No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith

A chapter in my life has not just closed. It is more as thought the pen ran out for another page. I have left the Blind House – supported housing for the visually impaired and like Alice returned down the rabbit hole of this intricate city.  Rumour has it I have been banned when I intend to work with them in helping others. I crept away with no announcements, to swirl into back into London waiting for me. Real London. The move was a mild psychosis of seven days ripping tape and hunting for cardboard.

But I am away from a housing scheme that stripped my health and esteem and only looking back, only five days in, don’t recognise the person I was there. It was institutionalised so that disability was not a matter of needing new ways to do the things and reknow, relearn myself  but a sedentary swith off  of life force. Sound extreme? Tell me a housing estate where, in your thirties, people turn up unannounced at your doorstep with clipboards and passive smiles insisting you have to tell them everything from your toilet troubles to what you spent on food that week.

In a world of blind pilots, blind ballerinas I became mind fogged in a vortex of hanging around for a smoke (I don’t smoke) and feeling as though  a belligerent retirement had set it.

I turned up as fledgling circus girl and burlesque performer with nothing but a bag and a trapeze I had no place to hang.

I left two years later in a methotrexate daze with nerve damage, sleep deprivation, four extra stone in weight and claustrophobic loss of breath overy time I pictured the new flat. Next month I need my brain testing to check why there is nerve damage from such lack of sleep and constant sleep paralysis.

I grew up in fields. The only comfort of the blind house was its nature, it’s oak trees and fox cubs. I cried in the garden perched on the vegetable beds the last evening mourning my original flat there. the neighbour with dementia had gone above my vacant balcony, the drunk below long gone. I would never sip wine on that balcony again watching the sun set with the darling man below-but-one playing Jim Morrison and the Cure.

I wasn’t sad to leave the flat I had only been in less than three months before being told we all had to go. I was sad for the first one in the corner overlooking Richmond Park. They had found me a new place with tiny high windows and not a blade of grass.

The strange old men like school cliques set me jumping ship again. I sat in a taxi, numb, holding musical instruments. The cab driver made little talk.

The new flat is a real flat and not the 1960’s rabbit hutches. No one lingers outside to insult, to nose in. It has an old London looking front door, wood floors and thick walls. Days have been a rush since, a never ending to-do list.

London has fully gobbled me up again and I am just beginning to reawaken, to feel like an adult and not a patient again. The sounds of the neighbours on the stairs above are not the bangs of a scared old lady trapped with dementia. I can do what every I like without anyone needing to know again. You open the door and life is just there on my doorstep on the corner in such a stereotype of Londoness.

Everything gets to begin again.

 

 

 

 

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Peace in the City

Tucked away in Covent Garden is a small space of clam. Inner Space meditation centre runs free meditation and self awareness courses and classes and were the first people to teach me meditation. To me, meditation is like needed a warm bath after a day on your feet to relax your muscles only for the mind: our biggest muscle that has enough to do aside from all the thoughts and images we fill it with.

So after all the stress of my housing situation and its somewhat authoritarian attitude from management (a bit like when school teachers used to tell you off) I found myself returning to the shop in need of some calm. Guided meditations on Youtube have been helping me a lot the last few weeks to take a moment out but I wanted get a cd of something longer.

I was recommended for something a litter deeper to try their CD called ‘The Jewel’. It begins with a visualisation of sitting at a control panel and turning off switches with each part of the body. Combining this with the music I always picture a retro space movie imagery, a bit Barbarella, which instantly puts me in a better mood.

Wanting to say everything seems to be falling to bits without cornering the woman in the shop to my life woes I pointed out how being partially sighted in the West End is a bit like being on an assault course and was invited to use the Quiet Room downstairs. This is probably the quietest and calming room you will find beneath the crowds and traffic. I enjoyed the music and glowing wall like a hot sun going down.

Tonight I went to a talk hosted by them in ‘Letting Go and Moving On. It was really enlightening to hear the reasons I think deep down we know but ignore or argue on why we cling on to things that prevent us going forward. My broken record at the moment is ‘I am recovering from 2 years sleep deprivation from a drunk and a dementia patient who lost me my career and study and wore me down to being a zombie.’ I’m sure it’ll make Christmas number one. I have to let go of all this difficulty around me caused by the actions of living in supported housing. The fact that I finally took the plunge to get a new flat that feels like a lovely home and to be told I have to lose it has been a low blow on their part.

Recently I have been thinking of relocating to Edinburgh, the most beautiful place I have been where I feel I can breath and laugh. I want to focus more on low aerial dance and that is something I don’t fit the criteria or budget for in London. However it is hard when London feels so great right now.

