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A Heavy Load / Participatory Review 2

I like that. Participtory Review 2. It the rhyme. A happy accident. Unplanned. Adventures in liminality continue.

Where was I. Oh yes. The review continued like this. A photograph. The same one that appears here. A flash. I am now in the scene. Participatory. The words that followed came like this.

"The band waits to play. Some are attentive of each other. The banjo player knows he is being shot. A set list lies on the floor. This is the Muddy Lane String Band, contributors to the Private View. They are not on yet. They are tuning up, readying themselves for the gig. Waiting is always the worst moment for me. Adrenalin kicks in. Messes with my thoughts. I have not started my own liminal or abstract moments".

What happens whilst waiting
Red hot anticipation
Like before the exam starts
Cold. Ice blue.
Sucking on a polo
Nothing can hurt
But not for the band
Devine Smith and Downes
Waiting for the man
Drip drip Adrenalin
Pores close
I spend waiting moments
Clearing my urinary tract
Other times
I span the set
Looking for signs
Of unheralded suprise
The suprise unlike sun rise
Never happens
The Set
The Song
The banter
Same show as last show
The liminal strains to be unleashed
In the waiting hour
A buzz
A dark black t shirted roadie
Stalks the mike
One two, One two.
The sites, the sight, the sound
Its getting closer
We share a look
A smile
A joke
We stand inside historic moments
And history recalls
Kings Queens
And players
But we were there
We heard
We saw
We did not conquer 

Posted by Rich Downes, 22 February 2015

Last modified by Rich Downes, 22 February 2015

A Heavy Load. Participatory Review

Photograph of a Flo Brooks Painting showing a woman working, shaping an object.

Warning this is not a review. This started as a review. There was an event. Time. Place. Art the dominant subject. I was there to review. Then something happened. I was captured by an idea. I ran amok with it. I got some of it right. I got some of it wrong. I'm still adventuring.

Here is the start of the story.

ON 10th February i attended a Private View. Flo Brooks exhibition Heaving The Lead Cecil Sharp House

Flo Brooks describes liminality as ‘an unstable, mutating in betweeness. She finds it between people, places and time. History is presented in linear fashion. Dates are prominent. But history is not the full story. What happens in the moments between the moments that are captured in books, in script , in picture. Flo Brooks spent time in the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library researching Folk’s social history. She found herself interested inthe wider picture, in the times between the times and sought to find a way in which to interrupt time through an exhibition of acrylics on wood.

I am reminded now as I prepare for my morning coffee of a painting where an hand proffers a cup to a man opening a flask. My presumption is the flask holds tea but it could be beer. My presumption interrupts time. I wait impatiently for the kettle to boil but maybe the characters in the painting experience different thoughts. The flask holder excitement of the appreciation his drink will bring, the cup holder; a sense of suspense, a longing for taste. Such is the liminal. That sense of something happening in the space between frozen moments.

I am attracted to the idea. I feel the suspensions between a pearly person dying buttons in accordance with a secret family recipe, a fork entering a fry up, a saw about to cut, a dance on a beer laden table (will the ales spill?). I feel the liminal myself standing on a stair bound exhibition (will I fall between paintings?)  and I try to catch something of the liminal myself in the photos that I take.

Later, I seek to manipulate the images. Abstract them somehow. Cropping, changing colours, messing with brightness and colour. Flo Brooks has done the same with her acrylics. Shapes float the moment recorded. I perceive this as capturing movement. Though it could also be reflections of people surrounding the moment but not of the moment. How can I do this myself?

Posted by Rich Downes, 18 February 2015

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 18 February 2015

New Project - Would Love Some Opinions

Image - ambersmall.jpg

I met Neale a good 30 years ago, I was runing a community darkroom. He came in and said he wanted to be the best photographer in the world and he wanted me to teach him all I knew. That took about 6 weeks and he was soon better than me. I continued to give him space and time. He became stylised and constantly went in search of beauty. Our ideas on that were very different.

A tory recession hit the country and the darkroom closed. We went our separate ways but we stayed in touch and our friendship grew. We were always going to work togegther again. We met up and Neale asked me if i had any words for his images,

The idea as simple as it is; is this.... he goes off does what he wants to do. We meet, we look, we talk and I come up with a few words which might fit the images and might not. We put them out together.

The first thing Neale presented to me was a set of three pictures which became Traffic Tryptych and it went like this:

Traffic amber moment;
Uncertain choice.
Left, right, straight ahead.
Never slam it into reverse.
Never go backwards.
Go down unknown roads lost.
Wait without direction.


Posted by Rich Downes, 12 December 2014

Last modified by Rich Downes, 12 December 2014

Mother and Wheelchair User Reunion

 Following on from today’s ruling ( ) I was moved to do something arty, but nothing would come and then I remembered Paul Simon’s 'Mother and Child Reunion' and wondered what it said. Seemed to me if I changed very few words I could come up with something portentous.

No I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day
But the mother and wheelchair user reunion
Is only a bus stop away

Oh, little crippie of mine
I can't for the life of me
Remember a madder day
I know they say, "Let you on"
But it just don't work out that way
And the course of a journey runs
Over and over again

No I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day
But the mother and wheelchair reunion
Is only a bus ride away

Having said that I am mindful of the social model promoting access for all and do worry about the mother being lambasted left, right and centre on chat shows for being responsible to her sleeping child. But then again do mothers and children have protected characteristics under the equalities act and did they ever campaign to get on the bus.

