#AutismAcceptance/#AutismAppreciation doodles ‘n’ scribbles no. 9: why didn’t anyone tell me Girl Guides sweatshirts and white socks were uncool?

An 11-year-old Mama Pineapple: a white girl with chin-length bobbed brown hair, wearing a blue sweatshirt with white Girl Guides logo, floral skirt, white socks and black lace-up shoes. She has her hands behind her back and smiles.

As a kid, I observed what others wore, and mostly aped what I thought was deemed “cool”.

But there’s no instruction manual for operating in pre-teen or teenage polite society, and nobody ever tells you what isn’t cool. Sometimes in my later primary school and early secondary school years, I just liked wearing my Girl Guides sweatshirt – outside of Girl Guides meetings. It was a nice shade of blue, and it was comfortable.

And the white socks. How was I supposed to know these were unacceptable clothing items? I didn’t realise until years later what some other kids had really thought of me for such apparently ill-judged sartorial decisions.


[Image: An 11-year-old Mama Pineapple: a white girl with chin-length bobbed brown hair, wearing a blue sweatshirt with white Girl Guides logo, floral skirt, white socks and black lace-up shoes. She has her hands behind her back and smiles.]

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Give in to the stim.

I’ve had a lifelong relationship with stimming. And for so much of my life, I’ve tried to stop.

Why did I do that to myself?

I’m such a stimmy autistic. I’m more noticeably stimmy than many autistics I know – to the extent that other autistics comment on just how stimmy I am. I think now about how much I stim, and how obviously I stim, and I wonder at the fact I went undiagnosed for so long.

For quite literally as long as I can remember, I’ve used my teeth and jaws as a drum kit. At various points in my life, it would occur to me that this was something others didn’t do, and that, thus, it was not “normal”. But it was a discreet enough stim that did no harm to either myself or others, and so it continued.

As a preschooler, I had an old, ragged velvet curtain that lived on my bed, the hem of which was delicious, soothing, soft delight to rub against my upper lip.

As an older child, I enjoyed “crash-landing” at bedtime. I’d take a run-up, jump forward, and sharply twist round to land with a crash, on my back, on my bed. There was a glorious release in doing so. Rather than working me up into a frenzy, the combination of twirling, twisting vestibularity and proprioceptive sinking contact of body-with-bed seemed to relieve me, ground me and relax me, albeit only for a few minutes or so.

I’ve never truly been able to lie still in bed. I find it something close to torture to lie still. One of my favourite in-bed stims is to repeatedly flex one of my feet at the ankle, rubbing the foot against the sheet beneath me. Sometimes I have both feet going, and I concoct rhythmic combinations, one foot accompanying the other but each rubbing out its own distinct motif; at other times a simple back-and-forth motion will suffice.

My sensory sensitivity means that in moving my feet when they’re covered by bedlinen, I’m hyper-aware of sweat, snags, abrasions, contours and anomalies. They agitate and irritate and prevent me from powering down. I must always keep my toenails neatly trimmed. My feet must always be freshly washed before I slip under the covers.

Sometimes in bed, I rock or wiggle my hips, or contract and release my quadriceps, feeling my knee joints tense and relax as I do so. But mostly it’s the feet.

For so many years I thought something was wrong with me. I seemed unable to relax in bed without moving my feet. From so many sleep-overs, residential school trips, Girl Guide camps, and holidays with cousins, I’d observed that most other people didn’t need constantly to move their feet as they lay in bed at night. I had a strong sense that this wasn’t “normal”.

(There was also, of course, that whole thing of everyone else around me going to sleep way before I did. On some sleepovers, I literally lay awake all night. But that’s an aside.)

I tried to stop, but couldn’t.

I carried on moving my feet at night all through my teens and 20s. And I kept on trying to stop. Because it wasn’t “normal”. But trying not to move my feet in bed was torture.

