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 13: 22 - 26 June 2007

We leave London at about 12.30 expecting to have a fairly clear run down to Dorset, but encounter heavy traffic the entire way. As the schools are not on holiday and we are not on the route to the Glastonbury festival, this seems inexplicable, but adds an extra hour on to our journey anyway. Unsurprisingly, by the time we arrive at 6pm, of all the workers, only the stables and Barn staff are on still on site. Denise meets us at the stables, despite it being her day off, and we have coffee and catch up before unpacking, enjoying the peace after the long drive.

Colour photograph of a Westie with a dirty face, lying down on the grass next to a concrete step and a grey mat
Genie lost no time in putting her head into a mole hill.

I get the scooter out from its hiding place and take its cover off, thrilled to see it again. Riding it is like driving a Rolls Royce compared to a Beetle. I love my mini-scooter - as I loved the three Beetles that I've co-owned in the past - but this is incredibly comfortable and powerful in comparison, as well as being far more practical as it can carry our water etc on the back carrier. As I go to get the water, I see our new neighbours from Ashtree Cottage, who I had met briefly last time as they were moving in in the pouring rain. They seem as pleasant as the last occupants, who have now moved on to pastures new and unknown (kindly leaving us a present of two garden chairs). By the time I get back, Genie already has a dirty face - so much for yesterday's bath!

Eventually we sit down to eat soup and sandwiches in front of Big Brother. (I have already worked why I watch BB each year despite deciding in advance not to, and it's got nothing to do with being part of a mass cultural experience or being hooked on the gossip - the summer TV schedules are just terminally awful.) At around 10pm it begins to rain - oh well, at least we've got unpacked in the dry.

Later, Julie wears earplugs to drown out the live coverage of Glastonbury - 'not that it helps', she says - thus recreating the authentic Glastonbury experience. As I ignore the hints to turn the TV off, I realise that I do actually quite like the Arctic Monkeys. Being a former part-time rock chick, I've been both a ligger and a worker at the heart of Babylon [Glastonbury's main stages], and it has obviously affected me more than I thought! I remember being in a damp and draughty caravan in the middle of the 24/7 din, though, with the only compensation being having John Peel next door, and looking round my caravan now, which is well if basically equipped, I think I have the better deal. Particularly as I have an accessible portaloo with a battery operated flush, compared to the bucket which by the third day of Glastonbury still made me the envy of all my friends (and which I had to restrict to women and children only!).

I was fortunate enough to have some magical Glastonbury experiences in the 1990s, but when I think about having a myriad of unseen animals, insects, reptiles and birds around me instead of 150,000 people, this is equally lucky. It's also great to have such a close understanding of the unique environment that NDACA will be sited in, with all of the different activities which take place at Holton Lee, and the micro-communities of humans as well as animals. Art doesn't exist in a vacuum, but many art buildings do, in areas that are deserted when closed. NDACA will never be deserted, particularly given the people who stay at the Barn at night as well as in the various cottages etc.

Colour photograph of rain clouds covering a blue sky
This was the closest we got to a blue sky throughout my stay.

There have only been showers in the night and it is mild when we wake up, so we have a lie in - lovely! The peace and quiet is wonderful, with only the sound of the birds singing. By the time we get up, though, the showers have turned to heavy rain, so I give up any idea of getting out with my camera and read Richard Dawkin on genetics instead. I am more than half-way through my artist's residency at the National Institute of Medical Research, so the time has come for some sustained scientific reading. Steve Jones is my favourite popular science writer, but I am enjoying Richard Dawkin too.

Denise comes over at noon and we wait for half an hour for a break in the rain to allow us to run over to the van without getting too wet. On reflection, she says that she can't remember it being this wet since the last time we were here ... I now feel like typhoon Mary, particularly as news is coming in of heavy flooding further north and a mud bath at Glastonbury (so no change there then).

We go into Wareham, which has a lot of very useful stores: I buy caravan supplies from the hardware store; and then a £5 pair of aqua shoes from the shop next door (which look like coming in handy sooner rather than later, though not necessarily at the beach!). A visit to the wholefood store then provides me with a tofu cornetto - being unable to digest cows' dairy, I rarely have an ice cream, so this is great despite the weather.

