Visit 21: 27 - 30 June 2008
It is only four weeks since we last visited Holton Lee, but the time has been very full. During the week after I got back to London last time, I managed to stab myself in the back of the hand dropping a craft knife that bounced, and consequently still have a strange and painful lump on the back of my hand. I also belatedly discovered that there was a major gas leak in the supply to my studio, which had been saturating the soil outside and filling the space under my office floor with gas. Once all the drama was over, I began to feel better than I had done for several weeks, as did my elderly neighbour whose wife had actually thought that he was dying. (Natural gas isn't poisonous as such, but it does cause nausea and headaches as well as a lack of oxygen.) Away from domestic dramas, I have been busy arranging for my exhibition, 'Abnormal', to travel to Liverpool in August, where it will form part of DaDaFest, the north-west's international Disability Arts festival. I have also been delighted to hear that Seun, who made a film with me at Holton Lee last summer, 'England', has been granted his British citizenship ('England' will also be shown at DaDaFest).
Julie and I manage to leave East London half an hour earlier than planned, thanks to Michael, who has agreed to PA for me for a few weeks after finishing a stage-management run at the Royal Opera House. (I figured that if he could handle opera, he could just about cope with the demands of my life!) However, the traffic is incredibly heavy, and despite it being Friday of a school term, there are lots of children at the service stations. It is Glastonbury weekend, and I see from last year's Blog entry that the traffic was equally heavy then too, despite the roads not being part of the Glastonbury route. Clearly the weekend has become a de facto public holiday, positioned as it is between half-term and the beginning of the school holidays.
I would certainly feel nostalgic for the Glastonbury festival if I were stuck in the city for the weekend, but for the experience of being outside and in the country rather than anything else. As it is, I am happy to be going to Holton Lee instead. Since meeting a former member of the Post Green community earlier this year, I have become more and more convinced that the act of camping at Holton Lee is in itself an important part of my artistic work here. Camping was fundamental to the founding of Holton Lee, and the continuing repetition of the act of camping while NDACA is being developed seems to be fundamental to my residency. I will continue to explore why this is as time goes on. In the meantime, I can see that the caravan echoes Post Green in its 20th-century design and its self-consciously retro contents. Camping is also a distinguishing feature of this part of Dorset, since Poole and Bournemouth are surrounded by caravan sites as visitors are drawn to the fantastic beaches and scenery on offer here. There are also a large number of sites where people live in static caravans and holiday chalets year-round, as the price of more traditional accommodation is so high.
We are very late arriving because of the traffic, so abandon any plans to see the office staff today and concentrate instead on unloading and sorting out the caravan. The power supply near the caravan has not been repaired yet as it will be expensive, and although the stables volunteers have charged the caravan battery for me, it has not taken the charge properly. One job for the morning will be to find power from somewhere, so we can operate the fridge. As regular readers of this Blog know, I am a fan of Big Brother, and so am also keen to get the television working! In the meantime, I have brought a portable video monitor with me that will double as a tiny television to watch the evening's eviction on. Before that we go to the stables for our traditional cup of tea, followed by a fish and chip supper. (I am still eating vegan food at home, but have continued to eat meat and fish outside of it.) I take a smaller spare battery with me to charge at the stables, and hope for the best as I have not used it since buying the caravan two years ago.
After we finish eating and the stables crew have gone home for the night, Genie and I go for a run with the scooter. Genie has really enjoyed snuffling around the stable yard and sharing chips with me, but is glad to get some real exercise after the long journey here. We only get as far as Faith House, though, where we discover that the Signdance Collective are in the middle of a dress rehearsal, joined by Trish, Hayley, and Sarah who is Chair of the Trustees. Signdance Collective are among my favourite dance companies - another is Anjali - and their work demonstrates just how much more interesting dance can be when it is performed by artists with non-traditional bodies. The core artists in Signdance are artistic director David Bower, who uses BSL (you may remember him from the film 'Four Weddings and a Funeral'), and dance director Isolte Avila, who has a mobility impairment; both are also aged over 30. I find that watching 'cloned' dancers with 'traditional' bodies perform dance really detracts from the choreography. It has to be said, though, that my least favourite companies are also 'inclusive' ones; inclusion is not enough to make good dance, particularly when said companies are not disabled-led.
Isolte invites us to stay and watch the rest of the rehearsal, and I am quick to accept - BB pales into insignificance for me besides the opportunity to watch some world-class dance theatre. I originally trained as a dancer, and occasionally make film-dance pieces within my work. The company is premiering their new work on Saturday night, 'Three Films + One', which bring together a wide-ranging group of international dancers, choreographers, musicians and other artists. These include another old friend, film-maker Caglar Kimyoncu, who for several years curated the London International Disability Film Festival. It is a fantastic opportunity to be able to see some of the work twice, so I phone Julie to let her know that we will not be back for a while. Julie decides to stay resting in the caravan, but she is very excited to hear that Caglar is here. Julie first visited Holton Lee for a disabled film-makers conference, and that was led by Caglar too.