It wasn’t just bedtime. I needed to stim every waking minute of the day. In classrooms, I’d swing my legs under the desk. I’d compulsively tap my foot or drum my fingers while waiting for a bus. Once I’d started learning to play the trumpet, I’d emulate the fingering in mid-air, tapping the middle three fingers of my right hand against my thumb in mimic of the notes played on the real instrument, evoking the tunes I could hear in my mind.

Around the age of 10, I discovered split ends in my hair. This ushered in two decades of calloused finger tips and tension headaches as I squinted at the hair in front of me, closely inspecting the ends, and then picking, peeling and snapping, thumbnail digging into index or middle finger as I pulled the ends of my hair to shreds.

Split-end-picking was one of my distinguishing traits as a teenager. Another bit of ammunition the other kids could use to taunt me. But focusing on the ends of my hair helped block out the rest of the world.

But it didn’t feel healthy. And neither did picking at the skin on my arms and legs, or clawing at my scalp. Neither did smacking myself in the head. And yet I did all these things.

I wanted to stop doing these things. But I just couldn’t.

Why was it that I felt such a desperate need to move all the time? Why did my body cry out, scream out, for this input?

During my teens and university years, I moshed at gigs, bounced around at indie discos, and gyrated at clubs. I flailed and jerked about on stage in bands. In my mid to late 20s, I exercised to extremes; hours and hours of running, spin classes and free weights every week. At these times, my body got the feedback it needed in vast quantities, and I didn’t feel quite so twitchy as I do now, and as I did as a child. I still stimmed, or course, but with less frenzy, fever or freneticism.

But at times when I was less able to be active, and times of anxiety, anger or sadness, the really damaging stims returned. And nothing could ever soothe my body or soul to my own satisfaction.

I picked my skin. Peeled the ends of my fingernails. Pulled at split ends. Scratched at my scalp. In meetings at work, I worried about what others thought of me as I did so. But I couldn’t stop.

In all those years, I never realised there was a name for what I’d been doing.

When my mum first suggested to my husband and me that our daughter was autistic, I started to read. At that time I was seeing things from the “parent-of-autistic-child” perspective. I started to learn about the need to self-soothe. I gradually learned about fidget toys. And gradually, as I began to discover the writings and videos of autistic adults, I realised that a lot of this applied not just to my daughter, but to me. I realised what it was that I had been doing all my life.

There was a name. And these things I’d been doing all my life, that had this name, were a recognised part of a culture. A culture that I increasingly found myself gravitating towards, associating with.

For a time, pre- and post-diagnosis, I kept my stims discreet. Tangles or worry stones in my pocket. Tactile jewellery subtly fiddled with. I realised there were things I could do, things I could use, which were far less damaging than split end picking or scalp clawing.

And when I was with my children, I could move as they did. I could dance, sway, and spin. I still do.

But there were – and still are – times when this wasn’t enough. As I walked to work, I yearned to windmill my arms, skip, hop and twirl. I wished that dancing could be my default method of commute. I longed to clap my hands, and sing at the top of my lungs. But I was a grownup. A professional. What if someone saw me?

But my body needs movement, and I’m so damned tired of not giving it what it needs.

I need to stim as much as I need to breathe.

It’s part of my neuroqueering to stim more obviously these days. I do make dance-like movements with my arms when I walk sometimes. I do sing, and whistle, and clap. I do clamber onto walls, balancing for a time before leaping off. I reserve most of these activities for quieter, less busy spaces – attracting attention to oneself is risky. But I’ll still let my hands be a little freer with their movements, even in public.

At work, I worry less now about what others are thinking as I wiggle my fingers next to my face as an aid to the thinking process. I sway, twirl and dance by the photocopier as I wait for my documents to print. I tap my hands on my legs as I walk along. I flap them as I wait for the kettle to boil. It’s not a flap of frustration, but a relieving movement that in that moment is necessary.

Of course there are times when I tone it down. We’re not in a world where autism is that well accepted that I can freely be myself at all times. And at times, I suffer for this. Any autistic who’s in employment would do.

