Tuesday, 22 December 2009

The mirror

Day 26
Sat 28 Nov

I saw three Caucasian people today and one yesterday. These people constitute the only such faces I’ve seen in near four weeks, apart from my own in the mirror. In all these meetings, we nodded at each other and moved on quickly. I wonder why we are so reluctant to engage with each other – perhaps it is something to do with the idea of having a China ‘experience’? To be here and sink into the uncomfortable fabric of otherness is compelling – it feels as though something important is happening (perhaps it is). Other people from one’s own culture tear away this stranger cloak.

When I walk thru CQ, I collect a certain kind of trophy – little eye-movies of streetlife here un-policed by tourism. There are no gewgaws snagging my vision, apart from the ones that local people buy in the course of their own lives, no postcard stands, prancing folk artistes or offers of Full English Breakfast. I breathe in pollution, sewer stench, food aromas, hear street pedlars, traffic altercations, sirens, see soldiers and militiamen – it all seems more full-real than my Manchester everyday, or the Costa del Sol.

But I have no stake in it, just like any other tourist – and in moving thru these authentic tableaux I suspect that I feel that they’re of heightened significance only because I am always in movement. The novelty means that I never settle, even when at rest. This travelling means nothing particularly, only imputes its own importance. And in a mirror of what I’m doing, I am myself captured in the gaze of the inhabitants here.

I have days of utter exhaustion, because the new piles onto the new and I have to dream it thru in order to make a shape for it.

I slept 11 hours or so last night and woke groggy, moped in the studio yawning and tried to cancel tonight’s dinner invite, despite Deng Chuan’s tutting. Yan Yan swooped in – “We go! Goat soup will be good for you!”

So this evening I go for a meal with my Chinese friends here and am surrounded by company and generosity. I notice Yan Yan’s own tiredness – it transpires that he’s been awake in the night worrying about work. I wonder if there are other things happening too: between his light times there are dark stabs. And in that moment I realise that if I lived here, I surely would also be disrupted by the tension of holding oneself in existence.

For now I slip between astonishing dream images that interlock as streets, cars, people, sounds – and I avoid faces like my own, because of the jolt of awakening.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Day 25

Fri 27 Nov

Then, from Tony again:

“Just after I wrote to you about the question of absence, I read this from Charles Bernstein about presence: ‘The question of presence, the plurality within being present, is of fundamental significance of poetry. The presence of the text (the written document) within the performance but equally the presence of the performance inside the text means that there are, at any one moment in time, two irreducible modes of being present. As presence becomes the site of irreducibility, this will mean that presence can no longer be absolutely present to itself. The anoriginal marks the possibility of the poem being either potentially or actually plural, which will mean that the poem will always lack an essential unity.’”

Friday, 18 December 2009

Day 24

Thur 26 Nov

This in an email from Tony Trehy, discussing a draft of the poem I’m wearily fighting – and in fighting it I’ve divided myself into a maze of oppositions and quandaries:

“…think when one is struggling with an idea, it usually means that one has not asked a deep enough question of the subject. So in the question of missing, why is this something you are concerned with? I would rephrase the question to ask: what is the nature of absence?”

Thursday, 17 December 2009


Day 22
Tues 24 Nov

Xiao Q is the exception in this locale simply because he’s big. Most of the dogs I see here are toysize. Now the cold weather has come, the little critters are dressed in garish dog coats and carried in their owners’ arms like kitsch prizes. They have spoiled faces and big scared eyes and if Xiao Q plays with them his friendly sniffs knock them staggering.

It’s the cats that are the contenders, serious animals with a job to do. One of them is opposite me right now in the noodle shop, purring at me to see if he can beg some chow mien. He’s a hefty ginger tom with shoulders like a rugby player. He’s friendly but has a purposeful demeanour.

Two days ago I saw one of his brethren carrying a rat with the size of its own head. The cat looked pleased, as if it knew it was earning its keep, as well as eating it. Rats are a constant problem here and cats the Burroughs-ish exterminators, pale eyed and brusque.

Writing this, I feel sorry for Xiao Q. The walks that we take him for are tiny hour-long excursions that hardly tax his huge frame. When he paces thru the shrubs in the University he looks happiest, akin to a big predator. But he has nothing to predate and so he chews his own plastic bowls to pieces, nibbles my artworks to get a rise from me, howls, or places his sad face on our knees.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009


Day 21
Mon 23 No

It is unexpectedly my trickster companion Koko who leads the way to the Yangtze River.

He has become my afternoon walking buddy and he complains bitterly if we delay or postpone. For the last week he and I have wandered the University Campus, which is a public park, a housing community, an old tank factory, a roller-skating meet and his sniff ground and lavatory. Our walks are a mix of stroll, snuffle and wrestling match with some idiotic (from Koko’s POV) dog obedience lessons added. He goes thru the motions of ‘sit’ and ‘go’ with contempt, pretending not to hear, or sitting down sarcastically when we’re walking.

But today Deng Chuan is coming on the exploration too and we go to Longyin Lu, setting off point for all my Yangtze searches. It turns out that Longyin Lu was the wrong road all along. One of the men coming up from the river with a rod and a pocket of fish advises us: “Follow the dog.” We let him off the lead and he dances ahead along the main road, traffic-dodging down the middle just to show off his reflexes, then zags a side-road I’ve not tried before. He steers us for 20 minutes or so, past some old cottages, then alongside a railway line, jumping the sleepers and to the top of a steep flight of stone stairs. He’s not a patient guide and although he faces off with the lorries that hurtle down the narrow roads he is also jittery, rushing us past the danger points. I’m being wary of my footing, eyes to the ground, but look up briefly and in a heart-thump there it is.

The Yangtze is on the other side of a screen of trees, a big pale wash of light in the sunset. The stone steps take us to some wooden houses festooned with drying underwear, the buildings are rickety looking structures, contrasting the brutalist power station above us. We’re at the top of a set of earth terraces, a steep field divided into vegetable allotments. Rushing between the plants are many little waterways, spanned by tiny bridges – it’s a Lilliput Holland. The water source is a murky, steaming downfall that spews from the power station at hundreds of gallons a minute. Some of this broth is also diverted into a network of fish pools. We drop down earth paths between the vegetables and then we’re among the fish, thousands of them basking in the warmed water, or jumping for food; their bodies gleam like mercury, rolling grey shapes. Koko peers in at them, clearly tempted by the potent! ial for large-scale mischief, but he gets scolded away.

Deng Chuan’s pronounciation of Koko is so different to mine that I ask her why. She tells me Koko is actually called Xiao Q, but people anglicise it for Euro-visitors to spare us struggling. As a point of pride from herein I use the slippery ‘Xiao Q’ (pronounced Shee-ow Q) which changes emphasis dependent on situation. Now muddy from wrecking vegetable beds, he leaps into the river to annoy the fishermen.

Above us are evening swallows and before us the river, with a faraway fishing boat on it that looks like a sampan (舢 舨) in an antique painting – but this vision has a sky full of apartment blocks and pollutants. The little hamlet under the power station feels ancient, poised on the lip of a moment that is already slipping, following the arc of Yeats’ gyre towards change big and possibly bad.

Deng Chuan nods at the new build apartment blocks on the other bank, she pulls a face. “The people who live there don’t speak to each other. My sister lives in a place like this and she won’t even tell people her job. Why are they keeping secrets? When I was little everyone near me knew me. Those people over there are sick but they don’t know it. They are poor because they have too much money.”

The far side of the river is losing its contours in the mist and the darkening day. A suspension bridge pours traffic towards the distant skyscrapers and overhead the swallows come close and low, trying for the meagre supply of November insects.
Deng Chuan points to the twin pillars of smoke rising from the power station chimneys: “I went to art school here. We called those my school gates.”

