“You’ll have a tale or two of your own to tell when you come back” The unexpected Journey of Confidence

How Martin Freeman Almost Lost 'The Hobbit' Role – The Hollywood Reporter
Bilbo Baggins – Warner Bros/New Line Cinema

No this is not Martin Freeman writing this – yes that is a photograph of him as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s adaption of Tolkien’s The Hobbit. This is the scene as Bilbo charges after the dwarves and a confused old Hobbit shouts “hey Mr Bilbo, where ye off to”? to which Bilbo replies “I’M GOING ON A ADVENTURE”. I think that entire scene as Howard Shores beautiful faster played version of The Shire theme plays in the background is my favorite part because its that mood of excitement and indeed adventure and also uncertainty – Bilbo may well be excited about what he is doing but he also does not know if he will come back to Bag End to tell the tale.

Now my own adventure certainly does not have that much severity in it! I know that I am coming home at the end of it – I suppose in some familiar form as the Hobbit and also The Lord of the Rings – the journey of Confidence from the East Coast to the West Coast is basically a adaption of The Fellowship of the Ring with The Two Towers and The Return of the King still to come.

Thankfully there are many elements in this story that are not true – for example we haven’t lost a warrior to three arrows in the chest shot by a Uruk Hai of Isenguard nor have two Hobbits been kidnapped mistaken for carrying some crocked old piece of jewelry that somehow controls the world nor have two of our company decided to walk into a dangerous country followed by a crawling bloke with a sore throat who is obsessed with gold! No – thankfully none of the above has happened to us, we all survived to tell the tale and we plan to go back and continue that tale as soon as we can. But why can’t we tell you the whole story now? Lets read on and find out.

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Confidence in her berth at Port Edgar Marina

As Autism on the Water (AOTW) started to really grow despite a global pandemic – my dream to provide autistic people with more sailing opportunities started to grow even larger. For a long time, I dreamed of my charity having another boat in addition to the Hunter 707 racing yacht we already had. I did not want another racer, I wanted a cruiser but a cruiser which was stable, had plenty sail area and options and also the addition of indoor as well as outdoor steering, this would enable those who did not feel comfortable or safe on deck to retreat below deck and still be able to drive the boat from inside. When asked by a friend if I thought I could swindle it into life – my response was “never”. Boats come with a big financial commitment and whilst AOTW was strong financially with increasing support, the thought of a second boat made me worry that I would let people down if we could not make it work. Until one cold and wet day in November in late 2020 at Port Edgar, I spotted a Colvic Victor 34 motorsailer sitting on the hard – she looked tired and had sat there for a while – but she was the boat that I knew ticked the boxes for what I wanted to do with my charity going forwards in the future. A random conversation with a friend named Stevie Bramall soon turned into perhaps the most frighting and nerve wracking email I have ever sent in my life to the family of as it was known at the time “Victoria M” and I explained what I did and how I wanted their boat. They accepted that I wanted it and were willing to hold onto it to see if I could raise the capital.

Cutting a story short (the prologue in the Fellowship of the Ring was longer!) a spectacular fundraising drive saw AOTW raise the funds to purchase Victoria M after a staggering 27 hours of fundraising and as of early December, AOTW became official owners of this boat. To say I was not shocked would be a lie. I was absolutely over the moon that we had managed to reach this moment and especially how we raised the money in such a short space of time. However I was also very nervous, this was a big buy, a massive investment to the charity and whilst it was a big asset, I worried at how big or little I could deliver with this boat – but we had it and so I had to at least try! I will not go into the depths of the full refit but the legendary Jock Blair along with my close friend Colin Robertson and Gerry Fitzgerald worked all hours to bring the boat back to a full seaworthy condition – many hours were spent varnishing, painting, sponging, refitting, re-wiring, hammering and nailing to bring this boat back to life. I owe so much to these three gentleman but especially Jock Blair who went beyond the call of duty to ensure that the work he did was to 100% satisfactory. AOTW will forever be in Jock’s debut for the contribution he has made to our charity.

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Enjoying the comfort of the wheelhouse!

With the boat fully launched by my dear grandmother on the 19th April – attention turned to preparing for the delivery trip from Port Edgar to the Crinan Canal and finally Rhu Marina where the boat will be eventually based. Timings of sea trials and engine trials were unfortunately delayed for various reasons but we managed to get out for a days sail out of Port Edgar with myself, Jock, Gerry, Colin, Graham Cannell and Graham’s friend Haken. It felt wonderful to finally after so long take Confidence out on the water and see how she sailed. For those who wonder where the name Confidence comes from – the name was suggested by a very very dear friend of mine who was heavily involved with the project, he is a friend who has stood by me thick and thin in the toughest and easiest times of life – he pointed out that one of the aims of AOTW was to enable Confidence into people with autism’s lives. He also pointed out how much confidence I had gained throughout both the running of my charity and also the whole project with this boat. I was touched by his remarks and his views and so the name Confidence was born and thus for AOTW a new era was born. The sea trial was now done, the boat handled beautifully (reaching 8kts on a reach), we even flew a spinnaker and also the engine ran well. I was very confident that Confidence would reach her new home on the west coast with no issues.

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The night before departure

So Confidence was to undertake a journey practically from the east coast of Scotland to the west coast of Scotland. Why was she going west? Simple really – the west coast has more to offer, more facilities, more places to visit and also better relationships could be made on the west. Rhu Marina in Helensburgh as a premier marina on the Clyde offered shelter and also very easy access from both Glasgow and Edinburgh directly by train and bus. But to get to Rhu from Port Edgar is a challenge – the choices are limited, option 1 is to completely dismantle the boat and have her taken across by lorry which would be expensive and time consuming or prepare her enough for sea to sail her up the North Sea and through the Caledonian Canal via Oban, Crinan Canal and finally Rhu Marina. Now for those who have sailed the north sea, many will have a tale to tell – some are scary, some are pure gentle but many will turn round and say that they had a bit of everything on the North Sea. The east coast of Scotland whilst it is a adventure to explore has many drying out harbors, ferocious tides, big seas and many shipping obstacles. For this major trip, I recruited a team of experienced and close friends who were able, willing and fully aware of what was to come – but importantly for me, I wanted to share this experience with my friends and I will say now, I do not think I would have got this far without them.

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Port Edgar to Anstruther

On the morning of the 5th of May at 6am – Confidence departed Port Edgar on a beautiful but cold sunny morning crewed by Murray, Darren, Graham and Colin. It was a very cold morning with northerly winds but despite this, the feeling of “we are on our way” really felt amazing – our first duty was to lay a bunch of roses down on the Firth of Forth in memory of Lynk Clark a beautiful young boy with autism who tragically died aged 11. Lynk’s family requested no flowers at his funeral but to send donations to AOTW. This generosity and thoughtfulness was felt by all within the charity and we are eternally grateful to Lynk’s parents Roisin and Chris for their beautiful generosity and we sincerely hope that our own tribute to Lynk by laying flowers on the sea brings them some comfort during such a difficult time.

We continued our journey to Anstruther which would be our first overnight stop with the crew taking turns at helming throughout the day. A worry however was the discovery of a leak in the forward cabin in the anchor locker. A substantial amount of water was pouring in from the bobstay fitting of the boat. Despite a large amount of pumping and bailing, the water was still slowly coming in – discussions were had about potentially turning back and sorting a repair which would mean cancelling the trip – I think personally we would have done that had we not taken my close friend Darren Taylor – a qualified boat builder with us. Darren is like a brother to me, a experienced sailor and fantastic boat technician, we have had many differences both good and bad but throughout the last few years, we have become very close and always been there for each other through the toughest of times. His experience and also his wisdom is skills that I will forever take forwards in my sailing career. The experience myself and all my crew learnt from Darren on this trip will forever be invaluable.

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On arrival in Anstruther at 11am – the task was on to fix the leak! To do this required a large amount of silicon! Darren and I, along with Graham made a wander into this small seaside town where we found the local hardware shop. The proprietor was a kind local who ensured that we acquired the appropriate tools and equipment needed to do the repair. As the afternoon wore on, the tide slowly started to flow out of the harbour – so we moved all heavy equipment such as fuel tanks, anchors, ropes, chain, beer etc. to the stern of the boat, pumped the dinghy up and allowed Darren to do his magic. The bobstay fitting has two bolts attached to the bow of the hull – one of the bolts was pure knackered. Now because of where we were, finding new bolts was going to be a challenge – so Darren decided to construct a temporary repair to stop the leak until we reached the west coast – he took the two bolts out and swapped them – so the good bolt was now taking the pressure of water and he placed large amounts of silicon in place. Without plunging into further detail – his repair has been 100% effective, although there is still a small amount of water pouring in, Darren’s repair has stopped the leak and we are planning on a full substantial repair at the earliest opportunity.

The rest of the day was spent enjoying the relaxed amsophere of Anstruther and of course its famous Fish and Chips! The low tide which allowed Confidence to sit dry in her berth allowed plenty of humor both in person and on social media as our thoughts turned to a early night in preparation for a long passage the next day.

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Anstruther to Peterhead

A 8:30am departure following a top up of water and a full safety briefing on board before the long passage ahead. We left Anstruther to a lumpy sea and gusty winds, the direction of wind at first saw us rolling out the Genoa for a swift run towards the North Carr buoy. Because of the wind strength, we were that quick that we had to start furling away the genoa. Crew differences were tested during this period which saw various opinions raised and concerns pointed out – however in my first role as skipper of a big passage, I gathered my crew on deck to discuss and sort everything out to ensure that we were all safe and happy to continue our passage north.

As the day wore on, we made our way north with each of the crew taking turns to be on the helm – hour on, hour off system which worked really well between the four of us. The engine at this point was holding up very well and all sails were kept stowed away with the need to make passage up the North Sea to Inverness as quickly as possible and also with the constant headwinds which made any point of sail difficult on the course we were steering too. As we worked our way up the east coast, the wind remained light and shifty but the sun shone and it was wonderful to catch a glimpse of the Bell Rock Lighthouse many miles away in the distance. In a long passage, energy is always required so cuppa soups, pot noodles and many teas and coffees were always on hand throughout the day to keep spirits up and everyone hydrated.

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As time wore on, we continued to work our way up the coast, encountering various rain squalls and numerous spells of sunshine – clever tidal calculations had us hitting 6-7kts most of the way and so we were making good time on our passage to Peterhead. Off Stonehaven and completely out of the blue we saw the Coastguard helicopter. Now when we usually see a helicopter, we usually give it a wave or point out in awe! However we could not help noticing that this aircraft was hovering rather low and very close to us! What was going on? Literally 20 minutes beforehand, I had received a email informing me that I had been chosen to receive the “Point of Light” award from the Prime Minister in reflection to all my community service and for AOTW – this was huge stuff and one that was making me swell up! However at this point the helicopter had arrived – was someone going to come and surprise me with a announcement? Had some petty person dobbed us in to the Covid police? Why would anyone do that? We weren’t doing anything wrong – we were a bubble of close friends! We’d all taken tests and came back negative – what was going on?!

Quite simple really! Graham – bless him – was in the habit as his role of navigator by reporting to the coastguard on the VHF radio on our movements – I personally did not see the point but each to their own! The Coastguard were out on exercise and upon earlier hearing that we were making passage, they decided to do a exercise on us! To say that I was not totally SHITTING MYSELF would be a major lie because this experience was like reliving either a maritime movie or a documentary. The crew however were all extremely excited at this experience and iPhones and cameras were deployed to capture the moment at every opportunity! The coastguard hovered over us for at least 15-20 minutes before eventually flying away not before giving a big wave of thanks for our co-operation with them during their exercise – it was not the Balin’s Tomb in the Mines of Moria but it was still the most exciting part of the North Sea!

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After we had recovered from the excitement of the Coastguard dropping by for Tea and biscuits, we pushed on up the coast as the early evening came down upon us. We were still making good time with a good tide – however the challenge of the whole trip was constantly keeping a weather eye out for notorious seafood creels that fishermen laid across the stretch of coast with Scotland being a major seafood export, its no surprise that we were used to seeing their produce across the various stretches of water we are so used to sailing in.

Aberdeen came into our sights around 7-8pm. This area of water was were navigation skills were tested especially as a vicious rain sqaull came in bringing 30kts of wind, dark clouds and heavy hailstones which made sight for driving the boat extremely difficult – not a good place to be when trying to cross what is effectively the on water version of the M9 from Glasgow to Edinburgh but instead trying to avoid the hundreds of ships going to and from Aberdeen. We managed to pick our way away from the main shipping lane but this resulted in a 12 mile detour offshore to avoid the one ship that was near us to which I still do not understand to this day why we went so far away. But every day is a school day and we eventually passed away from Aberdeen for our destination of Peterhead which we anticipated to be only a few hours from now.

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Darkness came upon us as the tide turned and the speed dropped. We very soon had wind and tide against us so our speed went from 6-7kts down to 3-4kts. Peterhead was in sight but that last stretch to there felt like a eternity – almost like how Aragon, Legolas and Gimli must have felt running across the Plains of Rohan. My strict rule for this trip was for no overnight or in the dark passages but for long day trips as in 12 hour passages with the intention of tying up before dark each day – some hope! The navigation lights were switched on for the first time ever and they worked! However the wind picked up and was reaching 30-35kts with a large sea. Peterhead is a sheltered but also exposed marina where most North Sea crossers or passagers run to hide when it gets rough. Darren took the helm with Graham navigating as Colin and I took watch for the large amount of creels that littered the area around Peterhead. The rain came with a vengeance as did the wind as we battled our way into port – having been at sea for so long, we just desperately wanted to get in! At 00:00hrs on the dot – Confidence docked into Peterhead having logged 85 nautical miles from Anstruther – the feeling on board with the majority being tired was of sincere achievement that this boat had handled perhaps the most difficult part of the trip and the fact we had done such a long passage on a new boat to all of us showed that the boat was capable. The cans of Tennents and Magners were very much deserved and despite the long day, it was nearly 4am when some of us crawled into our bunks!

