SO you licking your wounds in a safe house in Totnes, soaking away in warm waters a week of mud out of your system and wondering how to righten the listing ship when a phone call and they are all ” its a bit last minute but are you free and would a fat figure edging towards the magic 3 zero’s be ok” and all of sudden you seeing blue skies again.
In-between the bringing of the Kolkata Street Food Experience to a beautiful barn in a hidden valley in South Devon with the showing of the film and eating of the snacks- jhal muri, ghungi chaat, chai and phulchas. Yes they like. A sunny evening and sunny compliments and you leave nourished again off to the last minute gig -back to the Cotswolds and the most beautiful priory only recently relinquished by the monks but who prayers still permeate around the walled gardens were the muri cart is positioned. Its privileged to bring along a snack that has such humble origins to such beautiful places especially if when, as here you are treated with respect. Isn’t that the most important thing to given
In London you get up to a bit of general summer hawking at office spaces, cinema cues, commuter routes and the following ethereal sounds that lead a rose garden in bloom in Brockwell park were, on an evening were the light held other qualities a besuited frame sang and twisted and turned to every note of Mr Bogangles as the world stopped and filled with a moment never to be replaced nor removed. There was a day filming for a series riding on the back of all the present hype about street food- “Street Feasts” for the foodnet work channel, which as one of the only food channels in the uk is a prime example of the shocking way food is represented in the film base media. Endless repeats of dulge ain’t going to make them get better, trust me. Anyhow maybe this one will break the mould. We go shopping around Tooting in the very understanding Bhavins and do a bit of muri action on the street and much excitements there is what with a camera crew and free chat. Give a bit -get a lot. I like.
The next day its back to school to introduce the wonders of the jhal muri to a class rooms of 8 or 9 years olds decked out in saris, bindi’s, turbans and kuta’s. They wide eyed and very sweet and give you a honey moon period of 10 minutes before the roasted rice starts flying. I leave the carnage to the cleaners and head east to Norfolk to a private festival do- a home gig really- the first festival I did the muri and they let me do what i want and i do i just that- be wrong not to. A friendly dressy, safe affair were people trust and talk. Sleep is an option not taken by many but it ain’t edgy or nervous- just a bubble that is all about the pleasures and stepping out of the box. There was a fair amount of rain that came from all angles but come monday those still not ready to return headed down to the river were there was a sauna in the river, a beach , a bar and a dancette record player and a trunk of old 45’s. Perfect- and I served up warm dal boxes and phulchas cannonballs to remind the revellers what food tasted like again.
Back to the city, there were also a couple of large parties for the muri and the ghugni- flat fees unaffected by weather patterns or pitch placements and good to have a wedge to sit on as you drive towards Wales in the Malvern Hills for the Big Chill festival.
You leave at dawn as the sun breaks and shadows form as you’re filling up with boxed of coconuts, green lime, bombay onions, coriander and the like from the wholesale market by Southall- a cosmopolitan affair that feels like you could be many hundreds of miles away and fills you with the excitement of new faces, new places and adventures untold that make travel so addictive. “Set the sails I feel the winds a-stiring” – and its the M4 west- back to the hills of Stroud and on a bit to fill with holy water and then settle for for five days with old friends, butterflies and magical stones under the watch of Eastnor castle.
The big chill started 10 years or so ago as an alternative to the nut nut and since has become a large brand and the festival side has really run its course and its time has been. Numbers were 2 thirds down but up in the enchanted garden were the express opened its doors no one noticed- a festival within a festival. We had a tight nit team that ran as smooth as ice rolling down warm skin come sunday we had sold pretty much all we had to offer. In-between there was the fantastic Mama Toukous in the bid cage, Norman Jay in the sunshine, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, the mighty Femi Kuti and an endless sunday night that went up, down, to the left and to the right.
