Monday, 4 September 2017

Devon - Somerset

'Have you ever heard of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?' asked an intelligent and sensible friend (of a friend), briefly spoiling the Glastonbury Festival of about 2004 or 2005.

'Oh ye- no,' I replied. I was drunk, and I hadn't. All of my needs were being met at that moment in time, as I had a two-litre bottle of Brothers Bar cider under each arm. His observation - that Maslow's coincidentally-pyramidical model fitted with the day-to-day business of festival attendance for most mature adults - didn't really apply to me. I did not spend much time thinking, preparing, researching or planning for where I was going to get some food or water, or find a slightly-less-revolting portaloo to shit in, or a person who can lend me some sunscreen, or join the queue for the cash machine, or get into my tent without spreading mud across my sleeping bag - because I had skipped straight to the self-actualisation level via cheap hallucinogenic cider.

My first visit to Glastonbury (the town itself) has been a rather more sober affair, not least because I couldn't seem to find a decent pub. We had a much-less-effective pint of cider in what looked for all the world to be a pub, but turned out to be a restaurant, and experienced, if not enjoyed, an open mic night in an almost-empty characterless locals' local that had glitter glued to the flat surfaces in the toilets to deter cocaine use (a remarkably unglamorous effect) and a strong disinfectant aroma throughout. 

Glastonbury, I concluded, was a bit like Stowmarket with hippies. Absolutely loads of hippies. And hippies, I noticed, looking at some of the ones in Glastonbury, are not necessarily just middle-class, well-educated people who have embraced spirituality while turning their backs on personal grooming. Some of them are real lost souls at the very margins of society with the same money and drug problems as the rest of us, amped up to deafen Dreadzone. A stroll up Glastonbury Tor provided us with a wonderful panoramic view of Somerset, but did little to cater for my spiritual needs. It did give us the chance to further explore the idea that 'going for a walk with your family is really quite a normal and nice thing to do,' but this will have to be an ongoing project.

A restorative few days in North Devon followed our near-disaster on Dartmoor. All of the van's needs were met by my friend's garden tap, septic tank and recommendation of a local Fiat garage that gave our tyres and clutch a thorough going-over. We were in great company, ate very well and were able to access real 240v electricity and broadband for a few days. The kids got even more out of it than we did, thanks to our friends' younger son and his new dog. He is as happy a ten-year-old boy as I think I have ever met, and enjoys all of the same things that our boys do, despite having lived his whole life on a lane with grass growing down the middle. To spend so much quality time with a boy they've never met, but with whom they have so much in common, who is growing up in a place so different to all they have ever known, can only help them adjust to life outside the big city.

North Devon is staggeringly beautiful in places, but much of it feels very remote indeed. I tried to contribute by picking up some fish and chips one evening, but got so lost on the way back (with a dead phone battery) it had all gone quite cold. We managed to navigate visits to two beautiful places on the coast to which we had previously taken E when he was a baby. As we say to H, this was 'when he was still dead' so it was new ground for both of them. Clovelly, like Abbotsbury before it, is a village that makes you say, 'Wow! How have they managed to preserve these ancient buildings so perfectly, and keep the place so unspoiled by ugly modern constructions? Oh, of course, it's because it has all been owned by the same aristocratic family for generations, and they will never need to consider selling any of it, especially since they started charging for admission to the bloody village.' Feudalism is alive and well and living in the English Countryside. And probably in the cities too, but just a little less noticeably.  Nearby, Hartland Point is a beautiful beach framed by cliffs and rocks that would give a geologist geekgasms. And it's free.

At the weekend we spent a couple of days in Frome, which is a wonderful town, (despite only having a handful of decent pubs - The Three Swans by far the best). 'It wasn't this good when I was a kid,' said the young woman in a new bottle shop who sold me some delicious and powerful beers from Northern Monk and Cloudwater. 'Just eight years ago, all those shops around the corner were boarded up.' On Sunday we woke up in the midst of traders setting up for the Frome Independent, which sees pretty much the whole of the town centre turned into a street market for the day. If we had known about it, and carefully thought, prepared, researched or planned for where  we were going to park, we could not have found ourselves a better space. That first nervy night in the car park in Walberswick seems an awfully long time ago, and now I can relax in the van, watching old episodes of Father Ted and flouting the rules about camping in car parks without a trace of self-consciousness, it seems. Especially if I am pissed.


  1. Ah lovely people I feel I am on tour with you instead of sitting in my south east London kitchen feeling all overly sendible and frigidly hemmed in by my actual fixed abode. My other comment is What a rather marvellous blog / travelogue/ beer/ pub review.... London misses you a lot more than you appear to be missing London. Sending snogs. Anon xx ( now let's hope this comment is as anonymous as this Google voodoo is promising)

  2. Frankly, Mrs Shankley, if our position we'd held (ie if we had stayed in any one of these small towns we've mostly been visiting for a week or more), i would surely have to say although it pays my way it corrodes my soul, and I would be missing London a lot more, so I'd guess the rest of the family would say the same.

    However, the last few days in Bristol have been absolutely great, and I think a lot of what is good about our overpriced capital can be found here too, so we have high hopes for certain other prominent cities.