Wonderful Wychwood

After a fairly quiet half term week, I went with the family to the Wychwood Festival on Saturday, to promote ‘The Abominators’. I was in the Waterstone’s tent at 4.30pm, the last slot of the day.

Despite the late afternoon, ‘tired children’ factor I managed to draw in enough children not to be embarrassed. (My son Ben predicted “One child will come, and they will leave half way through”). The kids were lovely, and I hope they enjoyed themselves.

It was such a different experience to a school visit. It felt much more public, and I had to use a microphone. I had a few activities to make it more interactive than just me reading the book (the children each made up funny names for themselves, using prompt cards, there was a ‘yes/no’ quiz and finally we acted out a scene from the book, with one of the children playing Cecil Trumpington Potts). I noticed that I fell back on reading a second short extract, possibly out of panic at having to keep things going… afterwards I wasn’t sure if it had worked at all, but my husband and sons loyally assured me that I’d been fine.

It’s difficult being a natural introvert who has to ‘inhabit’ acting as extravert in order to do such events (it is very common for introverts to overcome shyness and to be able to become extravert for a short time in the name of a ’cause’ they believe in – in this case encouraging children to read and enjoy stories – and I would expect that the majority of authors fall into this category). One lady I spoke to before the event could not make it, but I saw her afterwards and she said she would be buying the book for her daughter. She told me ‘You were so polite and so apologetic when you handed me the bookmark, I didn’t imagine you were actually the author and going to do the talk!’. I explained to her that it surprised me, too. When I was very small and probably until I was about seven, I was painfully shy at school (not so much at home and with people I knew well, but going to school really traumatised me). After this, I came out of my shell and became more outgoing and sociable as I got older, although I’d always prefer a dinner party for six to a cocktail party with a hundred people all mingling. Part of me has never changed from my five year old, mute, self I suppose, so every time I do a talk I think to myself afterwards how far I’ve come.

The lovely Wychwood Waterstones team, and the two students who supported me in my talk were amazing, working so hard as the production line of authors passed through, each one talking and then signing. I noticed that their resident face painter was heroically working her way through a queue of children, and was told that she’d refused a break in order to keep all of the children happy.

After the talk all I wanted was to sit down somewhere, to be brought food and drink and left alone to recover and enjoy the music. Unfortunately the chairs were still in the car, and the boys decided they wanted to go home immediately (because everything was (according to them) ‘lame’) while Russ and I wanted to stay to see The Human League. So I was sitting on a thin blanket listening to persistent whining for half an hour. At last we got the chairs, and the boys accepted their fate – and discovered that there was actually loads for them to do.  I got myself something to eat and at last began to chill out.

I must have people-watched for hours. There was this large lady in a polka dot dress whose arms were so sunburned that she looked as if she’d been dipped in a vat of boiling water, but she still sat in the sun. There were some men dressed as Elvis, hailing each other delightedly as they strutted around. There was the mum who stood perfectly still, until her favourite band started and she began to gyrate energetically, moving her hips from side to side and throwing her arms about in unusual patterns, periodically doing little skips. She motioned to her ten year old daughter to join her. Her daughter looked horrified and at one point tried to get her mother to stop. Her mother listened politely, and then continued dancing, more wildly than ever. There was a group of young lads who were promoting some go karting I think. Anyway they were off duty and getting into the beer, some of them downing it from a hose pipe and funnel contraption. One of them was particularly drunk and he was waving a large flag about dangerously. He was so unaware that he was flapping it in people’s faces. At one point he kept swiping it over the head of this man who was in a wheelchair. I walked up and told him to watch his flag and explained about the man he’d annoyed. He didn’t take it in and continued as before, even after a security guard warned him too. He could have jabbed someone through the throat. Luckily one of his friends seemed to notice the danger and kept an eye on him.

I went to the Singing Tent where there was community singing, anyone could join in. I joined in with the song ‘Something Inside So Strong’, everybody sounded so good! We were all strangers but we were smiling at each other. I’ll definitely do more of that at the next festival I go to. One woman was singing away, and wiping tears from her eyes. I wondered what her story was, what she’s had to overcome in her life.

I bumped into the lovely Philip Ardagh, with his wife and son. I am a big fan and follow him on Twitter where he sometimes (to my delight) retweets my (hopefully witty) comments. His son took a photo with us together and I hope I never see it because I just know how small and wide I will have looked beside the incredibly tall Mr Ardagh!

The performance from Caravan Palace was an absolute joy to watch. I only knew their most famous hit, but every song was just as good. The band were young and cool and good looking and talented. The lead singer reminded me of the lead singer of Texas to look at, she was cheeky and confident and attractive – it was so good to see such a confident, beautiful woman on stage. She was dancing and jumping around all over the place and yet found the breath to do these incredible vocals. I think every man there was a little in love with her by the end of the set.

The finale of the evening on the main stage was The Human League. I couldn’t believe it, to my delight it was the very same female vocalists who joined the band in 1980. They are both now around 50 years old, and what attitude and chutzpa and glamour they brought to the stage. I enjoyed it so much more and felt a hundred times more warmly towards the band than I would have if they’d been shunted out (like Carol Vorderman in Countdown) in favour of younger women. Hearing the band reminded me how many hits they had, and what a part of my growing up their music was. I also loved Heaven 17, and of course one of the original members of The Human League founded Heaven 17.

I love the (true) story that Phil Oakey had to find backing singers fast when the band line up changed, and he and his then girlfriend found the girls in a disco when the girls (who were best friends) were still school age. They had both been hoping to go to university, but that chance encounter in a Sheffield nightclub literally changed their lives. Now it’s over 30 years later, they are business partners in the band, they are still performing and looking amazing and although there must have been hard times when record companies were fickle along the way and times were tough, what adventures they’ve had.

The videos on the giant screen behind the band as they performed were very creative. One showed politician’s faces morphing into each other. Others were stunning graphics, another was scenes from the film ‘Metropolis’.

When they sang their last song of the encore, ‘Together in Electric Dreams’ (which I know was not strictly originally a Human League song but a Phil Oakey collaboration) I looked around at all the other people there of our generation, there with their children, reliving their youth. As I looked at the families around me, with the words ‘We’ll always be together’ ringing out into the night, I felt a wave of joy mixed with a sadness. I’m afraid that I’m now at the age where lyrics like that are incredibly poignant.

Wychwood was wonderful and I’d recommend it for families who want a relaxed festival which is not scarily huge in scale yet offers a lot. A big thank you to Waterstones Cirencester for inviting me.

Tomorrow… Chatterbooks in Aylesbury!

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