Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Womad Weekend

I really didn't want to leave my campsite in the Cotswolds. I was sharing a 4 acre field with a few campervans, a portaloo and fantastic weather. It was so nice to arrive back each evening and be able to lie outside reading until quite late. I felt chilled and relaxed and really didn't want to move on.

On Friday morning I packed up slowly and sorted out my gear for the weekend. I didn't know how far from the car park I'd be pitching my tent and so packed my lightweight tent, a change of clothes and some dried food into my backpack. Rain was forecast for Sunday, but after the dry week I didn't expect things to get too muddy and so only took my sandals, leaving my new wellies in the van.

I programmed my TomTom which informed me I was 29 minutes away from Charlton Park, the Womad venue. I phoned my friends to let them know when I'd be arriving and get any last minute packing tips. At this point in time I was a bit excited about finally going to Womad, but also regretting leaving my nice field and feeling a bit apprehensive about the whole thing - would the toilets be really disgusting with huge queues? Would I be able to wash my hair? Would I feel safe leaving my tent unoccupied? Would I get on with my colleague's friends? Would I have the feeling of being ripped off the whole time? And so on. As usual when I feel apprehensive about something I actually really want to do, I just told myself not to be stupid and to get on with it. I also quite liked the apprehensiveness as usually when I feel this way I end up having a great time. So after a last check for stray tent pegs I was off.

The drive to the ground was quite traffic-free and even once at the ground the queue to get in and park was moving, albeit slowly, but so much faster than I'd expected. Friendly stewards seemed to be all around directing people and everything was well sign-posted too.

Once parked, I locked the van and hoisted my backpack and went to find the gate to get in. It took only about a minute to walk to the gate and I joined a queue of about 20 people waiting to show their tickets and get wristbands. I phoned my friend again to let her now where I was and she asked me to phone again once I was through the gate. I thought this might take a while, but as soon as I hung up I was through. There were lots of people taking tickets and issuing wristbands and they were really quick, so there was no waiting time at all. I called my friend again and got directions to the La-Di-Da Loos near to which they were camped.

It was a less than 10 minute walk and really easy to find. My colleague has a big bell tent and she was sleeping in this with a friend. Her son and his friend were sharing a smaller tent and her friend's daughter had her own small tent. I erected my tent in the small gap left between the tents and someone else's gazebo and together we had our own corral. We were completely surrounded by tents of all shapes and sizes and by Saturday there was barely space to walk without having to step over guy ropes. As I usually camp in lonely fields, seeing so many tents packed so closely together over such a wide area was a new experience for me and I stared in amazement.

Once my tent was sorted it was time to explore, listen to music and chill. First stop was the La-Di-Da Loos so I could pay £10 for a wristband entitling me to use them. These are a posh version of the portaloos that were all over the site. The toilets look like the sort you would have in a bathroom, even though they are flushed by chemicals. There are wash basins with running water, soap and handcream. The toilets and basins are basically in 3 caravans joined together under a large tent of which the insides had been covered in pleated fabric and chandeliers had been hung from the roof. In the centre was a large space with 2 sofas and several long tables with mirrors, hairdryers and an array of hair products, spray deodorants, wipes and so on for customer use.

Next we wandered through a kind of village street lined with food outlets, a grocer's shop, a camping supplies shop, a branch of Oxfam and a newspaper stand. All the shops had been created from portable kiosks, vans and tents. Towards the end of the 'street' was an Alpro tent. I love their desserts so we called in to see what was on offer. They gave us some free vanilla and chocolate desserts and told us that they would be doing free breakfasts, free lunchtime smoothies and continuing the free desserts each day of the festival. So that's breakfast for tomorrow sorted then.

Finally we got to the arena and showed our wristbands to the stewards on the gate. The arena area was huge, with various stages - the main stage was open-air and then there were other tented stages as well. There were also streets lined with shops selling clothes, musical instruments, jewellery, bags, food, skin products, carvings, lamps, things to juggle with ... The food stalls interested me the most as there seemed to be a real array of international cuisine on offer and it all looked tasty, well-prepared and relatively healthy.

We joined some other friends and lay on the grass in front of the main stage drinking a beer and enjoying the music. It was hot and I lay looking at a blue sky with not a single cloud in sight. How fortunate, after all the rain over the past few months, is it that this weekend has such gorgeous weather? It really would have been quite horrible to have been ploughing through mud, unable to sit down, not able to go anywhere without piling on the waterproofs, and feeling cold and wet whilst standing around trying to get into the spirit of things and enjoy the music! 

