Friday, 26 June 2015

The last word

SKY THAT HARBORS HEAVEN (detail) J. Rothenberg

Phil writes:

We all want to be heard, be valued, be loved. The Understanding the Ritual exhibition at The Storey gallery in Lancaster, is now in its final couple of days and the artists in it (including myself) will have to take our work down and hide it away again, in studios, or cupboards or under beds. It's always a sad moment, but I'm also aware of how very lucky we are are to have a chance to showcase and show-off in the first place.

These shots above and below were taken while I was invigilating yesterday. I'm delighted to be in an exhibition with the octogenarian poet Jerome Rothenberg, Gaye Black (aka punk rock icon Gaye Advert) and the irrepressible Pete Flowers who curated - plus many other good folks. My sister Finella and I (under the name The Gingerbread Tree) exhibited our bookwork The Practical Senior Teacher, an old school textbook which we've been 30 years making/destroying with collages, fire, paint. Jerry Rothenberg's poem The Sky That Harbors Heaven was the only textwork in the show - and my close-up photo of a line from the poem gives Jerry the last word...

Paintings by Pete Flowers and Geoff Parr.

SENIOR PRACTICAL TEACHER, Finella & Phil Davenport

UNDERSTANDING THE RITUAL exhibition at The Storey, Lancaster.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

How do you define POOR?

Our session at the Booth Centre this week was unusual because it centred around a discussion rather than creative making. The discussion was between our participants, many of whom are homeless people, and Zelda Baveystock, who has the role of Social Historian for The Homeless Library project. Zelda brought us information about the Poor Laws, which have an anniversary this week. From this discussion, with the group of project participants, we then ranged across the many issues that Zelda raised - particularly who is responsible for the poor?

Artist book for The Homeless Library

This was the first time we'd run a discussion for The Homeless Library and it was therefore a bit rough and ready, but it was passionate. There were raised voices, uncomfortable silences, anger and there were some tears too. We would like to thank all who took part from the bottom of our hearts. This was no easy ride and we were very touched that people trusted us enough to sit down with us and open their lives.

Among the things that caught my ear was a very simple (but very complex) attempt at a definition.  We went around the table and asked participants, in turn, to define "poor". These are their answers, as I jotted them down.

People with nothing, they're the poor.

I'm poor, but I still manage to have a good meal. There's people worse off than me.

I don't think "poor" qualifies in Britain - you have rich poor. You don't die of no food. Go somewhere else and you see what's poor.

You'd have to go to India for that one. A lot of children on street corners hanging onto their mum's string ties...

Children living on the streets. I've seen quite a few.

I lived in the Philippines, that was poor. Kids washing cars for money. On every corner like that (hand out).

There is no such thing as love and there is no such thing as poverty. It's how YOU define it.

To be poor you have to have a low standard of living in relation to the others in your community. The poor in this country are rich in relation to the poor in other countries.

The poor - disabled people and especially homeless people and also people who have committed crime and been cut off from many, many things.

Can be anyone. Could happen to anyone. Broken marriage, or losing a job, it can happen to anyone. Then you're just surviving.  

The full conversation was recorded and will be kept as part of the archive of The Homeless Library. We intend to run several of these discussions over the course of the project, with the hope that insights can be gained into the past - and some things learned that might help our shared futures.

Artist book for the Homeless Library

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

Monday, 15 June 2015


During the 1980s and 90s, Phil and his sister Finella played music and made collages in a band called The Gingerbread Tree. A selection of the collages titled The Practical Senior Teacher will be published soon by Knives Forks and Spoons press and meanwhile the music is gradually being uploaded on YouTube as an online archive. The latest, is Burnt.

Phil writes:

Our family did much of its growing up in Northern Ireland (Finella was born there) at a time of civil war. I find that watching any war footage brings memories of that weird semi-war, my own personal interior footage. As a family we got away un-shot, un-beaten, un-raped. But the disquiet always is there when I see pictures of a war, be it Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, wherever. If it is associated with unfairness or bullying, the disquiet turns into a blaze of anger. It rarely gets the oxygen of release, because the feelings are so unsettling. In this song, the anger comes cotton-wrapped in the gentleness of Finella's voice, Catherine's violin.

Damian and I rehearsed the acoustic guitars sitting in my parents' garden, him on the rhythm part which frogmarches everything along. It seemed appropriate that we played Burnt there because it is a telling in a far-off way of family history. The video for this track is made with collaged images from the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts, but the song is more general. It's trying to balance up two basic human needs: defiance against survival. All the firepower in the world can't hurt you if you yourself are made of flames.

Finella Davenport vox
Philip Davenport acoustic gtr, keys, backing vox
Damian Lawrence, acoustic gtr
Catherine Carrara, violins
Paul Dillon, production

For more from The Gingerbread Tree go to:
The Gingerbread Tree on YouTube
Playlists of related material:
The Margaret Thatcher Museum
Collage of Heck

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

A survivors story

Lois writes:

The following is an account of child sexual abuse.  It still affects every aspect G’s life 45 plus years on.  I’m not a journalist, or counsellor, but I felt a great duty to tell her story with respect, honestly and do her words justice. What the words alone cannot convey is the great emotional effort and courage it took G to tell her story, tears flowed.

As ever with our interviews, at the end it was read through and approved by the interviewee. From the start, G was positive that she wanted her story to be shared. That in sharing it might in some way help others, other survivors of sexual abuse - and invite a wider public to bear witness.

We also felt this account was an important one for the Homeless Library, because this unsaid story is very often mentioned by other homeless people we have met, who haven’t felt comfortable to describe it further. This is some of the unkindest history of all. Even as she told this account, G was trying to protect the reader, saying that some people might find this difficult to read.

G's printed triangles, for the project 'The Homeless Library'.


