When I was learning to fly, there was another student I saw regularly called . A young girl mid way through her course. Occasionally she would turn up for a quick coffee in the pilots lounge with her young son in tow. He would do what most kids did, stick his earphones in and play on a game system.
Talking to her she eventually told me that her son was autistic. She said that up to the age of about 5 he had never spoke a word and she was resigned to him not speaking. Then one day, she said, I was really struggling, and I looked up to the sky and shouted please god help me. She said my son looked at me and said god can’t help you mummy he’s dead!
What a shock, turns out he had a full vocabulary and had just chose not to talk. Truth be told he seems a pretty normal kid, if you ask him something he will answer you, he doesn’t seem particularly like he wants to engage with you, but then I don’t think that’s much different to most kids that age.
I do know that there are different levels of autism and some kids function much higher than others. I think the problem is that the film Rainman, skewed the way a lot view the condition. Everyone expects them to have some savant level of genius. We used to do a job in a little shopping arcade in London, one of the shops was an art gallery for a guy called Stephen Wiltshire. It seems he can spend a few minutes looking at a scene, then draw it perfectly from memory.
Less Able Bodied Access On The Fairground
It got me thinking as to what issues people with some conditions faced on the modern fairground. I know various disability acts of law have meant that buildings and public places have been adapted to help. But I don’t think much has been done on in the Funfair industry.
Truth be told, I don’t think is is financially viable to have say a thrill ride adapted for wheelchair users. Perhaps some of the giant wheels would be credible. They tend to have sloping decks rather than steps, and the cars on many are probably large enough to allow a wheelchair in.
But most of the modern high speed rides are built in such a way that it just wouldn’t be possible to squeeze a chair inside the carriage. To make physical changes to a ride, it would then need to be subject to a ‘Design review’, a complex and costly process to ensure the ride is safe in its new form.
Like many showmen I have helped transfer guests from their wheelchair onto a ride and back. Any operator would be more than happy to do that. I know it isn’t ideal for the customer, and I should imagine it can even be degrading, but I am afraid that its probably the way it will stay.
Many regular funfairs, both large and small, will hold a special night for people less able. Sometimes its advertised and its a sort of free for all, other times the operator in charge will actually contact local organisations and make it a more formalised arrangement.
I do remember one event, where a large group of guests turned up who didn’t have physical disabilities. I am not sure of their actual condition, but they were all really big guys. They spotted a little ride, meant for probably 5-10 year olds and for some reason really liked it. The trouble was as 20 large guys all plonked themselves down heavily in the seats at the precise same time, the poor little ride just folded up on itself. To be fair, it was a ride called the Buzz Bomb, usually these were built almost as a diy ride, just after the war. They used the external drop tanks off of Spitfires, which had the tops sliced off and seats installed. I don’t know if it ever actually made it back into use or it was scrapped.
A number of events now are holding special sessions for autistic kids. They turn the music off on the rides, turn the lighting down, and reduce the speed so that they are not overloaded with sensations. They also keep a special chill out area available so there is somewhere to calm down if needed.
Obviously this is something that any fairground can make happen. It doesn’t require physical changes to the rides and can be organised easily and quickly.
Helping The Deprived
In addition to the less able bodied, fairgrounds will quite often distribute free tickets to the less fortunate. Those in care homes or schools in deprived areas.
It does bring to mind one incident though. We were at a fair in Wallsend, in the North East. A Social Worker brought a young lad down for a night at the fair. Now, this kid had been nicknamed in the press ‘Rat Boy’. There is a large dystopian structure called the Byker Wall. Its like a giant wall, but with flats built into it. It seems this kid had actually lived in the ventilation system. When a flat was empty he would climb through the ducts and rob it. The police had been after him for months and caught him the night before.
Anyway, this social worker put him on the dodgems ride. He promptly drove the full length of the dodgems. Stopped the car at the other end, jumped out and ran away up a bank.
Took the police another 6 months to recapture him. Reading a report, it seems they now call him Rat Man, as he is still on the rob.
The Byker Wall Rat Boy
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