June 9, 2005

I met a man who was dressed as a pirate at Pendle Witch Camp last summer solstice, who went by the name of Garw. We were chatting as the sun came up, round the still-burning fire, the mist low in the valley creating a mirage of water in the dawn light. I was convinced it was a lake and that we were actually on an island, much to my surprise as I’d spent the night not realising there was a great expanse of water out there, which in fact there wasn’t. Even when I was told it wasn’t water still it looked like water.

A teen witch was singing a goddess-raising lullaby accompanied by a gypsy labourer with no front teeth. Jed was playing psy-trance on his Jew’s harp. Ade passed round the brandy, remarking on Jed’s playing: ‘This must have been the only acoustic rave in the country.’

Beyond the circle of warmth around the firepit and its few stragglers who didn’t want to let the party die to go to sleep, white frost clung to the blades of grass and icicles hung from the guyropes of the snoring tents. Me and Garw were talking lofty matters. He said something that struck me:

‘I never pay any attention to what anyone younger than me has to say, I only listen to those older than me. They’ve seen more than me, there may be something I can learn from them.’

He paused, looked at me intently, then he qualified this:

‘I sometimes listen to people younger than me if they’ve learnt things from older people.’

I’m not very good at telling age past 30, and I often joke that I’m an immortal when people gasp on learning I am older than they thought. So I had some silent quibbling with Garw’s statement straight away.

I think he was younger than me, but I’m not sure. I also thought he thought I was younger than him, and that was what prompted his qualification, which came across to me as inclusion, but I may be wrong about that, because it also struck me initially, when he approached, that he expected he might learn something from me, and that was the reason for striking up this conversation with its formal introductions and shaking of hands, as if both of us were suddenly plucked out of the usual thoroughfare to take part in some more weighty exchange of views at the behest of the spheres.

It had a touch of destiny about it, two knowing actors in the great play inaugurating the solstice with words that seemed already written the moment they were spoke. This was not the first time the universe had spoken to itself through me, and, as if a prerequisite in such encounters, the other fellow stood his ground in the same dust and clearly knew it. At such times, anything becomes possible. The useful signpost bestowed by the wise in a ‘casual remark’, a sense of simple camaraderie sorely missed – a feeling of belonging to something far vaster than oneself, one’s place in it more highly valued than one is accustomed to think. Privileged admittance to the secret back room of Fate.

I forget what we talked about now, but I thought about it for several days after we parted. It was the best conversation I have ever had with a man who was dressed as a pirate in the frost of dawn by the last warmth of a long night’s fire on a mirage island.