The Dark Side Of Asperger’s Syndrome

Claire's 19th Birthday 16.08 (36)

Happy Birthday Cake for Aspie D (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Tomorrow my daughter, Aspie D, will celebrate her 22nd birthday and I will have all my chicks back home in the nest together again for the first time since Christmas.  Hip hip hooray!

The plan is to go out to lunch then return home to open presents, eat cake and play board games.  No doubt there will be plenty of silliness and laughter too.

Last year we went to Thorpe Park for her 21st and although she had a great time, the stress from being around so many people exhausted her both mentally and physically, to the point of needing to spend several days afterwards hibernating and recuperating in her room.

This is called a ‘shutdown’ and this is just part of the reality for someone suffering with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

A shutdown is in direct response to sensory overload caused by too much external stimuli.  My daughter’s sensory awareness of her surroundings through noise, lighting, even colours and taste, are already on high alert even under the calmest of circumstances, so if anything else  is added to the mix, her internal responses explode into orbit.

The need to seek refuge and block everything out are reactions beyond her control and are not designed to seek attention or sympathy. She has no choice.

My daughter can’t go to parties, clubs or pubs.  She doesn’t have a social life outside her home and online community because the price she has to pay both emotionally and physically cased by the stress of doing so is just too high.

She desperately wants to go out like her friends but she is trapped by her own limitations.  She tells me of times when has spent hours crying into the night while I sleep, in utter rage and frustration at the unfairness of it all.  She would give anything to change her life but at the moment, she simply can’t.

Aspie D attended childhood parties like any kid but I often sensed that something seemed slightly off kilter with her. I couldn’t put my finger on it, she seemed happy enough yet when I look back at photos of her with other smiling kids she looks strained, her eyes hollow.  I now know that she was silently pleading with me to get her out of there because she couldn’t stand another moment in that room.

She copied her social cues from the other kids and did her best to join in but she just wanted to be left alone.  I used to watch as other girls would try to grab her hand so that they could skip down the street together but it was plain to me that she hated doing it.

She much preferred her brother’s friends, feeling much more at ease with them (but usually to the great annoyance of her brother).

Middle son Nicky often had friends over for sleepovers. I had to smile one Saturday morning:  I came downstairs to make a cup of tea only to catch sight of one such friend (but not Nicky who was still in bed asleep) and Aspie D sitting on the sofa together in their PJ’s eating out of bowls of cereal laughing their heads off at ‘Sponge Bob Square Pants’ on the television.  I grabbed my own bowl of cereal and joined them.

Aspie D happy serving tea for Nicky - California 1990's (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Aspie D happy serving tea for Nicky – California 1990’s
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Aspie D makes her choices socially because it is impossible for her to maintain composure and false social graces (she doesn’t do small talk) for long.   It drains her and of course she is mindful that she doesn’t want to come across as rude.  She will hold a conversation of course, she is articulate and smart but communicating her feelings, explaining what she means gets her in tangles.

This is part of the classic ‘social communication’ disorder that defines ASD and has other repercussions: for instance, she could never tell anyone outside the home that she is ill or had some kind of problem or ask a stranger for help if she was out alone, got lost and needed directions.   This, of course, makes her vulnerable.

She so often feels like a stranger residing in an unfriendly world where everyone speaks in a foreign language that she can’t understand.  It is a sad, lonely place for her and therefore one that she avoids travelling to as much as possible.

So often she felt invisible and disregarded within her peer group when she was at school and college because misunderstood efforts to communicate on both sides often caused problems.  This is where those with ASD can struggle so badly.  While today my daughter has a wonderful support network of online friends (and blogging taught me the value of online friendship, helping me understand her community so much better), anything more than that right now isn’t going to happen.

My daughter slipped through the cracks and wasn’t diagnosed until she had already left sixth form college when she was eighteen. As the years went on and Aspie D’s anxiety increased, she became more socially avoidant but nobody would help us despite repeated visits to the doctor.  Diagnosis for females with Asperger’s is notoriously overlooked, so often misunderstood.

According to the National Autistic Society, the three main areas under which Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis is made are:

  • Social understanding
  • Social communication
  • Social imagination.

