Medicine Festival Day 4

“He’s the land-owner,” says John. “This has been in his family since the 1720’s. Maps. They were the big cartographers.”

I bet that somewhere on the estate, framed on a wall, is a map that is almost as valuable as the land- if it were sold at auction. Well done his family for not losing the land piecemeal to the inevitable leeches and addictions that accompany easy wealth – despite the passage of 300 years.

Apparently there was a maypole here when the estate fell to his family back then, down by one of the festival firepits now. So there’s ancient ceremony here, rooted in this soil. And right now this geographic land-owner has opened the gates to a remarkable jumble of energetic practitioners. He is here too, surveying the chaos he has allowed to take place, worrying about distancing, proud to have taken the step at the end of this stagnant summer.

Many of the representatives of practice rooted in distant soil have had to remain on distant soil, so the festival “Wisdom Keepers” are mostly of this land. Their perspective varies. Many people, myself included, are attracted to the clearer perspectives on spiritualism drawn by other cultures. My oojieboojie stuff takes in Peruvian tradition, scratches of vodoun, lashings and lashings of Buddhism, and magpied touches of virtually every practice I’ve been properly exposed to over the years. I’m a collector, and I spit in the face of the narrow assertion that “our idea is the only right idea” – particularly those of the Atheist tradition, with perhaps the most nihilistic God of all – the Nothing God, evangelised vigorously in every pub by left brain people with their head in a plastic bag.

This morning I sat in a circle held by a glorious man of the Christian tradition. He’s a vicar. He spoke with clarity and poetry of the beauty of nature. He locked us back into observation. He was charming and self effacing. “What’s coming up next here?” “Oh it’s just a talk by an idiot.” It was measured, crystal clear, beautiful and welcome. Now I’m off to a rainforest ceremony and then to a pagan fire ceremony. If you see wrong in this, look to yourself. The intention is clear, across these cultures and traditions. We align, as we must, in a will towards kindness, mindfulness, ambition, care of self and others and the land – all these things can exist in all these traditions and these colourful thought-spaces.

I’ve always been attracted by shiny things.

After the vicar I sat in the sun and chanted a Japanese Buddhist sutra, as I do every morning. I’m wearing the Camino boots my friends clubbed together to buy, flared Levis from the nineties, dad’s shirt from 1969, uncle Peter’s monogrammed trilby, mum’s pashmina, a jaguar and a scallop shell. Fucking hippy. With plastic bottles.

And I’m just as much of a hypocrite as everybody here, with the time and money and connections to come to this privately owned natureplace and hope that the strength of our shared ideals can somehow change the world.

But it’s nice to believe in something. I recommend it.

Medicine Festival Day 3

The bald fellow is Jason. He has come with a cohort today from the local station to assess the situation. After I took the snap I walked round to join his chat.

This festival is completely sober. I haven’t seen a spot of booze, which is helpful considering my proclivities and the resolution I made recently. The only substances I’ve come across have been CBD oil, and Cacao. People are basically dancing on chocolate and winding down on cannabis. I have no doubt at all that mushrooms are involved in the mix somewhere, since most of the food is from that kingdom anyway. But I haven’t seen any. Everybody has just been solid, respectful and connected to the ground.

As a result of this sobriety, Jason and his chums don’t have much to do. No lagered up lads molesting and fighting. Nobody indiscriminately selling poison drugs to desperate minors. Nobody needing to be rushed to hospital because he thought they weren’t working and had six. Jason is strolling around in the sun dappled woodland, listening to the music on the air.

Because the sun has finally deigned to show up. I’m lying in it, or where it is when it pops out from behind the cloud. I’ve just chatted to Jason the cop and now I’m under a tree, near a dragon, writing to you. There’s somebody praying behind the tree. Normally he’d be emptying his bladder.

Jason was a curious fellow. “We’d much rather do anything other than take away somebody’s freedom,” he is saying as I enter the chat. That’s party line of course. “This pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetime,” is another phrasebook utterance and I’m wondering where he’s gone. But then it shows.

