I thought I’d post about my holidays this year – I’ve not done it sooner because I’ve been a bit pre-occupied with health stuff!
First off, over Easter I went camping with my sister’s family in Wales. We stayed at Abererch Sands, which is on the Llyn Peninsula, just between Pwllheli and Criccieth.
We all arrived at the campsite at lunchtime on the Thursday, and went on a part of the site where both caravans and tents could be pitched. It took me quite a while to get my tent up – I’d recently been getting tired really quickly (which I later discovered to be because of heart failure!), so I paced myself with it, and Brandon and Chloe occasionally broke away from playing frisbee to help a little bit when an extra pair of hands were needed. Vikky and Andy set up their caravan on one side of the field so they could plug into a heavy-duty electrical hook-up, whereas I pitched up on the opposite side, and made use of the electrical hook-up for tents. It was the first time I’d had electricity whilst camping, and it really does make a difference! I’d bought a small powered fridge to use for the week, plus a camping kettle which mean I could boil water much quicker than usual!
The next day – Good Friday – the sun was out again, so we went over to the beach for a bit, and the kids enjoyed building sandcastles and playing badminton, and then we went back to the site where they played frisbee whilst the rest of us chilled out a bit.
The following morning, I took the train to Criccieth to meet up with Dave and Abbie Bateman, who were on holiday there at his parent’s holiday home, so we had a late breakfast at a cafe called Cadwaladers, which is apparently famous for its ice creams, and I can attest to it tasting very good!
It was nice to see Dave again, and also get to know Abbie a bit more. I can’t think how long it’s been since we last met up – I think I’d seen them since the wedding, but I’m not totally sure! After I’d left them on the sea front for them to meet up with family for lunch, I made my way back up the hill to get myself some fish and chips, which tasted amazing, and then had a look around the ruins of Criccieth Castle, which was at the top of a pretty steep mound which wore me out a bit, but the views of the surrounding area were totally stunning.
I got the 3pm train back to the campsite – well, the timetable said 3pm, but it was delayed by 20 minutes, so I got back about 3.30pm. Although I nearly missed my stop, because you have to request for the train to stop there, and the conductor hadn’t been through the carriage to check my ticket, so I had to go and find them to ask the driver to stop seconds before we were about to pass through it!
I’d bought a steak in Criccieth so cooked that on my stove for tea, and then later on, as it started getting dark, Andy and the kids melted marshmallows over the barbeque (after Brandon spent ages searching for suitable twigs to use!)
Easter Sunday again was a nice sunny day, so at lunchtime drove to Pwelli, and had a walk around a market before going over to the funfair. Me and Andy went of the ghost train, which was particularly poor – it was pretty much over before it began! The kids wouldn’t go onto it because they were scared, but they’d have been totally fine! They’re not that adventurous when it comes to rides, and only went on the dodgems and a kid’s ride that went round at a pretty pedestrian pace.
Andy had been really keen to do spatchcock chicken on the barbeque for Easter Sunday, so had bought 2 chickens to cook for our evening meal, but he lit it quite late, and it took ages to heat up, so we ended up having a very late dinner, although it was really nice! The kids had decided they didn’t want chicken, so there was loads left! We then played a pretty competitive game of Cluedo before settling down for bed – the temperature has really dropped so I made sure I was wearing lots of layers in my sleeping bag!
On the Bank Holiday Monday, we took a trip to Harlech Castle, and because it was the Easter weekend, there were displays of archery, mediaeval battles, birds of prey, and an Easter egg hunt with clues hidden all around the castle and grounds.
I went up one of the towers, but had to stop half way to rest and get my breath back. In hindsight, I now know it was because of my heart problems, but I just put it down to being unfit.
We eventually found all the clues, so Brandon and Chloe each got a chocolate egg and a flag, and we had coffee and cake in the castle’s cafe before making the steep walk back to the car. Apparently Harlech has the steepest street in the world, and I can well believe it!
The next morning was spent taking the tent down and packing up, which always takes way longer than you expect! We left around lunchtime, and since I was travelling home via Llandudno, caught up with Emma and Zoe, who I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. Bought lunch from Asda which we ate by the (empty) sea-front paddling pool, then went for coffee at Starbucks!
My next camping trip was 7 weeks after coming out of hospital, so I was a bit worried about how I’d fare setting my tent up, and sleeping in it for a week! It was NSN at the Staffordshire showground – it’s run by Soul Survivor, whose festivals I’ve been attending for over 20 years!
When I arrived at lunchtime on Saturday, it was pretty rainy, and due to numbers they were pitching the tents quite close to each other. There were two girls setting up a tent next to mine, so we decided to help each other, which made putting the tent up a lot easier.
But it was so wet, and by the time I was all set up, my clothes were totally soaked through – I even had to go into Stafford to buy myself a dry coat because the one I’d brought with me was so wet!
