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 24: 16 - 18 January 2009

Digitally manipulated colour photograph of the woods

This Saturday is the 'private view' (actually, everyone is welcome at these events) for the third annual Holton Lee Open Exhibition for Disabled Artists. Originally we had planned to drive down for the day, but at the last minute our friend David arranged to hire the self-catering part of the Old Barn for the weekend and invited us along. We are therefore aiming to leave London at lunchtime on Friday, so that we can be settled in by early evening before David arrives. This plan gets changed when Julie discovers that the lock has jammed on my scooter trailer; after an hour of trying WD40 etc, her PA breaks it off and we get finally underway at around 2.45pm. I am looking forward to taking some photographs of Holton Lee in the winter and am only sorry that the icy conditions of New Year have lifted - though the warmer temperatures do make it more comfortable, not to mention safer to drive.

The winter traffic is still reasonably light, though, and we arrive at about 7pm, when a member of the Barn staff gives us a hand in with our bags. We also meet a working dog, Ned, who is staying in the New Barn with his owner, and both dogs are excited to see the other one. The upstairs of the Old Barn - accessed by lift - is now self-contained, and is ideal for groups of friends as well as organised groups, having accessible bedrooms, a large sitting room/diner and kitchen as well as a balcony and area for viewing birds etc. It is also good to see disabled people effectively taking control of the space and organising our own care, alongside the updated provision for residents in the New Barn. Genie discovers that she can see the camping field from the viewing area, and gets very agitated as she tries to tell us that the Stables horses are grazing there rather than in their usual fields. She believes that she is the only one who has spotted that they have 'escaped', and eventually I have to shut her up with a large chew given to me for this purpose by a friend the night before.

Colour photograph of Ju's shadow across a woodland clearing

David arrives an hour or so later with his PA Luis, who is a musician from Peru. We are soon settled in with drinks and snacks that are largely left over from our various Xmases. Julie and I insist on finding out who has been evicted from the Celebrity Big Brother House, and then turn the TV off in favour of making our own entertainment. There is an electric piano in the sitting room, and Luis alternates between playing this and his guitar, with David playing the harmonica and my singing backing vocals for them until the small hours. Julie has a good voice, but has discovered that the Barn now has wi-fi and is soon glued to E-Bay, where she is looking for secondhand Barbies for an installation that she is creating. Genie is very happy to be here and to see David but is always nervous when I start to sing, so sleeps with one eye open!

Next morning I wake at 8.45am to the sun shining through the window. I have, unsurprisingly, overslept, having intended to be out taking photographs as early as possible while the light is best. I rush to shower and eat breakfast before setting out on the scooter with Genie. It is a lovely morning, and I am so glad to be here, to have the scooter to go around on and generally to be alive. We go through Twin Oak Tree field, where I stop to make some shadow self-portraits - Genie unintentionally joins in when I get back on the scooter (see below!). The ground is so wet that it makes a squishing noise as we drive over it - it is actually too wet to leave tracks; this is probably more typical of a Dorset winter than snow and ice. I make more shadow pictures in the woods, as well as taking various views of the trees in winter. We see two deer in the distance, but it is already too late in the day, realistically, to be able to get close enough to take photographs of them. Then we move on to the heath, where I take more landscape shots as well as making a handprint in the wet sand for my series. It is warm in the sun but very cold out of it, so next we head for the Stables where Julie has already arrived and have tea with Wally, John and Johnny. It is great to see them after nearly four months' absence.

Digitally manipulated colour photograph of the ground, covered in pine cones and holly

Julie then goes off to meet with Trish, as she is assessing the arts programme this year. I return to the Barn, where I make hot chocolate and talk to Gus Cummins, an artist who I showed work with in Liverpool last September. It turns out that Gus was staying downstairs in the Old Barn the night before, but didn't know we were there and, surprisingly, didn't hear us! It is good to catch up, but a shame that we didn't meet up the evening before as he is returning to Bristol after the private view. Ali then joins us, having found out from Julie that I am here, and then Sylvia, a friend of David's who I have met in London, arrives from Winchester, so we all drink coffee and hang out.

Around 1pm I go over to the private view of the open exhibition, where the standard of the work has never been higher. Voting is taking place for the 'People's Choice' prize, which along with the judges' choice will be announced later this afternoon. The prizes are week-long residencies at Holton Lee, including accommodation and studio space, so they are much sought-after. The standard of the work is so high, though, that I cannot vote - it is impossible to pick out just one outstanding piece.

