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Struggling through education and work oblivious to my autism (updated)

Charlie Hart works for Solicitors Regulation Authority as HR Systems Analyst. Openly autistic and bi, and passionate about diversity and inclusion, Charlie is an active member of the SRA’s staff support networks and the cross-functional EDI working group. She is SRA’s current Champion Ally and Neurodiversity Champion.

Growing up

As far as my parents and I were aware, I was normal.  Okay, so my development and behaviour may have been unusual at times, like in my eighteen-month development check when I built the Great Wall of China with building bricks instead of the anticipated tower, my solo role-playing games (spending whole weekends jumping into the car through the window, Dukes of Hazzard-style, wanting to be a cowboy), and my highly focussed interests like learning to identify any British bird.

According to the educational psychologist who assessed me, aged ten, I was fine. Nothing like my brother, who was autistic and hyperactive with learning disabilities and in special school.  Yes, he was the special one, and I was bright and full of potential. In class I often doodled or stared out of the window, but I soaked up information like a sponge. Despite doing zero homework, I could hyper-focus and recall facts in exams, so I did well in my GCSEs and A-Levels.

University

My proud parents packed me off to Lancaster University.  Little did we realise how ill-equipped I was to live far away from home and study for a degree. I knew nothing about executive dysfunction then, but I frequently screwed up. For example, I did not notice when the clocks changed and missed a full day of lectures before realising that I was out of sync with everybody else. I struggled with basic tasks like using the library and the computer room, but I was too awkward and too proud to seek any help. I had no concept of self-directed study and coursework, having done no homework at school. Without my mum around to keep me in check, I got myself into mischief and buried my head in the sand about how far behind I was falling.

I failed my first year at university, because I had not submitted enough coursework for my minor subject. Given the chance to re-sit the missing two pieces of coursework over the summer, I could not get into it, not even a single word, so I failed. I stayed in Lancaster for two more years, working unsuitable jobs and chasing a boyfriend who was not that into me. I was depressed and borderline anorexic, as I grasped for control. Nothing wrong with me though, hey?

Office work as an undiagnosed autistic

Eventually I returned to the Midlands to live with my mum and my brother. My first job there was in an insurance brokers office, which was disastrous. Fortunately, it gave me the office IT experience I needed to get an agency temp placement for a bank, in a large office on a business park. Their HR team leader needed help with the administrative burden of a large restructure. I proved myself keen and helpful, so they offered me a fixed-term contract. I was then asked to help with a review of salary scales for their technical grades. I started using Excel, with a steep learning curve. Suddenly I was in my element! Such was my interest in HR, I thought I had found my niche. Newly ambitious, I enrolled at Coventry University Business School and started my CIPD qualifications two evenings per week. This time I was able to get my coursework done and I passed my Certificate in Personnel Practice and Postgraduate Certificate in HR Management with flying colours. Finally, I was back on track. I had a job I liked (shame it was temporary), professional qualifications and associate membership of the CIPD.

When I moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne with my first husband, I got a job as an HR Systems Analyst. Even better! Now I could work in HR with the systems, people data and projects that I really made me tick – calculating and implementing pay reviews and other such fun stuff, without ever being expected to do the uncomfortable “touchy-feely” side of HR such as handling grievances and disciplinaries and other employee relations issues. I had zero inclination to manage people, nor any confidence I ever could, so I did feel a little career-limited, but it did not matter because I enjoyed this work so much. When I became a mother, aged 27, I struggled to cope with the conflicting demands of work and home and developed an anxiety disorder. I quickly burned out, and eventually had to resign to move closer to home.

Luckily, I landed on my feet again, as I managed to secure a role “HR systems and admin support specialist”. Despite my considerable trepidation about starting again and having to make the right impression with new colleagues, I settled into the HR team and passed my probation period.

