Visit 8: 18 - 24 October 2006
This will be our last visit of the year to the caravan, conventional wisdom being that you can stay (fairly) comfortably in a caravan between April and October, but not between November and March unless you're exceptionally fit or own an exceptionally high-spec caravan. Since the Goslings don't fit into the winter category, Genie and I and our volunteer supporters will be trying out some of the Holton Lee residential facilities over the winter - though not the Barn, as this will close at the weekend until April so that the extension can be completed.
I've been late setting off as I had a meeting in Essex during the morning, and I am a bit concerned that it will be dark before we arrive, making it more difficult to settle in easily. But as Julie and I come off the motorway in Dorset, Denise from the stables texts me to say that she has got me some shopping in, while her colleague Wally has filled up the caravan's tank with fresh water, so I breathe more easily. Then, when we turn into the lane at Holton Lee, deer loom out of the dusk, and there are more deer on the archive site itself, which is quite magical and makes the long drive worth it just for that moment.
Denise has not only left the shopping that I asked for on the table in the caravan, but also a vase filled with roses and some packets of biscuits. I am allergic to egg and cows' dairy products, so it must have been quite a challenge to find biscuits that I can eat. Denise has gone to so much trouble to make us feel welcome, and I am very touched. I am also relieved that Wally has been able to charge the caravan battery and that Richard has been able to reconnect it for us. It has been hard to manage without a p.a. here, but the support I've received from the Holton Lee community has made it possible for me to do this job anyway. Although it is dark by the time that we are unpacked, the temperature is fairly mild, and with the electricity working again and the heater on, the caravan soon feels comfortable. Fortunately the television aerial is still working - though it has yet to be fixed up properly and is currently balanced precariously between the fence and the caravan roof - so we are soon able to relax and rest.
Early the next morning, Thursday, the peace is shattered by a phone call from the friend who is looking after Julie's elderly spaniel to say that it has had a stroke and is in a veterinary hospital in Brighton. Julie has not been able to have her dog live with her full time for nearly three years, because she has been waiting for her landlord, Family Housing Association, to move her to an accessible property. Meanwhile the ground-floor flat that she was supposed to move into has not been touched since she first saw it nine months ago, although it was supposed to be made habitable within three months after the housing association had left it untenanted for three years. So Julie is particularly upset because she may lose her dog before they are reunited. We decide that she should go to Brighton as soon as possible - the hospital doesn't want her to visit until the next day, but at least she will be close by - and she drives off to refuel the van and to pick up some more shopping for me before leaving.
I am due to meet with Tony this morning, although I am an hour late by the time that I arrive at the Farm House. Fortunately we are still able to get through our agenda, although in a fairly rushed manner. After this I go down to the garden project, which is now reaching completion. The sponsors, Rok, have brought a team of volunteers with them to carry out the planting alongside the students from Bournemouth and Poole College, with the plants being provided by another sponsor, Stewarts. I take some photographs, and am then invited to join the gardeners at their barbecue in the Dutch barn - I have obviously timed my visit well. Dave Pollard, who is chief cook as well as general-in-chief, offers Genie two sausages, which she initially stares at in disbelief before gulping them quickly down. I take more food back to the caravan for Julie, who is glad of something hot to eat before she leaves for Brighton.
Genie and I spend a fairly quiet afternoon in the office with Trish - me quiet because I am upset about Julie's dog, and Genie quiet because she doesn't feel 100% after pigging out on sausages! Sir Tom comes in and checks that I am not finding it too isolated staying on the site in the evenings: actually I am loving it as a complete contrast to London, although it may feel a bit scary staying alone at that end of the site tonight. Fortunately Sir Tom is not accompanied by his collie, although Genie looks suspiciously behind him to check. I hope guiltily that he has not left her behind deliberately.
Although the temperature is high for October, it is very windy and so it feels cold. After I leave the office I retire to the caravan for hot chocolate and toasted buns, and then take the scooter to the studios' common room for the night to recharge. As Genie and I come back to the orchard, there are deer on the lane: they are wary of us but don't move away, so they seem to be getting more used to us. I'm pleased that we've opted for an early night and put the scooter under cover already, as the wind continues to rise and it also rains heavily on and off - though thankfully for Genie's sake there is no thunder. By late evening the wind has changed direction, so the caravan starts to rock, and on the occasions that the rain stops and the wind dies down, the air is split with the cries of rutting deer - who sound like rusty hinges screaming. If I was indoors, I would be terrified; as it is it is strangely comforting to be surrounded by them; not a million miles away from listening to the cats thunder around me in London at night. As Genie huddles ever more closely to me, I wonder why such beautiful animals sound so awful?
