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. 

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Of A Night In A Chilling Field (Or Dovedale 1)

I am experiencing a brief silence along with the almost welcome familiarity of just my tinnitus. Waves of rain have swept across Dovedale since just after I arrived at eleven p.m. and have been pounding on the van all night. It hasn't kept me awake, but the sound is very different from the quality of rain that hits the thicker steel of the boat. This is more trebly, scratchier, somehow more insidious and definitely less soothing. It penetrates the ear and the consciousness and during my frequent periods of wakefulness I find myself lying on my camp bed waiting for the next wave to arrive. 

This is my second time here. I came here last year to meet some fellow travellers who inhabit their vans, boats and tents as they travel the roads or waterways and life in general. Some of them have made this pilgrimage for many years. I expect that some will arrive this year for the first time. We have all come to put some reality on to our impressions of the each other as we have contributed to discussions on UK Hippy, an internet discussion forum. The forum has become my destination of choice for learning how others live, sharing triumphs and disappointments, ranting, telling daft jokes, building and sharing a support network with others who also don't quite fit in. When I was fifteen a friend and I caught the midnight ferry to Ostend. Sitting on the beach the following day we were approached by a journalist who asked if "you are a 'ippy or in any other way connected wi' ze movement?" I didn't know what to say then and I still don't know that I qualify as a hippy, but last year I felt immediately at home with people who felt like members of the same tribe. We clearly share something that communicates and resonates. It's not that I am short of friends otherwise, because I have a great group of friends who make my life a rich and vibrant one. I would feel great sorrow if I lost a single one of them. My virtual-but-now-real friends however come from a broader range of backgrounds than the artists and creatives who make up so many of my associations and that is not only interesting but also very rewarding. I enjoy learning about and from others and last year I was quite shocked to discover that in some senses my life could be seen to be quite narrow. So this year, I am hoping to catch up with the lives of Wandering Gypsy, Alice's Wonderland, Enigma Rising, Enigma's Mum, Trap, Shorny (the keeper of the trivet) and others. I am sad that Mrs P has had to drop out this year - we have a number of unfinished discussions to further. I am very much looking forward to meeting OldKeith, Julian The Gypsy and others and I wonder if the troubled Darrren will accept a hug of friendship. Danann will not be here I think. If her writing truly reflects her personality she must be a wonder. It gushes and bubbles in a stream of consciousness. Each word begins with a capital letter and there is little pause for sentence structure, but her exhausting, flowing prose hints at a love of life and a compassion for her fellow men and women that is very rare in these times. This is the second time she has not shown up.

So, Sunday morning and the rain appears to have abated, even if only temporarily. I am sitting up in my bed to write this and have opened, just a crack, one of the side doors of the van to let in light, air, and the sounds of lowing cattle, bleating sheep, a lone tractor and the occasional passing vehicle. I am kissed by the air each time the gentle breeze breathes on me. Last evening I was met by a UK Pagan who opened a gate to a field further into the farm and invited me to join their gathering. In a gentle voice, he promised alcohol, drumming round the fire and association, but his eyes kept their distance. His words needed an accompanying smile. He did not smile at all, not even in response. Perhaps he has not yet learned to reflect expressions offered by others? He gave the impression of a degree of Asperger's, but I appreciated his welcome. I turned down his offer and decided to see if anyone from my tribe had arrived yet. Wandering Gypsy was planning to be here first ... Or maybe Alice's Wonderland, Enigma Rising and the children. I stumbled in the dark around the main field and between fields and spoke to other people. One group of men, including Rob from Sweden, had arrived and pitched up for one night only. They offered company, friendship, a share of the booze and music from a playlist on a huge laptop computer. Simon told me he made a point of learning one song from the sixties or seventies every year. He had not made his mind up what this year's song would be. He spoke for the rest of the group and said that his friendly approaches had been rejected by some people in the van that had set up across the road and where I had noticed a small fire burning. "You are not part of our group," he had been told. I wonder what group that might have been. I hope it wasn't ours.

A view from my bed
The cows are making a lot of noise and a motorbike has arrived. Maybe I should get up and see what's happening.

Of Old Boats In New Skins

I thought I would add a few photographs to this page to show the metamorphosis of Timeless.


