Sissyboo at the same age Boo is now had quite an extensive viewing repertoire. She was a big fan of the usual suspects: Show Me, Show Me, Peppa Pig, Thomas and His Friends, Ben and Holly. She had also started to like films. Her favourite was, and still is, The Wizard of Oz. I don’t want to give the impression she watched the gogglebox all day, but Sissyboo, despite my best efforts, dropped her afternoon nap at 19 months even though she needed ‘quiet time’ (as I did) to regroup. And that was how we spent some quite time. Watching a Show Me, Show Me and colouring or watching a film.
Boo, as in all things, is different. He doesn’t believe in quiet time. He’s either on the go like the Duracell bunny or completely conked out. He still very much needs his nap. And until a few months ago he looked at the TV as if it were the most pointless invention ever.
Now, this is no bad problem to have, of course. But it had me a bit worried. Sissyboo likes TV and film because she likes narrative. She loves good stories well told. And she has always had a fantastic attention span. She can read for ages or colour or make things for hours, just as she will watch all three hours plus of a Harry Potter film without a peep.
So did Boo’s lack of interest in the TV mean he couldn’t concentrate in the same way. Or were his vision problems more complex than we thought? I decided not to worry about it. There’s too much important stuff to worry about.
And then one day I had a panic. I hadn’t done my therapy homework. I had said to Boo’s Speech and Language therapist that I would try to learn some Makaton. I was sceptical about it (Boo can barely use his hands, so signing for him seems unlikely and my sense of his understanding was that he didn’t need gestures to comprehend what we were saying to him). But I do my homework ,so I made the promise and then realised I had done nothing about it.
Then bingo! Justin would teach me, I thought in a eureka moment. I put on Something Special in the background while doing some stretches with Boo. And guess what? I learned the Makaton for lemur (which I’m sure I will need one day). And he was transfixed. He loved it. Still does. And we all love seeing a programme where kids like Boo are the norm rather than utterly invisible.
Shortly afterwards he added another programme to his list of viewing pleasures. It had been one of Sissyboo’s once upon a time, too: In the Night Garden. The words Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy bring instant smiles to his face and determined looks at the TV, as if he could turn it on and start an episode playing by sheer force of will.
And so, buoyed by his new found love of Derek Jacobi’s voice, I decided to take a plunge. He’d only just started watching short TV programmes, but I figured he was ready. I booked tickets to see In the Night Garden Live! at the Richmond snow dome. A performance coincided with an inset day for Sissyboo. The three of us would journey to the Night Garden together. And what an adventure it would be.
Sissyboo has loved the theatre from the age of 2. One of my favourite stories is of her telling me and her dad emphatically not to clap at the end of the first show she ever saw, The Gruffalo, because that would mean it would end and she wanted it to go on forever. This time, she was the grown up, telling her little brother how to behave in the theatre.
Except of course, behaviour was the least of our concerns. As the parent of a disabled child, logistics were one of my top worries. You can book premium tickets with wheelchair access online, but nerves got the better of me when I tried to do this, so I phoned the ticket line to make sure that they would have a wheelchair space for Boo (who would need to sit in his adapted buggy throughout) and two for his sister and me next to him. They did and the booking went very smoothly. We also booed to meet Iggle Piggle himself afterwards, where I hoped the sight of a 6 foot blue cuddly thing with a coxcomb would seem less scary than it sounded.
We got to the snow dome in good time and when they saw Boo’s buggy we were ushered into the premium seating queue where an usher said she would take us to our seats in a few minutes. I wish I could show you a picture of Boo’s face as he travelled round the edge of the snow dome to the sounds of the Pinky Ponk and the Pontipines and the reassuring snippets from Derek Jacobi. He looked happy, if a little confused. We got him positioned and Sissyboo sat next to him. He was right at the front, off to the side and had a great view as you can see from my photo (yep: I’m no David Bailey).
Everyone else piled in as Derek Jacobi gently told Upsy Daisy and Makka Pakka to get a move on as the show was about to start. Boo was still happy. But still confused. Why were we sitting inside a bouncy castle that didn’t bounce?
And then the Ninky Nonk came out and all became clear. I would tell you what happened in the show (as a seasoned In the Night Garden viewer I can tell you it probably involved losing things, finding things, cuddles, funny noises and lots of falling over). But I can’t tell you exactly. All I could watch was Boo’s face.
From the beginning to end he squealed ‘yeah’ and ‘more’. He loved it. He just loved it, watching in wrapt attention as all his Night Garden friends came to sing, dance and squeak for him.
And then we met Iggle Piggle. I don’t know how, but Iggle Piggle managed to get on his knees to be on a level with Boo and Boo stroked him and smiled the biggest smile you have ever seen. They had a cuddle and a photo with his big sister which I am looking at right now.
Going to a first show with a child is always special. But going to a show with a child like Boo is extra special in so many ways. This is not the sort of event we can just phone up to get tickets and go. It takes enormous planning. Is there appropriate seating? Are there adequate changing facilities and parking? I’m so pleased that In the Night Garden Live took all those headaches away from me. All we had to do was make a call to book tickets, tip up and enjoy a truly inclusive event.
And we did. We really, really did.