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Signs: Discrepancy

Standing by your locked gate
My inner core is iron
My outer shell is tin
Hit me with a hammer
To let my past times in
I turn to drink
As I try zinc
To get my red corpuscles moving
For being here
Beside you
As left me totally still

I return to the institution. It's different. Still for kids. Kids lost in activity. It feels right and pleases me as much as anything ever will. The gate is iron. Visitors press 0 for reception. Code words are not needed, no special numbers, no secret signs. Just press 0 for reception but though I'm here I cannot press. I have become ghostly. I was interred here. Lost to the world here. The weight of the earth presses against me under an appropriately drizzly sky. And my mass, such as it was, turns to base metal. Inside I am hard. Malleable on the outside. Hit me with a hammer now. I'm sure all those past times will chime.  Evoke, invoke, provoke memories. But I am still, inert, not moving, frozen to the spot.

The common has grown. Trees twisted and twisting everywhere. Haunted into misshapen reflection of the gargoyle children that had played amongst them. I was amongst their number. A slow, gangly, runner. Always first to be caught in trail games except when hid amongst the sand stone. Oaks are yet still royal here. Crab apples fair. Nuts abound in autumn. A sweet horse chestnut shelters passersby on the wrong side of the church wall which now houses a home. The hedgerows like the trees are grown too. Making the top end of the lane almost impossible to pass as fear stalks the reticent walker rooted to his spot. I remember ferns. Curly fronds and all. I have not spotted one yet but then I am ice. Just looking out and about and up and down and all around without moving anything but my head.

The height of things is such that those who remain inside can now no longer look out. I would not have been able to look in if it hadn't have been for the lowness and the presence of the gate. This foxes me. When I was there looking out was always possible. We had fences made of wooden staves standing on a ridge dotted with rabbit holes. Gypsy encampments thrilled. Guitars. Campfires. The staves are gone. The gate is locked and the fence is white metal mesh. Looking out as we did encouraged escape. It is said some of us got out and joined a circus. I, of cause, could never run that fast. At least I could hop the fence, at least I could spend the night on the cold damp ground.  I am yet to work out, in my head, why escape always involved dark dank nights full of large and rapid rain drops. And I wonder further about the height of things and the white mesh that I now see encircles the fond perimeter of the hated ground. Does it keep you newbies in or we oldsters out.

Memory filters in over the tin but gets lost inside, rebounding from the iron interior, not being given access to the heartland. The mind works its wonders. Close down is upon me. My memory does not call for celebration, a party, the very best of a cockney knees up, and yet as I find the scope to move my legs away from the horror I spot a new sign. The way that history marks it defames me. Why this memorial to the past, why this commemoration. Couldn't anyone tell them how this land confounds me, how my life was shaped within its ancient furrows, caught between escape, defence and striving to find life beyond myself and institution - the secret remains revolution.

Posted by Rich Downes, 22 May 2016

Last modified by Rich Downes, 22 May 2016

Berghaus. Karrimor. North Face.

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Berghaus. Karrimor. North Face.

A rambling Forecast

Lumiere will leave you cold

Poor. Variable.

There is something special about London's new Lumiere Festival, imported from County Durham. But it’s not in the art work, the reason to be walking. Its elsewhere. London doesn't need Lumiere. It’s always alight anyhow. Road signs, street lights, late revellers and the tat on the local trattoria. But it does need that which is special and this is best seen at Kings Cross. Wide boulevards with people smiling, glad to be out there, a wide vista of festival feeling, a plethora of included wheelchair users, accessible loos and free loos in St Pancras which I'm always tempted to write as St Pancreas. You get up the road and go back again. Careful to make a crossing with the assistance of stewards stewarding before catching the 91 to Trafalgar Square.

