Archive for July, 2010

Routine Blues

Posted: July 15, 2010 in Living

Originally in my Wiltshire Blog

We often do crazy things to feel alive. Earlier this week I tried hitchhiking, and met an interesting character on the way.

“The less routine the more life,” wrote Amos Bronson Alcott, a 19th century American teacher.

Routine is undoubtedly important in life. Like all rituals, a daily routine can give a sense of reassurance and order. Without keeping to a routine it would be very difficult to reach goals in life, such as mastering an instrument or excelling at a sport.

But routine can also be stifling. It can make us feel like we exist merely to perform the same set of actions every day. To combat this, I try to break up my routine every now and again by introducing small spontaneous actions.

Earlier this week I hitchhiked for the first time in years. I had been dropped off on the outskirts of Bath and needed to make my way into the centre.

Rather than wait for the bus I decided to ‘thumb a ride’, and stood facing traffic for about 10 minutes before somebody stopped.

I ran up to the car and saw a man in the driver’s seat, frantically taking piles of paperwork off the passenger seat and throwing them in the back of the car, which was already a sea of paper.

After the necessary salutations, we introduced ourselves. Kofi is a doctor on his way to a conference in Dorset. Originally from West Africa, he now lives and works in Manchester.

As the sat nav guided us through the Georgian streets of the city, I learned enough about this man to guess why he would pick up a hitchhiker.

Kofi only works in hospitals for one year before moving on. While he loves what he does, he finds the politics of hospitals so demoralising that he purposefully takes short contracts. Although such a lifestyle is less stable, it affords more freedom, and this is what Kofi really cares about.

I realised that Kofi and I are quite similar. We both value the feeling of freedom, we both need the occasional spontaneous action, and we are both terrible at organising paperwork.

After Kofi dropped me off I felt strangely exhilarated. I didn’t care about having to walk the rest of the way in the rain. I had taken an opportunity for spontaneous living, and had met an interesting person because of it.

Image of Banksy’s ‘Hitchhiker’ couresty of Noodlefish


The Beer Festival

Posted: July 9, 2010 in Food

You know the festival season is here when the CAMRA boys erect a tent and start charging entry.

There has been a trend in recent years towards the commercialisation of festivals.

Whether they are music festivals or literature festivals, many have succumbed to corporate sponsorship and all its limitations.

Overpriced food, a one-brand-of beer bar, and annoying bloody wristbands have all become the norm.

Thankfully, there are still lots of small festivals around the country. These local, often crappy looking festivals fill the void which the expensive festivals have created.

The cheese rolling festival in Gloucestershire is a great example of a community having fun with few resources, except a massive cheese. You never see people wearing wristbands to watch cheese.

The staple festival of the summer however, which happens in every town and village, is the beer festival. Had the Reformation not taken place, I am certain that we would celebrate every Feast Day with a roaring beer festival.

As it stands, the beer festival is a secular event, where the closest thing to a religious experience is the feeling of penance the next day when you wake up with a rotten hangover.

Devizes had its CAMRA beer festival last weekend. As usual, I left it too late to get tickets and the event sold out. That didn’t stop some people however. One man told me in great detail how to crash the event.

“Don’t go before five,” he urged in hushed tones, “or they’ll definitely catch you.”

“Once you’re in just pick up a used glass off the brick wall, wash it out, buy a few tokens and do your best to blend in”.

It sounded all too simple. The only sticking point was the used glass. I didn’t really feel like indirectly kissing a member of CAMRA, who, let’s face it, is likely to have mutton chops the size of Ireland and terrible dental hygiene.

That and the thought of finding bits of beard stuck to the inside of the glass made me a little cautious about the idea.

I decided to investigate the festival first, and make up my mind afterwards. On my way to the wharf – where it is held every year – I reassured myself that it wouldn’t be such a catastrophe if I was caught sneaking in. A little embarrassing, yes, but not an event of any cosmic importance.

As I neared the infamous wall – with spare glasses atop – a man came up to me with a knowing look and whispered, “You won’t have any luck in there”.

My face must have made the shape of a question mark because he lent towards me and sighed the word, “wristbands”.

Wristbands! Bloody wristbands, I thought to myself, as I trudged up the towpath to the nearest wristband-free pub.