The sound of silence

The very first night of Greenbelt saw me and my companions realise a joint 2012 First – attendance at and participation in a silent disco.

Our presence was very much thanks to the person who had the honour of being the first friend I bumped into on site – former colleague George Luke (in a record 5 minutes) – who happened to be one of the DJ’s that evening. In fact, there was a silent disco every night during the festival, but Friday night was the only evening there wasn’t a programme conflict with something crucial. (Well, something crucial in the eyes of the others…)

Silent DJ’s at work.
(Photo from here, courtesy of St G’s very own Elaine.) 

We arrived at the Big Top and immediately had a sense of foreboding. The vast majority of our fellow disco-ers were significantly younger than us. In fact, we whiled away a few minutes before the headphones were handed out playing a game of “who looks more out of place here than us”. In fact, we quickly became grumpy old women as far as the teenagers were concerned, disapproving of their stampede to acquire headphones, rather than queueing sensibly…

[My state of grumpiness towards idiotic teenage behaviour continued all festival. In fact, perhaps I’ve now actually become a grumpy old woman permanently? After one of the rainstorms I came across a ridiculous gathering of teenagers in the toilets which prompted the following tweet:
“Having a “I judge you when you wear weather-inappropriate clothing to an outdoor festival” moment. Looking at you, teenagers drying pants…”

I dislike waterproof clothing as much as the next reasonably fashionable individual, but seriously, flimsy summer dresses on a day when heavy rain was forecast? Foolish.] 
Back to the silence. 
The premise of a silent disco is that it’s held in silence – you wear headphones through which the music is played. Often there’s more than one channel and DJ’s compete over whose tunes get the most listeners and best reactions. This means you could be in your own world dancing away to something, when a cheer will alert you to a better track on the other side. 
On our evening there was a mix of world dance music on one channel and hip-hop/general pop stuff on the other. To be honest, we would have preferred a bit more cheese (which is what the DJs played on Sunday night – we could hear dancers singing along from across the site). The best bit of a silent disco is without a doubt when a total tune is played and the entire crowd move as one. In our case, this was the Cha-Cha Slide – courtesy of George – which worked fabulously. (Worst bit of this particular silent disco? The teenagers conga-ing to everything. Why??) Singalongs are also great, obviously, because no one can hear themselves sing but outside all you can hear are voices singing as one, a cappella. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that in our case, this moment happened with Call Me Maybe…

I was so consumed with the dancing that I had no idea just how unflattering a horizontally striped jumper looks when you’re moving from side to side at speed…

I utterly loved it. Despite the annoying teenagers and the not-quite-my-style music, it was totally freeing. It didn’t matter what other people were doing, the headphones enabled you to be in your own little world, dancing your heart out. Plus, if you took the headphones off you could have a perfectly normal volume conversation with people, unlike the ridiculous shouting that has to be done in clubs. My only complaint was that I could get the headphones to stay on my head securely while I flailed around like a mad thing. 
Please Greenbelt, more of the same next year? Muchus gracias. 

The day I – supposedly – did nothing

Just like last year, I managed to get through the whole of this year’s Greenbelt without attending a single talk. Unlike last year, I did actually intend to – they were diligently favourited in the (rather good) iPhone app – I just didn’t quite manage to get them. I did many other things on the programme though, several of which I’ll review over the next few posts…

