Like so many of the events planned for Fringe 2020, this one couldn't happen as originally envisaged but it did happen! The need for social distancing meant that my visit was strictly by invitation, the 'secret garden' seeming all the more alluring as a result.
After Saturday's non-stop rain I had armed myself with a waterproof notebook but the first guided tour of the Serpentine Community Garden since lockdown turned out to be blessed with glorious sunshine. A group of six of us were taken round, all of us enjoying the chance to prove that the show must go on!
We were first welcomed by Steve Phillips who set the scene by briefly describing how this special place nestling in the heart of Buxton close to the River Wye and the Pavilion Gardens is owned by the local community for the benefit of all. We were then introduced to Madeline Hall who took us on a fascinating tour. Everywhere we looked there were thriving flowers and vegetables, all grown in containers or raised beds to avoid the contaminated soil of this former council plant nursery site and all providing evidence of the skill and hard work of the garden's volunteers.
Madeline explained that despite the trials and tribulations brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, including their chief growers shielding and being out of action, they have managed to contribute to the Buxton Street By Street delivery service offering fresh produce to the community. We saw how borage remains a signature plant for the gardens and how they like to cultivate heritage vegetable varieties. Everything is well organised with three-year crop rotation and carefully monitored use of space - it was amazing to see how much you can grow in just six square feet. We also learnt how they have embraced new methods such as growing carrots in sand as happens in France - all valuable inspiration for me on my allotment!
The gardens also provide a kind of refuge; there was a lovely wild area at the edge of the plot where Tarmac has helped build a belvedere for people to sit in and take a break, looking out onto the trees. Importantly, the gardens also boast another spacious, newly constructed edifice which they describe as the most accessible toilet in Buxton!
In recent years, music-filled open days at the gardens have become an established part of the Fringe. More importantly, with their new longterm lease, the gardens look set to be part of the community for many years to come.
The hour with Laura Stroud, local author, blogger and wedding planner flew by. I and my fellow participants were looking for tips on how to get the creative juices flowing when either faced with a dry topic, a new area such as a blog or inspiration just wasn't striking.
Laura had lots of tips and she soon had as trying them out.
We did a number of practical exercises with a time limit. Laura explained that having a time limit really stretched your brain and this stretch is were creativity lies. Getting us to "Free Write" meant we couldn't put it off, waiting for the perfect time or finding the perfect pen. This really struck a cord for me as procrastination is my usual response to needing to write a report.
Laura was keen to stress that we should enjoy our writing so that this would come through the page to our readers. Although I felt I had worked hard at the end of the session I had also enjoyed it and to judge by others reaction they had also found it helpful. I will definitely be trying out more of Laura's tips.
Writer’s block can strike at any point. Take this review of Peak District Events’ Creative Writing Online - Beat Writer’s Block workshop. Just supposing I was having trouble getting down to it, then maybe I could set a timer for 60 seconds and write a quick list of what I enjoyed about it or perhaps I could take a micro-break, standing up, turning round and sitting down again?
These were just two of many refreshing tips offered by Laura Stroud in a friendly workshop that took place over Zoom and also got us doing some creative writing in fun, short bursts of activity. I was pleased to clock up a first - my first ever story written in 60 seconds - after Laura provided a prompt for us: 'The door burst open'. As a journalist I respond well to a deadline, knocking up: 'The door burst open and the lion leapt in unexpectedly, not quite sure if she was welcome, which in fact she wasn’t. Her paws flailed upwards as she moved to greet me, or attack me. It wasn’t clear. Oddly even in my last living moment I appreciated her golden fur.'
Laura was a very reassuring presence and I confessed to her that my real problem was expanding something short into something longer - the holy grail of a novel for example. There was a lot of useful psychology in her advice and we were asked to write a letter to ourselves answering the question: 'Why do you write?' I found this very helpful, one conclusion being that if creative writing is a hobby for you or a way of releasing private emotion then it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks of it. Fear of being judged is one of the biggest causes of writer’s block - if you can knock that on the head, you’re cured!
There was a lot more here including how to 'fill up your creative well' doing things that inspire you, as well as make you happier. Laura’s lively business - see peakdistrictevents.com - offers creative writing courses and workshops as well as a supportive writing community and even weddings’ advice - why not check it out? She is also offering a non-fiction workshop on the Fringe this Thursday at 6.30pm.
Summit run a bi-monthly showcase night at the Eagle Inn in Salford at which they feature an eclectic mix of the experimental, avant garde, noise, free jazz and improv. Halted by coronavirus, like the Fringe they have moved online, and Mark Reid from Summit has curated a special edition for Buxton Fringe featuring six acts that have performed at the Eagle Inn. All bar one of these performances have been created for this set.
The Whale by Lauren Redhead is the most accomplished piece and has been created during lockdown. It’s an animation featuring a poem read over an experimental noise score. The soundscape manages to successfully evoke whalesong and a sense of foreboding that complements the beautiful imagery of whales, waves and maps.
Nate Chivers’ piece is apparently simpler, just a video of him playing the guitar. But what intricate playing! And whether plucking high on the fretboard with both hands, using a plectrum to scratch at the strings to create an ambience, or employing choppy strumming for unusual rhythms, his virtuosic playing stays in service of the music, rather than straying into indulgence.