Read the real Paul Simon Mother and Child Reunion Lyrics. It’s only fair

Posted by Rich Downes, 8 December 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 9 December 2014

Brother Malcolm Eats His Beans

Remember how you hear a political song that has ideas that stay with you forever. No Sell Out does that for me.

Credited to Keith Le Blanc of Tackhead and probably featuring all group members No Sell Out is a collage of recordings featuring Malcolm X, I use a quote in the first line. I love that line and have played with it often. Changing it, paraphrasing it, extending it, turning it into something else entirely. Its something I sometimes call on.

So, its there, ready for use. And so it was today when looking at a funding application that required creative input, i turned on Word and there it appeared in new form.

Having spent no time with it I wonder what I might have missed out, what would make it better so I ask you what else might Brother Malcolm have wanted? Remember... No Sell Out. Malcolm X. No Sell Out. Malcolm X

Brother Malcolm said; “Sitting at the table doesn't make you a diner, unless you eat some of what's on that plate” but he mean’t so much more than this.

Brother Malcolm wanted so much more than Beans
Brother Malcolm wanted to do so much more than dine
Brother Malcolm wanted to be able to get in
Brother Malcolm wanted to get to the table
Brother Malcolm wanted to know what his choices were
Brother Malcolm didn’t want to be harassed
Brother Malcolm wanted to use the loo
Brother Malcolm wanted to be a participant, a planner
Brother Malcolm wanted to be involved
Brother Malcolm wanted his say
Brother Malcolm coolly wanted all those things denied him
Brother Malcolm rightfully wanted the right to eat
Brother Malcolm agitated
Brother Malcolm stirred
Brother Malcolm lifted
Brother Malcolm ate his beans

Posted by Rich Downes, 4 September 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 4 September 2014

Memories Surface Very Slowly

Advocacy awareness class. Something is missing from everyone's learning. I could save them. Tell them how the circle of oppression goes on and what it does to you but its not my call so I spend time with memories of special school surfacing....

Mrs Mack
She’s on smack
She is very nasty

Childhood peeps by in rhyme attacking teachers.
I am alone here.

Thank U Very Much for Mrs Cheetham
Thank U Very Much
Thank U very very much

One more day to go
One more day in sorrow

Skool songs bleed thru the memory
With new ones surfacing

Mr Muz
Call the fuzz
He is not so nasty

Some are shared
Some are lonely

I sit here in advocacy class
Feeling very, very, lonely

Mrs Mack abased me
That’s why she’s on crack
And I was oh so lonely

Discrimination across the nation
Internalised and bleeding

Mr Muz
He could have saved me
Proved there were ears to listen
Voices that spoke

But he didn’t
There weren’t
There was none
A zero
With which to surround me
When I was very lonely

Posted by Rich Downes, 31 July 2014

Last modified by Rich Downes, 3 August 2014

Picture From A Not Dead Yet Movement - To That Which We Do Not Have

I hadn't planned to put this picture up as a part of the series but something nagged away at me and I couldn't think what it was. Then I saw him and something else nagged at me. I couldn't remember his name. I slept badly last night. How could I not remember his name. There are people in these photos whose name I don't know and it worries me not a jot but something bugged me out here.

I woke up. I've got it. He shares my name. He died. We went to his funeral to see off a DAN warrior. DAN for unitiatives stands for the Disabled People's Direct Action Network. Warrior, Wheelchair Warrior. Common parlance back in the day. We took to the streets, built the barricades, forced through revolution and helped bring down a government. All in the name of rights. Civil Rights. The Right to Live. Accessible Transport, Free Our People. Independent Living.

Richard was a warrior. One of the very best. Well loved. The room in the crem was packed. His eulogy mentioned something of the warrior he was but he was more than this. Other things were discussed. Later at his reception held the Bald Faced Stag, Finchley, we circled the pool table he played at, appreciated his social life, his leagues, his talents, his interests.

Richard was in and out of hospital. His illnesses where serious. Caused a lot of pain and grief. It would always last a moment and more before he would be back out, getting fit to return to the street. One day it got him. But as far as I know he never asked for it, wanted it. The fight for life was always bigger. The way he lived always mean't more. The lessons he left for others to learn, the improvements we bought about together, as a movement, for others - that's what counted.

And now he's gone, barely remembered by me, surely forgotten by others. He's a symbol of that which we do not have. Austerity bought about many changes. It bought about an attack on disabled people. We have lost many more during this time. Remember we told the governemetn they had blood on their hands. Well, they are up to their armpits now and the head is yelling for more. Each one gone, each one to leave us.To that which we do not have.

Posted by Rich Downes, 30 July 2014

Last modified by Rich Downes, 30 July 2014

Picture from A Not Dead Yet Movement - A Penultimate Shot

A wheelchair user sits by a poster reading ‘Dignity Not Death’

Beneath the headline there is a list. Only a part of it can be seen. It reads:

‘My home is inaccessible
I do not get the support I need
I have no form of transport
I have no aid to communication
I have no aids to daily living’

What does the rest of the poster say? Add what you lack. Complete the poster by saying where your dignity is put at risk. Tell me what you want.

