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!

Switch off your phone and dance – and put to shame by 60-year olds!

Kabal Where?house Party, 22nd March 2014, Dan’s Birthday Bash, 12th April 2014, Black Market, Warsop – sorry, another mammoth post!

At the end of last month, I went to a Kabal party, with my friend Angelina. We’ve known each other for ten years this year, which is a truly scary thought, and since we were twenty-somethings, we’ve worked together, and enjoyed wonderful experiences, holidays, meals and night out. Angelina has become an amazing dance teacher, and I now run my own writing business. We’ve come a long way together!

Hands in the air at Kabal

Hands in the air at Kabal

Eight years ago, we ended up at our first Kabal party, in an old chapel in Walkley, and loved the atmosphere of no-nonsense dance music in a friendly environment. We’ve made close friends there, and both fell in love with the music of the down-to-earth house music legend Winston Hazel, his infectious rhythms and dancing with his vinyl. The nights were sporadic, and in unlikely, secret locations – the old funeral parlour was a favourite of mine, the legendary Yellow Arch Studios, and the basement of the Ethiopian restaurant, with its candle-lit corners; upstairs rooms in pubs transformed into red-velvet lined boudoirs. At first, the parties were a closely-guarded secret, attended by older ravers and dance music enthusiasts, with enough space to enjoy ourselves. Toddla T, now absolutely massive, was originally one of the resident DJs, taken under the wing of Winston Hazel and Pipes. That’s when the parties started to get a bit out of hand, with students turning up in droves. to avoid becoming a victim of its own success, Kabal went underground again – open to everyone, but info is only given out via its email list, so you have to know someone to be “in the know”.

A few weeks ago, the Kabal night was held in the old Dog and Partridge pub in Attercliffe. A very strange coincidence, as I’ve been editing the memoirs of the ex-landlady of this infamous Sheffield landmark. In the 1950s, it was a busy pub in a booming district, but after the decline of the the steel industry, the “Dog” also fell on hard times and eventually became a strip club, and most recently, apparently, a cannabis-growing factory! The large upstairs rooms were dimly lit, and draped in the trademark Kabal red curtains. We got there quite early and made ourselves at home, dancing around with lots of space, as the venue started to fill up.

As more people arrived, we started to feel old! Lots of younger clubbers were in force, and the room glowed with the screens of many smartphones. We laughed to each other. Our phones had remained firmly in our handbags since we’d caught our taxi. What do they need a phone for, unless they’re giving directions to a friend lost en-route? Are they busy Tweeting each other about what a good time they’re having? Are they actually having a conversation via text, standing next to each other? Nobody was dancing with their ass (except us). Back in our day… But the music gradually took hold and people put their phones in their pockets, threw wilder shapes and partied like it was 1988 again (scarily, the younger ravers wouldn’t have even have been born then, and I suppose I can’t talk, I was about to start secondary school, and I actually liked Bros!) It was a great night, and a few of the old faithful were in force, but in the taxi home, we couldn’t help feeling a little sad at the rise of a new generation, feeling more tired than we used to do in the small hours of the morning.

But should we give up, and give ourselves over solely to dinner parties and talk of car insurance, interior decorating and cavity wall insulation? A few weeks later, I had the answer.

The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican - featuring special guest Justin Bieber!

The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican – featuring special guest Justin Bieber!

My friend Ben invited me to an all-day festival at the Black Market venue in Warsop, in deepest, darkest Nottinghamshire. A former working men’s club in the heart of the old Notts coalfield, it’s become the HQ of rapidly rising folk rock band Ferocious Dog, as the event was to celebrate fiddle player Dan’s birthday. It was an incredible line-up. I’ve known Ben since the first ever Bearded Theory festival in 2008, where we were next door neighbours, together with his friends Steve and Phil. Ben was in his early twenties then, and Steve and Phil were well into their fifties – and twins, who are still partying, even though they are now into their sixties.

I was dressed in my festival finery – psychedelic spandex leggings and a Levellers t-shirt. The horn beeped, and Ben and I stepped outside to see Steve, at the wheel of a huge VW camper van, resplendent in cheesecloth shirt, long curly beard and patchouli oil! We arrived in style.

We warmed up slowly, chatting, drinking real ale, and watching acoustic acts. It was reassuring that a a good proportion of the audience was older than me, old punks and hippies together. We chatted about festivals, and when the music on the main stage started, had a little dance to Brad Dear, a talented young songwriter, reminiscent of Frank Turner. A few pints in already, and we visited the excellent chip shop in Warsop, handily located opposite the venue, and sat eating them in the sunshine.

It might have been the beer, but I was highly entertained by a punk covers band Colon Zamboni (for an embarrassing moment from the bar, which is a long way away, I actually thought that their singer was Dave Vanian from the Damned!) And a brilliant set by the Bar-steward Sons of Val Doonican, one of the finest things to come out of Barnsley! I was looking forward to punk stalwarts Goldblade, but they didn’t get off to a good start, with singer John Robb losing his temper and storming off-stage because he didn’t think his microphone was working (it was!). A few minutes later, he was coaxed back on, and he invited several delighted hard-core fans to dance onstage with the band for most of the gig, increasing the feel-good factor quite a bit! A few songs in, and most of the audience had forgiven and forgotten the whole incident!

More hands in the air at Ferocious Dog!

More hands in the air at Ferocious Dog!

Ferocious Dog put on a great show. It was the first time I’d seen them, and I was really impressed by the combination of punk rock guitars, frantic fiddle and lyrics from the heart, several songs about the tragic suicide of singer Ken Bonsall’s son Lee i 2012, from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, following his time in the army, the song, The Glass, leaving Ken unable to sing and in tears. It was a moving moment, in a rowdy, emotion-filled gig. Ferocious Dog have built up a passionate following, nicknamed the Hellhounds. The band have been going for a long time, but they are finally getting the recognition they deserve.

After grabbing a chip butty (more chips, I know!), I returned to watch 3 Daft Monkeys, who have been a festival favourite of mine for almost ten years. I would have preferred to see them on the big stage, but playing on the smaller stage at the side of the hall, they gathered a good crowd, swaying along and waltzing each other around. They are a brilliant live band, always enjoyable and lots of fun.

I love Dreadzone, and I’ve loved them for nearly twenty years, but by this time, my feet and legs were screaming at me to let them sit down. Ben did sit down, blaming a dodgy knee, but I soldiered on, attempting to dance with my pint of cider, but eyeing the comfy chair by the side of the sound booth throughout their set! While we were struggling, veteran twins Steve and Phil were still at the front, bopping around for all they were worth.

It was a brilliant day, but my legs have got to do some work before they’re ready for festival season. Glastonbury will involve vast distances, and stewarding’s always hard work on the legs, even if it’s muddy. Enjoying yourself can be hard work, but it’s worth it, and getting older is no reason to stop. I might drink less than I used to do (honest!), and sometimes pace myself a bit more, but I hope that I’m out and having fun for as long as possible. One day, those eighteen year old clubbers will be older too. Approaching middle-age is no reason to stop having fun and sometimes behaving disgracefully!

(As long as we’re back home to pay the mortgage / weed the flowerbeds / clean the bathroom / bake some scones / grow some basil / look after the kids / cut our partners’ hair. One day we’ll take off into the sunset with that campervan, even if we’re in our seventies by that point!)

Still rockin' out! Tam o'shanter style!

Still rockin’ out! Tam o’shanter style!

 

What a difference a year makes…

Winter Trees and Sunshine in the Peak District

Winter Trees and Sunshine in the Peak District

This time last year, we were driving back from a great New Year’s party in Bolton. It was a brilliant party and a chance to reconnect with friends I’d known since I was a teenager. But it hadn’t been a very happy festive period for me. I was worried that I might be made redundant as soon as I set foot in the office on the 2nd January. Things turned our very differently, but I remember writing my new year’s resolutions for 2013 in the back of my diary, with tears in my eyes.

I was determined that despite the negative situation at work, that this would be the year that things would finally change:

New Year’s Resolutions 2013

Think and act positive.

Spread the love and it will come back to me.

Count your blessings (and write them down)

Relax more and enjoy life.

Have confidence in my abilities and pride in what I’ve acheived.

Things to do:

  • Job search. In 2013, I will find a new job / career and it will be a really positive change.
  • Read the ‘What Color is my Parachute’ book and do the exercises.
  • Start a blog for my writing / editing / creative work.
  • Keep being creative!
  • Do more marketing of Outside Inside.
  • Finish Distortion and get it out there.

I think I was already on the right path. Even before the announcements of the changes at work, I’d been exploring other career options. But I was still focussed on finding “a job” out there, in an advert, or that one flash of lightning that told me the one thing I was meant to be. A few things changed that. I had an interview for a great community sector job, helping people into learning and education. I worked hard on the presentation, and thought the interview went well, but there was strong competition. I felt let down when I didn’t get the job, and the organisation didn’t even bother to call me to give me feedback. For a while, I irrationally thought that was my fault – that I wasn’t even worth contacting, even to reject.

I worked my way through the somewhat complex exercises in What Color is my Parachute and I knew that the path I took would have to be creative. I also found out that looking for job adverts and filling in application forms is the least effective form of job search (about a 4-10% success rate). The penny dropped. There had to be another way! Then, some half-hearted research for my novel helped me to find Free Range Humans, run by Marianne Cantwell. A search about personal stylists, inspired by an idea to put the characters from my first novel Outside Inside into my second novel. I found this amazing story, and signed up, half-believing that it was some kind of scam. I bought Marianne’s book Be a Free Range Human. I read the book, mostly with tears in my eyes because its home truths were so familiar to me. I worked through the exercises, and I had the blue-print for my brand new business and an idea of what I wanted to do. After my very tearful but useful coaching session with Beverley Ward, that I mentioned in my previous post (where I described the block of lard that my job had become), and I was ready to opt for redundancy.

