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



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.


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.

Hair Peace

Today I made my first visit of the twenty first century to the barber’s to have my haircut.

This may shock you a bit but it’s perfectly true and I can assure you that I have been less lax in other aspects of my personal grooming. The thing is, for about seventeen years I shaved my head twice a week in a vain attempt to disguise the fact that I was going bald. If you have a bald patch in your crown or you have a receding hairline people will point out to you that you are going bald but if you are completely bald they don’t seem mention it.

But then in December 2013 I decided that enough was enough when it came to mowing the bonce so I had a crack at cultivating some hair, because I’m worth it. So I let it grow and grow until today. In those thirteen months it has amused me enormously to hear all the people who had moaned for years about me not having any hair suddenly start moaning because I needed a haircut.

It amused me even more to hear people telling me who I looked like with my new look mane. These look alike characters of mine included Albert Einstein, George Washington, Peter Stringfellow, Gerry Francis, Carlos Valderrama, the Wild Man of Borneo, Nanook of the North, Roy Wood and Penelope Cruz, though the latter was more to do with my slim figure and my striking facial features. My favourite comparison character was Father Jack, the whiskey soaked priest from Craggy Island and what pleased me even more was that no one told me that I looked like Kevin Keegan. Arse!


How my flowing locks appeared prior to the adjustments made by barber Chris.

How my flowing locks appeared prior to the adjustments

made by barber Chris.


So to shut everybody up, apart from the Wild Man of Borneo’s adoring mum, and get a bit of peace I went and had a trim. I’ve been listening to my customers for the last few weeks and taking note of what they have done in terms of a hair do themselves but Chris, the bloke who did mine, said he hadn’t a clue where to even start with a shampoo and set or a blue rinse or a Brazilian. So we agreed that he should just keep hacking until the point where my ears might be revealed, rather like when the American historian Hiram Bingham chopped back the Andean forest to rediscover the long abandoned Machu Picchu in 1911. Chris was disappointed not to find untold amounts of treasure beneath the dense undergrowth, as Bingham had, but I did give him a quid as a tip so we both went home happy.

My flowing locks had been causing problems in other ways in recent months. For example, when the hair of a Foot Health Practitioner is a bit long and thick the Foot Health Practitioner might find a piece of stray toenail lodged in it when he scratches his head long after the working day has ended. But where there is little hair, such offending article is more likely to just ping off the head and land elsewhere in the owner’s home.

Another problem is that when the hair of an intrepid traveller is a bit long and thick and the intrepid traveller is trekking through a hot country such as Madagascar and is having to make do with wild camping with no bathroom facilities for several nights on the trot and the weather is very hot and the breeze blows up a lot of dust, the intrepid traveller is apt to find that his hair has become a greasy, gritty clod of matted fibre. In fact this particular intrepid traveller felt quite Rastafarian back in September.

The expense is even more problematic. When you have managed to go seventeen years without having to buy shampoo, conditioner, a comb, a hairbrush, a hairnet, Carmen heated rollers or a sink plunger to unblock the plug hole in your bath, suddenly having to fork out for such extravagances is quite a strain on the purse strings.

I’ll probably go and have my hair cut again in the next few weeks. It wasn’t all that bad an experience really. It seemed strange to think though that the fifteen year old Saturday boy who was sweeping up all the dead hair (for making up underwear … poor little Genie) wasn’t even born the last time I sat in a barber’s chair. Another strange thought was that the last time I went through this palaver Leeds United were being beaten by a team that had no right to challenge the mighty, and the same thing was happening again today.


How my flowing locks appeared after barber Chris had fashioned them into a trendy modern hair do.

How my flowing locks appeared after barber Chris had fashioned them into a trendy modern hair do.


It was a cold day so it was quite noticeable as stepped outside in my newly acquired shawn state. I needed to either buy a hat or grow some hair. So I went to the pub to grow some hair before walking home. I’m not quite sure exactly how much hair I grew but I certainly felt a lot warmer after a few pints.

