Did you know that [counter] people have been having a skeg at my little autonomous region?

  

Rat Attack

My New Year’s resolution for 2017 has been to not kill anything. I’ve not really classed myself as a killer before but, in terms of my blood lust, I must confess that last year ended rather badly.

My new life in rural Bulgaria boils down, in many ways, to the survival of the fittest. So it seemed quite wrong that in a battle between a fat, bald bloke approaching sixty years of age and a lithe young rat, it was the former that turned out to be the victor.

I felt bad about it. I try not to harm any living creature. When I see a caterpillar or a frog on a road I pick it up and put it out of harm’s way on the nearest grass verge. When I see a centipede or a scorpion in my house I remember that it could be someone’s grandad reincarnate, so I coax it outside with a pipe and a pair of slippers. I am savagely opposed to fox hunting. The biggest test to my humane side is that almost two days went by before I could take the Theresa May Voodoo Doll that I got for Christmas out of its box. But the rat had to go because it was making my life difficult.

Now had the rat been the sort that would sit down and negotiate with me, things might have been different. I saw it scampering along down behind the settee one night and I spoke to it but it just ran away. Perhaps my words were not exactly conciliatory but had it just agreed to not eat the insulation on my water pipes and to improve its personal hygiene standards then perhaps it would still be alive today.

Once it had been established that peace talks were not going to be effective I decided it was time to put traps on the ground and, as I broke four fingers in the process as these deadly machines went off accidentally in my hand, I was convinced that this approach would be a speedy remedy. But they didn’t go off and it wasn’t. The little rascal was able to remove the bait with such precision and dexterity under conditions of great danger I wondered if it had been a bomb disposal expert back in the days when it was someone’s grandad.

At my local DIY shop I bought some stuff that bore the words ‘rat pasta’ on the packet. Having always been and adventurous diner, I imagined this unusual food item would go down well with a tossed salad and a cheeky glass of Chianti. As I unpacked my shopping bags at home I looked for cooking instructions only to discover that it wasn’t edible for humans, leaving me with the problem of what else could I have for my tea but the benefit of potentially solving the problem of the furry little beast that was having my house for its tea. These small and soft sachets really did look like ravioli, stuffed with meaty goodness, Mediterranean herbs a hint of deadly poison.

I lay these sinister morsels in strategic places in my roof space and round the back of water pipes and in the large porcelain jar marked ‘pasta’ that I once bought in Ikea because it seemed like a bargain and it matched the colour of my rustic yoghurt thermometer and my ‘Greetings from Stoke-on-Trent’ fish slice. Soon some of them were gone so I thought that in no time at all, the rodent would be gone too. But it wasn’t, and every night I could hear it running around inside the bathroom wall and in the roof, ripping things to bits with what sounded like a mini rat-sized crowbar and shouting ‘Screw you, human!’

Feeling the need to bolster my defence, I bought another type of poison that looked like purple muesli but without sultanas in it and no added sugar. My little friend wasn’t interested in this stuff at all, probably because it didn’t contain sultanas or added sugar.

I continued with the pasta parcels as these were disappearing in great numbers. The Rat Catchers’ on-line chat forum community, of which by now I was a respected member, suggested that these would be dragged away to a nest and consumed later. That was why, to my initial surprise, the beast had not already died, but I took comfort from the fact that the greedy little bugger had plans for these deadly comestibles as it stored them up in its ratty little larder.

Frustrated, I went to the rat poison shop in town. The lady in her smart Deadly Chemicals ‘R’ Us uniform suggested another approach, which strangely didn’t involve deadly chemicals. She flogged me a couple of large plastic pads coated with the stickiest sticky stuff in the world which would just consign any unsuspecting rodent to death by stickiness. The plan was that I would put an assortment of cheese, nuts, chocolate, fruit and cold cuts on it (a proper little festive buffet) and when my little chum went to tuck in it would stick to the glue forever and victory would be declared.

A couple of hours after I had placed these pads in spots where I knew a Christmas party might go on for tiny creatures I heard a load of clattering about up in my roof space. I was tempted to immediately go and have a look but I didn’t really want to be confronted by a sticky but still alive rat. So I left it to the following morning thinking that at least it could no longer gnaw at my house, even though it gnawed at my conscience.

Have you ever seen the film The Red Baron? Do you know how World War One fighter pilots Baron von Richthofen and Captain Brown were committed to shooting each other’s magnificent flying machines out of the sky but at the same time had ultimate respect for one another? Well that’s how I began to feel about the rat when I discovered there was no actual rat in the sticky trap that I had laid for it but there were tiny footprints and half of the food had gone. This was a rat with attitude and something inside me made me want to make friends and give it a better life, but something scurrying about inside the wooden casing where all my central heating pipes are hidden made me want to shoot it out of the sky, or at least out of the wooden casing.

However, within a day or so of my thinking I had won it appeared that I really had won as silence fell on the normally infested areas of my house. The instructions on the pasta packet told me that I would probably never find a body as the lethal poison was so designed as to mummify the victim in its nest, taking away the possibility of bad smells and further infestation from insects. I was disappointed. I wanted to see the poor blighter’s remains, to have closure and to give it a decent burial.

I’m pleased to say that this splendid fellow did the decent thing and shuffled off its mortal coil before midnight on the thirty-first of December. Consequently my New Year’s resolution for 2017 seems like it’s going to be a success. Giving up killing is so much easier than giving up cake and biscuits, or alcohol, or looking at pictures of Lady Astor with her clothing loosened. Next January I’m going to try to go a full twelve months without carrying out an armed robbery.

 

I don't have photographs of the rat but here is a picture of my friends celebrating at its wake.

I don't have photographs of the rat but here is a picture of my friends celebrating at its wake.

Let It Stop Now

In the last five days I have ventured only as far as my garden gate and each time was to clear the snow from the twenty-five big stone steps that lead down to the door of my house. In between clearings I didn’t venture up the steps at all which means that at least two out of the three of them were a waste of time. I suppose it did provide me with a bit of fresh air and exercise, and an adrenalin rush or two as I almost went flat on my arse on the ice. 

I like to think I have finished clearing snow for the time being. The bitter weather of late has been bright and beautiful but also the cause of borderline anxiety, so the novelty has definitely worn off now. It remains very cold but the weather forecast people have suggested that this batch of snow is all done and dusted and that this coming Saturday’s blizzard has been downgraded to a day of icy rain, which I would consider a luxury by comparison to the conditions of the year so far. Mind you, weather forecast people are not averse to changing their minds from time to time. Theirs must be the easiest job in the world because they can come out with any old crap but still find themselves in gainful employment when they get it completely wrong. Considering their success rate, it’s a good job brain surgeons and bomb disposal experts don’t do their training at the same seat of learning as meteorologists. So, I’m not ruling out the possibility of more snow on Saturday but, for the same reason, neither am I ruling out a tropical heatwave.     