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Day 19
Sat Nov 21

Sitting opposite my first Chinese pagoda experience, at Qi Xing Gang. The sun is being our friend, I’ve a bei of green tea and am sat on plastic garden furniture in an old fort surrounded by the people of Chongqing, relaxing among the skyscrapers. The fort is stepped up along the contours of a typical CQ hill topped by an elaborate 4-storey pagoda that’s peeling paint. It towers over us, and the skyscrapers over it.

People are playing cards next to me, newspapers are being read, street traders are yelling below us and the ear-cleaner is plying his trade, ringing his scraping tools together like a bell. He wears a surgeon’s mirror-light in the centre of his forehead, a third eye. Oddly, no one is playing mah jong – my little square off Huang Jue Ping Street will be rattling to the sound of the counters by now. Apart from the pagoda, this place reminds me of nothing so much as Katsouri’s sandwich bar in Bury Market where people gather to eat arguably the best sandwiches in Britain, smoke, gossip and drink excellent coffee sitting under an awning to escape the Manchester rain. The luxury of good food completes the experience, fills the gaps in the other pastimes. CQ residents are also accustomed to the rain and like Mancs they grab the sunshine when they can. S! o the fortress is busy with relaxation, the green tea stall is doing excellent trade.

The pagoda is stupendous, a thing that designed to overwhelm – like European cathedrals, its lines tweak perspective and because this one is on a plaza approached from below, it looms very effectively – even if it is ersatz ancient. The curves of the roof recall curved horns on an antique warrior’s helmet. Huge paper globe lamps hang from the eaves, outsize droplets. Guarding the four corners of each level are the heads of mythic beasts, like gargoyles. One level is phoenix-ish bird heads, maybe Huang the female dragon consort, at another level snake heads with stone faces so ferocious they seem to spit anger, at the top, dragon heads lord it. At first look, they seem to have mouths full of frills, but then I make a guess that these are teeth of fire and the four dragons (dragon the male is Feng) wear a necklace of flames. The! mythology of the dragon is more complex here than our general understanding in the West. Perhaps the Church suppressed all but their propagandised evil reptile? A book about the layeredness of Eastern dragonology has been written by Professor Qiguang Zhao. I’ve heard that Hai Zi was holding another of the Professor’s books – one about Joseph Conrad – when he jumped to his death in front of that train in 1989.

The green tea starts to settle my stomach. Last night I again broke my abstinence from the street vendors’ food stalls. The work had been bothering me again and I ate and drank wine in a little burst of self-destructive petulance, knowing I’d pay for it in stomach cramps and the rest later. But I also have an optimistic streak that Julia sweetly nurtures and today the problems seem to solve themselves. The air suffuses with the delicate scent of green tea and occasional cigarette smoke from the card players.

Saturday, 12 December 2009


Days 16-18
Wed-Fri 18-20 Nov


With the evening comes translation and Chinese calligraphy, usually embodied in the person of Wang Jun who hurtles into the writing with force that uplifts me from my glooms. He also brings alcohol, snacks, and humour.

The poems are made from fragments of poetry, and textworks, disparate idea streams crossing East and West and crossing time too. Each pair of separate fragments fits together to germ an idea. Juxtaposition like this is called parataxis - common in Japanese haiku, and in contemporary Western text art too, tho unrecognised as a literary manoeuvre. (Think of Jenny Holzer’s famous neon ‘Protect me from what I want’ installed in Times Square, in which the text is one half of a proposition and the neon adverts of Times Square itself the other half. I once asked Holzer whether she might consider herself a poet and she dodged the issue – Weiner flatly refutes it.)

We argue the ideas across language, Deng Chuan, Wang Jun and myself, with Yan Yan as the voice of reason refereeing (and often providing the most elegant translation ideas). It’s easy to lose the poem in all of this and I feel it slide from my understanding. Perhaps it should be elude me, like the Yangtze, after all it is shaping to be a poem about absence and the missing. In it, the figure of Hai Zi becomes more and more foregrounded: he is a Chinese poet who committed suicide 20 years ago and has become a postmortem celebrity. He is a fogged face for the word pictures we are making in English and Chinese.

My pieces are about separation, apart-ness, they are measurements of human distance. This shared loneliness is of course the human condition, we are divided by our own skins – and yet crave contact. I find pieces of text that can riff this theme, using translation to crowbar the gap wider. I scoop material from Pound (I like the idea of retranslating his translations back to Chinese) Olson, Sophie Calle, Holzer, Beckett, HD, Fiona Banner, Yves Klein and others - people who might be said in several senses to write images. I try on a new title, a quote from Yves Klein – My Paintings are Invisible.

English originals are processed by me, then translated into four Chinese characters by my collaborators and then written out by them onto the tracing paper sheets. Each helper transmutes the text doubly thru language, first translating, then rewriting. My four-character rule breaks the common usage, which more often pairs characters - a general ‘radical’ and a specific. Because I only allow four Chinese characters and four English words or part-words, the radicals have to be dropped, which cracks open some new possibilities in the perfection of the Chinese tradition. As for myself, I start to find myself thinking in unfamiliar new categories, which are second nature to everyone else in the room:

Xing shu – personal handwriting, a strong, fast torrent
Song ti – script for officialese
Zhuan shu – ancient script, closer to hieroglyphics than contemporary Chinese and with a female undercurrent
Ni shu – writing that is painting, a soft riverfall
Shui mo – water/ink combinations
Wen zi – written communication
Han zi – single character

Han zu – nation, derived from period of unity when China became a whole
Han Chao – dynasty
Han ren – Han people/nationality)

The above are massacred regularly in my pronunciation. I offer mental apologies to my patient Mandarin teacher Zhu Xun after these discussions.

I work til gone midnight, sometimes one or two in the morning. It seems I’m simultaneously cramming for an exam, composing a poem and learning how to make lettering by hand on a far bigger scale than ever before. The technicalities are blinding me to the poem itself and I know I need a new course, but can’t guess what it is.

When I get back to the flat I dry some washing, put some more into the basin and pummel it.

Reading this back now, my ideas sound over-complicated, full of holes – and smart arsed, when the experience of loneliness is simply raw. I’m swimming thru doubts again and it’s late again.

Friday, 11 December 2009


Days 16-18
Wed-Fri 18-20 Nov


are my quiet time in the studio, before the collaborators arrive. I draft and re-draft the texts, frantically trying to learn the subtleties of the hanzi (Chinese characters) nipping and tucking verses, puzzling them thru, building a vehicle for them.

The pieces have been my pleasure and precipice. The idea was originally that my handwriting and the scripting of my helpers would co-exist in visual space, tho on each side of tracing paper. The paper is 2metres x 1 metre and my first major technical problem is that my handwriting, when ten times its usual size, simply isn’t strong enough. The Chinese calligraphers are handwriting athletes – they’re schooled in their lettering for years and make my ‘hand’ seem clumping.

I think of the graceful copperplate handwriting of the older people Lois and I work with and wish I could call in those reinforcements.

By the time I realise that I’ll need an alternative, I’ve already lettered (and often wrecked) twenty or so large pieces. It’s triply unsettling. I enjoy my writing and suddenly my ‘hand’ has turned treacherous; I have a short timescale and limited goodwill can be asked of my volunteer helpers; I don’t yet really know if the poems work and I can’t master the means of transmission, so it’s hard to get a sense of them.

Both Julia and Tony T separately flag up the problem. The solution is simple – to use English alphabet stencils. But tracing stencil letters means sacrificing any spontaneity on my part. Stencils are also hard to find – I spend half a day scouring art shops in my district by the art college, and then the city centre – I only turn up English lettering stencils that are 1 cm high. My dad finds a sidestep around the problem in the course of our weekly phonecall – “Print your own letters, then trace them.”

