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Postcards From Torquay – The Complete Boxed Set

June 13, 2015

We’re home. And here is the set of postcards from the week in Torquay:


Here we are in Basil & Sybil territory. This is the view that greeted me over an al-fresco breakfast this morning. The sea does something to me emotionally. Well, any significant expanse of water does actually. I get the same reaction watching the barges along the canal. It’s the completely different energy to the tempo of a town. So, eating my croissants, I am both in seventh heaven and tearful. Every holiday reminds me ththat, all things being unequal, instead of driving over to Babbacombe this afternoon, I could be on a train bound for a one hour visiting appointment with Steven in a Unit in Wales.

Life for learning disabled people is really that precarious. If things hadn’t gone our way in 2011, we wouldn’t have just shared an hour in the pool singing Here Comes The Summer. The fragility of a professional decision leaves me in a constant state of anxiety. Torquay today – what and where will next year bring?

But hey, I’m on holiday. Or rather I’m inhabiting Steven’s world of Fawlty Towers coming to life. A yacht sailed past earlier and Steven was convinced it was Mr Johnson at the helm (“Pretentious. Moi?”) Last night, we spent a few hours in our own private pub and when I asked Steven what he wanted, he asked for, ” a gin and orange, a lemon squash and a scotch and water please”. He refuses to have kippers for breakfast, in case it brings about his demise like Mr Lemon. And when he saw his ensuite bathroom, he sneered rather ungraciously, “not big enough to drown a mouse”. It’s huge! But that doesn’t fit with the Mrs Richards script.

The cottage is glorious and so is the generosity of the support workers. Yesterday, everyone pitched in. They assigned me one of the lower terrace bedrooms, so there are two floors between me and Steven, therefore ensuring an uninterrupted nights sleep. They took it in turns to dance the night away with Steven in the pub last night as he got sweatily excited over the wide choice of music on the jukebox.

I know how Shirley Valentine felt. Would anyone mind if we never came home?


We’ve just got back from a morning at Shoalstone Pool in Brixham. There was a sign on the car park announcing that the pool was closed today for cleaning. Having traveled all the way from Cowley for a freezing, saltwater experience, I thought we can’t turn back now, so descended the steps to the pool. There wasn’t a soul there – no staff, no swimmers, so taking our bathing caps in hand we decided to brave it and if anyone noticed us, we’d pretend we hadn’t seen the closure notice.

Its been two hours since we got out of the pool and I’m still shivering. Although I announced there would be a prize for the first person to fully submerge themselves, only Steven, me and two of the support workers had the balls. Funnily enough, within 30 seconds of entering the water our balls disappeared and haven’t reappeared since. Steven gets confused by this – “Dad, Steven Neary’s willy isn’t there anymore”. Disconcerting but we save the day by a quick burst of one of Take That’s lesser known hits – ” Scrotums ain’t here anymore”.

Somewhere in time, Steven became a lot more fearful about things. I’ve got photos of us at the same pool when Steven was seven. He was bombing down the ramp and just launched himself into the icy jellyfished water. Today, he got all anxious by the steps down to the pool and then spent about 10 minutes, up to his knees, reassuring himself – “Its alright Steven. Water will be hot in a minute”. It does feel like this anxiety started after 2010, which I guess is not surprising as he spent a whole year living in fear.

I find it quite sad though that some former pleasures have disappeared off his agenda. He’s already said he doesn’t want to do the theme park tomorrow, whereas prior to 2010, a ride on the log flume would be one of his annual highlights. I remember coming down the flume at Blackpool pleasure beach in 2009 with him singing ” The Time Warp”as we catapulted off the final drop. Carefree.

So this afternoon we’re sticking to a normal Monday routine. He’s listening to a Take That compilation tape at the moment and is planning a Mr Bean DVD straight after. He has allowed one concession to breaking the routine – we can have a barbecue tonight instead of spaghetti hoops.

And whilst Steven is enjoying Mr Bean in America, I’m going to jump into the fridge to warm up.


