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Taking A Liberty

I sit in a cramped room in Camden.  I am a shy, nervous creature, newly in London. Listening to this bunch of disabled people speak, my thoughts flood with hope and awe. They speak of our arts and culture, and call for revolution.

This was a meeting in the Artsline office, Crowndale Road, circa 1985.

I am not sure any of us realised we were pioneers, but I believe history shows we were in our own ramshackle way.

And now, against memories of those beginnings, I come to Liberty in the Olympic Park. You would think disability art in the UK was not a world leader, with a developed, debated and vibrant identity. The way artists were grafted in amongst the stalls that urged sports participation, had the awful outmoded stench of Seventies art therapy. I am surprised there was not a basket weaving stall, because, as any crip of a certain age will know, that type of ‘useful’ activity has long been considered good for us handicaps in all our varieties.

We were all there at Liberty 2013. I bumped into Ruth Gould (DaDafest), Jenny Sealey (Graeae Theatre Company), Michelle Baharier (Cooltan Arts) along with friends and colleagues – Rachel Gadsden, Sophie Partridge, to name but a few performers. I never made it to see Mat Fraser and John ‘Rocking Paddy’ Kelly as the main stage (which I am told was miniscule), was not easy to locate. Artist Katherine Araniello was there to ‘enjoy’ the festival. A close friend of Liberty founder, David Morris, she was not pleased with the layout and the facilities. Translate ‘not pleased’ as furious.

This was my fourth Liberty as a performer. I yearned for the days of the comedy and cabaret tent in Trafalgar Square, when an audience could identify with the performers, where there was a sense of connection to something shared. This could not be said for the strung-out assemblage of activities at the windy park, hindered further by well-meaning volunteers who didn’t have a clue where anything actually was.

I wish I could predict a positive future for Liberty, but instead I am burdened with weary pessimism. We face a resurgence of old barriers and old attitudes, resurrected by the current government. Once more we see the model of brave, inspirational crip being upheld to a ludicrous level, which does no favours to the genuine talents of disabled athletes, and condemns the rest of us to the unworthy dustbin of scrounger and assisted-suicide candidate.

I have no easy answers; in the current climate we know funding is compromised. And worse still, there is certainly a pervasive, repellent ideology seeping into the zeitgeist, as to whether we are ‘affordable’. Because now we are deemed as having too much, of being privileged – a word that has been bandied around from the High Court hearings concerning the closure of the Independent Living Fund, to comments made within social media.

In such an environment, how can Liberty survive? Perhaps the name Liberty will be purloined; we will see a festival of ‘volunteer performers’, echoing the no-pay ethic of the Games, and of politicians that put forward ‘volunteering’ as an incentive for people to find ‘real work’.

Should this happen, I can see Liberty becoming a joke as do-gooders flood in, with disabled people ideologically high-jacked to join in some old style happy-clappy stuff that will ‘make them feel better’. I call on – who? - DaDaFest and Shape perhaps? - to take up cultural arms against this horror.

Hear now, the distant anger of the late David Morris, and my sadness as I reflect upon those fine if difficult times in the early days of our arts movement when anything seemed possible.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 19 September 2013

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 19 September 2013

Writing, Ruby, madness - and those pesky Olympics.

This week my love-hate affair with writing has me in its thrilling and painful grip.  Writing is like an old friend who sometimes annoys the fuck out of me, and sometimes wraps me in arms of pure co-operative elation. Recently it’s been a see-saw between both and admittedly the ole Borderline has a role in this. But, it helps as much as it hinders. Exquisite highs bring great bursts of creativity as much as the pits of anguish that lead me to unfortunate behaviour and the whole frustrating circle. Occasionally the fast dips into desolation can result in outpourings that stand up to later scrutiny.

It was very trendy to be Mad this last week or so. Mental health ‘poster girl’ Ruby Wax did her stuff in fighting the stigma in the work place. I do get a tad uncomfortable. The portrayal of Mad people (whatever our precise shrink labels) can be saccharine. It doesn’t always feel full bodied enough – is that too scary? Perhaps. I suppose there’s always the danger of it becoming like a Bedlam tour reborn. In a programme most likely made by Channel 5. The Woman Who Sliced Her Skin Off and Made Herself Vomit (et al).

I do acknowledge that generally it seems any kind of PD makes even the toughest mind medic blanch. I told my newest ones as much last week. They tittered and argued this was not true. I pulled a face and went hmmm.