Anyway, the rest of the weekend passed in a similar vein - up early for a first breakfast in the village street, chilling around the tents before going for a second free breakfast at the Alpro tent, wandering towards the arena in the afternoon and then sitting listening to music or meandering around the stalls for a few hours, eating delicious food, having a beer, going to bed late.

It rained a bit on the Sunday morning but not nearly as much as we expected having seen the forecast. It had stopped and everything was dry by the time the music started at lunchtime. On Monday morning it was sunny and warm again and so I was able to pack my tent dry. We took our time packing up, but others seemed to be taking even longer as there were still lots of tents up when I walked back to my van. I thought it might have taken ages to get out of the park but as it was when I arrived, everything was moving and it didn't take long at all. Once out on the road there was no traffic at all. No-one without prior knowledge would know that Charlton Park was in the process of emptying out 10,000 festival-goers.

So, that's another goal from my list achieved. Would I go again? Yes, definitely.

Below, I've highlighted certain aspects of the festival and the weekend in general.

Food
Japanese noodles, Spanish tapas, Thai curry, Carribean goat curry, Cajun gumbo, Lebanese mezze, English fried breakfast, porridge, Mexican nachos, stone-baked pizza, fish and chips, Indian curry, sausage and mash, muesli, salads, roast chicken, pies - the variety of food was overwhelming. There was so much I wanted to try but not nearly enough time. All the food was quite reasonably priced, not cheap, but not unreasonable for the size of the portions and the quality. It was tasty, often healthy and sometimes organic. Much of it was locally sourced. Needless to say, my dried noodles stayed in the bag.

Recycling
I was given a pack of recycling bags when I got my wristband. Throughout the site all the rubbish bins were divided into four - paper and cardboard, plastic, glass, and general waste. Much of the food packaging was was recyclable e.g. paper and cardboard trays and plates, wooden cutlery (the sort of wood disposable chopsticks are often made of), sauces that you squirt from a big bottle rather than individual sachets. Some food stalls offered a discount if you had your own cutlery. There were water taps throughout the site from which you could fill your own containers with regular tap water, but for the people who would normally buy chilled and bottled water there were stalls selling a refillable bottle for £5. This bottle could be refilled throughout the weekend with chilled and filtered water from any of their stalls. If you wanted the chilled and filtered water but had your own bottle you could pay £3 for a wristband entitling you to it instead.

Toilets
They were cleaned each morning and stayed relatively clean throughout the day. There was plenty of toilet paper and outside each set of toilets was a line of hand-sanitiser. The blocks of portaloos were spread all over the site and although queues could seem long, there were actually that many loos that there was never more than one person per loo waiting. Only on the Monday morning was there a problem. I think because it was the last day and the toilets would be removed the trucks hadn't come to clean them. Of course, almost 10,000 people still needed to use them and so some of them, for the first time, got really gross.

La-Di-Da Loos
To use these I had to buy a wristband for £10. I've described them above so won't go into detail here. The idea of them is great and when they work they work well. But there were lots of downsides. They are only open from 7am to 10pm. The 7am opening wasn't too bad, but the 10pm closing time was way too early. Most people are still out listening to music at this time and so can't use them when they are returning to their tents and getting ready for bed. Also there was only one set of these posh loos. This meant in the morning there was a big queue and throughout the rest of the day they were too far from the arena to use. The use of the products was great but some of them did start running out after one day. Also the toilets weren't cleaned until later in the morning well after the other portaloos had been cleaned. As they are closed during the night surely this would have been the time to clean them? When you are paying so much to go to the toilet I don't think it's out of order to expect these few things to be sorted. I did like being able to use the hairdryers though and not having to go to bed with wet hair.

Showers
Lots of them, but there was still a 2 hour queue in the mornings. I had showers at night when they were mostly empty. They were pretty clean and had a space to put your clothes to keep them dry. The water was hot and the jet was strong.

Children
Children under 16 got free entry and the festival was really child-friendly. There were lots of free workshops for kids to take part in such as making pin-hole cameras, pottery, and drumming. There was also a fairground. The children's wristbands had a space for a mobile phone number to be written in case they got lost. We hardly saw the young teenagers in our group, they were busy doing things all day or else just chillin' round the tents. There was a whole section dedicated to family camping for those with young children.