I re-draw my tiny stencil letters ten times their original size onto a template I can trace from. It takes a full day to do this and as insurance Deng Chuan orders a stencil set over the internet. As added insurance, my sister Finella hunts stencils in the UK and posts them.

Thursday, 10 December 2009


Days 16-18
Wed-Fri 18-20 Nov

Having written the publicity, I then of course go into a spin of nerves and crises about the pieces. I know they’re not right, but can they be made right? This week already feels like a long stretch with the Speech is Code work and we’re only at Wednesday. I suspect that the way out is to go in deeper. From here onward, my work days become 12 hours plus of studio time, broken with dog walks and meals.

Mornings, I wash myself and some clothes, then step into the hurry of the streets. There’s a little outdoor market by my block and I meander that for my zaofen – watch the marketers and the shoppers, the toenail clipping and the fish sales, hold my breath past the piss-smell of the tripe stall, inhale the cake maker, the mah jong café – then up the steep hill to 501 munching bananas. If I’ve a yearning for miantiao I drop by the noodle shop near the gates of “Wu ling yao” to spiceblast my tastebuds with chilli.

Yan Yan will be in the studio already and Koko too, who bounces with enthusiasm when I come in. He asks politely for a walk, then pleads, then gets angry and finally huffs. I don’t like to be bossed by him so I wait until he’s calmed – tho I talk with him if he’s barking. When he’s mollified, or sulking quietly, I look at the pieces from the previous day, hustle the inks, brushes, pencils and rulers in one place, make some tea and make a start.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Speech is code

Day 15
Tues 17th Nov

Today I send this publicity release to David Hancock at the Chinese Art Centre in Manchester:

Speech is code

Experimental poet Philip Davenport’s residency at 501 Artspace in Chongqing, China (2 Nov-31 Dec) features input from several Chinese artists, in a sequence of English/Chinese text art works, titled Speech is Code.

Davenport has made a sequence of 8-word poems, which collage together ancient Chinese poems, lines from iconic conceptual and text art sources and modernist and postmodern poetry, finding parallels in form and intent – and knitting together new meanings completely unintended by the originators.

Davenport frequently moves between literary and visual modes, exhibiting works as in situ billposter/poems in cities throughout Europe, in galleries and as 3D objects. His 2006 Heartshape Pornography series was handwritten onto artificial apples; in 2008 he relabelled street debris; 1998-2008 his Imaginary Missing People, poems made from missing person notices, were billposted/exhibited in Berlin, Edinburgh, Reykjavik, Paris, London, Bilbao.

The Speech is Code pieces are written onto large pieces of semi-transparent paper, one side scripted in English the other Chinese – they co-exist and intermingle calligraphies, significations, syntaxes.

Principal artists involved are: Wang Jun, Mao Yanyang, Xu Guang Fu and Deng Chuan.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Day 14 Monday 16th Nov

Today was stricken down by the aftermath of a stomach upset. The cold weather didn’t help either. I’d felt ominous pains throughout Saturday and spent a large part of Sunday evening squatting over my toilet, erupting the weekend meals in stylish fashion, between watching Gone With The Wind with Chinese subtitles.

Monday morning is grotty, grumbling stomached. I surface half way thru the day, feeling sick and with cramping guts. It is part of living somewhere new that you develop new flora and fauna and occasional wildlife in your digestion. It’s never a comfortable experience and it often seems to involve getting rid of all previous foodstuffs.

I post some things to Julia (upcoming birthday) at the local post office and for the first time am staggered by the expense of something in China. You might be able to shop here at cutthroat rates, but once you’ve got it, you can’t get it out of the country. I gape at the postmistress and she smiles sweetly at me, while counting out a lot of my Yuan. A friend of hers peeps over her shoulder at the pile of money and murmurs “Beautiful.”

I walk up the hill to the studio. On the way I haggle for a small electric heater and when the price doesn’t go my way, stomp off in a sulk, leaving the shopkeeper yelling after me. Yan Yan is in my noodle shop, cheerily slurping a bowl of miantiao. I sniff them enviously but my stomarch lurches and I give up on food for the moment. The manager looks worried as I leave unfed. The studio is bitter too. Deng Chuan is wrapped in a coat and bids me goodbye as I arrive – “Too cold. Need soup,” she mutters.

I send some emails and bail out for a walk with Koko, who approves of the cold and is looking sprightly. Most of his walk companions from the studio let him cross the road and wander the park off the lead happy and freeroaming. But he also runs rings around them, so I keep him on the lead the whole way. Anyway, I am bad-tempered and determined that others will suffer too. Koko doesn’t care. He actually is quite biddable 20 minutes into a walk, once he’s got used to the lead and trots along happily beside me, making the occasional random lunge to keep me off-balanced. At intervals I get him to sit and wait until I give the order to start again: ‘Qu!’

This time he seems to be charming the student populace. He gets his photo taken, small children come and pat him, old ladies come and pet him and by the end of it all, he’s preening. Just as we are exiting, he half climbs a small tree and performs an enormous, leg-shaking defacation in view of a crowd of his admirers and of course the guardhouse at the campus gate. The guards look at me icily as I leave.

I spend a couple of hours working on the Speech is Code tracing paper poems – I think I’ve botched one, but the other feels alright. The pressure of these is that you only get one attempt and only about 20% actually work, because either I or the other writer (or both) make a poor version. Even if the other side is great, the whole thing has to be scrapped. One of the most striking was written by Xu Guang Fu and I screwed up the reverse side of it. But as I observed to Dan Dan, it was too lovely for this world anyway.

I bring the electric heater that Yan Yan has loaned me back to the flat and toast gloriously, while watching a DVD of Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood. Over my head, rats skitter around the ceiling cavities, enjoying the warmth too.

Monday, 30 November 2009

A visit with Wang Jun

Day 13
Sunday 15th Nov

501 is a significant number – it was an old military secret code and our studio building, now named 501 Artspace, was used for military purposes in the last world war. Chongqing was the wartime capital of China, a contested city. Not only was there an uneasy alliance between the Nationalists and the Communists, who were persecuted by the Nationalists, it was also bombed by the Japanese. There is a postcard book of significant Chongqing wartime headquarters buildings available, for those people who like to point at a picture. Exactly what the wartime story of 501 Artspace might be still eludes me, like the Yangtze.

Nearby, on the University campus, is a little double row of engineering sheds with corrugated roofs. Koko and I passed close by them today on our walk. These are now also studios, collectively called Tank Loft. At the end of the avenue formed by the buildings is an old Russian T34 tank, tarnishing in the weather but with its red star repainted. It seems that there was a Russian contingent here in Chongqing producing T34 tanks - again, the story is intriguingly fuzzy. The ID number on the side of the turret is 105.

So when we visit painter Wang Jun in his 501 studio, we are in a place that has many layers of paint, real and metaphorical. Wang Jun is my main helper on the Speech is Code works – our two writings, eastern and western, seem to occupy space well together. Our problem is that his English is nearly as limited as my Mandarin, so conversation needs to take place with a bi-linguist mediating between us.

Both Wang Jun and myself us have vocabularies which we hate losing and stubbornly we dash ourselves against the language barrier. Yan Yan has given up translating for the pair of us – “You use such difficult words! Use some easy ones!” But fortunately one of Yan Yan’s students, the grave and gracious Deng Chuan has agreed to help out and so she patiently sits with us, untangling the knotted thing that our conversations become. They are long conversations about artists and the Tao Te Ching and what it is we’re trying to do and which pieces work/don’t work and why. It’s shop talk, the kind that Trehy and I chew over and is immensely tedious to bystanders. I worry for Deng Chuan’s boredom threshold.

