Sunday, 19 July 2009

Rain, More Rain and Graduation, a Bear and Some Snails.

Oh dear, almost a month has past since I last put any words on this page. I would love to say I have been incredibly busy, going out doing things, meeting people and so on, but unfortunately it wouldn't be true. I'd also like to say that I had been busy in the garden, but that wouldn't be true either since there has been so much rain in the last three weeks, at least a third of it was underwater. Fortunately the green house is on slightly higher ground and by leaping a few puddles and streams we could get there relatively dry to harvest tomatoes, cucumbers and an awful lot of reasonably hot chillies. Other vegetables are growing in raised beds which are pretty well drained, so no real damage to the brassicas and beans, roots crops are all looking good and the sweetcorn is something to behold. Rocket and lettuce grow like weeds. The only things that have struggled this year have been the roses.
Well that's what the garden has been doing. Sarah has been being Sarah, she did put us through it a bit about a month back, but she seems to have worked through whatever was bothering her and she is back on form again. Bill has been being Bill, a law unto himself, seemingly unaffected by the progress of the world around him. I sometimes wonder if he knows how lucky he is! Me, well I'm just sitting here writing this blog, what the hell more do you want!
I did get away from the happy home for a night last month for Hannah's graduation from Uni. Nice train ride down the Bath, back to the motherland, so to speak, met Hannah at the fudge shop she works in, watched her working, something I have never done before, brand new experience watching daughter actually producing something. That sounds a bit sarcastic, It's not meant to, but It really was the first time I'd seen her doing anything on her own. I know she's been doing it for a while now, but there I was watching it happen. As if I needed proof of her capability to find her own way in the world.. She has been doing that for years, since before she moved up from junior school! That is your unfortunate lot if you are the sibling of a disabled child, you need to learn to be independent earlier than most of your peers.. But actually seeing her in work was amazing, all the natural confidence I knew she had was in place, I actually felt the weight of worry over her coping with her independence lifting, And yes Hannah, I know I shouldn't have been worrying, but It's a mother thing, it happens, just ignore it and anyway it's gone now. It started raining about mid afternoon, It didn't really stop until I left Bath the following day, and most of the time you had to call it torrential.

So, Thursday, travel down to Bath on train, meet Hannah, spot of lunch, inevitable shopping which inevitably involved shoes, back to Hannah's house, meet new house mates, off to local for food and a beer, meet more of her mates, altogether, a good evening. Rain eased off a bit for walk home, which will be forever etched in my mind as the walk that involved more snails than I thought it possible to be on one road, and so many different sorts and sizes of snail, fascinating. the local was called The Bear, a fine establishment.

Friday, graduation day, two other girls living with Hannah are also graduating, tension a little high in the morning as they were both trying to organize parents to be in the right place at the right time and they seemed to be coming from all directions in more cars than seemed necessary, and all three of them were debating about what to wear and what to do with their hair, seemingly oblivious of the fact that an all encompassing gown and a seriously funny hat was going to cover everything up. Added to these worries of course, was the fact that Hannah was off to Tolpuddle for the Martyrs Festival as soon as the graduation ceremony was over, and supplies had to be purchased and left at the right place for a quick getaway. This involved an incredible amount of walking about but was achieved and everyone was more or less where they should be by 2.30 for the gown fitting, hat adjusting and photographing and general embarrassment that is the norm before the ceremony. Whoever the god of academe is, he/she graciously allowed the rain to stop whilst all this was going on and it didn't start falling again until most of the guests were in place in the huge marquee where the event was being held. As the students began to process in the wind got up and by the time the faculty were going through there was something close to a typhoon occurring outside. Fortunately it was a substantial and rather posh marquee with proper glass doors and fans and sort of chandelier lights, but even so, it was shifting a bit in the wind and the roof and the fancy drapery lining were flapping about quite noisily. There was upwards of 600 people in this marquee and I'm pretty sure most of us were thinking how bloody stupid we were all going to look sitting in a field in the rain when the big tent finally took off. Needless to say It didn't.