Festival-goers
What a mix. Babies to quite elderly people. Very middle-class and lots of old hippies. The Guardian was the newspaper on site and was giving away free bags with each paper. The Guardian was probably the best choice of newspaper to be there as the crowd in general seemed like The Guardian reading sort. People were really friendly and it was easy to strike up conversation. This wasn't just the festival-goers but all of the people working at the festival too. In fact I think it's the only place I've been where, when leaving, the stewards not only directed the cars out but waved goodbye to everyone too. I didn't see any drunken, aggressive or anti-social behaviour at all.

Queues
Even when there were queues they were usually fast moving. The only exception was at some of the food stalls and the morning shower queue.

Security
I felt safe the whole time. I didn't leave valuables in my tent as I'm sure there will be people who get tickets to these festivals solely for the purpose of stealing what they can, but in general it seemed very safe.

Music
I suppose I should mention music seeing as it is a predominantly music festival, but I'm definitely not the best person for this. I like music and heard some really good music (Algerian singer Khaled is the one who most stood out for me). But I'm tone-deaf, can't pick out individual instruments and most of the time can't even tell if someone is singing in tune. Often I was very far from the stage, so it was a case of listening to rather than watching the bands. Some big screens would have been good so everyone could  see what was happening on stage. The music could be heard throughout the site and I loved hearing it in the background as I wandered around. I also liked lying in my tent at night listening to it as I went to sleep. It was never so loud as to make sleep difficult, but loud enough to be clearly listened to all the same.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Womad

I put Womad on my 60 before 60 list as I thought I really should go to a  big, muddy, weekend festival. It's the kind of thing that people assume I've already done and I really feel that I should have. I've just never got round to it. Never been in the right place at the right time.

Womad interests me because it's so international (hence the name = World of Music, Arts and Dance). And I don't think I'd enjoy Glastonbury - 20 years ago I might have done, but not now. I wasn't planning on going any time soon, mainly because I like to do other things in the summer, but also because I didn't have anyone to go with and this is something I feel would be better experienced as part of a group.

Then a colleague mentioned she was going this summer with a group of friends. Although I didn't really want to break my summer up, it seemed like an opportunity that was meant to be. I asked if I could tag along and of course she said yes. I got straight online and booked my ticket. I haven't heard of any of the bands that are playing, but I'm sure I'll enjoy them nonetheless and come away with a wishlist of music to be purchased.

I'm going down to the Cotswolds on Sunday and will spend most of the week there staying on a tiny campsite with a portaloo but no shower. I'm thinking of ways of rigging up the back doors of my van to make a shower cubicle and then I'll be able to have bowl and jug showers. Or if the weather doesn't improve, I could just stand outside with a bottle of shampoo. On Friday I'll go to Womad. There'll be no showers there, so if my van doors idea doesn't work I'm going to pretty smelly by the time I come home on the following Monday.

I'm looking forward to Womad but at the same time I'm apprehensive about a few things. If the weather is really horrendous I won't enjoy standing around watching bands. I don't mind walking in rain and keeping my head down, but standing still and looking up for hours at a time will be pretty miserable. I'm also a bit concerned about security. I imagine these events are a magnet for thieves, so I'm concerned about taking anything expensive with me, or leaving it in the van. I also hate not being able to wash my hair. I could survive without a shower as long as my hair gets washed, but I don't know what the water situation will be like.

Anyway, I'm not too apprehensive about my apprehensions as usually when I'm apprehensive about something I end up having a great time and none of things I was worried about materialise.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Book Database

For years I've catalogued the majority of my books. I started with one plastic box with a set of 4x6 inch index cards. I now have 6 absolutely stuffed boxes. I include fiction, travel writing, biographies, 'academic' (e.g. history, anthropology, religion), poetry, current affairs, etc. What I haven't included are books such as recipe books, travel guides, dictionaries and so on. There's also the question of when does a pamphlet or booklet become a book and deserve a card in my index box? I've always been a bit stuck with this one.

I write the name of the author or editor at the top of the card in red ink. Underneath I list all the books in my collection by that author/editor in blue or black ink. If a book has more than one author or editor I note this in brackets after the title and have a separate card filled out for each author or editor. The cards are then filed in alphabetical order of surname.

This has always been an effective way of keeping track of my books, but now I'm starting to wonder if I need to go digital. A few things have prompted these thoughts. One is my recent purchase of a Kindle. If I have a book on Kindle should I add it to my catalogue? Or should my catalogue solely be a way of keeping track of the books that are sitting on my shelves? Also, I'd quite like to know how many books I've got. I used to be able to look along my shelves and count them. That's not that easy any more. And with six stuffed index boxes, counting titles written on cards isn't that practical either. And anyway, a lot of my books aren't included on the index cards such as my three shelves of recipe books, or my two shelves of travel guide books.

