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Twelve questions about child abuse


Who saw?


Who heard?


Who told?


Who listened?


Who cared?


Who lied?


Who denied?


Who cried?


Who smiled?


Who lived?


Who died?


Who remembers?

Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 9 February 2013

Last modified by Daniel McLoughlin, 27 February 2013

I am an artist. Not in so many words.

A job became available so I jumped at it. You know how it is. Life is long while money is short.

If you’ve got health, you’ve got wealth, said my Jewish aunties, followed by a chorus of approval from the entire rest of the family. Of course, they meant good health, not just any old health. In those days, health was what you had if you weren’t ill.

Nowadays governments say we must have health and well being, healthy lifestyles, healthy relationships and a healthy bank balance.

We don’t hear much about wealth; it isn’t done. The rich have wealth and they don’t need to discuss it. Take it as read.

Fair enough?

So for six weeks I’ve been working with words - typing, talking, thinking and writing, in that (descending) order. Images have been out of the picture, save for a few bits of tightly word-wrapped clipart here and there.

For a moment, it looked like my art days were behind me. Although I’ve seen that many times before.

No, it was just another blip.

The job lasts for another seven weeks. But this is Friday night/Saturday morning, and I have to make a picture. Not enough light to draw, and I don't have time. I need to make a picture, now.

Here is the result. Pink rabbit on the hosptal roof and me sick with grief. Bad boy Foxy threw it up there. Will I ever forgive him?

Next time I'll write more about the picture and how I made it; it's interesting.

Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 3 November 2012

Last modified by Deborah Caulfield, 14 July 2014

Getting back to normal

Now that euphoria of the Paralympics, and the more subdued excitement of Unlimited, have gone away, I'm looking back and trying to see it all for what it was.

What was it?

Did Channel 4 achieve the predicted paroxysmic shift in society's attitude to disability? Or was it ephemera on a grand scale,   a blip in which disability became temporarily interesting?

Who knows?

Winning is a transitory state. Disability is (usually) permanent. Medals, I’m guessing, can’t be exchanged for goods or services.

Not that it wasn’t fun, even for me, a mere spectator.

I spent one very happy weekend stationed at the Royal Festival Hall trundling around with my laptop, scooting from Unlimited gig to Unlimited gig, screeching to momentary pitstops to blog my reflections and beam them back to DAO base.

The highlights of Unlimited were Sue Austin and her underwater wheelchair, and Johnny Crescendo reminding us to be proud, angry and strong, and to keep fighting for choices and rights.

Another weekend saw me sprawled on the sofa, morning, noon and night, transfixed by the increasingly cool Ade Adepetan. David Weir was weirdly wonderful, and Oscar Pistorius was modestly victorious.

Then what?
Then it was back to cleaning the toilet and boiling beetroot.
What else?

Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 23 September 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 20 November 2013

Blogging about swimming for the time being.

The build-up to the Paralympics has begun, with nightly programmes on Channel 4. It’s extremely exciting.

So I’m quietly reflecting on the business of disabled people doing sport, and feeling rather in awe but mostly baffled and untouched.

So much rushing about.

At school (Chailey Heritage) no one did sport. It was ‘games’, occasionally football and rounders, but always a lot of cricket. School (boys) against Masters and so on. People being bowled over with their legs caught between two stumps, before the wicket.

All played in slow motion.

The Heritage Magazine of 1958 said of the Sports Days in 1956, 57 and 58: ‘each event provided us with the usual good fun and friendly rivalry.’

I used to enjoy running and skipping about. It made a pleasant change from lying flat on my back, which I’d done for most of the first eight years of my life.  Being ‘up and about’ (a medical term for not dead) was great. Then suddenly physical fun was forbidden, on health grounds. ‘No games!’ they said.


So I had to endure the heat and boredom of watching games lessons and spectating at sports events, where the rules were unfathomable and the scores irrelevant. I didn’t care who won. They could keep their stupid shields and cups.

One year they asked me to keep score for Sports Day. I had no idea what was going on out in the field, but I was good at writing the names and numbers on the board.

