Sunday, July 26, 2009


This is a long one guys as I could not take many photos of this time in our lives and I just don´t want to forget it.

Those of you who have known me in the last five years would not have known that it has been a personal little inscription on my bucket list to go to Glastonbury festival. Well you might think, `that’s not hard to arrange Von, buy a ticket and go’. But for me not so.

Not too long off the boat from Barbados, I first heard of the festival at the tender age of 18 sitting in a room in London watching in consternation as this older girl hauled on her metallic purple Doctor Martin boots and pack an unimaginable assortment of summer, winter, dry and wet clothes as she set off for the festival. Laden down, hot and sweaty but grinning from ear to ear off she went. “Maybe next year, eh Von.” Yes I thought, maybe next year but not with you (another story).

The following year I was asked by my soon to be at the time ex-boyfriend (yes Josh and Ellie, I had a life before daddy), “fancy going to Glastonbury this year with me Von?”, his eyes shifting from my face to the floor. “Yes” I thought, “would like to go, but not with you” and a few days after, an ex he became. Few years later, no can’t go this year pregnant, next year, broke and knackered next year, uh pregnant, and so on and so forth. Every time the timing or the something just wasn’t right and then there were jobs and other jobs and businesses and selling businesses and touring Europe and buying ruins and then finally, when I least expected and when I certainly had thought “oh well, don’t think will be doing that”, along came the right time and the right people.

One sunny afternoon in Lisbon Merle looked at me and said in that crisp musical voice, “Von, do you think you might like to go to a festival and help us this year?” “Yeah sure Merle. I have never been to a festival, I would like that.” Ian’s head snapped around, “What, you have never been to a festival?” “Uh! No.”, and once again I felt 18 and just off the boat. “Well,” said Merle smiling sweetly, “How about Glastonbury?”. Ian at this point sitting forward looked at Merle and me and laughed loudly, quite loudly in fact, “ Straight in there, in the belly of the beast, better think about that, would be great, but it’s the belly of the beast.” ‘Belly of the beast?’, I thought, ‘sounds perfect’. (The guy in the photo here who put in our new telephone line had one of those too by the way!)

How did I know this was the right time and these were the right people? In the same way one truly knows anything. 1. A little help from synchronicity (a theme that kept coming up in conversations at the festival). The night before I dreamt that someone was going to ask me if I wanted to do something and I said yes. The next afternoon Merle was the first person to ask and I said yes. At the time of saying yes I didn’t know that her next sentence was going to tick off a long standing date with myself.

2. I had been experiencing something new on the land. The more I worked on the land the more energy I seemed to have. Yeah physical tiredness would come but another kind of life enriching substance was making itself known and I needed to expend it somewhere else. I think Andy started feeling it first and then his teaching kids English came up. So the opportunity to go to the Festival and work was perfect. It also meant that I could be there before and after the festival, a marvellous opportunity to see the breadth of the festival and not just its length at the weekend. And what work, not cleaning toilets or picking up rubbish but working with the most beautiful simple and elegant shelter, the tipi. Fab! Another date with self, ticked.

3. I was going to be going with Ian and Merle and to avoid the risk of being gushing and school girly, we are big fans. I think I would have gone and cleaned toilets if they had asked me but tipis, yes classy Glastonbury, the only way to go.

So after planting my last sunflower (lost count of how many planted this year), off my Memphis took me to Porto airport. It’s funny how you prepare for something, and you talk about something and you decide something and then when that something is actually happening, you think, shit what am I doing? Walking around the airport with my Memphis it started to sink in that we would be separated for almost three weeks, something that hadn’t happened for a while and I didn’t feel quite so brave anymore. The moment he left the airport I stood in the checking-in queue shamefully dragging Eloise’s pink suitcase (long story) and even more shamefully, crying (yes Michelle I cried in PUBLIC), not sure Glastonbury sounded like such a good idea, belly of the beast, being away from the land, from the kids at the end of term, from Andy, going to be with All Those People, the rain, the mud, the toilets, the the the. But I hate going back on a decision made so, determined to have a good time, checked my bag and boarded the plane.

Merle met me that night at Bristol airport to and while driving back to their home another thing sunk in. I was in England, I am a bit slow, in the summer. England the green and pleasant land. So, before the fun of the festival started I had a few beautiful days walking in the fields and hills of England with (what could be better?), with Ian and Merle’s fabulous dog at my side: Good-Times Perry. Within a couple of days of arriving at their lovely home and seeing Ian, Anna, Eve, Ollie and finally the fabulous Uncle Roger again, I knew this part of my trip was going to be great. New times with new friends, with only one reoccurring shadow being that my old friend Memphis (that’s Andy for those who are new to this blog) was back home in Portugal and not with me.

I had some much appreciated time to warm up to the tipis and get too know them. The morning after getting there Merle and I set off in her enormous British Racing Green Bedford truck, ‘Freddie’, to take down tipis and their hybrid of a yurt the humbly named ‘Squirt’. Driving in that Bedford with that amazing woman, listening to music, staring out the window watching the English countryside roll by. Aah, delicious. I grin even now just thinking about it. Crawling around on in a cool green field taking tipis apart onloading, offloading, onloading, I couldn’t fail to miss the irony that I spent all those years studying and this was the kind of work I most enjoy, physical work. And then it was time to set off for the big one. Glastonbury.