What happened to me- a lot of people in my situation would turn to drink or drugs.

As a small child I was sexually abused by my birth father. When it happens you’re controlled, manipulated by that person. You don’t know any different. Those are the people who are supposed to teach you right from wrong, trust as well. For decades growing up it was a taboo subject, you couldn’t discuss it.

I don’t know what my mum knew. I must have been when I was 6 or 7 when I tried to tell my mum- my dad was playing with my bottom- found it hard to articulate. My dads excuse was as I wet the bed (common in those being abused) he had to wash me down before school.  I suspect she knew but didn’t want to face it. She wasn’t strong enough, didn’t want to face it, didn’t want to rock the boat. When I was 8 or 9, my mum was pregnant, he was still doing it to me then, My dad was quite good at manipulating.

I first asked a friend of mine when I was 9 years old if her father did these things to her. The abuse continued till my periods started.

There was a time in my teenage years that my father said ‘if you come home pregnant, I’d be out of the door.’ I went a little bit do-lally in my teens, did it to get back at my dad.

My dad never showed any affection. I never remember hugs, anything from him at all. No praise. He projected his own low self esteem, everything was negative.

Part of me is immature. My survival instincts must be greater than other survivors though, I have always been responsible. There are two ways you can go as a survivor, over responsible or fall apart and take drink and drugs to block the pain. Decades after the abuse you can’t recall the physical pain, it’s the emotional pain. I suspect that 100% of survivors have anxiety and depression.

If your self worth goes, if you have negative input about yourself about the way you look, that nobody believes you, your self worth becomes non-existent. A form of self protection, weight gain and not wanting to be attractive- not wanting to draw attention to yourself in a sexual way.

My husband dumped me in 2002, from abroad over the phone. I was in shock, in denial. Subliminally I did expect it, but I was still in shock. My family deserted me, my siblings, they didn’t want to know as soon as I mentioned anxiety and depression. Depression it’s a normal thing for survivors to have. Mental health issues. From then on I’ve had to deal with everything myself.

In 2010 when I was 54 I went to a specialist place Aurora Health Foundation. When I had my counselling, I had it explained to me that I over trusted people- since I didn’t have a trust model- I didn’t know who to trust who not to. Since then I discovered a report called ‘Survivor to Thriver’ that’s helped me enormously. It discus’s your character and personality that remains under-developed because of what’s happened to you. Relationships are effected, understanding about relationships, parental relationships. People view me as someone who has got it together, but that’s a mask. Part of my character is underdeveloped- conditioning and taught behaviour, its nothing to do with intelligence.

I am fighting now to get my life back. Professional people saw me as careless, I wanted to be carefree and think in a different way, I had never taken risks till 2004. So for me at the moment I’m fighting to get my life back- and learning the hard way.

All the fights I have at the moment are with the big organisations, everything I did between 2004 and 2008 was a complete disaster, I lost 50 thousand of my pension. Had problems with my mortgage, it was as if I was trying to be a different person and it backfired. I cant give up. I’m doing it, I’m doing it.

Because it was a taboo subject people felt ashamed. But its not your fault. But there’s not the help you need. All the focus is on the offenders not the survivors.

When he was dying I used to go round and care for him. People said why? I was hoping he would bring the subject up and say sorry- but he never referred to it.  I never felt like a grown up whilst I was around him, I always felt like a child- he was a figure of absolute fear for me.

I have had an overwhelming sense of responsibility that stopped me taking drink and drugs,  but I cant let go- live life. I have to control my life, have to have self control.

If people are drinking an taking drugs because of abuse they don’t just need help with the substance abuse, but the abuse. There are charities to help, for instance ‘Unity and Hope’  and ‘NAPAC ’  but they are short of funds, and given the scale of whats appearing in the public domain… Its not just counselling, its learning to live, be tactile, learning to touch. People need to experience positive affirmations of touch.

Historically this goes across every level of society, the strong playing on the weak. I believe my father was abused, but I could never do it to anyone else. The damage that it does when its happening and the emotional scars that last all your life. Even surviors that have become successful people are driven by it- deflect their emotions.

When I read this- the realisation- its acknowledging what I’ve been through, it brings emotions to your head, part of the healing, acceptance, moving on.
The present attitude towards perpetrators is much better than when I was a child.

The only fix for me is dealing with it straight on, like this. You raise your awareness of yourself and raise your self esteem. 

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

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Warmth and Happiness

What does the word 'Comfort' mean to you? for our group: warmth and happiness, whether that was a warm duvet, bath and bed, dressing gown and slippers, a nice comfy chair. Basic human needs, heart felt and very moving when shared by people some of whom will be sleeping rough tonight.

Words were translated into line drawings/diagrams, which were in turn embroidered onto fabric- to be made into a book at a latter date for the project The Homeless Library.  I was nervous about today's session,  how would the group respond to embroidery? I shouldn't have worried, everyone, joined in, including the volunteers.

"I've not done sewing for 20 years, I wasn't sure about it at first, but I've really enjoyed it, good fun- I'd recommend this.' Mark.

The session finished with requests to carry on the work another day.  Thanks to all the Booth Centre volunteers and Melanie for giving up their time today to help.

The wind is getting up, the rain is starting again. I'm going to appreciate my nice warm bed just a bit more tonight.

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

Monday, 1 June 2015


Over the duration of our time at The Wellspring Stockport, Phil has concentrated on interviewing contributors to The Homeless Library. But some poems have also been made...


Speaks in tongues
Gives you years
That the locusts have eaten
The messed up life
The gutter

I will supper with you
Don't snub, bring
Blessings anew
Each morning

Shining like a diamond
The world washes over you.


March 2015

Folded book being made for the project 'The Homeless Library'

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