JM// LeeFest 2016

The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of many things, of mermaids, Pirates, lost boys, musicians and Mr Lee. Oh yes ladies and gentleman, it was the difficult 3rd album of my LeeFest experiences, and it was set in Neverland.

So you may have come across Leefest on the Google android adverts in the last year, of the boy whose parents went away for the weekend, and explicitly said “No house parties, Lee” and like any good teenager he listened, instead throwing a festival in his back garden. Roll on a decade and LeeFest was throwing its first festival at a brand new site near Royal Tunbridge Wells, following a sabbatical/fallow year to find an upgraded site that could supply enough water for the ever increasing number of guests.

Anxious of this leap in growth, my scepticism of the LeeFest getting too big for its boots and destroying its spirit in the pursuit of commercialisation was… Totally unfounded!

The cool, back garden vibes had been infused with the ethereal feels of Neverland, a theme enabled by a partnership with Great Ormond Street Hospital, and saw the expansion from 3 main stages into 3 unique kingdoms; the Mermaid Lagoon, home to the Wondersands stage, part beach, part dance floor, permanently staffed by realise Merpeople; The Neverwoods, home of the lost boys, with their Bangerand stage and tent stage where which the main headliners would perform; and Skull Ridge, home to the lost, the desolate and the Pirates, with its rave pit, low-ceiled tent and cabaret; and hidden in the forest was the Wendy House providing acoustic relief and a bed.

Unusually, and I can say this now I’m a near pro festivaler, LeeFest began on a Thursday, running to midday Sunday, and despite setting off at 11am, the beer and food run meant we arrived much nearer 1pm. Thankfully, the campsite wasn’t too full, and after once again having every inch of my bags search (is there just something about me?) we set up shop, Brett bringing the marquee we’d purchased 2 years ago along with him. Pirate bunting up, fairy lights fitted and air beds pumped up (we manage to salvage one off the back of Secret Garden Party) it was time to explore the site in search of the shop for bacon and breakfast supplies.

After spending too long asking the condom people questions, glow in the dark skins pocketed, we entered the arena for the first time, the chances of finding this elusive shop diminishing…

And this feeling turned out to be right – no shop this year – I feared Brett would starve…

All was not lost as we managed to pick up dandy LeeFest stash! This year they tees were screen printed on site, meaning… YOU COULD CHOOSE YOUR OWN PRINTS! A very cool idea, perfectly fitting the ‘Choose your tribe’ theme of the festival.

Though only the first night, the musical entrees did not disappoint. With music setting off from 7pm, we got back into the arena in time to catch the boys of Everything Everything.

Loving @e_e_ aka Everything Everything @leefestuk #wannagoback

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Despite having spent much of the last 2 years in Japan, I actually knew some of their songs! #winning

New to the ‘arena’ this year was the ability to bring in your own alcohol, as long as it was in a plastic container.

The policy of not bringing your own drinks into the area never seemed out of kilter, given my experiences of Reading and Leeds, but would have seemed out of whack after the 4 previous festivals this year having had an open drinks policy. It certainly feels less like you’re being exploited as a captive audience with this simple policy change, and I’m happy to see it’s the more prevalent policy at festivals.

Up next was the sultry, dulcet tones of Ghostpoet.

@ghostpoet laying down some silky rhythms at @leefestuk

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During the more trance songs, the performance was among indistinguishable from Faithless, and a mix of atmosphere, tunes and rum had me pulled deep into a timeless realm.

With a little bit of luck, we can make it through the night.

With a lil bit of DJ Luck and MC neat we made it through the night @djluck_and_mcneat @leefestuk

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Words that could only mean MC Neat and DJ Luck were performing down in the Wondersands, the beach area, enclosed by 3 tier hay bales, was packed. Leaving us no choice but to scale the bales and danced upon the top – a nerve wrecking endeavour in which I saw and slowed down the descent of one drunken lady who, confidently-faced, stepped off backwards, much in the vain of a superhero dropping onto a hidden hovering platform, and toppled down to the floor. She too had a little bit of luck as she dusted herself off and climbed back up to the top of the hay stack.

Friday
After easing into Friday morning, bacon and egg sandwiches steadying the tums for another day of partying, we caught up with some friends and heading down to the Wendy House stage.

Secret session set in the Wendy House at @leefestuk #lostboys #neverwoods

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Up unusually early, with no working responsibilities, I almost felt at a loss as to what to do! There was frisbee to be played, food to be eaten, all as part of preparation for the…

GLITTER WRESTL-MANIA

Ah yes, some traditions never change! Wonder down to the Wondersands on the first day of LeeFest and you bear witness to GLITTER WRESTLING

Naturally we all got involved, Amanda defeating a Zebra, me defeating Amanda, then Brett, until my glory was stolen by ‘’Dad’ – who had it all to play for in front of his family, and then took on and defeated all his daughters’ boyfriends. Dad was a LAD.

Soaked through and covered in glitter, the hour was upon us to return to the tent, and dress up for the night!

