Saturday, August 1, 2015

Taking a new Festival view

DSC02923 (1400x1362)Returning readers of these pages will have gleaned that there are a lot of festivals taking place across Dorset and Southwest England this time of year.  Reflective ones may be asking why I go to so many (Multiple choice:  Taking advantage of my expat opportunities, FOMOtivated, Overcompensating for other failings, Escaping/avoiding work, Keeping my resolutions to change my ways) .  Weary ones ask what’s left to say about yet another food / music / arts fest that makes it worth an essay.

All of these thoughts were fresh this morning as I loaded the car and headed west to Dorchester, seeking the Dorset Food and Arts Festival. The journey is the thing, observed Homer in the Odyssey (also the Taoist The journey is the reward).  True: the drive through verdant hills, grazing sheep in green pastures, hay baled amidst golden stubble, summer wind in the windows, is calming and enlivening.  I skim roundabouts that once grabbed me like whirlpools.  I note the solution to koans left over from sleepless hours’ worry, darkness.

DSC02921 (1400x933)To arrive, finally, at Poundbury, an experimental new town (urban extension) rising from fields adjacent to historic Dorchester.  Built according to architectural, social, and land-use principles that Prince Charles has been advocating, it is a cold example foreshadowing the Tory plan for dropping mass housing into greenbelts.  The streets are wide, the buildings tall, a distant unbroken cliff twice human scale.  Vaguely Georgian windows repeat across blank brick facades, receding into the distance:.  There is little life or commerce at street level: it’s impossible to find a warm woody pub, convenient cashpoint, or friendly corner store.  ‘not my thing, clearly.

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The fair is held in Queen Mother Square, a construction site similarly devoid of grass or shade.  People cluster on the steps by the Little Waitrose, shielding their eyes against the sun. Below, lines of food and craft stalls fill the plaza, narrow aisles clotted with people, dogs, and baby carriages.  A music stage anchors one end of the venue, a trailer hosting cooking demos the other, both faced with arcs of hay bales for spectators.

DSC02929 (1400x885)That said, I stayed for five surprisingly comfortable hours, finding lots to like around the event and the people.  I’d brought a notebook and tablet with the intention of slowing down and hanging about, and at that pace, there were small gems to be found.  Palmer’s Ales, locally brewed in Bridport, were quite good (keeping with the Guidelines, I nursed two pints of  5% 200 Premium); Wynd Meadow Farm lamb-burgers were outstanding.  Local artists offered paintings and sewings; there were lots of olives, baked goods, cheeses, sausages and preserves for sale (flanked by owners invariably dressed as antique shopkeepers).

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The cooking demos were good: I took special fancy to the butcher who reduced a whole sheep carcass to chops and cutlets, filets and roasts, in about half an hour.  ‘better than any diagram of the various cuts of meat that you might see in the stores, he had an almost balletic skill in wielding his knives and hacksaws.

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DSC03002 (1150x1400)I also enjoyed the music stage.  Carissa (late of Dorset’s Got Talent), nervously off-key, warbled through plaintive standards.  But Kipper (Chris Roberts) was quite relaxed and fun, and Ansell & Gretal delivered a workmanlike set that appealed to children dancing below.  A marketing colleague, Any Price, moonlights as a concert photographer in Texas, posting wonderful portraits of singers and strummers pouring their hearts into their performances.  I like her work a lot, so sat in the front row and worked at tying to capture each singer at their best.

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Why attend these affairs each weekend?  The multiple choice answer is likely All of the Above: I need a break from the week’s work, and I am trying to purposefully keep my life in better balance.

And How do I make the Old, New?  By slowing, watching, and relaxing into the spirit of the venue.  And keeping the camera holstered for at least the first hour.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

West Bay evening

DSC02848 Stitch (1255x1400)I worked my way over to Bridport / West Bay last night, paired communities at the mouth of the River Brit in west Dorset.  Branded The Gateway to the Jurassic  Coast, I love the epic orange cliffs that rise straight up off the beach, then undulate down the coast into the mists.

