Thursday, November 10, 2016

Electric Picnic 2016



It was the Friday morning of Electric Picnic, and after several months of making no effort to buy a ticket or trying to schmooze my way onto the line-up, I sort of decided that I kind of wanted to go.  A friend posted on Facebook saying that he might have a spare ticket, and was open to offers if anyone was interested.  I sent a message to see what the story was, and this is what he told me:  He and his act were scheduled to perform there, but a few days after receiving the performer passes in the post, they were e-mailed and told that they had been cut from the line-up.  At first their plan was "Fuck it, let's go up anyway and have a weekend of fun!" which quickly turned to "What if these performer passes are no longer valid, and we only discover that after driving all the way up there?"  I was welcome to take one of them, for no money up front, and if I got in I would give him a token amount for the ticket upon my return to Cork.  Bit of a risk involved, but as a wise man once said: "Yerra feck it, 'twill be grand!"

After a mind-numbing day spent working on-site in East Cork, I got home late and hastily threw the barest essentials into the back of my van.  I called round to my friend's house and picked up the ticket which he had left in the wheelie bin for me (take that Electric Picnic!), then headed to Aldi where I picked up flapjacks, baby wipes, bottled water, and a three pack of socks which were going on special offer.  Till number 3 had just opened, so I beelined towards it, paid cash, and didn't even bother to show off my Electric Picnic performer's pass to the attractive eastern European girl working the check-out.  If I wanted to get in that night, I would have to be up there before ten.  It was now half seven, and it would take a good two hours to get there, god knows how long to find parking, and even more time to get to the right gate.  And even if all of that falls into place, there was still no guarantee I was getting in.

After driving the shit out of my van and not getting stuck behind any tractors, I landed in the carpark shortly after half nine, and started frantically looking for the right gate.  After getting misinformation from two different guys in hi-vis jackets, I then found myself on the right (and muddy) track.  Fingers crossed they let me in without too many tricky questions about who I'm with, when I'm on, and please god don't let their be a list with the numbers of performer's passes that are no longer valid.  After spending most of the drive up mentally rehearsing my friend's name to give at accreditation, the nice helpful lady behind the desk instead asked: "Which area are you performing?"  Shit, a crafty curveball if ever there was one.  After a pause and almost shitting myself I answered "The Hazel Wood" hoping that's what it's called.  She then wrote down HW and the wristband number in her book, took my wrist and put my pass in place saying: "I was just about to close up, so you got here just in time."  "Lucky me!" As I walked in I turned around and said: "You know where to find me this weekend, be sure to check out my act!"


Friday:

It was already dark at this point, and there were masses of people teeming around, lots of them on their phones waving one hand in the air frantically "I'm waving my hand now, can you see me?"  Holy shit, it was barely Friday night and they had already lost their friends!  Not wishing to be too smug, but this is where not having any friends and going to festivals alone really comes into its own.  There was a chance I might lose myself over the course of the weekend, but there was also a chance of finding myself.  God I'm so profound!  After wandering around a while, I bumped into two sound heads I knew from Cork city, and wandered around with them for a while, no fixed agenda just taking it all in.  They wanted tea, so we went into the Flying Machine Tea Shop and sat down with a cuppa for a natter.  In the corner, there were about five or six DJs taking turns on a set of decks.  One would drop a track, then wander off, then another would shuffle over, drop a track, and wander off.  They were keeping it nicely loose, with no mixing, but all the selections made sense with no gaps between the tracks.  It was mainly on the heavy funk and afro side, with some boogie and jazz-funk working its magic in between.  Bit by bit, more and more people got up and danced, and when "Evil vibrations" by The Mighty Ryeders came on, I felt obliged to do the same.  It was one of those nice dancefloor moments, with a wide range of people doing their thing and creating energy, and there was just enough space so that there was no bumping, just grinding.  This lasted for a good half hour to an hour (what can I say, I lost myself in the dance and existed outside of time, maaaahn), but then the tent got invaded by a selfie brigade.  Upon seeing a large group of people enjoying themselves, they thought the best thing they could do was to insert themselves in the middle of this group, and selfie the shit out of everything.  The atmosphere was ruined, the moment was lost, so we left the tent and headed off to see what else was happening.

We wandered into the Red Bull greenhouse to find Fish Go Deep had transformed into Fish Gone Jackin': upfront hip-house laden with harsh 12 bit drum sounds!  It might seem redundant to drive halfway up the country to see DJs from my own parish, but the last time I had gotten down to Greg and Shane was at Body and Soul a few years back, so I was being nothing but consistent.  The crowd were a valuable education in the varying levels of how fucked up a person can be, a Mongtessori if you will.  People-watching was out of the question, down here on the ground I was jaw-dodging!  One guy was so wired his jaw was pointing over his right shoulder and the rest of his body contorted to follow.  His hands were held uselessly at chest level like a t-rex, while his half open eyes rolled way back in his head as he communicated with ancient spirits from a far away planet.  Another was so fucked that he couldn't stand or walk with any great effectiveness, but had taken so many stimulants that he was unable to fall over either.  The ultimate catch 22 of the party lifestyle!  The music was excellent, and it was a privilege to hear so many decades of house music distilled into such a short space of time.  As well as the many madouttavits, there were lots of dancers present who had not even been born when Greg and Shane had first gone deep.  Whether they really understood the significance of what FGD had done for house music in Ireland is irrelevant, all that really mattered at that moment was that they were getting down and having a hell of a good time!

Up next was another local, Mr. Colm K.  Colm is a friend of mine, but I'm a massive fan of his.  His last release was "The Love EP" in 2013, and it flipped me out so much that for a period of several months after it was released, anyone who called round to me was forced to sit down and listen to it in its entirety.  He had started out as Stevie G's Padawan in Sir Henry's way back when, but has since gone on to be a Sick Lord in his own right.  His soulful style is New York by way of Cork, and his set combined long smooth blends that either made the new track creep in completely under the radar or be apparent from the distance as it got teased into the mix. When he played an instrumental edit of "Let's lovedance tonight" I had a transcendental moment on the dancefloor, where the sublime beauty of the track was perfectly offset by me saying "OH YOU MOTHERFUCKER!" far too loud and far too often.  All good things had to come to an end, and although we were spared the selfie squad this time, there was a massive cramp building in my gut that could just be a fart, but could be oh so much more.

"When is the best time to use the portaloo at a music festival?" is almost a rhetorical question, but there are a series of acceptable answers to this.  The most correct answer is "Never".  The next acceptable answer is "Only if you really have to", which is then followed by "Friday night, before it gets completely destroyed over Saturday and Sunday".  I had felt the cramp starting a while back, but was able to distract myself with music and dancing and whatnot.  Now that I walked carefully and purposefully towards the portaloos, my gastrointestinal situation was doing its best to not be ignored, as I felt my gut gurgle, and sphincter pucker with every step.  As I had packed and changed in a rush after work, these were the only jeans and jocks I had for the weekend, so this was a mission where failure was not an option.  I made it to the jacks, and then sat in the dark box comforted by the knowledge that what I couldn't see, couldn't infect me.  It wasn't long before I felt painful, emotional, and liquid relief flow through and out of me.


Saturday:

I woke up around noon-ish in the back of my van.  Friday's dancing and sweating meant that wearing the same farting crackers two days in a row was not going to be an option.  My jeans had an impressive tear in the groin area, so going commando was completely out of the question.  After some rummaging through the mess, I pulled out a pair of speedos.  If they are sufficient coverage to protect my genitalia from the raging sea, then they will be adequate coverage to protect Electric Picnic from my raging genitalia.  After deciding that last night's anal outpouring was a one-off event, and that my stomach was now purged of its nastiness, I went up to the festival and had a chickpea and lentil curry for breakfast.



Walking past the Today FM tent, I saw Paula MacSweeney sitting by herself, so I went over, sat down next to her and said hello.  After staring at me blankly, politely, and awkwardly for about five to ten seconds, she suddenly burst out with "Oh wait, I know you - SWIMMING!"  It had been about twenty years since we last spoke, but we were instantly nattering and taking the piss like nobody's business.  Paula had been a prodigious swimmer way back when, so much so that by the time she was a teenager she was done with it.  I did my best to convince her that swimming as a grown-up is a whole other thing, where eating loads of junk is a central part of the training. "Isn't that the only reason anyone exercises?  To eat rubbish?" "You don't get it Paula, with open water swimming, the cakes, THE CAKES!"  This was accompanied with hand gestures that were meant to convey some inconceivable splendour, but instead made me look like some sort of delusional cake fetishist.



Most of Saturday was spent wandering about with my camera.  The light was pretty good, but as I had only two rolls of film for the entire weekend, this would mean that I'd have to shoot smart rather than getting snap happy.  The good news was that when Saturday's roll was shot, I could unburden myself of my vintage slr which was only slightly lighter than having a bag of records slung round my neck.  Other highlights of Saturday was getting fed by the bread and cheese stall.  It was conveniently located right next to a pretentious vegan food stand that prided itself on serving rabbit food with meagre dressings to actual people.  Bread and cheese was very straightforward:  A loaf of bread with cheese in the middle, toasted in a pizza oven until crispy and gooey, then served with a sour cream sauce loaded with bacon bits.  The allergen list and ingredients list for these bad boys were identical, and goddammit was it delicious!  As fate would have it, two friends of mine got food from the vegan stand, and they sat next to me picking at their sawdust and olive oil while I wolfed down my uber-toxic wheat and dairy hybrid with the smug self-satisfaction that is normally only reserved for vegans.



