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Christmas at Gulliver’s Land

Gulliver’s Land is a rather tired-round-the-edges theme park aimed at the under tens, which we used to go to a lot when the children were smaller.  Suddenly, out of the blue a few weeks ago, Ellen asked if we could go there again.  Closed in the winter months, Gulliver’s opens for a couple of weeks in December, where it is possible to book a ‘Christmas Experience’.   A £14.95 per person midweek ticket entitles the lucky holder to an hour and three quarters on the rides (plenty in the freezing weather), enjoyment of the half hour ‘pantomime’, lunch and a visit to Santa. The only concession they make for disabled people is that Ellen was entitled to a free upgrade to an adult’s meal; turkey roll rather than chicken teddies…but nevertheless I went ahead and booked the tickets and today was the day of our visit!

The trip didn’t start all that auspiciously because as soon as we entered the park Ellen became a kangaroo and ‘boinged’ off rather quickly, speed-walking as she does I almost lost her a few times.  After a few laps of the park (which is luckily quite small) I found her looking rather forlorn, standing by a part of the park that was blocked off.  Her favourite rides – the flying carpet, the swings and the yellow boats – were all behind the barricade, disaster! I have no idea why this area was shut off, although by the looks of it it was a dumping ground for all the broken rides; tragically lined up were the multi-coloured balloons which used to belong to an incredibly slow balloon Ferris wheel – another favourite ridge of Ellen’s – more disaster.  But low and behold Gulliver’s have a new balloon ride – and kangaroo went on it and loved it!

New balloon ride

As you can see, the park was pretty well deserted.  Apart from a handful of pre-school toddlers and their parents ,we were the only ones in the park.  Before we had arrived at Gulliver’s, I’d talked to Ellen about going on at least one new ride as, like a lot of autistic people, she becomes very rigid in her routines and to try anything new is a major thing.  I was happy that we’d got on the ‘new’ balloon ride to be honest, but whilst we were up in the air I spotted another new ride, horses traversing very slowly round a small track.  I wondered aloud whether kangaroo might like to go on a horse, and as she didn’t object we went there next.  Disaster almost struck again when I read that the ride was only for children under 1m 50cm; strictly no adults.  Ellen was just over the 1m 50 mark and I knew that the man really wanted to refuse her going on but as (a) there was no one else on the ride and (b) I was damned if I was going to let him say no when she was actually looking keen, I found myself saying merrily ‘Oh thank you so much for letting her on, it’s really kind of you’ and whether it was that, the Christmas spirit, or the fact that Ellen was already getting on a horse I don’t know, but he let her on and as you can see she loved it.

Ellen on a horse!

 

After this, because Ellen had been on the horses on her own, she wanted me to go on the ‘Boots’ ride on my own. On this ride, large boots slowly travel round in a circle and can be moved up and down by the press of a button.  Obviously I felt (and looked) like a right saddo sat in this thing on my own, but Ellen was very happy watching me and even took a photo and a video of me on the ride.  ‘Kangaroos don’t like the buzzing noise’ she declared as soon as I’d got off, but she was happy enough to go back on the balloon ride.

We went on a few more things before we totally froze; a small train with a non-working bell ‘it’s run out of energy’ Ellen declared, the teacups – ‘stay on as long as you want!’ said the operator with enthusiasm.  Oh god, I thought don’t say that,  I’m not good at the teacups at the best of times.  The previous operator had rather worryingly wobbled off to first aid having apparently somehow managed to hit his head on a teacup. Lots of the staff at Gulliver’s land are very young and inexperienced and can be somewhat monosyllabic.  However, today I have to say they were all pretty enthusiastic, even through the terrible pantomime which was some sort of Gully Mouse meets Alice in Wonderful fusion which must be short for confusion; containing as it did some feeble magic tricks.  Still it was warmer than being outside.

So yes, Gulliver’s Land still looks like it could do with a coat of paint, and no one seems to have taken into account the fact that from the top of the new balloon ride you get a prime view of their rubbish area.  The positives of the day do outweigh the negatives. Ellen went on not one but two new rides.  She sat through the pantomime when she usually refuses to go into a theatre.  She even went in to see Santa – in her kangaroo persona of course – and Santa coped with this curved ball rather well.  One of the ‘yoof’ even opened the sweet shop just for us so that Ellen could get some pick-and-mix.  And, above all Ellen wants to go back in the summer when all the rides are back open.

I think however, this time it will be her Dad’s turn to take her.

 

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A Visit to Santa’s Grotto

World’s End Garden Centre in Wendover always has an imaginative Christmas grotto with just the right number of twinkly lights, cute animals and film references to keep Ellen amused.  One of the (very few) bonuses of Ellen having a day off in the week is that we can visit such attractions ‘off peak’ as it were and avoid the long queues.  At £1.50 each for a walk around the grotto I wanted us to get our money’s worth (£7 if you wanted to include a trip to see Santa but luckily Ellen never really wants to see him face to face).  I don’t think she missed anything either as I saw one little girl rather sadly clutching a dismal-looking plastic dolls bath.

