All characters are fictitious, If a character name is used in connection with a side, it’s just co-incidence if that given name belongs in that side. Insofar as song lyrics being included I don’t know the legalities or etiquette involved, I have given the opening few and last few lines if that is all that is needed or the song in full if the text needs it and credit to the author in either case, traditional songs are treated the same but credited as Traditional.
This is a fiction story, not fantasy and while there is a lot of passion and some very erotic action in later parts and in book two if you are looking for raw action then I am sorry but this isn't the book for you.
It’s Friday 29th of April, 4pm and I’ve just driven into Fort Pitt Grammar School in Rochester. It is a grey and chilly afternoon as I drive through the car park and onto the sports field, a short drive along the right hand side of the field to halfway along the fencing beside the tennis courts, this where I pull up and park the caravan parallel with the fence to join with other campers etc. performing at the Sweeps festival. I have been coming to sweeps for over twenty years but this is the first since I lost my wife. This year I’m not performing – a side we both danced with last year has put me on their strength for the weekend – so I can just relax and catch up with news and gossip from friends in other sides that I’ve not seen since the Tenterden folk weekend last October.
First things first though, wind the corner steadies down and level the two berth caravan and crack a can of Old Speckled Hen before I get the awning up, hopefully before the darkening clouds drop the rain that is forecast for over night and early morning, not as easy single handed and I definitely feel the need for a few orang-utan genes as my arms seem to be a good foot too short to hold up the fabric and grab the next pole that needs to be fitted, still eventually all done, next is to arrange the two solar panels and get the electrics connected up, the last chore is to get some water – Forty litres in the aqua roll and ten for the toilet tank- it’s a bit of a trek round to the other side of the site and a fair weight to haul back but I haven’t used the car to shift water before and hopefully I’m not going to start for a few years yet. Ye gods though, it seems twice as far this year, I wish I’d used my puffer before I left, on my return to the caravan I connect the Aqua-roll and run the pump until the smell of sterilising fluid dissipates then fill the kettle for a brew, While the kettle is heating I make the bed up, I don’t fancy trying to sleep on either of the single size beds at the sides of the van, knowing my luck I’ll probably fall out, so make up the full width bed as we usually did, it’s about six foot three square; lots of room to spread out in, bloody lonely though, ‘snap out of it’ I tell myself, ‘that way leads to more weeds and depression’.
I connect my MP3 player into the van sound system and listen to Amazing Blondel’s “England”, a most relaxing LP/CD to listen to. I had the LP from the seventies and bought the re-mastered CD from the artists when they were at “folk off the pier” at Cromer. To further ease my way into the weekend the kettle starts to whistle as “Seascape” begins and the first drops of rain patters onto the awning, oh well, two out of three isn’t too bad. Sitting in the awning with a goodly large mug of steaming Yorkshire tea, I think back over the last twenty three years, here for all but one or two Sweeps, I have danced, played, or drummed for six, no seven sides, I prefer border and molly and am not so keen on northwest, this means that whilst I may well only know thirty or forty people’s names I am on nodding terms with a hundred or more, that’s the sort of company I will appreciate this week-end, and there should be a sing-around or open awning somewhere on the field every evening.
The rain sounds as though it’s getting heavier so I glance up from my Kindle to check and see someone walking slowly along the row of vans and tents as though looking for somebody or another. Female and in her twenties, dark hair pulled back into a very long pony tail, not a great deal of make-up although not too easy to tell in the diminished light, this coupled with her dark clothing makes accurate estimates difficult. She is about five foot six or seven and slim but with a figure, black short coat tailored in to the waist and flaring over her hips, black or navy trousers, black shoes with a slight heel, office girl, secretary, estate agent? Nosey, curious or just trying to help, “Do you need any help?” I ask and she jumps as though I poked her in the ribs.
“No thanks, I’m waiting for my boyfriend, he’s bringing the camping stuff and we arranged to meet along here about an hour ago, assuming the traffic on the M11 & M25 was good or sometime later if it was bad. The problem is he doesn’t have a mobile phone so I can’t contact him to find out where he is.”
“May I suggest that you come in my awning for a few minutes or so, I can pick up Essex and Kent traffic news on the radio in the van so at least you can have an idea of when he is likely to get here; I don’t want to cause you any worry but if he’s had a puncture that could add another half hour to his arrival time.” I stop Blondel and tune the radio to ninety five point three FM. A few minutes later at twenty-five past five BBC Essex reports all clear on the M11 but tailbacks from J30 to the bridge, around 15 minutes delay and no reported delays in Kent.
“Well” I say “It doesn’t look like there are any traffic hassles, between here and... where is he coming from, you didn’t say?”
“He’s coming from Bishops Stortford where he collected the camping gear from my flat, and should have left about two o’clock; he assumed an hour for the M11 and M25, twenty minutes for traffic over the bridge, and another forty for A2, M2, and Rochester and he should have arrived around four o’clock”. “I don’t know what to do; he should have all our camping stuff and my clothes for the weekend!”
“In your place I would want to find out if he has left or not, and if he has left, when he left. Another idea, since you were both coming here, either you or he is a member of one of the sides performing this week-end, it might be worth searching them out to find out if they may have heard anything, so who are you with?
“Dave dances with Billington Clog, I, by the way am Jennifer, most people call me Jenny, and Dave was hoping that a week-end away with them would get me involved as well”.
“It’s good to know names, I’m Frank, so shall we see if we can find Billington, I assume they are on this side of the field as that’s where you were looking.”
“Dave said they camped on the right hand side on the edge of the field, I suppose that depends on which way you’re facing but I assumed he was talking in terms of arrival which would be this side of the field.”
“OK, I have been coming to sweeps for nearly twenty years, I know a lot of sides, Billinton isn’t one of them, if we start at the top end and work our way down to the bottom centre, the side down there is usually Blackwater Morris, we danced with them for four or five years around the turn of the century, I only have one brolly so we will best share that as it’s sounding a bit damp out there, although it always sounds wetter under an awning than it actually is outside. Do you know the names of any Billington people so at least we can be sociable? Also what car is he driving?”
