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 28: 16 - 18 October 2009

Colour photograph of the artist on an outdoor scooter, dressed for the cold weather, with Genie the Westie on a lead.
Genie and I, back in our element. Photo: Julie Newman

We return to Holton Lee after a longer gap than I'd hoped, since the site is so beautiful in late summer and it would have been great to be there to experience it. I was also sorry to miss Simon McKeown's Motion Disabled exhibition at Faith House, as I'd followed the development of this work with great interest. However, my time in Edinburgh with my Abnormal exhibition was much more full-on than I'd expected, and this was followed by a September where every weekend was booked up in advance - which stretched into October. Now, though, we are off to Dorset at last, accompanied by my new PA Susan who is going to help us to close the caravan for the winter. We are not going to sleep in it, though, but in the Old Barn, where we last stayed in January. This should help us to stay warm.

Shola and her husband help Julie to get the trailer ready at her house, and with Susan's help at my end it is much easier to load the luggage into the van and the scooter on to the trailer than when we are struggling to do it on our own. Therefore, after a smooth journey, we arrive by 4pm despite not being allowed to do more than 60 miles an hour when towing. Genie sleeps throughout, but perks up when she smells the familiar air and then nearly climbs out of the window with excitement as we drive up the lane. Unloading is relatively simple with Susan's help again, and afterwards we grab a quick drink and enjoy our surroundings. The staff are continuing to upgrade the facilities at the Old Barn, and I look forward to using them to introduce new people to Holton Lee in due course.

Colour photograph of a large horse with a white blaze on his forehead and shaggy white legs looking towards the camera over a fence.
Even the horses come up to say hello.

Then Julie and Susan go off to the stables where Denise and Wally are waiting to see us, but I head instead for Faith House where Gus Cummins is about to hold the private view for his exhibition Ictal. Gus and I exhibited at the same gallery in Liverpool last year, the A Foundation, as part of Dada Fest 08, and it is good to be able to see more of his work. Like many of us, Gus has arrived in Disability Arts after deciding to extend his fine art practice to make work around his disability related experiences, in this case his experience of epilepsy. He duly discovered the international Disability Arts movement, and the rest has blossomed from there.

The work that Gus is showing at Faith House uses data from his medical records, alongside his own images. As I have written elsewhere, images of disabled people are often confined to medical images, and these are also images over which we have no control. By appropriating these images from his medical records, Gus is able to interrogate the medical gaze, and to intersperse images which give a more accurate representation of what he actually sees when he is beginning to fit. Gus also uses observations from his medical notes, together with data showing the movement of his body during a fit which adds a further, and unexpected, element to the work.

Colour photograph of a Westie sitting on a chair.
Genie decides to join in with the conversation on equal terms.

After the PV, where I am pleased to catch up with Theresa Veith and Abi Kremer again too, I head to the stables to meet up with the others. On the off chance I go past the Stables Studios, where the horses hang over the fence in the meadow to see me, and to my delight find Ali hard at work on a painting. She is easily persuaded to come with me, though, and we arrive in the yard to find that Denise already has the tea on. It's lovely to be back and to see our friends again, and we talk until after dark. Genie has been made so welcome that she is sitting on a chair like everyone else, and clearly feels this is the best place for a dog to be! I suspect that biscuits have already changed paws...

Then Julie, Susan and I get back in the van and go to the nearest shop, where we buy some basic supplies before returning to the Barn. We all had a good lunch on the road and the shop is more geared up for snacks, so Susan and I make do with soup for supper while Julie as the driver has a pre-cooked spaghetti bolognese which she bravely says is quite nice really. After this we watch TV for a little while before all deciding to have an early night.

Colour photograph of an orange and grey sky, with trees outlined against it and reflected in the water in the foreground.
Dawn from the birdhide.

It is the time of year when the deer rut, and the sound of them screaming echoes throughout the night. At 5.30am I get up with the intention of getting out early to photograph them, leaving the others - I hope - to sleep. After a quick breakfast I slip out on my scooter, and discover that the stars are still bright in the sky. As the deer are still screaming all around me I only go as far as the edge of the fields before stopping and leaning back in my seat, where I watch the stars until they fade. Magical and unmissable - nothing in my life over the past two months has come close to this, and the feeling of independence when I am basically housebound in London is amazing too.

Then I go slowly and quietly down Twin Oak Tree field to the hide at the bottom, covering the ignition light on my scooter with my left glove to keep me as invisible as possible, since I can tell there are deer all around me. In the hide I open my flask of hot chocolate, and enjoy a drink while I wait for the dawn. The dawn chorus rises in volume as the sound of the deer screaming fades, and I see more and more birds arrive at the pond for a drink and to eat at the feeders. Unfortunately though I only recognise a robin and two pheasants, along with some kind of tits; my eyesight has never made me a particularly good bird watcher. I also see some deer coming back from the fields into the reed bed via the pond, although the light is too poor to get any clear photographs of them.

Colour photograph of a robin perched on a stick.
Colour photograph of two bluetits at a bird feeder.

When it is clear that no more deer will be coming through, I leave the hide and ride the scooter through Twin Oak Tree field to the gate into the woods. On the way I stop to make a shadow self-portrait in the early morning dew. Then I ride through the woods to the heath where I find some deer as I expected, and I am able to get quite close to them. Thankfully the stags who can see me coming seem to decide that I am not enough of a threat to challenge me, although one or two decide to come closer to me rather than run away. At last I get a few good photographs, although there is not a white deer in sight - obviously not, as this is my real goal! It is interesting to focus on the way in which the deer camouflage themselves, though, within the photographs.

