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.

Intense in tents

On the final night of last year’s Greenbelt, my tent mate Morv and I had an unfortunate loud snorer in a nearby tent incident. We ended up doing a little piece to camera (where the snorer couldn’t actually be heard) in which we wittered on about loud people, the cold, the tent and perhaps the festival itself.

This year I decided we should make this late night film shoot a regular occurrence and we diligently created a video for each of the three nights we shared a tent (and an airbed – though for the record although we’re good friends, we’re not that good friends…). Edited together, we now have a video diary for Greenbelt 2010 that is in turns comic and ridiculous. Actually, we’re so proud of the results that we’ve just been talking about pitching a comedy routine for next year’s Last Orders (the magazine style show at the the end of the day featuring the best bits of the programme). Anyone willing to nominate us? Anyone? Anyone? Ok then…

Here you are:

If you’re pushed for time, I recommend night one and night three. Morv actually falls asleep during night two and we’re both so tired that it’s incomprehensible (we start talking about chord progressions), but if you love me/us, you need to watch the whole lot. Topics covered include: how to set up your bed to stay warm; festival highlights; a generator saga; getting told off by old men and the general perils of camping. It’s also worth observing the way in which we get progressively more red-faced (windburn, not sun) and the hair (in my case) getting a lot wilder.

I had planned to do a final night film with the die-hard crew who stayed till Tuesday, but the memory card on my camera was full and I was too tired to go through and delete stuff. Still, I think it’s better just being the comedy duo throughout – lends an air of consistency to proceedings!


In a little over an hour I’m going to head out and jump in some puddles wearing the fabulous wellies – I’m super excited. I’m just hoping that the very heavy rucksack I’ll be carrying won’t hinder my jumping ability.

Yes, I’m off camping again and this time the weather’s not playing ball. It’s raining in London and has been for days – with awesome vigour. However, my sister rang earlier (a lot earlier – it woke me up) to inform me that the sun’s shining in the shire and all will be well. But, the rain does at least mean I’ll look slightly less foolish wearing my wellies to travel in. [Golden rule of packing: wear your heaviest shoes to travel in.]

I’m not given to wearing practical clothing, as I think I’ve mentioned before. To be honest, I consider anoraks dorky clothing to wear in the city – best left to tourists and the middle aged – and prefer an umbrella to a hood. For some reason, manly men can pull off the ‘I’m just off on a hike’ look in an urban context, but women can’t. But in a field, amongst tents, I’m all for practicality – so the kag in a bag is packed, although as I write, I realise that its red hue clashes with my purple footwear. Ho hum…

It’s been practically autumnal the last couple of days, thanks to the rain and near gale-force winds – so much so that I resorted to tights and boots yesterday (in August!!). However, it made me happy because the tights in question are very special and provide me with a Friday Fun tip for you. (Though I realise that only certain readers will be interested in attractive, cosy tights, unless you’re of a male persuasion and find hosiery a little kinky…)

Aubin & Wills is a ridiculous store. It’s the upmarket brother of ‘university outfitters’ Jack Wills (beloved of teenagers in the Home Counties) and a place where I can ill-afford to shop, even in the sales. However, it’s one of C’s favourite places to window shop and there’s one near work, so I pop in sporadically to stroke cashmere sweaters.

On a recent trip I discovered something I could afford – tights, reduced from £29 to £7, a total bargain. [To explain to the men-folk: good tights are costly – though I draw the line at paying £29 for them.] I purchased one attractive purple pair which were worn yesterday and were so lovely that I went out at lunch to buy more. The good news is that there are still plenty of them online, should you not exist in the vicinity of a store. Colourful tights? What’s not to like?

Oh, you might be struggling to see the fun in this, well…colours are fun, autumn’s fun, shopping’s fun – see?

Il fait pleut

Or, more accurately J’espère qu’il ne pleut pas, and specifically, that I hope it doesn’t rain next weekend because I’ll be under canvas (again).

In preparation for my annual weekend of fun, frolics and friends in the green fields of Cheltenham, I’ve spent the evening doing a little bit of baking – not cupcakes because they don’t transport well – lemon biscuits, to be precise.

It’s a recipe from my mother’s Be-Ro cookbook (c. 1965) that I have scribbled onto a scrap of paper and is super-simple, given as it’s in the letting children loose in the kitchen bit of the book. It reads as follows, but I’ve included some expansions on the directions:

Lemon Biscuits

200g SR Flour
100g Caster Sugar
100g Margarine
1 egg (beaten)
Grated rind & juice of half a lemon

Mix flour and sugar together. Rub in fat [till it looks like fine breadcrumbs].
Add in lemon and enough egg to make a stiff dough.
[Do this gradually, sticky dough’s a nightmare. You won’t need all the egg.]
Roll out thinly and cut. [Obviously, use a floured surface & rolling pin.]
Place on a greased baking tray and place in oven at 180c for 15 minutes.

And what of the rain reference (other than the obvious camping link)? Well, months ago I purchased a few new cookie cutters, which I’ve not got round to using till today. My favourite’s the umbrella, which may be appropriate – but to wish us luck with the weather I’ve also made some four-leaf clovers.

Then I got a little musical and pretentious with my quaver cutter, deciding to create some semi-quavers and a semi-demi quaver too. (I tried some triplets, but that turned out to be a little over ambitious, as was the hemi-demi-semi quaver.)

And finally, with the last of the dough, I wrote my name – because when you’re using a recipe designed for 6 year olds, you act like a 6 year old.

They’re so yummy it’s a good job I’m intending to shove them in the freezer till Friday, otherwise there’s a high chance they would have all been consumed by then!

Things I like: Weather & Wet Wipes

One final word before I disappear into the fields of Shepton Mallet…
This is the five day forecast for the area, as of last night:

I think you’ll agree, that’s not too bad. Even the one rain cloud present is listed as ‘light rain’ – that I can cope with. I just hope it continues beyond Wednesday and is correct.

And wet wipes? I’d forgotten that one of the joys of camping is the myriad of moist towlette you can take with you. So far I’ve managed to pack:
Baby wipes
Deodorising wipes (at no point do these make you feel like you’ve had a shower, but every little helps)
Moist toilet tissue (probably exactly the same as baby wipes, but I’m taking no chances)
Anti-bacterial hand wipes (I also have antibacterial hand gel, am I being paranoid?)
Face wipes (utterly essential)

What did people do before such things were available? I’m sorry, did you say “wash with water”? Surely not? I mean, it’s not as though it’s flowing freely in the middle of nowhere, is it?