Brimfield '80 - Now It Can Be Told!
Note: This is exactly as I wrote it in July 1981, except that I've added a few comments and notes. These are in [square brackets and italics].
It was some time in March 1980 that I first heard of the plans to holiday at Brimfield. I overheard Alan Howells talking to 'Bill' Hancocks about it one lunchtime and, sensing I was on to a good thing, I questioned Alan further, and was told that Bill had an uncle who owned a farm in Herefordshire with an empty bungalow on it. Alan's idea was for the band to 'get it together in the country'. The band, of which I was an occasional member, was about as successful as a bacon factory in Tel-Aviv.
Before we went, a problem arose: we couldn't use the bungalow. Luckily, Steve Jones had a six-man tent.
So, the great day finally dawned. I was up fairly early, as I am at the prospect of every holiday. I had a bath, washed my hair, and collected all my bits and pieces together. By two o'clock I was ready, which was a fat lot of good, because I didn't have to be in Al's house in Bradley until six. So I taped both sides of Relayer by Yes and put this, along with two other tapes, in a bag. Another bag, of the shopping variety, was full of tins of various edible goodies. My sleeping bag was tied up with rope and I was ready.
My brother (Brian, I think his name is) was to take me to Al's house. At 5.40 pm, twenty minutes before the van was due to leave, I was pacing the front garden waiting for the car. At 5.41 pm, the car arrived. I loaded my stuff into the car and away we went.
At 5.55 pm we arrived at Alan's house, after first circumnavigating the housing estate looking for it. I was greeted by Alan and Carl, who had arrived some twenty minutes previously. As I humped my belongings into the Howells' parlour I was informed that Bill and his father (who was driving us there) had gone for the van. They would then pick up Steve Jones in Rhosddu, and then head Bradley-wards. In the meantime, we listened to the new Hawkwind single Shot Down In The Night (not Knocked Down In The Shite!), and we read the latest edition of Record Mirror, and passed satirical comments on a record in the U.S. singles charts by a gentleman called Fred Noblock.
At 6.40 pm, a white Sherpa van with 'Gresford Van Hire' written in the side pulled up outside 18 Ffordd Y Gaer, Bradley. Out we staggered, fully laden, as Bill and Steve jumped out of the van. We loaded up the van and climbed in, Alan's dad reminding him that they were going on holiday a week later.
So off we went, Bill's dad driving and Bill's brother sitting in the passenger seat, while we attempted to make ourselves comfortable by sitting on stools, planks and, in the case of Alan and myself, on cushions on the wheel arches. All seemed well settled until a sharp piece of braking at the Rhostyllen roundabout, which almost led to Steve sitting in the driving seat. The journey passed fairly uneventfully, with Alan and myself changing wheel arches halfway.
[Abiding Memory Number 1: looking out of the back windows of the van as we passed Church Stretton, we saw sunlight coming out in strong, bright rays from behind a dark cloud over the Shropshire hills]
We arrived at Park Farm, about a mile south of Brimfield, at about 8.25 pm which, for a journey of nearly seventy miles, was pretty good going. When we arrived at the farm we were greeted with silence, and an Alsatian dog. The Smiths, it appeared, were out. We wandered around for twenty minutes, during which time we realised that the dog, Rex by name, was as daft as the proverbial brush. Eventually, the Smiths arrived, our site was pointed out to us, and the van made its way up to the field by the bungalow. We got all our stuff out of the van, and Bill's dad headed homewards.
So, the five of us started getting the tent up. This took us over an hour for various reasons: partly because we couldn't get the tent pegs to stay in, and partly because we got the tent up first, and then realised that it was inside out.
Eventually we got it right, and got the groundsheet in. Shit! It was too small. Luckily, Steve had an extra one to fill the gap. We then set up the stove outside the tent, and while Bill and Steve went for water to the bungalow (which was empty and open to us for sanitation and washing purposes), Carl, Alan and myself prepared to make coffee. Me, being a clever sod, had forgotten to bring a plate or cup of any description [nor knife, fork nor spoon], so I had to borrow crockery all week from the others, mostly Alan.
Now by this time we had already had one minor disaster. Steve had brought a cricket bat and ball, and after we had set the tent up, he asked me to bowl one at him. I bowled him a leg-spinner, which he missed completely, the ball went through the hedge and into the bungalow garden. We never did find it again. Rex must have had it.
