Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Locked in - Lockdown Day 7

Mik Scarlet's 'Disabled persons guide to surviving and thriving in lockdown'

There is a wealth of useful resources to help us manage as best as possible while in this state of social isolation.

Last night I heard Mik Scarlet, a broadcaster musician and inclusion consultant speak about his experience as a person with a disability. He then shared his 'Disabled persons guide to surviving and thriving in lockdown'.

My own description cannot do justice to his excellent insights, so here is the transcript. 

"The portrayal of disabled people in the art is rarely positive; whether it's Clara in Heidi, the Hunchback of Notre Dame or almost every Bond villain, if you're disabled you're not seen as being able to teach non-disabled people anything. I think at this difficult time, as we battled the coronavirus, we should re-examine this stereotype. The media is filled with stories of public figures not coping, and social media is flooded with people who find the whole concept of being stuck at home for such a long period impossible to imagine. Yet for me as a disabled person, staying isolated is nothing new. Like many other disabled people I’ve spent quite a few periods of my life being stuck at home, including a couple of times where I couldn't get out of bed for six months or more. But I didn't just get through being isolated, I thrived and I even enjoyed myself. So, as an act of civic duty, here is my disabled persons guide to surviving and thriving in lockdown.

Give yourself time to adjust. Don't panic if you're finding things tough at first. This is a huge change and you won't always cope. Be okay with that. This isn't the time to judge yourself based on the way things were. It will get better. Enjoy the little wins and take every success as a triumph.  Enjoy the process of getting there. Do all the things that you couldn’t find time to do before; cleaning and tidying, DIY, art, whatever. But enjoy it. Imagine you're Snow White and you ‘whistle while you work’, or play, or sit and gorge yourself on crisps while you watch Netflix. Enjoy learning new skills or getting better at old ones. This is more than filling your time; it's enjoying the process as much as the outcome. During my first enforced stay at home when I became a wheelchair user at the age of 15, I taught myself to play keyboards. This led to me becoming a professional musician once I could venture back outside. The next prolonged period of bed rest many years later, I developed my writing skills which in turn led to a career in journalism.

Forget the clock. Don't live the way you used to.
Use advice is to continue normality, and that would be fine if this was a sprint, but it's more of a marathon, so pace yourself.

Most importantly, this will pass.
When you become disabled you have to learn to be happy with the new you; a new life that you're going to have. But this isn't that. This is a broken leg not a broken back. 

All I ask is that once this is over and we're back to normality, don't forget what this felt like. while fiction tends to portray the lives of disabled people as not worth living, it's actually the isolation and exclusion that gets to us. You've tasted that now, so now you know what it's like not to be able to live and act as you wish. Please remember that and stand, or sit, with disabled people as we campaign to build a tomorrow that doesn't exclude us, isolate us, or put us back in lockdown."

I would recommend hearing it from the man himself on BBC Radio 4's Front Row.


Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Locked in - Lockdown Day 1

As a child, when I used to go on family holidays I used to create a holiday diary. In it I would keep a record of things such as 
- The things we did 
- The music we listened to in the car
- The food we ate 
- A word of the day 
- Scores of any games we played e.g. crazy golf, cards 
- The weather
I would also draw little illustrations.

Over the years I have amassed quite a collection. They capture many memories and they provide much entertainment. 

As I'm trying to find ways reduce my anxiety levels during these anxious times, I've decided to keep a  daily log of my 'Locked in- Lockdown'. 

Here is my record from day 1.

Saying hello via snail mail

Self isolation is proving to be very challenging for me, but I'm finding ways to survive, one of which will be to send friends and family post. How I love getting a surprise handwritten letter, postcard or note. Or perhaps a drawing, a photo, a newspaper or magazine article that someone thinks I would like, or other curious object.

I bought me and my friend a box of alphabet postcards each. We both started with a box of blank but awesomely designed postcards and will end with a box of awesomely designed and personally handwritten postcards sent to each other. Sure beats junk mail!

The current situation seems like a wartime scenario to me, and I am reminded of the packages that families used to send their loved ones during WW1. Who knows, rather than jars of Marmite or other British items being sent abroad to those in the troops, will parcels of antibacterial hand santiser and toilet roll be circulated via the Royal Mail?