Yet girls and women on the spectrum are more often missed, because they learn to mask their social difficulties by observing and copying what to do rather than acting instinctively.  This is why they are so often overlooked when it comes to diagnosis.  They can be astute, sociable and say and do the right things, but the effort this takes throughout life is exhausting and often leads to mental health problems such as severe anxiety and depression later on. (Tony Attwood, 2007.)

In their paper Good Autism Practice (May 2011), Dr Judith Gould and Dr Jacqui Ashton Smith of the NAS Lorna Wing Centre for Autism explain further by quoting:

 “The fact that girls with undiagnosed autism are painstakingly copying some behaviour is not picked up and therefore any social and communication problems they may be having are also overlooked. This sort of mimicking and repressing their autistic behaviour is exhausting, perhaps resulting in the high statistics of women with mental health problems.”
(Dale Yaull-Smith, 2008).

This isn’t meant to be a dark post as its title suggests. I  merely hope to highlight some of the struggles that those with ASD live with every day through writing about my daughter’s and my experiences and some of them aren’t pretty.

Or maybe playing together in the mud would be fun!  Me and Aspie D - California 1993 (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Or maybe playing together in the mud would be fun! Me and Aspie D – California 1993
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Yes, it’s true, some days my heart grows heavy in my personal struggle as naturally I worry a lot about Aspie D.

Sometimes,  retreating from the world and doing nothing but curling up on the sofa watching back-to-back episodes of ‘Sponge Bob’ sounds pretty good.  Or ‘Breaking Bad’ for something slightly more gritty.

With Aspie D of course.

But (and it’s a big one) dear friends, you know how it is and I know I can park it here. No sympathy, just telling how it is because that’s life isn’t it?  Life’s rich pattern, onward and upward and all that.

Ultimately, I believe that life is good and each day is to be savoured, given to us as a gift, enjoyed to the full.  We are greatly blessed and I am eternally grateful for all we have.  Love, Life, Laughter. Tomorrow Aspie D will have a great birthday celebration I’m sure and I am confident that she will find her own, unique way in life one day at a time.

But first, let’s get this party started! It really is ‘Alright Now’. 

Happy Birthday Darling Daughter!!  Love Mum :-) xxx

Posted in Asperger's Syndrome, Family Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 86 Comments

Lost in France

Bonjour me amis!

Two weeks since I last blogged and I think I still remember how to do it, which is a relief! I hope this finds you all well and enjoying your summer? Judging by the 1,000 plus emails I’ve come home to (and no, I am not that popular, believe me – only one or two were personal messages), you’re all still here, busily blogging away. Thank goodness!

Geranium on stone wall, village in France (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Geranium on stone wall, village in France
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Having just returned from a lovely, lazy week away in France, I am reminded of two things: the beauty of the French countryside and how appalling my French is, despite having studied it for several years at school.

My excuse? I remain convinced that the only way to learn a language, really learn it, is to live in the country and become totally immersed in the culture.  Text book languages just don’t do it, at least not for me.  Still, I had fun trying…

I remember when I was about eleven going on a school trip to France.  We crossed the channel on a hovercraft direct from Dover to Calais, there being no ‘Chunnel‘ back then in the 1970’s.

The long bus drive from Suffolk to Dover leaving at sparrow’s fart the crack of dawn was the worst part.  I loved the hovercraft ride despite having to witness one of the kids being sick all over the floor, but Calais did nothing for me. Fish markets weren’t my idea of fun at eleven and not much better now.

Still, we did get to practice our French which was the idea, apparently.  I remember waiting in the queue to buy a souvenir for my mum: it was a wooden egg cup with a little picture of a boat and the word ‘Calais’ (of course) hand-painted on the side. I was very nervous about having to talk to the lady at the till in French.

I needn’t have bothered because the minute I opened my mouth, with an exasperated wave of her hand she exclaimed:

“It’s okay, I speak English!” And she did. Very well.

It would be another thirty years or so before I returned to France, when, unexpectedly, Hubby and I were given the opportunity to experience the beauty of what I like to think is the ‘real’ France, far away from the cold, grey skies of Calais.

The first time Hubby and I were kindly invited by friends to stay at their beautifully rustic home we flew, courtesy of a budget airline.