I met Ruby in August 2011, as mentioned in my blog of Oct 2011. I’m down from my high now, not so much disappointed in Ruby as working my thoughts around to a realistic view. She is still new to this. I asked her last year at the audience Q&A if she thought there was anything positive to be found in having a mental health condition. She paused, then said ‘no, do you?’ I smiled and said, I believe it makes me who I am, how can I not?

In one amazing tangential leap I will move to the Olympics. (Tangential conversation and thought is one of my personal hobbies, no apology.)

Controversy alert! I’m enjoying them. Is it the sense of history perhaps? Being a Londoner, and a scribbler? I don’t even like sport much, before we even mention ATOS. Maybe Danny Boyle slipped a subliminal message in the opening ceremony, which I also adored. Music of my youth! The Clash, The Jam, for fucks sake. Irresistible. Made more fun with some close friends over to share the experience.

A couple of us indulged in live Tweeting as we watched, adding another intriguing layer. MP gets the hump at the ‘leftie multi-cultural crap’, tweets swarming to attack him, UK Uncut get an image out there of the arena after the NHS ‘advert’ section, we laugh at the remarks that everyone outside of the UK would think what the damn is this about? But they love it anyway because all Brits are eccentrics. Aww.

Back to the sport. I don’t watch it obsessively, I tune in now and then, entertained for a while, mostly by the personalities and STORIES than the actual winning bit, then I’m bored and go back to my film obsession.  

As for ATOS. Let me be clear. I detest ATOS. I loathe the overt capitalism blatant in the sponsorship of the games and hate that ATOS is part of that. I will join in any protest against ATOS that I am physically capable of. I was there at one of the first demos, I do my online stuff, my local campaigning and will continue.  I don’t see a conflict in supporting the actual participants because it is ATOS who we must fight – and surely this is a great opportunity to highlight their hypocrisy while acknowledging the talents of the individuals who are committed to their sports, art and cultural participation.

Is this bias? I don’t care. A few of my friends are in the opening ceremony of the Paralympics.  I am proud of them and the exhausting work they have put in. They are fully cognisant of the role ATOS plays in the attacks upon us. They see the line, and know where it is.

I will try and go to the Paralympic opening ceremony, when there’s a scandal over unsold tickets… AND to an ATOS demo. I am a writer after all, and if euphoria hits on those days, well, what entries for my bulging, greedy journals!

Posted by Penny Pepper, 4 August 2012

Diversity and Devilment!

Please let me tempt you to be challenged and entertained by my guest slot at Soho Theatre, Feb 20th 7.45pm, where I am performing with acclaimed comedy troupe Abnormally Funny People.

Reviews, press coverage, radio slots and offers of work all very welcome. I am also an eager Penny for some representation / management for my spoken word as I have too much to handle on my own.

Other than this, I'm sending this invite purely in the hope that you will come along and enjoy the whole evening. My slot may be brief but I believe it will grab you where it matters and hopefully make you laugh. All feedback and input greatly welcomed. With luck, I get to come back for a longer slot in the future.

My work is described as lyrical, challenging, funny, bawdy. My adventures with spoken word are inexorably linked to my passion for writing and the two connect at every opportunity. My focus is to subvert, to ask questions – with a smile – words twined, thorns in velvet. Yes, I unpick the issues around difference, diversity and disability and I aim to show how they link to the universal human condition.

Apart from a regular output of published work, I've taken my spoken word set to many varied places – including the Edinburgh Fringe, National Theatre, Liberty festival at Trafalgar Square, festivals around the UK, and guest slots for national spoken word organisation Apples and Snakes. Through various aspects of my work I’ve featured on radio and my last appearance was July 2011 for Radio 4’s Fourthought, through producer Sheila Cook.

In 2010 I was Emerging Artist runner up at Dada International. Through this, I gained national, local press and radio coverage. I had other exposure in The Guardian and The Culture Show – in this case, literal, in the form of paintings for which I had modelled nude!

Last July a spoken word event was created around me in New York. I headlined the event, Crip Lit, which was organised by Jo Weedon, a major burlesque performer in the US. The event was very successful, and the venue, Bluestockings, New York’s premier radical book shop, now stocks my book Desires.

This is my short story erotica collection, which was first published in 2003 by Bejamo Press. I wrote this in response to the overwhelming prejudice shown to work which attempted to break down taboos about disabled people as three dimensional human beings. As I aim to challenge barriers and unearth the hidden.