I’m not complaining though. It has been quite an exciting experience from which I have learned a lot.

For starters, I have learned to love my petchka, or wood burning stove. It’s a bit of an antique job and it makes my kitchen look like the waiting room in a 1930s Siberian railway station, like you see in the movies. So much so that troupe of Cossack dancers and the Red Army Choir wouldn’t look out of place in the vicinity of my dishwasher. I only got the petchka as an emergency back up device in case the power failed and my posh electrical heating system was out of action. Three times my electricity supply has abandoned me but more than three times has the stove been lit. This is because it looks nice and it elevates the standard of my living conditions from comfortable to cosy.

The stove made me feel very warm long before I ever put a match to it. Lifting this solid cast iron beauty down the twenty-five steps on the day it became mine made my temples and oxsters moisten slightly. I have a barn full of wood but all in bits too big to fit through the neck of the burner so I found myself in a puddle of perspiration after an hour of splitting logs on a cold day back in November. Also, just getting up from my seat every twenty minutes to give it a poke once it’s lit and to check if it needs more wood requires more physical exertion than I am accustomed to. I’d never had to light a fire in my house before though so it has been a new and interesting experience for me and one that makes me feel at home amongst a nation of wood burners.

Another thing I like about this weather is standing outside in the still and silent, icy air and taking in the sweet, soft aroma of wood smoke floating from the chimneys of hundreds of other houses with petchki blasting away to keep the inhabitants warm. The smoke forms a misty blanket in valleys in the mornings and looks gorgeous as the snow covered rooves glimmer beneath and the white dusted towers of churches and mosques and the Socialist era concrete apartment blocks poke their heads through. Basically this is pollution, but it’s my all-time favourite pollution and it’s what people have been doing here to keep themselves alive for thousands of years. I like to think it’s not as bad as the gases emitted from the cars, factories and politicians and, as much as I admire those lovely people at Greenpeace, I’ll be keeping this a secret from them.   

 

Sleepy Veliko Tarnovo snuggled in the valley of the Yantra River.

 Sleepy Veliko Tarnovo snuggled in the valley of the Yantra River.

 

Other things that I have encountered as I have climbed up my Bulgarian winter learning curve include staying in bed until two o’clock in the afternoon because it’s warm there and there’s no point getting up when a blizzard is raging outside and there’s nothing else to do but drink coffee and read a book. Without any great difficulty, I have learned to drink alcohol during the day whilst still remaining sufficiently sober to drink more alcohol during the evening and the night. I have learned that staring out at the snow, at the natural unspoilt scenery that surrounds me and at the wild birds that busy themselves looking for food in my garden is far more entertaining and rewarding than watching a television. From my experience, I can understand how isolation must have driven people mad during longer and harsher winters than mine and I have discovered that isolation these days isn’t necessarily a problem as I have had messages and Skype conversations with people all over the world wondering if I am surviving. Some of them sounded a little disappointed that I haven’t had appendages frozen off or that I haven’t had to resort to drinking my own urine, because that would have been much more exciting, but it’s good to know that people are taking an interest in my welfare.

What I am really pleased about is that my first winter in Bulgaria has been a severe one. I must admit that it was getting on my nerves a little bit when a few of the people I know here were telling me that when winter eventually came I wouldn’t know what had hit me, and when I’d lived here as long as they have, and blah-di-blah. So I couldn’t wait to get on with it and show them what I’m made of. I was also concerned that this winter would be a mild one so that the conversation would just change slightly to me being told that I wouldn’t know what had hit me once a bad one eventually came along. I know they all mean well but it has made me feel like the geeky new kid at times. This excludes my closest friends, of course, whose help and advice and moral support and trips to the pub I have treasured all along.

So now I have a list of things to do to make next winter easier to survive. I need to get my house insulated a bit better than it is to keep my precious heat in; I need to get a semi-ferocious cat to keep out the rodent-based items who have the notion that they can come in to share my heat; I need to add toilet paper to the list of items to stock up on for winter (tidying up in a lavatory situation with just a copy of the Bulgarian Argos catalogue in sub-zero temperatures is less than comfortable); and I need to sit back and not panic as by then I will have passed the alternative lifestyle initiation test, hopefully!

Let It Snow

Last Friday it snowed non-stop for thirty-six hours and I thought life on our planet had come to an icy end. Yesterday was another day when it snowed non-stop for thirty-six hours but the snowflakes were much bigger. My world has turned cold and white and, much to my surprise, I love it.

I’ve never been very fond of winter weather but the winter weather of my bit of the Republic of Bulgaria has, so far this winter, been extremely nice. Most of the country has been caught up in a series of ten day cycles each consisting of a single day of heavy snow followed by week long periods of sunshine with iciness in which the whole place sparkled as the snow melted slowly in a slush-free sort of way before the whole routine started again.

However, the latest batch has been the heaviest snow I have seen here. In fact, it is probably the heaviest snow I have ever seen in my life. A forty-two centimetre deep layer has carpeted the village of Malki Chiflik where I live. There’s even a bit of underlay remaining from the last snowfall we had a week and a half ago. It’s a good job it looks nice because there’s no escaping from it for anyone with fewer than eight huskies to pull their sled, or Lada.

For the first time in fifty-six years I haven’t had to worry about trudging through wintery conditions to get to work or school. Not having any responsibilities makes bad weather so much more bearable, or even enjoyable. I would go as far as to say that this is my all-time favourite bad weather. The snow is too deep to venture out so I have just sat inside, poured myself the odd cheeky glass of rakia to help keep me warm and to support the local economy, and watched through the windows as the deluge of white flakes made my garden look like a Christmas cake, albeit a Christmas cake with a few nettles poking through the surface and a couple of piles of waste matter deposited in the chill by as yet unidentified wild animals with frostbitten bums. I’m staying inside and if the world needs me it will just have to wait until I re-emerge from my den at the end of the hibernating season.

I will go out once it stops snowing but at the moment I just don’t fancy getting wet in such low temperatures. It won’t stop me going to explore my beautiful new surroundings but last week it did stop me going out to join in the New Year’s Eve celebrations in the nearby old city of Veliko Tarnovo, which was a bit of a shame because I missed out on a few fireworks and a lot of merrymaking. However, I suspect that everybody else in the region was in the same predicament so if I had turned up I would have had to stand there on my own with a sparkler and a sausage looking all lonely and pathetic instead of just feeling that way at home.

 

My summer sun terrace.

My summer sun terrace.

