’s theme at school is ‘Crime and Punishment’, and DS1’s class had been tasked

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Back to school, back to reality. (No, this isn’t a rework of the Soul II Soul classic.) Back to high anxiety, back to a child going off the rails. “You can’t come in here,” DS1 pleaded, a look of absolute panic on his face. “But this is my lounge too,” I replied. “I am allowed to go where I like in my own house.” Apparently not. An increasingly agitated DS1 pushed me with all his

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“Can we go back now?” pleaded DS1 “No, we’ve only just arrived.” I’m sure all parents suffer from this particular scenario when visiting a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But when the autism kicks in, it goes to another level. To be fair, he had thoroughly enjoyed walking around the ruins of Ancient Olympia – re-enacting races on the grounds where the Olympic Games was born some 800 years BC, as well as taking the time

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“I need a shower,” said DS1. I stood there open-mouthed. Those were words I never thought I’d hear my son say. Admittedly, we were on holiday. Different place, different rules, perhaps. And he was plastered in sand, and could probably foresee the merits of cleaning off the plethora of grains stuck to his body before lying down on his bed. As for the bed, that was a whole different story. We were staying in a

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“Of course, after an orgasm you will have to have a shower,” said the wife. “Well, I won’t have any of those then,” DS1 harrumphed. Ah, the perils of telling your child that their expression made them appear orgasmic, and then having to explain what that meant. Sometimes giving him an insight into adult life isn't always the best policy. And it seems that even that height of pleasure won’t improve things on the washing

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One day, you think you are on a path to enlightenment, the next you are scrabbling around in the gutter, feeding off whatever scraps you can find. DS1’s humour never deserts him, though – although sometimes it can be very cutting, especially when he’s factually correct – there’s just no filter sometimes. It’s a good job I’m not paranoid about being fat, ugly and gray. Anyway, we were discussing the wealth of certain footballers and that

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DS1’s battles with everyday life continue. While he is generally in a good place at the moment, his old friend anxiety is always bubbling just under the surface. Often manifesting itself in weird and wonderful ways. His latest sensory-seeking habit on the way to school, for example, is to prick his fingers on a holly bush. I mean, what’s that all about? My cup runneth away We’ve started a new campaign to re-engage him with

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“It’s not my fault we’re in this situation,” indignated DS1. (I know ‘indignated’ isn’t a word, but I think it should be where DS1 is concerned.) Well, whose fault is it then? I didn’t bother asking him, I knew the answer: mine. We’d been having our weekly battle about having a shower. He wouldn’t have one. And here we were, sat on his bed, well past his bedtime, with him unwashed and still in his

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“Where’s.” Headbutt.“My.” Headbutt.“Acgh.” Headbutt. “Where’s your what?” I asked. “Where’s.” Headbutt.“My.” Headbutt.“Acgh.” Headbutt. “No, sorry, I don’t know what you’re saying,” I replied. “Where’s.” Headbutt.“My.” Headbutt.“Acgh.” Headbutt. “Nope. Maybe you could write it down for me or draw it?” I should point out, at this stage, that they weren’t full-on Glasgow kisses, more taps to my forehead. I should probably also point out that he hasn’t grown two feet (in height, not two extra trotters)

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“I can’t wear those anymore,” said DS1, in response to me asking him to put his trainers on. “Oh. Are they too small?” “No.” “Are they uncomfortable?” “No.” “Why can’t you wear them, then?” “Because they were covered in quicksand.” “But they are all clean and dry now.” “Yes.” “So why can’t you wear them?” “You know why.” Perhaps, I should explain about the ‘quicksand’. We are extending our patio area and the bottom of

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“Remember you’ve got science club after school,” I said to DS1’s back as he hurried off into the playground with his customary ignorance of the pleasantries of saying “goodbye”. “I’m not going,” he shouted over his shoulder. What? We’d had this discussion the previous evening: the fact that he’d asked to do science club; the fact that I wouldn’t have forked out some hard-earned and signed him up for it if he didn’t want to

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In recent weeks DS1’s anxiety has been on red alert. While the underlying reason is as yet unclear, it has manifested itself in several behavioural formats. But the upshot of it is, everyone (and by this I mean me) is ruining his life. By way of example, we were having a heated debate about how it was advisable to have a shower after playing football, because, as a result, your body sweats and becomes dirty.

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Ten-pin bowling – what could possible go wrong? We have been many times before and DS1 has always had a great time. So, what better way to celebrate the start of half-term than a game of bowling with his mate Henry, Henry’s little sister Bridget and their mum Polly. Bowling over, the kids would be dispatched to the arcade area with a few pound coins in their pockets, while Polly and I enjoyed a well-earned

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“My foot hurts,” DS1 complained. He’d mentioned it the night before, but there was no sign of physical damage, and he couldn’t remember doing anything to hurt it. And it was certainly a rubbish excuse if he was looking for a day off. But hurt it did, he insisted. So much so that – as he exaggeratedly limped to school at a pace that meant by the time we got there we’d have to turnaround

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Following a sleepover at his friend Joanne’s house, DS1 became somewhat fractious the next day. But, before I get into that, here’s a couple of highlights from the preceding day’s events. To the suggestion that he slept in the loft room, he replied quite vociferously (hence the capital letters): “I’M NOT SLEEPING IN THE LOFT. SERIOUSLY, DON’T BE RIDICULOUS!” He did. Once the two of them had ‘settled’ down for the night, a voluble command

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“Come on, time to go,” I called up the stairs. Nothing. “Come on, we’re leaving now.” Nothing. I resigned myself to climbing the stairs to investigate. I found him lurking in Joanne’s room. As I entered, he scuttled away and hid under her desk. After a one-sided conversation on what the problem might be, I eventually managed to coax him out from his hiding place. I nudged him in the direction of the stairs and

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As the snow plopped down on the way from school, DS1 and his little gang were in their element. Walking along, mouths open to catch the snow soon degenerated into scraping it off the cars and, for one young man in particular, this meant putting said scraped snow into his mouth and crunching down on the already icy substance. Even setting off a car alarm failed to deter them. The inevitable snowball fight ended with

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I turned to check on what DS1 was up to, only to see him chasing two girls across the field while videoing them on his phone. A bit like stealing from a multi-storey car park, this was (at first sight) wrong on so many levels. Thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as it seemed; in fact it was a major positive. We’d come to watch the football team he has started training with play a game.

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So far, so good, as far as going back to school is concerned. Indeed, the last day of the holidays – usually one for acting like a hermit – saw DS1 reminding me that we were supposed to be getting his feet measured. “I thought we were going to get my feet measured,” he reminded me, mid-morning. “Yes. Do you want to go now?” “Yes,” he replied, unexpectedly. Half an hour later he was the proud

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