Hello 2018

Good morning followers and visitors alike!

I hope we are all well and sufficiently recovered from our festive over-indulgence? It’s been about three weeks or so since my last post, and I noticed I have gained a small surge in followers, so thought it would be a good time to update you with the goings on in my world.

An update on how my resolutions are going (or not):

  1. Keep up with a journal – noting down daily thoughts, moods, gratitude logs, achievements etc. so that at the end of 2018 I can look back and think ‘Yup, I really kicked arse this year’.

This one ground to a halt fairly quickly, I managed seven entries in total before it came to a natural death. I am still keeping a finance log though, which is really helping.

2. Expand my artistic skillset but looking into character design. I’m already signed up for a couple of courses on Udemy, so hopefully, they will help immensely.

I am still signed up for the courses, they have lifetime access which is great, but due to other priorities, I haven’t managed to do anymore with them. That doesn’t mean I won’t, it’s definitely on my list, I just haven’t had the time yet.

3. Stop wasting money on crap – i.e. food at the work cafe. I’ve added a ‘no spend’ tracker to my journal so I can note when I’ve been good, and shame myself when I’ve been naughty!

Now, this I have been keeping up with, I’ve still done a naughty bit of spending here and there, but nowhere near as much crap, and certainly no ‘eating out’ at work unnecessarily. 

4. Spend less time aimlessly scrolling Facebook/internet and more time being productive i.e. art, crochet, studying, reading. Make those 24hrs count!

Well right now I should be studying, but instead, I’m writing my blog, so meh. BUT to be fair, I am pretty much up-to-date with studying, have 1.5 commissions to do, and m managing to get some crochet in there as well, so it’s not entirely a waste.

5. On a similar note – dedicate a bit more time to studying and be more organised and focused in this. I need to look at strategies to keep me focused.

See above. Definitely, need to look at some focusing strategies though. I seem to perform better in very small snippets, so perhaps little and often rather than one long binge is key.

6. Do something ‘fucking brave’ every month. I need to look into things that will push me out of my Autistic comfort zone and set myself a challenge to do them. The achievement will outweigh the fear.

I genuinely haven’t had time to do anything uber brave this month, but I do have a few things lined up!

7. Between Apr and Nov cycle to work – this will get me fit and also save money on fuel. If I park my car in a certain spot, I can save 70miles a week in fuel and also miss out the worst of the hills.

I now have my bike, and did a test ride on it last week and it was great. I just need to wait for the weather to perk up a bit so that it’s safer to ride, as I’m not totally confident about riding on wet slippy cycle paths.

8. Actually complete a crochet project – the 365 day Granny Square blanket is this year’s project!

So I’m a bit behind on this one at the moment due to other priorities, but hoping to spend some time catching up when I’ve got my commissions and latest essay completed 🙂 They only take about 20 minutes each, so a day of crochet and Netflix will put me back on track!

9. Continue blogging, and potentially look into creative writing – I would love to publish a book one day.

I’m blogging now, yay go me!

10. Felt like I needed a 10th one so I will end with simply ‘make a point of being more kind’. If everyone did that the world would be a better place I think!

As always I try and see the best in people, I always message people/write letters to let them know I’m thinking of them, people say I’m a good friend so I must be doing something right?

So, back to the here and now. This morning I woke up to some marvelous news, I managed to achieve 92% on my most recent essay for my BSc Psychology qualification with The Open University. Suprised is an understatement! If I can maintain this for the next three modules, I’ll be saying hello to a 1st Class Degree, something I never dreamed possible! This essay and its interpretation was a challenge, not just to me but to other students as well! So much so, the OU had to release an email further explaining the requirements (though this added to the confusion). I subsequently released a Youtube video to give MY interpretation of the question, and this set off an absolute whirlwind of kind messages from thankful students. You can read a small selection of these in here. The OU, despite having no jurisdiction over social media discussions, and despite me having obtained what I believed was permission to post, was not too happy about this, and so I was asked to remove the video the night of the deadline. Most students therefor saw the video and found it helpful to get their neurological cogs turning. I haven’t heard any further from the OU, so presumably, no action is being taken. I have posted my thoughts about The OU’s apparent dislike of Social Media in my blog post ‘Don’t mention the module materials!’ here.

Anyway, rather pleased with my 92%, and looking forward to my next essay which has a reflective element and is all about our responses to urban vs natural environments. Looking forward to getting my teeth stuck into this one! Overall I am enjoying this module, more than my last one. The Natural Sciences are calling me though, and I believe I will be undertaking a qualification in this on completion of my BSc Psych.

Desk of a typical OU student

Moving away from the digital world now, as I look out my window it is tipping it down with rain. Alas, my friend in the Met Office has not been able to wave his magic wand and make the rain disappear! The yard is thick mud, and due to the latest outbreak of Avian Flu, my chickens are confined to their muddy pen, rather than being able to free range in their usual acre. Still, 11 more weeks and the ponies will be out (hopefully!) enjoying their grazing from April – November. If the weather dries up anytime soon they will also be able to enjoy a roam around the small paddock, and other areas of grass which the landowner likes me to keep on top of.

Training-wise the ponies are doing very well. Betty, who is rising 3 in April has had her first passengers, albeit for only a brief period. She’s still a bit young in my eyes to be doing anything more. But she was quite happy to give five minutes of fun to a friend’s young children. So very pleased and always humbled by the love from these once semi-wild animals. Star enjoyed a walk out around the village last weekend. Flo is just enjoying being a youngster, and her training won’t start until next year. As I learned from Betty last year, working with two-year-olds is very challenging, and they benefit more from just having that time to be themselves (whilst learning to be handled and have basic manners of course).

