Gender Neutral: A step too far?

I’m constantly banging on about acceptance, tolerance and understanding.

I also try to have an open mind at all times, so I do hope no-one misreads this slightly controversial post!

Sadly, I was born in the era when boys were boys, girls were girls, and if you deviated from ‘the norm’ you were, at best, ostracised, and at worst, bullied, beaten and tormented.

It’s stating the obvious to declare my abhorrence at such unacceptable discrimination, but, unfortunately, it still persists in many areas within religious beliefs, communities and, more importantly, in people’s personal beliefs.

Has it already gone too far?

It will be many more generations before we reach a point of genuine love and acceptance of all people (if we ever reach that point), but the times we live in now are a very far cry from, say, 50 years ago. We continue to grow and the human race continues to learn, and long may it continue!

But we’re human beings, and we’re renowned, as a species, for taking things too far the other way, almost as a form of rebellion, and so it is becoming with gender neutralisation.

It’s great that we want to allow people to be who they are without judgement but, how far do we take it?

And nor should we!

I hear the term ‘gender neutral’ constantly now, especially from ‘parents to be’ who are declaring they want to dress their newborns in ‘gender neutral’ clothes etc…  Absolutely no problem with that as the baby won’t give a jot about what colour their nursery is or what they’re wearing as long it’s comfortable.  And the only challenge the rest of the population will have is when they first meet your offspring and have to mutter the words, “Oh isn’t….errrrrr….aren’t they beautiful!?” as they try to discern whether it’s a boy or a girl.  I’m guessing if we take ‘gender neutral’ to it’s natural conclusion the baby will just be ‘it’, we don’t want to impose either gender on them after all!

I jest, but where does it end?  What if your ‘gender neutral’ girl wants to wear pink fluffy princess dresses when she’s 3?  Or your ‘gender neutral’ boy wants to play with trucks and cars at a similar age?  Do we give girls Action Man and boys Barbies and make them play with them – or should we give them the choice to play with whichever they want?

‘Gender neutral’ wasn’t a thing when I was bringing my lot up, so I did put the girls in dresses and Osborn in rugby shirts and trousers, it didn’t occur to me to do anything else.

Osborn preferred playing with Lego and cars and the girls loved playing ‘dress up’, having tea parties, and nurturing their dolls. I had no problem with this!  Osborn mostly grew up with seven women and very few males in sight – people frequently postulated that he may become gay because of it!

Spot  the ‘Osborn’!

Herein lies one of the problems I believe. One doesn’t ‘become gay’; one either is or isn’t.  On a couple of occasions when he was very young, Osborn was subjected to the (in his mind) indignity of being put in a dress and having make up slapped on his face.  I guess with so many sisters it was inevitable that it would happen, but it hasn’t ‘turned him gay’, he is very much himself and happily heterosexual.

One’s sexual preference isn’t a choice one makes, it just is.  What concerns me slightly is that if we take the neutrality too far we’ll end up with people who worry about ‘coming out’ as being heterosexual.  Sounds far fetched?  My lot already talk about feeling slightly uneasy about admitting their sexual preferences although a couple of my girls have questioned their sexuality and worried about telling me.  But why would I care?  They’re still the same amazing people I already adore and respect and their sexual preference is right at the bottom of the list of things that I worry about.

Maybe I have a vision of the future where everyone wears baggy boiler suits and hides their gender as best they can for fear of judgement either way.  Both extremes are unacceptable, so is it time we stopped and paused for thought?  Maybe we need to take a breath and consider both sides of the coin and reach a logical, balanced approach that leaves people feeling free to be whatever they want to be.  No pushing, no leading, just acceptance of what is and who we are.

My children have each turned out to be very much their own person, in spite of dresses and long hair for the girls, and cars, Lego and short hair for Osborn.  We had boys’ toys and we had girls’ toys, and they were left to choose which they wanted to play with, the fact that the girls naturally leaned towards more traditionally girls toys didn’t bother me one iota. The fact that Osborn had no interest in wearing dresses and make-up didn’t concern me either.  I neither pushed nor led, I just let them be who they wanted to be, I have to say I’m very proud and happy with the way they all turned out.

Long live difference?  As long as it’s tempered with acceptance I say…….

