For a few minutes I lay on my back, studying a small corner of sky that the van’s floppy thermal blind had revealed. It wasn’t giving much away, just a steady non-committal grey.
The noises outside were more revealing: no patter of rain on the roof, only the comforting racket of Fat Sister making tea outside. I wriggled out of my sleeping bag, opened the van doors and plunged into another joyful day at Shambala. With no performances today, I could spend the whole time exploring and absorbing the festival.
When I was looking through the programme a puppet show called Much Ado About Puffin caught my attention. The title made me laugh, which felt like a good sign, so that’s where we headed first. It was absolutely mesmerising – beautifully made and performed. It tells the story of a man who’s all alone, a friendly puffin, and a whole lot of fuss over nothing.
It was funny, moving and utterly absorbing. And I felt very welcome in The Smoking Puppet Cabaret space where it took place. When the show ended I turned to the four people I was with to find every single one of them wiping away tears.
In the afternoon the blank grey sky of the morning gave way to something much more dramatic. Innes took this photo minutes before a huge storm broke.
Pete, Innes, Anna and I rode out the storm in the comfort of the Touretteshero van. The plentiful quilts, cushions and snacks turned the thunder, rain, and flashes of lightning into distant grumblings. My tics invented a number of ridiculous games to keep us busy, including ‘Horseradish, salad dressing, onion’, which is basically a re-brand of ‘Rock, paper, scissors.’
The storm passed and, refreshed from our lounging, we headed back out into the festival. Shambala is colourful and creative in a way that few others can match. As we went round I realised that the big difference between this Festival and lots of others is that it showcases the creativity of everybody there not just the talents of the people on the bill. This means there’s always a lot to look at!
As night settled in we caught some of the action on the main stage and in a couple of the smaller venues. My friend James was DJing in Stiletto Disco, so we hung out there for his set.
Midway through my muscles tightened, my body twisted and a ‘ticcing fit’ took it over. Innes, Bunny and Lilly helped me out of my chair onto a dryish patch of grass outside the venue. Lots of people offered help and most listened when my support crew explained that it was all under control. It was a long and painful fit but it was made interesting by the vibrations coming through the ground, and as I regained my speech, my tics praised the DJ:
“Nice use of soil, James.”
“The earth’s being moved by disco.”
“Even the worms are raving.”
With the help of some medication my body got back on track and we regrouped round the fire in the Accessible Camping Area. I was tempted to call it a night but I also knew Innes was keen to catch rapper Dizraeli’s late night set.
Four years ago I sat in a yurt at Shambala with Bunny and absorbed Kate Tempest’s incredible performance. At the time I described how I battled to control the constant flow of my own words, even stuffing my gloves in my mouth to muffle my tics, anxious that not a single word of Kate’s was drowned out. It remains one of the hardest and most uncomfortable things I’ve ever done – but it’s also one of my favourite festival moments of all time.
Tonight I sat in another yurt, and this time Dizraeli was using words with skill and power. But I didn’t fight my body in the same way as I’d done four years ago. Confidence, age and a familiarity with Shambala made me feel safe to be myself.
There are very few cultural spaces where people are generally expected to be quiet that I could walk into on a Saturday night and expect to have a positive experience, let alone feel welcome and included. Dizraeli and Shambala, you nailed this – thank you.