Category Archives: Family

The Mad Shanks Residence: Lemons to Lemonade!

I’ve been looking back at my last few articles and it’s all become a bit serious hasn’t it?  Nothing wrong with serious, we need to give subjects the weight they need and deserve, but we also need to have fun along the way.  In fact, I wrote about just that a couple of years ago in my blog, it’s actually imperative to have fun once in a while, we get a bit grumpy and sour otherwise!

The last few weeks at The Mad Shanks Residence have been, shall we say, ‘not very nice’.  I was talking to a friend about all the goings on and she commented that ‘you really couldn’t make it up!’, no change there then, it’s always like that but not quite to the extent of recent times.

But the ‘bouncibility’ of my family never ceases to amaze me.  Jamie had a horrible experience but a few days later she was climbing the very overgrown tree on the front drive and sawing branches off like there was no tomorrow!  I stood underneath as any self-respecting mother would, imploring her not to fall out!

THE FACE!

By the time she’d finished venting her anger on the foliage around the driveway there really wasn’t much left!  And no, I’m not moaning, it was well overdue and needed a damn good pruning.

She then proceeded to put my new bed together (no mean feat with Ikea flatpacks!) and move my entire room around to the way I wanted it.  I was grateful for that.

No comment on what’s going on here, but this is Fudge!

On another note, we have 7 cats (long story!), the trouble is that 4 of them are Tabbies, 2 of them are easily distinguishable whereas Tufty and Fudge (I know, I know…not the most imaginative names but chosen by the children when they were a lot younger) are so alike that I sometimes struggle.

2 nights ago Jamie was lying in bed and heard a thud followed by distressed meowing, a cat had been hit by a car…that didn’t stop!  They went hunting for the cat and eventually found him and Jamie declared that it was Tufty.  He had obviously been hit on the side of his head but we had no idea how serious his injuries were, or whether they were life threatening.  Off to the vet at 1.30am with said cat.

They kept him overnight to observe him, meanwhile Jamie was so distraught she was almost inconsolable, Tufty is far away her favourite cat.  Once we picked him up from the vet and brought him home with orders to keep him as quiet as possible, Jamie fed him luxury food in a little tin (something they never get, they’re farm cats!) and fussed over him.  Then the subject of collars arose, all of our cats wear reflective collars so that cars can see them at night, they all drive way too fast down the lane and it’s the cats only protection.

Someone mentioned that one of the cats had lost their collar and they rang me to get another while I was out, which I duly did.  By the time I got home though, the whole house was in uproar, it turned out that the injured cat (who, somehow, miraculously, is fine now) wasn’t Tufty…it was Fudge!   Whilst Jamie was fussing ‘Tufty’, Tufty walked in and started eating, making everyone do a double take!

I must confess that I suspected that we were calling the injured cat by the wrong name but Jamie is normally very reliable at knowing which cat is which, so I just trusted her, whilst all the time thinking it was Fudge because of his tan coloured ears.  I should have trusted my own judgement!

I think the vet still thinks they treated Tufty but unless they need to go in again it doesn’t really matter, we can always correct it next time.

Stuff happens but life goes on and in the fabulous words of Jean-Paul Satre:-

Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.

LIFE: What does that mean to you?

If I said to you ‘what is life?’ and you had to say the first thing that came into your head, what would it be?  Do it now…and I would love to know what the first thing you thought was.

That’s why I’m writing this, I’ve just been thinking about life, firstly thinking about Pippa and something I’ve just sent her about BPD that I found online….

Matt here, mental health contributing editor for The Mighty, and it just so happens that my partner lives with BPD. With that in mind, I wanted to highlight some of the things I want my partner to know about my perception of BPD.

So, here it is, my dearest one, and everyone else out there who believes their BPD makes them “manipulative,” “broken” or “unsuitable” to be in a relationship.

I see how it hurts you, not only the stigma of others but the stigma you place on yourself. You believe I see you the way the stigma portrays you: as somebody who can’t possibly be in a loving relationship without your supposed “inherent toxicity” driving it into a smoking crater. But, that’s not the truth at all. I see a woman made raw by her trauma, stripped bare and left to scar without any kind of healing. I see the fear you will be abandoned, and I understand it. You’ve been abandoned so often, made to feel like you’re worth nothing but loneliness. I see you compare yourself to other women you believe are more beautiful and worthy than you, and expect me to do the same.

