The Ecstasy

…I attend Chappel every year.

Thus speaks Tony’s Chappel Beer Festival shirt, and it’s a pun so terrible as to be worth sharing with the world. More of that later.

The Angel of the Dorks appeared unto me, saying: “Go thou unto the web that is world-wide, and proclaim unto the surfers, and to the spods, yea unto all thy fellow nerds, that a new thing has been brought forth in Cyberspace. For behold: I have spoken with she who sits at the head of Femen, and I have wrought of our words an article; and it is a thing of great majesty.” And I looked, and I beheld me the Interview, and saw that it was good. Therefore I say unto thee: go thou forth unto the place that is called Global Comment, and there wilt thou see much of benefit; but look thou especially for the interview with Anna Gutsol, and stand amazed.

As I was saying, the Chappel Beer Festival is the stuff of legend in Essex, and annually draws huge crowds of ale lovers from all over the country. I’ve been going since the mid nineties, when I was invited to go by a good friend of mine who was at university with me, and I’ve only missed one or two of the fourteen intervening festivals. I was there for the tenth and the twentieth, and barring accidents I ought to be there for the thirtieth in seven years’ time. This year was a light one, since I was only there for the final weekend, but I think I managed to cram enough into those two days to make the long drive worthwhile.

For once Friday lived up to its POETS acronym: for the first time in ages I managed to clear my schedule and get on the road by four. It’s a six-hour drive including stops for sandwiches and Red Bull, and the less said about it the better. I managed to get about half way before I had to put the roof back up, and I was in the field at the back of the East Anglian Railway Museum by ten in the evening, absolutely dog tired, but ready for some beer and chat. I caught Mad Phil before he left, and was there for his story about the time he met Jimmy Page while they were queuing for a cup of tea in London. Gary – the man who first introduced me to Chappel – was there too, wearing a hat he found in his Land Rover when he bought it; and his greeting was as warm as ever. Actually I ran into him first, while waiting to be served at the Shunter’s Arms. Tony and Nikki were there too, bearing a four-pint carry out that they’d co-purchased with Phil, and we all had a merry time of it until about half-past eleven, when the party broke up.

Gary and the Land Rover crowd had set up a laager (the only kind you’ll find at Chappel) and spread a tarpaulin over it. They also had beer, guitars and some funny stories, which kept us occupied until gone two in the morning. We were even told off for being too noisy, which brought back happy memories of festivals past, when we were noisy youngsters instead of people old enough to know better. Thus passed the first evening.


Circle the wagons, lads; and watch out for chavs

There’s no other way to say this: Saturday morning started far, far too early. After a fine breakfast down at the festival, we settled down to bask in the sunshine until we were all sober enough to drive (I’d forgotten to get out any cash for the second year in a row, and the nearest machine is five miles away). While we were sobering up, my camping buddies got out their guitars and managed to find some songs we all knew. It transpires that there aren’t very many of those, and most of the morning was spent listening to Gary riffing on various chord progressions. It was like old times.

The family men disappeared at about noon, when I drove off in search of some cash. Suitably cashed up, I returned to the festival to find out who was around for the Saturday afternoon session. Tony was working on his Masters dissertation, but he took the afternoon off and he, Nikki and I started drinking. We continued to do that until ten, and this photograph was taken somewhere in the midst of that binge.

Cattle class is slow, but you get there in the end.

Cattle class is slow, but you get there in the end.

After much conversation with people too numerous to be enumerated, we called it a night at about ten, and I crawled into my sleeping bag to prepare for the mighty odyssey back to Devon.

Which is where you find me. I got back here at just after five, extremely tired and about ready for a kebab. I am, in fact, off to purchase just such a comestible as soon as I’ve finished writing about it. Another year of Chappel is over, and the next big event is Oxonmoot in two weeks’ time. September is such a busy month.


I’ve not been posting much recently, mainly because I was planning and then executing a trip over to Kiev. They were having something of a heat-wave there, which made a nice change from the occasional rain we’ve been having here in Devon, and I got to see some more of my friend and be there for her birthday, which was nice.

Kiev is an interesting place. Like most European cities it’s felt the touch of uncaring twentieth-century architecture, but in the main it’s quite beautiful: wooded hills overlooking the vast expanse of the Dniepr, many churches and cathedrals that vary from European gothic to minarets and rotundas reminiscent of the Middle-east, the legacy of a Greek conversion. One thing I particularly noticed about the ecclesiastical architecture was a preference for gilded roofs, which you never see in England. The streets are ill-maintained, but on the buses people pass money forward to the driver and change back to the passenger with utter unconcern, which is completely alien to the public transport system here. Everywhere there are the little trailers that dispense Kvas, painted in the Ukrainian national colours of blue and yellow. Another thing that you notice a lot is how much English there is around. Most signs are in Cyrillic text, and there are enough that by the time I left I could read them after a fashion, but on the walls are numerous messages in my language. Graffiti in England is in English, but in Kiev people express their hatred of Emo in the language and alphabet responsible for it and expect to be understood. Agreement with that was inevitable, but my favourite piece simply told me to smile.

Nice though it can be out there, though, the thing that came home to me most is just how much I belong here in Exmouth. It was raining when I arrived, from a leaden sky that threatened more, but that was like a much-loved quirk in a dear friend. It was so good to be back among familiar things and people, without the constant pressure of new sensations and ways. I think it’s important to live in a place that feels that way, that fits like an old pair of slippers and makes you smile when you arrive, and there are only two places in the world that do that for me: Canterbury, where I was an undergraduate, and Exmouth, where I have my home and family. I like to see other countries and experience how other people do things, but in the end they just tell me what’s right or wrong with my own home. I think I appreciate them and it far more for loving this tatty little seaside town, with its battered crazy-golf course, cheesy amusement arcade and two miles of sometimes overcrowded beach. I might prefer Kiev’s swallows to our seagulls (quite a lot, as it happens), and their market to our Sunday jumble sale, but I wouldn’t exchange them for the world.

