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 22: 8 - 10 August 2008

This is going to be a bit of a flying visit, as we are travelling down on Friday afternoon and coming back on Sunday night. We are very slow in loading my van, as we've not been able to find a PA to help us - the curse of the school holidays - and so we decide to go straight to Bournemouth where I have a meeting at 4.30pm, rather than going to Holton Lee first to unload as we'd originally hoped. The weather is miserable, and it is hard to believe that it was so hot two years ago when I started the residency at Holton Lee. The journey is quite slow-going, as we are towing the trailer which has my scooter on it and so are limited to travelling at a maximum of 60mph and on the two slower lanes of the motorway. There is inevitably a lot of traffic too, particularly until we leave the M25 as it has the airport traffic adding to the general holiday chaos. We are very relieved when we finally leave the motorway just after Southampton and begin the drive through the New Forest to Dorset, where everything turns green.

My meeting is with the Arts Development team at Bournemouth Council, who are based in the new city centre library. The team have invited me to show my current exhibition, Abnormal, there next year, and we are going to finalise the details today. Since my last visit I have found out that I have been granted funding by the Wellcome Trust to subsidise the tour, which is - forgive the pun - very welcome news indeed. The library is an imposing building that looks very easy to find - until you follow the Bournemouth road signs, which lead to us making a complete circuit of Bournemouth without being able to work out where the signs for 'the Triangle' disappear and where 'the Triangle' actually is. Fortunately I am able to phone Sue, one of the team members, who gives us very clear instructions and then helps further by coming down and jumping up and down at the relevant street corner - the fact that she has opted to wear a red top today is a bonus! Sue follows this up by providing a cup of tea, which by the time I get into the building is even more welcome than the grant funding after the long drive.

We have a very positive meeting, and finalise the arrangements for the exhibition very easily and painlessly. I feel very excited about being able to use the gallery space in the library, as it has all of the benefits of a traditional gallery whilst bringing in a much wider audience. I am really pleased to have been able to book at least one 'community space' for the tour, as the work is not really suitable for many more traditional community venues. I am also really pleased to be able to bring the tour so close to Holton Lee, and to be able to link up with NDACA for at least one of the planned events.

Once the meeting is over, we head for Holton Lee, finding the unfamiliar route a little confusing at the end of a tiring week. (It was only on Monday that we returned from West Wales, where we'd been camping in a tent for the previous week.) It is a huge relief finally to arrive at Holton Lee, and we are very grateful to see that someone - Stuart? - has cut the grass and removed all of the nettles from behind the caravan. I am slightly less pleased to discover that I forgot to load the bag with all of our clean laundry in it, although fortunately I have spare bedding and kitchen linen in the caravan and some hand towels in the van. I am still sorry to have left the bag behind, though, as it also contained some bits and pieces from Ikea - the floral plastic battery operated chandelier being something that I had particularly been looking forward to putting up!

After we have finally unloaded everything, we collapse on the seats and watch the highlights of the Olympic opening ceremony - thanks to our neighbours in the cottage, who have once again allowed us to hook up our electricity supply through their sitting room window. Julie has been true to her word and provided me with a replacement black and white 1980s portable television, although I know that she would have preferred colour rather than remaining true to the caravan's heritage! As an artist who has lived and worked in the London borough of Newham for over 20 years, I obviously have a particular interest in the Beijing Olympics. I am most keen to know more about the cultural programme that is linked to the Paralympics, but so far it has proved very difficult to obtain details. Later - of course - we watch the Big Brother eviction before turning in for the night.

Early morning from the hide - not a deer (or bird) in sight!

I wake early the next morning, and decide to get straight up and ride my scooter over to the Chase Manhattan bird hide, where I have previously - once - been successful in photographing the deer having their breakfast drink at the pond on the edge of the reed beds. I try to wrap up warm by wearing several layers topped off with a fleece, but realise too late that a hat and gloves would not have gone amiss, as would a thermos of coffee and my morning painkillers. Perhaps it is needless to say, at least to regular readers of this Blog, that no deer appeared in the course of my hour shivering in the hide - or at least one head did pop up on such a very long neck that it more closely resembled a giraffe, looked straight at me and then disappeared again, but that just added insult to injury!

After returning to the caravan and having breakfast, we all - Julie, Genie and I - head down to the stables where a planning meeting is taking place for tomorrow's Margaret Newell Memorial Fun Day, which is also acting as a badly needed fundraiser for the stables' running costs. The three of us are running the raffle, after last year's highly successful 'Guess the weight of the Westie' stunt. Unfortunately it didn't seem possible to repeat this, as Genie does not appear to have lost any significant amount of weight, while 'has she been on a diet yet?' is still a staple conversation piece from the stables users! We are however looking forward to doing the raffle. The stables HQ is full of volunteers, and we spend an enjoyable couple of hours being organised by Wally whilst drinking coffee and catching up on the latest news and gossip. Ali, one of the artists from the Stables Studios, is running a face painting stall with Denise, and Denise has been practising on one of the teenage volunteers who confesses that, her appearance notwithstanding, she is actually slightly afraid of clowns.

