A Celebration of Cultural Diversity. In Tunbridge Wells. Izzit?

A ‘Monday Club’ blog… 24hrs late (I’ve been busy) but better late than never!

Well hasn’t the weather been glorious? And doesn’t it make life so much easier when it is?  Let’s hope it doesn’t burn itself out before the school holidays start properly.

I, fortunately, am now past that stage with Ben where bad weather can mean hellish days trapped indoors or fruitless attempts to stretch trips to the cat rescue centre for a cuddling session or to wear ‘em’ out for a bit of ball pool fun into a full days entertainment, but I remember the horrors of them only too well. It did not help matters that Ben is an only child or that his autism could be socially isolating, but then I’ve seen many a stressed out parent struggling with bickering siblings wilfully insisting on pulling in different directions, so I guess it’s perhaps a case of losing on the roundabouts what you gained on the swings. Or, to coin another cliché, the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.

On the downside, when the sun is shining, I miss out on all the other stuff that parents get to enjoy with their kids, because at sixteen Ben is far happier huddled in his bedroom killing Nazi Zombies on his X-Box than he would be spending a day at the seaside making sandcastles or riding bikes around one of our lovely local parks, which were the days I enjoyed most when he was little. For Ben, open spaces and the freedom to explore them were always more interesting and absorbing than structured ‘days out’ at zoos or theme parks and much less frustrating too. For both of us.the good old days

This weekend, however, I got the best of both worlds. As a young adult Ben is starting to enjoy some of the things I enjoy, so rather than me taking him out in a parent/child sort of way we spent the weekend doing stuff together as equals, and that was really cool.

To be honest, when I asked him if he wanted to go out on Saturday night I was expecting him to decline. He regularly comes out with me for live music nights at a local venue, but all that was on offer this Saturday was an evening sitting on the wall outside a local pub and a potential meet-up with some of my friends. Ben knows and likes my friends, and always feels included, but it wasn’t the kind of evening he would have elected to be part of even a few months ago. He told me recently that he is starting to feel more comfortable in groups and formal situations. He still looks totally terrified at first (I always think of the rabbits in Watership Down ‘going tharn’) but seems to find his safety zone much more quickly, and is starting to converse rather than just respond to direct questions.

It is, of course, wonderful for me to see Ben making inroads into doing social, and I’m so pleased we have the kind of relationship that lets us share experiences like this, but like so many things that happen in his life the feelings engendered can be very bitter-sweet. What I’m really looking forward to is a time when meeting him in a pub is a happy coincidence or part of his social calendar rather than mine, and when he has his own age-appropriate friends to knock around with. I’ve detailed some of the challenges he faces there in other blogs so won’t dwell on them here, but I’m really hoping that the transition from residential school to a local college in September will bring new opportunities for him. Of course when it happens that will be bitter-sweet too, because there will be another kind of loss involved! Isn’t being a parent complicated? *sigh*

Sunday was a full day and evening spent in the park for the Tunbridge Wells Mela (Sanskrit for ‘gathering’), a free-entry festival celebrating the town’s cultural diversity. Sadly, cultural diversity seems pretty low on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s list of priorities, and they cut their funding for the project this year in favour of further investment in a loss-making seasonal skating rink for those fortunate enough to be in a position to pay £7.00 – £9.00 per person per hour to fall on their arses on ice.

The funding cuts, despite the best efforts of the festival organisers, really showed, and a change of venue this year over last seemed detrimental to the atmosphere too. Last year’s Mela, despite torrential rain for much of the afternoon, was a wonderful, vibrant affair, set in a local park that slopes naturally towards a large boating lake. A stage area placed at the lake’s edge became the natural focal point for all visitors, who responded energetically and enthusiastically to the performances on offer. This year’s, set in what is effectively a valley, could more effectively be described as a series of personal picnics undertaken for the most part by individual groups who showed little, if any, interest in what was happening on stage because they were so removed from the action.

Putting our hands up, Ben and I will admit to being just as guilty as everyone else. Once seated with our own group of friends from The Tunbridge Wells Writers we were perfectly content to just sit chatting in the sunshine – especially when the wine came out! We didn’t bother venturing down into the valley to see what was going on, and frankly, at times we found the noise from the stage intrusive.

Awful, I know, and the kind of ungrateful behaviour I regularly rant and rave about when enacted by the over-indulged Middle-Class, Middle-England Yummy Mummies and Dishy Daddies who provide the town with its most enduring stereotypes. All I can say in my defence is that by the time we got to our third bottle of Gavi I was very, VERY drunk: a state of blissful detachment I was happy to inhabit throughout the afternoon and well into the evening when we packed away our pic-a-nic type baskets (I trust some of my readers at least will be old enough to remember Yogi Bear etc) and transferred ourselves to the garden of a nearby pub.

small steel drums
People playing steel drums. Taken at 24x zoom as I couldn’t be arsed to roll down the hill and take the picture properly.

One thing I did remember to do at Mela was take the new camera I invested in a few weeks ago. My intention when buying it was too ‘up my game’ as far as pictures on the blog go when writing about local events, because I usually end up either scrounging somebody else’s pics or downloading a general sort of snap from t’internet and photo-shopping it for a cheap laugh. Sadly, having remembered to take my camera I didn’t really get around to using it, and on the couple of occasions I did it was pointed towards the Tunbridge Wells Writers rather than the festival itself. Here, then, is a group shot of some of the Tunbridge Wells Writers and assorted friends…

group pic

[click for full image]


4 thoughts on “A Celebration of Cultural Diversity. In Tunbridge Wells. Izzit?”

  1. A few days late READING this properly – The Mela was always in Calverley, and Dunorlan was the one off special (It being Olympics launch weekend when it was on last year). Anyway – Oxfam Bookshop agreed with you, you all sat around with your picnics and hardly anyone at the event ventured near the stalls, or spent money … thereby risking the event not going ahead next year due to lack of funds. See today’s lovely Courier re ‘Local and Live’…

    1. Hadn’t attended Mela before last year, so assumed Dunorlan regular venue… I still don’t think Calverley lends itself to that kind of event, though, because there is no natural focal point. Or if there is it’s where the cafe sits and/or where the stalls, rather than the stage, was positioned this year. My money wouldn’t make much difference because I haven’t got any (!) but I totally agree with you / Oxfam Bookshop as I conceded above. So why weren’t the people who have money and are very vocal about preserving these kinds of events out spending some of the former to ensure the latter? I feel another rant coming on! 😉

      Yes, picked up a Courier this morning. REALLY hacked off about L&L – but hats off to Paul Dunton for giving it the ol’ college try again. Let’s hope next year sees L&L’s welcome return.

      Thanks for comment 😀

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