29 Apr 2009

Two Birthdays

Yesterday our pooch, Pippi, was 1 year old. Isn't she gorgeous? She is a darling dog, and happily, she seems to like living with us, enjoying her runs by the beach, kibble and lots of snuggles and scratches.

And Thomas is 7 today. He celebrated the big event by choosing the activities and menu for the day. His Grandma arrived this morning and joined us for a breakfast of sausages, bacon, potato bread, beans, toast and scrambled egg - marvellous.

I stayed at home with Duncan (working together on his Trainz game) while the others went shopping for his birthday present, a Wii Fit balance board.

That was set up and so far 3 of them have signed in and got started on the games. I haven't tried it myself yet, but it is great fun.

The next meal choice was chippy fish'n'chips, and after a bit more Wii play, I took the gymnasts to their class. Amazingly they claimed to be hungry again afterwards so I made some spaghetti carbonara, the birthday boy's favourite and of course, a cake.

We gathered for the cake ceremony. Duncan agreed to join in so long as no-one would sing the birthday song. He kept his hands near his ears at all times just in case though. He vacated the room before the song. Thomas looked perfectly happy with his lot. And I am happier than I can describe to have such a boy as my son.

Autism Culture in Salon

Via Michelle Dawson's Autism Crisis blog, I have just read a recent Salon article about the supposed "burgeoning "autism culture" movement". This is presented as an idea with which "not all parents or medical experts agree." Amazingly, Elizabeth Svoboda the article's author, totally misrepresented the work Michelle Dawson does and just invented a belief system for her. Ms Svoboda did not contact Michelle before writing about her. Michelle works as an autism researcher but is mistakenly called a "autistic-rights crusader" who "convinced the Canadian Supreme Court to overturn an appeal that would have provided state funding for ABA therapy." Read Michelle's post to learn the truth about her court appearances.

Ms Svoboda writes,
Like the deaf culture movement before it, the so-called autistic culture movement continues to gain traction, boasting thousands of adherents among parents, patients and healthcare professionals. And the rhetoric is often as strident as anything out of the deaf-pride movement. Some autistic people even use the pejorative term "curebie" to refer to people who hope for a cure for the condition. Organizations like Autism Network International view efforts to cure autism as similar to misguided efforts to cure homosexuality and left-handedness.

As its associated swag -- buttons and T-shirts proclaiming "I am not a puzzle, I am a person" -- suggests, the movement aims to redefine autism as something to be valued and protected, not obliterated. Proponents insist that forcing autistic people to behave like "neurotypicals," a term that borders on insulting, squelches the very qualities that make them unique.
Ooh scary, rude people, calling those who push any old untested, dangerous and painful "treatments" on little autistic children by pejorative terms and calling people whose brains function in a typical way the borderline insulting term, "neurotypical."

Would she prefer they (we) be called normal? Also, few would call those who merely hope for a cure curbies. Like others I know, I don't much like the words curbie and neurotypical and prefer to use pro-cure and non-autistic (or when referring to children, typically developing).

Is there anything wrong with autistic people proclaiming their personhood on buttons and T-shirts? Does Ms Svoboda have any idea of the long history of dehumanising language and
treatment autistic people have endured and continue to endure? There are a few examples on the Autism Demonized blog and more on my blog under the label "disablism."

Neither can I understand how Ms Svoboda, came to the conclusions she did based on the quotes given by the 3 supposed representatives of "autism as a culture" in her article.

Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network is quoted as saying,
"The real ends for autistic people should be quality of life, full access in society, the kinds of things we support and are working for. Parents have been told that the way to approach these things is to support research for a cure, but our belief is that that's not the most effective paradigm.
The cure paradigm sends a message that there is somehow a normal person under the autistic person, and that's a significant denial of who we are."
These are reasonable points to make. A cure is not going to help autistic children and the adults they will become. I don't see how this can be rephrased, as Ms Svoboda does as, "Jenny McCarthy can go jump off a cliff"? I think she's setting out a false alternative of cure versus culture when it's a bit more complicated than that.

Kathleen Seidel is quoted as saying,
"A person's nervous system is not fundamentally going to change -- an autistic person is going to remain autistic throughout his or her lifetime. And it can be very problematic and a source of stress for an autistic child to have to suppress certain mannerisms."
No, nothing about autism-as-a-culture there either.

