19 Nov

Let’s talk about…Autism

the infinity sign in rainbow coloursSo, I might have been a bit quiet this year, but I’ve had a LOT to get my head around. Back in January I started to do a course named Understanding Autism by Future Learn.  I thought that I’d do the course because some friends of my son are Autistic and I thought that if I knew more about it, than I could explain what that meant, to him.  Coincidentally, at the same time I came across some YouTube videos about autism in women.

And the penny dropped. The reason behind my crazy messed up life. The reason for my clumsiness of body and speech.  The too-many-to-mention mix ups and misunderstandings.  The way that I can write fluently yet struggle in face to face communication.  Why I can’t stand wool on my skin or scratchy labels in my clothes.  Why my parents had my hearing tested as a child because they didn’t think I could hear them.  The way I like things neat and clean, and why my ears hurt if it’s too loud.  How I can hear electricity and nobody else can.  How I literally cannot hear someone talking to me if there is more than one noise of a similar volume going on at the same time.  Why I’ve felt like I can fit in everywhere and yet nowhere at the same time.  Why I seem to experience time very differently to everyone else.  Why I’m different, “other worldly”, “too good for this world”, and even “aggressive” or “patronising” or other such hurtful descriptions for my poor overloaded little soul.

How I’ve been gaslit into thinking that none of the above mattered that my experiences were somehow all in my head and I was making them up.  How all the bad things that have happened to me are my fault, because I was a broken, a wrong, a faulty individual.  That I deserved it, brought it all on myself, that I am flawed, and nobody else is that accident prone/stupid/careless/naive/other insult.

How I’ve cried and accepted that I was just faulty, damaged, wrong, a square peg in a round hole, a black sheep, defective and somehow deficient because I am unable to cope with things that other people seem to do really easily.

But I’m not. I’m normal. A perfectly normal autistic person and there are thousands and thousands of people out there who are just like me.  It was an emotional cannonball.  From my initial joy that there are so many people out there who have had such similar experiences of life as me, the confusion and depression hit me as I looked over a whole lifetime of experiences and re-examined them under the lens of autism.  I don’t want to go into it all here but I’ve had an unusual life that has been unusually traumatic.  The victim-blaming I experienced became even more upsetting now the light of autism has been shone on those dark places.

I’d accepted over the years that I was different from everyone around me, and now I find I am not so unique after all. At first this felt like a betrayal, but is increasingly feeling like a comfort.  But the comfort of a community also brings with it the outrage and despair that people like me have been mistreated, institutionalised, misunderstood, misdiagnosed and even killed because we are different.  The marginalisation and abuse of autistic people is a heavy burden to share, and it is still very much happening today.

So just as I found I am no longer alone, at the same time, it’s now set in stone that I will never, ever be “normal”.  I’ll never be able to enjoy normal social occasions like weddings and barbecues.  I’ll always stick out like an awkward sore thumb and I’ll never just blend in and be one of the crowd.  Some things in life will just always be hard and upsetting for me and no amount of mindfulness will fix that. And I know, you should be proud to be yourself, and I know I’ve never even wanted to be a Karen but I guess part of me wanted the normal two kids, a husband and financial security. I know that I have talents and skills that your average person doesn’t.  But it’s tough.

Online, the #ActuallyAutistic community is strong, and warm, and supportive and I’ve learned so much from my fellow autistics. But then I hop back into real life and realise how little people are aware of autism in my day to day life and how nobody understands or appreciates our struggles.  And why should they?  Before January, my main image of Autism was a little non verbal white boy, rocking back and forth and maybe screaming and biting people.  That it was some kind of brain disorder and that the explanation was the “extreme male brain” theory.

I have only just begun this journey, but I’ve learned that just because we are disabled, it doesn’t mean we are incapable.  That autism isn’t a brain defect but a difference in neurological circuitry.  I’ve learned that we experience the world with less filters than the neurotypical brain, and therefore our daily experiences are significantly more vivid in many many ways, some of which can be utterly exhausting and overwhelming.  I’ve discovered that simple things like headphones can make such a big difference to how tired I get in a day, and that not stimming causes me anxiety.  I have to move, always, and this is OK.  It’s beautiful to discover things that are helping me, but I have moments of regret, knowing that every area of my past from school results to avoiding abusive situations might have had different outcomes if I had just known I was different.