So if you’re thinking of going to Kiev, I say do it. It’s a great place, and I’d like to go back one day. For now, though, I’m happy to be back at home and to be planning a drive with the owners’ club tomorrow that will let me see more of it.

While I was slaving away in the sweltering plaster room today, a helpful fellow was washing my car for me. This is the best service that anyone can provide, because frankly I’m too tired at the weekend (not to mention too lazy all the time) to clamber in and around Sceadufell getting the paintwork from grey to black again. Once it’s done, though, how satisfying the result. The leather smells of upholstry conditioner; the footwell mats are black, not a sort of dirty, speckled charcoal, and all of the plastic looks about ten years younger.  Gone are the calling cards of a thousand seagulls (apparently I’m not allowed to shoot them), and once more I can don my sunglasses, ditch the roof and not look like some sort of high-class vagrant.

Of course, on a day when I’m happy with my general road image the roads themselves would decide to be absolutely packed for no obvious reason. Well, I can think of at least one: it’s July and this is a Devon seaside town. We’re about to earn about half of the county’s annual income in two months. As you’ll already know if you’re a regular on the Exmouth web cam site (and why on earth wouldn’t you be?) the swings are back on the sea front, the swan-ships of the Teleri are back in Alqualondë and the ice-cream parlours have stocked up on Exmouth rock. It’s a bit crowded, but the town gets more interesting at this time of year.

Alqualondë. Behold its other-worldly majesty.

Alqualondë. Behold its other-worldly majesty.

Believe it or not, that’s all I have to say. It’s Thursday and not much happens between Monday and Friday around here apart from work. The most significant event of this week has been the arrival of a new tenant for the long-vacant flat 3, and that’s hardly worth more than this sentence. Just to bulk out this post and make it look as though I’m communicating more than bland nonsense, here are a few more titles from my regular source of non-information, Bizarre Books.

Nolan, Dennis. The Joy of Chickens (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1981)

Baum, Harold. The Biochemist’s Songbook (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1982)

First Report of the Standing Advisory Committee on Artificial Limbs (Ministry of Pensions, 1947)

Creed, J.R. The Art of Making Faces (Pearson’s Magazine, 1897)

Carter, W. Rhythmical Essays on the Beard Question (n.p. 1868)

Blanchard, Charles Elton. The Romance of Proctology (Youngstown, Ohio: Medical Success Press, 1938)

To conclude, a classic example of an Edwardian title that I think I may have to read one day:

Hutchinson, Sir Jonathan. On Leprosy and Fish-eating: A Statement of Facts and Explanations (Constable & Co., 1906)

Your quotation for today addresses concerns that I feel regularly on perusing the steam-driven interweb.

Well! Some people talk of morality, and some of religion, but give me a little snug property.

Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849), The Absentee


Only a Viking would say this just before he dies, so not surprisingly today’s title is taken from one of Hyglak’s lines in The 13th Warrior. As one might expect since I’m going Hollywood Norse, it has indeed been a good day.

The first good thing that happened was that my nerdy, overpriced new mug arrived from Cafepress this morning, which meant that I could have a full-grown mug of tea at work for the first time in years. This was such a significant event in my life that I took a picture of said mug, complete with tea.

That's what I call a proper cuppa

That'll cure the shakes.

Later I discovered that one of my friends plans to visit next weekend, which means that I get to have some company without haring across the country all weekend. It also means that I can go to the big car show at Powderham Castle next Saturday, take the convertible and generally show off. I can look forward to that while spending a blissfully inactive couple of days at home this week. A significant coup on the planning front there.

As this was happening, it became increasingly obvious that there wasn’t much for me to do at work, which meant that I could waste my morning and most of my afternoon on the internet. The rain and cloud of last night and the morning cleared up, making way for blinding sunshine and blazing heat, but the air conditioning kept the office just about habitable. Still no complaints there, then.

Yesterday we contacted the supplier about my stereo, and today we had a response. I’d been dreading pulling the unit out, because I can’t just put the old one back in and I’d be without a stereo until a replacement arrived. The news was to be good there as well. They replied that the satellite navigation problems I mentioned earlier are a designed feature. All I need to do to stop that happening is press a single button on the facia once, a fact that the ridiculous instruction manual failed to mention. Since that manual looks as though it made its way from Mandarin to English via Swahili, Navajo, Estonian, Finnish, Welsh and Portuguese, each translation courtesy of Babelfish, that isn’t particularly surprising. This means that the whole thing is working now; I have GPS capability, can play MP3s, VCDs, DVDs and goodness only knows what else, and I can plug in an SD card full of music and set it to random play. I almost want to go on another five-hour car journey now.

Finally, as I left work I could do so with the roof down and some German industrial music blaring out fit to raise the dead. If I hadn’t had to go to work today, I think it would have been perfect.

Normally this would call for more music, but my computer is refusing to play ball and only giving me depressing songs. Chris Isaak? After a day like today? No, thanks. I’m in more of an Aerosmith mood this evening.

I nearly forgot to mention that GlobalComment have published another poem I wrote. This time it’s about losing drinking companions to the responsibilities of family life. I’m such a cheery cove.

[Edit: the day continues well. My computer took the Aerosmith thing on board and gave me F.I.N.E. How cool is that?]