Roundabout

I can remember, as if it was yesterday, standing at the roundabout waiting for a car to slow down. I was hitching for the first time, heading to the Elephant Fayre - a Glastonbury of sorts - in 1983. I was going not to be a terrible hippy and have my face painted, but to see The Cure. It was my first proper gig, and by proper gig I mean there were to be no covers of Hi Ho Silver Lining.



There were all kinds of strange looking and strange acting people. I found this clip just now...and even ignoring the actors, it's like watching something from another time. Which I guess it is.



I can still see the orange ticket perfectly in my head. I can remember the nerves and the buzz of standing on that roundabout, having told my dad I was staying at a friend's. I can remember coming home feeling like I was quite changed having been a part of this other world for a weekend. There were so many other people out there, other people with silly hair, or rather serious hair as it felt at the time.

There were no police. People were selling drugs as if they were sweets. I was shocked at the openness but obviously made all attempts to act casual.

There are two reasons that weekend has come back into my head. Firstly, we have been picking the Szechuan pepper and when laid out to dry it has something of the heady, heavy aroma of the combustibles so freely available at Elephant Fayre. More about the pepper next time.



Secondly, The Cure have just played a gig at the Albert Hall, playing a few of those early albums start to end. It got me all disbelieving that Killing An Arab* is almost 33 years old. I wondering why I can remember so much tiny detail from back then - I can recall friends' phone numbers, sing along with the radio to random songs I've barely heard since, remember the EXACT sound a friend made as a shoe slipped accidentally off a girl's foot, through the air and into his testicles while playing football with a Coke can at 4 in the morning at Exeter Bus Station having come back from seeing The Cure for a second time a year later - while I now find it impossible to remember simple details...someone's name, what I came into the room to do, the Latin name for a plant. Any plant.

I was going to illustrate that with an anecdote about something I couldn't remember earlier today, but I have geninely forgotten what it was.

I'm either going senile and am shortly to start repeating myself or I'm going senile and am shortly to start repeating myself or it's that stuff just sticks when you're young in a different way to when you're not.



I went to Glastonbury a couple of years after Elephant Fayre. It was very wet and, I'm happy to say, it was the only time I've been. I saw one of the funniest, most horrendous half minutes of my life unfold. A man walking a few yards in front of me, clearly under the influence of an assortment of exhilarants, lost his footing and fell slap on to his arse, slipping around in the sloppy mire. He laughed like a drain and realising he couldn't get to his feet as easily as he hoped, he lay on his back and lifted his feet up so he looked like an inverted turtle (there's a name for a prog rock band) and enjoyed skidding downhill for a few yards. After a few seconds the novelty wore off and he tried again to right himself, without success. Every time he got partially to his feet, it took only a half step forward to flip him over again. All the time gravity did as gravity does and took him gently downhill, increasingly quickly. Now on his front, feet downhill, he was clawing at the ground like an Olympic swimmer in an attempt to stop himself sliding further but all he was doing was leaving ten thin trenches in the liquid mud where his fingers had been. I caught his eye as the realisation of where he was heading hit him: he was sliding towards the back of a toilet block. The side and doors to each cubicle were short, each had a big space at the bottom - you looked under to check whether it was vacant. In you went, relieved yourself and away slid the waste into a huge pit immediately behind the holes in the floor...a huge pit towards which Mr Exhilarated was now sliding. Despite holding on to a door post for half a second there was simply too much lubricating mud to get a grip. A good many people had seen the horror unfold - a combination of gasps and cheering greeted his disappearance over the edge into the abyss. I can tell you he lived but if you've been to a festival (especially back then) and experienced the loos you'll be perfectly aware that life must surely have never been the same again.

I saw Alexei Sayle that Glastonbury weekend. He had a theory that there is only so much room in your brain, that at any given moment it might reach full capacity and any attempt to shoehorn any more in results only (in keeping with the spirit of Archimedes' Principle) something falling out the other end. He was sure that learning a new phone number might result in him forgetting how to walk. It occurs to me that my inability to retain new information might be a subconsious attempt to retain the ability to put one foot in front of the other.



