Greenbelt 2016. My Mainstage debut.

Ah, Greenbelt, how I do love thee. I never did write about last year’s festival, so figured I should get something down about this one before the time slips away again. Let’s just say Greenbelt 2016 was a fabulous one. Something in the air. Something special. So impossible to define.

For me…

This was a great year for music. There’s never much I’ve heard of on the bill, other than from previous Greenbelts. The festival just doesn’t have the budget for big names, but you know what? That’s no bad thing. It means you never know what you’re going to come across. And this year there were a few bands I came away wanting to hear more of…

The Eskies did a late-night slot in the Canopy stage and were just amazing. I’m utterly rubbish at describing or defining music by genre, so here’s how greenbelt described them:

Purveyors of music that meanders from sea soaked waltz to Italian tarantella, from Brassy funeral march-esque lament to weep along Klezmar knees up, from chain gang holler to rag time finger snap. Skipping through the dark side of anything that makes you want to dance, steeped in melodrama and usually with not a small amount of tongue in cheek.

A wee listen on Spotify beforehand confirmed I’d want to catch them and boy am I glad I did. Such a great sound, such a great drummer (inspiring me to try new things at the kit) and such a great rapport with the crowd. Find them on Spotify and listen to the album. It’s good. So good. If you pay attention the the lyrics and wonder what they were doing at Greenbelt, don’t worry – they wondered the same; when they heard that Greenbelt wanted to book them they said “Are you sure!?” Such a fabulous mix of instrumentation and rhythm it gets me buzzing, every track.

Ella and the Blisters were my next highlight. Like last year, they took an ‘after hours’ slot on Mainstage (now technically called the Glade Stage) and what a fab band they are. Just like having a party up there on the stage. Have since heard that they’ve sadly decided to call it a day, so I’m glad I got to see them twice while they were a thing.

Tankus the Henge. Oh boy. What A Band. Stupid name: far from stupid band. I’ll let Greenbelt describe them again:

Six sharply dressed gents from London Town armed with urban tales or woe and wonder to take you on an eclectic musical journey. Their style draws from a multitudinous array of styles including; rock, blues, gypsy punk and funk.

Whatever that means, I’d simply say they were rapturously, raucously, delightful. I bought the album afterwards which has been, along with the Eskies, pretty much on constant play in the car as I go about my business. Every track is a triumph. (I’ve found one review of the album which describes every track as the stand-out song of the album.) Seriously, go listen. Spotify them up, right now. And then go out and buy the album.

I’ve come to realise over recent years that there are a couple of things that bands I enjoy tend to have in common. First up – they’ve got to look like they are having a great time. If they’re having fun, then so are the crowd. Second – just about all my favourites seem to feature a brass section, or at very least a trumpet. And if there are other instruments in there too, all the better. All three of these bands fit the bill in abundance.

But talking of bands with lots of musicians, there’s no doubt another highlight for me has to be Hope and Social; not just because I love the band, but because this time I got to join them up on stage. Man I love Hope and Social. Their sound, their passions, their projects. They’re a band who get involved, and involve people. And this year for Greenbelt they were invited to bring their “Band Anyone Can Join” project, and to close the festival with it as the headline act on Mainstage on Monday evening.  Before the festival they invited applications for anyone to join, and about eighty of us did so: a cluster of guitarists; a mini orchestra section; a choir; and a collection of drummers on Djembes and the like. Except when I sent my application in, I happened to mention that I had a twenty-year dream “to play drums on Greenbelt Mainstage”. Well, what do you know? They only went and let me! The penultimate song of the entire Mainstage line-up of the festival, I was the drummer. Man, what a buzz. Biggest crowd I’ve played in front of by some considerable margin, and as part of an amazing band. Thanks guys. I loved it, and I love you.

Someone in the crowd captured my Mainstage debut and is happy for me to share this.
Thanks John! 

Dang, this is far too long, so I’ll leave it there. That’s just the music highlights for me. There was more; perfoming arts stuff, odds and ends, heck even some God stuff. They’ll have to wait for another post. Or two.


My previous years write-ups:
2012 (My first after a 16-year gap)



Two words.

Now three words. 

And after that, four. 

This next line has five. 

Do all these count as sentences?

I like to think that they do. 

I love words, and wish I used more. 

Or at least used them in more creative ways. 

Perhaps this ten word sentence is a place to start. 


People keep asking if I’m fully recovered from my ride. 

Yes. Yes, I am. 

Well, my knees are still a bit stiff, but I’m taking that as a sign of age rather than of unicycling. And I yet to test out sitting on a saddle. 

Sponsorship page is still open though, so if you were planning to donate, here’s that all-important link again:

Ride report: 13.6 miles on one wheel.

Short Version:

I did it.
It was hard work.
I still ache.
I feel elated to have succeeded .

But I don’t fancy sitting on anything resembling a saddle for a while.

Longer version:

Having done most of the route on two wheels just before setting off on my unicycle, I was seriously daunted and genuinely doubtful as to whether I manage this. I’d not exactly trained much. Sure enough, it took a good while before I felt I was in the swing of it, and within just the first mile or so my thighs started burning (a rare sensation for me, being so unfamiliar with sustained physical exercise).  There were couple of sections that were Really Hard Work.

The last section, after our lunch/picnic stop, was genuinely difficult as one of my shins was giving me pain on top of the thigh burn that I’d managed to get used to, but I was elated to finish cross the finish line after nearly three hours with an average riding speed of 5.5mph.

Full version:

Well, that was an experience. A good one, but boy was it hard going. Did I overestimate what I could achieve? Did I underestimate how much training and practice I needed. Maybe.