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Peterhead to Lossiemouth

Following the long previous day, we treated ourselves to a long lie the next day. Peterhead Marina were incredibly generous to us by kindly giving our berth and gas bottle for free in support of the charity. Darren and me took the chance to have a short walk to stock up on supplies at Lidal’s whilst Colin and Graham refulled and refilled with water. The diesel was holding up well as was the engine and we had every confidence going forwards as we got closer to Inverness. We now had to face the notorious Rattery Head which for the east coasters is known as the “Cape Horn of Scotland”. We departed from Peterhead at 11am in gusty conditions and lumpy seas as we returned back out to sea with 60 nautical miles to go until we reached Lossiemouth.

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By lunchtime, with tide a little against us, we were rounding Rattery Head but from offshore. My lack of offshore passages came back to haunt me as for the first time proper in my 20+ years of sailing, I felt seasick! The seas were large and the winds were gusty but we pushed on – After drinking 4 bottles of water, taking a seasick pill and a stint on the helm, I started to feel myself again. As we cleared Rattery Head and made our way down the coast passing Whitehills and MacDuff, the wind reduced but left a rather uncomfortable sea which was nowhere near as bad as earlier but still uncomfortable nonetheless but the sun shone and even the temperatures warmed up a little – we took time to reflect on a fantastic journey as we started to approach back in land a bit more and finally leaving the North Sea behind us.

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The day wore on with us once again taking turns on the helm. We managed to even eat some decent food as Darren put our brand new gas oven to the test and produced some nicely heated scotch pies and scotch eggs – delicious! The sun shone as we made our way towards Lossiemouth and started to go down and we were treated to a gorgeous sunset.

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As we approached Lossiemouth, I decided as skipper to take the boat into the harbour and berth her in the dark. I knew that I needed to start parking the boat more and so parking in the dark would be a great opportunity. With calm guidance from Darren, we made our way slowly into Lossiemouth marina where we successfully berthed at 10pm – 11hrs after leaving Peterhead. The day had been shorter then the previous day but still tiring and we made no hesitation in grabbing our wash bags and towels and making our way to the marina showers for a glorious hot shower after 2 very long days before settling down for the usual sun downer dram!

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Lossiemouth to Inverness

A 5am alarm call saw us up sharp to prepare for the final ocean leg to Inverness and the Caledonian Canal where we would have plenty shelter. Big breeze was forecast and we wanted to get to Inverness before that hit us. Lossiemouth Marina very generously similar to Peterhead allowed us to berth there for free and use their facilities to which we were very grateful. We also sadly said goodbye to Darren who had to return to work at Craobh Haven. I want to personally say a massive thank you to my Teddy Bear (Darren!) who made such a massive contribution to this important leg of the trip with his experience and knowledge having grown up in this stretch of water sailing with his dad Jeff. Darren’s experience that I personally took away from this trip is something that I will never ever forget and although we have had differences in the past with opinions in both sailing and also other areas, his friendship means more to me then anything and I feel so blessed to have such a kind hearted, gifted and beautiful individual in my life who cares about the interests of what I do.

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Leaving Lossiemouth, we were treated to beautiful downwind conditions that actually saw us deploy both the genoa and mizzen sail. Our sails were made by Owen Sails and discounted specially for the charity – it is great to have this company involved with AOTW as I have personally been involved with Owen Sails all my life so it is great to have them part of my project to provide more sailing activity for autistic people.

The sun shone and the breeze freshened as we made our way towards Inverness sailing at a steady 8kts with sails and engine on. As we approached the stretch of water that leads to Inverness, we doused sails and I took on the role of navigator to pilot into the Caledonian Canal. The approach to Inverness is a beautiful moment especially when the infamous dolphins come alongside you and swim with you as you motor along. Graham especially has a deep love for these creatures and I am sure he had a full Daily Mirror’s coverage of photographs of Dolphins to share for life!

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With such a good tide and following breeze – we made passage under the Kessock Bridge just outside of Inverness and arrived into Clachnaharry Sea lock at the entrance of the Caledonian Canal at 12:30pm.

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40 nautical miles since leaving Lossiemouth and over 200 nautical miles since leaving Port Edgar – this moment marked a major achievement not just for AOTW but for everyone on board. We had encountered a big passage with a variety of wind conditions and weather conditions. It personally for me was a massive achievement getting my charity’s yacht so far in its first voyage and now it was plain sailing for the remainder of the journey as we entered more familiar waters – at least that is what we thought at the time!!

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Inverness to Fort Augustus

Now safely in the Caledonian Canal and thankfully missing out the storms – we could finally relax and enjoy the remainder of the trips and not put too much pressure on ourselves. To help us through the canal, my beautiful and dear friend Katie very kindly came up from Dundee to assist us through the canal. Katie and I met just before Christmas, she is now a major part of the AOTW team and also a very close friend of mine, I really do not think I would have sanely got through this second lockdown without her friendship – she has always been there for me since we met and always been the first to wish me a “Good Morning” every day. For her to accept a invitation to come and join us for this trip was considered by me as a real honour.

The sun shone brightly and with no wind, maneuvering in the locks was much easier compared to the day before when it was blowing over 25kts! The Caledonian Canal is a beautiful stretch of water and it is where you are guaranteed everything from city life to absolute country life! Our passage from Inverness through the locks and eventually entering Loch Ness was most enjoyable with many people giving us a wave and even some sending me emails after seeing us from afar and wanting to know more about the charity.

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We entered Loch Ness and settled down to a nice quiet motor down the loch towards Fort Augustus which was just over 20 nautical miles away. There was a little rain in the loch and also some wind however despite setting some sail – it was deemed too fickle and light to make any progress so it was furled away and attention was brought back to the engine! We all sat in the comfort of the wheelhouse enjoying the beautiful surroundings with a dram of Talisker whisky which we did a mandatory job of throwing one over the side to the Loch Ness Monster! No she never appeared – she must have been sleeping!

We arrived into the Fort Augustus pontoons at 6pm after a truly great day. Our only issues was we were all suffering from lack of heating on the boat! The North Sea had been very cold and we were waking up to freezing conditions every morning! We now had thankfully bought electric heaters to plug into shore power however where we were had water but no shore power! Sod’s luck! Nevertheless we could not complain about being where we were with the company of lots of ducks and a beautiful rainbow and also being one of two boats in the traditionally busiest spot of the canal.

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Fort Augustus and the Breaking of the Fellowship!

Next morning, we awoke to sunshine and a real vibe on board the boat to continue our journey – our plan was to make for the Neptune’s staircase at Fort William which would take us out to sea and into Oban before heading south. The engine was turned on and whilst it went on with no issues, the oil alarm was ringing which indicated low oil. Engine shut down straight away and Colin discovered that there was no oil in the engine – a trip to the petrol station to purchase more oil and upon return to the boat, Graham expressed concern that there was a leak and that the engine needed to be disconnected and lifted out the boat. Sheer disbelief entered me at the absolute thought of this – we made it this far, we had battled the north sea and here we were in the Caledonian Canal with this problem. However we were not going to give in easily and after a couple of phone calls, Robert from the West End garage generously came down with a couple of bottles of fresh oil and got the engine started – with this done, we decided to make to the top of the locks and checking all systems before moving on. Upon tying up at the pontoons, we fitted in a new shore power system and discussed our next movements – Colin checked underneath the floorboards and discovered that there was nothing but pure oil. Indicating a severe oil leak in the engine. Colin and Graham are close friends and always have my absolute best interests at heart and this part of the story is very hard for me to write about, but they took a walk to discuss their concerns and opinions and returned back to me to inform me that the boat was not safe to continue the journey with the leak.

This moment was extremely hard for me to comprehend – for weeks I had pictured and planned this journey with each time and date of each moment – sudden change for a autistic person and indeed any person is extremely hard and this situation was no different. So what did I do? Did I just sit there and nod my head at their views? No I did not, I felt insulted and ganged up upon by the situation especially with me as the skipper of the boat and technically the man in charge. Now I am not one to get angry and have melt downs in front of my friends and a serious meltdown was coming fast – so I ran and I ran! I walked fiercely down the set of locks that we had navigated through just hours previously, I did not look, see, feel or smell anything, I just walked with no idea or thought of what I was going to feel or do, my body was numb and my heart was breaking around me. Colin chased after me and I totally blanked him – this was very very wrong of me, Colin is not just my friend, he is my brother and the way I treated him was totally unacceptable – I knew that from the moment I told him to leave me alone, but I also did not care at the time – it felt like the scene in Amon Hen where Aragon allows Frodo to journey alone but their parting was with love and respect and yet I treated Colin like he was nothing – all I wanted was to just sit on the edge of the loch and eventually fall into it. This whole project felt like it was falling down around me and it was tearing me apart.

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What seemed like hours l suspect it was – I eventually found myself to lift myself up from the edge of Loch Ness and return to the boat – the guys were away to the pub, should I join them? I did not know – I felt the damage had been done. I started the procedure of telephoning many marine mechanics to see who could come and help us – no one was free, with Covid restrictions easing, the boating world is becoming busy again and many are catching up on backlogged work from many months back.

Eventually, I made my way to the pub – I sat down with my crew who all stared at me, was it anger? was it disappointment? was it fear? I did not know. I told them my views and what the various people had explained to me in messages about what to do with the engine and whilst Graham and Katie sat and listened, Colin vented out his frustrations very clearly which cued for Graham and Katie to make a hasty departure from the table and leave me and Colin to it. Colin expressed how upset he was at the way I had been with him and what the situation was and how I had to learn to be a man. This conversation with such a close friend reminded me of Frodo trying to leave the Fellowship and Sam tries to follow him into the water knowing he cannot swim. The earlier scenes of Colin following me as I ran towards the loch reminded me of that moment in the film and me pushing Colin away was like allowing Sam to drown.

My chat with Colin in the pub was deep and insightful and he expressed his love and respect for me which again reminded me of Sam saying “I made a promise Mr Frodo, a promise – don’t you leave him Samwise Gamgee and I don’t mean too, I don’t mean too”. Colin expressed to me how much he cared for me and how proud he was of me which broke me down into tears as I took into reflection on the behavior I had caused that day to those closest to me. I apologized to Colin whilst tears flooded down my face and my hands shook – he stood up walked round my side of the table and put my arms around me and assured me that I would fight this situation and get through it. We made up as brothers, brothers who love each other dearly and we started to plan for what we could do to resolve the situation whilst enjoying many pints of beer and a large Chinese takeaway on board the boat!

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The next day dawned a fresh start as we successfully managed to find a mechanic to come and look at the leak in the engine. Tristen who is from Findhorn traveled all the way from his home to Fort Augustus to the boat where he discovered the source of the leak – a loose hose! He had that repaired within minutes and fresh oil in. Whilst there he discovered that one of the fuel pipes was leaking and he asked if he could return that night to fix it – I was so touched as he traveled back at 9pm that night and had our pipes and leaks all sorted and despite having to isolate one of the fuel tanks, everything was good to go for the next day – we will forever be grateful to Tristen for the help and support he has given AOTW.

The next day dawned and we were full of energy – desperate to get back underway again. Colin and Katie departed for home and the return to commitments and work leaving me and Graham to carry on alone. I turned the key for the engine only to be greeted with a “clunk”. Having heard this clunk before, I took it as a indication that the batteries were flat so we promptly put them on charge and went for breakfast. Upon returning to the boat with the batteries now significantly charged – we attempted to start the engine again and the “clunk” happened again. A visit to the West End Garage to borrow a set of jump leads led to nothing but the same “Clunk”. What was going on? A FaceTime call to my amazing Stepdad Pete had us trying everything in the engineers book to getting started but still nothing happened and we were left with no choice but to call Caley Marine in Inverness and request a mechanic to come and have a look – their man would travel out at 8am the following day which meant yet another night in Fort Augustus – the wildlife must be getting so pissed off with us now!

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8am the following day and Gerry the mechanic arrived – surely he will get us going?! He made a throughout inspection of the engine and discovered a major problem – the engine exhaust was knackered and was allowing water to ingest into the engine – the system that it was built on was not suitable for the boat and so a new anti syphon is needed. The good news is he managed to get the engine started but has insisted that it must not be started until the repair is done – but the bad news is it cannot be done until the 1st June.

The heartbreak and substantial amount of tears that went down my face upon hearing the 1st of June absolutely broke me – this means that Confidence will now miss the Crinan Canal event and also the Scottish Series – both events that we had worked so so so hard to prepare the boat for to attend and now it cannot happen. I am totally destroyed at this especially given the dreams I had for this boat. I never lost my temper, I never cried on the phone, I just said thank you very much and put the phone down – I then went onto Facebook live to inform the followers of the charity with what was going on. The love and support I received from so many was just out of this world, no one got angry, no one got upset, all I got was love and best wishes on a successful repair. And Confidence WILL get a successful repair, she is in the right hands to operate that repair and she will continue her journey south at the earliest opportunity possible. One thing I learnt from this whole experience is to take everything like this with a pinch of salt and always prepare myself.

The consolation is we can still proceed with our Crinan Canal event with the one boat taking part. We can still provide that experience for the 17 autistic people taking part in this event – as sad as it is that Confidence will not make it, I am just delighted we can still provide that experience.

I am now back in Edinburgh and working hard to prepare for the day that Confidence will be ready to continue her journey to her new home at Rhu Marina – whilst I do not wish to go through these problems again, I cannot deny that the experiences I gained from the entire trip will take me forwards to greater things in life. It is now 3:30am here at home and I must go to bed but before signing off i must extend my thanks to Colin, Graham and Katie and most of all to my dear Darren for without him I would not have gained these skills that I needed to go forwards with Confidence and it is that that I dedicate this piece of writing to him.

For now – as we enter the misty hills of Emyn Muil in our own version we prepare for our post production which will be our return to Confidence! So for now goodnight and thank you for reading!

The Journey Continues!

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Fight the Present – Plan the Future

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What feels like now a eternity ago even though it has only been a few weeks – we are now in 2021. 2021 was supposed to start with positivity and indeed, it did. The vaccines are finally being rolled out now across the UK. But in retrospect – despite this we are now back to square one and 50 times worse then we were back in March 2020. We have returned to a full scale lockdown.

