Popping my festival cherry

Fear not dear reader, my other cherry (or cherries? – I’ll have to admit that I’m really not fully on top of this US idiom) remain intact and so this post will not veer into unduly racy territory.  However, low level smut is always a risk.

This last weekend, I attended my first proper multi-day, field-based festival.  I suspect that I did the festival-going experience in my own way (or at least, not in the traditional style) and this post will bring together some of the highlights (and the odd lowlight, but I’ll steer clear of tea-lights) of my four days at the Cambridge Folk Festival.  Apologies to those unfortunate enough to have be-friended me on Facebook (though I’d like to point out that nobody forced them to – or so I have been assuming), but some of the content of this post has been up-cycled from that platform: very much in line with the green credentials claimed by the festival.

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Before the crowds!  Not a typeface I’d advise for your dissertation…

I chose the Cambridge Folk Festival partly because I have an interest in folk music, but also because whilst it does take place in some fields, these fields are situated close to a city and one that I know well.  This meant that if the whole festival became too much, I could escape to a relatively safe space.

I did not camp either on the festival site itself or on the two other campsites offered as I felt I’d like my digs to offer a contrast to a day in a field and offer better facilities than would be forthcoming from the sort of tent I could carry on the train.  I did not choose to glamp in a luxury yurt (which I presume is a yurt with the scent of yak reduced until it is almost, but not quite, undetectable) but went with my normal choice of accommodation in a university town outside of term-time: student halls of residence.  This was my first time at Murray Edwards College (which normally focuses on young women) which is not the closest college to Cherry Hinton but was definitely the cheapest available.  It was also very comfy, offering en-suite facilities, excellent wifi, a decent breakfast and in-room biscuits: all without even a hint of yak!

The interior of my “tent” and a glimpse of the wider “campsite”!

Its distance from the festival site and the rather erratic weather did mean I made a lot of use of the local buses.  Luckily, my bus skills are second-to-none.  Not for me the slow and crowded (if recommended) Citi 3 from the city centre to the festival, not when the fast and near-empty Citi 2 is available.  BTW: I feel the Citi 2 is an excellent bus route for a pub crawl: it passes within close proximity of several of the city’s finer hostelries and, if you head southbound, ends up at Addenbrooke’s hospital to deal with any incidents related to imbibing not wisely but too well.  The combination of the Citi 2 and Citi 5 provided a near door-to-door service and use of a Megarider kept the costs below that of a single cab ride.

The CFF has much to recommend it.  There was a wide range of music with the idea of folk interpreted fairly broadly and with 3-4 gigs going on at any one time.  The sound, lighting and use of smoke was excellent and the time-keeping unexpectedly Swiss.  There was a very good range of decent cake on offer and, despite my best efforts, I did not manage to sample every possible variety.  There was also a good range of vegetarian eating options and Otter brewery’s finest to wash it all down with.

The festival was oddly secretive about running order, or indeed when the music started on day one (luckily, my years of forecasting came into their own and I correctly guessed the ~5pm start).  They did seem very clear on not bringing glass on to the site (though, as it transpired, were more than willing to sell you some in the form of an £8 commemorative tankard) and also seemed opposed to the bringing of chairs (unless age or disability made them essential).  Given the number of camping chairs on the site, I think I may have been the only person to take this second requirement seriously.

I discovered that around 5 hours at the festival, mostly at gigs, was about my limit.  The discomfort of standing in mud-capable shoes reaches some sort of critical threshold around that point and I decided it was time to do something else.  It would seem that shoes good for the ascent of Cader Idris are not necessarily ideal for standing around in: though speaking to other festival-goers, this would seem to be a tall order for any shoes (and I did see several people barefoot and I was slightly tempted to join them).  I also found that all the standing around caused significant complaint from my right buttock (my left remained happy throughout).  Luckily, I had semi-organised a range of other potential activities to keep myself amused away from the festival, giving my feet and buttocks a rest (or at least some variety).

