Thursday, 8 September 2016

Of Pointless Knowledge And Senseless Argument

"Music and dance are universal languages. Anyone can communicate and understand through music and dance," pontificated the guest.

 "Hmm," I began cautiously. I could feel a soapbox moment coming on. "I used to feel like that, but then I started learning to play gamelan, for example, and I was surprised that I could not find a way into the music. I needed to be taught, and to learn, how to listen to it. Music may touch our hearts or our minds, but I would have to dispute a claim that music is a universal language. A language is a means of communication and surely music cannot be said to communicate the same thing to everyone? Therefore music has limited use as a language." I also thought of many workshops I had run for people living with Asperger's Syndrome. For many of the people I had met under these circumstances music had no meaning. It left them completely cold and wondering why other people seem to hold music in such high regard. There was no point at which music communicated itself at all. That hardly makes it universal.

I wish I didn't feel the need to explain. I could have let it go. This was a friend's wedding party not a lecture theatre.  "I don't care what music it is. If I like it, I like it. That is what is important," declaimed the groom, despite his increasingly glazed expression, wobbly demeanor and microscopically (but definitely) slurred speech.

"I agree completely," the guest added. "I love all music ... although I can't stand Mozart, I hate all Baroque music."

 I bit my tongue very hard and thought of how much talking I would have to do to go into appropriate explanations about musical history, style, instrumentation and form in order to make the case that Mozart was not a baroque composer. The guest had a different understanding of the ages of Western European art music from me and who knows how deep into the rabbit hole I would have had to burrow in order to be able to say anything that made sense. This could all have been far less painful had she just used a more appropriate conjunction.

This wedding reception was taking place in the house in which the bride and groom had lived together for the past twenty-eight years. Before now they hadn't married, for whatever reasons, but intimations of mortality through recent deaths of close relatives and friends had caused them to reassess their situation. I get this. P and I are going through almost the same experience. As we age, it seems sensible to try and make the inevitable passing of one of us less complicated for the survivor. We have also experienced the confusion that can be left behind a departed loved one.

I may have mentioned that I was an active campaigner for marriage equality, as it was passing through the various stages of legislative process. Now P. and I can marry I have not been in a rush to get spliced and in truth neither has P. Every so often we talk about it before the conversation drifts on to something else. We even went as far as going to see a registrar to find out what was involved. This was even before the law was changed; she was very keen to help. We've not been back since. I am not sure that it is entirely a case of once bitten, twice shy, although that may be part of it. I have, at least, experienced my own wedding; P. has not.

In many ways my own wedding was fun. For a start I couldn't believe that about three hundred people turned up to see two nineteen year-old kids get married. We had big families and a lot of friends, but it was still an amazing experience for two people, too young, too inexperienced and too poor. We were among the first of our friends to get married, which I suppose made a difference. We married in our local Mormon chapel and for several reasons we must have had a certain curiosity value. One friend wanted to make the cake, another wanted to make the bride's dress, several volunteered to help with the catering. One non-church friend took over the music duties. My fiancée and I had put a playlist together (which, in those days, meant lugging cases of vinyl albums and my hi-fi to the church hall venue) and I was looking forward to having our favourite tunes played in the same way as the bride and groom on Saturday (even if, this time, they were playing their wedding playlist via the computer and a Bose p.a. system). My enjoyment was curtailed when my bride's father stopped our music playing and demanded music that everyone could enjoy and dance to. That was when it stopped being our day. I was embarrassed for my dear friend who was enjoying his dj task immensely till that point. Music had always been one of the most important things in my life, but that day it was clear that it was not a universal language then either.

Earlier in the day of my friends' recent wedding, I had felt the same urge to question someone on an internet forum about his apparent assumption that blogging was only for those people who want to make money. His response was to be put out that anyone dare de-rail his train of thought. I was merely pointing out that others, including myself, have other motives for writing a blog. His response referred to my efforts as an exercise in vanity and the posting of Micky Mouse messages. I thought my reasons for writing were valid. I have crossed him off my Christmas card list - not that he was ever actually on one.

