Creatives in Con.Text, the work from which the idea for this exhibition exhibition evolved, is awaiting further conversation with a printer, Sue Austin and Liz Crow are finessing 'Creating the Spectacle!' (film) and 'Bedding Out' respectively; 'People Like You' is coming together.
The five soft-sculpture figures jostle, in my head, for the most effective way to relate to each other and to the architecture on offer. Two of them are pretty much decided.
It is totally instinctive
the small in-breath and holding it.
The body angle, response to
spatial awareness, shoulders just
so and heartbeat nudging increase.
Without eye contact, conscious yet
unconscious; focused on other
for the instant of pushing through.
access demand brief encounter;
fleeting engagement with naked
exposed skin, breaching personal
space, hinting towards Imponderabilia
an artwork that demands your
on a physical level not
accessible to anyone
clothed in a metal framework;
people whose personal space boundaries
have no finer sensation.
Kouros and Koure stand before steps, their own naked fragility holding traces of each passing encounter. They stand wide enough apart to accommodate any wheelchair, yet they stand before steps. Kouros and Koure offer you space to consider access: public, personal, intimate,
And they challenge you to consider the weighty negativity of being continually offered so much more personal space than courtesy, or naked skin, demands.
Distance is key.
We trash countless blind alleys while I attempt to nudge this snorting black nightmare closer to something solid and dependable like a wall. And the walls disappear leaking us into further unforgotten realms in a maze of blindness, déjà-vu, multiplying, each fresh nightmare waiting in the wings like the wild goose eager and ready to take its turn leading the horde; eager like the wolf, to close in with the pack.
And countless horses crowd every nook and cranny of now with indestructible past; in a mindless trample of panic, the stampede opens its maw to consume me.
The preposterous assumption that just because some people can get out of wheelchairs and climb flights of steps it's ok to reckon that we all can, has been preying on my mind. With more and more people buying mobility equipment for a variety of reasons that may or may not be associated with disabilty, I wonder how Disability Equality trainers cope with this issue.
I'm well aware that the general public do not register the difference between wheelchairs and mobility scooters: wheels are wheels.
And there is also almost no differentiating between users of wheels - apart from gender. I get mistaken for the oddest of people and I do find it offensive that people who know me and the other people in question, cannot be bothered to register the difference.
I'm not talking about small, hard to spot differences, I am talking about being mistaken for the plump, blue eyed woman with both legs amputated; I'm a size small with khaki-green eyes and both my legs. I also get mistaken for the woman who always travels her powerchair with a walking frame, an assistance dog and wearing a neck brace. I have none of these.
I do have blonde hair long enough to pin up with a variety of trademark chopsticks, yet am frequently mistaken for a short and curly haired woman on a scooter.
What makes all this so ironic is that I'm currently working on material for an exhibition called 'People Like You'. The phrase, originally offered to me with the words: 'should be taken out and shot' is now intended to highlight our common humanity, infer equality and play with the implications of the word 'like'.
It isn't meant to suggest that wheelborne are all much of a muchness and indistinguishable from each other.
Hey guys it's me! No really,
I know I'm wearing wheels, but
honest, it's me and I'm not
sporting a wig. I haven't
shot the dog, or had a change
of personality. I'm
not wearing coloured contacts,
or borrowed legs, I'm not the
grumpy one who runs people
over. And I'm not the one
for screwing the
Hey guys, it's me.
The door is open, reversing I seek to bump my way up the small step. It is painful and I get stuck on my first attempt, but this is the only way in and I persevere. I check out the two rooms I can get to, but there is no-one.
There is no reply. I am actually three minutes late, having had to find a wheelchair accessible route around a flooded subway. I told everyone I would be here for this second consultation, but there is no one waiting. I roll as far as I can towards the sound of voices and call out again. Nothing. There are steps at each end of the entrance hall.
I wait, I call. Eventually I decide to leave.
A staff member strolls in and says that the meeting is not in the accessible room we used last time, but up a flight of stairs. It is suggested that I should be able to get there and a second person joins in the process of persuasion. These two women volunteer three absent men to lift my powerchair. They volunteer one to make a ramp for a steep flight of six steps in a small space. Several other badly informed access suggestions are offered. They are unsafe, undignified and unworkable and I refuse.
The ladies make it plain they find me uncooperative.
