Monday, November 05, 2007

Differently able

My uncle Owen has a mental age of, let's say for the sake of convenience, five. I don't know if he's actually been assessed as such and it's not that informative a measure, because most five year olds aren't five for very long (about a year, usually). Most five year olds are rapid learners and you can see them develop almost in front of your eyes. Owen has been stuck at whatever he is for the last 60 years. So, a very stretched out five.

Owen's greatest misfortune was to be born at least ten years too early. (Still, better ten years too early than any earlier this century or any other time before.) He got the best care that was available at the time, but it was still very institutionalised. He had a brief resurgence during the nineties, when modern methods of care finally caught up with his abilities, such as they are; he could even live semi-independently. It didn't last and he's back into a shared house with a warden. He used to have a part time job working on a farm a couple of days a week, until nice Mr Blair introduced the minimum wage and the farmer couldn't afford to pay anymore. Thanks, Tony.

But hey, he can still party, and a sixtieth birthday is worth partying for, so Friday night saw us, my parents, a handful of helpers and about twenty of Owen's friends in a hired church hall in Bournemouth. There is a certain Alice in Wonderland quality to these affairs. You know you all speak the same language - sorta - but the pattern of neurons connected inside their heads by a given string of words don't necessarily match yours. Owen asked if I remembered his fiftieth. God yes - I mean, yes, I do. Fortieth? Yup. His twenty first? I'd have been three. Oh. Owen has never been good at looking ahead of the curve and knowing when to stop. Mind you, I know a few fully able people like that too.

Okay, I will admit I went into the party with a "this too shall pass" state of mind. Which it did, with birthday honour satisfied, so everyone's happy. Venison burgers were served; only a couple of unexpected vegetarians were discovered (we asked, dammit, we asked). Speeches were made and just about understood, not helped by Birthday Boy's nephew turning the music back up half way through one of them because he didn't realise that the stream of consciousness babble drifting down from the end of the hall constituted a speech still in progress.

And it must be said that no one of sound mind was entirely heart broken that the karaoke machine didn't work. The owner couldn't make it work, nor could the designated helper in charge of it, nor could the visiting Resources Technician from Abingdon & Witney College (to whom I have the pleasure of being married). Fortunately my mother has developed a certain prescience in these matters and made alternative arrangements for music. Abba's greatest hits, vols 1, 2 and 3. Some people took a certain amount of convincing that the karaoke really wasn't going to work, so Abba would be stopped and restarted while they tried again. And again. And again. You can get tired of "Waterloo". I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally made it all the way through "Knowing me, knowing you". It looked like Abba were here to stay.

Good was done, Owen was happy on his big day with people who love him. Seventieth, here we come ...

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