“Dark blue Hyundai I10” she says as a dark car approaches, no, it’s a little Honda. We walk towards the steps at the top end of the field, I can’t see any Morris kit at the camper van parked at the end so after knocking on the door, it is answered by a man in his Fifties or thereabouts holding a pint pewter tankard, and wearing a Dead Horse t-shirt, I ask, “Hi, are you performing this week-end?”
“No, not this year most of our lot think it costs too much in fuel to get here and back from Bedford and with May Day on Sunday they want to dance the sun up, and then do pub dance out locally, so though we are booked in we won’t be dancing.”
“Do you know what side is parked next to you, or do you have any idea where Billington clog might be?
“Sorry, I haven’t a clue who is next to us, Pretty Grim are the other side of them both sides of the roadway, But I can’t say I’ve ever heard of Billington, where are they from?”
“Jenny, this is one for you, do you know where they are based?”
“They practice Wednesday evenings at a hotel in Bishops Stortford, that’s just about all I know, not a lot of help am I?”
“Never mind, we’ll go and see if anyone is in next door, if not we can ask at Grim, I know a few of them and a couple of them are very knowledgeable about east Anglian sides”. The rain is now a steady gentle rain, not cold, but the breeze makes it feel chilly. There is no-one around the tents, so we move down the line, a couple of Grim people are sipping beer and talking under a gazebo and they say it is a Cotswold side next door on the entrance side, the rest of Pretty Grim are down the town getting food, so we continue on to the next collection of vans and tents, these belong to Blackbird Border, Another side from Bedfordshire, it’s their first time here as a side, a few members have been here with other sides but no-one has heard of Billington. We are nearly halfway down the first side of the field, still looking for his car and looking behind us every time a car comes onto the field, the next couple of tents belong to Winstree Hundred Clog, they are a long established side from Mersea Island they have been closely connected with Blackwater for years, most of their people are nearer to Blackwater, again nobody knows of Billington and their bagman has a dance program for the festival – this is just a guide to where sides might or might not be – it has been said that organising a dance schedule for Morris sides is akin to herding cats! The dance schedule doesn’t list Billington.
“Thanks for your help, I suppose that Billington are just coming down for a look around if they haven’t been going long”,
“Thanks as well from me” says Jenny.
“Well we are back at my caravan now let’s go in for a bit of a think and a drink”, I suggest. When we get back to the van we go inside the van to dry out and get warmed through.
“I don’t like the way things are looking here, it seems very strange that no-one has heard of them. I might well go for a wander down towards Blackwater and see who is between us and them and then cross to the other side of the field and find Hertfordshire Holly if they are camping this year; they are from Ware and if I remember aright that’s only ten miles from Stortford, Some-one must know something about them, If you can watch the kettle and make brew, the fixings are in there.” I say, pointing to the cupboard over the cooker, be back in five minutes or so.”
I continued walking down the field towards Blackwater; next to us are visitors from Holland just come to see the festival and then move on somewhere else, past them are the rest of Winstree and then it’s Rising Larks they are from north-east Essex, and they tell me that Harwich and Priory are between them and Blackwater, thanking them I head towards the side of the campsite opposite my van where the trees are growing down a steep bank, asking at the first campervan with lights on whom they are and if they know of Billington Clog? “ Sorry, I can’t be of much help we’re Moonshine, it’s our first year but know that the Witchmen are from the Calypso motor-home to the corner, and they are a Cotswold side over the road way, I don’t know who is next to us down the field, it’s a ladies side with red dresses.” “Ahh” I say, “that sounds like them.” A short wander to a group of musicians and a couple of questions confirm that they are indeed Hertfordshire Holly but no-one knows of Billington. That, so far as I am concerned, means that Billington doesn’t exist, the only really worrying question is why David told Jennifer all that stuff about camping here for the week-end, as I wander back to the caravan by following the athletics track round the field, I recognise a couple of Blackwater people, give them a wave and yell out that I’ll be down later after I’ve eaten. Back at the van, in the awning Jennifer doesn’t look very happy at all, the light isn’t good but it looks like she’s had a few tears.
“What’s up?” I ask,
“Chrissie, she’s has the flat next to me, rang just after you left as she was wondering where I was. I’m normally home before her and as she had seen Dave in the Red Lion smoking shelter while she was getting her dinner from the Tesco’s just over the road from there, she had assumed we had cancelled our trip here.” On hearing this a theory was forming in my mind, “ I don’t want to pry but if Chrissie is in the flat next to you, am I right in assuming you also live in a flat?”
“Yeah, why”, is the short somewhat abrupt reply.
“Pure speculation, but do you live by yourself and if so has anyone else got a key to your flat”?
“Since you don’t know where I live I can tell you that, I do live solo, and Chrissie has my second spare key in case I lose mine or leave them at work, Dave has my other key ‘cos all the camping stuff is mine and he was picking it up after work, why?”
“I’m just a little concerned at the way things are starting to shape up, so do you have much in the way of high value stuff in your flat, stereo, telly, and jewellery and so on, and was Dave aware of their value and location”?
“I have a few things that are worth a bit, my Dad’s musical instruments, a brooch that belonged to my gran that came down to me, again I ask, why?”
“I don’t like to cast aspersions without some sort of proof but I can’t help thinking that he might have planned to have you stranded down here whilst he helped himself to your stuff”. The colour drained from Jenny’s face and she looked like her legs weren’t too steady, she rested her hands on the edge of the table and slumped down into a chair. “Not my Dad’s stuff, I couldn’t bear losing any of that, it’s all insured but that’s not what matters, another silver flute wouldn’t be his!!
“Look” I say, “If, note the if that is what someone planned, it is fairly easy to spike their guns, ring Chrissie back and ask her to get the important items into her flat as soon as possible if she can, you could talk her through where they are mobile to mobile assuming of course that she has one. I hope your Dad didn’t play grand piano or double bass, it might be a bit tricky for her.”
