Green Man 4

The serendipity lottery is in full spin. I was walking through a field and I ran into an old mate from drama school. We used to go to Glastonbury together back in the day. We immediately slipped into old festival shorthand, and it felt like the perfect company. We also hooked up with a friend from Wilderness, who was working artist liaison round the back. She’s considering going full time into festival work when she leaves university. So she knows all the bands and has strong recommendations for the whole evening.


The four of us spent hours together, moving quickly from band to band, settling where the vibe kept us.


The whole site is lit up at night in all the colours. Music competes with music, and every few steps at night the atmosphere changes completely. One second you’re underwater with long sustained notes, then you’re in a breakbeat rainbow, then it’s a patch of grass where a man in pants with a pint mug is imitating an orang-utan, then it’s a tree with glittery fire and unexpected nocturnal children. Unlike Wilderness they have a license that permits fire, so they build massive bonfires and people spin fire poi, and juggle fire batons. We had a lot of bands to see though. We started at Beak, who was grinding out evolutions of the keyboard madness that first hit the Bristol scene with Portishead. Then King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard for half an hour, in which time my university friend expressed great disappointment that “he didn’t play his aggressive flute. He’s the only man in the world I’ve ever seen make a flute aggressive.”


Then we wandered over to The Walled Garden for Alex Cameron. “If you had an estate, would you have a walled garden?” I’m asked. Yeah. With a maze. And roses. And a hot air balloon. And a secret bit of the maze where there’s always a party. I’d need a pretty big walled garden. Best get working on it.


We went back to catch Mount Kimble. They were extraordinary, or it could’ve just been the state of mind I was in. I mostly remember strobe lighting, and a moment when he told us all his daughter was in the crowd, and she was off yo to university in Wales. By the time Kimble was done, two of us had gone to bed. Another old friend emerged from the crowd. I was tired by now though and on survival mode. Most conversation was burnt out of me, but I still wanted to dance a little. I ended up back in the walled garden with all of her university friends. I danced a bit, sad a bit, looked at my watch. It was after 2 so I figured it was legit to crash and said my goodbyes. Excellent random festival night. Things were nicely aligned.


The tents for the performer area are very well placed, right behind the stages that you tend to arrive at last. I wrapped myself up properly this time, and didn’t knock the cork out of my mattress with my feet, so it stayed inflated. And I slept beautifully, warm and happy.


Then this morning, as I was staggering to my morning wee, another old friend first-name-last-named me. He has set up tent right by me, and is here with his wife and daughter, neither of whom I’ve met before. Another lovely bit of convergence, and one that satisfies me that coming to this hilltop field was the right call. Two more nights, and I’m going to enjoy them.


Oh, yes! And I played mini golf. Course of life mini golf. You can’t choose the ball you are. And then various lifestyle choices either help or hinder you as you go on your journey. Here is a young man diligently steering his ball towards consuming apples, instead of donuts or cigarettes. But watch out for the beer!

Green Man 3. If it posts

Last night was the coldest I can remember being. I had a sleeping bag, a blanket and my deflatable mattress, which in theory should’ve been plenty. But my mattress did its usual trick of gently softly lowering me onto the grass as I slept. And the beautiful cloudless sky sucked all the heat through the holes in my tent, and left me curled into a shivering ball on a little bit of rumpled rubber, with a terrible terrible headache.


Occasionally I was sucked into mad dreams, only to be woken by my bladder, the cold, or – once – the loudest sustained fart I have ever heard, about 5 foot from my ear. For a second I thought it was an air raid. At about 4 in the morning I rolled out, stumbled to the loo shivering and mumbling, found it in a delirious semi waking state, audibly berated my prostate for being too big (the beer wouldn’t have helped). I did the deed, successfully navigated back to my tent, crawled in, dragged up all my clothes, wrapped myself in my sleeping bag, and unceremoniously dumped the entire contents of my wardrobe on top of my shivering body. They immediately fell off to either side so the whole exercise was pointless. I lay there trying to reclaim any warmth left over from before I succumbed to my bladder, and tried to find the delirious dreams of arctic.


