The long awaited follow up to A Comeback Special of Sorts

Following the success of the previous article, we have a follow-up. A companion piece which covers my last two weeks following my return to work.

My left leg is starting to heel better. Returning to work has had a positive impact on my mental health. (Then again, being in a job I love helps a lot, and I probably wouldn’t have thought the same if I had a less demanding or fulfilling job).

Week One

Monday 27th February 2023, Chadderton

The return to work was marked by some warm welcomes from my fellow colleagues at Marle House. Many of which missing the Stuart sized gap from his desk with a grandstand view of the photocopier. The warmth, legendary tea consumption abilities and outstanding technical support was especially missed. I entered Future Directions CIC’s HQ with the first of my three boxes of 80 Barry’s Tea Gold teabags.

As anticipated by yours truly, Monday was about tying any odds and ends outstanding from previous weeks. Social media postings went out at usual times, helped in some way by yours truly posting the previous week’s posts from his sickbed.

Tuesday 28th February 2023, Milnrow

The new week started proper at 12 midday when Kevin and I got ready for the last Stronger Together Community Choir and Open Mic session of February 2023. This was only one part of a fun packed Tuesday night with the other being Tameside Quiz League frivolities at The Sycamore in Ashton-under-Lyne (well, only just).

The real highlight of Tuesday was the Choir and Open Mic session. Later on, the quiz was marred by a lack of evening edibles; Stalybridge Celtic ignominiously bowed out of the Cheshire Senior Cup to North West Counties Football League side Congleton Town. The most positive aspect of the night was finding a good use for Madri, the Spanish style beer brewed in Tadcaster (yes, it should be called John Smith’s Lager, least you knew where you were with Einhorn or Grunhalle).

Back to the real highlight of Tuesday: the Choir.

During my convalescence, I had set my mind on being better for the 28th February. Before I was taken ill, I had heard that one of my friends would be travelling all the way down to Rochdale from Preston. At 1.30pm, I found that the River Beal Café was full of regulars from Milnrow, Offerton, and Cheadle Hulme. (There probably wouldn’t have been much room for my friend from Preston, and she might have been overwhelmed).

Kevin couldn’t believe his eyes. I was stunned and wondered ‘have you come to the choir or come to welcome me back’. The latter point could well have been the added dimension, and this was compounded by my performance of Just One Hour With You. My performance of Kevin’s original song went down really well with the people supported by FD and their personal assistants. Another highlight was two housemates from Norden, Nick and Darren, dancing to George Ezra’s Shotgun.

After the session, Kevin and I were still buzzing. Once again, I couldn’t believe how many people missed me after leaving an Esso garage in the centre of Milnrow, then finding a short cut to the M62 motorway.

Wednesday 1st March 2023, Chadderton

Most of Wednesday and Thursday was focused on developing what will be Future Directions’ brand spanking new website. This entailed working with one of FD’s long term partners in web design and high end video production and finding suitable photographs. In parts, I found this overloading, even though it was something I could do standing on my head. Then again, there was a myriad other things to consider, such as publicising The Friends For Life Group‘s exciting events or making sure The SPICE Group‘s Battle For Our Planet is a successful one.

On Wednesday at 12.05 pm, I received a special delivery. It was a Get Well Card from my friend in Preston, Emily. I well and truly hit the roof. I wanted to squeal and bounce about with joy and had the broadest of smiles. Then I sobbed happy tears for a bit, after some earlier anxious tears an hour earlier.

What started off as a humdrum, somewhat overloading Wednesday became One Of My Greatest Hump Days in history. The flip side to this was an overloading, tedious bus journey home, courtesy of three sets of temporary traffic lights (two on Manchester Road and a set on Winterford Road). The strangest thing of all was that yours truly was still on a high from midday. I could have been stuck behind forty VW camper vans on the M5 in August and still wouldn’t have come down.

Friday 3rd March 2023, Haslingden

My Tuesdays and Fridays out with Kevin has positive benefits on my mental health in addition to my usual office based work. FD’s Managing Director Paula has recognised this in me during the Live Music Sessions (by which I mean all music sessions with Kevin and Fun Time Friday). It has worked wonders for my presentation skills; it encourages me to boost my social skills, which is a great help to anybody on the autism spectrum like myself.

The success of Future Directions’ musical events are based on two factors: pooling our collective talents together (Kevin on music, songwriting, singing and excellent listening skills; myself on the finer details – graphic design, statistical analysis and library skills); and making sure the people supported by FD are happy. With the latter, this means each session is person centred, also encouraging the people they support show off their creative talents.

By 11.00 am, Kevin and I survived Simister Interchange, with a faultless journey to East Lancashire via the M66 and A56. At 11.20 am, we got to our venue, started setting up for Fun Time Friday.

After two brews on either side of the session, we reflected on another great show. Both the two people supported at our venue and their personal assistants had a great time, dancing and donning the fancy dress. That week’s show – its 119th edition – included a medley of hymns, centred around the two women who live there.

The bulk of Fun Time Friday #119 shout outs focused on my return to FD. One of which came from my friend in Preston who was glad I was feeling better.

Saturday 4th March 2023, Stalybridge

The Mighty Stalybridge Celtic kept us holding on till the last few minutes of their game against Belper Town. After being 1 – 0 down in the 76th minutes (and down to ten men since the 30th minute!), the ‘Bridge went on to win 2 – 1. Needless to say, down to the pub for a few scoops, a curry in ‘Spoons, and a celebratory double Tomatin single malt whisky.

