Visit 17: 22 - 26 August 2007
We had been due to return to Holton Lee yesterday, on Tuesday 21st, so that today we could join some of the carriage driving group from the stables on a sail around Poole Harbour in an adapted boat. Julie and I are both keen sailors, but quite apart from that I have wanted to see Holton Lee from the water since I first came here, so we were really looking forward to it. However, the weather has continued to be awful and the boat is unable to go out in the force 5 winds that are forecast, so the trip has been cancelled and we have delayed our departure for Dorset by 24 hours.
When we leave London at around 2pm on Wednesday, it is very grey, windy and cold - more like autumn than summer. I worry that we shouldn't be going at all, but have been planning the visit for some weeks. With us is my ten-year-old honorary nephew, Seun, who is wildly excited about his long-promised visit to the caravan and who is claiming not to care how bad the weather gets. I have also promised to make a film with and about him in return for his behaviour having improved at school, and we hope to shoot this in the next few days.
The weather continues to be awful as we drive down the motorway, but when we arrive at Holton Lee at around 6pm it is dry and, while the sky is still grey, the temperature is much warmer than it was in London. In case the weather deteriorates, I waste no time in showing Seun how to put up the tent. This reminds me of putting the tent up with Ashley, and of teaching him to camp when he was Seun's age. While we are pegging the tent, Seun spots a tiny frog in the long grass which he catches and puts down in the ditch, a safe distance away from Genie. Sadly he is not so good at spotting insects and gets stung while we are unloading the van, but fortunately he seems to be fine. After this, though, he makes a great effort to cover up as much skin as is humanly possible.
After everything has been unpacked and sorted out, I take Seun with Genie to the nearest bird hide, where we are lucky enough to find deer perched on the tiny island in the bird pond. There are more deer in the field as we walk back - most run away, but one clearly recognises Genie and refuses to budge from his meal, sporting an 'is this a bovvered face?'. Seun's mum phones to check that we have arrived safely, and the first thing that Seun tells her is 'I got stung'! Oh dear ... fortunately this is quickly followed by 'I saw reindeer'!
After this adventure we have supper in the caravan and watch Big Brother. Seun insists that Genie will want to sleep with him in the tent - not bad for a boy who used to be terrified of dogs - and I agree to let him try it. Secretly, Julie and I are both convinced that Genie will be such a nuisance that she will be returned to the caravan before long, though. However, the next morning Genie is still snoring away in the tent, which is a surprise to all of us except Seun. Over breakfast Seun tells me that they walked to the common room toilet in the night: he saw deer, rabbits and a rat; Genie failed to spot any of them!
The weather is still dry and the sky is clear, although it is windy. Seun and I go over to the shower block on the camping field, but once he has inspected the facilities, he refuses point-blank to shower with beetles! Instead we go over to the farmhouse, where Trish allows him to use the bathroom in the upstairs flat. While I am waiting for him I have a coffee and talk to Hayley's employment adviser, who has dropped in to talk about Hayley's progress. I am very glad to have this opportunity, particularly since Hayley has clearly undersold herself; I make it clear that she is doing extremely well.
On the way back, a stranger asks me if Genie has lost weight yet - clearly this is one of the many people who under-estimated her weight at the fun day. (Not that she is fat, simply very large but with the ability to look much smaller.) I admit that in fact she has gained weight, after hanging round the barbecue for hours during Julie's 60th birthday party the previous Saturday! (She also managed to terrify the rottweiler upstairs to the point where it would not come out, meaning that she got twice as much as she would have done otherwise.) Recalling the fun-day makes me remember that the stuffed toy polar bear we won in the fun-day raffle has been commandeered by my oldest cat, Gif, who seems to have adopted it as a stand-in for Genie. As a result it now has stuffing protruding from its back, where it has been mauled repeatedly ...
Back at the caravan, I have a first go at interviewing Seun about his life for use in the film. As soon as we begin to talk about his domestic situation, he begins to cry; I feel terrible and terminate the interview immediately. Last May, the day after his ninth birthday, Seun and his mother were seized by immigration officials at dawn and imprisoned in Yarlswood detention centre for a month, threatened with deportation to Nigeria. Eventually it was discovered that the 'right' paperwork had not been signed and they were released, but they live under constant threat of being seized again. Seun has no family in Nigeria, with his aunts, uncle and grandmother all holding British passports and living here, and has never left the UK for even a day trip to France, so this is obviously terrifying for him.