It’s been a rollercoaster, a bittersweet journey and I’ve barely scratched the surface here of my autistic internal voyage so far.  It’s hard to believe that this time last year I didn’t know that I was autistic – or that the professionals that I’ve encountered over the years didn’t spot it either.  I’ve still got a way to go till I achieve Autistic Nirvana and lose my well crafted but rapidly cracking mask completely but, I’m hoping, that getting it here in black and white, will help, a little.

In the meantime, I have so many ideas for t-shirts.  Here’s what I’ve made so far: https://www.wildbunnyarts.uk/product-category/t-shirts/autistic-pride/

27 Oct

Let’s talk about…the right to repair.

iFixit repair manifesto from https://www.ifixit.com/Manifesto

the iFixit repair manifesto, taken from: https://www.ifixit.com/Manifesto

Once upon a time ago, when your electrical items broke, you’d pop down to the local repair shop and get it fixed for a few quid.

Now though, these shops are far and few between and planned obsolescence is actually a thing. Ten years of austerity and a climate crisis though have meant that just disposing of broken items and replacing them is no longer wise for our own pocket or for the future of our planet.  For me, living on a reduced income as well as my rising panic about the Earth that I am leaving for future generations, meant that I decided to cease needlessly disposing of and replacing things as they broke.

We have a wealth of information at our fingertips – in our pockets – that can help us find out how to repair common household items.  All it takes is a small toolkit and a little self-belief and you can save yourself some money as well as having the satisfaction that you’ve empowered yourself to gain useful skills that you can use again and share.

Some of my favourite resources are youTube, iFixit and restarters.net

Not everyone is confident enough to repair items themselves though but luckily there’s a worldwide network of volunteer repair people out there to help you.  Check on facebook or therestartproject.org and search for your local group, find out when they are next getting together and take your broken items along to a repair party. 

The fixers work with you to find out whether your item can be repaired, and work with you to mend your broken items and save them from landfill. Just in Leicestershire alone there are now seven local groups:

  • Coalville fixers facebook or restarter page
  • Hinckley fixers facebookorifixit or restarters page)
  • Leicester fixers, Loughborough fixers facebook, or restarter, Market Harborough fixers or restarter, Melton space (restarter page). and Rutland fixers.

    24 Mar

    Let’s talk about…Keeping your kids safe online, respectfully and without fear.

    Kids! Internet! These two words together can strike fear into the hearts of many an adult. This post will summarise my three decades of accumulated knowledge and signpost you to resources that will help you further your knowledge.

    I’ve been using the internet since it was non-commercial and text-based. I’ve studied Computing to MSc level and my first degree was about how I.T. affects society. I have worked in youth services and have taught I.T. to young people and adults. I home educate my son and technology plays a central role in both our learning and entertainment. I follow technology trends and run an online business, promoting it using social media. I am a victim of online stalking and abuse. I am talking as a parent of a nine year old.

    And yet, I “allow” my son unlimited screen time, and don’t use parental or age-related filters on our devices. I can tell that some of you reading this might feel those cold fingers of horror creeping up your spine as you read that. “But what if?”, and “how do you stop him seeing…?”, so, let me explain.

    Gaming

    “But they would play on it all day if I let them!”, is no doubt a common response. Not true. If you ban something, or restrict it in some way, it makes it more attractive. So, when the young person is allowed access, then sure, they will binge on it and protest if you take it away. Of course they would! You are imposing arbitrary rules, based on your own fears. Would you restrict their book reading hours? If they loved drawing, would you restrict their paper time to one hour a day? Why is it admirable to be a bookworm but atrocious to be a gamer?

    We have grown up in a completely different world. It’s natural to have fear of new things. When books first came out, they were seen as frivolous and contributing to the degeneration of young people. TV too. But games are different. They are a mentally stimulating, visually rich environment that offer steadily more challenging levels of intellectual challenges. If your kid was into carpentry, you’d probably buy them some tools, because you can see the future real world application of such skills. So why would you not similarly encourage your computer-mad kid to develop their passions? If you cannot see the real-life application of gaming skills, let me help you. Game development is incredibly well-paid. Game playing is a sport. Look up “e-sports”. It’s massive and growing. Then there’s web development, 3d modelling and animation, and these are just the directly game-related future career opportunities.