It is with Deng Chuan and Wang Jun that I first drink formal Chinese tea. We sit around a little slatted wood rack that is a kind of draining board, boxed underneath to hold spills. On this is placed a clay teapot that might hold no more than a pint and tiny cups, the circumference of my fingers and thumb if I circle them. The pot is brown at first sight, but its colouring subtly reveals itself to contain a purple too, apparently the local clay from which it’s made is known for purple colouring. I have a little childhood déjà vu, mixing up my plasticine colours together so that they became brown, but within the brown other hues…

The cups and pot dry quickly if wetted and also are very slightly porous, which helps remove impurities from the liquid they contain. The first brew of tea is considered inferior, you are merely washing the leaves. It is with the second that the taste begins to be released. It is a bright, delicate tea, good even the first time - and yes as we continue to drink I detect a richer quality to it. Like the clayware we’re drinking from, it reveals itself gradually.

The whole process is measured, calm and meditative, completely at odds with the history of the walls around us. Deng Chuan tells me that Chinese people often use glasses for green tea (lu cha): the sight of the leaves unfurling in the hot water is considered to be a very beautiful part of tea-drinking, particularly bamboo leaf tea. The famous teahouses in Chengdu add sunlight to this effect. Teabags would spoil the visuals.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Day 12 Saturday 14th Nov

Adrenalised, I drink by myself and write thru Friday evening and into Saturday morning. When I wake, it’s to a bleary hangover and the Chongqing mist has descended too. The neighbourhood dogs finally get me out of bed with explosive yapping that bursts inside my sore head. I blunder around the flat cursing all dogs and trying to find socks.

Today I’ve planned to make a journey into the centre of Chongqing, using public transport. I’ve been equipped with a list of bus stops and metro stations in English, Pinyin and Chinese, I have money and a camera. It’s time to be a tourist. I’m nervous as hell – this will be my first time on Chinese public transport and I wonder if not only will I be able to get to where I want – but will I get back again? Yan Yan obviously has similar worries – I’m under orders to call him if my famed sense of direction leads me astray.

I’m in a whirl of panic as I get onto the bus – stuttering out my explanations in a toecurling burst of ugly Chinglish. The driver takes one sympathetic look at me and waves me on – “For free!” The bus passengers usher me to a seat, point out landmarks and discuss between themselves when I am to get off and who will make sure I do it.

On the escalator up to the metro station, I am raised high above an enormous ruined factory. It is being shredded by bulldozers as I watch. On the ride into Chonqing (CQ) central we negotiate a mountainside and then drop down a little to follow the line of the Jialing River, which joins the Yangtze here. The Jialing is a sad, soft green and the sight of it wrenches me – I have explored so many new places with Julia, and today I feel her absence.

Kindness of folk. All thru this day in Chongqing I am buoyed up by the people around me. It feels that if I slipped, then someone would be there to catch me. An old man taps me on the shoulder – the banana in my bag is slipping out. A little girl introduces me to her whole family on the metro – Renshi ni hen gaoxing. There is a sense of the common good here – that the UK flushed away in the heyday of Thatcherism and has not regained. I miss it, this gentleness.

I don’t venture far in Chonqing, this is only a recce. I end up in the large central bookshop, browsing the DVDs, marvelling at the cheapness. The shop assistants puncture my rosy tint bubble with their silly officiousness. One of them stamps a beautiful artbook I’ve bought with a rubber stamp, as proof that I’m not stealing it. She looks at me with flat disinterest as I gasp at the vandalism.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Day 11 Fri 13th November

I’m a poet in an artist’s studio, I have accidentally bought enormous pieces of tracing paper because my Chinese is bad, I’m in a social scene complete with artists dropping by to drink tea, hangout – and out of this grounding the Speech is Code pieces grow.

In fact I began them over a year ago – I’d constructed some short stanzas, using the picture credits for conceptual artworks. They were just sketches, little fragments that perhaps had some potential.


it ends
it ends
it ends


In the studio, with paintings stacked around me, these words taken from artists feel right. Brush/inking the pieces onto tracing paper, I shorten them to four-word verses, one on each side of the tracing paper – so that the words tangle together in the eye. Then I ask one of the Chinese artists if he’d write a stanza out.
“In Chinese?” he inquires.
Seeing Chinese calligraphy being made well is akin to watching dance – I observe the makers with both joy and envy. The characters that they conjure are so exquisite, I feel I should take a Neo-Trappist vow never to make a pen mark again.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Day 10 Thurs 12th Nov

Koko (pronounced Q Q) is the studio dog, a big, handsome, raffish-looking hound, white fur and brown eyes. He paces the studio like Beuys’ wolf – chewing bits of bric a brac and seeking attention in a series of random acts of naughtiness. Somehow he’s ended up as a mascot/guard dog here, though his owner Jiang Liang Liang (as I’ve been told to call her, tho Dan Dan collapses into hysterics of laughter when I use this name) still comes to walk him and incidentally to clean the studio too. It’s another story I don’t fully understand.

Koko is clearly in need of more walking than he gets, and as I love walking, I offer to take him around today. An offer made out of naivety with no serious consideration of consequences. (Why do I so often seem to default this excuse?)

Once we step outside the studio and start dodging early evening traffic, Koko has a trial attempt to wrench my arm off with a bid for freedom. We head for Longyin Lu, but once again are destined to fail. Koko doesn’t want to go to Longyin Lu and clearly couldn’t give a toss about the mystic Yangtze. Koko wants to find the University park and the girlie dogs. And so we go to the University park. Just before we cross the road I see Yan Yan waving us a reluctant farewell - like a parent leaving a child off at school for the first time. I’m not sure if the wave is for me, or Koko.

Nobody mentioned to me that many Chinese people, at least in Chongqing, are nervous of dogs, especially ones that look like barely controlled wolves. Add to this my status as a freak occurrence in the daily street life, plus the rapidly failing light and we amount to a visit from the circus. We actually cause two eruptions of screams among the students, which Koko exacerbates with a few good-natured lunges at people’s crotches. Finally, he pisses in the flowerbed right next to the sentry box, complete with glaring guard, as we leave.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Speech is code

Day 8, 9. Tues/Wed 10+11th Nov

I don’t heed differences between text artists and poets anymore. In the 1980s I went to poetry readings with a feeling of heaviness – I knew that the real game was done here, that Elvis, Pound, Eliot and Bunting had vacated the building. What was left was leftover, warmed and rancid. I didn’t realise that the heart was still ticking underground. At the same time I’d go to art shows and see works by Lawrence Weiner, Jenny Holzer et al that adrenalised me. They were sharp and they were of the now.

It took my brother Ian to make the point to me: Trust your instincts: if the artists seem interesting, follow the artists. If you don’t respect the poets you’re supposed to like, find some new ones. Which is what I did, which led me first to Bob Cobbing, then to Tony Trehy, to the Text Festival and now to Chongqing.

This is a place where the link between language and image is absolute. It is a place where to write properly you must inhabit the characters as you make them – you are painting, not spelling. To be fully present, to focus during the physical act of writing is the fundament, the fountain of meaning. And the characters themselves are cousins to an ancient script in which words are pictures of rivers, faces, mountains, birds. No wonder I am drawn to it.

It is in these two days that my project, the heart of why I’m here, starts to move.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

China. Day 7. Mon 9th Nov

I awake with a ton of energy and with a raging appetite for breakfast noodles.

50 yards from the studio is a noodle bar in which you can watch the food being peeled, chopped, cooked and served as you wait. On one of the tables at the back they’ll be folding dumplings while the manager of the place walks among the customers making smalltalk and hustling the troublemakers. The cook’s knife moves so fast that the vegetables seem to melt against it.

The breakfast noodles are fresh-made and come swimming in a wondrous soup of red pepper, chilli, spring onion, and occasionally some coriander. They are a breakfast to blow cotton socks off. As you eat, your eyes mist over, nose runs, tastebuds dance strange shapes previously unimagined, and then you wipe the tears from your glasses. If a cup of strong coffee is your wakeup call, noodles max it. Add to that the walk to the noodle shop thru the high stink and the traffic velocity of Chongqing – you’re awake, or roadkill.