This year the theme was Wizard of Oz meets Wind in the Willows.  The Wizard of Oz part was definitely the best and it was almost like they ran out of ideas three-quarters of the way around and had to then put something else in.  I’m assuming the last quarter was Wind in the Willows because it contained toads but my knowledge of the book is too hazy to know if one of them is famous for washing and drying up – as per the grotto display, so it could have been just a collection of random animals.  Certainly there were swans and moles and rather excitingly – a tiger in a cage – hanging right over our heads!

 

This afternoon Ellen was acting the part of a super-villain.  Super-villain is a character from one of Ellen’s Backyardigans DVDs and as far as I can tell he spends his time either covering people with goo or making them very small.

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Super-villain and the reindeer

Super-villain and the reindeer

 

The first time we walked through the grotto ‘super-villain’ ran ahead and got through the whole thing in about two and a half minutes.  Luckily because it was so quiet we got to have a second look round. I videoed part of it for RDI purposes and tried very hard to concentrate on ‘experience-sharing’ language and to use gesture more and speech less.  It was pretty successful as these things go, Ellen talked about the wicked witch being ‘melted’, asked questions and covered a polar bear and a crocodile in figurative ‘goo’.

Afterwards we had a look around the Christmas decorations shop.  We haven’t actually gotten around to putting any decorations up at home yet, and I fancied getting some indoor lights, so I told Ellen we were going to choose something.  While I was trying to find the box of ‘snow-flake’ lights (they’d sold out) Ellen was obviously off perusing the shelves.  She came up to me clutching a large box containing a rather garishly bright Penguin.  For some reason it also had 25% off.  I can’t image why!  The combination of the discount and Ellen’s expectant expression and the time of year I suspect made me cave in.  I wonder what hubbie will say when he comes home from Barcelona on Friday to find a large blue penguin lighting up the kitchen.  Compliments all round no doubt….

Christmas Penguin

Christmas Penguin

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Hobbycraft Heaven

I looked up all sorts of ideas for making Christmas wreaths this week but I couldn’t face any of them.  Either they required far too much skill, involved trekking out into the open air with a pair of scissors to ‘collect your greenery’ or used copious amounts of glue.  None of which seemed tremendously inviting.  Instead, after much internet searching, I plumped for making Christmas decorations out of salt dough.  Perfect, I thought.  RDI ‘experience sharing’ through the dough-making and cutting process and then shopping at Hobbycraft to buy some nice glitter paints to decorate.  In my euphoria I had forgotten that in a clear-out a few years ago I chucked out most of my biscuit cutters leaving me only with hearts, stars, a lone elephant and the letters one to ten.

In the happy period before I discovered this however, Ellen and I made the salt dough and rolled it out.  This went all RDI swimmingly until Ellen for some reason decided to tip what was left of the salt into my jar of flour – ‘what did you do that for ?’ (a banned question) sprung from my lips before I could stop it and Ellen giggled.  I seriously considered for at least five seconds trying to spoon the salt out, but then gestured at the jar and looked at Ellen.  She paused.  ‘Oh dear my flour has salt in it’ I said giving my best impression of someone who was taking it all in their stride.  ‘You need to wash it’ Ellen said.  A tick for RDI, although the glee in her voice made it difficult to really appreciate this at the time…still it’s ‘experience-sharing’ I guess!

When it came to using the cutters, Ellen didn’t seem to mind the deficit of shapes, although she did insist on using a different cutter every time, so once we’d used the stars and hearts we were onto the less Christmassy shapes like the number seven and a little round cutter which I think is supposed to be used to make the hole in

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the numbers like nine and six.  There was also a bit of dough left over at the end which was rolled into a rainbow (just making this clear – as it’s possibly not obvious pre-painted!)

So there we have it – shapes done.  Now the shopping trip to Hobbycraft.  I have to admit I am a Hobbycraft virgin. I know people rave about it but I thought it might be a rather dull place like needlecraft shops often are with plastic packets of unidentifiable objects uninspiring displayed on racks.  How wrong could I be!  The minute I walked through the door I knew it was a mistake to go in alone with Ellen, before I could pull one of the baskets away from the stack (why are these things so difficult to do?) she was already clutching a box of sequin art and had even managed to find packets of dolly mixtures amongst the aisles.  She wasn’t the slightest bit interested in choosing which colour glitter glue to buy or the best ribbon for our decorations she was instead focussed on the task of ‘how to get the most things in the basket without Mum objecting.’  Suffice to say we didn’t stick strictly to the list and in future I will probably order online :-).

I’ve got a new goal of trying not to ‘over compensate’ for Ellen when we are doing our shelf-stacking at the Village Shop.  It’s so much easier at home to step back and not interfere, when we’re out and about I always find myself jumping in to interpret what she wants before I should.  I’m more conscious than I should be of the people around me; it’s something that’s very difficult to shake off.   I think next week I might try and put a rubber band on my wrist so I can give myself a little twang every time I feel myself stepping in too early.  Could be interesting – watch this space.