PhabFest at Parallel Windsor

A car and a minibus set off from Oxford, fortunately not in the rain, on the morning of Sunday the 7th of July – heading for Windsor Great Park, where Parallel Lives had brought together a number of charities, including Phab for an event.

Fortunately, although the weather had been very wet, it was not raining when we arrived, and there were some walkways which are a huge help when people with wheelchairs need to move over fields, particularly when it has been so wet.

National Phab had a marquee, with a low stage, and John Kelly and his friends were setting up as we arrived.

We are very fortunate to have John Kelly play for us as he played “Spasticus Autisticus” with other members of the Graeae Theatre Company at the 2012 Summer Paralympics opening ceremony, where he was joined on stage by Stephen Hawking. If this event was released as a film this would give John Kelly a Bacon Number of 3, as Stephen Hawking has a Bacon number of 2 (as well as an Erdős number of 4).

Also in the marquee were the co-chairs of Phab, Mik Scarlett (shown here), and Dawn Vickers (not in these pictures, but she joined us on stage for our signed song later on)

Unfortunately as this point one of our members started feeling chest pains, and the on-site first aid staff examined him and said that he should be taken to Accident and Emergency at the nearest hospital for a proper checkup.

Fortunately we had a car as well as the minibus, so the spare coats etc of the car passengers was transferred to the minibus, and our car driver took him to hospital. Once had had been checked over and declared fit to be released (quite a bit later that day), he was released and driven back to Oxford.

Meanwhile, slightly depleted in number, we were on stage for our signed song. This was so well received that we were asked for an encore – something we had not expected – however the resourceful Helen knew a suitable song which she could sing and sign, and we followed her signing.

We yielded the stage to Epsom & Ewell Phab, while outside the heavy rain started in earnest and the Phab tent suddenly became very popular.

When the rain stopped there was a rush for the burger van, and I believe Ellie Simmonds was speaking on the main stage.

Burgers in hand we made our way hastily to the Long Walk, where the Sensory 1K was about to start, and joined the rest of Oxford Phab.

For the last section Trisha left her wheelchair behind and walked, cheered on by us, and by Ellie Simmonds!

Amazingly after that it stayed dry as we loaded the minibus and returned to Oxford, tired, but having had a good day out.

We did receive some sponsorship from the event, but more is always welcome, via our Donate page.

Brass Band Concert

The National Methodist Youth Brass Band came to Oxford for the weekend, staying at Wesley Memorial Church, and giving a concert on Saturday night, to which Phab were invited.

They played a varied and entertaining programme of music, interspersed with introductions to some of the band members, and their various experiences, such as the punting some of them had been doing during the day.

At the interval there were tasty cakes baked by members of the Wesley Memorial congregation.

The event raised over £500 for the Rose Hill Community Cupboard, a local charity.

Normal Club, plans and politics

With summer events, particularly Parallel Windsor and our holiday at Avon Tyrrell fast approaching, a lot of planning was needed, and Mary was very busy sorting out the details for these forthcoming events.

We will also be performing a signed song at at PhabFest, and Helen taught us the British Sign Language signs we needed for this.

For those of us with an interest in politics, such as Tom, who is not only interested by knowledgeable – there was plenty to discuss. Oxford Phab is a place where people can hold a wide range of beliefs and still listen to each other and discuss our opinions in a (fairly) civil manner – even if they are wrong!

Indoor Curling

We played several games of Indoor Curling, for which the Hall at Wesley Memorial Church is ideal, as a large space with a smooth wooden floor. The game has a mat for a target and ‘stones’ which roll on ball bearings.

It works well for Phab as it can be played by a seated player, and does not require sweepers, or an ability to ice skate.

Hand Crafted Pizzas

Using home made pizza dough, Maria’s passata recipe, and a selection of ingredients such as olives, cheese, ham, sweetcorn and pineapple, our members could create a pizza of their choice.

These creations – labelled with appropriate names on greaseproof paper, were then cooked in the church ovens by our team of talented cooks, and then enjoyed!

We rounded off a culinary evening by celebrating a birthday, with a delicious home made cake!