“No there is nothing heavy, a flute, two acoustic guitars, a melodeon and two concertinas.” This was said while she was ringing Chrissie, it seemed to take an age before she spoke to Chrissie, and then I thought she was going to start crying as she said “Chrissie, I am ok but I need you to do me a hell of a big favour if you can and as quickly as possible, I think Dave got me down here so he can pinch my Dad’s stuff while I am stuck here, if you use my spare key I can guide you as to what needs rescuing. What? Ok, I will ring again in three minutes, I don’t know why but the more I think about it the more I worry about how safe the rest of my things are, he was always asking about Dad’s instruments and why I didn’t play them and why I spent so much on clothes, he never seemed to have any money and was always talking about his ‘rich’ girlfriend.”
“Right, while we are waiting to get back to Chrissie, did you make a brew?”
“Yes, sorry I forgot about it after Chrissie rang”
“Don’t worry, I‘ll do it, Milk and sugar?”
“Yes please, Milk, one sugar. Thanks for helping me I wouldn’t have had a clue about any of this if you hadn’t raised my suspicions, Chrissie didn’t have a good word to say about Dave but I put it down to a touch of the little green monsters, but as I said, thinking about it, it seems so obvious now.”
“I’m not so certain it is obvious, but I don’t know him, and I still abide by ‘innocent until’, teas up! Come inside, I’ll put the heater on to help with the thawing out, that drizzle is definitely feeling chilly on my shirt.”
I made the bed up earlier, so we sat on the edge of the bed and the location may not have been the best to help her relax but she was looking strained, “Have a slurp of tea and get a bit of warmth inside you, you’ll feel better for it,”
“Three minutes are up, I’m ringing Chrissie, she must have got home by now, I will put it on speaker.” the phone is already in her hand and one tap of the screen and the phone moves to her ear, after a couple of rings.
”Hi again, are you in mine yet”
”Steady girl, Give me a chance, I’ve just put my shopping on the table and grabbed your key.”... There is a pause, a door closing, a few steps...key in another door and the sound of it opening,
“Right I’m in, your camping gear is in the hall, and the telly is in view, as is the dark guitar on the wall.”
“OK! That’s Dad’s Fylde, go into my bedroom, another guitar by the bed,”
“Yes, a big one, light coloured, with a brightly coloured leather strap,”
“Great, that’s Dads Takamine, sorry to be so paranoid but did you lock the front door when you came in”
“No, I didn’t I’ll pop back and do it now.... All secure I put the chain on as well.”
“Right, now we can take our time and make sure everything else is still there just in case he has taken one bit and coming back for more later, on the dressing table should be a black jewellery box in the top of that is a gold brooch with green, amber and clear stones.”
“Yes, it’s here, Wow, Jenny that’s beautiful, you won’t wear that when you go clubbing!!
“No, that was gran’s it’s too old fashioned for today.”
“We will argue about that later, what’s next to check, from the way you’re worrying would I be too far out saying I have a lady of substance living next door”
“We will discuss that when I get back, back to the living room, in the sideboard type thing in the right hand end open the door there should be an almost white oblong squeeze-box and a black octagonal one, in the left hand side, a black flat box thirty five by twelve by three that’s a flute, and another squeeze-box with leather bellows and wooden ends.”
“All present and correct, what happens now?”
“Can you move all the musical instruments and the brooch into your flat along with anything else you think of as worth stealing, and thank you for being such a great friend?”
“No! I won’t take the chance, while they are in my flat I am guessing they won’t be insured, I’ll lock up, get a few things from mine and move in to yours till you can get back. You really have tickled my curiosity, I know your Dad died a couple of years ago, just before you moved in to the block, were all these instruments his, and refuse if you want to but what sort of value will I be babysitting for the weekend.”
“This goes no further, Chrissie, right.”
“Of course, Jenny, I’m just nosey, not a gossip.”
“They were all Dads, and are worth about eight thousand pounds, add in the brooch and you can just about double it.
“I wish I hadn’t asked now, you know I don’t like responsibility outside work, and this is a heck of a lot of trust you’re putting in me, I should feel flattered but I am a bit worried about the value of this lot.”
“I hate to pile it on, but it’s not the monetary value that’s important it’s all sentimental.”
“That’s enough of that, I’m hanging up to get organised for my move, I will leave my door open so that I can hear anyone in the hallway, while I’m getting packed, I’ll ring you when I’m back in.”
In Jenny’s flat Chrissie is having a bit of a think about how to time the move and keep Jenny’s flat secure, ‘if I can get my wrist through the gap maybe I can get the chain on, but can I get it off, so I can get back in?’ She opens the door and checks the gap that the chain allows, about two and a half inches, putting her wrist through it seems to allow a fair bit of movement for her wrist and fingers, has she enough flexibility to fit and remove the chain, I have the key and if I get the chain on and can’t get it off again, Jenny’s stuff will be a lot safer once I’ve locked the door. Holding the door a‘too with her left hand in the letter box the long slim fingers of her right hand lifts the chain end, using her thumb as a guide along the length of the chain slot, her finger tips detect the opening for the end, it’s very tight causing quite a bit of discomfort, but with an extra pull on the letter box, gains the distance for the end to pop into the slot.
Yeah! That’s part one done, she said to herself, getting her hand out was easy once the chain slid along the slot, pulling the door shut and making sure the latch was home, finally after opening the door again to check the chain is home closing it again. Chrissie goes into her own flat to pack for the weekend. ‘Don’t need tea or coffee, take milk, cereal for tomorrow, dressing gown, change of clothes, toiletries, make-up it doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s only overnight, I must get my phone charger, don’t want it going flat overnight. This’ll do, both sets of keys and I’m ready to go.’
Putting the key in the door it opens to the chain limit, just popping the chain off and I’m done, She slips her wrist through and then thinks, I wonder what the police would say if they just happened to pop in for a chat, by the time the thought was finished her fingers had found the end of the chain and slipped it out of the channel. All done and with a sigh of relief she pulls the key from the door, closing it behind her and dropping her bag to the heap of camping gear she slips the chain back into place.
Back in Rochester Jenny is nearly climbing the walls “Why hasn’t she rung yet?”
I reply “Come on Jenny, give her a chance, could you rearrange your weekend, pack a bag, secure your own place, move in, unpack, get the kettle on and ring back in less than 15 minutes?”