Questions can be powerful and sometimes stop people in their tracks. I have used questions, not just to try and clarify an unclear situation, but also as a means of proposing alternative places to the destination in which a discussion seems to be heading, specially if I feel I am being dragged there against my will. In the late 1980s I was part of a group of local education authority "advisory teachers" charged with helping schools improve their music provision in a large rural county. One exiled Londoner was in full flow about how we could move a proposed project forward. It felt as though she had thought the whole project through and had a plan. I'm sure it was worthy enough, but I hadn't agreed to any of it and simply wanted to clarify whether we were all of the opinion that this project was what we wanted. To go ahead with her proposal meant sacrificing some plans I was already hatching for the hundred or so schools in my care; not to mention all the modest funding I had at my disposal for that year. She roared disapprovingly, got up and stormed out of the room in a most unexpected tantrum. The four of us remaining sat looking at each other before the nervous laughter set in. Two of the others then thanked me for intervening. They, too, were uncomfortable with the proposals on the table, but had no idea how to derail the runaway train, before it smashed us all into the buffers.

I'd like to think this is what I aim at with many of my songs. I sometimes fancy I can create just a moment to reflect and raise a question that diverts from an acceptance of the seemingly inevitable. If I had to chose between being a questioner or an answerer, I would stick with being a questioner every time. Pretending to be the one with the answers makes me little better than any other despot. As with most of the big decisions in my life I would rather not make one unless a way forward becomes clear. Most of the time language is not a universally understood means of communication. I spend too much time in France to think otherwise.

Music may communicate something to the listener, but there is no guarantee that it is what the composer may have intended, assuming the composer had any such intention at all.  I rather veer towards Stravinsky who said that music of itself is "powerless to express anything at all", but I would temper that by suggesting that for those of us who have a facility to be touched by music it is one of mankind's most powerful achievements.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Of Launching And Relaunching, Paint Woes And Water

Home at last! I picked up the boat yesterday and with the help of another boat-dwelling friend juggled getting the van and then the boat back to the farm.

Deliriously happy on the inside and concentrating hard on the outside.

I have really enjoyed my month living in and out of the van. I don't know that I would have felt the same in winter, but despite the rain I have encountered (and plenty of rain has fallen over the month) I have had a great time and it has all been quite an experience.

The boat was relaunched on Monday. Once back in the water the work could be completed replacing the flue pipe. Every time recently when using the chimney-sweeping brush a new hole appeared in the flue and I had patched it in several places with fire cement. The original flue was apparently made of a quality of cast too thin to fulfil its required function and had long been ripe for replacement.

I collected the boat, paid the bill (surprisingly, it was less than I had feared ... still well within four figures) and brought it/her home (I'm still stinging from being told that I must always use a feminine pronoun when referring to my boat - it really does not come naturally to me). Sadly, en route, I put the first marks in the paintwork when I tied up to take on fresh water. I didn't crash or scrape the sides by hitting something. I was simply mooring. I had been warned by a friend who had had their boat repainted a couple of years ago, that the paint would stay soft for some weeks, possibly months, before "going off" properly. The paint rubbed off the edge of the roof as I was bringing it to a standstill with the centre rope, even though I was being very, very careful. I really don't want to be unable to use the boat on account of soft paint, so I guess I shall turn into one of those boat owners I so often see armed with a brush and a kettle of paint. I may even buy overalls (or is that going too far?). Perhaps it is time to get to grips with cleaning and polishing the boat occasionally. I have attempted neither of these activities with any degree of commitment before. There has never seemed much to be gained in the past from polishing rust. Meanwhile back at the watering point, the exercise itself also proved rather pointless as I didn't achieve the intended objective. The tap fitting on the municipal water tap requires a screw connector. I keep a box of spare attachments to enable me to connect my hose pipes in several configurations and I know I have the right adaptor in the box. I had stowed the box away somewhere for the repaint and, of course, I could not remember where. I tore open a few boxes to no avail. Consequently I not only left the water point with no more water than the amount with which I had arrived, but also with slightly less paint. During that brief stop I was also given a further reason to be grateful for the cork floats to which I attach to my keys when the key to the water and sanitation facilities jumped out of my pocket and into the river.  Apart from that, though, the journey home yesterday was uneventful. I glowed a little as I both overheard and received directly several compliments on my beautiful paintwork. I wonder how long that will last? The weight of responsibility is beginning to make my shoulders ache.