    Still can’t see it? Then I come onto my number one child safety tip: play WITH them. Sure, it might not be your cup of tea. But you don’t know unless you try. Join them in their worlds. Ask them, let them take the lead and show you how to play. Don’t be embarrassed to fail. Gamers fail a hundred times before each epic win. If you are getting mad and feel like giving up, try a little mindfulness meditation. Games will create new neural pathways in your brain and keep you from mental decline. Don’t take my word for it, go have a little look for yourself.

    Dr Jane McGonigal’s website, public talks and books come highly recommended for solid, well researched and easy to read facts about the potential of games and gamers for a positive personal and social change in the world. Start at her website.

    https://janemcgonigal.com/

    The difference between having a healthy gamer and an addict is YOUR attitude towards it. If your young person sees their passion as wrong, time wasting and harmful, they will more likely go down the route of addiction. If you take time to play with them, research the benefits of gaming and understand these amazing digital worlds, if you join them and talk to them about it, if you take genuine interest in the worlds they love, it will strengthen your bond and improve your mind and emotional resilience.

    “But they are so violent”. Yes, some of them are. But so is Tom and Jerry. There is no evidence that violent video games make more violent people. So what do I do? Number one: talk. So your kid sees a game, they want to play it and you’re just not sure. Our first stop is:

    https://www.commonsensemedia.org/

    I am not saying break the law by letting your kid buy any old game. Common sense media gives you and your child a sensible overview of the game (or film) and ratings are given by kids and adults too. The official rating scores might not tally with your ideas about what is appropriate. For example the age rating might be high because of language, whereas you know that your child would be upset by people being mean to each other or seeing blood. Youtubers show gameplay, so you could watch some of these together and decide whether your child feels that the game is appropriate for their level of maturity.

    Again, the key thing here is talk. Be open about why you may not like the idea of a particular game or movie. Let your child give their opinion. Decide together. Some things that I thought my son might like he has not, and he feels free enough to talk to me and tell me if something is too real for him and makes him feel uncomfortable. For example, he is fine with dinosaurs killing each other (they are extinct) but does not like to see humans hurting other humans.

    “But sitting still is not good for you”. I agree. I have an indoor rebounder trampoline and trapeze rings indoors, and a basketball net and trampoline in the garden for when the weather improves. My son knows to take eye and body breaks. He wriggles and jiggles and jumps here there and everywhere. He knows that I am not going to switch his screen off if he leaves it alone for a while. I also know that arbitrary switch-offs are not kind, because if hes invested time and skill into a level, then he has to reach a certain point before it saves. You wouldn’t just snatch a book out of someone’s hand and say “that’s enough now”.

    Online gaming

    Let’s talk Roblox, Fortnite and gaming with others. This is where things get more risky. As in the real world, there are mean people, bullies and sadly even people who want to take your child and do unspeakable things to them. One incredible resource that I would direct all adults to is Ineque.

    https://www.ineqe.com

    The next stage of this guide is written in conjunction with my nine year old. His main advice to you is to play with your young people. Get involved in the online games. Teach your kid how to block and report people. Let them know, in an age-appropriate way, that not everybody is kind and some people want to hurt kids online and that not everybody is who they say they are. My child’s response to people being mean is to switch servers, or play a different game. Sometimes people will evoke strong feelings of anger and as a parent this is difficult to see. His advice in such situations is to keep a distance and be there for him in a non-judgemental way when he needs me. Every child is different. Talk to the child ahead of such events and learn to respond as your child would like you to. Make sure you both know how to block, mute and report people. Ineque has plenty of digestible sensible advice about online gaming.

    Never use your real name or real life image. Never share your location, hobbies, place of work (or school) or any clubs you might go to. Learn how to report and block people, and what might warrant such measures. My son has had more aggravation from face to face kids than online ones. So tempting though it might be to ban a young person from a certain game, it is healthier to be there to help them resolve the difficulty in a healthy sand safe manner.

