Not something I ordinarily do here, but Dave offered to write a guest post for me, so, seeing as how I hardly ever get around to writing anything these days, who was I to turn down the offer?! Without further ado, here are Dave's thoughts about his weekend spent at Cloud Cuckoo Land...
My own choice of a night out would be dressed smartly, with shiny cleaned shoes, in a smart hotel or bar, listening to classy Sixties Soul. So what on earth was I doing in the middle of a wet field in Somerset, in the rain ?
I’m 53 years old, haven’t camped for over 30 years and have never attended a festival in my entire life ! So why on earth, when Jessica suggested that I attend the Cloud Cuckoo Land Festival with her at the beginning of August, did I say yes?
It turns out that Jessica is part of something called ‘A World to Win’, who run a couple of People's Assemblies over the course of the weekend at the Cloud Cuckoo Land Festival, and as it had been a success last year they had been invited back to do the workshops again this year. I had a quick look round the net, and found the Cloud Cuckoo Land website and realised I hadn’t heard of a single live act or DJ that they were advertising!
It was with some trepidation that I set off to Jessica’s house on the Thursday night, so that we could make an early start on the Friday morning. We collected the two other members of The People’s Assembly Task Force on route, and arrived at Fernhill Farm around mid afternoon.
I suppose I was expecting the usual stereotype of tree hugging, unwashed, left wing, never worked in their lives, hippy types. Especially as one of the People’s Assembly workshops was about seizing ‘the power’ from the global corporations! And in many respects I was right! There were people there who would fit that description, but I now realise it is far too complex to just brand everyone the same.
Having erected the tent, it was time to go and explore, and certainly in my case, open the first beer. Cloud Cuckoo Land is based around the concept of, well to be honest, it’s all a bit complicated for me to explain here, and I couldn’t do it justice simply because of my lack of understanding of the myriad of ‘green issues’ that the festival proffers to support, so make sure you check out the website.
Suffice to say, from 4pm onwards there was music playing in about four different tented venues, and the main stage, as well as ‘the Cloud Of Unknowing’ barn. The music itself was of an unbelievably varied mix. Although overall it was all far too modern for my tastes, I did hear some James Brown, and am reliably informed that some Martha Reeves was played whilst I was at the toilet at one point.
As ‘The People’s Assembly’ were counted as crew, we had been given a free meal voucher for each day at ‘The People’s Kitchen’.
I gather that all the food used at The People’s Kitchen had been donated free, and was being used now so that it wasn’t just wasted and thrown away. Much as I admire the sentiments, the meal we had on the Friday night tasted as though it had already been thrown away at some previous stage. I know my criticism will be called unfair, but I really did find the meal completely inedible, and quickly donated my meal to Jessica, and I wandered off for a smoke. (Dave does not consider a meal to be a meal if it does not contain meat! -Jess)
I found the behaviour, and attire of some of the people bizarre, to say the least, but I was also surprised how many quite smartly dressed young women there were around the site. I mean, having read the weather forecast for the weekend, I wouldn’t have expected to see quite so many dresses, or short skirts and tights (Although wellies were almost obligatory with this type of ensemble). Male attendees seemed to favour the more outlandish fancy dress type of outfit. By the end of the weekend the facepainters and glitter painters had clearly been extremely busy, and there were some extremely interesting hats around as well!
Jessica, by this stage, was giggling at my look of bewilderment almost constantly. I admit it, it was a totally strange environment for me to be in, and to a certain degree I felt very uncomfortable. One thing I did notice, especially as the night went on, and more and more alcohol was consumed, was that there was an almost complete lack of manners which was almost universally present. Instead of saying “Excuse me” people just pushed past, and the words “Please” and “Thank you” seem to be excluded from festival language!
We listened to a couple of bands, and watched a fantastic drumming group. As I said earlier, I’d never heard of any of the bands, and was somewhat surprised to find that several bands played Ska and Reggae (Although to my ears it wasn’t a patch on the original Ska and Reggae that I am familiar with) Jessica gave me a quick explanation of what ‘Third wave Ska’ was, and that made it all as clear as the mud in the fields!
Around midnight Jessica started to hand out flyers for the next day’s workshop, she’s really good at stopping people and engaging them in conversation, and cajoling people to attend the workshops, so I just went back and forth to the bar for the two of us and let her get on with it. Flyer distribution over, we gravitated towards the double decker bus for the simple reasons that they were selling the cocktails Jessica was drinking, and it seemed to be the only music venue that wasn’t playing Drum and Bass!