Something else that has got me thinking recently is the proliferation of sites such as Shelfari and Goodreads. I've had a bit of a play around with both and I like the idea of them. They have so many categories including the date you finished reading the book, if you have loaned it to someone, what rating you give it, and so on. There's also space for a synopsis. As much as I like filling things in and ticking boxes I know I'd never have the time and patience to do this for all my books. And although I like the advantage of being able to access my book database from anywhere in the world, there's also the disadvantage of not having complete control over it. What if the website ceases to exist? Or if it morphs into something I don't like? Or if a charge is introduced? So although I'll put a few of my books on Shelfari and Goodreads, I'm probably better with my own database.

Last night I started playing around with Access on my laptop. I've set up a basic database and started entering books thinking of categories as I go. There's no point me having a 'date read' category as for most of my books I've no idea of the exact date I read them. So instead I've included a box that can be ticked if I've read that particular book. I've also got tick boxes for whether or not the book is fiction, if it's edited, if it is has more than one author and whether I have a paper copy, a Kindle edition or both.

Other categories I've included so far are the author's name and the title of the book and three 'genre' categories. In these I'm entering if it's a children's book or a thriller; if there's a particular Scotland or Peak District interest; if there's a theme running throughout e.g. dogs or biscuits; and so on.

As I've only just started working on this, I'm not sure how it will end up. Will I finish with some really elaborate database, or will I give up after a few weeks and go back to my index boxes? If I do continue with the digital database I know I'm probably looking at a few years to get all my books catalogued sufficiently and appropriately. Ah well, no point in doing things by halves is there?

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

June 2012 Twelve Review

I've done a little better this month than I did last month, but still got lots to do if I want to get them all ticked off by the end of the year.

  1. Floating in a floatation tank (I'm hoping to do this in London during the February half term)  
  2. Reading at least 10 books from the BBC Big Read list (if I read 10 a year, I'll have the whole 200 knocked off in the next 12-13 years!) - still haven't done anything about this one
  3. Taking at least one photo every day of the year (this will improve my photography skills, be a photo-diary of 'year in my life', and help me to learn to use my new camera) - I took lots of photos during the first week of June whilst I was walking the coast path, but not many since 
  4. Coming up with a fitness plan and sticking to it (the start of my training for Kilimanjaro, though I may not actually climb it for several years yet) -having not walked much this year so far, I did lots when I was in Devon 
  5. Leading at least 4 of my own walks (good practice for my walking group leader's qualification) - not led any walks, but at least I've done some walking again and signed up to work on the DofE 
  6. Buying another house (need to get my finances in order first)
  7. Learning to use at least 3 new pieces of technology or computer programmes (not counting my new camera) - I've bought a Kindle and am currently getting to grips with everything it can do. I've also recently aquired a tablet computer. 
  8. Doing a writing course (depends on the length of the course whether I'd complete it in the year or not)
  9. Getting at least one piece of writing published (paid or unpaid, as long as someone else makes the decision to publish it and it's not self-published)
  10. Making a start on sorting out my photos (putting the prints that are currently still stuffed in packets into albums and getting all my photos scanned into the computer - no way will this be completed in a year, but I'll feel good even if I get started on it)
  11. Buying a car/van that I can sleep in (and doing any necessary conversions/adaptations) - now I've spent a week camping with my van (I was sleeping in my tent, but had everything in the van), I have some good ideas of how I want to convert it 
  12. Getting into cycling (even if it's just short cycles along decent paths) - I'm seriously thinking of taking my bike to the Outer Hebrides 


Sunday, 8 July 2012

Too many new toys

Sometimes everything seems to go wrong at once. One of those times seems to have been dragging on for me for several months now. I've had so many things break and need replacing. I've also bought several items that have been on my 'to buy' list for some time - as I'm on an enforced spending spree now seems as good a time as any to buy them. It is nice to have an excuse to get lots of lovely new things so I'm not complaining too much, but I am getting very frustrated that I don't have time to play with them properly and really learn how to get the most out of them.

I'm still trying to learn how to use the camera and video camera I bought for my New Year's trip to Iceland. Now my little snappy camera, which I think is great, has started to play up. Although I have a much better camera, sometimes I want a small one that easily fits into my pocket. The only reasonably priced one I could find was a waterproof one in Tesco. It was half the price of the other small cameras, but the thing that sold it most to me, was that it uses ordinary batteries. Most cameras now use a rechargeable battery, which is fine if you're always going to be in a place where you can recharge when the need arises. If I'm living in my tent for weeks at a time and taking lots of photos, then this isn't possible, so I need to be able to carry a stash of ordinary batteries and use those. It might not be environmentally friendly or cost effective, but at least I know I can still use my camera. I don't think this camera is going to be as good as the one it is replacing, so I may end up looking for yet another one.

