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.

IMG_20170727_163422986

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…

Three Nights in Southampton

I have, of course, spent rather more than a trilogy of nights in Southampton – despite my regular excursions across the water to Hibernia – but in the interest of brevity will limit the scope of this post to the a recent run of three.  This post is both a response to a lot of recent fun and to the discovery (indirect) that some of the more priviledged indigenes of the Chichester area seem to view Southampton as a Hampshire based dystopia, a south-coast Somalia if you will (a reference which may be a tad dated).

I will start with Thursday and a stroll to the wilds of Shirley.  The evening proper began with a stiffener at the Overdraft: a craft ale bar which brings a hint of Brooklyn to the south coast (as long as you don’t look out of the windows).  Despite being a craft ale bar, it is usually easy to “keep it session” (as we PCDs say) from the ever changing selection of cask ales.  So the author retained the vast majority of his sobriety for the short stroll up to the Santo Lounge.  The Lounge is a sort of bar-cum-cafe, but on Thursday night played host to a little corrner of Spain.  Jero Ferec, guitarrista of this parish (or at least with links to one nearby) was peforming: with three female colleagues from Spain providing the bulk of the cante and baile.  It was an incredible night of music, complex rhythms and energetic dance: by the second half it seemd the whole cafe was enrapt.  I was left with a strong desire to go back to Iberia and brush up my horribly rusty Spanish (though I fear I will still struggle with the pressure to eat very late at night).  In case you were worrying, the evening – in common with all three I shall be describing – also offered some excellent cake: it is, after all, thirsty work watching people exert themselves for my entertainment and it is very dangerous to partake of liquids without the natural safety harness we find in cake.  Also, with the gig being free, I felt it was encumbent on me to support a local venue via the method of cake consumption (it’s not that I wanted to, more that I felt an obligation, you should understand).

The photo above I have “borrowed” from my Facebook feed as it appears to have been captured by a vastly more competent student of the photgraphic arts than I (he or she may also have brought better equipment – not that doing the same would necessarily have improved my own efforts by much, merely weaken this particular workman’s tool-related attempts to shift the blame).

Friday evening brought another free gig, this time at the Notes Cafe with the folk-inflected trio Tenderlore, who I had always assumed were local.  However, researching this post indicates that while they met at university here, they hail from across the south: Rob from the traumatic (to me) site of my driving test(s).  If I slept at night, I would no doubt still be haunted by nighmare visions of the hills and junctions of Herne Bay.  A totally different musical vibe to Thursday night, but the blending of voices and strings (and the occasional ‘ting’ from a glockenspiel) with music both complex and catchy made for a really enjoyable night.  It was also my first encounter with the U-bass, which is a bass for the player with limited carrying capacity – basically a ukelele with massively thick rubber strings – which is suprisingly effective (and I imagine, comfy on the fingers).  One of the best things about the modest gigs I go to in Southampton (other than the intimacy of the experience) is that not only the audience, but also the band are usually clearing having a really good time.  Even Rob was unusually smiley (not that I’m an expert on the effusiveness of his facial expressions, but I was under the impression he was known for his poker-face).  On this occasion, my cake served to protect me from the risk of an unaccompanied rosé: well, it is summer and I’m confident in my almost complete lack of sexuality (plus it was on special offer – and my momma didn’t raise no fool!).

On Saturday evening, for the first time in this post, I had to part with money (though not very much) to go to a gig: this time at the Art House Cafe.  This was the most unknown of the week’s musical offerings: an Italian group called Armonite who play violin-rock (not a concept of whose existence I was previously aware) with influences from the prog-rock of my youth.  They were amazing – and by some distance the loudest thing I’ve heard at the Art House.  Their set alternated between their own compositions and violin-rock versions of film scores.  Having heard the latter, this is definitely the best way to score a film (well, perhaps not during the quiet bits).  I (and the lucky few in the audience) had a ridiculous amount of fun and will have no cause to count our manhood cheap: as some 7 billion of the rest of you might.  Below is a ‘selfie’ taken by the band of themselves (the 4 youthful Italian-looking chaps in the foreground) and the audience (general older, less Latin in apppearance and further away).  For the avoidance of doubt (and anyone who knows what the author looks like), the expression on the face of the chap standing to my immediate right has nothing to do with me: I suspect he may have a medical condition (or have imbibed not wisely, but too well).