A central point of the show and a crushing disappointment. The lights are largely off. A street entertainer plays with fire, encircled by the best crowd of the night, an engaged crowd, one that has put its smart phones down to be bewitched. We head towards Piccadilly. Eros stands at the point where love leaves. Regent Street is chocca. I stand tall enough to see my wife but I know she can't see me and is steps ahead so I call her name and say hang a right. We are in Soho. The crowds are behind us. They had turned glum. Smiles gone. Grimaces betraying signs of potential panic. What if I should fall here. We are delighted to be out of the crush.

On the tube home sitting across from me I see Berghaus, Karrimor, North Face. Ramblers who could have been better served. Lumiere had appealed. It had called out the people, streets had been closed. Something wonderful could have happened. But crowd control like the weather was way below zero and is this art form that interesting any way?

Posted by Rich Downes, 18 January 2016

Last modified by Rich Downes, 18 January 2016

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

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

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

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

Mike Gripe

Don'cha just hate it when you go to one of these disability arts panels or disabled activists meetings and they just won't use the mike or the megaphone.

You'd think they have something to say but don't want to be heard.

Went to such an event yesterday. Tiny room, packed with bodies that increasingly shuffled and shifted as they couldn't hear nor barely see due to overcrowding and it took four speakers before one of them had the grace to use the mike.

I know.... I should have spoken up. Given it a bit of gob shite and shouted at them to use the facilities they had available but you know if they can't be arsed why should I and besides after a minute or two of trying to listen and failing you get lulled and think, I just can't be bothered with this.

So, four speakers in and the mike is in use, and its getting passed around and its like a new toy. I can hear my voice. Wonder if I can make it go away. So you get the head turns, or the reader who drops their chin into their chest, brings the paper forward and moves the mike away from them. I mean its like that comedian fellow who played first you hear me, now you don't. At least he knew what he was doing and was only taking the mickey - it was his job.

A new classic of the genre debuted last night. Avoiding the bad taste jokes now a woman holds the thing in between her knees. I'm sorry but the knees don't speak. That's not what they're there for. They help your legs bend and that's about it. They're called joints. They're a long way disconnected from the thorax so its no good singing my thigh bone's connected to my hip bone, all the way up until the jaw bone cos I can't hear ya.

Anyway, she's prattling on about something that I can't be bothered to strain to hear when she passes the toy to my hero - the buddy who i'd come to hear and what does he do - open with the old chestnut; "I don't need this do I? You can hear me can't you? I'm a right gobby northerner me and they can all hear me up in t' pool". For goodness sake.

Listen up Peeps. Must admit, I missed most of the chat. It may have ben good, bad or indifferent. I don't know but I swear to Christ they were whinging about access and wanting more inclusion. Hello!!! I'm the guy at the back, under the droning fan, next to the crisp eater and the man who fell asleep before he started the snoring, right net to the gangway where the disinteresting crowd are leaving. I'm not deaf, I can't understand the signers, I'm not partially deaf, I don't use the induction loop, but I'm gaining a little bit of empathy for their situation from this experience and really most of you delectable panellists should know a lot better.

Hi there. My name's Mike Gripe. Signing Off.

Posted by Rich Downes, 25 January 2013

Last modified by Rich Downes, 25 January 2013

Reason To Believe

It is 2013. Happy new year. Back in the old year I reported much on the Karamel Music Club – a favourite haunt. Free music, cheap food, good company, accessible premises. Well in this age of austerity, the collective’s masterful leader, Chris Sheehan, has only gone and opened another club night ‘The Northern Embassy’, dedicated to northern songwriters in the heart of Soho, which access aside retains much the same endearing qualities. And so it was, on a cold, wintry, snow laden day that I made my way to central London from the frozen wastes of Potters Bar.

Sansa had put more miles in. Flying to meet us from Helsinki. A strong, natural performer with expressive hands that stave off diva hell. She leads with her own songs. Her lyrics real; “I didn’t mean to make you cry. I’m sorry my love”, and what about this advice in the season of economical hell; “Create your own vision, let it set you free. Follow a path of your own. Be true to yourself.” Something’s Got Me Started, she re-arranges Simply Red, into a stately folky gauze wherein the lyric is given prominence over glossy, pop production. I never knew Hucknall wrote so well. Learn here Mick. Bring back the Stars to your eye.