These things you feel toward yourself are not true. Your worth lies not in your scars, but in how you’ve survived them for so long with no guide to life but yourself. You are worthy, and strong, and fierce, and beautiful, and all of these things and more. You are not broken. You are not evil. You are not “too much” for me, and if anyone else believes you are then they definitely don’t deserve you. You were touched by trauma but not infected by it.

You’ve got this, and I’ll stand by your side the whole way.

She’s just told me that she relates to this totally but life is still hard for her.  Pippa’s story is so incredibly complex, from her autism to her Cerebral Palsy and endless operations, to her Anorexia and Borderline Personality Disorder, from her PTSD from her father’s suicide to the constant Anxiety and depression she fights every day.  She’s been through so much and yet she’s become a strong woman in spite of everything that could have stolen her life before it has really started.  

I’m incredibly proud of Pippa, proud of how far she’s come and how she keeps battling on, proud of how open she was in the film and how many people have contacted us to tell us how much her openness has helped them, it took a lot of courage for her to be so brutally honest.

That’s all very deep and meaningful but ‘life’ means so many things to so many people and, on a lighter note, as I started writing this I accidentally opened the photos on my phone.  So, from mental health to fish!

We have a huge number of fish in our pond, they’ve discovered breeding and now they’re doing a lot of it!  But the ‘Grandaddy’ of them all is a Koi that I’ve had for several years, we don’t see him very often but this morning he was lying half under a Lily pad so I took some photos.  The pictures don’t really give much scale but I can tell you he’s about 12″ long and looks like ‘the monster of the deep’!

NOT THE BEST PHOTO BUT, TRUST ME, HE’S ENORMOUS!

So, the word ‘life’ means something totally different to everyone and sometimes my personal perception changes depending on what’s going on in my life at the time, and sometimes, like today, it has many different meanings all at once.  So, here’s a picture of my fish (and the pot I planted last week that I’ve managed to keep alive so far!)

Why am I so proud of this pot of plants? Anyone who knows me well is aware that I have ‘killing plants’ on my list of hobbies (gardening isn’t my strong point!)

ONE LIFE, LIVE IT!

 

To Die or Not to Die?: Living Life After Near Death

A near death experience is a funny one I’ve found!  I’ve always assumed that my reaction to one would be to embrace life even more than I already do and spend my time treasuring every second.  The reality has been entirely different and I’ve discovered that I’m not the only person, by a long way, who has responded the way I have.

The heart attack I suffered last year should have killed me…no, really!  Had I not already been in hospital at the time I wouldn’t be here, scary stuff, I’m pretty much living on borrowed time.  Borrowed time that I’m definitely grateful for but it’s taken time to recover psychologically, much more than physically.

The light has always been there, I just haven’t been able to see it!

It’s been 9 months now recovering from the actual heart attack and starting to feel physically back to normal actually took about 6 months, but another bout of very serious illness 6 weeks ago really knocked me back again and it’s taken this long to get over that fully.

The truth is though, that for a good 6 months I felt as though there was no point in living any more, having no energy, motivation and stamina made life a pure chore, not the exciting adventure I’ve always felt I was on!  I couldn’t see it changing and the thought of living half a life just wasn’t something I felt I could tolerate.  Was I suicidal?  Yes and no, I would never have actively taken my own life but there were long periods of time when I went to sleep feeling as though it would be better if I didn’t wake up.  My only motivation to keep trying were my children, I know how much they would struggle if anything were to happen to me and I also know how much devastation I would be leaving behind.

Wanting to be here for them kept me going but didn’t alter those deep feelings of hopelessness, the future had disappeared and I felt as though this time it was gone for good.

So, am I ok now?  Yes, for the first time in a very long time I can say that I’m OK, not skipping and dancing, but, OK.  And, you know what, for the time being ‘OK’ is enough.  I still have days when I feel as though someone has turned the light off again but they’re getting fewer and I hope that theme continues.

I’m writing this to help others who have serious health issues understand that it can turn around and it can feel as though life is worth living again, it can just take time.  Sometimes we have to be kind to ourselves and allow the recovery process to happen without beating ourselves up because ‘we should be ok by now’, some recover more quickly, some of us take more time.

Keep going, it’s worth it, and, you’re not alone…..

