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manjushra

The National Library of the Kingdom Of Morocco: this was billed in one of the tourist websites as a must-see, because of its architectural grandeur and surroundings. I braved Death Road again (six lanes of traffic coming from various directions, no pedestrian lights), surviving the experience despite the odds, but only found the baby sister which was called “L’Annexe”, full of Arabic encyclopediae with no French books of any description. It was nice to be out of the midday sun, wearing my new rather-tight black jeans, but it wasn’t the exciting erudite afternoon exploring the knowledge of the Moroccans that I had hoped for.

I had plainly accidentally wandered into the university area. The slight giveaway was the enormous number of young people wandering around including (shock) many of the female persuasion. However, we are still in Arabic Africa, and none of them were wearing crop tops and low slung leggings. I’ve been here four days already and I should be used to it. I notice it because I love it. No-one flaunts themselves. No-one flaunts such a trivial insignificant thing as their waist size.

After a bit of map examination I found a signpost to the real library. To get there one traversed the most symmetrical park in the world, perfectly cut and daisy-free rectangular lawns intersected with perpendicular pathways at regular intervals, with palm trees of identical trunk diameter and height set with mathematical precision. Messing up the perfect pattern were various people sitting on the park benches. This was nice and I felt the urge to join in the endeavour of messing up the perfect park too. But first I wandered to the edge of the park which looked over…

… the entire rest of the city sprawling in low-slung adobe coloured buildings all the way to the blue horizon…

… and the most beautiful glass fronted structure set in front of a huge attractive plaza, labelled in the three languages as The National Library of the Kingdom of Morocco. I do love the look of the trilingual signs. Latin, Arabic and Tamazight (Berber) alphabets, so artistic and interesting to look at. Arabic is flowing and calligraphic with dots and wiggles all over the place, Berber is almost mathematical, with cute circles, lines, rectangles and triangles.  Naturally I spent a few minutes attempting to read the Arabic, getting a little stuck on the letters without direct Latin equivalents, then looking at the Berber, and being delighted that I knew which word meant Morocco, that it was transliterated as Maghreb, and that *that particular letter* was a B, and that *that word* must mean “of”.

(This is what it’s like to be me. It can sometimes be a bit of a trial, but then there is unexpected happiness in multi-lingual signposts.)

Ah! But now for the attempt to actually enter the library. Would it work? What were the rules? What did I have to do? Studying everyone else carefully, I noted that we have to put our bag in the bag drop and collect a token for it, we don’t pay for that, and then we can go in. I managed to succeed at the bag part. I got through the airport-style gateways (can’t have been metal detectors though?). But then getting through the next barrier didn’t work. The porter kindly told me I needed a library card. Astutely noticing I was foreign, he said I could get a day’s pass from this desk over here. The desk man asked for my passport. I’d left it at the flat. Identity card? Non. I didn’t have one of those either. Ah well. We all shrugged our shoulders wryly. C’est ca. What can you do? One thing we clearly couldn’t do was bend or break the rules. I was hugely disappointed. I’d looked forward to browsing the intellect of the Moroccans, finding their “teach yourself Arabic” books and their Crime Fiction section, flicking through their collection of daily newspapers and finding something in English. I felt quite down as I went back to the bag drop desk and picked up my bag, catching a glimmer of amusement in the porter’s eye as I did so. Don’t mock, I thought sternly, and considered having a light conversation with him about how unfair life was. However somehow I was just a bit too tired and fatigué to cope with that. So I slunk out back to the park and sat there in the sunshine for a while, considering Morocco and the Moroccans, Rabat and Casablanca, and whether I would visit Essaouira one weekend soon.

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When travelling at Christmas I generally end up going to Midnight Mass, or whatever the Christmas Vigil is called wherever I am. A few years ago I was at a Belgian thing in an out of the way chapel in the middle of a cold and frosty night with a very dear friend. I understood nada, but I also understood everything. We sang Silent Night in whatever language that was, read Isaiah and Matthew and Luke and John, the preacher probably preached about poverty and refugees, about incarnation and obedience and servanthood. Love came down at Christmas, and we witnessed it, and resolved to incorporate it.