Blair Dunlop is my main draw tonight. Scion of the revolutionary folkie Ashley Hutchings, Blair is on the crest of having his debut solo album released on vinyl this very day. It’s on sale by the bar and seems worth a peddle. Blair seems to have all bases covered. He has depth and lighter edges, covering all required bases. It seems sons of famous fathers shiver in the shadow of paternal achievement. Blair could yet prove the exception and may soar above the Thompson’s and the Wainwrights. A song about Christopher Marlowe sees him admitting, “I’ve seen a trick or two in my life”. Blight and Blossom takes you through a year in a relationship ending in the hopeful phrase; “My thirst is greater than it was at the start of the year”.

And then came the young, exuberant Dunwells all the way from Leeds. Certainly the crowd’s favourites, they “don’t need safety anymore”. This may not come over from the video presented here but tonight they are Mumfords without sham rock and Eagles who soar above the wasted scene. Their break up song; ‘Oh Lord’ speaks to me with its line “Oh lord, I’m calling out your name, oh lord, I feel so ashamed” – the guitar lines bringing spirit to the powerful sense of rhythm that rattles out tonight with enthusiasm and energy – as do lines given elsewhere; “Find your feet my friend, just go forward. Shit goes down just carry on regardless”.

Each and every highlighted lyric gives me a reason to believe in a better year a coming. They relate to true feelings and empower. The Northern Embassy adds to the creed being spoken. It’s too good to believe that this night will be repeated at the Karamel Club whose members show up in force to give their support to Chris and it’s hard to believe that Chris Sheehan will host a better line up this year but talking to the faithful Kevin, Sound Engineer, you know….. I think he will.

With respect to Tim Hardin

Posted by Rich Downes, 22 January 2013

Last modified by Rich Downes, 22 January 2013

The Train Seat - A Problem with Access - A Tory Guide to Budgeting.

Image - traintrax.jpg


The Train Seat is embroidered with a pregnant woman, a woman with a baby and a man with a stick. What if the man with the stick sat on the seat with a pregnant woman who then had a baby? Wouldn't the man with the stick feel squashed. Who should stand up first? Who should give the seat up to whom? Surely as the baby came last it should have no right to the seat. I do get sick of babies. I do get sick of the coo coo ca choo. Out of the window with it. Save my taxes. Down with babies.

On the seat reading left to right as I do, not accustomed to reading Arabic text, the pregnant woman appears first. Should primary positioning mean that the seat should go to the pregnant woman. I look at her with interest. Somehow the lump or the bump looks out of proportion. Not that I would know but surely women don't carry like that. Is she a faker. "Ooh! Give me the seat. I am a pregnant woman". Or so, she would have me believe. I can't stand this lie. Out of the window with her. Save my taxes.

Second in line is the woman with the baby. Except there is no baby. We already threw that one out of the window so that woman shouldn't get a seat. Is she working? Then she pays taxes. Is she on work fare? That's a contribution to the fat capitalist pot. We won't throw her out of the window. She can jolly well stand and look sexy. Then she might have a baby. But we don't like babies. Out of the window with her too.

Which leaves the man with the stick. Well that could be me but isn't. Must ask if he's on benefits. Well are you? Yes you are. You damned despicable, lying scrounger. Out of the window with you it is then. Save my taxes.

I am left sitting, at last, in a quiet railway carriage. In front of me is a beautiful, empty seat, embroidered with all the people I wanted to get rid of. They've all gone now and I am not worried by this dilemma any more. The world seems so much better. All is calm. But the seat worries me. It nags at me. Surely if it serves no purpose all it does is serve as an historical artefact and would be best placed in some old, musty, transport museum. The problem with that however, is these museums; they consume my blathering taxes. Burn the seat. Out of the window with it.

