2016 – It’s The Taking Part, Then, Is It?
The grinding of cogs and faint hissing of steam from leaking gaskets betrays the mind slowly bestirring itself to recall just what happened at this year’s Ashes. We remember it was awesome, we remember there wasn’t too much rain, and we remember more fun and games with the hired toilets but think, think, think… just exactly why was it the best Ashes ever?
Well we always say that, but then it always is and this year was no exception. Rolling up mid afternoon on the Thursday as usual, we half expected to see the promised renovations approaching completion, but it was not to be. As things stand there is now a gravel road going up the middle of the site and branching into some little cul de sacs just past the standpipe – opposite the free state of Astonia – but the permanent latrines and shower block are still no nearer to fruition. Just as well we’d hired some then.
Well, just the toilets. This year we had allowed the hire company to cozen us once more into assuming a bigger toilet unit would suffice for the whole weekend without a service call. Once again we were optimistic and in fact the contraption misbehaved throughout the entire weekend causing Mr Porter to miss a great deal of the action while trying to refill the dratted thing with cold water, or coax Polish gentlemen with lorries to come out and unblock the wretched thing for him. 2017, we hope, will be the year of the new facilities, but don’t place money on it…
Thursday’s arrivals were as numerous as ever and it’s always good to arrive early and blag a space, especially if the promised improvements do go ahead as we used pretty much every bit of the field this year, saving the cricket field, which did fill up surprisingly quickly after the match in any case.
So enter Friday, and balmy weather interspersed by anxious checks on the latrines and some attempts to persuade campers that cars could park off-site and make a bit more space. There is a car park at the entrance, but we know folks prefer to have their stuff to hand. Not a problem this year but it may become an issue if our hosts have permanent caravans occupying some of the ground in 2017, not to mention those palatial facilities they have in mind. This year we did note some tents creeping back into the undergrowth towards the swamp. Luckily the wasps nest seemed to have moved on so apart from the risk of malaria and typhus from whatever generates that stench in the woods it is a user friendly quiet corner of the field that will no doubt see further use in years to come.
Joseph took the brats into Tewksbury for breakfast early and some bastard knocked the wing mirror off the hire van while we were parked. THAT wasn’t cheap and neither was the £900 deposit they ‘borrowed’ for a month or so while they got round to getting it fixed. Scum. Looks like it’s back to cheap and cheerful next year…
Thanks to Jammie Sammy for opening the occasion that evening, followed by poetry, acoustic stuff and cabaret from the usual galaxy of stars including Teq, Boy in the Cupboard, Johnny Campbell, Project Adorno and Cracktown. We were also pleased to unleash dry Lenin lookalike Mr Robin Lawley, who kindly took on the role of compere and performed it throughout the weekend with what can only be described as an ‘anti-flair’ that guarantees he will be asked to do it again next year.
So into Saturday, with the toilets behaving and music kicking off with James Bar Bowen, The Disinclined and Verbal Warning, getting everyone in the mood for cricket. This was as hotly contested as usual and we were pleased to win the toss (as usual) but in a spirit of good sportsmanship, not to mention pity for the many-times-losers Cracktown, we elected to bat first.
It was a close run thing. Luckily the weather held off long enough for them to round up enough batspersons, and to recycle a good few of ours as well, with the inevitable result that the Ashes were not retained but instead hoisted aloft by our adversaries, who with tears in their eyes were allowed to wallow in their victory and much good may it serve them. We look forward to next year and finding that Fox has skinned up and smoked the entire contents of the jar, so there will be nothing to win back but empty air. Fine. We’ll have that then. Curses!
On into Saturday evening then, with our hosts as usual providing the hot buffet (how else to describe it?) and music and performances from Bangers ‘n’ Mash, Rachel Pantechnicon, Refuse All, Alcohol Licks, Wob and, inevitably, the Saturday night Blyth set, which this year saw their offspring in the tent almost for the whole duration. Crikey! They will soon be old enough to choose not to come. Who will tend Mr Porter in his pavilion in years to come if this should come to pass?
A jolly fine start to Sunday, with Ms Yvette Staelens running the choir practice with an efficiency and panache that we hope to see on the stage performing next year. Music kicked off with the Blyth Matinee, including the aforementioned choir who crooned on Bind their Kings and He Who Would Valiant Be, and a fine job they made of it too.
The day continued with Doctor Bongo, Tim Holehouse, Boatless Maniacs, On Trial UK and Gary Kaye, but we were by this point immersed in latrine duties, as the sinks were not working and the diagram provided for refilling the water tank was incorrect. In fact the things were filling up fast as well so they were beginning to smell a bit ripe. In fact we got them emptied on the Monday morning but not before one had blocked and we had been invited to ‘stick a mop down it and jiggle it around’. We declined.
The evening continued with stirring sets from Too Many Dragons, Jerry Hellfire, who got everywhere that weekend, Mick Tyas, The Antipoet and Pog, who this year borrowed bass and drums from their good chums Blyth Power, so Ben and Joseph got to have a wild Sunday night of rock as well.
Monday… What? Will it never end? NO! Clearly not. Ashes Monday, instead of being a rump stuck on the end as an obligation to a former landlord, is rapidly becoming one of the most enjoyable parts of the weekend. It kicked off in glorious Ashes style with a series of acoustic and semi-acoustic sets from Henry Lawrence, Paul & Wendy Warning, The Sturdy Beggar and Radio KWG before the cry went up to make ready for the Ashes Fete. NOT before an impromptu piece of theatre presented by Mr Hugo Hatcher. This was a short play about the funeral of King Charles I, and we understand it is the precursor of further such demonstrations. Look out next year for something equally offbeat. Last time he was asked he was considering doing ‘Napoleon’s retreat from Russia’. We can’t wait.
The fete and the ensuing sports shambles were absolutely awesome. Thanks as ever to everyone for taking part and running stalls. This gets better every year, and we were pleased to demo our forthcoming Blyth Power Top Trump cards, which Emma ran a table with, showing how you can actually play two entirely different games with the one pack. Coming soon to a Blyth showroom near you. You know you want them!
Then it was on into the evening and fine stuff from Fishwife’s Broadside, Lying Scotsman, The Speech Painter and Peaky Blinders, before the final act with Blyth Power presenting Alnwick & Tyne in its entirety. Actually it was complete with B-sides as well, and the surreal keyboards on Knight Won His Spurs and the atmosphere in the room during the long overlooked Execution Song are abiding memories of the weekend…
That and the mess in the Gent’s toilets on Tuesday morning, after they had become blocked again and no amount of mop jiggling could loosen them up. Fortunately it was home time for most, and those gentlemen who really did need to evacuate were able to overspill into the Ladies, which was performing admirably and scented with roses. Don’t try THAT in a German Kunsthaus though as the Klo Kobbold will have your knackers off…
So we dwindled and faded away, leaving the site spotless and the lavatory full. Usual thanks to everyone who came, saw, performed, humoured us and helped with everything from wrangling with the plumbing in the back of the cludge, to umpiring the cricket, and especially to everyone who simply turned up and allowed us to keep fooling ourselves that we have a reason to be. You are all indispensable. See you next year!