Running back into the area, I noticed the group fall behind me, then start to call me back – I had only run past Lee of bloody LeeFest! What a chump I was!

Naturally we told him all about Comp-A-Tent, and with positive sounds made, we were off! What a night, the boys of Circa Waves were on fire, Amanda glittering up the crowd with bio-degradable glitter and face paints.

Dem boys of @circawaves

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The evening only preceded to get better as we stumbled across The Apothecary Cabaret, and enjoyed the seductive dancing of these ladies, and the downright crazy performance from ‘The Daddy’. Followed by Amanda glittering up their nipples – that girl is an opportunity finder!

Who’s the Daddy?! Apothecary Cabaret’s main man showing us what his earlobes are made of… Rubber? @leefestuk

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So although it was now Saturday, it was actually the last day of the festival! Crazy!

Today we were going all out Mer-people – no fishnet tight was save from our scaly creation, and after a mere 2-3 hours we were done, tridents at the ready! The Poseidon was looking hot!

Poseidon chillaxing with his mermaids @leefestuk #underthesea #thelittlemermaid

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The highlight of the day came in the annual tradition of the LeeFest paintfight, wherein the Wondersands transforms from a golden yellow to blood red!

Impromptu volleyball divided the two sides, before handfulls of paint could even be grabbed. On either side stood the warriors, the tension palatable, the air clear but full of rage. The MC built the atmosphere to dizy heights, when he shouted,

“Are you ready?!”

The crowd could contain itself no longer, and before the MC or anyone knew what had happened, the first fist full of paint was released, and like a 1000 loaded mounetraps, one the first assault was sprung, utter carnage ensued, the air thick with multi coloured clay paints, the amateur n00bs foolishly not holding their breath until the air cleared, and a beach party ensued.

Paint fight times at @leefestuk

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Oh what a fool I am! In all the excitement, who did I forget was playing?

WE ARE SCIENTISTS!

This I discovered as we went on the hunt for food and a familar melody drifted over the air.

I sprinted, obvious, and my effort was much rewarded when Keith, the lead singer came out into the audience, looked me straight in the eye with his baby blues, and we sung together!

Oh, to have died then would have been to die happy for this fan boy! Perhaps being topless, covered in paint and carrying a trident helped draw his attention?

Next up was Shura! We’d missed her at Secret Garden Party, having been working on the bar at the time, so it was great to hear her on the syth, haunting vocals cutting out through the encroaching evening.

Even the mellowest of songs you can dance your heart out to! @weareshura @leefestuk

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AND FREE DRINKS! A very nice lady gave me free drinks – I think she liked my glittered nipples! Drinks consumed, it was time for Lianne La Havas – I think she spotted me!

She looked at me! I was basically naked and dressed as Poseidon, but @liannelahavas looked at me!

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Finally it was time for LeeFest’s worse kept secret – Frank Carter & the Rattle Snakes playing in a tiny tent over in Skull Ridge.

Stage occupation with Frank Carter @andtherattlesnakes – tiniest, sweatiest stage @leefestuk

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Suddenly I was 15 again, in a dark and grimey gig venue like Astoria, the crowd packed in tight, an unspoken, primal agreement between those witnessing the event. Not content with mosh pits and crowd surfing, at the end of the set Frank Carter called up the audience for a stage occupation, much to the worried glances of the bouncers!

There was nothing left to than check out the Goldmine, a pit of techno and EDM to the early hours, that encorporated a fire show into its performance, and as the music around the site died, only Tinkerbelle’s Taphouse was left to hold up the party until 4am.

Old Tinkers keeping the tap flowing ’til 4am – Gawd bless her! #tinkerbell @leefestuk

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Final Thoughts

LeeFest has consistently been my favourite festival for the past 4 years. It’s size means you can make new friends and see them across the weekend, the bands are good, but nothing you’d been yourself up from missing, there’s dress up, and it has far more of a community and family vibe than most festivals, with next to no loutish behaviour.

Just a fun party vibe, than all and anyone can enjoy.

LeeFest: The Neverland 2017 is 10/11/12 August, at John Darlings Farm, Edenbridge, Kent, an hour south of London.

JM// Brainchild 2016

One week after a glorious, yet muddy Glastonbury, we were off to Brainchild festival. “Now Molkie,” I hear you say, ” what the flaming bananas is a Brainchild?”

Well old friend, I’m glad you asked.

Great artists sometime call their works their child, and where are great ideas conceived? The brain! It’s an independent festival that brings in creatives to create engaging works and installations.

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Now in its 4th year, the festival is situated in the heart of Kent and has decided to take itself more seriously, inviting our Eco-Collective, PPL PWR to provide it’s very own Brainchild and engage the public with green and sustainable issues!

Getting on Site

Arriving Wednesday night, after a thoroughly enjoyable ride down in the van, we quickly dumped down our stuff ready to hit Thursday hard.

