Walls, Sheep And Festivals

Friday morning’s promenade en vélo took me up and round and down past the two goat sheds in the nearby hamlet. Their doors were slid back to give the poor creatures inside some respite from the week’s accumulated heat. The bleached white inmates had all gathered at the threshold to gaze at the novelties of the outside world. My impulse is to dismount and to walk up for a quick chat, but doing that can create a mini stampede within and I couldn’t bear to be responsible for some crushed goats. I can see the headlines now in Le Dépêche. A French version of Chatty cyclist causes fatal crush…

I freewheeled down past the Dutchman’s wood-stack to the road where Poodle Man, as he has become known, was just finishing off his retaining wall. Wittily I’ve dubbed it the Great Wall of China, because one likes to banter with the locals. Poodle Man’s real name is Charles, I have recently discovered. He is married to Poodle Woman, whose ancient deaf poodle has now trotted off to that big toilettage in the sky. In the past, she has complained of her husband’s lack of sociability, but I have always found him ready to pass the time of day.

Charles has been working on his muraille for many months. He’s 75 now, but has the lean physique of a teenager. He likes to keep busy and I wonder what he will do now that his great wall is finished. Every day during its construction he has been getting up at six to mix his barrow full of mortar and fix in place the limestone slabs he scavenges the evening before. It’s as well that he’s finished now, because he’s just done himself a mischief. He recognises that a septuagenarian shouldn’t be lifting heavy stones, but the man is driven.

As a fellow sport-lover, he asked me whether I would be watching the Olympic opening ceremony that evening. No, I wouldn’t – and nor would he. It wasn’t sport and the cost of the spectacle was ludicrous. London did Paris a favour by beating it to the bankruptcy tape; Montreal’s still paying for the ’76 Olympics; Athens can never pay for its games; and so forth. We ranted like a pair of grumpy old men; ‘gave it large’, in the words of my friend, the tree surgeon.

Somehow we segued from overpaid footballers to communally minded sheep. Take the cost of the fauchage teams with all their expensive orange-painted equipment, which periodically pass by to sheer the roadsides. In the old days, he told me, farmers’ wives would walk behind their flock of sheep, up and then back down the road, knitting away at their latest creation while their bêtes tamed the vegetation. Isn’t that a lovely notion? Proper made my day, it did, to imagine such a leisurely but efficient and – more to the point, as a hard-pressed ratepayer – inexpensive form of highway maintenance. These days, you hardly ever see either sheep or farmers’ wives. They’re always shut up inside like those poor benighted goats.

Knowing that she’s recently finished her bac, Charles enquired about The Daughter. I explained that she was in London – and certainly would not be watching the Olympics. Not my sport-negative offspring. In fact, she and her best friend – who is, rather delightfully, the daughter of my wife’s best friend – are at the WOMAD festival in Wiltshire this weekend. They went off together on the special coach from London, Victoria with tent, sleeping bags, basic provisions and a camping stove that apparently doesn’t work. We parents are rather hoping that they will be bold enough to ask someone if they can borrow theirs. Perhaps a pair of nice, well-brought-up boys who aren’t slaves to their sex drives.

It’s Tilley’s first festival. She’s never let on that she’s at all interested in world music. I suspect she’s tagging along for the adventure. I sent her a text to suggest that she and Alice should make sure that they see Ska Cubano, Femi Kuti and Keb’ Mo’. They’ll probably and quite rightly ignore a curmudgeon’s advice and stumble upon their own entertainment.

I sho’ ‘nuff envy her. Not so much the festival itself: I’m getting a bit too old and impatient for all that hanging around and standing about on two feet. These days I tend to go along to the annual African music festival in Cajarc and the jazz festival at Souillac, but only for an evening at a time. No, I envy her more for the sheer excitement and novelty of it all.

I remember, for example, the thrill of steaming along the M4 with my friend James in his old white Renault 4, bound for the agricultural show ground at Reading. Ah! the sense of anticipation as we joined the throng from the car park to the stage; as we later ate our sandwiches while waiting in our few square feet of trampled grass for John McLaughlin’s latest permutation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra to appear on stage. It’s funny that someone as obsessed with music as I am should remember all that much more vividly than the music itself. I suspect that it will be much the same for my girl.

Well, in talking to Dan, Dan the graphics man and a couple of others whose opinions I value, it seems that, in studiously avoiding the opening ceremony, I missed something rather good: more humorous than bombastic and quite far from an attempt to out-Bejing the Chinese. Maybe I shouldn’t be so pleasantly surprised. After all, London’s had its time in the sun and even its reputation as a global financial capital is now tarnished by scandal, so what else have we to hold up to the world but our good old quirky British sense of humour? We will always at least be so Breeteesh. Nevertheless, the idea of spending 25 million or so to project simply this at a time when so many good causes are being systematically starved of funds seems quite obscene.