Dora Raymaker
is quoted as explaining her preference to communicate via text chat,
"If we'd done this interview on the telephone you would have been lucky to get much more than disjointed, stuttering, completely non sequitur responses from me. But because you allowed me to do this interview through text-only media where I can slow down, really understand you, and bypass my difficulties with spoken language, I'm able to give you intelligent, on topic answers. Do I need a pill to make me suddenly able to have phone conversations, or do I need you to be able to find a middle ground that bypasses my disabilities?"
Oh dear, Dora actually used the "D" word! But never mind, just misrepresent her too and pretend she thinks autism is just a difference:
The key assumption that underlies much autistic culture discourse is that any autism-related limitations can be worked around and dealt with in a way that does not compromise the autistic individual's core "personhood." When such workarounds are found, Raymaker asserts, the concept of a "cure" becomes irrelevant.
From my reading of the piece, Ms Svoboda would do well to read a bit about the social model of disability. Some people have mobility-related limitations that can be worked around with the use of a wheelchair and assessible transport and services. These do not compromise the person's core "personhood."

Harold Doherty is interviewed and does his party party piece of making stuff up about those uncaring neurodiveristy types. Then near the end of the article Ms Svoboda makes the following fabulous claim, that "the autistic culture movement may come off as dogmatic at times." Oh my. When compared to pro-cure proponents like the aforementioned Jenny McCarthy and her Generation Rescue buddies, the tricksy lawyer, the ABA battlers, sure, those of us who reckon autistic people should be treated well and not cured or eliminated are really dogmatic!

23 Apr 2009

Horse Mum gets in touch

I was very interested to read a few comments on my "Horse Boy" blog post from Kristin Neff, the mother of the child featured in the book. I don't think she likes what I had to say.
I am happy to respond to her comments but since she wrote so much, I thought it warranted a separate blog post.
My comments will be in red below.

Comment 1

Might be a good idea to read the book before slamming it.
I have not slammed the book so much as the media articles I have read and listened to about the book and by the book's author. I have read several long excerpts from the book in a UK newspaper and listened to a detailed and uncritical radio interview with your husband on Irish radio. I have made it clear that my criticisms are based on all these.
It's amazing how quick people are to judge things, with almost no information to go on.
I disagree that I have judged with "no information". The book has featured prominently in many major newspapers and magazines. All the information made public in these gives me plenty to make a judgement on.
I am Rowan's mother, subject of the Horseboy, and I can tell you that I feel like I used to when people would judge me at the supermarket when Rowan was having a tantrum, assuming I was a horrible mother and Rowan a brat, without knowing anything about us at all.
Do you really call your son "Horseboy"? [Edit, she never called him "Horseboy", I made an error and apologise for this.] Wow. I'm sorry that you are upset at my criticism's of your husband's articles and what I have read of his book. It appears from what I have seen, that most people think what you've done is just great and admirable. I don't. When you decided to make your story so widely known you must have expected there would be some people who would be shocked and offended at what you have done and have said. Neither do I agree that this is comparable to strangers making snap judgements in supermarkets.
I hope people take more time to learn about you and understand your personal stories before making such harsh and unkind judgments.
People are free to judge me based on what I have made available in my writing here. I have a few detractors, but this is a blog of little importance so I am ignored by most. Whether my criticisms can be deemed harsh and unkind is, I think, a matter of opinion.
And in fact, based on ther viewpoints you've expressed here, I think many of you will actually find resonance in the book. We've had hundreds of e-mails from other autism parents (those who have actually read the book or seen the documentary) who've expressed their gratitude that we were able to raise awareness of the incredible struggles but incredible love we have for our wonderful children.
That's nice. I think there's already plenty of awareness of our struggles and love and not enough about respecting autistic people and their needs.
(In fact, this is why our next book will about about the Gifts of Autism, because we believe that for every problem posed by autism there is a corresponding gift that us supposedly "normal" people can learn from.)
Smart move, I'm sure there will be a market for it too.
By the way, the first thing we did when we got the advance was to open up a non-profit riding center for families who couldn't otherwise afford hippo-therapy (soaking up a huge portion of the advance). We wanted to give back to the autism community for our incredible good fortune.
Cool, so the poor children in the area can ride for free or at a greatly reduced cost? Do you offer shamanic healing at your centre or is it more like the many great equestrian centres already out there working with disabled people?
I hope all of you also find happiness, fulfilment, and prosperity in your lives. Autism parents are some of the bravest and most loving people around. Can't we support each other?
Thank you for your kind wishes. Some parents of autistic people are brave and kind, some aren't. I'll support those whom I think are working to make life better for people like my son and I'll speak out against those who I see preaching nonsense and disablist language about people like him.

