Letter from the North

Letter from the North Fri 28-Jul-2017

Compromised Control, or, Controlling Compromise.

I am listening to Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships, and in there Sean Barron talks about living in constant fear. He specifically talks about this as experienced as a child but for me, it is a living experience still, it has never gone away or diminished. He talks about the need to control his life in order to manage this fear.

Dealing with this fear is a problem not just for the autistic, but also for those they love and who love them. Maxine Aston has talked about Cassandra Syndrome (now Affective Deprivation Disorder) and I know I am guilty, well not guilty because that implies fault and being autistic is not my fault, but the impact on Teresa is our responsibility and I have to recognise that my need for control, simply in order to cope, must be tempered with her need NOT to be controlled, micro-managed even.

I have been divorced twice and in each marriage, I felt my need for control growing and could see the impact on my wives. Because they were unable to work with me on the communication issues we had (I did not know at the time that the difference I was experiencing was autism), my distress escalated. My natural response was to try to exert more control over my life – which meant over them. Because of me, they were both victims of Cassandra Syndrome.

Of course, it takes two to tango (I would call this a ‘saying’ but apparently it’s an idiom) and the solution, as Maxine Aston points out, is for both parties to be willing to understand the impact of their actions on the other, and do something about it when necessary.

It’s the art of compromise coupled with a willingness to understand difference and diversity.

So, in this letter I’ll look at our trip to Warwick Folk Festival and at finding a balance between my need for control and Teresa’s need for freedom.

This is going to be a long and probably tedious letter, but in writing it all down, I hope you can get a sense of the constant thoughts spinning around my head and how hard I have to work to not allow them to take me over – as they have often done in the past. Even harder, how hard I have to work to hide them from Teresa so I don’t make her life a misery (remember Cassandra).

Teresa tells me that saying this is long and tedious will put you off, yet to make it less so would be to hide the reality of what is happening for me and I don’t think that would be helpful if you really want to understand, so, I’m ignoring her comment this time (in general I respect her advice on this stuff) and here we go:

Well, I am here, it’s The North but not THE North. Sitting here in our caravan in a field at the Warwick Folk Festival at 10:30 am on Friday morning, no beer yet but it WILL happen.

I have tried to describe to Teresa the problem I have coming here, the fact that I want to be here does not overcome the fact that I am terrified and stressed out of my head. It’s a problem of compromise and understanding before we even left home.

I worry about, and when I say worry we are talking physical shaking, terror, …, nothing mild in the autistic world ????:

  • I will be away from home, from my ONLY safe place
  • Will we remember all we need to pack
  • Will the caravan still move after being stored in the field
  • Will I be able to get the caravan out of the field or will someone block me
  • Will the roads be clear
  • Will we be able to park at the services
  • Will the Landrover (Blossom) tow the caravan all right
  • Will I cope with towing (there have been times when the whole journey with a caravan was so terrifying that I shook almost all the time) – fortunately Blossom has taken away that problem, but I still remember the fear and my body still replays it when I think of the driving
  • Have we got everything
  • Will the caravan work properly when we get there (it didn’t)
  • Will there be a lot of traffic
  • Will we be able to sleep at the services (we were travelling overnight to avoid traffic)
  • Will there even be space at the services I WANT to sleep at
  • Will we arrive at the festival at the right time – not before 9.00 am (because their stated rule is not before 9.00 am) when the site opens and not after 9.00 am in case someone gets MY space
  • Will I get my space? I have been to this festival before and I KNOW where I pitch up, anywhere else would be a disaster. If I haven’t been to somewhere before the stress is even worse, will I BE able to find a place I like?
  • Will the pitch up go ok, will the water work, is the battery charged enough (no it wasn’t), do we have enough gas
  • Will it rain (it is forecasted) and cause problems with getting stuck in the mud (that’s why I have a Landrover, to manage that fear,  but even so, most people don’t and they cause a lot of damage to grass fields)
  • How will I cope with the music sessions, sitting down for long periods (over 1/2hr) is unpleasant, I NEED Teresa there to guard my seat because if I leave it I will never get it back and that’s the only seat I am happy with.
  • Will I get the seat I want? I must queue before the event I want to see opens so I can be sure of finding the RIGHT seat, I can queue for over an hour just to be “safe”. I can then wait 2-3 hours for the one act I wanted to see in that concert.
  • Will people make too much noise on the campsite (i.e. any), I know they are enjoying themselves, but, …
  • When we leave will the exit be blocked by mud
  • Will the traffic be a problem with the mass exodus
  • All of the worries about the journey here
  • Will I be able to put the caravan back on the field if it’s full of holiday makers
  • Will I be able to put the caravan in the RIGHT place on the field
  • And so it goes on, and on, and on, and on, …, this is the short version of the list, the actual worries are far greater in number and all distressing.

