Sidmouth Folk Week is underway just down the road from me – one of the most colourful, vibrant, creative and exciting events of the local calendar.
After three months without writing, it seems as good a time as any for a catch-up post.
I first bumped into this crazy maelstrom of Morris dancers and music 30 years ago, when in July 1986 I started work as a trainee reporter on the Sidmouth Herald.
As a 21-year-old, desperate for a foot on the journalism ladder, I’d taken the job offered in this sedate, seaside town, thinking it would be a start, even though there was a bigger world out there waiting to be discovered.
I remember my shock, awed surprise, the first day of the festival. The noise – music, singing, the jangling of the Morris dancers bells. The people – everywhere, every open space, every corner, every chair in every pub, walking along every back street. The smell – food, drink, bodies all mixed in together. The colour – costumes, instruments, crafts, tents, painted faces.
In those days visiting teams of dancers came from the across the globe, fantastic, and a real privilege, to see such a broad display of different cultures, whilst sitting under the stars of a damp August evening at the open-air arena.
There were performers and artistes at the top of the folk world and more, and they still return today.
It was as if every pore of the place was alive. It was thrilling.
Sitting at the Ham, one of the main hubs, on Sunday lunchtime I reflected how the festival has been a reference point.
It was in this particular week 25 years ago that I first bought my own house. The couple who’d sold were also great festival goers. I remember a hasty handover of the keys. Unpacking of boxes could wait till the dancing was over.
In a strange repeat of that, my mum also moved during festival week, to a flat in Sidmouth last year – a new start after the death of my father.
In work, I moved on from the Sidmouth Herald after a couple of years, but as a reporter with the regional newspaper and then local BBC radio I continued to “cover” the festival year after special year.
It was just before festival week five years ago that I made a fairly momentous decision to leave work, abandon my journalism career and do something else with my life.
It hasn’t turned out quite as I imagined. But then I could never have imagined how it would turn out: fifty marathons completed, £6,500 raised for dementia; several community events organised, locally marking the Queen’s Jubilee, the Olympics, and annual fundraisers for village charities; writing and publishing a children’s story; planning a marathon celebrating 50 years of women’s endurance running (more of that another day).
Through it all, the festival has been a constant, like an exciting best friend returning to visit year after year.
I never did seek those bright city lights as a young reporter I’d dreamed of.
Now I never will. Nor do I want to.
Despite not “working” I’ve never stopped doing and I’ve never stopped writing. And it was nice to discover (having just looked at the stats) that some of my old blogs are still being read.
I’m happy to reach out to our global community in other ways, and for the first week in August every year, to let it come to my door.
Thank you Sidmouth Festival. You mean the world to me.
My dog Freddie – his first visit to the festival last year.