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…

Unexpected compliments

This is the first (and probably last) in a new series of posts, which will occur after our author receives an unexpected compliment (please note, the word “unexpected” is entirely redundant in this sentence).

I don’t think I suffer from body dysmorphia to any serious extent.  My hair is a constant disappointment to me, largely down to its uncooperative nature and the fact that my crown is on somebody else’s head.  I’ve always felt my eyes let the side down as well: as I’ve often remarked over the years, if I’d had brown eyes I’d be ruling the world by now.  Without doubt, I could usefully be shorter given the rather compact design of much of the modern world, but for now I just have to fold myself up using some form of human origami.  However, on the whole I take my body as a given and work round its various foibles and features.  I’ve never really been tempted to have it altered surgically or to put a huge amount of effort into it, beyond basic maintenance and the continuing desire to make it do improbable or entertaining things.

The continuing issues with my right foot meant that yesterday I went to see a physio for both a second opinion and some ideas for a recovery strategy.  Pleasingly, my diagnosis was correct, I do have peroneal tendonitis (oddly, nothing to do with Evita).  The physio restored an amazing range of movement to my right foot and has given me a whole set of exercises to perform to slowly restore its normal function.  Most of these will look very odd to carry out in public, but luckily I have outlived most of my shame, so when I’m away on business later this week I shall be performing them in airports, hotels and wherever else I find myself.  Whilst this was all very positive, the pain is yet to subside to any great degree – but I have high hopes!

However, the most important occurrence during my session was the discovery that I have “perfect feet” (and that’s a direct quote).  I’ve never really paid them much attention myself: well, they’re so far away from the seat of my consciousness.  But, armed with a professional opinion, I have studied them anew and have to admit that they are rather fine.  It may be time for a new (pay-per-view) vlog starring my pedal extremities.  I am now sitting back and waiting for the offers of lucrative foot modelling contracts to roll in!

Fringe mastery

I believe this may be my tenth year of coming up to Edinburgh in August to see the Fringe and, sometimes, a little of the Festival to which it forms a rather overgrown adjunct.  However, as I type this racing south by train, I feel this is the first year that I have truly mastered the experience (obviously, mistressy remains an even higher standard, but one which will ever lie beyond my reach).

This hard-worn mastery has a number of components which, as the more prescient or fatalistic reader will have realised, I am going to reveal to you (whilst studiously avoiding use of the phrase ‘life hack’ – except just then).

Let’s start, as some actors do, with the feet.  Enjoying the Fringe does involve a lot of walking around: most of it up hill and much of it over cobbled ground.  This can – and, in the past, did – play havoc with a chap’s feet and ankles.  This year, in one of those flashes of insight which is such a rare visitor to my intra-auricular void, I travelled north with the perfect footwear solution.  What are these wonder-shoes?  They are a pair of New Balance 1060s, bought several years ago as urban walking shoes: but rarely used.  They entered my life just as I started cycling everywhere and they make for a poor cycling shoe.  As a result, they have lain forgotten at the back of the wardrobe for several years – just waiting their chance to shine.  Shine they most certainly did – taking hills and cobbles in my stride.  Never have I left Auld Reekie with such undamaged feet.  I’ll admit that they lack style – and whilst gloriously breathable (a boon in the hot and sweaty venues that characterise the Fringe) are not the ideal companions in heavy rain or deep water – but they have more than repaid my faith in them.  No longer will they be mocked by more obviously popular footwear in my wardrobe: they have (finally) found their niche.

Next, I shall turn my attention to the duration of the visit.  I started at a mere couple of nights and have gone as far as a fortnight.  This year I went with a week – and I feel that is the perfect length.  Enough time to indulge thoroughly in the delights on offer, but not so much time that the physical and mental toll on the visitor becomes excessive.  To avoid missing out on too much on offer, in the weeks prior to Edinburgh I caught a number of acts previewing their shows – which is also quite a thrifty option (special thanks must go to ARGCOMfest and the BAC).

This year, I also decided that you may have a very fine show – but if it starts after 22:00 it will not be graced(clumsied?) by my presence.  I now miss the last bus home for no man (or woman) – and so can generally have my head in contact with pillow by midnight.

It is generally best to avoid buying beer in most of the paid Fringe venues – the choice for the connoisseur is limited and prices are higher (£4.00-£4.50 per pint!).  The Free Fringe or Fringe-free venues are a better bet with prices falling to £3.90 (that I have lived to see the day when £3.90 seems a relatively reasonable price for a pint) and a much better range of session ales on offer.  This year, I acquired a cold mid-way through my visit – though my immune system has already (almost) sent it packing – so on health grounds, during the day, I switched from beer to black tea for my liquid refreshment requirements.  This was a much cheaper option and must shoulder much of the blame for my current abnormally healthful state.

This year my events formed a rather pleasing balance between comedy, spoken word and circus (of which, more in later posts).  In the past, I think I have tended to over-emphasise comedy and it can all become a something of a blur – but adding circus made for a much more balanced(!) mix.  I also spread myself across a wide range of venues and between the Free and paid Fringe – though, in general, I pay as much (or more) for the Free Fringe – so the latter is rarely the cheaper option.