My TED Talk:-


My book, ‘Unravelled’:-


Autism: At last, help is at hand!

We need more help…

As the tired old saying goes, ‘If I had a pound for every time…!’

In my case, for every time an anxious parent had asked me to refer them to someone independent to get advice about their special needs child.

Help is thin on the ground, not only via the NHS but independently as well.

….and we need people like Leo who understand this!

I’m not knocking the NHS provision, nothing could be further from the truth.

They’re a committed, hard working, passionate group of people. But they simply have too many referrals on the waiting list, and far too few resources to be able to keep up.

They’re just as frustrated as you are, I can assure you of that. Their dream is to have no waiting list and to be able to help everyone who needs it.

Post diagnosis

A lot of the frustration I encounter via the Autism Support Group I run (Autism One on One), is the very real lack of support or help post diagnosis.

It’s for this very reason that I set up the group 3 years ago, at least it’s somewhere for people to come and chat, exchange ideas and meet other people in the same situation.

The children have a ball as well, they get to be themselves without judgment – and meet other people who think in similar ways.


But there is still a huge lack of professional support available for parents who just need to know the basics or urgently need advice about schools etc….

Someone with very real answers

Enter Leo Berry!  Some of you will have come across her via IDS and the Autism Team, if you have encountered her, you know that what Leo doesn’t know really isn’t worth knowing!

Say ‘Hello’ to Leo!

The extent of her knowledge regarding Autism is second to none and she’s the ‘go to’ person when it comes to knowing what strategies will work best in the school environment.

The sort of issues she can help with include:

  • Communication
  • Girls and autism
  • PDA
  • Sensory processing
  • Social interaction
  • Teenagers and autism
  • Understanding behaviour
  • The education system for pupils with SEND.

Leo has now founded her own organisation following her retirement from the authorities, which means WE can have her, all of us!

All of her knowledge and expertise is available and you can now reach her via her website  

Personally I feel a huge sense of relief and gratitude that she’s now free to help anyone who desperately needs it, and yes, of course she will need to be paid, but her knowledge and advice is priceless.

Leo will be one of the professionals now attending Autism One on One so everyone can chat to her about how she can help if they come along to the group.

Thank you for listing Autism One on One as one of your partners Leo, I feel very honoured and privileged, and on behalf of all of our members, I wish you every success with your new venture and look forward to seeing at the next meeting on the 17th May.

My TED Talk is here:-

Autism: But, they don’t LOOK Autistic!

This is a picture of Bear. He’s a Chorkie (half Yorkshire Terrier, half Chihuahua):

Here is a picture of his brother, Cody. They have the same parents and are from the same litter. He’s also a Chorkie:-

Spot the difference?

Another puzzle!

Which of my girls in this picture are the twins?  If you know us, then you’re a step ahead. Those who don’t, I would love to hear what you thought before you scroll down any further!

Which ones are the twins?

THIS IS MIRIE (left, stripy top) and LORIE (right), MY BEAUTIFUL 

Did you get it right?  We have great fun getting people to guess which two of the children are the twins. People very rarely guess correctly so if you got it, well done!

So why am I bringing this up?

What’s in a look?

Well I’d like to talk about one of my pet peeves!

Those of you with children on the spectrum, or if you are on the spectrum yourself, will relate to this and I’m well aware of how upsetting it can be.

It’s THAT moment when someone learns about yours, or your childrens’, ASD.

It’s THAT moment when they look you or your child up and down and come out with immortal words: “Oh, they/you don’t look autistic!”

It’s that moment when you feel your blood boil and at the same instance have that sinking feeling of “When will people get it?”.

Even if the commenters mean it in a good way, it’s really annoying.

You can’t ‘see’ autism; it’s to do with brain wiring so there’s very rarely anything to ‘see’, but that doesn’t mean that the challenges aren’t immense and often life-changing.

It’s the same with mental health challenges; you can’t ‘see’ them but that doesn’t mean that they’re not causing the person a huge amount of distress.

People can’t ‘see’ that Bear and Cody are brothers from the same litter.

People can’t ‘see’ that Lorie and Mirie are twins.

But that doesn’t alter the fact that they are.

The front people put on can hide myriad challenges

Please stop judging on looks alone.