But outside of meetings, teaching sessions and polite conversations, I let my guard down more often than I once did. I stim more obviously these days in part because I’m now better attuned to what stims really help me. But in another part because I actually want it to be noticed. I’m still a competent, capable human being; I just happen to be one who needs to stim.

I wish stimming were more normalised. After all, everyone does it. It’s part of emotional regulation – why else does an otherwise calm person pace a hospital corridor waiting for news of a sick loved one? Why else does a student click their pen or bite their nails as they agonise over a tricky maths problem or essay question? Why else does a parent drum their fingers on the table-top as they anxiously wait on hold to have a difficult phone conversation with the headteacher?

It’s just that many of us autistics do more of it. We do it bigger. We need to because of the ways we experience our environment, and our emotions.

I wish I’d understood that when I was younger, instead of torturing myself by trying to stop.


[Featured image: ‘Wave’, by Rob Witcher. Image description: black and white photograph of a hand waving in front of a stroboscope, against a black background.]

Performance

I’ve been something of a performer all my life.

At primary school, it was drama. I never got to be the heroine or the pretty princess, but that didn’t bother me (mostly). Gleeful, gorgeous, grotesque riches were bestowed upon me in the form of ‘character’ parts: witches, ghosts, and anyone requiring an accent. I got to play around with voice, mannerism, posture, stature and facial expressions in ways that I found utterly delicious.

The move up to secondary school ushered in a small fish:big pond tale of bit parts, walk-ons, clumsy full-cast dance scenes and dressing-room boredom. I was never simply “glad just to be involved”; I wanted to act, damn it.

And so music took over. After a brief spell contending with the solitary, arduous torture of beginner piano, I plumped instead for the trumpet. You couldn’t escape it. You could play it in all kinds of genres. And you could play music with other people, in actual bands, before you actually even had to be any good at it.

The loudness was the point. I loved the fact I couldn’t hide; or rather, that I could hide myself behind that brazen, brash brass instrument. I could be the centre of attention, without the audience’s attention being solely centred on me.

Performance did, however, extend way beyond theatre and music.

Every day was, and is, a performance.

I’ve rejected any early-in-my-identification-as-autistic notions that I ever “masked” my autistic traits. I wouldn’t have had a clue what on earth I was trying to mask, for starters. It was pretty apparent to a lot of people that I was a bit (well, a lot) weird.

Still, perhaps stage makeup is a mask, of sorts. I performed the role of a girl. A proper girl, like all the others. I wasn’t trying deliberately to cover up aspects of my own self; I was simply playing the same role I’d always believed others also had to consciously “act out”.

I didn’t do it with uniform, or universal, success, of course. There was so much I simply didn’t get about being a proper girl. And yet. The tone of voice. The mannerisms. The (only partially feigned) interest in beauty and fashion. The purchasing of teen girls’ magazines. Shopping. The fancying (at least romantically) of boys at school. All that I could sort of manage.

But it still felt bewildering. And never quite real.

I was far more comfortable with the mixed-gender groups of friends I knew outside of school. My gaggle of gig-going buddies. The fellow musicians in the district orchestra and concert band. People with whom I could bond over genuine shared interests, irrespective of each others’ gender.

I was never a boy. I never felt like one, nor ever wanted to be one. I was never even a tomboy.

But still I struggled to perform the role of the normal girl.

And yet, as an adult, as people wanted to call me a woman, so I wanted to continue being referred to as a girl. “Woman” felt like someone else. I disliked “Miss” but rejected “Mrs”, or my husband’s surname, when I married – again, “Mrs” didn’t sound like me. It sounded too…grown up. Old, even. It still does.

(I go by “Ms”. Part of me occasionally gets half-tempted to switch to “Mx”, in part to annoy the people who don’t even like “Ms”. But my life is complicated enough already, what with me being openly autistic and everything. I just wish people would always use first names and nothing else, really.)

I don’t have problems with being a mum, or being called one. That one fits.

