Friday, 29 June 2012

The dark cell

Phil writes:

Mornings at The Big Issue office, we talk with vendors who come in for magazines to sell. It's a lottery who will appear and what mood they're in, how up or down. Today Chris crossed the door; he's been wrapped in a depressive cloud and below he describes the dark shapeshifting of depression with a clear-eye.  

These morning sessions are informal -  we've left them loose, without a defined workshop structure - so that the nature of the encounters with people is less boundaried than the afternoons at The Booth Centre. Lois sits in the office, embroidering the quilt textwork and chatting to folk as they appear. I join these conversations, or else accompany Nathan on his outreach walks, gleaning little interviews and artistic contributions. It is in the quiet moments, in the gaps between the needs and noise of a large group, that people can speak most freely.


With depression you know what you need to do, but your body just won't do it. I've had spells of it, but never like this. It's been two months, really getting me. I can't put it down to any any specific things. All the pressure building, all the concerns not being solved. I need to let off steam and I know that's gotta come and I've gotta deal with it. Get rid of some tension. I used to play football, work in a charity shop, sell the magazine. Now I can't find the strength. In a couple of hours I could be back in bed. Never had medication before; now I have pills and I'm seeing a psych.

I've pushed it all back, now it's finally coming to get me. It's like being in a cell that's pitch black and you don't have the key. You have to rely on someone to find the key. Maybe it's myself? Big, black empty: all you can see. Have to keep on going, get through it. Pitch-black cell, no walls, no door - can't see them cos of the dark. Not a nice place to be.

Sometimes I break down, can't do the things I love doing, or hate doing. If I could go out and do anything that'd be a bonus. I have a good memory, but it's waning, forgetting names and things, that's not normally my day-to-day. Medication has improved it, I take it at night. But in the day it'll dwindle, I wake and fell totally drained.

Had a lot of positivity from Christians and from my best mate. He was getting cross cos I wasn't in touch, wouldn't answer my mobile. Last week I met up with him and had a drinking session.

You can't really describe depression; you try to explain it but can't get a grip. I had a heartattack last year and that was less frightening. This goes on, day after day waking to it. Got to a point where I've considered suicide. You know we've had a couple of homeless suicides recently? God helps, I pray a lot. Take each day, but I just don't wanna open my eyes to see my life.

Emptiness, loneliness and being lost - the whole of civilisation is gone and I'm just one solo little person.

Thursday, 28 June 2012


The sessions at the Booth Centre homeless drop-in have become a tight focus of emotional intensity, as well as energy and creative making. As ever, we use the doorway of memory to enter a creative state. There's a rawness to these reminiscences at the Booth, because the remembering often comes with such a strong mix of regret and anger. But through those layers shines great, intense desire for living - however many clouds hang overhead, or however scarred the landscape it inhabits. Even in the middle of despair there is also joke-cracking and pleasure in shared experience. Writing this now, it feels impossible to catch the quality of these afternoons in words; even when we've faithfully recorded the words of all in the room. The quality of the atmosphere jumps from person to person, moment to moment, almost itself like a whirling child's game.


shelter: helti-skelter

take shelter

two or three years ago

built a den in a car park


king-size mattresses

Sister Lucy and Angela destroyed it cos

said the residents didn't like it

said the police complained


pouring rain dancing rain pouncing rain

getting cardboard making dens on the old

playing field, playing marbles to take over the best

go to the wasteland

bomb-dollars, all the material around you

the lads find wood, the girls find

slates to write in chalk

oh that pouring touring rain

ever play stepping-stones, hopscotch

in derelict roof-spaces?

a sheet against the wall

in the summer sheds

our hideouts, always in the summer sheds

the old mills of Salford

find a small room

cosy it up

cover it up

a secret entrance

there are more questions than answers

when I was age 10

moved to the countryside, moved to the Fens

farmers' kids for friends

kept dogs, rabbits, all sorts

hidden in the orchard

playing cards

gambled for matchsticks, smoked


whatever you could get your hands on

used to go shooting

(not peasants, put an h in it)

in the near field

an old farm hut

we met

girls bring curtains, boys nick stuff from home

told our parents we were camping

did our revising that summer

one day got there from school

the farmer had knocked it down


all those friends



long grass next to a brook

a turn in the river

old carpet for a roof


covered in bites


next to a stream

Angel Meadow

paupers graveyard

found a skeleton

with women's clothing

age 12 or 13

a tree-house

a ladder of nails



and sit

didn't know what to do when we got

to the top

to school with holes in my shoes

to school with wax-paper in my shoes

to school with cardboard in my shoes


they'd rap your knuckles.

rain pain take the strain

you British Bulldogs

one side against the other

knock the door and run away

play chicken

spin the bottle, pennies up against a wall

pooh sticks

tales of the Manchester riverbank

oh city blessed with canals

catch a friend


and run after em.

