Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Life in Tents

British people sure do know how to put up a tent. I realize this is a stupid thing to say, because of course there are impressively big tents for rent in the States. However I've only really experienced such things in England, and am thus under the false impression that only the English know how to really rock temporary living spaces. And I'm not talking camping tents here, I mean hard floor, temperature controlled (for the most part) tents with tiered seating. Like Harry Potter tents, but without the bunk-beds. I mean tents that look like this on the inside:

What I'm going a long way around saying is that I spent the first half of this month volunteering at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, and spending a great deal of time inside tents such as this one. A bunch of the other volunteers I met  have already blogged and reviewed the festival much more in depth than I could have, so for a while I didn't think I'd bother blogging about it since I didn't really have any original thoughts to add to this already well documented event. But, as is evident from my last post about cranes, I am clearly not too worried about writing blogs from interesting angles. So I'm going to just talk about tents for a while.

All these pictures were made possible by my less than ideal camera phone, so excuse the poor quality. In an effort to not get my camera stolen (again and again and again), I didn't bring it, but now I really wish I had to help me explain the fairyland feel of the festival. We (all of the volunteers who don't live in Cheltenham) were put up in these nice little flats down the street, but besides the short walk to and from the apartments, we spent most of the ten straight days on the two sites of the literary festival, which morphed from an assortment of tents and cabins that may or may not have tea in them into a whole world unlike anything I've ever worked. Literary Festivals are one of my favorite things- I love nothing more than going to talks by my favorite authors and the whole atmosphere of being surrounded by books and the people who love them. This year in Oxford, I treated myself to seeing just about everyone I wanted to see (knowing it would be my last one for a while), and it was really fab. But Cheltenham was so much more than that, so much bigger and concentrated and high-profile.

I guess there was something about spending all day every day in a place made just for the purposes of celebrating books for 10 days that created this fantastyland feel. It also didn't hurt that I had the golden ticket of being a volunteer and could get into all the back doors and back stage areas, which never stopped being cool. And the actual work we were doing was very fun- I am one of those freaks who enjoys moving heavy things, even in the rain. But mostly, we were doing front of house, checking tickets and helping people find their seats. It was just like my job at The Story Museum, but without all the stress of being the one who is actually in charge of everything if something goes wrong. 

Whatever it was, it was not real life.  I kept telling people what I did in real life, which is funny because most of the time my real life doesn't feel like it's real either. I knew (and still know) nothing about the rest of Cheltenham, only the Imperial and Montpellier Gardens and the tents therein. It was like a tiny town inside a town, one that made a great many people very happy.

The lovely Town Hall. 

The not-so-lovely flowerpot signs. 

This is the outside of that first picture. 

In Tent Life, everything is as fleeting as the tents themselves. Everything is temporary, so you need to make the most of it. I found myself growing attached to certain venues and venue managers very quickly, even after just one day of working there, because that was just the life, and then feeling surprisingly sad when my times in those places came to an end. We made friends quickly, because we had to, and then saying goodbye was weird. And now we know that we'll never be together ever again- all those exact same people, in that exact same place, doing that exact same thing- is even weirder still. It reminds me of this time when I was in High School and I went on a nerdy trip to New England with either the history club or my history class or something like that, and spent a few intense days with one of my best friends ever, and a bunch of other people I never associated much with back in the real life of high school. We had an amazing time, and became really close because of the nature of the trip, but then the bus ride back had this strange vibe. We all knew what would happen when we got back to the school, we all knew it would be one of those Breakfast Club endings. And it was true, and I'm still only friends with my one best bud who was already my best bud before the trip, and yes, I know I'll never see those people again in that same way. It's not really sad, it's just life, but it is interesting how this happens, how we as humans adapt to the environments we are in and then can just as easily un-adapt (because that's a word now) once that environment goes away. Humans are neat.

All that being said, I have already seen one of my volunteer friends again since leaving the festival, and I do very much hope to see a bunch more before I go back to the States- everyone was so awesome, it would be a real shame not to.

I believe that's Horrid Henry in the distance.

I swear I'm not stalking Neil Gaiman, although this is the fourth time I've seen him this year. Actually, I think he might be stalking me. 

Since everything else has already been said, I'll just say that I'd highly recommend Life in Tents. And I don't mean specifically volunteering at this literary festival necessarily, I just mean taking a break from your real life and doing something different. I know it's not an easy or practical thing- my bank account is not thanking me for working for free for 10 days, that's for sure- but still worth it if you can swing it. Volunteering was different than going on vacation, or just going away for a weekend. I'd recommend going away for a reason, to do a job, to do anything that's just different from what you normally do. Sure, event management is sort of my thing in real life as well, but usually I'm the one telling the volunteers what to do, and it was sort of liberating and enlightening being on the other side. I wish I had volunteered last festival- I think I would have been much better at my current job if I had. It was nice to see that what I thought it took to be a good volunteer coordinator is actually right, but up till now I was just taking everyone's word for it that I was doing things as they should be done (at times, I assumed everyone was just being polite).

Really, if I learned anything at all at Cheltenham or in life generally, all it takes to be good at anything are two simple things: be nice, and work hard. Do those things and you will succeed.

Tent Life, over an out.



dolores said...

You are one smart kiddo!;) xo

Anna Poulton said...

Read some great blogs from several amazing people who were at Cheltenham. Said so many things I've thought, in such interesting and original ways. Now who's going to write the first novel based at the festival? I have many plots, but they all come out like cheese and it deserves more than that!

Maria said...

Challenge accepted, Anna. I'll give it a think :)

TLS237 said...

Life in tents can be fun. When I think about it, most events involving tends are fun. The Oktoberfest is one large party in very large tents.

Julia said...

Just realised via FB that you are a blogger, too, so I've signed up to follow you. (Mine is at and is called Life, Yoga and Other Adventures.) Can you believe it's a month since LitFest? Hope you're doing OK. Jx

Maria C. Goodson said...

Hi Julia! Thanks for following- I'm following yours now too. Everything if fab with me, and no I can't believe it's been a month!