On Monday BBC Radio four are visiting my flat to interview me and my ex neighbour. We have amazingly put aside our difficulties to try and fight this awful rehousing. But I am so tired of fighting. I asked the receptionist if we could use the lounge and she said she would get a member of the facilities team to ring me. I did not say why I needed it. Nobody rang so I went to the office and was immediately told I can not use the lounge for media purposes. In fact I was told the lounge can not be booked at all which is bizarre considering all the music rehearsals we privately book it for in the past.  What is even more bizarre is the facilities manager tells me he has warned that I want it by the woman incharge of rehousing us (the one who sugguested I should live in mental homes that don’t exist!) and all this is rather strange considering I never mentioned the purpose.

I rang rehousing lady who denied everything as always and said booking the lounge was nothing to do with her department! So how did she know I was doing a radio interview? See the daily petty stresses they put on us renting here. I like meditation- there is only the present you breathe in and everything else goes away. 

 

 

 

 

‘God Save You’ (because you are blind…at least I presume you are)

I’ve begun to learn that the most difficult thing about losing my sight in very complex and technical ways is not my lack of visual awareness but the perceptions of others.

Waiting for the brightly lit lift below Hungerford Bridge I stood behind the people already waiting and didn’t understand why no one entered as the doors opened. By the time I realised they were even talking to me that I ‘deserved’ the lift far more than they did and were waiting for me to go first, the doors and shut again. I got that usual, infuriating clasp of my coat without asking and poked towards the lift.

For all the public that treat people with white canes as though they are in dire need of help, how do you think I got to be in the same spot as you on my own, upright and human looking, in the first place? Did they think I live outside the elevator and these were my first steps of the day?

The left on the level before me and the old man said ‘God save you.’

‘God made me like this!’ I said back as the doors shut and as I ascended shouted to the lift door ‘Why on earth do I need saving?!

The only thing that I need saving from are the illegal evictions, without eviction notices, that the Thomas Pocklington Trust are using to remove 47 of us visually impaired people because it has decided we no longer qualify to live in supported housing for visually impaired people (anyone in the media or legal professions feel free to contact me on this travesty).

I don’t need God to save me. I don’t need pity for being disabled- I need a frigging lawyer.

There are women drowning to seek asylum and you think your deity needs to save me just because I can’t see? Me who is in my mothers fur coat in the most expensive city in the world living rent free on free travel costs and an iPhone in my pocket, wandering on my own safely, free to go wherever I choose, you think I deserve saving for the sake of two eyeballs? I don’t need the pity. I need a stick to tell my brain what I step on and although it can be scary as hell to not fall, in reality I’m probably back of the queue on God’s saviour list. It’s just the presumptions that somehow my life is less than those giving the blessings. I Know they are just being nice but it only adds to the frustration and feeling if difference, something lesser than their place in the city. 

My trek across London began on the 211 bus that takes forever but shows me the old brick and backstreets of Fulham and Hammersmith. It’s a favourite thing of mine on bored afternoons. You see if God saved me from disability then I wouldn’t have free travel.

At the road alongside the County Hall I seemed to be the last to realise the amount of people hanging around the normally dozy route to the river were actually evacuated from a fire. With tunnel vision the first thing I notice is that the Starbucks (my second home) I wanted to write in was taped off. What happened to Starbucks, I gasp not seeing the three fire engines and cordoned off road next to it. It was just after the violet hour where my eyes feel a little drunk in the dimness of evening and I was concentrating more on getting around people. Then I saw the fire crew were up on a cherry picker above the roof. I asked a bystander what happened and he tells me there’s been an explosion and really big fire.

I look at the building- no fire, no smoke. ‘I don’t see any flames, I’m not blind,’ I say holding the stick and in reply in this surreal sort of laid back tone tells me there are really big flames. I presume he is taking the piss and exaggerating, thinking like everyone else that with a white cane I see nothing. If there were no people to bump into I wouldn’t even use a cane, I would dollop around London in my own little 4 inches square view of the world.

The Southbank has been my wandering and writing territory for so long but at night with nearly no night vision and the crowds as walking black cut outs in the tableaux of lamplights and kiosk signs it gets tricky. I used to write in the Royal Festival Hall every day but now it seems so busy that I left to wander Foyles for a bit and head over the bridge.