Cutting a long story short, Hannah got her degree and went off to celebrate in a field in Dorset, I got a lift back to Cardiff with the parents of one of Hannah's friends, and the least said about that the better, nice people though. So there you have it, The two best days I've had for some time, and certainly the best two days of the last month which is probably how long ago it is since I posted a blog that I actually sat down and wrote. To celebrate coming to the end of this and as a reward to anyone who makes it this far, here is the picture that sums up the whole graduation day.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

You want a Sandwich?

I just love this short film by Aliakbar Campwala. It means a bit more to me because I have daughters, one with autism, and the conversation we watch in this film is so real to me, well, what can I say, just watch it and enjoy it because there is a lot there to enjoy, it says so much more than I can.......

Sunday, 5 July 2009

It's Saturday. Ok, We'll Go Down To Cardiff.

It's not far, only about 20 miles, shouldn't take long should it? And there are options, drive for instance. We don't run a car for numerous reasons I won't go into, but it does allow me to go all greener than thou every now and then and we save a lot of money! So we don't drive. By far the best means of transport from Aberdare is the Train, In fact the first station out of Aberdare is a ten minute walk straight downhill from where we live, incredibly convenient and a cheap day return is about £5.00, a real bargain, if you are lucky and the signals are with you and there hasn't been an outbreak of random vandalism, you are there in less than an hour. The other alternative is the bus.

I understand that the fare on the bus is somewhere close to £8.00 return, which is why most people go for the faster and more comfortable option of the train. Now I expel a deep sigh, Sarah has a free bus pass because she has a disability and because she cannot possibly travel alone her free bus pass allows her companion to travel free as well. So, when Sarah and I go out we travel by bus. We don't long journeys very often, she is at the Day Centre most days during the week, buses are hard to find on a Sundays, so Saturday is our more distant travel day and Cardiff is where Sarah likes to go.

So yesterday we went to Cardiff, for free, on the bus. I know, it's free and I should be grateful, I try to be, honestly I do! First we have to get to Aberdare. The bus stop only a few yards from our front door and there are 4 every hour, this bit is fairly simple depending on Sarah's frame of mind, fortunately yesterday it was good, she had her new camera with her and was set to photograph the day. This is just a 10 to 15 min ride, we are at the bus station in no time. The bus for Cardiff is waiting for it's moment to come into the empty bay and there is a bit of a scrum developing of passengers all wanting to be first on. It is a full size bus, this lot are not going to even half fill it, but the blue rinse brigade are out in force and determined not to be beaten to first place, the bus pulls in and they struggle on one by one and occupy all the seats toward the front, the old chaps are the next, they always go for the middle section and a few climb up the couple of steps to the elevated section at the back. Ah, the back of the bus, where all the rebellious types hang out, and where we always end up because Sarah likes sitting at the back, she likes to be able to see everyone, actually, to be precise, she sits at the very back but I have to sit in front of her, she like to give the impression that she is traveling alone, although I spend half the journey looking back answering questions. It is worth noting at this point that hardly anyone has parted with any cash to board this bus, a good 75% of passengers have got a free pass of some sort. The remaining paying customers are an assortment of teenagers and the odd mother and child. There is little or no room on this bus for pushchairs and the like, though some do struggle on, I don't envy them.

And we are off, winding our way up and down the very narrow roads that lead through Abercwmboi, Mountain Ash, Penrhiewcieber, an area mysteriously called The Tynte, Bryncynon then Abercynon on the way to Ponypridd. When they built these endless terraces nobody had any idea that every single house was going to own a car, some even two, and there is no room for garages and drives here, front doors open onto the street, and terraces don't have many gaps in them! So we have cars parked down both sides of the road and we're in the biggest bus it is possible to have here in the valleys. Bus stops are difficult to locate, and people get on and off the bus at the most convenient places for them, this is all very confusing for a Londoner like me, accustomed to London Transport, it wouldn't occur to you to ask the No31 to stop at the end of your street, or even outside your front door which happens regularly here, all very confusing. So progress is slow, very very slow.