“This is lovely, you know?” His eyes change and he breathes out as the sun shows up through the trees. “It reminds me of a holiday … a holiday I had … in North Carolina …” For a second I see authentic Jason. Then his escort cuts across him, and he snaps back on duty. But it was a lovely flash of Jasontruth, and I think of him for a moment in North Carolina. There he sits by a river in a forest with the fire burning. He’s wearing his shorts and holding hands with somebody. “This is the life, eh?” he says, and for a moment he looks like 8 year old Jason, on the beach making sandcastles. Somebody squeezes his hand.

For the rest of the day though, Jason and his friends will have so little to do that they’ll have to spend their time chatting with us hippies, or ensuring we don’t get too close to one other. It’s a big area for 600 people. But there’s lots of dancing and singing going on.

There’s a peace here. There’s a lot of good intention. I’m very happy to be here, and feel lucky to be part of such a small tribe for a few days.

It’s only just gone noon. I’m going to switch off my rational brain now, find some sort of ceremony, maybe cry a bit at nothing and then go and dance like a maniac.

Medicine Festival Day 2

In the morning I went for a walk in the woods surrounding the festival. With all this rain I thought there might be some delightful mycological extrusions. Sure enough I stumbled on a fine Chicken of the Woods, but with no kitchen to clean and cook it, and no solo experience yet in preparing that particular delight, I thought it best to leave it where I found it and drop a pin. Then I can roll in on Monday morning before I go back to London and see if there’s a new one or if it’s still good. After all, there’s more rain to come. Lots more rain. Another bag of soup, by the look of the BBC weather forecast. Here we go.

I’m safe and dry in Flavia’s bell tent ####////#### he writes as he lies back in a puddle that has stealthily been filling from a badly pinned guy rope fuckitall. Having sacrificed my towel and gone out to re-peg the guys I am NOW safe and dry in Flavia’s bell tent. I hope.

Earlier today I went to a grief and gratitude circle run by Fiona Shaw. She trained as a medicine woman of the totem of the red tail hawk. I found it a lovely circle and never stopped being impressed that an actress as lauded as Fiona Shaw was also so adept at holding a circle and working with plant medicines. How did she find the time to train and practice? AND she’s a midwife. I sat next to Tash. Tash is part of our group – I met her yesterday and drove her down. She sat behind me in the car so I’ve not seen her face a huge amount.

At the end of the circle I asked Tash if she was thinking of heading back to the tents for coffee. She looked at me silently, and then wordlessly got up and walked to the other side of the circle. At the time I put it down to her still having some inner work to finish. It was only much later that I realised my two mistakes. The woman holding the circle wasn’t the famous actor Fiona Shaw, despite a resemblance. That would be bad enough. But much worse, the woman I’d asked if she wanted to go back to the tents for coffee … she was a complete stranger. So basically she thought I was massively hitting on her directly after we all sat in a circle and spoke with vulnerability about loss and life. Bugger.

I went back to the tents for that coffee. That non-euphemistic coffee. I’m mildly concerned that she might lose time and energy avoiding me from now on. “For fuck’s sake,” she might be saying to her friend. “I can’t even sit in a grief circle without some guy hitting on me.”

The rain is easing a little but it’ll come back I have no doubt. Off to my right people play pipes and string things and sing and cheer. Now I’m blogged up I can leave my phone and drop my responsibilities for the rest of the day, go listen to something interesting and beautiful.

Medicine Festival Day 1

I’m sitting in my car waiting for two people to get to me in an uber. The car is already full of stuff. We will have to put one more tent and more bags in somehow. Then we will drive out to Reading. To an actual festival that is actually happening in the actual world. Medicine Festival.

It is in partnership with the health department people. If the health department is as competent as Education or Culture then the chances are we are all already dead. But I’m hoping it’ll be a pleasant experience. 600 people. Booze free. A field. Some tents. Lots of talking. People with lots of beads and Sanskrit tattoos will be talking slowly with beatific smiles. I’ll be lapping it up, enjoying the fact I can be at a booze and substance free event like this in times of Covid.

