No post from me yesterday as Dylan and I were on a 4am till midnight adventure. I quite like that there will be no Day 34 in my transition-to-care countdown; whether things go well or badly, I can tell myself the missing day might have made the difference.
Dylan and I had a great time on our missing day; we went to Durham, steam-hauled virtually all the way. The significance of this, in terms of Dylan’s move to residential care, is that I would not have considered such a trip a few months ago. Indeed I cancelled a similar booking at Easter as Dylan was too unsettled to go without 2:1 support. As steam trains are probably the thing Dylan enjoys most, this has been a loss to him.
Over the last couple of years I have written about the joy Dylan takes in steam; this post describes the first time I attempted such a trip with Dylan and this post celebrates the increasing pleasure we found in steam engines, together and with friends. In recent years we have made several day trips by steam as well as a four day steam tour of Scotland in May 2014.
The May holiday became a significant marker for me as it was immediately after we returned from that trip that Dylan’s ‘challenging behaviour’ began. Because our time in Scotland had been so marvellous, and Dylan so settled, I found it difficult to understand the sudden changes in him and the emergence of aggressive behaviour in someone who had previously been gentle and mild-mannered. And so began a year of heartbreak, agony and hurt as I struggled to support Dylan through very dark days (many recorded through this blog in its ‘Living With Autism’ phase). Our day in Durham is significant, then, within this context; it represented an attempt to resume steam service to Dylan’s life.
I booked the tickets for yesterday’s trip around the time Dylan moved to residential care. Planning special activities at regular intervals might, I thought, act as an incentive and reward (for us both) during the early months of transition; I would, I told myself, take a friend if Dylan was still unsettled when the time came. Dylan has a habit of going through things on my desk and some weeks ago he found the flyer advertising yesterday’s trip. Since then, he has kept the flyer in his top drawer, showing it to me every time he visits and ‘chugging’ his right arm into the makaton sign for ‘train’. Soon, Dylan; not this weekend, but soon, I have been telling him. It would not be possible when the time came, I realised, not to take him.
As is so often the case when I make plans, when the time did come I wondered why I had thought it a good idea. Had I not noticed that it fell during the third week of semester when teaching always feels sloggy (or I am ill)? Or that I had a commitment elsewhere the previous afternoon so collecting Dylan would be logistically challenging? Or that the steam train departed my local station so early in the morning it would mean getting up at 4am? On Friday, battling through teaching and delayed trains from Birmingham (my tolerance for cross-country diesel less than for steam) I wondered what I had done. The worst that could happen? That Dylan wouldn’t understand why he had to get out of bed so early and we would miss the train? No; there were, I reminded myself, worse scenarios.
Happily I didn’t need to worry; the trip went without a hitch and we had a lovely time. As I downloaded the photos this morning I reminded myself that, as well as being credit to me and to Dylan, the success of the day was thanks to the work done by his care home in the last few months. How wonderful it is that everybody is benefitting from this.
Dylan has a particular interest in cathedrals and visiting them is often the focus of our trips.
The tower was open at Durham yesterday so we went up. Dylan was quite anxious initially and needed to sit for a while.
While we were on the roof someone came to raise a flag. It was, he told me, the Royal Standard of the Crown Prince Bishop and it was being raised because the following day (i.e. today) was St Luke’s Day; the flag had to be hoisted on St Luke’s Eve he said. Now I don’t know much about flags but I’d say this one is upside down. And my guess is that wasn’t the only error; later in the day I noticed a quite different flag was flying from the tower in its place.
Durham Castle was rather splendid. Apparently it is used for student accommodation. Imagine that. I thought Founders Hall of my alma mater (Royal Holloway) was special but a castle!
Another highlight of the trip for Dylan was the riverbank; wonderful views of the castle and cathedral…
and for added drama a rowing boat in difficulty close to the weir. We stood around helplessly, transfixed by events unfolding in slo-mo and the terrified screams from the boat. I’m aware that photographing the boat was hardly heroic behaviour on my part but happily it ended OK.
Oh and there was the small matter of a steam train…