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
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.
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
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
I should give you my car-keys, you could park my car anyday.
That's amazing, I couldn't do that with a wheelchair.
You really can get around in that tiny space, well done.
And I boil. Spontaneous anger drives me to growl:
Carkeys? Hand over your spine, I've got wheels of my own.
You are so clever walking; I couldn't, not with those legs!
And: Congratulations, you really do work those legs well, amazing you don't even fall over...
There is no real logic to this rudeness. I wasn't born with wheels and there is a skill to living and working with them, so why do I get so offended when wheelless admire my dexterity and adaptability?
Why do I feel so patronised? Why can't I stay cool and offer a lighter reply?
Why have I not developed skills to prompt people to rethink the way they see me?
Thank you, I do specialise in Ferraris, but could probably manage a Bugatti...
No, it does take skill, practice and a brain cell or two...want to give it a go?
And: Yes, I am rather good at this, for a female I have brilliant spatial awareness!
When somebody opens the lid and the opportunity for change presents itself, why are we so obsessed with the shape of the box that contains us?
I used to take words for granted
and not just because I can read.
I used to recycle, but not any more,
it's an option for folk with both feet on the floor.
I used to just drive on my own,
without the kerfuffle and fuss.
I used to enjoy going out for a meal,
aware how much fun spontaneous feels.
I used to be tall; wear a hat,
take the train to town for a show.
I used to be free to roll over in bed,
but now I'm supported by cushions instead.
I used to air-kiss with my friends,
propel, with my hand on their back.
I used to be one of the good and the glad
now I am "merely" the chairborne; the bad.
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
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.
I seek Japanese fabric. Something on a roll, where I could ask for a metre or two.
I love the colour aesthetic here, and the use of texture. I feel the need to take some of it home with me.
This fabric lives in the past. It comes in one narrow width, one long length - it comes in a Kimono quantity - a 'tan' - ca 35 cms wide and twelve metres long. Linen or silk, sometimes cotton, each with it's own tradition of weave and colour. And each weave or colour has it's own traditional application: the male Kimono, the female Kimono, the child Kimono, the door curtain - the size and shape of each is defined by the size of the tan.
Tailors and fabric shops sell tans; tourist shops sell off-cuts and scraps. Somewhere as yet inaccessible to me, I'm convinced there is patchwork. But the idea of cutting into, or defacing, a tan, mystifies and horrifies the traditional tailor. My search exposes the alienness of my thinking.
Wider fabric is western fabric, in western quality and colours; western fabric is cut and sold by the metre. Someone somewhere must surely be creating a bridge, opening up the possibility of buying half a tan, a quarter even, for something Other.
If I lived here, my home would be outrageously furnished in mutilated tans. My wardrobe would be full of corrupted shapes - tans distorted to interpret western convenience clothes. Even on powerwheels I balk at the mobility restrictions the Kimono imposes.
Hamarikyu contains a duck
cenotaph; a mausoleum of
departed souls. Traditional duck
hunting grounds of past emperors
awakened the need to honour
the spirits, if not the consumed
bodies, of ducks who gave their lives
for imperial entertainment
and gastronomic pleasure.
Hamarikyu is a moated garden,
with ponds and islands, a haven
for ducks spared the fate
of their predecessors, to gather
unmolested by hunters past
or present. Forgotten humans
fading in the shadow of
a memorial to ducks.
Tokyu Hands (pronounced Tokyo Hanz) was reviewed by the New York Times as 'the' department store for the serious home owner and hobbyist, it has also been described as a 'makers paradise'.
Floors of fascinating items, many only available in Japan, tempt me. Countless arts possibilities reawaken as shelves full of curious and useful items demand attention. I want to take one of the stores home with me.
We visited the flagship store at Shibuya, but at Ikebukuro they also have a cat cafe, with around 20 cats willing to be stroked and petted by customers.
Without my rose tinted specs I have to admit there is one gigantic flaw - the store is devided vertically into three sections, right and left sections have elevators, but access to the middle section is via steps.
The stores have free demonstrations and workshops as well as magazines and areas devoted to inspire and enable the newly creative. Next time I come I will bring an extra suitcase - maybe I said that last time?
Shibuya is a hilly place and getting around on steep slopes and uneven surfaces in amongst dense crowds of people takes patience and determination. It is also quite fun - if you have plenty of time. The famous Shibuya Crossing, where all the lights go red together, has pedestrians streaming in all directions.