The final element is my growing knowledge of where to find some decent food or a refreshing session ale when one is called for.   This year’s discovery was Malone’s – an unexpectedly spacious and architecturally-interesting Irish bar which is handily close to several Fringe venues.  Here, standing on the gallery, I took in the second half of the England-France rugby match and indie music from the Free Fringe.  Not a combination which would generally be wise, but it was time-saving and did make for an enjoyable end to an evening out.

Chulerías

Despite learning Spanish twice during my life – once at school and then again, a decade-and-a-half later, for work – and acquiring a reasonably varied vocabulary, I did not encounter the title until yesterday evening.  It does not appear in my dictionary, and so I have had to rely on the web’s favourite translation aid.  As a result, I fervently hope that it does mean “cool stuff” and not something obscene and/or offensive (I can’t really afford to upset some 400 million readers at this stage in my writing career).

Even before encountering the title, my life yesterday had a somewhat Spanish flavour – despite no ham being involved.  The new day started with a new book, The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón which I am reading in English translation (Southampton library does not provide a long enough loan – even with maximum renewals – for me to tackle it in its original tongue).  At times, it does seem to be rather directed at me as a newly admitted writer and it is clear that Don Basilio would not approve of my style and its adjectival liberality.  At other times, its protagonist reminds me of my brother – but I am only up to page 70, so this may change.

Last night, I had my first full experience of live flamenco – at the Arthouse Cafe, as regular readers might have guessed.  I had seen a little flamenco-inflected guitar many years ago at the Meson Don Felipe in the Cut in London while I munched on tapas and consumed a glass or two of blude-red wine.  On that occasion, it was just a guitarist perched precariously above the doorway leading to the facilities.  Yesterday, Jero Férec and his Flamenco Group – fresh from Ronnie Scott’s – provided not just the guitarist but two singers and a dancer.  Yet another amazing guitarist – and even more depressingly youthful than those that had come before him – and another musical style for me to enjoy at the Arthouse.  The two singers were also extraordinary and I, at least, thought I caught more than a hint of the Umayyad caliphate in their slightly unearthly vocal performance – many years ago, I heard a small amount of a flamenco mass on CD, but it hadn’t prepared me for the reality.  As part of the evening, I also learned that any previously attempts at rhythmic clapping were mere child’s play compared to the rigours of the flamenco beat: performers’ hands must be red raw after a performance.

On any normal night, the guitar or singing would have been the highlight – but to my surprise that honour must go to the dancing.  Usually, dancing does very little for me – it usually seems at best pointless and often laughable.  Last night, no-one was laughing: we would have been too scared.  Despite being the very image of imperial Spanish hauteur, the dancer had a prosaically English name: Ollie Giffin.  His dancing was commanding and somehow very adult: tap which is perhaps a distant cousin appears rather infantile in comparison.  The dance is intensely physical and at time the rhythm seems impossibly fast for a tall man in relatively high-heeled wooden-soled shoes.  He did have very sturdy thews which may have helped but, on a sample of one, I can’t be sure whether this was critical to his mastery of the dance.  It is not just a physical experience for the dancer but also for the audience as the vibration is transmitted through both the room and your body.  I strongly suspect that flamenco is an art-form best experienced live – with something vital lost in its recording (while I believe gaming controllers can provide haptic feedback, I doubt this has yet been exploited in the context of dance music).  I feel rather privileged that I can experience some of the thrill of downtown Seville, just a brief stroll from my home.  You can catch a flavour of the experience from the Arthouse’s Facebook page or via the link supplied above.

Incredible though the dance was, I do worry about young Ollie’s feet.  The shoes looked less than comfortable and I fear that the combination of the violence of the dance and his sockless condition (his choice, I assume) would render his feet a mass of blisters, cuts and partially-healed scars.  He did, wisely I would imagine, restrict his dancing to brief, if very intense bursts.  Still, I have once again established my suitability, in all but the purely physical sense, for the role of somebody’s maiden aunt.

The title I came across when researching Jero after the concert.  When even younger than he is today – still just at school, even – he released an album and it provided the title for this post which truly covers “cool things”.

And did those feet?

In case any readers were worried about my turgid ankles and left foot (as if), I can re-assure them that, after a mere 18 hours back home, they have deflated and returned to normal (or at least, normal for me – a bit like NFN, I suppose).  It seems my potential new career as a gymnast is over before it has even begun.