But I still feel like I’m always performing a role. Playing a part. The competent adult. The consummate professional. The confident parent. I even struggle to understand how to properly be an adult child to my parents. That script can be particularly hard to read.

I don’t feel as if I “perform” the role of friend. I care too much about friends, and friendships, to be anything other than as genuine as I know how.

Everybody performs. We all switch personae according to context, situation, environment. And most of all, who we’re with.

But we autistics so rarely get to take off the costume and be fully ourselves.

So often, the very way in which I’m openly autistic is in itself a piece of performance art. I could easily dull the sensory impact of bright lights with a very discreet pair of shallow-framed tinted glasses. But no; I walk into conference plenary sessions wearing oversized vintage-look shades. I revel in doing so. I could subtly stim in work meetings by playing surreptitiously with my engagement and wedding rings, or the cuff of my sleeve. But no; the Tangle is in my hand, and my hand is on the desk. So often must I write, rehearse and memorise the scripts for my many upcoming performances in the role of the pseudoneurotypical woman, that I grab any chance I can get to “be autistic”.

And when I’m out and about, I confess it: I play up to the camera.

I flick, fidget, sing, hum or nod my head to the music on my mental jukebox more obviously in public these days in part because I don’t give a bloody hoot about who objects to my doing so, but also because, deep down, I hope another autistic person is nearby, noticing.

I’m an actually autistic impersonator of an actually autistic person, performing an exaggerated version of my true identity for dramatic effect. It’s freeing. Liberating. Fun.

But it’s merely signals and signifiers. Camping up a stereotype. It’s real, but it’s not the full story.

I’m at my most autistic, under normal circumstances, when I’m at home – either because I’m tired, stressed and meltdowny, or because I’m being a kid, with my kids, and able to play. And when my daughter and I go on makebelieve adventures, we are always ourselves, wherever we travel to.

But I’m only ever able to be truly autistic, without the added dramatic effect, or even affect, when I’m with other people like me. And that’s rare.

Performance can be enjoyable. Joyous, even. But sometimes I need to remove the layers of panstick, and just be me.


[Featured image by Arch’educ. Image features a wooden theatre stage. A deep red curtain hangs closed over the stage, touching the stage floor.]

A passion, stolen

As a kid, most of my spare time was spent drawing. It was my earliest passion.

I was no savant. But I suppose, on reflection, I did have at least some innate “gift”. The people I colourfully produced aged just three, in bright felt tip, were anatomically correct (in as much as having, for example, five fingers on each hand and articulated limbs), and incredibly complex.

Relatives and family friends recall me feverishly creating drawing after drawing, eagerly quick-fire-switching between each colour (but always carefully, but with lightning action, replacing the lid of each pen after use).

When I entered primary school, I had an awareness that I was somewhat advanced compared to my peers, and sensed that this singled me out in a way I couldn’t quite place, but didn’t like. I intuited from early on that I was somehow different, and desperately wanted to fit in. So I copied my classmates’ clumsily executed, anatomically incorrect scrawls, in the hope of escaping attention. I was doing this at age five. But adults questioned me on this practice, and encouraged me to stay true to myself and embrace my abilities. I drew. And drew. And drew.

Never what was in front of me. Always scenes and characters conjured up in my own mind. But always produced with the intention of seeming “realistic”, however fantastical the subject.

I recall, at around six years old, having an argument with a classmate who refused to draw a nose on her depiction of the face of our teacher – we were making “Get well soon” cards as she was ill in hospital, and most of us had decided to draw her recovering in bed. When my friend got up to go to the toilet, I spitefully snatched up her card and drew that nose.

Around seven or eight years old. A documentary about the autistic savant architectural artist Stephen Wiltshire was showing on TV. I was captivated watching him draw and paint intricate architectural wonders from memory. A telling exchange from the time:

Me: “Mummy, what does ‘autistic’ mean?”

My mother: “Oh, it’s when someone is lost in their own world.”

