It is hot. Very bloody hot. Not that I am complaining but Grace has a black fur coat and is finding it all a little much. She is floppy and there is much panting. Here she is with her homies…hot dogs.
Last week we were volunteers at the very cutting edge MIX conference here at Corsham Court. I had volunteered last year when I first arrived in Corsham and it helped me figure out the layout of the campus. Not that anyone approached me for assistance. More the other way around which was a bit embarrassing. I’d be standing there with Grace trying to look informative and perky and delegates would sidle up to ask me if I needed help getting anywhere and could they find me a volunteer?
This time we– the volunteers-had big blue polo shirts with ‘Student Ambassador. Here to help!’ emblazoned on our sweaty backs. We were recognisable as official assistance even with guide dogs. And after three days by the smell of the t-shirts…
So I am in my huge blue polo shirt with a floppy dog and a clipboard. And I forgot to mention that I have offered to do some photography so I am also carting about cameras along with dog bowls and treats, poo bags (you never know when a delegate will get caught out) and water bottles. I could probably survive for two weeks on just what is in my handbag.
This is the MIX conference blurb… ‘Text on Screens: Making, Discovering, Teaching’ we will continue the conversation that began at MIX 2012; through a series of high quality papers and presentations of creative works we’ll be talking about text on screen in the many forms it takes including fiction, videopoetry, mobile, locative, and site specific works, non-fiction, games, text-based digital art, and other electronic, hybrid forms. We’ll discuss classic texts as they are re-imagined for digital platforms. We’ll look at how these works are taught and what they mean for the future of literature
Exciting stuff eh? But here is where things star to unravel slightly for me.
(c) T.Bush 2013
The conference has been expertly organised and I had asked to get a couple of minutes at the official opening to explain to the delegates about the etiquette of working dogs…don’t approach her unless I give permission etc. and also to give a very quick explanation of how I see – as it is confusing to see a woman bundle in after a guide dog and then proceed to whip out her SLR and take photos..and I do it like a pro…clicky whizzy sounds, down on one knee, the works. (Sometimes I even remember to take the lens cap off).
That first morning I waited anxiously to give my little spiel but I am passed over due to what I later find out are ‘time constraints’. This is where Bath Spa could potentially do with upping its disability awareness. Without that talk, delegates find me a curiosity. I get confused sideways glances, stared at or avoided. No one knows how to approach me and Grace or whether I am visually impaired or not.
I spend a lot of time wondering if I was an idiot to volunteer in the first place. Am I putting myself into situations that make for stress? I direct the delegates to lunch for instance but don’t go myself because I know that the pub they are eating at is dark inside, that I would have to ask for help to get food from the buffet and that Grace wouldn’t have anywhere to sit.
Buffets are a nightmare for the visually impaired. It’s no game trying to get through the throngs of people without spearing anyone with a fork or trying to balance cherry tomatoes and lettuce leaves on a tiny plate whilst reaching for what we hope is a spring roll but turns out to be a rolled up paper napkin.
I don’t leave though. It is a fascinating conference. I love the talks, even though I can barely understand a word. My friend Amrita who is an internet whizz of note would be in seventh heaven with all the creative apps and the flashy lingo. ‘RFID technology’….’.RDA’. …’Inklewriter’… ‘SPARQL’…’Frankenstein’ apps… Me? Well let’s just say I spent an hour trying to print a document by pressing ‘paste’ over and over again getting more and more baffled as to why my document was still not printing but instead growing exponentially longer…
And, thank goodness, on the morning of the final day I am given my two minutes to ‘explain myself’. It is like a weight is lifted both for me and many of the delegates. ‘Thank goodness you spoke out!’ people say. ‘I wanted to ask you but wasn’t sure…. ‘ and people stop distracting Grace (who anyway is far too busy trying to cope with the heat to care.) And I get to take part in a inspirational workshop involving a spool of blue thread, an artist’s trowel and an old hair brush…you kindofhad to be there…….