My team manager went on maternity leave, so I found myself reporting directly to the Director of HR. She offered me an acting-up allowance to cover my manager’s role, in addition to my own. Suddenly I had two direct reports, and I represented the HR systems and admin team at HR Business Partner meetings. Outside my comfort zone, I felt out of my depth and imposter syndrome set in.

I often received positive feedback about my productivity (“eats workload for breakfast”) and the quality of my work (“meticulous attention to detail”, “painstaking”), yet I never got anything above “achieved” in my performance development reviews. When I asked the HR Director what I needed to do to get that exceed rating I was striving for, she talked a lot about “behaviours” and “competencies” and nothing at all about performance. I argued that what she described about “behavioural development needs” was my “fundamental personality” and not linked to performance.

Some examples of feedback I was receiving in annual performance development reviews:

“You get too bogged down in the detail, and miss the bigger strategic picture”

“Your output is great, but you fall down on the building and maintaining relationships aspect of the role”

“You excelled at this project that you were really interested in, but only just met requirements for the business-as-usual work”

“Your meeting behaviours really let you down”

“You can’t exceed just by doing great work on your own, but not pulling together as a team”

Little did either of us realise, but my autistic neurology was the underlying reason I was held back from exceeding or progressing in my HR role. Also, I was unaware of how much the way I was coming across during this discussion was getting the HR Director’s back up. My intention was not to criticise the competency framework, but I genuinely wanting to know how to get ahead. Often there is a disconnect between my intentions and how I come across. She suggested interpersonal skills coaching and included this in my personal development plan.

This jovial chap of a learning and development consultant was assigned the task of helping me develop my interpersonal skills. He would bestow upon me the importance of small talk, breaking the ice, gentle banter, showing an interest in other people’s holidays, kids, pets etc. This to me felt quite unnatural and uncomfortable. Then he went on to talk about non-verbal communication such as eye contact and body language. In a nutshell, without knowing I was autistic, he was trying to teach me how to pass for neurotypical – unhelpful to me, as it made me self-conscious about my social and communication differences. Previous struggles in relationships and social situations preyed on my mind, my inner demons were woken, and I was taken out by depression for months.

Post-diagnosis work

Forward-wind to 2018 and, to cut a long story short, my eldest was identified autistic aged 15 and I realised that I was just as autistic as he was. I went through the adult diagnosis process and was diagnosed ASD aged 42 (my ADHD was identified later).

I texted my manager to tell her the news, and she texted back “Congratulations, I assume you’re happy about it?”. I had kept her in the loop during the process. After my autism diagnosis, I had a spring in my step. Now I finally knew there was mitigation for my struggles, a genuine reason for finding things difficult that my intellectual peers took for granted.

The next day I declared my autism as a disability, because although I know it brings many distinct advantages to me in my role as HR Systems Analyst (yes, when I find something I like, I keep doing it… 19 years so far), it does cause some profound difficulties as well.

I already had reasonable adjustments in place for my anxiety disorder, mainly to do with part-time hours and regular home-working days, and we tweaked those and agreed them again. One of my new reasonable adjustments was for those I work with to understand more about autism and how it affects me in the workplace. As I wanted to personally spread this message of acceptance, I killed two birds with one stone and developed a neurodiversity inclusion presentation – including personal content and best practice neurodiversity inclusion. Everybody in HR has seen this, and many in the wider business including line managers and recruiting managers.

I went through the process of introspection regarding autistic burn-out, to recognise and document the triggers. For instance, I was able to tell my manager that the last time I was burned-out and needed time off work with depression, this was triggered by the way I was working during a big one-off project. I had been spending half my time in meetings where I had to curb my enthusiasm and maintain professional behaviours, and the rest of my time training 1:1 the colleague assigned to cover my day job. I did not have any time to myself, to just get my head down and plough through spreadsheets or similar. I had been struggling to function, far outside of my comfort zone for weeks, masking so much I could hardly breathe. Time off work to recharge helped so much, I would come back with a renewed vigour and go through a hyper-productive phase. Previously I had worried this might be mania, from undiagnosed bipolar disorder, until I researched autistic burn-out and the penny dropped. I have also grown to recognise the warning signs of meltdowns and realise when I am getting overwhelmed. I can now usually de-escalate before I erupt at colleagues.