Before riding off into the sunrise and leaving Charles to finish off his wall in peace, my interlocutor came up with an idea that seems very sensible. Why not write off Athens’s Olympic debts and at the same time spare other ambitious capitals around the world endless financial servitude by holding each Olympic games in their place of origin? In the process, it would give a quadrennial fillip to the Greek economy. You know it makes sense. (Far too simple and sensible, though, for our political masters.)

Of course, in returning to the days of the original Olympian spirit and an era when tricoteuses would direct their sheep to trim the roadsides, the athletes would have to strip down to bare essentials and perform their feats in the nip. It would certainly help to revive my flagging interest in women’s track and field.

We were living at Boscombe Down in the summer of '76 and I recall our 14-year old son coming home rather late from school - he'd been down to the river to watch the hippies skinny dipping!!

The Battle of Evermore........ my youth.

Sandy could sing like she did up to the Fairports from when she was 13 or 14, to do a solo stint of four numbers on a big bill was one of her first real outings. She could also tip down a pint by then which was the start of the downhill. Strange, she nearly quit when she started nursing but by 71 she was with the Fairports. 78 the accident and gone. It appears that she and I were both born in exactly the same bed at Nelson Hospital, mind you me a year after her. Nostalgia, eh! Not only her voice was gorgeous, she was great.

A 16-year old Sandy Denny, eh Brian? Was her voice as gorgeous then as it became later? My wife used to babysit for the Fairports - Sandy, Swarbs et al. I just missed out on all the big festivals living in Belfast. The nearest I got to something epic was being in London when Pink Floyd previewed Atom Heart Mother, but my mother wouldn't let me go. I was not a happy bunny - and it still seems remarkably pusillanimous to deny an obsessed teenager the opportunity to partake in something that he could tell his grandchildren about (although they'd be bored to tears in all probability).

Sentimentally, the first Cambridge Folk festival in 1965, just a little ahead of the brilliant rock festivals on the Isle of Wight, Bath and so on would take it for me. It was Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem,The Strawberry Hill Boys, The Watersons and Peggy Seeger and whilst I was never really into any of those performers, some of the other lesser names at the festival captivated my imagination. We went as a mob from SW19 to support 16 year old Sandy Denny who became one of the greatest names in British folk in her short 30 year life. I missed 1966, but thereafter went to every single one whenever I was in the UK up to 2000. I think from the first to my last it would have been something like 26 times. I could not list the people I've seen there but assuming little has changed, it has always been one of the most consistent festivals anywhere with the highest quality performers.

Hi all. Thanks for your comments on the realities of sheep-rearing and the delights of festivals. My, Tim's clearly a dedicated festival goer. What stamina. In terms of sheer music quality and variety, the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Hague was probably the best one I ever went to. In terms of sheer enjoyment, a little free festival in a Bath cemetery on a hot sunny afternoon with Lol Coxhill wandering about playing his soprano saxophone and the Jess Roden Band headlining was probably the poppermost.

My two favourite gigs.



Brian, I know but I didn't want to pretend I was in 60s festivals . But I saw a lot of them in NYC in 79 . There was a cinema then which showed all the Hippies festivals, in their entirety . People around me shouted as though they had been in the actual crowd and everybody smoked weed . So I could have an accurate idea of the 60s festivals .

Talking festivals, my absolute fave was the Elephant Fayre in Cornwall in the early eighties. Bliss!

Ah ! How pleasant to read someone who has properly integrated the French way of life - quite rare here !

then you start to talk about UK Festivals - Oh Dear, my specialist subject! No Reading won't do as an exemple ! even Glastonbury lost it's Colours many years ago, So I think your Daughter has chosen well with Womad.

It' a Hard year for Festivals, what with every portable toilet snapped up by the Olympics ..
Some I've visited in the past few Years deserve a round of applause...

Beautifull Days (was there in 2009) Green Man Too
2010 - Burgh Hertzberg on Germany was spot on - really warm too
2011 - Sweden Rock and Hell Fest , in Clisson spot on too !
This year, I did "Off the Tracks" and Wytchwood - and I have Classic Rock and the Rythm Festival still to go ..
In September it's Poland - then BrisFest in Bristol

That's Beautiful Days 2009 ! I love it !

Beautiful Daze is about as good as I've seen, for all ages (I'm 60 and DB 71 in august) but we love them !

But if we get Nostalgic ... '76/'78 Stone Henge '79 Glastonbury Ah !!
Right , it's true , I get a backstage pass for my efforts - but as you say, they are unforgettable moments each time !

P.S. Michael Eaves has terminated his Contract with Live Nation, so, You never know, they could come back with a good Festival next year !

"Rock-On" ( or Roll-off !)

Philippe, being nostalgic, 60s festivals were even better. They still had something dilletante and naieve about them.

Pity, by this time women weren't even allowed as spectators, man .

70s festivals do make great memories, don't they ?