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I’ve always loved cinemas. I’m drawn to them. They are places of comfort. It stems from an early age. I much prefer the old picture palaces over the current industrial prefabs, but any cinema will still pull upon my soul and drag me in. Whenever I’m in a new town I ‘have’ to find out what cinemas still operate or still stand. I am part way through a photographic study of surviving Picture Palaces, be they still in use as cinemas or not. They are my cathedrals.

‘Kes’ was the first film I ever saw, at a cinema, as an unaccompanied child. The cinema was The Essoldo, on King William Street, in Blackburn, long before it was split up into several, smaller, screens.

I’m sorry Ken but I owe you the cost of the ticket as I snuck in through the fire exit.

My parents had noted my interest in animals and had encouraged this, believing that it was important in the development of empathy. They would take me to see films like ‘Born Free’, which I loved. In addition, we made visits to the library to borrow books on nature.

In 1969 a film called ‘Kes’ arrived at the aforementioned cinema. I had seen a copy of a book, upon which it was based, called ‘A Kestrel For Knave’, about a young lad hand rearing a bird of prey. Naturally, I was attracted to this particular film because of its subject matter. Sadly, on this occasion, my parents could not afford to take me but I was desperate to see it. I had heard stories about how easy it was to get into the Essoldo via a back door and, as luck would have it, said stories were true.

Yes, I know – perhaps it wasn’t lessons in empathy that I needed but rather a Casper style caning and a stern lecture on why sneaking into a cinema isn’t a victimless crime.

‘Kes’ made a huge impression upon me for it was the first time that I saw, and heard, people like myself upon the cinema screen. ‘Born Free’ and films of that type all featured people from another class, who spoke ‘posh’ not ‘common’. The characters that populated ‘Kes’ attended schools similar to mine, lived in places I recognised, they spoke like me, like my friends, like my parents. I could identify with them.

47 years later, on a Sunday afternoon, I find myself in a London cinema attending a screening of the latest film, by the director of ‘Kes’Ken Loach and written by Paul Laverty called ‘I, Daniel Blake’.

I ‘did’ purchase my tickets this time Ken.

Before I talk about the film itself I want to share with you what the atmosphere felt like in the cinema after the film had ended. Usually, when a film ends, people are keen to get away and rarely stay to see the end credits. There are buses or tube trains to catch or visits to the bar or toilet to be made.

It wasn’t to be in this case. No one moved away from their seats as the end credits rolled. The theatre lights went up and fell upon the audience exposing an emotional involvement, that could no longer be hidden by the darkness, the lengthy end credits hadn’t been of sufficient time to allow people to compose themselves.

The silence was broken by embarrassed shuffling as tears were either suppressed or in full flow. Heads were held downwards, few wanted to make eye contact. It seemed as if no one wanted to be the one to make the first move and leave their seat. Thankfully, the exit doors were opened by a cinema attendant wanting to clear the auditorium for the next screening and people took this as licence to exit.

No one spoke as they did so.

When did a film last do that? When did you last cry at a film, unable to stop yourself?

On the technical side I am fascinated that Loach, and cinematographer Robbie Ryan, shot ‘I, Daniel Blake’ on 35mm film, via Arricam ST cameras, using Zeiss Master Prime Lenses. In this day and age of digital appropriation one would have thought that Loach might have been tempted to use the digital medium and the freedoms that might afford, especially given the use of amateur actors. It is testament to his skills and his confidence, both in his own abilities and that of his cast and crew, that Loach stuck with film. In doing so ‘I, Daniel Blake’ has the feel of ‘Kes’ and that is a wonderful thing. Like ‘Kes’, the film has a ‘texture’ that adds to the aesthetic nature of the experience.

Loach has struck gold with his two leads. They have terrific chemistry, keeping you fixed upon them. You identify with them. You want to know them. They break your heart.