So, here's a thought, as you venture outside for your permitted bout of exercise, be sure to pass a post box and brighten someone's day.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Pierre Huyghe - Untitled (Human Mask)

As I walked from home to my studio it was clear that this was no ordinary day. My journey had begun in Fenham, a multicultural neighbourhood popular with families and creatives. One of the reasons why I like living there is the amount of parkland and green space that is at my doorstep. It is around this time of year when these spaces become the hub of the community. Families and friends gather together with picnics or BBQ's to share food and enjoy the brighter weather. Groups of male youths turn the tennis courts into a cricket pitch, where they can be found day and night.  

Today there were people out and about, but rather than large gatherings or groups, families stuck together in 3's or 4's, and parents seemed more conscious than ever to ensure that their children remained easily within their eyesight, if not at their side. 

As I transitioned through this friendly neighbourhood and into the centre of Newcastle, the changes became more blatantly obvious. Crossing Barack Road could take a while if you caught the traffic lights at a bad time as the road was always busy, but today there were very few cars about, reducing my journey time by a couple of minutes. 

The Alan Shearer statue outside St Jame's Park usually attracted at least a couple of tourists who would be posing for a photo taken by a fellow football fanatic. Today Alan Shearer, arm up in the air, was celebrating his goal alone. 

The greasy fried chicken smell that normally polluted the area around Chicken Cottage, the source of the stench, was absent and the takeaway shop was closed, along with the many other eateries in the vicinity. The occasional cafe that did have lights on and doors open were advertising that they were operating on a take-away basis only. Queues for buses were vastly reduced, perhaps only a couple of people were waiting at the most popular stands by Monument Metro station. 

I couldn't take my short-cut through the shopping centre as the automatic doors were turned off, and most, if not all, of the clothes shops, book shops, and other non-food shops displayed CLOSED signs in their doors. I seem to have passed an equal amount of patrolling police officers as I did members of public, and they gave me a suspicious gaze as I walked past them with purpose, suggesting that I should not be on the street. It all felt extremely eerie and I was reminded of Untitled (Human Mask), a video by Pierre Huyghe that I recently saw at the BALTIC as part of their Animalesque exhibition. 

The press release reads

"Pierre Huyghe’s video Untitled (Human Mask) (2014) opens with footage from the nuclear disaster area of Fukushima following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The city is utterly ruined, its houses pushed away from their foundations and its streets empty of life.

An unmanned drone camera takes us into a restaurant that initially seems abandoned, but in a dimly lit room we come across a monkey that has been trained to act as a waiter. We look on in wonder as we follow the animal’s restless movements inside the empty restaurant, moving back and forth between the filthy kitchen and the dark dining space. Apart from some cockroaches scuttling across the floor and a single cat, the monkey appears to be the sole survivor of the disaster.

Like an automaton, the monkey continues to carry out the routines that its training has instilled in it. Without any patrons to serve, those actions form a pointless pattern of repetition and variation. The animal is trapped inside a re-enactment of human activity – sometimes inoperative, endlessly waiting, subject to boredom, left between instruction and instinct.

With the dystopian setting of Untitled (Human Mask) Pierre Huyghe points to the impact that
human activity has on nature. Perhaps the work reflects our present-day Anthropocene era; a
time when mankind has become a force that changes the planet, affecting its ecosystems.
Huyghe’s work shows us an apocalyptic world in which humanity has been eradicated, with
the monkey’s lingering training the only relic of human civilisation."



Saturday, 21 March 2020

Studio sort-out (for covid-19)

As I shut the entrance door to the University Medical School Library last night, my colleagues and I pondered when we would next be allowed back to work. During the week, the Government Guidelines have become stricter given the increase of Covid-19 victims in the UK, and the University have reacted responsibly by asking staff to work at home.

The NewBridge Project has similarly responded appropriately, by postponing all public programmed events and group events. Thankfully, at the moment studio use is still permitted, and this remains my safe haven. 

It's been on the cards for a while now, but yesterday seemed the ideal day to have a bit of a studio sort out, get rid of unnecessary things, clear some space in the hope that it would also help de-clutter my mind and aid my ability to focus on the writing that I am currently working on.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

NewBridge Writer's Group - Session 7 - The Writer's Plan

Although the group didn't meet up physically this week due to the increasing spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19),  we did circulate the next part of the Writer's plan and I have completed the exercises.

The aim of this session was to think about
1. What do you need in terms of tools and conditions in order to be able to write?
2. If you were going to travel the world, but did not have much room left in your rucksack, what would be the bare essentials you need to write?
3. How will you get yourself in the 'writing zone' as quickly as possible? Do you have a ritual? Read a certain quote? Tell yourself, "You can do this"

1. What Tools / conditions Do You (Really) Need to Write?

We’re going to look at your writing habits to identify the most basic bare essentials you need to write stripping away any faff.

