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Penny blogs. There's a little sunshine and lots going on

The sun licks across my window and lures the blossom to bloom. At last! I’m bouncing off the walls, full of seesaw moods, happy-sad, melancholy-joyful, and dripping with creative sap. Mustn’t fall off the tightrope mind you. But isn’t it lovely to see some sunshine?

The last week or so has been a cram of activity. A new story ‘Nippy Days’, only written about 4 weeks ago, was selected to be read at ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’ - a story telling event run by White Rabbit Theatre

The theme for stories was sex, and I hadn’t touched the subject for some years. How could I resist? The venue was Tonybee Studios, in the hip East End of London, very near to lively Brick Lane. The event offers free chip butties and ice-cream. Definitely a happy Jackanory time for grown ups.

I had a great posse of peeps to support me, including DAO blogger and all round superstar Sophie P. The venue was packed to overflowing and us wheelies edged in, causing happy chaos in the café. The actress who read my story did a great job and selected writers had the opportunity to send the stories to Ether Books, who publish to mobiles. I await their response with the usual mix of nerves and excitement.

A few days after this, I was performing at the cabaret event ‘Sunday Service’, at Carnivale, opposite Brick Lane (again!)  This place has atmosphere, a hint of tatty grandeur and a suitable seedy edged cabaret charm. Access through the rear, passing by mysterious collections of grave stones, there was an accessible loo (rarity) but alas not to the stage.

With Jo Cox giving me her usual wonderful support on cello, staking a space on the floor, we opened each half of the sets and the audience seemed to lap it up. I will never forget the crowd urging me on to do the ‘Protest Song’, throwing in their own ad-libs and drumming on the tables. Maybe with a little help from our dear editor I can supply an audio file as I recorded most of the set?!

Pausing for a brief breath, next I’m preparing for my poetry and spoken word drop-in workshops for Shape. Technology did rather mess up my grand plans to play Youtube examples of different poets and styles, including Ian Dury doing ‘Bus Driver’s Prayer’, but I hope I made up for it by encouraging the group to experiment with personification, which is one of my favourite ways of stimulating the imagination for a poem. 

In this case, giving inanimate objects human characteristics and taking that forward with a narrative or emotion. My prompt of ‘being’ President Roosevelt’s wheelchair resulted in some strong and interesting pieces from new and experience poets. I can’t wait for next week and hope more people will come along. (Roosevelt was a wheelchair user, a fact kept hidden from the public at the time). The workshops run every Tuesday 2-4pm until April 12th.

In between all this, I’ve finished a short film-poem, The Lover, a homage love letter to Leonard Cohen and almost finished an absurd little film about an item of disability ‘charity’ ephemera, which I connect.

My life is a crazy one on multiple levels. During all this wonderful activity I’ve also been a bit sickly, doing my pallid invalid impersonation, and been to court! Weird.  

Never once, even when wobbling close to a dip-down or a fall, have I regretted a moment of being so immersed. I might be hyper but I’ll enjoy it if that’s OK. 

Posted by , 10 March 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 12 March 2011

New Year, New Hopes, Old Battles

I doubt any of my pals are surprised I didn't manage to post a DadaFest write-up part two. Distraction, distraction... That's my problem. Sometimes I fire so many simultaneous thoughts that they lead me around in exhausting circles, and leave me in a woeful state bemoaning that I haven’t completed any project. I hope this will change this New Year. If you are ever on the end of my distraction issue – apologies. OK, I have had a weight of annoying health issues too, but the distraction does not help.

I was very chuffed at being short-listed for an Emerging Artist award at DadaFest. I’ve been in emergence for quite some time, and while I applaud Pete Edwards for winning and his ground-breaking piece ‘Fat’, I do think I need to get on with it. Emerge and cut out, yes, distraction, and procrastination!

On a more sombre note, here we are in 2011 facing grim battles with the government and some very fundamental challenges to our human rights. I’m directly affected by the changes to housing benefit, independent living funds and the attacks on Access to Work. Through my connection to various DPOs and of course the arts movement, I have to say it is truly terrifying what is taking place.

We must act in all ways we can manage, on the streets and from our homes (while we have them!) I believe the government believes we have no ‘power’ or clout. We have to show them otherwise.

