If I were a painter I would spill great splashes of yellow and
red over the end of this trip
Because I am quite sure we were all a little mad
And that a raging delirium was bloodying the lifeless faces of
my travelling companions

Blaise Cendrars, La Prose de Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France (1913)

rail / pavements that reflect the cyan air and hopeful light. At the local stations no-one knows where you are going: crazy realization that they don’t care, wouldn’t follow if they could. Mid-morning London Bridge: beyond the rush hour, before the coffee aromas are phased out by tired dust-mote sun. Waiting for a train, boarding and loading, scanning passengers, watching silos and oast-houses pass, should not feel as momentous as this. Bat and Ball. Pluckley. I never knew they were there, in a world bereft of adventures.

motor / parallel lines, the plains of the South, early afternoon’s unclouded canopy, settlements fleeting by: across country, Kentish fields, Last Orders, highway strips, someone else’s random indie. (Other people’s indie’s full of corners you’d forgotten.) How the road cuts out and outpaces the kids, on their diligent railway rides: from the capital with bags and badges, disembarking in vast numbers at necessary halfway stations and creating floods of flesh, crisis crowds of coats and hairslides. Trains that cram with captive travellers, standing room on the midday shuttle, wan platform gazes from the noontide faces left behind. I don’t really understand the kids: I’d better try not to say too much about them. They don’t like me anyway.

supplies / the bus stop though where they swelter at three o’clock, in rows too long to be collected by a single vessel: the brats who boarded earlier and think the visitors are freaks to be repelled. The station you stand and take pictures of and can’t remember why, opposite the mart in green and orange whose overpriced affairs look like bargains next to where we’re going. Pylons, streams, gulls, grass. Seaborne skies, roadside stragglers, second guessing. Plans, anticipations, alightings. London is a mere stopover, a waystation in this narrative: demoted for once to a stage from which to bounce the last leagues. Convergence is the big idea, the sudden gathering of family resemblances who’ve come down countless lines that finally funnel into one or two. Within hours the camp is filled with refugees from the rest of the world.

shells / ‘I Fought In A War’, first time in ages, from its quiet opening drama to the revenants of Marvin and McGuinn and the vocals soaring terrifically out of tune with the strings oncoming like a nine-ton truck. Though memory’s a frieze I always think I heard it first in someone else’s chalet, liked it instantly. The chorus seems to dip so eloquently, even as that top note repeats four times. I hear it again on the balmy bright fading evening, with a glass of poor white wine in my hand. Birds twitter; the clouds range deep blue to pink tinge. Those about to post-rock, I salute you. Right now, down there, on the coast, surely, they are –

here / arriving? No, you rock up in the afternoon, ready for the evening, as if the entertainment were worth anyone’s hurry. Plugging in the stereo and spinning the first disc into happiness (call it – the Supremes). Sorting things, unpacking clothes to wardrobes (improbable action, too civilized for what’s really about to happen), shoving suitcases under beds. Stepping into the centre of the chalet, where a couple of others slouch at a table: their language and postures are casual, louche: weird code that says, we’re on holiday, but also, don’t let’s get too excited about this. (How little bodily effervescence: how little leaping into the air and kissing the sky.)

there / Someone puts the TV on. The TV is irrelevant, tremendously so: it speaks from its customary world, its weekly sphere of news battles and robot wars. Speaks to that world as well: to people who have not today escaped routine and habit. Not to us: but we pick it up anyway. Unlikely thrill, to watch it go through motions of the ordinary world, when you think you’re on a trip to the extraordinary one.

Curiosity of watching Top of the Pops here – because this is a supposed other of Top of the Pops, or: because we love pop, you and me, that’s why we’re here: and the BBC is broadcasting pop to us though it doesn’t realize we’re here, in a world of (different) pop. How much more exciting does a mediocre Top of the Pops become, at a pop festival, basted in the ways it does and doesn’t fit.

crockery / loading cans of beans into the cupboards, vegetables into the fridge. Gin and vodka share their own shadowy closet. You see the teapot, cups and saucers, and think: how much has been laid on, though we’re not gonna need it all, are we? Mariah Carey is on TV. Someone turns the sound down, puts something on the stereo beside it: something new, like new music is what one would want to listen to, or like if you come here you ought to listen to new music, or a trip to elsewhere is when you would try to get into it.

