I know, I said I’d break a few promises, but you didn’t expect me to be absent for so long. And I’m sure you missed me, because I surely missed you all dear Readers. Well, here I am, fresh back from my extended leave.
Last I wrote I was busy with the Angry Robot submission and deadline (see: Excuses?), and I sorely needed to finish the edits to my manuscript. There were small typing errors, some tabs and extra spaces, as well as a window that didn’t get broken and an occasion where a character used the wrong name. It’s was a grind, and now it’s done I’m strangely lost – I mean, I know what I have to do, but….. it’s almost such a relief that I’ve lost some of the wind from my sails.
Perhaps I’m just waiting for Angry Robot to sign me up. Of course, it’s the utmost foolishness to wait around, but I suppose there’s always a shred of hope life will be made easy. I got my hopes up when they emailed, but it was just a newsletter saying that the review process would take until the end of July. Oh well, it took the pressure of just a little while I departed for a weeks celebrations in the Wiltshire countryside.
I was heading out for the Solstice, to close the circle of the year with my annual community.
And this year I was in a for a little bonus surprise.
The Importance of Community
What manifests first is the “it would be easier to stay at home” feeling. You got to kick that right in the balls! It might just be the habit of staying home, or the hassle of packing up the car, and there’s all that work to do, you know? But one thing is clear. If you don’t go you’ll be kicking yourself, and this isn’t just a case of not hitting the pub with mates.
This is more like a family thing.
So I spent most of friday packing the car and then, with my old friend Ian riding shotgun, I picked up my boy from school and we hit the road. Everyday life was left behind. No computer, no iPads, no emails or FB updates or Youtube – I don’t even own a smart phone so no one can reach me.
Because, you know, we don’t need phones where we’re going. This is “once upon a time” land, the magic circle, out there “Beyond the Field We Know.”
You might assume that I’m over egging this angle, but there’s something about being away from home, camping in a field under the stars with a camp fire and a group of people who’ve been doing this for many years. It is a different world.
I’ve been part of the King’s Drums since 2001, and I sometime take it for granted how special it has become over the years. What has developed is a community that organises a week long group event: we live together, cooking, washing up and working on the Solstice performance collectively. It is something that you get more out of the more you put in.
And we act like a community of people: we had a funerary celebration last year for one of our members who died suddenly. This year we had a hand fastening for a young couple. What I find amazing is how “alive” these rituals are when stripped of formal bureaucracy, how their meaning springs from our collective action rather than some dry legal process.
Sure, we don’t all get along equally with each other, but there’s a sense of belonging that I can only think of as being a ghost of the life that was the earliest human societies, and while we might not hunt and gather together – that niche is filled by a supermarket delivery truck – but there is something altogether more vivacious about living a little more simply with a large group of people. It’s quite unlike the modern living in an atomistic, late stage capitalist village in Surrey where people spend a good deal of time ignoring each other.
Finally, the week draws towards the Solstice itself. As the King’s Drums we turn up at Avebury stone circle and celebrate the turning point of the year with all the locals as well as an assortment of hippies, freaks and pagans. It’s a bit of samba and amateur theatre, and I’d like to think that we’ve cottoned on to the notion of keeping it simple. This year, people clearly understood the significance of the performers wearing business suits while directing the lumberjack to chop down our wicker prop tree. There were boos and hisses for the villains, and a cheer for their defeat.
With the performance done we head back to camp and sit around the camp fire and sing songs and listen to stories. By the time I leave for home I’ve gone native and the return to “normal” life feels abrasive. Like I said, camp dissolves the reality and removes me to a magical place where I feel more human.
We are, after all, social animals, and living in a community is perhaps our most evolutionarily pertinent experience, and it’s loss likely one of the driving factors in rising mental health issues.
It’s good to have a place to belong, a place where no matter the passing year you can simply be at ease with the people around you.
But What About The Children? (Targets vs. Experience)
Speaking of stale bureaucracy, my partner and I put in a holiday request to my little boy’s school. A week later still hadn’t had a reply and wasn’t really worried – we were taking Bruce camping whatever. By coincidence I bumped into the headmaster the day before we were leaving and he reeled off the standard guff about the importance of attendance and how it was oh so important for my son’s future.
Yeah, one week off was going to kill his future prospects – oh the irony – those would be the same capitalist prospects that are killing off the planet, right?