Autism advocacy

I have had many opportunities since to spread the word about autism and neurodiversity acceptance, which I love talking about. I especially enjoyed teaming up with Helen May from Belonging at Work. Helen and I are quite the double act, talking about my autism and her ADHD as we bounce off each other’s sense of humour.

I also have a social media advocacy presence under the name “Ausome Charlie”.

I always encourage people to be open about being autistic or ADHD, because openness leads to understanding and acceptance, which leads to support and inclusion. When people message me to say, “Guess what, I’ve been diagnosed autistic too” my response is always “Welcome to Club Ausome”.

Being an ally to your neurodivergent colleagues

Understanding the terminology

“Neurodivergent” means having a neurological difference resulting in different cognitive processing and thinking. Basically, having a brain that is wired differently from typical.

Many neurological differences are due to lifelong neurological conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourette’s, or a combination of these conditions.

Neurological differences can also be acquired later in life, for example, by brain injuries caused by accident or stroke.

Some mental health conditions can also affect the way brains process information, for example obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some people with neurological conditions identify as disabled and some do not.

Some mental health conditions very commonly co-occur with neurological differences- especially depression, general anxiety, social anxiety, PTSD, OCD.

“Neurodiversity” means recognising and respecting the differences between all human brains and understanding the unique strengths and challenges of different brains, or “the limitless variability of human cognition and the uniqueness of each human mind” (Judy Singer, 1998).

When a workforce is “neurodiverse”, it includes people with different types of brains, and therefore different cognitive skills and thinking styles, not just people who think alike.

In my view, embracing neurodiversity, celebrating the advantages of including people in the workforce who think differently, is the first step to being an ally to people with neurological differences. Colleagues can also support us with our challenges, help to break down barriers to inclusion, and accept us for who we are so we can thrive as our authentic selves.

How can I be an effective ally to neurodivergent colleagues?

Understanding each individual’s unique strengths and challenges is key, because we each have specific accessibility needs and support needs.

It can be unhelpful to stereotype people based on their neurological condition, so please ask rather than making assumptions. For example, many autistic people feel uncomfortable turning on their videos during online meetings. Personally, video calls do not bother me, but I do prefer people to message me in advance rather than video or voice calling me without warning.

Charlie’s top tips for being an ally to your autistic colleagues

  • Understand that autistic people often need extra time to switch from one task to another, so we can struggle with scattered meetings throughout the day and with back-to-back meetings. Please consult us before filling up our calendars with meetings – we may need larger chunks of time to focus on a single piece of work and can become overwhelmed when flitting between meetings and tasks all day. I often simmer into meltdown when my working day involves a lot of task switching.
  • Sometimes autistic people need specific instructions, broken down into manageable chunks, and it can be helpful to confirm expectations in writing.
  • Be accommodating to people with sensory issues, for example by allowing headphones, earphones, sunglasses, anti-glare screens, lower lighting, blinds. Avoid meetings in noisy areas with people talking over each other. Understand that some autistic people may struggle with video calls.
  • Be supportive when we get overwhelmed. Notice meltdowns, shutdowns and signs of burn-out. We might need a fresh air break or an extended toilet break to de-escalate.
  • Challenge your own expectations about social behaviours. Some autistic people struggle with small talk and find greetings awkward. Be aware of anxiety caused by unexpected calls and desk visits.
  • We can be passionate about our topics of highly-focussed interest, not just our hobbies but this can be something work-related too. This passion can lead to us interrupting people and dominating meetings. Please let us know when to stop talking, and not with “subtle hints”. Others could struggle to speak up in meetings, especially online meetings, and it’s important that leaders and facilitators ensure they still have a “voice”.
  • Understand the unique strengths we autistic staff bring to the workplace – see this poster from Harriet Cannon at Leeds University. These are useful skills, particularly in a workforce which has a large proportion of roles requiring logical and analytical thinking (and not just IT roles).