One end of Hungerford bridge has a lift and the other end a step free route beside the train tracks and through a little tunnel I used to sing in with an autoharp. It ends at what seems like London’s most hidden market above Villier Street and pops you out through a gap in the wall you barely see, into Charing Cross station. I’ve been using it for years as the stairs down the bridge are terribly lit and like some torturous version of a game on The Crystal Maze. I have always referred to this route as the ‘not-so-secret-secret-walkway’ – tonight the end is concreted up. The market stalls are gone and I felt like I was in one of those weird dreams or I had just imagined how it used to be.

How can transport for London block out the only disabled access route off a bridge?! I took the stairs with my stick and not enough lighting like that scene in Indiana Jones when they cross the bridge in the jungle. Yeah, I never thought something as simple as walking down some steps would be such a mental challenge of not wanting to sit down and cry until given a piggy back to the pavement, but I made it one piece. At least I can walk. What happens to disabled people who cross the bridge, the whole length of Villier St through the tunnel and just meet a brick wall at the other end? Who ticks the boxes for these decisions? I circled the grey walls while everyone else hopped onto the escalator I can’t use in the deluded hope that maybe there was a grey elevator hidden in the greyness.

When I eventually got off the bridge a very plummy posh woman stepped in my way and asked if I knew where I was going in the tone of voice only used for people coming out of a coma. I snapped yes at her but wish I’d said ‘no…I just thought I’d wander around London blind on my own  for no reason.’

Reading all this you may think I hate London, the city I always described as my greatest lover no real person would separate me from. But even with it’s do-gooders who seem to think sight loss means brain loss, it all gives this kind of elated craziness: the feeling you get when you step of a fairground ride a bit giddy, a bit frazzled but laughing at it all.

I have a neighbour who tells me living in London is not about old buildings and museums but the people on it. Stood above the middle of the Thames watching buses pass over Waterloo Bridge at night and the hologram effect of St Paul’s I can’t help but wish that for a while London emptied of people. I had no one to try not to trip or walk into, no one to steer me around without asking or patronise me to make themselves feel good for helping the poor little blind lady with the terrible dress sense.

I would love that scene in the movie 24 Days Later when London has been evacuated and only one man left. I would run and leap around without hesitation. I think that’s the thing with damaged vision: the constant hesitations.

Someone one told me that the day you stand on Hungerford Bridge and look at the view down the river and don’t find it magical, that’s the day you shouldn’t be in London anymore. The people passing by are all semi invisible trip hazards but I can turn my back on them and I still see that view, still see the details on the Cathedral and the posters on red buses a mile away but I turn around and have to go back requiring a stick on the stairs.

On another bus that driver gets fed up at children ringing the bell over and over, he starts cracking jokes on the loud speaker, ‘keep ringing I can’t hear you.. did anyone hear ringing?’ Those tiny city fragments that make you smile in dreary weather.

 

 

 

 

 

Foxes: Memoir

I began to find glory in the presence of foxes on Summer evenings. There scavenging beneath my balcony, under security lights of the garden, was an adopted secret that only my eyes witnessed. In the close dark of July I mimicked their cries to enticed them closer. Such beautiful things seen by others as an invasion, a screeching territorial pest. There were two that visited nightly; a skinny female and a fatter, brighter coloured cub with a tail so thick I longed for it to brush my bare feet. I named them Fritha and Frith after a girl in a story and a trapeze teacher that had changed my life and become a story. The foxes were from another place too where nature reigned above the concrete boxes we rented and sulked within.

Day of the Dead

The garden nursery my mum works for provided hundrrds of orange marigolds to surround the British Museum for this weekends Day of the Dead celebrations. I visited the event with her yesterday as I love the imagery of day of dead skulls and flowers. Here are some photos. 

   
    
    
    
    
    
 

Alexander Palace

Fishmongers with knitted glittery fish displayed like the real thing was not something I expected to see on my Saturday. 

Having attended the Knitting and Stitching Show for several decades now I think this years exhibitors were some of the most unique and inspiring for combining art with textiles. 

While you can pick up all the yarn and sewjng machines you would expect at a stitchy trade show, there are some really luxuries to purchase. 

Today is the last day to pop along so if you are intending to and times lacking I recommend visiting the smaller hall near the palm court. Here you will find hand dyed silks and spun yarn. This is also where the textile art exhibition pieces are. Another highlight of eccentric sewing were the couple making large breasts, bulging bellies and pubic hair as over size, fabric wall hangings. This has inpired me to make ceramic saggy boob and overweight body parts.  There was also the most intricately perfect embriodery from Japan and photographic insects. 

I bought recycled sari fabric asmy last   stage costume was made from it. I also bought some blue handmade felt and silk threads to embroider something again to Mellies A Trip to the Moon silent film. 
  