Then I come back through the woods and discover that the new reedbed walkway has been finished at last. It is wonderful to be able to get into the reedbeds after years of wondering what the landscape there is like, and I hope that the volunteers who built the walkway realise just how much it means to disabled visitors in particular. It can't have been an easy job, and it is just indescribable to be able to cross over it onto an island where the deer are waiting. I doubt there is anywhere else in the country where disabled people are able to get as close to nature as we are able to do at Holton Lee, and the pathways are key to this. Two white does bound away as I approach, encouraging me to think that in the future this will be a key place for me to take photographs. Now, though, it is a bit late in the day, so I content myself with exploring before returning at last to the Barn for a second breakfast at around 9.30am.

Colour photograph of the profile of a white doe's head, outlined against the bracken and the reedbeds.
A deer on the island at the end of the reedbed walkway makes a good attempt to hide.

After this we go into Wareham, where we stock up properly at the wholefood shop. As always I find Lords, the hardware shop, an invaluable source of bits and pieces for the caravan, particularly as the staff are so helpful, and the Kucchi bazaar a source of unmissable bargains. Then we meet Wally, Denise and Ali by arrangement at the Craft Courtyard, where we enjoy a really good lunch as well as further catching up. Afterwards we look around the shops there, where the potter has more bargains. I also buy a knitted bride doll for my PA Emily, who is on wedding leave, and some crocheted animal blankets, and Susan persuades me that a gargoyle for my garden should not be left behind.

Amazingly it is still only the afternoon, so Susan cleans the outside of the caravan while I sort out the inside before stopping off to see Ali and Wally and Denise again. Then Susan and I have pasta for supper that she makes in the Barn kitchen, while Julie says she is still full from lunch. After this we all watch Strictly, before I go out again to take Genie for a last walk and to record the sound of the deer screaming. My mini-disk battery fades fast, though, and I realise just how powerful my camera battery must be to withstand the cold so well.

Colour photograph of two tree trunks leaning towards the water, with reedbeds in the background.
Trees on the island.

The next morning I get up at 5.30am again, but today it is cloudy and the stars are hidden so I go straight to the hide. The weather seems to have affected the deers' behaviour so none come to the pond after dawn, but I see lots more birds including the pheasants and robin again. I head straight for the heath after this where the deer have gathered, although needless to say no white ones stand out among them. However, I get some more reasonably good photographs. On the way back to the woods I stop to photograph some of the deer and animal paths through the heathland, looking at the way in which the animals 'map' the site - click here to see the pictures . Then I return to the reedbed walkway, marvelling again at its construction and the access to the reedbeds that it provides. The island at the end is also empty today, but I am able to photograph the deer in the reedbeds before returning to the Barn.

Colour photograph of the artist's shadow, silhouetted on the grass.

Denise has left us the papers on her way to feed the horses, so I sit and rest with a hot drink and read them during a much-needed break. Susan has gone for a walk and is now collecting sloes to take back to London, while Julie is out taking her own photographs. Then Lisa Berkshire arrives, along with the rocket I commissioned from her for Julie in July. It is great to see her again, and Julie is extremely pleased with the rocket. Lisa's felt work seems to bring her drawings to life whilst still retaining a line-drawn quality, and I have really enjoyed having the one I bought from her at the art boot sale in July in my studio. Before she goes I show Lisa around Gus's exhibition along with Julie and Susan, who haven't had a chance to see it before, and am pleased to have another opportunity to see it myself.

After lunch Susan cleans the inside of the caravan, and then we are able to get the cover on at last. I've brought down a plastic storage box which we are able to put the deckchairs and so on in behind the caravan, and that's a major relief after the fire in August. I've also bought a new fire extinguisher from Lords, which I hope will be more reliable than the previous one. Eddie has replaced the light in the toilet, so next spring we should be in a much stronger position than we were this year. Susan's help has been invaluable, and I hope her sloe gin turns out well in due course!

By a lucky chance I see Eddie and his wife Jean by the studios, so I am able to thank him in person. Then Johnny arrives, having heard we are on the site, so Julie and he enjoy a cup of tea back at the Barn while Susan and I pack the van ready for our return to London. It has come all too soon! But next month I am off to Australia for three weeks to speak at the Australian Network of Arts and Technology's Superhuman symposium, along with Julie and Susan, and I have a lot to do before then. I hope it will not be too long, though, before I am back once more at Holton Lee.

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Colour photograph of a dark brown stag staring at the camera out of the reedbeds, with an antler-like branch in the foreground. Colour photograph of a brown doe in profile in the reedbeds.
Colour photograph of three does staring at the camera out of the reedbeds. Colour photograph of a doe staring at the camera out of the reed beds.
Colour photograph of a handsome young brown stag staring towards the camera against a heathland background of orange, browns and greens. Colour photograph of three light brown does, each next to a pine tree trunk, staring towards the camera.
Colour photograph of a young brown faun, looking towards the right of the picture. Colour photograph of a young white doe, moving towards the camera.
Colour photograph of a dark brown stag with one antler, staring at the camera. In the foreground is the stump of a white tree. Colour photograph of deer tracks in the sandy soil of the heath.
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