DAVE JOHNS, a stand up comic and actor, plays Daniel. A down to earth, lovable, caring chap of whom we all know at least one. In fact, he reminded me of my late father. A man who was far more intelligent than the qualifications he lacked and had a heart far bigger than his meagre bank account. In addition to my love of films and reading, I owe much of my politics to that decent chap.

HAYLEY SQUIRES, an actress and playwright, takes the role of Katie. A homeless, single mother sent miles away from her community and children’s schools. A character whose eyes speak far louder than any of the words that come from her mouth. Squires performance is heartbreaking, real, raw and so bloody human.

It is to the credit of Loach as a filmmaker that he does not go for an easy target and demonised all who work at the DWP, rather instead showing that some go out of their way to try and help, but they are themselves crushed by the system. Such people are also victims of this government’s pernicious welfare policies.

Once upon a time, your local DWP office and Job Centre was a place where help and advice could be sought and it would be freely given, without threats, without sanctions. You would not be belittled, humiliated, demoralised.

Everything is now down to the ‘The Decision Maker’. An unseen overlord who would not be out of place in a dystopian science fiction movie.

I expect soon that the new monster in ‘Dr Who’ will be called ‘The Decision Maker’

‘Forget The Daleks! Forget The Master! The Doctor faces his greatest enemy. For he may be a Time Lord but this time he is up against The Decision Maker.’

People, especially with mental health concerns, are sanctioned simply for exhibiting the symptoms of their diagnosis. Indeed, it seems that the system is designed to ensure said symptoms present themselves so that they can be used against the claimant to terminate a discussion or even a claim.

It is hard not to become emotionally involved in the viewing of ‘I Daniel Blake’ and hence so it is that, due to personal experiences, it is hard to review the film completely detached. Especially when you have experienced some of what happens upon the screen. The inevitable, forewarned, outcomes may seem dramatic cliché to those who either haven’t experienced them, or simply have an ideological reason to push them as cliché in an attempt to undermine them, but they are damn real to those who have experienced them or know those who have.

As one who is both disabled and a carer, and who has volunteered helping people who find themselves in a similar position to the films main characters, I can testify to the accuracy of how the system is depicted within ‘I, Daniel Blake’. I can confirm the feelings of frustration felt at simply trying to get yourself heard, to feel listened to when dealing with the DWP process. Likewise, I can unashamedly state that I feel fear whenever a brown envelope is pushed through my letterbox.

Such is the fear felt at the changes being made by this government, the person I care for has made two attempts upon their life that required lengthy stays in hospital. The medical team and Mental Health Crisis Team all stated that such actions are becoming increasingly common. Such is the fear felt by those being targeted by Government.

It has been an interesting experience to read attempts, by those who support such pernicious policies, to criticise this film in the hope of undermining its message. They also have a vested interest, they are also emotionally involved.

I have always experienced abuse, of varying levels, directed at my disability, but I have noted an increase over the past few years. It has also changed somewhat in nature. It can’t be a stretch of the imagination to say that media and government ‘scrounger’ and ‘faker’ rhetoric, designed to nudge acceptance of pernicious policies, is the cause.

One only has to read Toby Young’s attempt to undermine the film’s message in the Daily Mail to see an example…

“I dare say some were men like Daniel Blake, who were wrongly assessed. But the vast majority should never have been receiving disability benefit.”

Of course Toby, of course! You have no proof, no understanding of what goes on, but you are happy to further fuel the narrative that most disabled people are not genuine. This is, for a man in his position, totally irresponsible and dangerous. Toby is big on personal responsibility, so he shouldn’t be surprised if I hold people such as himself personally responsible for contributing to a climate that feeds disability abuse.

I wrote about my daily experiences and my thoughts as to why they occur in an article here.

The aforementioned ‘man with an opinion’ Toby Young tries hard to negate the impact of the film. He fails, but he does succeed in making himself look rather silly.  Can he really have watched the film? He claims that its running time is 140 minutes rather than its 100 minute duration. He asks questions that, ‘if’ he had watched the film or at least paid attention, he would have found answered by said film.