Things aren’t always as they seem and every single person deserves understanding and tolerance, whether they have hidden challenges or not.

Everyone deserves a second chance, and everyone deserves respect. Maybe if our world was more accepting and understanding of people’s differences we would all get along a lot better. Everyone has a story you know nothing about.

So here’s what I’m asking of you…

When my children tell you that they are autistic, please don’t respond with the words “You don’t look autistic”.

It’s taken a lot of courage to tell you in the first place, so don’t invalidate them by disputing the truth.

And for everyone else out there, I won’t stop banging on about understanding, acceptance and tolerance whilst I still have the ability to breathe!  I’m on your side!

New driving fines, and Bungee Jumping?

Is it just me or was the traffic in Coventry moving a little slower and more carefully this morning?  Maybe it was my imagination but there did seem to be a lot fewer ‘D***H***S’ around this morning.

Anyway, I didn’t meet one this morning, not a single one, all the way through Coventry to Pippa’s school near the Ricoh Arena and back.  As I was driving I was listening to my favourite morning radio guys, Ollie and Simon on Touch FM, they were discussing the new fines and whether they would make the roads safer, but all that aside for a moment, I have to say their maths is appalling! Come on guys, I listened with dismay as Simon calculated that 150% of £250 would be around £600!  150% of £250 is £375 guys, time for you both to have a calculator on standby at all times, may help you with the kids quiz as well!

These guys are going to hate me but I know a really good maths tutor!

Of course, I’m pulling your legs lads, but on a more serious note, will the new laws on using a mobile phone whilst driving and now the speeding limit fines actually help?  Simon was arguing that being on your phone doesn’t impact your speed, I have to disagree Simon!  If you’re distracted on your phone, how well can you focus on anything else, including your speed?  I listened to a few people being interviewed and I’ve done a bit of research online, mixed opinions out there it seems.  If you’re a boring git like me and you adhere to the speed limit anyway (I know they’re there for a reason) and I don’t use my mobile phone whilst I’m driving because I know that’s dangerous.  I’m guessing the people who are most pissed off are those that do both and think there’s no great fuss to be had?

So, do either of these things really matter?  I’ve heard one person today claiming that if they want to risk their life it’s their business, so that’s ok?  Errrrrrr……have these people not noticed the other cars on the road, the pedestrians, joggers, children?  If you drive like a dick you’re endangering a lot more than your own life and why do these people care so little about their life?  The media are constantly telling us about cars that have mounted the pavement and killed innocent people quietly going about their own business, very often caused by high-speed in a built up area or lack of attention being paid to their driving because they were distracted.

Many motorway crashes could be avoided if people drove properly, when my kids go out in their cars I’m not worried about their driving, they’re all very good drivers, I worry about the other idiots on the road that can cause disaster at any moment, no matter how sensible they may be.

Risking your own life is your business , please be my guest if Bungee Jumping off a cliff is your thing or base jumping from high buildings (or whatever may turn you on), but, if your antics may affect someone else (and every time you get into your car you’re in charge of a lethal weapon) do the right thing.  Respect other people’s right to live their life however they want to and don’t risk killing someone’s son, daughter, mother, father, wife, husband etc… You are not God, and your driving isn’t as amazing as you think, anything can happen at any moment that can cause you to take action and if you don’t, someone may well be killed.

Do I feel passionately about this?  Yes, I bloody well do!  In all my years of driving I’ve had countless near misses and very rarely of my own making, I respect other people and their right to be safe on the roads, I drive accordingly.

You want to risk your own life?  FINE!  But don’t risk other peoples lives…..

Adults having fun: It’s ok you know?!

Well, that was one heck of a day!  Started at 7am to get Osborn and Pippa to Birmingham Orthopaedic for a 9am Hospital appointment to check the progress with their legs after having had their latest Botox injections in their legs.  All ok there.

Having arrived home I prepared everything for the Easter Challenge which included sorting through 266 assorted chocolate items to be hidden around the field.  We started at midday sharp and having got them all underway I spent an hour on a Skype call doing an interview for an article.  That done I then set about hiding said 266 chocolate treats over 13 acres, no mean task!  A quick trip to Warwick to pick something up whilst they finished off and cleaned and tidied the house and then back for the judging.

