Let me tell you a story of a child’s first holiday away from his family. A warm and wet Saturday morning heralded the beginning of my six week vacation. The sounds of another dominant performance by the Australian cricket team accompanied me and my Dad in the car journey to Worcester, where I was bound for my first week. Though this was my first visit, I’d heard much talk of Worcester in the previous year. Dad was taking me to spend a week full of fun activities, hosted by the boarding school my parents were so keen for me not to attend. I was certainly excited, because this was the week of adventure promised to me instead of the year seven school trip to the river dart. This was it! Horse riding, bowling, computers, camping and freedom, all to look forward to! Yet, I found myself growing perhaps a little anxious throughout our journey along the country lanes that marked Dad’s preferred route through the Oxfordshire and Worcestershire countryside.
We turned into the grounds of New College a little before 3 in the afternoon. The rain had eased a little, but the day remained thick and faintly gloomy. Dad guided me down a small slope which lead to a porch entrance with two double doors that creaked as we went through, finding ourselves in a corridor. Our footsteps echoed as we turned left and made for a room at the end of the passage. We were met by one of the kind people who’d agreed to take care of me for the week. He ushered us through a side door and along a pathway to one of the three boarding houses reserved for our company. Through the front door, or was it the back door? I’m not sure. Upstairs, through a fire door and into a sparsely furnished but homely corridor. It certainly possessed that indefinable scent of anonymous cleanliness indicative of hospitals. One more door and bravo, my room! Our guide invited me to wander around upstairs while Dad retrieved my belongings from the car. I didn’t bother packing much; just a few clothes, towel, toothbrush and toothpaste, along with my walkman. So it took me next to no time to fill my three small chest drawers.
Dad stayed with me for another half an hour as another volunteer walked the grounds with me, until I’d learned how to navigate between the three main buildings we’d be using. Then after a cup of tea, Dad made to return home. As he prepared to leave, he took me aside, pressing a £20 note into my hand. Wow! For a young boy who was used to 60p pocket money, this was just like having a second birthday!
I quickly locked the money away upstairs before joining my new friends. This was my first time spending more than a few hours with other visually impaired young people. I was amazed to discover that I wasn’t the silliest there! We were divided into three groups and handed timetables. Wow, a Braille timetable! I devoured the details within with glee. So much to look forward to! Our first evening even included swimming! Can you imagine my delight at being able to swim around an entire pool without fear of hitting anyone else or being restricted to a single lane? There were even diving boards! So began my ridiculously short-lived career of belly-flop diving.
The highlight of the next day was the talking computer. We were granted a few days to acclimatise to our new surroundings and be distracted with informal class-like sessions of computing and baking. The computers could talk, let you type words into them, read back what you wrote, let you print it and then email it around. This was our chance to begin planning for the week’s project which we were set in our groups. From then on, there were opportunities to win points for our group.
Monday’s highlight was a trip to a local funfair. I bought my first ice cream! Sure I loved ice cream long before then, but this was the first time I experienced handling the entire transaction myself. That night we were told to pack for our three day camping trip. I couldn’t wait! I’d been camping before with cubs but this promised an altogether more intriguing adventure. This time, I wouldn’t be the only blind boy in the canoe.
Tuesday night was a warm, clear, dry night. We were invited to go trekking through the woods with our groups, encouraged by the promise of extra points for the group who returned fastest. To my surprise, our group leader asked me to lead our procession. I was amazed to find myself capable of this assignment. We were all blind folded, so for once it made sense for me to be at the front. I revelled in this new found freedom to explore. Our whole group made it back unscathed and in plenty of time to claim our bonus points. Brilliant!
The next day consisted of several other small tasks. In the afternoon we got to ride on a farmer’s trailer, towed by the farmer’s tractor through a couple of his meadows. I missed out on much of the haystack hilarity as I began violently sneezing everywhere! Still, what a treat awaited our return to camp.
Our final night in the woods was spent in the company of a drumming band. I was in my element! Here was a chance to make noise and be proud of it. Fantastic!
The highlight of our final day of camp was the minibus tug of war. I was startled to discover that eight people could pull a minibus by rope, even with the driver standing on the brake!
Back to New College and back to bowling. I don’t think I scored particularly well but I certainly had fun.
Friday was our last full day and so the momentum of our project preparations was in full swing. We travelled to Worcester city centre in the morning and I remember having a wonderful time climbing the spire of Worcester Cathedral and celebrating with a hot chocolate in the cafe afterwards.
The last night witnessed all of our project presentations. Our group won! I even got to play with the hi-fi equipment as temporary DJ during the final night disco!
I began the week with trepidation and ended it in triumph. None of us wanted to go home! I simply couldn’t wait to be back for Worcester Vacation Scheme 1998.