Lovely London!

So much to do, so many people to see, too little time as ever! Still, I am doing my best! My first day here, a week ago, I was very spoilt being picked up from the airport, a lovely lunch followed by a fabulous dinner with some of the people most dear to me in a very special restaurant in Richmond. Diners have to ring the doorbell to be let in, so popular that it is booked weeks in advance, cram into the tiny space and then are served course after course of exquisite Italian food! Scrumptious is the only word for it! Although perhaps I should add that we shouldn’t have eaten for days first as the phrase Bacchanalian feast comes to mind too!

I spent Wednesday at the Victoria and Albert Museum with Lara going to a couple of lectures as part of the London Design Week,  so interesting and thought provoking, slow design and design repurposing old materials rather than making things from new, designing in a socially responsible way and with social purpose.  We also went to the exhibitions on What is Luxury and the Shoes exhibition, a full day of culture! A day in the country in Kent to see my godmother, then more culture at Somerset House, seeing exhibits for London Design week, we loved the Max Lamb exhibit My Grandfather’s Tree best, onto Borough Market for lunch via a long walk along the Thames, seeing the ever changing and lovely London landscape, wandering through old haunts at Guy’s Hospital and the Hay’s Galleria, onto dinner with my goddaughter, her sister and Lara. I took them to the Seashell at Lisson Grove, a restaurant I went to many times with my father, it is as good and busy as ever! I can recommend the fish cakes!

The weekend rushed by, lunch at Jean’s on Saturday, watching rugby in the evening, a lovely picnic in Richmond Park with Lara on Sunday, unbelievably sunny and warm given the time of year, such a wonderful wild place on the edge of the city, with the woods and ponds of the Isabella Plantation and the wide open spaces with big antlered male deer bellowing at each other, seemingly from one side of the park to the other they were so loud. We didn’t go too close! Michael arrived after a much delayed flight to join us for dinner at the New Inn in Ham, delicious food and good company, catching up with friends made on the Orient Express.

Yesterday we wandered a little way along the Grand Union Canal in Brentford after enjoying coffee with Jean, made our way “into town” as the phrase goes here! We had a small, delicious lunch at the Muscly Artist, a haunt frequented by Michael for many years, at least 30, and he says imagethe restaurant hasn’t changed a bit! Onto the Ai Weiwei retrospective at the Royal Academy which was an amazing exhibition for the sheer body of work, the political messages behind the pieces and the mix of Eastern and Western influences in his work, vaux Le voyage as the Michelin guide would say.

All this tinged with sadness as I was told of the death of a dear friend who was a close family friend, she still had such hope of overcoming her cancer diagnosis but cancer overcame her all too soon. Another thread linking us to our parents and our past gone. She will be much missed.

In the meantime, Simon is back in his routine and enjoying it! Friday night, walking down to the Farmers Market on Saturday, Saturday night movies, filling his walls with photos and enjoying doing a jigsaw whilst listening to audio books. How lucky we are that the Arrowsmith program is working for him and that he is happy to work so hard at it, keen to “fix” his brain, as he puts it.

London bound!

My time in Peterborough has gone so quickly. I have really enjoyed seeing old friends, back again for another year at Arrowsmith, and meeting the new parents. Like us in our first year, the first questions are all about Arrowsmith “When might we see some changes? How is your son/daughter going in the programme?”. Not surprising give the commitment and sacrifices we have made, some coming from half way around the world, others with families split in two, leaving their husbands or wives and some of their children to be here, still others moving within Canada, changing jobs and schools, having to start afresh to allow their child to participate in the Arrowsmith programme. Hopefully we, old parents, have reassured the new parents, just as we were reassured when we had moments wondering what we were doing and why!

Simon and I had a lovely weekend, he going to Friday night, me going for a long walk. On Saturday we set off to the West Wind Inn in Buckhorn on Buckhorn Lake, such a beautiful spot. The torrential rain stopped us from making the most of the resort facilities but we had a swim in the indoor pool and then sat in the hot tub on the deck overlooking the lake! Heavenly!

Over dinner we played Harry Potter trivial pursuit. Inevitably Simon thrashed me! His depth of knowledge from listening to the CDs, as read by Stephen Fry, is enormous. I think that speaks to how much improvement there has been in his auditory processing and his memory for information. I was very impressed and it was fun too!

On Sunday we made the most of the sunny day, going out on the lake in a pedalo, swimming and hot tub again! After that we went on the Apsley Studio tour, the studios were a long way apart so after a fascinating glass blowing demonstration we headed back to Peterborough, via a tasty lunch at Uncle Georges restaurant, a hidden gem on the road from Buckhorn! image I have seen glass blowing before, many years ago in Malta, but I don’t think I was paying attention. I had no idea that making a glass was such a complex operation and whilst it was made to look easy, I am sure that many years of practice have gone into making it look easy!

