Friday 28 August 2009

Vagabond Villages & Transient Towns,

I HAVE BEEN THINKING about moving villages: Towns that assemble and disperse and then reassemble. Gatherings of people that are not always in the same one place, or indeed are not always the same collection of people.
As we travel we meet so so many different people. We visit festivals where we set up camp with many other wheeled and canvas houses, and for a week or so that field becomes our neighbourhood. We smile to meet folk we've met before and cross paths with new people who we'll meet again. Our house is admired by many and we sell pictures in between.
These weeks we spend at festivals are like colourful knots of noise and bustle, of many faces and too much hoo-haa. A hermit-like pair we are, as I have said before, though there is something we love about these gatherings too. We always find that we drive away with a nostalgia, and a bagful of lovely memories.

From our delightful perch in Dartmoor, we moved just a couple of miles to another field where farmer Will kindly welcomed us. This locality is such a warm haven of interesting and artistic people. We have met so many folk, often walking into town and being called by name. On our travels through places this is rare indeed, and it is lovely.
The walk to town is now not so steep, but takes us about half an hour through wonderful woodland and along the side of a river, where we took our tin bath and bagful of laundry the other day to wash. This is the kind of place we hope to come back to. A road life with a perfect place to return to seems like the ideal balance right now.

Anyway, we left this lovely place for a week to attend the Off Grid Festival, a new event in Somerset, dedicated to all things powered by the sun and the wind and to the idea of transition.
Transition towns are emerging all over the world, and are examples of new (in fact old) and exciting ways to look at community, and all the many things that come together to create and sustain it. These include a drive to self-sufficiency, in food, energy and money. Transition towns have begun introducing localised currencies, such as the Lewes Pound (an idea that was experimented with at the Off Grid Festival too, though with a little hesitancy amongst those new to it, us included). You can read in much more eloquent detail about the transition idea here, but it ties in with my thoughts on community, though my thinkings have been leaning rather more towards transient towns, than transition towns.

Just along from where we pitched our house-display, the day before the festival started, a whole tin village was being constructed, with a wooden structure and corrugated iron roofs and walls. In here, they held talks and films on permaculture and other things, as well as building a clay wood-fired oven for making bread and pizzas. A garden emerged out front too, complete with tiny ponds and potted pear trees. And a week later this was all gone, and the ground returned to grass.

Further off we spied another lovely Bedford TK, complete with old time coconut shy and hand made carousel. Inside the truck was a warren of a house, where Ruth and Simon lived whilst travelling, and stored their entire set up too! It was wood-stove warm and ramshackle-nooky in there and a tray of fresh baked buns emerged from the oven (held shut with an axe) before my eyes. They had painted their mini fairground my sort of old-time colours, and the hand-made childrens' carousel vehicles were protected by a barrier made from old nuns' bedposts! It is always lovely to see others doing interesing things from Bedfords!

These were not the only intriguing goings on there. One chap was operating a printing press from the back of a pink milk float. Pancakes were being cooked in tipis. Another man tried to sell us psychedelic toad poison! We met a fellow called Gary who photographed our truck before we were even parked. It seems he goes from festival to festival photographing and then drawing all manner of live-in vehicles and then printing them to sell in little booklets. We bought three editions of this unusual publication "Tax Exempt", in which our own truck house will probably feature one day. I was particularly impressed by the excellent standard of drawing. Feastival art can so often be a bit gaudy and badly done, but Gary's pen and ink drawings were detailed and expertly executed. (As an interesting aside.. if you would like to browse a comprehensive photographic museum of live-in vehicles, Traveller Homes is a great place, even we're there, in the Bedford Truck section. :)

In meeting so many different folk, I have begun to develop a distinct and worrying forgetfulness. I have always had a vagueness about me and an unusual concept of time passing, but having so many faces pass in front of my eyes seems to have done something odd to my brain. People I have met the previous day seem new and never-seen the next. Tui has to nudge me as they approach. "We've met them" he mutters through his teeth. It's embarrassing. I feel so awful when they say "Hello again" and I look at them somewhat blankly. I do try so very hard, and then get all in a fluster when meeting and greeting several people at once, and the panic must disable that memory trigger in my brain. I did once hear of a man who had lost this ability entirely so that when shopping in a supermarket with his wife, she had to wear a special red coat for him to recognise her amongst all the others.
It's not as bad as that for me, it doesn't happen with everyone, and certain folk who I have met a few times or know well have migrated to the other side of my memory bank! But let me say here to anyone who I have looked vacant at - I am dreadfully sorry! I wonder whether my shortsightedness might contribute to this, my blurry visual information of folk far-off being less comprehensive than it should be!