How did it come to this? Last time I wrote to you all, I was preparing for Christmas and really looking forward to the prospect of finally being reunited with close family which was my brother Martin and his fiance Phoebe. With only two days until I was due to depart, on a cold Saturday night as everyone prepared to spend a unusual but at least a positive Christmas in minimal groups – both Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon very unexpectedly at 5:30pm that evening announced that the planned relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions over 5 days between 23rd-27th December were to be scrapped and all travel across the UK was to become against the law. This was absolutely soul destroying! The reasons were understandable, a new variant of the virus had been discovered which is much more transmissible and forced the government to take drastic action. Yet why on earth in the first place did they even agree to relax rules for Christmas?! By doing this whilst it was nice to be considered gave people the chance to get excited, plan travel, buy presents, buy food and be ready for a great Christmas – then 5 days before the big day, the relaxation is scrapped and only allowed for Christmas day only and in addition, Sturgeon announced that Scotland would move into Level 4 which nears a full lockdown.

I was broken hearted. Never before in my lifetime had I been alone for Christmas or not seen any family. But my wide circle of friends did not betray me and graciously ensured that I was not alone on Christmas day and invited me to join them for Christmas dinner. It was a emotionally hard day on Christmas day, waking up alone, opening presents under my tree on my own and opening the traditional bottle of Prosecco on my own. We are lucky now to live in a world of such technology that things like Facetime, Houseparty, Messenger and Whatsapp means we can connect to the world. I spent all morning on Christmas day phoning and video calling literally half my phone book! Back in the World War, none of that existed.

One thing however I learnt – I am lucky, as in so incredibly lucky to have such loving and caring friends who live nearby and who came to my aid over Christmas to ensure I was looked after. But I also knew that many many others would be worse off – some were students who couldn’t get home and had to stay with flatmates, some tested positive and had to self isolate, others were completely alone with no one and some had young children and no income. So I decided to do something about that and bring both Christmas joy and indeed community spirit to Edinburgh.

May be an image of Murray MacDonald

I decided to make soup! I love soup, it’s like the greatest food that warms you up and I think you could describe it as “happy cure of depression food”. So I posted on The Meadows Facebook Page which is a community group of over 46,000 members and offered to make soup for absolutely anyone who needed it asking for no payment but simply to click “like” on Autism on the Water. The response has been unbelievable – the community of Edinburgh have given me nothing but kindness and good vibes and since Christmas I have cycled 100 miles around the city and delivered around 60-70 containers of soup to people. In just 4 weeks, Autism on the Water went from 3100 followers to now over 6000! Seeing these people smile and get looked after by me makes me happy because my family and friends have done that for me all my life and continue to do so today. We all need a little love just now and I will repeat over and over again – you need anything, you ask!

We faced such a strict Christmas – but only a week or so later, our lives became more stricter. We are back in lockdown, laws have been passed to make non essential travel illegal, shops are shut except the essential ones, supermarkets are fully enforcing things such as facemasks unless exempt, schools are closed, takeaway pints are now banned, click and collect and going inside a takeaway restaurant is now illegal. The virus is now A LOT worse than last year, cases are in the thousands everyday, hospitals are now starting to become overwhelmed and very sadly deaths are rising. Where did we go wrong with all this? Nearly a year of this shambolic handling of this pandemic and we are nowhere near returning to what used to be normal. Look at New Zealand who got it right from day 1, they shut their borders, they imposed a super 10 week strict lockdown, came out in stages opening up here and opening up there and the end results after little under 3 months have returned to pretty much full normality. The vaccine roll out is indeed positive and I think we all have to take this into account – vaccines will give us a way out – but the overall question is how much longer realistically can the government keep these restrictions going? We need lockdown, we need to protect the NHS and keep us all safe and save lives – but the people’s question is “how long”? No one knows, that is the simple answer.

I have strongly advocated for autism over the past year throughout the pandemic, trying to raise awareness of the rights of autistic people such as exemptions from face coverings, social bubbles etc. Much of that has been met to me by people who call me selfish, accuse me of endangering people’s lives and how I should be locked up until this is over. Seriously I really don’t know why some people have nothing better to do then bully someone online about opinions of this pandemic. You are entitled to your opinion but don’t you dare ever turn round and ever accuse me of “endangering people’s lives”. I am a tolerant human and I try not to lose my rag at nonsense like this, but I will if anyone ever says that to me again. I play my part like many others in protecting others from this virus and following as much of the guidance and rules as I physically and mentally can. And now this brings me to my next point………MENTAL HEALTH!

January is usually a tough month for everyone but it is NOTHING compared to normal January. We are in a full and stricter lockdown where even people’s bubbles are being more cautious which they are fully entitled to do – but and this is where people as well as waking up to the reality of Covid need to wake up also to the vast reality of mental health. The government has completely ignored mental health of those throughout this pandemic – it affects everyone in so many different ways and whilst these restrictions are needed to protect others and protect the NHS, it sadly is also resulting in the loss of people through suicide. A couple of weeks ago on the program “This Morning” it was reported that four 17 year old teenagers took their own lives because they could not cope with both lockdown and isolation. That is someone’s son or daughter who had their whole life ahead of them and ended it because they could not cope with this. Has the government announced any recognition of that? Sadly not. Mental Health is so badly neglected right now.

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What could I do to help? How could I show the world exactly what life is like being alone in a lockdown and how the mentality of this can drive someone to end their life or fade away? I have suffered from mental health severely over the last few months and continue to do so today. I thought back on the last 4 months in particular and everything mental health wise I had been through and what I was currently going through. This processed onto me spending 13 hours creating a film called “Life in Lockdown”. The film is randomly made with no script, it is all made up as I went along. It tells the story of my life in lockdown and reenacts sections of what mental health has done to me as a result of being in lockdown. Each scene is acted out and as a warning some of the scenes are distressing – it was emotional for me to return to these experiences and act them out – but it is needed! So many are alone right now. I have no one right now, no family nearby, no bubble – just me and Hey Google who I refer too as “Sheryl”. The film starts off very dark and sad but ends with positivity with a important message at the end “Stay Home, Protect the NHS and save lives……….but check on those who are alone even if it means breaking a lockdown rule slightly”. One knock at the window could save someone’s life.

Since making that video – it has been seen by 4.2K people! I have had messages and emails from friends across the world and total strangers thanking me for sharing such a powerful story. No thanks are needed by what is needed is more realisation that mental health can also lead to sadly more younger deaths and tragically last week – I was unfortunate to be in the thick of this.

A friend of mine on the autistic spectrum, only 22 years old tragically took her own life. We were talking on the phone and she hung up on me and despite 20 odd attempts to call her back, I could not get through. I had to make the devastating call to the ambulance and even more tragically I did not know where she lived. By the time they had found her address and got there, she was dead. That dark and cold Sunday night will forever haunt me for the rest of my life. I wish beyond anything that I could have done more to save her. I could have but sadly it was just too late. I was up all that night crying and in shock that she actually took her life. On Monday morning I had to go to the police station and make a statement about our final phone call. The police were so kind and caring and they did not rush me through any of the process and reassured me that nothing could have been done. I send her family my deepest condolences and love at this extremely difficult time and once again appeal to the world to please please check on anyone who may try to do something similar. It is not much to ask.

May be an image of Murray MacDonald

Time is a great healer. I will never forget my friend and I will honour her memory by continuing to raise awareness of both Autism and Mental Health through the remainder of this ongoing pandemic. If there is one benefit of lockdown right now, its a perfect chance to tell a story. I have spoken to multiple newspapers in recent days such as Daily Record, The Student and Deadline News about my soup initiative and Autism on the Water. The response again has been fantastic with more likes for my charity, more people reaching out about their mental health and in general more people are starting to understand. If all of us could leave behind a legacy it is to be more understanding and think before you say and respect that the answer your seeking may not be the one you want to hear.

Aside from newspapers, BBC Radio Scotland even got in touch with me to come on their show via telephone to say a few words and thank some special people. “Mornings with Kaye Adams” was a privilege and honour to a part of a great opportunity to thank The Meadows Share and my friends Gerry, Graham and Katie for all their help and support. If you want to listen, here is the link – scroll to 1:30:00 to hear my bit.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000rlhc?fbclid=IwAR25U8g-Oh0P_L-apCn8LFrHZRvN7WD3jFS-3aPoDHRpxAZeciX-wSlavXE

I encourage all of you to once again please check on those who are living alone and just simply make sure they are okay. Please watch my film and keep sharing it – the link you can find below.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/16OFzH0m8IcjIHevRv3zJQf6HUkBdSAUT/view?usp=sharing

As always I like to thank people in my blogs or post but for this one – I want to thank a new friend of mine and that is Katie. Katie is a sailor and a wonderful influence currently in my life. She and I chat everyday, we send postcards to each other and we are there for each other virtually when we need it. We all need that special someone in our life and Katie is that person to me. But you don’t need one special person, we can have as many special persons as we so wish. So if you need me – I will be your special person. Thank you Katie 🙂

I also want to pay tribute to a dear friend of mine who is currently ill with Covid right now and has even spent a small amount of time in hospital. Whilst taking into account mental health and all the frustrations our lives our facing, please always bare in mind the dangers of this virus and do what you can to protect each other. If you can’t wear a mask for example be that little bit extra careful in the shops. Remember your pass if your exempt!

For now however, please stay safe all of you, protect NHS, stay at home etc. but check on those who are alone and help them if you can. If you can do one positive thing just now even with everything being so bleak – Fight what is happening in the Present and Plan for the future because one day this will be over and when it is we will remember those we lost and we will rebuild our lives and society TOGETHER!

With love to everyone!

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There’s a great big beautiful Tomorrow

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Epcot in Walt Disney World – Walt’s personalised creation of the future

The title of this blog is reference to a song sung by the Robert B Sherman and Richard M Sherman both of Disney fame and the writers of some of the greatest songs in the world – songs such as The Bare Necessities or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang have influenced our whole lives bringing joy to so many. The title of this blog “There is a great big beautiful Tomorrow” was sung by both brothers alongside Walt Disney for the New York World’s Fair back in the early 1960s. Disney being one of the greatest geniuses to have ever lived was passionate about the future and technology which was a big contribution to his own personalised creation of the theme park “Epcot” within the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Even as Walt sat dying on his hospital bed in 1966, he was using the tiles on the ceiling of his room to plan out his image of “Epcot”. Hours later Walt Disney died peacefully and his brother Roy delayed his retirement to oversee Walt’s vision of both Walt Disney World come to life which opened in 1971 and “Epcot” which opened in 1982 and still today remains a popular park of the four that exist within the resort. Walt’s dream and vision inspires many to realise that if you really want something as in you want is so much, then you work hard to bring that vision to life and sometimes we sit and think “nae chance we can ever manage that” and that is a very easy thought for anyone to do – but in this blog as you read on, you will see how Walt’s determination to bring “Epcot” to life inspired me to bring something to both life and reality.

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Sunrise from the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle

Since I last sat down to write on this blog, things have happened. As many of you know, back in October I went into a very deep depression which even myself worried about. I ignored people, messages, phone, messenger, even ignored myself. I went into a hole where I returned to self harm, even as blood washed out my left arm as I pierced it hard with a sharp pin, I did not feel the pain, I did not feel anything. I could have just drifted away into nothingness and not felt it. Until after 3 weeks of this, a close friend knocked on my bedroom window and threatened to break my window if I did not let him in and he meant it! He had the tools in the van and was ready to use them! He took me out to lunch for a bowl of leek and potato and laid into me gently that my way of doing things was not the way to do it. He eventually made me see that he was right in what he was saying. I spent the remainder of that afternoon phoning my family and then my friends apologising for my behaviour, some were as you suspect sympathetic and understanding, others were quite firm and angry at me for pushing them away and that is understandable. But that was October, so what have I been doing to make life that little bit better?

The photograph above is a beautiful sunrise from Edinburgh Castle. To experience that especially at this time of year involves getting up early and braving the typical Scottish weather of rain, cold, wind, frost and rain again! Some would look out the window and say “nae fuck that” and go back to bed. Oh how many times I thought that in my head but after a caffeine pill – it’s easy! Every morning, 5 days a week, my alarm goes off at 5:45am. I get up, take my tablet of caffeine, give myself time to let it kick in then I get showered, dressed and off I go out of the house around 7am with the first distant hints of dawn about to come above the sky. Edinburgh maybe a city but did you know that it is built on 7 hills? It explains to the cyclists why the fuck they feel so darn out of breath when they come home from a days cycling around the city! But above the hill is magic and that magic is scenery, scenery that some in the world have never experienced and for some never will. In the last couple of weeks, I have climbed Arthur’s Seat, Carlton Hill, Blackford Hill, Corstorphine Hill and Craiglockhart Hill. Sometimes with the weather, you don’t see the sunrise, but what you do experience even in the “bucketing rain” is sometimes beyond your own breath. It makes me feel incredibly lucky even with what the world is facing just now that we live in such a beautiful city and indeed a beautiful country. It makes me proud to be Scottish! Cycling to each hill and then walking or climbing up them sometimes in dangerous black ice or lethal wet mud has really made a massive difference to my own mental health and in truth to my own personality as a person. It goes to prove that you don’t need gyms, personal trainers, Joe Wicks etc. to get up and get motivated early in the morning. Your local gym can easily just be your local hill! By the time I am back home with a cup of tea and a hot buttered crumpet for breakfast, I feel so ready to take on the day and the challenges whatever it may bring and even though life for me is good right now, I am sure there may well be a time where I might or risk returning to that dark hole, but I now have the weapons to try and prevent that and that weapon is myself!

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Sun rising from Arthur’s Seat on Carlton Hill

Yet whilst I do all I can to make myself better, we have to still reflect on what is currently ongoing in the world which is of course the Coronavirus pandemic. COVID has ripped apart families and friends all across the world with many hundreds of thousands of loved ones now sadly no longer with us and their families and friends prepare for that first Christmas without them. Yes my friends, it is now Christmas time, a time where you’d usually see Edinburgh almost blocked with crowds as many pour into the city for Christmas shopping, visiting the iconic market with its big wheel and star flyer and joining in with many Christmas parties and gatherings across the city. This year there is no market, no parties, no gatherings – there is none of that this year. It breaks my heart to cycle around an almost deserted Princes Street at 7pm on a Friday night in December which should be one of the busiest nights of the December weeks. Instead it’s now littered in small packs of shoppers wearing face coverings and keeping themselves to themselves.