The day started with a 12.6 mile ride on my bicycle, accompanying those plucky children who’d opted for the full marathon distance. All the way round I was eyeing up the terrain and thinking about what it would be like next time round when I was due to be on one wheel. I’d forgotten just how much of the Greenway was slightly gravelly bridle path – a dry, dusty surface coated with fine grit, and in places rutted. My road bike, with its thin, hard tyres, was utterly inappropriate and constantly felt like it was going to skid out from under me, which I guess didn’t give me the best confidence for what was ahead. But that leg of the journey, four children and three adults, generally sticking together was a nice way to warm up.

And then to the main event…

IMG_7801Switching from one ride to another

There were 19 children doing the Greenway Challenge, together with adults to accompany them, so we were quite a crowd setting off. Knowing where to place myself among the group proved was a bit awkward, when the first part of the route is a fairly narrow pavement alongside a busy road. That didn’t make for a confident start, but once the group started to spread out, and the paths got broader I began to settle in to the rhythm. Soon enough, the pavements gave way to beautiful bridal paths in glorious countryside, and it was a delight to be out there. I was able to stay with the slowest ‘pack’ of riders comfortable for a while, we had a brief stop for water at about the two mile mark.

IMG_7802Admiring the views at my first water stop. 

I set off first from here, and much to my surprise the trailing pack didn’t catch up (they did have the youngest riders with them) so for long chunks of the route I was pretty much on my own, which is actually rather nice. As for the terrain, my unicycle was actually much, much better suited than my bike. I have a mountain-bike sized wheel, with a fairly chunky tyre, and you don’t have unicycle tyres inflated nearly so hight pressure as a bike, so I gripped the gravel paths with aplomb and actually felt much safer than I had on two wheels.

Reaching the first official refreshment stop ahead of that trailing group was a confidence boost, and I set off on my second section beginning to be a little more confident I could perhaps actually do this thing.

26400293603_50533d5000_oFirst official refreshments stop! And I wasn’t last to arrive!

Once again I was mostly on my own, and it was here that I began to feel just how much my thighs were beginning to ache. I’ve described it as ‘burning’, and people familiar with exercise tells me that’s the lactic acid building up in the muscles. Or something. It really is very, very, unusual for me to work my muscles for any length of time with no respite, so it’s a feeling I’m entirely unfamiliar with. There were other areas that were being to feel the pressure, too. I’ll not mention where, but I think it’s safe to say they’re probably just where you’d expect them to be. For a while I began to take more frequent stops for water, but started to worry about how slow I was going to be, and how long I could keep this up. To take my mind off the pain I began going over the lines and songs for the show I was performing in that very evening. (Yes, really.)

I also whipped out my phone and recorded this, just to prove that I really was doing it.

Thankfully, I did kept it up. Once again I wasn’t last to arrive at the second refreshment stop, but the short route between there and the lunch stop was the part that felt the longest. Riding completely alone once again, I kept thinking the next stop was just round the next corner, but no, there always seemed to be another stretch, and another corner. Finally coming to the point where I could see the children playing in the park was a welcome site, and riding all the way across the field to the picnic area felt a bit like a triumphant entry. The assembled adults were amazed to see that I wasn’t last. I was also amazed.

IMG_7809Another little rest for a drink. At this point, I noticed I’d forgotten to restart my GPS tracker after a refreshment stop. 

The lunch stop was little longer than the others, so getting back on the unicycle for the final four-mile stretch was a real pain in the… um..  well, I said I wasn’t gong to mention that bit. A new problem presented itself here, too: about half way round I’d had a minor tumble (despite having told everyone that you ‘always’ land on your feet when you bail out of a difficult moment, I managed once to land on my hands and a knee, and grazed my knee). It hadn’t given me any bother till now, but setting off on that final leg I realised I had some new pain right down into my shin, and I know realise I must have twisted my knee a little in that bump. Above all else, that made the last section feel long and difficult, and I seriously doubted whether I’d make it. And then, to cap it all, I took a wrong turn, which meant that having been just behind the leading group for the last section, by the time I back-tracked and found my place again, I was right back with the last ones. For the last mile and a half, it was nice to have some company, and when I rounded the final corner they let me go on to pass the finish line.

uniblogYes, I actually did it. (Photo: Charles Hartshorne.)

It was finished.

I was seriously aching, and limping a bit. But I had done it. And I was delighted.

Now for the stats:. Officially the Garden City Greenway is 13.6 miles. And I rode it from start to finish. So that’s what I’m claiming: 13.6 miles, mostly off-road, on a unicycle. 

I had a GPS tracker attached to my frame which tells a slightly different story. My GPS actually recorded 12.09 miles. BUT, I did forget to turn it back on after one of the refreshment stops. Do’h! Mind you, it did also record my detour, which I’d have thought might make it back up to the right distance. Who knows. Damn technology. I rode 13.6 miles, okay! Plus a detour!

RouteThe GPS log. Note (a) the straight line top right, where I forgot to turn it back on so the software has just joined up the gap and (b) the little sticky-out bit top right, where I missed a turn. Idiot! 

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 17.36.35
The all-unimportant stats.

I can’t leave this report without mentioned the children though. Yes, I may have claimed the limelight somewhat with getting some press coverage for us, and I may have done something a bit quirky and different, but don’t forget this ride is really for children, and there were 19 young children, some as young as five, who rode this 13.6 mile route, and four of them, aged just nine and ten, who rode a whole marathon distance of 26.2 miles.

They deserve some sponsorship, too.