Visit 11: 5 - 8 May 2007
We arrive on the Bank Holiday Saturday to open up the caravan for the summer's work. We are working to raise the rest of the money for the NDACA building, now that the Arts Council's contribution has been confirmed. An application has gone in to the Heritage Lottery Fund and a charitable trust, but in order to be sure of the money we need to put in further applications. We also need to develop an acquisitions fund, and so on and so forth (including finding a way to pay me!). Meanwhile the plans for the building have nearly been finalised (so should be available on this Blog shortly).
I would have come down at Easter, that being traditionally the start of the caravanning season, but was otherwise engaged on a scriptwriting course run by the Arvon Foundation in Shropshire. I'm currently on a six-month mentoring programme, organised jointly by Apples and Snakes, Graeae theatre company and Writernet, for disabled writers who perform their own work, and the course, taught by Tim Fountain and Natasha Betteridge, gave me some much-needed time to focus on the project. I've committed myself to writing The Dummies Guide to Disability Discrimination, a show which seemed like a good idea when I first thought of it two years ago, but now seems anything but. However, everyone else is very enthusiastic about it, so hopefully it will be making progress by the autumn - I will probably try to write some of it while I am down here, as it is a safe space to deal with such a difficult subject.
I can hardly believe that it's exactly a year since I first came to Holton Lee! As we turn up the lane, it feels like coming home - which is odd, since I've been in my present home for 21 years and am very fond of it. Clearly it's some quality about the land which has made it so special to so many people over the years, and led to it being put into trust in the first place. It's mid-afternoon, so we go straight to the stables - or East Holton Driving Centre, to give it its official title - where Denise has the caravan key. Having left London and driven most of the way here under cold grey skies, the sun is now blazing down, so we sit in the sunshine and drink coffee for an hour and catch up before going to unpack. Denise and Johnny, another volunteer, have just passed their 'Able-Bodied Whip' exams, and the stables has also been examined and passed with flying colours, so everyone is happy. Genie is particularly happy to be allowed to potter round unleashed and to hang out with Johnny's collie Pippa - unusual for her, since she is normally and unfortunately extremely prejudiced against collies.
Denise has somehow found the time to clean the caravan for me, which has been a godsend. The person who I had arranged to p.a. for me this year in Dorset has recently been inundated with other work and thus was too busy to help, so I was rather stuck. I'm waiting for further surgery on my hands after overdoing it last year, while Julie needs to reduce her steroid prescription prior to coming off them altogether and needs to do less too. If Denise had not come through we would have had to cancel our visit - relying on voluntary support can only ever be a temporary solution, though, particularly when everyone at Holton Lee is so busy, so I hope to find a local p.a. soon. As it is, it seems to have taken us even longer to get away from London than it did last year, though as the traffic was light we were still able to make it in around four hours.
Our neighbours in Ashtree Cottage are down for the weekend with their extended family, so there are tents in the garden and smoke rising up from their barbecue, which immediately attracts Genie. Despite it being Bank Holiday weekend, Derek is working in the garden, and helps me to get my camping chairs, barbecue etc out of the garage where they have been stored for the winter. He also brings over a paving slab and sets it up in front of the caravan so that I can cook safely outside - we have all mod cons, as well as another good friend here. I get more things out from under the caravan and see a very small toad in the process; as I also found a bigger one under the caravan last year, there must be a colony near by. (Actually, last year I found Genie under the caravan with saliva pouring down her front; then I saw the toad, which she had obviously licked and found wanting.) Inevitably, the moles are still thriving too, though the caravan is only listing slightly more than last year. (Note to self, I must persuade Dave to level it for me again before things become serious.)
Denise, bless her, has even put flowers in the caravan and left a card for my birthday, which was last Wednesday. It's really good to see how well the caravan has survived the winter, and also to reap the benefits of the hard work spent kitting it out last year. This year I should be able to concentrate on getting a series of minor repairs done, which will help me to continue to claim that it is a 'classic' caravan rather than merely being very old. We even have a good television signal, which bodes well for Big Brother later in the year and in the meantime allows us to watch Dr Who while we eat tinned spaghetti (don't knock it till you've tried it). Certainly the television, which dates back to 1980 when the caravan was built and I left home for bedsit life, is a classic of its kind, and watching Dr Who in black and white brings back memories of hiding behind the settee and watching the show in the 1960s and 70s. As we go to sleep, I can hear owls hooting not far away - just as well that I'm not the nervous kind! Genie however moves swiftly if silently from her basket to the bottom of the bed.