My social calendar has been fairly reasonable this year thus far. I experienced a roller disco for the first time on Saturday 13th January. Having not set foot on roller skates in about 20 years, I had to be escorted into the hall by my friend’s 10 year old, and some poor man whom I didn’t know. I only fell twice – both times when attempting to save my friend’s other young child from the complete carnage of potential head and spinal injuries that was going on around me. It’s hard to remember just how resilient children are! Perhaps I’m getting old…

I caught up with my good friend for a cinema trip on Monday 15th January. We went to see The Greatest Showman which was absolutely marvelous. I’d happily see it again, definitely one to purchase when released, it was so wonderfully feel-good, and exactly as I’d imagined since obsessively listening to the soundtrack since December. We had lunch and spent the rest of the day catching up in the pub over a pint (of Coke). I do enjoy catching up with friends, but there’s always that challenge of getting the balance right, and interpreting their social cues correctly. I always worry that I annoy them, or that they’re only seeing me just to be nice. Perhaps I need to stop overthinking these things and just enjoy the moments.

Tuesday 16th January involved going for a nice meal with current and previous work colleagues. It’s always great to catch up with everyone outside of the formal office environment. I worked from home that day and didn’t have any lunch, so I was totally ready for my dinner!

Yesterday, Saturday 20th I visited Lyme Regis for some Fossil Hunting, I took my friend along who really wanted to go and we both came back very happy indeed! I found some nice ammonite pieces, but what really topped the day was a second Ichthyosaur vertebra, 2 inches in diameter! I spoke to the Geologist on site who was leading a walking group, and he estimated the animal would have been between 16 and 18ft in length, and the vertebra would have been from the animals’ neck very close to the skull given the size. Some very lucky chap was lucky enough to find an intact Ichthyosaur paddle in a flat piece of rock, with all the little bones intact, I wish I’d taken a photo, such a terrific find. I’m really enjoying fossil hunting and will continue to do it, and hopefully learn more as I go. Thank you to my good friend Ben whom I was lucky enough to meet who has sparked this interest in me.

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Work is going well, I’m helping to lead a project at the moment to change the way our team works, it’s new territory for me, but I enjoy a challenge. I have lots of other mini projects happening around me as well and am enjoying the flexibility my job role offers. I am able to have a good balance between work and home life.

Art-wise I have two commissions on the go, however, they are both surprise presents so I am unable to post progress pictures, but once they have been given to the recipients, I will post the completed photos on here. I’m then going to put art on hold for a bit, until I finish this module at least (May), then really plow through some art in the summer before breaking up again for the Autumn/Winter Uni term. I will start my Christmas commissions earlier this year, as they proved so popular last year.

So there we have it, a summary of my past three or so weeks. Thank you for making it this far! I am now brought onto the subject of the direction of this blog. I have been writing since October now I believe, and I’m not entirely sure the direction this blog is taking. I feel I need a focus. Some posts are merely about what I have been up to in my life, which is all well and good, but realistically, how many people want to actually know about this? I’ve done some stuff about The OU, and also the subjects of Anxiety and Autism. The latter I believe is possibly the road I’m going to be heading down, but I think I need some kind of focus for this. What are your thoughts? What would you like to see more of? I’m also hoping to start introducing some multimedia posts as well – videos and audios. But ideally, I need to settle on a subject first. I’m hoping it will just naturally evolve, and even if the blog does become more Autism-focussed, I suppose my weekly life insights would be a welcome break from the more serious stuff and perhaps show that those with ASD, do partake in ‘normal’ everyday life, and do have ‘normal’ everyday experiences also? Something for me to think about at least…

Anyway I hope you’re all having a wonderful weekend, and I wish you all my best for the week ahead.



Ushering in a new year

Hello marvelous people of WordPress,

It is 19:00 on Sunday 31st December 2017, and in five hours time, we (in the GMT time zone) will be waving goodbye to 2017 and ushering in 2018. So I thought I’d do a ‘year in review’ themed post, as well as note down some of my goals and aspirations for 2018.

January saw the year anniversary of me jumping back into the world of horses (well, ponies to be precise). Incidentally, as I write, I have also marked a year of renting the land and yard and officially ‘going it alone’. Contrary to popular advice I received along the lines of ‘Don’t get youngsters whatever you do, that’s a bloody disaster waiting to happen’; in 2016 I decided it would be fun to take on two semi-feral Dartmoor Hill Ponies, one of whom was untouchable and the other had experienced some basic handling previously but had since been left to her own devices. I didn’t  intend on getting two ponies, let alone youngsters, but I’m glad I did. Despite being a ‘novice’ in terms of young horses, I have managed to transform three (yes I bought another), wild ponies – two of which were untouchable – into friendly, inquisitive, well-mannered ponies that are able to be handled safely by myself and young people. Betty and Star have both had a young person sat on them briefly, and Star has begun his career by undertaking basic groundwork, attending a show and participating in a training clinic. All ponies are well-mannered, will stand still to have their feet cleaned without needing to be tied up. They will lead out on the road in the heaviest of traffic, and will even allow you to cuddle up with them whilst they sleep in the field. As 2017 draws to a close I am reminded just how rewarding taking a risk can be, and by following your heart and acknowledging, but not necessarily taking the advice of nay-sayers. If you can dream it you can do it, all you need is common-sense, time, love and perseverance.

January also saw me step back into the world of poultry, I currently have a flock of nine happy hens who enjoy a free-range lifestyle, being free to roam an acre of pasture during the day, whilst laying me wonderful fresh eggs which we use at home and I sell at work. I am hoping to get three more hens in the spring/summer to lay some different colour eggs.

March saw my participation in the publicity of a local charity New Life Horse Care who had been shortlisted as a finalist for The People’s Projects by The National Lottery. I did a TV interview, designed our campaign materials and helped promote the charity through social media and the website I designed and maintain. Whilst they charity did not win, it did get a runner’s up prize which was used to make the land more accessible to those with mobility challenges.

