The reception area was manned by a group of people dressed in peasant clothing. The floor space was split into three parts, in front of me, a bar area, where the people had ordered foodstuffs obviously from the local wholesalers, and also cakes made by local bakers. In the middle of the room was a makeshift campfire was flickering away in the middle of the floor space, with sofas, beanbags and easy chairs all around, enough to seat around 20 people.
Lights were low and inviting, and a heavy scent of incense hung in the air. The third part of the room was the sleeping area, which had a large projector screen covering the wall on the right, and a drape fixed across an area which had been filled with mattresses and sleeping bags, which played looping visuals of ballerinas and dancers floating in space, or liquid, or both. Above this, was a third projector screen, hanging above the beds. A fully immersive experience. Those dressed in peasant clothing gave me an incredibly warm welcome, and advised me to go upstairs and get changed into my night clothes, as they would be holding the sleeping ritual in around an hours’ time. I was quite happy to do this, as this place seemed the best place to bed down for the night.
I was back down in the reception area in no time. As I got off the step one of the girls dressed in peasant clothes told me to choose a teddy bear from a table, and the one I should choose should be chosen with my heart, not my head. This was very important. There were three Pooh-Bears on the table. A fan of Winnie-the-Pooh since my youth, I eventually choose the one with the overly Disney-fied happy face. What I was told to do now was simple, I had to put the bear to bed. The girl who was in charge of the teddy bear selection led me over to the sleeping area, which had about ten mattresses and double mattresses on the floor, all looking incredibly comfortable indeed. What I had to do now was put the bear to bed, to choose the area in which I would be sleeping in. To be honest, I was being made a real fuss of, and was offered a free cup of tea and a seat in the seating area. I sat on the sofa and was made to feel instantly at home, observing all around. Other travellers came into the throng, and also were fussed around by our kindly hosts. To the right of the campfire area hung a 3-D screen full of psychedelic advertising slogans, all camper vans and Hendrix. But our hosts encapsulated a more innocent era, of silent actions and rituals, games and learning how to play them. The floating dancers and ballerinas fluttered all around the screens, ebbing and flowing with the noise of the birds in the trees all around.
It transpired that I was in the presence of an extended family, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunties, and the small little ones. This world they lived in at this point was a sleepy one, on a mountain in the urban forest of Cheapside, Digbeth, Sitting back and forth with my tea, I felt myself slipping out of consciousness, and entering the world of hysteria and mania. The brothers and the sisters all came and talked to me, and the children ran and shouted at each other, poking each other with sticks and trying to drink the grown-ups alcohol. The brothers told stories of the moon, floating above in the sky, and handed out 3D glasses, saying that we could see them better with this. One of the Uncles came over, inhaling greatly on a plastic tube which gave off a smoke-free vapour, and seemed very surprised that I had been able to walk through to get to the mountain through the forest, as he usually could only get there by flying on a condor. He seemed relaxed and kindly in my presence, and later he came back to me and asked me questions about my virility, and the strength of the women in the village. I thought him a very gregarious man indeed, and was pleased to be in his company.
Around midnight, a hush descended over the forest, and I gathered that this would be the start of the sleep ritual. One of the brothers struck up a raga on a sitar, and his family came around singing and chanting in the camp area, until the music reached crescendo. Everyone there was invited to write a wish on a piece of paper and put it in the campfire, and a bedtime meditation was read. After this, us travellers were invited to go into the bed-chamber, get into our respective beds, and go to sleep.
All around us the screens flickered and pulsated, and we could either choose to sleep or watch the visuals and listen to the music, provided by Outer Sight and Grandmaster Gareth. The family had obviously worked hard to provide their forest with the best in up to date technology. Some of us decided to try and get a few hours sleep, others decided to stay up all night and watch. We first saw Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising (mind you I only knew this because the credits told me that’s what it was, but how exciting on how to see it on a big screen as nature intended!) but the combination of tea and incense and the bed made me drift in and out of consciousness, and I now wasn’t entirely sure where dreams started and consciousness ended. The progressive soundtrack finished and slowly I was aware of the bass on the speakers being slowly turned up, as dancers and animated characters bounced around the screen. Discordant folk music, that I half remembered from somewhere, maybe in my previous life in the 70s, or perhaps something that I had bought on the Trunk label. A dream of dancers being chased by sharp suited men with umbrellas who wanted their legs for their collection of perfection, and then that dream I always have, which isn’t visual, but a heavy bass stuttering combined with intricate keyboard stabs, going in from left to right, up to down. I got up and went into the forest area. Some of the family were sleeping, but others were also watching the visuals and listening to the music. I was able to buy a cake, which I have to say was excellent, more frosting than cake, which is always good for me, and then I went back to bed. Pooh-Bear was sitting on my bedside table, looking very happy with himself indeed. The experience was fantastic, looking up at the screens and seeing visuals from everywhere beamed down from Outer Sight’s hard drive, oddness and beauty from another country, or another planet, or indeed in some cases, the very sky itself, which folded and strobed down onto my eyes and into my brain, overlapping and overlapping. No need for the 3D glasses with some of them I thought, as I drifted in and out again.
I awoke to the sound of gongs and chimes, and the family was rising us from our sleep with cups of coffee or chai, and cornflakes or coco pops (how very resourceful!) They said that this was going to be the morning ritual, we would climb to the top of the mountain and see the sun rise over the village. It would be the welcoming of the sun, Apollo taking over as it was Diana’s day anyway, and especially as it was Mothering Sunday, the celebration of the creator. The walk up the mountain wasn’t too treacherous; us travellers were passed a rope to get up there by one of the uncles. Snow halfway through just before the last climb to the summit. And then – the view from the summit. The urban forest was staggering in the cold morning light. All night we had been treated to images and rituals of imagination and play, using our senses to carve out different worlds and practices, now we were faced with our own reality in the dawn, where we were, in Cheapside, Digbeth, drinking in the beautiful skyline. The 360 sprawl of the towers, the warehouses, the pubs and the offices as far as the eye could see, last night so busy and vibrant, and now so quiet and still. The top of the mountain, and because the mountain was on a slope, we were able to appreciate the topography of the city in front of us. Sharp winds and cold buffeted us, and we were told to take care as we didn’t want to go over the side of the mountain onto the barbed wire and admittedly, we didn’t see the sun rise as it was very cloudy, but we didn’t mind. We went downstairs back into the reception area after gathering our belongings, and we sat in front of Outer Sight’s and Grandmaster Gareth’s morning programme, a selection of cartoons old and new, whilst enjoying our bowls of cereal.
It was time to go, and I said goodbye to Friction Arts and the volunteers whose hard work and involvement had made such an excellent night possible. Still grinning, I made my way back through the urban forest/Digbeth, skilfully avoiding the treacherous bracken/fag ends and drinks cans and murky yellowing pools/don’t need to tell you what that was that had been left underfoot by the happy revellers the night before. 7am and hardly anyone was about. I knew that night I wouldn’t be able to enjoy any of the excellent Sunday celebrations of the end of the Flatpack festival, including the promise of the Unlikely Film Quiz, but I had my own Mother’s Day celebrations to attend to which included a slap-up meal at the Grameen Khana on the Ladypool Road. Going back the Electric and through the Mailbox, still quiet. This wandering hobbit now stopped off in Tesco’s. When he would get back home he would indulge in the best meal of the day. Second breakfast.