Driving to pick John up last Friday I wondered what he would make of the carnival atmosphere that has gripped our little town of Hoylake. The Open Golf championship was in full swing, pardon the pun, and it threatened to hit fever pitch by the weekend.
Normally crowds of noisy people would be too much for him, so I pondered what I could offer him as an alternative to his usual weekend activities.
“What shall we do this weekend Johnny boy?” I asked him as we headed home, he had his head half out of the window and was singing along to a Christmas carol he was listening to through his headphones.
” Oh come or ye faber” sang John with gusto ” Joyfoo and tryumpa……”
His pronunciations never fail to make me laugh. He doesn’t say very much, but when he does it’s always a classic.
I applauded him by clapping my thigh with my left hand, keeping my right hand on the wheel. ” Excellent singing John. Now listen, put the window up for a moment so we can talk”
Reluctantly John did as he was told. “Wido up” he confirmed.
“Ok good, now then Hoylake is very busy this weekend, lots of people and it’s very noisy. Shall we do something else tomorrow instead of the smelly shops?”
“Goff” said John nodding to let me know he knew all about the golf and then pressing the window button so he could revert to his favourite ‘in car’ position.
“Biiig Debris momow, hoh er baoon, yes ok” he shouted into the wind nodding his head dramatically to emphasise his request.
This was new, he wants to go to the big Sainsbury’s tomorrow for a hot air balloon? I wondered where he had got this idea from, John is never wrong so if he says Sainsbury’s have hot air balloons then you can be sure they will indeed have them. I decided to check.
“John, did you just say that big Sainsbury’s have got hot air ballons?”
“No, yes” said John helpfully, nodding and shaking his head furiously as if he was in the pit at a Megga Death concert.
” What? No or yes John?” I shouted to be heard over John’s singing and the roar from the traffic through the open window.
“Yes, no.” He repeated “Car, hoh er baoon momow”
“Ok, we will go in the car to big Sainsbury’s and we will have a look” I promised.
“JohnElmo in hoh er baoon” John tapped his chest in case I wasn’t too sure who JohnElmo was. He also pointed to the sky to show me where hot air balloons go. He clearly thinks his mum is a bit thick.
“Erm……I don’t think so John, but if there are any hot air balloons you can definitely look at them. This was the best I could manage not knowing what he was on about and not wanting to promise something I couldn’t deliver.
It’s very important to make sure you never say yes to anything unless you can 100% make it happen. Autistic people need to know what will happen, then they will want it confirmed over and over again to make quite sure it will definitely happen. They need to know when it will happen and they have memories longer than Dumbo’s mum. Hence my recent emphatic “NO” to the Goats.
Just so as you know why I never say yes without first checking, here are a couple of examples……….
Peter used to make ludicrous promises to John when he asked for impossible Christmas presents. John always starts his Christmas list in July. This resulted in Peter having to make all sorts of weird items out of wood and bits and bobs he found lying around the house and car port.
He once made a 4ft long replica of one of the Birkenhead lock bridges, or “Bridge Up” as John calls it. It was amazing, painted in the correct colours and it moved up and down just as the real bridge does. It took ages to make and involved many trips to “bridge up” for Peter to make sure it was exactly right.
The other thing about John, is that his ‘Bridge up’ would have to be like the real one in every minute detail, otherwise in his mind it wouldn’t be ‘Bridge up’ at all, just a pile of wood and metal that didn’t make sense to him.
I found the stress hard to deal with incase we didn’t get it right. Christmas day meltdowns would be the stuff of nightmares and I couldn’t hide my ever increasing anxiety from Peter for promising it in the first place.
He was up until the early hours of Christmas morning finishing it off.
When John saw it he nearly had a heart attack with delight. Peter on the other hand nearly had a heart attack due to lack of sleep and my incessant tutting , nagging and constant reminders that he was a fool for saying yes.
“Johnny boy wants a bridge up, it’s not a problem” was all he would say as he hammered, banged, sanded and painted every evening for months.
I have already written about The Lottery Sign saga; how he and Adam didn’t end up getting arrested I will never know.
There was a similar incident involving a Sainsbury’s shopping trolley which he ‘acquired’ because John had asked for one.
However the one that sticks in my mind, for all the wrong reasons was the complete inside roof panel from a Mercedes mini bus. John was obsessed with the different patterns of holes in the roof panel behind which the audio system speakers are situated. He spotted them on one of the special transport buses and the obsession was immediate.
Before that, it was the side panels from the back of MK1 Ford Fiesta’s. John called them ‘Speakies’ but pronounced them as ‘Peakies’.
Without a word of a lie, John’s dad, and later Peter, would spend Sunday afternoons dismantling these old Fords in scrap yards up and down the Wirral. At one time John had eight pairs of side panels or ‘Speakies’ hung on hooks around his bedroom.
I know! It sounds bizarre and believe me it was.
You would have to have known Peter to understand that the word impossible wasn’t in his vocabulary.
Suffice is to say that I went ballistic when John sidled up to Peter one July and said “Peehee, peakie Maydees Crimmas ”
“Of course you can have a Mercedes speaker for Christmas Johnny boy” said St Peter who then turned to me and said ” What exactly are these speakers like?”