April saw the successful fundraiser for the charity mentioned above, through GoFundMe I managed to raise nearly £600 which was awesome. I also met up with my wonderful internet friend Charlie. We’ve met up previously on several occasions, but not for a number of years so was great to meet up again. We met in London, stayed at an Air BnB and then visited the Harry Potter Studios the next day which was AWESOME. I was like an adult child, it was so cool, I was surprisingly controlled in the gift shop! A fire at Euston Station, however, mean that getting home was a complete nightmare and I just caught my Megabus with minutes to spare, phew! I slept well on the journey home!

May saw me step into the realms of online dating, and whilst it was unsuccessful on the relationship front, I have made some really good friends out of it and also picked up on some new and exciting hobbies, so it was a win really.

August saw me organise another fundraiser, this time for Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony. I booked and organised a stall at the Silverton Street Market where we raised £600+, how awesome! We had a tombola, bric-a-brac and a pet portrait raffle. It was a very successful day and it was great to have people come and help out as well and catch up with everyone.

September saw my yearly cruise holiday on board The Independence of the Seas. I had an awesome time, pictures can be viewed here. My next cruise, booked for June 2018, will probably be my last for the foreseeable future – until I win the lottery of course! It was great to get away for two weeks and not have anything to worry about, though I did miss my animals and friends, and when I got back I was indeed ready to get back into the swing of everything.

October saw the creation of this blog. It has been wonderful having an outlet to take to when life gets tough. It’s been wonderful to spend time writing, this has not been a creative expression I have tried before so it has been truly marvelous to do this. I’m still not 100% what direction this blog is going in, but nonetheless, I will keep writing, and we’ll see what 2018 brings.

Of course, all the way through the year I have been studying with The Open University. I started my first Level 2 module in October and am really enjoying it thus far. I have submitted my second assignment which was a challenge as the question was ambiguous with a few potential interpretations. Once I had my epiphany though I made a video where I shared my interpretation and use of the materials, I shared this amongst my course group (with Tutor’s permission) and received some remarkable feedback, I certainly wasn’t expecting the reaction I received, these are just a selection of the comments:

“I’m so grateful for this! THANK YOU! It’s really important for me to try to do my best & I couldn’t for the life of me understand this question. Thank you for allowing me to see it more clearly! It’s really really helpful & literally has made me feel so much more at ease because I now feel confident to start the TMA. Thank you again! Really appreciate you taking your time to help us”

“Thank you saved my TMA! I had miss interpreted the question and completed my TMA weeks ago. I emailed my tutor after watching this and he confirmed my interpretation was wrong”

“I’ve just joined the group in hope of finding even a tiny bit of clarity concerning this essay question and Melissa, you have helped me more than I could have imagined! This video is so helpful and I wish you were my tutor at this point. Thank you SO much for this!”

“I hope you give serious thought to becoming a tutor”

“That was a superb video Melissa thank you. You are right to emphasise that individual tutors may want things done in a certain way. You have sparked some good stuff there.
For anyone who is totally lost-and from FB posts and OU themselves sending out a ‘clarifying’ email that’s quite a few, this video is better than a pointer- it is a very competent guide/ explanation- well done.”

“You really deserve all the praise!!! To me, I felt like i wasn’t getting enough support from my tutor or even the TMA guidance.. its hard trying to focus on this and have real life in the way… and then you come along and take your time to really help us to understand our TMA! Thank you, I appreciate you!!!”

“So helpful!! Thank you so much for doing this! Xxx”

“Thank you so much for this video Melissa. It has made this TMA much clearer and i feel much more confident in making a start now. Please do this for each TMA! Good luck and Merry Christmas x”

“Really appreciate you taking the time to do this. Really helped me out.”

“Your face was radiant and filled me with hope!”

“Melissa you are an angel!”

“Great video, think I might be able to do this after all!”

“I agree with you re: students discussing on a peer to peer basis in normal speak.”

“Thanks so much for taking the time to make this video Melissa, I have found it really helpful Merry Christmas x”

Omg , i have watched the first 4 mins and i already find it so useful, i am going to watch the rest tonight. What a kind gesture x”

“Fab video Melissa. That’s similar to what I had to do, rewording the question and rephrasing it in my head. Thanks for the heads up x”

I never dreamed in a million years I would be studying at University level, after being bullied all the way through the education system leaving me completely broken and with no self-esteem, it took a chance meeting with a chap on holiday to give me the self-belief and bravery to just go for it, and I’m so glad I did! The only way is up, and after this I have my sights set on a BSc in Natural Sciences.

I have continued to excel in the workplace and prove my worth, going above and beyond my role, as such allowing myself further opportunities to network with people in other roles, I think 2018 is going to be an exciting year for my career.

So there you have it, just a small taster of my 2017. I know I’ve put some pretty dreary posts on here, but it’s not all bad I assure you, I just sometimes forget to look at the good things and all that I have achieved, note for 2018: Must make a note of more of the good things! On that note, here’s what I’m hoping to achieve in 2018:-

  1. Keep up with a journal – noting down daily thoughts, moods, gratitude logs, achievements etc. so that at the end of 2018 I can look back and think ‘Yup, I really kicked arse this year’.
  2. Expand my artistic skillset but looking into character design. I’m already signed up for a couple of courses on Udemy, so hopefully, they will help immensely.
  3. Stop wasting money on crap – i.e. food at the work cafe. I’ve added a ‘no spend’ tracker to my journal so I can note when I’ve been good, and shame myself when I’ve been naughty!
  4. Spend less time aimlessly scrolling Facebook/internet and more time being productive i.e. art, crochet, studying, reading. Make those 24hrs count!
  5. On a similar note – dedicate a bit more time to studying and be more organised and focused in this. I need to look at strategies to keep me focused.
  6. Do something ‘fucking brave’ every month. I need to look into things that will push me out of my Autistic comfort zone and set myself a challenge to do them. The achievement will outweigh the fear.
  7. Between Apr and Nov cycle to work – this will get me fit and also save money on fuel. If I park my car in a certain spot, I can save 70miles a week in fuel and also miss out the worst of the hills.
  8. Actually complete a crochet project – the 365 day Granny Square blanket is this year’s project!
  9. Continue blogging, and potentially look into creative writing – I would love to publish a book one day.
  10. Felt like I needed a 10th one so I will end with simply ‘make a point of being more kind’. If everyone did that the world would be a better place I think!