At camp other parents had made similar requests, even going so far as the writing a three page essay detailing camp life, learning opportunities and social importance. But the modern education system wont have it. There is such an obsession with targets and academic learning that they miss the value of actual “life experiences”.
It is probably best summed up, in my mind, by the fact that Bruce missed sports day. Instead of competing against his friends and class mates we took him to a camp that runs on co-operation, one of the most fundamental behaviours that was the norm for human societies over tens of thousands of years. (Again, any wonder that we have a dysfunctional society that values behaviour which runs counter to what was normative in the evolutionary environment?)
Far better for the boy to be active and engaged with a range of activities where he can build relations with children from a wide age range and backgrounds, rather than sitting in a class room focused on the mentation of words and numbers. While I agree that literacy is important in this modern world, there is an unnatural drive in modern education around children who are still very young.
Anyone with young children knows that they thrive best when they can roam free and explore their world. Even better when you have a collective parent to keep an eye on them.
They made hide-outs in the hedge rows and castles out of old hay bales, they explored and engaged with nature: there were birds of prey, a heron and all manner of insects to be found. Not only that but Bruce got to learn about ferrets – a pair of albinos called Alfie and Ralph with whom Bruce was very impressed. Finally, Bruce got to go to Avebury for a celebration of the turning point of the year with drums and fire and pantomime.
There are years of dry learning in a class room ahead of him, and I doubt that much of it will prepare him for the uncertain future his generation faces, whereas a community based project will provides a far more valuable lesson for the future.
And as I mentioned, there was one more surprise for us this year, a spectacle that had been set in motion years before he was even born, and which was in itself a full turning of the circle.
Full Circle (Engineer, Or Artist?)
Way back when I first started going to the Avebury camp I met Alexis. He told me that he was a gardener, and that he had this plan to build a solar powered water feature. It would be something like a centre piece in a garden setting. He was going to build it in his workshop.
Over many years this vision altered until it became something else: a dancing fountain (although no longer solar powered) that shoots water into the air in conjunction with a set of lights which illuminate the droplets. The force of the water and the colour of the lights is triggered by the beats and the pitches of the notes, creating a truly psychedelic display.
It was quickly dubbed “wet fireworks”, and we were truly taken with how fantastic this feat of engineering was.
Suffice to say that the children were intrinsically drawn to playing around with the pool of water, and Bruce was eager to stay up late to watch it in action – another event which would be unique to his childhood. Where else was he going to see something this amazing? It was, to my mind, a truly unique spectacle, one that prompted much enthusiasm from our community.
But even more pertinent to me was the conversation we later had around the camp fire. I was listening, watching the flames like the proverbial space cadet as Alexis talked about his struggles to bring the plan to fruition. He had worked on it all those years, adding and removing, refining and tweaking. He had solved the problems from an engineering perspective, had refined his project through a lens of technical problem solving.
And at the core of it all was the feeling that somehow it had all taken longer than he had expected. I smiled to myself and asked him, “so you think of yourself as more of an engineer than an artist?” Alexis agreed. I chuckled and told him that what he was saying was the same things that all artists say, especially the sentiment that “it wasn’t suppose to take this long.”
We set out to create these works, all eager with the idea and a clear picture of what it is in our minds, but as we pour our effort into it the project changes and takes on a life of its own. The end product has the seed of the original at its heart, but it has grown into a tree over whose limbs we had little control. It takes on its own shape.
In the end the dancing fountain represented an idea come full circle, and years and years later Alexis was finally able to reveal the fruits of his labour. It is the perseverance that finally reaps a rewards, and he was genuinely invigorated by the camps reaction to it. We were so enthusiastic and brain stormed suggestions for how to proceed: weddings and parties? Music videos? Yeah, yeah! How about asking Bjork if she’d like to use it for her next music video?
Who knows, she might even write a song specifically for it……
Returning – What Now?
So there we have it, and here I am. One circle closes, another circle begins, loops within loops across the cosmos and all that. Last year I came back and started playing open mic, this year I’ve got back and finished my book proper, ready for the next series of events: when I return to camp next year I’ll be a married man and will (hopefully) have a book published by one means or another.
So it’s down to work. I’ll get those pesky submissions sent and then ride out half term. I plan to write some songs over the weeks of having Bruce at home, get the yurt tidied up properly and perhaps finish some shorts stories and blog posts if I can.
Then it’s on to writing the sequel. It’s already shaping up, growing and changing. With what I learned from this first book, perhaps I can get this one done a bit quicker.
Here’s hoping, eh?