Thanks for reading. Your allyship makes a big difference to us, and helps us thrive as our authentic selves in the social and sensory minefield that is the workplace 😎

How to be an ally to bi and pan people #PrideMonth2021

How to be an ally to bi or pan people

By Charlie Hart (Ausome Charlie) June 2021

Understand what labels mean

The current definition of “bisexual” or “bi” is “attracted to more than one gender”. “Pansexual” or “pan” means when we are attracted to individuals, their gender does not come into it. Neither term excludes trans people.

Why talk about sexual orientation?

“Why talk about this”, you may be wondering, or “how is this professional /appropriate /relevant?”

It is not inappropriate to be open about our identity and protected characteristics. Many people do not feel comfortable or safe to be “out” about their own sexual orientation, but to me it is part of the “whole self” that I expect to be free to express.

Sexual orientation is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. We have a right to be open about our sexuality in the workplace without fear of stigma, and without unlawful discrimination and bullying.

Bisexuality is far more common than many people realise. You all have colleagues, friends, possibly even family members, who are bi or pan. However, they may not be visible or “out” about their sexuality – especially if they are in a “straight-passing” relationship, especially if they are from a background where their true sexuality would not be accepted by some and “straight” is the societal expectation.

What can allies do to help?

This is not an exhaustive list, just my own perspective, in no particular order:

Othering       

If you would ask a straight friend or colleague about their weekend with their spouse or partner, you can ask us about our weekend too, even if we have a same-sex partner. Please do not “other” us, by treating us differently in this respect. Please do respect our dignity and avoid asking intrusive personal questions that you would not ask a straight person.

Monogamy and promiscuity

If you have a partner or spouse who is bi or pan, please do not feel insecure just because of their sexuality. We do not have to “pick a side”, we fall in love with a person. We are just as capable of monogamy as anybody else, although some of us are polyamorous and that is also valid. We are not inherently promiscuous.

Jokes              

Okay, personally I might chuckle along if somebody said, “well I suppose being bisexual doubles your chances of a date on a Saturday night”. Some of the bi jokes are offensive though, and some bisexual people are more easily upset about such jokes than others. Sexuality can be a sensitive subject to many, and we have a right to our dignity and not to be the butt of bullying jokes and toxic banter. If in doubt about how your joke may be received, please resist making it.

LGBT+ Pride  

Understand that we are a valid part of the LGBT+ spectrum, and that we do belong at Pride, even if we are in a straight-passing relationship.

Firstly, the B stands for Bisexual, we are still a minority group.

Secondly, please do not assume our gender, nor the genders of our partners.

Assumptions

One problem I have had since coming out bi, aged sixteen, is friends or work mates making assumptions. This is compounded by Autism, due to autistic social differences. Autistic and other neurodivergent people can have trouble interpreting “neurotypical” social cues and nuances, and there is sometimes a disconnect between our intentions and how we come across. This is a common problem, not just me, as there is a significant intersection between LGBTQIA+ and Autism (and other neurological differences). Please do not assume we are interested in that way, just because we are being friendly.

Myths and misconceptions

This is a bigger ask, but if allies hear anybody spreading false information about bisexuality or pansexuality, it would be good if you could challenge this and gently correct people. There are a lot of good infographics for dispelling myths.

Bullying and gossip

Please defend us if you witness any bullying or gossiping due to our sexual orientation. The efforts of allies to make the world a safer, more inclusive place can make a real difference. Much appreciated, thanks!

Bi the way #PrideMonth2021

For this Pride Month, I decided to write about some of my personal experiences as a bisexual woman, highlighting some of the bi-phobic attitudes that I have encountered over the years.