Film ‘Kingdom of Us’ :- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fc8_spETMBY

Book ‘Unravelled’ :- https://smile.amazon.co.uk/Unravelled-inspirational-story-journey-darkness-ebook/dp/B00L1ENC0O/ref=smi_www_rco2_go_smi_9905632998?_encoding=UTF8&ie=UTF8&qid=1528106227&sr=8-1

TED Talk :- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xts1F-PoUNA

 

Domestic Abuse: 4 reasons why we stay

I was watching a documentary the other night about a lady who was in an abusive relationship which ended in her being set on fire by her partner and dying.  A horrific story, but it set me thinking…  I lived in an abusive relationship, it was just more subtle and very insidious, some physical abuse but mostly mental and controlling.  The law now recognises this type of abuse as ‘coercive control‘ and can carry a sentence of up to five years imprisonment.  It’s also very much a gender biased form of abuse with most abusers being male.  I felt it would be useful to analyse the reasons why I stayed with Paul for so long, and having done so, I also realise that the reasons are pretty much the same regardless of the type of abuse.  So, for those of you who cannot begin to get your head around ‘why we stay’, maybe this will help you to understand how powerless you can feel in these relationships and how staying can feel like the easier option.

 

1. Fear

This is probably the biggest and most chilling reason why so many women stay in an abusive relationship and the fear is very real on a number of different levels.  There may be children involved in which case the fear of not being able to look after them adequately is very hard to overcome.  Another, more sinister fear is of your partner coming after you and hurting you, either physically or in any other way, this can be paralysing.  There is also the fear that life will actually become worse if you leave because of your partners inability to let go. Many women from abusive relationships end up being stalked by their partner and the consequences can be deadly.

 

2.  Love:-

It’s easy for onlookers to forget that we fell in love with these people, that they were wonderful when we first met them and we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with them, that is, the person we initially fell in love with.  When you’re head over heels in love you don’t see, or ignore, the negative aspects of your partner, you’re actually so blindly in love that it’s almost impossible to believe what you subconsciously suspect.  And hindsight is a very wonderful thing that we are deprived of at the actual time we need it!  I know, I look back now and realise that the writing was on the wall from very early on in our relationship but I blamed myself for causing his behaviour, vowing to become ‘better’.

 

3. Isolation:-

Sadly, in a lot of cases, the changes happen slowly and imperceptibly, distancing you from your family,  restricting your access to friends for what always seem to be perfectly good reasons and the anger if your partner suspects you may have confided in someone, always preventing you from doing just that.  The isolation builds until there is no-one left that you are close enough with to be able to ask for help, being totally alone makes the prospect of leaving even harder to contemplate.  Another aspect of this type of abuse is the constant reinforcement of your belief that it actually is all your fault and you’re the one who is lacking.  I was brainwashed over many years to believe that I was the one who was mentally ill due to my childhood experiences and my mother dying when I was a teenager, eventually I believed it wholeheartedly.  It was only a few years before Paul’s death that I ‘woke up’ and saw the reality, by that time I had 7 children, all with special needs, and leaving was going to be painfully slow and also a mammoth task, but do it I must.

 

4. Hope:-

Maybe the most paralysing of all, the constant hope that the person you fell in love with will suddenly return and the sheer bliss that you experienced in those early days will be here again.  Deluded? Yes, of course, but by the time you realise that you’re deluded the rest of the damage has already been done.

My book ‘Unravelled‘ was published a few years ago and since then I’ve received a number of messages for women telling that they read the book, realised that they were living in a coercively controlling relationship and found the strength to leave.  I feel horribly responsible, but, fortunately, all of these stories had a happy ending with the women involved finding true love with a new partner.  Leaving was incredibly hard for all of them but it ended up being the right thing to do.

Anyone who has seen ‘Kingdom of Us‘  will know that one of Paul’s considered plans was murder/suicide, we found a notepad after his death which outlined in detail how he would kill all of the children in front of me, then me and then himself.  It was terrifying to realise how close we had potentially come to such an appalling end and really highlights just how mentally ill Paul actually was.

We were lucky, Paul didn’t carry out his plan and chose instead to end his own life, a tragedy in itself, but I’m thankful that the children have had the opportunity of living their lives free from fear.  I guess there was never going to be a perfect ending within my relationship with Paul, it was so flawed in so many ways but here we are, still standing and living the best lives we can with hope in our hearts.  It fills me with joy to watch my beautiful children living full lives and working towards their dreams, dreams that could so easily have been snatched away, I have so much to be grateful for…

The Mad Shanks Residence Easter Challenge

How quickly time flies, The Mad Shanks Residence Easter Challenge was yesterday, feels like only a few months ago that we had the last one!  As always, the people in attendance were given challenges to complete and be judged on before running out into the field to find 312 hidden chocolate goodies which were spread far and wide.