I was in France for a funeral when the undercoat was applied, so I missed getting a photograph of that. I think it was a blueish-grey - maybe like this?

Hmm, let me see. I wonder what the next job should be?
More to come as the work progresses ...

Friday, 12 August 2016

Of Nearaway Places - My June Adventure

Setting out on my first epic adventure
I like to see new places. Mostly that has not been possible by boat because of the years of engine problems. Back in June, and during the three months I didn't add anything to this blog, I had a little adventure and took the boat to give my books to the accountant. It's a good 6 or 7 hour run from my home mooring although only about 25 minutes in the van. I prefer the long version. 

The journey was long enough to test out the bread-making clout of the inverter

The journey also gave me the opportunity to negotiate solo my first lock. I have been through many locks over the past decades, but never one completely by myself. Unlike the great lock fiasco of April 2015, I had the proper keys with me for both entering the compound and for operating the penstocks (a Fenland term for the paddles). Everything I have read about going through locks reinforces the "slow and steady" rule. Problems are far more likely to occur when the user is in a hurry. Sadly, there have been several incidents in recent weeks of boats sinking in locks including at least a couple of fatalities.  It was good to be able to go through the whole procedure without being under pressure. There were no gongoozlers to watch me make a pig's ear of it and no one around to offer physical assistance or unhelpful advice. I have often offered help to solo boaters negotiating locks and I may have to think again about doing it. Recent discussion on a narrowboating web forum concluded that offers of help should be refused. The reasoning behind this was in response to one of the fatal incidents. One never knows the extent to which the well-meaning helper understands the dangers of, for example, filling the lock too quickly. I have seen boats take on water when the penstocks are opened too vigorously. Even at a modest depth the water is under great pressure and can flood over the bow and down inside the boat. At the very least it can make a nasty mess that takes a lot of mopping. At worst such an event can be fatal. I am concerned when I see boat hirers, out for a jolly time in one of the day boats, sit a child on the front of the boat as they go through the lock. The child may be wearing a life jacket, but should they fall or be washed into the water they are still in a limited space with an uncontrolled boat weighing many tons dancing about in the water for company. A crushing injury is but one possible horror. To me the thing to do should something so awful happen would be to lower the penstock and stop the flow of water, but we don't always manage to think logically under stress. As to what one should do if the victim actually goes under the water ... I dread to think of possible outcomes. But, thankfully, there were no horrible emergencies this time. Slow and steady won the day. I am pretty sure no one could have been slower. By lock standards this one was tiny, but it took me an hour from first mooring up below the lock to setting off again at the top end. I think the job would have been done more quickly had someone been waiting to come down, but I would have had nothing like the same sense of satisfaction. That was a good adventure. Less good was arriving at my destination and finding the visitor moorings all taken. I knew from last year that the water is very shallow close to the bank and that running aground was probable. I pulled in as close to the bank as I dared, hurled my three spikes and club hammer on to the bank and leapt into the nettles with the centre line. Once I'd secured the boat I set up a gangplank to make boarding and alighting easier. 
Dressed for the June weather

I stayed overnight and, finishing my business with the accountant, I decided I had time to go home the long way round. This is the journey with which I had planned to treat myself before my daughter called for help at Easter. I had only a couple of days to do the trip, so I would not be able to take my time over it. Naturally the wind had picked up and was blowing pretty hard. I dressed for the occasion and set off anyway. 

I had remodeled my chimney the weekend before I set off. That was when I took the boat up to a neighbouring village to attend one friend's housewarming party and watch some of my daughter's pals play their first gig at the village's annual fête which this year was going to include a music festival. The journey to the riverside festival site was pretty straightforward. Even turning in the basin was not too troublesome, specially considering my new neighbour's boat was there too. I had a grandstand view of the show and my friend's housewarming was next door. Going back home on the Sunday was a different matter though. I made the false assumption that bridge heights on Saturday stay the same on Sunday. They don't. Someone had left a sluice gate open at the pumping station further along the system and the river's height had risen sufficiently to bend my cast iron chimney as I jammed the boat under the lowest bridge. This was, of course, in full view of festival goers who were presented with hysterical manoeuvres as a bonus to the published programme of events. I wasn't entirely unaware of the possibility, but my reasoning went something like:

* that bridge looks lower today
* don't be stupid, it can't be
* I'm sure I am higher in the water and I am going to hit that bridge
* don't be ridiculous, you got through easily yesterday 
* I'm going to hit that bridge
* it's your kerataconus playing tricks on you
* I'm too close to stop in time
* oh dear, oh dear, oh dear
* better keep going forward because the chimney is now bent and reversing risks snapping the top off completely!

