Festival Fever

Glasto

The Glastonbury Festival, at Pilton in Somerset, south west England, is the mother of all music festivals-the largest in the world.

I went to it once, in the nineties. Bjork was headlining and Elvis Costello was near the top of the bill. From where I stood, Bjork appeared as a miniature doll in a pink dress about half a mile away, beyond a sea of surging festival-goers. And while I liked much of Bjork’s avant-garde material she was not best suited to the venue. Elvis Costello and the Attractions were thrilling, though, ‘Pump it Up’ throbbing out across the crowd in a stirring morass of sound.

We watch snippets of Glastonbury on TV each year, although more and more of it elicits incomprehension or snorting derision as current tastes in music diverge further from our own. This is a time-honoured process and guaranteed to both irritate and delight the young; the ‘things ain’t what they used to be’ tradition.

But they aren’t what they used to be. The festivals and outdoor music gigs of my youth were attended by the young. I could go and watch the most popular and biggest-selling bands on my Saturday job pay. I got to see Fairport Convention, 10cc, Chicken Shack, Led Zeppelin, John Heisman’s Coliseum, Pink Floyd and very many more iconic musicians and could afford it all [including transport, food and drink] on my meagre toy shop salary of twenty five shillings per Saturday.

The crowds flocking into Glastonbury and all the other festivals of the summer are twenty and thirty somethings or older, middle class and often with their children in tow. The festivals have changed, become more corporate, more mainstream, more media-led. They are gargantuan circuses of food, entertainment and marketing. Am I alone in feeling nostalgia for the crude outdoor setups of my teenage years?

Glastonbury is still a phenomenon, a treasure of the English summer-this year’s event mercifully mud-free. And for 2019, supposedly ‘plastic-free’ too; except that it wasn’t. Photographic images of the mountains of refuse left from the event are testament to the failure of this lofty ambition. Yes-there were water stations [so woefully stretched that campers were unable to use the showers], saving a few plastic water bottles, but the burger vans and bars were clearly not on board with the plan. There is also an issue with tents being left-in a condition rendering them un-recyclable. One cunning Dutch entrepeneur has invented a ‘cardboard’ tent, which may be a solution in the future, although it seems doubtful.

This weekend sees the staging of our town’s own, homegrown, humble music festival, free to attend this year and hopefully funded from stalls and sponsorship. Most of the musicians are local, as are the stalls, the volunteers and the attendees. The weather [which can make or break the event] is set to be fine. The women’s football final does not include our home team [the football having destroyed last year’s attendance]. What can go wrong?

 

 

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An English Forest Weekend

The New Forest, in Hampshire, southern England featured in a lot of my childhood. We were all three born in a village on the edge of it. My father travelled across it every day for work in Southampton and we went often for picnics and recreational activities like those family cricket games of the fifties or accompanying scout camping trips.

Of course as children we were accustomed to seeing the animals of the Forest roaming free and were used to marauding bands of ponies invading our garden and enraging my father, who would storm outside in the middle of the night with objects like biscuit tins to bash and banish them from his precious vegetable beds. They always returned-until cattle grids were installed across all the entrances to the village, when to my immense disappointment the night visits ceased.

What a contrast East Anglia seemed when we re-located there! Even as a young child I was shocked at the impoverished fenland landscape, my mother compounding the sensation by telling me I’d have had my own pony ‘if we’d stayed in The New Forest’.

I was not to return to live next to The New Forest for another nineteen years, during which time it had altered considerably and had begun to assume its reputation as a tourist magnet.

Nowadays the Forest has National Park status and is thronged with visitors of all nationalities. Cheffy restaurants, trendy hotels, gastro-pubs, tea shops and costly gift emporia have proliferated in the towns and villages but it remains, to us a precious resource that we still love to walk, cycle and camp in.

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What better location to spend a weekend celebrating an anniversary and birthday? We park up, go for a hot, dusty cycle, return, shower and make for the convenient station where we take a tiny train to yachty Lymington. Here there are ferries to the Isle of Wight but we are interested only in the Lobster and Burger Bar where we feast-but not on burgers.

Next morning we have guests expecting breakfast:

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And we retreat inside the van until they give up. The ponies, cows, donkeys, deer and pigs of the Forest are a delight but need to be treated with caution. The Forest roads, terrain and flora are all theirs and humans must bow to their superiority, whether it means waiting in a traffic queue for them to shift from the centre of the road or going the long way around to the shower block on the campsite.

After another sweaty bike ride we get ready and set off to The Pig, favourite for Sunday supplement features and writers of restaurant columns.

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I’d say we aren’t The Pig’s average customers as a quick glance reveals that few would have travelled here from the camp site-many will be staying in one of the artfully ‘shabby chic’ rooms or have arrived in convertible sports cars, their pastel sweaters slung casually around their shoulders, their stilettos tap-tapping on the wood floors.

It’s nice, although the food is not quite as stunning as I’d been led to believe. But outside the gardens alone are worth the visit, immaculate, symmetrical veg beds and a path leading to a voluptuous pond area.

