Thursday, 28 May 2015

On your tod

It's hard to see both the big picture and the small picture. Here, a contributor to The Homeless Library tries to give a wider context for the problem of social housing and then puts himself into the story. Like many people we've met at homeless services, he isn't rough sleeping, but appreciates the support and especially the company to be found at The Wellspring.


When our Prime Minister says he wants to put a cap on benefits, most goes to the landlords anyway, not the skint people, the so-called feckless. I don't know anyone who has a mortgage, a sustainable job, a family, etc. and says... "Oh I know, I'll give all that up." I don't know anyone who'd do that. The poor are feckless? I don't see the Prime Minister criticising the rich for being feckless.

There almost appears to be a conspiracy between the landlords who own the houses and government. Why is there a social housing problem when it doesn't cost anything to sort it out? If someone is homeless and if there is somewhere for them to live, the government pays the bills. That's humane. If the government's paying their housing benefit, that pays for the flat, the building of the flat, the land, the lot. So social housing hasn't got an extra cost to the government and there's no shortage of Housing Benefit. So why the homeless? The numbers I find really strange. Beggars belief. Why is social housing not being built? Who knows? It would probably save money.

monoprint for The Homeless Library

For every winner there's got to be a loser, that's the nature of the pie. Always winners and losers - and it's got to be the responsibility of the winners to keep the losers up out of the gutter. The non-doms (tax exiles) are winners, the losers are the people who aren't any good at earning a living. They balance each other out.

If you live in a village in the world where everyone has the same, it's usually the same nothing. They're all poor. Everyone's the same, all are happy. But we don't live in a village here, we don't even live in a democracy, we live in a monetary society. Everyone's clambering for money and the nature of clambering for money isn't conducive to helping people, in fact the opposite.

Private education, private hospitals, it creams the top off. Leaves less for everyone else. If you go to the local Comp in Merthyr Tydfil they won't get the nice extras they'll get in say Manchester Grammar. Imagine having the misfortune to be born in Merthyr Tyfil, or less amusingly, some parts of Africa. Those people don't get on a boat and become refugees for nothing.

Happens in all walks of life, when we start to look at things carefully we try to sort them out, put things in pigeonholes. We have to classify things, or else our brains can't work them out. It's those classifications that are often wrong. We try to anthropomorphise science, the world, to fit it into our heads. Because our brains are our survival mechanism, we only understand things in certain ways. The brain can't understand the Universe like a god. Ridiculous, what a load of bollocks. Science. It makes me laugh.

But politicians, they're the funniest of all, hilarious. I hear a lot of them on the radio. Politicians are always promising the future, but promising the future is an impossibility. The future isn't their's to give. It ain't gonna happen. It's just that people happen to believe them.

I had a lovely English teacher, read Orwell. He learned himself to read. My boy, my son, was also a voracious reader. He had a reading age way beyond his age. But it puts you out of sync with the people around you. One day when he was little, the Head Teacher was asking them about the moon from the previous night. The comments that were coming back were typical comments from children that age: "The moon was white." "The moon was round." My lad put his hand up and said: "It was a waxing gibbous moon." He just had the ability to read and understand from very early on. But he has the same social dysfunction as me. I have it.

I've only ever had one marriage - had nothing else. And she picked me.  Now I'm in the position of nothing. Empty. What's the point of doing anything if you can't share it? The days are very long on your tod. Weekends are a right laugh and so is Christmas. We weren't meant to be alone as humans. We share. Innately, that's what we're about. The best time of my life was when I was married.

I used to sell fruit and veg, I was very good at it. The customers loved it. But the Council didn't like it. My way of social interaction pissed them off. Ultimately, they got rid of me and everything came tumbling down. The bottom line was they hated me, the way I interacted with them. Although I had loads of happy customers, they shut me down.

I live in a council flat now. Billy no mates. That's why I come in here (The Wellspring) for company. The Council pay people to come around my flat and do jobs, maintenance stuff. If you complain about the job they don't like it, even if what you're saying would save them money. They don't like it. They'll attack your residency, say you're trouble. There's always an element of punishment.

