Walking past Hillsborough Barracks

I was working today, in my new job as a project worker at the Burton Street Foundation, helping to support adults with learning disabilities. It’s the first job I’ve had in ten years that I can walk to! Now I’m wishing that it was a bit further away, because even with a walk to the shops of Hillsborough after work, I only managed to clock up 2.12 miles today, in distance anyway. Still, I did walk back carrying baking potatoes, sweet potatoes, an aubergine and a cauliflower.

I’m sure I’ll be walking around here a lot, and there is some interesting history in this part of Sheffield. One of the places I walked past today is Hillsborough Barracks. It’s a complex of buildings that many local people now take for granted, as in the 1980s-90s, it was redeveloped and is now the home of Morrisons Supermarket, various shops, a hotel, a job centre and part of Sheffield College, where I once learned about databases and spreadsheets! But it’s a Grade Two Listed Building and is the only surviving example of a walled barracks in the whole of the UK.

The barracks were built in 1848 and used up until 1930, and over the years, it gradually fell into disrepair before its regeneration. Thousands of soldiers, from officers to privates, lived here, and I’m sure I’ll find lots of links with it in my other walks around this area. It would be fascinating to step back in time and see what it was like in its heyday.

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The Chapel of the Barracks

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The main entrance to the barracks from Langsett Road

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The barracks has turrets around its perimeter

 

 

December: A Manic Month of Mayhem! (Time for a rest?)

If I thought there were lots of gigs in November, the pace was set to continue, with lots more gigs and events – and that’s on top of Christmas and the New Year.

During the start of December, I was working hard, and gently starting to prepare for Christmas. But that was all about to change.

The 11th December had been in my diary for months. I was lucky enough to have a ticket for the Manic Street Preachers, playing The Holy Bible album in full. It feels unbelievable, but 2014 was the twentieth anniversary of this harrowing, critically acclaimed and essential album, an album influenced by angular post-punk, rather than the glam metal and grunge of the previous two albums. In the months after its release, lyricist and rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards disappeared from a London hotel room, and has never been found.

Against all expectations, the Manic Street Preachers continued as a three-piece band, and they have now released twelve studio albums. They seemed busier and more productive than ever in 2014, having released Futurology in July. A tour to commemorate The Holy Bible was fervently wished for by fans, but it was unsure if the band would want to revisit old ground that invoked such painful memories of their friend’s disappearance.

But in late September, the band officially announced the tour dates, and my friend Louise managed to get tickets for the  Albert Hall in Manchester. On a stormy, sleety afternoon (I didn’t dare to cross the Pennines by the Snake Pass or the Woodhead) we drove to Manchester, arriving in good time at Louise’s boyfriend Peter’s flat, where he cooked a lovely meal, and I opened a bottle of red wine as a reward for battling the rain and the rush hour.

The gig was everything I hoped it would be. The Albert Hall was build in 1910 as a Wesleyan Chapel (very fitting when you think of the Methodist upbringings of the young Manic Street Preachers and the religious title of the album they were about to play in full. Ornate tiles, stained glass and cast-iron pillars added to the atmosphere of the venue. There was no support band, and we enjoyed the DJs and drank beer with mounting excitement.

The band appear onstage. The thing that hits me first is the empty space – the space where Richey Edwards used to perform – front left. This space has always been left, but as they launch into ‘Yes’, the first track from the album, about prostitution and exploitation, it feels incredibly stark. The stage is draped in camouflage netting, and James, Nicky and Sean are wearing their combat chic, just like in 1994. Nicky is all in black, his face half-hidden by outsize shades, and James Dean Bradfield wears a black sailor’s top. The songs are tight and powerful, and in such an intimate space, it becomes obvious what an outstanding guitarist James is, and also how hard he has to work: carrying the weight of these songs about human suffering and cruelty. It was brilliant to experience The Holy Bible being performed live, but the gig went far too fast to take in.

After all the emotional intensity, the Manics then delivered a brilliant second set with songs from the rest of their career. A particular highlight for me was Dreaming a City (Hughesovka) from Futurology, really allowing James’ guitar heroics full reign. The Manics ended with their traditional closing number A Design for Life, before we were kicked out into the pouring rain. It had been an amazing night!

The next day, I was doing it all again, this time seeing another of my all-time favourite bands, Gogol Bordello at the O2 in Sheffield, with my friend Kirsty, her husband Mark and old uni friend Katy. After stopping off in Pennine town New Mills to take photographs for an adult education session, the drive back was a little stressful, due to a blizzard in the Peak District. I didn’t fancy taking any of my usual shortcuts on minor roads as it looked too slippery, but luckily, but the time I arrived back in Sheffield, the long way round, there was no sign of snow!

The O2 felt pretty chilly though, but support band Mariachi El Bronx, who combine punk with Mexican Mariachi music, including tiny and gigantic guitars, trumpets, violins, accordions and maracas! I think it was Mark’s Santa had and Christmas tie (he’d just come from his work Christmas party) that made the singer announce that he was feeling Christmassy for the first time! The band looked great in proper gold-fringed Mariachi outfits.

Gogol Bordello themselves were a riot of colour, attitude and fun. Singer Eugene Hutz is the only person I can think of who would get away with wearing satin boxer’s style shorts and pointy black and red cowboy boots. Since I last saw them at Download last year, they’ve had some line-up changes – a leather-clad accordion player called Pasha, and bald, Les Paul toting guitarist Michael Ward (Eugene Hutz lied in his announcement – he’s American, not from Sheffield!) They played songs from their breakthrough album Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike, right up to their latest album Pura Vida Conspiracy. Gogol Bordelo have built up a big cult following over the years, with a devoted audience wearing the t-shirts and outfits inspired by Hutz’s off-kilter colourful sense of style. The place was packed, but the crowd were friendly and up for a good dance/mosh.

Their sound is fresh and still evolving, with heavier guitars combining with Latin rhythms. They are one of the most multi-national bands I know of, formed in 1999 in the cultural melting-pot of down-town New York; the vision of Ukrainian immigrant Hutz, who was hungry for success as a musician and actor. A Gogol Bordello gig is a very entertaining experience – each member of the band is a stunning musician, and although Eugene Hutz is one of the world’s most engaging frontmen, every member of the band has a chance to shine, and violinist Sergey Ryabtsev deserves a special mention for his virtuosity and on-stage antics. The first time I saw them, in 2006, at Rock City in Nottingham, I hugged him! That’s my claim to fame, anyway. He looked quite surprised! This time, we just left with smiles on our faces and our ears ringing.

I felt a bit wrung out after two big gigs in a row. I don’t know how I hack it when I’m at a festival, but going to see a band in a proper venue is always a treat. I concentrated on Christmas and went back home to stay with my parents and see family members on the next weekend – it was good to calm down for a bit!

My mum is a volunteer room steward for the National Trust at Kedleston Hall, and she recommended that I visited the stately home while it was open for Christmas. My dad and I went along and I’m really glad I did. The sight of Grecian statues covered in fairy lights really made me giggle, and I loved the atmosphere of the grand rooms lit only by flickering LED candles. Even when it was lit for grand dinner parties and balls, this eighteenth century mansion must have been full of shadows and mystery. It was really a visit to spark the imagination.

The next day was the winter solstice. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll remember that I spent the summer solstice up Glastonbury Tor. That was a long way away, so I suggested that we should wake up before the official sunrise (8.15am) and walk to Bunkers Hill, a viewpoint near the ridiculously posh village of Quarndon, a mile or so up the road from my parents’ house. The sky was already turning red as we walked up Woodlands Road up to the park, but we got to Bunkers Hill just in time to see the sun rise above the horizon. We were lucky, because it started raining just as we got back to the house. Later on, we met up with family members and went to my Aunt Marion’s annual Christmas party. It was lovely to see everyone. I’ll always remember the 21st December as the anniversary of my grandad’s death, thirteen years ago, so my mum lit candles in his memory, which was lovely.

On Tuesday 23rd December, I gathered up some friends for a Christmas dinner (nut roast with all the trimmings) and lots of mulled wine. Eventually, we made it out of the house in time to catch the folk train! It was rammed, but very good-natured. Some of my friends managed to get seats, but the rest of us were crammed into the corridor but we didn’t mind! On the way to Edale, local choir The Sheffield Folk Chorale entertained us with Christmas carols and gave out song sheets so we could join in.

I hope the customers having a quiet night at the Rambler in Edale were warned about the hoards of people who descended on the pub in one go, once we got off the train! It was like being part of a huge procession walking from the railway station to the pub just around the corner. Surprisingly, we got served fairly quickly, and found a corner with seats to drink our pints. In the main room in the pub, the choir conductor stood on a table, and the choir started singing! They did a great version of Fairytale in New York, as well as more traditional carols.

On the way home, the choir sung some traditional Sheffield carols, such as Sweet Bells, which is a version of ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night’ which originates from Stannington in Sheffield and has now been made famous by folk singer Kate Rusby. It was a beautiful moment. At the other end of the journey, the choir sang around the Christmas tree at Sheffield railway station before we all headed off to the Sheffield Tap for a final beer.

I spent Christmas Eve collecting holly for a touch of traditional decoration, and preparing a mountain of vegetables for Christmas, even though there were only four people eating, enjoying listening to the radio adaptation of Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, followed by a selection of rockabilly Christmas CDs played by my other half!

Christmas Day went smoothly, except for my dad’s self-timer on his camera not working, and then the batteries ran out, but we used my camera instead, and we went for a lovely afternoon walk in the local park and took the chance to have a go on the huge swing that’s popped up near us! Even my dad had a go!

On the morning of Boxing Day, we had a bracing, if a little foggy walk to Stanage Edge from Redmires Reservoir, which was popular with a lot of other people trying to blow away the cobwebs after a Christmas blow-out! And then at tea-time, it started to snow…and snow…and snow… until we woke up the next day in a winter wonderland /nightmare, depending if you had to get anywhere. Luckily, we fell into the first category, and the snow looked very pretty, with lots of families enjoying sledging in Ruskin Park.

A few days later, and the snow had turned very icy and slippery on the pavements, which is tricky if you live in such a hilly city, so we caught the train when we went to meet an old uni friend in Castleton in the Peak District and went down the Blue John mine at Treak Cliff Cavern, which truly has some stunning sights, and actually felt quite warm underground!

And so we come to New Year’s Eve! The pavements were still icy, but I headed out to the city centre for some early drinks with a friend. It was very quiet, but I was due at another friend’s house for a small gathering with wine and pizza (I supplied my own vegan garlic bread and some Christmas cake – which I always seem to end up eating myself!) It was all very civilised, and for a while, it looked like we were destined to enjoy Jools Holland’s Hootenanny and the Queen concert that followed on TV. But my friend Angelina was determined to drag us out to enjoy ourselves, so we put our boots on and slid out onto the melting ice and headed first to the Three Tuns, a lovely little pub on the outskirts of the city centre, where the party was in full swing, with DJs playing some great music.

After a pint…or was it two? I can’t remember, we ended up at the Dada bar, where the Dub Central New Year’s party was happening. It was a bit quiet, but we know the lady who ran it, and I vaguely remember a round of aniseed flavoured shots! This was probably the point where things got a bit hazy.

We’d heard about a party in the Wicker Arches, so a group of us stumbled out of town, towards the Victorian railway arches. Over the years, several of the arches and the tunnels underneath have been used as party venues, and we headed to the last place we’d been to a party near there, only to find it all very quiet. Maybe the party was in one of the arches further along? I have vague memories of walking along the “spider bridge“, suspended over the river that runs through one of the arches. And then we found the party.