I am persuaded around to the outside right of the building to discover small steps and flights of steps not navigable in a powerchair. I am then led around the outside to the left, to further flights of steps I cannot navigate. At the top of the steps a man joins the ladies for a conversation while I am left waiting. At one point I hear him say no, the lawn is waterlogged; I can see that for myself.
It is cold. One of the women comes to suggest that I try the right again. At my less than enthusiastic response she walks away. I have had enough of the farce. Disappointed and offended, I roll home.
Later I get a phone call. The word apology is mentioned followed by the accusation that I was late; the speaker sugests that the inaccessible room is justified by my being late (three minutes), and the allegation that no one was certain I would be there. It is backed up by the assertion that since a lot of people in wheelchairs do get out to climb stairs it was not unreasonable to assume that I would too.
Considering the fuss I have been making about having an accessible meeting room, I wonder on what grounds the speaker feels justified in holding this preposterous opinion.
Since no-one told him I was there, the man making the phone call (same man who called the meeting), does not actually accept any fault, repeating that the meeting started on time and I was late.
I heard the apology word but I cannot accept it, I reject the guilt he tries to lay on me. This feels so much like the behaviour of an abuser blaming a victim and I refuse to be the victim.
Who or what kind of
leaves such a bad stain?
How sincere is an offered
delivered as a command?
How valuable is the word
backed up with accusation?
How much are empty
Saturday 10th November, Peter Catmull Theatre, Hythe: instepdance.co.uk
Thursday 29th November, Pavilion Dance, Bournemouth: paviliondance.org.uk
The Incredible Presence of a Remarkable Absence is the wonderfully apt title of Lila Dance's new 50 minute re-imagining of the world created by Samuel Becket in Waiting For Godot.
Entering the black cube of Salisbury Arts Centre's Main Space after the interval, the semblance of low mist at early dawn swirled from the dust covered floor. Four characters entered in hats of the pork pie/trilby/tweedy type and carrying small hessian sacks that spoke to me more of migrant hopefuls than Becket's shabby-chic end-of-the-roaders.
But the patterns on the floor as these eloquent bodies moved through the space, drew me in. The dancers connected with individual audience members, growing an intimate sense of involvement as they each revealed their peculiar personalities. Solemn or sad faces and sudden mood shifts created the uncertain atmosphere, but the Hat Dance made me smile and soon I too was involved in the waiting.
Swung between fragmented text and incredibly fluid, connected bodies I was drawn ever further into the stillness that is my own personal mode of waiting. The burden of these four uneasy characters killing time before my eyes, became my burden. I felt somehow in danger of loosing myself under the weight of it.
Disability, interdependence, manipulation, tenderness - issues that fought for attention while I watched, waited and absorbed movements that bypassed any kind of reason or rational thought, linking directly to my instinct and emotions.
By the end it seemed I had journeyed somewhere precarious and was not sure I would find my way back, my headspace now haunted with supplementary images of Munch's Scream and Kierkegaard's slightly odd love-letters.
Heavier than the pre-show handouts indicated, it really needed single billing. I needed to create space around it and in so doing, risked loosing sight of the humorous and sensual 'Not About Love' duet that had entertained me before the 20minute interval.
I am changed
or am I? Is it
my love that
or your love
that sees me
I am changed
or am I? No, or
Yes. And yes
I am changed
of how or why;
Having trouble with the precise positioning of Kosta's pecs, I decided to try Google. Before beginning on the life-size figures I did do a lot of research, which included borrowing medical tomes and studying anatomy on-line. However I never actually Googled a specific body part, and here at my first attempt found apparently exactly what I needed: Origin and Insertion, including details of the specific ribs these muscles are attached to and how they are attached.
This is particularly appropriate as I'm trying out a new way of putting the figures together, with all the defining muscles now underneath one skin layer. The problem of insertion was foxing me and resulting in Kosta's pectoralis major looking unnaturally high on his chest. Well, we weren't quite talking about the same thing, but I did actually find the Wikipedia article very helpful, and so did Kosta.
I'm having to work hard to stay focused on the sculptures because the Con.Text conversations are beginning to form themselves into text which is demanding visual interpretation. This, though very labour intensive, is fun and quite addictive, whereas the soft sculptures are physically painful to produce, but something I really need to do.