Young claims…

“…it is dishonest to suggest, as the film does, that Daniel couldn’t appeal until a so-called ‘decision-maker’ had called him. Employment and Support Allowance claimants are entitled to appeal as soon as they get the letter telling them their application has been turned down.”

No, Toby. Daniel could not simply appeal, he did indeed have to first wait for the call from the ‘decision-maker’. The film is correct, you are in error. And no, Toby. Daniel could not simply appeal as soon as his ESA rejection letter arrived. Again, the film is correct and you are in error – again!

This is because the architect of much of the horror YOU support Toby, the lamentable Iain Duncan Smith introduced ‘The Mandatory Reconsideration’.

Now why did he do this?

Because, upon seeing that the number of people who made an appeal were actually winning their appeals, because they were indeed genuine, what did he do? Did he say ‘Hmm, there must be something wrong with the process if so many are winning on appeal. Let us take a look at it to make it fairer?’

No. Iain Duncan Smith introduced another layer of bureaucracy, the aforementioned – mandatory reassessment. You cannot appeal until this mandatory reassessment has been undertaken. In which time you, like Daniel, are in limbo. Told by your trained, experienced, medical experts that you should not work, that doing so could endanger your health and even take your life, all this is overruled by some chiropractor ‘retrained’ and I use that phrase loosely, to become an HCP. These HCP can overrule all the medical evidence in 10 minutes – Oh I’m sorry, what am I thinking, it isn’t the HCP but the Decision Maker.

Toby then moves onto the plight Katy finds herself in…

“What about poor Katie? Is it likely she’d be reduced to selling her body to buy her daughter a new pair of school shoes? Hardly. A single mother with two children typically gets more than £200 a week in state hand-outs and her rent would normally be covered by housing benefit. School shoes from Tesco cost around £10.”

Again, all explained there in the film you ‘said’ you watched Toby. Katie had been sanctioned!

Now, Toby. Let us be totally clear as to what a sanction is. ‘I, Daniel Blake’ clearly shows the impact of a sanction. It is a young mother choosing between eating food herself or feeding her children. Toby, the woman depicted within ‘I, Daniel Blake’, like so many women, so many parents in this pitiful, unnecessary, inhumane situation, display far more courage than you will ever know. I would not wish such experiences upon you.

A sanction is the threat of starvation, of eviction, of homelessness. It is BLACKMAIL, it is state terrorism. We do not threaten to starve those found guilty of murder, they are also not denied fair trial and representation. We also do not incarcerate innocent members of said persons family. But the state does all this to a claimant and their family. The state punishes the children because they are also starved for a ‘crime’ they certainly did not commit.

Young concludes by saying…

“But don’t call it ‘social realism’. Judging by its misty-eyed, laughably inaccurate portrait of benefits Britain, it should be called a ‘romantic comedy’.

In those two sentences Toby Young attempts to negate the experiences, the pain, of so many people. It is accurate Toby, you only have to listen to those who live it, but then you know it to be accurate. Let us not be under any illusion that what the likes of Young want is a reasoned debate. Far from it, furthering their own pernicious ideology is what they aim for and this film, and the audience it is getting, endangers that pursuit.

The only honest thing in Young’s hate filled rant is when he says…

 ‘I’m no expert on the welfare system…’

Bernadette Meaden, amongst others, has brought up Toby Young on his many ‘errors’ but he is isn’t willing to really engage, to correct, to see just how dangerous said ‘errors’ are.

Now the attacks upon the film, from the likes of Camilla Long, Young etc, rather than hurt the film, actually display the strength of ‘I, Daniel Blake’ and show it to be a work of great importance. The honesty scares the likes of Young and Iain Duncan Smith. It is the nail that has to be hammered down and they are desperate to do so.

Iain Duncan Smith is already attempting to rewrite history on his involvement, as he usually does when things he has had a hand in go wrong.