I arrived back at the mooring to find new neighbours. I was not thrilled. I like people. I like boats. I like people in boats, but mainly I like these at a distance. They looked familiar, but I could not place them into any particular memory. It turns out they run a pub I have occasionally visited and where I have eaten sometimes. Being a vegetarian, though, I have not found myself particularly tempted by the exotic meats on offer - things like ostrich, zebra and kangaroo. The pub is on a river, but they haven't built any kind of mooring. When I have been there I have pinned the boat to the bank, walked the plank and climbed up a steep bank where the grass is invariably too long. When wet that climb is fairly hazardous. Even more so when there is no moon and I forget to take a torch. Not realising who they were I didn't feel much like talking to them. Had I realised who they were I would have made a more neighbourly effort. As it was, though, I feared I might say something I would later wish I hadn't. That just goes to show that being a misery is poor form. They have gone now, so I need not have worried, but the farmer says they will be back. Apparently they arrived the day before yesterday. A woman in dripping wet clothes appeared at the farmhouse. Their boat had run out of petrol on the wrong side of the river and being a person of a decisive nature she had leapt overboard and had swum to our side. The husband and small child had the good sense to stay dry in the boat. When I arrived they were all fishing. They all had what looked like toy fishing rods. They continued fishing for hours. I still don't get fishing.

I have spent most of  today unpacking the boxes into which I had placed my semi-precious belongings - including the hose pipe connectors, which were actually in a box I had scrabbled through yesterday - and for which there had been insufficient cupboard space. I had rather hoped that I would find a reason to get rid of things I hadn't used over the years, but apart from a few magazines, pamphlets and a 240v lamp that plan didn't come to much. I found three shirts to donate to more deserving causes, but they don't count, because they already had an inch or two of wardrobe rail. Two  wash loads, one loaf of bread and this blog entry have been my remaining achievements. Many of the contents of the emptied boxes still need to be put away, but there are some essential food items to go out and buy. It's good to be home.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Of Boats And Folk Nights Reborn

I couldn't possibly leave the story there. The journey from The Peaks to The Fens took three or four hours. I couldn't help myself and, on arriving in Ashbourne, I phoned my friend who lives in the marina at the boatyard to ask if he could see my boat. Did it look okay? He was having his new canopy fitted on his own boat as we spoke, but he promised he would send me a message when he was clear to do so. I got underway and eventually a message arrived. It seemed to be good news. I relaxed and continued Fenwards with a less anxious heart. 

Bearing in mind my main purpose in leaving my nomad friends today was to get back for the inaugural songwriters and poets night in the new venue I could not afford to be too leisurely about it. I pulled into the boatyard's car park and walked to the slipway. There was my home standing on the trolley, clear of the water shining in the late afternoon sun showing off the new coat of bitumen applied earlier in the day. The solar panels had been reinstalled and the completed paintwork was looking absolutely stunning. I think I even got a little teary. Although not exactly what I had thought I had asked for I need not have worried about the signwriting. It was a very nice job and I could breathe again. 

On to the music and poetry. I arrived after a couple of the other members of our informal committee and we set about shifting tables and chairs to make the best of the space. It was a warm evening so we would have to leave the door open. We could hear the noise of other pub patrons in the yard, but it wasn't intrusive. As 8pm arrived we not only had more performers, but also a few members of an audience, including regulars from the previous incarnation, first-time visitors and some old friends who were visiting the area for the bank holiday weekend. 

