Digital friends, electronic social life, podcast entertainment, filmed performance: all good, but no substitute for the real live thing.
Not living in London, access (including financial access) to the phenomenon known simply as 2012, was problematic. Knowing no local people with any real interest in experiencing the Cultural Olympiad, I actually felt far more isolated than involved.
I was at the mercy of the media, and misleading statements like The Best Disability Arts practitioners are at the Southbank. Arguably some of the best were; some of the best were not, I found it important to remind myself as I struggled to negotiate the London Trap.
I had friends who were doing the Oparalympics, and it was interesting to observe how they reacted to all the media hype about the New Attitude to disability and disabled people.
I'm planning to make a record during the coming months, of the progress of my personal legacy from the Oparalympiad, and since I won't be taking up any new sports, we are talking cultural legacy here and my expectations have been raised.
To ensure fair measurement I am working on a lympiometer.
Areas to be measured include inspiration, motivation, productivity, heritage happiness and sense of integration.
Keen to get some numbers into the lympiometer as soon as possible, I actually started before the Oparalympiad was over:
Inspiration? Emotional Oparalympiad exhaustion was draining any personal hopes of inspiration, so not much to record here. I'm working hard at maintaining the sparks already lit, and currently relying heavily on the Blue Peter strategy.
Motivation? Mmmh. Another zero score. The overwhelming (tantalising and mostly out of reach), offer of so unbelievably much packed into such a short period of time, seemed to function more as a deterrent. I'm having to exert a lot of pressure on myself to battle doubts and keep going.
Productivity? Ooops a minus score here. I am still working, but slowing. Things are bound to improve if I can just hang on in there.
Heritage happiness? Too soon to tell. I'm feeling very mixed up right now. I feel a bit like my artist has creative indigestion; nothing serious, just an uncomfortable lack of happiness and reasons to persevere.
Integration? A section of the population is more aware and more openly curious.
The blanket shade of pity has nuances; the Lexi-effect has people speculating on my capabilities, none of this feels very inclusive - yet.
Disability? How do I feel about being disabled? Confused, inadequate, defensive - all those supercrips are kind of overwhelming.
Do I have expectation of improvement? Yes definitely! My 2012 Day needs time to sink in, and that New Attitude is surely going to have a positive effect on paralife
Shambolic as it turned out to be, my London 2012 day was an accidental success, so sitting in the dark with a dubious view of the Queen Elizabeth Hall stage, the edge of my apprehension was blunted by an ok exhaustion.
My first impressions of a group of murderous sticks served to reinforce the stereotypes generated by my crutches Fred and George; I sent frequent glances towards the putative security of the exits.
Nameless as Claire Cunningham's crutches were, they still managed to sign Fred and George menacingly in my direction until the magical moment when Claire deftly dismembered Fred. Secret joy bubbled in my throat, as I went on to see her pulling sticks to pieces, with calculated intensity.
The primitive and Oz-innocent scarecrow she put together with sticky tape could have been delicious revenge, but Claire's poignant, haunting words and powerful dance indicated a totally different relationship.
The joyful bubble burst into metaphorical tears as my heart ached with her exploration of loneliness and isolation.
The happily-ever-after option hinted at by injections of humour, was, like me, left behind by whimsical mood shifts that took me full circle back to my own relationship with those uncomfortable, impersonal objects I name Fred and George.
Nit-picking, I'm going to say that some clever and very beautiful stage design at times outstayed it's welcome; one lengthy, intense background sound bullied it's way forward to painfully dominate my headspace and a too-long age of writhing about on the floor in the semi-dark left me thinking of my missed train.
Apart from these small issues of timing, this was as polished and professional a performance as anyone could have have wished for.
And a magical glimpse into life's lonely-moments that we can all, one way or another, identify with.
I arrive with baggage.
The venue does nothing
to release me into
it's offer of magic.
Servants of archaic
bricks and mortar send me
hither and thither. With
smiles and apologies,
I'm set free in a dark,
steep cavern to await
the Menage a Trois.
So many wheelborne,
give this old edifice
an unexpected weight.
Meet Fred. Meet George.
I hate them both. Totally interchangeable hatred; one left, one right, mirror twins. Totally interchangeable names.
I knew a man who hated sheep, he said that sheep have only one raison d'etre which is to die in the most inconvenient place possible. Fred and George must have been sheep in a previous life.
Now they are just sticks. Metal sticks with plastic cuffs and hand-shaped branches, whose sole purpose is to crash to the floor as frequently and inconveniently as possible.
They have clones littering up the place, but still just two interchangeable names.
And I hate all of them. I resent their clacking clumpiness and their ability to transform me into a four legged animal.