I have been critical of many a government before, but I had NEVER, until the Conservatives came into power in 2010, been scared of my Government. When I cried at ‘I, Daniel Blake’ the tears erupted out of a sense of relief. For here, finally, on the screen was something that actually understood the pain of the experiences I, and many like me, have endured over the past 6 years. The anxiety, the sleepless nights, the damn FEAR for the future.

I will be eternally grateful to Ken Loach, and his creative team, for having made this film. For offering up a much needed counter to the hateful onslaught directed at us. It is an important film. It shows the reality of the situation for many disabled people and carers. It shows the reality of what many like ‘me’ have faced over the past six years.

‘Kes’ was one of the films that made me want to tell stories, to make narratives – be they through the lens of a camera, on a page or on stage.

‘I, Daniel Blake’ has re-energised that desire.

Christopher John Ball is, along with Dean Sipling, co-author of the play Throwing Stones – ‘What’s in your family album?’ Order your copy today from Amazon

“Mid-life male photographer meets young, nubile female student-cum-artistic muse – so far it’s old hat. But photographer turned playwright Christopher John Ball and co-writer Dean Sipling, whose background is film and television, bring the pairing into a thoroughly contemporary world of intercepted emails, sinister insinuation and sharp retorts. Their ‘guilty until proved innocent’ plot … is thoroughly watchable and believable – perhaps as a result of Ball’s professional insights and DS Dom Lucas’ services as police advisor to the production” Barbara Lewis – The Stage

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We are putting out a casting call for a film, to be shot in 2017, based in London. The locations, where the majority of the film will be lensed, are in the Kings Cross and West Acton areas of London.

The film is entitled ‘The House Rules’ and is a modern twist on that oldest of English traditional narratives, the ghost story but one with a political angle. It is our intention as filmmakers to put before a genre audience a film that will, not only entertain, but will also explore the political attacks upon disabled people in the United Kingdom.

Imagine an MR James story filmed by Ken Loach and you have an idea. This is no haunted house on the hill. Set in a tree lined, west London suburb; the audience will experience an unsettling, supernatural story told from within a seemingly mundane, ordinary flat.

All the house wants is company…but it is a jealous house.

‘The House Rules’

The film will be co-directed and written by myself, Christopher John Ball, and Dean Sipling. Dean and I have worked on various film and theatrical projects and have a long creative relationship. In addition, as can be seen from his IMDB page, Dean has a strong background, as both Line Producer and Production Accountant, in the film and TV industry.

It is a (very) low budget enterprise, driven by lots of goodwill, but our technical standards are high.

We will be casting other parts next year but we are NOW looking for actresses to audition to play the two leads.

What are we looking for?

  1. We are looking for actresses, aged between 25 and 40, preferably based in or near London – but we can be flexible on this.
  2. You must identify as disabled. No matter how good an actress you are we cannot accept anyone ‘playing disabled’; this happens far too often in the industry and we will not play that game.
  3. An ability to adlib or improvise around a scene.
  4. We are at work on the script but, whilst I identify as disabled and am mobility impaired, no two people are the same. We therefore want input from our leads and want that input to come from your own experiences etc.
  5. It would be helpful if those who respond had an interest, or took an active part, in disability politics.
  6. We believe this to be an exciting opportunity for two disabled actresses to lead and advance a films narrative.

IMPORTANT NOTES

As stated above, the two locations will be in the Kings Cross and West Acton area. The main location being a flat in West Acton. The Kings Cross location is designed with disability access BUT the West Acton location is not in that it has three short sets of stairs but no lift. This is important to the films narrative in that one of our main characters is forced out of her adapted premises into one far less suitable and we see that impact upon her. Once inside the flat, it is all one level and there are no stairs. When casting we will have to take this on board and, with our cast and based upon their individual needs, look to resolve what we can with their input.

Auditions will be in London later in the year/very early next.

We will be casting other parts once we have our two main characters sorted.

Please email with your résumé and a photograph to –  thehouserules2017@gmail.com

Dean and I look forward to hearing from you or answering any questions you might have.