 

Cosy though it is in my old Bulgarski farmhouse stocked to the gun whales with food and drink and stuff to keep me entertained, I do feel a little claustrophobic. I could do with getting out to get some exercise, some fresh air, some fresh fruit and veg, some contact with other human beings and a pint. To break the silence I’ve been talking to myself a little bit and each noise that I hear I imagine to be voices or footsteps. A couple of weeks ago, I had a minor skirmish with a rodent-based creature. I won our little battle but it put up a good fight and made me constantly aware of animal noises in the roof and the walls. I’ve been advised to leave my water taps running a little to reduce the likelihood of the pipes freezing. It’s amazing how similar the dribble of water into the kitchen sink sounds to the patter of a rat’s little feet. So, as I sit here trying to write, all the time looking around me and listening out for sinister intruders, I imagine that my life is turning into Stanley Kubrik’s film, The Shining. I have my woodman’s axe at hand ready for the reappearance of any unwelcome wildlife and a psychopathic grin on my face, just like Jack Nicholson’s, in case I need to smile for the camera as I hack my visitors to bits.

The other little problems associated with being snowbound are that the electricity, water and internet have been cut off intermittently, though never all at the same time. I’m prepared for this though. My old petchka (wood burning stove) and a glass of rakia keep me warm when I can’t use my posh modern electrical heating system; when the internet goes off I have a glass of rakia and I sing old Bulgarian folk songs to myself instead of watching them on YouTube; and when there is no water I immerse myself in rakia to keep myself clean and warm, and preserved in the event of failing to survive these Arctic conditions.

Anyway, I feel as though I am coping with this cold winter which will be over in a few weeks and then we can all look forward to a hot Bulgarian summer during which we will drink rakia to keep cool. The local economy needs my support the whole year round you know!

Thanksgiving

Today it has been my birthday, again! Today has been a bit extra special though as it has been my first ever birthday as a resident of the Republic of Bulgaria, though I was here on holiday for my birthday last year. Reaching this particular birthday means that I have survived several things. Read on and all will be revealed.

I have survived my first summer in Bulgaria. A very hot and very dry period of time during which I lost five kilograms in weight by being gnawed at by the myriad of insects that saw me as an item from a summer barbeque and in which I gained six kilograms in weight due to the simple fact that cutting down on exercise and drinking enormous volumes of cold wine or beer are the only sure way to keep cool in that scorching sun of the Republic of Bulgaria.

I have survived the move from a home three thousand kilometres away on an island in Western Europe to a new home right here where I am sitting now in South Eastern Europe. For me it was easy but for my personal effects it was much more of an adventure. They went the long way round in a shipping container on a shipping container ship from Harwich in the Far East of England, through the Strait of Gibraltar, most of the Mediterranean Sea, the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, a bit of the Black Sea to Burgas and then back in a westerly direction of all things along the road to my humble abode in Malki Chiflik. My journey here was a three-hour EasyJet flight from Manchester to Sofia but my collection of antiques and crap went on quite a nice little cruise … and they never even sent me a postcard! They arrived here about a month after me and, because there were dusty goings on of a workmen nature in my house, it took another month for me to unpack them, to do a bit of Feng Shui (with a portion of egg fried rice and prawn crackers) and to welcome them to my, by then, beloved Republic of Bulgaria. Every last item that I packed up back there in Devizes survived the journey unscathed and I fully intend to one day reward the removal company with a bottle of the finest rakia and a large flat sausage, both of which are commonplace in the cuisine of the Republic of Bulgaria.

Did I ever tell you about one of my dear old lady former customers who once went on a holiday to Istanbul? She told me that during her stay she befriended a young Turkish gentleman. He was very kind and polite and went to a great deal of trouble to show here all the interesting sights of that magnificent city. And apparently one night during dinner he even offered to take her up the Bosphorus.

Arriving relatively unscathed at another birthday obviously means I have survived another year on this planet. How my life has changed in the last twelve months. From time to time I look in my diary to see what I was doing a year ago and, even though back then I had started to wind up my business, my life was still burdened with ten hours per day of slicing away at hyperkeratotic lesions on foetid fungal feet (but if you’re a former client reading this I’d like you to know that it was an absolute joy). The same applies to the previous eleven years. I know this without even having to look in old business diaries, all of which are now stored in a loft in North East London to protect the innocent. By my reckoning, in twelve years as a professional and fully qualified foot hacker I must have cut 480,000 toenails, perhaps slightly less to allow for the odd avulsion or amputation. If I had kept them all I would have enough material to construct a full-scale model of the ship Captain 1st Rank Dimitar Dobrev of the proud Navy of the Republic of Bulgaria.

The next part of my plan is to survive my first hard winter of the Republic of Bulgaria. The months from December to February, I am told, will be extremely cold. I’ve become rather accustomed to sitting out in my garden well into the evening with a glass of rakia and a flat sausage, even as late in the year as a couple of weeks ago. To ensure that I can continue to do this through the frost and snow I have constructed a fire pit in part of the now partially tamed wild bit of my garden. I lit the first fire there tonight, as it was my birthday. Although my back was cold the flames made my face glow and placing my hands on the rocks around the fire kept them warm. I sat there for a couple of hours into the night listening to the sound of the cows’ tinkling bells as they were ushered home from pasture along the lane at the front of my house, the last couple of hardy cicadas chirping in the trees around me, the sad cries of the jackals in the forest beyond, and Turkish music softly drifting down the hill from my Pomatsi neighbours’ terrace. The exquisite smells of Balkan food cooking in nearby houses and of the wood smoke from my fire permeated my nostrils as I looked up at a quarter moon and a million stars in the clear night sky of my rural setting. I felt as though I was a million miles and a hundred years away from what I had previously been accustomed to, but I felt totally at ease with my surroundings, probably for the first time in decades. The peace and serenity of the simple ways of the Bulgarian countryside are what I have spent most of my life yearning for and striving towards, even though I didn’t know it was here until eighteen months ago.

I took my hands from the warm rocks around the fire, poured myself a glass of rakia and drank to my own survival and to the Republic of Bulgaria, a country that has made me feel very welcome since my arrival four and a bit months ago, a country in which surviving hasn’t been at all difficult and a country in which every day has seemed like a birthday while I have been living here.

I hope someday you’ll join me, and the world will be as one.

 

The fire pit of the Republic of Bulgaria.

The fire pit of the Republic of Bulgaria.

Dobre doshli

Well I’ve been banging on about moving to live abroad for years and I’ve been banging on about moving to Bulgaria since April 2015, but now my emigration process is complete so you can read this little record of my little life without worrying about me moaning and groaning anymore.