On Friday morning I wake to a blue sky and sunshine, and a text from Wally asking me if I need any help. I don't, but I feel much more able to manage on my own for knowing that help is simply a phone call away. Julie calls soon afterwards to say that her dog is well enough to be transferred to her own vet in London, and that she will be driving her up that morning. After that she intends to return to Dorset, as the vet discourages visiting in case it upsets the animals.
Reassured, Genie and I then head up through the puddles to the Farm House for our first day's work with Hayley and Trish, as I am project-managing the development of the virtual archive - the digital version of the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA) which will be available on the internet. We spend a very useful morning working out who will use the archive and why they will use it, which gives us our 'users' and 'uses', and then Genie and I return to the garden project to take some more photographs. I am pleased that I have timed the visit to coincide with the barbecue again, and am hailed by one of the workers from Rok - who informs me that GENIE's sausages are already cooked and waiting for her. I take three back to the caravan, of which I consider Genie is lucky to get one.
After lunch we return to the office and spend the afternoon working out what information the virtual archive's users will need. From this, we work out what information will need to be stored within a database, which gives us our database 'fields', and what information will need to be stored on the website but be accessible from the database, which gives us our 'links'. Trish and Hayley are very enthusiastic and put a great deal of thought into what they are doing, and it is a pleasure to work with them. Genie is also very enthusiastic, and takes a great deal of interest in the whole thing - although her attention does wander on occasion to what is happening outside the window. She is severely challenged when a number of visually impaired artists arrive to join a willow workshop led by the sculptor Mike O'Hara and several Guide dogs walk past, but she restricts herself to muttering jealously. Fortunately she misses the pheasant strolling past altogether, although I can't resist watching it - it's all very different to my studio in East London!
At the end of the day Wally carries everything that I can't load on to the scooter back to the caravan for me, and arranges to have fish and chips waiting at the stables when Julie arrives back. In the meantime I take Genie for a walk, and am pleased to note that the scooter is managing to cope with the wet terrain, although it is clear that at some point over the winter it will give up the struggle. Given that it is actually designed for shopping only, I feel it has done pretty well this year! We see lots of fungi in the fields, and also lots of deer. Julie arrives back at the caravan at the same time as we do - when Genie and I pass the archive site, we see a white stag grazing on it. It is an incredible sight at 5.30 in the afternoon, and it strikes me that there are not many fine art buildings with neighbours like these! It would be very difficult to make an input into the architectural process, which is after all my main role within the development of the archive, without an understanding of the environment that it's set in. Generalising wildly, disabled people tend to have a much more intense relationship with buildings and the environment than non-disabled people, and something that is always noticeable is when the building has been designed without any thought for the environmental conditions that surround it.
We really enjoy our fish supper at the stables, and decide that it's one of those meals that always tastes better near the sea than in the city. After a final cup of tea we retire to the caravan, where all is quiet until Genie refuses to come in after being let out last thing. I find her digging happily under the caravan, presumably trying to persuade our mole to come up for company. I have already been struck by the absence of fresh mole hills and wondered if the mole had moved out for the winter - obviously not. Now the caravan is listing even more, as Genie has added her tunnels to the mole's. Perhaps it is a good thing that Dave forgot to shore it up before I arrived back, so will be prepared to do it now: it is certainly a good thing that he appears to like Genie. Genie eventually bounces in, filthy, and it takes a lot to restrain her from getting on the bed. After the lights go out, though, she gets manages to get up anyway, assuring me that dogs can die of cold in caravans (even though they're not scared of deer). At around 4am there is a huge explosion - I never do find out what caused it - but for once Genie fails to react to it, so I decide that the muddy bedspread is probably a price worth paying for the lack of outraged barking.
Genie continues to be reluctant to get off the bed in the morning, although she is eventually persuaded to come out for a walk - but only as far as the stables, where we stop for a cup of tea and a chat with Denise and Wally. The weather is still grey and windy, and will obviously not be good enough for much photography. Julie and I decide instead to drive out to Lulworth Cove, as we have not been back since our first visit to the caravan, when we were prevented from getting to the beach by the summer parking regulations. Now it should be much easier to get within sight of the sea.
