Day Four of Home-Schooling: the health risks of spending time with your children

In the same way that suffering through The Best of Frank Sinatra eight hours a day while working in a bookshop ended with me buying the CD when I left, the rather annoying Cosmic Kids Yoga has, after four days, become something I actually look forward to doing. I can even overlook the praying hands ‘namaste’ stuff.

There’s just one problem left: it‘s bloody difficult.

Today, for example, we did the Jungle Safari, and oh my gosh, it races through 13 minutes of poses and stretches so quickly I was out of breath by the end. I had no idea I was this out of shape. There’s my kids pressing their foreheads to their feet; here’s me hunched over like an arthritic octogenarian still nowhere near his knees let alone his ankles. If you think you’re relatively healthy, check it out – it might disabuse you of some misconceptions.

I ache all over. I’ve already pulled muscles in my butt, my groin and both upper thighs. I’m hobbling around groaning like I just ran a marathon, all from writhing about on my lounge carpet. Who’d have thought the living room floor could be so damaging?

Of course, spending all day with your kids also sends your stress levels skyrocketing. We shouldn’t be awarding honours to public officials but to teachers for bearing with our little monsters. Yesterday my four-year-old erupted into one of the year’s worst tantrums – stamping feet, slamming doors, projectile tears, the works – because I took the garden hose off her. Why? She was chasing our 22-year-old cat around the garden, continuously spraying her. Not good.

There’s also the difficulty of the four-year-old being able to read, write, play football, tie shoelaces and construct an imaginative narrative, and the two-year-old wanting to do all those things with her big sister but being incapable of any of them. So either the little one is screaming and crying because she wants to do what she can’t, or the big one is screaming and crying because she wants the little one to leave her alone, or else ‘play properly’ i.e. the way my bossy eldest wants her to.

I had a bittersweet moment last night when I heard the youngest talking to herself in bed. I crept up to the door and spied around the crack. My eldest was fast asleep; my youngest was sitting up with a torch and a book reading the title over and over again, trying to teach herself to read: ‘Me and My Mummy, Me and My Mummy, Me and My Mummy.’

So in the evenings I’ve been getting on the exercise bike as a stress reliever, and I’ve discovered that that is far more dangerous than any other household activity, because I think I might have broken my penis.

It’s something apparently far more common than practically anyone realises, so it’s important to make people aware of the potential damage they can cause their best friend when they put on lycra and climb into the saddle.

No, I didn’t get it caught in the pedals. No, I didn’t ride over it. After about half-an-hour of cycling, I reached down to scratch an itch and, well, there are no words to describe the terror of being able to feel two testicles but nothing in between.

I scrabbled around like someone who’s lost his wallet. ‘Where’s my dick? Where the hell’s my dick?’

A quick inspection revealed it was still there – it was just completely and utterly numb. Entirely free of sensation, like my manhood had been replaced by a rubber sausage. Oh sweet Jesus!

After a panicked hour, I could finally feel it again. And then I started researching, and discovered I wasn’t alone.

When you sit on a chair like a normal person, your weight is distributed between your buttocks; but when you sit on a bike saddle, it puts pressure on your perineum, squashing the nerves and blood vessels that lead to your genitals. Indeed, meta analysis of 62 studies showed between 50% and 91% of cyclists experienced genital numbness and 13% to 24% had erectile dysfunction. This is because, as other studies show a narrow bike seat can cut blood flow to the penis by 66% and even a broad one by 25%. In some cases penile numbness can last up a week (a week! Can you imagine?!).

So, is a rubber manhood just part and parcel of cycling, something to put up with and get used to? Apparently, that’s an emphatic no.

According to cycling health specialist Andy Pruitt, ‘Numbness of any kind or duration should not be tolerated, period…Imagine taking an electrical cord and garden hose and driving over them with your car again and again and again. They may rebound initially, but over time they’ll stay collapsed and won’t function as well.’

Yikes. By the end of this crisis, I’m either going to be a hundred times fitter or else a crippled eunuch!

How hard is it to follow rules?

Maybe as an autistic person, it’s easier for me to follow rules. Nonsensical they might sometimes be, but rules are rules. I’m very black-and-white on this. I acknowledge that there are grey areas, extenuating circumstances, and human frailty, but we all know what we’ve been told to do and actions have consequences.

At a time like this, we can’t just follow the rules – we have to be seen to follow the rules. This isn’t a ‘keeping up with Joneses’ sort of thing, this is setting an example that people will stick to. What happens if the neighbours see us allowing a family member to visit? They think, ‘Oh, well if they’re having someone over, I might as well have someone over too.’ And before you know it, the whole thing falls apart because everyone makes exceptions. That’s why we have to follow the rules.

After yesterday’s war with my wife, she went out to the shops anyway in search of eggs because she wants to bake – I can’t exactly chain her up. But she couldn’t find any eggs. Never mind.

I thought that today, things were improving. She seemed calmer, more rational. While I was giving the kids a bath, I heard her ring [redacted] briefly – no problems, that’s absolutely fine.

What was not fine was [redacted] turning up at our door an hour later with a box of eggs that my wife had asked her to bring round.

I didn’t let her in. Of course I didn’t let her in. We are not allowed to see family members who are not part of our household, even if they’ve driven fifteen miles to see us.

She stood on the front lawn and asked me to open the windows so she could talk to my children, who were jumping up and down with excitement that [redacted] had come round. I said no – they can see her and talk to her through the glass. She made out like I was being ridiculous. My kids started crying. My wife started shouting.

Instead of engaging with my kids through the glass, [redacted] stormed back into the car, slammed the door and drove off at a rate of knots, leaving my children in bits and my wife fuming at me.

In the past hour there have been multiple phone calls about how awful I am, and my children are calling me mean for upsetting [redacted]. Currently, my wife is trying to find someone who can bring her some flour as she wants to bake, which is hardly endearing her to the people she’s asking to go out and get it for her.

But hey, at least she got her eggs!

It’s not meant to be this hard

When your wife has autism and Emotionally Unstable (Impulsive) Personality Disorder, life isn’t going to be easy. I’m pretty sure, however, it’s not meant to be this hard.

When Boris Johnson announced last night that we can only leave our house to go to essential work, buy essential food, look after a vulnerable person or exercise (once a day), and specifically that we should not see friends or family members who don’t live with us, it was a time for couples all over the county to turn to one another and say, ‘It’s okay, we’ll get through this. We’re in it together and we’ll emerge stronger on the other side. With love and mutual support, and a sense of humour, we’ll cherish this time as a family. Nothing can break us apart.’