As planned we had none of the amplification that seems to give permission in other venues for audience members to chat. It is almost as though a p.a. sets off a response in the listener that the music is not real and, therefore, doesn't really matter. Between sets of songs and poems, which I introduced, I moved around the room to get an idea of the sound. Sight lines and the acoustics meant that each performer was both visible and audible from anywhere in the room. So far so good. The room felt good and was neat, tidy attractive and, even more importantly, clean and didn't smell of spilled beer or ageing dogs! This looks like it is going to work out fine. I am sorry that I didn't even think to take photographs. I shall endeavour to remember next time. During the evening a few locals who had obviously been enjoying our host's hospitality in the adjacent bar wandered in, causing a bit of disruption. One interrupted one of the performers demanding he sing something "upbeat". "Have you got any Phil Collins?" he asked. Seriously? Phil Collins (or maybe that should be "... But Seriously")?What on earth do they teach young people these days? More seriously still, though, I think we shall have to think about how we create an environment where we can head off this kind of behaviour. Perhaps a few fliers on the tables, a notice board at the entrance stating the nature of the event within. I also wonder whether charging a nominal entrance fee would help. If the local lads had to part with a pound or two, they might take the event more seriously before coming in just long enough to disrupt proceedings and walk out in the middle of songs. It was also interesting to see other audience members walking in and out to the toilet or to the bar in the middle of a song. Personally, I couldn't do that. I would have to wait until a song or a set had finished before walking through the room. The dynamics of all these behaviours are fascinating. 

For the record I sang "Grey", "In Soho", "Flying", "Blame It On Me" and read my poem, "Thora's House". 

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Of Dovedale 5

Friday was my seventh and final day. I should have left on Thursday since I had something to attend back in the Fens, but I put it off. I couldn't get out of leaving on Friday though, because we had the launch of the re-branded Songwriters and Poets Night and I needed to be back for that. It was too important to miss. That didn't stop me putting off leaving for as long as possible. Fortunately, despite torrential rain that continued through the night the day started off beautifully with bright sun, blue sky and no sign of a cloud.

I had very little sleep on Thursday night. During the evening we gathered round the fire under umbrellas, ponchos and other attempted shields against the deluge, so it wasn't that I stayed out late. The battery on my phone drained during the week and Shorny had kindly charged it up for me from his solar resources. Somehow, despite no phone signal and no internet access it was recording five missed calls. Naturally I spent the night musing and fretting over what they might be. I suspected it may have been the signwriter or the boatyard. It could have been a member of the family. Then my mind turned to wilder fancies. What if it had been a member of P's family trying to let me know that he had been taken ill or someone in my family had had an accident. I don't receive a single call most weeks and now I had missed five of them. I tried to convince myself that they were more nuisance calls about my "recent accident" or PPI (tell me again what that stands for), but that didn't really help. It was about 7am by the time I think I fell asleep for an hour. I had resolved I was going to walk as far as necessary to get a signal and sort out whatever needed sorting as soon as it was decent to disturb someone. 

I donned my boots and set off upwards. Anywhere else from the camping site is upwards and I was heading towards a guest house at the top of a hill. I guessed correctly that a phone signal would be available there. Hello again, outside world! Checking the voice mail service, four of the calls were indeed about the boat and they had started arriving last Monday - four days ago. Friday (i.e. today) had apparently been designated as the day the boat was due to come out of the water for re-blacking.  Before then the signwriter needed to ply his trade while the boat was still in the paint shed and he needed to discuss details. In the end, not being able to get hold of me they had made an executive decision and gone ahead. Now I was really worried. What if I didn't like what he'd done? Had I made the call and the decision, I had only myself to blame if I didn't like the result. I would have to live with that, but I do hate the feeling of having an opportunity to blame someone else. I do not like how that makes me feel. There was no other option, though. The journey back for Songwriters and Poets Night would now definitely have to be via the boatyard. 

I didn't want to pack the pavilion away wet, so I pottered about finding places for all the other paraphernalia. By mid-day the pavilion was mostly dry so I packed that down too. I'm getting good at this.

I wandered the field saying my goodbyes. What lovely friends I have on UKH. I shall miss them all, but I expect I shall be back next year. Who knows, we may be able to meet somewhere else during the months ahead. So to OldKeith, Marion, Alice's Wonderland, Enigma Rising and the children, Fire Tree, Uncle Jhad, Rainbowmama, Real Nutter, Yaz, Zendaze, Trap, Man From Manchester, Wandering Gypsy, Parrotandcrow and her amazing menagerie, Moon Cheese, Rachel, AndyVW, Enigma's Mum, Mad Pete, Two Wheels Good and specially to Shorny (the keeper of the trivet who kept the fires burning) thank you for love and friendship. I have had a great week. Inevitably, by naming names, I have missed someone out. Please accept this is a function of age and not a deliberate slight. Likewise if I missed saying farewell before I left I apologise. 

