Once upon a time there were well-staffed, well-equipped day centres for people with disabilities, offering them the chance to meet with their friends and carers, have fun and practise new skills and hobbies. Then successive Tory governments capped local government spending and lo, the centres were closed because they were too expensive to run. This cost-cutting exercise was presented as a chance for disabled people to choose how they spent their time and (reduced) funding, by employing support workers and receiving some money (Direct Payments) towards expenses, whether that be occasional petrol, accommodation and food costs incurred in the pursuit of hobbies or social activities, or materials to do crafts, learn an instrument, etc - anything, really, as long as it was part of their care plan.
But now, with another Tory administration and further shrinking of the state, disabled people are no longer allowed to enjoy themselves and the funding for Direct Payments has been slashed. (Serves them right for making all those ill-advised loans to flighty foreign countries, eh?) The hatchet fell on my son's funding back in the spring, with his social activities deemed by some local government manager 'what any mother would do for her son' - something that really doesn't wash when he's 24 and you have more than one son and can contrast and compare. Still, we scrimped enough to be able to afford the one last trip we'd already booked to the Robot Wars World Championships in Colchester - a chance for my son to say goodbye to his friends who travel all over the country to cheer on their favourite teams.
Robot Wars doesn't really do it for me, so while he was cheering himself hoarse, I'd planned a trip to three nearby churches in Essex to see their mediaeval wall paintings. I also intended to see the three hares glass in the church at Long Melford, and the half-timbered higgledy-pigglediness of Lavenham, having never been to Suffolk.
The early morning mist had burnt off by the time we passed Reading and all was set fair for our weekend, when the traffic came to a standstill on the M25. We caterpillared our way around, still making progress, when I noticed that the the tarmac was getting really bumpy. Rumble strips? I thought. On the motorway? But despite switching lanes and surfaces, the juddering continued. Then an orange light started to flash on the dashboard. To pull in on the hard shoulder or limp on 15 miles to South Mimms Services and safety, with the possibility of risking further damage to the engine? One look at my travelling companion and how scarily busy and noisy the traffic was and I opted for the latter.
There was a further alarming moment when I ended my call to the breakdown people, opened the driver's door and saw a huge oil stain on the ground. Argh! Except that weirdly, it seemed to have pooled uphill. I was still puzzling over this when the repair man turned up and informed me that the area I'd parked in, just inside the entrance and to one side, under some shady trees, was notorious for breakdowns. Someone else's disaster in the adjoining bay, then.
As for my poorly car, it was a misfire in cylinder 4. I've no idea what that means except that it's common in Vauxhalls apparently. But that's little consolation when it comes down to a wasted hotel reservation, tickets and petrol costs for a final road trip that didn't happen.
We did get home safely, however, and I'm thankful for that.