Charlie Farley Falconer thought you wanted death. Some of us do sometimes. He heard those that do cry out loudly, sob the loudest. Did we lose the battle, if not the war, because we returned to passive speaking? Did our quietness allow welfare reform? How does a government get away with genocide through the hands of paid agents?

Is it really a case of first they came for the single mothers and I did not speak out because I am not a single mother, before they came for the mentally distressed and i remained without a voice because I am not mentally distressed all  of the time, before they wrote a bill for the aged, ill and disabled that put them all away quietly by the passing of a pill, a silent swallow of a medicine, a pain free prick into an artery....

So write your list and write it now.

Posted by Rich Downes, 29 July 2014

Last modified by Rich Downes, 29 July 2014

Picture from a Not Dead Yet Movement 3 / 28 July 2014

Posting this picture reminds me of a story someone once told me. I do not swear to its exactness. It's an old tale. Relates to a working man, a stong, silent, family type. Leaving home one morning he just collapsed on the doorstep of his home. HIs wife heard him fall and rushed to him. He was struggling that much was clear and things looked bleak so she left him at once, went inside and dialled 999, before returning to his side.

The paramedics turned up first by bike and then an ambulance into which he was bundled inside On his way to the hospital he died. We could end it there of cause but the professionals were already on the case and they resusitated him quickly. There was no question that they would try. It was their job and they made it work for the man.

The next thing the man remembers is waking up with a pain in his chest. Her felt weak but he touched it and found a scar. Someone had opened him up. He felt queasy. With a bit more energy he could have thrown up but he didn't. He just held it there, wondering what would happen, wheere his life would take him, was he finished. He thought of his family. He was glad he had worked hard, contributed, made them safe. He could die happy with that thought in his mind.

It would take him some time to get up again, to move around, to be a part of something but he decided in time to live. He found he could volunteer somewhere at a place that respected the slowed pace he now lived at. In fact, whenever he found the time he celebrated the newness that surrounded him. He was no longer tied down to the chains that bind - the cash nexus. Indeed he had even put aside a little nest egg and he was pleased by that too. He could get around more now, see more people, more places, new streets. He now had time to be more of the person he always wanted to be - a celebrant who lived the good times

That was the story anyhow. I'm not sure how useful it is here or if i've even remembered it well. But it feels right so i'll tell it here. Some how it makes me think a fight for life may be worth it... even in these trying times.

Posted by Rich Downes, 28 July 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 28 July 2014

Building A List Of Songs with which to Beat the Assisted Dying Bill

Song Number 1

Heard today under a slightly different lens John Grant's Glacier

Please leave Song Number 2 et al in the comment lists below

Posted by Rich Downes, 22 July 2014

Last modified by Rich Downes, 22 July 2014

Picture from a Not Dead Yet Movement 2

Thanks to Dennis Queen for telling me where I could the picture I was looking for in Picture from a Not Dead Yet Movement

Again this comes from the action against Lord Joffe's bill not Lord Falconer's. I suppose if you replace a spade with a spade it still goes by the same name - 'Lord Of Death'. Great title sir.

Back in the day, we all knew the Lords of Death would be back. Flocking rook like in a parliamentree, espousing blinkered wisdom like owls caught in daylight. Birds of prey hooting, cawing, calling for you and me.

We knew it was coming. The war was fought on the claw of a bloodthirsty media that finds it easier to promote death and dying than it does life and living. Man wants to live. Some dud headline that one. Woman becomes one year older and parties like all the best of all of our yesterdays. Try spotting that one in an editorial. Its nothing compared with say; 'Putin Killed My Son', a brief holiday in the Sun with your favourrite lying Mail. Aye!!! We're having a heatwave.

Posted by Rich Downes, 22 July 2014

Last modified by Rich Downes, 22 July 2014

Picture from a Not Dead Yet Movement

Way back in time  a fellow named Lord Joffe tried to get the Assisted Dying Bill through parliament.

The Disabled People's Direct Action Network (DAN) mobilised and put on a show which the majority of the Lords supported.

I remember taking a shot of an activist from Birmingham (Paul? if memory serves). He was holding a placard reading 'Lords of Death'. I looked for it. It felt apposite. Timely and with shades of Doctor Who. A science fiction skit perhaps wherein the elderly, wizened Lords sought to fuck us all up.

Couldn't find the picture. It wasn't one of my favourites from the day. I like the one on my facebook page with Terry Hutt holding one end of a Not Dead Yet coffin. I might present that one later but the one i really like is of Clair Lewis, AKA Dennis Queen, kitted out in this shot as a Nurse of Death - a nurse of death with an improbably sized needle sticking in her neck.

I can't remember if i took it this way or if Clair or myself turned it over. Certainly you can read the words upside down words Not Dead Yet. The picture has this disorientating effect - possibly because it is presented upside down. And the decision of the lords to legalise death  is also disorientating so I just feel it is important to remember that this is a long battle. We won under Joffe, lost under Falconer but the war is a long way from over. If you are still breathing and are in fact Not Dead Yet you can still fight it

Posted by Rich Downes, 21 July 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 21 July 2014

He Was - I Was

Image - he_was_i_was.jpg

Saturday Night, Peter's Bistro in Devizes and an unlikely meeting across tables forming a friendship. I retained these details in my head as it seemed to say something about engagement (my current area of work at Merton Centre for Independent Living). I didn't realise it would take this form. Neither did i realise i would be experiencing this on the day the Battle of Westminster raged.

