The sun is shining again as I write this, as it was in chilly January when I wrote my last newsletter. It actually looks and feels like spring. Hurrah for that.
Life continues in waves of intense writing, frustrating illness, and sudden peaks of activity in which I manage to get outside and meet people. Gasp in shock!
I’ve been in the garret working on First in the World Somewhere, and have completed the first draft. Yippee! It’s meant three months of solid commitment to a schedule, ably supported by my admin worker Beth. Most days we managed 4000 words, and this is possibly why I feel like I’ve had brain melt. Not a single regret though and my publisher Unbound seem very happy. Not firm news of a publication date, but most likely early 2017.
Through this process I’ve cracked the toughest of nuts – writing to dictation. At heart I’m a natural touch typist. I did a year in secretarial studies, way, way back when dinosaurs grazed by the grassy meadows of my Amersham college. My mind was hard-wired early to blitz words to my fingers, to a keyboard, to the page. I took to computers like a robotic duck to cyberspace water.
But my creaky shoulders are not so keen anymore, and since breaking my humerus late last summer, typing has to be kept to a minimum. Voice dictation does not suit creative writing – at least for me. Dictating words like divine fracas – words used a lot in my early journals – involves a long disruptive process of phonetic spelling and too much interruption in the flow of creative juice. Working with a typist is the most productive way forward. I resisted to begin with because it feels unnatural. Don’t ask me why, I haven’t worked that out. But I got over it, and… have written 65,000 words.
The book is still available as a pre-buy at Unbound, where you can still choose from various extras like a memoir playlist. Everything from The Smiths to Bob Marley, Debussy, Kate Bush, Ian Dury to John Lee Hooker. Every book and extra now goes towards keeping my gluten-free bread on the table and, naturally, is very, very appreciated.
Outside of writing, there was a flurry of activity when I was asked to appear at three events for this year’s Women of the World Festival held at the Royal Festival Hall. The festival feels busier every year and there was certainly a packed audience at all the panels I was on. At the first one, Women in the Creative Industries, I was chuffed to meet best selling novelist Kate Moss, who was also on the panel. I got her to sign a copy of her latest novel, The Taxidermist’s Daughter and she has been very kind and responsive when asked for advice. The next one, Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby was so rammed they were turning people away. I performed Alphabet Sex as my opener and was delighted to share the stage with some powerful, punchy women including the writer Kathy Lette, who was also a great person to meet. Finally, I spoke on the panel about Body Image, again starting with a poem, The Model. I felt very old doing my bit on this one, having wheeled around the block so many times and, while never quite comfortable with all of me, knowing I’m at a place of acceptance. Helped along in the past by the magnificent Jo King, the absolute grande-dame of all genre British burlesque. I worked with Jo a few times and she taught me to cherish my pot belly, telling me to rub it with love. It was quite a moment to share this with the audience at the Clore Ballroom and to get many delightful tweets of women telling me that they were now belly rubbing with pride. True glow moments.
Having completed this first draft of First in the World Somewhere, I already miss the intense satisfaction of watching a work grow, of the line-by-line process. I’m poised with loads of new projects – a poetry pamphlet, a novel and a short story collection. I love a short story, and have won a place in a couple of new anthologies. Watch this wordy space!
I’m trying to get an agent through personal recommendation now too, so if anyone out there…
I won’t bore you with too much of my frustrations with health, but the shoulder won’t heal and it is now a matter of pain control. I’ve had that sore throat thing, a stomach thing. Threatened by the black dog, who howls at my door. A regular visitor but one I work to keep at bay.
Never mind all that. I just want to say, I think there should be a party every week at the resignation of Ian Duncan Smith. Not to mention Dodgy Dave. Although it’s a terrifying thought if we get Boris as replacement.
I can’t end on that so what I will say is if I breathe, I fight – and write.
Times, they are exciting! Despite a broken shoulder and the gloom of winter zapping my stamina.
I told you in my previous blog that I'd signed a contract with the publishers Unbound, who crowdfund the first edition of their books. There have been slow times and then flurries of activity.
First of all, a big THANK YOU to those of you who've joined the journey and pledged for my memoir First in the World Somewhere. I'm pleased to say that today it’s hit 32% of its funding total. If you haven't managed to pledge yet, would you consider it today, while my name is buzzing around out there?
First in the World Somewhere is an 80s / 90s memoir that many are saying must be published - disability as never written about before, with sex, rock n roll, angst and adventure - and the very beginnings of disability art, including an appearance by our esteemed editor Colin Hambrook in the glory days of DAIL Magazine. Amongst many others, it's been supported by Dame Jane Campbell, rock icon Robert Wyatt and disabled actor/ activist Mat Fraser.
And there’s an offer for December - £5 off with the code penny15 at the checkout.
My name has an extra buzz because last week on December 8th, I had a piece in The Guardian:
I'm hoping this will stir up more interest and get those pledges in! The comments and shares have exploded! The story detailed here is elaborated in the memoir itself, if you want to know more.
What a lovely Christmas present it would be if I can get crowd-funded 100% for the memoir before Dec 25th!
Any groups, book clubs, arts organisations fancy booking me for an event? You can do this too through making a pledge - and I can be very flexible in what I deliver. Several have already been booked including talks, signings and workshops. Please visit the page for the range of options - I'm willing to travel within the UK at the very least and can do further afield on skype - or in person if it's a little way into the future. Just to say, pledging has to finish around January 31st 2016, but events can be booked at your convenience.
Please share and recommend where you can - pledges can be made at this link: https://unbound.co.uk/books/first-in-the-world-somewhere
Always with many thanks,
Happy holidays, see you in 2016 for more of this adventure.
Despite the broken shoulder, the crushed ankle and the dodgy eyes (brave crip, hey?!) the show must go on. This Saturday 21st November is the last tour date of Lost in Spaces at the Old Town Hall in Stratford as part of the Together Festival and Disability History Month.
It is a matinee performance at 3.30pm, it is BSL interpreted and it is FREE! I'd love to see you there for this final airing of this spoken word memoir piece, my journey from childhood to the present, touching on key issues in my own life and also those of the disability arts and rights story. Be warned - it's cheeky in parts and not for the under 16s.
From a memoir based show to the memoir itself, First in the World Somewhere. Please do consider pre-buying the book and / or a book with a package of rewards - book clubs, talks, workshops.
The crowdfuding aspect finished at the end of January, but events can be organise to talk place at pledger's convenience.
Thank you everyone, and hope to see you somewhere, sometime soon.
I'm bad and weary and old and overworked. I'm sad my DAO blog cries out for fulfillment but hey, a crip has to choose her battles. But I'm back, and with the help of my all round fabulous manager, director and organiser Beth Pitts, I hope to be laying down more Pep news over the coming months. DAO is a mighty precious thing too, and I continue in my heart if not with my presence, to support it.
Here’s October, and isn’t it starting to get chilly? Hopefully the cold won’t set in too much – last week at the launch event for Counterculture UK: A Celebration, Covent Garden was reasonably balmy. I contributed a chapter – Disability Arts and Activism – for this book and was invited to perform a short set of poems with Jo Cox accompanying me as always, so I did three from Lost in Spaces. You can see me in the photo signing the book as all contributors were asked to do. Thanks Supernova Books / Aurora Metro.
Lost in Spaces, my one woman show, continues on its slow paced tour. In October, the show goes to Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester on the 17th. This is very exciting as I’ve never been to Leicester and now I’m taking the show there! I hope I have time to go and see Richard III, as I’m intrigued about how his remains were found, analysed and then buried. There’s a poem in there, I believe!
November and I hit Wolverhampton with Lost in Spaces at the Arena Theatre on the 3rd. More details on this in the next newsletter. I’m rather fond of Wolverhampton, as I have friends there, I’ve seen great art there and I’ve discovered recently that some of my ancestors lived there.
