It was only on Friday, that, frustrated and upset with my daughter’s increasingly determined isolation, I wrote this, hitting publish guiltily, feeling disloyal and fearing the repercussions should she read it in years to come. But with it, I perhaps got what I needed right then – messages of support from friends, family, fellow bloggers in similar circumstances, and followers. It is a piece of content that may resonate with other parents of high functioning girls on the spectrum, and raise awareness of the challenges we face as ASD parents that may not always be obvious to others.
I had, in fact, been worried about what I was going to do with my daughter this weekend. Tom and Jonah were travelling out of town for the second round of the BMC Youth climbing championships, and I was scratching around for ideas for what to do with Ava. We’ve been swimming several times, braving the fungai at the Waterfront leisure centre all too recently; she didn’t fancy Really Wild Club at Spitalfields farm, because they were cleaning out the sheep pens; I thought about taking her to the Lego Batman movie, but Jonah and Tom would kill me if I went without them. So I was running out of ideas for the kind of structured activity she needs to keep her offline,when Reprobate Kate mentioned she was taking her daughter Lola to some comedia del arte workshop somewhere through the Rotherhithe tunnel, and did we want to go?
I’m normally happy to go anywhere with those guys. Lola is the sort of child who can bring anyone out of their shell, while Kate is generally interested in the arts and regularly drags me off my sofa for something a little more highbrow than Saturday Kitchen, so I readily agreed.
Then I had to persuade a reluctant Ava, happily curled up under her mid-sleeper, listening to the nail gratingly annoying delights of Stampylongnose. She wasn’t keen- fearing it may involve crafts, which quite fairly, she loathes. But, with me having done the laundry, some sit ups, made breakfast, washed her hair, tidied up some blog posts and made myself presentable (no mean feat these days) I was in no mood to spend the day hanging round the house. We’re going; it’ll be fun, I said. And that was that.
We drove through drizzly Limehouse in Kate’s Corsa, wondering what on earth could be worth going to in this insalubrious neck of the woods. Here, East London’s gentrification hasn’t yet caught up with the jostle of Victorian ambition and the fallout from gross Edwardian inequality. But, behind the urban sprawl even Brunel couldn’t foresee when he built the tunnel connecting south with north- no doubt an engineering feat of its day; now, an annoyingly slow drive into architectural mishmash – little pockets of charm appeared in the form of cobbled streets: wharves which still reverberate with the hope and sufferance of that period.
Behind a pea green door, we opened into the jolly ginghamed kitchen of Sands Film studios. Here, a treasure box of unexpected delights unfolded, from Neale, a long haired octogenarian, a well preserved East End relic with an indomitable twinkle, who got Ava chattering while he showed us round the bowels of the building groaning with history – both from its past as a shipping breakers yard and present as a studio come archive come theatre, come costumier – with all the colourful characters one might expect from such an eclectic operation.
Neale, who eluded a sort of Fagin-esque charm, showed us, with mock reluctance around the warren of a building, from its screening room made delightfully from sofas, to its artelier, filled to the brim with masks and top hats, inbetween serving delicious looking soup and cakes to the staff with some of the dirtiest fingernails I’ve seen this century. He was a gem the like you’ll rarely find in these sanitised, gentrified times; as were the rest of the cast: choreographers, directors, actors and a elderly piano player who missed more notes than she hit, but still managed to capture exactly the Victorian music hall spirit of the “harlinquinade” performance we eventually watched.
The highlight of the day was being taken into the miniature theatre of the sort french royalty may have once built their children for fun, while the charismatic choreographer leaving the workshop on comedia mine- a type of wordless theatre originating in Italy) couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. She even managed to engage Ava, normally reticent about standing up or wearing costumes, which she and her brother have generally loathed. got into the spirit of it, learning techniques for the exaggerated actions of this dying art, and wearing a mask to boot.
The harlinquinade, a type of pantomime precursor, played by a rag tag cast of lovies, from a toothless hero, much like ‘Gus, the theatre cat’, who was no doubt quite fabulous in his prime, to a character actor playing the clown whose every action offered comedy. It was quite quite perfect. We rounded the afternoon with a half of Guinness and some onion rings in a quaint little pub just across the road from the studios, the Mayflower. Pub-lore has it that here, the ship that carried the pilgrim fathers across the waters to devastate the native tribes and bring us Trumpian apocalypse, was laid to rest.
For a drizzly Saturday at the fag end of February, even Ava agreed it was well worth getting out of bed for, and what with Tom and Jonah returning home victorious after a successful climbing round, I felt much better about how well we are engaging our children, autisic or not. But it also struck me how few avenues there are for the quirky or unusual in this day and age, so places like Sands Studios, that celebrate and preserve the unique should be supported, for they are all too rare, which is rather a tragedy more than a comedy.