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...