Then I will return with it to London, as part of Disability History Month – more news on that coming soon – and if anyone would like to review or interview me about the shows, do please get in touch.
More about the secret writing project soon…
Conkers and cosy nights to you all.
In the theatre space at Richmix, Bethnal Green, I hold my teddy. He is as old as me; tatty and dirty-white. He smells of my childhood, a dusty blend of home and babies. I hold him close as I go through my poem Hymn to Daddy, a piece that John O’Donoghue added much to during our mentoring sessions.
There’s less than three weeks ahead before my show goes to Soho Theatre for one night. It will tour next spring, and meanwhile, there will be a date in Liverpool.
I’m in the intense flow of rehearsal, day by day. I juggle challenges such as low stamina and different creative demands, although it is always sweet to be wanted. These days, we work on position, movement, my director Bethany Pitts, taking me through my paces but always calm and encouraging. Even as I fret about how to feed mashed potato to the audience…
The PR campaign, launched last week, ticks along, with discussions about headlines, and who to target. For me it is also about more than only the immediate ticket sales, although a sell-out is hoped for.
It’s about where does the show take me? This is a challenge to answer precisely because I naturally want global recognition and respect as a writer, and as might be anticipated, enough money from this to live well and to develop creative ventures for myself and others.
But world domination is a touch tricky to boil down into a press campaign, on the back of one show. I settle on profile raising and attracting more work, although an agent/manager would be a pleasing bonus to come out of this.
Tomorrow, another rehearsal and lovely Jo on cello for the afternoon.
Time flying fast with the magic that it does when you do something you love very much.
I do hope to see many of you there on September 8th, to share my spaces and enjoy the journey.
For the last few weeks I’ve been closer to home in the Harold Pinter Studio at Hackney Empire for rehearsals of Lost in Spaces. Mare Street, where the Empire is situated, is a vibrant and diverse place in Hackney, East London. From the studio’s large windows, I can look down towards Hackney Town Hall. Once, I was a Rhinestone Roller down there in the square.
Bethany, my director, takes me through some vocal exercises and one in particular really strikes a chord with me. Vowel sounds, over-emphasised, making exaggerated shapes with your lips and mouth. Next, you go through the alphabet, adding a consonant, starting with B. BAY BEE BI BO BOO. And on through to Z. I change my tone and my speed. I slide up and down a scale. My throat feels a little tight to begin with but I know it is building up strength.
The poems which have been crafted with much effort with John O'Dongahue a firm guiding hand, are very close to being the best they can be. It's scary to allow myself to let them be, as much as it is to keep honing.
This week we do the first complete run through of Lost in Spaces - albeit with stops and starts and as yet no real props. There are three sections to the piece, allowing me to ‘rest’ for 3-5 minutes off stage, during transitions that will most probably feature tracks from my 90s LP, “Spiral Sky”, with a photomontage. But John counsels me and I listen - mostly.
Next time, off to Rich Mix in Bethnal Green for rehearsals – not to forget a chance to do a tiny preview of the show at Daisy Fest in Guildford on June 4th. Hope to see lots of you there!
As time passes with all this work and development on Lost in Spaces, I’m excited as much as I’m nervous.
I’m in a quiet long room that to my wayward imagination looks like a nuclear bunker. The false ceiling is gone. Red pipes angle mysteriously, and occasionally a low rushing sounds fills the space. Maybe a deep dragon of Stratford rising from his disturbed liar, as tourists and shoppers trample and wheel above.
I’m at Westfields – and the biggest shopping mall in Europe may not seem like a good place to rehearse a show, but thanks to Shape Arts, I am borrowing their back room space to do just that. And this is day one.
My one-woman show, Lost in Spaces, premiers at Soho Theatre in September for a one-off public performance – the springboard to future bookings and small tours, all being well and luck on my side.
That is the future. Right now I am in the windowless room with my director Bethany Pitts. As my show is part theatre, and very much spoken word, we go through the poems. Unpicking them into emotional journeys, honing on words demanding heightened emphasis in my performance.
Using my poetry and some improvised chat, a key element to the piece is the exploration of my journals, which I’ve kept for over thirty years. An obsession that sprang from my love of the diaries kept by writer-feminist Anais Nin, these are detailed monsters, in tiny handwriting and old style typewriter print. A pivotal year is 1985. The pages groan with domestic trivia alongside key events in my personal and public life. The miners strike; Thatcher’s grotesque policies. The day I move to London after an eight year imposed hibernation in a troubled family home. The history of the disability arts movement is there; early meetings at Artsline, the first disability arts festival in London.
Not to mention an over-excited entry on the day I received a personal letter from Morrissey, in reply to mine. He told me: ‘you write beautifully, a gift to cherish’. The reply changed my life. I kept going.
I’m mentored by writer-poet John O’Donoghue to make my poems the best they can be. John is a perfect mentor, challenging me and yet understanding me. I have homework and deadlines; structure is good for a barmy old BPD-er like me.
While some of my ‘hits’ will feature in the show – such as Ballad of Cripplegate Town – there will be new pieces, such as ‘Hymn to Daddy’. Under John’s guidance I’ve used the Yeats poem ‘Hymn to my Daughter’ as a template but it’s already clear this will take a leap and divide - there maybe two pieces – a light and a dark.
We’ve got to the point of a three act structure as a provisional framework although the five minute ‘breaks’ will be for me, each one filled with music – from my LP Spiral Sky, released in the 1990s. The breaks are crucial – an access issue – as my stamina and heart condition demand I pause, despite the wilfulness of my will and emotion to work at full passion. I’m still keen to hear from other artists about managing this. Also, the dry throat dilemma that comes with nervous excitement of performing – the adrenalin rush necessary to deliver a good performance. How can you avoid or lessen this?!
Tomorrow I rehearse in a different space, finalising the poems to go into act one, temporarily called ‘Childhood’.
I will write about that very soon but meanwhile, please leave comments about your own thoughts around memoir, journal-keeping, the pitfalls and postives of using your own life as a foundation for a creative project.
Over the last few days, a small robin has sat on my garden fence, stubbornly holding his own against the wind. I feel a bit like this robin, as life has battered me along on its usual rollercoaster but I’ve hung in there. New Year’s Eve, I was in hospital, hearing the fireworks along the embankment from my bed, a poignant sound that flushed me with sadness and conflicting thoughts of frustration to get on with life, or to rest and slip into the labels of fraility imposed on me.
A month has now passed and thankfully things have stabilised and work has picked up. Creativity, ah the best damn medicine!
Firstly, this Saturday I am performing on the south coast, at my own event: ‘Penny Pepper’s Poetry-Song Mixed Bag Miscellany’. I do hope you will come along if you’re local enough. Only an hour from Brighton… if there’s any rail tracks or road left.
My idea is to encourage beginners on to the open mike slots. Imposing my rules as a benign dictator in the evening, there will be no stage set-up, no performers' hierarchy and no pressure to come up to the front. So many people tell me that this is the green light to nerves. With this in mind, everyone can do their bit wherever they are sitting. Naturally, I will be doing 10 minutes slots of my own material throughout the evening; I promise politics, I promise passion and I promise the protest song. With laughs throughout!
In some ways this is a palpable starting point for my one-woman memoir show ‘Lost in Spaces’, which I hope will go into R&D soon – kissing the lucky Hagstone that I am successful in my GfA. When that happens (be it sooner or later), I would like to share my journey with DAO, in part because I face some crucial challenges arising from having a chronic health condition. One you don’t fuck with – a dodgy heart. The access stuff can be managed; barriers can be removed. But my stamina can’t be miraculously modified. As it is, my lack of stamina affects much of my life; even how often I can write my sadly neglected DAO blog.