In the studio, Yan Yan is playing Alice Coltrane’s Journey to Satchidananda, a CD that I brought along from England. It sounds enormous, buzzing with eternity, on the big speakers. It’s one of my pleasures that Yan Yan has welcomed Alice/John Coltrane and Keith Jarrett into his listening. (One of my sadnesses that he sucks his teeth with exasperation at Pharoah Sanders.) So along with operatic extracts, Chinese folksongs and Schubert quartets, we now have a small free 60s jazz thing.

I start working.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

China. Day 6. Sun 8th Nov

A morning given back to my neglected Mandarin studies. (Plus a little DIY, in the course of which I managed to electrocute myself twice through improper use of my own saliva - but that’s a tale for another time). It’s ironic that being surrounded by Chinese people and the whole panoply of here has been such a distraction that I’ve somehow not found time to keep working at Mandarin. Foolish too, because not only is it my lifeline, it is also a subtle mirror for China itself, another lens to see by. But, the jetlag and the culture jump caused such a flutter of panic in me that I reverted to one-word sentences and pointing. So the morning was spent on the sofa in the apartment, listening to variants on ‘He does not want to see you now because he is watching television’, a state I sympathise with.

I am learning to build sentence structures, rather than memorising a few handy tourist phrases. This is slow work, but long-term rewarding. My big pleasure is actually writing the Chinese characters, however spoken communication is the priority right now. My guide thru this is Harold, a thickly accented New Yorker, who is the course leader on the Michel Thomas Mandarin learner CDs. Julia plays them on her work commute and with that phenomenal memory of hers, comes home chatting in Chinese. I’d recommend this set of CDs to any English person who is learning Mandarin – Dr. Harold cracks jokes so excruciating that you remember them and with the pain comes the mnemonic.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Day 5. Sat 7th Nov. London Calling

A day for writing emails and for sleeping in. I have moments of utter exhaustion and today was a long lie-in. I missed Julia this morning. Our weekend breakfasts in bed seemed impossibly far-off. Muesli and coffee was not on the menu and I couldn’t find my usual enthusiasm for noodles. I listened to London Calling by the Clash, which was kicking around when I was a 6th Former. It’s a grand swaggering rocknroll album, so chockfull of British anger and humour, that it made me yearn.

Slowly however, I’m acclimatising to difference. I generally hate change – am a creature of habit and regime, albeit in a disorganised way – but the new street sounds are less jarring to me now, they harmonise. The electronic songs that I heard on my first morning are the megaphones used by streetvendors, singing their wares. The strange cooking smells are the particular herbs and spices that constitute Chongqing hotpot - there are two restaurants at the base of my apartment block and the morning cookery aromas rise up to me. (One morning I saw the chef heaping chillies into a vast wok with a shovel.) The ominous rumbling noises from the road are tanks and armoured troop carriers, which I will see maybe once a day. The continual traffic horns don’t signify a pileup, they’re simply a conversation held between motorists. They dogs haven’t bitten yet and no one has mugged me. Perhaps it’ll be OK.

I mooched about the studio awhile, catching up with emails and sorting thru ideas for next week. The studio is a palace among artists’ studios. It must be 4 metres high, and perhaps 100 metres in length by 8 wide. In a red brick building, like the old Manchester warehouses, it was originally used for tobacco processing. Then there is some haziness about use – perhaps military provisions? – some suggested it was a tank factory? – and now the whole building which is four storeys high and thousands of cubic metres in capacity, is broken up into a complex of artists’ studios. As well as capacious space, Yan Yan’s has a superb stereo, a relaxation area with sofas and tables, a small toilet, a wash basin, tea and coffee making facilities, a wide range of tables, shelves of art books, and even two raised platforms which constitute an upstairs. For a poet who tends to work in cafes, the immediate impact on me is that of scale. Suddenly instead of writing in notebooks, I can stretch out onto a much bigger page.

And then once again down Longyin Lu – still no Yangtze.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Longyin Road. Day 4. Fri 6th Nov

A good day. I have been making longer and longer walks out from my home base, as I grow in sureness. Today was one of my furthest expeditions, down Longyin Lu, towards the Yangtze, which as ever was misted. It is a long road that winds into the river valley, guided partway down by an ornamental balustrade. On either side of the road are industrial buildings, but also many old houses, often tumbledown with tiny shopfronts and kitchens, streetside cooking fires, mah jong gatherings, rubbish gatherers, hillside gardens, building sites.

The air is bitter with fumes from the trucks that rattle by and the power station and the many fires. It’s a road I love to walk down because I each time I venture on it, something happens and I don’t quite reach the Yangtze. Generally, I get lost – I have an almost supernaturally bad sense of direction. But interesting diversions occur too – I ended up in conversation with a shopkeeper, swapping compliments about how young we both looked. (A day later I was to try the walk again, only to be suddenly overtaken by a mild bout of diahorrea which necessitated a scamper to the flat.) I tried another turning but still no Yangtze. It has become a symbol to me of the elusiveness of all that we try to know.

Today was good for my own writing. I’d woken early morning with a string of words winding thru my head and the only way to straighten them was to jot them down in a notebook. Through the day, they were rewritten into the computer and reshaped until they became a draft poem. It is a luxury beyond compare to have nothing more pressing to do than birth poetry.

On the Longyin Road you will find gangs – many of them women and older men - breaking huge clods of soil with hoes, shifting sand across fields using shovels, chipping the mortar off old bricks for hours so that they can be reused. Their faces are hardworn.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Chongqing Day 3. Thur 5th Nov

This time it was brass band music that woke me. The car horns seemed to counterpoint it. I lay abed for an hour and a half, still jetlagged but suddenly scared. To would mean going out and facing another day of awkward social encounters, filthy corridors and streets, annoyed shop assistants, psycho-traffic. I lay in bed spiralling into glum.

I find it unpleasant being stared at on the street, I hate being trailed by pushy shop staff who want me to explain to them what I want, which of course I find impossible. The other artists who come here are people who use paint, they’re not poets. This is difficult, embarrassing, scary. China is a puzzle to me – warm and welcoming/distant as a far-off star.

Needless to say, it was a joyless day at the studio and it ended with a dose of the fears about this apartment block I’m in. Late at night it looks like a filmset designed to communicate urban hi-rise deprivation.

And the simple crippling fact of my minimal Mandarin hampers me at every turn. Earlier this evening I was at someone’s birthday party, most of which I spent listening uncomprehendingly, while between times I struggled to even feed myself because my chopstick manipulation is also minimal. A large rat sneaked along the side of the room and I felt kindred.

But, equal and opposite, one neighbour at the meal, Hao Lang, gently prompted me about the conversational direction with little translated phrases, while on the other side Yan Yan gave me tips on eating. What I started to learn was the deep sense of hospitality here, the urge to make sure that everyone is alright.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Chongqing. Day 2. Weds 4th Nov.

My host is Yan Yan, an artist I first met in Manchester and immediately warmed to with that curious chemical reactivity that we humans occasionally have for each other - he whisked me from the airport, cackling at my reaction to the mayhemic traffic. He is a slight man with an elfin face, full equally of intelligence and a kind of jauntiness.

Chongqing at high speed, accompanied by constant traffic blare. As will often happen in this journal, my words fail. I cannot begin to make a word picture of the complex city that we sped through, the busy-ness, the colour sequences, the pungent smells both mouth-watering and bilious, the goneinaflash faces and scenes. It was as if I was suddenly granted a new colour.

The evening meal was my introduction to Chinese hospitality, Chonqing style – which means hotpot. But this is not hotpot in the Lancashire sense, this is a pot that’s kept hot by means of a powerful gas burner underneath – each course is added into the pot, into the same cooking sauce, which becomes richer as the meal goes on. A gaggle of art students had come along and I insisted we talk about poetry, poor things. Not only that, but experimental poetry.