About 25 years ago I started swimming, not seriously, but properly, mainly so I could take my two small children. It required huge mental effort to overcome self consciousness. I persuaded myself I looked alright, though I knew I didn’t. It was a case of ‘what the hell.'

Swimming is a big part of my life now. I'm at the pool at least twice a week. I don’t count lengths. I swim for an hour, slowly.

Then I go home and have my dinner, or maybe a cheese sandwich.


Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 20 August 2012

Last modified by Deborah Caulfield, 21 August 2012

200 words of text and a picture. They go together.

This is what days are like when the air is too hot for sleep and too dry to be tired.

Tidying up is for other people, happy types with ordered lives, traditional values and smart goals; winners in the race against hopelessness.

Life is unfinished. My hair gets brushed once a day if it’s lucky. Finding the brush is the least of my worries. The bedside cabinet drawer is falling apart. I have a tool box.

What happened?

Those sunshine dreams turned into nightmares (in the pouring rain) which dissolved into restless peace. No one takes my breath away without my permission nowadays. Requests to do so are less frequent than before.

Once upon a time the future will be forgotten, the jobs all done, and the boxes ticked and packed in the back of an unmarked vehicle; destination everywhere.

Right now I’m doing a collision course in unexpected reactions to unpredictable behaviour. I could have told them but they only listen to lies. The truth is in the middle.

The countdown starts here and now. 22 words unwritten.


Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 8 August 2012

Last modified by Deborah Caulfield, 8 August 2012

Making a picture on a cloudy day.

It's Tuesday and it's cloudy.

You know when you're tidying up your sock drawer, chucking out ones you haven't worn for years, as well as the ones with holes in, putting the winter ones in a box.

Then you come across a fish net stocking and sling it in the bin.

Then you take it out and put it over your head.

Which gives you an idea ...

So you take it off and start applying thick black make-up over your face.

Because you're quite angry about all the advertising aimed at women having to look young, pretty, cute and sexy all the time.

Because you're not young. Nor are you sexy-looking (you never wanted to be).

The pressure to look beautiful and attractive started when you were a baby, with pink bootees, and continued through childhood and beyond.

Because if you don't look beautiful, no one loves you, right?

So you stick the stocking back over your head and face, and take photos of yourself, and start searching for other images to cut, paste and generally tweak. You use your phone to take a photograph of a bag your sister gave you. It has a flower design on it. You bluetooth it onto the computer

So you spend over ten hours on this image, making several versions.

Which is a good thing to do when you're depressed.

Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 27 June 2012

Last modified by Daniel McLoughlin, 27 February 2013

Where am I? The clue is in the picture.

Not for the first time, I’ve been showing a lack of commitment, blowing hot and cold. This time it’s art and disability politics where I am conspicuous by lack of appearance.

Reading other peoples news, reviews and points of view, I think, I wasn’t there (again).

Why does this keep happening (if it does)?

Am I any different (worse or better) from anyone else?

Basically, I’m wondering if there is something wrong; with me.  Or maybe it is that my life is too damn chaotic for any kind of long term relationship, except where blood, life and death are the main ingredients.

So if there are things going on without me, where am I and what am I doing?

I am here. I am trying to be me.

Surely this is enough for any artist.


See the complete Cornwall Farm Sketchbook in my Flickr photostream.










Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 25 June 2012

Last modified by Deborah Caulfield, 25 June 2012

Two legs good enough. One leg irrelevant.

Listed in DAO’s job opportunities is an advert by Peut-être Theatre.

They’re looking for a disabled male dancer/actor for their next Xmas show for children, a dance-theatre version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Steadfast Tin Soldier.

The ad says: ‘In the story the tin soldier only has one leg and so, to honour the story, we are hoping to work with a dancer who also only has one leg.’

I am wondering who will respond. I daresay some will jump (hop?) at the opportunity to work.

So will they be required to perform without their prosthesis the whole time? I’m very concerned about this.

I expect non-amputees will apply, on the basis that, like Dudley Moore in the One Leg Too Few sketch he performed with Peter Cook, it’s a simple matter to tuck the unwanted and superfluous limb behind, up inside their coat.

However, I doubt this would convince Peut-être. The ad asks for a photo, suggesting they are not planning on being fobbed off by frauds or wannabe amputees.

