Turning the Wheel Tour
Back on the road again as my Turning the Wheel tour continues. Riding this time of year can be beautiful … but deadly. The cold sun is blindingly low in the sky, but it illumines the bleak landscape and bare trees in a wonderful way. Our wooden cousins arch over the winding A46 down to Bath like Rackham-esque Ents – waiting to pluck the unwary traveller to their doom! On the way home a couple of days later, they were silhouetted against the full moon – lovely, but not so enjoyable when you’re freezing your butt off!
I hooked up with my old pal Sally (AKA Saravian) to do a combined book talk and gig at the Bear in Holwell – an amazing coaching inn outside Frome. Run by the Reverend Zak Ezelove, Tash and Anita, it is not quite in this world. Decorated with stunning fluorescent Mayan artwork (from Tas Bell – see below), dragons (the landlord’s Chinese astrology sign) and psychedelic foliage, it is a fantastic place to party – and that night, a young man called Fin was celebrating his nineteenth birthday there with an all-night knees up. They were setting up the decks when we arrived – given a lift by Saravian’s fellow musician Paul (after a sunny, but chilly ride down from Stroud on my two wheels it was a relief not to have to ride in the dark – as the temperatures plummeted on the cold, clear night – the moon on the cusp of full). The sign of The Bear echoed this – the pub’s totem portrayed silhouetted against a moonlit background. Saravian and Paul set up, and I put out my little stack of books. Another musician had already set up his PA and it turned out to be my friend, the multi-talented James Hollingsworth – who happened to be performing there, after us. Synchronicity! Saravian and Paul provided some good vibes with their fine tunes, then I gave a brief talk which led into an interesting discussion about ‘turning the wheel’ – no doubt influenced by the far out decor, it was pretty cosmic. Afterwards, James did a fantastic warm-up routine, using his loop machine and pedals to build up a wall of sound. His talent is staggering and he really should be playing stadiums. Yet, as I often find with real stars, his ego doesn’t outstrip his talent, as it sometimes does in those with lesser ability. A modest diva – now there’s an oxymoron to conjure with.
I really hope this place flourishes – it is trying to offer a creative alternative to mainstream monoculture. Beleagured by the forces of commerce and mundanity, they are like endangered species – a polar bear on an ever-diminishing iceberg. Such places stop life being too normal – as with certain eccentric seasonal events, as I said in my talk this evening, it ‘widens the gene pool of the imagination’! Long may it thrive!
Afterwards, we popped to Saravian’s local for one – The Griffin, home of Milk Street Brewery. Similarly decorated with original artwork, with live music, it’s great to see such grassroots creativity. My hostess runs the Frome Live Lounge show on the local radio station – and has plans for other community-focused initiatives. The town reminds me of Stroud – it has a similar feel about it: a creative buzz, a green scene, free-thinking (except for the odd small-minded bookseller), great music and cafes. Another locus of alternative modality – like Totnes, or my next destination (albeit with more sense, and less sparkle).
The next morning I set off across the frost-christened Somerset Levels to Glastonbury – for the next date on my Turning the Wheel tour: a book-signing at the Cat & Cauldron, run by Trevor and Liz Williams (SF author). They’ve kindly hosted several of my book events in town and once again made me feel welcome. There was alot going on it town that day – the Frost Fayre, the OBOD Winter bash and the usual Glastonbury madness! There was a lovely atmosphere on the High Street – stalls of festive goodies; the mayor opening the Frost Fayre (in its second year – and perfectly timed, to coincide with the first frost); the Holly King strode up and down in his Yuletide regalia. I asked him if he had to defeat the Oak King to win his title, but he also plays that part and so he had to ‘wrestle with himself’, he joked. Later I saw an altercation on the doorstep of the Cat & Cauldron that seemed to be an amusingly symbolic re-enactment of that very ritual combat: two local ne’er-do-wells (a barrel-chested warrior-type and a weasel-like opponent – which one was Oak, which Holly, I wouldn’t like to say) were duking it out on the road – chasing each other up and down in comic fashion. It reminded me of gruff walruses snarling and clashing on a wave-lashed islet – something from Frozen Planet perhaps). Father Christmas rode by accompanied by drummers (including a formidable Ice Queen – part of the Narnia-themed event); my old friend the Green Man hawked his golden bough; Mr Tumnus popped in for some of my mead; the talented Bards of Ynys Witrin performed by the Market Cross; druids and faeries got in some retail therapy. In short, another day in Avalon. Fabulous!
It was lovely to catch up with old friends and made it all worth while. I had to dash to make the most of the fading light and heat. By the time I got home from my long-ish ride I was chilled to the bone and needed a good long soak. After a week of being out and about (Bournemouth, Frome and Glasto) I feel like tending the hearth and getting in touch with my inner bear – time to hibernate (if only the demands of the season would allow it – but I doubt there will be much peace to be had this side of the solstice)!