Rex was partly responsible for disaster number two. Whilst we were putting the tent up, he kept pestering us. In an attempt to get rid of him we threw sticks for him; the only trouble being that he kept bringing them back...Anyway, whilst we were waiting for the kettle to boil, disaster struck. Alan threw the stick one way, Rex jumped another way entirely, knocked over the stove and trampled Carl to the ground. Carl was unhurt, but I'm sure the dog yelped as he jumped over the stove.
Anyway, we all had coffee and some biscuits. That Friday night, Radio 1's Friday Rock Show had a Genesis concert as its sole content, and we sat listening to that for a while. Then someone suggested that we go for a walk. At 10.30 pm! "There's a gate at the bottom of this field", I said. There wasn't. We had to climb a barbed-wire fence. I tore my jeans. We walked up over the little bridge and into the next field. We climbed halfway up the hill and stopped for a few moments. On our way back to the tent, we used the gates...
Then came the 'high'-spot of the evening. Through a mutual friend, one Mike [Carl and me ended up working in the same office as him many years later], Carl and Alan had secured a certain amount of a certain substance which Mike had grown. Rolled into two tubular forms, it was passed around the five of us. After a while, I said, "No more for me, thanks", and leaned back to look at the sky for a while. The effects of even a small amount of grass are quite something. After a few minutes of minute observations of the cosmos, I went for a pee in a corner of the field. The ground was moving faster than I was! Such was its effect upon all of us, we all tried to get into the tent at the same time. Chaos!
When we got into our sleeping bags, and Genesis had finished, we said our goodnights. At 12.30 am, Alan asked me if I had any crisps [This was my first encounter with that much-loved phenomenon, The Munchies]. I handed him a bag of crisps. Then Bill said that he had a fruit cake in a tin. We scoffed that (except Steve, who was already asleep), and then went to sleep or, in any case, tried to sleep. Either it was the coffee or the pot or, most likely, the fact that I was lying on a divot. I couldn't sleep. What added to my difficulties was the noise of the traffic. The A49 was some sixty yards away, but it sounded as if the juggernauts were just outside the tent. Secondly, there was a particularly bloody-minded bird which would sit on a post, chirp, and then fly to another post ten yards away, chirp again, and return to its original post to repeat the process. Eventually, I dozed off around three o'clock.
Sometime later, I was awakened by movement from Carl. He was wide awake and examining his rucksack. I looked around: everyone was still in his original sleeping positions - Steve in the SE corner, Bill along the south wall, Carl by the door in the NE corner, and me in the NW corner. But Alan, I then saw, had moved in the night from the SW corner to the centre of the tent, and was now threatening to leave the tent altogether via the door. A horizontal somnambulist, indeed!
I looked at my watch. 5.10 am!
Alan went back to sleep, but then everyone was temporarily galvanised into consciousness by six words from Carl, in the form of an anguished cry of "The beetles have eaten the pot!!!". The effect was electric: Steve woke up, Bill woke up, sat bolt upright and then crashed back to the horizontal. Alan went back to sleep. Steve then switched his radio on and went back to sleep.
We (or at least Carl and myself) listened to Radio 2 until about 7.15. At this point, I became thoroughly pissed off with listening to the Tom Jackson [I think that's what his name was] show on Radio 2 and with the thought that Al, Bill and Steve were asleep. So I got out my tape of The Gates Of Delirium by Yes, and put that on at a moderate volume. This eventually restored us all to some sort of consciousness.
[Alan told us that he'd had a "very interesting dream" to which my tape was the soundtrack - but he wouldn't tell us what the dream was]
We then had breakfast. Everyone partook of Alan's large box of Rice Krispies. Everyone, that is, except me. My mother had, the previous afternoon, packed some sandwiches "to eat when you get there". Ever had cheese and tomato sandwiches for breakfast?
Anyway, breakfast over, we set out to do our ablutions in the empty bungalow. Washing and other functions completed, we sat and thought about what we would do for the remainder of the morning. Eventually, we decided that we would go for a walk in the village.
Down the road we went, past Woodstock House, past the lay-by and into the village. After buying gas for the stove, we headed back. The heavens opened and we were soaked, thus necessitating a change of clothing when we got back.
After lunch (probably beans and something; it usually was beans), we went for a walk up the hill where we had been the previous evening. This time, however, we went right to the top and explored for a while. We threw sticks for Rex, who had been hanging around for much of the day. Steve took a photo of Rex, and Alan took a photo of the other four of us jumping into the air. As we were down the slope from him, it looked as if we were training for free-fall, as far as I know, because none of us has ever seen the photos, as Steve kept 'forgetting' to bring them.