By Thursday lunch time it was feeling less PPL PWR and more PRSN PWR as I shifted all our crap from one side of the field to the other…

 

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With UCell’s hydrogen fuel cell all set up, the marquee decorated, and Ysa’s beautiful hand made signs on display, we began the process of erecting the MEGA COMP-A-TENT!!!

The 3 metre tall structure was a bit of an uncertainty for us. We’d spent the previous two days calculating and designing the bracing structure, built from Comp-A-Tent First Principles, but were conflicted on how many entrances to have, 3 or 5? To cover all the sides? How enclosed vs open to be? How to balance the forces of we were to have multiple entrances?

By late evening, a touch after sunset, the PPL PWR Green Stage was pitched! Ready for the start of the festival…

 

@brainchildfest Our mega Comp-A-Tent installation as part of @ppl_pwr #festivalvibes #goalachieved

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Or so I thought…

Waking up on the Friday morning, I see the a mass of strings undone, failing in the wind! A worried Amanda rushing to rethread the structure before punters arrived, having decided it could be more symmetrical and thus impress all the architects at the festival – there were a surprising number!

 

Roll up, roll up and come down to the #pplpwrgreenstage

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The Site

Brainchild is situated on one large field, on site with Bentley wildfowl and motor museum, well into the Kent countryside, way south of London. In addition to the field, there were installations along a wooded path that lead into a clearing in the woods with the Shak stage – a great place to spend the early hours, with its trippy lights projected onto the canopy above. Here too was the awesome Torus installation, a vocal driven light and sound spectacular.

 

One half of the field was devoted to camping, along the backside of which ran a small passenger train, whilst the other side offered installations, stages and food; delicious, sweet food.

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Installations included a cinema, Timmy’s hula-hooping space, a maze, some sofas, giant box of cereals and a rain cloud – of what I remember, and the wood-oven pizzas were to kill for – or at least fight over.

The campsite was open, meaning you could carry your booze around the site, and the bar offered cashback services for those needing to splash out on some delicious foods.

Lessons Learned

Having your own area at a festival, especially one with bean bags, pretty much guarantees you see nothing of the festival! However, it makes a great attraction for pulling people in and meeting new people. Three people manning the area was stretching us a bit, especially if one or two of you had to be off site for an extended period, even more so trying to talk to people, whilst manning the phone charging operation!

Like for a Like Charge

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PPL LOVE their phones! Offering free charging from the hydrogen fuel cell (it can supply 3kW!) was a great way to bring people into the PPL PWR space and get them engaged with green issues and technique. But some people I saw everyday! The sadness when we were at capacity and couldn’t take their phone was palatable!

I think in future we should make more of the opportunity to gain Facebook likes for the PPL PWR page, planning in advance how we were gonna connect to the Internet.

People Love a Bit of Glitter

 

A friend in need, is a friend indeed. Taken in our mega Comp-A-Tent installation @brainchildfest #glitter

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A constant flow of fresh faces and new opinions, combined with the offering of Bio-Glitter applied artistically to the face meant their was very little need to move to meet and engage with people.

Signing People On

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With such a captive audience I can’t even begin to imagine how many times I explained who PPL PWR are, what is Comp-A-Tent and, most impressively, how hydrogen fuel cells work.

(Magic, if you were wondering)

What I think we needed to push more was collecting email addresses of those excited about Comp-A-Tent – how else will they know when we launch!

The PPL PWR Green Stage

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A Chaucer reading from Jerone, a talk on self-experimentation, Norwegian Language class with Ana and my own cider sonnets were all featured during the weekend. It was a great space come the evening, bringing in dozens of people during an evening, giving us great coverage in getting the ideas and company names out there.

Moving forward, we need to enhance the stage aspect of the installation, really drumming interest in our talks by promoting them as we’re meeting and discussing people.

Closing Thoughts

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All in all, Brainchild was an awesome success of a weekend. The Comp-A-Tent installation was still standing, we had showcased and tested the latest generation of Comp-A-Tent, increased subscribers on the mailing list and met some really cool people.

For our first PPL PWR event, we had successfully come together, brought people into our space and engaged with lots of individuals of emerging green techs.

Brainchild was great at attracting really open minded individuals, who are really engaged and passionate about issues and causes, who ar emovers and shakers. Hopefully one or two took something away from exhibition, and so begins our quiet ripple of change into a more sustainable future.

Thank you to Marina and Joey for allowing us to put on PPL PWR area, and for providing not ony a great space, but a great environment to meet so many fascinatingly wonderful people!

JM// Innocent Unplugged Pt2

Goddam Ginger Rob. Goddam him and his body clock. As I awake to “Wake up, we’re going to miss yoga”. He’s only been back an hour. Goddam his “I’m home!” at 7am…

Last laugh was on him, as although we arise at around 0830, we completely miss both sessions! Ooops! Our discussions in the tent of the previous night, the universe and everything take precedent. The weather clearing we start to open up the tent, all whilst enjoying our cream cheese and cucumber bagels – a great shout by B!

