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 15: 27 - 29 July 2007

On Friday night we return to Holton Lee, in order to attend the private view of Sally Booth's show on Saturday, followed by an arts networking barbecue. Ashley and I have spent the day in Leicester, as I'd been invited to speak to the National Union of Students 'Liberation' conference about whether equality can be achieved in our lifetime. (I was glad not to be asked whether it will be!) We've decided that, despite this, it will still be easier to travel to Dorset this evening than to get up early on Saturday morning, particularly as, for once, it is forecast to stay dry all day.

Julie meets us off the train at St Pancras in her jeep, determined to throw off my 'Chelsea taxi' insults by taking it to the country. Genie is hanging out the window, and is relieved to be reunited with us - she shows no surprise at meeting me in central London, having seen me off from home in East London this morning. Ashley and I are more relieved to see Julie - the building work at the station means that both the new entrance and the dropping-off point are virtually impossible to find, made more difficult by the lack of signage.

Colour photograph of a small silver and purple tent, viewed through rain on a window
Ashley's tent, as seen from the caravan!

Rather than driving around the M25 as usual, we head south-west through London to meet the M3 the other side of the city. Inevitably it is a slow journey, made worse by the fact that it is the end of the week, but it is good to be tucked up on the back seat with Genie and to be able to relax. Once we're on the motorway it's a fairly straightforward journey, but the rain begins to pour down as soon as we leave the city and continues to get heavier the closer we get to Dorset. I feel extremely sorry for Ashley, who has only a tent to look forward to at the other end. I'm also really grateful that we are in a four-wheel-drive vehicle rather than my own van, much as I love it - there's an incredible amount of water on the road.

When we arrive at Holton Lee, I can tell that Ashley has been worried too by the relief in his voice when he says, "The tent's still up, then". Fortunately it is also dry inside, to our huge relief (but particularly to Ashley's!). We've brought sandwiches and eaten them on the motorway, so once we're in we start straight on the beers. Then we realise that we've yet to turn the gas on, so Ashley and I head outside again. The sound of amplified folk music is audible above the rain; it's good to see that the campers on the main field are still coping with the weather.

Between his fluorescent waterproofs, my head torch and the silver tent, Ashley and I decide that if the main camp field is 'folk', then we are the rave end of the site. This seems particularly fitting as Tony accused me last Monday of liking 'bing bong' music - which Hayley and Trish ascertained (with some difficulty) meant electronica, as opposed to 'real' music like what Tony likes! Later Ashley comes back from walking Genie to announce that the deer were close by, and he and Genie had been surrounded by dozens of gleaming eyes - though Genie, of course, had been too busy looking for rabbits to spot them!

Colour photograph of me riding the scooter towards the camera, with Genie sitting on the footplate
Genie decides that riding is more fun than walking. Photo: Julie Newman

Fortunately, we wake up the next morning to a blue-ish sky and sunshine; hooray! I set off to do some filming in the fields, leaving Ashley to clean the outside of the caravan. I am in the process of making a short artist's film called 'England', which among other things looks at issues surrounding children's rights within the immigration system. I want a very English landscape to shoot in later in the summer, and think that somewhere among the oak trees will be particularly apt for this. I've got my small video camera with me, so I can record the shots on this rather than my stills camera.

As Genie and I go into the fields, we see a contingent from the stables marking out the course for next weekend's carriage driving competition, which will be part of the memorial horse show at Holton Lee. They are very busy, so we just stop for a moment before going on to choose our spot. Fortuitously, the field that has been mown for the competition is in front of a line of oaks, so I don't have to spend long deciding on the general location for my film. Instead I am able to sketch out a number of different camera positions in a diagram of the field and shoot from all of them, so that when I'm back in the my studio I can see which is the optimum camera location to use during the filming. Genie, who has been extremely good while I have been filming, decides that the footplate of my new scooter is a fun place to ride, so on the way back she scoots rather than walks.

Back at the orchard, Ashley is doing sterling work with the caravan. We also meet Julie, who reminds me that I have agreed to model for her before lunch. She is working on a series of photographs of a wheelchair user - me! - in strange places, so we go over to the field in front of Ashtree Cottage to take some shots. In fact, Ashley has to carry the wheelchair through the two-feet-high thistles etc to the place that Julie has chosen, and I follow on the scooter. Modelling is shot through with the fear that the tyres will puncture on one of the thistles! It's not quite as bad, though, as when she asked me to pose at the top of a mountain road in Wales - the manual chair I use for work is optimised for performance and for people who, like me, have very little upper body strength, so if the brakes had come loose, I would probably have zoomed right down the mountain and up the next one!

Finally we stop for lunch and are able to sit and relax in the sunshine for a while. Julie and I are very excited at the prospect of seeing Sally's private view this afternoon; it seems unbelievable that it is two months since she was here for her residency! Once we get there, our expectations are more than fulfilled. The show, East Meets West, combines work that Sally produced in Japan last year with work she made at Holton Lee in May. The theme of rain runs through both! In fact, this is probably one of the few dry days since Sally was last here, given that this has been the wettest late spring/early summer in history. Genie, who is continuing to balance on the footplate as a performance art terrier, does divert some attention from the show, but thankfully not too much.

Colour photograph of Sally and I standing talking in front of oil paintings of the Holton Lee foreshore, with Genie waiting patiently
Sally and I chat about her work during the clear-up on Sunday. Photo: Julie Newman

The barbecue is also fun - again, the summer has been far too wet for much outdoor eating. It's good to meet up with the arts team and trustees out of the office, too. By late afternoon, though, Julie and I are both exhausted, and we head back to the caravan for an evening in front of the television. (The caravan, by the way, thanks to Ashley is now gleaming, and is no longer surrounded by nettles.) Sally, who is staying in the flat above the farmhouse, has promised to come down to join us later, but by 7pm heavy rain has set in again and it is obvious that she will need to stay where she is.

In the morning, though, we are able to meet up with Sally, and we go back to the gallery to help her to clear up after the private view. It is great to see the show again, and to look at the work in more detail. Julie, though, is not best pleased to see the sketch and photographs of the golf buggy she had to abandon on the heath after it got stuck while she was showing Sally around in May!

After the clearing up has been done, we decide to head to the Bakers Arms, where we ate with Sally last time she was here, for a late Sunday lunch. It's great to be with with her, and to talk about her work some more. Ashley also helps to work out how to set up an MP3 player which Trish has bought for Sally to record her audio-description of the show - it's great to work with someone as techy, but more up to date, than me. Once lunch is over, we return via the old pottery, which has now been turned into a gift shop; we all feel that a little retail therapy will round things off nicely.

Back at Holton Lee, the sun is now out again. There is just time for me to spend an hour sketching in the fields before we need to pack up and return to London - this summer I need to take every opportunity to work when I can, as the light has been so uniformly awful, not to mention the practical problems of working in the rain. But all in all, we seem to have packed a lot into less than 48 hours!

Colour photograph, taken from behind, of me seated next to my scooter in front of an oak tree, with Genie laying behind me
Sketching in Twin Oak Tree field. Photo: Julie Newman

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