Faff includes – perfect stationery. The right mood / right time of day. Trying to build that dedicated space / tidy up this / take dog out/ put on a load of washing before writing.

• What tools do you use the most to write now?


Microsoft Word - ability to dictate, can change page colour so as to help me read (I'm dyslexic)

Googledocs, dropbox and icloud - to save files to the cloud

Also write in a notebook with pen

• What are your writing props?

Laptop, notebook, pen

• Where do you write?

In my studio, in my kitchen, in the library, somewhere quiet

• When do you Write?

When I have things to write about

When I am not at work

Often towards the end of the day, when I am reflecting

Now look at your list and answer:

• What props can you ditch? What is faff and what is actually useful?

I actually don't need much in the way of physical props to write, for me it is more about the headspace to be able to write

Now list your bare essentials to go portable.

Writing implement

2. Build Your Den

Now you know what the minimum writer’s kit you need is, and how you spend your time it’s time to build your den.

Look at the opportunities in your week where you could make time to write

• Commuting – I can be researching in this time by listening to audio books

I can be thinking about my own writing, and making plans

• Screen time - When I am on the bike at the gym, I could be using my iphone to research opportunities and read writing-related resources

• Breaks at work – I can use my lunch break to write/ and or research e.g. read, listen to audiobooks, research opportunities, read writing resources

Tip – Writing isn’t all Writing

To really use your writing time to the max expand your definition of what writing actually is because it’s not just word count. There may be times that writing itself is difficult but you could:

• Read or listen to audio books / podcasts in the car

• Research

• Plan

• Work on character

• Take an idea for a walk – can you walk at lunch times?

• Have a creative break eg a family day out to an inspirational location

These are all valid writing jobs. Remember that the part of us that creates doesn’t respond to bullying but to play.

3. Monster Proofing Your Den

Now when you go into your writer’s den you’re going to need to switch on your creative head quickly to get stuck in. You don’t want to waste time beating yourself up about how you’re not good enough, so you’ll need a kind threshold ritual. A take your shoes off before you go in sort of thing. Why? Because the second we get ready to write, out jump all the demons telling us we can’t, shouldn’t, who do you think you are.

So, how are you going to ward off your demons?

Choose a thing to do / find a quote to read or write your own to help you get into the writing zone Demon free.

What’s your starting ritual?

Take 5 deep breaths

Remind myself that it is good for me to write and writing is important because

- I am unique and no one else does, or is going to, write the same thing as me

- It helps me get clarity on my own life, form a clearer understanding of who I am and how I got to where I are. I learn about myself, and can sometimes bring closure to issues.

- Writing is a good way to share

- Sharing stories is a good way to form connections

- Writing can raise awareness and bring about change

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Loneliness, oneness and solitude on BBC Radio 4

Amidst the unprecedented situation brought about by coronavirus, many individuals find themselves alone in self-isolation mode. The recent episode of BBC Radio 4's cultural review programme, Front Row is more relevant than ever as it investigates how isolation and solitude impacts on creativity. I am not in any way suggesting that artists only create good art when they are alone, for there are many examples of significant artworks that have been created by a number of artists working together, some of which simply could not have been produced by a single artist. Nor am I suggesting that most artists prefer to work in isolation. But there are many examples of great artists who have reported leading lives of solitude, loneliness and boredom. The programme considers what we can learn about creativity from these artists.

Composer and musician Errollyn Wallen composes from a remote lighthouse in Scotland, and poet and author Andrew Greig, divides his time living in Edinburgh and the Orkney Islands. They discuss how their environment affects how they write.

Monday, 16 March 2020

Publishing and Self Publishing Event at The NewBridge Project:Gateshead

Publishing and Self Publishing

NewBridge Books

The NewBridge Project : Gateshead

Sofia Niazi and Sahra Hersi from Rabbits Road Press coordinated this event about the worlds of self-publishing and publishing.

Initially Sofia and Sahra gave a presentation about, amongst other things

how and why they first started making risograph zines

how and why they formed and developed One of My Kind (OOMK)

how and why they founded Rabbits Road Press.

OOMK make, publish and distribute books and printed works which arise from self-initiated projects. OOMK also commission new works by women artists and co-curate DIY Cultures, one of the UK’s largest annual independent publishing fairs.