Nestled in a tiny hamlet between two villages some 30 or so kilometers from the town of Perigueux somewhere in the Dordogne region of south-west France, the location couldn’t be better for lending itself to a holiday saturated with rest and relaxation.

The next time (and yes, we must have behaved because we were invited back) we decided to drive, taking our car across by train via the Chunnel which was the easy bit.  The drive down through France proved to be much more of a challenge: what should have taken eight hours took us twelve.

In the middle of nowhere late of an August Sunday evening, no signal enabled on Hubby’s mobile phone and mine having died, we were well and truly lost in France. At one point, having pulled over to the side of a road after a minor…?…. disagreement (naturally), we decided that it would be better if Hubby read the map and I drove.

Zipping through deserted country lanes, our grumpy mood quickly dissipated into the warm, evening air as the experience and freedom of the moment took over: we were entranced by the tiny villages we  came across, filled as they were with brightly coloured bunting fluttering high above the narrow streets as it criss-crossed from building to building.

These same buildings were decorated from head to foot with paper flowers for summer festivals, yet where earlier in the day the streets had bustled with locals and tourists alike, not a soul was to be seen;  huge, stone houses shut up tight with metal gates and wooden shutters as we travelled through, fleeting visitors in the shadows of deserted communities.

Village house in France (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Village house in France
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

It was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

Despite the wonderful sense of adventure of two years ago, this time we played safe, taking advantage of a budget airline and we didn’t get lost once!

Now my memories of France are no longer of looking around fish markets:  I think of balmy summer days and evenings, walking along peaceful paths surrounded by open fields brimming with smiling sunflowers and ripening corn. I remember cycling (fitter than I thought!) to the local village on late afternoons along quiet roads painted only with the falling shadows of tall, roadside trees.

Sunflower fields - France (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Sunflower fields – France
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Village road - France (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Village road – France
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Field in France (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Field of corn in France
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Of open-air jazz evenings eating rabbit with prunes (it was delicious, tasted like chicken, it’s true, and I don’t even like prunes!) and of a soiree which ended at midnight with a firework ‘spectaculaire’ to the music of ‘O Fortuna’.  As dramatic as that sounds, it was indeed magical.

Open-air jazz evening at the back of a bar - France (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Open-air jazz evening at the back of a bar in Douchapt – France
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

The history, beauty and glorious mystique of France has grabbed me forever, not to mention some of the more bizarre sightings such as a stuffed dog (or possibly a fox without its tail, see what you think) with a pin wheel sticking out of its head oddly placed in someone’s front yard.  I kid you not.

Stuffed dog/fox with a pinwheel stuck to its head...bizarre! (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Stuffed dog/fox with a pin wheel stuck to its head…bizarre!
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Wrapping up then, I’ll  leave you with a ‘snapshot’ of my time in France to the music of ‘O Fortuna’ which seems the perfect choice to me (although ‘Lost in France’ by Bonnie Tyler would seem to be the more obvious one but I just can’t stand that song, sorry!).

Meanwhile, thank you all so much for your lovely messages left while I was away, really does warm my heart (great to know that  ‘A Horse With No Name’ is also a favourite for one or two of you!) and I’ll be over to you as soon as I can to catch up and say ‘Hi’.  I’ve missed you!

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Finally, how about these little cuties?

French Rabbits (not for eating I hope :-( ) (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Village bunnies
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014


Village cat (of many!) (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Village cat (of many!)
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Back to normal blogging next week – see you soon :-)

Love Sherri x

Posted in Blogging, Photos, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 109 Comments

Are We Nearly There Yet?

“Are we nearly there yet?” 

How many times as kids did we ask this question of our parents during inexcusably long car journeys?

When it came time for my own children to ask me the very same, my answer was no different to the one given me by my parents:

“Almost there, not far now!”

I think of long car journeys often.  As with many of you, I’ve taken a few and not just as a child.  One or two have defined me, who I was and who I am today, the memories of which burn from a lamp that has never gone out.

As I keep on keeping on writing my memoir, these defining moments leap up at me from the ‘paper’.

As the flow of the story pours forth, moving images play out before me.  It is as if I’m narrating, through the written word, while watching a film.  The colour of the stills are somewhat muted, as with the slight yellowing of the pages of a well-read book,  yet, with every word I write, a sort of restoration work takes place: the film becomes as vivid and as vital as if I am watching it for the very first time.