I've been ten years on my own. Let's just say, I don't have a lot of hope that my life will change.

Monoprint for the Homeless Library

Interview with Phil at The Wellspring, April 2015. The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.


Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Trying to find the flaw

Phil writes:

We have been privileged to meet many people, many viewpoints, as we gather The Homeless Library. Some of the conversations have stayed with me for weeks afterwards. In the following interview, Paul describes the wonderful sensation of dissolving into Nature, which never judges you, never preaches, it just is. But he also describes the relentless driving force that pushes him out there, and his struggle to find the root of it.


If I get depressed I go walkabout, maybe I had aborigine blood. I went to the Himalayas, India and Tibet a year and a half ago when me and my partner split. I was having trouble seeing my kids, trying to reevaluate, rediscover myself, find the fundamental flaw I have in my character. Whatever happens to me I always feel it's my fault. I'm always self-evaluating.

Some of the kindest people I've met have been homeless. Maybe they've got one little bit of tobacco but some people will still share it. Then there's another school who will become more selfish, become more introvert. Two different responses to the situation.

view of Kinder Scout in the snow. (photo Lois Blackburn)

I was picked up by ambulance recently. I was found half-dead on Kinder Scout (mountain in Derbyshire). Been walking several days - if I'm really depressed I'll walk 'til I collapse. I could quite happily smash things, but I prefer walking. I love nature; spiritual when you're out admiring the beauty of a valley sunset. Spirituality is an appreciation of the things we take for granted around us, the subtle things. A lot of people go to church but I find inspiration in nature. Hues, colours express relationships. The different moods of the ocean: the more I appreciate them, the more beautiful they are. I like the impersonal nature of nature. You kind of know what you're getting. When you're in the pouring rain you don't take it personally. I think nature is just another word for God.

The problems I have and others have got a cause. Sometimes it's apparent and sometimes it isn't. I'm very sensitive to light, sound, noise, people's feelings. It's why I don't like being around people too long, I can't bear the company of people too long. You know when a plant gets scorched by light? It's not very macho of me, but it's like that. I find people don't appreciate the subtlety and that depresses me too. I'm not better than anyone else, it's just different. If I was brought up in a different household maybe it would be a corresponding different experience. Different soil has different nutrients, minerals and PH. People are human plants and where you're born affects you.

In some ways people are more acquainted to plants than animals. Have we got any more innate worth than plants? Everything is here for a purpose. Nature is mathematically perfect. Sometimes the design is so perfect we overlook it, the simple is the most profound. Because humans are drawn to complexity we overlook that simplicity. I think the best science copies the patterns inherent in nature. A telescope is a copy of the nervous system. A cup is an organ holding liquid. A television is a copy of the retina. Nature is the oldest designer and everything we make is inspired by it. How long would we have taken to invent a plane if we didn't see birds flying? Leonardo was attentive to nature.

view of Kinder Scout in the distance (photo Lois Blackburn)

Am I free? It depends on what plane of consciousness you operate. On the highest level, free spirit would be a perfect vacuum. In scientific terms, only that which doesn't change can be perfect. Even though it breaks Newton's laws, I believe the universe comes out of nothing. This cup I'm holding, most of it is nothing. Without the cavity of the cup it would be formless. We only appreciate music because of silence. I can see you because I see a background behind you. Space is one of the simplest and most complex things in the universe. To me it is more real than the hard matter we think of ourselves as. To me the deity, if it exists, would be a vacuum, The point where all the different individualised expressions of life become one, from diverse expressions into one stream of life.

When you are in nature you get close to it. You don't judge it. The same life animating a tree makes my heart pump. The same energy, that great in-breathing and out-breathing of God. The big bang, the source.

The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

UNDERSTANDING THE RITUAL - shamanic ritual in art

THE PRACTICAL SENIOR TEACHER, a book made jointly by "our Phil" from arthur+martha and his sister Finella over the course of 25 years, has a rare public showing at exhibition UNDERSTANDING THE RITUAL.


UNDERSTANDING THE RITUAL, at The Storey, is an exploration of shamanism in contemporary art, featuring the work of 13 practitioners, including Gaye Black (formerly Gaye Advert, of punk band The Adverts) and renowned poet Jerome Rothenberg. 

