Saturday, 29 August 2009

My August moon - a guest post

Here's a little treat. A guest post from a writer - actually, not just a writer but a published author, a fellow moonwalker, an old tutor, a trusty editor, and a thoroughly lovely lady and good friend who's supported Moonwalking from day one.

Over to Susy...

My August moon
by Susannah Marriott

When I told Rob I couldn’t meet up with him for the August moon, he wanted to know more. Why would I turn down a chance to hear his tales of moors, madmen and moonlit mayhem? Well, I had a chance to enjoy some of my own, in a field in deepest pagan Cornwall, that’s why. At this full moon, I could be out dancing with witches.

“What are you doing this Thursday?” asked the voice on the other end of the phone. It was Steve-the-witch, as he’s fondly known.

“We’re doing this party in our field – big top, fire, bagpipes – you know the score. Will your girls play some records?”

Our three girls are all under ten, but played a selection of their 45s this time last year in the same field. These Boots are Made for Walking, Chiquitita at plus 7 (because it sounds like chipmunks), Puff the Magic Dragon – that one made two grown-ups cry, the ones who weren’t asleep in the hay on that rainy Sunday morning after a stormy night before. “What are those black things?” the girls’ friends asked, hanging about by the DJ trestle table, turning them over to find the tune on the other side.

But I digress. Our girls are staying with their grandparents for the week, so come Thursday evening off we drive in a child-free camper van. The fridge is crammed with beer and I’ve a large bag of pungent Indian snacks, which arrived by post that very afternoon from some workmates on a holy mountain in Rajasthan. We follow the setting sun into the middle of Cornwall. Through tree tunnels, past half-concealed granite manor houses, straight on past the cheese farm, no other cars in sight the whole way.

Turning onto the site, we’re greeted by a giant rat. More than man size. He – like the other animals that guard the site – was made by the trainees who work on the farm. Adults with special needs grow the organic produce in the polytunnels, look after the real animals, and build the giant sculptures and the woodland walks.

We cheer as our van makes it into the field (last year the granite hedges and mud were troublesome) and open the beers. The sun is setting, the stars are up already and the trainees are having a noisy time roaming the site. The tumulus-like hump is still there in the centre, nightlights are twinkling in the fairy grove, hanging from branches beside strings of magical holed stones. There are makeshift tents and painted live-in vehicles, dreadlocks on dads and tired toddlers in pushchairs. Kids are running wild, racing between the mobile blacksmith’s gear and the wooden spoonmaker’s tent, around the giant flapping flags and back around the homemade light sculptures. We miss ours...

I look for the moon, but it’s still too early; but not too early for more beer. The bellow of bagpipes tuning up eventually lures us inside the big top. Which is filled with heads on sticks. Painted oblong heads made from old cereal boxes, fixed on canes. They look spookily real, like the effigies of the deceased in Sulawesi, which they call ghosts. Rather drunkenly, I try to match up the boxes with the people who made them...

A five-piece band has been pulled together for the night. Box bass and fiddle, pipes and drum – and a caller, for this is the legendary annual barn dance. And he’s irresistible. So leprechaun-like and nimble on his feet that I grab a partner and within moments we are making a huge circle – parents, kids, helpers, trainees, friends – and ineptly following his patient calls to “Swing your partner”, “Circle to the left”, “Ladies to the middle”, “No, Ladies. To the middle; OK, keep swinging then”. What was that warning about circle-dancing on full-moon nights?

Because then we’re in eights, supposedly stripping the willow, but only three people in our eight know their lefts from their rights, and even fewer can follow their partner down the line. I’m being hurled down the row in the firm grasp of an enormous over-excited partner, and then swung back again into the sweaty box-bass strummer. And then we’re off in another circle, forwards and clap, backwards and swing your partner, polka up and down, find a new couple and make an arch...

Suddenly my dress feels too tight, the straps keep falling off, and in the earlier excitement of being child-free I must have drunk too much because my bladder is bursting.

I stumble out of the big-top, across the stubbly field and up the homemade steps into the composting toilet, which is completely dark. The lid won’t stay up and I fumble around for a handful of sawdust to throw down. If we’d brought the kids they’d have packed their torches, I grumble – and I wouldn’t be so drunk. Back outside I put my head under the tap, and a better prepared mother hands me a glass of water.

And then I see the moon. It’s a clear sky – which is startling in itself because it seems to have rained in Cornwall every day this summer – and there’s a star hanging off one side. It looks like she’s wearing a single sparkly earring. I must ask Steve about it; he works at the witch museum; he’ll know.

Later, once the sound system has been unplugged and the instruments packed away, the trainees have shaken hands politely, and the elderly mothers finally finished dancing to Status Quo (“It’s sex for the feet, Susy – this is the only sex I get these days”) – I finally get to sit down with Steve, around the fire. It’s his birthday by a few minutes. Waving away the dogs and the acrid smoke (the huge logs were once part of a jetty and have been well-treated), we chat about pellars and fairy lore, and about witchcraft writers here in Cornwall. There’s talk of Steve’s infamous bulging pockets, and the mayhem they caused at the Merry Maidens with the antlers – all the kind of stuff Rob was hoping I’d write about.

But Steve doesn’t know which planet it is after all, and suddenly everyone is offering up half-baked theories about bright stars and planets, and I’m too tired to think, what with all the drink and the circling and my tight bodice – and I’m missing my girls too much. It’s time to lie down. Next year, we say, as we head back to the van with its sparkly strings of fairy lights – next year, Steve, we’ll make sure the girls are around and they’ll play their best tunes, we promise.

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