It was in the old “Arches” nightclub, which I hadn’t been inside for at least ten years. Angelina and I met in 2004, working together in a building very close by. The nightclub was already closed then, and shortly afterwards, the new ring-road was built, right next to the railway arches. Then the dramatic floods of 2007, when the river burst its banks and swept down the Wicker, must have caused terrible damage. But there it was, like some kind of mirage from 1999.

When we were students, a long time ago in the 90s, the Arches was a by-word for a crazy night out. Headcharge played dance music of all kinds, but mostly house, techno and trance. Rough and ready, it was the place to go if you wanted to rave all night long, with the main club inside the old railway arches, and metal stairs leading up to the bar, toilets (always a bit crazy in themselves), and a weird, corrugated iron-roofed chill-out area. It’s all still there. I was amazed. We just walked in through the fire escape, and it seemed to be a free party of some kind, but it was packed, and lots of people we knew were there – and lots of other people who were also veterans of the club scene in the 90s, who’d somehow ended up here. It was like being in a dream – a very strange, euphoric dream. It had to be a dream- the toilets had toilet paper! The music was thumping… it was like we’d taken a trip in the Tardis (although it had actually just been some wine, several pints of ale, that weird aniseed spirit, and some rum). I can’t even find anything about it on the internet…It was like a mirage.

Eventually, we looked at our watches and were absolutely mind-boggled to realise what the time was. It was about to get light! We were absolutely shattered. Within a few minutes, we’d flagged down a taxi and were on our way to a terrible New Year hangover. It was worth it though. The only clue that my Wicker Arches adventures were real was the mud on my coat and all over my boots. In my drunken state, I somehow managed to get the dustpan and brush and the carpet cleaner out before I stumbled into bed.

After all that excitement, I’ve been teetotal so far in the New Year. I’m looking forward to an action-packed year, when hard work and creativity are combined with good times with friends and amazing music of all kinds!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

November: a Levellers double-whammy!

On the first of November, I belatedly got my “spooky” on, and went to a brilliant Halloween party at Hagglers Corner, a wonderful arts venue set around a courtyard. My friends’ band The Hot Diamond Aces were playing. The band combine funk with Afro-beat and jazz and are, as they describe themselves “the ultimate party band”. They are amazingly talented musicians with a gift for getting the audience’s feet moving. If you like infectious grooves and hot horns, then they’re your thing. This sounds like an advert, but they really are that good! We had a fantastic time, dancing and drinking real ale in our costumes. Angelina had particularly scary latex zombie make-up, but it all peeled off when she started dancing!

As the weather got colder, and the nights got darker, I managed to fulfil one of my artistic aims for the year and completed my triptych of three canvasses for my dining room wall. They are all collages, and all Neil Gaiman quotes, to inspire me as I live and work. Now the pictures are up on the wall, they look great and really make the room vibrant and arty.

The first collage is from the Sandman graphic novel Brief Lives , and it’s all about change. The quote, cut out of newspaper letters, ransom-note style (which took blooming ages!) is positioned around concentric circles made of gold wrapping paper and a green collage, made out of cut-out pictures from the RSBP’s magazine, Nature’s Home, including an otter (the otter isn’t green!), and a green lighter which was found in the stomach of an albatross! The other smaller canvas has the quote: “Writing is like flying in dreams”, from the front page of Neil Gaiman’s short story anthology Smoke and Mirrors. This canvas has pictures of birds, from Nature’s Home magazine, and also real feathers, gathered over the year.

Finally, the huge canvas has the slogan “Make good art“, which was the theme of Neil Gaiman’s speech to Philadelphia’s University of the Arts graduates when receiving his honorary doctorate in 2012. Since giving the speech, the video has become viral on the internet, and has also inspired a lot of beautiful artwork. Mine is just one example! Before I left my sensible 9-5 job and ever since, I have listened to the speech at regular intervals, and I’m listening to it right now. His advice and experience is priceless and reflects everything that I’ve been through as a creative person. I wanted to create a piece of art that would inspire me and cheer me up when I lost faith in my way of life, so I cut up festival programmes for images to remind me of the times when art and creativity have created the most thrilling experiences and memories. Life would not be worth living without the creativity of others – or your own creativity. And I’ve been lucky enough to build a new career out of creativity, which is truly amazing.

Make Good Art

Make Good Art

This November was also about seeing the Levellers twice as well! The first time was in Birmingham, en route to another gathering of Oxfam stewards in Tewksbury. Louise and I did battle with rush-hour traffic and the one-way system of Birmingham, and we only missed a few songs by support band, the legendary two-tone band, the Selector. Singer Pauline Black is full of attitude and sharply dressed, and the other singer, Arthur ‘Gaps’ Hendrickson was also very energetic – so much so that his suit was dripping wet by the end of the show! I enjoyed having a good skank, dancing around until Louise managed to find Fraser. Oxfam friend Alexa was also there, and it was a great mini-reunion.

The Levellers were on great form, blasting through their “Greatest Hits” set. The O2 in Birmingham was packed, and people were crowd-surfing to the front – mostly middle aged men, re-living their youth! We had a great view of everything from the side, right near the front, and we danced around being silly. I didn’t even mind that all I could drink was a couple of shandies.

After dropping Alexa safely off home, I drove Louise and Fraser to our log cabin weekend in Tewksbury! We got there safely, to find the others enjoying the end of their party, which for some reason involved Hawaiian shirts and grass skirts. I was exhausted though, after all that driving!

On Saturday morning, some of the others were busy having a watersports session on the lake, which involved a giant swan-shaped pedallo, canoes and a wind-surfer! I love doing things like that, but for once, I was pleased that I hadn’t signed up for watersports. Even though the participants were wearing wetsuits, it looked very cold. So Clare, Jez and I went for a short walk, and we were rewarded by finding a £10 note on the grass verge, which we took straight to the pub!

After a leisurely lunch, a group of us went for a wander around Tewkesbury and the Abbey. Tewkesbury Abbey was really special and spiritual – I don’t think anyone could help but to be moved by such an ancient, beautiful building. The atmosphere of the golden stone and soaring arches was enhanced by a rehearsal of the Elgar concert, A Dream of Gerontius. Wandering around with the sound of the instruments and voices reverberating around the Abbey was very moving, and as we sat in the pews to listen to the singing, I even wrote a couple of haiku poems. Susie Morley has the only copies of those, as I wrote them in her notebook!

Walking down the medieval streets in the twilight afterwards, I started to feel Christmassy, and the decorations were already up in the half-timbered pub where we stopped for a couple of ales, before heading back to our log cabins at Croft Farm. The staff there served us up a lovely meal, and then we had a brilliant disco, fighting it out using Spotify to choose the songs we wanted. We had a particularly stupid time dancing to “Ra Ra Rasputin”, pretending to do Russian dancing on chairs! Towards the end of the night, I even managed to put on some old goth songs!

On Sunday, we drove into Tewksbury again, and I bought an awesome Russian army greatcoat from an antique shop (I must have been subliminally influenced by “Ra Ra Rasputin”!) We had a lovely lunch at a big Wetherspoons pub, all the Oxfam volunteers sitting along a really long table we cobbled together from several little ones. Eventually, it was time to head for home.

The week afterwards, it was time to do the whole Levellers thing again, for Kirsty’s birthday! This time, we caught the whole thing, really enjoying The Selector. We got much closer to the front for the Levellers, and the Sheffield O2 seemed very busy but much less packed than the Birmingham gig, so we got a great view from the front, while still being able to comfortably dance around. The Levellers are a band that have a very close relationship with their fans – I think I’ve had conversations with all of them, and certainly camped in the same field with them at Beautiful Days. Being at a Levellers gig feels like being part of a big tribe – it felt like that when we were sixteen, and it still feels like being truly with kindred spirits, even twenty one years later.

I can’t take credit for these pictures – Kirsty took them, because she’s taller and has a steadier hand! I think she did a fine job.

Blimey, I’ve got some catching up to do! What have I been up to?

Hello! I’ve been a bit quiet on this blog for several months. I’ve been really busy – teaching courses for Derbyshire County Council, and also editing and publishing several books for clients.

I have been blogging though – I’ve been updating my Newholme Dales Tales blog every week with poems and pieces of writing created in my sessions with older patients in hospitals in Bakewell, Buxton, and now Chesterfield too. I love doing creative writing work with the patients and helping them to tell their stories and be creative – and it seems to be paying off. In the summer, the Dales Tales poetry anthology was published, and in the New Year, I’m due to do more workshops and sessions in hospitals and Age UK Centres.

Crafting Christmas cards at Newholme Hospital

Crafting Christmas cards at Newholme Hospital

I’ve also been teaching a story sacks course with parents in Staveley, which resulted in course participants writing their own books for Halloween and Christmas, and I’m teaching Functional Skills English in Chesterfield, which I’m really enjoying.

Amazing Minion puppets and storysack created by a learner in Staveley!

Amazing Minion puppets and storysack created by a learner in Staveley!

I ran a Story Walk as part of the Off the Shelf festival of words in Sheffield. I led two family walks through the beautiful Rivelin Valley, and we discovered goblin castles, fairy caves and mysterious beasts. The children came back to the Rivelin Park cafe to write their stories and enjoy huge chocolate buns, while the parents had a cup of coffee and a nice sit down! It was a beautiful day in October, when the autumn colours were at their best.

The Rivelin Story Walk in October

The Rivelin Story Walk in October

As an editor, and a “self-publishing enabler”, it’s great to announce that some of the books I have worked on have now been unleashed on the world, and I’m very proud of them.

Joe Blow by Joe Ashton

Joe Blow by Joe Ashton

Former veteran Labour MP, Joe Ashton, has now published his memoir Joe Blow, which is available in the Sheffield Star shop: York Street, Sheffield, S1 1PU, which you can also order by calling 0114 2521299. Extracts from the book has also been serialised in the Sheffield Star and there are due to be more of them over Christmas. You can read the first one here.

The Woodhead Diaries

The Woodhead Diaries

Barnsley folk music legend Dave Cherry has been enjoying a big success with his novel The Woodhead Diaries, a historical murder mystery featuring the real life story of the construction of the Woodhead railway tunnel through the Pennines in Victorian times, and the 1950s detective who pieces together the mystery of the bodies which turn up during the construction of the third railway tunnel.

Legends and Rebels of the Football World

Legends and Rebels of the Football World

Football coach and former international football player, Norm Parkin, has also published his book, Legends and Rebels of the Football World. The book is Norm’s journey to meet and interview some of the biggest and most notorious football heroes of the twentieth century, and all the profits will go to the Philippines Typhoon Relief Fund.

Joan Lee is 91 years old, almost 92, and she’s as sharp and bright as she ever was while she was working as one of Sheffield’s most long-serving pub landladies! She’s now a publishing powerhouse, as not only has she published her memoirs, with fascinating stories from the Sheffield blitz and pubs from the East End of Sheffield to posh Dronfield. Behind Bars has proved to be very popular. Now Joan has published Gammon and Pineapple, a novella with a new twist on romance!

Cover design version 2

And as well as the Dales Tales poetry anthology, I’ve also published the first collection of poetry by Darren Howes. Poems from A Room Beyond Awareness is spiritual, thought-provoking and also humorous – an exploration of a path into Buddhism.

I’ve also had some time to have fun – which I’ll update you on in my next few blog posts. Then I’ll continue as I mean to go on, with shorter, but more regular posts! I’ve been working so hard to publish my clients’ writing that I’ve neglected my own writing a little bit, and hopefully I’ll do something about that too.