He Was - I Was

He was a Royal Marine, fought in the Falklands
I was into peace and love, didn’t like my country
He became a police man, long arm of the law
I was a disabled activist, prepared to right the wrong
He joined the NHS, big on institutions
I preached independent living, big on freedom

There was nothing about this man that I could like was there?

So, why did we spend three hours laughing over dinner

Maybe it has nothing to do with labels
Nothing to do with chalk nor cheese
N’owt to do with He Was – I Was

Everything to do with the people we are
Everything to do with the words we say
Everything to do with where and how we meet

The soldier will meet with the hippy again
The rozzer will meet the committed criminal
The anaesthetist with the conscious

A date has been set

Posted by Rich Downes, 1 July 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 2 July 2014

Blah Blah Blah

This blog first appeared today on Merton Centre for Independent Living's Inclusion Blog where I explore issues around engagement and reveal what our members are saying and getting involved in. It can be found here:  But it felt too good and arty to just stay there so her it is.

We do this.
We do that.
We sell the brand.

The blind man sat and got pounced on by the organisational evangelists with their we do this, we do that, we sell the brand mantras.

We sing.
We jump.
We swim.

The wheelchair-user sat and politely listened to the we do this, we do that, we sell the brand mantras

I sat beside them, the blind man and the wheelchair user and said nothing.

I listened somewhat to the we dos, the this’s and the that’s, but at some point I lost interest. Drifted away. Nudged into ennui by the we do this, we do that mantra. I became annoyed with myself. Why wasn’t I interested? Couldn’t I learn something from the we do this, we do that mantra.

And then it dawned on me. No one asked us what we wanted. No one cared enough to ask. They could do all the do this, do that, in the world but do I/we want it. When is someone going to talk to me, ask me what I want, ask me what I can give?

Posted by Rich Downes, 18 June 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 25 June 2014

To Dan, An open letter of love

Dear Dan

I'm home now, sorting through some old photos. I come across several from the time i knew you.

I loved you for the good and bad things that you were to me. I adored the conceit of spelling your name in capitals and the statements that you said it made about you. You said you were Direct, that you took Action and that you Network. You could have been any old DAN but you weren't. You said you were the Disabled People's DAN and they were  like you. They were direct, took action and networked.

I see the faces that were representative of the you that you were. Snaps fall to the floor. My we were serious then, Stern even. Open mouthed, loud, proud, angry and strong. We pissed on pity but we smiled often and sometimes shed a tear. We, together, were all this and more. Singers, players, redolent of culture. We linked with art and artists and came from these. But, we were crafters too and builders. We created traditions and built on values.

Remember Cat or CAT? I do. I met her once in a newspaper cutting or a text book. I'm told she came before us. Was something of a mother to all the little Danners that followed soon after. They say that Telethon gestated the body that you became. I don't know. I wasn't there of cause. But, i was close by. Going through these photos, i find other texts and there is an interview I did with one of the midwives who later became a friend.

And that's interesting DAN because a friend is what you were, You were wise. OK we looked like harbingers of better transport as we rounded up buses, tubes and trains but we built that into a demand for civil rights and we made a poor version of condescending legislation work well enough for some before; itself transmuting. And we were hip enough, when young, to say, that bus that stops outside  our door is a first step to the community we want to put in place, where we are independent, included, free. But, not free alone because we seek to free our people, all the friends we were, all the friends we could become. Brothers. Sisters. I heard you talk about wanting family.

I loved you very much DAN. I see some faces sometimes on these photos that I am sorting, on other social networks. I know their names yet everyone of them said they were Spartacus that day in Whitehall, but they also said they were DAN and many of those DAN's I loved too.

I was with you for the first time DAN. And i may have been there for the last time too. I cherish what we had. You were great. And i think of those times now, as the colour images and the black and white ones shuffle through my hands.

I think you changed your name again DAN and that you have become all multicultural now and hang out from time to time with some other fellow called Deepac.  I hope Deepac puts as much chagrin into the right wing bigots and placatory idiots as you did DAN.

DAN, i'll say it again. I loved you. You were my friend.



Posted by Rich Downes, 25 May 2014

I think of you often. The way you were that day we spent together down by the sea

I think of this picture often. It has entered my personal mythology. I turned it into a story.but looking at it now I can see that I tell the story wrongly.

In my mind I see a toilet entrance and three signs. One saying gentlemen this way, ladies that and disabled people yet another. I think my story tells it better. I am narrating a tale of language and exclusion. Segregation. 'No whites, no cats, no english'. The ridiculousness of it all. But a Nat King Cole Documentary is being shown on Beeb 4 tonight and the press release talks about discrimination. A white tap, a black tap,a white table, a black table, a white room, a black room but where go the disabled folk?

And there's a sub text isn't there. Language. the way it riles you. It's not just how the good folk of Seaford put this blue plaque to the famous sayings together, a man on the promenade told me about the disabled toilet too. I couldn't help but think what might be wrong with it. Does it spasm when you sit on it, have a major breakdown or what? All I know, is in tandem with the rest of the population I tend to shy away from the disabled toilet. I don't want to use it. I exclude it. In my mind I'm as bad as the rest of them.

