Back to Port Eliot: festival reporting by Lauren Elkin

by HRM on August 2, 2011

Part II: Not everything is significant

Rat headBy Saturday morning, the rat head had been knocked over. I noted this with satisfaction as we passed it on our way to the 9 am yoga class, also held in the main house. It was a self-directed Ashtanga class, which meant the teacher kind of meandered around while the students somewhat robotically went through their sun salutation sequences. I find this a somewhat harsh and repetitious form of yoga, and since it was self-directed, we concentrated on doing our own thing. The teacher came round and lightly chastised us for not following the sequences, and asked us to follow along with the rest of the class, which we did. But when Joanna left early, I gave up and went back to doing my own thing, grumbling to myself about the un-freedom of this supposedly free yoga class. The teacher came round to me as I stretched into triangle pose. “I see you’re doing your own practice.” I nodded sideways, mid-pose. “That’s quite alright,” she said, her voice vaguely condescending.

Ben Moor’s “Coelacanth” was the first reading of the day, or more precisely, the first and only one-man show of the day. Coelacanth is the name of a fish, “but this isn’t really a fish tale,” he said, holding a stick aloft, and launching into a tale of love, loss, and tree-climbing that had us all clutching each other with laugher. Ben handed out pins afterward and we attached them to our Barbours and tote-bags. “I have more trees to climb,” they said, and “Not everything is significant.” (I have been trying to learn this for years.)

Caitlin MoranMy friend Natasha and I were nearly crushed by the crowd trying to get in to see Caitlin Moran on Saturday afternoon. Moran, a columnist for the Times, is the wildly popular author of the new book How to Be a Woman, currently a bestseller in England. I had read it the week before the festival, and loved it – Moran takes on seemingly petty issues like the gradual outlawing of body hair on women and the increasingly small bits of fabric that are being sold as knickers, and more serious issues like the impact of the porn industry on our ideas about sex, abortion, and the role of the mother. The book was great, if occasionally a bit cheerleader-y, but I was somewhat afraid that the nearly entirely female gathering would devolve into an revival meeting, Oprah-style. I needn’t have feared: everyone was in remarkably good humor, and no one seemed to have adopted Moran for their savior.

Nasty Little Poets The rest of the afternoon we spent at the Five Dials tent, where we were delighted by a group called the Nasty Little Poets. One by one the poets took the stage and delivered naughty and delightful doggerel, metered, rhymed and razor-sharp. They were followed by the excellent Joe Dunthorne, who led the audience in a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story, and Tiffany Murray, the author of Diamond Star Halo, a novel about a young girl growing up in a rural recording studio, whose reference to “the news of just a few hours ago” made us look at each other quizzically. As dusk fell, Laetitia Sadier, the former lead singer of Stereolab, sang a few songs from her new album, swaying before the microphone like a snake charmer, the lyrics lost in the thickness of her tone. My merry band and I left the premises in order to take in the ironic folk stylings of Hot Brew (a spoof folk duo who promise to take the audience to new levels of “vegetable and spiritual awareness”) and the sea shanties of Fisherman’s Friends (who, since the last time I saw them in 2010, have inked a million-pound deal with Universal Music. Can I pick ‘em or what?).

But the best was yet to come. Walking downhill, I hear the unmistakable sound of Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam.” It’s coming from the Big Top. “That must be Bellowhead,” Joanna says. “Bellowhead?” “Bellowhead.” We go to investigate. And we then spend the next 45 minutes enraptured by the best live band any of us have ever seen, blending sea shanties, 19th century folk songs, and Motown brass. The lead singer is not only extremely good looking, but has a beautiful tenor, and is attending to a tambourine with such frenzied syncopation that it is clear he has abandoned all thoughts of looking ridiculous, and has given himself over to the music. In a flash I realise this is the one true criterion of the perfect mate: someone unafraid to give himself over to the music before a tentful of strangers. I resolve to stop dating men who are afraid to look ridiculous. And I am not alone in this sudden crush: both of my friends, both married with children, are plotting in their heads imaginary mini-breaks to Paris with the lead singer of Bellowhead. We dance until our joints ache and fall asleep that night still high on their joyful buzz.

(Read part one here)

Previous post:

Next post:

ISSN: 2116 34X