It was a cloudy, windy day, so we eventually made our way gratefully back to the tent. There we listened to Tommy Vance on Radio One, including an interview with Dave Brock and Simon King of Hawkwind. At the end of the interview, they played Silver Machine [Requiem] from the new Live 1979 album, which none of us had heard. When the unexpected explosion came at the end of that track, we were all very surprised, none more so than Carl, who leapt halfway across the tent with a look of sheer disbelief, and stared at the radio.
After tea (beans again, probably; at times there was more wind inside the tent than outside), we made our way into Brimfield to visit the village pub, The Roebuck. I was a little anxious, because I hadn't much experience of pubs at that time, and I had no means to show that I was eighteen. Mind you, neither did anyone else, and Bill said that he'd been served there when he was fifteen, so there shouldn't be any trouble.
There wasn't. We entered the bar, a small rectangular room with the bar on the right as we entered and a bay window to our left. There was one of those video games there, and Carl had numerous unsuccessful attempts before the barman decided to show us how it should be done. He was the landlord, Malcolm James Burke, a moustached man in his thirties who smoked a pipe. His friendliness enabled us to feel comfortable for the rest of the evening. At 9.00 pm, we left and returned in good humour to the tent, where we had a comparatively early night.
[The Roebuck was, in many ways, a typical country village pub, although no doubt helped by the fact that it was on the main road between Shrewsbury and Hereford. Some years after our visit, they built a by-pass, which cut out all through traffic.The Roebuck later became a sort of country pub/restaurant (I even saw a good review of it in The Observer in the late 90s)]
Sunday arrived in all the glory of July; hot and dry. We had bacon for breakfast with some eggs that Bill had fetched from the farm. I started to listen to BRMB Radio which, although Birmingham-based, was receivable in darkest Herefordshire some forty miles distant. I listened with interest to Roger Day, with whom I was familiar due to his five-year stint with Manchester's Piccadilly Radio.
At 10.15, we went for a walk. Ever since our arrival, Steve had been going on about this earthwork which was, according to the Ordnance Survey map, about a mile and a half to the south of us. So, off we set along the main road to the south.
About an hour later we arrived at the location of the alleged earthwork, only to find that it was a mere hillock instead of the gigantic Neolithic construction we had imagined. Sadly disillusioned by the Ordnance Survey's lack of cartographical specificity, and also because we were parched, we headed westwards towards a nearby village [Moreton] to find something to drink. On the way, we saw a very interesting phenomenon - a perfectly round, flat hedgehog, obviously the victim of some hit-and-run tractor driver.
We gave up our search for liquid refreshment when we realised that any shop that was open on a Sunday morning would now be shut, as it had gone noon. We turned and headed wearily and drily back to the tent.
Then a bit of luck - or so it seemed. A man selling punnets of strawberries and small bottles of pop in a lay-by on the main road. We bought some strawberries and some drink, the bottles being useful at a later stage to keep milk in.
Returning to the tent, Sunday lunch was swiftly prepared. If I remember correctly, it was tinned potatoes and other fairly traditional stuff, followed of course by the strawberries. After that rather grand fare, the dishes were washed in the bungalow by, I think, Alan and Carl. Bill suggested that we go down the pub that evening. There were no dissenting voices.
But it was not to be. At approximately 2.45, we were taken by surprise by a heavy shower of rain. However, it turned out to be a very long shower. It was still chucking down at tea-time.
After tea, surprise, surprise! My turn to wash up, along with Steve. So out I went in boots and large coat to the bungalow, returning slightly damp. It was still pissing down.
At about 8.45, I was farting around with Alan's radio when I suddenly got The Voice Of America [A very strong signal, due to the fact that we were no more than a couple of miles from the transmitting station at Woofferton]. It was one of those one-sided discussions about the Soviet menace, with much talk about ideologies (of course, pronounced id-eologies). This was followed by the news, read in 'Special English', which was apparently to be read at three words a minute. By this time, supper (tomato soup) was being consumed and, miraculously, It Had Stopped Raining!
Then came the pièce de resistance from V.O.A. Part of the 'Special English' schedule was an item explaining various English idioms. This particular one was 'lame duck'. The announcer intoned slowly, "The phrase...can be used...to describe...a politician who has...had his day". President Carter, we thought. "His colleagues...no longer take...much notice of him". President Carter, we thought. But then came the clincher: "The term...comes from hunting...a hunter will not...waste time and ammunition... on hunting...a dead duck". This marvellous faux pas put us in a good mood for the rest of the night, which was just as well as the rain had started again. Eventually, we all settled down for the night.