Comment 2
Also, since I suspect that the views expressed in this blog will make it unlikely many will actually read the book, you might be interested in this passaage from the end of the book (p. 348-349).

"Rowan is still autistic - his essence, his many talents, are all tied up with it. He has been healed of the terrible dysfunctions that afficted him - his physical and emotional incontinence, his neurological firestorms, his anxiety and hyperacivity.
Kristin, I consider the expression "emotional and physical incontinence" to be a revolting way of describing a child. What do you mean also by "neurological firestorms"? Could this be temper tantrums? I agree we all wish for our children to grow out of incontinence, have much fewer tantrums, be less anxious and hyperactive. I also agree that such development, which usually takes longer for autistic children, does not mean that the person is no longer autistic.
But he has not been cured. Nor would I want him to be. To "cure" him, in terms of trying to tear the autism out, now seems to me completely wrong Why can't he exist between the worlds, with a foot in both, as many neurotypical people do? Think of immigrants to the United States, living with one foot in their home language and culture, the other in the West, walking in two worlds. It is a rich place to be. Can Rowan keep learning the skills necessary to swim in our world while retaining the magic of his own? It seems a tangible dream.
I like this sentiment a lot.

Comment 3
And one final thing. One of the sad aspects of many people's dismissive reactions to the idea that we consulted traditional healers and shamans to help our son is the incredible arrogance and ethonocentrism of Westerns who believe that no healing tradition has any validity except their own.
I dismiss that which has never been shown to work. If shamans can prove their effectiveness then let them do their healing thing everywhere. That's not arrogant "ethnocentrism" just applied reason.
Humans had to find ways to improve well-being and happiness for thousands of years before modern science came along, and many of these healing traditions are very effective.
That something has existed for a long time is no proof that it is worth continuing with, especially not when dealing with health and medicine. If the ancient remedy is shown to work (like willow bark) it is used in modern medicine. There is just medicine that works and that which doesn't.
(Not saying that science isn't also wonderful of course, and by the way we do use traditional therapies such as ABA as well, but do we have to restrict and limit our options?)
Yes I read an article about your son 2 years ago in the Times, that you used, "speech and occupational therapy, applied behavioural analysis, chelation to get rid of toxins, supplements to adjust the child’s chemistry this way or that." These techniques were not based on science either, chelation in particular is potentially fatal. Still you make out that it's the horses and shaman stuff that has wrought this amazing, no, miraculous change in your son? How do you know? It's nice that you think science is wonderful. I think so too and apply a bit of scientific thinking in weighing up stories like yours.
If you were to spend any time around traditional cultures, you'd observe their beauty and integrity for yourself. My husband has been a tireless advocate for the rights of indigenous cultures, spending years of his life, without pay, to advocate for their land rights (he played a key role in the San of Southern Africa winning one of the largest land claims in history.) But people are so quick to ridicule and dismiss what they don't understand.
I'm sure there are many fascinating, beautiful and wonderful aspects to cultures you have been around. I am happy that your husband works to advocate with these. I do not ridicule the people, but I do not wish to adopt methods of medicine that have no basis in evidence, no matter how lovely the people practicing it are nor how long they have used it.
As parents of autistic children we understand this attitude all too well don't we, when people make fun of and dismiss our children without bothering to try to know or understand them? Isn't there a better way? A way where love and tolerance and patience and compassion allow us to open our hearts and minds to each other, rather than viciously attacking what is different and unfamiliar?
Not similar at all. The people are not being dismissed, just their non effective medicine. I do not viciously attack them at all, they perhaps are limited in the medicine available to them in far flung corners of the world. I have not viciously attacked you or your husband either, but I am irritated that you who should know better can believe in magic, can use your son to market a book in a dramatic way that jumps on the autism bandwagon, choose to use offensive and disablist language in describing autism and your son and promote nonsensical healing "exorcism" ceremonies that can only be described as abusive.