Ding Dong Ding Dong

Did you hear the Christmas music on the radio today? No, me neither. That’s because there wasn’t any. It’s finished. All done and dusted. This is an ex Christmas. Hallelujah!

Now we can get on with our lives again without having to worry if just six big boxes of Quality Street will be sufficient to constipate us until Easter, if anyone in a street on the outer limits of our town was missed in our blanket Christmas carding operation, and if we’ll have time to watch the blockbuster film Harry Potter and the Paedophile Ring on telly in the afternoon on Christmas Day or will we still be trying to find homes for the bushels of leftover turkey, Brussels sprouts, pigs in Ikea duvets, soggy crispy roast potatoes and Paxo cookies and cream flavour stuffing.

With 358 days to go we can almost relax about meeting the strict deadlines for next Christmas. Though I expect there are some people who are already in a blind panic about it, especially when you consider that all the shops are closed on Easter Sunday so really we’ve only got 357 shopping days to go.

I love January, partly because it’s a time when our resurgence from the dark days of mid-winter starts to show up a bit in the evening skies and on the branches of trees, but mostly because all the crappy, tacky Christmas crappy crap is out of the way. We no longer have to listen to the moronic muse of Wizzard and Paul McCartney in every shop we enter. I’m sure I heard a chorus of Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time wafting out of our local funeral directors’ premises as I walked by the other day. We no longer have to drive down streets where every house is lit up with neon inane grinning elves and Santas to a degree that would make Las Vegas look a bit dim. We no longer have to listen to people banging on about how ‘Christmas isn’t as good as it used to be’ and that it’s become too commercialised as they frantically flick through the Argos catalogue to see if there is any item of stock that they haven’t yet bought to stick under their plastic, fibre optic illuminated tree.

I wonder what the people who live in Las Vegas do to decorate their house fronts at Christmas. Are there negative numbers on the festive tat scale?

This may shock you but once the shops had shut at the end of months of consumerism hell and I was in my wilderness retreat with my lovely family, I really enjoyed Christmas. It was nice to see my grown up kids still get excited about opening presents and tucking into a tasty festive feast and playing games and saying ‘thank you’ and genuinely meaning it. It was nice not having to think about anything other than dishing up food and drink. It really was wonderful to see everybody there enjoying themselves. And I particularly enjoyed the gallons of alcohol that gushed down my gullet.

Last night in the Three Swans pub in Frome, with my mate Angela, I had a pint of Guinness. I have thoroughly enjoyed the vast array of drinks I have sampled, indulged in or even overindulged in over the course of the last week but that pint of Guinness at 10:19 pm on the last day of the stuffing yourself stupid season was particularly good. It was cool and refreshing. It was a simple, back to normal sort of a drink and it made me think of summer. It marked a significant point in the year, not just in chronological terms but in the way the people in the greedy western world behave. It’s hard to explain but there was something remarkably exquisite and meaningful about it, and the next one. In fact there were several pints of Guinness last night but only because I am a native of the greedy western world.

The landlady gave us each a free glass of celebratory Prosecco which was bloody vile so I immediately decided that my resolution for 2015 would be to drink Guinness all the time, thus alleviating the risk of having future glasses of fizzy shit forced upon me. Giving up Prosecco for a year shouldn’t be all that difficult so I’m quite pleased with myself and my cast iron willpower. In fact that’s my resolution for 2016 and 2017 as well.


The black liquidation with the foam on the top. How could I ever give up Guinness?

The black liquidation with the foam on the top.

How could I ever give up Guinness?


At midnight the CD player behind the bar finally gave up on Wham’s Last Christmas (oh how I wish it was) and we were subjected to five minutes of Andy Stewart and Abba (not at the same time, though it might do them both some good if only it was possible) but I could cope with five minutes. New Year songs go on for five minutes whereas Christmas songs go on for three months or more.

