Cape Clear Storytelling Festival (or, the Crazy British Lady)

So, now we get down to the meat and bones of the weekend. That is to say, I’m actually going to write about it now, as opposed to just posting pretty pictures in pleasing patterns down the page. Ooh… look at the alliteration in that sentence.
Sorry. Tired. Stressed. Hence, in strange mood.
Anyway, the storytelling festival. Will you forgive me if I don’t give you a blow-by-blow account? Its just I can’t quite find a through-line for this holiday away, and I started it last night and it was kind of boring, and the post also sounded similar to many others I’ve written previously, so I stopped and posted the pretty pictures instead…
So, the storytelling festival. How can I start?
Well, it started on Friday. It then continued Saturday and finished Sunday. I arrived in time for the evening concert on Friday and left halfway through the afternoon concert on Sunday. It was held on Clear Island, which is off the South-East coast of Ireland. You get there on a ferry.
I like ferries. Even though they make me seasick. There’s something about leaving a harbour that makes you feel like you’re going on a real adventure. Though, I learnt on the weekend that whilst these days we think of the sea as a barrier, hundreds of years ago, before roads and cars and things, the seas were viewed as the pathways of the world. Isn’t that interesting? Changes how you look at the map of the world, doesn’t it? So, a tiny island off the coast of Ireland would be much more important than places inland, because it was easier to get to.
So, yes. I arrived Friday evening and got settled in at the lovely hostel. The hostel owner introduced me to some people, as I was travelling alone, so I spoke to some very pretty and willowy French Canadians, an English girl who clearly thought she was a fairy or a pixie (or at least highly original and unique) and an American with a headband. A male American with a headband. Things already seemed interesting.
After a quick dinner and some tea (no-one does anything in Ireland without first having some tea), I caught the island ‘bus’ (its a mini-bus, and, really, more like a taxi, in that it picks you up where you want to go and drops you off, and comes whenever you want, not on a timetable, but, luckily its much, much cheaper than a taxi), to the evening concert. It was very enjoyable. I particularly liked the storyteller Kate Corkery, who is Irish but has been living and working in London for years, and the Birmingham storyteller, Graham Langley. There was also an American Appalachian hillbilly player, David Holt, who kind of blew everyone else off the stage. Throughout the course of the weekend, David would show us how to play the guitar, the banjo, the spoons, the bones, the mouth bow, the Jew’s harp (yes, this is its actual name, I’m not being racist), the paper bag and the 3 cm high Jack Daniels bottle. He would also tell us how he came to discover he was related to Frank and Jesse James. He’s solid-Appalachian, Confederate hillbilly.
So, the concert was good, but it didn’t blow my mind. It was kind of crowded in the venue, and I guess I had been expecting something in the vein of the National Folk Festival in Canberra or Woodford, and, of course, was disappointed because there was less choice of venue, performer, schedule etc. Things got worse when we walked out at the end of the concert (11pm) and it was pouring, pitch black (no street lighting on Cape Clear) as well as very windy. I had left the hostel in a bit of a hurry, worried I would miss the bus and/or concert, so had left without my rain jacket and torch. I had a black T-shirt on, a pretty crocheted white top and a darling, sunflower-yellow beret with white flowers (bought from cheby-lou on etsy, don’t you know?), doing my best, “I’m a free and easy hippy-dippy flower-power love-child” impression, and FREEZING MY ARSE OFF. I missed the first bus, and ended up waiting in the rain with around 15 other people for half an hour for the other one to return. We eventually called it and were told that it had a punctured tyre. We requested they send anyone, absolutely anyone for us (the goat farmer and his tractor, perhaps?), but the bus driver didn’t understand. ‘Yes, I understand, but I’ve got a flat tyre, I can’t come now.’ When finally the other bus arrived, we managed to squeeze around 15 people into a 9 seater bus, as no-one was willing to wait again.
Needless to say, I was not in the mood to go to the pub. Nor was I in the mood to be particularly happy or upbeat. I’d been struck down with a cold a day or two beforehand, and I was not happy that my attempts to get better were being hijacked by the wind and the rain and my inappropriate clothing. I was determined to go straight to bed when I got back to the hostel. Well, at least, after a relaxing sit in front of the fire to warm up.
Unfortunately for me, my relaxing sit in front of the fire was not to be. When I went into the hostel’s common room, there were 6 or 7 people in front of the fire all talking very loudly and excitedly. I didn’t particularly want to put up with all the noise and bother, but I desperately wanted the fire, so I pulled up a chair on the edge, and put my top and hat out to dry closer to the fire. Though I had gone to the edge of the room, I soon found myself being involved in the conversation that was taking place next to me.