    Social media

    You probably use Facebook at the very least, but do you know how to stay safe? When was the last time you reviewed your privacy settings? Model healthy online behaviour and teach yourself how to modify your settings to maximise your privacy. Ask for your child’s permission before taking and sharing pictures of them online.

    A great summary of necessary safety measures can be found here: https://www.getsafeonline.org/social-networking/social-networking-sites/

    Ineque also has videos about how to manipulate the settings of popular social media apps and websites here: https://www.youtube.com/user/Ineqe/videos.

    Inappropriate content

    This might vary from parent to parent in terms of tolerance. The only rule we have is to be kind, but other parents might object to curse words, for example. My kid – like others his age – watch more YouTube than TV. It drives me nuts! I yearn some days for a nice bit of CBeebies, or even something with a decent storyline. But, it’s what he likes, so I try to watch it with him and engage in conversation about it. This is my personal choice but I let him watch on the big TV, not on a smaller device, and there’s a reason for this. Yes, part of me thinks – in an old-fashioned authoritarian way – that I paid for the TV so I should have control of what is viewed on it. But, I breathe, smile, and think about how much I will miss him when he’s off doing his own thing in a few years time. Now, I am happy to let him hog the big screen.

    However, it has two massive benefits. One, that it tests my calmness and tolerance levels and helps me to be mindful in the face of videos that I cannot always enjoy. Two, I get to see what he sees, unavoidably, in glorious technicolour. This opens up conversations about his favourite YouTubers but also about people who exhibit online behaviour that deserves analysis. We have discussed, sexism, racism, homophobia, environmental destruction, Donald Trump and the wall, bullying and trolling on the back of some of his video choices. This list will no doubt expand as he gets older.

    Like other online channels, we both know that personal preference is not a reason to block and report but that if we see something that is harmful, then we know what to do. His advice to parents is to watch videos with your kids (groan!) and that if your young people are very small, to use the YouTube Kids app. I suggest that you preemptively let your young people know that sometimes there are things online that are scary, and if they see something3 like that to come to you straight away.

    Youtube is a fantastic resource for entertainment and education, from Peekaboo kids to Ted-ed talks and Khan Academy. Here’s a cool list of channels for young people by the sensible Commonsense Media folks: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/12-best-youtube-channels-for-kids-and-teens#Minute

    This is where I’m at from the 9 years experience that I have of parenting GamerKid. Be aware that this is what has worked for us. You and your child are individuals, with unique needs and tolerances. Technology changes all the time and new hacks and hoaxes appear. Stay safe online, don’t share personal details, always make sure you have the latest updates on your devices. Use an antivirus and scan with malwarebytes. Check https://www.snopes.com/ before panicking about any new virus or rumour.

    Have I missed anything? I shall update it if I think of anything else.

    Here are a few more websites about child safety online. Be informed, keep communication channels open, and enjoy the amazing, vast digital world that we are all a part of.

    https://www.parentsprotect.co.uk/

    https://www.internetmatters.org

    https://www.nspcc.org.uk/

    https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/reporting-fraud-and-cyber-crime

    https://paladinservice.co.uk

    If you have any questions, please comment below or use the contact form/email here: https://www.wildbunnyarts.uk/order-now/

    kindness is my thing. screen printed t-shirt.



    11 Mar

    Simple beauty

    One of my most frequently heard reactions about my appearance is that I definitely do not look my age. “Which is?” I hear you wonder. But a woman never reveals her true age, don’t you know. Hint: I’m a Chinese Ox, so, you have a few years to choose from there. I was definitely not born in 2009, as my son was. There’s a clue for you. I’m lucky with my genes. We always asked our Grandmother how she kept such a youthful skin and which products that she used to chase the wrinkles away. She told us that all she used was soap and water. Soap and water! But Grandma, all these expensive beauty products must surely be better than the bare basics – or so I wastefully and arrogantly assumed in my younger and richer days on this earth.

    Nine years of parenthood and austerity later and my budget absolutely cannot stretch to the big name skin products that I used to buy. However, I’m definitely not looking my age still. Shall I share my secrets with you?