No morning is complete without coffee, and as we pop to cook, a line of maybe 100 people queuing for bacon sandwiches both makes me wish we had been more enterprising and foreseen this undermet need, as well as ever more smug of pre-preparedness!

The bitter-sweet smell of fresh coffee, on a campsite of instant dust, draws over our trusted companion Sam, and we immigrate our coffee from Indian to Vietnamese by the adding of condensed milk to our bean juice. The coffee fights back, as Amanda yells,

“I’m on Fire!”

As the hem of her coat ignites and burns, forcing her to pat it out.

All in all, we head in a little before 1230, slotting ourselves into the Innocent Inspires tent, and prepare to listen to a talk from Michael Townsend Williams on Mindfulness. Turns out he’s part of the Do Books/Lectures series, the same as my old Disruption/Designer mucker Mark Shayler!

From advertising, to alcoholism, drugs to yoga, it explored a lot of his life, and included a taster of some breathing exercises to help us to “breathe better, we think better, feel better and do better”.

It was interesting hearing him talk of his addictions and catalysts to change.

From there we wandered out to see a board advertising ‘Ecotherapy’, that would meet in an our and explore the woods – cracking I thought.

Back to camp for lunch.

Bread, peanut butter, bananas, crisps, boil water, open pot noodles, pour boiling water on fingers, let out cry, munch sandwiches, carry noodles into forest.

This was an odd session, walking around the woods, standing in circles for 20 minutes, eyes shut, listening to the sounds closer and further away…

I spent most of it thinking about the design of Comp-A-Tent… oh well!

The day heading into the evening, we retired to the tent, to strike up a game of rounders – get it!?

Pulling in neighbours from the area to play, or narrowly missing them with the ball if they chose to remain by the tents, we spent a delightful few hours in the sun, taking turns batting, without ever settling on teams or really any rules, though I quite liked the idea of only being able to play if holding a can in your hand!

The pros that we now were at camping meant Amanda’s pasta dinner was ready in under 20 minutes, which did somewhat interrupt play, and after devouring food it was time for our nighttime attire – universe leggings!

I need a Poo!

Lucy Rose was recommended to us, so that’s where we set sight for!

I couldn’t dance to it, so off to the campfire! (Sorry Lucy!)

A little networking around the campfire never hurt nobody, neither did a little rum as I felt increasingly my age swigging from my hip flask!

Turns out, whilst rum never hurts, it does affect memory. There was dancing, there was cabaret, there was my boss for Glastonbury, and there was more campfire!

Using my wits, I proudly I announced I needed a poo, before sneakily setting off to bed – Pro tip for any festivals n00bs who want to maintain their image AND their good looks.

Bank Holiday Monday

Strangely, much of the campsite had left during the previous afternoon – especially around the area we had been playing rounders…

Knowing we had until 1400, the Comp-A-Crew hurrys for no man.

A lonesome tent blew past us. A sign.

Quick witted we grab it, the perfect low risk location for H to fry some eggs without the risk of getting wet!

Or so we thought…

Sat in the door, facing into the tent, cooking the eggs, the very same rogue wind that had afforded us the tent, to vengence, sweeping the tent up into the air, rolling H and the flaming gas stove backs.

A moment later, the tent continued its journey, revealing H on her back, egg on her crotch, frying pan in hand, gas stove horizontal, the grass on fire.

In a frenzied hurry, O reached for the gas, tragically knocking over his own stove, as H sat in stunned silence. We all sat in stun silence.

Except B, who ran after the tent, declaring it was his and would use it for future festivals.

Lessons Learnt

Innocent Unplugged was a fantastic, mellow opening of a festival season, offering just the right number of free drinks.

A single music stage and an emphasis on non-music activities made for a very different atmosphere from, say your Readings & Leeds, with no need to chase your favourite bands. It was a wholesome opportunity to spend time with old friends, make new ones, and take your time, without constantly checking your phone or media.

Taking the time to prepare camp food together ensured our group got to see each other and join in with each other’s plans, as well as saving us a TON of money on food and a TON of time queuing for food. The little touches like lilos, B’s inflatable sofa and games gave us plenty of options and comforts, and talking points to start conversations.

Safe to say, I hope to return next year, I hope the vibe is just as chilled and I hope the rest of our Summer season is equally enjoyable!

JM// Innocently Unplugging Pt1

After a heated debate between catching the first train at 0620, and heading off around midday, 9am was the determined time that Comp-A-Tent and friends would head off to Borough Green Station, to get to Innocent Unplugged.

Now in its 2nd year, Innocent Unplugged offers digital natives the excuse to leave their phones behind, spend time with friends and drink smoothies.

And super-smoothies, and coconut water. And carbonated fruit drinks – basically giveaway a ton of freebies to sample, whilst creating good times and helping to nurse hangovers – the devious good samaritans!

The House Of Molkie

Off the back of a Friday night Molkie Party, which saw a number of classics, such as beer pong and Reij Keij, this Comp-A-Crew raised surprisingly early, with breakfast cooked by 0830, and everyone on the road by about 0930 – unbelievable given that there were 7 of us!

