We ARE all Jock Tamson’s Bairns.

The first review is in. And thank you very much Bill Kirton for the comments – which have now been splashed all over everywhere I can think of (due to this FREE ebook not being available in the land of Amazon and thus incapable of garnering ‘reviews’ there.)

Jock Tamson's Bairns - Cally PhillipsGuerrilla Midgie Press has now published JOCK TAMSON’S BAIRNS in its entirety and it will be available FREE FOR ALL during the Edinburgh ebook festival (August 12th -25th) We host a residency there in the second week. 

Here’s Bill’s review which hopefully will encourage you to seek it out in the GOODY BAG of the ebook festival.  If you can’t wait till then, you can download it now here 


When you read this book, be prepared to think; not in any heavy, academic, pretentious way, just gently, quietly, reasonably. Be prepared, too, to re-examine how you use words and how you look at (and judge) other people. That doesn’t mean it’s some worthy, ‘improving’ tome, couched in arcane philosophical or psychological terms. On the contrary, it’s a careful, uncomplicated invitation for us to take a wee step back from our assumptions, the everyday attitudes we carry, the loose way we use language. It challenges the way we create compartments, chop reality into manageable chunks, box them up and label them, even though some chunks shouldn’t be in the same box and most labels are at best inadequate and at worst wrong.

And the problem inherent in such an approach is exacerbated when what we’re dealing with is not abstract ‘chunks of reality’ but people. Cally Phillips has worked a lot with people with ‘learning difficulties’. (The need to use quotation marks around apparently familiar, ‘normal’ terms is obvious from the early pages of the book.) The expression ‘learning difficulties’ has (thankfully) evolved from ‘mental retardation’ and worse because nowadays we try to be careful of the terms we use. There’s certainly been progress, but there’s still an underlying assumption that, because most of us ‘feel normal’, those who are different must be ‘abnormal’. But, as the author points out, the people who’ve decided what ‘normal’ means are – yes, you’ve guessed it – the ‘normal’ ones. ‘Normal’ isn’t a hard scientific fact; it’s a consensus.

So, we assess ‘disadvantaged’ individuals, judge them, stick labels on them so that we can accommodate them in a specially designated bit of our reality. They are ‘other’. And now we’ve dealt with them, so we can ignore them. But that doesn’t work for the author here. She doesn’t keep quiet, doesn’t look away, doesn’t hide behind the labels and attitudes provided by others. She’s honest and says what she sees. And she chooses to use a very clearly fact-based fiction to show that the category ‘abnormal’ is as rich, varied and human as its ‘normal’ counterpart and that, however we refine the labels we stick on people, they’re still restrictive and misleading.

But everything I’ve said is outlined much more simply and accessibly in the introduction. Her style is friendly, conversational and honest and, when we move to what she describes as ‘fictional stories based on factual experience’, she continues to draw us into her revelations by creating characters and situations which, yes, underline the message but are also moving, funny and entertaining. In her own words, she’s ‘respect[ing] the real-life experience of the people whose lives [she’s] fictionalised’ in order to ‘teach insight for those of us who so badly need it’.

The first story is called Gary gets to be God and there’s a beautiful irony in the title.

Gary is blind, doesn’t talk, can’t hear very well, so communication is limited. He also shuffles along on his bottom. He drools, squeaks when he’s happy and screams when he’s unhappy. For us ‘normal’ people his behaviour is ‘challenging’, there are ‘incidents’, ‘reports’. It all fits a convenient pattern doesn’t it? Why can’t he be more like us? Why can’t he be ‘normal’? Cally Phillips answers that with her own question, one which acknowledges that Gary’s ‘normality’ is different. ‘Can you imagine having to move around shuffling through the dark on your bum,’ she asks, ‘without the ability to tell someone what you want or know what’s round the corner?’

But, in a group improvisation, with the theme of ‘where do you want to go?’, poor, powerless Gary gets to be God. It’s a beautifully orchestrated story with a poignant ending.

The other three stories work in similar ways. In Jonjo Can’t Sit Still, Jonjo has Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (which we all glibly shorten to ADHD and assume that the label ‘explains’ things). The impact of this story comes from the fact that Jonjo tells it himself and so we get access to his normality, which turns out to be as legitimate as ours. Philips lets him ‘explain himself’ by using a combination of his own impulses and the language other people use about him. The writing is very clever as we see the logic, the ‘normality’ of how his mind works, of how he interprets/understands expressions. He loves to run and he’s ‘an accident waiting to happen’, so he runs, a car hits him and the accident has happened. Why did it happen? ‘There is no reason to an accident’ he says. His father uses the expression ‘you’ve hit the nail on the head’ so when he tells a doctor ‘I have low self-esteem’ and sees from her facial expression that he’s surprised her, he says ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to hit the nail on the head’.