As the cities of England burned the Express took the back roads up the spine of country, Edinburgh bound. The peak district, the moors, the dales. All river swimming, easy rolling and beautiful beyond belief. Stopping off in Bradford to stock on Indian supplies and with a heart warming welcome from the Bengali’s there;- and these are the people seen by some as the threat.
In Birmingham Tariq Jahan, whose son had been killed for standing his ground, spoke chilling words of pure humanity and dignity that belie the sadness and anger he must have felt. Words that echo the true beauty of his faith and so much we need voices as his to be heard.
As we closed in on Edinburgh the clouds thickened and in time it started to rain and then it rained some more and some more and some more again. Proper rain this, not just a shower but rain thats wets you to the bone and beyond. After three days it stopped and you open up the van for business and a girl looks in and asks if you are a hippy and you ask what’s a hippy and she states a cunt like you. Like it or not you know were you stand.
Muri and rain is not a winning combination but there were windows without to take the trolly along the Meadow down the streets of the beautiful city. Down south though you can hear the rumble of the fat bass bins calling and you roll through the night to carnival.
There has been a little history with the bureaucrats there so i leave the trolly behind and avoid the cat and mouse games dodging inspectors and go for myself and get me head stuck into a four hour rastafarian meditation at Abi Shanti’s sound system. Tune after conscious tune rumbling you inside and out as he bounces about like a ping pong ball twisting the dials, spinning the sevens and mixing and making the magic happen- the man is a marvel. holi holi holi and you walk away a rearranged being into the mashed up soul shake down of Gaz’s rocking blues arrangement which is heading for orbit and dissolving into uncontrolled mayhem and guilt free bliss. If there is a better place in the world to be on the last week end of the English summer i am not sure i want to know.
As the dust settles you take your mind, body and the trolly down to the coast for sunset sessions on the Brighton sea front by the angel and the insect like skeleton of the west pier. At the week end its to Lewes for the Phoenix fayre in front of Zu studios, the incredible art and general good vibe space of Martin and Samira. Martin is one of the great manifestors and can pull a party out of his pocket and have it fully installed and rocking before most people have boiled the kettle. The fayre is opened by the mayer at midday and twelve hours later you still mixing cones and swaying to the african rhythms.
The Britsish Street Food Awards were set up by Richard Johnson, who also wrote Street Food Revolution published in June. This year the awards have joined onto Jimmy’s Harvest festival up near Ipswich and we head up with the plan to explain to the judges that the express is not some hobby of a flaky freewheeling odd ball but opens ones eyes to the great potential of the snack, which at present is a lucrative way for a few to pollute many with substances our bodies cannot handle. It was not to be though as bodies cannot also handle being driven too hard without proper attention and on Friday night, with the set up all installed and ready to go mine said no I ain’t having it no more and you find yourself in Ipswich hospital with a lot of wires coming out of a lot of places. You know that the maker has a sense of humour when the doctor finally comes he is from Kolkata and when you discharge yourself knowing that a week end of staring at a white ceiling and being fed hospital food would finish you off the taxi driver is from San Tome in Cape Verde- the place mentioned in Cesaria Evora’s lament to the the longing, Sodade– “who will show you…this distant way? This way… to San Tome” Back at the site its heaving and i open up performing like a beheaded chicken but that can only go on so long and in the dark you drive away feeling dark.
A couple of days later you are in another hospital with more wires being wheeled somewhere and the nurse is talking about Johnny Cash and Walk the Line– ” i keep a close watch on this heart of mine” and you know you haven’t but you vow you will. Hours later when you released there is a t-junction in the corridor. Mortuary to the left, no sign to the right- i take the right and see what happens and feel lucky to have the choice.
So you step it right down and start to eat and not to drink, to breath in the clean air and not the green air. Its not rocket science. A days filming for the US show “Eat Street” were you running on the electric autumn sunlight more than anything then down to Wimborne, Dorset for the Feast of Dorset which is a gentle 10- 6 food festival in the very beautiful grounds of Deans court and then to land for some days in a tree house in my favourite valley and make happy and make healthy again.