There is a small harbour flanked by a crescent of fish shacks, attracting a crowd of tradesmen and hikers for beer and nibbles each evening.  Children and parents drop  fishing line into the harbour, while others play in the surf beneath the glowing cliffs at sunset.  An eclectic ‘food alleyway’, trailers and shacks of street food, is hidden behind the general store.

It’s a lovely spot, always a favorite for a stroll and a few pictures.

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I made the trip over for a first meeting with the Compassionate Friends, a UK charity for parents who have lost a child. It’s a group of peers who can give one another advice and support, as well as foster education and research to reduce young  deaths.

DSC02876 (1400x899)I’m not a ‘support group’ sort of person, a visit to the local CMT society in the US years back frustrated me by the way that people let their disorder dominate their lives.  Nonetheless, I know that, as an expat, I need to avoid isolating myself when dealing with big issues.

I’ve questioned how I feel after losing William, about how to talk to other people comfortably, and how quickly to return to work.  Meeting with other parents could give me perspectives on the resolutions that others had reached with time, and practical advice  based on their personal experiences.

DSC02861 (1400x899)The small group that met was very kind; everyone had a unique story to tell.  I could find bits of my own experience in each of theirs, and when I told my story, there were good observations and suggestions that I hadn’t considered.  There was a surprising similarity in people’s perceptions and concerns,and insights for managing the periods when grief wells up, for talking (or not) to friends and colleagues.  

This is a transitional step: it’s good to share with people who have been there and understand, but I am wary of prolonging it into a regular social club.  On reflection, I most admired the people who have made quiet peace with the past.  They never lose the love nor sadness, but the event doesn’t define their lives for themselves or to others.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The New Forest Show

DSC02705 (1074x1400)Waiting for news is never comfortable.  I’m the sort who wants to *do* something, so I stay in front of the keyboard, I’ll be tempted to *say* something, unhelpfully.

  ‘better to step away and give time it’s chance.

I took the long loop through the New Forest, headed northeast.  Little yellow signs dotted the verge, reminders of ‘The New Forest Show’.  Unknown: A car boot sale, I guessed.  But traffic thickened from outside Brockenhurst, suggesting something more. 

Much more, actually, as we pulled into a sea of parked cars, the fields beyond filled with tents and noise.

The New Forest and Hampshire County Show is the largest  agricultural show in England, 89 years old and attracting over 100,000 visitors each year.  Admission is a steep £20  per head, but the fair is massive, varied, and lively: allow the full day to see it properly.

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It reminds me a lot of the Puyallup, the Washington State County Fair.   There are livestock tents (cows, goats, pigs, rabbits….) with ribbons given for best breeding and grooming.

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DSC02719 (1400x909)Products from flower arranging and baking competitions are arrayed much as the jars of preserves and sewn quilts are in the US, courtesy of the Women’s Institute  (I couldn’t find any 4H representation, though). 


DSC02735 (1400x839)The British are ‘never one to miss a teaching opportunity, and every pen is bordered by facts and diagrams, eagerly read.  I could yet become a naturalist with a few more events like this.


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The themed tents cover Garden, Health, Food, Church.  Inside, there were rows of little booths, each with a crowded monocultures of crafts.  They might command more traffic and price if they looked more artisan and bespoke, less mass-produced.

DSC02759 (1400x992)The central arenas features the horse shows.  In the US, this would mean competitions and racing.  In Hampshire, it means dressage.  Horse-drawn wagons trace interlaced patterns, eights and ovals; equestrian jumping thumps rhythmically over the gates.

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The big attraction was the Horse Guards of the Royal Household Cavalry, resplendent in red tunics and gold helmets.  I didn’t really appreciate their significance at first: they are something of a legend, and hadn’t attended this show in 20 years.  Everyone  (wezen included) was excited, hopping and waving.

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They are such a draw that the show literally overflowed the next day, with visitors being turned away for the first time.

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DSC02745 (1400x933)It was a sunny, warm day with milling crowds, easy to walk the aisles and linger on a bench.  I had soft spots for the baby goats, the Ringwood beer, the Australian barker at the Sheep Show, and the nostalgia that I felt for the whole harvest-fair vibe.