The weather was very erratic and at times exceedingly wet, which I feel added a degree of authenticity and the mud never became too bad.  Luckily the worst of the rain was focused at times I wasn’t on site, except on Saturday evening (though Saturday night was even worse, and I was particularly glad not to be under canvas).  On these occasions, a lot of people try to squeeze into the stage tents, many of them by this stage several pints into a major session, and I did find my claustrophobia became an issue in Stage 1 (for some reason I was fine in the smaller Stage 2) and had to leave.  Still, my planning had paid off and my wet-weather gear and shoes did sterling work in keeping me dry.

Friday night was also wet, but I had strayed from the world of folk to catch some of the Cambridge Summer Music Festival.  I managed to dodge all of the rain in Trinity College Chapel listening to the glorious choral singing of Tenebrae, seated on an actual chair (I paid the modest supplement to upgrade from a pew).  Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles was particularly stunning.

Saturday morning and early afternoon I also spent in central Cambridge.  I started at the Fitzwilliam Museum where my random wanderings took me past pottery from ancient Greece and 20th century Britain and into a glorious exhibition of 17th century samplers.  I think I may have to add embroidery as a pastime to my long list of desired retirement activities.  While there, I also took in a CSMF concert covering the violin sonatas of Debussy and Strauss: a very different use of the fiddle to that in evidence a couple of miles down the road.

A friend and I then wandered over (I say wandered, more fought our way through the press of language students and tour groups) to the Arts Picturehouse for a fortifying slice of Guinness cake (very fine, and a variety not available from the festival) and to see The Big Sick.  The film is very good and funny, though did also leave me in floods of tears (and not for the last time that weekend).

Sunday morning I also spent with my friend as she demonstrated her new euphonium skills, and we jointly discovered how to properly drain the instrument.  She, along with a horn player I saw a month or so back, insist that the fluid being drained is condensation and not spit: I very nearly believe them…  That evening I also fled the folk (to an extent while the buses were still running) and spent an evening listening to live jazz at the Tram Depot: which as well as jazz offered a good range of bitters (the trams, I’m afraid, are long gone).

My favourite acts at the CFF were Talisk, the Rheingans Sisters, Thom Ashworth, Chris TT and Josie Duncan and Pablo Lafuente – but I found much to enjoy in everything I saw.  Chris TT was responsible for my second major weeping incident of the weekend.  I think he normally sings punky political songs, but on this occasion brought a punky sung vibe to the poetry of AA Milne – from Now We Are Six (among others).  I am clearly now of a certain age (though NWAS was old even when I was 6) as his rendition of Binker, especially after explaining a little of its context, reduced me to uncontrollable tears.  I had to acquire – and more importantly eat – more cake to recover (lemon and almond, if you’re interested).

I spent most of my time at Stage 2, though did enjoy the music issuing from Stage 1 when I was wandering around or acquiring and consuming victuals and beer: the Eskies seems a lot of fun!  My favourite venue was The Den with its rugs and more chilled, seated (or even more recumbent) vibe – and that’s not just my feet and buttocks talking.  It was also fun occasionally encountering impromptu sessions in the bars and cafes on the site, though there were fewer of these than I expected – perhaps they get going after the main gigs are over and I’d toddled home to my digs?  I most enjoyed the afternoon gigs and the Thursday evening when the site was less busy: I’m quite fond of humanity, but this position is best maintained by it being delivered to my “grill” in relatively small doses.

Overall I had a whale of a time and would definitely go to further festivals: as long as I could do so on my terms, i.e. with alternative, building-based activities and accommodation to allow me to break it into manageable chunks. I also really enjoyed the pseudo live blogging of my experience through Facebook and the feedback from my unwitting audience: I’ll have to see if a more “live” element could be brought to GofaDM…

Dispatches from the heart of Wessex

This will be much less portentous than the title might suggest, frankly I’ve just been to Winchester again.  This time I went by bus – well, there wan’t much choice it was either the bus or a rail-replacement bus.  I went with the always-a-bus, which whilst slightly more expensive does offer an almost door-to-door service – in addition to its greater authenticity.  The real bus offers a more scenic route (past the vast houses and estates of the über-rich) and provides free wifi and charging sockets for your gadgets – something which only the first class passenger lucky enough to catch a Class 444 unit could hope to experience on Southwest Trains.  In fact, bus companies generally seem to have stolen a march on their rail-based counterparts with much better facilities for the yoof market (of which I am obviously an outlying part) – and often more comfy seats and better legroom.

