A few months ago I wrote a post as I swanned about a glamp site in Northern Goa. Upon our arrival, beautiful men in white tennis shoes waded effortlessly through the sand that lay like an Arabian desert between the reception tent and the door of our tent, with our suitcases and endless bags atop their heads. Palm fronds waved like old friends and I was filled with a welcome disbelief as I stepped out of the searing Goan heat and into a room awash with white. A split system churned above and I concluded this was my type of glamping paradise.
Last Friday morning came about quickly after a busy week of farewells in Paris. On Thursday afternoon I was thrilled to get a message from friends who happen to live in the same street as me in Melbourne, advising that they were in Paris for the night and would I join them for dinner. The evening started with a refreshing Aperol Spritz before settling into the crispest white wine, steak tartare (with just enough zing) and non stop chatter which saw us adjourn shortly before midnight after a happy, laughter filled dinner- they to pack for their trip back to Australia the following morning, and me to prepare for a weekend of glamping at Curious Arts, a fabulous literary festival in Hampshire. As the clock struck midnight I checked the weather, pressing shirts as I did so. There was rain forecast, but my overactive and often impractical mind imagined a drizzled haze rolling off a crisp, white shirt, gin and tonic in hand as the sun peaked through the clouds that blanketed the British summer sky. The warmth of the sun would blush my cheeks as I listened intently to those who inspire me, and the canvas teepee which I was to call home for the next three days would be warm and just a short walk from a hot shower.
My alarm sounded like a war siren on Friday morning just after 4.30 am. I'd performed the ingenious act of booking the 7.13 am Eurostar to London – one of those things that seems sensible at the time but in hindsight, and when the reality of getting to Gare du Nord before Paris has even thought about rubbing her own bleary eyes signalling the start of a new day, it is nothing short of silly. Those sweet chortling morning birds that remind me long of nights where I didn't sleep (now a distant memory from my twenties), sang as I crashed down four flights of medieval stairs, suitcase in tow and out into the cool Parisian air set for the first metro of the day to Gare du Nord and then off to London.
When Bridget Jones' Baby was launched last year, I went not once but twice in one week to watch it. I found it extremely funny, but this is not the reason I went back for a second fix- that's not normal, and it's rare that I would even get to a cinema twice in one week let alone to see the same film. The real reason (I promise) is that I'd promised two out of three sisters that I'd see it with them and somehow ended up going on two seperate occasions unable to coordinate all of us at once for a one off with Bridget.
I laughed so much during the film and was quite happy to go back for seconds of 'that scene' where the handsome Patrick saves Bridget from a huge cow pat infested puddle at a festival inspired by Glastonbury and every other 'summer' festival that the British have become so good at putting together- wellies and all, and I will never actually stop laughing about 'that other scene' featuring Ed Sheeran rolling in a giant bubble towards the portaloos. So, you can imagine as I pulled in at Lymington Pier which sits at the gateway to the Isle of White and seemingly the end of the earth, my overactive and often impractical mind was channeling movies with unchieveable plot lines, but surely we can all dream of giant bubbles and Ed Sheeran?
A kind lady named Dora picked me up from the train in a black cab with its light brightly lit up in orange on top. Her cheeks were flushed red and her hair was newly died yellow; she was kind in her questions – 'you off to the festival darlin,' she asked with a tone of sympathy in her voice, 'it's about to bookette dern and dun look like stoppin for the whole weekend,' she added, 'funny this wevver, it's been so darn ott all summer and then this weekend when you come to visit, she's goin to get rightly feral I'd say.' Dora then proceeded to switch down a gear before driving me with a confidence I can only imagine would be reserved for a person in control of an army tanker, across a field filled with cow pats and quickly developing puddles, taxi light still bright as the view of bunting, flags, teepees and wellie clad legs began to emerge in the distance- all flanked by the grandure that is Pylewell House in whose fields and grounds the festival was taking place. 'I'll take you right to the door darlin,' she said before waving me off and wishing me luck.
My huge canvas teepee was in fact warm and only a short walk from hot showers and flushing loos. A sheepskin mat lay across the floor and little solar powered fairy lights twinkled, providing a light for reading and a warm welcome home in the dead of night. A double mattress was made up with real cotton sheets and two fluffy pillows sat neatly at the end. The tent was completely watertight and I set about unpacking my impractically packed suitcase filled with ironed shirts and very little else.
