Thursday, 29 March 2012

Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, Laurent Perrier and other famous names....

Why, you may ask, have I listed several well-known names as the title of this blog entry? Have patient, dear reader - all will become clear!

Let me start with Tuesday, when I completed my second volunteer stint at The Orpheus Centre. This week, I was working along with another volunteer and together we were helping one of the students complete their work experience log. You will understand that I have to be circumspect about giving names of students, so I shall refer to this student as S. S has cerebral palsy, with very little speech and spasticity in her arms and legs. She is a wheelchair user and her main method of communication is with the help of an ingenious little book which uses pictures and symbols to work from a main menu down to individual words, based on categories. S can nod or shake her head, or maybe blink, to show when we are at the right picture/symbol. By using this, we were able to help her complete assignment sheets about her work experience. While physically limited, S has an intelligence with shines through when she communicates and she can show very clearly that she understands and is interested in what is going on. Both the other volunteer and I felt that S had taught us something, as we learned to use her communication book and she was really patient with our fumbling attempts to move smoothly between the pages and reach the word she wanted! She had been skiing recently and we were looking at the photos of her on her adapted ski-chair - fantastic that it's now seen as natural that people with a disability can take part in things like skiing (and long overdue, too).

After our morning session, we ate lunch outside and some students joined us. While many of them go to their flats for lunch, some will eat in the cafeteria and there are day students who don't have accommodation to go to, so they will eat there too. I like chatting to the students and finding out more about them and what they think. They like finding out about us too, and of course, they're very interested by the fact that Amy works there and I am her mum! To be honest, I think that interests quite a few of the volunteers too :-). We had an interesting discussion about the responsibility of choosing a name for your child and whether you should choose something that is "different" or stick to tried and tested (names and/or spellings!). After lunch and self-directed study, when I helped the student I had been working with last week to complete more of her work experience record, we went to the Barn for some of the groups to demonstrate what they had been working on this term. It was a real insight into the variety of activities and the different talents and skills the students have. We learned about the enterprise work of one group, growing and selling vegetables and the different dishes they cooked with their own ingredients. We also heard some of the experiemental music group's work, which was a really diverse set of pieces, with really personal interpretations and insights. I come home from my time there with a lighter heart and a smile on my face - the students and staff are really inspirational (a word that is a bit over-used nowadays, but which I think is entirely appropriate in this instance).

Following Pilates, my lovely hairdresser came round to wash and dry my hair because yesterday (Wednesday) I went, along with T (hairdresser) and four of her friends, on T's "hen day". I can tell you that there wasn't an L plate, pretend veil or set of wings to be seen, because this hen and her chicks did something totally different to the usual "dress up, be silly, get trollied" outings that seem to be splashed all over our town centres (and tabloid papers) on a regular basis. Instead, we dressed up smartly and went to Bath on the Orient Express!! What an experience!! For sheer opulence, glamour, old-fashioned sophistication and luxurious surroundings, all wrapped up in superb service, this is second to none. All the staff, in pristine uniform and universally smiling, friendly and polite, could not do enough to make us feel special. We were shown to our seats, our jackets placed on the racks above us, heavy bags stowed away and our chairs pushed in as we sat down. Our "main man", Artur, introduced himself and said that whatever we needed, we only had to ask him - and then he proceeded to pour us each a Bellini (my kind of start to a train journey!). We were then served (silver service) a freshly-cooked and delicious brunch; smoked salmon and caviar, scrambled eggs with chives - the works. After plenty of tea and coffee, Danish pastries etc, we had the chance to view the train. It was well worth walking the length of the train and seeing the different styles of Pullman carriage - they are all named individually and have their own theme and history. Our carriage was Cygnus and there were swans incorporated into the decor, including a mosaic on the floor of the loo! One of my great heroes is Winston Churchill and I was particularly pleased that Cygnus was one of two carriages on our train which was part of his funeral train. That sounds like a strange and possibly morbid thing to be pleased about, but it made me feel some sort of connection with the great man. I get the same feeling living near his home at Chartwell - he must have walked down, or (more likely) been driven down the same roads that I use sometimes.