From a perspective of recent personal experience and my old codger status, I believe the ‘them and us’ mentality continues to underpin the absolute cynicism shown towards us. We, as in disabled people, still carry labels imposed on us, experience barriers we did not create, and clearly, behind the rhetoric, we don’t matter much.

We invariably remain ‘the other’. Not their problem really, not a thing to think about. We are alien and over ‘there’, in a box, to be avoided until something pushes us into their snide, non-disabled mindset; to make a token political gesture, to gain temporary brownie points.

I know that thankfully we do have non-disabled allies amongst our friends and families, and I wondered recently if we could do something akin to what Harvey Milk did for gay rights. I was incredibly inspired by the film, in the way he thought outside the box.

Is there an equivalent of ‘outing’ for us as crips, with our allies, that would make a point!? To re-establish that we are connected to families and friends, embedded within society, we are part of it and contribute to it in myriad ways from our vibrant and unique arts scene to the fact that we can challenge old ideas about ways to live. We’ve always been overlooked and now it’s worse. We’re burdens, we’re tragedies, we’re tabloid tainted scroungers. We are inconveniences who cost a lot of ‘public’ money (a public we are not part of). The tired, tired clichés go on and on.

I’m not psychologically fit to go on many demos; but I know I can take these thoughts into my work with passion. And that is what I am doing now, with every beat of my heart.

Let’s rally. Let’s get political and personal. Bring it on.

Posted by , 2 January 2011

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 3 January 2011

Penny Pepper blogs her ups, downs and creative urges


There is a lot going on for me at the moment and I can hardly dare whisper that much of it seems positive. Not only is the novel ‘Fancy Nancy’ Out There now, at least being read by someone, but I managed to submit a radio play to the BBC and tie up several loose ends on several creative possibilities.

I'm immersed now in DadaFest preparations. There's the burlesque event, I am a roving poet and I am also in bed at the John and Yoko Bed-In celebration. I intend to do a piece called Bed Ridden - say each word slowly and precisely, it creates a whole new emphasis.

As the theme is world peace and non-violent action, I am intrigued to think about the powerful women who have spent time in bed through impairment of all kinds, creating alternative interpretations of action and change. I hope to make the piece entertaining and subversive while keeping to the remit.

I've also finished my creative response to the recent focus groups run by the Royal College of Physicians held at Shape. I became fascinated with the story of Sarah Hawkes, an 11 year old who experienced an injury that caused her body to bend into a painful twisted horseshoe shape by the age of 14.

A early 19th century doctor took up her case and straightened her out with physio and stretching... but history neither records her voice directly, or what tells us what happened to her post 'cure'. I've gone on a journey with this, seeing parallels to my own life at that age, and written The Imaginary Ballad of Sarah Hawkes which exists in both a folk song idiom, and a rap. I intend to discover more about Sarah and have longer term hopes to make a documentary about my efforts to give her the life outside of the medical profession which history has cruelly denied her.

Now I reckon I should pause for breath and fuss my cat who keeps sitting in front of the pc monitor. Is this a hyperactive phase? Will I be cautioned by my MH team - as I often am - to slooooow down? After all that's happened, that simply will not compute as I enjoy riding the wave.


Posted by Penny Pepper, 19 October 2010

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 10 November 2010

Penny Pepper is looking forward to sunny days and hopefulness

This is going to be a quick blog. I hope, I intend. I shrugged off the suit of blues, for a bit, as the sun appeared. The Up has to come, doesn't it?.

I want to mention now that I am performing on 21 April at Rich Mix, in Shoreditch, at Jawdance - an Apples and Snakes event. I've been booked as one of the featured performance poets, so PLEASE put in your diaries and come along. Likely to be debuting new material, with the ever magnificent Jo Cox. 

These events are fabulous and I'm chuffed to be performing a longer slot. If you think poetry is dull and fusty, come along and have those preconceptions blown to joyful bits. More details as it approaches. 

The Vibe Bar gig went very well you see, and I had great feedback. Though, true the stage was not accessible. Sigh. Regular occurrence but maybe the venue will think on that now.

I'll add another photo from my modelling session with Tanya Raabe, which took place a few weeks ago. It was a great day, working with a class of disabled art students who had never had a life model before. So the poor kids are landed with me getting my bits out! They coped well and drew some lovely work based on my bod, and we had a discussion around using a disabled model and celebrating the disabled female nude.