Cider and Spandex – The Epic Glastonbury Diary, Part Three

Phew! Finally onto the final instalment. This is my last chance, as tomorrow (actually today!), I’ll be enjoying Tramlines festival, here in Sheffield, and next weekend, I’ll be off to Nozstock in Hereford, to sample some local cider and (hopefully) dance myself silly to Craig Charles.

Friday 27th June 2014

I didn’t have quite as much time as I’d hoped this morning.I got everything for my shift ready, including some ciders for later, and had a shower and an enormous breakfast from Nuts. Maybe it was too enormous. I’d planned to take a leisurely stroll through the site to Campervans West, but I hadn’t realised how much it had rained in the night, leaving much of the site covered in unusually slippery mud. And because it was overcast, and I wanted to make an effort, I was wearing a tutu and a corset, with a long-sleeved t-shirt underneath.

Rushing past the Other Stage, I caught a couple of Blondie songs as I struggled through the mud. And it was starting to get hot again. So by the time I reached my gate, I was only just on time, and I was a horrible sweaty mess! I removed as many layers as I could before putting my tabard on, and after a while, I recovered from my dash across the site. It was a sunny day, and the mud really started to dry out.

Late in the afternoon, I sorted out the times when all the stewards wanted to go on their breaks, and then took my own break in the Park, the “boutique festival” area, nearest to our gate. It started in 2007, and now feels like an integral part of Glastonbury. Full of art and beautiful decorations, it’s also got the Bimble Inn, a pub/venue inside a large, elongated tipi. I ate my favourite festival snack, “Giant Beans” in tomato sauce, out of the can, while watching a great singer-songwriter on the Bimble Inn stage.

On my return, I noticed that there were black clouds circling the horizon, and a threatening wind blew. The sky darkened as I hurried back, and I feared that I was going to get completely soaked before I reached the shelter of my gate, which has a big canopy over it. However, once I returned, we waited around an hour, as the sky got darker and darker, and lightning started to flash. The gate was quiet as we waited with anticipation. Then the rain started, a wall of water, bouncing off the ground. And people started dashing back to their camper vans, and I had to deal with lots of disintegrated tickets – and very soggy ticket-holders.

But as the rain stopped, there was an amazing rainbow, vivid against the pewter sky. We posed for photographs in front of it, as the numbers of returning ticket-holders slowed down. One man had told us that the Pyramid Stage had been hit by lightning. He was almost right- both the Pyramid Stage and the Other Stage had been shut down for a while as a precaution.

The rest of the shift went smoothly, with the main problem being people slipping on the mud caused by the streams of water that had run through the gate in the rain storms. But James improvised, with gravel and a paper cup, which was surprisingly effective.

It was a lovely evening by the time I finished my shift, and I stopped for a veggie bacon sandwich and a cup of coffee at the lovely Tea & Toast stall. I also had a chat with the girl working there – the staff are always so friendly, and totally appreciate my devotion to their wonderful produce – a big, floury bap, succulent veggie bacon (yeah, I know – it often confuses people), sun dried tomato relish and fried onions!

Feeling refreshed, I joined my friends at the Tiny Tea Tent in the Greenfields, and we went to see M.I.A. I hadn’t seen her live before, and if you have no idea who she is, she’s a British-Tamil rapper, singer, pioneer of cutting-edge electronica and dancehall and a kind of performance art statement. I think she’s pretty cool. She had loads of dancers, singers and band members on stage with her, some of them with t-shirts supporting Tamil immigrants, and M.I.A. told the audience that the BBC weren’t showing her set as they were being politically neutral: “Fuck the BBC!” she started chanting. As M.I.A. started her set, she and her entourage threw hundreds of huge, multi-coloured flashing glow sticks into the crowd, but we were too far over to the side. Fraser tried to get some for us, but they were jealously guarded.

But we couldn’t stay for the whole set. We needed to get to the Glade stage, this year back where it belongs, erm, in the glade! We were due to watch System 7, space-rock guitarist Steve Hillage’s electronic project, play with members of his original 70s prog-rock band, Gong. My other half got me into Gong, and five years ago, Louise and I saw Gong, right here in the Glade. Gong were supposed to headline the Glade again, but frontman Daevid Allen is ill, so they decided to play as a fusion of prog and techno. And it worked brilliantly. The perfect touch was the psychedelic Gong video animations, projected on a huge screen, with flying teapots “pot head pixies” and laser beams everywhere. It was a fantastic experience – and only towards the end of it did I realise that we were standing behind another Oxfam friend, Chris, who was wearing some very funky black and white stripy trousers.

After the gig, we settled back at the Tiny Tea Tent, losing and gaining some friends on the way. I had some lovely “cowboy style” coffee, before more cider! We  lost track of time, chatting. Eventually, we ended up at one of Glastonbury’s most civilised late night venues: the Small World Stage, where we saw a swing band, with a stripper dressed like Charlie Chaplin. It was brilliant, but the sun had already come up, and it was time to head for bed. I had to make the most of Saturday.

 

Saturday 28th June

I woke up feeling remarkably okay, and decided to get a shower. The weather was showery. And for some reason, there was a huge queue, stretching out of the ladies’ side of the shower marquee. Perhaps people had only just started to feel dirty. So I did what any sensible person would do. I politely asked at the mens’ side of the showers if anyone would mind me coming in! No one said they objected, and I had a perfectly good shower. One older gentleman did congratulate me afterwards (once I was dressed), for being so brave, and one bloke said that he had bigger tits than me (which is quite an achievement). I wonder if I made a few peoples’ days in the Oxfam field – certainly some people thought they’d imagined a girl using the mens’ showers!

There was another torrential rain shower when Louise and I were in the tent, getting dressed, and I invited in a few friends out of the rain.  The bell tent was bearing up very well. It gave me more time to plan my outfit – mostly leopard-print based, in anticipation of the Manic Street Preachers’ set later. Plus, leopard-print is a great look. When the rain had stopped, I ventured out for breakfast, and there was an enormous queue at the Nuts van as well!

I managed to scrounge a few things to eat and Fraser, Louise, Gavin and I headed out onto the site. A vegetable pasty filled me up a bit. We weren’t particularly aiming for anything, but we spotted a sticker in a toilet that said that Seize the Day were about to start in the Mandala stage in the Greenfields. It was just what we needed: a bit of shade from the sun that was now beating down, folky music, and lovely Greenfields vibe. In all the years I’ve been going to festivals, I’ve never seen them before, despite them having “stickers in toilets since 1997”. I don’t think I’d always be in the mood for them as they’re a bit “hippy dippy”, but perfect for that sunny Glastonbury moment.

I grabbed an awesome “fish style” burger from the Veggies stall again (they were doing well out of me!) If it wasn’t made by a hardcore vegan catering stall, I would have been suspicious that it had real fish or even chicken in it. I ate it while watching the Dap Kings Soul Review. The Dap Kings are an amazing band, usually featuring singer Sharon Jones, who play good time funk and soul in an original 1960s style. Unfortunately, the bank of black clouds on the horizon, which had seemed to be blowing away from us, were about to hit the West Holts field rapidly. So we ran for it…

Luckily, we had a good direction to run in. The Avalon Stage is always a good bet, and Louise was curious about Skinny Lister, a folk / punk band, who were compared to the Pogues in the programme. They were great, with a girl singer with bags of attitude, a double-bass player, who actually crowd-surfed through the audience on his bass, and an a capella version of a sea shanty, which lots of people joined in with (it is the Avalon stage, famed for folk music, after all). They’re a band I’ll definitely be checking out again.

But now it was time to get horribly over excited and made sure I’d been to the loo as much as possible in advance, so we could get into position for the Manic Street Preachers. It’s funny to think that a band I wasn’t even that bothered about five years ago has now become a massive obsession. For me, it’s the band’s story, their intelligence, the breadth of their music and song writing (although I especially like their heavier stuff like their bleak third album The Holy Bible). And a week after Glastonbury, their twelfth album Futurology was due out. A group of us met in front of the Other Stage mixing desk in advance (including soon to be marrried Gaelle and Graham), and I was full of excitement. Despite being where I spent most of my fist Glastonbury in 1993, the Other Stage hasn’t got too much of an atmosphere of its own. It always seems a bit barren and windswept – and full of young indie-kids like I once was! But the sense of anticipation was growing, and the Welsh flags were starting to fly.

And it was a great gig. A greatest and future hits set. Kicking off with Motorcycle Emptiness, playing two songs from the Holy Bible, a few brand new ones from Futurology and a good spread of songs from their unbelievable over twenty year career, it was over far too fast. An hour wasn’t nearly long enough, but at least you can re-live it on Youtube! And here’s the Guardian review. They enjoyed it too.

Before the Pixies, I parted company with Louise, as she wasn’t enjoying the Other Stage atmosphere, but I managed to find one Oxfam friend after a quick refreshment stop, even though the Other Stage field was full to bursting. There were lots of young people, which is great to see, as I got into the Pixies in the 90s, long after they’d split up. A group of us saw them at V festival in 1994, when they first re-formed. That was very exciting. I can’t believe that that was ten years ago, but I really enjoyed the gig, singing along to virtually everything (in my head, anyway!)

I returned to the West Holts stage to meet Louise for Bryan Ferry, but she was nowhere to be seen and didn’t respond to my texts. I later found out that she was enjoying herself too much watching Bryan to take any notice of anything else! He was definitely the highlight of her weekend. But I think I’d joined the crowd in a bit of a lull, and the songs seemed to be really slow, and I didn’t recognise any of them, despite being a fan of Roxy Music. I was feeling a bit sleepy, and I had to be at work at 4.45am on Sunday!

So I decided to go over to the Pyramid Stage to watch Metallica. And they were brilliant. I became my 17-year-old metal alter-ego and found a friend, another girl, who also loved metal. With the mud and the darkness and laser flashes, it was very atmospheric, and lots of fun, with the audience really getting into the spirit. I was expecting fireworks at the end of the set, but instead, the band threw hundreds of beach balls into the audience black, of course, but also multi-coloured, so it looked a bit like a beach party.

I made my way back up the hill as quickly as I could, and packed my bag for my shift. At least I’d been promised a lift to the gate from the Oxfam field, so I would have almost four hours before it was time to get up again!

 

Sunday 29th June

4am. The alarm rang. I got into the clothes I’d laid out before I got to bed, and crawled out of my tent in the half-light. I’d already packed everything in my bag. I was still feeling excited after the Manic and Metallica from the night before as I rolled into the Oxfam Landrover, waving at bemused revellers, who must have thought that I was someone important as I was ferried across the site. I couldn’t thank the driver enough. And I’d been clever – I’d got Nuts to make me a veggie sausage sandwich and wrap it in foil, so by the time I’d settled into my shift, I was ready to eat it.

The shift went steadily. We were a great team – and we had time for having a laugh as well as doing the job, asking people if we could “tug on their band”, which was said with lots of winks and giggles. This morning, lots of people were happily on their way from their campervans into the festival, and the sun was shining reliably again. A a lot of people were planning to see Dolly Parton.

At the end of my shift, I took group photographs, and then escaped, to enjoy the rest of the festival. After grabbing yet another delicious Veggies burger (and a new dress, from charity stall Tat for Tibet), I went straight to the Avalon Stage to watch festival stalwards 3 Daft Monkeys. I was instantly in my total comfort zone. I took my wellies off, opened a can of cider, and I was surrounded by Oxfam friends – and watching 3 Daft Monkeys, with their brand of humour, and Balkan-infused folk music that you can dance to. It was a brilliant start to Sunday (apart from the working bit!)