Do hope you can make it on Feb the 20th where you will sample a juicy slither of Pepper sauce and subversion.

Hello there to those who know me, and those of you I've yet to meet!

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 12 February 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 12 February 2012

New York, Old London, Same Battles

I did it. Amazed myself and survived to tell the tale, crammed with feverish stories and kaleidoscope  memories. All roasted and shaken in the rich, brash, varied flavours of New York.

I say roasted with meaning because it was hot. Blistering and humid, and when up the Empire State Building, I could see the thick smog arc hanging over and into the city. One day hit 39c - I don't believe I have known it that hot before in my whole life. Thank the gods for air con. Yet nothing could ruin this incredible adventure.

I was there primarily for work to get a feel for the city, meet people, and to do a performance at the Bluestockings, a radical feminist bookstore, at an event called 'CripLit' which was brought together by the maganificent NY burlesque queen Jo Weldon who worked with several crip woman at DadaFest last year to create 'Criptease'. Indeed, the first piece to be read (by Jo) was the DAO blog by our very own Sophie Partridge, who detailed the DadaFest event with much verve and colour.

Native New Yorker, Christine Bruno, who has visited the UK and worked on the disability arts scene on several occasions, read extracts from her one-woman show 'Screw You, Jimmy Choo', reminding me of what a talented actor she is. Other New York crips did interesting and intriguing pieces; a visually impaired woman telling the amusing story of the frustrations of being a VI bride and the discrimination she faced, and another set where one woman read a beautiful poem while her colleague stripped and danced and posed.

Aussie artist Kath Duncan – another Dadafest Cripteaser – had her deliciously raw and rampant story read out with great panache by Christine, an exceptional reading especially as Christine had not seen it till that moment.

Then it was the Brits. Our own institution of crip glory Mr Mat Fraser read a fab and filthy story, set in New York, and then it was me. Little ole me making my debut in New York. My mum will be staggered! I did my rather rude ‘Dr-Patient Relations’ spoken word burlesque, developed a few years ago with London based burlesque legend Jo King, and finished off with a new piece call ‘Alphabet Sex’. 

I glowed and grinned and basked in my moment. I sold books and Bluestocking took copies as stock. Everyone was lovely and complimentary. I most certainly will return.

I’m full to the brim with New York and the stories will spill out into something very soon.  

But for now, slowly recovering from jet lag, I have to turn my thoughts, if not energy quite yet, to the Edinburgh Fringe. I am there from Aug 22-27, performing the show ‘Adventures in the Dark and Light’ – in Princes shopping mall (!?). Quick note: I have floor/sofa bed space in a semi-accessible apartment if anyone is interest – reasonable rates.

But reflecting on an intense and exciting week, in which I felt I made progress with my work, I have to end on a sombre note.  The ConDem cuts are hitting. Social services peer into our lives to trim and snip… and slash.  A top-notch PA made my New York trip possible in the sense of appropriate support. Yet as budgets are challenged and we are pushed to live in conditions worse than convicted criminals, what then of our work and our aspirations?  

The hypocrisy shouts as loud as we do – can we make them listen? We have to, for all our sakes – and not only to have the right to travel, but the right to exist.   

Posted by , 4 August 2011

Many Many Penny Adventures

It’s all go. Go, go, go. Where to begin?

Ok, firstly, on Wednesday, you can hear me do my bit on Radio Four, for Four Thought. This was recorded two weeks ago at the splendid RSA off the Strand, in front of a live audience. They were responsive, laughed in the right places – including at the sanctioned word ‘tits’ – and looked suitably solemn at the serious moments. I’ll be intrigued to see what you all think, though please be gentle with me.

‘Adventures in the Dark and Light’ had its first showing in June and went very well in front of a decent sized supportive audience. I learned lots and received lovely feedback, encouraging and constructive. A big thank you to my team of the day, old pals Jo Cox, Alex Bulmer and Sophie Partridge, plus project manager Richard Popple keeping me on the ball and Susi Evans adding amazing vibrancy to my pieces on clarinet.

More showings of Adventures soon – but meanwhile, if you have or know of a free venue, do let me know. I’m happy to do showings and tie in a workshop or talk as the work is in development. There will be a grand finale of development this year, on December 3rd in London, but I hope to take it far and wide. Replete with red bloomers, a rubber glove and words I hope will intrigue and enchant.