This may not be an easy read, it was certainly not easy to write, but I hope it may be relatable to others and a helpful insight for LGBTQIA+ allies.

Definitions

“Bisexual” or “bi” means we are attracted to more than one gender.

“Pansexual” or “pan” means we are attracted to individuals, and their gender does not matter.

Some bi or pan people may also identify as “queer”, which is a less clearly defined, more flexible term.

Why?

“Why talk about your sexuality?”, you may be wondering. Or “How is this professional / appropriate / relevant?” These are questions I have seen asked of LGBTQIA+ role models.

Let me be clear – this is not a blog about sex. It is in no way inappropriate. This is about my experiences as a member of a sexual orientation minority group, which is part of my authentic identity, my “whole self”, which I expect to be free to embrace, unmasked.

Sexual orientation is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, and we should be able to talk freely about sexuality without fear of discrimination. I am autistic as well, another protected characteristic, an intersection which is very common indeed, but particularly challenging in some ways.

Not everybody with a protected characteristic feels safe and comfortable to “step up” as a role model in the workplace or in their community, but positive visible role models can help foster a culture of inclusion and belonging, which matters to me.

Bisexuality is far more common than people realise. You all have colleagues, friends, and possibly family members, who are bi. However, they may not be visible or “out” about their sexuality – especially if they are in a “straight-passing” relationship, and especially if they are from a background where their true sexuality would not be accepted by some and “straight” is the societal expectation.

Coming out story

I was sixteen when I first concluded that I was bi. I was open about this with my best friend, but not with my family or wider social circle. However, the truth came out during a sixth form residential trip over a boozy game of truth or dare. I was naïve, a socially awkward undiagnosed bullied autistic teenager, desperate for validation and acceptance. Bisexuality seemed so normal to me, I had hoped that among the reactions from other kids would be some nonchalant “so what, me too” or something. Instead, all I got was a barrage of intrusive questions. When it dawned on me that I had over-shared, I got anxious and had a meltdown.

In the days following the school trip, another friend was hostile towards me because I had gone camping with her the previous year without telling her about my sexuality.

That was in the mid-90s. I believe, I hope, that teenagers today are more open-minded and accepting.

Things got easier at university, in this respect anyway, because at least there I was able to join an LGBT society and make some like-minded friends.

Bi-phobia

My coming out story mentioned two bi-phobic microaggressions, and here are some more of the bi-phobic attitudes and microaggressions that I have personally encountered:

Men (including some long-term boyfriends) who assume I cannot be in a monogamous relationship for long, and that I will inevitably cheat on them or leave them for a woman. We do not have to “pick a side”, we fall in love with a person. We are just as capable of monogamy as anybody else.

Predatory couples looking for a third wheel, or “unicorn” (and I was only sixteen when I was first approached in this manner).

The jokes. Okay, so I like a giggle and personally I would chuckle if somebody said, “well I suppose it doubles your chances of a date on a Saturday night”. Some of the bi jokes are offensive, and some bisexual people are more easily upset about the jokes than others. Sexuality is a sensitive subject to many, and we have a right to our dignity and not to be the subject of bullying jokes and banter. If in doubt about how your joke may be received, please resist making it.

People who think bisexuals are not a valid part of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, and that we should not be at Pride, especially if we are in a straight-passing relationship. Firstly, the B stands for Bisexual, we are still a minority group. Secondly, please do not assume our gender, nor the genders of our partners.

Women who assume I fancy them, just because I am friendly towards them. This is a particular issue for autistic bisexuals, as we may struggle with the nuances of communication, particularly non-verbal communication such as body language, when communicating with our neurotypical peers.

Stepping up

That last issue caused me real problems at work, many years ago now, but as a result for several years I stopped being open about my sexuality and even stopped disclosing it on the HR system (and I work in HR…).