That didn’t happen in my household. World War 3 broke out in my household.

‘They can’t stop me seeing [redacted],’ was my wife’s response.

Initially, when my wife met each new restriction and condition with, ‘They can’t do that,’ I took it literally to mean they can’t do that, so reminded her that yes, they can: they’re the government, the ones with the tanks and the bombs and the soldiers. They can do whatever they want.

On reflection, I decided that when she said, ‘They can’t,’ what she really meant was, ‘I’m scared, I don’t want to do that, this is going to be hard, hold me.’ So I softened my approach to simply supporting her rants.

Last night has made me realise that I was right the first time – she does really think the government literally can’t stop her from doing what she wants to do.

Having Emotionally Unstable (Impulsive) Personality Disorder means you struggle to control your impulses. The desire to do something results in the thing being done, with no consideration for the consequences and probable negative outcomes. And if someone tries to interject between the desire and its gratification, oh boy are they going to get it! Tantrums and behavioural explosions are par for the course, as is the sudden swing from ‘I love you, I need you, I can’t do anything without you’ to ‘How dare you, I fucking hate you, I’m ringing my lawyers in the morning!’

So, as I listened to the Prime Minister asking us to be decent human beings and abide by a few rules so that – God forbid! – we save thousands of lives, while most people might have been thinking of themselves and what it meant for them, all I could think was, ‘Oh hell, get ready for the fireworks.’

And fireworks there were.

‘They can’t stop me seeing [redacted].’

‘They can and they have.’

‘He didn’t mean I can’t see [redacted].’

‘He literally just said you can’t visit family members who aren’t part of your household.’

‘He can’t stop me from seeing my family.’

Everybody is in someone’s family. This doesn’t work if we all make exceptions.’

She looked at me with pure hatred on her face.

‘You can’t stop me.’

And then the screaming and the shouting started, because by stopping her from doing what she wanted, I became the enemy. It’s no longer the fault of the virus or the government, it’s mine. I am truly the devil.

Midway through, she declared she was going to ring [redacted] and tell her what an evil prick I am. I begged, pleaded, demanded that we talk it out between ourselves, that we deal with it as husband and wife, like a family, like adults, like rational human beings. We’re meant to be a team, and inviting someone to interfere in our marriage is not very sporting.

It was all to no avail. She rang [redacted], burst into tears, said I wanted to have her arrested and I wouldn’t let her see [redacted].

‘That’s not entirely true,’ I said, and she screamed at me and called me a liar, and [redacted] said she doesn’t see any reason why my wife can’t visit [redacted] (because clearly the rules don’t apply to them), and I’m being unreasonable, and I should think about the effects of my behaviour on my children, I’m needlessly scaring them and being a bad dad.

I feel so betrayed. We’re married. We’re supposed to support one another. We’re supposed to deal with issues between ourselves. We’re not meant to run to our mummies and tell them the mean man we married isn’t letting us get our own way.

After the phone call, my wife told me she’s going to take the kids and move in with [redacted] for the duration of the coronavirus, and I’m not invited. In no uncertain terms, I told her that would be the end of our marriage.

She insisted she’d keep visiting him, and I said that she’s quite welcome to move in with him by herself if it means that much to her.

We’ve been given rules to follow, and as responsible, socially-conscious, moral, upstanding and good people, the onus is on us to do everything we can to stop the transmission of the virus and thus save lives. I don’t understand what is so difficult to grasp about this. Her dad has multiple underlying health conditions anyway.

So, today she’s done everything she can to punish me for stopping her from seeing [redacted].

‘Come on,’ I said, ‘we’re in this together.’

‘No we’re not, you’re on your own.’

‘We need to support one another.’

‘You can take a run and jump if you think I’m going to support you.’

‘Please, we need to be civil, if not for our sake then at least for the kids.’

‘No. You don’t let me see [redacted], I won’t be civil. I’m divorcing you after this anyway.’

‘So you don’t love me anymore?’

‘No, no I don’t. I hate you. I hate everything about you.’

You know, really mature behaviour from your wife and the mother of your children.

I’m doing my best here. I’ve been trying to keep her calm this entire time; I’ve been trying to look after my family as best I can; but I can’t do it all alone, and I really shouldn’t have to. Not once has she asked me how I’m doing, how feel.

Every time I glance in her direction, she snaps, ‘Don’t look at me!’ So I kept the kids entertained today. We did more yoga, some writing, imaginative play. I took them for a short bike ride. I planned our meals for the next ten days so we don’t need to go out. I played with them in the garden. I cooked lunch. I cooked dinner when she refused to do it.

World War 4 happened this afternoon when she said, ‘I’m just popping out to the shop to get some eggs.’

‘You can’t just “pop out to the shop” anymore. We can’t leave the house except for essentials.’

‘Eggs are essential.’

‘We have enough food for the next ten days, and much longer than that if needs be.’

‘Are you telling me I’m not allowed to go to the shops now?’

‘We’ve been told to avoid shopping except for essentials. Going out to get one item when we don’t need it is hardly essential, is it?’

‘So you won’t let me go and get some eggs?’

‘No, we need to do as we’re told.’

‘For fuck’s sake, for fuck’s sake, you can’t stop me going to the shop! I want eggs! I want to bake!’

‘It’s day one of this – we’re going on be shut in together for at least three weeks, probably more. Please, let’s make it bearable.’

‘No, I’ll do what I want.’

In all honesty, if the coronavirus wasn’t going on right now, I would walk away from this toxic situation. Of course, without coronavirus, perhaps my wife wouldn’t be acting like such a crazy person.

The trouble is, some words once spoken can’t be taken back; some things once broken can’t be repaired; and when someone acts selfishly, unsupportingly, and irresponsibly during a national crisis, and makes it far harder on the people around her than it needs to be, sometimes that changes how you see that person.

We’ll revisit this conversation after the crisis is over. In the meantime, we just have to get through it.

Day One of Home-Schooling: cosmic yoga, maths and biology

I was cooking dinner today while my wife was ‘teaching’ my four-year-old in the lounge. The teacher has given us homework to do, one of which involves watching the yoga videos they use in class.

