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.