Come on Summer!
I'm a Londoner, born and bred. Conceived and born within the sound of Bow bells, I know it's because I'm a Londoner that I love it so. And to the annoyance of my regional friends, I subscribe to the, admittedly dubious, maxim: 'when a woman is tired of London, she is tired of life'. But I will leave London. Not because I'm bored or my desire for it has waned, but due to necessity.
England is at its eccentric best on May Day, all the quirky ancient traditions such as ’Pat-a-Lamb’ and the Cuckoo Fairs, Heritage Re-enactments and Morris Dance Parades emerge in colourful, frolicsome joy to prance gleefully about and remind us of our connection to the land, the woods, the trees, the fields. So it was perhaps no surprise that on a fleeting visit to @escapetocreate ‘s pad in Whitstable on May Day this year that we should succumb to her inherent creative promoter’s charm and take a walk along Whitstable Beach to the busy, bustling harbour. There we stumbled upon a procession of Morris Dancers parading along to Dead Mans Corner and delighting young and old with their sunny ‘merry olde England’ goodwill amidst the jingle of bells and the fiddling of fiddles. A large ivy clad tree ambled alongside fair maidens and a big brown bear dispensed hugs and photo opportunities.
Arriving by the decking stage at Dead Mans Corner I examined some of the beautiful clay pebbles made as part of a community project and housed in a barrier of Gabion cages – ‘Here Now’ read one. I certainly am, I thought.
Whitstable retains its old coastal town charm and character, clap-board cottages and the curvy Horsebridge Arts Centre mingle comfortably with Oyster bars, the Sailing Club, Cafe’s and the working fishing fleets to-ing and fro-ing in the Harbour. The Coffee stall exudes a siren song to passers-by, the heady mix of coffee and salty air, exhorting you to stop and buy ’coffee with your ice-cream Sir? Madam?’. Queues for the Crab and Winkle meandered down the South Quay and the West Whelks Oyster stall was doing a roaring trade by the old smoke huts. Whitstable Harbour, remains relatively unscathed by the surge of concrete monstrosities that sprung up in all the wrong places throughout the sixties and seventies, which is another good reason to go there. We carried on up to the Castle where everyone was in party mode and then back along the beach and through the town, past all those little lanes and nooks and crannys that make the seafront so endearing. It was a wrench to go home!
The Cranes at Waterloo,
They know a thing or two,
It’s clear from their jaunty lean
They’ve no intention of coming clean.
And there’s the announcements on the tube,
The surprise in the voice that intones,
All seems to be going according to plan
Move along sir, ma’am.
Tickety Boo. Nothing to see here.
The cordoned off corner of SoHo Square
And the silent dog smothered in handprints
Intimating otherwise. Men in high viz
Simply standing there,
Immune to scrutiny, public glare,
Or stoically prepared, perhaps,
As an eloquence of cultural folk
Descends upon the city.
I am stuffed in a crisply, contemporary Boardoom
With Baronesses, Big Wigs and Chatham House Rules.
My twitchy twitter finger lies mute.
Once grimy Soho has gained a glow
and now, most endearingly shows
A practised charm in cuddling close to Theatre Land.
One can almost smell the indolence dancing
Nonchalently out from Patessierie Valerie, drifting.
And later, vacillating from Soho to Cambridge Circus
along the Charing Cross Road, up from Southbank
Like an elastic band of cultural invaders they come.
Tally Ho! No crime apparent, yet a shadowy finger points accusing.
A tribe of disparate nomads
a merry band of players, a gallery of glamour
In the white smoke of reprobation.
The guady lights, a whiff of Chinese spice,
Embracing the hundreds of us in Multi-platform dimensions;
screen, stage, mobile media, open mic live,
Will we fade away or thrive?
Sucked down in the bowels of the city, marble topped and ornate
We flow. Expectant. Curious. Raging.
Both audience and cast in this movement of hope, this agony
of circumstance, this grind of repitition.
Epitaphs and admonitions; less talk, more do!
Action to the Word! Street talk, flourish, and prickly articulation
As we stand to save our cultural nation. Not as one, but many.
A temerity of activists? emerge blinking into the light of day
Our thumbs pricked, our comfortable consciences plucked
A tempest gathering.
The crime was more apparent on my way home.
The cranes still lowering on the horizon as I stood beneath the bleached halls of bureaucracy at Whitehall the cultural clouds now drifting away and a jolly policeman making sure he got a good shot of me as he beamed hello. I pondered the statues to fallen heroes, the architectural grandeur, an abundance of building and the Big Wheel slowly turning, rolling over the river reflective in the golden sunlit glow on the portals of power.
There’s a body in the library, you see
And it’s as much who next, as what next?
We can’t stand by and watch the glorious sun set
Now is the time, now the hour
Action to the word. Actions to the words
As one, as many, together.
What Next 2013 #WN2013
Spent a rather marvellous day at the Science Museum, no queues to get in (queueing around the block at the Natural History Museum) although there were queues to get into the Google sponsored Web Lab and the Launchpad. We arrived in time to hear some excellent and enthusiastic storytelling on flight and the history of the hot air balloon on the third floor but the storyteller could have done with a staff member to support them directing traffic round him as his audience grew and grew (a task I fell into, as my education officers hat suddenly appeared from retirement). I was with my cousin whom I used to take along as a child, and I was often an accompanying adult on her school trips to the museums back in the eighties. She loved the Launchpad back then and it hasn’t changed so much, the buzz of excited children and young teens testing, trying and tearing about is so loud, you tend to want to hug the wall in shock although the water rocket demonstration managed to draw me out of myself as it shot across the span of the ceiling at lightning speed!