May your travels take you all to fair places. 

Of Dovedale 4

Wednesday and on my fifth day here in the chilling field I feel I have been somewhat virtuous. As a favour to my fellow hippies I showered this morning. Had it just been us I would have got on with it, but since the arrival of yesterday's trailer tent family with children, teenagers and dogs running here, there and all around the tents I showered in yesterday's underwear. The inconvenience was balanced by the knowledge that I have now achieved some rudimentary laundry chores. The warm sun and the gentle breeze has pretty much dried the clean(er) trunks and I am ready for one more day than I thought!  There are also now more nomads than members of the family despite the fact that they have also attempted to build a small village with the addition of two smaller tents and increased numbers. The original trailer seems to have expanded a lot. Their Jack Russell, although inquisitive and invasive is not noisy, thank goodness. 

The facilities on this site are basic by any judgement. There is an outdoor toilet in a lean to behind the farm house and another lean to at the back of a barn where a leaky tap dispenses cold water, mainly over the concrete floor. The walk to either facility takes a few minutes. Carrying water on the way back takes longer. There is nowhere to wash one's hands and campers who have commandeered the smaller field across the road seem to imagine that the bare concrete floor of the toilet is actually a bin where it is okay to dump water bottles, plastic bags, used tissue, bottles and cans and, today (shudder) a disposable nappy in a bag. I know from experience that when our group leaves this field it will look a whole lot nicer than we found it when we arrived. At the gate is a plain notice reading, "No fires". It seems perfectly clear to me. Again, despite that there are small patches of scorched grass all over the field. We have our evening fire in a bowl sitting upon a trivet made from old horse shoes welded together. 

Wandering Gypsy accidentally left his inverter on overnight and his starter battery discharged on the truck. He managed to jump start the engine from his trike. Enigma's Mum arrived today and I did a couple of hours practice in my corner of the field. I try not to play or sing loudly enough to be audible to anyone else. This is in contrast to the people who turned up and parked in the field yesterday. Families with lots of children spilled out of cars that had gathered in a circle like wagon trains in old cowboy films. Car stereos were turned up to distortion levels and the men started to dance. It was very intrusive and inappropriate in such a peaceful place while at the same time being quite charming and utterly compelling to watch. These day visitors seemed totally unaware that some of us were sitting in groups trying to hold conversations. Clearly there was a cultural divide, but it was the intrusiveness of the noise I found difficult. I would have found it interesting to talk to them, but I was somewhat busy being self-righteously angry. I wasted an opportunity. Shame on me. 

I was able to have a chat with Parrotandcrow this morning. It turns out we know some of the same people, despite never having met before and living in different parts of the country, through her corvid connections. Small world. As we chatted Chucky, her white cockatoo, made his way down her arm and walked over to me. She had already said his behaviour was unpredictable and he packed a vicious bite, which he could inflict without warning. He nestled into me and made himself quite at home. "He's never done that to a man before," said P&C. I felt very honoured and we spent a long time with him snuggled against my neck. 

My new best friend.
I realise that the pictures so far show very little detail, so I shall add some of people with their vehicles. The pictures I include are with the full knowledge and permission of all parties. Obviously some were not comfortable with being on display, while others were simply not around to ask, so the following shots do not include all the lovely folk who are here, or their amazing homes.



Yazz and Real Nutter

Wandering Gypsy outside his new door.

Parrotandcrow with her animal companions

Just another man with a van ...

The list of achievements continues. Amazingly I have managed a couple hours of Marshlander type practice each day. Thanks to Rainbowmama, who arrived today with Uncle Jhad, I now also own a flute. I have toyed with the idea of buying one for years, but have never got round to it. She advertised one for sale a few months ago and I agreed to buy it. She remembered to bring it. I shall now have to acquire some knowledge and technique and play something next year. In the evening I went out for a walk. It was crazy to be in this beautiful place and not have been further than the farmhouse. I set off and a while later I was on top of Thorpe Cloud, the hill where I had become one of the tiny dots I had been observing all week. Now that really was an achievement! I had not gone out with any destination in mind. I had simply followed my feet and the trails worn into the field by the sheep. The top of Thorpe Cloud is very narrow, not quite Crib Goch, but narrow enough for someone who has little tolerance for heights. I had to sit down to get my balance. From there the view is rather amazing. What a pity I didn't have my phone or tablet with me so I could take a few photographs. The battery had run out on the phone and the tablet was very low anyway. Now though, I was the giant and the dots were the people down below on the campsite. 