We were lifted up by 42 Balloons

Not literally, of course, but in 1982 a truck driver called Larry Walters really was. He had dreamed of flying, carried by balloons into the air for a long time. For many people this would have remained an idle fantasy – which explains why we do not regularly look up to see people floating around. Larry planned carefully, and with the aid of his girlfriend Carol – who took out a large bank loan to enable Larry to fulfil his dream – and a small team of friends, Larry achieved his dream.

This really happened and you can look it up after the show

42 Balloons musical

About six years ago, Jack Godfrey came across the story, and dreamed of turning this event into a musical. For many people this would have remained an idle fantasy, but Jack started writing songs, and planning, and with aid of quite a few very talented people Jack achieved his dream, and the musical “42 Balloons” is performed at The Lowry from 18th April to 19th May 2024. (YouTube video of Jack telling the story)

The author at his show

Jack Godfrey started writing songs and playing in Rockfish (the church band) at Wesley Memorial Church a long time ago, and Oxford Phab members have performed or assisted backstage with several of his early musicals, including Amazing Love, so it would be a dream come to true for Oxford Phab to go and see 42 Balloons on stage – even though The Lowry, in Salford is 160miles from Oxford. For many groups with would have remained an idle fantasy, but Mary started planning, purchasing tickets, and with the aid of our members and supporters, who moved seats, brought people to rendezvous sites and. particularly Chris who did much of the driving, an Oxford Phab group went to see the show.

Oxford Phab, with Jack Godfrey at The Lowry

After an unfortunate start to our trip, when a car drove out of a side road right in front of the minibus (fortunately we were obeying the 20 m.p.h. speed limit so no-one was hurt), and loading the minibus in heavy rain, the journey was smooth and we arrived in Salford in time to eat before the show, and even sit in a replica of the lawn chair which Larry had used for his flight.

The cast were incredibly talented and energetic, and particularly impressive as unfortunately one member slipped during the highly athletic introductory number so there was a pause before the musical continued with some members in re-arranged roles – which they did amazingly well.

The show has been reviewed by the BBC, and there is more information about the cast and team and videos at the show’s own website.

Differences and Dreams

Despite having achieved his dream, rather than being celebrated, Larry was mocked for having dropped the air pistol he had been using to shoot the helium filled weather balloons which were lifting him into the air, after he had only shot a few of them. His forethought in bringing spare spectacles in case, as did happen, the ones he was wearing came off in the launch was cause for laughter, rather than congratulations. Although Larry had done something new and impressive, because he was a truck driver, all the public focus was on the parts which had gone wrong rather than his successes. He broke the stereotype of what we expect from someone from his background, and was derided rather than being applauded. If he had been, as was his dream, a NASA astronaut, then his successful return to earth, despite technical difficulties might have been made into a film, like Apollo 13.

There is an unfortunate part of human nature, particularly in herds, to make fun of, or fear, those who are different or do not conform to ‘the norm’. If someone staggers when they walk, sounds different when they speak, dresses differently, does not fit the stereotype for their gender, race, occupation etc they are likely to be excluded from society, rather than welcomed into it.

If we can learn to celebrate the variety there is in people, to see the similarities as well as the differences, then when we come across someone out of the ordinary we can be lifted by the encounter, rather than wanting to pull them down.

Those of us fortunate enough to belong to Oxford Phab gain much from our interactions with each other – as well as the opportunity to travel to Salford to see 42 Balloons!

Looking forward to Spring and Summer

Having had a break for Easter we had plenty to talk about, but the main focus of the evening was looking forward to the events of the Spring and Summer.

Particular highlights of the Summer will be our return to Avon Tyrrell for another holiday there, and PhabFest at Parallel Windsor , where we hope to meet up with friends from other clubs, and also arrange to be sponsored as individuals or groups as a fundraising activity.

We are also looking forward to our trip to see 42 Balloons, at the Lowry Theatre in Salford. This musical by Jack Godfrey is based on the story of Larry Walters, who really did use a cluster of weather balloons to fly high into the air in a lawnchair. The musical has received very positive reviews, and an article on the BBC website. This is particularly exciting news for us as although 42 Balloons is performed by a very talented professional cast Phab members have appeared in some of Jack Godfrey’s earlier musicals, including Amazing Love.