Seems okay, I said. Helps you stretch and tone your body, teaches you how to breathe. Daddy used to do yoga.

‘It’s cosmic yoga,’ said my daughter.

Oh. You don’t sing Kumbaya and sit in a circle knitting beanie hats, do you?

‘What?’

Never mind, I’m sure it’s all fine.

Back in the kitchen cooking, a few minutes later I heard something on the TV and stuck my head round the door.

Did I hear that right? Did she really just say, ‘Be the pond’?

‘It’s wonderful being the pond,’ said the TV, ‘because you can watch all of your different feelings just swimming by.’

What the shit is this?!

‘Every feeling is welcome. You be the pond and let the fish be the fish.’

I couldn’t help bursting out laughing at the seriousness with which this was being said.

This isn’t like any yoga I’ve ever done.

‘Shhh,’ said my daughter.

‘Except sometimes,’ the TV continued, ‘we might stop being the pond and find we’ve become a fish, like the angry fish, and when that happens we might find ourselves saying or doing something that hurts other people.’

Ah, I see. It all makes sense now. I’m an angry fish when I should be the pond!

‘Be the pond.’

‘Be the pond,’ said my daughter roboticly.

Kill the Malaysian Prime Minister.

‘What?’

Never mind. I had no idea this is the kind of stuff you do at school.

‘Just say to yourself: be the pond.’

‘Be the pond,’ my daughter chanted again.

Wow. This is some Manchurian Candidate level bullshit right here.

‘Go and cook,’ said my wife, and I left them to it.

Okay. I’m all for mindfulness – live in the moment, notice what’s going on around you, try and detach from your thoughts and feelings, if that’s even possible – but is this really the kind of stuff they foist on our kids in mainstream education? This isn’t yoga, a westernized form of exercise mostly stripped of its esoteric underpinnings, this is mindfulness meditation, an esoteric eastern religious philosophy inseparable from Buddhist tradition. She even talks about the Zen Den, for crying out loud. What next? Ending every sentence with ‘namaste’?

I’m not sure how I feel about this. As someone who isn’t religious, if I discovered the school was making my kids go to confession, I’d have something to say on the matter; same as if they were practising Wudu (Muslim ablutions), or Transcendental Meditation; so why does Buddhism get a free pass?

Maybe I’m just a rube, out of step with modern cosmopolitanism. Or maybe I’d prefer more scientifically-minded programming like the proper way to wash your hands over airy-fairy feelgood fads. Watch it and judge for yourself by clicking this link.

Of course, a few minutes later my wife pushed it out of my mind when she shouted through to kitchen, ‘We’re doing maths and I’m having a mind blank. What’s 0 + 1?’

Are you sure it’s a mind blank and not a stroke? I replied. They tend to present the same.

And then my two-year-old burst into the kitchen, pointed an accusatory finger at me, and said, ‘You got a belly-button!’ before storming out.

How many more months of this do we have?

Being British: Captain Mainwaring and Coronavirus

Can there ever be such a thing as a national character? Is it really possible to distill the attitudes, behaviours and beliefs of millions of people across multiple generations into a generalised concept of a society? Is it fair to represent Britain as a bulldog, France as a cock (erel), and Germany as an accountant?

Of course not. And yet at the same time, the stories we tell ourselves about our national character provide an important insight into the values we aspire to and the ideals we wish to hold. As spurious as they often are, these ideas form the mental landscape that shapes our view of the world, and never are they more important than at a time of national and international crisis.

That’s why, once again, the British are talking about the war.

‘Our grandparents were asked to go to war,’ say all the memes. ‘We’re being asked to sit on the sofa.’

I have a European friend who is bewildered by how much the British talk about the war. For a country that has existed for hundreds of years and once ruled over a quarter of the world, it does seem odd that we choose to celebrate an event when we had our backs to the wall, lost an empire, and had to give up our place at the table to the bigger boys, rather than hark back to the glory days when we were still on top.

What this overlooks is that our celebration of the ‘Blitz spirit’ has nothing to do with war, or fighting prowess, or military might – it’s about standing firm in the face of adversity. The British national character, the character we’re so proud of, is our tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds. It’s Drake leading a rag-tag fleet against the Spanish Armada. It’s Nelson sailing at the numerically superior French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar. It’s Wellington standing firm against the Imperial Guard at Waterloo. It’s 100 soldiers facing off against 4000 Zulus at Rorke’s Drift, and it’s Britain standing alone against a Nazi Germany that had conquered the whole of Europe.

Of course, this is just one view of these events, and they were more complicated and multifaceted than presented here, but that doesn’t matter – what matters is that this is how we choose to remember them. We’re an island nation perched on the edge of Europe, part of but separate from it – stubborn, independent, outnumbered yet punching above our weight.

It’s no surprise that one of our favourite quotes is from Henry V on the eve of Agincourt (as Shakespeare writes it): ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.’ If we could pick someone who exemplified Britishness, it would be our wartime leader, Winston Churchill. We will fight them on the beaches, never was so much owed by so many to so few, this is their finest hour.

British culture is practically a cult of the underdog, of keeping our heads when all about us are losing theirs, and persevering come what may. Our unofficial motto is ‘Keep calm and carry on,’ and unless you understand that, you’ll never understand either Brexit or our response to coronavirus. 

Of course, if I’m being honest, I think the best representation of Britishness isn’t Churchill but Captain Mainwaring, a ridiculously pompous, arrogant character from the sitcom Dad’s Army (1968-1977). Now before you accuse me of maligning my country, allow me to explain.

For those who have never seen the endless reruns, Dad’s Army is about a platoon of British Home Guard during WWII, formed from men too old, too infirm, or too malingering to fight in the regular forces. Set in the fictional South Coast village of Walmington-on-Sea, these have-a-go heroes work their jobs by day and stand ready to defend against invasion at night with homemade weapons and makeshift tactics. It’s the very embodiment of the British underdog spirit and has reflected, shaped and reinforced much of how we see ourselves today, even the theme tune: ‘Who do you think you are kidding, Mr Hitler, if you think old England’s done?’ This is despite the fact that the characters are mostly buffoons.

Easily my favourite, the man who truly represents the spirit of Britain, is the platoon’s leader, Captain Mainwaring. Snobbish, xenophobic, with delusions of grandeur and an inflated sense of his own importance, it would be easy to write him off, particularly as much of the humour is laughing at him, at how ridiculous he is, at how he undermines his own best interests. He is, indeed, every negative thing you can say about the British, if you’re on the outside, looking in.