22 Apr 2009

In memory of Alyric

There's this great blog called A Touch of Alyricism that I've been reading for a few years. It's not updated all that frequently, maybe once or twice a month. I have it listed on my Google reader and it's always a treat to see a new post go up. I felt the same today until I clicked on the post and read that Alyric, its author died of cancer last Saturday.

Her husband and daughter were kind enough to write on her blog to share the terrible news with those of us who only knew her through her written words. They described her, in words that make perfect sense and ring with truth, as "truly courageous" and one who "always fought for the betterment of people, and not the detriment." I am very grateful to them for having done this.

I felt such grief and shock when I read it and my thoughts are with her family and their sad loss.

Those of us who cared about issues like ethics, respect, accuracy and decent treatment for all people have lost an important voice.

Here are a few of my favourite posts by Alyric,
It's hard to believe and very sad to consider that she will never speak out like this again.

19 Apr 2009

Absent minded mum

Lady has been staying with one of her friends and her family in their Donegal caravan for a few days. Gordon and I took the boys into Belfast on the train yesterday morning. Duncan was so chilled out as we travelled. We went to St George's Market first. I'd hoped he would have enjoyed it like when we last were there and he was enthralled by the large clock with the visible mechanism. But the crowd and live music bothered him too much yesterday and I'd forgotten to bring his ear defenders or hat so he darted in with hands over his ears for just long enough to spy a bag of fudge for sale, ask me to buy it, and then he went back out and sat on some stairs. Gordon and Thomas wandered around the market for a while while I sat by Duncan. We shared a little fudge, unfortunately it was horrible. I asked if he wanted to go in to look at the clock, but he said, "Daddy and Thomas love the market, Duncan loves the stairs and Mummy loves Duncan." He's not wrong.

After this we walked to Victoria Square shopping centre. Duncan had livened up a bit by then and rushed off ahead of us trying to find somewhere that stocked Thomas & Friends toys. He had decided that he wanted a Tomy Fearless Freddie. Argos was no help so we went to the Hamleys store and he found a different friend of Thomas (the engine) to purchase. Thomas (the boy) chose a microscope. I paid for both items and we left the shop and headed to Nandos for an early lunch. Duncan has been eating chicken most days recently, a welcome addition to his previously limited and low protein diet so it was great to see him eating something in a restaurant and behaving quite well. It helped that there were few other customers, we were sitting in a large booth and he had a brand new toy to focus on.

As we left, he realised that the dinosaur book he'd been carrying around earlier was nowhere to be seen. I knew he must have put it down while he examined the toys in Hamleys so we had to make our way back there and lo, there it was. It took a while to extricate the boys from the toy store again and we decided to make our way slowly back to the station to get the next train home. On the way, Duncan darted off into a toy and crafts shop which also boasted a large collection of Thomas & Friends stuff as well as puppets, Lego and other interesting booty. He spied some modelling clay and chose a few packets, in all the colours needed to create an effigy of his new favourite, Donald Duck. Being only a few pounds each and of "educational value" I decided to buy them for him, but my purse was not in my bag. The last time I'd used it had been in Hamleys so we had to all troop back there once again. The woman who'd served me when I bought the toys, and who'd given me back the lost book was amused to see me back again, asking if I fancied someone working there or something. Ha bloody ha. Anyway, the purse wasn't there, so I had to look in Nandos, and thankfully, they had found it. By now a bit fed up with my less than simple day out, we rushed back to catch the train, and guess what, at the ticket barrier, I couldn't find the flaming ticket. I'd probably pulled it out off my back pocket when I'd been searching madly for the missing purse. The woman working there let us through anyway (Gordon has a season ticket) as I think she'd remembered us coming through earlier when I was running after Duncan as he raced into the shop. What a kerfuffle! One thing I know for next time, is to carry a larger bag.

