On Day Ten I had a long journey to make to my next performance – all the way to RSPB Frampton Marsh in Lincolnshire. When I planned the journey, this was only going to be a relatively manageable bike ride from West Burton Power station, just a couple of miles from the border with Lincolnshire. One week before my tour started everything changed: Reclaim the Power was re-located from Nottinghamshire to Balcombe, Sussex. So here I was putting my bike on a train, cycling across London and getting a train to Peterborough, and a second to Spalding, Lincolshire.
As soon as I was out of the town I knew I was in a distinctive landscape. Everywhere was flat. By the side of the road were wide drainage ditches filled with rushes and the sound of grasshoppers. It was certainly easy to cycle round here.
Although I passed Frampton Marsh on my approach to Boston, I didn’t want to go straight there. I wanted to check into my campsite for the night, just a few miles east of Boston. After quickly putting up my tent and having a much-needed shower and shave I turned around and cycled out.
I approached different venues on my tour for a number of reasons and some were interested and some were not. Obviously, they needed to be roughly on my journey going from Huddersfield to Reclaim the Power in Nottinghamshire and then from there to London. So there was no point approaching venues in Newcastle or Bristol. Beyond that, though, I approached different places where there might be audiences who might respond to the piece. I ended up with a nice balance of storytelling projects, libraries, protest camps and transition cafés. Why RSPB Frampton Marsh?
‘The Boy Who Dreamed Only Ice’ is set in a town somewhere on the east coast of England. Near the town is a nature reserve where geese normally spend the winter. Except in the winter before the story begins, they never came. Without giving any of the rest of the story away, geese have a leading role in the piece. (This possibly goes back to the fact that inspiration for the story came on the bike ride home from watching Christine MacMahon’s show, ‘Goosewing’.) I was looking forward to doing this performance at the RSPB reserve looking out on to the marshes where real geese do indeed come from the arctic to winter, just as other geese do at different places all over the Wash.
Here’s another co-incidence, another case of everything connecting. On August 17th, while I was at the Reclaim the Power camp, the news came through that the RSPB was objecting to proposals for fracking in Lancashire and West Sussex: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23730308
Alas, it was not to be. At quarter to six I was there ready to do the show for young children and their families, ‘Tales of the Far North’. All locked up. Well, there was clearly a problem, but I couldn’t just leave. I had a performance of ‘The Boy Who Dreamed Only Ice’ at 7pm. I walked around the site for an hour. At 7pm no-one was at the reserve and I cycled back to the campsite, stopping for a bite to eat on the way home.
What was the cause of the problem? A misunderstanding about the date? Impossible, I had the itinerary printed out and had already checked it several times and matched it with the date on my train ticket. They must have cancelled- by email. Only one problem with that. I hadn’t accessed emails for six days, since I was in Doncaster.
The next day I set out in good time. I had a long day’s cycling ahead of me – about sixty miles to Cambridge. I wanted to avoid busy roads too. This would slow me down, of course, but I thought I would still have plenty of time to make my performance in Cambridge at 7.30pm. Having made the call to Frampton Marsh and having established that, yes, they had emailed me a couple of days earlier to cancel the show because of lack of bookings I set out with renewed purpose across the flat landscape. The quiet lanes were a pleasure to cycle. A truly distinctive flat landscape and the only first time in my life I’d seen fields full of vegetables. A field full of courgettes followed a field full of cauliflowers. I wondered if anyone ever came and nicked any of them.
This is a windy landscape, too. Ever since I’d got off the train at Spalding I’d seen huge wind turbines and there were more today. But there were old windmills too, many of them without their sails but some in full working order. At Moulton at about mid-morning I saw a sign off the road for teas and coffees in a windmill. http://www.explorelincolnshire.co.uk/things-to-do/moulton-windmill-35739.html Perfect. It was fully restored and was staffed by retired volunteers. I ordered my coffee and Eccles cake and would have loved to have gone on the next tour around the windmill but I was told that they lasted an hour and I couldn’t lose time.