A view of Thorpe Cloud in an unusual moment of sunshine.
I climbed this!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Of Dovedale 3

So today, the fourth day of my stay in the Chilling Fields at Dovedale I can't believe it is mid-day and since five o'clock I have been reading (still on "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" which is reaching an even more polemic stage with Owen's lecture - it may well be his first of many), thinking about getting up, washing and pampering myself with a shave, preparing and eating breakfast and looking for my spectacles. Despite moving pretty much everything in the van I couldn't find them, so I'm using an older, less powerful pair I keep in the van for emergencies to write this in Pages on my iPad - I am using a large font though. Because I have 34% battery left I'm saving whatever power I can apart from using an external keyboard. 

For the first time since I've been here, the sun has shone all morning and looks set to stay for a while longer. Maybe I'll get some things dry. Towels and over-clothes are hanging over the back of my chair and over the sides of the van. By the sound of it another van has pulled up. I have no idea who it could be yet. There are young voices ... Very loud and shouty young voices. They are very close ... I am considering ways of being anti-social - maybe it is time to deploy the Hozelock Porta Shower that P. bought me as a gift and which has proven so useful on the boat ... Dammit, they are not only playing on the rope swing over the river, they are setting out a tent next to me, very close to me. In the distance, people are throwing themselves from from the top of the hill and gliding for short distances attached to hang-gliding parachutes. Earlier, a microlight and a helicopter buzzed noisily overhead and two emergency vehicles have charged by.  The structure being erected before my eyes seems to have been born from a trailer. Bits are being unfolded and locked together. It looks like they are staying. Maybe we shall become new best friends ... My view of the hill is being obscured.

Yesterday it was still only Shorny, Fire Tree and me here. We didn't know for sure that we were going to stay in this field following incomplete and inconclusive conversations Shorny had held with the farmer. It seemed likely that we could use the field across the road. The downside of that was that, while somewhat less in the public gaze, it was lower-lying and more of it was prone to becoming waterlogged. Although I had already spent two nights here I had still not set-up properly in my spot. There had been little point if we were going to have to move to establish UKH camp Dovedale 2016 somewhere else.  By afternoon, hopefully before I had bored Shorny and Fire Tree to death with my limited topics of conversation (and following another confusing consultation with the farmer) we decided we were going to stay in this field. I set up my outdoor pavilion and my kitchen. At least now I could make some food other than the hunks of bread I had been tearing off since I arrived. Shorny moved so we could commandeer more of the field and he began the intricate work of setting up his awning too.

Trap arrived in his splendid van. He really has done a good job on both the inside and the outside. By the end of the day Wandering Gypsy, Moon Cheese and Rachel, Zendaze, Man From Manchester and Two Wheels Good were here too. Fire Tree mentioned that she was expecting Raffi and Darrren. She had been instructed to save them places on either side of her van. They haven't shown up yet and those places have gone. (Unfortunately neither arrived during the time I was there. I hope they are both okay.) I do know that others have said they will arrive today. Alice's Wonderland still isn't here and I think it may be time for concern. Given that it takes him days to set up camp from the contents of his TARDIS he will have to use time travel capability to re-arrive so he can set up before he leaves. The bubbling stream, the shouting of children at play and Shorny's music player are being punctuated by occasional traffic sounds, bird calls, cattle and sheep. This is a beautiful place. The new arrivals have a dog and it is pissing right by my shelter.

Last night we sat round a fire and mardled. I stayed till about 2am. Only Shorny and Zendaze were left after me. Conversation drifted and wound around many of the usual petty importances that open fires tend to inspire, but I made the mistake of comparing something to the referendum result. Clearly there are differences amongst us too. At that point the conversation took a deeper, more intense and philosophical turn. Despite some alcohol-aided diversions we discussed a new world that could be better ... maybe. 