If I was awarding points for inclusion, I’d give Peut-être ten out of ten for recruiting a disabled person for the lead role. Then I’d deduct ten points for picking The Steadfast Tin Soldier, because it detracts from, if not negates, the company's attempt at authenticity and equality.

Having just read it (twice) I am not sure to what extent the toy soldier’s one-leggedness is pivotal.

Key to The Steadfast Tin Soldier's story, as I see it, is that he stays rock-solid, despite his life threatening ordeal, in which, among other things, he falls out of a window and is chased by a huge rat. He's a survivor. So far so positive.

The little uniformed chap is totally smitten with the paper ballet dancer, queen of the cardboard castle. Unfortunately, he’s unable to communicate with her. All he can do is look.

His chronically low self esteem is counter-balanced by a strong sense of duty. Nothing induces him to part with his rifle, which remains resolutely pointed over his shoulder throughout.

Despite his suffering, this military mite never complains, believing it to be beneath his station to express his needs. This is a very bad message for a disabled character.

I urge Peut-être's writer or director to exercise some artistic license and reinstate the missing leg. The story will lose none of its meaning and entertainment value if the main character has the full set of lower limbs, like his 24 compatriots.

No one will notice. It won’t make any difference to the fate of the little man. His bravery and fearlessness is due to his being a highly trained killing machine, fiercely loyal to queen, country and horrible little boys. His leglessness is irrelevant.

Moreover, the story is not short of tear-jerking moments. We have the evil troll who is very likely responsible for all the bad things that happen to the hero, a flimsy damsel with whom he falls in love, and a big fish that gobbles him up and is then gutted.

The story is typical of the triumph-over-tragedy genre that is responsible for much of the negative stereotyping of disability. However, unlike that other Hans Andersen hero, The Ugly Duckling, The Steadfast Tin Soldier does not triumph, unless you consider it to be a good outcome to burn to death next to the object of your unrequieted love.

Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 15 May 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 27 February 2013

Participation. Part I: The best show in town.

Community participation in the arts is flavour of the month. So while there’s funding, I'm making the most of it, grabbing every opportunity that comes my way.

Workshops run by experienced practitioners are a fun way to learn new skills and develop confidence.

Last week I took part in a badly advertised and poorly attended workshop in a cold and echoey local sports hall. It was brilliant!

A professional facilitator (ex?), I'm the world's best participant. If I'm there it's because I want to be. I'll do pretty much anything, as long as it doesn't involve jumping, running, skipping or anything else overtly physical (because even if I can it hurts so I don't).

Lucy Foster, director at Improbable, introduced us to some of the improvisation techniques she uses in devising and rehearsing her work. These were loosening up exercises designed to release the mass of stuff that's in our head all the time, though we don't know it: words, thoughts, ideas, descriptions, reactions, memories, feelings...

To begin with Lucy had us walking around the room, looking at the things around us and saying ‘I see...’ followed by 'window, chair, mark on the wall' etc. The aim was to be spontaneous, to not think about it but to just say it. Moving around meant there was no time to ruminate or prevaricate; no time to ctiricise or judge. Once it's been said, there's no going back.

Another exercise involved walking around in pairs, arm in arm (with strangers!  Lack of introductions was a serious omission.) doing that word association type of thing, where one person says something and the other says something; together, somehow, a narrative emerges.

It was great. I'm using the ideas now, to write this.

In the second half we wrote a story based on experience, about being pirate-like, unapologetically bold, brave, boisterous, or just pleasantly barmy.

Lastly, in groups of four and facing the audience, we read out our stories in snippets, cutting into each other’s when directed by Lucy. Life is like this.

Participants were offered £5 tickets for that evening’s performance The Pirate Project at the Corn Exchange, Newbury. This is the subject of my next blog.


Picture: My sketch of a workshop at Peace News Summer Camp 2011.

Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 9 May 2012

Last modified by Deborah Caulfield, 9 May 2012

Writing: pulling no punches.

In his blog Rich Downes asked what is writing? Really.

I said, for me right now writing is like punching a hole in the fog that surrounds me.

And then I thought, it's like having a pillow fight without the pillow case.

