Colour photograph of a white caravan from outside the wooden orchard gates, framed by trees, with a red brick tiled cottage behind it. If you look very carefully, you can see a Westie immediately behind the gate.


Holton Lee

Visit 12: 26 - 28 May 2007

We return to Holton Lee after a week's visit to the Preseli hills in West Wales, a place where I have been visiting and making work for more than 20 years. I've had a very productive and enjoyable week, but am extremely tired. My off-road scooter was finally delivered just before we left for Wales, and I had arranged to have a tow bar fitted to my van and to pick up a tailor-made ramped trailer while I was down there. (This is because the scooter will only fit into the van when it has been taken apart, which is not very accessible when you work part of the time without assistance.) Unfortunately this did not turn out to be a straightforward process in any way, which meant that we had to make frequent trips to the welder on top of everything else we had already planned to do. As a result, I still haven't had an opportunity to use the scooter before arriving in Dorset, so I am really looking forward to doing this over the weekend.

Fortunately, the weather in Wales has been fantastic, but, this being another Bank Holiday weekend, the forecast is dire, and I am very anxious that we may not be able to get settled before the heavens open. As we drove south-east across Wales and England, the sky was getting steadily darker, and showers have already started by the time that we arrive around 5pm. I have also realised that I left the caravan keys in London, so I am relieved that Denise has a spare set and, of course, is still at work. Denise, bless her, has also offered to help us unload, as I have still not been able to arrange for assistance when I am in Dorset as yet.

The first person who we see when we drive up to the stables is Sally Booth, one of my favourite artists. I first met Sally when I started attending specialist days for disabled people at the Whitechapel Gallery in East London, which provided an opportunity to spend some intensive time at their exhibitions on a day when the Whitechapel was closed to the public. (Sadly, some years ago the Whitechapel days were cancelled in the name of 'inclusion', since when I have never been back as I find the Whitechapel inaccessible when it is crowded.) Sally coordinated these days, as well as working for Shape Arts - where I have also done a fair bit of consultancy work, but at a different office. Later Sally and I both produced work that was shown on light boxes at Sadlers Wells with funding from the Arts Council London's Innovate fund, so I have known her in several different contexts.

Sally has just begun a week's residency at Holton Lee, as part of Purbeck Arts Week which begins this weekend. She is having a show at Faith House Gallery in August, where she will exhibit work produced during her recent visits to Japan alongside work created during this residency. I have seen some of Sally's Japanese work, including a piece that was included in Holton Lee's first open exhibition for disabled artists at Faith House over the winter, so I am really looking forward to seeing her responses to the Holton Lee environment. We agree that we will go out to Sunday lunch tomorrow and catch up properly, and also that Julie will take her around the site on one of the golf buggies and show her some of our favourite places in the afternoon.

Sally then goes off for a walk, and we go into the stables to see Wally and Denise. We decide to uncouple the trailer in the stable yard, as we will not be able to open the van doors and unload until this has been done. Wally agrees that I can leave the trailer in the yard overnight, and I concentrate on getting the scooter off the trailer and set up. Denise makes us all a much-needed cup of tea, but I am so worried about the rain starting before I finish that I carry on regardless - eventually, Denise brings the tea over to me and points out the sense in having a hot drink. Wally also comes over to help - this is fortunate, as the first thing which happens is that the key snaps off in the lock of the brand-new and very expensive security chain that I have bought to lock the scooter to the trailer. Fortunately Wally is able to remove the rest of the key with pliers, and the spare key works so I can get the scooter off the trailer, but my stress levels are now high.

Things are not helped by the fact that the manual does not have any details of which fittings are used variously to get the basket and the anti-tip stabilisers back on to the scooter. Presumably they expect people to have noted this when the scooter is taken apart, but of course my p.a. has done this for me with the help of the man who delivered it, and I am clueless. My p.a.'s mobile is, not surprisingly, on answerphone, and my stress levels rise further. Unfortunately, the last thing that the salesman said to me about the scooter was that people had tipped them over when the stabilisers had been removed and not replaced ... Wally offers further help, but I decide that the only thing to do is to remain very quietly by the scooter and focus on my own. This does pay dividends and I get the right fittings in the right place in the end, but by now the rain has started so I take the scooter quickly up to the orchard and put it under its cover. Somehow, by the time that we have got the caravan sorted out and have eaten, it is already 10pm, so we turn in exhausted.