But beneath all the bluster and pretension, the awkwardness and arrogance, is a man genuinely devoted to his country, trying his best to do his duty, who does the right thing when it matters and is by far the bravest, most decisive character in the show. While Corporal Jones is running around in a flap crying, ‘Don’t panic, don’t panic!’ and pessimistic Scottish undertaker Fraser is sitting in a corner moaning, ‘We’re doomed, doomed,’ Mainwaring is the man who steps up and takes control and saves the day. In the 1971 movie, thinking they are being invaded, he barricades the road and prepares to face German tanks with a single shotgun. Later, he confronts a downed Luftwaffe pilot with nothing but guts, risking his own life to rescue a roomful of hostages. While his faults might be laughable, he’s redeemed by his loyality, bravery, dedication and tenacity.

That is Britain. We’re arrogant, xenophobic, stubborn, pompous and slightly ridiculous. When everyone else is going left, we go right through sheer bloodymindedness. You can laugh at us all you want, but don’t ever underestimate us. We’re the underdogs, and that’s the way we like it, and when our backs are to the wall, you’d better not rule us out, because that’s when we Brits triumph.

In fact, I see a lot of Captain Mainwaring in Boris Johnson. People call him dithering, indecisive, slow to act – a buffoon promoted beyond his ability. But cometh the man, cometh the hour. He understands our national character better than anyone. He tells us we don’t need to panic, though many of us will die. He tells us the way ahead is hard, but we can take it. The allusions to the war are because we know that when facing doom and gloom, the British are more than capable of weathering the storm.

From the outside, our response to coronavirus might appear fatalistic, irresponsible, laid-back even. The fact is, we won’t know the effects of our different approaches until way after the outbreak has ended and all the numbers have been crunched. We could try something different, I suppose. We could panic or quarantine; we could do what other countries have done and lock everything down; we could give in to despair and terror.

It just wouldn’t be very British.

Now wash your hands, you stupid boy!

(And just as I was about to publish this post, I see Richard Littlejohn has written a Dad’s Army parody about the coronavirus!)

The unexpected upsides of coronavirus

While Covid-19 is a steam roller of awfulness flattening everything in its path, it’s important to remember all the good things that life has to offer. Turning a frown upside down is vital for our mental health in the coming weeks and months, so here are some of the positives to come from social isolation and lockdown.

1. You can finally indulge your hobbies

That book you’ve been meaning to read but never started because it was too big? Now’s your opportunity. The typewriter mocking you from the corner of the room? That novel isn’t going to write itself. And the musical instrument you always wanted to learn? With YouTube videos instructing you in everything, there’s never been a better time.

Or you can sit on Facebook and keep checking coronavirus updates and slowly go insane – the choice is yours.

2. You can create a healthier family life 

Tradition might be a dirty word these days, but there’s definitely something to be said for taking your foot off the gas, slowing things down and actually spending time together as a family. Free from rushing around from here to there, desperately trying to clean that school shirt while shuttling the kids to football and ballet and gymnastics, we can get back to the simpler things, like having fun together, playing games, and family dinners. You might even find that, without the endless stress, you actually like the other members of your household for a change.

Of course, I also think 2020 will have remarkably high rates of domestic violence and divorce, but hey, let’s try and make the most of each other at this time in our lives.

3. You can learn to appreciate ‘the little things’

Humans are programmed not to notice, or appreciate, the familiar and everyday. It’s the reason you stop smelling freshly-baked bread after a few minutes, and why after the novelty has worn off, lottery winners are just as miserable rich as they were poor. Two weeks ago, we were bored with our dull world; today, everything in it that we can no longer do seems so precious – even just the ability to go to the cinema, have coffee with friends, or walk down the street without worrying.

If coronavirus holds a lesson, it’s to learn to appreciate those little things that we take for granted. Consciously acknowledge those things you’re grateful for, like a roof over your head, or personal freedom, and continually remind yourself of it when this is over. Like water to someone dying of thirst, we might find ourselves far happier with the everyday when the restrictions finally lift.

4. Home working lets you re-evaluate your work/life balance

All those times they told you that you couldn’t do your job from home? Turns out you could. Those meetings they said couldn’t be done by email or teleconferencing? Ha! Without the dreaded commute, how much more time would we have in the morning? How much better might our working conditions be? And how many cars would be taken off the road, making everybody happier? Coronavirus might lead to a new model of business that is less likely to drive you to the brink of despair.

And even if it doesn’t, at least you will know which you prefer. After being locked down with your wife and kids, you might even find you never moan about going into work again!

5. Pollution is clearing up rapidly

A lack of cars on the road and planes in the air, and entire economies grinding to a halt, has had the effect of reducing carbon emissions and clearing a lot of the crap floating around in the air. Indeed, given that thousands die each year from the effects of air pollution in cities, some are claiming that in China alone, coronavirus has saved the lives of 4000 children under five and 73,000 adults over seventy.

Of course, it won’t last long, since as soon as this crisis is over we’ll be burning everything twice as fast to make up for lost time, but people can make the most of it while they can. In Venice, for example, a dearth of diesel-spewing tourist boats churning up the canals has reportedly led to a sharp increase in water quality – the water is so clear you can actually see fish swimming in it.

And if nothing else, at least we’re not going to be hearing about Greta Thunberg and the impending doom of climate change for the next few months, and my mental health is already better for it!

Stupidity and coronavirus

As an autistic writer who works from home, it’s obviously easier for me to socially isolate than many sections of society. On the other hand, with support workers coming in to help me with my activities of daily living, I’m not immune from exposure – especially when some of my support workers are freaking imbeciles.

After an hour with my support worker this morning, she said, ‘Oh, I probably shouldn’t say this, but my partner’s daughter had a temperature at the weekend.’

What?!

‘It’s alright, it turned out to be a cold.’

How do you know that?

‘Because it was just a cold.’

Did you have her tested?

‘No.’

So how could you possibly know that?

She looked at me like I was dumb. ‘Er, because I know the difference between a cold and coronavirus.’

Oh. You ‘know’. That’s pretty diagnostic.

‘Well, she could hold her breath for ten seconds, so it couldn’t have been coronavirus.’

Because she could hold her breath?

‘Yeah.’

Are you a fucking idiot?