    1. Eat clean. It’s cheaper than processed food and better for you.
    2. Exercise daily. You don’t have to hit the gym every day. There are loads of yoga and HIIT apps out there now, or, get or borrow a dog to walk (but don’t forget to protect yourself from the sun).
    3. Steam your face. I’ve been very tempted by the skin care UK Panasonic facial steamer that I came across today, and my skin was never better than when I used to hit the steam rooms at the gym a couple of times a week.
    4. African black soap. This is very cheap and a lot more effective than any expensive cleanser. It does leave your skin dry, so:
    5. Moisturise with Shea butter as soon as possible after you wash. I discovered Clean and Natural’s products at a Vegan fair. The owner definitely had the loveliest, clearest and most radiant skin I’d seen on a grown-up, so that influenced my decision to buy. Plus, I discovered that it was the absolute best primer for going under:
    6. Mineral foundation. After years of annoying rosacea, I found that my liquid foundation was making my skin more irritable. Mineral make-up is positively soothing for me.
    7. At night, wash and sleep with Eumovate cream on your face. I wash my hands with this stuff too, and use as a body moisturiser for my awkward super-dry body and hand skin.

    Have you got any beauty secrets that you’d like to share? Am I missing a hidden gem? Let me know if my suggestions have made a difference to you.

    This post contains a sponsored link.

    29 Jul

    #shoutoutrevolution – Lauren C. Waterworth

    Who are you and what do you do? 

    I am an illustrator working in the U.K. and I create hand painted designs that I put together as downloadable/ printable clipart or Scrapbooking kits.

    These kits will include a series of individual illustrations, patterned background papers, frames and a hand painted alphabet.

    Customers who buy my kits use them to make digital scrapbooks, hand made cards, party crafts and much much more!

    All my kits come with a limited commercial licence – this means that you can sell things you have made using my artwork as long as it’s a physical item (such as a card for example) but nothing that can be downloaded as that’s what I sell!

    When did you begin making your incredible art?

    I was hired by a company called Serif who are based in Nottingham, England to work for their DaisyTrail Brand – they specialised in creating ‘Digikits’ (Digital craft kits) that were sold to be used with Serif’s CraftArtist Software.

    Prior to this I created a lot of different things, mainly acrylic and mixed media paintings, but I also created models out of polymer clay as well as many other things – I love being creative and trying out new mediums!

    When I was asked If I’d be interested in applying for the job at Serif I didn’t have much experience working with watercolour but I picked it up quickly, now that is my primary medium.

    What inspired you to create your form of art?

    The joy of making digital craft kit is seeing customers use my artwork for their own designs – my creativity lets other people to be creative too!

    Sadly the DaisyTrail brand was closed in 2017 but I enjoyed making the kits so much that I decided to continue making them under my own brand.

    The versatility of creating matching sets of artwork means that I can then turn my illustrations into designs for other means – I also make Printable card making kits to sell through CraftsUPrint.com using the same images I’ve painted for my craft kits – I love having new opportunities to be creative with the artwork I have already created!

    What is your one essential tool that you cannot live without (for your art)?

    Probably my drawing tablet. I could create the kits in any medium but I couldn’t translate them to the computer screen within my tablet.

    Where can I find you on the web?

    I sell my work through a couple of sites:

    https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/LCWaterworth

    https://www.e-scapeandscrap.net/boutique/

    https://www.craftsuprint.com/lcwaterworth/

    You can also follow me on Facebook:

    https://www.facebook.com/LaurenCWaterworth

    Or Instagram:

    https://www.instagram.com/lcwaterworth/

    What do you like to do when you are not creating?

    I’m a mum to a very independent little boy! This is a whole new challenge that often means very limited time for creating art but I love him to bits and wouldn’t change him for the world, he is my masterpiece 😉

    Have you got any pets?

    We have a grumpy tuxedo cat called Neko.

    What is your favourite book?

    That’s a hard question – between working and looking after my little boy I don’t get much time to read but I’m always looking on Pinterest for art that inspires me!

    I’m a big fan of Terry Pratchett and that includes the artwork of Paul Kirby who has done a lot of illustration work for the Discworld series.

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    19 Mar

    The Yin and Yang saga…

    Following my previous posts about my HMRC Working Tax Credits situation, I have had a promptish reply to my Mandatory Reconsideration appeal.  From the reply they have clearly done nothing but cast a cursory glance over the information that I sent them.  The have glanced at it, ticked or crossed whatever boxes they have, and stayed with their original decision.

