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 27: 7 - 9 August 2009

Colour photograph of a toadstool, creamy and brown, on a slender brown stem in the grass.
The fungi seemed to have started early this year.

We leave London at midday after the chores have been done. I was unwell yesterday and my back is still very painful today, but I have no PA so we have to load the big scooter into the back of the van on our own - scary as I have to ride it up the ramp and inside! Fortunately we manage without any serious mishaps. We are returning so soon because it is 'Margaret Day' on Sunday at the carriage driving stables: the Margaret Newell Memorial Day in memory of their founder, who died suddenly in 2007. As in the past two summers, we are going to be closely involved in the fundraising activity necessary to support the stables' running costs.

The journey is slow but steady - in the summer months you always have to add an hour on to the journey time because of the number of holidaymakers heading the same way as us. Soon after we arrive, we see Derek just finishing work for the day in the garden adjoining the orchard where the caravan is sited. He comes over to the caravan for a chat, and we take a fresh look at his design for a labyrinth, one which is much more complex than my own. We decide that it would be perfect for a portable labyrinth on canvas, and I immediately begin to develop an idea for a way to take this forward next year as a community arts project, led by an artist I know in Winchester. A portable labyrinth which is decorated with the plants, birds, animals and insects of Holton Lee would be a wonderful resource, and could be toured to outdoor events all over the country and beyond as well as being used at Holton Lee.

Then I unload (Julie is less than pleased with my priorities!), and find to my relief that Eddie has managed to fix the hob. What a star he is! No more leaking gas, and no more sniffing around like Genie to try to detect the leak! After this welcome discovery I scoot off with my camera to catch the last of the light. The horses are still being grazed on Twin Oak Tree field across the lane from the orchard, so I decide to go into the Mead where they are more usually based. Regular readers of this Blog will know that Genie is a lot more comfortable with horses than I am!

Colour photograph of a wet muddy area with branches overhead.
The boggy area near to where I found the antler.

As I cross Twin Oak Tree field to the gate - thankfully the horses are behind an electric 'fence' (really just a strip of material) at the other end of the field - I start to photograph the fungi that have begun to appear in the grass. I am surprised, as it seems to me that this is quite early in the season for them - when I first photographed the fungi in 2006 it was the end of October. However, I am not what you would describe as very well-informed, particularly as I loathe mushrooms, so don't read too much into this about the impact of climate change etc etc!

Once I've reached the Mead and wriggled under another fence, I spot what I think at first is more fungi, but then realise are actually the points of an antler sticking up out of the soil. Finally, after all this time searching! I am doubly pleased because it seems to me that this marks another stage in my quest to photograph the white deer. (I have got one good stag photograph already, but want to make a picture of a white doe or stag to go with the picture of the white wild pony I took on the same morning, because of the symbolic and cultural meaning of both of them.) The antler itself is very similar to the one that Denise found and I decorated with a re-telling of one of the Blog entries in a dot painting code (click here to find out more about the Antler Blog), but is slightly larger.

I then wait in the tangle of trees and shrubs, sitting on a tree trunk, until the herd comes past in the twilight. They know I am there as I disturbed a few of them when I first arrived in the Mead, so they detour slightly from their usual route. However, they still come close enough for me to hear the stags' antlers creaking - magical. The herd then pauses and one of the stags calls repeatedly - a white doe eventually passes only feet in front of me and joins them. It definitely feels like I am making progress. Needless to say, of course, that the light is too poor to take photographs!

On my return to the caravan, I manage to scare Julie by tapping at the window with the antler. My intention was actually to show her the antler rather than bringing it inside - it being rather dirty and smelly at the moment - but apparently it looked like a disembodied skeletal hand from the other side of the window! Oh dear. Fortunately the Big Brother eviction is about to start - I still haven't had time to fix the TV, so we listen to it instead of my tiny pocket one. After that bed and a hot water bottle are very welcome.

Colour photograph of a boggy area, with mossy branches lying on the ground and tangled overhead, and brown water.
Another view near to the Mead.

I sleep really well, which is a relief after weeks of poor sleep in London because of the humidity etc. By mid-morning I am at the stables (the rest of them, of course, have been there since 8am) and we finalise the plans for Sunday and Margaret Day. As with last year, Julie and I are going to sell raffle tickets, along with Genie (who is effectively, as Wally points out, our main ticket seller!).

Then Julie goes into Wareham to buy supplies, and I potter about ('ave an arry' as we now put it in East London) and sort things out in and around the caravan. Unfortunately I sat for too long in the sun at the stables, even though I had a hat on, so I feel quite dizzy, and after I've finished the chores decide to have a rest until Julie returns. I therefore relax on the sunbed in the shade - bliss. The roar of the traffic is loud, even though the road is a long way away - the sound level due to a combination of the high pressure and the number of holidaymakers on the road. I can hear birdsong too, but am never very good at identifying birds because, since I was ill in 2000, I am slow to process what I am seeing and hearing - and birds of course tend to move very quickly.

