Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Mr Tumble

My little Bee has a slight (massive) obsession with Something Special on Cbeebies. When I say 'obsession', I really do mean that Mr Tumble occupies her every thought, every hour of the day. I'm sure she dreams about him. When smaller, Mr Tumble would be the only thing that would calm her during her bouts of extreme illness, even now sometimes only Mr Tumble will do. She can't yet say 'Mr Tumble' but can sign it with a vengeance. 'Mr Tumble' has become the standard answer to every question.

Do you want some toast?
"Naow", signs Mr Tumble

Shall we do some colouring?
"Naow", signs Mr Tumble

Do you want to go outside?
"Naow", signs Mr Tumble
You get the idea. She can be relentless and in her desperation to ask for Mr Tumble she sometimes ends up hitting herself in the face. Yes, incase you were wondering, I am a terrible mother and can't help but giggle when she does. Honestly Bee absolutely adores Mr Tumble. This adoration used to extend to the whole Something Special programme but just recently she's even started getting impatient with the 'Justin' parts of the show and will continually ask for Mr Tumble during the non-Mr-Tumble sections.

Mr Tumble
 For those without kids, outside the UK or living in a remote cave in the Himalayas - Something Special is BBC programme aimed at special needs children and is presented by Justin Fletcher and his alter ego, Mr Tumble. The programme teaches Makaton (a communication aid that's a little like sign language) in a fun and absorbing way. As it's educational for Bee I don't mind indulging her. We've always concentrated on introducing signs slowly with Bee, 3-4 at a time and always ones that are useful for her day-today routine, like 'more', 'yes' and 'no'. 'Hello' was one of the first Makaton signs she mastered, and was one we hadn't been teaching her. She learnt it from Mr Tumble. That man is a wonder beyond price.

Late 2010 we discovered that people were selling small Mr Tumble soft toys on eBay. Apparantely they'd been given away free with a copy of Cbeebies magazine that summer and were now selling like hotcakes on the web as the BBC don't actually produce any Something Special merchandise. It didn't matter what it took, I wanted one of those dolls. I 'watched' many on eBay but just couldn't justify the £30-40 they were going for. Crazy considering they were given away free with a £3.50 magazine. I persevered though and my vigilance paid off when I spotted a newly-listed one on a buy-it-now for £15.99. Yes please! I hit the 'purchase' button and didn't look back. I knew that no matter how much we spent on Bee that coming Christmas, this little Mr Tumble doll would be the most treasured thing she recieved.

Bee with her £££ Mr Tumble!
Fast forward to early 2011, only a few months after we bought the Mr Tumble doll (which went down a storm) and we find out Something Special is to have it's own magazine! Wonderful! Of course, what's given away free with the first issue? That same Mr Tumble doll I'd paid £15.99 (plus P&P) for! Still, the important thing was that Bee had one, regardless of how we'd come by it. We bought two issues of that initial magazine so we had spare Mr Tumbles, should anything happen to the original. Since then we've had a Something Special magazine each month, each time with a lovely little freebie to add to Bee's growing Mr Tumble collection. I don't see the obsession abating any time soon! So you can see why I was so over the moon with excitment when I discovered we'd won the tickets!

The show was to take place at the BBC's new MediaCityUK at Salford Quays (http://www.mediacityuk.co.uk/) in The Piazza, a large open space bordered by the BBC buildings. The FAQs stated that the show would be outdoors, with no seating and hopefully evoke a 'festival-type' atmosphere. With that in mind, we planned to get there early, well before the stated 11am 'doors open' time. Clare and Isla were coming with us and I couldn't have been any more excited!

The few days before I'd been racking my brain trying to think of something special to do for the girls and I eventually settled on making 'Mr Tumble' bowties. My sewing skills are pretty non-existant and I thought they would be simple and effective. With that in mind, on friday I headed to TP Textiles to make my fabric purchases so I could get home and get started.

