Snowbility in Hemel Hempstead: No Limits!

Last weekend I went skiing for the first time since I went on a school skiing trip in 1988. I never thought I’d be going skiing at the age of forty-three, especially since I’m a bit overweight and my balance isn’t great. But anyway, the reason I went was that it was a free deaf snowsports coaching event, organised by the NDCS (National Deaf Childrens Society) and an accessible deaf snowsports company called Snowbility http://snowbility.co.uk

Deaf skiing blog_header
We posted about it on social media and asked if anyone wanted to go along to it. I thought it looked like fun so I said that I wanted to go. Eloise took on the responsibility of organising it and she did a great job bringing together a group of us to go there and enjoying the day together.

I was really excited about it beforehand. I was a bit worried though, too, as I had visions of me losing my balance, falling over or crashing straight into the ski instructor. I wondered if I could remember how to ski and I worried about completely embarrassing myself in front of the group.

On the day I didn’t have anything to worry about. The event was held at the Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead http://www.thesnowcentre.com, which has slopes made out of real snow, so it feels really natural. We were all divided into different groups, according to whether you were deaf or hearing, and wanted to be taught skiing or snowboarding.

Snow Centre_slopes
When it was time to get ready and join my group, I went downstairs to the changing area and noticed lots of deaf children with their parents there. It seemed like a great sociable event for families and the volunteers and staff from the NDCS looked very organised as they were helping the various children and adult groups get ready for their coaching sessions. I had a chat to a couple of people from the NDCS and I was really impressed with their kind, helpful attitude with the children and their parents. I thought they worked incredibly hard that day. They were amazing.

Deaf skiing_Richard scarf
Our ski instructor introduced himself to us. He is called Arran, and is a young deaf BSL user. He taught us in BSL and although I am not fluent in BSL, I found it quite easy because he was very visual and patient when he was showing us what to do. He is a really inspiring person because I found out that he learned to ski with a hearing ski instructor while he was on holiday with his parents in France when he was a child and he picked it up really quickly. He then followed his dream to train to become a fully qualified ski instructor at the Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, where he lives. He works for the company Snowbility, which provides accessible skiing and snowboarding coaching for deaf people and people with other disabilities at the Snow Centre. You can find out more about Arran’s story here in this short video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eNyEBS4tRXE

Snow Centre group tuition 2
As Arran showed us the basic techniques of side-stepping and snow-ploughing, I found that it all came back to me from all those years ago. After a bit of practice with the group, I decided to go off on my own and attempt to go up to the top of the slope on the ski lift. The first time I tried to ski back down, I fell right over and onto my backside. It hurt a bit, but I picked myself up and carried on. As I practised a bit more, my confidence improved and I started to really enjoy it with the instructor’s help and guidance.

Deaf ski blog_RT skiing
He was really enthusiastic and encouraging, showing all us patiently how to ski and improve our techniques in such a visual, expressive way. Eloise had never skied before, but I watched her grow in confidence and really improve in the short coaching session we had there. She really seemed to be picking it up quickly and enjoying it, as did the others.

After the session, we went to the Snow Centre café and joined lots of other deaf families and adults having a meal and talking about their skiing and snowboarding sessions. We stayed there for a couple of hours chatting and enjoying each other’s company.

This was a really great event, which was well-organised and great fun for lots of deaf people. I found out from the Snow Centre that over one hundred people had registered for the free taster sessions that day, which is brilliant. It just shows that there are no limits to what you can do if you put your mind to it. Who knows? Maybe I shall be representing Team GB in the downhill event at the next Winter Olympics? Somehow I don’t think so!

My new musical experience at the amazing ‘Book of Mormon’

Recently, I went to watch the matinée performance of the smash-hit musical ‘The Book of Mormon’ with my wife Joanna in the West End. I had wanted to see it for quite a while now, so as soon as I saw that there was going to be a performance captioned by STAGETEXT I booked our tickets straightaway. This musical has won 9 Tony awards in the US since it opened there in 2011, and it has been showing in London since last year.

book-of-mormon header

It was also the first musical that I would watch since having my new cochlear implant switched on, so I was really looking forward to being able to hear the music and I wondered what it would sound like with a hearing loop, which I had not really used before. I didn’t go to musicals before I had my implant as I couldn’t hear the music or make out the lyrics when I wore a hearing aid.