‘What’s wrong?’

You should be in isolation for two weeks.

‘For a cold?’

Because you could be infected with coronavirus!

‘I’m not infected, I feel fine.’

Many cases are asymptomatic. That means no symptoms. But that doesn’t stop you carrying it around and infecting the people you meet.

‘But she had a sniffle.’

A sniffle?

‘Yeah, and you don’t get a sniffle with coronavirus – you get a dry cough.’

Up to a third of cases cough up mucus. A third.

‘Oh. Well I didn’t know that.’

It’s your job to know! It’s everyone’s job to know! And if she had a temperature, you’re supposed to isolate the whole household. You’re meant to stay inside for two weeks.

‘Well, I know it wasn’t the coronavirus – it was just a cold.’

So, despite the government asking us only yesterday to remain isolated inside our homes for two weeks if anybody in the household has a temperature, she’s freely wandering around, potentially spreading it to all and sundry like Typhoid Mary. She’s probably right, and it was just a cold, but that’s hardly the point. The fact is, we don’t know if there’s coronavirus in her household or not, and that’s why we all have to take responsibility.

Dear Lord, if this is how seriously people are taking this, we’re all doomed.

(For the results of some studies into coronavirus symptoms, click here).

Explaining coronavirus isolation to my kids (and wife)

My two-year-old is too young to understand what’s going on in the world, but my four-year-old is definitely switched-on enough to know that something’s up, and since her response to not being able to go to gymnastics was a tantrum, I figured it was time to put on my dad hat and level with her.

‘Lots of people are getting ill,’ I said. ‘Most of them will get better; many of them won’t even realise they were ever even ill; but some of them won’t get better. It’s very bad for old people, and people who are already ill. But you don’t have to worry about it – it doesn’t really affect children.’

‘Why not?’ she asked, sharp as a tack.

‘Nobody really knows,’ I replied. ‘Trouble is, while you might not get ill from it, you can carry the virus and pass it on to others and make them ill. And we don’t want to do that. The government – the people in charge of the country – they’ve said that we shouldn’t go and see people unless we absolutely have to. That includes gymnastics.’

‘But I want to go to gymnastics.’

‘I know, sweetheart. But – look.’ I got three books off the shelf and placed them on the floor, then got six teddy bears. ‘Most of us are going to get this. For most of us it’ll be no worse than a cold. But a lot of people will have to go to hospital. There are only a certain number of beds.’

I took the first teddy bear, and touched its hand to the second. ‘This one’s ill,’ I said, then put it on the first book. ‘He gets a bed in hospital. Now the second bear is ill.’

I touched the second bear’s hand to the third’s, then put it on the second book. ‘He gets a bed too. But now the third one’s ill too.’

I had the third bear touch the fourth and take up the last bed. ‘Now this fourth one’s ill, but there are no beds, so he can’t get better.’ I then showed the virus infecting the remaining two, but there were still no beds.

‘This is what happens if we all keep going to gymnastics and seeing our friends and going to cello lessons,’ I said. ‘There aren’t enough beds, so they can’t all get better. Now let’s see what happens if we don’t do those things.’

I reset the simulation and had the first bear get ill without touching the second bear, and take its bed, then the second, and then the third.

‘But this time,’ I said, making the first bear stand up and jauntily walk away, ‘this bear gets better and comes out of hospital. That means that when this bear gets ill’ (I picked up the fourth bear) ‘there’s a bed for him. And when the second bear gets better’ (I picked up the fifth bear) ‘there’s room for this one, too.’

I repeated it with the sixth bear and showed them all eventually leave the hospital. ‘You see?’ I said. ‘They all still get ill, but instead of all getting ill at the same time, and not having enough beds, they get ill over time, and have the best chance of getting better. That’s why we can’t go to gymnastics right now. We all have to look after the people who need hospital beds – all of us – and the best way of doing that is to do what we’ve been asked to do.’

She got really excited by that and wanted to do it herself, so she re-enacted what would happen if everyone got ill at the same time (not enough beds) versus what would happen if we flattened the curve. Success.

Explaining it to my wife, who is both autistic and has Emotionally Unstable (Impulsive) Personality Disorder, is altogether more difficult.

She’s adamant that she’s still going to see her friends because ‘it means, just hang out with people you know, not strangers.’

It doesn’t mean that at all. You’re just as likely to catch it from friends as strangers – more so, as you’ll be in closer proximity.

‘Everyone I’ve spoken to says they’re still going to go to swimming and gymnastics.’

Well they shouldn’t – what part of, ‘Now is the time to stop ALL non-essential social contact’ is so difficult to understand?

‘I don’t care what they say, they can’t tell us not to, they can’t tell us what to do.’

They can, and they have.

‘I think it’s stupid and pointless.’

I had no idea you know better than the Chief Medical Officer, the Science Advisor to the Government, and all the experts at the World Health Organisation.

‘But we’re not ill or over 70 or pregnant.’

No, but we could carry it to someone who is and they could die, or take the bed away from someone who needs it. Stop being so selfish and bloodyminded. They wouldn’t be asking us to do this without good reason. Our grandparents went to war, we’re being asked to stay home and watch Netflix.

‘I’m not cancelling anything. You can’t stop me.’

It’s not me telling you to do it, it’s the government. You know, the people who pay your benefits. It’s incumbent upon us to be informed, responsible and conscientious citizens, and that means avoiding ALL non-essential social contact, even if it inconveniences you.

‘But it doesn’t mean not to go to gymnastics or see your friends.’

That’s exactly what it means. Is gymnastics essential? Is seeing your friends essential? Is going swimming essential?

‘You just don’t understand it because you’re autistic and you take things literally.’

What’s not to understand? There’s no room for misinterpretation; there are no shades of grey here. It’s as black and white as it comes – avoid ALL non-essential social contact. Not some, not most, not the ones you don’t mind dropping, but ALL. Jesus Christ, we’re talking about people dying here.

I even made her watch tonight’s press conference on YouTube. She watched him say, ‘Now is the time to stop ALL non-essential social contact,’ and her response? ‘He doesn’t mean all.’

Dealing with a global health crisis is one thing; dealing with a stubborn, recalcitrant ass-hat who has no intention of abiding by the government’s instructions is another altogether. God forbid we get locked down for fourteen days together or I’m going to have to lock the doors and hide the keys.