If you read back enough posts, you’ll know the rest. A scary, but exciting year. Tomorrow, my working life picks up pace again, with a meeting with an editing client. I’ve got a meeting with a brand-new client on Friday, which is really exciting, another client meeting on Saturday, and next week, my Derbyshire County Council teaching work will start again at Newholme Hospital, and I’ve also got my Micro-teach session for my teaching course, and a visit to Bolsover to explore ideas for running more courses! I’m teaching a creative writing group in Barnsley as a guest tutor – in fact, the week is looking rather jam-packed. It looks like 2014 is hitting the ground running.

Here are my resolutions / affirmations for this year. There are some things that I didn’t manage last year. I stumbled a little with my second novel, probably for all the right reasons, but this year:

I’m going to work my way through Distortion, scene by scene, page by page, until I finish my first draft. And then it will go through a careful editing process and will be published, one way or another.

I am going to publish Outside Inside as a Print on Demand paperback as soon as possible. Lots of people have said they’d read it and then gone into a massive tirade against e-books! And learning this process will also help me to publish books for other people in the future.

To develop my writing and editing business and my teaching experience. To use my skills to earn myself a living and make others happy. So far, I’ve been managing to pay the bills, but now I need to strive to create the life that I want to live, using my skills and talents.

To spend more time with friends and family.

To spend time outside – lots of walks, and I’ll be keeping myself busy as usual over the festival season, courtesy of Oxfam Stewarding and Angel Gardens. I can’t wait for the leaves to come out again….

To put time and energy into increasing my creativity:

  • To learn a musical instrument!
  • To paint some pictures – or create some collages.
  • To start keeping “morning pages” to free up my writing. I’ve just started reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I’ve been meaning to read this for ages!
  • I also need to read through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which I bought with last year’s birthday money but haven’t properly explored yet.

Even when the weather’s terrible, like it was today, there’s always a silver lining – a chance to curl up with a good book, do something creative and learn a new skill. I’ve not done badly today – I’ve done some freelance work, finished Dream Seed Magic by Diane Leigh, a fellow “free-ranger”, learned some chords on my new ukulele and written this blog post! And hopefully there’s time for some more before bed time!

MAMAWE! A celebration of African Music and Dance.

Dancers Angelina and Sarah at MAMAWE! Tired but happy.

Dancers Angelina and Sarah at MAMAWE! Tired but happy.

It means “Oh my god, this is all getting too exciting!” Or “Oh my god, this is all a bit too much for me!” I’ve felt like that in both senses recently. But I’m starting to feel a sense of excitement again. Knowing that I’m part of a vibrant community of creative people in Sheffield and beyond really helps, and on Saturday, my friend and amazingly talented dancer, Angelina Abel hosted a celebration of African music, dance and food.

Angelina has been teaching dance for over five years now. She had always been a great dancer, and would always try to make me learn moves when we were out together. She dragged me to salsa classes, which I wasn’t too sure about, and to bellydance, which I came to love as much as she did. In her Angolan Portuguese family, everyone can dance, and from the start of our friendship, Angelina managed to convince me that I didn’t have two left feet. She’s turned her passion into dedication, getting on National Express coaches at stupid times in the morning to spend her weekends in dance training. And she’s also built her own dance school, Mulembas D’Africa. We’ve performed in Sheffield City centre, Bakewell, and in a gazebo in a muddy torchlit park at Sharrow Lantern Festival. 

Learning to dance has improved my fitness, helped me to make new friends, given me confidence and relieved a lot of stress.

On Saturday, we helped Angelina and to arrange chairs and hang beautiful printed African fabric on the walls of the Sharrow Old Junior School, an old school hall which is now part of a community centre. The speakers and turntables were in place and people taking part in the drumming workshop gathered together. I selected a beautiful djembe drum and managed to balance it between my knees. As a vegan, it’s a bit weird to be banging away on a goat skin drum head, but the drums look and feel beautiful. In case you were wondering, this is how a djembe is made: http://www.african-drumming.co.uk/djembe-making.html.

Drum tutor Souleymane Compo led us in a two-hour long drum lesson. I was completely absorbed and I loved it. There were beginners and more advanced drummers in the workshop, and the class covered quite complicated rhythms to remember. I was really pleased that I managed to keep up. For the first half of the class, I concentrated intently, and then I slipped into a sort of trance, just focussing on the rhythm that we were playing. When we’d finished, I was surprised that my back was aching from bending over the drum.

More people were now gathering, for Abram Diallo’s dance class. Here he is, teaching a class in Bristol, and you can see what an amazing mover he is! Abram is from Guinea Conakry in West Africa and he’s been dancing from a very young age. Tall and wiry, he seems to have boundless energy and effortless grace, which is probably why he became a choreographer by the age of eighteen. He made us work very hard, as he says that there’s no energy and life in half-hearted movements, but he was also very entertaining. The routine he taught us, with live drummers, was based on a rhythm I’d danced to in one of Angelina’s classes, so I was familiar with the slow rhythm changing to the fast and furious. And I managed to keep up, without getting my arms and legs in a complete tangle!

Abram also told us about the meaning of the two rhythms: Yankadi is slow and laid back; a women’s dance; and Abram seemed to really enjoy dancing “like a beautiful young girl”, to show us how it was done. Macru is the fast part, where the young men join in with the dance. At the end of the session, Abram gathered us into a semi-circle around the drummers and made sure that we all took turns and did a solo dance, which was exhilarating, in such a large group with so many talented dancers.

After a cool down, I was ready for a meal from Miss Adu’s Kitchen, run by Chaz, another friend who has taken the plunge and gone freerange (literally), as she’s started an African-inspired catering company with the aim to “Entertain, Educate and Empower through everyone’s need for food and laughter”. She cooks great vegetarian food as well as some meaty delights, and I felt like I’d definitely earned my dinner!

The entertainment wasn’t over, as Angelina, dancer Bekki French and the talented Kweku, joined forces for a comedy dance routine, introduced by Angelina’s young nephew and friend. Her nephew proved that dance really does run in the family with his impromptu routine to ‘Hey Now’ by Outkast. The irrepressible Sarah Khouchane from Maskara Dance in London rounded off the dance performances with a showcase of traditional Algerian dance and electro swing, her acrobatics wowing the audience.

The performances were rounded off by some rousing Punjabi Dhol drumming from the wonderful (but shy – honest!) Tanya Stanley. Papa Al and the Globologist took over by spinning some beats from around the world. The dancefloor filled up with people trying out new moves.

It was an exhausting but exciting day, and I’m really looking forward to the next one! Angelina has worked really hard and created a network of performers and creative people from all over the world. She’s has brought people together to build a really special community here in Sheffield and I’m really proud of her.

There will be more photos linked to this post soon! I couldn’t take any of the drumming and dancing, as I was too busy actually taking part!

Autumn Leaves Still Make Me Believe

Deciding to volunteer at Festival Number 6 was a step into the unknown. Last year, I listened to the coverage of the festival on BBC 6 Music, and I was intrigued. I’d seen one episode of The Prisoner, so I knew that was the reason for the festival’s unusual name; I liked the eclectic line-up, and I’d never visited Portmeirion, the eccentric village, built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1976 in the style of an Italian hilltop town.

One of the other major attractions was also the Manic Street Preachers, due to headline on the eve of the release of their new album “Rewind the Film”. I’ve loved the Manics for the past three years. I was always drawn to their earlier songs, glamour and the drama of their guitarist/lyricist Richey Edwards, missing, presumed dead since February 1995. I saw the band twice as a teenager. However, I only started getting into them when I was researching my novel-in-progress, Distortion. My teenage protagonist is obsessed with the Manics, and it rubbed off on me! It would be very special to see them in their home country.

I packed light(ish), as due to the steep, remote site, there’s no parking, so everyone has to park at the nearby Porthmadog football club. When I set the satnav postcode, I had to change the country to “Wales”. This was going to be an adventure: going on my own to a different country. I was in Wales within two hours, driving through the dramatic hills of Snowdonia. As soon as I was over the border, the road signs became bilingual: “ARAF” for “slow”, and “UN FFORDD” for “one way”. I hadn’t been to Wales for years and enjoyed the feeling of everything being slightly different. I got a bit lost trying to find the “park and ride”, because I was only the forth car to arrive on Wednesday morning. I caught the shuttle bus with most of my stuff to set up my tent in the staff camp site, just behind the main arena, which made the park and ride worthwhile.  I then returned to the football club to get my wristband. There were a few delays, but while I was making, I made friends with some other volunteers: Callum, Sharon and Rod in particular. By the time we were on the coach again, the rain was really coming down, blurring the dramatic skyline.

I helped the others to put their tents up, and we braved the rain to check our shifts in the production office. It was a shame my first view of Portmeirion was a rather wet one, but the advantage of having a festival partly set in a village is the advantage of buildings. We had a warming coffee in the tea rooms before getting a good view of the estuary and sheltering in a beautiful grotto decorated with shells. Later, we returned to the hotel and had a couple of drinks on wonderfully comfortable sofas in front of a fire. It had stopped raining and Portmeirion looked stunning under floodlights – it didn’t feel like we were in Wales at all, until we returned to our damp tents. Thursday morning dawned bright and sunny. The views of the estuary and the mountains really opened up. Sharon and I had a wander around Portmeirion and lunch in the staff canteen, which is also the main restaurant for tourists in the village. Bizarrely, I bumped into a lady I know from Sheffield, who was on a coach trip around Wales. We caught the shuttle bus back to the Park and Ride for our shift.

Unfortunately, it started raining again, the clouds blocking out all the hills. I was on wrist-banding duty as the first ticket-holders came through the gates, but after a few hours of dryness inside a marquee, I spent the rest of my shift directing cars and selling parking tickets in the car park. An entertaining security guard livened things up. According to the BBC Wales website, 61.2% of the population speak Welsh as a first language and I tried to pick up a few phrases: “Bore Da” for “good morning” and “Nos Da” for “goodnight”.