August 1979. I am nineteen and crammed in the back of a dark blue Plymouth Roadrunner sitting next to my American G. I. boyfriend. Other friends are squeezed either side of us and another drives us deeper into the wilderness, his long, black hair dancing in the wind through his open window. His pride and joy doesn’t have air conditioning, but he does have a mean 8-track. Los Angeles is far behind us, having left it at the crack of dawn.  Now, as dawn breaks into day, the repressive heat stirs up the wind as it whips my hair across my face and it stings.  The deep rumble of the V8 engine merges with Eddie Van Halen’s guitar riffs exploding from the 8-track’s speakers as we gun it across the Mojave Desert.  Only we exist: us and the open road, slashed like a knife-cut through the vastness of a lonely, heat-crazed terrain. In the back, we grab chilled beer bottles out of an ice-chest, crack them open and drink. We sing stupidly at the top of our lungs and collapse in heaps of laughter.   Las Vegas beckons and it won’t be long before I’ll be shaking hands with the fiercest heat I’ve ever known.  I couldn’t possibly have known it then that I would return to Las Vegas one year later under dire circumstances. All I did know,  for this English girl and her first time in America, was what it felt like to be truly alive.  I had escaped for the briefest of moments. We were young, we were crazy and we were as free as we would ever be again.

Last week, Eldest son, Aspie D and I watched the most amazing lightning as it flashed across the heavy Somerset skies.  Thunder rolled and heavy rain lashed down, a welcome relief to the stifling humidity of a British summer.  Never was the rain more welcome; I relish spontaneous moments like that.

Sometimes we just want to be free. Moonstone Beach, Cambria, California (c) Sherri Matthews 2013

Sometimes we just want to be free. Moonstone Beach, Cambria, California
(c) Sherri Matthews 2013

Sometimes though, we want to leave the rain behind for the smile of the sun on our weary faces.

I’m not heading to the desert any time soon, by car or by horse,  and I certainly don’t plan on roping any rattlesnakes (but Charli, if I do, I’ll be sure to put it on YouTube), but I am setting out.

Sometimes we need to catch our breath and feel the wind in our hair and just let go.   This will be my last blog post for a couple of weeks but I’ll be hanging around for the next day or so checking in with you as much as time allows and as best I can.

I’ll be unplugged for one whole week and I’m not sure how I’ll cope…I’m already having withdrawal just thinking about it.  Cold sweats and everything…

I’ll miss you all very much, so please just make sure you’ll still be here when I get back! Meanwhile, I would like to leave you with a memory of a certain desert, a piece of ‘America’ and a piece of my heart:

Wishing you all a great summer (and a not too cold winter to my friends on the other side of the world) wherever you go and whatever you do.

See you soon !

~ Love Sherri x ~

Posted in Family Life, Memoir, My California, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 89 Comments

Holiday Reading, Ghosts And The Norfolk Broads

Holiday reading.  What beats a book crammed full of twists and turn, thrills and spills to keep us occupied while lazing on the beach or reclining on a deck chair by the side of a pool somewhere hot and Mediterranean?   What indeed!

When Lisa set her prompt for this week’s Bite Size Memoir challenge as ‘Holiday Reads’ my memories took me not to the beach or the pool but back to the annual holidays we took as a family when I was a girl to the tranquility of the Norfolk Broads.

A boating holiday is certainly not relaxing in the usual sense, particularly if sailing.  In fact, it is quite physical with all the leaping on and off boats, mooring up, gathering in the sails and generally messing about on the river.  Not to mention all those misadventures that seem to go hand-in-hand when on the water, and I’m not just talking about losing one’s sunglasses.

Yet, nothing beats that feeling at the end of a boating day when you are moored up and hunkered down for the night, huddled in your bunk and settling in to your summer read.

Our holidays began with a several hour’s-long drive from Surrey to Norfolk, this being the 1970’s and motorways not what they are today, but oh the joy as we pulled in at last to the narrow roads of the delightfully historic Norfolk village of Horning and headed straight to the boatyard.

There we would set eyes on what would be our holiday home for the next two weeks and so the exodus began of transferring all our luggage, equipment and food from the overflowing car to our boat.  Then finding a home for everything, which on a boat is often far from easy.

