One Man's Madness / Part 09
That year proved to be the last of our mini-festivals and was probably our biggest event. The parking in the field next door was chocka. Most of the stall holders were repeat subscribers and happy to pay cash on arrival. Wali’s kiln was always a good earner and the Main Street Diner did a roaring trade. Everybody was handing surplus cash to me and I was walking around like an East End wide boy with an enormous roll of paper money in my pocket. All parties, including the local publican running the bar, were clamouring for a date confirmation for the following year, but Wali had decided to pursue his Catalonian love and I found my enthusiasm ebbing. He was such a crucial and joyful part of all that activity that without him it just didn’t feel the same, and I guess the wind more or less abandoned my sails.
We still had parties and gatherings and bonfires, but no more income generating mini-fests. It’s amazing, really, how an open fire can “create” an event. I suppose it’s our oldest miracle technology. Gazing into embers is probably the last vestige of what we hold most in common with our Hominid forebears.
One time, Michael, one of the few friends I had with alcohol addiction problems, came to stay. Mostly, I'm ashamed to say, I just don’t have the patience to deal with the endless and tedious repetition of events that such people tend to induce, but Michael was such a profound source of information and knowledge and intelligence. He was actually Greek but spoke English like the BBC. He had a Council flat near the Finchley Road in London and it was absolutely stuffed with books. And he used to have the most cosmopolitan, interesting, knowledgeable collection of friends visiting. He was a brilliant chef which drew the local intelligentsia like flies. He was also a connoisseur and dependable source of top grade hashish. I spent many an absorbing and fascinating evening round his flat in the course of my cress runs.
But of course, there were two Michaels. When he was off his face on booze, he was that same uninspiring and tedious person that all alcoholics instantly become.
Occasionally he would try to kick his habit and dry out. As he often reckoned it was his city life which brought him down, I used to suggest he jump in the cress truck and come and stay out in the country for a few days. He often did, and because we never went out for a drink when he was around but did indulge in the occasional top grade spliff, we had many deeply enjoyable evenings around the campfire down in the meadow. One time he brought along a Hungarian fiddler, complete with violin. He didn’t speak much English and seemed a bit bemused by the idea of sitting out in the cold night around a fire and didn’t have much to say. Besides Michael, Wali, his then girlfriend, and her friend and a couple of others were also there. After a time, the Hungarian was moved sufficiently by the campfire experience to slope off into the surrounding trees. We didn’t notice his departure but gradually we heard the soft strains of his violin. We were speechless. We were totally absorbed by the sounds of the crackling fire, the passing wind, and the sweet heavenly sound of this classical violin calling, haunting us, from the depths of the dark wood. I watched Michael staring, transfixed, into the flames. When the Hungarian returned, we all stood up and hugged him..
I was so inspired that, on the following night, I sloped off myself and got out my banjo and harmonica. I added soft lighting in the form of a candle in a jar which I placed on the ground in front of me and stood above them in a little clearing looking over the dip. I played and sang a four minute song but didn’t hear anything at the end. I assumed it hadn’t gone down nearly as well as the violin, but when I eventually rejoined the group at the fire, Michael and the Hungarian were in tears. As an added bonus, Wali’s girlfriend’s friend later came knocking on my caravan door and asked “Are you a light wizard?” We talked a bit and then she asked if she could share my bed.
I occasionally drove the ship to other festivals. I’d had an engineer come out and check its roadworthiness so I could tax and insure it. I checked with the dutty babylon and discovered that, as long as I had an amber flashing light and notified them beforehand of my proposed route, there shouldn’t be any hassles. Of course, on my first foray out on the A12 I was immediately pulled over by a flushed and seething copper. His mood wasn’t enhanced by the fact that he had to look up at me and he shouted at me to get down. I said I couldn’t (a lie) unless he had a ladder in his patrol car which further incensed him and I watched him puff up in apoplexy. To calm him down I asked, “Have you got a pencil and paper?” This didn’t help and I could see he was itching to baton charge me or at least get his shooter out. I said, “Just call the Colchester HQ with this reference number.” He stalked off to his blue flashing car and I could see him yakking on the radio. At the conclusion of his yak, he simply drove off, without so much as an “adieu”, and, assuming I was good to go, I fired up the ship and set off again.
Interestingly, the only other time I got stopped was by two coppers on a back country road coming home from Rougham Tree Fair in the early dawn. They got out and wandered around the ship, absolutely helpless with laughter. I watched them patiently from “the bridge” and began to suspect they’d just come from a raid and had been smoking the contraband. I tried to offer them the reference number but they managed to gasp, between convulsions, leaning heavily on the side of the ship, that they’d already checked. They’d only pulled me over because they wanted a look.
Moon, another Arts Workshop co-conspirator living in a caravan in the lower meadow with his partner Marge, was also an accomplished artist. He came from one of the rougher outlying estates of Edinburgh and still had an enduring nervousness about being approached from behind. Apart from lettering the name of the landship, he also produced copious illustrations in the planning phase and, later on, full blown paintings. Regrettably, only a very few seem to have survived intact.
I eventually gave the ship to the local Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and my good friend and neighbour Peter took on the responsibilities of driving and captainship. I wasn’t around much at that time, but I understand they even won a couple of prizes in the various carnival parades they entered.
I also started getting snotty letters from some of the Tory stuffed shirts on the local Arts Council saying I should hand the ship back because it was being used “for political purposes”. I wrote back saying I didn’t think trying to prevent the final holocaust was political so much as the application of natural human intelligence. And, I added, in any event the ship was registered in the name of the Arts Workshop and it’s registered home port was my field.
Never heard from them again.
- One Man's Madness / Part 10
The story of one man's 60 year love affair with 2.5 acres of Essex countryside.
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