The Mixed Bag Miscellany will test me; hence the open mic slots to allow me breathers. But this format is not what I want for Lost in Spaces. I feel that the need for a new structure should be responded to creatively. I aim to do an hour-long show, minimum.
How can I turn what might appear a disadvantage, into a creative catalyst for something I hope will be remarkable? I welcome your thoughts.
Meanwhile, I hope to see some of you this Saturday. I am performing again at Folk in Motion on February 15th, at the mighty all-things-folk HQ, Cecil Sharp House with the gorgeous cello accompaniment of Jo Cox, and other guests such as Liz Porter and the folky dance crew, which includes Sophie Partridge. The event is to celebrate that they now have full access, hurrah.
Watch my spaces and my spoutings. This is my angle on the fight, the half cliché of not the pen, but via my slinky Mac, the word being the mightiest weapon against pernicious and multiplying injustice.
I sit in a cramped room in Camden. I am a shy, nervous creature, newly in London. Listening to this bunch of disabled people speak, my thoughts flood with hope and awe. They speak of our arts and culture, and call for revolution.
This was a meeting in the Artsline office, Crowndale Road, circa 1985.
I am not sure any of us realised we were pioneers, but I believe history shows we were in our own ramshackle way.
And now, against memories of those beginnings, I come to Liberty in the Olympic Park. You would think disability art in the UK was not a world leader, with a developed, debated and vibrant identity. The way artists were grafted in amongst the stalls that urged sports participation, had the awful outmoded stench of Seventies art therapy. I am surprised there was not a basket weaving stall, because, as any crip of a certain age will know, that type of ‘useful’ activity has long been considered good for us handicaps in all our varieties.
We were all there at Liberty 2013. I bumped into Ruth Gould (DaDafest), Jenny Sealey (Graeae Theatre Company), Michelle Baharier (Cooltan Arts) along with friends and colleagues – Rachel Gadsden, Sophie Partridge, to name but a few performers. I never made it to see Mat Fraser and John ‘Rocking Paddy’ Kelly as the main stage (which I am told was miniscule), was not easy to locate. Artist Katherine Araniello was there to ‘enjoy’ the festival. A close friend of Liberty founder, David Morris, she was not pleased with the layout and the facilities. Translate ‘not pleased’ as furious.
This was my fourth Liberty as a performer. I yearned for the days of the comedy and cabaret tent in Trafalgar Square, when an audience could identify with the performers, where there was a sense of connection to something shared. This could not be said for the strung-out assemblage of activities at the windy park, hindered further by well-meaning volunteers who didn’t have a clue where anything actually was.
I wish I could predict a positive future for Liberty, but instead I am burdened with weary pessimism. We face a resurgence of old barriers and old attitudes, resurrected by the current government. Once more we see the model of brave, inspirational crip being upheld to a ludicrous level, which does no favours to the genuine talents of disabled athletes, and condemns the rest of us to the unworthy dustbin of scrounger and assisted-suicide candidate.
I have no easy answers; in the current climate we know funding is compromised. And worse still, there is certainly a pervasive, repellent ideology seeping into the zeitgeist, as to whether we are ‘affordable’. Because now we are deemed as having too much, of being privileged – a word that has been bandied around from the High Court hearings concerning the closure of the Independent Living Fund, to comments made within social media.
In such an environment, how can Liberty survive? Perhaps the name Liberty will be purloined; we will see a festival of ‘volunteer performers’, echoing the no-pay ethic of the Games, and of politicians that put forward ‘volunteering’ as an incentive for people to find ‘real work’.
Should this happen, I can see Liberty becoming a joke as do-gooders flood in, with disabled people ideologically high-jacked to join in some old style happy-clappy stuff that will ‘make them feel better’. I call on – who? - DaDaFest and Shape perhaps? - to take up cultural arms against this horror.
Hear now, the distant anger of the late David Morris, and my sadness as I reflect upon those fine if difficult times in the early days of our arts movement when anything seemed possible.
Inspired now by my darling friend Jo Cox to write some DAO blog. I’m sad that my energy levels restrict me; sad too that DAO has no funds for us bloggers so I end up shuffling it down my pile.
And Jo understands. Borderline thoughts swing you to the highs and lows in extremis, and somewhere, in the middle, you clasp onto any breather that allows you to Do Stuff. Sometimes I roll with the highs. A manic mood can mean completion, inspiration and even letting my babies go into the dark world. If my focus doesn’t float off to lalaland, always a risk.
I’ve entered 12 competitions/projects recently and have had success with one so far (more on that soon). I wait for the results of the rest, nervous, optimistic, gloomy, desperate, a roundabout of contrary emotion. My thoughts often feel like the Ouroboros-the snake eating itself…good and bad.
I am now writing a regular column for a national disability features magazine. But while looking for scraps to survive, I’ve been feverish in developing new work.
Fragile physical health is a challenge and a frustration to this, but I’m getting there with a balance that won’t create set-backs. I’m half-way into a long slog of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, favoured by shrinks for us BPDers. It is intense as I try to manage new ways of controlling my emotions – emotions that are not reliable and often cause great trouble. Mindfulness in every day life is central; so far I a cautiously hopeful. It does make sense. And ironically, while assessing points in my past that fed into my hypersensitivity, I am writing my memoir, First in the World Somewhere, using extracts from the 30 plus years of my journals.
With that in mind, I’ll end with a few extracts from 1985. I hope to do some more soon. So much history and unintentional humour amid the daily grind, the despair matched with joy.
May 31st 1985.
Even as I write this I am STUNNED, delirious and with a desperate excitement. MORRISSEY HAS SENT ME A PRESENT… The day CANNOT be cheerless, even the other post cannot depress me. Mum received a letter from Carol (social worker) saying the repairs to new waiting flat (in London) are STILL being done and will take 6-8 WEEKS TO COMPLETE. The move to freedom hangs in an awful balance…
June 19th 1985
Mum had a vague, not uncommonly occurring nag at me, I exploded into blank hysteria, screaming, crying and throwing a cup at mum and not able to wrench myself to calm…By the time I frumped to bed the tears would not obey my cold reasoning and control was lost to relentless torment, agony beyond despair, beyond saving. I sobbed with indecision. Should I fall down now and stop offering myself out as a ‘talent’, as a hopeful, when I have nothing?
June 20th 1985
I have yet to put my feet falteringly upon a path of normality, that is my own certain normality, of living freely in my own time and space.
No wonder I feel insanity tempts so near to fall into it, these tortures, this loneliness, frantic, unbearable.
August 13th 1985
Our phone call danced on enjoyably, for hours of lovely, saving talk. He hates me to mention my suicidal inclinations… begs me not to give up, begs me plaintively, rallying me on… He liked the photo I sent of me nibbling a banana… we have decided to read some of the works by R. D Laing together.
The Thatcher funeral pontificates in the background as I write. I feel a weary resignation to a day of eulogy, of history revised, though if nothing else, this event provokes me to be reflective on my own past.
I was in my late teens when Thatcher came to power. I remember those years with an emotional resonance, the deja vu feeling that comes with recalling tough times.
I had a passing interest that she was a woman. I was new to feminism and embraced it into my strange, sheltered life as I devoured books by Germaine Greer, Simon De Beauvoir and Marge Peircy. Let us not forget this quote from Thatcher:
For I hate feminism. It is poison.
I look up. A black woman reverend speaks at MT’s funeral service…
I was never politically sophisticated. I’m an idealist, a soft socialist with neo-anarchist leanings. I was a member of CND back then and to quote from an hilarious song I wrote at that time about the idea we all had 4 tons of weapons grade plutonium or some such:
‘No Mon amour, mon amour Cruise Missile
Take away my four tons
They deal in death
I don’t want it’
I was a punk, after all, I was and remain, working class. The very marrow of my being rebelled instinctively against Thatcherism; with responses of teenage moral outrage, rather than one from a party political perspective. All parties seemed full of dull old men and had nothing to say to me at 19, a young disabled woman.
