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 4: 29 June - 4 July 2006

I have a nice surprise when I arrive at the caravan. Stewart, who works with Dave and with Derek (who is in charge of the garden), has helped to put down hard core immediately inside the gateway to create a proper parking space for me. This will make it much easier to load and unload my van each time. The next day Derek and Stuart also build me a proper step up to the caravan. Getting in and out of it is currently the most difficult part of the access, so this will make life much easier and safer. We discuss what else we can do to improve things later on when the materials become available.

This time I am combining my Holton Lee work with work for Bettany Press, the smallpress publishing company that I set up largely by accident during my PhD studies. A conference is being held in Bournemouth around the work of children's writer Antonia Forest, organised by friends that I made during my PhD research. I have decided that it will be too tiring to attend the first session on Friday night, so I have just booked in for the Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday afternoon I will also be running a book stall, and generally promoting my titles.

As I will be working all weekend, I decide to take Friday afternoon off to begin to explore the surrounding area - our abortive trip to Lulworth Cove not being counted here! We opt for Swanage for our first stop, just up the coast from Holton Lee. This turns out to be a very good choice: lots of it is accessible; and there is limited accessible parking right next to the promenade. I am able to paddle in the sea, and also to buy a cheap sun parasol in one of the shops. I have already discovered that the orchard, being very well sheltered from the winds that sweep across from Poole Harbour for much of the year, is stifling in this heat.

I also discover a surf shop, but the staff are so thrown by being confronted with a middle-aged, disabled dyke asking for advice on the best local beaches for body-boarding that I leave without buying anything or getting any information. Considering that most surf shops are run by malibu/longboarders, and that most malibu/longboarders think that bodyboards are strictly for women, the over-40s and the disabled, I can't see what their problem is. Fortunately there are a lot more surf shops in the area, including one that I have been a mail order client of for about 15 years and am keen to see round in person as soon as I get the opportunity.

We try to drive on from Swanage to Studland Point, where there is supposed to be a beach that allows dogs on it. Using the map for guidance, we drive for miles on tiny roads that lack a single sign post. Eventually we arrive - back in Swanage. By this time we have just about lost the will to live in the sweltering heat, let alone to try again, so we return to Holton Lee via the main road. At least we found Swanage first time!

The next day, the conference provides me with my first opportunity to see Bournemouth. Actually, I see quite a lot of Bournemouth that I don't intend to, despite buying an A-Z on the way down and doing my best to navigate for the friend who is driving me. But eventually we find the hotel where the conference is being held - and later the back door which is the wheelchair users' entrance. Then I find that the carpet has been treated with something that is doing amazingly well at protecting it from the effects of ash and drinks spills, but which makes it virtually impossible to self-propel my manual wheelchair across it. Carpets are always more difficult for manual wheelchair users than hard floors, because of the added traction, while powered chairs can be hard to control on carpeted surfaces because they tend to skid on them. This is the most problematic carpet that I have come across to date, though, particularly as my upper body strength is very limited.

All in all, by the time that I get into the main hall, I have already missed the first session. My arrival is made even more conspicuous by the organisers having to ask for volunteers to help me to move around the hotel for the rest of the weekend. However, this turns into a lucky break when one of my two volunteers turns out to have written a PhD on the representation of friendship in both girls' school stories and adult books set in schools. She has talked about her work on Antonia Forest in the session that I have missed, and judging by the number of people who congratulate her on it during the coffee break, it has been very well received. By the end of the weekend, I have agreed to publish her thesis next year in book form, which pleases us both.

The remainder of the conference goes very well. I see a lot of old friends, as well as making some new ones in my volunteers, who make it possible for me to get round the hotel without too many problems. The standard of the papers is very high, and the air conditioning also works well - the weather is scorching hot again, so it is nice to be inside. Genie is also pleased to be inside, and rides round happily on my lap. Fortunately the hotel does not object, and there are plenty of volunteers to walk her in the breaks which she enjoys too. She does, though, make us extremely conspicuous, and I know that one of my friends who is organising the conference feels that the inclusion of Genie lowers the tone somewhat. Unfortunately Genie is oblivious to this, and every time that the said friend comes past trying to ignore her, Genie gives her a huge welcome, making it very obvious to everyone that they are closely acquainted.