First, though, I go to the Barn to borrow a Tramper - an electric quad bike - for Julie for later on. It is a good opportunity to say goodbye to the Barn staff, as all of the p.a.s are leaving because of the Barn's temporary closure. I am sad to say goodbye to them, as they have all helped me in different ways over the summer. Hopefully they will all be able to return next year, and in the meantime to find other work, but of course nothing is certain and everyone at Holton Lee feels upset that they are having to leave now. The p.a. staff are particularly valued by all of the Barn's visitors because they are skilled at offering support without creating a care home atmosphere within a holiday facility.
On the way back with the Tramper I am hailed by a visitor to Holton Lee, who says she is very surprised to see me in Dorset. I gather from this that she knows me from London, but I am unable to place her - although I hope I manage to cover this up successfully. Among other things I have had difficulty in processing visual information since my illness in 2000, which makes it hard to fit names to faces, and it is a distressing reminder of everything that has happened in the past few years. I had already been upset the night before when I realised that I had been muddling up my medication since getting refills of my regular prescriptions earlier in the week, because the packaging colours had changed, and had been overdosing on one drug while failing to take the one that is suppose to protect my stomach from the other. I find it difficult when I remember that other people's carelessness is responsible for some of my impairments, but find it impossible not to be reminded of this when I am confronted directly with the effects of these.
Being at Holton Lee has given me a wonderful opportunity to heal, both physically and mentally, as well as providing me with much more independence than I enjoy at home. But it also reminds me sharply that my lack of independence at home is unnecessary: unnecessary because I would not have been injured in the first place if disability access issues had been taken seriously; and unnecessary because I could still enjoy far more independence than I do if I could afford adequate p.a. support to mitigate the effects of that injury. As a trade unionist, I will always believe that people are entitled to financial compensation when injured through other people's carelessness: partly because people should take responsibility for the consequences of their actions; and partly because it is the only way to persuade people to take issues like health and safety and discrimination seriously. Because I was unable to obtain compensation on a legal technicality, the state has to foot the bill for my additional care needs - when the media deplores the 'compensation culture', they forget that the general public pays instead. But as there have been severe cut backs in social care provision recently, outside of work I get 1.5 hours of support a day, while being judged to need this 24/7. And while the volunteer support at Holton Lee makes it possible for me to work, it is not possible to get voluntary help in London - in fact, I am wholly dependent on other disabled women to get me out of my home outside of work hours, which is why I am training Genie to provide me with some assistance (yes, you do have to be desperate to depend on a Westie!). What makes it even more difficult to put the past behind me is that non-disabled people are always keen to know 'what's wrong with you?', which includes the reasons why a condition exists, while many others, both disabled and non-disabled, and including many unknown to me personally, are still highly indignant that the people responsible for my condition have never even apologised, and so are reluctant to let the subject drop when they meet me.
Anyway, I am able to forget all this again as we head for Lulworth Cove - the 'Jurassic Coast' - and this time find everything much more easily. It is the grand finale of the tourist season, being the schools' half-term holiday, so there are plenty of visitors pottering along the shore and looking for fossils. We find a cafe overlooking the beach, so are able to sit and look at the sea and take in the atmosphere - somewhat heightened by the occasional chairs blowing past us into the sea. Genie mutters jealously at the dogs roaming loose on the beach, but when I let her off the lead, she decides that perhaps it is too cold after all for a Westie to bathe. While she loves fresh water - particularly muddy puddles - she has always had a tendency to taste salt water and then spit long and loudly; she only swims in the sea by choice when it is very hot.
We warm up on the way back by a visit to some of the gift shops the village offers, and begin our Christmas shopping - the first time that I have ever managed to get it together to buy a present before December. We also speak to the vet, and discover that Julie's dog is eating a little and seems stronger. When we get back to Holton Lee, the deer are once more in evidence, and a group of half-grown fawns have banded together and stare at us over the hedge as we park by the caravan. In the evening the wind continues to rise and it is wet again, with the deer screaming away over the top of it all. I venture out between showers to try to record their cries on my minidisc recorder (a format that has been overtaken by MP3, but which I think is still far superior in terms of quality). Otherwise we watch Strictly, and are dismayed that DJ Spoony has been kicked out - though not, it has to be said, to the extent of deciding to vote ourselves another time.
Sunday is even wetter and greyer, and we all decide to spend the morning in bed. Genie, in fact, is so reluctant to get up that she doesn't even eat until noon in order to put off going outside. Well, we are from the East End via Essex ... The vet phones to say that the dog is stronger and has been walking around a little, so we feel much more hopeful about her and more cheerful. In the afternoon I work on the proofs of Two Chalet School Girls in India, the book that I am about to publish through my smallpress publishing company, Bettany Press, while Julie watches the last Formula One Grand Prix of the season.