We finished our shifts at 11pm on Thursday, just after it finally stopped raining. We got straight onto the shuttle bus to take us back to site. I was still feeling fairly lively, so I had a couple of ciders and chatted to the decor crew, who had been working hard in the rain to make everything look beautiful.

Friday looked like it was going to be a great day, but again, and I was given the task of selling parking tickets again, and directing cars to where the stewards were parking them. It was sunny for a while, but then a steady rain began to fall, and didn’t stop until just before the end of the shift. It was my last shift though, so I didn’t mind too much, and kept relatively dry with my waterproofs and an umbrella. It was good to be one of the first people to greet the arriving ticket-holders, and it was amazing to see the car park field absolutely full up by the end of my shift.

By the time I arrived back in Portmeirion, it was a lovely autumnal evening. I met up with Sharon and Rob, and it was time to relax and enjoy the festival! We headed to the Estuary Stage, down by the waterfront and the hotel. it was great to just sit back, near the swimming pool and listen to the music while admiring the baroque buildings of the village and the beauty of the mountains in the background. The band was Clinic, a post-punk band wearing surgical masks. Some of their songs had a classic gothic sound, with drum-machines, strong basslines and intricate guitar lines. It was an aural assault but very enjoyable. As a total contrast, we walked uphill to the Piazza to watch the Brythoniaid Welsh Male Voice Choir. Hundreds of people were packed into the square to listen to this traditional choir – mostly elderly men in tuxedos – performing ‘Good Times’ by Chic, ‘A design for Life’ by the Manic Street Preachers, which was absolutely spell-binding, and ‘Uprising’ by Muse – which was slightly marred by the use of a backing track, but it was a fantastic experience.

Unbelievably, I hadn’t been inside the main arena yet, but as we walked towards the main stage (wisely inside a marquee!), there was time to take in the beautiful gateway, lighting and decorations in the arena. The scale of the festival is also astonishingly intimate, with everything within an easy walking distance. I hadn’t previously seen James Blake live, but when I was in the final weeks of my job and the horrendous daily commute to Derby, his song ‘Retrograde‘ was regularly played on 6 Music. Its sensitive, soul-searching lyrics, with an unsettling undercurrent of searing electronic noise really helped me through those tough times at work, when I was wondering if leaving work and following my own path was the right thing to do. James Blake sometimes seemed like a rather introspective choice for a headliner, but Festival Number 6 isn’t about obvious choices. There were moments of banging bass which really brought the tent alive, and he proved that he’s got plenty of quality songs. James Blake actually performed ‘Retrograde twice, as his “autoharp” wasn’t working properly, providing me with two magic moments. After that, all the standing around in the rain caught up with me, so I had a quiet can and a chat back at the camp site, before heading off to bed.

Saturday dawned beautiful, and thankfully, stayed that way! I wandered around with Sharon, and we hung out at the Tim Peaks diner – a coffee shop in a small tower, run by Tim Burgess of the Charlatans. It was rammed inside the building, but it was great to sit on the steps and admire the view. We decided to explore the sea-front and the woods, making the most of the weather, so we took in the atmosphere on the estuary-side path, where children were being taught pirate skills by professional pirates, and festival-goers were relaxing, taking photographs and admiring the view. People were serenely paddle-boarding below us. We walked down to the beach but the estuary tide was turning. The path through the woods was steep in places, with surprises around every corner: origami-wishes that we made and attached to a tree, under the supervision of a fairy; a daytime woodland rave; an Ibiza style cafe filled with dry ice; and a children’s area with a very cheesy disco! There were lots of activities for children, including an area where they could make their own dens. It was a brilliant, relaxed way to spend an afternoon at a festival, in an atmosphere that was truly magical. The strangest thing we found was an artist making screen-prints of the topography of the forest floor. His name is Maurice Carlin, and he’s done some pretty interesting stuff!

Following our wander, we settled at the Estuary Stage again, having treated ourselves to some posh drinks from the Fevertree bar – I had a Gin and Tonic. We watched Stealing Sheep, who paraded through the audience with a brass band before they came on stage. The music was folky psychedelia which washed over us gently as we soaked up the sunshine and the gorgeous view. The need for food was calling us into the main arena, and I had a delicious curry from Ghandi’s Flip Flop. We relaxed in the sunshine outside the Soup Library – a stall combining a pop-up library and home-made soup, flicking through the old books and chatting to fellow festival-goers. The audience at Festival Number 6 is a really nice mix – fairly mature and family friendly, open-minded, and a fair amount of hardcore indie devotees. There were lots of local people, who’d been able to purchase tickets at a reduced rate, so the lyrical Welsh language was often heard around the site. All the signs at the festival were bilingual.

We watched trip-hop legend Tricky at the main stage, who seems to have gone in a heavy metal direction with distorted guitars. I particularly enjoyed a cover of ‘Ace of Spades’ by Motorhead! We then returned to the village piazza to watch punk poet John Cooper Clarke. The piazza was packed with people of all ages, absolutely entranced with John’s mix of stand-up, rambling commentary and the set-pieces of his poetry. It was the perfect moment, as the sun was going down, making the pastel-coloured buildings glow.

Returning to the Estuary Stage again, we watched Caitlin Rose, a hotly-tipped country singer-songwriter, often played on Marc Riley’s show on BBC 6 Music. She’s a brilliant performer and her songs are beautifully crafted. I particularly enjoyed ‘For the Rabbits‘. Her music is gentle, but with a dark edge. When her set had finished, we could already hear My Bloody Valentine’s headline set echoing over the estuary. Legendary innovators of shoe-gaze, their sonic attack must have been too much for many people at close-range and the main stage marquee wasn’t full – but the hardcore audience were spell-bound by the waves of sound. I’d been warned about the infamous ending to their gigs – a wash of feedback and noise. I loved it – and so did the My Bloody Valentine devotee I was dancing with, having the time of his life!

Sharon sensibly retired to bed after a nightcap of Kraken Rum, but I stayed out and partied to some great tunes in the Kraken bar, which consisted of the same three tipis as one of the more laid-back stages at Shambala festival! I made some great friends for the night, determined to boogie to the very last song.

I awoke on Sunday morning to gales. It wasn’t raining too much yet but the weather had definitely taken a turn for the worse. I helped Sharon to pack as she wasn’t up for spending another night in a very draughty tent. By the time we walked to the village, the rain was torrential. My plan was to get inside somewhere as soon as possible. I managed to squeeze into the Tim Peaks diner for Bingo Disco, which was great fun, although there wasn’t much room to dance! The main arena was closed because people were checking the safety of the structures, but the winds seemed to be easing off slightly. After a veggie burger from the always reliable Goodness Gracious, I found myself back in the Tim Peaks diner, listening to a reading from Joe Dunthorne, author of the novel Submarine, which was made into a brilliant film by Richard Ayode, a beautifully quirky coming-of-age story. It was a real treat, and a good lesson in putting on a good performance as a novelist. The highlight was a “choose your own adventure” story about a couple having a picnic in a park, with the audience voting on what happens next, leading to wild sex on a revolving office chair!

The next must-see thing for me was Caitlin Moran in conversation with John Niven. I’ve always liked Caitlin Moran, ever since she was the bouncy, teenage presenter of music show Naked City on Channel 4 in the early 90s. She’s only a couple of years older than me. I really enjoyed her autobiographical book on feminism, ‘How to be a Woman’. Despite an impoverished childhood, she won a writing competition at the age of thirteen, kept writing and ended up with a published novel and was working as a reported for Melody Maker by the age of sixteen. Her interview was very entertaining, full of embarrassing stories of Mooncup disasters, turning Gwenneth Paltrow’s house into a blood-bath. I’d love to find out what gave her the faith to become a writer throughout her childhood. Did being home-educated and immersed in books strengthen her resolve? Was it success in a competition at a young age that boosted her confidence in her writing? It’s clear from listening to her speaking and reading her books that she wasn’t confident in everything. She was often desperately unhappy and insecure about her weight. I’m full of admiration for her – but if I have to be honest, a little jealous too. And that’s totally unreasonable of me. I’m learning to have confidence in my own writing and teaching abilities and I’m making my own life, my own career, based around writing; on my own terms. And strong women like Caitlin are fighting my corner.

I stayed around in the bar to listen to Guy Garvey in conversation with Stuart Maconie. I’m not the biggest Elbow fan, but I was fascinated by the discussion about his lyrics and how they develop, sometimes over a period of months. The interview inspired me to listen to Elbow more closely and examine the poetic craft that goes into the songs.

It was time to stake out the main stage in preparation for the Manics. Although I was on my own, there was plenty to keep me entertained. I am Kloot – a Manchester band closely related to Elbow, played a stunning set. I’ve been into I am Kloot since around 2000, when their skilful, sensitive songwriting won me over. They now have a more dense, mature sound, rocking out more, but it was a beautiful way to start the evening. The next act was Johnny Marr. I’d never seen him live before and it was an absolute treat. His own songs sounded great, from his solo album The Messenger, proving that he has a good singing voice as well as unbelievably amazing guitar skills. The highlights of the set have to be the Smiths songs he performed, owning them just as much as Morrisey ever could. Johnny Marr turned classic songs such as ‘There is a light that never goes out’ into sing-alongs, the crowd delirious with happiness.

The marquee was packed for Chic. The intimacy of the venue really came into its own – there was no need for a big screen. Nile Rodgers was standing a few metres away from me and the band looked unbelievably glamorous in spangly white outfits. Nile Rodgers accurately pointed out that he’s responsible for some of the most important moments in the history of pop music, such as ‘Let’s Dance’ by David Bowie and ‘Like a Virgin’ by Madonna. They played a hit-filled set of Chic classics such as ‘Le Freak’ and ‘Good Times’, and a medley of Nile Rodgers songs such as ‘I’m coming out’ by Diana Ross. They ended the set by dancing to the hit of the summer, ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk, which features Nile Rodgers distinctive guitar playing. Nile Rodgers is really inspiring, overcoming cancer by the power of positive thinking and pure determination: http://www.nilerodgers.com/blogs.