But that all changed when I read an article by Stonewall about why LGBTQIA+ role models are important, with their top ten tips about how to be a positive visible role model. That was just the gentle push I needed to put my difficult past behind me and “step up”, especially after losing my son Iggy (he was also autistic and LGBT, and had few positive visible role models at his school).

For as long as I remain comfortable disclosing my authentic identity, I will carry on talking about it and writing about it to help others. I hope to inspire others to do likewise. Thanks for reading.

Elon Musk and openly autistic leadership

Since Elon Musk “coming out” as autistic (Aspergers) on Saturday Night Live, there is currently a lot of buzz on social media about rich and successful world leaders who are #neurodivergent (have neurological conditions or differences).

Richard Branson has always been open about his dyslexia, and Bill Gates more recently about his ADHD, but there still seems to be a reluctance for people in leadership roles to acknowledge #autism – even if it seems obvious.

One of the reasons people who are Autistic and/or ADHD people can become mega successful is by finding a way to combine our passionate highly-focused special interests with work.

I would be the first to admit autism brings some challenges to me at work, but it also brings many advantages in my role as HR Systems Analyst. There is no shame in admitting to struggling in certain areas of work, as it helps others to understand and support us, so we can thrive and do our best work.

It can be so helpful to be open about our neurological conditions, to tackle the stigma. ND role models can help others know they are not struggling in isolation.

It would be great to see more people, especially in leadership positions, being open about their neurology – if they feel secure enough to do so (a personal choice).

#neurodiversity

Autism Awareness Month

Please don’t copy and paste random crap from social media for “Autism Awareness Month” this April with a bunch of platitudes, blue hearts and jigsaw pieces 💙💙💙

You do know #autistic people – it is not that rare. To increase your own awareness, try asking an autistic person to explain to you how their autism affects them. It’s not one size fits all, it’s an extremely variable spectrum. Even a nine year-old child was astute enough to ask me during Neurodiversity Celebration Week how autism affects me personally.

Better still, go beyond awareness and shoot for acceptance. Accept us as our authentic selves without expecting us to “act normal”, to pass as a standard typical person.

Most of us don’t strive for normality, we just want to be included, supported, valued and loved… just like anybody else.

#neurodiversity#inclusion

Reflecting on one year of pandemic WFH

Pandemic reflection: If this year since the first Covid-19 lockdown (UK) has taught employers anything, it is the need to be agile and respond to changes in the external environment plus the changing needs of the workforce.

Responding quickly to office closures required not just investment in enabling technology, but also rapid culture change, a significant increase in trust.

Employers also had to understand that we cannot be expected to be working effectively for 100% of our online time. Working from home while home schooling in a pandemic hammered home the point that we were parents, carers, members of the community… PEOPLE, not “human resources”.

New marginalised groups came to light e.g. those who live alone, maybe struggling with isolation, introverts who find it hard to find their voice in online meetings, working parents struggling to concentrate or unmute in meetings, overwhelmed with conflicting priorities.

“Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard” (Liz Fosslein).

The pandemic offered a new lens for #diversity#inclusion and #belonging. This is not about protected characteristics, but our whole selves- including our home life, responsibilities and interests outside of work.

What being an ally means to me

Being an ally means supporting people and promoting acceptance of normal human differences. Allies can help to create a culture where all individuals feel supported, included, and valued.

Sometimes allies stand up to bullying and discrimination, helping people to feel safe to be their authentic selves. Nobody should be bullied or excluded due to normal human characteristics such as ethnic background, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, neurology… or any other reason.

Being an ally can involve participating in and promoting staff support networks, helping to foster an inclusive culture.

Anybody can be an ally. It does not require specific skills or lots of time. It is just about caring for other people and wanting to do the right thing. Thanks for listening 😊

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day… Great!

But thanks, but no thanks, to including me in long taglists 🙄

Overwhelming notifications overload 🤯

Finding out about blocks I didn’t know about 🤦

Muting notifications 🙈

Sorry, not sorry 🤷

This is self-care 😇

Autistic #BurnedOut

On this International Women’s Day, I was blown away by this amazing poem by Ludmila Praslova

Image description: Smartly-dressed woman in black with umbrella and briefcase walking alone.

