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Canadian Affair

Autism, Cowboys and Me!

Wow! Today was the most random day ever! If I had said that I would go out, meet someone and spend the afternoon searching for a real-life cowboy supply store, I would’ve been carted off to have my head checked over! However, that is exactly what I did.

After yesterday’s day off, I decided to get back into cramming as much of Vancouver into my trip as possible. The weather was beautifully mild, like a wonderful Spring day in England. On the menu for today was Granville Island. Equipped with the number of the bus that would take me directly to this highly recommended tourist hotspot, I set off, ready for a budget-friendly day out.

The first thing I did when I got off the bus was get lost. So, I simply followed some Americans. I figured that they would be heading for the same place as me. Luckily, I was right. Granville Island was very quaint, in a touristy kind of way. Lovely specialist craft stores, highly over-priced pieces and to-die-for jewelry. I tried very hard to resist, but it was fruitless. I ended up buying a beautiful steel and black glass ring. Gorgeous!

I quickly devoured all that the island had to offer by way of shops. Fellow shopaholics will surely understand the way we can assess the shopping potential of each area with enviable efficiency. Once the retail therapy was satisfied, i was free to focus on other things. I went to the famous marketplace. Lots of fruit, veg and meat stalls. Even as a vegetarian, I could see that the quality of the meat was good.

Outside, there were signs saying that the seagulls can be aggressive and warning visitors to take care when eating outside. The sign was slightly misleading. The seagulls had clearly been working out. They were the size of the Canadian geese that have taken over many lakes in the UK. Huge and very scary and barely masking the very real threat of aggression; I gave them a very wide berth.

I decided on a mini-cruise in what could best be described as a larg, floating  bathtub, seating 12. The proximity to the water was amazing, but not something that I’d like to experience on a day when the water was not as calm as today.

Being the talkative soul that I am, I had already struck up some conversations with a few people after asking for directions. A few passengers were so helpful and one even acted as tour guide during my mini-cruise. Throughout my time here, I have been totally amazed at the helpfulness shown by so many who have helped me when I was lost.

A young mum called Melody and her son James were also on the boat. We got talking and ended up spending the rest of a very long afternoon together, joined a bit later by her father. Melody’s son is non-verbal and has autism. He is almost five and reminded me so much of my own autistic son at that age.

Melody offered me a lift back to Vancouver, which I readily accepted. This may seem strange to read; I am new in town and accepted a lift from a stranger. But the same could also be said of her; a young mum with her son, offering a lift to a stranger. I think we both got the measure of each other and our autism radars had sensed that we each meant no harm. Melody was visiting Vancouver, accompanying her father who was here on personal business.

After collecting her father, I was invited to join them on a shopping  trip to an area way out of Vancouver. Strangely, I accepted. Again, was this a poor judgement call on my part – not so sure? Perhaps it was that she had a small child with her and genuinely seemed like a very down to earth person. Something must’ve signalled benign vibes as I didn’t feel at all worried for my safety. Plus, James was such a lovely boy, it was great being in his company.

We set off to find a cowboy store. Yes, indeed we did! Melody’s father was a genuine cowboy. Minus the horse. Eventually, we found the place after nearly crossing the American border. It was like Toys’R’Us, but stocked  exclusively with cowboy paraphernalia. It was amazing! The selection of cowboy boots was like none I had ever seen before. I was surprised at the cost, quality and selection of women;s boots. Somehow, I  myself actually wanting to buy a pair. Thank goodness I didn’t have my card with me. (I later discovered that I did indeed have my Visa card in my purse but had completely forgotten it was there!)

Once Melody’s father had finished shopping, we set off for the journey back, stopping at Starbucks for refreshments. During our time together I learned about how the autism journey is so much more positive for Canadians than the hurdles we have to jump in the UK. Funds are made immediately available for privately sourced early intervention programs. Respite provision is established each month for  weekend breaks. I explained how the system here encourages antagonistic and confrontational relationships between parents and local authorities who try their hardest not to acknowledge the needs of families with autism.

Today I learned a lot about myself and about the kindness of strangers. I learned that I love to communicate with others and that this can be a good thing. The downside is that I learned that I trust easily and could therefore be susceptible to people with ill-intentions. I learned that sometimes, doing something totally random can be rewarded through making new contacts and finding out more about other people’s life experiences. I totally enjoyed Melody’s company and found James to be an adorable little boy who reminded me of how far I had come on my own journey with autism.

We travelled through the ‘notorious’ DTES (downtown east side). It was post-apocalyptic in presentation and outlook. People walking openly under the influence of drugs or other mind-altering substances. The general run-down nature of the immediate surroundings. I was thankful that I was in the relative safety of a locked, moving vehicle. Less than five minutes later, we were in the trendy enclave of Gastown with its fabulous shops and eateries. Vancouver is indeed a city of contradictions.

On the whole, a wonderfully educational day, with good company and great cowboy boots.

Yeehar!!

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