There was just time for another Magic Hat sauna (see Wednesday’s entry!) to freshen up before Dolly Parton. We all had big plans to meet up with each other for Dolly, but we hadn’t reckoned on  the crowd being quite so packed. It was insane. I got a pint of Burrow Hill cider from the Cider Bus, and managed to squeeze into the crowd behind the disabled viewing platform, right at the back of the field. But I had a good view of the screen, and the massive audience, all waving their flags. I could actually see the stage, but Dolly was a tiny white speck in the distance – at least I can say that I saw her in “real life”! She was wearing an amazing white rhinestone encrusted jumpsuit, and when she speaks to the audience, it’s like she’s talking to someone in her own living room. She managed to create a feeling of intimacy amongst about 200,000 people who must have been there. And then Richie Sambora from Bon Jovi came on. I think Bon Jovi would be a good choice for the “legend” spot of Glastonbury next year.

The blisters on my feet were starting to get the better of me by that stage, and by the time I got to the Acoustic Stage to see Jake Bugg, my feet were killing me, so I enjoyed his set from the front, but while lounging on surprisingly fresh green grass at the edge of the tent, in a secluded little side bit near the fence.

Fraser texted me, having an amazing time watching Yoko Ono in the Park. I told him that I was on my over there, but by the time I arrived, my feet were absolutely killing me, and I was reduced to limping along. We also got the shock news that Louise had decided to leave on a Bryan Ferry high and was currently on a bus back to Bristol! But she seemed pretty happy about it.

I consulted the Guardian Guide handing around my neck. The next two acts on the Park’s main stage were St Vincent and James Blake, which would do me nicely. We found a great spot to sit on the grass, a short limping distance from some backstage compost toilets which were still relatively fragrant, and we had a good view of the stage without having to stand up. Unless everyone stood up, which happened a couple of times! Fraser was an angel, and brought me a veggie bacon sandwich, and also cider, not from the bar, which was about 100 metres away, but from Bimble Inn, which was only £3.50 a pint, but was 8% – very tasty, but very strong and potent.

St Vincent was brilliant. Quirky, glamourous, entertaining – chatting between songs about how if you’re a bit weird, the staff in the supermarket automatically look at you suspicious like they think you’re a shoplifter! I’ll definitely be looking out for more of her music in future. Her set combined heavy guitars and electronica. She’s really innovative and original.

And then James Blake‘s set was perfect. It was very special to see him outdoors, in a beautiful arena, just as the sun was going down: wonderful, haunting and delicate. And then he introduces those insane dubstep moments, blasting out the heaviest possible bass. The dancier elements of his set put me in the mood for Kasabian – the cider had gone to my legs and I thought I might manage walking to the Pyramid Stage.

Not only did I make it to the Pyramid Stage, but we ended up right at the front, near the monitors, with a brilliant view, and I danced around like a crazy loon. It was great. And over far too fast. I was impressed by Serge’s shiny black Spandex pants, as I’d been extolling the virtues of Spandex all week to anyone who’s listen, particularly the gentlemen. I mean, who wants trousers that trail in the mud, when you could look like an 8os rock star and have all the stretchiness and quick-drying properties you want!

When Kasabian finished, we stumbled off. And realised that we’d somehow found ourselves backstage at the Pyramid Stage. I don’t know how we made it! No one checked our Easy Pass Out wristbands. We were stood amongst lots of flight cases and sound equipment and blokes in 3/4 length shorts with lots of lanyards. Around the corner, we found some luxury portacabin toilets. As I was washing my hands, a woman shouted ‘get a move on, Serge’, and I came down the steps of the toilets to find myself face-to-face with Serge and his Spandex pants.

‘Great Spandex pants – good choice!’ I said.

‘They’re not Spandex, they’re denim,’ he mumbled.

‘Have a good one!’ I said, and with that, we went our separate ways! According to the review, they were skeleton print pants, but they looked pretty much like Spandex to me: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/jun/30/kasabian-at-glastonbury-2014-review .

We wandered around backstage, finding the BBC area, more toilets, and large socket board type thing that looked like it might control the electrics for the whole Pyramid Stage. We also managed to find a backstage / hospitality disco, but to be honest, it wasn’t that exciting. A much more exciting disco was to be found in the bar next to the cider bus; alternately cheesy and eclectic, and my dancing seemed much more drunken because my feet were so sore.

We made it back to the Oxfam campsite as the sun was coming up, and after sharing a huge bag of popcorn, fell into a deep sleep…

Monday 30th June and Tuesday 1st July.

Yes – there’s more! But I’ll make it brief. I always stay behind on the Monday of Glastonbury. That way, we avoid all the traffic, have a relatively restful, soberish day, and catch up on some sleep.

We did some “tatting” – rescuing things that people have abandoned. But security were much more active this year, and told us off  – and then kind of turned a blind eye to us as we were packing away a clearly abandoned tent. I picked up a few things – fancy dress outfits, cider, two pairs of white Converse pumps, a bit mud-stained, but virtually new. Friends picked up tents. It’s always a shock to find that the punters have left the site strewn with wreckage and litter. I love “tatting”, but I’d love it even more if everyone took their belongings away with them at the end, or put their rubbish in a bin bag and took it to one of the recycling points. It’s really not that hard! It’s always disappointing to think that the people we’ve been partying amongst all weekend really aren’t that like-minded, and don’t give a shit about the farm, the countryside or the environment.

But we got lots of free “bargains”, and the few of us who were left in the Oxfam field had a lovely night around the camp fire. But there was even rubbish left lying around here – and lots of cans of cider – thanks, Fraser, for collecting it!

On Tuesday morning, I packed away my bell tent, taking the time to clean the mud off its flaps, and dry out the groundsheet. We drove away with a car full of crap, and heads full of memories.

 

 

 

 

Saunas and Shangri-hell. An epic Glastonbury diary…part Two

The next part of Glastonbury festival is my favourite time of the whole year, really. It’s a bit like the build up to Christmas. All the workers and volunteers arrive, gently easing into the festival, and by Tuesday night, you’d swear that the festival has already started. The moment the gates open is exciting, but sometimes tinged with regret, that the perfect place we’ve been living in will soon be teeming with people. I love the build-up, the atmosphere and the sense of excitement in the air. Perhaps it’s the “carnie” in me, but I love scenery being painted and erected, marquees being put up and statues being hauled from the ground.

Sunday 22nd June 

Last night My friend Mike suggested a walk to the nearest town, Shepton Mallet. I’d never been before, and I was surprised that it was only about three miles away from the site. Neither of us would get our festival wristbands until Monday morning, so we walked over the bumpy track I’d driven on through the fields, onto the main road. With traffic from festival traders picking up, roadworks traffic jams and speeding cars, it was quite a dangerous journey at first, but we kept onto the verges until we found some quiet overgrown lanes to walk down. It was very hot, and I decided to buy a sun hat. Apart from the busy roads, it was good to chat and catch up with Mike.

And when we got there, the town was shut. It was Sunday after all, and the main objective had just been to go there, to take a look at it and go to the huge TESCO. There were lots of interesting looking charity shops in the town centre – Shepton Mallet might be worth a look another time. We had lunch in a very friendly, rather spartan pub called The Swan, where the landlord plied me with extra bread and vegetarian gravy! There were spaniels behind the bar – but they weren’t actually serving the beer!

On the way back, we bought orange juice, a couple of sun hats and some lip balm. So far, so boring. But when we were walking back towards the sight, we saw a footpath signpost that said:  “Pilton”, two miles. Pilton is the village where the Glastonbury Festival is actually held, and we wanted to save ourselves from all that traffic, so we took the path. It seemed a bit overgrown as we climbed the first stile, and then we had to pick our way through the debris in a derelict farmyard, but then we had to find the next stile in a trackless field full of cows – and calfs, but they were lying down and we didn’t cross their path. And then we had to fight our way through ploughed earth and a field full of young corn, the stiles between each field still confidently stating “public footpath”, but we felt anything but welcome.

And then the next stile was on the far side of a field full of Friesian cows. Mike was very calm and casual, but I didn’t like the way that the cows raised their heads and seemed to take a keen interest in us. One of the cows started running. Towards us. I screamed and grabbed Mike’s arm with a vice-like grip, which I’m sure he appreciated, but he was great, calming the cows down by talking slowly to them. They gathered around us as we climbed the stile, and once we were over, I was laughing at myself in shame at behaving like such a wuss.

We were now in some kind of lane, but it was blocked off on our left by a temporary fence, and a stream of cows wandering towards the milking parlour. I didn’t fancy tangling with any more cows, and it looked like the village was over to the right, and we could see a lane heading in that direction. But there was an electric fence stretched across our path. We followed it to its end and managed to unhook it, laughing at the way that this walk had become much more of a challenge than we’d anticipated. The lane turned off onto a path that looked like it might join a proper road. I took off my sandals and wiped my feet on a mown verge. They were black with dust.

We’d almost made it onto the road when a large dog ran towards us from behind, and a man called out sharply. You’ve guessed it, I did the squealing and arm-grabbing routine again, which was very embarrassing, especially as the dog was just a very friendly Golden Retriever, whose “parents” were trying to stop him from running off and jumping up at people. The dog’s owner was very apologetic at having startled me, but I was relieved.

We crossed the road and found another path which looked promising. And then the path disappeared. We had a good view though, across to the Tor and the festival site, so we stopped to drink some water, and we heard buzzards calling from the nearby woods, then soaring into the sky. We scrambled over some more ploughed fields, and then eventually found ourselves on the outskirts of the festival site itself. As we reached the exclusive “Yurtel”, with rows of pristine yurts and fancy marquees that looked like something you’d hire for a weding, we realised that it was well into the evening. It had taken us a long time to walk over those fields, and it was still blazing hot.

Eventually, we found ourselves at the top of Cockmill Road, a narrow lane that runs down the Eastern side of the site and from there, it was a short journey back to the campsite. It felt like we’d been on an epic adventure.

Sunday evening was spent relaxing and drinking cider, aching from our arduous journey. My old friend Terry (author of the brilliant Iain Duncan Smith, My Part in his Downfall!) ate a very melted quiche and then refreshed his face with a wet wipe, from the packet he produced from his carrier bag. “These are very lemony,” he said, and then I realised that he was wiping his face with Flash wipes. I eventually persuaded him that they were for floors and toilets, rather than faces. They would probably be very useful on the long-drops on the festival site later! You probably had to be there, but “Flash Terry” became a bit of a legend over the weekend. It has to be said that Terry’s book is excellent, and he was suffering from an extreme lack of sleep, so don’t judge him on his ability to distinguish baby wipes and heavy-duty cleaning products!

Monday 23rd June

On Monday morning, I was issued with my “Easy Pass Out” wristband, that meant that I could easily pass in and out of the festival gates, as well as pass in and out of consciousness. I was also given my shifts, which I was pleased about: team leader at Campervans West (the far flung gate where I worked last year): Wednesday overnight, Friday afternoon to evening, and Sunday – very early in the morning at 4.45am, but that meant that my shifts would be finished by 1pm. Not bad, all things considered. I would get to see the Manics on the Saturday night, anyway.

I decided to have a solo wander, down to the Stone Circle, and would hopefully meet up with some friends when I got there. It was fun, walking  through the market, empty of customers, but full of traders setting up their stalls. From Monday to Wednesday morning at Glastonbury, the whole place hums with electric drills, with tranquil sign painters, and huge yellow machines called telescopic handlers, transporting pallets and crates on their extended forks.