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Within an hour and half, we saying our last goodbyes to society, stocking up on supplies from the Co-op and off to the festival on a Yellow Lemon. The universe was kind, the 2000 in attendance had not all gathered at once, and after having all 4 of my bags thoroughly searched (a flash back to being the one who was constantly drug and explosive tested in Australian airports) we were through and setting up our tents next to the bacon van; a cruel irony given we were taking turns cooking this weekend to save money.

Either through good fortune, or Amanda’s observations, we ended up pitching the Comp-A-Tent 10m from the forest entrance into the festival area, creating our own camp cluster with the rest of the group.

Next up on the Sofa is…

With lilos and B.’s air-trapping sofa, we looked quite the pros, the high footfall of the area guaranteeing a constant flow of n00bs who would comment on the Comp-A-Tent and sofa. Then they’d come sit with us, much like watching the Graham Norton, or for our American friends, James Corden, including our very own Camp-e-oke!

There was Sam, part of the Innocent Technical staff who joined us early on, cooler bag full of drinks we greedily devoured; Ian with his brightly coloured trousers; Tom and Helen, of whom Tom had quite the gift for accents and at this point it looked as if we were in danger of never getting into the Festival! Not necessarily the worse thing, given we the company we were attracting.

However, Sam had mentioned that Dan, aka Dan Germain, one of the Innocent Founders was doing a talk. Naturally, we had to go!

So off we went with the crew, through the woodlands pass, through a maze of ginormous bushes, thick with sweet, golden flowers that formed almost a maze and divided the performance spaces into distinct areas – it was beautiful, like a festival in a mad, rich, green-fingered uncle’s mansion – probably.

Alas, our student-style tardiness left all but the tightest spaces at the very front of the tent. Weavingly, slyly, we snuck to the front, taking up an ‘oops upside your head’ style formation, just as Dan walked on stage.

Having spent the week preparing for a 30 minute talk on the Comp-A-Tent journey, it was exciting and strange to hear a 17-year history condensed to fill the same time!

For me, and Amanda most likely too, it was inspiring to hear a success story from the early, difficult start-up days. Seeing and hearing the passion, belief still there after such success and time, delivered in a relaxed, entertaining way, devoid of the distraction of a Powerpoint Deck.

In the following Q&A, I managed to ask Dan what were his 3 ‘Watchouts’ for early stage start-ups.

The Gospel of Watchouts, according to Dan Germain, of Innocent Drinks

Don’t hire too quickly.

Hire for culture.

Start.

I think we’re doing well so far!

Exploring the Site

With an hour until laughter yoga, the site needed exploring!

  • Fire pit?  – Check
  • Cider stall? – Check
  • Banquet hall (we can’t afford to eat in)? – Check
  • Main stage? – Check
  • Pub? – Check
  • Delicious 7.5% cider Amanda loves? – Partial check (we get one pint before they run out!)
  • Oysters? – Yuck!
  • Food area with deliciously tempting food we’re avoiding, entirely, because we’re all poor and are cooking ourselves – Check!

By now the sun is high in the sky, kissing my skin with red lipstick, as my shoulders turn the same shade as the hands of a person licked by kittens, but allergic to their saliva.

En route the crew splits, new friends are formed, drinks are consumed, some innocent, some not-so, and then we are onto laughter yoga.

Via the toilets.

For the Gods have turned my bladder to that of an excitable chihuahua who pees every 5 minutes.

The tardiness this creates forces me to sneak round the back of the tent, tiptoeing like an evil meerkat over the laying bodies to my friends. The event starting, I turn to see who but the instructor of my very first laughter yoga class at the Museum of Happiness!

By the middle of the session, either through laughter, or the dancing, I am sweaty! The worse time to have to lie down and rest your head on someone’s belly – to that person, you know who you are from the sweat stain still on your shirt, I am SOOOO sorry!

“Hands up, hands down, I can’t hear you”

After a couple of beers, a few new friends, a chit chat and sit down, what better is there to do than exercise with Mr Motivator?!

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Using her festival expertise, Amanda leads us around the back of the tent, down the far side, and then, there he is, the time-travelling Mr Motivator! Seriously, the dude has NOT changed!

For a full 30 minutes the crowd whoop, cheer and lightly bash into each other as we flick our limp wrists and gyrate – it was quite the experience!

Dinner to follow as we gather the crew once again, settling down for a dinner of risotto, with peas and chorizo. After a long cook, it’s greedily devoured, the envious glances of fellow, less-organised campers feeds my glee almost as much as the food!

Ging Gang Goolie Adventure Time

Finn and Jake hats at the ready, we get changed. I’m all dolled up in my universe legging, iridescent, 90s windbreaker jacket, and after a few drinks and chat with new and old friends a like, campfire time has come!