I finally landed at my final resting place (but one) on Saturday 25th June, which was probably the hottest day I have ever known in Europe and I’m pleased to say that it has been at least very warm and almost completely dry ever since. In comparison to what I am used to, I think this can already be described as a long hot summer but there is still a lot more to come before the short bitter winter kicks in.

I’ve got all the time in the world to find my feet here, metaphorically speaking. I have no intention of seeking out real life feet which are, apart from my own, a mere distant memory of my working days of yore. In terms of my new alternative lifestyle, finding my feet has amounted to things like trying out the dozens of different natural yoghurts that are on sale in the shops until I find the best one, going through exactly the same procedure with wine and rakia in the same shops, buying a garden chair for my extensive garden, digging up my extensive garden and disposing of an assortment of weeds that I have never seen before in previous gardening situations, shouting ‘bugger off you little get’ a thousand times a day to the blood sucking creatures that fly around until they have found the tastiest bit of me to bite and taking in the wonderful views of the area in which I now reside, one of which can be found round just about every corner.

 

Jilly Goolden's Strong Drink of the Month for June 2016.

Jilly Goolden's Strong Drink of the Month for June 2016.

 

My knowledge of the local tongue is still very limited, though I did have a delicious plate of calf’s tongue cooked in wine and herbs at a restaurant in the nearby city of Veliko Tarnovo the other night. But speaking in tongues is very difficult. I can usually work out what I need to say in Bulgarian but I can rarely understand the reply that I get. I’m sure the people are saying nice things to me because from day one I have been made to feel very welcome here and they nearly always smile when they speak to me. I suppose they could be saying ‘bugger off you little get’ but I doubt it.

I do something every day but I don’t do very much. That was always part of the glorious plan. I have a loosely fitting daily agenda that comprises of knocking up a healthy meal from local ingredients, a bit of exercise, learning a few new words of Bulgarian, going somewhere I have never been before, not scratching my mosquito bites and sitting with my feet up reading a book and listening to the muse of South Eastern Europe. That’s quite a few things to remember but such is the laid back sunny atmosphere here a lot of it just happens without any effort.

I’ve been here almost three weeks now and looking back it seems like a long time and a lot has happened. Too much has happened to fit into one page of this this scribble but if you watch this space I will tell you more as the adventure unfolds.

So welcome to my new world and to my blog. Or Добре дошли (dobre doshli), as my lovely Bulgarian friends would say.

Doddy

Ten weeks today will be my first full day living in my new house in the fashionable Malki Chiflik district of Veliko Tarnovo.

I’ve been told by many a Brit expatriate that when I emigrate to Bulgaria I will only survive if I turn off my English head and turn on a Bulgarian one. The country that I am going to make my new home is a beautiful, interesting and friendly place but I’ve oft heard it described as being ‘a bit rough round the edges’. So if I’m really going to feel at peace there I need to accept that I won’t have access to many of the things that I have become accustomed to here in Gross Britain.

I can boast, however, that I have been training hard for the ‘big push’ when it eventually comes (with a little help from easyJet) on 25th June. I have been having Bulgarian language lessons, I have saved all my Easter eggs for the Christian Orthodox Easter on 1st May, I have been following the Bulgarian national football team’s progress (they recently beat Portugal in Lisbon … ha ha Ronaldo) and I have had an image of St George (Bulgaria’s patron saint) tattooed on my left buttock in readiness for the huge party that takes place on St George’s Day on 6th May. I’m even going to my house over there for a nearly a fortnight at the beginning of next month to have a crack at celebrating these two rakia-fuelled traditional holidays so I can hit the ground running, or more likely just hit the ground.

I’ve also been trying to get used to living without some of the things that are a part of my English lifestyle but which won’t be available in Veliko Tarnovo. Things like tomato ketchup, Coronation Street, Sunday roasts, traffic pollution, cold and grey summer days, Tesco, the British Government, cards shoved through my letter box by the gas people to say that they called during the thirty seconds that I was unable to answer the front door because I needed to go and have a wee, the Sun and the Daily Mail, people who read the Sun and the Daily Mail, Jeremy Clarkson and weak coffee. How will I ever manage without these things? Hard going, I know, but I’ve got to become much less English.

Last night I had what I considered to be my ‘Last Supper’ of Englishness. I went to see Ken Dodd on stage in Birmingham. There aren’t many things that I care about that are typically English but ooh I do love Doddy.

 

Ooh we do love Doddy.

Ooh we do love Doddy.

 

I was delighted when he mentioned Bulgaria, without any prompting from me. He said he went there once but didn’t stay long because everything they said to him ended with ‘off’. I would have loved to have been sitting near enough to the stage to have been able to tell him about my plans. I could have even invited him to come and stay with me over there, as I have done with just about everybody else that I know.

His act was very entertaining. He told long rambling jokes that I have heard a million times before but all his little detours along the meandering route to the punchlines were hilarious. He talks absolute rubbish but very funny rubbish and I admire him, for that is what I aspire to but I don’t do it well enough to earn a living from it like he does.

From the start of the show to the end, five hours and twenty minutes passed by. He wasn’t on stage the whole time as there was an interval and a folly of other acts came on for twenty minutes or so to give the poor fella a breather. The other acts were a bit crap really but just the sort of thing you’d expect to see performing on the end of a pier in Blackpool or Scarborough or somewhere else beside the seaside, so that really added to the old fashioned English feel of the entertainment. There was a bloke that played 1950s rock ‘n’ roll classics on a ukulele and sang Heartbreak Hotel in a George Formby voice. A woman the size of six Karen Carpenters played the organ and sang Yesterday Once More before blowing out catchy renditions of popular old tunes from around the British Isles on her flute. And then there was a juggler but not a juggler like all the other jugglers I have seen in my life. No, this bloke kept dropping the things that he was juggling with which was something I had never seen in a juggler’s act before. I didn’t enjoy any of these turns but the vast majority of the audience did and it was the sort of stuff that Ken Dodd must have had supporting him for decades. Although very wrong, they seemed right, so I clapped them off at the end anyway.

Ken, this dear eighty-eight year old complete and utter legend of a comedian, who I have loved since I was a young kid, laughed and smiled throughout his marathon performance. Taking his final standing ovation, long after midnight, he was still smiling as he looked around at the audience and the lovely Alexandra Theatre where he had told us he had performed many times in his long career. To me, the look on his face seemed to suggest that he was taking it all in for a final time. He calls his show the Happiness Show but I’m sure the final few minutes were tinged with a little sadness behind the smile that didn’t fully disguise a look of resignation.