This morning we went to the Splashdown Water Park. We had planned to go on a ferry ride from Torquay to Brixham. But showing unusual foresight, I phoned the ferry company earlier to find the sea was too choppy and all trips had been canceled for the day. Thinking that perhaps we pushed our luck yesterday by swimming in a pool that was closed, it didn’t feel quite the done thing to purloin a boat and take to the seas on our own. Breaking and entering is one thing – pirates is quite another.

It was another memory lane trip as we took Steven to the Water Park back in 1998. He remembered Julie paying the price for her brazenness when the waterfall sent her glasses spinning off her face.

I am fascinated by how the team building concordat is evolving. It is both hilarious and infuriating at the same time. Predictably, everyone is behaving completely predictably.

Our driver has OCD and each day he and I conduct a silent dance as we leave the cottage and I have to wait for him going through his exit rituals before I can lock up. In the meantime, Steven and the others have been waiting for 10 minutes in the minibus. Then we have the young eager support worker who keeps forcing me to sit down. This morning I was hanging some washing out and he took the peg basket out of my hands before ushering me indoors. Its very endearing but I don’t mind doing the laundry.

The leader – leads. He’ll jump out of the minibus to direct us into a tight car parking space. He took charge of last night’s barbecue. He’s not the eldest but all the others bow to his quiet authority. Steven is both in love with him and in awe of the power he carries.

Next, we have the opposite to the leader. He stands back and then let’s people know where they’re going wrong. He was absent for the first half of the barbecue and then appeared to tell us that we weren’t turning the burgers often enough. Less endearing but he is game for a laugh, often at his expense.

Its easy to overlook the fifth guy because he conducts himself with such quiet control. I love him. He’ll do anything. He was the one, who against all natural instinct, plunged into the icy pool yesterday in an attempt to encourage Steven. I never worry for a moment when he is on shift.

Last night in the pub, we had the team building darts competition. I was knocked out in the first round. I wouldn’t say I was crap but I might have been more successful if I’d stood and held the dart and they threw the board at me. Steven took everyone by surprise by scoring a double 20 with his first throw. It was downhill all the way from that point, and like me, he had an early exit.

And now for a quiet afternoon watching The Full Monty. But we’ll leave our sunhats on.


After the hectic excursions of yesterday, we’re having a quiet day in the cottage today. Wednesday is a fairly quiet day at home, so we are replicating it here. Mr Bean in America, A 90 minute disco, trip in minibus to Sainsburys for Munchies and a swim and spa planned for later.

Yesterday, one of the support workers suggested we hold a team meeting, giving me a chance to “express concerns” and vice versa. I wasn’t keen. We used to have monthly team meetings when they were employed by the agency. The agency manager was pretty confrontational and most meetings ended up with a ruck between the workers. I didn’t want to spoil the great atmosphere of the holiday and I don’t have any collective concerns, so I suggested after Steven went to bed, we all stay up late and watch Field of Dreams together.

After the film, we shared stories of “if you build it, he will come” and “go the distance”. It was revealing and moving. I won’t share any of the support workers’ stories here but I’ll share mine. That film changes for me the older I get. I do believe that if something is important to us and we go the distance, anything is possible. When I was 16, my dream was to go to university and study journalism. Then my Mum died and I felt that my place was at home. I never went to university. I never became a journalist. But nearly 40 years later, after the desperate events of 2010, I have been able to become a writer. To me, that is the equivalent of Kevin Costner having a catch with his dead father.

Steven and I have just watched the psychiatrist episode of Fawlty Towers. It is our equivalent of playing catch. He likes to act out the scenes that have two male characters interacting. Telepathically, we divvy out the parts. He becomes Major and I’m Basil. When I’m dead and gone, I’d like Steven to regret that we can’t have those moments anymore rather than we’ve never had those moments.