“I suppose you’re right, but it doesn’t stop me worrying about how things are going.”
“Once she has rung you back, and you know everything’s safe and secure, I will sort out some food for us, it won’t be posh but it will be warm and filling.” I said, getting up and moving to the fridge and getting out a chicken curry I had made late Thursday, there isn’t enough to fill us both up but rice or pasta will bulk it up. Next is to find the wok under the cooker, on my knees head down and backside upwards, I get it out, turn the gas ring on low and tip the curry in.
“Would you prefer rice or pasta?
“Pasta please” I’m in the middle of filling a saucepan for the pasta, when her phone goes, Beautiful South ringtone I think, remembering CDs my kids had in the past.
“Hi, Chrissie how did you get on, Is everything ok?
“Yes, all sorted, I locked and chained your door on the way out, unlocked and unchained the door to get in with my stuff.”
“Great, could you do one more thing for me tomorrow?”
“Yes, if I can I will, you should know that by now.
“Thanks, Could you call the locksmith on Oak Lane, get him to come out and change the locks and leave 3 keys with you, my council tax money is with the bill under the flute box, pay him from that if you can get a cash discount, if not tell him to invoice me and I’ll settle up when I get back.”
“Yes that shouldn’t be a problem, any particular sort of lock, or colour or budget.”
“No, high security is the only requirement, I have to go now it smells like dinner is ready, I will ring you tomorrow afternoon, to give you an update on what’s happening. Thanks again, Chrissie.”
“As you said, Jenny, food is just about ready, I know it’s supposed to be white wine with chicken, but it’s curried and so you have a choice of red out of a box or beer, what will you be having?”
“A drop of red please, I hope your curry isn’t to fiery, I always seem to feel the heat for hours.
“No, it’s quite mild really, I make my own curry paste in bulk and then use half of what the particular recipe I’m using calls for, I divvy up the curry and tell Jenny to take pasta to taste. Do you want to stay here in the warm and eat off your lap or move out into the awning and use the table?”
“I prefer to stay warm and comfy thanks.”
I turn on the MP3 player and select random replay of the albums on there. The Poozies come on first, Love on a Farm Boys Wages, nice harmonies on this and with a bit of go to the chorus. I reset the player to play all of that CD, and Jenny asks who are they I give her their name and explain how they took it. “When they first formed they practiced in a pub, and decided to thank the landlord by using the pub name but as the pub was the Nancy Poozy, the Nancy was dropped and that’s how they became The Poozies. To me it is a summer album, only because I first heard them at Cropredy ‘95, that whole weekend was warm going on towards hot and the Old Hooky flowed nicely.
“Where or what is Cropedy’95?” She asks.
I reply, ”It’s is a ‘where’ and a ‘what’, the where is a small village in Oxfordshire, north of Banbury, a Civil War battle was fought there in 1644. The ‘what’ is a music festival, up forty thousand people, from new born to Ninety plus, basically recycled and reborn hippies? It started out as an annual reunion of the members of Fairport Convention at a village fete and just sort of grew.
Practically every CD on here has a story, I only have about a dozen CD or CD sets that have come from a shop, most are bought from the artists at signings and folk club intervals.”
“So what sort of music moves you?” I ask.
“Nothing really gets to me, I think that’s why me not playing anything got to Dave, not that he was at all musical himself, I used to like some of Dad’s rock music from the late sixties and into the seventies but the only ones that I can really remember hearing was Focus, the Moody Blues, Yes, and Rick Wakeman, just about sums up my musical inclinations.”
“I’ve got Yes and Rick Wakeman here, would you like to hear some while I do the clearing up,”
“Yes please, Yes, any of their early stuff would be nice.”
“It’s only a greatest hits type CD but it has ‘yours is no disgrace’ and others from that LP”
Jenny slips off to another place while the music is playing, it’s a few years since I played the CD from end to end, and after a couple of tracks I’m back to post energy crisis Britain circa1976, working in a factory, having my ears bashed by machine noise during the day and music at “realistic” levels under a big pair of headphones at other times, (all headphones were big in those days!) By 1980 I’d discovered classical Guitar, Flamenco Guitar, John Williams and Julian Bream, Paco Penja and folk rock, an altogether quieter scene. By the time the music had got towards the end of Starship Trooper, the washing up is all done and put away, I look at Jenny, she is definitely moved by some memory or another, she isn’t crying but she’s not far from it, very wet eyes, a touch of a tremble to the lips. Do I disturb her or not, heck, I’ve never been good with handling my own emotions let alone others, no leave her to it, ‘better to keep ones mouth shut and be thought an idiot than to open it and prove it’ as the old phrase goes seems to fit best, her glass is empty, I poor a couple of inches into it and top my own up, as I hold it out to her she sees it, takes with a bit of a smile and a quiet ‘thanks’.
“Cheers” I say, in salute, “I would like to offer a penny for them, but I think they were much more important than that, the music and the memories it provokes does get to you doesn’t it, despite what you said earlier, that is good, it means you’re still with the rest us in the living, breathing, confusion that is called society.” “However that is enough of the heavy philosophical stuff for now, I was intending to take my stuff down to the bottom centre, and see if Blackwater Morris has a sing-around going on or about to start, if you’re up to it you are more than welcome to join in.”
“I don’t know if I’d be much use in a sing-around, I can’t sing.”
“Lack of ability never stopped a lot of people in sing-around, it isn’t about being good at anything, it’s about having the confidence to have a go or to just join in with the chorus and listening to what others have to play, and most songs have a story if you listen for it. Come on it will do you good, I can practically guarantee no-one will upset you by playing or singing Yes or Wakeman.”
“Now you have to work,” I say with a smile, if you can take two chairs and the wine, I’ll bring instruments, music and songbook and our glasses. Bottoms up”. As I finish my glass. “Excuse me, but my box and guitar are under the bed, if you wrap up then go into the awning I’ll see you in a minute once I’m organised.”
“While I am waiting, where are the toilets around here?”
“You just passed it, it’s in there, Twist the large disk on the left to empty it, and then push it down to pump in bowl cleaner, toilet roll is to the right under a cover, hand basin comes down after swivelling the catch on the right, the light if you want it is vertical on the right, switch to the bottom, ok with that?