Even though I was camping on my own, I met up with some friends from Coton Green back in Tamworth, so spent some of the time with them. And over the week I bumped into a few others I knew so was nice briefly catching up with them.
It rained for a lot of the week which was a bit of a shame, which meant I wasn’t able to do that much cooking on my camping stove – on the Tuesday afternoon, I went out for a pub lunch with Tom Green who was over from Oman for a holiday, so we’d arranged for him to get the train to Stafford to meet up. On the penultimate night, I got to see a magic set from John Archer, who I’ve seen supporting Tim Vine a couple of times, and who also appeared on this year’s Britain’s Got Talent.
And then on the last afternoon, we went out for the best meal of the week – a carvery at a nearby pub! I reckon a roast dinner is my favourite meal, so a carvery really ticks all the boxes!
It was a bit of a strange week in many ways – this is the last year that Soul Survivor are putting a festival, and I think the first year I went was in 1998, and although I missed a few years in the late 2000s, there had been quite a few years when I’d gone for multiple weeks, and also years when I’d worked on the Underground urban venue! I tried to work out exactly how long I’d spent in total on a campsite somewhere at a Soul Survivor festival, and it actually work out at half a year, which is crazy!
And then my final time away was at Greenbelt in Northamptonshire. The last time I’d been was back in 2012, and the weather was so bad, and there was so much mud which was really grim!
My friend Claire from Bristol messaged me a couple of weeks earlier saying that she and Ali were going to be on a stall there selling wooden games, and would I like to come and help out? I initially said no, because I didn’t really want to do another stint of camping this year, and also I recall the toilets and showers at Greenbelt not being that great! Also, I wasn’t sure how I’d manage with the long days, with me still in a bit of a recovery phase. But after thinking about it, I decided that I’d do it, but rather than camp, I’d stay in a nearby hotel and drive onto the site each day!
Claire, Ali and a lad called Will had gone the day before to set up, but I’d had a doctor’s appointment, so couldn’t get there until the Friday. After checking into my hotel in Kettering, I went onto site, and eventually made it to the ET Games tent.
We were selling three different games, and it was set up so people could just come along and play, and hopefully get them hooked! On the first night I saw uni-friend Michyla who was there as a punter, and on the Sunday night briefly saw Eddie Johnson (formerly of the Austin Francis Connection, and who I originally met at Greenbelt), and I don’t think I’ve seen him in person since shooting the ‘Everybody Knows Dave‘ music video!
The weather was amazing – in fact if anything, it was too hot! Also, since I’m not supposed to drink more than 2 litres of liquid a day, it was really hard to keep hydrated, and I did go over a little bit drinking water to cope with the heat!
There were five of us on the stall – Claire’s cousin Siobhan arrived on Saturday lunchtime to join us – so we were able to take occasional breaks to go and see some of the performances taking place on site.
On Saturday lunchtime I got to see poet Manchester Tony Walsh read some of his poetry. I’d met him quite a few times through work when James was producing the ‘This Is The Place’ book, but I’d never got to see him performing live. I was sat near the front, but he didn’t recognise me… it wasn’t until I posted a picture on Twitter the next day that he replied and said he’d seen me in the tent, but couldn’t work out who I was out of context!
Also on the Saturday, I went to see Barbara Nice do one of her infamous raffles! I first saw her at Lee & Katie’s wedding, where I first though she was one of the staff at the Stockport Plaza, until she started raffling off prizes like HP sauce and a Fray Bentos pie! She was also on this year’s Britain’s Got Talent (they filmed her intro video at the end of my street!), and Lee is now her agent, so I thought I should go along! She was very funny, and I took Siobhan along because she’d shared a car from the station with Janice (who plays Barbara), and was surprised by how different she looked in character!
Later on, Russell Brand was in the main Big Top, which was pretty much opposite our stall, so I got to hear that, even though I wasn’t in there. It was quite interesting, but I’m never sure how much is a performance and how much is really him – I remember seeing an interview with him from quite a few years ago where he was much more restrained than his image now, so it always makes me think about who the real person is!
Sunday night, and I managed to get across to the Big Top to see Frank Turner playing there with his band – I only know a couple of his songs, but it was a really good, energetic set, and the crowd were really up for it!
On the Monday, we dropped some of the prices slightly to try and sell a few extra games, which seemed to work, and I basically stayed on the stall all day until leaving at about 8.30pm, because I had an appointment with the doctor at the heart clinic the following day. I felt a bit bad leaving the others to set-down, but I couldn’t miss my appointment.
I think that’s my trips for this year all done – I enjoyed being at Greenbelt, but I don’t think I’d go as a regular punter again though. I really liked spending time with our little team, but generally I find some aspects of the festival a bit problematic. I guess I’ve always felt that way, and when I’ve gone before, it’s been mainly to hang out with my Bristol friends, and then just go to the bits I was okay with. With Soul Survivor gone, I’m going to need to find a new festival fix!