There is a particularly bendy bit of road on a hill coming out of Penrhiewcieber and going up towards The Tynte, cars parked right round the bend on the other side of the road, and a barrier to stop you dropping on the the pavement on the left, so there only room for one vehicle to pass at a time. Yesterday as we started going up this hill bending round to the right and then the left with a few cars following, we were faced head on by a similar bus with only a couple of cars following coming down the hill. there were no parked cars to hinder progress further up the hill as the road is too narrow and has no houses anyway, so the difficult job of reversing a bloody great bus back up a hill on a sharp bend, preceded by the reversing cars began and it took a bit of time mainly because of traffic coming down the hill meeting traffic coming up the hill backwards apparently being followed by the back end of a bus. Brakes on and both driver now in the road weighing up the situation, older chap driving downward bus looks thoroughly cheesed off, younger chap driving our upward bound bus has something of a determined look in his eye, like this is not going to beat him. Passengers all mutter encouragement as he climbs back into the cab. A the bit of precision driving on his behalf and we have squeezed through the obstacles and are on our way to spontaneous applause from passengers and grateful toot toots from waiting car drivers and the extraordinary Welsh calls of "Well done Drive" since all bus drivers in Wales are mysteriously called Drive.

So up the hill, along another windy narrow street stopping for passengers getting on or off and we are in Abercynon where we descend an almost vertical hill with a sharp left into a hairpin followed by a sharp right onto a single lane iron bridge across a very rocky and fast flowing River Cynon which is a long way underneath us on its way to meet the River Taff at a very turbulent confluence you catch a glimpse of whilst rounding the previous hairpin bend. A couple more tight corners and we are on normal roads where traffic can go in two directions on the same stretch, and everybody's blood pressure returns to normal. It is downhill all the way through Abercynon, doing it on a bus is akin to being on a roller coaster with the risk of it becoming a log flume at the end. And now we are out of the Cynon Valley and on our way to Pontypridd. We've been on this bus for over an hour so far. Distance wise, we are a little less than half way to Cardiff, nerves are pretty much shattered but we are still alive. We are finally on the A470, we come off of it to go into Ponty bus station then get straight back on it again and don't stop until we get to Cardiff, this bit only takes 25 minutes, traffic willing.

In Cardiff we do whatever we need to do, this week it was taking photographs, have some late lunch and then catch the bus home, yes the whole damn journey in reverse, although Abercynon is a lot less exciting going uphill, the smell of overheating engine is a bit of a worry sometimes. It is quite a relief to get on our little local bus service home. Needless to say, I am completely shattered by the time I get in and vow that next time we are going on the train, until next time comes along and Sarah wants to go on the bus and I think, well, it doesn't cost anything, and I say "Yeah, alright, Cardiff it is. Got your pass?"

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Ah, It's The 1st Wednesday Of The Month, That Means Disco.

I've been threatening to write this one for over a month now, in fact two Discos have happened since I said I'd be talking about it, most recent last night. Now these discos are the highlights in the social calendars of most of the service users in the Cynon Valley.

I should point out that by Service Users I mean those in the community who are using the social services day service, ie. Day Centres, supported work or education opportunities or any of the other labels that are put onto establishments keeping adults with disabilities/learning difficulties etc occupied during the day. It's where you go when you've finished with education and are no longer the concern of Children's Services. There is a whole other blog there which will wait for another day.

Also at this point it is worth remembering that the Cynon Valley was one of the most deprived regions in the EU a few of years ago. Not a thing to be proud about but it did attract a bit of EU funding for a few community projects and help to keep the local colleges open. If you want to learn how to be a hairdresser, beautician or car mechanic, Aberdare College is the place to go. I don't know what happens to all the mechanics, but Aberdare and its surrounding towns are awash with Beauty Parlours, Nail Salons, Hair Cutters and Fake Tan Emporiums, strangely, the folk I see out and about don't seem to take advantage of these services. Aberdare bus station still looks like Chav Central meets Skid Row. This is by way of saying that this is not a well off part of the world and the lack of wealth is reflected in the quality of your basic mobile disco.