This tour has been full of slightly uncanny connections and resonances and there were more on this leg. Here I was on a tour responding to climate change and seeing windmills of the past and present. Well, that could be explained. Energy generation -of whatever form- is there, wherever you look. While how about these coincidences? The owner of the campsite I’d stayed at on the previous night was a builder and expert in energy efficient buildings and had designed the reserve at RSPB named Antony. Antony was a retired doctor who, without any encouragement or signal from me, started to tell me about his two great interests: renewable energy, particularly tidal power and puppetry. He was interested in my project and we talked about ways in which storytelling could be combined with puppetry. He even invited me to visit and learn more about puppetry.
Towards Cambridge, the land became even more Fen-like. Thatched cottages started to appear too. I was getting tired now. The day’s journey was probably sixty miles or so.
When you’re travelling like this, you appreciate and remember little moments of kindness. As I entered Cambridge, I asked a fellow cyclist directions for the train station as I knew my performance was near there. She started to explain and then said that the journey was on her route. Why didn’t I follow her? It was a pleasant ten minutes on auto-pilot and quite a complicated route that would have slowed me down became easy.
And then, I’d found the venue, the CB1 café on Mill Road. After photocopying a few fliers in a shop next door (lucky!) and wolfing down a Subway on the other side I entered the café with fifteen minutes to spare.
Anna was there to welcome me. Anna is the chairperson of Cambridge Transition Town who were hosting the evening along with Cambridge Storytellers. What is a Transition Town? You might be asking. Here’s a definition of the first ever transition town in Totnes, Devon. “Transition Town Totnes (TTT) is a dynamic, community-led and run charity that exists to strengthen the local economy, reduce the cost of living and build our resilience for a future with less cheap energy and a changing climate.” http://www.transitiontowntotnes.org/
Why not google the name of your town, city or village with the words ‘transition town’ and see what comes up!
It was a pleasant evening with a receptive audience and a good host. But I wasn’t completely pleased with my performance. It had been ten days since the last time I had performed ‘The Boy Who Dreamed Only Ice’ (as opposed to ‘Tales from the Far North’) and I felt a bit rusty, even though I’d run through it all, out loud on the bike as I’d cycled to Cambridge. Also, I was really tired. Earlier this year, I’d read Simon Armitage’s book ‘Walking Home’. The book describes the poet’s walking journey on the Pennine Way, north to south, doing poetry performances each night on the trip. He lives in my area and earlier this year I was kindly invited by some campaigners at my local library a ‘lock in’ at the library (my phrase, not theirs) where Simon Armitage talked about the book and read poems. He talked about the relentlessness of it all. When he was walking he was worrying about performing, when he was performing he was worrying about the next day’s performance. Day-by-day, he was struggling with getting more and more tired. I felt a little bit like that this evening as I stumbled my way to the final words of the show. I was looking forward to tomorrow. I would be cycling from Cambridge to London, another fifty miles or so, but there was no gig in the evening. Just a bed for the night at an old friends’ house.
Another act of kindness. Ten miles before Cambridge I’d seen a small local library. I’d asked if I could use their computers and they agreed. There I dashed through a whole pile of emails including that one from the RSPB and one from Anna, asking me if I’d like to stay at her place.
So after the show we went back to Anna’s house, met her housemates and I wound down. I remember a conversation about the dash for gas and the positive alternatives to it, both in terms of generating electricity and in terms of domestic heating. Then it was time to sleep.
In the morning after breakfast I was off again. Anna had left just a few minutes before and left a home grown apple on my bike seat. Another nice touch.
It was a long day of cycling through beautiful countryside and past rich people’s houses. I hadn’t realised Hertfordshire was so scenic or contained so many thatched cottages or houses with a date from the 1600s written on it. The last twenty miles were along the River Lea, bringing me on the traffic free towpath all the way into east London- Stansted Abbots, Waltham Cross, Enfield, Tottenham and just before Hackney Marshes I turned off. Leytonstone was home for the night.