A weekend in August

Written by Piers Cawley on

If you were to ask me what my current preoccupations were, the top three would probably be breadmaking, ruby and folk music. This last week has been a pretty decent week on all three fronts.

On Friday, I drove down to Shipton Mill near Tetbury, one of the finest millers in the country, and picked up around 40 kilos of interesting flour at splendidly wholesale prices (substantially cheaper than I was paying at my local suppliers and with far greater variety). I expect to have fun experimenting with a few new bread formulae as I work through that lot. After that, I took a quick trip to the VSCC’s Prescott meeting, where my brother was selling tyres

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Prescott’s really lovely, a beautiful site, some spectacular cars and a great atmosphere on the campsite. There were that many family members and Longstone staff on the site there was a virtual Longstone compound. I was sorry I couldn’t stay for the barbecued legs of lamb but I was spending the night with friends in Bath.

On Saturday morning it was off to the Sidmouth Folk Week. Sidmouth is one of the great institutions of British folk music - a week long festival that’s been running for over 50 years. These last couple of years have been run by a new set of organizers and things have been scaled back a little. It’s still Sidmouth though. I last went in 1998 (I think), so it’s been a while, but it still felt just like I remembered. I was crashing with a friend of mine who’s a Sidmouth virgin and acted as a semi-native guide. I think she might be hooked on it too.

I spent a fair amount of time with the Anchor Middle Bar Singers, a festival fringe institution that, whilst not quite as old as the festival, has been running for some time (they recently retired from competing in the “who can raise the most money for festival funds” stakes having been undefeated in this respect since about 1981). The Middle Bar is a twice daily singaround concentrating exclusively on unaccompanied singing, preferably with a chorus. It’s hot, loud, and has its own set of traditions for How Things Are Done.

For Instance, some songs have a ‘standing chorus’; when the singing reaches the chorus of, say, Thousands or More everyone stands for the choruses so, if you’re not completely au fait with which songs have standing choruses, it pays to keep your eyes open.

Monday night was my last night in Sidmouth and when it looked like the twig wasn’t going to make it around the room more than once (a twig is passed around the room to signify who’s singing next) I mentioned that I would really appreciate getting a second song to one of the people on the bench (the people who run the session and who start and finish the singing) and, bless him, he swapped places with me at the end of the night so I was one of the last three singers.

I sang Si Kahn’s song Here is my home, a secular hymn about the fellowship of singing in harmony. It’s a great song with plenty of opportunity for the chorus to join in (it doesn’t just have a chorus between verses, it has them within the verses too) and the singers in the bar were on top form that night, they were sounding wonderful. What nearly stopped me singing though was when the last chorus came around. I’d closed my eyes as I went into it and when I opened them again the whole bar was on its feet belting it out with me. Not something I’ll forget in a hurry.

So, that’s bread making and folk music attended to

On Tuesday I spent the morning in another singaround in the theatre bar before heading off to London for the London Ruby Users’ Group meeting at Skills Matter. A couple of cracking talks (about Domain Specific Languages and tips on working well with front end types) both excellent, one of which was very much last minute after Geoffrey Grossenbach had to cancel when a proposed London workshop he was planning to give fell through. Once the technical stuff was out of the way (I might write more about them when I’ve mulled them over a bit more) we retired to the pub and spent the rest of the evening talking about Ruby, Rails, Smalltalk, Perl 6 and probably a bunch of other stuff. I shall have to make it down to London more often.

Estimating driving time from Devon to London is never going to be an exact science, so I arrived in Clerkenwell about an hour before the meeting and, not being one for sitting in a pub by myself, I repaired to a nice shady bench, pulled out my powerbook and did a bit of light hacking on stuff. I was just starting to get a bit of flow going when someone came into the park and recognized me. Which is just weird. This is the first time I’ve ever been recognized by a stranger. Admittedly, I was wearing the same shirt as I’m wearing in the photo in the sidebar, but still. Embarrassingly, I’ve forgotten the chap’s name - with any luck he’ll comment here and jog my memory.

So, in all a jolly good extended weekend. Flour, songs, and my first microfame moment. Now, if I could just work out how to do that for a living…