So there we have it, that’s 2017 in review, and my hopes and ambitions for 2018. It is now 3hrs and 15 minutes until 2018 is upon us. I leave you now with my very best wishes for the year ahead, and I’ll see you on the other side.

– Melissa

Mud, Uni, Star Wars, ​and Christmas prep – My fortnight in review.

Hello, lovely people of WordPress, I hope we are all well? Thought I’d do a mini diary entry of the past fortnight since my previous blog post.

The Open Uni

My fortnight has mainly involved pondering my most recent essay questions: 

Compare and contrast alternative psychological accounts of nationalism and national identity. You should illustrate your answer with both theoretical and applied examples. (1500 words)

Briefly describe the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES) and explain its value for psychological research into self-esteem. (250 words)

Explain what psychologists mean by ‘social constructionism’ in the context of understanding conflict in relationships. (250 words)

My silly atypical brain, as marvelous as it is, does like to over-complicate things at every given opportunity, so relatively simple essay questions such as the one above are interpreted by my brain in a multitude of ways. Unfortunately, at level 2, Tutors aren’t able to offer much in the way of help, as they don’t want to ‘stifle creativity’, lucky for me, I have a wonderful work colleague who has survived Uni previously and who helps me immensely in getting my ideas down and into a logical format. As such, I devised an essay plan, this time requiring little input, and have written my first draft in about a day, awesome! Just need to draft the two smaller questions, then do some word culling – as per usual I have waffled! I’m really enjoying this course so far, I do have a bit of reading to catch up on, as I fell a bit behind when I needed to catch up on art commissions, so I have only read some essay relevant texts, but I do intend to catch up over the Christmas period when all has settled down.

Speaking of Christmas, I was prepared early this year, with my cards all written and delivered in the first week of December. Presents are all sorted, so I am ready for the big day to come and go. I’m not big into the festivities – in fact, if I lived on my own I don’t think I’d bother! It’s all rather commercial and after hearing comments such as ‘Your sister spent £30 on you and you’ve only spent £25 on her‘, I’ve become extremely disillusioned with the whole thing. Nevertheless, when one lives in the company of family, one must put on a brave face.  It’s not all doom and gloom, I do enjoy the food, and the music and Christmas films are always a must – especially Love Actually, Die Hard, Jingle All The Way and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Social wise my calendar has been fairly quiet this past fortnight, in fact, I have had only one event, and that was seeing the new Star Wars film with my old neighbour. I really enjoyed it, certainly more so than The Force Awakens, there’s still some disappointing bits in it, my favourite ‘recent’ Star Wars movie is still Rogue One by a million miles. THAT was proper Star Wars.  



Oh, wonderful, you’re still here!

Two things disappointed me about The Last Jedi, well, three things actually, or four, OK, some things disappointed me, such as:

Snoke’s death – Yeah, it’s great that Kylo has proven his internal conflict by doing in his master, but where does this leave us in terms of an explanation of who Snoke actually is? Unless of course this is explained in the trilogy of books I have yet to read, set between The Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens? Also, the fact Snoke was reading Kylo’s mind at the time, don’t you think he’d have an inkling that Kylo was about to cut him in half? All a bit meh, I do hope we get some Snoke backstory in the next film. I did like that we got to see the real Snoke. He certainly wasn’t as foreboding as his holographic self, not sure what was going on with his weird gold robe either…

Princess Leia’s non-death – So Princess Leia was on the bridge of her ship and got blasted out through the window by shots fired from an incoming Tie Fighter, she’s floating around in space, a place with no Oxygen, and I don’t have the temperature without Googling, but I’m pretty sure it’d be very bloody cold up there, and no air pressure, so basically, she would be definitely dead. But oh no, not in Disney’s Star Wars world, her hand starts to move and as if by magic (or the force), she floats gracefully back to her ship and is then put into the medical bay. Given that the real Carrie Fisher is no longer in this mortal coil God rest her soul, I thought it was a bit silly for her to come back, not really sure what purpose she can serve in the next film unless they CGI her? Though I heard they weren’t planning on doing that. Who knows?

Rey’s grasp of the force despite little training – So despite receiving very little in the way of training from Luke Skywalker, Rey has a pretty good grasp of how to use the Force. She’s even able to project herself into different places, an act which Kylo said himself should kill her, and indeed did kill Luke Skywalker, a highly trained Jedi Master, at the end of the film. She’s got some pretty swish lightsaber skills as evidenced by her teaming up with Kylo and taking down Snoke’s guards and did some pretty awesome rock moving at the end. She didn’t have to run through some gross swamp with a green alien on her back like what Luke did…back in our day! These new Jedi have it too easy… I dunno, maybe she’s just super powerful so she’s able to use these powers as they come so naturally to her. Luke did say he saw this kind of power once before – in Kylo.

Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren backstory (lack of) – I wanted more of this! What actually happened? Will we get to see Kylo in training with Luke? I hope this is picked up more in the next movie. All we got were brief flashbacks, but no detail, it would be interesting to look at the Jedi training academy that Luke had set up. I feel there needs to be another trilogy between Return of the Jedi and Force Awakens, oh wait, it’s Disney, of course there will be! 

Pointless Scene / Character – I thought the scene on the casino planet was a bit meh, I mean, I’m glad they freed the giant horses, I did feel sad that they were being abused, but I dunno, it just all seemed a bit pointless, and that codebreaker guy ‘Toro?’ was just so irrelevant, I feel they could have skipped this part of the story and put something better in there, though the stuff between Rose and Finn was cute though.

Kylo Ren – Still like an overgrown man-child that needs to make his mind up!

Good bits!

Loved that we saw more of Po Dameran, he’s one of my top characters, I love his feisty attitude, and I loved him toying with Hux at the beginning.