Instead we go for a walk together to the harbour viewing point before lunch, and spot more deer. 'There's a lot of nature, isn't there!' he keeps saying. After lunch with Julie, Seun is invited to the stables, where Brady, who is a 12-year-old volunteer helper, shows him how to groom the horses. Seun returns in great excitement, saying that he has faced his fears and is no longer afraid of horses. Then we visit the Stables Studios, where Abi, one of the artists who rents space there, is having a small private view of paintings that she has made of the woodlands. I last saw Abi's work over a year ago, so it is great to see her latest work; Seun also enjoys his first private view experience.
After tea, Seun and I have another go at the interview, using the artists' common room. This time it is much easier, and I get most of the material that I need. Within a portrait of Seun, I want to explore themes of what it means to be English, as well as human rights. Holton Lee's landscape typifies 'Englishness', while the principles of human rights underlie the four 'aspects' of the organisation (arts; environment; disability/carers; and spirituality), so this is an ideal place to shoot the film. Seun is also feeling increasingly safe here, although many things in his life will have to change before he can experience a permanent sense of security.
Until Seun was imprisoned, I had no idea that children have very few rights in this country or any other, and are not considered to be individuals in their own right. As Seun was born in this country and has never been out of it, in being denied a British passport, he is denied citizenship of any country at all. Despite the media hysteria, as 'immigrants' Seun and his mother are not entitled to housing or benefits, while his mother is not allowed to work in order to support them. It is hard to believe that this is supposed to be a 'civilised' country.
Once the recording is finished, we go for a long walk through the woods to the Chase Manhattan hide, where the New Forest ponies, who graze wild on the heath, have gathered. Seun finds this extremely exciting, now that he is no longer scared of horses, and we watch them for a long time. Then we move on to the heath proper, where a doe runs right past us. We return in moonlight via the lane, where Seun spots another tiny frog. Seun's mother and aunt phone, and Seun tells them in great excitment about the horses and about no longer being afraid.
As we wake up the next morning, Seun's aunt Shola actually arrives on the site, accompanied by her husband, who is affectionately known as Bear. They have obviously risen at the crack of dawn to get here so early. Among other things, Shola is Julie's PA, and also works occasionally for me too. Almost exactly a year ago, we attended Shola's and Bear's wedding in Tobago. It is lovely to be spending time with them now - particularly since Bear is only here for a fortnight on a tourist visa; the complexity of the immigration legislation means that, despite being married to a British citizen, he still has no right to be in the country. They are ecstatic because the sun is shining; ever since Bear arrived a week ago from America, it has been like autumn.
Seun and I hurriedly set off to the farmhouse, so he can get showered and dressed while I use the opportunity to show Trish and Tony prints of some of the work I produced at home following my last visit. When Seun and I return to the orchard, Shola and Bear put their tent up, and then we all have a huge breakfast. After this the wedding anniversary couple go off to the coast, while Julie, Seun, Genie and I set off to film in the field next to the Faith House Gallery.
We spend a long time filming Seun practising football exercises under the oak trees, accompanied by Genie. We pretend that David Beckham is watching, since Seun's ambition is to play for England. The shoot goes extremely well, but by the end I have lost both my sunglasses and my dog. After an hour and a half of searching, Genie reappears in exactly the same spot that she was last seen in, doing a 'down-stay' as if she'd never left! Sadly, there is no sign of the sunglasses - because my eyes react slowly to light changes, it is hard for me to manage without them outside, but I'd had to take them off in order to see the camera monitor.
Exhausted, Julie and I rest while Seun, who is still bursting with energy, earns some pocket money polishing my scooter. Then Shola and Bear return, having thoroughly enjoyed themselves visiting Studland, which is the National Trust-owned peninsula that forms one half of the mouth of Poole Harbour. They have also stopped for a cream tea at Corfe Castle, and brought us all bags back from the sweet shop. Despite this we manage to cook a large barbecue, and sit out under the stars and chat before turning in. Genie is so exhausted from her adventures that I decide to keep her with us, although she managed a second night in the tent last night.