I eagerly waited for the Manics to take to the stage, and they didn’t disappoint, starting the set with an explosive ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’. They played a hit-filled set, with lots of songs from ‘This is my Truth, tell me Yours’. The cover of that album was actually shot on the beach at Port Meirion, as the Manics explained – and they’d enjoyed fish and chips afterwards! Songs from the new album ‘Rewind the Film’ sounded great – more acoustic and reflective, and Richard Hawley made a brief appearance for the title track, where he sings most of the vocals. James Dean Bradfield himself was in fine voice, obviously pleased to be playing on “home ground”. Nicky Wire looked great in his Star Wars jacket, and he jumped around the stage with enthusiasm, scissor-kicking with his impossibly long skinny legs! It was the first time I’d seen them from such close quarters and it was particularly great to see Sean Moore in action- he puts so much power and precision into his drumming. The audience had a wonderful time, hanging off every word and lyric. Towards the end of the set, Nicky introduced ‘Revol’ from The Holy Bible as a tribute to Richey. It was so heart-felt and genuine. In the wake of the Manics massive success with ‘Everything Must Go’ and ‘This is My Truth, Tell me Yours’, it’s easy to forget the ongoing importance of Richey to the band. The stage-left position is always left empty in tribute to him. The set finished with ‘A design for Life’. I felt like I’d been part of something really special. http://www.manicstreetpreachers.com/

But the night wasn’t over yet! I danced the night away in the Kraken bar again, courtesy of a Craig Charles’ funk and soul DJ set. I didn’t stop dancing for two hours and even got to shake Craig Charles’ hand at the end. Eventually, I stumbled off to bed, proud that I’d done the last festival of the season proud!

On Monday, I packed away quickly and got a shuttle bus back to the car without any delays. I’d drunk all my cider, so I had no problem carrying all my stuff in one go! I made a detour to visit the Centre for Alternative Technology, nestled amongst the mountains of Snowdonia. CAT was one of the first pioneers of wind and solar power. When it was established in the 1970s, the community was seen as a bunch of cranks and weirdos. Forty years later, the technology they helped to develop is now mainstream and widely accepted. If governments and society in general listened more to organisations like CAT, we’d solve the problems caused by climate change. But sadly, CAT have still got a lot to do! I also found out that “Popty Ping” is Welsh for “microwave”.

After my adventure, it was good to get home to a rainy, dark Sheffield and my other half, who’d been waiting patiently for me (and the chip supper I brought home!) I’m determined to crystallise my summer experiences into developing my own writing career and to inspire me to live live my way.

A delicious day

Steamy - vegan chilli with parsnip chips!

Steamy – vegan chilli with parsnip chips!

On Saturday, I attended a course run by Animal Aid, to learn to be a vegetarian cookery demonstrator for Animal Aid. The animal rights campaign group have a network of speakers and cookery demonstrators who work with schools to explain the vegetarian and vegan issues. It was great to meet other veggies and vegans from Sheffield. I was made very welcome at the session at Sharrow Old Junior School, and I even learned the secret of making coffee with soya milk, without it curdling. We had some great discussions about why we stopped eating meat, and the arguments for becoming vegan: animal welfare; distress and pain of animal slaughter; environmental and health reasons.

I decided to become a vegetarian in 1990, when I was thirteen, after watching a programme about factory farming. I’ve always loved animals. As a child, I loved meat, but I decided to give it up, and even in the early 90s, there were lots of meat substitutes such as Linda McCartney sausages! I still remember the argument I had with my mum while walking around Safeways (that dates it – who remembers Safeways?) as she thought that I shouldn’t give up fish while I was a growing girl. I loved fish too, but when I went to university, I decided that I needed to do this whole vegetarian thing properly and I never really missed eating fish at all. Two years ago, I realised at last that the dairy and egg industries are just as cruel as the meat industry. I became vegan for lent, and I decided that I’d carry on being vegan. It’s not always easy – there are so many milk and egg derivatives hiding in products, and eating out can be a bit of a minefield. However, my diet is a lot more healthy now I’m not eating all that fatty cheese – and I feel like I’m making a difference! Turning vegetarian as a teenager turned me into a keen cook, and I love to cook for friends – so I’m keen to show young people how easy it is to cook vegetarian and vegan food. I’ve only ever cooked meat about twice in my life, and I didn’t enjoy it!

Our cookery teacher Lizzy, also runs her own vegetarian cookery school, ourlizzy.com. She was very friendly and led the practical sessions on making a vegan chilli and a sausage and bean casserole. We ate the chilli for lunch – it was delicious!

I discovered that talking and cooking at the same time isn’t as easy as I’d thought! There’s a lot we’ll have remember to explain when we’re volunteering in schools – talking through the ingredients and how to cook them; the importance of a balanced diet; the wide range of veggie products available in the shops; the reasons people become vegetarian and vegan, and the health benefits. We took the leftovers home with us. Check out more of Animal Aid’s recipes here.

Stop Drop Robot

Stop Drop Robot

Afrobeats sing in the firelight!

Afrobeats sing in the firelight!

But I wasn’t going home yet – I was going to Hagglers Corner, to a one-day charity festival for Mackenzie’s Miracle – fundraising for a little girl battling the childhood cancer neuroblastoma. The weather was fairly cool, but dry, with bursts of sunshine – a relief to everyone after the non-stop rain on Friday. The arts centre has an open courtyard that’s ideal for events, with gazebos in case of showers. There’s a cafe-bar, and a beautiful beamed room upstairs which is a great music venue, as long as tall people don’t jump up and down – as some of the beams are quite low! Almost as soon as I arrived, I joined in with a Kuduru dance session, led by my friend Angelina, who runs the Mulembas D’Africa dance school. Angelina had also been roped into being the announcer for each act and she was doing a great job. The Boomshanka Bellydancers also did a great job, and there was some graceful dancing from Pansy Cheung.

The bands were a great selection of Sheffield talent, especially in the area of great vocalists. Bongo & the Souljar gave us soulful songs with vocals reminiscent of Paul Weller. Stop Drop Robot combined great singing, heavy guitars and electronica. As the evening grew dark and people started dancing, Unscene were a big hit with their acoustic reggae vibes – vocalist Jammy really blew the audience away in particular. As the firelight in the courtyard started to flicker, Afrobeats provided a magic moment with their acapella African singing and dancing. Audrey Horne features Allstar Revolution vocalist Diddly Dee, tonight, giving Karen O a good run for her money, with shoegazy guitars and epic soundscapes. Definitely a band to watch.

As it got later, the music moved indoors, but there were still people in the courtyard, chatting around the open fire. The night brought lots of Sheffield creatives and music fans together and I met lots of great people, as well as catching up with old friends. The festival had a real family feeling and made me feel very proud of Sheffield. Later, there was reggae and D’n’B upstairs with a couple of great MCs. Playing late at night in the cafe was singer-songwriter Pro-verb, definitely one of the evening’s highlights. Combining rap, spoken word and insightful and funny lyrics, this young artist is set to go far.

I had so much fun at this tiny festival. It was a big success and I hope that there’s another one before too long!

Totally Shambalic!

Less than 48 hours since I returned home from Beautiful Days, I was off again, to Shambala festival. It was less a case of unpacking than throwing the dirty clothes into the washing machine and adding more neon orange items for the fancy dress day. Stocking up in Morrisons, I discovered that they do their own boxes of vintage 7.2% cider actually made by Weston’s, the lovely Herefordshire cider makers. If you love cider, try this blog.  http://ciderpages.blogspot.co.uk/ The writer is on a mission to taste as many ciders as possible – and no, I don’t think it’s written by a tramp – that would be me at my current rate of sleeping under the stars and consuming alcohol!

Shambala is in an allegedly “secret” location in Northampton, but it’s made its home in the grounds of a beautiful country manor for several years now, using its beautiful lake, woodlands and views of the gently rolling countryside to create a magical wonderland. Shambala is a festival with much more than music to enjoy – and it combines a family-friendly atmosphere with all-nighter venues for the party animals. There’s something to suit everyone. It’s only a two-hour drive from Sheffield. I picked up a passenger in Loughborough and we arrived on a beautifully sunny afternoon.

We stayed in a new staff campsite which was in fields near the beautiful old farm. We’d turfed a herd of beautiful British White cattle off their field – they were confined into a barn for the weekend, but they had lots of company with stewards minding the farm gate all week and people coming to talk to the cows. They were lovely cows with black ears and noses, but if anyone upset them, they set up a choral “mooing” that went on for ages. Our new campsite undulated in ridges, typical of the medieval “ridge and furrow” field systems, and at the briefing, the Oxfam co-ordinators told us that we were sleeping on the remains of a deserted medieval village.

Setting up camp, it was strangely normal to be with many of the people I’d been camping with in Devon, just two days earlier. It felt as if we were part of a travelling circus! it was lovely to see my friend Fraser, who I’d not seen since Glastonbury, and he brought a giant hat made of carpet with him. It was far too heavy to wear, so it sat in the middle of our events shelter for the week and became a coffee table. The first night was the usual routine of drinking, talking to old friends, meeting new people, and attending stewarding briefings.

I wasn’t working on Thursday, so it was a good chance to explore the site and ease myself gently into Shambala. Fraser and I had a great wander. The only downside was the wasps, which were determined to buzz around everything: food, cider, people, bins, furniture. Even as a committed animal lover, they try my patience, but they do have their uses, as the RSPB explain here. Perhaps we should learn to be “at one” with the wasp after all. Maybe they’re just misunderstood (or maybe they’re little stripy stinging gits!)

