Solstice and Sunshine. An epic Glastonbury diary… Part One

It’s taken me a while to catch up with work, life and everything after Glastonbury. But now I’m in a position to tell you about it! I’ll be as concise as I can, but there’s a lot to get through. I’m going to do this in stages!

Friday 20th June

After a laid back day of taking my poorly laptop to Staples (that was why it was a relaxed day – I couldn’t do any work!) baking flapjack,  walking with a friend and her dogs, and cleaning the bathroom, it was time to pack the car. At about 9pm on Solstice Eve, my friend Louise and I were ready to set off to Glastonbury. The car was already quite full. Mostly because I’d already bought the booze for Fraser, the third member of the car share. Including nine boxes of Westons’ cider, and twenty four cans of Boddingtons.

I’ve been friends with Fraser and Louise for eight years now, having met both of them through festival stewarding, and now Louise lives five minutes’ walk away from me in Sheffield.

When we stopped to pick Fraser up in Coventry, the situation in the car became ridiculous. But we managed to pack in everything, including a cardboard model of the Eiffel tower, and a badminton set, of all things. The poor car rolled slowly off the drive with a groan, and without being able to see through the rear windscreen or drive about 60mph, I was glad that we were driving on quiet roads, through the night.

Saturday 21st June

The line between Friday and Saturday was rather blurred. As the early hours of the morning approached, the sky began to lighten. And as we pulled into the car park near Glastonbury Abbey, the friend who we had arranged to meet was just setting off for the tour. It was 4am. We pulled on a few layers against the early morning chill, and set off. There was excitement in the air. The streets of Glastonbury were quiet, apart from the occasional person, making their way towards the Tor. At the bottom of the hill, I filled a water bottle from the White Spring and joined the people walking up the steep hillside.

I hadn’t fancied the revelry of Stonehenge or Avebury, and I thought that Glastonbury Tor would be the perfect place to celebrate the Summer Solstice. And I was right. It felt more like a pilgrimage, with people of all ages and backgrounds trekking up the mountain, even some people with crutches or walking sticks. And I was rewarded. I caught the sight of white wings around the corner of the Tor. And after I’d climbed the next set of steps, I got my first proper view of a barn owl, hunting in the hedgerow at the base of the Tor, ghostly and graceful.

Thrilled to bit, I joined the others, and we stood, among a relaxed crowd at the top of the hill, in front of St Michael’s tower, the only remains of a medieval church, demolished after the dissolution of the monasteries. Glastonbury Tor itself is a natural hill, a striking landmark visible for miles, a sacred and Romantic site associated with Arthurian legend (and New Age Hippy Bollocks!) but undeniably a very special place.

The sun rose slowly above a distant line of hill, into a completely blue sky. I realised that I’d never stood and concentrated on the sun rising before. It was huge, and orange, and I found myself drawn into the spirituality of it all by doing yoga sun salutations. Even if you didn’t take your eyes off the rising sun, it suddenly seemed to jump above the horizon in stages, rather than gradually appearing. It was amazing that so soon after the sun rising at about 5.05am, it was getting warm, and we lounged around on the grass at the top of the Tor for as long as we could.

Back in the (almost) real world of Glastonbury town, we found a Brewer’s Fayre pub at the edge of the industrial estate that was open for a slap-up, eat as much as you can breakfast, although you can never eat as much as you think you’re going to, do you? And a quick trip to Tesco, where I shut my eyes for a few minutes in the car park, and Fraser and Louise managed to find more stuff to put in my beleaguered Hyundai.

We drove the last eight miles to the Glastonbury Festival site. For the next ten days, we’d be living in the Oxfam Stewards’ temporary campsite, just outside the festival gates, next to the Windinglake Farm, where we’d been promised ducks, chickens and even swans to make friends with! It’s always exciting to see the festival site – my first sight of the “superfence”, Heras fencing, colour-coded yellow AA signs and glimpses of the festival fields themselves never fails to thrill me. And I’ve been going to Glastonbury since 1993!