All went well, they had three challenges this year, first was to make six beautiful and imaginative chocolates fit for Gordon Ramsay, again I stipulated, NO turds on plates!  Secondly they had to transform a hat with bunny ears into something creative.  The ‘hats’ were pink and the ears resembled pigs rather than rabbits, probably the reason they were reduced to 50p each in Hobbycraft!

Lastly, they had to paint each others faces, this was a first for the Easter Challenge so I was waiting in eager anticipation to see what they came up with.  They had an hour per challenge, and , as always, no rules, they could do whatever they wanted, and boy, they did!

The hats turned into everything from Easter Chicks to genitalia (both male and female, I shouldn’t really have been surprised!), they were all absolutely ingenious.

The face painting featured everything from the beautiful to the astonishingly bizarre and the chocolates were all genuinely, beautifully executed and tasted delicious, all round a huge success.

Meanwhile, I hade been roaming the field creating the egg hunt, we’d started late so it was already evening when we realised two of the dogs were missing, the deadly duo of Lexie and Cody.  The ‘dog hunt’ started and after well over an hour was called off so that the egg hunt could go ahead before darkness fell.  I’m fussy about the hunt being done as soon as possible because of the risk of the local wildlife finding the treats (all wrapped in either plastic or foil) and risking their wellbeing if they eat them, wrapping and all.

We decide to incorporate the hunt with continued efforts to find the dogs who’d both been renamed with words that really are not suitable for this blog! As eleven people scatter gunned around the field searching, I sat and waited for their return, by this time I felt as though I’d done my bit and was shattered.

Fortunately Osborn found the wayward dogs a little way from home and brought them back safely and the chocolates were counted and prizes awarded to the winners of each category, a brilliant day enjoyed by all who attended.

Bearing in mind that the children now range in age from 17-26, will the tradition continue?  I really don’t know, but all the time they are as enthusiastic as they were yesterday, I will continue to organise it.  There’s no age limit on having fun you know!

HS2: The brutal reality finally revealed…

A lot of you will already know that HS2 will be passing less than 100m outside our back door and we have 10 years of on and off construction to look forward to.  Whilst the ‘experts’ insist on telling us constantly that the noise level will be very low and they will minimise the impact on my family as best they can, the reality is that it’s going to be very intrusive indeed.

We live in the middle of nowhere, tractors ploughing the surrounding fields are extremely noticeable as we live in silence bar the birds singing and the odd car going past.  And yes, we’re so incredibly lucky to live where we do but, I personally have spent every single one of the past 31 years working myself into the ground in order to be able to afford to keep it, for what, I now ask?

Was it worth the blood, sweat and tears I’ve put into being able to have the opportunity to live in a peaceful environment?  It now all feels as though it’s been in vain as I look forward to spending my older years (a time now when I really appreciate the peace and quiet) with the never ending noise of construction, the dust and loss of trees and environment that we are all so emotionally attached to.

We had a total of six people attend a meeting this morning to discuss where exactly the construction will be and what mitigation can be offered.  These people are the messengers and therefore do not deserve to be shot, but, I do resent the placating comments intended to convince us that ‘it won’t be as bad as we’re anticipating’.  I have stood next to many, many construction sites over my lifetime and I’m only too well aware of what the noise and visual impact is going to be.  Couple that with the fact that over the last seven years we’ve been told that the land they need will be ‘x’ and now we’re being told it’s a lot more than we ever imagined, no wonder my daughter broke down in tears.

On a very personal level it feels as though another part of Paul is being taken away from us as he loved our house so much and fought with me for 20 years to be able to keep it.  The ancient Oak tree that we used to sit under and where the children have some incredibly fond memories of their father will be chopped down at the end of the summer.  “You have it for the whole of the summer so you can still enjoy it” they told us.  Great, we have five more months of enjoying it’s beauty and then a tree that has taken 100’s of years to grow will be destroyed forever, along with dozens of other trees.