Group poem Booth Centre

22 June 2012

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

dodging the police

As part of the project Working Memories, yesterday was spent with the group 60 Not Out, based at New Mills Volunteer Centre. I worked with a large, lively and very talkative group, the only frustration was I could have spent an afternoon with any one individual... there was so much to learn.  I did however get wonderful glimpses of their work life.

Mildred was a very respectable looking women, who quietly told me about her early career as a bookmakers runner, she was rather embarrassed at times, particularly about collecting money from the many Mills that were in existence round here at the times (many of the others in the group had worked in the Mills or had had family working there) This was a time when most women's starting wage for £1 and a few shillings a week.

Mildred: Left school and started at 14, I was a bookmakers runner, I spent my youth dodging the police. It was illegal and I knew it very well. If a man lost on the horses he wouldn’t pay, if you wanted a bet you were supposed to pay the day after, do you think they would pay the next day if they had lost? The police also would have a bet. There were always police walking about, if a police man was stood outside the Beehive Pub wouldn’t go in.

I covered a lot of ground, carrying several hundred pounds in my shopping bag so I looked innocent. On big days, like the Grand National, it would be so much, all silver collected, my hands were filthy at the end of the day. My father was the bookmaker, collected quite a lot of locally, most of the money from Buxton, so had to go to Buxton two times a day from New Mills on the train. At 17 my father gave me driving lessons and I drove around which made things easier.

Men bet on the horses, and we also ran the football coupons, it was difficult to predict the football coupons. My father had an agent in every Mill round here, the agent would collect money from all the men there, and put it in a bag clicked shut with a clock- so when I picked up the bag I could calculate when they had clocked off- in case people tried to get a bet on knowing the result. The clock stopped that.

When my father retired I became a signal woman, I didn’t want a normal job, I answered an ad for the job ‘I’ll take you in this box and if you can move these levers you can stay’ they said. I was only 7 and a half stone, but managed it, it was a knack to do it.

Monday, 25 June 2012

a mans man

arthur+martha is working at a 'Buddy Cafe' for people diagnosed with dementia - and their carers - in Salford. We're bringing together the stories of the many people involved. Some of these pieces are interviews, others creative work.  This project is in partnership with Age Concern Salford and Salford PCT. Here a carer for her brother discusses the Buddy Cafe and it's impact on the family:

It's company for D, otherwise he's stuck in the house by himself. They do men's things over there. For me it means D's is mixing with men that are similar, (with dementia) he's always been a mans man, interested in football, darts etc, so he's getting that interaction. It gives his daughter/carer a break, she can relax, he's in a safe environment, has something to eat, drink, she knows he's enjoyed it. If the was home all day, he would be on his own, get depressed. 

He hasn't many friends, doesn't have any really, because people don't understand the condition, they cant hold a normal conversation with people with dementia, they don't have the patience. But here they do. They talk. And even for me when I help out here, it gives me the motivation to get up and do things. I've got a lot of health problems myself. It's nice to interact socially with these ladies in the morning and D in the afternoon. I didn't realise it was so much fun. He's not needy when he comes here, I can watch him interacting, see a different side of him.

I try to help out here when I can. I'm not always physically able. The staff are lovely, being here gives you an insight to the condition. Their all at different stages of dementia. It can be scary also- is this what's to come? To think what he could be like? That's why it's important to retain as much independence, with him being with the men. 

I brought J today, known him for years and this morning he wouldn't get in the car because he didn't recognise me. Must be hard for him.

Need more places like this, places that don't cost a fortune. Their communicating, interacting with people and me to...I would be just sat at home feeling sorry for myself. The laughter lifts your spirits, lifts your mood, makes you realise everyone else has problems, some worse than you. A lot of the activities are fun things, not like going to a speech therapist or psychologist  who can be regimented, here your stimulating the brain without thinking about it. Your not making them do things, it's treatment without drugs, it's funs.

Sometimes feel its a bit sad. Its been a bit more recognised with stuff in the press, shame it had to be the big tv personalities that have to do it. If you haven't had to deal with it with your own family then you don't think about it. Their locked in a world, whether it's the past or whatever it is. There's not a straight forward way to forward way to treat it, it's a complex thing. A lot of carers are saints to cope with it 24/7. Something positive is happening about it here.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

blue the sky

'Cold, the stabbing, the edge its got to be bleak. Gloomy your lonely, if your lonely no doubt your depressed, no support. I was walking down the road, someone had given me directions to Mac Donalds, it was a long road- I stopped for a moment, and couldn't decide which way I had come from and which way I was going. I was delirious from the cold. Danger. You toughen up, I don't know if thats a good thing. I could be out on the street all the time now, quite happy, you hack it. Its hard sleeping rough, hard.