The Stone Circle at Glastonbury is a total fake, constructed in 1992 with JCBs. But it’s gathered its own mythology over the years, a witness to thousands of wild, sleepless nights.  I always feel pulled towards the King’s Oak, a massive, ancient tree. A few of us gathered there for a while, even friends I hadn’t planned to meet. That always happens in the early days of the festival, especially under the ample shade of this tree, with a small group of people drumming and climbing the stones, to my left. I wonder if they know it’s a fake!

After a while, I got hungry and had to cut short my on-site trip as none of the food stalls were set up yet. But Oxfam’s own caterers, the wonderful Nuts, were in full flow. And the Oxfam stewards were starting to arrive in their thousands. Our tents were surrounded by new neighbours, and there were lots of hugs and introductions.

I had a very pleasant evening, hanging around with old and new friends in the Oxfam field, sharing food and drink, chatting and catching up with people I haven’t seen since last summer. It’s great how easily we can slip back into friendships.

Tuesday 24th June

Today, we decided to tackle the Oxfam Stewards’ Glastonbury Treasure Hunt. It’s designed to help stewards find their way around the vast site and its many landmarks, but there are usually some good prizes up for grabs. The first prize one year was a ride in a helicopter above the festival site. Last year, I won some cider, so that was a good start! A group of us set off, finding the laminated clue sheets, and noting down the codes.

When we reached the stone circle, a few of us decided to head back to camp. It was very hot, with the sun beating mercilessly down on us, so we had a good rest in the shade. But me, Flo and Karen struggled bravely on, wandering to the far-flung Pedestrian Gate “D” – not quite as distant as my Campervans West Gate.

When we reached the field with the John Peel stage, we admired a huge display of banners for various causes and had a chat with the lady in charge of the banners – they’re made by artists and community groups all over the country, especially for Glastonbury. But we couldn’t find the last clue we were looking for, and came back to camp, exhausted.

Our field had really filled up now, and more friends had appeared, including Suzy – and I made her gnocchi with tomato sauce and tinned mushrooms, which went down very well.

As the evening wore on, my neighbour Tigger decided to light up the fire wok outside our little “village green” near our tents, and people gathered round in their camping chairs. As dusk fell, I felt restless, despite my aching legs from the long walk around the site. Tuesday night is when all the workers, traders and volunteers are onsite. It’s like a dress rehearsal for the festival, with bars open, musicians in some of the smaller greenfield venues, and lots of things to see and explore, before it gets too busy. There was already a queue of ticket-holders right outside our campsite, and there was a sense of anticipation in the air.

So, only pausing while a bat flew into my hair (yes, really!), I accompanied my friend Allie on a wander onto the festival site. I was going to pick up Louise from the end of her last shift (and I hadn’t even started yet), and walk her home, hopefully enjoying the festival on the way back. She was pleased to see me, based in another remote location, the entrance to the “glamping” campsite, Worthy View. We stopped for a drink and a chat on the way back. When we were back at the campsite, the campfire was going well, and was surrounded by a whole crowd of people. Eventually, we were told off! But I was on my way to bed anyway.

Wednesday 25th June

The hoards have arrived! The first sign of it in the Oxfam campsite as I woke up was that the showers and taps had stopped running, and my stove came in useful again as I made tea for everyone.

The lack of showers was also a problem with an easy solution – one of my favourite places at Glastonbury is the Magic Hat saunas in the Greenfields – a tranquil spot just near the busy crossroads into the late night Shangri-La area. The sauna is actually a wooden horsebox, heated by a wood-burning stove, with canopies around it that make a changing rooms, serve-yourself cafe area, and open-air showers and plunge pool (a large paddling pool). You don’t have to be naked, but most people strip off completely, and it’s surprising how completely at ease I am with chatting in an intensely hot wooden caravan with a group of naked people. Suzy and Louise hadn’t been to the sauna before, and they loved it. And Louise even saw a friend of hers in there, as well as someone she’d met a few years ago, and we all had a relaxing time. You aren’t allowed to use shampoo or showergel in the sauna’s showers as the water drains into the ground, but the heat is wonderfully cleansing.

Feeling wonderfully clean and fresh when we got dressed again, we wandered into the Greenfields, and I bought a burger from Veggies caterers, who are a vegan organisation based in Nottingham. I had a cheeky chat with them about my novel, and left some flyers with them. The burger was delicious. We remembered that we were meeting friends at the permaculture garden, another great vegan place to eat, and a beautiful garden, there all year round, and one of the festival’s best kept secrets. We met Fraser and Karen on a bench at the greenfields entrance to the garden, and soon there was quite a bunch of us, but only one man! So Fraser decided that he would pimp us all out to passersby, at 25p a go. There were no takers, surprisingly, as there were some lookers amongst us! It was funny at the time, but maybe you had to be there.

Somebody told us that a band, Duncan Disorderly and the Scallywags, were playing soon (they’d probably seen a sticker in a toilet), on the bandstand outside the legendary Croissant Neuf tent, which hosts live music during the festival, with everything powered by wind and solar power. We decided to give them a go, and they were great. At first, we sat in the shade, right at the front, but then, the whole bunch of us were on our feet, skanking away in the sunshine, and enjoying great songs, catchy tunes, and the combination of folk and ska. Perfect for the first early evening of the festival. What wasn’t so perfect that in this idyllic spot, people had left cans and other litter behind at the end of the gig. Not cool, people, especially in the Green Fields. I picked up a few extra cans and put them in the recycling bin (only a few metres away) on my way to the loo.

There was just time for a pizza in the lovely place, just called Pizza, near the Greenpeace field. They do a lovely vegan pizza with tahini, which tastes divine, especially laced with chilli oil.

And then it was time for me to climb back up the hill to the Oxfam campsite, and get ready for my first shift as Team Leader for the Campervans West field, from 8.45pm to 5am, getting the nightshift out of the way first! It was a couple of hours before the start of my shift, but I had to leave at least an hour to be in the running for a minibus lift to my gate (or to Gate D, which was the nearest they’d go).

It was still hot when I reached the Campervans West gate, and put on my Hi-Vis tabard and I introduced myself to the supervisors who were just finishing their shifts. I met my deputy supervisor, James, who was lovely and knew just what he was doing. Supervisors start an hour before the stewards, which gives them a chance to check for any problems and changes with the stewards who’ve already been doing the job for seven hours. The campervan gate is nice and steady. We admit first-time ticket holders, who are mostly staying in the campervan field so haven’t got much luggage, making sure their ticket is valid and that they get a wristband.

The campervans and caravans are parked outside the perimeter of the fence, and all ticket-holders have to show us their wristband and ticket every time they come into the festival site. We check the photo on the ticket, and all the other security features (no, I’m not telling you what they are), give their wristbands a good tug (which became a source of innuendo over the weekend), and take the small “pass out” that they were given on their way out to the campervans. On their way back out to the campervans, festival-goers’ tickets and wristbands also have to be checked again. There are automatic counters that people have to walk through, so the festival organisers know exactly how many people are on site at all times. The system is very strict,but its the only way that the festival can comply with licencing regulations, and avoid all the scams that had people getting in for free all over the place. It works well, with the stewards (who were all lovely) doing a marvellous job. The supervisors deal with any problems or queries that arise, and help out when it gets busy. But when things are quiet, it’s the supervisors’ job to chat and keep people happy and motivated.

There were a few rush periods, when everyone seemed to be coming back to the comfort of their campervans at the same time, leading to a bit of grumbling, and there were a very small number of idiots who thought that we were “officious”. But we’re just doing our job, and we’re doing it for the festival, and for Oxfam. Luckily, if there are any big problems, I’ve got a “walkie-talkie” radio to Oxfam, or I can call over the security team, who were lovely, and helped to solve a problem with a bloke who thought he was too important to follow the system, just because he had a hospitality wristband…

At some point, it became…

Thursday 26th June

As the early hours of the morning wore on, the campervan campers became slightly more drunk as they returned to base. The sky got lighter and all the stewards rushed to take photographs of a beautiful, red-flecked sunrise. Shepherd’s warning?

Supervisor James and I were overjoyed when the Oxfam minibus arrived, a bit late, but we didn’t care, it was giving us a lift home! We virtually threw the walkie-talkie at the incoming supervisor, and ran into the bus, before the driver changed his mind and went off without us. It felt so good to be back in our field, and with a scarf over my eyes, I soon fell fast asleep.

It felt a little cooler when I woke up later in the morning, but it soon got hot again. Threateningly hot. A shower and a cooked breakfast from Nuts sorted me out for the day, and we headed off into the festival. Before we reached the theatre field, it started pouring with rain, for the first time in days. We put on our waterproofs, and ended up in the legendary Tiny Tea Tent, where Fraser and Louise played “Chopsticks” on the piano. I sent a postcard to my friends in Canada from the postcard stall, another Glastonbury institution.

It was time for the annual Oxfam stewards meet-up at 4pm at the cider bus. The rain was easing off, but it was our second gathering under umbrellas in two years. It was very sociable though, and I had fun, sipping hot mulled cider and mingling with people. The cider bus belongs to Burrow Hill Cider, who produce proper cider and are an institution at many festivals, but most notably, Glastonbury.

Eventually, we headed to the Hell stage of Shangri-La, to watch a band that Alexa had recommended, The Men that Will Not be Blamed for Nothing. It had stopped raining, so we sat about on the grass in front of the stage, chatted, and drank yet more cider. Only for someone from the band to come out and apologise, but the stage wasn’t allowed to open yet, and the band would be playing later that evening in the Rocket Lounge, which was just next door. So we stayed put, and after a bit of a wait, entertained by a man dressed as the devil, cracking his whip on the ground, we watched the Latino-infused King Porter Stomp, and a brilliant African band called Afriquio with a kora.

At last, it was time for The Men that Will Not be Blamed for Nothing. They were brilliant. They’re a steam-punk band with songs about Isambard Kingdom Brunel, syphilis and time travel, with lots of heavy guitars and Metallica riffs. Essentially, a good old fashioned shouty punk band, with Victorian costumes. Definitely one of my early festival highlights. After the gig, the rock ‘n’ roller diner next door was playing old ska music, and we danced for a while, but then we decided to go in search of Fraser and Suzy, who had left us earlier, to see DJ Sasha in the Glade.

On our way out of Shangri-La, we met some other friends, randomly. And then before we knew it, we were all in the middle of one of the most unpleasant experiences of this years’ festival. We were caught in a crowd crush, with people trying to get into the Block 9 area  next to Shangri-La, and people pushing and shoving in all directions. We each grabbed onto the nearest friend and fought our way to the far side of the railway track, struggling to breathe at times. It was seriously scary, especially as stewards are trained in crowd management and we know the dangers. But we all managed to break free. Minus Louise, Kat and Martin, although I managed to get through to her on the phone and she was safe and sound, not crushed underfoot!

We managed to get to the Glade, which was almost as crowded, but more friendly, but after a while, the music finished. We found ourselves wandering back in the same direction we’d come from, but through the West Holts Stage and the proper “one way” system into the late night “South East Corner” area, where we just wandered through, without even a queue. Earlier, the problem must have been caused by people not being directed the right way. We passed a beautiful waterfall, and guess what? We ended up at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Diner again. They were still playing good tunes, and I danced to New Order and Softcell, before deciding to call it a night. I was on shift on Friday afternoon, and it had been a long day and night of partying.