Mark Reid himself is playing with different notions of what we’ve been doing during lockdown. The screen is filled with four different Marks laid out like a Zoom call, all performing different activities; chatting banalities on the phone, learning a musical instrument, recounting time passing and eating. As the performance unfolds the sound and images create a rhythm of time passing building to a crescendo as the day ends and a new dawn comes. It’s not without a sense of humour and an intriguing companion to Reid’s performance on similar themes, It’s About Time, also on at the Fringe.
The other pieces include a moody and atmospheric song-film from OD Davey, Gidouille’s ambient electronic music, featuring found sounds like birdsong, and culminating in a recording of a Free Jazz set of saxophone and drums by Hanslip / Karlsen.
If Fringe is a place to celebrate the new and the experimental, and it certainly is, then there is much to be grateful for in this insight into the outer reaches of music, theatre and film that Summit have put together specifically for the Fringe. This set is only available through the link on the Buxton Fringe website, and won’t again exist in this form.
Buxton in Bloom has something for everyone. Have you been working on your garden during lockdown and want to show off the beautiful colourful results from all your hard work? Do you like peeking into other people's gardens to admire their flowers and shrubs and planting design? Well you can do either or both of these with Buxton in Bloom.
You can post a picture of your garden at the facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Buxton-In-Bloom-2020-100100925035444 and enter the Buxton in Bloom competition. The categories are (1) Best Garden (2) Best Hanging Basket/Planter (3) Best School/Nursery Garden (4) Best Flowerpot person and the the winners are the ones with the most 'Likes' by mid August. If you don't want to submit a photo then you can just browse to see the wonderful gardens of your Buxton neighbours.
There are only a few entries so far and so there is a lot of opportunity to win if you submit a photo. Share the beauty of your garden. Tell your friends and neighbours.
My favourite is the 'WhereThe Wild Things Are' flowerpot man :-)
Even further out than the Fringe, and it gets far enough out at times, is the Fringe of the Fringe. Boasting the tagline “Stranger, Audaciouser, Fringier” it attempts to bring us all the shows that aren’t here, the very best of what is not happening, and more importantly, reviews thereof.
With breathless excitement the Fringe of the Fringe reported from their launch party, "ambient 20s jazz" playing and the Fringe of the Fringe Official beer flowing plentifully (an orange wheat beer obviously). It’s a riot of a night, literally - in act seven a man in full Georgian regalia is reading the Riot Act (1714), being heckled, and pelted with flour and rotten vegetables. There’s also been an American country singer singing “Last Christmas” and a Kazooorchestra. It all happened at the George Inn, which we’re sure closed years ago but the Fringe of the Fringe appears to have “special arrangements”.
Once the Fringe of the Fringe (or the Fringe, or both?) begins, the reviews come thick and fast. The Michael Gove impersonator with the theme tune as per Byker Grove, an exhibition of Old Masters in Fairfield, and the Vegan Butcher who presents "We Can't Go To Heaven Because of All The Milk And Honey", which may or may not be having fun with a former Fringe Chair. Go easy on the Keiths, Fringe of the Fringe!
The review of Fringe of the Fringe Readings shows clear signs of the deep knowledge of someone who has dozed off more than once in the back bar of the Old or New Hall Hotel while listening to a pleasant voice indulging its enthusiasms at the expense of an audience.
Fringe of the Fringe are a shadowy organisation and we’re unsure if they are serious, a rival to the Buxton Fringe, or even if they actually exist. Their agent is a chap called Nick Butterley who once upon a time ran the Fringe desk and wrote scurrilous underground newsletters. Hmm. He clearly knows what’s he’s on about; the reviews are knowing and the caricatures and comments reveal inside knowledge and a fine sense of satire. We’ll have to keep an eye on this chap. You can keep an eye on Fringe of the Fringe on Facebook.
Fringe of the Fringe reminds us that “Art is a lie that makes us realise the truth”. Picasso said that. No we don’t know what it means either.
It turns out that one of the wonderful things that happens in an online Fringe is that you get all kinds of unexpected events. Follow the link to The Art of the 99-Word Story, and you’ll be taken to a webpage that challenges, encourages and shows you how to write flash fiction, in this case a short story in 99 words.
And if you think a 99 word constraint sounds a bit mad, check out one of the masterpieces of the form, Anthropology by Buxton resident Dan Rhodes, 101 stories of 101 words.
The challenge is hosted jointly by Charli Mills from the Carrot Ranch Literary Community in Michigan USA, and Anne Goodwin from closer to home here in the Peak District, so this is an intriguing international literary challenge! Towards the end of the Fringe on 17th July at 5pm there will be a live reading of some of the entries.
I read through all the instructions, advice and examples available and thought, well, there’s only one way to review an event like this. I plunged in and started writing.
The Challenge is “Fringe” - of course! The advice is to not think too hard and just start writing on whatever pops into your head. Rather fortuitously for me, at that moment someone in the room used a somewhat incongruous phrase with the word Fringe in it. I was off! It took a while to get a draft, but there it was, a bit over 100 words.
I went back to the Art of the 99-word Story, I read over the advice and tips. I tinkered a bit. One of the tips was to leave it overnight and come back to it. So here I am the next day. I’ve tidied up, tightened up and got to precisely 99 words. Now I’m off to submit it, and then to submit this review.
It’s been a lot of fun and got me writing creatively for the first time in… Well, you probably weren’t born. Now I’m looking forward to the readings to see what everyone else came up with!
(And apologies. This review is way over 99 words.)