OOMK Zine is a highly visual, handcrafted small-press publication. Printed biannually, its content pivots upon the imaginations, creativity and spirituality of women. Each issue centres around a different creative theme, with more general content exploring topics of faith, activism and identity.


Rabbits Road Press is a community Risograph print studio and publishing press commissioned by Create London and is based at Old Manor Park Library. The small-scale publishing press provides printing and book binding services for artists and community groups in Newham and beyond.

The project builds on Rabbits Road Institute’s initiative to establish an accessible and diverse community art space to support the development of new skills, knowledge sharing and social exchange for people living in Newham. A responsive programme of workshops and events explore a contemporary model for community publishing, bringing together artists, designers, writers and local people.

Rabbits Road Press runs regular public Open Access sessions, that are free and open to all, providing an opportunity for people to learn about Risograph printing and offering a space in which to work on creative projects.

With a focus on design education, OOMK also offer a range of private Risograph printing workshops at Rabbits Road Press.


The second part of the event was a round table discussion where Sofia and Sahra answered questions posed by those attending the event.

Here are a number of links that arose during this discussion

See Red Women's Workshop was a collective producing silk screened posters for the women’s liberation movement as well as for community groups and others on request.

See Red Women's Workshop


Glasgow Zine Library is a community-based zine library on Glasgow’s South side. Glasgow Zine Library puts on Glasgow Zine Fest, and run a year round programme of events.

Sahra Hersi is a multidisciplinary architectural designer and artist based in London. After graduating from the Royal College of Art Architecture programme, she found herself free to reinterpret what architecture means. She has been quietly rebelling against her architectural education ever since. Her practice explores shared spaces, the public realm, collaboration and community engagement. Her work is often born out of engaging with local communities and the spaces they occupy.

Sofia Niazi is an artist and illustrator working and living between London and Birmingham. She completed an MA in illustration at Kingston University. As part of OOMK, she currently runs a community RISO print studio in Newham, Rabbits Road Press, with studio mates Rose Nordin and Heiba Lamara. She employs various digital and hand drawn techniques and crafts to explore questions around housing, technology and politics. Sofia has produced work for Migration Museum, Museum of London, Barbican and The Guardian, amongst others. She regularly leads workshops and delivers talks about her work in community, gallery and academic settings.



Tuesday, 10 March 2020

NewBridge Writer's Group - Session 6 - Writing and Sharing

After the success of last weeks session, we decided to spend our 6th meeting writing and sharing.
We also addressed some questions that members of the group had about their own writing.

It was during this that I was introduced to a framework that John Yorke outlines in his publication, Into the Woods. Yorke discusses breaking stories into five acts. Each of these acts is broken down into three key moments. Yorke calls this the ‘Roadmap of Change.’

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

NewBridge Writers Group - Session 5 - Writing and Sharing

Last night's session was the first in which we had complete free reign over what we wrote. There were some magazine cut-outs provided should we wish to use them, but otherwise we could write about exactly what we wanted.

Alex introduced us to a time management tool called the pomodoro technique, which we followed to accomplish two 25 minute sessions of writing.

"The Pomodoro Technique was invented in the early 1990s by developer, entrepreneur, and author Francesco Cirillo. Cirillo named the system “Pomodoro” after the tomato-shaped timer he used to track his work as a university student.

The methodology is simple: When faced with any large task or series of tasks, break the work down into short, timed intervals (called “Pomodoros”) that are spaced out by short breaks. This trains your brain to focus for short periods and helps you stay on top of deadlines or constantly-refilling inboxes.

Pomodoro is a cyclical system. You work in short sprints, which makes sure you’re consistently productive. You also get to take regular breaks that bolster your motivation and keep you creative."

"The “longer break” is usually around 15-30 minutes, whatever it takes to make you feel recharged and ready to start another 25-minute work session.

It’s important to note that a pomodoro is an indivisible unit of work—that means if you’re distracted part-way by a coworker, meeting, or emergency, you either have to end the pomodoro there (saving your work and starting a new one later), or you have to postpone the distraction until the pomodoro is complete. If you can do the latter, Cirillo suggests the “inform, negotiate and call back” strategy."

Following these two bursts of writing, we each shared a piece of our own writing with the group. Most people shared what they had written during the session that evening, but I asked if I could share something that forms a part of my current 'project'. 