But it was a beautiful day so we decided to risk another outing. This time, we drove to Gordon's mum's house and left the boys there. Then we ran back home with Pippi dog, a 6 mile journey along the coast. It was beautiful and is by far the longest run I've done for years. I did OK too, not needing to stop except after going up some steep steps near the end. Gordon then rushed back to get the boys, but his mum had found looking after them both hard work this time so we've decided not to ask her to do it again. We'll need to find another babysitter if we want to go out together on Saturdays.

Tell you what, I'm stiff and sore as nuts today though.

17 Apr 2009

Autism...I mean, Autistic Awareness Videos

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network working with the Dan Marino Foundation and Kent Creative have developed the following excellent video outlining some of the myths and realities of life as an autistic person.

There is also a captioned version of the video.

Bev has made a couple of great autistic awareness videos too. These help to counteract the usual nonsense (horse manure) excreted during April for autism awareness month.

16 Apr 2009

Train Puzzles

Duncan just asked me to help him update his blog. He's put up some pictures of Thomas & Friends trains...in pieces. One of them is like a cylinder spread flat and the other 2 are puzzles, with components of each engine, including eyeballs (these are engines with faces) jumbled up and in need of recombination. He's helpfully shown all the colours needed to paint the engines too.

Duncan loves the Magandy site as a source for down-loadable engines for his Trainz Railway Simulator game. There used to be a collection of fantastic Thomas & Friends engines available, but sadly the site owner had to stop making them available. Luckily, it turns out that this kind man was willing to make an exception for a certain young enthusiast. But Duncan lives in hope that there will one day be more Thomas trains on the site again and he copies and colours in other engines making them more like his favourites.

15 Apr 2009

Horse Boy Book -and me- in the New York Times

A few weeks ago I shared some thoughts on a recently published book, a new addition to the autism-parent canon. In this one, instead of using a dog, a restrictive diet, behaviourism or some random, off-label and unproven combination of medications to defeat the dread autism, the parent has subjected the autistic child to shaman "healing" rituals and dragged the boy, with a film crew, across Mongolia on horse back.

The post was read by New York Times journalist Motoko Rich, who contacted me for an interview as she was writing an article on the Horse Boy book which was released in the USA this week. Her article appeared today with the unfortunate headline; A Gallop Toward Hope: One Family’s Adventure in Fighting Autism.

Fighting autism- ouch.

It's clearly a brilliant article, and my inclusion hasn't created any bias in my opinion. Really.
In writing about Rowan’s experiences, Mr. Isaacson is careful to avoid the word “cure,” but writes of an amazing “recovery” and “healing.” That has some prospective readers wary. Sharon Fennell, a mother of three in Belfast, Northern Ireland, whose 8-year-old son is autistic, said she had read newspaper excerpts and reviews in Britain, where the book came out last month.

She questioned whether Rowan’s progress could be attributed to what happened in Mongolia or to just typical changes that all children go through. “To make this story more engaging, it has to be portrayed as something miraculous and fantastical, because ordinary, everyday, slow-plodding progress does not read so well,” Ms. Fennell said.
OK so I'll get over myself now.

It was interesting to learn the inside story of the publishing deal:
...the publisher paid more than $1 million in an advance to Mr. Isaacson before he and his family had even taken their Mongolian trip.

Michael Pietsch, publisher of Little, Brown, said booksellers had already placed orders high enough to justify a first printing of 150,000 copies.

“It just touched so many points of interest — helping to heal an autistic child, traveling under difficult circumstances,” Mr. Pietsch said. “Most of all, I felt this was a story entirely driven by the chances you’ll take for love, and I felt, who’s not going to want to read this story when they hear the outlines of it?”
The publisher also admits,
“that regardless of the outcome in Mongolia, we thought he would write a very moving and interesting and dramatic book.”
So Isaacson went off with his son knowing he had to produce a tale worthy of the wad of cash he'd already been handed. What would he have done if there hadn't actually been an acceptably dramatic level of progress in the boy's development? Is there a chance that he might have...massaged the truth, made it more saleable and sensational?

Actually, I hope he did exaggerate when he described the shaman ceremony in which his little son was surrounded by strangers beating drums and passed, kicking and screaming, to an old woman who spat vodka all over him. Of course, ordinarily, this sort of thing would be called by it's real name- child abuse- but anything goes, or so it seems, when it comes to "fighting" autism.