I feel the violin, at least in its electric form coupled to a Pod HD500X (which is the coolest looking set of effects pedals I’ve ever seen) , may have missed its métier.  It’s all very well en-masse in an orchestra, but perhaps its natural home is fronting some hard rock.  The bass was also rather an impressive beast: 5-strings and the biggest head I’ve ever seen on a guitar-derived instrument.  It looked like it weighed a ton.

In my recent gig-going, I have seen a wide range of stringed instruments wired for sound, even a viola: though that was an acoustic instrument with a mike.  I have never seen even a partially electrified viola da gamba: let alone a fully electric version.  And don’t get me started on the theorbo or the violone.  I think I’ve identified a gap in the market and will be going into production, just soon as I can clear my current to-do list and get myself vaguely organised (so, don’t hold your breath or anything fragile, folks).

Three nights, three great gigs, three totally different styles of music, musicians from three countries.  To paraphrase a local musician, Southampton “is not a shit-hole”, though this is not (as yet) the city’s motto.  (I apologise for the language, but I’ve heard worse of Radio 4 at 18:30, so it can’t be that shocking).  Sometime it almost has too much culture: on Friday there were at least two other gigs I was tempted by in the city:  I need to work on my tele-prescence (or cloning – though I refuse to live with any of my clones, one of me is quite enough).

Orange megaphone

“Where is he going with this title?” you may wonder.  The thought “Why has he been so poor at updating the blog of late?” might also have crossed your mind.  At most one of these questions will receive an answer (though not necessarily a satisfactory one) in the text that inevitably follows.

Southampton is a city of hidden delights.  Before moving here, I checked to see that it had all of my vital needs covered: an art house cinema, a theatre, a classical music venue, a John Lewis, decent rail links (in theory at least) and a blood donor centre.  A slightly odd list of needs – and certainly one which suggests I see myself as some way from the foot of Mr Maslow’s triangular hierarchy.  This post will cover none of these key conditions precedent to my relocation, but a lucky find that has oft been mentioned before in this blog will now be thrust into the limelight.

On my first visit to Southampton (as an adult, I may have come here as a child), to reconnoitre the town and view my flat-to-be, my first stop after leaving the station was the Art House Cafe for a spot of lunch.  No-one wants to meet an estate agent on an empty stomach (or, indeed, at all).  The internet had pointed out the cafe to me as a likely spot to offer some cake-centred breaking of my relatively brief fast.  The internet had not been economical with the truth and I was suitably fortified before my rendezvous.

Time passed (as is its wont).

I then discovered that the Art House also staged events, and so went to a few comedy nights there – at this stage, all starring Andrew O’Neill who managed to bring three different shows in a year.  After this lengthy introduction to their first-floor ‘venue’ (fools may rush in, but I don’t like to be so easily typecast), I branched out and started to attend some of their fairly regular musical offerings.  These have now become the mainstay of the rapid recent growth in my CD collection.

Going to a gig at the Art House is not unlike having the music performed in your front room – except, their venue is a little larger than my deceptively-spacious (OK, small) lounge and has a vastly better sound system (indeed, for my money offers the best venue sound in Southampton other, perhaps, than Turner Sims).  I nearly almost always manage to sit in the front row – offering good leg-room and allowing my glasses to remain in their case – as others seem to fear the potential for audience participation (though this has only happened rarely, despite my obvious star quality).  They also book the ‘talent’ and deal with all the admin and set-up (and down) – which is a major boon.

As a cafe, they can also provide drinks to satisfy both the temperate and the dipsomaniac, which can be consumed during the gig from ceramic or vitreous vessels (no plastic beakers here), and a selection of food, including cake.  Somehow, the lack of an interval ice cream is much easier to bear if a thick slice of cake is available in its stead.  Their cake is vegan – not something I have ever attempted to make at home – and I have no idea what they use in lieu of eggs (and will perhaps be happier remaining in ignorance), but the results are delicious.  As I have discovered over the last week, they also make the best mince pies in Southampton (based on my slightly limited, but growing, experience).

I have enjoyed some wonderful music there: recent highlights include the folk and gypsy-jazz infused work of Kadia (unusual, perhaps, for having a cellist on lead vocal) and the more classically strung delights of the Stringbeans Quartet (who improvised not one but two pieces in a key and style of the audience’s choosing: apparently C# Major is quite the challenge).