Unfortunately, the “Purple” route we were looking for was pretty elusive, and the sat nav code directed us to Blue Route, a hint I should have taken, because once we’d actually found the “Purple” route, the car was bouncing up and down uncontrollably on metal trackway laid across a ploughed field. Louise was covered in falling tents and rucksacks, but the car had built up its own momentum, even though I was driving as slowly as I could.

Finally, we arrived. A little frazzled after the bumpy drive, but the best thing was that we just met some friends who showed us where they were camped, we emptied the car, and then I drove back out to the car park in the next field. And by the time I’d returned, Fraser and Louise had put up my new bell tent! Amazing service. As the day wore on, more people started to arrive. Most of them were working on the early shift, starting on Sunday, but there were a few people like me, who’d arrived early for the “main shifts” because they were giving lifts to those starting early. Saturday was blazingly hot, but I rigged up a porch on my tent that was to become very useful over the next week.

Solstice Saturday was a bit like having jetlag (not that I ever have), with a short burst of grumpiness, riding out the tiredness, enjoying the company of my wide circle of “Oxfamily” friends, and having a little teatime snooze in the relative coolness of my tent. There were still plenty of friends’ voices around me as I put myself to bed that night, even though some of them were having an argument with a drunken idiot (I never found out who the idiot was). We’d made it. We’d seen the perfect sunrise on the Summer Solstice, and were now camping, in a lovely bell tent at the Glastonbury festival, awaiting the exciting build-up to the festival. Who could ask for anything more?

Of course I was a little anxious that my shifts wouldn’t clash with the Manic Street Preachers’ set, but that felt a long way away for now! And the gentle stroll to Shepton Mallet I’d planned for Sunday was going to be a lot more action-packed than expected…

Moist but Marvelous! A belated post about Bearded Theory…

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

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

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

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

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

Creations in the craft dome!

Creations in the craft dome!

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

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

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

Beard Surrealism

Beard Surrealism

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

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

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

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

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

Poisoned Electrick Head at Bearded Theory

Poisoned Electrick Head at Bearded Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A proud young poet!

A proud young poet!

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

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

My favourite member of Pop Will Eat Itself!

My favourite member of Pop Will Eat Itself!

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

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

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

The Stranglers - a classic set!

The Stranglers – a classic set!

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

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

Jurrassic Park! Complete with Bearded jellyfish in the lake.

Jurrassic Park! Complete with Bearded jellyfish in the lake.

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

The Ratells

The Ratells

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

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

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

Mud! Children! PVA glue! Glitter!

Mud! Children! PVA glue! Glitter!

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

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

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

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

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

Just put your wellies on and dance!

Just put your wellies on and dance!

 

 

A Life Less Ordinary – and a lot more busy!

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The cover of Outside Inside! Buy it now!

The cover of Outside Inside! Buy it now!

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

The happy couple, and their minions!

The happy couple, and their minions!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese Dragon at Wong Ting

Chinese Dragon at Wong Ting

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

Coventry Canal boat - beautiful roses and castles artwork

Coventry Canal boat – beautiful roses and castles artwork

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

Peacocks at the Strines

Peacocks at the Strines

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

Cheeky Ladybower ducks

Cheeky Ladybower ducks

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

Derwent dam close up

Derwent dam close up

Damn, I really was looking forward to my swim!

Damn, I really was looking forward to my swim!

Derwent dam in full flow

Derwent dam in full flow

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

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

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

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

The site of Birchinlee village - "Tin Town"

The site of Birchinlee village – “Tin Town”

Tree reflections

Tree reflections

Mole sculpture by Derwent dams

Mole sculpture by Derwent dams

Tree silhouette and soft winter colours

Tree silhouette and soft winter colours

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

Vegan beer and food at Kelham Island

Vegan beer and food at Kelham Island

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

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

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!

Creating and Cleaning

I’ve had my head down for most of November. I’ve been learning more about the world of starting my own business and delving into the scary world of tax and accounting. Hopefully once I’ve got to grips with it all, the number-crunching won’t be as hard as I feared. I’m working on my business plan (which sounds a bit after the fact, as I started my business in May), and working out what direction I want things to go in. I’ve got some exciting ideas.