Afterwards I make another attempt to record the deer cries, but I haven't got far down the lane beside the orchard when I become aware of someone watching me. As I freeze, a stag emerges from the gloom and crosses the lane in front of me: I have just gone straight past it without realising. I look round, and the beam from my head torch is reflected back in another pair of eyes - and another, and another. There are deer across the lane in the field, and deer further up the lane between the orchard and the archive site. As I continue to look round, more eyes look back at me from the wood where we intend to put sculptures, and still more from the bank, glowing like little torches that go out as soon as I turn my own torch off. It is a little spooky, and quite magical. After this I relinquish the outdoors to the animals and return to the caravan, feeling quite other-worldly. I am really frustrated that I have not been able to take one photograph of a deer during my visit, yet keep seeing - and hearing - so much of them. Later the air is split with a shattering cry - I think again that it is unfortunate that deer sound more like donkeys than any other animal. I suspect that Genie thinks deer are a form of giant rabbit, since she sees the backsides of both on numerous occasions and has ample opportunity to see how similar they are. The last episode of Prime Suspect starts at 9pm - Julie remarks somewhat sarcastically how atmospheric the filming is in grainy black and white, as the aerial has slipped again and the television dates from the same year the caravan was built, 1980, being the one that I had in my first bedsit.
On Monday morning the blue sky and sunshine return - although unfortunately only for about an hour. This does, however, give me a chance to photograph the fungi in Twin Oak Tree field, although the deer, frustratingly, have disappeared completely. Then Genie and I head to the Farm House for another day of planning the virtual archive with Trish and Hayley. We make really good progress, and I am confident that they will have plenty to get on with before I come back again in November. At lunch time Tony takes a rare break, and we eat in a pub in the nearest village. This is particularly welcome because I am now extremely cold: the temperature is finally dropping to its seasonal norm, and it is also raining heavily again. The summer is quite definitely over. The news of Julie's dog continues to be good, and we look forward to seeing her on Wednesday. I spend the evening writing up the blog, and planning how I will pack up the caravan the next day.
Fortunately, on Tuesday it is bright and sunny, although it is very cold. Now the light is perfect, there are no deer in sight, of course. We empty the caravan of all the tinned food and bedding, as well as the clothing, games and art materials that we've left there over the summer. Eventually, the only thing that remains is the makings of hot drinks - I will still use the caravan as my studio over the winter, and will certainly need regular access to tea and coffee when I do so. It is quite sad to see the caravan looking so empty, but it is damp enough to remind us that we would really not enjoy staying here again before Easter.
While I am finishing things off, Wally drives past in the horse and carriage with a contingent from the Riding for the Disabled Association, and draws my attention to the fact that Genie has spent the morning digging a tunnel under the fence on the other side of my van, where she has been hidden from sight. As a terrier, the ability to dig deeply - and silently - is in her genes, but as she only actually digs once in a blue moon, I have no strategies for detecting this. Obviously the autumn has got to her as well as to the deer, since this is the second tunnel in a week. It is obvious why she is digging where she is, since the bank the other side of the fence is honeycombed with rabbit holes. As I have no strength to fill it in again, we decide that Wally will tell Dave he saw a very large rabbit in the orchard, as Dave fights a never-ending battle to keep the rabbits away from his gardens - "white with a bow tie, goes by the name of Harvey", adds Denise.
Just before I leave, Derek, the gardener, and Stewart, who works on the land, drive up in the Mule, triumphantly waving something. It is another old milk bottle from the Malmesbury and Parsons dairy, this time with a differently shaped neck to the one that Karen found. Derek and Stewart have been clearing a pile of rubbish, and found it buried underneath. I thank them both and say goodbye until November, then wash the bottle out and add it to my collection of 'found objects' from the archive site in the caravan. We then drive down to the stables to say goodbye to Wally and Denise, and Julie uses the opportunity to plan the next phase of the sloe gin operation that the three of them are organising with Derek. Frustratingly for all concerned - including, it has to be said, me - it has been too wet to pick any sloes while we've been down, so the others will have to rush out and get them once it is dry before the birds have the lot. Then we drop the keys off at the Farm House and say our goodbyes there, before setting off on the road to London and home. I take the camera in the front of the car with me, keen to take every opportunity to get just one shot of the deer as we drive down the lane to the main road, but it is as if they had never existed and I am doomed to disappointment. However, if you would like to hear a sample of their late-night screaming, click on the controls below.
All contents © 2006
|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.|