Then the dawn broke and transformed my tent into an oven. I was ejected onto the damp grass with my headache, in order to try and have fun again before a repeat performance tonight. I’m wiser now though. I’m going to sleep in my clothes, in my blanket, in my sleeping bag, in my bivouac, in my tent. Oh yes. Many layers of warmth. And hopefully the headache will be gone by now. It’s caffeine withdrawal, and it’s deliberate. Next week is detox and I’m getting the hardest part out the way early. Coffee is lovely until you stop drinking it, and then it attacks your brain like no other craving I’ve known. I don’t want that going on when I’m post-festival season and having to stop myself on everything else. Booze sugar meat dairy and gluten is plenty to be craving without adding caffeine to the mix.


I’ve had breakfast, which comes with the ticket, school canteen style. Now I’m lying in the entrance of my tent. The only painkillers I’ve got have caffeine, which defeats the object. I’m going to see if I can find an ibuprofen fairy in the campsite, then try and post this, then see about going in to listen to some bands, and do some cards. I’m worried this won’t post. I haven’t been able to get online all morning, so I’m writing this in docs. I’ll try for a photo, but I don’t hold up much hope.

I went around the tents asking for paracetamol and got thoroughly ribbed. “Mate, I know you’ve heard that you’re supposed to wander from tent to tent asking for drugs but you’re missing the point.” But someone came up trumps with codeine eventually. And I was offered some horse tranquilizer…

It’s 11am but I’m gonna try and post. This internet – You get what you’re given.img_20180817_114724-969343576.jpgimg_20180817_114724-969343576.jpg

Green Man 2

The wind is whipping in over the beacons, which is worrying. No rain though. That appears to have passed with no more than a desultory trickle into my tent, miraculously landing directly on top of my TP-link power bar. Incredibly it still works absolutely fine. That thing has now survived being dragged behind a car, being run over, and lying for hours in a puddle. I feel a little bit like it must feel though. One of my tent poles snapped just now collapsing the sleeping section entirely. I have mended it with gaffer tape and hope. I’m having a 1pm beer, relaxing after a cosmic massage, horrified at the prospect of 4 more nights in that canvas disaster area, but too stubborn to get my other tent from the van. Oh Al.

A miracle worker called Rose gave me a holistic massage to die for earlier. I was breezing through the healing fields seeing what’s what and wondering if they had tarot and how much. Check out the rivals… She wanted to get started and offered me a first day deal. I took it, and good God I’m glad I did. Time stopped. I lay face down, occasionally grunting as her hands located all the crap I’ve been storing up and magically dissipated it. Time went weird. As I lay there, entire civilisations were born, prospered, were infected by hubris, and crumbled to nothing. My only conscious memory of the time on that table was to notice she has her festival wristband on her ankle. It was bliss. Apparently it was only half an hour that I lay there. In that time she reminded me how to fly. It’s why the collapsing tent isn’t bothering me right now. What does it matter, now I have wings? If it blows down I can shelter beneath my wings, yes?

I take a moment to speak to the palmist. Jake, I think. He seems still, solid, sad. His wife died recently. I can see they used to be a partnership in this. He has a little gazebo and still works the festival circuit alone. “I can see your yesterdays and your tomorrows,” the sign proclaims. Bold claim. We talk for a while about how people crave the human part of this sort of interaction. Is it necessary to dress it up in oojie-boojie? I mean, yes there are more things in heaven and earth. But…

We compare favourite festivals. He seems sad. There’s a gap next to him. I find myself wondering if his wife did cards, but I decide not to ask.