As you may have guessed, my return was to enjoy the final concert of the Winchester Chamber Music Festival.  The festival is organised around the London Bridge Trio and friends (and some very fine friends they were).  I know London likes to imagine itself as the cat’s pyjamas (or the dog’s nightie – well, this is a family blog and I like to imagine parents and children huddled around it squealing with delight) and a step above we mere provincials, but even in the capital I think playing Bridge with only three people is going to be a challenge.

Whilst the afternoon provided a further gem from the diadem of Antonín Leopold Dvořák, my primary reason for going was to see the last (in my personal timeline) of Schubert’s three great song cycles: Die schöne Müllerin.  This was an incredible piece of music and unusually, at least at the start, not swamped by sadness. However, I did have an ulterior motive in going which was to pick up tips for my own singing career – which could feature Die schöne Müllerin in the (very distant) future given that it is pitched at the baritone performer.  As a result, I was studying Ivan Ludlow like a hawk – mostly to improve my breathing, though as a bonus I also learned some more about German pronunciation (despite this, I fear I shall never be able to reproduce the language with the relaxed speed Ivan managed in a couple of the songs).  Ivan was wearing rather a loose suit jacket (for the avoidance of doubt, he was also wearing the trousers), so much of his breathing took place behind closed doors (as it were) – nevertheless, I could spot a major difference between his approach to breathing and mine.  In the run-up to a long phrase or a bunch of high notes, my chest heaves not unlike that of the youthful Barbara Windsor just before the explosive shedding of her brassière while that of Mr Ludlow hardly moves.  I am forced to deduce that he is breathing from his diaphragm (and below) as I have been taught, but largely fail to achieve.  When I rule the world (and it can’t be long now, I reckon in the chaos following Thursday’s election there could well be a golden opportunity for me to seize the reins of power), all singers will be required to wear clothing which is skin-tight from nipples to navel that I might study their technique.

As I took my unreserved seat at the concert (in the front row which offers harder seats, but  much better legroom), I noticed the seat next to mine was reserved in the name of “Mr and Mrs Woodd”.  Initially, I was disappointed and felt the name should have launched with a pair of Ws, but then I realised the name already worked perfectly: double-U, double-O, double-D.  How pleasing!  Knocks my own name’s feeble attempts with a doubled letter into a cocked hat.

The concert ran a little longer than expected so I had a 40 minute wait for the bus home.  As a result I was forced (forced, I tell you!) to seek succour in the Old Vine.  My succour took the form of a pint of Saxon Bronze from the local Alfred’s brewery (he seems to have abandoned the baking after a well-publicised failure).  You may think that bronze should be smelted or cast, but trust me the brewed version is much better (positively ambrosiac) – if this brew had been the eponym behind the Bronze Age, I don’t think the human race would have bothered with iron.

Edinburgh delights

There are many joys to being in Edinburgh – and not just the various arts related festivals at this time of the year.

Friday night, as I was waiting for my bus on Princes Street, the city staged a firework display to keep me entertained.  You don’t see that in Cambridge!  The buses, once they arrive, are also substantially cheaper than their Cambridge counterparts (and more frequent).  OK, I’ll admit that the fireworks might have been related to the Tattoo – but in my solipsistic world they seemed timed for my personal pleasure.

Whilst the south-east of England has been roasting in unpleasantly high temperatures (in my opinion), Edinburgh has been much more temperate – and surprisingly dry.  Yesterday afternoon, it did rain for a while but I managed to miss most of it filling my face with a truly prodigious volume of vegetarian fare at Henderson’s Bistro.  I seriously approve of their portion sizes: a starter for two which lives up to its name, rather than being a disappointingly small snack for one.  I also hope this single incident will cover two concerns for readers relating to previous coverage of this year’s Festival which apparently lacked sufficient references to food and rain.  No-one should fear that I am suffering any lack of sustenance.