Christopher John Ball is, along with Dean Sipling, co-author of the play Throwing Stones – ‘What’s in your family album?’ Order your copy today from Amazon

“Mid-life male photographer meets young, nubile female student-cum-artistic muse – so far it’s old hat. But photographer turned playwright Christopher John Ball and co-writer Dean Sipling, whose background is film and television, bring the pairing into a thoroughly contemporary world of intercepted emails, sinister insinuation and sharp retorts. Their ‘guilty until proved innocent’ plot … is thoroughly watchable and believable – perhaps as a result of Ball’s professional insights and DS Dom Lucas’ services as police advisor to the production” Barbara Lewis – The Stage

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‘And now the wheels of heaven stop
you feel the devil’s riding crop
Get ready for the future,
it is murder’ – The Future by Leonard Cohen

I will never forget that night. I found my beloved partner on the floor. She had made a makeshift bed for herself and was surrounded by her favourite JellyCat soft toy dogs. She takes these everywhere with her; a source of comfort. I froze for a moment as I saw the empty packets of medication and then the note she had left for me.

Then the adrenaline kicked in and I desperately tried to remember the first aid courses I had undertaken. I checked her breathing. It was there, just. I checked her airways for blockages. There were none I could find. I couldn’t rouse her and I was concerned that the position she was in wasn’t helping her breathing. So I moved her into a more suitable position. As I did this, I heard a loud crack. It came from within me. My hip had decided this was the appropriate moment to partially dislocate as it is want to do at times. Usually I feel this a LOT but the adrenaline must have kept the pain at bay. I grabbed my phone and called 999.

The emergency services are brilliant. I was told an ambulance was on its way and the person on the phone stayed with me to reassure me. She kept me busy by having me count my partner’s breathing. I also collected all the packets of medication that I could find so an idea could be had as to how much had been taken and what kind. The door bell rang; the ambulance had arrived. At this point I was reminded about the state of my dislocated hip. The pain hit, hard! The ambulance crew were greeted with a torrent of swearing as I painfully manoeuvred my hip back into place. Another crack; there back in place.

After spending the night in emergency my partner was moved to an ITU bed. She was to stay there, unconscious, for a week. I phoned the hospital and visited at every opportunity hoping for news as to her progress. I brought up her favourite JellyCat dog to be with her. Don’t tell the other dogs but she does have a favourite.

It was heartbreaking to see her in that ITU bed with drips, medical machinery and tubes down her throat to assist breathing. I shall never shake that image.

Strange thoughts go through one’s head at times like these. Well they did mine. For some reason, I thought that I was going to get ‘told off’ by my partner for getting her medical attention. This thought was intense. I couldn’t rid myself of it. I really thought I was in trouble.

Thankfully, my lovely partner finally did wake up, and was later moved to another ward. She had contracted pneumonia due to fluids entering her lungs as she went into one of several seizures whilst in emergency. This had also resulted in some damage to her brain, though the medical staff thought this would rectify itself.

Suicide is a complicated issue and there are often many reasons involved that might build up to cause an individual to consider or carry out an attempt upon their own life. It is important to note that my partner had recently received a letter from the DWP in reference to her ESA claim. She was to face another reassessment and this scared her, indeed it weighed heavily upon her mind. As my partner said to both myself and the Crisis Team, that DWP letter, well, ‘it didn’t help’.

I spoke to many Doctors, staff at the Crisis Team and social workers, who worked with my partner, and they all stated that this is happening far more than is being reported. The fear is real and felt by many. These ‘reforms’ are having huge negative impact and causing harm. I have read several cases of suicide attempts and deaths linked to these damn ‘reforms’ but I never thought that that it would hit so close to home.

In addition to the cuts disabled and carers are facing, there is also the real fear of the, now, infamous sanctions regime.

My partner lives with severe mental health concerns. She has great difficulty reading, interacting and communicating with others. People frighten her.

