Friday, 29 July 2016

My First Festival

Nearly a week has gone by but I'm still buzzing from my first trip to a weekend-long, stay-onsite-in-a-tent festival - not, to be honest, a wade-through-mud, have your tent knocked over by a drunk, can-you-spot-someone-NOT-on-drugs style music festival but one with, thankfully, a bit more sense of style and taste.

Through OurBookReviews, I was invited down to Hampshire for A Curious Arts Festival, held in the grounds of Pylewell Park - a mix of literary, music, and comedy festivals, with a multitude of other things going on as well, and I had a wonderful, absolutely jam-packed couple of days, starting early with seagulls waking us about 6:30 and not finishing till I drifted off to sleep to the sound of ongoing music sometime in the early hours.

Lucy Rose
We set off in what we thought was plenty of time on Friday morning ... but google maps had been just a little (or a lot) over-optimistic, and a journey that should have taken about three and a half hours took over five!  Sadly this meant I missed the first event I'd wanted to catch  - author Deborah Moggach - but as the sun set there was time to grab a fancy cider and head along to the largest tent for the evening's musical entertainment head-lined by Lucy Rose. I didn't stay up till the end as music carried on after midnight and I was ready for some sleep!

Tea Sympathy

 Saturday morning we rose early, grabbed breakfast from the fantastically decorated Tea Sympathy tent, had a wander round the site and by lunchtime I'd seen three author events (Meg Rosoff, Andrea Wulf,and Renee Knight), followed by two more in the afternoon (Joanna Cannon and Harry Parker). I then had a bit of a break, before heading to the music events of the evening - Matt Maltese, Skinny Lister and Billy Bragg.

Although it would have been possible to stay another night, we'd decided that we'd head home on Sunday - but not before catching another couple of author events, including literary prize-winner Andrew Miller. 

Renee Knight being interviewed by SJ Watson
I definitely feel I pulled in more than two days worth of experiences, and, of course, most of this time my husband and teenager were off doing different things - a panel-style discussion of the morning papers, learning how to be a lazy guru, watching the early evening comedy acts.

Billy Bragg

Everything joined together to make a very special weekend, but for me the highlight was definitely Saturday evening. Billy Bragg was without doubt good, mixing political commentary and jokes in between his songs, but Skinny Lister set the night alight with their sea-shanty, folk-punk sound and infectious exuberance which had everyone bouncing and clapping along.

Skinny Lister

I'd written about this before we went, so did it live up to expectations? Definitely!

a distant view of the Isle of Wight

As you might guess, I had a fantastic time. As an introduction to music festivals I think it was rather on the tame side - but at my age I prefer that to something rowdier. 

I've been to book festivals before but even those held on a single site - such as Edinburgh and Hay - have people drifting in and out and don't have the same feel of everyone joining in an event together; it wasn't quite a community but after a while faces began to feel familiar. And, an important thing for me, Dylan the dog was welcome everywhere - he went into book events, hung out at the back of the marquee for music on Friday night, sat with us out of the sun in the tea tent and was fussed over by so many people!

The whole festival was quirky and quaint; a mix of garden party, literary salon and gig venue, with a definite family feel to it. I loved the way I could see a couple of author events before lunch, a couple more afterwards, have some down time with the dog and a walk to the sea, but then in the evening head off to the music marquee. And the food was great - everything from fish and chips to sushi and halloumi fries, via Higgidy pies and lamb tagine in a burger style cob, cake from the tea tent, and a choice of four bars, including the Nyetimber bus serving English sparkling wine. Isn't it SO cute? Sadly I didn't think Dylan would like the steps.

sneaking in to Skinny Lister's sound check

There were still things that I wished I'd seen - I only briefly caught snatches of the Sonnetathon, didn't get to try the Fever Tree cocktails or the sushi tapas selection, have a good browse round the Waterstones tent, or join the talk about the gardens, but I did get to sneak into the Skinny Lister sound check and chat to vocalist Lorna after the show, meet friends I only know through social media, stroll down to the sea twice and even find a small patch of sand to walk on. If I'd put together my own private festival it could hardly have been better! The only thing I would change another time is to add in a few days in the New Forest itself either before or after.

If you go over to OurBookReviews you'll find more in-depth accounts of the author events, and I'll be blogging here soon about how my first camping trip went.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Camping? at my age??

Camping is something I haven't really tried - certainly not since my age ran into double digits.

I once, as a child, attempted sleeping out on the back lawn in an old tent - got woken by thunder and ended up sleeping indoors!

My parents, who'd been enthusiastic campers back in the 1950s, decided we've give it a go as a family one year - but I mainly remember abandoning the tent and checking into B+Bs because of the rain!

BUT ... this year is supposed to be about trying new things, accepting a challenge or two, and stepping out of my comfort zone, so ... how about trying a night or two under canvas (or whatever the modern equivalent is)?