Happy Canadian thanksgiving and Happy Halloween to all my lovely Peterborough friends, I will see you in November. To all my London family and friends I am so excited to be on my way! and all my Sydney peeps, I miss you!

Respect! The Arrowsmith students are amazing!

Yesterday evening was an eye-opener for me. Simon has been waiting for this evening for a long time as we missed it in his first and his second year. It was the Parent-Teacher night at Arrowsmith but this is not like the Parent-Teacher night as you know it. There was no sitting in front of the teacher waiting to hear the latest about your child, how they can improve, work harder or, indeed, how well they might be doing. This is something else completely – this is getting you to understand how to do the cognitive exercises and how hard it is to do them by doing them yourself. You, the parent, have to do the work that your child (whatever their age) is doing on a daily basis for hours on end, being taught by your child! They are your teacher for the evening!
Simon went through his day with me, talking me through the cognitive exercises, one by one. He explained which area of the brain is being used and what is improved by each of the exercises, for example, reading, writing, speaking more clearly, reading body language and facial expressions or the ability to remember all the instructions you are given when they are given all at once (by a bossy Mum, said Simon!).
I tried each of Simon’s exercises, at a lower level than that at which he is working, for around 10 minutes per exercise as compared to a period of 40 minutes. At the end of 2 hours I have to admit to my brain feeling quite frazzled. It is no wonder that Simon, and the other students, have an aching brain by the end of most days! I have a much greater understanding and a new level of respect for what these students have to do for themselves as they work to improve their cognitive abilities. It is truly remarkable and I am awed by their dedication and also the commitment of their fabulous, always cheerful and encouraging teachers to help them to achieve their best and to realise their potential and their dreams. The photo is me having done an exercise which makes the act of writing easier and more fluent. I did one page and my hand was tired, Simon does six pages of the same combinations and usually three sets of six pages each period! Exhausting! image
I leave you first with the words of Barbara Arrowsmith Young from her book “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain”:
My vision is of a world in which no child ever struggles with a learning disability, no child is ever stigmatised as having one, and no child experiences the ongoing emotional pain of living with a learning disability.
That people with learning difficulties don’t dare to dream breaks my heart. We now have the tools to address these problems, strengthen and rewire and improve their brains, and avoid a tremendous amount of needless suffering
.
And finally the words of Norman Doidge, psychiatrist and author of “The Brain That Changes Itself” in which I first read of the Arrowsmith Program:
The stigma associated with having a learning disability will ease when we all understand that we can accomplish what was once thought impossible: we can change, fundamentally and profoundly, our capacity to learn.

The first day!

This was our post from this time last year!

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I can’t tell you whether Simon had a good day or not as he is out at the movies with his friend Kyle! A great start to the new year as being at Arrowsmith is also about improving your social skills as well as your academic ability and I think a movie on the first night of the first day is a good step in that direction! image

I enjoyed a lovely first Parent walk this morning, we missed you Frances, Elizabeth and Leah!  We had the best of the day as it has rained ever since! We went up Amour Hill, looked over the school, wishing all the students well and then went in a great circle along the canal, back to where we started! Then the usual devotees went to sam’s for our usual post walk chat. Lynette had given Sam some thong (flip flop) salt and pepper shakers…

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That went quickly!

The first week back at Arrowsmith has zoomed by, with the old (as in previous) students re-acquainting themselves with the cognitive exercises and the new students beginning to learn them and getting tips from the old hands. The important thing is doing them correctly – as Simon’s yoga teacher always says “perfect practise make perfect”!
Sometime over the weekend Simon, wearing that particular smile he has when he is feeling proud of himself, informed me that he had “mastered” 2 handed clocks on his first go this year! Two years ago when he first started the clocks exercise it took him 700 seconds to complete the exercise with a fairly low accuracy (I can’t remember exactly what it was but it wasn’t anywhere near 90%!), this time it took him only 70 seconds with a 90% accuracy, and that was after a 10 week break! The neuroplastic changes in his brain are there and there to stay! I am awed and amazed by the Arrowsmith programme and thrilled for the changes that we see.
Whilst Simon is back at Arrowsmith working hard I have been catching up with my Arrowsmith friends. The Parents Walking Group started on the first day of the academic year with a lovely walk in beautiful Jackson Park and today we headed to the Trent University trail. I have drunk lots of tea and spent mornings chatting, afternoons walking and this week early mornings at the gym. Simon and I have been supporting some of our favourite restaurants, the Food Forest, the Kettle Drum, brunch at Elements with Lynette and Zac, as well as venturing to the Farmer’s Market and the Chapters Bookstore! We braved the rain to watch the salmon running at Port Hope, we have never seen so many salmon in one place nor so many fishermen. It seemed like cheating to fish there since the salmon and rainbow trout were congregating in quite shallow water to jump up the waterfalls and it did not appear to take much skill to catch them, at least that is how it seemed to us. The Chinook and Coho salmon migrate from Lake Ontario and swim up the Ganaraska river to spawn, after which they die! Their lifespan is 2 – 5 years and they weigh from 2 to 40lbs. Somewhere between 5000 and 10000 salmon migrate to their spawning grounds and for Rainbow trout up to 18000 can migrate up the river, they, however, can spawn 4 to 6 times within their lifespan and live for 8 to 10 years.
I also squeezed in a movie, whilst Simon was at Friday night, and would recommend Mr Holmes with Sir Ian McKellen, an interesting take on the usual Sherlock Holmes story, superb acting.