On Monday I - and Genie - are back to work with Tony and Trish. They have just received news of a new Arts Council grant to support their work - particularly good news in Trish's case, as she would otherwise have lost her job (oh, the joys of working in the voluntary sector). We are meeting with a representative from the software company that markets the Calm database, which we hope to use to create the archive catalogue. Calm is used extensively by art collections, libraries and museums, including the Tate. It is still boiling hot, so Trish and I are in shorts. However, the sale rep turns up in a suit and tie, and is rather thrown to discover that he has to deal with the shorts-wearing women, since Tony - who does look a little more formal, and who in any case has the status of being the director - is far less geeky than we are and wants to leave the bulk of the questioning to us. Despite this the meeting goes well, and we are reassured that we will be able to adapt the software to make it fully accessible to our users.

After the meeting we go out to celebrate the grant funding with a meal locally - my first experience of a Dorset pub, and one that I leave intending to repeat soon. Last thing that night, when I let Genie out before going to bed, we have our closest encounteer yet with the deer. Some have gathered in the lane outside the gate to the orchard, and it is hard to know who is most surprised to see who when we appear. Genie reacts in terror - her motto being, If in doubt, SHOUT - and so do the deer, who leap up the bank and over the fence into Twin Oak Tree field. They move so gracefully that they appear to be flying, which terrifies Genie even more. It's all a bit much when you come from Essex!

The next day we have another animal encounter, when we decide to go over the fields to the harbour viewing platform and then see if we can get over a railway bridge to the edge of Poole Harbour itself. A herd of bullocks has just been put to graze in the fields as part of the land management programme, so this makes me a little nervous. However, they do not appear to be in sight, so we head off down the side of the field. Halfway down, we discover that the herd was actually hidden in the trees bordering the field, and we end up almost on top of them. Genie's barking doesn't seem to put them off - or to help the situation in any way - and we bump down the field to the gate at the bottom and only just shut it in time before they catch up with us.

This gives us all the incentive that we need to get down to the water, and once we make it, Genie rushes in to cool down. This is the first time that she has ever swum voluntarily in salt water - normally she tries drinking it, spits it out in disgust and then tries to beat a rapid retreat! She finally appreciates how nice swimming can be, particularly when it is punctuated with rolling around in patches of seaweed on the beach (there is some spitting included, mind). On our way back, we are careful to check where the bullocks are, and are relieved to find that they are on the far side of the field. Just to be on the safe side, though, we decide to go back through the next field, and to keep to the far side of that. With the width of two fields between us, what problems can there be? Unfortunately we soon find out - the bullocks catch sight of us when we are halfway across, and think it is enormous fun to come charging over to see their new friends again. Even with Genie helping to boost the scooter's power, we only just get out through the gate opposite the orchard before they catch up with us. I have visions of having to explain to Tony why there are bullocks invading the studio facilities, as well as secondary concerns about being crushed.

We then have to make a quick change before going over to the Arts Institute at Bournemouth to see their degree show, along with Trish and Tony. Nothing short of a bath, though, would remove all of the seaweed and sand from Genie's coat, and I notice that she is now a pale shade of yellow as opposed to being white. However, when I get to the show I realise that I have nothing to worry about. Genie moves into 'private view' mode, and once again sits on my lap looking condescendingly but sweetly at the students' work. The visitors love her, and I have a horrible suspicion that some of them will think first of her when asked afterwards what part of the show they most enjoyed seeing. The students have worked for years, only to be upstaged by a Westie!

However, I enjoy seeing the work, particularly the photographs by Tony's friend, Helene Gallimore. Helene is a commercial as well as a fine art photographer, and her degree pieces are part of her ongoing and unconventional portraits of bikers - being one herself. You can click here to see examples of these on her website, along with some of her other work. It's also good to meet various members of staff at the Institute, some of whom will be connected with the planned MA in Disability Arts programme that will be run jointly with Holton Lee as part of NDACA. We agree to have a first meeting about the course content and marketing in September, and that I will consider being a visiting lecturer on the programme.

Once again, it's been a really packed visit. When I pick up my email the next day before I go, I discover that I have another potential new Bettany Press title. Liz Filleul, a British book editor and former journalist who is now based in Australia, has written a crime novel set in the world of girls school story collectors - at a conference! Liz has already written an award-winning short story set in the collecting world, so the standard of her work is high. And despite the Antonia Forest conference being extremely friendly, I find that I can still easily imagine murder being done! So I appear to have two new titles for next year that I had no intention of publishing when I arrived here. I have to admit that this is not an unusual example of my publishing policy, but it seems to work for me. And considering how much work I have to do at Holton Lee, it's just as well.

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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