At one level all I want to do is be at home with the caravan parked up at The North. All the time we are away that will be the major thought locked in a loop inside my head, imagining myself at home with the caravan in it’s place and everything unpacked and no disasters.

Teresa wonders why I bother going away, it’s a good question and it is typical of the battles I face everyday, I want to be out and about in the social world, and even like being in it at times, and yet I hate every second I am with people and away from my safe place.

So here we are, the tale of Warwick, trying to practice the art of controlled compromise.


Two days of preparation, actually much more but two sounds less obsessive than the weeks it was for me.

Checking the route on google maps, in great detail, working out all the problems with the journey that COULD occur. Using “street view” to walk to the campsite entrance to make sure I knew what I was doing.

It was not a continuous process of preparation, I had work, Teresa had all sorts of other stuff to do, but it was an intense couple of days (preceded by a lot of planning). Lots of salad components made by Teresa, sorting out all the bits and pieces we needed to move to the van ready, clothes, a long checklist, we packed up the Landrover (Blossom) and the caravan on Thursday after I got home from work and left it all hooked and ready to leave and went back home. About 7:30 pm, after checking there were no delays on the road, off we went.

Hmmm, that all sounds so ordinary and ignores the fact that I was so stressed that I could barely contain myself and avoid getting angry with Teresa (for absolutely NO reason) because there was no obvious reason for my stress so it must be her fault. No, of course it wasn’t, and yes I do understand it’s that list (above) that is the heart of my stress, but understanding that, acting on that is difficult and takes a lot of practice. Without that, I will end up being horrible to her and she won’t deserve it. Cassandra is VERY real.

The roads were OK but we hit a problem when we reached Exeter services. Here, the caravans are parked with the lorries and on this occasion the lorry/caravan park was jam-packed as we searched for a space we found ourselves driving out. Major stress, I had told Teresa we would be stopping there and I had failed, failure is a major problem, it shows a lack of control and a lack of control, well … Anyway, I tried to be chilled and went to plan B (I always have plan B, C, D, …). I wasn’t chilled, Teresa expected me to appear more stressed than I did, good, I worked hard to manage my stress and having those extra plans helped with that. In the past I would have got cross with her for making me stop at Exeter, and then it is her fault I failed. It wouldn’t be true, it would be my brain getting confused as it tries to deal with the unexpected. By expecting the unexpected, I can manage better and be a nicer person whilst not denying my genuine stress and worry.

We often drive from Cambridge down to Cornwall, no Caravan, and always stopped at Exeter for Teresa to go to the Loo (last stop before home) and have a coffee. One trip I said that Exeter was coming up, I believe I woke her up to tell her and she said that she didn’t need to stop. I went ballistic, we HAD to stop, she MUST need us to stop, anything else is a wrong and unacceptable pattern. Of course I was in the wrong, but also Teresa, had she been more aware of my need for patterns, she could have helped me deal with it. In that case I was in the wrong and yet WE could have managed it better. I have no problem admitting my failings, but my wiring is my wiring and living with me needs adapting to that as much as I have to adapt to the strangeness of NT wiring ????.

Anyway, back to the Warwick trip. We tried again at Taunton Dean North. I don’t like Taunton Dean North as the facilities are quite poor, unlike Taunton Dean south which I do like, but we managed to squeeze in next to the lorries and so popped to the loo, got a coffee (for me) and hot choc (Teresa), one of us needed to stay awake! The coffee shop was closed as it usually is in the evening (as I said, it is not a good service station) so we had to make do with a machine. Yet again, Bean has failed to provide the right/best services for Teresa. The fact she is chilled about it is NOT the point, I know I have failed. We are parked in the middle of a lorry park with poor services. Teresa wanted a sandwich but the ones in the shop at the services were not to her liking. Yet again Bean fails to provide what she needs, it would have been fine at Exeter, but I failed to get us there ????. I am coping, but this is NOT going well.

I had brought some cold pasta (for me) to eat (so I knew I had something I wanted to eat – control I could exercise without anyone really noticing) so I was OK. Off we go again.

