I’m recovering from a weekend at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival. I arrived on friday, the weather was wet and grey, constant drizzle. I saw people on the train carrying tents and sleeping bags, are they here for the festival too? We went past Branksome, I was trying to work out why the name was so familiar… this place is part of my research! I looked out at Branksome station as the train rolled past.
Once I got to Dorchester it was a funny experience re-tracing the route to Tolpuddle. I half-remembered the roads from the times I’ve cycled it before, but it was so long ago, I passed areas as unknown as they were faintly familiar.
I had to put up the tent in the rain, later I realised it wasn’t up properly, but in that weather I couldn’t just dismantle it and start again. I went to see a film called ‘War School’ in a mobile cinema - a large truck, with a small cinema inside.
The film was okay, and more importantly it was warm and dry in there.
After that, I went to see Les Carter, better known as a member of Ferocious Dog, I really like Ferocious Dog but couldn’t really get into his solo act. I walked on to the DJ tent, there were a few people dancing, I hesitated and hovered around the fringes before deciding to head back to the tent. I was really struggling to stay warm, and must have been exhausted because I dozed off extremely quickly. I fell into a deep sleep, all through the rain and the soft wind jostling the tent.
The following morning I awoke to a light cloudy drizzle.
By lunchtime the weather had gotten much better. ☀️
I went to the Unite tent for the 100th anniversary of the Landworker magazine. I stayed as long as I could but was getting uncomfortable sitting on the grass in the sun. Moved on to watch a drum circle in the shade, and then sat in on a talk with an academic from the University of Southampton.
I’m having difficulty keeping my eyes open, feel so drowsy. Am I so tired? I slept like a log last night!
I went to a quite frank discussion on whether the union movement is approaching its ‘sell-by date.’ For years, there has been a gradual decline in overall union membership, and the bulk of the workers in established unionised workplaces are moving towards retirement age… If that trend continues then the labour movement could face a severe crisis down the line.
So, the unions are trying out new ways of organising young workers. In the case of PCS, Mark Serwotka spoke of giving active members informal roles as ‘union advocates’ or volunteers with responsibility, and these activists would fit between workplace reps and lay members. Tim Roach of the GMB spoke about getting rid of the members magazine, communicating with members through other channels, and focusing activity on building workers power rather than just workplace representation.
I went back to see the Skimmity Hitchers outside the Unite tent.
After that I saw an Iranian short film called the Stain in the mobile cinema.
The story was about a caretaker who works in a theatre. Every evening he sweeps the stage and finds a blood stain. He used to be a soldier, and he sees a film in the theatre where people are executed by firing squad. When he goes to clean up afterwards, the blood stain reappears on the stage. He finds his old soldier’s uniform, throws it away, and re-cuts the film to replace the firing squad scene with a close-up frame of a woman. I found it very moving.
In the evening, I saw Paul Bedford and Naomi Symonds, but the highlight of the evening was Pete Bentham & The Dinnerladies. Here they are rocking out to… Marcel Duchamp? The song was silly, it had me relaxed, contented.
The following day, I hung around until mid-day, waiting for the procession; went for a short walk south of Tolpuddle. I mapped the village and surrounding fields in July-August 2016, and I was kind of interested to revisit those areas on the ground.
The festival site started getting crowded after around 11am as people arrived for the day. The procession formed up, it was so packed that I couldn’t get through to the back.
We marched up to the methodist chapel, and went past the NASUWT band stopped outside the village pub, playing Sweet Caroline.
There was a noticeable group of Kurdish solidarity campaigners at the festival this year, here they are with their banner.
I stayed for Corbyn’s speech, but was pressed for time as I wanted to get my tent down and head back to Dorchester for the 5pm train.
I stayed too long and missed that train, so lingered in Dorchester for a while. This is the back of the new area around Dorchester South station, the site of the old Dorchester Brewery which was redeveloped around 2014-2015.
I enjoy going to this festival, although I’m not sure it was worth camping and staying the full three days. On the other hand, the train journey from Oxford is too long for a single day-trip on Sunday. A few people I know were staying in B&Bs in the village, or in Dorchester. It’s not as fun camping alone, maybe next time I’ll have someone to go with?
In the meantime, I’m going camping in Wales next weekend, and I’ve been listening to yugo-pop.
♪ Za Tebe ♪
You and I were once together,
this whole world lay before us.
And now we should say a final goodbye,
because everything came to an end.