And then of course there is all the arts admin stuff, life, love, house'n home to keep balanced. These have to be glory days.
Out here, on the very fine edge
where pain, exhaustion, depression, are
held in precarious balance, I
risk being totally destabilised
by the ignorance of the witch-hunt
determined to demonise my need;
to expose a criminal cheat in the
monumental effort I make to
present myself as equal,
The 'new man' will be Kosta; not from coffee Costa, but from costa, the botanical noun for rib. Kosta, deriving from Kouros like Eve from Adam's rib, is in essence a clone.
Physically, he should still be recognisable as having the same basic body shape and measurements as Kouros; maybe it is possible that he could still be classed as one of the Kouroi, but he will lack the classic pose.
Kouros, referencing Venus the classic beauty, has no arms. Kosta also has no legs.
Like Kouros, Koure has no arms. Nothing at her shoulders, just the frayed edges of her torso; arms are not definitive of Kouroi in the same way that legs are. Kouros and Koure stand in the classic pose. Without one leg to place slightly in front of the other, will Kosta need a new label?
Where will this difference, this diversity, take Kosta? The imagination that might replace limbs will not have free reign, my imagination will already have made visible the roots Kosta has grown to survive.
Where might this take you? What kinds of links will influence how the 'new man' is described?
He is only soft sculpture, but how might Kosta be classified?
So many people I talk to seem to feel that the Paralympic classification system, Lexi, has given them permission to be more open with their curiosity and speculation. Some of the discussion has been very blunt.
A part of my 2012 legacy that I cannot ignore...
Where does humanity end?
How many variations
do we need before we
decide to draw the line?
To offer less, expect less;
to look away instead.
How much life can be
before we embody
with a less than human
right to equality?
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.
Fleeing corridors of dark paperwork, out into a sandy grey void, I am tossed in the silence of confused noise, into a maelstrom of tumbling toupees, wigs, and teeth torn from their roots.
The conjuring of the wind exceeds all expectation; toothless heroes of confused origin live and die in its breath. The dirty old man snogs scantily clad fantasies with mouthfuls of sandblasted chips. Cold whistles into motionless bones, and the void consumes fleeting distractions. The lost are torn apart. Wild mocks the words of cluttered mouths.
Tantrum stalks empty promise as stone roses churn in their grave, aching to rise and rehabilitate futile, soulless waves whose sound races to oblivion. The tethered Muse vomits neglect; while power presumes to be torn asunder, eternity and the myth wait: raised are their dripping oars.
Fire falls like a rain-curtain between me and the sea-edge of my nightmare; and one flame for every year of the lord wades into the black lap of the empty bay.
I want to enjoy
these moments of art.
that would speak to me
if I were not so
obsessed with detail.
If I didn't crave
some kind of perfection.
If I didn't need
Arts to be more,
and to be better.
Busy coping with the stress of getting there; the stress of feeling trapped and exposed on a viewing platform; the stress of chilled-to-the-bone induced pain and the frustration of Battle for the Winds apparent lack of professional polish,; the actual live performance of Breathe almost passed me by. But Battle for the Winds came back to haunt my sleep after revisiting Weymouth for 'Creating the Spectacle!' and discovering it's virtual return to grey normality - already.
I hope eventually to appreciate Breathe, with it's brilliant costumes and wild characters, through Diverse City's filmed documentation being presented as part of the London 2012 Festival,
30 August - 9 September
How does it make you feel?
The wheelless man with the microphone nods to his cameraman and leans towards me. I hesitate.
The freedom... he prompts. And I eventually respond.
What I really want to do is commandeer the microphone and turn the tables. You see I already know about the freedom. Being wheelborne is my freedom.
'Creating the Spectacle,' is not to be confined to inspiring the wheelborne, it is very much aimed at changing the attitudes of the wheelless.
It is not about turning the spotlight on 'the brave and inspirational disabled', although having such a splendid role model does me no harm at all.
You are missing the point, I want to shout, the point is how does it make you feel?
And if your gut reaction is to descend on the wheelless because you do not see yourself or other wheelless as 'concerned parties' then you really are missing the point.
And if you do not allow yourself to change, to respond enlightened, then you are denying a great deal of what 'Creating the 'Spectacle!' is about. You are throwing away all that fantastic inspiration, dismissing all that courage and bravery, wasting all that effort and determination.