A Curious Arts Festival, Pylewell Park
Through OurBookReviews I've been offered the chance to go to A Curious Arts Festival at Pylewell Park in the New Forest. It's part literary event, part music festival but a safe, sedate music festival, one that surely will be ok for a novice camper like myself. Anyway, I started looking at the various camping options available - bring your own, hire a basic tent or choose a luxurious bell tent fully equipped with camp beds, bedding, and carpets - and was seriously tempted by the 'glamping' option, but a niggling voice was still saying 'what about queues for toilets and showers?', 'how comfortable will that bed really be?', and 'how about looking for a nice B+B?'. At this point I was beginning to question the whole idea of camping; I like my comfy bed to sleep in, a hot shower in the morning and breakfast prepared for me. A B+B was starting to look tempting ...

Then instead of the downside, we started to think of the advantages of camping at the festival itself -
there'll be three of us going, different ages, different interests, so it's unlikely we'll all be going to the same events. Staying on site means some of us can sleep in in the morning while enthusiastic ones start the day early, rather than all having to be up and leaving a B+B at the same time. During the day, 'back at the tent' is an easy way of making sure we know where we're supposed to meet up, and with the door partially closed Dylan the dog can have a little freedom from his lead, and peace and quiet for a snooze - and so can his people. In the evening, if not all of us want to stay up for the live music or the DJ sets which follow, or the late night organised bat walk, then sleepy ones can head to the tent, and, of course, there are no worries about drinking and driving.

Actually, I was beginning to see the sense of choosing to camp.

Dylan checking out
his new home
Well, we've been out and bought a cheap tent - this way there are no worries about Dylan traipsing in with muddy feet or ripping a groundsheet with his claws - and we already have a lot of necessary things, such as the inflatable beds usually reserved for visitors, so we're ready for the weekend! 

The weather forecast looks good, though thankfully not as hot as today. We've conducted a trial run of putting up the tent which was easier than expected, and Dylan the dog checked it out and seems to approve. I'm not sure how comfortable the bed will be, or how long the queue for the toilets in the morning, or even if we'll be plagued by insects inside the tent ... maybe I'll wish I'd chosen the safe option of a B+B but I'm going to give camping a try, if only for a couple of nights.

Follow up - it must be down to beginners' luck but everything went smoothly. Now I'd like to test our new-found camping skills on a proper campsite.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Top Ten Escapist Books

I think we're all in need of a bit of an escape right now, so here's a Top Ten to help you ...

Now some folk might be happy to escape into a crime thriller, and in part I can see the appeal - events are likely to be far more disturbing than anything in real life, and the perpetrator will get caught by the end of the book - but for me I'd rather have something more constantly upbeat, preferably with sunshine.

 The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim - this is my ideal book in which to get away from everything; it's short, easy to slip into, and ends happily. The four main characters themselves are heading off for a month of escapism, leaving behind wet, drab, dull London (and their personal problems) for sunshine, wisteria and 'a tub of love' in the enchanting gardens of an old Italian castle. I just wish I could join them!

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan - more Mediterranean sunshine, this time in France, with sea, sex and dangerously fast cars, as precocious teenager, Cecile, tries to break up her father's new relationship. I first read this as a teenager - the hard way, by reading the French original at school. Even so, Cecile's world, so far from a Midlands mining village, entranced me. It's an escapist read with bite - the sort of story in which someone is bound to get hurt, however it ends.

I think you could say the same about my third choice -The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh. This time the setting is Mallorca, and Jenn a middle-aged woman, starting to feel past her prime and no longer as desirable as she once was, is falling in love - or lust - with her step-daughter's boyfriend. He's sexy, edgy, passionate, represents everything lacking in Jenn's life - and you just know everything will end badly.

Weathering by Lucy Wood. A change of tempo, atmosphere and climate - a story about the relationships between mothers and daughters, told in stream-of-consciousness style, with prose that slips into poetry, capturing the reader, making them believe they are there as rivers rush, snow banks up against the doors, and an old woman refuses to believe she's dead. 

Back to the sea, Cornwall this time, for A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman - a story woven through with magic, with tales of mermaids and long-lost love. The setting is enchanting, and enchanted; a place of healing and peace where physical and emotional hurts can heal.

Another haven, of a very different kind, lies at the heart of Caroline Smailes'  The Drowning of Arthur Braxton. A derelict public baths building seems an unlikely place to find peace and solace, but inside The Oracle strange things can happen.

A move to something lighter and sillier - the first of Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series, and tbh I think the best. Becky Bloomwood is the supposed financial expert with no notion of how to manage her own money; fortunately she has friends to help her dig her way out of the mess she's made.

It's the longest of my choices so far, but Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd transports us back to time when the greatest of worries was choosing between three suitors! This story of rich, beautiful Bathsheba Everdene and her confused love-life is my favourite of Hardy's novels. On close examination, the setting maybe isn't as tranquil as it at first appears - farming has always had its problems (crops burning, sheep falling ill) and as a soldier, Sergeant Troy is presumably training for war - but seen from a modern perspective, it feels like a rural idyll.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett OK, this one is actually meant to be a children's book but I love it. Again, there's a garden, a secret, neglected one which orphan Mary Lennox and her new friends bring back to life, and in doing so heal emotional and physical ills.

...and lastly, something completely different - Smokeheads by Doug Johnstone. Four thrity-something whisky-nerds head off to Islay for a weekend of  whisky sampling which turns into a Scottish-island Deliverance style, mayhem-filled comedy thriller. It's not for everyone, but I loved it!