The scene where Holdo hyperdrives her ship straight through a Star Destroyer. The deafening silence that followed and the giant rumbling explosion was bloody awesome, my favourite scene! It also redeemed her character, as she had previously led us to believe she was a coward. It was nice as well for Po to see that and re-evaluate his judgment of her.

There was humor, but it wasn’t overdone. My favourite funny bit was Chewie and the little critters (Porgs?) giving him the sad face as he was eating one of them, I do love Chewie.

Nice that Yoda makes an appearance, though as a ghost he was able to manipulate the real world, didn’t know that was an option for force users? I guess this leaves things open for Luke in the next movie, will he be playing an active part I wonder?

The battle of Crait was reminiscent of the battle of Hoth.

The ending! Although I was disappointed that Luke died, I think he was ready to end it all and become one with the force. I loved the final scene with the children telling the legend of Luke Skywalker, and the boy with a hint of being able to use the force, this really leaves the story open, who is that small boy? Will he be a character of significance in the future film?  The Jedi clearly are not over, maybe Rey will set up her on academy? Though this would be a little strange given she has had no training herself…

All in all, I really enjoyed the film, it was a great night out, and I’ll certainly be seeing it again with other friends so I may pick up on details I have missed from the first viewing.

Mud, mud and more mud!

So, winter is well and truly here and what a mess it brings with it! The yard is a quagmire, and weekly I am having to shovel the mud off of the concrete and back onto the, well, pile of more mud! The ponies are limited in their turn out, as I don’t want them charging around on the wet ground and churning it up. The chickens aren’t too affected, as they are let out daily from about 7:30am to scratch about in the paddock, they then take themselves back to bed when it’s dark. They are looking a lot better after their bout with poultry mites which left them looking very ill and sorry for themselves.

Unfortunately, I cannot be without parasites for long, the ponies have ringworm, which they caught from the cows in the next paddock over the summer, so I am currently in the process of fending that off with Imaverol. All good fun!

Whilst the winter is hard work, I do enjoy it, I see the ponies twice a day and do a lot more with them. I think in the summer you’re at the risk of being a bit lazy as they essentially look after themselves. Next spring/summer should be a lot busier, as Star and Betty are at the age where they can start some light work, so their training regime will be increased and I’ll be doing a lot more with them to get them started. Flo also needs a bit of training, and I will try and get her out and about and walking around the village, as time has not allowed me to do that yet this year.

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Other stuff

So, I’ve had a complete break from art until the new year as I really did do A LOT this previous month, so it’s good to have a bit of a break from it. I have instead been doing more writing, as in using a fountain pen (how archaic) on real bits of paper, and sending letters through the post. Goodness me, all very Victorian! I’m on a few Penpal groups on Facebook and have made some friends on there which is great. I think there’s nothing better than seeing a hand-addressed envelope land on your doormat. To take the time to physically write a letter to someone is just so much more personal and pleasurable than sending/receiving a Whatsapp message.  In the age of read-receipts and blue ticks, it’s nice to step back and actually not know if they’ve received your letter yet, or read it, and the suspense of when you will receive your reply. It gives you something to look forward to I think!

I’ve managed to control my Netflix binging this week so have had more time for coursework. I binged The Crown last weekend – so good, I started Season 2 on Friday night and had it finished by Sunday morning, I love it! I’m also up-to-date with Once Upon a Time, though struggling with Season 7, kinda wished they’d left it at Season 6, as it had such a nice ending! Now currently enthralled by Louis Theroux and his Weird Weekends, do like a bit of Louis. I do keep meaning to buy an Apple Box, or a HDMI cable or some kind of smart TV stick thing…I have this wonderful 32″ HD TV on my wall and it’s not been switched on in about 5 months because I don’t watch TV, I tend to stick with Youtube or Netflix on my laptop, seems a shame that it’s going to waste, would be nice to enjoy Killian Jones in HD!

So, I suppose that’s it for this week’s installment, just one more week to get through at work, then I’ll be working from home the week after – though I may nip into the office as I have heard rumors of a bring and share buffet! I hope you have enjoyed my musings this week, and I will write again soon.

Peace and love,


PS if you would like to be a penpal of mine and receive a letter scrawled on parchment with a fountain pen, in an envelope sealed with one of my many wax seals please contact me at melissamariephillips@gmail.com and we can exchange details.


Would I cure myself if I could?

Disclaimer: If you’ve met one person with ASD, then you’ve met one person with ASD. Everyone who has ASD presents differently, so I can only speak from my own experience.

Having Aspergers (or ASD as it is now known in the latest DSM V) isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, it does have it’s plus points, for example:

  • Able to remove emotion from any given situation and view things objectively
  • Keen eye for detail
  • Able to memorise routines/processes quickly – this proves awesome at work
  • Hard-working – almost machine-like. Single-minded so able to come to the workplace and just crack on.
  • Passionate – will dedicate oneself to the project in hand and commit 100% with a huge passion
  • Methodical in all areas of life
  • Retains facts and information about various subjects – good in a pub quiz
  • Honest and predictable
  • Faithful and willing to please

Which all sounds rather marvelous, but actually there’s a lot of aspects about it that I hate, and I find myself wondering whether, if I were to be offered a pill to cure me, whether or not I would take it. I wonder how much of me is made up of ASD and how much is actually truly my personality – a result of nature and nurture. I wonder if it is even possible to separate out ASD from personality, or are they one and the same?

