I felt cynical on the way there. I knew I was going to be a rarity. Festivals often feel as though they belong to my generation. Talk about entitlement. Yep, that was me. Putting out festival entitlement.
Oh no said a loud voice in my head, not young facilitators, young teachers of yoga, young breathwork teachers. Hell is a festival like this. It’s going to be endlessly rosy in the worst way. Spiritual bypassing with the flowers intact. What do they have to say to me at 68? Been there, got the Make Love Not War T-shirt.
At least we had a bell tent. I’ve always aspired to own a bell tent and now I could pretend with this delightful borrowed five-metre lovely from my friend Jake. I could at least relish that. I’d even taken fancy lights to adorn it. Not to mention a puce pink garland.
Here we are – arriving on a field in Cambridgeshire, using our grand age to take advantage of passing through the barriers (we can’t park here and pull a cart full of our stuff across the field, we’re too old) and something else happens.
The clouds darken, a rainbow appears. It is a heavenly portent. A message from the festival gods. A double rainbow. We bathe in this extraordinary light, this is a sign of the times.
I still have my ‘observer’ hat on. Vegan cafes, a sober festival with no alcohol, an upcycling clothes stall, a lot of Hemp talk and products. A main marquee with the Hemp Redemption stage – all huge pagan drapes and hangings, a van which half made up the stage, tassels, fairy lights and a very young technician. At first, I thought he was a small person and then I discovered it was Xi, a thirteen-year-old ‘lege’ – as my niece who is co-creating this LoveJam Camp Out 2021 puts it – who plays didge, juggles fire and tends to the musical equipment on stage. In his spare time.
As the light fades, we – I am with my other niece, Mils, and Asanga, my partner – wander over to the sacred fire, which is located behind some odd mounds. A dandy poet declares words of love and honour. There seem to be Vikings amongst us as well. Long haired young men with bare chests and long coats. Violins. Accordions. A young woman sings into the wind, laments, stories of freedom and connections to the ancients. I realise quickly that ANCIENT is a very important word at this festival. It’s everywhere – on lips, hips and in philosophies.
I’m not listening to their hearts yet, I’m still on their style. Modern medieval, I conclude. But there’s Rasta thrown in there. And a lot of natural fibres. No makeup, just face paint.
The next morning is the Opening Ceremony – we gather (maybe 100 of us out of the 600 that will be present on Saturday), Nathan, my niece Zena’s boyfriend, who’s 27 and founded LoveJam by inviting a few people to Victoria Park in London to drum together– starts us off with acknowledgements. He’s also had his grandfather die in the last few days so is trying to cope with that as well as running the camp. He invites offers to lead it and up steps PK – short hair, black humour, a lot of it and a wolf at her side. Well, okay a dog. PK takes us to the four directions and we honour their qualities and what they will bring to the camp while we move around this axis. Someone else invites us to freesound (new verb to me) and lo there are wild, cascading sounds. The dandy poet proclaims our virtues. A blonde-haired young woman sings with passion. That’s it we’re ready to go.
There’s a lot of Nathan-venerating, I worry slightly and hope there isn’t a guru-type situation brewing – after all, that’s where so many communities in the 70s and 80s went awry. By giving too much power to one person and pedestaling spiritual leaders.
One of the joys of LoveJam is that in attendance with my family. Invited by Zena – niece and co-visioner of LoveJam – my other niece Mils is here, my son, Marlon, and his girlfriend, Lina are soon to arrive. We’re an encampment. My sister, Ro, and her husband, Martin, are staying in a Shepherd’s hut a mile away. We’re eating together outside. We’ve made roast vegetable tarts and blackberry – from the hedgerows of Wales – pies. And we’re toasting the proceedings with tonic and lime. They are so tasty. Who needs gin? What a pleasure! And a blessing to be able to do.
And then there are the workshops and the dancing. Tonight we go exploring in the woodland music village. A relic from the Secret Garden brigade, it is a wonderland of trees with a pink neon heart stage called funnily enough New ANCIENTS stage. There’s some psytrance whirling – not my kind of sounds so we find a pathway which leads us to another new world – a fire, wooden structures, huge ones all around, more lights, mandalas specifically made around an oak tree, a young man turns up with a flute and blesses the arboreal altar, a few naked beings scamper towards the sauna in the next area. It’s cinematic. One from the Heart.
The red sign on one of the other trees says – not all those who wander are lost.
Exactly my ethos.
A quixotic creature with a swirling light tail passes by. A mythical reminder that we are in fairyland.
We walk back to the tents, past so many bell tents, and gatherings of musicians. Guitars, flutes, drums – they regale us with their haunting tunes as we meander.