I arrive at my destination. Police are scouring the platform (tax thieves) looking for some murderous villain who burned a seat and threw it out of a window. I consider myself an honest, upright fellow and I know that I should tell them it was me but then I’d be off to prison and you know what pays for them. Yes! Taxes!! I want to cry burn all those lousy jail houses and all the prisoners with them. But I don't. I just save my counsel for some time later.


Posted by Rich Downes, 20 November 2012

Last modified by Rich Downes, 20 November 2012

More Yoko - No 7. A Maze In Room

At last; the time and space to do my last piece on Yoko's To The Light exhibition. I've been 3 or 4 times now. All pieces but this one was based on the first visit when i could not face down a moster called FEAR in spite of the instruction on the back wall 'Be grand', despite of the fact that I know a secret that would have helped.


In this room Yoko has constructed a maze made out of perspex. I know what awaits me in the metaphorical centre - myself. But that's not what i'm afraid of. I sit on a small white stool or table and watch other people smiling as they go around, listening to the loud thud when they bump into the barriers they cannot see. I sit and wait. Will I go in - can I? No i can't. What am I afraid of? Humiliation at being seen unable to find my way around. No. I've told you I know a secret. The secret of how to find my way around a maze and how to get out again. A young Australian told me the secret and it works. I think my fear is more about being seen at all. I've always had that. I used to wear a hat with a brim that I would pull over my eyes thinking if I can't see anyone then no one can see me. It worked. It mean't I could go to the town centre. It was completely stupid of course because it mean't everyone would see me but it did not impinge on my belief.


I wouldn't mind invisibility. I think, if i didn't talk about it, write about it, I could be a really successful invisible artist. Something as changed within me. Back in the 80's I couldn't put my name to anything. I thought I was the best writer in the world then and my name was Anon. I'd written some great fables as you will well know. Poems too. They all carried my name then.... Anon. Now, i'm Richard Downes and I write for DAO and sometimes I really fret about what i'm going to say and how it will be received. I trust my words. I don't trust how people will read them. This curse of being visible, of having to be heard.... i've cracked some of it but, there is no way i'm going into that maze.


On my last visit I made it. Jean was with me. She was on her first visit. She had no fear about going into the maze. She went in first. I purposely went another way knowing that i was safe with the secret. She looked back and saw me walking away and turned to follow me. I had to turn back and go past her. I could basically run with the secret and Jean would struggle to catch me. This was fun. We were laughing. We got to the centre which is not a centre. Its off to the side; fact fans. I sent Jean in to find herself first. She seemed a little apprehensive about me letting her past. She didn't find herself because of it. I had to take her back in. She found herself. I found myself. My isn't that wonderful. No it isn't but its OK.


We came out. I had to pass a stranger. That was a little harder. There's not a lot of space in here. Tight bends. Not accessible. If you pass someone you have to at least acknowledge them. Say hello or smile. But it was OK. I was still having fun and now I know another secret. Turning on the fun beats fear all the time.


Thanks Yoko for the fun and the inspiration that gave me seven pieces from one exhibition. I really liked almost all of it.

Posted by Rich Downes, 3 September 2012

Last modified by Rich Downes, 3 September 2012

The Paralympics - Reinforcing Attitudes Towards Disability

I boycotted the Olympics because of the involvementof ATOS. I was going to boycott the Paras for the same reason only listening to friends and adding my own prejudices I added Dow, McDonalds and Coca Cola to the mix.

Then I started to change my mind. Someone said the fourth principle of the Paras is equality. I can support that. Then articles on access started to appear in the press and media. Even Disabled People Against Cuts and other activists groups began to get a mention. I can go with all this. Maybe the paras were going to be a good thing after all.