Yes, this blog is emotional, I’m feeling very emotional.  Something we don’t want and will never use is being forced upon us whether we like it or not, along with thousands of other people the length of the line.  None of the engineers from HS2 live near the line so it doesn’t affect them, easy to be blasé when it’s not impacting on your life.  For us, it’s the best part of our home being taken away along with so many happy memories, memories that we want to hold on to in order to override the sad ones.

The next few years are going to be extremely tough……

 

 

 

 

Parenting: A little lament and giving your children ‘Roots and Wings’

 

Parenting, probably the most difficult task we will ever undertake, and yet, we fall into it so easily, not fully knowing how totally life changing having a child can be.

A child is a permanent fixture, a little person that will forever be a part of your life, regardless of what life may throw at you personally, they will still need your love and support.  It’s also a job that has no real predictable outcome, it’s not a task that you can assign goals to, you can’t break it down into bite sized, manageable pieces.  It’s a minute by minute, day by day, full-time job that has no foreseeable ending.

If only parenting was a job that we could neatly process in our planners, with a measurable end goal and a system for seeing how much progress we’re making.  It’s not, it’s a constant, evolving roller coaster of emotion and practical tasks that have to be addressed, procrastination isn’t something we can easily employ when it comes to our offspring.

And yet, we have one, then we often have another one, in my case ending up with seven!  Do we have more children because we already have one to look after, life has changed unrecognisably anyway, so we may as well add to the family?  How much harder can two be compared to one?

Not wishing the above to sound negative, I couldn’t be happier that I had all of my children, I wouldn’t change a thing with regard to them and I know every parent feels the same way.  The biggest challenge, I believe, is that you have no idea whether you’ve done a good job or not until they’re adults and start to tell you where you went wrong!

I remember someone telling me when I was pregnant with my first child Jamie that, as a parent, I had to be ‘good enough’.  I also remember my hackles going up at the time and thinking, “I don’t want to be ‘good enough’, I want to be the best parent I can be”, and then being determined to do just that.

Some great advice I was given 24 years ago and I’ve tried to remember

And over the last 26 years that’s exactly what I’ve tried to do, knowing all the time that I wouldn’t know if my ‘best’ was enough for many years to come, all I can say is that I’m at peace knowing that I sincerely did try to do my ‘best’ at all times in spite of the curved balls that have been thrown at me over the years.

I’ve been very conscious of everything I’ve done and everything I’ve said, always trying to not say something that would have a lasting negative impact on my beautiful children.  I’ve tried to be strict enough without stifling their emotions and crushing them into becoming the empty shells of the person they should have been.  I can put my hand on my heart and swear that I’ve only ever wanted the best for them, whatever that may be.  I’ve always tried to encourage them in whatever they want to do and taught them to reach for the stars  and believe in themselves, because it’s likely that very few other people will believe in them.

And now they’re mostly all adults and preparing to spread their wings, I hope and pray that I’ve managed to give them the tools they need to be whoever they wish to be, to be able to aspire to being whatever they want to be and strong enough to pursue their dreams in the way they want to pursue them.

I’m not perfect, I have made mistakes and I hope my children will forgive those mistakes and understand that parents don’t always ‘get it right’.  Maybe when they have children of their own they will fully understand that parenting isn’t a perfect science and is fraught with ‘danger’ and then they’ll understand that every parent is, effectively, ‘winging it’. Babies don’t come with a manual, no troubleshooting tips in the back, no error codes to check, no virus software to upload, just a miniature person that is handed to you at birth that you then have to try to work out all by yourself, and there’s no other model exactly the same  to compare their performance with!

So, to every parent out there, you’re not alone in wondering whether you’re getting it right, and you won’t know until they’re old enough to tell you the error of your ways.  In hindsight you’ll see their point and wish you could turn the clock back, but having regrets is pointless, as long as you know you did your best, you have to forgive yourself.  One day they’ll understand how difficult parenting is and they’ll understand those ‘mistakes’ you made because they’ll be making their own mistakes without even realising it.

Being a parent is the most rewarding and frustrating task I’ve ever undertaken and I feel honoured and privileged to have had the opportunity to be a mother to my children.  I love them all so much, I would die for them without a second thought, but above all, I respect them all as people, things could have been so very different.

Thank you Jamie, Kacie, Lorie, Mirie, Nikita, Osborn and Pippa.  I feel humbled to have been able to spend a large part of my life with you all, you bring me the most intense and immense joy every single day.  As I say in ‘Kingdom of Us‘, I don’t who I would be without you……

An important final word…

 

 

 

Failure isn’t falling, it’s not getting back up again….