I take Bee's walker everywhere now and encourage her to walk, which is unneccesary much of the time as Bee demands to walk. TP Textiles is on the first floor, so up we went in the disabled lift, with Bee pressing the buttons for me and shouting out an excited 'wheeeeee wheeeee' all the way up. After much browsing, umming and aahhing and deliberating over colours I finally made the purchases I needed. Bee had chosen that moment to throw a tantrum and refused to walk so I picked her up, grabbed the walker and started down the steps, back to the car. Reaching the bottom step I went over on my ankle and almost fell, managing to just about stay upright and keep hold of Bee. I dropped the walker as I stumbled and managed to lower Bee to the floor before collapsing on my hands and knees in a ball of agony. Bee, of course, thought it was all some kind of hilarious game and sat there laughing and signing 'more'. Very helpful.

After a few minutes of sitting alone in the small foyer at the bottom of the stairs I managed to lever myself to my feet and get myself, Bee and the walker to the car. It was extremely painful but not unbearable so I figured the pain would wear off through the afternoon and thankfully I drive an automatic so no problems in getting home. Through the 10 minute drive home my foot and ankle had started to throb and, once home, bearing my own weight was agony. I hopped to open Bee's door, lifted her out on one foot and placed her on the floor. There was no way I could carry her into the house. Thankfully now she is cruising so I managed to encourage her along the car, then helped her cross the gap between the back of the car and the front door step. I was home. Mission accomplished. But we had Mr Tumble Live the next day and it was a standing event. The timing couldn't have been worse.

When Foz got home a couple of hours later and the pain was getting worse I decided the best thing to do was head to A&E as I knew, although it was just a sprain, I could loan some crutches to get me through the Mr Tumble show the following day.

So, that evening, crutches collected and cup of tea made, I settled down to make the Mr Tumble bowties. I'd initially intended on sewing them but with my limited skills and rapidly diminishing time frame I decided to wonder web the lot. Even if they hold held together long enough to go to the show it was enough.

The following morning we had a very early wake-up call. The doors to the event opened at 11am and as there was no seating we wanted to be there mega early to make sure our girls got near the front. Unfortunately that morning had dawned overcast and rainy so it was a wrap-up-warm-and-load-the-pram-with-raincover kind of day. It's only a short journey to Manchester and traffic wasn't too bad with it being a Saturday. We arrived and met Clare and Isla in the multi-storey car park, got bow-tied up and and headed to the site.

Mr Tumble spotty bow-tie!

We were very early and there were approximately 10-15 people in front of us. Perfect! All we had to do was wait. Easier said than done of course, in the rain with two toddlers and me on crutches! We'd brought Bee's walker with us and for a while she contented herself with toddling about the huge open space with me hobbling beside her. Every so often she'd stop to say hello to someone, or point at the larger-than-life Mr Tumble on the side of one of the buildings. But then it would rain again so back into the pram she would go.

Finally the gates opened we made our way inside. We'd already decided that they should leave me behind and make a dash for the front, I'd hobble along behind. The early start was worth it: we were able to get a great vantage point! Then it was only another hour to wait. Unfortunately the weather chose not to co-operate and it tipped it down. Relentlessly. By the time Justin took to the stage we were soaked through.

Hello Mr Tumble!
That was all it took though: Justin taking to the stage, to make everything seem brighter despite the bucketing sky. The show was lovely. The first half was Justin as himself, doing some singing, skits of his various characters and generally interacting with the audience. There was a lot of cheering, clapping and screaming (and that was just the mums!) Bee coped very well, especially considering all the noise, although I don't think she really understood what was going on. Despite our best efforts to direct her attention to the stage she seemed to spend a lot of time watching the giant screen to the side of it. I'm not sure she really understood she was looking at the real Justin Fletcher and thought we'd just brought her to see a giant television! Justin even noticed Isla and her spotty bow-tie! He pointed at her and said "I like your spotty Mr Tumble tie!" Clare and I were thrilled!