The DJ was a guy working under the name of ‘Mum’s Old Vinyl’, and he played a completely eclectic set of, mostly, old classics across all genres of music. From my own point of view, speaking as a DJ who only plays original vinyl, he should have been called ‘Mum’s Old MP3s’, but who am I to call someone a fake! Biggest laugh of the weekend came next though. During the time scale of one dance by Jessica, I pulled! A very attractive, but very inebriated, young blond lady came and asked for a cigarette, by the time Jessica came back I was having to physically fend her off. Her face dropped when I turned her round and introduced her to Jessica as my girlfriend. In all fairness to Jessica though, she had been watching with amusement as my discomfort increased, and only eventually decided to come and rescue me!
We ended up chatting to another couple who were English and American, so finished the night off with our own disco in the car playing CDs until 6am.
I woke up a couple of hours later, thoroughly refreshed, and raring to go. Yeah, peace, love, man, groovy baby! I’d survived my first night at a festival. Jessica however, grunted and swore at me when I woke her up and suggested that we go out to play! (This is not true -- when I first wake up in the morning, I radiate sunshine and love, and do not grunt and swear! -Jess)
Actually, that bit’s not entirely true. My side of the tent had a boulder that would have stopped traffic if it was in the road, right in the middle of where I was lying. So I didn’t get any sleep whatsoever. (Let it be noted here that I did offer to swap sides of the tent... -Jess) Fortunately, a lifetime of Northern Soul allnighters has prepared me for nights without sleep. Jessica did grunt and swear at me though! (Not! -Jess)
I am though, insistently, and annoyingly cheerful first thing in a morning, so eventually Jessica gave in, and with the promise that I would buy her a large coffee, we set off for the main site. See, I know how to treat a girl! Promise her coffee in the morning and she’ll do anything for you.
The People’s Kitchen hadn’t started cooking the free breakfasts, so we resorted to blatant capitalism, and bought ourselves bacon and egg baps from the café. Very nice too, you do get what you pay for in this life!
The People’s Assembly had been moved from the tent it was originally in at midday, to inside the barn at 12.30. So, as Jessica and I had given out several hundred leaflets out the previous night, with the wrong date and time on them, we agreed to sit outside the original tent and redirect people to the new venue.
By the time we arrived, Penny Cole had begun her forum on the Environment. I have to say, a lot of what she said made sense. I’ve never really been a ‘green’ person, I’ve always been happy being an urban capitalist consumer, but I’ll listen to everyone’s argument, and then make my own mind up. I’m not saying Penny changed my mind, but she did give me things to think about.
Whilst this was going on, the People’s Kitchen had fired the woodburning stove up and thrown a few comatose hippies on the fire, so breakfast was being served: A tray of cold potatoes left from the night before, some brown cylindrical objects that resembled sausages, but had never lived and walked on four legs! Some scrambled egg with grass (I think he means chives... -Jess) in it, and a good size splodge of baked beans over the top. There were no forks! So I resorted to cave man tactics (very difficult for Dave, I'm sure... -Jess), and ate it with my fingers!!!! Messy, but quite nice actually.
It was now getting towards 2pm, so I felt it was time for a beer. Mission accomplished, I was a happy man again. Around this time I saw the sight that made the whole weekend for me: There was a little girl, probably about two years old, dressed in a pretty pink anorak and pink wellies. She had discovered the joy of jumping into puddles and making a big splash. Her face was a picture of ecstasy, and continual laughter and giggles as she repeatedly found the biggest and deepest puddles she could and jumped right into the middle of them. I spent almost ten minutes watching her. It brought it home to me that not everyone is cynical, and jaundiced, the innocence and sheer joy of jumping in puddles can do that for you.
Back in the Cloud Of Unknowing venue, the world’s worst Beat Boxer was giving a performance (And I use that word with some misgivings!), so around 4pm Jessica decided she needed a nap to prepare for the evening’s hippy hippy shake.
Once Jessica had grunted and sworn at me again, we went back to the main site. One of the things they were very big on over the whole weekend was recycling, and there was a tent called ‘Scrap Dragons’, where you could make lots of useful things out of rubbish that other people had thrown away. Jessica made herself the very attractive hat that you see in the photograph, and I made myself a solar powered lawnmower, and a steam powered shoe shining kit. (Yes dear, if you say so dear... -Jess) They will come in handy at some point I’m sure.
We wandered around for a while, sampling the music in each different venue, and ended up listening to a Balkan Ska band! Honestly, they were! You couldn’t make it up, could you. Eventually Jessica decided she would like some recycled pig swill for her tea, this time it was disguised as curry. (Quite nice curry as well I must say -- well done to the People's Kitchen for their efforts over the weekend! -Jess) I decided to avoid possible internal repercussions, and settled for a bag of scratchings and some salted peanuts.