Me: “Oh, I think I must be autistic, then.”

Ironic, huh? I think at the time, I was interpreting the word, and my mum’s explanation, as meaning “artistic”. After all, like Stephen Wiltshire, I loved to draw.


I drew and drew and drew. Never still life or landscapes. Always people – no scenery. Just groups interacting socially, or individuals, their outfits, hairstyles and accessories lovingly and meticulously detailed. And always from my imagination.

I attended the village youth club. As other kids shot pool, played board games, or ran round and round the building outside, I drew.

“Why do you do that here? You can just draw at home, can’t you?”

I wasn’t quite sure. I think I just liked the sense of being around others, but without actually having to interact. I did interact with the adult helpers. Mostly, I talked to them about the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. Not in any way autistic. Not in the slightest. Oh no.

At school, I was held spellbound by the elaborate creative projects dreamt up by my teachers in those years of freedom prior to the introduction of the English National Curriculum. Entire classrooms converted into rainforests. Imaginary monsters conjured out of paint spatters, with each child creating our own monster’s name, character and back story. Exercises in using grids to “enlarge” the designs of postage stamps or food packaging labels. Collage. Tissue paper. Clay. Papier-mâché.

And whilst other children would play games in their spare time, I would draw. And draw. And draw.

In secondary school, I had access to a wider range of materials. My imagination grew as I, my brain, and my body did. In one class during the early years, our tutor group was asked to make clay studies of people. Deliberately stylised and “cartoonish” – we were encouraged to think about how we might easily represent their essence in exaggerated, simplified form.

My clay man, sitting on the floor with legs outstretched and crossed, was listening to music through a Walkman and headphones. Eyes closed, singing along, with beatific facial expression, seeming to beat his hands on his legs in time to the music. Lost in enjoyment.

He was covered in clear glaze. The shape and form spoke for themselves and needed no further adornment or colour.

Later, when several of our pieces were on display in a case along the Art and Design (A&D) department corridor, someone asked one of my teachers if they could buy my piece. My teachers asked me, but I refused. I was too proud of it to let it go, and it sits on my parents’ living room bookshelf to this day.

As I continued through secondary school, I continued to find solace in drawing as life got more and more difficult. I’d graduated from bright, multicoloured felt tip to pure, grayscale pencil. But I still drew nothing but people. I drew. And drew. And drew.


Of course, when it came time to choose our GCSE options, there was no question that I’d be taking Art. At every parents’ evening, my teachers had told my mum and dad that they were certain I was destined for art school. No doubt about it. I was a polymath in everything but PE, but art was my one true passion.

And so came the beginning of the end.

The class I was put in was allocated to a wayward, alcoholic teacher who was approaching retirement. A man with his eyes off the road. Off the ball.

We drew. We created. But I had no idea where we were going. There was no inkling of what syllabus we were meant to be following. I knew from friends in the other classes that there were certain things – topics, tools, and techniques – that we were meant to be covering as part of the GCSE Art curriculum. Only our class wasn’t covering them. The uncertainty was alarming.

And then, strange things started to happen. At one point India, and Hindu mythology, were given to us as sources of inspiration. My teacher was starting to construct large sculptures of bamboo and tissue paper. One, in particular, with a likeness to the elephant god Ganesh, seemed to have a vague connection to some of the 2D work I was producing on paper.

And so it came to parents’ evening, towards the end of that first GCSE year.

When my parents arrived home, they were spellbound. In awe.

“Wow, sweetheart. We’ve seen your sculpture! It’s amazing! Wow, you’re so talented, we had no idea!”

(Or words to that effect.)

“But…I haven’t made any sculpture.”


And from there, it all unravelled.

In a state of panic, my incompetent, booze-addled but nonetheless artistically adept teacher had somehow recognised he was doing his star pupil a disservice; letting her down; putting her at risk of never achieving the dizzy artistic attainment levels she was so easily capable of reaching. And in some misplaced attempt to help me along, he’d constructed a work no 15-year-old would ever have been able to produce, and passed it off as mine.

