Good day to one and all and, yes, I know it has been a while for reasons I shall explain below if you care to read on. I realise it is almost three months since I posted here and in the next few entries I shall hopefully explain the reasons for this. I am quite sure nobody has actually missed my ramblings too much.
Obviously, I was in the middle of a series about my 2016 trip to Sri Lanka and I promise I shall return to it shortly, there is still so much to share with you about that wonderful country with it’s stunning scenery, sublime cuisine, fascinating history and a population of the friendliest people you are ever likely to meet on this cosmic rock we all inhabit.
So what happened? Lots of things really which, to avoid repetition, I am not going to itemise here but suffice it to say I have been on an emotional rollercoaster that would grace any theme park in the world. Bizarrely, I am terrified of heights and yet I have a perverse love of rollercoasters, I cannot resist them but I must admit I could have done without the mental and physical one I have been on recently. I’ll stick to the Big One at Blackpool or Stealth at Thorpe Park (both of which I have ridden).
I realise this is already starting to sound a bit cryptic and I know I generally do write in a fairly obscure style but this is liable to be one of the more rambling rambles, poor English as that obviously is. When I rather naively decided on running my own website, despite a complete and enduring technophobia, I made a promise to myself and to whatever small number of readers I may potentially gather and it was a simple one. I was going to be entirely truthful about everything, mostly as a minor revolt against the proven lies of TripAdvisor (sue if you dare, Kaufer), partly because I am a bloody-minded sort of man but mostly, I suspect and even if I didn’t admit it to myself at the time, as some sort of catharsis or even therapy.
I have never been diagnosed since childhood (a long and not very pleasant tale) but from what I have read I am undoubtedly suffering from PTSD and the more usual form of depression. I must stress that I do not mention any of this to elicit sympathy, that is the last thing I need or want but merely to put context onto what is to follow.
I know this is effectively meant to be a travel based blog but as a small service which may just help someone I would urge that, if you have issues like mine you may wish to try and seek help, there are plenty of avenues available to do that. Don’t fall deeper and deeper into the hole that is all to easy to jump into and which basically accounts for my absence from here for the last three months. I choose not to seek such help for numerous reasons which I am not going to go into here but it is there if you need it and there is no shame in seeking it.
So what has been happening since I went under the radar? I suppose the best thing I can do is to offer here the first piece of writing I did for a couple of months, composed on a train that represented my first excursion out of the E1 postal district in about a year and a half. That simple train trip was a breakthrough on so many different levels, a concept I shall explain later. For the moment, here is what I wrote on the train to Broadstairs or more specifically the Broadstairs Folk Week.
Writing on the train 05/08/2021.
Well, here I am again, turning up like a bad penny just when you thought you had got rid of me but I am a difficult man to shut up as many who know me will attest. I suppose a word of explanation would be more than in order as I have dropped off the radar so completely lately.
I stated when I started this blog that I was going to be absolutely honest with the few very loyal readers I managed to amass and the occasional poor person who happened upon my ramblings by accident and I intend to honour that commitment. The simple fact of the matter is that my health, both mental and physical, has been far from perfect recently and I just decided to withdraw from the world, at least the world of the internet. Apart from binge-watching documentaries on the BBC iPlayer and falling down a few YouTube rabbit holes, often for 24+ hours at a time, I have been lying in my bed with neither the physical ability nor will to even rise.
This is the fallout from the Chinese virus and I am sure I am not the only one but, sadly, so many people still find it difficult to speak of mental health issues, although I hope and believe that the situation is getting better. Witness Simone Biles at the virus postponed Olympics for a case in point and many other elite athletes are talking more openly about it these days which can only be a good thing as they are role models for so many.
Physically, I was wasting away as I just could not manage to ingest food and I had become so weak that a walk of no more than 60 yards from my front door to the little supermarket on the corner required a rest stop on both the outward and return journeys and a ten minute wheezing rest at the end of it when I got home. An appalling situation when you consider that only about three years ago I was out walking over ten miles easily on a decent day’s walk and knocking off long-distance paths around London for fun. Several of them are documented on this site. Thanks for nothing, China.
I knew something had to be done and so I hit upon a bit of a plan, actually a Complan which is a nutritional product usually given to the very elderly and complete invalids, looks like I fall into both categories now! It seems to have done me a bit of good and has evidently re-invigorated my digestive system to the point where I now eat the odd bowl of soup or a slice of cheese on toast or whatever. I still cannot physically eat a proper meal, it is months since I did so but at least I am holding up.
Evidence of how well I am holding up is the location I am writing this piece in with the header image being a bit of a spoiler I know. I am sitting on the 1432 from Stratford International to Broadstairs where I am heading for my favourite festival, Broadstairs Folk Week, which, like my long-distance walking, also features heavily on the posts here.
What is more, I am planning to stay on for a little while afterwards as I normally do, my record being that I went for Folk Week (hereinafter referred to by it’s acronym of BFW) which is the second week in August and only went home in early November as I wished to attend the annual Act of Remembrance at the Cenotaph on the Sunday nearest to the 11th of that month. BFW is fairly much in my blood and in the 33 years I have now been attending I have only missed two, last year which was obviously cancelled (as was any sort of normality throughout the world) and 2016 where I happened to be in Canada, bombing around in an ancient campervan (RV) and playing the odd gig as well, so I reckon that was a reasonable excuse!
