Published on Sunday, 13 Sep, 2015
Web in the Woods 2015
“I know that this is going to sound incredibly stupid, but I didn’t realise that it would be so… woody.”
…I remarked foolishly to organiser Kris Jeary of Squiders as he showed me around our allocated area of Kentish woodland, to be our home for the weekend. In my brain, Web in the Woods, despite the clue being in the name, was going to be a collection of people gathering in a field or similar, perhaps with a marquee. There would probably be power cables and charging areas dotted around. I hadn’t expected something that looked like this:
After my welcome from the site chickens at reception, as one of the first to turn up I was lucky enough to have my pick of the plots. There was what I thought of as ‘top camp’, where Kris had been giving me the tour, and ‘bottom camp’, the area by the entrance path where a few of the organisers had pitched up. Top camp had caught my eye – I like being away from potentially noisy communal areas and to avoid passing foot traffic, and it was also just slightly more beautiful than the bottom area. The fact that I pitched my tent directly in the only pool of phone signal that I had found at that point had absolutely nothing to do with it. Nothing at all.
After pitching up, I joined the early-comers in the impressive glade that was to be our conference hall for the weekend. Large trees provided a canopy that stretched overhead, covering the weekend’s omnipresent campfire and its surrounding circle of hay bales. Tucking into crisps and undertaking a sampling of the great selection of local ales, we sat and greeted more attendees as the sun slowly dipped through the trees, only to be replaced with more fire. Dinner that night was to be the usual bbq fare, but was brilliantly supplemented by Darren ‘Black Wolf’ Beale, woodsman extraordinaire, who had brought a chilli and dip that combined to provide us with some amazing chilli dogs.
We continued into the night with good chat, more of the excellent ale, and marshmallows until I eventually sloped off with a view to trying to get a good night’s sleep. I was speaking the next day after all – something that had not passed me by, but which was definitely playing on my mind less than it usually does.
The next morning I awoke to the sound of rain on canvas – something which we had expected, but thankfully due to the thick canopy above us, hardly any of it got through. I happily pottered around amidst the drips boiling water for my jasmine tea, chopping logs for the secondary cooking fire I started, and making bacon sandwiches for the masses, including a few more who turned up on the day. By the time it came to 11 and talks were due to start, the rain had long stopped and I’d almost forgotten that we were at a conference at all.
As I sat and listened to copywriter Lucie De Lacy present the first session, “A fantastical fear of everything (but especially writing… )“, my thoughts naturally turned to my own blogging habits. I resolved to get home and immediately write a post about the conference, and this is what I’m doing now. Lucie gave some great pointers on writing, including a tip that I always need to keep in mind: “Why am I writing this?“.
The fact that there was no signal probably helped with the fact that the small bunch of attendees were incredibly respectful and attentive throughout, to the point where I felt bad making even very sporadic notes about interesting points in Google Keep. The subsequent talk from Carlos Eriksson helped to reinforce the supportive atmosphere – this was Carlos’ first talk, and his content on accessibility seemed to hit on some points that many could relate to.
Lunch heralded some more extravagant and covert ops as I headed out slightly further away from camp with Kris and his film team, where we definitely did not fly any drones, because you’re not allowed to fly them in the wood. We merely soaked up more of the lovely countryside. Without drones.
Heading back, I joined the group and grabbed yet more fire-cooked food before listening to Paul Davis’ talk, and then… I was up. I can honestly say that this was the least nervous I’d been before a talk, due partly to having made friends with the great little group of people, and because of the extremely relaxing setting. This was the first time that I’d done the talk, and I think it went ok, but there are a few things that I’m going to switch up and amend before I give it again next week. I always find that this happens once you deliver it in front of a real audience, and it was really useful to find the bits that worked and that could have been better.
Finally, Dan Edwards closed out the day with a talk on finding your mojo, and extremely kindly brought along some prints of his work for us to take away. These were all snapped up (mine has even stayed pristine!), and ending on that high we all headed out to the site entrance where local fish and chips were waiting for us.
The evening was colder, and the ring around the fire grew closer. The guitars came out, and there were some really nice examples of people sharing their knowledge, with laptops passed around and advice being sought and given on in-progress site redesigns. There was more ale, wine and smores until eventually I sloped back off to my bed.
With a less drippy start to the day, I awoke to fires being stoked, yet more meat being cooked, and tents slowly disappearing. I stayed until nearly the end to try to soak up as much of the atmosphere as possible, and was rewarded with getting to watch Kris’ borderline pyromaniac tendencies and being given the remnants of the ale and cider as I couldn’t let it be tipped away! It turns out we did a pretty poor job of getting through all of the drink! After a couple of wheelbarrow trips to the car, sadly it was all over and I headed home.
As is probably evident, I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend in the woods, and (dates dependent!) I won’t hesitate to go back again next year for a bit of head space. As a speaker it’s totally different to anything else I’ve done, but all the better for that. And as an attendee I found it to be a great bunch of people, all chipping in to contribute to a great atmosphere. Thank you to everyone who came, everyone who spoke, and everyone who helped to put it together.
On a serious note there has obviously been a lot of talk recently about safety at conferences, and as a woman staying alone in an un-lockable tent in an environment where knives and axes and all sorts of potentially threatening equipment was floating around, my mind obviously wandered to worst case scenarios. This kind of event is obviously an extremely difficult thing to do well, but at no point did I ever feel remotely unsafe, and it’s testament both to the respectful attitudes of the attendees and the organisers that I felt so. If you’re not as comfortable with the idea of tents as I am, don’t rule out attending events like this altogether, as there were people who didn’t stay on site and who attended during the day.
I know that the team are really keen to run another event next year, and I would encourage people to attend or approach him to speak. This isn’t a full on retreat – there was mifi, laptops, a projector and an over-zealous generator that had to be downsized, as well as showers and a composting toilet block – but if you’re interested in meeting some lovely people and hearing some talks in a relaxing and beautiful setting then definitely consider coming along in 2016.
My slides are available on Slideshare if you’d like to grab any of the resources, and I’m giving a similar version at a few more conferences if you’d like to come along. Please do get in touch if you have any questions about the talk, or if you’d like me to speak at an event in the future.