I am infuriated when you praise me for doing the easy and trivial things on my wheelborne adventure; but your failure to engage with real courage, stunning determination and this brilliantly creative artwork is more than insulting.
And the freedom? 'Creating the Spectacle!' doesn't just allow me to dream, it allows you to dream with me; to open the cage of your imagination and set me free.
oh! I arrive my wheels, I arrive.
I come with the heartbeat, bringing life.
Bringing life, you come with the motion.
We have the energy for laughter.
I arrive my wheels, I arrive
with a slow humiliation.
The elegance I crave, a figment
of my hot imagination
until I rest in your embrace.
until we are one. and we glide.
oh! I arrive my wheels, I arrive
and we are reborn in the morning.
I ease from the upright agony of fire
into your enveloping embrace.
I arrive my wheels, I arrive
with a keen anticipation
to be rescued from the primitive
to our shared configuration.
oh my wheels, I am handicapped
until we are one. And we glide.
The next pool performance is on Friday, on Portland. www.wearefreewheeling.org.uk/freewheeling-performances
Epistemology has evolved via Web 2.0 (Wikipedia!) to entertain the departure from the classical perception of what is accepted as knowledge, to a collective perception of a shifting range of possibilities of knowing.
Inching back from my anxieties about social networking, I'm wondering about the positive possibilities it flags up for the whole issue of diversity.
If Diversity is a concept currently shaped by classical ways of knowing, by the human capacity of mind to encompass variations and label categories - to create order and the storage of retrievable information; and this is a task we are increasingly delegating to software programmes (which we currently attempt to construct in our own image), what will happen to our concept of diversity as we build the consensus-based creation that gives equal weight to facts, opinions and values?
What would happen:
If formal education embraced the epistemological changes that new technologies open windows on?
If we could be comfortable without the groups and categories, safe in the knowledge that nothing would get lost, nothing would slip through our fingers?
Would we still feel the same need to create the same hierarchies, impose the same value judgements?
If epistemological developments are allowed to shape our educational resources, increased storage and harvesting capacity could herald changes in the way we perceive and accept one another; in the way we understand or have a need for, the concept of diversity.
And would that concept flourish and evolve or become redundant?
Picking up dropped stitches
we gather the concepts
from our pasts and knit them,
the coat of many colours,
into the garment
that will clothe our future.
Back in 2006 'Bare Boards and Blue Stilettos' was an uncomfortable installation immersing the audience in faulty communication and uncertain access. I began working on it in 2005, it was my first major piece of Disability Art.
Fanny the (animated) wheelchair, never made it beyond BB&BS, but Jessie...
Jessie seeks to be 'People Like You' - she was my first soft sculpture, born out of despair (unlike Kouros and Koure), reaching down into the depths to make her connections. When '(it might be disability, but) it's Still Life' was exhibited at Holton Lee in 2011, Jessie was intended to join Kouros and Koure, lying in the ground beyond them, her searching roots just beginning to show.
I began working on the roots, but somehow it never came together. I had moved far from Jessie's dark despair and I kept wondering if it was all too personal. Would Jessie speak to anyone else? I tried to put her back in storage, but as soon as 'People Like You' began taking shape, Jessie put herself back on the agenda.
Jessie began in the conflict between my personal, private identity and the face I wore in public. Jessie, unable to stand, sought an identity through symbolic roots, roots burrowing into some other state of presence.
Stitching, I am drawn to link the roots I'm now creating with mobile phones (rooted androids, superusers) and social networking. Reaching into our own darkness, roots become symbolic of the search for connectedness and symbols of that never-in-the-present state most people seem to be practicing.
Between posting, pinning, texting and tweeting, my thought for the day is that social networking could be the Borg and we are all being assimilated, willingly. Eagerly assuming that we are each expressing our unique individuality, are we in fact creating one monstrous identity where each one of us is just one more line of code? Or is it something else?
Lying face in the grass
arms reaching out, fingers
rooting into dark earth,
I am aware of life past;
hearts that have rotted away
from disintegrating bones;
breath that still whispers love words,
lust that still moans desire;
reaching out, seeking me, pulling
me down, calling me in.
And I am aware of
the love lifting me back
home, the seismic shift
in my life, my destiny.