On my Thursday wander, I discovered the Wide Awake Cafe, who do amazing foot-long veggie hotdogs, and even have a film made about their festival adventures. Veggie hotdogs have become my new favourite festival meal! http://www.karges-land.com/wide-awake-cafe-movie.html We then wandered into the Meadow to enjoy the healing fields. It was so relaxing in there, that we fell asleep around the fire pit for an hour – and woke up in time to join in with a shamanic ceremony to bless the festival. I played a djembe drum while people made a procession around the fire. We made a parcel of leaves, feathers, berries and seeds called a despacho, to be burned in a closing ceremony at the end of the festival. Taking part in the ceremony was a lovely, gentle experience. Feeling all spiritual, I persuaded Fraser to join me in a yoga class – Forrest yoga, which is designed to help with the strains and stresses of modern living. I used to do yoga every week and I’m a little rusty, which would explain why my core stomach muscles took days to return! We also explored the amazing disco-themed main entrance to the festival (which goes to so much effort for its ticket-holders!), and some amazing sculptures including a dalek woven from willow.

Later on Thursday, we watched ska and reggae bands at Chai Wallah’s, which is a beautiful, souk-style covered music venue and bar, rather than a tea shop! Eventually, we ended up in one of Shambala’s many secret venues, the Swingamajig Speakeasy, a 1920s themed venue accessed via a time machine! I headed to bed fairly early, as I had a daytime stewarding shift on Friday.

My allotted area to supervise was the accessible campsite and the artists camping and car park. Not bad at all. My only hair-raising moment was when a disabled man was stung by a wasp and he didn’t know if he’d be violently allergic to the sting. Fortunately, all was well, but the medics sped into the campsite on a buggy with their emergency kit within a few minutes. They found the patient calmly eating a sausage sandwich, which was probably the best reaction. I had enough time to chat to the stewards, and we were also able to watch the comings and goings of walkabout performers, such as a brass band, who were  always in very bright fancy dress; a mechanical horse on wheels who played Klezmer music and breathed fire at night; and the Police Rave Unit!

After I finished my shift, I took part in the Car Boot Bingo Disco, where participants learned a disco move for every ball drawn out, which eventually became a dance routine. I also caught the sparkling cabaret of top act Trevi Fontayne with his inimitable crooning style. I headed back to the campsite to recharge my batteries, have a nice chat and stock up with alcohol. I’d discovered that the wine I’d brought with me was completely hideous, so I bought some fruits of the forest juice to mix with it. It tasted nice at first, but by the time I’d got to the bottom of the bottle, I’d still drunk a bottle of cheap wine, which didn’t leave me feeling too good eventually! But that was a long time away, and I joined Fraser at the main stage to watch Dr Meaker and Friends, Skip and Die and The Skatalites (for the second time in less than a week!) If I’ve got one criticism of Shambala, it’s that there are so many small venues and soundsystems, that it tends to drown out the sound of the main stage, so even if you stand relatively close, you can still hear the thump of something else going on nearby. It was very atmospheric though, and a beautiful evening. We explored some of the secret venues, but they felt a bit claustrophobic.

After the Skatalites, we discovered the most far-flung secret venue, Naughty Morty’s Secret Ska Bar, on the far side of the main campsite. It was in a lovely clearing in the woods, with straw-bale seats and fire woks to site around, and a very random music selection, from The Wurzels and to classic disco. The terrible red wine was catching up with me though, but we had time to explore the enchanted woods with its late night music and amazing art installations, before bedtime!

On Saturday, I had my daily shower, then headed out into the festival. I was feeling a bit washed-out but I was energised by a contemporary dance workshop which was very freeform, and I overheard a man say to his small son: “some of these people haven’t been to bed yet, and they’re still dancing, but some of them have had a nice sleep and are having a dance to wake themselves up”. There were certainly a few people looking a bit wild-eyed, covered it glitter – but we’re all covered in glitter at Shambala and it takes days to wash off! Feeling invigorated, I went for a sit-down and some random conversation in the healing meadow. I had a deluxe veggie hotdog from the Wide Awake Cafe – there was so much salad in it that I couldn’t pick up the bap, and had to eat it with a fork! I listened to a discussion on the theme: “Love Conquers Everything”. Surprisingly, the motion was defeated – although love is powerful, sadly it was decided that love couldn’t conquer everything! Then I met some friends and did some knitting to contribute to a special Shambala blanket.

The last activity before my shift was one of my favourite things ever at Shambala! It’s the Dreams and Whispers 90s Dance workout crew. A gang of crazy people dressed in shell-suits and giant afro wigs, or a glitter body stocking, talk a large crowd through a mass dance routine. We Vouged, did angry punching dancing, Irish dancing and hip-hop dancing, culminating in a very silly choreography to ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ by Bonnie Tyler, starting as seeds, growing into trees, crying and stroking each others’ faces. I think you have to be there to understand it! I didn’t take any photos as I was too busy laughing and dancing.

I put on my orange neon fancy dress – including tutu and pixie ears and went on shift. It was a shame to miss Saturday night’s excitement, but at least some of it came to us, with plenty of campers and artists in fancy dress. The shift went smoothly, even though it started to rain. I caught part of Amandou and Mariam’s set on my break, and we could hear it well from Accessible Camping. After my shift, I met Fraser, but he’d been drinking for hours so he was up for a dance, whereas I suddenly felt the need for a sit down and a chat. Luckily, I stumbled across the Permaculture area, and I had a lovely chat with some permaculture experts based in the beautiful Yorkshire town of Holmfirth for hours. It was also hammering with rain and I didn’t fancy moving from their cosy fire. I decided to have a solo wander when the rain died down a bit, and I rounded off my evening with a good dance to a mash-up of quality funk soul, hip-hop and big-beat tunes in the Social Club, one of my favourite venues at Shambala, with its cheery pink and blue striped marquee and proper wooden dance floor, having a great time boogying with strangers in fancy-dress to turntable trickster Jimi Needles.

I was determined to have a busy but gentle Sunday, as I had a night shift starting at midnight. We headed to the main stage for a mass meditation at midday. It was quite strange coming across hundreds of strangely-dressed people sitting cross-legged, but surprisingly relaxing. I had a bite to eat before another favourite activity at Shambala – the sea-shanty singing workshop! Sea shanties were work songs sung by sailors to entertain them and pace their work. The voice workshop yurt got a bit hot and stuffy, so we spilled out onto the meadow, and gathered an intrigued crowd of people. I love being part of a choir – some people were doing harmonies, but just the feeling and sound of a group of people singing heartily together always sends goosebumps down my spine – and it’s always better if the songs are about rum! Here’s a bizarre combination of sea shanties and anime I found on YouTube.

I had a final sit down around the fire in the meadow, before enjoying a camera obscura – and personal camera obscuras made from waste paper bins, which you put over your head, giving you an upside down, fish-eye view of everything! Very disorientating. Then Fraser and I took part in a mass wedding in another daft Dreams and Whispers dance workshop (shhhh – I haven’t told my other half yet!)

My musical highlight of the festival came next, with Dizraeli and the Small Gods (reviewed by me here), and there innovative mix of hip-hop and folk. It was the perfect music for a sunny afternoon. I then wandered over to the spoken word area The Wandering Word, where I should have spent far more time. It’s in an incredibly large yurt, with luxurious carpets and straw bales covered in material to lounge on. I thoroughly enjoyed the children’s poetry slam – young people had been doing poetry workshops all weekend, with amazing results. Hopefully next year, I’ll encourage more young writers in their own performance slot at Bearded Theory festival. It was very inspiring.

I enjoyed exploring the Enchanted Woodlands in daylight, with a gentle acoustic band playing, and families relaxing in the sunshine, before heading back to the campsite to gather everything I needed for my night shift. It wasn’t time to stop yet though. I enjoyed a reading of a play called “Spring Tide at Mablethorpe” by Julie Wilkinson – who is such a fantastic solo performer that I was completely sucked into her world. It’s about a not-too-distant future, when the effects of climate change are causing a massive flood on the Lincolnshire coastline. It was gripping and frighteningly real, but with a dark sense of humour.

I had a drink in the Wonky Cock pub with some Oxfam friends, and then we watched the “Big Burn” and the fireworks. The bonfire had been constructed in the shape of a magical castle and it made one of the biggest bonfires I’d ever seen. Our friends Graham and Gaelle had been looking after a honeydew melon with a face – Kevin the Melon – since Boomtown festival. He was now going a little soggy in the bottom and rather than face a slow, sad demise, they’d decided to sacrifice him to the flames so the organisers had agreed to put Kevin inside the house before the bonfire started.

I rounded my evening off by watching Tankus the Henge, a band who put on a brilliant stage show, combining ska, space-rock, gypsy punk – and a bit of Chas ‘n’ Dave, with a singer who plays a beaten-up piano and sometimes an accordion. They certainly got the crowd dancing enthusiastically.

My nightshift had finally arrived, which was very quiet. The main challenge was to stay alert and awake after all that excitement! We kept warm around the campfire in the accessible campfire and kept ourselves entertained by talking to increasingly “spangled” people as the night wore on. We were very tired by 8am, but very glad to get our Oxfam “Shambala Silliness” badges!

Shambala may be the end of the festival season for 2013 for me (although I’ve got my fingers crossed for a volunteer place at Festival Number 6 in Port Merion). It’s certainly been an epic summer, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my adventures. It feels like time to calm down, give my poor liver a rest and concentrate on my free-range career as a writer, editor (I can edit well, despite this rambling prose!), and creative writing tutor. I’ve already got some exciting things lined up for the autumn, and I can’t wait to tell you all about them!

A wedding, some roundabouts and concrete cows

It’s been a few weeks since my last blog post, as things have just been so busy! A few months ago, just before I finished my full-time job, I wrote about my friend’s hen night in Sheffield. It feels like a very long time ago now, but the wedding was in July and my friend has now gone to Canada, to start her brand-new married life!