Ghosts of the Norfolk BroadsOne year, when I was about twelve, as we took a walk down to the local shops of Horning to gather up some last-minute necessities before heading out, I treated myself to my summer book: it was called Ghosts of the Broads by Charles Sampson.

What captured my attention was that there was a ghost story for most of the places we would be visiting so I could time my stories when we were at the actual location. I couldn’t wait!

Some of the stories went on a bit, but there I would be, in the dead of the night, lulled by the gentle motion of our boat to the passing current of the waters surrounding us, my little overhead lamp burning the midnight oil, scaring myself witless.

What filled my imagination like no other was the story about St. Benet’s Abbey.

Approaching from the narrow and meandering River Ant as it merges into the strong currents of the River Bure, the sight of St. Benet’s Abbey looming up at the river’s edge of this convergence always struck a sense of foreboding into my heart as a child.

St Benet's Abbey, Norfolk Broads (c) Sherri Matthews 2013

St Benet’s Abbey, Norfolk Broads
(c) Sherri Matthews 2013

I came to learn that it was a monastery founded in Anglo-Saxon times and the only one which went on to function well into the medieval ages. A wind pump was built into the gate of the ruins left behind.  Hence the unusual structure.

Visiting the ruins today, my imagination still runs riot but I will write about this at another time, taking up a post of its own as it merits!

The ghosts of the Norfolk Broads and I go back a long way.  They have fascinated and enthralled me for as long as I can remember.   So it was, that fifteen years ago and after a gap of many years, I was fortunate enough to take my three children on a Norfolk Broad’s holiday, together with my mum,  brother and his family.  Eleven of us on two boats!

We cruised and sailed for two glorious weeks in August  and it was steaming hot every day.  Sometimes things work out better than planned and this was no exception.

As ever, I took my ‘Ghosts of the Broads’ book with me. To my amazement, I soon discovered that the very night we found ourselves mooring up for the night on Barton Broad (a  huge expanse of water which, you might be interested to know, Admiral Horatio Nelson himself learnt to sail on as a boy) happened to be the same night that one of these ghostly apparitions was to appear.

If the conditions are perfect, the face of a woman appears in the lake, so the story goes.  You can imagine, out there alone on the water with nothing but our ghost stories and hyped up children to tell them to,  just what the atmosphere must have been like!

In all my years of ‘ghost hunting’ on the Norfolk Broads, I never did see a ghost, which disappointed me greatly and caused me great relief all at the same time. Quite what I would have done if I had found one of ‘my’ ghosts, I will never know.

However, on this particular night something extraordinary did happen, something that neither I nor my family can explain to this day.

Here then is my ‘bite’ for this week, in 150 words exactly:

Summer Ghosts

South Walsham Broad at dusk - Norfolk Broads  (Not having one handy of Barton Broad, but it sets the scene!) (c) Sherri Matthews 2013

South Walsham Broad at dusk – Norfolk Broads
(Not having one handy of Barton Broad, but it sets the scene!) (c) Sherri Matthews 2013

Moored up in a cosy inlet, the winds that earlier had provided a full day’s sailing had died to a breath and Barton Broad lay as smooth as glass.

Orange skies darkened and a light mist danced across the waters. Conversation and laughter echoed beyond the riverbanks, then silence.

I don’t know who saw it first, but in seconds we were all standing on the gunwale, watching.

It was almost dark now, no wind and boating after sunset was forbidden, if not impossible without navigation lights.

A yacht, in full sail as the waters lapped at its bow, forged ahead in the darkness, the moon giving the merest hint of reflection in the water. No helmsman in sight, yet the sails billowed.

We gaped in hushed disbelief, not comprehending this eerie encounter. Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the yacht vanished, swallowed up by the mist.

Just like that.



Posted in Bite Size Memoir, Childhood Memories, Norfolk Broads | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 71 Comments

The Island of Spinalonga

On this blisteringly hot summer’s day here in the British Isles, I think of another island, far away but even hotter than this: I think of the Greek island of Crete, an island surrounded by the Mediterranean and Aegean diamond-studded seas and filled with the warmth and hospitality of its people.