My mobile died whilst I was in Devon and I had to buy a new one. I can't use my old sim card in it so at the moment I don't have access to any of my numbers. Also I still have credit on the old sim, so I need to find the time to get the new phone unlocked. I've always put my sim card in whichever phone I've had before and this is the first time I've ever had this problem. Other people I've spoken to who have bought Tesco phones have had the same problem, so this isn't really endearing me to Tesco. I don't like being forced to use a particular company or brand so it puts me off using them.

My microwave, vacuum cleaner and breadmaker have also died on me. I've replaced the vacuum cleaner and microwave but still need to find a breadmaker that will fit in the allocated space in my kitchen. Now this morning my toaster started playing up, so that's probably going to be next to go.

Whilst in Devon I bought myself a Kindle. I've been humming and haaing over getting one for a while. I love books and love having walls lined with books. On the whole books are cheaper too, because I can buy them second-hand, or at much reduced prices in the supermarkets. But I do see the advantages to a Kindle, especially when travelling and trying to keep weight down. So I cashed in my Tesco vouchers and bought one. I've had a bit of a play around with it, but still need to use it properly to really get the feel for it.

I've recently bought a tablet computer as well. The last couple of summers I've taken my laptop away with me, but keeping it charged is a problem and it's heavy so I don't carry it around with me. The tablet I've bought is much smaller and lighter and holds the charge for up to 15 hours. It comes with a detachable keyboard which makes it easier to use, but can be left behind if I want to really save on weight. I've checked that it's working ok, but other than that haven't had time to really play with it and see what it can do.

Add to all these things my van and my new tent and it really is a case of too many new toys. I don't know what to play with first and can't find the time to learn how to use any of them well!

Monday, 2 July 2012

Conwy

I didn't know much about Conwy. Make that, I didn't know anything about Conwy, but I wanted to stop off somewhere on my way home from Snowdonia and so was on the lookout for somewhere interesting where I could spend a few hours. As I drove past Conwy it winked enticingly at me from down below the road. I turned off and followed signs for the harbour. This, I realised once there, was completely separate from the main town. I parked up (free) and went for a wander. It was quite pleasant with lots of yachts gently bobbing and a restaurant, but not a lot else. 

After a quick wander round the harbour I got back in my van and found the old town fairly easily. I parked in a pay and display car park at the base of the old walls and went for a walk along the top of the walls and a look round the old castle. 



The castle, a World Heritage site, dates from 1283 and was commissioned by Edward I. It's built on a rock and has eight huge round towers protruding from it's curtain walls. It gained its strength from its position atop the rock and so lacks concentric walls (an inner layer of walls) as they were not considered necessary.  



The inner parts of the castle lie in ruins, but enough can be seen to imagine how it would have looked in days gone by. From the battlements I got good views over the town of Conwy lying inside the old town walls, the suspension bridge designed by Thomas Telford and opened in 1826, and of the course the inside of the castle. The Great Hall is 125ft long and fills the main space inside the castle. Apart from this there is a chapel, cellars, dungeons, kitchens and so on. 

Leaving the castle, I walked a bit further along the walls before dropping into the town. The town walls are over 3\4 mile long and have 22 towers scattered along their length. It's possible to walk the full way along the walls but I cut it short as I wanted to have time to look at the town as well.  



I had a quick look at the smallest house in Britain which is on the shore front. It measures 1.8m wide and stands 3.05m high. I didn't go in as there were already a few people inside and so I would have had to wait - its size obviously limits the amount of people who can go in at any one time. I could see pretty much everything there was to see from the doorway anyway.




 









I popped into Plas Mawr which is an Elizabethan town house known for its fine decorative plasterwork and also visited Aberconwy House which is a 14th century merchant's house. The houses are in the care of Cadw and the National Trust respectively and so I didn't need to pay to get in. I would have liked to have spent longer in both places but was aware of the time ticking away on my parking ticket; indeed when I mentioned to the lady behind the desk in Aberconwy House that I would have liked to have spent longer there but couldn't because my parking ticket was running out, she advised me to hurry as the parking attendants can be very keen. 

 










At least I got to see what Conwy has to offer; enough to know I'd like to go back and spend a bit more time there, and I had a very pleasant afternoon exploring a new place and breaking my journey home.