But I haven’t had much time to plan and plot my ideas yet. I’ve been working flat-out on one of my freelance editing projects – a Victorian murder mystery novel. I met my deadline and my customer is very happy with my work, which is great news. There are more editing clients who want to work with me which is really exciting. I’ve also been busy working with dementia patients at Newholme Hospital in Bakewell doing reminiscence and creative writing, which is an area where I want to build up a real expertise.

When I left my job, one of the projects I wanted to complete was re-decorating the dining room. Since we moved in two years ago, the dining room (which is like the tardis and seems bigger than the outside dimensions of the house) has become my favourite room, but it was scruffy, with a flaky damp patch under the window and stains in the corner of the ceiling, where there had been a leak from the bathroom. We paid for re-plastering and re-sealed the bath, in case of further leaks! And now I’ve been painting the walls a beautiful fresh white, enjoying listening to BBC 6 Music. It’s a slow job, but it all needs to be finished by Christmas.

I’ve also started a massive sort-out, removing all the clutter from the dining room and the study, sorting out my paperwork and starting to become a more organised person, with a proper filing system! We’ve had several trips to the tip with old cardboard boxes, a sofa bed that was so tatty and saggy it was no use as a sofa or a bed, and some old broken dining chairs cluttering up the place. Having a clutter-free, clean, tidy house is important to me at the moment, as I feel like it will enable me to work and build my business more effectively. I’ve felt under pressure and stressed-out recently and it’s time to take control of things; learning how to do things my way. That’s what being a freerange  person is all about.

The learning process has been so steep recently, time and money poor: juggling my teaching course, voluntary work, and paid work – with little time for a social life or my own creative work, but that’s what it is: a time of learning – and the outside world is starting to take notice. I’ve come a long way since I started this blog in February, dreaming of a better life in a lonely hotel room on a work trip. Since the end of the summer, I’ve worked hard – maybe a bit too hard for my own well-being. Afterall, it’s nearly midnight and I’m still tapping away at my laptop!

One of the reasons I was so stressed was feeling the year hurtling to an end. How was I going to squeeze in Christmas, amongst all the other things I’m doing – and earn enough money to survive. But I’ve made a start, buying daft little presents for my friends and family, and today, I made a Christmas cake.

I took it out of the oven a few hours ago, and it looks pretty good so far – not as dark brown as usual, as I used lighter sugar. For twenty years at least, I’ve been decorating Christmas cakes and to break the tradition this year would seem wrong. I feel better now I’ve made it – now I just have to decide on a design! I’ve got some ideas already. Christmas can be a good excuse to be creative. Before you ask, I haven’t made my own cards this year – I bought them from Age UK.

I use a tried and tested recipe from the classic Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course, a book that teaches you to cook virtually anything, although it was published in the early eighties. Although it’s thirty years later, and I’m vegan, it’s still surprisingly useful. There’s even a vegetarian section. In the introduction, the young Delia speaks out against factory farming, but thinks that “plant milk” is weird and trots out the old myth about Hitler being a vegetarian. By the way, researching this claim, I’ve just come across a website that claims that vegetarians and vegans are evil. I’m not sure if it’s a mickey-take or not. I suspect not! It claims that vegetarianism equals child abuse. I’m not going to link to this website because it’s so weird, but google “vegetarians are evil” and see if you can find it. Here’s the Vegetarian Society‘s website instead!

Anyway, back to the recipe. This is what I did: http://www.deliaonline.com/how-to-cook/baking/how-to-make-a-christmas-cake.html (Delia’s cake recipe hasn’t changed at all over the years!), except I didn’t use any currants, and I used more cherries and mixed peel. I also cheated and didn’t soak the dried fruit overnight. I soaked the fruit in some bourbon whisky I had left over, and some Portuguese almond liqueur called Amarguinha, as well as freshly squeezed orange and lemon juice. Then I put the bowl of dried fruit in the microwave on the lowest setting for twenty minutes. To “veganise” the cake, I used a dairy-free margarine and to replace the eggs, I used Orgran No Egg, which is a powdered egg replacer, made from potato starch and tapioca flour. It’s great for cakes. Because I used the fruit juice too, my mixture was a little more moist than it looks in Delia’s photos, but the cake looks great anyway!