IMG_20180816_114037.jpgThe sun is trying. Try little sun, try! I’m in line for a relaxing day today. The party starts properly tomorrow, but now it’s the end of the season and I’m running low on party so the plan is to take care of myself, as much as possible whilst living in a field. Despite the lunchtime beer. I might go into site, put a cloth on a table and talk to some strangers for a bit. It seems the time for that sort of thing. I’ve just got to hope that my tent is still here when I get back.

Green Man 1

On the Al Barclay scale of not really thinking it through, I’ve got a strong 8/10 for this one. I’m in Wales, in the Brecon Beacons near Abergavenny. I brought my gargantuan tent. The one that I didn’t bring to Wilderness because it was fucked. I just this second put it up as the rain started. It’s fucked, but it’ll hold barring wind, more rain, someone sneezing, a drunk person tripping on the guy rope or me moving in my sleep. I’ve sort of stuck the thing together with tape and string. And now I’ll be in it for 5 nights fearfully wondering.


Thankfully the van is ten minutes walk from my tent, so worst case I can go crash in the van, wake refreshed, realise I can’t open the door from the inside and cook to death slowly.

Last time I was at Green Man, I was in woolly jumpers and a Yorkshire accent, infecting people with a disease that would turn them into llamas. I made BBC TV Wales – the local news – with an interview both in and out of character. Be still my beating heart. It was a science piece about antibodies. We had had lots of very serious meetings with laptops and scientists. I’m here with the same crowd, only this time…

This time I’m… well… I have a performer wrist band. So I can go backstage and use the decent loos. But I’m… well…

I’m the driver. They had a big van. I’ve driven it. So now I’m just going to the festival. With a posh wristband on that gets me free beer.

I just blew the doors off at Wilderness. I’m not craving hard party. This festival is very far from Wilderness in character and purpose. It’s more cider than campari. More burger than baba-ganoush. When I go I usually think of it as the last festival of my season. I’ve done the dancing. I’ve had the party. Now I can just chill out. Most of the punters are terrifically grounded compared to the Oxfordshire “woke” crowd.

Weird though not to be working. I like to have a focus. I’ve brought my tarot cards. Doubtless they’ll come into play. But I can just relax now the van is up and unloaded. So I’m taking a risk with the blog. Can’t make things too easy for myself.

I have always preloaded blogs for festivals. This one has the worst mobile phone reception by far of all the ones I go to. But I haven’t preloaded anything which means I run the risk of breaking my absurd streak through bad technology. But I’m gonna try.

But there’s no music tonight. Probably no bars open. I unloaded the van which is full of the heaviest mini-golf courses imaginable. While I’ve been writing I’ve gone and sorted my wristband. And now, as the sun is setting, I’m going to wander on site and see what’s what. The whole festival site is surrounded by mountains full of dragons, which makes it beautiful but a rain trap. I’ve never been here and not got drenched to the bone. Here’s hoping…

This would normally go out at 6am Thursday. I’m publishing immediately for the next five days because I haven’t fixed the problem with the Facebook share yet. Screw you Zuckerberg.


Old furniture

In London, if you have a thing and it works, someone near you probably wants it. If you don’t want your thing any more, it is common practice to put it on the street. Sometimes you might put a little encouraging note saying “take me.” It’ll be gone in no time. It really will be.

I was standing outside RADA once waiting for a van to carry a theatre set to Earls Court. We had a load of lovely old furniture for a play at The Finborough. In the twenty minutes it took for the van to arrive, three people assumed that our set was up for grabs and tried to help themselves until I explained it wasn’t being dumped. Each one of them was a little passive aggressive with me, as if I shouldn’t have put it on the street in the first place if it wasn’t up for grabs. They left a bit huffy, looking back longingly at the cuckoo clocks and old cabinets.

With this this mind, I walked past an expensive members club today and saw a load of lovely furniture things including a marble top liquor cabinet out on the street.