Dr Paul Offit, whose book Autism's False Prophets, is one of the best I've read recently is less than impressed with the book's premise. He's said to think that:
anecdotal examples of recovery like that in “The Horse Boy” could give parents “false hope” and lead them to spend thousands of dollars trying to replicate an experience without any scientific proof that it would help.
The NY Times blog has collected more opinions on the book. Oddly, those questioned appear to be giving their opinion on Mongolian horse/shaman therapy as if it's even worthy of a moment's serious consideration.

Temple Grandin, well known autistic author and animal scientist, said that "it’s important to expose young autistic kids to new things," something I'd agree with, and something you don't have to go to Mongolia for, no matter whether you head off with $1 million in your pocket or not.

Simon Baron-Cohen, (lovely man) points out that all children, and not just those with autism, "develop in leaps and bounds rather than having some kind of steady, linear increase." He also said,
"The combination of a story about a child with autism and a location that’s outside the West; throw in the extra ingredient of communicating across species, and maybe a touch of mysticism with the shamanism — you’ve obviously got a lot of ingredients for interesting drama, and it’s very televisual. But that doesn’t necessarily have anything to tell us about the nature of autism or what would constitute a useful treatment."
I agree with him, and also with Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network who spoke of "public attitudes that autism is some sort of appendage that attaches itself to a normal child rather than an aspect of a normal person’s development that doesn’t go away." He also recognised the "role of emotional support animals" and mentioned the ASAN advocacy to ensure people's legal rights to have such animals. His quote ends,
"My hope is that people can take the message of acceptance that an autism diagnosis doesn’t have to result in the end of one’s life either as an individual or a family."
University of California psychiatry professor, Sally Rogers describes the studies of autism treatments in which children in placebo groups:
"show as much improvement as the intervention group. When that occurs in a child with autism, my assumption is that being in the study changes the expectations of the caregivers and the caregivers’ behavior changes as a result."
"So part of what I wonder about is whether their expectations from the experiences they are having are changing for their child, and that’s changing not only their expectations, but their behavior. And that results in changes in the responses of the child."
This is important and highlights the effect that parental effort, attitude and expectations can have on their child's development. The so called "horse boy" liked riding, and hopefully, despite the trials he was subjected to, enjoyed having more of his father's attention than he would presumably have had usually, even if he did have to contend with a film crew tagging along capturing every moment of engagement.

A paediatrician called Dr. Rosen bafflingly reckons we should look more into “n of one” research studies. But what about statistics, which a clever man once said, exists to stop us making fools of ourselves?

Sarah Spence, paediatric neurologist thinks "these books do inspire hope for a lot of people with this disorder, which is very difficult and can make some families feel very hopeless."

I'm not so sure, I think these books can be harmful in that they present autism in such a negative light, they portray autistic people in discriminatory and damaging ways, and they claim that without some sort of dazzlingly unlikely breakthrough, autistic people are unlikely to make any progress. They are frequently false. They sometimes (as in this case) portray dangerous or highly aversive practices (horse riding without helmets, vodka spitting strangers) as necessary and minimise the importance of empathetic, accepting and understanding parenting and optimised and targeted education methods. They can be good at showing how it's is possible to use an autistic child's interests and preferences to help him or her to learn and develop, but they imply that without the particular system described in each particular book, the child would be lost...trapped forever in the fortress of their autism. Which is crap.

I dread the film.

10 Apr 2009

A Good Friday

This has been a good Friday so far.

Right now, Lady is at the cinema with 2 friends. They're watching Race to Witch Mountain. Duncan is at home with me. He's getting changed. Today he dressed up as Donald Duck by putting a pull-up nappy over his pants to create a nice bulky white bum, and wearing a blue T-shirt with 4 cardboard "buttons" stuck on with tape. A couple of days ago, he and I were in town with the girl who lives next door. We'd dropped the others off at gymnastics and were on our way to the charity shop to buy videos. Then, Duncan was dressed in a new long, navy dressing gown, short green "Peter Pan" trousers, wellies and a back-to-front blue cap and carrying a torch. He was, as will no doubt be obvious, Professor Ludwig Von Drake. Our neighbour, rather admiringly described his look as "extremely random." She's a great girl.