The next port of call was the comedy tent.  As a result of watching way too much QI, I had fallen in love with Aisling Bea, and it was only right that I attend her set so that she could return the favour and fall in love with me.  I sat right up at the front, but somehow she managed to avoid looking my way throughout the entire set.  I even laughed at all her jokes, but that was not enough.  Maybe my presence was too intense and she found that off-putting?  Maybe the next time I'm at one of her shows I can do my best to not laugh at all, and then she'll be all "Ooooh, who's that guy over there who's all brooding and mysterious?"  Having reviewed that plan a few times in my head, I decided it was brilliant, and wrote it into my "I'm in love with Aisling Bea" notebook for future reference.  Next up was the Rubberbandits, and they were an absolute joy.  They did an abridged version of 'Up The 'Ra', which sadly didn't contain the line "He had a sword made out of hash sellotaped to the steering wheel of his mother's face", but had a fresh line-up of people who were in the 'Ra (I creased myself laughing when Nelson Muntz got a mention).  They also did "Spoiling Ivan" and "Hipster or Hobo" and even though I knew both of those songs inside out, the killer lines still made me laugh out loud.  At the end Blind Boy had a long-winded non-rhyming poem about *bortion (I won't mention the 'a' word) which had just the right amount of political sentiment without getting too political.



Now it was time to wander off for food and coffee and then head back to see Dylan Moran.  I love Dylan Moran, but had never seen him live. It would be terrible to someday meet the man and say, "Huge fan, watch you on youtube all the time!"  As much as I wanted to see him live, there was the trepidation that he might not have it any more.  What if seeing him live for the first time was just a massive disappointment?  Thankfully he killed it in a way that only Dylan Moran can.  His word choice, economy of language, and timing are unparalleled.  The true testament of his jokes is that they're very hard to retell.  Without the right pauses and inflections they fall completely flat, but when he unleashes them, they have this throwaway quality where every second line is a mic drop moment.  Throughout his set I was either in tears laughing, rendered breathless by his lyricism, or both at the same time.



Normally I avoid trying to go to see particular acts at festivals, to just let the weekend happen, but this would be the exception.  Mr Scruff was playing in the Red Bull greenhouse that night and I  didn't want to miss him.  Having seen him the last few times he'd played the Pav in Cork, and come away massively inspired every time, I was not going to miss him here.  He is known for being fastidious in his setting up his gear and performing sound checks, but when I interrupted his soundcheck in the Pav one year asking if he'd sign a teapot for me, he was so gracious and gentlemanly about the whole thing.  As I walked towards the greenhouse to the sound of some very rich and kicking Afrobeat, I felt a familiar cramping in my gut.  The nearest portaloos were way over in the Body and Soul area, so there was no choice but to tramp over there and give Mr. Scruff a miss.



The upshot of this was getting to hear Donal Dineen's set at the earthship stage.  He had a small audience, and would frequently pick up the mic to do shout-outs to people he recognised in the crowd.  The outstanding quality of his set was its intimacy.  He wasn't on stage performing for a crowd, he was taking part in the experience with everyone else.  He would gently sway and shuffle along to the music, which ranged from deep house to dub techno with the occasional sprinkling of post-disco.  It was marred by frequent pilgrimages to the portaloo on my part, but even though I was hanging out down the back, I still felt a sense of the man's easy presence as it permeated out from the stage.  Even though I had been looking forward to dancing to Scruff, hanging out and soaking up Donal Dineen was exactly what I needed.


Sunday:

I woke up Sunday morning not feeling ready to face the day, so I got into the driver's seat, turned on the ignition, the heating, and Lyric fm.  I put the seat into full recline, and then the combination of the low rumble of the engine, the gentle classical music with the hushed tones of the DJ, and the dead heat from the fans allowed me to slip and in out of a gentle stupour for god only knows how long.  At some point it occurred to me that if this is my idea of bliss, maybe I'm too old to be going to music festivals.  This was interrupted by a guy knocking at my window, he'd left his lights on overnight and needed a jump-start.  Having been in that exact position far too often of late, I didn't hesitate to sort him out.  My good deed for the day was done, and it was such a good deed that I was now entitled to act completely dickishly at least once before the day was out.



It was time to hit the festival, and I needed coffee.  Everywhere I went had a long queue, and queuing while needing a caffeine hit is a purgatorial feeling.  Sod's law dictates that when you just want a cup of black coffee that takes less than a minute to brew, the eighteen people ahead of you will want ornate flat whites amd will feel obliged to ask the barista a series of questions, when I just want coffee.  I bumped into a friend and explained that I couldn't stop to talk, needed to find coffee without a queue.  He responded with "Coffee is spelt c-o-f-e-e, so there's no q!"  Luckily for him I was too strung-out to point out how retarded his attempt at smartarsery was, and pressed on in my quest instead.  Eventually I found a stall with just three people in the queue, and one of them had just been served.  Hurrah! 



The smell of the beans set the craving off worse than ever, but knowing I was so close to getting it into me took the edge off considerably.  The two people ahead of me became just one person ahead of me, but then disaster struck: He was a cheeky chappy who insisted on bantering with the barista.  I'm not a patient man, but I have been learning tolerance and whatnot throughout the years.  Frequently I'm at the Credit Union, and there's an auld wan ahead of me telling half her life story to the lady behind the counter.  As much as I'd like to let rip in that situation, I have to take a few deep breaths and acknowledge that this person is quite lonely and her talking at length in the credit union is one of the few social outlets she has.  Other times at Aldi, the person ahead of me in the checkout line is genuinely brain damaged and will take longer than the average person to pay for and bag their shopping.  Again, deep breaths and acknowledging that this person's daily life has challenges that I could never imagine. 

I tried breathing deeply and to see the world from this guy's point of view, but all I could think of was hurry to fuck up, order what you're ordering, and get out of my way.  Finally after much bantering, he decided what he wanted, and ordered.  The barista who was not enjoying his humour, just smiling politely to humour him, told him "That will be four euros fifty so".  He then reached into his pocket, pulled out a paint-brush, dabbed some paint on his cheek, and then attempted to do the same to the barista.  She smiled, leaned back out of his reach, and politely said "No thank you".  "Come on, it's just a bit of paint!" (cheeky-cheeky chappy, banter-banter-banter).  I'd had enough, this was going on far too long, and he was just acting the ballocks now.  I wanted to tap him on the shoulder, and firmly say "She said no, can you just pay and get on with it?"  Instead I found myself taking my camera off from around my neck, and repeatedly bashing him on the back of the head until he was a bloody twitching mess on the ground, still clutching onto his paint brush.  The barista and the queue that had formed behind me all heaved a collective sigh of relief.  "Black coffee, please."  "Anything else?" I motioned towards the blood on my shirt, "A few extra napkins also.  How much is that?" "You're ok, thanks for that!"  I put a euro in the tip jar, and wandered off sipping my coffee as the paramedics and Gardai made their way over.



The highlight of Sunday was the sing-along social on the Body and Soul stage.  A lady with a laptop was playing crowd favourites that were inherently sing-along-able.  Destiny's Child and Gwen Steffani got the respect they deserve, and when B*witched's "C'est la vie" went into that jigs and reel bit, the crowd spontaneously bust out the Irish dancing moves like the most well executed flash mob in existence.  The crowd was overwhelmingly female, and I had not witnessed that many excited young women in one place since that time Penney's gave away a free puppy with every pair of patterned tights.  Then came a curve ball:  Enya's "Orinoco Flow".  The crowd did their best to mumble along in good spirits to the verses, but when the chorus dropped, the audience boomed out "SAIL AWAY! SAIL AWAY! SAIL AWAY!" giving me shivers like I never felt before.  I tried taking a few pictures of it, but it was impossible for me the capture the immensity and intensity of the atmosphere there.



Wandering by the comedy tent, I popped in to catch some of Karl Spain.  I'd seen him twice before, so some of the jokes were familiar but still funny.  He then looked over and saw two Gardai at the side, and started taking the piss out of them.  After ripping on them for a few minutes, he turned back to the audience and said "It's alright, they're only Bean Gards, if they go off and get some real Gards, then we're in trouble!"  Al Porter and David O'Doherty were on later, so it was my mission to hang around the comedy tent for the evening before driving back to Cork.  In need of some food, I went over to a nearby burger place and saw that their piece de resistance was a six ounce burger.  Was that more or less than a quarter pounder?  If there were twenty eight grams in an ounce, and four bars in a key, and fourteen pounds in a stone, then six ounces is ... ... ... ?  I spent about ten minutes standing in front of the server trying to juggle the necessary mental arithmetic to figure out that riddle, when he asked "Are you alright?"  I ordered the six ouncer, and resigned myself to eating it without knowing whether it was more or less than a quarter pounder.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Sandy Capped 2: Torture Week Diary

Courtesy of Siobhan Russell


Every July, Ned Denison and the Sandycove Island Swimmers host the Distance Week Training Camp, where swimmers from all over the world take part to help prepare them for the toughest swims imaginable.  When I first read about it in Matt Bondurant's article for Outside magazine, I thought "Good Jesus, that's crazy, no way would I do that!"  A few years later, armed with nothing but a perverse sense of humour and a desire to be a better swimmer, I e-mailed Ned to see if I could partake in Torture Week 2016. 