Jessie is looking good. Removing her hair was quite traumatic and I pondered the bald skull a while before deciding that it needed a little remodelling.
On the floor, a half-stuffed torso has joined the various body parts, I need more wadding before I can go further with the sculpture; it is hungry on wadding and I ferry the stuff home frequently. Tied to the back of my powerchair it gives a bulky profile that no-one would guess is a new body in the making.
Rooted people grow on the pages that I am so lucky to be able to sit outside and draw. I need to make the most of every good day.
I've just taken a break to Google 'rooted' in my quest for a name for the new man, and discovered rooted androids and superusers. I need to think about that.
Back in 2006 when Jessie lay in mute protest on her platform bed, superusers didn't exist. I had been drawing rooted people since art school, exploring issues of belonging, connecting and self-awareness, but I still left Jessie's seeking and reaching out as something suggested rather than created in 3D. The despair that engulfed me inhibited Jessie too.
At the time, Disability Arts was new to me and while it was giving me back a voice, that voice was very small and frail, I had yet to figure out how to use it.
Disability Arts found me;
held me spellbound in revelation;
poked and prodded at my strength
until my eyes opened in focus;
until my words made no-sounds,
until my fingers drew protests.
And remade the offer that is life.
The paralysing silence
shattered, and I became
When it comes to fancy dress I think I make a pretty good Borg Queen. And if the conversation dries, I can always announce: 'Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated' - which brings me neatly to the question of integration and, whilst I'm stitching sculptures, my current concern: 'Will Integration kill Disability Arts?'
Are we only here for the interim between barbarian past and enlightened future?
Will the real or imagined possibility of being embraced and valued fragment any hopes of recognised cultural diversity?
When the barricades come down will we have anything left to say together?
But are we actually on the brink of this much hyped adventure?
And after Integration will it matter who tells our history?
Who knows? These thoughts wriggle around in my head while I stitch roots.
Have we given enough thought to what we actually do want? Before we get there, we need to have realistically explored the options; we need to have taken responsibility for our Culture and ensured it's visibility and accessibility.
There is no way forward without this: we should be the keepers and curators of our past, present and future. If one day we should morph into Them, we will need to do it on our terms.
Then again, it is possible that we are not actually heading for any kind of Integration at all; that some of us are just trying to hide amongst Them in an attempt to avoid persecution.
Kneel and I will knight you
for services to the
Kneel and I will rest this
edge upon your neck.
Symbol of a less enlightened
past; heavy on my frailty;
it falls to leave your head
rolling in the aisles.
I am totally looking forward to making an official start on my DAO Diverse Perspectives Commission conversations!
After sitting in residence at Salisbury Arts Centre last year and creating my first conversation/ text work they were keen to see me develop the possibilities. Initial talks with the then Director of Salisbury Arts Centre focused on a visual presention and People Like You, the exhibition, began to take shape.
I have already started on the preliminary writing, but it is important to me that words do not dominate my creativity. They leap so instantly into every situation, swamping the slow simmer that, given half a chance, will boil up into something visual, tangible and 3D.
My life-size figures are on such an evolution and for me, essential to the journey. I began creating them in 2006 and they are evolving to express the wordless things that lurk in hidden corners.
Working on them I can choose to fill the silence with music (which inevitably lures me away on parallel paths), or I can listen to the words that peep out of my subconscious to tease and chivvy me with their own need for expression. Here I mull over those persistent issues of equality, diversity and integration, I worry about the future of Disability Arts and, like a homing pigeon, the access issue is constantly returning.
Bodies take shape
under my needle:
sees muscles swell and
contract, inch lower,
shift with the placement
of limbs. Limbs that form
with thoughts; ideas
prompt their creation,
Ideas that by-
pass words; thoughts that
travel the careless route
to a reality
where fact and fantasy
The agapanthus in my green and white garden has never looked more stunning. A jungle of green shades and textures surrounds and inspires my outdoors working. Sun warms my bones and enables these quiet moments when pain takes second place.
Indoors my floor is strewn with body parts.
And Jessie has finally lost her hair. I have been reluctant to remove the long black dreads, but since Kouros, my soft sculpture figures have had no hair; Jessie, who is being worked on from (what were) the toes up, is now ready to go bald.
The new man (as mentioned - just a newer version of the old one, less hair, but that doesn't show) is in pieces. I get a little thrill of excitement anticipating putting him together.
