The world’s smallest festival?

The post-festival blues didn’t strike this week, because I’ve been busy doing some supply teaching assistant work at Whiteways School, and some volunteer work at Walkley Primary. On Thursday, I held my first memoir writing taster, which went really well. In particular, it was great to start to build links with Your Good Mourning, a wonderful bereavement charity based here in Walkley, Sheffield. Some volunteers from the charity came to my course and they were so inspiring. I love learning, and this week, I’ve certainly learned a lot from  the people who came along to the course, and also the children I was working with.

We’ve had weird weather though. Thursday saw torrential hailstorms and Friday was cold, wet and windy. It seemed like another Bank Holiday wipeout was in the offing, and I felt sorry for the Oxfam stewards on their first outing of the year, at Symmetry festival. However, Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny. I fired up my laptop, promising myself I’d go for a walk later, once I’d caught up with some freelance work I’m doing, editing a memoir.

After a couple of hours’ work, I was on a mission. I needed to find out more about ambulances in Sheffield in 1913 as part of my research, and bizarrely enough, the Fire and Police Museum is a short walk away from my house. I walk past it all the time but I’ve never visited. It was lovely and warm outside and as I walked into the imposing Victorian building, I questioned my logic – spending a lovely sunny day indoors! I asked about the ambulances and unfortunately, I’d chosen the only day when the vintage ambulances were  having their MOTs! I got the information I needed though: in 1913, ambulances in Sheffield were horse-drawn, and would have been up until 1940. In 1933, a race was held between a horse-drawn and a motorised ambulance. The horse-drawn ambulance won!

The museum is quirky and charming, with lots of corners to explore and old fire engines to climb into (I’ll have to go back another day and look at the ambulances!) The museum is based in the old fire station in West Bar, Sheffield, and has the UK’s longest fireman’s pole! There was also a terrifying display about murders, with some of the actual murder weapons on show. If you ever wanted to know about the Crookes laundry murder, look no further! As I walked home, I was amazed by how lush and green our local green-space, Philadelphia Gardens is looking, despite the mixed spring weather.

When I got home, I received an invitation to see the Allstar Revolution perform at a house party in Crookes, a short walk away to the area of Sheffield where I used to live. It was a gorgeous early evening, with lots of people having barbecues. As I walked up Mona Road, I could hear a band performing loudly. It turned out to be a jokey acoustic rap act called Ham Pocket, playing at the end of a long, but very narrow garden, which was packed with people. There was a gazebo on the lawn, an afro caribbean barbecue and a bar, complete with a thatched roof! The trees and bushes were decorated with various kinds of hats. I chatted to other members of the Allstar revolution collective, ducking out of the way as their equipment was squeezed past the partygoers. The gig was brilliant. The band got everyone up and skanking, although we were dodging the increasingly unstable moves of a very drunk guy! The songs sounded perfect in the summer evening and the sound was great. Hopefully the neighbours enjoyed it too!

I left the party to meet up with some good friends at the University Arms, a lovely real-ale pub which used to be the lecturers-only club at the University of Sheffield. We watched another brilliant gig, this time by blues maestro (and renowned Dr Who enthusiast) Tom Attah.

After the gig, I took my friends back to the world’s smallest festival. It was winding down a bit, but some friends of mine were still there. I stayed up far too late, so I had to work hard today to get myself out of the doghouse! I think I’ve just about made it, and I’m going to take it easy for the next few days as my voice is still croaky from last weekend at Bearded Theory!

And Steve, the host of the party, should take care. Six years ago, a young man called Rich held a festival-themed birthday party that involved fake beards. Now it’s a 5,000 capacity festival, with some of the biggest names in music on the line-up!

Forty-year old blokes doing scissor kicks, old punks, gothic children and poems about poo! Definitely Bearded Theory!

The first festival of the season is in the bag – and it was a complete classic!

After last week’s post, the weather was really bad and apparently on Tuesday night, it even snowed, higher up in Derbyshire. On Wednesday morning, the sky was leaden grey and it was raining. As I packed the car on Wednesday afternoon, there was a cold wind  blowing and diagonal rain showers. I had a few misgivings about going to a cold, rainy festival, trudging around in deep mud.

As I drove south through Derbyshire though, the weather grew brighter, and by the time I stopped off at Morrisons in Belper, just a few miles away from Kedleston, it was warm and sunny and by the time I’d walked into the supermarket, I’d heard about three people calling each other “duck”, which is a Derby / Nottingham term of endearment. You see, I do enjoy coming back to Derby, but I prefer to have a leisurely drive on the A6, through scenic Matlock Bath.

(As I’m typing this, I’m listening to Matlock-oriented comedian Isy Suttie, which should give you some idea of the area and its exciting accent and dialect! It’s an episode about driving lessons on the A6!)