In 18 days I am going to New York and will be doing some readings, and who knows what else. Watch this space – and anyone with New York contacts please, please get in touch. I’m so excited I could burst out fancy purple confetti all over everywhere!

A little while later, I’m off to Edinburgh Fringe and, incidentally, I have space in my apartment, if anyone wants to hire a corner. A version of ‘Adventures’ is showing as part of PBH Free Fringe, in Princes Mall. Lots of food and accessible loos available!

As you can imagine, this is all keeping me immensely occupied (along with the odd protest… ) and it is true I have very limited abilities in terms of switching off and that thing called resting – or sleeping. Eh? Do I really need to? This means I fall into the pit on a regular basis and today it was suggested my MH meds go up… Hmmm. What a choice – they dull me down but I know it’s a tricky balance.I do often feel rather poorly...

There are also the writing competitions. No, I’ll save that. Keep lucky thoughts beaming for me, and I hope to be reporting on successes next time.

Posted by , 4 July 2011

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's DadaFest Part One: Fun, Frantic, Provocative

I'm pulling my guilty face as I write this because I didn't manage to blog while I was working at DadaFest, and I really wanted to share this amazing experience. I've read the blog by Tanya, the reviews, and comments by Colin and echo the sentiments. This felt historic and it was a huge privileged to be there. Yet what a whirlwind, what an awesome frenzy. I loved every minute, even the exhausting ones.

My participation in DadaFest happened despite the odds. Earlier in the year my extreme mental distress had me trapped in a fog of tears and futility. I thought I'd missed my chance, and wasn't especially worthy of one. Somehow I muddled through with help from super friends and colleagues, did some proposals, and was offered work at DadaFest in the end.

I was at the happy launch night, ready for an early start the following day modelling for lovely Tanya Raabe once more. It was quite a thrill to pose under the awesome R.Evolve installation in the Bluecoat, and see people gazing at it, turning the cubes. It was especially funny if people caught my eye and realised then that it was me, one of the naked models they had been peering at.

With some to-ing and fro-ing on the train, London-Liverpool, I was at DadaFest for almost 12 days in total. My work began with being one of the models for The Three Graces for Tanya's life class. This was a moving and empowering event. Fellow model Julia Dean-Richards has written a poignant poem about this on DAO's DaDaFest review pages.

I loved what Tanya did with us, including the silhouette piece, in which we stood against a wall, set up with a paper, to capture our unique shapes. The class included people who had never drawn life models before, including Kath Duncan, a creative from Australia, who I was to work with later. The Guardian have a photo of Tanya working on this piece, in their DaDaFest Gallery.

My next job was with the burlesque project 'Criptease', in which six women had been brought together, mostly through the efforts of Liz Carr, to work with the queen of New York burlesque, Jo Weldon and her partner Jonny Porkpie. Three solid days of crazy glitz and glam rehearsals resulted in an open showing on Sunday 28th November. Each of us presented a 3-4 minute piece, exploring our own take on stripping. I went from dowdy, splinted and bored, to an Arabian shimmying dancer, stripped by the Genie (Jonny), who popped from the lamp. Of course, I had to end with some fast cheeky tassel twirling on my breasts - which the audience seemed to like!

In tandem with the Criptease work, I was also doing a 'Bed-In' performance on the Saturday. This event was to commemorate John and Yoko's peace protest, and other artists included Julie McNamara and The Feral Four. I did some story telling, recalling how certain events in my life had coincided with times of conflict and unrest. Two were most memorable; firstly that of being in a hospital bed when the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979. How us teenage girls feared a nuclear war! The second was the day of the invasion of Iraq by the West, which happened to be the day my book 'Desires' was officially released, thus wiping out many of my planned interviews. All I can say is – no comment.

I ended my Bed-In with a protest song I'd written in some panic the night before as time was incredibly tight - set to the tune of Yellow Submarine - hopefully I can supply a link soon. It was a powerful moment for me to hear the public joining in on the chorus:

"What do we think of Cameron and Clegg?
They'd rather we were dead
So I'll protest from this bed..."

Part two tomorrow as I am being very naughty now by staying up too late. There'll be trouble if I can't wake up bright and bouncy.

Posted by Penny Pepper, 10 December 2010

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 11 December 2010

Penny Pepper is looking for an actor - super fast

This is an attempt at a fast blog, haha. I can be pithy when I want. Poetry and film demand that especially. Tight precision I mean.