And the mud – I haven’t mentioned the mud…
However, rather spectacularly, on Sunday I failed to attend a single programmed item. Seriously, not a single thing. No communion service, no mainstage gig, nothing in the Big Top, no dance class – nothing. Instead, my diary was full of social engagements including a 6 year old’s birthday party, tea with a group of fabulous women, more tea with a favourite friend & their baby, and a gathering of Twitterers. 
By the end of the day (which included a few more spontaneous meet-ups too) I was feeling a little as though I’d wasted a day of a festival, however, it then struck me that:
(i) As previously mentioned, it’s the people that make Greenbelt for me.
(ii) I’d ticked off many a Greenbelt essential during the day. 
(iii) My conversations are often as stimulating (or more so) as an average seminar. 
Before you judge me on that last point, I’m not singing my praises, I’m just making the point that I like discussion about things that interest me and often it can go pretty deep. So if you take the social events and tea drinking it actually looks more like this:
Birthday party – Inadvertent participation in the making of a Greenbelt film. [Genuinely true story. We had to rehearse the singing of Happy Birthday multiple times…] In addition to this, there was important discussion about the future of the Methodist Church (old habits die hard). 
Massive amount of maternal dedication here.
Daughter requested a castle birthday cake – mother delivered, despite camping.
Fabulous women – An opportunity to meet like-minded people who are friends of friends (or friends already), which made it an excellent networking opportunity. Significant discussion about relative merits of the various summer Christian festivals and the development of new website Threads [more about that anon]. Amusingly, it unfortunately also included us walking out of a panel session on women in the church – it’s not that we didn’t want to be there, it’s just we hadn’t realised it was about to happen in the cafe we’d just sat down in. 
Lovely friend & lovely baby – Only visit to the Tiny Tea Tent all festival and that’s always a Greenbelt essential. After putting the world to rights, we managed a second essential – churros. Bliss. 
Spontaneous meet-up #1 – Want time alone at Greenbelt? Tell your friends you’re off to charge your phone somewhere. Want to be insanely bored at Greenbelt? Go off to charge your phone and spend an hour tethered to a wall. It’s a no-win situation. Thus I was delighted when Sara came to find me and we managed a brief catch up and a discussion of Twitter vicar-bots and the joys of social media – something that could have featured in Vicky Beeching’s talk on the subject, which the earlier birthday party had clashed with. 
The lovely baby also joined me spontaneously while I was phone charging.
Beer Tent Tweet-Up – So I was meant to join in a tweet-up, but I failed to find them, partly because I was waylaid by a fellow trainee vicar and partly because I couldn’t see them when I had a brief look. Instead, a group of us chatted for quite some time about the following: missional communities; theological education; the idiocy of Michael Gove and Free Schools; and, most Greenbelt-y of all, how to prepare a group of ordinands for a trip to Israel-Palestine. 
Sunset at the Jesus Arms – a definite Greenbelt essential
Spontaneous meet-up #2 – Greenbelt wouldn’t be Greenbelt without its contributors, therefore managing a cuppa in the contributors’ lounge has to be a Greenbelt experience that can’t be refused. It was great to finally meet a Twitter friend in the flesh and make a new connection with a female vicar from my neck of the woods. 
All in all it was a great day. Sure, my sister managed to go to more talks that day than in the last 5 years combined, but at least one of them was about naked men in the Bible… Oh, and I although I went to no talks at the festival itself, I did listen to one (Ian Morgan Cron’s Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me) on the way home and it was jolly good. Thus my new tactic is to download all the talks I wish I’d heard so I can listen to them during my many hours of London walking – brilliant multi-tasking…

Pre-Greenbelt ponderings

Tomorrow I head off to my 15th consecutive Greenbelt festival. It’s been an end of summer fixture in my diary since I was 17 – yet this year, I seriously considered not going at all.

I’ve never been a ‘buy my ticket at the end of the previous festival’ kind of Greenbelter. To be fair, my first four Greenbelts came free, courtesy of performer passes. Some years I went with the organisation I worked with. Once (and only once) I volunteered in the children’s area as a gatekeeper – the fact that I had a walkie-talkie is about the only positive I took away from that experience. Sometimes I miraculously acquired cheaper tickets courtesy of family members who were working. Regardless of my Greenbelt role or function, I always camped with the same people – the people I’d camped with the first few festivals.

We developed Greenbelt rituals – like the all-important pitching of tents by those volunteering on the day before the festival officially opened; the acquisition of foldable chairs (with beverage holders); the baking of cake to supplement a diet of pie; and the skipping of Sunday’s communion service so we could instead sit around in our PJs and chat. Excellent times. It was these rituals that last year helped Greenbelt to feel like home when I arrived having moved out of my home of 5 years the day before.

So why did I think about giving it a miss in 2012? For a start, several of my Greenbelt camping buddies were having to miss it this year. New born babies, broken wrists, singing in proms and weddings are all very good excuses, but it’s sad all the same. Then there was the fact that I’ve already spent a week this summer in a tent and I don’t enjoy it.

Plus, there was slight disillusionment in the Greenbelt experience as a whole. One of my favourite elements of the festival – the classical scratch choir – had been dropped from the programme (so I’m biased, my friend Matt’s conducted it for the last few years and both he and his kids/youth scratch choirs are missing this year). No one could quite work out why… Then there were the changes to the Children’s Area that had taken place last year. I’m still sad that parents can’t now leave their children and go off to grown-up things (especially in the case of single parents) and I’m also sad that friends whose skills have been utilised so well are now no longer needed. Anyway, a combination of these things all helped to make me feel like I’d just forget about it this year.