It was one of those conversations that I very much like to get involved in, when I’m in the right mood, and with the right people. I like to call it, the ‘What’s Wrong With The World, And How All The Problems Would Go Away If Everyone Just Thought Like Us’ conversation. The problem was, I didn’t think at all like the woman who was leading the conversation. Besides which, she wasn’t really leading the conversation, so much as she WAS the conversation. There was barely room for us to add nods or frowns on either sides of her sentences, before she was off again on a completely different, and usually contradictory tangent. She started off making those wonderfully banal comments about how what we were currently witnessing was the end of Western civilization, and how the end of the Roman era was just the same as this, excesses and things falling apart, which sounds terribly clever and cutting-edge the first time you heard it (when you were about, oh, I don’t know, 15 years old), but is now beginning to wear thin. It got worse when she followed it up with comments that not only were we now like the Romans, but we’re also like the Weimar Republic, and look how that ended, in a dictatorship, conveniently forgetting that only two minutes ago she had been predicting the end of Western civilization, not a dictatorship, and that, apart from excessive drinking and free morals, there’s not much the end of the Roman empire has in common with the Weimar Republic. Of course, all these comments were delivered with a slightly smug smile, a faraway look and a thoughtful tone, to inspire a sense within us that here was a woman who had thought long and hard about the problems of the world, and had, after much deliberation, identified the key areas that needed improvements. Here was a woman who had flicked through her Year 8 history book, noticed some words in the Roman section that were similar to the words she had read in her Miranda-Devine-equivalent article that morning over coffee and come to an inevitable conclusion.
This was painful enough, but she then began to discuss the NHS (she was British) and how there was nothing that compared to it in Ireland and how dreadful that was. This cheered me up a little, as we at least had the same views on basic services. But, before I knew it, she was complaining about the ‘nanny state’ and how social democracies like Sweden stopped people having ambition. She was telling me that because there was so little difference in pay between a paramedic and a doctor in Sweden, the kids that ‘should’ be aiming to become doctors were just ‘copping out’ and becoming paramedics because it was easier. A smile was tugging irresistibly at my lips whilst I attempted to find the right words to explain that I didn’t think that was such a big disaster, and that, really, if the worst thing that social democracy had done was leading to an oversupply of paramedics, I thought it still compared fairly positively as a political system to the rest of the options out there.
But, things were only just getting started. We then moved on to how social democracy, married with not enough smacking of the children had led to the London riots. We were then given a lecture on how single parent families had contributed to badly brought up young people, particularly in relation to fatherless children, and then how all children these days were spoilt rotten, had too many toys and were too consumerist (I resisted the urge to point out that the only way they could have become this way was by copying their elders and existing in a consumerist world created by those older than themselves). There was a round of, ‘in my day…’ phrases, just for good measure.
At all points during this conversation, I attempted to stand up for the social democratic state. I attempted to point out that her beloved NHS was only available in a social democratic state system. I attempted to point out that the widening economic gap between rich and poor (which she was furious about) was easily fixed through a social democratic state. But she would have none of it. She insisted the government was interfering too much in her life and that her preferred form of governance was that of Plato, which was a people who didn’t know they were being governed. I resisted the urge to point out that this statement had rather sinister overtones, and that I would rather be fully aware of how and why I was being governed, so that I could debate it with idiots such as herself and then make informed decisions at the next election, certain I agreed with the party I was voting for.
The highlight of the conversation, however, came when we began to discuss (well, when she began to discuss) welfare payments. People on the dole had far too much money, according to her. They could get more money on the dole than by working. This meant they would never want to go to work. Fairly standard, right-wing, uncompromising views. All things I can’t stand to listen to. Myself (and some of the other blokes there) argued that she was wrong, and that she was talking in regards to special incidents where a person was entitled to a variety of different benefits. She agreed, but then went on to say that a person could get 25,000 pounds on the dole if they had 5 or 6 children. I pointed out that, in that case, the money wasn’t just for them, but also to help support their children. The other blokes laughed and agreed with me, which seemed to light a fuse under this woman’s arse. She leapt out of her chair crying it was unfair, it was not right, you shouldn’t get that on the dole, when someone with the same amount of children couldn’t earn it on a proper job, and then instead of letting me talk, she proceeded to call me a Nazi and a communist and talk loudly over the top of me so none of my points could be made.
Its always a special conversation when you’re called a Nazi and a communist by the same person and in relation to the same comment. I decided that as I was in danger of punching this woman, it was about time I left the room, which I did calmly and coolly. I was rather proud of this, as I have a tendency to storm out of arguments, tears streaming down my face, insults flung behind me, because I couldn’t change my opponents’ mind and they had, in my mind, been mean or disrespectful to me. In this case, my opponent was so ridiculous that I couldn’t feel too upset that I hadn’t changed her mind, though it was slightly worrying that the tabloid press had so completely brainwashed her.
I don’t know why I went off on such a tangent. This woman just made me mad is all, and I thought she was more than a little bizarre. I certainly didn’t expect such views to be expressed at a storytelling festival. All the folk festivals I had been to in Australia were populated with hippies – middle aged hippies, new age hippies, environmentalist hippies, communists hippies, vegan hippies etc. I was so used to being in complete agreement with anybody I meet at these types of festivals, that to get into a passionate argument with one was more than a little bizarre.
I’m too exhausted now to write anything more about the storytelling festival, but I promise I will. Tomorrow.

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