Sunday 5th March 2023, Glossop and Greenfield

Normal service resumed with the usual two brass band concerts at Glossop Old Band Room (Tideswell Brass Band) and Boarshurst Band Club (Stockport Silver Band). Another highlight of the day was The Wellington Hotel’s Steak, Mushroom and Ale pie. At least half a cow was used per piece, yet it was truly amazing. As for a certain other football match going on between concerts, less said the better.

Week Two

Monday 6th March 2023, Chadderton

A fresh week, and some more important admin work to ensure the tight running of FD’s music sessions. Mainly statistical analysis to help with planning the next financial year’s programme. Another priority was The Friends For Life Group’s Spring programme and its publicity material.

With the tardiness of the 409 and the Metropolitan Borough of Oldham being besieged by temporary traffic lights, yours truly took the 343. As the nights are getting lighter, the case for getting the 343 back with its superb views are stronger.

Tuesday 7th March 2023, Sale

Giving yours truly a real break from the admin type stuff was a trip to the Sale Excelsior Club, for this week’s Stronger Together Community Choir and Open Mic Session. As with previous sessions in Sale, there was a strong turnout from the people supported by Future Directions in South Manchester, Stockport and Trafford. As Erica, one of its regulars was poorly, we finished the session with Candy, a song that Kevin had written especially for her.

This Tuesday’s session had even more of a party atmosphere than the last one. Apart from the benefits of a venue with a proper dance floor, its regulars were pleased to see FD’s Dynamic Duo together again. The response to the laughter yoga and warming up exercises before getting into song was amazing. Normal service had resumed.

There was a diverse number of songs sung by the people supported by FD – two of which were UK Number Ones in 1971 and 1973 (Clive Dunn’s Grandad and The Sweet’s Blockbuster). Carol’s performance of Whitney Houston’s I Have Nothing and Celine Dion’s I Love You also had a huge positive impact on the Choir and Open Mic session’s membership, as much as your author’s mastery of the laughter yoga techniques. Rizwana’s Bollywood dancing was also well received with everybody copying her moves.

The buzz from Tuesday afternoon’s session was the real high point of the day. Despite a most delectable chilli con carne, there was little to write home about over Tameside Quiz League frivolities at The Lowes Arms. Paying a stupidly high price for a pint of Shipyard Pale Ale was the only damp squib of the day. By any means, another great Tuesday.

Wednesday 8th March 2023, Chadderton

More of the same with FD’s new website, though mainly its finishing touches towards its completion. Other than that, a fairly run-of-the-mill Wednesday, and the last run-of-the-mill most vanilla day of this week.

Well, or so I thought when I got back home. After a fruitful trip to ALDI in Manchester Arndale, I managed to get a train from Manchester Victoria station to Stalybridge. Then a decent connection with the 343 back home. Happy days!

Thursday 9th March 2023, Chadderton

With the statistical analysis for Kevin’s music sessions completed by yours truly, all was good for his meeting. Besides presenting his fellow colleagues with a few A3 pages of tables and pie charts, the social value of each session was discussed.

In the afternoon was the first of Future Directions’ Engagement Sessions. For the people supported by FD, it is used to help improve services, making sure they live great lives – for example: social skills, activities, access to employment. At Marle House, the staff only session focuses on the organisation’s annual plan. For the people supported by FD, it takes place in a small number of venues, includes food and drinks, and a disco (with proper vinyl records, played by Keith – one of Future Directions’ personal assistants in Rochdale).

At all Engagement Sessions, there is a raffle; one draw for staff teams, and another draw for the people supported by Future Directions CIC. For my engagement session at FD HQ, biscuits, cakes, and doughnuts came from Morrisons instead of Costco (proper fresh cream Victoria Sponge Cake at the former!).

Once again, the journey back had another twist. After a seamless KevinTours transfer between car, tram, and 409 bus to Ashton, my next stop was a gent’s hairdressers on Fletcher Street, nicely placed for the taxi rank. The Being Adaptable side of me was having my first cut throat razor shave, and the results were marvellous.

Not so marvellous was the blizzard that followed. Luckily I got back in time to avoid its worst excesses.

Stugle with ears lowered, in black and white form.

Friday 10th March 2023, Northern Moor

Yesterday’s Fun Time Friday had a plethora of possible venues. In the end, today’s show came from one of FD’s houses in Northern Moor. After packing up the vehicle, Kevin and I made our way to South Manchester, seeing Carol and Rizwana for the second time this week.

After being poorly, it was great to see Erica back. She played a key part in our latest show, as did Annmarie who came from another house in Wythenshawe. As well as the cheesy music, its highlights included Rizwana’s Bollywood dancing (once more with the excellent A B C D E F G H I Love You), Carol’s singing of Jess Glynne’s Take Me Home and Annmarie’s Irish dancing.

Many of the live comments focused on Carol’s singing. There was one or two comments about a certain fellow’s new hairdo – even though there was more comments about it at FD HQ. Future Directions’ Managing Director Paula, visiting houses around South Manchester, popped by and strutted her stuff with Operational Manager, Lisa.

Despite the hubbub in finding a venue, we chose the right one. With the snowfall, some of FD’s more far flung houses on higher ground would have been a lot harder to get to in Kevin’s car.

The journey back was chilled: all connections synchronised well across modes (car/tram/train/bus) back to Chez Vall. The real highlight was a 4-car Class 769 with a declassified First Class compartment, which yours truly took advantage of on the 1751 from Manchester Victoria station.

…And Finally

Our thanks go to my fellow values driven colleagues and staff teams for playing a part in a superb two weeks. It was also great to see the people supported by Future Directions CIC again after a long spell away from the office and any of Kevin’s legendary music sessions. Thank you!

S.V., 11th March 2023.

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