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The Learning Curve

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I know I have been quiet since we got going in the van. In what could be considered a cavalier move, we booked ourselves in for two festivals back to back, three weeks into trading, and the last couple of weeks have been a hazy blur of heavy rain, ubiquitous mud, wayward tent pegs and hungry strangers. The learning curve has been steep - at times vertical - but we have emerged smiling and empowered by the endless fun and delirium that come with selling your food to a field full of strangers.

The dual motivations of a longing for adventure and a love of good street food meant that getting out of the city and trading at festivals was always high on our list of priorities. But when, eager and excited, you sign up and hand over every penny you own to secure your pitch, the image in your head is one of sunny evenings, warm, happy, punters, and general easy-going love abounding in the air. The reality is something altogether different: torrential rain for three days straight, mud that finds its way into places it definitely shouldn't, and sleep deprivation that could be bottled and sold for how completely bonkers it makes you feel. Less immediately gratifying, but all the more rewarding in the long run.

Our first festival, Sunrise, is a colourful celebration of organic arts. In a beautiful field near Bruton, is it filled with open-minded, all-loving, come-one-come-all folk. Although our gear box decided it had had enough just as we hit the M4 (the whole Keep Calm and Carry On thing suddenly made sense to me), and everything was slightly fraught and permanently soaking wet, we made great friends with those who tried our food and felt very happy to be there. Our second festival, Cornbury, was a slightly more together and less muddy crowd, who were equally friendly and up for sampling our gyoza. The traders there were all very experienced and very pro. Amid the enormous string of freezer lorries, marquees and mobile homes, we felt like the new kids at kindergarten with our little black van and shoddy old tents.

Amid the endless cooking, organising and general problem solving, we learned a million things over the last two weeks. Don't arrive late at a festival or you will never get power and will have to get up all night long to run the freezer van in the rain. (This makes you very unpopular with fellow campers from the word go, especially when your pitch is next to that of a fortune teller). Don't just throw everything you have in the gazebo and pretend you will organise and label it later, 'when you have a moment'. Don't get drunk and fall in the mud when it's all over because boy is it miserable packing up in the morning. Do bring a good tinted moisturiser and at least four eye liners.

But the biggest lesson I learned on the road is this: don't assume that all people everywhere know what you are selling. You would be amazed at the number of people who came up to the van asking what a gyoza (/ jiyozi / goyzoy / gyeezee) was. In general, they fell into two groups: open, friendly people who are curious to know more, and who are so hungry and enthusiastic that you find yourself longing to convert them to the holy dumpling path; and then the bemused, macho, aggressive types who tend to think they have seen it all but are mortified to find a strange new food which they do not know all about. Curious but discombobulated, they shout "well, honestly, I must say I have no idea what you're bl**dy well selling - but you'd better give me one of them anyway, hadn't you?". Which you do, with a mixture of annoyance and excitement at showing them something new. These were more prevalent at Cornbury and taught us a great lesson: presume what what you are selling has never before been seen on this earth. Most likely, not having a big brash banner brazenly proclaiming "donuts!", "ice cream!" or "pies!" didn't help our case. And our carefully crafted but rather small 'dumplings' sign attracted fans of the English suet kind, who were surprised not to get stew and a pint of Guinness to go with.

But whether hardcore gyoza fans or surprised converts, all who tried our food were very happy. And whether it's raining cats and dogs or blazing sunshine, and whether you have slept eight hours or two, that is all that matters. At moments I found myself unexpectedly moved to the core by people's genuine love of something I had made and sold them with my own bare hands. One lady who kept coming back said she had lived in Japan for thirteen years and never found such yummy gyoza since, and I rather embarrassingly shed a tear of emotion when she told me. Perhaps it was the exhaustion, perhaps it was the cheap red wine the night before - but after all the hard work it made my heart sing.

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