But I’d forgotten one crucial element of Greenbelt. The people.
Yes, the people I camp with are important, but I saw most of them only a month ago at the zoo – some of them more recently than that. What Greenbelt manages to do over and over again is bring together people from almost all parts of my life, in one small geographical area and for just three days. I rarely make any of the programme because I spend so much time catching up with long-lost friends.

Every year, new people get added into the mix. This year I’m catching a lift to Cheltenham with a woman who goes to the church I now work at. While I’m there, I will no doubt bump into several Vicar School friends who were total strangers this time 12 months ago. I’ll attend a 6 year old’s birthday party.  I’ll find people I only know courtesy of Twitter. There’ll be former colleagues from at least two jobs. And this year, I’ll share a tent with Matryoshka Haus people instead.

Greenbelt is a unique microcosm of society that exists in a bubble for a short period of time. It would be unrealistic to expect it to exist elsewhere and for longer, so when it’s time, it’s best to make the most of it. And, despite the weather forecast, I’m really glad that this year I will be.

Niche and childish Friday Fun (Updated)

Having been on retreat for most of the week, my exposure to things of an internet based, fun nature has been limited. I did discover Draw a Stick Man, but so did most of the Twittersphere and Facebook. If by some chance you haven’t stumbled across it, it’s a genius five minute distraction (and absorbed me while I was finding a viewing of Source Code less than captivating).

If you’re a fan of classic girls’ school stories, you can indulge in 30 minutes of immense fun by listening to a programme on the Chalet School on iPlayer – God bless Radio 4 for commissioning this. Guests are quizzed throughout the show and anyone in the vicinity of my bedroom last night would have heard cries of “Emerence Hope you dumkopf!’ [excellent use of Chaletian German slang I feel] and a frantic yelling of eleven names – “Len, Con, Margot, Steve, Charles, Mike, Felix, Felicity, Geoff & Philippa!” [the Maynard offspring] It also included revelations such as how to pronounce ‘Chaletian’ and ‘Elisaveta’ (neither were pronounced the way I’ve been saying them for two decades). Anyway, it was a lot of fun for me, but probably only fun for a minimal number of blog readers…

If you’re a Greenbelter and/or friends with me and the folk I go to Greenbelt with, you might find my friend Jenni’s video of this year’s festival fun:

Jenni’s recently become passionate about creating videos, which can be a tad disconcerting when you’re out and about with her (I’ve actually just remembered that she filmed some of my birthday, must find out what happened to that…) but produces really quite impressive results. The best thing about this video is that it captures the essence of our Greenbelt – Pie Minister, the French sausage stall, sitting around in our PJs under the gazebo, singing and the obligatory eating of cake in the beer tent. Beautiful.

All of the above is either niche, or not particular new, so I feel as though I’m letting the Friday Fun side down. So as a final attempt to make you laugh this morning, I present you with a series of boyish pranks that really go to show, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…

Attempt one at the pulling the table cloth away trick:

Attempt two:

Attempt three:

And finally, attempt four:

Yes, it’s obviously not quite the disaster it appears to be, but I do rather like the concept. Plus, it made me laugh out loud and this morning that’s got to be a good thing.

WAIT! It’s not over yet…
You know what’s also childish? Sesame Street and my passion for Glee. Thus it is utterly awesome that Sesame Street has parodied the now exiled on Sky tv show. Appropriately for a song about the letter G, this is g-g-g-genius:

A useful warning

Long term readers will be aware that my female friends and I have something of a disgusted obsession with the Mooncup (or the Diva Cup if you’re American). The device first came to our attention thanks to stickers on the doors of ladies’ loos in our universities and at Cheltenham Racecourse – home of Greenbelt.

One evening last weekend, my sister mentioned that she’d spotted an amusingly annotated ad in a cubicle she’d frequented that day. To my disappointment, she hadn’t taken a photo and I wasn’t optimistic that I’d see it myself given as I try to avoid those particular facilities. (Greenbelters, I refer to the ones under nearest the food area next to the arena where there’s always a massive queue. There are SO many better toilets if you walk up the hill further – which is what I usually do.) As it happened, I used them once when I wanted to rush back to mainstage for Duke Special.

Stood in the queue I remembered Mim’s story and thought the chances of getting the same cubicle were minimal. But the Gods were smiling and as I shut the door behind me, I laughed out loud. Voila:

In case you can’t decode it, the grafitti on the right reads “my friend’s got stuck”. It’s a useful piece of info (in fact, it happened to the friend who took one for the team and tried it out on all our behalf). However, I love that it’s balanced by the scrawl on the left – “I LOVE my mooncup! :)”

Honest product reviews – just what the world needs more of…