However, due to a recent rather dilatory approach to this blog, this post has been hanging around as an unfinished draft for quite a while and so the inspiration for putting digits to keyboard was a Sunday afternoon gig way back in October.  This was even more intimate than usual with myself lounging on a comfy sofa with a truly massive chunk of cake (and a responsible pot of tea) to enjoy some Hungarian indie synth pop from The Kolin.  I had zero idea in advance what they might be like, but the gig was amazing fun: the only disappointment being that they did not sing in Hungarian. How the band came to be performing in my local cafe/venue, on their four date UK tour, I have no idea but I’m grateful for the improbable juxtaposition.

The band have a certain fame for the use of body paint, rather than more traditional habiliments.  However, on the day they were fully clothed though I fear the drummer may have taken his style tips from the Swingtown Lads (perhaps ironically).  However, painting was still much in evidence – with some incredible face and body painting going on to one side of the stage (the stuff you see on children was as nothing to this) and a mural being painted on the other.  An afternoon at the Art House can truly be a gesamtkunstwerk.

The lead singer (keyboard player and driving force) of The Kolin as well as using a normal-seeming mike also used the style of microphone I had previously associated with taxi drivers and policeman for some lyrics.  For one song, he even used an orange megaphone (see figure 1).

Orange Megaphone

Figure 1: The title explained!

As you will glimpse, they are also the first band I’ve seen at the Art House who brought their own neon signage!  (You can also see a corner of the Muriel and the artist hard at work).

This reminds me of another great thing about an Art House gig: the performers seem to enjoy themselves as much as the audience.  It is wonderful to see musicians clearly having a really good time: it makes for a special evening (or afternoon) out.  While many of my readers may not have the good fortune to be local to Above Bar Street (oddly, not famed for its subterranean drinking dens), I suspect many a town or city will have a decent, independent music (and more) venue and at a time of year when people are making new resolutions might I suggest people plan to check out their local ‘Art House’ in 2016.  You probably won’t regret it (and I’m sure they could use your support) – and I’m taking no responsibility even if you do.  The buck doesn’t even slow down here.

Mystic Moor

For some time, the class of men’s magazines that focus on the six-pack rather than fast cars or loose women has been promoting the idea that we should return our diets to those of our oldest, stone-age ancestors.  I rather fear that this idea is based more on a repeated viewings of a fur-bikini clad Raquel Welch fleeing Ray Harryhausen’s dinosaurs than on any serious academic study of paleolithic life.  As a result, it has little scientific credibility – but remains oddly popular.  On the plus side, it does encourage lower consumption of refined sugar which is certainly a good thing (unless you are a shareholder in Tate and Lyle)  – but to find such a diet in general use we need only roll back the clock a couple of centuries or so.

In fact, we need turn the clock back only 20 years to find the first reference to such a diet (that I know of) in Ben Moor’s seminal radio series Elastic Planet.  In the finest episode – The Train – one of the passengers sharing our compartment started an ill-feted restaurant called Le Néolithe which served only food from the stone age.  Does Ben have the second sight?  Or was this merely a lucky guess on his part?

Anyway, in the spirit of scientific enquiry (and in the hope of some content for GofaDM) whilst in Earl’s Court (unexpectedly devoid of uptalk) I partook of a soi-disant paleo brownie.  For the avoidance of doubt, this does not follow the discovery of a flint woggle or a Neanderthal counterpart to Baden-Powell, but would fall under the broad umbrella of cake (delicious, but impractical in any but the lightest of showers).  This was very tasty – and so it should be, comprised as it was largely of nuts and dried fruit – and since my return I have investigated recipes for this sweetmeat.  Unexpectedly, these all turn out to be vegan – not what One Million Years BC (released in the year of my birth) might have led us to expect.

These recipes suggest that our stone-age ancestors were considerable more advanced than is generally recognised.  Requiring cocoa from the Americas, almonds and dates from the Middle East, coffee from Africa and coconuts from Melanesia our forebears must have been prodigious travellers – or had vast trading networks in place – just to obtain the raw ingredients.  I know they were supposed to be hunter-gatherers but that is some serious gathering!  It certainly suggests that excessive food-miles is not a new issue.

Once the ingredients were assembled, they would have had to grind the almonds to make flour, dry the dates and extract oil from the coconut – plus find a source of baking powder and some well controlled heat (175°C for 25-30 minutes) and knap some stone cookware before their brownie dreams could be brought to fruition.  Wild almonds are far from safe, containing as they do worrying levels of prussic acid which the grinding process would liberate, and so many cavemen must have lost their lives while the brownie was being perfected.