My head is in another place, on another wave. I'm studying web design (a slow process) and currently  learning to use Adobe Flash (see example), which is amazing, but it means the wordy part of my brain keeps dozing off.

I'm sure it's a blip.

For now, however, this is the best I can do.


Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 6 May 2012

Last modified by Deborah Caulfield, 6 May 2012

Lost and found: An old school doodle.

I’ve lived in so many places; I’m amazed anything important has survived. Drawings, oil paintings, sketch books - lost, stolen, destroyed (by me) or just gone…

A few oil paintings were recently discovered in the form of two and a quarter inch square negatives. I hope to have these digitally rescued soon.

The earliest surviving example of my artistic output is this scribble, from my skooldaze. I was about 12 years old.

The picture (scanned and edited in Photoshop) shows the back and front of the wrapping band of a packet of envelopes, which I expect was bought from the school tuck-shop (because the local shops were out of bounds.)

Fellow post-war baby-boomers may recognise the MainLine branding. Look at the price: 3d three old pence. Today’s 5p is the equivalent of twelve pre-decimalisation pence.

The doodle was done in red, black and green biro, probably one of those fat things that had three or four colours in one. Great, but why did they always break before the ink ran out?

Despite its lack of monetary value, the object sheds light on a number of factors that resonate and still have meaning.

For example, I was unsure about the spelling of ‘boring’. It still doesn’t look right to me. If not for my word processor’s spell checker, I would still be doubtful.

To whom was the message shown? A friend, of course, but who?

The bearded chap was my class and art teacher, Mr Pinner. He looks a lot like Jesus.

The drawing on the right shows his talent for raising one eyebrow. The upwards turn of one side of his mouth suggests he’s annoyed. He used to call out: ‘Gas bags - deflate!’

Apparently I was always talking and giggling in class. My school reports testify to my annoying (for adults) habit of being more interested in having fun than knuckling down to hard work. My parents were furious; double trouble.

Mr Pinner often referred to me as ‘Cackling Witch’ because of my laugh. Was this funny or cruel?

Drawing caricatures was possibly a way of coping with feelings of powerlessness. Mostly it was an escape from soul destroying tedium and a relief from the mind numbing boredom.

Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 29 April 2012

Last modified by Deborah Caulfield, 30 April 2012

Blogging: An opening-up activity.

Two friends wrote to me recently, after seeing my blog. Both are writers, sometimes stuck and not yet published. One wrote:

"I've just kept the doors closed on so many things which I now find almost impossible to express … as if I always need to air my feelings and thoughts first to an objective person, to get their approval and permission to feel the way I do. …so difficult to get back into my writing … things I need to write about but feel far too inhibited."

Another friend sent me this poem (it inspired this picture) and permission to publish it anonymously.


Unwashed unshaven his smell filled her room
Belching loudly he peered into the gloom
Staggering forward he stood by her bed
His rough calloused hands caressing her head.

Pulling aside her ladybird vest
He pinched and bruised her newly formed breast
Her body cried out in fear and disgust
This was her stepfather the man she should trust.

Pulling the sheet tight under her chin
She can see his face clearly
The cruel sneering grin.
No one will help her she can't understand why
As she curls into a ball to silently cry.

About the picture my friend wrote:

"The Clown with the psychedelic colours .. phew .. pretty scary !!

It has always been a dark secret deep inside me .. so the picture .. as I see it ... is like a release after all these years to actually tell someone else about it explosion of feelings .. shown in your picture by the psychedelic explosion of colour ... yet still a bad memory ... my overall feeling at the time .. was having to keep it secret .. that made it so much worse and the guilt of course... it cut me off from people ... hard to explain in writing easier when speaking to you. .... !

Not sure about Teddy with that smile on his face ... if he had known what was happening .. he would have been sad ..."

I replied that the teddy bear symbolises the trusting innocence of childhood. I had thought of doing a child's hand, and might put this in the next version.

Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 11 April 2012

Last modified by Deborah Caulfield, 20 April 2012

Every picture tells a story, but whose, and about what?

About this picture …

The background is a sunny beach. The yellow represents the sand; the blue is the sea and sky.