I’ve seen many comedians in the flesh so it was strange that it had taken fifty odd years for Doddy and me to meet in this way. I’m sure he’ll go on for a good bit longer yet but the lions’ share of his incredible working life is behind him. Much of his material had been about him and his audience being allowed out of the care home for the evening. He said that, of his famous Diddy Men, only Dicky Mint was still fit enough to work but when he did his ventriloquist act with his Dicky Mint puppet, Dicky too announced his retirement. All subtle suggestions that it wouldn’t be long until they lowered Doddy’s final final curtain.

And my life in England is very nearly behind me too, though I’m hoping for a long stretch in the Balkans … ooh missus! Last night was the last opportunity I would ever have to be entertained by this national treasure. I always knew I would get round to it eventually but I, or we, only just made it by the skin of the teeth. And I felt that by seeing him during my final weeks here I was drawing a line under my time as a resident of England to a degree that just giving up fish and chips and Ant and Dec could never match.

Last night was a wonderful night, a night that I will never forget, a milestone in my life and a night that could only have been better if Birmingham had had a pier.

 Happiness. Happiness. The greatest gift that I possess.

Happiness. Happiness. The greatest gift that I possess.

 

Baba Marta

I love the fact that Bulgarian people put so much effort into marking the end of winter. In fact they can’t even wait to the end of winter to start celebrating so on the first of March each year they rejoice because it is almost the end of the winter.

I detest winter and for the last fifty or so years I have started to look forward to spring arriving from round about the first week in September. Winters are harsh in the part of Bulgaria where I am going to live but they are usually followed by long hot summers. I can cope with the former if I can count on the latter. So when I get there I will take enormous pleasure from joining in with their anti-freeze customs.

Literally translated, Baba Marta means Grandma March and this is the day that Bulgarians start to feel that the worst of the winter is behind them, as I do myself. Legend has it that Baba Marta is a bad tempered lady who continually bickers with her two brothers but when the sun comes out she smiles. On the first day of March she starts her spring cleaning and when she shakes her mattress the feathers that come out of it fall on Earth like snow – this being the final snowfall of the winter.

On the day of Baba Marta, Bulgarians give each other red and white coloured plaits of wool, ribbons or dolls as a lucky charm to bring good fortune and ward off evil spirits. These are called Martenitsas and they are worn on the clothes or hung in the trees until another sign of spring appears such as the first sighting of a stork, the first blossom, the first new born lamb or the Eurovision Song Contest.

I have noticed that Bulgarian people tend to drink rakia, an often homemade fruit brandy with a high alcohol content, to celebrate this heart-warming day. Just before I bought my house in Malki Chiflik I asked one of the locals what sort of winter I could expect if I went to live there. He told me that they are bitterly cold but they are a very sociable time of year as people gather in each other’s houses and drink rakia to keep warm. He went on to say that the summers are unbearably hot but people gather together on each other’s porches and drink rakia to keep cool. He also told me that in each village as soon as the first stork of the spring is seen everybody stops what they are doing and drinks rakia to celebrate the end of the cold period. In autumn they drink rakia to celebrate the crops having been gathered in and the production of another fine batch of rakia having got underway.

I got the impression that rakia, like the man who told me about these rituals, is drunk every day of the year. I’m sure I will dabble in the traditions of my new country but the celebration of the end of the cold dark winter months is something that I will embrace in full. I would gladly have done the same in Britain but I have never been able to tell when the cold dark winter months have come to an end. I think it was on the twenty seventh of July last year.

 

A martenitsa moment.

A martenitsa moment.

Red Lorry Yellow Lorry

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before but I’ve bought a house in Bulgaria. In this respect I’m rather pleased with myself. The palatial farmhouse only a few kilometres from Veliko Tarnovo, the medieval capital of Bulgaria, has been mine since seven minutes past three on Wednesday 7th October 2015 which, although a very dull day at work in Wiltshire, was probably one of the most momentous days of my life.

I went to see it, nay caress it, last November. I stayed there a week and I loved it to bits. As I left to return to my rented house in England I apologised to it for leaving it behind but promised that I would eventually be back to stay and that we would have some wonderful times together. I’m absolutely certain of this so I’ve bought some Bulgarian party poppers, a big bag of goat flavoured crisps and a bottle of Rakia for when the glorious day of the completion of my glorious five year plan arrives. I think about my lovely house every day. It is my house. Every last stone, tile, drainpipe, dried up dead woodlouse and empty Rakia bottle of it belongs to me. Because of the capitalist bastard mortgage lenders and landlords that have blighted my life for the last thirty odd years, I have never been able to say this before.  

Now I have to plan for my next momentous day, that being the day that I actually move lock, stock and beer barrel to my new Balkan abode. I have many things to do but they will all take me another step towards attaining enlightenment and full Rakia bottles, which just makes each individual chore a tiny bit exciting.

 

Goodbye GB. Hello BG.

Goodbye GB. Hello BG.

 

This week I have been mostly getting quotes from international removal companies. Nothing has been moved yet, apart from my bowels when I heard details of the prices and plans that these people had for me. Some of them have really come up with a load of old whatever the Bulgarian word for bollocks is.

The first one was very friendly and efficient and thorough and expensive. He quoted me £9,000. I quoted some words from the Bible. If you fly from Bristol to Sofia with Wizzair (an airline that is as pink as easyJet is orange) you get a baggage allowance of 32kg so I estimated that it would be cheaper to get my treasured belongings over there by flying with them ninety times. The only thing that put me off about this idea was that I might have trouble getting my settee off the luggage carousel at the destination airport.

The second removal firm experience was rather amusing but at least I didn’t have to think long about whether or not I gave them the job. I waited at home for their man to come and assess the scale of what I needed moving but he didn’t turn up. I rang him on his mobile phone but there was no answer. I rang him again the next day and he said that he had tried to keep our appointment but he had not been able to find my house. If he couldn’t find my house in Devizes, what chance was there of him finding my house in a village in Bulgaria?

Number three was a bloke I have had dealings with before and he is very good but unfortunately he said he couldn’t do my move for me because he himself is moving to Canada. We had a good old chat on the phone about emigrating. I offered to do his packing for him at a competitive rate and I told him which removal firms to avoid. He already knew about these!

Next up was a firm who seemed to know roughly what they were on about but seemed even more interested in helping me transfer currency from Britain to Bulgaria. I asked their sales lady if they were planning on shipping my money over in a truck but she didn’t laugh. I told her I’ve already got money laundering arrangements in place so thank you very much and goodbye.

The next one was too sickly and smarmy to warrant even a paragraph to himself in this bit of scribble and the one after that was the most expensive of them all. I asked this chap why his quote was so much higher than all the others and he explained that Bulgaria is a long way from Britain. This made me wonder if all the other companies I had spoken to were only going to take my stuff as far as France.