We visited a newly opened shopping mall to sample their famous cakes and wasted about an hour waiting for lifts with enough space to fit the wheelchair in. Travellers squeezed themselves together and beckoned helpfully, but I guess most Japanese have a poor sense of spatial awareness.
I needed to lean forward to balance the skinny-wheeled chair in order to negotiate the long, steep hill to the Thai restaurant where we planned to eat our evening meal. But was then disappointed by the flight of steps that greeted us at the entrance. The restaurant has a lift - at the top of the stairs - people without wheels often overlook these little things.
High in the sky
warm and safe
its easy to loose
sight of ground level.
And deep down
layers make up
and down journeys
as necessary as
back and forth
progress. I find
ways to suspend
in favour of
cat cafes and
big city lights.
The journey to Hakone involves platform-lifts, chair-lifts, elevators, trains, metro, cable train and cable car (ropeway) as well as some energetic pushing and pulling up and down very steep hills. Mount Hakone is famous for it's hot springs, peaceful lake and eggs boiled in simmering hot pools. These eggs, their shells turned black by sulphur, are said to prolong life.
The 'boiling valley' is 1044 metres above sea level, and contains a lake created by volcanic activity; this was our destination and getting there was the great adventure. The day started with a first - my first travel on the JR line from my local station using a recently installed platform-lift; my destination was Tokyo Station and once there the accessible route to the next platform involved a journey deep underground 'behind the scenes' in one hundred year old tunnels.
About 90 minutes out into the countryside we began our climb on a single track line that zig-zagged up the mountainside, going alternately backwards and forwards up the tree lined slopes.
Moving from one mode of transport to another required up to four men lifting, pushing or pulling my wheelchair. The cable-train gave way to cable-car and suddenly I was swinging up and over the trees, climbing from about 800 metres to 1044 where sulphurous 'smoke' seeped and billowed out of the earth in this steaming cauldron.
I felt I was in an alternative scene from the film Avatar - one where the 'americans' had won the war with the native people - as I looked down on the scar of what looked like mining activity at the summit. Breaking our journey we paused to take in the smell, buy black eggs and wonder at the steaming earth.
Swinging back over the treetops and expecting any moment to see strange flying beasts and giant blue Na'vi, we swooped down a couple hundred metres to the crater lake lying along the southwest wall of this complex volcano.
Here we boarded mock pirate galleons and explored the 20 km length of lake Ashinoko and a view of the lakeside Shinto Temple.
The lake is an incredibly quiet and peaceful place, we watched cranes patiently stalking fish, and overhead what might have been honey buzzards floating on thermals.
Somewhere to come back to,
for an Onsen experience
Hakone's hot springs beckon.
Swooping through the air is one thing,
how will the skinny wheels cope
on the ground? All of this day's
travel used only two bars on my
battery level indicator;
giving my day a surreal
quality, as if I
really did possess
an Avatar. And although
I didn't manage to
swish a skirt, or flick a tail,
I did feel incredibly free.
Today I'm trying out a Japanese wheelchair to take home; not exactly the one I'd planned for or expected, but good. I hope.
I sense my eutopia moving closer. Actually Utopia moves like Michael Jackson; the moonwalk ever deceptive.
Having the iPad is great, the Brushes app frees me to explore previous frustrated trains of thought and practice, and being here in Tokyo inspires me to make more creative links between image and word, links I had previously been struggling to realise.
My search for roots and identity mingles with the desire for mobility. I come face to face with the need to acknowledge that my roots cannot be linked to a country or a culture; that I am genetically in the past as Scandinavian, in the present as European, and in the future as Asian. My search is no longer a search, but an exploration.
Who am I today? I am the artist who makes links with Toyota's Universal Wheelchair and Bruce Sterling's "Lobsters"; an artist who wants to explore the implications of Haraway's postgendered possibilities from a chairborne perspective.
As a wheelborne entity I'm asking how the concept "cyborg bodies lead to cyborg consciousness" (Danielle Devoss) might be creating my identity.
And my soft sculptures need to be more than seeking into the earth, they need to stretch into time and space. I need them to explore Thirdspace (Edward Soja).
Sumida today has a choppy quality,
lending an air of expectation and excitement.
The floating landing for tourist-boats squeals
like a stressed-up pig, but occasionally
emits a soft feminine moan. A flash of green
marks the flight of a Japanese sparrow
with a bamboo leaf in it's beak.
Here feels creative, is it just the change of scene?