24/12/16 saw me at St Peters Cathedral in Rabat, at 8pm, a slightly more civilized time, and a little warmer than Flanders. I had a better chance of singing Silent Night correctly and also had the chance to belt out “Angels from the realms” and “O holy night” (in French, naturellement).  What joy! As all the Catholic stuff started happening – I excuse myself from it as I assume I’m not allowed to partake, not having done other appropriate Catholic stuff – the choir got going. They had done the carols in a very cathedralic way, with harmonies and solos, only giving a little local flavour by swaying gently from side to side. But now, without the need to have the congregation singing, they were in their element, and suddenly, we were in Africa. The lyrics sheet politely offered the words to these songs, but they were not John Rutter tunes, and I didn’t know how to pronounce “mfumu eh” (one of the shorter lines). I was enraptured. Earthy, passionate, rhythmic, harmonic and obviously praisy and full of joy and happiness. Luckily the church was packed out with several hundred people partaking, so there was truly time for them to shine. They had to pause briefly at some point to allow the priest to finish up and bless the flock, but they clearly couldn’t wait to start on the extroit, which they continued well beyond the passage of the priest and all the little people who hold and carry stuff in Catholic churches, well beyond the seventh verse, well beyond the point when half the congregation came down to the front to selfie themselves with the choir, and to facebook a live feed of them doing improv. There came a point where I had to go, because, being old and weak, I needed those facilities that old weak people need, but these singers were so good that I had already stayed about half an hour beyond what I would normally consider an emergency.

I had gone to the church because it’s what I do on Christmas Eve when travelling, despite being tired and not expecting much. But this was one of the Rabattian Christmas highlights. Morocco was Christian long before the Arabic conquests, and the Spirit remains, shooting up in singing and dancing when invited.

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On Christmas Eve, the kids and I walked to the beach. Rabat is a modern city built around an ancient fortified city, and so we moseyed along streets paved with marble-like stuff, past expensive boutiques for clothing, jewellery and shoes, and cheap outlets for tech and chocolate and smoothies. We passed the parliament building without really realising it and a cinema where we could have watched Assassin’s Creed in French. Then we hustled over Death Road/Tramline and after consulting the map carefully, promptly set off in the wrong direction down one of the main streets of the medina. Here it is a different world, all the cobbles are old and broken, all the houses are small and slopy, and you are surrounded by little brown jagged-toothed men in long robes with pointy hoods attempting to sell you stuff. Yellow and blue slippers, leather belts and wallets, cheap-looking sunglasses, pastries swarming with flies, enormous sacks of spices, varnished keepsake boxes and chess sets, and millions of those shapeless long shirt-dresses in various colours and quantities of bejewellment.

Eventually we managed to escape the tourist trap buying only a couple of bottles of water and emerged out through the north-west gate, where we finally spotted the sea. Ah! The sea! I wish now I had spent more time there, and watched the crashing waves more. There seemed to be so much time in our hol to keep coming back to the sea on a daily basis, something I would never tire of. We settled on a nice bit of flat sand at the gentler part of the beach, fewer waves, more local boys playing football, the occasional robed and scarved Moroccan family having a go at baseball. In high summer every square inch of this beach is covered by human bodies and beach towels; on Christmas Eve 2016 it was blessedly calm and peaceful. We spent a couple of hours doing beachy stuff – reading, playing backgammon, taking a stroll along the breakwater, people-watching, taking stupid photos of each other, and increasingly wondering where the best place to take a pee was.

There came a time when we’d had enough of that. Following my expert guidance, we set off in completely the wrong direction for the quickest route to the local supermarket. The route I had cleverly chosen was not only at least a mile longer than the correct one, it was also packed with every other visitor to and inhabitant of Rabat who had chosen this time to peruse the shoes, chess boxes, spices, slippers, belts and rugs offered in possibly the narrowest street in the Medina. And also fish. We discovered that Moroccans don’t use British values when it comes to negotiating street space. Anyhow, within only 40 minutes or so we emerged unscathed, and again unencumbered with varnished wooden plaques ornate with Arabic calligraphy, into the biggest longest flea market on a pavement which would probably have been an appropriate size were it not for the millions of flea market sellers, the world and his wife, and the tramline right next to it.

I confess I’m not a good tourist, and I have passed this lack of skill onto my offspring. We should, I know, have enjoyed lazily browsing the wares, had a go at haggling (how much for this gourd? 50 shekels? you must be mad!), sat restfully at a street tea vendor and had some highly-sugared mint business and a pastry. This mode of behaviour looks hugely enjoyable from the outside, but it is, I’m afraid, entirely beyond me. Sitting on a lonely beach with a book, a croissant and an orange is my idea of proper travelling.