I got back to the Oxfam campsite just as the rain was starting again…

Moist but Marvelous! A belated post about Bearded Theory…

I was very proud to be involved in the seventh Bearded Theory festival, which started off as organiser Rich Bryan’s birthday party in 2007, and launched as a very small festival in 2008, at the Knockerdown Inn near Wirksworth. It’s now a well-established festival, with around 5,000 ticket-holders. In 2014, for the first time, the mighty Oxfam Stewarding Team were providing their services at the festival.

This year, the festival was held on a new site, Catton Hall, in the most southern part of Derbyshire, near Burton on Trent. On a hot Wednesday afternoon, I drove down to the site and set up camp in Angel Gardens, which is the kids’ field at the festival, meeting old and new friends, and getting my aging tent repaired with Gaffer tape by some lovely fellow Angels. It was a beautiful evening, and warnings of terrible weather fell on deaf ears. The river Trent flowed right next to my tent, looking tranquil in the evening light. How could it possibly give me any worries? There were at least eight feet to the top of the bank. I was looking forward to spreading the word about my novel Outside Inside too.

I attended the Oxfam stewards briefing (possibly slightly confused, possibly showing off as a Bearded Theory afficionado), and then enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine and a chat with Graham, an Oxfam colleague who has recently acquired a lovely campervan. Before bedtime, I visited the awning of Keith Manuel, another Bearded Theory veteran, famous for organising the ukulele jam, and eventually settled down at our own Angel Gardens campfire.

It rained heavily during the night, but the sun had come out, with a much fresher feel, by the time I emerged from my tent, ready to string up metres of bunting and help to make Angel Gardens to look amazing. Angel Gardens is the best kids’ field on the festival circuit, bringing artists, craftspeople and performers together to provide some amazing activities and workshops for kids. This year, we even had mad scientists making slime with the children, a samba parade and a flash-mob with choreographed kids dancing in front of the main stage.

This year, we had big domes for the baby zone, and for crafts. As soon as the covers were on, we attacked the dome with bunting, making it look really pretty. Fortunately / unfortunately, at that time, the heavens opened, and I was trapped inside the dome in torrential rain, putting bunting up, standing on a step-ladder, which is actually a pretty cool place to be in the rain. But the roof of the dome hasn’t been sealed yet, so the water was pooling in flaps in the canvas and then pouring like a waterfall. Luckily no one was standing underneath each time it happened. Despite the downpours, the Angel Gardens field was looking wonderful and ready to be invaded by crowds of kids and their families. And the location of the field was next to the main stage, so we were in the middle of the action.

Creations in the craft dome!

Creations in the craft dome!

After a briefing, where I met the large Angel Gardens crew, doing everything from facepainting to making dreadlocks, some “early bird” bands were playing on the second stage, Tornado Town. I managed to catch the last part of Please Y’Self‘s set, the original punk skiffle band. I’ve known them all for twenty four years, ever since gutarist John Gill came to Woodlands Secondary School as a music teacher and musician in residence. If you’ve ever wondered why I’m Anne Grange in real life, and Anne Garage on Facebook, it’s because I used to perform in lunchtime concerts, organised by John Gill, called Garage Shows. They were 10p for entry, and were massively popular! So it was a real pleasure to chat to the band afterwards.

Thursday night’s bill was topped by Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs – yet more punk skiffle, but this time with much dirtier jokes, and Doctor and the Medics (one hit wonders with Spirit in the Sky in the 80s – but they insisted that they’ve had two hits!) They played some great covers and I had a really good dance.

Friday was time to start work in Angel Gardens, but working timetabled slots in different areas gave me more time to explore the festival. In the morning, I ran my first craft workshop, making beards (everyone at Bearded Theory takes part in a fancy-dress beard competition) and hats, and covering the “teen tent” in bits of fake fur and material.

Beard Surrealism

Beard Surrealism

After a lunch break (a delicious home-made veggie burger), I was back, running my first performance poetry workshop. It was a small group, but very productive, and we came up with some great poems.

I explored the site, bumping into a few friends, and I bought a Carter t-shirt (I didn’t actually own one in the nineties, having been too young to be allowed out when they played at Derby Assembly Rooms) and then it was time for my craft workshop, making puppets from toilet rolls. I’d made one earlier, in true Blue Peter fashion, but I was really impressed by the inventiveness of the kids who took part.

Halfway through my workshop, ska-punk band Culture Shock took to the stage. I’d bought their records while trawling through second hand record shops at university, and I was looking forward to catching the end of their set. Unfortunately, it started to seriously hammer it down with rain, and by the time I’d put away my craft materials and returned to my tent, it was absolutely lashing it down, and I felt a bit disappointed about the downpour.

But the cure for that is to put your waterproofs on, load your bag with cider and wine, and enjoy the music anyway. And the rain was stopping, in time for the Dub Pistols – one of those classic festival bands guaranteed to put you in a good mood with their combination of ska, dub, and anything else they fancy.

I had to leave their set a bit early to make sure I was in time for Poisoned Electrick Head at the Locked in the Woods Stage – a secluded glade with a stage, log seating and a bar. Poisoned Electrick Head are my partner’s favourite band from his youth in the North West – 90s festival legends, who perform their proggy space rock while wearing rubber alien masks! They were great. I knew quite a few of the songs, including their biggest hit “out of order”. Although the sound was a little muffled at first, they were a visual treat, with giant revolving eyes and silver jackets. Such a visual band would have been better later on at night, or in the darkness of the Tornado Town marquee. I hope they’re back next year!

Poisoned Electrick Head at Bearded Theory

Poisoned Electrick Head at Bearded Theory

I had to run as fast as I could in the mud to get back to the main stage for Peter Hook and the Light – Peter Hook is the legendary bass player from Joy Division and New Order, and when I reached the stage, I was immediately enveloped in an amazing version of ‘Blue Monday’. The whole set was amazing; one of my festival highlights. Peter Hook and his band really brought the Joy Division songs to life, making them electronic and more danceable. I was completely enthralled.

And headlining on Friday night: Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine. Performing their last ever festival set. They’re due to play two London dates in November, and then they’ll split up on a high. For those who don’t know, Carter USM were one of the biggest indie bands in the early nineties (for my generation, anyway), and one of the most unlikely: two blokes with guitars and a drum machine, singing songs full of bitterness and loneliness and biting social commentary, at a breakneck speed, amid flashes of bright white light, silhouetting them on the stage. They are spell-bindingly brilliant, and arguably, even more relevant today than in the nineties, with their songs of media cynicism, class division and sexual exploitation. For an hour and a half, I was fifteen again, experiencing them for the first time.

Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine - their last festival gig ever!

Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine – their last festival gig ever!

Nothing could top that, so after wandering over to Tornado Town to catch the end of Babyhead and chat to some Oxfam friends, I tucked myself into my tent!

Saturday morning dawned rather grey, but the Angel Gardens 10am briefing enthused me, and I chatted about last night’s Carter gig with Angel Gardens volunteer Dan, who was helping me in the teen tent and turned out to be a massive Carter fan. I watched the Red Barrows (a wheelbarrow display team!), listened to some fantastic stories told by “Raggedy Jack”, who turned out to be Trotsky / “Wino Tyrone”, the tea-chest bass player from Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs! Then I was ready for another crafting session, where we made swords and light-sabres, and teen tent leader Sadie finally worked out how to use the bubble gun with very pretty results.

Raggedy Jack the storyteller / Wino Tyrone / Trotsky - this guy gets everywhere!

Raggedy Jack the storyteller / Wino Tyrone / Trotsky – this guy gets everywhere!

On my lunchbreak, I enjoyed a delicious paella, and sat down to listen to a country and western band in the Something Else tea tent. I was enjoying their tall Texan tales and innuendo, all delivered in a very convincing accent, when I stood up, and realised that it  was Trotsky from the Junkyard Dogs again on guitar and vocals! Despite his gormless on-stage persona playing the tea chest bass, he was proving to be a talented all-round performer (and he can even do clean, smut-free material for the children!)

My performance poetry was a big hit on Saturday afternoon, as it turned into a collaboration with Jason, who was running songwriting workshops in Angel Gardens. Once I’d helped each (very talented) child to write their poem, Jason was working with them to set it to music. That’s one of the intended outcomes of Angel Gardens: “Angel” Sam, who runs Angel Gardens, brings artists, musicians, writers, and performers together to build a temporary community and collaborate with each other, and the spirit of working together leads to some really lovely moments for the kids too.

A proud young poet!

A proud young poet!

After my workshop, I headed back to the Something Else tea tent to watch Abdoujaparov (I’ve finally got the hang of pronouncing it!) which features Fruitbat from Carter USM. Named after a Russian cyclist, the band are much more “traditionally” punky than Carter, with some really catchy songs. The band’s set started a bit late, but I enjoyed hanging around at the edge of the tent, soaking up the warm, unexpected sunshine, while I was waiting.

Before my evening craft session started, I was able to catch most of Pop Will Eat Itself’s set on the main stage. Another favourite alternative band from the 90s, they reformed four years ago, with an almost entirely new lineup! Including their gorgeous and appropriately named guitarist Tim Muddiman, whose lacerating guitar playing really adds a new dimension to those PWEI songs, having played for Gary Newman. Former PWEI singer Clint Mansell is now an award-winning Hollywood film composer (top fact!)

My favourite member of Pop Will Eat Itself!

My favourite member of Pop Will Eat Itself!

Anyway, I was having a brilliant time until a line of very dark grey clouds appeared on the horizon and swept rapidly towards the festival, causing everyone to put their waterproofs on before it even started raining. In one song, we’d gone from sunshine to torrential rain, and I made a run for it into the craft dome. Luckily I’d already left my craft materials to the dome, and once we’d avoided a few drips and splashes inside the dome, I set up my craft workshop. There were lots of kids and parents sheltering from the rain, and making things was a welcome distraction from the downpour, even though it was difficult to talk, above the sound of rain hitting the roof of the dome, and Pop Will Eat itself still playing, not very far away on the main stage. It was good timing though, the craft session was very creative, and kept us out of the worst of the rain.

The rain had cleared in time for the Wonderstuff – yet another “grebo” band of the 90s, who reformed a few years ago now and have become Bearded Theory favourites. They played an excellent set, which I spent mostly drinking red wine and admiring violinist Erica Nockalls’ beautiful dress. I swear she’s had a new hairstyle every time I’ve seen the Wonderstuff. I didn’t manage to see the Wonderstuff in the 90s, although they reached stadium-filling status, but I’ve made up for it since. And they never disappoint, playing some great new material, as well as old hits. There were also a crowd of mud-covered revellers, hugging everyone else and spreading the mud around a bit – but I didn’t mind, although I had mud on my glasses for a couple of weeks without noticing!

The Saturday headliners were the Stranglers, a band who emerged in the punk era, but with a much wider set of influences, from psychedelia to jazz, all played with a gothic, yet witty edge. They were fantastic, and surprisingly good to dance to as they played a brilliant “greatest hits” show.

The Stranglers - a classic set!

The Stranglers – a classic set!

And the live music on Saturday hadn’t ended yet. I teamed up with some Oxfam friends in the dance tent, and we decided to go over to the Locked in the Woods stage to see what was happening. We were lucky enough to catch the secret set by 3 Daft Monkeys, a folky, stompy, wonderful festival band (one of my Oxfam friends, Roxanne, took the photograph for the cover of one of their albums, and is a massive fan of the band) so it was a brilliant surprise.