My realisation was swift; my family, my friends and myself were under attack from Thatcher’s preaching of small-minded, self-interested individualism. I lived in the south, in Green Belt country – on several sprawling council estates that were always built away from the posh people, like an embarrassment that had to be dealt with. There were knife fights, stray dogs, mattresses in the road, a chronic, scabby, rural-tinged poverty. Thatcher did not give us hope.
There’s singing in St Pauls. I Google: Thatcher and disability. Thatcher and the welfare state. Thatcherism and the NHS. The responses are scattered; academics and political journos can enjoy scratching through that if they wish. What strikes me is that Thatcher not only perpetuated the Charity model of disability – in which we are the dependent and helpless individual – she also spread some rotten little spores that brought the weeds of rampant capitalism large and thriving into our lives today. It was all about perfect family values and voluntary practice, market forces, the non-society; an ideology that undercut universal health and social care.
If disabled people are mentioned it was usually as an afterthought. I did find this little nugget from some event about the launch of a ‘voluntary’ Code of Good Practice for the employment of disabled people. Charity and Triumph Over Tragedy models rule:
I believe that most of us get a special satisfaction from helping them [disabled people] to find new hope and a new sense of achievement. We have so little to complain about, and so much to learn from them. We are grateful for their example. http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/105788
So now we know. We made Maggie feel better and grateful.
I remember those miserable employment schemes with a tired anger. I was put on them and they failed because there was never an attempt to change the outside wrongs; the inaccessible environments, the lack of accessible transport and no personal care support to do anything. Let us not forget; Thatcher did not support any civil rights based anti-discrimination law for disabled people, and the weak, medical-model scrag that is the Disability Discrimination Act scraped through as a begrudging apology – and around 10 years behind other anti-discrimination law.
I lived a bizarre half-life in those Thatcher days, as did many disabled people. No Independent Living, no Personal (care) Assistants. No accessible buses. No access to buildings. Scant information, accessible or otherwise. No sense of belonging in society. In those days we really were hidden; within struggling families, within care homes. A pre-social media age; no mobiles, no computers. I had no social life and few friends; we communicated by post – hand-written letters - and used a landline telephone thriftily. I do remember the fear that ripped through communities – yes, even in my soft southern council estate enclave – as jobs went. And went. I remember putting money in buckets collecting for miners’ families and the Greenham Common women. My clothes from jumble sales and Mum buying cheap stale bread as the shops closed is another memory burnt into me from those times.
It was after a four-year battle with social services, and some advice from Ken Livingstone (yes, Red Ken) that I managed to move to London with a best friend to live in a tiny flat in Leyton. This coincided with the first nervous beginnings of disability activism and our arts movement. We were fiery and committed. Maggie was certainly not going to be an ally to our liberation. She believed in ‘helping’, not empowering, not ensuring our equality. But then, she didn’t seem to believe in that for anyone.
We fought tooth and nail. Soon we had Direct Action Network. Artsline, the Disability Arts Forums and BCODP, to name a few. We fought and achieved, evolved and grew, each in our own way clawing a new little freedom that disabled people have since enjoyed.
I’m struck that some of my gloomy reminiscing rings with a frightening familiarity. No surprise; Thatcher was a key progenitor of the capitalist ideology held by Cameron and his cronies. Blair was a successor and a worthy one, as MT herself once remarked. The snake in faux red with pants of pale blue.
I look up as the funeral drones on and see Boris with his deranged hair. Jeremy Clarkson. Shirley Bassey.
I pause to think about more recent times. How disabled people are under attack as scroungers, fraudsters, responsible for the recession. Victims of increased hate crime, and facing savage attacks on our very personal independence as Independent Living Fund closes along with DLA. Yet how we are mobilised, having grasped the opportunities of social media to connect and protest. We are often overlooked by the mainstream media, yet no one can deny we have a new presence which is unparalleled – and we must not let the pressure up for one second.
But now, sick of the TV coverage I’ve made my writer-self watch, I shall end on the observation that on the day Margaret Thatcher died, so did Disability Living Allowance. Which means, after 30 odd years, for me, the fight must go on – and on. Protecting what we have, and battling, hard and determined, to go further for the dream of full equality.
- - - - -
This is taken from my wordpress blog: http://pennypepper.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/magaret-and-me-reflections-from-my-thatcher-years/http://pennypepper.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/magaret-and-me-reflections-from-my-thatcher-years/
I wanted to share it to DAO for obvious reasons. Thank you!
A short blog by my standards. Everything is crazy. Me, the world, my cat. Dizzy crazy, implode-explode crazy. The roller coaster up-down and a bombardment of thoughts and wishes and actions.
Because? Coming to you now, my ebook Desires Reborn. This is a revision of ‘Desires’ which came out in hard copy as part of the Innovate award almost 10 years ago.
I was passionate about the stories not being lost in the turbulent sea of Paralympic furore. Not merely because they are mine, my work created through sweat and broken heart, with commitment and faith. But because I want us to be three-dimensional, to be real, full-bloodied.
Here is the blurb. These things have to be done, though often I struggle with PR.
"As the London Paralympic Games bring unprecedented focus on disabled people, Penny Pepper releases the ebook 'Desires Reborn' - The explicit loves and losses, desires and disappointments of a group of disparate disabled characters'.
Penny brings, us a collection of stories examining this subject in a serious, sensitive, political and often full bloodied way. As one reviewer, writer Rob Young declared: 'An intelligent examination of love and desire. And why have grey, when you can have scarlet with Penny Pepper's work?'
Available in all ebook formats including
These stories represent pieces of me, from my heart, my head, my blood, my guts. They are part of my activism, part of what I feel I must do, and love to do.
Maybe lovely Mat Fraser should have the last word. Here’s a review he did:
"Finally a piece of sexy clever erotic fiction from the disabled woman's perspective. Turning negative expectations into post orgasmic exclamations, this is a revolutionary book that will at once turn you on, change your thinking, make you laugh, cry, and most of all realise that this kind of fiction is so long overdue it’s almost criminal. Sex is now in everyone's domain, and Penny Pepper's book could be the catalyst to make that change into the norm. Buy it, read it, enjoy it. I did."
This week my love-hate affair with writing has me in its thrilling and painful grip. Writing is like an old friend who sometimes annoys the fuck out of me, and sometimes wraps me in arms of pure co-operative elation. Recently it’s been a see-saw between both and admittedly the ole Borderline has a role in this. But, it helps as much as it hinders. Exquisite highs bring great bursts of creativity as much as the pits of anguish that lead me to unfortunate behaviour and the whole frustrating circle. Occasionally the fast dips into desolation can result in outpourings that stand up to later scrutiny.
It was very trendy to be Mad this last week or so. Mental health ‘poster girl’ Ruby Wax did her stuff in fighting the stigma in the work place. I do get a tad uncomfortable. The portrayal of Mad people (whatever our precise shrink labels) can be saccharine. It doesn’t always feel full bodied enough – is that too scary? Perhaps. I suppose there’s always the danger of it becoming like a Bedlam tour reborn. In a programme most likely made by Channel 5. The Woman Who Sliced Her Skin Off and Made Herself Vomit (et al).
I do acknowledge that generally it seems any kind of PD makes even the toughest mind medic blanch. I told my newest ones as much last week. They tittered and argued this was not true. I pulled a face and went hmmm.
I met Ruby in August 2011, as mentioned in my blog of Oct 2011. I’m down from my high now, not so much disappointed in Ruby as working my thoughts around to a realistic view. She is still new to this. I asked her last year at the audience Q&A if she thought there was anything positive to be found in having a mental health condition. She paused, then said ‘no, do you?’ I smiled and said, I believe it makes me who I am, how can I not?