The last one was the one I should have rung first. They only work between Britain and Bulgaria, they’ve been sending an articulated truck twice a month for fifteen years, the bloke on the phone said he had once in the recent past delivered a load to the village I’m going to live in, their price was a good one, and they are based in Bulgaria but come from Sheffield which is in Yorkshire (by the skin of its teeth) so I knew exactly what I was dealing with. The only problem I can envisage is with the language … in Sheffield that is, not Bulgaria.

So there you go. All I’ve got to do now is sift through my belongings, ring Sotheby’s to come and take away the things I don’t need, carefully pack up what’s left, book a flight on the right day to ensure that I arrive at my final destination sometime slightly before the lorry containing my entire worldy goods and raise a parting glass.

Target date: As soon as possible!

WOMAD Friday

Morning Has Broken (The Tiny Tea Tent)

This is one of the rare jaunts on which I have been where I have sufficient time on my hands to write about my adventures, or misadventures, live as they happen. Though this is always my intention at least up to the point where I leave my house but it never quite works out the way I planned it. Normally I write accounts from rough notes taken during the day just passed while I sit on a balcony late at night with a bottle of the local wine, or three weeks after I have got home whilst sitting at my kitchen table as the instruments of my trade bubble and hiss in the autoclaving machine. In the latter case, it has to be said, that there is little else for me to do while my tackle is being sterilised. I have travelled the world late on many a weekday evening to escape the monotony of the alternative which amounts to little more than picking my nose and staring at the pop up toaster (which never pops up) during those dull, dull hours. In fact my mind is constantly travelling the world in an attempt to distance myself from the reality of the endless drudgery that tries to consume me. As I write many a piece I am thinking about a livestock market in Bolivia and the lady who runs the greasy spoon café that I am sure will exist there.

At the moment, however, I am sitting in the Tiny Tea Tent surrounded by people drinking a mugs of Positivitea, a herbal infusion based item because that’s what festival goers drink before the sun has set beneath the guy rope. This place is beautifully scruffy in a festival sort of way. Basically it is little more than a standard kebab van, the likes of which you would find in the car park of any half decent British retail park, but it has been tarted up with a thousand enhancements. The rusty bare metal scaffolding that supports the awning has been wrapped in multi coloured rags and ribbons, old wooden trestle tables have been splattered with coats of paint of many colours, no two chairs are the same, there are a couple of old charity shop settees with people sitting on them who were probably also picked up cheaply at a War On Want outlet, rusty rustic candle holders and Moroccan style lamps made from recycled tomato tins illuminate the space under the Bedouin canopy as the fine folk of WOMAD wake up with one of the million flavours and blends of tea on sale.  Being a bit of an awkward git I asked for coffee. This is a new angle on my requesting lager in a real ale pub method of irritating people.

The nomadic Saharan atmosphere is further enriched by the music of the Kinks, the Clash and Madness.

Try the house of fun.

It’s quicker if you run.

This is a tea tent

Not a joker’s shop.

Beyond my temporary desert home I see a field full of puddles. The rain continues to pour down as it has done since the early hours of the morning. A young man with a sledgehammer (could this be Peter Gabriel’s very own sledgehammer that he sang about in his song of the same name, I wonder) comes to the place where I am sitting every ten minutes. He uses the shaft of his blunt instrument to poke the sagging bits of the canopy where rainwater has collected so that it cascades onto the ground outside. At first when I saw him approaching me with his implement in his hand I had flashbacks to the 1980s and terrible times so I thought he must have recognised me as a Glory Glory Leeds United fan so I was ready for him the sharp edge of my bone dry piece of biscotti. That may sound a bit pretentious but even hand to hand combat has moved on into a more sophisticated age.

 

My lethal lump of razor sharp biscotti. The edges on it were even sharper than my tongue.

My lethal lump of razor sharp biscotti.

The edges on it were even sharper than my tongue.

 

The rain stopped long enough for me to dash across the swamp to go to complete one of my morning ablutions. The facilities don’t provide for a bloke to ablute more than one ablution. There must be about a thousand of these portaloo devices on the WOMAD site but somehow I managed to pick the one with a leaking roof which makes me think that perhaps there is some sort of almighty omnipresence up there and he (or she) hates me and watches me even when I go for a poo. Consequently this was the first time ever that I have sat on the toilet with the hood up on my storm force, Arctic standard, reinforced, hurricane-proof, intrepid explorer style, Gore-Tex pac-a-mac garment.

As it happens, the above paragraph hasn’t been written live as it happens. I had other paperwork to concentrate on.

So back to the tea tents which are the only places where you can get a half decent cup of coffee unless you are prepared to queue for an hour at a coffee tent. I considered doing that and then asking for a cup of Earl Grey, to be awkward. Isn’t awkward and awkward word to spell? It just doesn’t look right. Any road, bored of my first tea tent I set off in search for another. En route I saw three kids dressed as Paraguayan alpaca herdsmen dancing in the rain to Let’s Face the Music and Dance which blared out from a nearby trade tent. Obviously the wet weather had damaged their X Box so they had nothing better to do. This gave me a good idea for something for me and my own lovely children to do on Boxing Day afternoon when there’s nothing on the telly. It’s sure to be raining.

Also on my tent to tent travels I saw a retail outlet bearing the sign ‘Ethical Artists Co-op’ which struck be as being a tad elitist. At the Co-op near where I live, anybody can go in to buy a pint of milk and a loaf of bread. I was surprised that the WOMAD Foundation could allow such blatant discrimination.

My second tea tent of the day is actually a falafel tent but nevertheless it sells coffee and, no matter what else, it is a shelter from the downpour of Biblical proportions that is causing sogginess everywhere in Biblical proportions. Things that you would never imagine as being likely to go soggy are now well and truly so. I wonder will I be the first person ever to die in a falafel tent. At least they are playing reggae at its best which is just the sort of music I would like at my funeral.

But then the live music started. The rain doesn’t matter when there’s fine music to be heard.

 

Sona Jobarteh (The Gambia)

I was about forty minutes early for the start of Sona’s session so I was standing right at the front, touching the stage, ages before any other members of the audience turned up. Ten minutes before the kick off a lady who had parked up in her collapsible garden chair about ten metres behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to sit down because she, being an ‘older person’, couldn’t stand for the sixty minute duration of the performance. I was just about to tell her to sod off when another lady sitting adjacent to where I was standing beat me to it, pointing out that when a band comes on stage everybody stands up. I was pleased that she had been on my side but sorry that I hadn’t had the opportunity to express my opinion myself. The ‘older’ woman didn’t even look as old as me. As the band struck up I looked around to see where she was but she had gone. She would have had a miserable weekend if she had been planning on sitting so close to the stage for every performance and expecting a clear view.