But the best thing about Edinburgh is the drinking policy.  Down south, pubs throw you out at around 23:00 – but here they throw you in at 22:00.  It doesn’t seem to be that important if you were already drinking and are just choosing to enjoy the cool evening air, or are merely passing by.  I think the policy is that it is now 10pm and you are in Scotland, so you should be drinking.

I have also been introduced, for the first time, to the work of Messers Innis and Gunn – Edinburgh brewers to toffs and gentry (and me).  In those venues where the draft drinking options are limited to over-chilled, fizzy yellow muck, the work of I&G is available in bottles and very potable it is too.  Quite strong though – and I haven’t been brave enough to try the “Rum Finish” yet (though it does look a lovely colour and the tasting notes are tempting.  Actually, the whole Innis and Gunn website is rather fine, I particularly recommend their spider graphs!).  In conjunction with a rewed acquaintance with the fine folk of Brewdog, I fear my alcohol consumption might best be measured not so much in units but tens (assuming we are working in decimal).

Five old rings

I am hoping this title will allow me to stay free of the clutches of the LOCOG brand police, but this will be a post about the orgy of sport (and pseudo-sport) about to engulf London.

This evening we will have the Opening Ceremony, though this seems slightly tardy as the sporting events started a couple of days ago.  Oddly, these events, which form part of the London Olympics, have been held in places as far afield as Cardiff and Glasgow – the latter being almost 350 miles from London.  I think that even Ryanair would be a little embarrassed to land in Glasgow and claim it was a London airport – or perhaps not, “Welcome to London Prestwick”, anybody?  Forget building new airport capacity in the Thames estuary or expanding Heathrow, let’s build the new London airport in South Ayrshire!

I had thought that hiding out in South Cambs, I would be relatively unaffected by the “games”, but it seems not.  Strange foreign and retired buses have been sighted around Cambridge this week – visitors from Lincoln, Northampton and the scrap-yard – and I had vaguely wondered why: there had been no obvious increase in service frequency that would require extra vehicles.  My local free paper explained the reason: our nice new buses have been taken to ferry athletes around “London” – though if they were real athletes they’d make their own way (though I will accept it is quite a long walk/bike ride/swim to Glasgow).  Surely, athletes (and officials) cycling (or walking) along the special Olympic Lanes around London would be a much more inspiring sight than seeing them imprisoned within buses or limos?  Would this not provide a stronger message leading to a long-term boost to the nation’s fitness and cleaner air through reduced car usage?  Let’s keep the Olympic lanes, but allocate them to human-powered modes of transport!

However, the final straw came earlier in the week when I bought my copy of the Mortician’s Gazette (aka The Radio Times) – still the only listings magazine which gives any degree of coverage of he radio.  The price had increased by more than 40% – not because it was listing any more television or radio, in fact, in many ways rather less as several channels are showing nothing but the extended sportsday – but presumably to fund the unwanted Olympic supplement.  Surely, as little more than extra advertising, this should have reduced the cost of the publication rather than increasing it?

My own protest is limited to refusing to buy anything from any company sponsoring the games – not much of an imposition as I would be avoiding the vast majority of the corporations involved regardless of their sport-bothering commercial activities due to more quotidian issues with the products or ethics.  However, in conjunction with a refusal to buy bottled water (we have perfectly good di-hydrogen monoxide available from the tap) or any liquid which claims to provide some health benefit, this did make it rather tricky to acquire a cold (non-alcoholic) drink on Tuesday night to refresh me after a rather warm ride into Cambridge to see an excellent concert structured around Paganini’s time in the UK.  Some days, I do wonder if I suffer from a form of OCD…

Still, I wouldn’t like to leave you with the impression that the Olympics have brought nothing positive to the country.  As an all too regular visitor to Woking, I had almost grown inured to the quality of the roads in that Surrey town: roads that most developing nations would be embarrassed to host, roads so poor that the speed bumps provide the smoothest portion of any driven or cycled journey.  Well, some sort of sporting endeavour is taking place in the environs of Woking, and the good burghers of that town were concerned that the world-at-large would seem their secret shame were there to be any helicopter coverage – and so, by the last time I visited many of the worst offenders had been miraculously re-surfaced.  £15 billion well spent.  (OK, perhaps they could have re-surfaced the roads slightly more cheaply – but it’s the thought that counts!).