Our lives have changed because of this pandemic and the restrictions the governments have implemented to fight this virus. I am lucky that I have never been victim of this virus, but I know many who have including members of my own family and also sadly, I have lost friends to this virus and also many friends who sadly have taken their own lives because they could not cope with the current restrictions or ongoing ones. It terrifies me what this pandemic has done to people and the way it has changed people – some in a good way but sadly many in a bad way. Some understandably have been angry and frustrated in the way people break the rules or express their opinions. I have fallen out and also now no longer speak to a number of what used to be good friends because of our different opinions of this pandemic. We may have different opinions but the truth is we are entitled to that opinion and that should always be respected – but for the life of me why must a friendship finish because of what we don’t agree on?? It goes to show that no one is ever happy as long as their side is agreed on and never disagreed on. I have many opinions too of this pandemic and indeed of our government. It frustrates me for example the current tier system which in my view is bonkers! Why cannot the entire country just agree on one system and follow it! The evidence currently is that Edinburgh should be moved to Level 2 because of a substantial drop in cases – yet the government continue to keep the city in Level 3! I know people are scared, angry, frustrated etc. but why should the people of Edinburgh be punished when they have actually followed many of the rules. Who knows? No one does I think and sadly I do believe we will see a big spike in cases in January because of this ridiculous “break from restrictions” over Christmas. Yes it is positive that the governments of the UK want families and friends over the festive period – but what will the outcome of allowing that be? It is scary to think. I sincerely hope that as time goes in not just over Christmas but in general that the government will consider long term plans for those who work in hospitality and who’s prime time should be now! But instead many or indeed all of Edinburgh’s bars and restaurants continue to sit boarded up and await the outcome of their future.

You may sit there reading this and think I am disrespecting Nicola Sturgeon and the rest of the government – but let me assure you now I am not. I may not show it but I have a lot of respect for Sturgeon who I believe has handled this crisis ten times better then Big Boris in London has! Sturgeon’s decisions may be frustrating for many people especially just now including myself, but I do believe she genuinely cares about our country and I also believe that deep down even she disagrees with her own decisions at times, but if I was in her position as much as it would pain me, I’d have to accept these decisions if they are being advised by top scientific advisers to her. I guess I wish she would reconsider some of her decisions just now regarding the tiered system which also by law stops many seeing their friends or family just now which I think is quite cruel. But I could sit and type out all my many frustrations here but I am not and to finish up the pandemic chit chat, I want to thank Nicola Sturgeon for doing her best 24/7 to protect Scotland and keep many safe and I hope whoever or whatever the country thinks of her that people remember she is also human.

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The good ship Victoria M – now newly owned by Autism on the Water

In brighter reading now! You will all know that for a very long time, I have wanted to purchase a cruising yacht for my charity Autism on the Water. Now what would you think when purchasing a yacht is talked about? The answer is money! That has always been the blockage for us not being able to have a yacht and this is where the bulk of this blog comes to life hence its title of there’s a great big beautiful tomorrow, because you never know what tomorrow can bring if you put your mind to it.

The yacht pictured above is a Colvic Victor 34. She is a boat from Dalgety Bay currently stored at Port Edgar Marina. The previous owner had sadly passed away some months back and so was being put on the market as an unfinished project. A friend pointed out the yacht to me and so myself and some close friends went to have a look at “Victoria M”. The boat ticked all the boxes of what I wanted to do with Autism on the Water, she has 6 berths, indoor and outdoor steering facilities, hot water heating, brand new engine, brand new electronics etc. Everything right here on this boat was the future of Autism on the Water and would provide perfect settings to get autistic people of all ages out on the water on a regular basis. Yet how was I going to get this boat? No one just now has money they can just give to buy a boat? I asked my family for help financially, they understandably said no. I asked friends for a loan, they again said no and the reason they said no was because they believed I could raise the funds if I really wanted this boat – I thought it was impossible but that there was no harm in trying. A GoFundMe page, two generous donations and a grant award later, we raised the entire sum plus extra within a remarkable 27 hours to purchase this yacht and as of Friday 11th December, Autism on the Water became the legal official owners of “Victoria M”. A long time dream of mine finally came true showed that that tomorrow became great and beautiful just as Walt Disney visioned himself! He made reality come to life and that is what I managed to do with as the line of a famous Beatles song “with a little help from my friends”, I managed to turn a dream into reality. And now a new chapter begins for Autism on the Water as we set out to bring the yacht back up to scratch and ready for launching in April 2021 and turn the lives of autistic people into life changing opportunities. The support has been remarkable with a brand new suit of sails ordered and on their way thanks to a generous discount and the individual support of friends and members of the public who have donated items towards the boat and also donated their time to help prepare the boat – I cannot thank you all enough from the bottom of my heart.

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A delighted new owner at the wheel!

2020 is a year I will be glad to see the back of as I am sure many will. The pandemic will sadly continue to cause disruption and loss within our lives but I am very confident that we will have a brighter 2021. The vaccines are now in full swing thanks to the incredible work that the scientists have managed to achieve in what usually takes years to create. But as Christmas approaches, we once again must ensure that we remember those who have lost their loved ones this year to this devastating disease and also remember that whilst some of us including me will be tucking into turkey dinners and gin and tonics with relatives and friends, many will not be doing that this year and will be in hospitals, police stations, fire stations etc. looking after us but especially those who work in nursing tending to those who are sadly in hospital with COVID and are risking their own lives to save others and giving up their Christmas with their own Children – so let’s give all our NHS and key workers a massive THANK YOU for everything this year – they truly are the heroes of 2020.

And from me, I want to thank all of you! Thank you for being there for me, thank you for supporting my charity and most of all Thank you especially to the new people who have come into my life recently but importantly to Chelsea and Kat who have became my newest and dear friends and have given me a chance. Thanks girls and this blog is dedicated to you!

Finally, I must send my heartfelt thanks again to my family, Mum, Pete, Nana, Michael, Martin, Brooke and Phoebe and to my closest friends Tilly, Claire, Georgie, Ellie, Lee, Graham, Gerry, Olivia, Darren, Emma, Colin, Kim and my dear pal David Witt! You guys have made what has been a extremely difficult and emotional year just that little bit easier and mostly, you have all saved my life. I love you all very much and I wish ALL of you a very Happy Christmas.

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A bright 2021 awaits for all of us

If you believe in “Wish Upon a Star” now is the time!

Ranking Disney: #10 – Pinocchio (1940) | B+ Movie Blog

In 1940, Walt Disney released the film “Pinocchio” – the story of the little wooden puppet who wanted to become a real boy! The film has charmed and inspired generations of people young and old since it was released 80 years ago! The phrase of “when you wish upon a star” has been the words hope and comfort to many Disney fans ever since with the song itself a favourite for many. I have wished and wished as a youngster of course for all the chocolates or playstation games or money in the world! But of course that never happened. Today however in these troubled times we still face, wishing upon a star is probably the medicine we all need right now.

Here in Edinburgh – similar to the rest of the world, we are still fighting against Coronavirus – this evil, deadly, destroying, horrible, awful virus that is turning our lives upside down. The virus we all thought, we’d be over with by now when the pandemic began back in March. But its not, the clocks went back last weekend as we officially entered winter, a season I loathe, a season that makes me sad and a season that tragically sends me into a dark place. Usually in the winter, the sailing season is done and all my pals from the year have all returned to their wives or husbands, children or university and then you don’t see them again until spring. It does get incredibly lonely. But this year due to the pandemic, I feel like we have lived in winter all year despite the pleasant temperatures we experienced during the summer. Regattas cancelled, international travel impossible and being seperated from friends and family and if your able to meet up with friends and family, social distancing is implemented which means hugging is now a thing of the past. I really thought during the summer that we were on our way out of this madness, as bars and restaurants opened, sailing was allowed to return at club level and restrictions on meeting people were eased – it almost felt like we were returning to our lives.

Now however, it’s a completely different story. The virus is back and now daily infecting people and sadly claiming lives. The government sit there and implement restrictions saying how they will work and suppress the virus. For example and suddenly earlier in the month, Nicola Sturgeon stood up and announced that bars and restaurants across the central belt of Scotland where to close for 2 weeks as a “short sharp shock” to bring the virus back under control with the exception of cafes/coffee shops to allow those living alone to meet for a coffee or a light meal. The hospitality sector were furious especially as she only gave them two days notice to close – fresh food and drink ordered that day now gone to waste, staff rotas drawn up for the weeks ahead now torn up, new staff about to start a new job now unable to start it. It was a complete disgrace. People spent hundreds if not thousands to make their industries “covid secure” and secure it certainly was! Track and Trace in every place, hands must be sanitized on arrival and exit and masks to be worn when not sitting down (unless your exempt). Now all of that effort has gone to waste. The Scottish Hospitality Sector did a recent study upon the new closures – of the thousands and thousands of bars and restaurants that opened in July until closed in October – only 77 cases were had! Its clear as day that its not hospitality that’s responsible for the increase of cases and infections – so who do we blame? The public? No! I DO NOT blame the public for breaking recent rules especially when members of our own SNP take a test, travel on public transport to London, find out they have tested positive and then go back on public transport to Scotland KNOWING she has the virus! I am sorry but how on earth is that acceptable?! Her actions were 100 times worse than Dominic Cummings! He blantly and knowingly broke the rules but at least he was in his own dam car! The politicians in ALL areas of the government whether medical, educational, finance etc. need to take a long hard look at themselves! People are breaking the rules and they shouldn’t be, but when government officials do something like that – I am sorry but I do not blame the public. And you know what else that even I am surprised myself in saying – I don’t blame the government either!

The truth is no one is at fault for the virus spreading – the virus is the blamer, the virus, the virus – the fucking virus! Excuse my lingo! We need to learn to live with this virus, its not a case of locking down and waiting for it to slow down and for a vaccine to come out. The damage this pandemic is causing to our lives, our economy and our own mental health is soul destroying – and now I tell you my story of the last few weeks. I went into a dark peril – not suicidal but perhaps worse. I blanked everyone, I ignored my phone, messenger and people. Close friends sat outside on my wall with a bag of beers trying to encourage me to open the door, but there I sat in the darkness – wishing that I could just fade away into nothingness – a sharp pin pierced my arm hard as I was determined to cause myself pain. The blood ran down my arm as I sat there in tears – wishing that this nightmare would be over and wishing that I could be happy again. My own family tried in vain to get me to answer the phone but like others, I ignored them completely – even turning the WIFI off before going to bed. I was such a selfish person in doing that, but the scary thing was – I honestly did not know who I was anymore.

Was it the pandemic making me become this? Yes and No. So what else was bothering me? It was a broken heart. In early September, I quite randomly met a really nice and compassionate girl. It was not through a dating site, but through a community Facebook page. To be honest, we started chatting with no intention of ever considering dating. But as we chatted more, met up for coffees and walks, we got to know each other very well – then one day she told me that she liked me! No girl has ever said that to me before – I was so taken aback in a touching way. But I knew from past experiences to try and be cool and go along at a slow pace, I really believed that something could come out of this. The girl who I am not going to name out of respect for her, was a firm believer in God and Jesus. I too believe in God and Jesus, but I choose not to go down a fully committal route with them – not out of any badness or pun intended but mainly because I understand so little of it. But anyhow this person loved God and I fully respected that and still do today. Recently however, our beautiful friendship ended, it broke my heart because I had actually fallen in love with her. I had never ever loved someone like I did with her and I was devastated that this had happened. We tried our best to fix things even just to repair our friendship but sadly this has not happened either and I do feel for both of our own sakes that it is time to move on from each other.

All of the recent events have not helped with the cancellation of my RYA Day Skipper course with Salty Sailing. I was so excited to get away for a while and gain this great qualification and enjoy some “me time” but once again due to this wretched Covid crap, it was understandably cancelled. I decided to travel there anyway and have a weeks break but even that is now under threat with rumours going round that England will be reinstating a national lockdown for a month! Who knows? Who knows anything anymore? I honestly cannot believe a virus has done all of this. But we need to ask ourselves this – how long are we seriously expected to continue living like this with restrictions eased then reinstated then eased again – assurances of lockdowns working when their not etc. Yet the press continue to scaremonger people and this changes peoples views and opinions – we are all entitled to our opinions on this pandemic but there are so many who do not respect them. I may not agree with some opinions but I do respect them. I have been bullied in recent weeks by people because of my mask exemption – one person in particular sent me some truly horrific messages saying “you should be locked in your flat and getting everything delivered as your a risk to the public and endangering lives because you refuse to wear a mask”. Like SERIOUSLY?! What has this pandemic done to people!?

We all hate this, we all hate the rules, we all hate what this has done to the world. But please please everyone, don’t judge people for the decisions they chose to make, we are all sick of being told how to live and run our lives. But we are in this together. A full lockdown could work and yes it would slow the spread but then once its over – it comes back! What is the answer people? We don’t have one yet. So please try and enjoy your life, see your friends and family but also keep yourselves safe, I say this because being alone is not healthy. It has taken me weeks to recover from recent events and I am still fragile today and the thought of even more restrictions is making me struggle.

What you can all do though as Nicola Sturgeon has said is treat people with kindness, solidarity and love and people have shown that to me in recent weeks, in fact its been so overwhelming. My amazing sailing crew sent me a beautiful card and a Dairy Milk and two close friends sent me some brownies from Helensburgh to cheer me up. And my other friends based here in Edinburgh have given up so much to help me recover in recent weeks. I honestly cannot express enough thanks to Gerry, Graham, Lee, Liv, Claire and Tilly enough for everything. They are the ones who made me realise how selfish I was and how I had to man up and try and get on with things.

