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Mixmag: Broad Oak Valley story
"Practice these dances carefully and you will become a fit companion of the planets, which dance of their own nature." Jehan Tabourot: Orchesography (1589)
From CJ Stone's Mixmag column, 1996-1998
Broad Oak Valley
Broad Oak Valley, near Canterbury in Kent. Anne and I arrived just as the setting Sun was breaking from behind a cloud, spangling the sky in a wild burst of reds and golds: the greatest light show on Earth. Anne is 39, the mother of three kids. She'd got a baby-sitter in for the night. Right now she was wearing a little velvet number and a pair of shiny patent leather Docs. Dressed up to party. She had the window open as we puttered through the quiet Kent countryside: listening for Nightingales. But it's typical of her optimism. She didn't hear a Nightingale. Instead she said, "that means that they've all found mates." The most beautiful songs come from the loneliest birds she told me.
We're on our way to a free party, put on by tVC of Kent and Rogue of Lincoln. The tVC/Rogue Mutual Admiration Society. The usual things happen. I miss the turning and get lost down some dusty lane. I turn around and I'm just about to give up when another car comes roaring in. And luckily they know where the party is. We clatter over a bank of rubble and into the garden of a boarded-up house. Everyone's busy, setting up the marquee, hanging from the canvas to pull the guy-ropes tight. Someone is lighting a fire. Piles of equipment lie scattered around in disarray. Everyone's running about, having a laugh, giddily anticipating the Night's promise.
Well, Broad Oak has a history. It was compulsorily purchased some thirty years ago to make way for a reservoir. Only they never did build the reservoir. And since the late '60s it's been the scene of countless parties. How many of you remember Kevin Ayres or the Soft Machine? These were the hippest people back then. Kevin Ayres dyed his hair purple. He had a deep, sonorous voice, and his lyrics sounded dead cool when you were tripping. They were responsible for a number of the parties. Later - in 1976 - someone else tried to hold a free festival here. It was the People's Free Festival, unfortunate offspring of the earlier Windsor festivals, now banned. The police did what they usually do: they fenced off great swathes of the countryside and mounted a 24-hour cordon for several days. Local people said that they'd rather have put up with the hippies. The festival ended up on the muddy wastes of Seasalter marsh about seven miles away. Lots of people took their clothes off to protest at harassment by the drug squad. They made the front page of the local paper. Some of my friends still talk about the event. It was the most memorable thing in their lives.
Well nothing changes does it? We still try to hold parties, the police still try to stop us, and we still move on when we have to.
Unfortunately this is precisely what I had to do right now as I'd agreed to take Anne to another party in sleepy old Faversham. As we were passing through Canterbury the car broke down. It's a 1963 Morris Minor. I was fuming with frustration. Anne said, "go with the flow," but that only pissed me off even more. I have a pathological aversion to clichés. We ended up sitting in some posh hotel waiting for the AA to turn up, listening to two old men trying to chat up the waitresses. Luckily it wasn't too long before the AA man arrived. I drank up my pint and went out to meet him.
I love AA men. I love AA men because they all love Morris Minors. They go into a sort of ecstatic trance every time they are called out to fix one. What it is: they look under the bonnet and see a real engine ticking away under there. They can read the engine like a newspaper. So this AA man clucks and gurgles his appreciation and fixes the car in 30 seconds flat.
"Thankyou," I say.
After that we headed off to the other party. This one was indoors. It was a "fetish party", which only seemed to mean that the women got the chance to show off their legs, and there were porno movies in the basement. I got bored. I went for a walk. I walked along Stone Street, merely because of the name. It's not often that I see my name on a plaque on a wall. Eventually I ended up at the Catholic Shrine of St. Jude's, which is set in a quiet garden. Well, it was time for me to contemplate my place in the Universe wasn't it? What am I? According to some scriptures, I am an eternal jewel of consciousness in a Universe of constant change. Instead of which I just felt like a bobble on the cardigan of the Lord. It's about time He changed His brand of washing powder, that's all I can say.
I went back to the party to look for Anne. The party had swallowed her up. She was gone. Sucked into a fuming void. She was probably holed up in some room by now giggling her way through a spliff. Well I was chemical-free this evening - barring the occasional, crafty lager - so I decided once more to move on. And it was back to Broad Oak.
By the time I arrived there the party was in full swing. I could hear the bass-line thudding for miles, like the distant boom of artillery in some vast psychic war, and the lights shattering the still sky. It looked like a scene from Apocalypse Now! I parked the car and Nikki from tVC came up to me.
"Chris!" she exclaimed enthusiastically. "You've come back!" She gave me a hug. This meant she was on E. She never hugs me otherwise. "I was going to write to Mixmag," she told me. "I was going to tell them that you're not really a free party person, cos you never come to any of our parties."
Well I agreed with her. I'm not really a free party person, I just write about them. But then again, as I thought later, no one expects Ruth Rendell to be a murderer just because she writes about murder all the time, do they?