We arrived in Bath to blazing sunshine and were taken on a tour of the city by bus, including the famous Crescent, and then T had arranged for us to see a demonstration of glass-blowing, with the chance for us each to blow a glass bubble. That was a bit of a challenge for someone whose mouth only half-works, but I managed to create a fairly respectable, if weirdly shaped, bubble! T is the most sweetly generous and kind person and had arranged for us all to have an amount of money to spend in the glass work's gift shop, in addition to subsidising the cost of the day (I told you she was generous!) so we had fun choosing what to purchase. I chose two lovely turquoise-coloured wine goblets, as I thought they would be totally suited to sipping a pre- or post-prandial drink in the garden over the summer....assuming we have decent weather and that this current spell of warmth and sunshine isn't all we get this year!

After this, it was time to return to the station to catch the train home. That makes it sound like a daily commute, but it bears no resemblance to the London Bridge-Oxted service except for the fact that it runs on the same gauge track! A glass of champagne for each of us once we were seated set the standard for the journey and we enjoyed a superb four course meal, with wine and champagne (again, generously provided by T) and, as the wine flowed, so did the conversation! I really enjoyed meeting T's friends, all of whom I met for the first time yesterday, and I really did feel that I made some new friends and that we will keep in touch. That's a good feeling, isn't it? I like the thought that we can gather new friends as we go through life and that our friendship bank account can increase its balance. I've had a couple of debits to my friendship bank account over the last year, as I've mentioned in previous blogs, but a huge number of credits, so overall, I'm in a healthier fiscal friendship position than last March (if that makes any sense at all!).

The journey home just whizzed by - doesn't time always fly when you're enjoying yourself? - and all too soon we arrived back at Victoria and returned to normal, catching the train back to Oxted, where T's soon-to-be husband was waiting to drive us all home (he's lovely too!). I was full of my trip when I came home, babbling on to Neil and Amy, who were *enjoying* assembling a wardrobe for Amy's new bedroom....... I was very pleased that I managed to drink some champagne on the way home (I tried a sip of the very nice red wine, but it still tastes like vinegar to me), as it felt like I was just the same as everyone else, enjoying a little drink. And yes, I did enjoy it!

Today was the last meeting of my Lent group, which I have been hosting at our house for the past five weeks. It's a great little group, from across several of our local churches, so we have different denominations represented, and we have all been interested in, and respectful of, each other's views and beliefs. To close the session, we had decided to have a simple lunch together, so I made some soup and we had that with bread. Our theme today was Communion, so it seemed appropriate to "break bread" together. I have felt very blessed by my little Lent group and the trust we have all placed in each other to respect our thoughts and beliefs. They very kindly bought me and the Leader of the group a beautiful plant in a basket as a thank you (totally unnecessary, but very sweet of them) and the Leader had also bought me one, so I have beautiful colour in my sitting-room. I'd suggested that instead of people bringing things for lunch, I would provide it and people could make a contribution towards Fairtrade, which is supported by all the local churches, so we have a nice little sum to hand over to them.

I did have to take some photos today to renew my passport and I have to be honest and say that I found it difficult to look at them. I think that, like a lot of people, what I see in the mirror isn't necessarily how I look to other people and how I look in the mirror is definitely not what I see when I look at my photos! However, my passport expires soon (so does my MOT, but that doesn't need a photo!) and I do look different from my old passport photo, so have to have a new one done. If/when I end up having facial surgery and I look different again, I can always apply to change the photo at that point, but in the meantime, I have to go with how it is now. I suspect that if I had had to take these photos six, or even three, months ago, I would have been quite upset. Now I can almost shrug my shoulders and say "Well, that's how I look, so just accept it". I think that is progress.

Overall, my positive streak continues. I'm doing lots of lovely things and generally feel happy and strong. I think a lot of this is linked to this beautiful weather, so I'm not looking forward to the change this weekend...we are going to a family wedding on Saturday and, while I'm sure the bride and groom won't care about the weather, I can't help feeling that it's a bit disappointing that the temperature is going to drop by about 9 degrees and the gorgeous sunshine is going to be covered by cloud! Adam comes home from uni tomorrow, so my little family unit will be complete for a couple of weeks and I am really looking forward to that - and on that happy note, I shall sign off!


  1. What a fantastic experience, the whole thing sounds just so great that I am grinning just reading about it. I'm so glad that you and T (who if I am not mistaken met me whilst I scooped up a disemboweled bird in your livingroom)enjoyed it.

    Hugs to all the Sweetings and hope you have a lovely Easter xx

  2. I love the reference to friendship bank. What a lovely way of looking at it especially when you are in credit. Sha x