Regretfully, no Ging Gang Goolie, and despite good intentions, not even Wonderwall gets sung fully, as verses are remixed, rehashed and decimated by the out of tune, out of time and out of it wailings of 40 or so party revellers.

Then, like the accidental letting off of a half-blown balloon, the crowd is racing, stomping and fighting its way to the People’s Stage to hear and see none other than DJ Yoda. Again I walk to the toilet, conscious that my grasp of my bladder may not survive two hours of flailing to hip hop.

I think it was awesome.

I feel like it was awesome, on a deep internal, guttural level. No cuts on my hands confirm that my rave gestures have thankfully failed to connect with any faces, and I find myself surrounded by friends, on the opposite side of the tent from where I started.

Once again, my moves have broken down dimensional barriers, transported me through the bodies of a crowd and delivered me to my friends – good job!

Noticing the cries of my aging body, I retire from the campfire, brush my teeth for 10 minutes as I make friends with exiting festivalers, slide beneath my survival blanket, and sleep; knowing that if I died tonight, I had danced my all, and would leave a beautiful corpse.

JM// RA Eng Showcase

The lecture theatre looked familiar, then it hit me. The Royal Institution Christmas lectures are given in this very room! The steep wood panelled room steeped in history and tradition and Amanda was getting to pitch from right at the front!

The rain was pouring it down as I packed up the ⅓ model, changed into my suited finery, and began the unenviable task of carrying the 1m x 1m model base the 20 minute walk to the station. Between the rain and the sweat and I was worried I looked like an entrant into a wet t-shirt contest, but smelt like a rugby player!

The day was set to play out at the Royal Institution, who would be housing today’s Royal Academy of Engineering’s Showcase event. An event to showcase and introduce their Hub members, of which Amanda and Comp-A-Tent were one, to their Fellows and distinguished guests.

Exploring the book-lined rooms, scattered between pillars were 17 early stage start-ups and University spin outs, prototypes overshadowed by pull out banners with smiling faces and company descriptions – and we got to keep it!

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It was super cool chatting to the entrepreneurs/inventors – there was a heavy slant towards medical prototypes and it was nice to see my fellow Lufbra Product Design & Tech alumni, James Roberts, with his MOM inflatable incubator.

When the pitching came round, well, I never been so nervous for someone else!

Thankfully we had drafted the pitch 2 weeks earlier, which allowed us plenty of time to annoy people on buses and trains by reciting the pitch over and over again. Ten minutes in the lecture theatre during a break was plenty enough time for Amanda to map the pitch around the room and she was good to go!

But before the pitching could begin, there was the keynote speech from Gerard Grech of Tech Nation, enthusing the crowd with talk of how the UK is absolutely the best place for Tech startups, with diverse expertise developing across the country, coupled with generous governmental support and allowances.

Sitting through the first 13 pitches only added to my nerves for Amanda’s pitch. She had a tough act to follow, positioned after James’ Inflatable incubator to help save pre-mature babies across the world.

Thankfully, Amanda did great, getting laughs throughout the pitch, even ones we hadn’t anticipated, and got through the pitch perfectly – at least to the audience and me, she knew she had skipped an entire section!

Lesson learned? Just keep going through the pitch, and DON’T PANIC! Now, where’s my towel?

The after event introduced us to a range of people, with many and varying ideas and issues around Comp-A-Tent. We’ll spending the next few days chasing up!

So all-in-all, a superb day, both inspiring and helpful to Comp-A-Tent’s development. Onwards and upwards!

JM// Plastic Fantastic [2] Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect – “My Mother makes me mash my Mini M&Ms on a Monday Morning”

There are rare moments in life where I feel like I’m channeling Eminem – today was one of them.

We had the pitch nailed, ah dog it was tight

We were running at 5.30 as we spat lyrics the previous night

Legs crossed, hands steady, thoughts turned to what might

Happen if I choked on stage, or like dropped the mic…

But before we could deliver the pitch, was the networking event.

Speed dating style, I was fortunate to speak a farmer partnering with super markets to grow food on their rooftops; a member of a team developing polymers on a nano scale that could trap light inside a nano-sized ‘box’; and a legal guy who was providing advice and standards to food shops to tackle illegal waste disposal and a certification scheme – very cool chaps!

Following on from this, was the Plastic Round table – discussions lead by experts, which would develop as the teams moved around the tables, designed to stimulate conversation tackling plastic waste; Tech vs. Consumer behaviour to create change; Is Biodegradable ‘good enough’?; How can we stop plastic waste in the Oceans?

It lead to some very heated debates, I could hear Amanda on another table educating her table on various terms like ‘biodegradable’, ‘biopolyer’ and the propoerties of cornstarch/PLA/PHAs.

You Only Get 1 Shot

Stepping up into a fresh, new threads, Amanda and I began our vocal warm ups, and jumped around to dispel our jittery energy and unite as a team; much like Power Rangers.

Coming up third in the order, the first two pitches flew by, and before I knew it, the tent was 8ft tall on the screen and Amanda was opening with the lines,

“When I was 16 years old…”

______

I don’t choke.