Eating Christmas cake can sometimes be a bit daunting as it’s so rich, but I think this one’s going to be good. Hopefully the whole cake will taste of marzipan!

 

Oh Deer: Autumn Reality Check

On the weekend of the Autumn Equinox, we headed to the hills. There were five of us. We’d all met through Oxfam stewarding: Louise, Susie, Fraser, Clare and myself, although the friendships have blossomed and evolved over years. Our friendships have taken us through study, unemployment, creativity, the daily grind of the 9-5, travel adventures, many festivals and being generally separated by geography. But we always come back together, with the ability to turn any experience into a crazy adventure. This autumnal meet-up was in the small window of opportunity between Clare returning from back-packing in China and a long trip to Nicaragua as a volunteer leader! She was also made redundant in April, and her world knows no limits!

Louise and I drove to Edale, a remote village in the Peak District under the shadow of the mountainous moorland plateau of Kinder Scout. The village is encircled by forbidding hills, but it’s less than an hour’s drive from Sheffield, and half way to Manchester on the train. This makes it a popular destination for hikers.

We knew the cottage we’d hired, Lea House, was near the Nag’s Head, the pub in the heart of the village and the official start of the Pennine way, but when Susie appeared to guide us to our weekend home, we were astounded that it was a 17th century cottage right next to the pub. It was perfect (well, for anyone under 5ft 6): massive oak beams, an open fireplace in the living room, a cosy kitchen and the sort of chintzy furniture that makes you feel cosy. The walls are about two feet thick and the roof tiles are thick stone slates – it needs to be a solidly built house with the wild weather of the Peaks. The house is actually a Grade II listed building. We were amazed that we’d managed to hire it at the last minute. The signpost for the start of the Pennine Way is right outside the front door.

We unpacked, and were ready to heat up the veggie chilli I’d prepared the night before, and bake the garlic bread in the oven, that weirdly, is identical to my own oven at home (which is so ancient that it deserves to be Grade II listed.) We started making a fire, waited for the others to arrive. Without a mobile phone signal, staying in Edale propels you back to earlier methods of communication, like payphones and guess-work! Fraser arrived with no problems, and eventually we ate the chilli, still waiting for Clare. We’d left a message on the gatepost, illuminated by a torch (there are no streetlights in the village), and left voicemails on her mobile from the phone in the Nag’s Head. As Clare is now an international globe-trotter, we were sure she was safe, but we grew increasingly worried.

Just after 11pm, I set off on my own, armed only with a small torch and the glow from having consumed several glasses of wine. Despite the darkness and remoteness of Edale, it always seems like a safe place. The hills feel protective, and the village feels friendly, welcoming visitors all through the year. As I approached The Rambler Inn, I heard a train rumbling into the station from the Sheffield direction. That must be Clare’s train. A few people walked towards me, having disembarked. Clare wasn’t amongst them. The platform was deserted. I checked the timetable. That was the last train. No Clare. What had happened? The last thing we knew, she was heading to Edale. I walked back to the cottage and broke the news to the others. We were concerned. Twenty minutes later, there was a knock on the door. She’d made it! Despite being a Derbyshire native, she’d started walking the opposite way from the train station, and had eventually asked The Rambler Inn for directions. Relieved, we caught up with gossip, and headed to bed.

Saturday morning started foggy and drizzly. Not the best day for climbing mountains. So we headed to the Chestnut Centre: a wildlife conservation park near Chapel-en-le-Frith, famous for its otters and owls. Before we reached the main animal enclosures, we walked through the deer park and had we started nibbling on our sandwiches and crisps. A herd of fallow deer followed us, with two particularly cheeky individuals nosing our bags to sniff out food, One beautiful deer ate the worksheet we’d just picked up from the visitors’ centre!

