Holiday memories

Rosemary Trustam recalls some holidays which didn’t always go to plan…


In  a loud piercing voice Linda said “I’ve got a pair of shoes just like that”…


Given it was all the woman was wearing, it could have been a comedy call, but we were in the cinema watching an X film by popular demand. The B film of women wrestlers along with it had been of more interest to Jack who was definitely more taken with the fight moves than the women, and he’d spent most of the main film fumbling around his seat as he’d dropped something. What the rest of the cinema felt was going on might not have been so hard to guess!


However, these were some young adults with learning disabilities on holiday in Bournemouth pre-Mental Capacity Act days in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. All definitely had capacity to decide and we could have answered any questions had they asked any.


Maximise opportunities

An advantage of residential homes at this time was that if people went away for up to two weeks they could retain their weekly fee. This led us to see how we could maximise their opportunities to go away.


Bournemouth held the three storey house of the parents of one of our team who had offered for free the opportunity of two weeks for a number of residents to go there on holiday while they were away. We’d borrowed a mini-bus and worked out that if two groups used it on consecutive weeks, one group could travel down on the minibus and have its use for the week and travel back on the train, whilst the second group reversed this. Clare and I were in the second group. We did no risk assessments as it was before the health and safety police took over. We knew people well and the hostel was arranged in three units which self-catered so people were well-versed in taking care of their home.


The first thing that happened was that when the train divided into two, we were in the wrong part so had to get off and go back on another train to continue our journey. Fortunately, everyone thought it hilarious that their ‘competent’ staff had messed up.


We arrived a bit later than intended so dumped our bags and went for a stroll along the front, which was not far away, to get our bearings. However, part-way along, we discovered we’d lost one of the residents, Fred, and despite reversing our steps there was no sign of him. None of the residents had the address of the house on them so we’d hardly arrived when we had to contact the police… However,  some time later, Fred arrived back under his own steam. He’d wandered away and when he realised he’d lost us, started to go back in the general direction and had stopped someone who happened to be a teacher. Between them, they’d found the house.


For me, apart from making sure everyone had the address, my learning was not to underestimate people’s abilities to do sensible things and to appreciate that we had enabled people to do some problem-solving themselves.


The visit to the hospital was, of course, not for any of the residents – it was for me! I was so busy rushing round in the sunshine making sure everyone had sunscreen on, that I got badly burnt. I had to seek some treatment for swollen and burnt legs. Again, to the great amusement of everyone, Roger pushed me round the hospital in a  wheelchair. Back at the house, having a number of residents coming in and plonking themselves on the bed each morning to watch the TV became a painful experience. The only TV that received a signal was in our room at the top of the house – and only when we balanced it on the Singer sewing machine lid stood on its end!


Cultural experience

Another of our wheezes was prompted by another staff member whose relative was the accommodation officer  at a Northern university where student accommodation was in the town. To adults with learning disabilities whose experience was the leafy south, this was a notable cultural experience. The accommodation costs were low so all was managed within the usual residential fee. Apart from the interest in those strange Northern accents, the market was a treat with different choices and great bargains with northern prices much lower. The female impersonator at the nearest pub was an eye opener causing much mirth as they had not seen one before. The week’s stay was so successful that the groups chose to go the following year, even though the staff member had left.


The holiday that most sticks in my mind was the ten days in Spain on a package deal when two of us took a group of six to an all-inclusive hotel. For people with learning disabilities who usually self-catered and looked after their group accommodation, being catered for was a particular treat, as was the freedom  of the lunchtime help-yourself buffet.


After people had learnt the routine, John and I could choose to leave them to it. John in particular, born and bred on pie and chips, was struggling with the Spanish diet until we discovered a nearby cafe which did beans on toast!

John and I had agreed to make it work, we’d pay our way, but in the end the budget covered our holiday costs, so we agreed to use our contribution to pay for some coach trips.


The group we’d taken included Damian with Prader Will syndrome, Peter who enjoyed a pint, Jack who had Down’s syndrome and some mobility difficulties, Jenny who was blind, Vera who had anxiety problems and Kath who had severe epilepsy but which behavioural methods had assisted to stabilise.


Our first coach trip went well for everyone except Damian who was either late back to the coach or early and either way moaned non-stop and loudly at every stop about others being late or loudly asserted his righteousness at being on time. John who was sitting with him got more and more strained and white as the trip progressed. At the end of the trip we spoke to Damian and said we weren’t prepared to pay for him to go on a trip to behave like this. This proved to be the best thing we could have done, as he was a very good swimmer and left to his own devices, he became charming to other guests and did lots of swimming.


The beauty of the hotel was the freedom it offered people. Memories that will stay with me forever included taking Peter and Jenny to a Catholic service on the Sunday at their request. As a non-Catholic I’m still not sure if it was Spanish or Latin.  Another was our trip to Barcelona where we went into the department store which boasted the highest storeys. As I moved up the first escalator supporting Jenny to the top where the cafe was, Vera was at the bottom saying she couldn’t get on. I shouted back she’d have to wait for us to come back then – and she got on!! We still laugh about it as we remain in touch.


On the beach, despite the weather, Peter could not be persuaded to divest himself of his jacket and trousers with collar and tie while over his shoulder could be seen a topless bathing beauty – the most bizarre sight. However, he did learn cerveza local(es) to get his beer.


Popular demand

When thinking about holidays for next year, it’s good to consider a wider choice than the conventional – if anything there will be more opportunities. To be recommended is the Be Free festival organised by Sally Warren of Paradigm which has been postponed until September next year. I was privy to the joy expressed by a small group arriving back last year. They so enjoyed the freedom and range of experiences, meeting many other people from different parts of the country that they wanted to book straight back on. So by popular demand, it’s on again. Don’t leave it too late. Keep an eye on the website for details – its all-inclusive cost for a range of activities and full catering and board is well worth it.