Talking of shock, probably the most memorable exhibit of the day for me, was in the Energy Hall one floor down. Here you will find a massive metal pole very clearly labelled DO NOT TOUCH! – so of course, there were crowds of people (all ages) stood around it as it thunked with electric pulses administering random and non-fatal electric shocks. The energy exhibition pulled some hefty punches about climate change and the image of the childs lunch box which contained a compartment for the child’s pooh (to be taken home for recycling) will stay with me. I’m so glad that some of my favourite exhibits were still there, the planes, the cars, the space suits, the giant lathe and the light-house globe but I’m going to have to come back to acquaint myself with the new stuff.
It cost £80 for three of us to get to London (off-peak) and a suggested donation of a fiver each to get into the museum, we brought our own water but succumbed to a late lunch, after the wonders of the Wellcome Wing left our minds numb with possibility. The eldest had time to pop down the road to the Butterfly Marquee outside the Natural History Museum which she thought was £4.50 well spent (two hundred photos worth). Even if you avoid the eateries there’s still the wonderfully, well stocked shop to get past! Not an inexpensive day but a memorable one – aah, dear old science Museum, you’ve had a face lift, sponsorship and some upgrades but you’re still crazy, after all these years.
“You want to talk Camping!” I hear you cry, “in this weather?”. Well, Yes! You see I’ve just been to Camping World to look at tents, which to the initiated, in the ‘camping world’ is something of a treat. So many tents, so little time… you can tweak the guy ropes, zip and unzip the zips, frown at the lack of this and admire the inclusion of that, and in my case bemoan the lack of double skin tents being made.
All things change. When I first went camping as a Brownie and later in my friends back garden it was in canvas tents. They were heavy to carry, prone to mould and mildew if not dried out before storing and if not pegged out properly, quite undignified in the way they abandoned their post in high winds. We still have canvas tents, of course, and for some people polyester just won’t ever cut it, but my oh my, the art of Tent Camping has progressed so far. Tents are now designed to defy our English weather, they can be shaped aero dynamically, and on a good brand the poles can withstand no amount of heavy rain, high winds and even snow… you still have to make sure you peg it out right and understand about tension and load points but each year we get better and better at designing tents for those who don’t. I have one of those festival tents that folds into a flat circle and somehow magically untwists into a small two person tunnel tent, the problem is I have to phone up the eldest who seems to be the only one who understands how the hell it folds and twists back into a circle when it comes to packing away! Still, it’s a fabulous thing and very useful as tents go.
Over the past ten years, tents have got so big they are like mini home from homes, you can even have electricity for lights, your fridge and cooking! This new breed of barn like tunnel tents and geodesic domes with no amount of ‘pods’ attached, are primarily for large families and people who just like space and head height and lots and lots of space to put their kit, pets and/or children.
Back in 2001, I rediscovered camping but Mr B’s two person Vango (a simple seventies look, tan coloured A-Frame affair was not quite my idea of camping heaven). I purchased a dome-shaped Eurohike and then a vis-a-vis cotton canvas tent which was lovely, until we spent a weekend at Tom’s Field nr. Swanage and I spotted an Outwell. It looked like quality, not only did it look good but it took so little time to put up. Discovering the Outwell (I was so busy being awestruck I have no idea which one it was) was transformative; sewn-in ground sheets! Far less rogue insect invasions, no smell of wet mud and grass, far less mud ingress into the tent… oh I was smitten. I spent two months researching on Ebay and reading tent reviews on the ukcampsite.co.uk and looking at specs, made a few failed bids and then voila! I was the proud owner of an Outwell Hartford Xl and also a Hartford L (errm, yes, quite). Mr B. who was neither as smitten, nor as impressed as I, reluctantly agreed to help me assemble the massive Hartford XL in our not so massive garden, mumbling about the money wasted the entire time. An arched porch led into a spacious dome with three bedroom pods off it. It proved to be everything I’d hoped for and more. In rough, blustery Devon weather it remained standing and we remained dry and cosy. In Southern Ireland when we realised we’d pitched it partly over a bog created by a leaking stand pipe we simply unpegged it, and moved the whole tent to a drier spot much to our friends and the other campers amusement (Germans, Irish, Dutch), it’s geodesic design kept it’s shape. It even withstood ten rowdy teenagers when we took a youth club on a camping trip to Kent for a weekend. Everywhere we go, people want to see inside it. It is still cosy and warm and magical to be inside.
That said, I’m ready to move on, partly age and partly the futurist in me yearns for something new. Mr. B has ruled the budgetary implications of a hotel stay or renting an idyllic cottage out, sadly and, Camper vans are fun but impractical for us and where on earth would we put a caravan? So, there I am browsing Camping World and genuinely admiring the airbeam tents. I mean it sounds like a stupid idea, a tent held up by air-filled pipes, right? Madness! Where’s the stability in that? But they are solid tents. I really liked the Kampa Airbeams, one of which was reminiscent of our Outwell Hartford. I didn’t like the new Outwells, they looked plasticky and all this sun window nonsense is no good at all in our british summers, I felt cold standing in them with so much window and not much privacy – I don’t need people to know how disorganised I am when I unpack my stuff thank you very much.
On our camping holiday last summer we made friends with a lovely family from Chester (in the tent next door) the girls got together with Thom (honourary boy of the tribe) and wrote a lovely story about a mermaid and treasure and pirates. Our tent was also a gallery for the illustrations they came up with. Tents need creativity, good design and good weather handling capabilities. My ideal tent, would have sleeping pods that don’t let in the light so the kids don’t wake up with the lark, sewn – in groundsheet, a good-sized porch that meant you could use the cooker outside the main tent body but are protected from the inevitable rain and wind and have plenty of hanging points inside for drying clothes… Hello! Hello? You still there? Sorry, but you know sometimes these things, well they just have to be said don’t they?