Our retail therapy continues with a drive to the nearby craft courtyard, where we start with lunch. More great shopping includes wool for my friend Roisin (a candidate for the world's least likely person ever to camp), who is knitting me some cushion covers on the grounds that my hands are never likely to be up to knitting. Other finds include a pottery shop, a fairy themed garden centre and a glorified pound shop where I buy more caravan supplies. To make the afternoon perfect, the sun even comes out briefly. It would be nice to be making some art, but it's also good to have time out.

Colour photograph of a muddy brown puddle in the lane
Almost from the start, we could tell it was Glastonbury weekend.

On our return to Holton Lee, we are greeted by my friend Helen, who is currently editing a book about the representation of disability in 20th century girls' fiction for my smallpress company Bettany Press. Helen is staying at the Barn for a few days, and comes down to the stables for tea and to meet the team there. Afterwards, with the rain having returned, I go back to the Barn for a shower. This is interrupted by Julie, who phones to say that Genie looks like a Glastonbury refugee again, having burrowed under the caravan while Julie was putting a cover on the scooter she had borrowed from the stables. I come back to find a very soggy doggy wrapped in towels and looking sorry for itself. Later I watch Glastonbury again - I am not so sure about the Killers, but still quite enjoy them.

On Sunday morning I join Helen for coffee at 10.30, and then Genie and I look round the Volkswagen Classic show that is taking place on Holton Lee's camping field today. Another thing which makes Holton Lee's arts activities different from other arts venues is the very wide variety of people who visit the site. During any given week, there are people coming here to ride, garden, volunteer on the land, work in the Barn and the office, stay for holidays or respite care, and come to the wide range of events like this, as well as visiting specifically to see the art.

I am delighted when I find a decal stall that is able to supply me with 'Hot Wheels' and 'Girl Racer' stickers for my scooter, as well as 'Vanimal' to join 'No Fear' on my van. It's also great to see so many Beetles, and this brings back fond memories. But with the rain getting ever heavier, I am still happy to go to the nearby Bakers Arms for a roast lunch with Julie, Helen, her p.a. and Wally and Denise from the stables. We have a long and most enjoyable meal, and then return to Holton Lee in what are now monsoon conditions.

Helen and I look round the exhibition at Faith House Gallery, and then do some work on the book, including choosing a title: 'Hidden Childhoods: Disabled Characters in Twentieth-Century Girls' Books'. I also put the stickers on the scooter, this being the first possible opportunity! Then I return to the caravan, where I do a few small jobs before having some cheese and beer and reading the papers in front of Big Brother. It is so wet outside that for the first time I appreciate the Sunday schedule of two solid hours of BB. I later watch the Who finish the Glastonbury line-up, but for once Julie enjoys a band more than I do. My hands are also very painful; since Xmas I've developed a condition which means that both thumbs keep getting pulled out of joint because the tendons are sticking in their sheaths.

Colour photograph of the artist on a black and chrome three-wheeled off-road mobility scooter, dog beside her
A brief pause in the rain allows me - and Genie - to pose on the new scooter. Photo: Julie Newman

On Monday morning there is still torrential rain, so I rush singing to the office, delighted to be under cover: this must be a first. I have enjoyed having access to my new scooter over the past few days, but I have yet to begin to appreciate its true potential because of the weather. Neither have I begun to realise the potential of my new camera; oh well ... Instead Hayley and I spend the day working on the design for the new Holton Lee arts website, which will be launched on 1 August. This will provide valuable experience for developing NDACAWeb too. Before this I say goodbye to Helen, who has decided to return early; I hope she is able to come back so that I can show her around properly in the future. On the news, we hear about more flooding.

Unsurprisingly, I spend the evening in the caravan, watching television and reading, before returning to the office again for more web design work in the morning. Trish, who has now been appointed as Curator, is away on a much-needed holiday. Despite everything, Tony is still disappointed that he failed to get Glastonbury tickets, and is already planning to enlist the help of the entire office next year! Tony and I also manage to snatch an hour to talk about fundraising. I have been contributing to the fundraising strategy from my studio in London, and we agree to have an intensive session together next time I am down.

At lunchtime I pack up, as we need to return home after work that night - in the brief pause between storms, I finally manage to get some photos. I also note that, despite everything, the NDACA site has drained well and is not at all boggy. This residency is really giving me a good idea of the range of conditions that buildings have to be able to survive; particularly in rural and coastal areas, but actually everywhere.

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