My vacillation on this point took another turn. The Paras were going to change attitudes towards Disabled People forever. I felt uneasy with that. Certainly the promotion of the Super Human wasn't to my taste. It chimed with the other thing that the fourth estate had been so careful to avoid but which had now started to ring out loud and clear. Specialness, bravery, courage, overcoming tragedy, extraordinary achievement in the face of insurmountable odds, were all mentioned as luvvies took to the stage. What's David Beckham doing on that advert? What's all that about? Suddenly the tragedy model was - the old way of seeing Disabled People - the ingrained attitude; had become prominent again.

I'm turning away from the Paras again now but i'm hoping for better stuff still. What will swing it for me one way or the other. I went out last night to see a movie. I missed most of the opening ceremony but i was up for catching what was left of it at a friends house where a party to watch the ceremony was in full swing. I arrived in time for the march of the athletes - a boring parade of waving, fist pumping, gurning Crips that received the following comments from the gathered flippant, jovial guests:

  • "Who let that one out?
  • What's that one going to do? They certainly won't be doing the hop, skip and juimp without legs
  • Look at that
  • What a shame
  • What a mong
  • Spot the looney"

Except there are not going to be any Mental Health Service Users. They do not participate in the games. If i recall the history of the Paras correctly, People with Learning Disabilities were banned because of the ease with which non Disabled People iinvaded this category and left countries open to accusations of cheating. And what of Deaf People? 

So, now i'm feeling Super Human my backside. This is no more than the passage of the Super Freak - an elite determined by an eligibility of criteria based on impairment - 'the deserving disabled'.

What could possibly be worse than this but the sudden appearance of David Cameron, sitting close to Wills whose brother had nominated a carrier of the torch because of heroics in Afganistan (still potentially an illegal war that goes about its daily grind of impairing people). Yes that Cameron, the one who had appointed ATOS to get Disabled People off benefits, the one who fails to take action against ideas expressed on all sides of the house and on all sides of the media that Disabled People are really no better than work shy scoungers who really need to be left without an income until they find a job in a society that freely discriminates against us. The same Cameron who is cutting services to Disabled People. Only on this day hadn't I advocated for someone who had her care provision cut from 210 hours per week to 35.

Now my mind is made up. I'm with DPAC, Black Triangle, UK Uncut, Social Welfare Union. These games are not going to change attitudes. They are going to reinforce them. Get a job Scounger. The Super Humans can do this. Why can't you do that?

Posted by Rich Downes, 30 August 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 1 September 2012

Documentary Evident - Searching For Sugar Man

As a reader of friday and weekend reviews I have noticed a hunger for documentaries. My initial feeling about this was pphhhfffff!!!! so what. But is seems that I have finally succumbed and i blame the wife who took me to see Marley earlier in the year.


Last night we went to see Searching.... at the Curzon Soho and stumbled upon an extraordinary story which i'll spend some time on later but first the Curzon Soho. I'm no expert on access and i would need someone to back this up and find the faults that I did not see but I remember a ramped entrance, a lift that i presume serves all floors and extremely comfortable seating. I also encountered great staff attitudes. Holding up the queue to enquire about concessisons I was told about the CA Card - anyone know what a CA Card is and where to get one from? Then we tried to wrangle a cheaper ticket on the basis of our extreme age. They've even got a membership deal on that. Sadly its time restricted. Clearly us Oldies have to be in bed early, don't like West End crowds and have no day time jobs to go to - well, that sums me up but, what about others.