Tanya of course is outstanding in all she does and the sketch here is a favourite one of mine. She captures something about me... it's almost spooky. I am always honoured to work for her and believe her work is revolutionary and essential to developing themes in art, not just disability art, but it certainly enriches that as always.

My novel Fancy Nancy is now out there, as in someone with some clout is about to read it. I truly hope they like it, but meanwhile, please, this is my begging letter moment, if you are or know a lit agent, do get in touch. I'm ready and I'm ripe to hit the world with work - we can have much success together!

I remain interested by the way, in how artists make decisions about what to do, or not to do, in terms of extra work. I'm streamlining right now....

Ok that's enough. More soon, and hope to see some of you on 21 April.

Posted by Anonymous, 21 March 2010

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 24 March 2010

Sex and Drugs and Baby Punk Me: memories of Ian Dury

I've just left a comment on the editor's blog concerning the new Ian Dury film. and it made me feel a wave of nostalgia for Ian and my baby years as a punk.

It was hard being a punk when so few venues had any hint of access and actually it makes me realise that some of our battles have had a real effect on waking society up to removing some barriers. This can be seen in the hard environment, more than anywhere else and attitudes remain especially slippery if not entrenched. If things were otherwise we would have a brilliantly talented disabled actor playing Ian!

My younger brother by 2 years, was also a punk and through him I was able to get a taste of what was going on out there. We shared records and he'd bought Kilburn and the High Roads - the band Ian was in before Blockheads.

I remember vaguely one of the album sleeves showing Ian with crutches - or was it another band member?! I do recall picking up very quickly that Ian was disabled. A crip. Like me. His anger and humour hit me with its passion and empathy, and truly changed my life.

I was in a specialist hospital institution a lot in those days, for long stretches of time, and it was a very sweet pleasure to blast out Plaistow Patricia (from LP New Boots and Panties) and the line 'arseholes, bastards, fucking c*nts and pricks' when I was down and depressed.

I met Ian Dury for about 30 seconds at the iconic disabilty arts event in West London in - 1981?? I believe Allan Sutherland has written about it - it was amazing, one of the first.

Dressed in my tight leather bondage dress, as 'Kata Kolbert' I was hawking my musical stuff around then, and my music was loud, punky-electro and very political. My partner Andy politely approached Ian after he did his slot to hand him a demo.

I was a timid, nervous little rabbit in those days and could only grin like a daft child and mutter hello, utterly overawed by meeting him. He was lovely, funny and of course very encouraging.

I feel sad he's not around now for us to talk to and exchange, and maybe argue happily with. I once read an interview with him talking about sex and disability, and had his impairment stopped him getting on. He said "no" by the way.... !


Posted by Anonymous, 10 January 2010

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 11 January 2010

Penny Pepper reflects on Liberty 09 and the state of spoken word events

The Penny who needs Nine Lives to Do Everything

I don't need the Nine Lives as do cats because I am reckless and have close shaves - well only a little - but because I always make a point, indeed a practice of biting off much more than I can chew. And I only have tiny cripple's jaws you understand!

Liberty on Sept 5th was amazing and a little peculiar at times. I love to speculate on what the random tourists make of all these disabled people strutting their luvvie stuff in various ways. I won't deny that it's an enjoyable experience to have a day when you know you're going to be reasonably looked after as a professional artist.

You get a decent sound check and you can state what you need. Simples! And reassuring. Me and Jo were on top form, I know we were. We came on after the Ouch bit mind you with that Mat Fraser and Liz Carr... (ok ok, as good as ever) but it was a bit tough, though the audience were warm and responsive even if some elements clearly feel they need permission to respond to my audience participation bits. Oh dear. We do still have a long way to go.

Ever onwards, I am currently compiling a spoken word/performance poetry database primarily for London and the south east but if anyone knows of any venues elsewhere with access do let me know.

There is a good site for this sort of thing called Write Out Loud  which lists venues but not access.

This whole scene is very broad based and exciting at the moment. It is not your worst nightmare of 'school' poetry, believe me. While the range of work performed ranges in type and scale, do check out what's available out there, you are a poet or story teller of any kind. One tip I picked up early, is be good at what you do, don't be slack or unprofessional - and get your words heard.

I want to bring you into the debate about whether to mention disability on my latest flyer or not! Yes. Is it necessary and why should I?

More on that soon when some of the many Lives calm down a bit.