And another one. Disabled parking..... is that where all the guys and girls with sticks hang out? Or is it one great big bloody hole where your car disappears.

I'm sure all my gentle readers have their favourite words, phrases and photographs. Would love to see some here.

Posted by Rich Downes, 23 May 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 24 May 2014

On Entering the Save the ILF Postcard Campaign Photo Gallery

I have barely taken to the streets to Save The ILF. I’ve done a little but maybe not enough. It’s not apathy. I always had something else to do.  I campaigned for independent living before I even knew a fund that supports independent living was at risk. I chanted Free Our People with the best of them.

It was more a case of redirecting my energies. I advocated for direct payments. I found employment with Merton Centre for Independent Living. I was committed but further away from the streets than I had been for a while. I created a Sick Note to use as a basis against welfare reform which identified targets but I couldn’t see the link in campaigning for that and stopping the traffic but some activists wouldn’t listen to the voices of those who wanted to do things a little differently. There was a lack of creativity and it annoyed me.

And then the tone changed. The Save ILF campaign saw Independent Liver’s making and posting videos. Penny Pepper wanted to ‘Fuck The Cuts’, Katherine Araniello demonstrated that the Independent Living fund could make art an every day event, Ian Saville contributed a magic trick, Graeae linked the three penny opera to saving the ILF and then out of nowhere appeared a Save The ILF Postcard campaign on facebook.

It looked fresh, exciting. Someone was contributing digital artwork that pronounced Save The ILF. I loved this site. I could participate. My organisation got behind it. Celebrities moved away from the self-aggrandisement  of charity and got behind a rights campaign. Ordinary, everyday people, trade unions, dogs were printing out the postcard, taking selfies and putting themselves up on the page saying I support Save the ILF.

This is something we wanted. I had an opportunity to meet people who were using direct payments, self directed support. They were the same people I had in mind when I was an activist. They were saying yes to this but can’t we do it in another way, without the forms, without the strictures of social work departments who were implementing a system that is unfriendly and unsupportive of independent living. Professionals are soiling the ethos of the idea by removing flexibility, choice, control, and making us ever more subservient to carers and agencies, I was uplifted by their enthusiasm but down pressed by the lack of freedom the system was upholding. What they wanted was the ILF. What people on the ILF were now being offered was a return to this lesser style of  independent living, where hoops were put in place to jump through – eligibility, fair access to care (a real misnomer that one) , the wrong thinking of authority. Fear is well placed. A return to institutionalised living is on the cards.

So I spend time on the Save the Independent Living Fund Postcard campaign. It heartens me. Cheers me. The politics of participation is invested in this artful page. I recommend you visit. The photos are here. Like it.

Posted by Rich Downes, 10 May 2014

Last modified by Rich Downes, 12 May 2014

Black Out Hate

Image - blackout.jpg

I have a photo to go with this blog and i will put it up one day. Its simply a sign reading Black Out. It promotes a drapery company, specialising in what must be very effective blinds.

I took it one day when walking away from a public meeting. I understand how close it is to reading blacks out and as uncomfortable as that reading is it seems to sum up much of the tone of the meeting. And yet... this was a public meeting about public transport and in particular buses.

The room seemed to be pretty much divided 50/50. The right side, the left side and the wrong side the right side. The right side full of hate. The right side wants public transport to be good for them but the right side also knew who they don't want included in the public.

The rights were saying if public transport is to be public then it should be for us... it shouldn't be for kids, kids make noise, kids can walk, it's good for them. We don't want hungry people on our buses. Eaters should be banned. I dare say especially useless eaters and I must say there is a side of me that sides with this. Fast foods smell and I don't eat meat so I don't want to smell it. I think there is something to be said for manners and etiquette but I don't want to ban eaters per se from buses.

And then there was this view bravely expressed in a public meeting about public transport... 'keep the loonies off the bus, you don't know what they carry with them... I mean they might have knives'. I wonder how much of this had been propagated by the genial host who had told us that her assistant lived on a bus route but should really be living in another instutition. Titter ye not I thought but many did.

And yet... there was another side, a side that didn't think public transport shouldn't be public. A side that thought, well, yes, actually I'd like to be a part of the public. I'd like to be included. I insist that my needs are met and that public utilities should exist along the routes that public transport takes. This side talked about an integrated, accessible public transport system that included everyone, that addressed issues around community, comfort, safety, education and health. Access raised its head and someone unfurled an old banner reading Rights Now.

All in all, as you can tell from the size of the last two paragraphs, the left side, the right side, spoke less. It was quieter, more subdued, almost exhausted by the repitition of its claims. Hate spits venom and leaves a mark. Love does something else entirely.

And I walk past a sign and photograph it, wondering about a split within the nation. A 50/50 split. We have been extremely quiet about welfare reform. Stats say 50% of the country support the government. Deprivation is a good thing. Poverty is to be applauded if it comes from a cuts package that excludes those scroungers and when looked at in those terms poverty doesn't even exist, does it? It's just bad people making bad choices.

DPAC aside, the silence that meets this view is deafening. And I am recalling this meeting, in front of social workers, on the day it is announced the government will go ahead with cutting the ILF after all, on the day that a friend posts on facebook that Brent council will make another £4 million cut to social services, during the week when another council says we have cut all the management we can so we will go for front line workers next, the support workers, the PA's, the housing benefits office worker.

