Strumpshaw Tree Fair

I found my festival book! I searched the static first – the place of memory papers, no. Bookshelf in house. No. Back to the cabin, perhaps it’s among wood books. No. Back to house and I find it in the office. Here we are then, in a book bought in the year of festivals, from Womad I recall, 2018. 4 years on.

I’m here with MJ to work the coffee caravan of Mats next to the pizzas. I wander of course. The land as I remember it, is plentiful of oaks, some branched, some dieing back, some straight comfortable and full. Not the aristocratic stag headed of Glenham but more modest and plentiful, no deer park here. It’s a dog friendly festival, dogs of all shapes and disposition above all owners glad to be with their companions.

I found out how to spell the name on a sign post. ‘Strumpshaw Livery, no turning’. It had been a long time since I broke my fast on hedgerow fruits, wild yellow small plums so sweet, and even an early blackberry. My morning walk, without a dog, found a circling. I found Buckenham Carr, where I’d been in February last year with Michael watching the mass of crows roost one evening. A delight to find and recall reading mark cockers book Crow Country.

Candy, the organiser introduced herself to me, a woman in a long skirt, clear smiling eyes, long dark hair.

Our team Nelly and Ballam on Pizzas. Nelly so playful with children, none of her own. Ballam, an animal behaviourist inspired by a weeks visit to Knepp: This is how it should be.

Tall Paul, ‘Rachel Kellett? I met you 3 years ago’ he said, after our attempt to remember the word Nelly had taught me, Petrochlor the small of earth after rain. Feels good to learn a new word.

The hurdle man, with his daughter, big boots, shorts, tanned legs. I once aspired to this style but never made it. Not now. It is the time of not now, settling into this realisation . Some days it feels more settled. Like these days.

I had the first cider at tea time, a medium but it was too sweet. The Norfolk Cider Man was from Buckenham, his first salvo was ‘I haven’t ever drunk any hot drink’. Come closing time, he gave freely of his cider, so find myself in a popular corner, hanging out with him, beginning a dance of words, he jiving off on how men destroy our world and women save it, while I try and tempt him back to his life, and how he found these views, but he would have none of it, saw the orchestration and deflected! Lord and Lama, the eastern traders, joined, hurdleman and his daughter. Finally Stephen, the cider man, got out the game, the rod of steel, the plinth with a flat plate on top, to hold a piece of oak (a womans head traditionally), and 6 oak sticks to throw. He measured out the distance between the steel rod and the balanced sally – yes, the game is Aunt Sally. We played, and with a hint from Stephen, I threw underarm and got it. What simple joy!

I slept fitfully, wondering where I was in my life, parked under a generous chestnut, wondering what I was doing in a smelly Mazda metal van. Missing a camper! But I was here, and camping, and in a room full of grass and trees and what more could I want.

Michael came for a while and left Bobji, who played gleefully with Mat’s boys – children love dogs who obey their commands, and never get tired of play.

Morning walk with Bobji this time, cutting out of the southern end of the festival, so finding a field edge of horses graves: ‘Barnaby Our lovable Rogue, never a dull moment.’ We walked to the Yare river, peaceful and inviting before turning back to be in time for morning coffees.

I found Wakelyns here. A young vibrant girl, Fey, who talked like a river in full flow, described the place where she now worked to a customer passing, and I recognised it with her words. She had that morning sprained ankle, but still that did not stop her moving from whittling with families to experimenting with natural dyes.

I found HS &TB, the place I sought. Three years ago (thank you Tall Paul for reminding me of this time) I’d first come Strumpshaw and met her, an older woman, working away at a lathe, and I smelt a story and promised myself I would return one day and find it, perhaps even write it down. Too late. Too late. She died November last year. Tilly explained: ‘I was not looking forward to coming here, the first time here without Harriet and knowing I would have to explain to all who asked. But it’s been good. She said, before running over to save her young child from being entangled in some ribbon.

Photographs from Strumpshaw 2018

The breaking up, the deconstruction, taking down of flags, deflating of tents, gazibos lowered, trailers strapped. Young children play catching the ball with bobji. The oaks reclaim their space and shade. Hatchbacks shut, tail gates up. MJ helps a man lift his gazibo to his roof rack. The cider man finds the help of Lord and Lama to lift his apple presses to his trailer. ‘Did I tell you not only do I have 3 daughters, but they too have daughters?’ he says.
See you next year, I say.

Meanwhile on a different landmass, in Afghanistan the Taliban have reached Kabul. Fears of the 1990’s prevail. I am glad to be a woman here not there today.

2 thoughts on “Strumpshaw Tree Fair”

  1. What a beautiful piece of writing and I delved into other pieces you have written. So many similar souls do gather at our Fair, we read the same books, follow all that nature reveals and never have enough time to talk and get to know each other. It would be lovely one day for us all to sit in a wood and just talk…

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