When Julie returns at around 3pm we have 'lunch', and then I head back to the Mead to take more photographs. I create more hand prints and shadow self-portraits along the way, but the light is not good enough to document these successfully. I look carefully for more antlers, but unsurprisingly, none are apparent. I also start to take photographs and videos of the deer paths, continuing the project I began in June. The video camera attaches fairly easily to my scooter with the help of my 'gorilla grip' mini tripod, but the grass in the fields has recently been cut so only the paths in the wooded areas are easily visible. However, I'm really just testing at this stage.

As I am videoing a path crossing the field in front of the Stables Studios, Abi Kremer comes out to see me. She is back at Holton Lee preparing for a new exhibition, as she finds the studios here great to work in. It's really good to catch up, and I vow to try to see her show if I possibly can. Abi is a member of the Arts Aspect group, and with no current Arts Council funding and consequently no arts team, her role has assumed a new importance. It is great that she is so committed to Holton Lee, and ditto Jim Hunter, Vice Principal of Arts Institute Bournemouth, who is a trustee. Jim interviewed me in April for a public session at Bournemouth Library, when my Abnormal exhibition was being shown there, and I really appreciated how much time he'd given beforehand to exploring my practice in detail. It certainly helped me to gain new insights into my work.

Digitally manipulated photograph, showing the soil as pink and purple and the path as white.
One of the deer paths through the bog.

I then start to look for spots where I might hide to photograph the deer closer to the rutting season, when they will be more willing to come out in daylight. I can see it is a good idea to be upwind of them, close enough to animal poo to mask the smell of me, well-hidden but high enough up that the camera's view is not obscured by grasses etc. Currently I smell like a wild cat as my scooter has still not recovered from being peed on by the neighourhood strays in East London, so it is a good thing I am not trying to do this seriously today! Instead I am not even going to wait to see the herd pass, as we have planned a barbecue with meat bought from the local butcher in Wareham (yes, I am still managing to stay vegan at home).

As I return to Twin Oak Tree field, I see that Julie is there with Sian Williams, our friend from the Arts Council's London office, and Dr Ruth Bailey, also well-known on the Disability Arts scene. They are down for the week, staying at the Barn, which is a lovely surprise. They go off to the bird hide while we go to put the barbecue on and get the drinks out - they have eaten, but are still happy to join us. I am really pleased that the caravan and the orchard now look so tidy, it makes all of my earlier efforts worthwhile now that we are expecting guests! (My Barbie tendencies ar uppermost at this point.) Unfortunately, though, we discover that we are out of firelighters, while our charcoal is wet and the garage, which is full of it, is locked, so Julie decides to drive to the local service station to buy some more.

Colour photograph of me smiling into the sunshine from the undergrowth, hung with camera bags.
Spotted by Julie while I am researching photo sites. Photo: Julie Newman

In the meantime I get the plates and drinks out and use my lighter to light an outdoor candle, which I place carefully on a metal plate on the table, and before sticking a nightlight at the bottom of the inside of the barbecue to dry the charcoal that's already there. Sian and Ruth come through the gate, I turn round, and suddenly the underneath of the caravan is blazing! A spark from nowhere has set the sun umbrella, beach trolley and the plastic wrapped around the awning poles, which are all stored underneath, on fire, and the flames are shooting up at the underside of the caravan itself. I grab my fire extinguisher from just inside the caravan, but with my hands in splints the pin breaks off and it refuses to work, at which point I really do panic. All I can do is to pull the things out and bang them on the grass, hoping that this won't set the grass on fire too. Ruth helpfully points out that I have a bucket of water nearby (the antler is soaking in it), so I chuck this on the remaining flames and, miraculously, the fire is out.

I had never understood just how flammable the items were, nor that storing them under the caravan was a fire hazard, but now I do I vow I will buy a separate storage trunk as soon as possible. I am very thankful that it has rained all week, so the ground was wet, and that I had put on my decent waterproof trousers (£1.50 with the labels still on them from the Oxfam shop) rather than my plastic ones when I went to photograph the deer paths. Note to self: I must find out exactly where the Holton Lee fire extinguishers are kept, as well as buying a new one and also a fire bucket. My previously immaculate campsite is now chaos and mayhem - so much for making a good impression! What Julie would call a typical Edina moment.

Colour photograph of the caravan with Genie standing on the steps, and an orange sunbed and table and chairs with sun umbrella up in the foreground.
Genie surveys the immaculate area that was the camp site before the fire on Saturday.