Genie and I enjoy a spell-binding couple of hours, as the rehearsal progresses very slowly - the show is technically complex and there are multiple projectors, amps, lights and so on to arrange. Genie seems happy enough to sit quietly watching what is going on, although I don't think that everyone has the confidence in her ability to remain quiet that I do. Much later, we end up in the marquee on the camping field, where the last piece, 'Travelling', will be performed. As Isolte starts to sing, Genie decides to join in - only Trish stroking her, and me muttering 'muzzle', shuts her up again. However, it is now very late at night! About 11.30pm Isolte calls a production meeting, and we return to the caravan. I just about have enough energy left to make a hot chocolate and to fill my hot water bottle before collapsing into bed.
Unsurprisingly, we make a late start on Saturday morning. Denise from the stables has left the papers outside the caravan, which is a rare treat. I haven't been able to access a regular newspaper since my corner shop was forcibly closed and converted into flats, and although I have been trying hard to find a delivery service recently, this has been to no avail. The stables crew work incredibly hard, yet still find the time to be so thoughtful and helpful; it is much appreciated. Later we set off for nearby Wareham, to do some necessary and not-so-necessary shopping. I collect a tea cosy from the hardware store, which Julie has ordered for me specially from their resident knitter - it has been made from bright orange and yellow nylon! Although it won't fit the cosy, I also manage to pick up a novelty teapot from the Help the Aged shop, in the form of a cockle shell. Then I somehow find myself in a boutique that sells imported jewellery, crafts etc and buy a bangle. To complete my morning of retail therapy, I return to Holton Lee with a tofu cornetto from the wholefood shop - perfect.
When we return to Holton Lee, we find that Derek, who runs the organic garden, has replaced the paving under the step to the caravan with a wider slab. I had fallen off the step that morning, and had mentioned it to Derek before we left. Again, the kindess is striking. The new neighbours at Ashtree Cottage next door also turn out to be kind, and agree to let me hook the caravan's electricity supply up through their window. This is a great relief, as we can switch the fridge on now. I discover, though, that the television screen remains blank, despite the sound still working. The TV dates from the year of the caravan's manufacture, 1980, and was my black-and-white portable from student days, so perhaps it is not surprising that the long winter has finished it off. I am disappointed, though, particularly as I have tried to keep the caravan's fittings in character. However, Julie promises me a similarly old black-and-white portable television that she has in storage, so I cheer up again. It is particularly nice of her to offer this since, as she has pointed out in the past, we could be watching television in colour on long cold/wet nights ... This is performative camping, though!
Later in the afternoon, we return to the stables for tea, joined by Derek and by Ali, one of the artists who we met for the first time during our last visit. It is good to see her, and to hear more about her work. Afterwards Ali brings back the spare battery and helps me to connect it - it works, which is great. About half of the caravan's electrics work off the battery, including the water pump, so simply having mains power is not enough. Then I light the barbecue, and cook vegeburgers for tea. Derek has also put out a paving slab for me to put the barbecue on, and I am very grateful - previously I had had to manage with a much smaller one as it was all I could lift, and was equally unable to get it far enough from the caravan to be entirely safe. For dessert we have tayberries that Derek has given us from his garden, accompanied by soya custard from the wholefood shop; delicious. Then we get the caravan ready for the night, before leaving for the gallery at Faith House and the premiere. This time I leave Genie behind; there is no point in tempting fate! Fortunately she is quite tired and is happy to be left.
A small crowd has gathered outside Faith House, where Hayley and Debbie, the arts marketing worker, are serving drinks. Eventually we are led in, and sit down the window side of the gallery. The first piece, 'Listen', explores David's experience of tinnitus, and begins with David generating sounds electronically and the visual signal from these being projected on to the gallery walls. As David begins to dance to music from a single musician, the silhouettes of birds are projected too and swoop around the walls. Next is 'Here', performed by David and Isolte to music played by a group of musicians, where film of the couple in bed is added to live projections of their movements in the gallery from an overhead camera. Last of the trio is 'The Words', where speech and sign interact with dance, film and text. I realise for the first time just how suited Faith House is to performance, as well as what a privilege it is to be here as part of the first audience for the work. The last piece is 'Travelling', where we move to the marquee. At this point I collect Genie, who fortunately does not attempt to join in with Isolte this time. Overall it has been a magical evening, our own private Glastonbury. Despite my plans I have not even bothered to switch on the Glastonbury television coverage this year, let alone BB.