    Since talking about my situation I have learned that I am far from the only person that this is happening to.  Tax Credits seem to be targeting self employed people – I suppose we are nice easy targets for them to knock of the government expenditure bill.  I wonder what happens to the other people.  Myself – it has definitely affected my health adversely, so I could claim ESA, but that would take months and involve degrading assessments where assessors routinely ask claimants questions such as “why haven’t you killed yourself?”.  This has recently been exposed by the media but friends have verified that such questioning is standard.

    My alternative would be Jobseekers Allowance, but I work too much to find the time to jump through the hoops required to qualify for their contract.  I have had experience with DWP staff and the experience is always difficult, stressful and degrading.

    What this means for me is that my son and I will be living in poverty for a lot longer.  The law is on my side, but they have failed to understand the nature of my business or –  I might be so bold as to state – of any business even.  I have to appeal to an independent tribunal who I am relying upon to be a little more educated on the matter.  I have been informed that the tribunal can take between four to eight months to be heard.  That takes us to November.  It’s a good job I have a food bank I can use bi-weekly here.

    Part one of the saga is written here, in the Ying and Yang of life and part two here, in I, Daniel Blake.

     

     

    26 Feb

    I, Daniel Blake

    I, ShoeDoodles

    And so the saga continues.  In The Yin and Yang of Life I mused how incredibly bad and painful situations can also bring out amazing light and kindness.  That people who I know and people who I don’t – people who are not even family and have no ties to me – can show such incredible kindness and love has brought me to tears many times.  One minute I can be sobbing in despair on the kitchen floor, the next my eyes are streaming and my heart is full of hope.  That anyone could even care that much about little old flawed me is kind of mind blowing.

    A couple of days ago I watched I, Daniel Blake.  You must have heard of the film, it has been much talked about and highly acclaimed.  It’s ironic that the people that the film is about are unable to afford to go to the cinema to watch it (like me).  It’s probably better that way, because it broke my heart right from the first few scenes with it’s very true to life situations and characters.   I should advise – if you haven’t already seen it – that if you have ever been unemployed or sick or have ever been through the welfare system in any way you might choose not to watch it unless you are totally healed and buoyantly happy.

    That set my mental health back a few days. I might add that Katie, when she was hungry and went to the food bank and then chose to follow her alternative career path was already at least sixty quid a week better off than me since my tax credits were completely cut.   She would still have been in receipt of her child tax credits – the payments meant to keep your children fed and clothed.

    Working and child tax credits are two payments – the working element is paid if you work for 16 or more hours a week and the child ones are received by (as far as I know) by anyone with a child and below a minimum income.  In my case, the working tax credits were cut (apparently I have not earned enough – go figure) and my child tax credits were cut to pay back the alleged “overpayment”.  Katie would have had circa £100 a week still coming in (still not enough for a secure healthy life for three people).  I have less.

    Daniel’s situation was one I am trying to avoid. The CAB suggested that I apply for jobseekers allowance or ESA.  I work too much for jobseekers and even before I watched the film I was aware of the hoops that poorly people are expected to jump through for ESA.  My health condition would mean I was eligible but I am not strong enough to fight unqualified assessors and I don’t have enough money for endless phone calls and trips to assessment centres.

    I had a letter through on the Thursday, telling me I was allowed hardship payments. There was no mention of how much, or for how long, or with what frequency, or whether or not they are a payment or a loan.  So I checked my bank account and found £65.  I also found out that my broadband and phone direct debit had gone out and it was £10 dearer than expected, so I didn’t dare make another phone call to find out more.

    So I’ve been allowed £65 for the past three weeks.  My phone calls to HMRC to find out what was going on cost £10.   I topped up my mobile £5 to make calls when my credit ran out.  I’ve sent two letters to HMRC (the first one didn’t go to the correct office), and three to my local council to beg council tax assistance.  I’ve sent another the the NHS to apply for help with my prescriptions because I realised that if my tax credits had stopped, so would my free prescriptions, opticians and dentist. Six recorded delivery letters at £1.72 makes £10.32.