That black out sign that I started with isn't too far off is it? Blame it on the immigrants, the Hungarians, the Rumanian, the Ukrainian. These are the signs that crash into me, the placards, the banner headlines, the Daily Mail rules. I feel lonely. And yet...

I walk along and further down the road, there is another sign and the sign reads Sky Line. I'm not sure who it's for but i look beyond it. The clouds are still there but it's clearing and another side kicks my depression with hate aside and I feel hopeful.

I hope the good side of the 50/50 gets louder. I see signs that a turn around is coming and my views will be more clearly heard and better articulated. I arrive home. Life is good already.

Posted by Rich Downes, 8 March 2014

Last modified by Rich Downes, 17 March 2014


When I'm not blogging for DAO, which happens to be most of the time, I have a day job. Get this. Engagement and Development Worker for Merton Centre for Independent Living (MCIL).

One of my responsibilities is to engage with the wider community and in particular with hard to reach groups.

The LGBT community is not one that I am charged with finding,meeting and relating with but MCIL know that i'm putting my feelers out. In some ways this young, hungry organisation was ahead of me. A funder said we should be monitoring participation within MCIL in accordance with sexual orientation. No one is showing up on the figures yet. I've spoken to a local activist who identifies as a gay man and contacted the council's equalities office. Not much seems to be doing locally.

Another tool I use is my diversity calendar. It tells me that this month is LGBT History Month. The website for the same tells me that the theme this  year is combating homophobia through music. So, i've set a challenge on the MertonCIL facebook page for members to identify music in support of the LGBT community or music by LGBT artists that demonstrates acceptance within society. I started the process with the Tom Robinson Band's, 'Power in The Darkness', which is a favourite song of mine but which also worries my liberal consciousness through the voice over of a political bigot denouncing civil rights activists with inappropriate language but which ends with the killing rejoinder 'Freedom from the likes of you'.

I repeat the feat, and the challenge here. Join the list making and you tube video playing and whilst you're at it why not go to the MertonCIL facebook page and like it. We need to keep on growing inclusively.

Many thanks.

Posted by Rich Downes, 8 February 2014

Hurray for the Festivities

"You are too single minded about this disability stuff. You have a life outside of it. You need to leave it at work and appreciate all those other things that you have".

This is a criticism I have to put up with from time to time. There is some truth in it. But, i'm not so bad as people make out. I can put my work away. I can distinguish between my work and my life. I see where they meet, interact, and where I can find peaceful seclusion. Its also an interesting question because it comes up in interviews from time to time. How do you relax, cope with pressure?

So the festivities started, the holidays came on and I relaxed. It was great. But a couple of things came up.

First thing; Phil Everly died. I thought the Everly's were great. There hits were stupendous. Songs like Claudette showed they could rock with the best of the early rockers. Dream showed off harmonies that would later inspire the Beatles. Sibling rivalry foretold tales to come from the Kinks and Oasis. But something was missing in the news. Did Phil experience depression? 

I looked and I looked. Seems it was Don. Don also developed a Ritalin addiction apparently. I remember all the early rockers who had an impairment. These get a mention in Yeah Yeah Yeah - The Story of Pop previously mentioned. According to Bob Stanley; Bill Haley wore a kiss curl to hide partial eyesight, Gene Vincent developed mobility issues following an accident and before becoming a rocker, Don Everly experienced depression. Bob names more. Disabled People invented rock n roll and pop music as we know it. I think we should celebrate.

On the last days of the hols I go to see 'Mandela - Long Walk To Freedom'. I wouldn't have bothered but someone wanted to see it so I went along and it was well worth the 2 hours 26 minutes you have to sit in the dark. It struck 'em that Mandela was first a man and then a participant in a struggle before becoming a leader in that struggle. It's a journey. It takes time. But the early call in the new year returned to freedom, to independence, to equality. We learned from others in our own struggle. It felt good to be reminded of this. 

So seasons greetings everyone. Enjoy the new year. Celebrate, learn and struggle.

Posted by Rich Downes, 7 January 2014

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 7 January 2014

She Never Looked Sicker

I've just caught up with Katherine Arianiello's latest blog on DAO, Wot a laff, It surely can't be the first time a committed disability artist has played with identity by assuming the role of a normal person with the disadvantages that brings, Indeed, how many of us have done this on a daily basis - myself included. Mainstreaming. Being the supercrip. Letting normal society put on us with their interminable list of aches and pains and other uninspired melodramas, Oh! the boredom of being normal.

But, Katherine has set the bar exceedingly high this time. The Sick Bitch Crip has never looked so sick. How good could it get if she wasn't normal and experienced differences that she could be proud of. Oh! She does and she is but not in this show. Here she is pathetic, wretched, claims to be suffering the trauma of having to live a normal life.

It is at this point, having nearly wet myself, that I recall a tune we used to chant on the old DAN demo's. "We want what you've got". But do we? Do we really want to go to the bar and have a drink with our friends without support, transport, doors that will open? Do we want not to be stared at, not to be enquired of, not to be shunned. What would that do to our energy levels, what would there be to be pissed of, as the world turns grey; even in cocktail dresses. Its a massive dilemma. Katherine bravely, as a normal person, calls for help, worries that no charity is there to help her - that a world has fallen away, and all that happens instead is a maudlin state of inclusion. Surely we should be calling for better than this.