It all started with a pile of stuff!

The judging took at least an hour as I had to judge 2 items, they had been asked to make 4 exquisite chocolates fit for Gordon Ramsey and that they would be proud to present to the Queen…no turds on plates!  Bearing in mind I hadn’t seen any of the chocolates being made, I had absolutely no idea who had created what, but a quick glance at the row of ‘exquisite’ chocolates told me immediately that the meaning of the word ‘exquisite’ had pretty much been lost on everyone!


As I wandered along the line of treats I judged each on 10 different criteria including creativity, ingenuity, neatness, taste etc….I was totally ‘chocolated’ out by the end.  Next came the creative challenge, they had either bunny ears or bunny glasses to decorate and a pile of craft stuff with which to do it, I was looking forward to seeing what they’d done with them.

In order to effectively ‘blind judge’, they all wore someone else’s creation so I had no idea who had made what again.  Same judging process, 10 different criteria and I had the results!  But, before revealing the winner, it was off for the egg hunt, my favourite part.  Watching 9 adults rush out of the back door wearing rabbit ears, looking very excited and unbelievably competitive was a an absolute joy.

Wearing the ears for the duration of the hunt was compulsory and ‘grassing up’ anyone caught not wearing them was positively encouraged if it so happened that I missed the offence.  With everyone scattered over 13 acres I couldn’t have eyes on everyone, in fact, for a period of time I couldn’t actually see anyone!  After about an hour, little by little, they started to return to the house brandishing bags of goodies, some much fuller than others.  We counted each persons booty and the winner was Kacie by a pretty large margin, the results of the 2 challenges was somewhat different though!

Having crunched the numbers it turned out that Nikita had won the chocolate challenge with her beautiful and colourful display of well made sweeties.  The winner of the other challenge was Lorie, mainly because she was the only one to turn her ears into another item of clothing…a bra!  She won on the basis of sheer ingenuity and lateral thinking having also made another pair of ears that she could wear as well!

Being an adult doesn’t mean you can’t have fun!

They might be adults now but they still love the opportunity to be creative and have a bit of child-like fun, and why not?  We have to grow older but as long as we behave responsibly when the need arises we should be able to act like big kids when we feel like it as well.

Life is about doing the right things but there’s nothing in the rule book that says you can’t have fun in the process, in fact, the more fun you have, the more you feel like doing what’s right!  Go ahead, make life as funny and silly as you like, just don’t hurt anyone in the process……


The Mad Shanks Residence and the Annual Easter Challenge!

It’s Easter (for those of you that hadn’t noticed!), and Easter in The Mad Shanks Residence means two things, The Annual Easter Challenge and the Easter Hunt!  As our house is in 13 acres, the Easter Hunt is not as simple as some may be, but with seven children and the inevitable extra people who attend it, it can’t help but be anything other than chaos.

4 Years Ago

Over the years the children have painted ‘Easter Sheep’, made Easter Bonnets, made slightly questionable Easter chocolates, Easter bags etc….etc….  This frolic is followed by the egg hunt, at times having to keep a hat on their heads or even with their legs tied together (more for my hilarious benefit than anything else!), searching for chocolates that have been spread out over the entire field, in barns, up trees and anywhere else I can reach!

Midday tomorrow will see the mayhem start and who knows what will happen?  The kids certainly have no idea yet, and nor will they until the clock strikes 12, then it’s against the clock to complete their challenge.  I already know what they have in store of course and I’m definitely looking forward to the end result, I will report back tomorrow with photos!

The Mad Shanks Residence: Stranger Danger!

My children are constantly making new friends everywhere they go, and often bring them home.  What we affectionately call ‘The Mad Shanks Residence’ doesn’t go by that name for no reason, anything can happen here and, more often than not, anything does!

We had a new friend here last night who probably left absolutely bewildered!  He walked through the door to Lorie deciding we should do a group meditation session in her bedroom.  Six of us followed her, including our ‘newbie’, to see that Lorie had already lit some candles and placed them in a circle on the floor.  We all duly took our places in a circle on the floor around the candles and Lorie found some mediation music on her phone.