In one amazing tangential leap I will move to the Olympics. (Tangential conversation and thought is one of my personal hobbies, no apology.)
Controversy alert! I’m enjoying them. Is it the sense of history perhaps? Being a Londoner, and a scribbler? I don’t even like sport much, before we even mention ATOS. Maybe Danny Boyle slipped a subliminal message in the opening ceremony, which I also adored. Music of my youth! The Clash, The Jam, for fucks sake. Irresistible. Made more fun with some close friends over to share the experience.
A couple of us indulged in live Tweeting as we watched, adding another intriguing layer. MP gets the hump at the ‘leftie multi-cultural crap’, tweets swarming to attack him, UK Uncut get an image out there of the arena after the NHS ‘advert’ section, we laugh at the remarks that everyone outside of the UK would think what the damn is this about? But they love it anyway because all Brits are eccentrics. Aww.
Back to the sport. I don’t watch it obsessively, I tune in now and then, entertained for a while, mostly by the personalities and STORIES than the actual winning bit, then I’m bored and go back to my film obsession.
As for ATOS. Let me be clear. I detest ATOS. I loathe the overt capitalism blatant in the sponsorship of the games and hate that ATOS is part of that. I will join in any protest against ATOS that I am physically capable of. I was there at one of the first demos, I do my online stuff, my local campaigning and will continue. I don’t see a conflict in supporting the actual participants because it is ATOS who we must fight – and surely this is a great opportunity to highlight their hypocrisy while acknowledging the talents of the individuals who are committed to their sports, art and cultural participation.
Is this bias? I don’t care. A few of my friends are in the opening ceremony of the Paralympics. I am proud of them and the exhausting work they have put in. They are fully cognisant of the role ATOS plays in the attacks upon us. They see the line, and know where it is.
I will try and go to the Paralympic opening ceremony, when there’s a scandal over unsold tickets… AND to an ATOS demo. I am a writer after all, and if euphoria hits on those days, well, what entries for my bulging, greedy journals!
As I am in the tower of word, to half steal a line from Leonard Cohen, I am letting my good friend Gabriel Pepper have his say here today, in the form of a speech he did for his local DPO, where he is Campaigns Officer.
Gabriel is a powerhouse of political activism, from going on actions, to constant online work. It is central to his life now as he sees what we are fighting for.
I politicised Gabriel over the years we were together. I am very proud of him, and hope you will take heart from his impassioned words.
"......The next three years represents the most important years ever in the history of the fight for disability rights in UK. Yet we and disabled people in the past have fought hard for benefits, DLA, independent living, a semblance of equality and transport and now, what is happening?
The UK has a severe problem, because we have a government that has done its best to destroy the welfare state. This government has totally ignored everything disabled people have said, but for instance, have just ploughed ahead with the appalling Welfare Reform Bill and Legal Aid Bill.
I regard these as an act of right wing fascism by a tiny minority of extremely rich people, who do not care at all about the misery they will cause. It’s all about money to them, and most disappointingly they have used the British public against disabled people, influencing the media - resulting in propaganda and endless TV and newspapers crammed with bogus statistics.
Friends of mine, even my father, have been saying that the measures are needed because we cost too much, and I have told each one that they have been fed a lie.
One thing the Tories love to do is to blame the poor for being poor, indeed the government have effectively declared war on disabled people. Therefore if I can reiterate the words of Winston Churchill - “I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, tears and sweat”, in the same grim spirit of defiance.
Let me tell you what I foresee, because it needs spelling out. Part of the problem is that the government have no clue about being disabled and getting benefits.
These people may believe that disabled people will find jobs, in a job environment where there is none. They have also made it nearly impossible to get legal aid, so the awful decisions made by ATOS (the company which throws people off benefits) will stand. There will be no appeals.
At the same time as this we have a top to tail reorganisation of the NHS, due to a bill forced through, no one was allowed to see the risk register. Let me be clear. This bill was detested, every medical professional was against it. Its only necessity was money and the ideological need to destroy the welfare state.
Let’s not forget the now infamous and hypocritical words of George Osbourne, when referring to the Welfare state - 'we are all in this together' – and the empty promises of ring fencing NHS funds.
The government have set in motion a care catastrophe, which will mean that countless people will suddenly be unsupported in multiple ways. With nowhere to turn, without being able to get meds for illnesses, they will descend, in critical states, on the NHS A&E unit and the like, which will be unable to take this strain.
There will be some people who become desperate. Those people will do acts like setting fire to themselves in public, and already two people have. Everywhere there will be people dying. All over UK there is a fine network of care, everyone knows someone who is disabled. We can only hope there will be a tipping point, an outcry from this network AND ourselves, after which there will be a huge vote of no confidence in the government. We must work with all our allies in this sector to lobby for this to happen, pushing home the reality of what is coming our way
There are many examples of this government’s dangerous ignorance and brutality. One is the new PIP, which everyone who gets DLA will have four weeks to claim for. If individuals are unable to respond for practical reasons, or are distressed by the process itself, then it appears they will be cut off from benefit support, something which will particularly hit people with mental health issues.
It must be said though, that this is if the new computer system which has a laughably huge cost to process all this, does work. Signs are that it is not expected to.
To rub salt into the wound the government have also enforced an awful scheme called workfare, where they expect people to be exploited by rich companies without being paid, most famously recently with the jubilee stewards. Studies have shown there is no evidence that more people will find work, it is an attack on the poor and unemployed.
A harsh part of this scheme is benefit sanctions, which can be for as long as three months. Meanwhile the operators of workfare schemes have been defrauding the government for as much as £40 million pounds. I said to my disability activist friend the other day, 'how do they expect us to find work, when there is none'. She said, 'they don't expect you to find work. They expect you to die dear'.
The government has shown several things already. First they have shown an extraordinary degree of incompetence, taking UK into an unnecessary recession, doing 35 U turns, and repeatedly turning out toxic policies. The Tories have become associated with toxic policies, and this will eventually destroy them. When the tipping point is reached and the laws are revoked, we will at last be able to move forward.
One result that these attacks have achieved is that they have brought disabled people together. To fight these vicious attacks, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have been organised, and I am a member too. DPAC have been joined by the Scottish group, Black Triangle, UK uncut, Boycott Workfare and Socialist Worker along with a host of smaller organisations.
The fact that disabled people have now become more political has now mobilised the Labour party, particularly John Cruddas, who I think will be a key figure in the fight to save the Independent Living Fund.
Regular demonstrations are being held, the next is on 28th July, when Counter Olympics is running a March starting from Mile End. DPAC is anti-Olympics because of the Tory ideology connected with the games, and their disturbing use of ATOS for sponsorship. Boycott Workfare hold regular demonstrations, indeed I took part in one in Walthamstow in January 2012, a month in which I was also chained up in Regent Street as part of a direct action organised by UK Uncut. To finish, I want to paraphrase some lines written by UK uncut:
When everything you have is systematically taken away, why not make a stand? When your voice is taken away, why not shout from the roof tops? When you look over your shoulder at the privileged, protected from this mess by their ability to bypass public services through flexing their financial muscles, why not get angry?
There’s nothing left to lose. Welfare, health, social care, support funding, voluntary sector, housing, legal aid... there isn’t anything this government won’t dismantle or sell to the lowest bidder.
The deal you thought you had with the state has been broken. You were led to believe that … money would be used to build a society built on fairness and equality. You believed if your circumstances changed, you would be supported; and your children, your parents, your friends.
Instead, your money funds private moats, duck ponds and an Olympics which will break the financial backs of those who are least welcome at it – us......"
I will be back soon myself. I'm fighting with every word I commit to the page.
