Darwin – Darwen (Freudian slip?)

I was quite delighted last night when checking my posts and someone had hit on my painting Lunch at the Natural History Museum, subtitled Darwin Ponders Evolution, except that I had actually written Darwen! Shock, horror – I know my spelling isn’t the best, but I usually manage Darwin.

Perhaps it was indeed a Freudian slip as my borough council is Blackburn with Darwen. Maybe Darwen is pondering the evolution of the town and I’m afraid I don’t know it well enough to comment, but personally I think it has survived pretty well unscathed by the town planners. Unlike Blackburn, which has suffered the most appalling architectural disasters since the 60s. My partner, Paul, was incensed by this, as he was a native of the town and some of the disasters made him weep. He was a member of the Civic Society, to no avail – and my letters to various people on his behalf, largely fell upon deaf ears (or perhaps that should read, ‘unseeing eyes’).

Darwen, on the other hand, still has several magnificent buildings that haven’t been demolished to make way for soulless concrete towers. Though it does have its towers – the famous landmark Darwen Jubilee Tower on Beacon Hill and the 303 ft high (Grade II listed) tower of India Mill. I’ve just found some wonderful photos of it on the website of Francis Firth. I would have inserted a couple here, but was fearful of infringing the copyright laws so thought better of it. Continue reading


Tockholes Big Picnic with the amazing Swing Commanders, Fags and the Glastonbury Umbrella!

I’m a bit late with this one, but before it fades into the dim distance,  just a quick mention. The build-up to the picnic in a Tockholes field was rain, rain and torrential rain. Consequently the field was awash and Farmer John offered up his barn for the occasion. What an evening! The rain came down in torrents just as we left home and the wind blew us away, but the barn was snug and warm and beautifully decorated by the usual team of helpers. A few fairy lights and the odd floodlight helped brighten the darkness, it was magical. Then the band started. Wow! Their reputation had preceded them and boy were they great! People were on their feet immediately, including the several teenagers, young children and geriatrics including myself. It was the best fun you can imagine – and certainly the best real barn dance! The first time ever that I’ve spent several hours dancing in wellies – and they were so unnecessary as the barn was bone dry. There was even a livestock trailer for the smokers!

The Glastonbury Head Umbrella Amost Blows Away

The Glastonbury Head Umbrella Amost Blows Away

Luis & Adrienne Take a Fag Break as the Rain Pours Down

Luis & Adrienne Take a Fag Break as the Rain Pours Down

The Fag Break

The Fag Break

Rt Hon Jack Straw, MP for Blackburn with Darwen (former Foreign Secretary)

Call Me 'Jack'

Call Me ‘Jack’

You may already know that Jack Straw is my MP. A few years ago I attended my first residents meeting with him and was fascinated at how animated he was (previously having only seen him on TV when being interviewed by the likes of John Humphrys or Jeremy Paxman, when he would invariably be on the defensive). Not only was he of a much livelier personality – he also bore an extraordinary likeness to my dad and his brothers (not one in particular, but a mixture of them all), to a point where I could imagine him ‘giving a turn’ in the local pub or club as my family would do. I could just see him with a mike, giving a rendition of I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen or When You Wore a Tulip.

For the whole of the meeting I was unable to concentrate and afterwards I mentioned my thoughts to my partner and voiced the opinion that because of my family resemblance, I could easily do a portrait bust of him, so Paul (my partner) suggested I contact him with a view to doing just that. Back came the reply that he would sit, providing I didn’t take much time, as he was a very busy man. I asked for just 15 minutes or so, to take a few measurements and as many photos as I could manage.

Came the day and I duly arrived at his office in Blackburn, armed with all the necessary equipment. We were introduced and I asked how I should address him. ‘Call me Jack’, came the reply and hence the title of my piece. Everyone else left the room and he tucked into coffee and biscuits.  Seconds into me starting work with my calipers, his mobile rang, ‘Hello Kofi!’ Unsure what to do when the Secretary General of the United Nations phones the Foreign Secretary and with nobody else there to ask, I decided to proceed, on the assumption that if it were private he would ask me to leave.

So there he was, taking his call and there I was kneeling on the floor taking photos under his chin, standing on a chair photographing him from above and all around at 36o degrees and at different levels. Then measuring him with the calipers, making notes and sketches – all whilst he was chatting away to Kofi Annan. The upshot was I probably got around 30 minutes with him instead of the allocated 15!

I was quite pleased with the results, as the bust turned out to be quite lively instead of the more usual, static posed portrait. Jack has a cast and there is also one in Blackburn Museum & Art Galleries. I still have the terracotta.

HIV/AIDS, Hivine & Thrivine

Good news yesterday, my friend, Adrienne, is to ‘appear’ one again or Radio Lancashire. This time on a lunchtime chat show with Sally Naden the presenter and two other panellists. This is a big breakthrough, as she recently spoke about the virus on the Breakfast show and now this! For too long we had thought that the seriousness of the HIV/AIDS issue was being ignored, but now it seems someone is taking notice. With a 13% rise in  known cases in our area (North West) this year it is about time. Notice I said ‘known cases’, this is because at least a third of people with the virus will not have been tested. A sobering thought.