On Saturday it is boiling hot, and we all decide to spend a lazy day before Shola and Bear take Seun back to London and on to a church camp in Essex. I am very stiff and sore from the filming, and am happy to get up slowly. Seun is invited back to the stables by Wally, so needs no entertaining. Later in the morning I go to find him, and discover him sitting drinking tea with the 'elder statesmen' of the stables, perfectly happy and at home. Then we do some final sound recording, and with Seun helping we film some 'cutaways' of Genie in the field, since she had disappeared before we could do those yesterday.After this Seun and I go for a final walk through the woods and heathland. We stop to look at the oaks in Twin Oak Tree field, which are very ancient and have enormous trunks; Seun is suitably impressed, especially because the trunks make even Uncle Bear look small.
All too soon, it is time for our guests to pack up the tents and leave. Seun is, understandably, anxious about his mother by now, so he earns more pocket money by cleaning the barbecue for me while the adults get ready to go. After they depart, Julie and I spend a 'quiet' evening resting and listening to the disco at the wedding that is taking place in a marquee next to Faith House. We are both exhausted; being here is a constant physical challenge for us, but is all the more enjoyable for it. The music stops promptly at 11.30pm, so doesn't keep us up.
On Sunday we enjoy a lie-in for the first time in weeks. Then Denise and Wally come and join us for coffee after feeding the horses, bringing the Sunday papers and a birthday present for Julie with them. It is a beautiful sunny day, and everything is incredibly peaceful. We sit and chat for two hours or more, just enjoying the day.
After this Julie and I sort things out slowly, getting ready to return to London. We stop for lunch around 2pm, and then go for a final 'walk' on the scooters. Julie shows me a route that I have been unable to do before getting the new scooter, and I am very excited. From the new route we are able to see right across Lytchett Bay, as this corner of Poole Harbour becomes, and there are lots of boats about. If only Wednesday had been like this! I still find riding the scooter challenging, though: driving off-road is very different to zooming around a shopping centre or dodging tourists in the Tate on my mini-scooter; and the bruises are still fading from my last visit.
At the bottom of a field near the reed beds, I stop and then squeeze myself through the fencing with the help of my stick and make a hand print in the mud where the deer have been wallowing, to add to the series that I am making. I also make a note to myself not to try to do this again anytime soon; still, what are a few scratches? One of the many pleasures that Holton Lee offers is being able to roam freely over a large area, when my life is so circumscribed in London. And only in high summer is the sun hot enough to make me mobile enough - and mad enough - to do this!
Afterwards we slowly return to the caravan in the late afternoon sunshine, pausing at the spot where we were filming to see if we can spot any sign of my sunglasses. Suddenly there is a loud mewing noise from the hedgerow, and I turn to ask Julie what kind of bird might be making it. (As an Essex girl, I'm not far past the 'isn't there a lot of nature?' stage myself.) But before I can say a word, a very young, thin fawn emerges unsteadily from the bracken, continuing to call loudly. I hold on to Genie for dear life (no pun intended), but she is not making any attempt to move. The fawn comes up to us and touches its nose to Genie's. I resist the temptation to reach out to it, knowing that the best way to protect it is to avoid touching it.
It moves over to Julie, and rests its head briefly on her knee; it is clearly looking for its mother. There is no way to tell whether the fawn has been left there a few hours ago and will be collected safely by its mother soon, or whether it has been there for several days, with its mother failing to find it. It is also impossible to know whether in fact Genie found it on Friday, and whether that was why she failed to come when she was called. It might even have come out now because it heard Genie, rather than to see us; there are white deer in the herd, although Genie makes a very unconvincing short stout one. (This theory, unfortunately, confirms my fear that, after four nights in the caravan, we all smell like Genie.)
We both resist the temptation to get our cameras out, for fear of scaring it. Julie and I decide that I will go back and get a message to the man who looks after the deer, so he can keep an eye out for it, while Julie will stay put for a bit in case anything else happens. Fortunately I find Denise, who has come to feed the horses - she looked after a lost fawn last year, so knows what to do to give it the best chance of life. Julie shows her exactly where the fawn came from - it disappeared back into the hedge as soon as Genie left - and then we reluctantly head back to the van and off to London as it is already five o'clock. The magic of the encounter, though, will remain with us for much longer, and at some point I am sure it will be reflected in my work.
All contents © 2006/7
|Dr Ju Gosling aka ju90's ABNORMAL: How Britain became body dysphoric and the key to a cure is available now for just £3.09 for the Kindle or in a limited-edition hardback with full-colour art plates for £20 inc UK postage and packing.|