Gathered Knowledge

Pilsdon Manor

Leaving the hilltop chapel of St Catherine, after a stormy night’s sleep, we descend her hill toward the coast.

Stamping the gusty sea-shore, the pathway is half-buried by drifting sand, and we almost trip over it. Along we go, stopping only to rest, curled up on the spiky tussocks that bulge from the seaside loam.

dorset-hills1We soon reach Burton Bradstock, a merry seaside resort with a small stylish café, very much a Sunday Times Style territory. Its name reminds us of a 1930s film star, but whoever he was, he’s no longer around. We leave, away from the roads and up the hills, northward to Bridport. We find turnips, clamber round floods and over wire, and over wide agricultural landscapes, to suddenly arrive atop a horseshoe valley immediately west of the town. We loop down like skiers, to the left and the right, to enter the urbanity. It is raining, and late in the day, and we take shelter by the fire of the Woodman’s Inn, where we eat soup and sing when asked. We meet a performance poet called Angry Man, who offers for us to record with him. It sounds like a grand opportunity, and we take a number for the morning.

We are then given the name of a fellow running the open mic session in another pub, so along we trot. This turns into quite a night, for as soon as we enter, drinks ar given, and we are immediately invited to stay with a lady who is celebrating her birthday.

We say hello to a lively gang, then are given the stage, following from some ace tabla and sitar players, and a Jimi Hendrix cover band. We deftly refuse amplification, and the technicians are surprised, then pleased and relaxed. We sing, people dance, and it is lovely.
We are then bombarded with drinks and talk, and we follow the good birthday people to the next venue, for much more of the same. Then the birthday girl falls out with her boyfriend, with all explosions.
A cheery chap called Nick comes up, and tells us he has a fine place, with room enough for us to stay. Out we go, all oozing cheerios and drunk thanks, and 20 yards down the alley are taken into a car park, with a corner covered by a high tin roof. Unstoppable sodium light seeps through our eyelids, but the fine drizzle blowing sideways is a wonder for cooling our overheated faces. Good Night Bridport.

We awaken, and Nick, who led us to this shelter, is grinning with two big tins of sausage and beans for breakfast. We thank him, but cannot persuade ourselved to eat meat from a tin so early on. So we head to town, buy bananas and busk. At first we sing by the butchers, and then we move to the Post Office, where there is a constant flow of socializing people. The butcher runs after us down the street, with a bag of freshly cooked bacon sandwiches and pies. We thought he might was about to complain we were sounding rough this morning. Thank-you butcher. We take tea, and sing to a coachful of day-tripping old folk, and talk romance in a café with an OAP called Jill.

For recovery from our adventures, we find the Bridport health food shop, and buy fruit. We tell our tale to the ladies there, and they seem worried by Bridport’s effect. We are given directions to a community, not 10 miles away, that they say would be good for us. It seems a good tip, so we follow it.

A few hours later, with a short fast stretch along a whizzing deep-cut country road, we reach the place where we should find this community. We have no idea what to expect. We are lost, in the dusk, when we spot a painted wooden sign amongst the nettles, which points us down the lane. We follow, and come to a gate, a little after dark. Peering in to se if there is anyone about, we jump, as a cry rings out – “Wayfarers!” – and immediately a lady emerges to pull us into the house’s warm kitchen, to ask if we’re vegetarian, to tell us when dinner is eaten, and to show us our beds, before we’ve had a chance to say hello there.
henris-visit-devon-cornwall-032
We learn at dinner that this is a Christian guided dry-house, a safe rock for people to step upon, between trouble and the cold world. With subtle motifs of Christianity and work, it welcomes any who need succour.

We meet all sorts of people, each with many stories to tell. We are told of the Gorsedd sites, we sing to the assorted loung and chapelfuls of people, and we have space to read. Duringthe days, we join in the community labour, and find ourselves shovelling old donkey manure as fast as we can, determined to do more than is required. We find ourselves running, to speed our barrow-loads to their vegetable garden destiny.

henris-visit-devon-cornwall-031We spend two nights here, which is technically against their rules, but no-one minds. We investigate their chapel, which has straw-bales for pews. Everyone is happy to get stuck in, and no-one asks questions of each others’ past. It is a refreshing and gentle time, a necessary breath after the recent madness. We didn’t really clocked how tired we were getting, till we stopped moving.

Many thanks to the good people of Pilsdon, for the surprising and beautiful support.

Singing with old folk in Lyndhurst

We arrive in Lyndhurst, to find Cranleigh Paddock, the care-home venue of our first gig. We are fresh out the forest, from the roundhouses where we’ve been building to keep ourselves hidden and warm.

Ed in his New Forest home.

Ed's little dwelling

We are welcomed in with coffee and biscuits, served in ‘World’s Best Gran’ and ‘Everton FC’ mugs. Will takes sugar. It’s all pretty show-biz.

Then Andrew arrives, who invited us there, and we are introduced to the carers.

A tape player is plugged and loaded, sheets of lyrics passed about, and into each person’s hand is pressed an appropriate drum, clacker or shaker, to each hand the right toy. This is the care home’s fortnightly music morning, and if we are a little unsure of the plan from here onwards, everyone else knows exactly what the score is. The whole main room is full of sofas, the heating is on ‘full to drowsy’, and deep within the softened chairs linger small shaking humans, whose eyes do not seem to focus on the world around them. They all appear healthy, if fragile, but absent.

Then Andrew presses play on the tapedeck, and a recording of ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ starts. He joins in with his oboe, dancing like an imp from chair to chair, a mad sprite of lively prancing leaps and soaring counter-melodies. As he passes each resident, he smiles or squeezes their hands, and they pick up the beat he seems to exude like an aura. Soon, nearly everyone is joined together in the rhythmic accompaniment, and the whole lounge is tinkling, clapping and ringing with the music of 50 people. Even those who twenty seconds ago seemed most distant, are now here and fully involved, shaking to the lilting tune and tapping their feet. Some folk sing along. We are the quietest, watching stunned, absolutely amazed at this transformation.

“What happened? What did you do?” we ask Andrew after the song. He laughs, and says “It’s music. It does that. I’m sure you must know.” More songs follow, and Andrew’s oboe dance enlivens the people time and again. He takes a rest after 20 minutes, and introduces us as “men who are walking round England, living out in the woods. They’re folk-singers.”

We find we are by no means as smooth or confident in performance as Andrew, but we soon get in the flow of it. People again sing along, in warbles if not lyrics, and it feels a little like statues are turning their heads to watch, as the eyes of the residents focus on our bobbling songs.

wrinklers

The audience may be captive, but they are also receptive, and we are given full uninterrupted time to try and paint the stories of the songs. As we finish, an old dear grabs Ed, and says “You’ve come to take me out of here, haven’t you? I’m to come with you walking, aren’t I?” We don’t know what to say, and so mutter about staying outside, and it being so dreadfully cold at night. She looks crestfallen, but understanding, and then folds into her sofa in silence.

As the music ends, the last shaken tinkling fades, stillness returns to the room. The shaking instruments lie limp in hands that now rest on laps, and eyes glaze all across the room. Andrew packs up his gear, and explains about the academic studies that he has helped to publish, showing how music can alleviate dementia.

“Many of the people here are chronic, but they respond like children to the music of their early lives. Sometimes its all the nurses can do to stop them dancing away, when I play a foxtrot, or a waltz.”

We’re then invited to lunch, and told “Well, my family know all about you. Jenny, my wife, has made bread, and the children have made soup. They won’t be around, it’s a school day, but they hope you’ll like it.”

And so we went and ate, talked, and sung, with our good new friends in the fine New Forest.