Posted by Anonymous, 21 September 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 21 September 2009

Penny Pepper talks about Liberty, Edinburgh and those many manic moments

I know I said there'd be more Edinburgh and there will be before this blog is done and dusted but you see Liberty rushes closer and I still haven't 100% decided on my set. But I am very excited, like a kitten who keeps running up the curtains, sort of, and falls off but doesn't care and does it again. And again. Honestly it's best I stay in and don't scare the Norms when I'm like this but not this weekend!  I'm doing 25 minutes with my lovely cello player Jo Cox and I do hope the crowd will like it. Lots of poems, a song and some audience participation. I can say fuck apparently, but not c_nt. I only have c_nt in one piece so I'll try and clean it up.

I have a sense that people want to know what I'm up to with my words these days so I hope they enjoy it. I'll be selling copies of 'Desires' too at a special Liberty price! 

Before I return to Edinburgh, I have to mention my Pulse application. This has kept me up will 2am. And 3am. These processes are so intense. It's a try for funding to make a short film using digital technology. I want the effing money to do what I can do! I'm fast becoming an old bag, maybe that will make it easier, maybe not. I can carry on with the development of my disgraceful naughty old woman act I suppose and cheek can get you a long way. Keep all things crossed for me. I'll put you all in my films, promise, when it happens.

Edinburgh, yes. I saw many lovely things and also many rubbish things. One fabulous show was a piece featuring disabled dancer Julie Cleves and her non-disabled dance partner Robbie Synge. Called 'Ups and Downs and Whoopsie Daisies'. this was an exhilarating crafted double act of dance-theatre which truly did turn expectations upside down. Cleves, a wheelchair user, worked entirely on the floor in pieces that were touching, intimate, at times angry and even nerve-wracking. Julie creates a sense of excitement, strength and power with her body and her movement, underlining the absolute beauty of diversity in form. Synge's grace and athleticism matches her perfectly in an exchange of trust both literal and metaphorical. Constantly pushing boundaries and definitions of dance, the piece (and the dancers) deserve more exposure and much respect.

At the other extreme, was Unthinkable, a baffling play written (I believe) by a non-disabled playwright in which there is a future government of 'elite' - the physically impaired who have created a world of happy perfect political correctness in which we are all tolerant and er, happy, and um, equal. Yeah. There are 'amputation clinics' for those aspiring to join the 'elite', while a baby exchange programme means more fairness and cultural, diversity mixing. Of course all is not well in this dystopia of nasty cripples forcing their pc views on the norms, who yearn to keep their perfect babies (etc). A character called Florence Margaret Thatcher is an activist campaigning to stop the baby exchanges, and when she falls pregnant, a plan is hatched with minor government goody-goody Mrs Fin to enable her to keep her baby. Oh god, I can't tell you more. Apart from the muddled plot, and the half baked 'correct' language, the whole premise is simply too perplexing and dull to detail. I am not sure the writer intended to offend disabled people - the piece is too unfocused even for that, tho if the 'elite' were not the disabled community, but another minority community.... there would quite rightly be an outcry.  Oh access to this play, in a space at the Royal College of Surgeons (II Conspiracy!) was not obvious and poorly thought out

And this brings me to what I am most aggrieved about at Fringe. Access at  was shitty as an audience member, but shows BY disabled artists were very absent. I sat there glowering at this play knowing I should be there with a full production of my own.

On this note, please keep up with Ju Gosling's fight for access - to The Letter Writing Project. I believe I was in watching the confusion that was Unthinkable when Ju made her first action there. It really is not good enough, simple as that. Please follow and support.

I had a weird 'ramp' moment on my second Open Mic - which was at Zoo Southside. A few mates in the audience and a nice range of ages encouraged me. But.... the MC announced no access to the small stage. He would bring down the mic to me, he said. Ho fucking hum..... But as we grumbled and said well, not equality is it, a few minutes later a chap appeared with a ramp clearly designed for the access to the stage. What can one say? Anyhow, the slot went well, one old man nearly weed himself at my 'tits' poem (not as bad as it sounds, honest) and I had good feedback afterwards. People often say I am quirky. Ju was sweet enough to say I was ahead of the pack and by far the most professional.

Onwards and Upwards - but not without that bloody access. At least Liberty promises that. We hope.

Posted by , 3 September 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 7 September 2009