Black Deer steers family towards Country

13 Jul

Ignoring worries of line dancing and Dolly Parton on repeat, I left the cosy confines of my home with an open mind and an unnecessary amount of camping kit to attend the first Black Deer Festival.

The festival was held in the picturesque setting of Eridge Park, reputed as the oldest enclosed deer park in England. After voicing my concerns about stags massacring the tents, I was reassured that they had been moved for the weekend and were not, as I feared, being prepared for a live fire stage cooking demonstration.

Quicker and cheaper than a flight to Dallas – albeit a long walk from the car park – we were swiftly transported to a new world. The world of Americana and Country.

Site of Blsck DeerThe Black Deer campsite at dusk.

The site itself resembled a friendly set of sci-fi TV show West World – peppered with Stetsons, booze, barbecue food and music. It was a genius move by the organisers to put the bar next to the children’s Young Folk area.

black Deer entrance .jpgMillie Smith entering The Black Deer Festival

The security high tower overseeing the campsite was disconcerting, however it was benevolently useful when locating free-range children, not a problem for my kids as they spent a majority of the time suspended from a tree, courtesy of one of the many Young Folk activities.

The festival was clearly borne of passion and hard work with people at the centre of its operation, creating a community, supporting emerging talents and feeding new experiences with music and stories.

Haley’s Bar was a moving tribute to the brother of Black Deer’s Co-Founder, Gill Tee’s, who was killed at 19 years old. His music was the soundtrack to her youth – he had been an avid guitarist and country music fan. Her mission was a party that would have made him proud.

The Supajam Stage showcased emerging and established artists and was run by the Supajam organisation, who educate disadvantaged and vulnerable young adults. An excellent opportunity for them, but a risky move for a festival in its first year which paid off.

In my opinion, music and planning do not make a festival, good people and atmosphere do, both in staff and visitors. And they got this right. Strangers spoke, visitors shared experiences, and all were intoxicated with the atmosphere of appreciation.

Amidst the music and daily fixtures, the festival featured a morning 5k run and yoga session to escape the noise and explore the beautiful surroundings if they wanted too.

Kids were encouraged to explore the festival and their freedom, building their own adventure playground/town and high-top tree climbing, courtesy of Woodland Tribe. The hilarious Herbie Treehead was a must-see not least to check out his impressive song collection.

children lost in a tree .jpgThe children tree climb in the Young Folk area

Kiefer Sutherland, known more for his films than his music, was seen walking amongst the crowd after his set. I still haven’t forgiven my children for missing this!

Kiefer wasn’t the only sacrifice I made as a festival-going mum. Despite the family friendly-atmosphere and activities, playing host to five children (!) inevitably meant we saw little of the live music offering but at least we enjoyed the music which carried across to our tent, and still felt part of the overall experience.

The Black Deer Festival afforded my children the freedom to roam and I, as a parent the opportunity to let go – something we rarely experience in everyday life and hope to revisit again next year.

The Black Deer Festival ran between Friday 22nd June – Sunday 23rd June 2018, at                Eridge Green Tunbridge Wells, Frant, Tunbridge Wells TN3 9JT

For more information,

Next year’s Black Deer Festival runs – Friday 21st June – Sunday 23rd June 2019

Festival Finale – Things WILL only get better

21 May

SwindonLitFes_2018_0020_Jacob_Hi_Ho&Darine_Flanagan_previewAt the finale of the Finale of the Swindon Festival of Literature, circus performer Darine carried Jake and the festival into a new era – next year it morphs into Spring Swindon Festival of the arts.

One could be forgiven for feeling reflective. Laura, of musical act the Glow Globes, observed, “Is it a little melancholy tonight because it has been 25 years and things are going to change?”

A film showed us the growth of the festival from a programme of twelve events to over fifty. “Who told us festivals to look forward to this week include the Cannes Festival and Swindon Festival of Literature?” festival director Matt Holland asked in a short audience quiz. The answer was Radio 2. Continue reading

Change the pictures, change the world – Kate Raworth and Doughnut Economics

21 May
Kate Raworth

Kate Raworth

Kate Raworth wanted to change the world. She tried it in a village in Zanzibar. She tried it in the UN, and then at Oxfam.

