I have an excellent week ahead, gorging on art, including theatre, music and painting. It surely doesn't get better than this. I just hope I find time for meals.
South Street holds a few memories for me; this one’s the best:
In 1996, as a keen and fearless community development worker, I organised a strangely controversial disability arts cabaret here.
The line-up was impressive for our little show. The late, great and supremely wonderful Ian Stanton headlined, superbly supported by Genie Cosmos with Fish Out of Water, and the gently challenging and truthful poet Peter Street.
100 people, nearly all disabled, crammed into the main hall. We had two BSL interpreters, and free food was provided.
Free transport brought people from all four corners of Berkshire, not without a few hiccups, including mislaid passengers and a few disgruntled late arrivals.
Incredibly, the cabaret almost didn’t happen.
My steering group, a majority of disabled people, was very nervous. It was art, see. And fun.
A strong case against the event was mounted. Questions were raised.
Was it a good use of public money?
How would it impact on the design, planning and delivery of health and social care services?
Was this an appropriate or effective deployment of a user development worker? I certainly thought so!
I argued at the time that this was a good way to bring disabled people together, to empower them, to raise consciousness and expectations, and to help build a movement.
Fortunately, I had an enlightened CEO and the cabaret went ahead. Thanks Madeleine, wherever you are.
So the event wasn’t just accessible, it was subversive. It was social model without theory. It was empowerment without flipchart.
Don’t get me wrong. Although I love Disability Equality Training, both delivering and participating, nothing hits the spot, or does the job, like having a good time together.
Of all the events I've organised since, I never quite managed to top this one.
The critics loved Reasons To Be Cheerful first time around. The Guardian said: 'The stage gives off a million volts.' Time Out opined: 'Rough, ready and bl**dy brilliant.' Even The Daily Mail managed a compliment: 'It's got a heart of gold.'
Aah, ain't that nice?
So, the Chailey kid came good. Well, nothing unusual in that. I won't mention any names (they might not thank me) but there are quite few of us Chailey kids in and about the (disability) movement.
Ian Dury wasn't an activist. He was an artist, hedonist, hard nut and a rock star. Talented too, but a nightmare to live and work with, if the film Sex & Drugs & Rock &Roll is to be believed. And why shouldn't we believe it?
There's a scene in the film where he goes back to Chailey, around the time he wrote Spasticus Autisticus for the International Year of Disabled People, 1981. I'd left years before, but I'm reliably informed that this visit never actually happened.
Hello to you out there in Normal Land/You may not comprehend my tale or understand.
I don't remember much violence in the film, whereas crip (and crip-on-crip) bashing did happen at Chailey in those days. Dury talked about it and we can assume it affected him, probably not in a pleasant way.
Oi! Cunt face! Who are you looking at?/I'll kick your fucking head off with shit on me boots!
Put that boy in detention!
When I went to see the film, in 2010, I think I secretly hoped I would recognise Chailey Heritage. Of course, it wasn't actually filmed there. The dormitory scenes couldn't possibly have been shot at St Georges because the place was turned into luxury flats more than a decade ago.
I always thought the Blockheads had a great sound, especially Chaz Jankel's piano, but some of Dury's lyrics are pure sexist rubbish:
I offer thee this band of gold/Now do exactly what you are told.
I guess he hated women. Or maybe he was just unconfident.
If I was with a woman I'd make believe I loved her/All the time I would not like her much.
So I prefer the instrumental version of Duff 'em up and Do 'em Over. Not that he didn't manage the occasional insightful social comment:
There ain't half been some clever bastards/lucky bleeders, lucky bleeders.
One thing you can say about Dury is that he was ace at alliteration:
Plaistow Patricia, Plaistow Patricia/Plaistow Patricia, Plaistow Patricia/Go on girl.
Chailey was a grim yet brief chapter in Dury's life; he spent a mere three years there in the early fifties. I was there for eleven years, 1955 - 1966, a big chunk of my childhood. He wrote and talked about it in less than glowing terms. I have yet to find words to adequately describe my loathing for the place.
An Instinct for Kindness. A play about assisted suicide.
A Bigger Picture. David Hockney at The Royal Academy.
Resistance; Which Way the Future. Liz Crow's important installation.
Cheltenham Science Festival 2011. Exploring the Autistic Mind & 3D Thinkers in a 2D World.
Access All Areas 2011. Live Art Extravanganza
Longcare Survivors; Biography of a Care Scandal. Review of John Pring's outstanding book.