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It opens with the story of Henry Cavendish and his notable eccentricities. He was enormously weird and also, non-coincidentally, a genius of his time. He was intensely focussed on his science and just would not give up on his experiments – especially one to measure the density of the Earth. But put him in a room full of people, and he couldn’t bear it. To have one single person even interrupt his nightly perambulation on Wandsworth Common was unbearable to him.

“Few Nobel laureates of either gender have much resembled the Renaissance idea of the Uomo Universale – the suave and supremely well-rounded human being equally accomplished in the rigors of the lab, the aesthetics of the atelier, and the art of scintillating conversation. Instead they have tended to be persnickety oddballs in ill-tailored suits, sensible dresses, and rumpled cardigans, ruling deep domains of expertise with slide rules and unwavering commitments to accuracy.”

To balance this, we have many stories of modern day families and their stories of how their children grew and developed and changed. Heart-rending anecdotes of how parents would go to any lengths to cure their kids of autism (strange food regimes, multi-vits, new drugs, ECT), to get back the happy, verbal toddler who had been as if stolen away by a Grimm creature.

It’s a difficult book in many places because the history of research into and treatments surrounding autism is in itself grim reading, full of bad science and charlatans and desperate hopefulness. The two lead scientists are Asperger and Kanner, working in parallel on opposite sides of the world, Asperger (Vienna)  desperately trying to play down the challenges and emphasis the strange giftings in autistic patients, in order to save them from extermination by the Nazi regime, Kanner (US) building on the Asperger research (without publicly crediting it!) but really only interested in achieving a cure within the short developmental window in a young child’s life. These are the main reasons why Asperger is associated with high-functioning patients of all ages, and Kanner (and his “autistic” label) with young patients with greater impairment.

My jaw dropped at the description of how Kanner assumed that parents were to blame for their children’s condition, based on the blithe unscientific premise that all his patients’ parents (like, all 10 of them) were working professionals who used the services of nannies. Of course they were working parents, how else would they be able to afford his services?! I mean, duh.

There’s huge detail on “the Autism Wars” wrt the vaccine controversy, and more on how the film “Rain Man” was conceived, developed and what it did for public awareness of and positivity towards the autistic community.

As a doorstopper of a book, I can’t hope to do it justice here, except to say that it was immensely readable, full of real-life anecdotes with a huge heart for the families and people affected. The main point that I take away with me is about NeuroDiversity. His final chapter concentrates on the work of activists who want to remove the shame and stigma from the autism label, and to concentrate on how to live with the challenges of the condition while celebrating the gifts and distinctiveness that it brings.

“Just how handicapping the limitations of disability become depends either on how well the environment is adapted to the range of the people who use it, or on the opportunities they have had to learn to cope with it, or both.” (Shearer, Disability Whose Handicap?)

(Ne’eman) “it struck him that many of his difficulties were not “symptoms” of his autism, but problems built into the ways that society treats people who don’t meet the standard expectations of “Normal”’

“Autism is not a single unified entity but a cluster of underlying conditions. These conditions produce a distinctive constellation of behaviour and needs that manifests in different ways at various states of an individual’s development… Most cases of autism are not rooted in rare de novo mutations but in very old genes that are shared widely in the general population while being concentrated more in certain families than others… Neurodiversity advocates propose that instead of viewing this gift as an error of nature, society should regard it as a valuable part of humanity’s genetic legacy while ameliorating the aspects of autism that can be profoundly disabling without adequate forms of support. … Instead of investing millions of dollars a year to uncover the causes… we should be helping autistic people and their families live happier, healthier, more productive and more secure lives in the present.”

From the account of "Leo", an autistic boy in modern-day America, his sister doesn't mind coping with his differences. I can't actually find the quote at the moment but it so stuck in my mind and stayed there, for me to remember whenever I'm feeling a bit ignorant and helpless when I meet neurodiverse people:

“I’m helping him be the best Leo he can be.”

This book has profoundly altered my perception of others and as a side-effect hugely helped my own self-acceptance. So what if I have deep-seated social anxiety? I have other gifts that give me huge enjoyment and satisfaction. I don't have to conform. And neither do my wonderful friends with these conditions. You know who you are.

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Both food habits have completely failed. Where did they go? Why was it possible before and impossible now? How do I get back into the mindset where it was possible?

I was reading some notes I made on relapse prevention, and noted particularly that initiation of change and maintenance of change are completely different things. This is true. My notes then go on to encourage the client to see each lapse as an exercise in self-education, rather than a reason to give up and die.