On Sunday morning, my crafting workshop ended up with me making a prehistoric scene with a boy who was obsessed by Jurassic Park, complete with a flying pterodactyl! I hoped it wouldn’t rain again, as the river Trent had risen higher and higher up its banks and was flowing very fast. But I decided to ignore it!

Jurrassic Park! Complete with Bearded jellyfish in the lake.

Jurrassic Park! Complete with Bearded jellyfish in the lake.

Grabbing some delicious samosas from one of my favourite festival food stalls, Ghandi’s Flip Flop, I caught The Ratells on the main stage, an indie rock band from Sheffield (so why haven’t I seen them before!), who reminded me of Bloc Party. They had great songs, skintight black jeans and a compelling stage presence, managing to draw together an initially lethargic Sunday afternoon crowd.

The Ratells

The Ratells

I had another great poetry and song-writing session with some very talented kids later that afternoon, and found out that one of my participants was excited about the ukulele jam, although she was beginning to feel a bit too grown up for her Sponge Bob Square Pants ukulele, although everyone else thought it was cool. One of my participants improvised a brilliant song about the festival, but we managed to remember most of the words and write it down.

It was time to grab my ukulele, tune it up, and head to the ukulele jam at the Tornado Town marquee. I pushed my way to the front, where other ukulele players were standing, and joined in with the mass jam, playing the chords for songs that were displayed on the screen above the stage. I was concentrating really hard, with my tongue sticking out and everything, and went from struggling to remember basic chords to playing fairly confidently at the end of the hour! And I was sharing the performance with some of the special guests on stage, including Mark Chadwick from the Levellers, Trotsky from the Junkyard Dogs (again – that man gets everywhere!) and Ken Bonsall from Ferocious Dog. The uke jam was one of my festival highlights, not only because it helped to revive my love of playing music (and it’s not rocket science – many popular songs can be played with a small number of simple chords!) But it was also a brilliant laugh. Oh, yes, and Tim’s Bez-style dancing! The only downside was that for days afterwards, the fingertips of my left hand were too sore to touch anything!

The much-speculated about special guests on the main stage on Sunday were another Sheffield band, last year’s headliners Reverend and the Makers. I hadn’t been that impressed with them in the past, but they were perfect for this slot in the early evening sunshine, with catchy, bouncy songs, and I look forward to enjoying them again. But for now, I returned to the Craft Dome for my final craft session, which was very busy. The kids seemed desperate for their last chance to make something to take home, and we were awash with glitter and PVA glue. I very nearly overran into the quiet storytime session happening afterwards, although goodness how it was going to be quiet, with Dreadzone cooking up a story (luckily this time not an actual storm) in the background. After stowing my craft stuff, I ran to the main stage and danced my wellies off.

Mud! Children! PVA glue! Glitter!

Mud! Children! PVA glue! Glitter!

Dreadzone were on great form, and I was also determined to watch UB40. By the time I was getting into music as a teenager, UB40’s output was very cheesy po reggae, but through listening to BBC 6 Music, I’ve discovered their earlier material: much more dubby rootsy than their over-polished 90s sound. And they didn’t disappoint. They sounded great, with a big horn section, and Ali Campbell was in great voice. I had a great time skanking around with Oxfam steward Helen.

As a finale, we squelched over to the Locked in the Woods stage to watch Mark Chadwick (from the Levellers) do a solo gig to launch his new album ‘Moment’. Much quieter and more delicate than the Levellers’ folk punk, it was a good way to wind down and appreciate the magic of the glade, and to celebrate the end of the festival. Some people moaned that he only did one Levellers song, but you can’t have everything!

But then it was over. And because of the Sunday night curfew, so was everything else. So I had the bright idea of heading over to the backstage bar, and met lots of friends from the Bearded Theory crew. We danced until dawn to cheesy songs on someone’s ipod (they played the same songs twice, but we didn’t care). While sensible people were tucked in bed, this was a great way to end the festival. Finally, I staggered through the mud to back to Angel Gardens, to find my friends there were still sitting around their camp fire. I sat and chatted for a bit, but I could barely keep my eyes open!

Monday morning was hot and sunny and we managed to take the bell tents of Angel Gardens down before the rain started again. We hugged each other and set off for home through the mud.

As you can tell from this mammoth blog post, Bearded Theory is really something special. A festival where you can happily wander around on your own and always feel safe and be among friends. There were a few minor gripes about the toilets not being as clean as last year, but “teething problems” are inevitable on a new site, and the Bearded Theory organisers really care about sorting these things out for their fans. I can’t wait for next year.

Just put your wellies on and dance!

Just put your wellies on and dance!

 

 

A Life Less Ordinary – and a lot more busy!

Opening the wine I was given a year ago when I left work! A ceremonial opening. It was a bit sweet, but a lovely moment.

Opening the wine I was given a year ago when I left work! A ceremonial opening. It was a bit sweet, but a lovely moment.

On the 26th April, it was one year exactly since I left my old job! a whole year of being a freelance writer and editor, and finding my feet in the teaching world again. I wanted to celebrate, but I’ve been too busy. If I thought April was jam-packed with work and project – and running storytelling courses with kids and their parents – then May has been insane. A year on, my new life no longer feels brand new, but just like the right way of life for me. The uncertainty of having enough money to pay the bills is what drives me on to make damn sure I’ve got that money.

On the actual anniversary of leaving work, I’d been busy running an Oxfam stall and organising the car parking for the Derbyshire Eco Centre Spring Fair, which raised over £700 for Oxfam. Weirdly, last year, it was where my journey to becoming an Adult Education tutor started, when I boldly volunteered to do some storytelling! I did some storytelling at this year’s fair, with puppets, dressing up as a bear and children coming up with their own ideas for stories.

 

I was feeling a teeny bit smug that I’d managed to get my car through its MOT, service, and given it a new tax disc and insurance without too much trauma – only to find that the petrol gauge got stuck! Something I needed to get fixed, pronto! And then I needed a new laptop battery, and the toner cartridge started going…and the latest thing is that the pump in the cellar that stops us from having a soggy basement, seems to have stopped working on its own and we have to prod it from time to time.

I’ve been really busy with teaching work – running another memoir writing course, helping parents in Chesterfield to make Story Sacks, getting apprentices at Sheffield College through Functional Skills English, and working with patients at Newholme Hospital in Bakewell again. In the first week of the new term, Derbyshire Poet Laureate Helen Mort came to read some poetry and chat to the patients. I transformed what we’d been chatting about into poetry, and Helen has put one of my poems on her blog! Brilliant. Here it is! And we’ve had the exciting news that our project has been awarded an Arts Council Grant, so before the end of the summer, the work I’ve been doing with the patients and staff will be published. Watch this space.

The cover of Outside Inside! Buy it now!

The cover of Outside Inside! Buy it now!

And talking about publishing, I’ve been working really hard on a new edition of my first novel, Outside Inside, and now it’s available as a paperback, as well as an e-book from all major retailers! And even though I was rubbish at marketing the old edition, and I’d got it on the Kindle for the cheapest price possible, in the hope that it would generate sales, this week, I received my first ever royalty payment for my own writing, for my previous two years of writing sales. It’s only £60, but it makes me feel proud of my achievement. Now I can confidently guide other people through the same process, and I’ve got another client’s book well on the way to publication. It proves that self-publishing is definitely an option for writers struggling to get noticed by the mainstream, or for authors who just like more control over how their book is produced and marketed. It’s hard work, but worth it!

The happy couple, and their minions!

The happy couple, and their minions!

And I’ve had time for some fun too. On the May Day Bank Holiday week, I enjoyed a unisex “Hag” do, with my Oxfam friends Graham and Gaelle, who are getting married in July. A big group of friends and family accompanied them to the Swingamajig festival in Birmingham, dressed in 1920s themed outfits – we could spot each other in the crowd with our feather head-dresses that had been made for all the “Hags”, and we saw some brilliant live music and danced until (almost) dawn. It was a real taste of all the festival delights in fields that we’re going to enjoy this year, set among the old railway arches in Digbeth.

Today I’ve been to the Insect Circus in Weston Park in Sheffield, another brilliantly surreal thing I’ve seen around the festival circuit. And of course, I enjoyed watching a bearded drag queen win Eurovision last weekend.

And talking of beards, it’s only two sleeps until the biggest and best Bearded Theory yet! I’ll be helping kids and adults to write performance poetry with the wonderful kids’ area Angel Gardens, and also dancing and drinking cider!

Whitby – in pictures and poetry

We spent the first week of March on holiday in Whitby. This is becoming an annual ritual – staying in a lovely, cosy holiday house that belongs to my aunt and uncle, we have the freedom to quietly enjoy ourselves. Last year, it was a welcome respite from long working hours and a hideously long commute in my old job, and now I’m freelance, it’s just as important – to be able to put away the endless “to-do” list and spend time away from an internet connection. I wanted to do more writing, but I was so tired every evening after long walks and fresh air that I only managed to write a short section of my novel.

But, inspired by a poetry walk I’d attended the day before we set off, I wanted to capture my Whitby holiday in poetic form. I’d been on an inspiring walk in the Rivelin Valley at the edge of Sheffield, let by local poet Fay Musselwhite, organised by Longbarrow Press. It was a magical afternoon of words, natural and industrial history, exploration, cheeky ponies and loveable black labradors.

So when we were wandering around the atmospheric ruins of Whitby Abbey the next day, I perched at the edge of a medieval well, and jotted down everything around me in my notebook. Later, I turned it into a poem, a pantoum, a poetry form with repeated lines:

The wind at the Abbey

The wind sounds like waves in the stonework;
In the empty tracery of the abbey windows.
A small bird chirps, surfing the buffeting gusts,
Ancient walls provide shelter and stillness.

In the empty tracery of the abbey windows,
Seagulls scream and soar against grey clouds.
Ancient walls provide shelter and stillness,
Gusts blow us through the dappled archway.

Seagulls scream and soar against grey clouds,
A pair of small black dogs race on their leads.
Gusts blow us through the dappled archway
Imagining the Abbey whole and golden.

A pair of small black dogs race on their leads
We watch a line of smoke on the moors
Imagining the Abbey whole and golden
Glittering on the cliff-top, resisting the winds.

Whitby Abbey in sunlight

Whitby Abbey in sunlight

Whitby Abbey is the ruin of a 13th century Benedictine Abbey, prominent on the clifftop, at the top of the 199 steps, which we climbed every day. The steps also lead to the church, St Mary’s, an architectural mash-up of a church, originally Norman but added to and changed, with 18th century box pews, wooden pillars painted to look like marble and religious texts written on boards scattered around the church. Visiting it is an interesting experience, but rather claustrophobic after the wind-blown cliff top of the abbey. It was also colder inside the church than outside, even though the weather had deteriorated. The church wardens hadn’t lit the ancient cast-iron stove, one of my favourite features of St Mary’s – but I sat down and jotted a few lines! Playing with poetic form, I turned it into a sonnet.

St Mary’s on Sunday afternoon

The hulking cast-iron tower stove is cold
Buckets full of coke to heat the old church
The light of votive candles flickers gold
The narrow wooden benches where I perch.

Box pews crowd the nave like still railway trains
My breath mists in the chilly, tranquil air
At night the church will sing with glad refrains
Now voices of the vergers who prepare,

Cleaning; important small details to make.
A rain shower slaps the high glass skylight
Followed by a shaft of sunlight that breaks
Makes the gloomy, chilly church shining bright.

Pockets and patchwork and layers of time
The church, the cliff top, the bell-tower’s chime.

St Mary's, Whitby - taken on Monday, which was much sunnier!

St Mary’s, Whitby – taken on Monday, which was much sunnier!