“Yeah, I hope so.”
I drag my guitar and box out from under the bed, take them into the awning, grab a sweatshirt from the wardrobe, and turn off the heater, books are in the top draw and a bag is taken out of the middle draw, all the books go in there with the wine glass either side, I take the bladder out of the box of wine and that fits in as well. Jenny comes out of the toilet, ”That’s a handy bit of kit, I’ve never used one before, better than trying to hide behind a tent or tree” she says with a bit of an embarrassed giggle. “My turn now then we can go.” Less than a minute later and we load up to go, Jenny has the two chairs, I take the rest. There is no change in the rain, still cold and miserable, maybe things will lighten up when we get inside, we arrive at a large 4 berth caravan with awning, and there are half a dozen inside, “Knock Knock, permission to enter please.”
“Hi Frank, come in, lots of space available.”
“Thanks Ken, where’s your other half.”
While we are opening the chairs and getting the instruments out of the way, the conversation continues.
“Sue is inside just finishing putting away the dinner washing up, we’re both sorry about Linda, we didn’t hear until too late to come,”
“Don’t worry; I expect to hear that a lot of times this week-end.”
”So, who is your friend then,” asks Ken.
“She isn’t a friend, no, that came out wrong. What I meant was a couple of hours ago we had only just met, her name is Jennifer, answers to Jenny, and she is as near to a waif or stray that you will see this week-end. Jenny, running round from Ken he is the bagman, next is Harry and his wife Valery known as Val, next is a new face to me...”
“That’s Kath, plays accordion for us and dances when needed. To her right is her partner, Richard, he bangs a drum for us at the moment, I don’t know if Andy was with us when we last met, he’s the baby of the side, just turned twenty, he is a dancer, a bit quick but has the eye for movement, and his girlfriend Lisa, she‘s not involved at the moment, but who can tell.” Ken says with a wink in her direction.
“Would either of you like a drink,” asks Sue, ”we have red and white wine, some of Kens fortified home brew, or a few assorted beers.”
“We are ok for a bit thanks, provided the bag didn’t split coming down here” I say as I take the wine box bladder from the backpack,” it is undamaged, I pour a glass each for Jenny and me. “We didn’t have the space to bring the box as well so if anyone fancies a drop, its Tesco’s finest soft French red.”
Sue settles herself in the corner next to Ken, “So what’s the story with you and this young lady, you are nearly old enough to be her Grandpa!?”
“Cheeky, I’m not as old as you think I look,” says I, “Jenny has been sent down here by her boyfriend, a member of Billington clog, he was to pick up the camping gear from her flat after work and come down to join her at about four pm. She was walking up and down the track looking for him when it started to rain, I invited her in to shelter for a bit and after hearing on the radio that there was no traffic problems between there and here we went for a walk along the line looking for Billington, I’ve never heard of them by the way, and couldn’t find anyone else along this side who had. While Jenny brewed up I went across the field to Hertfordshire Holly, they are based in Ware only ten mile from Stortford where Billington are supposed to practice and they had never heard of them.
While I was away Jenny’s neighbour rang to say she had seen him back home less than half an hour before, and to cut a long story short, she is moving into Jenny’s place overnight to act as security because Jenny gave him a key to get in to collect the camping gear, and then Chrissie, the neighbour is getting the locks changed tomorrow. Which leaves this poor lass down here without a berth till she can get home?”
“Well” says Sue, “you couldn’t have found a safer berth than with Frank, we would trust him with anything, he will look after you ok, so what are you going to do tonight, with no equipment you can’t indoor camp, I am pretty certain the ladies camping room is fully booked anyway.”
“We will have to use the caravan, I’ve got two sleeping bags and a king-sized duvet in there, the only tricky bit is getting ready for bed. With the lights out and the blinds down you can’t see a thing anyway, so one gets ready while the other is in the shower room doing teeth etc. then swap, sleeping bag each and with the duvet over the top we should be plenty warm enough.”
“I’ll be safe enough; I’ve been in the T.A. for 6 years, and I wouldn’t want to take me on!”
“Ah, the glories of our armed forces, threatening poor innocent peace loving recycled hippies.” I say, this raises a few chuckles and it seems as though no more questions are going to be asked of me or Jenny, so in the short silence I ask how the side is going along, and what gossip there may be among the other sides.
“We have eight to ten to dance and six in the band most practices and we are only missing one from the band this week-end, Alan is coming down for the day Sunday but has to work Saturday, he is with the ambulance service, and they can’t swop around like they could a few years back. We only have us eight camping, two are bed and breakfasting, and three are coming down for the day tomorrow and may also drive down again on Sunday. There isn’t a lot happening with other local sides, we all want more members but all that seems to be happening is more people are dancing with more than one side, doing border or molly on Saturday and Cotswold on Sunday. Further afield I was told that Ely Border have had a bit of an uncivil war, accusations and inexactitudes flying about front, left and centre, a couple of them are with Green Dragon tomorrow, and Littlebury seem to have snaffled the rest.
“Do you have any plans for dancing or playing in the future, I know its early days yet, but I have heard there is a queue to ask you to join them but no-one wants to be so insensitive to be the first to ask. We have known each other for lo, nearly 20 years now and you know I don’t have a sensitive bone in my head, so will you come back to us when you feel up to it.”
“I’m flattered that you think I’m still capable of dancing, from the way I was huffing and puffing when I hauled the water back I am beginning to believe I’m past it now.”
“You didn’t pull your water round by hand again, last year we told you to listen to yourself and to, quote, work smarter not harder, unquote, it wouldn’t cost ten pence of diesel to drive round and back, if you can haul that lot without having a heart attack you are more than fit enough to keep up with us.”
“It’s not keeping up with you, you fat bugger; it’s keeping up with that young ‘un that going to cause a problem.” I said with a big grin, Ken couldn’t have been half a stone heavier than me and was always on a diet, but only diets that permitted alcohol! I had expected to be invited back by one of the sides we had danced with this week-end and it didn’t surprise me that Ken would be the first to ask, now should I reward him for his courage for asking first or punish him for his insensitivity.