My gym habit is good. I have totally got into going to the gym. I am starting to wear closer fitting vest tops and shorts, and occasionally think I look ok when I glimpse myself lifting kettlebells in the mirror. The staff know me. I feel comfortable being surrounded by muscle-bound guys working out. (Not difficult.)

BUT YOU CAN'T OUTTRAIN BAD EATING.

I've considered going back to the start, giving up bread for 30 days, with no other goals. But that doesn't cut it. It isn't what I want. What I want is to give up bread, flour products and sugar and eat 1000 cals per day. Why do I not do this, if I want it?

Aaagh.

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My gym training schedule is working out fine now. I'm planning the week in advance, when I can go to gym after school, and again on Sunday at 4pm (NOT 5!). I'm pleased with that, though I do still feel that I don't do good training without Francis. He really takes it to the pain threshold, or as nearly there as is still healthy.

I think I look thinner. I wore a dress today which I bought two years ago and wore a couple of times before I started eating badly and gaining weight. It looked ok, possibly.

I also bought a new set of bathroom scales, as the old scales were (a) mechanical (b) with a very small, faded, fuzzy display (c) about 20 years old (d) probably not working very accurately. On my new digital scales I am half a stone heavier. So.

My eating has been crap, though. I'm very on and off. The reason is clear - I don't have enough going on in my life that I feel excited and positive about. "Are we having fun yet?" Absolutely not, we are not. So when I fall into a pity-party, feeling sorry for myself that I don't have (a) a love life  (b) a social life (c) a fix for feeling afraid about talking to people (d) much of a rosy future, then - well, there's always cheese and cake.

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I managed last week's commitments all up until today, when I completely misremembered when the gym closed and so am sitting here frustrated because I would have worked out earlier if I'd just checked. Now I have to do my training after school - not ideal. Francis was also away (possibly ill) on Friday, so I had to do my own thing. When he directs me, I do a shitload more work: he has higher expectations of what I can manage and is there to be ready to catch the weight if my muscles completely give out.

Monday: ON (making up for previous day's missed)
Tuesday: ON
Wednesday: OFF
Thursday: ON
Friday: Francis
Saturday: OFF
Sunday: ON

I know that's more than 3, and there's a risk here that I'm making it too difficult to achieve. BUT I am completely into this game now. I know I am a flabby older lady who should be knitting but I look at muscle-bound people and think, shit, I'd like that.

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I came home from school at lunchtime, feeling a bit miffed with my morning (for reasons I won't bore you with), and found my lunch inadequate to cheer me up. It didn't help that home had loads of chores, some of which are complex, some of which are boring.

Being in a bit of a mood and having free time at home are not a good combination, with respect to my food habits.

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This week:
Friday: Francis fix
Saturday: off
Sunday: on (went late afternoon)
Monday: off
Tuesday: busy (really tried to go, lots of things got in the way)
Wednesday: on
Thursday (tomo): off
Friday: Francis fix.

I was ecstatic last Friday, when Francis put me on the body measurement stat machine, and told me I had lost nearly 3.8 kilos of body fat over four weeks, and that he hadn't seen that dramatic a reduction in, well, ever. It showed too a slight increase in my muscle mass (by 1/2 kilo), so he backpedalled on what he'd said about diet. What I was doing was working, I seemed to have the self-control to keep rigorously to it, and it wasn't harming my body systems at all, so "keep doing what you're doing".

Very happy.

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Six weeks ago I couldn't imagine any successful way which was achievable by myself, with all my little quirks and failings, to start losing middle age spread and get fit again. I truly thought that was it.

Since then, on the back of a decision to give up bread for one month, I've given up eating sugar and flour, started a training program with a personal trainer, and lost about 6 lbs.

Francis is threatening to adjust my eating plan tomorrow, saying that it needs to include more calories, and eat eggs in the morning, or something like that. I'm a bit worried about this, but I guess I'll trust that he's a certified PT and has done all sorts of training around fitness and nutrition.

The other thing he is big on, is that I have to train 3 times a week. So I think that is my new Month Habit: within a seven day stretch from Monday to Sunday eve I'll go to the gym twice independently and once for my Francis-fix. Generally I'll aim to do one day on, one day off, and have one spare "I'm really really busy" day. I'll plan in my diary, marking up the days as "on", "off" and "busy". When at the gym I just have to do the training plan that F has planned out for me.

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