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Tim Chipping

Ranting & Reeling

Tim Chipping’s monthly column

On my bookcase at home are two badges from the Sidmouth International Folklore Festival. They’re recent eBay purchases but identical to some I bought in Sidmouth when I was seven years old. I bought them because I collected badges and not because I was in the Hobby Horse Club, as I now know they represented. Or if I ever was in the Hobby Horse Club that information has been lost down the back of a lobe. What any of us retain from that age are not memories but impressions. Wisps of things seen or heard. The ghosts of smells.

At this year’s Sidmouth Folkweek I walked to Connaught Gardens for the first time since those childhood holidays with my parents. As I sat on the grass watching the dance display, something from the past shimmered faintly. Not a sight or a sound but a feeling. Of absolute boredom.

This would’ve been an earlier shard of memory than the badge buying. My mother’s own recollection is of seeing the Appalachian dance group the Apple Chill Cloggers. But according to Derek Schofield’s book The First Week In August, I would’ve only been six when they visited the festival. It’s no slight on their clogging that someone so young should’ve been bored. I only cared about Star Wars that year.

The following year was more fun. And seven is a lot older than six. I was excited about the French stilt dancers Lous Las Aygues, though I can’t picture them now. I can see the Arena, seeming vast from where we sat on the slope, and I think we probably watched The Yetties. I’m told I stayed up for the procession, the latest I’d ever been awake. But sadly nothing remains in my head of that.

Derek’s book also informs me that year saw the debut performance by a band called Hot Vultures. Whatever happened to them?

Sidmouth was 60 this year. Six whole decades of other people’s experiences; moments that’ve embedded while others have receded. Or some that exist merely as anecdotes, the teller now only remembering the telling. The blanks in our stories are filled in by the artistic licence of the mind.

What I’ll retain from 2014’s events is in the hands of the ageing process. Will I be wheeled out for Sidmouth’s centenary to recount the morning I woke up confused and in a Harry Potter fan’s bedroom after Andy Cutting had rescued me in a late-night cider-weakened state, stranded too far from my lodgings? It seems unlikely.

Will there be a space in whatever books become for my awkwardness in complimenting Alice Jones on being a folky with impeccable London style, only to learn she was competing with Pete Coe for the most garish stage clothes? And without prolonged counselling, the sight of Breabach at 1am, pretending to stage a sit-ups competition in just their pants will be hard to erase. Just be glad it was too dark to take photographs.

What is clear is that my childhood is full of things I wish I could remember while my adulthood clings to things I’d rather forget. And (with apologies to Billy Bragg) buying badges is not enough, in days like these.

Tim Chipping


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