Be responsible, goddamnit. There’s a time to rock the boat and a time to do as you’re told. It’s pretty damned clear which this is.

EDIT: this policy is projected to reduce the UK death toll from 260,000 to 20,000. It’s not a lot to ask for a thirteenfold saving of life.

Keeping sane in a crisis: an autistic perspective

As someone with autism who’s neurologically predisposed towards obsessing over danger and freaking out over every little thing, I have forty years experience of battling dread and fear, and so the threat of a pandemic bearing down on us like a runaway train is just another day to me. However, it seems to be something new for large sections of society, and as panic starts to spread, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on keeping sane in a crisis – because if an autistic guy can do it, so can you.

First a disclaimer: I’m not an epidemiologist. Nor are most journalists, or the person on Facebook claiming coronavirus is harmless, or the neighbour stockpiling toilet paper. None of these behaviours are particularly helpful, because they add to the noise and misinformation out there, making it difficult to know what to believe and harder still to keep a level head. That’s why I’ve held off blogging about Covid-19: because I didn’t want to add to that noise.

But since we seem to be at peak saturation for signal clutter, what can it hurt? And hell, in some small way it might even help.

1. Demystify what you’re afraid of

There is nothing scarier than the unknown, except, perhaps, the unknown over which we have no control. There’s a very obvious evolutionary reason for this – the unknown could be dangerous and might kill us, so it’s safer sticking to the familiar where we can manage the risks.

Unfortunately, this means we have a tendency to inflate the dangers of anything new, and downplay the severity of those dangers we face everyday. That’s why we’re afraid of terrorists (odds of dying in a terror attack in the UK: 1 in 7.3 million), flying (1 in 5 million) and sharks (1 in 900 million), and not the death machines parked on our driveways (1 in 20,000, or a staggering 1 in 240 in your lifetime).

One of the best ways of controlling our fear of Covid-19 is to make it familiar, and thereby strip it of its mystique. Look at the bald statistics from a reliable site (like the World Health Organisation and Worldometer) and they’re more reassuring than the unhelpful running totals on websites listing number of cases alongside number of deaths.

As of 9:40, Thursday 12 March, there have been 126,628 cases, of which 4638 have died and 68,325 recovered. More helpful, perhaps, are the stats on current cases: 53,665, of which 47,957 (89%) are mild, and 5,708 (11%) serious or critical. While the tabloids might delight in showing photos of people lying in hospitals on ventilators, and implying there are more than 100,000 of them, the truth is that, globally, there are 5,708. Even if you catch Covid-19, the vast majority will have mild or no symptoms.

And this is good news for the statistics. The mortality rate is based on the percentage of known cases that have died, but if up to 50% of cases are asymptomatic, there are undoubtedly thousands who are infected, or have been infected and recovered, without even realising it.

So how lethal is Covid-19? Answers vary depending on which source you look at, but the mortality rate is estimated to be around 2% (ranging from 0.7% to 3%). This varies greatly by age, however, falling heaviest on the elderly and those with underlying health issues. If you’re under 50, the fatality rate runs at 0.2% of those infected, or 1 in 500, giving you a 99.8% chance of recovery, while those in their 80s have an 85% chance of recovery.

Therefore, if you catch Covid-19, you’re still twice as likely to die in a car accident in your life than die of coronavirus this year. Indeed, not only will you most likely recover, you’ll probably have either no symptoms or the mild symptoms of a cough, a high temperature, and a shortness of breath. This doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous or that we shouldn’t do everything to protect ourselves and those more vulnerable to the virus, but knowing what we face is far easier to deal with than worrying unduly.

2. Put your fear into perspective

Oftentimes, it feels like the end of the world. Especially as an autistic person, you spend your life magnifying things to the level of a catastrophe. Your chest tightens as you’re flooded with adrenaline, obsessing over the danger and letting it consume your every thought, because you can’t avoid the thing that’s coming for you. At these times, it’s best to step back and put things into perspective.

Look out of the window: is the world still there? Is the grass still green? Can you see insects buzzing and flowers growing and clouds scudding across the sky? Then it’s not the end of the world, even if it might feel like it.

For the past few months, people have been comparing coronavirus to the flu. For just as long, people have been saying, ‘Stop comparing it to the flu! Stop saying it’s only dangerous to the elderly and those with underlying health issues! Stop trying to minimise the dangers!’ Such people are, I think, missing the point of why these things are being said.

People are scared. People want reassurance. Comparing Covid-19 – the unknown bogeyman – to something we’re fairly comfortable with, like flu, is a way of dispelling some of that fear, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. The situation is serious, yes, but uncontrolled fear leads to the kind of irrational, unhelpful behaviour we’ve been seeing with panic-buying and stockpiling, which places massive strains on supply chains and has the potential to be very damaging. In a crisis, the last thing you want is panic. Making sane, rational decisions is always better than rushed knee-jerk reactions.

Nor do I think it’s a problem stressing that 98% of those infected will recover, with most of the remaining 2% being elderly and/or those with underlying medical issues. There was an article in the Guardian yesterday about the people in that 2% ‘at risk’ group feeling thrown to the wolves to make the other 98% feel better (along with lots of the usual Tory-bashing), but while you must be feeling vulnerable in that 2%, the solution isn’t to fill the remainder with dread. This doesn’t mean that those who die from this pandemic are unimportant and that we shouldn’t do everything we can to keep them safe, simply that we shouldn’t panic by overestimating the lethality of this virus.

Putting Covid-19 into context shows that it’s much worse than the flu, which has a mortality rate of 0.1% and a mortality rate in the over-65s of only 0.83%. However, it’s far less lethal than recent health scares like bird flu (60%), Ebola (50%), MERS (35%), and SARS (10%). It’s also nowhere near as contagious as measles or chicken pox.

Looking at the big picture, the government’s worst case scenario – something that is unlikely to happen – is that 80% of the UK gets it, resulting in 500,000 deaths. While this seems terrifying, again we must put it into perspective. In the UK, there are around 600,000 deaths each year from all causes, which is around 1% of the population. Therefore, more than half-a-million people die around us each year and we barely even notice it. Many of the people in the government’s 500,000 would have died anyway and been included in the 600,000, so if we speculate that around 1 million people will die in the UK this year, the worst case scenario will increase our annual death rate by half a percentage point – from 1% to 1.5%. This is worth remembering.