So right now I am fighting as per, and feeling like Drowning not Waving (see Stevie Smith poem) but we have to pootle on, don't we? I fear there'll be more Prozac soon, but sometimes it helps. I'm all over the place and it gets messy, so we'll see.

A performance next Weds, more on that soon. I'm booked for a featured slot, hurray!

I am working on the film for a competition but scheduling is tough when I can't think straight.

I desperately need a male actor, who can at least pass as non-disabled (it's needed for the context of the piece).

You'd play Dr Nazy, a right wing horror of a GP. It's short and it's dark comedy. Come on, get in touch. Reasonable travel expenses paid and you get a DVD. Also to appear alongside Sophie Partridge who is a FAB actor.

Ok back to work and battle. I think I'd look good in armour, don't you?

Posted by Anonymous, 14 April 2010

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 15 April 2010

Penny Pepper is looking for some actors for a short film she is making.

At last I've written a film script and I'd really like to get some good actors for this 5 min short, which is for a competition.

Naturally, this is an EXTREME micro, micro budget. It's me doing everything on my Sony DV Cam. I can feed and water actors and pay very basic travel out of my own pocket as a thanks. And give a DVD at the end.

I've been making films for about a year now, and you can see some on youtube.com and at 4docs

The short film 'Diary for Lawrence' was chosen for a showing by Shape at an event in Wimbledon recently. I also made it to the shortlist of the She Writes women script writers scheme.

I need to film it within the next 2-3 weeks hopefully, but I will be scheduling it quite tightly, so wouldn't really need anyone for more than an hour or so.

If disabled actors play the Drs they have to be able to 'pass' as non-disabled - but happy to use non-disabled actors in this context. Will do very brief auditions if I get a lot of offers.

Sophie Partridge will play Jackie.

Please email me via email address: pennylion[at]hotmail.co.uk

Thanks for your help Penny P. 

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 28 March 2010

Last modified by Dave Lupton, 5 April 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

Penny Pepper blogs a chaotic world, sudden crisis, and some creative struggle

Tonight I am doing an Open Mic slot with Jo on cello at the Apples and Snakes for women. I believe the lovely Liz Bentley is MC-ing too. Liz is a joy to watch and experience if you ever get the chance.

I hope we can spin a little magic for the audience too. If you're in the area do come long. I know I'm rubbish at letting people know in advance but sometimes these things spring up. It's in Brick Lane, East London - in the trendy Vibe Bar - ooo get us. Come along if you can.

Meanwhile in daily grind of life, I find I am caught up in nightmares of bureaucracy gone as Gaga as Lady. Gaga can be great, but in this this sense, it is the thoughtless, uncaring and indifferent kind.

I'm scarcely coherent as I slop around in my PJs, threatened with eviction and debt - because people stop being fully human, and are not doing what they are meant to do. And oh, pardon me! Because I don't fit in a box, and so, they can't tick a box to make their lives easier, I am carolled into a no-win situation. You all know it well. Forms and more forms. Proof of your worthiness. Proof of your poverty. Proof of your crippledness, I've even been told to 'give up work because it's 'easier'.

I'd like to know if any artist has done this. Decided that the fight against the system, no matter if a cliche, is real enough. I have multiple impairments including some heavy health conditions. Yet I can write and speak from my bed if need be. Mainstream view cannot compute such a notion.

Stuff happens that's good. Modelled for Tanya Raabe again - see photo. Will blog on that anon. Novel creeps closer to finish, poems get written. Going for an AC development grant. But all threatened by the other stuff.

Tips for emotional survival, anyone?

 

Posted by , 10 March 2010

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 11 March 2010

Disabled labelled or not. With or without toothache.

Happy new year and all that. But without snow, please. Yes it's pretty. But, of course, not accessible. It makes me apathetic. I have so many projects on the go, and I feel frustrated many are stuck because there's this freeze up of the UK.

Last month I was here there and everywhere inbetween being ill. I went and modelled for Tanya Raabe and we were on Paul Darke's radio show. I managed not to swear - I don't do that generally, but radio can make naughtiness pop out. Going up to Wolves again soon, performing with the lovely Jo Cox.

I did some exciting stuff in Brighton on Dec 3rd, sharing the stage with Liz Carr, which was sooo much fun. The Jesus poem went down well - I think, though we all felt the audience were a little subdued.

I've had ridiculous toothache - an abscess. The tooth needed yanking and of course this became a bit of a palaver as I am not one of those Norms with standard shaped anything. In the end out it came but now rather sore and grumpy.

