Far Away So Close

Mark Love

I’m Mark and I’m the main carer for my son, who is now 18 and has an intellectual disability and Autism.

I wasn’t quite sure how best to introduce myself, so I thought why not start with the highlights from a ‘nice family short break’….

We got away recently.

Well that’s not quite true. We went away, but necessity meant we took with us an awful lot of the crap we would have preferred to have left behind.

We are fans of a type of short break that we shall here call: woodland vacations. We take these otherwise prohibitively pricey short breaks using our son’s care package because, let’s face it, there’s fudge all else to spend it on.  

For our king’s ransom we enjoy the use of a timber cabin that is reassuringly robust, single-storey, minimally furnished, and yet well equipped with a couple of bathrooms, TV, streamed movies and even a hot tub. Oh, the joy of a hot outdoor bath being buzzed by blue tits! EVEN IN FEBRUARY! The ambience is outdoorsy and therefore the business model is relaxed about the small, muddy price that kids, dogs, dribbling babies, soft mouthed men etc will exact on the property each visit.

The location, deep in woodland, and with the cabins angled away from each other ensures that you are rarely disturbed or disturb others. There is a shop/café and there are other sporty, climby activities available as extras. Deer peek out at you judgmentally from the cover of ancient trees as you lower your pale as a bleached eel man-stomach into the welcoming warm waters. There are birds, bats, the kind of scurrying things that make you go eek, and the kind of everyday natural splendour that makes you feel meek, calmer – even grateful.

I set a camera trap this time and captured utterly brilliant snapshots of a ghostly doe, a striding grandma, and a dog’s arse! Which I think, technically, makes me Chris Packham doesn’t it?

For us the joy is being able to sit in the hot tub outside and still keep an eye on what laddo is doing in the lounge  through the wall of glass (this is usually telly gogging, tableting, and laughing at Dad’s swim shorts). One cabin apparently has a spec specifically for disabled users, with a hoist for the tub.

The biggest problem is that there’s no washing machine. And so, the list of things that we have to take with us on what might otherwise be a short and steamy weekend break away amongst nature in all its fecund glory is long, dull and akin to an ice water dousing.

Pads – one pack of 12

Heavy duty mattress protector – 1

Stick on paper mattress protectors  – 5

Non-stick mattress protectors/changing mat stand-in – 4

Baby wipes – 4 packs

Nappy sacks – 12

Pedal bin liners – 12

Quilt protector – 1

Pillow protector – 2

Sheets – 2

Sacrificial quilt covers – 2

Sacrificial pillow covers – 2

Air freshener – 1

Bubble bath – 1

Specific foods – LOTS!

The first hour of every holiday is always spent with me stripping the existing bedding, and replacing it with our own, plus multiple layers of protection between the mattress and the business end of the boy. Basically, we bring our oldest bedding with us so that it can be dumped and destroyed if the worst comes to the worst. But, even with these counter measures in place we still have to get up before our son ensure the cabin doesn’t take on the air of a retirement home for very nervous bovines.

So, despite the hot tub, the drinkies in bikinis, and the wild and woolly embrace of resurgent nature, the situation isn’t always terribly conducive to us being a couple, in the true couply couple sense. If you know what I mean. Despite this we had fun, and chilled and walked and talked, and generally stripped away some of the heavy coat of lockdown worry and privation. And it was good.

Our son greatly enjoyed the high ceilings into which he could throw his feather light ball and damage nothing, and the slippy slidey, non-squeaky floors. He had one of his favourite movies on tap, his every food desire catered for, and there was room for his enormous gym ball. He could kick the merry hell out of twigs on the path, and there were very few people around to take exception. He could muddy himself up, and lob a few lumps of flint around and no-one – not even the judgmental deer – gave it a second thought.

Of course, then my wife gets COVID pinged.

It is more likely that she has picked up myxomatosis from a badger with a limp, but we are responsible people, and so we do the tests. Happily, we’re not infected and the break continues as planned. Still thinking responsibly, I order takeaway pizza at the café and ask if it comes with any salad, the lady makes the kind of grimace that suggests that she and a freshly spritzed butterhead are virtual strangers. But then we are in Norfolk. After his veggie supreme, our son punctuates all the tense, emotional sections of ‘The Kitchen’ with precision placed burps, farts and then violent hiccups.

On our last morning, packing the car ahead of check out, I exchange pleasantries with passing staff members. As I do this I am placing my walking boots on top of my wife’s travel bag. Which is when a deep, resonant and possibly incriminating buzzing begins.

Suddenly the staff members can’t seem to scoot away fast enough, while I, in my blind panic, dive on the wife’s bag, wrench it open and discover that I have actually just accidentally aroused her electric water flosser. This device is still gamely ejaculating the residual water left in its supposedly empty reservoir all over the wife’s high impact sports bra. “It was just THIS!” I call out to the retreating staff members, already suspecting by the rhythmic heaving of their shoulders and their reluctance to engage that the damage is already done, and a judgment has been made.

Then it’s Dad’s pumping playlist, an unexpected detour north (because neither of us were  concentrating), and we return home to find T’Other one has not incurred any damage for which we will need to contact our insurance company or bury her in multiple car parks. Huzzah!

Of course, it takes all of fifteen minutes of being home – annoying emails, bills, mountainous laundry pile – for the holiday wellbeing to start being waxed violently from the sensitive bits of our chlorinated skin. But all in all, it was worth it.

There should be more robustly luxurious getaway places for carers and their charges. Or at least facilities where more carers could easily access them. I know a woodland break wouldn’t be the ideal choice for everyone, but a bathing in trees really is a very pleasant experience.

My wife and I were certainly feeling a little more human as we sat down to ‘The Tourist’ and a cuppa that evening.

And then my son lobbed his tablet at my head…


*These are the words of Mark and not Carers in Bedfordshire