Tag Archives: Frome

The Bear Moon Licks its Paws of Frost

Turning the Wheel Tour

9-10 December

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 theĀ  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)!

Lonely is the man...

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

20-21 June

Bard and Stone, Avebury, Summer Solstice 2010

The summer solstice is one of those deadlines of the year – it is for me anyway. Everything seems to build up to it and there’s a millions things to get done before it, as though … time will stop after. Of course, it will carry on just as before but, like the millennium or 2012, significant dates – lines in the egg-timer sands – turn normally sensible people into headless chickens, and the ‘doom’ that we expect becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy (our mounting panic causing accidents, hysteria, conflict, suicide, down-sizing to a remote Scottish islands, etc). On a microcosmic scale, summer is the ‘silly season’, when lazy journalists, recovering from long liquid lunches, dig deep into the odd box. But it’s not hard to find stuff – druids at Stonehenge being a favourite ‘isn’t life a bit weird sometimes/don’t worry about the economy’ piece. Images of ragged revellers at the World Heritage Site – usually with some wally raving on a trilithon – marks the turning the of wheel as iconically as a groundhog in the States or bluebells over here.

I have attended the Stonehenge celebration at the summer solstice (when they first re-opened it to the public after 10 years exclusion) but found it complete chaos and as far from sacred as you can imagine – with many people off their heads and so much conflicting energy/attitudes it defeated the point. It seemed to me the ‘mob’ where desecrating that which had drawn them to a jumble of stones on Salisbury Plain very early on a June morning – a sacred site at a sacred time. Any attempt at ceremony became a circus show spectacle – tolerated in the libertarian atmosphere, or laughed at. Priests were mocked. Anarchy ruled. It might as well have been a dodgy football crowd: ‘Innggerrrlunnddd’. Couples got handfasted in the hurly burly. Others snogged, skinned up, threw up, danced naked, chanted, shouted or blew horns. A feral lad tossed somebody’s ashes into the crowd and they blew into our faces. A group of Maoris looked on aghast – was this how we treated the dead? I felt ashamed for my country. Stonehenge is amazing – and at other times of the year (winter solstice can be more civilised and atmospheric) or via private access, you can feel the awe and majesty of the place – and connect with something sacred. But unless you love the mob experience, avoid summer solstice.

But what of my own revelries?

After an intense couple of weeks meeting all my (mainly marking) deadlines I was looking forward to a couple of days of downing tools and just enjoying the sun – and he certainly had his hat on for us, which makes the world of difference. Nature smiled – filling everything with a benign quality.

Solstice Picnic on Solsbury Hill

I went to a picnic on Solsbury Hil, organised by my friends Peter Please and Kirsten Bolwig. Rocked up there on the Triumph and found them to one side, underneath a rocky ledge. There ended up being about twenty of us – a splendid picnic with splendid people. Poems and songs were shared. We ‘broke bread’ together and relaxed in the sun.

Alas, we had to shoot off – I had a previous commitment to run the Independent Creatives Forum at the Gaynor Flynn’s Being Human weekend, Frome. The venue – a warehouse tucked away in the obscure outskirts of the town was difficult to find. A couple of small easy-to-miss arrows pointed in vague directions. Finally found it – after a few dead ends – and it felt like a lazy Sunday afternoon chill-out with a small group of friends (in publicity it looked like it was going to be some amazing ground-breaking happening, not a house-party). My forum was meant to take place in a yurt – which had been taken over by children. I managed to claim the space and set up; the event was announced and … I had one person come in. I can’t blame folk for wanting to sit in the sun and drink beer (I wouldn’t have minded doing that myself). Sunday 2-5pm is the wrong time to have an intellectual forum. Nevertheless, we had a nice chat about creativity (there were four of us in the end). One woman who had come all the way from East Grinstead for the event said she was so glad I had come along – all weekend she had been hearing discussions about technology and I was the first speaker to talk about people, about … being human. If you connect with one person, or make one person’s day – sowed the seed of something, an idea, a thought, inspired in some way – then it’s all been worthwhile. It was nice to bump into my fellow Bard of Bath, Helen Moore and her partner, Niall from London. There’s a healthy creative scene in Frome and Gaynor’s outfit is one aspect of it – showing that provincial life doesn’t have to be parochial. Later Banco de Gaia played and a little backstreet of a sleepy Wiltshire town became plugged into the global groove.