I’m going to let you into a secret, deep down I’m one of those people who would love to live in a world of rainbows, fairies, seahorses and unicorns!   It wouldn’t be for everyone but here is my idea of a perfect world…

….and this is what I’ve got!

Now, don’t get me wrong, Lorie asleep in her Unicorn onesie that I bought her for Christmas is wonderful and very endearing, and I love Bear very much indeed and he does do a passable impression of a Unicorn, for a dog.

But you can see the difference, huh?  It’s not quite the same as my fantasy world is it?

It’s sad that we can’t all live in a happy world of unicorns, fairies etc….but this is real life and sometimes it sucks!  The last year for the Shanks family has been one of incredible highs and desperate lows, it’s all very confusing.  The film being launched, winning a major award and being nominated for a BIFA and now a BAFTA was beyond our wildest dreams at the time of filming, and the film receiving such an incredible response from the audience on Netflix is simply amazing.

On the other hand, me having a heart attack, the children’s grandmother passing away and  various other rubbish events have had us all on a rollercoaster of emotions from which we’re all still recovering!

But that’s life isn’t it?  Highs and lows…the trick is managing to ride them well enough to be able to get through to the next rainbow on the horizon.  Oh yes, and keep searching for Unicorns, they’re out there somewhere!

 

Autism: Kittens in the freezer

Yes, your eyes are working just fine, the title does say ‘Kittens in the Freezer’!  I put something up on Facebook yesterday mentioning this and had a lot of raised eyebrows, should we be reported to the RSPCA?

No, it wasn’t quite like this!

Errrr…no, we might be bizarre, but we’re not cruel, so let me explain.

It came to pass some years ago that myself and all of the children were on holiday in Devon for a week and a very dear friend was very kindly house sitting for us.  He was minding the dog and all of the cats and making sure the roof didn’t blow off in a storm (it has happened!) or marauding invaders didn’t take over the property (that hasn’t happened yet but there’s plenty of time!), he was also minding our very pregnant cat who wasn’t due to have her babies for at least 2/3 more weeks.

On day two he rang me to say that she’d had 5 beautiful but very small kittens in one of the girls wardrobes, and, so far so good.  Maybe we’d got it wrong and she was a lot further gone than we thought, anyway, she’d had them and Lewis was doing a stirling job of making sure all was well.

Until the next morning when he rang to say that one had died overnight but the rest seemed fine.  I was heartbroken and knew the children would be even more so and they hadn’t even had a chance to see the one we’d lost.

Now, I guess in a normal house this wouldn’t present too much of a problem beyond the grieving process, but, as a lot of you know, most of my children are on the autistic spectrum, so normal rules just don’t apply.  I had to think quickly to try and work out an appropriate resolution where they would at least have the chance of seeing him/her before burial.

I could think of nothing other than emptying a freezer drawer, wrapping it in tissue and putting it in a freezer bag so that we could bury her in the ‘animal burial grounds’ when we returned.  I felt pretty chuffed with myself, this seemed to solve the problem pretty well I thought.

The next day there was more bad news, we’d lost another one, so, the same instructions for poor old Lewis, wrap it in tissue and put it in the freezer.  Over the next couple of day the remaining 3 sadly passed away, they had obviously been born far too early and just couldn’t survive.  The children were all devastated but actually took it better than I had hoped, and they also knew that they would be able to see them when they returned and give them the send off we give all of our departed pets and random wildlife that we’ve tried to rescue over the years ( all dearly loved and named!).

We returned from holiday a few days later and we agreed to bury the kittens the next day as it was late when we got back.  It didn’t happen, nor the next day, or the next.  Chaotic life carried on and the kittens were forgotten, which I feel terribly guilty about but with 7 children to focus on I should probably let myself off the hook!

Time went by and it was about 6 months later that someone came across some mysterious plastic freezer bags with tissue inside.  One of Osborn’s weird experiments?  Probably!  And then it dawned, the kittens!

Everyone felt terrible, how could we have forgotten them for so long?  Life I guess, just busy life.

They were duly given a fitting funeral within the next day or so and laid to rest in somewhere rather more appropriate than the spare freezer.  Putting the kittens in the freezer in the first place had just been a rather wacky solution to the challenges that autism can throw up, they need to see for themselves, they need proof most of the time otherwise it’s too abstract, it’s not real.  My intentions had always been entirely honourable.

