Handicamp 2004 Diary
Bear in mind that some parts of this are edited, but for most of the diary, it’s as I wrote it late at night in the sitting room, so expect some waffling parts as well. For the complete set of pictures and their edited partners, please visit my image linking site. The pictures were taken on an old digital, so are quite bad quality, but good enough to make things out. The edited ones are at the bottom, because the brightness was horrible in some of the downloaded shots. http://tremor16.members.easyspace.com/handicamp_2004.htm. Hover your mouse over the images on this page to see a caption.
April 10th – Swimming and karaoke
I have a minor headache as I write this, sore ankles and an upset stomach. I think it’s just my earlier bedtimes that have caused me to remain awake now, an hour after lights out. It has been an odd first day with both relief and surprise making themselves heard in some way or another. Relief, perhaps, because my guest has no real physical impairment; but also a surprise because of the amount of energy required to keep up with him.
At first sight, Joseph Cooke seemed unusually normal and upon first conversing with him, I pleasantly found he was a bright and talkative 11 year old. He impressed me with his maturity and precision of though, his knowledge of musicals and interest in James Bond and Dr. Who. Certainly, I thought, this may be easier than I had anticipated. Perhaps I would be worried for nothing?
[Note: From the card I was given, Joseph has Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Hydrocephalus and Epilepsy. Hyrdocephalus is basically water on the brain, for which Joseph had a shunt in his head to drain the fluid to his stomach. I read up a little more on Autism today, because one of the other guys (who happens to be in the year 12 Religious Studies class at my school) called Robert mentioned ‘Theory of Mind’ to me on one of the guy’s evening discussions. It basically suggests that those with ASD (among many other symptoms) may have trouble recognising that other people have opinions and points of view and therefore have difficulty with social interaction and etiquette. Remember this as you read through my diary, as there are several points where I make an observation without knowing about Autism as well as I do now.]
Mentioning karaoke, I was quite mortified when the Handicamp staff gave me a card and got the entire group to sing Happy Birthday to me while I stood in front of the stage. I’m sure my grin turned into an embarrassed grimace towards of the end of the singing, although it won’t be a birthday to forget and I appreciate the effort. Even a Thomas the Tank Engine cake! Golden. ^_^
We also had swimming today. Joseph couldn’t swim and didn’t stay in long, although it was an eye-opener to the difficulties involved with the physically handicapped.
After talking with Jason and Lee (MYP) about their guests just now, (a midnight guys gathering in the sitting room that would grow both in numbers and devoted time over the next few days) I feel I have cheated somewhat. Several of the helpers have very heavy burdens to bear, both physical and mental disabilities, while I have basically just got to keep an open eye and agile foot at the ready for my guest. He is very energy consuming and requires a lot of attention, but he is in another class to the problems posed to some of the other helpers such as Stephanie (with guest Elizabeth), Lee (with guest Mitchell) and Jason (with guest Kaan). I could count myself lucky in that sense, although as Lee rightly pointed out, everybody has difficulties in varous areas to different degrees.
To round up the first day quickly then, it has been an eye-opener to the effort and immense patience required by the parents of some of these children and I suppose that fact will only more clearly manifest itself over the next few days. I’m likely to be utterly exhausted by the time the week is up, but I think it will have been worth it.
I have mixed feelings about turning 18. Not that I care about being legally able to drink or vote, just as I wasn’t fussed to be legally able to have sex at 16. I’m still a child in a phantasmagorical fantasy-dream at heart. At least, I’ve been thinking I am more recently. I don’t want to accept half the stuff the world is. This weeklong handicamp being but a step away from the provincial drivel of an expected lifestyle. I want to travel and meet people from different cultures. Not to settle for anything less than my highest ambitions. I wonder if every teenager feels this way? It’s a depressing thought if they do. Perhaps I’m not as ‘individual’ as I would like. But no matter. If I keep questioning and always remember my dreams and fervour, I will not allow myself to stray far of my ambitions.
April 11th – London Eye and The Lion King Musical
Today was much better. I didn’t finish with a headache or even painful feet after walking around London. Joseph didn’t seem to talk as much today either, even though he did display a couple of small tantrums over the lack of variety in the food available. I think he thoroughly enjoyed The Lion King musical (as did I ^_^) and he bought a key ring as a souvenir. We seem to get along a little better now, and apparently I’m his project for the week, to try and convert me back to Christianity.
Headache. Again. We stayed up at the school today, beginning with drama – a truncated version of the musical we saw. Some of the kids had their face painted for the show. Joseph ended up being Scar (“I’m surrounded by idiots” as he kept saying). We also had a small Easter egg hunt later and then swimming. I gave Joseph a piggyback ride across the pool – much to his delight. So we did it again and again, probably in excess of 30 times until my feet had a couple of small blisters. I really hope we don’t go swimming again this week. It also worried me a little when he wanted to call me ‘father’ or ‘dad’. We settled on Uncle Alfred, – his horse to carry him across the pool.
Up early today and off to Portsmouth to see the Mary Rose and HMS Victory. The ships were impeccable, very reminiscent of old pirate ships, but newly painted and restored. Joseph slept on the minibus again so I caught up with some sleep. He enjoyed the ‘Action Station’ simulator (helicopter, boat, aircraft) and gave a good attempt at the conveyor-belt climber wall. I returned later and went on this with Lacey (another DoE-er), which was fun. I managed to take the leader board on the hardest setting ^_^. It was surprising to learn her mum is African, if I had to pick something that was most peculiar about the day.