The sun is out, I have a new garden to play with (huh, for now) and my mood is a tad better. I’ve been in the wilderness of serious ill health and dealing with the consequences of that. But I’m coming back into the throng, slowly. The Abnormally Funny People gig was good, though laid me low for awhile. I am maybe a little more scarred at the edges that’s all. Scars inside and out, and ones I wear with honour.
I feel many of us will be battle scarred by the end... Today I attended a consultation run by my very excellent DPO, regarding the change from DLA to PiP, which the crypto-fascist government intends to force upon us. I had read summaries of the changes but here was the vile reality laid bare in much more detail. And that reality left me incredulous and afraid. For myself and for us all. We really are teetering on the brink of being forced back into being the crippled, mad, sick undeserving poor of a workhouse era. The stick to beat us must be hard and punitive. We must suffer. How dare we be who we are and scrounge.
In my view PiP is an instrument consciously designed to fail, to help us on our way to early and money saving death. It is ghastly in its cheek, a weak pretender of progress in the form of a terrifying executioner. However, I am also struck that this murderous proposition is so unworkable and unsustainable that it cannot in the end succeed. I hope. Yet I fear there will be a lot of pain before that is realised. Pain and lives destroyed; lives lost. Which is exactly what they want.
My glimmer of hope struggles on from realising how many people this change will effect. I believe it will be millions. The ConDem devils are not interested in ‘real’ disabled people, in our lived lives. The ideas within PiP give evidence to that. We are the scapegoats of the national debt and we are considered a soft target. But with us comes those around us. Carers, paid workers, families. Disabled children with outraged parents. Elderly disabled people with outraged offspring. It goes on and on, a tree of ramification and consequence we MUST utilise.
My mum received Attendence Allowance for me when I was young – the precursor of DLA. It was essential to her in multiple ways the ConDems cannot possible imagine in their rich boy wallet bulging dreams. But mums and dads will be angered. Daughters and sons will be angered at the imposition of PiP. With more to come… so let's grab hold of this!
WE must all be angry. We must speak out, come forward, be counted. A few people said to me about the consultation process: "isn’t this pointless, they’ll do what they want anyway?" Perhaps they will, but we must fight in whatever way we can. For me this is through my work, my words, always, within the boundaries of my impairments and the barriers we face every day.
I will NOT go gentle into that good night! Now, back to the garden, while I can.
Please let me tempt you to be challenged and entertained by my guest slot at Soho Theatre, Feb 20th 7.45pm, where I am performing with acclaimed comedy troupe Abnormally Funny People.
Reviews, press coverage, radio slots and offers of work all very welcome. I am also an eager Penny for some representation / management for my spoken word as I have too much to handle on my own.
Other than this, I'm sending this invite purely in the hope that you will come along and enjoy the whole evening. My slot may be brief but I believe it will grab you where it matters and hopefully make you laugh. All feedback and input greatly welcomed. With luck, I get to come back for a longer slot in the future.
My work is described as lyrical, challenging, funny, bawdy. My adventures with spoken word are inexorably linked to my passion for writing and the two connect at every opportunity. My focus is to subvert, to ask questions – with a smile – words twined, thorns in velvet. Yes, I unpick the issues around difference, diversity and disability and I aim to show how they link to the universal human condition.
Apart from a regular output of published work, I've taken my spoken word set to many varied places – including the Edinburgh Fringe, National Theatre, Liberty festival at Trafalgar Square, festivals around the UK, and guest slots for national spoken word organisation Apples and Snakes. Through various aspects of my work I’ve featured on radio and my last appearance was July 2011 for Radio 4’s Fourthought, through producer Sheila Cook.
In 2010 I was Emerging Artist runner up at Dada International. Through this, I gained national, local press and radio coverage. I had other exposure in The Guardian and The Culture Show – in this case, literal, in the form of paintings for which I had modelled nude!
Last July a spoken word event was created around me in New York. I headlined the event, Crip Lit, which was organised by Jo Weedon, a major burlesque performer in the US. The event was very successful, and the venue, Bluestockings, New York’s premier radical book shop, now stocks my book Desires.
This is my short story erotica collection, which was first published in 2003 by Bejamo Press. I wrote this in response to the overwhelming prejudice shown to work which attempted to break down taboos about disabled people as three dimensional human beings. As I aim to challenge barriers and unearth the hidden.
Do hope you can make it on Feb the 20th where you will sample a juicy slither of Pepper sauce and subversion.
Hello there to those who know me, and those of you I've yet to meet!
I've been poorly and bogged down. Staring at the walls and wondering why I painted them like I did. One is red.
Looking at the news and thinking this is all so crazy. This is a big brew of hate bubbling to a head. Feral gangs? Criminal immigrants? Disabled scroungers? When will people rebel against this?
I know we're battling. I showed my jittery face at an ATOS demo in London, but I could not stay long. The heat and the crowds, too much.
My life is split into many identities and my therapist tells me this is quite common in BPD. Huh. Am not so sure. Outwardly I am mostly on chug-mode. Happy with friends. Annoyed and silent with everything else. Agoraphobic hermit mode a lot of the time.
Edinburgh was a bit of a disaster though I did do the show, along with ending up in the infirmary after falling ill. I also got to meet Ruby Wax who I now adore with a passion. She is doing good and on a journey with her show 'Losing It'. Her memoir is very honest. Let's encourage her to some Mad Pride too.
I'm twitching around my own memoir. Oh 30 years since I started writing journals. They freeze your memories in a glow of fond nostalgia. How things have changed - it amazes me I managed to live in London when there were no PAs, barely a computer, only an Amstrad with its errie green lettering.
There has been progress which we've fought for in many capacities. We can't lose it, somehow we must not let that happen.
I'm a cheerful soul, really. Truly, madly, definitely. Mood swinging, I almost enjoy it.
I did it. Amazed myself and survived to tell the tale, crammed with feverish stories and kaleidoscope memories. All roasted and shaken in the rich, brash, varied flavours of New York.
I say roasted with meaning because it was hot. Blistering and humid, and when up the Empire State Building, I could see the thick smog arc hanging over and into the city. One day hit 39c - I don't believe I have known it that hot before in my whole life. Thank the gods for air con. Yet nothing could ruin this incredible adventure.
I was there primarily for work to get a feel for the city, meet people, and to do a performance at the Bluestockings, a radical feminist bookstore, at an event called 'CripLit' which was brought together by the maganificent NY burlesque queen Jo Weldon who worked with several crip woman at DadaFest last year to create 'Criptease'. Indeed, the first piece to be read (by Jo) was the DAO blog by our very own Sophie Partridge, who detailed the DadaFest event with much verve and colour.
Native New Yorker, Christine Bruno, who has visited the UK and worked on the disability arts scene on several occasions, read extracts from her one-woman show 'Screw You, Jimmy Choo', reminding me of what a talented actor she is. Other New York crips did interesting and intriguing pieces; a visually impaired woman telling the amusing story of the frustrations of being a VI bride and the discrimination she faced, and another set where one woman read a beautiful poem while her colleague stripped and danced and posed.
Aussie artist Kath Duncan – another Dadafest Cripteaser – had her deliciously raw and rampant story read out with great panache by Christine, an exceptional reading especially as Christine had not seen it till that moment.
Then it was the Brits. Our own institution of crip glory Mr Mat Fraser read a fab and filthy story, set in New York, and then it was me. Little ole me making my debut in New York. My mum will be staggered! I did my rather rude ‘Dr-Patient Relations’ spoken word burlesque, developed a few years ago with London based burlesque legend Jo King, and finished off with a new piece call ‘Alphabet Sex’.
I glowed and grinned and basked in my moment. I sold books and Bluestocking took copies as stock. Everyone was lovely and complimentary. I most certainly will return.