On Sunday we wake to the sound of the lesser-spotted young humans next door; it's good to hear them get so excited by being out of doors. Later we potter down to the stables for elevenses, where we see Wally and congratulate him on the stable's exam successes. The stables have, however, also suffered a grievous loss since we came down in January, as Margaret Newell who founded them died suddenly from cancer in March. Margaret organised the annual Holton Lee Horse Show, where Genie enjoyed her first and probably her only show success last summer. I am extremely glad that we were there for what turned out to be Margaret's last show, and to have met her, however briefly.
Later we take Denise for a roast Sunday lunch in Wareham, which we all enjoy immensely. We drive on to Swanage for a look at the sea, and then back via a local gift shop which we have all, apparently, intended to visit for some time but not got round to doing. I get Genie a furry ball and a new fluorescent jacket, as well as picking up some gifts for my London p.a. who will shortly be leaving for pastures new. We also stop off at the local village store for some blu tak, which I hope will keep the bottom of the caravan mirror attached to the wall despite the wall itself being at an angle!
After a rest, we leave Denise to feed the horses and Julie and I set off down Celebration Field to the harbour viewing point. The wind is blowing hard off Poole Harbour as usual, and the tide is high. The sky is grey, but there is no rain as yet - though with Bank Holiday Monday fast approaching, it's presumably only a matter of time. My little scooter shakes and rattles as it rolls, as do I, and I am extremely thankful that my grant has finally just come through for a proper off-road scooter. There is only so long that both me and the scooter can keep going like this, and I think we are coming to the end of that time!
On the way back we stop and look at the progress of the students' garden, which is considerable. Perhaps using barbed wire AND an electric fence to keep out the rabbits is a bit excessive, though ... meanwhile a cabbage leaf is slowly rotting inside a humane trap in the middle of a vegetable patch full of fresh greens, which seems a triumph of optimism. Mole hills line the inside of the fences - clearly someone has been kept in, whether or not the students have succeeded in keeping the rabbits out! We are very stiff and tired when we get back, but it has been good to get so much exercise: it's possible to do so much more on grass than you can on concrete because the ground is softer. However, it's highly tempting to overdo it, as we obviously did last year, so perhaps we need to be a bit more cautious. Genie also lies snoozing - she needs to get fit again too. In the middle of the night, we discover that her new ball shouts 'goal' when knocked suddenly - oops.
On Monday we wake, as expected, to the traditional downpour. Denise had previously offered to take me driving - as in carriage-driving rather than car - but phones to say that the horses are too wet. Instead we head to the stables for coffee, and meet most of the trustees who have all come in to help out. It is particularly good to see John, Margaret's widower. After that I have a shower in the Barn, and see a little of the new building. The progress of the extension has been held up by the appalling wet weather over the winter, but it is fairly close to completion now and the older part of the building is partly open for business again. I know that a lot of the people who love Holton Lee will be looking forward to staying in the new facilities, as well as it attracting new visitors. It's been impressive to see the build taking place, and to know that a similarly smooth operation can expected with the NDACA building.
After a snack in the caravan, we drive to Kimmeridge on the 'Jurassic' coast to take some photographs. The waves are impressive, as are the brave windsurfers who are steaming about on them. We take photographs in the occasional brief breaks in the rain, and then drive back via Corfe Castle. We visit the Enid Blyton-themed Ginger Pop Shop there to pick up some more gifts, and I also buy an old-fashioned bicycle bell for my manual wheelchair. (When people treat you as if you are invisible, some assistance is occasionally necessary!). By 5pm, when we are back on site, the sun has come out and we head for the stables for a fish and chip supper with Denise, Wally, Johnny and John. Genie is to tired that she jumps on my lap when she realises we are driving the stables' scooter down from the caravan! We are variously and jointly celebrating the stables' exam success and my birthday, so agree that this merits drinking beer too. We also look at some photo albums which chronicle the development of the stables under Margaret's leadership and see the extent of her achievement, which is considerable. After that it's an early night, after watching the sun set behind the woods. All in all, it's been quite a Bank Holiday.
On Tuesday morning I head for the office for a day's training with Hayley. The office has just got the software to enable her to start expanding the arts section of the Holton Lee website as well as programming NDACAWeb, so we begin to develop the templates for this and I show her how to use the programme at the same time. NB: Once the new arts section is up, I will put links in to all of the Holton Lee arts activities mentioned in this Blog. As usual, Hayley is a fast learner, so we have the initial template completed by the afternoon. It continues to rain for most of the day, so I am content to be inside - Genie is not, but consents to stay quiet if she sits on my lap, meaning that there are three faces peering intently at one computer screen. I also meet with Tony and begin to plan the summer's work, and catch up with the other office staff including Matthew, the new land manager.
At the end of the day, I leave for London - Denise has helped Julie to load the van, so all I have to do is climb in. Wake me when we get to the East End!
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