The words flow, almost as well worded as the script squished reassuringly in my pocket.

We’re ¾ of the way through when the screen starts flashing at us. Are we gonna get cut off?

I blank and turn to look at Amanda. She sees my terror and picks up the slack, and transitions into the final part. I sigh inside with relief, grateful she’s taken the time to read over my parts, and now I know we’re on the home straight.

I step in,

“We are Comp-A-Tent”

Nailed it!

“And we believe Festivals need not cost the Earth”

Oh my God we’ve done it!!! We need to hi-five, let’s hi-five, I think.

Raising my hand, I see a fist, a fist coming straight at me, but like a pro, I transition to a fist, make us look cool…

Shit…

Amanda hi-fives my fist, and the crowd laugh.

And so we wait…

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Still 7 groups to follow, we sit anxiously in the room, taking photographs and videos for our new friends, but I’m now too anxious for the result to give it my full attention – my bad!

The judges retire, for something just short of eternity, before coming back in.

In true X Factor style, I’m just being to get to the chase.

Did he, did he make a tents reference? Is that to us? Is he talking about us?

“Runner up is… Comp-A-Tent”

Shock, relief, flood my system. I can’t lie, I’m a little saddened, especially with my parents in the room, and knowing I have to face them in a minute.

The eventual winner is Marco, whom I shared a room with, with his urban mining project, who will distribute shares in the venture, to every person in the Hague area of the Netherlands for every 1Kg of e-waste brought into the centre.

Our prize is a place on a future Accelerator programme to be run by Enviu, towards the end of the year, all things permitting.

Reflecting on the competition, it’s obvious we got so much value from the expertise we were able to put our questions too, and all the direction we’ve been given going forward!

With this competition, marks the end of fund hunting for the next few months, as we concentrate on our deliverables for this summer at the festivals. I’m quite sure somebody once said, and if not, I’m claiming it, that desperation is the home of true innovation, so as we tighten our metaphorical belts and get leaner as a business, I’m sure that we’ll achieve our objectives, spot new opportunities and laugh at the frivolous nature of our previous plans, much like we do now at our grand and more costly plans from when I started 7 weeks ago!

JM// Plastic Fantastic [1] Prep

Plastic Fantastic was the buzzword this week, with everyday day dedicated to the fast-approaching 3-day boot camp and pitch for €10000.

Reworking our Business model canvas, financials and validation during the week would prove super handy during the boot camp, whilst Thursday was largely spent (or so it felt) waiting for the tee shirt transfer print out at the print shop (nearly an hour for one sheet!)

Love Plastic, not waste

By late Thursday evening we arrived at The Ship on Kennington road, the large mix of accents in the smoking area outside negated the need for a big sign saying ‘Plastic Fantastic’ and we had found our people!

Perhaps unsurprising, the topic of conversation was very much dominated by talk of our business ideas!

Expert Talks

The work began as we left at 0715 for New Zealand House, home to the NZ embassy, as well as Impact Hub Westminster.

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On a side note, Impact Hub Westminster is AWESOME! Open source furniture, a WikiHouse, and so much focus on interacting with people, with help from Community Host Floree.

Throughout day 1 we had the opportunity to speak with a number of experts; Malek on the consumer proposition side, checking over the BMC and Validation board; Alex for over viewing the financials and our EU conquering plans; and Phillipos for strategy and to discuss seed/crowdfunding.

As if that wasn’t enough, we had to develop our company vision, imaging a newspaper front page and  headline that showed our goals.

Bill Murray did an outstanding job of portraying Michael Eavis, Glastonbury founder, in our hypothetical story that the major festivals had transitioned to a ‘Zero landfill policy’ with the help of our compostable tents.

Day Two: Telling Stories

Tall, confident, power, Ingrid took to the stage.

Delivering her story; her inspiration and her rock bottom point. The narrative hung in the air, the pauses in delivery, adding weight, poignancy and authenticity, as the crowd drew quieter, urging on the story…

For me, it was a real highlight of the day, I love presenting, and oral naration and story telling, so to have an entire workshop of tips was inspiring! Check out her work at Women with Voices.

Alex, Financial Samurai, scared the poops out of us with his 5 page, Excel spreadsheet, that very quickly helped you plan out your P&L, Balance sheet and Cashflow – Cashflow down to the month and sessional variation!

We felt as though the carpet had been ripped out from under our feet, that tonight would be a sleepless night crunching numbers and preparing a pitch…

Thankfully this work to be done, but not by the event tomorrow, and so, my bowels were restored.

‘Comeby, comeby lad’ –  All the Experts in the Pen Please

What would have cost us thousands in consulting fees, Plastic Fantastic had arranged for a staggering number of experts to come in, and offer 20 minute windows of consulting to each business.