Part of me is worried though. Part of me expects to be ushered down narrow channels in the trees by stern men with hazard suits and gas masks. All the hippies conveniently in one place. Corralled into a field where a helicopter drops a gigantic statue of Boris Johnson onto us all.

On the list of things to bring, the first thing is your mask. Will we be sprayed with strange chemicals, injected with trial vaccines? Will we come back with six arms each. Ah. My friends have arrived. Time to drive and find out.

So far there has been a conspicuous absence of tanks. It has been mostly lots of people dressed in tribal clothes, some earned and more pretended towards. There’s lots of lovely music and it feels very small and intimate. Right now I’m sitting on a log a long way from the fire. There’s enough space here to accommodate many more than the 600 people gathered here.

I’m out on the edge, writing this. I’ve been sitting here a while, listening to the music, looking at the trees, taking it all in. There’s a camp fire burning a short distance from me, that I could go to if I chose. Right now though I choose to sit here. There’s a little bit of my self identity in this space – in the bit between the light of the campfire and the dark of the woods. The liminal space. I often feel it’s here that I am most myself – neither wild nor tame but happy in wildness as in society.

The stars are clear and sharp through the treetops ahead after the clouds opened like a burst bag of soup as I was driving up. Periodically the romance of my placement is shattered by someone coming over to have what they think will be an unobserved piss behind a dark tree. A very pleasant young fellow is telling us that “life is amazing” on the tiny mainstage, accompanied by drums, guitar and a flexible approach to tone. I like him. I think I’ve heard him before at something like this.

I’m very happy to be here. I didn’t think I’d get my festival this year. An important part of my wind down from the unusual stresses and concerns of daily life. This year has been harder than many, but life is bringing me light in many forms.

I suppose it’s time to go back to the campfire and pretend it’s where I belong. Four nights here, and it feels like a peaceful place.

Alice and theatre

It’s hard to believe that I woke up this morning in Harrogate. “Let’s mission it back to London,” I stated, instead of trying to get breakfast and take it easy as we’d been considering.

It’s a long long way across the country from Harrogate to London. Not in American terms – in American terms it’s a trip to the store. But in UK terms it’s half the fecking country. We chewed up the miles. I’m rather looking forward to a stop now as I’ve been behind the wheel for too many hours this week. One more drive tomorrow morning and I can let the pressure off. I’m glad to have made some momentum though, moving all this random stuff. There’s more to be done, but isn’t there always more to be done? I’ve started doing. That’s the key.

I allowed myself an evening of joy after the drive by getting a ticket to Alice in Wonderland – a virtual theme park – put on by my good friends at Creation Theatre and Big Telly – performed live and audience responsive on Zoom as we did with The Tempest, but bringing in all sorts of other layers of tech and wonder.

What an unmitigated joy of an evening! In terms of form matching content, the conscious playfulness that can be found in the Zoom-theatre medium blends beautifully with the eloquent madness brewed up by Lewis Carroll. There was some gorgeous play, mixed with virtuoso moments of problem solving, turned in by a universally strong and fun company who seemed to be embracing and loving the madness, and enjoying the complicity they have when an audience can see their constraints and enjoy watching them overcoming them live. I watch it and there’s hope.

Having said that, there’s the sniff of an audition in the air for some live theatre! Would you believe it?! Only a few months after aeroplane flights were considered acceptable. Maybe we won’t all have to do monologues at the front of 747’s. And if that IS the only option, then thank God we have the creativity and fun of shows like Alice to stop us all ending up as culturally dead as Oliver Dowden.

Meanwhile I’m trying to pack for three days in a field and so far all I’ve managed is a pair of trousers, a frilly shirt and a hammock.