Now my original plan had been to drive on to Hopwood Services (on the M42 near Birmingham and about 1/2hr from Warwick) but our experience with parking up left me worried, would we have anywhere decent to sleep? I know the caravan spaces at Hopwood are brilliant and away from the lorries but there aren’t many and, oh yes, Bean fails again, I had forgotten that it is the school holidays and so of course the overnight stopping facilities are stretched, why didn’t I know that, why didn’t I plan for that, I failed again!

So I decided to start with Gloucester services (which Teresa wanted to try as it’s new and has a good reputation) and if that doesn’t work, then at the M50 then M42.

Now we had discussed stopping at Gloucester before we set off but I had never stopped there with a caravan and so I didn’t KNOW it would be ok, also it is much further from Warwick and so would make a longer journey in the morning with the rush-hour traffic. Also I had not checked out the fuel station to make sure I understood where I could fill up the caravan. Not in a lorry slot because places get upset at that, so somewhere where I could get out of the filling station with a caravan on the back. I only ever fill up at a few selected places that I know work (Hopwood and Taunton Dean Southbound). So even if we did stop at Gloucester, we would still have to stop at Hopwood to fill up with fuel.

As it turned out we got to Gloucester around 11:30pm so a good time to go to bed. The caravan parking was separate to the HGV’s (and so quiet) AND it was empty, so we had a very good night. Phew I got something right.

Up at 6:15am. We picked up some tea/coffee at the services, I already had some muesli for my breakfast, homemade muesli so I knew what I was having. Teresa got herself a croissant I think. While she drank her coffee I would have been waiting for my tea to cool down, so I walked from one end of the services (where we were) to the other end, where the fuel station was, and checked to see if I could use it ‘safely’. I could, phew, so I walked back to the van, drank my cup of tea and off again.

I realised that we weren’t far from Warwick (an hour or so) and knew we couldn’t be there till 9am, but I didn’t trust the roads. They were very busy, but we were clearly going to be too early so I stopped for a quick loo and to pick up some Wine for Teresa at the M42 Services (Hopwood) and we still ended up being at Warwick 10 mins early. I could see we were early but there was nowhere to stop and wait, I was getting increasingly tense about what would happen and how I would deal with being turned away. As we drove past the campsite I could see, through the trees, that it looked busy and the stress levels went up further. Teresa was impressed I didn’t melt down, she was of course confident we could find a spot. I was NOT and very worried, but I made an effort to be calm on the outside and …,

At least there wasn’t a problem being 10 mins early, they were ready for people and in we sailed though they did comment ‘you will have to hunt for a place,’ not very helpful!

The whole site was packed, it had not been like that previous trip (7 years ago), clearly loads of people had arrived on Thursday evening. So I decided to try for my preferred location as I REALLY wanted to be there and I hoped …

On the last but one row I saw a spot where I could squeeze in and I could drive the rig straight into the end of a row and leave the two hitched up for an easy depart. Phew, some of the stress melted away, but the feelings from it remained. All that adrenalin has nowhere to go, so despite the ‘problem’ being resolved, it remains essential to be ‘on guard’ for reacting badly to minor events.

While Teresa sorted the inside of the van, I hooked up our big gas cylinder, chained it to the van, filled the water barrels and connected up all the facilities, and we are here!

The water heater is on, we have washed, shaved (just me), teeth cleaned and changed into summer frocks (both!).

Made a bit of lunch a Pek Chopped Pork sandwich (French stick from Gloucester services). Pek is a familiarity thing – my dad loved it when I was a child (with mustard), had it for his lunch EVERY day for as long as I knew him. There is little doubt I inherited autism from him and mum (a double whammy!). I’m OK with the mustard but I prefer chutney, and we had brought both chopped pork and chutney (and marge) with us, well of course we did, then I didn’t have to worry. The site is supposed to have bread for sale and Teresa was up for getting our bread when we arrived, I wasn’t happy with that, but it seemed a ‘reasonable’ compromise, even if I thought it wasn’t really. I was worried the bread shop on the campsite might not be open when we arrived but fortunately Teresa liked the look of the bread at Gloucester so we got it there. Phew, one less thing to worry about!

11:20 am off we go to explore the festival site.

Lots of rain is forecasted but I brought two sets of clothes for each day and the main entertainment is in the marquee, so I hope it will be OK. I worry about mud! Fingers crossed.

So we are in The North, not sure if I have talked about this before, but that’s never going to stop me repeating myself ????

For Teresa, who is a Londoner, moving NORTH was moving from London to Newmarket. I moved North from Sissinghurst (in Kent) – The South – to Billingham (Co Durham, Teesside, Co Cleveland). I consider Billingham to be the start of the North, Newmarket barely out of the South.