When I was a kid I spent a night in Wales, the weather was horrible, me, my brother and sister spent ages splashing around in the river, it was freezing, but it was a good cold. I was lucky at the time, warm.' Anon.

Joao and Claire
Last week at the Big Issue Offices and The Booth Centre, Claire and I worked with participants gathering their thoughts on the pleasure and pain of warmth and cold. Lines from these reflections were then selected and written onto either the denim for the quilt, or onto ceramics for painting.

'Blue the Sky. I took 56 Sleeping Pills, 56 like a lobster. They said 'stay here, we need to take it out of your blood' I said 'F off, get off,' and I left... vooom  (Joao)

Peter with decorated cup

Many of our encounters are really moving and incredibly frank- people cut to the chase. Their life experiences can sometimes shocking, often expounded in a matter of fact manner, with a show of  British stiff upper lip.

William painting his cup

Next week the next stage begins, the ceramics will be finished off, fired, then photographed, exhibited and in time given back to the participants...

Thursday, 21 June 2012

take a sip, burn your lip

This piece was group-written in the midst of the ceramics session at Booth Centre homeless drop-in last week. It threads through our warm/cold discussions with another underlying theme: how does it feel to be on the outside? To be looking in, unseen?

take a sip, burn your lip

when I was first homeless
lying on my back
B+B in Openshaw
full of people injecting, leaving needles
closed my feelings off
scary people
food disgusting
crumpets and melted cheese in the microwave
lying on my back waiting
nowhere to go

inner outer
where abouter?

got my rucksack
and walked thru Manchester
carried on thru hills and trees and fields
trees and roads and hills
that no longer feel
didn't know where I was going
sat down and cried

take a sip
burn your lip

I can feel
bent needles, blind stitching
I used to make teddy bears
(it's knowing how to stitch is the thing
how to mend)
I have stitched the seating in pubs
I was good with my hands
I painted this room
now it's a struggle to draw
it's a struggle to eat
people don't know how depressed I am
I'm nearly underground
they've been in my heart twice

in out, whereabout?

waiting for a place to live
on the forms they ask me everything
I tell the truth
I say I'm an alcoholic
but you won't see me fall over

hand on heart I'm alright
I've many friends
the traffic wardens, the police
I know some good people
they all talk to me

people are made horrible because
of what life's done
people become horrible back
vengeful, no longer part of society
if you're hungry, you're angry
if you're starving you're angry
angry in total
you're a millionaire
you don't even know it:
a word is more than money

inner out where abouter
lying on my bed
I take it
I take it because I have to
hand on heart I'm alright.

Group poem
Booth Centre June 2012

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Marjorie Reid: soft shoe shuffle

Members of the buddy cafe in Swinton, have been sharing with Phil and I their memories..These pieces will form part of a collection of poems, interviews and artworks that attempt to reflect what its like living with dementia. Last week I was very excited to meet a new member of the group the remarkable Marjorie:

'Once you've done soft shoe shuffle you never forget, soft shoe shuffle, used to start off with that-everyone does.' 

I was in the theatre business dancing with my twin sister, toured all over- Scotland, Wales all over we went. Acrobatic and dancing, in theatres in Manchester everywhere, The Reid Twins. I lost my twin sister she died a few years ago. We worked so many, Manchester Empire, in variety shows, worked with a lot of top of the bills. When I I was younger we stayed in digs, then worked from Skegness as we got older. 

We had an imaginary mirror, my sister worked the front, I worked the back (I was always a bit weightier than my sister) we called it Mirror Fantasy. We made all our own costumes, made everything in those days to save money. Couldn't afford the big money for dress makers.

We traveled on our own, aged 14 when we started traveling. Went behind the iron curtain during the war, worked for the troops.

Had an agent from the West End, he did the bookings for us, his office in Hyde Park. My father wanted us to go into the business, he always wanted to be in the business himself, but never was. He worked at the Ford Motor Company in Dagenham,  Essex.

