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Friday, 01 August 2014

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Cumbrian 'art nude' calendar aims to raise thousands for charity

Two Cumbrian women tell Rosalind Gibb why they have bared nearly all for a charity calendar

MS calendar photo
A scene from the calendar

When Carrie Burbush was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis aged 26 her world was turned upside down. 

Five years on, she has had to give up work and relies on her husband to help her with day-to-day things, like lifting kettles and pans, having a shower and drying her hair.

“No two days are the same but I usually walk with a stick and I am in constant pain, which never goes,” she explains. “My wrists are weak, so I need help with lots of things. My memory is affected and I’m tired all the time.”

Yet this remarkably cheerful woman refuses to feel sorry for herself, and says her motto is: “Although I have MS, MS does not have me”.
Carrie, 31, had known there was something wrong for several years, but a diagnosis proved elusive.

“I’d never really heard about MS when I was in my early 20s, and when I was diagnosed I was actually relieved. The symptoms were frustrating and I knew I wasn’t going completely bonkers! The thing is, people with MS always look well.”

Throughout this time Carrie, who grew up in Braithwaite, has had the unswerving support of her mum, Sue Hope.

And like any parent, Sue has been desperate to help her daughter in any way she can.

“As a mum I felt a bit helpless and I just wanted to do something to help my daughter, to raise more money for research,” Sue explains.

“Sponsorship’s great but I’m not athletic, so marathons and that type of thing were out. I also thought people might want something they can keep.

“I looked at what we’ve got round here: beautiful scenery, and I thought we could do something with that.” The result? A 2011 calendar, titled Moving Mountains for MS, featuring stunning black and white portraits of naked Cumbrian women in various Lake District locations.

But the photos here aren’t the tongue-in-cheek – and by now rather clichéd – shots where intimate body parts are covered up by plants, easels and knitting, as made famous by a group of Yorkshire women and immortalised in the film Calendar Girls.

Shot by award-winning photographer Steve Yates, of Derwent Photography in Keswick, the style here is ‘art nude’ and shows the women posing naked in various Cumbrian beauty spots, revealing a little too much for us to be able to print in full on this page.

“At first we imagined hiding behind things and using props but then Steve suggested this art nude style, because it would be taken more seriously and be a bit different,” says Sue, who adds that she’s delighted with the finished result.

The calendar features women who have MS and their friends and family.

Sue posed for the August shot, while Carrie was snapped at Lodore Landings at Derwent Water for March.

“It was originally going to be called Carrie’s Calendar, so I knew what I was letting myself in for!” says Carrie. “On the day part of me was scared and worried but once the robe’s gone you just forget everything and enjoy it.

“My concern was more if I was still going to be able to stand after a few minutes, things like that.”
Jenny Calvert, 48, from Penrith, is the November model and describes the shoot as the “best three hours of my life”.

She laughs as she recalls driving down to the location at the Newlands Valley, near Keswick, in her pink spotty pyjamas and fluffy slippers.

“Steve had said to wear clothes that wouldn’t leave any marks!” she smiles. “It was February so it was freezing and when I got my kit off, I realised it was a public pathway!

“I’ve always been a plump girl and it’s not something I’d ever have dreamed of doing, but I didn’t really have time to think. Also MS eats away at your confidence so this was a fantastic thing to do.

“We look “normal” so people don’t see how hard we work and how we strive every day just to live our lives.”

Jenny, a grandmother and mum of five, had been ill for some time before her diagnosis six years ago.

“It isn’t in the family, so I wasn’t aware of MS. Whenever I went to the doctor I’d just be told I was too fat and I should lose weight.

“When I was diagnosed I was very relieved, which sounds strange but I knew something was very wrong but didn’t know what.

“My mobility gets affected, there’s a lot of pain and I get terrible fatigue. No two days are the same though and the unpredictability of it is hard.

“I take medication and there are side effects like nausea but on balance it is worth it. I want to get out there and live.”

Jenny had to give up her job as a carer and had been unemployed for three years before going on a WorkStart training programme, and soon after was recruited as WorkStart co-ordinator at Cumbria County Council.

Carrie was an office manager in Keswick but has had to give it up.

“I can’t work because my MS is so unpredictable,” she explains. “Some days I can’t get out of bed so I couldn’t say ‘yes, I can do nine to five on a Wednesday’ because I just don’t know how I’ll be feeling.

“It is very frustrating and I do get bored sometimes but because I’m so tired I sleep a lot so the days go by quickly.”

Carrie chooses to focus on the positives though, and says she won’t let MS take over her life.

In June she got married to Davy, a welder, and honeymooned in the Maldives. “It was brilliant, the best day ever!” she grins. “We married at St-John’s-in-the-Vale and arrived in a tractor and trailer!

“I’m lucky because I get a lot of support from my husband, I’ve known him my whole life so he isn’t phased by my MS and nothing seems to worry him.”

All funds from the sale of the calendar, which is sponsored by Keswick Lions, will be donated to the MS Society.

At the launch on Tuesday night, at Treeby & Bolton gallery in Keswick, more than £2,000 was raised. All 12 monthly images and the cover shot are also on display at the gallery for a fortnight.

Both Carrie and Jenny naturally hope the calendar will sell well, but they’re also grateful to have been part of the whole experience.
“I wanted to do something useful and help raise awareness. But I also feel very special, and very happy and content,” adds Jenny. “This has been about making new friends, and something very positive coming out of something negative.”

The Moving Mountains for MS calendar, priced £10, is available to buy online at www.everybodysmile.biz/derwentphotography/ports/index.html, in person at Derwent Photography and at various outlets including Open All Hours in Keswick and The New Bookshop in Cockermouth.

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