Since you last heard from me, our house has changed a little more too. We sawed our back door in half! And now we can lean over the top like contemplative horses, another 'window' added to our vista. It makes such an excellent difference. There's a brand new cup shelf too, just by the sofa, made by Tui from a lovely slice of wood. He has been transforming the new stable door with latches and ledges and hooks and escutcheons and he's made a wonderful new bench from found wood for sitting outside, the legs have toes. There's even a bracket above the back window on which a lantern dangles. And I sat there admiring it from the hammock we strung between truck and magnificent tree. These trees are our neighbours now. We are back in farmer Will's field, admiring the view and sharing the grass with the sheep (who have taken to sleeping under the truck at night!), the trees towering above us.

We are part of a new village now. Our neighbours were neighbours before, were not for a while and now are neighbours again. The village we made part of in Somerset has dispersed. Our friends Hannah and Daniel and the twins were parked by us there again. They have headed off east to join another gathering. We'll see them again somewhere sooner or later. We'll see others too, familiar and unfamiliar. It's a strange experience of life, crossing paths with others, a unique experience for each person, and yet shared in some aspects. It is the net that links us all, the strands are gossamer-thin and steel-strong, and each path-crossing vibrates them.
No wonder I'm so overwhelmed!

We'll spend a while under these trees, getting on with our works painterly and musical, and I leave you for now with a quote from Rumi that I found and liked in a lovely clothes shop Haruka whilst treating myself to garments after successful festival picture sales.

Let the beauty that you love be what you do.

There are many ways to kneel and kiss the earth.

Friday 7 August 2009

The mists between horses and hares

AND SO WE TRAVELLED OFF from Wales towards the Big Green Gathering, overnighting on this spot along the A466 - a picturesque stretch of road that runs down beside the Offa's Dyke path for a while. We don't often see our truck home from above, but there we could walk into the conifer forest above and look down on ourselves as the mists rolled in. We thought we'd outrun the rain as the sun tempted us back towards England. But it caught us up. And low clouds skidded over us dropping their downpours and rushing on. We even saw a cloud outside our back door, hovering over the river valley. A gruff man pulled up while we were parked here and asked if we were selling our truck. He told us he'd owned it once, but we didn't believe him.
And then we drove on, down winding roads that lost us a wing mirror at one point due to a wide-wandering Hymer.

All the way to Cheddar we drove and gathered with others ready for the festival. But it was not to be. A police injunction stopped the event from going ahead, and so over the next few days many sad people chugged away from the muddy field through the ceaseless rain and back to where they'd come from. We were due to be joining the permaculture area there, with our truck dwelling friends Hannah and Daniel. Eventually another field was rustled up for those who would have been our permaculture neighbours, to have a mini gathering on the edge of Dartmoor.

There we spent a week with other lovely people. We sat around fires and sold some pictures, we walked and we sat, we met hedgehogs and gypsies, we learned stove making, we watched films in yurts and chased children. Here we all are attempting to assemble a geodesic dome with the two truck houses in the background and a twin or two in the foreground.

There were moments of despair as we realised our coffers were nigh-on empty and the rain did nothing to cheer us. But people bought pictures and the sun came out.. and life went on.

And then we wandered on. Further north into Dartmoor we went, taking care to use the main roads. Then as we approached our hilltop destination we found ourselves in first gear on hair-raisingly narrow steep bends, but we made it. And now we are here, in what might possibly be our favourite place in England so far.

Parked on the top of a hill we can see for miles over the moors when the clouds clear. Such an amazing landscape I have not come across before. There are those most English of gnarly oak trees gripping the stony lane-sides, there are delightful villages, delightful people, and the views are just incredible. We've met the ponies on the hill, and I even lay down next to some afternoon-snoozing foals. Out of our round bedroom window we've watched the clouds skud across the full moon amid the most beautiful of skies and the quietest of airs.

And most delightful of all I seem to have walked into the land of mythic artists. How pleased I was to meet Terri Windling and her wonderful work in the flesh. In fact it is she we have to thank for field hunting for us. I feel just a little starry-eyed to have a writer and artist whose work I have long admired come to tea, and humble to have her admire my work in turn. I can see why these artists who dwell inside tales have chosen this corner of England for their homes. There is something 'other' about the land, but it is absolutely not describable in words. It is for me a little like the warm memory of a deeply enjoyed book. Meeting this land is like meeting a love. It is wild yet familiar, and I think I should paint in it.

Before all of these latest journeyings, my friend Poppy sent me a wonderful piece of stitchery that she spent weeks working on. It contains words from the Havamal and old blackwork patterns. I shall be framing it and hanging it in our sleeping quarters soon, I think it describes things for travellers well.

While we are here, in between visiting lovely people and exploring the moors, I am working away on the next album cover for Oxfordshire folk band Telling The Bees. Amongst many folkloric symbols woven into their music, which I am to illustrate, is a strange symbol, the so-called Tinner's Hares, a triple hare icon, where three hares share just three ears, yet appear to have two each. Oddly I have seen this symbol here where we are, on shop fronts and posters. It seems that there are more triple-hares in Dartmoor than anywhere else. It is an old symbol, which like the Green Man appers often on medieval church bosses and the like. But no-one knows quite what it means...