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In affectionate memory of a Crip Arts Pioneer: Edie, K.Oss, Tamsin Oliver – AKA the one and only Kay Jones 1959-1991

Oct 6th just over as I write this. It feels strange because it takes me back into a soak of nostalgia which flushes over me like a waft of perfume. The perfume in this instance being washing up liquid. Me and Kay at the kitchen sink, in a time when we were young and there were no Personal Assistants, and scarcely an independent living movement in the UK.

We had six hours of ‘home-help’ a week. The rest of the time we were beholden to charity transport, volunteers taking us out and monthly taxi jaunts on our pooled Mobility Allowance. Sometimes there would be a stark choice with the home-help, a kindly woman called Sue. Did she wash our hair? Or go shopping?  We knew the restrictions on our lives were unjust although we did not yet have a clear political understanding of how this should change.

At a prosaic level it meant WE did the washing up. It took hours, every day, because in reality it was beyond us. To get through this dull grind-time we would create silly stories, elaborate nonsense scenarios. This way I became Betty and Kay became Edie. A pair of batty old ladies with secret pasts. I was buxom, timid and dotty. Edie was shrill and had an illegitimate child, who I think was called Helga. There was some daftery about Uncle Adolph and the secret times in the shed. Oh goodness, and we weren’t aided by a single naughty substance in these crazy ramblings.

We used to read The Mirror  – and The Sun. The Sun (before lining the cat litter trays) would amuse us and give us great material for Betty and Evie. A favourite was ‘Shock Horror Probe – AIDS in cat food’. I swear we read that and duly entwined it into our tales. Betty announced undercover work in the cat food factory – while tea towel flaps across a heavy plate. We interrogated our two sedate kitties and while the truth was never revealed, we did enjoy prefixing every ironic sentence with ‘shock horror probe’ for some time. ‘Shock horror probe – Betty loses bloomers!, ‘Shock horror probe – Edie grows beard!’ ‘Shock horror probe – crip girls go to seedy night club…’

Kay liked washing best of all – if a choice had to be made, and I didn’t mind, though I hated it when the tea towel got soggy. Happy days, despite the struggles.

Kay had K.Oss drawn on her shaved temple, dreads piled into a Mohican effect. On the other side she had Fuck Off. She was my friend, my soul sister, my rescuer. She was a firebrand and a protector. She guided me and freed me from a previous life of darkest shadow. Through Kay I grew up, just enough to enjoy my twenties, to flower.

She died aged 32.  I will miss her always. And there will be many more of our stories to tell before my own time comes…

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