As the night wore on we started to give out more flyers, and chat to people. It was these chats with such a variety of people that did the most to dispel my initial prejudices, as I found that most of the people we spoke to weren’t actually tree hugging, unwashed, left wing, never worked in their lives, hippy types, and were in the main just pretty normal people who had followed a different path in their lives to me.
Bearing in mind that Jessica had to drive the following day we headed back to the tent around 1.30am, and I reacquainted myself with the rock under my side of the tent!
It had rained on and off all weekend, and as I woke Jessica with another promise of coffee on Sunday morning it appeared to be a quite nice day. I’ve come to accept that Jessica knows some very unladylike phrases first thing in a morning, so having crossed that bridge we arrived at the tent selling coffee before they opened! Oops! So it was off to the café for bacon and egg baps again, then back to the tent for coffee. By now the heavens had opened and the rain really was torrential. Probably not the best time to take the tent down and pack everything away, but as we had to leave straight after the Sunday workshop it had to be done, so Jessica went to collect the car, and I got wet taking the tent down. Having done all the packing, I kicked the rock who was no longer under my side of the tent a few times and we went to listen to Gerry Gold’s workshop on ‘Seizing The Power’.
Now Gerry is a very passionate man on this subject, he truly believes that the world economy will collapse (And honestly believes that this will happen in the next six to twelve weeks) and People’s Assemblies will rise from the ruins to take the power from the 1% who have it now, ie the global corporations. Now whilst I can see that there are serious problems with the world economy, and I understand that a huge proportion of the wealth and power in the world is held by 1% of the population, I need to be offered a viable alternative to the current system before I’m willing to consider a change. Only my opinion of course, but to me, the reality is that the vast majority of the 60 million people in this country don’t want to be involved in People’s Assemblies that will seize the power and tell the global corporations that they no longer own their factories and plant. I actually like to have an ordered life: I’ve worked ever since I left full time education, own my own house, with no outstanding mortgage, was married for 28 years until my wife sadly passed away two and half years ago, and have raised two children, who I consider to be well adjusted, successful adults now.
And that’s the point I raised at the workshop. Show me what your viable alternative is, I understand that the current system isn’t working as it should, but show me what you intend to replace it with. I expected to be run off the site as I explained that I was one of the 60 million that needed convincing, but was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually received a round of applause. Sadly, despite Gerry’s enthusiastic belief, I don’t think he, or the People’s Assembly are capable of delivering a viable alternative. (Please note, the People's Assembly is not some "other" organisation that exists separately from you -- the People's Assembly is comprised of the people...so you are partly responsible for attempting to devise this viable alternative... -Jess) The number of people who attended the workshop was around 30, which amounts to about 5% of the people on site for the festival. So if you can only attract 5% of what is essentially a left wing, green, community focused audience, you certainly aren’t anywhere near convincing the other 60 million people in this country.
As an economist I thought Gerry would understand the numbers game at play here. Put simply, if we assume there were 600 people at the Festival, if each one of those people went out and convinced a 1,000 people, you would still have only reached 1% of the country. Again, it’s only my opinion, but it’s just not going to work.
As the workshop broke up I was harangued by a rather strange person who I had apparently “quite irritated by being smug”. His view appeared to be that everyone should return to work on the land in communal farms. Well that’s all well and good, if you happen to like farming, and mud and cow shit. I don’t. I’d rather spend my time working in the provision of social housing, something I’ve done for the last 32 years! He accused me of being smug because I didn’t have a mortgage, shows what an ignorant prick he is, I haven’t got a mortgage because my wife died and the endowment mortgage paid it off. That shut him up, and he started whinging to Jessica at that point.
We had to leave shortly after, and as we dropped Penny off at Bristol airport for her flight back to Glasgow I bit my tongue, and refrained from asking how she could justify facilitating a workshop on the state of the environment, and then fly home!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this review of the Cloud Cuckoo Land Festival, I’ve tried to be as honest as I can, and accept that my own prejudices and views will naturally colour my perceptions. Did I enjoy myself? Yes, I had a great time, with reservations. My views about festivals haven’t really changed, they are dirty, muddy, unhygienic places where Health & Safety just doesn’t exist, and the music is not to my taste. My views on the people that attend festivals have changed. There are plenty of the tree hugging, unwashed, left wing, never worked in their lives, hippy types, and there were even some who were advocating armed revolution, but overall I met some really nice people, and some really interesting people, I laughed a lot, at myself especially, and would consider going again next year, but only if Jessica is involved with the People’s Assembly workshops.