It always seems a bit strange to see owls in daytime, and they are rarely very active, although they look beautiful. However, we were entranced by the White Faced Southern Scop Owls, who were bobbing around on their perch as if they were listening to drum ‘n’ bass on their headphones! I’ve visited the Chestnut Centre a few times before, so I knew what to expect, but the Giant South American otters captivated my friends. They were on form – swimming around, play fighting and noisily eating. They are very rare in the wild and are part of an international breeding programme. The lively, sociable Asian Short Claw Otters were also one of the highlights.

We then descended perilous Winnats Pass into Castleton for a tour around the Peak Cavern, now officially known by its old name of the Devil’s Arse – so called because of the noise made by an underground river running through the cavern in full flow. We had an entertaining young tour guide – I’ve been to the cavern about five times, but it always impresses me and fires my imagination, particularly the story of the grimy rope-makers who used to work there acting as tour-guides for Romantic-era upper class adventurers, making the tourists lie in coffin-sized boats to explore the cavern by candlelight. Thankfully, it’s a lot more comfortable to explore the cavern now!

We spent a pleasant evening, with a meal around the kitchen table, chat and a couple of pints in the Nag’s Head, before coming back to the cottage for a wood fire and attempting to tackle a jigsaw commemorating Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s engagement from 1981. We’re not Royalists! We bought the jigsaw from Oxfam for Louise’s birthday, as she has a bizarre fascination with Princess Diana. Perhaps, after spending a lot of our time together as friends raving and going to noisy gigs, we were doing the jigsaw ironically. However, it’s very pleasant to chat while gently exercising our brains trying to fit pieces together.

Sunday was a beautiful, crystal-clear day. We were up for the challenge of climbing Kinder Scout. We made our sandwiches, and set off via Grindsbrook, the valley path which started directly behind Lea House. The climb uphill was a challenge as I was coming down with a cold, but the view from the top and the fresh air was worth it and I soon felt clear-headed and full of energy. I’ve climbed Kinder Scout several times before, but never in such great weather, so I’ve never really appreciated the amazing views or beautifully bizarre millstone grit rock formations at the top, caused by thousands of years of erosion by wind and water. We had great fun clambering around and photographing them. We ate our lunch on a flat stone in the middle of a waterfall, sun-bathing. Walking with friends is always a great chance to talk – and five is a great number. As the day went on, we put the world to rights and talked about our hopes and dreams as we followed our way around the edge of the plateau. Eventually, we made our way downhill, via the steep Jacob’s Ladder Path, before rewarding ourselves with dinner in the Ramber Inn and a few pints. We spent several more hours on the jigsaw, before giving up – the piles of plain blue and black pieces were just too boring to complete!

Even before I returned home on Monday, I knew that the rest of the Autumn would have to be a time of buckling down – getting on with building my writing business and gaining more teaching experience. Fresh opportunities are just about to start – I’ve managed to get tutor jobs with Derbyshire County Council and Sheffield College and I’m just waiting for my references and checks to come through. Over the last week, I’ve spent lots of time promoting my Off the Shelf writing workshop, which is paying off with lots of bookings and I’ve started my reminiscence work with dementia patients at Newholme Hospital in Bakewell again. Yesterday I spent a rainy day pond-dipping and wildlife watching at an RSPB reserve with children from the local primary school. And last Friday, I started a teacher training course to refine my skills working with adults. I’m doing the course through Derbyshire County Council and the venue is in New Mills, so on my journey, I found myself revisiting some of the weekend’s scenes again – Castleton, Winnat’s Pass and Hope.

The process of change can sometimes be frustrating, but looking back on my achievements over the last month, I realise that I’ve transformed from a trapped soul, looking out onto a concrete car park, into a creative, confident person, with beauty and friendship all around me, especially if I look for it. As John Shuttleworth, bard of Sheffield and the Peak District says in his song ‘She Lives in Hope’: “…and when she finds herself on Lose Hill, she only needs to turn to Win Hill to recover from Defeat.”

Further reading:

The National Trust reccomended our exact Kinder Scout walk – but we didn’t know it at the time!

Kinder Scout is also a landscape that working class ramblers fought to access. Read about the 1932 Mass Trespass of Kinder Scout here.

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!

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