Stalking

Or should that be buttering?  It’s so hard to tell the difference.  NB: Anyone under the age of around 35, should ask a parent or grandparent to explain that last quip.  Perhaps I should try to write more material which could be understood (if not actually enjoyed) by a slightly younger demographic?

Anyway, I’m probably exaggerating to say I spent yesterday stalking the cast of Being Human (or at least two of them), it was more a case of a themed (or high-concept) day out – rather like the themed evenings so popular with the controllers of even-numbered TV channels in these Isles.  Whilst the day was constructed backwards to achieve its thematic ends, for the sake of narrative clarity I shall describe the day using the arrow of time pointing in its traditional direction: i.e. you should expect to see overall entropy increasing as this account progresses.

The meat of the day started at the National, with my second viewing of Travelling Light.  This was an experiment as I have never seen the same play (or more accurately, production) twice before – though have often re-read a book or seen a film or TV programme more than once – an experiment made more than possible by lastminute.com (other discount theatre ticket sites are available, and may well be better).  I don’t use this very often, but occasionally it offers a serious bargain – and as I was going to be in London anyway, the cost of my experiment was very low (only 20% of the cost of the first attendance and in an even better seat).  The production certainly rewards a second viewing, and I did catch things that I missed the first time – curiously, I also found it a rather sadder story this time: it would seem that familiarity breeds melancholia (in me at least).

Despite the excellent prune and almond slice in the interval (a fine recommendation by a member of NT staff), after play #1 it was time for an early dinner before play #2.  Working with the day’s leitmotif, I went with a restaurant recommendation tweeted by the star of both TL and BH the previous week (lest you think I am letting adherence to the theme overcome my critical faculties, I did check his view against more established critics of fine dining first).  I may have to buy Damien Molony a pint (or several): not only has he provided me entertainment through his acting, he has introduced me to what is now my favourite place to eat in London.  10 Greek Street offers excellent food, friendly staff and unexpectedly low prices for central London – it is even conveniently sited in Soho (so easy to go to before, after or between cultural activities).  The only potential downside is that it seems pretty popular (even before being introduced to the massive worldwide audience of GofaDM) and does not allow reservations – but, I prefer (and usually need) to eat early and, even on a Saturday, arrival at 17:30 means that obtaining a seat is no problem.

From Soho, I had to make my way to Dalston for my second play of the day – in fact, East London (I place I have rarely visited before) was a secondary theme for the day, as my trains into town were diverted offering me a magical, mystery (and rather slow) tour of Stratford.  The journey to E8 involved the #38 bus, and this was an early example of Boris’ exciting new take on the Routemaster concept.  Whilst these do look to have involved a “designer” and do have the trademark open platform at the back – with a sort of conductor to ensure people dismount safely – I fear they do rather betray the fact that the Mayor has never actually used a bus (and probably isn’t too sure what they are for).  The bus has three sets of double doors – one at the front, one in the middle and the open platform at the back – and two staircases – on at the front and one at the back.  All these features which allow easy passenger flow both on and off the vehicle do come at rather a high price: the bus has an only slightly higher passenger carrying capacity than my Toyota IQ.  Still, I was lucky enough to rest my weary limbs on one of the few seats ‘up top’ (a space with very low ceilings).  I also noticed a complete absence of opening windows; there was the sound of a fan, so the bus may have had aircon (not terribly wise for a space constantly open to the outside) but it was not very successful, leading to a rather warm and humid trip east.  Still, a brave attempt at design by someone who had obviously never seen or used a bus – and, he can only improve with his subsequent efforts (fortunately, as a citizen of Sawston, I am not paying for his training through my Council Tax).