It’s also worth remembering that all of these figures are speculative. Covid-19 has the potential to kill millions, but so far it hasn’t, and only time will tell how it pans out. As my mother always says, worry is a waste of energy – if the thing you fear doesn’t happen, there was never any point worrying about it, and if it does, your worry didn’t stop it.

You know what does kill millions of people around the world each year? Heart disease. It kills 18 million people a year, but very few of us heed the warnings and change our diets and exercise. Cancer kills 10 million, many of them preventable. 9 million die of hunger. 1.5 million die of tuberculosis. 1.1 million of dysentery.

Judging Covid-19 on what it has actually done, instead of what it might do, is a better way of keeping a level head. I understand those people who scream that Covid-19 could kill millions, because they’re right. I also understand those who say that coronavirus has only killed around 4500 people, and even if you do catch it, you’ve got a 98% chance of recovery, because they’re right too.

3. Switch off

As someone whose autism causes him to obsess over every little detail of an issue until it dominates every aspect of his life, I’m well aware that there comes a point where, for the sake of your sanity, you just have to stop. It’s understandable that people want to keep abreast of the situation, because you want to keep an eye on the danger and avoid it if you can, but we’re in a uniquely difficult age where our technology gives us 24-hour access to information. What starts as a desire to keep you and your family safe can quickly turn into an addiction.

Watching the news a couple of times a day is fine, but tracking the spread of Covid-19 in real time and checking your phone for updates every few minutes isn’t healthy. It gives you the illusion of safety while simultaneously heightening your anxiety – a wound can’t heal when you’re constantly picking at it. Following Covid-19 doesn’t make you any safer, but it does make you far more uptight about it. So learn what you need to learn, hear what you need to hear, and then switch off, or else you risk letting your fear of coronavirus take over your life.

Of course, distracting yourself from that feeling of impending doom is not always easy. Instead of telling yourself not to think about it, which only makes you think about it more, simply acknowledge it whenever it pops into your head and gently shift your focus onto something else. I find doing something that requires concentration, focus and hand-eye coordination – a jigsaw puzzle, a model, a paint-by-numbers – is a far better means of taking your mind off your fears than TV, movies or a book.

And once your mind is off it, go do something else. Count the leaves on a tree. Dance in the shower. Focus on the here and now and the things you have control over, instead of things that might happen tomorrow. Know that this will pass.

4. Learn to accept the things we cannot change

I think the biggest thing I’ve realised from watching this emerging crisis is just how resistant people are to accepting things. They might close the schools, they might cancel my holiday, it’s not fair, rage, fume. When you come up against a brick wall blocking your path, repeatedly bashing your head against it is nothing more than a futile gesture. Sure, it’s annoying to find our way blocked. The solution isn’t to cry, it’s to go back and find another path.

You also have to accept that we’re all mortal and will therefore one day die. I’ve seen tons of people in their 70s and 80s in denial, panicking that they’re going to die. Why? If you’ve not accepted your mortality by that age, when you’re already past the life expectancy of an adult human, you’d better start working on it. I’m 40 and I’m comfortable with the fact that this bundle of cells, animated by that mysterious force called life, will one day become nothing more than meat. If I die of coronavirus, or heart disease, or in a car accident, it’ll be sad for my wife and kids, my family and friends, but it’ll be normal, and natural, and it was simply my time. There’s no point feeling bitter over the years I didn’t get to have, because I was never entitled to them, and I never had them anyway.

Accepting that no amount of huffing and puffing will change the nature of the universe is a vital skill if you want to keep your head when all around you are losing theirs.

5. Keep a sense of humour, even if (especially if) it’s dark

The best way of dispelling fear in a crisis is finding the humour in your situation. I remember someone posting that you should look around at all your friends and know that two of them will die. Wow, I thought – with a mortality rate of 2%, she’s vastly overestimating my popularity!

I’m also bemused by people’s fear of self-isolating. To me, that’s a normal day.

I find social media an endless source of amusement. It’s fascinating how easily Covid-19 slips into political rhetoric. To the right wing, the crisis is the result of immigrants bringing in the virus; to the left, it’s because the Tories have cut health services. Various right-wing websites are claiming that Covid-19 is a biological weapon that escaped from a Chinese lab; various left-wing websites are claiming it’s an American biological weapon designed to crash the Chinese economy. You’ve got to see something amusing about that.

Perhaps the weirdest thing is how quickly people’s professed virtues flip to the opposite extreme. After Brexit, I lost count of the number of Tweets I read hoping that elderly Leavers would hurry up and die; then, in the run-up to the election, those same people were saying how we had to vote Labour or else millions of old people would be at risk. After the result showed most old people voted Tory, I again lost count of the number of Tweets saying they looked forward to the elderly dying in their millions as the Tories ran the NHS into the ground as it would serve them right; and now, those same people are saying, Save the Elderly! Save the Elderly! I mean, come on guys, pick a side and stick to it: do you want elderly Brexit-voting Tories to die, or don’t you?

One of the best jokes I saw online was: If there was a vaccine for coronavirus, most of you wouldn’t take it anyway. Now shut up and wash your hands.

We have some difficult times ahead of us, people. But keep calm and carry on.

Good luck on staying sane.

World Book Day 2020: Top Ten Non-Fiction

In honour of World Book Day, and having already listed my Top Ten Novels, here are ten of my favourite non-fiction books (with the exception of my own, of course!). These are ten books spanning various genres that stood out from the crowd, providing entertainment, fascination, insight, knowledge and joy.

1. Chariots of the Gods, by Erich Von Daniken (1968)

Filled with wondrous insights about the ancient aliens that created us…oh no, wait. Only joking!

1. A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson (2005)

Writing a scientific history of the world that explains not only what we know but how we know it, and the oftentimes bizarre people who made it possible, and putting it all into one book that is readable for the layperson, seems like an impossible task, but Bryson manages to pull it off with aplomb. From geology to seismology, biology to paleontology, particle physics to relativity, he takes some incredibly complex fields of science and somehow makes them understandable, entertaining and endlessly fascinating. Part science primer, part history and part biography, this book is a must read for anybody curious about the world around them.

