Thursday, 1 July 2010

Summer slinging

The summer has been going by in a haze. What a great one we've been having. Jimmy's been getting stuck into some new places and befriending lots of new people as ever - and really shaping up pretty well for someone of his age.

I discovered recently that I have been accepted on a Masters course at UCL - an Msc in Urban Studies - and I am beyond excited at the prospect of getting my brain cranked up again. So, this summer marks the last one of things being as they were. After this year, who knows? Choc Star will most definitely continue but my role in it won't be as hands-on.

So I'm enjoying every event with Jimmy - and delighting in the excitement I still feel when hitting the road, bound for somewhere I've never been before...

In May we went to Letchworth Garden City for its first food festival. I was totally rivetted by this place - Britain's original Garden City and in possession of it's first roundabout (built in 1903). The whole town had a really extraordinary atmosphere: heavy duty, high-design suburbia with a touch of the Legoland about it.

Punters in Letchworth = all incredibly friendly and easy-going. Must be the Quaker influence.

Prime example = this couple. I marveled at her very ostentatious necklace and she tried to insist that I should keep it. Too much! Then they went on to divulge the secrets of her current husband having snatched her away from her original husband. They looked utterly delighted that things had all worked out for the best and really tucked into those Choc Star treats.

My pal and fellow founder Giles brought along Mary, his caravan of joy. While we all roasted in the upper 20 degree heat, Giles stood over a pulsing pot of games stew - chunks ahoy of rabbit, pigeon, guinea fowl, quail and venison. Next on his agenda is to incorporate some Suffolk squirrels into the equation.

The County Arms in Wandsworth booked us to be part of their re-launch at the end of May. Along with Morris dancers, face painters, jugglers and other such pageantry, we served the pub's patrons with as much sweetness and joy as they could cope with. Great burgers too...

...Although not quite as special as Yianni's. We finally got to go side-by-side again - this time outside the independently run Red Lion & Sun up in Highgate. Joder! I felt like I was crawling up out of the Brixton swamplands and onto a great precipitous ledge. Felt like another city altogether.

No sooner had I arrived than I was met with a series of food ramblers. People who love food so much that they will hunt high and low for the best on offer - no matter how far or out of the way. I was impressed by the dedication of some of them and did my best to answer all the very detailed questions about sourcing and ingredients and baking methods.

The Meatwagon delivered great juicy American style burgers (never had one in this country that tastes quite so much like the ultimate one I ate in a Wyoming roadhouse several moons ago), and we provided the sweetness.

I drove home that night (getting massively lost in Camden as ever), marveling at the pull of the informal/transitory food offering. We need more of this cutting out the middle man type trading.

Mid June found us back at the Teen-age Cancer Trust area of the Marylebone Street Fair. Loads of great people stopped by for milkshakes and chats - including this family, the man of which was one of my first ever customers when I used to take the van to Portobello Market.

He turns up occasionally and makes all the necessary 'ooh' and 'ahhh' type noises.

I have to include a pic of this lot because they were so rowdy and wild. I love kids like that - roamers, tree-climbers, camp-makers, scuffed knee-ers. One of them was called 'Mushroom'. Priceless.

And then came Winterwell....a magical micro-machine of a festival in a valley in Gloucestershire. The theme for fancy dress (because there's always a theme for fancy dress) was The Complete Works of Roald Dahl. Well blow me down, if the place wasn't run amok by a sea of Oompah-Loompahs, Fantastic Mr Foxes, Willy Wonkas and even a Snozzcumber (who revealed to me during an intimate moment at the choc counter, that his shins had had to be dressed by the St John's Ambulance for custume chafing).

But my very favourite costume of all came courtesy of this dude. Whilst other would-be Hungry Crocodiles lagged around in matted old costume cupboard type affairs, this guy went above and beyond and made the thing himself. I told him, listen, you and Jean Paul Gaultier should hook up - this lime green PVC thing is all that. I was crazy for that guy and his costume and I didn't care who knew.
Meanwhile one of my little helpers turned up for her shift as a Giant Peach. We never lost her again for the whole night.

Later on that week I returned to almost the very same spot for the OnForm bi-annual sculpture exhibition at Asthall Manor. It was an idyllic setting, marred only slightly by my having to listen to the England-Algeria game on a wind-up radio that kept needing re-booting.

Back on the road to Essex after that for the Colchester Food & Drink festival in ancient old Castle Park. I used to knock around in that park as a teen-ager. I probably slept the night there on the odd occasion when I knew not where I was or how I came to be. It felt great to be back there - almost like a county show, complete with Suffolk Punches, donkey rides and a flower competition.

This lot were eating for seven...

And I had a great little helper with me but she did try and eat her way through the profits somewhat. I'm looking forward to when my god-daughter Zahara can actually drive the thing.

The following week we returned to the Southbank for the first of the Real Food Festival monthly markets. It felt like coming home and the sun poured its sugar on us all weekend.

Favourite customers of the event was this Christopher Wallace fan and his reluctant sidekick. There's Biggie on his T-shirt. He got very excited when I told him my sitting-on-Biggie's-stoop story. Then I cranked up Playas Anthem and he fairly skipped off back into the throng.