Of course, I couldn’t accept the dishonesty. The deceit. How could he lie, on my behalf? How could me make me complicit, force me to lie? Regardless of how I progressed through GCSE Art, I wanted all the work to be my own.

I was devastated. Traumatised. And, if I’m honest, utterly weirded out by the whole thing. It was bewildering, and disturbing.

I sat in the headmaster’s office with my dad, tearfully recounting my side of the story, all the while wondering what the hell was going to happen to my class, my GCSE grade, and my future.


The following academic year, my teacher was no longer at the school. I have no idea whether he was dismissed entirely as a result of what occurred with me, or whether this was merely the tipping point. The other members of the A&D department mucked in, clubbed together, and worked to help our class get through our second and final year of GCSE Art.

I made my portfolio, documenting the supposed journey in the development of each piece of artwork. I made it after the fact.

Like someone with innate abilities in mathematics, I couldn’t show my workings. It all just “came out” when I put pen to paper. So, I just made it all up, fabricating the connections for the sake of meeting the requirements of a curriculum not set up for people who thought about, or enacted, the producing of art in the way I did. The portfolio made logical enough sense. I was good at being creative, in making up a decent story. The school kept the portfolio, with my permission, after our GCSEs were complete, to be shown to future students as an exemplar. I got an A.

By my love affair with art was over. A lifelong passion, sullied. I couldn’t bear to study it beyond that point.


My parents never forgave the school. Art had been, according to my dad, “the only time I was ever truly spontaneous”.

A few years passed, and I started to dabble in drawing cartoons, primarily of favourite bands. A few were published in fanzines. I’d moved from grey pencil to black pen-and-ink.

But I’d missed out on those years of formal training that I’d always anticipated being my natural, written-in-the-stars trajectory. It still pains me that I am far less “skilled” in formal drawing techniques than others who have studied art to a higher level than I.

And instead of following my childhood dream, my birthright, I spent another 15 years or so trying to find a new niche. There was so much I was good at, but very little that ever lit my inner fires quite like drawing.

I was the victim of theft, the stolen goods my earliest, most cherished passion.

And whilst I try so hard not to regret, it is something I will never truly get over.


[Featured image: plain black background imprinted, in stark grey upper case, sans serif letters, with the words “A PASSION, STOLEN”.]

In praise of the brick

A row of brightly coloured, plastic Lego minifigures, in a range of poses and mismatched costumes, carrying a wide variety of props.
In between bouts of abject misery, whilst I’ve been off work over the summer holidays I’ve been immersed in a nice little obsession that has gripped every single member of our four-person household.

My husband was always a huge Lego fan as a child, and was always eager, from her birth, for our girl to reach an age where she might, just might, develop an interest in it. And although she showed little interest in the larger Duplo blocks as a toddler, that interest did come as she approached three, and for the past couple of years, building increasingly off-the-wall creations with those little coloured plastic bricks, plates and “elements” has been one of dad and daughter’s chief ways of bonding.

It’s hard to get her to put down the hardback Lego Ideas books she stays awake at night poring over. It’s an outlet for her feverish, ever-active, ever-inspired imagination. And it’s a compulsive habit for all of us.

As a child, Lego was simply one of the many things I played with. My younger brother had space and police sets. I gravitated towards the classic, multicoloured stuff and mainly built houses. Or house layouts. Single-storey roofless semi-open plan buildings with every room, and every appliance accounted for. All fairly basic. I enjoyed the creativity inherent in trying to replicate the look and feel of everyday items using materials constrained in their shape or colour. But the primary outlet for my wilder imaginings as a child was drawing. 

Now, however, it’s a different story. We have masses of the stuff. My husband takes great enjoyment in building pre-designed sets straight from the box. Daughter initially watched him build, enthralled, but these days takes a far more active role. And later, when the purchased, assembled sets are dismantled (and I have to disregard the inner wince I experience as the strict inventory of bricks from one set is mingled in with the rest of our stash of plastic), my daughter starts inventing. She also loves collecting minifigures, but is always happy, once again, to dismantle their intended forms and create her own monster minifigure mashups.