It was written in the Concrete Cows…

The morning after the Levellers gig last month in Graves Park, I and a few friends headed down to Milton Keynes for the Sangeet, which is an Indian “hen night”, where the bride gets covered in turmeric (we missed this bit as we’d been sent to Tesco for an errand!) and saucy songs are sung about in-laws and married life. Two aunties provided the singing – it was a special honour that they performed at the sangeet. They performed in a marquee in the back garden and people sat on cushions on the floor to listen to the singing. The bride-to-be looked beautiful in her Indian clothes and it was great to meet some of her extended family. A girl got up and did some amazing dancing and we stuffed ourselves with Indian food. It was so hot, it felt like we really were in India.

The next day, the group of us from Sheffield walked around Willen Lake and visited the Peace Pagoda and Buddhist Temple. which has been there since the late seventies. The pagoda was built as a symbol of peace so that people remembered the horrifying effects of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We took our shoes off and looked around the temple, where there was a very moving display about the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011, and how the damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant is causing health problems amongst the survivors, as well as having to rebuild the entire infrastructure of their society. Notices around the temple read “Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō”, a Buddhist chant I learned last year at Shambala festival, when I decided to get up early for a Buddhist meditation class and had a wonderful spiritual experience. The chant means “I take refuge in (devote or submit myself to) the Wonderful Law of the Lotus Flower Sutra”: the Lotus Flower Sutra meaning, very basically, that everyone can seek and find enlightenment. Buddhists believe that repeating the chant can bring enlightenment. Visiting the temple certainly left me very quiet and thoughtful. Here’s an interesting BBC link about Nichiren Buddhism – did you know that Tina Turner is a Buddhist? Anyway, before I got too serious about things, we paddled around Willen Lake on a pedalo!

We only had a week to prepare ourselves for the big day. Lots of friends, including old Uni friends, had decided to go the whole hog and wear Indian clothes. Months ago, in the depths of winter, I’d had a fantastic afternoon with friends, trying on countless Shalwar Kameez until we found the ones we wanted, at surprisingly reasonable prices, considering all the gold braid and embroidery. As well as making sure I’d packed all the right clothes, I also had to fetch several boxes of ale from a local Sheffield brewery and hope that they stayed cool enough in the searing heat! The Friday evening when we drove down was absolutely roasting and my poor “other half” was melting. We popped in to see the bride and her family – she had the intricate henna designs on her hands and feet now, and bangles on both arms, almost up the elbow. It was quite strange to see one of my closest friends for the last eighteen years – more often seen wearing a Dinosaur Junior t-shirt and Doc Martens – start to be transformed into an elegant Indian bride.

At the hotel, we met up with lots of other friends. We were all excited about the wedding day, but also feeling a little sad that soon our friend would be on another continent – a long, expensive flight away. At least we’ve got modern technology to help us out, with Skype and email.

One of the main subjects of conversation was how weird Milton Keynes is. It’s a new town, mostly constructed in the 60s and 70s and all the roads are on a square grid system. It feels a bit American. There isn’t a proper town centre but a huge shopping mall – centered on Midsummer Boulevard. Jaspal told me years ago that the town planners centred the town on a ley line so that the shopping centre aligned with the sunrise on the summer solstice. It’s all true – have a read of this fascinating website I found, also mentioning the “Wych Tree” near the Peace Pagoda: http://mysteriousmiltonkeynes.com/

It was a little cooler on the wedding day, a relief for all of us, but especially the bride and groom, who were wearing heavy, elaborate costumes, We made our way to the Gurudwara in Milton Keynes, which is a modern, purpose-built Sikh temple. We waited outside, admiring each other’s outfits, until the groom arrived in a horse-drawn carriage, surrounded by Bhangra-dancing relatives and a car blasting out music. The groom, had traditional garlands in front of his face and had very oriental-looking shoes with curly toes! We took our shoes off to enter the Gurudwara and we were served Indian tea, samosas and sweets.

Upstairs, in the main room, men and women sat on separate sides. My other half was nervous but he seemed happy enough with friends’ husbands, sitting against the wall at the back of the room. The women’s outfits were very colourful but the men were mostly wearing dull-coloured suits. Everyone had to cover their head in the Gurudwara, but for women, a loose scarf was enough. The ceremony started, with singing and tabla playing, but it was ages before the bride appeared. She’d been inside the building for hours, for final preparations and she looked very nervous as she came through the double-doors wearing her heavy red-and-gold wedding costume.

The wedding ceremony very beautiful and solemn and a lady from the Gurudwara gave a translation in English to explain the proceedings.  This article explains it in more detail. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/sikhism/ritesrituals/weddings.shtml Have you read it? Good – it does a much better job at explaining it than I ever could! By the way, the holy Karah Pasad pudding we were given at the end tasted a bit like hot Weetabix. Straight after the wedding was another meal, downstairs at the Gurudwara!

After a few of us had scrambled to the wedding reception venue, to sort out the seating plan, we headed to the bride’s parents’ house again for the Doli. The banter for the groom to get his shoes back and be allowed in to see his bride was very funny, but the ceremony was very emotional – it’s supposed to be – with relatives crying as the couple were seen off in the wedding car (it was a vintage Bentley!)

After a quick rest, we went to the wedding reception. We were on more familiar ground here, with friends and relations sitting together on beautifully decorated tables, a DJ and more amazing Indian food. One of our friends from Sheffield, Tanya, played the dohl as the bride and groom walked into the reception. My friend had changed into a beautiful purple outfit and her new husband was in a smart suit. The groom’s friends had made a slideshow, with photos of the bride and groom growing up – they had even used some of the photos that friends had collected for the hen-night. We all had a brilliant time dancing but the food and the heat meant that we were exhausted by the time we returned to the hotel – none of us were up for partying long into the night like old times!

On Sunday afternoon, a big group of friends met up at Willen Lake. It was an emotional time, as most people wouldn’t see our newly married friends for months. At least I had WOMAD festival, the week afterwards. Before WOMAD though, they were off to Rome. They were determined to pack as much in as possible!

And so were we. After another stop-off at the bride’s parents, we decided to search for the legendary Milton Keynes Concrete Cows, a sculpture created in the 1970s by a Canadian-born artist, Liz Leyh. So the Canadian connection was there from the very beginning in Milton Keynes, written into their destiny.  It took some detective work to track down the cows, and the ones we found are replicas of the originals. But it was the perfect setting – a field in the evening sun, and cows that almost looked real from a distance.

We left Milton Keynes with an odd mixture of feelings: happiness, indigestion, our senses whirling from all the colourful sights we’d seen, sadness that our friend would soon be a long way away from us, but relief to be back up north amongst some hills!

Glastonbury – the epic 11 day mission!

 

This isn’t going to be the average sort of Glastonbury review that concentrates on the headline bands at the Pyramid stage and nothing else. This blog entry is rather epic, but it’s probably going to be my longest blog of the year, so bear with me.

I’m going to try to show you parts of Glastonbury you haven’t seen before. This was my 20th anniversary of going to Glastonbury festival – and festivals in general. Glastonbury is a behemoth of a festival. There’s nothing like it in the world. It’s a crazy concept really – a quarter of a million people (roughly 150,000 ticket-holders and 70,000 workers) descend on a dairy farm in a small Somerset village which has turned into the biggest festival in the world. After two years of being away, the sight of Glastonbury festival, filling up an entire valley, can still be breathtaking.

I’ve just used this programme and I’ve discovered that Glastonbury festival is almost exactly the same size as the whole of Sheffield’s city centre http://howbigreally.com/dimension/festivals_and_specticles/glastonbury#S1_2HH

I arrived in the Oxfam field with my friend Fraser on the afternoon of Saturday 22nd June. We were both volunteering for Oxfam as stewards, but Fraser was on the early shift, meaning that all his shifts would be over by the time the public were admitted to the festival on Wednesday – whereas mine didn’t start until then. For me, it was a great opportunity to be there early, relax with friends and treat it as a holiday.

The weather on the first two days wasn’t great. Driving down, the car was buffeted by really strong winds and it was a struggle to keep control. We stopped for lunch in Tewkesbury and wandered around the Abbey, then drove down the M5, past Glastonbury town and the tor (and the Clarks shoe village in Street), finally arriving in our Oxfam field (Oxfield), just outside the perimeter of the festival. Oxfam are now the biggest agency providing staff for the festival and there are over 2,000 people camping in our field, all Oxfam volunteers and staff. I’ve been to some festivals that have been smaller than that in total. There were already lots of familiar faces there, and we found space near some friends’ tents. Oxfam stewarding is such a great social network that for the whole festival, it takes a long time to get a shower (yes there are showers!!! That’s the long marquee to the left in the aerial photo above), food, go the loo or get a cup of tea without saying hello to about five different people at least.

On Sunday, it was still windy and I didn’t have my wristband yet, as I wasn’t working on the early shift. There was a choice of either getting drunk in the Oxfield or doing something productive! I discovered that a friend called Holly had never been to Glastonbury town and didn’t know about the Tor. After a short drive, we we battling tremendous winds, struggling up the side of the Tor. It was so windy at the top that we could lean right back and the wind kept us upright. After nearly being blown away, we sauntered around the hippie shops of Glastonbury town and did some charity shopping.

Monday was my first chance to explore the festival site this year, which I did with my friend Dave. We were looking for the codes clues for the Oxfam stewards treasure hunt, which had been organised voluntarily – with great prizes – by two stewards. It was a lovely sunny day and the empty stages and camping fields were pristine. There was still a lot of work going on – marquees, stages and signs being erected, decorations going up. You realise how much effort and attention to detail goes into the festival. It’s not just a flagpole – it’s a hand-painted flagpole with a uniquely decorated flag. Each bin, made out of a recycled metal drum, is painted imaginatively by an army of volunteers who are onside for weeks. I love watching the build-up to a festival, Glastonbury in particular, as there’s so much going on.

One of the highlights of Monday night was actually meeting Michael Eavis, the farmer who owns most of the land where the festival is held. We were admiring Bella’s Bridge, a footbridge built as a tribute to Arabella Churchill (the granddaughter of Winston Churchill), who became one of the festival’s main organisers, when Michael Eavis loomed out of the darkness and said “I’m glad you like my bridge!” We were all a bit surprised but we had a lovely chat to Michael, who seems to really like Oxfam stewards.

