u turn – a short documentary by Julia Fry

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The intent of the film was to explore how learning to ride a motorcycle could be empowering and free me, to some extent, from the effects of the sexual abuse that occurred in my childhood.

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Sans Soleil by Chris Marker

I was advised to watch Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil by Judy, my tutor for the Reconfigured Documentary film project I’m undertaking. What struck me the most was the use of a synthesiser to create new images from old film; where the film used to be full colour there were now a couple of colours or just shades of one colour and the images themselves were no longer recognisable, despite the moving outlines of the people in them. The film uses voice over in the form of a made up female character who leads the way through sometimes contrasting and sometimes correlating images. This use of contrast and correlation was pleasing because it created questions about what was being narrated. A general sense of place was generated through the use of diegetic and non-diegetic sound, whilst some images had no accompanying sound (I like this idea). Comments on the distribution of wealth within Japan was particularly highlighted by comparing uses of alcohol by mourners in private graveyards and by homeless people. The overall feel of the film was mournful. Marker’s use of black leader in his film was particularly interesting to me as I noticed, when I showed an edit to Judy, how powerful it is to have a voice over a black screen; I hadn’t yet chosen any images to go with a voice over part and decided to leave it with a black screen.

The voice of the motorcycle

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The voice of the motorcycle

In today’s group crit at uni, I showed the brief film clip I’d made showing my idea about giving my motorcycle a voice. I’d used my own voice and slowed it down to 72%. It’s not the final edit, by any means, but it was pointed out that the voice might not work. To me the voice sounds more at home in a horror movie than a documentary about a female bonding with her motorcycle. So what can I do about the voice?

Whilst watching Enjoy Poverty by Renzo Martens I had a flash of inspiration: I could record the bike’s engine revving in time to the words and display the words in subtitles. It would be as if the bike is actually speaking in a foreign language and the subtitles are translating what it’s saying into English. As an initial idea it works for me; however, it might create a great deal of work, depending on how much the bike has to say. When I was working on the dialogue last night I was recording straight into my dictaphone without writing the dialogue. I wanted to avoid writing it so that a conversation between the bike and me occurred naturally. I suppose writing it is almost the same. Once I’ve written it I could go outside, sit on the bike and record the engine sounds; I have a worry that it will annoy the people living near its parking space, but if I do it this afternoon rather than this evening it would be more acceptable, I guess.

Dialogue with a motorcycle

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This is a roughly edited clip from my documentary showing a dialogue between my motorcycle and me. I decided to create a dialogue after asking myself what sort of voice would my motorcycle have and what would it say to me. I remembered my short story, written from Death’s point of view. Giving Death a voice and imagining it as a character that had grown bored and cold at work had allowed me an opportunity to explore what happened when it met someone unusual.

My bike became frightening to me after the last time I dropped it. Getting on it and riding it at the last training session on Wednesday was nerve racking but, by the end of the session, I felt more confident and realised I’d learned a major lesson about complacency through dropping the bike. Respect began to grow in place of fear and, as it did, my perspective changed.

I used to the see the bike as a monster capable of hurting me. Now I see it as something that needs to be listened to well and given handling that is congruent and responsive. I still have some fear because I don’t fully trust myself. This is why I have the bike telling me this. In reality, the bike is telling me this when I drop it or when I lose my balance or brake jerkily. Giving the bike a voice enables me to forge a deeper connection with it. Maybe I’m looking for some sort of wholesome father figure because I’ve never had that in my life and the bike, I imagine, can be that better than any human can because I know, for certain, that the bike won’t do anything on purpose to hurt me and that’s why I trust it.

Dialogue is a way of moving and growing. My aim with this film now is to keep dialoguing and discovering insights through doing so – I have lots of footage to apply to the dialogue; I’m aware of the need for sounds to be added but it’s early in the process, considering my inspiration arrived only yesterday. The dialoguing links to Brechtian ideas about dialectics although, obviously, my film is looking at a very personal-to-me subject rather than Marxist ideology, or lack thereof, in current society.

Reflections on motorcycle training

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This morning my alarm woke me at 5.30am and my friend, Mike, and I put on our leathers and rode to a car park. The last time I rode my bike I dropped it after completing two slalom manoeuvres. My ankle twisted as the bike fell on me; it scared me more than I realised at the time.

We measured and marked out the bays with cones for the manual handling part of the training. Mike stood on the other side of the bike and walked with me as I pushed it backwards out of the bay. I had to rest in the middle of the manoeuvre because the bike is so heavy. I managed to steer it into the adjacent bay and rested the bike on its side stand. Then we laid out a course with the cones for the slalom and figure of eight manoeuvres.

As I sat on my bike, a Honda NTV 650cc weighing just over 400lbs, my nerves kicked in and I wondered if I’d be able to master riding it. Mike suggested I ride around the car park before attempting any manoeuvres so that I could get used to the feel of it again. As I got used to moving between first and second gears I realised how my nerves had also been fuelled by riding the 125cc during the Compulsory Basic Training last Sunday; I’d found it hard to change gear smoothly on the smaller bike and it felt good to reacquaint myself with my bike’s quirks.