Sona with her kora didn’t say anything about the fussy woman but I could tell that she was thinking “knobhead”. Sona was from a family of master kora musicians in a land where traditionally only men  take up this beautiful instrument. I love kora music but this was a bit special as she cranked up the tempo a bit more than I would have expected for this type of music, and she had a lovely voice too.

 

Kapela Maliszów (Poland)

Since my trip to Hungary a couple of years ago the muse of North and Eastern Europe has really got to me in an irresistible sort of way. Kapela Maliszów’s music was a mixture of the haunting and the sombre played on traditional stringed instruments and had a bit of an Irish cèilidh feel to it. So much so that I fancied a pint of Guinness, but sadly that’s one thing that WOMAD doesn’t do. But even if there had been it would have been no good because I was standing out in the pouring rain to watch these fellas and Guinness is no good if it gets wet. Perhaps if I had had the foresight to learn to play a cello like a mad Polish cellist they would have let me stand on the stage with them and my Guinness wouldn’t have been dampened. A lesson learned!

 

Totó La Momposina (Colombia)

This amazing lady was the Omara Portuondo of Cumbia music. At the age of seventy-four she has been around a fair old while, produced a string of huge hit albums and attained legend status amongst her fans. She was utterly lovely in a matriarchal kind of way, and also lovely was her granddaughter Maria del Mar who was one of the backing singers and Totó’s translator. This was hot, sunny Caribbean music on a wet, miserable English day and my admiration grew even more when the dear lady waded in her wellies through the mud to the merchandise tent to sign my copy of her CD. If I had known how to say it in Spanish I would have offered to buy her a pint of Guinness. A lesson learned!

 

My lovely new friend Totó La Momposina signing my lovely new CD.

My lovely new friend Totó La Momposina

signing my lovely new CD. 

 

Pascuala Ilabaca (Chile)

I’m not sure if this is the name of the whole band or just the incredibly entertaining front woman. This was the nice little surprise of an act that always turns up in my list of people seen at a WOMAD festival. They were like a cross between Santana and Skinny Lister. If you don’t know who Skinny Lister are you’ll have to go rooting about on my blog because they’re a cracking band who I have seen at a festival before and they are still a cracking band. Pascuala even wore red shoes just like Lorna in Skinny Lister does and as well as having a strangely wonderful singing voice she gyrated like Gyrating Jenny and was very funny when she was introducing songs. She told us that she didn’t care about the crap weather because she and her band were flying off to do another festival in Spain at 2:00 am and that St Lawrence was the patron saint of people who depend too much on alcohol. A lesson learned!

 

Count Drachma (South Africa)

I read about these in the programme and thought ‘yak’ (an expression of dislike rather than a long haired bovid from Central Asia) but for some strange reason I went along to see them and they were brilliant. They seemed to lack confidence a bit and were startled by the appreciative response they got from the crowd. They performed traditional Zulu songs and music on western instruments and they told stories that made me smile. The front man said that in South Africa it was winter at the moment and that in South Africa there was a town called Malmesbury and although it was winter it was a very warm sunny day in Malmesbury in South Africa.

They had a choir performing on stage with them. The choir were from Oxford and it seemed like they had never met the band before prior to the festival. The woman standing behind me had been a member of the choir in the past (her very loud American friend announced this fact to the whole of WOMAD) but seemed a bit nervous about admitting to it and even more nervous when I asked her if she would be signing CDs at the end of the gig.

 

Ibeyi (France and Cuba)

Before and after their performance, everybody at WOMAD was saying how marvellous and gifted these two women were but despite them being the daughters of former Buena Vista Social Club conga player Miguel ‘Anga’ Diaz, I thought they were a bit dull and over produced. Sorry.

 

Sheelanagig (Britain)

These people are one of the best bands I have ever seen. They are all from the West Country of England (apart from the Mancunian flautist … and for those who don’t know, flautist isn’t a term of abuse) but the music they play is fast and furious Balkan Gypsy folk with a hint of the Hungarian Circus act thrown in for good measure.

They get their name from old Celtic and Briton symbols of welcome in the form of figurative carvings of naked women displaying an exaggerated vulva. I always find that these make me feel more at home than a coconut door mat.

I’ve seen them perform live on four previous occasions and they have never failed to amaze. The only thing I don’t like about them is that their frantic dancing, prancing and madcap, slapstick leaping about approach to entertaining a crowd always fills me with dread that one of them might have a heart attack. They have recently acquired a new bass player. I have no idea what happened to the old one.

 

A Short Aside (Devizes)

As a short aside I would like to mention that I am writing this bit in a café near my home in Devizes two weeks after the event. I ran out of time, energy and dry paper so I failed to scribble away as I had hoped at WOMAD, and since I have returned I have tried to write at home but struggled. It seems that I am much better at this sort of thing if I am sitting in a place where drinks can be bought, even though I live in a house full of hot and cold drinks, beers, wines and spirits and a selection of savoury snacks. Outside of this delightful cuppa tea and a scone emporium where I am currently seated it is pouring down with rain which recreates the festival spirit impeccably. When I ask for my next drink I’m going to request a side order of mud.

 

The Cambodian Space Project (Cambodia)

This cracking little band reminded me of a thousand nights in seedy bars in South East Asia in a time before CD bars were invented. I was expecting at any minute to be dragged up on stage to whine out a karaoke version of I Will Survive or Total Eclipse of the Heart.

Although this seemed like happy, jolly party music Srey Thy, the nice Cambodian lady singer (the rest of the band appearing quite western), told us that her songs were about abject poverty, the horror of life under the Khmer Rouge regime and genocide. She still managed to get everyone to clap their hands and sing along though. She also sang Cher’s Bang Bang in Khmer, finishing off coldly with the line ‘my baby shot me down’ in English which was sadly very appropriate.

And I watched this band whilst exposed to the elements in the middle of the Malmesbury monsoon, which was nice.

She also sang about Whisky Cambodia which is a drink, apparently. This made me think of those hilarious hot nights out in small towns in Thailand a couple of years ago when me and my Exodus Travels chums sat up drinking Hong Thong whisky flavoured fluid well into the wee wee small hours.

Strangely, Srey Thy seemed as happy to be in England as I had been to be in Indo-China. Extremes of climate have strange effects on people.

 

Kassé Mady Diabéte (Mali)

Bedecked in all the African clobber with a band playing traditional instruments, with a wonderful soulful voice, with all the lights and atmosphere that I have come to expect from the late night performances in the Siam Tent, and in the driest place in the entire arena, this wonderful man still didn’t manage to warm me up and keep me awake.