Crete (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Crete oozes history, boasting ancient ruins of its long ago Minoan Civilization.  Driving down its narrow, winding roads you come across hidden coves with tavernas serving island- grown, freshly-prepared Cretan food with refrigerator-chilled glass tankards filled to the brim with ice-cold beer.

The Greeks don’t believe in eating without drinking: you find a brightly painted, wooden table and chairs placed invitingly on the beach beneath the shade of a tree.

There you sit, hot, hungry and thirsty and the next thing you know, along with your chilled drink while awaiting your ordered meal, your waiter brings you a bowl overflowing with the plumpest, richest tomatoes you have ever seen.  Or maybe chickpeas and fresh yoghurt.

A snack , a meze, to have with your drink, no extra charge.

Crete - lunch by the sea 2008 (c) Sherri Matthews

Crete – lunch by the sea 2008
(c) Sherri Matthews

In a hurry to pay your bill?  A word of advice: never be in a hurry when you go on holiday to Crete because you won’t be allowed to mention that dirty word over there.  You will be told to relax and to take your time.  An alien concept to so many of us.

While you wait for your bill, allow another half an hour or so to enjoy the chilled bowl of dark red cherries served on ice, or the sliced watermelon that accompanies your bill.

After this long, lazy lunch you might find yourself strolling through the pleasant harbour town of Agios Nikolaos, nestled cozily alongside beautiful Mirabello Bay on the north-eastern shores of Crete.

Harbour town of Agios Nikolaos, Crete 2008 (c) Sherri Matthews

Mirabello Bay, Agios Nikolaos Crete 2008
(c) Sherri Matthews

As you approach the fisherman and their boats you will stop to catch your breath as you view the magnificent sight of a peninsular just across what is known as the Gulf of Elounda.

This, you soon discover, is the rocky and barren island of Spinalonga.

What you first notice jutting out from the peninsular is the Venetian fortress which was originally built in 1579 to protect the nearby port of Elounda.

Venetian Fortress of Spinalonga, Crete 2008 (c) Sherri Matthews

Venetian Fortress of Spinalonga, Crete
(c) Sherri Matthews

You come to learn some of this island’s history: in 1715, the last of the Venetians were removed when the Ottoman Turks took over. During the Cretan revolt of 1878, the island became a home for the remaining Ottoman families who sought refuge there, fearing Christian reprisals.

What you then learn is at that after the last of the Turks left the island in 1903, it was turned into a leper colony. The conditions were prison-like, cruel and unforgiving.

Things improved when a hospital was built at last in 1937, but it was another twenty years before the colony was closed and the last surviving lepers were taken to a hospital in Athens. The last person to leave the island was a Priest, who left in 1962.

The island today is uninhabited, its fortress and town in ruins.

Of course, it begs exploration.  Local fisherman run boats daily from both Agios Nikolaos and Elounda to Spinalonga enabling you to head over there and spend as long as you need to before you catch the last boat back.

One of the first sights to steal your gaze is what is known as Dante’s Gate.  This is where the lepers entered when they were first brought to live on the island: it seems to exude sorrow and despair as the place where the lepers said goodbye to their loved ones, never to return.

Dante's Gate, Spinalonga, Crete 2008 (c) Sherri Matthews

Dante’s Gate, Spinalonga, Crete 2008
(c) Sherri Matthews

None of the lepers knew what was going to happen to them.  They were looked after with food, water and medical supplies, but they never lived with their families again.  It was at least better than the caves which were once their homes.

Evidence of an entire community, once living and breathing, is still clearly visible; from ovens to staircases, homes and the hospital:

The view from the top is spectacular.  I imagine what it must have been like for the lepers to have looked longingly across the sparkling sea to the mainland where their loved ones  lived, knowing that they would never be able to join them again for the rest of their lives.

Walking along the dry, dusty trails, you will come across this Church sign. Nearby, lies the barely noticeable cemetery.

The Church sign, Spinalonga (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

The Church sign, Spinalonga
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

The Church just ahead was used for funerals.  It is tiny and sparse, barren in its surroundings.  The silence is melancholy, pierced only by the cry of a gull swooping overhead and the soft clacking of a stone as it falls away beneath your tread, knocking into other stones.