I’m all for pushing back the human discovery of cake but wouldn’t all this industry have left some marks in the archeological record?  Surely, there must have been easier cakes (or even biscuits) for the Pleistocene baker to attempt – and their audience would be far more forgiving than a modern one (and possessed of a rather less sweet tooth, I would guess).  I reckon some sort of rather basic (so no icing) tuber-based “carrot” cake, perhaps using mammoth lard, might be a goer.  The flour-substitute would be a challenge, but gluten free “flour” seems to be made from all manner of stuff, so I’m sure a determined ancestor could have found something by trial-and-error – or our proto-Mary Berry could just spend a very long time collecting each odd stalk of emmer or einkorn encountered as they hunted and gathered: hard work, but a lot less globe-trotting than the brownie needed.  Academics have posited many reasons for the start of settled agriculture some 8-10,000 years back – but could it be as simple as the desire for better, more easily made cake?  I do like the idea that cake – rather than any of the other, less tasty things suggested by mainstream science – is in fact the foundation of modern, human civilisation.  Perhaps SETI, rather than seeking a radio signal from aliens should be searching the spectra of distant star systems for the unmistakable markers of lemon drizzle cake?  My soon-to-be best-selling book expanding on this idea will be in the shops by Christmas!

Leaving the rat race

As I come to write, I am struck with the rather strange nature of the phrase “rat race”. The human race has forced a fair variety of animals to race against each other for our entertainment (and, more often, as a basis for a wager or three) over the years – but never so far as I know the rat. Then again, as previously established I am no great authority in the field of sport, so perhaps one of Sky’s more obscure sports channels does offer aficionados the chance to see members of genus Rattus going head-to-head on the track.

I should also make clear that despite the title, I have never knowingly participated in competitive sporting endeavour with any creature claiming allegiance to Order Rodentia.  In fact, I try to avoid running under any circumstances – competitive or not – as I can move quite swiftly walking and where that is insufficient would prefer to use my bike.

OK, title successfully deconstructed we can move on…

I recently spent a week on holiday not far from Barmouth (Abermaw) in west Wales.  This was a week of hiking, cake consumption and generally eating well (even if I says so as shouldn’t as I did most of the cooking) and (mostly) avoiding the responsibilities and stresses for my “normal” life.  For the most part as I did this, I was surrounded by beautiful scenery and the sun shone on my upturned apple cheeks (for the avoidance of doubt, this is not evidence of my desire for an “all-over” tan – my skin is ageing fast enough without encouragement from the sun’s ultry-violet rays).  Even my base was set in stunning grounds with views down to the Mawddach estuary and across to the Cader range.

In such circumstances, a chap’s mind quite naturally started to wonder if it was really necessary to return to the real world.  I’m not that materialistic (am I?) and surely I could survive on the salary I could draw working in a cake shop – and with all those mountains, I should be able to ameliorate the worst of the side effects of my eating any (or all) of the surplus stock (well, I do hate to see good food go to waste – much better that it go to waist!).  The desire to leave the rat race was particularly strong on my last day, the Sunday.  I was dropped off in Dolgellau and went for a walk around the town – a walk taken from the excellent range of guides produced by Kittiwake (I have yet to find a bad one in any of their walks in this part of Wales – and most have been excellent with very good directions).  Unlike previous years, T H Roberts is now open on a Sunday so I could have a pre-exertion slice of cake.  The walk was good with nice views of the town and it environs.  After the walk I had a little time to kill until my bus would take me back home, and so wandered over to the village cricket pitch.  I think this may have the most beautiful setting of any cricket ground in the world – and I suspect is unique in boasting a stone circle in the outfield.  As I sat there, with the River Wnion behind me and the sound of willow on leather before, it was very tempting to never leave.  With luck a photo should illustrate my point, but WordPress has made major changes to its interface so rather than permitting simple attachment it is now part of a “gallery” (presumably, they will be unable to return my pictures, but I may win a prize).

Eventually I did leave, if only to consume some post-exercise cake from the TH Cafe (you can never be too careful) and catch my bus.  There are some things I’d miss if I lived somewhere quite so remote – a viable mobile phone signal and decent broadband for sure.  I’d also miss the cultural activities that are possible living in and near more major conurbations – though saying that, I did have a lot of fun at Theatr Fach in Dolgellau with a two-man performance of Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime.  The other downside is that it is a long way from anywhere and I probably would have to run a car, as public transport is somewhat limited (though there was a later bus home from Dolgellau to my lodgings than Stagecoach offered the Sawston resident on a night out in Cambridge!).  On the plus side, I would note that the roads around Barmouth are the best (in terms of surface quality and traffic) of any I have seen in the UK – not much dual carriageway, but then who needs to hurry?