Anyway, Sugar Man. It hinges on 4 mysteries. Who is Sugar Man? Where is Sugar Man? Does Sugar Man still exist? Was there ever a Sugar Man? Or that is what they would have you believe. In solving the riddle however you become exposed to other stories that are key for art. This story is based within South Africa but reaches out to America. It is told in film, home movies, old news reels, photographs and animation. It takes us back to 1971. South Africa is a repressive, extremely conservative regime, a narrator says that its policies stem from Nazi Germany. Culturally censorship is king. The wife later tells me that she modelled in Mauritius sometime and parts of her body where blacked out in SA. She was modelling swimwear. It seems crazy. But what impact does this have. Not just on the indigenous population which is well known but on the powerful minority. Sugar Man does not sell. Why should he? The grooves of the record are scratched out. None should hear about sex or drugs it would seem. And so it is that rock and roll itself goes unheard. But then piracy through home taping takes off. Home taping brings life to music. Every home has three records. Abbey Road, Bridge Over Troubled Water and Cold Facts by Sugar Man. Whose name incidentally is not Sugar Man. Sugar Man sells millions in SA but only about 6 copies in the States so the recording career comes to an end but the artefact becomes ever more powerful. The records influence causes a growth in art. Art becomes associated with rebellion. There are good Afrikaans and later they begin the search.


Ultimately Sugar Man is found. This is what the reviewers tell you. He is found just over half way through the film. So the mystery is resolved. Might as well pack up and go home now. But wait. Part two. What happens next? This is where the extraordinary becomes miraculous but we are sophisticates. We do not believe in miracles. So, you don't need to know what it is. You don't need to know what warmed my heart. And even if you did you wouldn't want me to spoil it for you. So go see. Its heavily recommended.

Posted by Rich Downes, 30 August 2012

Last modified by Rich Downes, 30 August 2012

Get stuck into Karamel Music for the last time this season

Rosely Funari is manager of the Karamel Club and she is is very serious. Every time she talks to me she talks to me about Disability Issues. I listen to her, she tells me what she is doing and then I buy a drink.

Her latest pride other than employing a disabled person is the new ramp and an access audit that says other than the gap between bars the loo is accessible.

She is so serious she won't even turn on the glitter ball because she was asked to turn it off once. I'm teasing her about turning it back on and she said she might next time unless someone asks for it tobe turned off because of an impairment issue. Rosely Funari is one of the many reasons i love the Karamel Club.

Another reason is the Karamel Music Club Nights. Free Music from Chris Sheehan's collective. An attentive crowd. Ian's very reasonably priced food. The mix of politicos and artists. Next time around, wednesday 25th January Chris is showcasing his mate Chris Difford from Squeeze, Norman Lovett from Red Dwarf and Kate Threlfall - for all i know probably a new act who excited Chris one night he was out on the town.

Oh and there is currently a great exhibition of Andrew Wiard's photos showing off all the best direct actions of the last 40 years, across the political spectrum.

Its a good line up. I'm going.  Rosely is very serious. She wants cheering up. Go tell her you like her ramps and toilets and to turn the glitter ball on.

Posted by Rich Downes, 17 July 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 19 July 2012

Introducing Jamie Green

Did you see my review of Laurence Clark's gig at  the Dugdale Centre, Enfield. I left a lot of stuff out.

Something i've really liked about working with disabled comedians of late is that its easy to access them back stage and chat. In Enfield, I was listening in to Laurence talking with Jamie Green who revealed himself to be a stand up with a few youtube clips to his bow.

I watched these out of interest. I'm not sure if I liked what I saw. Jamie certainly was getting the laughs out of his audience. Surely a good thing. He came over like a young man with a young mans interests. Kind of like Bernard Manning before he got fat and bloated. I saw Bernard Manning at a working men's club once and I have to say he was one hell of a comedian who could sustain a show with a contant barrage of heckler responses. But as you know, for many of us there was something deeply unpleasant and worrying about our Bernard.

For me Jamie just about gets away with riding a cusp of dodgy moments. I put this down to his youth and enthusiasm for the laughter response. I also credit his clear potential.

His show made me wonder about how we support young artists, where do they go for mentoring, how they get involved with troupes, what are they getting already? I wondered about the ownership of jokes. Who do jokes belong to? Are they copywrited? Is there a willingness to share? Do we pay our dues?

My top joke of the year so far was given by a man who's been around the block a few times. Warning!!!! Salacious alert!!!! Here comes that joke: What's the difference between acne and a priest? Acne doesn't come on a young boys face until he's 12.  I heard that from Mat Fraser whilst he was compering Abnormally Funny People. I have repeated it and found people laughing at it as much as I did. But i'm wondering if it was a Mat original or if it is in wider use (well, it is now).