The wardrobe represents my mother. She had a concern for physical appearance that bordered on obsession. She spent a lot of time on her hair, clothes and make-up, trying to look glamorous; but only when she went out.

The fish represents me.

As a child I was criticised a lot by adults, particularly my mother, especially about the way I looked, but also about what I said, how I said it, what I did and didn’t do. Etc etc.

Growing up, I always felt I was in the wrong place. At home, I felt scared and rejected. At Chailey I felt scared and rejected.

The inspiration for this picture is a black and white photograph taken on the beach at Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex. I was five years old.

In the photograph I’m struggling to hold myself up. I’m extremely thin, ill with a second bout of TB Spine. I’m smiling, of course.

My mother relaxes in a deck chair, wearing sun glasses. Composed. Posing.

The point about these pictures and this blog is about finding images that speak to a deeper truth.

I’m not sure how healthy this is, or if it is a good use of my time. This is a genuine and lifelong worry.

Is there something else (better) I should be doing?

PS. The fish is made of wood. It's beautiful, I think. I bought a whole shoal of them, twenty odd years ago, from Reading International Solidarity Centre.



Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 26 March 2012

Last modified by Deborah Caulfield, 27 March 2012

Hot summers, sticky sweets, and not so golden days.

This picture is the latest in what I believe will be a long series, the working title of which is ‘Sundays’.

Whereas the first one was hand drawn and painted, Sweet Sunday was created digitally, with a camera and scanner to get the images into the computer. I used a combination of  Serif and Adobe software to edit the images and create the picture.

As previously described, Sunday visiting in the institution was special, extraordinary and transient.

Visitors invariably brought sweets. Not all would be eaten on the day. In later years, when I could walk about, I would save some, keeping them in my locker. This gave me a problem because I hated throwing away the wrappers. They were symbols of something rare and precious. Treasure.

The shape of the sweet wrappers reminded of people standing. So I lined them up, like a row of visitors at the bedside. My mother, who was pathologically self centred, occasionally brought aunts, uncles and cousins to see me. This was to show them how much she was suffering because of my illness.

We had proper hot summers in those days, hence the golden yellow background.

For several years I was completely static, strapped to a plaster bed. The wooden artist’s mannequin seemed a good image to convey this inertness, the limited amount of movement I had. The face is a scanned drawing done by my daughter age nine. I came across it recently during a rummage for old snaps (photographs, in post-war parlance).

The building on the left, part of the old school house at Chailey Heritage, substitutes for the dolls house my parents brought for me to play with during their visits.

The teddy bear came from Ikea a couple of years ago. He is naturally shy but enjoys being in my pictures. I didn’t have a bear as a child. I had a pink rabbit. It was thrown onto the roof of the ward by bad boy David Fox.

It’s a huge though somewhat time-consuming relief finally to give visual expression to these childhood events. I realise now that this is more than mere self-indulgence, but necessary coming-to-terms story-telling. It isn’t just my story.

It is an equally huge blessing that DAO has given me this blog space, to share and get feedback on my words and pictures, which is always pleasing.


Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 25 March 2012

Last modified by Deborah Caulfield, 25 March 2012

Symbolism, memory and truth - picturing the past.

For decades I have wanted to write stories and paint pictures about my childhood. I've made many attempts, but with little sucess.

Many old photographs have survived, particularly of my parents visiting me in hospital and Chailey Heritage. In the early ones, I'm very ill. Nearly all of them show big smiles and hugs. Memories tell  it differently.

Copying photographs can be pointless and dreary. But recently, while doing just that, something unusual happened.

As I was drawing, I kept asking myself, what's happening in this photo, underneath? What's really going on? What is it that the photograph doesn't show? Then, as I doodled and drew, exaggerating the facial expressions... a kind of grotesque caricature emerged.

Then I woke this morning and it hit me. I had found the imagery, the language, the motif. The circus clown. And Pierrot.

This is the first proper sketch, made this evening. I was trying out the idea to see if it works. It does!

So, what's the story?

Visiting to the ward lasted two hours on Sunday afternoons. My parents’ visits were infrequent, so it was always a special occasion. Their journey was long, there and back. Years later my mother told me that she and my father often had a row just before leaving the house and travelled separately.