Still, on balance, I shall continue giving the other “rats” a run for their money – but I was (and remain) sorely tempted.  If “the man” pushes me too far or the stresses of life in the over-populated south grow too much, I could easily return to the land of my fathers – and I have always meant to learn Welsh to honour my roots.  Watch this space…

 

Delayed gratification

An art which we are slowly losing (perhaps) in our impatient, always-on, easy credit society.  So many now expect their wants and desires to be satisfied NOW, not even in 5 minutes time.  I am no more immune to this process than the next man (or, probably, woman) – though whenever I am waiting impatiently by a printer I do try and remember the days when dot-matrix was the height of technology and the printing of a 10 page document was a major undertaking (rather than a 60 second wait).  Nevertheless, delaying one’s gratification can add significant savour to its eventual delivery.

A couple of weeks back, I was in West Wales aiming once again to ascend the greatest, if not actually the highest, of Welsh peaks: Cader Idris.  I last accomplished this feat (unaccompanied and without the use of oxygen – other than that supplied by nature) in 1983: I know this as I used some of the photos I took at the time in my AO-level Geography Project.  I’d hoped to repeat the ascent (by the pony path) when I visited the area in 2010 and 2011 but the weather had not played ball, with the peak shrouded by cloud, even on otherwise sunny days.  This year, I was determined – and the weather forecast positive – and so began the ascent despite the clouds once again hiding my objective from view.  Before attempting such a daring feat, I had (of course) fortified myself with cake from T H Roberts – the finest cake supplier in Dolgellau (and, for my money, the realm) – something I had missed these past three years (and all the sweeter for it).

As the ascent continued, blue sky began to appear on the horizon – but Cader itself remained stubbornly occulted.  As I reached the Saddle, I too was engulfed in the clouds – but there were occasional breaks through which the sun-lit view was briefly revealed.  On reaching the summit, these shafts of clear view grew more common and broader and the stunning scenery of Wales was revealed in ever larger chunks and longer glimpses.  This produced a truly magical effect, and made me (at least) appreciate the views all the more.  As the descent began, the clouds lifted and all was revealed.  Often the descent can be an anti-climax as you’ve already seen everything and reached the top – but on this hike, the views going down were all new which added to the whole experience.   I can truly say that the mountain did not disappoint, and it was well worth the 31 year wait!

I must admit that I was not alone on the mountain that day, though it was hardly crowded – well, unless you count the skylarks and meadow pipits who were out in force (serenading me, I like to think).  Some hardy souls were already coming down as I began my ascent – these foolish folk who had seen nothing but cloud should have enjoyed a little leisurely cake before their day began.  In this case, gratifying one desire to delay another paid dividends.  Never underestimate the power of good cake to make your day a better one!

I like to think that my gymnastic training was helpful on the hike – all that balancing on one leg was really handy – but it was by no means essential as I dragged both of my parents (who, in the traditional manner, when lacking access to a TARDIS, are a tad older than me and who had not indulged in similar training) up there with me.  Lest you feel I am overly cruel, I didn’t force them with the aid of a rawhide whip – though they hadn’t intended to make the whole ascent – it just happened and we kept thinking the summit was closer than was actually the case as (a) it was hidden and (b) it was more than 30 years since any of us had last made this climb.

To silence the doubters among the readership, here is a picture of me lolling insouciantly against the trig point at the summit (with one parent – the other was holding the camera).

Top of the world, ma!

Top of the world, ma!

I should also point out that like the heroes of those Republic Serials of the 1940s (think King of the Rocket Men), my hat did not leave my head at any point on the climb – however, energetic I was (though no frenzied fist-fights broke out in my case).  It is never a mistake to be stylish!

A life, summarised

Earlier today I wandered into town to seek a new lightbulb (or compact fluorescent equivalent – for which the word “bulb” seems a rather poor descriptor given its form).  A little time later I returned from town, sans “bulb” but with four new books and a bottle of wine (and one of marsala).

If there had been some cake consumed in the interim, this journey would form a near perfect précis of my life (or, at least, my nature).

By the way, the lack of the object of my excursion was not down to any lack of application on my part – but to the strange uniqueness of the required fitting for my lamp.  I rather fear that my lamp may be the betamax or laser-disc of its species – and its obsolescence all too built-in.  Oh dear, back to a summary of my own life…