Category: The Family

Alien (by )

It'd certainly be fair to call me a noncomformist; I'm hardly a slave to fashions, and my hobbies tend to revolve around meddling with the fundamental forces that bind the Universe together, science fiction, old technical books, and learning self-defence.

But... this isn't exactly a role I've chosen for myself. I haven't gone to some effort to step off the beaten track; I've not rejected the mainstream as an act of rebellion. The truth is, I've never really felt a part of the human race.

Why should being different be a problem, though? I love talking to people who are different to me - and I couldn't do that unless I was different from them. The diversity of human experience fascinates me; I love seeing how people's lives differ from mine. Monocultures are harmful and fragile: our diversity is a great strength.

Of course, for many, being different is hell because they experience explicit discrimination for it. LGBT folks, immigrants, minority ethnic groups are all explicitly targetted for their difference, by people who think that their being different makes them a threat. But I'm lucky; I've had very little of that in my life. At school I had some unwelcome attention from the bullies for being bookish and shy rather than sporty, but I'm pretty sure those folks were just looking for levers to mess with people rather than actually taking some kind of moral high ground over me; and I didn't have all that much trouble with them, as I didn't react much so they went after more interesting targets.

For me, the problem is more subtle: my experience is mainly of feeling left out, unwanted, or forgotten.

I was born with one eye, so "3D" films and magic-eye pictures were always things for normal people; and PE teachers at school never seemed to understand that I really had a problem with depth perception, and assumed that my pitiful performance at anything resembling catching a ball was me mucking around. I was given an unusual name, so those things in shops with keyrings/pens/mugs with a selection of common names on never had anything for me. I was raised vegetarian, so I always had to check if I could actually eat food I was given, and went hungry at my primary school's leaver's barbecue. I was the only child of an unemployed single parent, so normal family dynamics never applied, and I never had the expensive toys the other kids at school had. I learnt to read before I started school and read through books insatiably, so my experience of education was very different to that of the other children in my class; I can hardly complain about the fact that I found school and exams easy, but it meant I couldn't really relate to my friends' difficulties. We ate food we grew on our own allotment, and didn't have a car. For whatever reason, I've never liked hot drinks. Spectator sports hold little joy for me. I find pubs and parties distressing. The only mass media that featured people like me was the harder end of science fiction, so I was used to most stuff on the TV (and what the other kids raved about, in particular) as reinforcing the idea that "normal people aren't like me". I can certainly relate to the calls for better representation of different groups in mass media today!

I become irrationally touchy about any situation where somebody assumed that something which applied to most people would apply to all people: People describing bacon and coffee as delicious as if this was some objective truth, rather than just the fact that they find them delicious. Employers thinking that expensive coffee and free beer are a good way to reward the team. Each of these things is tiny in itself, not really worth making a fuss over, but the accumulated weight of them all became hard to bear. This makes me feel angry: I remember a dream I had when I was about ten years old. In this dream, there was a special event at school; the teachers had organised everyone into groups of three, each of which had a kit to assemble, but they'd forgotten about me when drawing the groups up. So I was sat with a couple of other kids who'd been explicitly excluded from the activity for being troublemakers, and we were given some leftovers from everyone else's kits to "just mess around with". I was furious - so recruited the two troublemakers into a plan: with the leftover parts we had, we built a high-powered catapult and, when everyone else had finished their kits, we opened fired and smashed them all. I woke from the dream seething with fury, almost in tears.

But I can't simply blame others for my situation; I am certainly complicit in my own invisibility. When somebody assumes something about me, I feel embarrassed about being different, and I freeze; the opportunity to interject passes, and I seem to have implicitly agreed to whatever it is. It's only when I look back and realise: that was the point where I could have gently avoided whatever catastrophe it turned into. For instance, a few years ago, some friends came to visit our house for New Year's Eve. This was great at first, but then one of them proudly produced a bottle of some strong spirit from their bag, and the others were pleased about this. I, however, wasn't; it made my stomach churn with fear, but my initial thoughts were just "Oh no, this is bad". I held on as long as I could, but they started showing signs of inebriation, then talking about their symptoms of inebriation, and after a few hours I couldn't cope any more and made excuses to go and hide away on my own elsewhere in the house, only reappearing when my help was needed with something. I was furious that I had been made to feel like this in my own house; some reptilian-hindbrain part of me was feeling like my home had been invaded; I was riding the stressful emotional rollercoaster of bitter fantasies of storming downstairs and kicking them out of my home (into the cold streets of an unfamiliar city at night when they'd be legally unable to drive themselves the 50-odd miles home), while rationally knowing I could do no such thing; history would certainly record me as the Bad Guy if I did that.

But what I should have done was say something at the beginning. My instinct was to freeze and think "Oh crap", and then enter into the vicious spiral of feeling bad, hiding my emotions, and then feeling worse because nobody's responding to how I feel.

