We moved to our present home just before John’s fourth birthday. We chose the house because it was at the end of a small cul- de – sac which was nestled between a wooded common and the sea front. It felt private and safe with plenty of space for John to run around without the worry of cars zooming past.
Oh yes and it was quiet, really very peaceful indeed, which is presumably why most of the neighbours had lived in their homes for many years.
Things were about to change.
John loved his new home, he ran into all of the rooms and around the back garden whooping and hollering at the top of his voice to express his delight. He loved his huge new bedroom and indicated that he wanted the bed to be by the window so that he could stand on it and look over the common. There was much to see, dog walkers, children swinging in the trees and young lovers practising their skills completely unaware that they could be seen from his bedroom!
The neighbours called in one by one to introduce themselves and welcome us to the avenue. John gave each one a round of applause as they walked in and signed ‘House’ and then stood in front of them signing for ‘Sweets and Cake’ followed by ‘Please’. He was very unimpressed when all that was offered were several house plants and a basket of home made preserves. He waved bye bye and went to sulk in his room.
A few days after we had settled in I went to see each neighbour to explain that John was autistic and prone to being a bit noisy. I apologised in advance if anyone was disturbed and asked them to let me know if it became too loud.
He didn’t have much vocabulary at this time, nor did he have a volume control. Everyone was very understanding and said it was lovely to hear his laughter as he played from dawn to dusk in the garden. He had a swing and a slide which he loved and spent many hours swinging and sliding to his hearts content.
Life for him was as near perfect as it could be. Just as it had been for the elderly residents of Woodland Avenue, until now that is.
Three weeks after we moved in and we were still getting used to the fact that it is so windy here. This was a big advantage to John as it meant he could fly his kites most of the time, even when there appeared to be not a breath of wind anywhere else in the country. He would have several kites tied to the bars of his swing and one tied on the handle of his bedroom window. A colourful ariel display to entertain the residents of all the houses in the avenue behind ours.
One cold and windy night John wanted us to leave a kite tied to his window, we explained it was not possible as it was too windy and it would bang against the glass, we promised we would fly one after breakfast in the road outside. He was satisfied knowing that he would have lots of fun in the morning. He slept with a kite hanging from the lampshade as a sort of reminder to his dad and I. We bonked our head on it several times during the evening when we checked on him, so in the end, when John was a sleep we took it down and left it on the landing.
I woke up with a start as the telephone invaded my sleep. I was disorientated and couldn’t find it, desperate not to wake John up I flailed around in the dark.
John’s dad put his light on and hissed ‘ Who the hell is this calling at 4. a.m.’
I hissed back ‘ How the hell do I know’ and picked up the receiver.
It was our very elderly neighbour Nancy who was 80 if she was a day. I panicked thinking that she was ill so I started to get dressed as I talked and indicating that he should do the same.
The wind was howling outside and it was difficult to hear as Nancy spoke very quietly but I managed to get the gist of it.
‘ Apparently there’s a bear standing on a chair in the road’ I told John’s dad.
‘Oh for gods sake, has she been at the gin’ he replied, not known for his patience or sympathy. ‘Get real Julie, there is no way that there is a bear on a chair in our road at four in the bloody morning, for gods sake. This is The Wirral not Alaska. There are no bears. Ok. She is either having a nightmare or she’s drank too much Night Nurse’
‘Well that’s what she said’ I replied angrily as we ran down stairs, adding ‘Get the baseball bat….just in case ….it could have escaped from Chester Zoo’
John’s dad threw me a look as if to say ‘I can’t believe I am hearing this’
We ran down the drive to see Nancy standing in front of her house in a voluminous nightgown. It was billowing about her in the wind which gave her a ghostly appearance and she was pointing and shouting into the wind. An elderly Cathy calling to her Heathcliff.
She did indeed look as if she may have inadvertently had one sip too many of her Night Nurse.
And then we saw the bear…..or I should say….the bare bottom of our gorgeous son, stood on a white plastic garden chair in just his vest, flying his kite and having a wail of a time.
We made sure we never again left the keys in the door when we went to bed.