“The question is should I reward you for your courage for asking first or punish you for your insensitivity. As my kids know I don’t go in for a lot of punishment, lead by example is easier than punishment in my book, so you won’t get a straight no, however I have never left Tribal and need to get through this week-end before I make any decision about the Morris and me. Anyway this is supposed to be a fun week-end so when do we stop trying to make me think of the past and get back to here and now. Any requests that do not involve booze, anatomical impossibilities, or me singing?”
“I want to hear you sing, what have you to offer for my entertainment?” Said Jenny, looking me in the eye with a bit of a smile on the second half of the question, no, it’s the wine kicking in it couldn’t have been any form of flirtation, could it?
At this point Richard leaves the awning to comments about the height of the nettles and other comments about ‘taking away the pain but leave the swelling’.
“He’ll be back in a minute, just checking on the children in the caravan, I checked just before you arrived, we have this monitor device, range of thirty metres, but we both like to take turns to check.” Convention dictates that the host starts us off and direct proceedings, so it’s up to Ken to start us off, “what’s it to be, sea songs and shanties first time round as usual, then another theme next time round?”
“Yes that’s normal,” Says Ken as he launches straight into ‘South Australia’ he has the voice for this one, it needs a bit of power to help lift the chorus.
Why is it every song he knows lasts less than two minutes, he probably wrote pop songs in the sixties, most of them struggled to last three minutes? At this point Richard returns. ”All quiet” he whispered to Kath.
Next to Ken is Sue, I expect her to pass, but if she does she will have to sing next time and she may not have a relevant song. To my surprise she starts to sing ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’ that’s a new one for her since Tenterden, it’s a long one, going on to six minutes at an average speed. Harry gets to go next, and sticks with ‘Drunken sailor’, a few verses will be added that don’t appear in the shanty books, some may bring a bit of colour to an innocents cheeks, it is always fun to see who colours up! Val’s turn next and she plays Portsmouth on her melodeon, giving it the Oldfield treatment, bigger chords, and faster as it trips along, the rest of us starts drumming on the table to encourage her along. This provokes a few quick grabs for glasses as the table moves in time with the music, much more fun than sitting around in the van. “I can’t compete with that, I pass” says Kath.
“That means you have to sing one next time round no matter what theme is selected”
“If it gets round to me again, it’s getting on for 9-30 now, I’m going to check on the children and get to bed myself at ten o clock.”
“I only bang a drum” says Richard, what sort of thing are you expecting from me?
“Its sing, say or play, sing a song, say a bit of poetry or tell a story, or play a tune.” Ken replies. “This is their first camp out with a Morris side, they’ve never been to a sing-around or open mic night before, and to me it seems strange that modern adults could have led such a sheltered existence.”
“The only bit of poetry I know is something I learnt at school thirty years ago.”
“That’ll do” we say practically in unison.
With a bit of a falter in his voice be begins;
Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
with a cargo of ivory, and apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedar wood, and sweet white wine.
Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds, Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
with a cargo of Tyne coal, road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
“Hands up those that learned that as a second year at secondary school” says Ken.
Only Jenny, Andy and Lisa fail to raise a hand.
“Hands up those that still remember the author and title”
I remember it was by John Masefield, but don’t remember the title, only two hands stay up; Richards and Kens. “Hurrah for secondary modern education, pity we scrapped it over thirty years ago.” Said Ken, “Cargo’s by John Masefield for those who want to know, and here ends the last lesson for today. It’s round to your turn Andy.”
Andy goes straight into a The Islands by Ralph Mc Tell, a great song about The Braer oil tanker disaster in the Shetlands in, I think, 1993. That gets him a round of applause; he has a good voice and a lot of confidence.
Lisa, apparently aware that she was next leant over and pulled a wooden whistle, and plays what I take to be Irish jigs, quite fast and well worth listening to and then without me really hearing the transition it slows down to the Skye Boat song. There is applause all round for that, and after Ken winked at me he posed the expected question, “who is next? Jenny, it’s your turn to do one”.
“No way, I don’t have the ability or repertoire to do anything, I pass in the cowardly knowledge that I also won’t be here when it comes round again.”
“All right I’ll do one” I say “but first I have to irrigate the nettles and hope that some kindly soul will refill our glasses in my absence.” More nettle comments chase me out the awning.
“Ok normal service has been restored, thanks whoever did the wine,” Jenny nods to me, ”Time for another Fairport connection, and in accord with the sea theme I will do ‘Honour and Praise’, the guitar music is a bit tricky but I’ll play something near.” It only takes a few seconds get my guitar out of its case and I return to behind my seat as I find it a lot easier to play standing, and breathing for singing is also a lot easier, sitting down I just can’t get enough air in. “I suppose we have to wait while you tune up now,” said Kath,
“No, Once it is in tune it stays there, I might have to retune two or three times after fitting new strings, especially as I use extra light strings, but after that it hardly drifts at all.”
“On a fine summers morning we lay at the Quay,
The holds were filled high with the treasures of the sea,
So that they could be transported by men such as we,
To homeland and for queen. Etc..........
I like this song, well, I like all the songs and music I play, wasted effort to play stuff you don’t like. I finish the song without too many mistakes, a bit of gentle applause follows, “Thank you, it didn’t go as well as I had hoped but I am going to blame the booze. So on that note, it must be close to knocking off time as Kath and Richard are getting their stuff together, we ought to make a move if that’s ok with you, Jenny.” She nods,” By the time we’ve made a brew, sorted the bedding out, and done our ablutions it will be getting on bit.” I put my guitar away, pick up my melodeon in its bag, Jenny folded the chairs and took the glasses, passing mine to me to finish off, that done I passed it back. There was about half a glass of wine left in the bladder, “Ken, you can finish this off, ok? See you tomorrow, sleep tight and all that.”
