Do you want to build a snowman?

It was a few weeks back that mummy first suggested doing something as a family over half term.

‘Something nice.’

I nodded along. Like always. And then I did nothing. Like always.

Which means that I had no real right to complain when mummy announced that she had taken matters into her own hands and bought us tickets for Disney on Ice.

I complained bitterly.

But mummy brushed my objections away like drops of sweat and the plans were set.

In truth I had no real idea what Disney on Ice even was. Obviously I’d heard of Disney. And of ice. But I wasn’t sure how they fitted together.

But I am aware that there is a modern tendency towards cashing in on any cultural phenomenon by reproducing it while wearing ice skates. I’m looking forward to Breaking Bad on Ice. And Saw 7 on Ice.

But for now we’d settle for Disney. And so with a weak and watery sun rising on a bright winter morning we set off for the early show at The Odyssey in Belfast. (By the way, in case there are any pedants out there, I know it’s supposed to be called the SSE Arena now but I’ll stick with the name I’ve always known. After all I still call a Snickers bar a Marathon.)

We were excited but not without some worry.

The fact is that our wee man doesn’t do well at big events with crowds.

This first became apparent when we’d tried to take him to the Christmas pantomime at the Grand Opera House two years ago. We’d decided to make it a real treat and hired a box. The three of us sat there waiting for the show to begin, chatting happily and munching on popcorn.

And then the curtain rose.

The loud music started and our contented box rapidly morphed into the car scene from The Omen when the ambassador and his wife try to take the boy Damien to church.

My son screamed and flailed. I had to remove him from the show after less than five minutes and he was much too upset to return.

I did consider this might be an understandable reaction to seeing May McFettridge for the first time but had to conclude that he was just uncomfortable, indeed terrified, by the level of the sound, the movement and the crowd.

He’s still very dubious about the cinema, not happy with the juxtaposition of blaring music and darkness. We also had a mixed experience when taking him to a circus last year.

But as we watched the crowds queuing at the doors of The Odyssey we knew this would be on a different level.

Sure enough, we hadn’t travelled any more than a few steps through the front door when it began.

He became afraid. Really afraid.

Mummy took him into her arms and we spoke gentle words of encouragement. We’d be right there with him the whole time.

He started to recover. Then he decided he wanted some sweets and something from the merchandise stands.

I became afraid. Really afraid.

Programmes were a bargain at £9. T- shirts were £12. Teddies £18. I found a pen which was £8. Glowing sticks were £20.

I started to think that I would have to busk with my trusty harmonica for weeks to pay for this day.

Then I spotted the flags. They were the cheapest item on the stall at £5. I suppose it’s all relative but it seemed like a steal at that moment.

I gently nudged my son towards the flag.

Then I roughly shoved him towards the flag.

He decided he wanted the flag.

Then I had a very difficult conversation with an impossibly smiley American woman at the counter as a restless queue grew behind me.

As best as I can remember it went something like this.

‘What can I get for you sir?’

‘Can I have the flag?’

‘The pennant?’

‘Uh?’

‘The pennant?’

‘The pedant?’

‘Excuse me sir?’

‘Uh….can I have the flag please?’

‘The pennant?’

‘Uh?’

‘You would like the pennant sir?’

(She points at the flags/pennants).

‘Uh, yes please.’

‘Would you like Nick Wilde or Ariel sir?’

‘Uh?’

(Her smile fails for a millisecond before she fixes it back into place.)

‘Nick Wilde or Ariel sir?’

‘Uh…the fox….the one with the fox.’

‘Nick Wilde?’

‘The fox.’

‘Is there anything else I can do for you today sir?’

‘No thank you, just the flag.’

‘The pennant?’

‘Uh?….’

We take our seats. The floor is sticky. I’m feeding marshmallows covered in chocolate to my son and myself. He’s waving his flag in the air and it keeps bumping off the head of the man in the row in front. The man in the row in front keeps giving me an angry look. The man in the row in front looks like he may recently have been released from prison.

The show begins. A kaleidoscope of flashing lights, noise, smoke and six feet tall mice on skates.

My son immediately begins to cry and panic. He buries his head in mummy’s chest and pleads to go home.

We could give in. Walk away like we have on other occasions. Cut our losses.

But it’s time to confront this fear. A day to build a little snowman.

Mummy softly covers his ears with her hands until he grows accustomed to the noise. I hold his little hand. We both talk to him constantly, reassuring, telling him Mickey Mouse is coming on in a moment.

First he’s terrified. Then suspicious. Then grumpy. Then curious. Then animated. Then excited. Then delirious with happiness and good emotion. We nurse him through all the stages until he’s ready to stand on his own.

The next show will be a little bit easier. For him and us. That’s the process. It’s a good snowman.

As for the show itself? Well it’s as slick as wet grass. Technically and acrobatically dazzling, full of familiar stories and songs.

My son loves the Peter Pan segment, complete with flying characters, an inflatable crocodile, a pirate ship and a duel between Pan and Hook.

I try to get involved after the interval when I see a shoal of giant colourful fish skating onto the ice.

‘Look son, it’s Nemo.’

‘Duh daddy! It’s the Little Mermaid.’

‘Uh.’

I must admit that I’ve got a guilty secret. A fondness for Frozen and its sentimentality.

Often when mummy is still asleep in the mornings and I take my son downstairs I’ll try to put it on the telly.

‘Shall we put Frozen on son?’

‘No daddy, Frozen’s for girls.’

‘Boys can watch it too.’

‘No daddy, put He-Man on.’

Pleasingly the Frozen story is the climax of the ice show, complete with falling snow, fireworks and the really catchy song which I like because it uses the word ‘fractals’.

The only glitch is when Prince Hans falls on his arse on the ice twice, although he probably deserves it for taking advantage of Princess Anna’s emotional impetuosity.

It did make me wonder though what happens to those whose performances fall below the required standard. Nobody else other than Hans puts a skate wrong.

I have visions of the wretched prince being tied to a table backstage and getting 20 lashes o’ the cat.

As the show concludes my boy is jumping up and down, waving his flag and shouting, ‘This is awesome, this is awesome.’

I think the trip has been a success.

The final act is when all the Disney characters from the performance return to the ice for a rousing chorus of Let It Go.

And just in case any of you hear reports of a man in his 40s standing on his seat and singing along at full voice…..well if you haven’t got it on tape then it didn’t happen.

5 thoughts on “Do you want to build a snowman?

  1. Just when I thought you couldn’t get any better, you go and write this. I laughed out loud from start to finish Jonny this is absolutely hilarious!! Going to share this on my blog’s Facebook page – everyone’s going to love it!!! FYI – it will always be the Odyssey to me too!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another great read, thanks Johnny. Sure you have probably tried this and sorry if I am stating the obvious or teaching you to suck eggs but Elsie used to freak on situations like that until we have her ear defenders, which worked really well. Failing that, and especially at the cinema try an Autism friendly screening. They are usually open to general public, the volume is much lower and they keep low level lights on so it doesn’t get dark
    The MAC and Opera House host performances like that too. Hope this helps and so glad you all enjoyed the show in the end.

    Liked by 1 person

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