I’m full to the brim with New York and the stories will spill out into something very soon.
But for now, slowly recovering from jet lag, I have to turn my thoughts, if not energy quite yet, to the Edinburgh Fringe. I am there from Aug 22-27, performing the show ‘Adventures in the Dark and Light’ – in Princes shopping mall (!?). Quick note: I have floor/sofa bed space in a semi-accessible apartment if anyone is interest – reasonable rates.
But reflecting on an intense and exciting week, in which I felt I made progress with my work, I have to end on a sombre note. The ConDem cuts are hitting. Social services peer into our lives to trim and snip… and slash. A top-notch PA made my New York trip possible in the sense of appropriate support. Yet as budgets are challenged and we are pushed to live in conditions worse than convicted criminals, what then of our work and our aspirations?
The hypocrisy shouts as loud as we do – can we make them listen? We have to, for all our sakes – and not only to have the right to travel, but the right to exist.
It’s all go. Go, go, go. Where to begin?
Ok, firstly, on Wednesday, you can hear me do my bit on Radio Four, for Four Thought. This was recorded two weeks ago at the splendid RSA off the Strand, in front of a live audience. They were responsive, laughed in the right places – including at the sanctioned word ‘tits’ – and looked suitably solemn at the serious moments. I’ll be intrigued to see what you all think, though please be gentle with me.
‘Adventures in the Dark and Light’ had its first showing in June and went very well in front of a decent sized supportive audience. I learned lots and received lovely feedback, encouraging and constructive. A big thank you to my team of the day, old pals Jo Cox, Alex Bulmer and Sophie Partridge, plus project manager Richard Popple keeping me on the ball and Susi Evans adding amazing vibrancy to my pieces on clarinet.
More showings of Adventures soon – but meanwhile, if you have or know of a free venue, do let me know. I’m happy to do showings and tie in a workshop or talk as the work is in development. There will be a grand finale of development this year, on December 3rd in London, but I hope to take it far and wide. Replete with red bloomers, a rubber glove and words I hope will intrigue and enchant.
In 18 days I am going to New York and will be doing some readings, and who knows what else. Watch this space – and anyone with New York contacts please, please get in touch. I’m so excited I could burst out fancy purple confetti all over everywhere!
A little while later, I’m off to Edinburgh Fringe and, incidentally, I have space in my apartment, if anyone wants to hire a corner. A version of ‘Adventures’ is showing as part of PBH Free Fringe, in Princes Mall. Lots of food and accessible loos available!
As you can imagine, this is all keeping me immensely occupied (along with the odd protest… ) and it is true I have very limited abilities in terms of switching off and that thing called resting – or sleeping. Eh? Do I really need to? This means I fall into the pit on a regular basis and today it was suggested my MH meds go up… Hmmm. What a choice – they dull me down but I know it’s a tricky balance.I do often feel rather poorly...
There are also the writing competitions. No, I’ll save that. Keep lucky thoughts beaming for me, and I hope to be reporting on successes next time.
Life is busy at Penny towers with much planning – and worrying – going on since I heard I had been successful with my Grant for the Arts. Of course I am excited and bouncing off the walls too. But where to start? Who to work with?
I’m developing a one-woman cabaret called Adventures in the Dark and Light. Please feel free to join my Facebook page of that name if you’re interested in my work. I try to keep it up to date – latest gigs, activities and news in general.
My BPD has been causing me some distress. I hate the word mood swing. What the fuck is that? It sounds almost Victorian but not as exquisite. Like melancholia. I am experiencing fast cycles of highs and low; exhausting, and then I go into a strange gaga distraction for some days. I'm knackered and sometimes scarcely functional. I scare my friends and family... Still, I have done a lot of creative work on the back of it.
But back to ‘Adventures’. I’m looking for a musician to work with me and my cello player Jo Cox. If you are an experienced keyboard player and/or violinist, do get in touch. This is a professional role and will be paid, though some in-kind support would be appreciated. Have a look at my websites. My work is influenced by folk music, punk, the world, blues… all sorts.
I’m also looking for an actor. Male, 28+, able to play a non-disabled GP, Dr ‘Nazi’. It’s for a short I’m doing with Sophie Partridge, called Doing It.
Meanwhile, I did a film, a youtube video blog, of my day on the TUC March for the Alternative. An eventful and uplifting day. It’s annoying that the media concentrate only on the ‘trouble makers’, out of proportion to their numbers. I may be idealistic, but I felt the day did have an effect. It was good for US if nothing else, to join in, to be there and be counted. Please have a look at the film and comment – bearing in mind that PAs who often have to hold the camera are not necessarily very skilled at it. Oh, to have my own crew….
Now I must get on. I’m driven to produce lots of creative things right now.
Did I mention the CD of my Spoken Word? Oh, next time then.
The sun licks across my window and lures the blossom to bloom. At last! I’m bouncing off the walls, full of seesaw moods, happy-sad, melancholy-joyful, and dripping with creative sap. Mustn’t fall off the tightrope mind you. But isn’t it lovely to see some sunshine?
The last week or so has been a cram of activity. A new story ‘Nippy Days’, only written about 4 weeks ago, was selected to be read at ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’ - a story telling event run by White Rabbit Theatre
The theme for stories was sex, and I hadn’t touched the subject for some years. How could I resist? The venue was Tonybee Studios, in the hip East End of London, very near to lively Brick Lane. The event offers free chip butties and ice-cream. Definitely a happy Jackanory time for grown ups.
I had a great posse of peeps to support me, including DAO blogger and all round superstar Sophie P. The venue was packed to overflowing and us wheelies edged in, causing happy chaos in the café. The actress who read my story did a great job and selected writers had the opportunity to send the stories to Ether Books, who publish to mobiles. I await their response with the usual mix of nerves and excitement.
A few days after this, I was performing at the cabaret event ‘Sunday Service’, at Carnivale, opposite Brick Lane (again!) This place has atmosphere, a hint of tatty grandeur and a suitable seedy edged cabaret charm. Access through the rear, passing by mysterious collections of grave stones, there was an accessible loo (rarity) but alas not to the stage.
With Jo Cox giving me her usual wonderful support on cello, staking a space on the floor, we opened each half of the sets and the audience seemed to lap it up. I will never forget the crowd urging me on to do the ‘Protest Song’, throwing in their own ad-libs and drumming on the tables. Maybe with a little help from our dear editor I can supply an audio file as I recorded most of the set?!
Pausing for a brief breath, next I’m preparing for my poetry and spoken word drop-in workshops for Shape. Technology did rather mess up my grand plans to play Youtube examples of different poets and styles, including Ian Dury doing ‘Bus Driver’s Prayer’, but I hope I made up for it by encouraging the group to experiment with personification, which is one of my favourite ways of stimulating the imagination for a poem.
In this case, giving inanimate objects human characteristics and taking that forward with a narrative or emotion. My prompt of ‘being’ President Roosevelt’s wheelchair resulted in some strong and interesting pieces from new and experience poets. I can’t wait for next week and hope more people will come along. (Roosevelt was a wheelchair user, a fact kept hidden from the public at the time). The workshops run every Tuesday 2-4pm until April 12th.
In between all this, I’ve finished a short film-poem, The Lover, a homage love letter to Leonard Cohen and almost finished an absurd little film about an item of disability ‘charity’ ephemera, which I connect.
My life is a crazy one on multiple levels. During all this wonderful activity I’ve also been a bit sickly, doing my pallid invalid impersonation, and been to court! Weird.
Never once, even when wobbling close to a dip-down or a fall, have I regretted a moment of being so immersed. I might be hyper but I’ll enjoy it if that’s OK.
It’s Sunday, late evening as I write this. I’m preparing myself for the protest in London tomorrow, as we take to the streets to show our anger at the savage cuts about to hack us hard. Cuts that slice our human rights to bloody ribbons too.
