Photography: Louise Roberts

The Good Life Experience

Hawarden Estate, Wales 12/9/19

We live in unprecedented times. Politically, socially, technologically, environmentally. However you skin your daily existence, you face a cocktail of decisions, challenges and dilemmas, the like of which our species has not seen before. Faced with this cacophony of noise, two concepts become more important than ever; escapism and the quest for new ideas.

And it figures that the two are closely related. In order to shape new ideas, we first need to sidestep the daily treadmill, the 24-hour battle for our attention, the glare of those omnipresent screens. We need to create environments for open minds, expansive conversation and spaces to challenge our digital-norms. We need to reset. God, we need to breathe.

With this in mind, THE GOOD LIFE EXPERIENCE embraces both and it seems is expertly tuned to our times. A well whittled, wonky, welly-clad, weird weekend of perpetual wellness that implores its guests to slow down, take stock, learn crafts, cook, care and commune.

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I succumb to the temptation to take to the open water at an artist-led swimming session, followed by freeform poetry writing around an open fire. In the wrong hands this could all be very Nathan Barley, although under the tutelage of Vivienne Rickman-Poole the reality is anything but. It is hugely uplifting, invigorating, elating. I dive back in.

Once suitably de-compressed and unplugged, the festival’s pinpoint curation manages to envelop its audience with wide ranging and outlook-shaping conversations led by truly inspirational subjects. Set within Hawarden Castle’s reading room, ANDREW EVANS speaks with astonishing openness and humility about his experience as a haemophiliac on the wrong end of the contaminated blood scandal, currently the subject of a public enquiry. Listening to Andrew recount his story – one that saw the wonder-drug he self-injected as a five-year-old inadvertently leave him HIV positive and almost dead as a result of AIDS by his late teens – is a deeply moving experience. His subsequent fight for justice for all those effected (taintedblood.info) goes on and his message here is simple: keep fighting. Right on cue as I leave the reading room, I notice a bookmark underfoot, inscribed simply: “ideas change things”.

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JNR WILLIAMS’ crystal neo-soul marries clean lines and vocal acrobatics with spades of individuality. I doubt he has played to an audience containing such a high concentration of neckerchiefed whippets before, but he leaves them (and their owners) aghast.

Come night time and we’re dancing the jive with the assembled pre-schoolers at the vintage disco to Duffo’s take on Walk On The Wild Side (our Georgia steals the show). It’s a fitting curtain call to the weekend, an off-kilter take on conventional wisdom which catches you off guard, that suggests another way.

The Good Life Experience is for the curious. I implore you to join them in raising a glass of organic nettle ale, delving into the sound of Welsh birdsong and leaving your preconceived conventions in the car park. A slightly better version of yourself may well come out the other side.

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