The Church of St George Spinalonga, Crete, 2008 (c) Sherri Matthews

The Church of St George
Spinalonga, Crete, 2008
(c) Sherri Matthews

As you trail away from the beaten path and climb ever higher, you will find a place of solitude.  Lost in quiet thought, you feel nothing but a breath of hot air gently brushing your face as you listen to the sea lapping at the rocky shore below.

It is there that you might just find a moment’s peace wrapped up in a long-ago silence.

Yet, if you really listen you may hear the whisper of the voices of those who once lived on this island, carried along in the sea-breeze not as the cry of the seagull but as distant cries of those who were lost and lonely, longing for their families.

View from the top of Spinalonga, Crete 2008 (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

View from the top of Spinalonga, Crete 2008
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

For there are those who remain on the island, whispering to our hearts from their eternal rest: as they walk softly in the shadows alongside us who visit, unseen but sensed, we are reminded by them of what is most important: that our lives are forever entwined and will never be forgotten.

This post is partly in response to the prompt of ‘Relic’ from last week’s Weekly Photo Challenge as well as this week’s prompt which is ‘Containers‘.  The island contains the abandoned relics of an old leper colony. I thought this would be the perfect excuse to write about this enthralling and fascinating island.


Posted in HIstory, Photos, Travel, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 74 Comments

Bite Size Memoir: Mum’s 10 out of 10

What is my 10 out of 10? I ask this question because this is what Lisa has asked of us this week for her Bite Size Memoir challenge. In celebration of her tenth ‘bite’ prompt (somehow I’ve manage eight of them!), Lisa has asked us to share something, anything, be it something special we’ve achieved, a special trait we might excel at, even some sort of trivia.

Finding it hard to come up with something, I went back to my school days for inspiration and remembered the tiny village school in Suffolk that I attended after my parents split up.

Once the old headmistress left (and yes, I did feel the whack of her ruler on my knuckles once or twice), a new, young headmaster took over.  He transformed the place, lifting us fun-starved kids out of the Victorian age and into the modern 1970’s: we had guitar lessons, gymnastics, country dancing, art, drama and field trips to France. I thrived there and amazingly, passed my 11-plus.

Then I thought of many years later when I was ready to re-enter the workforce after being a full-time mum for twelve years (meaning: I was employed but not getting paid, at least not in dollars).

We had already owned a computer for a few years by that time, and of course the kids had taken to it like a dog with a bone.  Although I had one up on them by being able to touch type (and I did know how to turn the thing on),  I struggled with a lot of the applications.

So,  I did what any mother would: I asked the kids for help. Big mistake that.  Their response was to grab the mouse out of my hand with more than a hint of impatience and after whizzing it around the desk at light speed,  a few taps on the keyboard and a couple of clicks later, job done.  Sorted.  Leaving me utterly confused.

“Errr…thanks….but what did you just do? Exactly?  Can you do that again please, this time slowly and show me step by step?”

Sighs, huffs and puffs.  “No time, sorry Mom, gotta dash! Just click on that tab I showed you, you’ll get it!”

And then those famous, parting words:

“It’s easy!”

So, I took matters into my own hands and signed up to a computer course at our local community college for Word 2000 & Desktop Publishing.  I was really nervous the first day,  going back to ‘school’, but I had so much fun and learnt all I needed to help give me the step-up to start job-hunting.

The biggest challenge for me though was to come: about half way through the course, our tutor announced that our final examination would be a PowerPoint presentation of something we had learnt and then present it to the entire class.

When I heard that, my blood turned to ice in my veins.  What?  Stand up in front of the class and speak?  Surely not.  I hadn’t heard right.  And anyway, I knew absolutely nothing about PowerPoint.  When I had a private word with the tutor after class she must have noticed that all the blood had drained out of my face as she offered me a chair to sit on while calmly explaining that it would be fine, not to worry.  After all, and those words, again, it would be easy!

I worried right up until the end of term. I chose ‘How to Make a Table of Contents‘ for my presentation and sure enough, the day came. With racing heart and hands shaking, I found, to  my utter amazement, that as I began my PowerPoint slide show, my nerves calmed down and by the time I had finished it I realised that I had actually really enjoyed it.  A lot.  Even better, I got an A.

But what I learnt that day about myself and facing up to our fears (and public speaking is a huge one my friends!) was that I had created something all on my own and then got to share it. Sound familiar?