Artist/curator Pete Flowers is searching for deeper instinct in the rites of the artist: “UNDERSTANDING THE RITUAL challenges current ideas of process to show how much contemporary art is shot through with the more ancient spirit of shamanism. Western art in the 21st Century may appear to be surgically detached from spirituality - but is it actually part of the shamanic tradition?”

Kate Eggleston-Wirtz installing HENNY-PENNY
Collaged pages by Phil and Finella as museum fodder
A performer in a vulnerable white dress attempts to transfer black ink between bottles; a tapestry is stitched with fruit, wax, notes for “remembering a soul”; the head of a doll flowers into life; a hen pulls a Romany gypsy caravan; a drawing casts spells; a cabinet receives the blessings of the public… the exhibition sees a shamanic shape in these new ceremonies.

Sue Flowers hanging stitched works by Sally Payne

ARTISTS INCLUDE: Darren Andrews, Gaye Black, Kate Eggleston-Wirtz, Pete Flowers, Sue Flowers, Adam Gregory & Gillian Jane Lees, Geoff Parr, Jerome Rothenberg, Sumit Sarkar, Sally Slade Payne & The Gingerbread Tree (Finella & Philip Davenport).

FOR MORE INFORMATION contact Green Close
Telephone 015242 21233
Exhibition open Tues-Fri 12-6pm at The Storey, Meeting House Lane, Lancaster,
LA1 1TH, Telephone: 01524 582394 Email:

For those who can't get to Lancaster, The Gingerbread Tree have constructed a virtual MARGARET THATCHER MUSEUM of "ethnographic materials from the 1980s" as a YouTube playlist.

Sue and Pete Flowers hang ink-splashed white dresses, Constants & Variables, by Gillian Jane Lees and Adam Gregory

Friday, 22 May 2015

A poem for Dementia Awareness Week

A haunting, beautiful poem to mark the end of Dementia Awareness Week. Talking about that elusive thing... memory. From our forthcoming book the warm/&/the cold


souvenirs in my head
raining, the water in lines
the gutters
the line going
              remember everything

an older brother
he was running
the river
boots running through
raining embers
            planes passing

a boom boom boom
sit on the window sill
curtains drawn in case of
a bomb
watch children
           through the curtain

head in a fog
frustrating, confusing, annoying
splash splash splash through the
raining and remember
the old ladies
          head in a fog

but what I remember is right
playing by the
river, my shoes washed away
when I was young, when it was raining
bringing the old ladies Guiness
         and then
for a month no rain

then again
bad rain
women's voices
branches of trees and old tyres
even the baby's dummy
wants to get inside

what does it feel like to forget?
confusing, frightening
             you're in the rain
getting off a bus
don't know where

            it was raining
Gene Kelly singing
in a musical, a great musical
Gene Kelly dancing under
an umbrella
when I was a child

Fred, Patricia, Yolanda.


Thursday, 21 May 2015


We have been delighted to work with Gallery Oldham, using objects to make memories happen. The Gallery have run many reminiscence activities but this is the first time that the conversations and reminiscence have been channelled into something that can be kept art and poems.

Phil and Lois at the Launch of Making Memories

MAKING MEMORIES IS A BOOK of creative 'recipes' for artwork and poetry stimulated by reminiscence. You wont have come across many of these ideas before, because they've been invented especially for this book. All of the ideas were tried out by groups of participants, reacting to objects and ideas we brought along. The groups often included people with a dementia diagnosis and people with very pronounced physical problems, like mobility issues, or visual impairment.

The idea behind the Making Memories book is to share creative ideas, designed to stimulate reminiscence and turn it into the form of poems and artwork. Why do this? Making something from your experience can give it a clearer shape, give it greater meaning - and that is a powerful positive influence in anyone's life.

Anything like this helps (ie. being in a reminiscence session) just to be with people. It gives me something to talk about, to listen to apart from my own voice. You verbalise when you're on your own. Some activities are more interesting than others, but if you crave company to be honest you'll go to anything. I go to bingo here, but really we want conversation. I never played bingo before this, I had no interest. And when we do play it, you can't talk properly you're too busy.

