I hope you all had a good summer, and managed to find at least some time for rest and recreation.
Jamie and I had a lovely week in Kent in July. Then, on the August Bank holiday weekend, I went to the Greenbelt Festival.
It was not an obvious choice for someone who doesn’t like large crowds or loud music and has never camped unaided. But I was interested in the speakers, encouraged by a younger friend, tempted by the promise of fine weather, and finally persuaded by the generous discount given to first-time church leaders. I needed to be back for the service at Wembley Park on the Sunday, but it still seemed worth a try. And if it all went horribly wrong and I hated it, I could just come home and say nothing.
Jamie had already booked to go to a different festival that weekend, taking his camper van, so he very kindly lent me his tent. Tents, I discovered, have come a long way from the ridge-pole-and-guy-rope days of my youth. This one packs into a flat circle that you can carry on your back like a Ninja Turtle, though with me being small it was rather more Turtle than Ninja.
Putting it up is incredibly easy: you simply undo the strap and stand back. It springs out instantly into a fully-formed tent and, once you’ve worked out which way up it is, it’s a matter of moments to right it and peg it down.
Packing it away is, however, a different matter. Somehow this sprung tent, the size of a small car, has to be manhandled back into a circle, a task not helped by the elegant but utterly baffling diagrams. Jamie gave me a practice run on the lawn. There is a point at which you have to hold the entire force of the spring in one hand, while you use the other to grab the top – now, with the tent on end, towering above my head – and bend it to the ground, while simultaneously wrestling down the two sides. Let go at the wrong moment, and the whole thing would have been catapulted over next door’s fence, probably taking me with it.
The festival was great – inspiring and thought-provoking. It struck me that our tent is not the only thing that’s easier to unleash than it is to put back. One of the speakers was Kim Leadbeater, sister of the murdered MP Jo Cox. The anger and mistrust stirred up by the Brexit campaign seem to be turning to an increasingly bitter blame game; hostility is rising against EU nationals; we are losing sight of the common good. Those of us who care will need to work hard for peace. I don’t have easy answers for how to do this, any more than I knew how to fold that tent, but I know it matters, and with God’s help things will change.
I came away from Greenbelt with muddy feet and mild sunburn but very glad that I’d gone. And the tent packed first time.