“They are in the interior roof panel of a Mercedes minibus at school, for god sake” I yelled at him. “How the hell are we going to get him one. You are mad to say yes to this one. I can’t believe you would say yes…….” On and on I ranted, waving my arms about and threatening to leave home.
“You worry too much Julie, we’ve got six months to sort it out, it will be a doddle”
“Aaargh!” Was all I could manage in reply.
He was infuriatingly calm and I was a mad woman for the next six months.
This particular Christmas present involved……
1. A phone call to a Mercedes dealership.
2. A very long heart wrenching conversation with a poor unsuspecting salesman, who by the end of it would have sold one of his vital organs to help Peter make John’s Christmas dream come true.
3. Many emails and telephone calls to and from the Mercedes factory in Munich.
4. Several lunches with the dealership chappie to keep things moving and to prevent him traveling to Moscow to sell his kidney.
5. Repeated tongue lashings from me because the whole thing was madness, would take forever, we probably wouldn’t get it anyway and even if we did it wouldn’t be in time and John wouldn’t be able to handle the disappointment.
6. A constant supply of patience from St Peter.
Finally the day before Christmas Eve we took delivery of an enormous, brand new interior roof panel from Munich, free of charge and with all good wishes to John who they hoped liked his Christmas present.
I lost a stone in weight, most of my dignity and all of my marbles.
Peter never once doubted himself.
John had the best Christmas and was the only boy in the whole wide world to have a 10ft Mercedes interior roof panel wrapped in 45 sheets of Rudolf wrapping paper waiting for him on Christmas morning.
Right back to the original story of the hot air balloon.
On our way to Sainsbury’s the following day John directed me down the lanes but instead of turning left towards Sainsbury’s he pointed straight ahead.
“Way” he yelped pointing ahead and starting to bounce “Way, hoh er baoon, yes”
During the Open Golf Championships the surrounding farm fields were used as car parks and this is where John was directing me to. However when we got there all we could see were rows and rows of cars and not a hot air balloon in sight.
John was confused. ” Hoh er baoon, ere, wedday” he said pointing to the field of cars. His mouth turned down in disappointment. He stared for a long time before letting out a very long unhappy sigh. I felt so sorry for him.
It transpires that during the week there had indeed been a small hot air balloon tethered in the field as part of the Golf. He had obviously been to see it on the Wednesday with one of his support workers and assumed it would still be there at the weekend.
With his limited vocabulary he had wanted to tell me that there was a hot air balloon in the field in the lanes on the way to Sainsbury’s.
And there was I thinking he was saying that Sainsbury’s were now selling hot air balloons.
Communication in all its forms is the major challenge for anyone suffering from Autism. I can understand most of John’s conversation but a lot of the time it’s trial and error. I don’t always get it right which makes for some hilarious consequences.
John is always very patient with me as I struggle to understand him.
Later that afternoon he asked to go and see the cows, something we haven’t done for a long time. I was delighted as I love them too. John took two camcorders and his iPad which made me wonder if it was infact the cows that he was talking about.
I followed his finger pointing in the direction he wanted me to go.
It turns out that he wanted to go to the Municiple Golf course which was being used a a spare car park and the players practice ground. It was just around the corner from the cows.
Another example of John helping me to understand where he wanted to go. Much easier for him to say’ Cows’ than ‘Municiple Golf Course’. I would have been guessing until midnight.
He is such a clever lad.
He had seen an aeroplane in the morning as we drove through Hoylake and had pointed it out to me. It was circling low over the Municipal course and filming aerial shots of the surrounding areas which were then shown on TV inbetween the golfers holeing their putts or whatever it is they do.
John was beside himself, jumping around and yelling “Plane” in case there were people present who had never seen one before. It was sweltering and humid, John was dripping in sweat and I looked as if I had just stepped out of the shower. So attractive.
Just then a huge black Mercedes limo pulled up along side me with a very handsome man in the drivers seat. He was smiling as he watched John enjoying himself. I desperately tried to look windswept and interesting but failed miserably as drops of perspiration trickled down my face and landed on the wing of his gleaming pride and joy. I apologised and tried to wipe it off with the bottom of my ringing wet vest. All it did was leave a streaky mark on the beautifully polished Mercedes. The gorgeous man tried hard not to look queasy.
I apologised again and started babbling with embarrassment about how wonderful the golf was and how John was obsessed with planes, hence our visit this afternoon. We chatted for a while, well I say chatted, I talked and he nodded in all the right places.
He reached over and took a bottle of cold orange from his in car fridge, he grinned at me as he put the bottle to his mouth. Unconsciously I licked the taste salt off my lips not realising how it must have looked to him. I was just so hot and thirsty, but to him I must have looked like a deranged sex pest.
He was staring at me with his bottle in his hand clearly not quite sure what to say. Before he could think of anything, John having spotted the bottle of juice calmly walked over, pinched the bottle out of his hand and drank the whole lot down in one.
Did you know that a Mercedes Limo can do nought to sixty in three seconds?