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Penny Pepper's Blog - disability arts online
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Penny Pepper blogs her Edinburgh fringe experience / 28 August 2009

photo female wheelchair-user in a room

Penny Pepper in the Forest Fringe Cafe

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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.

Keywords: disability art,disabled people's movement,poetry,story telling,visual art