By Tuesday, all of the stewards had arrived, many of them in several coach-loads from Bristol. I finally had to start thinking about work. I wasn’t starting work until 4.45am on Thursday – an eight hour shift as Team Leader on a pedestrian gate leading to the campervan field on the opposite side of the site. We had a supervisors training session in the cinema tent on site, which is more Oxfam supervisors than I’d ever seen in one place before! We also had a one-hour briefing back in the Oxfield marquee, which was fairly entertaining and stressed the point of how important Oxfam stewards are. We’re on every gate into the site. It’s our job to make sure that people without tickets don’t get in! With back-up from security, of course, but if we get it wrong, the whole festival could be in jeopardy. A scary thought!

That evening, we had a special party to celebrate an Oxfam steward who sadly died of a heart condition earlier this year. Chris Light (fondly remembered by the Oxfam Stewards’ Forum users as Sergeant Howie), was a wonderful, gentle man and a brilliant photographer. He also wrote a novella about Oxfam stewarding at Glastonbury, The Gate, which I’ve just downloaded for free from Lulu.com! We drank a specially invented cocktail in his honour, called “The Shaft of Light”, which had glowsticks and edible glitter. We also drank to Mickie the Pixie, another Oxfam steward who died this year after an illness. He was one of the first Oxfam stewards I ever worked with, wearing a cardboard box that said “free hugs” on it. And he was the supervisor! Both of them are sadly missed.

Wednesday was lovely, although a little hard to get used to the sheer numbers of people on site, after a few days of blissfully relaxing, emptyish fields. We met up with more friends and had an epic wander round the festival site, to orientate a friend who hadn’t been before. He was surprised at the size, but he loved it. There was time for a quick pint of cider at the legendary cider bus before heading back to the Oxfield for an early night! My alarm clock was set for 3.30am. If I didn’t manage to catch the minibus from our field, it was going to be an hour’s walk to the Campervans West gate.

Luckily, the minibus did come to collect us. I had a lovely first shift, struggling to remember the names of the sixteen lovely people I was working with, apart from my deputy supervisor who was also called Anne (but without the “e”). The early dawn soon turned into a hot day, with a queue of people waiting good-naturedly to get into the festival. At this gate, people had to keep hold of their ticket and get a “pass-out” whenever they went back to their campervans. On the Thursday morning, most people were quite well organised, but by Friday night, people started losing their partners, tickets, passouts and marbles, which made things a bit more difficult. I walked back from my first shift in the heat, managing to get a few more vital clues for the treasure hunt and getting back just in time to enter the competition!

Unfortunately, it started raining immediately after I got back to the field. That meant that the traditional Oxfam stewards Thursday afternoon meet-up at the cider bus was rather damp, everyone huddling in cagoules and under umbrellas. We stuck it out and drank a few pints of cider though! A large group of Oxfam stewards decided to wander somewhere else, where we could dance. A brilliant decision was made to go to the Hell stage in the Shangri-la area of the site. We were damp but ready to party. We had a fantastic time watching Slamboree, a band combining, rave, hip-hop, folk and circus. Then we stumbled to the Avalon Cafe to see 3 Daft Monkeys, mainstays of the festival circuit. After that, I danced in the Rock ‘n’Roll diner at Shangri-La until 5am, where actual real rock ‘n’ roll was being played, including some rare rockabilly classics such as “Barking up the Wrong Tree” by Don Woody.

On Friday, I felt rather rough! I dropped a heavy bag full of jumpers, my tabard and snacks for my night-shift off at Campervans West, which almost killed me. En route though, I was entertained by the L.B.W. Outside Broadcast unit, gently commentating on the goings on on the theatre fields. Then I went to see hotly tipped indie band Peace at the John Peel stage. There was a massive crowd and they were excellent, but the singer must have been very hot, wearing a pair of white decorators’ dungarees and a thick seventies sparkly jumper! I started to feel a better when I had a long sit-down in the cabaret tent with my friend Clare. The sight of compere Arthur Smith is always reassuring, and 4 Pouffs and a Piano were hilarious – and very rude!

Before my shift I went to see the legendary Dinosaur Junior in the Park, the boutique-festival style area of the festival nearest to my gate. In case you haven’t heard of them, they are a legendary alternative rock / grunge band. It was great to see them, despite the mostly blank faces of my Oxfam colleagues when I told them about the gig! I swapped some lovely text messages with a friend who loves Dinosaur Junior but couldn’t come to Glastonbury. The nightshift went very well – the gate was busy all the time with people coming home in various states of disrepair, and there were several relationship crisis where the husband was lost and drunk and their wife had the ticket to get back into the campervan field. It was pretty amazing that we managed to sort out most of the problems – that is, if the drunk lost people actually turned up! Some of them are possibly still missing in action.

Although I hadn’t been to sleep until nearly 6am on Saturday morning, I woke up feeling relatively refreshed (due to the lack of alcohol may have helped). I headed off on my own at 11.30am to see Rokia Traore, a singer and guitarist from Mali who was opening the Pyramid stage for the day. I was determined to pack as much music as possible into my day off! The main Pyramid Stage was starting off with a Malian artist on each day, to highlight the strife in the country due to Islamist groups starting a civil war, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced and the rich musical heritage of the country under threat by fundamentalists who want to ban music. I’d seen Rokia Traore before at WOMAD. I was running a bit late, but luckily, so was the Pyramid stage, so I was able to catch more of her joyful set, while I made friends with two lads who hadn’t gone to bed yet! We stayed firm friends for Billy Bragg’s set too, until Billy played “a lullabye for people who hadn’t been to sleep yet” and they took the hint to hit the hay! The power of suggestion! Billy Bragg was on top form. As Britain’s top left-wing singer-songwriter, he can sometimes get on his political soapbox a bit too much, but we all had a cheer at the demise of Margaret Thatcher and enjoyed his new Country and Western leanings! I was joined by friends for Laura Mvula but we were all sitting down by this point, conserving our energy in the hot sunshine.

We headed over to The Strypes on the John Peel stage next. This Irish band are still in their teens but are tipped as “the next big thing”. They’re a straight-up 60s style R&B band – a bit like the very early Rolling Stones. They play a few covers but their own songs, notably “Blue Collar Jane” are full of energy. I was bopping away near the front of the stage, but people at the John Peel stage don’t seem to like dancing – they take it all a bit too seriously! After that, Clare was hunting for some Drum ‘n’ Bass, but I headed off towards the West Holts stage. En route, I had a meal in one of the hidden gems of Glastonbury: a vegan cafe in the Permaculture Garden, between the Green Fields and the old railway track, one of the main thoroughfares of the festival. It was time for my peak day-time rave moment with The Orb, an electronic band I’d first seen twenty years ago at Glastonbury. We had been too close to the front to see the massive laser show, which was “totally amazing, man!” according to anyone who’d been at the back of the field. This time, the Orb were playing with Ghanaian master drummers Kakatsitsi and it was an absolutely mesmerising performance, enjoyed by having a good dance with lots of other old ravers! I then popped over to the Avalon stage to check out the Urban Voodoo Machine, who were brilliant – sleazy rock ‘n’ roll with a gypsy punk edge – just my sort of thing. Heading back to West Holts, I caught the end of Maverick Sabre before meeting up with some friends for the next act, Major Lazer, which had been recommended to me by my stewards. It was great fun, but as it hopped between dubstep, dancehall and more other dance genres than I could keep track of, it was all a bit giddy! Music for people with short attention spans!

The next band I saw was a controversial move. I decided to see Public Enemy, rather than the Rolling Stones. This was for several reasons: I like to swim against the tide some of the time; I knew it would be rammed at the Pyramid Stage; I knew I could watch the Rolling Stones’ set on the TV or on the internet later on; and I was just curious really! I know the most famous songs by Public Enemy and it was a chance to see another legend, at closer quarters than I’d be likely to be seeing Mick and Co. We were right on the front barrier, although there did seem to be a massive crowd. Chuck D was the coolest man in the world and really engaged with the audience. In my ignorance, I hadn’t realised that Public Enemy would have a live band. Their guitarist in particular was amazing and the set really blew me away (man!). I parted company with my friend John after Public Enemy to see something a bit different – Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs; a favourite band from Bearded Theory and Beautiful Days. Basically, a punk skiffle band who are hilariously funny. What’s not to like? While I was there, I met a friend from Bearded Theory. We headed to Bez’s Funhouse in the Shangri-La area and re-lived the Hacienda glory days for a few hours. At 4am, my friend left, in time to start his recycling shift bright and early at 6am, and I was adopted by a group of gay guys who took me to Glastonbury’s only dedicated gay venue, the NYC Downlow – a re-creation of a New York gay club in a specially built half-ruined tenement block. It was great fun, but eventually, I staggered home to the Oxfield! What an adventure of a day!

On Sunday morning, I had a sauna in the Greenfields, followed by a cooked breakfast, before heading to my shift at 1pm (I was a few minutes late as I’d miscalculated the amount of time I needed to eat my breakfast!) The Sunday afternoon shift was a much more laid-back affair. People were coming in dribs and drabs from the campervan fields, and back again. Soon after I started my shift, we had a “runner” – a young man sauntered through the gate and when one of the stewards questioned him, he sprinted out into the camping field. The bored security staff followed him at a lightning pace, but the chase came to a swift end when the miscreant tripped over a guyrope. He was brought back by security to cheers from the stewards and comments like “nice try, pal”, “epic fail” and “try getting a ticket next time”. The sprinter still seemed quite pleased with himself though! We whiled away the hours playing an increasingly cryptic version of I-Spy and wondering when the tea van was going to get round to us (it didn’t!) At eight o’clock, we were instructed to hand the running of the gate over to security. We got a lift back to the Oxfield for 9pm and my stewards were very happy to have finish an hour early (we’d been told that we were being re-deployed, but this was a clever ruse by our steward control, Oxbox!)