It was lovely to be back at Bearded Theory. In 2008, I turned up on my own to be a steward and met some lovely people. Also, it turned out that my old guitar teacher’s punk skiffle band Please Y’Self were playing, and they’ve played every year since (their set on Saturday night this year was amazing!) . When I arrived, I put up my tent, then helped to put up the bell-tents where we were running the craft and creative writing workshops in the Angel Gardens kids’ field. I had a lovely evening, catching up with the other Angel Gardens volunteers, including pirate Captain Dantastic who has entered a competition to go to space and was a winning contestant on TV’s dating show Take Me Out! It was brilliant to spend time with like-minded people; creative, independent-minded and slightly crazy!

By Thursday evening, Angel Gardens looked amazing. The people who run Angel Gardens have over two miles of bunting and half a kilometer of fairy lights! My bell tent was covered in bunting, flags and lights, there was a fantastic cabaret marquee, cafe, messy kids’ area, crafts and my creative writing area ready to go, with my books in an inflatable paddling pool, surprisingly effective as a pop-up library.

Everything seemed to come together brilliantly. Even when the National Trust stopped Angel Gardens from having the official duck race down the weir, a creative alternative was found by tossing the plastic ducks in a huge, multi-coloured parachute. Predictably, it started raining during New Model Army’s brilliant set (because their singer Justin Sullivan is a rain-god), but the weather stayed mostly dry. Not a drop of rain fell on Saturday, which was forecast to be a total downpour, and as the Quireboys, a cheesy old rock band, played their early-evening set, the sky cleared and it was really sunny. We’ve never had a warm Bearded Theory before, so it was completely befuddling to wake up on Sunday morning with slightly bleary eyes to realise that it was a really lovely, warm summer day! I even had to take my thermal vest off.

I really enjoyed working with children at Bearded Theory. My tent was probably one of the quietest areas of the kids’ field, with children concentrating furiously on writing or colouring-in. I’m proud to say that all the felt-tips were rounded up without losing any lids! I’m still gaining experience in primary schools, but it was great to be creative and totally myself. In fact, I there were about three hours on Sunday afternoon when I actually turned into a 7-year-old child, kick-starting the craze of “pegging” in Angel Gardens, getting children to write messages to stick to the pegs. Many unsuspecting adults discovered that they’d been wandering around with a peg stuck to them saying “I smell of wee and poo” or “I’ve got gas and BO”, which caused much hilarity. I had a very nice peg made for me which said “I love you Anne”, which I will treasure! My highlight of working in Angel Gardens was when I seemed to be the ringleader of a gang of gothic children: Kaine and Lillith and their friend Jasmine. Once we were bored with pegging, we created a story about diarrhoea (as well as a debate about how to spell it), and a very long story about my smelly feet (I’d just taken my wellies off!) and how everyone at Bearded Theory was crushed and suffocated by a giant baby. We read out the stories in front of the other children and adults in the crafts area.

The donations from the pop-up library in my tent raised almost £30 for Oxfam, which I gave to the lovely people from Belper, running the Oxfam stall at Bearded Theory. They were so lovely that they gave me a cider!

The line-up of the festival was brilliant (still mostly a retro-fest for us folk in our 30s and 40s). The first band I saw on Friday night were the Beekepers, who were briefly on the edge of the big-time at the tail end of the Britpop era, and I was pleasantly surprised by their muscular indie/rock sound and memorable songs. Their singer, Jamie East is the first person I ever fancied – we were at the same school. There was no point saying “hello” to him after the gig, because I was in Year 8 when he was in Year 11 at school, with chiseled cheekbones and a “curtains” hairstyle. He looks a lot more manly now but before I make my partner jealous, he wasn’t really my time anymore! I got a bit giddy about seeing Neds Atomic Dustbin, as I’d never actually seen them before, having been deemed too young to go to gigs by my parents in 1992. I think I’ve made up for it since then! They were brilliant, anyway, and included the best “last-chance-saloon” mosh-pit of the weekend, with loads of forty-year-old blokes charging the front of the stage to recapture their lost youth!

The Levellers rounded off the weekend with one of the best sets I’ve ever seen them do, spanning the best of their whole career. That’s quite an impressive thing to say because I’ve seen them about 30 times. Afterwards, I managed to give one of my novel flyers to the singer, Mark Chadwick, when I was in the backstage bar (ooh, Get me!) Mark even promised to read it!

On Monday morning, I woke up feeling a bit ropey, due to the cold I’d been fighting off with cider all weekend! I also felt sad that it was all over, at least until next year, and I had the task of untying all of the bunting attached to my bell tent. But, roll on the Trailtrekker walk for Oxfam next weekend, and then bring on Download!

It’s raining…must be the start of festival season!

Sonic Boom 6 at Bearded Theory 2011.

Sonic Boom 6 at Bearded Theory 2011.

The madness starts here!

This will be my last pre festival season post, so expect my posts to be more erratic from now on. It’s going to be interesting!

I’ve just come back from a weekend with many of the Oxfam festivals team, which has made me realise how proud I am to volunteer with Oxfam at festivals and the value of the work we do – this year the fundraising target is well over £1million, paid for by the festival organisers for our highly professional services – but we don’t get paid – all the money goes to Oxfam. This is so important this year, with the Syria Crisis – so far, a million people have become displaced and are in urgent need of shelter, food and water.