So you can see, for me, Warwick isn’t the North but for the sake of this letter we’ll go with Teresa’s definition!

12:10 and here I am in the beer tent, drinking beer, obviously. Nice and quiet and lots of free chairs and tables; once things get going, or it rains, that won’t last and it will be standing room only, so, I am happy for now.

The glasses are a hard polycarbonate – a good compromise between dangerous glass and floppy plastic. £1 deposit to reduce littering. Very sensible to me.

There have been so many ‘autistic’ conversations since we got here, just issues over arrival time, getting pitched, do we come to the beer tent or go into town (the threatened rain got me out of that one).

For example, I just went to kiss Teresa. I do that if I feel the emotion, I can never know when it will just well up so I have learnt to grasp the moment, however inconvenient or inappropriate, so I pulled her head towards me. To her it felt like a ‘grab’. So I now feel awful for hurting or surprising her, and that I got this whole demonstrable affection thing wrong, AGAIN. My action may have been clumsy but it was from the heart and that won (this time, it doesn’t always).

Teresa said ‘This must be how the cat feels when I give a cat a pill.’ i.e. she takes the cat firmly by its head, prises open its mouth and pushes the pill down its throat. I’m not sure that was how I kissed her, but…

Fortunately we can talk about it, and laugh, and it’s OK, but it is a minefield. I told Teresa what I had just written and she says that she’d rather a pill pushed down her throat than not, in other words, me being a bit rough physically (by accident) is better than not getting kissed at all. NTs, I’ll never understand them but at least this one understands enough that on our good days this sort of incident is not a problem for either of us. It is so easy for it to be a problem, for one or both of us, if we are not both on good form.

The beer is excellent and lots of choice but I’d rather be at THE North drinking PJ, yes same old beer. Yes there are lots of different beers here which I do like but the North is MY space and I’d rather be there. But then I would, the point is that Teresa is enjoying herself, sitting here with the program working out who she wants to see and when she can see them

Me, I’ll just tag along. There is only one MUST for me and that’s the Oysterband, and Teresa is up for that. So, for me, the easy path is her path.

This is not how I’ve done festivals in the past when I have been very controlling to make it work how I need it; this is a trial to see if it’s possible for us both to enjoy the festival in our own ways.

I went to pay for Pint #4 (not yet 2pm so…) and got the price wrong (£2.70 instead of £3.70) I was so embarrassed, I laughed it off, but I felt the floor open and I wanted to run out of the bar and never go there again. That old fight and flight reflex is always waiting!

Nipped over to caravan to get some warm cardigans and pick up my lunch (made earlier). Anyway, nice bit of lunch. Sun is now shining and so Teresa is off for a look around the stalls. Me, I’m safely nested here and I’ll stay with the beer and my Kindle. Bye for now, chances are you won’t hear from me till I’m back in Pendeen and over at the Gurnards Head on Monday lunchtime for our Wedding Anniversary meal.


What you have read is a precis of what was really going on, my brain never stops dealing with and planning for problems, potential problems and coping strategies. I normally keep it hidden because, in my experience, other people form conclusions as to my nature as a person because of what sort of person they would be if they felt like that, and it’s not complementary!

There is much more that followed the end of today’s letter and I will try and return to it later, but it’s complicated to work out how to write it, so I’ve chosen to stop here.

Lastly, the whole emotional game is a nightmare and I’m not good at all the kissing, hugging, “I love you” stuff, so, for me, solving practical problems and making the practical world (e.g. taking a caravan to a festival) as smooth as possible for Teresa is how I can show my love. It’s not a perfect way, but it is often the best I can do. So, failing to “get it right” is tantamount to saying I don’t love her enough. If you can get your head around that, you are well on the way to being a real autism expert :-).

To return the cat metaphor, think of a cat bringing in a dead mouse as a present, it’s not what you’d really want as a present unless, maybe, you were another cat, but you understand the intention and that is what matters. I am forever bringing dead mice to Teresa as gifts, it is surprising just how many she accepts! Yet if ever she quite reasonably doesn’t fancy a dead mouse, I feel I have failed, it’s not her fault and she would say it’s not mine, but I’ve lived my life as a failure on the emotional front and it’s very hard to put that aside, though I do try to.

As a final footnote, I think I’ve said this already, but please don’t think your use of the word ‘failure’ and mine are the same, it is my experience they are very different things.

Bean, A North, but not The North, Fri 28-Jul-2017 


1 Comment

  • Tim Wayne

    Life’s a bitch – thank God (or whoever) for Teresa

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