In the garden I work on smaller body parts, it's important to keep them white, and in the heat that can be a challenge. Anticipating two new men, I make extra parts and they line up on the decking. The third man creates interesting questions, so soon I must grab pen and ink and start investigating his options...
from the gentle shade
of my garden-green
nipples for the new
man as the sun slides
I imagine life
doesn't get too much
better than moments
The Hayward Rat (Rattus Flattus) has proved positively inspirational.
There is work queuing up to be let out of my head and there are days when this queue and clamour paralyse my choosing process.
The Hayward Rat has brought Kouros and the body project right up to the front of the queue. The body project aims to resurrect Jessie from 'Bare Boards and Blue Stilettos'.
At the time, she made dramatic impact, but I felt she needed to be a little more explicit. I was asking people to use their imaginations, but not giving them enough to work with and Jessie presented as scary, but also maybe a bit of a full stop.
Ever since '(it might be disability but) it's Still Life' presented at Holton Lee, Jessie has been nagging me. She wanted to join Kouros (the life-size soft sculpture of a nude male); he does have a female companion, and we were thinking they needed a lot more company; a group of them would provide more ammunition for imaginations to run.
So here in the sunshine, I've been working on Jessie's muslin skin and polyester muscles and the new man (who is actually just an up to date version of the old man).
Jessie is named for jesses
those seeking tendrils that
float in the jet stream of no
longer quite-wild birds of prey.
Symbols of symbiosis
like roots drawing Jessie down
to other connections, links
that thread through Jessie's heart.
Jesses, merely symbols or
darker, deeper holds on
Cultural Exhaustion eventually overpowered our group and a relaxing trip down Regent Street was prescribed to restore our energy. Out in the commercial world Chinese texts popped up here and there, 'made in China' clothes and objects brought soothing familiarity and the stress of strangeness receded somewhat.
Unable to help with the search for typically English food, I accompanied my friends into PizzaHut, where we battled our way through the complexities of ordering food we might recognise and possibly enjoy, from an unnecessarily complicated menu and a stressed waiter.
Pizza proved to be remarkably similar to a Chinese dish that is folded and eaten with the fingers, but the cups of tea that accompanied and preceded our meal did cause our frazzled waiter some confusion.
Arriving back at Waterloo we presented me to a man with the label 'assisted travel' on his fluorescent jacket. He accompanied me to our train and instructed the surprised driver/guard to get a ramp and let me on to the train: job done.
The same driver/guard took on the responsibility for getting me off of the train when we arrived at our destination. He did have other duties to perform first, luckily it was the end of the line.
Stuffed crust fingers wave modestly,
not daring to venture far from the plate,
but still adamant in their desire
to be noticed. Their small cheesy
claws protruding from stubby fat digits,
they hesitate, wave from the wedge
that is tidily folded and eaten
Via Westminster Bridge and a complex of old buildings with a clock tower, we attempted to reach Trafalgar Square. Olympic Detours and fenced off areas took us through Whitehall and a photo opportunity with some gentle, patient horses standing beside a big label warning that they might kick or bite.
Along our route, a long, long queue of London taxis, progressing slowly and very noisily with much horn honking, was the cause of much laughter.
The prominent Olympic Countdown caused mild amusement, but the young people drawing flags on the paving, and the 'would-be' statues standing motionless on soap boxes, attracted the most attention.
With a passing nod to the lions in the Square, we made our way into the National Gallery.
Secretly hoping to steer the party towards the Sainsbury Wing and Metamorphosis, I nevertheless resisted the urge to cheat and followed my guests on their whimsical travels through the complicated unsignposted space. Looked at through Asian eyes not much of it seemed to make sense, but the individual talents of the classical European artists on display, were much appreciated.
Do you have a guide?
Oh no, we have far too many rooms for that.
Well some way of finding our way around?
We are a very big place, we get many visitors
we could not possibly afford to do that.
Perhaps just a map of the layout?
There is a Plan. At the entrance. And her tone speaks:
idiot; but maybe she didn't know
they don't have one in Chinese.
And maybe she is unaware
of cultural diversity.
Visiting London with Chinese friends seemed like the perfect opportunity to see the place as a visitor with almost no English; apparently it's supposed to be especially well geared-up for visitors right now.