Around midday we head off to Wareham to stock up on food and drink - and as so often I manage to slip in a little retail therapy, very possibly reverting to the 'Edina' persona that I am so often accused of having by my nearest and dearest! I am particularly happy to discover the Koochi Bazaar, which stocks an amazing mixture of goods from India, Afghanistan, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt and probably some other places I missed, and where I am able to buy quite a number of 'lovely things' at very affordable prices. I am also pleased to revisit the wholefood shop and to stock up my studio cupboards as well as the caravan, and of course to visit the Aladdin's cave that is the Wareham ironmongers. All in all, a very different shopping experience from my part of East London, much as I love to call it home.

By now it has begun to pour with rain, and we return to the caravan looking forward to settling down for a much-needed rest. Denise, like the star that she is, had brought us the papers when she came to feed the horses first thing this morning, so we are able to relax and read whilst keeping the Olympic coverage on too. At 5pm, though, we head for the gallery at Faith House, where one of the artists who work in the Stables Studios, Janet Smith, is holding the private view of her new exhibition, 'Imperfection'. I had hoped to leave Genie in the caravan, but of course she won't let me and so the pair of us ride rather damply up the lane to the gallery, where Genie as usual does her best to attract more attention than the featured artist by sitting demurely on the footplate of my scooter and actively simpering at the other visitors.

Fortunately Janet is pleased to see us, and I am certainly pleased to be able to have the opportunity to see her work. Much of the exhibition features photographs from a site-specific residency in an attic, where the access was very poor, alongside drawings and one magnificent large piece that takes up the whole of one wall of the gallery. The work explores society's obsession with the perfect body, with particular reference to ageing. The private view is well-attended - perhaps even more so than it would have been if the weather was good, as no one could possibly have been tempted to stay on the beach this evening - and even the local MP has turned up. I also enjoy speaking to Janet's colleague, Helen, who runs the print workshop with her, and we promise to catch up further the next time that I am down.

At the end of the private view, I am feeling rather shivery and unwell and am happy to go back to the caravan and tuck up for the night, realising that early morning photography visits are for the most part beyond me without careful planning beforehand. It was, however, fun trying! The caravan is anyway very snug, and we are soon warm and comfortable again, although the rain continues to beat down and our outerwear drips away in a corner. Even Genie decides that, apart from a quick scuttle out for a comfort break, she would rather be curled up inside, and we are all very happy to have an early night.

In the morning, we have to rush to be at the stables for the agreed time of 9.30am, and in truth it is closer to 10am when we arrive. By some miracle - or through Margaret smiling down on us - the rain has stopped, the wind has dried the ground off and then died down to a manageable level, and the sun is shining brightly. This is just as well, since although contingency plans have been made, it would have been very difficult to run the day as planned without the bulk of it taking place outside in the stable yard. We decide to keep the raffle, along with the tombola, cake stall and book stall, under cover in the stables in case of rain, but none of us believes that this will happen now.

Genie seems to have memories of last year triggered as she looks around at the waiting tables and chairs and the various stalls, and tries to leap on to my lap in case she is about to be poked and prodded by upwards of 60 people trying to guess her weight again! She certainly enjoyed the experience at the time, but this weekend private views are obviously more her thing ... She eventually settles down on my footplate, though, and we start to circle the yard selling raffle tickets. People have been very generous with their donations, Julie's mother included, and we have more than 25 prizes to give away.

Almost before we know it, the yard is crowded with people and the event is in full swing. Genie acts as a conversation point, particularly as many of the same people came last year, and we are soon in business, competing happily with Julie who has been left to sell tickets from the stall itself. In the interests of supporting the event as fully as possible, we do take a short break to visit the stalls, and come away with six books and a set of perfumes from the tombola, as well as selling Julie some raffle tickets and buying some of hers. We also manage to visit the BBQ, where Genie and I share two burgers and she also has a sausage roll - my rules about not giving her anything but dog food being suspended in honour of the event. Sadly though Genie is forced to leave before the end of the proceedings, after barking at a blameless Jack Russell, and she is returned to the caravan to quieten down! Perhaps it is just as well that the man who described her as being 'very sedate' in the gallery last night can't see her now ...

When the time for the draw arrives, my tickets are clearly luckier than Julie's, as she wins two prizes and lets me choose the second - I am delighted to get a Bluetooth headset, which has inexplicably not been chosen by anyone else. I have been having a lot of difficulty with using my phone as my hands have become more stiff and painful, so this will make life much easier. I am pleased that Jonny, Chair of the Trustees, has come away with a bottle of wine I donated; it is an Australian wine with a horseman on the label, dedicated to a 'poet, soldier and horseman' who died in 1902. I am also pleased that Ali has chosen an artist's print I gave of one of the New Forest ponies that I photographed last year, along with a Kewpie doll knitted toilet roll cover that was the kitsch favourite of ours from Julie's mother's donations.

As the crowds go home, we are sad that we need to return to London to prepare for my Liverpool opening; it would have been lovely to stay for at least a few more days. I manage to have a brief meeting with Trish first, sitting in the sun outside the artists' common room, as she's taken advantage of the peace and quiet to get on with some stone carving in the Dutch Barn. Then I rush round to get the caravan packed up and the van loaded before we start the long drive home. Before we go, we are pleased to discover that the day has made over £500 for the stables - about a tenth of what it costs to keep the horses for the year. You can click here to find out more about the stables and how to make a donation yourself.

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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. Book cover