Some people assume they are not in the ‘at risk’ group, as seven years ago, the same was assumed of Adrienne and when she was continually ill with one infection after another her GP just sent her away with antibiotics, creams for the sores on her skin and mouthwash for the ulcers. After nearly dying of pneumonia in Ibiza, she consulted a homoeopathic doctor, who at once recognised the symptoms and did an HIV test. To her horror, it was positive. As you can imagine, she was devastated – she had been in a long-term relationship with her partner, a ‘respectable’ businessman. When he had died quite suddenly of liver cancer a couple of years earlier, she never thought for one minute that it might be AIDS related. Of course, at that point she could recall all the other symptoms he had displayed – and even has photos of him covered in sores & bruises, like hers.

From that total devastation, she turned her life around – went back to university to do a degree, appeared and ‘came out’ on the Jeremy Vine Show, set up her own HIV support group, Hivine, has become Chair of the umbrella group, Thrivine and written her autobiography, soon to be published.

So – thought for the day – you may assume you aren’t at risk, but do you know your parter as well as you think you do? Where was he/she on that business weekend – what happened after you had a blazing row and broke up for a few days? You may think that we are talking about a gay illness, but not so – the virus has been advancing in the heterosexual community since 1999 and is now equal in both sexual orientations.

The implications of HIV/AIDS are monumental. The treatment is improving, but there is no cure. You will be stuck with the medication and all the side-effects forever and unless things change, you will also be stuck with the stigma and discrimination.

Every sexually active person and every needle user is at risk. Protect yourself. HIV does not discriminate. Do you?

Cancer, Colostomy & Colonic Irrigation

Miss Colostomy & The Windbags

Miss Colostomy & The Windbags

Those of you who watched my hour on the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square www.oneandother.co.uk/participants/willo will have noticed that I finally, after 22 years, ‘came out’ as being an ostomate. Previously only my closet friends knew, or those who knew me when having my surgery (A/P resection) in November 1987.

I was so impressed with my friend, Adrienne Seed, coming out on the Jeremy Vine Show regarding her HIV status, I set myself the challenge of letting the world know about my colostomy and the stigma attached (not dissimilar to the stigma of HIV/AIDS).

If I hadn’t run out of time I may also have talked about the stigma of colonic irrigation, which to some people is a huge joke, as is a colostomy. If they weren’t so ignorant they may well have discovered that for some people (like me) colonic irrigation is a means of staying alive.

I remember being very disappointed in Ruby Wax and Billy Connolly a few years ago, when they climbed onto the colostomy joke bandwagon. What they seem to forget is that anyone around them (not to mention the viewers of TV) may have had a colostomy. As I said on the plinth, old hags like me can take it (take it like a man – or as Alan Bennett would say, ‘that means like a woman’) so, after the initial devastation I pulled myself together and took it like a woman! But what about the little child who just happens to be within earshot? He/she may have had a colostomy from early infancy, not known life without one, yet here is someone taking the piss out of them, for something that has saved their tiny life. What about the parent with them, time and time again listening to the same old jokes and feeling the pain for their little innocent child? What about the gorgeous young man/woman you are trying to chat-up at the bar. You don’t know their history, but out of your uncaring mouth comes the colostomy joke. What will be your chances then of dating them?

My parents used to buy The Sun newspaper and I really enjoyed Jane Moore’s column, until one day I read of her evening at a restaurant and her visit to the loo, where she had to help extricate a woman from the cubicle. Now we all know that loos sometimes seem to be an afterthought at various venues, something they just manage to squeeze in at the last minute in the space available. No thought to the customer, preferring to worry about how much seating they can cram into the restaurant.

So fair play to Ms Moore for complaining in her column about this, but, not leaving it there, she went on to say that the toilets must have been designed by someone with a colostomy (I paraphrase) or with a frontal lobotomy! Now where exactly was that jibe at ostomates coming from and likewise for someone with brain surgery? Surely an intelligent woman like her would realise that actually colostomates (or any ostomate) would need more space with which to manoeuvre their appliances, for they are in fact, disabled. So she thinks it’s fine to poke fun at disabled people – I just wonder how she would feel if one of her children had an ostomy?  I suppose she could have legitimately poked fun at the rather corpulent lady who was stuck in the loo, but no, that wouldn’t have been politically correct!

On behalf of all those with a colostomy (and indeed with a frontal lobotomy) I wrote to the Press Complaints Commission, but to no avail. Apparently, although her remarks may have been distasteful we are fair game!

I wonder if any of you have heard a mastectomy joke? In my 64 years, I haven’t and I’m sure it’s because people, quite rightly, have sympathy with someone who has undergone such radical surgery, but don’t we fit into the same category?

I hasten to add that I am not without a sense of humour (as anyone in my position would testify). You can’t spend months – even years of your life with the medical profession only recognising your rear end – and not come out of it without humour. You’ve got to be able to laugh or you just wouldn’t cope. My sons have called me a bag-lady for years – or asked if I am getting shoes to match my bag and so on. Likewise my friends, but what I am asking is for people to engage brain before speaking. When I went back to college as a mature student I would hear the colostomy joke day after day. Nobody has a ‘bad day’ any more – everything is a ‘colostomy day’ – when Steve is asked what he is making (a conical shape out of paper) the answer comes back, ‘it’s a colostomy bag!’ Huge peels of laughter all round. Now those young people would have been mortified if they had known I had a colostomy, but my point is – you wouldn’t know unless you had been told -and would you knowingly try to make people feel like a social outcast?