The Forbidden Corner

The British consul to Guayaquil in Ecuador is a man called Colin Armstrong. In 1980 he lived in Yorkshire near Leyburn with plenty of land and plenty of money, lots of ideas, and enough money to make those ideas into strange reality. He and his architect friend geeked out and made a beautiful folly in the garden. The garden stretches out over 600 hectares and has been filled with ridiculous things, but with ridiculous things that fit well into the little fir tree windbreak, blend well with the natural and man made features, and are huge fun to encounter so long as you are sure to regress to a childish state before entry.You enter through a big stone mouth complete with aesophagus and gut. It belches and then poos you out into the labyrinthine garden. There are underground passages including a Mouse World, Hell and a haunted Mausoleum. Above ground there are things that talk at and squirt you or both, involved wood carvings and sculptures with little verses, things of beauty like an Ent made out of trees, and glorious vistas over the dales. It’s all a bit Covid at the moment, with masks on in the underground sections and guards whose job it is to tell you what’s going to happen up ahead. Some doors are held open with cable ties. Some are padlocked shut. We have to be careful while we regress.It’s still stupid fun. So much fun that National Parks tried to shut it down twenty years ago because stupid fun isn’t allowed unless everything has been chopped off and sanded down by grim faced admin junkies who start every sentence with the word “actually”. There was a petition and it still operates with restricted entry. We were very lucky to get in considering we just showed up. There had been a cancellation because it was pouring with rain.

We loved it. And it was perfect. It’s right next to the Saddle Room where we had successfully booked lunch after getting blown back by all the local pubs due to the thronging brought about by Eat Out to Help Out. And it’s just a short drive from Tennant’s where Diane the valuer said: “We can take this all, and what we can’t sell individually we can sell in job lots.” God Bless her and Bless them. The car is empty. Another successful trip to the dales, and my attic is very close to empty.The rest of the rainy day was spent sharing this lovely part of the world with Lou. Despite it having been intended as a day of rest from driving I’ve ended up smashing myself through about four hours in the lashing rain through frequently flooded roads. I’ve driven through lakes today. Some were so deep and long I had to guarantee momentum in case I lost the wheels for a second to floating. “Test the brakes,” I found myself saying out loud after driving through a padding pool or two. The rain here is astronomical, and it seems to be so across Britain. Gods, send the rain to California. Those ancient trees are burning again and I can’t bear to think of it…I’ll just get back to running around in Colin’s folly, and eating gorgeous food in vast portions in God’s Own Country.

Crawling up north, I ask my phone to tell me about beautiful places on the way. It directs me to Conger Hill. We break the journey there and find a little village full of expensive houses and lawyers. We walk through the field where Matilda keeps her horsey. The sky is huge, fishbone, full of promise. Not as much of a walk as we expected though so back to the car and further up north.

The National Trust are mostly closed on Mondays, which arguably constitutes bad planning on my part, but there’s still plenty to gawp at. Especially when you’re so conditioned to city life as I have been. I marvel at fields, stare at thatch, watch swans run howling from swans. A full on swan fight, before they turn companionably back to the reservoir. A lover’s tiff…

We see people as we travel, diverting to Walsall for careful visitation and the spectre of instant coffee granules. We eat cake in the black country and later I eat sausage from the roof of my Nissan. We are mostly on A-roads, and the British countryside flashes past us, festooned with simplistic digital diagrams of masks and billboards telling us how Jesus loves us.

We stop in a verge near some bamboo, momentarily wondering if we are still in England. We stare through a locked gate at a working cocker spaniel. We are.

Coffee happens occasionally and the miles fly by until the grey stone monoliths of Harrogate start to line the roads and my little Nissan chunters into neutral in a little parking space just outside the huge great “Black Lives Matter” banner in the window of my friend’s pad.

Here again, much as we were two weeks ago, but this time examining “What did we do right, what did we do wrong?”

We have a second night so it makes the journey worthwhile outside of dropping the stuff off. We stopped at the same glorious restaurant for supper. I made the appointment half an hour later at Tennant’s. We have already booked for lunch as all the country pubs are packed to bursting because of the cheap food thing from the government. Now I’m lying in this lovely attic room once more, full of food and relaxed and warm. I think it’s time to just throw off the rest of the drive, brush my teeth and sleep long and hard, to dream of swans and bamboo.