Steven has a new nickname today. One of the support workers who was around during the time in the ATU, reminded everyone of Steven’s nighttime escape without footwear and in pyjamas. Prompted by last night’s movie, today he called Steven, ” Shoeless Steve”.

Is this heaven?


Doesn’t look like we’re going to get our boat trip. For the third day running, the water was deemed too choppy and the ferry’s remained in the harbour.

So we went on a steam train ride instead. Unable to find a Fawlty Towers reference for the trip, Steven dug deep into his memory bank and started singing, “Time flies by when you’re the driver of a train. You can ride on the footplate, there and back again”. Steven cast himself as Lord Bellborough and I became Mr Bracket, the butler. Yes – we’re in Chigley. The support workers were, in order of appearance: Mr Rumpling, Mr Cresswell from the biscuit factory, Harry Farthing, Mr Swallow the wharf manager and Mr Antonio the ice cream man.

Back at the cottage, Mr Rumpling cooked a massive fry up to fortify ourselves for this afternoon’s swim. The hot tub beckons, which will be lovely but we may need to wear wooly balaclavas for that part of us not submerged.

I’ve been reading another Community Care article which worries about the lack of paid RPRs for people subject to a DoL. Its another week, another DoLs piece bemoaning the excessive workload. It seems to me typical of Planet Social Care that it sets up something so bureaucratic and complicated and then complains about its own system. All very inward looking with little recognition of the people its meant to be serving. But then again, DoLs have become a huge industry.

So where have DoLs figured on our landscape this week? I think you’d need a high powered telescope to see a DoLs speck on the Torquay horizon. Family life and holidays are lived and conducted by ordinary people, outside of the industry. Therefore, the things that the industry consider of vital importance don’t figure on a family’s radar. We did a rudimentary risk assessment on the day of arrival and removed all ornaments and bricabrac. But that was it. We certainly haven’t considered if Steven is being deprived of his liberty by having two people go with him to the swimming pool. Although they’re called support workers, we don’t use the word “supporting”. The phrase ” personal care” isn’t in Steven’s vocabulary – it’s, “Dad – who’s doing bath tonight?” That’s how it should be. None of the industry self importance.

I’ll sign off now. Steven, me and Mr Cresswell are going to have a game of table tennis in the pub. Its not in mint condition but it can certainly be used in an emergency.


Hip hip hooray. And boo hiss.

Boo hiss because it’s the last full day of this glorious holiday. Ever since I went to Pontins at 8, I’ve always been very melancholy on the last day of a holiday. As much as I want to enjoy the last few hours, a gloom descends. Steven, on the other hand, takes a last day very much in his stride and is already planning what he’s doing when we get home tomorrow. In case you’re interested that plan involves Toy Story 2 and a packet of Rolos.

We got up early today for a swim and a final dip in the spa pool before the maintenance men come to empty it. Steven is still very excited after our discovery yesterday afternoon. Driving back on the minibus, we passed an imposing white walled hotel with black piping. It even had a grassy slope outside. A couple emerged from inside the building and Steven immediately announced it was Mr & Mrs Hamilton from the Waldorf salad episode. The reality and the fiction finally meet on our penultimate day.

Hip hip hooray because we finally got our ferry ride. I was nervous on two counts. Firstly, I get seasick on a lilo. But more apprehensive because Steven has found a song for every moment of the holiday and the only boat song I thought he knew was The Lonely Island’s ” I’m on a motherf**king boat”. Thankfully he remembered the 70s disco classic, Rock The Boat, so we were spared the disapproval of our fellow travellers.

It’s been a fabulous week. So much better to be in a holiday cottage in Torquay than a hospital in Wales. I like to believe that Steven has a very good quality of life and having him around certainly improves the quality of my life. And we’re so lucky to have the five great guys who came with us this week. One of them has taken over 100 photos that I’ll post when we get home. They’ve all had a great time as well and I’m pleased that we’ve all been able to share this week.

And thank you Basil, Sybil, Manuel and Polly for providing our compass point all week.

From → Personal Stuff

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