Question: I am re vamping my flyer for Spoken Word gigs. Should I be disabled specific and why? Am I that, and yet more? Is it a label I need anymore, and who is it for? Are there any historical equivilents and parallells and can they guide me?

Come on, lets debate and argue! It might make me feel less.... disaffected!

Posted by Anonymous, 8 January 2010

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 10 January 2010

Bonfires, bugs and being creative

I look at my last blog and wonder if there's a conspiracy against me concerning time. It really is relative. Ok I don't know what that means exactly, but I have a twinge in my guts that it's related to um, what you are doing.

So, I suppose I must be happy that time is hurtling by because I've been very creative when not doing great impersonations of a Victorian In-valid with a porcelain sick bowl. Yeah, the bugs have been at me and in me, urgh, but I'm fighting the good fight.

I'm juggling the balls of about 5 creative projects even so.. A great deal of my time is taken up with my film making. It became tiring, writing scripts, writing treatments (tormenting things, they are) to face constant disappointment. So I bit the bullet to start making shorts on a decent Sony Handycam.

Here's my latest piece - 'Bonfire please please please view and rate for me as this is a competition! I hope you are all infected with the sense of fun. We had a ball, me and Janis, keeping ourselves in the main rowdy throng, though it's not for the faint hearted.

www.4docs.org.uk/competition/view/278/Bonfire

I would love you all to view and comment on my YouTube pieces too. There's a narrative short on there now Diary for Lawrence which was the first film I edited having had lessons from Katherine Araniello. I hope she's proud of me!

www.youtube.com/watch

There's a few others on there so please have a peek. The first one was 'Toilet Trauma in Epping Town'. The power of the internet can be damn amazing. The film, done as a piece of fun on the spur of the moment, was picked up by a local newspaper, I was interviewed. The council was challenged, promises were made. I believe the Invalid sign has been painted out as a first step! Wow. 

There's also been a flurry of activity on my spoken word, at least in terms of writing new material. You can see a clip on my Youtube page from 'Bums, Homes and Hell'' - which is from my BAC Scratch performance of last year. This version was filmed at Ada Street in May.

Which reminds me...

Recently I ventured into Peacocks. Yes, the clothing store. And then, lo....!

Jesus Saved Me in Peacocks
By the purple stiletto heels
A woman told me he loves me
That He understands how I feel

Maybe it’s true that in Peacocks
Many gods lurk in the clothes
The rumpled crumply undies
The dresses in disordered rows

....that's a taster, there's more and I hope to perform the rest in Brighton on Dec 3rd!

Meanwhile, yes, of course there's a meanwhile - I've been networking with Graeae in their fine new building, I've been up to Shape to see Tanya Raabe's incredible portraits, I've modelled for her (naked of course) in Wolverhampton, and been on Paul Darke's radio show.

Phew. Watch this space, all spaces and any new space that may appear where a Penny might fit some new tales to tell.  Sod the sick bowl.

Posted by , 1 December 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 2 December 2009

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. http://www.juliecleves.com/index.php

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 http://www.ju90.co.uk/LWP/index.htm - 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

Penny Pepper blogs her Edinburgh fringe experience

Oh bum. Big bums. Double big bums. I wrote a fantastic blog, I really did and guess what? I clicked back by mistake and it vanished. As I sit here crying and laughing simultaneously, there's a lesson for you all. For fuck sake always save. I should know better. But I guess I never will.

Anyhow, not long back from a four day frenzy in Edinburgh. At Fringe universe, which is a parallel universe where there is no time, it's not even relative, except as to whether it's drinking time or eating time. Crowds gather, all hours, like buzzing little hives, moving between events and sustenance - and now I am become one of them.

As I flip off the train bleary eyed after a four hour plus journey, I try to adjust quickly to Edinburgh's multilevel, history thick, street ways. Everywhere seems a warren of steps and confusing ramps and the sky is a sulky grey. But eventually I find my way to the hotel, just off The Royal Mile, and before I know it, I'm scooting off to see Ju Gosling's exhibition Abnormal (

http://www.scientificmodelofdisability.co.uk) which is on at Theatre Workshop, on the edges of Fringe land. It's something of an endurance test, much tougher than anything on Beyond sodding Boundaries getting here as a wheelie as Edinburgh's craggy cobbled streets go up and down like a mini mountain range. Thank the gods for a strong armed PA and various friendly natives stopping this soft southerner from going splat on her face.