Next day we BBQ with old friends and enjoy a good gossip under the shade of the pull-out. All good!

Festival Blues

At home we do summer things. We throw ourselves into our usual music festival preparations. The preparations are less absorbing than you would think. It is mostly paperwork. Of course-these days it isn’t so much paperwork as virtual paper, though there is still ream upon ream of it. Veritable cyclones of emails, requests for certificates, requests for risk assessments, requests for electricity checks, requests for this and that.

The potential stallholders drag their feet; attachments dribble across the ether, some up-to-date, some not.

In the council chambers a woman sits thinking up more demands. At the eleventh hour she has a brainwave-we must hire 17 portaloos. The public lavatories adjacent to the site are not enough for the needs of the thousands who will be flooding through our gates. We hold an emergency meeting, form our response, write to the chamber-woman, explain that we cannot, now go ahead with the festival since the £1000 required for portaloos is beyond our tiny fund. Chamber-woman relents [this year]-then demands we hire a qualified electrician to place a plug in a socket for the dancers in the square.

The festival week arrives and somehow it begins to take shape, the huge marquee erected in a morning, the various components arriving and being installed.

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An unexpected turn of events at the Football World Cup means that England is to play a quarter final match with Sweden on festival Saturday. A mood of disquiet descends among us. ‘They’ll come afterwards’ I say, since the match is at 3.00pm.

On Friday evening we are ready-and they come. ‘Saints of Sin’, the headlining band bring a substantial following of loyal fans, which is encouraging. We feel optimistic. The ticket office is kept busy and many more than usual purchase weekend tickets.

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Saturday dawns fine-continuing the heatwave we’ve enjoyed for a couple of weeks. We open at midday and the musicians get going, attended by a trickle of festival goers. It is eerily quiet. A woman berates us for the lack of attendees, demanding to speak to our ‘head office’. I’m confused. Head Office? I explain that she still has the entertainment and that we are only a community, charity event; that we are all volunteers, that there is no ‘head office’. Enraged, she abuses the security staff and is barred for her pains.

Those that have drifted in are mostly enjoying themselves and it is calm in the sunshine on the quay, a smattering of drinkers at the tables by the bar tent, a handful of people sitting inside the marquee.

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On Sunday, as usual we have to allow free entry due to an ancient by-law and as usual many take advantage and choose this free day to attend. But not as many as normal. An elderly man complains ‘I don’t understand why it’s free today and it was £7 yesterday. We had Ozzie Osborne when we went to Donnington’. I explain the by-law. I explain that we are a charity, not-for-profit event. He understands.

The low numbers don’t make clearing up any less tiring and it has been a long. hot weekend. A few days later we know what we suspected. The takings are down so far that next year’s festival is less likely to go ahead.

We are England fans too, we festival volunteers. Ours is not the only event to have been scuppered by the scheduling. It is only a minor tragedy. But it is ours…

Celeb Spotting-there’s an Art to it-

During the late years of the seventies I lived in Putney, South London. Some parts of the area, even then were considered fashionable and therefore beginning to be pricey, although not the parts I inhabited which were firstly a room on a shared ‘maisonette’ and secondly a two-roomed ‘flat’. The former of these two homes was acceptable, if shabby; but policed by a zealous, basement-dwelling landlady whose unwavering eye focused on our comings and goings [we were four girls]. The second would not, under any circumstances have passed the scrutiny of a housing officer nowadays and is best left to be described in a future post.

I loved living in Putney for a number of reasons. There were wonderful pubs, plenty of green spaces; I was within walking distance of my place of work [a special needs school] and it was an easy hop into central London. But these advantages also made it a magnet for what would these days be called ‘celebs’, so that regular sightings of well-known actors or presenters were commonplace, provided you paid attention.

Those who live in the capital find it difficult to see why anyone lives anywhere else or indeed how anyone copes with living elsewhere, but as the seventies receded I did leave London for the South West of England, which proved satisfactory enough place for me to remain-and here I still am, forty or so years later.

Here though, celeb-spotting is an art acquired only with practice, but one that we have honed to the point of expertise. For the 18 years we’ve frequented the hostelries in and around the coastal town that is our place of residence we’ve seen dozens of famous personas-far more than I ever did in Putney. How has this been achieved?

At just one of our locals we have seen-on a fairly regular basis-the following: Richard E Grant [actor], Ricky-from-Eastenders [whose name escapes me], Ian McShane [actor] and Charles Hawtry [actor-deceased].

No-we haven’t seen these actors. But since we began to frequent the pub we have grown used to identifying other regulars by their more famous dopplegangers. As a result the names have stuck.

Now while this method of identification has worked for years and enables us to discuss said punters with ease it is not without its difficulties. One of the pseudo ‘celebs’ has subsequently become a friend. Adjusting to his actual name took time and we were often in grave danger of blurting out his ‘stage’ name. We had to overcome the problem by using a type of hybrid name [which coincidentally happened to be the name of a historic footballer] until his real name became glued on to him. There is no question of revealing the history of his stage name since it is unlikely that he would be flattered.