It was all completely rational. It wasn't the sort of accident that happens in slow motion, because I was travelling in slow motion anyway. 

On the way home an overnight stop in the dead centre of a Fenland village
Meanwhile back on the journey home from the accountant I had developed a healthier respect for bridges. By this time I was on a pretty exposed part of the river with a strong tailwind and being pushed towards another bridge at speed.  With my newly honed internal low bridge detector pinging madly in my head I decided that caution was required. Stopping just short (it was immediately just short) of the bridge I put the boat into reverse to pull it back. This was a plan to give me time to scramble up on to the roof, run most of the fifty feet length, grab the chimney and rest it down somewhere. However reversing into a wind is not particularly easy and I had to perform a number of forward bursts to correct my heading, which of course swept me very close to the bridge again. I still finished up on the wrong side of the river, but eventually I judged I had backed up far enough to make a go of it. Leaving the boat in reverse gear on tickover I climbed gingerly on to the roof. Standing on the roof of a freewheeling narrowboat wearing protective over clothing that possessed very similar properties to sails, I ran, staggered and was blown the length of the boat to remove the chimney. The chimney was hot because the day was cold (this was the beginning of June and we were in the icy and howling grip of a British summer) and beneath it was the stove I had felt the need to light the previous day. I had to find somewhere to set it down and run back to the tiller to try and correct my heading. I found a good horizontal chimney rest against the gangplank and made it back to the tiller just in time to avoid crashing into the bank. After that most things were bound to be simple, surely?

I want to explore this drain one day, but that bridge always looks too low

Cormorants sitting on a telephone wire - there's a song somewhere

This rare and spooky phenomenon is known as "The Sun" I believe

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Of Songwriters, Poets And The Unceasing Search For Meaningful Expression

Songwriters and Poets
in The Stables behind The Pub

Last Friday of the month

I thought I would add a little ad. I generally write a newsletter before each "folk night" and send it to over a hundred people who, for better or worse, have signed up to the mailing list. There has been a folk club of sorts in the area for decades. There was also a period of several years when there was nothing in particular. Several years ago, a couple of friends were talking and decided it was time for the town to host acoustic music and spoken word events regularly again.

The venue chosen was a café in the town centre specialising in simple food from locally sourced produce. It proved to be a great success and the monthly sessions were filled with performers and audience members and food was available throughout the evening for those who wanted it. Home brew was also available, although I guess I should give it its due and refer to its micro-brew origins. Sadly, the business fell on hard times and no one seems to know what happened to the owner. The café is now a tattoo parlour.

We relocated to a wheat mill in a nearby village. It all started out very well. Once more food was available from locally sourced produce and I enjoyed being able to come before the evening's performances began and have something delicious to eat that I hadn't had to make for myself. The mill was actually a working mill, producing flour for bread-making as well as bread-making workshops. In a storm one night the sails fell off and the owners never found the money for replacing them. There were differences between the trust that owned the mill and the occupants. Whereas our music and poetry nights were initially held in the cafeteria area, the owner decided he would rather we used to "school" for bakers situated at the top of the mill accessible by some rather iffy stairs. He wanted to be able to shut the café and set the alarm. He gave me instructions as to how to turn off the electricity and lock the mill. We had some great nights there. However the discussions between trustees and untrusted broke down. The business failed and the mill was closed.

Next I approached the landlady of a pub back in town. She welcomed the idea of potential customers. It wasn't ideal holding our nights in the public bar (the only public space the pub had).  We were there for a couple of years and once more enjoyed some really good nights, even though the performers regularly outnumbered those who came purely to listen. We did have some uncomfortable moments with locals who only wanted to use the bar for a drink and a natter, but most people eventually got the idea that listening was a more appropriate response to performance. 