My solstice Bard-B-Q starts

Returned at speed to finish setting up for my annual solstice Bard-B-Q, with the help of my friends Sally and Ola. It was a lovely gathering, blessed by a perfect summer’s evening, with friends sharing poems, songs and stories.

Saravian - wild, free and beautiful - entertains us at my Bard-B-Q

I got my mead-horn out – as I am wont to do as such occasions – and we offered heart-felt toasts as it was passed around. This jump-started an excellent discussion on the BP oil disaster, and I found myself having successfully facilitated a creative forum after all, albeit in my own home. So many lovely talented friends turned out – old and new. Particularly resonant was the appearance of a Dutchwoman called Eva, whom I met on Glastonbury Tor exactly 19 years ago – on solstice eve, 1991. We had been in the tower, dancing along to the drums, trying to keep warm. I had lent her my waistcoat. Later we caught up in the campsite over a cuppa. A couple of years ago we bumped into each other at a Druid Camp – and then I met her at the OBOD bash a week ago. And now, here she was, on my doorstep!

Solstice friends - me and Eva, 19 years on

It was special to connect with her again after so long. When you celebrate such times, the ghosts of all the other solstices jostle side-by-side. This was my fortieth, but only the twentieth I had consciously celebrated. Not many, and each one stands out – especially the people you celebrate them with. I thought of ‘absent friends’ and I raised a meadhorn in their honour. It was special night – one of my best gatherings.

Afterwards, a guest Verona, said: ‘You have the gift of getting people together and to make theirĀ  talents shine!’

After a lazy breakfast – getting up at sunrise would’ve been a bridge too far – I have learnt to be gentle with myself lately (the solstice doesn’t have to be a triathlon, although it can feel like that, racing from event to event) – I headed over to Avebury for midday with my friend Sally on the back. It was a lovely run in the sun and we got there just in time to catch the noon ceremonies (solstice was 12:28).

Revellers worshipping a stone egg at Avebury, Summer Solstice 2010

gong show - Avebury summer solstice

A wonderfully raggle-taggle mixture of sun worshippers hung out between the stones – the atmosphere was relaxed. No doubt the all-night/or early morning revelries had worn out most. Avebury is big enough to accommodate for everyone’s ‘thing’ – the energy is far more feminine and less antagonistic than Stonehenge, which I feel have been tainted over the years by all the conflict that has focused around them: stones of contention. One group was having a dual gong shower. Another, sat in worship around a giant stone egg. Druids in full regalia chanted hand in hand. People meditated, picnicked, slept – it was hard to tell. Everyone was in a kind of placid state, like a load of … cows in a field, contentedly chewing cud. Stoned bovines. If anyone was on grass, they were keeping it discreet as the token bobby strolled around. There was no crowd control trouble here – many had come from Stonehenge that dawn, but something about Avebury chills people out. We did a ceremonial ambulation – with frequents stops in the scorching heat – before culminating in the ritual pint at the Red Lion, where the party continued on the benches outside. We sat in the leafy shade of the ‘fertile triangle’ nearby and ate our sandwiches. Bumped into an old bardic friend, Jim, who updated me on all the ins and outs of the druid scene.

Bards of Avebury and Bath - Jim and Kevan, Summer Solstice

He’d played 4 gigs that morning (!) and was involved in getting the ancestral sculpture to Stonehenge. He was excited about the media coverage they had gained – Jim is sincere and committed about his cause, but druids can be complete media tarts, preening and pontificating in front of the cameras. Certainly, it can be used as a platform to discuss real issues, but often the media treat such people like a novelty news item (‘And finally…’) Jim’s band, Druidicca, feature in a new movie partly filmed at Avebury called The Stone. He talked at length about his big scheme to bring all druids together. Good luck to him. We stopped off at Silbury Hill to hail the ‘Mighty Mother’, then hit the road back home.

Visiting Silbury Hill

Rounding off the solstice revelries nicely was the Bath Storytelling Circle, which happened to be on at the Raven that night. I went along and contributed a story and a poem, and enjoyed the ambience, helped by a couple of ales.

Satisfied, I returned home. Finally I was able to be still – which after all is what the solstice signifies. The sun puts its feet up for three days and has a well-earned rest!

Bards on a bike - me and pal Sally about to set off when an English Heritage volunteer took our snap