Approaching the Capital by train, I was a little shocked to discover that my ticket was the most expensive of our party since I did not seem eligible for any of the offers available to the ambulant travellers.
Buying a ticket for a wheelborne traveller, did not alert station staff to the need for assistance or a ramp. No-one noticed me or my access problem. We were in real danger of missing the train, until hurried enquiries, in English, led us to the correct person to handle a ramp.
My arrival in London was totally unexpected; UK train staff might not have any means of communicating between staff, trains or stations?
I was stuck on the train until somewhere on Waterloo station the correct person was found to produce a ramp, and she appeared to be unfamiliar the item.
From Waterloo we wandered towards the festive atmosphere of the Southbank, and chuckled about two gigantic figures, one leaning over from a roof and one climbing up or down the wall of the building. Maybe they were robots? The building was decorated with columns of strange, green plastic bowls and didn't seem to have a main entrance.
Alongside the famous river we saw a lot of word-boards strapped to the railings. And some large empty crates that it was possible to roll through in my chair, amusing my friends. On one of the crates was a picture of brides in White Wedding gowns - one of the brides was a man with a beard and this caused prolonged laughter.
Keeping our eyes open for street art and entertainment, we were aware of posters advertising an evening dance event somewhere in the vicinity.
The multicoloured 'rainbow sandpit' where children were playing, was a curiosity that awakened some concern. Was it natural? Was it safe?
Pretty-girl crocodile, weaving through the crowd;
pointing toes, high then low and counting spaces,
snaking, swaying, dipping rhythms; curls of spine.
Supple bodies, sensuous arms, splaying fingers;
dragon-cousin crocodile: breathless, chanting.
Happy laughter woven into swirls and leaps,
arabesques, pirouettes, and smiling faces.
No special dress, no explanation, dancing
all we need to know.
On the road to equality, I often feel strangely disempowered by the process of Disability Equality Training. Why is it only the temporarily non-disabled who get offered a training opportunity? And why only on occasions?
I rather fancy the idea of some training myself. Not exactly the same kind of course, but there must be skills I could practice in order to combat the negative effects society has on my moral and there must be advanced skills I could use to influence or change the mindset of those folk who never get the benefit of expert guidance.
I just don't want to leave something so important to me totally in the hands of others, even if they are experts; but I do like the idea of being proactive, as well as the possibility of making a more subtle contribution to equality.
People who suffer trauma through accident are offered help to find ways to cope. Society is frequently the accident that traumatises disabled people, but at best we are offered nothing more than passing, sympathetic acknowledgement.
Years of feeling like a leper have taken their toll, I want to be more responsive and positive to the people who have actually taken equality onboard. And with those who haven't got there yet, I'd like to find creative ways to take the initiative, I do rather like the idea of having more control.
Rolling in to a lift I need
space to turn around,
like the wheelless do, I prefer
a face-front exit.
Equal opportunity needs
Wheelless take turning
for granted, without the need for
negotiation. Just a quick
foot shuffle, head turn;
on the spot, no-brains-cells-needed,
My new skinny-wheeled powerchair doesn't seem to be fussed about getting its controls wet; I'm starting to believe that they might actually be weatherproof. Chunky-chair would splutter and stop if I neglected to wrap the joystick and control panel in plastic protection.
Chunky's wheels however would take rain in their stride, and were never phased by leaves on the road. Not so with the skinny-wheels. That slightly oily surface that glosses city streets on rainy days is a factor to be reckoned with and decomposing leaves a decided hazard.
But skinny-wheels' ace is never leaving me stranded. Masses of battery capacity plus the ability to convert to manual gives me a safety-net; security I have not had in almost 15 years.
Play or pass? Who am I today? Slim or chunky? Pumpkin at midnight, or 24/7 party animal? Am I in a rush, or can I take time for a relaxed stroll? Do I want city slick, or the off-road experience?
Working different wheels is far more significant than wearing different shoes; I'm getting choices that would have eluded me mere weeks ago.
If dependence on wheels shapes my personality, am I about to discover whole new sides to the Chairborne Identity?
Yesterday I forgot
to recharge my battery.
That should mean I'm grounded,
waiting and kicking myself.
Today though I'm out
free; I have a spare
to fall back on. Planning
tomorrow has never been
this easy. The prospect
rears on it's hind legs
to tantalise and