Last seen in an Irish town, bowing graciously as he went.

Thomas went to work with Gordon today. He called me to tell me he'd been all around the labs and seen a cell under a microscope and wanted one of his own. A microscope that is. He wanted to figure out how many cells we each have and then about how many cells are in all the people in the world.

Later they went to the cinema together, and from the photo I was emailed this afternoon I can deduce they were in the Victoria Square Shopping Centre. After the film they went for tapas. They're having a great old time.

Thomas with the dazzling Belfast city skyline.

After persuading his dad he needed hot chocolate.

Duncan's new favourite thing is his Vtech camera. He can take photos and videos whenever he wants and incorporate them into his films. He made a film a few days ago, in which he videoed a YouTube film as it played and sang along and gave a bit of helpful commentary. It's posted on his blog here. The other children have had loads of fun with the camera too, taking shots of Pippi and using the special effects to frame their faces with horns or a viking helmet. I would have loved something as cool as this when I was their age.

I'm looking forward now to the weekend as we'll be mixing it up with some of the extended family. No doubt, chocolate will be consumed too.

1 Apr 2009

Paris Report

It was wonderful.

We left the children in the capable hands of their grandparents and headed off to the airport. As soon as we left home, I was on holiday, off duty. Marvellous.

Our flight was perfectly pleasant, we landed in the afternoon and took a train into Paris, changing once to get to the station near the Arc de Triomphe from where we walked for 15 minutes or so to our hotel. Just before we made it indoors, the rain started, soon followed by some very rubbish hail.

The hotel we'd picked was nice enough, small and friendly. The room wasn't anything special, but there was a bed and all the other stuff you need from a hotel room so it did us grand.

We were keen to get out and see around so we dandered off in the opposite direction to how we'd arrived and soon ended up by the Palais des Congrès, an arts venue and shopping centre. We had coffees inside and then spent some time wandering the supermarket, feeling utterly jealous of the French approach to food production, supply and preparation. There was such a wonderful selection of great food and though we'd reservations for dinner later that night, we couldn't resist buying a small selection to take back to our room.

We returned to the hotel for some chilling time and sampled just a tiny bit of the irresistible food we'd bought. I was getting well into some TV documentary about early humans and their struggle for survival. It was far more explicit than what would be shown on UK or Irish channels in the afternoon, and all the better for it.

But I had to tear myself away from the box to get dolled up as best I could. A reservation had made at Senderens, a hugely posh restaurant. We had to take a taxi as I was wearing stupid shoes, not my usual practical and sensible gear. And the restaurant, wow - other worldly. It was very attractive inside and the food was like something prepared by angels to torture our fallible and flawed human forms with perfection that we will never be able to attain. Not unless we shell out for another top rated, pricey Parisian restaurant anyway. It was so very good.

Next morning we had the rest of our supermarket procured food in our room, and a fine start to the day it was too. Then we went out and walked for miles, down to the Trocadero area where we very obviously took photos of each other in front of the Eiffel Tower. It was dry but fairly cold and I was glad I'd packed gloves and a scarf. We headed east along the river, following the south bank for a while then switching north and passing Place de la Concorde and on to Ile de la Cité all the while marvelling at the beauty and grandeur of the city. It's so very different from Belfast!

So we dandered up to the Centre Pompidou and walked the streets for a bit looking for somewhere to eat. Before long we spotted exactly what we wanted, a cafe set over a bakery, with such an array of bread and pastries downstairs that we knew we'd be well set if we ate upstairs. So we had brunch, and it was as fine a meal as what we'd had the night before. The bread and croissants were the best we've ever eaten, the coffee was good and the atmosphere was fantastic.

Now we embarked on our quest to enjoy some more trashy culture and we took a train out to Disneyland Paris. We've been before, but wanted to ride the faster, scarier rides without having to worry about who would look after the children. We had such a blast, and managed to go on 4 roller coasters and the Tower of Terror.

Next morning we just had time to have another great breakfast and do a bit of shopping before getting a bus back to the airport and flying back to Belfast. The children had all been fine and had enjoyed their time with Granda and G. and as ever, it was great to be home.