“Are these up for grabs,” I asked the bloke I identified as the “me” role in this version of events. Joe. Sitting in a high backed armchair. “Take what you want mate,” he said. So I booked an uber XL. Ten minutes later Mohammed showed up and we filled his Citroen full of things. I now have a lovely writing desk, a marble top liquor cabinet, an unnecessary lamp, a something thing for somethings and ooh what a pretty little table. I’m thrilled with that result. Even if I throw some of it out later, the cabinet looks like it was made for my flat.

Then I go back. Joe has told me there’s loads more. But he wants it gone tomorrow. I am off to Wales tomorrow. I’ll see if he can wait until next Tuesday, as all the stuff he has will do well at Gatsby and it’s going to end up in landfill. I can likely take it on Tuesday. There are a few more desks, an amazing table, bits and bobs, pictures, and loads of old lamps. The club is being refurbished. New lamps for old. Some eejit thinks old things look bad, or has a business arrangement with some chancer who makes modern furniture. So they’ll rip the character out of the place and replace it with ostentation, but delboys like me will end up with nice things. If he lets me come back next Tuesday I’ll sort him out with Gatsby tickets.

The problem is, getting back to my block, I realise I can’t carry the two biggest pieces up all the stairs on my own. Mohammed got them inside the front door with me, because I immediately tipped him £20 and he wants to be helpful. But I can’t co-opt an uber driver into getting it all upstairs, big tip or not.

Either way, good on Joe for being so chilled about me loading an uber. At the end of the day his mate showed up with a van and there was virtually nothing left. “I better take some stuff or I won’t get paid for moving it,” he says, so we bring another desk down. There’s so much stuff up there. “I’m just dumping it with some people I don’t know.” says the guy with the van. “I need the van empty at the end of the day. I drive every day for Louis Vuitton.”

I return home once more wishing I had my own van. I contemplate the communal downstairs corridor crowded full of antique furniture like a junk shop, and I manage to persuade a friend who lives locally to hump the two biggest items up and inside, in exchange for takeaway curry. We have a lovely chilled evening. I write this. And now I’ll get back to packing for Green Man. What will I forget?



Fire safety and baby

There’s a little flat in Whitechapel where I spent many an evening dreaming. My best friend lived there. We would stay up all night, sometimes in company, sometimes just the two of us. We would take out the pieces of each other that needed polishing, and carefully put them back in the right places. When she moved out I wrote a sad poem to Squintles, her lonely sofa, on whom I had slept so many nights, the silent recipient of my night thoughts and bits of my skin and my tears.

She moved to Catford and has tenants in the flat now. That flat is too small for a baby, and her baby is getting bigger by the day. But today, hungover Al went and met her in the downstairs corridor. My job; entertain the baby while she worked out how to do a fire test on the cryptic fire safety equipment she has had installed.

Just as there is an industry in making some user interfaces logical and intuitive, so is there an industry in making others counterintuitive and arcane. You have to run a test once a week on this nonsense. Once a month it needs a full check up. If the interface is completely incomprehensible, then it guarantees that their engineers get paid to run the service. My friend was trying to do her weekly test. At first I tried to help her, but she snapped me down. “I spend my life having men stop me doing this sort of thing. I want to do it. You look after the baby.” So I did, and she got on with it. Too many buttons.


I didn’t necessarily feel I was in the right place to look after the baby. She is so small, so innocent, so pure. I was sweating wine and guilt after staying up most of Sunday night with my festival friends. Still, we found some games to play that didn’t involve me getting a headache. She understands space better than last time I saw her. Peekaboo can happen. A month ago it did nothing for her. Now it’s hilarious.

I spent a bit of time with this amazing baby, got to know her a bit better, this whole new person that I can pick up so easily. I discovered that she loves having her socks put on. And I struck a deal with her mum that after Green Man I’ll try to take her on Sunday mornings for an hour or so, so she can go to Zumba, or do some writing.

We are still dreaming, the mum and I, but this new life in her life changes the game. We are both still up all night and tired in the day, but the reasons are very different.