Shown in the somewhat cramped confines of Theatre Workshop's cafe, this is my first time seeing Ju's exhibition. Apart from a little disappointment at the striking colourful prints of wheelchairs being hung too high for me, I am most struck by the humanity in Gosling's work. While placed inarguably within an equalities framework, the pieces have a universality and a gentle humour I liked very much. I particularly like the cheeky little amusement arcade 'grabber', which picks you a genuine Chinese fortune inside what I believe are needle cases.

I'm realising as I write that I can't do a chronological blog, as the festival doesn't deal in linear. It's sensory overload mostly, and the feeling of moving, bouncing in my case (the cobbles!) from event to friend, friend to event and so on.

On my first evening, Liz Carr offers me a ticket to see comic Adam Hills (http://www.adamhills.com) at the Gilded Balloon. Hills has a relaxed style and his take on his own disability and in general is funny, sometimes bizarre but always with ownership. I liked him.

Each day blurs into a merry-go-round of linking up with friends who are performing or seeing shows. In my usual state of poor planning I had not managed to secure anything myself in advance, but ambition sharpened a few little claws inside me, and I spotted a cabaret open mic going on at Zoo Southside and the open night at the Scottish Story Telling Centre.

Now I consider myself a story teller in the broadest sense. I can tell a tale in any form really, it somehow all slots together in the head, the heart, and comes out. But story telling in this sense is different. No safety net of a book, a script, a scrap of paper. It can be a retelling, it can be a reclaiming, a passing on of a tradition. Of course I am most interested in making sure that the stories of disabled people past and present, are told and acknowledged. So urged on by the knowledge Liz was going to be there grinning at me, and sensing the audience were friendly, I went for it.

I was third up, after some trad pieces. I was shaking and breathless, aware that I would be quite a novelty to them.

My piece was based loosely around an experience from my own childhood, but transmuted into a pared down story telling style, on themes of exclusion and racism. I surprised myself - eight minutes passed and I had a warm response. A man in the audience made complimentary noises, pushed a piece of paper into my hand. He was an award winning story teller, and this was his contact details, and an offer to publish me on his website, and translate me into Russian - ! A magical moment of Fringe.

There will be a part two - tomorrow, maybe over the weekend. I'm back in London now, still weary but full of smiles, despite frustrations many of us experienced. More soon. Much more.

Posted by , 28 August 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 21 September 2009

Busy and busy again

Oh how does time manage to do that thing of flying by so fast?

Is it really over a month since my last blog? I am naughty but my reasons are sound.

Since then, I've been to the Shape disability arts debate, organised by the lovely Michele Taylor, the BBC to yak about casting, and to the launch of Hibiscus Red at the BFI.

There's also been exciting developments with a new PC, though sadly I am now immersed in playing with a toy - Music Maker, which takes me back to my days as a singer songwriter, though I have to say this is mightily frustrating as you can't get the bastard to easily record voice and in a very 'pootery way, it wants to tell you HOW to make music. I have a strong detestation of anyone telling me HOW with anything.

The BBC was fun to visit and I felt briefly very important to be in parking space 1. Yes, 1, at TV centre. I chatted to Sarah about going in the directory of disabled actors, thinking back to my Graeae days when I was 'cast' as a period actor (as opposed to an urban one) and also a naughty housewife type by a mate (she know's she is, cow!) Period actor? The mind reels. I wouldn't say no to a mop cap in a Dickens though, if they give me a reasonable posh bath chair to look invalid-y in, Though bursting from a tight corset might be more to my taste... and no, not a surgical one.

Red Hibiscus is a very new, early stages organisation supporting disabled film makers and all interested in working in the industry. An interesting event, Julie Mac said some great salient comments and we all chipped in. Later, nice chat and catching up with mates to the point of being chucked out as the bar closed. Me, I only drink Pimms, these days.

And, Thursday, 26th June, Whitechapel Gallery - me, doing Open Mic spoken word on the Apples and Snakes event (http://www.applesandsnakes.org/events ) You'll love it. Do come if you can, it's so good to have friendly faces in the audiences, or even scowling ones if I at least know them.

Anyone out there know of Spoken Word venues on the south coast? Or anywhere really!

Off into the sunshine now, and hope you are too.

Posted by Anonymous, 24 June 2009

Last modified by Anonymous, 24 June 2009