    So out of that £65, I had £39.68 left after the essential spends associated with this termination of my income.  This is without counting my loss of business that I have incurred with the effects that it has had on my mental and physical well-being, which is ongoing.  I also learned from the film that there is no time limit on a “mandatory consideration”, the appeal process that I have started.

    You might be wondering why I am airing my dirty laundry in public.  It is embarassing to be this poor. It is heartbreaking to explain to your child that you can no longer afford things they would like to do.   If I can tell my story and help one person, it will be worth it.  What cauuses me great outrage is that HMRC can  get away with making families hungry and cold and yet companies like Vodafone and Goldman Sachs have tax debt written off.  People need to know what is happening!

    Thousands of normal working families like me have sent HMRC tax credits timely and accurate information and have found that they suddenly and inexplicably owe thousands of pounds of debt.  We are shown no calculations or reasons for this, we just get a letter one day telling us “tough luck mate, we worked it out wrong and we are taking it back”.

    Tax avoiders cos this country billions of pounds and working families have no choice but to be devastated by the miscalculations of the far away civil servants.

    I am trying to be positive and am going to do my best to start creating again tomorrow, though I am actually scared of the post at the moment.  I’m hoping postie doesn’t call and I can start the week with a clear head.  I’ve got so much to do, and so much to finish and make and I’m still in limbo.  My cupboards are at least full enough thanks to some amazing local food banks (the three families waiting together just in my group were ALL working families) .  I can only wait now.

    UPDATE: I have had a letter now that tells me I am to receive £65 a week until April, after which time we will receive £57 a week.  For two people.  Apparently it is because (I deduced, from reading many websites on the appeals process, because they haven’t told me directly) in the year when I was being stalked and had to change my business and set up a new one, I over estimated my income and as a result of that, they are taking back over £3,000 from me.   How can this even make sense?  It’s like a “small print” clause they do not publicise.  I was careful to share all my information with them in a timely and honest manner and have been punished for it.

    20 Feb

    The Yin and Yang of life

    Recently I have studied a little about the Tao Te Ching, just out of interest, and then had the most perfect example of Tajitu (yin/yang) happen in my own life, as if to prove the wisdom of the ancient Taoist text.

    When people see things as beautiful,
    ugliness is created.
    When people see things as good,
    evil is created.

    Being and non-being produce each other.
    Difficult and easy complement each other.
    Long and short define each other.
    High and low oppose each other.
    Fore and aft follow each other.

    I’m not sure if this post is about Tajitu, or the evil of the English government, or the goodness of people.  I will let you decide.

    It’s fairly well known in the UK that our current government has been successful in it’s campaign in conjunction with the mainstream media to demonise the poor and divide society so that it can dismantle the welfare state that Harry Leslie Smith and his generation of people fought and died for.  The current Conservative government  promised to not cut Working Tax Credits but in reality have done so by freezing the amounts that working families receive so that they fall in relation to inflation.  In  2014 rules were introduced to rule out people who were claiming that their hobbies were a business and then receiving Working Tax credits.  The criteria in brief was that the business must be HMRC registered and carried out with the aim of making a profit.

    ShoeDoodles started in 2015.  Previously to this date, I worked as a blogger and web designer and had a limited company but a stalker tracked me down using this information and forced me to close the business.  I had painted a few pairs of shoes for friends to say thank you for help and support and somebody suggested I set up an Etsy shop, because my work was good.  So I did, and to my surprise I got some orders, and some more orders and here I am today, with many happy customers, all over the world and my painting is better than ever.

    The income is variable and I have not found a way to predict when the next sale is coming through.  I use Etsy, Facebook, BigCartel, Twitter and Instagram and have only recently started blogging again after the horrific on and offline stalking campaign which resulted in the stalker being put into prison, but that hasn’t stopped him.  I am still being watched, and it is still traumatic.

    I was, up until four weeks ago – and like pretty much every working parent I know in the UK – receiving  Tax credits to top up my low income.  Then they stopped.  No letter, no reason.  One week I had money to pay bills with and feed my son, the next week, with no warning, it was gone.  After a morning on the telephone I discovered that I had been overpaid and they had stopped my entire regular income to pay themselves back.  No figures were given to me, no criteria, no in-depth explanation about where I had gone wrong and what I had done to deserve this brutal removal of my financial lifeline.