One of the advantages of not having alcohol is that I’m up and ready for Phil’s yoga at 8 the next morning. He’s a Scouser, who is part of the organizational trio – Nathan, Zena and himself. He also seems to know an awful lot about mudras and Sanskrit. His session is fast and furious. Backbends, front bends, warrior poses, full wheels if you so desire, sun salutations. I do what I can do which is quite a lot. I observe Mils doing some great binding in front of me. My arms are too short for binding but I’m a star at bending. It is dynamic and I appreciate that as well as his devotion to the practice.
And then there is a highlight. Naked swimming in the lake. I wasn’t sure if this was going to be socially possible. I’m with my partner, and my son and his partner. But Asanga and I decide to go for it. And Marlon and Lina lie down and look away!! It’s that thing about the freedom of strangers and the boundaries around family. But I’m so glad we did ditch our clothes and allow that cold water to seep over our bodies. There was hardly anyone around and it was a holy moment. In homage to water and bodies. Amid the water lilies. And so refreshing. There was even a wonderfully positioned carpet over the stones so that walking in can be graceful!
There’s lots of nakedness over the weekend at the lake and it’s so welcome. And lovely. And innocent. These gorgeous bodies. I change my dress code when more of my family is around – brother in law, sister – and opt for a costume. I notice and feel proud that my LJ co-visioning niece strips off and jumps in when her dad is in the water. Great confidence and knowledge of what is right for her.
Nathan is running a Breathwork and Intimacy workshop next. He developed it himself. Impressively – and this is one of the key differences with younger facilitators – he stresses that intimacy doesn’t mean that fire of passion, that it’s not about exchanging that fire and asks for our consent on that front. Everyone’s hands go up. Which really clarifies and distinguishes sexuality and intimacy and prevents blurry lines.
The breathwork was simple in a good way – six breathes in and then out. A grounding support. To recorded bells so we could be in unison. And then the intimacy exercises which most I am familiar and comfortable with. It’s about being open, in your heart and just receiving and giving from that place of love. But wow, what a gift to do with this community. We give each other heart words/appreciations while gazing right into the other person’s eyes. We are walking slowly around the tent until Nathan invites us to stop in front of someone. After a few times around the tent, I realise that Marlon, my son, is in there still. Some people faded away as we came to these structures. And then we’re in front of one another, and unconditional love is pouring forth. I am crying first and then tears roll down his cheeks slowly. We use the breath to ground ourselves and carry on looking deeply into one another’s eyes with such everlasting tenderness.
What a supreme moment!! How blessed we are to both be in the same workshop and get to do this exercise together. This is a first for us. Being in a workshop at the same time.
I honestly felt after this experience, I didn’t need anything else from the festival. It had given me this precious witnessing. But the festival went on giving.
At 5 pm, a band sets up at the end of the pontoon which extends into the lake. It is like being at a wedding, the perfect location. They play Brazilian tunes and a Forro class with partners starts in the middle of the lake. I joined briefly but I am not feeling it so I go rogue and solo
I dance in the breeze. Giving everything to those minutes. Surrounded by fresh water and naked loveliness, caressed by eddies of air, it is rapturous. My body spins around, limbs twirl, head bobs. It is an utter joy. A sumptuous young woman joins me, we go wild together. We let go into melting and communing. And laughing with our flesh.
In the evening we make our way down to the Hemp Redemption stage and Mobius Loop, these Lancashire musicians who have songs about veganism and death, get the entire tent dancing. And singing. Rollicking, proclamative, political, humorous, they are like crazy cabaret dervishes. My favourite song is Dance Dance Dance while you can, We’re all going to die, Dance Dance, Dance while you can. I sing it very very loudly.
It could be an Advantages of Age anthem. I sing it with determined abandon. I couldn’t agree more. Dance now while we can. We break out into ceiliad -stripping the willow. The joy of dancing and singing about death at the same time. The next day they are down at the protest nearby which is about closing down the beagle puppy farm where they are sold for animal testing. Mobius Loop sing about ending slavery of all sorts, including these puppies. Campaigning and dancing at the same time.
On Monday morning, there’s the closing ceremony. We gather around the sacred fire. Nathan, Zena and Phil do their thank-yous. People stand up and declare themselves grateful. PK does a closing speech – speckled with expletives, honesty and fire. I decide that I need to speak. To honour the young that have created and facilitated this festival. I mention that it’s often the elders/olders that are respected and honoured, but that I also think there’s a fallacy about older people having all the wisdom. We are not automatically wise because we have lived for a long time. We can learn so much from each other.
And then I simply thank them for creating a festival so full of love and kindness and inclusivity and sweetness. That it has enabled me to expand into my better self and also to fulsomely be here.
You will gather that I am no longer cynical about a festival run and peopled mostly by young people, instead I am inspired and ignited on an intergenerational level.