To my dismay, he said I could. 

Here is what happened:


Saturday:

I woke up Saturday morning to heavier rain than had been falling the night before.  Hoping it was strictly localised, I drove to Kinsale and then on to Sandycove to find it still raining with poor visibility.  The most important thing was that the island was visible.  Sort of.  We gathered round as Ned asked how many present did a solo English Channel swim.  Of the sixty odd people present, almost half the hands went up.  Holy shit, even by Sandycove standards this was a hell of a lot of channel swimmers!  Of the remaining swimmers, easily half or more were scheduled to swim it in the next few weeks and months.  Even holier shit!  Ned continued to call out various marathon swims, (Catalina, Manhattan, North Channel, Windemere etc.) with less and less hands going up each time.  Eventually for the last few it was just Ned and a tiny little tanned guy.  His name was Attila, he was from Hungary, and he had recently been inducted into the International Distance Swimming hall of Fame.  To put this in perspective, this tiny guy who was only up to my shoulder, had swum further and faster than most other human beings, EVER.  Holiest shit!

Attila - Photo courtesy of Gordon Adair

Not everyone present was a speedster.  A German named Peter had recently done the channel in twenty four hours, which is nearly twice the average time, but is impressive as he spent that amount of time in the water without dying of hypothermia or losing focus.  He wasn't slow and steady, he was slow and hardy as fuck! 

The idea of the first morning swim was to do a lap or so (but no more than four) at our own pace and hopefully slip into rhythm with someone else who would be your swimming buddy for the week.  The sea was rough and cold, so I did two wide laps on my own to avoid getting hopped off the island by a rogue wave.  After not finding a swimming buddy, I towelled off, wrapped up, and hit the complimentary goodies on the picnic table.  Bit by bit swimmers drifted in from the sea, all but the locals freaked out by just how bloody cold the water was. 

After a while, the only outstanding swimmer was Peter from Germany.  Nobody was particularly worried as slow swimming was his MO, but as the minutes ticked by and he didn't materialise around the corner of the island, everyone started to get worried.  Two search parties were sent out (an Aussie and an Ossi) but neither could find him around the back of the island.  Now everyone started to get more worried.  The coast guard was called, and we waited.  The training camp was already infamous for being one of the toughest in the world, but a floater turning up on the first day would definitely give its already questionable reputation a massive thumbs down.

After what felt like far too long, the coast guard called back to say they had found him on the road.  We didn't get exact details where, all we were told was that he was cut up from having to climb over rocks, but he was otherwise fine.  Two valuable lessons were learned from this.  One was to be cautious in rough waters, as even experienced swimmers can get into trouble out there.  The other was to always drive carefully on Irish country roads, as there might be a bewildered German in speedoes waiting around the next bend.

After exhaling a collective sigh of relief, it was time to head to the afternoon swim.  It was in Lough Allua (trans. the lake of Kahlua), which was way over on the darkside of Macroom.  After a long drawn out drive through the absolute middle of nowhere, which involved getting stuck behind the same tractor twice (don't ask, just DON'T ask), we rocked up to the Inchigeelagh GAA club for registration and safety briefing.  The route looked straight forward enough on paper, but there were only three marker buoys over the wiggly windy 7km course, and the only notable landmarks were some cows, a caravan, and some uncharacteristically tall trees.  Ned then took centre stage and assured us that the entire of point of this swim was navigational bewilderment.  If one manages to stick to the route, it's a handy 7km, but a few wrong turns could easily bring it up to 8 plus.  This was worrying, as I had done a freshwater swim recently which was a straight course, but I had managed to oscillate wildly from bank to bank while swimming downstream.  It looked like Loch Allua would be the perfect opportunity for me to mess things up completely and set the record for the longest swim of the day.

There were three other swimmers in my wave that I was familiar with.  Aidan, a Sandycove regular who recently whooped me in the Carrick-on-Suir river swim; Barbara-Anne, who had indulged in some cheapo vino the night before and was now hammering into energy gels and electrolytes to compensate; and Angela, who I knew little about but had done a few laps of Sandycove with me the week before.  When we were unleashed, I kept swimming long and strong strokes and staying abreast of Angela in her wetsuit and orange hat.  Bit by bit we pushed to the front of our wave, then gradually started picking off the slower swimmers from the previous waves.  Water temperatures were quite hospitable, and between us we kept a pretty straight course.  After the third marker buoy, Angela stopped for an energy gel, and I knew that it wouldn't be long until she started pulling ahead of me.  My arms were still sore from doing battle with Sandycove earlier, but at this point there was no choice but to just keep swimming.

The afore-mentioned cows. Photo courtesy of Gordon Adair
Eventually I started to tank, Angela started pulling ahead, and I was unable to close the gap between us.  After a while I looked to my right and the familiar wetsuit and orange hat was there.  Before congratulating myself on a successful catch up, I popped my head up and saw Angela a few metres ahead of me.  It looked like all of Barbara-Anne's gels and electrolytes were finally kicking in, and now she was really kicking ass!  Sore arms or not, I did my best to keep up with them, and another swimmer entered the mix.  Non-wetsuit, just a yellow hat with two gels sticking up from the goggle straps like antennae, and a cossie with striped straps on her shoulders.  This was the last leg of the swim, and the real race was happening as I did my best to stay in with this pack as we thrashed towards the finish line.

After the swim, we were loaded up into the van to go back to the changing area. "We were neck and neck there at the end weren't we?" It was the lady with striped straps, sitting opposite me.  I nodded.  "My name is Kate, do you want to swim with me for the week?"  I nodded again.  The first day was done not only had I already swum further than I normally would in a week, but I had also found a swimming buddy.  Success!

Barbara-Anne: Equal parts hungover and victorious.  Photo courtesy of Gordon Adair.


Sunday:

Sunday morning was two more torturous laps of Sandycove.  Kate was a fierce and determined swimmer, and really made me give that extra bit of push as we went round.  She was scheduled to do the English Channel in a few weeks, so came over with her partner Rory to get some training in beforehand.  She kept tight laps, but never once cut herself on the rocks.  Two locals Eoin and Alex, and a visitor Dani, all came out of the water that day looking like shark attack victims after brushing off the rocks, but Kate somehow had the instinct to not get too close.  These laps were inconsequential really, as that evening we had the notorious torture swim.

Dani, a bloody foreigner.  Courtesy of Gordon Adair

Ned devised the torture swim to mentally prepare swimmers to deal with the unexpected things that might happen in an open water marathon swim.  He gleefully told us of the various ways he had messed with swimmers' heads in previous years.  These all make for very entertaining reading, but instead I'll leave it to your own imagination.  I'll now add that whatever you're thinking, what he has done in the past is waaay worse.  Then to show us that he was not just an unhinged sadist, he told us of genuinely insane situations swimmers had to deal with in the middle of marathon swims.  The ultimate goal was to turn us into swimming machines, devoid of emotion, who will keep swimming regardless.  When he repeatedly explained that all of this was for our own good, I couldn't help thinking that this is what Jim Jones must have told his followers before passing around the kool-aid.  The craziest aspect of the torture swim is that it's an optional extra.  Not only is it not mandatory for the swim camp, it also costs extra to be psychologically abused by the charismatic cult leader of the Sandycove Island Swimmers.

Ned "Koresh" Denison. Photo courtesy of Gordon Adair
No gels, no watches.  Nothing but caps, goggles, and togs were allowed for the swim.  Not knowing how long we had been swimming, or for how much longer we would be swimming were essential parts of the torture armory.  We were sent swimming on entirely random trajectories, up the inlet until it almost got impossibly shallow, then a support boat materialised saying to go back over to the island.  We were then sent out to sea where it was lumpy, cold, and unforgiving, like swimming through a bowl of cold porridge.  It did not matter whether we wanted to swim in these conditions, all that mattered was that we followed the instructions we were given.  At one point I popped my head up to sight as a bearded guy in an orange hat rugby tackled me mid-stroke, then swam off on his merry way.  There was no time to process this, just catch up with Kate and keep swimming.