I changed my shoes, put on a tutu, grabbed some cider and headed to the Sprit of ’71 stage, to meet Fraser and various other friends to see System 7 and Eat Static and finish the weekend with some techno raving of the highest degree. The lights and visual projections were completely mesmerising and after a few glasses of Westons’ cider, I was well into the spirit of things. Afterwards, we had a wander around the dance village and then headed to the Park to the Bimble Inn, which is a pub venue inside an elongated tipi. Unfortunately, one of the friends we met there was ill (not self-inflicted but through injury) and a group of us walked her to one of the pedestrian gates, very slowly, until the Oxfam minibus could pick her up. It was dawn by the time we returned to the Oxfield but we stayed and watched the sun come up for a while, revealing the view of the crowds still partying in the Stone Circle field.

Monday was a much gentler pace. I had the biggest cooked breakfast of my life from our own caterers, the excellent Nuts. Once that had gone down, it was time to head out on site to see what the hoards had left behind. This activity is called “tatting“. Despite the “love the farm, leave no trace” campaign, thousands of people still leave tents, chairs, camping equipment and general rubbish behind. Of course, there are teams of litter-pickers dealing with the carnage, taking weeks to painstakingly return the site back to pristine condition, but their job would be a lot easier if everyone packed their stuff away and threw their rubbish in the bin. The site did look a little clearer this year, but it wasn’t a lot better in the busiest camping fields near the Pyramid Stage. It’s surprising what people do leave behind. We collected: a brand-new Eurohike tent in perfect condition, about 20 cans of Kopparburg cider, a lovely wicker basket, a picnic blanket, a designer shopper bag, a kettle, a Romany flag – and a mystery flag that looks like it might be an African country amongst lots of other things. Basically, you can just go out there with a shopping list, and find what you want, as long as camping gear and cans of cider are on your agenda. Later on, Fraser and I went to wave goodbye to our friend Clare, who’s going to be travelling the world for six months, as she was getting a lift in John and Suzie’s campervan. We went to see some friends backstage in the acoustic field, and ended up chatting to their neighbours for five hours and having an impromptu barbecue!

Tuesday morning was dull and grey, and time to pack up. Fraser and I had lunch at the Garden Cafe in the delightful town of Frome, where all the residents seemed to have been at the festival, exploring the town and then heading home through the Cotswolds. We took a wrong turning and found a charming village called Barnsley, which we thought was hilarious as it was very different from the Barnsley in South Yorkshire, so we stopped for a drink in the very posh pub. We couldn’t put it off much longer though, it was time to return home, and it was lovely to come home to my partner, solid walls and modern conveniences. At least I wasn’t stuck in an office the next day, and I’m determined to make a success of my free-range life so that I can enjoy many more Glastonbury festivals in the future. One day I’ll be ready for free-range working all summer from a perfectly fitted-out campervan!

Main Links:

The Official Glastonbury Website

BBC Glastonbury Website

http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/a-big-weekend-out-at-glastonbury I enjoyed this review, particularly the bit about the stewards – which is exactly what Oxfam Stewards are, really! People who love festivals and want to help other people to love them.

Smile in the face of evil and dance!

A few weeks ago, on the 22nd May, I was supervising a rounders match on a panoramic playing field at a very multicultural junior school in Sheffield, when something terrible happened in London. An off-duty soldier was brutally murdered in an attack by two terrorists, in the name of Islam. The backlash against ordinary Muslims started almost immediately, although there was widespread condemnation of the attack from the Islamic community. There is no justification for terrorism, or killing an innocent man who was just walking home from work. (Wikipedia link for more information.)

Last week, I found out that the EDL (The English Defence League), were planning to march on Sheffield city centre, and that a counter demonstration was being planned to celebrate and defend multicultural Sheffield. I haven’t been involved in demonstrations for years. As a teenager, I was involved in the Socialist Worker’s party, but I left when I was at university and had much more interesting things to do than sit in meetings in rooms above pubs. I realised that the prospect of a revolution was rather remote! Anyway, that’s another story. The reason I’d got involved in the first place was to do my bit to stop the rise of far-right groups. In the early 1990s, the BNP (British National Party) were gathering support and votes. For a while, it seemed that far-right extremists were losing their appeal. Then 9-11 happened, and the bombings in London on the 7th July 2005, and groups like the EDL appeared, stirring up anti-Muslim hatred. I’ve worked with lots of Muslims. The Muslims I know just want to get on with their lives: go to work, have their tea, bring up their families in peace and go on holiday, just like everyone else. They have no interest in extremism, and why should they?

I decided to join the march on Saturday in Sheffield because of the kids that I’ve been working with recently as a teaching assistant. In the multicultural schools of Sheffield, children work and play together. They’ve grown up used to classmates from many different cultures, and the richness that this gives to their lives. I wanted to make a stand, to defend the right to live in harmony with my neighbours. I love living in a multicultural society. Think of the food, music, language, art, dance, clothes and many other things we’ve been influenced by, due to other cultures coming into the UK. Britain is an amazing country, with its own rich culture. It’s not under threat. In fact, in recent year, there has been a renaissance in the popularity of British culture such as folk music, British food and beer (such as the wonderful microbreweries in Sheffield like the Bradfield Brewery!) Throughout the land, village greens still resound to the thwack of leather on willow (a cricket match!) and polite applause, as no one has a clue what’s going on, before reaching for the cucumber sandwiches. We’ve got a lot to be proud of.

The EDL, on the other hand, and other far-right groups, claim that British culture is under attack and that we are somehow being “overrun” by muslims. These people want to create divisions, and want working class white British people to believe that they are being  marginalised in their own country. Their politics are about defeatism, negativity and hate. The EDL’s stated aim in coming to Sheffield was to place a wreath on the Barker’s Pool war memorial. But they’d demonstrated the week before, and apparently, there had been Nazi salutes on the streets of Sheffield.

I was delighted when I got a Facebook message from my friend Angelina Abel, who runs the Mulembas D’Africa dance classes, last Friday. She said that a festival had been organised at the Peace Gardens in Sheffield’s city centre at the last minute, to celebrate “One Sheffield, Many Cultures”. She’d been invited to perform and was going to do a workshop to a new routine. I was definitely up for that. My placard-waving days may be over, but dancing for peace was going to be the perfect way to prove that many cultures and creativity are the things that make life really worth living. The festival was due to start straight after the demonstration.

So yesterday, on a warm, sunny morning, I set off for the city centre, heading for the City Hall steps. Unfortunately, I found my way blocked by rows of police officers and metal barricades so I couldn’t get down any side streets. I started to feel quite uneasy. Eventually, I managed to get round to Barker’s Pool, the large square in front of Sheffield’s City Hall, a magnificent 1930s concert hall. There were ranks of police, lots of temporary Heras fencing and a few people, obviously from the anti-fascist side, standing or sitting on the City Hall steps in the sunshine. There didn’t seem to be a lot going on, and I could see a crowd gathering under Trade Union banners on the other side of barricades next to Holland and Barratt, so I thought I’d join them. The quickest way to get through, avoiding more metal barriers, was through the John Lewis Department store and out the other side. I was briefly side-tracked by looking at kitchen-ware, but within a couple of minutes, I was standing in the middle of the crowd of protesters.

I got talking to some students. They weren’t left-wing fanatics. One of them had made a banner out of a Stella Artois box, that read “This memorial supports anti-fascism and so does Sheffield – one culture”. As one of them explained, he had grown up at a multi-cultural school. His friends were from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and that made life richer, but at the end of the day, they were just his mates. The crowd was full of Sheffield people, who’d given up their normal Saturday lunchtime to make a stand against hatred. There were banners from left-wing groups, but also trade unions, and home-made banners, including the “fluffiest” banner in the world, which read “Welcome to Sheffield, try some Henderson’s Relish, OPEN YOUR MIND, and have a safe trip home”. There was some shouting and chanting when the EDL arrived, but it was difficult to see exactly what was going on because the EDL members were right at the other side of Barker’s Pool. Standing on tip-toes, it did look like the EDL member were giving Nazi salutes. However, they EDL claim they were making “Churchill-style V-signs”. Hmm. The Sheffield Star followed the EDL and you can make your own mind up by watching this video. Eventually, they let the anti-fascist protesters through, to gather on the City Hall steps. There were a lot of us – about 2,000 at a guess and it was great to recognise lots of friends amongst them, who had just turned up, like me.

It was time to head to the Peace Gardens, around the corner, to meet Angelina. I had time for a pasty first, another example of British culture at its finest! The set-up in the Peace Gardens looked very professional, and as we changed into our Mulembas D’Africa vest, we started to feel like we were part of something big. Two members of the dance class had turned up to dance, and another lady had just been passing through, but she also got roped in! Angelina took to the stage, and we encouraged members of the audience to join in. At first, we thought we’d have a couple of small children, but it was brilliant when the middle of the peace gardens was full of people. There was only one problem – we didn’t know the routine that Angelina had been cooking up, and now we we had to convince a hundred other people to join in. It was great fun, and I managed to keep up and try to look stylish, but we were very hot and sweaty when we’d finished our Kuduro routine!

One of the people joining in our dance routine was Sista Chaz from the Allstar Revolution, and they’d also been invited perform; to headline the festival! So we headed off to the off-licence to relax, dance and enjoy the music. Over the afternoon, we enjoyed various DJs, a folk band, young street-dance groups and a parkour group bouncing off the fountains and doing incredible back-flips. There was also a Bhangra group and an excellent garage punk / indie band called the Sonik Seeds. Finally, The Allstar Revolution started their set, starting with a more laid-back, Afrobeat vibe, spreading their message of love, fun and friendship. It was a fitting end to a wonderful afternoon.

After the EDL left Barker’s Pool, there had been some trouble as the march headed up West Street and out of the city centre. But right in the heart of Sheffield, we showed what cultural diversity and unity really means.

 

 

 

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