At a quarter past midnight, there was a tearing sound. "What was that?", asked Alan. We soon found out. Drip, drip, drip. Steve passed me his torch. I switched it on, and it came on and promptly went off again, and stopped working altogether. I groped around for my own torch: it was like a light in a sock, but we could see clearly enough that there was a gaping hole where the north wall joined the roof. The wind had ripped the canvas away from the frame, and rain was now coming in at a rate of knots.
All hell let loose, Alan and me hastily placed saucepans, empty tins, teapot, etc. under the drip; Carl and Steve went outside to attempt to solve the problem with the spare groundsheet, which they tied over that end of the roof. It seemed to do the trick, and we once again settled down. I was lying on a divot again. I got to sleep at about 3 am.
Monday opened warm and dull, we opened cold, damp and dull. My knee felt wet. As I was on the windward side of the tent, some of the rain had come through under the side of the tent and soaked through my sleeping bag. I looked at my watch. It was 7 am.
I looked about the tent. I think Carl was already awake; he usually was. I then saw that a small lake was threatening Alan. Luckily, he woke up in time to save himself from drowning. I then noticed that the spare groundsheet had somehow moved from one end of the roof to the other. As it was supposed to be tied down, it was a marvellous feat.
We spent most of the morning, not surprisingly, mopping up. At about 10 am, Bill, who of course knew the area better than we did, suggested that we take the bus into Leominster and spend the afternoon there. As we needed fresh supplies and a change of scenery, we agreed. We therefore headed into the village to catch the 12.15 bus. Shock! Horror! £1.35 for a return ticket to Leominster, a round trip of fourteen miles [Even our native Crosville Motor Services weren't as exorbitant as Midland Red seemed to us to be!]. Up on the top deck, we saw our tent clearly as we went past the farm.
Once in Leominster, we headed for a fish restaurant next to the bus station, where an expensive time was had by all. We then headed into the town and stocked up with groceries. Bill then suggested that we go and look around the church. On the way there, we passed a fruit shop, and I noticed that their strawberries were 10p a punnet cheaper than the ones that we had bought the previous day.
We looked around the church. I am a devout atheist, but there's something about churches that makes me appreciate the attraction of religion to many people without having to recognise that it has any validity. It certainly was a beautiful piece of architecture.
Then, after looking around the town a bit more [including some book buying. I remember Alan buying Ben Bova's Colony, and I bought Rob Buckman's Out Of Practice, which I still have], we headed back to the bus station and caught the 3.25 bus back. We went into the tent, and there followed a happy hour of fly-swatting. How they had got in was anyone's guess. Carl was going around frantically flailing at anything that moved (including me) with an Ordnance Survey map.
After tea (probably beans), we headed pubwards. This time we went into the lounge, and spent a few happy hours discussing the possible origins and uses of the fearsome-looking implements on the walls. There were also, somewhat disconcertingly, foxes' tails hanging from the beams.
Three pints of Skol and yours truly, not yet used to alcohol in large quantities, was quite pissed. At about 9 pm, we bade goodnight to the publican and strolled (or in my case, staggered) along the road back to the tent. As we neared Woodstock House, Carl and Steve, who were some yards in front of me, began singing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau. Now, that's the sort of thing that they would do sober, but I would have to have been drunk to join in. An unfamiliar chorus rose over the hills of the English midlands:
"Gwlad! Gwlad! Pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad!"
sang the tipsy trio. Bill and Alan were walking slowly some thirty yards behind us, pretending not to be of the party. Somehow we reached the tent in one piece, and I flopped down semi-conscious on my sleeping bag.
Then, using Alan's cassette player, we listened to Bill's tape of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway by Genesis. This was a special request for Steve who, it transpired, was asleep by the end of Side One.
[I remember the conversation as the tape was turned over going something like this: "This is good, isn't it Steve?....Steve?....". "ZZZZzzzZZZ!"]
Anyway, the rest of us listened to it until about 11.30 when, exhausted by the flood-prevention tactics of the night before and the shopping jaunt of the afternoon, we went to sleep.
