My take on engaging in the occupation of laughing my head off at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  

For those of you unfamiliar with my blog, I’m an occupational therapist, as an occupational therapist I’m interested in how we engage in everyday occupations,  by occupations we mean everything you need to, want to or have to do, from waking up to going back to sleep again. 

I often reflect in these blogs on how my disability, dyslexia and/or my environment, impacts on how I do the things I need, want and have to do. 

I came to the festival with my partner Anthony,  it was a last minute decision, which is not like me at all.  I love to plan,  it makes me feel secure,  but I was intrigued after listening to the Standard Issue podcast, interviewing women that would be preforming here.  We already had plans for a family holiday to the Isle of Arran, so decided, to set off a day early and go via the festival.  

Getting round Edinburgh itself was a bit of a nightmare. It has cobbled streets  and  lots of hills,  but with some online research, a few tweets and emails to venues clarifying things and the use of google maps to work out distances we would need to walk,  it was manageable.  Without modern technology the occupation of planning would have been impossible, and that would have put me off coming.  (I’m great at avoiding what I don’t understand, can’t figure out for myself, or feel too stupid or uncomfortable to ask about). 

On a whole I felt the festival caters well for those with access needs. Although I found the web site overwhelming and difficult to navigate, when I spoke to a human on the phone,  they were so helpful, explaining how accessible venues were. 

Once we got to the festival we were impressed by staff attitudes. They went out of their way to accommodate my needs,  providing chairs whist queuing, and making sure I had seats in the venues that were comfortable and with room to stretch my leg out. This was honestly refreshing, and not my usual experience.  

So what did we ‘do’? The anxiety that drives me, created a schedule, which I’m pleased to report we stuck to. 

We got up and left the house at ridiculous o’clock in the morning making the 3 hour drive  and arriving just after 10am (a few mins later than planned) at the Grayson Perry exhibition : Julie Cope’s Grand Tour.  Now when booking this my dyslexic brain was confused by the title, and the fact that the website said it started at 10am.  Was there going to be a grand tour? Did we need to be there at 10 or would it be like a normal art exhibition and you just rocked up and went in? A few tweets clarify that it was not a tour, and that we could come between 10am and 5pm.  I still felt the needs for us to be there for 10am as my brain worries I might have misunderstood.  (I’m a worrier) 

The exhibition of beautiful tapestries displayed the life of a character named Julie Cope.  There was lots of written narrative to go along with each piece, but if I’m honest I only pretended to read it – you know to look intellectual.  Instead I chose to make up my own narrative from each tapestry.  The vibrancy, and attention to detail was breath-taking.  

For me Julie was full of potential but the social constraints that are put on women, including what they are expected to do, meant at times she found it hard to muster the energy to fight but at other times she found the strength to strive and do the exciting things like travel. 

As I write this blog I highlight the words ‘Julie Cope’s’, to get Siri to read them to check the word reads Cope’s rather than Coope’s.  I now think perhaps by giving Julie this surname,  Grayson was making a points about a women’s role in society, are we just expected to cope?  Or is it a strength of women kind,  we have learnt to cope? (The occupation of coping, existing and living are perhaps ideas to explore another time) 

As an occupational therapist I often use engagement in the arts as my assessment and or treatment,  the process of how someone does something (the doing part) is the interesting part.  I have watched a number of Grayson Perry documentaries, he also appears interested in the process of making art,  maybe that’s why I find his work so intriguing, as it somehow comes through in the finished product. 

We then took a break from the festival and caught up my good friend, fellow member of the  OTalk* team Kelly and her 11 month old,  Isla, for lunch.

Our first comedy act was Laura Lexx: with her show Knee Jerk. We thoroughly enjoyed her energy on stage, she reflected on her own experience of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and how it had helped her to break down and understand her anxieties, with sharp observations and hilarious consequences.

One of the ideas she explored was how as young children we are taught how important we are, simply by the sports they are encouraged to play,  boys are given the universal recognisable game of football, that has a few simple rules, and can lead to a career of wealth and fame. Where as girls are taught the game of netball, which has more complex rules that restrict your movement around the court, and can lead to not being as valued as a sports person, and mostly likely only ever a part time low waged career. 

Next up was Sofie Hagen: with her show The Bumswing, a thoughtful and astutely written piece of stand up,  she talked about how the British and Danish cultures differ,  particularly when it comes to communicating with each other. She explores her memories and tenancy to remember only the things she wants to believe, told some funny anecdotes,  of growing up with false memories that shaped her future.   What I loved the most was she really challenged the audience at times, making some excellent points about positive body image. 

We finished the night off with the amazing Rosie Jones and her show Backward. She literally took us on an emotional rollercoaster.  

She had the room filled with laughter, as she explored her lived experience, of being a disabled gay woman in comedy.  Until a poignant moment, where it all went dark, as Rosie detailed a story of reading a text message over the shoulder of a stranger, that described Rosie with words so derogative that I can’t quite bring myself to repeat them here,  I was in tears. 

She made some excellent points about being prejudged on her ability. Then brought the room back to laughter again, with her sharp wit. 

Rosie is everything a disabled woman is not allowed to be, clever, witty, rude and lewd,  definitely not an ‘inspiration’ but a fucking genius (and the daddy) I can’t recommend her enough you owe it to humanity to see this woman’s standup.    

What stood out for me as I watched and listen to these three women was how they all touched on occupational deprivation** 

That it was the attitudes of others, not their mental health problems or disability or bring a women, that created the barriers to engaging in the occupations they wanted. 

How we and others perceive us will  impact on what occupations we choose to engage in. Like for me growing up being a child with a disability,  at school they struggled to accommodate my needs and often I was left out of playing sports; you know in case they broke me. 

We both had the most amazing day and will definitely be coming again. Thank you Edinburgh Fringe Festival, for ensuring my engagement is this occupation was not a deprived one.

*OTalk is a weekly twitter chat about everything occupational therapy related that Kelly myself and 5 other occupational therapist organise. https://otalk.co.uk/about-2/

**Occupational deprivation is a relatively new term which describes a state in which people are precluded from opportunities to engage in occupations of meaning due to factors outside their control.

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