I know this winter is not going to be easy. But we can get through it and we will get through it. Do whatever makes you comfortable in life but also be safe and respect others wishes or opinions. Its hard I know, but we will get through it and I know by having the family and friends I have, I WILL get through it.

Stay Safe and Lots of Love and remember to always believe when you “Wish Upon a Star xxx

Are we nearly there yet or do we have to stop for Fuel?

This photo was taken the night before the UK went into lockdown because of Coronavirus. This was in March! Since March, the entire world have experienced and witness a year like no other, my god do you even call it a year? A week before lockdown, I was very much preparing for what was to be a extremely busy year for Autism on the Water – we were just weeks away from pulling the boat out the shed and getting it ready for its first event, then Coronavirus happened! Everything stopped when this blasted virus came into the world, killed thousands of people, destroyed businesses and pretty much destroyed everyone’s day to day lives. It makes you sit and think “seriously, a virus has done all this”.

We are now 6 months since lockdown began and since the end of May, we have slowly seen improvements as life in someway very slowly starts to return to a degree of normality. But yet its not normal – and will it ever be normal again? Lockdown comes with many stories and this is my story. I shared a blog a few months back but the virus was still new then and things have changed rapidly since – so lets start with the 29th May 2020 – my 28th Birthday!

My Birthday was actually the beginning of Phase 1 out of lockdown, I had been so used to Nicola Sturgeon on the TV at 12:15pm giving us bad news and alot of no answers to thousands of questions – but on this day, she gave the go-ahead for people to start seeing people in small groups outdoors whilst staying 2 meters apart. It was a truly stunning day – around 24 degrees. I was up early, dressed in shorts and Tshirt, opened my Birthday cards and my presents which included a new Smart TV! And then I opened a bottle of Prosecco and it was only 10am!! I was sat round the back as the sun shone down, my friend Gerry who I had not seen in person in 2 months came through to see me and brought a caterpillar cake! His own tradition! This then followed a day of people passing through to wish me a Happy Birthday, drink prosecco, gin and beer with me and eat a pile of food. It honestly despite the circumstances was a delightful day. It made me realise how loved I was and how grateful I was to have such loving people in my life.

Now the true blow that Coronavirus has cruelly destroyed in my life is the loss of sailing regattas! In the early stages, seeing regatta after regatta cancelled was absolutely killing me, honestly I tore strips out of myself each time! But as time has gone on I have been able to slowly cope with this. But oh my god, you have no idea the sheer delight when Nicola finally gave the go ahead for non contact sports such as single handed sailing to go ahead! So at last, my wooden Streaker which I have sadly recently parted with was launched and I enjoyed some truly spectacular adventures on this thing! This Streaker was………….FAST! I went out in no wind to 25kts and the surfs downwind was magic! I honestly forgot how much fun dinghy sailing was! The last time I used it was on a hot day in 23 degree heat and 14kts of wind. Magic stuff indeed and all in shorts and tshirt! I sit here nowadays regretting that I didn’t try to keep it but the sad reality was as my life slowly gets busier again, the Streaker was in danger of being abandoned and so I gifted it to my charity to be raffled and after raising £210 for the charity, the Streaker will soon be heading to its new home in Inverness – maybe there might be time for a farewell sail! You never know!

Now what is this? Its a big of rubbish! Not just one bag – but one of 11 bags I filled up that night! One night I was cycling back through the Meadows near where I live, people were out enjoying the summers evening and having a great time which was so lovely to see – yet so many did not pick up their litter and the park was a disgrace! So without really thinking, I went to Sainsbury’s on Middle Meadow Walk and bought a roll of bin bags and set to work for the next 3 hrs picking up pile after pile of rubbish, everything from glass to plastic to tissue to wrapper. Some kind hearted souls came over and asked for a bag to help but so many jeered and booed and shouted things like “you missed a bit pal”. At 11pm, the 11th bag of rubbish was filled and I went home and put a post on The Meadows Facebook page explaining who I was, how I was autistic and what I had done etc. etc. The response was beyond me! 4500 likes, 1000 shares and hundreds of beautiful comments of thanks – people offered me rewards but all I asked for in return was for them to give Autism on the Water a like on Facebook – and they rose magnificently! In the next 48hrs, AOTW has a additional 2,500 likes!! And still today its growing. Even the newspapers reported on my efforts. I was in tears because I was so touched that there was so much love found within complete strangers. And The Meadows is looking so much cleaner now!

Now here is where I truly belong! On a yacht! My good friend Graham and myself decided as restrictions started to ease – that we needed a holiday! Graham had a beautiful boat called “Ventura” – two cabins, comfy beds, WIFI, gin locker you name it! So off we went and had a stunning few days away cruising the Clyde – we left Largs to enjoy a glorious sail up to Rhu via the Holy Loch for a coffee. After a heavy night enjoying the gin locker, we went back down the Clyde to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute where we enjoyed fish and chips, a gorgeous sunset and a early night! Next day we headed for Tarbert via of course the beautiful Kyles of Bute! Its sailing up here where you really appreciate living in Scotland – the passage through the Burnt Islands, the Colintraive ferry, the hills of Arran to the south is nothing but sheer beauty. It was a pleasant breeze – but I am sure that I am a jinx on that passage because each time I have sailed that passage – the wind is in the North! But I could not complain, the sun was shining, the wind was steady and it was a gorgeous sail up Loch Fyne – even more so entertaining by Graham vocally explaining to a boat motoring under engine about collision courses at sea! Tarbert as ever was changeless, there was the Corner House pub, the Frigate Hotel, the Co-op, the marina etc. All exactly where it should be – it was a magnificent feeling. We had a enjoyable evening in the heavenly harbour with a magnificent meal in the Frigate Hotel and a few refreshments in the Corner House. And so came the last day, the wind was strong but from the north which would make the trip back to Largs very quick. But as I stood on the pontoon to let the rope go, Graham’s engine would not start! Not a good situation to be in on a Sunday morning! After a lot of anger, stress, many phone calls etc. our friend Darren very kindly drove up from Port Bannatyne and had the engine working in 30 seconds, it’s amazing what a screwdriver can do! So a extra night in Tarbert was had so back to the Frigate for dinner and the Corner House – the locals must have thought we had moved in! Due to commitments which required me to be back home, I left the boys to take the boat home and got the bus back to Edinburgh – it was wonderful to have finally been back on a yacht and thank you Graham again for a wonderful holiday!

I had literally been in the door all of half an hour when the phone rang – Darren! It was a plea for me to head back to the Clyde and assist him taking his Endurance 44 that he has been working on for the last 2 years back to the west coast. The alarm went off at 6am the next day! The previous days bag was repacked with clean clothes and sleeping bag and it was straight on the train to Glasgow then through Central onto Wemyss Bay and a ferry back to Rothesay! I was tired, but the scenery was once again stunning! The sun shone and it was warm! Off the ferry in Rothesay and a taxi to Ardmaleish boatyard just in time to see Darren’s boat getting launched – a huge moment for him after two years being ashore. Darren is a close mate of mine, we have had many ups and also many downs particularly during the last few months. He is a man with so much wonderful character and a terrific man when it comes to solving solutions on a boat! His intention was to eventually buy a flat to live in but with the big boat now finally back in the water, he has taken a more inspirational approach and is embarking on a massive project to kit out the Endurance “Stramash” ready to cruise across the Atlantic next year and then onto the Caribbean. He will be starting up a video blog about his adventures in the coming weeks so make sure and take a watch! We casted off from Ardmaleish and headed up the Kyles – I knew every corner of it by now! Down towards the hills of Arran and up Loch Fyne to guess where??? TARBERT! The locals must be wandering where my pad is in the village! Tied up, a meal of curry and into the Corner House. Next day, the rain had come and truly horrific too. We had decided to transit the Crinan Canal but with the Coronavirus restrictions, booking in was not easy! We thankfully managed to book in and once the rain dropped, we headed for Ardrishaig where we tied up on a friends mooring and enjoyed a lovely night on board without a breath of wind! Next day – we awoke to complete calmness, everything was fine until we had to rapidly get off the mooring as we saw nearly 7 yachts appearing out the mist heading for the canal! What started as a stressful morning and many fears of would we get through the canal in a day – turned into a rather successful day! A phone call to a old friend saw him bring his van down to help with the lock gates and with Darren’s dad joining us, the transit was done in record time! The canal is my favourite day out ever and even during these times, its beauty and amsophere is still there and I loved being back there. After seeing Darren off out the sealock, I headed for home, arriving back in Edinburgh and a much needed rest! I can’t wish Darren enough luck as he embarks on his exciting adventure in 2021 – he deserves it!

Remember the KimsWitt?? She’s finally in Edinburgh and at Royal Forth Yacht Club in Granton. To help with the costs, Graham came in with me as a boat partner. She’s a lovely Flying Fifteen, however sadly since we brought it home – life has got busy again and the two of us have not been able to get a sail on her yet. Her mast is up and we still have to figure out where the string goes! We have both promised that we will get a sail in her before October – but after that, who knows the future? It is sad and alot of expense we have put into her and not used it yet but we really hope we can get her out soon – but in case my blog readers were wondering, the KimsWitt is home!

OMG! A Hunter 707!! Is it, no it can’t be, but it is! ITS AUTISM ON THE WATER – SHE’S BACK! After months of being in a dark shed in a field in Fife, AOTW came back down to Port Edgar, we threw its mast up and launched her in the water. But why? When there’s no racing? Oh I had a reason! During lockdown, some of my time was spent developing the charity and making ideas etc. But one thing I always touched upon was finding a regular crew for the racing. In January I met Claire, a young sailor from the Clyde who’s studying at Edinburgh University, she got in touch with me about getting involved with the charity as her own brother is on the spectrum. We met up in person and got on straight away – so that was crew number 1! Now for the other two. Claire introduced me to two other wonderful sailors – Ellie and Tilly, Ellie lives in York and Tilly is in Wales! Then I decided to recruit a volunteer media guru – an advert went out and Georgie was appointed! During lockdown, we had many Zoom chats and had great fun making plans for what we were doing with the charity and what races to do – we then decided to organise our first training camp as a crew – hence why the boat got launched. Now this weekend, I am not joking was the first time in months that I felt happy. We went out for two days and did so many tacks, gybes, hoists, drops – you name it! Georgie moved around the boat with her camera getting so many great video clips. But the best thing was, no one fell out, no one was negative – it was fun, fun fun! The next day, Ramsay came out to watch us on the rib and took Georgie to get some shots from the water, we decided to take part in a informal club race – and we won! I honestly cannot express enough how proud, grateful and honoured I am to have these four girls as part of my team for the charity. They aren’t just involved in racing, their helping behind the scenes too to give autistic people the opportunity to get out on the water as well as raise awareness. Their not just my crew – their my friends. I love you guys and I cannot wait to start getting this campaign properly underway! Even outside of that, Claire and me have taken a autistic woman out for a sail recently, she loved it! Claire was a brilliant help that night along with my friend Colin and her flatmate Lea to ensure that this woman’s experience was safe and enjoyable. Honestly I could not be prouder of a team!

And now we come to something very difficult but it needs to be shared. Because of the Coronavirus and despite lockdown restrictions being eased, the government have put in some very life changing procedures to ensure peoples safety – one of which is the mandatory wearing of face coverings in shops and public transport but exemptions would be made for people with health conditions like Asthma or people with intellectual needs such as Autism. I have had so many arguments with people about the views of face masks – to me personally, I cannot wear anything over my face, I don’t even wear Halloween masks! Or a mask when painting the boat! I cannot really explain why, its likely a mixture of sensory, comfort, insecurity etc. But I honestly cannot wear one. I still don’t understand why the government implemented face coverings to keep people safe after nearly 40,000 deaths in the UK! But that’s another story. Anyway, I have been working very hard to raise awareness that people with autism are exempt from wearing masks if they cannot wear one. I hold a Autism alert card from the National Autistic Society which helps explain to the public why I cannot wear a mask as well as other things etc. So far shops, buses, trains, taxi’s etc. have all accepted this – until I went away for a weekend to see my brother Martin. I was flying to London Gatwick with Easyjet. I arrived at Edinburgh Airport, my alert card in my pocket ready to be shown – I got through the airport no bother, no one questioned why I was not wearing a mask until I got to the boarding gate and I scanned my boarding pass and the following happened

“Do you have a mask sir”

“I am Autistic and I am exempt from wearing a mask – here is my card”

“oh, erm, right wait there”

Gentleman goes to speak to his colleague – both come over to me.

“Do you have a doctors note sir”

“No”

“I am sorry but you have to wear a mask for your flight”

“But I am legally exempt as per government guidelines and the showing of this card, if I wear a mask, I will get anxious – your making me anxious now”

“Oh I know pet, but i am sorry unless you have a doctors note, you cannot board the plane, but if you wear the mask to the plane, speak to the cabin crew, explain the reason and you can take it off”

So following this, I put a face mask on. Now I do not cry in public, but this time I did. I don’t even have anxiety attacks! I boarded the plane and removed my mask and the cabin crew told me to put it back on, I explained to them again about my legal exemption and they bluntly said “oh its different rules for flying as your going overseas” I am going to Gatwick for christ sake! I told them I was anxious and I burst into tears and they bluntly again said, its either wear a mask or don’t fly. Not wanting to take the latter as I so wanted to see my brother, I sat down to my worse nightmare! My glasses steamed up, I was breathing in so deeply, I was crying, I was shaking. I put a post on Facebook whilst tagging Easyjet in it explaining what happened etc. Many of my friends rallied round magnificently and wrote emails to Easyjet and tagged them on Twitter etc. But sadly some of my friends were not supportive of my situation and pretty much told me to man up, which devastated me. People with autism and those with not deal with things in many different ways – so wearing a mask could be easy peasy for you but it can be the hardest thing ever for me. Thanks to the great response of support from people, Easyjet got in touch with me and apologised for their error, the gentleman admitted they were fully in the wrong and that for the return flight I did not have to wear a mask and the flight back, they were great, they excepted my card without question and even gave me three seats to myself! I gifted them AOTW wristbands as a thank you for their kindness – but in general it SHOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED! I hope airlines and autistic charities will now work together and bring in allowances for autistic people to be exempt from face coverings if this causes them distress because seriously I never ever want to go through that again.