In any event, it seems we absorb, retain and revel in information and inspiration more easily when we are young. We seem to let it interest and influence us more, inspiring actions, journeys and decisions that after a few more years under our belt seem impossibly reckless. I loved giving up jobs with nothing to go to, switching sides of the country because I liked the light of the seascapes, dropping a degree because it was dull. I know it's not exactly world-shatteringly adventurous, I'm just listing (for my own benefit, as I write this as I think it) the times I've enjoyed pushing off from the side a little and seen where I drift. I'm about to push off again.



A couple of months ago I was in London for the RHS Autumn Show. I'd been judging the RHS Photography Competition, stayed over, and having nosed around the show I managed to lay my hands on the last ticket for Alys Fowler's talk. About a year ago I overheard someone I didn't know saying she wasn't the best of speakers....maybe she had an off day or maybe the person who said it is gormless: Alys was fantastic - lively, humorous, individual, engaging. An hour talking about her garden. I was envious. I was envious because here she was talking about her garden, a space she knew intimately, that she was constantly in, constantly doing, constantly having fun with. I envied her that focus. My life and time is split between Otter Farm and River Cottage, all of which has been perfectly lovely. It comes with compromises made and concessions given though and a restlessness about it had been in my mind, sidestage, for a little while but this wave of envy made me drag it out into the middle.

A few days later while staring disbelieving into the middle distance as it dawned that The Cure's first album is 32 years old, that Elephant Fayre was 28 years ago, I had a moment of clarity: a vision of me sitting, drooling into my Pot Noodle while flicking between the world championship snooker and Antiques Roadshow, pondering how best to eeek out my remaining dark chocolate Hobnobs**, of looking back and regretting never having given Otter Farm all my working time, undiluted even by other sources of fun.

I had a think. I allowed the think to become a sentence or two to my wife. She was happy. She fancied having a husband who didn't work til midnight more days than not, working 90 hour weeks, if not busy then distracted for most hours of most days. I am ok at working that many hours, and there-in lies the danger: without an automatic cut off point, an I-must-snooze-on-the-sofa-right-now valve it can and has become the norm. These are very insignificant inconveniences in the scheme of things - everything I am fortunate enough to do is a source of pleasure and hardly comparable to real how-do-we-get-enough-money-to-eat hard work, but those sorts of hours need to be stopped before they stop you. Most importantly, it's not good for the family, especially my 6 year old daughter. She's busy being a sponge, unwittingly memorising songs, soaking up attitudes and pleasures and finding her place in the world. She can do all this without fear of forgetting how to walk. I should be around her more, and nothing makes me happier than when I am. And I want her growing up with the confidence to do her own thing, and that's the sort of thing you have to show rather than tell.



So from the end of January I stop being the River Cottage Head Gardener. Otter Farm gets all my time, undiluted. Having been involved with River Cottage for 9 years it's a strange feeling but there are no big dramas or unhappinesses, it's just the right time. As a friend said, perhaps you've just outgrown the space. Maybe.

I've no idea how the financial hole gets filled but I do know I don't want to waste time waiting for a different future to present itself. As every teenager's favourite boozer Charles Bukowski said: The days run away like wild horses over the hills. They do. They really do.

So, time for a change. It feels rather good to have the prospect of a bit of open road to drive into.




* A song inspired by Albert Camus' novel L’√Čtranger, trivia fans.
** By the way, none of that sounds in any way unpleasant - I'd just like to do a few things first.

505

We picked some apples, and not all of them were for bowling or serving at the pigs.

We were almost too busy trying to nurse what grapes there were to notice the apples were early - that hot, bright spring, perfect for pollination, stuck more in the bank than the miserable summer could withdraw and almost all were ready ahead of themselves.

Almost 7 years in the ground, the apple orchard is made up largely of localish varieties including Veitches Perfection, Old Somerset Russet, Devon Quarrendon, Beauty of Bath and Luccombes Pine. A few ciders too, including Browns, Kingston Black, Fair Maid of Devon...how could you not plant a tree called Fair Maid of Devon?

We've had plenty of apples before, but this year as well as a houseful to eat, we* made juice too. Bloody lovely juice.




* When I say 'we' made the juice, I mean Four Elms Fruit Farm, not far from here.

And, if you're wondering after watching the clip, the shitty jokes were Stu's, the one who looks like Noko - the guitarist in Magazine.

Go to Otter Farm | by Mark D