Brief stop in Hampstead

Hex has missed me. I’m up with him in Hampstead. Lou is on the sofa with me and parked in the street below is a car that I really don’t want anyone to break into tonight. It’s completely full of stuff. Clocks and busts and porcelain horses and jugs and pictures and luggage and plates. Lots of stuff to do with William Gladstone. Much of it very patriotic. Much of it very beautiful. All of it covered in a thin layer of soot. I found it black. I’ve brought it back to some sort of life. I’m moving it on.

Hampstead is the perfect launch pad to drive to The North, but Hex is very aware we haven’t had any skin time for weeks. I’ve been rushing in to change his water, huck him out or feed him. I haven’t stayed and chilled with him for a while. An extended contact made him excitable and affectionate. Perhaps a little too much so. “Are you ok,” Lou asked as I went silent and my face went red. “Yes,” I squeaked, but his affection and warmthseeking warranted a gentle finger under his strongest part after he had a good accidental go at suffocating me. Royal pythons are the perfect size, as we will always be stronger than they are. It was a very affectionate cuddle. Very very affectionate. I just had to prise him apart and reposition him where the centre of his friendly grip wasn’t my Adam’s apple.

Once he let me breathe again, he wandered around on me for ages snuffling my ear and knocking my glasses off. Now he’s back in his tank just as I’m too tired to stop him hiding in the smallest place be can find – usually a door hinge, under a wheel, in the mechanism of a sofa bed. It doesn’t matter so long as it’ll kill him by mistake. He can’t be let out of sight for his own safety.

I’ll have him out when I’m alert again in the morning for more necky cuddles. Then I’ll take the laden car up to The North for more frolicking in the Nidd Valley.

Things are starting to make sense. I’m still in a transitional place, but it feels like we all are. My agent rang the other day to say that one of my favourite people won’t be coming back to the office in this new version of the world. No turnover… Fuck this virus. I’m finding other ways but I’ve never felt more ready to channel some energy, interpret some humanity through text, share the telling of a living story with other practitioners on a stage for and with an audience that wants to be there.

In the interim I’ll fill the little Nissan with bits and bobs, I’ll drive and teach driving, I’ll read people’s tarot, I’ll sort redecoration, I’ll housesit dogsit catsit and plantsit. I’ll find ways to keep in flow and be ready for nice things when they come to visit.


Standing at the kitchen sink in my gas mask and rubber gloves I’ve been thinking about the past. And about fire. The tranformational power of fire, for better or for worse. What it takes and what it leaves behind.

In my hands have been a selection of large Staffordshire figurines, cracked with heat and totally blacked out with soot. You’d be forgiven for thinking they were irredeemable until you discovered the cleansing power of chlorine and bleach mold spray. Slowly but surely these vast hideous Victorian decorative weirdnesses have been nurtured to a sort of mutant half-life – a state in which they are good enough to sell to someone who wants a load of vast Victorian tut by one of their fireplaces. I’ve pretty much got everything down from my attic, and with the clock ticking on getting it out of the flat, it’s time to stop being picky about absolute identification and cleaning to a high standard. It’s time to throw the lot in boxes, take it up north and tell them they can sell it in a job lot if they have to, just so long as it’s gone from here. They’ve been pulling at me too long, these things I have no real connection to.

Many of them have found new homes one by one. Scarf to Anne-May. Picture to Peter, resin to Emma, a few busts here and there and random gewgaws either given to or smashed by guests. Cows to Sandie. Piano to Gatsby. Plates to Christmas Carol. Scores of scores to Adrian at The Music Hall Theatre and Film Guild. A bunch of stuff to Phil Grainger left in the van. Patterns to Lou. Leopard to the NHM. Quite a lot of it is now in use around my flat for various decorative or ritualistic purposes…

In fact now I think about it I’ve achieved my initial aim of redistribution very well. My first instinct was just to save it from the tip, where it was being hurled by friendly Latvians.

