Art, Action, the Missing Link

What a fabulous day Saturday was.

Morning time. The Photographers Gallery. We were off to gaze at the work of Roger Mayne.
We started on the top deck. Floor five. Worked our way down. Nominees for a prize stack the floors full of pictures.

Sophie Calle really spoke to me. She’s doing what I want to do, words and pictures, but she’s doing it a damn sight better and with connections. She’s funny too.

Floor 4. Still the nominees. Portraiture abounds. And lots of moving images. That particular room is not to my liking. Its not the work. I could look at the work. I could appreciate it but the room, the way its set up, makes me uncomfortable.

Floor 3. Touchstone. One solitary image and a bench. Its a series. Sit, look, let the image evoke what it will  within you. Write your thoughts down on a piece of paper and present them for inclusion on an IPAD. Instead I take a picture of the picture using composition so it appears as it appears here. You can still sit and think about it thanks to the wonders of technology and the availability of this blog. Preserved in technosphere:
I’d really like your opinion on it. It puts me in mind of monasteries, monks, giving up the material plane. But what do you think? Give it time. let it soak in.

The photo is actually from a new book called Haven which focuses on a woman’s refuge in Wolverhampton. Its funded by Multistory – an arts project from my home town of West Bromwich. I connected to the picture, i connected to the explanation. Connect.

One more floor and we are at the Roger Mayne exhibition. Images form the 50’s and the 60’s. A photographer taking on the establishment given their then existing snobbery about photography. The shots tell the story of the working class as it was then. The truth about the housing conditions we lived in, the bomb sites, the slums, the integrity of the working world, family, community. There is a lot that has changed in my 60 years. I’m glad to report we are better at graffiti than they were. But i also know for a fact now that graffiti is not new, is not a malaise of the day we live in, that it is rooted in reality. I particularly like a picture of a game being played. I like the movement. But strangely i likeit because one of the players is wearing brothel creepers.

One more floor we are taking tea.

One more floor we discover a print sales room and fall in love with the humour of Martin Parr and his singular focus on the eccentricies of the british.

We walk some. We walk to meet a march. We walk to march for the NHS. Whose NHS? Our NHS. Photogallery here

The day is all but done. All we need know is to party with Subir.

The missing link is tomorrow. Tomorrow is the AGM of the Crouch End Neighbourhood Forum. We are due to go. We don’t.


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Reframing History

I used to be a keen photographer. Those were the days. I spent hours recording the exploits of the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network. I built up a treasure trove of images. Most of which were on old film, pre-dawn of the digital camera. Circumstances resulted in tragedy and now all those negs are gone.

But every now and then a pic pops up on social media and i love to see it. Some images mean more to me than others. I found a secret stash today and chose to recapture this image;


The work is by Dennis Queen, one of the most out activists in our movement, a friend and like my old negatives a treasure. I can’t remember why she did it or why she sent it to me but she did. It was sometime during the early days of facebook when techie dinosaurs still ruled the bandwidths. We immediately set up a facebook group called We All Shot Pudsey Bear which we continue to administer and to grow to this day.

We are often met with curiosity. Why? Surely Pudsey is a good thing? Sadly the little yellow bastard as another friend calls him as a history. Some parts of which are quite funny. Some are more dastardly.

1) Most seriously, consistent with many a telethon Children In Need has portrayed disabled people in a negative light.
2) Charity is seen to patronise. You can still witness this on the One Show where Matt Baker who some see as a bit of a dick head (or so i’m told) grovels and grinds out bravery tales wherein our new crippled heroes do epic things like ride a bike.
3) It remains our perception that Pudsey came to fame during a time of civil rights upheaval. We wanted rights and all Pudsey offered was charity. You could hear the activist cry of Rights not Charity everywhere in those dark distant days.
4) Charity also has a convoluted story. Leonard Cheshire, Scope, and other such stalwarts of segregation had an interest in keeping disabled people apart from society. Locked away in care homes and never seen again. Significantly Paul Hunt was seen to spur on the civil rights struggle from a Cheshire Home where he created a Consumer Group called the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS).
5) Children In Need and the charities it supports have been accused of being only in it for the money. CEO’s, Administrators and celebrities like, the witty or was it the witless Terry Wogan, were seen to being doing very nicely out of it thank you. The beeb have been asked about what happens to the money – why Children In Need seems to keep one hell of a lot of the year on year on record breaking pot to themselves.
6) The problem with the respect afforded to charities is they get asked to pronounce on how our lives should be. We talk of self advocacy. We talk about being the experts in our own lives. We demand nothing about us without us.
7) Two current examples of the mess this results in. First the unholy scramble of charities to get involved in government schemes focussed on work at the costs of benefits to disabled people. We get sanctioned. They get paid. We starve, they get bread. We die, they live. Pretty inequitable don’t you think.
8) We work towards independent living, Independent lifestyles. Increasingly there is more talk of a return to institutions. Whilst the private sector will take a fair bite of this cherry it is a fair be that charities will re-open halls, dormitories and old flesh wounds.