Years later I made slide shows on my laptop using Windows Media for each of my children for their special birthdays, putting photographs to music.  When I was in the midst of creating these  slide shows, they took me hours and hours, stretched out over days, weeks, and a lot of other things went by the wayside.  A precursor for blogging I would say!

My three kids with our Lab puppy Monty 1990s California (c) Sherri Matthews

My three kids with our Lab puppy Monty 1990s California
(c) Sherri Matthews

But I was in  my stride, in my element. I was creating, and then I was sharing what I had created with those I love, something personal, something durable, a part of me.

Which brings me to this ‘bite’.  This isn’t strictly a memoir about something I’ve achieved in that this is a little story about my middle boy Nicky.  One or two of you already ‘know’ him, but for my new blogging friends, I first introduced him last autumn, with his full permission, when I wrote about his comeback from a horrendous break up from his girlfriend and posted a clip of his music in,  ‘Smoke and Mirrors': My Son’s Way Back.’

My finest achievements are my children so I share this story in their honour as my 10 out of 10, although the ‘prize’ actually belongs to my son. Bear in mind, Nicky was only four when this happened and he has no idea why he said what he did, but we think he got it from watching an episode of Top Cat.  We laugh about it to this day.

(Incidentally, this little story was my first ever published piece in a magazine!)

Here then is my bite size memoir, in 150 words, no more, no less! (I love saying that!):

Welcome To Kindergarten

When my middle boy Nicky was due to start Kindergarten, he had to attend a brief assessment with his teacher.

I sat a little way behind him so as not to distract them and all went well. When it finished and before we left, the teacher then asked:

“Now Nicholas, I notice that your mom calls you Nicky. This year, we will have two Nicholas’s in your class, so what would you like to be called? Nicky or Nick?”

I watched my son as he fidgeted and then looked up at the ceiling as if for inspiration.


After a few moments, with me wondering what he was doing, he obviously had the answer he was looking for. With a flourish of determination, he looked straight at the teacher and without batting an eyelid answered:

“Just call me boss!”

I don’t know who was more shocked – me or the teacher.

Posted in Bite Size Memoir, Childhood Memories | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 70 Comments

The Butterfly Light Award

As a follow-up to my previous Award post, I continue to thank Irene for also nominating me for this rather special and beautiful Butterfly Light Award.

 Butterfly Light Award

butterfly-light-awardThis award was originally given to Don Charisma as a thank you from Belinda (the idiot writer) when he helped fix her computer.   I am amazed by the special effects, shimmering like delicate butterfly wings, and I’m truly honoured and humbled to have received it, thank you so much Irene!

As I mentioned before, Irene is not only a talented and inspiring writer, but she is a kind, caring and truly super lady and friend who has greatly encouraged me and many others. Through her and the varied challenges she takes part in (writing and photography), I’ve met many other wonderful new blogging friends.

Irene truly is a beautiful blogger who has illuminated the path before me many times, shining her lantern in my summerhouse when the lights have dimmed, as they sometimes do…

Conditions For Accepting The Award

1. You must write an acceptance post, making sure you link back to the blogger who awarded you and thank them. You MAY NOT lump this award in with a batch of other awards.

2. You must individually name and re-award to a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 9999999 bloggers. You must let them know either personally with a comment on their blog OR a pingback (I’d suggest their about page)

3. You must link back to Belinda’s blog either to OR

4. You must write a short paragraph – Entitled either “How I’m Spreading Light” OR “How I’m A Positive Influence”

5. Display Belinda’s lovely “Butterfly Light Award” badge on your blog.

Here then are the wonderful bloggers I’m nominating  for the Butterfly Light Award, and many congratulations to you all!

Everybody already nominated in the previous awards post and:
Jo Robinson
Bespoke Traveler
Book to the Future
Writer Site
The World Is a Book…
Mabel Kwong
Snow’s Fissures and Fractures


Finally, in answering the questions above (‘How I’m spreading light’, or ‘How I’m a positive influence’), I would prefer to leave you with this quote which expresses how I feel about you, my dear friends:

‘At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.’ ~Albert Schweitzer

Posted in Awards | Tagged , , , , , | 63 Comments