Saturday, 5 September 2015

Of Making New Friends

Last week I went to find a field in the Peak District National Park.  Although I have passed through parts of the area many times in the past I had never actually gone specifically to the Peaks before and I had never met any of the people with whom I was anticipating spending a couple of days.  I suppose I take a similar chance when I go to a festival, concert, show, film, play, dance, meeting, conference or whatever on my own, but meeting people by chance at a specifically organised event is different from a very much smaller and more informal gathering.  At an event there are many distractions.  There is always a focus for being there.  For me a festival is mostly about the music, of course.  However a gathering with no organised entertainment or distraction is different.  What if I said something that caused me to be ostracised from the group?  What if I found someone in the group difficult to be with?  What if I had misread completely, what the group is about?

This gathering was a very twenty-first century phenomenon.  We were all subscribers to a particular website and that was pretty much all we had in common.  Many of the members live nomadically.  Some were even in the Beanfield in 1985.  I found the website when I was facing homelessness after my father died and when I was desperately looking for options.  One option was was to buy a van big enough to convert to be able to live in.  That was why I bought a Mercedes Sprinter.  Unfortunately this is the same vehicle I wrote off two years later.  By then, of course, I was very happily living on my boat.

Having just returned from visiting P in The Alps I hadn't had much time to do what needed to be done before I disappeared away from the boat again.  Naturally, the web-based tasks and sorting out e-mails for coming work projects took longer than I hoped.  Consequently I was much later leaving than I planned.  I had already decided that, following my recent camping experience when the boat was being re-blacked, I didn't want to find myself having to cook in the rain again, or even to be sitting without at least an option of shelter.  The option of being confined to my three-person tent or the van was a bit constricting so, since my favourite camping equipment warehouse was vaguely on the way I thought I would call in to see what my options might be.  I just hoped they were still open when I got there.  They were and I found what they seemed to call an "event shelter" (but which most people these days would call a "gazebo"), which seemed to be just the thing.  It was big enough to sit in, cook in and should I ever need to do it, hold a small workshop or outdoor performance in.  It also fitted into quite a small bag and its long side ran pretty much the length of my van.

Of course, by the time I made it to the far side of Ashbourne evening was drawing in.  This was the view that met me as I approached the field.

A view looking out from our gathering site

All is well, there is a river.

I pulled into the field and headed for the fire set in an old satellite dish suspended by heavy chains from an iron tripod.  There were fewer than a dozen vehicles set up around the edges of the camping field.  The field was bordered on one side by the road and on another by the river marking part of the  county boundary between Derbyshire and Staffordshire.  I was greeted very warmly by everyone.  We identified ourselves using our nicknames from the forum, which made life a little easier to begin with.    We shared real names soon afterwards.

After I had ambled round the field meeting everyone else I found a spot to park the van and set about putting up my new shelter.  I thought it would fit nicely next to one of the side doors allowing me to tumble out of the van in the morning into a dry spot whatever the weather was doing. Of course, having ignored the fundamental rule about never arriving at a campsite with a tent one has never before personally erected I became the entertainment until a couple of kind souls took pity on me and came over to help.  I hope, though, that the next time I erect my new shelter I shall do it in daylight and be able to manage by myself.  We'll see.

Our tribal gathering in August 2015 with my new shelter on the left

Even during the time I was there people came and people went.  We were all travellers passing in and out of each other's lives.  What also became increasingly interesting was a reaction of other people who drove by the site.  The road that passed the site wasn't busy, but nearly all passing vehicles slowed down as the occupants wanted to stare at the motley gathering of vehicles and people in our group.  To honest I think everyone was impressed by this lovely vehicle belonging to "MrsP".  It was as lovely on the inside as on the outside.  I didn't take this photograph (it comes from her own blog, to which I have linked on the right-hand column), nor even was this shot taken at our gathering, but this Mercedes van is a lovely piece of work.

Over the next couple of days I got to know a bit about people who until then had simply been nicknames on a web forum focussed on alternative ways of living - Wandering Gypsy, Firetree, Enigma Rising and Alice's Wonderland were some of the delightful people I met.  I have stumbled into a new group of friends that feels like a family.  Round the campfire I shared a few songs with them.  Strangely, "Circumcision" seems to be the song that people are remembering the most at the moment.  I didn't conceive it to be like that and it shows that we may not always be the best judges of our own work.  I was somewhat in awe also with the practical knowledge many of my new friends seem to have.  Many are able and experienced engineers, carpenters, plumbers - tradespeople possessing all sorts of useful practical skills.  Many had bought and completely fitted out their vehicles and adapted them for full-time living.  The group had booked the site for about ten days.  I was able to be there for three days only and when the time came that I had to leave I put off my departure by finding people with whom to have one last mardle.

Everyone was so friendly, so caring, had so much life experience and many had very sad tales of personal challenge to relate.  I am really looking forward to meeting them again and I am sure I shall see some of them before we get round, once more, to booking a field in the middle of nowhere.

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