Then came the EU referendum. The day the results came in was our final folk n poetry night at this pub. Whichever way we had voted, five of us gathered at the start of the evening were all in a state of shock. As good friends of long standing we were sensitive to the differences in opinions and were trying to act as though nothing had happened. Going over it again at that point would not have been productive. If the evening began strangely it soon became downright weird. The evidence that the referendum had unleashed something unpleasant in the British public had been snowballing for weeks. During the day news had been coming in of local immigrants being abused, indigenous ethnic minorities being told to go home and before the evening was out we had experienced not only a reading of some very racist poetry, but had also been on the receiving end of a tirade by the vicar who came in for a drink and and (as normal) a natter in his rather loud voice. Between songs and in the middle of someone's set he felt it appropriate to lecture us on the indolence of lefty artsy types. He accused us of never having done a proper day's work in our lives (being accused of not working by a vicar?!) and he knew what hard work was because he had worked in the steel mills. That must have been a good few decades ago then. I have never had the opportunity to ask a vicar to leave the room before. In some ways it was satisfying, but it still left me feeling really uncomfortable.

So, with many thanks to the landlady who has accommodated us for the past few years we are very excited about our new move to our fourth venue. The landlord at the new venue back in the town centre, has generously agreed to let us use The Stables at the back of the pub. We think this is going to offer us the chance to keep the best of what we have (i.e. some very talented local artists) while offering us a lovely room for our monthly acoustic music and poetry nights. The room will be a space of our own where we'll not have to worry about disturbing the drinking and social life of the good people of the town and I think we shall have some flexibility to explore expanding what we do. The idea of having guest performers is gathering some momentum.

Given the extraordinary number of venues for live music that have sprung up around the region in recent years there are already opportunities for people to get together to perform and sing in sessions and in the round. We hope that we shall be able to offer something rather special by becoming a place where songwriters, composers and poets will want to share their work with others who recognise the drive to create and a space where all those who are interested in seeing and hearing original work will want to gather. The quality of creativity in this part of the Fens has long been a source of amazement. At the moment we intend to stick to the acoustic ideal and try to avoid the temptation to install a p.a. system for our regular nights, which is a route many performer sessions around the area have felt inclined to explore. We'll be keeping an eye on this and see how things go. It may be that we shall review this decision for some events, but not yet.

Of course, tis pub is no stranger to folk music. Many of our long time agitators have performed here in the past. For my part, as a member of local morris and molly dance groups in years gone by, I have pranced, stamped and shouted my stuff in the yard and the bar many times while, before the upstairs function room was converted into accommodation, my ceilidh band played a few ceilidhs here too.

So, I hope that this move is a good opportunity for regular, live acoustic performance in an easily accessible place in town and we are really looking forward to starting up on 26th August. I guess we have to watch this space. I'd hate for us to close down yet another business, but I have a good feeling about this. After all, there are hanging baskets of geraniums either side of The Stables' porch.