Just me and my sister aged 14. We wanted to go abroad, we where fed up going around Dagenham and Essex, so that's what we did. Father wanted us to go into the business, he was a frustrated signer.  We did our own act, Manchester, Scotland and Wales, behind the Iron Curtain during the war to entertain the troops, used to see them walking down the road doing the Goose Step. We got bookings everywhere, just contacted the agent and they booked us in. 
The Reid Twins, acrobatic reflections

We worked to get where we were, we did our own act, we didn't want to mix with other groups. We worked all the theatres, in London The Windmill Theatre, played there about four times. That's the one, 'we never close' the sign said in the war. Had the nudes there, (statues more than anything else) the singers, the dancers and the comedians. That was our life. 5 or 6 shows a day, hard work but we enjoyed it. A variety artist, as well as a comedian, and a singer to break it up, The Windmill Theatre in the West End. Worked with all the top of the bills, Bob Hope and quite a few.

Connie's husband was Jacko Fossett (the Fossett's were one of the biggest names in clowning. He toured with us when need be. 

We worked with Little Billy Merchant, a nice sort of midget, a really lovely person. We used to do Christmas at Belle Vue, did all the comedy. Billy was Jacko's partner. Nobody told us what to do, we had brains and used them. Once you've been in the theatre business you have to stick in it. Tap, acrobatics and tumberling. 

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

warm/&/the cold textiles

As part of the project 'the warm/&/the/cold, we have been working with students from the Textiles BA Course at Manchester Metropolitan University. Six of the students have been selected to develop their beautiful samples into quilts that will be given to the homeless people we're working with during this project as they are re-housed. Below are a selection of the students work.

Harriet's sample patchwork

Alice's comfort a warm feeling

India's cut-out sample

Lucy's sample based on tweet

Michele's embroidered samples

Eleanor's embroidered feather sample

students from the BA course

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

are you rubbing my back?

Members of the buddy cafe in Swinton, discuss friendships and what the club means to them...These pieces will form part of a collection of poems, interviews and artworks that attempt to reflect what its like living with dementia. 

Joyce: I enjoy it very much, nice people, everybody's happy. Been coming here for years, I met Barbara here and set it off. Always been friendly with people, I help when I can. My daughter says to me calm down your 81 now, I say calm down I'm going to calm up! Have loads of laughs here.

Sue: I don't make friends, I just automatically come and talk to people.

Barbara: you look forward to coming here, go to the other as well at Humphry Booth. Do all sorts there, when your around people and meet people it helps you. All talking and having a laugh, at home your just sat there watching telly on your own.

Joyce: nice when you can go with all the other people, have a chat, speak to other people

Mary Dancing

Joyce (2) it means a lot coming here,  I used to shake- I'm doing better now, it feels great. I've only been coming a few weeks, love it. Not doing anything else.

Pauline: nice when you can go with all the other people, have a chat, speak to other people, keeping you busy. A bit of everything keeps your brain going. I think it's such and such a day today, you look forward to it.

Joyce: a lot of new people can feel frightened, so we welcome then in. Mary Ann's a lovely person, she really is. Keeping you occupied.

Barbara: all the years we've been here nothing nasty has ever happened. I get up about 6.30 and I've done all my hovering before I come out. 

domino poem

Joyce: I lost my husband, I've got to go out, otherwise I don't know what I'd do. When I first came here I didn't know anyone, but everyone's so friendly. In the afternoon we have the men come In here, give them their dinners, they appreciate that. They don't bother us.

My son looks forward to me coming here, he's happy that I'm happy. He's been on today  'you know what it is today mum?

Barbara and Joyce : I couldn't not come here, I can't wait for it to come, to have a chat and talk to people (are you rubbing my back?) Friendship= happiness. People come in and they don't know anyone, in a fortnight we all know each other. Your not thinking, your having a laugh, it's not like when your own your own. It helps your health, a good smile makes you. When your at a low edge, go out, if your down in the dumps it helps you.

Dawn (a volunteer) It's a different thing for each person, and they deteriorate at different rates. It's the unknowns that's the scary thing. My mum had dementia before she passed away, she needed a lot of care.

Vera (a carer) it's a God send coming here for David, he loves it. That's why we keep coming back.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Harry the tramp

Recently I spent the day in Bakewell, on my solo project 'working memories'. Reminiscence came in thick and fast, continuing conversations about financial hardships, and first jobs. A parallel with the arthur+martha project 'the warm and the cold' came with memories of 'Harry the Tramp'.

Harry © Derek Doar (please do not reproduce this image without permission)

Flora: The tramps, some of them had a tin can, others you’d put the tea in a bottle for them. They’d stay one night or two at the Workhouse, then they had to move on. Number 3 Baslow Road, that was the address. My mother would say ‘if you spend all your money you’ll end up at 3 Baslow Road’.