So, the disco... Getting there... It is held in the function room of a workingmens club at the farthest end of the most out of the way part of the Cynon Valley. (It's where the Stereophonics come from, I refer you to one of their early numbers, 'More Life in a Tramps Vest' which pretty much sums up the area.) A couple of mini buses do the rounds picking up those who don't have their own transport. The local bus service goes up there every 10 mins. or so during the day, but if you want to stay out later than about 6.30pm you've had it, and that's another whole blog that must wait for another day!

Mini bus arrives and Sarah an I climb aboard. Not many on tonight, probably a bit too hot for some, also this is a good time to point out the age range we are dealing with here. One lady who has been bringing her daughter to the disco ever since it started back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, is in her 80's her daughter is 60 next year. Sarah at 23 is the youngest on the bus. So, are you getting some idea of what sort of evening we are in for? If you've never been to one of these functions you will not have a clue!

Quite a gathering outside the club when we get there, it's a nice evening, people just hanging around chilling outside because it's a bit airless inside, but we've got a minibus load of hard core disco goers here and we're going in! Navigate the one armed bandits and we're there, DJ's playing Amarillo, ok so Tony Christie was at Glastonbury this year, so was Tom bloody Jones come to that, who will doubtless be next up... yes it's Delilah, oh joy, so it looks like the play list is much the same as it has been for the last 5 years that I know of. It is your average wedding reception set. About an hour in I start to loose the will to live. There is also food available, really healthy stuff like burgers or sausages or deep fried chicken with chips. They all like this, the discussion of what to order starts on the bus. Round about the time I am loosing the will to live the burgers and chips which it was decided we should all have arrives. After eating this loosing the will to live is replaced by the fight for life against incredible cholesterol intake, and a double Jack Daniels hidden inside a coke is the only thing left that will maintain equilibrium.

The dance floor is packed, there is a little crowd with downs syndrome who know all the Steps dance routines, another group are particularly fond of doing most of the set pieces from Grease, this one can be very entertaining once you've topped up your alcohol level. Of course all this is done around the half dozen wheel chair bound CP people and the small contingent who get around with zimmers and walking sticks. Then there are all the carers helping the less able by showing them how to dance, or by holding them up. Then there are the ones who like to go at great speed suddenly and diagonally across the floor, sometimes on their knees. Of course I am biased, but I just love watching the representatives of autism out there on the floor doing there level best not to see one another, or anyone else come to that! There are four regular autistic 'dancers', it seems that they individually choose a spot on the floor, not too far in but definitely not near the edge and usually near a corner, and just stand, Duke on Edinburgh style with hands behind their back glancing at each other for signs of movement. Imperceptibly they move around the floor, but always keeping the same distance, like a huge square frame moving round the dance floor. Sarah sways a bit some times, and will join in when someone takes her hand and they do the childish sort of dancing most of us gave up when we were about 7yrs old. One of the others has sudden bursts of movement, then nothing, like he's playing statues, I fact that is how all the autistic dancers dance except for one, who was obviously taught by his dad. To give him his due, he's got a wicked sense of rhythm and is probably the best dancer in the room!

This monthly event is the only opportunity some of these folk get to let their hair down, not a lot of parents go although they are welcome, but there are a remarkable number of staff from the Day Centre who give up their evening to bring a few clients with extra special needs, and of course, there is a bar. Some of the older gentlemen just like to sit and have a pint or two, this is their opportunity to do just that. This is what independent living is all about, going out with your mates and having a good time. It is not the good time I would choose, but for this lot, well they'll be talking about it until the next one.

Should probably say, yes, there is a big glittery disco ball going round on the ceiling, no strobes for obvious reasons, but a few flashing coloured lights, and it is just a tad too loud for the acoustics in the room, but then quite a few of the punters are a little hard of hearing, so that's ok. It costs £1.00 each to go in and there is a raffle half way through, and the DJ reads out the list of birthdays for the month. Then we all sing happy birthday, regardless of whether the people mentioned are there or not, and make sure we all make a note of of the date for the next disco, heaven forbid anyone should forget! By 10.00pm the place is empty, but for some those three hours really were the highlight of the month.

So forward to the 5th of August, when hopefully it won't be so hot hot hot, there got that stupid song out out my head, you can carry it around for a bit now...