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Laurence Clark

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Laurence juggles stand-up comedy with family life. He’s previously toured an anti-Jim Davidson show and been called a ‘sit-down comic’ by Cherie Blair - which was nothing compared to what he calls her! You can catch up with all Laurence's activities on his website.

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Day centres in the sun

7th October 2008

Laurence Clark was looking forward to a nice relaxing holiday in a luxury Spanish hotel. He was in for one hell of a nasty surprise!
A typical Spanish flamenco dancer
Planning a holiday is always a bit of an ordeal if you have particular access requirements. Since my wife Adele and I are both disabled, social services would quite happily support her to go on a respite holiday away from me; and likewise support me to go on a respite holiday away from her. But unfortunately we don't qualify for any support, due to the fact that we have a good, strong, healthy relationship and would prefer to go on holiday with each other.
So this year we thought we'd make life easier for ourselves by booking through a travel agent which specialised in accessible holidays, even though we know from past experience that this can mean paying over the odds for the privilege of staying somewhere with wheelchair access. We were hoping for a nice, lazy, relaxing week by the pool with plenty of good food and cheap alcohol. Upon our arrival in Malaga we discovered the 'luxury hotel' they'd booked for us more closely resembled a dreaded social services day centre.

Although the resort appeared to have all the outward trappings of a holiday destination, such as hot Mediterranean weather, palm trees and a bar, I immediately recognised the tell-tale signs of an institution. All the residents were wearing a particular blank expression that can only come from having to sit about all day long with absolutely bugger all to do. In addition, Adele and I stuck out like sore thumbs since we were at least thirty years younger than literally every other person staying there. But my suspicions were ultimately confirmed when I discovered that the entire top floor of the complex was occupied by a 'medical centre' offering physiotherapy, speech therapy and numerous other hellish methods of torture that I've spent my entire life trying to avoid at all cost. It was then that we realised, to our horror, that instead of merely booking somewhere with access, we'd embarked on someone's well-meaning but misguided idea of a holiday specifically designed for disabled people. For starters, who the hell would want a week's course of intensive physio as part of their annual break?

The hotel's one saving grace would have been its outdoor swimming pool, but alas they decided to close it down for cleaning. We soon discovered that the pool was pretty much the only form of entertainment the resort had to offer and thus understood why everyone had looked so bloody bored. Our fellow inmates seemed to cope by occupying themselves with stereotypical day centre pastimes such as card games, dominos and jigsaw puzzles. I shuddered nervously as I pondered whether we too would end up resorting to these same desperate measures by the end of our stay.

Although the holiday brochure had promised four exclusive restaurants, it turned out there was just the one depressingly familiar place to eat. Maybe it was the way they doled out unrecognisable slop, which in no way resembled what the menu said it was meant to be, that reminded me of a day centre canteen? In any case, even the stray cat that prowled round the tables wouldn't eat my leftovers.

We probably would have starved to death were it not for the hotel's tuck shop, where one could buy all the usual sweets and biscuits that you would expect to find in your local corner shop but for five times the usual price.

When we approached the travel agent, we were surprised to learn that we were the first to have made a complaint about this resort. But with more and more disabled people living independently and wanting to travel, I bet we won't be the last. All of our efforts to either improve or cut short our so-called holiday came to no avail. Every hotel for miles around was fully booked and we looked into hanging around the airport to get a last-minute flight cancellation, but even if we had been that lucky, we probably wouldn't have been able to get assistance to board the plane at such short notice. So in the end we resigned ourselves to staying and making the most of it, going out to the local town every day for dinner and drinks.

We effectively paid a fortune in order to institutionalise ourselves as a couple for a week, when social services would have done it separately for free. As a result of our ordeal we've resolved from now on to take our chances with the regular, high street travel agents and avoid holidays specifically for disabled people like the plague.

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