We all closed our eyes, focused on our breathing and cleared our minds, 30 seconds in and Mirie piped up, “Is that Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star?”, she asked.  Everyone sprung back to life and listened, sure enough it was, albeit in a soothing form but Mirie had lost it by this point, she just found it too funny.  Lorie searched for something a little more ‘Zen’ and we started again.

All went well, except, about 10 minutes in I (and it turned out everyone else as well) was starting to focus more on who was going to end it and wondering if I should take the ‘Bull by the horns’ and bring everyone back.  Just as I arrived at the point where it was starting to feel as though everyone was ready, Lorie broke the silence and suggested we all start to slowly come back and wiggle our fingers and toes.

Watching our poor new friend compliantly wiggling his extremities caused me wonder what on earth he could possibly be thinking of us?  How often do you walk into a house with a person you’ve only just met and end up in someone’s bedroom meditating on the floor around a load of candles, all I can say is, thank goodness Lorie decided to bypass the chanting!

Looking for a bizarre night out?  Look no further, we’re waiting for you!

HS2: A Catastrophic White Elephant That’s Trampling All Over Us (And You)

It’s happening…..

Apparently.  The ‘wonderful’ ‘much-needed’ and extremely expensive ‘White Elephant’ known as HS f*****g 2 in The Mad Shanks Residence has been given Royal Assent!

Why, is a question no-one in their correct, sane mind can seem to answer.


Fast or not… we don’t need it! And business people don’t need it either.

Our much-loved and incredible NHS is under so much pressure that it’s at breaking point, waiting times for operations are to increase and the wonderful people who work for the NHS are becoming disillusioned at having to do more with less and less money.

But, £50b+ for a train that goes from one station (nowhere near anywhere) to another, is, apparently, a great way to spend money that should be funding our future generations by overhauling our antiquated education system and keeping the entire nation healthy.


That’s just laughable.

Why am I ranting on about HS2 again?  Because we have yet another meeting looming with them which will no doubt result in the same old song from HS2 about there being nothing they can do and us reiterating, once again, that we’re caught between a rock and hard place and their house survey and valuation has been absolutely useless in moving us any further forward!

Oh yes, and according to them, the noise during construction and operation will be little more than we already experience!

Now if you’ve not been to the middle of the countryside you won’t know the silence we’re fortunate enough to be surrounded by.

We live in the middle of nowhere and can, literally, hear a pin drop outside our house at any time!  The heavy plant machinery and the high speed train that will follow, are again, apparently, silent! Incredible eh?

So much time wasted by so many people trying to fight HS2

We’re not the only people suffering with a monster that we never asked for but that we ‘just have to put up with’ according to the powers that be.

Expensive trips to London having already paid for the ‘privilege’ of petitioning the Government were a complete waste of time and money, time and money I can ill-afford.

The equivalent of weeks and months of my life have been spent researching, fighting and writing lengthy letters and petitions against something that I, and everyone else in our situation, has never asked for, but the onus is on us to present our cases.

To say that I’m pissed off would be putting it very lightly. Seven years of my life have been eaten up, both mentally and physically, by a beast that has had a huge effect on my family’s already fragile, mental health.

Do we have any course for redress?  Can we claim any compensation for distress caused?  Can we get any compensation for our lives being turned upside down by years of construction and then a sodding train running right past our door?

Any compensation for the fact that we’ve lived in absolute peace for 30 years and now that peace (the reason we moved here) will be gone forever?  NO, nothing, not until the train is operational in 20 years time so they can assess the impact it’s had on us.  Absolute bollocks!

HMPH!  Too accurate for my liking!

Ah!….I’m so sorry…..I forgot one critically important thing!!!!  How could I be so dumb?!

I’m forgetting that HS2 is actually a giant ‘gravy train’ for back slapping businessmen and bureaucrats to make shed loads of money from.

The little people like us don’t mean a thing when there are such huge amounts of money to be made, it makes sense now!

Why on earth do I have any expectations that we would be treated like human beings with the right to live the peaceful life we’ve paid a fortune for over the years? Why would we expect people on whom HS2 will have no impact (everyone I’ve met involved in the project to date) to understand the distress and life changing impact it’s having?