So, there it is, the story of The Kittens in the Freezer!

COMING SOON, THE PUZZLE OF THE COTTON BUDS THAT WEREN’T!

 

 

Kingdom of Us: Searching questions on Woman’s Hour by Jane Garvey

BIFA’s!

Sunday night saw the entire Shanks family attending the BIFA’s, a glittering awards ceremony celebrating all that is best in the world of British Independent Film Making.  It was all very surreal, walking down the red carpet and having dozens of photographers taking pictures and shouting directions to us to look this way and that, and stand here and there, all very confusing!

Party time at the BIFA’s!

It was a fabulous night and we had the best time, we didn’t win Best Documentary but just being nominated and being in the top 5 was accolade enough when you consider how many documentaries were submitted.  It was an experience we will never forget and a huge ‘Thank You’ to Netflix for enabling us to be there.

Woman’s Hour

The morning after saw Lucy, Julia, James and I plus 2 babies (Lucy’s and Julia’s) at Broadcasting House for Woman’s Hour!  It was my first time on Woman’s Hour and very exciting, I’d been really looking forward to it.  It was Jane Garvey, a tough presenter and she had some pretty hard-hitting questions to ask.

‘The Gang’ at Woman’s Hour!

Having covered the back story to the film she mentioned that she had felt uncomfortable at watching parts of the film, as though she was intruding into our lives.  She’s the first person to say this, most people feel that whilst the film is very intimate and raw, the way it was filmed meant they didn’t feel as though they were intruding.  We wanted the film to be extremely honest and hard-hitting, we wanted to start conversations around the issues raised in the film, and you can’t accomplish that unless people feel strongly in some way when watching it.

She also asked Lucy whether she ever felt as though she was intruding too much.

Lucy answered by telling Jane that she knew not everything would end up in the final cut and as we had total control over the finished film she knew that some of the hardest things may never be broadcast.  She also said that she felt it was important that some of the hardest moments be caught on camera as they were important to the essence of the film.  We had total faith in Lucy and never had any reason to question her integrity.

Jane then asked me how many times I asked Lucy to put the camera down and ‘push off’?

The answer to that one is NEVER!  I knew, as Lucy did, that we had total control over the final cut and felt that everything should be filmed so that we had the choice.

The truth of it is that I never asked Lucy to stop, but there was one occasion when I told her to carry on and she decided herself to put the camera down.  That was a huge moment for us, we knew then that we could trust Lucy implicitly, she has become one of our closest friends over the years and we love her dearly.

Jane also asked whether it was right of me to put the children through making the film, and was it too much for them now that it’s out, in view of how much they’ve already been through?

I agonised over this one for the entire 4 years of making the film, but the children kept reassuring me that they wanted to do it, and they knew they would have the opportunity to cut anything out of the final edit if they didn’t feel comfortable with it.  They felt safe in Lucy’s very capable and compassionate hands and were always passionate about the whole thing being totally ‘real’.

Do they regret making it now that it’s available to the entire world?

No, if anything they are even happier about the project now that it’s out.  We’ve been swamped with messages from all over the planet thanking us for making such an honest film about the realities of the subjects it covers.  The people who’ve watched it say they feel reassured that they’re not the only ones experiencing some of the issues raised and they now understand people they are close to much better.

‘Besmirched’

Jane also made the statement that she felt ‘besmirched’ after watching the film.  This seemed to be a slightly unusual way of describing her feelings and very personal to her.  Besmirched means:-

to detract from the honour or luster of: to besmirch someone’s good name.

We all made the film in good faith, hoping that it may help some people in some ways.  Our intentions were honourable, we had no desire to make people feel ‘dirty’ in any way but we  were quite happy for people to feel uncomfortable.  We need our boundaries to be pushed sometimes in order to make us think in a bit more depth about certain things and I believe ‘Kingdom of Us’ does that.

 

 

The interview is here…

 

Numerous people have also messaged us to tell us that they were contemplating taking their own lives but have now changed their minds because they realise the terrible impact on the people they would leave behind.  That is a powerful reason for being so happy that we saw the project through to its conclusion.

And it does cover all kinds of things that we feel uncomfortable with, but knowing that people can relate to it and are potentially being helped makes that pale into insignificance.  If a little discomfort for us can change a few things then it’s all worthwhile.

Without controversy and discomfort there is no debate, and there must be conversation around subjects that make us uncomfortable.