The ward sister insisted we looked our best for our visitors. Ribbons and shiny faces from a tin kept for special occasions.

My parents would come prepared for an afternoon of fun: Wind-up gramophone (Que Sera, Sera ); jelly in a jar; a dolls house and other toys that couldn’t be left behind because it wasn’t safe. I couldn’t look after them. They arrived in bags and left in the same bags, leaving behind a gaping hole of sorrow.

Sometimes they came in a car, other times buses brought them and took them away again. For ever, possibly. How was I to know?

There are dozens of photographs and many more images and motifs to use: a Southdown bus, a windmill, a church (two actually), a little hut called Pax Est - to name but a few.

I've made an important breakthrough. It feels great.

Posted by , 13 March 2012

Last modified by Deborah Caulfield, 25 March 2012

Dean Rodney Singers: Reaching for the stars. They’re out there.

Dean Rodney

On February 29 I spent a happy afternoon in Deptford, South London, at The Albany, the home of several creative and performing companies, including Apples and Snakes, Headway and Entelechy Arts.

I was visiting Heart n Soul, a creative company that nurtures, supports and works with learning disabled artists. Together they make music, theatre, dance, visual art, digital art, films and clubs.

My mission was to get to the heart and soul of the enigma that is Dean Rodney Singers, who have been commissioned for Unlimited, a project celebrating disability, arts, culture and sport, as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

Heart n Soul

After a warm welcome from Sandra (Communications Officer), I met with Mark (Chief Executive/Artistic Director) who filled me in on all the detail. I asked about Heart n Soul.

Heart n Soul is a place of self-expression,’ Mark told me. ‘We’re not about labelling and we don’t tell people what to do.’

Heart n Soul works with talented and creative disabled and non disabled people, trying new ways of doing things. It’s about opening up creative paths for, by and with people who have a passion for making music, dance, or other art form.

Dean Rodney

When I met Dean he was rehearsing with his creative and dance mentors Adele and Mel. They were making film clips using an iPad, the cool technological tool at the core this epic enterprise.

Dean is a young man with energy and autism. He got involved with Heart n Soul when he was 14, taking to performing like a natural.

In 2005 he started his own band, Fish Police. The group is made up of Dean (rapper, co-songwriter), Matthew Howe (guitar) and Charles Stuart (keyboards, co-songwriter, background vocals).

Big music fans, their key musical influences range from Kraftwerk and Daft Punk to Bob Marley and Will Smith. They fuse all this with their passion for computer games, cartoons, fast food and Japanese culture to create their own distinctive sound.

Fish Police will be releasing an album in the summer 2012.

Dean Rodney Singers

In 2010, Dean wrote a song called the Dean Rodney Singers. It was about a mission – getting disabled and non-disabled artists from around the world to work together.

Dean Rodney Singers is Dean's personal vision, a mighty one that continues to evolve: 72 (seventy-two) performers from 7 (seven) countries - China, Japan, Brazil, Germany, Croatia, South Africa and UK. Together they will produce 21 (twenty-one) songs with videos. All of this on iPads.

Team Dean is, as I write, busy composing, curating, creating and sharing all manner of beats, bars, moves, grooves and images to inspire and get everyone started. All of it generated on an iPad using a whole range of amazing apps.

The songs will be written, composed, improvised and played by the band itself, using the best web technology they can get hold of.

The audience can be part of this too, watching and listening online, as it is being created, and contributing to it if they choose. Dean’s song MIMI will soon be available for remix.

The project’s finale will be an interactive sound and visual installation at the London Festival, 1 to 9 September 2012. This will be another chance for audiences to enter and be part of Dean’s world. They’ll be able to take get involved with the music, videos and images created, make their own track or appear in a video.


Keep up with Dean Rodney Singers here:

DRS Website

DRS YouTube Channel

DRS SoundCloud Page




Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 6 March 2012

Last modified by Deborah Caulfield, 7 March 2012

Looking forwards, looking back.

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.

On Tuesday 28th February I’m going to see1 Beach Road at South Street Arts Centre, Reading.

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.


Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 26 February 2012

Last modified by Deborah Caulfield, 26 February 2012

I'll probably apply for the Shape Open. Here goes what!

No more prevarication! I'm definitely going for it.


Shape is currently inviting applications for the Shape Open Exhibition to be held at the Portobello Gallery, Notting Hill, London, 23rd April to 5th May 2012.

The Shape Open Prize of £500 will be given to the artist with the best works in show as selected by the selection committee. The People’s Choice Award of £250 will go to the artist whose work has been most voted for by visitors to the exhibition.

The theme is disability, but this is it not about showcasing the work of disabled artists. All works will be considered, from both disabled and non-disabled artists.

Tony Heaton, Shape CEO explained:

This call for submissions is open in every sense. The word, disability, is open to interpretation.

Ben Fredericks, curator at Shape added:

Disabled people have reclaimed the word disability; we don’t need to hang on to it. The focus is on the art, not the artist, disabled or otherwise.

It will be interesting to see what happens.

Might this be an open invitation for non disabled artists to express what we already know: that disability remains, to a large extent, something to be feared or dreaded, ignored or deplored?

And yet, to the extent that artists represent the masses, what a brilliant opportunity to test the mood of the nation.

In these days of cuts to services, the persistence of the right-to-die brigade, and the real threat of disabled people disappearing back behind the gates of institutions, I often wonder quite what people actually think; if they think at all, that is.

This will be only the second time I've submitted to an exhibition in over thirty years.

Moreover, I have never made a picture about disability. I've been doodling but as yet, no big ideas have emerged, although I'm working on it. Really I am. 

This is a version of an article I wrote for Disability Horizons.

Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 22 February 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 24 February 2012

Reasons to look forward to watching crips swear and lark about on stage next week.

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.

One day...
Charlie Swinbourne previews Reasons To Be Cheerful

My reviews:
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.

Posted by , 7 February 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 6 March 2012

A bigger bummer

Once upon a time block-buster art shows were sweaty occasions where we crawled around the galleries in rugby scrums, catching brief glimpses of the exhibits if we were lucky. Most unpleasant.

Happily, the modern art of crowd control as practiced by the Royal Academy last week, meant that Hockney’s A Bigger Picture was, for the most part, a cool and comfortable experience. Entrance was staggered and numbers limited. There was space to move, with ease. I could stare and study the pictures for as long as I liked.

Except for the culture coach trippers.

I was sitting on the bench resting my bones, taking a longer look at the art, when along came a trio of ladies in lemon up from Leatherhead, complete with holiday hair and matching handbags. They stationed themselves between me and my hero, their bums in my face, nattering non-stop about some nonsense to do with one of their number who was not attending.

Eventually my amazed gaze got to them, and they sidled off to join the rest of their party. In the tea rooms, probably.

It’s a day’s work, going to an art exhibition. And a day’s work writing the review. So I’ll stop here
and get on with it.

Posted by Deborah Caulfield, 30 January 2012

Last modified by Deborah Caulfield, 30 January 2012

Words and pictures

These days I draw without passion or compulsion. I do it with complete acceptance and absolute commitment. I don’t have to do it. It’s not a problem.

Drawing is a conversation between me and the world. Everything I see is a potential picture. When I’m drawing (I sometimes use water colour and coloured pencil) I feel I’m connecting with the subject, and with the space around and between us.

These are moments of being.

Drawing is handy when not much is happening. There are always interesting shapes to look at and do something with. Station platforms and hospital waiting rooms are excellent places to see people shapes. Parks are good for trees and dogs. Gardens give me cats and birds. The view from my window is all roof tops and cars.

Occasionally I draw from imagination, old photographs and memories. But the marks in these pictures always seem to lack the vitality and variety of my ‘seen’ work. I’d like to make pictures that say something about disability, but it’s a struggle.

Writing is different. Words are like the cartilage in my joints, the oxygen in my blood, and the pigment in my skin.

Words give me direct lines to people I love and need.

Words come from a different place in my head. It’s a word-eat-word world in there, a jungle of thoughts running and jumping around. Like wild beasts who have been caged for too long, they’re ambivalent about freedom. I won’t throw away the key yet though, just in case.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 20 January 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 27 January 2012