We made it back to the house just as the rain was starting, and had a few cosy hours relaxing, reading and watching TV. We thought we might go out for a drink, but the wind was howling and the rain was lashing down, and we were grateful to be staying in a cosy modern house that stays warm, no matter what the North Sea can throw at it. It’s only a couple of minutes’ walk from the West Cliff. Even though the weather was dreadful, we put on our waterproofs to blow off the cobwebs. It was a rather bracing walk, and I must have looked a sight in my cagoule and woolly hat. The weather was wild. It couldn’t have been more different the following morning – tranquil blue skies, a mild breeze and warmth in the sun. I turned the two contrasting images into a haiku cycle. I love writing haiku, and practising writing haiku has inspired me to experiment with more poetic forms, seeing if I can successfully combine meaning with rhythm, rhyme and structure.

Night and Morning in Whitby – a Haiku Cycle

Night: wind howls like wolves
Through the gaps in the Crescent
Rain-black shadows run

Green and red lights flash.
The inland wind blows to sea;
A dark, unseen hand

~

Blue and breezy morn
Starlings whirr and chirp up high
Seagulls complaining

The town is washed clean
Red rooftops absorb the sun
Cormorants stretch wings.

A lighthouse at the end of Whitby pier - this is the one with the green light!

A lighthouse at the end of Whitby pier – this is the one with the green light!

The red and green lights in the poem are the flashes from the wooden lighthouses at the end of each of Whitby’s piers: working piers that shelter the harbour and guide mariners to safety. There’s still a fishing fleet in Whitby, as well as a working boat-building yard.

Visiting Whitby in March, we don’t spend our time sunbathing on the beach, or digging with buckets and spades (not that I can imagine my other half sunbathing!) This time, we were blessed with good weather and we spent lots of time walking and exploring. We walked to Robin Hood’s Bay over the cliff path, taking in breath-taking sea views, scrambling up muddy banks, in anticipation of a well-deserved pint in the Bay Hotel.

Being fanatic readers and dodgy old goths, we love exploring the parts of Whitby which feature in DraculaBram Stoker’s 1897 novel, and the foundation of an infinite number of films, books, TV adaptations, spin-offs and fantasies. Bram Stoker was a busy theatre manager at the Lyceum in London, the personal secretary of Victorian Actor-Manager Sir Henry Irving (who is supposed to be an inspiration for the character of Dracula – wouldn’t we all like to caricature our boss in a best-selling novel!) An Irishman, he was a direct contemporary of Oscar Wilde, and Stoker married Florence Balcombe, who had been courted by Wilde, in 1878.

At the end of the 19th century, Whitby was a fashionable, genteel seaside destination, perfect for a relaxing family holiday away from the hectic whirl of London Theatreland. Stoker’s first stay in Whitby was in 1890, and he and his family returned several times during the following decade, during which he took in the atmosphere of the town, researched local folklore and took inspiration from Whitby events, such as the wreck of the Russian schooner Dimitri, run aground on the beach in Whitby Harbour. In Dracula, the vampire arrives in Whitby on a ship wrecked in a storm, and runs up the 199 steps to the abbey, transformed into a huge black dog. The main female characters in the novel, Mina and Lucy, are on holiday in the town, staying in a house on the West Cliff, near where Stoker himself stayed, in the Grand Hotel and the Crescent. The reason that my other half enjoys the long walk to Robin Hood’s Bay on the cliff path is because Lucy and Mina walk there and back in the novel, enjoying a hearty “severe tea” in a village inn. As well as vampires, this shows that you have to suspend your disbelief when reading fiction, as I can’t see two dainty Victorian ladies in corsets and heavy skirts walking all that way, especially as one of them has already had most of her blood sucked from her veins by the vampire. They must have cheated and caught the train. The railway has long gone, but the track is now an easier path to Robin Hood’s Bay – but we caught the bus back, limping on sore feet!

If you’ve never read Dracula before, you’re in for a surprise, and a gripping read. It’s an epistolary novel, told in letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings, a ship’s log and even recordings onto wax cylinders. For a slim, page-turning novel, it’s complex and well-structured, with vivid characters, including Mina, who is a strong and modern woman for her time, learning shorthand and typing and taking a keen interest in the world. And if you have a Kindle or some kind of e-reading device (including a smartphone – note to self and the rest of the 21st century – reading a book on your phone is more constructive than checking Facebook every five minutes!) you can start reading Dracula right now, for free! Dracula on Kindle.

Oh, and while you’re at it, you might want to download a novel called Outside Inside by Anne Grange as well. I wonder if people will be visiting locations from my novels in a hundred years’ time?

The year of the horse gets off to a galloping start…

In some ways, February is a frustrating month. We’re worn out and worn down by winter, and it’s easy to miss those small signs of spring – the lighter evenings, the crocuses carpeting the ground, the first daffodils pushing their way through the ground, the catkins; the grass in the park and on roadside verges being just that bit greener and brighter. Now at the end of the month, spring is tantalisingly close. The garden is coming alive, and there’s a freshness in the breeze. Although apparently, it’s going to snow tomorrow!

For me, February is always cause to celebrate. My birthday is on the 10th February, and as my first “free range” birthday, I was determined to make the whole month special.

Chinese Dragon at Wong Ting

Chinese Dragon at Wong Ting

It started on the 1st February, when my parents took me to Wong Ting Chinese restaurant in Sheffield City Centre. It was made even more special, because when we arrived, there was a parade of Chinese dragons outside the restaurant! Inside, the restaurant was decorated with red lanterns and garlands. A birthday lunch at Wong Ting has become a bit of a tradition, but sometimes asking for veggie food seems to confuse them! Sometimes it’s excellent though, and it has a brilliant atmosphere, full of genuine Chinese culture. And it was the start of the Year of the Horse. This year seems to be galloping along so far, and I’ll need to keep track of the things I’ve achieved.

Coventry Canal boat - beautiful roses and castles artwork

Coventry Canal boat – beautiful roses and castles artwork

The thing about being self employed is that if you want money to pay the bills and for extra treats, you’ve got to work for it, and in the first week of February, I was busily finishing off several freelance projects to make sure I could pay for a few nights out, and petrol money to take me to Coventry. I’d booked a place on a course with the National Association of Writers in Education. It was great to meet other writers who also work on community projects and it’ll be exciting to see what we all achieve. I wrote more about it on my Wild Rosemary blog here! It was lovely to spend time with my friends Fraser and Louise, and Fraser’s parents were very generous with their hospitality by letting us stay for the weekend.

Peacocks at the Strines

Peacocks at the Strines

After a morning of teaching at Sheffield College on my birthday, I was free to enjoy the rest of the day, and it was an opportunity to catch up with an old friend. We had a great pub lunch in the Strines a medieval pub in the Peak District, dating back to the thirteenth century. It’s an old favourite for pub lunches, and their veggie burger was vegan, and the home made chips were very tasty! It has eccentric decor, with lots of ancient stuffed animals in glass cases, buffalo horns and brass pans hanging everywhere. It has a cosy open fire, piled with logs, and it would have been tempting to linger and chat, but the sun was actually shining and after weeks of rain, we were in desperate need to stretch our legs. First though, we stopped to photograph the famous peacocks, roaming around in the garden behind the pub.

Cheeky Ladybower ducks

Cheeky Ladybower ducks

Not wanting a route march in very boggy conditions, we chose a route which would be a bit firmer underfoot – Ladybower reservoir. We parked up and walked to the Fairholmes Visitors Centre, where we a crowd of cheeky mallards jostled for attention at the refreshment kiosk. From some distance, we could hear the water roaring over the cascades at Derwent, and we walked up to the dams for a closer look. It was the first time I’d seen the dam in full flow and it was truly spectacular.

Derwent dam close up

Derwent dam close up

Damn, I really was looking forward to my swim!

Damn, I really was looking forward to my swim!

Derwent dam in full flow

Derwent dam in full flow

The Derwent dams are famous as the site where the RAF practised their “Dambusters” bombing raids with their bouncing bombs in World War Two. Today, there is a memorial to the pilots of the 617 Squadron who lost their lives on this mission, and the turret on the left hand side of the dam is a museum. As we reached the top of the dam, there was a notice informing us that all the reservoirs were 100% full, and had been for weeks. It’s not surprising, but we are lucky to have the reservoirs to catch all the rain water and make good use of it.

We continued walking on the narrow lane that runs alongside the Derwent Reservoir, feeling very lucky that such stunning scenery is a short drive away from home in Sheffield. The reservoirs are such a part of the landscape, it’s difficult to imagine what it must have been like before they were built, before the villages of Derwent and Ashopton were dismantled and drowned by the reservoir waters, and before such vast bodies of water reflected the ever-changing Peak District sky.

We headed to the remains of Birchinlee, the tin-hut village where the navvies lived while they built the dams. They lived in quite sophisticated conditions, compared to the workers half a century earlier. In the 1900s, the workers at Birchinlee brought their families, and had schools, shops, a church, a pub and recreational facilities. Although there is nothing much left, apart from some terraced pieces of ground, a hole in the ground which used to be the pub’s cellar, and some kerbstones, there is an eerie atmosphere. As the sun grew lower, we could almost feel the presence of the people who lived and worked here. The information plaques with photographs helped, showing the interior of one of the huts, complete with an aspidistra plant and a canary in a cage; the family sitting proudly in front of it. The plaque at the site of the pub says that a group of navvies once chucked the landlord out of the pub for rationing the beer out, rather than letting the workers sup as much as they liked! That wouldn’t have gone down well!

After another duck attack when my friend opened a packet of crisps, we made it safely back to the car, just before the sun went down. It was a great way to spend my birthday!

The site of Birchinlee village - "Tin Town"

The site of Birchinlee village – “Tin Town”

Tree reflections

Tree reflections

Mole sculpture by Derwent dams

Mole sculpture by Derwent dams

Tree silhouette and soft winter colours

Tree silhouette and soft winter colours

Last weekend rounded off the birthday celebrations, with a vegan trip to Kelham Island Brewery (they took the isinglass – a fish product our of the beers, especially for the Sassy V Vegan Group. I had a great time, meeting new friends and trying a whole range of beers. The food was really nice too, and I enjoyed the tour around the brewery.

Vegan beer and food at Kelham Island

Vegan beer and food at Kelham Island

And to cap it all off, on Saturday, I decided to gather some old friends and go to the Corporation Rock club in Sheffield. We had a great time, but I got wildly enthusiastic about the eighties room, rather than dancing to much actual rock music. The alternative eighties hits reminded us of the goth club we’d frequented in our youth, Epitaph / later known as Dissolution, and we whirled each other around on the dancefloor to “You Spin Me Round” by Dead or Alive. My friends were buying me the notorious Corporation vodka and Red Bulls, and I became very bouncy and enthusiastic – just like I’d been in those long-gone goth days, annoying anyone who took themselves too seriously. It was a brilliant night, but I’d been seriously mixing my drinks, being out of practise at this drinking lark! So the next day wasn’t pretty! But it was worth it.

And there I am, another year older, and some of the time, I’m wiser, and I certainly have more idea about my direction in life. But sometimes, stupidity rules. And sometimes life is all about spinning your friends round on the dancefloor and getting drunk! I hope we’re still doing it well into our old age. If you think I’m embarrassing now….. And the festival season has finally arrived, with priority Oxfam Stewarding applications opening to people who’ve stewarded before. Watch out for me at Bearded Theory, Glastonbury, Nozstock, Beautiful Days and Shambala…as well as Tramlines.

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