There were two highlights yesterday. The first was Fire Tree's unexpected ascent of the hill over the road. It is certainly higher than anything we have in the Fens, but obviously not comparable with the Alps of recent memory. Congratulations to her.  She didn't expect to attempt it and was surprised when she achieved it. My personal highlight was a ride on the back of the hand-built motor-tricycle Wandering Gypsy had towed in behind his lorry. He used bits of a 1970 Reliant, bits of a Polo and all sorts of other stuff he had lying around. It passed an MoT test too. My admiration knows no bounds for such skill and imagination. 

The iPad is now showing 8% battery. Time to finish this essay.

By late Sunday afternoon there were three of us.

On Monday we decided this was going to be our field, so we spread out.

By the end of Monday others had started arriving.

Of Dovedale 2

Somehow I managed to turn up up seventeen hours early. This is definitely contrary to my normal style. Since I arrived at night I wasn't sure I was in the right place. There had been discussion on the web forum about using another of the farmer's three camping fields, so I simply headed for the field in which we gathered last year. I patrolled occasionally to see if anyone else had arrived and set up in one of the other two fields I could see. Not knowing our final settlement, setting up, at the moment for me, simply meant parking. I couldn't set up in the "comfort" sense, because I did not want to have to dismantle my pavilion (it's hardly a "pavilion"  in the sporting sens though. It's more of a medieval concept, I suspect, being no more than a free-standing shelter with detachable walls) and kitchen arrangement to move elsewhere. As with the night, the rain continued on and off throughout the day.

Having time to myself was very pleasant. I went into Ashbourne to find somewhere to have a cooked breakfast, buy some supplies and find the wi-if I used to post the previous two blog entries. On returning to the field I chose the spot I thought would suit me best should that be the place to stay. I had a lot of choice. There had been five or six other parties when I arrived on Saturday night. By the time I got back from town the "not-one-of-us" van had left. Unfortunately they also left a stack of refuse by the wall, which spoiled rather the view of the otherwise attractive bubbling river. Eventually everyone else left too, so I was actually alone for several hours. I chose a spot in the corner leaving space to set up the pavilion should that turn out to be where we were going to stay. This time I made sure that, although I was next to the river along with bushes and trees, there were no overhanging branches or telephone wires or power cables to allow maximum guano targeting by the local wildlife. 

I took out my folding chair and settled to read some more of Robert Tressell's harrowing "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists". I couldn't settle. Out of the corner of my eye I began to see flashes of unnatural colours in the grass. Previous campers had managed to leave a lot of rubbish. It was mainly, sweet wrappers, crisp packets, bits of cellophane wrappings and lots of soggy tissue, but I couldn't leave it looking like that. I have a compulsion to pick up litter. That's why I bought a litter picker and have it permanently available, clipped to the inside wall of the van. Unfortunately this was a cheap plastic one I bought last year and a few months ago I managed to snap the handle so that it now flops about rather unhelpfully. I leave it in the van in the hope that it will remind me to buy another of a more robust variety - or, of course, mend itself, but so far I haven't and it hasn't and, armed with the plastic refuse sack I had bought for my own use and donning my working gloves, I set about the area round the van. Inevitably the area increased as I laboured to removed the offending flashes of colour from the grass. Given all the recent rain, the tissue was disgusting and had to be drawn out of the grass in disintegrating clumps rather than simply picked up. There were several bottle tops, empty beer bottles and cans, a used disposable barbecue, tea bags, plastic straws, a broken bucket, discarded plastic drinks containers in those garish colours that manufacturers think children find attractive ... I could make a long list. The great British public can be disgusting. My stomach churned on several occasions and I was glad of the gloves, even though they quickly became very soggy. A couple of hours later I had nearly filled my sack, but my quarter of the field looked much better. I did consider donning wellingtons so I could wade into the river to get the stuff that was stuck there too, but without my pavilion I wouldn't have somewhere I could comfortably leave them to dry out. That would have to wait. 