Feeling I had let myself down, the festival down and my inflatable mattress down, I toddled off back to my tent (in the hope that it had not been blown or washed away) feeling as tired and cold as a badger’s tired and cold bits.

I’m very sorry Kassé. Perhaps our paths will cross again on a better day my friend.

I wonder if Kassé Mady Diabéte has a son who is a boxer and is called Sugar.

 

My Tent (Festival Camping South)

The twenty minute walk back to my tent from the performance arena turned into a thirty-five minute splodge through the thin and sloppy diarrhoea-esque mud. Everywhere and everything and everybody was muddy. There was no way of avoiding it.

At a time well after midnight people were still arriving. It was miserable enough having to crawl into a rain lashed tent and trying to go to sleep with your flaps a fluttering in the wind but to have to try to put up a tent in such conditions would have made me want to blow my head off with the foot pump that I use to inflate my inflatable mattress. I went to sleep, eventually, wondering if there was money to be made from selling foot pumps to my customers who come to me with flat feet. 

I hope you're reading this Pearl Simpkins. There'll be a written test at the end of the week! 

 

 Pascuala Ilabaca, from Chile ... now that's what I call Latin music!

WOMAD Thursday

Camping It Up (Wiltshire Wilderness)

The last time I slept in a tent there was a family of ring tailed lemurs waiting outside to come in and steal my chocolate biscuits. That was in a gorge somewhere in the middle of Madagascar somewhere in the middle of last year, but here at the WOMAD music festival in the middle of the Wiltshire Wilderness the crowd outside is even more peculiar than my little endemic friends from that paradise isle in the Indian Ocean.

I find that putting my tent up these days is a piece of green runny stuff. I’ve been to three WOMAD festivals and I’ve put the tent up three times so I reckon I’ve got it sussed now. Already I can’t wait for next year’s WOMAD to see if I can beat my twenty two minute record. I hope Cheryl Baker is reading this, partly because she knows a world record when she sees one and partly because she has had experience of events where music from a multitude of nations is performed. I wonder if the Eurovision Song Contest will ever be held in a field in the Wiltshire Wilderness.

A few metres from my own encampment were three men who were all older, balder and fatter than me but, unlike me, they were crap at putting up their tents. They stopped work every five minutes to have a swig from their cans of beer and ask each other if they were having trouble with their erection. Oh such an old joke this is amongst those who camp. I was tempted to join in their witty banter session by telling them to make sure that they had tight guys at bedtime tonight. Rather than run the risk of not having a sense of humour and of me getting my teeth broken, I kept my teeth concealed behind firmly closed lips.

In normal everyday life I feel that my interests and opinions vary greatly from those of the people I mix with. I feel that they think that I am a little on the strange side, even eccentric. So when I come to WOMAD I, for a few days in the year, feel strangely normal.

Here I feel quite mainstream and conformist because I am one of the few people that hasn’t got a ZZ Top beard, a wheelbarrow for shifting camping gear and children from the car park to the campsite, a headband or a top hat, or a guitar that was bought in Woolworth’s twenty odd years ago that I try to play Hey Mr Tambourine Man on despite the fact that all the strings are made from nylon fishing line. I don’t practise juggling outside of my tent, I’m not loud, I do talk bollocks but unlike the hordes I try to make my talking bollocks sound funny, I don’t let people do henna tattoos of druid symbols on my face, I don’t get my tits out, and I spend my money on the CDs of the artists I have seen performing rather than on soft furnishings for my yurt because apparently you just can’t get those things in Basingstoke. I bet!

In an attempt to blend in I had a plate of Caribbean goat curry, a pint of cider and a wander round. I revelled in the knowledge that I would be spending the whole of the next four days in a field with no stress, no hassle, no work and absolutely nothing at all to worry about apart from the approaching almighty tempest.

 

My first Caribbean goat curry of the 2015 WOMAD campaign.

My first Caribbean goat curry

of the 2015 WOMAD campaign.

 

The curry and the strong drink and the treacherous forty kilometre journey from home had taken their toll on my energy levels so I had a late afternoon siesta, as people in the Malmesbury area do. In fact, from what I have seen from previous visits to the town, I would wager that the town has been asleep for the best part of six hundred years. Four days of World Music would hopefully wake them, and me, up.

When I re-emerged from the opulent surroundings of my magnificent four man marquee my fat neighbours had expanded, but in number rather than in girth. Their whole family had arrived and put up tents all around my pitch making me feel like a stranger in town in a field. Their family was so big that they didn’t know where it began and ended.

Young Olly came over and introduced himself. He asked me how I knew his dad. I said I didn’t even know who his dad was. And then I asked him if he knew who his dad was. He looked quite puzzled as I walked away towards the festival arena.

“Have a good ‘un”, he shouted after me and looking as though he had hoped that I would stay there and be his dad.

Soon I was back where the action was and the real action was just about to start i.e. the music of the world. My 361 day wait was over at last.

 

The Malmesbury Project with Tomorrow’s Warriors (Britain)

This was a sort of opening ceremony type thing. They were alright but I just hope that Malmesbury never gets to host the Olympic Games. This was the cream of the country’s young jazz musicians performing jazz music incredibly well and accompanied by kids from local schools that sang and danced to their music. The thanks from the organiser lady at the end went on a bit too long though, rather like a proud headmistress after the final curtain at a primary school nativity play.

 

Kala Chethena Kathakali Company (India)

Rooted in Hindu mythology, Kathakali is a multi-level performance of sacred theatre that’s equal parts dance, drama and visual art … but they didn’t turn up.

 

Shantel and Bucovina Club Orkestar (Germany)

A German band playing jazzed up Eastern European Gypsy music. Brilliant! A mad front man with a guitar and a mad drummer who wanted to be the mad front man. They also had a stunningly good brass section. This was full on Gypsy music with a constant demand from the band for the members of the audience to hold their arms aloft and clap. They forget I’m a pensioner and my arms aren’t what they used to be. For their final song the mad drummer picked twenty or thirty of the most attractive young women from the crowd to join them on stage to dance and sing. I was glad they were sexist because I really didn’t fancy going up there myself. Arms aloft clapping is the limit of my audience participation.

 

Lull Before the Storm (Sea of Tents)

As I walked back to a tent lost in the reservation of my surrogate festival family, I marvelled at the size that the area occupied by tents had become since I had arrived ten hours earlier. Even more surprising was that people were still arriving and pitching up at that late hour. And this wasn’t even the main day for arriving. I considered what the surge of human traffic would be like the following day. Already it was like a Middle Eastern refugee camp but for the fact that Palestinians don’t have to pay £4.50 per pint for shit cider.