I’ve also come to a much finer understanding of how to assess value across a wide spectrum of antiques. With confident forward progress now I can finish moving it on in less than a month, and get my space back. A year and a half after it came into my possession, sure. But better late than never. It took me time to find ways of taking the soot back, time to find the confidence, even time to find the right auctioneer.

It’s sad though, putting the collected bits of a life into boxes like this. It’s sad to think that this sort of thing will eventually happen to whatever nonsense we’ve accumulated. My altar is covered in things I’ve gathered together over decades that would be meaningless worthless junk to anybody but myself.


It’s doubly sad for me because, strewn among the boxes are sealed plastic bags which, when I open then, turn out to be redolent of my mother’s perfume and to be filled with, for instance, her jumpers. My dad’s stuff isn’t here, but here’s bits of mum, reminding me of the fleeting nature of the things – (to steal from my dyslexic friend) – of the things we “take for granite”. I’ll be wearing some lovely jumpers come winter.

The flat is chaos. Tomorrow I’ll load up the car. Then off to North again. It’ll be at least two trips to do the lot though. I’m trying to be organised and ordered about it. And I’m praying Kitcat doesn’t roll in at 3am, as there’s no floorspace left.


My flat resembles one of those crazy bric-a-brac shops you occasionally drive past and think to yourself “I’ll stop and look in that place next time I’m going this way.” Books and icons my dad bought next to huge great still lifes and weird cabinets and card tables. Smoke damaged busts and my mother’s collection of blue and whites and horrible figurines and Dolls and naval bits and bobs.

A lot of it is going to get slung into the boot and driven to the auctioneers on Monday. Not the truly personal things, but a lot of it. I’ll have a little Yorkshire adventure with Lou into the bargain. “Why are you going all the way to Yorkshire for the auctioneer?” asks my agent. Two reasons. 1: Tennant’s is bloody marvelous – a family business, flying at the top of their game right now, smart and friendly and grounded. 2: I love Yorkshire. Bloody love it. Since Sprite wound up I haven’t had the excuse to connect with God’s Own Country so much. And I want to. So I will. And I get to share it with Lou and hopefully see some friends into the bargain.

Meanwhile today instead of loading the car with boxes and trying to clean soot from things of beauty like I should have been, I went visiting.

I had a Friday evening with an old dear friend. She showed me her snails.

During The Tempest in lockdown I asked the audience to show me their pets. I was shown lots of cats and dogs, a hamster, some fluffy toy animals and one bald man. Nobody showed me snails and now I’m disappointed.

Achatina Fulica – The Giant African Land Snail.

They sit on damp peat. There are two of them. The big one is a bully. The small one is oppressed but horny. We’ve all seen that dynamic in our friendship groups. It seems toxic relationships carry through to gastropods, despite them being pretty simple in design. “Stomach-foots” They eat. They move. They poo. And they bang. Like so many of us during lockdown.

While I watch, the big one tries to steal the small ones lettuce and the small one reacts by hopefully obtruding some kind of bizarre proboscis and waving it around. “I think they might be about to have snail sex. It’s disgusting,” is my friend’s assessment of the situation. She puts the lid on and consigns them to the dark from whence they came. But not before googling replacement peat. It’s a bit too damp in there.

They aren’t actually her snails, so she has to look after them extra specially. I promise her a cuttlefish as I grabbed a bunch off the beach last time I was in Jersey. Great for calcium, apparently.

It’s a school thing. She’s got a kid who likes to attack me with Lego, although he’s not home.

The snails are about keeping things alive. Teaching kids to be responsible, on paper. The kid takes the snails home for a week or so, the parents plus kid stop the things from dying, the things are pretty robust, live a good five or six years, and make matters easier by being adept at stopping themselves from dying. They only need to last a week or two before the kid comes proudly back with two living beings and everybody tells them how well they did and their name goes up on the list on the wall with dates and a gold star or whatever. It’s all very American.

They live too long, in my opinion. Give kids a hamster or a goldfish or something else with a short lifespan. The most helpful lesson is the inevitability of death.

This is why I’m not a teacher.