It is still drizzling quite steadily so we walk smartly up the field back to my van, unzipping the awning, I usher Jenny in first and follow inside, I put the guitar on the table and grope my way across to the van door so I can switch on the awning light, once we can see, I unlock the van door and going in put my melodeon on the bed, while I am in I turn on the gas room heater, back in the awning, I set the chairs up, send Jenny in and follow her with my guitar, “we don’t have a lot of space, could you get on the bed for a minute, while I put these away and find the duvet”. Jenny slips her shoes off and crawls onto the bed and turns round to face me from a kneeling position, she looks very cute like that, and I smile at her, pulling the duvet out of the under bed storage locker is a bit of a fight but it finally comes out. I then reverse out and lifting my guitar from the bed, slide it under the bed to the front of the van leaving space for the melodeon behind it but far enough under to be safe from getting kicked.
“Do you fancy another drink or a cup of tea,” I ask.
“I wouldn’t mind another glass of wine if you have any and some more music, if it isn’t too late for you.”
“It isn’t too late for me, we will all be up later tomorrow night, they are dancing most of tomorrow and so Friday night isn’t normally a late night. Above your head in the middle cupboard there are a couple of wine boxes, take your pick, I will sort the music”
“I was hoping you might sing a few more songs, live music is much nicer than recorded.”
“Having put the instruments away, it will have to be a cappella, if you ears are up to it, any luck with the wine yet,” she passes the box to me to open, “I’ll open it shall I” I say with a smile and a lifted eyebrow. I don’t like opening these boxes either but say nothing, once open I get the two glasses we used earlier and lifting them to the light I note which one has a trace of lipstick or lip gloss, just a pinkish trace, but enough for her to identify her previous glass. They are large glasses, so I only three quarters fill them, putting hers on the fridge unit, to her right, I drop to my knees and putting my glass on the unit near the fire, noticing the fire I ask if she is thawing out ok, “ yes thanks, it soon warms up in here.” On hearing that I turn the fire down a bit, the temperature won’t drop but won’t climb as quickly.
“You requested a song, so what sort of song would you like to hear?”
“Can you continue the sea songs theme? The songs I heard earlier were interesting, as Dad had a connection.”
“Yes, no problem, first is a ballad by The Jolly Rogers it’s called ‘Wicked’
“I sailed on the Charles a fair privateer,
And our pay it was weeks overdue.....
......Captain Avery, that’s me, says like hell.”
“That’s a nice song, not a nice story what with rape and torture, but good.”
“What’s next,” Jenny asks,
“One from you, please.”
“As I said, I can’t sing, I can’t play, and I don’t know any poetry.”
“Right, here begins your first singing lesson, Do you know ‘Early one Morning’,” “No.”
“Ok, I’ll sing a line, we repeat the same line, and you sing the line.”
“I don’t know.”
“Sing a line from Drunken Sailor; it will give me a hint as to what key you are comfy in.”
In a very soft voice the first line comes out very quietly, and it’s not out of my comfort zone in the Bass register.
“Start again, and I’ll join you. What shall we do with a drunken sailor, what shall we do with a drunken sailor, what shall we do with a drunken sailor early in the morning.”
“That’s good, try again with a bit more welly! What shall we do with a drunken sailor, what shall we do with a drunken sailor, what shall we do with a drunken sailor early in the morning.”
“Good, again, and carry on and add the wey-hays. What shall we do with a drunken sailor, what shall we do with a drunken sailor, what shall we do with a drunken sailor early in the morning. Wey-hey and up she rises, Wey-hey and up she rises, Wey-hey and up she rises, early in the morning.
“That was very good, again, twice on the trot, with a bit more volume. What shall we do with a drunken sailor, what shall we do with a drunken sailor, What shall we do with a drunken sailor early in the morning. Wey-hey and up she rises, Wey-hey and up she rises, Wey-hey and up she rises, early in the morning.
What shall we do with a drunken sailor, what shall we do with a drunken sailor, what shall we do with a drunken sailor early in the morning.” This time I harmonise on the wey-heys with long heys. Wey-hey and up she rises, Wey-hey and up she rises, Wey-hey and up she rises, early in the morning. At the end of this Jenny is smiling from ear to ear, suddenly aware that she could sing we raise our glasses to each other and repeat the exercise again.
“Do you still say you can’t sing, that sounded pretty good to me, anyone can sing, it just takes a little practice and a couple of friends who will give an honest opinion of what you sound like. Anyway for a complete change of subject, we do need to get the sleeping bags and duvet sorted, and then we find another song or have a brew and go to sleep. Do you sleep on your left or right side and do you prefer your face or back to the window.”
“I think I sleep on my right side, back to the window, that’s tricky here with windows on all four sides.
“If you sleep that side you’ll be facing the awning, with the blind and curtains, there won’t be a lot of light getting in. Can you move off the sleeping bags so I can get at them please?” I unzip the two sleeping bags from each other, and zip them up as singles. Arranged so that the zips are away from the centre of the bed with the duvet on top so that if either of us need to get up during the night it will cause minimum disturbance to the other, in the middle draw of the unit by the wardrobe are a pair of wind up torches that we won at a ceilidh a few years before and they still work, it beats groping around trying to find a switch for the main lights. “Do you want to try some more singing or have a cup of tea and sleep?”
“You know when Ken and Sue said I couldn’t be safer than with you, I didn’t really believe them, but I am beginning to think you are as good as they said.”
“I am no saint, but I try to live as people say I do, if that makes any sense.” ” So, are we having a brew and sleeping, or staying up for a bit longer?”
“I think that I would prefer to sleep, it has been a long and stressful day, and I don’t normally settle well in a strange bed. I would like a cup of tea as well though, I will probably wake with a fairly furry mouth tomorrow, and some tea now might help.” I have another rummage in the middle draw and then hand Jenny a new toothbrush, “this might help keep you feeling de-furred”, I put the kettle on and go to the wardrobe to get one of my t-shirts to use as a nightshirt,” a white Faversham hop festival t-shirt is on top and I pass it across. “Will this do to sleep in?” Jenny holds it in place in front of her, it covers all that needs to be covered but not a lot more, and I’ve seen shorter skirts coming out of the clubs in the town centre, she looks at me and smiles, ”what do you think of it?”