And therein lies a nub, The normals don't really not have anything to worry about. Keeping up with the Jones's must be an awful drag esecially when you know what awful drags the Jones's are. Its not that they're bad. Its just that they're different. Poor souls that they are, on the scale of context they're right down there. Do we care. Can we not give them a hand. Shouldn't we all be demanding better than this (in life I mean - not than the film, 'Katherine's Story' which is a hellfire winner).

Posted by Rich Downes, 20 December 2013

Last modified by Rich Downes, 20 December 2013

Rock God, Pop Star and the ideal gift for Christmas

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I attended a book launch for the first time last night. Bob Stanley of St Etienne, and regular music columnist in the nationals, has just had ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah – The Modern Story of Pop’, published.

I went for a number of reasons. The launch was local, at Fab Records, Bob is a neighbour, I’m reading the book and its great, but mostly because one day we stopped in the drive way and had a chat about the communication difficulties we share. So, I wanted to support him and I was interested to see how he would do.

Our hosts at Fab treated us to a free drink, bottled lager, which was good of them. The customers were regulars and informed about their tastes and preferences. Bob had a friend with him who had read the book more than once and who would later introduce himself as a social historian. He would interview Bob and create a frisson of tension. What would Bob come back with? Does he have the ring craft? One thing is for certain. He knows his Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The interview reminded me of something, I have started to take for granted 500 pages of 800 in. Pop is a journey. It travels from place to place, journeying back and forth in time, full of twists and turns, packed with learning from the past whilst yearning to touch the future. As such this history serves as a travelogue. Are you excited to travel? I am. When you travel do you listen to music? I do. On this exhilarating ride, Bob is wont to stop over and explore genres. He confesses to having his own issues with country and heavy metal but you wouldn’t know this as he treats everything with a sense of fairness, dipping studiously into the known and the obscure, whilst also revealing something of his own background on route.

At no stage does he blow himself up into rock god or pop star (St Etienne would be pop and they’ve been creating for 25 years). To him the history of pop and all its styles tells you as much about similarities as it does differences. The challenge is to love as much as you can whilst refraining from fake identities and hierarchies. Bob was something of a nerd at school, I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that. His shyness is attractive. Certainly he describes himself unflatteringly. But, he is full of passion and commitment. Knowledge from his studies is finite but it doesn’t stop here. Pop is not dead, Rock dreams dream on.

Later we took the time to catch  up, Bob’s touring the book. Faber and Faber launched it with a series of panel discussions. Bob has branched out to solo talks at universities. The interview represents a third style of promotion. Throughout it all the predominant requirement is to talk and to  interest the  listener. Bob satisfies the Fab crowd on these points, You can tell by the way they listen and by the questions that they ask. Bob told me about the importance of  learning the funny anecdote and using it to break the ice.

I told Bob once that he is who he is, he’s done what he’s done and people want him because of that. I’d want him to feel more confidence before he gets on the after dinner circuit. He’s added a book to his list of products and it’s a very fine achievement – an ultimate Christmas present for the music head you know and love. Highly recommended.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 9 December 2013

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 9 December 2013

Chatting to a WH Smith Chugger

Pulled into Oxford Services last night on my way home from me mother's. Through the second set of automatic doors stood a chugger, clanging a red bucket for Pudsey. I blanked them to the extent that their size, race and gender became a blue. I had no idea who they were.

Entering the loo I was invited to spend a penny for pudsey. I could see that others had. Pennies piled brownly in a thick perspex casing. I am always tempted to break it, vandalise the promo poster, run off with the money. But I don't. My radical manners are not all they should be. I am controlled by laws of behaviour. I'm a good boy I am. Innit?

I meet up witih her majesty at the Eat counter. Buy her a hot chocolate. I'm on the red bull. I need to stay awake. We sit down and Madge tells me:

"When I was getting your red bull the counter hand asked me if I minded increasing my bill by 10p for Pudsey. I told them that I certainly did mind".

Is this a new style? Chug for free at WH Smith. Earn your WH Smith salary and do a chuggers job too. Cut out the chugger go straight to WH.

Madge had felt offended that she had been asked at all.

Me. I'm checking my paranoia. Where can I go to avoid Pudsey. Reminded me to put up an event on the We All Shot Pudsey facebook page though... I'll do it later. Burn Pudsey Friday is coming soon.

Posted by Rich Downes, 4 November 2013

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 5 November 2013

DPAC meet the Mother's Union

A funny thing happened the day we rested

20 or so disabled activists camped in Deans Yard, Westminster, to hear statements about the abolition of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) on the occasion of its 25th birthday.

Then we made our way to the Department of Work and Pensions to sing Happy Birthday to the ILF, chant 'Free Our People', share cake and watch socialist magician, Ian Saville, make the letters ILF disappear in front of our very eyes. According to Ian, I is for Independence which the government don't want us to have, L is for the life the same monsters don't want us to have and F is for the funds they are causing to disappear. He added his house keys, his symbol of independence. A puff of smoke wafted over from the birthday candles and lo there was the IL and F gone.