I’m so struck by this journey that she has undertaken, and the grace with which she’s done it. Babies are as incomprehensible as these crappy interfaces, and you can’t call an engineer. She’s worked out so much, and is still somehow finding time to write, although not as much as she needs. If I come and play with the baby once a week I think it’ll do us both good. Me to connect and play with someone so uncomplicated and innocent. She to have a bit of unworried time in which to create. And the baby to have another rumbly voiced bemused man whose glasses are detachable.

Train dream

I often dream about trains. It’s odd, since I don’t really think about them at all when I’m not on one. But there they are – often. Dream trains. I can dream quite lucidly, and can fend off bad outcomes pretty adroitly. It’s a thing I nurtured as a child, to stop the terrible nightmares. But when there are trains, it tends to mean I don’t have my hand on the tiller so much. The train is my brain telling me it’s going to dump. Last time I got shot in a dream it was running away from a train. By Germans, of all things. War stories.

I was trying to get to Ladywell last night, and I was avoiding one of my ex girlfriends in the process. She was hunting me. So far, so Freud. London, it seems, has a very busy functioning ghost train network. They run on the same tracks as the normal trains, and normal trains can’t drive through ghost trains so they have to sit there. They are the reason for all the unexpected delays in London. There must be shitloads on Southern Rail tracks. In my dream I could see them all, those darn ghosts, blocking the way with their glowing ghosty steam locomotives, gossiping and ghost-farting while we all backed up behind them in a hurry. “Move along,” I asked one. “So you’re the one who can see us tonight then?” says the laconic guard, interrupting his conversation with a woman in a bonnet. “It won’t make us go any faster though, will it, mate? You’ll just have to wait.”

I ended up on a ghost Oriental Express heading – apparently – to Ladywell by way of Russia.

I don’t know why I’m sharing that with you. Other people’s dreams are almost always incomprehensible and unhelpful, as they are peculiar breakdowns of that individuals bullshit. Sure you can use them to contemplate the way our strange brains work. So the train metaphor for me, where my brain tells itself that it can’t stop the story by bringing in something that’s on tracks. That’s noticeable. As is the sexual draw of “Ladywell” and the fact that I was being actually hunted by my benign and happy ex – my brain telling me to stop running away, perhaps? The fact is, I ended up on that dream train to Russia purely as a diversion to avoid an old flame who was pursuing me. Maybe I’m still running from something?

I don’t use dating apps. At silent speed dating I only stood opposite people I didn’t find attractive. I tell myself it’s because I don’t really give a shit, but then this seeps into my dreams and I end up writing a blog breaking it down because there’s something shifting in this bachelor.

Meanwhile my friends are having their happiness directly affected by their relationship status. People in relationships and all they talk about is how difficult it is being in them. People out of them, hating themselves or blaming themselves or changing themselves in the hope that it will make them more desirable to some nebulous idea of a person they hope to meet. Oh stories, stories. You are so irresponsible. What were we selling that so many of the old stories talk of this true love ideal. We all have armpits. My job is to tell stories – I see the edges and the structure – but I still get sucked into the fantasy.

Well, hello introspection. At this point a bunch of friends came round my flat and we ended up having an impromptu party. That’s a good way to smash a man out of his thoughts. I am returning to this late at night, after everyone has gone or fallen asleep, and I am in my bed. No work tomorrow, which is a blessing and a curse. Just emails and a delivery of a new bed frame from Amazon. I cleared out more boxes of junk today and can see the end of the amazing junk box pile in my flat. But right now I’m going to bed glad of good friends and the fact that I can unwind so comprehensively in their company. Now I’m off to bed, irrespective of the word count, to find out how far into Russia that ghost train has got, and whether I can get the interchange back to Ladywell now I’ve shaken her…

I took no photos. It’s so late. Here is a random picture of a jar thing. Yes. Great. That’ll do. Night night. Or good morning… or whatever. I’m off to sleep.