The kettle was boiling, there was a box of tissues next to the sofa and I was sat poised with my pencil and paper. Kathryn came in with 2 cups of tea and sat down next to me looking slightly nervous about the emotions talking to me might bring to the surface. Kathryn’s son Rob has Asperger syndrome. He is 24 now and he was 3 when he was diagnosed.
Over the course of this album process I have sat down with many people and listened to them unveil the most private and harrowing moments in their lives. It can be hard to get them to open up, I often ask lots of leading questions and sometimes change the subject for a while just to give them some respite and help them to relax. With the majority of people I have had 2 sometimes 3 meetings just to get them to a place where they feel comfortable to lift the lid on feelings and memories that they have buried deep inside, but not Kathryn. All I had to say was “Tell me about your son” and she began to tell me all about Rob. From the frustrating times when they didn’t know why he was behaving the way he was and blaming herself, feeling like she had somehow failed her first child, to her best friend sitting her down to tell her that the nursery had expressed concern about Rob and the possiblity that he may be autistic. Then the whirlwind of emotions that came with it; relief that everything finally made sense combined with the worry that this condition may take away his innocence, that he will be put through test after test and not be able to enjoy his childhood… I am sure if I had offered to camp out there for a few days Kathryn could’ve happily talked continuously about her son. The love that shone out of her as she spoke about him was so apparent.
When I sat down with Kathryn I thought I would write about how she had coped with it and what it was like for her to deal with Rob’s condition on a day to day basis. But as she spoke about him I began to realise that he was a much more special person. Kathryn’s fear of him losing his innocence couldn’t have been further from the truth. He has the most wonderful pure personality; an innocence that you and I would be incapable of holding on to. His view of the world is idealistic; he would never lie or cheat. He loves football but rather than support a team he supports whoever is winning, because “why wouldn’t you want the winners to win?”
When he was young, Rob struggled to understand that there was once a time before he was born. He would see pictures and ask where he was, and after several failed attempts of explaining that he hadn’t been born yet, Kathryn found herself saying “You were in God’s pocket”. Years on, Rob held onto this saying and would tell people when looking at those very photos that that’s where he was.
Rob came home from nursery one day and when Kathryn asked him about his day he got frustrated with her; “Why do you always ask me that Mum? You know what I did!”. It is common for young children with Asperger’s to see themselves and their mother as 2 separate people. Rob believed that Kathryn was with him at all times even when he couldn’t see her. I thought that was such a beautiful thing… Just as Kathryn talked of her son with ease, I too could go on for pages and pages about all the wonderful stories she told me, but I want to tell you how his song came to life!
Tears were shed, tea was drunk, hugs were shared and my pad was filled with scribbles of wonderful material for the song. But as I left I knew that I wanted to write the song about Rob, I wanted to get inside his world and write the song from his perspective on life. He has such a wonderful view point, looking at things with open eyes, finding joy in things that would pass us by unnoticed. So I called Kathryn and explained this to her, she was delighted and told me that years ago Rob wrote a story about his year in ‘Bridging’ (a school that he went to for 1 year to ‘bridge the gap’ between moving from a school for children with Asperger’s to state school). She promised to ask him if he would be happy for me to read that story and use it for my song. To my delight he said yes!
I sat down and read through what Rob had titled ‘My Top 20 Mad Moments’ and I was smiling from beginning to end. I immediately booked a room at Bally Studios in Tottenham Hale with Rhys Williams (my co-writer). I sat in front of the mic’, Rhys was at the piano and just as the words had flowed out of Kathryn that evening, the song seemed to do the same from me.
This song has a special place in my heart and I cannot wait to work on it more for the album. It always gets such a wonderful response at gigs and gives me such a heart warming feel when I sing it. One of my proudest moments to date is when I played it to Kathryn for the first time and through teary eyes she said “You’ve just got him down to a T, it’s perfect.”