A perfect activity is something like this: where we're doing something and discussing it and you have to think. I can think to myself I've spoken to someone, done something today. The good effect of it lasts longer.

In the bustle of a care home there isnt always time come up with new ideas for activities, especially activities that are unique. This little book contains two years worth of creative experiments. Each of the recipes are custom made to last for an enjoyable half hour or hour. Some of them are even quicker, ideas for a 10 minute discussion, or quick little conversation starters. Others are easy ways into making artwork or poems, but which can go deeper if people want to for a day or more. They're a challenge, but an enjoyable challenge.

a page from Making Memories.

Objects stimulate memory - we've seen this time and again. Lois passed a rolling pin around a group and people were immediately talking about the kitchens of their childhood. I watched Glenys hand a cotton shuttle from a mill round a group of older people with dementia - and the fascination for that object was electric. It seemed to Lois and I that something could be done with that energy, generated by significant objects.

If you look at something for a second you might get a tiny glimpse of its power, but if you really focus on it you'll get bigger rewards. Like anything, the more you put in the more you get out.
Creative activities can bring focus to objects, helping to find a shape for the emotions and recollections that the objects bring. They can also help you go deeper. If you try to really search for the words that describe, say, how much an old teddy bear meant to you when you were a kid, you'll find that the object stops being just an object, it becomes a doorway back into the past.

We want to give confidence and a voice to people, many of whom haven't drawn a picture or written a poem for 50 or 60 years. So how to encourage confidence, without condescension? How to build a sense of pride in people's achievements, although their skills have changed?

People can be shut off by embarrassment, of their own volition. There's a stigma with mental health and society needs to address that. But I find activities like this therapeutic. People feel comfortable, not threatened, at ease with others. It engenders a feeling of confidence and fellowship. The nice thing about this group is that people are affected by a common theme - and others' duty is sharing (not caring) and improving quality of life.

It's vital that we introduce activities into care venues that challenge. Challenge our and their pre-conceptions of what older people can achieve. It's true that not everyone will be able or want to join in, however rather than always reducing activity to the 'lowest common denominator'  we can adapt activities to peoples skills and abilities. Its a fine line. Acceptance of new limitations, awareness of new possibilities. Most important of all there is no Right or Wrong, just the adventure of having a go.

“Margaret would like to say that she had an excellent afternoon with you. She said you're a great change from all the familiar faces here and the TV too. She'd like you to come back, tomorrow.”

Monday, 18 May 2015

Dementia Awareness Week: To-do list

'I've made it this far'. Temporary tattoo, arthur+martha collaboration

We are putting the finishing touches to our forthcoming book 'the warm/&/the cold right now. To mark Dementia Awareness Week, I thought it was a good opportunity to post some of the interviews and poems from it. The following is a moving, powerful account of living with someone in later stages of dementia. It doesn't pull any punches.


What's needed is a to-do list, who to contact, where to go. When your partner's diagnosed you don't know what to do. When F was diagnosed I was lost, all at sea.

F wouldn't accept help off anyone for years. He wouldn't let anyone come in. My daughter had to travel everyday just to see her dad cos he wouldn't let anyone in from Social Services. He said he was OK but I was struggling. Being independent, being a man: 'We can manage.' But it was me, not we.

I've had a heart attack myself. I need a riser to get me out of bed of a morning. It was a struggle. Help him into the bath. It wears you down. He was incontintent, used to cost me a fortune buying pads and underpants.

I could see it slowly come on for years. The last couple of years he was under the impression his younger brothers were upstairs. They weren't. Then he forgot my name and I was 'her who comes in to do jobs'. He didn't know his daughter or grand-daughter. Each time he had a water infection he had a catheter and the dementia went worse.

He'd get frustrated when he couldn't remember words. The garden shed became That Hut. I caught him getting dressed and he was trying to get his legs inside a sweatshirt top. A helluva lot of washing cos of trouble with the catheter. I'd change him four times in a day sometimes. I was upset I couldn't do anything to make him feel better. Felt all at sea. He got very argumentative, not violent though.

