Today (9 Sep) I’m sitting in my ‘office’ (up a hill with an approaching storm trying to get a mobile signal) looking out over broccoli like oak forests below and 5 valleys folded together and meeting below me. I’m surrounded by a cloud of thistle seeds on a rising wind overlooking the extraordinary Old Chapel Farm, the ever increasing whicker of the wind turbine and the sound of the wind through the trees signal the approaching deluge. Conifers woosh and deciduous trees rustle.
I am on a Wwoofing ‘holiday’ after 3 hard weeks catering a feature film in Llanfihangel-y-Creudyyn. It was tough and I’ve been doing lots of sleeping to recover. Just the physical reality of moving huge pots, chopping veg for 30-40 people (3 meals a day) on a table about 3 inches too low has been gruelling. The crew were bedded down in the trenches up at the farm where they were shooting; Cwmnewdion Isaf where we put on Fire in the Mountain festival earlier this year, and I worked alone in the village. I also aggravated an earlier elbow tweak up to a condition I’m now calling ‘risotto arm’. Perhaps the most middle class condition known to man.
Cooking up at the farm would have been an additional stress so I was happy to be separate especially as harmonious wasn’t the go-to adjective for the shoot.
I wanted to see if I could pull the catering thing off. If I could provide good, cosy, nourishing food to keep the troops going and I did. The logistics of a domestic kitchen meant that one pot cooking was all that was possible but it worked and I was lavished with gratitude for keeping the troops nurtured. On camp I always think of the kitchen as the engine room of the ship, fueling all the fun and enthusiasm around. If you feed them, they will dance. They weren’t quite dancing on the shoot, but mission accomplished.
I also landed a job.
I had been looking for a bolthole for the winter and had hoped the film would introduce me to some local possibilities and indeed I found Y Ffarmers pub where the lovely Rhodri and Esther have brought together fine food, ale and community. I start as a chef there in a week!
I don’t have anywhere to live yet but I’m working on something temporary and local to give me some more time to work out what I want for the winter. Instincts lean towards being as rural as possible but I have to be realistic about a winter up here in “the arse-end of Ceredigion” as my lovely friend Vicky (from that positively tropical bit of the world South Pembrokeshire) called it.
Anyways, a quick catch up for you on the past 6 weeks. I’ve found it really hard to write as I’ve ducked and dived and bobbed and weaved around this summer. I think I need routine to find the discipline to write regularly and so I’m looking forward to being still, finding a view to watch change each day, a fire to stoke and a routine to slot some regular writing and whatever else into. I’ve signed up for a writing course at the Uni of Aberystwyth which I’m excited about.
I think I last left you as I hot footed south from the Llyn Peninsula working my way towards dipping my toe in the water of Somerset and Devon.
I had a lovely brief encounter with Polly, Nicholas, Albie and Otis for dinner on July 13 while chugging along the A44 yet again.
With guidance from locals I’ve been choosing not the fast routes, but the beautiful and underused routes, so the sedate pace of the van is not to provocative to whoever’s behind you. I’m pretty good at pulling in and letting them play through, it’s very dull being feistily goosed by those with more horse power / urgency than me.
Intending to just spend one night enjoying some home comforts with Kit and Al in Frome, I stayed for three, which was obviously needed.
It’s hard to work out when you need a break on this sort of trip, everyday is an adventure but everyday is also energetically inefficient both physically – packing the van up and down and hefting the powerless steering around, and emotionally – dipping in and out of others’ lives. Learning how I need to recharge is ongoing.
Then a couple of days (17/18 July) having a look around Tiverton where the lovely Hannams have a smallholding. If only I could have transplanted their jewel of a cottage (on offer for the winter) to an area I had more contact / knowledge / experience of. It took me some time but I worked out that I had to find a job, project, and/or community to be part of first and the roof would work itself out. It felt too enormous to choose such a remote home when I had nothing anchoring me to the locality. I’m sure I could have made it work but the challenge of the terrain; the van found some of those hills hard in full summer, daunted me without a community to default to. I do hope to spend some time there though one day, it’s a proper idyll and I almost succumbed, but excitingly and encouragingly the unknown beckoned and I heeded her call. This feels like progress for me.
Also to be noted was the fact I spent a night in a campsite in Nomansland. It was pretty bleak.
Then five days of joy, hard work and love oozing from every knot, screw, grown and foraged flower, every tent pole, cocktail, sequin and cooking pan. Olivia and Paddy gathered their people and the people built, sculpted, sang, sewed, cooked and blessed their very special union. It was a wonderful thing to be part of. Just near Taunton, a few fields and a barn became a truly miraculous place. In part because Olivia’s sheer force of will had managed to move that relentless pesky rain drenching jet stream north to it’s usual summer position and the sun came out at last. But mainly due to extraordinary people coming together and becoming much more than the sum of our parts. Mighty fine. She also looked like a goddess courtesy of Hannah’s amazing costuming skills. Strangely I didn’t take any pictures so it all feels a little like a dream that may or may not have actually happened.