Since we began pseudo-celeb watching, Richard E Grant has had a baby and Ian McShane visits less frequently. Ricky-from-Eastenders, however continues to be a regular. I must confess to a certain reluctance to know their actual handles and so, for the foreseeable future I’ll be avoiding any possible introductions.

World Cup Football-the Agony, the Ecstasy and the Indifference

                There are people who are obsessed by sport. Some spend every moment either playing it or watching it. Then there are those who only want to watch, and many of these are in the champions’ league for slobbing on the couch with takeaway pizza, tubes of Pringles and cans of beer. Myself, I fall into a sort of twilight category, a section of society that flirts with both participating [in a very minor, non-competitive way] and keeping half an eye on international games whilst peeling the potatoes.

                At school I loathed team sports.  I was always frozen on the hockey pitch in winter [I was tiny] or frozen out on the netball court in summer [again, I was tiny]. I liked gymnastics, inside in the warmth of the cavernous gym, and was happy shinning up the ropes or somersaulting around a bar, although never brilliantly enough to catch anyone’s eye or warrant coaching.

                As a teenager I pretended a mild interest in supporting the local football team as a ruse to bump into a boy I’d earmarked for attention. Against all odds this strategy actually worked, which was exhilarating until I found I had to attend the local games on a regular, weekly basis in all kinds of weather clement or not.

                Later there came a period in my life when I and my children’s lives were dominated by football and cricket schedules to the point where outings, celebrations and holidays had to be planned around the fixtures-football in winter and cricket in summer.

                Nowadays I can get behind our national team to some extent, although not to knowing all the players’ names or who they are to play next. At the time of writing this has all become academic as England have just descended down the plughole with a resounding gurgle and the team members might well be packing their suitcases as I type were it not for one last, sad, compensatory game. Then the contest will rumble on without them.

                I suppose winning an international sporting contest does inject a ‘feelgood’ quality into the victorious nation, yet I am one of those who do not experience any strong emotions over my mother country or its sporting triumphs and cannot identify with those who weep openly when their team fails. Whether this is down to my lack of competitive spirit or nationalistic verve I don’t know.

                In my previous life as a proper working person [teacher], my team partner and I once organised a sports day based entirely on non-competitive activities and were roundly criticised for it; the doting parents preferring their little ones to be kicking one another’s shins than achieving their personal bests. The day was memorable in that one of the mums saw fit to grab me round the throat in frustration when I requested that her offspring wait her turn. It all goes to prove that you can’t win ‘em all…and England seem to win less than most…

Weather or not?

                So here in the South of the UK we have been deluged by storms, wild winds and relentless rain since early December. Yet curiously, the press continues to feature the stories of fallen trees, collapsed roads and rail networks, homes without power , flooded buildings and drownings as if they were news. How many people are left who are surprised by the endless flood of stories and the deluge of videos on the subject?

                Elsewhere in the world, large tracts of land are drought and fire ridden or have been locked into a standstill by statistic-busting snowfalls and gigantic freeze-ups. Presumably their journos and pursuing a similar line of ceaseless weather reportage. Is anyone else suffering from weather news fatigue, as I am?

                Here on England’s South coast we have been battered and buffeted enough to have sprung some leaks and lost some roof tiles, a nuisance and an expense if nothing else, but of course you can only feel sympathy for those whose properties have been flooded and ruined for the second, third or even fourth time in one winter. This weather, they all agree, is unprecedented. I feel sure that the Australian home owners who have lost everything in bush fires must feel the same. Is there anyone left who is still a climate change sceptic? Whether you believe it is man-made or not, that it is happening cannot be denied.

                We in the so called democratic countries elect our ruling parties on the strength of their policies, do we not? But can there be an issue in the world that is more pressing, more urgent than climate change? I don’t think so. Yes, terrorism is a frightening prospect, economic depressions affect everyone and the world’s dwindling resources provoke anxiety-but all of these issues, I believe are connected to the increasing gap between rich and poor [yes-even terrorism] which is a direct result of climate conditions. The poorest peoples live in the places that struggle most with inhospitable weather, most in Africa. These are the places where extremist, terrorist groups are most likely to get a toehold and then a stranglehold, where a population is starved and impoverished and unable to respond or retaliate.

                And so what have the developed nations done? Have they got together to implement policies for world good? Have they agreed to share resources, work out ways to minimise damage, acknowledge that fossil fuels are not going to last forever, that sustainable energy sources are vital and that the needs of the starving, desperate peoples on the planet must be addressed by all of us? No. Some lip service has been paid. The UN has been meeting since 1992 and has still not reached any binding agreement. Have an expensive, lavishly serviced meeting of world leaders [all arriving in expensive, heavily guarded private aircraft], wring their hands a bit and go away again.

                The world’s populations will just have to shift. The peoples of the more advantaged nations will have to accommodate those whose environments have become uninhabitable. This will leave vast areas of the planet devoid of humans. What wonderful places they will be!