I always, always, always try and see the very best in people, and I always try to please the people in my life and make them happy. Whether this means sending a caring text, buying a small gift every now and again, or sending a surprise card in the post. I always give my friends the offer of someone to talk to if they’re feeling sad, and I will always go out of my way to try and make people feel good – even if I’m not. Even if people have wronged me, I still have this innate urge to be nice to them and want to make them happy, however, I’m at a point where I don’t seem to receive the same back, and I often wonder if I am barking at a brick wall? In the last month’s worth of messages on my phone (Facebook, Whatsapp, and iMessage), not a single one is initiated by someone asking if I’m OK, that’s quite sad I think (or is it just me?). Yes, I’ve had messages asking how my day is going, but always as a response to me messaging people first. Noone seems to initiate conversation with me, and this leaves me feeling incredibly lonely sometimes. When I text someone, I do so because I suddenly think of them and wonder if they’re ok. By not receiving any messages initiated by other people, this would lead me to conclude that I never cross people’s minds. This then leads me down an even darker path of what the heck am I still doing here if I’m not impacting on anyone’s lives? Should I just stop caring so much about other people? In the words of ‘Save Myself’ by Ed Sheeran: “So before I save someone else, I’ve got to save myself” Or should I actually continue helping others and just accept that I need to be selfless about it and not expect anything in return? A curse of my ASD, is that I end up caring too much about people who maybe don’t have the same level of care for me, I relentlessly try and show people how much I care and like them, all I want in return is friendship and for someone to say to me back ‘I care about you too’.

Another rubbish part of ASD is that I always say the wrong thing. In my head, something will sound really funny, and I think I’ll impress someone by saying it, but then actually I end up offending them. I always seem to say the wrong thing, and sometimes wonder if it’s best to just stay quiet and not speak at all? They need to invent some kind of app for people with ASD. You can just type what you want to say into it, then it filters it and says whether or not what you’re about to say is acceptable within the neurotypical community. It could give suggestions for better things to say instead. In fact, it could just register what’s happening around you and just tell you what to say so that you fit in, that would be awesome. I might start planning that and get a patent…. this time next year Rodney we could be millionaires!

The thing with ASD is with women we tend to be very good at masking, so we’re good at putting on an act, or a character. My character, which is witnessed by my work colleagues daily, consists of a computer whizz, in jeans and a hoodie who always sees the best of everyone and everything and who has this amazing life, always happy and always bouncy and bubbly. There could never be anything up with me, ever. I think if I committed suicide tomorrow (Incidentally I can’t as I have a meeting tomorrow and Friday), then I think it would come as a shocker to people, I think they wouldn’t expect it because it is out of my character. However, by putting across this character, I’ve almost built a rod for my own back, because I now cannot be anything but happy, bubbly and bouncy. The mask is superglued to my face and I have no idea how to take it off. If I find a way to take it off, maybe people will care and will ask me how I am. Maybe this is why people don’t bother checking if I’m OK because the mask is too tight?

I spend my life constantly looking back and regretting things I have said and done which have led to negative outcomes, if only I had done things differently, I may be in a different situation now. But alas, I suppose it’s about the journey rather than the destination. Maybe I’ll get to my dream destination, just via a different route. Anyway, I’m digressing from the original point of this post, as per usual.

Would I cure my ASD if I could? Well, it all comes down to how much of me is down to ASD and how much is down to personality (which is a combination of nature and nurture). Is it possible that actually even if I took away my ASD, I’d still have no clue how to function around neurotypical people, because I haven’t been taught the appropriate skills? So actually, ASD or otherwise, I’d still be the same hopeless person I am now when it comes to dealing with people. I don’t think I’d like to take away my special skills i.e. my eye for detail, my incredibly hard work ethic and my ability to just zone out and get on with a job. They all come in handy and make me employable. If I could change aspects of myself though, I would change the following:-

  • I would take away social anxiety so that I don’t have to worry about taking part in activities I desperately want to do. I’d love to go and sit in the local pubs and watch the open mic nights, but am too worried to go and sit on my own. I also get worried about looking in shops sometimes as I worry that other people will stare at me. When I go on my cruise holidays I really want to have a go on the Flo Rider, but am always worried about other people watching.
  • I would make it so that I don’t say the wrong thing and offend/upset people, I dunno maybe have some kind of add-on installed in my brain that filters what I say? Need to get working on that app…
  • I’d take away my habit of caring so much for people, for investing so heavily in friends who actually may not feel equal amounts of investment back, I would install in myself knowledge of how much care is too much so that I know acceptable levels of affection and kindness to display, because I just.don’t.know.
  • I’d take off my mask, and be more true to myself, I think by putting on this constant brave face I’m living a bit of a lie, and I think internally it’s causing frustration to build.

I think if I could change those things I’d have more of a successful chance at moving forward in life and having a successful, happy and fulfilled life which maybe one day, I could share with someone else. I just need to find someone as bonkers as I am (easier said than done). So I suppose in answer to my original post, I guess I wouldn’t cure it – as I don’t know how much of it is actually me, but I’d certainly change aspects of myself if the option was there.

Going back to the first portion of my post, if you do know anyone who maybe always seems happy and bubbly and full of life, maybe just check in with them from time to time to make sure they’re OK, they might be wearing a mask as well, and I know what a massive difference it would make to me if someone just reach out to me for once with just three words: ‘How are you?’.


Consideration of whether animal and human minds share characteristics

Prior to Charles Darwin’s proposed theory of evolution, it was widely accepted that humans and animals were fundamentally different. By utilising both laboratory settings and an ethological approach of studying animals in their natural environment, comparative psychologists consider and compare the characteristics and cognitive abilities of both human and non-human animals. Much work has been conducted in the field since Darwin’s time, which has evidenced that animals may share some abilities and traits with humans, such as problem-solving and primary emotions. This essay will describe some comparative research studies and the implications of their results.