The sun put in an appearance and in the distance I could just about make out the specks on top of the hills in front of me that were the people who had spent hours getting to the top, presumably so they could come back down again. I briefly thought about trying it for myself and dismissed it. The trek would take several hours and I'm not the fittest of people. Mañana. I had packed a guitar so I thought I would do some much-needed practice. This guitar is an Ovation Celebration made in Korea. It's one I take into schools and it is often the cause of much concern and many questions, the main comment being, "Your guitar is cracked!" I wonder why children think I may not have noticed this. It is indeed very cracked. It carries the scars of the accident that explained how the instrument came into my possession in the first place. I had gone into a small village school one day and after my workshop the head asked me if I knew anyone who could make use of a broken guitar. 'How broken?" I asked. She showed me. It was the Celebration which was indeed in a sad state. During a Christmas service in the parish church it had fallen over from the pillar it was leaning against. Landing string side down it sustained the damage that was so sadly evident. "I can't keep it," she explained. "I claimed it on my insurance and I have bought another guitar. Do you have any use for it?" I didn't need to think hard about it. I had been considering buying another guitar for a while. I was uncomfortable about carting my vintage Guild around Norfolk's schools, but I had no other guitar that was anywhere near suitable as an accompanying instrument. Although the strings had all slipped on the Ovation and were slack I wasn't sure the cracks had gone through the layers of very shiny varnish and into the belly. I took the guitar with the intention of taking it to a local luthier to see what he thought. At worst I would have another addition to my resources for recycled sounds. At best I would have a jobbing guitar. Some days and £140 later I had a jobbing guitar that would have cost me two or three times that amount had I bought it for myself from a shop. The cracks turned out to be cosmetic. To be honest, I would have been unlikely to have chosen this guitar, but I can't deny it has given me service well beyond the price I paid for repair. Although rather quiet and unexpressive it plays, and generally stays, in tune. It actually comes into its own when plugged in and amplified, but I never use it that way. I took the guitar out of its case and started to play. It sounded horrible. I knew it would, but I couldn't continue. That was the reason I had brought with me a new set of D'Adarrio phosphor-bronze 12s and my string winder/clipper tool. Annual maintenance was required. Considering the love and replacement strings I lavish on the Guild the Celebration had every right to feel hard-done-by ... had it feelings, of course. 

I started to play guitar when I was fourteen. One day, my father came home with a Zenith 6-string cello guitar my uncle had loaned him. He never learned how to play, although many years later he asked me to show him some chords. He never actually got a look-in with that guitar at all. It found its way into my bedroom and never left. It was a total pig to play, having an action as high as St Paul's Cathedral, but I persisted. At some point I acquired an Eko Ranger 12 before my father took me to Guitar Village in London's Shaftsbury Avenue for my seventeenth birthday to buy my first "proper" guitar. I tried Gibsons, Martins and others, but it was the Guild that called out to me. It was the start of a beautiful relationship that flourishes to this day. Considering I have been playing for nearly half a century I have never felt I understood how best to change a set of strings. Obviously over the years I have acquired a technique, but it had always been a bit hit and miss. For instance, I was never sure whether it would do any harm to remove all the strings simultaneously or how many winds round the post was best. YouTube recently came to my assistance when I stumbled over a YouTube video which I may add later. 

I took all the strings off and began to clean the nut and around the frets as advised in the video. I replaced the strings with the new set, tuned it up and in a mere couple of hours I was practising. I am the master of displacement activity. Having left so much time since my last foray into practice I was horribly rusty and forgot some of the words and my fingers were getting sore. However, I was really enjoying playing and singing quietly to myself. That zone is a great place to be. Some of my songs are much harder to remember than others. I am sure I have practiced some of them hundreds of times and still they slip and slide in my memory. I could probably have gone on for at least a couple more hours, but a familiar van turned into the field. It was Shorny. We hugged and greeted each other and began to catch up on the news since last year. An hour after Shorny arrived, FireTree turned up in her Transit, which I also recognized from last year. Practice was over. We chatted round a small and welcome off-ground fire until the rain began to pour with persistence. FireTree had no wet weather clothes, but she did appear with an amazing black, full-length witch's cape with a pointy hood. She seemed intrigued that I had more than one coat with me. She also seemed a little affronted that I see her pixie cape as a witch's one. No harm or insult meant, Fire Tree. 

So here we are. 3am and I'm writing a blog entry. Apparently we are due to move into the pagans' field later today when the last of them has left. I suppose that will be when I finally make myself at home here. Raw food it shall be until then.