Our toddler is captivated by it all. Of course, his involvement has mainly, until now, consisted of dismantling his sister’s creations (and yet never smashing. He’s always take them apart bit by bit, examining the pieces) or running off with much-needed elements. Now he’s sorting the bits into type, assessing and grouping sizes and shapes, building towers of bricks of one particular type or another, and showing a level of dexterity and manual strength I’m pretty amazed at for a not-quite-two-year-old.

(And yes, I know he’s not old enough for it. He should stick to his Duplo. But he doesn’t put the bits in his mouth. He plays with them. Properly. He puts them together logically, and takes them apart. We supervise him. And we’re all happy.)
Front view of a small two-storey model house constructed primarily of beige, grey and brown Lego bricks, with double doors, white framed windows and navy blue roof tiles. In the front doorway stands a blank faced minifigure wearing a tricorn hat. On a balcony on the right of the picture stands a simple two-eyed 'ghost' constructed of white bricks.
And although it’s always been my husband’s domain (as the stay-at-home parent, he’s always had more available time), over the holidays I’ve really got in on the act.

Lego is just so phenomenally pleasing. It’s tactile. Stimmy. And despite the fact I’m hugely, and often adversely, sensitive to noise, I find myself enjoying the sound of the bricks as they crash and rattle through my hands as I run them through the box, searching for the right element. It’s akin to white noise, I suppose.

The design of each individual element can be utterly exquisite. And the beauty of the sets you can buy suggests that those who designed them had a hell of a lot of fun in putting those ideas together. Some are beguiling in their apparent simplicity; others dazzlingly, deliciously complex. Others still, especially those builds on a micro scale, make my heart sing with the way the very essence of an animal, person or object is conveyed by such a limited combination of component parts. 

Of course, there’s so much more scope now than there was when I was a child. The range of available elements is astonishing. And sometimes this raises expectations too high. You have a seemingly ridiculous range of materials from which to build from, and yet not quite enough of certain items to build your envisaged design to absolute perfection. Perhaps tighter constraints are, sometimes, liberating. But variety can also be hugely fun, and hugely exciting.

The interior of a small two-story house made of Lego bricks. On the left is a brown staircase with a 'Mr Hyde' type figures standing in it. A small 'ghost' peers out of a first floor door, and a larger one stands on the ground floor, to the right of the picture. Dimly visible in the background is a minifigure wearing a tricorn hat.This week, I built a haunted house for my daughter, at her request. It was an addictive process. I’ve struggled to tear myself away from the build, and once again, I’ve found myself utterly immersed, compelled. Always keen to improve on the structure and appearance of the thing.

At night, I’ve seen bricks in my mind’s eye. And even while ‘Picture This’ was playing in my head as I took my “need for space” walk earlier this week, and I noticed leaf formations, the shapes of trees, the light of the moon in the sky, and my feelings about past walks and past personal experiences and depressive episodes, I still found myself looking at buildings anew. Evaluating and appraising their structures, and wondering how such a thing might be conveyed in studded plastic form.

Daughter added embellishments, decor and furniture to the house, and two out of the three simple brick-ghost inhabitants. The husband added a couple of spooky minifigures.

A two-storey house built of brown, grey and beige Lego bricks. A simple 'ghost' made of white bricks stands in an upstairs balcony.It’s the most complex thing I’ve ever built out of Lego. And I’m bloody pleased with it. But also dissatisfied because I’m aware there are better techniques for ensuring structural integrity, optimum ordering of building of each part, and so on. The pattern-spotting, detail-fixated autist in me sees room for improvement everywhere, and a keenness to learn, observe, and do more. The trouble is, I’ll be back at work soon. I’ll have less time.

But I don’t think I can let go of Lego. It’s got me, dammit.