Caught by the River

Words On Wheels – Roam's First Journey

13th June 2010

If you happened to be tuned into the brilliant Lauren Laverne show on BBC 6 Music on Thursday, I was on there talking about the Roam project I’m working on this summer. It’s basically Caught By The River on wheels; a very British version of Ken Kesey’s Magic Bus, with real ale and pear cider instead of Electric Kool Aid. I’ve written about the project on this site before and made the rash promise to do a weekly blog about it. Well, a month and a half later, here’s the second one. Promise to be a bit more punctual next time.


Brynmawr – Pilton – Peckham

A car lot somewhere in the highest town in Wales. That’s where we found the van. Maybe it was coincidental that it was the drummer of Manic Street Preachers – the Valleys biggest export since coal – who found just the vehicle we were after within spitting distance of where the band had grown up, febrile with nervous, angry energy all those years back. On the lot on a late February morning with dim light failing to split the clouds, the van looked perfect, like a magnificent, mythical beast past its best days but ready for one last glorious flight. Apologies, I know this all sounds a tad verbose and just a little pretentious – it really was a remarkable find.

One bank transfer and one month later, the van plotted an eastward trajectory. With no idea where to park a seven tonne, twenty five foot long HGV in London, we called on some folks we knew had a little spare arable space. On a sunny early spring morning, the van rumbled across the Severn Bridge and turned south towards Worthy Farm, Pilton. The site of Glastonbury Festival is also home to our friends Nick and Emily who kindly offered to take care of the van, parking next to the pig shed while we sourced carpenters to refit the inside.

Over the next couple of weeks, we sat in snug bars and feverishly sketched plans and scratched heads. A meeting with a carpenter friend, Ben, led to a decision to roll out towards the capital where the inside of the van would be stripped and rebuilt. The wood would be reused; the ribbed metal poles, unlovely and soulless, would be skipped. The inspiration – to try to build the perfect reading room in what would normally be an alien environment for such a thing – was mapped out on beer mats and dog eared notebooks. The end of the first journey was a leafy street in Peckham where Ben had cleared a parking space. Visiting it and planning what to go where, how big, what colour, how much light… We left with a spring in the step and a wide-eyed and hopelessly optimistic view of how the Roam project would come together over the summer. It was going to be plain sailing from here.

Then, for the next three weeks, we couldn’t get the door open as we’d allowed the friggin’ battery to run flat.

All photos by Bryony Stokes.