“I don’t believe I should give an honest opinion because if I did you hear one heck of a clang as my halo fell off, and that would ruin my reputation as a nice guy. There must be a lot of young men out there would love to be in here instead of me, and I don’t think you would be very safe with any of... No I forgot your T.A. training, they might not be very safe,” At this Jenny starts to giggle,
“I was never in the T.A. I only said it to see what your reaction would be, any sign of aggression and I would have been out of here and down the town like a shot. Your comic reply was perfect for the occasion.” The kettle starts to whistle so I turn the gas off and make a pot of tea,
“One sugar, would you like it milky or normal,”
“Milky please, so that it goes straight down, thanks.” I make mine the same,
“Would you like a biscuit to go with this, I’m having a couple to soak up the drink.”
“No thanks, it’s not good for the figure after 8pm.”
I have a couple of digestives and uncover a custard cream and snaffle that for afters, as I had seen Jenny finish her tea, I downed mine quickly and after switching on the LED strip light above the bed and turning the others off I then suggested,
“I’ll go into the awning with my kindle and you can then use the bathroom and get ready for bed, when you are in and ready tap on the window and I’ll come in for my turn, after a few pages there are half a dozen raps from inside the van, I get up and turn off the kindle, the awning light and after knocking once on the door, go inside. Jenny is in bed, lying on her back she lifts her head and says;” it’s all yours, thank you.” In the bathroom, I have a strip wash, dry myself, and clean my teeth, putting my underpants back on and after switching off the light, take the rest of my clothes and put them on the bottom of the bed. I crawl across the bed to my sleeping bag, unzip it halfway down and get in, as I slide further down the bag, I make sure the wind up torch is where I can find it reach up and pull the cord to turn off the light.
“Just a moment please,” says Jenny, I switch the light back on and she leans over and gives me a peck on the cheek, “thanks for being here and helping me so much, night night.”
“Night night,” I reply and turn the light out.
I lie on my back and rewind over the day, thinking of what I should have said if I could think a lot quicker. Ah the land of what if...I turn over onto my left side, with my back to Jenny, I can smell her and it relaxes me. It has been a while since I’ve had any female company in my bedroom and the presence of another body lends a feeling of security as it banishes any loneliness still hiding in the nooks and crannies of this poor old brain of mine. I am fully aware there is nothing sexual in the way I am feeling, it is an almost tribal feeling of belonging again, part of the group identity, I wonder why I keep drifting along these dry and dusty tracks of self analysis, why can’t I just go with the flow.
I awake slowly to the sound of soft crying, it isn’t me, so it must be Jenny, lying still for a minute or so I listen, then turning over as if in my sleep and keeping my left arm under the duvet allow it to come to rest over Jenny’s waist outside her sleeping bag, her crying reduces to a whimpering sniffling sound but doesn’t stop, she must be awake and miserable, what should I do and also what will she do? A while later, it could have been two minutes it might have been ten, as I was drifting off again, I felt her move and a few seconds later her arm was holding mine close to her, and I felt her hand feeling for mine, when her search was successful her fingers wormed their way between mine and I felt her relax back towards me, Again I was drifting off and maybe she said it, or I said it, or I dreamed it but somewhere the sound of the word ’thanks’ came into my mind, and then I was away with the faeries. The next time I awoke it was probably around six a.m. first light was trying to make its way into the van and I needed the bathroom, my arm was still around Jenny’s waist and we still had our fingers interlaced, despite the gentlest of movements Jenny also woke, “morning, what’s up?
“Sorry to disturb you but I have to have a tiddle, otherwise things are going to get a bit damp around here.”
I don’t bother with the wind up torch, there is enough light to see my way to the toilet without kneeling on Jenny’s legs and as I open the bathroom door, a lot of light comes in so it must be well after half five, once I have finished and dried the old man I open the window a little bit and check the weather. Well broken cloud, not raining and strips of sunlight are coming between the trees to the east of us, getting on for six or quarter past, I think to myself and begin to wonder how I can estimate accurately when I haven’t worn a watch except for high days since I stopped punching the factory clock as a wage slave eight years ago. I close the window to vent and go back towards the bed, as I crawl across and worm my way half way back into my sleeping bag I ask her how she is feeling.
“An awful lot better now, thanks for holding me last night I really was feeling low, yesterday lunchtime I was looking forward to a weekend away with my boyfriend, and it all went wrong, why can’t something go right for me? I’m twenty five and never had a weekend away with a bloke I’m not ugly or smelly, am I? Why can’t I find a decent boyfriend and keep him for a while?
“That’s an awful lot of questions for this early in the morning; do you fancy getting up having a tea and then talking, or coming here and let me hold you for another hour or two? She looks at me as though I had a screw loose, then smiles and says,
“You come back down where you were and hold me.” I finish my interrupted trip into my bag and turn over to hold her, I am surprised to find she has unzipped her bag halfway and has it rolled behind her so that I am holding her through a tee shirt, not through the sleeping bag; again her fingers intertwine with mine, this feels sooo nice, it makes me think of times past, just holding in friendship, us against the world -well our little bit of it.
When I was in my late teens I always seemed to be taking the part of emotional advisor to any one of half a dozen 13 to 15 year old girls, who shared a hobby with my brother and me, by their reckoning I was old enough to know, but too old to be interested in them as girlfriends, so I was trusted with a lot of stuff that they couldn’t or wouldn’t tell their parents.
Now I had the same trusted feeling, this could become addictive. My eyes are very heavy again; this is so unlike me as I am normally up with the lark, time for another trip away with the faeries.....
....The faeries have abandoned me in a nice warm haven, my hand is now on bare skin, I don’t think I put it there, so I gently stroke her stomach and as I nuzzle in towards her neck she stirs and turns to face me, “Why are you so good to me?”
“Why are you so full of questions in the morning, do you spend all night thinking them up?”
“Why do you answer a question with a question?”
“It’s a defence mechanism, it gives me time to try and make sense of a nonsense question. I don’t think I am being good to you in particular; I may be being good to someone who deserves it. So to answer your question with yet another, how do you define ‘being good’ in your situation? And how do you work out what you deserve? Finally, are you ready for a brew and breakfast?
Here ends part one, part two will follow very soon - provided I can get this posted!!!!!