I noticed I was going wide when turning left and checked in with how I was feeling: tense. Mike asked me to try some slow control riding by holding the throttle steady and the clutch at biting point and using the back brake to control the speed, moving along at walking speed, before coming to a controlled stop. I really ‘got’ this and we practised it several times in one direction before doing a u turn and then several times in the other direction. Whilst this was doing wonders for my confidence, I was very aware that if I were to become complacent I could easily drop the bike again, so I continued to focus on what I needed to do next. We finished the training after practising more slow control riding and headed back to my flat for breakfast. The roads were filling up with commuters; it was about 8am.

I felt elated that I didn’t drop my bike although a couple of times it wobbled off balance enough for me to need Mike to come and stop it going over, but I held it up until he reached us. After each incident we stopped and talked about what had happened and I went through the motions and realised my right foot had come off the floor on both occasions. I’ve come away from the training with more respect for my bike than fear of it. I’m getting to know it.

Mike was an amazing teacher: respectful, kind, gentle;  he listened to my fears and worked with me to find solutions to them. He shared stories about his own bike and car learning experiences and I felt safe.

I asked Mike how he cleans his bike and he told me. During a meeting with my mentor at uni I told her I’m going to buy some cleaning products and give my bike a clean. I felt happy tears welling inside me as I said it and questioned what was going on in me. I’m falling in love with my bike and want to take good care of it; I’m realising that love, real love, contains a great deal of respect.

After work this afternoon I trailed home on foot. The sun was shining and the temperature was slightly warmer than it had been earlier in the howling wind. I couldn’t walk past my bike, parked in a solo m/c bay near my flat; over I went and sat on it, wishing I could legally ride it on the road. Doing training in dribs and drabs like this, rather than every day, is doing my head in. My confidence dissipates by the time I get to ride again. “It’s not fair!” I remarked to my friend, Andy, who thought I sounded like a child. I felt like one. I wanted to stamp my foot as I gazed out the window at my bike, chained to a post.

I haven’t felt like this about an object in a long time – actually, I’ve never felt this way about an object: I’m looking forward to obtaining the cleaning materials so I can spend time with it. I want to look after it; it’s taught me so much about life in such a short space of time and I’m certain it has many more lessons to share with me. I hope I can learn them well.

Yesterday I took my motorcycle Compulsory Basic Training…

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Yesterday I took my motorcycle Compulsory Basic Training...

This is a photo of the certificate I received at the end of the training to say that I can now ride a 125cc motorbike, with ‘L’ plates, legally on the road for two years or until I pass my big bike test, when I’ll able to ride any bike. The instructor said I was safe on the road.

There was an element of being observed critically that felt uncomfortable to me during the training. The instructor knew his stuff and was extremely confident at riding and this creates in me, as well as a sense of trust, a feeling of unease. What is this about? I suppose there is a sense of superiority when an expert is observing a novice, regardless of whether the expert feels it. My instructor has been riding since he was seven and doesn’t remember how it felt to first get on a bike. Riding well is ingrained in him. It’s almost like breathing. I feel jealous. But that feeling doesn’t acknowledge all the time and effort of practice that he’s put into riding since he was seven. He’s forty six now. I’ve ridden for a few hours.

One of the recommendations my instructor gave me at the end of the training day was to practice changing gears in order to do so more smoothly. In the training ground, second gear was the highest possible because of the space available; when I left the paddock to do two hours riding on the road, suddenly I could get into third and fourth gear. It wasn’t explained to me that I would be riding in higher gears. I know I should, possibly, have realised this because riding on the roads means travelling at a safe speed and riding at twenty mph in a thirty zone may not be a safe thing to do – other road users, used to travelling at maximum speed limit might get angry and do something silly. When I got used to increasing my speed, it felt exhilarating; thirty mph seems much faster on a bike than in a car and the wind and the rain can be felt and experienced rather than watched.

My instructor told me several times to go faster, to change gear; I didn’t used to be reticent about this stuff in a car. In fact, I used to drive aggressively (particularly when I had an Astra GTE and used to race people off the traffic lights (I can’t believe I used to do this – perhaps I just needed some game playing in my life?!)) but that dissipated. The last car I owned was a Proton GL automatic. I quite liked the laziness of not changing gears and I don’t know why, but after a while I started driving very sedately indeed, never going over 30mph in a 30 zone etc. Again, I think this has something to do with operating within the rules and relates to game playing (and driving so slowly used to annoy the hell out of my ex, which, sadly, gave me a passively aggressive sense of satisfaction). It was also an extreme opposite of the way I used to drive, so perhaps there’s something about needing to experience extreme opposites in order to find a middle way?

I found it easier to ride on the road than in the training paddock. I felt more nervous in the training paddock than I did on the road. On the road, my senses are busy noticing what’s around me that could, potentially, kill me; in the paddock I have to pretend to notice hazards. Real situations allow me to explore and learn. However, there was one area I struggled with on the road: the u turn. As soon as I was instructed to do a u turn my body started to shake, my breathing became shallow and I felt scared and unsure of my ability, despite being able, eventually, to do the manoeuvre in the paddock. I think, again, it had something to do with it being a made up scenario and had an air of pointlessness about it. I was being made to jump through hoops to tick a box. If it had been because I’d actually gone the wrong way and needed to turn around I think it may have felt different. When I did eventually do the u turn, and was asked to do it a couple more times just because I could do it now, it felt great: an achievement.