She fears that she would end up sanctioned simply for exhibiting the symptoms of her diagnosis. The presentation of her symptoms could easily be misunderstood, or even exploited, by DWP staff intent on their quota of sanctions. Yes, we hear claims that there are no quotas but who believes Iain Duncan Smith or Esther McVey? Lying comes as easy to that pair of irresponsible, reckless Ministers as breathing.

I stated above that suicide is rarely about one issue but this must not be taken, by any supporter of the Coalition welfare ‘reforms’, as mitigation or an attempt to dismiss the impact of the ‘reforms’ upon my partner. Fear of these ‘reforms’, fear of the arrival of the next brown envelope from the DWP, played a major role within the reasoning behind her actions. As she said, ‘It didn’t help’.

These ‘reforms’ have been both cruel and unnecessary; an added extra burden, and worry, upon people who already have a lot to contend with as it is.

Now, we hear that we are to face a further £12Bn in cuts should David Cameron, and his Conservative Party, be elected on Thursday. This fills me with dread. My partner and I barely survived the past five years. The attacks never seem to stop. We have also faced an increase is disability related abuse. I describe this abuse in an article here.

One can never seem to draw breath before the next letter from the DWP arrives. Your heart stops in fear as you see it pushed through the letterbox. You hold your breath as you open it. What bad news will it bring? What fresh horror has Iain Duncan Smith seen fit to dump upon you today?

For many, the Social Security ‘reforms’, and their impact, are the straw that broke the camels back. To repeat, as I think it very important, my partner said, ‘It didn’t help’. In truth they are not helping because they are not designed to do so. These pernicious ‘reforms’ are designed, on first principle, simply to save money.

The Conservative Party want to place the Social Security safety net so close to the ground that it renders it useless, even fatal. You may not need it now, but you do not know what is around the corner. Can you really afford to lose its protection?

My own health has also been impacted by Iain Duncan Smith’s awful legacy. My Doctor is having to, not only treat the symptoms associated with my existing, deteriorating disability, he is now looking to the stress based illnesses I find myself with. My blood pressure is through the roof, blood has been found where it shouldn’t be and the additional stress is playing havoc with my chronic pain and state of mind. I worry that I may become too ill to act as carer for my partner, and I worry what will happen to her in the future. I worry about not being able to work. I worry, worry all of the time. I have difficulty sleeping due to constant worry, constant stress.

I never used to worry like this. I was always a glass half full ‘kinda’ guy. When I worked in education, I was often ‘named tutor’, and looked to the pastoral care of my students. I was the one with the answers; the person they turned to for solutions. Well, things change and, I am not ashamed to admit that, I now find myself going through counselling. Thanks Mr Cameron, thanks Mr Clegg, thanks for nothing.

My partner has been expressing fears again. She is deeply worried that the Conservatives will return to power and enact further hurt. She has talked about taking her life again, should they do. She is classed as ‘high risk’ by her medical specialists and they are offering what help they can with limited resources.

I have been critical of many a government before but this Coalition of Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have been the first government that I have been scared of. The first government to put me in fear of, both, my and my partner’s health and future. Is this really a fairer society?

I am terrified at the thought of David Cameron and the Conservative Party being returned to power.

By the way, in case you are wondering. I wasn’t told off by my partner.

Christopher John Ball is, along with Dean Sipling, co-author of the play Throwing Stones – ‘What’s in your family album?’ Order your copy today from Amazon

“Mid-life male photographer meets young, nubile female student-cum-artistic muse – so far it’s old hat. But photographer turned playwright Christopher John Ball and co-writer Dean Sipling, whose background is film and television, bring the pairing into a thoroughly contemporary world of intercepted emails, sinister insinuation and sharp retorts. Their ‘guilty until proved innocent’ plot … is thoroughly watchable and believable – perhaps as a result of Ball’s professional insights and DS Dom Lucas’ services as police advisor to the production” Barbara Lewis – The Stage

2015 will see the publication of three monographs featuring fine art photography by Christopher John Ball. Watch this blog for further details.

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