A support boat waved us over, told us we were swimming well, and asked if we wanted water?  We nodded and they threw bottles at us.  A common trick throughout the years is to offer swimmers water, and then give them something else entirely.  Myself and Kate eyed each other warily as we broke the seals on our bottles.  It looked like water and was in a sealed bottle, so this time they
had gone above and beyond with their pranking.  We had been swimming for god knows how long, so we took a risk and started gulping it back, waiting for a reaction from the guys on the boat.  It turned out that this was actual water, they were being nice, and this was not a prank in the slightest.  What a headfuck!  We threw back the bottles,were instructed to swim off in an arbitrary direction, and we just kept swimming.  After a while the cold jumped up a notch and the water started stinging my skin.  I wanted to get out, but just kept swimming and stayed abreast of Kate.  After an eternity we were instructed to go back to the slipway, our torture swim was done.  The week can only be easier after this, right?

Post Torture Swim Dishevelment


Monday:

This was the nicest morning to date in Sandycove, and myself and Kate got three laps in.  Some of the overseas visitors still hadn't acclimatised and had yet to complete their first lap.  Others were stamping their feet afterwards in a crude attempt to get the circulation going while inadvertently paying homage to Riverdance.  The good news was that the afternoon swim would be up the Blackwater which would be comparatively warm.

We met at the Fermoy rowing club later on, and the route was to swim up to Michael Flatley's mansion and back again.  We would have to stay close to the left bank on the way up as if we got too close to the centre we would be swimming against the current.  The water close to the bank would vary in depth, be weedy and rushy in places, with the occasional tree sprouting up here and there, and there would be the added bonus of dealing with low hanging branches.  In its own way, this swim was a perfect metaphor for the futility of existence: either you struggle against the current, or else deal with a whole host other obstacles doing their best to grind you down.  The good news is that the swim back would be with the current and a hell of a lot easier, a perfect metaphor for life as a privileged white male.

We headed down the slipway in single file, Kate had got in ahead of me and taken off.  There were too many people ahead of me so that when I finally got in, was unable to close the distance between us.  Nevertheless I trucked on, focusing on doing long and strong strokes.  Even though Ned had briefed us on what to expect, the constant variation in the swim was a nightmare.  At one point the water got so shallow that I couldn't do an effective stroke, and tried digging my fingers into the riverbed in an effort to claw my way forward.  This didn't work, and I then had the bright idea of standing up and walking until the water was sufficiently deep again.  I got two steps forward in the knee deep water and suddenly it was waist deep again.  Fuck you river, now just keep swimming.  At another point I popped my head up to sight and saw some over-hanging branches that were too close to avoid.  There was no choice but to plough forward and hope that my arms wouldn't get mangled and entangled as I did my best to power onwards.

Eventually I saw a mansion ahead on the right hand side.  What was worrying was that the lead pod of swimmers had not passed me on their way back yet.  What if this wasn't the mansion in question and we had to swim even further up this poxy river to the next mansion?  After a whileen more of just keep swimming, they appeared in the centre of the river and I gurgled a sigh of relief.  When I eventually got to a point where I could see the front door, I turned tail and wearily swam back down the centre channel.

Normally I try not to swim on consecutive days so as to give my muscles a chance to recover.  After three days of two swims a day it was really taking its toll on me.  With every swim I could feel the cumulative effects of the previous swims with every stroke taken.  It was only the third day of nine, and already I felt like certain muscle groups were being highlighted in red marker every time I moved.  On top of this, I was going through a shit ton of calories a day and needed to monitor my diet carefully.  For this, I would need a high intake of carbs, protein, and fats, as well as hammering as much sugar into me as possible.  To translate this into real world terms, it meant eating as much as I wanted of whatever I wanted, and then eat a bit more just to be sure.  The MMA credo of steak for breakfast is laughable by open water swimming standards as it implies only one breakfast!  Bowls of porridge, followed by bagels laden with bacon and brie, yogurts and custard, and anything else that happened to be within reach was going down the hatch with gusto.  A bit of flab goes a long way in the sea as it provides a barrier against the cold water, and if things start getting bad it will get eaten into and transformed into energy.  The main goal I set for myself this week was to not lose weight, and even that was proving difficult.


Tuesday:

In the morning myself and Kate did three and a bit laps of Sandycove, and then that evening we went to Fountainstown for a low-tide swim to Myrtleville and back again.  There had been weaver fish stings in the area before, so we dragged our feet through the shallow water as we walked in single file, like a group of inmates shuffling grimly towards death.  The horizon was filled with dark angry clouds, which contrasted nicely with the gorgeously tanned (non-Irish) bodies in brightly coloured swimsuits.  When we finally started swimming, the heavens opened and fat drops of rain pierced the water around us.  Everyone should experience sea swimming in the rain at least once.  This sounds like a ridiculous statement as most Irish summers and family day outs are rained off, but when you get the right kind of rain (fat and heavy, not light or drizzly) it's a fantastic marriage of the elements!

Courtesy of Gordon Adair
When we got to shallow waters in Myrtleville, we turned around and headed back to Fountainstown.  I found myself thrashing through some very kelpy water, when suddenly the sea withdrew and I found myself lying on some rocks.  I clawed myself forwards to get back in sufficiently deep waters, cutting my fingertips in the process.  Wanting to get as far from the rocks as possible I did a wide arc out, once again finding myself separated from Kate and not having enough energy to close the gap between us.  When I got out of the water in Fountainstown a few people on the beach pointed out that my face was cut and bleeding.  "Must've cut myself when shaving!"  When I got back to my van I checked the mirror and saw my left cheek was scratched and bleeding, probably from my encounter with the rocks earlier.  Holy shit, this open water swimming craic is hardcore!


Wednesday:

Today would be two nice swims in the beautiful Lough Hine near Skibbereen.  The only catch was that it was nearly two hours drive from Cork city and we had to be in the water at 9 am.  It was gorgeous swimming.  The water was really clear with lots of interesting fish, plantlife, and seashells visible below.  We swam over some rapids (wheeeeeeeee!) and then around some gorgeous rock structures.  An immense bronze Moldovan named Ion (pron. "Yonn") was really taken aback.  "Holy fuck, it really doesn't get any better than this!" he boomed out.  "Oh my God, this is it, THIS IS IT!"  After the swim we went to Skibb for lunch, which was followed by a discussion on keeping one's head together in tough conditions.  Normally I'm cynical and pessimistic about people's inspirational stories about overcoming difficult situations, but I heard some serious shit that day.  Tracey the upbeat Kiwi told us about tearing a bicep tendon with several hours to go in the English channel.  She couldn't get her arm up out of the water to do a complete stroke, so she did a pseudo dog paddle with that arm while the other swam as normal.  DAMN!  Attila told us how his feeds take an average of 3-4 seconds, that he doesn't focus on what distance or time he has clocked up during a distance swim, just swims between feeds.  "I don't want my crew to talk to me unless something is going wrong, just swim, feed, swim, feed".  Others told of night swims in Catalina when they were certain something big and shark-like was swimming in the dark below them, and trying to focus on just keep swimming while that was happening.  You might be scoffing, saying that's just the mind running wild, but when a large shoal of something small and luminescent suddenly disappears, it's fairly certain that an oceanic big bad wolf is on the prowl.  In spite of my best efforts, I was seriously impressed and inspired by what everyone had to say.


Thursday:

Someone left my van's lights on overnight, so I woke up to a flat battery Thursday morning.  I wasn't able to get a jump start and missed the morning swim, so used the morning to recharge my battery, and recharge my batteries.  The week was really taking its toll on me.  I had never been seriously sporty, but now could fully understand those motivational posters which featured arty black and white shots of marathon runners captioned with "I can't go on.  I will go on!"  The cumulative muscle pain of the swims had eased off and become the muscular equivalent of background noise.  Each upcoming swim no longer made me nervous, instead it filled me with an all-consuming dread that I would tank during it and get swallowed by the murky waters.

For whatever reason, I was late arriving to the evening swim and missed the carpool to the speckled door.  Feeling a mixture of disappointment and relief, I sank back into the driver seat and decided to take advantage of the chance to rest.


Friday:

Disaster struck Friday morning when I discovered a langer load of mouth ulcers all over my tongue and gums.  This would mean that I'd be unable to eat anything with texture or flavour, but still needed to get an ungodly amount of calories into me for the day's swimming.  Not having the stomach to swallow raw eggs, I went to the freezer and took out a tub of ice cream and a pack of Lidl-brand mars ice creams.  Half the ice cream and three of the bars were stuffed into a pyrex jug and microwaved until soft.  These were then blended, poured into a pint glass and gulped down rapidly.  I repeated the process with the rest of the tub and bars, and felt a remarkable combination of satisfaction and shame all at once.  [Hashtag] Eat like a swimmer.  [Hashtag] Diet of a champion.

The morning swim was meant to be in Garryvoe (east Cork), but it was too foggy so we went to another beach just down the coast.  The route was to swim parallel to the beach down as far as the grey house and back.  This would be a 2km swim, the shortest swim of the camp so far, but it made up for this by being a terrible slog.  Conditions were horrible, lots of wind and waves combined with poor visibility meant it was hard to get a straight line.  The grey house was half hidden in fog and seemed to take forever to materialise, then even longer to get to.  The swim back was just as bad, and I constantly felt disoriented as the sea had its way with me.