During the figure of eight training in the paddock, I was told to trust myself. The instructor noticed that I would look in the direction I wanted the bike to go but, during the manoeuvre, I would glance away and then the manoeuvre would go wrong. Eventually, he likened the manoeuvre to dancing: when doing a pirouette the dancer focuses on a point then turns and after the half way point snaps the head round to the point and the body follows. This helped me enormously and I was able to do the figure of eight more easily. However, my body felt incredibly tense during the manoeuvre. There is a reason for this: when I was a child I was sexually abused on the day of my father’s funeral by the boy next door. As I laid there on his bed, my body rigid, my hands balled into fists at the sides of my body, my head was turned to the left in the direction of his bedroom door which was not quite closed. I was staring into the wood grain of the chest of drawers next to the bed and all my feelings were in my fists. I didn’t realise until today that my struggle in trusting my body on the bike is related to the childhood sexual abuse. The tension in my body was so strong yesterday that today I ache.  When I told my friend, Andy, about how my body was reacting to the manoeuvres he said, “if you can do this under these circumstances, you can do anything.”

On Saturday evening John, my boyfriend, and I took my bike to a car park near Brighton Marina to try some off road manoeuvres. It was incredibly windy and there were people about: two boys skateboarding with a kite and some people sitting in parked cars in the car park. I felt uneasy about operating the motorcycle with these people around but I started it up. I stalled it and gave up. I think it didn’t help that it’s been an emotional week regarding my relationship with John; something I did stirred up some old childhood feelings and I’ve been feeling a lot of shame. It’s very hard to approach a new activity with enthusiasm when I’m feeling this way. I suppose, then, it is a big achievement to have received a CBT certificate in light of this. I am worried, ‘though, that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew in relation to riding my Honda. My confidence is low. The 125cc bike I trained on yesterday was easier to handle, weight-wise, and I didn’t drop it once. The weight of the Honda scares me; I’ve dropped it three times. What happens if I drop it when I’m on my own? What if I can’t get out from under it and there’s no-one around to help? John says my bike handling skills are not the issue when I told him I was feeling less confident; he says I pick up new activities quickly. He stated the parked cars could have backed out with little warning so it is reasonable that I was worried about training in the Marina car park. I think, also, all the hazards that have been pointed out to me in the CBT training and on the hazard perception DVD I bought have freaked me out. When I think back to the first time I road a bike at a “get on” session, I remember how thrilled I was when I could actually ride and the instructor told me I was a natural. I laughed and smiled throughout the session. It doesn’t feel like that right now. All these tests and preparation for tests are taking the joy out of it. During a conversation with my counsellor today I told her about the heightened sense of fear I felt during the CBT session. It’s also there when I try anything that requires observation by other humans like, for example, when I did some comedy improvisation a few years ago. She said my fear levels are imbued with the memory of the abuse and when my fear is triggered these other emotions are also triggered, making it harder than if it was just plain fear, which is hard enough to manage already.

What inspired me to ride? I was on the back of John’s bike and I was observing what he was doing and noticing how he responded to the road. We’d ridden from Brighton to Thruxton and from Thruxton to Bristol; we were on our way back to Brighton from Bristol. On the outward journey I’d been content to watch the scenery whizz by and sense when he was going to lean so that I could lean with him. On the return journey that wasn’t enough. I wanted to know what it was like to be in control of the bike. It took me a couple of weeks before I contacted TT Motorcycle Training School to organise a “get on” session. I had some insecurities about it; I didn’t want anyone thinking I was only doing it because my boyfriend is into bikes. Also, I knew that if I liked it, it would involve a lot of money because I would want to train and buy a bike. A couple of years ago I went through a process of eliminating as many material possessions from my life as possible. My lounge, at that time, had a concrete floor with just a table, a bookcase and a chair in it. I painted a lot then and used the floor to lay my canvases on; making a mess didn’t matter. I suppose material possessions are a way of creating a sense of identity and I tried to lose mine – I tried to become as close to nothing as I could because that’s how I felt about myself. Buying a bike, then, is a symbol of identification. I spent £600 on an object that is not necessary; it’s almost an expensive toy. I could have spent the money on psychotherapy but I couldn’t bring myself to do that. The bike purchase, however, was easy once I’d committed to it. The bike is teaching me a great deal about myself and how scared I get and how that feels. It’s also teaching me about balance. When I’m in a frame of mind that allows me to be curious, rather than scared or elated, I can hear the bike and respond to it. It’s so much harder to do this when I’m feeling triggered and I feel frustrated by this. It’s also hard to do when my ego is inflated by an achievement: I dropped the bike after successfully completing two slaloms and was feeling proud of myself; there is immediate feedback from a motorcycle.