Next morning we sleep until 9am, then get up fast and go to check on the main caravan battery, which is on charge in the artists' common room. It does not appear to have taken the charge, but Johnny, who is Chair of the stables trustees and who has come to feed the horses, gives me some good advice about maintaining the terminals and then I try again. By mid-morning we are heading down to the cottages where the company has been staying, and join those who have not already returned to London for coffee. It is a beautiful sunny day, and we quickly move outside. I grab a shower while Julie and Caglar catch up, which is very welcome! Then Trish arrives and volunteers to go into Poole and buy food for a barbecue, which we all applaud her for without offering to accompany her. Julie and I do though nip out to the country store on the Wareham road, where I pick up some art materials, marmalade and a spare luminous jacket for Genie, as well as a 70s glass fish for the caravan - it is truly a versatile shop!
Back at the barbecue, Tony has arrived on his three-wheeled motorbike, having come down for the weekend to continue packing up his house. Tony is now CEO at Shape Arts in London, but since I haven't as yet seen him there, it is great to catch up. Colin Hambrook, Editor of Disability Arts Online, is also present - he is camping with his son and friend on the camping field for a few days. Colin is an old friend, and several of his paintings are on display in the Farmhouse as part of NDACA. Colin has arranged to interview David for his review - David is still full of energy although he must be exhausted. It is great to catch up with everyone, and to hear about their work, plans for the rest of the summer and so on. We are all reluctant to break up the proceedings, but by 4pm most people need to make a move. Colin's party heads for the beach and we are tempted too, but as it is very windy, Julie and I decide to stay on site and to get on with some photography. Isolte and David take the remaining members of their company for a tour of the site by golf buggy; Caglar sets off for London; Tony returns to packing; and Trish and Hayley return home. I take with me two animal vertebrae that have been found outside by one of the company's son; I ask if it is really okay to deprive him of it, but am assured by his mother that it is!
The three of us - including Genie, of course - head for the woods, where we see Isolte and friends in passing. I decide to concentrate on photographing trees, but on the way back make some hand prints in the dried-up pond and ditch opposite the stables. Later I make a light tea, including more tayberries which Derek has encouraged me to pick before the birds get them. I take him at his word on my way back from scrubbing my hands in the common room after making the hand prints. It is the first time that I have picked my own fruit, and I really enjoy the experience. I light up the barbecue again and boil the kettle on it, then relax by the fire. I put the monitor on to see who has been evicted from BB, but as the programme starts I go instead to put Julie's scooter to charge in the common room, as she has become very cold and stiff. The sunset on the way back is magnificent, and the whole sky has changed colour rather than just seeing the sunset over the woods, as is usual. As I look across the fields to Poole Harbour, I see a 30-40 strong herd of Sika deer moving slowly across them, so I quickly return to the van for my binoculars. As I can't stand for very long, I kneel on the ground and watch entranced for about 20 minutes until it becomes too dark to see. It is unusual for me to spot the Sika deer rather than the other herd, which are bigger and lighter in colour.
Afterwards I make hot chocolate on the barbecue, and make my notes for the Blog in candle light. It is a real pleasure - and a luxury - to have a fire, although Holton Lee now has its own charcoal made on site from the trees that are being cleared from the heathland. Camping doesn't just make you appreciate nature, but also the reality of poverty. There is a big difference between camping for pleasure for a few days or weeks, and having to live in makeshift accommodation long-term. I could never cope with sleeping outside in the winter, and I do not know how the families whose homes became uninhabitable in last summer's floods have managed to cope in touring caravans for the past year. Camping in no way teaches you the reality of daily life for the millions who have to live without proper homes worldwide, but it does make you realise how many resources we waste, especially water. I am not sure why we are so afraid of the travelling community, though - they tread lightly on the earth, and consume relatively few resources, and overall have a lot to teach us. Before I go in, the stars come out. So does Genie, who has been cuddled up under a blanket inside with Julie. An owl starts to hoot close by, and Genie jumps each time before howling back at it! It is clearly time for bed.
On Monday we are up early, and begin to pack up to return to London. It has been a great weekend, and I am very sorry to leave. I am taking my scooter with me, in the hope that I will be able to use it in London to achieve a greater level of independence than I have currently, so the stables crew help Julie to get my trailer out from where they have been storing it and hitch it to the van. Before we go, I just have time to say hello to the new Director, Theresa, who has started work today and who comes from a theatre background. It is great to meet her, and I look forward to getting to know her and to talking further next time.
All contents © 2006-8
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