The question remains – when will this be over? We don’t know! The media reports recently have been scary – cases are coming back rapidly and Nicola has reimposed restrictions back in some areas of Scotland. But what frustrates me is the negativity that everyone is feeling towards the easing of restrictions. Yes it is scary that cases are rising, but the reasons they are rising is because more people are being tested! Imagine if they weren’t! In the last few months, shops have reopened, restaurants and pubs have reopened and schools have returned and as predicted, cases have risen dramatically. And meanwhile the moment the media publishes bad news, it sends everyone into a panic. But what they do not realise is how little deaths we have compared to early days of lockdown. Any death is pure devastating but we should see the low amount as some sign of positivity that things are surely starting to return to normal in a way. I have fallen out sadly with many friends and family over this pandemic – it breaks my heart yet frustrates me. Some of my friends share newspaper articles with angry face emojis of things like the Edinburgh Silent Disco restarting and everyone gets angry because some idiot takes a photo of the group walking down a tight pavement where social distancing is impossible! Some people think that we need to stay at home until the virus goes – but what if that takes years? What if it never goes away? Their answer “well if that’s what it takes”! Some people whilst I fully understand how frightening this is for people, my god its scary for me too, do not understand the long term affects this will have to the economy – if we return to lockdown, more businesses will shut, the hospitality sector will be destroyed and things like my charity could go down as we rely on funding from sponsors which could eventually not be in a position to afford sponsorship! It is such a tricky one. I am not into politics at all and whilst I actually have been secretly impressed with how Nicola Sturgeon has handled the pandemic for Scotland, I feel in recent days and weeks, she has reinstated some restrictions or refrained from easing restrictions for political gain. Yes I picture someone reading this and calling me a dick – but sorry that is my opinion.

We cannot just sit and wait – we need to return back to work, school, college, university – see our families and friends again etc. Yes it will be risky and I personally feel this virus will be here for a while yet, but we honestly cannot sit and let it win. We need to return to society but do it sensibly and safely and whilst I admire people protesting for things like “kill the lockdown”, I do not applaud the fact they gathered in their hundreds to protest. Protest and all that – but do it sensibly. In the meantime, I am trying very hard to enjoy life and get my charity back on track. This summer I lost a very dear dear friend of mine of 26 years. She died very suddenly of a heart attack and her family invited me to her funeral – I think I was more upset at the COVID restrictions for the funeral then the actual service, the restrictions were heartbreaking, we had to place chairs 2m apart, not sing the hymns etc. It was a lovely send off but the procedures in place whilst there to obviously keep people safe I thought were a bit much. But if this lockdown has changed me in anyway – its my look on life. Lockdown was and still is awful, but the highlight has been the recruiting of my new crew and its this blog which I dedicate to them because they as I say aren’t just a crew, they are my friends and they have treated me like a friend with words of comfort and pure loyalty to the charity.

We will get through this – but we need to stop at a petrol station and get some fuel in. We are very much hopeful that AOTW will be at our first and last event of the year in October – the 707 Scottish Championships but then again – no one knows! So finally please get out and enjoy yourself, but remember the virus is still here but its under control and that is the main thing you all need to remember. We are in a much better position then we were 6 months ago. We can and we will get through this together.

Its 1:33am here now so I am going to bed – but I hope this blog will bring a mixture of peace, comfort, inspiration and a smile. I love writing these even if they are personal and I love sharing my autistic world through words.

Until the next one – good night and sleep well and stay safe x 🙂

The night that changed the World

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This is my beloved boat that belongs to my charity Autism on the Water (AOTW). This is a Hunter 707 that has given me so much joy and most importantly freedom over the last couple of years. Here it is pictured in its winter quarters in a shed, in a field somewhere in Fife. It has sat there since November. Around late February, my thoughts were slowly starting to turn towards thinking about the preparations to bring the boat out the shed, back down to Port Edgar Marina and start putting it back together ready for a very busy and exciting season with so many wonderful regattas, delivery trips and cruises to look forward too and of course the all-important job of raising awareness of the Autistic spectrum.

In 2019, we had enjoyed our most successful season to date, we took a break from doing too many One-Design events and enjoyed doing more relaxed, fun and community-run regattas on the West Coast of Scotland which actually provided me more opportunity to get to know the boat, it’s set up and how I could make it go faster. It was also the year that for the first time ever, we won races! We took a spectacular win in the opening weekend of West Highland Week especially on the feeder race from Oban to Craobh after making a bold decision to short tack around the back of Fladda Island in the Sound of Luing that allowed me to maintain an average speed and the worse of the tide and it resulted in AOTW sailing across the shortened finish line off the Ardluing buoy to the welcome sound of a gun and leaving the 19 boats behind us well and truly behind us that included boats from a J122 and First 31.7 to a Contessa 25 and a Shipman 28. AOTW took the win by a clear 4 mins on corrected time as well as taking line honours. Following this victory, we went on to take 4 back to back wins at the 707 Sprints Slam with David Witt on board and then a clear and outright race win in the first race of the 707 Scottish Championships. So with me now knowing and able to make the boat go fast, I was ready to get some more for 2020. This was going to be the year! Until one night in March that changed everything.

Around a week or so after I had returned from a business trip for AOTW in both London and Cowes where I gave presentations to yacht clubs as well as making a series of different and interesting new contacts, the United Kingdom was starting to get gravely concerned for the increasing number of cases of the “Coronavirus” (COVID-19) that had sadly resulted in a number of deaths across the world. In response to this, businesses decided to shut up shop for a limited time to see how this situation would pan out, travel also was becoming affected and strong advice was being given to people to wash their hands more frequently than ever. For me personally, I was not too worried, I had so much to look forward too, loads of sailing, AOTW was doing extremely well, my brother and cousin are both due to be married, I was getting out on my bike more doing Uber Eats and Deliveroo deliveries which was keeping me fit, life for me personally could not be better. Its what happened next when you realise how much you take for granted.

As time went on, the news was starting to report daily all day on the Coronavirus outbreak which by now was starting to concern many. It was during this period that the famous Six Nations Rugby matches were being held across the country. The Scotland vs France game was held at Murrayfield Stadium which was packed to full capacity of 60,000 plus and whilst many had a wonderful day out, there was also uproar that the game had gone ahead during what was looking like a very possible upcoming pandemic. A few days after this match was the Scotland vs Wales game which was to take place in Cardiff. Many travelling Scots were concerned that the game could be cancelled because of the virus but rugby officials fully reassured everyone even on the eve of the match that the game would not be cancelled. As everyone from Scotland got out of their trains, their flights, their cars etc. the match was cancelled! It was after this that the UK and Scottish Government decided to ban all planned and upcoming sporting events and gatherings which involved over 5,000 people, this was done so as to ease pressure on front line health services such as Police and Paramedic workers etc. which are required for these events to run. I then started to worry and get anxious, would this affect sailing events? No, surely not. Sailing events don’t require frontline health services 99% of the time, we should be ok! But some friends of mine started to be very negative and pretty much insist that events like the Scottish Series, Bangor Week etc. WOULD be cancelled, I said “no of-course they won’t”. How very wrong I was. I kept myself busy though, I built a page on Facebook for autistic people in Scotland to join for support during this time, I also started cooking homemade soups for the elderly and donating certain items such as pasta to families with autistic children who only ate pasta. It felt really good to be out and helping people – until things began to change drastically.

As time went on, the news got grim, officials were advising people to work from home and not attend social gathering etc. Schools though were still running but they were under close review by the government and after a few days, the first minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement that schools would be closing for the foreseeable future. Now people started to panic, schoolchildren themselves started to panic and many young children were very confused as to what was going on. Parents were very concerned at this sudden news, what on earth was going to happen? This announcement had forced parents to make some important decisions in their working lives to ensure that their children stayed educated and had a structured plan. I started to realise as I cycled or walked around Edinburgh a very uneasy calm around the place, shops were emptier, transport was less frequent and many rumours were circulating about what was going to happen. A few days after the announcement of the school closures on a cold Friday evening, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnston announced to the nation that all pubs, clubs, cinemas and diners were to close and not reopen until further notice although diners could still operate as takeaway services. I started feeling very worried when this was announced, I started to realise then that something serious really was going on. Nicola Sturgeon also repeated Boris Johnston’s words of the closure of establishments and heavily advised people against going out to the pub that evening, however despite these words, many people went out to the pub knowing that this would be the last time to go out for a few beers for who knows how long, I am sad to say I was one of these people who ventured to my little local pub for one last pint and to support the bar staff who now faced an uncertain future of their jobs.

The weekend then started and Edinburgh awoke to what was the start of worse to come. Pretty much all pubs and establishments as advised by the government had closed, but the presence of so many people was very much evident, the streets were packed with walkers and local people trying to carry on as normal, people were also flocking to the parks and beaches as it was a very nice day to be out. This caused a great deal of anger across social media and on the news and many trolls who followed the Facebook pages of papers such as The Guardian, The Sun etc. were cracking down big time on their opinions of the actions of others.

On the Monday evening following that weekend since the closing of establishments, it was 8:30pm at night, all normal programming on the television had been suspended to make way for a very important announcement from the Prime Minister. The announcement was very simple and the inevitable had now become reality – the UK had now been put into lockdown. The main rule was “you must stay at home”, you were now only allowed out for shopping for essential supplies, one form of exercise a day such as a walk, run or cycle and travel to work but only if it was essential otherwise working from home was very much clearly advised and people were also highly encouraged to use food delivery services. Social distancing had come into place, you could now not go and visit your friends or family or stick to any upcoming social activities that were planned. All of these rules had been put into place to slow the spread of the Coronavirus, save lives and to protect the NHS.

And this night – has now changed the world. At first once again, I tried to take a light- hearted approch to all of it and say to myself “it will be over by the end of April and we will start getting boats ready”. But as I mentioned earlier, I was very wrong. Over the course of the next few days as we started to settle into lockdown life, the 707 Edinburgh Cup, the Scottish Series, Kip Regatta, Mudhook Regatta, Bangor Week, the Round Mull Race, 707 UK Nationals and Cork Week have all been cancelled. Launching of boats had now all been suspended or postponed, club racing was postponed etc. This was all happening before the season had even begun! My anxiety went through the roof, after such a cold, long and depressing winter, this horror of all horrors, a killer virus was halting everyone’s life. From a selfish point for me, sailing is my life, AOTW is my life but I then started to watch the news and read the papers every day to then realise just how bad this really was. As the weeks went on, the number of those infected with the virus grew and worse of all, the death toll grew. The news seemed to get more grim and grim each day. The country had changed, everything had changed in just the space of a few weeks and as the days started to get lighter with the arrival of spring, in actual fact, it really was becoming more darker than a winter had ever been.

Here is a photograph of Princes Street, Edinburgh’s main and busiest street – now completely deserted. Shops, hotels, bars, diners etc. all boarded up. The odd bus rolling along the street carrying one or maybe two passengers on each one. All tourists attractions were shut, the Edinburgh Festival announced that the month-long event, the biggest arts festival in the world and a festival that brings Edinburgh over £300 million to the economy in August had been cancelled! Many locals jumped for joy at this news relishing the fact that they’d have a peaceful city in August without the festival, but my heart went out to the many hundreds of performers who were one of 5000 people who had lost their job in August because of this.

Then more news started to come out – both worrying and angering. The good weather that the country is facing both a few weeks ago and today was encouraging reckless people to leave the safety of their homes and pack out the many beautiful public parks and beaches that were on offer to the locals of Edinburgh. Now the government announced that they really meant business and passed on new laws for the police to start giving out warning and eventually fines for anyone breaking the social distancing rules. To cap it off, the Cheif medical officer of Scotland, Catherine Calderwood who had heavily urged and demanded that everyone stayed home, the woman who Nicola Sturgeon relayed on especially during this pandemic had been photographed by the Sun newspaper visiting her second home in Fife with her family – she had completely broken her own rules, her own advice and when this happened, the entire Scottish population and indeed the entire United Kingdom became furious! And no one, not even Nicola Sturgeon could blame anyone for being angry with her and whilst I fully agree that she completely was stupid and really betrayed the public trust, she said sorry, she publically stood up to the country on live television and apologised for her terrible and disgusting actions. I could tell by watching that press conference that Nicola Sturgeon really wanted to be anywhere but there that day and how I felt so sorry for her and I also really admired her loyalty to Calderwood – but so many people do not and you know what, rightfully so, we can’t have someone like Calderwood acting for this country in the medical profession if that’s the actions she takes. But what I saw on social media as the couch trolls and complete arseholes took to Facebook, Twitter etc. to express their opinion really disgusted me! Some comments were very fair and of course people are fully entitled to their opinion, but I draw a line personally when I read things like “go catch the virus yourself Catherine and die, because you deserve it” – Sorry guys, but that is sick, pure sick! It makes me so angry that you waste your time and energy completely and cruelly expressing your opinions on someone else’s when in actual fact, you should take a good long hard look at yourselves first. Dr Calderwood made a stupid, a very stupid and reckless mistake and she apologised, she also resigned because the social media trolls decided to rally together and really ruin her even more which deep down yes she probably deserved and yes she had to resign. But I personally feel that you should not focus your efforts on the stupid actions of one person – your families, your friends need you now, some of them could be dying or become very ill with this virus so you should focus on yourselves before committing your energy to the actions of others.