I don't feel comfortable with drawing attention to my different-ness, particularly when it's something that's bad about me; but a big factor in my tendency to hide my pain was a nasty episode at a place I worked many years ago. I worked part-time while I was at University; I had been struggling with the alcohol culture amongst my university peers, so I had as little to do with university as possible, just turning up for the bare minimum of lectures, and focussing my attention on my workplace; it became a safe refuge for me. But the little software consultancy I worked for was growing, and started to hire non-technical people for roles such as HR and sales; and with those people came a drinking culture that quickly spread to dominate the company's social fabric, and became a significant topic of conversation during the days. I went to my boss and explained that the recent shift towards all company-organised social and celebratory functions being held in bars with drinks on the company was becoming a problem for me, and he asked the person who had been tasked with organising all that stuff (the new sales guy) to change it; but he took exception to that, did everything he could to work around the spirit of the restriction while staying just inside the letter of the ruling, pointedly rubbed my face in this, and privately told me that I had no right to dictate how other people lived their lives. Ever since then, I've tended to just grit my teeth and bear it, but I think the result of this has just been that I'm slowly filling up with resentment. I need to be a bit more open about my mental health issues (hence starting to blog about it), but I must also be careful about who I hand that power over me to. In hindsight, I have come to realise that a large fraction of people are alcoholics, probably without even realising; they will react, with aggressive defensiveness, to anything that might call their use of alcohol into question.

I don't think complaining to other people is the solution, anyway. Spending all my time suggesting that people offer nice smoothies as well as coffee as a reward for something because not everybody likes coffee gets tiring, and I don't want to be That Guy who complicates everything for everybody. I know I'm a minority, and I think there should be some kind of trade-off between the current situation and some hypothetical world where every decision has to take into account every possible weird edge case; I think I wouldn't mind being left out if I didn't feel like people were making assumptions. "We could only afford the time/money to organise one thing so we got coffee as most people like it, please give us suggestions for other stuff you might like in future" is fantastic. "We got a reward budget and we spent it all on coffee, isn't that fantastic?" isn't. But explaining that distinction to busy people every time this comes up would be rather tiring. What energy we have for changing the world needs to be diverted to fighting more pressing problems, like sexism, hompohobia, transphobia and xenophobia, or better disabled access; these are things that affect large groups of people, so effort spent there will have a greater improvement on the average quality of human life than worrying about weird edge cases such as myself.

Instead, I think we need to just broaden our minds in general. People like to make assumptions about other people. If we learn to stop doing that, then things will be a bit better for everyone who's a little bit different. I don't mind being weird in itself - life would be pretty boring if everyone was the same. It's just people making assumptions that hurts!

Stencil-tagging my phone case (by )

My favourite thing to do with the laser cutter at Cheltenham Hackspace is to cut stencils in thin card.

It's dead easy to knock them together in Inkscape, once you've found a suitable stencil font, and the laser can cut thin card in no time at all.

With that done, it's then trivial to spray-paint my Kitten Technologies logo onto things I own or make, Diresta Style!

My first aluminium welding project: A projector protector (by )

The Scout group I help out with meets in a hall with a projector suspended from the ceiling, and because of that, we're not allowed to play ball games; the projector's pretty exposed, and one whack from a ball would probably finish it.

So, I offered to make a metal "cage" to go around it, and decided that this would be a good project to learn aluminium welding on. Aluminium doesn't corrode, and is light for its strength; light is important for a thing that will be suspended in the air above children.

Welding aluminium is a bit different to welding steel. It's much more conductive of heat, and has a lower melting point; so when you have the bit you're welding hot enough to melt, that molten puddle spreads quickly. You need a lot of heat as it's being rapidly conducted away from the actual weld, but if you linger, the entire thing you're working on will melt... So, the result is that aluminium welds tend to look rather larger and chunkier than welds in steel, and you need to work quickly!

My plan was to make a wireframe cuboid, out of 10mm aluminium square tubing. I made the top and bottom rectangles, then joined them with verticals. So my first welds were the outer corners of the box, and I quickly found that it was all too easy to melt the entire corner into a puddle - but thankfully, I could then just build the weld metal up again and use my belt sander to flatten the result back into a decent corner. So you can't really tell, but the corners are pretty much solid aluminium now...

I finished it, but then spent quite some time worrying how to actually fix it up there. In the end, I made some L-shaped brackets (with a diagonal brace inside the corner). We fixed these to the pillar supporting the projector with hose clamps, and the bottom of the vertical arms rested nicely on the plate at the bottom of the pillar so it can't possibly slide down. The long arms were then drilled, and holes drilled in the corners of the top rectangle of the cage, so they could be joined by M5 bolts. This arrangement gave us some scope to adjust it as we installed it, which was essential as I didn't have exact measurements for the pillar...

Here's the end result:

Projecter cage side Projecter cage front

Projecter cage back Projecter cage wide

The yellowy string stuff is some paracord we added at the last minute, just in case a smaller ball manages to sneak in from the sides.

