26th June 2006 - A Day to Remember

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Thomas, D. (2006) 26th June 2006 - A Day to Remember. Down Syndrome News and Update, 6(1), 19-20. doi:10.3104/essays.377

"You never know your luck in a raffle" …. absolutely true. Both our children, Max (8) and Beth (6) watch Blue Peter on the BBC (Beth's Down syndrome is not a barrier!) and Max saw that there was to be a Party at Buckingham Palace for children to join in celebrations marking the Queen's 80th birthday.

"She's not as old as Grandma"….but Max still wanted to enter his name via the BBC website…..so Dad explained that there were likely to be many thousands of applications and that it was highly unlikely that he would be chosen, but he may as well 'give it a whirl'. Dad did his duty and applied for Max and for Beth.

Despite the odds (some pundits quoted several million applications which caused the BBC website to crash in spectacular fashion….twice), some weeks later Max received a letter pre-advising arrival of his invitation and asking for detailed information about his 'allowed' guests - one child and a responsible adult - "Mum (Keita) and Beth then, sorry Dave!"

The invitations arrived in early June…..oyster cards for underground travel over the weekend, concessional tickets for flights on the London Eye. In the end, it was decided that we would travel up on the day, visit with friends in Blackheath for lunch and Dad would chauffeur the threesome to Buckingham Palace, where Keita took over to park on the Palace forecourt. On entering the Palace, Max can be quoted: "Wow, I can't believe I'm actually in Buckingham Palace!"

Beth and Max at the Palace

The extravaganza was televised. Each guest had a party hamper with a menu devised by Jamie Oliver, but which also included sunblock, a baseball cap with Party logo, a disposable camera, even a small 'tablecloth' with the cutlery and crockery…. everything possible thought about including waterproof poncho (unneeded on the day) and a Union Jack.

The party hamper

Max, Beth and Keita had their three nanoseconds of fame, seen fleetingly on the televised performance, best seen in slow motion to savour the moment!

The show was a celebration of children's literature preceded by readings from JK Rowling (of Harry Potter fame) and Jacqueline Wilson (Children's Laureate), all in their turn preceded by the children wandering around the various tableaux…..BFG, Hundred Acre Wood (" Hunt[ing] for Pooh….Winnie the Pooh!")

Did Beth enjoy the day? You bet! School had prepared her for the day; "My Queen, my Palace" were repeatedly heard in the days leading into 25/6. On the day a bandsman was very attentive . Beth saw Thomas and Pirate Island - Noddy, TweedleDum, TweedleDee, Postman Pat and Snow White were just some of the many characters mingling in amongst the 3000 guests, in their turn mingling with Hermione and Ron (see picture on next page), Wallace and Gromit, Peter Rabbit, Peter Pan, Robin Hood, Tracy Beaker, the White Rabbit and a walking talking box…..Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Mary Poppins…… and the Queen herself ("she's tiny!"). Keita managed a photo of the back of her head, quite an achievement given the surging crowd!

Max turned into autograph hunter and managed to secure Hermione's (no need to explain if you're a Harry Potter fan) and Mike Inkpen (for aficionados of Kipper!) amongst others.

Crossing the courtyard to return to the car, the threesome were pinned to the wall, witnessing the Changing of the Guard at uncomfortably close quarters (fixed bayonets much in evidence), and having to stop to make way for a speeding car making its exit, not captured on camera but Her Majesty the Queen apparently looked surprised to see anyone there….so close!

Any complaints? None, weather perfect too. Max, Beth and Mum thoroughly enjoyed their day, though the 6am start and 10.30pm return to West Sussex meant that we had been correct in seeking the following morning off school for a 'lie in'. School were thoughtful…they had whole school assembly in the afternoon when Max and Beth (via appropriate questions from the Headmaster) talked to the whole school about their big day at the Palace. Max talked in more detail to the children in his class and in Beth's, especially about the hamper contents since the timing couldn't have been better to fit in with Healthy Eating in the curriculum. The boost in self-esteem for both, especially Beth, from standing in front of all the school and talking cannot be underestimated.

Even now, with friends videotaping the show for us - no less than 3 copies! - the show is watched frequently, dance sequences are committed to memory by Beth, bolstered no doubt by her weekly ballet and keep fit lessons/sessions. Her speech is bolstered too - the songs and script are increasingly recalled, repeated and intelligible, all with frequent smiles.

Memorable….yes! And a great reminder that life experiences have a tangible part to play in all children's development including those with learning difficulties and Down syndrome, and can provide additional opportunities for 'thinking' schools and teachers to demonstrate what inclusion should truly mean.

And a big "Thank You" to HMQ (would that she knew how beneficial the visit was for both children, and Beth particularly) and to the guardsman, who probably doesn't realise quite what an impression he made with Beth either.

Dave Thomas is a parent from the UK.