We had;

  • A plastics guru in the form of Rick, with his background in product development and green polymers;
  • Legal genius in the form of Neil, who gave advice on IP, such as Design Rights and Trademarks, as well as business contracts;
  • Ankie with knowledge of retail and how to deal with the big boys;
  • Emiel, communicator, SM’er and marketer extraordinaire who reflected on our targeted market vs. the eco-market
  • As well as further discussions with Malek and Philipos on our approach to product, market and funding.

What turned out to be a stroke of genius, was placing all our experts meets with a free slot between them. In every single session we over ran, but fell into an empty window, giving us 40 minutes of pro bono advice!

The day ended and our thoughts turned towards the pitch tomorrow, and our first ever pitch delivery as Founder and Chief Design Officer…

JM// Game ON!

Week 6 of my 8 week trial period saw a mix of work – my own, Comp-A-Tent and PPL PWR, an eco-collective of sustainable businesses we’re going to Festivals with this summer!

One such festival is Brainchild. Having been to their launch party a few weeks, it’s a super cool team, and they’ve offer PPL PWR some display space at their festival. The organisers wanted to offer festivalers the chance to stay in our tents! But we compromised by using the space as the PPL PWR team’s accomodation – such good friends!

Further to this we’re producing a unique chillout zone for the festivalers, including a large hang-out structure-come-acoustic stage – it’s gonna be super cool and super budget!

My involvement with PPL PWR has increased this last week, not only producing the graphic work for it’s competition to help develop sustainable business ideas – check it out here – but sourcing printing and working the website – it’s nice to have a project outside of Comp-A-Tent and somebody to work with that’s not Amanda! (Heeeeey! Take that back!)

Talking of sites, we’re migrating Comp-A-Tent.co.uk from GoDaddy, to Amazon AWS in the coming days – so bear with us if we have some slight technicals issues – Thanks to Amanda’s sister for setting up all the backend – it looked hideous!

Besides continued development on the tent, this week saw us become less like hermits and make new friends – WeGeek threw a gamer night at our BaseKX offices, bringing in huge numbers of gamers for a LAN party, Mario Kart tournament, some retro video and board gaming – with excellent drink courtesy of Platform 103 – it was a super night, and we can’t wait for the next event on Friday 3rd of June!

Maybe Amanda will have time to brush up on her Tekken before then…BURN!

The second opportunity was a UCL Advances social, connecting a number of businesses from their The Hatchery building, with businesses at BaseKX to network and help problem solve.

Thanks to a table tennis game, I nearly lost Comp-A-Tent to another entrepreneur, only to bring back the match and win their business. I didn’t get their contact details, or what the business did, but I’m sure the contract winging its way to the office and I type!

JM// Bringing the D [esign]

Off the back of an awesome weekend of handball fun, I was ready to tackle more of the design challenges of Comp-A-Tent and prove my value as the Chief Design Officer.

Design Challenge

One key job left over from week 1 was the Design Challenge; a user centred statement of what we were trying to solve, broad enough to allow us to generate future product ideas and designs.

After defining Core Functions, user problems, we settled on;

“Create the means for me to worry less, and live on my terms, at festivals”

This lead to a flurry of new product and service ideas which we noted for future development, whilst going on to focus on our compostable tent.

Life Cycle Analysis

As a sustainable business, we know it’s essential to provide quantifiable evidence that Comp-A-Tent is a lower impact product than a regular tent, and to define the circumstances in which users should choose a Comp-A-Tent.

To do this, we utilised Loughborough University’s eco-design tools, to begin evaluate qualitively a number of competitor tents, in order to see the opportunities and room for Comp-A-Tent to explore.

We would love to work more closely with material scientist to make this process more rigorous – so if you’re interested, please get in contact here!

Product Design Specification

With all the outputs generated this week, it was time to generate the Product Design Specification!

via GIPHY

This documents outlines practically every aspect of the product, defined in terms of ‘should’s and ‘must’s, using quantitative definitions. These definitions are based on research performed, but also help you to identify gaps in your knowledge (we only had a few – I promise!)

Though it is a live document, so it is subject to change, now we have a hard document that ensures when we can compare our final design against a set of specifications, and know when the product is ‘there’!

JM// Starting at Comp-A-Tent

Well! Talk about a baptism by fire!

Not only did Founder, Amanda, turn 24 (her present? My arrival of course!) on the day I arrived back, but I now understand why Amanda’s days were so long and her sleep so little whilst I was co-working from Japan – there is a lot to do, all the time!

Despite a promise to myself to really focus on the design work, keeping the business ticking over really tested my resolve.

Between applying for 3 competitions, investors meeting, mapping our the yearly schedule, setting up my computer details and ping pong, we still manage to dedicate a day to making the tent, and a day of design workshop and design opportunities.

I think we’re going to need more post-it notes!

Key things done this week:

  • Outlined key activities for each festivals and the work required
  • Costings for Year 1 inc. research and marketing at Festivals
  • Design workshops to share stories and insights of the Festival Experience
  • Discussion and development on how to mechanise tent manufacture
  • Cheap, quality pizza tested at Pizza Union

Here’s to week 2.