We are sitting in a ‘café with a conscience,’ the Buddhist run World Peace café and it cares about you very much and also the planet. For a small vegetarian cafe that sells nachos and halloumi baguettes, its aim is somewhat high and I hope Somalia and Yemen are listening when I order my cauliflower and nutmeg soup. http://www.worldpeacecafe.org/
There are Buddhist books to read and meditation CDs for sale. The sun streams in from the flower bedecked garden and some gentle music is playing. Then a man decides to play all the different ring tones on his phone. Loudly. Sadly Buddhism is not the religion of a vengeful God.
We are in Ulverston on a blistering early June day and I have decided to move here. It is the best place I have ever been to I declare over my second cider and I am so overexcited that I just point at pretty much everything and say it is wonderful. I stop when I realize I have getting excited over some breezeblock stairs (circa 1989)
Ulverston is a pretty higgledy-piggledy market town in the Lake District yet not impossibly cutesy and swamped by tourists. It is grey, quaintly austere and surrounded by hills. Houses are for sale at well under a hundred grand, there are fancy shops including an excellent chocolatier alongside more prosaic ones and those seemingly unchanged since 1902. A bargain food shops boxes upon boxes of crisps spill out onto the street and including those fancy ones they sell in pubs are all for sale for 10p a packet. Cans of Cocoa Cola and Dr Pepper (in a fridge no less) are 30p a can. It is a skint bulimics dream within its shambolic interiors with Thorntons chocolates for a quid and various other delicious unhealthy cheap cheap goodness. It must be amazing to be a child here. A quid in Ulverston could easily tip you into a dangerous body mass index. I feel slightly ashamed of my trans fat spewing plastic bags but impressed that they only came to £2.54.
Anyway the real reason we are here is to visit Harmonic Fields, an installation that is part of the Lakes Alive season of festivity. http://www.lakesalive.org/events/harmonicfields/
I am used to getting somewhat overexcited by amazing sounding things and then being crushingly disappointed but here on Birkrigg common is a piece of magic.
There is an orchestra playing a symphony but there are no musicians here, just the wind, earth and sky. The sea shimmers below and moorland stretches for infinity. Strung up and silhouetted by the blazing empty blue of the sky are musical instruments, 500 of them and all wind powered. Enormous bamboo organs and cellos along with more abstract musical equipment, long strips of rubber, scarecrows, gongs and harps all arranged into four sections with the wind the conductor and dictating which instruments will be playing and when and how loud or quiet they will be. It’s a fantastic idea that seems too amazing and overblown for reality but due to composer and artist Pierre Sauvageot, it works, it really works. It is so alive and interactive, this is not art to simply stare at-by walking around in and out of the bamboo organ pipes is when you hear the different timbres, by putting your head in a gong, you hear the gong. And depending on where the wind is and where the listener is, everyone hears something completely different. Despite loving music I am a tone deaf Luddite with all the subtle complexities of a Sham 69 album but even I can tell this is something pretty damn special. It is classical, natural and spectacular-kids run around, yummy mummies with three wheeled pushchairs natter, there are men with dreadlocks and posh looking people who utter sentences like quotations. The more people run around the installations, the more they enjoy it-a couple stare at the organ pipes and declare it silent but if they weaved in and out of it like excited three year olds they would have heard it and thus by trying to look cool they make themselves look stupid-like with yoof with overtight neon jeans.
Back down into Ulverston and the excitement of finding yet another exclusively vegetarian establishment-Gillams is a cozy tearoom and café that has been in the family for around two hundred years and is what Americans possibly think all England is like. We have a bubbling oozy rarebit and a cheese and chili jam puff with salad, coleslaw and baked potato, a posh lemonade and an excellent bottle of organic pleasingly strong cider with the bill coming to about seventeen quid which I consider eminently reasonable for a place where the staff have the name of the establishment on their clothes.
I think of the fact we have resolved not to eat out ever again after finding all the water in the attic and feel somewhat guilty but as a vegetarian, to find an exclusively vegetarian establishment and not enter it, seems somewhat wrong. Not as wrong as the Armenian genocide I admit, I am making poor excuses but I like food, am a lazy cook and am sick of years of eating out as a vegetarian having less chance of a happy outcome than playing Russian Roulette. Unless you like paying nine quid for a fucking goats cheese tartlet the size of a babies fist as all your companions merrily delve into a cacophony of farmyard. http://www.gillams-tearoom.co.uk/
Ulverston saves its best for last, one of those obscure haphazardous charity shops down a little lane which practically scream ‘here be treasure’ but it being 2011, the treasure not being antiquarian maps of long lost counties but a Thomas The Tank Engine pop up book where the pop up bits have not been savagely ripped off and eaten for 50p. And a dress from the pound hanger (something tragically disappearing from the modern charity shops in favour of stupid expensive calendars featuring grinning Balinese children in woven hats) that will look lovely once I can fit my arms into it-I suspect the precious owner might also have been delighted by the array of close to expiry enchantments within the Bargain Food shop. Oh and some sunglasses for 30p. 30p! Only in Ulverston does 30p give you a veritable choice of things to purchase. Or indeed the knowledge that your purchase goes towards making the world a better place for the earth and all residing on it should you wish to spend two pound something on a delicious fresh smoothie from an ethical establishment rather than rot your teeth on nasty tasty cheap yummy carcinogenic 30p diet coke. Although they did also have Appletiser.
And in a small town, who could ask for more?