Peterborough here we are!

After our long flight we arrived in Peterborough on Saturday night, welcomed by Andrea with the tastiest omelette, a glass of wine, a cup of tea and a long chat, followed by a long sleep. Truly the most hospitable and generous of friends, thank you! It is good to back somewhere familiar and comfortable, so different to when we arrived two years ago with everything new which was quite a challenge for us both.

On Sunday Simon moved back into Argyle, greeted by friends from last year and settled in really quickly. We finished the day with dinner in the canteen to which parents were invited. Simon thinks it will probably be the best meal of the year, roast beef, potatoes and carrots, followed by cherry crumble! Today is Labor Day here in Canada, no shops are open and the buses don’t run. Simon caught up with a  couple of friends and we all went for lunch at the Paddle and Canoe in Lakefield, a pub celebrating English food, with burgers called The Tower of London and the like! It was a huge and spectacular burger but Kyle made short work of it! It was good to see Simon and his mates chatting as if they hadn’t had a ten week break and all being keen to get back to Arrowsmith once again, despite the demands the programme makes upon them and the brain aches that it causes. That, however, is a sign that the cognitive exercises are doing their job and getting the neurones to grow and connect together, resulting in the great progress we have seen not only in Simon but in imageall the Arrowsmith students.

Here is Simon in his comfy chair behind which is the wall he has covered with pictures from his Harry Potter calendar!

Back to Arrowsmith, almost!

As the start of another Arrowsmith year looms large I thought I should share with you the words of one of Simon’s fellow students which illustrate very clearly the life-changing nature of the programme. These were read by Jill, the Principal of the Peterborough Arrowsmith school, but they were written by Payton, who left at the end of Simon’s first year, having been there for two years. Payton, unfortunately, could not be present at the Graduation Ceremony to read them himself. He gave me permission to share them for which I thank him.

Before Arrowsmith my school experience was horrible. I felt like I was fighting a losing battle. It didn’t matter how hard I worked or how much I strained myself to focus on the teacher’s words. I could never get the grades that I wanted, or that my family expected of me. I felt like a failure, and thoughts of the future filled me with dread.

It was only after starting Arrowsmith that I began to feel like maybe I could accomplish my goals, that the future wasn’t so bleak after all. Being in an Arrowsmith classroom was the best class experience I have ever had. In school I always felt like an outcast, but I really felt like I belonged at Arrowsmith. I could tell that the instructors I worked with seriously cared about helping us and making a difference in our lives.

I think the program helped me a lot because this year has been my most successful at school. Last semester I ended up getting the highest mark in my horticulture class and now I’m thinking I might want to work with plants. This semester I have a co-op at the Royal Botanical Gardens and after an interview they gave me a job there for the summer, even though many college and university students applied for the same job. In September I’m going to Fanshawe College for Horticulture. It feels good to have a sense of direction now, when before I had no idea what I’d be doing once I left high school. I don’t think I would have been able to achieve the things I have this year if it wasn’t for Arrowsmith. I’m so thankful for the opportunity I had to benefit from the program and I know I’ll never forget my time there.

And so we head back with high hopes for another successful year for Simon and all his fellow students, ready to welcome the new students and parents and looking forward to see our friends again and hear about their summer adventures.

Simon’s bags are packed, Rusty’s tail is between his legs and his big, brown eyes look up at us filled with sadness. Meantime, my bedroom looks like a bomb has hit it, and as for my desk, I can’t even begin to describe! How to pack for 11 weeks away, to cover every season and every occasion, as well as books required for my writing course?

Our time in Sydney has gone by all too quickly – so many fun times, beautiful long walks, dinners with friends, more golf, tennis and yoga for Simon, as well as a fleeting visit to the ever beautiful Pearl Beach, our sanctuary. Last night we went to see Matilda, the musical – it was fabulous! Great tunes (thanks Tim Minchin!), great acting and great dialogue, courtesy of the wonderful, witty Roald Dahl. We all loved it! Tonight, a 50th birthday party. Tomorrow dinner with my long suffering husband who I am abandoning once again. Off to Canada on Saturday morning, hopefully without leaving too much chaos in my wake!