You all know that I am autistic. I may be a 27 year-old running my own highly international charity, doing food deliveries on a bike and living independently, but I am still autistic and along with all people with autism across the world, we are finding this pandemic like for everyone else too – a real traumatic and distressing experience and a massive CHANGE to our routines and our ways of life. A few days before Easter at about 8:15pm on a quiet Friday evening, I was out doing food deliveries on my bike as usual and decided to stop and have a short sit down on a bench in The Meadows park. It was completely deserted as shown in the above photograph, it was a beautiful evening with a lovely sunset, apart from the odd jogger or walker out, I was completely alone – just killing time until a very strict looking Policewoman walked up to me. This was our conversation –

Policewoman “move on”

Me “I am actually working”

Policewoman “well why aren’t you working”

Me “I’m just killing some time in between jobs”

Policewoman “well you’re breaking the social distance rules, so move on”

Me “but I am not doing anything wrong”

Policewoman “you are breaking the government rules”

Me “I am not breaking any rules, the closest person to me right now is you – I am also autistic and not used to dealing with the police”

Policewoman “Autistic or not, you are clearly breaking the rules and I am not going to ask you again, move on now”

Me “but I am seriously not breaking any rules, there is no one around apart from me and you and I am also working as a food delivery courier helping out the government to encourage others to use food delivery services”

Policewoman “Okay sir I have warned you, you have completely disregarded the rules set out by the Scottish Government, I am issuing you with a fine”

I honestly sat there in shock at her final sentence to all that as she took my details and issued me a ticket of £60 which she then informed me would be £30 if I paid within 28 days of being issued. It was fair to say that after this experience, I went home completely furious and crying my eyes out. What the hell has happened to my life, our lives!! How has it become a total crime to sit on a park bench in between jobs! I spoke to many of my friends about this experience with the police, a small number of them said I had broken the rules of social distancing – which upset me even more because I knew I had not! And the vast majority of my friends knew that too and all protested that I should not pay the fine and appeal it – but I knew that would take months to try and appeal so I accepted myself to pull up the online page to pay the fine and put it to bed, until I started to speak to a friend of mine I knew in London who happened to work for the National Autistic Society. I told her about the whole episode and she asked me to send the ticket I got from the police to her and assured me that she would get it written off as I was not breaking the rules and that there was government documents that had been released giving the amount of allowances on certain restrictions for autistic people during this time and that my situation with the police fitted in with it. A couple of days after I sent the ticket away, I got the phone call from my friend that it had been written off and to forget it ever happened. I will not forget though as it was a stressful and upsetting experience and whilst I understand that the Police are facing possibly the most toughest time in their careers, a tad of understanding and being more friendly and polite would not hurt. I would heavily encourage all my autistic friends to ensure that they take advantage of the allowances laid out by the government for people with autism during this time which should make the pandemic that little bit easier to deal with.

Yes, this is a photo of a boat! A Flying Fifteen to be exact. And just why have I decided to place a photograph of a Flying Fifteen in my Coronavirus story? The reason is because this Flying Fifteen is a Flying Fifteen that I have just purchased for myself! And why am I buying a boat during a pandemic? The reason is simple – once we eventually come out of this, we all need to really must think and feel so grateful that many of us will survive this but many others have died because of this. We all need to reflect and also enjoy our lives whilst we can because we just do not know what is going to happen – we did not know we’d be facing a pandemic that has shut down the world and turned our lives upside down. So for me, I decided when the lockdown is lifted, I want to be more busier on weeknights rather than just deliver food or go to the pub – so I have bought myself this Flying Fifteen to race on weeknights and weekends at the Royal Forth Yacht Club at Granton – it is not for AOTW, it is for me! I have called it The “KimsWitt” named of course after my dear friends Kim and David Witt. The random thing about this sale is also the now previous owner was a friend of my Dad! I am so excited to bring this boat home and start racing it and simply enjoying my life. It is an investment, but really worth it. It should also now be noted that I am now sort of a 3 boat owner! A Hunter 707, A Flying Fifteen and a Streaker Dinghy! Sorry Mum!

Back to the present day – whilst my new purchase of a Flying Fifteen has cheered me up no end – we are still continuing with the pandemic and I now come to the hardest bit of all this for me and that is being alone. I really am alone, I cannot go and visit any of my friends or family, I cannot shake their hands or give them a hug and tell them it will all be fine. Thankfully we now live in a world where technology makes it easier to still communicate on a regular basis so I am able to speak to my family and a couple of close friends daily on FaceTime or Houseparty – but it is just not the same. This past weekend, I felt so sad and more alone than ever as the bright sunshine shone through the country and a fantastic sailing breeze of 20-25kts from the east with some big waves was blowing down the Firth of Forth on what should have been our first 707 regatta of the season and the first sail of the year for AOTW. Such is a cruel world that we live in just now with all this – the sailing would have been so epic and I bet we could have been well up there with the results and get a suntan! But as my friend Witty said to me “it is just not to be” but he said something more important which is “Never Give Up”. And as so very hard as it is to not give up, I intend to stay on a high and get through this. It will come to an end and I am praying that by July, our boats will be back in the water and we will be preparing for West Highland Week which is still scheduled to go ahead. But sadly, I have had several arguments and disagreements with my friends because so many are convinced that events will not go ahead at all and there are some people out there who think I have so much support and will get through all this easily and that I do not fully understand the seriousness of this situation.

Let me be clear with you right now – I know exactly how serious this situation is, I have watched and read how many people have died – I have seen the damage this pandemic is causing our world economy especially in the hospitality and self-employed sector, but when I argue with people about how serious it is if this lockdown continues for longer their words are “at least their alive” and you know what, you’re right, to survive this is of absolute priority but people will have no homes let alone no jobs if this lockdown carries on. Even if lockdown restrictions are eased, the government are still expecting some people especially elders to self isolate for up to 12-18 months until a vaccine is found. Seriously how can we be expected to not see our friends or family and especially our grandparents for over a year? People will not accept that – I get the reasons why, but there has to be another way. My Nana lives on her own in North Berwick and I feel bad enough that I have not seen her for so long as it is, but it breaks my heart that she could be expected to stay indoors away from her family for a year or more! There will also come a time where the government will just not be able to fully fund everyone who’s businesses have closed down because of the Coronavirus and whilst they are doing their best to keep some businesses afloat, there are many self-employed people out there who risk having nothing left because they are not entitled to any government funding and in that category includes some very close friends of mine.

I am very blessed that I am fit and well and I am able to get out and do my bit for the community in terms of doing food deliveries, helping autistic people during this time etc. But guys, just remember we are ALL in this together – both me and you, there is no exceptions. I do not have piles of support – I have to deal with a lot of this on my own and it really is excuse my language SHIT! I love my own space, don’t get me wrong but I have not seen any of my friends or family for 4 weeks now, I am one of many other people who live alone and are dealing with this. But I have to keep going and keep following the guidelines set out by the government and most importantly – we all have to stay positive. Many of my friends and family are, but there are some who are not positive and are even getting angry at people for being positive. We will come out of this everyone, we will come out of this together – better or worse off than before. I certainly hope by the end of the next 3 weeks, we will see some restrictions eased gradually and by July, we should be able to start enjoying our summer and a piece of our lives again. But we can only do that if we stay at home, social distance and protect the NHS.

That concludes my story so far of my experiences as an Autistic individual in the Coronavirus pandemic – and I will say now, I love you all, I think of you all and I never forget you – as Christopher Robin said to Winnie the Pooh “Even if we are apart – I will always be with you” and I stand by Christopher’s words, I am still here and not going anywhere. I am here for you.

Stay Safe and see you at the other end of this xxx

 

“No matter how much violence, you will never stop me coming to Hong Kong”

HK

In 2008, I first landed on the soil of Hong Kong International Airport early one morning in July and it was pouring with rain. It had been a long flight from first Edinburgh then Paris, Charles De Galle to Hong Kong, the longest I had ever done alongside my older brother. We were in Hong Kong as part of our journey to go and visit our Mother and Stepfather who had moved to Zhuhai in China that year but as we had arrived fairly early in the morning and taking into account jetlag etc. we were put up by distant relatives who had lived in Hong Kong all their lives.

From that day onwards, Hong Kong became my most favourite city in the entire world. Many people have asked me why? Why do I like visiting such a polluted and expensive and democratic city like Hong Kong? Why I honestly did not know! I guess in a way, Hong Kong was a safe city, a city full of future and a city full of potential. I have been coming to this city ever since that wet July in 2008 and every time I come, I fall in love with this city! Everything from the Ham and Corn wraps in 7Eleven to the Gurkha bar in Lan Kwai Fong and the spectacular views of The Peak! You name it I love it all!

One thing about Hong Kong to me is the friendships. In January 2018 I spent an entire month in the city volunteering for the Volvo Ocean Race which was being hosted in Hong Kong for the first time. I am also autistic and through the years I have struggled to make friends within my life, do not get me wrong I have friends, but friends who were keen to spend time with me, do things with me, that in my life I did not have a lot at the time.

In 2016, I set up a campaign called Autism on the Water designed to raise awareness of autism through the sport of sailing which is now a fully registered Scottish Charity. It has grown significantly over the last three years and part of this is thanks to my time in Hong Kong during the Volvo Ocean Race where I presented at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club about the charity and also one of the competitors of the race who had actually one the leg to Hong Kong has become an ambassador of the charity as well as a close friend.

So in a way, Hong Kong has changed and saved my life!

 

But what has happened to this city?

In June this year, Hong Kong started up a series of protests because of a bill to allow extradition back to mainland China. The critics who were opposed to the bill felt that judicial independence could be undermined as well as endanger dissidents. Many will know that Hong Kong was once a United Kingdom city until 1997 when it was handed back to China. However because of the “one country, two systems” the city has more autonomy than the mainland and its people more rights. So the bill would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China under certain circumstances and be trialled and this has started off a series of violent protests between obviously the protesters and the police. Although the bill was withdrawn in September, protesters feared that the bill could be revived so demonstrations continued calling for the bill to be withdrawn completely but by then clashes between the police and protesters have become frequent and violent. Police have fired live bullets and protesters have been attacking officers with petrol bombs.

This week, I arrived back at my favourite city in the world, I landed at Hong Kong International Airport at 9pm, honestly, I thought at first “you would not think anything was wrong” until I boarded the Airport Express and arrived into the city centre and started walking to my hotel on Connaught Road. What was once a city that was always full of life even until 11pm at night was this spooky and rather scary silence with the once busy streets now completely deserted apart from the odd couple of locals walking past. I had arrived right into the thick of now daily protests in the city. Before I left Edinburgh close friends of mine kept me informed of the going-on’s in the city and on Monday, two close friends of mine were at the bank in the Central district when protesters marched in right in the middle of lunchtime and clashed with the police who then fired off tear gas which unfortuenly my friends were caught in the thick of it and were gassed themselves. It was so upsetting to hear. It was also awful to watch the horrific video of a man arguing with a protester who was against them and their answer to their argument with this innocent man was to throw liquid on him and set him on fire! He is currently in hospital suffering from severe burns and is in critical condition.

The day after my arrival, my mother and I walked from our hotel to Pacific Place via Central and enjoyed a lovely lunch with our long distant relative who works in the city and expressed that it was “the beginning of the end” with the way things currently were. As we got up to leave, I received messages from several friends on Whatsapp warning me not to go through Central and to avoid it at all costs and as we looked out onto the road, there was the riot police all geared up and preparing themselves for the next line of protesters. We ended up walking the long way back to our hotel via Soho, thankfully not seeing anything and the next day we headed for Zhuhai and thank goodness we left when we did as Central once again was hit by violent protests.

I am not a political person, I do not vote or get involved with political discussions or arguments. Because quite frankly one I do not really get any of it and two, the arguments it causes becomes so ridiculous sometimes. But with the Hong Kong protests, I feel the need to write this article because of this entire series of violence in the city has become way out of hand. This week, two people have died, a student protester who died whilst encountering problems with the police and an innocent bystander who simply was taking photos of the incident happening during his lunchtime break when he was hit on the head with a brick thrown by a protester from the top of a bridge.

In the little understanding, I have of politics and the reasoning of why people are protesting in Hong Kong, I support the protesters for the reason why they are protesting but I DO NOT support the violence that they are causing and the disruption and distress it is causing to the city and its people and the sad thing is that many of the protesters are Hong Kong people and they seem quite happy to block roads, throw petrol bombs, destroy the city’s transport system, scare away tourism and the people who work there, school there and live there. The protesters have a right to protest but they do not have a right to destroy their own city and this is what the protesters, the police and the Government are all doing. This violence has to stop.

The University of Hong Kong has now ended its term and will now not start again until 2020. Exams and assessments have to be done online and international students have to return to their home countries all because an army of protesters started destroying the campus and building barricades to prevent the police from stopping them. Not only these tunnels have been blocked and more and more disruption is happening to this city, YOUR CITY every day and the sad thing is, it also does not seem to be stopping anytime soon.

So I write this article as a person with autism and also a person who deeply loves Hong Kong to the people of the city whether your a resident, a protester, a police officer,  government official or a student. Please stop all this violence. By all means, carry on protesting for your rights, you’re the people of Hong Kong, as people of the city you are fully entitled to fight for your rights but please not like this. People’s businesses, transport, homes, schools and lives have all been horribly affected by all this carnage over the past few months, two innocent people have been killed now! I mean seriously surely you do not want to see people getting hurt and if these protests continue and more violence continue then more people, innocent people are going to get hurt or even worse killed.

Hong Kong is a city for all the world. It is a city of finance, opportunity and dreams. You all should be calling a truce and working together to work out a compromise on the current situation, not fighting with each other or destroying the city that you all live and work in. So I once again ask, please stop the violence, stop the hurting and stop the arguing, because it never gets anyone anywhere.

And no matter what you decide, your protests, your violence, your strikes. I know the words of a autistic person like me cannot force you all to stop this crisis, but know this. No matter what you decide, I still will come to Hong Kong for my final weekend before I fly home, I will go and visit these good friends of mine, I will relax in my favourite Yacht Club, I will climb the peak and I will enjoy my time in Hong Kong. And forever I will enjoy my time in this wonderful city.

 

I just hope that you as the people of Hong Kong no matter a protester, a government official or a police officer will find a solution and end this current crisis. 

 

 

Winter means Change and Change is Not Easy

Image may contain: sky, ocean, cloud, night, outdoor and water

It has been a while since I last sat down and wrote a blog. Like many of my previous blogs, it contains some emotional content so I apologize in advance if this blog upsets you. I promised myself a while back that I would not divulge too much personal stuff into the open world again but I feel that for this one, this is important to share because I am reaching a time in the year that is always hard for me which is the Winter and winter means change!