Now I’m not anti-progress or anti-business. Not at all. But the journey time from Birmingham to London will be shortened by a whopping 10 whole minutes. The other end isn’t even going to link to Heathrow or the Channel Tunnel as per the original plans. As well as ruining miles of beautiful landscapes including protected wildlife, it’s set to use an ENORMOUS amount of electricity and is horribly environmentally unfriendly.

Oh, and did I mention that it’s only affordable for the super-rich anyway? Us normal folk won’t be hopping on it to travel to London any more quickly. This means it just won’t free up any capacity on normal trains.

There are better ways of improving the rail service. I’m not a rail expert so I don’t profess to know what they are. But the knowledge is out there.

If you want to see EVEN MORE reasons why this is a catastrophe for our country (and not just the Shanks household!) have a look here:

Useless rant over.  HS2 are impervious to everything, the train will go ahead regardless and folks like us will just have to subserviently bow our heads and keep quiet…..or will we?


Listening v Hearing

Is a pond important?

Maybe it’s an age thing, and I don’t mean that in a detrimental way to anyone, but, I’ve found as I grow older that simpler, smaller things make me as happy as the big stuff.  Watching the dogs playing in the garden, or our pond absolutely teeming with life are the things I’ve grown to love, and when I say it’s an age thing, I think it’s just that life’s experiences cause you to think more about what’s really important.

The frogs and fish have been hard at work, the pond is full of baby fish and tadpoles!

Seeing my children laughing and messing around and being so close to each other means the world to me, knowing they’ve grown into beautiful, well-rounded people who care about the world, and the people in it, makes my heart burst.  Watching four of the most wonderful, amazing women in my life blooming as their babies grow inside them is nothing less than magical, and meeting their children when they’re born and watching them grow up will be a huge privilege.

Does all of this mean I’ve lost my big dreams and ambitions?  No, not in the slightest, it just means that every talk I give, every person I’m able to help a little, every time I have the opportunity to spread the word about every person being valued for who they are, without judgement, is another small step closer to getting the acceptance in society that’s so badly needed.  Little things…that add up to big things.

We’re all guilty!

Maybe appreciating the little things adds up to being Mindful?  Maybe it’s about rushing a little less and actually taking in the world around us, the people, nature, sounds and smells?  Actually taking the time to listen to what people have to say instead of eternally thinking about what we want to say and missing most of their side of the conversation.  Listening is a skill and we can learn so much from actually hearing what a person is saying, the difference between ‘listening’ and ‘hearing’.

Is it possible that taking life a millisecond slower than we do could make all the difference, would we learn more and be more mindful of other people’s feelings and how we can learn from them?  Would we all create greater success if we just paid more attention?  I think so…..

My TED Talk:-

Richard Branson, “Screw it, Let’s do it!”

Keep learning

“Screw it, let’s do it!”, a tiny little book written by Richard Branson containing so many true words.  I bought it years ago in Tesco, it was one the ‘Quick Read’ series for only £1, a great investment!  I read it, read it again some months later and then it got lost in the black hole known affectionately as ‘The Mad Shanks Residence’.  Over the past few years I’ve wanted to read it again but haven’t been able to find a copy, feeling determined a couple of days ago, I looked on Amazon and ‘Bingo’, the next day my brand new copy arrived and I was clutching it in my sweaty little mitt!

I’ve just been sitting in the sun reading it (only takes about an hour) but so much wisdom squeezed into such a small book.   He talks candidly of his successes and failures, about his philosophy on life and about being passionate about what you do, he also believes that life should be fun, and I agree with him.

Enjoy what you do and the money will follow

‘My doctor says I should try to have more fun at work.’

His philosophy is that once something you do no longer feels like fun, it’s time to stop or find of way of making it fun again.  Have fun and the money will follow, rather than focusing on making money alone.  I’ve brought my children up to follow their dreams and enjoy life, it’s too short to have it any other way, and thankfully, that’s exactly what they’re doing.  They may never be rich but at least they will spend their lives doing what they love and that’s the most important thing.

Love him or not, no-one can deny that Richard Branson has lived his life to the full and created a lot of great stuff along the way.  He’s not conventional (thank goodness!) and takes well thought through, calculated risks, we could all learn a lot from him and other people like him.  Keeping an open mind and being constantly in learning mode is a valuable thing, and make sure you’re having fun!

My TED Talk:-