    As a survivor of domestic abuse  I was further abused for six years via the family courts, and during this time, also stalked, constantly online and offline too, with numerous breaches of non molestation and restraining orders.  I have PTSD and chronic anxiety from this that had just started to vanish after a year of relative peace and self care.  The savage and incomprehensible removal of my Tax Credits immediately triggered my PTSD, reminded me of when I lost my job and went hungry while I was pregnant, and I am still down that difficult hole right now.

    Just as I thought I had managed to begin to make a secure and stable life for my son at last, the government swept it away from under my feet with no comprehensible explanation.  I can only guess – because nobody can tell me – that ShoeDoodles has been misrepresented as a hobby in the minds of one or two civil servants who have little business knowledge and the power to destroy lives at the click of a button.

    My creative spark was wiped out immediately as I fought to convince a stranger that my intentions were not to mess around with shoes as a hobby but to build a sustainable business that my son and I could run together for the rest of our lives.  I certainly would not put this much effort into a hobby!  In the past, web design was my hobby.  I went to university and ended up doing an MSc in Computing because f this “hobby”.  I have taught e-commerce and BTec Business.  I am still learning now, I have t be because the online world is constantly evolving.  I have now done all that I can do, and I can only sit here and  wait until someone who doesn’t know me or care about me and my amazing son makes the decision to keep us in poverty or restore us some dignity.

    But I’m not looking for sympathy, not for me.  I’m a warrior and a survivor and I am using this tale to urge you to help others.  My story is very common – I found out this almost immediate.  Families have been left without money, immediately and with little recourse by civil servants following orders from the cruel British government.  The rise in food bank use tells our stories pretty well and I was lucky to be eligible for a voucher this week and received a very generous gift from them that will keep us from starving for way more than the three days it was intended.

    Thank you Trussell Trust and to everyone who donates too.  The British media have done a great job also of demonising food bank users as drug addicts or people who cannot manage their money properly but I can assure you that this is not true.  Nobody I saw looked addicted and I know – and you do too now – that when you live on the breadline,  one click of a key in an office far away can destroy you, one emergency can destroy you.

    They are only following orders….In Mein Kampf, Hitler stated “This art is the sick production of crazy people. Pity the people who are no longer able to control this sickness”.  Is my art and online business model misunderstood?  Is England a fascist state? I would like you to consider and question this, and the artificially created divisions that are apparent in the UK in 2017.

    In this period of deep dark despair though, rays of sunshine  have broken through the heavy cloying, irritating smog that has filled my body and brain.  My son’s Godmother was the first stroke of luck , offering cash to help her out with some work, so we ate for another week. Vicky, Jo, Paul and my Dad, all helped make sure my direct debits didn’t bounce this month.  Linda sent me a ton of oat milk and other vegan goodies, and I don;t even know her! Aurora, Divita and Patsy all offered invaluable support and advice and pointed me towards places to go so that I can feed myself and my son.  Elaine listened and bought us a meal and took my mind off things that first impossible weekend.  Lowenna offered me space in The Pretty Pigsty.  Mum, who bakes us home fresh bread every week and gives us food treats. I am humbled by the help and generosity of all these people, some of whom are mainly “internet friends” and people who I know are struggling badly themselves.  One, is a complete stranger, only recently off the streets himself.

    I’ve also become an ambassador for an amazing food sharing app that connects you with local people – I’ve met some lovely people already and had the good fortune to try home made pickles and home grown squash! It’s amazing!  If you haven’t already, download Olio and help to share food “waste”.

    Maybe, I concluded, you have to have experienced true darkness yourself before you can find the light in your heart to help others without judgement or hidden agenda.  Or maybe you are just born with it.  I am blessed to have the ultimate in human kindness in my son (aka Funny Funky Doodles – he can design you a bag or some shoes as well).  At age seven, he emptied his purse and made me take all of his coins.  He told me “I don’t need classes Mum, all I need is love”.  With an angel like this in my life, the light will always be present.

    His words are so perfect, I made them into a backpack bag (34*43cm).  This natural cotton bag is an unique one-off item and costs £30 including free waterproofing and UK postage.




    all i need is love bag