I guess the usefulness of Jamie Green is in what you learn about the world of young disabled people. Does that make it merit worthy? Is it enough? The next thing that comes up is the questions the performance raises. I'm still thinking about it. I've not decided yet. Would love some comment, wouldn't mind some feedback on Jamie's act. Just post below.

Posted by Rich Downes, 23 April 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 24 April 2012

Keys To The Karamel’s Sweet Konnektions

Up early, yesterday, sitting at the PC, marvelling at an early youtube clip sent by Chris Sheehan of Robert Plant getting up to sing a rollicking rock blues with Charlie Wood .. Late last night going home having seen Chris compere for Charlie’s chilled out jazz grooves at the Karamel Music Club, Wood Green, London, I thought I need to tell my readers about this place.

This story reflects on Keys to the Karamel Club’s Sweet Konnektions. Chris Sheehan, Creative Director of Karamel Music Collective prefers to call himself a singer songwriter. A while back he had the opportunity to lead a couple of days at a Chris Difford's (Squeeze) songwriters week. They met, they played, they created, and became the bedrock of the Karamel’s Music Nights – all sweetly konnekted – all top of their kraft, all konnekted to others, and the others starting to come to the Karamel – a kalm, kollected kollektive dedicated to good times and kraft. Ddi the people who used this k technique for the Kinks back in the day have a spell chekker korrekting all the words?

Songwriters seem to inhabit a secret life of their own, scuttling off to dark corners of the soul, returning with rewards for all who want to listen. They don’t necessarily front their own songs. Others sometimes do it. Some have other abilities. They can sing, they can play. They are wanted. Charlie Wood is connected to Jacquie Dankworth, herself a Karamel regular and scion of Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth. Other artists who have shown up have been connected to Fairground Attraction, Alicia Keyes, Shirley Bassey. The list goes on. They have been around, they're not muppets, nor pop puppets. They are real, authentic, rootsy and red hot. They have turned themselves around to face a little club in North London. Why? To be connected, to form a community, to be loved and wanted. It’s not quite Laurel Canyon. Its’ not quite CBGBs. The talent has its own flavour and collects quietly and modestly at the Karamel. And listen to this…. they play for nothing. A tip jar is passed around. The community, a crowd prepared to sit, liten and adore gladly show their respect and appreciation.

The crowd itself is another key to the Karamel. Every time I go there I find someone new to talk to. A politician, a producer, a fan, lovers of the arts. Many come through their connections with the Chocolate Factory and Collage Arts whose Director, Manoj Ambassna, is almost always in attendance, networking, listening to ideas, wanting to support.

There is an element of playing for a pie and a pint. They get fed and watered by the mighty Ian, chef with his own connections to restaurants a foodie would have heard of. Ian’s always hot, always cheap, always excellent food is another key element. It should be praised highly.

Then there’s Rosely Funari who runs the club itself, who has created the comfort, the ambience, the warmth, further keys. Rosely is supported by family and volunteers. She is another who is willing to talk with, work with, mentor artists. She might be top of the food chain but she is no feeder. She is the final key element in a club that gives and keeps on giving. The Karamel is a love fest.

The Karamel seeks to be accessible and inclusive. A disabled toilet has been built into the premises. Rosely wants to know if it’s right. She wants to listen to anyone who can tell her how to improve things so the club becomes more and more a thing for everyone, a place for a community to grow. Support it.

In the spirit of inclusivity, I have been offered the Karamel space for 6 weeks later in the year. I want to hang works by our artists on the walls, I want people to use the performance space, I want to host talks and put on workshops that reveal our lives, our world to this keen to learn community. If you are interested in participating drop me a line on my other blog;

Posted by Rich Downes, 1 March 2012

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 2 March 2012