I haven’t been on an action for some time. From a personal perspective they have always made me nervous and even insecure, as though I was not really up to it, not made of hard protestor fibre. I’m fragile, I break mentally and physically, very easily. I feared I’d be a spare wheel(ie), an over-delicate hindrance rather than of much use.
I do remember in my younger years going on the odd local CND rally, and even a disability action – three of us turning up at some inaccessible bank I think, in a sleepy home counties town, dragging my embarrassing yellow ‘batricar’ buggy out from the area’s council estate scrag-end where I lived. Ironic and a little cringy to report that the said batricar had been raised by local charity… Mike Oldfield even donated 50 quid. How else would my poverty stricken family have even thought of such a thing?
The protest for Liz Crow a few years ago was great though! I still have recordings from that. Tomorrow, I am ready. I have my anti-government Protest Song, written for the DaDaFest Bed-In, and hope many of you will seek me out to sing along.
My writer’s head will be on full alert. I intend to absorb and immerse, record and photograph. Hope to see lots of friends old and new. Let’s show these people that we have a voice, a very loud one.
I doubt any of my pals are surprised I didn't manage to post a DadaFest write-up part two. Distraction, distraction... That's my problem. Sometimes I fire so many simultaneous thoughts that they lead me around in exhausting circles, and leave me in a woeful state bemoaning that I haven’t completed any project. I hope this will change this New Year. If you are ever on the end of my distraction issue – apologies. OK, I have had a weight of annoying health issues too, but the distraction does not help.
I was very chuffed at being short-listed for an Emerging Artist award at DadaFest. I’ve been in emergence for quite some time, and while I applaud Pete Edwards for winning and his ground-breaking piece ‘Fat’, I do think I need to get on with it. Emerge and cut out, yes, distraction, and procrastination!
On a more sombre note, here we are in 2011 facing grim battles with the government and some very fundamental challenges to our human rights. I’m directly affected by the changes to housing benefit, independent living funds and the attacks on Access to Work. Through my connection to various DPOs and of course the arts movement, I have to say it is truly terrifying what is taking place.
We must act in all ways we can manage, on the streets and from our homes (while we have them!) I believe the government believes we have no ‘power’ or clout. We have to show them otherwise.
From a perspective of recent personal experience and my old codger status, I believe the ‘them and us’ mentality continues to underpin the absolute cynicism shown towards us. We, as in disabled people, still carry labels imposed on us, experience barriers we did not create, and clearly, behind the rhetoric, we don’t matter much.
We invariably remain ‘the other’. Not their problem really, not a thing to think about. We are alien and over ‘there’, in a box, to be avoided until something pushes us into their snide, non-disabled mindset; to make a token political gesture, to gain temporary brownie points.
I know that thankfully we do have non-disabled allies amongst our friends and families, and I wondered recently if we could do something akin to what Harvey Milk did for gay rights. I was incredibly inspired by the film, in the way he thought outside the box.
Is there an equivalent of ‘outing’ for us as crips, with our allies, that would make a point!? To re-establish that we are connected to families and friends, embedded within society, we are part of it and contribute to it in myriad ways from our vibrant and unique arts scene to the fact that we can challenge old ideas about ways to live. We’ve always been overlooked and now it’s worse. We’re burdens, we’re tragedies, we’re tabloid tainted scroungers. We are inconveniences who cost a lot of ‘public’ money (a public we are not part of). The tired, tired clichés go on and on.
I’m not psychologically fit to go on many demos; but I know I can take these thoughts into my work with passion. And that is what I am doing now, with every beat of my heart.
Let’s rally. Let’s get political and personal. Bring it on.
I'm pulling my guilty face as I write this because I didn't manage to blog while I was working at DadaFest, and I really wanted to share this amazing experience. I've read the blog by Tanya, the reviews, and comments by Colin and echo the sentiments. This felt historic and it was a huge privileged to be there. Yet what a whirlwind, what an awesome frenzy. I loved every minute, even the exhausting ones.
My participation in DadaFest happened despite the odds. Earlier in the year my extreme mental distress had me trapped in a fog of tears and futility. I thought I'd missed my chance, and wasn't especially worthy of one. Somehow I muddled through with help from super friends and colleagues, did some proposals, and was offered work at DadaFest in the end.
I was at the happy launch night, ready for an early start the following day modelling for lovely Tanya Raabe once more. It was quite a thrill to pose under the awesome R.Evolve installation in the Bluecoat, and see people gazing at it, turning the cubes. It was especially funny if people caught my eye and realised then that it was me, one of the naked models they had been peering at.
With some to-ing and fro-ing on the train, London-Liverpool, I was at DadaFest for almost 12 days in total. My work began with being one of the models for The Three Graces for Tanya's life class. This was a moving and empowering event. Fellow model Julia Dean-Richards has written a poignant poem about this on DAO's DaDaFest review pages.
I loved what Tanya did with us, including the silhouette piece, in which we stood against a wall, set up with a paper, to capture our unique shapes. The class included people who had never drawn life models before, including Kath Duncan, a creative from Australia, who I was to work with later. The Guardian have a photo of Tanya working on this piece, in their DaDaFest Gallery.
My next job was with the burlesque project 'Criptease', in which six women had been brought together, mostly through the efforts of Liz Carr, to work with the queen of New York burlesque, Jo Weldon and her partner Jonny Porkpie. Three solid days of crazy glitz and glam rehearsals resulted in an open showing on Sunday 28th November. Each of us presented a 3-4 minute piece, exploring our own take on stripping. I went from dowdy, splinted and bored, to an Arabian shimmying dancer, stripped by the Genie (Jonny), who popped from the lamp. Of course, I had to end with some fast cheeky tassel twirling on my breasts - which the audience seemed to like!
In tandem with the Criptease work, I was also doing a 'Bed-In' performance on the Saturday. This event was to commemorate John and Yoko's peace protest, and other artists included Julie McNamara and The Feral Four. I did some story telling, recalling how certain events in my life had coincided with times of conflict and unrest. Two were most memorable; firstly that of being in a hospital bed when the Russians invaded Afghanistan in 1979. How us teenage girls feared a nuclear war! The second was the day of the invasion of Iraq by the West, which happened to be the day my book 'Desires' was officially released, thus wiping out many of my planned interviews. All I can say is – no comment.
I ended my Bed-In with a protest song I'd written in some panic the night before as time was incredibly tight - set to the tune of Yellow Submarine - hopefully I can supply a link soon. It was a powerful moment for me to hear the public joining in on the chorus:
"What do we think of Cameron and Clegg?
They'd rather we were dead
So I'll protest from this bed..."
Part two tomorrow as I am being very naughty now by staying up too late. There'll be trouble if I can't wake up bright and bouncy.
I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling life is a series of often poorly fitting pieces which have to jog along with each other somehow.
Of late it's been a massive balls-in-the-air act of creative work, PA recruitment, health issues, legal battles and assorted duties that can't be left. Oh, not forgetting I am now about 11 in the queue for my BDP treatment assessment and have to keep chasing that. Thanks goodness for supportive friends and the crisis team - well, sometimes they rise to the mark.
I'm working on a spoken word piece called Scrounger at present and when it's finished I will post it here. I'm also getting my words into shape for the fast approaching Dadafest where I am doing a number of things - burlesque, poet and the In-Bed event. Hurrah I say.
I often wonder how I keep going, only in the sense of the oppressive backdrop against which we all find ourselves - cuts, attacks, even hatred. It doesn't help my beleaguered head with its ragged thoughts, veering through extremes and wondering about labels.
Oh and watch the spaces. I'm hoping an article I've written about the recent government cuts will be coming soon.... with a dandy Crippen cartoon!