I suspect that it was the prospect of not being physically able to attend this year that probably spurred me into action with the dietary supplements etc. So how do I feel, sitting on this train heading to a place I know so well and where I have so many friends (I have already been invited out for a drink this evening)? Again, in the spirit of honest reporting which I hope I have maintained on this site which has lasted far longer than I ever imagined, I must say that I am just a touch apprehensive.
I was worried about my physical ability to get to Stratford International on public transport even though it is an easy walk to my local Tube station, another short walk through the shopping centre and a completely downhill stroll at the far end and yet I just could not trust my body to do it which is a bit of an annoyance but there it is. I am also slightly concerned about how the festival might go after the hiatus, obviously things have changed but it is the uncertainty of everything that really gets to me.
I asked the guy on the barrier at Stratford if I was required to wear a mask on the train and he told me that he honestly didn’t know as the rules change so often. I remember about February of 2020 when the Government’s so-called experts were telling us that wearing a mask was of no benefit whatsoever in slowing down the virus and yet, within about three or four months you could be fined up to £800 for not wearing one on public transport, if you were even allowed out of your house arrest to be on public transport. They did not then have a clue and apparently have not advanced since.
I am not in the least worried about travelling per se as I have done so much of it but, barring two short walks which strayed marginally into the E3 postal district, I have not been outside my home postcode of E1 since February last year nor have I been in a pub which is unheard of for me. I should mention for the benefit of readers who do not know about the UK postal system that my E1 postcode is an area of about a mile and a half square.
Additionally, and perhaps more worryingly, I have had virtually no human contact whatsoever. I don’t do all this video conferencing or whatever they call it and I rarely make or recieve ‘phone calls. My social interactions, if they could be called that, were brief conversations with the checkout staff in my local supermarket and the charming Karim (my pharmacist) and his equally delightful staff. This is going to be an interesting trip.
Musically, everything will be fine. I know there are a lot of excellent acts booked to play in the new festival site although I doubt very much if I shall see any of them! I would suggest that the number of main booked acts I have seen in my 30+ years could be counted on the fingers of two hands and most of them were Tim Edey because, in addition to being a superb musician (currently Scottish Folk Musician of the Year) he is a great friend with whom I have played, recorded and toured. Please do check him out. He also happens to be the Festival’s patron. Apologies for the name drop.
What, you may well ask, am I doing going to a Festival and not actually going to see any of the big names play? The answer is simple and it will come as no surprise to those that know me that it all revolves around pubs! For many years I played pub gigs with numerous excellent musicians, far too many to mention here but now I concentrate on helping my dear mate Paul to run the daily playaround which has moved home several times but is now domiciled in the George which is run by my dear friends Dave and Bev. Most of the bar staff are also bosom buddies of long acquaintance.
If you don’t know what a playaround is, it is basically an open session where anyone, regardless of what standard of playing they are at, can turn up and jam. There are always a few exeprienced musicians (and the odd idiot like myself!) to keep the thing ticking over.
If you go to BFW and don’t play an instrument, there are a couple of other ways you can go about joining in. You can either buy an instrument from the excellent Craft Fair and there are loads of workshops for complete beginners led by stars of whatever instrument it might be, same goes for dancing. If playing or dancing doesn’t appeal, you can always give your lungs a work out at one of the numerous singarounds (same principle as a playaround but for voice) that happen.
OK, that is my shameless plug for BFW 2021 over and they are not even paying me this year! I realise that this has barged right into the middle of my last travel series and I do apologise for that and for the long delay in posting again but I hope I have explained the situation. I’ll try and post regularly during BFW but I know exactly how hectic it can all become and I once played 17 gigs in seven days which is pretty exhausting. I managed four in one day with an excellent band I was in and that was just ludicrous!
I shall also try to take a few video clips of the various nonsenses that take place and post them on YouTube, I’ll post links here if you are vaguely interested (doubtful).
I do, however, know in my heart of hearts that I shall be spending every waking hour playing and not bother writing a single word, take an absolute minimum of images and record nothing. BFW is like that, you just get caught up in the moment and the last thing you think of is writing a blog and supplementing it with images and videos, it is just the way it is.
In a bizarre way it takes me back years, when nothing mattered but the moment, what I was doing and where the next “experience” was coming from. To my absolute regret now I did not even carry a camera on several very interesting trips years ago and I managed to leave a cheap little “wet film” camera (when I eventually decided to buy one) in a hotel in Bombay, or Mumbai if you insist. It was Bombay when I was there, and it now breaks my heart that I do not have images of all those travels. A whole month travelling that magnificent country on an IndiaRail pass including the Taj Mahal, and I think I have a couple of dozen images that I had got developed out there.
Well, we are now approaching Margate and it is only about five minutes from there to Broadstairs so I’ll pack up now and see how things go.
This seems like an appropriate place to break so I will. I shall post shortly the utter brilliance that was BFW 2021 under the most arduous conditions when everyone really had to dig in to make it work. It worked and it worked brilliantly.
Stay tuned and spread the word.