Harry © Derek Doar (please do not reproduce this image without permission) 

Mother used to say I wonder if they’d put a cross on the house. They’d often put a sigh on the gate ‘beware of the dog’ if they didn’t want the tramps coming. One used to live in the caves in the rocks for years, on Baslow Road, going towards Chesterfield, just below the Robin Hood. Harry the tramp, he died in Newholme Hospital.  Harry the tramp at Baslow. A great long beard, he lived there for years, all weathers. He would light a fire. If you were on the bus, you would strain your neck, look to see if Harry was there.

Madge: and one used to sleep in the barn near me, no trouble at all.

The stunning photos of Harry where taken by the photographer Derek Doar, who has kindly given me permission to use them for this blog. He writes about his encounter with Harry:  I came across Harry Greenwood at Baslow in Derbyshire some years ago.

In this image you can see his long hair poking out of the hood of his duffle coat where it has been worn away by putting his head down on the compacted earth in a local farmers small outbuilding where he slept. I have sat and talked to Harry on numerous occasions and found his hard looking exterior to contain a most gentle person.

At one point in his life he lived in Robin Hoods Cave under Stanage Edge only eventually to be driven out by local hooligans. He was given a small outbuilding to live in by a local farmer at Baslow where he spent his final days. He developed a leg infection which turned gangrenous. He was taken into hospital where he was told if his leg wasn't amputated he would die. Harry knew that if he allowed the operation it would mean a long stay in hospital and he knew that meant being away from his outdoor life and his farm animal friends. Harry made his choice and refused the operation.

Pawnbrokers, Mono Print. Lois Blackburn

Flora: Three balls on the pawn shop sign. When you took something to pawn, they would give you quarter value. Think the pawn broker in Chesterfield was called Nicksons. My Grandma pawned jewelry, rings mostly. A diamond one and an emerald ring, 5 little stones in a line, one larger in the middle. I was never allowed to wear the jewelry in case I lost it. Now I can wear it, it won’t fit me, just slips of my finger.


Thursday, 7 June 2012

warm your bones

As part of the project the warm/&/the cold we have been working on poems with participants from The Big Issue and The Booth Centre in Manchester. Snippets of these reflections on the life of homeless people are being embroidered onto fabric and painted onto ceramics, to be gifted back to the group at the end of the project. Warm your bones, examines the warmth food can bring...

warm your bones

first month I was homeless
I was helpless
didn’t know where to go
walked all day to find shelter
they let me soak my feet
that’s where I felt it first
being invited into

the warmth of company
a friendly company
giving food
a loving warmth
(words can paint a picture
better than a picture)
the pictures are better
when I eat jam bread

reminds me of being in a kids’ home
jammy brown bread
and milky cocoa
toast and a glass of milk
it’s that inner warmth
with cheese on top

I like porridge thick
clogs the sink, Quaker or Scots
cold milk poured on the hot
sugar soaking in
rice pudding brings me to childhood
with skin on top
apple crumble

it’s that long since I tasted apple crumble
soup with croutons
fried and they melt in your
beef broth, scotch broth
rip our bread into squares
tripe and onion
have a haggis

delivering food hot
to the elderly I always got
a warm welcome
a feel-good, a food warmth
it’s been a long time

got problems with my nerves
at the moment find it hard
to hold a pan
or carry a kettle
scalded myself three times
find it hard to be kind to myself
to think of myself as worth anything
at all

when you’re really hungry
and you eat at last
you feel it
in the mind
the 1940s, 50s, 60s
that massive poverty
social, economic, history
it’s been so long
since I had some.

Group poem
Booth Centre
18 May 2012

text from St Helens

I've recently had some very useful feedback from Parr Care Home, for our pilot project 'text from Grandma'.

Texts have been sent out to relatives by the care home, of short lines of poetic reminiscence, the relative is then encouraged to text back with their own memories. They have had a collection of texts returned, however have struggled to get many mobile phone numbers, particularly from Grandchildren- as they just don't see so many Grandchildren- its sons and daughters that visit more often.

The success has been with the blog I set up for them. The relatives are really enjoying seeing what their mother, father, aunt or uncle has been doing. Particularly those who live further away. Its easy to share the address with relatives, and they have even printed of pages of the blog and posted them on the notice board.

The workshops have also given the home some good ideas for other projects, 'we've had no end of new ideas, like the Jubilee cakes we've just made with everyone, a three tiered cake, which was inspired by your last session cake decorating' Joanne.

It feels like we have a lot of ideas and good practice to build on for future projects. Our last sessions of this pilot will be later this month.