Engaging with the National Trust


The mood lifting slightly – in Ascott House grounds

It was my Birthday last week, which made Ellen extremely grumpy.  She is very fond of her own Birthday and buying presents for other people but she has no interest whatsoever in celebrating anyone else’s day.  My ‘Good morning, it’s my Birthday!’ received the predictable response of  ‘get out!’

We took a trip to one of our local National Trust houses to walk off lunch and try and improve her mood.  Ellen is usually a big fan of visiting such places, I think I’ve mentioned before how much she enjoys telling us which chairs you can and can’t sit on (mostly with NT it’s ‘can’t’ but their various ways of depicting this fascinates Ellen).

It didn’t start well as Ellen refused to get out of the car.  We then realised that her ‘carer card’ had expired, but luckily it was a quiet day and after explanation the staff let us take in a carer (her sister) but we were informed we needed to phone up for another carer card as soon as possible.  Boringly, for Ellen, almost all the chairs at Ascott House can be sat on, there was no quiz and I got told off for taking photos.  Richard took a work phone call and paced around outside for a while before making the fatal mistake of talking to one of the NT volunteers and becoming gripped – Ellen and I decided to make a swift exit and explore the grounds.

It was at least a beautiful day and one of the horses obligingly did a huge wee right in front of us, which cheered Ellen up immensely and she even let me take a photo of her.

A few days later I phoned the NT to get Ellen’s new carer card.  It’s a very strange system they have for disabled members.  They send a new membership card on renewal, but to enter with a carer requires an additional, rather flimsy card, which needs renewing every year, but which is not sent out automatically.

‘I explained what I wanted.

‘Can we speak to Ellen?’ the advisor asked.

‘No, a) she’s not here and b) she doesn’t talk on the phone.’ I replied.

‘Ah’ a pause.  ‘It’s a matter of data protection you see’ the man continued.

I take a deep breath.  ‘Look’, I say, ‘she has autism and learning difficulties and she doesn’t talk on the phone, and even if she did, she’d just say “yes” or “go way” to everything you ask.’

To his credit, after disappearing for several minutes to consult with his manager, the man ‘did things another way’ and eventually said the card would be dispatched in 14 days.

‘It’s not a very good system, is it?’  I suggested.

‘I can pass your comments on to the appropriate team’ he replied.

I had the terrible deja vu sense of a black hole opening up before me.

‘That would be lovely’ I exclaimed, after all, the post-birthday glow had not completely left me.  ‘Speak to you again next year!’



A little trip to Ascott

No, before you think we’ve gone up in the world, I am not referring to the famous racecourse; large hats were not required and the only horses we saw this afternoon were either immortalised in statues or fountains.

Ascott House is a small-ish National Trust Property near where we live.  As members of the National Trust, entrance is free.  I haven’t been for a few years and thought that if nothing else Ellen would get a walk in the fresh air.

Ellen just before our whistle-stop tour of the house

Ellen just before our whistle-stop tour of the house

Going into a National Trust property – especially when it’s quiet – is like attending an Olympic Games in manners.  First of all there are signs everywhere demanding compliance ‘Do not step on the grass’ and ‘Do not touch’.  There is an air of hushed reverence in each room and you feel like you have to linger and look at everything in great detail else you’re not showing the proper respect.  Above all the – almost invariably elderly – stewards love to pounce on you as you walk through the door with a greeting and then proceed to answer questions you haven’t asked in a bid to prove the necessity of their existence and it can be hard to get away.  Not if you have Autism though!

‘Have you been to Ascott before?’ The first guide begins as Ellen walks around the highly polished dining table trailing her finger along the edge.  ‘I’m afraid you can’t touch anything’ she says pointedly but before she can launch into her standard introduction Ellen walks past her into the next room.  ‘This is the whistle-stop tour’ I explain over my shoulder and walk after Ellen.  And so it is.  ‘Welcome to the Library’ and ‘This is the Chinese Room’ are all left in our wake as we plough through the entire house in under 10 minutes.  ‘That really was the whistle stop tour’ the first guide remarks as we double back to leave the way we came in.  ‘Yes, is there a prize?’ I ask.

Ellen at the Lily Pond

Ellen at the Lily Pond

The gardens were spectacular – with many features to see.  Ellen’s favourite was the lily pond but she also enjoyed looking at the various Victorian fountains – in particular the Bravura Venus fountain, which not only had horses with fish tails but Venus was standing on a large turtle!  The cottage garden borders were also filled with purple flowers (Ellen’s favourite colour) and there were many enormous and strange looking trees.  In true RDI style I limited myself to comments only as we walked round – or rather as I was pulled round by Ellen who was rather keen to get back to the car and didn’t really want to pause to examine the flowers or the trees in too much detail.

In fact, I think Ellen’s favourite part of the trip was stopping at the village shop on the way home to buy sweets and a drink – in this she is displaying typical teenager traits.  Luckily she insisted that I buy something for myself as well, so I had my first ice-cream of the year 🙂

I took a few shots of Ellen around the gardens and at the time I was really pleased with this one; an arty shot of Ellen admiring the fish-tailed horses.  Only when I came to post it did I realise it looks like the stream of water is coming from Venus – oh well I’d better stick to the day job then.

My arty shot gone wrong

My arty shot gone wrong