I grabbed a bit of video of myself and another leader (I was way too nervous to stand up on the wobbly scaffold platform!) figuring out how to attach the thing, but I need a more powerful computer to run Kdenlive so I can properly edit videos into a decent enough state to publish!

International Mens Day (by )

Alaric and sick kitten snuggles

It is International Mens Day today - this popped up in my memories on Facebook - Alaric curled up with kitten Lithium after her op. Alaric as he says is not shy about his emotions like most male people but he does still have extreme self reliance which causes him much misery and is part of the bundle that makes men more likely to commit suicide - my friends that have killed themselves to escape the dark places have so far all been men - here is the tribute song/poem that I made for them:

And also Al's write up of the miscarriage from the father point of view. Something which often gets over looked.

And guys - if you are in that dark place please please seek help - I know it's the hardest thing to do.

Universal Misdirection (by )

This morning is the first morning alone since the miscarriage as Alaric has had to go to work in Cheltenham, I did last night with just me and Mary but mainly she went to bed and I made Christmas cards until Al and Jean came in.

This is a whole day of empty house - so I decided to make more cards - I like making cards. I made it up to my attic, rested, looked through things until I found my crate of card making things... I bought it down stairs - my stomach is now unsurprisingly hurting and cramping up again. I'm not quiet sure what I was thinking, but in my defence it wasn't a heavy crate.

Anyway - I have made lit. hundreds of cards - no idea what I am going to do with them - I want to make more as well. I think I'll just put them out as "pay what you want" at the 2 craft fairs I am doing. And of course we wont have to buy any cards...

Mainly this is a distraction - I am trying not to think too hard whilst on my own. I've finally started my NaNoWriMo and got to 1000 words last night - again I was on my own with Mary in bed and I needed to blot my own thoughts out or rather have them on the perifery where I can think about them but not always feel them.

I still have a living room full of Christmas Craft stuff I'd gotten ready to run workshops with when it all went wrong. The kids and their friends keep randomly making things out of them.

Tuesday I went for my physio/neurology appointment for treatment to do with the head injury. The universe being the universe decided to kick me or attempt to a healiness or something and my physio had chosen that day to announce she was pregnant and going off on maternity leave - not that she needed to announce it what with her little belly.

Then I had to tell her what was wrong and why I hadn't been doing my exercises and why I was having a huge flare up of concussion symptoms. I am not sure who the appointment was harder for but she handled it well and head injury stuff is on a break for a month until I recover from this.

And also it might be aneamia causing alot of the problems so I need to go to my GP and have a review with the head injury team to try and sort things out. I am mucking up numbers again - I ordered the wrong knitting needles that I needed to finish a project off and I order twice as much mega chunky huge wool/yarn to do make Jean's rug with than I need.

But I managed to go for a short walk around the block and to make some food yesterday which is a huge inprovement. This was increadibly important yesterday as they day started pretty roughly with another kick in the teeth from the universe - we have a letter from the hospital for the Dr surgery but I've needed a lot of looking after and there have been alot of things to cancel/book etc... for Alaric to sort out and the up shot is the Dr surgery didn't yet know about me loosing the baby so I get a phone call from a super chirpy midwife congratulating me.

I said. "oh... no"

And obviously they were startled by this - I then explained with my voice getting quieter and higher in pitch. The phone call had woken me up, I had not slept well due to stabbing pains shooting through me. I'd only answered because I thought it would be the person saying the combined ashes had been scattered.

I should have tried to book more bloods then like the physio had told me too but before I could the midwife said she was sorry and didn't know what to say and then said goodbye. I cried. It would have been the day we had the next scan to see if the baby was still growing or was dead so it wouldn't have been a good timing for the phone call what ever.

I'd cried once we left the physio appointment too - I just can't help but think "thank Universe" over this at the moment.

On top of that I am angry at the universe - this means I end up in internet arguments with 50 yr old men who think they know more about the second world war than me. Or that women just plan can't understand strategy etc... Thank goodness my dad doesn't think like this and as he says he's 70!

He's a star and spent an hour on the phone talking to me about military history snippets he'd picked up he thought I might not have heard yet - he is a good distraction - knitting is a good distraction - shame the project is a breast feeding shawl but it was started for this pregnancy or even for me so I think I'm ok with it.

I realise that the two books I was supposed to have out before Christmas are not going to really happen but I have started to prod them a little further towards the finishing line - they were going to be tight anyway and with everything that's happened and me not even really sure of day/week I think it's best to just let the projects complete when they complete.

My inlaws have been wonderful - phoning up from South Africa and Brighton and offering support etc... and friends too - from all the different stages and parts of our lives.

Physically I am getting there (as long as I don't try to do stuff) and emotionally - well I'm a mess but I think that is the healthy thing at this stage - only time will tell on that one.

Can I have Christmas now?

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