The rain pounds down all night, and shows no sign of stopping the next morning. Denise, like the star she is, has left the Sunday papers on the caravan step, well wrapped up in a plastic bag, so we stay in bed for the morning, reading and recovering. Genie takes one look outside, and then decides to put off breakfast and cross her legs rather than go out. At around 12.30 we pick Sally up from the cottage, and head hopefully to a large close-by pub, The Baker's Arms, for lunch. The car park is, unsurprisingly, crowded, so we are not hopeful that they will be able to accommodate us, but the landlord has obviously planned for today with plenty of extra staff and supplies, and we are served within 20 minutes. It is great to catch up with Sally, and the food is excellent as well, so we have a really enjoyable time.

By the time that we return, we are able to convince ourselves that there is a break in the weather. Sally is very concerned that she is losing time because of the rain which she needs to sketch, while I am desperate to try out the scooter properly. We agree that we will head for the woods, where we will have some cover in the event of more rain, and Julie goes to get the golf buggy while I uncover my beautiful new scooter. Genie, having had lots of exercise in Wales and being very tired from it, is not so keen, but perks up when she discovers the speed with which I can now travel. Using the scooter is, I think, like being able to run, and in general I am delighted with its performance.

We all meet up in the woods, which look very beautiful in the wet. I am desperate to photograph them, but water continues to drip off the trees, while a light drizzle has already started, so I cannot keep the camera dry enough to do so without stopping for so long that I would be too cold to hold the camera. When we get to the far side of the woods, it begins to rain harder, and I notice that Genie is beginning to look as if she has had enough. I tell Sally and Julie that I may head back, but agree that we will meet later at Woodland Cottage, where Sally is staying, for tea and a hot bath.

Colour photograph of Genie tucked up in a striped blanket, with just her ears showing
Genie sees just how far under the blanket she can get on Sunday night.

By the time that Genie and I reach the caravan, the rain has been absolutely pelting down on us for more than 15 minutes, and Genie is looking very bedraggled. I rush to get the cover over the scooter before it gets any wetter, since there is a limit to how waterproof any machine can be. I am cold, tired and stiff, so this takes me some time, and when I have finished, there is no sign of Genie. Once I call her, though, her head pops up from under the caravan, where she has sensibly taken shelter. Unfortunately, however, she then appears to have been distracted by the mole hills there, and has obviously been sticking her head in them as well as rolling around in an effort to get dry. Consequently, she looks like a refugee from Glastonbury, and I am horrified about how I am going to get her clean and dry again without the entire caravan and all of our possessions being covered in mud.

Once we get inside, though, she agrees to stay on the mat while I wearily get all of my wet weather gear off and find places to dry it, as well as ensuring that my camera is dry and safe. Then I start to sacrifice the towels I had ready for my bath in aid of my Westie. Nothing, it appears, will get Genie either clean or dry, but I settle for putting a damp and yellow dog into its basket, wrapped up in more towels, and afterwards get the gas heater and kettle going. Julie then appears, having driven the van up to fetch us to the cottage. (It later emerges that she and Sally have had to abandon the buggy close to the cottage in sheeting rain, when the buggy got stuck in a pot hole.) Once Julie sees the state of the dog, she understands why I have to refuse her kind and enticing offer and spend the evening with Genie instead.

Colour photograph of me in bed, with just my face in a woolen hat looking out
And so do I! Photo: Julie Newman

By the next morning, it is clear that we will have to return to London earlier than planned. The rain has not stopped, and we are feeling really ill. According to the forecast, it is actually warmer in Siberia this weekend than it is in the UK and it is not going to improve before the end of the week, so at least we realise that we are not over-reacting. Experiencing the environment intensely and understanding the site in different conditions is all very well - and the woods did look very beautiful - but enough is enough. Wally and Denise kindly help us again, and Wally goes with Derek, who has come to check on the garden, to make an (unsuccessful) attempt to rescue the buggy. With all of this support from our friends, we are able to get away by lunchtime and, with windscreen wipers working frantically, head for home, promising to return sooner than planned as well.

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