Ian Clayton column: The endless possibilities of connection

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As you read this and get perhaps a third of the way down the page, I know some of you are going to think I’m having a psychedelic moment and you’re going to wonder where the heck I’m going, or perhaps wonder what I’m on, but stick with it, I guarantee it will make sense by the conclusion.

It’s more than 35 years ago now, but I used to travel about a lot on the back of a Triumph motorbike with my old mate Burt.

We’d load up a two-man tent, a couple of sleeping bags, a frying pan and a pair of tin mugs and take ourselves off to the countryside for a weekend of beer, exploration and connecting to the world beyond our doorstep.

We liked the Lake District and the Dales and regularly rolled into Ambleside, Troutbeck or Muker.

One spring we went up to a place called Middleton in Teesdale near the High Force waterfall and camped round the back of a pub called the Strathmore Arms, it’s the most northerly pub in North Yorkshire, a splendidly isolated place in the middle of some gorgeous rugged countryside.

We fried a pan of bacon and beans, like hungry cowboys and then repaired to the ale house for a couple of pints.

Round about 10pm Burt went walkabout and when he didn’t return for half an hour or more I went looking for him.

The dark of the countryside was silvered by a full moon shining like an old half crown and the sky was full of more stars than I’d ever seen, they don’t suffer from light pollution in those parts.

I found Burt on the edge of a wood, laid flat on his back with his head propped on a grass banking.

I went and sat down against him and asked him what he was doing. He didn’t say anything for ages and then just said: “I’m just thinking about the endless possibilities of connection.”

It wasn’t such an outlandish thing for Burt to say. He was a well read and deeply philosophical man, even in our early 20s, so laid on the grass in the middle of nowhere looking up at the stars, it didn’t even feel out of place.

I laid back as well and looked up at the picture in the night sky.

Burt pointed: “There’s the Plough and over there is the Little Bear and Polaris.” We stared for ages at the twinkling patterns above.

A keen breeze was starting to blow so I suggested we go back to the tap room before they shouted last orders.

We did and as we walked back to the pub I thought about that phrase, the endless possibilities of connection.

I hadn’t a clue at the time what the heck Burt was trying to say, but the phrase has come into my mind now and again, because it’s such an elegant one.

It’s taken me a long time, but last weekend, the penny finally dropped and I now know exactly what my friend was saying.

Heather and I went up to Musicport Festival at Whitby. It’s become an annual pilgrimage for us, a weekend in autumn where we listen to musicians from all over the world playing their own indigenous sounds.

It’s a glorious event and one I heartily recommend to those who like to have their eyes and ears opened to something new and different.

One of the highlights of this year was a Swedish band with 14 members, all who looked to be in their late teens or early 20s. They are called Varlden’s Band which means world band.

They’re well named, for they comprise, three Swedish folk fiddlers, a West African Kora player, an Israeli/Tunisian woman singer, an Indian girl percussionist, a lass from France who plays Galician bagpipes, an Irish accordionist, two lads on drums with dreadlocks, a bass player who looks like he ought to be in Showaddywaddy and a couple more who look like buskers or acrobats.

I believe they were put together by the Swedish government to bring about a better understanding of different cultures through music and they make a joyous racket.

Heather and me danced our socks off in front of a stage just a stone’s throw from the waves in the North Sea and were made giddy by what we experienced.

As the band went off to whoops and hollers, Heather said: “What do you think to that then?”

I said: “I’m just thinking about the endless possibilities of connection.” She said: “I think it might be time for a pint.”

We sipped at a pint of festival ale from a brewery that’s on a farm in the Yorkshire Wolds and I raised my glass to Burt, my old mate who planted a seed that took a long time to grow and I mused on the idea that seeds don’t stay in the ground forever.