Referendum Blues

It could have been all over. If only that were true. Perhaps the worst of it all is that the referendum was completely unnecessary in the first place. Parliament is the place for decisions on such a scale as this. However imperfect our electoral system (and I am one of those who questions the democratic value in simple majorities and the results of our first-past-the-post elections) at least discussions take place in a debating chamber where some of those debating are well informed and briefed on the issues and where their decisions and processes offer opportunity for scrutiny by us all. 
In contrast to the recent referendum experience, I watched the debates when Equal Marriage legislation was progressing through both houses. I spent a lot of time in London, outside Parliament, speaking to and adding to the noise in support of change to the law to allow fairness for all. I faced and talked to many people who were engaged in counter demonstrations and personally received a lot of abuse from some of those conservative Christians who seemed to make up a majority of those who were campaigning for the status quo at the time.
The remain in or leave the European Union debate has not allowed for the same degree of thoroughness to be exercised. Instead we were forced to watch a very bad circus with remarkably little information readily available. I had to look hard for the kinds of information that would help me make up my mind as to which way I should vote. I also watched a number of YouTube videos from obscure corners of the web where arguments for and against were presented by people in possession of deep and broad knowledge. Above anything else, searching for information on such a potentially vital subject was hugely time-consuming. MPs, on the other hand are theoretically skilled in negotiation and debate and are paid to spend time in discussing legislation. Yes, of course, there are frequent shows of intellectual underdevelopment but, in the main, debate is rigorous, informed and mostly healthy. 
My instinct was that we should stay in the EU although there was a part of me that was drawn to a notion of “independence”. I was not, however, entirely sure that an “out” vote would make the Disunited Kingdom any more independent given a world dominated by multi-national and corporate interests. I felt I needed to find out what had informed these points of view, because I found the “why” difficult to articulate. I was also prepared to encounter and give due consideration to ideas and arguments that told me a different story. Instead, the loudest noises seemed to emanate from a lot of very empty vessels. The main weapons on both sides appeared to be fear of what might happen and lies about the perceived problems. 
Very late in the process I encountered arguments for leaving that were being made from a socialist perspective and these needed far greater consideration than I had the time to invest. By the end of the process I felt angry that the whole deal had been a waste of time and effort on a macro scale. It had generated much more heat than light. The simplicity of the process was a poorly judged exercise in vanity by David Cameron who took a massive gamble with all our futures for the sake of proving how out of touch he really was with popular mood, contrary to his own apparent beliefs.
Inevitably the referendum inspired responses from artists across a number of disciplines. My song, "Referendum Blues”, is one of them.
The lyrics began to take shape as I tried to explore, unravel and articulate my personal points of view. The phrase, “In or out, in or out”, in the first part of the chorus became a hook and suggested a shape for a melody. In the verses the rhythm of the lyrics spilled out in the manner of some mid-sixties protest songs. It didn’t take long to realise that I was channeling Country Joe and The Fish’s “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixing-To-Die Rag”. I used the shape of the opening to inform my own melody and, in effect, “fix” the song as a type of protest. Before I had written the tune for the verses I also felt that the coda should use the English folk song, “The Vicar of Bray”. Roy Harper had, in the 70s, used the tune for the opening of his song, “Kangaroo Blues”. I wanted something that was stereotypically English and I contrasted this with the European anthem, the “Ode To Joy” from the fourth movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. Part of this crops up in all the choruses and in full in the final chorus. 
To me, the ultimate compliment was from a fellow songwriter who claimed after a first performance that he had no idea which way I was going to vote. Quite enough of my songs are streams of invective. Here my emotions were aimed at what was going on while our backs were turned and we were distracted by this whole sorry process.

Referendum Blues
In June of 1975
Two things happened, changing lives.
Unto us was born a son
Two lives changed by adding one.
The other thing was just as mad,
First referendum we'd ever had.

In or out, in or out,
Do you want to stay in the club?
Out or in, out or in,
Screw the lamb, Le vin is in.
Wilson, Thatcher, Edward Heath
All said, "Oui", to great relief.
Enoch Powell, Tony Benn,
Noes joined, won't see that again. 
Common Market, EEC
Land of opportunity. 

Coal and steel, iron ore and scrap
Put the treaties on the map
Paris, Rome, Maastricht and Lisbon
Brought us into closer union. 
No lire, guilders, marks or francs.
For ECUs, Euros, all give thanks.

In or out, in or out,
Do you want to stay in the club?
Out or in, out or in,
Screw the lamb, Le vin is in.
Wilson, Thatcher, Edward Heath
All said, "Oui", to great relief.
Enoch Powell, Tony Benn,
Noes joined, won't see that again. 
Common Market, EEC
Land of opportunity. 

Here in twenty ... sixteen
Once again the old routine.
Some say yes and some say no,
Some say the Brits have got to go.
Apply distraction, no attempt
To cure the causes of dissent. 

In or out, in or out
Marginal issues abound
Out or in, out or in,
Tear it all up and start again. 
Blame the victims, blame the poor,
Hear the one-percenters roar. 
Fundamentalists and bankers
Multi-national, corporate arms dealers, chemical and energy conglomerates, food manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies.

Tony, Dave and all their mates
Pull up the ladder, lock the gates
Selling England by the pound
We acquiesce without a sound. 
Services we thought we owned
Are gradually being boned. 
Isn't there a cause to riot?
Why is it so bleeding quiet?

The time has come to make a mark
But does it really matter?
I feel I'm stumbling in the dark. 
I'm deaf from all this chatter.
This sideshow, now the main event,
No thoughts of taking action. 
The silver's sold without consent
How clever this distraction.