We began today by watching Johnny English, having been split into two groups for helicopter flights. Joseph decided he didn’t want to go swimming in the morning. The helicopter ride later on was very good and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Emily (Lacey’s guest) told me her ‘secret’ about how she sat in the front next to the pilot. (This was to keep Joseph from getting moody, I think :P). She also tells me she’s been on television, radio and in the newspapers many times. It amuses her to stamp on my feet and unnerve me by bending her fingers back to an unnatural degree.
The bowling was good, although Joseph got really upset and moody about not winning the trophy. It is decisively difficult to try and make him calm down and understand that it really doesn’t matter. I also helped feed Kaan (who couldn’t speak and needed a lot of attention) at today’s mealtime, which was an interesting experience, simply because what was required was so different to Joseph’s needs.
I went out to talk to Carly and her guest Joanna today during the music quiz. She seemed really stressed dealing with Joanna, so I hope I managed to cheer her up a little. She is taking the same R.S. course as me next year at Rainham Mark, which I told her should be interesting once she gets into it.
April 15th – Thorpe Park & final evening disco
The day at Thorpe Park, by my standards, was relatively dull. Joseph and I went around with Lacey, Emily, Vicki and her guest Rebecca, but we weren’t able to go on any big rides because Joseph wasn’t happy with it. I think all the kids enjoyed the day though, including little Craig (who didn’t have a voice box) who slept all day ^_^;. I spoke to Ashley on the bus about hers and Emma’s school in Highstead, just outside Sittingbourne.
Today is only a half-day and we were expected to leave by 11.00am. I got up at 8.00am having gone to bed at 4.00 in the morning. The midnight meetings we’d been having ran on a lot longer on the final night. Lee, Eddie (Adam’s helper) and James (who looked after Jamie and Craig at different times throughout the week) stayed up the whole night and went out to play on the giant chessboard soon after I left for bed. The morning routine was pretty much the same as every other although with added packing away and cleanup of the Cadbury’s Cream Egg Eddie had thrown at Joseph the night before, which I’m putting down to a sugar overdose, as he was acting oddly all night. o.O;
Joseph was a difficult guest to handle at times, although not physically speaking. His attitude was such that it raised a few eyebrows most of the time, at the very least. I quite sure he unnerved more than a few of the girls with his antics and trying to get them to kiss him. It was far too easy to find things to ridicule about him, which is what I encountered upon entering the sitting room (later than the rest of the guys) on the final night.
I’m unsure how I feel at the moment but I do know that it will hit when I get home. I usually have depressive feelings after an exciting holiday or extended break. I think I will revel in the fact that I don’t have to listen to half of the waffle Joseph created, and the serene reflective time I’ll have to myself again. But in terms of the whole handicamp atmosphere, well, it’s certain I’ll feel alone again when I stand in my bedroom tonight.
I mentioned ‘expected to leave at 11.00am’ at the start because there was an unfortunate unresolved incident just as we were ready to depart. From what I’ve gathered, Elizabeth (who was quite large and almost permanently wheelchair bound) had a weak heart and suffered a heart attack shortly after being put on the minibus. I believe an ambulance was called and I thought I saw Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation being performed behind the van to obscure the children’s view of the scene. I do hope she pulls through okay, as the week has gone so well. We remained behind for another 2-3 hours and departed at about 1.30pm on the minibus journey I’m currently riding.
I’m liable to write another entry to this journal online later, but I’d like to sum up my thoughts now anyway. Handicamp has definitely done what I’d intended it to. I don’t feel very uncomfortable around people with special needs anymore, and am able to interact with them quite well. The most surprising thing however is that I have gained a great deal of confidence around children in general, not just because they are disabled. Entertaining, comforting, disciplining all featured during the week, although the discipline was more dealing with his complaints and bad interaction with the other guests. I have an enhanced perspective from a parental viewpoint and I can see how unnecessarily fussy I myself can be at times.
I hope that Joseph goes home today with a positive something he didn’t come with. I think he enjoyed the week, which was the primary aim, but if he learnt something as well, I would be a little more pleased. We did not exchange contact details like some of the guests, but I doubt I would have been able decent contact with him anyway. Maybe the brief interaction of our souls and a probably permanent parting will serve to leave a greater imprint than a feeble link through email or likewise could ever have given.
April 17th – Day after
I found out from a few people that were on the camp last night that Elizabeth had regrettably passed away at the camp, and they were unable to resuscitate her. She had become breathless on the bus and we think it was a heart attack, although the post-mortem is still to go. The media have also heard about this, so I hope there is no sensational story released… The family are generally okay with it I was told today when Mary – the nurse on bus 7 – was ringing to inform people who didn’t know of the incident. Apparently they were content she had had a good week and it was unfortunate that is had ended badly. Obviously they are probably very upset though. Despite the tragic end, it was definitely quite an experience and I’ll never forget it, both because it was on my 18th birthday and just the sheer uniqueness of it. This diary and photos doesn’t do it justice, but perhaps, just maybe, another trip in two years will, should my age not inhibit me…