Many people who either work with autistic people, who are autism experts or parents etc. will know full well that change for anyone on the spectrum is a very hard and difficult process. People who know me will read this and probably think “hey come on Murray does change every day” and you know what your right about that, I do. I mean for goodness sake look at everything Autism on the Water has achieved this past year, a hell of a lot of change from that cold, wet and windy night in November 2016 when I first started to build it all. But all the hard change happens behind the scenes!

Behind the Scenes of Autism on the Water is not like The Appendices Documentaries of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings where Peter Jackson takes the audiencies on his filmmaker’s journey on how the movies came to life, its nothing like that at all for my charity. No Behind the Scenes work is ever easy. For Autism on the Water to grow continuously, it requires almost round the clockwork which is mainly done by me with input from friends, family, companies, and organizations who generously give up their time to help me on the journey to bring autism awareness through sailing to life like Peter did to bring Tolkien’s world to life, he had much help to make his films but the bulk of the responsibility lied on him.

Being a Director, Founder and Trustee of a Charity is a very important job and there are so many guidelines and procedures to follow, some of which especially if your a first timer is actually quite scary! Recently I and a friend have been working tirelessly on #ProjectWales. This project was to exhibit Autism on the Water at The Autism Directory at Cardiff in Wales which was held at the end of September. We decided only 4 weeks before the show to take on this project, ambitious but my friend and I knew we could make it work. And it worked! We had a very successful day in Cardiff City Stadium where I spoke to many parents, professionals, and people on the spectrum, but one thing really niggled in my brain that day. Yes, the day was fantastic and my two friends who came down and helped me and spent huge amounts of time both financially and personally I am very grateful too should be very very proud of themselves and indeed I was especially proud. But inside my brain, I did not recognize Autism on the Water anymore. It had gone through so much change in these past few weeks like the logo colors, the wording on leaflets, etc. It was all things that happened in such a short space of time and in between that people were giving and sometimes insisting on new ideas about how the charity should be run.

STOP STOP STOP!!! My head was swirling and buzzing around and this is where my autism is more evident to the world, I can only process big change or even little suggested changes one at a time, yes sometimes I have to process lots quickly but there are also sometimes I just cannot cope with it. Once the show in Wales was over, I breathed a little that it was over. I thanked my friend most sincerely for all her help in getting me started up on this and I returned home to Edinburgh with all the equipment for the next show. And all too soon, the next show was booked which is Scotland’s Boat Show in a week’s time! And that was me who booked it and straight after I was like “what am I doing to myself?”. Aside from Autism on the Water work, I have also taken on the role of yacht racing captain for the Edinburgh University Sailing Club, a fantastic student sailing club who have been so good to the charity that I really wanted to give something back and graciously I had the honor of being elected onto the club committee for the 2019/2020 season. This new role is also a big responsibility, I am in charge of sending student teams away to compete in yacht racing events, organize boats for them to use, sort out transport, etc. And overall I am enjoying the role and receiving fantastic support from the rest of the committee but I am also so brand new to a role like this, again another pile of “change”. Change, change, CHANGE! I just need to get on and grin and bear it as they say.

But this week it all got too much, I had piles and piles of admin work to do for Autism on the Water and various bits and bobs to do for the Uni Sailing Club. Aside from that, all the kit that we got couriered back from Wales after the show arrived which I spent some time sorting through and I just cried. Why was I crying? I don’t know, this should all be good stuff, the charity was growing and here was all the equipment to continue its growth! Then more things happened and more things happened then more things! I finally just exploded and could not take it anymore.

I spent a miserable evening at home feeling so down and depressed, I actually did not really know what I was doing half the time or really register the world around me, it was like swirling away into nothingness. I was saying some random things to close friends on Facebook messenger whilst I slowly scratched my hand with a sharp piece of metal, people started to worry and get scared. Soon they contacted my family to express their concerns and soon they knew what was happening and I was soon getting phone calls and as that happened before I realized it, I was bleeding pretty badly. My close friend Lee came over to see me as one of those concerned people and cleaned my hand up. He stayed with me and talked to me until I was ready to be left alone.

The next morning, I woke up and the first thing I felt was pure guilt. My Mum and my Brothers all phoned me up and I talked and explained my feelings and they also expressed their feelings and also gently explained that I had seriously worried my friends who I had communicated with the night before especially when I was not replying to their messages. And that guilt became even more real, how so bloody stupid and selfish I had been to put these kind-hearted and down to earth friends through that worry and fright when their going through their own issues in life. I apologized to them and again publically if you read this guys I am sorry again for frightening you, it was stupid, reckless and selfish of me to put you through that especially telling you what I was doing to hand. It is very important to open up to people you trust but sometimes and I have had plenty of time to think about this over the weekend, you have to be careful how much you tell others when it is actually happening, speak to your friends and family but especially speak to the ones who are there to actually help you and can help you.

And that is where I need to learn to speak to my own family more, we are now all pretty spread out across the country and abroad at the moment, but no matter the distance we are still a family and I am going to try my very best to open up more to my Mum and my brothers more about my mental health when its really bad. I want to tell them personally now how sorry I am to them also for worrying them, I promise as mentioned to make every effort to be a better person in situations like this.

And the improvements are now beginning, my Mum and I will be working on a good solid future document of plans for Autism on the Water. The charity also now has a full delegate of trustees who come from some excellent backgrounds and walks of life who I’m sure will contribute in any way they can to the success of Autism on the Water and give me a tiny break from some of the responsibilities.

As for me personally, I have taken this weekend to just shut down and catch up on some much-needed sleep. My hand is quite painful but it is heeling thanks to the cream my brother bought for it. And on Monday I will start again. I have returned back to the gym 2-3 times a week to do spin and burn it classes on the early mornings. I have also devised a plan to compromise both Autism on the Water and Edinburgh University Sailing Club work to strike a balance and ensure it is done efficiently. I am looking forward to getting more involved in the club, make some new friends within the club and build a strong yacht racing program up especially in the 707 class.

Finally, I want to say as always a huge thank you for all your support, guidance and friendship in my life and sorry if I have brought some of you to tears the past week. I know I am too honest in these blogs and I do not plan to write another one of these anytime soon because I want and need to focus on myself for a while. The winter is coming and with the recent coldness we are having its very close to coming and with the final racing event of the year for Autism on the Water just two weeks away with the 707 Scottish Championships, I am looking forward to a final blast and seeing if we can keep up our good results from our last event and end the racing season with a bang! Then the boat will be packed up and put to bed for the winter where I will start another long winter but this time there will be plenty to do, places to go and people to see. I anticipate it to be a much more positive winter than the last.

Change is Hard, but in someways facing the hard stuff is the most worthwhile challenge ever. Lets go give it a go!

Thank you for reading 🙂

How do I get there?

Image may contain: ocean, boat, sky, outdoor and waterHow do I begin? Where do I begin? I had done a Facebook Live on the Autism on the Water page but Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram etc. all seem to be having technical hitches so no videos are getting uploaded. So I decided to do what I do best out of everything I do and that is writing.

The last few days, ever since I got back from Hartlepool on Monday afternoon, I have been sitting alone in my little flat, thinking, trying to plan, trying to improve. Improve what may you ask? Last week we attended the Hunter 707 UK Nationals which this year were hosted by Tees & Hartlepool YC in Hartlepool. They did an outstanding job hosting 17 one-design boats from across the country. We made a special effort to transport AOTW back to the Forth from the West Coast ready to be transported down to Hartlepool in time for the event. But this year, the event was different for me, the entire crew was the entire family! Joining me for the event was my older brother Michael, his partner Brooke (who joined for Days 1 and 2) my cousin Robin, my other brother Martin who did Days 3 and 4 and last but not least my amazing and beautiful Mum Julie. We were very generously sponsored for the event by Mark Cameron of Mark Cameron Yachts and we ensured he was recognised throughout the whole event by flying his business flag.

But the racing whilst the sun shone, the racing for us was not good. I went into the event with no high hopes of taking a top 5 position as I knew we would have to be a top team to be able to be capable of that but a top 10 has always been my goal at every event I do. But this time, I just could not understand it, I could not find any pace on the boat. The crew work was very exceptional so it was not that, the boat’s sails are in reasonable condition and we also had a brand new spinnaker so it could not have been that. The rig settings?? Yes that is a big possibility especially when I tightened the rig back to front with the inner stays on higher numbers and the cap shrouds on lower numbers but could that really slow the pace of the boat down?? My answer, I honestly do not know? On Saturday, Martin came for his stint of racing, he out of the three brothers is the most experienced and a very good tactician, I even let him helm a race to see if he could get the boat going but it was to no avail, we still finished last. I was so depressed after racing, I felt so low and so many things were going through my head like selling the boat, giving up, I honestly did not know what to do. Loads of people tried to advise but some of their perception of advice was pointing out what I was doing wrong and I was offended by some comments and some even said I needed a helmsman, that made me feel like they were saying I was not good enough.

On Sunday, racing got abandoned so we set about packing away the boat and preparing for lifting out, but not before making small notes on various things like rig numbers and small repairs etc. Then a disaster happened, as we started the craning out procedure, myself, Mum and Robin were helping another boat by pushing their trailer, because people were in a rush to get home, things were moving too quickly and by accident, Mum’s foot got rolled over by the wheel of the trailer with the boat on it! Seeing that happen was horrible, poor Mum was shaking and crying and was on the brink of almost passing out. As in the spirit of the 707 class, people rallied round to see if there was anything they could do and Mark of the boat “Valhalla” who is one of my best Valhalla friends and is a qualified doctor came over and assessed her and advised us to take her to the Urgent Care Clinic. Robin went and brought the car around and took her up to the hospital whilst I went and prepared the boat to be lifted out the water, again the spirit of the 707 fleet was perfect, they all rallied once again, bringing the box of straps and helping strap the boat to the trailer and then assisted in attaching the boat to the van that was towing the boat home to Edinburgh.

After the boat left, I then headed up to be by my Mum’s side whilst they took her in for an X-ray, she thankfully got off very lightly with a broken big toe in two places and a fractured Vulcan. But by now with some painkillers in her system, she was in good spirits. I posted a photo of her on the 707 Group chat thanking the class for all their efforts on her behalf and mine for helping out and also made a suggestion about maybe being less rushed when lifting out next time. But unfortuenly the suggestion was taken the wrong way as an insult and so I removed it and for the record, no one is to blame, it was entirely an accident but I was so worried about Mum and just wanted to ensure that it does not happen again to anyone. No one was being criticised.

But now I am back home where I have been for the past three days, sitting in the house trying to think. I have felt so low and so tired. Again I have had several thoughts to just sell the boat and not go back out again. Then I realised just how stupid I was being, I cannot give up. Things have not helped with people from Tarbert complaining to me about the accommodation we stayed in this year during the Scottish Series and saying that we “stained a towel and a duvet” which I spent a considerable amount of money replacing and I am still getting my head nipped at so we have now lost our digs for Scottish Series 2020 😦

Where do I go from here? I guess the answer is to move forward. I have now made a list of what to replace and fix on AOTW, what rig settings we can choose and what bits I can add on to help improve the boat. For goodness sake why am I being like this? I should not be down, I should be happy, happy that everything is going so well, in a time of trouble I sit and watch the Scallywag videos from the Volvo Ocean Race and seeing Witty’s words of encouragement to his crew and his attitude of never giving up makes me a stronger person and want to carry on. I will carry on, I will not give up. We will get the boat sorted out and get back on the water.

I am sorry to those who I have let down, I am sorry to those I have ignored, I am sorry in general for being me. I promise to make things better and keep on going and who knows if we work hard, maybe we can bring a trophy home one day, but as long as we continue raising the awareness of autism, not just of my autism but for the world of autism, then that in itself to me is a true Race win.

 

“The Road goes ever on”

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Currently, the Irish have invaded Edinburgh for another edition of the 6 Nations against Scotland at Murrayfield. I sit here at home remembering the times when I used to Rickshaw during the 6 Nations. It was always a busy weekend then the Irish, English and Welsh came to Edinburgh for the rugby. The long 12pm-6am shifts cycling half a tonne of rickshaw with 3 people in the back is a painful yet fond memory. I have spent today wondering if it is time to come out of retirement and go back to it?! Who knows? It is not hard to go and renew my license! Maybe one day!

The last few weeks have really gone by quick and I cannot believe that we are now into February, oh lord the month of the Valentine, who will send me one this year? I am actually still waiting to receive my first! But in all seriousness, things are now on the up, the days are getting lighter, the weather is getting a tad warmer (when the wind is not here) and Autism on the Water is finally a registered charity! The day when I received the email was a real lift for me, it made me realise that I had accomplished something very big and exciting and reminded me of the very long road I now have to create and fulfil the needs of OSCR the charity registration. I have so many exciting plans and ambitions for the year, for the moment I am concentrating on introducing myself to the sailing centre world and I will be attending the RYA Conference later this month where they actually have a workshop in Autism and Boating! I was in Oban this week and had the pleasure of meeting a young man with autism from Glencoe Boat Club. He really deserves an award for his amazing commitment and dedication to sailing and I am going to make sure that he one day gets that award. I have also invited a group of autistic adults to help me take the Hunter 707 through the Crinan Canal in June, this will be of huge benefit to them and I hope I can put some further smiles on their faces.

But overall, I have to thank one of my best friends who really was there for me during those difficult few weeks in January despite currently in Malaysia studying and feeding elephants and that is Kirsty! Kirsty has been nothing but a true friend ever since she came into my life last summer when she joined AOTW for the 707 Sprints, her and her amazing and kind-hearted sister Kate have always been there when I have needed a chat, felt down, or just a good pint and a good laugh. Despite being a long way from home at the moment, Kirsty has been a real godsend just sitting there whilst she should be studying and enjoying her abroad experience and listening to me moan and groan about my own problem and she just comes back with simple yet strong words of advice and encouragement. She really is one of the greatest friends I have could have in my life just now along with the many others, so I dedicate this blog to you Kirsty, I won’t have been able to pull myself back up as quickly as I have done without you. Forever a friend!

Right, the rugby is finished, looks like Ireland has won!! Until next time folks!