Tuesday morning arrived warm and sunny, which was more than could be said for us. We did very little that morning, and lazed in the beauty of the English countryside. At about 11.30, Bill suggested that we visit the pub, as they had a beer garden there, and this would be the ideal weather for sampling its delights. Needing no other encouragement, the dypsomaniacal bunch headed tavernwards.
What had not entered our minds was that it would also be ideal for flies. Luckily, Carl had brought his OS map along, and this was highly effective in getting rid of the buzzing fools.
We spent a happy couple of hours there and then, on the way back, stopped in at the village church for a shufti. It was, in its own way, every bit as beautiful as the substantially larger edifice we had visited some twenty four hours previously. We then returned to the tent and had a large meal at about 4 pm, as we had had no lunch.
At about 5.55, we set off back to the pub. We had seen the small pool room there before, but it was always occupied. The only logical way, therefore, to get a game, was to go there at opening time. This we did, and got in a good three hours of pool. But the room! Or, rather, the lack of it! There was about 18 inches of room around the pool table, and when the cue ball was on the side cushion, a decent shot was impossible. After a fair old number of games, we returned to the tent at about 9 pm, and spent the rest of the evening listening to BRMB Radio.
[They had quite a good late-night show at that time, which played a fair bit of non-mainstream stuff.
This is perhaps the point to expand upon the subject of music and recollection. Schopenhauer (apparently) said that smell was the special sense for memory. As the basic senses go, he was right, but nothing, nothing, can evoke memories like a particular song or piece of music. Brimfield is a case in point. To hear some songs, even now, is to be transported back. Do You Dream In Colour by Bill Nelson, Everybody's Got To Learn Sometime by The Korgis, Babooshka by Kate Bush: all these have the effect of transporting me back to that week in that tent in that field. The Ravine by Genesis immediately returns me to the point of being 18 years old, lying in a sleeping bag in a tent, with dark fields outside, and the sound of a light breeze disturbing the tall grass and hedgerows. Music may be the nearest we will ever get to a working time-machine.]
Apart from the weather, which was overcast, Wednesday was little, if any, different from Tuesday, so there is nothing new to write about.
We awoke on Thursday morning with some sadness, as this was to be out last day at Park Farm. It was a wet morning, so much so that it was decided to take the tent down at 11 am, take our stuff into the bungalow and put the tent in the barn. After we had done that, we went down to give the farm hands help with stacking hay bales in the barn. What this did to my hands is best left to the imagination.
After lunch, we stayed in the bungalow all afternoon, listening to music and feeding flies to the spiders underneath the window catches [The bungalow had been unoccupied for ages: there were fly carapaces, sucked dry of anything nutritious, in the webs spun beneath the catches]. I went out to try to find the cricket ball, but failed.
After tea, we all just hung about in the bungalow. Bill said that his dad was arriving at 7 pm. Needless to say, it was nearly 7.30 when he arrived. We loaded our stuff into the van, which we then followed down to by the farmhouse. We were taken into the house for a cup of tea.
At 8.30, it was time to leave. We said goodbye to Rex and climbed into the back of the van. Bill's dad then said that the passenger seat up front was vacant. Steve's speed at jumping out of the back of the van amazed us all, none more so than Mr Hancocks himself, who was nearly flattened.
So, regretfully, homeward we wended our weary way. We didn't talk that much, because I'm sure that we were thinking of the previous six days. On arrival in Wrexham, we first dropped Steve off at Park Street in Rhosddu (so called because of all the cars parked on it). Then on to Alan's in Bradley, and then to my home.
Looking back, the greatest thing of all about that holiday was the freedom we all enjoyed. It was a unique, unrepeatable experience: time and fate have seen to that. As time goes by, and we all accrue careers, marriages and overdrafts, our freedom is gradually diminished. At Brimfield, we had no-one telling us what we should do. We 'did our own thing', and that liberty was the thing that made the week memorable.
[Twenty five years pass as if nothing more than a long, dull month. Typing this all out again, from the rather faint typescript which I put together about a year after the event, has stripped back the years.
I don't know if it is possible to recapture things as fleeting as feelings, particularly from such a distance, but I still see the tent, the field, the bungalow, Brimfield Hill, Rex, The Roebuck and, possibly, our young selves, as it was and as we were.
I've never been back. I learned my lesson about things like that. All would have changed, and the grass has long grown back on that rectangle which we inhabited for a brief episode of our lives. Brimfield lives now only as a combination of a dream, an idyll and a sort of alternative universe. There are only ghosts there now, and those ghosts may be of ourselves.
It would be wisest to leave them that way.]