So, i’m starting reframing my history and the history of others with someone else’s image. It means a lot to me and its been a pleasure to share it.


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Seasonal Adjustments

Have I ever had a bad christmas? Didn’t think so. Refuse to start now. So, from that vantage point i find it hard to hear and accommodate the views of the naysayers and their old, familiar, lines.


I Like Xmas

I like Xmas
Tell the Grouches
Sucking on their Humbugs
That I like Xmas
When they say its too long
Starts too early and just goes on and on
Tell them That I like Xmas
If they think it means nothing
And is just an excuse for material consumption
Tell them I like Xmas
If they say its lost its spirit
Lost it with God dying
Tell them that I believe in
Peace and love
And this atheist boy likes Xmas
And if they say take care
Of the sadness and the madness
Tell them I know that but
I still like Xmas
Tell them I like the coming of the tree
The turning on of sparkly lights
The unwrapping of a card
And the excitement of a gift
Tell them I like Xmas dinner
Xmas books
And being with my love
Tell them I like Xmas



New Years Eve

New Years Eve
Always and forever
As sad as me
I would flee
Pre count down
To be alone
With pen
With paper
Caught between
Promise and reflection
In reflection
Hopeless and forlorn
Wishing i’d never been born
Just another indignity
I never asked for
But in promise
Words came fleet
And slipped
Never to be caught
Forces beyond my strength
Denying everything
That was then
This is now
Free of embarrassment
Given life
And breath and hope
Whilst I choose
To stay at home
I am not alone
Together we shall party.


And now a photo of the last of the mince pies



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Leading A Merry Dance


img_6029I celebrate the word old. I am old. The older I’ve got the closer I’ve felt to the label. I love labels I choose to wear. I am now an old disabled disability equality trainer. I’ve always believed that the lessons of the social model are valuable to other marginalised groups. So, it is I look forward to working with the old. My peers. My people.

Bean runs an elders Healthy Eating lunch group in North London. The lunch is preceded by a dance movement class. We were called to tell the teacher could not attend this week and Bean was asked if she could fill in the time. I woke up and devised an exercise. Its basic reminiscence I know. I came up with a list of 12 conversation starters. I felt some of them may be risque, others may be fun. I presented it to the group.

My feelings were right. There were some tuts, some ‘oh Richard’s’. But, i was not responsible for the starters they pulled from the bag (see picture). ‘My first crush’ was followed by ‘the first time’, followed by ‘I really love’. All potentially adult themes. But the group soon found that words are what you make of them and younger readers might be surprised older people can do grown up.

Regardless of who we are and what we said, we appreciated our time together. The learning about our friends was valuable. North London is rich in diversity. Men, women, irish, jamaican, swiss. I think the surprise is how close our experiences are. How we are defined by church, by culture, by state, by social controls, by each other.

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And REST!!!….


Our campaign against demolition of Crouch End Victorian Villas has reached a point of stasis. We were to be heard at the Planning Sub Committee next week. News from the planning office is that the developers want to resubmit plans. I see two things; a) no matter what they plan they can’t get round the conservation arguments and b) at last a chance to down tools and go see some autumn leaves, a country walk, a river walk, our appreciation of nature.
Walking the land it strikes me that here we are on someone else’s property and that its protected. Acres of woodland, National Trust properties, an enormous hotel glamourised by the Profumo Scandal and the prettiness of Christine Keeler.
Meanwhile, back in Crouch End, the Town Hall Square is under a planned and temporary occupation. Our green, our iconic tree, is under threat. We call it ours. The old Hornsey town hall already has a preferred bidder and a boutique hotel is proposed, which raises doubts over the businesses currently housed there as well as an arts centre that seems to become more culturally important by the day.
It seems there is no escape from politics and campaigning even on an autumn day as glorious as this.  And so it is we send our love.