So how does one sum up the biggest party in Britain? Well you can’t. It was brilliant! I loved it! I loved the Hummingbird Crew which actually felt like a family. Despite all the work and time pressures there was always time to stop and have a conversation with anyone who wanted to come by and have a conversation. Despite the few episodes of heavy rain, the sun shone and was appreciated as only the British public can do. Despite the heavy aggressive force of army fighters flying low overhead and police dogs and heavy security there was the softness of the hippees in the tipifield, who at the end of the festival left virtually no rubbish, planted a garden, drank loads of tea and appeared to spend a lot of time talking about how to make the world a better, peaceful more loving place.

Despite the crush of soo many people there were many moments of kind and intimate conversations with a few people or sightings of young lovers cuddling or sleeping it off under the trees or other brief but unforgettable experiences with completely strangers: the young black woman on her way to see the Prodigy; the young guy sitting miserably in the ditch; the two older English women that danced with me to Steel Pulse; the ZZ top look alike who liked jazz; the young Eastender dressed from head to toe in shocking pink, having breakfast and worried about her first time out without her toddler; the crazy dude who asked a 1,000 people if they were awake (only one out of the 1000 said yes!); the young teenager who said what he wanted most in life was to one day be a Father.

Despite the poor music line up on the main stages there were wonderfully sincere generous performances in the smaller tents. To counter the commercialism around the main stage there was the opportunity to experience the work of craftsman and artisans in the Greenfields. There was something for everyone, something that Britain does beautifully, an intricate balance of inclusion and exclusion defined by invisible boundaries but felt strongly all the same. Despite the hedonistic ‘I am just here to have a good time of the weekend’ there was the work with the crew and drinks and chats with all the other stressed out but still smiling 30,000 people who work to make the Glastonbury party happen. In contrast to the trash and chaos that would be left at the end, I was lucky to witness the green and verdant English fields before the weekend started, a reminder that the land would heal quickly helped on by the young people picking up rubbish at the end, working in return for their tickets.

My most memorable night would have to be the Saturday night Hummingbird gang outing (except Uncle Roger but we knew you were with us). It seemed that all night we would be walking against the current of the crowd, always a good sign. Ian, ahead in his Technicolor neon coat and bull hat, walked with Merle in her long black dress overlaid with neon pink velvet patterns, feet protectively clad in mountain boots, together we all cut a path through the masses heading in our own direction. Walking in the dark hedgerows, in the mud, with the people all around, and the security presence and sniffer dogs, we descended from the heights of the tipi fields into the valley of the belly of the beast. I felt us swimming against the current and the most unusual thing occurred, my heart opened to it. Opened to all of these people: all of us, here, doing what? Looking for what? Looking for more of what? I felt firstly a strange compassion for how lost we all are and secondly a total and complete joyous acceptance of all of it, the filth and the beauty, the isolation and the togetherness, the disappointment and the faithful hope. Right there in the thoroughfare for me the party began. I danced and walked and talked to strangers all night long.

In the wee hours of the morning I sat alone on the high hills and watched the sun and the mist rise over those beautiful tipis standing as centuries guarding the battlefields and could feel nothing other than gratitude. Thankful that life, with all its mess, could still be willing to provide me the opportunity to experience this trivial little point on my bucket list. We just never know how new threads will impact the tapestry of our lives. This thread will glow brightly for sometime. Thank you. I went to Glastonbury festival and I had a great time.

Totally prepared to be feeling completely exhausted after the British tour, I returned home feeling completely the opposite, full, full, full of energy and fully expecting a new season for us on the land. So, excited to see the kids and hear all about their amazing successes at school and of course… my Memphis… I arrived to find that after a civilised breakfast in dramatic Porto we would be taking a slow and rebalancing 2 day journey along the coast to home. My hubby really knows how to say welcome home, thanks hon.

In the silence of this place I turned 36 this week. I have been waiting to become 36 for a very long time. I remember my Mum and her friends when they were that age, powerful and energetic, beautiful women. I first met my friend Anna when she was 36 and over the years have watched her grow stronger and more beautiful every year. An ex-boyfriend of mine (yes kids that is the sum total before Dad) once said to me as we were breaking up “I wish I could see you at 36 you are going to be amazing.” I was 17 at the time and thought , “What?” But his comment clearly stayed with me and now here I am. I decided to spend my 36th Birthday in complete contrast to my 35th, I spent it quietly alone with my family on the land at Moses and I guess it is a sign that I am getting on but it was a reflective birthday, looking at the difficulties and disappointments of the last year and the healing, loving time we have had here so far. Sitting on our seeing seat looking on the violet to apricot sunset I made a wish and you know what, it came true like 5 days later.