The afternoon swim was the Copper Coast, so I stopped off in Lidl in Dungarvan to stock up on ice-cream and yoghurt, then called in to my sister in Tramore for lunch.  I'm mad about my niece Clionadh, but was glad she was away at summer camp and wouldn't have to witness me and my wonder diet.  What hope would my sister have of telling her that she needs to eat her vegetables to grow up big and strong when her giant of an uncle eats meals that consist solely of puréed stracciatella?  My sister did her best to glower at me while I made use of her microwave and blender, so I threw her one of the ice-cream bars which softened her mood considerably.  When I was using her jacks, I noticed how itchy my t-shirt was, especially on my back and shoulders.  Taking it off and looking in the mirror, I saw lots of red splotches on my skin.  Just my luck, went swimming in miserable conditions, and now I'm destroyed with wind burn.

The afternoon swim was along the copper coast through choppy water, and then into a really dark cave (optional).  As enclosed spaces and the dark are two things that give me the willies, I swam along the cliffs and let the others go cave swimming while I hung out on the swell outside.  The swim back was with the wind, which meant less chop and greater speed.  We were then treated to a massive feed in a tiny cabin (there were blaas for days, maaahn) which I couldn't enjoy because my mouth was still pissed off at me.  I had gotten even more burned that afternoon (thank you and fuck you, Mr. Wind!) so had a fantastically itchy back to keep me company on the drive back to Cork.


Saturday:

The morning swim was in Myrtleville, and I did roughly a mile at a leisurely pace.  Kate and Rory were missing, and Ned was not joining in the swim today.  I put all of these things down to the Lee Swim being on that afternoon.  Rory and Ned had competed against each other eight times, and currently were tied at four each.  Today's swim was going to be a serious grudge match, and whoever won would have serious bragging rights.  Conor, my childhood next door neighbour would also be swimming that day, and I had a score to settle with him.  A few weeks earlier I had been up at my hometown for a river swim, secretly hoping to beat him, but he gave me a proper trouncing.  It was of utmost importance that I come a close second to him today.  Beating him was not conceivable as I was at the end of a hard week of swimming and there was very little tiger in the tank at this point.

After getting home, registering, buying a new pair of shoes and a tub of High-5, dropping off my gear at the finish, then walking through town in my togs and t-shirt to get to the starting point, the pre-race nerves were starting to kick in. I met with Conor, and we joked about, then got in line and began the weary shuffle toward the starting scaffold.  My dives had never been too fantastic, so when the horn sounded, I did a straddle jump and and started ploughing forward, outputting as much power as possible as I made my way to the first bridge.

My arms hurt and my shoulders burnt with each stroke, but I kept repeating "Long-And-Strong (breath) Long-And-Strong (breath)" to myself as I made my way past several wetsuits and on towards the next bridge.  Before the race I had been told how many bridges there were in total, and which one represents the half-way point, but all that was soon forgotten.  Even though I had no idea where I was in relation to Conor, all that mattered was beating him or not getting too badly beaten by him.  If either of those things could be achieved without swallowing any of the river water, today would be a good day.

Eventually I got to the big boat on the docks, and as I was still gaining on and overtaking other swimmers, I made a point of swimming uncomfortably close to them so that they got mashed against the boat in passing.  The final leg was literally just around the corner, and this meant that after swimming the bulk of the race with the current, the last dash would be against it.  I switched on my legs and gave it my all as I kept aiming for the big yellow inflatable thing at the finish.  When I reached the finish, it looked like I had beaten Conor, so I started breast-stroking slowly towards the quayside to get out.  Out of nowhere, a wee wave came along and splashed me in the face, sending some water right up my nose and down the back of my throat.  It was only the tiniest of drops, but the thought of all the rubbish, rat-piss, and god only knows what else that it contained was nearly made me pass out.


Sunday:

It was the last day of distance week, and as a fun way of wrapping things up, there was a six hour channel qualifier swim.  I had no intention of swimming any of the channels, but thought I'd do the swim purely for the craic of it.  It was low tide at Sandycove, so for the first hour I did my best to keep up with Sligo Clodagh and French Phillippe as they swum around the inside of the island.  Then it was over to the feed-bay on the island for some High-5 topped up with hot water.  YUM!  Even though it was still low tide, I started doing laps of the island, getting a feed after each lap (more Hi-5, more hot water, more yum).  Although I didn't have a watch to time it, each lap was roughly half an hour, so if I could keep some tally of the laps, then I'd have a vague idea of how much time had elapsed.  A few laps in, Carol and Donna at the feed-bay complained that they were a bit bored, so if I could tell them a joke and make them laugh at the next feed, that'd be great.  At first I thought this was a ploy to keep me mentally engaged while swimming, but when I came around after my next lap, they made it clear that if I didn't make them laugh, I wasn't getting fed. "Surely, you can't be serious?"  (Blank stares, no feed).  Jeez, tough crowd! "Why did the toilet paper roll down the hill?  To get to the bottom!"  (Lots of laughs, High-5!)  The next lap: "What do you do when you see a spaceman?  Park the car there, man!" (More laughs, more High-5.)  I only had one joke left, and after that I'd be relying on my Rodney Dangerfield routine.  This was worrying as it really depended on getting his mannerisms down, which would be tricky in swimming hat and goggles.  At the next feed, Ned was sitting at the feed station.  Maybe he'd heard of my comedic prowess, and had stopped by for a much needed chuckle. "What do gay horses eat?" He responded curtly with "Stop telling jokes, your feeds are taking too long."  Feeling cowed, I slugged back my High-5 and hot water in silence.  Then just as I turned to swim away for the next lap, I shouted back: "Haay-ayyy!"

By now I had completely lost track of how many laps had been done or how much time had passed, it was just a case of lap-feed, lap-feed.  There were a few warm pockets of water that were worth looking forward to every lap, but there were also some icy cold bits, especially around the back of the island.  The bottles of High-5 started off as a treat, now became less tasty each time and it was a struggle to get it all in to me.  The sugary bubbles would linger in my throat for the first leg of the lap post-feed, and eventually I started fantasising about the little lunch boxes of jaffa cakes that Clodagh had packed for her feeds.  Maybe if she crapped out early, I could eat her jaffas?  At this point I was torn between wanting to see her succeed, but also hoping she didn't so I could claim her tasty orangy cakes as my own.  Would it be rude to ask at the next feed how she was faring?

English Jane jumped in and joined me for two laps to keep me company.  When she tapped out, she said it was too hard to keep up with me.  I wasn't sure if she was being serious or just saying that to keep my spirits up, either way there was nothing to do but to just keep swimming.  Eventually during a non-jocular feed, Kiwi Donna said: "Well done, you're doing great, that's over five hours done now!"  I thanked her and went off on what would be my last lap.  At the next feed Cork Carol said: "You've twelve minutes left, so swim over to that house and back again, and then head over to the slipway and get out!"  I did as I was told, and got out at the slipway to a big round of applause.  Afterwards at picnic table I asked Clodagh how she got on, being genuinely interested at this point as I physically and mentally in a place that was waaay beyond jaffa cakes.

"I finished it, so will be able to do the Channel in a few weeks!"

"Well done Clodagh, delighted for you!"

"And you?"

"Ended up doing the six hours."

"Good stuff, looks like you have to swim the channel now!"

Monday, July 25, 2016

Galway Bay 2016: Adventures of a near-sighted distance swimmer


Prologue:

Last year a friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer, and it made me feel so frustratingly useless.  I wanted to do the Galway Bay Swim in aid of Cancer Care West, but knew there was insufficient time to get the training in and a boat organised.  Fast forward a year and she has had some life-changing surgery, and I was sufficiently fit to do the swim and on the waiting list to get a support boat.  As the weeks passed by with no sign of a boat materialising, I started mentally preparing myself for the possibility that I might not get to swim the bay this year, and that if it doesn't happen just suck it up.  Others who had done it previously said not to sweat it, they had gotten their boats only two or three weeks before the swim, just hang on in there as things have a funny way of falling in to place and all that.  Three weeks to go, two weeks to go, and one week to go all slid by and I was as boatless as ever.  Then on the Wednesday before the swim I got a call from one of the organisers asking had I found a boat yet?  Not yet, no.  Ok, try this number, his name is Sean, he might be able to help you.

Sean had a boat, and was willing to help me out.  I was in!


Friday:

I took Friday off work to get checked out by my GP to make sure I was in adequate condition to take on the swim.  She had recently done the Lee swim with her partner, so it was less than five minutes of medical check up followed by a good half hour of talking about swimming.  After that I had to go to The Edge tri-shop to get spare goggles, water bottles, and a gigantic tub of High5 4:1 recovery mix.  On the way back I stopped off at Aldi and bought a small mountain of fatty treats, which were devoured within minutes of getting back home.  The logic was that these would be absorbed into my body (waistline) quickly, and then would be burnt off slowly over the course of the big swim the following day.  The science behind this is sketchy and made-up at best, but guilt-free binge-eating is always welcome.  This was followed by a half hour nap on the couch, which was extended to an hour and a half, and then it was a case of hastily packing up my shit and driving to Galway for the safety briefing.