Text:
Aww, little girls are celebrated,
But – only cuteness is highly rated.
Mirror, am I unincludable?

School might reward great learning speed –
But nerdy girls are a bully feed.
I might just be unincludable.

Good students are welcomed in Higher Ed!
But not if your clothes are second-hand,
The poor are unincludable.

At work, I prevented a major loss
But “a girl can’t be smarter than her boss.”
So yeah, I remain unincludable.

This program supports top performers, hurray!
But not if “your name is too hard to say.”
Again, I remain unincludable.

Oh wow, your work is amazingly great!
But – “single women don’t need to be paid.”
Yep, I remain unincludable.

“Too weird, too nerdy – but too artistic,
Can grown women be autistic?”
I no longer accept “unincludable.”

Stuck in a checkbox, no human can thrive
I want to free our talents and drive
No human should be unincludable.

By Ludmila Praslova, Ph.D.

Also don’t assume people identify as a woman. Take the trouble to find out.

Gender identity information is usually in the person’s bio or description, not in their underpants.

Weird Pride Day #WeirdPrideDay 4 March 2021

Some things I do which are normal to me, but may be considered weird by others.

This blog may grow over time, as it is a stream of consciousness, so I may keep adding to it as I think of things.

When it’s foggy, I stand in the middle of a mown field, so I’m in a perfect hemisphere.

When it is misty, I walk up a big hill and take many photos of farm fields getting fainter and fainter into the distance.

In torrential rain, I go out for an off-road run, splashing gleefully through all the muddy puddles.

When I was a kid, I once spent an entire weekend jumping into the car through the door window, pretending to be in the Dukes of Hazzard.

I memorised all the lyrics to all the songs in Charlotte’s Web and acted the whole film out solo in the garage.

When Iggy was a baby, I would talk back to him in his own language, echoing all his urgle murgle noises like we were deep in conversation. I’d take him grocery shopping and talk to him about every item I put in the trolley. When he was a little older we would sing “Mahna mahna” together while grocery shopping, usually with me singing “mahna mahna” and Iggy responding “Do doo do do do” etc. We attracted some funny looks, but we didn’t care.

This blog wasn’t going to be about Iggy, it was going to be about me, but that’s what happens when you lose someone you love. You can be doing anything, thinking about anything, and your loved one butts in.

Don’t feel sorry for me. These memories are precious, not painful. The fluffy white vapour trail is not jagged, it doesn’t spoil the clear blue sky, it is a beautiful part of the picture.

Anyway, I couldn’t write about Weird Pride without mentioning the weird and wonderful Iggy. He always said “I like being weird”, but he wished the bullies wouldn’t target him for it.

As a baby, he didn’t crawl. He bum-shuffled at amazing speed, one hand helping propel him along, the other out stretched to grab things. He didn’t pull himself up on furniture like other babies, but turned his back to the furniture and gradually reversed himself upright.

He was hypermobile, and regularly grossed out our friends at karate by showing them weird things he could do with his body, like turning his elbows inside out.

Ok back to me. I enjoy singing. I love songs. I’m not a talented musician, but what I lack in talent I make up for in enthusiasm.

Some songs have to be belted out, both publicly and privately. This includes, but is not limited to: Vienna, Gold, You’ve lost that loving feeling (this I’ve belted out in ASDA. Sorry, not sorry), The sun ain’t gonna shine any more…

And my particular favourite, the wonderful dynamics of Bridge Over Troubled Water. It’s against my law not to belt out the crescendo. It feels like a message to me and my fellow weirdos everywhere.

“Your time has come to shine, all your dreams are on their way”

P.S. It delights me that by holding your thumb over Paul Simon’s eyes, you can give Art Garfunkel a handlebar moustache