2. Heavier Than Heaven: The Biography of Kurt Cobain, by Charles R. Cross (2001)

I’m not normally a fan of celebrity biographies, and having already read several on Kurt Cobain, the tragic frontman of Nirvana who committed suicide in 1994, I didn’t expect this book to be anything more than a casual read. I was happy to be proved wrong. Expertly drawing together details from hundreds of interviews, Cross recreates Cobain so vividly, I felt I could reach out and touch him. Indeed, for someone who died before I even knew who he was, this book brought Cobain back to life, almost as though the narrative was unfolding in real time as we drew on towards the inevitable conclusion. Raw, heartfelt and honest, I’d recommend this to anyone, even if you’re not a fan of Cobain’s music, for the way it manages to penetrate the public persona and reach the real individual beneath.

3. A Voyage for Madmen, by Peter Nichols (2011)

The definitive account of one of the strangest and most gripping stories of man at sea, this is the kind of twist-filled, rip-roaring adventure you’d describe as unbelievable if it wasn’t true. In 1968, nine solo yachtsmen set out to become the first to sail alone and non-stop around the world. And what a strange bunch they were – a philosopher, a failed inventor, a soldier who didn’t know how to sail, in boats that hadn’t been designed for the rigours of the open seas. Of the nine, four pulled out after being battered by the ocean; one after vomiting blood from a peptic ulcer; one sank; one didn’t want to stop sailing so abandoned the race to become one with the ocean; one went mad, wrote a 25,000 word treatise about the human condition, and then killed himself; and only one made it. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe this perfect storm of eccentricities, and this book more than does them justice.

4. The Case For Mars, by Robert Zubrin (1996)

A fascinating proposal for colonizing the Red Planet using existing technology and scientific know-how, this is both a sales pitch and a step-by-step manual to creating a sustainable habitat on Mars. With infectious enthusiasm, Zubrin convincingly shows how to achieve each stage physically, technologically, scientifically, politically and financially. Indeed, from reading this book it becomes clear that we don’t need to wait a hundred years or even fifty – we could start right now. If that doesn’t excite the little child inside you that dreams of walking on alien worlds, then nothing will.

5. Travels With Charley: In Search of America, by John Steinbeck (1962)

Travels With Charley is an absolute gem of a travelogue that has informed so much of how I see the world. While it’s ostensibly about Steinbeck’s trip around the US in a pickup truck when he was sixty, accompanied only by his pet dog Charley, it’s as much about an old man coming to terms with his mortality, revisiting the places he once knew and that are now lost in time. Along the way, we learn what it is to take a journey, why we should refuse to surrender the fire in our bellies, how we can never go home again, and why men should have beards. Atmospheric, lyrical, meditative and philosophical, in trying to pin down what makes Americans so American, Steinbeck reveals far more about what it is to be human.

6. The Stories of English, by David Crystal (2004)

Essentially a history of the English Language, this book is far more readable and entertaining than it has any right to be. Do you know why the land of the Angles and Saxons came to be called England and not Saxonland? That the sea used to be called a seal bath, swan road or whale way, and ships were keels, wave floaters or wave horses? That the Vikings are the reason Keswick and Chiswick are no longer pronounced the same? That as a result of Norman noblemen exploiting Anglo-Saxon peasants, all the names of domesticated animals are English (calves, cows, sheep, pigs) but all the meats are French (veal, beef, mutton, pork)? Whether you’re looking to understand the language or simply want interesting facts to fire at your friends in the pub, The Stories of English is the easiest and most enjoyable way of doing it.

7. Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust, by Richard Rhodes (2002)

Despite its slightly misleading title, this harrowing piece of historical study is one of the most important and revealing accounts of the Holocaust I’ve read – and I’ve read a lot. While everyone knows about the death camps, very few know about what came before them, when four ‘special task forces’ of a thousand men each followed the army into Poland and Russia, rounded up Jews, and shot more than one million of them into makeshift graves. Following the organisation, training, development and ideologies of these groups, Rhodes shows how the death camps weren’t created to make the killing more efficient – they were created to make it easier on the executioners, who were suffering depression, alcoholism and suicide as a result of murdering people all day long. A nasty but worthwhile read, Masters of Death shines a light on a gruesome part of history that should never be forgotten.

8. The Dinosaur Hunters, by Deborah Cadbury (2000)

Popular history at its best, The Dinosaur Hunters is a fascinating story of heroes and villains, gifted amateurs exploited by amoral academics, and the battles that raged as the first dinosaur bones were pulled from the earth. It’s the tale of Mary Anning, a poor Dorset spinster who made some of the greatest discoveries of all time but was shut out of the scientific community because she was a woman; of Gideon Mantell, a country doctor who lost his money and his wife trying to prove that the giant bones he collected belonged to prehistoric lizards; and of the obnoxious anatomist Sir Richard Owen, who destroyed Mantell’s reputation before taking credit for many of his discoveries and stealing the honour of naming the dinosaurs. A real page-turner that shows in stark terms how difficult it can sometimes be to separate the vested interests of the scientists from the science itself.

9. The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout (2006)

We tend to think of sociopaths as violent criminals, but did you know that 4% of people are reckoned to have no conscience? In this eye-opening and frankly terrifying book, Stout reveals how 1 in every 25 people walking around in society are only out for themselves, with no instinctive limits on how they treat others, having zero empathy and no remorse whatsoever. Ever made excuses for someone’s behaviour, like they must have forgotten or they must have been under a lot of pressure, because you simply can’t believe any normal human being could do such a thing? Chances are, you’re dealing with a sociopath. Filled with horrifying case studies of the destruction wrought by these people in relationships, families, the workplace and wider society, this book teaches us how to recognise the sociopaths in our lives and how to protect ourselves from them, and for that alone it’s essential reading.

10. A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates, by Captain Charles Johnson (1724)

If you’ve ever read Treasure Island; played Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag; watched Johnny Depp do his best Keith Richards impression; or told the joke, ‘Why are pirates called pirates? Because they arrrrr’; then this is the book for you. It pretty much created everything we think we know about pirates, from peg legs and buried treasure to eye patches and the Jolly Roger. A collected ‘biography’ of famous pirates, all the big names are here: Blackbeard, William Kidd, Calico Jack Rackham, Bartholomew Roberts, Mary Read, Anne Bonney, Charles Vane, Edward Low, Israel Hands, Stede Bonnet, Sam Bellamy and a whole bunch you’ve probably never heard of. Given that its authorship is still in dispute and there’s no doubt that much of it is exaggerated, if not simply made up, calling this non-fiction is a bit of a stretch, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun nonetheless.