They are frequently laying traps to break my limbs and destroy my credibility. They wreck havoc with my appearance ruining my lines, destroying my clothes in the process and my arms with it, their cuffs leaving bruised manacle-echoes just above my elbows and holes in my knitwear.
Fred and George masquerade as cheeky monkeys who are here to give me their full support, but make no mistake, they are bullies; abusive 'partners' never satisfied with less than dominating our relationship.
I resent the way they use me, they are only sticks. They consume my energy, like thieves. Manipulative and demanding, everything we do is on their terms.
Meet Fred, Meet George. I hate them both.
I've a ticket to Claire Cunningham's performance in Saturday's Unlimited at Southbank, I feel sick with apprehension.
Babies and animals
move about on all fours.
The symbolic value of my crutches
is not lost on me.
Metal legs expose me
as the wounded animal
even when I meet you
at eye level. Face to face.
This is the last in the series. The timing is deliberate - this is my contingency bowl.
In case time and tide conspired against 'Creating the Spectacle!' In case the event was cancelled; in case the worst case scenario swallowed up the adventure and the underwater wheelchair disappeared into oblivion.
But actually it also makes a rather splendid trophy to present, with a fanfare, to all the successful participants of the most carefully prepared and choreographed adventure - the journey across the Fleet.
Sue and the underwater wheelchair, the undeniable stars of the occasion, were backed up, supported, carried, by the skills, knowledge and talents of dedicated teams all totally inspired by her wild idea and persistent enthusiasm.
Like the legend of history, 'Creating the Spectacle!' had no power over the tide; yet forever undaunted, the team completed their mission and this new legend was fact for a day.
And like the red carnations that bloomed over the water and sailed out on the tide, the story will travel, the myth of the chairborne aquanaut will spread and grow as the journey continues.
Lapping relentlessly against
prejudice and preconceptions,
the tide of enthusiasm
rebrands the stereotype,
the metaphor that presents all
and every disability
as cheat or hero, scrounger or
object of pity. Introducing
Individuals, people with
real lives, real hearts, real connections
that link us all into one world;
one people. The diverse glory
of the human race, Homo Sapiens
I could hardly sleep a wink last night. I might have been a little busy this week, but today has had big, bold, red pencil marks all over it for a while now. Depending on the weather, the tides, fate...Today is the day!
Today, in filming for 'Creating the Spectacle!' the underwater wheelchair takes what anyone could only describe as the absolute scariest part of it's journey.
I'm heading for Portland to be witness and part of the audience for this stage of the project. I shall be travelling with mixed feelings; I am looking forward to seeing Sue and the underwater wheelchair in the water again: that bit is positively magical.
But the underwater wheelchair cannot be confined to a pool, even one as deep as the Osprey Leisure Centre's.
Today Sue and the underwater wheelchair are going to be filmed disappearing into the sea.
A lagoon? Thats like South Seas or something?
Warm, clear water; it sounds so inviting,
not sure about the wheelchair though. Why not
just dive? The Fleet? Where's that, somewhere local?
Oh that changes everything. Bloody cold
off Portland. With bad tides round Chesil Beach,
plus that lurky, murky, muddy sea-bed...
I dunno why, but somehow the wheelchair
makes some kind of crazy sense; now I know.
Fleet Lagoon: that really is so awesome.
The eagle eyed DAO reader just might have noticed that the image used (yesterday) in Earthbowl 1 was not actually from 'Creating the Spectacle!'
'Portal' (2008), that iconic picture of Sue Austin under water in a wheelchair, was however our first hint of things to come - watch this space!
The Earthbowl series continues with an image from the early development stages of the project when the chair was still being refined and Sue was still learning how to control it.
Earthbowl 2 contains an image from the clinical waters of a diving pool where Sue, almost unrecognisable without that signature dress (but check out the hair), wears the full diving gear - necessary for any time spent performing in colder waters.
The finned wheelchair, well rehearsed in chlorinated diving, had not at this point had much opportunity to expand it's horizons; but after it's first globetrotting adventure, LinkUpArts was thrilled to be able to invite people to Sue's presentation (at Salisbury Arts Centre earlier in the month) documenting 'Creating the Spectacle!' to date and featuring The Underwater Wheelchair.
On stage, as it were,
facing a live audience,
the chair acquires gravitas;
a quiet dignity
it does not possess poolside.
It also radiates
solemnity in this
at odds with it's adventurous
Striped of it's blanket disguise
it waits patiently while it's
and progression unfolds;
It's historical journeys
roll out over the big screen
behind, until the moment
we, the audience, are free
to surround and admire;
to touch and covet the
21 June - 14 July 2012, Salisbury Arts Centre.
Relay: handing the baton of inspiration through time and across disciplines, has produced this exhibition at Salisbury Arts Centre.