I woke to the sound of a strange keening song, played through a distorted speaker. The origin wasn’t to be explained on this day, but would come later. Getting myself over to the studio was a major feat of will. I was walking streets that had very few of my recognisable markers. To stop navigating by street signs and use landmarks instead is a kind of leap of faith, back to pre-language self, steering by eye and the other senses. I find that smell is important here – particular restaurants have a style of sauce and that is a location clue.

The studio is fabulous and deserves a journal entry all to itself. I played about with ink and paper for most of this first day. Chongqing has a well-known art school and the area around 501 Studio, where my residency is to take place, is peppered with little art shops. The art materials are cheap here for a Westerner, which takes some pressure off the making process. Added to this was an unexpected serendipity - my Chinese communication skills are such that I didn’t end up with quite the things I intended – but the things I got were better.

My brilliant mistake was in selecting large sheets of tracing paper rather than plain white. When I got them back to the studio I realised that what I had was a kind of 3d paper – which when inked on both sides would become a see-thru poem. I got to work at once, bastardising together bits of conceptual art, imagist poets and of course a slew of Chinese poets, esp. Li Bai.

Inbetween all this, I worked on my ongoing project, Spreadsheets of Light, poems written using Excel. I’ve already done a little preparation work for a Chinese sequence of these, and so started right on in, borrowing a computer from Dan Dan, one of the students. .

Returning home that evening, I was excited by the pleasure of moving through this alien environment. The street vendors have stalls all the way down our high street and I picked my way between the many obstacles that the stalls present – the most worrying being electric power cables, which are impossible to see in the dark, but very possible to trip over. While looking down for trip hazards, I banged my head on an awning. The sudden pain burst my little confidence bubble and thrown by it, I missed my turning. It took an extra 15 minutes to locate the uneven steps that enter my block. In that short time, the newness of everything lunged in and I felt tired, baffled, defeated. I slunk into bed and slept amid miserable dreams.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

A shared loneliness - Philip Davenport, China residency 2009

Continuous mountains
Day one

I'm writing this circa 30000 feet above China, on the flight from Beijing to Chongqing. The ground scrolling under us is the biggest expanse of mountain range Ive ever seen, snowdusted. The inflight TV is showing tourist friendly footage of Beijing, the colours so pumped it looks like old technicolour. I havent slept for 24 hours and my perceptions feel skewed - I keep flaking out and just at the point of sleep the adrenalin jags me again and Im staring out of the cabin window once more.

In Beijing the air was cold and the airport vast, lit by the early sun. As we came into the customs area we encountered a line of officials in uniform, many wearing flu masks, each standing under a sign saying FOREIGNERS. I wandered the airport, dazed by lack of sleep and in a shock of the newness of my surroundings. My Chinese has confused everyone Ive spoken to and I in turn was confused by a grumpy customs officer shouting at me through her mask. But smiling seems to work the world over. Outside, the snow pretties the runways. The snowfall was made by firing rockets up into the atmosphere. And the newpapers say that the people are sad because the Father of the Chinese Space Programme has just died, after an exemplary life.

On the connection to Chongqing, my lunch companion is a businessman from Beijing who has kindly tolerated my mispronounced Mandarin, tho we end by speaking English. We talk about the mountains: as we fly over, he names the ranges for me, writes the characters on a sick bag for me. We end up chitchatting about ourselves and what we do. He outlines his day (a meeting and flight back) and then asks me about my plans for the time in Chongqing. "Why are you here?"

I stumble an answer. The truth is I don't exactly know why I'm here, what solid reason can I give? This is a stepping beyond oneself and the point is that it's into unknown.

Three years ago when I was in the midst of wrecking and remaking my life, someone mentioned an aphorism to me (it's what we all reach for at crisis times) which stuck. 'You have to lose sight of the shore before you can find new land.' China is literally new land for me. I'm here by myself (Julia will come over to explore with me later) and that doesnt hold as much fear for me as it once did. But what WILL this new land hold for me? Seeing it 000s of feet below, smudged with mist, it feels huge and completely unknown. Even the voices around me give me only tiny fragments to hold onto - the language is so utterly new.

The mist is thicker now, great ribbons of it lit sheer white by the sun. I cant see snow gathered in the valleys anymore. It's getting hotter, we're headed south to Chongqing.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Bella Alice Inman

I thought it was really about time that I should post a little about my new arrival- Alice Bella Inman, she was born on the 13th August, at home (we had planned a nice safe hospital water birth with gas and air...) My husband was amazing, delivering her safely, 5 minutes before the midwife arrived. Although I wouldn't recommend giving birth without a midwife in case anything goes wrong... it was fantastic (once we where over the shock) to be enjoying home comforts and each other.

She weighed in at a very healthy 10 and a half pounds, and hasn't stopped eating since. Its fantastic, knackering, emotional roller coaster ride all over again.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

green is the motivator

In the sun, outside Stepping Hill Hospital café, it’s my luxury to write with a cup of coffee beside me and to breathe fresh air after the wards.

As I look around it occurs to me that I don’t actually know where I am spatially – on all sides are extensions of the old hospital and extensions of those extensions. It’s an eyeline maze of brick blocks with plastic windows (contemporary) then 1960s/70s retooling of the ‘modern’, and then much older pre-war structures. Aircon systems make a huge insect drone left and right of me. Hospitals feel like industrial buildings, as participant/patient Raymond West pointed out a few weeks ago in his poem curtailed :

a hospital, an industrial estate

we are dead loss

green is the motivator to go

stifled in a wheelchair

raise your sight, your expectation

St Thomas, where I first worked with Lois in 2000, was much-feared by some of our oldest participants because it was the building that had been the Poor House. For some people who had confusion about their location in time/place it was terrifying to imagine that they were in that hated institution, though it had long since been converted to a hospital. Now that incarnation has gone too and the old nightingale wards have been wished away.

But what have we replaced them with? To ask Raymond’s question, why do modern hospitals look like industrial plant? Where are the real plants, coloured green, with flowers attached? What do these buildings tell us about our own attitude towards humanity, are we all simply bodies, like car bodies, products? Why do we mend ourselves in places reminiscent of industrial complexes, with little bits of art and a smatter of trees patched on as an alibi? Is it because we’re terrified of the places that we create hospitals in the form of a collective nightmare?

I’ve just come from interviewing ward sister Charlotte Moran who is responsible for E1, a stroke ward. The care and consideration that her team provides in those rooms is a testament to kindness. It seems to me, sitting in this brick vortex, that it is not the people who made the shell, but the people within who are the truly inspired architects.

Friday, 31 July 2009


Being back in the hospital environment forcefully reminded me of how these places can be simultaneously strange, estranged and uplifting.

The morning was spent in Ward 5 at Cherry Tree, where a group of patients made me welcome and we sat together around a dining table that also serves as elbow rest, pillow, reading stand, desk for nurses, sounding board for angry fists and, mostly, a meeting place. Ill health is of course one of the great levellers; with this comes a great mixing of strangers and neighbours. They come quietly, privately together into understandings that are among the most profound that humans share. They also annoy, scare, amuse, alienate each other.


On this day we talked about patience and how you get it. ("Patience, you learn under sufferance.")

Symbolically, the two people at the head of the table were at the poles of patience and impatience. Richard was bristling with energy and annoyance that he couldn't expel because his 83 year old post-stroke body was beginning to seriously slow with wear and tear. Angela had recently suffered a stroke and was still in the first stages of recovery, but she emanated calm. We chatted around and about the experience of being in hospital and what gets you through. How to observe the collapse of your own body and still not succumb to inner collapse. How to cope with "Waiting, waiting, waiting."