Neuroanatomists have identified specific brain regions involved in the experience of emotions. The amygdalae, located within the temporal lobes of the limbic system, are involved in emotional processing and memory. In ‘The expressions of emotion in man and animals’, Darwin (1872) cited in Hewson et al. (2015, p.73) identified six primary emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust, and an associated facial expression. Matsumoto and Willingham (2009) cited in Hewson et al. (2015, p.74) found that congenitally blind people exhibit similar facial expressions, indicating that they may be instinctual rather than learnt through observation. It is reasonable to infer that animals with a limbic system, such as dogs, may also be able to experience emotions, and likewise, animals lacking a limbic system may not. Dogs have been living with humans for 30,000 years and Kaminski et al. (2017) believe there is evidence to suggest that natural selection has influenced dog’s communication with humans. Bloom and Friedman (2013) in Hewson et al. (2015, p.75-76) examined people’s ability to recognise dog’s emotions from their facial expression by using photographs which eliminated all other cues, such as tail wagging and vocalisations. Participants correctly identified the dog’s emotional expression 45% of the time with 88% correctly identifying happiness. Kaminski et al. (2017) further elaborate on this with their laboratory-based study of the effect of human attention on facial expressions in dogs. They examined ‘audience effects’ and the dogs’ ability to tailor their facial expressions to the human’s attentional state, which could indicate some level of communicative function. They also tested the dogs’ ability to discriminate between social contexts by presenting them with social (human attention) and non-social (food) stimuli. If the dogs behaved differently to each stimulus it could evidence voluntary control. Using FACS coding to monitor 15 facial movements, and coding for other movements (e.g.  yawning and licking), Kaminski et al. (2017) found that dogs produced significantly more facial expressions when the human was attentive. The visibility of the non-social stimulus did not affect the dog’s behaviours or facial movements, indicating an ability to discriminate between social contexts and display some level of communicative function. Kaminski et al. (2017) however concluded that this study cannot delineate the behaviour as instinct or as a considered reaction (i.e. theory of mind).

Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states i.e. beliefs and intention to others (Hewson, 2015, p.28). Psychologists use false-belief and visual perspective tasks to test for theory of mind in humans. However, testing animals is more complex due to the lack of demonstrable language. Psychologists must instead distinguish between behaviour which demonstrates a clear understanding of others’ minds and behaviour in response to environmental stimuli. Buttelmann et al. (2007) cited in Hewson et al. (2015, p.89) demonstrated this understanding amongst chimpanzees in their rational imitation paradigm study. Chimpanzees watched a human perform an action with their feet in two separate conditions – one with their hands occupied and another without. The chimpanzees were then required to operate the device themselves. When observing the human with their hands occupied, the chimpanzee used their hands. However, when seeing the human use the device with their foot with their hands unoccupied, the chimpanzees mimicked the human – an unnatural action for a chimpanzee. Call and Tomasello (2008) cited in Hewson et al. (2015, p.91) believed the chimpanzees displayed an understanding of the person’s goals, rationale and intention, supporting the idea of chimpanzees’ theory of mind capabilities. Further studies have provided evidence for theory of mind in chimpanzees. Hare et al. (2001) in Hewson et al. (2015, p.93-96) found evidence of understanding of visual perspective tasks in their food competition paradigm experiment. Their experiment showed that chimpanzees were able to understand what another has seen, can currently see and therefore what knowledge they possess. Call and Tomasello (2008) cited in Hewson et al. (2015, p.96) concluded that the many studies together present convincing evidence for the presence of theory of mind in chimpanzees.

The use of tools and the ability to problem-solve has provided humans with enormous evolutionary advantages. Reasoning and problem-solving are examples of executive function with the neocortex and frontal lobes playing a key role. Birds do not possess a neocortex, yet still display these abilities. The New Zealand kea demonstrates the ability to solve tasks without trial-and-error (Werdenich and Huber, 2006 cited in Hewson et al., 2015, p.79) including second-order tool tasks (Auersperg et al., 2010 cited in Hewson et al., 2015, p.79) as well as collaborating with other keas (Tebbich et al., 1996 cited in Hewson et al., 2015, p.80). These abilities are not shared amongst all birds. In Chris Packham and the New Caledonian crows (The Open University, 2017a) Alex Taylor demonstrates the ability of a crow to solve a complex eight-stage puzzle to achieve a food reward. Whilst the crow successfully completed the puzzle, it utilised a trial-and-error approach, lacking insight that a human could demonstrate in selecting appropriate tools. The crow also required training on each individual apparatus prior to the assembly of the puzzle. In How crows learn to solve problems they were unable to solve a specific variation of a trap tube test where the correct solution was previously what they had learned to avoid, indicating a lack of insight into complex problems.

Comparative psychologists have demonstrated that non-human and human animal minds share characteristics, however, the motivation is not always clear. Kaminski et al. (2017) concluded that even if dogs do not share theory of mind abilities with humans, primary emotions are present and conveyable. Whilst some animals are able to demonstrate problem-solving abilities, it is not consistent across species. Evidence suggests that higher primates are able to display a degree of theory of mind. Call and Tomasello (2008) and Hare et al. (2001) cited in Hewson et al. (2015, p.93-96) evidenced that chimpanzees could understand others’ goals and pass visual perspective tasks which would indicate theory of mind in human infants. Further research is required to understand the intentions behind these shared abilities.


Hewson, C., Ramsden, P. and Turner, J. (2015) ‘Animal Minds’ in Turner, J., Hewson, C., Mahendran, K. and Stevens, P. (eds) Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Hewson, C. (2015) ‘Mind Reading’ in Turner, J., Hewson, C., Mahendran, K. and Stevens, P. (eds) Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Kaminski, J., Hynds, J., Morris, P. and Waller, B M. (2017) ‘Human attention affects facial expressions in domestic dogs, Scientific Reports, vol.7, no. 12914, pp.1-7 [Online]. Available at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-12781-x (Accessed 7 November 2017).

The Open University (2017a) ‘Chris Packham and the New Caledonian crows’ [Video], DD210 Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary. Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1056187&section=5.1 (Accessed 11 November 2017).

The Open University (2017b) ‘How crows learn to solve problems’ [Video], DD210 Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary. Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=1056187&section=5.2 (Accessed 11 November 2017).

Grade: 85%

A busy few weeks!