Look! Mr Tumble!
Once the first half had finished the was a brief interlude from Rastamouse (another Cbeebies show) who performed a handful of songs from the show, then the second half, all Mr Tumble, began. Unfortunately it seemed like they'd turned the volume up during the interlude as when the voice over started with the 'MR TUMMBBLLLEE" Bee started to cry. It was just too loud. We tried to distract her by explaining Mr Tumble was coming but all we got was a very distressed "bam bam". Pram. It got slightly better as Mr Tumble appeared but Bee remained upset on and off. Thankfully the rain had stopped by the interlude and we were able to put away the umbrellas. Mr Tumble did lots of gags, slapstick and songs. It was lovely to hear the whole crowd singing the 'hello song' and 'goodbye song'.  

Afterwards we hung around, hoping to catch a quick smile, wave or even a photo from our beloved Mr Tumble. We knew there was a second show a couple of hours later but hoped against hope that he would make time for some of his little fans. After 10 minutes or so of waiting he walked past, talking to some assistants/crew. He would have walked straight past until Foz shouted "Justin can we have a picture?" He turned and started to say he was in a rush but then relented mid-sentence and acquiesced with a "a quick one then". It was so rushed that I hobble over on my crutches in time to get a decent picture before he was gone. What could have been our only chance to meet the wonderful Mr Tumble and it was gone in a flash. There was no interaction with our two girls, just a quick lean over the fence, a smile, then gone. I was bitterly disappointed. It happened so quickly I don't even think Bee and Isla understood what was going on, a real shame as the whole point of the trip was for them. In retrospect I understand he'd done a tiring show, was pushed for time and had everyone clamouring for his attention. But those things don't matter to two little toddlers who worship him.

Our 'blink-and-you'll-miss-it' moment
 Sadly that wasn't the only thing about the day that had been disappointing. Overall I feel the event had been very badly organised by the BBC. Something Special is a show aimed at disabled children. Now I know Mr Tumble appeals to all children but it shouldn't be forgotten that his core audience are children with a variety of abilities and needs.

My first issue is with the choice of venue. Outdoor with no formal seating made it a very difficult and uncomfortable experience. Our girls fall in that awkward area of being unable to walk but being too big to hold for too long. Yet they are too young to be considered for a wheelchair, which means they had to remain in the prams if they were not being held. Without wheelchairs we were not welcome in the sectioned-off disabled section at the front, yet being in the main part of the area meant the girls couldn't see in their prams. Which means we had to hold them. I know the weather was not the BBC's fault but anyone who's lived here more than a week knows you can never rely on sunshine in a British summer.

There was very few facilities at the venue. Outside the fenced-off area of the event there was a cafe in one of the larger buildings, with toilet facilities. However, once admitted into the show area there was no pass-outs and 4 portaloos along the edge. No baby-change or facilities to change a profoundly disabled child.

The sound was particularly loud, all coming from great big speakers at the front. I admittedly don't know anything about speaker systems and sound at concerts but I do know a lot of Mr Tumble fans will have sensory issues. Certainly my Bee does, and she just couldn't cope with the noise coming from those speakers. I couldn't help but feel it may have been better if the sound had been pumped at a lower volume from speakers dotted around, rather than so loud from one place. If that's even possible.  

All-in-all the show itself was wonderful but the overall experience of the day left a lot to be desired. For a TV show that's aimed at disabled children I didn't feel disabled children were catered for. Our disasterous meeting with Mr Tumble was just the icing on a very soggy cake. By the time we were being ushered towards the exit by security (in a friendly way!) the cold was starting to set in and my ankle was agony from taking my turn holding Bee and Isla. At least the rain had stopped.

It hasn't stopped us watching Mr Tumble though or abated Bee's adoration for him, that continues apace! Justin Fletcher is a wonderful presenter who helps change the lives of special needs children across the UK. His MBE is more than well-deserved. I hope one day we get a better chance to tell him in person.

For more information on Something Special click here: http://bbc.in/CoGbd

For more information on Makaton click here: http://www.makaton.org/

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