I woke on Saturday early with the warmth of the morning sun a blessing after the previous night which was filled with teaming rain, seeing me huddled in a huge tent swilling champagne while avoiding huge plops of rain – I made chatter amongst new faces, most of them friends of Clare, a literary agent from London who curates Curious Arts. I met Clare at the beginning of this year at a very funny New Year's Eve party and it was she who taught me the saying 'good morning Mr Magpie, and how is your wife,' as she kept me entertained and on the edge of my seat on the way to the airport in Pisa. 'Come to my festival in July, you must,' she had said as we waved goodbye. I knew if all went to plan and I did indeed end up back in Paris, of course I would. A gorgeous group of her friends and contemporaries made me feel welcome on Friday night and as live music played into the wee hours of Saturday morning, I slept like a baby in my teepee, exhausted from my early start and day of waterlogged travel.
Saturday saw conversation groups with the likes of Joanna Trolloppe, Matt Haig, Eimer McBride and Valentine Warner. I was particularly taken with Matt Haig who spoke of writing as a way of cheering himself up as he battled a long struggle with depression. His new book, 'How To Stop Time – the importance of staying alive,' is a really poignent piece written straight from the heart where he uses interactions between his literary heros and his fictional character Tom, as a way of taking the mind from a dark place and into an imagined world in a bittersweet story about losing and finding yourself and the certainty of change, as well as the lifetimes it can take to really learn how to live. As I stepped out of the tent following Matts talk, more rain fell from the sky and I said a quiet prayer of thanks to the man from the angling store in Lymington who I'd visited earlier that morning in a quick emergency rain coat pittstop, for reducing his fishing range to 50% off.
Saturday night saw John Illsey from Dire Straights play a full set, followed by Birdy, one of my favourite singers. I woke on Sunday morning ready for a return to London in preparation for my trip to Rome the following day, and as I packed up my tent, stashing a new collection of reading material into the corner of my suitcase once reserved for shoes, I made a mental note that as much as I had drowned in information and inspiration, the other drowning in the physical form of rain had me concluding that my festival days of glamping might easily be numbered to just a one off. As I made this conclusion, heavy rain fell outside with very little promise of ever stopping.
Later that afternoon I organised a cab to pick me up from the front of the house- a short fifteen minute walk from my tent through ancient oak trees and across a field before reaching a sealed road. The taxi company said 3pm, so I set off shortly beforehand. Just as I emerged out of the information tent and into the wide, open field, the sky's opened once again and I spent the following fifteen minutes rolling my suitcase through puddles with gritted teeth and not a lot of sparkle remaining in my sense of humour bank – all as I took an unwanted shower and everything from my shoes to my suitcase filled with cool, British water fresh from the sky. A kind farmer painting his John Deer tractor tires in a barn not far from the oak tree where I needed to wait, greeted me with smiling eyes before reminding me that the weather had been so lovely in the south this summer. A portly little man named Don showed up moments later, and as he revved his Vauxhall Opel down the driveway I imagined Rome the following day in all of her dry, 32 degree glory.
As the plane touched down on the tarmac yesterday following the flight from Gatwick to Fiumicino, the flight attended reminded us that we were invited to make a donation to the 'little children who suffered from Poor Leo,' and as I madly scrambled for loose pounds I wondered who Poor Leo actually was, before realising that she was referring to the relationship that EasyJet have with the UNICEF medical fund- another poignent reminder that life is not all that bad and a bag full of sodden and rather brown clothing was going to be easily fixed, with much anticipated access to the hotel laundry only hours away.
Seeing one of my dearest and oldest friends Stu round the corner at arrivals yesterday, fresh off his flight from Genoa to Fiumicino, was a joyous moment which was followed by an evening of Aperol Spritz and a delicious dinner filled with laughter, as we solved all the really big issues in the world. We waved goodbye this morning when he set off for the airport to return to Australia and I turned back to my coffee in the courtyard of Hotel Locarno- a beautiful hotel that I discovered many years ago at about the same time that this beautiful city stole a big part of my heart.
Tomorrow sees me driving from Rome to Tuscany in a hired Fiat Panda and, after a pinningmywords hiatus brought about by unreliable wifi and waterlogged shoes, I invite you to watch this space. And, while I didn't find 'my Patrick' to save me as I waded through the mud on my festival debut, nor did I roll in a giant bubble with Ed Sheeran towards the portaloos, my faith is restored, with tomorrow being an entirely new day.
Pictured: a quiet Roman street on our way home last night.