University is…

…humiliating? Beyond my brains capacity. I think someone should give me a certificate just for finding the correct door.

London leaves me breathless. There is no physical device like a cane or wheelchair to clarify chronic fatigue to the masses. And like how your legs grow pace down steep hills, London doesn’t let me slow. By the time I reach uni I am panting and the lifts are full of those that can still run up stairs. 

The carers called on Dementia Lady without shouts today. Still the slams jolt my concious like gun shots. One rasping, African accented wail was on the edge of my sleep. My spirits still wane after yeserdays insults on me being a dumb female and Christened ‘Essex’ the place of stupids, unaware it’s the earth I grew from.

The students are so ambitious, see life in textualities and visual narratives. Their dissertations raise the politics of education, everything utterly everything is capitalism. Capitalism has executed a joy of books.  

My dissertation is on the forgotten writing of a sick woman who died in an asylum. I don’t believe she was mad. I think she endured pain and the wrong group of aquaintences. Her poems look up to the moon, the sky, moments after moments. 

And then comes those beastly moments to discuss in groups and what do I think? Nothing really, nothing at all. I don’t really know the question. I need an hour to form a thought. 

Tomorrow I am back in Oxford, back in the Big Book of Vivien to compare her drafts. Oxford is like my dream city; I watch punting on the river, teenagers mocking it, feed the ducks and walk around lush old buildings to the library. The library is cool and quiet, I study without interruption, with space and lovely silence. 

Oxford does not push you along like London in stampedes of suits and umbrellas. 

I am in class and all the clever young people consider politics. I consider how beautiful the bustle is of the Victorian lady’s photograph  on the whiteboard. How do I put Vivien’s words in a dissertation without anesthatising them to academia?

What Are Your London Hidden Gems?

i have been dipping in and out of this blog for a while now on my wanderings through London and realised I have never asked what are others favourite places. 
So where are the places and things that make this city special to you? For me it will always be the little things amongst the big like wasting time chatting on the steps of Seven Dails, black cabs circling my feet or the smell of nag champa and oranges in Camden market. 

Please let me know where you have enjoyed being in London and some of them I will try and visit and blog my own experiences of. Maybe you used to visit here and want to know what a particular area is now like or,  you have a place or oddity others should read about. Write a comment below and lets share what makes the capital unique. 

Return to the Rookery Patch

London Blog-Rookery

Return to the Rookery

There is delight in empty city routes on crowded Saturdays. The key to discovering hidden London in your own perspective is to simply pick one of the busiest landmarks. Take Oxford Street of Trafalgar Square and then just turn around, turn your back on it and walk down the nearest and narrowest street.

I hadn’t gone out to be lost for so long.

Parallel to Great Portland Street old mansion apartments and iron railings fulfilled my old-worldly fascinations. And there were no people, no people, only my footsteps not needing my old white stick searching for cracks in the pavement and people out of eye shot. The dear old BT Tower and New Cavendish Street reminded me another semester is soon to start. My brain must commit itself to intricacies of the Eliot’s and more god damn philosophy. But until then there was no need to squint from thinking, only walk, walk and observe and be lost.

Goodge Street blinded me in late sun and the ever growing crowd required the unfolding of a cane. It is a cane that kept my failing sight safe for a decade and has since been lost, left behind in extreme tiredness and I feel I have lost a friend in that stick that let me walk where I could not fully see. I hate the thought of it somewhere in this city without the rest of me. I have a new one but it just feel like a stick and nothing more, nothing valuable.

The Phoenix Garden was a secret now found by many others. People filled its winding brick paths and nooks of benches. I sat down, back where the Rookeries once stank and thrived, and spoke to my mum on the phone, ate shop made sandwiches. It is an area with only the church remaining of it’s past yet never fails to make me wonder what it used to be. I long to brink and open my eyes to old London squalor, wooden lean to’s, crime and prostitution dressed in bustles. The ghosts of Rookeries past.

Thomas Beames wrote his own account of this demolished, vanished world of the London poor and I think his descriptions will always walk me back to St Giles even if nothing of it can be traced.

For a historical account of London’s Rookery Slums from investigative visits I highly recommend The Rookeries of London (Dodo Press)
‘by Thomas Beames. I found a coverless, hardback edition in the uni library and it is fascinating, describing London’s Victorian slums from his own discoveries.

News on Hawley Street

my most favourite derelict house in the whole of London thought to be demolished in the cull of Camden market is going to be a primary school! I read the proposed plans and there is a map of grade II listed building not to be demolished. It has had a planning application to be a primary school. This is so lovely. 

I’d love to see inside it while it’s still a state from its days as a squat.