Ditigally manipulated colour photograph of a tree rising from the heath, bare of leaves

The turn-out is very good too, and the gallery is crowded. I talk to various artists that I know, including Sally Booth, who is exhibiting a panoramic drawing that she produced at Holton Lee last year. I also talk to Jim Hunter, now Vice Principal of The Arts Institute at Bournemouth. Jim is due to interview me live when my Abnormal exhibition comes to Bournemouth Central Library in March and April, but may now have to withdraw because his recent promotion means that he has inherited his predecessor's diary. We agree to try to rearrange the date, or to get his successor in his old job to do it if the marketing material has already gone to press.

When I return to the Old Barn, Sally Booth and a couple of other friends join us for coffee before returning to London, along with Theresa, the Director. Afterwards Julie, who is exhausted and in a lot of pain, goes to bed. I decide to try to clean my scooter, although this will be hard as I am currently having a lot of problems with my hands. However, during the private view it slowly and embarassingly dawned on me that the smell of cat p*** which I first noticed in the entrance to the Barn on Friday night was coming from me ... in London I keep the scooter at the front of the terraced cottage which I use as my studio, and clearly the neighbourhood cats have been interfering with it! Thanks to the VW show at Holton Lee two summers ago, I have specialist polishes and cleaning cloths in my scooter bag, and although I am unable to banish the smell completely, it retreats to a manageable level and the Barn is also returned to its usual freshness. While I am cleaning I also see Ned and his owner again, and offer to give her a try on the scooter the next morning.

Colour photograph of Ju's handprint in the sand, next to tracks left by a bird

When I get back upstairs, David and Luis are at the piano again, and I cannot resist joining in with backing vocals. Later David goes out with Luis to pick up another PA from the station and to have dinner together, and I try to get to grips with the tele-adaptor I have bought for my camera. My hope is that, next time I am as close to the deer as I was in September, the adaptor will give me the power that I need to get a decent photograph. When David and his PAs return, Julie gets up again and we make more music before turning in around midnight. It is now blowing up a storm, accompanied by torrential rain.

In a triumph of hope over experience, though, I have set my alarm for 7.30am, and to my relief and surprise the sun is shining when I wake up. I get up quickly and make a hot chocolate, before riding the scooter into the woods and to the far bird hide. Here I set the tripod up and get the camera ready before waiting, in vain, for the deer to appear for their usual morning drink. Undaunted, I pack up again and - after being surprised by another photographer coming into the hide - go on to the heath where I see a new stream has appeared, bubbling across the path from a spring. I am extremely impressed with the scooter's performance on such wet terrain, but am careful to park on a raised boardwalk across a particulaly boggy piece of heath before taking photographs of the landscape. Otherwise, I fear that I might sink into the ground without realising it by the time I came to move off again. There are, of course, no deer in sight, but I comfort myself that my life here will be emptier once I have completed my quest to get a particular shot.

Colour photograph of the reed beds, seen through the edges of the wood

On my way back I stop at the holiday cottages, where renovations are underway, and look through the windows as Theresa has suggested. The work has already progressed well and it is obvious that the access will be much better when the work is completed. Unfortunately I slip on a patch of concrete - the only concrete in 350 acres! - as I am returning to my scooter, and although no serious damage has been done I decide that it is time to go back to the Barn before I stiffen up. Once there, Julie, who was about to go off to take her own photographs, takes pity on me and makes me breakfast, after which I feel well enough to give Ned's owner the promised ride on the scooter. Predictably, she is as impressed with it as I am, and I hope she is able to get one herself.

During the rest of the morning I visit the exhibition again, since the works are well worth spending extended time with. I also do some shopping at the Barn, buying not only my usual Holton Lee honey but also a walking stick made with wood from the site. It is really beautiful, and an art object in its own right - I hope it might help me to move around more easly in the woods without pressing down on my hand, as I have to do with my usual stick. I then have coffee with David and take Genie for a walk, before we all have an unexpected lunch of roast vegetables left over from the New Barn's Sunday lunch. After that we pack for home with the help of Luis, who is travelling back with us, and reluctantly leave for London. Soon, however, I will be back in Dorset for the opening of my exhibition, and I am really excited about being able to show my work to the friends that I have made here.

Genie tries to ignore my singing.

But decides to join in with making shadow self-portraits.


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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