Philips helps us to share the world as he sees it. He’s sensitive to clichés, to what others say and think. And he loves to run. So the ‘normal’ people give him Ritalin to slow him down. Then comes his first accident and he’s on crutches for a while, which allows him to share another insight. ‘Crutches slowed me down a bit,’ he says, ‘but Ritalin slows me down on the inside too and crutches only slowed me down on the outside’.

I’m doing too much story-telling, but it’s simply to illustrate how the fictions are so carefully tailored to enhance the central message with regard to the tyranny of labels. The central figures of the other two stories, Heather and Angus, have different problems again and give more examples of how badly they’re served by our preconceptions and how the differences between us and them blind us to the similarities. We are, indeed, all Jock Tamson’s Bairns – not equal, no, not by a long way, but all the same, all individuals with our idiosyncrasies and gifts, flaws and beauties. In the last part of the book, we see the fictional ‘No Labels’ drama group improvising again, interacting. All its members have ‘difficulties’, but the improvisations impose no restrictions. They can be who they are and the results show that who they are is valid. In fact, the improvisations sound like much more positive ways to pass the time than watching TV or indulging in all the other herd activities that constitute normality for the majority of ‘normals’. These are lives being lived, individuals with their own precious selves, all different, all valuable.

Labels are supposed to identify; in fact, they obscure.

Bill Kirton


Free for Learning Disability Week

JOck Tamson's Bairns FREE - Cally PhillipsHere at Guerrilla Midgie Press we think you probably  already know that you can download the Jock Tamson’s Bairns sampler HERE FREE  (the stories Gary Gets to be God and Jonjo can’t sit still as well as Episode One of ‘A Week with No Labels’) but there’s even more.

You can read Heather Holds My Hand FREE here on McStorytellers and you can read Angus isn’t Interested? FREE HERE

Both these stories will make it into the paid version of Jock Tamson’s Bairns when it comes out (hopefully in August) but you can read them all NOW for free and spread the word please.  

These are little stories which we hope have a big impact. That’s our mission at Guerrilla Midgie. We hope you agree.

weeksmall.jpgAnd don’t forget once you’ve filled your boots with the free stuff, you can buy A Week With No Labels either as  Kindleepub (for ipad etc) or paperback.

Start spreading the news…

JOck Tamson's Bairns FREE - Cally Phillips

That we’re all Jock Tamson’s Bairns.

Do you know what week it is? 

In the past Learning Disability has had ‘a week’ like many things do. This year things are different. There seem to be ‘weeks’ all over the place. And if you’re confused, it’s hardly surprising.

What kind of a way is this to get a message across?

Traditionally the ‘week’ has been held in June. In Scotland where SCLD take the lead this is still the case, with Learning Disability Week being held June 17th – 23rd.  In their wisdom, Mencap ‘the voice of learning disability’ in England and Wales is running the ‘week’ in August from 19th-25th.  This is the official ‘week’ for England/Wales, but the message does not appear to have got through to local levels.  For example Leeds Learning Disability week (affiliated to Mencap) is June 17-23rd, while Sheffield City Council is holding it from 24th-28th June.  To further complicate things Enable Scotland (which is the Scottish rebrand of Mencap) will hold the week at the same time as their English counterparts in August.

Cally Phillips says:

The lack of joined up thinking here is less funny than sad. When all those dedicated to ‘giving a voice’ for those with learning disabilities who find it hard to shout for themselves, cannot present a united front, it gives one pause for thought.  In the context of Disability Living Allowance being shelved in favour of Personal Independence Payments and the rolling out of Self Directed Support in Scotland, it is particularly worrying that those tasked with standing up for some of the most vulnerable in our society don’t seem to know, or at least can’t agree, what day of the week it is! At grass roots level it makes it very hard to get the message across. 

I’ve never managed to get any personal contact or interest from any of these organisations for anything I’ve ever done in the field of advocacy drama – over the last 10 years.  However politely I approach them, it seems they are far too busy (or disorganised? or disinterested?) to respond to grass roots advocacy which comes from outwith their own organisation.  Draw your own conclusions.  I’m sure they are doing a fine job but it just makes me think that perhaps, just perhaps, they are missing a trick.  Or a chance to spread the word further?  