lists / the lovely light is fading, the minutes must be passing: it must be time to be out there, doing something. Has anyone got the schedule? The labour of scanning it. It says – every reading aloud of the schedule will include ellipses, will be studded by dots if anyone transcribes it: it says, Threnody Ensemble… no, they’ve already been on… what time is it again? Well, Dianogah have been on for 10 minutes. – Who? – I don’t know… They sound like a dragon out of AD&D. Have a look at the brochure thing. / But we should be doing something, going somewhere. Out on the balcony the clouds scud slowly over flat rooftops. 45 degrees across some other self is leaning out and looking, while somebody talks behind them in diminished chalet light. Below the grass is green in shade and evening sun, some folk are crossing it, they’re going somewhere: you wonder why you aren’t. Other chalets likewise have their TVs on: you see them when you wander up and down the balconies, peering sideways into muted rooms of slumping people, open doors, faint sounds, television light, stunning girls, other planets.

slow / drinking in the day, growing sluggish in the sun. Paradox of drinking here: it’s a task to be undertaken seriously, commenced as early as possible; there’s a lot to get through, and an aim in sight, which must be – intoxication? Like that’s how you need to be to get the most from all this. But the route to that goal, trodden across hours of light and shadow, is wearying: it tires you out, all this drinking, makes you slow and sodden, strips the energy you need for – for what? for all the drinking you still have to do. What else?

scape / the grass is lime, the paths are grey, the road is faded black tarmac, the sky’s still passing with the time. We are all fading out all of the time but maybe we fade slower here: or maybe we fade faster but when we get back we’ve faded less than if we’d never come. People are walking both directions: to the centre and away: to the labour of fun, and towards respite. The zones, the monkey, the superhero. The crocodile, whose playground or ride or train I think I’ve never quite located or recognized or grasped. The sandpit, the pub: I think we have to call it a pub, more than a bar, and less, come to think of it, than a boozer. Picnic tables, tarmac, steps, bouncers, straps on wrists, brutality that doesn’t happen. The serenity of the early-evening bouncer, next to the later-night ones barring doors, setting up queues round corners as the temperature drops.

hub / the front door. Scale, scope, breadth: walk through the doors like you mean business (but what business? there is nothing serious to be done here). Gaggles coming and going, across the screen, the radar, the interior vista: left and right, in and out, a purposiveness you don’t have. (Groups, collectives, friends, chatter: maybe you don’t have that either.) The way the stairs lead up to music, the sense of direction and hierarchy – halfway to bogus, for you don’t really want to hear the music; but you’ll have to do it some time. The other corridors: the bogs where surprising tunes play: ‘Time After Time’, was it?, ‘Walk of Life’? Billy Ocean? – and make you think, that’s the best thing I’ve heard all weekend. The way the walls are full of adverts for other people’s eyes, for cabaret or entertainment upstairs, stewards’ doings, gift shops, cocktail nights, things that aren’t for you, but haven’t been removed for you. Alien world, environment of strong and knowing incongruity: none can come here and not feel the wilful lack of fit, the sometimes wild inaptness of their presence. You take it that’s part of the point: which may just show how good at finding ways to fit we are.

contrast / Spring is here, the sun is shining: maybe sweet as dew and blossom, maybe a heavy beating blaze. So where are we? We’re in the dark, in the hangar, in the shadows, straining to make each other out: another sketch in the comedy of incongruity that marks this place. Maybe it could be mapped on to the perversity of the alternative, the sullenness of indie: the people who were afraid of the sun; the kids who wanted to live in the dark. Maybe – especially as this place seems to grow more metallic by the year, more facial hair and infant nihilism. But Camber Sands started as twee, and residue resides; and twee is all about the sunshine and the flowers (and the rain, and the snow). Who owns the sun and the air: indie village greens and recorders, or Rock with its crowded festival fields, longhair leather meadows? Heading into the dark, you are in flight from one or the other.

queen / through the cavern crowds of the second stage and out the other side: the sterilized burger zone (why will you buy one of these, after blowing Budgen’s so much cash?), the bouncers at the door to the Queen Victoria. The way this world is going on without you: the hundreds you don’t know, with their lives of plan and purpose, fun and intent. The ones you do, doing their own thing: surely they’re here for a reason, a better reason than you. (You don’t have a reason: you just came in, remember, and there was no reason given.) The little round tables, the tacky patterned carpet, the pictures on the walls of the elevated corner where tradition bids us gather. Who’s here: xyz; characters abc. Combinations, permute any six from seventeen. The order, the shape they form, the relations they’ve entered: arbitrary, changing, never identical from one entry to this place to the next. Go out, come back in an hour, the pattern will have altered. ATP is flux and flow, tides and waves, come and go. Kaleidoscope. The bar is thronged with young people (how did they get to be so young?): too many maybe to hang around wade through or wait for, but then what else is there to do? It’s 9:36: Shipping News have started upstairs. – What are they like? – I don’t know.