At this stage I have lots of questions; I am still working out how this writing will manifest, what form it will take, is it a memoir or do I turn it into a novel? I've been working on the potential content for about a year, on and off, and have lots of work still to do. 

But rather than working through the above on my own, I wanted to make the most of the wonderful opportunity of being in this supportive group of writers, share my work in the hope that they would be generous enough to use their experience, share their knowledge, provide feedback, constructive criticism, ask questions of me, make recommendations and suggestions. 

Due to the personal subject matter, I was really nervous about making the leap and reading aloud words that until last night, had been confined within my notebook or contained within one long Word document. It wasn't until I began reading it aloud that I realised quite how vulnerable I felt. I was petrified that I was going to be judged, that the group would think it was self-indulgent waffle that should well and truly remain in the notebook in which it was written. I was shaking (in truth, that could have been due to the seemingly sub-zero conditions), and terrified to make eye contact with those around me who I have so much respect for. 

But I am so glad that I did it. I learned so much thanks to the groups feedback. This morning I have already thought of new ways in which I can approach some of the problems I am facing with the project.

It was very helpful to discuss structure and think about the different ways I could approach organising the content. 

As I mentioned above, at the moment my writing is collated in a mammoth document. Some parts are written in diary form, and other anecdotes from earlier periods are organised chronologically. It is all rather overwhelming.

Alex showed me how he split the content of his recent book into many different documents and classified each one according to one of 4 categories. He named each document and later, once he had worked out the order, he also numbered them. By splitting his content into smaller chunks, he was able to rearrange the order easily. 

Amy also showed me her plot outline. She had similarly classified different elements according to some predefined categories and had colour-coded these.

I am now eager to apply this technique to my mammoth document, and in doing so, hope to be able to distinguish what are the common 'themes' that I am writing about. These will become my categories.

The section that I had read was very much written from my own voice, and Alex pointed out the need for there to be more points at which it "reached out to the world" and provided a different voice. 

Back up thoughts by using examples of anecdotes. Potentially bring the anecdotes into the narrative.

He used the analogy of a spotlight. In the text that I read, the focus of the spotlight was largely one one character, but this needs to be diluted with less intense light on other characters further away from the focal point of the spotlight.

Perhaps a good starting point would be to use a quote from a different character?

I could also bring forward the reference to 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' as this is another example of reaching out into the world. Perhaps add a line from the book that was of particular importance to me?

When I was reading the text aloud I was conscious that there were numerous points that I could have stopped and it be a neat ending, but the text carried on. I was embarrassed about this. The notion that there were lots of possible endings was then raised in the discussion. Alex spoke about imperfect cadences, which are used in classical music to build tension. They give the impression that the piece is going to conclude, but then it carries on. Too many of these can be frustrating, so I need to look at where to split the text up into different scenes. 

Finally, a concept called 'the kicker' was discussed - if you start the piece with a particular image, you end the piece with a similar image. This provides the reader with a tidy package and a natural closing, For example, if it starts with the reference to my Gran, it could end with reference to my Gran.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Monster Chetwynd - Leap - BBC Radio 4

I'm currently making a series of watercolours relating to the 12 months of the year as they appear in a calendar form. I'm interested in different ways to display data, and the calendar is one way in which time is documented. My life is governed by time, whether that be, for example, not having enough time, time moving too fast or time going slow when you least want it. I was fascinated to hear about Monster Chetwynd's response to this years leap day.

"What would you do with a day out of time?

The leap day, 29th February, is the result of an unsolved 3000 year-old problem. Conceived by the Egyptians, passed on to the Romans and reformed by Pope Gregory, it’s all too often a day that passes by without another thought.

This year, the artist Monster Chetwynd won’t let that happen. Known for her exuberant large-scale multi-person performances in fantastical environments, she delves deep into the leap year's ancient history and bizarre sexist customs to inspire a new radiophonic performance. True to Chetwynd-form, she brings together a group friends and collaborators in her Glasgow studio to reimagine everything she learns about the leap day into a wildly playful theatrical happening.

Monster Chetwynd was the first performance artist nominated for the Turner Prize in 2012. Her work includes a multi-person Cat Bus (2010), a Bertolt Brecht and Betty Boop-inspired children’s play Dogsy Ma Bone (2016), and giant luminous slugs slithering up the stairs and fa├žade of Tate Britain (2018).

With contributions from Kristen Lippencott, former director of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

Performance featuring Marc David, Bob Moyler, Jessica Ramm, Anna Danielewicz and Rabi."