I should, at the outset, declare my involvement, both as an artist and wordsmith and also as member of LUAN (LinkUpArtists Network) whose work, together with images from LUAN member Sue Austin's 'Creating the Spectacle!' represents LinkUpArts' presence as one of Salisbury Arts Centre's Creative Partners.
Like previous exhibitions showcasing work produced by the artist-tutors and their workshop participants, this one, extending to resident artists, groups, creative partners and resident companies, is buzzing with energy and talent.
Resident potter, Mirka Golden-Hann, exhibits Choreographed Vessel, a plain and elegant porcelain bowl on which moving images of dancers are projected - a work bringing to life the ancient Greek concept of Kalokagethia (harmony of physical and spiritual endeavour), through the talents of filmmakers, dancers and of course Mirka herself.
Anthony Aston, currently the Arts Centre's Technical Manager, has been experimenting with mapping projections to three diminutional surfaces and a resulting digital piece involving the resident youth dance company, Jigsaw, and a regular life drawing group, is most effectively exhibited on the Altar Stage wall.
These two pieces popped out at me at the preview, but there is so much more to see and I'm looking forward to revisiting Relay. The Totem Poles and various smaller intricate pieces need more time, as do the Kingfisher Poets, and there is also the intriguing live performance of the dissolving clay city on Saturday 14th July at 11.00
We read your poem and we cried.
My words adorn, caress the clay;
the tiny figure perched atop
the totem pole is helter-skelter
me with buttercup dust still gold
on my toes. Who would be thinking
the lover who opened my eyes and
brought me back to life, would yet be
muse; his inspiration handed,
artist to artist, maker to
maker; enduring pregnation,
perpetual, powerful. Who
would have dreamed this muse would
have so much life in him.
I had a meeting to attend, in my home town, just 8 minutes away in the car, however it became necessary to travel in my wheelchair so I allowed a good hour. It wasn't enough.
Deeply shaken and in a lot of pain I was forced to abandon my journey after an hour. I was two thirds of the way there.
Wheelborne, do I have the right to expect that a pavement should be accessible and traversable? Do I have the right to expect that a dropped curb should facilitate my safe delivery to a second level?
Or should I anticipate that any journey I might undertake here on these pavements might endanger my life and health with pits and ruts that threaten to immobilise or overturn my wheelchair; or cambers and angled surfaces that deliver me, powerless, into a stream of traffic?
What exactly is a pavement for? What makes it fit for purpose? Do wheelborne people have any rights to safety as pedestrians?
Can anyone possibly imagine I can be integrated into mainstream existence when just turning up is so fraught with personal danger?
Can anyone possibly imagine I can be integrated when urban geography conspires to ensure my absence?
Can anyone possibly imagine integration without the possibility of presence?
What price spatial justice?
Wake me up when it's all gone away,
the cultural olympiad, the
blonde moment, the vital distraction.
Wake me up when you want to talk
about the simple, ordinary stuff
like feeling safe and welcome; being
expected, planned for and valued.
Yes, wake me up when the madness leaves;
when you're ready to talk equality;
access to welfare, health, and safety;
to simple shopping for clothes and food.
Let me know when the big attention
stealing drama gives way to the post
event paralysis, remind me...
of your fantasy: the legacy.
Last weekend I attended a performance related workshop; I had completed two application forms, one for me and one for the chair. Currently the chair, my chair, and I are in a difficult relationship because I never quite got over my month with the skinny-wheeled Japanese model.
The workshop was fun, creative and quite demanding. I poked and prodded at personal boundaries as we explored ways of working autobiographically. During the process and all through this week I have been busy in my head-space and coming to the conclusion that I have been lazy in my relationship with my chair.
Friday before the weekend, on Portland, I met Sue (Creating the Spectacle) Austin's underwater wheelchair; looking like a basking bird and performing like a walrus on land, it was transformed with Sue under water to encompass qualities of a magical, mystical sea-creature.
So, do I also posses the power to transform my chair; to control or remove it's cloaking spell? Am I fooling myself when I think I may even have magical cloaking spells of my own? Can I actually make my chair disappear? And how does that impact on the relationship?
Will you push me in?
Sue straps herself into
the chair's ungainly embrace;
unwinds her mouthpiece
from it's tangle with the frame
and checks for air. Team Go.
Dragging fin-wings like a
wounded bird, the chair makes
clumsy lurch into the water.
Compassion hovers. Stunned
I hold my breath as the
transformation catches me.
Instantly elegant, the chair and Sue
begin to play, to dance,
an underwater flight more
familiar to dolphins
and whales; to Veasta and mermaid
than any mere human.