Hello lovely people of WordPress,

I must apologise for my lack of musings for the past few weeks, life has been incredibly busy and indeed productive so writing has taken a bit of a back burner, here’s what I have been up to:


So with Christmas looming, I tend to find I get busy this time of year with people wanting a unique piece of artwork for their family and friends. Here are a few pieces that I have completed/am working on. I also have more commissions in the pipeline, and indeed more commissions than weeks till Christmas! But I am enjoying it, particularly as prior to this most recent surge I had not completed any art in some time. If you are interested in a portrait (though unlikely to be in time for Christmas!) please do contact me at melissamariephillips@gmail.com Prices start at £35 for an A4 portrait of one animal, with or without background.

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Uni is going well, I have one last little bit of an essay question to complete, which I will be doing following the writing of this blog post. I am really enjoying this particular module, though it has taken a back seat given the latest art surge. I am at Level 2 now, so all my work now counts towards my final degree grade – no pressure! I’m certainly trying my best and putting a lot of work into each essay produced, so it’s in the hands of fate now whether or not they like my work! Studying this particular module has opened my eyes to aspects of Psychology I was not previously aware of, such as Ethology (study of animal’s behaviour in their natural habitat) and Comparative Psychology which studies the differences in cognitive abilities of humans and animals. Zoological Psychology is also one of interest, which studies animal psychology as a whole. I will certainly be looking into these topics in more detail, perhaps study them further after my degree?


The ponies are all doing fine, they’re on their winter routine now so are living down in the yard area. I have two stables but don’t shut them in, they much prefer being outside! Last winter I arrived one morning to find all ponies asleep outside covered in thick frost – despite having warm deep beds available in their stables that they could enter by choice! Star managed to rub out his mane when up the field so has been clipped and is sporting a rather marvelous ‘skinhead’ look, hopefully, his mane will grow back soon! He’s also sporting some bald patches of sore skin, I have contacted the vet who thinks it looks like ringworm, though its’ healing process isn’t characteristic of ringworm so we’re keeping an eye on it and if it spreads he will treat it as ringworm with some spray. Betty and Flo are doing well, everyone is enjoying the extra nice food that winter brings – they get a nice warm soaked mash for breakfast – spoilt!

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Fossil Hunting

I have recently got into fossil hunting thanks to a good friend introducing me – his blog can be found here. I am very lucky living in Devon, to the west of me I have Dartmoor – fantastic for wild camping, to the north I have the stunning scenery of Exmoor, to the direct south I have the beach and to the south-east, have the Juarassic Coast! Devon is the place to be! I have been successful in my finds so far finding Ammonites, Belemnites, Crinoids, and Pyrite. It’s a great day out, and whilst hard work in terms of carrying all this stuff back up a ridiculous hill to the car, I really do enjoy it and am endeavoring to learn more about what I’m finding. Here are some of my recent finds:

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Obviously, I can’t write too much about work on here, but it’s going well. I’m being given more and more ‘high level’ projects to work on and meetings to attend which is great and helping with my confidence. I am taking up a new post on Monday (still within the same team, but a different section of the team), so I’m hoping that I can make a good job of it, there’s a lot to learn though!

So there we go, this has been my life for the past few weeks, and will be my life for the next few weeks it seems! Lots of art to get done in time for Christmas, but for now, I must complete this essay.

Will update with something more philosophical soon!


It’s not all doom and gloom!

So, as we have established, this weekend has been a roller coaster of emotions (average for me really!), but rather than being all doom and gloom, I thought I’d share some good bits!

As you may know (or will soon find out!) I like to do art in my spare time, this weekend saw the completion of a long overdue commission, which I offered as a prize in a recent charity fundraiser I held for Friends of the Dartmoor Hill Pony. I’m fairly pleased with the overall result, but more importantly, the person who requested it has commented ‘That’s brilliant, thank you! Can’t wait to receive it. Many thanks for all your hard work!’ So as long as the new owner is happy, then I guess I should be too! If you want to follow more of my art, please check out my DeviantArt gallery.

22861771_1531258470262096_1920417328037088826_oSaturday afternoon I went for a jaunt into town to take my mind off of things, visited a music shop and bought a folk fiddle book – must start practicing the fiddle more. Was tempted to buy another guitar, I used to play a lot in my youth, but haven’t held one in years, maybe I will start playing again at some point. Took a walk down the High Street and through Cathedral Green (got a bit emotional but managed to hold it together – well saved), didn’t buy anything else, then headed home. It was good to get out just for a few hours. I rounded off the rest of my Saturday by binging on Once Upon a Time and completing the above drawing.

Sunday (today) morning was spent catching up with the ponies, but instead of work, work, work, it was more play play play. I spent some quality time with my piebald filly ‘Betty Blue’ and we enjoyed a brush and a short walk around the village. I bought her back and popped her back into the paddock to then be confronted by a jealous Star (a real Mommy’s Boy) who wanted to come out and play. So I bought him down to the yard, gave him plenty of fuss, lunged him a bit, got my leg over him (I’ve not backed him yet) and just sat and had a cuddle and a talk to him. Flo escaped her education, for today at least

The rest of the afternoon has been spent writing the previous blog post, practicing my fiddle, and having a clear up of my den aka bedroom where I spend 99% of my life when at home, emerging only for food when necessary. I’m trying to cut down on a number of possessions I have, I’m very much a person of ‘things’. I have a bookshelf full of books I have not read yet have had for years, but I cannot bear to part with them. I could be savvy and just buy digital copies and keep them in ‘the Cloud’, but it’s just not the same as seeing them you know? To be fair I have done well, I moved back to Devon with about three carloads of stuff, now I think I possibly have one carload at most. Ideally, I’d be one of these people that have very few personal possessions, just enough to fit in a rucksack, I’m minimalist, but not that minimalist just yet, I’m working on it.

For now I believe I need to work on some coursework before I fall behind, yesterday’s blip of mental health (or lack there of) has thrown me a bit off kilter, but nevermind, one must climb back up onto the proverbial horse and kick on and rejoin the battle. Onwards!