The drive up and safety briefing went off without incidents, and there was a pasta party for the swimmers afterwards (sadly there was no games of pasta parcel).  When I went back out to my van, it turned out that someone had left the lights on and she was not starting.  My buddy John was on the way from Mullingar, so there was half an hour to kill until he could give me a jump start.  After a nice walkeen from Westside to Lower Westside, John rocked up and we hooked up the jump leads, gave it a minute or two to get some bit of charge going, and then ... ... ... nothing.  We tried this for a good while, but it just wasn't happening.  Someone had been leaving the lights on quite a lot of late, and the continuous need for jump starts had worn the battery out.  The good news was that I had a place to stay that night, so would not be sleeping in the back of a Hiace in a Westside car park.  The other news is that I would be leaving my van on its own in Westside overnight.


Saturday:

After a good nights sleep and a breakfast of porridge and more porridge, I went through my feeding schedule with John.  There was a two litre carton of double strength High5, and this was to be mixed with hot water from a flask for the feeds. First feed on the one hour mark, and then every half hour after that.  We looked at the map of the swim route, and I drew a circular motion with my finger, joking that this was the one thing I didn't want to do.  He dropped me off at the Salthill hotel where I waited for the bus, and he drove down to the docks to meet the support boat homies.  There was loads of time to kill, so I did a bit of walking on the prom, and Co. Clare was nicely visible on the other side of the bay.  The bus was right on time and brought us over to Aughinish where we could see the first wave of swimmers setting off into the fog.

The fog was a bit worrying, but after a few minutes it lifted a bit, and the support boats were visible.  This was great as it just meant sighting as far as the boats, and then follow the boat across the bay.  Then when it was time to get changed and I took my glasses off, the boats magically disappeared. On top of this, my (non-prescription) goggles had a smoky tint to them which further reduced visibility.  This was going to be a lot harder than initially anticipated.

We got into the water with the stately plump Martello tower on our left, and headed off when the horn sounded.  There were scores of compass jellyfish in the bay, floating around like souls of the damned.  I tried sighting but it was pointless.  I found myself drifting off the right of the group, but was ok with it as the dropping tide seemed to be dragging everyone to the left.  Eventually I found myself swimming on my own, and completely unsure of where I was going.  Never mind that.  Just - Keep - Swimming.  After an eternity of swimming a crew boat pulled up beside me, and pointed out that the Martello tower was now to my right.  I had succeeded in swimming around in a circle, and had not gotten beyond the first leg of the swim. 

At this point I expected them to say "For fuck sake you've made a complete balls of this, just get out of the water now!"  Instead they guided me to the first yellow buoy, and from there on a nice guy on a jet ski said he'd accompany me until I got to my boat.  As I had no idea how much time was wasted perfecting the circle stroke, I just accepted that I was now out of the competition, that everyone in my wave was way ahead of me, so it was just a case of getting on with it and finishing the swim.  Eventually we got to the triangular buoy and there was no sign of my boat.  Mr. Jetski asked what my boat looked like, and I hadn't a clue.  After a minute or so of treading water, we decided to push on, Mr. Jetski saying he'd go all the way to the finish line with me if need be.  So with no support boat, and no feeds, I had no choice but to just keep swimming.

The psychological part of open water swimming is huge.  If those negative thoughts start creeping in about not being capable, they can very quickly become real, and then they can become true.  At this point of the swim, it occurred to me that all this shit going wrong was a sure sign that God hates me and was punishing me for some vaguely sinful aspect of my existence.  This could really doom me if it took root, so I changed my mantra from Just Keep Swimming to God Is Dead.  This put my head at peace, and shortly afterwards my support boat appeared.  If you ever find that prayer isn't working, I heartily recommend actively denying the existence of God, it's far more effective!

From here on in the water was rougher, but it was just a matter of keep following the boat until I got to shore.  The feeds were at half hour intervals and it broke the time up perfectly.  After a number of feeds John excitedly told me that there was only 1km left!  Brilliant.  I put the head down and kept swimming and swimming and swimming.  It didn't feel like I was making great progress, but assured myself that whatever was left was only hundreds of metres, so just keep swimming with long and strong strokes.  After a while I saw that John was preparing another feed, which could hardly be right.  When he threw the bottle at me, he apologised and said that now there is only 1k left, the last time was actually 2k.  After everything that had happened so far I couldn't be mad at him, lauged it off, put my head down and just kept swimming.

After some serious ploughing through waves the diving platform became visible, and for the first time that day I had a clear line of sight.  Fearing that there might be other swimmers close by, I put the boot down and hammered through the last few hundred metres.  A teenage paddle boarder sat with his back to me as I came closer to shore.  He didn't see me coming, but was in my way so I just tore through him.  I heard my name being called out on the PA as I climbed up the steps.  When I got to the top, someone put a towel around my shoulders, and I walked off to get dressed feeling like Elvis having just stepped off stage.





Thanks to:
John for being the greatest one man crew anyone could ever have asked for; Sean and the family Harte for the boat, dinner and the craic; Ned Denison and his torture week for getting me match fit; Gavan for the spare room the night before; Big L for the inspiration, support, and buns; assorted Sandycovers, Myrtlevillains, and Cork Tri swimmers for training with me throughout the year; and finally Friedrich Nietzsche for my new swimming mantra!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Bloggy O'Soul 2016




Prologue:


Festival season was arriving, and I wanted to go to Body and Soul.  In 2011 I had gotten in as a performer, and in 2014 I had gotten in on sheer entitlement.  Many other people might look on my history of playing at festivals and getting freebies as sure evidence that I have had a good run at things and am owed nothing.  What was clear to me was that my love of going to music festivals far outweighed my love of paying for tickets.  In 2014 Body and Soul sold out, and even if it wasn't, I was broke as a joke and could not afford to buy a ticket.  This was back when my career as a DJ was running dry and I had to resort to writing erotica to make ends meet.  These days I have a full-time job with regular hours and a regular paycheque, which makes it harder to justify that the universe owes me a complimentary weekend pass.

If I had to get in, then it would have to be earned.  And by earned, I mean blagged.  After some online research, I found the details of the agency handling the publicity for the festival.  They were e-mailed, and as a blogger/freelance photographer I would like a weeked pass for the festival, as my writing style is that of the man on the ground I would not require an access all areas pass, a common or garden one would do.  Fingers crossed they follow the links and be so enamored by my writing style that they overlook that the blog was not updated in almost two years.  They replied, thanking me for my interest in the festival, but unfortunately all press passes had already been allocated.

The weekend before Body and Soul I was helping a friend move some furniture, and he asked me if I was all set for the festival?  I started explaining that I didn't have a ticket and had made no arrangements for time off work, so it was looking highly unlikely.  He looked at me askance asking was I not playing this year?  Alas no, but to be fair I'm no longer as actively involved in the DJ scene as I once might have been, and dare I say it, am no longer relevant.  A few weeks previously another friend had asked would I fancy DJing with him in Cork on Friday the 17th, but I was non-committal as it would clash with the festival.  On the morning of the 16th I texted him saying that Body and Soul would not be happening for me this year and wondering if his offer still stood?  Sorry man, the gig has been pulled, problem with the managers of the venue, you know yourself.

Just before I went to bed on Thursday evening my phone went off.  It was Mr. Whippy, he was supposed to be doing a tag-team set with Lex Woo on the Saturday night of Body and Soul, but Lex had pulled out at the last minute due to either health problems, woman problems, or both.  Sorry for the short notice, but can you fill in?  You'll get a weekend pass for your troubles.


Friday:

Festival season is also swimming season, and as I could not miss a full weekend of training, was in the pool at 7am to get in a session before work. Then it was a matter of going to work and asking my boss to give me time off to go fluting around some fields in the midlands at short notice. After scoring a half day, I went home to find an e-mail from Mr. Whippy saying:

-I'm awful sorry Herringbone, but there is difficulty changing names on the lineup at this stage of the game, and they'll be ID-ing at accreditation, so I'd hate for you to waste your journey.
Sorry this seems to be so difficult,
W.

I replied:
-No worries Whippy, I've arranged time off work, so now I'm just going to get my shit together, then head up and see what happens.  If you can get Lex's passport/driver's license somehow ferried to the festival that'd be great, otherwise I will have to be ballsier than Ballsy McBallsface!
H.

As quickly as possible, I loaded up my van with a duvet, pillows, inflatable mattress, camera, films, flash, batteries, sufficient underwear and clothes.  Then gathering all the records used recently in my podcasts and putting them in my record bag, I was almost ready to go.  Then a slight depression came over me as I realised that all of this would be for naught if I couldn't get in.  To get over this, I sat down and watched two episodes of Peep Show on youtube, and feeling infinitely better about being a sad bastard white male, got into my van and hit the road.

The bulk of the journey was spent on the motorway as far as Mullingar, then at Delvin there was a sign for Body and Soul which sent me off on a twenty mile odyssey of country roads.  It turns out that this sign was misplaced and sending me in the wrong direction, but after several hours of motorway driving the humps and hollows, twists and turns of Irish backroads were a welcome diversion.  Greta is rear wheel drive, and the back tyres are a bit on the worn side which meant I had a wee bit of drift going on at some of the bends.  Somewhere out there is a twenty something Halford's hero in a Honda Civic who secretly dreams of being a thirty something IT worker in a Toyota Hiace.

