Port Eliot

Summer space

I awake to the sound of flip flops swishing through long grass, unseen but very close by. Lying still, wondering if I can put off the moment when I really do need to go to the toilet, I listen. A cockerel crows in the distance. A child cries and is hushed by sleepy sounding parents. A cough, a sneeze, the tent canvas cracks gently in the breeze. Distant low snoring comes from all directions.

The time has come. A series of zips (is there such a thing as a quiet tent zip?) announces my emergence into the bright morning sunshine. The day is already heating up. A handful of people are flipflopping towards the row of portable toilets, clutching toilet rolls, hair swirled into rosettes like guinea pigs. They are dressed in whatever came to hand – remarkable concoctions of tropical prints, oversized shirts, shorts covering the fashions of the past twenty years. I think they are wearing their partner’s or children’s clothes in some cases. They are mostly middle-aged at this time in the morning. I feel a silent bond developing between us. The secret ageing bladder society. Membership compulsory at some point. 

A man is lying, prostrate, unconscious, under a tree. A fellow camper and I whisper to each other to try to decide if he is merely asleep or whether he needs help. He breathes steadily and quietly. We decide to let him sleep on, undisturbed for a few more moments. I wonder how close to his tent he will discover he is now it’s daylight. Or how he will manage his public transition into consciousness.

Gradually, more people awake. The well-organised amongst them fry bacon and brew coffee. Others look on wistfully. The dew dries. The day begins.

We are at Port Eliot Festival, in Cornwall. Britain is in the grips of a heatwave. It’s as if the word ‘summer’ is written in gigantic letters across the sky. It feels as if everyone is smiling.

Over the course of the next four days, I sit and stare. I sleep. I listen to authors, idlers, photographers, creative people of all stripes*. I eat unexpectedly well. I chat to people in queues. I marvel that there are still stately homes inhabited by the same family for 500 years. I dance. I feel inspired. I make notes. My next book is hatching, good and proper now. 

That mental space feels essential and yet is so challenging to find in our modern lifestyles. I recognise it and revel in it when I find it but it’s not easy to create. Whilst I would have enjoyed being with friends at the festival, the fact that I wasn’t had unforeseen benefits. My daughters were there but not with me all the time and it meant I could wander and daydream at will. Totally please myself what to go to, what to do. It’s liberating. 

What next?

I have plans afoot for a variety of interesting projects and ideas coming up. My involvement in the Nottingham Festival of  Words will get ever busier as we approach October. I am thrilled to have been invited by BBC Radio Nottingham to run a five week series based on Bolder and Wiser (starting on September 16th). I am starting to feel impatient to immerse myself in the next book. I have some very interesting coaching projects on the horizon too.

But in the meantime, I am going to take a break from the newsletter and I truly hope that you can find some of the mental space I have encountered recently – and that we can all find ways to find that as often as we need to. 

I’ll be back in September – have a great summer!

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*Links for info

Some of those I listened to and was inspired by during the festival included:

Dovegrey Reader and her guests, especially Observer journalist and author, Rachel Cooke - I’m really enjoying her book, Her Brilliant Career – Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties (pictured above).

The Idler Academy – for hosting a big range of events. I enjoyed Matt Green talking about the history of London’s coffee houses, and Rachel Johnson and Victoria Hull talking about how to be an idle woman (not that I really needed any lessons in that, clearly – I didn’t lift a finger all weekend).

Martin and Susie Parr – photographer and writer talking particularly about their latest book, The Non-Conformists - a fascinating look at their time spent living in Hebden Bridge in the 70′s.

And the music – so much but the ones that have especially stayed with me are Alexia Coley and Baila la Cumbia

Thanks everyone, especially all the unsung heros – Andy Loos, Colwick Park Lifeguards, the litter pickers and security guards, the sound and lighting engineers, the bar staff, the many people cooking delicious food for fourteen hours at a stretch in unbelievably hot caravans, the first aiders. The list goes on – these things are enormous team efforts.