Friday, 4 May 2018

Of Masked Men, Woodwork And The First Festival Of The Year

Not quite nine o’clock in the morning and Ive been up for three hours. The sun is shining and if it stays like this, today will be hot. I’m in a boggy field near the Lincolnshire coast for this weekend’s Spirit of the Marsh Beltane celebration. Ive been to this festival a couple of times before, but only for half a day at a time. It always coincides with other work. This time it is work.

On the basis that it’s not what you know I contacted one of the organisers, a friend I met through an internet discussion group, and suggested to him that Marshlander would be appropriate entertainment for a festival called “Spirit of the Marsh”. As the keyboard player quipped, “It’s got your name all over it!” I arrived last night, at about eleven o’clock. I decided not to use my phone app to find the place. I went organic. I knew it was in Trustthorpe, which itself is somewhere near Mablethorpe. I knew that Mablethorpe could be reached by first finding the A16. I knew I had a choice of routes to reach the A16. Somehow it worked. More amazing than that I did not feel tired on the two-hour trip.  

For many decades long drives, specially evening ones, have made me feel very weary. Perhaps it is because I have not slept properly for many years that I have found driving soporific. Driving has always involved keeping very aware of my state of alertness and stopping to sleep if I feel potentially dangerous to other drivers. I’ve had mixed messages about this. I always felt that I was being polite by not killing other road users. I have been stopped by the police many times after working at night. After a gig and all the packing up and some obligatory post-performance cameraderie, I’m quite keen to get home to bed. Being stopped because I drive a van is irritating, but they are only doing their job ... I keep telling myself. Perhaps the police get bored or lonely. Perhaps I’m part of a game they play. One might have thought that in a country that outdoes pretty much everywhere else in the degree to which it watches and records the activities of its citizens there would be a record of van registrations where the owner is known to be a gigging musician. I should get Cambridge Analytica on to it. After all, it was coming back home from Cambridge one time in the wee hours that I was pulled by the police after I’d found a safe layby to catch a bit of a sleep. If I’m on the road it would seem I’m suspicious because I’m driving a van, specially a white one apparently (but then black vans were the troublesome ones when I owned one of those). Unfortunately, when I’m being cautious and pull off the road for a nap, I’m still suspicious. 

Where’s this leading? Earlier this year I was diagnosed with OSAS - obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. For years P has told me that he has woken in the night and felt he needed to give me a nudge to see if I were still alive. He has caught me not breathing many times. I don't not-breathe on purpose, but I didn't do anything about it until I finally felt so exhausted I went to see the GP to help me get to the bottom of it. I was convinced that it was the tinnitus roaring in my head that woke me several times a night. My lovely GP admitted we needed specialist advice on counts of both the exhaustion and the tinnitus, and I left his consulting room within five minutes of entering with hospital appointments at two different hospitals. The appointments were to take place within a fortnight. This is the NHS at its very best!

The first appointment brought me to the attention of an audiologist who diagnosed moderate hearing loss over 2kHz. This was, as it happens, a bit of a shock. I had been under the impression that I could hear okay up to about 6kHz, and hopefully more. The tinnitus is my brain making up for what it can’t hear, so hearing aids were prescribed. They have made a huge difference. I still have the tinnitus, but it is nowhere near as disruptive as it was. Taking them out at night leaves room for the noises to come whooshing back.  The second appontment, at a sleep clinic, has resulted in me being diagnosed with "a chronic disorder of his breathing for which he requires treatment every night with a CPAP machine through a face mask" - a declaration I have to carry with me when I pass through security at airports and railway stations. Once again, the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device is a life-changing experience. Bits of my life have started to return, most gratifying when I thought some of those bits were gone forever. From an AHI of nearly 15.9 (ie 16 breathing stoppages every hour when entering deep sleep) my last reading was 6.3. I have not exactly been waking up completely refreshed, but it is wonderful not feeling completely drained. I am now, though, a man in a mask. I am plugged, via a corrugated hose and a mask that covers my nose and mouth, into the machine which forces filtered air into my nose and keeps me breathing at night. It is a bit of a rigmarole, but there are benefits to be had.  There are also challenges. Using a CPAP machine does require electricity. Here I am in the middle of a field with no mains power so I have had to find a means of powering my device off-grid. For the past few nights I have drawn power from deep-cycle leisure batteries in the boat via a (very expensive) DC-DC kit designed for the machine. This was a trial for when sleeping in the van. Now all I need is a means of recharging the batteries. Undoubtedly more of this later. 

View from Camp Marsh before the crowds arrive.

Camp Marsh

Woodwork, it's something I never had a chance to do a school. Other boys did, but I was one of those who had to do Latin instead. I didn't get very far with Latin (show me a teenaged boy who hasn't sniggered at an ablative or genitive case) although I suppose I have found what I managed to understand quite useful on occasions. Knowing something about wood and its workings, though, would have come in so handy so many times. When I left school I went to work for a firm of builders in London. My lack of knowledge was ripe for humorous episodes amongst the "blokes". I ended up driving the firm's flatbed Transit truck, keeping the tradesmen supplied with the bits they needed to bring in the money and clearing away the mess after they had finished. My first trip to the timber yard prompted an embarrassment I shall probably never forget. I had to buy some 8'x4' sheets of blockboard. As I was waiting to be served I had seen men carrying piles of timber and several sheets of various boards to their vehicles. Asked if I needed any help I assured the man in the yard I'd manage. I approached the stack of boards leaning against the racking ready for me to carry to the truck. I stretched my arms wide and clutched the outermost board as I attempted to get the balance right. I over-compensated and the first board nearly turned me into Flat Stanley. I simply could not lift a single board off the ground and ended up having to go back and ask for help. Within a fortnight though I had a technique of sorts and the next visit was not quite so embarrassing ... apart from the ribbing I got in the yard.

I didn't know anything about joinery, but my first job in every house I lived in was to put up some shelves. I developed an idiosyncratic shelving style which was pretty bomb proof and held my huge collection of books and vinyl. Whenever I have lived in the van for a few days I have used a camp bed in the back. It has never been very comfortable, or particularly warm on colder nights, and it has used up precious floor space. I decided that for Spirit of the Marsh I would attempt to emulate some of my nomadic friends and erect a sleeping shelf upon which I could lay a proper mattress, although this time an airbed would have to suffice. On the morning I was due to leave for the festival (i.e. yesterday) I went to the timber yard in the neighbouring village and bought some wood that would enable me to knock something together according to a plan I scribbled on the back of a bank statement envelope the previous evening. I got back to the farm. I measured everything twice and nearly got it right. I had to cut some bits out of some of the lengths to make joints that wouldn't twist and it took me a while to get my head round where and how much to cut. I even had to shape some cross-pieces that I planned to lay across the panelled-in wheel arches, because the sides of my van converge from the rear awards the sliding doors. Amazingly everything fits, more or less, apart from a frame for the foot end of the ply board bed support. I bodged that up by blocking it up with some of the wood I'd cut to make the frame; job done! It may make a chippy blush, but it's my own work and I had the best night's sleep I'd ever had in the van. I shall consider my sleeping shelf a work in progress, a bit like the leisure battery recharging operation, but I'm very happy with the results so far.

The gates don't open for festival business for another three hours, so, when I arrived last night, I had a pick of places to set up. Some of the going seemed a little soft, but I found my place and backed the van into it. I decided I would erect my shelter and "kitchen" in the dark. This also turned out better than the first time I tried to erect the shelter when I was still trying to work it out after the light had faded and it became very dark a couple of years ago. This time I was all set up in under an hour and in bed by midnight, CPAP hissing gently beside me.

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