I eventually got to the festival and went straight to accreditation to get my/Lex's wristband.  Being the genius that I am, I used Lex's real name then stood there as they went through page after page after page and could not find me.  Shit, what if the administration nightmare had blown over and now my real name is down on the list?  What was I supposed to say, that I was lying two minutes ago, but this is my real name?  After a few more minutes of this, I asked if my DJ name "Lex Woo" was written down by any chance?  Ah yeah, here it is, sorry about that, here's your wristband, have a good weekend!  Using someone else's pseudonym to get in to a festival, we are truly through the looking glass.



I drove through the boggy meadow that was performer's parking, and found a space in the hollow at the far end.  Then it was just a matter of digging out my muddy Meindls from underneath the rest of my crap, sticking on a hoody and heading in to the festival.  One of the first observations was that it was just a little bit more commercial than previous years with Bulmers, Vodaphone, and Absolut having prominent stages.  Any fears that it had lost sight of what it was about as a festival were put to bed, as I realised that any of the bands or DJs that I knew who were playing this weekend were not getting paid.  The Jamaican Village of Trenchtown had lots of red, gold, and green draped around, but only one Jamaican flag.  There was a nice funktion one system with great dispersion oozing out "Midnight Marauders" by Fat Freddy's drop, but it was not the same as having an actual JA style  DIY soundsystem playing real roots music.  As this faded out, the laptop DJ brought in The Specials' "Ghost Town" much to the delight of the crowd.  As much as I like both of those songs, they are more at home on a freshman stoner's spotify playlist than in a reggae sanctuary at an alternative music festival.

After a bit more wandering I found the Body Holidays' area where I'd be back to backing with Mr. Whippy the following night.  We'd be playing in the Big Barn, where they currently had set up as a mini cinema with the Muppet Show playing.  Up until that point there was worry about being able to deliver the goods.  My records had been hastily packed, I had no chance to practice a set, and now that the punters had a full night of the Muppet Show, anything I do would be guaranteed to be anti-climactic.  Then Rowlf came on and did a rendition of AA Milne's "Cottleston Pie".  Although this did not change any of the issues previously raised, it set me at ease.  Could it be that the message of the song is that no matter what complexities life throws at you there is a simple (albeit nonsensical) response?  Or that Rowlf's dulcet deadpan delivery was soothing in and of itself?  Or maybe it's that no matter how big or small you are, this combination of The Muppets and Winnie the Pooh is guaranteed to make you feel good all over every time.



Hearing some tasty and ballsy guitar rock streaming out of the Bulmer's tent, I wandered in to see what was going down.  It was The Shaker Hymn, and it was pretty embarassing to say this was my first time ever hearing them even though I'm friendly enough with two of the lads in the band.  The other bad part was that this was the end of their set and they sounded pretty darn good.  If I make a solemn pledge to go and see them the next time they're on in Cork, will that make me less of a bad person? 



The rest of the night was uneventful enough.  It was really just tramping about to get the feel of the place, hoping to stumble upon something engaging.  A later visit to Trenchtown payed off as the DJ was dropping dusty rocksteady that shuffled on quite nicely.  He was a long lean gentleman in a trilby hat and an Adidas tracky top, sticking to the tradition of playing the vocal then the instrumental version.  He'd occasionally get on the mic, and (thankfully) refrained from using misappropriated JA patois.  When he moved into some harder dancehall, I moseyed on some more. It was getting late, I was getting tired.  Sleepy time in van land beckoned.


Saturday:

As a morning person, I'm at my most productive in the AM.  This also means that once it gets bright, it's very hard for me to stay asleep.  So in spite of my best efforts to get well rested, at 8am I was tramping around the main site wearing the kurta and bobble hat that I had slept in.  One of the security guards asked if I had forgotten to get out of my pyjamas, and I said yes.  The Pachamama cafe was open and it wasn't quite clear if they were just opening up, or were still winding down from the night before.  None of this really mattered as a delightfully bleary eyed barista named Anna gave me a proper decent cup of coffee to help kickstart my day.  There was only twelve hours left until my set with Whippy kicked off, so me and my coffee sat down on the swinging benches around the now dead camp fire in the Body holidays area.  Before long, two wee girls and their parents came along.  By funny coincidence, the mother (who was just a few years older than me) was from a village just a few miles out the road from me, and had gone to school in my hometown.  We knew some of the same people, but it was apparent from the neutral South Dublin inflection that she had left small town Co. Waterford behind a long time ago.  Her fella was a furniture designer and all round cool dude, and their daughters Philippa and Spiderman were fucking hilarious.  I have a small army of nephews and nieces at this point, and playing with them is always the highlight of family gatherings for me.  In this culture saying that one likes children is something of a no-no for a single man, and it's a definite no-no for a single man who drives a van.  We played a few games of football with an imaginary ball, and if you think the offside rule slows down the action, then you can only imagine how much this is amplified when there are two preschool children who are both convinced they are in possession of the imaginary ball.  We then played hide and seek. 

-You have to find us. 
-Ok what do I have to do? 
-First you count. 
-How do I count? 
-You say 1, then 2, then 3 (pause), 4, and 5, then READY OR NOT, HERE I COME!
-Gottit! Ok, 1, 2 ....

After that we played a game of the selfish crocodile, where I was a happy zebra that got eaten by the selfish crocodile.  The friendly lion and friendly tiger managed to get away unscathed, and hopefully the happy zebra will forever be remembered as a martyr in their hearts.  I liked that the worst possible characteristic in their minds was selfishness rather than blood thirsty, treacherous, or crocodilic.  It said a lot about their upbringing, and almost made up for their lack of interest in dinosaurs or not knowing what noise a zebra makes.  As much fun as it was, I was hungry so said my goodbyes and wandered off to the walled garden to get some tastiness into me.


I ordered a papusa from a vegan foodstand and to my delight pronounced it correctly first go!  I explained to the staff that I always get nervous ordering new food stuffs as the slightest mispronunciation can lead to withering glances from the serving staff. They smiled to assure me that no they were not that type of smug condescending, so I then asked if the papusa contains "kwinoa".  It was fun to see their smiles drop as they realised they are exactly that brand of smug condescending.  I only came here for breakfast, but ended up teaching the staff a valuable life lesson, this has been a rich experience in so many ways.  Then a young man appeared next to me wearing the most unique woolly jumper I've ever seen.  It was sleeveless, with an opening at the back which (conveniently) let the world see his ornate back tattoo, but also had an overly convoluted funnel neck which was made using wools of increasing gauges.  If one should ever find oneself in a situation that required a warm chest, cool arms, and an aired out back, this was the exact item of clothing you'd need. He also had one of those leather pocket belts that new agers seem to love even though he was wearing jeans that had a full compliment of pockets.  He ordered a juice and after taking a sip, said: "Oh my god, that is exactly what my body needed" in the dryest, most unenthusiastic manner of speaking I've ever encountered.  Due to my rich and varied life experience, I was now familiar with the middle class reserve, and have also overheard hipster-ish detachment in coffee shops.  This was a combination of both that would have been considered sarcastic except that sarcasm entails some level intonation.  The other thing I noticed, was that it was working.  The girl behind the counter was hanging on his every monotone word, and he knew it.  Well played young man, well played.


I then wandered back to the van and changed into actual clothes for the day ahead.  It was now about one o'clock, so I took my bag of 45s and dropped them off at the Body Holidays lock-up.  Often at festivals when they try to set up an area that's full of ironic fun, it can end up falling flat on its face due to being the wrong shade of crappy and naff.  Toby and Jess Hatchett, the creative force behind Body Holidays, had the necessary insight to inject their creation with as much naff as possible, and the result was so much fun!  The staff all wore blue blazers reminiscent of the Butlins' red coats, had the streakiest fake tans going, and embraced the silliness with the utmost of seriousness.  Several times over the weekend I overheard people saying things along the lines of "That terrible holiday camp was f*cking brilliant!"  The important part of it was that they had lots of fun things on the go.  Swingball, table tennis, fusball, cornhole, bingo, sock wrestling, as well as My House music venue, the Big Barn, and a chillout/feeling burnt out area called Dire Straits.  Toby is a furniture maker based in West Cork, so everything was very well crafted and his attention to detail was impeccable (the stage door in My House was a kitchen cupboard, so bands would magically appear and disappear through this portal).  If there is anything to be learned from Body Holidays is that it's easy to have a clever or funny idea, but executing it well is quite another.  Hats off to team Hatchett!



After dropping off my 45s I wandered up to the Absolut stage to catch some of Aoife O'Neill's set.  Aoife started djing with the Eclecto posse in Tralee last year (she was the Eclecto Box to Gary Fitz's Eclecto Balls), and has since moved to Cork city where she has been a regular fixture behind the decks for venues in the know.  Right now she was playing some really nice true school hip hop while brunch was being served at a full length table in front of the stage.  It was all going along very nicely when suddenly I started feeling all tingly.  "Intergalactic Throwdown" from Mad Dr. X was being mixed in, but it had been pitched down to the point that the upfront pounding bassline now sounded all warm and dubby.  It's one thing to hear a favourite song on a big system at a festival, but it is quite another to hear it being played in a way never thought possible.  Hats off to the braided lady, Aoife O'Neill, fair f*ckin' play to you!