We arrived at the Prince of Wales theatre where it was showing and saw that it was packed, with people queuing for tickets outside in the street, even for a Wednesday matinée. We had seats in the circle with a perfect view of the caption unit in front of us, looking down towards the stage.

I thought the stage set was amazing. It was like a psychedelic vision of heaven complete with fluffy purple clouds and sunbeams shining through them, edged by multi-coloured stained glass windows and white pillars, like you would find in a chapel. It was spectacular.

Book of Mormom stage set

The storyline is about two mismatched young Mormon boys, the clean-cut Elder Price and the geeky Elder Cunningham who, after just completing their missionary training in Salt Lake City, get dispatched to northern Uganda for two years to try and convert the local people to Mormonism. The two Mormon boys are very fresh-faced, naive and eager to baptise the locals and convert them, but when they arrive they are shocked at what they find.

The village they have been assigned to is war-ravaged and desolate. 80% of the people there have AIDs and the villagers are under the corrupt and evil control of the local gun-toting warlord, who thinks nothing of shooting people in the face and forcing the young girls to undergo female circumcision. How on earth would they be able to convert these people to Mormonism, when they were worn down by years of oppression, starvation, violence and corruption?

??????????????

This was a far-cry from the idyllic image of Africa they had expected, with one of them saying that “Africa is not like the ‘Lion King’, is it?” As the story progresses, it becomes obvious that they are not going to convert the locals by simply preaching to them from the Book of Mormon, so the ingenious Elder Cunningham, who is known for being creative with the truth, spins them a yarn about Jesus coming down in the ‘Star Ship Enterprise’ to save them, inventing all sorts of tales to twist the truth into what the locals want to hear to appeal to them, and in the process, he ends up converting them all to Mormons and baptizing them.

Book of Mormon locals 3

I found the storyline hilarious, although though the dialogue is pretty shocking. It is blasphemous, crude with lots of swearing, but it is all done in such a way that somehow you can’t take it at all seriously. I think this is a very clever trick done by the creators. It is a satire on organised religion and squeaky-clean American culture, contrasted with the appalling situation of the oppressed and poverty-stricken people in Uganda, but because it is all shown in such a comical way, you can’t help but laugh at it all.

The acting and singing was absolutely fantastic, and I was amazed that I could hear the lyrics so clearly through the hearing loop combined with my new cochlear implant. It was great for me to be able to go the theatre and hear music again after so many years, which, combined with reading the captions, was a totally new experience for me. I was still singing the words of the songs in my head as I came out of the theatre and went home.

I particularly loved the character of the weird geeky Mormon Elder Cunningham, played by the actor A.J. Holmes. When he performed the song ‘Man Up’ after being deserted by his companion and he was expected to convert the distrusting natives on his own, I was in fits of laughter. It was brilliant.

Book of Mormon_geek2

I also thought that the actress Alexia Khadime who played the Ugandan girl Nabulungi was fantastic too. She was sweet and innocent with a beautiful voice. In the scene where she sang about her dream of ‘getting the bus to paradise to what she called Sal Tlay Ka Siti (Salt Lake City), she sang it with such amazing passion and conviction, she blew the audience away. The lyrics of the song really made me laugh, such as “I bet the warlords there are really friendly, they help you across the street. There’s a Red Cross on every corner, with all the flour you can eat”. It was pure comedy gold.

Overall it was very entertaining, cheesy and camp. I just didn’t want it to end. The acting and dialogue was wacky and outrageous, just what you would expect from the creators of ‘South Park’, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. It is definitely not for the faint-hearted or easily shockable though, but I loved it. I would love STAGETEXT to put on another captioned performance of this, because I cannot wait to see it again!

Book of Mormon_RT T-shirt