The people who say ‘Bah humbug’ to me, often with an element of aggression in their voices, when I suggest that I am not 200% enthusiastic about celebrating the anniversary of the alleged birth of the infant Jesus also go on for three months. But now it’s my turn. I love January but far too many people around me moan and groan about it far more than I ever complain about December. So I say ‘Bah humbug’ now to everybody who can’t appreciate that our northern half of this planet is about to be brightened up by real life natural sunlight rather than by Wilkinson’s cheap and nasty Christmas lights.

People saying ‘Happy Christmas’ never seems all that sincere to me. People saying ‘Bah humbug’ does sound sincere but not in a nice way. The words ‘Happy New Year’ always strike me as being more meaningful. There are a lot of people around who, like me, aren’t all that keen on Christmas and only wish you a happy one because it’s the done thing whilst deep inside they can’t wait for it to be finished. With a New Year, however, no matter what their circumstances, almost everybody wishes for a happy one, even if only for their selves.

For me, the only sad thing about New Year is that people forget to play George Harrison’s New Year song from 1974. I know Ding Dong Ding Dong is a bit of a rubbish title for a record but it’s a really happy sing along sort of a tune and the video he made to go with it (in the days when not many people made pop videos) is a happy sing along job too. Seeing George smile has always made me smile. Forty years ago last night, me and my mates sang this at the top of our voices at midnight at a party in Leeds but never again since. Such a shame!


Yesterday, today was tomorrow and

tomorrow, today will be yesterday.

The Earth Moved!

It’s at a different time every year. Did you know that? I didn’t until a couple of years ago.

At 23:03 UTC tonight (UTC stands for Coordinated Universal Time, which is a sort of GMT but more astronomically accurate and which was acronymised by someone who I suspect suffers from dyslexia) I celebrated the arrival of the Winter Solstice for it was at this time that the Earth reached its maximum declination of 23.5° away from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere. At this point each December, nowhere north of the Arctic Circle sees daylight for an entire twenty four hours and we have reached the darkest point of our northern year.

This means that today has been as dark as it’s ever going to get. Today has been darker than a pint of Guinness, darker than the thoughts that go on in my head and darker than the British Government’s plans for the National Health Service. Actually, the latter of those three is a bit of an exaggeration as there was a bit of daylight in my lovely town of Devizes for a few hours but Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, seems today to be determined to turn off the machinery that supports the life of the NHS.

Normally I sink into an abyss of depression if my day isn’t filled with sunshine from the minute I wake up until the minute I collapse into my pit at the end of a busy day but, rather strangely, I enjoy the Winter Solstice a lot more if it is really miserable as it just enhances the joy I get from thinking about the beautiful summer that is at last on its way.

So at 23:03 tonight the Earth really did move as though some big gearbox deep in its inner core shifted from reverse to first. Just thinking about the fact that during the next few weeks we’ll be moving up the ratios, making the nights lighter and our soil warmer, gives me a real, deeply satisfying buzz. So you could say that when the Earth moved, the Earth moved for me.

Call me an eternal optimist (for the next six months at least) but even though it is still very dark I don’t think it would do any harm to put on a pair of shorts, tie some knots in the corners of my hanky to wear on my head, pop down to B&Q to buy a barbeque, sit in my garden with a bottle of chilled wine until ten o’clock at night and start my Christmas shopping (because the shops in Britain fill up with festive tat for sale by mid-summer).  

Whatever I do I will do it feeling happier because our darkest moment is behind us. Now is the time to celebrate. Other things that we celebrate at this time of the year are a bit ambiguous because we don’t know for sure that they really happened. For example, it is written that Leeds United beat Oldham Athletic five nil on Boxing Day in 1923 but there is no real evidence that this miracle actually happened. No one can dispute, however, the fact that the Earth has begun to tilt the other way tonight. I’m not sure if it was Big Jack Charlton or our Lord Buddha who said, “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

It has become customary for me to do my celebrating of the rebirth of the sun with a small glass of port, topped up with port, with a port chaser and then another one for the road, until I too begin to tilt the other way. It’s what Big Jack would have wanted.

Happy Yuletide to you!


The rebirth of the sun.

The rebirth of the sun.