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Something got me started

I was sitting in a room with someone who shared something with me. I liked it. It made me laugh. Yet it focussed on some things I get pretty serious about.

  • Speaking up.
  • Influences that stop you from speaking up
  • Consequences of speaking up
  • False arguments preventing you from speaking up
  • Humour
  • Not saying what you really mean but still getting your point across (not a strategy I’d endorse at say a care assessment meeting / care managers can be so literal)
  • Profanity. I see someone beat me to writing ‘In Praise of Profanity’
  • When profanity is misunderstood and used as an excuse to beat you with because you’ve been naughty and talked about how you feel about things.
  • Listening to the voice
  • Celebrating the culture within the voice
  • Recognising diversity

So, a mighty list. Might be best you read what was shared with me before coming back to see how this ends.

But just to say what else No Comment reminded me of:

First They Came by Pastor Martin Niemoller

First they came for the Communists And I did not speak out because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists And I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists And I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews And I did not speak out because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me And there was no one left to speak out for me

I note that references to the ‘Incurables’ seem to have been lost to memory.

So, Speak Up.
Yes. I know I am in this room
With you who have stopped speaking
Stopped because of the beating
Stopped because you were not heard
Stopped because of the way things changed
Stopped because you think you’ve had your time
Stopped because no one listened
When someone should have listened
Stopped because no one cares
When someone somewhere should have cared
Stopped because the way your treated
Is the way your treated and that’s all there is to it
Stopped because of the pain you feel
The pain from the beating, the pain of rejection
Stopped. Stopped. Stopped speaking
Because you’ve stopped speaking

Look back.
Look back to all these stops
Why stop?
Should you stop?
You should not stop
Know you should not stop
So start
Start speaking
Start believing
Start to take your life back
The world did not stop
Because you stopped and grew tired of starting
The world carried on the way the world carries on
And because the world carries on the way it carries on
You must start
Start again
Start anew
And Start afresh

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An Autumnal Walk In Highgate

We must get out to blow away the cobwebs. We must appreciate the colours more. Take the time to appreciate the sunshine that this fine morning brings. Find the breath to walk the hills, up and down, that the locale brings.

Take the time to remember who we are and what we mean to each other. Take the time to remember. The more I remember the more I smell autumn. Leaves in the air falling to the ground. A dampness that clings with cold to the nostrils with cold dew hanging from them.

I look for the autumn picture. I see mine. Mine, the one and only. I see it just before i see a group of photographers, potentially a club. Its nice they are out together taking the same red shrub for all it can offer from angle to composition. Bean wants to know if I want to join a club. I don’t.
That will do. Just the one stop today. And we walk on. Its not chilling the bones. Bean is telling me about a groups disdain for Halloween as an American thing. She will also remind what the pagans think. I will turn this sequence into a poem. Indeed I have already and posted it to It should appear in a day or two. It’s called Ghost Walk.

Spectral thoughts turn to this time of the year in days past. I see myself pushing a wheelbarrow asking for: ‘A penny for the guy’

But that was then and this is now and the wheel of the year turns on. Turning as we walk and turning whilst we talk, up another incline to Highgate High Street or Highgate Hill as we may know it more properly and we look into the windows and we are impressed with the window displays, that tell of Highgate (the bookshop) and tell more regularly of the pagan festival

A classy joint; Highgate. Middle class Nirvana. We stop off to peruse the exhibition in the museum. It would have been so much better if only i’d have packed my old man’s glasses. Its amazing I can still see. Glaucoma is in the family. Other astmatics talk of detached retinas. As the seasons turn. So we turn. Older. Not always wiser. I see a new image for my signs selection…. that’s a collection of poems (you know where) and in this season of darkness i start thinking of new lines on the story of when the lights go on


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