The next item of interest was a panel discussion on Waking The Feminists featuring Margaretta D'arcy and a representative of women in Irish Theatre.  Margaretta kicks serious ass.  One of the most well worn clichées of late is people wanting "to start a conversation", which became trite and tired very quickly (and people are STILL using it).  Margaretta made it clear from the get go that she hoped to start blazing rows and arguments.  She compared herself to the mad woman in the attic in Jane Eyre who would burn down the entire house at the end, or the witch who cursed sleeping beauty for not being invited to the Christening.  The first time she was arrested was for showing solidarity with the Armagh Women's Prison Dirty Protest on International Women's Day.  She then found herself in prison with the dirty protestors, but unable to defecate for days.  This led to suspicions amongst the other prisoners that she was a government spy planted to infiltrate them.  Finally, after almost a week her bowels moved producing a turd the size of a grape, but it was enough for her to be accepted.  If Orange is the new Black steal that plot line, remember that you read it here first.  She was also outspoken in her opinion that the EU was a capatalist conspiracy to devalue women's unpaid work in the home, then get them out in the workplace where they would get paid less then men.  She then chastised the Women in Irish Theatre representative, saying that if women in theatre really wanted to be taken seriously, they would band together and do something radical that is worthy of getting sent to jail.  If you find yourself thinking "Well that's easy for her to say", then take a quick read of this.


The sun was coming out and not wanting to go back to the van to get sun screen, I sat in a shady spot in the walled garden, and caught some of Gilbert Steele's set in the Idle and Wild cocktail bar.  I've rarely met a DJ whose style I didn't like that I also didn't like as a person, and Gil ticks both of these boxes with much gusto.  When I first met him, I assumed that Gilbert Steele was a Max Power style pseudonym (as it happens Gil is a massive Simpson's fan) so our first ever conversation went along the lines of:
-Your real name is Gilbert Steele?!
-Yes.
-REALLY?!  Your name really is Gilbert Steele?!
-Yes.
-As in, your actual birth cert given name is Gilbert Steele?!
-Yes.
This is not the actual transcript, as in real life I kept repeating myself over and over in that manner for over half an hour.  This was several years ago in The Realt Dearg, and Gil has since gone on to become one of Cork's most respected and beloved DJs.  At Body and Soul he was dropping some really tasty mid tempo stuff, working from Mr. Scruff, to Tee Scott, to Jamie Principle, which was relaxing enough to allow people sit down and soak it up, but energetic enough to give the garden a party atmosphere.  Gilbert Steele: Great guy, great name, great DJ!


As lovely as all of this was, time had been ticking away and I still had a bag of records waaay over in my van that would need to be brought to the Body Holiday area.  In Cork, I'm known for playing laid-back sets.  If you want a DJ to keep the crowd in their seats, I'm your man!  If you want a DJ to keep the crowd rocking all night, maybe you should call someone else.  People would be wanting to dance up here, and there were so many factors that were bothering my head.  I'm gigging less than once a month, so currently don't have a working set. Also my record bag was packed in a rush, so was unsure whether I'd be able to build a set from what was in there.  Worst case scenario I could end up playing to an empty tent, and if that happens, just suck it up.



When I got to the big barn, the DJ was blasting out classics from the Doors, Stooges, and Talking Heads, and the crowd were hopping!  This would be a tough act to follow, and there was no way I'd be able to keep that energy going.  After some finagling to get the turntables set up, I kicked off with some vehrrry mellow dub reggae.  After moving in to funk and soul gems, I noticed something weird about the crowd.  They weren't leaving, in fact they were staying, dancing, and enjoying themselves all at the same time.  I made a move into latin jams and cumbias to turn up the heat, and things really started popping.  From there it made sense to go into afro bangers and disco silliness and keep things moving along.  Someone had asked me earlier if I had any Pointer Sisters, and I said yes but it's a Sesame Street record and will mess with people's heads if I play it. "C is for Cookie" is an absolute weapon of a track with beautiful female backing vocals, proper disco strings, heavy drums, and Cookie Monster doing lead vocals.  As with all great weapons, it comes with great responsibility, and has to be deployed with expert judgement and sensitivity.  These are all characteristics that I'm fairly certain I don't have, but if there ever was a time to give cookies to the masses, this was it!  It had the desired effect, and after playing some more novelty disco records, I took things down a notch by  venturing into boogie territory.  If there was a standout moment from that set, it was Vicki Sue Robinson's "Hot Summer Night".  The steady groove and constant vocal references to dancing on a hot summer night resonated with the crowd, making for a beautiful mental snapshot that I cannot find the necessary words to do it justice.  Shortly afterwards I handed the headphones over to Whippy, and headed out to get a coffee and some headspace.

After getting a coffee, I hung around outside the Big Barn and soaked up Whippy's set.  Seeing him and his magical ice-cream van for the first time in Galway market ten years ago had a major impact on me.  Since then he has been a mentor, friend, and occasional co-conspirator.  A real highlight of his set was a version excursion based around James Brown's "Paid the cost to be the boss" which went down really well with the crowd.  Lots of Afro jams and plenty of funk, soul, and hip-hop workouts later, I felt the cool night air creep in so ventured back inside to get my bobble hat from my record bag. "Do you fancy going one on one for a while".  The bulk of my scorchers had already been played, and Whippy had waaay more records with him than I did, but shur why not?  "Sure, but I play to win, bitch!"  The one on one session was a lot of fun, initially there were very obvious instances of us trying to outdo one another, but as it went on our main concern was to keep the dancefloor heaving.  It was like playing a game of scrabble as although I could plan my next move, that plan could quickly be scuppered by whatever he played.  It was really intense, in the best possible way, as we both kept fishing out the bangers to keep the dancers, and each other on our toes.  All good things had to come to an end, and the power went in the tent.  This was fortunate as I had only about five unplayed records left in my bag.  When the power came back on, Whippy took over the controls, and once again I headed off for coffee and headspace.


Sunday:

I woke up late and it had been raining all night.  My records were over in Body Holidays, and I had aches and pains all over from the previous nights DJing and dancing.  My original plan was to hang around until four or so, and then head away on down to Cork.  Sunday Times were closing out the Wonderlust Stage that night, but hanging around a music festival on a rainy Sunday, tired, sore, and sober can only be so much fun.  It was now two o'clock, so if I was to walk in get my records, then head back to the van, I could be on the way home by three.  So after a trudge through the sludge, slinging a heavy record bag onto my already aching shoulders, and trudging back through sludgier sludge, I was ready to hit the road.  The key turned, the engine roared into life, and the backwheels spun about in the mud as I sat in the one spot.  I repositioned my cargo so that the paving slabs and record bags were over the back axle which would hopefully help gain some traction.  This made no difference at all, so I headed up and found three lads who were getting ready to leave to see if they'd give me a push.  They gave me a push, but it made no difference.  We even tried putting the paving slabs just under the tyres and tried to get the van up on top of them for more traction, but nada.  I thanked them for their help and went back to pondering.  There was a crew Hilux parked up next to the portacabin, so I went up and asked if they'd give me a tow out of the hole, but it was being used for another job.  There'd be tractors coming along at some point and they'd pull me out.  So I went back to my van and sat there waiting for the cavalry of tractors that would come over the horizon at any moment.  It was then that I saw a Land Rover Defender at the other side of the field, and its owner was getting something out of the back.

Walking over with my fingers crossed that (a) he'd have a tow rope, (b) he'd be willing to help, and (c) that he wasn't too fucked up to do such.  With all three boxes ticked, he drove over to me and hooked the tow sling to the eye on the front of my van, with the other end going around his hitch.  He fired up the engine, eased forward, and ping, the hook snapped off the sling!  All was not lost as the sling was still intact.  So he reversed back to me, then doubled and tripled the sling over to join our two vehicles together.  We got into our respective drivers seats, he started moving forward, and I was following behind him.  Success!!!  The tripled over sling was not only sufficiently strong, it was also alarmingly short.  The front of my van was less than a foot away from his tow hitch, meaning that if he braked suddenly, poor Greta's face would be properly smashed in.  He stuck his arm out the window to signal he was about to stop, and Greta's face lived to tell the tale. We undid the sling, and I went to drive off, only to find more wheely muddy spinny fun.  This time I wasn't down in a hollow, and a group of bystanding lads with cans started pushing me to get me going.  Once I got moving, I resisted the urge to get out of the van and thank them all individually, but just kept going and going and going until I was far beyond Body and Soul, fields and mud.




Thanks to:  Mr. Whippy, Toby and Jess Hatchett (and all the Body Holidays crew), my boss for giving me time off work at no notice, the friendly dread that owned the Defender, and Jason Looney for the bail out.