Partway through we were joined by staff member the ever-supportive Susan Hughes. She listened awhile, then told us about Want It Now, or WIN, an acronym used by early teens to describe the process of heavy-pressuring their parents into buying the latest clothing/computer game/hairstyle/generic product for them. The conversation turned to the childhoods of the patients - "We were never prepared for pleasure, we were prepared for work."

Several of the women described in detail cleaning the steps of their houses with the 'donkey stone' when they were very young. The grind of working lives, that began not with work but early childhood. And yet the happiness was there too, they insisted. So how do you make sense of that, I asked.

And in the midst of the replies, Angela raised one finger in the air, and pronounced very slowly but clearly: "PA-TIEN - ENCE!"

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Interview: Dr Stephen Watkins

In June, Phil and I had a fascinating, insightful interview with Dr Stephen Watkins, the Director of Public health for Stockport PCT. We discussed the independence of older people, dependency, care and control, choice, being a carer, social roles and patience....

Dr Stephen Watkins
8th June 2009

There is a gap between healthy life and life expectancy – and that gap is what we must reduce. It’s important that we narrow the gap to delay the onset of dependency, so that people enjoy life longer.

About a year ago I began to find that my right ankle was stiffening. It became difficult going up hills. I told my wife: ‘I feel like an old man.’ I went to a physio, who recognised some restricted movement at the site of an old fracture. She said: do exercises and force through the pain. I followed that advice and have been fine, although I’m slower uphill. Now, if I had been of the mindset that says ‘You’re 58, your life is ending’ I would’ve stopped going up hills. And then gradually I would have stopped walking altogether – a downward spiral.

We need to fight off the expectation of dependency. People have a right to care and will be dependent to a point, but we also have to accept people living with a degree of risk. We don’t stop the young climbing mountains – we must also trust the choices of old people.

This is the difference between care and control. Even when people have accepted a state of dependency they don’t have to lose all choice. You mustn’t become dependent before you really need to – and also when you are dependent, you still should be allowed to make choices, be trusted to take risks.

There needs to be policy that supports this, that recognises there’s a duty of care, but no right to force care on people. These are patients’ rights. In the case of allowing risk, the nature of that decision needs to be recorded. It must be shown that an individual was allowed to make a choice and that there wasn’t negligence, just the allowing of choice. It isn’t actually caring for someone to take away their choice, for instance taking them out of the environment they want to be in.

Being a carer can have a devastating effect on people. Often a carer can become as damaged as the person they are looking after. Sometimes you wonder if it wouldn’t be better if they weren’t caring – if they were able to just visit and be a supporter, friend, advocate. Better that than being trapped in a situation where all the opportunity for loving interaction is gone. Who benefits from that?

These are very personal things, affected by people’s individuality. I’m sure there are carers who would offer support, even if their independence is devastated. But it’s important for statutory bodies to realise that these people need support and can be neglected. This is especially the case in caring for sufferers of dementia who cease to be the person they were. Then the carer is grieving that loss alongside the stresses of the care. I’d like to see more support for carers but there’s a resource issue. That’s why it’s important life expectancy grows, but healthy life grows even more and so the dependency group gets smaller.

That gap isn’t understood. The assumption is that the number of dependent elderly is getting bigger, but this is based on a misunderstanding. The first time the population aged dramatically was when the last generation of large families came of age. Previously there had been high infant mortality so people had large families to compensate. With improvements in medical help the babies lived, but people didn’t change their behaviour and that cohort of unmarried women (the men died in the First World War) created the first ageing population in the UK at the end of the 20th Century. Predominantly female, dependent. People needing care increased because it was a particular demographic with certain needs. People gained a sense that this is what having an elderly population means. But the gender balance has changed, the older men have not been in a war, they’ve faced less occupational danger. People are living to be older, happier, which raises the possibility of narrowing gap. The pension crisis remains but the care crisis doesn’t have to.

The maths is very striking. If healthy life expectancy is 60 and life expectancy 70, then one seventh of the population will be dependent. If healthy life expectancy is say 85 and life expectancy is 90 then dependency drops to one in eighteen. It is absolutely affected by what people do in their 50s, 60s, 70s – we have to get to the people who would’ve stopped walking when faced with my bad ankle. That’s the beginning of dependency.

We need new social roles. At present there’s no protection against unfair dismissal over 65. Things like this undermine the social vision we have to have if we are going to deal with having an ageing population. We have to have a healthy ageing strategy as an economic necessity.

We need patience in public health, because it takes people so long to listen to us. Churchill said the American government will always do the right thing but only first trying every other option. Reactions to public health advice sometimes seem a bit like that. How long did it take to get the ban on smoking? We are very accustomed to patience. Ultimately the health of the people is such a powerful social value that it will in the end prevail.

Monday, 13 July 2009

gummy legs and strokes

As part of the Patience project on Wednesday I worked at Cherry Tree Ward 5 (Rehabilitation ward) in the morning and E1 Stroke Ward at Stepping Hill in the afternoon. Another fantastic day, made the more poignant by the fact that it was my last day running art workshops (at least for a while) due to imminent maternity leave. In the morning, I spoke to the usual wide range of people- suffering from bowel trouble, an amputated leg, back problems, cancer...

We spoke about their condition, their response to being in hospital, their ways of coping. Again this week, I was amazed at how matter-of-factly people could speak of such sadness. For instance, the woman who had had her leg amputated: "Coping. You have to, no choice in the matter. You're here until fit enough to get home, so if you want to go home, put your mind to getting fit quick."
"So had to have the leg off (she smiles) I could sit here and cry for eternity, but it wouldn’t put my leg back. Was a bit fed up at the beginning."

For the first time in ages, we did some drawing. Mary found it hard to tackle problems due to her low confidence - referring right back to childhood, not being able to draw - however she produced a really delightful drawing, which I feel she was quite proud of.

In the afternoon I worked with Stroke patients. I was able to give back typed versions of the pieces they wrote last week (this always seems to please people, to see their work looking formal, 'professionally' presented).

I was able to continue to develop conversations and building relationships with participants and to speak to new people. One gentleman was full of frustration and anger, he seemed so relieved to have someone to talk to: "Been sat on these statements for weeks to try and find the right minded person to speak to. 56 and I was a young 56, but its draining away from me... For the lonely it can be a nightmare in hospital, us and them. Worst thing is not knowing where the nightmare is... my nightmare - the staff changes - the shift changes, not everyone so understanding."

Artwork was in the form of plasters, stuck onto a part of the body that was participants wanted to fix, with letraset writing about their condition.

I'm going to really miss doing the workshops- its really humbling, exhilarating, tiring, inspiring and most of all an honor to share time with people and find out a little of their stories...

Friday, 3 July 2009

Lead soldiers & Stroke

As part of our new project Patience, on Wednesday morning I worked with older people at the Rehabilitation ward, Cherry Tree Hospital Stockport. Seven participants gave varying responses to a collection of toy lead soldiers I brought along to the session. My idea was to develop the theme of the 'brave soldier'.. and 'soldiering on'. Could these ideas relate to how we view our health? Participants chose an photographic image of toy soldiers, we selected a line from their text, which they in turn wrote on the photo, from which I made a badge for them. To my delight everyone seemed proud of their creations, and after photos I left them wearing their text/art.

In the afternoon, I met up with Jean Lally who was kindly offering her services as a volunteer. We had our first session at the Stroke Ward at Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport. Its always going into the unknown when you start at a new venue: the participants, the staff, the environment all are to be discovered.

We worked with three women, each one shared with amazing candor their experiences - one had been in hospital for 28 weeks and was fighting depression, God and her disability. She was full of anger: 'If I don’t hurry up I’ll be dead.'

Another women was the main carer for her Aunt, the determination to get home - so that she could resume her caring responsibility - was humbling: "To get well as soon as possible and get back to my Aunt that I care for and love - there's only the two of us- just want a normal quiet life, anything would do."

