To Guilford and Weyfest
Andy, Jim and I sit gossiping in a taxi, keen to be back at work, preparing ourselves for the onslaught of mundanity that is the summer airport. Through security I park my bony arse in an airside corridor and daydream to the confluence of tinny soundtracks emanating from garish retailers. We’re travelling light to somewhere south for our show at the Weyfest Music Festival tomorrow night. The corridor is teeming with holidaymakers, honeymooners and hen parties in straggles of wheelie-case caravans. People meander out of Boots with bottled water and unguents and I consider killing some time at a magazine rack, having neglected to pack my book. The hallway is a high street of concealed despair. Flights all over the board are showing delays and I find the rest of the team in the grim bar at the far end of the terminal. It’s looking like a long day at the meat factory. I listen to the conversation for a while until I concede to the alienating pop sluicing from the false ceiling like fallout and wander off in a daze, trying to get some air flowing around me in the thick climate. The general atmosphere is one of disconsolation. In a toilet cubicle I listen to the shuffling footfall and the turbo-wheeze of the hand dryers switch on and off. Ho-hum.
I take another seat on the periphery of a coffee franchise and watch the human traffic. It’s always easy to spot the rich in airports — invariably skinny and dressed in outfits of fine fabric, they saunter through with an air of disdain, mildly distressed at being briefly forced to mingle with the hoi polloi. They beetle off to a lounge somewhere to be groomed by their paid inferiors. The rest of us wait in the world like dumb livestock, a light sweat spreading under our slave-sewn street wear. The gate number finally comes up on the bingo screens and I get bipedal for a few minutes to sit and wait somewhere else, somewhere more congested and even more sad. I note, as usual, my only fellow mask wearers are East Asian. Why mask wearing has been so thoroughly abandoned here remains a mystery, though admittedly the data is very contradictory. I just like the false sense of security it gives me. At least it shows one is cognisant of an ongoing emergency. And it feels polite. Why should I needlessly expose my fellow travellers to my crummy lung droplets?
I have window seat and I peer out across the grey asphalt to the Old Kilpatrick Hills, their plateau smudged with a curtain of smoky cloud. I watch the ground staff go about their tasks amongst the usual collection of the world’s weirdest vehicles. They should throw them all into a muddy field once a year for a mad race. I’d go. As we turn onto the runway the beads of lights glimmer like diamonds. Ahead is a sky of soupy chaos. Soon we’re above the fray, huge florets of fleece below us like God’s feather bed.
Half way through the flight a stewardess gets on the blower to announce that the crew will shortly be sweeping the aisle soliciting donations for the displaced children of Ukraine. She delivers a short preamble concerning the effects of the invasion before offering a kind of menu of choices — five pounds buys school books for one child and so on. It seems a peculiarly capitalist way of raising funds; the illusion of choice, a payment plan to suit every pocket. It grinds in the tawdry hypocrisy of the West’s hysterical and futile reaction to Putin’s barbarism. White on white war, the disgrace of it! No emergency concerning black and brown people has ever received such concern nor been so promoted by state propaganda unless you count Live Aid, which was anyway an essentially personal campaign by some impassioned musicians that caught the zeitgeist. The horror of hundreds of years of terror, rapine and subjugation means nothing when prosecuted by white powers against peoples of colour. And civil wars outside of the West are effectively regarded as the result of the endemic “flaws” of those societies, not the inevitable endgame of centuries of white imperialism. Racism in the West is still respectable, it seems. We take care of our own, black people need not apply. We take care of nobody. We protect the market.
So I check out at lunchtime and take a gander at Guilford High Street, all art galleries, coffee shops and upmarket charity boutiques. There’s a ruined castle and I sit in the hot sun in the castle grounds by a pristine bowling green. Someone starts drilling behind a hedge. On sunny days there’s always a drill somewhere. My bench has a small brass plate commemorating Mrs. Gertrude Gardiner 1904 – 1985. Eighty-one, not bad. She would have been ten when the First World War broke out, thirty-five the second. Probably lost a father, a cousin or an uncle when still a girl. I’d like to think Gertie was a firebrand feminist but she was more likely a bowling Tory with a vile opinion of the French. The sun is momentarily dimmed by the screen of an oblong cloud and I delight in the light breeze caressing my skin. As I leave I check the alphabetised names on a war memorial. There he is: Leonard George Gardner. There’s a missing “i” in the surname but I put it down to a slip of the chisel so as not to spoil the symmetry.
Weaving back through the medieval street plan I duck into the local museum. A South African man gives me the lowdown and I take a brisk circuit, peering at some 6,000 year old tools mounted behind glass. There’s a mock-up of a Pagan burial with a life-size dummy of a dead girl stretched fetchingly in a maroon dress like a goth suicide. On the drive to the festival we kill more time stopping off at an artists’ village where I poke about the local Watts Cemetery Chapel, an arts and crafts masterpiece. Designed by suffragist artist Mary Watts and built in 1898, it’s a circular red sandstone building lavishly ornamented with terracotta tiles made by local craftspeople. The interior features a series of tall frescoes in a very Pre-Raphaelite vein, all deep greens, browns and gold. It’s vulgar and adorable. Outside the grass is parched and ruined between the art nouveau gravestones. A warm wind drifts heavily through the trees stirring the leaves like a blandishment. In the near distance the main road makes its pink-noise drone. I return to the vehicle.
The festival site is lovely, wooded with mature trees with a flat grassed area in front of the main stage. I cover the whole area without coming across a single music performance. There are scores of food trucks and craft stalls. At the back of the site there are lots of antique sheds full of historical farm machinery. The area is planned on a grid so strongly resembles a mid-western American farm. We have a pretty lavish marquee for a dressing room, well appointed and mercifully cool. There’s even a chaise longue upon which I artfully drape myself with Wildean languor.
The show proves to be glitchy, sticky and error strewn for my part and I find it difficult to forgive myself despite being perfectly adequately prepared. The thing doesn’t start to gel until it’s almost too late. As close to a nightmare as I’ve yet been in waking. We drive through winding country lanes for twenty minutes to our airport hotel where, in the morning, we gather flinching and squinting in what appears to be another fucking beautiful day.