They die slowly, they die twice. It is like a bereavement when they get dementia.

It tears you up inside. You feel for them and wish it wasn't happening and God forbid you wish them dead. I've always said if I ever go like that you can have me put down. The last time he had a water infection I sent for the doctor. F was having dinner, a sandwich. I'd put trifle on the table and he finished up dipping his sandwich in the trifle. I cried in front of the doctor, I said he's not like this.

F could give you chapter and verse about being in the Navy during the war, but he couldn't tell you what he'd had for dinner. He used to tell me how they'd greet the ships.

'No flies on me.' temporary tattoo, arthur+martha collaboration.

F didn't make friends easy, but when he did he was a true friend. When he was ill he didn't speak much. He was a gentleman, not a fly-by-night. When the carers came to get him washed he always stood to one side to let them through the door. He wouldn't have gone to the cornershop without getting smartened up, then by the end he looked like a bloody old tramp (cries). When I got the back money I got him new cardigans. I threw the old one in the bin. I'd hide his old clothes with holes in them, then throw them away.

It's not just what's happening to your partner, it's also you and your family. It's like dropping a pebble in a pond, the ripples go riding out. We've all been through the mill. If you've got a best friend, leave your soul to your best friend.

A roller coaster, towards the end, that descent faster and faster. I don't know how I coped, my own doctor said he couldn't have coped. He said I was one of the most organised patients he ever had.

Didn't upset me as much when he died. It was as though he'd practiced it, had a trial run. F started gradual and seemed to snowball. I think there but for the love of God go I. Can happen to the best, or poorest. Don't matter how rich you are, it can come knocking at your door.

'My tomorrows are quite limited.' temporary tattoo. arthur+martha collaboration

Friday, 15 May 2015

People, full stop.

"Make me think truthfully and make me open."

"I have trouble writing, but you've helped me get the words sorted. Getting this down on paper is important to me. It's like thoughts in your head otherwise, no good. It's better to share it. It's taken my mind onto other things. I've had a smashing time - and you know how jumpy I am."

Both of these quotes are from homeless people who took part in one of our workshops for The Homeless Library. I will try to tell the longer story behind these short quotes, try to do them justice.

It is very difficult to put my feelings about these current workshops into words, even though I am supposedly a word person. I guess I'd say I'm grateful, first and foremost. Grateful for the effort these small triumphs came out of - and grateful that I don't have to deal with the circumstances that many of our participants face.

We currently run our workshops at The BoothCentre in Manchester which is a safe haven, a drop-in centre for homeless people. However the life on the street that some of these people step in from is - to put it mildly - not safe.

detail of drawing 'Kiah'. Anon. May 2015

The first quote comes from someone who is separated from their child and is haunted by that fact. A very powerful person, physically strong, strong voice and forceful personality. Can be very disruptive, can be very gentle. To see that life experience filtered into delicate drawings and a handful of heartfelt lines is moving beyond words.

The second quote is from somebody who is very jittery around groups of people. He has had severe depression while on the streets and relies on medication and solitude to maintain equilibrium. Physically small and painfully thin, he nonetheless has a strong presence by virtue of his intense, intelligent eyes. We talked during breakfast and he confessed that the loneliness was getting too much - "I need to be around people again," he said. "I think I'll join in with you lot for a few minutes." After staying on for the full two hours of the workshop, he told me proudly that he had got through it without taking any of his medication, so that he would have a clearer head for the art-making.

We have run sessions with people who have been raped, urinated on, stabbed, axed, routinely beaten, someone was even burned alive. People have been arrested, sectioned, evicted, dispossessed, many times... To even begin to understand these experiences is not within the power of my words. A more accurate kind of mirror of it is to be found in people's faces and mannerisms. Sometimes a look or hesitation says far more than saying.

To be around such a lot of damage has sometimes left Lois and myself dazed with sadness. Then to see a face shining with delight in our workshop - such a moment feels like a hoorah for each and every one of us, not just for homeless people, but for people full-stop.

The Homeless Library is a project devised by arthur+martha to document the heritage of homelessness using interviews, artworks, poetry. It is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.