And then there was the woman who spoke in such a matter of fact way about her devastating conditions: "I have not only one problem, not only a stroke but Inclusion Bodies Myisitis- a form of MS or motor neuron a muscle wasting disease. There's no way to stop it, no way to help it, not for me anyway."

All three women shared such strength and determination it was inspiring, an honor and a privilege to talk with them.

Monday, 29 June 2009

New collection on-line

A new collection of text/art is on-line at http://www.flickr.com/ This is a collection of small objects that are part of peoples everyday lives, things they care about – objects that symbolize care. For example, a teabag, tissues, a pair of glasses, safety pins, pill containers… Each object carries a label written by the participant, discussing things they have lost on one side and found on the other. It is part of a bigger project we are developing called Lost & Found.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Denial- the 8th stage of genocide

As part of the 'Eyebright' pilot project during our artist residency at Delamere Forest School, we looked at the 8 Stages of Genocide, for direction and inspiration.... Stage eight is Denial:

8. DENIAL is the eighth stage that always follows a genocide. It is among the surest indicators of further genocidal massacres. The perpetrators of genocide dig up the mass graves, burn the bodies, try to cover up the evidence and intimidate the witnesses. They deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims. They block investigations of the crimes, and continue to govern until driven from power by force, when they flee into exile. There they remain with impunity, like Pol Pot or Idi Amin, unless they are captured and a tribunal is established to try them. The response to denial is punishment by an international tribunal or national courts. There the evidence can be heard, and the perpetrators punished. Tribunals like the Yugoslav or Rwanda Tribunals, or an international tribunal to try the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, or an International Criminal Court may not deter the worst genocidal killers. But with the political will to arrest and prosecute them, some may be brought to justice.

Quotes from The 8 Stages of Genocide by Gregory Stanton, President of Genocide Watch

Friday, 12 June 2009


As part of the 'Eyebright' pilot project during our artist residency at Delamere Forest School, we looked at the 8 Stages of Genocide, for direction and inspiration.... Stage seven is Extermination:

7. EXTERMINATION begins, and quickly becomes the mass killing legally called “genocide.” It is “extermination” to the killers because they do not believe their victims to be fully human. When it is sponsored by the state, the armed forces often work with militias to do the killing. Sometimes the genocide results in revenge killings by groups against each other, creating the downward whirlpool-like cycle of bilateral genocide (as in Burundi). At this stage, only rapid and overwhelming armed intervention can stop genocide. Real safe areas or refugee escape corridors should be established with heavily armed international protection. (An unsafe “safe” area is worse than none at all.) The U.N. Standing High Readiness Brigade, EU Rapid Response Force, or regional forces -- should be authorized to act by the U.N. Security Council if the genocide is small. For larger interventions, a multilateral force authorized by the U.N. should intervene. If the U.N. is paralyzed, regional alliances must act. It is time to recognize that the international responsibility to protect transcends the narrow interests of individual nation states. If strong nations will not provide troops to intervene directly, they should provide the airlift, equipment, and financial means necessary for regional states to intervene.

Quotes from The 8 Stages of Genocide by Gregory Stanton, President of Genocide Watch

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Talking Heads

Last Friday we had the wonderful opportunity to work with the group 'talking heads' at Walthew House. Walthew House http://www.walthewhouse.org.uk is an independent local charity supporting people in Stockport who are blind, visually impaired, Deaf or hard of hearing or who have dual sensory loss. 'Talking Heads' is a really welcoming group of people, of all ages and from all backgrounds, linked by their visual impairments. We where a group of 14, all of whom had fascinating insights into the discussion. I had prepared 2 pages of questions, but only managed to ask 4 of them! Phil wrote up notes from the conversation in a poetic form, which with the groups permission will be published on the internet, on paper and as spoken book, at a later date. Thanks again to all the members of 'Talking Heads' making us feels so welcome, we look forward to meeting with you again.

Saturday, 6 June 2009


As part of the 'Eyebright' pilot project during our artist residency at Delamere Forest School, we looked at the 8 Stages of Genocide, for direction and inspiration.... Stage six is Preparation:

6.   PREPARATION:  Victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity.  Death lists are drawn up.  Members of victim groups are forced to wear identifying symbols.  Their property is expropriated.  They are often segregated into ghettoes, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved.  At this stage, a Genocide Emergency must be declared.  If the political will of the great powers, regional alliances, or the U.N. Security Council can be mobilized, armed international intervention should be prepared, or heavy assistance provided to the victim group to prepare for its self-defense.  Otherwise, at least humanitarian assistance should be organized by the U.N. and private relief groups for the inevitable tide of refugees to come.

Quotes from The 8 Stages of Genocide by Gregory Stanton, President of Genocide Watch.

Friday, 5 June 2009


As part of the 'Eyebright' pilot project during our artist residency at Delamere Forest School, we looked at the 8 Stages of Genocide, for direction and inspiration.... Stage five is Polarization:

5. POLARIZATION: Extremists drive the groups apart. Hate groups broadcast polarizing propaganda. Laws may forbid intermarriage or social interaction. Extremist terrorism targets moderates, intimidating and silencing the center. Moderates from the perpetrators’ own group are most able to stop genocide, so are the first to be arrested and killed. Prevention may mean security protection for moderate leaders or assistance to human rights groups. Assets of extremists may be seized, and visas for international travel denied to them. Coups d’état by extremists should be opposed by international sanctions.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009


As part of the 'Eyebright' pilot project during our artist residency at Delamere Forest School, we looked at the 8 Stages of Genocide, for direction and inspiration.... Stage four is Organization:

4. ORGANIZATION: Genocide is always organized, usually by the state, often using militias to provide deniability of state responsibility (the Janjaweed in Darfur.) Sometimes organization is informal (Hindu mobs led by local RSS militants) or decentralized (terrorist groups.) Special army units or militias are often trained and armed. Plans are made for genocidal killings. To combat this stage, membership in these militias should be outlawed. Their leaders should be denied visas for foreign travel. The U.N. should impose arms embargoes on governments and citizens of countries involved in genocidal massacres, and create commissions to investigate violations, as was done in post-genocide Rwanda.

Quotes from The 8 Stages of Genocide by Gregory Stanton, President of Genocide Watch.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

About everything | philip davenport, 2009

About everything | philip davenport, 2009

Printed book
22cm x 22cm

About everything is an elegy for power brokers and mass-production, it was constructed from a years-worth of newspapers, reordered and reshaped. The titles of ancient dictators - high-ranking officials from Rome, Russia, the medieval church - replace our contemporary Presidents and celebrities. As the poem progresses, words are replaced with zeroes, holes. Verses are parallelled with Davenport's photos and fragments of a sound score by Ben Gwilliam.

Design and type-setting is by artist Darren Marsh. The poem was devised by cross-column reading and can be read either vertically or horizontally, so that each verse has many possible paths through it. The images and the words vie for attention – as in news reportage – to make conflicts of meaning.

Available from http://www.applepie-editions.co.uk/


As part of the 'Eyebright' pilot project during our artist residency at Delamere Forest School, we looked at the 8 Stages of Genocide, for direction and inspiration.... Stage three is Dehumanisation:

3. DEHUMANIZATION: One group denies the humanity of the other group. Members of it are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder. At this stage, hate propaganda in print and on hate radios is used to vilify the victim group. In combating this dehumanization, incitement to genocide should not be confused with protected speech. Genocidal societies lack constitutional protection for countervailing speech, and should be treated differently than democracies. Local and international leaders should condemn the use of hate speech and make it culturally unacceptable. Leaders who incite genocide should be banned from international travel and have their foreign finances frozen. Hate radio stations should be shut down, and hate propaganda banned. Hate crimes and atrocities should be promptly punished.