I can't believe how lucky I've been, though, as there has been no damage to me, my guests or the caravan, and I am obviously better off without anything that is as flammable as my trolley and brolley turned out to be. It is the second fire that I have put out this summer, as I returned from seeing Holton Lee favourites the Sign Dance Collective perform at Chelsea, to discover that someone had set fire to the recycling bags outside my front gate. Since the flames were shooting up there too, and the fire was directly over the main gas supply pipe, it seemed more sensible to start to deal with it than to wait for the fire brigade. [I am reminded that the Girl Guides celebrate their centenary soon, and how much I owe their outdoor camping training - I can camp for England.] But please, please don't let there be a third.

I call Julie, but she has no signal - then Sian and I each have a strong brandy! Ruth doesn't drink, but I think she wishes that she did! When Julie returns she insists, despite my pleas, on lighting both my barbecue and the portable one she has bought as she is hungry, cold - and of course has no idea how awful the fire looked just a short time ago. Unsurprisingly, the girls go before we finally eat sausages by firelight, after which I drown both barbecues in cold water. I should add in fairness that the barbecues WERE perfectly safe (or as safe as they could hope to be, rather) and that the sausages were delicious.

On Sunday the alarm goes off at 7.30am. I have a bucket bath as it is a special occasion (my bucket sure gets around. actually, only kidding, I do have several!), and also brush Genie the ticket seller. Julie and I have cold sausages left over from last night for breakfast - yum! I hesitatingly get down on the ground and look under the caravan to assess the damage, and am surprised - but extremely pleased - that there is not a trace of fire to be seen on the underside. Clearly the plastic items were very much more flammable than the caravan appears to be. I feel - and know that I am - incredibly lucky.

Colour photograph of the branch of an oak tree reaching up to the sky.

By 9.30am we are at the stables, where we pick up the raffle tickets and I write down a list of the prizes to tell people about - as with last year, Genie and I will circulate around the stable yard while Julie sells tickets at the prize table. I am particularly pleased to do this because in the past I have felt very excluded at events where I have not been able to get my scooter or wheelchair through the crowds to buy raffle tickets, and no one has tried to come to me. I am therefore very happy to ensure that everyone who wants to buy tickets can get them. Unfortunately, though,I realise that in the heat - despite the rain all week, the weather for Margaret Day is as hot as we have come to expect over the past two years - the scooter is stinking of cats again, so I have to make my apologies and go back to the orchard, where I use the portaloo cleaner on it.

Then I make a hasty return to the stable yard, where I take the opportunity to shop at the various stalls before it gets too busy. I buy books at 25p each, which will be good to read when I take my Abnormal exhibition to the Edinburgh Festival next week; some marmalade that Denise has made (goodness knows when she found the time!); and try the tombola where I win perfume bottles for my glass collection and a car model kit (for Julie). Then Margaret's widower John buys the first raffle ticket from me and Julie and I buy £5 worth of tickets from each other, and the Day starts properly. Lots of the disabled people who use the stables turn up, along with carers and personal assistants, family members, volunteers and supporters. Many of the Barn guests come too, including Sian and Ruth and a fellow member of Dog Aid, who Genie and I hope to meet again at our annual residential training weekend in September.

Digitally manipulated colour photograph of a small tree at dusk, with another plant entwined with it.

We see a lot of people that we have met in the past, too, who are all pleased to see Genie, and the raffle makes around £115, which is the best yet. Genie finally gets a sausage today as a reward for her hard work - although she has seen off Sir Tom's collie, which regular readers may remember she has never liked, so she is also in disgrace! One observer, though, who has presumably NOT seen her with the collie, comes up and tells me she would give me 11 out of 10 for dog training, which I store up to pass on to Dog Aid. When the raffle is drawn, I win a plant - for Julie's garden - and when I win again I take a voucher for a carriage drive, as it is now my fourth summer at Holton Lee and I have still never driven despite our long friendship with the stables volunteers. However, I swap back two minutes later when no suitable prize is left for another winner - maybe next year. Scared of horses, me? Nervous, perhaps.

After everyone else has gone, we have coffee with the trustees and other volunteers, before I go back to the caravan to do some of the necessary chores. Julie borrows my scooter (fortunately still smelling fresher, though now rather too much like a clean toilet!) and she goes off with Sian and Ruth to the woods, as she will soon be driving all the way back to London. The sun has been really good for my back, which is consequently feeling much better. Eddie comes along with his wife, Jean, and we discuss the ongoing problem with the caravan roof and its need for more shelter over the winter. Stuart also turns up, and I thank him for cutting the grass in the orchard before we arrived. I also see the neighbours and thank them for yet again allowing us to hook our power up through their sitting room window, so it is not until 7.30pm that we leave, reluctantly, for London and the last-minute preparations for Edinburgh.

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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