However, even without things swelling ‘down below’, feet have been much on my mind of late.  How so? I fondly imagine that I hear you cry, well let me explain…

Whilst ‘festing’ up north, I had with me my trusty FiveFingers shoes – though only wore them on relatively dry days given the rather feeble resistance they mount to the ingress of water.  Let me tell you, they attracted a number of admiring comments from both locals and visitors, young and not-so-young alike.  At one of my final gigs, when I – fearing rain – was wearing a more traditional shoe (along with its fraternal sibling), a young chap entered and sat almost next to me wearing a pair of FiveFingers.  Not just any old FiveFingers, but the exact same model (Bikila) and colour-scheme (light grey and red) as mine.  This chap laughed in the face of wet feet (I know, I asked him), and so wore his even more often than I wear mine.  I am no longer alone!  I suppose I need to seek out some even more obscure footwear now to regain my evanescent sense of individuality in this homogenised, corporate world.

Feet have also been on my mind as I am reading “The Ode Less Travelled” by Stephen Fry.  This is designed to help the reader unleash their inner poet – so be afraid, be very afraid!  This blog has heretofore lacked prosody, but that (relatively) golden age could soon be at an end.  In the all too near future, I could be giving you all the big iamb.  There are so many feet to choose from: iambic, anapaestic, trochee, spondee or pyrrhic to name but a few (and wouldn’t these all be great names for shoes?).  What metrical scheme to pick?

One of my last gigs was to see Luke Wright, a relatively local (Colchester) poet perform – further cementing my middle-class credentials.  He really is very good – with some seriously fine balladry.  His set also contained a short introduction to the meter of the ballad, use of the iambic foot and the fact that pentameter and anapaests are only for showing off (which does make them very tempting – but perhaps I should walk before I try running).  This was also the very same gig in which I met the chap wearing Bikilas. This goes beyond coincidence (reminding me of “Elastic Planet”, the splendid radio series by Ben Moor, and one of the inspirations for this blog): the universe has spoken – and I think it is telling me to blog in verse (or worse).  (Well, I suppose it could be telling me to visit a chiropodist – but that seems rather prosaic, which is – of course – the complete antithesis of poetry.)

You have been warned – prepare for the versed!

I survived

(but it was a close-run thing).

Yes, I’m back at Fish Towers after a week in Auld Reekie – and am still more-or-less intact (more about the less in due course).

In the last week, I have had more late nights than in the preceding 11 months, “enjoyed” a pretty major shift in my diet (5-a-day has still been achieved but only if we substitute the words “fried food” for “fruit and veg” in the standard dietary advice: when in Rome etc) and consumed rather more alcohol than is perhaps compatible with the life of simple purity that makes up my quotidien existence.  I have also spent a lot of time sitting on some seriously uncomfortable chairs (the rest of the country, and perhaps even much of Europe, must be stripped of dodgy temporary seating in August), mostly in rather cramped and sweaty conditions.

As a result, blogging and sleep have suffered somewhat.  However, the last week has provided much needed fresh material for future posts and the lack of sleep should be resolved by a few early nights (those Zs don’t count themselves, you know).

Perhaps more worryingly, my left foot and both ankles seem to have put on rather a lot of weight whilst away – they are looking decidedly chubby.  It may be that my body starts storing excess calories (or joules) starting at the ground and slowly working up.  If I spent a whole month in Scotland would it reach my knees, or even higher?  Do I quite literally have hollow legs (as has often been proposed)?

Talking of Scotland and deep-fried food, I fear it may be losing its pre-eminence in this field.  As East Coast was whisking me south (while plying me with food and drink), I listened, on my iPod (other MP3 players are available), to The Bugle podcast.  If you like your news discussed with somewhat silly, some meet even say puerile (which, based on my schoolboy Latin, I assume means “boyish”) humour (well, you are reading this blog!), I can thoroughly recommend the Bugle.  On last week’s edition, I learned that the folk of Iowa take a block of butter, pierce it with a stick (like a butter lolly), coat it in batter (to make battered butter – there has to be a tongue-twister in this!) and then deep-fry it.  I can feel my arteries hardening just writing about it!  By comparison, even stereotypical Scots eating is looking pretty healthy.

The only alternative explanation for my puffy pedal extremities that has come to mind is that, rather than gaining weight, perhaps they are swollen – perhaps caused by my enforced separation from my bicycle or walking on cobbled streets or over volcanic hills. Has my body become overly adapted to cycling on the relatively flat?

However, neither explanation really covers the divergent impact seen on my left and right feet.  My feet are pretty much inseparable – I have rarely caught them more than 6 feet apart (or would 2 metres be a less confusing measure?) – and so surely anything affecting the left should also affect the right?

Still, I’m not in any pain – though my left shoe is a little tighter than normal – and if my feet have put on weight, it should lower my centre of gravity and lead to a much needed improvement in balance.  Surely, it’s not too late for a career as a gymnast?  Though I will admit that most gymnasts I’ve seen are slightly younger and shorter than me – but my study of the field has been less than exhaustive.  I’m also slightly concerned that even as a (supposedly) flexible primary school child I could never manage even the lowest BAGA award – the backward roll was always beyond me.  Then again, I couldn’t manage differential calculus in those days either – so there’s always hope!

Still, despite my sub-shin tumefaction, I had a really wonderful week away.  Where else could I take in 30+ shows covering music (old and new), poetry, photography and comedy in a single week?