Later we wondered the streets debating shall we stop the traffic or find somewhere to go for coffee.       A weary body stopped and sat on a step. As good comrades we stopped with him. A vision in black, the embodiment of evil if such an apparition exists, bounced out from the behind a door. She did not say to the weary body "why are you sitting on my step". Rather she wanted to know what he was protesting about. The abolition of the ILF. "Well that's nothing to do with me", quoteth the vision. "You're right", I said "its nothing to do with you", though in truth what governments do has something to do with everyone - past and future beneficiaries of their munificence. The dialogue carried on:

So why are you protesting here
We are not protesting here
Do you have a permit to protest here
We are not protesting. We are resting.
I am calling the police to find out where your permit is
We do not have a permit and neither do we need one to rest

And with that she was gone without a puff of smoke leaving us to wonder amongst ourselves

If we weren't protesting should we be now?  Do I feel angry and if so what should I be angry about?

We thought we where in the shadow of a church that called itself  ecumenical but we were not. We were in fact outside the:
Mother's Union
24 Mary Sumner House
Tufton Street

Apparently a christian organisation that now in tandem with their threat to call the police, on tired people at rest, (the weary body had now removed himself from the step and did not seek to cause offence) were now busy slamming the door, very loudly, in our faces.

I took the time to start reading signs. I had been reading signs all days. What where the portents? A brass plaque, read, 'Associated Country of Women of the World'. I announced this. Liz Carr claimed to be a woman of the world but no one in attendance were sure which one. This one, the next one, the one on this side of the door or that side. Maybe these women had reclaimed the streets and now we wondered if they would reclaim the pavement and anyway, where were the police?

Mary Sumner House received some guests. They went in. The door slammed again. They now seemed to have a man on the door with special responsibility for slamming. Wonder if they paid him. A collection of soft drinks arrived. They couldn't get in. So they went away ignoring pleas for refreshment and contributions to the party. How sad it is to be tired and thirsty in front of those who contribute to the cloth.

Another sign read...     A

... and beneath it a picture of a wheelchair user scaling a ramp. This may evidence their commitment to taking disabled people into their midst. Just not our kind of disabled people. Was it because we did not stand to ATTENTION.

We went for that cup of coffee. I noticed a blue plaque across the road on Tufton Court dedicated to Eleanore Rathbone, a pioneer of family allowances. Someone said, could this portend accessible actions, where any of us could just stop in front of a building anywhere we wanted to and just wait to see what happened. Maybe we could take a placard reading Save the ILF or Embodiment of Evil in the Mother's Union Misrepresents Disabled People. As Robert Punton said; "We don't know who you are but you know who we are"

Posted by Rich Downes, 14 June 2013

Last modified by Rich Downes, 14 June 2013

On folkie Spiers & Boden’s and their current Back Yard Tour.

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I am interested in community gigs and caught up with Spiers & Boden in my own back yard at Cecil Sharpe House in Camden Town - hoping to learn about making connections.

Spiers and Boden, long established folk duo, founder members of great festival band Bellowhead, are in town. They will play twice today in the same but changing venue of Cecil Sharp House – the home of English folk music. First a ceilidh. Then a concert.

The floor is cleared for the dancers. These people know what they are doing. Their faces wreathed with smiles save for the odd grim look of fear when they think they might just miss a connection. There are very few mistakes. I find this disheartening. Surely the fun of the ceilidh is in the error. That’s always been my view at any rate.

Folk dancing calls from deep within me. It was one of the pleasures of special school and of barn dances in later years. I note the moves and the formations. I know these. But I’m not fit enough to allow myself exhilaration today. My companion on the other hand tells me of entering school competitions and cannot resist the allure. Spiers and Boden strike me as being almost maniacal in the speeds they achieve, the swirls they create. I was supposed to go see The Animals this week. Something tells me they would not deign to do a pre gig dance for all those who wish to reflect on the mashed potato or that their audience would seem so inclusive.

I remember the last time I was here and the joy of linking up with Ju Gosling and Julie Newman who were then spending time creating Wolk Dancing (Wheelchair Folk and Street Dancing) and find myself wondering what happened to that

I leave Cecil Sharp and return a tad late for the main event. A transformation has come about. The hall is now bedecked with seated people, packing it to the rafters. Spiers and Boden still whip up a storm when it suits them but they can slow it down too, dance tune or no dance tune. Bellowhead standards tumble out; London Town, New York Girls, Led Zeppelin’s Prickle Eye Bush (Sorry - Gallows Pole) and is that there Tom Padget, a begging crip with a mighty penis ploughing agricultural furrows. Jovial songs often have great sex hidden within them.  Each song with a chorus finds a response from the crowd and one a silly little dance too, which I have joined in with in my time, but which usually appalls me.

Spiers and Boden and myself differ on the merits of social singing. My dad used to be good at it down at the old Dog and Partridge. He would be called on to perform and would always bring pleasure. He didn’t pass on the gene. Me? I want to hear the song. Not have it drowned out by some cats mewling the few words they know. 

Who am I kidding? I do it all the time sometimes even when I’ve never heard the song.  This is a great tradition and Spiers and Boden are using technology to engage fans by asking them to nominate the songs of their areas. Nothing seems to be coming from Camden Town but there’s this particularly silly song from Ashby De La Zouche and Spiers and Boden show no shame in teaching it to us.

From social song to community singing Spiers & Boden are engaged in breaking down barriers, lifting spirits and empowering voices. It used to be something we did so well in the Disability Arts Movement. Do we do it still? The debate rages on.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 29 May 2013

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 29 May 2013