I was in Dalston to visit the Arcola theatre – which seemed to be in a once industrial space (you can still see the joists and girders) and offered an even more intimate experience than a small Elizabethan theatre.  I must admit I rather like this fact as I’m not a fan of huge performance spaces to the extent that I generally refuse to see stuff in the relatively modest environs of the Cambridge Corn Exchange as it is too large and impersonal.  The play was from East Germany (though, fortunately translated into English as my German is largely limited to words relating to power stations): The Conquest of the South Pole by Manfred Karge.  Despite my broadening theatrical horizons, this was quite unlike anything I’d seen before, for example, it contained poetry and characters talking about what they were saying to each other, rather than saying it.  It had an amazing energy to it and was very entertaining and funny at times (laying to rest at least one rather tired stereotype), though I wouldn’t like to claim I fully understood it (the line between reality and fantasy did become rather blurred to me: so, much like real life in that respect).  So, if anyone could explain who Frankieboy was, I’d be terribly grateful.  I’m not sure what the 11 year old lass sitting a couple of seats from me made of it, but she didn’t seem to be unduly traumatised.  I’m seeing another German play in a few weeks, so I think I better start training my intellectual muscles now – perhaps its time to tackle some Brecht?

As is now well established, my attention can wander at the best of times.  Towards the end of the play, I did find myself worrying about Andrew Gower’s cholesterol level – he is required to eat rather a lot of less than healthy fare during the production and over a month’s run this is going to take its toll on his figure.  However, the largest source of potential  distraction, in every way, was the back of the man’s head in front and to the left of me.  It wasn’t in the way much at all, but it was absolutely massive: I have never seen such a vast head.  His body seemed fairly normally proportioned, so  I’m still amazed that he was able to hold all that weight upright for the full 90 minutes.  He must have some serious neck muscles or a very light brain.

I think I shall return to the Arcola: East London is not as remote as I’ve always believed, tickets are cheap, the demographic was a lot younger than most of my cultural activities and the place had a lovely feel to it.  I shall also have to try more, randomly themed days-out: it seems to encourage the trying of new things, which is always good for the middle-aged stick-in-the-mud!

Unanswered Ad Questions: One

As I cycle about my business, I often pass (and am in turn passed by) buses – sometimes as many as 5 times by the same bus as I trundle along the Hills Road.  For some reason, today I found that a couple of the advertisements, that adorn the sides of these monarchs of the road, raised questions that they failed to answer.

One was drawing our attention to a film named “Paul” – I presume a biopic about the French boulanger whose outlets now garnish some of our larger rail termini.  The main “pull” for this flick is the fact that it shared producers with the earlier comic masterwork “Hot Fuzz”.  Now, I am no Barry Norman as we have previously established, but I’m not sure why a shared production team would encourage me to haul myself to a cinema. I would certainly be willing to take a view on the script and acting of a previous movie, I might at a push admire the direction and editing and I could possibly even say something cogent about costume or props.  However, in my limited understanding of the movie business I thought that producer was basically a management role – and from seeing a film I have little idea how well managed it was as a project.  Was SSADM or PRINCE followed?  Did it come in on time and budget?  Equally, even if “Paul” was produced by a team with a history of using established project management systems and delivering to time and budget, I’m not sure that this acts as any sort of recommendation to me as fan of bread-maker themed cinema (though, if I were financing the movie I might well be reassured).  Surely, they could just have successfully used a strap-line like, “Catered by the same team that fed Pride and Prejudice” for all the clues that it would give as to the film’s desirability as a night out.

The other advertisement drew attention to a video game (I think it may have been what is known as a first person shooter – probably set in some sort of dystopian future as that is de rigeur for the genre, though I will admit such a game would be a little out of place in a utopian one) and the draw here was a summary of a review.  The review précis came in two parts – a numeric score and a compound adjective.  The score was a creditable 9 out of 10 which equated to the adjective “mind-blowing”.  This left me wondering what adjective would have been used had it scored the full 10 – how could blowing of the mind be bettered?  Or would we be looking to blow something better than a mere mind?  (It might help if I knew whether the reviewer was a dualist or not – dualism is very much a minority view among neuroscientists, but I have no idea how pervasive it is in the video game reviewing community).  Perhaps a standard scale could be published so that we know what adjective should be married to each score, otherwise confusion will surely reign.

Or is it just that I’m over-thinking these things?