I have worked in advocacy drama for some ten years now.  I first encountered the Learning Disability label in 2003 while undertaking a drama residency post. As part of this three year tenure I ran and built a legacy programme from workshops funded as part of a European Year of Disability Project. One strand of this project saw a group of adults labelled with learning disability start their own advocacy drama group, adapting the work of Brazilian dramatist and provocateur Augusto Boal to suit their own needs.  The aim of the group was to cut through the complexities and simply present their views and life experiences directly to an audience.  Where service providers claim to speak ‘for’ them, the group decided the best way to get their message across was to speak for themselves. Drama provided them with this forum. 

Throughout this process I also embarked upon a ‘dramatic’ journey which was quite life changing. I ran a drama company, I won an entrepreneur award, I had a play performed at the Scottish Parliament  I obtained an MSc and I set up an advocacy publisher. All things I would never have done without meeting my labelled friends. But have I ever come into the radar of the Learning Disabilty organisations? No. There I remain firmly invisible. 

Last year for Learning Disability Week I  wrote a novel – a fictionalised account of a drama group run for and by adults who have to carry the learning disability label with them through life.  It’s funny, sad, serious and thought provoking and was described by author Julia Jones as ‘perhaps the most significant book I’ve read on my Kindle this year.’ 

Originally published in 5 ebook ‘episodes’ for Learning Disability Week 2012, with the addition of a further two days ‘A Week With No Labels’ was born and is now published both in paperback and ebook formats in the hope that it can reach the widest audiences.  

This year for Learning Disability Week #1 I’m  giving away a ‘sneak preview’ of my new work in progress ‘Jock Tamson’s Bairns’ which is a collection of short stories and vignettes about other experiences in the world of learning disability and advocacy drama.  It is available from advocacy publisher Guerrilla Midgie Press FREE online NOW.  The whole thing may be ready for the #2 Learning Disability week. 

One thing I’ve learned in advocacy in general is that you can’t make people sit up and take notice.  All you can do is put the work out there and hope for the support of people with a conscience.  Hopefully some folks here will be able to spread the word further – that labels are for tins not for people. 

You can get hold of a free copy of Jock Tamson’s Bairns sampler HERE

Or purchase A Week With No Labels as Kindleepub (for ipad etc) or paperback.

Coming soon…

JOck Tamson's Bairns FREE - Cally PhillipsOver at HoAmPresst Publishing you’ll be able to download a FREE sample of work in progress Jock Tamson’s Bairns from the beginning of June.  This is to mark Learning Disability week (although it turns out that this year there are two weeks – one in Scotland – the usual June dates (17-24th) and the other in England/Wales in August.  Why Mencap have to organise a separate date is a bit of mystery but let’s be positive and say it gives two cracks at the whip.

But anyway, for now, get your free download of Jock Tamson’s Bairns (sample) by clicking HERE and spread the word well in advance of the first Learning Disability Week of the year.  The FREE ebook contains a sample chapter from last year’s novel A Week With No Labels.  Described by author Julia Jones as ‘possibly the most significant book I’ve read on my Kindle this year’ it’s funny, moving and may even change the way you think about labels!

You can buy A Week with No Labels as ebook (£2.99) or paperback (£6.29) on Amazon for Kindle or Kobo for epub. Just go to the publications page for links. weeksmall.jpg

Game in four hours…

Most people wouldn’t imagine that those with the label ‘learning difficulty’ would be able to make a computer game in four hours. I expect many people imagine that those with the label ‘learning difficulty’ couldn’t PLAY a game in four hours.

Certainly as a 50 year old postgraduate with an MA in Philosophy and an MSc in Psychology I know I CAN’T PLAY GAMES and I certainly couldn’t BUILD one in four hours but…

CHECK THIS OUT (this takes you to BBC news site)

Guerilla Tea (of course we like them, they almost share our name) is a young game development company who have recently worked with a bunch of teenagers from Enable and as such, whether they knew it or not, brought advocacy work into the games industry. RESPECT BOYS. RESPECT.

I met Charles Czerkawksi of Guerilla Tea once, when he was a teenager and now I’m proud to say I’ve met him!  Young folk working with young folk.  If Guerrilla Midgie was in the business of awarding awards we’d award Guerilla Tea the ADVOCACY AWARD for 2013 RIGHT NOW.