The Oxfam festival stewards in our orange tabards play an essential role in making sure that festivals are fun but safe. Hopefully all the ticket holders see are friendly faces in hi-vis tabards, putting on wristbands or pointing them in the right direction. However, we’re also trained to respond to crisis whenever they arise at a festival. I’ve been volunteering for Oxfam at festivals since 2006 and now I’ve got an amazing network of friends from all walks of life. Fancy finding out more?

It all kicks off next week at the wonderful Bearded Theory. Bearded what? It’s one of those classic festivals that started out as someone’s birthday party. The idea was that if everyone at the party was wearing a false beard, it would “break the ice” and get people who didn’t know each other chatting. The event was opened to the public the next year, in 2008 – about 500 people in a campsite next to a pub. I volunteered as a steward for about 6 hours and saw regular festival headliners Dreadzone in a gazebo tacked on to the side of the pub.

In 2009, Bearded Theory expanded into a “proper” festival. Unfortunately, the festival experienced terrible weather – torrential rain, horizontal hail…and then a tornado swept through the site and destroyed several structures, including the main stage! It would have defeated any normal people, but the Bearded Theory crew did a fantastic job and kept everyone safe. To cut a long story short, the festival survived and became festival industry leaders in the field of natural disasters and structures.

Thanks to wonderful support from the crew for my novel, Outside Inside, I’ve now been able to take off the hi-vis and put on a pair of wings and a tutu, working as a creative writing workshop leader. I’m returning for my second year in this role and I’m really excited about encouraging children and their parents to write stories and poems. I’m also creating a pop-up library. People will be able to browse and take away books for free! And I’m also looking forward to having lots of fun in the evenings. Lots of people I know are coming to Bearded Theory now; to work and play, and I feel proud that my constant rabbiting on about the festival has encouraged them to give it a go!

Also on the festival front, last Sunday night, I attended a gig by the amazing Allstar Revolution, fronted by K.O.G. My drunken confidence two weeks ago seems to have paid off. The band members are lovely and incredibly talented and hopefully I’ll help them to get some festival gigs before the end of the summer. Here’s a video of them at the Bowery in Sheffield last year.

Sheffield’s got Soul


This has been my first “free range” week. I’ve kept myself very busy.

I’ve been setting up and promoting a memoir writing taster course to be held in Sheffield later this month. For more details, please take a look at my new business blog The courses will be held on Thursday 23rd and 30th May at the Quaker Meeting House in Sheffield city centre.

I’ve lined up some volunteer work in my local primary school. During my initial visit last week, I discovered how vibrant, creative and colourful it is, a far cry from my junior school, where we had to write with a fountain pen, sing endless hymns from a shabby blue book and the boys had to wear short trousers, even in winter. And this was in the 1980s, not the 1890s! I’m looking forward to starting work as a supply teaching assistant at schools around the city.

I’ve also made some freelance connections: I’m formatting and proofreading the novel of an writer with a wealth of experience. It’s a great novel and an honour to work on it. It was brilliant to meet the writer, Tom Webster, as he wrote many radio plays broadcast on the BBC in the 70s and 80s.

And tonight, I’m meeting Kweku of Ghana again and the other members of up-and-coming band The Allstar Revolution I’m going to be doing some press and publicity work with them and I’m really looking forward to their gig tonight at Haggler’s Corner, a quirky Arts Centre in Sheffield.

In between all of this activity, it’s been lovely weather this week in Sheffield and the spring is really starting to come alive. The woods and valleys are starting to turn a fresh green colour. The daffodils are starting to turn brown and crinkly but gardens are turning into a riot of colour. I’ve finally got round to planting some vegetables and salad leaves in my garden. Walking around Sheffield this week has been a pleasure, discovering shortcuts and hidden corners I didn’t know about, watching birds collecting fluff for their nests and seeing the first butterflies of the year. This is a good sign, as we’ve had some bad years for butterflies.

If you’re reading this and have never been to Sheffield before, you’re probably thinking of the Full Monty – a grim, post-industrial landscape, full of ex-steelworkers stripping off in a working men’s club. Well, to be honest, you’re not far wrong! A lot of the places I’ve been wandering to this week were featured in the Full Monty, from the park outside The Blake pub, to the back streets around Burton Street near Hillsborough (The Burton Street Centre was where they filmed the Job Centre scene). I saw the film again recently and noticed how green the city looks. It must have been filmed in early summer. That’s one of the things that makes Sheffield special. Wherever you are, you’re never far from a park or a green oasis. It was very different in the boom time of the steel industry, when the river Don was one of the most polluted places in Europe. Now its banks are lined with trees and it’s teeming with life (as well as the odd shopping cart!),_South_Yorkshire. It’s true that Sheffield is built on hills. Walking around here gets you fit, but there’s always a good view at the top.

I’m determined to spend time in my city and be part of my own community. It definitely beats driving 100 miles every day!

Things this blog is about…