From one special community to another – a two week Forest School Camp (24 July – 8 Aug) with some more inspiring folk. As ever I learned loads about myself including how grumpy I can be if lacking sleep. I’m so less short and abrupt than in the bad old days but there’s still a rather un-zen kneejerk gruffness that I’d like to tame.
I saw my first ever moonbow (none of us had ever seen one), which was truly startling. A beautiful silver arc as an incredibly bright near full moon (low angled on the horizon) refracted in the rain at two in the morning, stunning. The rather featureless field that was our home for two weeks created some amazing nightscapes. One moonlit night a low level fog hung heavily with fellow campers emerging dramatically out of the mist like a 6th form college production of Macbeth with an exuberant dry ice budget.
Camp is always extraordinary, there was much joy but I was also frustrated that the group I was looking after; 19 x 9-11 year olds didn’t become more than the sum of their parts which is what we hope for. Indeed some were so draining that there wasn’t much life force left in us for the less needy ones. I know we impacted on them positively, I hope so we worked bloody hard at it, but sometimes the volume of them just felt like we were always just herding lemmings away from a cliff. We didn’t break any of them which was the main thing.
The day the camp (70 kids and 40 adults) left I was the only one who didn’t have somewhere to go immediately, my next assignation was Wilderness festival near Oxford a couple of days later. I wasn’t ready to just leave, and also wasn’t really in a fit state to drive I was so exhausted. So I parked up the van by our lovely river, had a good wash, made some campervan toasties and slept for 10 hours. A gentle rocking woke me the next morning; a sheep having a good back rub up against the van. Leisurely departure, washed some clothes at the Penybont Laundromat and headed to Monmouthshire. If in the area may I recommend the Penybont laudromat experience; petrol station, café, shop and laundry all in one so a myriad of mundane chores both automotive and domestic can be achieved all with a cappuccino in hand.
All such leisureliness only made possible by some decent weather. It’s been very hard to just be still this summer with the relentless rain. The van is not built to be a port in a storm, it’s built to be a base for an adventure which hasn’t always been easy this hydromatic summer.
I’ve never been called manna from heaven before, but lovely Jo welcomed me in for a night (9 Aug) in Tregare on my next detour towards some Talkaoke at the Wilderness festival in Cotswoldia. A strangely coiffured place for me in my post-camp raggedy state, but I do enjoy the buzz of the Talkaoke table, it’s my bit of performance art. At the Talkaoke birthday party last winter a lovely lady said after I’d been hosting a conversation at the table that watching me do it was like watching someone conduct. I’m proud of the compliment, when I find my groove at the table it can feel like a great dance. If I get it right, then every participant feels like they’ve been part of something special, it’s a privilege and my favourite job out of the many that make up my ‘portfolio career’.
This blog started off with the title “bigger than the sum of our parts” but Joe Buirski came up with the more satisfying, “Together we are”. The things that have given me the greatest joy this summer have been those that involved people coming together with a common goal. Feeling valued is so integral to happiness and what I’ve been privileged to be part of this summer; FSC, Oliviaddy’s wedding, Fire in the Mountain, Wwoofing… have all been about stepping up amd representing and being cherished and acknowledged for my contribution as part of a common mission / goal / game whatever.
Last Sunday (17 Sep) was my first day in a house I could call mine for a loooong time. It’s only for 2 weeks while I find something more long term for the winter but still very needed as the air has acquired a bite and the rain does what it does best this year. I have a cosy little set up so I have a base to help me get settled into work. Once in situ I can chat to the locals to see what might be available as a bolthole this winter. A nod to Titch, thanks for allowing me to stay in his very lovely converted stable block for a few weeks despite having never met me. The kindness of strangers and all that – ask, people will help you if they can. Particularly appreciated as the rain slapped Wales hard across the face this week. I’ve been turning the other cheek all summer and now I’m ready for a roof and some stillness and hopefully a woodburner to call my own for a while.
Old Chapel Farm needs a special mention. I spent a week here between the film and starting work. I shovelled shit, made shingles, butter and ricotta and cherished a very poorly Mouflon lamb. The closest relation to the wild sheep that early man would have first domesticated. Most importantly I was welcomed into the very special community that Fran and Kevin have made there. It was amazing timing for me to help me transition from itinerant to resident and though I was only there a week. Their special sort of generosity with their home and farm was really timely for me as I start to think about stopping for a while. There was also a quick RDV with Joe Buirski at Marianne’s for a jaunt to the No 6 Festival in Port Meirion. Very Posh. But here’s a quick pic of the famous Zog – the Iron Age boarat Marianne’s.
It is Zog’s offspring that we had a butchery lesson on last December and from who we made amazing Parma ham. I’ve also been feeding him all the kitchen scraps from the film shoot, investing in my next leg of Parma…