On the 13th of July early morning when the mist was giving up its moisture in the face of the sun here in Portugal, Memphis and River walked up the hill and decided it was time to rebuild our house. A year almost to the day since we first took off the roof and some internal stone walls, we felt the tide change in our attentions and knew it was time to start rebuilding. We had taken out all we wanted and tidied all we could and there was just nothing left to do. In silent trepidation we walked up the hill. I don’t know what Memphis was thinking but I was certainly thinking, ”We are about to build a house in stone and clay and we don’t have a clue. We are out of our depth, on our own but determined. Then grace came as I looked up to the sound of “Bom Dia” and there, waiting for us, actually waiting for us, was our well loved neighbours Joao and Filipe.

Over the last year we had talked to so many people about rebuilding this house and looked at so many different materials we could use, but eventually we came home to the simple materials of stone and clay which we have in abundance and the desire to work with someone who will have the patience to teach us and who is connected to the land in some way. In essence we’ve always wanted to link into our local community, made up as much out of a respect for the ancestors of our neighbours who carved this landscape before us and our neighbours themselves who remember their childhoods here and have welcomed us at each and every opportunity. Andy had spoken with Joao when I was away but we didn’t know if he would be able to help us. So to see them standing there waiting for us was an incredible feeling.

We have done our first week now and let me tell you it is heavy work. We are working all day in the sun and these guys born and bred on this land and accustomed to its heat, work at a pace. There has been no electrical machinery used so far and our tools consist of a hoe, a wheelbarrow, a few hammers and an endless supply of buckets. Add some clay and water and countless trips up and down the hill gathering clay and hand mixing it, driving around the land and scrambling up the slopes for the best stones ‘with pretty faces’ as Joao puts it and infilling with stones that came out of the house and you pretty much can get the picture of the simple by hand and foot nature in which we are rebuilding.

Once again we are experiencing that comradeship with our Portuguese neighbours, once again they have come to our rescue and they have been so relaxing to work with. Memphis is largely responsible for the inner face of the wall and Filipe, his brother George when he can come and I take turns making the mixes and working on the innerface, none of us would dare touch the outerface as that is clearly Joao’s territory, without a word being said. Andy and I have a private goal running to ensure Joao never has to step away from the wall to get clay or stones and so far we have managed well. The best bit though is that after a wonderful time before Christmas ofrebuilding one house together, we then had a great time gardening together for the first 6months of 2009 and now we get to rebuild another house with the kids.

I always wanted the kids to be there at the beginning of the laying of the first stone and to be involved in the process. Little did I know that they would be fanstastic invaluable members of the team. Josh has been amazing constantly lugging stones and not insubstantial buckets of clay back and forth between us. I am particularly grateful to Joshy for the first two days where I made most of the mixes myself and worked in the sun for the first time from sun up to sun down. At every mix Joshy was there saying well done Mummy, that’s great and such like. You’re a beautiful boy Josh. Our little princess Ellie has been in charge of the smaller stones, tiring work as we need thousands of them in a constant stream. She has been doing the most marvellous job hanging out washing, clearing up the kitchen after breakfast and everyday baking us something yummy to eat and share onsite with Joao and Filipe, the only way we can get them to stop and then only for 5 minutes.

I have thoroughly enjoyed being out there in the sun and the heat sweating and tugging and climbing and carrying and laughing and speaking Portuguese all day and being with the kids and Memphis. But this weekend I have been alone. My beautiful family have been away playing Cricket (a 150 year old 2 day cup match between Lisbon and Porto with my boys playing for Lisbon) and I have had my first weekend alone here ever, cleaning, gardening, reading and generally catching up with all that has happened this summer so far and then doing nothing. It is strange being alone after having such a full time, in England, in the village, and then at home. This weekend no phone calls have been made, no music played except for an hour of reggae, well it is Sunday after all and then a little writing, giving thanks I guess you could call that praise. Being alone on this land is deeply enriching. It is time to rest, to be in the solitude and the silence of this place. It is a time where no projection of personality is required and I can just be and watch and marvel at the miracle of it all and the Life who gives it so generously and abundantly.

I don’t know what next week brings but for this week past, yet again I find myself saying, Thank you we are finally rebuilding our house at the right time and with the people we hoped would teach us, our neighbours people in our community and I am loving it.

I am 36 years old now and for the first birthday ever I do feel, well, different.

P.S. I am not an enthusiastic blogger, in fact I am a little ashamed that I even bother to write a blog because sometimes when I read over it sounds like I am just saying look isn’t life wonderful for me. That is not why I am writing it. I write it because I can’t believe life. I don’t really understand how life works or even what is happening most of the time. Even with all this writing I still find myself here and say, “How did I get here?” I am not special. I have no special gifts or particular insight or brilliance and yet beautiful life is unfolding itself and I am a part of it. So if you want to change something in your life big or small I would say, think about what it is you want for sure, but then just take the next available step towards or on your path and be prepared to dance with life and let it take you down paths you hadn’t expected more than likely these new paths are heading in the same direction as the path you would have chosen.

Paz e amor


A few videos for you to see...

While Mummy was away...

River waits for her clay....

The clay arrives...

The work begins. On the way to being stonemasons...