But her days as an economics student came back to haunt her. How could a ‘social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services’ (Wikipedia) be so far removed from ‘real-world economic challenges’? In all her forays into social justice, she banged herself against an economic brick wall. It’s impossible to create lasting change when the system itself is wrong.

Kate decided the main problem was the wrong pictures. Surely money, you may ask? But no, pictures – with a glut of blank spaces for people to fall into. University economics 101 uses a series of very memorable diagrams by a young US professor, Paul Samuelson, drawn after the second world war. These pictures, Kate said, sit at the back of visual cortex and influence our thoughts.

Just as memorable (read: creepy) was his aim for them: he wanted to ‘lick the blank slate of the mind’. You may recognise their simplistic black marks – the ones where a line starts at the bottom corner of the graph and zooms off to the top (GDP and unlimited growth); or a toilet door-style man whose only concern is how much things cost and how much he has to spend; or those hump back hill ones where some people lose out at the start before everyone starts to win; or where horrible waste is made, but don’t worry because prosperity will clean it up.  Continue reading

What the kenning? – Matt Harvey, writing workshop

21 May
Matt Harvey at the Festival Finale

Matt Harvey at the Festival Finale

Kenning, according to Matt Harvey, is a way of describing things and their function through creative language and metaphor.

Make sense? No, me neither at first. But, as he explained further it did, with his sharing of work and examples along the way: blood as battle dew, clouds as God’s pocket fluff, and slugs as soft-horned invisigoths.

It is a process that is taught to children. Books are even written about it: Valerie Blooms’  Things to do with Kids Kennings an example of one Matt explained. And, it was to be an important part of our first task. This was a workshop after all; a fact which I had appeared to have forgotten over a leisurely lunch and a spell in the sunshine in the serene surroundings of Lower Shaw Farm. Continue reading

Swindon Think Slam – prompting thought as opposed to answering questions

21 May
Martin Hawes

Martin Hawes

Will Self shared at his talk on Tuesday his fear that some people attend Literature Festivals in lieu of reading – as if an author event will provide a quick literature fix. And at my first Think Slam, I was conscious of doing just that.

I am not well versed in philosophy. An ex-partner who studied a degree in English and philosophy once joked to friends: “she thought that Plato was a ceramics company.” I didn’t – honestly – but it was a low blow to someone uninitiated to the subject.

Therefore, as a way of introduction, I was grateful to hear that the evenings’ second competitor, George Dowling, would be answering the question What is Philosophy? Continue reading

Dad’s the word at father-themed festival event

20 May
Dr Anna Machin and Rebecca Stott

Dr Anna Machin and Rebecca Stott

My mind was still reeling from the subject of kids – or rather Kids Company and its charismatic founder Camila Batmanghelidjh – when I sat down to listen to two authors talk about fatherhood.

Dr Anna Machin was billed to talk about The Life of Dad: a study of the changing nature of fatherhood, and the physical psychological changes a man goes through when he becomes a dad.

The changing nature of fatherhood, huh? I guess 50 years ago I might have come home from work, hung up my trilby and trenchcoat, pulled on my slippers, and smoked my pipe while my wife put tea on the table. The children – if they weren’t reading books or painting a go-kart – would be playing with tin toys at my feet. Continue reading

Another Girl Another Planet

18 May
Libby Jackson

Libby Jackson

Space travel’s in my blood
There ain’t nothing I can do about it
Another Girl Another Planet – The Only Ones (1978)

The entertainment industry has always been better at putting women into space than the scientific community, and when women have left the earth’s atmosphere – or even got close to the launchpad – their achievements are likely overshadowed by those of their male counterparts.

Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhura (1966) Jane Fonda’s Barbarella (1968), Ripley from Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986), Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone from Gravity (2013) – we know and love them all. But Valentina Tereshkova? Svetlana Savitskaya? Liu Yang? Show of hands… Anyone?

Author Libby Jackson touched down at Swindon Festival of Literature on Thursday to help celebrate some of these unsung women (as an aside, she didn’t have to travel 25 trillion miles to get to the Arts Centre – unbeknownst to those who booked her, she lives in Swindon’s Old Town). Continue reading